December 31, 2012

2012...The Year That Was...

Difficult! 

It started out with me recovering from surgery to my right foot following a bad fall.  Just when things should have been getting better, my husband suffered a very serious injury at work.  Oh, you can't see anything wrong, but mental injury is, in a lot of ways, worse than anything physical.  With my physical injury, at least we could say, "According to the x-rays, I'm improving."  With post-traumatic stress disorder, the injury is invisible and the road to recovery is long and never easy. 

But on the plus side, I've learned lots this past year.  I learned that trying to use the system fairly only gets you jerked around.  I've learned that people you thought of as friends, aren't really.  This realization comes slowly as the phone stops ringing and calls and messages go largely unanswered.  My son has suffered through all this too. 

I also learned that sometimes people come into our lives at a time when we really could use a friend.  They may only be there for a short while but have a huge impact.  I've learned that I really do work for a great company and have a terrific boss.  She's been fantastic with thoughtful advice and guidance.  In fact, all my coworkers have been really supportive.  I've also learned that something I've always believed is true: Our biker friends really are family.  They've been very accepting of my husband either not being around or his being there in person occasionally, but not really in spirit.  They quietly accepted his need to leave shortly after arriving, or his need to just sit in the corner and not associate.  And they've been sympathetic ears for me to talk to.  I also learned that my dearest friends are so wonderful I feel unworthy.  People like them make world a better place.  Their unquestioning generousity of heart leaves me humbled to call them "friend". 

For all the crap that was 2012, I go forward on the strength of the amazing people that have not only been there for us, but show no sign of budging anytime soon.  At a time when my usual rock is a crumbled pile of pebbles, it's nice to know I've got other rocks to lean on.  Thank you to each and every one of you.  Love you all!  Let's grab 2013 by the horns and make it better. 

November 13, 2012

Am I Alone in the Universe?

I started this blog about a year ago as I was recovering from surgery.  Initially it was to give me something to do besides watch television during the long days of immobile recovery.  My stats tell me that my blog does get visitors, but for some odd reason it is only very rarely that anyone leaves a comment.  Should I ask for comments or are my rantings just so boring or out there that people are speechless?  Yikes…perhaps it’s only one person… 

I don’t suppose that I’m alone in the universe, in fact the evidence that at least one person checks in on me now and again tells me I’m not.  However, sometimes events can certainly lead you to the conclusion that you’re alone in the world.  Now, I’m actually an optimist at heart, although at times I get the lost, abandoned feeling.  I think that’s normal.  I do believe that things get better and there’s always a bright side; I couldn’t survive otherwise.  Life truly is all about choices and I choose to be happy for the most part.  Life’s too short to be otherwise. 

Many years ago I heard a Zig Ziglar speech where he commented that whenever he hears someone say they’re having the worst day, he always thinks “Compared to what?”  He believes – rightly so – that you’re going to spend a lot more time dead than alive and should be happy for each and every day.  If you don’t believe that, just try missing one of them!  Don’t ask me what else he had to say, but that one nugget has stuck with me almost 20 years now, so the impact was profound on me at the very least. 

It’s interesting when you think back on the things that stick with you for a lifetime.  I don’t remember too much about fifth grade except that my penmanship was finally good enough to earn my very first ballpoint pen, I had a very tall teacher named Miss Stork, and she had a quote written at the top of the blackboard in permanent marker that said, “If something is worth doing, it is worth doing well.”  That quote kind of goes hand in hand with another one I saw years later that goes, “If you don’t make time to do it right, you will make time to do it over.”  Profound.  Impact. 

Oh, and that moment when you think you’re all alone?  Look around and see how many you actually have in your support circle.  Family, friends, and sometimes even co-workers are there for you in many ways.  Like the bank commercial says, "You're richer than you think."  Isn't that the truth? 

November 09, 2012

Descent Into Madness - A Fairy Tale

Once upon a time there was a young man who went off to the Armed Forces School of Electronics.  He studied very hard and graduated second in his class, being rewarded with his choice of postings.  He served several years in the military before leaving to seek his fortunes elsewhere.  A few years later an old buddy from the air force recommended the man come work with him at a high-tech company.  So the man moved to the small rural area and started his career at this high-tech company. 

The abuse from management started almost immediately and because upper echelons in the corporate world tend to place greater value on opinions of management, this man was labelled a troublemaker by his abusive, alcoholic boss.  Time passed, years in fact.  The man continued labouring under a succession of managers, several of whom continued the cycle of abuse.  By now he had acquired very specialized knowledge of the highly exclusive technology employed by the company and with his many years making contributions to a pension plan, he felt that leaving would be extremely difficult. 

