Category Archives: stories

The Power of Second Opinions

piggy bankWhile I consider myself an optimist who likes to think the best in people, I thank my Mom for raising me with a healthy degree of skepticism to keep things in balance.

If she didn’t, I think it would be safe to say that the Pollyanna in me might have fallen off the turnip truck, not seen the forest for the trees and may have gotten into financial hot water.

One life lesson that has proven invaluable has been the idea of getting a second opinion (…and sometimes a third.)

I don’t think a second opinion is needed when making small, routine purchases. Let’s face it, despite being starved for conversation after the pandemic lockdowns, we probably won’t make friends while canvassing for second opinions about long-lasting breath mints at the express check-out counter.

But to me, there are times when a second opinion makes sense to validate the necessity of an expensive transaction and that the associated costs are justified. Also, having a few moments to just take a deep breath and to absorb what we are being told without freaking out is an added bonus.

I recall a situation many years ago, where I took my car in for servicing. My plan was simply a regular oil change and to swap my winter tires for the all-season tires.

When the mechanic had completed the complimentary inspection, they found that my four tires needed to be replaced and my rear brakes needed significant work. Total value of the estimate: a lot!

Earlier that morning, when I loaded the tires into the car, I had indeed noticed that the treading on the tires was starting to get low. I did not dispute that maybe it was time to buy new ones. But given the amount I had driven and my typical driving conditions, the extensive brake job seemed a little early to me.

When I shared the verdict with a couple of friends who knew cars better than me, they agreed that contextually it seemed early for that magnitude of a brake job. I decided to go for a second opinion.

The $34 brake inspection at a different garage was the best $34 I spent. The mechanic at the second garage said the rotors were fine, the rear brake pads looked new and that there was a safe amount of brake pad left on the front ones. His verdict concluded with, “How about if we look at them again in the fall when you come in for your snow tire appointment?”

It took every ounce of willpower to hold back my nervous giggle in recognition that this appointment saved me some serious money. Nonetheless I couldn’t contain a big toothy smile and my enthusiastic agreement to revisit in the fall.

How can two automotive professionals have such different opinions? Either way, I liked the verdict from the second opinion and dodged an expensive bullet… for a while. The brake work did have to get done eventually, just not on the ambitious time table of the first mechanic.

Similarly, just after the warranty expired on my central air conditioning system, my service provider came for the annual maintenance appointment and in doing so, found something broken in the unit which would cost over $600 to fix.

I told them to let me think about it as that was a lot of money.

In seeking a second opinion, a family member recommended a friend who was in the heating and cooling business. I made an appointment for him to have a look at it.

The verdict: the piece in question was not broken, it was just loose. For the house call and the minor fix: $125. The air conditioner ran perfectly for several years after that. Needless to say, I changed service providers.

In some cases, a second opinion might not yield savings, but might add up to peace of mind and convenience.

Shortly after my last car purchase, I received 4 estimates for snow tires. To my great surprise, the price difference on comparable sets of tires was rather insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

That being the case, I chose to go with the dealer that was across the street from my office. I could drop off the car in the morning and pick it up in the afternoon with the new tires installed. What could be easier? And because the prices were so similar, I could sleep well at night knowing that I probably wouldn’t have gotten a better deal elsewhere.

While I like to think of myself as a fairly smart and knowledgeable fellow, I know and admit that I am not a specialist in everything. I have to trust professionals to give me an honest opinion, to do the work competently and at a fair price.

To me, the second opinion is that insurance policy, providing information from an independent source that should help me make a confident, informed decision on how to manage a situation.

Also, with two opinions (or more) in my back pocket, it doesn’t leave me wondering “what if”.

Even though a second opinion might cost a little in time, effort and sometimes money, it can often be worth it.

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Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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Too Excited to Sleep

cute stuffed toys in the shape of sheep I don’t know if it’s just me, but even after several decades on the planet, I can still get that giddy energy I did when I was a kid and sometimes find myself too excited to sleep.

When I was growing up, I remember being afflicted with that joyful sense of sleeplessness before my birthday, before Christmas, before summer holidays and before the first day of school (not for the school part itself, but to see my friends and favourite teachers again).

