Thursday, December 29, 2011

Beam me up Scotty...there's no intelligent life down here

This story happened a while back, but I thought it deserved to be published here as a testament to human ignorance and stupidity.

I was working on a project for one of my clients and as part of my analysis I needed to speak to the users of the paper copies of the monthly statements for the firm's general ledger accounts. The supplier's invoice confirmed that they produced and printed statements for the general ledger account range, so all I had to do was find out who they were distributed to and speak to those people.

It took about five or six phone calls to locate the person who received the boxes of statements that were shipped to us each month by the supplier. When I finally managed to speak to that person I asked him who he distributed the paper copies of the statements to. I could hardly believe what he told me. He said that nobody used those statements anymore because they were now available on the internal intranet. Apparently around one year earlier the users had told him that they didn't need paper copies anymore.


Almost afraid of the answer, I asked him what he did with the printed statements if the users didn't want them. He nonchalantly told me that every month he dumped the boxes of statements into the Iron Mountain bins (Iron Mountain is a company that shreds confidential documents).

You've got to be kidding me. So you're basically saying that forests are being destroyed so that the supplier can print these statements and ship them to us, and you turn around and have them shredded?

Now, you and I can see everything that's wrong with this picture - right? Well, Mr. Ignoramus couldn't see a problem. I asked him why he didn't send an instruction to the supplier to stop printing the statement copies. He told me it wasn't his job.

Not your job? Wow!

I have seen lots of things during my career as a consultant, but the Big, Stupid, Lazy-Ass Award definitely goes to this guy. So I got out my big stick and aimed a swing right at his air-filled head hoping to knock some sense into him.

I asked him if he ever wondered why he didn't get a very big bonus working here. He said he didn't know. So I explained that pulp and paper companies choke our atmosphere with greenhouse gases while cutting down trees and ruining precious natural habitats to make paper. Then they mark-up the cost of that paper, sell it and put it on trucks (adding more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere) and send it out to companies like the supplier who prints the statements. The supplier marks up their costs for the brilliant white, 30 weight bond paper and toxic toner that they use, plus the cost of their staff who load and offload the boxes of paper generated by their massively expensive printers, (and they no doubt charge for wear and tear on their printers too) and they charge that back to his employer to produce the statements. His employer then pays a transport company to pick up the boxes at the supplier and deliver them to this brainless idiot (again, more greenhouse gases). Then the brainless idiot opens the boxes and dumps their contents into the Iron Mountain bins (for which he is being paid a salary). Finally Iron Mountain is paid to send out a truck, drag the bins downstairs, shred the contents and to drive the shreds back to their facility for recycling (even more greenhouse gases). And his employer is PAYING for all of this!!!

After a stunned silence he asked why I was yelling at him. So I patiently explained that his stupidity was costing his employer a small fortune every year. Then I asked him if he was going to contact the supplier to have them stop printing the statements for the general ledger accounts.

He had four words for me. He said "It's not my job."

And in case you are wondering - no, I don't have a good enough imagination to be making this stuff up.

There's some people that you just can't knock any sense into. As an outside consultant I was not authorized to instruct the supplier to stop production of the general ledger statements, but I easily found someone else in the company who was more than willing to take care of it.

But still - it kind of makes you wonder how some people manage to cross the street without getting themselves killed.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Our best White Christmas ever!

We were blessed with a beautiful snowfall just in time for Christmas. It was one of those perfect snowfalls with slightly sticky snow and no wind. Every naked tree branch was blanketed with white fluff and all the evergreens wore garlands of frilly white.

We had, what I consider to be our best Christmas ever. On the 24th we picked up our daughter and met with my parents, my brother and his wife for a nice lunch out at Madisons Restaurant. They've got a really great Clam Chowder, but the portion is more of a meal than an appetizer so I was pretty full after just having the soup. Anyways we had a nice time then came back home and took off for an evening with some friends who had invited us for Christmas Eve supper.

Historically, Christmas Eve has always been spent either with our families or quietly at home, just the three of us.

But oh my gosh, we had so much fun - I can't remember ever having such an enjoyable Christmas Eve. We were three different families, each with a single child, so there were nine of us. We had never met the other couple and their grown son, but we hit it off with them instantly. We had such a blast and laughed so much. Every family was telling their silly, embarrassing stories and we were all feeling good and howling with laughter at each other's expense (all in a very good-natured manner of course).

They also had some pretty silly games - the one I enjoyed most involved a wrapped gift, a winter hat, a pair of oven mitts and dice. We all sat on the floor and would roll the dice, each in turn. If you got a six you had to put on the hat and the oven mitts and try to tear open the wrapped gift. As soon as the next person got a six you had to give up the hat, mitts and the gift and it would be their turn to try to get the wrapping torn off the gift. Trust me - it's a lot harder than it sounds - they had scotch taped every seam in the wrapping paper so it was impossible to get into it. I was thrilled when I finally managed to peel away a small piece of wrapping at a corner of the box, got the oven mitt thumb into the hole and started tearing away the paper...only to find that there was another layer of wrapping paper underneath!!!

The box ended up being wrapped with four layers of wrapping paper and when we managed to get all that off, the cardboard box inside was all taped up using wide packing tape! One of the guys decided he'd had enough of that so he started pounding the bejezus out of the box with the oven mitts - it was so funny. But just as he was able to dent the cardboard enough to get a mitt under the tape, the hostess rolled a six and she pulled the hat and mitts on and grabbed the box and started trying to get it open. She had barely started pulling crumpled paper out of the box when my husband rolled a six, took the hat and mitts and managed to extricate the prize from the box. It's a remote-control cockroach (of all things) which we actually had a lot of fun with.

