Accounting for my plastic campaign – Week 1

Week one is done! Starting strong is natural, finishing strong is certainly a challenge.

My self-imposed rules were set last week:

  1. Commit to change
  2. Do my best
  3. Go easy on yourself – I don’t have to be my own worst enemy
  4. Do not beat up others who are slow to join campaign
  5. Be accountable

I know it is the training phase and I need to establish my baseline. I figure it is the same as getting on the scale for the first time in 3 years, so expect a shock.  I also must follow rule 5, be accountable: be truthful and embarrass yourself.  Yet to do so puts me at odds with rule 3, which advises not to beat myself up. Full disclosure is a fallacy and leads to boredom for anyone reading the blog, and given the embarrassing result could imperil rule 1, committing to change. CHANGE IS HARD!

Mo’s Baseline Report

My journal was indeed placed on the counter above the garbage and I recorded the plastics that made their way into the garbage. Of course, this is the plastic our municipality does not accept as recyclable. It includes cellophane, plastic bags of all description, styrofoam trays, those sort of things.

Truth.  I only recorded one full day. It took me a while to relocate the journal.  I entertained my family on Day two and cleared the habitual junk off the counter before anyone arrived.  So the accountability exercise was then forgotten. I wish to invoke rule 3. I wish to be easy on myself. I may wish to redo this exercise commencing tomorrow for a period not to exceed Monday to Friday.  I think the data is incredibly important, but I acknowledge what I end up with will be incomplete, yet telling. (You know I will stuff the journal away again, don’t you.)

My list included the following for Day 1:

  • lid to cereal container recyclable and later removed
  • Plastic protector on new cereal box – garbage
  • Toothpaste tube – garbage, toothpaste cap – recyclable
  • 3 baggies used for left overs – garbage
  • Shake and Bake bag – garbage
  • Plastic ice cream wrapper – garbage
  • ripped doggie poop bag – unused – garbage
  • Enormous plastic lawn fertilizer bag – garbage
  • Enormous soil bag required for planting tulip bulbs – garbage
  • Plastic wrap from left overs (never even ate the left overs) – garbage
  • 2 outdated cranberry juice containers, cleaned but stained – recyclable and removed from garbage
  • Also, used the municipal garbage container, which now contains two used doggie poop bags, however I retrieved one unused poop bag from the bog in the park, so net harm is less than one bag. It is “less than” because otherwise the plastic bag in the water would have broken down into micro plastics and polluted the water habitat in short order. This has longterm impacts on birds, ducks and fish and possibly insects and I do not know what else.

In spite of all that horrible plastic, I was quite pleased with my performance. I told the truth for one day. I did not unfairly blame my beloved husband for picking the accountability week/ day to do his gardening, as that would be so unreasonable. I could heap praise falsely on the lack of regular plastic garbage, so as to hide the fact that I postponed cleaning the rest of refrigerator after the cranberry containers made the list. That would be so misleading, so I confess.

In truth, I felt severely guilty at my propensity to buy things in plastic containers.  A case in point was hand soap.  We have three bathrooms and of course the kitchen sink.  I could understand if I had four containers of hand soap and even four more in reserve for replacing them.  I had twelve plastic containers of hand soap and no inventory of replacements. I also had matching hand lotion, that is seldom used, to match the twelve hand soap dispensers, all with matching shapes and design and often with cute plastic trays for the hand soap and the hand lotion to sit in.

But there is always more behind the story

Have you ever counted the plastic containers in the expensive cabinetry we have placed in our bathrooms and kitchens?  These are the places that we have to lock when toddlers come to call. They are filled with cleaners to get rid of the scum that accumulates in the sink from the hand soap and hand lotion, etc.  Often toxic, they come in thick plastic containers.  So I counted all those. I have 40 plastic bottles in that category.  Most of these products are discontinued.  Many of the containers have less than an inch of product peeking through the bottom of the plastic cylinders. They are sitting there because of the time and water required to wash them out so that I can dispose of the containers.  I don’t want to use the products because they are old and I most likely have replaced them already with other bottles. Sigh!!!!!!!!

The worst and most egregious count must be disclosed. Bath soap, shampoo, conditioner and body lotion, face cleaners and face creams in plastic containers only. We have 44  containers for two people. We also have to protect our skin from the sun! There are at least four such plastic containers and two more for insect repellant. I have two drawers dedicated to travel size jars and samples from the cosmetic aisles that I would rather just estimate as 100 plastic items.

Report Analysis

So as you can guess, I need this plastic purge in the biggest way.  I am not a hoarder qualified for the America Most Wanted shows, but I am unimpressed with my habits.

If I recycle all the excess, is that a net gain or net loss?  The plastic exists now, harm is done, so I am not adding to it if I give them to recycling.  But will I just go mad and replace it all again?  No, the point of this exercise is reduce plastic purchasing by buying what you truly need and if possible in packages that do not use plastic.

Help please!  What else does shampoo, conditioner and lotions come in? Research is required!!! Buying in bulk means thicker plastic containers. Does bulk buying help here?

Rule 3 Go Easy on yourself

So what is a girl to do after such a reckoning!  Seek out nature – walk the dog. Calm the mind. Ummmmmm ahhhhh.

