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I’m Fine Thanks. How Are You?

March 22, 2011

How many times a day do you automatically spew that line? And do you really mean it? And do you really care about the answer to your question?

As part of the work that I’ve been doing, I’ve been answering that question with “I’m fine” or even “I’m great”. I’m not only providing it as an answer, but I’m honestly trying to BE fine and/or great. Because really, how bad can it be? I live in a wealthy country, I have plenty of food and water, a nice roof over my head, and relative health.

Of course, you can still be fine without any of those things, but that requires a bit more work.

At the nursing home where my dad lives, one of the other residents is a relatively young woman who uses a wheelchair and has significant motor control issues. Her speech is extremely difficult to understand, a three syllable word can take several seconds. But if you ask her how she is, she will give you a three syllable answer. She is “wonderful”.  Every single time.

Anyway, I’m bothered today by something that happened over a year ago.

I was still working, but we had been told our client was ending the contract with us, the agency would be closing, we were all out of a job.  On the day that I was called up to HR to get my termination papers I was, of course, in a foul mood.

I left the HR office with the termination agreement in hand and sat waiting for the elevator wondering what the hell I was going to do next. As the elevator door opened, I was faced with one of our clients. A wonderful woman with whom I had worked closely for several years. She was headed back to her office several floors up, I was only going up one floor.

She looked a bit uncomfortable, but seemed to force a smile and said “Hi, how are you?”

My bitterness came out. In that moment she was the enemy. I didn’t manage much of an answer. I waved the legal sized white envelope in the air and said “Termination papers, how do think I am doing?”  The elevator doors opened for my floor and I left her standing there looking uncomfortable.

I was pleased with myself. What kind of stupid question was that? She knows what’s going on! And to smile on top of it? Some nerve! I’m GLAD I made her feel uncomfortable!

( Sigh. )

I’m not very proud of that moment.

I’ve played it over and over in my head since then, wishing I could change it.

About a month later I found out this woman had cancer. This kind and wonderful person had cancer.  She had very little precious time left on this earth. She was gone within months.

Did she know that day on the elevator? Had she just found out recently? Was that why she looked uncomfortable but was bravely faking a smile?

I’ll never know.

I just wish I could have given the my now standard answer.

I’m fine thanks. How are you?


Great Service

March 15, 2011

Earlier today Kelly was telling me about a friend of hers and how this friend was responding to absolutely horrible customer service she had encountered. This led to the usual discussion I’m sure you’ve all had about how “everything is going downhill” and “corporations just don’t care anymore” etc.

But in the last little while I’ve had the benefit of two extremely positive experiences. They stand out in particular because of the stark contrast with what we’ve become accustomed to.  I’m blogging about it because these two companies deserve the recognition, and they deserve your business.

First, a few weeks back, my desktop bit the dust. It just wouldn’t turn on. I had built this thing about 6 years ago, at the time it was fairly top end stuff. Now, well, you know what 6 years is in electronics years? I think it’s more than dog years.

So I called a local computer shop thinking it was the power supply. I bought a new one and started to install it, but because of the age I would have needed all kinds of adapters to make it work. I called them back and they said they could do it right then and there, so I brought it over and they did, on the spot. Unfortunately that didn’t fix the issue. I left the computer with them for diagnosis. A few days later they called to tell me my motherboard was fried. Worse yet, at 6 years old, they couldn’t get a replacement. They could get something similar, but I decided not to spend money to get something already outdated.

I went in to the shop to pay my last respects, and we went over what I wanted them to build for me. I described what I wanted, they made suggestions, listed prices and we finally agreed on a pretty high end machine.

When I got home I checked everything online, reviews of the pieces and parts (what they had recommended was indeed top end stuff) and prices (I could not have built it cheaper myself)

Once built, I brought it home and started testing it out. Unfortunately, I started having problems almost as soon as I pushed it a little. I was trying to do video editing and it kept crashing, a video driver error.

So you’re thinking, how is this a positive experience? Well, it’s how they dealt with it. I called them and explained. They suggested it may be the power supply. (long story, but it made sense) I reminded them about my disability and that it was hard for me to lug the computer around. They came TO MY HOUSE a day later and replaced the power supply, tested it, only to find that didn’t solve the problem. The tech settled in and tried a few things, updated drivers, and then ran a stress test on the video card. It turns out the video card itself was defective. They ordered a video card and will come out to my house to install the new one in a day or two. All of this house call diagnostics and repair work was done at NO COST!  Imagine that, a company that stands behind their work.

