Category Archives: Humour

Learning to Appreciate Snow Again

As I sit down to write this piece, all is calm, all is bright. Miss Ivy, the “guardian cat”, is snoring on the wing chair beside me while I sip my morning coffee. Just outside my window is the first major snowfall of this season.

What a great way to spend a weekend snow day. I am very fortunate indeed for this simple pleasure.

I look out my window and think to myself how pretty the winter wonderland is. Then I stop myself and say “Whoa! What happened to that guy who used to ‘hate’ winter?”

The answer is that things have changed quite a bit.

For so many years, I have equated snowfalls with stress, the fear of the unknown, and having to dig deeply for an extra dose patience.

I don’t know why in Ottawa the show must go on, even in inclement weather, but only in rare and very extreme weather conditions was work ever “cancelled”.

It always brings a smile to my face to see news reports from other cities that shut down when they had one or two inches of snow on the ground. “That would never happen here”, I always think to myself as one to two inches on the ground is just an average winter day in Ottawa. But it didn’t mean it was an easy day.

Back when I was taking the city bus to school or to work, a snowy day meant a longer commute time in an overheated bus, while wearing a winter coat, sweating like a pig, wishing I could take another shower by the time I got to my destination. It also meant the crap shoot of whether the bus will be late or if it will show up at all, meaning that extra layers of clothes were needed to stand outside waiting, to protect from the elements.

It also meant the risk of being late for an important commitment, which is excruciating for someone who prides himself on his punctuality. Continue reading

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The Hand Sanitizer Auditions

Is it just me or will 2020 be remembered as the year of the hand sanitizer auditions?

When the pandemic first hit, we were told by health care experts to wash our hands frequently and when running water wasn’t available, to use hand sanitizer containing at least 70% alcohol.

Up until that point, the only time I really used hand sanitizer was when I traveled. With the expert advice in mind, in preparation for the rare, socially-distanced trips outside of the home for food and emergency supplies, I rummaged through my suitcases, my carry-on and my toiletry bag to see what I had on hand. Fortunately, I had a few tiny bottles of Purell left over.

A few weeks prior, I had developed a little cold from the stress and the whirlwind of activity surrounding the house purchase, so I had acquired two tiny bottles of a pharmacy’s home brand which were also added to my stock.

As I started packing for the move, I stumbled upon a few more expired ones that were hiding in the back of my linen closet.

I thought that I had a respectable stock with which I’d be OK for a while, given the sudden scarcity of hand sanitizer, as reported by the news media that seemed to be in Covid-19 hysteria, cramming in as much bad news as they could squeeze into an hour.

Nonetheless, I would keep my eye out for some more, just in case. Continue reading

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My Long-Standing Fascination with the Mail

When I was a child, I loved getting mail. It didn’t happen often, but when an envelope showed up with my name on it, I knew I could tear into it (before I knew what a letter opener was) and enjoy whatever was inside.

My first pieces of mail were birthday and Christmas cards, which always brought me supreme joy. Not too long after that, I had a few pen pals with whom I loved exchanging news from our respective parts of the world.

It didn’t really matter what it was. If it landed in our mailbox and had my name on it, it always had a bit of a surprise factor to it. It always warmed my heart and made me smile to think that someone was thinking of me and took the time to send me a note.

I wonder if that sentiment is what inspired me to reciprocate and to get into the routine of sending birthday and Christmas cards as I got older. Perhaps the mail service was also an opportunity for the emerging writer in me to break from the university or corporate writing routine, and to write letters for the pure fun of it… I know some people will disagree with me on that, but yes, I think it’s fun.

When I think back, I don’t fully understand why I was so fascinated with mail when I was a kid. I don’t know if it’s because it made me feel part of some sort of exclusive club to which I had been accepted as the mail was something I saw as typically reserved for grown-ups.

If I remember correctly, I think I twisted my Mom’s arm into getting me a subscription to “Vidéo Presse”, a popular French magazine for kids back in the day, not just for the content, but also for an additional piece of mail in my name. Continue reading

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The Wild Life of Living in the Country

But with farm land surrounding us, I didn’t expect to feel quite so unenlightened and “green” when it came to the animal kingdom. It’s like I turn into a kid again when I see or hear things for the first time.

Shortly after we arrived I experienced flying ants for the first time. It was a very weird sensation, as I had no idea an ant could fly, but out here they do. They are quite the annoyance if you are trying to get something accomplished and they persistently fly back no matter how many times you try to shoo them away. Fortunately, the wave of flying ants was over after about two weeks.

