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"I Believe Laughing Is, Indeed, The BEST Medicine"

H U M O U R  C O L U M N

laugh at life

a choice in the pause

The older I get the more I realize that I have little control over many of the moments in life that surprise me, but what I do have control over is my reaction to those moments. My response to these “special” occurrences may vary. I might, almost understandably, get fired up, feel sad or allow my anxiety to elevate. As I age, however, I’m finding that if I don’t, I definitely want to take things more in stride and ... with a perspective of humour. I recently saw a specialist who noted very limited range of motion in the area of my concern and although he commented on it he offered no solution to my plight. Then he told me, rather abruptly, that I was too young to be retired, no matter my discomfort or bodily challenges. This almost felt like a compliment until he finished with, “You should get back to work because we’re short on nurses.” I made a choice then. Instead of informing him of the list of things I feel I’m accomplishing at present (you know — to still validate my very existence on earth) I decided that a small smile, before my departure, would have to suffice. That conversation compelled me to reflect on previous comments I’ve heard, which have also made me pause for a second, before responding. Lets call this “the choice in the pause”. The following quotes have been experienced by either myself personally, or others who have kindly shared their own with me. Doctor (phoning patient a few days after his appointment) - “Did you have that prescription filled yet? I may have written you the wrong one.” (Jokingly) “If your voice suddenly sounds higher or you begin losing an abnormal amount of hair ... we’ll know.” (Silence whereafter patient reads the name of the medication he’s been taking for more than a few days) Doctor - “Seriously - please stop taking that now.” Surgeon (to patient after surgery is complete) - “There’s no easy way to say this but ... we seemed to have lost an instrument. An x-ray of your body will show us where.” Surgeon (when patient is awake during surgery) - “Oops!” Doctor (about to perform a procedure) - “This won’t hurt much.” Nurse (standing beside doctor with eyes on patient) - “Hmm ... this is actually going to hurt quite a bit but ... take a few deep breaths.” (What she really means is: breathing will lessen your chance of passing out during the horrendous pain you’re about to experience. Admittedly, this may not be a laughable moment.) Lab Technician - “I can’t see any of your veins. I’ll have to dig a bit.” Dentist (after the procedure) - “Thank goodness you can close your mouth. I thought your jaw might’ve broken just then.” Dental Hygienist - “Do you ever floss? It’s lookin’ like a blood bath in here.” Hairdresser - “This isn’t at all like the picture you showed me but ... it’s still good.” (It wasn’t) Pastor - “You might not be forgiven for that.” Sibling, child or any family member whom you thought loved you (after seeing you trip and fall) - “There’s the hole I was going to warn you about!” (Then she laughs and laughs and ... snaps a quick pic before helping you up) And from the all-time BEST “Fortune Cookie” I’ve EVER broken open - “Enjoy your own company. If you don’t, who will?” (I keep this in my wallet at all times, in case I ever feel unhappy about myself) We’ll never control everything or everyone around us but our reaction to the uncontrollable is within our power. Admittedly, there are times that laughter would be hugely inappropriate but as a wise person once told me — whenever possible, find the comedy in your life. Cheers to making a choice for humour, in at least some of our life’s toughest pauses!

nobody died

Once upon a time I thought I’d shake things up and change jobs. Up until then I’d worked only with new mothers and their babies, which I didn’t know was my true calling until after I tried my hand at ER nursing. A big change often adjusts a person’s perspective and very shortly after starting in a larger city’s ER, mine altered drastically. Nurses, as well as most health care workers, must certify for CPR every year. The nurses who work with newborns take an additional course dealing with the fine art of resuscitating babies. Nurses in ER, ICU and other similar specialty areas must take ACLS — an advanced course to gain the expertise to kickstart the more mature heart when it fails. So … armed with the knowledge of how to help babies, off I went to learn about adults! The first thing I was told? Adults are nothing like newborns. Great. The adult pump’s rhythm can virtually slip into any dance it thinks is cool, even when inadequate to do the job. To say I was overwhelmed would be an understatement. I agonized for days, learning the different rhythms and the appropriate actions to perform when seeing them, as well as memorizing the proper medications to give for each. At one point, I was trying to regurgitate all I’d learned when my brain started to cramp. My insightful instructor, with her head full of knowledge and mouth full of answers, suddenly stopped me. Recognizing my anxiety she said, “You’re way too stressed about this. If you don’t do everything exactly by the textbook, remember … you can’t get worse than dead. Anything you do might help.” She probably said more but what stuck was, “You can’t get worse than dead”. Although not exactly the same, my perspective changed that day. I learned to say “nobody died”. I could accept negative things so much more readily after that. For example, when my grandson yelled out a cuss word in the front of a full congregation at church one day … nobody died (although, from my embarrassment, I wanted to). When the only garage door at our condo refused to open and I couldn’t get my car out … nobody died. When I cut into the baking that I’d taken to a huge family gathering and found it to be raw inside … nobody died (humiliated yes, but not dead). When a stranger gave me a huge compliment about how young he thought I looked and I walked around with a spring in my step until a few days later when I found out the man was legally blind … nobody died (only my self-esteem withered). When I stupidly took a quiz on-line for “people over 50” to determine what my brain age really was and it came up with 97 … nobody died (except a little more of my self-esteem). When we moved and my husband said we didn’t need a cleaning lady anymore, miraculously … nobody died. There are other examples of when I gave this, albeit unsolicited but sage advice to others. An example: when my sister-in-law’s FIT test (yes! the poop one) rocketed out of her hand one stormy day and she couldn’t find it because the envelope was as white as the snow drift it had flown into … nobody died. Or worse yet, when her dog ate it … nobody died (the dog didn’t either). And here’s a little extra for all of us: When we barely eek out a word about any topic and immediately our phones alert us that we have a message about that very thing. Our minds may visit the validity of conspiracy theories but … nobody died. So when life happens and something goes awry, ask yourself — did I or anyone else die? Remember … you can’t get worse than dead, therefore you can still afford some optimism!