Jersey and I left the house ready for a new purpose.  Breathing in the fresh air, we started walking up our town road, passing through one road in the subdivision to access the nature trail.  When what to my wondering my eyes should appear, but a super sized garbage bag, empty and near.  It was a sign!  A means to save my wicked soul! Penance! I jumped at the chance to clean the road side as we walked through the neighbourhood and the trail leading to our nature park.  This walk can be trying on my evangelical nature.  I silently growl and curse the littering public. I now know that I am every bit as bad as those littering, I just hide the stuff at home. So, why not give those littering a helpful hand, a good example, a clean environment!

Jersey enjoyed the activity tremendously.  She sniffed and pawed at the ditches and road sides as I proceeded to fill up the garbage bag.  She rolled in mud and who knows what.  While she was readying herself for a big bath later, I was similarly smearing dirt and mud from my head to my toes.  Of particular note were my favorite red leather gloves and the cuffs of my favorite down jacket! I donated the gloves to the bag at the end of litter drive and did the laundry including the coat.  It was a cold and overcast day, so we did not meet a soul, thankfully! Nor did I motivate others to the cause with my service to the community and the environment.

Actually, I was sad when I finished my task and tied up the bag.  There was so much left to do! I abandoned the bag next to the underpass. Do not despair.  After we had completed our walk, I drove back to the spot, retrieved the bag and brought it home.  It more than filled up the space in our garbage container. Zero harm! The garbage bag was thrown away unused anyway, it would have broken down after several years and turned to micro plastics in our water shed. At least it was used to clean up and not left for the ducks and geese to choke on.

One might think I did a miserable job with plastic and waste to look at our garbage bin this week, but I felt really good about it.  I gave back to the community by cleaning up.  I know what I threw out, which improves my mindfulness, and it has sparked my ambition to do less harm and even make my own compost.

The remainder of the week was focused on minimizing garbage until garbage collection day.  I composted!  I have my first bucket (small bucket albeit) of compost material. Jersey and I will do another few walks to finish the clean up before the snow flies. Once again, we will commit to plastic research and plastic reduction.

Did you know compost containers also come in plastic?  Oh…. my head hurts!

Week One concluded.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today is the beginning of my plastic reduction- fingers crossed!

Last week I listened to a woman on the radio say:  “If everyone did just one thing to reduce plastic use, think of the impact that would have on the world!”

Now that makes sense. It’s a catchy kind of concept that I can remember on a daily basis and I can easily repeat it. In fact, after listening to that interview, the comment kept popping up in “the front of my head.” I confess all that stuff in the back of my head is doomed. So, I challenged myself often over the past week, choosing to do little things to reduce my plastic use. Regrettably, I can only remember a few things:

  • I now keep my washed reusable coffee cups in my car instead of in the cupboard. Now when my mind and body craves caffeine while I am driving, I can use my cup to avoid the plastic and paper coffee cups going to the dump!
  • It was time to replace my hand soap in the plastic dispenser, so I chose a cake of Dove hand soap.
  • I ordered reusable mesh vegetable and fruit bags for my supermarket shopping. However, they shipped them in a large box with plastic bubble wrap. I was shocked!  They are mesh bags that could have fit in an envelope. I really didn’t want all the plastic bubble wrap. I felt a little defeated.

It turns out I am normal! Alli Johnson of Newfoundland, Canada mentioned: “Any change takes time, and not everyone is extraordinarily disciplined,” she said. “I think that the only way you’re going to succeed at something like this is to go easy on yourself, and to allow yourself to slip up.”

Obviously, I wasn’t getting much plastic reduction by being spontaneous last week. So, today I committed to a plan.While I will most likely slip up, a plan may avoid many such incidents!

Step 1- To thine own-self be true

  • I put a journal on the counter above our garbage container. As of today, I can record plastics that go in our recycling and those that land in the garbage.  I will soon possess a list of all the plastics I dispose of in the course of a typical week. In the weeks to come, I will also track my plastics in order to determine my progress.
  • I have placed a compost bucket under the kitchen sink.  Lets see if I can reduce my use of garbage bags and at the same time enrich next year’s garden!

Step 2- Once I know what the problem is, set goals to reduce my wicked ways

Step 3- Be accountable, or in Catholic parlance, go to confession.

Essentially, this has become my great challenge and I am the only one in my little marathon. I can begin by taking on as much as I can cope with, improving on my progress over time.  I do not have to beat myself up, or beat others up as we learn how to reduce the use of plastic. I will have fun doing this, I am not punishing myself!

In this one woman race, I think it is fair to use my e-journal to track my progress. This is it!

My journal eagerly invites feedback.  So please let me know what you think and what you are doing that relates to eliminating plastic in our environment! In return, I will keep this blog light, hopefully funny. I promise to tell the truth, with a minimum of embellishments!

This week is research time.  What does a typical two person family with a pet produce in plastic garbage? Who knows if I am a sinner or a saint? What goes in compost and what does not? We are not vegans, how do we buy a fillet of salmon without Styrofoam and plastic? I never feel good about Styrofoam!!!!!

Tune in next week! Not only will I summarize my research, but I will be musing about bench-marking and goal setting. And yes…that can be amusing material… What to know about the stinky business of composting, when you don’t have a nose for the result!

A simple story for Christmas

It has been a while, hasn’t it? Christmas Eve is a splendid time to revisit the blog community, after two years of not writing a blog!

