Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Dear Canada Post, a break up letter

Dear Canada Post,

I loved you when I was a teenager. I could write a letter to my friend, pay you thirty cents, and you would send my letter to her. Even when the envelope groaned under the length we made our addresses. Canada, North America, Earth, Solar System, Milky Way Galaxy... you still got it there within two days.

When I was an adult, I lost a lot of respect for you over one word. Insurance. To my way of thinking, when you pay for a service you should get that service. I pay you my money to send a parcel from my local post office to a friend or family member. That parcel is in your possession until it's picked up at the other end. Until my friend or family member picks up the parcel, it is your responsibility. That is what I paid you for, to deliver my parcel safely and efficiently. So why do you refuse to promise this unless I pay you extra?

When I go to the grocery store, I don't have to pay extra to ensure the cashier rings my products in correctly. In fact, if they screw up I get the product for free. When I go to a restaurant, I don't have to pay extra to make sure the waiter brings me what I order and remembers to serve me. And when I order a product from a store with shipping, I don't pay extra to ensure it gets delivered. If I don't receive the product, they ship it again. Your insurance reminds me more of the mafia or, at the very least, the mafia as seen in fiction books and on TV. You know, the old, "You never know when someone might just come in and rob your store and break your kneecaps. If you give us insurance, we'll make sure this doesn't happen."

I've been slowly breaking up with you over the years. My friends and I email each other now instead of sending letters for example. About the only things that go through the mail now are cards. To me it's just not Christmas or a birthday without a real card you can pick up and hold. An ecard just doesn't have the same feel.

I picked up a birthday card for my sister. Nothing huge or glittery; just a nice, simple, standard sized birthday card. And, since it's my sister and I wanted to send her something (while avoiding "sell a kidney" shipping fees plus urging to buy insurance) I added a gift card.

I went to your counter at our local Shoppers Drug Mart to pick up a local stamp. The cashier informed me it was 69 cents. I fished out all my change but only had 61 cents. A total irony as when I went online later to double check stamp prices for 1982, I discovered the set price is 61 cents. However, you allow kiosks with your name and products, staffed by people in Canada Post uniforms to set their own prices. In order to get the real Canada Post price, you have to go to an actual outlet. I don't know where that is. The one  building I knew is for sale. It was moot anyways as the cashier plunked my card down on a scale and informed me my standard birthday card was "oversize" by 0.04g and therefore twice the price. Apparently gift cards are too heavy for letter mail and glitter can tip the scale too.

I paid my extra money and, as I was walking away, the cashier chucked the card into a sliding drawer and cheerfully informed me that since I hadn't paid for any form of expedited parcel delivery, my card would be delivered in six days. Six? What happened to 2 - 3 day service? Heck, I walked past a mailbox on my way home and it claimed four days for national service. Still a day more than I remember but two less than I was told.

And now I'm pondering Christmas. If a simple plastic gift card doubles my price, what are a picture and a letter going to do? Heck, according to you, even if I skip the letter and picture, some glitter on the card might bump me over the weight limit. You might have me by the short and curlies there. I can't think of another organization that will deliver Christmas cards for any decent price. But today was my last gift card. From now on presents will be bought and shipped through companies offering free delivery.

So Canada Post, it was fun while it lasted. And while I'd love to leave you with the face saving "it's me, not you" speech, this time it really is you. You might see me over the Christmas holidays, but if you don't you'll know why.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

You obviously don't have a sense of humour

How many of you have heard that phrase before? How many of you have said it? I think that phrase exemplifies one of the problems in our society, a serious lack of empathy.

I started thinking about it last week when a certain comedian* fervently defended his rape "jokes" and his subsequent "joke" of asking members of his audience to gang rape an inadvertent heckler. I say inadvertent as she admits she hadn't gone to the show to disrupt it, something I think most hecklers set out to do.

I thought about it some more this week when someone* on a craft website made a t-shirt regarding the shootings at the movie theatre in Colorado. A shirt with a print of the murderer's* face on the front and "It's WAY too soon to wear this shirt" typed in bloody font.

I wouldn't have known about either except through social media. In the first case it was through friends on Facebook who were horrified by the so-called jokes. In the second it was through a forum I belong to and, in that case, the responses generally circled around freedom of speech.

Freedom of speech. I get that's a big thing, especially in the United States where it seems to be brought up as frequently as the right to bear arms. But whatever happened to tact and decency? Do the people who claim this as a right for anyone to say whatever they want, whenever they want, think this was what their ancestors had in mind? Hint, your ancestors were wanting you to be free from oppressive governments, not allowed to trash talk your neighbours and insult bereaved family members with impunity.