a good grandma-
when i want to be

A few weeks ago I saw a meme that read “Happy Grandma Day! Here’s a Smile For All You Crazy Grandmas”. I don’t know if this is an actual date to celebrate but since someone thought up “Old Rock Day” (yes — that’s listed as a holiday I’m sure a disgruntled geologist made up), I suppose we grandmothers can have our twenty-four hours too. I admit that there were many times I could’ve done better as a parent. It started when they were young. Yes … I was one of those mothers who let my babies cry. Of course, when they were very wee I’d let them get away with waking to eat at night, even until they were eight weeks old, but after that they learned that nighttime was for ignoring. Oops! I mean — sleeping. Oddly, there were no “sleep-training” books back then but we figured it out and, miraculously, everyone survived. Our eldest daughter was just over a year old when she woke up one morning to her mother being the only adult in the house. I was still asleep when, in a dream-like state, I heard a voice from the distant crib down the hall, saying, “Mommy”. (Parenting Rule: park them far away so you’ll only hear when they get really worked up.) As I slowly came to, I heard this same word repeated over and over in the cute little sing-song voice of my tiny daughter, thoughtfully waking me at five in the morning. “Mommy’s coming,” I groaned. But too many twelve hour shifts in a row left me dozing again, until this progression of words shot me out of bed like a bullet. In increasing volume she yelled, “Mommy! Mommy! Mommy! Pattie!” I won’t divulge the worst of my parenting mistakes but suffice it to say it got much worse from there. Fortunately, I believe in selective forgetting and then — moving on. Being a grandmother is a great and wonderful privilege. It’s the joy that comes … after all that work. It’s the happiness that occurs … after years of agony. But mostly … it’s the time to fulfill a moral obligation to be nicer to my grandkids than I was to my own! Sympathy for my own children usually didn’t kick in until a bone was showing or blood was spurting from a place other than their circulatory system. If their fever hit high enough that I suspected a seizure might be forthcoming, well … that got my attention too. But the grandkids? One little boo boo and this grandma runs for the most colourful bandaid available. Or, more accurately, I pretend to care more quickly. I’m still not all that soft and mushy (speaking only of my mental state here) but I do sympathize a tad more with the fresher leaves on the family tree. I’ve been blessed with grandkids who are enthusiastic and who wish for me to join in playing interactive games with them. This requires effort on my part which I may or may not wish to give. Incidentally, that is the reason I had three children — so that they could entertain one another. My grandchildren did not get that memo. This leaves me no choice but to occasionally pick a favourite — the kid who wants to stuff his face with popcorn while sitting like a lump and watching a movie! I do enjoy, however, giving my grandchildren gifts. Admittedly, this is where I shine. My daughter texted me a huge thanks for the candy and toy bags I gave her children just before their four hour trek home one Christmas. Her text read … “I particularly enjoyed the kazoos you threw in. They were exceptionally entertaining during our looooong trip home.” I was pretty proud. “See?” I texted back. “I can be a good grandma — when I want to be.”

the bench you need

Years ago I heard someone talk about shhooppping (aka: taking a long time to purchase things) vs. shopping (aka: get in and get out as fast as possible). At that time, I laughingly agreed that I, and the majority of women I knew, most often took more time for this task. We peruse all the options available to us and then make a decision regarding which is wisest to purchase. (Shhooppping) The majority of men have a more hunter-like mentality. They will “hunt” for an item and immediately upon spotting it, grab it off the shelf and hurl it into their cart, with or without a satisfied grunt. (Shopping) A mere three or four years ago (pre-pandemic) my husband would grudgingly go shhooppping with me, and it didn’t take long before he’d begin rating each store on the basis of the availability, or unavailability, of a “Man-bench”. Of course, his rating would go up if he found a place to sit while he waited for me. Before the pandemic, I used to enjoy shhooppping. Now, because hate is a strong word, I’ll just say I greatly dislike any kind of shopping. I’m not agoraphobic or paranoid. I simply no longer enjoy it. In fact, I ask my husband every morning, “Do we need to get anything today?” When his answer is NO, the stretchy pants go on and my hair may or may not come into contact with a brush. Perhaps my lack of zeal regarding purchasing things in stores is because I’ve been with so many people for the last fifty-plus years, that I’m all out of conversation. Stop laughing! I know I just lied. Anyone who knows me for even two minutes is painfully aware that I don’t often lack for words. Lately, however, I feel more content keeping some of them to myself, instead of spitting them everywhere. Writing them helps too, I suppose. Not long ago, my husband asked me to go to the mall with him. I thought he might be concerned for my mental health so, to ease his mind, I ran a brush through my hair that morning and tagged along. As we began our stroll, I saw a shirt in a store window that peaked my interest. (I’d changed out of my sweatpants but hadn’t noticed the tear in my shirt until it was too late.) I veered off and entered the shop. My spouse assumed that I would take awhile, so he toddled off to the large store at the far end of the mall. He underestimated my ability to shop, rather than shhooppp, for that shirt. I had it fitted and bought in less than six minutes! I then texted him the happy news. An immediate communication was not forthcoming, but it eventually arrived just as I reached the all-Canadian store where he was shhooppping. His text read: “Take your time”, which I know now is code for: “I haven’t even begun looking at every tool, gun and toy in here.” I realized then that it wasn’t for me this trip was designed, but rather for him to grace any and all stores with “Tire”, “Hardware” or “Peavey” included in the name. Oh, how the tides have turned! But, I was not without a choice. Instead of seeking him out and begging to leave, I found the perfect place to spend my time! Just outside the store he was enjoying was a place to sit, and so I did. Yes, I think he was right in his suggestion for it, but I would call it the “Wo-Man-bench!”

Not even a fish

My husband and I recently spent the weekend with four of our grandchildren. This family of six live on an acreage full of non-humans, as well. Many are even inside the house. Anyone who knows me is aware that I am crazy for animals and love the outdoors more than life itself. NOT! Chickens are, as with most baby animals, really cute when they’re born. In a few weeks, however, they are not quite so attractive and they are a noisy bunch. The basement in this home currently houses these only-a-few-weeks-old squawkers because, as my daughter said, “They may have hatched a little early, for the weather.” There are other animals around and inside this homestead, also. They have very noisy roosters, ducks, cats and large dogs. Of course, pretty much every time the door opens, the cats run into the house, no doubt thinking chickens would be fun play things. As much as the cats want in, the two dogs want out, with their number one goal being — to run away. As nice as that may have sounded to me, we insisted they be tied up because just the evening before our arrival they’d both been to the vet for removal of quills from a pissed off porcupine. Last year those same dogs had more than one bout with skunks so our added goal was to keep them stink-free. This family lives in a work-in-progress older home which has been in-progress for the past several years. Imagining what the second story loft will look like someday is really fun. Sleeping up there, before the facelift, is a different story. “Honey! Did you hear that?” came out of my alarmed mouth more than a few times that first night. Hardly able to hear myself the next, I asked, “Is there an actual bird inside this ceiling?” That’s not a stretch because, not long ago, our eldest grandson stabbed a shrew that was running around behind the plastic that covers the ceiling. He proudly did away with it when he was testing out his newly acquired Katana sword. Just a bit of blood spatter is left, to remind us all of the kill. Speaking of swords … I went outside to check out the roosters (who crow incessantly, all day) and I glanced my fifteen and ten year old grandsons fighting with real ones. I don’t know if I’d simply given up at that point, or didn’t see the possible danger with this sort of activity. I knew, however, that I’d loosened up considerably since raising my own kids, when I yelled, “Just don’t lob off a finger!” They assured me, immediately, that swords have hand guards. I then remembered that I carry a first aide kit in the back of my car so I told them to carry on but, of course, to be careful. Yes, I realize as I write this — that made no sense — but a trip to the very distant ER wasn’t warranted, so it’s a win! Although I may not be an animal lover, if a person decides that it’s a necessary responsibility, I do believe they should be cared for well. I don’t know how many times my husband or I asked these questions: “Has so-and-so been fed?” (Of course every animal has been named.) “Do they all have water?” “Has anyone collected the eggs today?” (There’s a coop outside too!) And to two of our grandsons: “Weren’t there six chickens in the basement? You sleep down there — don’t you do a head count every now and then?” Yes … good times were had by all! The crowning moment, however, occurred mere hours before we left to return to our quiet, poop and straw-free home. One grandson went to rotate the many eggs in the incubator (housed in their dining room) and … you guessed it! A new chick had hatched! When raising our own children, I feel I did more than my share of compromising in the animal tolerance department. As wonderful as new life is, I must admit, I’m thankful that I don’t even own a fish.

