Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Kindness Of Strangers...

The Ragpicker
Édouard Manet

This is a little quiz for you -- a hypothetical question, as it were. It may or may not be based on an actual situation. Imagine you are working for a health care organization. A patient -- a frail 80 year-old man -- is on his way to visit your office. He is ill. He has already been to see the doctor a month ago, and the doctor gave the elderly gentleman some medicine and asked him to come back in a month. On his way to the doctor's office for his return visit, he gets confused and lost. He goes into a church and asks for help, and the folks in the church call 911 and the elderly gentleman is assisted by the police who bring him to the doctor's office. The doctor sees the patient, spends some time counselling him on his illness, gives him some more medicine, and asks the elderly gentleman how he is going to get home. He sits forlornly in his chair, resting on his cane, looking very small and tired, and says, "I don't know..."

Now imagine that the doctor enquires throughout the office if some money can be taken out of the discretionary funds in order to help this old gentleman take a taxi home.

"Sure, we have the money... I'll check with the taxi company to see how much it will cost to get the patient from point A to point B..."

At this point the Administrator of the office steps in and tells the doctor that he cannot give money to the elderly gentleman to get home, he will have to find some other way to get home, even though we do have the funds.

My question is this:  Which person would you be?  Would you be the person who opens your wallet, takes out two $20 bills and gives it to the elderly gentleman so he can get safely home, and calls a taxi for him?  Or would you be the person who says, "Who knows -- he probably owns his own home and is just scamming us"?

Sometimes people show their true colors, and much like the picture of Dorian Gray, even though the exterior may be polished and attractive, the colors underneath are hideous and deformed.

One day, perhaps, there will be people who are 80 years old, frail, ill and confused, and depending on the kindness of strangers.

Monday, June 28, 2010

There Are No Rules...

Yesterday I went to a very beautiful service at Vancouver's Christ Church Cathedral. As cathedrals go, Christ Church Cathedral is not very big, but it is exquisitely beautiful and has one of the world's best pipe organs. The church was built in 1895 and was constructed in the Gothic stye out of cedar planking and old growth Douglas fir. Vancouver's Christ Church Cathedral is the is the cathedral church of the Diocese of New Westminster of the Anglican Church of Canada, it is the regimental Church of the Seaforth Highlanders, and it is also the church at which the British royal family worships when in Vancouver. It's a beautiful church.

At yesterday's service, the priest's sermon really resonated with me. He spoke about how churches should get rid of all the rules and regulations, and become all-inclusive and welcoming. He said that Christ had stripped away all the rules, but by a couple of centuries later, the Church had put them all back again. That's very true. The rules and regulations are what chased me away from the church. There remained very little of spirituality, and a lot of "can't, don't, shouldn't..." Fire and brimstone seemed to be lurking ever closer, and all sense of sanctity was disappearing. That is a human construct, not a spiritual one. Rules and regulations...

I believe everyone has a spiritual aspect, some are just more private about it than others. Their concept of God, or a Higher Power, may be different from those folks who belong to an organized religion. There is no right or wrong way, no good, best or better. It's what a person feels inside their own thoughts and soul. I do believe also, that belonging to a church should not feel like joining an exclusive club. I don't think God is going to blackball anyone if they don't jump through all the hoops. It doesn't work that way. The priest also spoke about how divisive religion has been through the years, and still is -- perhaps now more than ever. I did a post about that recently, and a lot of folks disagreed with me, but religion is divisive; spirituality is not. They are two different things. Faith is not about the rituals, it is about seeing the good in other people, and as the priest said, seeing good in all things. One of the guest speakers at Christ Church Cathedral is the world-famed environmentalist, David Suzuki. We need only to think of the horrors of the oil spill in the Gulf to see how greed and unGodliness can wreak havoc on our little green planet.

I once attended a wedding that took place on the edge of a forest. As the sun came around, it shone on a huge, beautiful golden spider's web centered in the trees. I looked at it and thought it looked exactly like a rose window in a great cathedral, with the sun shining through it.  I thought, "This is God's cathedral, and God is here at this wedding..."  You don't need a church or the rules and constraints to be a spiritual person.  That was the message in the priest's sermon yesterday.  He was telling the folks to go out and find God everywhere.  There are no rules.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Breezin' With Benson

Occasionally, -- every once in a blue moon, as it were -- the stars and the planets line up just so, and everything goes perfectly. That's how it was this evening when Lulu and I went to see George Benson. We went for dinner beforehand, and found a parking spot right in front of the restaurant. We had a wonderful dinner -- with dessert, thank you very much. Lulu says she likes going for dinner with me, because I am adventuresome and will try any kind of food -- Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Italian, Greek... Well, yes, I have never found a food I didn't like, except perhaps rice pudding.

But I digress...

