Category Archives: pop culture

How Music Can Change One’s Mood in a Split Second

This past week, as I was out for the once-per-week, masked, sanitized, and respectfully socially-distanced grocery store run, I had one of those moments that have become all too familiar.

As I turned my king-sized grocery cart around a corner, I was disappointed to see someone going in the wrong direction, completely contrary to the arrows on the ground. I asked myself, after 13 months of Covid-19, have we not gotten the choreography down yet?

But before the cranky old man within me had a chance to fully surface and irritate me for the rest of the grocery run, the grocery store’s speaker system launched into the first notes of Sheryl Crow’s “Soak Up the Sun”.

As I started humming along (hey, if there’s only 25 people allowed in the store at one time, I can softly hum with a smile under my mask) my mood instantly changed and the non-compliant grocery shopper was already deleted from my consciousness.

When you review the lyrics, it’s not like “Soak Up the Sun” is one of the cheeriest songs ever written, but the chorus, the music and its associated music video convey to me a certain lightness and free-spiritedness that have often helped me let go of some of the little irritants in life.

Have you ever noticed how songs seem to have that power over us, to – please forgive the cliché – turn a frown upside down? And have you ever been in a situation where you are driving around, enjoying a string of one good song after another, and actually hoping for red lights to slow down your commute to enjoy the tunes?

Much like with “Soak Up the Sun”, it doesn’t always have to be about uplifting lyrics, sometimes it can be all about the music itself and a skillful arrangement that just strikes the right notes to raise ones spirits or even better, to energize. Continue reading

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My Mixed Emotions Over a New iPad

You would think that I would have been over the moon with delight about purchasing a new iPad. I wasn’t. In fact, I was annoyed at having to accept defeat.

My previous iPad was purchased in 2012, and throughout its nine years with me, it has been the source of countless hours of information, education and entertainment. It has also been an indispensable work tool in the development and maintenance of the blog that you are reading now.

With my iPad, I’ve sent hundreds of emails, listened to hours of music and read several books. I’ve binge watched shows on it when I wasn’t feeling well. I’ve passed time with it in airports (long before Covid-19 came along).

To me, the iPad was probably one of the best inventions ever, combining so many devices in one, enabling me to travel lighter, especially when I commuted to work by bus. My bad back appreciated this device many times over.

You would think that I could accept that a nine year run with any technological tool is an amazing feat these days, but there is a bit of a stubborn streak within me that just couldn’t bring myself to make that admission. Continue reading

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50 Things I Did Not Miss During the Pandemic

There is no doubt that the pandemic meant huge adjustments for everyone. Everything we do was impacted in one way or another, whether that meant work, school, hobbies, shopping, cooking or cleaning.

Seeing friends and loved ones face-to-face became a risky activity. As a result, our celebrations and traditions either changed or got deferred.

Throughout the pandemic, there was a tragic loss of life and businesses suffered tragic losses as well.

While I think everyone could come up with a long list of the things that they missed during the pandemic, there might be a bit of a bright side when thinking of the things we did not miss, during the stay-at-home advisories.

Here are my top 50:

1. Commuting;
2. Driving in snow;
3. Driving in rain;
4. Driving in freezing rain;
5. The fear of driving in freezing rain;
6. Driving around potholes;
7. Driving around random road construction;
8. Driving in peak construction season when it seems that every east-west artery is under some form of road repair;
9. Navigating through traffic jams;
10. The fear of having the car break down unexpectedly and becoming the cause a traffic jam;
11. Navigating through poor road conditions when the plow hasn’t cleared the snow yet;
12. Navigating through poor road conditions even though the plow “cleared the snow”;
13. Navigating around car accidents;
14. Navigating around bad drivers;
15. Spotting a driver with their eyes on their cell phone rather than the road; Continue reading

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From the “Look It Up” Generation

It never ceases to amaze me how people use social media, to the profound exasperation of others.