know where you're going

They say men find it difficult to ask for directions. I have, myself, seen proof of this. Years ago, the words “I know where I’m going” were often said, before eventually asking me to wrestle with the paper road map which, incidentally, never folded up the same way again. Today we have talking maps! Siri can be set to sound feminine or masculine, with your choice of accent, as well. I prefer the less-irritating male, Australian-accented intonation to boss me around when I drive. Recently I travelled solo to the lake near where our camper sits. It is over three hours away from the city where we currently live. Let me make this clear. I knew how to arrive their, on fairly smooth highways (we live in Saskatchewan so I think “fairly smooth” is being quite generous) but being someone who enjoys racing through life I thought, “Maybe I can get there faster!” I keyed in the name of my destination and chose “quickest route”. My GPS immediately directed me to a “highway” I’d never taken before but, not long after turning onto it, the road turned into gravel. I rechecked the GPS directions but that deep, soothing voice assured me that I was on the correct course. I shrugged, naively thinking, “This short bit of rough road must turn into pavement soon, since this is called a highway.” As the sand and stones continued, and continued some more, I listened with relief as my masculine “mate” told me that just a few kilometres ahead I’d be turning onto a different highway. “Oh good!” I thought. “The one I’m on must just be one of those roads the GPS technology hasn’t updated yet. The next one will be a paved dream.” Imagine my surprise when the next “highway” resembled nothing more than a cow path. I didn’t panic, however, because there were indeed, cows so … I stopped and took a picture (sure) before slowly venturing forth, still blindingly trusting the Aussie I picture inside my phone’s GPS. Because I hadn’t been precise enough when keying in the details, I wasn’t aware this form of Siri was taking me to the opposite side of the lake. It finally twigged when my final instruction was, “Go to the end of this road and park anywhere”. The final “road” was a narrow mud path which, I have to give credit where credit’s due, did take me very close to the edge of the lake. I sat for a few moments, enjoying the still, peaceful water, taking in it’s beauty and charm from that new perspective. NOT! After whipping the car around and refiguring things, I did eventually make it to my destination on the correct side, but I would have arrived much sooner if I’d gone the “long way” around — you know — on actual paved highways, and with no need for that then grating voice. My husband, who has my phone pinged on a “Find My Friends” app, chuckled as I scrambled out of my vehicle. “Took the scenic route, did ya?” “Yes, I did,” I admitted, proudly. “My goal was to get here faster.” “How’d that work out for you?” he asked, knowing full-well it hadn’t. “Well,” I answered. “It wasn’t faster because what Siri considers highways are not, but I no longer have to wonder what the lake looks like from the other side.” After getting the slow leak fixed from a nail my back tire found on my travels that day, all was well. Interestingly, since then, we travelled together to a destination unknown to us both. As I pulled out my phone to access the GPS, these familiar words rang out from the driver on my left. “No need for that. I know where we’re going.” Just a few short minutes in, however, Siri did lend a hand. Paper or digital, some things never change. I key in wrong destinations and trust a computer program and he … is still a man. Happy Father’s Day to all you men who know where you’re going! Keep up the good work!

it's still worth it

Perhaps you’ve seen the movie “Sound of Freedom”. I cried through much of that movie and had no words to express exactly how I felt after it ended. It got me thinking about how closely I watched my kids when they were growing up. As much as I tried, anyone could have nabbed them at the park when I looked away to speak with a friend, or scooped them out of the shopping cart when I turned to get something out of the freezer section. Seriously, almost anyone could outrun me, even if they were carrying a child. We taught our children not to speak with strangers but now “strangers” can come at them in all kinds of different ways. Quite frankly, I don’t know how parents of young kids keep sane now, especially if their offspring have access to a cell phone. Paranoia almost has to be a quality in a good parent these days. I don’t remember making parenting look that good, but our three adult children have twelve kids between them. Don’t think I’m without paranoia when one of the older grandchildren is on his cell phone either. “What are you doing on that?” “Who are you texting?” “You’re not texting with strangers, are you?” “Who are you talking to now?” “Don’t believe everything you read on google.” “Get off that thing!” “Lets go for ice-cream.” Yep. All those have been said and will continue to be. I have to say, though, I am really glad that many parents have taken seriously the quest to guard their children, at least with what is within their control. A small example of this was something I observed on the beach at Good Spirit Lake just last week. The day was sunny, with only a light breeze blowing. The beach was packed with people enjoying the warm weather and cool lake water. Enter two people dressed in summery attire but certainly not swimming clothes. Yes, my husband and I were there, looking for the relatives who’d said they’d meet us on the beach that afternoon. After strolling the entire upper walkway, but spotting no one familiar, we decided to rest on a colourful bench close to one end. We continued our perusal of the beach for only a few more minutes before my husband stood up and began walking down to the water’s edge. He was confident he’d find them if he looked from that viewpoint. As he slowly walked in the shallow water, where small children sit and swim, I observed. Finding myself suddenly entertained I soon stood up and walked along the sidewalk at the top, not taking my eyes off the drama unfolding below. As he innocently scouted the sand in search of the people we were to connect with, parents were grabbing their kids, tossing them behind themselves while staring with suspicion at the man with the dark shades — walking alone — on the beach — amongst their children. Women began hugging their kids close and I suspected their whispers included warnings about strange men in dark sunglasses. I couldn’t help myself then. I began laughing, while assuming that no parent on the beach that day had missed the movie. When he, oblivious to any of that, spotted the people we agreed to meet, my husband then … waved me over. All at once, thirty or forty heads turned and looked in my direction. I, being the stellar wife I am, did the only thing one can do in a situation such as this. I looked behind me, as if searching for the person he was waving to. Eventually I went to join him and the others, but I really wish I could’ve told those parents, “This man has twelve grandkids and he’s the best grandpa ever!” Yes, it’s a difficult world out there now, but parents — keep up the great work you’re doing! You may have to live with some paranoia to survive it, but it’s still worth it!