We got to the theatre and parked for free in the building where Lulu works -- which just happens to be right across the street from the theatre. Our seats were the best seats in the house, and George Benson was even better than the last time I saw him. He's mellowed somehow, and has a richer, deeper sound. He did a solo of "Danny Boy" that was one of the most versions beautifuls I had ever heard, and was quite haunting. For a few moments I thought perhaps he was playing it for my friend Sherry, over there at her final rest in the glens of Scotland ... the pipes, the pipes are calling, from glen to glen, and down the mountain side ...

Vancouver audiences are known for being fairly raucous, but Benson didn't seem to mind.  I think he played into it.  What better way to spend a Saturday evening than Breezin' with Benson.

I did manage to video some of this evening's performance, but the videos take forever to upload, and I'm not sure whether I have permission to share them on my blog, but here's a teeny video of our great seats. George Benson, one of the greatest jazz guitarists ever.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Is Meese The Pleural Of Moose...?

A month ago, a woman from Northern British Columbia had the misfortune to hit a moose with her car. She was taken to Vancouver General Hospital, where she is still recovering from her injuries. Last Friday her sister decided to drive down to Vancouver to visit her, and was also injured when she hit a moose with her car.

“I knew right away it was a moose,” she said. “I slammed on the brakes with both my feet.” It was like two explosions.”

“My first thought was, ‘Are the moose going out [on a] hunting season for my family?”’ she said.

Moose are involved in about 8% of all wildlife vehicle collisions, according to the Wildlife Collision Prevention Program’s website.

“Moose will often try to avoid vehicles by running along a highway,” added Jeff Knight, spokesman for B.C.’s Ministry of Transportation.

“If it’s safe to do so, it’s best to pull over or slow down until the animal leaves the road.”

Both women are okay; I think the meese moose have gone on to greener pastures.

Only in Canja, hey?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

To Eat Or Not To Eat ... ?

Still-life with Parrot
Georg Flegel
ca. 1600

Like many people, I sometimes often struggle with my weight. It wasn't a problem for me until a few years ago, and then *poof*.  I began to wonder why, and one thing I have noticed is that portion sizes are much larger than they were 10 or even 20 years ago.  The theory in gaining or losing weight is quite simple -- not to sound too simplistic.  Too many calories in, not enough calories out, folks will gain weight.  Fewer calories in, more calories burned, folks will lose weight.  It is the whole basis of any weight loss program.  It's the same theory that applies to weight loss surgery -- stomachs are surgically reduced in size so a person cannot eat food in anything but tiny portions.  They lose weight immediately.  Just eat less -- it's really easy, right?  No, it isn't.

Most of us live fairly sedentary lives in the 21st Century.  We spend several hours a day in front of either the television or the computer. Even in the blogging community, I see folks who are posting on almost every blog in the blogosphere -- every day -- and I wonder how they have the time to do it. They must be nailed to their chairs. Blogging takes a lot of time, and it's a very sedentary activity. I can't do it every day; it starts to become a chore rather than a pleasure.  I am parked in front of my computer all day at work, and often the very last thing I want to do when I come home is to park myself in front of my computer, but unfortunately I often park myself in front of my television.  It would be interesting to find out how many people take an hour in the evening to dance -- rather than sitting and watching "Dancing with the Stars" or -- even worse -- "Losing it with Jillian..."

Vancouver, fortunately, is a city of sidewalks and parks, but most North American neighbourhoods no longer have sidewalks.  Hardly anyone walks anymore; our cities are geared towards cars.  Most North Americans drive their cars, because in many of our cities there is nowhere to walk.   We spend many of our work hours and our leisure hours in sedentary activities.  I think if future anthropologists and sociologists were to look back at our civilization, they would learn a lot about us from our television commercials -- food, cars, weight loss programs and pharmaceuticals.  The whole story of our society is encompassed in those four words.  Are the cards stacked against us?  Obesity in children is becoming a problem in North America, and for the first time, the future generation has a shorter life expectancy than their parents.  That's frightening.

It's a beautiful summer day.  Let's all go for a walk.  I'll see you at the park.

Monday, June 21, 2010

And All That Jazz...!

Every once in a while I get lucky, and today I got  really, really lucky. Oh, no, no, no -- I know what you're thinking. Not that lucky... but I did get lucky.

On Friday, June 25th, the Vancouver International Jazz Festival starts, and usually I am not able to get a ticket to anything I really want to hear.  Today my luck changed.  This weekend is my friend Lulu's birthday, and I had been planning to get tickets to George Benson, one of her favorite musicians -- and mine too -- featured at this year's jazz festival. Unfortunately, I dilly-dallied, and all the good tickets were sold out.

But wait ... today at noon Ticketmaster released some of the best seats in the house, and guess who managed to snag two of them just as they were released. Just guess.  When I told Lulu about the tickets, she was so thrilled, she offered to treat me to dinner beforehand.  Now I tell you, that's really lucky.

