Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Consolation Prize

No one wants the consolation prize.

"What?  You got last place, here, have this consolation prize and try and cheer up.  We know you're in last place, but you can still have this prize as a reward.  Keep pressing on!"

The consolation prize is never as good as the winner's cut, and let's be honest, in comparison it's not much of anything.  After all, it's only given as a manner of formality; for appearances only.

At different stages of my life, I've often felt like I was the consolation prize.  The only reason someone would be in my company me was because I was the only option available--the winner's prize was taken and I was all that's left.

That hurts.

When I was in elementary school, I was never part of the "in" crowd and as such, often felt like I was on the fringe of society.  If any of you have ever read the picture book The Snowchild by Debi Gliori, you can get a pretty good picture of how I felt.  Katie only wanted to be on the "inside" but she always seemed to play the wrong games at the wrong times and the other children left her out.  It wasn't until she met Jenny that she found a friend who wanted to spend time with her for her.  Like Katie, I longed for that kind of friend.

Because my family did a lot of camping and I often had to amuse myself in foreign playgrounds, I wasn't a stranger to making friends.  I grew up learning to introduce myself as, "Hello, my name is Rachel, wanna be my friend?" or "wanna play with me?"  I remember using this one September in grade six.  It was the first day of school and there was a new girl standing by my portable classroom.  I walked up, and introduced myself, and in a matter of minutes, we were friends as only elementary school kids can be.  She seemed kind of shy and so I was quick to bring her over to where a couple of the other girls stood talking.  For a few months after that, I wondered what would have happened if I hadn't done that--if I had stayed talked to her until the first bell rang would that have made a difference or only prolonged the inevitable?  You see, after she had met the others, it was like I wasn't important.  They were the prize and I was not.

I remember a few other moments from those years where other students would talk and laugh with me--but only when I was the only one around.  If we were in a group, these same students wouldn't always talk to me or really look at me.  I was a friend of convenience and it was only convenient when I was the only one.

Talk about painful.

I experienced similar kinds of situations near the start of high school, but as I reached grade twelve and then university, I'd finally found people that valued me for me.  Friends that wanted to spend time with me because I was the prize.

This post is not easy to write.  Not because it hurt back then, but because recently I've felt the same pain and I've started to question whether I might have done the same to someone else.  The wounds that I thought to be healed have been torn open again and I lie once more bleeding on the floor.  Friends who were as akin as siblings won't give me the time of day anymore.  A few times, I've tried to make arrangements to hangout--even if it's just for an hour--just to talk and catch up, and yet I'm told that they are too busy or worse, I hear nothing in return.  This behaviour sends the message that I'm not worth the effort, sometimes the little effort it takes to send a text.  I've come to expect disappointment from these friends.  I've come to expect them to flake on plans, to ignore me, and to make no effort to meet me half way.  Without realizing it, they are breaking my heart and I'm nearing my limit.

I find it difficult to express how this betrayal makes me feel.  I'm sad, yes.  But more, I feel like someone is slowly beating me with a bat.  Not hard enough to make any clean breaks, but enough to bruise me repeatedly. Even the toughest wood will splinter under repeated abuse, eh?

It takes two people to make a relationship work and I can only call out so many times before I take the hint that I'm not a prize worth fighting for.

And yet... I'm not saying that I'll cut these people out of my life because I don't think that's right either.  If they decide to reach out to me, I will be waiting.  Friends do grow and change with time and people grow apart, as sad as that may be.  No matter the distance, a part of me will always wait with a hand outstretched toward those who've left me behind.  With nostalgia clinging like early morning mist, I can't do otherwise because I will always cherish the time we had together.

And now I feel like I've talked myself into a circle.  I hate feeling like the consolation prize and it makes me feel angry, bitter and so utterly sad, and yet I can't hate the friends that have made me feel that way.  I still love them and wish they'd fight for me, too.

In the end, maybe that's a reason I make a good consolation prize...

Je ne sais pas.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Let's talk about the weather.

I'm Canadian and I've been told somewhat recently that one of the odd features about us is that we talk about the weather.  A lot.  Now, I cannot attest for all Canadians, so I don't know how general that stereotype is, but I know it's true for in and around where I live.  Conversations about the weather are not simply small-talk but sometimes serious, life-or-death (well, maybe that's extreme, but they get close!) conversations.

The weather in my area is never constant.  Sometimes, we cycle through four different types of weather in a span of a few hours: cloudy-sunny-rainy-sunny-snowy.  As such, we talk about what the weather will be, why it's being so weird (or not weird), and will take time to relish a truly beautiful day.

