Kindly Remember

Random Acts of Kindness Ribbon

Random Acts of Kindness Ribbon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


            I’ve got to say I cannot agree with Random Acts of Kindness Day. This Friday, November 4th has been dubbed Random Acts of Kindness Day and is defined as a day to celebrate “little niceties”, and encourage people to pay those “acts of kindness forward.” On the surface this is a seemingly charming and lovely philosophy. But think about it—do we really need one day to prove that we are thoughtful? Shouldn’t we always practice kindness, and not just randomly? And if we are doing the act of kindness as a way to pay it forward, then is it really an act of kindness or just something to get the karma going? (You know–do something nice now to get something nice done for you in the future.)

Random’s cousins are chance, accidental, haphazard, indiscriminate, casual and unsystematic. Should we really practice something accidentally or haphazardly? Should we not put some thought into our acts of kindness? And to take it one step further—shouldn’t we be kind without having to found a day to enact helpfulness, compassion and charity?

I went to a website touting “Random Acts of Kindness Day” where one mother’s testimony showed her pride in her young daughter for being kind. In her own words this is how she described the random act of kindness:

“I am thrilled that my daughter, Maggie, came home from Senior Kindergarten and said she pulled everyone in the wagon outside (instead of taking her usual turn) and then she “wowed” me even more when she said she is going to make “kindness day” every day!”

Well, duh—so we have to be guided by a kindergartener in not just being kind for a day, but being kind every day? Maggie certainly has the right idea—being kind just one day out of the year didn’t make sense to her.

Do we have to be guilted into being kind? The ads on TV say “hold a door open for someone, smile at someone to brighten their day, pay someone a compliment”. Don’t we do that anyway? Seriously, the world is in really bad shape if we have to be told to do these things. If you do not naturally do them (and I think most people do) then you are not going to start just because someone has declared it Random Acts of Kindness Day!

Okay, before I fall off my soap box, let me wish you a Happy November. I always feel sorry for November—it seems to be the lost month. In Canada it is between that happy month of October and the merry month of December. Maybe November needs some random acts of kindness. We should learn to like grey and rain and a month with a solemn day to remember those who fought (and continue fighting or peacekeeping-a much nicer word). I believe it is great that we have a day, one day, we set aside to honour those who faced (and face) atrocities for our freedom.

Remembrance Day is a little like Random Acts of Kindness Day. We should remember all the time, just as we should be kind all the time. I would never get rid of Remembrance Day or the couple of minutes we spend on the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour remembering, but we should not just don a poppy and observe silence and think we have done our duty. So many of my baby boomer friends, whose dads served in the WWII and are no longer here, remember that their brave fathers (and a few, their mothers) did not brag about the war years, nor complain. They came home, took care of their families, and did not share the atrocities they saw or went through. I heed the words of Jose Narosky, the Argentinian writer who said “In war, there are no unwounded soldiers.”

Just as little Maggie is determined to make every day a “kindness day”, I am going to make every day a “remembrance day”, remembering those who made it easy for us to be able to practice kindness in a country where freedom reigns.

According to author Cynthia Ozick, “We often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude.” Thank you to all those who made it (and continue to make it) possible for us to take our freedom and liberty for granted. No random act of kindness can repay you—but we can try.

Published in: on October 31, 2011 at 2:16 pm  Comments (4)  
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Time for Ghoulies and Ghosties and Long Legged Beasties

Cover of "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie...

Cover of It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

 Kingsville is my hometown on Lake Erie near Windsor

“A house is never still in darkness to those who listen intently; there is a whispering in distant chambers, an unearthly hand presses the *snib of the window, the latch rises. Ghosts were created when the first man awoke in the night.”  J.M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan, is the originator of these words which are an eerie prelude to this season of Halloween. Many find the dark quiet and comforting, a respite from the busyness of the “lighted” hours. But at this time of year, we do pause, even for just a moment on Halloween and wonder if the ghoulies and ghosties and unexplained things that go bump in the night are getting restless.

Are there ghosts? I am not prepared to deny their existence. If they are like Casper then all is well, but as for some of his green tinged ghastly cohorts and diaphanous friends the colour of fog, I am not so sure. Kingsville famously has the ghost, George, who resides at Kings Landing. By all accounts, he is mischievous but never hurtful or threatening. From my cursory research, his existence is known only through phantom footsteps and flickering lights as he is shy and has never shown his gossamer self. In other words, George is my kind of ghost.