In the younger days of adulthood, I had those same moments but for different reasons. The start of a new job, an upcoming trip, a first date and the move to a new dwelling all brought with them a jolt of energy that could leave me looking a bit tired and puffy-eyed the next day.

A decade later, I noticed a shift to more experience-based reasons for being excited like once-in-a-lifetime concerts, Broadway shows, unique travel destinations, and celebratory meals with friends and family.

I get a chuckle out of how I’d even get too excited to sleep the night before the delivery of a new kitchen appliance. If that’s not an adult thing, I don’t know what is. Continue reading

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The Mystery of the Exploding Tissues

I think it would be fair to say that most people experience the “exploding tissue in the washing machine” situation at one time or another.

You know… it’s those times when despite having thoroughly checked the pockets of the garments being loaded into the washing machine, a tissue still sneaks in, goes through a full wash cycle, and explodes into a million little pieces.

Given my emergency preparedness training at work, it should come as no surprise that I always kept a tissue neatly tucked in a pocket (especially since the pandemic) to catch unplanned, unscheduled or unexpected sneezes.

That being the case, over the years, I was no stranger to the occasional case of exploding tissues in the wash.

It’s not that I didn’t check my pockets. I did… I do… I always do… but once in a while, I might miss one.

That being the case, I developed and implemented a two-step checking process to try to catch those sneaky little buggers (or “boogers” in the case of used ones):

Step 1: I check the pockets before an article of clothing goes into the laundry hamper.

Step 2: I check the pockets again before the clothing goes into the washing machine.

This two-step process has proven to be invaluable as I have found myself breathing a sigh of relief in catching some just before a wash load, especially a load of dark coloured clothes.

But still, every once in a while, a tissue sneaks through and makes a mess.

Why is this? Continue reading

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When Work Doesn’t Feel Like Work

An overhead shot of a writing desk, containing a pen, a pad of paper and a cup of coffee.Not too long ago, I was having a discussion with the cat, trying to nudge her along in her morning routine so that I could get back to the computer and my latest writing project.

The words out of my mouth made me pause for thought: “Please Ivy, Daddy needs to get back to work.”

I think that I said the word “work” out of habit more than anything else. But I started questioning whether it really was the most appropriate word to describe the fun I have pursuing my calling for writing and storytelling.

If you have read any of my blog posts over the last eight years, you know that this what I have been preparing for, to apply everything I’ve learned about writing through the years and being able to create for the pure enjoyment of it.

It was my #1 plan for my retirement years, and I am finally at the desk, downloading ideas from my brain, at a rate that sometimes surprises myself. With so many writing projects that have been buzzing around in my head for years, I feel like I am in a pretty crazy catch-up mode.

But is it “work”? To me, it doesn’t feel like it.

The various definitions online seem to follow a common core, but some are tainted with a negative slant or synonyms like “toil”, “exertion”, “drudgery” and “grind.” Continue reading

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Why I Don’t Ask for Directions

a sign post showing city names and the distances to travel to themFor as long as I can remember, there has always been a running gag among comedians and comedy writers about how men would rather lose a limb than ask for directions. It’s a generalization that may not apply to every guy on the planet, but you’d think it was, given how many times that theme has come up.

I hate to admit it but I am indeed one of those men.

I grew up in a family that lived on maps. In our library, we had amassed a collection of maps from our family vacations in addition to a couple of our fair city of Ottawa.

Once I was old enough to go bicycling on my own, I took to exploring our suburb. I would pull out the city map and find a corner of our ‘burb that I hadn’t discovered yet. Once I had my itinerary laid out, I’d hit the road.

To this day, I know that suburb inside and out to the point of being able to call upon that knowledge when traffic is tied up on the main artery, and I can nimbly navigate around the obstacle.

That was my first exposure to using maps, which became a life skill in itself, along with knowing how to fold it neatly back to its original accordion-like creasing. Continue reading

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When Did My Arms Get So Flabby?

two pairs of fitness dumbbellsTo say that I have been busy over the last few years would be a huge understatement.

Buying a house, selling a house, packing, moving, unpacking, tying up loose ends before retiring, all while a worldwide pandemic was raging was tough.

When I retired, the first few months were spent clearing what I call “the backlog of backlogs”, tending to appointments and in-person shopping that I could not complete during the pandemic restrictions.

It was only after rejigging my retirement routine a few dozen times that I finally found time to catch my breath. That was when clarity started setting in.