Things I Shake My Head At — Part II

The continuation … I get a kick out of people who have no life experience, but who happily counsel others. Would you really take a person’s advice for your struggling marriage, or your out of control kid, from someone who has neither been married nor had a child? There ARE opinions that deserve more respect due to experience versus memorizing words from a textbook. I’m just saying … I knew how to raise kids too — before I had them. I compare that to the medical intern who carries with them a volume explaining the physiology of labour and birth, but has yet to be in the vicinity of someone in that state-of-being. I saw this more than once in my career. “But she can’t be ten centimetres dilated yet,” they’d say. “My textbook says she’ll dilate only one centimetre an hour, and her hour’s not up.” While they were still reading I’d don my gloves and … deliver the baby. May God bless every woman who didn’t go “by the book”, and every doctor who quickly learned to throw it away. Tired of commenting on the weather, one morning I asked someone, “How did you sleep last night?” I was surprised not to hear “fine” or “restless”, or some such word I often say to keep my long story short. You may or may not appreciate my confusion when this person answered, “Oh! I haven’t checked yet.” Clueless, but curious, I waited as she poked at her Smart Watch to read it’s summation of her nighttime hours. What sort of world are we in that we are now letting technology decide if we’ve had a good sleep or not? If it tells you you’ve had a restless night, do you suddenly feel more exhausted? Will you no longer yawn if your watch records that you slept eight hours inside a deep sleep cycle? I suppose my watch-less reply might’ve seemed ridiculous to her. “I was up to use the bathroom only twice last night and I fell right back to sleep after, so I had a great sleep.” My parameters for a “good” rest have changed but I don’t need a watch. I’m on bladder time. I recently read that Judges in Italy acquitted a man because of “palpata breve”, which means “a brief groping”. I kid you not! A student reported the 66 year old, Antonio Avola (your family must be so proud), “caretaker” at the school she attends, for pulling down her pants, touching her buttocks and grabbing her underwear. BUT … because this incident lasted a mere TEN seconds, and he told the judges that he was “just joking”, Antonio-the-pervert suffered no repercussions! My first thought was, who stood there and timed that? Then I immediately imagined myself in the following predicament: “Oh! You wish to assault me? Hold on while I set the timer on my Smart Watch. According to some idiot judge, if you assault me in any way, but keep it under ten seconds, I apparently won’t suffer any medical or emotional damage at all. Keep it under 10, though, so nothing bad happens to YOU! 3 - 2 - 1 - GO!” (I couldn’t make this stupidity up if I tried.) Have you shaken your head enough that it feels as if it might fall off? You’re not alone. So … that inevitably brings me to this, and since I hinted about it in Part I, I’ll just spit it out here. If I led my life based solely on my “feelings” I would’ve died long ago, but there are some things that are still black and white, or rather pink OR blue. And the blue crayon can NEVER be the pink crayon! But if you think so, simply don’t expect me to applaud you in your delusion. I know there are those out there who don’t agree with me. You should know — I don’t expect you to clap for me either. Sometimes the wisest choice is to simply shake your head and walk away.

the perfect gift

Although I seriously think that Christmas should be more about the real reason we commemorate this season (you know — the perfect gift we were given inside that manger), I also know that it is our North American tradition to celebrate with gift giving and getting. Do you find yourself seeking, searching, lamenting, debating, hunting and overall stressing about what to buy your loved ones for Christmas? Perhaps it’s not the presents for the people you love deepest who cause your higher levels of anxiety. Maybe it’s the five or ten dollar gift exchanges that have you baffled, or the obligatory gifts you feel you must purchase. What happens when someone more thoughtful than yourself drops off a package, leaving you standing empty handed and stammering in humiliation for forgetting that person? Well, I may be able to help! That last scenario is what “emergency” boxes of chocolates are for. Although unimaginative, a factory-designed bow and gift tag slapped onto a few of those may ease your mind. Just keep a pen handy so you can hurriedly scratch on a name and pretend you’ve been thoughtful. The infamous “re-gift”: reserved for the candles, mugs and generic trinkets easily stuffed into the same box as the tree the minute it comes down, isn’t always a bad choice. Just be careful. If you are becoming forgetful, this is not your best option. You risk hearing, “I gave you one just like this last year” in front of your whole family. Sentimental gifts are another beast altogether. Herein lie the things that are supposed to bring a smile or fond memory to mind. However, this too can become old. Think of when you’ve received these sorts of gifts. As you gaze upon the long line of snowflakes cut from paper, and tiny houses made from popsicle sticks, they might someday morph into less attractive things. Even if you love the kids that gave them to you, as you Swiffer-dust around them for the twenty third time, the sentiment may chill. Hopefully, if you haven’t experienced financial ruin buying for the children in your life, there are still a few bucks left to spend on your priority adults. (Especially the one who suffered thirty seven hours of excruciating labour trying to punt you into the world. Just sayin’.) The closest adult family and friends often seem difficult to buy for — whether for Christmas or any occasion. My older sister and I were recently discussing this very thing when she shared with me the secret of her success. Little did I know that when she out-shone me with the elaborate gifts she’d graced our parents with, she wasn’t being competitive. She was being purposeful and … plotting. Example: I have a beautiful wooden bench sitting in the entrance to my abode. “Tell me you’re not getting rid of that in all the purging you love to do!” she exclaimed one day. “No …” I replied warily. “Why? Do you want it?” “Well, I gave that to Dad one Christmas, so eventually it’ll be mine.” Hmm. When divvying up the belongings of our deceased father I have no recollection of her laying claim to this, but her next statement brought it all home. “This is exactly why buying gifts isn’t stressful for me.” I could hear her shrug. “I simply choose something I know I’ll love to own after that person dies.” “But … I have the bench,” I said. She laughed as she told me not to worry. “I’m willing to wait as long as it takes.” I suppose I could’ve taken that as a sort of veiled threat, but I didn’t. This is as wise as it gets in gift-giving. It’s the “golden rule” taken one step further. Only give what you’d like to get back! After all, when I die I won’t care who gets the bench. What counts is — I have it now. Have a very blessed Christmas everyone, and through any and all the stress you may feel, keep laughing!

if david had a cellphone

Have you ever wondered what you might be missing when you check the weekly report on your phone that tells you how many hours and minutes you’ve spent on it? Recently, as we were waiting for a wedding ceremony to begin, I saw a man talking on his cell phone. The processional started before he put his phone down. He almost missed seeing the beautiful bride as she walked, on the arm of her father, up the aisle. That got me thinking of other times I’ve seen this handy technology used at questionably inappropriate times. For example: when the same phone rang at three separate intervals in a funeral service I attended. The man didn’t hear it the first time, tried to stifle it the second, and when we all heard it the third time, I wanted to yell, “Just answer it already! The guy in the casket won’t care!” Hardly a gathering concludes these days without someone’s ringtone disturbing the peace. Perhaps that’s why movie theatres turn up the decibels way past the healthy audible range — because of the person in the audience who ignores the “Turn Off Your Cell Phone” bulletins blasting at everyone prior to the show. My father was pretty attached to his phone too, so much so that I couldn’t spend even a short time with him without being interrupted by it. He would answer immediately, no matter what else was happening. Shortly before he died I was named the Executor of his Will. He had planned his own funeral but had not left instruction about his phone. Being the “do it now or I’ll forget” sort (which I used to call “organized”), almost immediately after his death I headed for the nearest Sasktel office to cancel his phone number. The evening before his funeral service my sister and I thought it fitting to tuck his phone into his suit pocket, to be buried with him. But as I stood over the coffin at his interment the next day a great regret suddenly overwhelmed me. Perhaps it was the emotion of the solemn ceremony, or simply from exhaustion, but as the pastor spoke his kind, meaningful words, all I could think was how I wished I hadn’t been so quick to cancel his number. I could’ve dialled it at just that moment. If not seen as hilarious to others, except to me, the shock factor would’ve been worth it. Oh well, life is full of regrets. This one feels similar to when I think of the perfect rebuttal … only much too late. All joking aside, take it from one who has not always treated this technology wisely. I think much time is stolen with the use of this small device. Admittedly, I find myself quite panicked if I lose sight of mine, but it really woke me up one day when my tiny grandchild asked if I’d play with him, instead of my phone. Talking with someone in person, looking upwards instead of down and doing fun things without a phone attached to your hand, is really quite nice. I sometimes go shopping without mine, but if I can’t manage that I turn off the volume so I won’t hear every “bing” the moment someone texts me an insignificant tidbit. Lets face it — most things can wait until we’re done playing with the kids at the park. If something dire happens, you can’t get worse than dead so it usually won’t matter if you find out right now, or in an hour. Maybe that’s what the guy ignoring his phone at that funeral thought too. He just didn’t know how to turn off his phone. In days gone by, when our phones stayed home, we still found out the news. I guess what I’m saying is … I’m glad David didn’t have a cell phone. If he had, he wouldn’t have spent all that time practicing with his slingshot, and may not have felled the giant in his life.

