Category Archives: Instructive

Misery Loves Miserable Company – Or Does It?

This might not be a shallow blog. I’ll let you decide. 

Those of you who have stuck with me over the many, many years of this blog will know that I don’t indulge in what has become a yearly tradition of making promises that are, unfortunately, most often destined to be broken. Even so, I have always resolved to be as honest as possible (although it’s not always possible) with my readers so here’s something you might not have imagined about me. Hard as it might be to believe, I wasn’t always at the top of my alma mater class which, I confess, is putting it mildly. It’s not that I didn’t like university. It’s just that I liked other things better. Like sleeping. Or spending ridiculous amounts of time in the cafeteria drinking coffee. Both of which may have been the result of having an extra draft or two (afterall, they were only two bits) the night before. Admittedly, things picked up in my later years, but those first year courses. Well let’s just say I’m a little short on the details. Except for one. 

If I had to guess, and the odds are not that great given I’m about 48 more years down this road of mine, I would say that the reason I found myself sitting in a lecture theatre surrounded by 400 budding psychologists was that it was the only available course that fit my schedule, meaning I didn’t have to be “up and at ‘em” before noon. Also I had heard the professor had a wicked, dry sense of humour and a guy who thinks brain stuff is funny can’t be all bad. Beyond that, I must refrain from making any judgements about the course because I can’t honestly say I remember much. Not much, but I do remember one thing which has stuck with me through the years. What our professor explained to us, and what I remember like it was just yesterday, was that while it is common knowledge that “misery loves company” what we might be surprised to find out is that misery actually loves miserable company. At the time it was quite a revelation. One which I have come to think about more than I perhaps would like over the past few months.

Let me backtrack just a tad. If you’ve been reading lately, (and granted I haven’t been writing much lately) you’ll know that 2019 has not been a stellar year for me and my family. There was the passing of my Mother in August, the Cat in September and my Aunt in October. And just when we thought we were out of the woods, because we all know that good/bad things happen in threes, we discovered, much to our chagrin, they actually don’t. Nope. Without getting into too much detail, that husband of mine decided to bring a little more excitement into our lives, and suffice to say, I spent much of the first week in December travelling to and fro from my home to the hospital. While things are now looking up I learned almost as much from this experience as I did from that old prof of mine. About people. And their miseries.

So we’re sitting in the rather sterile basement of the “other” hospital in this little city of ours, waiting for what I think is the third CT scan of the week. Knowing how these things can go I’m ready for a longish wait, having plugged a couple of extra hours into the meter and packed my Mother’s very well stocked Kobo which, I might add, I have made quite a dent in over the past few months. I’m pretty much minding my own business when in walks another couple who, I surmise, are there for the very same reason we are. Now I’m not really one to make idle conversation with complete strangers, especially in a rather uninviting environment, but I’m not so callous as to ignore their presence altogether. With that in mind I raise my eyes from my book (which btw, I’m quite enjoying) long enough to flash a welcoming smile and toss out a polite hello. One hour later I have been apprised of not only her husband’s current unfortunate health situation, but also of her own, those of her daughter, her grandson, her son-in-law and I’m pretty sure the neighbour who lived beside her before the neighbour who lives beside her now. 

But here’s the thing. Call me shallow but the truth of the matter is I really don’t want to hear about other people’s problems simply because I have some of my own. Honestly, I would rather talk about something wonderful going on in your life. A lovely trip you have taken. Perhaps a good meal you shared with someone you love. I’ll even listen to stories about your grand kids and their rather dubious accomplishments. I promise when things get back to normal in my life I will be glad to talk about your mother-in-law’s persistent bladder infection or your sister’s upcoming knee operation. You can tell me all about the adverse reaction you had to some plant-based supplement you decided to take on the recommendation of your herbalist. I’ll be happy to listen to any and all of the problems you have. Just not right now. Because now is not a good time for that.

Later in her life my Mother who I know loved me very much, would say this, in the nicest way, whenever I called to complain to her about an ache in my shoulder or a pain in my back. She’d say: “I have enough of my own aches and pains, I don’t really need to hear about yours”.  I didn’t always get it then but I get it now. She was right. Misery actually doesn’t love miserable company. And if you ask me, that professor of mine could have learned quite a lot from my Mom.

