Friendships often develop in the most unlikely situations; when you least expect them, and they can end in the same fashion, abruptly, and without rhyme or reason. There’s a wonderful poem I read years ago that I’ve never forgotten, called “A Reason, Season or a Lifetime”, by an unknown author. It explains in simple terms what I believe is the basis for any friendship.

Friends come into your life at a time when you need them, A Reason. They are there to help you through a specific time or trial in your life and when that need has been satisfied the friendship ends, often without warning, no wrong doing – it has simply run its’ course; your need has been met.

Friends might come in to your life for a specific period; your high school or university days, or that one summer at camp, or that orderly you felt a bond with when you went to visit an elderly parent in the home. The friends who come into your life for A Season are there to help you through a specific period in your life. They are there to ease a burden, teach a lesson, or just provide loving support. Their time with you lasts the season, and only the season, and you part without hard feelings, both richer for the experience.

The friend that comes into your life for A Lifetime does so because you have both chosen to walk the same path. The lessons you are meant to learn are shared and you can support each other through them. They celebrate your joys, suffer your losses, love unconditionally, and forgive without judgement. You may part ways at times throughout your life, but your paths will always come back to meet, and the absences will have no effect on the relationship – you pick up where you left off – it’s like you were never apart.

Many friendships even appear unlikely; those with a substantial disparity in ages, genders, life circumstances, yet despite the differences you feel a connection, a kinship. This person was meant to be in your life and I truly believe that every encounter in our lives, no matter how inconsequential, is important. We are meant to ‘experience’ those we meet, and it is our mission to participate in the encounter fully, whether that be to teach someone else something, or to be the student ourselves.

Two years ago I suffered a tremendous loss, a tragedy in my life that left me struggling emotionally, and while I was grateful to have had family and friends providing love and support, I was unable to ease my heartache because I didn’t feel anyone could truly understand what I was going through. How could they?

For the past 17 years I’ve lived next door to a couple around the same age as my husband and I, and truth told, we had never really spoken. We waved when taking out our trash, or when shoveling snow, but we were simply neighbours, not friends – there was never any reason to take it any further than that. Around the same time I suffered my loss this same neighbour lost her husband, suddenly, after a very brief illness, and destiny brought our paths together.

We knew nothing about the other, but both recognized the familiar pain when we looked at each other, and over time (and tears) our stories came out. We acknowledged that the pain of loss is universal – every one suffers loss at some point in their lives, and she, like me, wasn’t able to get past it, despite the loving support of family and friends. (you just don’t know what it’s like until you go through it) We spent more and more time together. We talked through our pain, commiserated with each other, and through this process the healing finally began, as did the friendship.

Today, 2 years later, we are close friends and we occasionally marvel at the circumstances of our lives that brought us together. Had neither suffered the losses we did perhaps we never would’ve moved beyond that wave from across the road, and yet we did. We still feel the losses; I think you always do, but as the saying goes, What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and in this case it also made us very good friends. From something very awful came something very good.

When I reflect on the various friendships I’ve enjoyed over my lifetime, I find myself now searching for the purpose, or the lesson I was to glean from each, and there are many. And as the poem predicted, some friendships ended without cause or warning. Some faded in and out throughout my lifetime, and some tested the very theories of reason because there wasn’t any obvious need; at least we didn’t think so at the time, but at the end of the day every encounter was worthwhile.

Life is one loooooong lesson and everyone we meet along the path has something to teach us. The lesson might be hard, painful even, but on that same path there is a higher education, that of a life truly lived, and with it satisfaction and joy.