Vancouver's Jazz Festival has become a world-renowned event.  According to Vancouver Coastal Jazz, "The festival will feature over 1800 musicians from Canada and around the world performing at over 40 venues citywide. There will be approximately 150 free concerts including Gastown Jazz on opening weekend (June 26-27), Canada Day on Granville Island, and the Jazz at the Roundhouse; and the David Lam Park free concert extravaganza on closing weekend (July 3-4).".

Paul Barros of the Seattle Times says, "If this isn't the best jazz festival in the world, please send us tickets to a better one." Well, I don't know about that, but it is wonderful, and even more so this year because I have great tickets.

Here's George Benson playing my favorite -- "Affirmation" recorded live at the North Sea Jazz Festival two years ago. Be sure to turn the sound up -- way up.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Are Fathers Necessary ... ?

There was a socialogical study done recently asking if fathers were necessary, and the conclusion of the study was that they were not. Well, just how stupid is that? Of course fathers are necessary. My daughter grew up without a father, after he was killed in a plane crash when she was only four years old, and it was always my biggest regret. When I was growing up, my father influenced the person I became -- probably more than anyone else in my life. He introduced me to good literature, jazz, classical music, the love of the outdoors, and so much more. My mother had led a rather cloistered life, and that is the way she lived -- like a bird in a gilded cage, and she didn't like the outdoors. But my father, although he was quieter in nature, lived a much bigger life. He taught me how to how to swim, hike, fish, ride a bike, and where to find the best ice cream cones. He taught me how to chop wood and build a bonfire. He taught me how to whistle.  My father was often the quiet oasis when my mother would become irritated or angry.  My father made me feel safe, and I can't imagine how my life would have been without him.

Are fathers necessary?  Of course they are.  So, to all the fathers or fathers-to-be, or fellows who will one day be fathers, or to anyone who currently has a father, or who has had a father...

Happy Father's Day...!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

C'est l'amour ... !

The Lovers
Pablo Picasso

Is there any word in the English language more boring than the word "partner" as a substitute for the word "lover"? How on earth did lover become politically incorrect? Or spouse, husband, wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, fiancé... affaire de coeur. What politically correct tyrant came up with the words "partner" or "significant other" in place of the word lover? Can you imagine the romantic poets writing wonderful poetry, prose or songs about a partner? The word has all the romance of a cement wall. What on earth has happened to the English language that we feel we have to sanitize it to the point where it has no feeling ... it just feels forced and artificial.

This morning I was watching a segment on TV about female Viagra. The doctor who was being interviewed kept referring to the folks in question as "partners". Well, no wonder Viagra is necessary -- we have eradicated every trace of romance between two people. Which one of these phrases completely lacks sex appeal:

"I am going to go home after work and make passionate love with my lover..."

"I am going to go home after work and copulate with my partner..."

Language shapes the way we see things. In a way, it is the music of our lives. But I have noticed lately that people are so self-conscious about how they speak, and which words to choose, that the art of conversation has become awkward. Political correctness can be used as a tool to censor, stifle and discredit what other folks have to say. Of course, there are certain words that are so offensive, it shocks us now that they were ever used at all. Without listing them here, we all know what those words are, but unfortunately we occasionally still hear them. However, there are certain words that should be left alone. They don't marginalize anyone, and they don't offend. Here is a list of some of the silliest politically correct terms I have seen lately.

Homeless - outdoor urban dwellers
Plagiarism - previously owned prose
Prostitute - sex care provider
Thin - horizontally challenged
Fat - horizontally gifted
Too old/young - other aged
Wrong - differently logical

Oh, goodness...

Here is the amazing Aretha Franklin singing "Partner Lover Come Back to Me".

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Grubby Look

Have you ever wondered how much work it must take for men to maintain the "grubby look"? First of all, I don't really understand the homeless unshaven appearance that a lot of men have adopted, and I don't find it attractive. But, I suppose it gives a look of masculinity to otherwise rather ordinary looking men. Both Bradley Cooper and Jake Gyllenhaal have slightly asymmetrical faces, so the scruffy beard does -- in some way -- actually make them look slightly better. I wonder, though, how do they do it? Do they use special razors to maintain that oh-so-perfect five-day beard? Do they shave every few days and then hide away until it grows in -- just so? My goodness, it must be a lot of work keeping that maintained. Or maybe Gillette was not the best a man could get, after all...

The grubby-look trend for women is blonde hair and dark roots, the darker the better. At one time women would have been embarrassed to allow roots like this to be visible. Now it seems to be a badge of honor. It is no longer a fashion faux-pas, but an intentional look. Meg Ryan will be 50 years old next year, and Jennifer Aniston is no longer on the sunny side of 40, so the chances of their roots actually being picture-perfect brown are pretty slim. But never fear, there are salons that specialize in dying the roots of your hair dark, just so you too can have this look. It actually costs a lot of money to look this way.