We also played a game where you have to draw pictures and everyone guesses what phrase you are trying to draw. The high light of that game was when the host's sister drew a totally x-rated picture for us. She'd had a little too much wine and was doing a great job of drawing a man's private parts in very explicit detail. The host knew what the phrase was and he was watching her go and looking from her drawing to the card and back with a more and more horrified look on his face and eventually he stopped her and asked what the heck she was drawing. (His daughter is only 12 and we were yelling out words like penis and pubic hair and testicles, etc.) He called her over and showed her the phrase she was supposed to be drawing - it was "mowing the lawn". We were all laughing so hard we could barely breathe. She was laughing so hard she was practically crying as she grabbed the card from him and showed us all that further down on the card she had seen the word "crotch" and that's what she had been trying to draw. It was hilarious.

Before we knew it, it was 3:30am and we were all still having such a good time that nobody was even tired. I think we left somewhere around 4am. I still wasn't tired when we got back home, but I quickly fell asleep after reading a page and a half of my book.

On Christmas morning (well, it was pretty much afternoon before we got up actually), I made a big breakfast and we sat round reminiscing about all the fun we'd had the night before.

There's no big end of the stick in this story, because was I gave the stick a rest and left it at home.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Happy Holidays!

Ah Christmas! Living in the north I must say that I really appreciate the timing of Christmas arriving near the end of December. Fall around here (South Shore of Montreal) is lovely with the changing colours of the leaves, but somehow fall is always a bit of a depressing time for me. The fun of summer is over and although I am glad to be out of the excruciating heat, I can’t say that I really look forward to freezing my ass off in winter. But Christmas and all its preparations keep me distracted, so I never get hit by the big end of the depression stick until January when I take all the decorations down and the house feels so bare.

Back when we lived in the ‘burbs we used to get so much snow. We had this tiny little front yard that was about 24ft by 18ft. On to that tiny patch of grass we were expected to shovel the contents of our 60ft by 10ft driveway (and the neighbour on the other side would be trying to do the same thing). By mid-winter the front yard would be piled so high with snow that it would become impossible to add any more. We would throw shovel-fulls up as high as we could and the snow would just roll back down the hill onto the driveway. It was exhausting and it used to drive me crazy.

Now that we live out in the middle of the corn fields we really don’t get much snow anymore. I mean, it probably snows the same amount but hardly any of it lands here – it just blows right by us sideways on the wind. That’s the one constant that we can always count on out here – the wind.

Even when I’m home alone, I’m never really alone because the wind is always here keeping me company – humming through the trees, rattling the windows or whistling as it tries to rip the metal roof off the house. In spring the wind carries the rich earthy smell coming off the farmer’s fields as they thaw. In summer it blows the dirt around from the fields and occasionally brings the heavenly scent of freshly cut hay to our noses. In the fall it blows the multicoloured leaves from the trees and whips them around in mini tornados here and there. In winter it howls against the windows, buffets the house unrelentingly and blows the snow away.

But today the wind is calm. The sun is shining brightly, the sky is blue and the house is all decorated for Christmas. Life is good and I am feeling content. We don’t have any snow but we are supposed to be getting some for Christmas. I always enjoy the first snowfalls. It feels cozy to be inside, looking out at the blanket of pure white. Of course by February I am cursing the snow while trudging through it, blaspheming as I slip/slide away on the ice, and grumbling as I scrape the krap off my car.

I guess that’s part of the magic of winter. It inspires a love/hate relationship in everyone. Even people who love winter will occasionally shout an obscenity directed at the sky while trying to extricate their vehicle from a snow bank. Winter can bring out the worst in anybody.

But I think that no matter how much you hate winter, you can always appreciate a white Christmas. There’s something about a white Christmas that I can’t quite describe. We’ve had a few (not many) green Christmases and they just aren’t the same. Sure it’s easy to get where you want to go and nobody will fall and break their necks on your front stairs, but if it isn’t white outside it just doesn’t feel like Christmas.

So give me a hand and use your big end of the stick to bash that giant snowball in the sky so that we can get some of the white stuff down here for Christmas!

Wishing you peace, joy, health and may you always hold the big end of the stick.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Dirty, stinking, rotten Grinch

I don’t party much anymore. I’m getting old and I hate feeling like crap the next day. I don’t like the sore throat you get from trying to talk over the loud music and I can certainly do without the heartburn from overindulging in food and drink that wakes me up during the night and keeps me feeling miserable all the next day. I am not a good dancer – so I don’t dance unless I get really drunk (or if you marry me, but I try not to let either of those things happen too often). The only thing I’m good at doing when I’m at a party is being a wallflower. I can warm a chair like nobody’s business; I can toast up a storm and socialize ‘til the cows come home.

I am being exceptionally social this year and have accepted invitations to three different Christmas parties. I have been to two of them already and the last one is coming up on Friday. The one I went to last week is particularly memorable, but unfortunately not for any of the right reasons.

The party last week is the one I look forward to every year. It is with a group of people that I love and admire and it is usually the party that I enjoy the most. This year’s party started out great – the restaurant was lovely, everyone was dressed nicely, the wine was flowing and the holiday spirit was in the air. When we chose our spots at the tables I sat with two friends – one of them I hadn’t seen in a while and I was looking forward to catching up with her. Soon after we sat down I got a tap on my shoulder and an elderly gentleman asked if it was OK if he sat next to me. There was nobody sitting there so I told him it would be fine. I had seen him around a few times, but had never really spoken to him before. The first thing he told me when he sat down was that it was the first time he was invited to this party.

My friends and I started talking, but every couple of minutes the old guy would touch my hand and drag my attention away from the conversation so that he could talk to me. He turned out to be quite the chatter box. It was actually getting kind of tiresome. He sat around bragging about how his girlfriend was 20 years younger than he was and telling me all kinds of other stuff that I don’t care about while he polished off a bottle of wine by himself. Every time he paused to drink I would turn back to my friends and rejoin their conversation…and a minute later he would be hauling me away from them to tell me some stupidity or other.

What I couldn’t fail to notice, was that as he got more and more drunk he was moving higher up my arm. He was no longer touching my hand to get my attention, now he was grabbing my arm and (very subliminally) rubbing my boob while doing it. Now it was getting out of hand. Now he was starting to really piss me off.