Accept that some friends need to leave you – take pleasure in the fact that you had them in your life at all. Cherish the friends you currently have, for as long as you will have them, and never miss the opportunity to make a new friend because there’s always room in the circle for more and they could be the one to change your life. At worst, they have the potential to enrich it, so how can you lose?

circle of friends

Struggles of a young mind

Several years ago, a neighbours boy came to my door selling boy scout apples. He was a cute little guy and he seemed very shy, never making eye contact, rather he stared at his feet the whole time he spoke, when he spoke at all. (Of course I bought the apples, how could I not?) The following weekend he came to my door alone, and before I could reach the screen door, he pulled it open and just ran into my house, and I mean ran, like a demon. Now I have to remind you, I barely knew this kid, so I was stunned. He ran upstairs, opened drawers; it was wild, and before I could wrap my head around it, his mother came running up to my door. She apologized profusely and ‘asked him’ to come home with her. He, of course, refused and proceeded to run wild though my house, again. She was so clearly embarrassed and asked to come in to get him, so I stepped aside.   After much screaming (him, not her) she managed to bundle him in her arms and she carried him out, he kicking her shins the whole time.  (that had to hurt, this kid wasn’t small, or weak!) I was really rattled by the whole episode. What appeared to be a ‘normal’ little boy, wasn’t and I really felt for the mother.

Over the next few years I noted this same boy would play outside, alone; he didn’t seem to fit in with the neighbourhood kids.  Every so often he’d come to my door seeking sponsorship of various school fundraisers and over time I noticed that ‘shy’ behavior had evolved into a very obvious social awkwardness. He rarely made eye contact and muttered to himself, constantly. He was clearly uncomfortable in any type of social exchange, and the behaviours only became more unusual, and more pronounced with age.

There’s a school bus stop at the end of my driveway for the local high school, and just before 8:59 every morning four young people gather. I can hear their chatter and the occasional laughter of all, with the exception of this young man. He always arrives first and paces in a circle around the end of my driveway, around and around. When the others arrive he makes no acknowledgement, just continues tracing his circle, always looking down, and the other kids make no attempt to engage him in any way. They seem to understand that he’s different, and they are thankfully, mature enough not to taunt him – they just let him be. It’s so sad to see one child so ostracized, so not like the others. Does he know it? Does he feel it? Is it lonely in there?

I recall a conversation many years earlier with his mother, when this boy was about 7 or 8 years old, around the time he did the ‘tour of my house’. She mentioned casually that he was ‘a handful’ and said his teachers, expressing concern,  thought he should be tested for Autism, but both she and her husband adamantly refused citing ‘there’s nothing wrong with their kid’. Not having had much of a personal relationship with these people I didn’t feel free to comment but given the recent outburst of erratic behavior I did think to myself, ‘that teacher may have been on to something’.  After that I didn’t give the conversation much thought, until now.

When I see this young man, years later, so clearly different, so very troubled, I have to wonder how any parent can disregard any recommendations from the educators who spend 7 hours a day with them. They see things you don’t, and they have an impartial opinion. Teachers and counsellors do not have any ‘quota’ to fill, but they do have a legitimate interest in the general well-being of all the children in their charge, and when they see signs of unusual behaviours, it is their duty to address it. And thank God they do.

When my daughter was in grade 5 there was a boy in her class who was suffering physical abuse. The father had recently left the family and the family was struggling. The teacher noted some very subtle but disturbing behaviours in the boy, things no one else seemed to notice.  Thankfully, and persistently, she brought it to the attention of those in authority, and it’s lucky she did, because he was being abused, by the mother. Identifying the issue ensured the boy was moved to safety, and the mother got the help she needed. Heaven only knows how things would’ve ended had this teacher not intervened.

Too often I’ve heard of the children of friends or colleagues who have taken their lives – this has to be the most troubling of all. I can’t fathom what in these young lives could be so insurmountable that the only solution is death, but it happens, more and more, and one can only wonder if we’d only reacted to the early signs, could this life have been saved? I’ve been blessed with children who seem to be well adjusted and able to cope with their lives but I’d like to think that if I’d seen any unusual behavior I would’ve sought professional help. (easy to say, I know) I guess the big question here is, what does unusual behavior look like? And who’s to say what is, or isn’t, unusual?

I’m not here to judge anyone’s parenting skills. I believe we all do the best we can, with the knowledge we have, and I get that it’s hard to acknowledge that there could be something wrong with your child. No parent wants that – we all want a normal, happy kid, but life doesn’t always work out that way, and denying your child accurate diagnosis, and potentially lifesaving aid, is akin to denying them a chance at a normal life.