Let’s just use a hypothetical example for illustration purposes: Someone posts on Instagram a picture of a flower from their garden and in the caption they say, “These are the tulips from my garden! #tulips”. Shortly thereafter, someone posts a question “What kind of flower is that?”

While I can certainly forgive an occasional lack of observation, as I have certainly experienced moments in life when I missed a metaphoric flashing neon sign right in front of me. But I usually chalk that up to rare moments of being very rushed or very tired.

It’s when someone asks a question, when the answer is right in front of them (and sometimes even hashtagged) that the cranky old man in me surfaces.

Personally, in the never ending quest of not wanting to look like an idiot, before asking a question, I usually read the caption and previous posts to be sure that my question has not already been asked and answered.

To me, it is also a matter of being considerate to the person who posted it, not demanding time of them (when they could already be super busy) to answer a question that has already been answered.

However, the practice of posting questions that have been answered is not just an occasional thing. I see it ALL THE TIME all over social media.

Similarly, I find it odd that people go to Facebook to ask questions to a wide group like “Does anyone know if Restaurant ABC…?” (insert any number of questions relating to the food they serve, special dietary needs, delivery services, restaurant hours, etc).

Most restaurants offer a variety of communication vehicles like phone number, email address, Facebook page, Instagram page, web site, online menu, etc. If that is the case, why is the question going to a forum of third parties, and not to the restaurant itself through one of the many online resources the restaurant took the time, effort and expense to make available?

I would definitely cut someone some slack, when information is either not online, hard to find or requires clarification or elaboration. I have no issue there whatsoever. But I struggle to imagine a business that does not have an online presence (especially in the post Covid-19 world), or at the very minimum, a telephone number, for such questions.

To me, it makes absolutely no sense. But then again, I was raised in a “look it up!” household.

I learned early on that when asking out loud what a word meant would almost be like casting a spell on the TV show “Bewitched”, as a dictionary would magically appear next to me within a few seconds, accompanied by the advice “look it up”. Or if I had a more elaborate question about how something worked… poof!… a volume of the encyclopedia would appear, accompanied by the same advice.

Of course, there were some questions that my parents lovingly handled themselves that related more to the complexities of human nature that might not be well served by a single book, and for that I am so grateful.

But for everything else, the “look it up” advice seemed to be the gateway to a life skill that I think make me a pretty resourceful individual.

On top of that, in the house I grew up in, there was no shortage of books but yet, I still had library card and a library three blocks away for those times I had a question I couldn’t answer from our own resources. It didn’t take much encouragement to get me to satisfy my natural curiosity with that kind of research material a few blocks away.

But today, it is absolutely astounding what someone can find online at one’s fingertips, not just from encyclopedic knowledge on just about everything, but demonstration videos, historical pieces, and opinion pieces on what seems like every subject in the universe.

We truly are in a fortunate position for the amount of information available to us. Granted, there is sometimes too much information or (not-too-surprisingly) conflicting information, and it takes a bit of research, analysis and deduction to sort all that out.

I can appreciate how for some, this might feel like homework, I truly do. But if someone cannot do this for a simple question, how will they function in the world (in a job, leading a family, or maintaining a household) if their basic research skills suck.

A Google search does not require hopping in the shower, drying your hair, getting dressed, getting your bike out of the shed, hopping on the bike, riding to the library, locking your bike, consulting the “subject” card catalogue and then scavenging the shelves to find the right book to provide the answer you are looking for.

It is so easy, yet for some, it seems like a giant leap of effort.

My friends and readers can rest assured that I am always delighted to receive feedback and questions, and I have not been in a position of repeatedly answering what was already posted.

But it is when I am scrolling through social media and rolling my eyes to the point of feeling dizzy, when the answer to questions is right in front of the readers, that it makes me want to turn it off.

I think it is safe to assume that I am not alone, having seen an April Fools post this past week about the creation of a Facebook group for questions and answers of this nature, to which many fellow readers took great joy and sarcasm in providing examples of other frivolous group pages that should be offered.