As you may know from my old blogs, my precious Chocolate Labrador, Heidi, died three years ago after a tremendously naughty and nice lifetime of 15 years.  After all, she was a Labrador and all they are capable of is naughty. There wasn’t a nasty bone in her body.

As fate would have it, my children love animals and dogs in particular. Two of my handsome boys have Chocolate Labradors, Bella and Jersey.  There is an open invitation to Bella and Jersey for doggy sitting, sleep overs and occasionally to stay as company when I am alone. I was unbelievably lucky to have a week this past November with Jersey as my companion.  Jersey’s owners run in marathons, so they needed a sitter to run in a Texas marathon. I love doggy sitting and besides it would ‘up the ante’ on my daily physical fitness routine.

The week was everything you might imagine.  We jumped in bed early, curled up with my book and snuggled into the lengthening winter nights.  Jersey adapts well to her surroundings, so by day two she was under the blankets on my husband’s side of the bed with her head and right paw on his pillow.  I have to admit I let her!  I prayed madly to the patron saint of animals, Saint Francis of Assisi, that my son and his girlfriend provided Jersey with regular flea and tick treatments. (It worked!  No fleas!!! Thank you Saint Francis!)

By all measures, it was a fantastic week.  My biggest regret was how quickly the time went. It was already day 7 and I enjoyed my Jersey time like it was a vacation. So, what better way to cap it off but with a nice lengthy walk, not a marathon, but an indicator that I was a suitable sitter for the dog of a marathon runner, who finished her race in under 4 hours.

I live in the country, on a farm. We walked through the farm everyday that week.  We walked in our local park practically everyday. But for as long as I have lived here, which is now 33 years, I have never walked from one end of our road to the other.  It is approximately 5 miles either way, so that would be a round trip of 10 miles; not 26.2 miles that comprise a marathon, but not bad.

It was a cold and crisp day, but we had been spared any snow. Not even a puddle had begun to freeze up yet.  I put on two sweaters, my thick hiking socks, my new skinny jeans, followed by my relatively new Helly Hansen Newport jacket.  Finally, I donned my very lovely new Asics Fluidride Dynamic Duomax GT 2000 sneakers …and out the door we went!!!  We would make our mark that day as distance strollers of the senior citizen variety. In truth, we were fake senior citizens, Jersey is a mere 7 years old and it is really none of your business knowing how young I am.  Agreed?

Jersey didn’t have her regular collar that week, as she lost it hiking with her owners the week previous. Christmas was only a month away and opportunity for enhancing Jersey’s closet was beckoning! I made a mental note to look into colour coordinating collars with my wardrobe for her next visit on Christmas Eve.  Instead, on that November day she was sporting a lovely blue body harness with a red lead clipped onto to the body harness. The colours of the harness and lead didn’t match, but being a dog, I didn’t think she would mind.

I willfully abandoned a colour matching opportunity. My son had instructed me to use the gentle lead (red) when taking Jersey walking. A gentle lead is a fabulous product that is just as it is described, gentle. It effectively signals walking commands to the dog. I also must compliment the designer on the multitude of colours! The gentle lead is also referred to as a head collar which goes around her nose but is not a muzzle. Regrettably, I did not pay enough attention to the demonstration and couldn’t figure out how to loop the gizmo properly. Our other strolls went charmingly with this mismatched body harness ensemble. I gently wrapped the lead around my left hand and we took off as colourfully as a maple tree in autumn.

As we walked, I soaked in the impact of a picture perfect day.  Very little traffic.  The skies were a little grey, but the cloud cover was high, leaving the impression of an endless sky. As we got comfortable with our pace, I unwrapped the lead from my hand to give Jersey more freedom. We went up hills and down again. My Fitbit was just clocking off steps to beat the band!!!! Ah, now I must admit I am competitive.  I regularly complain about my husband’s fitbit giving him more steps than I get with mine. He usually wins hands down on a daily basis. My husband wasn’t about to catch me this day, 10 miles would amount to a clear win on a work day!  Oh, the benefits of dog sitting abound.

Having a wee bit of a safety background, I was alert to the road conditions. Country roads have their own hazards.  The shoulders of this road were very narrow.  This couldn’t meet city codes, surely.  As we crested our last hill, I noticed how deep the drainage ditches were and I tested the shoulder of the road only to find it was soft. Safety first! Spot the hazard, assess the risk, find a safer way, every day! We were already 5 miles down our road.  I decided that at the first opportunity, we would cross to the other side of the road and test the shoulder of the road there.

Out of no where, we spotted a black swarm of birds rising from the field across the street.  I recognized this as Starling Murmuration.  It is well known in the United Kingdom, but less noted in our Canadian neighbourhood. Essentially, it appears as a black sphere that changes its shape as it swirls across the sky above you.  A mesmerizing spectacle.  I instinctively wrapped the lead around my left hand to make sure Jersey would stay by my side.

Documenting the murmuration on my Samsung 4, I felt very fortunate to have witnessed the dance up above.  Realizing the shoulder of the road was soft, Jersey and I decided to cross the the opposite side of the road.  We were practically at the end of the road with 5 miles under our feet!  I was feeling one with nature, gazing once more across the farmer’s field.  This was sheep country, lush green fields with enough for the sheep and the starlings to be well fed before the winter.  There we stood facing the field, toes to ditch, mesmerized.

A sheep moved!

