Bits and bobs

Random thoughts about random things by a random person


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Where are you from? (And why you might want to rethink asking that question.)

 “Where are you from?” About two years ago I would have thought that was a great question to ask – a great way to make conversation and get to know someone. Over my lifetime, I’ve asked it dozens of times. Probably over a hundred. And even that might be conservative.

It turns out, though, that those four little words can be quite loaded – and I had no idea.

To me where I am originally from (the island of Newfoundland, on the very east end of Canada) is a huge part of the person I am. There are vast linguistic and cultural differences there from even other parts of Canada. Where I live (Ottawa, Ontario) is very different from where I am from. Ottawa is part of my current life; Newfoundland is my cultural heritage.

I’ve always been interested in cultures and love learning about them. It’s not what’s the same about us that makes people interesting to me – it’s what’s different. It’s in the differences that I learn and grow and come to appreciate so many things.

So for me, asking someone where they are from has always come from a place of wanting to respect a person’s heritage enough to ask about it and wanting to increase my own understanding of places around the world.

I have learned, though, that to the person on the receiving end of that question, it might not come across that way.

One of my friends here is of African descent, by way of Barbados. She grew up in Manitoba, one of Canada’s prairie provinces. She’s the one who opened my eyes to the potentially darker side of this question.

For her and, I have learned since, many people who don’t sound or look like they “belong” in Canada, that question can make them really feel like they don’t, in fact, belong. She explained to me that when she answers that she’s from Manitoba, there is frequently a follow-up of, “No…but where are you really from?” Because a person of her colour, obviously, couldn’t possibly be “from” Manitoba.

We had a really good conversation about it that day and it made me uncomfortable. I wanted to resist it. I even thought to myself, “That’s ridiculous. She’s being over-sensitive.”

I realized later that I thought those things simply because of how uncomfortable I felt. I had flashbacks of times I had asked that question over the years. I didn’t like the thought that when I thought I was showing interest in them, I may actually have been insulting them. I didn’t want that to be the case, so I resisted the idea.

We often do that, don’t we? In so many situations it’s easier to put the “fault” of something back onto someone else. And my initial, defensive reaction was to do just that.

Since that conversation about two years ago, I have thought a lot about this idea. In fact, I’ve tried to write this post a bunch of times already and have never really been able to get it to where I’m comfortable with it or to write it in a way that readers would be comfortable with it.

Today I realized that making people (myself or others) comfortable with it shouldn’t be part of the equation.

That’s not to say I’m intentionally dismissing your feelings. What I mean is that it’s normal for this to be an uncomfortable subject, especially when it’s new to you and if you are an asker of that question.

Plus, sometimes it’s good to be made uncomfortable and if you are uncomfortable right now, please read on.

In today’s world, I think we need to be uncomfortable more often. Reading only things that already match our thoughts and ideas – things that we are comfortable with – only serves to more firmly ensconce us on that particular “side” of an issue. We will only learn and progress – as individuals and as communities – when we allow ourselves to learn about and try to see the other side of things. Frequently that means we will be uncomfortable. And, seriously, that’s OK – even more than OK.

Before I go further, let me explain that for me this is not a question of “political correctness”. I don’t even like that term. It might just be a question of semantics, but to me it implies that something should be changed solely to appease one group or another because politicians are afraid of that particular group. I get that laws need to be changed sometimes in order for changes to happen and particularly for rights to be given, but changing individual attitudes and behaviours is more than that.

For me when we change how we act, what we say and what we accept from those around us – it shouldn’t be because it’s the “politically correct” thing to do, but because it’s the right thing to do, out of simple human decency and respect.

This is one of those situations. Just because I’m curious about someone’s background and I don’t have any ill-will or malicious intent in my question doesn’t mean I have carte blanche to ask it whenever the urge strikes me. If I’m genuinely interested in that individual – and not just satisfying my own curiosity – then the first thing I should consider is whether or not my question would be welcome in the first place. (Another one of those reminders from the universe that it’s not, for some reason, all about me. 😉 )

Interestingly, I have even realized that I have not always enjoyed being asked that question myself.