So, if you’re in the Windsor area, and you need a computer, or you need one fixed, I highly recommend PC Outfitters. Honest service, extremely knowledgeable, and you can’t beat the prices.

Then, on the weekend, a friend told me about a really good tea she had fallen in love with. She told me the brand and name of it, and told me that she had gotten it at I went to the site and ordered the same tea. It was $4, and the shipping was free. That was Sunday. I immediately got an e-mail thanking me for my order. Then yesterday, Monday,  I got another e-mail telling me my order was being processed. Today, I got a third e-mail telling me my order had been shipped. And that was followed by a fourth e-mail from Canada post telling me my parcel had been shipped expedited service. I got a tracking number and a delivery date of tomorrow. Tea. Shipped to my door. In three days. For four dollars.  Plus a play by play of my order to boot. Wow! Very impressive. I’m not sure if it’s the norm with them, but I can tell you that I will do business with again, that is certain.

He’s Getting Away!!

February 23, 2011

I haven’t blogged in forever and a day. I haven’t really felt like it. There’s been plenty going on, so it’s not that I was lacking in things to talk about. Mainly I haven’t been able to squeeze out any time for myself, never mind for blogging.

Since I last posted, Christmas has come and gone and as the New Year began, so did a new phase in my life. Well, more accurately, I guess it’s a new phase in my dad’s life, but the impact on all of us has been huge.

If you read Kelly’s blog, you know that my dad was finally offered a room in a long term care facility. After about a year and half on a waiting list, his name came to the top for what was our first choice. A brand new facility, just five minutes from our home.

I don’t really want to get into how the system works, if you’re in Ontario and you’re stuck in it, you know. If you’re not, than it probably doesn’t matter to you. And if you are and you want some advice, let me know.

For us, this was an extremely difficult decision, but the right one. No matter how much we wanted to avoid this or wait longer, the potential consequences of that risk were just too high.

Dad moved into the facility in late January.

He is adjusting well. We are too, slowly. I miss having him here with us. It’s not been easy. But not having a job right now has been a true blessing. I am able to be there as much as I want, and this has made it easier for dad and for me.

There were a few bumps in the road. The facility has just opened and they are still ramping up. Small glitches are to be expected. But overall, I am very impressed.

Most importantly, I have to say that the staff there has been outstanding. The level of care my dad is receiving is great; they are always warm and caring and genuinely seem to enjoy what they are doing.

In the last few days however, the facility has been a bit chaotic. An accident at another facility has caused them to evacuate 50 or so patients, and since my dad’s facility is new and still had rooms available, these 50 patients have moved in temporarily.

They have come with their own staff. So other than supplies running short, noisier hallways with more commotion, and maybe not getting the desert choice  he wanted, there is no real impact on my father.

For me however, it’s added to a little problem I was having early on, when my dad first moved in.

You see, because I use a wheelchair, until most of the staff got to know who I was, some of them seemed unsure about whether I was a patient or a visitor. For example it would happen in the recreation room, were I would be offered to join in on craft projects or card games, and once when the fire alarm was blaring I was told “Sir, you need to go back to your room.”

With the addition of all this extra staff, the confusion has started all over. And made worse because each set of staff only looks after their own patients, so trying to figure out who I am seems important to the new ones.

The other night provided the most frustrating of these types of occurrences to date.

I had been watching TV with my dad, and headed home once he was tucked into bed. It was around 10:30pm. I had my jacket on and my car keys in hand, moving towards the front exit.

As I moved past the nursing station, I noted that I didn’t know any of the staff gathered there. I assumed they were from the other facility. I nodded goodnight but didn’t say anything. Just before I was out of earshot, I heard one say to the other, “Is that one of yours?”

I don’t know why, but any other time it hadn’t bothered me much. But this time it pissed me off. I guess it’s because of how it was phrased.

Seriously? “is that one of yours” How offensive is that question? “Does that thing belong to you?”

I blurted out “I DON’T live here!” And yes, I sounded ticked off.