There’ve been tremendous strides in research around adolescent mental health; for that matter mental health, in general (the young aren’t the only ones struggling with life.) There are medications that can help with certain behaviours, and therapy to help with struggles of the mind. Admitting your child needs ‘attention’ (help beyond what you can give) is probably the most difficult and unselfish act you can ever perform.

Every morning I still look out when I hear that school bus, and I see that troubled young man, so solitary, so odd, and so very much in need of………something………and my heart aches for him, and for his family, because the ripple effect of his obvious mental illness has to be felt throughout their lives. Heaven help those in need, but more importantly, help those who can help, know how, and when to do so, and act on it.  We rise by lifting others.

helping hands


I love veggies…..not to the exclusion of anything else however, but they are a wonderful compliment to any meal. No roast beef would be complete without potatoes, seafood needs rice and a hot veg (otherwise, why eat it?) and a salad bar would be pretty barren without them.

That said, not every vegetable is necessarily palatable. (by contrast, salami is easy to eat, serve, and digest, how can you lose?…….ah, but I digress) Some veggies are pungent, like cabbage and brussel sprouts, so best not to cook those the day you’re preparing for an open house (which I sadly did, much to the dismay of my realtor….on the other hand, we did end up selling the house… the purchasers were vegetarians.)

Squash is a popular staple in most trendy diets now and there’s certainly a wide variety but they all seem to taste the same, with the exception of eggplant (Ghastly stuff…I will never understand eggplant!) Soft and mushy, I’m not sure they’re worth the work, although at least they’re reasonably easy. Poke them full of holes, toss them into an oven and forget about them for a couple of hours. Once they’re done, just scoop out the insides, add butter, salt, and chow down! (personally, I’d just pitch them in the composter)

Some veg, while tasty, require too much work. Carrots, for example need all that peeling. It’s messy and tedious, and at the end of the day they’re hard to chew and equally hard to digest. Potatoes require the same work and if it weren’t for the invention of the French fry, they’d probably still be fermenting underground. (wait, isn’t that how to make vodka?) So vodka is a veggie? For that matter wine comes from grapes, and grapes are a fruit, and we can’t discount the importance of fruits in a healthy eating plan.

Ok, now we’re talking….and just in time!

I’m on a mission to lose fifteen pounds, and as I see it veggies are the way to go! Every diet is comprised of at least 80% vegetables. They’re low in fat, easy to burn, and you can eat a ton, so you don’t need to ‘buy’ into a diet to get the weight loss, right….or do you? Limit the sugars and starches and stock up on the veggies….how hard can it be?

I went out and bought a cart load of vegetables determined to turn my blub into a thing of beauty. (FYI, eating fresh veggies is really expensive…I had to seriously cut back on my liquor allowance to accommodate this) For the next week I ate a healthy vegetarian diet and it was easier than I thought. Broccoli casserole (smothered in a cheese and mayonnaise sauce), corn on the cob (with butter and salt), baked potato (in a sea of sour cream), brussel sprouts (sautéed with bacon and onions)…it was a vegetarian heaven! (I’m starting to understand this whole vegetarian thing – this is ok!) After my first week I stepped on the scale only to discover I was up 3 pounds – how’d that happen? I gave up chocolate, red meat, fried food, wine,,,in short I gave up everything God intended for me but I still gained weight,,,, all on a vegetarian diet!  (I knew I should’ve just gone with the vodka)

Discouraged, I resorted to following a traditional diet; portion control, (ok, so eight brussel sprouts and a half pound of bacon was wrong?), recipes with specific ingredients (that sadly lack all the flavor enhancers like butter, mayo….) and by day three I was back on the vodka (potaaato, potawto, it’s still a veg!)

At the end of the day (and three years later and still fighting that fifteen pounds) I’ve learned that no diet comes without sacrifice, and that sacrifice…is taste, and I’m not sure I’m willing to forgo that no matter how tight my clothes are. So this week, when I did my shopping, I reinstated my old grocery list. Meat, poultry, dairy, eggs and vegetables, all in equal proportion, and with the money I saved I bought wine and vodka,,,,,,, because my conscience told me I still needed my fruits and vegetables.

Veggie diet

Customer Service….where’d it go?