Lately, the ho-hum about the weather is all negative. "This summer is too cold."  "This summer is too rainy."  "This summer is terrible."

Why is it that we always complain and long for what we don't have?

I feel like a lot of people have forgotten that last summer and the summer before were sometimes "too hot."  I mean sit-around-naked-without-moving-and-you-still-sweat hot.  I worked at a golf course last summer and the irrigation guy gave a report in August saying that they pumped more water last year (2013) than in 2012 by a long shot.  It was crazy-hot.  And people complained. Now people are complaining that it's too cold, but we still have days that reach, at the lowest, 20-23°C going up to 29° at the highest--and that's without the humid-X.  Sure, it may not be as hot as it's been in previous years, but that's still short and t-shirt weather.  Plus, with the horrendous winter we had this past year, how can a cooler summer come as a surprise?  Someone told me that the last time we got that much snow was 40 years ago.  All that water hanging around was bound to have a backlash.  It doesn't just disappear come spring.

In any case, I thought this summer was fine.  It never got too hot, which was great because I, like many others, work outdoors.  And despite it raining every week, there were plenty of sunny days for other activities.

You win some, you lose some, eh?

Enjoy what's here, while it's here.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Line Trimmer's Nightmare

With less than two weeks left at my summer job, I thought I'd share one of the things that makes my job not only difficult, but annoying and a pain.  As I cut grass at different parks all day (everyday), I encounter different "obstacles" for my line trimmer. These obstacles are always a frustrating challenge and I will be oh-so glad when it is no longer my job to make them look nice and neat.

For those of you who have never line trimmed (or weed-wacked/whipper-snipped or however you call it), you may think that line trimming is a straightforward, fairly easy job, but it's not.  The line can get stuck in different objects or can fling things at you--not just grass.  I've been pelted with rocks, pine cones, bits of earth.  And those projectiles have surprising reach--hitting not only my legs but my arms, hands, neck, face and sometimes smack-dab in the eye (luckily for my safety glasses).  One of the worst is when a sharp piece of something flies straight up your nose.

With all that in mind, I've composed a list of THE SEVEN WORST THINGS TO LINE TRIM.  Call it a vent if you will, I think of it as a piece of interest, really.

7. Bleachers
 Grass and weeds growing beneath wooden and metal bleachers.
Really, bleachers aren't too bad.  More so an annoyance.  The grass and weeds flourish beneath the boards and at times grow tall enough to touch people's shoes as they sit to watch a game.  It looks bad which means it has to be cut.  The only way to do so is by maneuvering the trimmer underneath and between the metal frame at different vantage points.  And even then, it's hard to get everything.

6. Low-hanging trees
Tree with low-hanging branches that impede travel near the trunk.
 A fair number of trees on our route have branches that stick far out and then hang low to the ground.  To get all the grass beneath the trunk, I've had to duck and dodge limbs and hunch myself into small spaces.  This wouldn't be so bad if many of the trees didn't have spikes/thorns or were pointy coniferous trees.  

5. Parking Lots
Concrete blocks found in parking lots to mark the curbs.
The stone blocks used in parking lots are descendants of evil.  An army in number, they never seem to end and all four sides need to be trimmed.

4. Chain-link fences
Grass growing up through a chain-link fence
Really, all fences are annoying, but chain-link fences are the worst.  The trimmer line hooks into the fence if you go to close, thus chewing up your line faster than you can blink, as well as ripping your trimmer from your hands.  The grass weaves between the holes meaning that no matter how close you get, at the end, there will always be bits of grass peeking out. These fences never look good.  I wish all fence makers built fences with a could inches of give above the ground.  The the trimmer could sneak under.

3. Soccer Nets.
Worse than chain link fences are soccer nets.  The flimsy fabric hangs on the ground meaning that you either need to be uber-talented to both hold it out of your way and trim at the same time, or you need a buddy.  Like with the chain-link fence, if you go to close to the netting, your trimmer gets sucks in and tangled within.  That means you then have to stop and extract it with the utmost care.  If you're not careful, you can tear the nets, too.  An utter annoying.

2. Ditches 
A giant ditch.
 You may wonder how ditches can be worse than chain-link fences or soccer nets, but ditches are awful.  My image doesn't do this one ditch much justice (and please ignore my finger!  I didn't realize it was there until we'd left).  The far bank continued on around a bend behind me and is over six feet tall.  Ditches are a pain because even though the grass may be nice, it's too steep for the mowing machines to get to.  That mean it has to be completely trimmed.  It's awkward standing on a slant while you trim and depending on how steep the ditch is, it can hurt.  Other problems with ditches is that wet days mean water or mud in the bottom.  Say "ah" for a mouthful! Let's not forget there may be red ant nests on the slopes so keep those feet moving!

