For my regular visitors, if you find that this blog hasn't been updating much lately, chances are pretty good I've been spending my writing energy on my companion blog. Feel free to pop over to Home is Where the Central Cardio-pulmonary Organ Is, and see what else has been going on.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Wishing you...

Blogger's been giving me troubles, so I wasn't able to post for a while (here's hoping this one works!).

After meeting with my lawyer I, wish to extend the following message out to all of you:

"Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, my best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low stress, non-addictive, gender neutral celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced with the most enjoyable traditions of religious persuasion or secular practices of your choice with respect for the religious/secular persuasions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all.

I also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted Gregorian calendar year 2007, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make our countries great and without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith or sexual preference of the wisher"

Please note:

By accepting this greeting, you are accepting these terms: This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal. It is freely transferable with no alteration to the original greeting. It implies no promise by the wisher to actually implement any of the wishes for her/himself or others and is void where prohibited by law, and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wisher.

This wish is warranted to perform as expected within the usual application of good tidings for a period of one year or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first, and warranty is limited to replacement of this wish or issuance of a new wish at the sole discretion of the wisher.

No trees were harmed in the sending of this message.

In other words...

Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Leave a big hole...

Yesterday, the girls and I went on a grocery shopping trip at the store I used to work at. Now that dh officially has a new job (all the paperwork is signed and a start date it set) and we have an idea what hours he's working, there's no practical way for me to go back to the job. Since I've left, every time I go shopping, I get staff members I've worked with coming up to me and asking me if I'm coming back, wondering why I had to leave, and commenting on how much I'm missed. My kids laugh and tease me about it.

After the last shopping trip, I found myself remembering one of the seminars on tape I listen to on a regular basis. It goes back a few years, but I still remember it. The speaker's theme was "leave a big hole." He talked about how, when faced with opportunities, many people find excuses as to why they can't take them. One of the more frequent ones he's had is people going on about how important they are at their jobs, how vital their position is, and how much their companies need them. They are under the impression that they have job security. The speaker told of how he had one guy that was telling him all this, so he responded this way. He said to take a glass of water, put your finger into the water, then pull it out again. The length of time it takes for the water to fill in the hole your finger was in is about how long it'll take a company to replace you.

He then went on to talk about how, whatever job you have, it's imporant to do that job to the best of your abilities. A lot of people moan and groan about their jobs. The hours, the work, the people, the conditions... They may start out eager, but before long they're cutting corners and settling for "good enough." (I won't even touch the jobs were people are actually admonished for doing it "too well" because they're making their co-workers look bad) Few people, even those who enjoy their jobs, say positive things about them. The point he was trying to stress was that, even if you're a street sweeper, be the best street sweeper there ever was. Whatever your work is, be the best you can be at it. Constantly try to improve yourself and your skills. Find the joy in your work. Take pride in doing a good job. Do it because it's worth doing, because it's your job, not for external accolades, promotions, or whatever. He then went on to say how, by simply being the best at your own job that you are able to be, when the time comes to leave (and in this day and age, it's pretty much assured that you will), your absence will leave a big hole; one that will be difficult to fill.

I never needed a seminar to tell me to do my work well. This was something I learned from my parents. They never "taught" it to me. They never had to. I simply saw what they did. My parents, "uneducated," with questionable English and no certifiable skills, could do pretty much anything they put their minds to. No job was beneath their dignity; no job was too unpleasant to not do well. While there were certainly some jobs I simply couldn't bring myself to do (like gutting chickens - I could do every other part but that), even at a young age, I knew that it was me, not the job, that had a problem. The job needed to be done, so my parents did it. I don't think it ever occurred to them not to do a job well. Looking back, I remember doing jobs that, in retrospect, were pretty disgusting, but I did them. Quite a few were done without being asked. I saw it needed to be done, so I did it.

The funny thing is that, as the youngest of 5, I was by far the "laziest" of us all. With so many older siblings, I could get out of quite a few jobs my older siblings couldn't. I never thought of myself as being particularily hard working - certainly not compared to the rest of my family. Yet when it came time for me to be on my own, every employer I've ever had over the years has valued me for how well I do my job, and what a hard worker I apparently am. In one cases, I was amazed to find the owner even knew who I was, never mind knew me enough to write a glowing letter of reference, instead of getting one from the supervisor I'd originally asked.

It's always been rather a surprise for me, and what's happening now is no different. Sure, I was "just" a grocery store cashier, and I've certainly encountered people who would consider this sort of work as somehow beneath them, but status hardly matters to me. I always tried to keep in mind that mine was probably the last staff face the customer would see on the way out, so the impression I made would be the one that stuck with them the longest. The most important thing was the customer in front of me, and I enjoyed doing the little things, like always checking the eggs, wrapping a leakable item, bagging items efficiently, etc. These were things I appreciated as a customer, so why not do it as a cashier? It never occurred to me that this was any big deal until I had more and more customers telling me that in all their years of shopping, they've never had another cashier take that extra step, whatever that step happened to be. From this, I knew the customers appreciated it, but even if no one had actually commented, I'd do it anyways, because that was part of doing my job well. Now I'm starting to realize that other staff members, including ones I never worked with directly, appreciated things I did as well.

Like the speaker on the tape I listened to so many years ago said, I seem to have left a big hole.

Monday, November 27, 2006

To Santa, or not to Santa

While going through my online columnists this morning, I found this one, and it got me thinking about the whole Santa deal. It was these passages in particular that got to me...

So there I sat on Christmas morning, crying uncontrollably, trying to figure out what I had done to make Santa angry.

and then...

As an adult, I can't even imagine what it's like for a parent to explain to their children why Santa overlooked them while all their friends received countless presents and enjoyed a huge holiday feast.

I can't even imagine this situation in the first place. As a child, Christmas was a HUGE event - but it was a religious and cultural event. Christmas Eve (Wigilia) was the highlight of the year. Only Easter came close to compare. My parents bought the gifts, and they were wrapped and stored on top of one of the kitchen shelves, in full view, or at the top of one of their bedroom closets. Out of reach, but not really hidden.

I had this vague notion of someone called Santa, but to my childhood mind, it was meaningless. Christmas was the celebration of the birth of Christ, and Wigilia, followed by Midnight Mass, was the core of our celebrations.

With our own children, we've made a point of telling the kids that, while we don't do the Santa thing, some families do, and to be careful not to say things like "there is no Santa," just as we tell them not to say "there is no tooth fairy." I'm not sure when I discovered that some families went to extreme lengths to make their kids believe in a literal Santa, but I do remember thinking it was the strangest, most dishonest thing a parent could do. It's one thing to have fun with it; my in-laws, for example, send gifts to our kids labelled "from Santa." We joke about it the same way we joke about the tooth fairy being a big hairy guy with a beard (Dh) in a pink tutu. It can be harmless fun, but when the myth is perpetuated so strongly that children judge themselves based on whether or not "Santa" got them what they wanted (see the first quote from the column), I see that as a problem.

Then there's the next part. The idea that poor people have to explain to their kids why Santa "overlooked" them. Good God. Are people really doing that?

I grew up in a cash poor family. I can't say that we were actually poor - partly because I believe poverty is a state of mind - but we were definately broke. Thankfully, we lived on a mixed farm, and as such, we never had to worry about where our next meal would come from. We provided most of our own food. We didn't get a lot of presents, but there was always something. I even remember making a gift for one of my brothers - a checker board made out of construction paper. I doubt my brother ever used it (I never saw it again, that I can recall), but I was quite proud about the fact that I made that gift for him. At the time, it never occurred to me that money was needed to provide gifts. Money was something we just didn't have a lot of.

The gifts themselves tended to be more practical. New clothes, for example, with perhaps a few toys. We never had a lot of clothes to choose from, with lots of hand-me-downs, so getting new clothes for Christmas was pretty exciting. Small boxes of chocolates were fairly common. My parents would buy extra and wrap them, just in case we got unexpected guests. At no point did we ever feel deprived because we didn't get as many things as other kids got. I don't even remember caring what other kids got. Christmas was so much a family focused event, I don't remember it ever occurring to me to compare to what other people did. In our community, there weren't a lot of people who celebrated Wigilia, and that alone made our Christmas different and special.

The thing is, we kids knew there wasn't a lot of money. No one had to explain anything to us. There was no myth to perpetuate. Christmas wasn't about presents and "stuff," though we certainly enjoyed and appreciated them. Christmas was about traditions, faith and family. It was about gathering around the table, sharing the oplatyk. It was bundling up against the cold to go to Midnight Mass - church at midnight! - being sure to get there very early, so we'd have seats, and to enjoy the singing of carols beforehand. Sure, I loved going through the Sears catalog and dreaming about the stuff I'd like to get, but it never occurred to me that I actually *would* get what I wanted from there, other than perhaps one or two small items. Maybe.

