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You Gotta Laugh

I was out for a drive a couple of weeks ago with my grown daughter, just to get out of the house. We came to a red light on Cook Street, and along the boulevard across the street there was a big tree just covered in birds. Starlings, I think.

I said to my daughter “Bird meeting.” She immediately mimicked a bird, saying “I guess you all got my tweet!” I laughed so hard. She makes me giggle like nobody else. It was perfect comic relief.

It’s not something we get much of lately, but “comic relief” is a definitely something we need more of these days. It’s a relief to laugh, a release, even. For just a few moments, you forget everything else in the world. And in this dark time that we’re trying to get through, a little break from the doom and gloom is wonderful.

Babies usually start smiling and laughing at about 6 weeks old. There’s nothing more contagious than a baby’s laugh, or more satisfying than when we make them cackle. But where does that ability or instinct to laugh come from?

Because I’m always curious to know how we humans tick, I did a little research and discovered some interesting facts.

As it turns out, studies say that laughter is actually more about communicating and bonding than anything else. It isn’t the joke, it’s the interaction. Laughing together creates that bond, and helps us feel and become a part of the group. And in an uncomfortable situation, or in meeting someone new, sharing a laugh can make everyone a little more relaxed. We work better together when we can laugh together.

We are also more likely to laugh along with another person than we are to do it alone by ourselves, which is one of the reasons why laugh tracks on television sitcoms came into being. Psychologically speaking, laugh tracks and live audiences on TV make us feel like we’re sitting right there in the crowd, and we can’t help but chuckle along. It’s infectious.

If you are a fan of TV talk shows like The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, have you noticed how different these shows are lately without their live audiences? Minus the energy and laughter of all those people, it really hasn’t been the same. The jokes and the banter don’t seem to be nearly as funny. I mean, there’s no doubt that it’s funny, but that silence right after the joke just makes it seem awkward.

In my LOL research, I found out to my amazement that rats can laugh! Theirs doesn’t sound quite like our giggles, of course, but they can be brought to laughter by tickling, and they also tend to hang around with other rats who laugh. I’ve seen them in groups before, but never realized the noises they were making might be laughter. That’s okay, as long as they’re not laughing at me.

I also discovered that women laugh 126% more than men do. I can vouch for that. When I golf with my girlfriends, we can literally make ourselves hysterical with laughter, but the male groups that are ahead of or behind us don’t seem to be nearly as amused. Lighten up guys. It’s just a game.

The physical effect of laughter releases endorphins, those “feel good” chemicals that relieve stress and pain, something you may be feeling a lot of these days. That’s why laughter is literally the best medicine. And why a smile is a curve that sets everything straight. There are at least a million idioms and quotes about laughter out there.

For instance, you might be a bundle of laughs, but you don’t want to be a laughing stock. You might laugh yourself silly, or laugh your head off, but you don’t want to kill yourself laughing!

There have been plenty of COVID jokes and memes out there too, of course. Like the new COVID Edition of Where’s Waldo.

Hint: he’s really easy to find.

And a sign I saw in the window of a book store lately: “Please note: The post-apocolyptical fiction section has been moved to Current Affairs.”

Well, you gotta laugh.

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Home Invasion – A Bug Story

I skipped my usual weekly Zoom meeting with my friends the other night because I had to catch the flies in my kitchen.

You might think I’m kidding. But if I don’t catch them in my special way, someone in my house will pull out that disgusting bug repellent and spray it everywhere with reckless abandon. I hate bug spray. Mostly, I hate seeing bugs and flies squirming on the floors and counters as a result of it. So I’m a capture-and-release kind of gal.

We had the doors open the other day for hours as we sat outside with some friends celebrating Canada Day, and I guess that’s when the flies took up residence. And apparently, all the rain that we’ve been experiencing lately also brings out more flies. There were literally dozens of them in the house, although we didn’t really didn’t notice how many right away.

So last night, I pulled out the old cup and piece of cardboard, and one by one I captured them and released them outdoors. I accidentally beheaded one, much to my regret, but the rest, maybe 30 of them, got out alive. Lucky for them. Someone in my house would not have had the patience.

I even have one of those spider catchers. It is basically a brush with a long handle that opens and closes on the spider without harming it so you can safely move it outside. Brilliant invention.

This time of year, especially when we are outdoors more, we come face to face with all sorts of creepy crawlers. When I’m working in the garden, I see a lot of them; worms and beetles, fleas and flies and ants. And yes, I will do my best to avoid killing them. I will put them to the side or brush them away from wherever I’m working so that I don’t smush them.

When I’m out for a walk, if I see them, I will avoid any ants crawling along the sidewalk. I’m sure that the sight of a 60-something year old woman springing sideways off the sidewalk just to avoid an ant must be a curious, if not bizarre vision.