When my children were small I spent a lot of time teaching them tact and empathy. "Yes honey, I know the man we just passed was very fat. He knows that too and it hurt his feelings when you yelled it. You don't need to say everything you think, you can keep some things in your head."

To me, that was just part of being a human being. Think about what others are feeling. Be respectful. Don't say something if you know it's going to hurt someone else needlessly. Try to be kind. Something my parents and grandparents would simply sum up as "good manners".

There seems to be a growing number of people who either missed those lessons or flat out ignored them. They seem to think of tact as a form of weakness, a fear of sharing your thoughts. They see themselves as strong, blunt, or brutally honest. Sharing truths everyone else is too weak-willed to share. People who disagree are too stupid to see the truth. The people they hurt are dismissed as weak and too sensitive.

In one forum I go on, people who disagree and think some things simply shouldn't be said are regularly referred to as "drama llamas"; a name that was once saved for people who constantly lead and share overly dramatic lives. The sort of person who posts "OMG FML!!! Nothing good ever happens to me!" when all that happened was they ran out of milk after the store closed and they'll need to make eggs for breakfast instead of cereal. Now, however, if you post that making a t-shirt about a recent mass murder is disgusting, you're dismissed as a "drama llama".

I see this as part of a bigger issue. A lack of empathy means dismissing whole groups of people as being different from you and not worthy of the same rights and benefits as you. Welfare "bums"... of course they should be tested for drugs and alcohol then turfed off assistance if they test positive. I don't want "my money" being used for this. Ignoring that alcohol isn't illegal. Ignoring that people who abuse drugs are in the minority. Ignoring that it will cost more money to test everyone on assistance than it will save so we'll lose money. Ignoring the question of where will these people go? Someone who's addicted to drugs and already unemployed isn't going to suddenly find a job once they're penniless and on the street. Ironically the same people who want this to happen are also frustrated and fed up with beggars on the streets. So they're advocating for more people to be on the streets while demanding that someone do something and get these people out of their sight. And anyone who disagrees with them is a leftist dreamer with "pie in the sky" ideals.

Or, in the States, the whole gay marriage issue. Herds of people stampeding to polls to vote that their State never allow same-sex marriages ever. Or, in the case of North Carolina, stripping the rights of people in common law marriages too just to ensure no same-sex marriages occur. Under the misguided idea that, just because they personally don't want same-sex marriage, no one else should be allowed to. Refusing the right for millions of people to marry the person they love because it's "icky" and they don't want to have to think about it.

And, in Canada, there's Omar Khadr, a 15 year old boy convicted of war crimes and sent to Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp. He's been there for a decade now, despite an initial agreement of an 8 year sentence with a chance to come back to Canada after one year. No matter what he's like now after a decade of imprisonment and torture, no matter what his family beliefs are regarding western society, he is a Canadian citizen. I can't see how ignoring our Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a good thing. If we ignore one young man because of his family beliefs, his religion, who he visited at 10 years old, or the colour of his skin... where do we stop? Personally, I think he should have been hustled back as a 15 year old child. We're Canadian and we should take care of our own.

Do I have any solutions? No. But one thing I refuse to do now is sit back and shut up in the face of intolerance and just plain meanness. You think I don't have a sense of humour? Fine. But you'll have to listen to me tell you that I think you're the one lacking in humour if you think gang rape and mass murder is funny. If you don't like it, don't share your so-called jokes with me. They're not funny.

* I'm not adding names because I refuse to give these people any more time in the spotlight.

Monday, 9 July 2012

My time to shine

I wrote this blog in January and it's so true: I wish I were a bear. Every winter I'm so tired, slow, and cold. I don't want to go outside. I live in front of our electric fireplace and wear slippers to bed. I'd wear slippers to work too if I could fit them in my shoes.

But now it's July and I'm at the opposite end of the energy chart. I got up this morning and used the Wii My Fitness Coach. Then I dragged my son out for a hike. Drag was almost completely literal. He did not want to go at all. Of course, when we got to the conservation area he was thrilled and loved the walk.

The walk was great. We walked up and down steep hills, as seen in the photo, and climbed on rocks across little creeks. We joked around about the signs. One trail sign showed a white bear with an arrow pointed from the mouth down toward the backside. We immediately had to go on the "eaten by a polar bear" trail... where we saw nothing more than mosquitoes.

After lunch we went to our outdoor pool and splashed around for a good hour. Racing each other back and forth across the pool. Diving to the bottom just to see what was there (a white ball). Then racing each other some more.

