Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Wednesday's Words for January 26, 2011

Over the past weekend, we had some of the coldest days of the year so far here in my neck of the woods. And of course, you had to know that this would be the weekend our furnace decided to act up.

I got the blame for it, too. I have this habit of turning the thermostat down at night before we go to bed. We have this amazing duvet which keeps us so warm, I swear some nights I kick the thing off. So why would I maintain the heat at a higher temperature if I’m going to spend the night under those marvellously warm feathers?

Unfortunately, the next morning – Saturday – when I awoke and turned the thermostat up from 50 degrees to 75, the furnace ignored me.

My beloved, who had the day off, noticed the failure of the furnace to heat the house. How did I know he had noticed? He pulled a blanket over himself to keep warm as he stretched out in his recliner and read.

Our initial thought was that the thermostat itself had died. We did have a new one, given to us when this furnace was installed 7 years ago, and which we had set aside.
On Sunday, my husband set about installing the new thermostat, an operation that didn’t take very long at all.

Alas, the problem was not solved, as the furnace still didn’t respond to our request for more heat.

I was all for calling the company that services our furnace right then and there. I knew the house call wouldn’t cost anything as I pay a fee each month hedging against just this eventuality.

My beloved insisted that since it wasn’t that cold (after all, we couldn’t see our breath in the air), that I wait until he set the basement to rights. I didn’t know, of course, that the basement was untidy. I’ve not been down there in quite some time. But Mr. Ashbury was adamant. It wouldn’t do to have a service man see our unkempt basement. Period.

Friends, that kind of thinking right there is why I am doomed to never, ever have even a one day a week housekeeper. Our home is in need of some cosmetic work, left over from more than five years ago when my husband and our late son were working on the renovations. The upstairs isn’t completely finished; the living room ceiling should be replaced, as should my kitchen floor. Hire a housekeeper? Oh, no, my house isn’t fancy enough for that.

My beloved finally set the basement to rights Monday night. By this time, I believed that, although it still wasn’t cold enough to see my breath in the air, my nose would be forever frozen. I was getting used to wearing several layers of clothes indoors and to holding my cup of hot coffee as opposed to drinking it, in order to warm my hands in between bouts of typing. Ah yes, I have been colder. But a part of me figured that by the time I had reached this age, those days would be behind me.

The furnace man came out—for the first time—at 8:30 Tuesday morning. I explained what the furnace was doing. He looked at the thermostat (likely to make sure we had indeed turned it up), then went down into the tidy basement to the furnace. Twenty minutes later he was emerged, explaining that an obscure air intake screen (inside a piece of black pipe) had been clogged. He affirmed the furnace was working normally, and left. I turned the thermostat up to 75.

An hour later when the house still had not warmed, I called the furnace people again. The second man came out at twelve-thirty, and promptly found the real culprit: a full condensation chamber. This time, when he left, the furnace really was fixed.

I celebrated the repair of the furnace by promptly going for a nap—a perfectly natural reaction to the end of being cold.

If I get to come back for another crack at this life thing, I think I’ll opt for something warm and furry that hibernates in the winter.

And I’m going to vote that Mr. Ashbury comes back as a woman married to a man just like him.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Wednesday's Words for January 19, 2010

Early this past Monday morning, all across this great Canadian province of Ontario, people from all walks of life—crossing all socio-economic, political, gender, and racial boundaries—breathed a huge sigh of relief and gratitude as the beer vat convoy finally reached its destination, safe and sound and ready to be put into service.

There are few things so deeply Canadian, guaranteed to bring tears to the eyes or to rouse the national spirit as our love of beer.

The Molson Coors brewery near Pearson Airport, Toronto had purchased six giant beer vats. These came to Canada from that other great beer-loving nation—Germany—by boat, arriving in Hamilton Harbor and off-loaded on January 7 2011.

Once ashore, and utilizing complex logistics that would make any army general proud, the six enormous vats began their journey to their final destination.

How big are these vats, you ask? Each one will hold approximately 1.4 million bottles of beer.

Yes, that’s right. 1.4 million bottles of beer.