So he bought a house and started renovating it.  Then he met a woman and they got married, finishing their renovations together.  A few years later, a son arrived.  The family moved out to the countryside to a pretty property on the water, with lots of room for a growing boy and his dog to run around on. 

Things were great at home, but the abuse continued at work.  By now the man had come to realize that his company was, for all intents and purposes, a corporate breeding ground for abusive management.  He carried on, managing to remain employed with the company throughout several rounds of layoffs and having the organization sold twice.  Over the course of his career with this company, he became something of a “terminator” in that his coworkers tended to transfer difficult problems to him because he had the ability to find solutions to the hardest technical issues.  With the introduction of new hardware at certain points, he took it upon himself to learn all about it and then created Saturday morning “classes” where he taught his coworkers how to serve clients with this equipment. 

Due to the climate of nepotism that pervades the cliquish / clannish area in which they live, the man’s wife – who came from “the city”, as did he – found it difficult to obtain full-time employment.  She’d even applied to the company he worked at, having two interviews for positions that were later given to less qualified friends or relatives of the individuals either conducting the interviews or senior executives of the organization.   The man’s income was sole support for a family of three and all that goes with home ownership.  

At long last his wife obtained a full-time position.  She was quite happy in her job until an accident necessitated six months off while she recovered from surgery.  After sick benefits ran out, unemployment benefits kicked in for a few weeks.  During her convalescence, the man’s latest and most vindictive boss called him in for the annual review.  A few minutes into the discussion the man finally had his fill of abuse.  He snapped.  He left the boss’s office, grabbed his stuff and left.  This was in the middle of winter and the last thing his company (or anyone) should have allowed to happen was an extremely upset person to get into a car and drive.  The trauma of his meeting with the boss still fresh in his mind, the man found his car spinning in circles on the icy roads.  Somehow he managed to sit in the car for a few moments and then work his way home.  

His surprised wife was curious as to why he’d arrived home hours before his normal time.  He was not talking, seemingly unable to communicate to her what had him so obviously upset.  A couple of hours later it was time to pick up their son from the school bus, but the man appealed to his wife to come along for the ride because he was too upset.  She hobbled out to the car on crutches and quickly discovered she had to direct where he was going.  This was how it went for the next day as well.  The day after that she had to direct him to a city three hours drive away so she could see her surgeon for follow-up.  She worried when she even had to tell him which way to turn out of their own driveway.  He should not have been driving at all but she was still wearing a cast and not allowed to drive yet.  

For four days he lived on coffee and cigarettes.  He was barely speaking and when he did, it was incoherent.  He was quite literally vibrating.  He had not slept more than an hour a night since arriving home from work four days before.  His personal hygiene habits disappeared, forcing his wife to remind him to brush his teeth and bathe.  

So the man’s wife eventually forced him to drive them to the emergency room where he met with the mental health team.  Within days he went to his own family physician who quickly got the man into counselling.  He was on extended sick leave from work, but at least his wife was back on part-time hours.  They had some huge financial holes to climb out of since she’d been receiving only about 40% wage from the unemployment sick leave benefit and now his own salary was dropped by about 25% as a result of not having shift premiums or overtime.  

It’s interesting how you truly do find out who your true friends are when you’re in trouble.  His company forbade staff from having anything to do with him.  He’d been there for 28 years and only one person – a woman no less – had the balls to stand up and speak out on his behalf.  

Now the real games began.  He couldn’t manage the stress and trauma that having to deal with anything caused.  His wife intervened on his behalf.  When it became apparent that he would end up starting a claim for long term disability, they asked his company to provide the necessary forms.  Then they asked again.  And again.  And still yet again.  When the form arrived, they were overwhelmed by two things:  (1) how much information and documentation was required, including doctors’ reports; and (2) how little time they had to pull it all together and send off to the LTD insurer.  As an added bonus, now they needed to ask the company for the plan number because despite sending a full page letter detailing what to provide, where to send it, and to get it done in less than a week, they did not include that minor bit of information.  

Repeated calls and email messages to the human resources department were apparently ignored.  The day before the documents were due in another province, the wife told her husband to get on the phone and not hang up until he’d spoken to a live body and received the necessary information.  As soon as he managed to get the information, he raced to his wife’s office in order to fax all 65 pages to the LTD carrier just under the deadline.  His company, who claimed they wanted him to get better, didn’t realize their shenanigans were only making him worse.  

