Monday, October 27, 2014

The Continuing Saga of Sam

Last week, I wrote of our houseguest Sam*. My cousin – who has drifted out to the coast, and who it seems is adrift in life. After a week of somewhat anaemic searches for housing, going out Friday night, which led to a Saturday morning that had me discovering pee on my living room floor at 7 am – I went to my cousin’s room to find Jayla (who I let out), but no Sam. I texted my cousin:

“I just cleaned Jayla’s pee off of the floor – not cool.” I called my aunt, asking her to offer to my cousin to take Jayla until he could find a job and a home that would accommodate having a pet. She agreed to talk to my cousin.

My cousin responded more than an hour and a half later by text “Shit on my way home walking.”

At which point, I again went to look in on Jayla, and thought that the room smelled, to discover the source of the smell on the bedroom floor.

I texted my cousin again, with a picture of the offending matter (a rather large turd), “and now this”. To which he responded by text, “God dam,” “I’ll find a place to go tonight can I still do some work for you today or no?”.

My husband and I had discussed how we should respond to the situation, we texted back “Look, you and Jayla can stay tonight, but Jayla has to go by the end of day tomorrow, you can stay until the end of the month.”

The dog was making the housing search near impossible, and what was evident was that my cousin’s lifestyle seemed incompatible with being a responsible pet owner at this time. I was hoping, that perhaps if Jayla was not part of the current situation, that maybe my cousin would be able to do the things that need to be done – things like finding steady work and stable housing. More than anything I wanted my house back, my cousin had been there a week and the stress was starting to build in a number of ways.

At mid-day Sunday, Sam indicated he had found a place, a room that was available immediately in a Condo on a bus route and across from a mall with a middle-aged room mate who worked in the oil patch half the time and was okay with the Jayla. It had seemed as though a minor miracle had happened and that my cousin would soon (in the next 48 hours) be in a place of his own.

On Monday, I asked Sam what his plan for moving was and he said he was paying the rent and the damage deposit, getting keys cut and signing forms, and that he could move Tuesday.

Tuesday, I bought my cousin a moving out gift – a laundry basket filled with a set of towels, some pajama bottoms and a t-shirt, laundry soap, soap and personal grooming supplies. I printed a stack (30) of his resumes and the forms for the Medical Services Plan. He indicated his girlfriend, Mel* who he intended to move out with, was not well, and that he’d move out on Wednesday instead. The gift nearly brought Sam to tears.

Wednesday, I bought Jayla a dog license at lunch. A little after 6, I texted my cousin, “What’s your plan?”

To which he texted back, “Just out with Mels* for din din.” Mels, is his girlfriend, they’ve known each other for all of two months, and for some reason or another, think that it is a good idea to move in together. Not the choice, I’d make, but it’s not my choice to make.

I replied, “OK, do you want a ride to your new place with your stuff tonight?”

He replied “I’ll ask Mels now.”

And then there was nothing, for more than two hours at which I point I texted again, “What’s the plan?” and, fatefully, “Does Lola need to be let out?”

My cousin texted back, “Yes, just one last time,” and “Is it ok if I spend one last night I just feel unsafe without a lock on the door for my girl.” I had gotten the distinct impression, that despite my cousin’s wanting his girl to move in with him, that she did not share the same desire, but was perhaps unwilling to clearly communicate that with him.

I texted my cousin back with the picture of a throughly soiled bed.

“I’m too late – Lola has made a mess of your bed. We can pick up a lock for your door tonight.”

The message though, seemed not to connect, and my cousin texted again asking to stay one more night, to which I texted back, “Your dog has pissed and defecated on your bedding, there is no bedding on your bed and it will be at least 4 hours before it will be cleaned.” I was doubtful the bedding was anything less than ruined, thankful a waterproof mattress protector had saved the mattress, however, I was truly at my limit. I needed my house back.

The message finally seemed to get through, and he responded, “Omg I’m so sorry I’ll be home soon, I’ll pack my stuff.” He and Mels arrived by cab 20 minutes later – I calmly greeted them at the door and said I’d give them a ride to where they would stay that night. I placed a hook and eye lock I had found in the basement with his belongings. He gathered his stuff and we loaded it and Jayla into the car. I drove them to their friend’s place, he ordered Pizza on the way. I dropped them off and wished him well and drove home.