I suppose the appearance of totally neglecting one's grooming has become the new style with a certain je ne sais quoi, and if folks can get away with it, well -- that's fine. Just -- please -- don't bring back the mullet, or hairy legs and armpits. I don't think I could deal with that.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Best In The World...

Pierre-Auguste Renoir

I feel so sorry for anyone who doesn't live in British Columbia right now. It's strawberry season, and B.C. grows the very best strawberries in the entire world -- probably the universe. If you were to compare a B.C. strawberry with one from anywhere else, there would be no comparison, B.C. strawberries are the best. Well, maybe I am exaggerating just a little bit, but they are wonderful. They're a deep red in color -- all the way through -- and sweet and juicy. Succulent.

Did you know that strawberries:

• Were cultivated in ancient Rome.
• Were used as a medicinal herb as early as the 13th Century.
• Are not really a fruit or a berry but are the enlarged receptacle of the flower.
• Are grown in every province in Canada.
• Are a member of the Rose family.
• Have a museum dedicated to them in Belgium.
• Have only 55 calories per cup, 0 cholesterol and 0 fat.
• Are very high in vitamin C, potassium, and antioxidants.

One of my favorite ways to enjoy B.C. strawberries -- and I have many -- is to slice them up and serve them with some (low fat) ricotta cheese, sprinkled with confectioner's sugar and cinnamon. Yum! Don't you wish you had some right now?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Miscellaneous Musings On A Monday Morning...

Summer has finally arrived at my tree house. Along with that, of course, comes lazy summer days and time to unwind. I had three days off this weekend, and by Sunday I was in full relaxation mode. That gives me time to ruminate on various events that have happened in the past few days, and I have come to the conclusion that I am a bit of a skeptic. I'm not one to follow along with the rest of the herd -- I come to my own conclusions about things, and sometimes my conclusions amaze even me because most people don't agree with the way I see things. Why don't I see what other people see? What am I missing? So here, in no particular order, are the conclusions that I reached after pondering some of the major events that have happened recently.

1. Abby Sunderland is not a hero. She's just a girl who attempted to seek attention by being the youngest person to sail solo around the world. Ironically, she gained even more attention by almost dying in the attempt. She underestimated the ocean and her own skills. To quote her, "...since when does age create gigantic waves and storms?" That comment indicates her level of immaturity. There are certain things one should not try to do battle with -- an oncoming bus at full speed, a train approaching a railway crossing, or an ocean with 30 foot waves. Usually you will lose. The ocean is a fierce place, even on a calm night. Things can hide underneath the ocean in the dark -- just ask Captain Edward Smith, the seasoned captain of the Titanic. When it comes to an argument with the sea, the sea almost always wins. Perhaps that is the lesson the young lady has learned. Oops, big waves, little boat. All Abby Sunderland has done is cost a lot of people a lot of money. And now she's asking for more. Thousands of people lost sleep worrying about her -- including me -- and the conversation everyone is having today would be a very different one if she had not been rescued. She needs to say thank you, and to go home and be a kid for a while.

2. I'm shocked and appalled -- to use my cousin's favorite expression -- at the lack of leadership in the cleanup of the Gulf oil spill. It has been nine weeks now. I think folks relied on BP to assist with the cleanup, but that is sort of like letting the fox guard the hen house, isn't it? It seems to me that more should have been done -- from day one -- in preventing a large portion of the oil from reaching the shorelines. It may have taken a Herculean effort, but at least something should have been attempted. A State of Emergency should have been declared as soon as that disaster happened. The beautiful Barataria Bay Estuary has now been choked -- drowned in oil. According to folks in the area, the environmental damage could have been prevented if decisive action had been taken as soon as the well blew out. Rome burned ... no one noticed. Today the President of the United States will do what he does best -- he will give a speech. His head will bob from side to side -- as if at some unseen audience behind the teleprompters -- and he will smile here and frown there. *sigh* The Gulf Oil spill is America's Chernobyl. Both were man-made disasters that will have repercussions for decades. It's heartbreaking.

3. I wish I understood soccer. The World Cup Soccer Match is the biggest sporting event in the world -- even bigger than the Olympics. And it's being held in South Africa, where my mother was born. I enjoy watching the coverage of the event, just to see some of the cities where my mother lived. The game looks very exciting, and I love hearing Phinnaeus's enthusiasm when he describes it to me. A total of 32 countries take part, competing over one month. There are two stages: the group stage and the knockout stage. That's about the stage where I get lost. Phinnaeus wants Germany to win, so that's who I want to win too. Why not?

So, those are just some of the idiotic things rustling around in my brain today, when I have nothing more important interesting to think about.