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The Art (maybe science?) of Grocery Shopping

I learn a lot from TV. Which is a good thing since it seems to take up a significant part of my  evenings. And it’s not just the news shows I learn from. Although I do. I mean who doesn’t turn to Mr. Anderson Cooper to catch up on the ongoing shenanigans (is that too forgiving?) in those United States of America? Or Ms. Lisa Laflamme for the ones in our own country for that matter. And while I find the comings and goings of the world at large compelling, I also like to spend a little time each day with Ms. Stacy Ross and Mr. Ben O’Hara learning more about what’s going on right here in this little hometown of mine. Because it’s pretty important to know exactly which neighborhoods that recently, and frequently I might add, sighted cougar might be prowling around. The thing is, anyone who knows cougars knows that they really don’t want to find themselves face-to-face, looking into those big, green eyes, no matter how beautiful they might be. So it’s important to know. But as any shallow person can tell you, there’s more to TV than just the news and thankfully, so much more to learn.  

Take Madame Secretary for example. I know. It’s not really the White House but it could be. After all, this is a show that helps us understand how things work in the upper echelons of  government. So what if everything always seems to turn out hunky dory? That’s probably what would actually happen if politicians were better actors and could pretend they actually cared about someone other than themselves. Or how about that Amazing Race? What a way to see the world without having to spend hours waiting in lines, getting on and off planes and struggling to decipher a menu in an unfamiliar language which could result in finding oneself hungry while sadly staring at a plate of veal kidney stew. Who needs it when in the span of one hour you can travel through two, maybe three countries, visit all of the tourist highlights and more, while never having to leave the comforts of your own home. And let’s not forget that all you have to do is watch a few episodes of Survivor to learn that you never want to be stranded on a desert island with a bunch of strangers. But even though, as you can plainly see, there is much to learn from the news and the shows, there is even more to be gained from watching the commercials.

So let me tell you what I have recently learned from commercials. It seems there are now a number of services that provide people with all of the ingredients needed for an evening meal, measured out and delivered to the door, along with an easy to follow recipe. All that’s left to do is put the stuff together and presto, in just 30 minutes there’s a gourmet meal on the table. Never mind that you don’t know what an “Open-faced Halloumi sandwich” is or whether “Tofu Larb Lettuce Cups with Sticky Rice” will tickle your fancy. One way or the other you’re going to come out of this looking like a gourmet chef. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it. Unless, of course, you are me. Because, and you may know this or you may not, not only do I not cook most nights which makes this service a little redundant but, and this is the honest to god truth, I love to shop for groceries.

That’s right. Give me a fistful of flyers and a stack of reusable grocery bags and I am one happy camper. And because I know not everyone shares my enthusiasm for gathering food I thought I would take this opportunity to share some tips that just might improve the experience for you. I like to think of it as the art (maybe science) of grocery shopping. 

Tip 1: There’s some homework to do. Start with the flyers. Some online, some paper. The good news is these all come out on the same day. There’s no bad news.

Tip 2: Make some lists. As many as you need because you’ll be compiling the best deals in each of the stores. Don’t worry. No one’s going to hold your hand to the fire. You’ll find stuff in your cart that’s not on your list but nonetheless, it’s a good place to start.

Tip 3: Make a plan. You have to visit each of the stores on your lists but there’s no point going hither and yon. You’ve got a lot of ground to cover so be systematic and do your best to limit your mileage. Just remember to visit the store with the best deal on ice cream last.

Tip 4: Shop. It’s not that hard. Get yourself a cart, make your way up and down the aisles and don’t get too distracted or overwhelmed by the plethora of choices. There might be 43 flavours of Cheerios but you only need one. Make like a shallow person. Don’t dwell.

Tip 5: Check-out and pay. Remember when your Mom and/or Dad bought you that toy cash register and a bunch of fake food to go with it? You had hours of fun pretending your were a cashier and all your stuffies were your customers. Well now most stores will let you check out and bag all of your own stuff. It’s still as much fun as it was when you were a kid. Except now it’s for real.

Tip 6: Check out your savings. If you have paid attention they should be pretty substantial. Of course in some cases you might need a store savings card to get the best deals. If you don’t have one, just ask. They’ll be happy to oblige. Yes, I know they use it to track what you buy. So what! If you use the internet (and you do because you are here) privacy is pretty much a moot point for you anyway.

Tip 7: Get home, put everything away and know you’ll be able to feed yourself and whoever else you might feed for at least a little longer. And really, what could be more rewarding than that?

I know. Now you’re thinking this shallow gal has way too much time on her hands. Well that could be true. But if you ask me, it’s a whole lot better than finding an Halloumi Sandwich on my plate for dinner.

