unLessons from the Flood: We are amazing

I didn’t really panic until I hit the first police barricade and was told I couldn’t get into my neighbourhood. The police officer and I eyed each other through my window.

“We can’t let any more cars into Sunnyside,” he said.

“I need to go get my husband,” I said.

“And our dog!” Flora piped up.

“We can’t let any more cars into Sunnyside,” he repeated. Then looked at me again. Cut his eyes to the right.

He might as well have said, “But you know the area well, of course.”

I nodded.

Sharp turn right. How many other ways into Sunnyside? The main roads would be blocked off… but, yeah. Residential streets. Roundabouts. Alleys.

Text from Sean:

“Worst case scenario, park on McHugh’s Bluff. I’ll bike up the hill.”

It’s good to have a Plan C.

But Plan B worked: about 12 minutes later, after several not-entirely legal turns—one of them right in front of another police cruiser—I was in my driveway. The sky was blue, although the clouds south of the city were terrifying, and coming closer.

And I was home… and my neighbours were throwing things into their cars… and, yet, none of us really felt a particular sense of urgency, even though we got, at 5:45 p.m., the call to get out of our neighbourhood by 7 p.m.

See, our city’s two rivers, the Elbow and the Bow, get angry every once in a while. We get massive snow melt most years; every few years, they rip our riverbanks. And there was crazy flooding already south and west of the city—but… we were so sanguine. I mean, this is Calgary. One of Canada’s largest cities. Natural disasters don’t happen here.

Still. We’re responsible citizens.

“Are we going to flood?” Flora asked, in tears.

“No,” I said, firmly. “This is a precautionary evacuation. We’re just leaving so that the emergency crews don’t have to worry about us. Chill. Grab some books, your iPad—sleep-over at Grandma’s. No big deal.”

But. Those clouds. Disconcerting.

An hour later, with some clothes, computers, and Sean’s film equipment (our livelihood) in the truck, we were in evacuation traffic. But of course, right? What in a big city emergency doesn’t involve a traffic jam? Especially when you’re evacuating 100,000 people in a city of a million?

Texts from family and friends: “Are you guys high enough? Are you safe? Are you dry?”

Our response: “Evacuating. But safe. No worries.”

That was Thursday, June 20, 2013.

It was, honestly, kind of fun.

Ender’s commentary: “Does the river have a leak? Shouldn’t someone plug it?”

We laughed.

The rain that came down on us as we were navigating evacuation traffic and already flooded bridge and road closures to get to the safety of my parents’ house—providentially on very, very high ground—was a little scary.

But. You know. It was rain.

“Kind of an adventure, hey?” Cinder said. “Holy crap, look at that thunder!”

Kind of fun.


It stopped being fun in the morning when we saw what the rivers had done.

Our neighbourhood looked like this:


… and, by comparison, we got off easy.

If you want your heart torn to pieces, google “High River flood images” and see what the rivers have done to our neighbours in High River.

Not that Calgary was unscathed. The damage was… astounding. Our downtown core—the financial core, the business centre of one of Canada’s largest, richest cities—under water. Paralyzed. Some 100,000 of our people—out of their homes.

The rivers—gone mad. Still flowing, ripping.

It was, we found out, not just the worst flood ever in Canadian history, but the worst natural disaster in Canadian history.

“Well,” I told Sean—who’s from Manitoba, a Canadian province famed for its rampaging waters and regular floods, “when Calgary and Alberta do something, we do it all the way. Even natural disasters. Eat your heart out, Winnipeg! Our flood’s more epic than yours!”

And we laughed hysterically. Because, you know. If you don’t laugh…

We spent the first day after the flood doing what our amazing mayor, Naheed Nenshi, told us to do. Staying home. Staying off the roads. Letting the emergency crews do what they had to do.

It was the hardest thing ever.

You know how you watch the reactions of survivors of natural and other disasters on the news, and there’s all these people clamouring to go home, even though it’s dangerous and stupid?

I will never mock them again.

We wanted to go home.

We wanted to see home.

On Saturday—day two after the flood—we broke. We started calling and Facebooking and connecting with the people in Sunnyhill—our immediate community—and we met in a safe area… to plan? Compare notes? Cry? I’m not sure why we met. I think we needed to see that we were all ok.