1. Rocks.
a rocky bank
While all the above are bad, the number one worst place to trim: Rocks.  Or in this case, a rocky bank.  Like a ditch, it creates uneven footing that is multiplied by the rocky surface.  It looks gross before you trim and after you trim.  Rocks, like metal fences also chew your line, and if you're trimming with a buddy, you may find yourself pelted with even more painful projectiles depending on where you trim in relation to each other.  I feel like I cannot express how truly terrible it is.  

And yet, despite how much I hate trimming these obstacles, I feel a sense of accomplishment and pride when it is cut and looks good (well, as good as it can looks).  Still, I will not miss them when my time is done.

For anyone else who has done landscape/ground maintenance, does my list match yours?   

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Checklist Season

August is a month of checklists, or at least, I think it is.  With September fast approaching, a lot of people need to get ready for the coming season and coming changes.  Teachers need to turn from their summer holidays to begin thinking and preparing for their coming classes; parents and children hasten to chaotic stores to replace those jeans that fit perfectly two months ago, but are now too short.  New binders, backpacks, and other supplies are also hunted down like a caveman after his dinner.  Students heading to college or university may need furniture or appliances depending on living arrangements and may be waiting anxiously for that move-in date.


Have you done ____ yet?  Have you gotten ____ yet?  Is _____ packed?  What about ____?  And on and on.

August is a season of checklists.  I move to my final year of university in a little over two weeks (16 days to be exact) and I am excited.  I'm slowly but surely building up my checklists and checking things off.  I know that soon I'll have to do some back-to-school-shopping, but I'm hoping that this year, it'll only be for a few choice items--and mainly for kitchen things.

One more year to go, and then after, the future is a whole lot less planned out and structure.  One more "back-to-school-checklist" as a student, and then who knows what checklists I'll be making next year?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Within Fear's Grasp

Psalm 56:3-4

When I am afraid, I will trust in you.  In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?

Fear's fingers emit a chill that reaches us before that first touch.  Crawling within our belly to squeeze and stir our innards, fostering that nervousness that makes us frantic.  Sliding into our mind to lock the doors upon our logic, our reason, to freeze us within our tracts, or, sometimes worse, to lead us to make detrimental decisions.

Fear is powerful and it can control us without us realizing.  Once in command of a situation, it is hard to disentangle from its cold claws.  Wanting to thrive and grow, fear works to expand its grasp--works to spread its seeds of dissension.  If left alone, unobserved and unhindered, fear can destroy everything; cause chaos.

This is one of the lessons and major themes that I saw within The Death Gate Cycle by Weis and Hickman (Click for my Review and comments), one upon which I have been reflecting upon over the last week or so.

Aung San Suu Kyi writes: "It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it."  I think that this quotation speaks to the heart of the matter.  When  in control, it is not the power that necessarily leads to bad decisions, but the fear that someone else will take that power away--that we'll lose.  Even with the best intentions, fear can twist our actions for its own purpose.  We can become consumed by that fear and spiral into chaos if we leave it unhindered.

In The Death Gate Cycle, both the Sartans and the Patryns are ruled by fear at different times, and they don't always realize it.  The Sartans fear that the Patryns will overpower them and so decide to confine them to the Labyrinth and Sunder the world into four new worlds.  They want to remain in control, and in part, they do hope for the best and believe that they will do what's right, but that control leads to death for many people.

Likewise, the mensch (humans, elves and dwarves) show actions led by fear.  To decide to have your "son" assassinated (see Dragon Wing, book 1 and The Hand of Chaos, book 5); to organize a monopoly on the water supply (thus enslaving the other races, again both Dragon Wing and The Hand of Chaos touch on this); to raise and then enslave the dead (Fire Sea, book 3)... these decisions are all touched with fear.  Fear for control--over others and over the unknown.

"You are the one giving fear a leg to stand on." -Dodinsky

The thing about fear is that it only has as much control or strength as we give it.  When faced with a decision, we can choose to stand up for what is right, what makes sense, what helps the most, or we can give into fear and let it lead us down a strangled path.  It's a decision to choose courage.  Sometimes that courage means speaking up and acting, while at other times it may mean letting go and doing nothing.

For me, that courage comes from knowing who I am: a child of the living God.  Even when I find myself feeling lost and overwhelmed, I can find strength in knowing that God loves and cares for me.  No matter the circumstances, no matter the trials and tribulations I may face, I can stand firm because I know He is and will always be there.

I can stand firm within Fear's grasp.

