Getting back to basics

The pandemic has forced us all to stay home, more than we are accustomed to, and in doing so many are discovering new hobbies. The recent shortage of yeast and flour tells us there’s a lot of home baking going on. And when I stepped into my local fabric store to pick up some thread, I was surprised to see more people than I’d ever seen in there before. Guess there’s a new population of stitchers, knitters, and crafters in the making?

And you only need to wander through your neighbourhood to see the beautifully landscaped gardens and home improvements, again, new found hobbies, a direct result of people having more time at home with little to do. The pandemic, it seems, has forced us all to get back to basics…and that’s not a bad thing.

Technology has given us simplification, automation and convenience, and in the process it rendered us useless to perform the simple tasks we once did, but this is not new. I can remember the first time it occurred to me that technology wasn’t necessarily the best for society. I was grocery shopping with my 4 year old son (that was 27 years ago) and just after our total rang up on the cash register the power went out and what ensued as a result, was an eye-opener. I gave the cashier $20 cash and my purchases totaled $17.46 – the cashier was stumped. She looked helplessly at the register that under normal circumstances would’ve provided her with the appropriate change. She clearly didn’t know what to do.

After helping her calculate the change due we packed up our groceries and headed home and it was while driving that I realized she probably had little experience with basic math. Schools allow calculators so learning how to add, subtract, multiply and divide isn’t the priority it once was on school curriculums. In our quest to advance with technology we took a step back with respect to basic learning. (when you can’t make change from a twenty dollar bill society’s in trouble)

As I continue to navigate life during a pandemic I can’t help but wonder again, if perhaps it was necessary. Maybe we needed this wake-up call; the call to return to basics.

Never in a million years would I wish a pandemic on humanity, but it’s here, and if we can manage to get through it safely AND pick up a few lessons along the way, there is always hope. Isolation has produced some new bakers, writers, gardeners and handymen, and families are spending more time together, quality time. Sometimes maybe we do need to step back physically in order to move forward emotionally and spiritually. I’ve said it before and will say it again…….from something very bad there can bloom something very good. We just need to see where the potential lies.

The little things

I was watching television and a commercial came on where a local farmer was talking about how grateful he was to still be working and supporting his family during the pandemic. He held a beautiful little boy in his arms as he spoke and it made me want to cry.

Earlier in the day, while driving, I heard an appeal for the Salvation Army. Covid has placed more and more people into homelessness and they are asking the public for financial help for the needy. They advised their workers would still be out this holiday season with their collection plates, despite the risk of Covid, because the need is so great,,,,,and again, I felt my eyes well up. (Jeez, I’m turning into such a mushy old lady)

I think, like anyone, I have taken much for granted because I don’t recall being so sensitive to these simple messages of need, and I don’t know if it’s Covid, or sentiment, or age, but I find myself appreciating the ‘little things’ more than before.

There’s a group of young people who beg for money at a local major intersection and I used to ignore them because I wondered as to the sincerity of their ‘need’. I always thought if they were able enough to withstand the elements and the humiliation of begging on street corners they were probably well enough to get a job. Now, I just open my window and hand them money. No judgement, not anymore. I am blessed with a home, a warm bed, food, and a loving family. Who am I to judge the needs of another? And if they are scam artists just looking for an easy ride, so be it – the universe will even things out, with or without me. (That’s not my job) I’m just glad I have what I do.

I wonder, do you ‘see’ the need. Do you ‘feel’ the suffering. Do you, like me, feel the pain? There have been worse ‘blights’ to hit the world, but not in our generation. Are we fully appreciating the impact….because if we are personally unaffected, how can we? Are we honestly, sincerely, doing what we need to do to help our fellow man?

I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling the emotional impact of the suffering. I see it in the eyes of strangers. I hear it in the pleas of those asking for help, and I feel helpless to do more because I don’t know what to do… I take the time to give thanks. I take the time to appreciate all I do have. I help where I can but often that isn’t enough. I am not wealthy, but I will share with another in need until I can’t. And I will take the time to appreciate all that there is to appreciate. The sunrise, a sale on beef, family, an umbrella in the rain, friends, wine, health, access to medication, life, and all the other stuff we take for granted in a normal world. Even the material stuff, yes, even the stuff we covet deserves thanks,,,,,because we have it. How lucky are we?