And then… we broke orders. We didn’t mean to, you know. We were just going to stop on top of the McHugh Bluff to look.



We walked down.

Thigh-high water in our street, spilling over sidewalks, lawns, and the adjacent Curling Club parking lot.

Water everywhere.

No way of getting “home.”


We looked.

The kids played on the playground—high and dry.

I let tears flow for the first time.

I don’t think the pictures really do it justice.

There was so much, so much water.

So much destruction.

It was overwhelming.

Our children—how resilient are children?—thought it was kind of cool. “Can we swim in it?” Cinder asked at one point. “Jesus Christ, no, it’s probably full of sewer water,” I choked out. They ran. Climbed trees…


Cinder took this photo of our Common area from the Tall Pine.

… and skipped rocks in the flood waters. Ender earned himself a cameo in one of the flood videos:

 (That’s one of our neighbours kayaking through our Common. An experienced paddler, she was rescuing some of our people’s documents. You see, we didn’t really take that evac order that seriously. Some of us didn’t even take underwear, much less passports… The video is by Calgarian Bradley Stuckel and co.–did they not do a beautiful job? My filmmaker husband is uber-impressed.)

On Sunday (the flood waters came over Thursday/Friday night), Sean and I sold our children to friends, and, along with most of the flooded out Sunnysiders, waded into our neighbourhoods ahead of the all-clear from the city to see what the hell was going on with our houses.

It was, I’d like to say upfront, after seeing what we waded through, an incredibly stupid and dangerous thing to do.

But you see… it was home. We had to go see.

We reacted, all of us, in different ways to what we saw.

Sean went shopping for clean up and demolition supplies, and then to a community planning meeting.

I, unable to deal with the massive destruction on the ground floor, went up to our kitchen, and cleaned out the fridge—power, of course, was off, and had been since Thursday, and everything was rancid. And then cleaned, scrubbed the fridge. Because that, I could do.

And then…

And then, friends, my city’s people pulled off a miracle.

I think, in the future, the enormity of what the flood did to Calgary will be underplayed because of the rapidity with which the city stabilized and returned to some semblance of “normal” within a week.

We evacuated Thursday, June 20, 2013.

A week later, parts of our downtown were open for business.

The majority of the flooded houses in my neighbourhood had been ripped and disinfected: saved. All of the 41 (I said 38 in my earlier posts on calgarybusinesswriter.com: forgive me, numbers not a strong suit, ever) flooded units in my little sub-community of Sunnyhill were gutted, cleaned, bleached, demolded: saved. (Here’s my initial call for help to our friends, neighbours, and citizens; here’s the thank you and another thank you because one is just not enough—and here’s my take on why and how they performed this miracle.)

We lost, as a city, as a province, a mind-blowing amount of infrastructure. Roads. Bridges. Our beloved Zoo! Individual houses, and so many possessions (me: never buying anything. Ever again). But our response to this crisis, as a community, as individuals, has been amazing.

What grabs the headlines during so many other crises, and disasters? Looting. Riots. In Calgary, we had too many volunteers. And the Calgary Police Service wrote the citizens a thank you letter

Our people opened their houses to evacuated relatives, friends and strangers. Started a laundry brigade for the evacuees. Fed displaced residents and the army of volunteers. Turned out in hordes to rip out basements, clean up debris, help any way they could.

Laughed in the middle of the chaos:


We put up “Need Sewer, Need Power, Need Cute Firefighter” signs in our windows:


(This isn’t my photo; it’s a FB/Twitter viral sensation–if you took it, tell me and I will happily credit you.)

Why our mayor is awesome and you should have nenvy too: “To all the people with the ‘Need Cute Firefighter’ signs in their windows’: We’re working on it,” he tweeted in response. And man, he delivered:


Ender wanted to pose with the cute firefighters. It was totally Ender. Not his mother. Really. Um. Moving on…

We have a crazy amount of work ahead of us, as individuals, as neighbourhoods, as communities—as a city and as a province.

Are we back to normal? Not quite. But we’re “back.” And we’re working on defining our new normal.

But after what YYC did in these last two weeks—we’re gonna get her done. No question about it. Because—we are Calgary. We acted as a community, to save our communities.