I started noticing the finer details of the flora and fauna around our rural property. I found that my ability to remember names, dates and details was improving. Ideas for my writing would actually stick around for a while and not go “poof” if I didn’t write them down immediately.

But one day, after my morning shower, as I was applying my anti-perspirant, my new-found clarity turned to horror when I noticed the tissue in the triceps area flopping around. When did that happen? Continue reading

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Deadlines: Friend or Foe?

After three decades working in the public sector, I am no stranger to deadlines.

Frankly, I don’t have a problem with them. If a colleague, a client or an executive needs quick information to enable them to take action, I am more than happy to make that happen.

I don’t know who hit the fast forward button in late 2012, but it seems that around that time deliverables seemed to increase in quantity and deadlines seemed to get progressively shorter.

I tried to adapt as best as I could and along the way, I noticed a contrast in how I was able to take some deadlines in stride while others had hair-raising, stress-provoking, anxiety-inducing effects.

For example, preparing briefing notes and status updates didn’t scare me. If I was actively involved in a file, describing its background, evolution and next steps seemed to come pretty naturally. To me, those were low-stress, easy deadlines to meet.

For the most part, solving client problems was also a straightforward process for me, a lot like solving math problems in school. I was pretty comfortable with those deadlines as well.

But surprisingly, it was the written assignments that were more of a wild card.

If a request was for something short, concise and to the point, I could usually pull that together in good time, no problem there. Continue reading

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The First Snowfall of the Season

When I hear the quote from Greek philosopher Epictetus, “it’s not what happens to you, it’s how you react to it that matters,” I admit that the words are sometimes a bitter pill to swallow when my frustration is beginning to swirl.

However, over time, I have discovered the wisdom of those words when I have seen the contrast in my own feelings over a recurring situation, and how those feelings can change depending on any number of contextual factors.

The first snowfall of the season is an excellent example.

As a young boy, that first snowfall was consistently met with joy and excitement as it meant a switch in the games we played outside at recess.

Running after snowflakes and catching them on our tongues to see who could catch the biggest was a favourite (clearly, it didn’t take much to amuse us). Piles of snow would become the focal point of a game of “king or queen of the castle”. And of course we would blow off steam with the occasional snowball fight, just for the fun of it. Continue reading

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Spell It Out!

A close up shot of a computer keyboardOver the span of my career, I took great joy in preparing drafts of memos, briefing notes and all kinds of correspondence for my management team. Naturally, I learned a lot along the way and I was more than happy to pass on to the advice to the newest generation when it was my turn to coach them.

In the early days, one comment that came back a few times was the editing note, “in full first”.

By saying that, my director was suggesting that I should write out an acronym in full the first time it appeared in the document and then to include its acronym version in parentheses. Once that is clarified to the reader, the writer can then feel free to use the acronym in its shortened form throughout the rest of the document.

What sage advice that was! To this day, I really appreciate the time, effort and patience that this busy executive took in tutoring me on the importance of spelling out an acronym.

She explained that an acronym that might be commonly used by my peers and myself might not be evident to someone on another team, someone who isn’t involved in the technical aspects of the work, or someone outside of our organization. Continue reading

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The Showdown with Paper Towel Dispensers

Of all the inanimate objects in the universe, there is one item that seems to be my equivalent to Lucy pulling the football before Charlie Brown gets to kick it… it’s paper towel dispensers.

Let’s be clear, I am not referring to any specific brand of paper towel dispensers, or even specific paper towel dispensers in a specific venue. I just mean paper towel dispensers in general.

Am I the only one for whom they don’t seem to work right?

Before I start getting nasty emails from paper towel dispenser companies, let me say up front: it’s not your fault.

It’s the human component using them that seems to have a knack for messing them up… and I’m not talking about myself.

The principle for a mechanical dispenser should be pretty simple. You wash your hands; you gently pull down on the little lever to feed the desired amount of paper through slot; you carefully pull off the towel with the help of the serrated blade; you dry your hands with the towel; you toss the used towel in the receptacle provided.

It’s not rocket science. The devices are pretty intuitive and should be easy to use.

But much like the rules of the road are not always followed to the letter of the law, there are rebels in the bathroom reinventing how to use the dispensers. Continue reading

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