While I have nothing against contributing to charity to help people in need for Christmas, I can't help but feel that our culture puts too much emphasis on Christmas as this gift giving orgy. I remember a few years back, some friends of ours were going through very hard times, and found themselves needing to use the food bank. I remember being amazed at how much food they got as a family of three. They got more food given to them than I needed to buy for our own family of 4 - and they were just on a top up program! Then Christmas rolled around, and they got even larger amounts of food, including baked treats and party food, a frozen turkey, and more gifts for their one child than we bought for both of ours together (I can't even remember if Dh and I bought gifts for each other that year). The irony of it is that part of the reason our own Christmas was so short was because we kept giving money to help others who were in more need than we were, whether it was for groceires, gas in the tank to get to work, to take a course for certification needed for a new job, or whatever. We've never really given much to charities, but we've given a lot to individual families over the years.

I remember looking, as I sometimes helped pick up, unpack and put away our friend's food bank goods, in awe at the sheer volume of food, thinking there was something wrong with this picture. It's great that these services are available for those in need - I'm thankful for it, and I know it'd be a relief if we ever needed such services - but it blew my mind that people on the food bank program were getting top ups that were more than we could afford buy for ourselves, and to feed fewer people. We certainly weren't going hungry, either.

Back to the Santa concept, though. I think the idea of fooling children with the literal Santa myth not only does them a disservice, but that it's much more far reaching. It's unfortunate that donations to charities seem to need something like Christmas to remind people to donate, but are we doing the right thing by increasing people's expectations like this? Are we doing our children any favours by going to such extremes to convince them that there really is someone called Santa? If a family is in dire straights to the point that they need to rely on charity, this sort of dishonesty can cause an aweful lot of pain and confusion in their children. Why do it? Why not just tell your kids, "money is tight right now, but we can still celebrate Christmas without it." Being broke is nothing to be ashamed of and, unlike some of the charity ads I've been seeing, doesn't mean you won't have Chrismas because of it. I recently picked up a free magazine and found and ad reading "Imagine No Christmas..." Below, it pictures a child sitting on front of an empty plate, in shadow so the face is unseen, but with a starburst glint added to the plate. Ads like that disgust me.

Christmas, after all, isn't about how many presents you get, how much food there is, or about Santa. No matter how much the secularists want to water it down, Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. It's a celebration of faith. While some have replaced Jesus with Santa, and others go on about the various pagan festivals we christians supposedly took over in choosing Dec. 25th to celebrate, it doesn't change the fact that it's a religous holiday and, above all, a birthday celebration.

For someone else.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

new blogger

Well, I've finally gone and updated my blog to the new blogger beta. It's supposed to be easier, better, etc. It may be. I don't know yet. About the only thing that seems to have changed is that the dashboard is harder on the eyes, and I keep having to re-set my password, because every time I type it in, it tells me the password doesn't match, even though I *know* I'm typing it on correctly.

Hopefully this time it'll keep. :-P

Friday, November 24, 2006

thoughts on a nation...

There's quite an uproar right now about our PM recognizing the Quebecois as a nation. Reading the letters, editorials and blogs about it, there's quite the range of reactions.

I'm not entirely sure what to make of it myself. There's one thing I need to specify, though. The PM did *not* recognise Quebec as a nation. Quebec is a province. He recognised the Quebecois people as a nation. While many would assume that it's one and the same (as I would have, in the past), they aren't. The Quebecois are a fracophone group within Quebec - and not the only one. My husband's family is originally from the area and he has extended family spanning most of the east coast. His ancestors have been in Canada for 300 years. While francophone, they hold little love for France, which they feel abandoned the colonists. They hold little love or loyalty for the Queen, since they hold no ties to the UK. But they are not Quebecois. They consider themselves Acadian, a nation that pre-dates Canada.

The Quebecois are a group that is centred mostly around the urban areas of southern Quebec, with the exception of those that consider themselves Acadian. As I understand it, the farther north you go, the less Quebecois Quebec becomes.

One analogy that comes to mind is how Canada recognises First Nations peoples as seperate nations. It's interesting to note that the Metis is recognised as a nation, too - but the Metis do not qualify for any of the "benefits" the first nations get. Most significantly, while our federal government does recognise the Metis, many First Nations do not recognise the Metis as a nation at all. I see similarities here. I certainly doubt the Quebecois seperatists would recognise the Acadians as a seperate nation!

It's a great big mess.

So while I have extreme reservations about the Quebecois being recognised as a "nation within a nation," I also get the impression that Harper may have cut the seperatists off at the knees - but no one's quite sure if he succeeded. They got what they supposedly wanted - recognition - but by recognising the Quebecois people, there's no doubt that Quebec itself is still very much a part of Canada.

Time to see how this plays out.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


Tonight I was on my way to a business meeting and had to take a cab. Seeing a cab in front of our building, I went to find out if it was the one I'd called. I open the door and...


... I somehow manage to smack myself right in the eye with the corner of the door! Twisted my glasses all out of shape, and I'm developing quite a shiner right now.


The meeting was great, though! LOL

Sunday, November 19, 2006


So dh's new job looks like it won't need the full 3 months of his contract to finish it. He's accomplishing in days - sometimes hours - what was estimated to take weeks or months. And he's trying not to do it too quickly! Based on what they knew, the estimation of 3 months with possible 2 month extension made sense. Unfortuntely, they didn't know much about the software dh is using, so their estimate was based on someone who kept getting errors in the code and having a hard time fixing them, simply because he wasn't very familiar with the newest version of the software. Dh, on the other hand, is very familiar with it. He readily admits he's no genius at it (though he is cutting himself short a bit - he's quite good at what he does). Even so, simply knowledge of the tools is enough to make the difference.

Of course, that means he's still looking and interviewing. With some breathing space, thanks to this contract, he can look with a more selective eye. There's two possibilities in the works. One is a local position and is our preference.

The other would have us moving back to my home province.

That's where I'm feeling trepidatious.

First off, I don't want to do another interprovincial move. There's a lot of extra headaches involved. I particularily don't want to move back to my home province, as every time we've done that, it's cost us about $5000 at tax time.

Sure, our family is all there - his and mine - but family is part of why we left in the first place. More specifially, my mother. She's one of those toxic people that really ought to be avoided. She's also determined to control my life and ferociously against our homeschooling the kids. I seriously believe she'd go so far as making a false report to social services and have our kids taken from us. Considerring she's already made false reports against us to other authorities, this is no great leap.

Now, I happen to like my home province in many ways, and am familier with the city we'd be going to, since we've lived there several times over the years. There's a lot of good things going for it.

What I've found, however, is that as much as I liked living there, I really love living here. I find it wonderfully, wildly eclectic. It's amazingly friendly here, and there's a large hs'ing community that we've tapped into. I feel at home here.

The kids have developed real friendships. A lot of these kids have competely different views than mine, they like different things, they dress and act differently - and none of that matters. They're friends because they truly enjoy each other's company, and their differences are enjoyed, if not revelled in. *L* This is so completely different from the "friends" they left behind.

Amazingly, I'm finding that *I* have started to develope friendships, too. There are a lot of people who's company I enjoy so much, and I look forward to getting to know them even better. This is a totally new thing for me. I have long been a recluse at heart, and I am content in my own space. I'm not the sort of person who "needs" to be around people, or "needs" constant companionship. Dh is very much like that - he starts to go stir crazy if he hasn't spent some time at least talking to other people on the phone. I've just never been much of a people person. I can happily sit at home with some good books or some crafting materials and I'll be happy for ages. Throw in all the moves, and what I've developed over the years is a whole lot of aquaintances, but few actual friendships. This whole concept of actually connecting with another person like that is a new thing for me. I like it. Sure, I would still be just as content as a hermit, but I value these people and their companionship. I want to continue down that path. Moving out of province makes it so much more difficult to maintain friendships.

So that's where my thoughts are these days. Of course, there's no way of knowing where we'll end up. We just have to keep these things in mind while making our decisions.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


A Day of Remembrance

The Royal Canadian Legion - History of the Poppy.