Have a fabulous day, everyone.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Voyages Of Discovery ... The Simple Life

For some reason, which I don't quite understand, two of my least favorite chores are vacuuming and unloading the dishwasher. Loading it is easy -- I just put stuff in as I use it. But unloading it is such a bore. So the other day I decided to haul out my dish drainer and wash my dishes by hand, and I discovered -- much to my amazement -- that I enjoy washing dishes. There is something relaxing and almost meditative about having my hands in the hot soapy water, and putting the sparkling clean dishes into the drainer. With the wash-as-I-go method, there are never any dirty dishes, the particular bowl I might want to use is not languishing -- dirty -- in the dishwasher, and everything dries almost instantly. Et voila! I have clean dishes immediately, instead of having to wait 45 minutes. Why has it taken me so long to think of this? I do not know, but I'm glad I did.  The plus side is that I may see my hydro expenses decrease as well. Am I a genius, or what?

I am one of the few people I know who has never owned a car. Ever.  For many, many years I could never afford to buy one, and then when I could afford it, I found I really had no use for a car.  For years I was forced to take public transit, and now I find it's a perfectly efficient, inexpensive way to get around the Lower Mainland.  We have sea buses, trains, trolley buses, and even little mini-ferry boats that all interconnect with each other efficiently.  For less than it costs to park a car for a month -- or keep it filled up with gas -- I can buy a transit pass and go anywhere I want to go, and let someone else do the driving.  Or I can use that other tried and true method -- I can walk -- which it turns out is actually good for us.  Who knew!

I don't own a cell phone -- *gasp* -- and I have had the same land-line telephone number for 30 years. People who knew me way back when the dinosaurs still roamed the earth can still call my number and reach me, and they often do. With all the upheaval I have had in my life, it's sort of comforting to have a thread of continuity that runs through it, connecting me with various milestones along the way. Everyone who knows me, or who has ever known me, can dial my number and here I am, and what's really amazing is how many people still remember it.  But lately I have been considering getting a cell phone. We were chatting about this at work the other day, and one of my co-workers said, "But, Jo, what would happen if you got mugged, or you're stuck somewhere, and you can't reach anyone?" That's a good point. Today I think I will set out on a quest to buy a cell phone.  I think it is necessary to have one, just don't expect me to be one of those folks walking along the sidewalk with my hand permanently glued to my ear.  Who do these people talk to all day long?

Have our lives become too complicated?  Do we own things, or do they own us?  Do we really need so much stuff?  We seem to spend so much of our time being slaves to our stuff.  Maybe we should put it all in a cupboard for a while, and find out what it feels like to lead a more simple life.  The stuff is always there if we need it.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Talk ... Talk ... Talk ...

I have booked the day off work today, just to sort of hang out and "veg" and this morning, while I was having my coffee, I surfed through some of the morning shows. Oh -- my -- Gawd.  After about 90 seconds, I had a headache and I had to turn off the TV. Do women really talk that much? On both "The View" and "Today", all of the women talked non-stop. They talked over each other, they shouted each other down, and they never shut up. Not once.  They didn't have a conversation with each other, they had a competition.  And the other women visibly winced several times during the contest conversation.

Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed that women in general seem to converse this way?  I sit next to a boardroom in my office, and I hear groups of men having conversations.  One will speak, and then the other will speak, and their voices are modulated, calm and respectful.  When I hear groups of women in there, it doesn't take long before they start to sound shrill.  I enjoy hearing the men's voices; the women's voices give me a headache.

I have sat next to a table of women in a restaurant, and I feel as if I'm sitting next to a group of auctioneers, all trying to outdo each other.

"One dollar bid, now two, now two, will ya' give me two? Two dollar bid, now three, now three, will ya' give me three?"

Oh, my goodness.

This is by no means a scientific observation, merely anecdotal, and is not meant to be sexist -- it's merely an observation..  I don't dislike women, some of my best friends are women.  I happen to be one myself.  But, I am curious -- is there some biological, sociological or anthropological reason for the way groups of women communicate when they are together?  I love Whoopi Goldberg, and I love Joy Behar -- just not together in the same room.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

How Old Is Too Young...?

Stormy Sea with Lighthouse
Karl Eduard Ferdinand Blechen

My heart goes out to the parents and family of Abby Sunderland.  She is the teenager who appears to be lost at sea during her attempt to sail solo around the world. According to CNN:

Sunderland's small sailboat was adrift in the middle of the Indian Ocean about 2,000 miles east of Madagascar, 2,000 miles west of Australia and 500 miles north of the French Antarctic Islands, Casher said Thursday afternoon.

The government of Reunion -- a French island -- diverted a fishing boat toward her last known position, but it is not expected to reach the area until Saturday, Casher said. An Australian military ship, more than two days sail away, has also been dispatched, Casher said.