The next day, I texted my cousin and invited him for dinner on Sunday. I had felt somewhat bad about how the move out had gone, and wanted to let my cousin know that he was still welcome as a guest. On Saturday, I texted him further and indicated we could pay him for the work that he had already done, and that if he could come around two in the afternoon that there would be about two hours of work that could be done. He agreed.

Sunday came. Two o’clock came, and went. Then three. Then four, and then at half past four, my cousin showed up with Mels and Jayla in tow. My husband, tired of waiting for my cousin to arrive, had taken the kids out for a walk. He arrived back – and briefly exchanged niceties, asking if there was a reason Sam was late and could not text or call. Sam, being Sam, answered vaguely. It did not go over well. My husband, left to cool off at his office. My cousin, claimed to need to get keys from his landlord, but that he’d be back later. I started on dinner. Not knowing who was or was not going to be eating, I made dinner for four adults and two kids.

Sam later texted to say that he had gotten scammed on his place and was out both cash and a place to live. I advised him that my husband was willing to help, and that he should call the cops. Sam indicated that he did not want to bug us.

Dinner was ready at half past six. I ate alone with the kids.

This morning, I wrote Sam an email –

Sam –

I have no doubt that at the moment your life is not easy. The work that is available to you at this moment is not overly stable or secure, offers little in the way of benefits, and the pay is minimal. This past weekend we offered you a couple hours of work at $20/hour - and you show up 2.5 hours late with no prior text or warning that you intended to be late. You claim to have been scammed on your room - and are out both money and accommodations, and Mr. W has offered to assist you legally in that regard, but you do not want to "bug us". The reality is that at this moment your life as an adult is at ground zero. There is no easy road forward, the choices you make will either lead to an easier and more comfortable life that will afford stability and satisfaction; or, alternatively will lead to a life that is harder yet, plagued by poverty and insecurity and littered with regret.

Over the past couple of weeks, I have had an opportunity to get to know you and I see tremendous potential for you to make a good life for yourself that is filled with the love of family and friends and the rewards of hard work and dedication. You have an engaging personality, the kind of personality that makes friends easily and leads others to want to lend you a hand in helping you to achieve your goals. You are socially gifted. You are physically fit and capable of hard work. Further, you have the advantage of time – you are young enough to create nearly any future you want. At your core you are a good person who is capable of doing well in this world.

You have people who believe in your ability to do well and who are willing to help you help yourself in making a better life. You have people in your life who want to see you succeed – who want to help you up when you stumble and who want to cheer you on when you are doing well – do not take that for granted.

With that said, I would like to offer the following advice:

1. Do not get caught up on your past. Your past is the result of previous choices that were made, and the parts of your past that you regret offer up an opportunity for you to learn how to do better in the moment, and in the future. Let your past enable you to build a better future – do not let it condemn you to a life of struggle.

2. Do not get caught up on your shortcomings or the challenges that you are confronted with. Everyone has shortcomings and everyone is confronted by challenges in their lives. Those who succeed find ways to overcome their shortcomings, ways to compensate for their failings. Those who succeed carefully reflect on the areas of their lives in which they need to do better, and then undertake to improve or compensate in those areas. Further, there is no shame in seeking guidance on how to overcome your shortcomings.

3. Be accountable, to both yourself and others. Be aware of when you have failed either yourself or those in your life, acknowledge the failure and take steps to remedy it. Do not step away from your responsibility to either yourself or to others.

4. Value and respect your relationships with others – as they are, and always will be, your greatest asset and the source of much satisfaction in your life. Try to see others through to the degree possible and resist the urge to see through others. Do what you say you are going to do, and treat others with the kind of respect you'd expect to receive from others.

5. Look for and capitalize on opportunities that move you closer to the kind of life you want for yourself. With each choice you make, ask yourself if that choice moves you closer to or further away from the life you want for yourself in a month, a year or five years from now. With each relationship you have, ask yourself if that relationship moves you closer to or further away from the life you want for yourself – if a relationship is causing you to move further away from your goals, consider fixing it or moving on. If a choice is likely to move you further away from your goals, make a different choice.