One of the staff called out to me and in an embarrassed tone (she wasn’t the one who made the comment) said “no no, sorry, *I* know you are visiting someone, I’m on the night shift and I’ve seen you leaving often when I come in early.”

She asked who I was visiting and I told her. She smiled and said she absolutely loves my dad. It was sincere.

As I said, the staff at my dad’s facility is wonderful. Hopefully the other facility will be fixed up quickly.


Cheese Mission

December 17, 2010

So there it is. Therein lies one of the problems with blogging. When I wrote my last post, I felt really good about myself. And why not? I had just been to an interview and had done very well.

And now, weeks later, having not blogged for while, I returned to write about something else, but first re-read my last post. And I kinda feel stupid.

No, I have not heard from the potential employer. I know what you’re going to say. All those clichés to make me feel better, but it’s ok , really, no worries, I’m ok with it. I did well in the interview and for whatever reason I d haven’t heard. Likely there were better suited candidates. At least I am confident that it wasn’t because I screwed up the interview. But even still, re-reading my last post, and its over-the-top confidence, leaves me feeling a little more embarrassed than I would like.

That aside, I’m in a good place. Things are flowing nicely these days, as the lightness of doing “the course” has stayed with me. In fact its impact is getting more and more apparent as it slowly seems to be reaching into more and more aspects of my life.

I had come here to blog about an exchange I witnessed at the grocery store today. It unfolded right in front of me as I was waiting to pay for my taco ingredients. The woman immediately in front of me was not there to buy anything. She cut in line to speak to the cashier. It seems an hour earlier, she had been to this cashier and had forgotten her debit card. She didn’t realize it until she attempted to pay for something at the next store she went to. The cashier, an older lady, extremely slow moving and soft spoken, told her that yes, she had the card, and she had tried to go after her, but that she left too quickly.

What followed was a complete breakdown of communication:

Customer: Oh thank God, can I have it?

Employee: Oh no I haven’t got it.

C: Oh ok, where is it?

E: (very calmly and sweet old lady like) I don’t know.

C: But you remember me right, and you said you had it and you chased after me?

E: yes

C: So where is it?

E: (looking through the drawer) hmm. I don’t know.

C: (looking like she’s about to lose it, but didn’t) But you had it?

E: oh yes.

C: So who has it now?

E: Well, I don’t know, it’s not here.

C: (pause. Deep breath)  Then where is it?

E: That’s what I’m saying I don’t know maam.

By now I am surprised at my own ability to not freak the hell out. These two were like an Abbott and Costello routine. The poor guy waiting to pay for his stuff, and I, had both been interrupted by this show.   The missing question was clearly “If you had it, and you don’t have it now, what did you do with it?”

But that question was not asked for a few more minutes. Eventually it was determined that the cashier had put the card in the drawer, and that for reasons unknown, it had been removed from there. A call to the manager came up empty.

The woman started to get angry and insisted “I am NOT leaving this store until I get my card back!”

I was about to say “well, that may be so, but you ARE going to leave this register and go talk to the manager”, because, although I was still quite calm, I did have other things to do.

Then the phone rang. The manager was calling back. It seems she DID have the card after all. The cashier directed the customer to the office door, and she went off to claim her card.

Now here’s where observing with your mouth shut gets interesting. This whole time I had been thinking that this cashier, a seemingly extremely kind older woman, was also quite inept. In fact, the “me” of many months ago would have most certainly jumped into the confusion, and I’m sure my words and my tone would have left no doubt as to who I thought was being an idiot.

But when it was said and done, the guy in line ahead of me who had been just about to pay for his groceries when interrupted, was not seeing it that way at all. He rolled his eyes at the customer as she walked away and sided with the  cashier. He talked about this customer, and why did she think it was the cashiers problem that her card was missing. He told the cashier “You did everything you could, what more did she expect?” And then he talked about his kids and how he teaches them the same thing, just do your best, it’s all that anyone can ever expect of you.

Then it was my turn to tally up my groceries. This same cashier was warm and friendly. She rang up my stuff, and when she got to the block of cheddar she said “Oh, don’t you want the bigger one? It’s much bigger and cheaper?” I looked at her blankly, yet calmly. Before I could think and having not answered her, she said, “let me get it for you!”

