Don’t Be So Elfish


This year, whether you’re preparing for Christmas, or Hanukah or you’re still just recovering from a particularly rambunctious Diwali, spare a thought for the poor unfortunates of the world.

No, no, I don’t mean the homeless and the poor. You’re supposed to be thinking of them anyway, and hopefully, doing something to help out. While you’re at it, however, consider:

The Poinsettia: Coddled all year in a nice warm greenhouse, given special food and water, spritz baths, and manicures. Then, on December 1, tossed on a smelly truck, dumped in the front of a store, and left to shiver in the freezing display racks. If a lucky “red,” purchased and used for a few weeks before being chucked out with the Christmas tree. If a “white” or “pink” or some other designer colour, left to shiver that much longer — until the reds are sold out.

Christmas Cake: Once a cherished tradition, now much maligned. This is thanks to a now-bankrupt bakery in Giggleswick, England that produced a huge but totally inedible batch of fruitcakes back in 1956. Many of these cakes are still in circulation, and are passed from person to person around the globe as “gifts.” The “Reclaim Christmas Baking Society” is attempting to collect these cakes and build a museum to bad baking, using the cakes themselves as bricks.

Radio and TV Announcers: Forced to say things like “Blu-Ray players make great stocking stuffers!” and “Buy your Dad his dream car this year!” without cracking up laughing. Forced to do everything in Christmas Cheer Voice.

Retail Store Clerks: Also known as “associates” and “representatives,” these poor souls have it particularly rough. Not only do they have to provide service at a rate of 452 customers per minute, they have to do so with a smile — even if the bratty three-year-old has just wrecked the stack of Barbie dolls that took an hour to assemble.

Retail Store Cashiers: Even worse than being a clerk is being a cashier. The checkout area is where store managers locate all the “novelties,” like the Singing Fish, the Dancing Hamster, and the Talking Santa. These toys are activated 1567 times a day in extreme cases. Recent studies show that the only people who actually buy these toys are the cashiers themselves, so they can take them out to the parking lot after work and run over them repeatedly with shopping carts.

Department Store Photographers: Ranked the second worst job to have in the retail sector (right after in-store janitor), photographers must hate this time of year. This is because every parent thinks that Christmas is the perfect time of year to buy that set of 54 wallet-sized photos of their child. And how easy do you think it is to make a toddler smile when he’s just been whisked through the “Our Toy Selection is Huge!” display and told he can’t touch?

The Elves: Santa gets milk and cookies. The reindeer often get carrots. The elves get nada — they have to stay home at the North Pole, freezing their little elvish tushes off. They spend Christmas slumped over cups of lukewarm cocoa, exhausted by a full year’s toy-making labour, while the delivery team gets all the credit and glory.

So this year, take a moment or two to make things better for others. Buy a nice warm blanket for the local poinsettia display. Don’t push the “Press Me! I Sing!” button on the Scooby Doo Santa toy at the store. And leave a box of take-out food for Santa to take back to the elves. A nice, hot curry, perhaps.

Happy Holidays.

Photo credit: Stevepb / Pixabay

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A Snowball’s Chance in… Oz?


Not content to come in fourth in the world medal count for the summer Olympics, Australians now want to make the podium more often in winter sports.

Yes, Australia, that dry, flat, and unspeakably hot country with roughly 20 million people and 98 million sheep.*

To that end, Aussies built a $45 million (US) winter training facility in Melbourne, where temperatures regularly exceed 30C. (For American readers who don’t understand metric units, that’s hotter than 10 football fields.) This madness is apparently inspired by the fact that Australia scored a gold in freestyle moguls and a bronze in aerial skiing during the last winter Olympics.

Now, I applaud competitive spirit, I really do. I also appreciate a desire to beat the odds, daring to dream and attempting the impossible. But this project raises many questions.

First there is the issue of how Australians plan to find enough snow to ski properly. I’m told by a reliable source that it does snow periodically in the Blue Mountains, but I have yet to see photographic evidence of same. I suspect what’s really happening is that the local icing sugar factory is having emissions problems.

Of course it is possible to manufacture snow — ski resorts do this all the time if there isn’t enough local precipitation. However, the technique requires the air temperature to be either just above freezing, or below freezing; otherwise all you get out of the machine is water. Indeed, Australians have been unknowingly buying used snow making equipment for years: business liquidators have been marketing them as lawn sprinklers.