In Flanders Fields
by: John McCrae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

In Canada, we have our Remembrance Day on the 11th day of the 11th month. On the first of the month, blood red poppies with black centres decorate the lapels, coats and hats of many. The sale of poppies is by donation to the Royal Canadian Legion - only they are allowed to sell the poppies in Canada - and the money goes towards veterans, helping to meet their financial needs. We usually get a few of them, being sure to donate generously in the process. It's the least we can do.

For me, Remembrance Day an emotion filled day, becoming more so as I grow older and try to grasp in incredible sacrifice made by so many. For me, it's a day of solemnity and gratitude. Of sorrow and appreciation. I know I owe my life, as well as my freedom, to those who fought and died so many years ago. Where it not for them, I would never have been born. How many others are there that are alive today that wouldn't be, because so many were willing to put their lives on the line? I couldn't even begin to adequately acknowledge the gift I've been given.

More recently, however, it has started to become a day of anger, as well.

It seems to me, in our modern pampered world, we are breaking faith with those who died for us. Too many are not only forgetting the sacrifice so many have made, but they are twisting it to become something else entirely. I'm hearing people talk about "alternative" ways to celebrate instead of Remembrance Day. Remembrance Day, I'm told, glorifies war and killing, and they want to find a "more peaceful" alternative. Today, I was horrified to read that there are people who are selling and wearing white poppies instead of the red! What a slap in the face to those who sacrificed everything - and by wearing an opium poppy, no less!

Remembrance Day isn't a day to glorify war and violence. It's a day to acknowledge the horrors that people suffered, and be thankful to those who were willing to endure it on our behalf. It openly reminds us that war is a horrible thing. Dispite that horror, there were still people willing to go to the front lines and fight. Why? Because they knew that if they didn't, life as they knew it would be over. The freedoms they enjoyed would end. Can you imagine if the world just sat back and said, "it's wrong to fight and kill, therefore we won't do it," when faced with someone like Hitler, busily killing millions? How would WWII have ended? With Hitler ruling the world? I need only to listen to my parents tell their stories, what little they are willing to discuss, about what it was like as an ordinary citizen - barely more than children - living under such conditions. How much worse would it have been had it been allowed to go on? It's because people we'll never know were willing to fight and die for what's right, that we even have the freedom to wear a white poppy, insulting the very people that gave us that freedom.

You'd think we would've learned our lesson, but obviously not. Otherwise intelligent people mouth platitudes about how evil war is, and if only we'd just give peace a chance. Just how, exactly, do they think we got this peace we've been enjoying for so many decades? By fighting a war, that's how! Because as long as there are madmen like Hitler and far too many others, war, violence and killing will be a fact of life in our world.

How ironic that the only way to truly achieve peace is by being willing to fight for it. Kill for it. Die for it.

That is the torch that's been passed on to us.

If we break faith; if we throw down that torch, we give up everything we value most. Our freedoms. Our families. Our lives.

I, for one, will always wear the red poppy.

I will hold the torch up high.

I will keep the faith.

Sunday, November 05, 2006


After writing my last post, I went back over some old ones and realized that I haven't updated anything on dh's job situation. It wouldn't have mattered if things had stayed the same, but they haven't.

Dh isn't leaving town to take another job for 5 months, after all.

Instead, he's starting a new job - just down the hall from his old one!

Just the day before he was to sign the contract for the out of town job, his contracting company called and asked if he was up for an interview in the morning. So he postponed the contract signing to the afternoon and went to the interview.

By noon, he had the job and a contract was signed. The out of town company wasn't too pleased and tried to lure him back by saying how it was really for 6 months, not five, and that they were thinking extensions, and possibly permanent ... none of which he'd been told before. It's a game Dh doesn't play. He chose the local position, even though it's only for 3 months and for lower pay, because it's the least disruptive to our family, and will have the fewest negative effects on his health due to stress (and believe me - living on his own for 5-6 months is very stressful for him).

Tomorrow morning, he starts the new job. He doesn't come in until 9:30 am, which is 2 1/2 hour later than he's used to. By the end of the day, he'll know what his normal hours will turn out to be.

Meanwhile, my last day at work has come and gone. My managers were hoping I'd be able to stay. If for some reason I find I'm able to come back, I was told all I need to do is talk to one of the managers and I'm back in again. It's rather nice to know they are willing to do that. I don't feel bad, exactly, for leaving - it's what I need to do - but I do empathize with the position it puts them in. There aren't a lot of people in my department that are dependable - a lot are real slackers, to be honest.

Well, we'll see how things turn out over the next 3 months.

Learn a new language

I was at a seminar this past weekend. The main purpose of the seminar was to teach people how to become successful in their lives, personally and financially. One of the things oft repeated is the importance of reading books and listening to audios of a positive, uplifting nature, and to avoid negative influences in your life, such as tv, toxic "friends" and the like.

It's a constantly repeated theme, as it's so vitally important to change our thinking before we can move beyond where we are now, to where we want to be. It's also one of the most difficult things to accomplish, as we are so inundated by negative images and messages around us. A frequent occurance happens when people we considered friends find out that we are doing things like listening to audios or reading books, instead of watching the lastest episode of Survivor or going to the bar to get drunk with them again; these "friends" usually get rather upset and start saying things like "you're getting brainwashed!" One of the more common responses to this that I've heard from numerous speakers has been along the lines of "Yes I am - my brain *needs* to be washed!"

As accurately amusing as the statement is, it's something the average person doesn't understand, or is uncomfortable with, because of the cult-like associations with the term "brain washing." It was during this past seminar, however, that it suddenly became obvious to me.

It's not that we're "washing our brains" by deliberately moving away from these negative influences and replacing them with positive. What we're really doing is learning a new language.

Think about it for a moment. Throughout our lives, we are immersed in the language of negative thinking. At school, we are judged not by what we do well, but what we do poorly. Rather then building on one or two things we are strongest in, we are forced to work on the many things we are weakest in - particularily if those things involve the maths and sciences. If a child shows artistic promise but a "deficit" in math, this is considerred a bad thing. That child is generally made to stop being artsy (unless, of course, they do it in art class in a teacher approved manner) and given extra work on math. That child's artistic promise is not allowed to develope into its full potential, or even to discover what that might possibly be. The end result is a child who is mediocre in both math and art, and who sees his or her self as a failure.

This thinking continues in other areas of our lives. We are constantly bombarded with our failures rather than our successes. We are told to strive - but not too far, because somehow, "too much" success is morally wrong. Add to that the focus on the negatives of the world around us. Magazines that tell us we're too fat and ugly, unless we buy the latest diet pill or make up. Tv shows that focus on the worst of human behaviour and market it as being somehow funny. News that is always bad. The focus of all these things isn't on how we can improve our lives, but on showing us how terrible life is, was or will be. Doom and gloom sells. Even media showing supposedly positive messages somehow manage to twist it into something negative.

Over the years, our "language" becomes one of constant negative self talk and imagery. We focus on our weaknesses instead of our strengths. We constantly berate ourselves for not meeting some ambiguous ideal of perfection. We constantly relive in our minds our most embaressing moments or most humiliating defeats. We envision futures of failure and mediocrity, because we truly don't know how to get anything else, and have difficulty believing that we are worthy of better.

One of the things we are doing with our kids is using Rosetta Stone to learn French. The concept behind Rosetta Stone is to learn the language as naturally as possible, much the same way we learn our own native tongue - through total immersion. Using the written and spoken word, together with images, we are expected to be able to figure out what is what. If we get it wrong, it just cycles back to give another chance later on. There is only one language used on this software - the language you are trying to learn. Eventaully, the brain makes the connections and - aha!! - you understand what you are seeing and hearing. Immersion is the fastest, most efficient way to learn a new language.

This is exactly what we do when we focus on books, audios and videos that tell us we can achieve our dreams and goals, and how to do it. We are immersing ourselves in a new language. The language of success. The language of positive self talk. The language of possibility thinking.

So the next time someone tries to tell me I'm being brainwashed, my answer will be no, I'm not being brainwashed.

I'm just learning a new language.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A soldier's letter

I thought this was well worth posting. I found it at the Wpg. Sun website.

I am a Canadian soldier who has served in Afghanistan on the front lines and returned in mid August. Let me tell you this letter makes me mad. I didn't go over to help those people just to have our forces be pulled out saying "At least we tried." That would make all those deaths of our troops, my brothers in arms, in vain.

It sickens me to hear all these protesters trying to speak on our behalf, when in fact most of us believe in what we are doing and most of the time like our jobs. Most of these protesters have no idea what a soldier wants. Last time I checked it was my life I was risking over there and I worked very hard to be able to fight for my country. I believe in our cause and I would go back again until the job is finished. I don't need protesters who just want to be on TV speaking on my behalf because they don't share the same views I have, and I think you'll find this to be the same among most soldiers.