As I said, I grew up in Newfoundland. European settlement of Newfoundland, which began in the 1500s, was primarily by English and Irish settlers, with some pockets of French communities depending on what was happening between Britain and France at any given moment. There are almost as many variations of English spoken in Newfoundland as there are communities. It is, I’m sure, a linquistic academic’s dream. (For more information about that, see the Wikipedia articles Newfoundland (island) and Newfoundland English.) In my “natural state”, I have an accent.

I lived almost 14 years in Calgary, Alberta. More often than not, as soon as someone heard me speak, they invariably asked either the general “Where are you from?” or the specific “Are you from Newfoundland?”

When I confirmed that I was, indeed from Newfoundland, the reactions were generally (in the other person’s mind, no doubt) very positive: “Oh! I love Newfies!” or “Newfies are the hardest workers!” There were also the comments about us being the biggest drinkers, too, which always came up when people found out that I was from Newfoundland and didn’t drink. “How is that possible???” they would ask with sincere incredulity. Happily, I never ran into the stereotype of “stupid Newfies”.

I either had to learn to just laugh it all off and take a 10-minute detour to every conversation when I first met someone or I had to learn to hide my accent and stop using those colourful expressions. Luckily, I have a knack for languages and accents and could hide that pretty easily. I also learned fairly quickly to avoid expressions that non-Newfoundlanders wouldn’t understand. (I should be clear: I never did this because of any sense of shame of being from Newfoundland; it was strictly because of how annoying and bothersome the interactions were.)

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t equate those experiences with the experiences that people of colour or who have immigrated to Canada deal with. Hardly. For one thing, I at least had a choice to be able to hide my linguistic identity. That choice is not available to people of a different colour or who aren’t able to blend in with the language so easily.

But thinking of my own experiences with that question has given me a bit of a different perspective into what it might be like for others on the receiving end of it. It also helped me realize that, even if there isn’t a sense of being made to feel like you don’t belong or perhaps of being “less than”, not everybody even wants to talk about where they are “from”. So I try to be respectful of that now.

“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”

Maya Angelou

If you’d like to learn a bit more about this, please check out this TED talk by Taiye Selasi and this Huffington Post article by Isabelle Khoo.


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Pyjamas at work and I don’t care

I was on the elevator at work yesterday – going up or down, I don’t remember and, really, it doesn’t matter. It was crowded and I was towards the back left. As I frequently do, I was standing there, minding my own business, looking down at the floor. Not an exciting thing to look at, but you have to look somewhere and the floor is the least obtrusive thing to look at.

Of course, when you look at the floor on a crowded elevator you see shoes and lower legs. Sometimes I see footwear that I really like. I might even say to the person, “I really like your shoes!” But generally, I just kind of stand there quietly minding my own business.

Yesterday, though, what I saw confused and surprised me.

There was the regular assortment of spring footwear, of course: dress shoes (either on the optimistic or those staying inside), rain boots for the more realistic folks venturing outside, and comfy shoes of various types.

Amid that, I saw this flash of colour that drew my attention. There, in front and to the right of my feet and lower legs were lower legs clad in what I think were pyjama bottoms. They were a dark blue, almost navy, in what looked like a jersey knit (t-shirty material) with about a 2-inch band of multi-coloured floral satiny fabric. I thought, “That can’t be right…” so I looked again, thinking they must be regular pants. But they looked loose and sloppy like pyjama bottoms.

Unable to resist, I scanned up her person, thinking the top would give me a clue. But she was wearing a long jacket. Bummer!

Now you might ask, “Lucy, why do you even care? It’s really none of your business.” And you would be right.

While I do live by the “pyjamas are for home and not for public” philosophy, I also live by the “you do your thing and I’ll do mine” philosophy. I’ve seen pyjamas in public before – lots. I’m sure you have, too. Perhaps you even wear them in public – who knows! When I see them, I just do my internal, middle-aged woman “tut tut” and that’s the end of it.

But seeing that yesterday – in an office setting – really confused me. It was like the generation gap opened wide with this loud sucking noise and flashing lights to make sure I was aware of the distance between me and the “It” generation. If those really were pyjamas, where was I when it became OK to wear them to work, when work isn’t a pyjama-testing job?