Now that we've had dinner, I'm all set to go out again. Another walk? A half-hour on the treadmill? How about a bike ride? A bike ride sounds wonderful and I know son loves to ride his bike.

Son's already had a bath and is tuckered out from all the exercise we've done today. He's too tired to go on a bike ride. So now I'm heading out on my own while he tries to recuperate. I hope he rests up because I've got plans of heading out for a bike ride first thing tomorrow morning.

And this winter I'm hoping our indoor pool and gym (with a sauna) will be enough to lure me out on dark chilly nights, when all I want to do is sit in front of the fireplace and doze.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

I want it and I want it NOW!

I left for work yesterday just before 5:30am and got home just after 4pm with plans of making either pancakes or waffles for dinner. Both were nice and easy and both could be used for a quick lunch for son today. I checked the fridge as soon as I walked in and we had just enough milk left. Of course, a half hour later when I went to make the pancakes, son had already drank over a cup and we no longer had enough.

I grumbled and we headed out to the grocery store to pick up milk and something for dinner as by that time I didn't really feel like making pancakes. We headed down the dairy aisle first then son started down the ice cream aisle. We looked at the huge row of tantalizing confections and son burst out, "It's not fair. I can't get ice cream because of your stupid diet". I assured him we could go back to the dairy aisle and pick up cream then he retaliated with, "No! Then we'd have to wait until tomorrow and I don't want to have to wait. I want ice cream now!"

At the time I simply empathized with him. It wasn't fair. Why does our food have so much stuff in it? I'm not talking about added vitamins and minerals. I'm talking about edible fillers used so our food is almost the same as the original but cheaper to produce. High fructose corn syrup instead of plain sugar. Cellulose gum in cartons of 35% whipping cream. And I said to him, "What does it do to our bodies when so much of our food has fillers added so they can be made more cheaply? Things that are edible but taking the place of food with real nutritional value. Why can't we buy a carton of ice cream at the store that has nothing but cream, eggs, sugar, milk, and vanilla? Why can't I buy a simple carton of whipping cream that has an ingredient list comprised of cream?" Or more specifically why can't I buy a 500mL carton for under $9 when the rest of the cartons are $3.99?

This morning I thought back to one day last week. It was a hot sunny day and I knew I had an hour ahead of me, after work, before I got home. This includes a walk around a city block through downtown to transfer from one bus to another (thanks darn one-way streets). But I'd made two different batches of ice cream the night before and was looking forward to having a bowl after dinner. I couldn't wait to open the freezer and pick my ice cream. That's when I realized we're missing out on one other crucial ingredient these days. Anticipation.

My Mom commented once about credit cards and layaway. That up until the 1950's, people simply didn't have credit cards. If you wanted something, you saved up your money until you could afford it then bought it. If there was something you wanted desperately, like an engagement ring, and were worried it would be gone ahead of time then you put it on layaway and made payments towards it until you'd paid it off. But you didn't get it until you'd made your final payment.

These days there's no waiting. If you want something, go out today and get it. From the little things like a bowl of ice cream to the big things like furniture. We live in the NOW. Not mindfully, not the Buddhist tradition of "living in the now", but like toddlers who can't wait for their cookie. "I want it and I want it now", versus "I will not fret about the past or worry overmuch about the future, instead I'll savour today and live life for this moment".

That afternoon, while I pondered my ice cream, felt a little like Christmas. Something good was going to happen when I got home. Something tasty. Something I liked. And I couldn't rush it. It was going to happen in it's own time.

These days anticipation happens less and less frequently. It doesn't matter what we want (especially in urban areas) we can get it right away. Our grocery store is open 24 hours a day and so is our drug store. At least one of the local fast food outlets is open about 22 hours a day and several more for the full 24 hours. If you want burgers at 2am, they're good with it. If I want to watch a TV show, on demand television brings it to my living room any time I want. If I want to read a book, I can buy it and instantly download it to my ereader this second.

Each one individually isn't a bad thing. I love being able to pick out a book to read at bedtime. And when we moved in here and were still unloading the moving truck at 11pm, it was great to be able to run to the store for cold drinks and food. But as all these conveniences move into our lives, we experience anticipation less and less. I could run across the street and buy a loaf of bread right now. I could go a few more blocks to an actual bakery and pick up a loaf of fresh bread. But we'd miss out on the aroma of fresh bread permeating the apartment for the last hour before the bread was done. We'd miss out on that first slice, the one where the bread is finally cool enough to cut but still warm enough to melt butter.

And that's what I want for my kids. Eat an apple, have a piece of cheese, but otherwise you have to wait because Mom's making real food for dinner. Anticipate. It's good for you.