When taking a stroll or working outside, it’s not uncommon to hear cows in the distance, a sound that I haven’t heard in ages. It’s a sound that brings me great joy, as a reminder of our more peaceful surroundings. I never thought that a cow mooing would have such a relaxing effect, but it does.

Just down the street, one of our neighbours has a couple of horses. I don’t recall been near a horse since a pony ride maybe 50 years ago. One day I was driving by, only to see one of the horses relieving itself (#1) which totally blew my mind as I finally witnessed and understood the saying “peeing like a racehorse”.

I was surprised that we didn’t have more squirrels and chipmunks, but the ones we have are more than enough as they seem to be in a bit of a “West Side Story” turf war. My partner and I have both seen the chipmunk get very aggressive with the squirrel and even take a swipe at him. That chipmunk is quite a scrapper! Continue reading

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Because I Said So!

When I was a kid, when dealing with grown-ups, there was nothing that exasperated me more than to be told “because I said so!”

As an inquisitive child, trying to understand the world, I think I had a pretty good sense of cause and effect. When I asked “Why?” it wasn’t to challenge authority, it was simply to connect the dots to understand the motivation behind the grown-up’s answer to the preceding question.

I also think it was a disservice to shut down conversations in this way and deprive me of the opportunity to develop valuable negotiation skills and propose counteroffers such as “I’ll go rake the leaves just as soon as (insert TV show name) is over.”

On a personal level, when a conversation ended with “because I said so!” I sometimes felt hurt. I worked hard for the acceptance of grown-ups, and to not provide any elaboration seemed to discredit those efforts even though I am certain that there were times that “because I said so!” had nothing to do with me, but rather, other related circumstances. But that wasn’t always conveyed.

I vividly remember vowing that when I grew up, I would never shut down conversations with “because I said so!” To this day, I am pretty sure that I kept to my vow, but I know that there have been times I went too far the other way.

As I grew up, I developed a reflex for not only explaining an answer, but over-explaining. I partly blame the math teachers who always insisted on “showing your work”… Careful what you wish for!

I admit that as my reasoning and communication skills developed, my reasons may not have been air-tight, but hey, it was a process like everything in life. Continue reading

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In Search of Dim Bulbs

From the moment we walked into our new home, we have struggled to understand the lighting situation.

In almost every room, there is an overhead light fixture; no problem there. But switching one on usually turns into a scene from a vampire movie, with one or both of us shrieking in fright, shielding our eyes and yelling “Turn it off! Turn it off!”

The lights in this house are freakishly bright, the kind that could be used to land an aircraft.

What is puzzling is that these aren’t high wattage bulbs. Throughout the home, our previous owners left us with an assortment of LED, CFL and incandescents equivalent to 60 watt bulbs… which is considerably better than in one of my previous homes where the previous occupant left one light bulb for the whole place.

I don’t know if it is the bulbs themselves that are set to “harsh white”, or is it the fact that they are affixed to ceiling fixtures that their light bounces off the gleaming white ceiling making everything look brighter than it really is. Could it also be because some of the fixtures have three bulbs in them that the light radiating from them is more than we were used to, coming from homes with very little in the way of overhead lighting, mostly table lamps?

Either way, in a home with two people who are prone to migraines, this was a problem. Continue reading

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When the House Makes Me Jump

One of the pitfalls of having very good hearing (as I do) is the process of getting familiar with a house’s noises.

In my last house, after almost 20 years, I knew exactly what “normal” sounded like for each individual appliance, sink and toilet as well as for the furnace, the air conditioner and the hot water tank.

I knew that dramatic drops or increases in temperature outside would make the house pop as the building materials contracted or expanded. I was also familiar with the specific creaking noises that tree branches outside would make in heavy winds.

Each sound had a distinct fingerprint, and after 20 years, whenever the house made noise, I could usually pick out the cause and not worry about it.

But in having my radar on like a bat and the ability to filter out common “normal” noises, it goes without saying that noises that weren’t so common and didn’t match the usual patterns, could sometimes make me jump higher than I would when watching most horror flicks.

I wouldn’t chalk up that reaction to perhaps being a little over-caffeinated or being a nervous person by nature. I think it stems from a pride of ownership in my home and any noises that aren’t considered “normal” should be investigated right away to ensure they aren’t a sign or a more serious problem.