Jersey is a dog, a sheep was scampering away, a dog must respond!  With my left hand, attached to the lead, no ground ahead of me, I had a split second to respond.  That second is quiet detailed, so forgive me for taking sometime to explain.

Jersey’s instinct was to take command of the situation and perhaps corral the sheep. My instinct was to hold  Jersey back.  These are incompatible instincts. She leapt forward to cross the ditch, but gravity being what it is, she went across and down.  My arm attached to this movement sent me forward and down, head first toward muddy, slimy looking ditch water, rocks etc. At some point in that split second, my left fist stopped hanging on to the lead and Jersey was free to scale the opposite side of the ditch and run along the fencing.  I don’t even think she barked. I remembered I had one hand free to protect me and extended the right hand in an attempt to escape the ditch.  As no doubt you are anticipating, my wrist and hand took the first impact, followed by my face sliding over the rocky bottom of the ditch.  My legs were still splayed over the wall of ditch and my Asics super sneakers were dug into the bank.  I remember thinking, this can’t be good. Spitting the mud out of my mouth, I wasted no time getting up. With brown dripping hair, mud caked jeans and soaked coat, I emerged from the ditch. A colour coordinated being that suitably matched the dog!

I had to get control of the situation!  I commanded Jersey to come back,  the way a high pitched whining maniac might try to do.  It was met with the response such maniacs have come to expect. I was ignored.  Jersey paced back and forth on the opposite side of the ditch, wondering how to command the sheep on the other side of the fence.  Sputtering and trying to wipe the mud away from my eyes and nose, I thought of throwing a temper tantrum, but reminded myself instead that one must be dignified and in control. Even so, Jersey remained unimpressed with my command to come back. Resigned to my place in the world, I scrambled down the ditch, retrieved my Samsung 4 and crossed the ditch, remaining upright this time. Jersey responds well when you are next to her, so I did eventually take control.

Several split seconds had passed and there we were back on the roadside of the ditch, facing down another 5 miles.  I guess school must have been over for the day, because suddenly there was lots of traffic.  Some folks even slowed down to have a good look. My hair, my coat, my jeans were a spectacle. My hair had no other choice but to lie flat across the left side of my face, dripping. I had been at the hairdressers that morning.  The back of my head was perfect, the hairspray should be commended. But the spray and the style were unable to withstand the drenching of the ditch!

All was not lost.  Dignity is not just what you look like on the surface, it is the person you are inside! My left hand was in command of a very muddy lead, wrapped tightly around my hand once again.  Jersey walked in step with me, instinctively keeping her eyes to the path below her. My right wrist was throbbing, as if to the beat of our feet.  I looked at the miles ahead and the friendly passerby’s who must have thought I was a bit of mess to be outdoors and in public, but they just didn’t know the inner dignified me. We continued to plod on a little ways.  I occasionally wiped my face, the way windshield wipers wipe the car’s windshield.  I was able to assess how lucky I was, my face was merely chipped in a few places, nothing major.

I remembered my phone.  I called my husband.  He was gone out! Fortunately, he is a twin and his twin was at work and available!

One and half miles of walking later, my brother-in-law rescued me.  He drove Jersey and I back the remaining 3.5 miles to my home. By this point I realized my right wrist had enough for the day, so in a pathetic sort of way, I asked if my rescuer could continue his service. Graciously, he opened the truck door, unlocked the door to my house, unzipped my coat, and unbuttoned my outer sweater that had big metal designer buttons suitable for dignified me.  He then bid me adieu and took off liked a scald cat.

Well, I am happy to report that my son and his girlfriend came home that evening and Jersey went home with them.  My clothes actually came out of the wash in great shape. My glasses were not broken or chipped. My phone has a wonderful video of the murmuration. My wrist is almost as good as new. Jersey has been back for a sleep over.  We have not attempted my 10 mile jaunt, but we will. I promise to be: a) dignified, b) in control and c) colour coordinated, d) stay out of ditches and other nasty places, and, e) use the gentle lead which would have saved the day!

Until now, I did not share this story beyond my immediate family. I thought it would make a good story and consequently be a reason to recommence writing my blog. I offer this as a simple present, a Christmas chuckle in particular, to my friends and all those who liked to read my blog.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and/ or Seasons Greeting to you from Mo!

To Vote or Not to Vote, That is the Question

According to Elections Canada, voter turn-out in our Country was the highest in the year I was born, a whopping 79.4%. This must be the reason I am so passionate about one single election issue:  Our Duty To Vote!

When I grew up I was embraced within a family of largely loquacious folk who routinely made sure I understood the family code of honour. While our code covered a pretty broad spectrum, I never had to consider whether or not I was supposed to vote, it went without question. It was more like:

“Let me explain what the government wants to do?”

“When you grow up, which party do you think you will vote for?”

“Tonight you can stay up and watch the election with us.”

“Well young lady, how are you going to vote?”

“What time can you be home, so we can take you to the polling booth!”

Voting, politics and elections were exciting and for our family, voting was a family affair.

My first opportunity to vote in either a provincial or a federal election was during 1979. I was very excited. It was finally my turn to vote. My opinion mattered. It was important for me to respect the person I would vote for because we largely believed in the same things. I wanted a Prime Minister who could be respected internationally and could bring peace to areas or who could bring harmony with foreign governments that were distrustful of the West. I was a pacifist and horrified by war. I wanted a reasonable tax regime, investment in hospitals and infrastructure and a government who could influence higher employment.