what's wrong with you

“What is wrong with you?!” I’m fairly confident that Adam and Eve first spat out this question — either at one another or a child or two. (Most likely Cain heard it first.) I, myself, have asked this question many times but, more often, have had them spewed at me. Warning: You may think this not a topic that fits well with humour but even in very difficult circumstances, it is always good to see the funny side of things. I learned that from the best! My father had a great sense of humour. As wonderful as that was, however, he could also throw a look my way that wordlessly expressed that age-old saying “I helped to bring you into this world and I can take you out”. It was quite frightening, especially because he was such a jovial man 99% of the time. A few years ago my father was, sadly, diagnosed with an aggressive terminal cancer. By the time the bone metastases was diagnosed it was too late for treatments, so keeping him comfortable became the goal and a palliative road would be travelled. The first day that the Home-care Nurse came to visit him will live in my mind forever. When the nurse arrived I happened to be there but I’d moved myself to a table, away from the two of them, so they could have their chat. I pulled out a book which I attempted to read. The nurse was a fresh, young woman who was very compassionate as she discussed what “palliative care” meant. My father listened intently to her every word. When she began addressing the medications he was on, however, my eyes dropped from the words I should’ve kept reading. I remember the conversation thus … Nurse: “Sir, you should know that since you’re a palliative patient, the government covers all your medication expenses.” Dad nodded and smiled. Nurse: “There is one thing you’re on, however, that’s not covered. That is your Calcium supplement.” Dad nodded and smiled. Nurse: “If you’d like to stay on that you will have to pay for it.” Dad nodded, smiled and then asked the nurse, “What do you think I should do?” Nurse: “Well, I think you should stay on it. You don’t want to get osteoporosis.” Sometimes I wish I wasn’t a nurse. I should have left that alone. Should have but … Me (laughing before I shot out): “Osteoporosis?! He’s got bone mets! Osteoporosis is the least of his worries!” My father’s demeanour instantly changed as he whipped his face toward me with a look that should have stopped my heart and when the nurse left I braced myself for what I knew I deserved. Instead of a lecture, however, he broke into a smile and chuckled. “I told her I’d stay on the calcium because she was trying to be helpful. I didn’t want her to feel stupid. But seriously … what’s wrong with you?” I loved that man!

choose another hobby

I have two reactions when subjected to a computer problem: #1. Fit of rage. #2. Weepy mess. I used to teach piano lessons and I believe there are, basically, three kinds of “learners”. First are the truly gifted - musicality oozes out of them and there’s almost nothing you cannot teach them. These are the ones who are “called” to their instrument and, perhaps, will even make a living using the gift God has given them. The second group - the majority - are teachable and have some level of musicality. They make themselves, their parents and others smile at their accomplishments. The third group - a rare group of people who, even when shown the same things over and over… just don’t get it. They may be able to pull off playing a song or two but… really… they need to choose another hobby. Truth be told - I’m exactly like the third group when doing anything computer-related. If someone instructs me in the exact steps to accomplish my task, I can usually manage it. But as soon as there is a sniff of a “glich” I completely panic, bang on the keys (because THAT’s going to help!) and have the urge to throw my laptop at anything or anyone in the room. Then I cry. Something like that happened recently and it involved an important document with a deadline. I, of course, asked the one person who sighs deeply, shakes his head and tells me to calm down but then, thankfully, figures out the problem for me. This time, however, my husband couldn’t get things to work so I called a friend of mine who is in the computer “biz”. After moving past the anger stage and into “meltdown” mode, I called my friend Al. Perhaps I should have ceased weeping before speaking with him but after explaining that I wanted to smash my computer, my current hero quickly assured me that he’d figure it out. I became instantly hopeful and excitedly told him I would come to his house and bring my laptop to watch him work his magic. Perhaps I’d even learn something! He agreed, with what seemed like hesitation, but I ignored that and went on my way. After a challenging time Al did fix the problem and he realized, up close, how little I know about computers. Lucky him. When we were done, however, he admitted that he’d been most worried that I would be a blubbering mess when I arrived at his place. (Apparently hysterical women aren’t appealing to him but he can withstand a computer-challenged one.) If it had been me I would’ve been more concerned about the possibility of a computer being thrown at my head, but I didn’t share that. I’m sure he’s too kind but what he should have said was, “You really need to choose another hobby”.

simply how we're wired

I used to wonder if I contributed anything but the egg at my children’s conceptions. It was clearly my lack of self-awareness, back then, because as they’ve grown I’ve seen some glaring similarities between myself and my offspring. When our son was young, my mother was very worried about how active he seemed. (Apparently no one in the history of our family had ever had “that much” energy.) Because of his lack of focus for most tasks, we did eventually become concerned. Instead of looking at ourselves, however, we took him to professionals who guessed at what was “wrong” and failed to help him anyway. Fast forward, twenty five years later, and he still can’t sit still for any length of time, which is a blessing since he’s got small children and is now the funnest dad ever! These days, it seems more important to gain a fancy diagnosis for what may often be our learned or innocently inherited behaviour. But … does everything need to be diagnosed when many things can’t or don’t need to be fixed, anyway? Don’t get me wrong. A timely investigation of something serious is imperative but I suspect that if my son went for “testing” now, he’d come out sporting a diagnosis that might only serve as an excuse, and certainly discount simple inheritance. I have come to accept that I work better under pressure. In fact, I sometimes purposely hold off accomplishing many tasks because I work more efficiently when I know I must stay focussed. Crunch time, if you will. For example, if I have a deadline looming I can begin the project days before and most likely could finish it … if I was placed in a padded room with no windows. Years ago, when we owned a cat, we acquired a laser pointer. Alley, who would be quietly cleaning herself in a corner, immediately attempted to catch the light when we (a family easily entertained) took turns moving the red beam. Not unlike our cat, I can also be easily distracted by anything whizzing inside my peripheral vision. If I don’t keep my eyes riveted to the computer when I’m writing, for example, but make the mistake of glancing somewhere else, I will lose my thought process immediately. This very moment proves it. I just stretched and peered out the window. There is a car honking at someone walking four dogs. Four! I stand up to watch the show. I wonder if the person on the end of the leashes is a professional dog walker. Since none of the canines are behaving perhaps he is, at this very moment, reevaluating his occupational choice. But wait! The dishwasher stopped. Since I don’t know this machine well I must check it out, but on my way I notice crumbs on the counter and feel compelled to wipe them. There’s cake! I grab a small (I’m writing that, anyway) slice. I sit again and peer at what I’ve typed, trying to refocus between bites of my snack. When I was younger I watched my mother (the very one concerned for her grandson’s lack of focus) with a judgmental eye as she flitted from one task to the next, often not completing one before moving onto another. My naive arrogance voiced that I’d “never” be like that. If you’re like me, you know that when a word like “never” falls from your lips you’re probably going to have to eat it, eventually. Long story short — I’ve had a much larger piece of that than the cake I just finished. One day I googled, “medical diagnoses for someone unable to focus.” A long list of possible “psychological conditions” came up. Anything from ADHD, possible addictions and anxiety issues spread across the screen. I started reading but very soon felt as if I heard Charlie Brown’s teacher voicing, “Wah wah, wah wah,” in my head. My inevitable conclusion: “Experts” may suggest some psychiatric anomaly but … so what? I’ve learned to function this way my whole life and so has my son who, for better or worse, is much like … his grandmother. Lol. It’s simply how we’re wired.