When that happened, Ivy the Wonder Cat and I would turn into Scooby and Shaggy (respectively), slowly walking through the house, flashlight in hand, waiting for the noise to happen again to be able to figure out where it is coming from, what it is, how to stop it and if a professional noise-eradicator needed to be called. Continue reading

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How I Miss Being a Tourist

At our new home, I find myself in an endless loop of shredding, as I go through old documents that I didn’t have time to destroy before moving.

Maybe it comes from my high school and university years working in the retail sector, when I realized that keeping receipts and statements was a good thing if I ever needed to return something.

Maybe I was traumatized by one client too many who stirred up a tempest in a teapot, bellowing about the unfairness of our return policy and shrieking their vow never to shop at our store again, simply because they didn’t have a receipt for a refund.

To me, keeping receipts was synonymous with keeping the peace, a natural conclusion for someone with an aversion to conflict.

Over the years, my filing system has been pretty solid and I have been able to produce receipts on demand when I needed an exchange, a refund or maintenance of one kind or another. I really can’t say I’ve had too many sleepless nights ruminating over where I might have misplaced a receipt.

As much as I was really good at filing, the downside is that I was perhaps a little lax in destroying after a reasonable time frame had passed. I still have receipts (and user manuals) for products I don’t even own anymore as they have already completed their useful life span.

Now, in the new place, with the move well behind us, I make a point of sorting and shredding a little bit each week, to make some steady progress in chipping away at the pile of boxes marked “papers to sort”. Continue reading

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Country Living and Non-Stop Pick-Up Sticks

When I first read the real estate listing for our home-to-be, one of the details that stole my heart was the mention of a tree-lined lot and the picture of mature trees surrounding the little house.

Even though I am not what I would consider a winter person, when combined with a fresh February snowfall, the house presented all of the elements of a charming country retreat. A couple of friends mentioned how it looked like the kind of house you’d see in a Hallmark Christmas movie.

Having grown up in suburbia, I wasn’t a stranger to trees. We had a weeping willow, a crab-apple tree, cedar hedges and a few shrubs. There was even an apple tree on the property line with one of our neighbours. But as a kid, I never really thought about them. I just remember climbing them or making them into a big prop in whatever game my playmates’ imagination came up with.

Then came a decade of rental apartments, where trees were there for shade, shelter and beauty, but I never really gave them much thought. Even in the townhome where I lived for 20 years, the condominium corporation took care of the trees. The most I ever did was rake a few leaves.

Now, in a home with a tree-lined lot, I see trees differently, both literally and metaphorically. They are a source of pride and joy and we are so fortunate that our property has such a variety of beautiful trees. But the reality check is setting in: ongoing maintenance.

Sadly, there are a couple that aren’t doing well that will need to be removed, but that’s just nature and the circle of life at work. At the same time, we have a few majestic ones that we were told by our tree expert were probably standing since our great-grandparents’ days and will probably outlive us.

In having so many trees around, in various stages of life, I understand that getting acquainted with each variety individually and understanding their respective needs will be a project in itself.
But the one thing that doesn’t take a tree expert to realize is that when you have mature trees around, falling twigs, sticks and branches are a fact of life. Continue reading

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How Country Living Changed My Outlook on Weather

One of the biggest ironies about moving to the country has been the surprising shift in the way I look at weather forecasts.

Back when I lived in the city, I was not a fan of rain nor snow. The reason was pretty simple: commuting.

After our work team was relocated a few years ago, I had accepted that taking the car to this new location would always be faster and more efficient than dealing with buses or our emerging light rail system. After being a bus commuter for 35 years, I felt justified in taking that decision and in having done my part for the environment.

I occasionally questioned that wisdom when a major reconstruction project on a major artery kept adding time to my commute, but I still persisted.

But when the highway was narrowed not only from the construction itself but from vehicles breaking down in the construction zone like it was the Bermuda Triangle, my patience started to wear thin every day that lanes would be blocked, adding to the commute time.

But when you incorporate precipitation into the mix, whether rain, snow, or freezing rain, it became impossible to predict just how long it would take to get to work. Let’s just say that I restrained myself from drinking too much coffee just in case I’d be stuck in the car on the highway (between off-ramps) for lengthy periods.

Back then, whenever I looked ahead to a forecast with several successive days of rain, I would already start the week with a bit of a frown.

But now living in the country, in the Covid-19 era, where I have been working from home and haven’t had to commute in almost five months, I have had good time to recuperate from idiot drivers, construction, precipitation and stressful commutes. Continue reading

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