So I told him nicely that I was trying to have a conversation with my friends and that I would appreciate if he would let me talk with them undisturbed for a while. And guess what he did? He leaned in, all drunk-like, grabbed my arm (boob) and told me he was sorry, that he didn’t mean to disturb me – that he was just an old man who liked pretty girls, that his attentions didn’t mean anything because he had a girlfriend who was 20 years younger, that his friends always asked him how many times he made love per week but that he was too shy to say, and it just went on and on and on.

So I got up and walked over to where another group of friends were sitting and joined in on their conversation. And two minutes later the old fart was beside me, grabbing my arm (boob) and shoving his face in my hair to tell me that he didn’t mean to bother me and that he didn’t mean any harm and to come back and sit down and he was pulling on my arm and now he was really drunk. It was so annoying!

So I took off to the lady’s room to hide and to collect my thoughts. The meal had been served but we were still waiting for dessert, so I decided to leave right after dessert. The old guy would soon be finishing his second bottle of wine and I knew that the situation wasn’t going to get any better.

When I got back to my spot at the table the old guy wasn’t there. My friend asked me if he was bothering me and I said yes, that he was really getting on my nerves and that he wouldn’t leave me alone. My friend and I talked for a little bit but before I knew it, like a recurring nightmare, he was back and grabbing my arm (boob). I ignored him and continued to talk to my friend. He grabbed harder and shook my arm to get my attention. I turned around and said to him that he had to stop it – that he was really annoying me and making me uncomfortable. I told him to go join someone else’s conversation and to leave me alone now – enough was enough.

And that’s when he became really obnoxious.

He pulled me in close and drooled in my hair as he shoved his mouth to my ear to tell me something along the lines of “Oh you think you’re so special don’t you. You think I’m too old eh? – You think I like you? You think I want to be with you?” At this point he almost lost his balance and came close to falling off his chair. When he recovered he continued. “You don’t know anything about me. You don’t know who I am; you don’t know where I’ve been. Look at me!” he yelled in my ear. He pulled away and I turned and looked at him with as much distain as I could muster. Next thing I knew he was blubbering that he was sorry and that he didn’t mean it and he didn’t…I couldn’t take it. When he looked away to refill his glass with wine I pulled away from him, stood up and grabbed my coat off the back of my chair. My friend looked up and asked where I was going and I said “home”. She reminded me that we hadn’t had dessert yet and said don’t go home, we’ll just move away from him and sit somewhere else. And I said no - he had ruined my night and I wanted to get as far away from there as I could. My friend was disappointed and so was I.

I quickly said a few goodbyes, and thanked the people who invited me for the lovely evening. Then I beat the shit out of my car the whole way home. I was so angry that my favourite party had been ruined, that that miserable old drunken fool had prevented me from having a good time and that I had let him.

When I got home and my husband asked me what was wrong I told him. He was surprised that I hadn’t done anything to help myself. He reminded me that I had the big end of the stick, and that all I had to do was tell the organizers of the party that someone was bothering me and let them take care of it.

It had never crossed my mind – I just wanted to get out of there and get away from him. And besides even if I did tell the organizers, what were they going to do? He was their friend so I really don’t think they would have kicked him out or told him to go home. It would only have upset them and ruined their evening too. If they tried to tell him not to bother me it would surely just have made things worse. If I had used the big end of the stick to tell them it would have been equivalent to thanking them for the invitation by slapping them in the face.

Next year I will not go to the party if he is going to be there. My husband says I am just handing the old man the big end of the stick. The problem with obnoxious alcoholics is that you don’t need to give them the stick - they will selfishly tear the stick out of your hands and then proceed to chase you around with it, verbally and physically abusing you until they wear you out. And the next day? While you are agonizing over it and feeling sorry for yourself, they probably don’t remember a thing.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

I’ve got paw prints on my heart – and today they really HURT!

I LOVE decorating for Christmas. It makes the house feel so warm and inviting and it looks so cozy adorned with all the Christmas ornaments I’ve gathered and handmade over the years.

Every year I spend a day working on the windows. Every window gets cleaned and decorated with snowflakes, a string of multicoloured LED lights and bows for the curtains.

Then, (as mentioned in my previous post) I spend two days changing out my candle holders and candles, bringing out and putting on display my cherished Christmas collection. On this day I also decorate the fireplace mantle with a large wreath, an evergreen garland, lights, our Christmas stockings and candles (of course).

The fourth day is spent putting up the tree. I never get a real tree – I am a firm believer that trees shouldn’t have to die for Christmas. Over 20 years ago I bought a lovely fake Blue Algonquin Pine with about 3000 tips and I’ve used it every year since then and I just love it. It’s a lot of work to get it put up and to dink around with all of those branches to get it looking just perfect, but it’s definitely worth the effort.

Once the tree is up I painstakingly set about adding the lights. I’ve got quite a collection of mini lights that I’ve purchased over the years. I also have one precious set of twinkling lights that are my very favourites. They don’t flash on and off together in a series - that tends to give me a headache. These lights gently twinkle on and off – one light here, one light there, in a random fashion. I wish I could find more of these but even though I check the stores every year my search hasn’t turned up anything like them.

I start by sorting the lights into 3 piles – very bright lights, medium bright and dim. I also locate and put aside my precious twinkling lights, then set about lighting the tree. I like to have lights throughout the tree – not just around the outside but all along the length of the branches. I place the brightest sets of lights first, making sure they are distributed evenly, then add in the other sets – always keeping everything properly balanced. The last set to go in is my string of twinkling lights.

When that’s all done I spend a day or so walking around the tree, adjusting lights and branches here and there. Usually around this time my husband will come along and make some random comment about how he hopes one day they will find a cure for the sickness I have. I ignore him.