An online blog called Red Room that I belong to asked us to write our favourite ghost story. I do not have a favourite ghost story—although if I had to choose one, it would be about George—being a hometown boy and all. But I must admit, his penchant for turning taps on and lights off is not an appealing trait.

I have adopted the “cute and fuzzy school of Halloween”; my stance on the scarier side of the celebration is to ignore it. I love the little princesses and frogs that come to my door, the boys and girls dressed as their favourite heroines and heroes—be they caped, crowned, or sparkly. I admire imaginative costumes, even if they are creepy, for after all, even I have to accept and respect that Halloween’s more gory aspects has its admirers, though I am not one, nor will I ever join their fold.

In light of  my penchant for an non-scary Halloween, I typed in “cheery Halloween quotes” and Googled it. This is what I came up with—a few funny quotes and moan worthy jokes. So if you are like me, and not fond of the dark side—read on. If you do like the dark side, well just consider the following an expansion of your horizons into another kinder, gentler universe:

“I’ll bet living in a nudist colony takes all the fun out of Halloween.” – Unknown Author

“There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics and the Great Pumpkin.” – Linus from ‘It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown’

“Charlie Brown is the one person I identify with. C.B. is such a loser. He wasn’t even the star of his own Halloween special.” – Chris Rock

“Nothing on Earth is so beautiful as the final haul on Halloween night.” – Steve Almond

“On Halloween, the parents sent their kids out looking like me.” – Rodney Dangerfield

A few jokes the website terms as funny follow—you be the judge:

Q. What do the skeletons say before eating? A. Bone appetit!

Q. What happens when two vampires meet? A. It was love at first bite!

Q. What’s a Vampire’s least favourite song? A. Another one bites the dust!

Q. Why was the mummy so tense? A. Because he was all wound up.

Q. Why didn’t the skeleton go to see a scary movie? A. He didn’t have the guts.

If nothing else, you can pass these jokes onto any eight year old you know—they will appreciate them. As for me and Halloween at my house, I may don my witch’s hat (with veils and pretty silky black flowers),  give out some candy, then turn my lights off at 8:00. After all even witches need to get their beauty sleep. (I have purchased my candy a little ahead of time—but bought stuff that does not tempt me—there is nothing worse than candy bars that call to you in the night, except maybe for ghoulies and ghosties and things that go bump in the night!)

*If you are wondering, a snib is the catch that holds the bolt on a lock.

The Grass is Not Always Greener

Cover of "If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, ...

Cover via Amazon

A Bombeckian truism, and the name of one of Erma’s many books, ‘If life is a bowl of cherries, what am I doing in the pits?”—is both quantified and immortalized in the following nine laws I came across recently. They are far reaching in their grasp of life, whether you are a student or student of life. While acerbic in nature, they are thought-provoking. But more important, while they may cause you to pause, they may then make you laugh. And what is better than a good laugh?

The first is Kauffman’s Paradox of the Corporation. He theorizes that, “The less important you are to the corporation, the more your tardiness or absence is noticed.” Lampner, who I have on good authority, is Kauffman’s long lost cousin has an addendum to that law. His rule states: “When leaving work late, you will go unnoticed. When you leave work early, you will meet the boss in the parking lot.”

And just to make work life all the more attractive there is the Salary Axiom to contend with. It states that “The pay raise is just large enough to increase your taxes and just small enough to have no effect on your take-home pay.”  You can either lol (laugh out loud) or cry in your tea about this one.

The one I quite like is Miller’s Law of Insurance. I am not sure who Miller is (or was), but he/she is/was obviously wise. The tenents of this law? Insurance covers everything except what happens. How true is this? Yes, your insurance covers water damage but not Acts of God. Seriously, would God really flood our basements?  Does God not have better things to do than mess up our basement rec rooms? (Or in my case, basement dungeon.)

There is a law to cover every instance. For example, Murphy’s First Law for Wives is: “If you ask your husband to pick up five items at the store and then you add one more as an afterthought, he will forget two of the first five.” Okay, then, write them down for your husband. This is an easy thing and a very necessary step for me these days. If I do not write stuff down, it does not get done. It gets filed away somewhere in the dark recesses of my mind—to be left there until they no longer matter. This can be dangerous—the taxman doth not like to be forgotten.

