Sanity saver: Don’t have breakfast with your boss

Or, “How not to trash the day before it starts.”

grumpy cat MondaysI haven’t always hated mornings.

In fact, I remember, back in the day, actually liking them: a nice cup of coffee or tea, listening to CBC Radio, a bit of reading (the newspaper or a book), and then into the shower and on with the day. As long as someone wasn’t getting in my face (e.g., the roommate who used to think 7 a.m. was a great time to have a lively discussion about household finances), I was good to go.

But in the last year or so, I’ve noticed that my love of mornings has moved down the list to slightly below my love of invasive rectal procedures.

Worse, for the very first time in my life, I was lying in bed in the mornings, dreading getting up, dreading the treadmill of “URGENT! ASAP! Do it now!” that awaited me.

And finally, one day last week, as I was yet again stomping from the shower to my closet to my desk and angrily flinging open my laptop to a chorus of juicy expletives, I stopped cold and realized, “Oh my god. I hate mornings so much.”

And that made me sad. It also concerned me greatly, for two reasons.

First, what a colossal waste of time and energy, starting every day wanting to punch things. Is that really the person I want to become?

Hate this thing. Hate it, hate it.

Hate this thing. Hate it, hate it.

Second, and related, chronic anger can lead to serious health problems like heart attacks and strokes. As I get older, I am realizing the urgency of keeping this response controlled if I don’t want to end up in the ER – or a hearse.

I vowed to get to the bottom of it, and it didn’t take long: the culprit was my iPad.

I bought it last Christmas as (ironically) a means of relaxing and releasing stress. To that end, I do enjoy many of the online games (quizzes and word games, in particular), and the little chat functions in some of them that help me feel connected to my chums. The news apps are good too, and cheaper than paper subscriptions.

But on the downside, the iPad has an email app, and that, for me, was the rub: even when I  opened the iPad over breakfast to read the news or play my turn at WordFeud, the little email icon would be lit up. “Look at me,” it would taunt. “Look at all the urgent, annoying things that await you!” And invariably, despite my best intentions, I would open the thing.

So in other words, before I had even taken my second sip of coffee, before the work day had even begun, I was inviting all of my project managers and bosses into my living room to clamour for my attention. I had become one of those people who are unable to unplug from work, ever.lumbergh - come in on Saturday

This growing phenomenon (and its attendant mental and physical woes) is largely thanks to the ubiquity of Blackberrys, iPhones, etc., which has led to increased expectations that workers be available 24/7. And of course the reverse is true, turning the whole thing into an infinite loop: having a Blackberry or iPhone or iPad means you actually ARE available 24/7, and if you are available, work will present itself. Managers will call or email or text, and you ignore these at your peril. And around and around it goes.

(Even in the days before “electronics creep,” however, there were people who simply couldn’t leave the office behind; my former father-in-law always had his briefcase open somewhere in the house and spent chunks of every weekend creating the impression that he was indispensable to somebody, somewhere.)

This is a mushrooming global phenomenon, and as such is way beyond the scope of this blog. But the short version is that, for the most part, we are doing this to ourselves. Europeans, for example, generally have a much better work/life balance (ironically, despite enjoying far better and cheaper internet connections and rates for their many e-toys).

ipad with do not open signAnyway, long story short, in a world where so many things are beyond our control, I realized that this, at least, was one tiny thing I actually could change. So two days ago, on Sunday evening, I made myself a new rule: ”No opening the iPad before start of business. Period.”

I even put a little sticky note on its cover to remind myself, in case I’m on autopilot in the morning — “For a peaceful morning: Do not open until start of work!”

Instead, I eat my breakfast, sit peacefully with the cat and a cup of coffee, and read whatever book I’ve got on the go (right now it’s Hero: The Buzz Beurling Story, by Brian Nolan), listen to CBC Radio, and maybe write in my journal a bit.

The emails will still be waiting there, and all the problems and stresses they contain. But until the work-day has actually begun, they’re simply not my problem.

So far so good. I’ll keep you posted.

~ Smiter out.

 

Little Garter Man: a tale of thanksgiving

For many of us, Thanksgiving and other “family holidays” are days just like any other (granted, with a slightly higher chance of having to reach for an antidepressant or a stiff drink), and the less said about that the better.

Little Garter Man in the collecting box.

Little Garter Man in the collecting box.