To drive from the harbour in Hamilton to the brewery outside of Toronto using what we call the 400-series highways, would for you or me be a journey of about 66 kilometres, or 41 miles. However, these vats were so large, they had to be delivered via a different route, as they were too big to go under any highway overpasses. This is why the vats arrived at Hamilton harbour instead of the much closer Toronto harbour in the first place.

The trucking company, which planned (a six month long endeavour) and executed what is being called the most complicated moving job in Ontario’s history, used forty vehicles to make the move—twenty of which were off duty police vehicles, at the expense of the brewery, of course. The convoy also included a mechanic, a welder, and a food truck.

The first major hurdle the convoy had to overcome was the uphill slog to the top of the Niagara Escarpment, along a section of Highway 6 called the Clappison Cut. Each flatbed needed two diesel trucks to accomplish that feat.

In the course of the actual distance traveled—108 kilometres (67 miles)—there were 1600 overhead wires that needed to be moved, involving 8 different hydro-electric companies. The wires were either raised ahead of time, or cut and then repaired after the convoy passed. Yes, this meant that people all along the route were without electricity for anywhere from a half hour to two hours. But honestly, I have not heard of one single solitary complaint about the inconvenience.

After all, this is Canada, and the cause was beer.

Also along the route, some 250 traffic lights needed to be dismantled and then reassembled as the one kilometre long convoy passed through those controlled intersections.
The convoy moved only at night, and only on secondary roads. The journey was to have taken five days. But cold temperatures and an unexpected snow storm stretched that time line considerably.

Each day as I drove my beloved to work and we listened to the local news on the car radio, we received an update on the convoy. The fact that it was the first item on the news every day just underscored for me how serious we Canadians can be about our beer. As for those of us who are of German-Canadian descent...well, serious is such a paltry word, isn’t it?

But finally, in the wee hours of Monday morning, those enormous vats—that visually resemble jumbo jet engines—arrived at the brewery amid cheers and applause and the honking of horns.

And you thought the use of the word “eh” was our most noteworthy affectation!


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Wednesday's Words for January 12, 2010

There is a difference between responsibility and blame. I’m not really sure how it’s happened, but it seems to me that we, who live here in North America, have confused the two to such an extent, I really am worried that we’ll never completely separate them again.

I’m afraid we’ll never get it right.

My beloved has just recently completed his annual ‘safety training’ at work. Each year, in the first week or so of January, his employer presents a program designed to keep everyone aware of the latest safety procedures, to review old information, and to ensure that everyone realizes that the company takes the safety of its workers seriously.

All good.

My husband told me that according to one of the government agencies, “there is no such thing as an accident”. Period. If someone gets hurt at work, then someone, somewhere, somehow is to blame.

In these enlightened times in this province, if a worker is injured on the job, then not only can the company that employs him be charged, and subsequently fined, its principals jailed; so, too, can the worker’s supervisors and even the worker himself.

I can see problems with this stance. Personally, you wouldn’t be able to pay me enough money, under those conditions, to take a supervisory job. And I would guess that, most probably, the best and the brightest employees wouldn’t, either. Fines levied in workplace injury suits can be devastating for an individual to pay, because the employer is prevented, by law, from paying the fines on a supervisor’s behalf.

I really miss common sense. You know, that old thing we used to rely on? That thing that told us to do our best, try our best, and when mistakes happened, as mistakes were wont to do, to learn from them, and do better next time.

Under the above concept, you can change that thinking to read when mistakes happen, lose everything you own and go into bankruptcy and/or jail.

Nope, I don’t ever want to be a supervisor.

We are, as a society, very quick to blame anyone and everyone when tragedy strikes. When that tragedy is as a result of violence perpetrated by one individual upon another—or upon several others, we—represented by our news media and others who would step forward with fingers pointing—are quick to lay the blame for these crimes at countless pairs of feet.

Responsibility and blame. How to know the difference?

My heart goes out to the families and friends of the people murdered in Tucson last weekend. I especially feel great grief for the family of Christina Taylor Green. The murder of the young and innocent seems to me to be the most heinous of crimes. I also pray for the recovery of the injured.