I listened to the leaders and the candidates locally and I made a decision. I clearly remember my first voting day. I rushed home from University and changed my clothes to the best outfit I had to wear. Mom, Dad and Kate took me to the polling station. Our polling booth was in the neighbour church hall. It was around 5:30 p.m. and the light was still bright outdoors. I remember my family quietly standing behind me, my partners in a solemn march to a safe and well considered tomorrow. I was allowed to vote first. My heart was practically pumping out of my chest and I was filled with pride. I remember the lump in my throat when I was asked for my name and address. I was one person, who was part of a country full of citizens, who would make an important and powerful decision together.

I feel totally disconnected from today’s population that proudly indicate they are uninterested in voting or that to vote would go against what they stand for in life. I still see it as a duty, an obligation to vote. If I am to be entitled to an opinion on the state of health care, education or the condition of the roads, then I had better have voted. Otherwise, I did nothing to influence the outcome of my public needs and desires. Anything brought to you by taxes, including defence of our borders and our world, is influenced by the platform of the party you elected. It has a huge influence on the law you must live by. It will determine the overall generousity of the state to the disenfranchised. It influences our country’s response to global crises, including the environment.

Do you believe voter turnout equals the health of our democracy?

Did you know that the term “slack” also refers to the amount of non-voters in an election. “Picking up the slack” has a whole new meaning for me now. To consider what to write tonight, I referenced: “Slack in the System: Turnout in Canadian Provincial Elections, 1965-2009” written by Jared J. Wesley, University of Manitoba. I discovered that Atlantic Canada has a strong voter turnout together with Saskatchewan and Quebec. In 2007, Newfoundland and Labrador and Alberta had resounding wins for the progressive conservatives with 61.3% and 40.6% of the popular vote.  However, it looks a lot less flattering when converted to eligible votes at 42.6% and 21.4% respectively.

I don’t know about you, but I would like to think the group who gets to run the province should have been elected by far more than a crummy 21.4%.  That is an awful a lot of power without permission. What is an acceptable level of non-participation?  Is it an abdication of the right to decide who rules, is it a quiet protest against the establishment a protest no one even hears, or is it a complete disrespect for the moment and the future?

If I was in a position that I could not decide how to vote because I did not align with anyone on the ballot, I would show up at the polling booth and secretly spoil my ballot. The more I pay attention, the more I can understand why many people legitimately shake their heads and say, I can’t vote for any of them.  There have been a lot of parachute candidates just so a party could say they had a candidate in every riding.  There are people having to withdraw from their candidacy every week for something they said or did (who knows today’s bloggers may never get to run in an election.) But there are realistically flawed yet honest men and women who stand before us this month and ask for our support. It is ours to decide.

I don’t care if you are young or a nonagenarian (90 year old). It is essential that you vote. You can vote for the Conservatives, Liberals, the New Democratic Party, the Bloc Quebecois, Independents or the Green Party. Just please exercise your franchise and vote.

This blog is brought to you by Mo

Post script

In the late hours of blogging I made a boo boo.  I wrote “septuagenarian” and bracketed (90 year old). As a penance to the Latin scholars who came up with these names, here are the terms for my age group and beyond!

Quinquagenarian       people in their 50’s

Sexagenarian             people in their 60’s

septuagenarian         people in their 70’s

octogenarian             people in their 80’s

nonagenarian            people in their 90’s

centenarian               people who have made it to 100 and hopefully get a letter from the Queen

Vanessa, I don’t want a map!

Vanessa and I are pretty close. We worked together, we go to book club together and we have several of the same friends. When we first met, I would visit her at her house in the next community. She shared her calamities with me and I commiserated in between giggles. Vanessa is a great cook and baker, but you don’t want to be with her when she boils Fussells thick cream. She boils the cream while it is still sealed in the can. Otherwise, Vanessa is a first pick for travel advice, to take on an adventure or to walk your Labrador with! But the biggest problem I have with Vanessa is that she moved to the other side of the City. We may not live in a Metropolis, but I need a map to get there.

I really dislike going to the east end of the City. It isn’t because it is unfriendly or dangerous, it is only because I don’t go there often and the labyrinth of streets and cul-de-sacs are difficult to navigate. Simply put, I have a habit of getting lost. I do not have my own internal compass. I routinely have been told by otherwise polite friends and colleagues, “No Mo, it’s your other left.” I am a hapless, map-less and dangerous traveller.

You would think that my objections to visiting people on the East Side would have all but stopped. My car is equipped with a GPS, my Samsung 4 has google maps and if all else fails I can make my way to our box store boulevard and ask for simple directions from there. With all the help available, I can still muck it up!

A year ago, my friend and fellow book club member, Vanessa, took her turn hosting our book club session. I never willingly miss book club, mainly because I enjoy reading, I like other people to figure out for me the best books to purchase, and the women in our club our unbelievably funny. As one of my friends would say, our book club nights are as good as a concert. My only regret is that Vanessa, the hostess with the flare to tantalize us with treats from her latest travel, lives on the East Side!

I am ashamed of my inability to drive to fixed destinations in a timely manner, so I was keeping it a secret. To complicate my life, I work late, so it impossible for me to car pool. This book club appointment required me to drive myself. I was confident that I could find the street buried somewhat inside of a new subdivision. I had my GPS. How hard could it be?