 

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Yep, It’s Cold Outside

As a shallow person you might imagine that I have mastered the art of small talk. And you would be right. To some extent at least. Honestly,  there are many times when I really don’t want to talk to anyone about anything. But when I do I can usually figure out something small to talk about. Especially these days with “45” and all of his hijinx. Can’t get much smaller than that. But there are better things to talk about. Like pets. It’s pretty easy to make small talk about a pet, particularly when you happen to have one that’s 19 years old. There’s a lot to be said about growing old no matter who/what you are. Just ask my 103 year old Mother. She’ll tell you a thing or two about it. And not that I would ever try to equate the two, but both make pretty decent conversation starters. If, of course, it’s a  conversation you actually want to start. However if, unlike me, you don’t have longevity to fall back on, evidently you can always talk about the weather. Because, it seems, that’s what Canadians (and I’m guessing) Americans do. Although, I must admit, I have never really seen the point.

It’s not that I don’t care about the weather. Anyone who knows me well knows that this sleek “do” of mine requires a fair bit of tampering and has a significant dependence on blue skies and very low humidity. Even the slightest of mists will cause these strands to go awry and there’s nothing worse (to me at least) than making my way to some fancy, shmancy party only to discover that my carefully coiffed hair has transformed into something that I’m quite sure would have made a rather comfortable home for Joey, my dearly beloved but very long ago gone, pet budgie (may he rest in peace). Suffice to say, it is very unlikely you will find me out frolicking in the rain. But other than my hairstylist, who really cares about my first world weather problems? It just seems to me that, whether we like it or not, weather simply does not make for great conversation. As a matter of fact, I find the whole notion of our collective obsession with weather rather disconcerting. For a couple of, perhaps, unrelated reasons. Let me explain.

Who doesn’t spend oodles of time watching, listening and googling weather reports?. As a regular TV news fan I see people who have selflessly dedicated their lives to showing us all manner of weather patterns each and every night. There’s maps covered in solid, dotted and dashed lines, some curving, some straight, some just going around in what appear to be endless circles. And to what end? Why on earth do I want to know that it’s sunny and 80 degrees in Florida when I am sitting on my couch, shivering under my blankets? And, as much as I hate to cast a dark cloud on their predictions, we all know that many a time the weatherperson is simply wrong. I mean who hasn’t woken up to what was supposed to be a bright and sunny day only to find the rain pouring down and, as a result, no chance you’re gonna fulfill your promise to take your ten year old nephew to the go-kart track? Somehow the prospect of seeing “The Return of Mary Poppins” just doesn’t cut it with him. Although if I must say, it is a very delightful movie and something every parent should keep in their back pocket for a rainy day. But I digress. The thing is, how helpful is it to know what the weather will be tomorrow or seven days down the road anyway? I mean in most cases, who can change their plans? It’s not like I could say, “Oh darn! Wednesday’s going to be rainy. Guess I’ll just have to stay home from work so my hair won’t get frizzy.” Besides, in this part of the world we all know you can wait 15 minutes and the weather will change. Seems to me if you really want to know what the weather’s like it’s best just to open your door and step outside. Guaranteed you’ll be 100% accurate, for that moment at least. So why, may I ask, would anyone want to talk about something as unpredictable as weather?

Not only that but, in case you missed it (icymi) people seem to treat weather as a blood sport. And I can say that having recently spent 38 years in one of the northernmost cities in this country of ours. Just try talking to me or one of my compatriots about the weather. Because, when we say “yep, it’s cold outside”, believe me, we know from where we speak. Have you ever spent an entire month getting to and from work, school, grocery shopping, and just about everywhere else knee deep in snow with temps hovering around the -40c mark? Without factoring in the wind chill? Do you know what happens to your skin, nose, ears and just about every other part of your body in that kind of cold? Have you ever looked outside your window and thought that someone had forgotten to mention you had landed on the moon? You get the drift. When someone from this little Island of mine complains about a chill in the air ‘cause the temps have uncharacteristically fallen slightly below the freezing point you can bet your bottom dollar I’ll call, raise them 50 bucks and take the pot on this hand.  Seems to me there’s a lot of one-upmanship going on when it comes to weather and who knows what kind of trouble that can lead to? There’s a pretty good chance that amidst all of your chin wagging about the cold you’re going to run into a climate change denier and I, for one, don’t want to be around when the resulting mayhem ensues. Which is why it seems to me that it’s best to avoid the weather topic altogether.