With another drop in pay expected for him as he now went onto long term benefits, the family was clearly struggling.  This added to the man’s stress levels.  His wife did what she could to reassure him that as a couple their relationship was solid and she wasn’t going anywhere.  Their son had a hard time understanding why his dad suddenly didn’t want to play with him, read books to him, or even seemingly even spend any time in the same room with him.  The little boy felt the loss strongly, often asking his mother why daddy didn’t love him anymore.  She did her best to explain to her son that daddy loved them both very much but that right now his heart and his head weren’t communicating very well.  She said that daddy needed them to love him even more. 

The months wore on and the man lost about 50 pounds.  Being Diabetic, this was the last thing he needed but his eating habits were off.  If his wife wasn’t home to prepare meals, he often forgot to eat, making dinner his first and only meal of the day.  In fact, she still had to regularly remind him to bathe and use deodorant.  At least he could make short drives to familiar places (like the doctor’s office) on his own. 

The summer faded away and still the man’s company failed to provide answers to some of their ongoing questions.  This included the request for a letter of employment that had originally been made in the Spring.  The family could not afford to maintain their home and made the painful decision to sell and move back into town.  They’d need the employment letter to obtain financing on a new residence.   As Autumn started, a letter arrived from the LTD carrier that they had reviewed their file and decided the man was well enough to return to work.  The couple were curious about how such a determination came about when the only items they had on file were those bits included in the initial application.  

Here’s where the couple discovered the consultant hired by the carrier to interview the man had apparently been feeding them a long line.  She had gotten the man to admit that he might be able to work somewhere other than his company (and why are they taking the word of a mentally ill individual anyway?) and this went into her report despite the fact that the man’s wife had added the caveat that just getting a job somewhere else was not going to effect a miracle cure.  Aside from that, his company had given specialized training for specialized equipment over the years any kind of job that would utilize the skills he possessed would require his wife to quit her job and their son to have to change schools as they would not find such work in their local area.  They would be forced to relocate to another area of the province away from family and friends.  This consultant pretended sympathy while providing the carrier with a report that would assure his term on LTD would be short.  

While they were happy to hear they could appeal the decision, the situation raised a whole bunch of new questions which only the man’s company could answer.  His wife rarely has any luck getting a live person on the phone and when she manages to get any kind of response by email, it’s always a variation of “we’re looking into it and will get back to you”.  It’s the stock answer she receives whether she’s asking about the letter of employment, or anything to do with pension and benefits, or even about where the record of employment was that should have been mailed months ago when they stopped paying her husband.  

And in the meantime, each setback is truly a setback as her husband sinks further into depression.


October 06, 2012

Take me to your Kitchen...

Or perhaps I should have called this "Cooking is a contact sport". 

Now, having said that, I hope I haven't set back female progress about 60 years.  The truth is I just love creating meals for family and friends.  I don't claim to be some fantastic home chef by any means, but every bite is made with love and I'm always glad to hear the silence as the plates are rapidly emptied. 

Like a lot of people who enjoy cooking, I started as a child.  While my mother could manage some things, she really did torture food.  Of course I only truly realized that after I'd been on my own for a while.  But either way, she started me on my adventure.  And the passion for cooking and food has only grown over the years. My ideal kitchen would have two full ovens, six cooking burners, loads of counter space to work on, a butcher block, you name it.  My favourite thing to do when I travel is to try the local food.  I don't mean the stuff they serve in restaurants that cater to tourists.  I want to eat the stuff that locals eat on a daily basis.

If anyone asked me what my favourite thing is to make, I really wouldn't know how to answer.  I love making desserts, breakfasts, dinners...I can't even pick a favourite theme, let alone a favourite meal. 

For breakfast, eggs are king.  One of my favourite ways to make an omelet is to take three eggs, crack them into three separate bowls and beat them.  If you want anything in the omelet, make sure it's sliced very very thin.  My preference is shredded cheese, paper thin slices of orange peppers or tomatoes, or even slivers of ham and onion.  So get the prep work done first because the cooking happens fast.  Start your toast before the first egg hits the pan.  Heat the pan and when it's ready, drop the first beaten egg into it.  Quickly tilt the pan around so that the egg spreads out over the bottom.  It will cook fairly quickly, so be ready to sprinkle in your cheese (or whatever), but not too thickly.  Then, using a couple of spatulas, carefully roll the egg up jelly-roll style and leave it in the pan off to one side.  Now drop in the second egg and spread it around, making sure it connects to the first egg.  Now toss in your cheese on the second egg.  Starting with the first egg that's already sitting there rolled up, roll it back so the second egg is now wrapped around the first one.  Leave it off to the side and repeat with the third egg and cheese.  Slide your "egg roll" onto a plate with your toast and eat.  We call these our "nest eggs" and they are actually more filling than if you simply made a 3-egg omelet the usual way. 