Once I’ve decided that the lights and the branches can’t be anymore perfect I prepare to start placing the decorations on the tree. And this is where my paw prints start hurting. Fifteen years ago my Christmas tree was a wonderland of movement – I have special ornament hangers that plug into 35 bulb strings (you remove a light and plug the ornament hanger in its place) and it spins slowly around, to showcase my favourite ornaments. I used to love to drape the tree with tinsel icicles and the tree was adorned with ornaments from the top right down to the bottom – every bottom branch held ornaments that hung down under the tree. I always got complements from everyone who saw my tree.

Then fourteen years ago I went on a business trip, and when I came home my husband surprised me with a cat. Christmas was never the same. I quickly learned during the cat’s first Christmas that hanging ornaments from the bottom branches was a bad idea. He would lay under the tree on his back, amusing himself batting the ornaments around until they fell off, then he would bat them around on the floor like a hockey player skilfully stick-handling a puck. When he would tire of his game he would just leave the ornament somewhere on the floor where it would ultimately get stepped on by someone. I also realized that having moving ornaments on the tree was a no-no when the cat lunged into the tree to try to grab one of them. Finally all the icicles had to be taken out of the tree when I caught him choking to death and managed to extricate a knot of tinsel icicles from his throat.

But I wasn’t deterred – although I missed all those things I simply changed the way I decorated the tree. No more moving ornaments, no more icicles and nothing hanging below the bottom branches. Oh the cat still drove me crazy because he would crawl under the tree skirt and mess it all up and he loved to chew the branches of that fake tree. I don’t know what it was about the branches – the plastic, the metal or something about the smell but I would always catch him chewing on the tree. I used to worry that he would electrocute himself chewing through one of the light strings, but he never did. I even gave him a small piece of a branch that broke off the tree as a toy, but he preferred to chew the big tree. Every once in a while I would find a branch all twisted out of proportion and when I would grab it to straighten it, it would be all cold and wet and full of cat slobber – eeeewwwwwww!

Oh and I couldn’t decorate the tree with the cat around – no way! He would get into everything – sitting on top of boxes and causing them to collapse, digging around in bags of ornaments, getting tangled up in garlands. He used to drive me crazy so I would have to lock him in a bedroom until the tree was finished. Then I would act like nothing happened and would stay away from the living room after letting him out because I wouldn’t want him to notice that I had decorated the tree. But within seconds of letting him out he would be down in the living room messing up the tree skirt, chewing on the bottom branches and being a pest.

Last year, the week before Christmas his health deteriorated practically overnight. He went from being fine to barely being able to walk three days later. He was 14 years old – he’d had a good life. We took him to the vet – the only thing she could do was to prolong his suffering, so four days before Christmas we made the heartbreaking decision to send him over the rainbow bridge. It was a sad Christmas – it took me weeks to stop bursting into tears every time I thought of him. I missed him so much and I still do.

This year, for the first time in 15 years I can use my turning ornament hangers again. I can drape my tree with as many icicles as I want to and I can hang ornaments from all the bottom branches…and it’s breaking my heart. As much as I want to have my tree look the way it used to, part of me wants to keep it the way I had it when the cat was here.

We let that cat get away with a lot of stuff. We loved him and spoiled him and in return he loved us back. He always had the big end of the stick because no matter how annoying he was, no matter how precious the thing he just knocked over and broke, he had such an innocent little face that you just couldn’t get mad at him. Almost a year later he still has the big end of the stick, and today he’s using it to poke at my heart.

In memory of my Fripouille (pronounced free-poo-ey) – my sweet, crazy, much-loved cat. Christmas just won’t be the same without you buddy.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Hopelessly addicted…

I have been ignoring it for years, but after today I’ve got to admit it. I never thought this could happen to me. I evaluate every expense and those that can’t be justified never get to see the light of day…period. I want to retire soon, so for the most part I am even more careful with my money now. But you know what I realized today? PartyLite have got a big stick and I am hopelessly wrapped around it like an addict always on the lookout for a fix.

It started a few years back when a friend (we’ll call her the “introducer”) very innocently invited me to a PartyLite that she was having at her house. I was never a candle person so I wasn’t worried. It didn’t matter how nice the stuff was or how wonderful the quality, I could control myself. Oh and I did – that first time I only bought a set of three candle holders and a box or two of candles. They were ridiculously expensive, but they would look lovely on the dining room table. Plus they were solid and heavy so the cat wasn’t likely to knock them over which was important.

But then my friend had another PartyLite. This time I listened more carefully to the blah-blah of the PartyLite representative (we can refer to her as the “pusher”). She carefully explained that when you host a PartyLite that you get a bunch of free stuff and half-off stuff. All right! I wanted in on that deal. So I bought a couple of things and set the date for my PartyLite with dreams of gorging myself on free stuff. I took my PartyLite catalogue home and drooled over all the nice stuff I would get for myself and started pestering everyone I knew to come to my PartyLite.

Now if you invite people over for a party where you are supplying food and drink, normally between 85 and 100% of your invited guests will show up. When you have one of these “buy stuff” parties, whether it be PartyLite or Tupperware or anything like that, the percentages plummet drastically. Oh everyone says they will come, but in the end only 25 to 35% of the people you are expecting will actually show up. And the excuses they give you will all seem very legitimate until you start putting them together – then it will boggle your mind. Sick kids, deaths in the family, car troubles, babysitters who don’t show up, toilets overflowing for no good reason, husbands forgetting that their wives needed the car that day, backaches, migraines, tummy aches (accompanied by violent bouts of diarrhoea of course), and the list goes on and on. It’s uncanny how the stars can align on the same Saturday afternoon and negatively impact so many people who just want to go out and do a little candle shopping.

So although I thought I would be coming away with loads of free stuff when I had my first PartyLite, I didn’t. The problem was that I had become attached to the stuff I thought I could get and now I WANTED all that stuff – I even knew where each and every piece was going to go. So I ended up buying a bunch of it, which then helped boost the sales of my party so I could get the rest of it for free.

