Monday, January 27, 2014

Yearbook 2013 | Summer Fun

You may ask, was there any FUN in our summer last year? The answer is YES! Not as much as we would have planned on, but I tried to get the boys out as much as I could and we did have some fun days. The photos above were taken at Kayben Farms, near Okotoks. They have the most fun, most humongous inflated jumping bag I've ever seen. Otto was in heaven.

And above: for the past few years, we've joined my sister-in-law's family 
for their annual day at Calaway Park. Lots of fun for the boys.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Yearbook 2013 | Mr. Muscles

I've been busy! Haven't we all? Well, I've been trying to get my pages done for last year. The flood put everything in our lives back, including my scrapbooking and memory-keeping for my family. It's something I believe is so important, so I've been spending some time this month on it all. It has been really hard getting through any pages related to the flood. Many emotions come up, and I find my mind going in many directions at once. It has been taking longer than usual on those particular pages. But here is a page I just finished with a lighter feel. Still flood-time, but this was something fun for Andy as he was working so hard with flood clean-up and recovery.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Smile Brother | Yearbook 2013

I've been working on this one on and off for some time now. I basically scraplifted the LO with inspiration from here and here, but I had to make the digital template from scratch. I'm a little proud of myself for figuring it out and putting all the chevron pieces together. I would love to know how to make the ends of the papers curl in Photoshop Elements, but I'm not even sure it's possible. Probably, but I just don't know how yet.

I love these two boys. They are such a joy. And I love how Otto always calls Atlas, "Brother".  I never encouraged it, but that's just what Otto calls him. It's cute.

Looking forward to working more on our family Yearbook.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

So Thankful | In Pictures

I have so much to be thankful for. My most thankful thing last weekend was getting out into the wide-open space with my family. It was beautiful seeing the cousins together, and the love they show one another.


Monday, October 14, 2013

October Update

It has been over 2 months since I last posted! I haven't dropped off the face of the earth, but we've been filling our days (and my nights) with all kinds of things! The boys and I were able to move back into our home two months after the flood - mid August. I felt like the worst mother on the planet as I plopped my boys in front of the TV day after day while I got busy on the mess that our house was! I wish I had before and after pictures. Don't we always say that after the fact? Because we had been able to save so much when we were home as our house was being flooded, there were giant piles of stuff on every available inch of floor on our main floor. I am very grateful for what we were able to save - an entire pile or two of photo albums and scrapbooks, among other things. I began putting everything in labelled bins to take out to the garage. Andy made room on the shelves and we started stacking bins for storage. Other items were relocated to main-floor rooms, and I had to get very organized and creative in the ways I could store things.

Finally, things began to feel more normal and I turned off the TV and we started living our lives again. I resumed piano teaching, and Andy began his new job (with an almost four-hour daily commute). Andy loves his new position and we are happy to have his whole self when he is home.

We still get frustrated with the progress of our home and the legal implications of living on what is now considered "flood fringe" (ours is actually called "overland flow"). There is talk now that we may never be able to sell our house, and there are still some big mitigation jobs to be done on the house, but we are plugging along and hoping for the best.

We try to take in the high points of life and make them meaningful. Several weeks ago, our town was chosen as the site for the Canadian Hot Air Balloon Championships. It was magical! We could see them right from our house, but we also went to the light-up night, 

where they just "glow", but don't fly. And the boys and I went early the next day to see them launch. There was an amazing Darth Vader balloon that Otto got to help deflate (I was teaching, and we noticed him go down a few streets over, but he didn't go back up, so the sitter took the boys over and Otto got to take off his shoes and walk all over Darth Vader to get the air out! He was quite happy about that).  

(I think there was a bit of fog on my lens)

It was a very chilly morning, but the boys were so excited when the balloons finally touched off the ground! It really was magical. It lifted our spirits.