This time of year a nice hearty soup is the best option for lunch.  Some of our favourites are French Canadian yellow split pea, leek and potato, onion, and a very hearty vegetable.  For dinner, we often enjoy chicken and dumplings, beef stew, shepherd's pie, and of course various pastas with either my homemade tomato or homemade pesto sauce.   Desserts, needless to say, are fun for an entirely different reason. 

I'll have to write more another day, because right now I've got a loaf of banana bread to take out of the oven and have to start the prep work on the slow cooker stuffing I'm making for the Thanksgiving celebration of a club we belong to.  Keep on Cooking! 

October 02, 2012

All Hail Halloween!!




 

If I had to pick a favourite time of year, I’m not sure if Halloween or Christmas would win.  However, since Halloween is rapidly advancing, I’ll go with it for now. 

I’ve always enjoyed the fun of dressing up, becoming someone or something else for a little while.  The costume, make-up, wig, and whatever accoutrements are needed to create the look I’m trying to achieve.  Now that my son is eight, it’s even more fun because my excitement has transferred to him and he’s keen to figure out just the right thing. 
 
Another thing he’s getting more and more interested in is the one thing that I love most about Halloween ... the pumpkin.  I spend a good amount of time and gas driving around this farming area looking for just the right pumpkin or two.  I really have the best time carving intricate patterns into my pumpkins. 

To do this, you have to first find your pattern.  You need to have this first in order to know how big of a pumpkin you’ll need.  There’s nothing worse than getting a pumpkin that hasn’t got enough real estate for the size of pattern you want to do.  Then you need to actually go get your pumpkin.  If you’re going for a smaller one for a first effort, be sure you don’t get pie pumpkins.  These little guys are practically solid inside and you’ll spend a week just trying to get the inside cleaned out.  Also, another good tip for pumpkin-purchasing...try to get one that’s fairly flat on the side you want to carve.  If your pumpkin is too ridged, it will be hard to carve, but will also distort the pattern. 
 
For a beginner, the best bet is to go to any Walmart-type store and buy one of those pumpkin carving kits that comes with instructions and some beginner patterns.  These kits have all the essentials.  First make sure your pumpkin sits up by itself.  Carve out a lid and remove the innards.  Use the scraper from the kit to scrape off as much of the internal flesh of the pumpkin as you can.  On the side you want to carve into, try to keep it even thinner (say half an inch or so).  I know this measurement is tough to gauge and the best I can say is that it should have a little give when pushed from the outside, but not too much.  Don’t forget to save those seeds for roasting! 

Tape your pattern to the pumpkin.  If you need to, either cut slits or fold the paper (like pleats) so it’s as flat as possible against the pumpkin.  The next tool ro use from your little collection is a small pointed thing.  This is the poker and it is used to trace the lines of the pattern, poking holes through the outer skin of the pumpkin every few millimetres.  These little holes will provide a guideline for the cutting.  After you’ve poked holes in all the lines, remove what’s left of the pattern and set it aside for reference.  Now pick up the little thing with the saw blade on it.  Insert it into one of your holes and then simply “connect the dots”. 
Follow along the pattern lines and keep sawing.  

 You will want to go quickly, but don’t.  If you do, you might end up cutting somewhere that you shouldn’t.  Just keep referring to your pattern as you go.  Start in the middle and work your way out, doing small intricate things as close to the beginning as possible.  These will be difficult to do later otherwise.  If you do accidentally cut something you shouldn’t have, a small “repair” can be made using a needle or a toothpick to reattach the cut part.  I prefer toothpicks because they are made of wood and therefore biodegradable, but also because no-one is likely to be hurt by it.  If you need to, you can trim the inside flesh a little closer to the outer skin after you’ve finished carving, but be very careful as this would be the likeliest moment when you might cut or break something you don’t mean to. 

Put a candle inside, the lid back on, and turn off the lights.  

While several of these are quite do-able for a beginner, the ones here at the right are more advanced.  These were among my first attempts at a carving technique that skims or shaves off the outer layer of the pumpkin's skin.  The flesh inside has to be thick enough to sustain the pumpkin, but thin enough to allow light to shine through.  It creates that "shadow" effect that's more visible on the face in the left of the picture. 