6. Seek to be a role model. There will be those who will look up to you – who will see what you do, and the challenges you overcome – demonstrate the kind of life that you would want someone you love to lead. Lead the kind of life you would want your niece or nephew to lead, the kind of life you would want your son or daughter to lead.

7. Strive to rely on yourself and be confident in your ability to do so. Be aware of your attitude towards yourself and about your own capabilities. Seek to rid your vocabulary of the word “can’t” and instead focus on the “can”.

With that said – think about what you want for yourself in a year from now, and in five years from now and start moving towards it. We'd like to keep in touch with you and support you in making good life choices - but we will not support you in continuing to make poor life choices.

This is your life, now lead it.

Much love and kind regards,

The W Family

P.S. The following is a link to the Residential Tenancy Branch who may be able to assist you in your dispute regarding your room.

Mr. W. has also offered his assistance - carefully consider whether or not you want to forego that.

P.P.S. Please find the following information on housing/shelters in Victoria - as much as we'd like to help you out further in the way of housing, we do not want to support you in continuing to make poor life decisions, and these programs may be better able to assist you.

Threshold Housing Society: , , and the referral form:

Out of the Rain Youth Shelter (pet friendly)

Our Place:

Coolaid Society:

Again, as much as it may pain you to do so - seriously ask yourself whether or not your lifestyle at this time is compatible with having a dog - and whether or not you can adequately meet her needs. Having a dog is a choice - one that might be moving you further away from your goals, or alternatively adjust your lifestyle and place meeting her needs as a priority in your life.

P.P.P.S. We have a cheque for you for the work that you have done - let us know when you'd like to pick it up, or alternatively, if you'd prefer email money transfer, that too is doable.

*Names have been changed to protect identities.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

On The Road to a Healthier, Happier Mrs. W

At the beginning of October, Mr. W and I went away on a mini-vacation. A welcomed get away to Seattle, where we indulged in sleep, and food, and drink, and shopping - and yet more food and drink. The shopping was needed in part because in the year since returning to work (economists are desk jockeys), my pants had grown tight and there were very few pairs that actually fit. I had hoped that a year after my return to work, that more of my pants would fit, rather than fewer. The scale confirmed what the pants were telling me - I was just 10 pounds lighter than I was when I was 9 months pregnant with my daughter, a full 15 pounds heavier than when I returned to work. I had joined the two-thirds of the population who are either overweight or obese in Canada - with a BMI squarely in the overweight category. I had also noticed that my blood pressure that was historically low/very-low had creeped up to normal levels over the past year (in years past it would be 95/50 - and was last clocked at 125/65).

I resolved that I had to do something different and the sooner I did, the sooner I'd be on a better path. Further, having had developed gestational diabetes with my daughter, and having a father and grand parents who have developed Type II diabetes - I know that I am at an elevated risk of developing Type II diabetes over the next decade.

I had all kinds of reasons to be out-of-shape. My work environment is stressful. The kids limit the amount of time I have to work out and get exercise. My husband does the cooking. I was mildly depressed. I'll get fit after I change jobs, or after Wyatt starts kindergarten and life is more accommodating of doing so.

I knew whatever I did had to be compatable with where I am at now, and that waiting for other circumstances to align to do something might come at a steep cost in terms of my health (if the last year had brought 15 pounds and a 30 point increase in blood pressure, where would I be in 5 years?). So I thought about what I could change to get to a healthier place and have been pursuing the following strategy for the past 17 days:

*I have abstained from drinking alcohol - I wasn't a "Big Drinker" before, but 5-7 glasses of wine/beer and the occasional Martini over the course of a week has a way of adding up. I have decided that when I reach my interim goal, I might reintroduce wine to my diet - which has been surprisingly motivating.

*I have eliminated creamer/milk from my coffee and have grown accustomed to drinking it black.

*I gave my husband a cooking holiday and have taken over most of the food preparation.

*I bought a FitBit($99) and installed its app (FREE) - initially I bought a black one, and three days later, just long enough to fall in love with it, it got lost. So my current FitBit (another $99) is grey/blue and in Sharpie I have written my phone number.

