‘Tis the Season

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With the holidays approaching, the staff Christmas party rears its ugly head.

We’re a pretty low-key bunch, so it’s just a catered lunch followed by a staff meeting. (Woo Hoo! Who ever said people in special education were boring?) There’s usually a secret Santa gift exchange after lunch.

I’m fairly festive and come from a long line of Christmas celebrants. I happily give thoughtful presents to family and close friends. This organized work gifting, however, has always felt forced and kind of a waste of money.

C. sent a group email suggesting we all donate to the local food bank instead of the gift exchange.

E. responded with a grumpy group email accusing C. of sucking the FUN out of Christmas. She suggests that anyone who doesn’t want FUN and good cheer can just join C. in collecting non-perishable items for the food bank, but everyone who values FUN and spending happy, social time with colleagues can contact her to sign up for the gift exchange which she has volunteered to organize.

The rest of us are feeling like the friends of a divorcing couple, not sure which side to be on.

And it’s not even December yet…

Executive Functioning

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I recently attended a presentation on self-regulation and executive functioning.

Executive functioning is what it sounds like–those “managerial” things our brains do like organizing, scheduling, planning and impulse control.

If my sailor and I were to compete in a pageant, he’d win Mr. Executive Functioning hands down. He’s organized, articulate, analytical and never misses an appointment or misplaces anything–ever. I’d be crowned Miss Congeniality. Don’t get me wrong. I’m able to live, work and raise a child without supervision. It’s just that organization isn’t my strong suit. I’m better at comic relief.

Lately however, I’ve been doing stupid things–things that are negatively impacting my daily life.

A couple of weeks ago I lost my house key somewhere. I know I had it when I left for work because I locked the door behind me, but that’s where the trail goes cold. Despite retracing my steps and searching the front yard and interior of the car, the key’s location remains a mystery. I had to call a locksmith to get us inside and re-key all the locks.

Last week I locked my keys in the trunk of my car. In all my years as a driver, I’ve never done that. When I realized where my car key was my first thought was expressed in language far too rude to share on this blog. My second thought was–What’s wrong with me? Am I losing my mind?

At my seminar, I learned that anxiety floods the frontal cortex of the brain with chemicals which hamper its performance. You guessed it–the frontal cortex is the part of the brain that controls executive functioning.

In terms of education, anxious children are less likely to be attentive, well-behaved students. This will impact their school performance.

In terms of me, this is very good news. I’m probably not suffering from early onset dementia. I’m just anxious.

It’s also good news for my local locksmith, who’s getting some extra business because I worry so much.

A BBQ in my Crock Pot

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I’m not much of a meat eater, but my sailor, our boy and of course our little Mexican friend are all blood-thirsty carnivores. Pulled pork is a particular favourite with the boys (and the canine).

Pulled pork has become very popular and it’s usually my boy’s choice whenever we eat out. Although he’s a purist and prefers it in its classic form, mounded on a crusty roll, I’ve seen pulled pork eggs Benedict, chowder, pasta, soup, wraps… It seems the only thing this versatile meat dish can’t do is dessert.

When I saw small pork roasts on special recently, I decided to give it a try. I have a slow cooker, I’m fairly bright and the directions are pretty simple. Mix up the sauce, pour it over the meat, cook for eight hours and shred with two forks. How hard can it be?

Both the boy and the dog spent a good part of the day sniffing around the kitchen eagerly awaiting the appearance of slow cooked pulled pork. When it was shredded, it looked just like the product served at so many family restaurants.

“How is it?” I asked my boy as he dug into the meaty goodness.

“Not quite up to restaurant standards.” He took another bite and chewed thoughtfully. “There’s a sharp background flavour that shouldn’t be there, but it’s okay.”

D’oh–I knew I should have washed the pork before popping it in the crock pot. I bought a pre-seasoned roast at Walmart because they were on special. It was prettily covered in rosemary boughs, parsley flakes and all manner of other seasonings that have no business on pulled pork with its smoky faux Barbeque sauce.

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, by Chris Hadfield

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I seem to be reading mostly nonfiction lately.

The title of this one grabbed me. I also admire Chris Hadfield. He’s an astronaut who, as the commander of the International Space Station, used social media to show Earthlings what life is like in space.

With all the negative news about a certain Canadian municipal politician (Torontonians will know who I’m referring to), it’s good to focus on a solid, hardworking Canadian with a razor-sharp mind and squeaky clean personal life (he’s been married to the same person since he was twenty-one!) Chris Hadfield is the type of man who should be a role model to impressionable youth. We might not all be astronaut material, but we can all learn from his persistence and work ethic.