Feeling gratitude eases our burden, so just say it,,,to everyone, to no one, to the universe, to God, if you pray to one….. just say it, ‘thank you’.

See, now that didn’t hurt, did it?……bet you feel lighter.

How much knowledge do we need?

I love technology,,,,to a point. It has given us the ability to get a recipe, manage a home repair, find directions, simplify our banking, even get news bulletins up to the moment. But how much do we really need,,,,,before it adversely affects our lives? 

I’ve touched on this subject before but it still really peeves me. You’re in a wonderful conversation with friends, there’s banter and opinion back and forth. This could go on all evening making for some great conversation, great jibes. An issue is at hand and all are charged to enjoy a lively discussion….then someone pulls out a cell phone or an ipad and ‘googles’ the answer to your subject argument then proudly proclaims the answer….and the conversation is dead in the water. (Well wasn’t that fun)  You know, there are times when technology isn’t ,,,,fun. Sometimes it’s a conversation killer stopping a good debate in its’ tracks.

I was reading an article recently about artificial intelligence, a scary thing, but I couldn’t help but marvel (shudder, actually) at the advancements we’ve made. Man has the ability, or so it seems, to simulate the thinking patterns of the human brain. (are we so predictable?)  Moreover, the goal and current challenge of artificial intelligence technology is replicating the ability to reason and problem solve. Think about it, we already have self-driving cars, and it’s proclaimed that they will be better than the human driver. In fact, artificial intelligence boasts the capacity to understand or learn any intellectual task that a human can. So can it create a human replica, a robot?  And if so, am I the only one who doesn’t get this? Why would we want this? (what ever happened to ‘ignorance is bliss?”)

Technology is progressing at alarming rates, not always a good thing, but a proud testament to our ability, ok, I get that. We’re a smart species. There is some research available that supports our ability to create a race of ‘people’ that would by far surpass our own abilities. (Again, why would we want this?)  Is it a question of proving our intelligence?  (Ego?….wouldn’t be the first time man has been propelled by ego) Are we so driven to ‘redevelop’ our species that we are blind to the inevitable repercussions of it?

What happens when that self driving car malfunctions, blows a circuit, looses a gasket? Surely it’s only as reliable as the human who programmed it? What happens when/if that ‘robot’ we created suddenly decides to ‘think outside the box’, chooses a different outcome, and/or turns against its’ creators? In our quest to create the ultimate perfect being we may well nullify our own authority because eventually these ‘man-made’ creations will start to think on their own (so they say) and, dare I say it, take over?

Maybe it’s all hype. Maybe not. There’s a huge library of information available on ‘AI’ (artificial intelligence)volumes in fact,  that will impress,,,,, and shake you to the core, and it all shmecks of a sci-fi movie. At the end of the day it claims to be able to replicate the human race, in a perfected way. The downside is that it can also challenge the human race, because it is perfected. (weird)

Ok, so maybe we have the ability to create a ‘better-than-us’ race. What do we hope to achieve with this? Who’s going to be there to give us notoriety?  The thought that we could one day be ruled by a ‘man-made’ society is frightening, at least to me. Because robots are incapable of love, and kindness, and compassion, and emotion – they are only capable of what they are programmed for… a human, they cannot surely behave in rational human ways. Don’t we need that? These are traits that cannot be replicated. And if robots can in fact be trained to ‘think’ rationally, it follows then that they could also think irrationally, which leaves the option open for them to revolt, retaliate,,,,,,, dominate?

I’m no scientist, no genius, and after reading a few articles and one book on the subject (by no means an authority) I’m sufficiently frightened enough to wonder why, on earth we would ever want to create something that could eventually dominate us. (takes me back to the old ‘Frankenstein’ movies)

I get technology, to a point, because it is a challenge to test our ability, see how far we can get, and it brings endless convenience into our lives; the internet, self check-outs, cell phones (how did we survive all these centuries without them!) By contrast it also eliminates manual labour, leaving more and more unemployed. It adversely affects our socialization skills because we no longer talk face to face, it’s all text, cell, email. And while the internet brings a plethora of information instantly, it also provides an unregulated platform for pedophiles, pornography and scam artists, so technology it seems, is a double edged sword.