She grabbed the phone and called for assistance. Someone came a few minutes later and she handed them the cheese, telling them to get the larger one for me, it’s on sale after all.

I just sat there, calmly watching this unfold. The other customers behind me, still waiting, some clearly frustrated some not caring. She chatted with the other cashier, who rang through 3 customers during our cheese mission. I played with my blackberry, and soon the young man returned with a huge block of cheese. Far more than I could possibly use, three times as much as the original block, but she did say it was on sale. Although I didn’t know what the savings were, I wasn’t about to object.

What was interesting to me about this is that I just watched it. I didn’t react. I didn’t get angry. I didn’t look at others and roll my eyes. And when our cheese mission was holding up the other customers, I didn’t own it. It was just something that was happening. Not to me. Not because of me. It just was.

What a calm and happy place to be.

Oh, and when I got outside I checked the price of the cheese on my receipt. It was three times the size, and ten cents LESS than the smaller one. A very good deal indeed.

Radio Wink

November 23, 2010

Today was one of those days where everything just flows. You wake up feeling good, confident, feeling like you belong, and everything seems to just fall into place the whole day.

I had a job interview today. My first since losing my job when the agency shut down nine months ago. That’s not bad since it’s only the third resume I’ve sent out.

I wrote a pre-test a few weeks ago, and having done well, I was called for an interview. That was today.

For the last couple of months or so, I’ve been doing “the course” with Kelly.  It has had some interesting and unexpected impacts on me. Perhaps unexpected is the wrong way to phrase it, as I didn’t really know WHAT to expect. There has definitely been a shift in me, a new “lightness” that redefines even the most mundane daily activities.

I’ve also noticed in the last few weeks that I laugh more, and when I do it’s a deeper more enthusiastic laugh. I had not realized how long it had been since I really laughed until I couldn’t breathe.  The other night, a friend sent me a link for a web site with silly things on it, and the more I read the more I laughed until I had to stop reading because I honestly had tears in my eyes and couldn’t catch my breath. It was then that I realized the shift. I am happier. Nothing in my circumstances has changed. But I am happier.

Beyond the shift in me and my everyday, the universe has been sending periodic little signals, or winks as Kelly calls them.

Today, as I was driving to the interview I felt confident. I was going over possible questions and answers in my head, but I knew I was having an “on” day and I felt as though it was going to go well.

Seconds later, on the radio, the DJ was talking about what songs were coming up.  He listed two or three, then said “…but first a little AC/DC to get your morning going”

When the song started I recognized it immediately. I turned it up and started laughing. It was “For those about to Rock! (We salute you)”

When the song ended I was downtown. I found a handicap parking spot within half a block of where I was going for the interview, and was in the waiting room 15 minutes early. Perfect.

And just in case you’re wondering, yes, I rocked.

The Right Time, The Right Place

September 12, 2010

It was supposed to rain all day. That’s what had been forecast since I started checking the advance reports a week before. It was Tuesday morning September 7th, and Kelly and I had been at the cottage on Lake of Bays in Muskoka since Sunday night. It had been pretty much raining since we got there. But on Tuesday morning, despite the forecast and the little picture of a rain cloud on my BlackBerry’s “current conditions” screen, the sun was shining brightly.

I sat out in front of the cottage and took in the beauty and the peacefulness while finishing my coffee. Kelly came out to join me and we started the “What do YOU want to do today” game. I had been checking the forecast every fifteen minutes or so hoping it would get better, and instead it had gotten worse, they were now forecasting thunderstorms to start around noon. But Kelly seemed undeterred. She suggested we go to Algonquin Park. I hesitated. I wanted to go on a perfect weather day, but I didn’t want to let her know why. She noticed my hesitation and said “Surely you aren’t suggesting we sit around waiting just in CASE it starts to rain!?”

“Well, if you put it THAT way, no, that would be silly.”

So we packed up some snacks, cameras, binoculars and everything else you need for a fun outing,  and headed to Algonquin Park.