Other than the balloons, we have been finding lots of joy in Otto going to preschool! We had discussed his options last year, and decided to make a 15 minute drive two days a week so Otto can go to preschool with Ms Aileen. We LOVE Aileen. I used to work as her assistant and I adore her. She has won early childhood awards and all the children absolutely adore her. She has a way with children that she can see so clearly what they need. I knew she would be perfect for Otto. Otto is a very busy boy, and may one day be labeled a "problem child" in someone's class because he is just so BUSY! But he is super bright and needs to be challenged to keep his interest. I knew Ms Aileen would be able to do this and see him for the wonderful spirit he is. Otto LOVES his new class and I love visiting - it's like old times. I love that I know her curriculum. I know she celebrates each child and allows them to grow and explore on their own. This is so important to early childhood learning. We are happy.

I wanted to stick this next photo in - one from our summer adventures. We went to the Alberta Birds of Prey Center (which is completely wonderful!!) and Atlas got to hold a little barn owl. He was in heaven!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

High River Flood | Part 3: Massive Cleanup: Seeing Orange

 {Some of the carnage piled in front of our house. This was even AFTER one 3-tonne truck load to the dump - there were more to come.}

Happy Canada Day to us! 
We got to come back to our home a week and a half after being rescued from it.

 After posting two very long accounts of what we went through, I hope this one will be shorter. It is difficult to put into words, to try to explain all we felt. This post has a lot of photos rather than a lot of words. It's all about damage. And a massive cleaning effort by so many. This is also a story of blessings and gratitude.

I wish I had more pictures of the damage we saw as we drove through our town to our house. Train tracks which looked as if a giant had picked them up, twisted them like a Twizzler, then dropped them back down on the ground. Houses twisted on their foundation. Boats, "beached" (mostly one area in particular). Feet and feet of mud. The mud was everywhere.

We came to a stop in front of our house and saw more mud, with a bit of grass poking through. So muddy. Some of it was dry, some of it was still slightly damp.

 {This is how much mud was caked on our lawn and our sidewalks. Several inches worth}

We checked out our yard, shed, and garage first before entering the house. Even the shed, which was closed, had a layer of mud. (see above)

Poor Andy's shop/garage had SO much mud. I mean, look at the floor! Several inches (and by the way, we were lucky with this much mud. Many homes had FEET).

{Poor Andy's Edsel}
(side note - the insurance companies were writing off all vintage cars and towing them away, but Andy simply refused! He has done all the work himself and will do all the work to get it back into working condition. It was his grandfather's after all!)

After looking over the yard, we came to the front door. Also very muddy.

Remember the color codes for the homes? Green (being the best), Yellow, Orange, then Red (being the worst). I was not foolishly hoping our house was green. I knew the state we had left it in. I was  hoping for yellow. At least we'd still be able to live there. Minor cleanup. Well, we weren't so lucky. Our house was orange. Extensive repairs would have to be made for it to be habitable.  

And this was our first look: 

A bookshelf. At the bottom of the stairs. It was unbelievable how the water had moved everything around so much! We found items from one room end up in a different room. A bookshelf. At the bottom of the stairs. You can see from the water line on the wall that the water stopped two steps from the landing.

All our furniture was moved around. And covered in mud.

And many things that hadn't been touched with water were rusty from the humidity!

I was so sad to find this toy bin in the carnage. When I had been running around trying to save things, I thought I had gotten all of the boy's toy bins. We have a few that have small toys in them. This one was full of  animals and people and included the set of Fisher Price A-Z Zoo animals a dear friend had second-handed to us. Atlas loved this set! So sad.

Some items already had mold growing.

A very large amount of Andy's LEGO was found covered in mud. And by mud, I mean silt from the river mixed in with some good ol' town sewer. All of it was pretty disgusting. Not to mention highly unsanitary.

{our food storage}
In our religion, we have been counseled by our top ministers to have a year's supply of food and necessary items. We had as much as our small storage space would accommodate. All gone.

But then there were the miracles.


Most people who had a freezer in the basement found it overturned and opened up, with rotting food everywhere. Ours was weighed down by my fabric bins! This not only saved our freezer from contaminating everything further, but also saved my fabric! Unbelievable.