Supporting our troops doesn't mean trying to bring them home because you don't support the war, it means sending your thoughts and prayers to them, letting them know you're behind them through a tough time. Don't try to guess what a soldier wants. Ask them.

Cpl. Aaron Penner


Friday, October 27, 2006


Well, I'm back after a most excellent weekend trip - and it's taken me this long to get back onto the blog! We've been going pretty much non-stop for the last week.

Dh was officially "released from contract" on friday - after being repeatedly told he wouldn't be - and given two weeks notice. Except they didn't know if they'd have hours for him for those last 2 weeks. He's been on half days for a while now. Thank God his actual employer, not the billing client, will be paying him for this last part. Meanwhile, he's been accepted for a position that starts at the end of his two weeks. Problem is, it's in another town over an hour away, and we don't have a car. Not that he'd be able to commute that distance. It's a short term contract, so he'll most likely rent a bachelor's apt or something and bus home on the weekends. We're still hoping that a local position will make up its mind before the paperwork it signed, but we'll see what happens. And then there's the position back in our home province that's still in the air. All three have their benefits, but we'll work with the bird in the hand at this point.

Meanwhile, I've given my notice at work, since the only reason I was able to work the hours I do is because my husband started so early in the morning the he could come home very early. My manager didn't want to accept my letter ("No! I don't want it! Take it away!" LOL). When finding out why I was leaving, both managers told me that, once we know what's going on, they'd be willing to work something out to keep me at whatever hours I can come in. I probably wouldn't be able to do cashier (of necessity, the least flexible of departments for that sort of thing), but elsewhere in the store. They *really* don't want to loose me. I'm not too surprised. There aren't a lot of really good employess, and the newest batch are real slackers, with the exception of a couple that have a real, honest to goodness, work ethic. Some would've been fired (or not even hired) long ago, but management's so desperate for staff, they have no choice. Not good for the customers, though. There have been a lot more complaints since this new group was hired, but I think most do understand that the company can't do much about it. It's either them, or none at all.

So now we're trying to figure out how to get my husband to the new job for a meeting next week. It'd be cheaper to rent a car than to take the bus, we've found. Finding accomodations for the contract period, however, might be an issue. At least it's easier to find a bachelor's than a larger apt. At least that's what I'm told. Problem is, the place is so small, there are no online listings for accomodations that we can find, other than hotels and B&B's. For the short term, that would work, but long term... well, the job pays more, but not *that* much more!

So we're figuring out all that, while at the same time keeping up with life in gerenal. I am looking forward to when things settle down again for a little bit. Might even get a full night's sleep once in a while or something. LOL

Monday, October 16, 2006

Taking on too much

Sara at Choice for Childcare posted an interesting editorial today, discussing Ontario's push for "character education" and to "cultivate virtue."

On the one hand, it sounds like a good, common sense thing. Virtues such as honesty, integrity, fairness, etc. are to be taught and encouraged to students. Such things are, of course, of great value.

So why do I feel so uncomfortable about it?

There are a number of things that come to mind that concern me, and most involve my overall distrust whenever the state becomes involved in parenting. In my view, while modelling virtues is a no-brainer, actively teaching them becomes another issue. Especially since so few actually model virtuous behaviour. Kids aren't stupid. They can tell when someone's throwing them a BS line, just as my peers and I did when we were in school. Yeah, teachers were supposed to be these model citizens that we were supposed to respect - but somehow, the adults neglected to do anything when we told them about the one that liked to look down girls tops or grab their asses, or the other teacher that had a preference for boys, even going to far as to shove his hands down the pants of a friend of mine. Seniority was far more important than the students themselves. Then there's all the other "virtuous" behaviour among our teachers, ranging from the verbally or physically abusive, to the political power games that pitted good teachers we actually liked and learned from against a beaurocracy out of control.

When it comes to such things as "character" and "virtue," it is my opinion that they can not be taught directly - certainly not in a classroom/standardized curriculum setting. These things can *only* be modelled.

Yet, this is not what bothers me most about these implementations. What bothers me is that these are not things schools should be teaching. It is yet another parenting responsibility being foisted on teachers and schools. To my mind, schools are there to teach such concrete things as reading and literature, mathematics and sciences, history, geography and the arts. More and more, however, I've seen schools take on the role of surrogate parents. I suppose it makes sense, in a way. Children today spend far more time in school (and, increasingly, daycares and preschools), with their teachers and peers, than with their own families. Parents, sometimes of necessity, but often because they believe this is the only way to do things, are abdicating their responsibility to strangers. Of course, they believe they are doing the right thing for their children. And why wouldn't they? After all, we've been having it ingrained in us for several generations now, that "experts" are so much better than parents when it comes to teaching and raising our own children (yet somehow, parents can never be considered the experts of their own children).

As the schools take on more and more of what was once the responsibility of parents, extended families, and the community at large, they become spread too thin. Schools are being required to be all things to all children, rather than sticking to core responsibilities. As such, it would be impossible for schools to succeed in any of these areas of responsibility. They've simply taken on too much. Rather than focussing and succeeding in a small number of specific areas, they are failing or having severely limited success with a large number of things they have no business being responsible for in the first place.

Friday, October 13, 2006


I recently recieved the news that one of my first cousins just died. This is a total shock to all of us, as we had no idea she was ill - all I know is that she got a fast acting cancer of some sort. Details are sketchy not just for me, which would be understandable considering how far away I live, but for my family that lives near her.

I've also learned, almost by chance, that all of her siblings have had cancer battles - I'd only known of one. Add to that, their father died just a few years ago and their mother, who's had numerous health problems over the years, is currently in the hospital having suffered a stroke (just the small local hospital, so she's doing all right - she'd be in the city hospital if she wasn't).

This is one of the down sides of living so far from family. I won't be able to make the funeral, or visit my aunt in the hospital.

As if that's weren't enough, my husband was just asked to come in for half days for the next while (among others on the same contract). Why? The client's over budget, so they're trying to save money to make it to the end of the fiscal year and the next cash infusion by not having to pay employees. The sheer stupidity of this is mind boggling.

Dh is currently in contact with one of the several companies that have been asking to interview him lately. It's entirely possible that, in a few weeks, he'll be working somewhere else.

The client doesn't want to loose dh - they're apparently desperately trying to find ways to keep him - but loosing a half week's pay is huge for us. It's been difficult enough to recover financially from his time on medical leave, but when we start to have to wonder if we're going to make rent in a city with almost 0% housing availability, all bets are off. Especially with the rent going up again in a couple of months. This, of course, effects our apartment hunting, as we were hoping to have moved somewhere with better rent before then.


Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Moving on...

It's past 1 am right now, and I really should be going to bed, not blogging, but it's been a long time since I've written, and I know I couldn't sleep, anyways. LOL

We've been slowly getting into new routines these days. "School" has officially started, which means our mondays at the park are back and I'm actually trying to keep some sort of record of what we've been doing.

We got a new computer system, printer/scanner and digital camera. We've blown our funding the the process, but that's ok - we're still getting used to the idea of *having* funding in the first place.

We have a new homeschooling facilitator that we'll be meeting for the first time tomorrow. That means we have to put together an "education" plan for their records. It'll be fairly easy for our eldest, as she's pretty focused right now on her online comic book (which is why we needed the new scanner/printer) and various other projects that would be easy to build a "curriculum" around. The younger child, however, isn't really focused on anything in particular, so it's a bit more difficult to come up with something. About the only things that are for sure are that we're going to be regularily using Rosetta Stone to learn French, raising triops, and working on digital photography.

On top of all this, we've been hit with another rent increase. It had been our intention to move up to a much higher floor to get away from the constant street noise. Rent is already higher on the upper floors, and with the new increase, it's no longer affordable for us to do so. So now we need to move on again, but where? The main reason we are where we are, even though the rent in this area is higher, is because it's so convenient for my husband to get to work. Healthwise, he simply can't have a long commute. That limits where we can look to someplace that still lets him get to work quickly.

As if that weren't enough, things are getting screwy with his client. He works for company A, which has contracted him out to company B, which needs him to work on a project for company C. Company A, his actual employer, isn't even in our city, and he rarely sees anyone from there. He works in the offices of company B.