Maybe I’m just old fashioned. I like using a cashier to process my purchase, and I gladly answer my land line when someone calls, and while I have had numerous conversations on text or email, my first choice is live, face to face conversation. I enjoy the many benefits of technology, online banking, surfing for recipes or information, or shopping for that hard-to-find item. I get the convenience. I even get the need to ‘prove’ our intelligence. I just wonder if in our quest we aren’t going too far. Do we really need to recreate the human brain, the very one that could conceivably outwit us?

Someone, please, tell me, why would we want this?

Patience, patience

If patience is really a virtue I’m the first to admit I am not virtuous. I have a really hard time tolerating idiocy. Now I realize that the world is full of all kinds of people, and I can’t decide if I’m just oblivious to the normal ones, because lately I seem to be encountering more than my fair share of blithering idiots.

While on a road trip with friends a few weeks ago we stopped to get coffee at a McDonalds Restaurant in rural Nova Scotia. A friend and I went in while our spouses waited in the car. She placed her order through the automated kiosk but I preferred to go to the counter for my order because I don’t like having to pay for my 99 cent coffee with a card. I waited several minutes at the one and only cash station but no one on staff came to my aide. Seeing my friend had already obtained her order I figured I’d better use the kiosk after all. I quickly keyed in my order for 2 coffees, paid with my card, and waited for my receipt. It didn’t come. Instead I got a message on the screen that said it was unable to produce a receipt and referred me to a cashier, so back to the counter I went (muttering any number of unholy oaths) 

A young man who looked about 13 asked if he could help so I explained I’d placed and paid for my order but had no receipt. He stared blankly at the cash register clearly regretting that he’d come to serve me. After several seconds of punching keys unsuccessfully he called over the french fry guy, who also looked to be about 13, and explained the issue. The two of them punched the keys for another few minutes while I muttered more oaths under my breath. (all this for a cup of coffee)  My friend was on the side lines sipping her coffee and thoroughly enjoying my predicament.  

Finally, giving up on technology, they asked what I’d ordered and advised they’d just give it to me because they didn’t know how to reproduce a receipt (Mother Jesus, help me) I told them that was fine but I still wanted my receipt because the transaction went through my account I wanted to reconcile the charge to my statement. (I’ve actually had duplicate charges go through so I get copies of everything I charge electronically) French fry guy tells his colleague he’d better get the manager and they ask me to step aside because there’s another customer behind me. I turned around and told the man they had a team of specialists working on my order and he’d be better off using the kiosk for his. He actually listened and smiling, moved to the automated order terminal.

After a few minutes the young man returns with the manager (I think) in tow, and I’m relieved to see I’d be dealing with someone with more experience – the ‘manager’ had to be at least 15. I glance around to make sure I am in a McDonalds Restaurant and not the local daycare while the young man explains the issue to the manager. (more muttering of oaths) By this time I note 2 coffees are sitting on the pick up counter unclaimed, likely mine. The girl working the drive through window sees the confusion and comes over to help (cause yes, that’s what we need, another teenager to lend some expertise….more cursing) and all 3 stare helplessly at the cash register.

After several more minutes of punching keys, head scratching, and exclamations, the manager finally hits the magic button and tadaaaah, my receipt pops out. He looks clearly surprised, but puffs up his prepubescent chest when his colleagues applaud his success, (doesn’t take much to impress these geniuses)  but at this at this point I could care less. I grab my now cold coffees and run, muttering again, under my breath.

This past week I went to my local grocery store to pick up a few things. List on hand, I grab a cart and head into the produce aisle.  There’s a man ahead of me scanning the tomatoes so I wait the required 6 feet behind him. He’s got a face shield on and rubber gloves so I’m thinking he might have pre-existing health conditions that warrant sturdier measures to prevent covid infection – no problem, I wait. He’s picking up one tomato, then another, returning each to the pile after close scrutiny. I see him lift another to his face as though he’s sniffing it but I can’t imagine he can smell anything through the plastic face shield. Seeing he’s not going anywhere any time soon, I decide to get some of the other produce on my list, I’ll return for tomatoes later.

I wheel over to get my lettuce, onions, etc, then swing back to tomatoes only to find he’s still there, groping each one as though searching for a bomb. (what the hell????) Surely he’s got to be done soon, so I wait. (I never would’ve imagined a tomato could be so interesting) There’s another woman also waiting, just across the aisle from me. We both watch as he feels each tomato almost lovingly (ok, this is getting weird) Our eyes meet and she smiles and shrugs, then she veers off in another direction, not prepared to wait. I do the same. I may as well get the rest of my list done while tomato guy gets his thrills.