To someone in my house, these are not just ants, they are antagonists and must be quickly and mercilessly destroyed. I’ve tripped over traps and slipped on newly sprayed floors many times over the years. And I’ve cleaned up many carcasses. Yuk. It doesn’t help matters much that I have a hummingbird feeder right outside the kitchen door, because the feeder actually leaks a lot. Ants like that. They hang around, drink up the spilled nectar, and then an army of them find their way inside the house.

I am not an ant lover, don’t get me wrong. They are bugs. It’s no accident that the dictionary defines “bug” as both an insect and an annoyance. Not only do they bother us, sometimes they even cause damage. There’s nothing worse than an infestation of carpenter ants, chewing away at the wood frame of your home. And I don’t want to find beetles in my lettuce, or fruit flies in my glass of pinot grigio.

The answer to the invasion of the ants, I have discovered, is vinegar. They hate vinegar and will do everything to avoid it. So you get your spray bottle and spray vinegar anywhere ants accumulate, and that keeps them away. This will be my new plan of action.

Which will hopefully please someone in my house.

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Canada Day – A Different Way

Last week, I asked a few of my students what their plans were for Canada Day. Usually, that’s just a casual question you ask when a holiday is on the horizon. This year, however, the responses were decidedly different.

They would stop for a second, stare off somewhere, maybe chuckle, and shrug their shoulders.

Some had definite plans. “We’re going fishing,” one said. That seems safe enough. “Off to our cabin for a couple of days,” said another.

But most had no plans at all. No picnics or barbeques, no street parties, no fireworks or live shows to watch. Not even the usual Canada Day show from a stage set up somewhere in Ottawa, with all the Canadian stars and politicians in attendance.

Oh, there were other shows. Some live streaming and some on TV. But we’re getting used to those new formats now, aren’t we? They’re either live from their living rooms or some kind of “virtual” celebration. Or ninety-three people singing Oh Canada on Zoom.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. We’ve come up with a lot of wonderfully creative ways to celebrate special occasions lately, from solitary graduations to drive-by birthdays and weddings, and holiday car or bicycle parades. Where there’s a will, there’s a way to celebrate, and we Canadians love to do that. Especially on Canada’s birthday.

Normally, our family would either go down to the lawns of the legislature and be a part of the living flag, or maybe over to Fort Rodd Hill to celebrate our nation’s birthday there. At night, from our back deck, we always hear the fireworks going off. And the inevitable screech of seagulls flying above as they escape Armageddon.

My husband and I decided that this Canada Day it was time to see and be with our friends. In person. We have a great group of four couples who golf together, spend Christmases and birthdays together, and have done so for many years. It’s very unusual for us to go any longer than a month or two without seeing each other in person, but the last time we had been together as a group was last Christmas. That’s more than six months.

So we decided to host a back yard get together at our home on the afternoon of Canada Day, where everyone would bring their own appetizers and beverages, and we’d all sit an appropriate distance apart and just spend some time together. And it was great. It was wonderful to laugh together again, to share our COVID stories and experiences, to catch up on each other’s news and views. It lasted about 3 hours and it was perfect.

Three years ago, on Canada’s 150th birthday, I wrote a blog about having recently returned from Europe on our first big vacation there. I remember, very vividly, seeing Labrador through the plane’s window on the flight back, marveling at how massive Canada is and how little I’ve seen of it. It was a wonderful European vacation, but it was an especially warm feeling to come back home.

But this year, on Canada’s 153rd birthday, to be honest, I was really just happy to be here. Weren’t you?

We Canadians might have our disagreements. Okay, who am I kidding? We have lots of disagreements. We are certainly not perfect and still have a lot to work out for ourselves. But in spite of our differences, I think most of us would agree that we are darn lucky to live in this great country. And that has become so much more evident in the last few months as we’ve negotiated this strange new and frightening pandemic.

One very important reason for our luck is that we’ve had some well educated and intelligent people leading us through it all. And our humanity has been brought to the surface; instead of fighting each other, we’ve come together to help each other. We’ve learned to follow the protocols, listened to those who know what they’re talking about, and put up with new, uncomfortable rules. It’s been rough on a lot of us, and we’ve still got a long way to go.

But, Oh, Canada! I’ve never been prouder to stand on guard for thee.

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Maybe Later

Never do today what you can put off until tomorrow. That has pretty much been my mantra most of my life. When I was little, my Dad said I was lazy. But I think a lot of kids are told that. When you’re a child you’re caught up in whatever is fascinating you at the moment. Cleaning your room is not very fascinating.

Here I am, many, many years later, sitting down to write a blog because I don’t feel like cleaning my house. Some things never change.