"Friends in Australia have chartered an Airbus jet to fly over the area at sunrise Friday to see if Sunderland's vessel could be spotted from the air, he said.

What were her parents thinking? This girl is 16 years old. That's the age when most kids get their first driver's licence, and their parents sit at home anxiously waiting to hear the car pull into the driveway -- intact.  What parents in their right mind send a 16 year-old girl out onto the oceans of the world alone?  The rescue mission that is taking place right now brings to mind the efforts that were made to find Amelia Earhart.  At this point it doesn't look good.  According to a latest report, from Sail-World.com  "the boat is drifting backwards at around 1 knot. This indicates that no sails are active and that the yacht is not in an upright position."

I'm sure Abby Sunderland was technically proficient in sailing the boat, but at 16 years of age, all sorts of other things come into play.  Teenagers, as mature and independent as they may seem, are not prepared for this sort of a venture.  Does anyone remember seven year-old Jessica Dubroff, who died attempting to become the youngest person to fly an airplane across the United States?  And recently the Dutch government stopped 13 year-old Laura Dekker from sailing solo around the world.  She was quoted as saying, "Since I was 10 years old, I've known that I would like to sail around the world."  Gosh, that would be -- like -- three whole years ago.

Maybe Abby Sunderland will set a record after all.  Maybe she will be the last enfant terrible to be permitted to pull off a self-serving stunt simply in the name of a world record and some sort of notoriety.  And I don't blame Abby, I blame the people who allowed her to do this.  She's 16 -- she should be going to the prom, not lost and alone somewhere in remote and stormy part of the Indian Ocean.  I pray this girl can be found alive, but the chances are looking pretty slim at the moment.  God speed, Abby, wherever you are.

UPDATE:  Miracles do happen.  They found Abby Sunderland stranded in the middle of the Indian Ocean, and a French fishing vessel is going to pick her up.  Now I hope she goes home and waits a few more years before she tries this again.  Be a kid...!

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Four Musketeers... And The Mull of Kintyre

When I was growing up on Vancouver Island, I had three really close friends. We lived within a few blocks of each other, we rode the school bus together each day, and when we got home in the afternoon we immediately got on the phone to each other. We were inseparable, and we were -- unoriginally -- dubbed the "Four Musketeers". There was Bonnie, Sherry, Ann and me. We spent our summers bike riding and swimming at Sproat Lake, and our winters ice-skating at the rink. We all were distinctly different from each other, but we were close friends and we have remained close friends through all the years. I was the maid-of-honor at Ann's (first) wedding, and I had a fit of giggles all through the ceremony -- and it's all on tape. Bonnie still kids me about it. When my friend Sherry decided to move to England, I was devastated. I went to the airport to see her off, and I waved at the Air Canada plane as it took off, and sobbed all the way back to my apartment. When I got home, she was there waiting for me.

"What the heck are you doing here? I thought you left for England...!"

"Oh, Jo, you got the wrong night; my plane leaves tomorrow."

Well, I told her there was no way I was going to see her off again the next night. I had already done it, and I wasn't going to go through that again.

My friend Sherry got married in England and she and her husband lived all over the world, Australia, Singapore, Egypt -- she loved the deserts of Egypt -- until they finally settled in Aberdeen, Scotland. My daugher and I had the opportunity to visit her there, and she and her husband took us on a tour of the drive along the North Sea. We drove along the beautiful beaches at Balmedie that Donald Trump plans to decimate with yet another golf course and garish development. Balmedie is beautiful and wild, and is famous for its dunes. Just as we were driving towards this area, "The Mull of Kintyre" by Paul McCartney came on the radio. It was so beautiful, and I thought, "This is so strange, I am driving through Scotland, listening to this song. It's like it's part of the sound track of my life." Sherry and I both chuckled. Here we were, a couple of girls from Vancouver Island, driving along the North Sea in Scotland.

Today I received the devastating news that my friend Sherry passed away suddenly yesterday. No one is sure exactly what happened and they will know more in a few days. Her friends and family are in shock. I will have a lifetime of memories of her, but I think my favorite will always be driving along the North Sea in Scotland, listening to "The Mull of Kintyre".

"Far have I travelled and much have I seen
Dark distant mountains and valleys of green
Past painted deserts, the sunsets on fire
As he carries me home to the Mull of Kintyre"

God speed, Sherry. I will miss you, and your long, rambling letters, and your great laugh. This is for you.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

What Is Leadership...?

A few years ago at work we took the psychological test DISC, to see which category we fell into. It was part of a team-building exercise, and much to my amazement, I came up a strong "D". It did explain a lot of things, however, that I had not been aware of before -- such as why I sometimes appear to be somewhat bossy assertive. The DISC refers to the following four tendencies.