The problem, though, is that company B doesn't seem to be very efficient with their budget. The client pays them X amount at the beginning of the fiscal year. Well, they seem to have run out of money. They've let one person on the project go completely, another has been asked to take some time off (without pay, of course), then come in on a part time basis for the rest of the contract, and my husband has been asked to work a few short days, too. Thankfully, my husband is pretty much the only person who can do various things for the client, so they can't afford to have him gone for any length of time. This effects his pay, of course. The thing is, when Company A hired him for this contract, it was for a specific amount per year, which was broken down to an hourly rate to bill company B for, rather than have him on salary. So as far as we know, that means he's supposed to be paid that amount for the year, regardless of how many hours he actually works. Now, when he's had to take sick days, it just wasn't an issue - we never expected him to get paid for that, once he'd used up all his sick days and holiday pay. This is a different issue altogether. Unfortunately, these are the same people that told him he'd have full employee benefits when they hired him, only to backtrack because he was considerred a "term" employee. We'll have to take a close look at that contract. It isn't a very long one - a single page, and no small print - which is why I remember it fairly clearly. If the contract says he's supposed to be paid X amount per year, it doesn't matter what company B does, as far as billable hours goes.

Ah, well. We'll figure it all out.

Until then, we need to figure out where we're moving.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Shiney and new!

I am now posting this entry on our new computer! What a difference, that's for sure.

The last few days have been spent setting everything up, including moving the old computer to the kids' room (there's not enough room to have both in the living room, then setting up the LAN, and trying to transfer our stuff from the old computer to the new one. Unfortunately, we haven't been able to network them together - the default password to do that isn't working, so it'll have to wait until my husband can call someone during office ours. The new computer has memory card readers built in, though, so my husband has been loading some stuff onto memory cards from our digital cameras using the memory card reader he bought some time ago, then simply popping the card into the new computer. It doesn't work for quite everything, though. I've managed to get my bookmarks by having them emailed to me. LOL I still don't have my email address book, though. All in good time.

A couple of things didn't get changed. The kids get to have the stylish, skinny keyboard that came with the system. I was not about to give up my ergonomic keyboard! LOL The monitor has built in speakers and the sound really sucks, so we kept the old ones and the girls get to use a spare set we had lying around.

Oh, and now that we have a system that can use it, we picked up a scanner/printer again, too - and this time, we could actually install it! LOL It is soooooooooooo nice to have a printer that doesn't grab a half inch of paper at once and try to print on it. :-P I gotta tell you, we're sure hanging on to our reciepts - between claims and rebates, we'll be getting a fair amount of the cost back. Which is good, because this stuff cost way more than we can really afford. :-P

As for now, time to go an install some more stuff I need on this thing, and hope the software isn't too old to work on XP. We've already had a few that won't work on the new computer, though they're still working fine on the old one, so it's not too convenient.

Time to go play! :-D

Friday, September 22, 2006

Power Bars

Tonight, my shift at the grocery store ended *before* closing, for a change. As I was getting my purse out of my locker and starting to head out, my cell phone beedled at me. My husband had sent me a text message, asking me to pick up a few Power Bars. I thought this was rather strange, as they are rather gross, but I figured he had a reason. So, off to the pharmacy section I go and pick up a few.

When I get home, my husband asked me if I picked up the Power Bars. I said yes. As I was handing him the bag, he asks if I picked up 1 or 2. I told him three. His face seemed rather perplexed as he took the bag from me. Into the bag he looks, then asks me if I checked my text messages. Yes, I told him. You asked me to pick up some Power Bars, so I did.

It turns out he meant power bars, not Power Bars - as in the things you plug into, not the things you eat. He and the kids picked up a new computer today (yay!) and we need power bars to be able to set it up.


I pointed out to him that I work in a GROCERY STORE. Of course, I'd think of a food item rather than an electrical item! LOL

When they say, "education," they really mean...

As a parent who chooses not to send my kids to school, I've found myself much more aware of things that I probably wouldn't notice otherwise. Among these is how people use the term "education," when they really mean "schooling."

ed‧u‧ca‧tion[ej-oo-key-shuhn] Pronunciation Key - Show IPA Pronunciation
1.the act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgment, and generally of preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life.
2.the act or process of imparting or acquiring particular knowledge or skills, as for a profession.
3.a degree, level, or kind of schooling: a university education.
4.the result produced by instruction, training, or study: to show one's education.
5.the science or art of teaching; pedagogics.

school‧ing[skoo-ling] Pronunciation Key
1.the process of being taught in a school.
2.instruction, education, or training, esp. when received in a school.
3.the act of teaching.
4.Archaic. a reprimand.

By definition, education is something that can happen anywhere, and never truly ends. Schooling, on the other hand, is much more specific, and has a termination point. Yet the phrases I so commonly hear are things like this...

"When I finished my education..."
"Get an education, then get a good job..."
"It's important for kids to get an education..."
"Our future depends on educating our kids..."

I see and hear statements like these in many places. In newspapers, during business meetings, in conversations on the street. Yet very often, when people make these statements, they are no, in fact, talking about eductation, but schooling.

"Our future depends on educating our kids, therefore the government must give more funding to ECE centres, preschools and daycares."
"It's important for kids to get an education, so we have to do something about the drop out rate and keep them in school."
"Get an education, then get a good job - you need a high school diploma or a degree."
"When I finished my education, I never read a book again."

I think it's a mistake to use the terms "education" and "schooling" interchangeably, yet it is very common. In some ways, I believe it goes back to the early days of our country's developement. There were no schools, and parents recognised that they weren't able to give their kids all the knowledge they wanted them to have, so they started schools. It's interesting to read about early NA schools. The children tended to start far later than today - and most already knew how to read, having been taught by their parents. The amount of time children spent in the classroom was much lower. At the same time, what the teachers were expected to teach was much more basic. I believe that it's from this time period that the useage of "education" and "schooling" eventually evolved to become interchangeable.

I, however, think we do ourselves and our children a disservice by viewing it this way. We've had it ingrained in us for so long that we go to school to "get an education," we begin to see education as something that's done *to* us, and as something that is finite. Education, however, begins from the moment we are born (or, argueably, even prenatally), and ends when we die. As humans, we are constantly learning, though we rarely think of it. There's no need to consciously think about it. Schooling, however, tends to be something that's forced upon us as children. It's human nature to resist being forced into something. As the years go by, we can hardly wait until we're finished our "education," so we can get out of an institution. I've met far too many adults who, because of their school experiences, resist anything that smacks of "education."

Argh. I'm having difficulty clarifying my thoughts to say what I intended to right now. It could have something to do with the garbage trucks that are currently outside my balcony. I can't think straight with all the banging, crashing, etc. It doesn't help that I've got a cold and my head is all foggy. LOL

Mostly, I just wanted to comment on how so many use the term "education" when they really mean to say "schooling." The terms aren't really interchangeable, but in the minds of many, they are synonymous. I feel that this, more than anything, is what makes is so difficult for people to understand home based education. In their minds, education has become something that can only be achieved in a classroom, with a teacher imparting information, with text books and testing. So when they hear me say that we don't use grade levels, that I don't make the kids sit down and "do school," they don't understand it. It doesn't mesh with their notion of what education is.

There are many tools one can use to get an education. School is one of them, but far from the only one.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Pointy shoes and fashion fads

Many years ago, as a young child, I was visiting my aunt. Her adult daughter happened to be home for a visit as well. I still remember sitting on the floor while she stood near me and seeing her bare feet.

They were deformed.

Her toes came to a point, with the big toes turned inward, and the outer toes twisted inwards to the point that the baby toe was actually on top of the one beside it, and that one was mostly on top of the next one. She had, literally, pointy feet.

On the way home, I asked my mother why my cousin's feet were like this. My mother explained that she had an office job and had to wear dress shoes all the time. At that time, the fashion for women's office wear included high heels and extremely pointy toes. She wore shoes like this for so long, her feet were permanently conformed to the shape.

It was at that young age that I decided I would wear comfortable shoes, only!

Sure, I did wear heels and pointy shoes on occasion, when I had a formal event to attend. I doubt I have ever worn them for more than 24 hours total in my entire life. Most of the time, I wore sensible shoes. Unfashionable, boring, comfortable, shoes.

The irony of this is that after injuring my feet, I no longer have the choice. I will never be able to wear anything higher than a 1/2 inch heel again - at least not if I want to be able to walk for the next week - and the narrow shoes designed for women have long since forced me to buy my shoes at the men's department. Since I almost never wore these fashionable women's shoes in the first place, it's never particularity bothered me.

I also very rarely see the displays of women's shoes anymore. Not only do I just go to the men's section for myself, it seems my daughters have inherited both my wide feet, and my husband's long ones. They also like to actually walk around without risk of breaking their ankles, so we tend to go to the boys' section to get shoes for them, too. Why girls' sandals all have to have high heels and sparkles is beyond me. And what's with putting high heels on girls' runners, for crying out loud! How stupid is that?