*I started weighing my food (bonus use for the kitchen scale we already have), and journaling what I ate via an app on my iPhone (MyFitnessPal - FREE). Because the app counts calories for me, can add calories for the activity tracked by my FitBit and sets a calorie goal for the day staying on track has been pretty easy. As a bonus - because of the nutritional information the app provides me I have a better understanding of where my diet falls short and the impact of small changes (like substituting baked yam fries for fries). I have found that I can eat a very large volume of food that is hunger satisfying within the calorie goal if I focus on eating non-starchy vegetables (most veggies are calorie cheap), some fruits (melons, apples and berries are also colorie miserly choices), and proteins, choosing whole grains (quinoa is now a staple), limiting dressings and sauces and avoiding refined flours and added sugars. Chocolate bars and desserts aren't "out-of-bounds" but when faced with the choice of having such a treat and feeling hungry later, I have changed the choice I make. I've said good-bye to the pain-au-chocolat, and have opted for Hazelnut Chocolate Chia pudding instead (125 mls of Chocolate Hazelnut Almond Milk mixed with 15 grams of chia seeds and allowed to set for 45 minutes). This has meant packing a lunch - and has had the pleasant bonus of avoiding the $10-12 lunch expenditure each day.

*I got a FitBit Aria ($130) - a wifi scale that links up with the FitBit App and MyFitnessPal and allows for tracking trends over time. As a bit of a surprise, the Aria also lets you spy on non-registered users of your scale (guest users)...

*I committed to 10,000 steps a day (a walk at lunch time usually is enough to get there) and a Boot Camp (45 minutes, 3 days a week - cost $120 for 4 weeks/12 sessions).

Seventeen days (and $450)in, and I'm starting to notice more energy, better mood, looser pants, more money (as spending on booze and lunches has been slashed - I anticipate the sunk costs will be recouped in less than 3 months as I estimate a $25 saving in food costs and $20 saving in booze costs per week - $180 per month) and have dropped nearly 5 pounds. I'm looking forward to a more enjoyable ski season and am hoping that most of the changes that have been made can be sustainable over the longer term.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Category is: Early Twenty-Somethings

Today’s post is a bit of a divergence – it has nothing to do with healthcare, maternity care, or my workplace. Today’s post is about our unexpected, hopefully short-term, houseguest.

On Friday, I got a phone call from my Aunt – who still lives in my hometown. Her eldest son (early twenties) has decided that it was time to leave the family home and moved out to the coast in June and has been living between the Victoria area and Salt Spring Island. He has been doing cash jobs (general labour stuff) and crashing at acquaintances. In July he was involved in a car accident, and briefly went back to Alberta for medical care, but returned to the coast in September.

“Are you around this weekend?” she asked.

“Well, sort of yes and sort of no – we will be around Friday but not until after 9 as we have a Thanksgiving dinner to go to, and we have the other two kids this weekend and were planning on being away Sunday night to go to a Thanksgiving dinner in Lake Cowichan.” I replied. It was going to be a busy weekend with a full-house. The dinner in Lake Cowichan was later cancelled.

“Well, would it be at all possible for Sam* to stay with you guys this weekend. I am kind of desperate, he has nowhere else to go.” Rock meet hard place.

The thing is, it’s not just Sam, but Sam and his dog “Jayla”*- a completely sweet purebred English Bulldog, but a dog none-the-less. The thing is, when it is just us our house is pretty full as we are trying to sleep train the toddler & preschooler and doing so is immensely easier when they can sleep in separate rooms and when the older kids are with us, there really is no spare room. The thing is between my job, my other job and my husband’s job and the kids – we were already red-lining. Having guests is one thing, having an unemployed early twenty-something, young man and his dog stay with next to no notice is quite another. Particularly, an early twenty-something young man who I barely know – I moved to the coast nearly 18 years ago now and my cousin might not yet have been in school when I did so. I have seen him all of a handful of times in the years since – and, had sparingly kept in touch with his mother. But he is family, it is Thanksgiving, and there was nowhere else for him to go.

“I guess so.” I replied.