We are amazing.

You want to see more pictures of how amazing we are? Of course. Here are a few more:

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“Everything back to normal, Jane?”


Photo: Sunnyhill friends, reuniting on our Common after the evacuation and clean-up

Hello, lovelies. I miss you very much and a-top of the things that will define my “new normal” will be my ability to return to regular blogging and interacting with you. But right now, I’m still wrapped up in the flood. I know many of you have been checking in with my real-life alter-ego’s posts and updates, and I thank you for caring, and I know many others have actively contributed and raised money for Alberta Flood Relief, and I am so very grateful.

Two weeks ago, my community got the order to evacuate, as the Bow and Elbow Rivers took in a month’s worth of rain in 24 hours, plus the winter melt from the mountains, thrusting Calgary and much of Southern Alberta into the worst flood–the worst natural disaster–in Canadian history.

In the 14 days that followed, our people have performed miracles. Our city’s leadership was incredible; our volunteers’ efforts unparalleled. In my own sub-community of Sunnyhill Housing Co-op, one of the most severely affected Calgary enclaves, we saved all of our units. “Saved” being a relative term: their bottoms are thoroughly gutted… but our homes will stand, be rebuild. We will be fine.

The immediate crisis in Calgary is over. But the rebuild will take months, and the crisis in the communities around us continues.

I have been chronicling our story on what used to be my professional portfolio–currently a flood blog, as well as Twitter. Here are some of the recent posts:

After The Flood: You Saved Sunnyhill

After The Flood: What Sunnyhill Needs on Saturday, June 29: A Kick-Ass Party

After The Flood: Sunnyhill Clean Up Day 8–This is Community

After The Flood: An Army For High River

To help raise awareness and communication around this crisis, my real-life Facebook page is public right now, and full of updates and photos. You are welcome to follow or just troll: Marzena Czarnecka.

If you’re physically near me in Southern Alberta, I know that you’re either struggling to get through this or knee-deep in mud in High River or elsewhere, helping. If you’re far away–spread our story. What we’ve done during this crisis is beyond amazing.

And I’ll see you very soon, ok? I miss you. But–priorities.



“Where have you been, Jane?”

I  live in Calgary, Alberta. On Thursday, June 20, we experienced, along with much of southern Alberta–and are still experiencing–the worst flood–the worst natural disaster–in Canadian history.

I am running on three hours of sleep tonight, and running out the door to keep on working, salvaging. This is what I, along with most of Albertans, am doing now. If you can donate money to the Red Cross relief efforts for the Alberta flood, do it.

Posts from my real-life alter-ego on what’s happening in our community:

After the flood: this is what we need right now

After the flood: what Sunnyhill needs on Tuesday, June 25

After the flood: Sunnyhill clean up, Day 3

After the flood: what Sunnyhill needs on Wednesday, June 26

After the flood: what Sunnyhill needs on Thursday, June 27

You can view photos of what happened on my personal, real-life Facebook page: Marzena Czarnecka.

I blog because… #FTSF

I blog because moments like this need to be immortalized:

Cinder: Mom, I just shot Ender in the balls. Now, under normal circumstances, you’d probably be mad at me. But as he was peeing off the balcony at the time, you should just say, ‘Good job.’ Full story here.

I blog because the world needs more Cinder and Ender penis stories. I mean, is there such a thing as enough? OK, maybe. But just one more

I blog because I think attachment parenting is an amazing, amazing thing… but I want AP moms to know that this is perfectly normal:

I make no resolutions to yell less. Or discipline more. I will lose my temper, and I will yell, and there will be days when, as I survey the destruction wrought by the whirlwind in the kitchen while I absented myself from his side for five minutes, I seriously ponder just how wrong it would be to put him in the dog’s kennel. Just, you know, for a little while. And there will be days—and weeks—when I’ll be counting the hours until bedtime from 11:15 a.m. And days when, as soon as Sean comes home, I will hand over the entire parenting business to him, and lock myself in the bathroom with a bottle—um, glass, I meant to type glass, glass—of wine. (From Embracing Chaos: unParenting unResolutions)

I blog because I want Flora—and other Sensitive Seven and Emotional Eight girls out there, and their mothers—to know how loved she is (they are). And how amazing. And also, how exhausting. I want her to look back at these moments, these days, when she’s a mother. I don’t want her to put me on an unachievable mothering pedestal. I want her to see I struggled. I want her to know it was hard. 