Dominance – relating to control, power and assertiveness. People who score high in the intensity of the "D" styles factor are very active in dealing with problems and challenges.
Influence – relating to social situations and communication. People with high "I" scores influence others through talking and activity and tend to be emotional. They are described as convincing, magnetic, political, enthusiastic, persuasive, warm, demonstrative, trusting, and optimistic.
Steadiness – relating to patience, persistence, and thoughtfulness. People with high "S" styles scores want a steady pace, security, and do not like sudden change. High "S" individuals are calm, relaxed, patient, possessive, predictable, deliberate, stable, consistent, and tend to be unemotional and poker faced.
Conscientiousness – relating to structure and organization.People with high "C" styles adhere to rules, regulations, and structure. They like to do quality work and do it right the first time. High "C" people are careful, cautious, exacting, neat, systematic, diplomatic, accurate, and tactful.

Behind my treehouse, we have five beautiful cherry trees at the back of our property. A few years ago one of the residents of the building decided she didn't like the cherry trees and convinced the strata council to have them removed. When I read in the minutes of the meeting that an arborist had been hired to chop down the trees, I was in shock. How could they pass such a motion? It made no sense. I lost sleep over it, and I was heartstick. Couldn't it be stopped? No, no, no, the motion was carried, and that's it. Was anyone else upset? Oh, yes, everyone in the building. But no one was doing anything about it. On the morning the arborist was due to chop down the trees, I managed to contact him by telephone. He was in his truck, in his driveway, just on his way to cut the beautiful cherry trees down. I told him if he stepped one foot on our property to chop the trees down, I would have a television crew from BCTV here to film it. He drove his truck back into his garage and the trees were saved. For a week afterwards, I was receiving telephone calls from my neighbors, thanking me. The council members said they passed the motion after a long meeting, and they were tired and their judgment was clouded. The trees have lived to bloom for many more years since then.

One year, in November, a couple of residents in our building noticed cockroaches in their suites, and I saw some crawling over the newspapers in the front lobby. *g-a-s-p* No one knows how they got here, but they were here. The strata council was contacted, and a suggestion was made that a pest control company should come in to get rid of the nasty little creatures. The council, in their wisdom, said they would put it on the agenda for the next council meeting the following January. I said, "Well, you had better invite the cockroaches as well, because by then they will have taken over." Still, no one wanted to do anything, so I called a pest control company and invited them over. They found the little b*ggers in the garage, in the lobby and in several suites in the building. And they also said that for every one they found, several more were hiding, usually along the plumbing lines. Oh, lovely. The pest control company said it was a good thing we hadn't waited any longer. The building was immediately fumigated and the horrid little insects were eradicated. We now have an ongoing service contract with the pest control company, and no more cockroaches. Again, I had people thanking me -- for ages afterwards.

I could never belong to a cult, or even serve on a committee. Following along behind other people is very difficult for me. It wasn't until I took the DISC psychological test that I understood why. We are all different. It has taken me a long time to learn to live with my personality. Even in my work environment, people come to me to make decisions that are not mine to make. But sometimes a decision -- any decision -- is better than no decision at all. Often I am able to "cut away the dead wood" as my mother used to say, and see a situation clearly. I'm also able to see the nonsense. My closest co-worker is a "C" on the DISC spectrum, and as a result, we work fairly well together. Ideally, I would like to be an "I" on the spectrum. They are probably the "nicest" and the most popular with other folks.

My friend Lulu and I were having a conversation about this today, and she said she could not see me as anything but a "D", but that is the very reason she likes me. She said even when we lived in separate ends of the country, I was the first person she came to for advice. Hmmmm... Interesting. We learn something about ourselves every day.

Being a good leader, I suppose, means having to make decisions that may perhaps not be popular, but may in the long run be the best for everyone. Fortunately, I have never had to be in that situation -- well, except for the trees and the cockroaches. Oh, and then there was that time... and then there was that other time...

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Hello...? Is Anyone Listening...?

In the past several weeks, I have had occasion to experience customer service, both good and bad. Customer service is the front line of any business, and I believe in the adage that the customer is always right. There is just too much competition out there for my money, for any business not to treat me with the utmost respect. I have the power to keep folks in business, yes I do. If I'm happy, I'll return and I will recommend the business to my friends. Conversely, if I'm not happy with the service, I have the power to advise my friends not to use that business.

My first encounter with customer service was when I needed to buy a new bed.  I went to Sleep Country Canada, and from the moment I walked in the door until the bed was delivered, the customer service was the best.  The fellows who delivered my bed even vacuumed underneath the bed before they installed the new bed.  And then, a few days later, I received a coupon for $25.00 off any new purchase of $50.00 or more.  Sleep Country sells Daniadown sheets, and I need new sheets.  Guess where I'm going to buy them.  Just guess.

