Archive for the ‘Thoughts’ Category

One of the interesting things about working in a large organization – be it industry, government or academia – is the absurdities you run across from time to time.

I have had to go into my benefits plan to change one of the categories and halfway through the process was greeted by this screen:



It took me a second to read the screen and realize what it said. Since obviously the process was not going well, I phoned our benefits people for help. We walked through the screens together and when we got to the ‘cancel’ screen, I asked about it. The reply was, “oh yes, you are not the first person to comment”. However, it would appear the magic number of people commenting has not been reached, so the screen shall remain. Cue the face palm.

The scariest thought … this makes sense to someone!


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I try to offer a positive response when I receive good service. It’s funny how sometimes even a complement can be misconstrued.

A couple of years ago, my daughter’s laptop developed an issue and had to be sent away for a warranty repair. The computer company (starts with H, ends with P) was very accommodating. There was no argument about the issue. They sent us a prepaid box to pack the laptop in and gave us instructions on mailing through UPS. I took the box to our nearest UPS depot around noon on a Monday. The repair shop was in North Bay, Ontario (pretty well across the country) and I expected to see the computer back in a week or so.

Much to our surprise, the repaired computer arrived back at the house on Wednesday morning – it hadn’t been gone more than 48 hours! I was impressed with the level of service so I went on to the company website to look for a feedback form. I found something that said, “Talk to the President”, so I filled out the form and thanked them for the great service.

A couple of days later I got a phone call from HP Customer Service. They were following up on my feedback – the first thing the person on the phone asked; “was your concern dealt with appropriately?” I told the person that I didn’t have a problem – I just wanted to tell them that I really appreciated the prompt service and they should be congratulated. There was a silence and then the person said, “Oh sorry, we don’t get many complements – we just wanted to be sure there wasn’t a problem”. Hmmm.

Last month, we went out to a family restaurant for breakfast since we had managed to get some of the far flung members of the family together. The food was good and when the server came by to remove the plates, she asked how everything was.  I replied that I thought the meal was great and the omelette was particularly good. She looked at me and in a surprised voice said “Really!?!”

This was not exactly the response I had anticipated and I said that she sounded surprised. She replied that she had never had an omelette and then went about packing up the rest of our dishes. After she left, that was worthy of a face palm. She should probably never consider a career in marketing.

Maybe this world would be a little better off if people showed appreciation for the extraordinary instead of expecting that as the norm.

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As in the previous post, I seem to be reflecting on aging a bit these days. I was watching the documentary, “Monty Python – Almost the Truth”, and Terry Gilliam had a wonderful observation about aging and Monty Python getting back together again. I tried to search for the quote but having failed in my quest, I did find another that I particularly liked. In part, because I have noticed that people my age, especially males, seem to be getting less tolerant as we put on the years. I find it offensive when people share material they find on the internet that is either racist, homophobic, misogynistic, or just plain gross. And it seems to be from people who, in the past, were much more open. It is sad in many ways.

This little recipe for aging is, in my opinion, is something to aspire to as we grow older.

“Prayer of an Anonymous Abbess:

Lord, thou knowest better than myself that I am growing older and will soon be old. Keep me from becoming too talkative, and especially from the unfortunate habit of thinking that I must say something on every subject and at every opportunity.

Release me from the idea that I must straighten out other peoples’ affairs. With my immense treasure of experience and wisdom, it seems a pity not to let everybody partake of it. But thou knowest, Lord, that in the end I will need a few friends.

Keep me from the recital of endless details; give me wings to get to the point.

Grant me the patience to listen to the complaints of others; help me to endure them with charity. But seal my lips on my own aches and pains — they increase with the increasing years and my inclination to recount them is also increasing.

I will not ask thee for improved memory, only for a little more humility and less self-assurance when my own memory doesn’t agree with that of others. Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be wrong.

Keep me reasonably gentle. I do not have the ambition to become a saint — it is so hard to live with some of them — but a harsh old person is one of the devil’s masterpieces.

Make me sympathetic without being sentimental, helpful but not bossy. Let me discover merits where I had not expected them, and talents in people whom I had not thought to possess any. And, Lord, give me the grace to tell them so.

Margot Benary-Isbert

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The law of averages doesn’t look good for me. The last time I was in a vehicle crash was over 30 years ago. But I came close a couple of days ago.

I was stopped at a light at a downtown intersection. It was a three lane road and I was sitting in the far right lane. There was a semi on my left so I really couldn’t see in that direction. The light turned green for us and I started out. I just caught it in the corner of my eye but from the left a van was running the red. I hit the brakes as hard as I could and stopped. On recollection, the next instant was very calm. There was no fear, no panic – I just remember thinking, “I am going to get hit”. At that point, the van swerved around me and kept going. Even though it probably about 2 seconds, I could tell you that it was a later model, grey Chevy mini-van with a blue handicapped sticker hanging from the mirror. It was a very surreal experience – one that I don’t particularly want to repeat. I guess I just have to keep defying the odds.

As George Carlin used to point out; “Here’s a phrase that apparently the airlines simply made up: near miss. They say that if 2 planes almost collide, it’s a near miss. Bullshit, my friend. It’s a near hit! A collision is a near miss. [WHAM! CRUNCH!] “Look, they nearly missed!” “Yes, but not quite.”