Where was I? I was so far away from the young adult scene as to be completely clueless about this. That’s where I was.

Now, I’ve never been one to be very savvy about fashion. I have no idea what’s really in or what’s really out. But you’d think I’d have an inkling as to whether or not this is now considered fashion, right? Apparently not. Cuz whether or not they really were pyjamas, they did look like them, and I don’t even know if it’s that’s a thing (outside the pages of “The People of Walmart”).

The other side of that realization has been that I discovered that I don’t even care that I don’t know. I mean, yeah, it hit me broadside at first – “Oh no! I’m getting old!” But then came, “Uh huh. So?” Then I realized that I genuinely don’t care that I don’t know if “that’s what the kids are wearing these days.” I really don’t.

And I like it.


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I don’t lose socks

I fully realize that by writing this post I am very likely jinxing myself. But I will write it. It needs to be written. Hope needs to be given to the world that it is indeed possible to do laundry and not lose socks.

I will admit that I used to be a person who lost socks. Regularly. At a certain point in my life, though, that changed. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you what that point was or what happened to change it.

In fact, I hadn’t even realized it had changed until one day a few years ago somebody on some TV show was talking about how they always lose socks in the dryer and everybody else laughed along in agreement.

I started to laugh, too, but when I tried to bring to mind a recent such experience, I couldn’t. I couldn’t even remember the last time it had happened. I realized I was no longer a member of this club that, until that moment, I had thought everyone who did laundry belonged to.

Is it too much to admit that, mingled with a weird happiness in knowing I had fully functional pairs of socks, the realization also brought with it slight disappointment at now being shut out of said club. I mean, stories about not losing socks aren’t interesting or funny at all, are they? There are no water cooler exclamations of shared misery such as “You are so right! I never lose socks all the time, too!” or “I have a drawer full of matched pairs of socks, too! It’s horrible!” Who cares?? Now, stories about losing socks…that gets a sense of camaraderie going all the time! And so I was thence thrust out to no longer participate in such conviviality again.

I have come close to getting back in, though. I’ll fold the laundry, and at the end there’s a lone dark sock with no partner. In the early days after I realized I was no longer in the “sock loser” category, when this lone sock appeared I would think, “Ahhhhh…there we go. My grand run is over! I’ve rejoined the ranks. It had to happen one day. Well, it was good while it lasted.”

Then, invariably, I’d find his partner – tucked in the dryer or washer, dropped on the floor by the dryer, or hidden on the floor behind the hamper.

But now after all this time, there is no twinge of disappointment when I see the leftover, solitary sole atop my folded laundry. I see it and know – beyond a hyperbolic shadow of a doubt – that I will find its partner. It will not remain alone, destined to be tossed in the trash or turned into a rag. Sometimes it sends me on a merry chase – likely to keep me humble, I’m sure – but I always find it!

So, my friends, there is hope. One day you, too, may be able to empty that sad little drawer of misfit socks and match them again with their sole-mates to live happily on in the Drawer of Pairs.


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I fought the couch…and the couch, not surprisingly, won

It was a lovely afternoon. A belated Easter dinner at my youngest brother Al’s house last Saturday with him, his wife and my next youngest brother, Bill. Lynn served a fabulous baked ham and scalloped potatoes, followed by carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. (Seriously…this is the best cream cheese frosting that I have ever had!! But I digress…)

After gorging on all the delicious food, we comfortably ensconced ourselves outside on the patio to continue our visit. It was a beautiful, grand spring day, which have been rather few and late this year, and we wanted to take advantage of it as much as we could.

Later, as Bill and I were about to head out, Al asked Bill to help him move their old couch to the upstairs den. Bill, happy to help, dropped his backpack and they started in. Now, had this happened at the beginning of the visit, it would have had a different result. However, throughout the afternoon, they had each had a few wobbly pops and as they started grunting it up the curved staircase, it struck me that it might not be such a good idea for them to be doing this on their own. So, as any non-wobbly-pop-drinking big sister would do, I hopped up to help out.