My list was not long so within 10 minutes I’m heading back to produce and believe it or not tomato guy is still there. (get an inflatable woman already) Tired of being the nice guy, I pull my cart up next to his, lean over and grab 2 tomatoes plopping them in my cart. As I prepare to move away, he stands up straight clearly affronted, and says,”excuuuuuse me!” (I guess I invaded his space) to which I replied “you know, you might be a good candidate for curbside pick up”. (ok, in my head I was really thinking he’d be a good candidate for a looney house)

Is it unreasonable for me to be intolerant of idiocy? I like to think I am a tolerant person, considerate even, of another’s idiosyncrasies, but some of these whack-jobs really test my patience. (could this be why I have high blood pressure?) It just seems that there’s an inordinate number of looneys and morons roaming this planet and I seem to be bumping into every one of them. Maybe it’s the full moon theory, or maybe I need to go out less. I do know that patience really is a wonderful trait to have,,,,,sure wish I had some.

The Flu Shot

It’s flu season, and that means getting the dreaded flu shot. Now I don’t have a problem with needles but I know a lot of people who do. My two young granddaughters, aged 3 and 5 had to be bribed to go to the doctor for the flu shot, and even then it was a major ordeal but you can make allowances for children. It’s a little harder to accept excessive drama from an adult.

My husband, like many people, has an aversion to the sight of blood. He literally gets weak in the knees and has on occasion passed out (although that hasn’t happened since his younger days) I can handle blood, not huge amounts of course (that’s why I couldn’t go into medicine, that and the whole enema thing….ok, and also I didn’t have the marks) but I can certainly manage cuts, scrapes and needles.

Some thirty years ago I was at work and my husband was home with the children. We’d been having trouble with our automatic garage door opener and despite warnings from EVERYONE to leave the repair to a professional, my husband, handyman that he isn’t, decided to tackle the task himself. Needless to say the garage door came slamming down causing quite a loud noise throughout the neighbourhood, and taking a small chunk of my husbands thumb with it. (He was lucky he didn’t lose more,,,,you don’t mess with 200 lb doors that have lost their tension)  He was then seen running into the house. When he didn’t emerge in a reasonable period of time, a neighbor who’d witnessed the scene went inside only to find my husband slumped on the floor in the bathroom. She managed to wrap the finger enough to staunch the bleeding and by the time she was done my husband had ‘recovered’ sufficiently enough to remain conscious. (To this day he still refers to that accident as his brush with death, and he claims parts of that thumb are still without feeling providing a ready excuse to avoid most household tasks)

On another occasion around the same period our two year old son was playing with a lawn chair and caught his thumb in the joint while closing it (what is it with the men in my family and thumbs?) causing a nice slice around his whole finger. My husband grabbed him and ran inside calling for me (I was in the basement doing laundry) By the time I could make it to the kitchen my son was happily rinsing his bloodied finger in the sink while my hero leaned unsteadily against the wall. I cleaned up the wound, propped my husband up and took our son to emergency for stitches. Now I would’ve thought an aversion to the sight of blood would be over ridden by necessity, but apparently not.  I’m not sure what would’ve happened had I not been home but I’m guessing my two year old would’ve ended up nursing his father until I returned.

A number of years later, the same son, who was 15 by then, (and clearly a klutz) cut his finger while halving a bagel. The cut was significant enough to warrant a trip to emergency as it clearly would need stitches. My husband insisted on going with us – ‘he could do this’. While I sat in emergency with our son, he was out cold in the back of our car (I just left him there) Suffice it to say his aversion to the sight of blood was, and remains, significant.

This past Friday we went in for our annual flu shots. (He played a round of golf in the morning preceding our appointment because he knew he wouldn’t be able to play after,,,,, you know,,,,, the procedure). He took it like a trooper; rolled up his sleeve, held his breath and turned away, and I was pleased to see he kept the moaning to a minimum. After we got home, I went out to rake leaves (we have a TON) and my husband went to lie down. He was ‘stressed’ by the ordeal. Later he would move downstairs to his lazy-boy where he indulged in a rye and ginger to help dull the memory of the traumatic experience.  Today I asked him to vacuum and he held up his arm limply and said he couldn’t,,,,his arm was still weak.

You know,,,,,I think we’d both be less stressed if he just got the flu.