There is one law that I have learned to circumvent (with help) very nicely. It is officially called The Grocery Bag Law, and states that “The candy bar you planned to eat on the way home from the market is hidden at the bottom of the bag.” Due to savvy checkout clerks, who tend to ask if you want the gum or breath mints or chocolate bar you have just purchased set aside to put in your purse, I no longer have this problem. I understand that this does not solve any of the world’s current problems, but it does make my little corner of the planet just that bit more pleasant.

"Never lend your car to anyone to whom yo...

“Never lend your car to anyone to whom you have given birth.” ~Erma Bombeck (Photo credit: Foto_di_Signorina)

Staying at the grocery store, there is one other law which is simple, but so true. It is Isaac’s Strange Rule of Staleness. “Any food that starts out hard will soften when stale. Any food that starts out soft will harden when stale.” Bread which is soft gets hard. Crispy potato chips get limp when stale.”

Weiner’s Law of Libraries answers a lot of questions for me. It puts forth the theory that “There are no answers, only cross-references.” But you can thwart this truism by asking your librarian for help. “Easy peasy” as my sister would say. If you need a definition of easy peasy—it means more than easy.

The First Law of Living states that “As soon as you start doing what you always wanted to be doing, you’ll want to be doing something else.” I have a bone to pick with this one—it is a sort of the “grass is always greener on the other side” or as Erma Bombeck would say: “the grass is always greener over the septic tank” type of thinking. Gazing wistfully or wishfully over the fence, we have to remember that crabgrass is also green. Though I must admit, I personally have no problem with crabgrass—without it, I would have no lawn.

I was made aware of these laws through an email from a friend, and the Internet seems to be the foundation of their immediate origin. I would like to extend a personal thank you to Kaufmann, Lampman, Weiner, Miller, Murphy, Isaac and the unnamed for their laws, and add one more that I will attribute to Erma: “the bathroom is the place my kids escape to until the groceries are put away.” This, though is not something I find to be true. The arrival of the groceries is a much heralded event at my house–and the “kids” (which includes my husband) seem to come out of nowhere to go through the bags to see if I bought anything “good”. Suffice to say, they are not looking for broccoli.

Tradition: A good thing for Thanksgiving

English: Thanksgiving Dinner, Falmouth, Maine,...

English: Thanksgiving Dinner, Falmouth, Maine, USA 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Happy Thanksgiving 2011

Who needs tradition? We need institutions, habits, customs, and rituals to mark our important occasions. And we need the tradition of Thanksgiving to mark and celebrate our harvest and give thanks. But more than that—we need some things to remain the same. Year after year. Year in and year out. I do not need to “change up” Thanksgiving. Admit it, how many times do you have turkey and stuffing and all the fixings during the year? Why would we want to “change up” Thanksgiving if we hardly ever celebrate and eat and give thanks for the things that compose this fine holiday?

For years I have fought against tradition—mainly because I found the turkey a difficult thing to wrangle. But last year, after  telling my tale of woe to a friend of mine in an email, she wrote back and told me what to do.  Her knowledge and wisdom have changed my life forever. It is a small thing—but one that makes my family’s wish for turkey dinners a dream come true. “Why don’t you,” she wrote, “do what I do and buy one of those turkeys that are already stuffed and frozen? They do not need to be defrosted—you just take them out of the freezer and put them in the oven.” Now, preparing the turkey is not quite as simple as she said. You still have to take the plastic wrapping off, and remove the plastic bag of innards (which is placed in a conspicuous spot for easy removal). I do plaster my turkey generously in butter—but that is it! Okay, I  peer at it from time to time and baste it, just to do my part—but I don’t think it even needs that.

The best part? The stuffing is good. The turkey comes out brown and crispy and tasty, and I do not have a major meltdown. I also have one of those meat thermometers now that helps me judge when meat is done by the temperature gauge so I do not kill my family. I do have a suggestion for the meat thermometer people though. They need to invent a thermometer for paranoid cooks that indicates clearly that “this is the temperature you need to reach in order not to poison your family.” I would find that immensely comforting, but until then I will cook everything to a temperature of 360 degrees (yes, I am kidding, even I know I would be serving a big lump of coal at this temp).

