Thursday, August 23, 2007

Communication Breakdown

As somebody who withstood 6 whole years of postsecondary education in Communication Studies, I get a wee distressed when a message doesn't make it to its recipient as intended. (Once a geek, always a geek.) Miscommunication has serious consequences, and this past little while has been all about discovering exactly what those consequences can be.

Exhibit A: (already discussed) Receiving condolences for long-past passings. Seriousness: Not very. It was nice to receive condolences, even though it had a been a year since my Baba passed away.

Exhibit B: (more recent) Being accused of putting an elderly gentleman in emergency for 8 hours! Seriousness: Very. Details to follow.

So... as most of you know by now, I am back in the wonderful world of non-profit organizations, and a big part of my (very important) job involves being extremely pleasant to everyone I encounter, in case they happen to be a significant contributor to our fundraising campaigns. You never know, right? Coworkers have joked that my job title should be 'Director of First Impressions', and in a big sense, they're right. If my phone mannerisms, appearance, or greeting skills in any way put a potential or ongoing donor off, it can mean huge consequences for the organization. In many cases, it could even cost the agency years of my salary in lost donations! Needless to say, I've been very careful thus far. There's no way I'd want to be incriminated if a large donor dropped out of our fundraising efforts. But on that note...

I answered the phone (very pleasantly and professionally) a short while ago, and proceeded to get ripped apart by somebody who thought he was phoning a country club and couldn't understand why the bloody hell I didn't know his tee-off time. (I had no idea what he was talking about and tried my hardest to be polite, in case he was a significant donor, but really-- I got yelled and sworn at for things that were in no way my own fault. Boo! Hiss!) Turns out he's donated enough money to pay my salary for the next ten years. (Aside: This just goes to show that, on the list of things that money can't buy, we should add 'good manners'.) Anyway, after we figured out who had been calling, I was assured that it was all a very unfortunate mistake and that the gentleman would be in to apologize to me within a few days.

When the gentleman did, in fact, come to apologize, I was stunned to discover that his apology quickly morphed into a not-so-subtle curse of eternal damnation. I was accused of not answering the phone with a cheerful 'good afternoon, Name of Place You Have Phoned' (Note: I totally did answer the phone with the name of the organization... I'm not an idiot.) Since I apparently neglected to tell him where he was phoning, he 'got confused' and thought he was phoning the country club. Fair enough... but then he goes on to tell me that he was worried about his confusion and thinks that it gave him a stroke! In his own words: "Incidentally, after I hung up the phone with you, I was in emergency for 8 hours getting tested for a stroke. I couldn't understand why I was so confused, but now I know it's because you didn't say I was phoning the [Charity-o-Rama]." Is it just me, or was that uncalled for? Serious miscommunication, I tell you. But seeing as he's an important donor and I'm just the new kid on the block, sickly ass-kissing prevails. Curses.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Flowers Gratefully Declined...

Well, in future posts, should I be remembering the loss of a loved one, I'll remember to put the date of death in BIG BOLD LETTERS so that I won't confuse anyone! Thank you to everyone who commented, e-mailed, and phoned me with condolences yesterday for the passing of my Baba... she actually passed away last year on August 15th, though-- not yesterday. Heheh! [she laughs nervously, like a proverbial boy after having cried wolf]. Like I say, I'll make sure to make that more clear if I ever post something similar!

My dearest Baba passed away last year when I was in Europe. It was such an alienating experience, because on one hand, I felt so far away, lonely, and disconnected, but on the other hand, I didn't feel I had the right to be upset over her death, seeing as she had suffered long enough in a nursing home before finally passing away. We tried hard in the Czech Republic to gain a sense of closure around her death-- Marty took me to a beautiful convent and we admired the beauty of it while reminiscing about my Baba. However, because we moved to Victoria soon after coming back from Europe, I still have not had the chance to visit her gravesite, and a small part of me still feels unsettled because of it. One day, I guess.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Missing You (Edited for Clarity)

October 7, 1919- August 15, 2006

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Ewok Anniversary

Well, we're back from a positively MAGICAL anniversary weekend. I've never been much of a 'fairy-tale-princess' kind of girl (in the sense of pretty dresses, ballrooms and high-heeled shoes-- did my wedding attire give that away?), but I'm definitely a fan of magic. And what could be more magical, I ask you, than an anniversary spent high up in the trees in our very own spherical treehouse? I'll tell you the answer if you don't already know it: nothing.

Looking out from our sphere to the spiral staircase.

Detail of the sphere from below

The sphere from afar!

Tom and Rosey, the genius minds behind this whole Ewok operation, did absolutely everything they could to make our special evening even more special. There was a sparkling 'Happy Anniversary' sign draped across the front of our door (like a disco-esque produce code sticker on an onion!), complimentary strawberries, champagne, and baked goods, and of course, the sphere itself!!