He’s an engaging writer with a fascinating story to tell. He decided to become an astronaut after watching the moon landing on TV in 1969. He didn’t let the fact that Canada didn’t have a space program at the time stand in his way. He just worked doggedly towards his goal. If he made it into space he’d live his dream. If not, he figured he’d still have a pretty good life as a jet pilot.

The book is filled with interesting anecdotes about life on the International Space Station, the rigorous training astronauts undergo and even unglamorous stuff I’d rather not know–like wriggling into a man-sized diaper before embarking on an eight-hour spacewalk or self-administering an enema prior to blast-off. (TMI, Chris–a little mystery is a good thing!)

What impressed me the most about Chris Hadfield?–He focuses on the negative, sweats the small stuff and imagines worst case scenarios! Okay, unlike me, he thinks through solutions to every conceivable problem while I chew my nails and drink wine from a box because the future looks too bleak to contemplate, but it’s affirming to learn that a successful genius (this man gets rocket science) regularly considers the most awful outcome possible.

He also mentions his strong dislike of whining, but nobody’s perfect, not even a talented astronaut/rocket scientist like Chris Hadfield.

RIP, Nimms

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As an itinerant teacher I’m often tucked away in odd little spaces to work with my students. In one Maritime high school, I worked in the attic. My students and I trudged up a steep, narrow stair case to find a spot under the sloping ceiling surrounded by shelves laden with dusty text books from the 70’s. It was a bit creepy.

At one of my current schools, I work in a tiny, windowless office that also houses the school rat. I admit I’m no friend to rodents. I recently put out a contract on a mouse in my attic. (He was never harmed. He moved on as mysteriously as he’d arrived.) This animal was different. Large and white, Nimms was a “specially bred pet-quality rat” according to the teacher who owned her.

Despite her long scaly tail, I found myself bonding with Nimms, filling her water bottle and even hand feeding her sunflower seeds and ominous looking “rodent pellets” every time I saw her. Yes, I even talked to Nimms, asking her how she was and what was new.

My students loved Nimms, too, and our sessions always began with some quality rat time.

One morning I arrived to find the cage gone, nothing but a half bag of rat chow on the floor to indicate Nimms had ever been there. I learned she’d suffered a catastrophic stroke earlier in the week and didn’t make it.

When my young student came in, she immediately asked about the rat. Where was she? What had happened to her?

“Nimms is . . . gone,” I said.

“Aw, Nimms is gone.”

“Well, rats don’t live that long.”

“What??? Nimms is dead???”

Sigh–I really need to learn when to stop talking.

35 Shopping Days to Christmas!

003011I spent a relaxing afternoon at the mall this weekend. In the absence of hobbies, going to the mall is how I unwind. I love my time there and I’ve never had a bad experience while shopping (well, except for the time I caught my finger in a fitting room door–ouch!)

You’d think Christmas was next week with all the decorations and the crowds scurrying about. I like Christmas as much as the next person, but frankly I get a bit tired of the trees, lights and holly once it’s been up over a month. (Mistletoe is a different kettle of fish. If my sailor was home, I’d happily hang mistletoe over every doorway in the house and leave it there until it wilted.)

In keeping with my recent vow of austerity, I was very frugal. I got a couple of books at Chapters. (I haven’t visited a library since I read about a woman who found LIVE bedbugs in a library book.) I picked up a stylish fleece jacket for the dog at Winners. It’s soft and cozy and . . . blue. I could admit they were all out of anything pink in her size and her sweaters are getting a bit thread bare, but my story is that dressing my girl dog in blue fleece indicates I don’t support gender stereotypes.

I also stopped at Danier. I have handbag issues (I can’t resist buying them) and Danier has beautiful leather purses at reasonable prices. If that isn’t enough, they have amazing sales–all the time. With a closet full of black bags, I craved colour.

Danier also has exceedingly patient sales associates and a wonderful exchange policy.

I know this because I tested their tolerance over the past couple of weeks. First I bought a structured brown bag. Upon consideration, I realized I prefer something softer and squishier. Back it went–exchanged for a burnt orange pebbled leather bag. Although I wanted colour, the bright pumpkin was a little too much for me. Back it went–exchanged for a black satchel with snazzy gold chain handles. I took it home and realized how many black bags I already have. Back it went–exchanged for a plain camel handbag with a shoulder strap for when I need both hands free to scoop up a litter of fluffy puppies or to help someone frail cross the street.