I knew the subdivision was four years old, because I remember buying our car about the same time as Vanessa and John built their house. The subdivision was just getting started then and even I could find it at that time. Since then, new streets and dead-end roads have been added. There are numerous ways to access the subdivision. They even have a Hotel there now. I can identify the hotel every time my husband drives us to Costco. It was a handy landmark for a trip to Vanessa’s.

I left work with about 30 minutes to spare. I programmed Vanessa’s address into my Toyota’s GPS. It occurred to me that a GPS must either come programmed with the maps in place at the time the car was manufactured or they regularly updated them from a satellite connection. The latter didn’t sound improbable but I wondered why I never noticed any messages on the console to that effect. I pulled out of the parking lot at the Southside of the city and headed North East.

This self-confessed travelling basket case did know enough to recognize that the GPS was guiding me past all the most likely turn offs. I trusted that soft spoken lady to know what she was doing. I began to notice I was driving at least ten minutes longer than I should have been and the console map did not have any sign of the expected right hand turn or any familiar destination. I presumed the GPS knew best. The subdivision was still growing and there was a big protest at City Council about vehicle congestion problems should Council approve a condo project there. Perhaps the residents built one of brick walls to contain their neighbour and make Council and developers go away? I had no idea where that subdivision had gone.

Sweat began to break out across my forehead as I followed the instruction to proceed down the highway along the City’s water supply. It was a very long road and for the life of me I couldn’t recall any right hand turns in that part of town. Eventually the street lights disappeared and I knew I was lost. Panic began to set in. My hands were clammy and my mind was slipping toward catastrophe. My temperature was rising and I was edgy. Suddenly I noticed a right hand turn.

I didn’t care if the right hand turn was correct or not, I had to take a turn that seemed to head south. The unfamiliar road began to look familiar, the way a trip to a new community in the country always looks a bit familiar. The darn road was twisting and I had no idea if I was headed South or North. I no longer felt embarrassed about being late, roughly 30 minutes at that point. I was just plain scared. The road finally intersected with a ramp that lead to a highway.

I was in the Twilight Zone. Where in the world did this highway come from? The encouraging part was that it was definitely pointing to the City. The road sign said as much. I drove for what seemed to be an eternity. I approached a new box store that I read about in the paper. I was near the box store boulevard. I wanted to pull off the road and do a happy dance, but I was too late and I was too nervous to do so. I soon made it to the intersection with Costco! I was back to concrete civilization.

I headed a little east and saw a second clue. The sign for the golf course was a sure giveaway. It was vital that I call for those directions, which even a child could follow. I stopped the car, retrieved my purse with my phone from the back seat. I called Vanessa.

Mo: “Vanessa, I’m lost.”

Vanessa: “Where are you?”

Mo: “ Next to the turn off for the Golf Course!”

Vanessa: “Well you are here then.”

Mo: “No! I may as well be in Albuquerque. I need you to lead me to your house.”

Well, Vanessa had a lot of patience with me as I located the hotel and drove down two winding roads until I saw her driveway. A real person with a kind voice and a bright light above her door will beat a GPS or a map any day!

I doubt I could drive to Vanessa’s without getting lost today. I believe in mental blocks and disorientation. I also believe my husband should always be the driver. But, sometimes you just have to take the steering wheel by its proverbial horns and drive until you get there.

Collisions with moments of the past

Tonight I attended a gala event associated with an industry conference.  These nights are pleasant occurrences, with the best of the host province’s arts and culture.  This night had local folk music, entertainment, fiddlers and some very impressive rap artists. Sitting beside me was someone new to the industry but unbeknownst to me a person from our family’s past.

As the night wound down, I felt quite satiated. The food was great, the dessert was decadent and the entertainment, as I said, was tremendous.  It was now possible to talk to others at the table. We carried on the ordinary chit chat, right down to where we each spent our careers. Suddenly, a little brown mouse scurried across the banquet floor! I raised my feet to the seat of my chair while I shrieked.

The gentleman asked, “You have spent your adult life on a farm, surely you are fine with mice?” I stared at him quizzically.  I knew this acquaintance had told me he worked in the policy arm of the Department of Agriculture, but I hadn’t realized he knew my family was involved in farming. It turned out that part of his career coincided with an abrupt change in my husband’s business career.

Let me explain.

At the tender age of 17 years, I met my husband for the first time. He was “older” than I, at the mature age of 21 years. He impressed me with his vision of where he was going.  I was mystified that he was someone who grew up in the city, but was embarking on a farming adventure. He was setting out to build a hog farm in the country.  The land was cleared of its trees, rocks were picked, land was tilled, new soil sown for hay and the foundation of two hog barns had been established. He had a big tan coloured truck and a rather attractive tan of his own.  I was a smitten!

Kate, my older sister, had told my mother that this new boyfriend of Mo’s was a bit of a hard ticket. He apparently had numerous traffic accidents and for the first time in my existence Kate wanted to keep me safe! Nonetheless, this new boyfriend won not only my heart, but my grandmother, my mother, sisters and brothers admiration as well.  My father reserved judgment and waited more than twelve months to even say hello to him. Hog farmer or doctor, this new boyfriend was the real deal.