Lately, however, even I have noticed that pointy shoes are back. Today, the girls and I happened to walk through the women's shoe section in a department store. It was horrifying. Not only are pointy shoes back, but these toes are so long, they're starting to look like they should curl them back, like the shoes worn by Shriners in parades, to keep them out of the way. There's a reason pointy toes went out of fashion. Aside from the fact that they're butt ugly, they make women's feet look several inches longer than they really are.

Ironically, we saw that short shoes are also in. These shoes aren't just flat at the front - they've got this folded back sort of look to them, with rubbery raised areas. Talk about gross!

Then there were the really weird heels. I saw a pair of shoes with what looked like ordinary, practical, 1/2 inch heels - except in the middle of the heel a tiny high heel stuck out of what looked like a hole in the sole. Aside from being silly looking (assuming the heel could actually be seen while worn, as it was so tiny), the design was completely unstable. Even though the heel was rather low, they were twisted ankles, waiting to happen.

While waiting at the bus stop later on (and waiting... and waiting), we ended up standing near a woman who's fashionable shoes were so pointy, she looked like she had skis for feet. We saw other women wearing huge, clunky heels that were bigger than the shoes they were attached to.
I don't get it. Why do people even buy these? How can they be considered fashionable? I realize that different people have different tastes, but wearing something that can cause permanent damage to your body, or that puts you at risk of injury, just doesn't make any sense to me. They're also incredibly ugly. I mean, my "sensible shoes" are hardly attractive, but with the bizarre styles coming out now, they're starting to look good by default.

I just don't get it.

(edited for silly spelling mistakes that got missed by spellcheck)

Well, it seems women aren't the only ones to suffer silly shoes. Tonight, I was at a business meeting. I was sitting in the front row and the speaker was on a speaker's platform, so his feet were at a height where I couldn't miss them. They weren't pointy at all, but they extended several inches beyond the tips of his toes (I could tell by where they bent as he walked back and forth in front of me), ending in a squared off tip. They looked like business versions of clown shoes!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

just plain tired

I haven't been writing much lately. I've fallen behind on my journals again - worse, I'm having a hard time even remembering when I last wrote, never mind what I have to write about. I've just been having a hard time getting my thoughts together. This bothers me, because writing has always been so important to me. It's my way of thinking. It's how I clarify things for myself. It's how I communicate best. The fact that I'm not only writing less, but not really missing is, tells me that something is quite wrong.

I think the main thing is, I'm just plain tired. I've given up trying to go to bed before 2 am. I just lie there, tossing and turning. I'm a night owl, and nights are when I tend to be more alert. If I could reverse my night/day sleep patterns, I would. As it is, I'm mostly shifted over to staying up late - but not really being able to sleep late, as there's too many things I have to do during the day - especially if I'm working that evening. I tend to be a light sleeper, but when I was working nights and sleeping during the day, I found I slept very soundly and deeply - something I no long thought I could do anymore.

The worst, though, is that even if I'm finally at a point where I can sleep, it's frequently interrupted. The noise levels outside our apartment have been really bad lately. During the night, there's the reving of engines, breaking of bottles, and druken sots shouting and swearing during the wee hours of the morning. Then there's that #$@#$@#$@ car alarm that keeps getting set off. One recent night, there was at least 2, possibly 3, going at the same time. Other times, people on the balconies above us start having arguements with people on the ground. There's someone that frequently pisses off his balcony during the night. Others (or the same one?) will throw their beer cans over the rail. Never mind that the ground floor apartments are all families with small children, who play in the patios now covered with piss and beer. Even in the evenings, it's sometimes hard to enjoy our own balcony, as still-lit cigarettes and matches tossed from above get blown onto ours.

Then there's the early morning, and the garbage and recycling trucks. Plus the construction going at the apartements across from us. For over a month now, we've been serenaded by banging as roof shingles are being replaced, and the sound of loud machines of various types. There's very little grass around the ground level of our complex, but it's cut by an industrial sized riding mower - with a noise level to match.

I have to admit, though, that it's more than just the unending noise - or perhaps the noise levels are making me less able to tolerate certain things. I'm finding myself becoming much more overwhelmed by my pain. I don't know that it's really any worse than usual. Mornings, when I first get out of bed, have always been the worst. It generally takes quite a bit of walking (hobbling) around before the stiffness and pain in my feet subside. It's frustrating, because painkillers have no effect at all. Sometimes I take them, just in case *this time* they will help, but there's no difference between when I've taken them, and when I haven't.

The stiffness and the pain that accompanies it does at least subside once I've walked around for a bit. A new thing has emerged, though. The outer bone of my left foot has started to hurt almost constantly, as if there were a fracture, and the spurs in both my heals have become more senstive. The use of special insoles does help, but only so much.

Lately, my legs have been bothering me more, though it's probably due to the seasons changing. I've become sensitive to changes in barometric pressure. I think it's the shooting pains in my lower legs that are the hardest to deal with. It doesn't matter if I'm standing or sitting, well rested, or if I've been on my feet all day. When they hit, they hit. For the second or two it happens, it's like the bones are splitting apart, shattering, snapping - and then it stops. I'm amazed I've yet to drop to the ground during the times it happens while I'm standing. That brief second of pain seems so much longer. Not knowing how quickly another one will come sure doesn't help. There's that sense of dread anticipation.

As I write this, it does seem like a lot, but really, it isn't. I've had far worse pain - especially when living in Richmond's humid climate, when I found I could barely walk anymore because of it. God knows, there are people in far worse pain than I. I'm thankful that I *can* walk, and once I've been up and about for a while, it really doesn't slow me down that much. It's just that lately, I guess I've got less tolerance for it. I suspect that inability to get a decent amount of uninterrupted sleep has a lot to do with it. That, and I've sometimes not been as diligent about eating as often as I should, and that can greatly effect my mood.

The good news is, we're going to be doing something about it. We're going to try and get an apartment higher up in our building - much higher, like 12th floor or higher. Without the street noise, I should finally be able to get at least *some* sleep. My husband called the leasing office about it and was told that, since we have kids, we have to stay on a "family floor" (the three bottom floors). The woman that told him this, though, wasn't comfortable saying it - she knows our kids, and that they're older. Especially when he pointed out all the other kids, much younger than ours, that are living on loors above us. She told my husband to call back tomorrow to talk to a supervisor, as it's not her decision to make. If things go well, we'll be moving into a new apartment for Nov. 1 - at least that's what we're going to be asking for. The rent will be higher, but it'll be worth it. Actually, I'm not sure it's even a choice anymore. Sleep deprivation is stating to really mess me up.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Too Good

I had something happen to me during my shift yesterday that I'm still shaking my head over.

The head of another department came up to me and chastised me for being "too efficient" and "too nice" to the customers!

Now, I take customer service very seriously. To me, the customer in front of me is the most important thing, and I do my best to make sure that customer leaves my till feeling better than when they got there. The fact that I get customers who make a point of thanking me and telling me how much they appreciate my efforts, with some even telling me they make a point of going through my till if they see I'm on shift, regardless of how busy it is, tells me a lot. I mean really, people in general are quick to complain, not to compliment, so when I get complimented, I appreciate it.

One of the things I always do now is check people's eggs. I didn't when I first started, simply because I didn't think of it (after all, I always check my own eggs when I buy them, and I assumed everyone else did, too), but at one point I did and found some broken eggs. After that, I made a point of checking eggs and now it's become a habit I don't even think about anymore. I've even had other cashiers comment on it, and some of them have started to do it, too.

Yesterday, during my 5 hour shift, I found broken eggs on 2 occasions - and with one of them, the customer was surprised because she thought she'd checked them well enough before she picked that dozen. The other was buying 4 dozen, and the broken one was broken on the bottom, so if she'd simply opened the packages to check them, she would've missed it. It just so happened that these two incidents were within about half an hour (probably more like 15 minutes) of each other. The first time I called for a replacement, the guy from dairy brought over the dozen and took the package with the broken one with no issues (normally, I try to have someone working the front end do this, but there wasn't anyone available). The second time, though, when I told him on the phone that I needed another dozen eggs, he was snappy (not directed at me, just impatient that it happened again, especially so quickly) and made a snide comment along the lines of "why don't they check their own eggs?" He still brought me a replacement dozen in decent time, though, and I thought nothing of it.