I planned this evening as a surprise for Marty, and even though: a) he's really good at guessing and b) I'm not very good at planning surprises, he had no idea where we were going until we walked to the back of Tom and Rosey's property and saw our room for the night gently swaying in the breeze. (Yeah! One point: Dana!) If only I had the camera to capture the look on his face! Alas, you'll just have to see some more photos of the sphere instead:

The view from our bed.

The sphere at dusk.

Marty using the sphere as creative inspiration.

I can't even describe how magical this experience was. If any of you are ever in the Qualicum Bay area on the island, definitely see if you can spend some time in the sphere! (But be warned: I was only able to book one weeknight in August when I phoned them in May, and when we asked about their bookings for the 'down season', the response was something like "Well, we still have some days open in November"... meaning there's probably a random Tuesday night available but every other night has been booked! NO KIDDING!)

Random graffiti on the walls in the composting toilet chamber.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Happy Anniversary! (To Us)

OK, everybody-- don't go calling me on Friday night, because I won't be home. On second thought, don't call me on Saturday, Sunday, or Monday, too -- I won't be home on those days, either. I'm totally stoked, because tomorrow ushers in our EXTENDED ANNIVERSARY WEEKEND!! Marty and I will be celebrating our big 0-2! (I know, doesn't have quite the punch that the big 2-0 or even 1-0 has! Ah, well...)

Many people have already heard the story, but for those who haven't, here goes: (This is the story we sent out to friends and relatives around the world right after we got married, many of whom have limited comprehension of English, so don't mind the Grade 5 format of the details. On the plus side: if you passed Grade 4, you can feel included!)

We planned a kayaking trip off the north tip of Vancouver Island to see the orca whales migrate and to spend some much needed time together in the outdoors. However, our trip brought with it much more than whales—we ended up getting married in front of our group on the evening of Thursday, August 4th!

It's obvious from this shot who wore the kayaking pants in the relationship... Marty's all working hard, I'm just relaxin' in the back, taking in the scenery!

Monday and Tuesday of the trip were spent learning how to (pack a) kayak, exploring the various islands of Johnstone Strait, and watching for any signs of wildlife. In the first two days, our group was fortunate enough to see a bear, many eagles, pods of dolphins and porpoises, and of course, orca whales. The scenery and the animals were breathtaking—it is difficult to put into words the feeling we got watching an orca male breach against the stunning backdrop of blue sky, ocean, and lush green islands.

On Wednesday, we paddled to a new camp on the north shore of Double Bay. One of our guides shared with us that he planned to propose to his girlfriend there in the near future. As soon as we landed on shore, we understood why: the camp was very private and the view was amazing! We sat high in our tents on a cliff of mossy rocks, overlooking the ocean and surrounded by other small islands and harbours in the distance. Later that evening, our guide asked us if we wanted him to make some phone calls to arrange a wedding. Given that he had been known for his practical jokes up to that point, we didn’t think his offer was serious, but we took him up on it, knowing that we were looking forward to getting married some time in the near future. Lo and behold, our guide took this new challenge very seriously, calling nearby islands on a satellite phone, cashing in numerous favours from his friends, and spending considerable time and effort tracking down key contacts to help a wedding idea become a reality.

The first obstacle we came across had to do with documents: we were out in the middle of nowhere, deciding on the spur of the moment to get married, and we did not have the license needed to get married in British Columbia. As well, given that we had left our car at Alder Bay not knowing that we would be planning a wedding, we did not have any identification on us, except for bank and credit cards and driver’s licenses. No birth certificates, no social insurance numbers, no other government ID. After speaking to a marriage commissioner in Alert Bay, however, we learned that we would only need to answer a series of questions about our parents to be able to get the marriage license. That led us to our next obstacle—how were we going to obtain the license from the middle of nowhere?

Our guide determined that the woman who was able to arrange for a marriage license was also qualified to perform a wedding ceremony. That left us wondering how we could make it to Alert Bay, get our license, and bring the woman back to marry us on Double Bay. Our guide phoned one water taxi company, who wanted to charge us close to $700 to ferry us to and from Double Bay. We were devastated. Our guide’s enthusiasm had been contagious, and we were starting to look very forward to “our big day”, but $700 for an hour and some of water time seemed a bit excessive. Our guide wasn’t about to give up on his quest, however, and he ordered us to unload a kayak for him. He paddled off to the nearest port to look into the possibility of us renting a motorboat for the day. Alas, he came back with the news that there were no boats available. Later, though, after phoning another water taxi company, our guide arranged for us to be picked up from Double Bay, dropped off at Alert Bay, and brought back to Double Bay with a marriage commissioner. This company was also able to ferry the commissioner back to Alert Bay after the ceremony, all for a fraction of the cost. It was set, then! We went to sleep that night, amazed that we would be married in less than 24 hours, and excited to catch our water ferry the very next afternoon!