Let the addiction begin.

Now once you’ve had a party, the PartyLite representative does what any good pusher does – she keeps you hooked. She puts you on a mailing list and every time a new catalogue comes out, she conveniently mails one to your home. The addict obliges by putting said catalogue into the magazine rack in the bathroom and innocently uses it to pass time during the daily bowel movement.

I did have a couple more PartyLites at my house with better results. To have a successful PartyLite you’ve got to spot the addicts. The hard core candle burners – the fanatics who practically heat their homes all winter on shear candle power – those are the people you want to target when preparing your guest list. Oh I would still go through the motions of making sure there were enough chairs for all the invited guests and making enough punch and little snacks to pass around. And true to form, 65 to 75% of those chairs would remain empty and I would have enough punch and cute little snacks left in my fridge to last me a week. But it didn’t matter because I had my little group of hard-core PartyLite addicts who would keep me in free stuff and half price items.

Now for the last couple of years when the Fall and Winter PartyLite catalogue comes in I don’t even bother having a party. The addiction has set in so solidly that I actually “pretend” to have a party. I basically go through the catalogue, salivating and scribbling down item numbers, then I put them all into a meticulously set-up spreadsheet that allows me to figure out how best to profit from the system. Sure I end up paying full price for a few items, but then I get a lot of free stuff and half price stuff so it makes the stuff I am paying for a lot cheaper – which of course makes it easier to justify. Then I call my pusher, give her my order (which I conveniently split between my name and my daughter’s – just to make it all seem uber-legit) and a UPS truck arrives a few days later and delivers my fix!

All the pleasure with no pain. I don’t have to pester my friends, I don’t have to clean up the house, I don’t have to drag every chair we own into the living room, I don’t have to make punch and slave over making snacks, I don’t have to drive all over the place delivering my friend’s orders – and the best part is I don’t even have to admit to my husband that I’m getting more PartyLite stuff!

But, now the thing is, see, in addition to my regular preparations for Christmas, I just spent two full days changing out my CANDLES. I keep all of the boxes and the original packing materials and the first day was spent carefully cleaning and putting away my everyday and fall candle holders. Then the next day was spent taking out, cooing over and placing all my Christmas candle holders around the house. The Christmas ones are the worst because I have no will power against them – I want them ALL!

It’s out of control. They’re everywhere! I need more furniture to put them on – I need a bigger house!

Realistically, the only thing I can do at this point is to move away. You know why? Because in less than 30 days a new catalogue will be put into the mail for me – my pusher knows where I live. I’ve got to get away from here, I’ve got to find myself a rehab – I need to change my name so my pusher will never find me again. And I’ll have to change my e-mail address too because she sends me an e-mail every month with links to the client and hostess specials, and other great deals on stuff that PartyLite is liquidating - Gah!

Uh oh. My husband just wandered in here, pointed to the table in the entrance and asked “When did you get that candle holder over there – I don’t remember seeing that one last Christmas.”

I am so busted!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Just when you thought you were protected…

The information shared in this story might come as a shock to you. It certainly took me by surprise and opened my eyes to the harsh reality of the dangers of giving out your credit card number.

We all know how risky it is to use our credit cards for internet purchases. For those of us who must do so, it is wise to use a card that has a very low limit. This way, if your card number is compromised at least the amount of damage done can be kept to a minimum. If everything works as it’s supposed to, once the purchases on your card go over the card’s limit, your credit card company should start refusing further charges.

What I didn’t know, and what you may not know, is how dangerous it is to give your credit card number to reputable firms that you may be doing business with in person. For example - companies selling goods such as doors and windows for your home.

Two years ago we purchased a sliding door to be installed in our kitchen to give access to our backyard deck, as well as an entry door system for the main entrance into our house. We chose a very well-known, reputable company and engaged ourselves to pay a great deal of money for the best quality doors that we could get. We had to pay 50% up front which we agreed to with the understanding that the doors were not held in stock and had to be manufactured. We agreed with that and were given a choice of how we wanted to pay. Since it was a large amount we decided to use a credit card and take advantage of the oodles of travel miles we would get as a result.

Bad idea.

The sliding door was the first of the two doors to be installed. The installation went well, the door was beautiful and everything was perfect. After the installation the company called me on the phone and asked if I authorized them to charge the remaining 50% of the sliding door to the same credit card I had used for the deposit. I made sure it was only the amount for the sliding door since the front entry door hadn’t yet been installed. They confirmed and I agreed.

A few weeks later the front entry door was installed and I wasn’t happy. The door and side light panels were not big enough to fit the hole that was created by removing the old door and side light panels. To compensate, the installer used wood to fill in around the top and sides, as well as between the door frame and the side light panels.

I was livid. I don’t want to say how much I paid, but I was convinced I was getting a custom fit door assembly for my entrance way for the amount of money we were spending. With all the measurements that the salesman took, he never bothered to mention that what he was selling us was standard size panels and that in order to make them fit everything would be jerry-rigged with wood. I expressed my dismay to the installer. He told me to take it up with the company.

In the installer’s defence, he did a nice job and the wood used was very nice quality wood, but it was unfinished wood and that wasn’t what we had bargained for. In fact, nowhere in our contract did it mention that there would be unfinished wood used to install the door and that it would be our problem to stain and varnish that wood.

So I waited for them to call, with the intention of refusing to let them charge the amount owed to my credit card. When they didn’t call I ended up calling them a couple of days later. I complained that I wasn’t satisfied and that the salesman had never made it clear that the amount of money we were spending was for a door that didn’t fit our entry-way. Honestly, if we would have been willing to accept a door that didn’t fit we could have easily gone to any home improvement store and bought a door that didn’t fit. What we expected for the money we were paying was a custom fit door and what we got were standard sized panels, enlarged using unfinished wood in order to fit the opening.