So on Friday night my cousin (tattooed and pierced) and his dog arrived, after we had retired for the night, he parked his defunct Moped and trailer in our carport. We left a towel and some soap on his bed, and a note directing him and Jayla to the shower. I awoke the next morning unable to find my laptop – he had taken it from the dining room table and it was open beside him as he slept. I found myself mildly annoyed.

He slept late on Saturday. When he woke, and we spoke it was clear – my cousin had no work, no home, no money, no reliable transportation and no plan. He offered to make-do and crash at a friend’s house for the rest of the weekend, we offered for him to stay as he was already settled even though it would mean having my step-daughter bunk with her little siblings. The last thing we want is for our place to be a revolving door for my cousin, and we are hoping that when his stay with us is over, he will only be an invited guest (for dinner or the like) from time to time.

On Saturday, we took his resume (it clearly needed formatting and editing) and formatted and edited it – “So what year did you graduate high school?” I asked.

“I didn’t graduate, I need Science 12. Dumb, I know.” He replied.

I could not help but think, who in 2014, does not finish at least high school? Victoria is a University town, so there’s no shortage of young people looking for work. The lack of high school would put my cousin at a strict disadvantage.

“So do you have any other training? Like Food Safe or Serving it Right, or anything really?” I asked.

“No” – he replied succinctly.

“You might want to consider getting your GED or doing the course by correspondence as a high school diploma would really open some doors.” – I continued, half knowing that at some point, probably years down the road that he will need to come to that conclusion himself, and that no amount of well-intended “advice” will convince him at this time.

The resume done and emailed to him, I was hoping to find him actively scouring the internet for work. Nope, he was cruising Facebook. I was irritated.

I did a load of his wash (it is doubtful that our laundry machine has ever had such a challenge before, and in a house with toddlers and a dog, that is saying something).

On Sunday he again slept late – my husband waking him and reminding him that people without jobs and homes should not be sleeping in and asking him help with some chores around the house. He happily and diligently helped with the chores. He then tried to get his moped to work – switching the fuel in it and playing with the wires. He and his parents bought it the week before and needed to get it running, which it was, but since then had yet again had a mechanical failure. The back brake was also not operational. The Moped is 40 years old – and for the time being should not be considered reliable (or safe for that matter) transportation.

“Do you have a helmet?” I asked.

“No” he replied .

“You know you’ll probably get a ticket for riding it without a helmet.” I added – while thinking, you know, without a helmet if you only wind up with a ticket and not a brain injury, you would be lucky.

“I know – almost got a ticket the other day.”

It seeming clear that finding work quickly would be wishful thinking without some help, it is also clear that steady work and the money that comes with it are likely pre-requisites to finding a place that Sam can call home. Further, finding a home for Sam, is an absolutely priority – if not for Sam, for myself and our family - so my husband forwarded the revised resume to an acquaintance of his who runs a temporary labour company for blue collar workers. Luckily, the acquaintance was able to find work at a construction site that started on Tuesday. So far, he has worked hard and diligently and it is looking likely that the crew he is working on might employ him directly. At least with work and a legitimate paycheque, his chances of finding a roof over his head would be greatly improved.

Wednesday morning I went to give my cousin a ride to his co-worker’s to car pool (as was discussed the night before), as we had planned the night before only to find his room empty, his hard hat on his bed and his work boots on the floor. No note was to be found.

I texted him – and he explained that he went to his colleagues place earlier and would rent his equipment for the day. I let him know that not doing what you say you are going to do earns no brownie points around our house. I found myself, again, irritated.

So at least my cousin had work. But still, no home and he seemed to be making only cursory efforts at finding a home. It is Thursday – and I think he has only looked at less than a handful of places (maybe 3). On Tuesday I sent him a dozen links to listings. Yesterday, I started emailing and texting a few on his behalf. Today, I wrote an accommodations wanted ad on his behalf. If by the end of the weekend there is no headway on the home-front (Victoria’s rental market is insanely tight and having a dog in tow does not make it any easier), I will be requiring him to apply to a program directed to housing otherwise homeless youth and helping them with life skills.