The next morning, we helped the rest of our group prepare for a day paddle to a nearby island. After they left, we spent some time deciding where we wanted our “altar” to be and wondering if we would be getting married in our neoprene wetsuits! Marty artfully and skillfully carved us out a “Just Married” sign on a piece of firewood in no time, and he left it behind our tent flap for after our ceremony.

Our group came back from their paddle just in time to send us off on our private water taxi! Our guide helped us into the boat, piggybacking Dana across a brief stretch of water so she could climb the ladder into the back of the boat. With enthusiasm, Marty leaped onto the boat soon after, eagerly joining his bride-to-be. En route to Alert Bay, the boat driver took some time to play with a large pod of dolphins, much to our delight! We arrived in Alert Bay in around 20 minutes, and the driver pledged to meet us back at the dock once our license had been secured.

We met with our marriage commissioner, Joyce Rigby, right off the dock. She pulled up in an old, wood-paneled station wagon, and had us fill out our forms on the hood of her car. Much to our surprise, many of the islanders watched us curiously as we huddled over our forms. We then remembered that their curiosity was brought on because the news of our wedding had been broadcasted by satellite across the entire north coast of Vancouver Island! After our forms were signed and completed, Joyce headed home to type up the necessary documents. In the meantime, we had a quick pineapple juice in a café in the harbour (where we were congratulated by the staff for our upcoming ceremony), splashed our faces with soap and running water (!! Our first in five days!), tried to style our greasy hair, and hurried back to our taxi to head back to Double Bay!

Our wedding guests self-styling their hair with excessive grease in preparation for the big ceremony.

The ride back to Double Bay was spent mostly worrying about how we would manage to get Joyce onto the island. She seemed to be over 80 years old, and she was dressed nicely in a blouse and dress pants. Double Bay, however, had no beach or shore whatsoever—cliffs and rocks that were covered in slippery seaweed simply rose out of the ocean at a steep angle. We wondered whether we would be having our ceremony in the water taxi after all!

You can see our guide carrying the wedding commissioner if you look closely!

We arrived at the island, pulled up close to the rocks, and our guides helped hoist a good spirited Joyce up onto the campsites. As we came out of the boat and onto the island, our group members trumpeted on horns they had made out of bull kelp, and they presented us with seashell necklaces! We were informed that the group had dove into the frigid waters of Johnstone Strait (which are, on average, 10 degrees cooler than other waters) especially to retrieve the bull kelp.

Dana was presented with a bouquet of wildflowers that the group had picked out for her during their day trip paddle earlier on! We were surrounded by our group, who took pictures and eagerly awaited the ceremony. Dana changed into her “gown” (which was Marty’s sarong skirt over top of her week-old shorts!), and we both made our way to the altar, which had been built and decorated so beautifully by our group members. It was made of wood, covered in vines and leaves, and flanked by two pillar citronella candles. Evening was approaching, and we were slightly backlit by the setting sun in the background.

The blushing bride-to-be... People actually had to remind me to take off my sunglasses for my moment in the spotlight. Um... other things on my mind, perhaps?

We walked down an aisle lined by seashells, and stood in front of our altar. Joyce began the ceremony, and we said our vows and exchanged rings. Our friends Jasmine and Denko graciously acted as our Best Man, Maid of Honour, Ring Bearer, Flower Girl, and witnesses. Dana managed to get through the entire ceremony without weeping loudly (which was an amazing accomplishment for her!), and both of us felt so happy to be confirming our commitment to each other in a most amazing setting!

After the ceremony, we had our pictures taken with Joyce and the “Just Married” sign. One of our group members presented us with an eagle feather that he had found on our island. In a very touching tribute, he told us that the feather was a good omen and that eagles find mates for life. Dana took the feather and included it in her wildflower bouquet.

It was our night to cook for the group, and although they offered to cook our meal for us, we were more than happy to prepare a meal and share it with our wonderful group members! One couple on the trip shared their chilled white wine with us and the rest of the group, so we all had a beverage to use when our guide gave us a heartwarming toast. (He toasted us with beer, though- wine apparently made him ill!). We had a wonderful dinner, a tasty dessert of apple and pear flambĂ©, and then we were serenaded into the late hours of the night by our guides, who did wonderful karaoke-style versions of the entire Dirty Dancing soundtrack, as well as classic hits such as “The Chicken Dance” song and a few Bon Jovi numbers!

All in all, our wedding ceremony was so much more meaningful and beautiful than anything we could have planned in advance. We were so thankful for everything our guides and group members did to make our wedding a special event, and we were thrilled to have our wedding take place at such a beautiful location! We paddled back to Alder Bay the next morning with our “Just Married” sign affixed to the back of our kayak, and then all the way back to Calgary, we looked forward to sharing this wonderful story with family and friends!

Double Bay is for lovers!