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We live in a cold part of the world. And this winter has been a bit colder than normal. We had a warm spell in January – it went above 0C for a few days and that seemed to lull people into a false sense of spring. On Groundhog Day, if there was a groundhog out and about, they did see their shadow. When a friend from eastern Canada asked what the state of the weather was on Groundhog Day, I said it had been cold and sunny. Oh, the groundhog saw his shadow … six more weeks of winter. We wish – six weeks would take us into mid-March – that would be early for us. We’ll take it – thank you very much.

February has been colder than normal. At the winter solstice, we get about seven hours of daylight. I know this is a lot by Arctic standards, but going to work and coming home in the dark is not particularly fun. So with the days getting longer but the weather staying cold, it just doesn’t seem fair. This past weekend was a great example. Woke up Sunday morning to clear, crisp skies with an air temperature around -30 C and for one hour at least, a wind chill of -39 C. For me, this was weather to hunker down indoors.

Which, in a roundabout manner, brings me to the subject of this post. I have an original Kindle (I have just ordered a paperwhite version) and I love it. Yes, I know the arguments about the tactile feel of a real book and I agree that the Kindle isn’t perfect. But it is portable and to be able to get a book anywhere (I have the 3G version) is amazing. So, I spent a lot of the weekend curled up with my latest book on the Kindle with my favourite tunes playing in the background. It is a relaxing way to spend time.

However, a couple of weeks ago I ran across articles in both the New York Times and the Atlantic about studies that show we, as a society, don’t read as much as we used to. While I know we have vast new ways of receiving information, it saddens me to think of not experiencing the pleasure of becoming immersed in a good read. A number of years ago a friend went to India for an extended stay and wrote a journal of his experiences. He called it, ‘Sipping from the Fire Hose’ and I was honoured when he asked me to edit and layout the final copy. It is an apt title and one of the reasons he chose it was that the experiences in India were so foreign and overwhelming that he could not fully comprehend what was happening in real time. It took laying out his thoughts and reflecting on the experiences for him to understand what he had seen. And that is what we seem to be doing on a daily basis with all the information being hurled at us from so many directions. For me, there are times I need to turn down the volume and reflect. It would seem that we are moving away from that paradigm. I am not sure that is a good thing. I see many times in my work where judgments are made without knowing the full context and taking time to consider consequences. Yes, you can have ‘paralysis by analysis’ but jumping to conclusions can be just as bad, if not worse. I don’t know if there is an answer to this, but immersing one’s self in a good read is a way to slow the world down and hopefully reduce some of the stress we place ourselves in. So maybe there was an upside to -30 last weekend.

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I don’t know if I have always been a morning person. As I getting older, I find it more difficult to sleep in – plus, it doesn’t help to have a dog who has decided that anything later than 7:30 is past her breakfast (she is doing fine, btw). So, while everyone else is asleep, I have the house to myself. This morning it was a leisurely breakfast following by some time catching up with Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee (great web series). When I went back upstairs to refresh my coffee, I was greeted by the sunrise. And yes, it was almost 9:00 but that is the price one pays for living here – short days in the winter.

So, having a camera always at the ready, I grabbed some shots of the morning sun in the front yard.

Soft Morning Light

Soft Morning Light

Rabbit Tracks

Rabbit Tracks



Iridescent Cloud at Sunrise

Iridescent Cloud at Sunrise

The morning light, especially with the sun so low, is quite pretty. I find the morning sun has a ‘fresh’ character about it as opposed to sunset where the light seems more calming. It was -17 C this morning but having the sun out with the beautiful blue sky does help to make up for the chill. And the days are getting longer so these are positive signs.

And yes, I recognize this is Groundhog Day and that a gopher that wasn’t asleep would see its shadow. But for us, six more weeks of winter would mean an early spring, so I’ll take it!

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Mortality in Dog Years

It has been a stressful couple of weeks. I resolved that I would update the blog more often this year, but we ran into a little snag. Our dog, Penny, had to have surgery just after New Year to remove a lump on her chest.


Penny at the vet before the surgery. The lump is plain to see.

The vet was pretty sure it was just a ‘fat’ lump – apparently labs are prone to this sort of thing. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. It turned out to be an intermediate-grade sarcoma. This made the operation more involved and the vet had to put a drain in afterwards. The lump had to be sent to pathology so for a few days we waited for the outcome. The good news was the lump was benign – the not so good news is that there is a reasonable chance it will return.


Our sad multi-coloured dog. Lots of vet wrap holding the dressings in place.

After five days we got another surprise. Penny began having great difficulty getting to her feet. She was having real trouble with her back end and would cry whenever she put weight on her legs. So, another trip to the vet and this time we got some pain medication and antibiotics. These helped but two days later, the drain retracted back into her and yet another trip to the vet. We were getting really good at dressing changes and dealing with a very sad dog. It was almost two weeks after the surgery that we finally went back to the vet to get the stitches out. The vet’s assistants took into Penny into the back. We knew she was done when we heard scrambling and Penny dragging the assistant out of the treatment room – a much happier dog. So, now things look better. She is still not completely her old self but we don’t have to worry about dressings and leakage and all the rest of the issues.


Penny showing off her war wounds

It struck me that over the last 10 years, I have watched Penny as a youngster grow into an adult and now into a senior citizen – all the stages of human existence compressed into a decade. The prognosis is for one to three years before we may expect a recurrence. This was not a cheap procedure and given her age in a couple of years, I will really have to think long and hard if we do have to deal with this again. It will not be an easy decision. But we will do the best we can do when the time comes. Until then, we will enjoy her company. Hopefully, I can start catching up on my sleep!


A young Penny watching the front door

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