Don’t get me wrong, my cousin is a sweet kid, as is his dog, he seems to be reasonably hard-working, has an outgoing personality and he does not smoke – he gets on with the kids, however, he is still an early twenty-something with all that comes with that territory. Including all kinds of things that not being an early twenty-something and being an entirely different kind of early twenty-something when I was – I am likely to find at a minimum irritating. He needs to be an early twenty-something somewhere else, and the less I know about it, probably the better – as it is entirely likely, that withholding judgement on the choices he makes might be beyond my capacity.

On that note – know of an available and affordable suite or somebody looking for a roommate in the Greater Victoria area (even a sublet would be fine)? Please drop me a line or two...please.

*Sam – not their real names, pseudonyms are being used.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Get it, Got it, Good

It's easy to see judgement of the choices women make - often by other women. Look no further than the mommy wars. Look no further than the question whether or not women should have the right to a cesarean section. Look at the right to access an abortion.

Sometimes the judgement is downright militant. There seems to be a need - not only to control our own lives, but then to extend that control to others. A need to have our own choices reflected back in the choice of others. A need to pressure others to make the same choice.

The pro-lifers with placards outside of women's health clinics are bullies - seeking to shame women away from their choice. The lactivists who seek to shame women into breastfeeding. Those who look to those who work outside of the home with disdain - and those who look to those who stay home with an equal amount of disdain. All of them are bullies.

It is not healthy.

It is an act of seeing through other women, rather than seeing women through.

Today, Malala Yousafzai became the youngest winner of a nobel peace prize - she is quoted as saying "A girl has the power to go forward in her life and she is not only a mother. She is not only a sister. She is not only a wife, but a girl should have an identity." Malala gets it.

A while ago, Suzie Barston and Kim Simon started the #ISupportYou movement. Suzie and Kim get it.

Similarly, Dr. Walker Karraa, founded Stigmama to start to peel away the many layers of stigma associated with mental illness, particularly among mothers. Dr. Karraa, gets it.

In her speech to the UN on the need for men to also be feminist, Emma Watson demonstrated that she gets it.

Lastly, in my own home town, I came accross another woman who seems to get it. Celtie Lou - gets it.

They get that we need to see women as people, fully people: nothing less. They get that we need to be secure enough in our own choices to allow other women to make their own choices even when they are different from our won. They get that we need to support and empower women - understand what the real needs are, and then work to meet those needs. We need to respect each other. We need to see each other through, rather than seeing through each other. What's more, is that these women understand that it's not enough to just get it - and what is remarkable and amazing, is these women understand the need to help others get it too. They are doing good work.

Imagine for a moment the world, if more women got it. If more people got it. Truly got it. Imagine the communities, imagine the mountains that could be climbed and the challenges that could be overcome.

Now ask yourself, what can you do to help others get it? Go do that. It is good work.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Small Steps in the Right Direction

This past week, something critical to the functional health of the BC Ministry of Health as a workplace, happened. Something that might signal a real turning point and a shift towards rebuilding the organization from the cultural damage that resulted from what was for many of those involved, an entirely disproportionate and inappropriate reaction to the circumstance.

Minister Lake, and Deputy Minister Stephen Brown issued an apology to the family of Mr. McIsaac. Further, there has been a committment to reviewing what happened in 2012 to learn from it and to revise policies and procedures to ensure that a similar situation will be handled better and more appropriately in the future.

Mr. McIsaac, was a co-op student who, 3 days from the end of his work term was fired from his position at the ministry along with 6 other staff. Subsequently, an investigation (which cost no less than $3.4 million) determined that there was not actually an breach in data security and largerly cleared the staff in question.

It is not easy to take responsibility for a mistake - particularly a mistake that happened as the result of another person's actions or inactions. The minister and deputy minister that were heading the ministry in 2012 have since moved on. As individuals, the current minister and deputy minister are not to blame for what happened in 2012. However, it demonstrates real leadership to recognize the responsibility the organization has for what happened in 2012, to recognize the need to learn from what happened, and to take steps to repair the damage that was done.

The events of the past week, are small steps in the right direction. It is unfortunate that such steps were not taken proactively - happening only after a very public appeal from the family for an apology. However, there is an opportunity to be proactive about the next steps that are taken - and for the sake of the Ministry, and the family of Mr. McIsaac and the others involved in the scandal, I hope the next steps continue in the right direction and adequately address what still needs to be done.