We procrastinate for many reasons. Or excuses. Sometimes it’s because we just don’t want to face something. Like doing your taxes. Who wants to do that? And cleaning the toilet. Blech.

Procrastination can also be a sign of anxiety or depression, according to the experts. In that case, I imagine a lot of us are procrastinating right now, in spite of having more time on our hands. Being locked in your house with not much to look forward to, can do that to you. And there goes the excuse that things aren’t getting done because you don’t have enough time.

Not only that, procrastination can actually CAUSE anxiety and depression. Putting off the inevitable for any length of time allows it to hang over us and make us more miserable. And that, in turn, makes us even less likely to do what we need to. It’s a vicious cycle.

But under “normal” circumstances, what causes us to procrastinate? I’ll leave it up to the experts to go into more detail, but to make a long story short, it’s because we’re wired for instant gratification. I can either eat that donut now, or wait and reward myself after I lose 10 pounds. Hmmm.

I married someone who’s a “let’s get ‘er done” kind of guy, so we’ve had some obvious conflicts from time to time over the years. He told me a story about a fellow he worked with early on in his career who would always take the bull by the horns and get things done immediately. My husband respected that determination, so he tried to emulate it, and of course, attempted to get his wife and children to do the same.

And over time, wouldn’t you know? I have become more and more like that too. But not always.

For instance, I’m still sitting here rather than doing the housework. So I’m looking at the clock and giving myself 10 more minutes. I have ten more minutes to do what I enjoy before I have to go and do what I don’t.

Okay 20. Maybe 20 minutes.

As it turns out, we procrastinators are in good company. Leonardo Da Vinci was apparently someone who had trouble staying “focused”. You wouldn’t know it from the body of work he produced. But the story goes that it took him 16 years to finish the Mona Lisa.

I’ve seen the Mona Lisa painting in person and it’s not very big. 16 years?

And Margaret Atwood, whom we all know for her many novels, short stories and poetry, actually has trouble sitting down to write too. It usually takes her until 3 o’clock in the afternoon to get to it. She does that on purpose, apparently. So far, I’d say it’s working.

Which is why I’ve decided I’m waiting until 3pm this afternoon to get my house cleaning done.

Oh, shoot. It’s already after 4. Guess it won’t be today. Now, where’s that donut?

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Hit The Road, Jack

So, hey! Where are you heading off to this summer? I hope you didn’t make any big travel plans that you had to cancel. We were supposed to go on our very first cruise to Alaska in August. Nope.

A cruise would be about the last thing I’d want to take right now. A flight comes in second to last. I know people are out there flying, but not me. The most we’ll do is a road trip somewhere.

Come to think of it, I really enjoy car-cations. I’ve driven all over BC, across to Alberta, and even down the Oregon coast to California a couple of times. One of my favourite road trips was a drive with my daughter through wine country in the Okanagan in a rented Mustang convertible, listening to 40’s jazz music. Perfect.

And I love driving through the Rockies, something I’ve done several times. Nothing beats that.

A couple of people I know have driven most of the way across Canada. That is a massive feat. When you fly across this country, you realize just how enormous it is and how impossible it would be to see it all. But this year especially, a lot of us will be spending more vacation time within our own borders and back yards. I think that’s a great thing.

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A couple of years back, my husband and I decided that we would drive all the way up the east coast of Vancouver Island where we've never ventured in all of our years living here. Someone told us "Well, you know, past Campbell River you only see trees and mountains." Well, what's wrong with that?? I love trees and mountains. Isn't that what the wet coast is about? It turned out to be a great adventure and we loved Campbell River and places like Telegraph Cove and Port Hardy.

BC has lots of great places to visit. I prefer to drive through the smaller towns with funny names for streets, or silly town mascots. Like mascot Potato Jack in Pemberton, for instance. Or Peter Pine in Princeton. Apparently, Peter is of mixed race; his father was a pine, his mother a fir/spruce. And then there's Mr. PG in Prince George. He turns 60 this year!

Believe it or not, Saskatchewan is on my bucket list. I want to stand somewhere where I can look around 360 degrees and see forever. Some people think that's boring. Not me. And who wouldn't want to drive through little towns like Goodsoil or Choice Land...obviously good places to grow things.

Or Esterhazy. I wonder what they grow there?

Then again, maybe we'll end up being tourists in our own town. Sometimes you forget how many great things there are to see and do right where you live. There will be some protocols in place, of course, but we can handle that.

And we have our mascots here in Victoria too. There's Marty the Marmot and Harvey the HarbourCat, both always fun to see.

Which reminds me. Has anyone seen Mr. Floatie lately?

Maybe he's just social distancing.