A Necessary Bane of My Existence

In reference to me complaining about my curfew, my father would grumble, “Nothing good happens after midnight.” Of course, he was talking about his fear of me coming home pregnant. These days there’s a different kind of risk. Specifically, the possibility of spending ridiculous amounts of money in the wee hours of the morning because … Amazon never sleeps. In fact, isn’t it comforting to know that social media, millions of websites and places like Amazon are wide awake when our bladders get us up at night and we can’t fall back to sleep after meeting the demand? Ah … Amazon. A site I’ve gotten to know even better after studiously doing the thing that all authors are strongly advised to do, in order to gain more sales of their books. Yes, I’m talking about advertising. These days, you can’t sling a cat without hitting an author and all of us want our books read. After all, we’ve poured our hearts and souls into these manuscripts and would like to afford to do it all again. Why? Because we clearly have a mental problem. If you need more proof, here it is … The average writer makes less than $10,000 per year. Personally, I think that amount is impressive. When my husband mathematically computed what I made last year, he found my wage to be less than four cents an hour, for the grand total of eighty three dollars and twenty cents! As sad as that seems, I felt surprised and thankful that I was still in the black. As with many “crafters”, a majority of writers do NOT do it for the money. After watching more advertising webinars than I care to admit, I’ve been studiously punting out ads onto the Amazon platform, while secretly hoping and dreaming that someday I might squeak out ten cents an hour. Three months into this, another author I’ve gotten to know messaged me with this amazing news. Her daughter threw a few tictoc videos onto that platform and she is convinced they’re helping even more with her book sales. She suggested I might try it. You’d think I’d feel elated about yet another grand opportunity to sell my wares but, instead, the immediate thought screaming inside my head was, “NOOOOO” … for so many reasons. Mostly, I felt that I’d already pushed the boundaries of my limited creativity to it’s breaking point. In hopes of hearing “I can do that for you”, I told a few people of my plight but quickly tired of their rebuttals, most of who replied, “they’re so easy a monkey could do them.” So … still knowing nothing about the tictoc platform, this monkey had a cry. A few days later, after completing the weepy stage of the grieving process, I entered into anger and vented to my daughter my many woes. One of my teenaged grandsons happened to be listening and he happily piped up. “Grandma, if you need to make tictoc reels I can show you how. They’re easy. My teacher taught me.” With my curiosity immediately peaked, I pulled a chair beside me and smiled. “Please. Sit,” said I. Nervous that he’d see his grandmother in a negative light, I then said, “I hope you don’t get too frustrated teaching this old dog the newest trick.” (I’m really not a monkey but I realize I’ve just called myself a dog.) In less than ten minutes he’d taught me how to make a simple reel on my newly-installed tictoc app. I then empty-promised him that if I ever got rich, he would be the recipient of some of that money. Before he got too excited, however, I smashed his dream when I told him the amount of money I made for my writing attempts last year, and suggested it be wise for him to continue his education. Cell phones, social media, websites and marketing. Although necessary, to at least some extent these days, will always be the bane of my existence!

after their brains grow back

When first holding our little ones, it’s all “oohs” and “ahs”, but not many months later the gentle instruction begins. “Don’t do that, sweetheart. You might get hurt badly and Mommy loves you too much to let that happen.” Then, as time progresses, we say more firmly, “You’re still my sweetie but stop that. Now.” Then, we may find our volume increasing with, “Get away from there before you kill yourself!” Yes, their toddler brains sometimes seem slooow to mature. In between the toddler and teenaged years a false sense of security may seep in — when we think they’re actually “getting it”. Their faces are growing into their teeth whilst their brains … well … don’t be fooled by this lull. The clock will chime midnight on their thirteenth birthday and, with the simple rising of the sun, the life you knew will be over. You might regret not whispering these words the night before, “Remember I love you. I’ll see you after your brain grows back.” Don’t get me wrong. Out of all the stages my kids survived, I preferred the teen years best. Of course, since then, I’ve been told that I was blind to much that went on. My reply: “That was well planned preservation — for you and me both.” Now, I’m at the age when I get to watch the circle of life happen within the saying “what goes around comes around”. I love my teenaged grandchildren but, recently, something from the far past regurgitated itself into my memory. It happened when driving away from the hospital with my daughter and ten-year-old grandson. She answered a call from her eldest child, who asked how his ill little brother was doing. So moved was I, by his concern, that I lay my hand over my heart and thought I might cry. My daughter, remaining stressed and tired because no answer for her younger son’s condition had been forthcoming, quickly answered her teen. But then she made a huge mistake. Yes. She asked him to perform a simple chore, and with his ensuing sigh and dramatic groan, the memory returned to us both. I’d just come home from work. The laundry basket sat in the same place I’d left it and she, a sixteen year old at the time, was stretched out on the couch with her eyes pasted to the television set. “I asked you to fold the laundry,” I stated. Proving she wasn’t deaf, she barely acknowledged me with a grunted, “Yeah.” “Did you at least clean your room?” I queried, my jaw clenched and already sore. “Nah,” she said, waving one hand in my direction, while still not moving those eyeballs from the screen. “I’ll get to it yet, Mom. You worry too much.” Undoubtedly curious about my uncharacteristic silence, just then, she finally turned her head. But as I seethed, she chose the poorest of responses. She dared to roll her eyes at me. “Yoooou!” I growled, not unlike a volcano before eruption. “Yoooou — are the biggest waste of breathing space on this planet!” (It may not be wise to admit my stellar parenting techniques in writing, but there it is.) I don’t remember all that was said after that, but it didn’t get any friendlier. I look at my daughter now, with complete empathy. She’s concerned for her ten year old who, at present, seems sweet and sits in the lull for only a few short years before his brain becomes mush. My child, who became a wonderful human being once her brain grew back, sighs. How can she expect her fifteen year old son to understand what she’s been through today, and every day as a busy mother of four? I admit, I feel some disappointment in the teenager who dared to groan “I’m tired” before hanging up on my child, but I try to encourage her anyway. “He’s mixing up tired with lazy. He’s a normal teenaged narcissist. He can’t help it,” I say. “I remember,” she smiles, as we laugh a little. I reach to give her arm a squeeze. “He will one day too, when his brain grows back.”

just say no!