August 17, 2012

Adventures in House Selling

If you’ve never bought or sold a house, you have no idea of the fun in store for you.  In our case, we’re selling one and buying another (hopefully).  First comes the decision to sell and move.  This is the hardest part for me since I detest moving.  When I initially moved in with my husband, I told him I might have one more move in me, but that would pretty much be it.  Of course, times and needs change so your mindset needs to change too.  

The uninitiated might think the next step is just call a realtor and it’s over.  Wrong.  The next step is to clean your house.  I don’t mean vacuum and dust, I mean go through all your stuff and start two piles:  (1) stuff to donate somewhere or otherwise get rid of; and (2) stuff you want to keep but can be packed away for a while.  This is called decluttering and is harder than you think until you’ve been through it a few times.  A good rule of thumb is to consider whether you’ve used any particular item within the past year.  If the answer is “no”, then you can probably get rid of it.  

After the decluttering, you’ll need to consider all those little jobs that you just never seemed to get to before – changing the washer on the kitchen faucet, painting the bathroom, cleaning out the shed or garage, replacing ripped screens, etc.  Then, of course, you have to really clean like you haven’t cleaned in a long while.  The windows need washing, the exterior of the home may need washing or even paint, steam-clean the carpets, cut the grass and make sure the gardens are weed free, and the list goes on.  In our case, there was fix the ramp into the shop and paint the shed, too.  We also made time to have a yard sale and sold off a lot of junk…I mean valuable stuff…that was hanging around.  Double bonus here is decluttering and making money at it!  

Now you’re ready to call a realtor.  Do your homework and figure out who you would like to represent you and will give you the best service.  Just remember:  the one with the most signs out is not necessarily the best at actually selling.  S/he may be simply good at listing properties, but have little experience at finding buyers and closing the deal, or alternatively, s/he may simply be too busy listing to spend any time working at selling.  

The realtor will come with forms, a contract, and a camera.  After the necessary paperwork where you contract with them to represent you and agree to a certain selling price and commission fee, you need to decide what you’re going to include with the house when you sell it.  Are you taking the window coverings?  How about the stove, or the beer fridge in the man-room (aka garage)?  The appliances are always good to exclude because they can be used as bargaining tools later when your potential purchaser wants to add them into the deal.  Our bargaining tools include the appliances (fridge, beer fridge, freezer, stove), a snooker sized pool table, a riding mower and trailer, and a snow blower.  We also have a window air conditioner that is only two years old that works well to keep the house fairly cool on hot, humid days.  

With the paperwork done, the realtor will take several pictures of your house including both exterior and interior shots.  Make sure the rooms are tidy, beds made, table not still holding your breakfast dishes, kitchen clean, bathroom sparkling and laundry not visible. Also make sure the smoke detector works and all the light bulbs work.  Soon after this your MLS listing will be posted online and your realtor should also be advertising your home locally in newspapers and real estate listing books.  

Next your realtor schedules an open house where s/he invites other realtors to attend and look through.  These are the folks that will be trying to put a new owner into your home so this is a good step.  After the realtor open house, you’ll have a public open house.  This will be advertised by your realtor and on the day of the open house, just take yourself (and the dog if you have any) out to the park for a few hours.  Your realtor will hang out at your house and hopefully lots of people will show up to look at it.  

We went a step further.  On the second week in August, the Welbeck Sawmill holds its annual wood show.  Since we live about one kilometre from the sawmill, we put out lots of open house signs and our son even had one on the back of his bicycle.  He and my husband walked over to the sawmill and advertised our open house.  I stayed at the house ready to show people through.  Over the course of the two days we had five showings.  It had rained on and off all weekend so we were (are) hopeful about the ones that came through because they are obviously die-hard woodworking hobbyists if they’re out in the pouring rain to attend the wood show.  Since our shop was originally built and set up by someone that was into woodworking, we figured those die-hards would be thrilled to see a house for sale so close to their favourite store!  

We have a lot to offer a potential buyer.  The property is pretty unique.  We have 300 feet of river frontage.  The location of the house is such that it could not actually be built where it is today if you were purchasing raw land.  The house is almost 1900 square feet, completely finished throughout, with big open main rooms thanks to the engineered trusses in the roof.  There is an acre and a half of land (approximately 212’ x 300’; or 65,600 square feet; or about the size of a football field with an extra end zone).  Aside from the house, we have a large shop, a decent sized greenhouse, a drive-shed (think garage with dirt floor and no door), and a garden shed with a loft and attached wood storage area.  We’re surrounded by mature trees and our driveway meanders through the trees so that the house is invisible from the road.  In fact, you can only see one little spot near our fire-pit from the bridge over the river.  So there’s loads of privacy.  Sure, we have neighbours, but they’re very few and only a couple are there all year round.  Mostly the neighbouring places are owned as cottages and the owners only appear now and then throughout the year.  Deer, otter, wild turkeys, migratory ducks, geese, great blue herons, belted kingfishers, various woodpeckers, blue jays, cardinals and hummingbirds, as well as robins, chickadees, sparrows, junkos and more make their way through and around the property regularly.  On a quiet night you can hear the coyotes.  In early spring you hear the peepers (little frogs) and of course the ever-present running of the river.  