Psalm 27:1

The LORD is my light and my salvation-- whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life-- of whom shall I be afraid?

Isaiah 41:10

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

The Death Gate Cycle: A Review

Last Friday, I turned the last ebook page in the book The Seventh Gate by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman.  In doing so, I also turned the last page in the Death Gate Cycle, a seven book series.  The series was recommended by one of my favourite professors from university.  During one of our breaks in her class, we were talking about good books and she said that the Death Gate Cycle is one of her favourite fantasy/sci-fi series.  As an avid reader and a fan of fantasy/sci-fi, I knew that I'd have to give it a shot.  Thus began my journey through Death's Gate.  

Image of cover of each of the seven novels.
From the get-go, I was struck by the creativity of the world--or should I say worlds in which I entered.  I would say that the books are mainly centered on two races of people: the Sartan and the Patryn.  Both are able to use the magic of possibilities meaning that in any given moment, they can examine existing possibilities and make them happen.  Standing beside a river, there is the possibility that it could be frozen solid or dry as a bone, the possibility that there is a bridge or that he or she is already standing on the other side.  Because of their power and strength, they are considered like gods to the races of mensch (dwarfs, elves, and humans).

The Sartan and Patryn are bitter enemies and were locked in a war with no end.  Because of that, the Sartan decided to "sunder" the world into four separate worlds for them and the mensch while creating a separate world called the Labyrinth for the Patryns.  The Labyrinth was meant to serve as a correctional facility and upon completing it the Patryn would arrive in the beautiful city of the Nexus.  Meanwhile, the four worlds of Arianus, Pryan, Abarrach and Chelestra were each made with a different primary element and were meant to work together to provide different resources.  This sharing, however, never occurred.  

The Death Gate Cycle occurs centuries after the sundering and in the aftermath, things have started to go terribly wrong.  For one, the Labyrinth, which was supposed to instruct and guide the Patryns, turns into a deadly killer, fueled by fear and hate.  It sends peril after peril unto the Patryn, making survival the main goal.  The first Patryn to ever make it through the final gate and into the Nexus is called Lord Xar.  Since his attaining his freedom, he has returned when he could into the Labyrinth in order to rescue more of his people.  Upon emerging, these Patryns swear their loyalty to their Lord.  One of these loyal Patryns is Haplo.  Haplo is like a son to Lord Xar and is privileged to his Lord's plan.  Wanting revenge against their ancient enemy, Xar sends Haplo (and by default his dog) to each of the four worlds through Death's Gate to gain reconnaissance and to stir up chaos so that he can later come in and take over.

This mission does not go as straight forward as would be expected and Haplo encounters numerous surprises along the way.  Some of these things succeed in altering the way he looks at everything he thought he knew for certain.  Ultimately, leading to a battle for the lives of everyone--his people, the Sartan and the mensch.

Liked:  I really liked how the series built up.  I thought the over-arching plot developed at a good pace over the course of the novels and left me time to digest before rushing on.  I also really liked the creativity of the four worlds and of how they interact and helped each other.  

There were both amusing and serious characters as well as characters that made me want to pull my hair out, but I think that was a good thing.  If I didn't get frustrated with them, then there wouldn't have been the bumps that made the story that much better.

I also really liked the broad theme of "fear" which touched each of the books.  Fear can spur us on to survive in bad situations, but it can also lead toward terrible decisions which have detrimental shock-waves.  

Disliked/Problems: I think this was more so a me-problem, but I didn't realize that Haplo was one of the main main character until the second book.  When the other characters from the first book didn't appear in the second, I was a little surprised and was a bit disjointed a bit.  I quickly got my stride, though, so that was good.

Second, some of the names for things were a little whimsical.  There is a great machine on Arianus that collects water from a raging storm to provide it to the other land masses, and it is called : "The Kicksey-winsey."  It, along with a few other things, seemed very juvenile in comparison to other themes in the plot.

One last comment, I found books four and five slower than the others.  Book five was the worst for me and I struggled getting through the first half of the book.  They weren't bad books, just a bit of a lull.  The series finished very strongly in the last two, Into the Labyrinth and The Seventh Gate.  Couldn't put them down at that point.  

Overall: I really enjoyed the series and am really glad that I read them.  I recommend them to anyone who is looking for a new innovative twist on the classic fantasy/sci-fi adventure.  This series has a very different feel from Memory, Sorrow and Thorn or LoTR, but different can be refreshing.  If you do decide to delve within, I hope you enjoy!


Things I've learned about France (or at least Normandy)

Well there we go, my second European country. In some ways, very similar to England (a lot of meat and potatoes, fancy churches, pay toilets...