Assuming you attempted to make snow only in the Australian “winter” and only at higher altitudes, there’s still the question of ground temperature. Snow might come out of the machine only to melt on contact; seeds that have been dormant for decades waiting for a drop of moisture would suddenly spring to life. Skiers would find themselves trying to slalom through mud and tropical rain forest. At this stage the kangaroos would call their mates over to point and laugh.

There’s also the issue of the Australian’s national dress. Winning at skiing, like most other Olympic sports, has come down to a matter of milliseconds. A loose t-shirt and shorts aren’t very aerodynamic. Neither is a surfboard strapped to the back.

Indoor training would be possible, but costly. To compete in figure skating, speed skating or hockey, you need … ice. To make a decent ice surface you need lots and lots of water, something that can be hard to come by in arid Australia most years. You also need something known as an ice resurfacer (also called a Zamboni), a device especially made for making ice smooth. If Australians think their airplane tickets are costly, wait until they see the shipping costs for one of these babies, which weighs in at 2900 kg (6400 lbs).

Apart from the technical aspects, there’s the problem of the athletes, coaches and spectators themselves. An ice rink is a climate-controlled building, and most Aussies have strange religious objections to either central air or central heat; they prefer to tough it out.

That said, Australians are well-known for suffering hypothermia if the temperature drops below 20C; they shake their fists at the sky if a single cloud dares to drift by. Thus, they will categorically *not* want to train or sit in an ice rink, which is about as toasty as their food freezer. Plus there’s the problem of all that beach sand they’ll track into the building, which will make the ice into mush. They’re going to have to import their athletes from Canada.

The real kicker however, will be at the Olympic podium. That’s because assuming they can overcome all these geographical and climatic obstacles and produce world class winter athletes, you just know the announcer is going to credit the medal win to…

…the Austrians.

* Give or take.

Photo Credit: Tylerindiana / Pixabay



Words to Remember from Steve Jobs


“Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact, and that is – everything around you that you call life, was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.

The minute that you understand that you can poke life and actually something will, you know if you push in, something will pop out the other side, that you can change it, you can mold it. That’s maybe the most important thing. It’s to shake off this erroneous notion that life is there and you’re just gonna live in it, versus embrace it, change it, improve it, make your mark upon it.

I think that’s very important and however you learn that, once you learn it, you’ll want to change life and make it better, cause it’s kind of messed up, in a lot of ways. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”

– Steve Jobs

Photo Credit: PolarityFlow / Pixabay

The Grass is Finally Greener


You’ll have to excuse us newly minted hybrid car drivers. We’re both slightly distracted and a bit smug.

Earlier this year, my husband and decided to get a Prius. We’ve only had it a few months, but already the changes it’s produced in us are remarkable.

First, you must understand that never in a million years did I see myself driving a sedan. The word “sedan” is entirely too close to the word “sedate” for my liking. Second, in spite of a brief, but meaningful relationship with a red Tiburon back in the (pre-motherhood) day, I’ve never really liked driving much. Driving is incredibly boring, but it requires your full attention — or at least, that’s what the officer who caught me trying to catch up on the latest issue of New Scientist told me.

Meanwhile, my husband, who’s never met a train he didn’t like, has an innate suspicion of anything that doesn’t blow steam or require a third rail.

So it comes as a great surprise to find that we really enjoy piloting our hybrid. I say “piloting” because it feels like you’re on board a starship. The regenerative braking sounds like you’re dropping out of warp, and it’s completely silent at stop lights and stealthy in parking lots. As it comes with push button controls and digital readouts, plus a way to pipe your cell phone calls through the dash hands-free (“Scotty! Are you there?”), my husband is seriously debating getting new plates that read NCC-1701.

Thus far, we’ve only discovered two drawbacks to our new car. One is that the feedback system encourages you to play a ‘video game’ of sorts with yourself while driving, by scoring you on your consumption. You find yourself constantly watching the fuel use meter, trying to drive with a feather-light foot, and thinking of more efficient routes to work. Do not be alarmed if you see me doing a little victory dance in the driver’s seat when I rate an “Excellent!”

That’s the distracted part I mentioned earlier. The smug part is when you silently glide up beside the big, noisy, fuel sucking SUV driver who impatiently pulled out and around you two blocks ago. You see him jump in surprise, and then watch him realize he’s no further ahead than you in traffic but about $20 poorer to boot. I think I may have to develop a special dance for those occasions too.

The second drawback is that now entirely too easy to rationalize a trip into a Tim Horton’s drive through because you don’t have the carbon footprint induce- guilt associated with idling as you wait. If we’re not careful, our doughnut weight gain will more than offset our fuel efficiency.