We arrived at the railway trail head about hour later after stopping briefly at the West Gate information centre. The parking lot was completely empty, save for a few chipmunks running around. Kelly busied herself feeding them some peanuts in the shell and I watched, trying to decide if this would be the right moment. We had a small snack and then headed out on the trail. The first fifteen minutes is through an open field. We walked slowly and had fun trying to identify some of the plants along the way using some of the many books Kelly has for this purpose. But after about five minutes, the thunder and lighting that should have started an hour before was putting on quite a show for us in the northern sky. It was beautiful, but just to be safe, Kelly suggested I return the camera to the van just in case we got soaked. I sat in the van, again wondering if this was the right time. As if to answer my question, the sun came back out from behind the clouds. It very well might be the right time. I dug deep into the centre console of my van and pulled out the little white box. With it securely hidden from view in the side of my chair, I returned to meet Kelly on the trail, the warm sun beaming down on us from a now beautiful blue sky. With thunder still rumbling to the north, we meandered up the trail to where it turns and drops into a forested area.

At this point, there is a small foot bridge crossing a river. We had been there the year before and I had taken dozens of pictures, trying to capture digitally the feeling of this spot. It’s breathtaking. As we both stood there staring in awe at the water and the surrounding forest, I wondered if this was the right place. Again, the answer came.

“I just love this place, it’s so beautiful” she said softly. After a brief pause she added “If ever I’m dying, and there is enough time, and it can be arranged, this is where I would want to die. Here, in this spot.”

A bird flittered in a tree about ten metres up the trail and she went looking for it clutching her binoculars. I turned my back to her and, while she was occupied, pulled out the little red box that had been nested in the white box. I practiced opening it a couple of times to make sure I was holding it the right way. My hands trembling, I called to her.

S: “Kelly!”

K: “What!?!”

S: “Come here.”

K: “No.”

S: “No really, come here”

K: “No! I have a bird over here!”

S: “Me too, come see.”

That did it, she came rushing over. I still had my back to her pretending I was looking in a tree at a bird.

K: “Ok…where? Where’s your bird”

I turned to face her, showing her the little red box I had in my hands.

S: “Right here, in front of me.”

I had prepared some words. I had thought about this moment for the last few years. In the end, everything I had planned to say left me. I just said what was in my heart. When I was done, she said exactly what I would expect from my Kelly.

S: “Will you marry me?”

K: “Oh o.k.!”

With that, she tried to put on the ring. And thus the only major glitch of the day. I got the ring size wrong. It was way too small. I felt horrible about it, especially because I KNEW the ring size, I just didn’t write it down and when the time came I had it made too small. This is as typical of me as it is of Kelly to say “Oh o.k.!” instead of “yes”.

Nonetheless, the moment was otherwise perfect. In fact the entire day was perfect. The bright sunshine and blue skies that weren’t supposed to be, were. Within an hour of this we both spotted our first moose just off the highway. Moments later, we made it to the visitors centre minutes before a torrential downpour and thunderstorm, which we watched from a glassed-in observation deck.

Later, returning to the cottage, the rain had stopped, and after dinner a heavy mist blanketed the bay and surrounding hills. It looked like fog, except it was just a layer with a very defined thickness. I had never seen anything quite like it and we went outside to get a better look. As we watched it, not quite sure what to make of it, the dead calm was quite suddenly replaced with gentle breeze. The fog started to retreat up the hill. It didn’t dissipate, it moved through the trees and up over the hill, as though God was tugging on a huge fluffy white duvet. Perhaps this is common up there, but I have never seen anything like it. It was truly incredible to watch. Within a few minutes it was gone.

That night, which according to all forecasts, was supposed to be cloudy with showers, was instead one of the clearest nights we’ve ever had up there. Far from city lights and with no moonlight, the sky was filled with billions of stars and the Milky Way was clearly visible. As we watched, several shooting stars raced across the night sky. After such an amazing day, I didn’t even know what to wish for. In fact, on seeing the first shooting star, all I could think of was “Thank You”

The Location

The view North from the Bridge

The view South from the Bridge

Still With Me?

September 1, 2010

I haven’t posted in over a month.  I spent a lot of time reading books for the first time in a long while, and this took up most of my spare time.  One would think, being unemployed and all, that I would have tons of spare time.  I don’t.  I don’t know why, but time seems to evaporate.  I know where some of it goes, and I’ve taken steps to remedy THAT bad habit, but the rest honestly just vanishes.

Anyway, my question is, are any of you still here?  Does anyone even care if I post any more?  Who is still reading?  Post a comment and let me know if you still check this space.  Hopefully that will motivate me to write again.