So now we’re playing the waiting game.  People are looking through the house on occasion and one day soon someone will fall in love with it.  We love it, but our needs have changed for now. 

August 16, 2012

I love to read…

One of the neatest books I ever came across was “The Book of Questions” by Gregory Stock, Ph.D.  I was introduced to it by a friend back in the ‘80s and immediately had to go buy my own copy.  The great thing about the book is that it is entirely made up of questions.  I’m not talking like a trivia thing, but questions that question your thoughts on morality and ethics.  Some of the questions were notated with an asterisk and on checking at the back of the book, you’d find supplemental questions to make you dig a little deeper.  

One of the questions I recall (and I’m going on memory here) supposed that you knew of a technological breakthrough that would occur, that would allow people to travel across continents as easily as we do across town, but would kill half a million people a year.  The question was whether you would try to prevent its use.  Of course, for most of us the answer would be that most certainly we would try to stop this from coming to be.  However, when you check the supplemental questions, this new scenario greets you, (again paraphrasing) – that suppose you knew that the automobile was about to be invented and that it would soon be responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths in the coming century.  Would you try to prevent its invention? 

See?  It’s an interesting question.  We accept that some people (maybe even ourselves at some point) will die as a result of using an automobile, yet we do not try to prevent its use. 

Another question that I actually had occasion to use in real life came back to my mind as I was re-reading my last blog post.   Here’s what happened:

Friends of mine were new Christians.  In their zeal (really just the lust part of any relationship), they were keen to “save” me.  I’d politely resisted several times, but I’m only human and I can only say no so many ways.  Finally, after yet another speech from the woman of the couple about her need to save me, I asked her one of the questions from The Book of Questions that had stuck in my head.  “If God appeared to you in a series of vivid and moving dreams and told you to leave it all behind, move to the Red Sea and become a fisherman, what would you do?”  She thought about it for a few seconds and slowly replied, “I guess I’d have to go.”  

So I asked her the follow-up question.  “If God appeared to you in a series of vivid and moving dreams and told you to take your child up to a mountain top, make an alter and offer her up as a sacrifice, what would you do?”  My friend’s immediate response was, “Absolutely not!” 

I reminded her that according to the bible, Abraham had been asked to make the same sacrifice and he’d trusted in his god enough to set out to do as asked.  At the last moment God had stayed Abraham’s hand and rewarded his faith.  I also reminded her that just a few moments before she’d been prepared to move to the Red Sea to go fishing just because God said she should, but now she was refusing to do as God asked.  I then told her that until she had that same faith as Abraham, she should worry about her own soul and leave mine alone. 

A little harsh, I know, but it did stop her from trying to save me.  I don’t believe I made her doubt her own faith, but perhaps made her realize it might need a little shoring up in some places.  I moved some distance away a few years later and we eventually lost touch, but I heard from a mutual friend that she and her husband had eased up a bit on the religion thing a few years back.  

Another intriguing question from this great book proposed the scenario where you were walking together with your own father and your best friend when the two of them stumbled into a nest of poisonous snakes and were bitten.  The scenario continues by saying that there is one anti-snake kit with you and you, personally, are carrying it.  What would you do?  My strong sense of survival immediately replies, “I’d give it to myself”, but the best answer I ever heard when playing with this book among friends, was that the person would split it equally between the two and then go for help.  

When the friend that introduced me to the book was asking questions out of it, she came across this one:  “Would you be willing to go to a slaughterhouse and kill a cow?”  There was a group of us in the room and all of them recoiled in horror.  Except me, that is.  My response was, “Do I get the meat?”  The others were horrified, but when my friend read out the supplemental questions, the first one asked “Do you eat meat?”  

Even today, 25 years after first hearing about this book, I believe it’s one of the best I’ve ever read.  If you can find a copy, go read it.  Maybe it’s even available for download, I don’t know, but definitely get it.  