So for this season of light, joy and happiness take my advice and do your best to talk about anything but the weather. If you’re at your wit’s end about what to say you can always revisit my blog. With a few notable exceptions I’ve pretty much provided you with 5 good years worth of topics. Think of it as my little holiday gift to you. You’re welcome.

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A True Story (unlike some others)

Not everything I write on the blog is 100%, should I say, accurate but this is a true story. I may not have previously mentioned that I have a collection. I suppose you may think it’s odd that a shallow person like myself would feel the need to accumulate a whole lot of something. I’d be with you on that. Most collections I know of, and I really don’t know of that many, simply take up valuable space and require a rather futile effort to stave off an ever growing blanket of dust, not to mention, from what I understand, the time required to sort, photograph and catalogue each and every piece. Of course there’s also the cost of locating and acquiring the precious items which, I can only imagine, could inflict a fair amount of damage to the grocery budget. Just think about how difficult it has been for John Reznikoff to complete his collection of celebrity hair locks which includes samples from the likes of Edgar Allan Poe and Ludwig Von Beethoven. Not exactly sure where he might have gone to get those but I’m guessing it cost him a pretty penny.

Perhaps the worst of it all is, although you most probably love whatever it is you are collecting, you are bound to leave everything virtually untouched in order to prepare for the day you decide to list the whole kit and caboodle as “new with tags” on eBay. This is particularly important if, like Dutch collector Niek Vermeulen, you have a penchant for collecting “airline barf bags” which one can only hope have remained in pristine condition over time. But think about how frustrating it must be for Manfred S. Rothstein to stare at the world’s largest back scratcher collection while trying to ignore the annoying itch he simply can’t reach without a little help. Or how disappointed Victor Taylor could be should he ever decide to scratch one of the 10,000, now expired lottery cards he has collected. It goes without saying that somewhere out there are multitudes of toys that can’t be played with, wine that can’t be drunk and cars that can’t be driven. I must say, there’s not one little bit of any of this that makes me want to run out and buy multiples of pretty much anything. And yet, here I sit with a collection of my very own. 

It all happened quite innocently. One day when travelling through those United States of America I thought it would be a good idea to buy myself a little souvenir as a remembrance of  the good times had. Of course I could have just taken a pic, but there’s a pretty good chance that one mountain or lake or beach, or whatever I set my eye on, would meld into the next and before you know it I would be wondering if I had been roaming around Idaho or Minnesota. No, I needed something definitive. Something that would tell me exactly where I had been. And that’s when I found it. Leisurely sipping on my afternoon Starbucks’ latte, (yes, even on holidays) I looked up and noticed that, there on the shelf, were dozens of mugs all with the name of the city I was currently sipping in. What could be better than that? Not only would I be able to remember where I was, I would take home something I could actually use. Whenever I wanted to reminisce about my time away I could pull out my mug, sit by the fire sipping on my tea (I never drink coffee at home) and think back longingly to the time I was wandering these lands of ours. Little did I know that would never be the case.

Because people started to notice. They would come to my house and I would give them a cuppa whatever in one of my mugs and they would remark on how interesting it was that I had begun collecting. Collecting? No, I’m just bringing back mugs from wherever I have been. But it seems when you have more than a few of something people begin to think you want even more and they apparently get some joy out of helping you add more of whatever that is. And so it was that whenever one of my friends would embark on their travels they would return with a mug from the city they had enjoyed a latte in as well. Which was nice, although not all that practical. You see, there was only so much room in my kitchen cupboards and since we didn’t drink all of our meals I needed to preserve some space for more practical items, like plates. Yet I enjoyed those mugs from places I had never been and accepted these gifts graciously. Truth be told, I even continued to pick up one or two more on my own.

Here things get a little blurry but one day while perusing eBay, I discovered that people purposely collected these Starbucks mugs and it was possible that I was sitting on a veritable gold mine. Who knew? Unfortunately my mugs had been used which any collector worth her salt knows is a cardinal sin. There was only one thing left to do. All my heretofore unused mugs were quickly moved from the kitchen cupboards to the safety of the glass enclosed china cabinet. Now “official”, this collection of mine has grown over time. Sometimes in fits and spurts, sometimes exponentially but in a pinch, I can accommodate upwards of 60 for tea. If I were to use them. Which of course, I won’t.