Five and half years later we were married. I moved from the lights and noise of the city to the dark skies and quiet of the country. My first year married was a little on the frightening side. I was used to the sounds of buses, transport trucks, fire trucks and ambulances outside my house. I had traded that noise for an occasional dog barking at night. I quickly learned how to bury my head in the curve of my husband’s back, drape my arm across his chest and snuggle in until the first light arrived in the morning.

My husband’s farm was well established from a production perspective by the time we were wed, but we struggled to make the venture viable.  It took many years and a lot of sacrifice to get it in a sustainable position.  But my husband seemed to be born with all the skills to create a successful farm venture. Throughout that farming career, we also created our family, energetic boys to keep us on our toes.  Our boys had their own unique family stories involving hog farming, their first rubber boots, coveralls, helping Dad in the barns and running their obstacle races around the bales of the hay. They had an idyllic upbringing.

Compared to my husband, I am the naïve one. I thought our life was impossibly challenging when we were first married, then it was a matter of taking control and showing the farm debt agencies we were no fools, then it was clear sailing from there.  But naïve I am no more. Tonight’s encounter with someone from the Department of Agriculture brought 1993 back with a sudden jolt.

In 1993, my husband and I were in our thirties.  Our son’s were 12, 9 and 4 years old. The province was struggling with its deficit and a new government was recently sworn into office. Agriculture was a traditional industry but not a particularly large one and segments of it were considered expensive to support. Unfortunately for us, we were in one of those expensive segments.   We had a disease free hog herd and while seen as an accomplishment and a marketing advantage, it was small and inconsequential.  Dairy and chicken were more mainstays of the province’s agriculture industry.  You could hear the economic storm winds stir around our precious farm. My husband was quietly considering options, but I was naïvely distracted. My days were busy with accounting and raising my children.

By the day of the government’s budget, the writing was on the wall. The hog industry, with the stroke of the budget pen, was to be no more in our province.

My husband was a pillar of strength in the days that followed.  He took quick decisions to save as much capital as he could. He confidently moved with the change, not wasting time lamenting the apparent unfairness. He sold our stock immediately, shipping our breeding stock and growing herd to a farmer in another province.  He then disassembled our equipment and penning and sold that to a farmer, again outside the province. With time on his hands, he and his fellow hog farmers set out to make their case to the governments and their agencies that they had dealt with over the years. Many other people outside our industry added support to our cause. By the end of six months, my husband and his fellow hog farmers had negotiated a suitable deal for our industry’s exit from the province.

What seemed like a nightmare to me at its outset, ended amicably and gracefully. The life lessons gained from this challenge were a reward in themselves. Yet tonight, when this new acquaintance shared his connection with my family’s past, I was bombarded with old unpleasant memories.

I would like to thank this blog for bringing me back to the full story. I wouldn’t change a solitary moment in 1993.  We had an opportunity to rise above the turmoil of that day, tackle the down draft of a bad economy and come out strong enough to set root again. Many of us face the unexpected and hopefully stories like these will give others faith that the sun will rise on a new tomorrow.

You know that waking up is hard to do!

This past week was so busy I can hardly believe the amount of work I was able to squeeze out in a day for the “blogging project.” The reality is, there is truly no more than twenty four hours in a day. Yet, I like to think, time is what you make it. When required, I can somehow double or triple my normal efficiency. That concept of time and effectiveness made me wonder…..

In reality, time passes and humans have learned to measure it.  The clock goes tick-tock, and scientist and the humanities analyze much of human behaviour with a reference to the passage of time. Yet, when measured against cognitive awareness, time can also disappear, evaporate before your eyes. Now Management Consultants have lucrative businesses built around time management. While the clock ticks, the tock doesn’t always register. All usage of time has not coincided with a productive result. When we waste time, there is little record left of precisely what we have accomplished. True, isn’t it!

Take waking up in the morning, for me it the epitome of time loss!

There are those wonderful humans who self describe themselves as the sort who hit the ground running the second they wake up. They are also the ones who go to bed, place their head on the pillow, and fall asleep.  These human beings are most likely blessed with well developed and superbly functioning glands nestled somewhere in the middle of the brain, specifically the hypothalamus and the pineal gland. As a result, they produce the perfect dose of melatonin, allowing them to react to the setting of the sun and the rising of the sun. So, all of you reading this blog in the middle of the night are likely not that element of human kind.

By the time I am aware it is dawn, I sigh, blink, and it is 20 minutes later. I don’t even recall willfully wasting time. I then lie in bed and tell myself, as much as I would like to stay beneath my comfortable duvet, I must get up. With my eyelids glued shut, I gingerly nudge my toes outside the protection of the bed clothes, then force out the rest of the foot. With all my will power, I allow my leg below the knee to extend over the edge of the mattress. The leg and foot, with no assistance from the eyes, tries to determine where the floor might be. SMACK! My once warm and comfy toes hit the cold hardwood, so shocked by the extreme change in environment, it yanks the rest of me behind it. Like a battery operated toy with its battery expiring, I move slowly forward.

Next thing I know, my reserve power storage is unleashed and I open one eye. Then begins the one eyed trip to the kitchen. Two eyes are not advisable when they are both on different networks. One is asleep, that would be the closed one. The other is blurry but operational. My opened eye happens to be my left one. I rely on that precious eye to navigate my way around the kitchen island to the sink. There I stare blankly at the sink for longer than a couple of moments, waiting for the confusion to pass.