I’ve been hearing, more and more, how challenging it is to travel with small children. That got me thinking about something I’d rather have kept in the vault but it may serve as a good lesson for others, so here goes … As usual, on the morning of this particular trek, one of our children woke up feeling out-of-sorts. You know … you can’t put your finger on it because they don’t have a fever but they’re definitely not “themselves” and you suspect something’s coming but you’re willing to take the risk because you began planning this trip over a month ago and you NEED to get away SO badly that you’re willing to take the chance, even if you kind of know you’ll probably be sorry? Yes, that was us — run-on sentence and all. So, off we went in the dead of winter. The car was loaded with everything, because that’s how it is with young ones and … winter. My husband and I had just stuffed our then two children with food and drink, and remembered to tell the one without a diaper, and ourselves, to pee. We prayed our baby and toddler would sleep most of the way for, thankfully, this was only a four hour drive. The beginning moved along swimmingly but we were almost at the halfway mark when I glanced again in the rearview mirror. I happily saw a baby dozing, but the unsettled one from earlier that morning was squirming in her seat and appeared more than a little scarlet-faced. My husband, who had come off a night shift that morning and naively thought he’d catch some Z’s on the way, took off his seatbelt and reached to the back to feel that kid’s head. (I know what you’re thinking but OF COURSE WE WOULDN’T STOP and take the risk of waking the baby!) Sure enough! The toddler was burning up. We adults had a quick discussion and decided that, since we were now just over halfway there, we couldn’t possibly go back home. (I’m sure the relatives we went to see were real fans of us bringing the sick and ailing into their home.) Nonetheless, thinking only of our “need to get away”, the fevered child was pulled to the front while I set the cruise even faster. The kid now sitting illegally in the front seat began crying and we parents, still afraid that the other one might awaken, decided a cracker might satiate. Now crackers, in themselves, are not the worst food to give children … but they’re much less appealing when the child decides to show you exactly what kind of illness they have. Of course, she started puking everywhere. Instinctively I grabbed the cracker box, and like any good mother, took my hands off the wheel to hold it for my sickly child, and to save the car’s upholstery. Just as my husband yelled, “I’ll do that! Watch the road!”, we heard the semi’s blast. When I looked up, immediately visible to my right was the front end of a truck we weren’t supposed to be in, but because I had thought to speed we escaped the hit and flew into the opposite ditch. Not surprisingly, our car came to a sudden stop. The cries heard from both children told us they were alive. My husband’s head, however, had ruined the windshield completely but he was still conscious enough to wisely say … nothing. On hindsight, he may have lost consciousness for a few seconds but I had no time to worry about him. My biggest concern was what this would do to my perfect driving record. Lesson: Don’t take small children anywhere! Just accept that for maybe five or six or thirteen years … they’ll, and maybe you will, be stuck at home. After all, what can little kids remember of the “good times” they had under the age of five or six? And if you ever question whether you should leave, do yourself a favour and JUST SAY NO. Seriously though, have great times and travels with your families this summer! Drive fast! Take chances! Remember the puke bucket! You’ll laugh about it someday …

Things I Shake My Head At — Part I

Before I begin this first part of at least a two-part series, I will warn you that these are only some of the things I find odd, ridiculous, or just plain dumb. In my opinion the following are, if not laughable, at least worth a head shake. I will cover a plethora of subjects so if you find your temperature or blood pressure rising … stop reading. In addition, I assure you, if you leave negative or combative comments on my social media, I will not respond. This is not because I don’t wish to listen to your opinion or hear your thoughts. (I’m pretty sure I’ve heard them from others I disagree with.) It’s because … I don’t care. Although I’d love to write a whole article on the subject pelting us from every direction these days I will resist … for today. The following less ludicrous must suffice … Very intelligent people amaze me. I have, however, stumbled across persons with extremely high IQs, who sadly lack one thing. That is, of course, common sense. I was watching a highly regarded game show where only people with IQs double or triple mine dare enter. In other words, not the “Whammy-type” of show I might be allowed on. This question was asked: “In the Bible, give the name of who is considered the “maker of the stars and knows them each by name”.” The first hint — Bible. In my mind, it shouldn’t take a genius to deduce that perhaps GOD might be the answer, since He has been known to create the world and He is the main character in this book. Even a person claiming to be an atheist knows about GOD, since they deny His very existence. So … when this contestant, owning a Mensa-caliber brain, answered, “Pass”, I did a double-take. Unlike intelligence, stupidity can be an insidious thing and … you can’t fix that. Two things about taking pictures with your cell phone: It’s fun to snap a quick pic of something funny — but maybe not right before your kid nearly kills themselves. Ask yourself … do you want this to be what goes down in infamy as the smartest (dumbest?) thing you’ve ever done? It’s all fine and good, if your child escapes debilitation and grows older to find it funny as well, but what about the other kid? I’m guessing the child left maimed might turn a jaded eye toward you when they peer at the proof of your poor parenting. “Yes, perhaps I shouldn’t have been poking that wild animal in the eye with a stick, but I walk with a limp because you thought a picture was more important than setting a boundary for me?!” And what’s this obsession with posting food pictures? Firstly, no one cares what you’re eating and, you know this internet thing is world-wide, right? If you’re ignorant, I’m here to educate you. There are people who have much less food than you. Strangely, even if their cupboard is bare they may still own a cell phone (another article), but stop rubbing it in! Of course it can be very exciting to tell others that you’re expecting a baby, but I suspect some mothers-to-be may be trying a little too hard in how they choose to creatively share the news. For example, I don’t think it wise to bake a cake with your positive pregnancy test inside of it. You peed on that! And the plastic will melt! In my mind, DO NOT BAKE should never need to be a disclaimer printed on the side of the Clear Blue box. And just a quick word to all of you who think the rest of us need to be educated about ingredients found in everything we ingest, digest, scrub with and even peer at. Everyone knows that fast-food isn’t the most nutritious and that many products are filled with ingredients most people wouldn’t feed or put near their pets. But I also think if we dissected every ingredient in every product from every company, we wouldn’t be able to use anything for fear of everything.

why not an advice column?

Not unlike a language, the trick to dealing with a bully is knowing how to communicate with them in a way they’ll understand, thereby helping them to grow into a better person. Warning: the following will not be promoted in any psychology textbooks of our day. Stop reading if you seek placating advice. This is a humour column, although I’ve often thought I’d like to take a whack at giving advice (if I wouldn’t get sued). I was pre-school aged when I met my first bully. She was a hefty girl and our mothers were friends, so while they visited inside the house, her and I “visited” outside. While I was a typical middle child, trying to “keep the peace” with everyone in my life, she enjoyed cramming the entire contents of the sandbox down my pants and into my mouth. My mother initially counselled me to turn the other cheek and try “getting along” with my bully, but she soon tired of seeing her wuss-puss daughter in a state of tears and disarray. She may have told me then that I should “stand up for myself”. I evaluated that in my four-year-old brain and … punched the tar out of her during our next “visit”. She was much nicer after that. I quickly reverted back to my peaceful ways, not unlike a clandestine hero in an action movie, but I became somewhat of a magnet for more bullies when entering elementary school. Of course, I’d give them each a chance to change their evil ways, but eventually the volcano within me erupted, and soon they were no longer my problem. Fast forward, years later, to when our son was placed on the earth. He was a sensitive child, who exhibited a rather supernatural empathy for others. This made him appealing to mean children, as well, culminating one day into a major beating. He received not only a huge contusion on the back of his head, but a pattern of broken blood vessels in the shape of the boot that had landed on his neck. Suffice it to say, we parents were not thrilled with this incident, so we did something proactive. Knowing he needed some of that sensitivity beaten out of him, we enrolled him in martial arts classes. Of course, it’s not a good trait to seek out a fight (aka: BE the bully) but it is valuable to know how to defend oneself, and any form of martial arts is stellar for learning that! A few years later, our son began high-school. Since his earlier battering in grade five, he’d not been subjected to a similar incident, but not long into grade nine he became the chosen target for a gang initiation wherein the initiate was required to beat someone up as proof of his prowess, bravado, commitment? Who would know? I’m still unsure as to why our son was “chosen” for this activity, but one might consider that it’s at least nice to be picked for something. Anyway, that kid came running up to our kid one day after school and began punching at him. My son proved he’s mine when he began laughing, and then he demonstrated that we didn’t waste money on all those Taekwondo lessons. One punch to the gut and the other kid was laid out on the cement. Interestingly, when the gang leader (who had bravely watched from afar) saw this, he offered our boy a position in his group of thugs, as well as “immunity” to ever being a target again. (How thoughtful!) Thankfully, our son had brains that worked then too, and he didn’t join the gang. To be clear, I am not condoning violence in any way! I’d love a world where everyone settled conflicts with mature, calm conversation, and I wish there weren’t bullies present from almost the moment we’re born until we die. “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger” is often a valid recitation but, on occasion, defending oneself with a communication tool that works best for the bully, may prove more effective. And now you know why no one has asked me to write an advice column.