But, worth it, Mom? Was it worth it?

Fuck, yeah.

I blog because I had a toddler who beat the crap out of other children—and his parents—and he’s grown up to be the most amazing, caring, sensitive, responsible pre-teen… and I want you—you, exhausted, petrified mom of a mini-Caveman—I want you to know that you’re not raising a psychopath. It’s a stage. It’ll pass. You’ll survive.

And maybe, I blog because I don’t want to wait until I’m dead and famous before the world reads my diaries. (While the odds are excellent that I will indeed be dead one day, that famous thing? Not so much. And let’s face it, boys and girls, be you Susan Sontag, Jane Austen or Anne Frank, if you write something down, you’re secretly or not-so secretly writing for a reader. If you really wanted to keep it secret—you wouldn’t write it down. You know it’s true.)

I blog because I want to. And so I do. Reason enough.


This post is part of the Finish The Sentence Blog Hop, co-hosted  by, inter alia, Janine Huldie of Confessions of A Mommyaholic, Stephanie Sprenger of Mommy, for Real and Kristie Campbell of Finding Ninee. The sentence—obviously–is I blog because. More answers here…

Finish the Sentence Friday

Why do you blog? And for beautiful, usually silent majority of non-bloggers in the audience—why don’t you? Tell me.


Marzena 1 - jpeg-1

P.S. This week, on Undogmatic Unschoolers, I quote John Holt (again, I know, what can I say, he rocks) and take you on a little walk through my house as I confess that there is, indeed, a secret reason as to why I’m so chill about my late reader.

P.P.S. Meanwhile, my professional alter-ego is dreaming the future landscape of Calgary for Avenue magazine, prognosticating on the future of Husky Energy under Asim Ghosh, and trying to convince people that greener oil is the key to Keystone XL at Canadian Business.

Quote Me: The Secret to Happiness

Jane's Double Twisted 3D stars2_rev

If there is such a thing as a secret to happiness, I think a critical part of it must be realizing that the only thing you have the power and ability to change is yourself, your lifestyle–and that is, in the long run, the only really effective way of effecting real change on the world.

“Jane,” as she changes strides yet again
(plagiarizing myself from something I wrote  in a completely irrelevant context)

Photo (Jane’s Double Twisted 3D stars2_rev) by mimickr

Forgive the sappy interlude. It had to come out. Now back to regular programming:

Ender: Mama! I just love your breasts! They are like big, soft meatballs!

(Weep). To other weanies and weaners: it was all worth it, of course. All worth it. But. (Weep.)

Most beautiful thing in my in-box over this weekend comes from Deni Lyn Miller at The Diary of a Reluctant Mother who wrote of her son:

My hope for him is that he loves water as much as I love water.
My prayer for him is that no matter what he decides to love, it brings him much joy and peace.

The most important thing parents need to know from my in-box this weekend comes from Roll Over and Play Dad (what’s your name or handle, btw, dude? ROAPD don’t roll off the typing fingers) via his Twitter feed (@AndPlayDad):

If you are offering parenting advice I assume that you only have 1 kid. If you had 2 or more, you would know that all kids are different.


Happy Monday. I’m off to change the world. What are you doing?

Click-a-lot: Novembers of the Past Retrospective & A Slightly Self-Indulgent Blogosphere Group Hug


First, an invitation to take a walk through my fake archive:

One year ago in November (2011): Just in time for Christmas-mania, a reminder of what the 5 best toys of all time are, via Geek Dad. Before Ender: or what the psychic said (one of my most naked moments). Being Ender. Ender says Rock. Of Daddies and Grandpas. Art of War: The Lego Contest. Get Less Today!

Two years ago in November (2010): Baby Seductor.

Three years ago in November (2009): Of Brains and Cartilage. He’s a Keeper.