I remember as we were running around during the flood, trying to save things, Andy asking me, "Is there anything else under the stairs we should save?" And I thought no, just food. But later I remembered that there were two little bins full of the boys' Christmas treasures. The boys are still little, and it wouldn't have been the end of the world if they were damaged and lost. But some of the items in their bins were hand-made ornaments from their Gramma, and special gifts from friends and family. I thought for sure they would be gone because they had been submerged. But when the cleaning/wrecking crew brought them out and Andy opened them, I couldn't believe my eyes. The tops of the bins were covered in a layer of mud - evidence of them being submerged - but the items in the bin were miraculously untouched. Unbelievable.

 Another miracle was the help we had in the week we did the big cleanup. Our volunteers were friends old and new, and strangers too. Friends who couldn't physically come out and help took items to try to clean and salvage. In our haste, we had forgotten one photo album from Andy's childhood and two or three small albums from mine. Sadness. But a good friend took Andy's album of photos, cleaned them as best she could, then took them to be digitally restored. Amazing. A friend who worked all day gutting our basement, took home bags and bags of nasty LEGO. She cleaned them and returned them! Unbelievable. Many friends took things to clean. Many friends came to help clean. Absolute God-send.

In all of this, I have cried more (and continue to shed tears) for the generosity of friends, family, and perfect strangers, than I did for the loss of our material possessions. Such love and caring these people showed us. So willing to help. We could not have done it without them.
And that's how it went. Many hours of cleanup. And many more still to come.

This is what our street looked like nine days after we were let back in to start the clean up (and this looks pretty good compared to the first two or three days). One friend described it something like this: "You see pictures in the news of the devastation, and you think, That's so sad. Then you see it in person and you realize that the devastation doesn't stop at one house. It is house after house, block after block of mountains of garbage piled high on peoples' lawns and on the street. Dirt everywhere, the air thick with it. There are no words to describe the feeling of absolute chaos, and the magnitude of the aftermath. And I'm just a spectator, I didn't live through it like you guys did!"
Yes. This is our life right now. Dealing with the aftermath.

I'm the kind of person who, when something happens I try to deal with it. It-was-going-to-happen-anyway-so-let's-just-make-a-plan-and-get-through-it type of person. This has been hard, yes. But the human spirit is amazing. Especially when that spirit has so many others rooting for them. Thank you all for your prayers, for your service, for your love. You continue to amaze me with your generosity and caring.

Nevertheless, my heart was breaking for all my friends and neighbors. People in worse shape than what we saw at our own house. Friends who still couldn't get into their homes because two weeks after the flood, they were still under water. Friends who came home to see that their house was coded red. We came to learn that there were many shades of red. Red could mean anything from extreme damage, will take extensive repairs, to uninhabitable and condemned. Heart breaking.

We sat late one night and cried many tears with a dear dear friend. Her house was red. In any normal circumstance, we would be the first to be there to help her, but since we were victims too, we couldn't do all we wanted to help our friends and neighbors. That was hard. I still cry about that.
This is my parents' house. It's on the side of town that isn't even near the flood plane. The devastation in every neighborhood was unbelievable. The difference from house to house was unbelievable too! On my block, neighbors across the street were yellow. We were orange. And our neighbors next to us were red. On my parents' street, they had about a foot and a half of water. Their neighbor to the right had about three feet. Their neighbor to the left had about seven feet. It was unreal.

Cleanup efforts continue. We will be in various stages of cleanup for a long time. But we are getting through it. It will take time. It will take effort. It will take love. This isn't the end. This is the beginning of a new kind of life for us {whether we want it or not, but we're going to ride it through}. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

High River Flood | Part 2: Displacement and Waiting

After leaving the High River airport and heading to my brother's house in Lethbridge, we arrived safely later that night. My brother had picked up diapers and toothbrushes for everyone. Though I had packed emergency bags for our family, they had to be left in the boat. So we literally had nothing but the clothes on our backs as we were driven out of town by the flooding. Neither Andy nor I had any identification. No money. No vehicle. No clothes.