 I recently had a couple of customer service experiences that made me step back in awe at the sheer stupidity of the retailers supposed ‘policy’, and their treatment of the customer.

The remote for my vehicle was in need of a replacement battery and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out how to open it to see what battery I needed so I wandered into the automotive department of a local hardware store reputed to be leaders in auto repair and service, among other things. After waiting in line for a few minutes a gentleman waved me up. I told him my remote wasn’t working and I thought it needed a new battery but I couldn’t figure out how to open it. He very nicely said “Oh we don’t do that here, but go on over to customer service, they’ll take care of you.” So, I did, and after waiting in another line I was finally face to face with the Customer Service Manager, (according to her badge) but she looked all of 15.

I explained that I needed help with the battery replacement in my remote and had been referred to her by the automotive department. I barely got the sentence out when she started shaking her head and said “Sorry, we aren’t allowed to do battery replacements, we just sell the batteries.” I explained to her that I wasn’t able to get the remote open which is why I came to the hardware store that specializes in auto service and repair. (If I could get it open I wouldn’t need them, I’d do it myself) “Sorry” she said, head still shaking. “It’s company policy”.

Still digesting this new information, I said, ok, can you at least tell me what kind of battery I need and I’ll try to find someone to help me get it open? “No”, she said. “We’re not allowed to advise on that.” (the head is shaking quite vigorously now) “You have to open the remote yourself and tell me what battery you need.” Now I debated reiterating to her again, that the reason I came to this national auto service and repair store was because I couldn’t get it open, but I knew it would get me nowhere and I was afraid if I asked anymore of her, her head might fly right off her body, so I wandered back to the automotive department thinking I’ll ask them to get it open, then I would come back to buy the battery from this Bobble head.

Back I go to the line in the automotive department. When it’s my turn, I explain to a nice young fellow that his colleague, and I pointed to the gentleman beside him, had referred me to customer service for my battery replacement but they were unable to open the remote for me to see what kind of battery I needed. As I opened my mouth to continue, I see his head starting to shake. “Sorry” he said, “we’re not allowed to open remotes.” It’s company policy.”

I’m stunned into silence now. Is there a cameral hidden somewhere here, cause this can’t be real? Eventually I manage to explain again, that the reason I came to the (self-reputed) ‘leaders in auto repair and service’, was because I wasn’t able to open the remote and I needed their help. (these people remove entire transmissions, but they can’t open a remote?) “Sorry lady”, he says, “we’re not allowed to open remotes”. If you can’t do it yourself, you should go to the car dealership”. Ok, now my head is shaking because I can’t believe the sheer stupidity and complete lack of customer care that runs rampant in this store.

I realize there’s no point in pursuing this further so I prepare to leave, still stunned by the experience, and as I turn to go he cheerfully says, “Is there anything else we can do for you today?”  (he really should’ve just shut-up)

“Anything else?” I ask incredulous. You haven’t done anything for me, other than waste 30 minutes of my day.” Looking totally unconcerned, he shrugs, and motions to the next person in line. I left.

I did eventually get the battery I needed (not there) and my husband fixed the remote, but I just couldn’t get past the customer service (or rather, lack thereof) I had experienced.

But wait….this gets better.

After the holidays, as I was taking down my tree, I noted several lights were out on most of the strings. Not wanting to tinker with each individual light, I decided it would be easier to replace the lights for next year, altogether. They were several years old and I got my moneys’ worth from them anyway. Reluctantly I drove to the same hardware store, only because they carried a wide selection of holiday lights, and replacement bulbs would be easy to find here down the road. As I scan the shelves trying to decide what to buy, I see a red note posted that advertises ‘All holiday decorations must be returned or exchanged by Dec 24/17’. Makes sense to me. I can’t imagine someone buying decorations for the holidays, using them, then returning them after the New Year, but I guess it happens, so I gather up my 6 boxes of lights, pay, and head home.