Who do we blame for this tragedy? The man whose finger was on the trigger.

Do we look further? Certainly not in any criminal sense, in my opinion—unless he had a verifiable accomplice. I’ve been hearing “talking heads” from both ends of the political spectrum either casting blame or denying responsibility, at (metaphorically speaking) the tops of their lungs. I’ve a news flash for them. This isn’t about them, or their constant demonizing of each other, or their political agendas.

This is about a man who coldly and, apparently premeditatedly, committed mass murder. It’s about the lives taken, and the people injured.

I would, however, like to share one very personal opinion, if I may. It has always been my belief that when you step forward and would assume a role of leadership—be it in education, religion, law enforcement, business, or politics—that you are obliged to hold yourself to a higher standard; to remember that the examples you set, whether you want them to or not, inspire others—for good, and yes, sometimes, for evil.

This is a lesson we should have learned in 1170 when Henry II expressed his frustration by uttering, “What miserable drones and traitors have I nourished and brought up in my household, who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born cleric?" Words misinterpreted by the king’s devout followers as an order to assassinate the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket.

I don’t hold out much hope we’re going to learn this lesson anytime soon.


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

January 5, 2011

The tree is down, the turkey leftovers consumed, gifts have been put away, and life, for the most part, has returned to normal.

My beloved has gone back to work, and so have I. Actually, my ‘vacation’ these past two weeks was primarily a vacation from driving. Everything else I do carried on as usual. Since my chauffeur duties see me drive a hundred miles each day, and consume in total about two and a half hours doing so, that was break enough.

I did continue working over the last two weeks, and yes, my beloved was very well behaved, keeping himself occupied and, as he put it, ‘out of my hair’. He did have a rather large TBR pile, which has been whittled down to the point that we have to make a book store run in the very near future.

One of the things I liked best about this “vacation” time was the lack of a schedule. I hate living by the clock. Unfortunately reality in this day and age is that we all very much do live by the clock.

I quite enjoyed staying up late, sleeping in, going for late afternoon naps, and foraging for food rather than making structured, timed and to a certain extent complicated meals.
And, as much as I love my grandchildren, I also enjoyed the break from babysitting, too.
Now that life is supposedly back to normal, I do miss my afternoon naps. That will take a couple more days to get used to. But at least I get to work from the comfort of my own home in pyjamas, and I don’t have to brave the elements unless I want to.

Did you make any New Year’s resolutions? I didn’t. I’ve heard that by this point in the New Year, about 65% of the people who did make them have already failed. Personally, I think that has more to do with calling the changes you want to make in your life ‘New Year’s Resolutions’. Your subconscious self perks up, says ‘we’ll just see about that’, and before you know it, you’ve become a train wreck of derailed resolutions.

Something similar happens if you tell yourself you’re going on a diet.
It’s much better to just decide that you’re going to make a small change in your life, and then do it.

Small changes are, I believe, the way to go. There’s a reason, by the way, that you see so many ads for specials for gym memberships this time of year. It’s because the desire for change is out there. The gym owners know it, and only care about making that annual membership fee from you.

I can just see it. Suppose you made a resolution to get more exercise. You sign up. You go. You meet Igor, your six-foot-five totally ripped personal trainer. He walks around you, conducting an inspection during which he makes a lot of grunting, not-happy-about-what-he’s seeing noises.
Then he introduces you to the first of ten new-to-you exercise machines. One hour later, having visited all ten torture devices, you limp for home, rethinking this whole ‘let’s get in shape’ ridiculous idea you had.

I believe it would be better do to something for just ten or fifteen minutes a day. One thing, for ten or fifteen minutes. Every day. Something. Anything. Enough that you’re moving. Not enough to discourage you from repeating the experience.

The same with changing your eating habits. Look at what you’re taking in, and cut out about 100 calories a day. Then, in a couple of weeks, see what else you can eliminate, reduce, or change.
The hardest part of doing anything different, really, is getting used to doing it. Just one small change at a time is, in my opinion, the best way to go.

We can all do that. And when we do, we’ll feel like winners, and not failures.