I’m definitely going to keep this one . . . absolutely . . . I think.

But What About the Smart Meter?

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I talk to my sailor twice a week, and we email daily. We’re as connected as possible given the distance between us–certainly far more connected than any previous soldiers and their families in past generations. Even military personnel in the Gulf War in the early 90’s lacked this technology for daily contact.

Recalling some of our conversations and emails, I wonder if earlier soldiers were lucky that way.

Instead of the occasional lovey dovey letter telling him to keep strong and keep his chin up while I keep the home fires burning, my sailor gets everything that’s happening–in painful detail. Going to war is no longer a respite from dealing with daily life.

When I received a three page letter from BC Hydro informing me they are changing over to a wonderful new device called a Smart Meter including a list of all the great things it will do for our family’s energy consumption, followed by the menu of extra fees we’ll incur if we don’t welcome a Smart Meter onto the side of our house, I immediately knew what to do. I sent it to my sailor. The whole thing. I didn’t edit even one word out. Let him read it and decide. After all, I’m a busy person. I don’t have time to deal with BC Hydro. Thanks to the wonders of email, he can even take care of any further correspondence with them and I don’t have to be part of this conversation.

Part of me feels a little guilty for off loading this stuff on him, but then I think about how connected it keeps him to the family, and I realize I’m actually doing him a favour by giving him crap like this to think about. Unlike Roman Centurians or Confederate Cavalry Officers, he won’t need any time to re-adjust to being at home. He can just slide right into taking care of all the utilities/finances because he never really stopped.

Remembrance Day

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The school assembly I attended on Friday featured a video about the Highway of Heroes (the stretch of highway on which fallen Canadians travel upon their arrival back in Canada.) When a soldier is being transported the road side and overpasses are packed with people, waving flags and paying their respects. These people, mostly strangers, come out to honour the returning hero and they look genuinely sad at the loss of one of our soldiers.

It made me a bit teary. The images of these mourning crowds are pretty intense, and it all hits a little close to home these days. All I want is for my sailor to come home safely.

Later in the weekend, I obsessively googled Afghanistan Remembrance Day because my sailor told me journalists from a national news station were coming for the last Canadian Remembrance Day ceremony in Kabul. I started looking too early, and only found one photo–three Canadian soldiers reviewing a list of names for an upcoming medal ceremony. I squinted into the grainy screen. Could the one on left be my sailor? It’s hard to tell because they all look so, well, uniform in their matching uniforms.

I emailed him the story with a big fat question mark.

“Is this you???”

“No, I’m slimmer than that guy. My daily workouts in 40C are paying off.”

Clearly he’s been away far too long if I can no longer recognize him (or not him) in pictures.

At 4:18 AM . . .

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At 4:18 AM . .

I make a mug of Sleepy Time tea–very mellow and soothing, but I doubt it actually helps me sleep.

I empty the dishwasher while the kettle’s boiling. It’s one less thing I’ll have to do in the morning and I’ll likely be slow and groggy when the alarm rings in a few hours.

I check my email–ooh, Banana Republic is offering an additional 40% off to their preferred customers and Bay Days (the best deals of the season!) will start soon. Is it any wonder I shop too much?

I go back to bed even though I’m more alert than I’ve been in weeks and attempt to read.

For the past couple of weeks I’ve had an unshakeable aura of doom and gloom about me. D says it’s because season 4 of The Walking Dead recently started and I’m immersed in the zombie culture. I think it’s more than that.

I’m worried and imagining worst case scenarios. They play over and over in my mind.

I read “The Secret” when it first came out. Basically the secret is that if you expect good things to come your way, the Universe co-operates and sends them. If you can help the Universe by displaying images of desired objects, so much the better. The Universe needs guidance.

You might think this is nonsense, but I have proof it works.

I downloaded a faux cheque from “The Secret” website and made it out to myself for $1,000,000. I put that pretty pink cheque above my desk and looked at it every day, willing the Universe to send one just like it. Sure enough about a week later, the Universe came through. I received a fake $1,000,000 cheque from Reader’s Digest. It was even the same shade of pink as the fake cheque in my office! (Not only does the Universe need guidance, it is apparently unfortunately literal.)

The only downside to “The Secret” was learning that the Universe also responds to negativity. That’s right–if you anticipate bad news you’re likely to draw it your way. The Universe is like that.

For a worrier, this is hardly reassuring. It’s one more thing to think about at 4:18 AM.