I was told that the salesman was no longer working for them. I wasn’t surprised since he was leaving out important details like “oh, by the way, we can only sell you standard sized doors and panels that are too small to fill in your entryway – is that OK?”. That was a really important detail to leave out. I hope they fired his sorry ass.

I asked to speak to the manager. He basically told me that they didn’t make custom fit doors and apologized that his salesman hadn’t made that clear to me. I told him that his apology wasn’t good enough and that there was no way I would be paying the balance owed on the door until this was settled.

They never called me to ask if they could charge the balance owed to my credit card. The manager never called me back to discuss what was being done to rectify the situation.

When I got my credit card bill a couple of weeks later I was floored to see that the remaining 50% for the front entry door had been charged to my card. I couldn’t believe it – I had never authorized that. So I called the credit card company to let them know that I was disputing the charge and I wanted it removed from my statement.

The first thing they asked me was if I had given my credit card number to the merchant. Of course I had. The next thing they said was that they couldn’t remove the charge and that I would have to take up my dispute directly with the merchant. I argued that I had never signed anything for that charge and that my cardholder agreement should protect me – they said that it didn’t, not under these circumstances.

Needless to say, taking it up with the merchant has been a frustrating and exhausting exercise in futility. Once they have your money they don’t care if you’re happy or not. You can slander their name all over the internet if you want, but they’re still laughing all the way to the bank with your hard-earned money.

So why am I telling you all this? It’s a warning. When you give out your credit card number – no matter how honest, reputable, well established and highly recommended the firm may be, you are handing over the big end of the stick.

And once you’ve given away the big end of the stick, you’re f*cked.

Note to self: Screw the travel miles - seriously. Always pay for large purchases with cheques. If I had done that I would still have 50% of the amount we spent on that lousy door sitting in my savings account and it would be me wielding the big end of the stick.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Tribute to Cindy

I know this post doesn’t fit into the theme of my blog. The truth of the matter on this is that nobody has the big end of the stick in this story – we’ve all lost.

It saddens me that when I search the internet for Cynthia Marie Lise Connolly, that all I find is her name on various lists of 9/11 victims. It is a shame that I never find anything that celebrates her life and the person that she was. All you can usually find is:
Cynthia Marie Lise Connolly, 40, Aon Corporation, Metuchen, NY

So today I am going to change that. Going forward when you look up her name you will hopefully find this tribute to her. After reading this you will know that she is not just a name on a list but that she was a real person, with real dreams, aspirations, friends and people who loved her. After reading this you will know that there are people who think about her, who miss her and who grieve her loss. She is not just a name on a list – Cindy was my friend.

We met when we worked together at a small Montreal stock brokerage firm. Cindy was a short, bubbly young woman who was bright, picked up things easily and worked hard. We quickly became friends because we were close in age, liked the same rock ‘n roll bands and had the same gripes about some of our co-workers. We genuinely enjoyed spending time together and were friends both in and out of the office.

The one thing that everyone remembers about Cindy was her great, big, infectious laugh. When Cindy burst out laughing it would turn heads. It was big and it was loud, and it would always be a surprise that it would be coming from such a small little woman. But there it was – the laugh that encompassed all the wonderful qualities she possessed. She was positive, happy, quirky, independent, strong, smart and sometimes a bit silly – but that just made her all that much more fun to be around.

Cindy is responsible for teaching me a few of the most important things I’ve ever learned. One day when visiting her apartment I noticed a photo on her nightstand of a little girl sitting on someone’s shoulders. The little girl was proudly carrying a picket sign that proclaimed “GIRLS ARE STRONG”. I remember asking her about it – I was curious why she had it and what it meant. The conversation didn’t last long. She simply looked at me like I was from outer space, arched up her eyebrows and said ‘Women’s Lib - you know, girls are strong’. She said it with such conviction that it really got me thinking and I realized it was true. Girls really are strong and knowing it made me strong. I had never even thought about it before, but girls are strong became my mantra. It made me feel brave and invincible. I didn’t need any more explanation as to why that photo sat on her nightstand. I realized that she probably woke up every morning and took strength and independence from that photo.

So I became strong too. I decided the small brokerage firm couldn’t offer me the position I wanted so I looked for the job I wanted and found it at another, larger brokerage firm. Cindy and I remained friends even though we weren’t working together anymore. We had great times. We laughed a lot – we were close.

When the larger brokerage firm I worked for started going belly up I lost my job and decided to go into business for myself as a consultant. Cindy still worked at the small firm where we had met and they became one of my most long-term and loyal clients.

Eventually I had more work than I could handle and I made an arrangement to hire Cindy part-time. She worked hard and was an asset to my business. She was always willing to do anything I asked and always attacked every task with gusto. We had fun working together - always laughing and having a good time. When my daughter came down with chicken pox it was Cindy who took care of her while I was out at clients. My daughter still remembers her.

I was young at the time and painfully unaware of the depth and importance of my responsibilities as an employer. When work slacked off, instead of making the effort to drum up new contracts to keep us both busy I decided to let Cindy go. I was selfish and stupid and I didn’t do it the right way. It is with shame and profound regret that I admit this.

It put a strain on our friendship and things were never the same. I felt horrible about it but I couldn’t take back what I’d done and I couldn’t fix it. I remember speaking to her a while later and finding out that she had moved on and was working for the insurance division of Aon Corporation. We eventually lost touch. Life went on.

I never knew that Cindy got married. I always hoped she would find love and I am glad that she had the chance to share part of her life with someone. I figured that she would do well at Aon and would climb the ranks, but I never knew that she had moved to New Jersey and was working in the World Trade Center.

On September 11, 2001 I was working from home. My husband called me from work and told me to turn on CNN. I sat transfixed and watched the events unfold. I watched in horror as first the South, and then the North towers collapsed into clouds of dust. I never knew that Cindy was in the South Tower. I never knew that the life of my friend had been snuffed out that day.