Before putting them away for the year, I plug each one in to ensure they work, and lo and behold, one does not. No problem. I grab the receipt and drive back to the same nationally renowned retail company which sells and services a wide range of automotive, hardware, sports and leisure, and home products. (from their website home page) I get in line at customer service anticipating a quick exchange. Eventually, it’s my turn and an expressionless young man motions me up. (must be Bobbleheads day off)  I hand him the lights, my receipt, etc, and explain that I need only to exchange the lights. “Sorry Maam”, he says, “we can’t accept any returns on holiday decorations after Dec 24th”, and he smiles stiffly as he pushes my package back across the counter.

“If you look at the receipt”, I reply, “you’ll see I only purchased them here this morning, Jan 3rd, so clearly that policy can’t apply”, and I slide the package back to him.  He looks startled but determined, and I’m shocked when he says, “sorry Maam, that’s company policy”, and he stares, motionless. “Think about it”, I said, trying to reason with him, “How can I return something 10 days ago that I only purchased today? I’m pretty sure your policy applies to merchandise purchased before Dec 24th, yes?” He looks momentarily confused. (where’s Bobblehead when you need her? At least she was animated)

After a slight hesitation, he advises that he will have to call a manager and I hear collective groans from customers behind me. I cannot believe the lack of common sense and shaking my head, I prepare to do battle, cause one way or another, I am not leaving without a new set of lights.

Eventually, another baby faced young man arrives (do they recruit these people in kindergarten?) and after debriefing with the customer service clerk, he points out the discrepancy of the dates to him but it falls on deaf ears. The kid just doesn’t get it. Looking at the line up behind me, the manager turns to me and says “do you wanna just go get another set of lights and we’ll exchange them?” So I did, and they did, without further incident, but I was disappointed at the lack of apology; the lack of acknowledging their error in the situation. And they just don’t care.

If you really think about it, good customer service is quite rare, and it appears to be heading to extinction. Retailers spent the last 20-30 years ‘conditioning’ the public to serve themselves. Self-serve check outs, online shopping, do it yourself set ups that were once complimentary; even banking, all have taken the place of good old fashioned customer service. Twenty five years ago the push was on to get people out of the bank branches and retail stores. Customers were strongly encouraged to bank by phone, then eventually online; shop by phone, by catalogue, then online, and they eventually listened. Retailers offered sale prices exclusive to online shoppers, and banks claimed customers could save on service charges with self-serve banking. (ok, this one is lost on me cause I’ve yet to see a reduction in service fees, but I do note the reduction in service….)

Then the banks and retailers realized that with no traffic in their storefronts there was no way for them to up-sell and cross-sell additional products and services…………..well cry me a river! (Guess the billions they make in profits annually aren’t enough anymore) So now they’re back-paddling to do whatever it takes to get people back in for face to face sales. Retailers have ‘in store’ specials, and the minute you set foot in their doors you’re swarmed by any number of sales staff offering personal assistance. Banks aggressively solicit their clients by whatever means; phone, mail, email, whatever it takes to convince the customer to come in for a ‘face to face’ meeting to ‘review’ their finances and when they walk out of that meeting they have a host of new credit products they probably don’t need.

The only thing neither offers is good old fashioned customer service and while the shopping public has come to accept this DIY concept, it has come at a high price for retailers. We’ve educated ourselves on our rights as consumers, and if you’re not going to provide us with quality face to face customer service, we’re going to simply take our business home where, thanks to call display, you can’t reach us.

Will retailers rethink their strategy? Maybe, but I doubt it, because in this ever growing digital world, I suspect we’re in for a future of contactless, self-serve shopping, and customer service, as we knew it, is gone. The retail world is catapulting through technology air space and the ‘customer’ is just another source of now faceless potential profit. It is what it is and we have to accept it as such.

So I note and appreciate those rare occasions when a sales clerk provides me with genuine, quality, customer service, because I know they will eventually be replaced with self-serve kiosks and 800 numbers. I worry about the job loss and the lack of ‘personality’ that made shopping fun, and until such time as we lose it altogether I will continue to enjoy face to face customer service, such as it is, for as long as it is.

In the interim, please don’t smother me when I walk through the storefront, wait for me to tell you what I want or need. Don’t push product on me and listen to what I’m saying, really listen, cause now that you’ve educated me on options for my shopping needs, I may just opt……….. to boycott you.

customer service