Another book that tops my list is called “How to be a Canadian (Even if You Already Are One)” by Will and Ian Ferguson.  Hands down this is the funniest book I have ever read.  Truly!  The first time I read it, I would generally get time to read in bed at night.  My husband would be there beside me trying to read his motorcycle magazine and I’d be laughing out loud enough that he would ask, “What’s so funny?”  So I’d flip back a page and read him the passage that had me chuckling.  The only problem was that by then it would be a full blown laugh.  Sometimes I’d be laughing so hard I would have tears streaming down my cheeks.  Eventually I ended up reading him the entire book. 

As an example, the book talks about “getting carpal tunnel clicking your way up the satellite channels to APTN (the Aboriginal People’s Television Network) where…” and at that point in the story my husband interrupted my reading to say, “they’re skinning some dead animal.”  Well I’ll be damned if that wasn’t exactly what the book said!  

The book covers the gamut of politics, regional differences, how to tell Americans from Canadians…you name it.  And you laugh through every page…especially Chapter 14.  It’s witty, sarcastic, and so entertaining you’ll recommend it to everyone you know.  In fact, if I can offer another bit of advice here…never lend the book to anyone.  You’ll never see it again and will be forced to go and buy another copy for yourself.  I’ve lost the book twice that way and refuse to lend it anymore.  

Other than that, I’ve got so many books that I’ve read and re-read, I can’t even list them all.  

I read the Millenium (think “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) series twice now.  Good long books but really interesting and gripping.  I saw both the Swedish and the American movie versions and prefer the Swedish one for the most part.  

Diana Gabaldon wrote a series about Scotland and time travel, with the first one being “Outlander” and I’ve read the series two or three times now.  The books are long but well worth it.  I would pick up the book, open the page, tell my husband I was “off to Scotland” and I’d get so wrapped up in the books that he’d have to tap me to rouse me back out of the book because I wouldn’t hear him speaking.  But he understands me.  At Christmas one year he got me “The Outlandish Companion” and it was a good pick.  It’s almost like reading Ms. Gabaldon’s concordance.  A very helpful book for sure.  

John Saul, my all time favourite author, writes horror stories.  Now of course we all know that any kind of fiction calls for a certain amount of what writers call ‘suspension of disbelief’.  What this means is that the story draws us in enough that we accept that the unbelievable is now believable.  For me, some authors are pretty okay at this (i.e. Stephen King, Dean Koontz) and some absolutely suck at it (no names here) but John Saul is a master.  That’s what makes his books so completely scary and horrifying…you believe in your soul that this scenario is possible.  I’ve been reading his books since he started with “Suffer the Children” in 1977.  I was 11 years old at the time and he scared me pretty good.  Someone had given my mother the book and she was one of those people who did not like horror or thriller novels at all.  So it was lying around the house and I picked it up.  I’m sure she would have turned grey if she’d realized what I was reading, but I was hooked.  I’ve read every single one of his books several times.  In fact, when a new one comes out, I pick it up and try to force myself to savour it over a few days, stretching it out as much as possible.  The truth is though, that once I’m involved in the story, natural instinct takes over and I keep reading until I’m done.  So instead of three or four days, I get a day and a half to read the book.  That’s okay though, because it gives me a few days to mull it over before I start my next book.  

Tom Clancy, Nora Roberts, Jeffrey Archer, John Grisham, Tami Hoag.  The list goes on.  As I once said to my husband, if you’re not sure I’ll read it, just open it up.  If there are words on the pages, I’ll read it.  

I’ve even read a few really bad books.  Now I generally love the printed word, so for me to say a book is bad…well…you can take it to the bank.  One in particular that sticks out in my mind…time has lost the title of it now, but the female lead (I can’t call her the heroine because she didn’t particularly do anything, but rather the story revolved around her) was such a pathetic and compelling creation that I made my way through the book from start to finish before actually throwing it in the garbage.  I’ve only done that twice in my entire life.  She married a man she was obsessively in love with, and he was an astute businessman around the turn of the century.  The book goes into great detail on the politics surrounding the cause of World War I and the benefits to business and stock markets in general. (After working my way through the morass of unnecessary detail, I decided to skip these dissertations later in the book just to get through it sometime in my lifetime.)  Her husband dies just before the great stock market crash and subsequent Depression, but his sound investing policies ensure that she and their children are left well cared for.  She raises their very selfish children, who eventually reveal that they really don’t care for her at all as she’s nearing the end of her life.   