I watched the TV specials on the attacks and I never saw her name. Although I knew that 24 Canadians had lost their lives that day I never in my wildest dreams thought I would have known one of them – that one of them was my old friend Cindy. Admittedly, I never read any of the Canadian newspaper articles that were published on the subject.

Around 8 months later a business associate casually mentioned Cindy passing away on 911. It was like a punch in the stomach. He thought I knew.

I didn’t know.

It hit me really hard. I felt responsible. As an employer you have a strong influence over your employee’s destinies. If I had been a little more serious, a little more mature and a little more responsible, Cindy might still be working for me today. We would still be close friends and she would still be here on this earth enjoying this glorious, bright, sunny day and the big beautiful blue sky.

Finding out so many months later I never felt right contacting her family to offer my condolences. After so many months they were probably beginning to come to terms with their loss and I didn’t want to rip open the wound again. To this day I continue to agonize over never contacting her family.

If I had been a better friend and hadn’t messed up…I feel so guilty. I really let her down and I can’t forgive myself for it. I offer my sincerest and deepest heartfelt condolences to her family and to her husband Donald. I wish she was here. I wish we could joke around about turning 50 together. I wish I could hear that big, hearty laugh of hers again.

On this 10th anniversary of her death I needed to let the world know that Cindy was a kind, honest, joyful, fun loving person. She lit up a room with her presence and touched everyone who knew her. Maybe this is why nothing has been written about her. Maybe because she loved life so much it is too heart-wrenching to come to terms with her loss and to talk about her. It is such a shame. The world needs to know how special and appreciated she was.

I wish I could tell her that I miss her. I wish that I could make amends for the wrong I did that ruined the wonderful friendship we had. I’m sorry that she put her faith in me and that I let her down. I’m sorry she isn’t here anymore – that nobody hears her laughter, that nobody is touched by her friendly smile and her warm and bubbly presence.

I always get tearful when I hear the lyrics of Lee Ann Womack’s song I Hope You Dance. I’m OK until it gets to the part where she sings:
I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens ...
and then I am flooded with memories of Cindy, flooded with regrets and with remorse. It always makes me sad.

Dear Cindy. I am so, so sorry. Rest in peace my dear friend.

Sunday, September 4, 2011


If someone had told me this story I would have probably thought they were exaggerating…but I actually watched it unfold with my own two eyes.

I had a hankering for some delicious sweet corn, so I drove out to my favourite farmer’s stand to pick up a dozen. This corn stand is located at a gas station – it is a white tent at the corner of the lot with two parking spots beside it. When I pulled into the lot the two parking spots were empty, but they were completely blocked off by a huge black Ford F350 that was parked across the front of both spots – preventing anyone from parking there.

Some people are really self-centered – whatever. So I went and parked further away because unlike some people, it doesn’t actually kill me to walk a little bit.

When I got to the corn stand the owner of the F350 – a woman in her late 40’s was taking up every inch of the place. (Fine – I half expected that based on the way she was parked.) The farmer’s daughter was looking stressed out and she was shucking corn nervously and asking for the lady’s approval before putting it into the lady’s metal corn pot.

While I waited I couldn’t help wondering what kind of lunatic brings her corn pot to the farmer’s stand and expects the girl to shuck them for her – but hey, some people are just real important I guess. The farmer’s daughter couldn’t even make eye contact with me and I suspected that there was a problem.

Finally the woman feigned being satisfied (or maybe it was just taking too long – who knows) and she snottily took her pot of corn and got into her pick-up. She then gunned the motor, peeled out of the parking lot and left us choking on her exhaust. From somewhere in my subconscious I couldn’t remember seeing her pay, but I decided that she had probably paid before I got there.

Now that I had the farmer’s daughter’s attention I ordered my dozen of corn. She asked me if I wanted to choose them and I said no – they are always fine. As she counted out 13 ears and stuffed them into a bag I couldn’t help but say “Wow – that lady really took up a lot of space”.

The farmer’s daughter looked up at me sheepishly. So I explained that the woman had blocked off all the parking spots with her huge pick-up. “Oh that’s nothing” said the young girl, looking around behind her to make sure there was no one else within earshot. “She actually bought 2 dozen corn earlier this afternoon, then came back all upset because 5 of them weren’t perfect.”

“You’re not serious” I said, completely discouraged. The girl turned around and showed me 5 ears of perfectly lovely corn. I looked at them incredulously and said “But there’s nothing wrong with them!” The farmer’s daughter pointed to the tips of the ears where I noticed that a few of the niblets were not developed right to the tip of each ear. Now, everybody knows, that kind of thing happens and it’s really not a big deal. But the girl told me that the woman balled her out black and blue because for 6 bucks a dozen she was damned if she wasn’t going to get her money’s worth. For 6 bucks a dozen the corn had to be perfect.

I was dumbfounded – absolutely gobsmacked. I’m not a farmer, but I live in farm country. I have the utmost respect for farmers – they work long and hard and most of them live around or below the poverty line. This is why I choose to go to a farmer’s stand and pay $6.00 for a dozen corn that has been harvested fresh that morning, rather than pay $1.50 at the grocery store for the scrawny looking, dried out mediocre corn that has been sitting around for a couple of days.

I am so pissed off that I have decided that the woman with the Ford F350 doesn’t deserve to have the big end of the stick. If she isn’t happy paying 6 dollars a dozen for the best corn around, then maybe she should just head to the grocery store the next time. I wish the farmer’s daughter had the big end of the stick and that she would have told that ignorant bitch to take a hike. But the poor little thing was so rattled that someone would actually bring back corn to be exchanged that all she could do was try to make her happy so that she would go away.

Too bad I didn’t have the big end of the stick, because I would have used it to beat the living sh*t out of that snot-faced looser and when I was finished with her I would have used it to demolish the headlights on her F350 and smash her windshield to smitherines with it too.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Who came first - the farmer or the city boy?