About an hour + before the store closed, things quieted down for a bit, the head of the department that includes the dairy section came over and started telling me that I was just too nice, too efficient, and that I shouldn't be. I must admit, at first I thought she was joking. She had to be - the idea of being told NOT to provide good customer service was just too foreign to my thinking. She told me that they were really strapped, and that my calling them for this was making it hard for them. Like every other department in the store, they are short staffed, so I can understand that it was inconvenient, however the whole point of being in the retail business is taking care of the customer. That's how money is made, after all.

Two other cashiers happened to be near me when she did this - that was another reason I didn't take her seriously at first. Rule number one in professional behavior - keep negative feedback private. Still, her whole tone had me feeling like there was some sort of punchline. Instead, I was told not to do it anymore. The customers can check their own eggs.

After she left, I turned to the two cashiers beside me with what was probably a rather stunned expression on my face. They looked equally stunned.

At that point, I got another customer and we all went about our business. As I thought about it, and it finally soaked through my thick skull what had just happened, I found myself feeling angry. I don't usually get angry. Ticked, sure. Frustrated, who doesn't? But real anger is a rare thing for me. Part of the reason is that, when I become angry, I get teary, and I don't like that.

Now, I know that a lot of the other staff, including some of the other cashiers, seem to find customers inconvenient. They'd love their job if it wasn't for the customers. In the staff room, I hear a lot of complaints and stories of unbelievably rude customer behavior.

What I find strange is that, I never seem to get these customers. Sure, I get people in bad moods, and the odd unpleasant behavior, but nothing even close to some of these stories. I don't know why that is in come cases, but I do know that in a lot of others, *my* behavior towards the customers goes a long way to deflating potential problems before they happen. It's basic psychology. People tend to behave the way they are treated. Most of the time, the treatment customers get is rather neutral, so their response can go either way, based on their moods. Who knows - maybe someone just ran over their dog before they got there (I actually had that), so they're in a really shitty mood. I try not to be neutral, and make a point of dealing with each customer as an individual that's worthy of special treatment. I've even found myself reacting to someone who seems surly by smiling even more, being extra polite, and making extra effort to make things better for them. I don't even think about it anymore, but when I've noticed myself doing it, I've also noticed that the surly customer is rarely still surly when they leave my till.

My point being that I'm seeing a positive response from customers because of the things I do. Simply put, happy customers are repeat customers, and there's no advertising in the world better than a happy customer. In the end, though, I don't do it for the store. I don't do it because it's part of my job. I do it because I know what it feels like to go through a till as a customer, and I know how much better *I* feel when the cashier treats me well. I want my customers to feel that way, too.

Even more, though, is that to me, it's a matter of personal integrity. I am a strong believer in doing my best in whatever I do, even if it's mundane. To do less than my best goes against my personal work ethic. For me, doing "good enough" isn't good enough when I know I can do better, and I know I can always improve, and improving is one of the things that I find exciting about life. Doing less than my best pulls *me* down. It's a comprimise to my personal ethics that I refuse to accept.

So to have someone from another department actually come up to me and essentially tell me to not do my best angered me. Maybe "good enough" is good enough for her, but it isn't for me.

Needless to say, I'm still checking people's eggs.

Monday, September 04, 2006


Yes, it's that time of year again.

Across the country, parents and their children are getting ready. One final long weekend, and it's a "new year." Thousands of these families are preparing for NBTS Day.

That would be Not Back To School Day.

While other families have spent the last few weeks spending hundreds of dollars on school supplies (not just for their own kids, but for the entire classroom, for the entire year!) and clothes for their children, hundreds more on various school fees now required by our "free" public school system, and struggling to get their kids back onto "school time," there are parents like myself who have completely stepped out of the system.

On tuesday, while other children will be starting their first day of school (or already have, depending on what the first official day of school is in their province), thousands of home schooling families across the country will instead be attending their local Not Back to School Picnic. Still others have teens, many of whom have saved their own money for months for the occaision, that will be going to Not Back to School Camp later on. Instead of spending the last long weekend making sure we've got all the supplies on a list, that the kids have all their clothes and equipment, and trying to get the kids to bed at a "decent" hour, we will be deciding what potluck dish to bring to the picnic. Since it's in the afternoon, we'll probably stay up really late and sleep in that morning. While I wasn't able to get the day off work to attend, my husband did, and he will be taking the girls. It'll be the first one for us since we've moved. After that, we will be back to our regular monday get togethers at the park, which had been suspended for the summer.

For a lot of home schooling families - even unschooling ones - we look forward to the start of the new school year. That may sound strange, but I'll admit straight out, it's for a very selfish reason. It's because we will finally get the parks, libraries, museums and other favourite haunts, back from OPK's - Other People's Kids. So many people have been trying to cram so much into their few short weeks of freedom, it's become difficult to truly enjoy our usual outings, or take the time to fully experience our trips - even if it's just a daytime trip to the mall or grocery store. Don't get me wrong. Normally, I enjoy the company of OPK's. Just not so many of them at once. LOL

I'm really looking forward to the new "school" year.

But for now, any ideas for a potluck dish that's simple and can handle spending almost an hour on public transit, plus a lot of walking?

Friday, September 01, 2006

Five Love Languages

This is a book I discovered many years ago and highly recommend.

The Five Love Languages

My primary love language is probably
Acts of Service
with a secondary love language being
Quality Time.

Complete set of results

Acts of Service: 11
Quality Time: 8
Words of Affirmation: 5
Physical Touch: 4
Receiving Gifts: 2


Unhappiness in relationships, according to Dr. Gary Chapman, is often due to the fact that we speak different love languages. Sometimes we don't understand our partner's requirements, or even our own. We all have a "love tank" that needs to be filled in order for us to express love to others, but there are different means by which our tank can be filled, and there are different ways that we can express love to others.

Take the quiz

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Do they really know what they're looking at?

There have been a large number of articles recently, talking about the obesity "epidemic." I guess the newest numbers just got published or something, so everyone's writing about it.

A typical example of how these articles sound is this one.

The report, titled F as in Fat: How Obesity Policies Are Failing America, 2006 said that an estimated two-thirds of American adults are clinically obese. This means that their risk of suffering from fatal diseases such as diabetes, stroke and cancer increases exponentially.

Another article from the UK talked about a proposed ban of IVF treatment for fat women. On and on it goes.

One of the things these articles all seem to have in common is the believe that obesity is the cause of all these deadly illnesses. You'd think that skinny people never got strokes, type 2 diabetes, cancer or heart attacks.

For anyone who's read some of my past posts, you already know what I think of the BMI and that I feel the numbers of overweight and obese are flawed because of it. This time, however, I want to discuss what I feel is a false belief that extra weight, in and of itself, increases the risk of various illness.

I'm going to use type 2 diabetes as an example. The main reason is the implication that people who are obese will get type 2 diabetes, eventually, because they are fat, even though the terms "increases the risk" are actually used. No one says, "you eat lost of high-GI foods, therefore you are at greater risk of getting diabetes." No, they say "you're fat, you're increasing the risk." The fact that high-GI foods also tend to make people gain weight just doesn't seem to be a connection anyone makes.

But lets take it a bit further. When a person is diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, one of the first things they're told to do is loose weight (even when the person is already within "normal" weight ranges!!). While I absolutely recognize that diet and exercise is vital to controlling insulin levels, I feel this focus on weight is misplaced.

I've long been interested in health and nutrition, and I recall on case in particular (unfortunately, I no longer remember where I read about it), involving an Australian aborigine. Type 2 diabetes is a major problem among the aborigine population, much as it is among Canada's first nations. When I hotel I worked at took in flood evacuees from a nearby reserves senior home, I had to work with a list of all the evacuees that included their medical needs, including their diet restrictions. I'd say about 95% or more of them had type 2 diabetes. There were, however, very few overweight, never mind obese, elders. In fact, I only remember one that could be callled obese, and he was actually a young man in a wheel chair. He also had only one arm. The other arm and both legs were amputated at the knees and elbow. He wasn't all that large, but large enough to be considered obese. He didn't have diabetes.

So back to the Australian. He lived in a city and lived a typical city lifestyle. Working closely with his doctor, he tried to control his diabetes through diet and exercise. It wasn't working. He agreed to try an experiment. He left the city to live in the bush, just as his ancestors did. He ate traditional foods and lived in the same manner. When compared to his city lifestyle, he actually ate more and exercised less than when in the city.

His diabetes virtually disappeared.

I don't recall his weight every being part of the story, so I have no idea if he were overweight or not.