It’s a lovely couch. Very well made. You know something about well-made couches? They last long, yes, and they are comfortable. They are also heavy. H-E-A-V-Y. Heavy. It’s important that you know that. It’s also important that you know that it’s more of a modern design. Not one of those puffy, soft-edged things (like I have). It has angles and edges. Leather-covered, but edges all the same.

Another critical piece of this story is that Al was at the top, Bill was in the middle and I was at the bottom.

As we struggled along, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the Friends episode with Ross’s new couch. Happily, there were no cries of “Pivot! Pivot!” and our episode ended much more successfully with the couch in one piece.

By the end, there was only one small ding on the wall (they are planning on repainting, anyway) and one other…minor…incident.

At one point, the couch slipped backwards. On stairs, backwards also means downwards. I refer you to three paragraphs ago where I described how we were each situated. What did the couch hit when it slipped backwards and downwards? (I’ll give you a couple of seconds…) Yes – you got it! Me!!!! Remember the heavy bit I mentioned and the edges of the modern design? My soft edges were no match.

I had a choice: Stand my ground and absorb the impact or go backwards (and downwards) with the couch. Needless to say, I did the former. There was no conscious decision, mind you. There was no time for that. While I have had my fair share of clumsy moments, thankfully, in this particular instance my brain knew that downwards and backwards would end only with me under the couch at the bottom of the stairs, with Bill likely squished under some part of it, too. So I stood my ground. We got it back under control and successfully made it to the top. Yay!!!

You’d think, then, that the title of this post should be “I fought the couch and *I* won”. If I had written this immediately after the couch made it up the stairs, it might have been. But within a half hour – still in the car to drop Bill off at his place – I started to realize that I might have won the battle, but definitely not the war.

By the time I was ready for bed I knew that I was in for a world of hurt on Sunday. The couch, it seemed however, was too impatient to wait until Sunday for its final coup, preferring instead to begin during the night on Saturday. You don’t know how many muscles you use to do simple things like lifting your head or fluffing a pillow until those muscles aren’t in a good mood.

The straight line bruise (remember those edges?) on my upper arm is almost gone today – it’s now just that yellowy-green colour that seems to only exist subdermally and nowhere else in nature. My neck and shoulder / upper back, however, still remind me that I lost. They are mostly good, but every now and then I’ll turn a particular way that they don’t like and they are not shy about letting me know it. (Three hours in the theatre this afternoon to watch Avengers: Endgame might not have been the best decision I’ve ever made, either.)

And so, I concede this loss to my worthy opponent. (And next time, wobbly-pop brothers will be on their own with heavy furniture…seriously, what was I thinking? I’m too old for this… ) 😉


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Quieting the self-critic

You may recall that a few months ago I talked about having challenged myself to write 50 blog posts this my 50th year before I actually turn 50.

If you look at the number of posts I’ve written since then, you will quickly see that I am quite a distance from achieving that goal and there is less than half a year left before I hit the big 5-0.

It’s the oddest thing, really. I quite enjoy writing – or I wouldn’t do it. I enjoy so many things about it, including the physical act itself – whether with a keyboard or an actual pen to paper – and the fact that it fulfills me in some way. Yet I don’t do it that much.

So why don’t I do it more? Why do I choose instead, more often than not, to just flake out in front of the TV and zone out?

It’s not like I even have to choose between writing and watching TV. I am, at this very moment, for instance, sitting on my couch AND watching TV! (Bohemian Rhapsody, to be specific…loving the music, btw.) And still…I don’t write.

I’ve mulled this over quite a bit over the years. I think that part of it might be because I write in my journal (the pen to paper thing) two or three times a week. Not that what I write in there is particularly interesting or anything, but maybe it’s enough to feed the desire.

Another contributor – perhaps even the biggest – is that I struggle with the idea that anything I write could possibly be of any interest to anyone else. It’s kind of bizarre to me that it would be. Even though I frequently have had people tell me I should write more, I suppose a part of me doesn’t believe it. And, along a similar vein, even when I want to write, I think I have to find some amazingly gripping topic to write about that would be worth taking up however many bits and bytes of space these flittering characters take up in the cyberverse.