Minutes drift by, like fog entering and exiting the mouth of the harbour. It dawns on me that it is now okay to open my right eye! My lowering level of melatonin atleast allows the two eyes to work in a coordinated fashion.

Bingo.

I am in front of the stained stainless steel sink for a reason. I want tea! Usually, the next thought is really a complex one, a lecture to the brain to release norepinephrine and orexin and to lower melatonin further. Okay I admit I am not doing the lecturing. It is involuntary.  There are 11 neurotransmitters and hormones that somehow get generated in the right sequence to allow me (and all of you) to experience wakefulness.

Once sufficiently awake, I begin to recognize my confused state is somewhat related to the kitchen renovation and the folly of the logic used to lay out the counter space and cupboard space. Ha. The only logic at 6:30 a.m. is 31 years of experience making my morning tea in the old illogically laid out kitchen! Is the kettle to the left or right? Mugs are where? Whose idea was this to place mugs at the opposite side of the sink away from the kettle! Sigh, a full 20 minutes have passed. All I have done is found my way to the kitchen and turned on the kettle.

Another ten minutes are used to mix my cereal with fresh berries and Greek Yogurt. Damn! The tea is over steeped and tepid. My brain is speeding up though. It is now merging Frere Jacques (my childhood favorite song) and my desire for a clear brain. I start humming to myself….,

Serotonin, Serotonin,

Where are you? Where are you?

I’ve got to get a move on, I’ve got to get a move on,

Ding, Dang, Dong! Ding Dang Dong

Miracle of Miracles! I am awake! It is 7:30. I have exactly 30 minutes to wash, style my hair, apply makeup, dress suitably for whatever is on my blackberry agenda and start the commute to work! Time suddenly seems to slowdown enough for me to catch up. I accomplish everything in 30 minutes, plus plan out the day, tidy as I go, smile politely at Hubby as he takes the left overs for lunch, while I remove lunch money from his wallet.

My professional conclusion is that I don’t believe in the consistency of time. It is merely a state of mind. I believe someday, a brilliant scientist will discover true time measurement and reset it to the rhythm of the mind.

Mo’s Place to Write

Years ago I was obsessed with handwriting!  I must admit I love writing with paper and ink.  There is a lot to be said from the script. If you are absent minded, it shows. If you are feeling happy, the cursive writing is pure and beautiful.  When you are sad, you can detect slow and deliberate lettering. Writing while vexed can look chiselled into a page! A silly mood results in playful stylish curves, going crazy with indentation and sliding down the lines. There is a lot to be said with the stroke of a pen.

Writing with pen and paper was liberating! Best of all, you didn’t need to be at the whim of a battery or plugged into wall. Paper and journals were (are) my most important  travel companions. I could sit on the bank by the ocean. It could be a scorching day, my paper and pen still functioned, unlike a temperamental Ipad that cannot take the heat. I could place my sturdy journal on my lap on the plane, even during take offs! Flight attendants were fine with an open journal, but not a laptop or a phone.  If I was alone, I could sit at a café, head bent above my journal and no one bothered me.  I might glance at other unsuspecting patrons, capturing their mood and conversation on the page and I was rarely caught.  Most people assumed I was lost in thought. Every now and then, something beautiful, meaningful or wise would strike me in the middle of nowhere. I would take my journal and pen from my bag and quickly write it down. I couldn’t help feeling smug afterward, knowing it was pure genius to have paper and pen handy.

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Today’s question is where do I write today. I have become a curmudgeon. I sit down in my home office in front of my desktop and click away at the key board. I am surrounded by books, notepads, pens, highlighters, binder clips and sticky pads. I feel the connection of the old and new.  My recent photos are all on the desktop. Visuals are essential for writing today. I keep my door open so I hear my husband as he busies himself at one thing or the other. He will often walk down the hall, look in at me sitting on my exercise ball below the computer desk and declare lovingly, “Blogger!” He carries on with his project. P1010908

Above my computer on the wall are black and white photos of my great grandparents and my beloved grandmother.  The pictures were taken around 1883 when my grandmother was one year old. I am unsure if it was the fashion not to smile in those days, or if it was the Baptist way of expressing yourself, but they are three serious people overlooking my endeavours.  My grandmother taught me everything I needed to know about life! She was the sunshine and the purpose of my day.  I miss her to this very second, but I feel content I can see her everyday and that she watches over me! Behind me is a collage of my father’s parents and relatives.  One photo has my paternal grandmother with Taoiseach de Valera. It was a very big privilege to have such a photo, our family pride in a frame. My father’s family has my back!  They were formidable Roman Catholics. My father was the eldest of 22 children. They taught me everything from the importance of family to the importance of being dedicated and professional. Knowing they are there watching over my work is deeply comforting.P1010910

I no longer carry a large purse or a tote.  I do carry a phone.  This phone captures ideas quickly and accurately. Photos can quickly be taken of a page in a book. There is no need to painstakingly rewrite the page in a journal. I plug the phone into the desktop and all my photos are securely saved until I need them.  But the best feature of my phone is the journal! Once more my electronic journal lets me sit at a café and write a note.  I can still write down observations about people, young and old, while looking pensively toward them. So far I have never been called out for writing up my observations. Someday I will use them to inspire me.  I hope to make those people proud.

Time will let me fully embrace the excitement of electronic writing, but I am also unwilling to let go the beauty and enjoyment of writing with a paper and pen.