I should tell you that, like most collectors (I call myself that now) I’m not in this for the money. Nope. It’s about the thrill of the find. Although I must admit it’s a lot easier to walk into a Starbucks in just about any city and buy a mug than it would be to get your hands on, let’s say, a vintage 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO. Of course that Ferrari is worth considerably more than my, for instance, Edmonton city mug which currently demands about 280.00 (US) on eBay.

Come to think of it, I have two of those. Doing a rethink. PM me if you’re interested.

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My Proposal

You know as well as I do that I’m a sucker for a good reality TV show. Well any reality TV show really because, as you can imagine, they are not all that good. If I had to rank them I’d probably put HGTV on top as, even though we know that no one buys one of the first three houses they look at and it actually takes more than a week to rebuild an entire house, at least we get some good decorating ideas and a chance at a little guessing game as we decide where the family we have no real connection to and even less of a vested interest in, will decide where it is they would like to raise their children and spend the rest of their lives. And that can be fun.

Next I gotta go with the food channel as I do so love watching those who are at the pinnacle of their craft. I mean what could be more exciting than witnessing a master baker create the most spectacular peanut butter and raspberry jelly charlotte royale adding the last petal of the rather spectacular chocolate flower with only seconds left on the clock. And who doesn’t drool over a creamy crème brûlée with lime and mint soufflé glacé plated with an assortment of white and dark chocolate swirls that are simply to die for. Now I’m no baker (or cook for that matter) but these shows make me want to waltz right into that kitchen of mine and give it the good ol’ college try.

Of course there’s that vicarious travel one does while watching 13 or so sets of mother/daughter, boyfriend/girlfriend, married couple, unmarried couple, recently divorced couple, never intend to get married couple, etc. race through the streets of all the countries you ever dreamed of visiting. With a million bucks on the line it’s not too surprising that there are a few arguments, a little backstabbing and some opportunistic alliances made along the way. For the most part though, things are pretty copacetic on this journey around the world. And while you may not be on this amazing race, you do have a chance to bond with the couple of your choice and cheer them on as they make their way to the elusive finish line. If you ask me, it’s a whole lot more enjoyable than watching a bunch of strangers get nasty living in a house with someone (not really sure who) peering into their lives 24/7, or almost starving to death on an island somewhere in the south pacific. But maybe that’s just me. I would be remiss at this point I suppose if I didn’t include all of the assorted talent shows. Some good. Some not so much. All watchable in a pinch.

From here I’m afraid, things take a pretty big tumble downhill. Because somehow someone somewhere thought it would be a good idea to create a show where one gal or one guy spends a couple weeks meeting and subsequently deleting a whole whack of potential mates until they are left with the “one”. Before that happens there will be tears and fears, way too many kisses, a few family meet and greets and a whole lot of who knows what. Inevitably the two pledge their love forever although in most cases, forever is not a long, long time. So one would think that those at the helm might decide that trying to find love on national TV might be a mistake. But not so. Now there’s yet another way to meet your soulmate and it only takes one short hour of your time. And who, these days, can’t spare an hour?

Because, in case you missed it, the newest foray into the world of TV love is “The Proposal”. That’s right. This is a sad but true story. Some TV genius decided that a match made in heaven can happen in one measly hour by having 10 potential mates answer a couple of questions, parade around the stage in beachwear (even Miss America canned that one), shake hands with the BFF (and dog if there is one) and say “how do you do” to the proud Mom and Dad of the soon to be betrothed. This is love before first sight. Now I may be shallow but I gotta tell you, this takes the cake. I mean who does this? Really. And then it hit me. Like a nail, on my head. As we all know, marriages are theoretically for a lifetime but politicians, well you can legitimately get rid of those guys every four years. So the stakes are considerably lower. Why not apply this one hour “who’s your guy/gal” format to choosing politicians? And for the sake of illustration, let say it’s a president. So here’s my proposal.

First things first. Find 10 people who have always wanted to be the prez. Appoint a panel of three judges in order to avoid a tie. It’s their job to whittle the 10 down to one so why not start by picking out those that are most visually appealing. Now move on to the skill testing question. Nothing too hard because there’s only a minute to respond.  Something like “what would you do in the event of a nuclear war?” could work. With three prospects left have them parade around the stage dressed as presidential as possible. Eliminate the one with the bad hair and we are down to the final two. A quick conflab to come to a consensus and we’ve got a winner!  Our guy/gal for the next four years! All this in just one hour.

I know. Sounds silly, doesn’t it. But I’ll bet my bottom dollar that the result won’t be any worse than what we’ve got now.

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