Chocolate glazed overdoses aside, what really strikes me about the hybrid and other more environmentally friendly products is that the market is finally getting it. It used to be that the only way to be kinder to the Earth was to be a Certified Hippie. You know, the people who actually wore those coats made out of recycled plastic bottle pieces, could find time to make all their own cleaning products and who lived in reclaimed transport containers.

These days there are all kinds of choices out there. Want to reduce electricity use? Store shelves are full of low energy, long life bulbs. (Bonus: Fewer trips up the ladder.) Worm composting to reduce your kitchen waste not your thing? (And let’s face it, worms should not be present in any kitchen that also has toddlers). Get a low wattage electric composter. (Bonus: In two weeks you’ll have enough soil to re-pot the petunias your toddlers discovered).

Tired of the energy drain that is the ironing pile? Behold and hallelujah, we’ve invented no-iron shirts and pants. (Oh c’mon, tell me you don’t think that ironing is toxic to *your* environment.) And I don’t know about you, but I’ve already picked out my mid-life crisis car: the all-electric Tesla.

Not easy being green? That was so twentieth century. There are all kinds of easy to implement changes that can make a difference right now.

Let’s hop to it.

Photo Credit: Chandra Clarke

Words to Remember From EB White


A response from EB White to a query about how to remain optimistic in the face of uncertainty.

North Brooklin, Maine

30 March 1973

Dear Mr. Nadeau:

As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate. Hope is the thing that is left to us, in a bad time. I shall get up Sunday morning and wind the clock, as a contribution to order and steadfastness.

Sailors have an expression about the weather: they say, the weather is a great bluffer. I guess the same is true of our human society—things can look dark, then a break shows in the clouds, and all is changed, sometimes rather suddenly. It is quite obvious that the human race has made a queer mess of life on this planet. But as a people we probably harbor seeds of goodness that have lain for a long time waiting to sprout when the conditions are right. Man’s curiosity, his relentlessness, his inventiveness, his ingenuity have led him into deep trouble. We can only hope that these same traits will enable him to claw his way out.

Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.


(Signed, ‘E. B. White’)

Excerpted from Letters of Note (, by Shaun Usher

Photo Credit: Pavlofox / Pixabay

Embrace the (lack of) suck



You have just spilled your espresso all over your new white jeans. Time to text “@#$%^! my life” to your friends?


Someone dented your car while you were at the grocery store. Should you vent on Twitter?


The bank froze your credit card temporarily because it deemed your last purchase suspicious. Post your outrage on Facebook? Still no.

Why not? What’s wrong with venting? Turn the question on it’s head.

Care to guess what characteristic the most successful people in the world share? Is it drive? Luck? The ability to calculate large sums in their head? No again. It’s gratitude. You just don’t see them complaining.

I can hear you thinking… “Well of course these people can be grateful. They have everything going their way!” So let’s back it up a bit.

  1. You have way, way more to be grateful for than you realize

One out of eight people suffered from “chronic undernourishment” in 2011-2012.

Half of the world lives on less than $2.50 per day.

There are still more than 40 major armed conflicts happening the world right now, with fatalities numbering in the tens of thousands.

In Ecuador, you can be jailed for having a miscarriage.

In Afghanistan, you can go to prison for being raped. 46.5 million Americans live in poverty.

Perspective is everything, isn’t it?

  1. The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind the scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel. – Steve Furtick

Successful people have bad days too. They lose money. They lose friends and relatives. They get old. Believe it or not, the universe treats them the same way it treats you.

They also screw things up, and make mistakes, and some of them barely hold it together or even fall to pieces from time to time. But because they keep going and don’t make a big deal out of it, their successes tend to outnumber their failures, and we forget the bad bits.

  1. If you always speak of your troubles, you’ll always have troubles to speak of

I don’t know who came up with this  line, but it’s exactly right. Some people like to talk about the law of attraction, other people talk about karma. Me, I think we end up in a feedback loop: the more we focus on and talk about the bad things that happen, the more we unconsciously do things that bring more bad things and drama into our lives.

And of course, the opposite holds true: the more we focus on and talk about the good things that happen, and — especially this — the better we make other people feel, the more we unconsciously do things to improve our lot in life.

So if you really want to be successful, start by focusing on your successes, and quietly shrug off all of your problems.

You’ll be amazed at how quickly things turn around for you.