I have a Kobo e-reader now.  The e-reader is a great addition to the personal electronics of anyone who loves to read.  I’ve put some of my old favourites in it, along with lots of new books.  The best thing about these readers is their portability.  Some authors I like, (such as John Saul, Stephen King, Jeffrey Archer) I prefer to purchase the hardcover versions of their books so I’ll have them in good shape for a long time to come after many re-readings.  Now I also have them in my purse to cart around without ripping my shoulder off.  Also, if I’m close to the end of one book, I no longer have to haul around two books while I finish one just so I can start the next.  They’re both in the reader.  That’s not to say I don’t still buy books the old fashioned way, because I do.  After all, just because I have the CD of “Dark Side of the Moon” doesn’t mean I’m throwing out the vinyl LPs. 

I’ll always love the printed word. 

July 22, 2012

I don’t follow the crowd.


I don’t just pay this lip service, but I actually live it.  Without trying to be or sound judgemental, lots of people make the same claim, but not many actually live it. 

Undoubtedly my non-conformity is the reason I’ve never been pigeon-holed or labelled.  It’s probably also the reason why the circle of people I consider true friends (those who would drop everything and drive to Winnipeg in the middle of winter if I called them and said I was there and needed them) is fairly small. 

When I was growing up my family moved a lot...and I really mean a whole lot!  Sometimes I’d have two or three schools within one academic year – my personal record being four high schools within the first three months.  As a result, I was always the new kid.  When this is the kind of life you lead, a couple of things happen...at least they happened to me:  (1) I became extremely self-sufficient and singular; and (2) I came to realize people were not necessarily permanent in my life and that I didn’t really need many of them.  Now don’t get me wrong, I was not lonely, but rather I was quite comfortable in being alone.  There’s a huge difference. 

This meant that peer pressure was pretty much non-existent to me.  There was no way that anyone could influence me into doing something I didn’t want to do simply because I didn’t care enough about their opinions of me if I didn’t do it.  After all, the odds were good that I’d be going to a new school in a few months or so anyway, so what did I care whether they liked me or not.  Truth be told, it’s actually quite a liberating thing because having this kind of outlook from a young age enabled me to look at things and question them because I wanted the answers.  I didn’t care what others thought. 

The greatest compliment I ever received was one my stepmother told me that my dad had said about me.  She’d been talking about me to someone and in describing me, said that I marched to the beat of a different drummer.  My father, on overhearing this conversation, said, “No, Nuala beats her own drum.”  I have to say it’s a moment of rare insight that I wouldn’t have believed my dad would have come up with except that I believe my stepmother. 

Although my family was Catholic, we were largely non-practicing.  I’d been christened as a baby, made my first communion as a kid and had been confirmed as a young teen, but always I had the questions.  The older I got, the more interesting the questions.  What finally made me realize that religion is a bunch of bull and really nothing more than a way of controlling the mindless masses, was when I wanted to get married the first time.  My ex-husband had been married before in an Anglican ceremony and had been divorced for years.  In order for him to be permitted to marry me (Catholic) in a church ceremony, he had to do a few things.  The first was to agree to have any children raised as Catholics.  Now here’s the weird, man-made rules part.  His first wedding was considered a pagan ceremony due to the fact that it was an Anglican service, and therefore not ‘recognized’ by the Catholic church.  That being said, they wanted him to write to the Pope (really!) for his first marriage to be annulled and to obtain permission to marry a Catholic. 

That’s where I put my foot down.  I asked, rightly so I believe, “If his first marriage is not recognized by the church, why does it have to be annulled?”  No one, at any level of church management could or would answer that.  This is just one example of the hypocrisy that resulted in my giving up the Catholic religion, indeed any real belief in any kind of “god”. 

This type of opinion, however, sends spears of rage through any religious church-goer. 

People are all for “freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and freedom of religion” so long as it conforms to their own beliefs. 

I don’t judge others for their beliefs, so I’m often left shaking my head and wondering why I’m judged for mine.  If you really believe there is a god, then just satisfy yourself that I’ll be judged by that god at some point.  If you think that nothing I could say would convince you to change your beliefs, your faith if you will, then why do you think that anything you could say would change mine?  There are a lot of truly evil people out there in the world who think that because they go to church every week, all their transgressions against others are forgiven. 

I live my life attempting to do no harm to others.  If someone has faith such that they believe in a higher being, then so be it.  Good for them.  I try not to judge based on religion, beliefs or race.  After all, we are all part of the human race.  I believe that we should be kind to whomsoever we meet and in return they may be kind to us.  A lot of people preach without living their beliefs.  Some of us just live our beliefs without feeling the need to preach about it.