We hardly slept that night, though we were so tired. We woke early, staying in bed checking our phones to get on Facebook and use text messaging, making sure family and friends had gotten out safely. My brother doesn't have TV, so we used internet to find the news we needed. We knew my sister had gotten out - in her jeep with her dogs (a chihuahua and a great dane), but she hadn't heard from her husband, who had decided to stay at home. 

I was completely useless to everyone those first few days - I was glued to my phone, finding friends on Facebook, making sure everyone was safe, and trying to get more information on what was happening.

Throughout the day, we learned that the police were evacuating the entire town, and it was declared a State of Emergency. The army was coming to take over: over a thousand were coming from Edmonton and other areas. We also heard that among other places in Alberta, Bragg Creek, Canmore, and even downtown Calgary had also been flooded! We were in shock. We watched videos posted online, and were able to see friends being taken to safety in the buckets of tractors. We knew many had gotten to safety in manure trucks. We were relieved to see my brother-in-law in one of the videos. At least now we knew he was safe. My sister stayed in her jeep that night, and would sleep many nights there. My aunt had driven herself out when she was evacuated, and stayed at the Nanton evac center, then would stay with friends in Okotoks in the days to come. Many stayed at evacuation centers in Nanton or Blackie. 

We had no idea what to do next. Our town was underwater. No one really knew anything.

Andy and I had a visit from his sister and brother-in-law, who helped us out so we could purchase essentials. Andy's sweet aunt also phoned wanting to help. We met with her later that day. We went out to buy clothes for ourselves (Value Village) and essentials from the grocery store.

We were touched and amazed at the graciousness we saw that day not only from our family, but from people we hardly knew. At the grocery store, I saw an old acquaintance - the cousin of a good friend. I hadn't seen or talked with her in years. She was touched by our story (and what she'd been hearing on the news) and wanted to do something for us. She was generous in paying for a good portion of our groceries.

That day, and many other moments since then, I have cried more in seeing the generosity of others than I have for the loss I have experienced.

It was decided that my family would keep to our plans of staying in Waterton. This much anticipated vacation would turn into a safe refuge. 

*side note: as water was filling in our basement, and we had abandoned efforts to save things, we remarked to each other, "I guess Waterton isn't going to happen." to which Otto announced in a bright voice, "Our house IS Waterton!"*

Friends of my parents had asked them to look after a house in Waterton, as no one would be staying there that week. So on we went to Waterton. It was so strange trying to pack for this trip, seeing how we didn't really have anything! We borrowed much and were given the rest through the kindness of others.

Waterton was cold, but beautiful. It did my heart good to breathe in that fresh air, and to be surrounded by trees and nature.

We were all together in one house, which meant a lot to me. (both my brothers came out for a few days, but my sisters were not able to be there)

However, wireless connection was difficult to come by, especially since the weather was not so good, so it was frustrating trying to get what news we could. We were there four days - my Mom took good care of us with food and activities for the kids. Then on the Wednesday, almost a week after the flood and not having heard any real news about High River and when we were going to be allowed back, Andy got a call from a good friend from his high school days. He felt terrible about our situation and wanted to offer us a place to stay, insisting that he would be offended if we did not stay with him and eat his food. Andy had been feeling stressed about being so far away and not being able to hear news, not being able to pick up calls when we needed them, not being closer to town for when/if they opened the town back up. So he jumped at the chance to get closer to High River. We quickly packed our bags and our boys and headed to stay with friends. 

That night, Andy got a call from a good friend who happens to be one of his bosses. It went a like this: "Andy! I'm in your house! What do you need?" completely frantic and crazy! He had a contractor's pass for town (the town was finally allowing their company to get in to fix the sewer lift stations) and had sneaked into our house late at night to check on it. He opened all the windows he could and also wanted to know if Andy would be able come to work the next day to help. Andy said yes, of course!