We live out in farm country – our house is built on a patch of re-zoned farm land. The earth around here, if you can call it earth, is basically solid clay. Surprisingly, the local farmers manage to coax corn, soy beans and hay to grow in the fields that surround our home.

We have neighbours on one side, and a farmer’s field on the other side. Beyond the farmer’s field there used to be a small summer cottage that was sold a few years back. The new owners came along and bulldozed the little cottage and built a huge mansion on the property. The place is seriously huge. I’m sure three families could live there and never even see each other.

The farmer maintains a ditch along our property lines to help with drainage for his field. Every couple of years he accidentally clips our phone lines that are buried in the ditch along the road. It’s just part of life around here. It doesn’t really inconvenience me – I hate hearing the phone ring anyway and the phone company has never charged us to fix it because it isn’t our fault. We don’t get mad at the farmer because he is a really nice man and his employees are all very friendly and respectful.

Last year the farmer re-dug the ditches between our house and his field, and between his field and the mansion. I was home that day and went out and offered a couple of bottles of water to the tractor operator – he’s such a nice young man. We have planted trees along our property line and he is very careful not to hit them with his bucket and not to damage them (even though I am sure it is a pain – we never thought of that when we planted those trees when we moved here 10 years ago).

Now the city slickers living in the mansion didn’t take well to the work that the farmer had to do. At the back of the farm land there is a forest that drops off steeply down to a little river and apparently the farmer was not careful about the trees at the forest’s edge. Let me just mention that the trees in that forest are the farmer’s trees and it’s really not our business what he does with them. I am not saying that I don’t care if a tree is harmed, but if he wanted to he could bulldoze all the trees in that forest and there would be nothing we could do to stop him.

But city boy took a conniption and went out and started hollering at the tractor operator. I always try to get along with people and genuinely make an effort to start off a new relationship on the right foot. I guess Mr. Moneybags doesn’t feel that’s necessary. Apparently he even went so far as to call the city and complain.

Well, the folks working at the city misunderstood that he was ranting and raving about and somehow extrapolated that his neighbour was cutting down trees by the river. So the next day a van from the city showed up in our driveway saying they had received a complaint against us for cutting down trees by the river.

* insert surprised look here *

We didn’t know that Richey-Rich had mouthed off to the farmer and had called the city (we only found that out later). Anyways, the summer continued uneventfully, fall came, the farmer harvested his crop and the incident was forgotten.

This year, as always the farmer began the season by tilling his fields. For some reason he waited until the clay was really dry, and when he tilled the fields across the road he kicked up a very impressive cloud of brown dust. I was keeping an eye on him because our home is east of the field on our side of the road and I usually have to close all the windows when he tills next to us because we get a lot of dust from the prevailing westerly wind.

But he didn’t till the field next to us that day – nor that evening. He waited until the following day when the wind had changed direction and then he tilled that field for hours.

We didn’t get a speck of dust – but the mansion was cloaked in a gigantic cloud of brown dust for a few hours. When it was all over the mansion was brown, their cars were brown, their driveway was brown, the leaves on all of their trees were brown, their snotty mansion gate was brown and although I couldn’t see their in-ground pool – it was probably brown too.

You know there’s a moral in all this: That farmer, with the right motivation, is in a far better position to make our lives miserable than we could ever make his.

I wonder how long it will take the city slickers to figure out who carries the big end of the stick around here?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Educating the tailgater

A few months ago I was driving along a country road in very slushy, messy conditions. To my dismay, along came an aggressive driver, right up my backside who decided he was going to “make” me to go faster. Now when he came along I was already going 10km faster than the speed limit, but that wasn’t good enough for him. I watched as he inched closer and closer to my bumper until I couldn’t see his headlights anymore. I just kept driving at the same speed – I don’t get pushed around by anybody.

He was driving so close that he had to run his windshield washers and wipers every once in a while to clear the mucky spray I was kicking up from the wet road. He was far too ignorant to realize that if he just backed off a little he would be able to see where he was going. Nope, he just kept inching closer and closer.

I decided he needed a lesson, so I slowed down to the speed limit. There was only one lane in each direction and there was quite a bit of traffic going the other way, so it was impossible for him to pass me. The more I slowed down the closer he got. So I decided to irritate him and slowed down even more so that I was now doing 10km below the speed limit. At this point he was driving so close that when I checked in my rear-view mirror it looked like he had sprouted a brand new vein in his forehead.

I continued to mosey along under the speed limit, paying close attention to the traffic going the other way. To ensure that the aggravation I was inflicting on this guy was as torturous as possible I would speed up when I saw an opening in the traffic going the other way, just enough so that there was no way in hell that he could take the opportunity to pass me. Then I would slow down again.

Since a little irritation didn’t do the trick I started purposely aiming for puddles and intentionally drove closer to the side of the road where no tires had been so that I was literally bathing his car in muddy slush. His wipers slaped back & forth full speed, but he wouldn’t back off.

A few kilometres later the guy’s car was covered in greasy muck and salt, but he wouldn’t give up. As I approached pothole alley I decided to have some real fun with him. I aimed straight for the potholes, then gently steered around them at the last minute to avoid them. Now of course he couldn’t see the potholes coming and I almost died laughing because out of the corner of my eye I could see him bouncing around in my rear-view mirror as he slammed into one pothole after another.

Talk about stamina – by this time he was so close behind me that it looked like he was sitting in my back seat. But he still didn't get it and just wouldn't back off. Admittedly I was managing to solicit a reaction - boy did he looked pissed! He was strangling his steering wheel with both hands and his angry face was pressed up against the windshield like a gargoyle ready to pounce. I resisted the temptation to slam on the brakes for no good reason. I wasn't really in the mood to fill out an accident report with him now that I had him good and riled up.

Finally the road widened into two lanes in either direction and my fun came to an end. He roared past me hollering obscenities the whole way and giving me the finger.

Poor bastard. He just couldn’t admit that I had the big end of the stick.

Happy wheel alignment, sucker!