Given how much (subjectively speaking) crap there already is online, I really shouldn’t worry too much about that, should I? Plus, as the old adage goes: One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. There’s an audience for pretty much anything and everything on here.

Finally, I should admit that I really don’t like to practice anything. If I’m interested in doing something, I just want to automatically be at least decent at it. Years ago, for another birthday milestone, I had challenged myself to learn to paint watercolours. I signed up for a course and was absolutely flabbergasted to find out that I first needed to learn to draw. WHAT?!?! I didn’t want to bother with all that. I wanted to dip a brush in water and paint and come up with something that looked passably like what it was supposed to be. Without any of the other fiddle faddle. (I did, dutifully, however, do a drawing session with an artist once, and I bought a book with drawing lessons in it – which I still tinker with every now and then – so it’s not like I’ve just totally thrown in the towel on that. I just impatiently wanted to immediately do watercolour sans practice.)

I guess, then, that I shouldn’t be too surprised that I don’t jump to the computer more often. I’ve criticized myself out of it before I even get one word written.

Well, I’ve decided to cast all that to the wind. I really, really, really want to achieve that goal this year and in order to do so, I’m going to need to stop with the constant self-editing and just write. Write, write, write, write, write.

That means some posts are going to be interesting, some will be OK and others (probably this one, for example) will be mediocre at best. I have about 21 weeks to write 40 posts. Eek! Wait – this counts as one, so 39 posts left!

I apologize, then, in advance for some of what is bound to be posted here over the next few months! And thank you, too, for bearing with me and (perhaps?) cheering me along on the sidelines… 🙂


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I got it! I got it!

For the last 15 or 20 years I have wanted to own a Dutch oven. OK…I’ll admit that is NOT the catchiest first line of a post and I may have already lost you. I hope not because it really does get exciting. Well, kitchen-gadget exciting. To me. 🙂

So, yeah…I’ve wanted a Dutch oven. And maybe once a year in the past decade or two, I would venture out to see if I could purchase one. Each time I end up drooling over the Le Creuset options. They get amazing ratings and, seriously, they are beautiful. The colours! Oh myyyyy – the colours!!!

But the price tag. Oh dear – the price tag. For a 7 qt one, I’d have to fork out about $350 CDN or more. And I can’t justify that. So I would drool, occasionally caress and fondle, and then walk on. I would also look at the other non-Le Creuset options that were more budget friendly, but I honestly had no idea which would be the best direction to throw my money. Then, dejected and disappointed, I would give up and leave it alone for about another year.

Then, for some reason, I would forget the past failures and convince myself somehow that this year – THIS year – it would be different. I’d find a killer Le Creuset sale or all of a sudden the “Dutch oven switch” would flick on inside my brain and I’d know which of the more economical versions I should get.

You know what happened. Or didn’t happen. I never got one. The cycle just continued over and over and over. And over.

And so, this past Friday morning while I was lying in bed (I had the day off), the “Let’s look for a Dutch oven!” urge hit again. Maybe it’s my age, but before I got too gung-ho, I told myself not to get too excited. (You know by now that I like to talk to myself.) I could look, but I knew my past track record, so I wasn’t allowed to get disappointed when (not if) I didn’t find anything I could buy.

So, without further ado and without even hauling my arse out of bed, I grabbed my tablet and started searching.

It didn’t take long for my hopes to begin to be dashed against a shore of broken crockery dreams. The prices were still high (go figure) and there was still a sea of unknown economical options from which to choose. I was, again, adrift.

But then I thought of the America’s Test Kitchen. It’s a show I started watching a couple of years ago on PBS. It is just what the name purports it to be: a test kitchen. I love it. In addition to testing recipes, they also test kitchen gadgets and equipment. (Do you see where I’m going here??)

The light bulb went off! I thought, “Surely to heaven they’ve tested Dutch ovens!!” While I knew that if they had tested them, the unattainable Le Creuset would be at the top of their list, I also knew that whenever they give their ratings, they also provide a recommendation from the more budget-friendly options. So…off I went to Mr. Google and he did not disappoint!