What got me thinking about tradition was an article in the Saturday National Post. On the front page of the Food, Book, and Entertainment Section was a story called “Your Complete Visual Shopping List for Thanksgiving.” The food writer suggested that you take the page to the  grocery store, buy the food shown and use Bonnie Stern’s “delicious updates of next weekend’s classic dishes”.

I then turned to page WP13 of the Toronto newspaper as instructed and lo and behold, Bonnie Stern provided a menu and recipes for a Nordic Thanksgiving! In her little blurb before she got into the actual recipe accounting, Ms. Stern admitted to just returning from recent travels in Scandinavia where she was inspired to (and these are my words) ruin Canadian Thanksgiving by suggesting that we have roast celeriac with herb crumbs, rye berry salad, roast turkey breast with dill and lemon and marzipan kuchen with peaches and plums! Has the woman no shame? These recipes on their own for other occasions are probably wonderful, but I say uncategorically and with great righteousness—do not sully the traditional turkey and stuffing, gravy and mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and green bean casserole, cranberries and pickle platter, coleslaw and Jell-O salads, and pumpkin pie with the requisite whipped cream!

Ms. Stern says that Denmark and Sweden do not have big Thanksgiving celebrations—so why then is she taking a page out of their book? I say, stick with the tried and true (now that I have become an aficionado of the tried and true) and forget “changing up Thanksgiving”. No lamb or ham or prime rib or roast pork or turkey breast with dill and lemon for me. Let tradition live on with those staples of turkey and stuffing, homemade cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie.

Published in: on October 3, 2011 at 5:10 pm  Comments (9)  
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Fall By Any Other Name


September (Photo credit: Helgi Halldórsson/Freddi)

This  just as easily describes October as September, at least in my neck of the woods:

 It is now or never. Actually, it is now, or wait for a year. It is the last week in September and if I am to use the poem, aptly called “September Poem” by Helen Hunt Jackson, I had better get to it. Hard to believe it is the end of September, with October banging on the door. This is my favourite time of year, though spoiled for many as the harbinger to winter, it is a time those of us not prone to look beyond our noses, enjoy.

 Many of the things mentioned in Ms. Jackson’s poetic tribute to September are felt in October. So for your reading pleasure, and without much further ado, I present “September Poem”:

The golden rod is yellow; the corn is turning brown
The trees in apple orchards–with fruit are bending down;
The gentian’s bluest fringes are curling in the sun;
In dusty pods the milkweed–its hidden silk has spun;
The sedges flaunt their harvest in every meadow nook,
And asters by the brookside make asters in the brook;
From dewy lanes at morning the grapes’ sweet odour rise;
At noon the roads all flutter with yellow butterflies—
By all these lovely tokens, September days are here,
With summer’s best of weather, and autumn’s best of cheer.

Helen Hunt Jackson

Helen Hunt Jackson (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 Admit it, does this poem, (if you are of a certain age) not take you back to the days of grammar school when we were forced to learn a certain number of lines of poetry in order to pass our language course. I remember sitting in at recess and noon hours when I was in grade four learning line upon line of poetry, to be recited to the teacher before being allowed to go outside. I hated memorizing poetry—but things that rhymed were much easier than prose poems. If I had been acquainted with Ms. Jackson, this would have been a poem I would have chosen to memorize—although for the life of me, I do not know what a gentian is, or what sedges are, but that can be remedied by a quick Google.

 Okay, I am back—gentians are a pretty flower-like plant, and sedges are a kind of grass (no, landscaping is obviously not my calling). I guess from the context of the poem, you get that idea, but I just wanted to make sure. I like the feeling the poem conjures, whether it is about September or not does not matter, it “feels” like a fall or “sweater weather” poem.

 Born in 1831 in Massachusetts, Helen Hunt Jackson lived until 1885 and was described as “the most brilliant, impetuous and thoroughly individual woman of her time”. If even one of those little descriptions were allotted to me, I would be happy.

 I did take a little licence with her poem, as it is really a five stanza, four line poem, but somehow I do not think this thoroughly individual woman would mind. Friends with Emily Dickinson, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Oliver Wendell Holmes, she had bigger fish to contend  with in her lifetime than this wretched but admiring columnist.

 We still have at least six weeks of “autumn cheer” ahead of us (keep your fingers crossed), and though late fall does not boast all the “lovely tokens” of September days, we can keep them vividly in mind during November’s greyness and December’s snow.

Published in: on October 2, 2011 at 6:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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