My second experience with customer service was with Home Depot. I wanted to buy new Adirondack chairs for my terrace, and Home Depot had just the chairs I wanted. However when I got them home, I realized ... some assembly was required. Me? Build an Adirondack chair? I don't think so. I called Home Depot, and they sent two representatives to pick up the chairs and assemble them for me. When I went back to Home Depot the next day, Home Depot even paid for a special van to deliver the assembled chairs to my home for me. Guess where I'm going the next time I need patio furniture, lighting fixtures, bathroom fixtures -- oh, heck, just about anything. Just guess.

And last but not least, my most recent experience with customer service was with a company called Denbigh Fine Art Services. Ah, yes... I received a mirror recently that required professional installation. I called around to various installation companies to get a quote as to how much it would cost to install the mirror. I received various quotes, and the best quote was from Denbigh Fine Art Services, who quoted me $95.00 an hour to install the mirror, with a minimum of one hour. Okay, that seemed reasonable. If it took less than an hour, I would pay $95.00, it it took more, well, I was prepared to pay that. The fellows showed up ten minutes late, took half an hour to install the mirror, and left. They did a fine job, but it was a very simple job. A few days later, I received an invoice from Denbigh Fine Art Services for $149.63. When I e-mailed the owner, and reminded him of his $95.00 quote, I received the following reply: "Including the installation and travel time we really have to charge that out at 1.5 hrs. A straight forward delivery would be $95.00 but we would never make any money if we did not include both the installation time and travel time. Best regards, Ken" Well, Ken, that's just dishonest. You should have told me that when I called you for the quote. I made a decision based on misinformation, and now I have to pay you.  And besides, your office is five minutes from where I live.  That's pretty expensive travel time.

Always remember, folks, without you, businesses would not be in business.  They are there to serve you, no matter what the nature of their business.  When you are holding out your hand with your money in it, you have the right to expect the very best customer service they have to offer.  Anything less than the best is not acceptable.  And you can let them know by using your feet -- and walking somewhere else to do business.  Denbigh Fine Art Services robbed over-charged me, and misquoted what it would cost for their services in exchange for my money.  In essence, they misrepresented themselves.  I would never do business with them again, and I would never recommend them to anyone else.  They obviously don't need my business, but who knows, maybe one day I -- or someone I know -- may be the difference between their business "making money" -- to quote Ken -- or going out of business.  We all have the power to keep these people in business -- or not...

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Pee-Wee Herman Factor...

It really is true that there is no such thing as bad publicity. No matter what a public figure does, all they have to do is shed a few tears, apologize on Oprah, Larry King Live, or the Jay Leno show, and then, for added measure, spend a few weeks in alcohol, drug, sex (fill-in-the-blanks) rehab, and they're good to go.

"It wasn't my fault. The devil made me do it..."

No, you just got caught.

The Duchess of York -- Sarah Ferguson -- had fallen into such obscurity, she couldn't even get herself arrested, unlike Charlie Sheen who seems to continually be getting himself arrested, as does wild child Lindsay Lohan. Does anyone really care whether Lindsay Lohan's life is unmanageable? Quick -- name all of the (six) movies she's been in that you have actually seen. Ever. For the last several years her only claim to fame has been her out-of-control behavior, and her unfortunate capacity to look much older and harder than her age. She has remained in the headlines for being drunk and disorderly, and she's only 23. It's too sad for words. What a waste of talent. In my opinion, these people are not newsworthy, and yet -- somehow -- we can't seem to get rid of them. Turn on the news -- any news -- there they are: Fergie, Lindsay, Charlie, Tiger, Jesse, Mel, Britney -- taking up all the oxygen from the folks who are truly newsworthy.

And you have to keep a score card in order to keep track of the weirdness factor. Lindsay Lohan missed her court date because her father stole her passport, Sarah Ferguson is divorced from Prince Andrew, but she still lived with him while she was attemping to pimp sell access to him to businessmen, and Charlie Sheen will spend time in jail for attacking his wife Brooke on Christmas Day, but today he spent the day at Disneyland with his ex-wife Denise.

My head is spinning...

But I am a strong believer in redemption. No matter what a person does, there is always a way back to the light. I guess all of these people are larger than life, and as long as they're in the public eye, whatever they do will remain -- in the public eye, and there is always the chance for redemption. Thank goodness. Several years ago Pee-Wee Herman fell into disgrace, and everyone thought that would be the end of him. Now Pee-Wee's Playhouse is headed to Broadway, at the Stephen Sondheim Theater, with all the playhouse gang – Miss Yvonne, Mailman Mike, Cowboy Curtis, Jambi the Genie, Pterri, Conky, Chairy and the rest of the crew. I'm Pee-Wee's biggest fan. I love Pee-Wee Herman. Saturday mornings have never been the same without Pee-Wee's Playhouse.

"I know you are, but what am I...?"