Here’s where I landed: Dutch ovens. As you can see, the Le Creuset was at the very top, but then…there it was! A Cuisinart was the budget recommendation! A brand I knew and could (hopefully) afford!

Back to Mr. Google, now with a specific brand in mind. I thought I had it in the bag. Not so. The first search results showed a couple of Cuisinart options, but they were still pricey, for me (between $160 and $200 CDN). Ahhh boo.

But then…just when I was about to throw in the towel for another year…there was an option from Costco. It was the exact same as the $160 one that Walmart had, but it was only $80. Huh? I clicked the link thinking it must be a smaller size and you just couldn’t tell that from the thumbnail image. Nope! Same size…same everything except for the price. Before I jumped on the excited train, though, I thought that maybe I was on the US Costco site instead of the Canadian one. Nope…It was Canadian. Seriously? I mean, I know different places have different prices, but THAT much of a difference? (And the Walmart one was on sale, BTW.)

Anyhoooooo…I wasn’t super keen on the colour of the one at Costco, but for the price, I could absolutely learn to love it!! (It’s not that I didn’t like the colour…it just wouldn’t match anything in my kitchen.)

Just as I was about to put it in my cart, I saw a thumbnail of another one in a colour that I liked better AND it had four small, individual Dutch ovens with it. For $10 more. Double huh? So I clicked. Sure enough, 7 qt blue Dutch oven with 4 individual ones for $90.

I still thought there had to be a catch. Then I figured it out. The shipping. Cast iron would have killer shipping fees. There’s no way they’d ship it for free so that’s how they were going to get me. So I looked…Nope. Free shipping.

WUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUT?

So, now after 15 or 20 years, I am the owner of not 1, but 5 (!!!!) Dutch ovens!!! Woooooohoooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!! My budget was $100. Taxes in this set was $101. Not too shabby if I do say so myself!!

(I just checked and Walmart has the same set right now for $180. What even???)

PS: (Cuz what’s a day without learning something…) Technically, “Dutch” ovens that have enameling are actually “French” ovens! Nobody knows that term, though, so, much to Le Creuset’s chagrin, we just call them all Dutch ovens. You’re welcome.


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“The House by the Side of the Road” by Sam Walter Foss

I came across this poem today and it really touched me so I thought I’d share it. To me it’s beautiful. I hope you like it.

Firstly, it reminds me that I need to do more to serve and help people. I’m more like the hermit he refers to. But I need to put my house – myself – by the side of the road more.

I also love the imagery that he uses. And I love that he puts us all on the same level: “The men who are good and the men who are bad, As good and bad as I” and “They are good, they are bad, they are weak, they are strong, Wise, foolish- so am I.” It gets rid of the “us” and “them” idea that prevails so often.

The House by the Side of the Road

by Sam Walter Foss (1858-1911)

There are hermit
souls that live withdrawn
In the peace of their self-content;
There are souls, like stars, that dwell apart,
In a fellowless firmament;
There are pioneer souls that blaze their paths
Where highways never ran;-
But let me live by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

Let me live in a house
by the side of the road,
Where the race of men go by-
The men who are good and the men who are bad,
As good and as bad as I.
I would not sit in the scorner’s seat,
Or hurl the cynic’s ban;-
Let me live in a house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

I see from my house
by the side of the road,
By the side of the highway of life,
The men who press with the ardor of hope,
The men who are faint with the strife.
But I turn not away from their smiles nor their tears-
Both parts of an infinite plan;-
Let me live in my house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

I know there are brook-gladdened
meadows ahead
And mountains of wearisome height;
That the road passes on through the long afternoon
And stretches away to the night.
But still I rejoice when the travelers rejoice,
And weep with the strangers that moan,
Nor live in my house by the side of the road
Like a man who dwells alone.

Let me live in my
house by the side of the road
Where the race of men go by-
They are good, they are bad, they are weak, they are strong,
Wise, foolish- so am I.
Then why should I sit in the scorner’s seat
Or hurl the cynic’s ban?-
Let me live in my house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

Link to source: https://www.alsintl.com/resources/poetry/the-house-by-the-side-of-the-road/