This friend had actually given us some peace of mind before that night he called from the inside of our house. He had called a few days after the flood, telling us that he had gone by our neighborhood to pick up his truck, which Andy had borrowed to get home on flood day. He said that the water had receded from our street, but that our basement was about 4ft full. Up until that point, I could see in my mind the entire basement full, as I thought that for sure the water on the inside would have been level with the water just outside our front door. Knowing it was *only* four feet was much easier to handle. That Wednesday night, he went through our house noting that the upstairs was dry, and that the water had drained from the basement, leaving about 3 inches of mud behind. He was able to drive his truck off our neighbor's property down the street - meaning our van might have survived as well. Good news considering we had thought the worst.

So Andy went to work the next day and I took the boys and we headed to our church in Okotoks. We had heard that donations were pouring in, so we went to see about some clothing and some food.
The outpouring of love and generosity was amazing to see. So much food. Many truckloads worth of clothing. And the volunteers had sorted everything so things were easy to find.

Friends in Okotoks fed us that night as well as many other nights and days after that.

The boys loved the acreage we stayed at. And I loved seeing them happy.

At the church, they had set up one of the rooms to use as a "command center" for Mormon Helping Hands. This is part of our church's humanitarian relief service. There was a number to call when you knew what kind of damage your property sustained, and what kind of help you might need. They had hundreds of cleaning buckets to go to those in need, and would send them along with a team of volunteers.

Over the next month and beyond, church member volunteers from across Alberta would come to people's aid with Mormon Helping Hands.  On July 21 the amazing count was 8,800 volunteers giving 53,000 man hours to the clean-up efforts. And that's not even counting the church volunteers who came out to help friends and strangers on their own initiative. 

Back to Thursday, June 27: one week after the flood. Andy went to work and was amazed at what he saw and the shocking lack of help the town was allowing. It was clear this disaster was too much for them to handle. Things had been damaged farther due to lack of knowledge, and Andy's crew worked long hours for the next several weeks. They were first in the sewers for several reasons - Andy's boss had been standing by trying to get his guys in to help, but the army had said NO: there was still so much cleanup and tests to run to make sure everything was as safe as possible.  Many of the town's 10 sewage lift stations were under water, filled with mud, rocks and other debris, or otherwise damaged. The company Andy works for designs, builds, and installs lift stations, and they had repaired High River ones in the past. And since they are a local company, they wanted to get in there to help right away.

They worked so hard that first day Andy was back. Over 50 man hours to repair one station which had to be abandoned in the end. It was too damaged and they needed to move on to the next one. And move they had to. Quickly. The province had taken over the operations and recovery of the town and had announced Phase 1 of reentry. People whose homes were in the NW and Eagleview were being allowed back in on June 29. The day before they were allowed back to their homes, Eagleview didn't even have sewage service! Andy worked until 1 in the morning: they frantically had to reroute the sewage pipes above ground to another station, as they had previously been draining into the station that was beyond repair! It was unbelievable.

The news was both good, bad, terrible, and devastating for the people going home on June 29. They had come up with a way to categorize and classify everyone's homes:
Green: No damage. Safe to live in.
Yellow: Some damage. Safe to live in.
Orange: Extensive damage. Will require major repairs in order to be liveable.
Red: Extensive damage. Not safe for habitation. Might have structural concerns.

Some friends saw green, some yellow, and some red that day. Heartbreaking for those with red. Residential cleanup had begun.

The boys and I stood with my parents and my sister in long line-ups and terrible heat to apply for and receive our Flood Relief prepaid cards that Saturday. This was a great help to all of us. Andy was able to retrieve our emergency bags from the house in High River where they had been left, his wallet from home, and our van from down the street. We had identification finally!

The next day was Sunday and we went to church. Our stake had provided for us by feeding us a hot meal after our meeting, which was wonderful. It was good to see my ward family, hear their stories, and give hugs. Many tears were shed and many miracles shared.

We also heard that day that Phase 2 of Re-entry would begin the next day, July 1st, Canada Day. I took the boys back down to Lethbridge to the safe keeping and care of their Aunt Karley and Uncle Irish, and Gramma and Grampa for the next week. I returned that same night and Andy and I nervously waited for July 1st to come. We would spend our Canada Day assessing the flood damage on our house. I was both nervous and excited for what the next day would show.