It seems, however, the when aboriginal peoples adopt a European diet and lifestyle, they seem to sacrifice their health in the process. Somehow, their bodies don't seem able to deal with the changes. Perhaps, after a few hundres years, those differences will disappear. I doubt anyone would ever study this, though, as it would probably be considerred racist.

I happen to believe that our genetic background plays a big part of how our bodies handle different foods. It makes sense to me that if one group lived in an area that was cold, with short summers and harsh winters, for hundreds of generations, their bodies will adapt to what's available in that area, and will be different from another group that lived in an area that's hot all year, and has completely different local foods. I also believe that, eventually, as our world becomes more hemogenous, foods from all over the world become more easily available to all, and the racial bloodlines continue to mix together, these differences will disappear. I think we, as a species, will grow strong for it. Until then, however, we're going to have challenges, and that includes segments of population that will be more prone to certain health problems than others.

It is for this reason that I believe there is no one solution for all, especially when it comes to things like weight and the supposed health problems that are "caused" by excess weight. Some people swear that a low-fat, high carb diet is the healthiest way to go. Others say a low-carb, high protein diet is the solution to all our health problems. Some say no red meat, or just fish. Others say no meat at all, and still others say lots of meat, but no grains.

I say they're all wrong. And they're all right. The right "diet" for me is not necessarily going to be the right "diet" for someone else. There's no one-size-fits-all solution.

But how can you study that?

Sunday, August 27, 2006

A question of loyalty

Loyalty cards. Points cards. Frequent buyer cards. Cards, cards, cards.

The grocery store I work at, like many other retail outlets, uses loyalty cards. In my family, we have very few loyalty cards - I've got only 4 of them, if you count my air miles card - because we really don't shop all that much. Which ones we got had more to do with where we lived than anything else, and of the cards we have, only one actually gets used right now. Unless we move somewhere closer to a certain competing grocery store or buy a car, we have no need of them.

Like many people, until I actually started working at a grocery store, I knew very little about them. I knew that without them, I wouldn't get the sale prices, which is why we got them in the first place. I knew we collected points, but like many, I felt the points were rather useles, since so many were needed to be able to get even small items.

I also had questions about privacy issues. The media has done stories about loyalty cards and the information gathered by them - usually with a sinister bent to the story, implying a threat to personal privacy.

That hasn't stopped people from using the cards. Some of the customers I get have so many, they loose track. I've had people rifle through several stacks of cards, each at least an inch thick, while trying to find the one they can use in our store. Others use the key-chain variety, and they've got more of these mini-cards on their key rings than keys. I often hear derogetory comments about the points, or even anger at how they "have to" use these cards to get the sale prices, as well as comments about how their personal information is being used and abused by these programs.

As someone who, until recently, knew very little about these cards, I've since learned that they are a lot more valuable to the consumer than I even imagined.

One of the things I've learned is that the points are actually worth something. They are considerred a form of currency. As an employee, I could get fired for lending my card out to a customer, because it's considerred theft. Customers can donate points to charity. They can be used to get free stuff in the store itself, or saved to get larger items for free or reduced cost.

One of the biggest complaints I get is over how hard it is to accumulate these points. It's certainly something I believed, too, until I learned how the system works. It turns out the chain I work for gives away 1000's, sometimes ten's of thousands, of dollars in points to *each* shopper, every month, if the shopper is willing to take them. Points are practically being thrown at the customers, yet amazingly few actually take advantage of them. The reason?

Most simply don't know about them. They don't read the fliers (neither did I, until recently), so they don't see the coupons they can use to get more points. They don't use the coupon kiosk, right at the entrance, where they can scan their card. The coupons printed out sometimes include points coupons, and sometimes even cash off coupons. I've never been a coupon shopper - I find coupons rather useless, since they tend to be for things I never use - but I always use the kiosk. I may not use the coupons I get that day, but when I do, they are for things that are useful to me.

A lot of people also don't update their addresses, which means they don't get the monthly booklet of coupons that gets sent out - there's usually about $5000 worth of points in there alone.

And finally, they just don't buy the items that have bonus points attached to them. That one, at least, I can understand. I'm not going to buy something I don't want or need, just because it's got extra points. I am, however, sometimes willing to try something new because it's got extra points, and all other things being equal, I'll choose the item with bonus points over the one without.

Some customers, however, have it figured out. I can always recognise them when I scan their cards and see how many points they've already got. These are people who know the game. They use every chance they've got to add on points, and never redeem them (unlike a lot of other cashiers, when an item scans as being redeemable, I actually ask the customer if they want to use their points and get the item for free, rather than automatically closing the pop-up). They quickly accumulate thousands of points a week. One customer I get uses his points to fly to a particular city in the US - every year. I've had many who save their points until Christmas, then use them for their Christmas turkeys. One told me she gets about 6 turkeys every Christmas for free by using her points. Others also use their points for their Easter hams. Still others save up for things like BBQ's, refrigerators, and other large ticket items.

So now, when I get customers complaining about how "useless" the points are, I try to tell them what they can do with those points. Most aren't willing to listen, though. Not much I can do about that.

The other complaint I get is that people "have to" use the cards to get the sale price. Well, that's one complaint I've never made myself. After all, the whole point of a loyalty card is to reward loyal customers. Otherwise, what's the point of having the program? The thing is, there's nothing stopping them from borrowing someone else's card. Especially if they're just passing through and won't be back. It's a win win situation - the card holder gets points while the visitor gets the cash savings. Some stores don't allow this but, while technically we're not supposed to, we cashiers will even go hunting for someone with a card we can borrow for a customer. We don't have a "store card" people can use (though I sometimes think we should - and donate the points to the chain's chosen charity), so the only other way is to use someone elses. The only "looser" in this scenerio is the store itself. There have been times when I've rung in hundreds of dollars in groceries for someone who had no interest in getting their own card, so I went looking for one for them. It almost hurts me to see someone spend that much money and not be able to take advantage of the savings. Sure, the store might "loose" $30 or more, but they're gaining something much more valuable - at least 2 happy customers.

Which leads me to the next point of contention people have - privacy issues. Yes, these cards are used to track sales. I can go online and actually see how much I've spent on each transaction I've made for months, how many points I earned, and how many (if any) I've used. I know that, while the numbers I see are just totals, the company that gathers this information has much more detailed information - they know exactly what items were purchased each time. I don't mind that. That information is used to provide better service for me in the future, which saves me time and money. However, their information on me, and every other person, is slightly skewed. It's the "borrowing" of cards issue. So many of these cards are borrowed, it's impossible to say with certainty that this person bought that item. While they can get general regional information, the individual information is inaccurate.

In the end, for the consumer, there are really no negatives when it comes to loyalty cards and, if they play it right, a whole lot of positives.

Loyalty does have its privilages. Even in plastic.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

well, the time has finally come

I knew it would, eventually. It had to, but I was hoping it would wait at least a little while longer.

We're going to have to buy a new computer.

I've been very happy with my Dell. It's been remarkably stable. It's put up with a lot and held its own. It's upgraded as much as it possibly can be (including having just added a 4 port USB2 PCI controller), and aside from a few quirks, it's handles them extremely well.

The periferals haven't quite managed to keep up. Our scanner gave up the ghost a while ago, and my printer has become so erratic, I don't even use it anymore. So I got a new printer/scanner combo. We've spent almost a week trying to install it. That's part of why we got the new usb2. After spending a great deal of time with tech support both with Lexmark and with Dell, it still won't install. There's no obvious reason for it. I've got everything the new device needs to install. It all works. But my computer is designed to work with lpt ports for printers, not usb - and usb2 didn't exist when it was built.

There have been other issues over time. More and more, we haven't been able to use new software. We've had to get creative just to be able to burn disks, and for some reason, it won't let me back up to a cd, and that makes me downright nervous. There's a lot of stuff on this computer that I don't want to loose, including 2 years + of digital photos.

So, it's been decided. I'm returning the printer/scanner and using the funds to put a layaway on a new system. We'd considered just getting a new tower and using the existing monitor, etc., but this way, we can pass the old computer on to the kids (though they'll need to use the new one for things), and network them together. There will be less negotiating over computer time with two systems, too.

Most likely, we'll be going for another Dell. I've heard bad things about Dell from others, particularily when it came to customer service, but I've had the opposite experience. Especially with customer service. With the problems we've been having, this is the first time I've had to call tech support since we got our system in 2000 or so. They were extremely helpful, and really went all out to try and figure out a way to get that printer installed, even with a system as old as mine.

Now we just have to figure out how to set up 2 computers, when we only have 1 computer desk, and no room for another...