Photo (November) by Cape Cod Cyclists

Second, a thank you to my blogging friends Tatu at Wonderland by Tatu and Little Poppits (who’s real name or preferred handle I haven’t ferreted out yet) from Little Poppits for very sweetly passing the Beautiful Blogger Award on to me. I should also offer a belated thank you to Taurus Mom Tells The Truth and Oliva at The Slama Family Project for trying to pass the Tell Me About Yourself Award and the  One Lovely Blog Award to me in the very first day of the blog (my archive is all fake. OK, not fake–all the stories are REAL–written in other fora, but I launched the blog with a ready-made archive. Because I’m that kind of overachiever.)

A short interlude for the Beautiful Blogger Award Rules:

The idea behind the Beautiful Blogger Award is to recognize some of the bloggers we follow for their hard work and inspiration.

1. Copy the Beautiful Blogger Award logo and place it in your post.
 (Done. And what a technical achievement on my part.)

2. Thank the person who nominated you and link back to their blog.
 (Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. I know there’s a tendency to dismiss these things as an incestuous mutual love fest. But you know what? Moms need that. And Tatu and Little Poppets’ nominations came at a really tough week in my life, and were so appreciated.

3. Tell 7 things about yourself.
 (Coming just below)

4. Nominate 7 other bloggers for their own Beautiful Blogger Award, and comment on their blogs to let them know. (And that’s going to be a toughie… only seven, eh? I’ve only been digging around the blogosphere for a very short while, but I’m gathering a beautiful tribe around me.)

Seven things about me you probably don’t need to know…

1. My children can get me to do pretty much anything they want if they make Bambi eyes at me. Damn you, Calvin & Hobbes. I’m a permissive parent. And I’m ok with that.

2. I once interviewed former Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney wearing a snot-covered skirt and no underwear. Because, during the “We don’t want you to go! Why do you have to go?” taxi ride to the airport, the toddler snotted all over my skirt and the pre-schooler took my change of clothes, undies and all, out of my carry-all. Fortunately, they did not abscond with the recorder. (If you’re Canadian and you care about the context for this story, it’s here in full. It’s kind of funny if you’re into Canadian politics. And writer-self-de-construction.)

3. If I ever make good on my threat to freecycle everything I own and travel the continent in an RV, I’m taking my Vitamix with me.

4. When I grow up, I want to be Rex Stout. Except for the beard. And the streak of misogyny. What I really mean is, I want to create a character as compelling as Archie Goodwin. Sometimes, late at night, I fantasize that I’m the woman who finally snared Archie Goodwin. We get married and yes, move into the brownstone. Nero Wolfe hates me… but over time, grudgingly comes to respect me. Until I start having babies…

5. My favourite Jane Austen hero is Henry Crawford. I would so reform him. But I worry I might be too tall for him… He’s barely five eight. I’m just five nine… but I have a thing for footwear of a certain type. Um, moving…

6. My house is only clean when I’m depressed and frustrated. When I’m happy and engaged in my work and my life—and when the children are at their most creative and engaged—the floor is crunchy, the walls are splattered with paint, the stove is spattered with deliciousness, the kitchen table is covered with art scraps, papers, science experiments and cookie crumbs, and the entry way is over-crowded with wet and muddy shoes.

So yes, if you ever come into my house and it’s sparking, the appropriate response is, “Honey, what’s wrong?”

7. There are exactly 98,437 reasons I love my husband, and the three beautiful children we made together are right up there, but most important of all is the fact that whenever he goes grocery shopping, he comes home with chocolate and whipped cream for me. That’s love, baby.

Seven Beautiful Bloggers

So because the award came from WonderlandbyTatu and LittlePoppits, they’ve each named a few of the people I’d be inclined to put on the list right away (Keeping It Real, MomTimes4, Best of Two Sisters, Motherhood Is An Art and Roll Over and Play Dad among them), but the purpose of the game is to spread the love, right? So, please let me introduce you to:

1. Fish Tank Mom. Marie’s my real-life soulmate and partner in crime, unschooling mom to four boys who offers me her unconditional love, support and wisdom no matter what I do. She’ll do the same for you through her posts.

2. Book Of Alice. She doesn’t know it yet, but blogger and writer extraordinaire Christine is raising my Ender’s future wife. I’m waiting until I know her a little better before I start the marriage negotiations.