counting before christmas

Some retailers are now deciding to close the “Self-Checkouts” in their stores. Why? Because of the dramatic increase in theft. My opinion? If you’re going to expect people to use the honour system you might simply leave a box at the exit for donations. I mean, did the brilliant minds that made that decision not notice that many people can’t even count? Yes, I’m talking about the illiterate people in the “16 Items or Less” lineup. These precious gems endear themselves to us all, especially at this frenzied time of year. I was no sooner reminded of this by a dear friend, when the same thing happened to me the very next day. I’d stepped into the “Less Items” line, and immediately noticed two people ahead of me with their carts overflowing. Of course, I began counting the items in the cart immediately in front of me. The lady responsible for that atrocity turned slightly, to glance at my trolley housing only five items, but she said nothing as she quickly averted her eyes forward again. Not even an offer to allow me ahead of her was forthcoming. Fortunately, I wasn’t in the usual hurry I am, but that didn’t stop me from imagining what I would have liked to have done, or what I may do next time. Picture this … I politely introduce myself. “Hi there! I’m Pattie, the new Quality Control employee. I am responsible to see that everyone’s shopping experience is not only positive but that everyone remains calm.” I peruse her overladen cart and as she reddens, I continue. “I see you’re in the checkout allotted for purchasing less than sixteen items. Congratulations! You’ve been chosen randomly for our “lets count ‘em” game!” With a serious expression I peer at each item in her overburdened cart. She and I know full-well she has exceeded the limit. “While you’re waiting,” I continue sweetly, but with clenched teeth, “I will help you decide which SIXTEEN items, as is written on that sign just above your head, are your priority to purchase.” She, of course, is embarrassed by this affront, but I don’t give her time to speak. “I see you have a toy that requires assembling. Lets dump that because you clearly cannot handle reading instructions.” I shake my head with a sad expression, before continuing cheerfully. “I see you’re buying leafy green produce - brain food, so to speak. Good for you! You’ll be needing that, but the six bags of chips are a bit redundant. Choose one or two and the rest I’ll be glad to remove. No, no. Don’t thank me, unless your cholesterol goes down.” I go on, eye-dissecting every item in her cart, before spying one last thing strategically placed under a package of meat labelled thirty percent off. “This meat’s a good deal,” I smile kindly, “and it’s probably a necessity, although I suspect the vegan in line, with only three bags of beans in his cart, would disagree.” I then glance at item seventeen, sitting at the bottom of the cart. I gingerly pick up the box, before happily holding it up for everyone to see. “A birth control product!” I pause for dramatic effect. “This you must keep. As proven by your inability to read or count, our educational system must be lacking dreadfully. As sad as we feel about that for you, we appreciate your plan to not procreate. Here’s hoping that your partner can read instructions.” Of course, as fun as this is for me to imagine - righting wrongs and trying to take charge of someone else’s conscience - if I tried that, I’d be carted off to a psychiatric facility, but the lesson here is obvious. As the giving season engulfs us, if you find yourself tempted to steal things when checking yourself out, or even cheating the simplest of rules, don’t do it! Order on-line, if you must. That is, if you own your own credit card and can manage typing in the number. (Credit for this article idea goes to: Delta Shingoose-Hansen. May your shopping line-ups be short and may the person ahead of you know how to count!)

catastrophic failures

Have you seen the TV show where men and women are in competition for making the best steel weapon? This is tremendous physical work, so when one of the hosts on “Forged in Fire” swings that weapon and it cracks or falls apart, I almost want to cry for the contestant. It seems as though they rub salt into that person’s wound as the host then declares their weapon a “catastrophic failure”. As of late, while pondering those words, I’ve found myself observing other things I consider catastrophic failures. For example: the grown man behind a pharmacy counter nearby. Among other things, this man counts out and packages medications — for people who blindly trust him — but he couldn’t figure out my change when the total came to $3.05 and I handed him $20.05. In fact, he appeared quite distressed after he’d too-quickly entered $20.00 into his till and then spied the nickel I’d placed down. He threw me a quizzical look before I finally told him that he owed me seventeen dollars. “You can trust me,” I smiled. “I’ve done math in my head for awhile.” What kind of scathing indictment of our educational system does this represent? I’m thinking catastrophic failure. When we were first married we bought an old stove. It had survived over 25 years and was still going strong. In fact, we used that thing a lot and sold it in the same shape after another few years. With all the advances in technology today I’m guessing they could make appliances that last longer than the measly five or ten years they limp to these days. I think it catastrophic that we have phones able to tell us when we’re having a heart attack but our fridges cease cooling before there’s mould on the food inside. Shame! My husband and I have recently tried to consolidate our funds into one financial institution. He had an account, in one of the five major banks, that held a whopping forty-four cents of his hard-earned money. In preparation to accept those few coins, as he reached for his wallet the teller told him that she couldn’t give him his money. He then learned that the branch he’d gone to was … “cashless”. A bank. With no money. A bank! He took the cheque they wrote for him (for .44 cents) to our financial institution, where the teller queried the small amount. With a quick explanation, and after we’d all had a good laugh, the teller said, “This cheque cost them more than forty four cents to print.” I couldn’t help but think, “You can’t fix stupid.” I mean, I would’ve grabbed my own wallet and handed him those few cents. Of course, the employees in that bank might not carry change, and no matter the amount, I suppose records must be kept. But, it still smacks as a fail. I could go on and on, but I’ll end with this … we were recently watching a game show in which the adult contestants were asked how many days there were in the month of June. (To be clear … this was not a children’s game show.) Only ONE out of three contestants knew there were thirty days in June. I know. My eyes bugged out of my head too, but if only one-third of our population knows that simple fact, can we really expect much from the majority of humanity? I feel my bar is set lower to the ground these days. Since I’ve clearly given examples that prove the world is not getting any smarter, I’m going to make a suggestion. We’ve recently celebrated the beginning of another new year. If you haven’t yet thought up a resolution to declare, don’t stress. This does not need to be something astoundingly earth-shattering. Since most fail within hours or days anyway, keep it less lofty. You might even take a page from my book. This year my declaration is thus: “I will not be a catastrophic failure”. Happy New Year everyone! May your 2024 be bright and shiny, with enough challenges to make you appreciate, even more, the times you can laugh!

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