It seems to me that in this day and age, with the Internet offering limitless resources of information like never before, accessible more easily than ever before, what happened to the wonderful art of looking it up to answer to one’s natural curiosity?

Did you enjoy this post? If you haven’t already, please check out the rest of my blog at andrebegin.blog. From there, you can click on the “Follow” button to receive future posts directly in your inbox. Also, don’t be shy, feel free to tell a friend or to share the link.
Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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The Reluctant Admission that I Enjoy Large Print

Through the year of Covid-19 isolation and our move to the country, punctuated by a never ending to-do list of home improvements, time was in short supply and I felt bad that I hadn’t reached out more often to check in on friends and family.

Last Christmas, I decided to resume my usual habit of sending out Christmas cards, despite a couple of years of tapering, given that the popularity of sending cards seemed to be on the decline overall. I couldn’t think of a better year to send Christmas cards, at least to mitigate my guilt.

But in doing so came the realization of the less-than-organized state of my contacts list. Somehow, different devices had different lists and sometimes had different or outdated information. It was time for a clean-up.

As much as it might be considered prehistoric by today’s standards, I missed the days of having all that in a neat and tidy address book… a paper one.

This is not to say that I think that electronic contacts are bad, I just find them to be more work to keep up to date.

I don’t know why the software seems to want to create a contact every time I send a once-in-a-lifetime email to a company, and then I can never seem to get rid of it. But when I change a friend’s contact info, it doesn’t seem to sync automatically to the other devices. I don’t get it.

But try finding a paper address book today. Where we used to find them pretty much everywhere and at a variety of price points, today it seems to be something reserved for book, stationery and office supply stores. 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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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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Books or eReaders? It Depends.

I may be a little late to the party, but recently, I have been wanting to join in on the discussion among book lovers about whether they preferred books or eReaders (electronic reading devices and apps).

Since their appearance on the market a little more than a decade ago, eReaders have steadily gained in popularity, thus creating a discussion among avid readers that would have been considered science fiction in the decades prior.

It warms the cockles of my heart to see the passion with which individuals explain perfectly valid reasons for their preferred option. I also find the deep loyalty with which they express their preference to be charming, magical and absolutely convincing as I can relate to every word.

Where both camps meet in the middle is in their articulation of love of the written word and for reading in general, which is a joy in itself.

The reason I am only jumping into the conversation now is because of my recent realization that my own preference has changed a couple of times, depending on other factors.

Back when I was commuting daily by bus, I had loads of time on my hands. When I wasn’t listening to music and watching the scenery go by, reading was something that helped me to pass the time as well as to decompress from a heavy work day.

However, there were limitations to what I could bring with me. A heavy hardcover book was out of the question. With a messenger bag already pretty full with healthy food choices and a few necessities in case of emergency, adding a heavy book could have easily had me walking with a distinct tilt and risking additional visits to the chiropractor. Continue reading

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When Social Media Posts Are Out of Sequence

When I started using social media, I spent a lot of time on it. To me, it was a kind of cocktail party I could access at any time to see all of the interesting things that my friends were up to and to catch up on their news.

But have you ever opened a social media app and thought that you were losing your marbles? It happens to me all the time.

Something changed over the years that has really cut back on my usage and my overall interest. The turning point for me was when someone decided that showing “top news” or “most relevant” posts rather than “most recent” posts should be the default for certain apps.

Since then, there have been days when I have opened up a social media app, seeking a relaxing break from a busy day, and I truly thought that my app was gaslighting me.

In the sequence presented by Facebook, one friend posted pictures at the airport, then on a beach, then getting ready to leave the house, then in the hotel room, then back on the beach, then stuck on the tarmac, then waiting for the Uber to take them to the airport, then back on the beach.

Another friend posted pictures of a several-day multi-stop European tour. Thanks to the app, the order in which they appeared was so messed up, I needed Gravol just to follow the order of their itinerary.

A friend’s pictures of a major home renovation project, rearranged by Facebook, had me thinking that they tore it down and started over four times. Continue reading

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