3. Cloudy With a Chance of Wine. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I think WonderlandbyTatu and LittlePoppits are absolutely, unquestionably beautiful bloggers. Cloudy’s more of a kick-your-ass with an uber-sexy-boot blogger–which I think is the most beautiful of all. Someone else, I just saw, beat me to nominating her for something, but tough titties. This woman almost cast as a hooker in a Chinese soap opera. I need to give this award to her.

4. Wonder Farm. Patricia Zaballos is a former teacher, current writer, and all-around amazing human being who writes on alternative (or creative? or just awesome) approaches to education–one of my first cyber connections, and one of my most intellectually rewarding ones. And she’s just written a very exciting book! Check out her beautiful body of writing.

5. Confessions of a Mommyholic. Janine is also swimming in awards right now, so I will immediately exempt her (as I do all of you) from any compulsion to continue the madness and pass yet another one one, but I need to introduce her to those of you who don’t know her. She’s nothing like me. Her blog is nothing like mine. I adore her. I think it’s because she’s so thoroughly genuine… and I value and envy that quality.

6. World School Adventures. Amy and her family are living my dream. They’re currently in Thailand. I try to enjoy and not covet their adventures. Mostly, I fail. Mostly, I covet. And you will too.

7. An Untidy Life.  A brand-spanking new blogger. Mom to three funky boys, and one of the most fascinating people I know in real life has just started blogging about her family’s learning adventures, and I’m so thrilled. Connect with her. It will be a worthwhile experience.

And that is that. With the authority vested in me, I absolve all nominees from feeling like that need to perpetuate the award unless they really want to and will enjoy the process.

Come back to Nothing By The Book on Monday for an arrogant exposition on freely given attention.



Quote This: “Do I Have a Booger In My Nose?”

The hands-down winner in the category of “Parenting Tip of The Week,” from When Crazy Meets Exhaustion:

Do I Have a Booger in My Nose? Asking this question works wonders when I need my kids to: look up while I rinse their hair (shampoo + little eyes = HUGE fiasco); look into the camera; lift their chin so I can wipe under it; and it’s even been known to squash sibling squabbles. They forget they’re mad at each other and just think I’m an idiot who can’t blow my nose. Whatever works.

The full post, which is a collection of “a list of (mostly helpful) parenting tips. Here’s hoping some of them work so you don’t think I’m a complete moron,” is here.

In keeping with the quote above, the winner in best picture trolling around on my social media feed:

As the creator of original content, I’m rather anal about giving credit where credit is due, but the best I can do in terms of tracking this back to its source is the Facebook page of one Trampus Egerton. Thanks!

And, let’s wrap up with a Quote of the Day from my House:

Cinder: Mom! Flora is being bossy to Ender!

Jane: I need you to focus on the big picture here, Cinder. Yes, Flora is being bossy to Ender. But the important thing is that Ender is not biting you in the butt.

Cinder: Or flushing tampons down the toilet?

Jane: Exactly.

Live. Laugh. Learn.

Slowing Down

Two things I needed to read today: http://simplekids.net/slowing-down-2/ and this http://www.steadymom.com/2011/10/peace.html

You might not know this about me but I have, um, how shall I put it… overachiever tendencies. My broken down spine is forcing me to slow down, but my natural tendency is to fight against even the most blatant messages from the body and just keep on going. So a “do less, slow down, choose peace” message is a needed one, for me, right now.

Too many of the writing around this topic is a “Slow down so you actually do more.” I don’t want or need to do. I need to do less. And sometimes, being who I am–I need permission from–what? The Universe? My mother? Some higher entity, I guess–to do less.

Today it came from http://www.simplemedia.net. Thanks!

All Work and No Play Sucks (Duh!)

Here is a piece from this month’s Atlantic subtitled “why your kids are more anxious and depressed.” I found this stat kind of appalling: “The researchers found that compared to 1981, children in 1997 spent less time in play and had less free time. They spent 18 percent more time at school, 145 percent more time doing school work, and 168 percent more time shopping with parents.” The last part in particular. Because I bet they’re not shopping for groceries and life’s essentials…

My friend RK counters that the shopping for groceries and life’s essentials does indeed take up more time now than it did a generation ago–because most parents now have to take their children grocery shopping with them, instead of being able to let them play outside. Good point. I’m just so grateful that our lifestyle allows our children to spend most of their time in play, and outside.