My friend J., another “Holiday Refugee,” put it most eloquently this morning in her email to me: “If my sister puts up some [Facebook] post about being thankful for her wonderful family, I’ll have to puke. “

Anyway, I woke up this morning with no agenda other than getting through the day, getting a bit of work done, and maybe watching The Hobbit again tonight.

And then I got The Text that Changed the Day: my downstairs neighbour, K, had been doing a load of laundry and found a baby snake in the laundry room.

It was too fast for her to catch, or even to see what kind it was, so I gathered my tools (flashlight, stick, collecting box) and headed down to meet her for a second try at rounding up the critter.

Finally relaxed enough to explore a bit. "Hey cool! I have a pool!"

Finally relaxed enough to explore a bit. “Hey cool! I have a pool!”

She was already there when I opened the door, and wordlessly pointed to a tiny little streak of darkness (maybe 5 inches long, as thick as a well-cooked spaghetti, if that), huddled miserably by the wall under the window.  We crouched carefully on either side of him, ready to nab him, and within seconds I had him safely in my collecting box (which sounds very fancy, but is really just a large Tupperware container with holes poked in the lid).

My plan was to make a little home for him (aspen shavings, like my ball python Boyd has, plus a hiding box and a dish of water) and put him somewhere quiet while I called Reptilia (reptile zoo/emporium north of Toronto) to find out what species he was and figure out what to do with him.  We passed a neighbour out in the hall who took a look (and a whiff) and said it was likely a garter snake; they are notoriously stinky when distressed, and this guy, while cute, reeked to high heaven.

Back in my place, I made up a “hotel room” and got my guest settled. Comically, his guest spot was on top of Boyd’s cage — it’s dark and warm and quiet there. Boyd had no idea he had a guest in the penthouse suite. (Many of my friends asked if I’d introduce them, but no: it likely would have been a quick introduction, followed by lunch. Not something I wanted to facilitate!)

"You know that this is for the best, right?" *sniffle*

“You know that this is for the best, right?” *sniffle*

I left a message for the Reptilia staff and Googled “baby garter snake,” just to see. Yup, bingo.

I did a bit of work and had lunch, leaving Little Garter Man well alone to settle down after his stressful morning. After a while, he “unfroze” and began exploring his new digs. First stop was the little water dish, where he had an enormous drink of water. Then he spent a happy couple of hours climbing all over his hide box, stretching out along the edge of the water dish (many snakes love to “soak”), and just trying to figure out how the heck to escape, most likely.

I called Reptilia back and, having ascertained that it was, indeed, a garter, asked whether it would be OK to release him into the wild this late in the season, as he was clearly just a baby. The man on the phone said that would be perfectly fine; many baby garters are born at this time of year and go on to hibernate through to spring.

I confess, it was tempting to keep Little Garter Man. One does get attached. But I already have one snake (the lovely Boyd), and another snake means more expense and more room given over to cages and housing. And, most importantly, garters are native to Ontario (where I live) and are wild animals (whereas Boyd was captive-bred and so knows no other life than one in an enclosure). It would have been wrong to keep him in a cage, plain and simple.

Ready for deployment.

Ready for deployment.

So I knew what I had to do. With a surprisingly heavy heart, I got out a smaller Tupperware, poked a few holes in the lid, and brought Little Garter Man’s bigger box out to the kitchen. I opened the lid and we had a little chat about what was best. He agreed. I transferred him into the carrying box, affixed the lid, and we set out for the valley.

There were a surprising number of people about, and all of them looked at the tiny box I was carrying; I suppose some of them must have thought I was burying a tiny pet or something.

It was a warm, sunny day, so I had no qualms about finding a nice place to release him. I had just the place in mind: a rocky, wooded area close to the river, with lots of stones and leaves and underbrush where garters love to hide.

"OMG! The world is so big!"

“OMG! The world is so big!”

I chose my spot, set the carrying box down on the leaves, and got out my camera. Then I opened the lid. Little Garter Man immediately poked his head over the edge, and then hung there for quite a while, sniffing the air and having a look-see. After a time, he scooted down and zoomed into the leaves. Garters move amazingly fast; Boyd, on the other hand, is quite leisurely when he travels.

And then something interesting happened. Little Garter Man stopped and turned right around, rested his little wee head on a stick, and seemed to look at me for a very long time. I leaned in close with the camera and he wasn’t fazed at all. He flicked his tongue at me a few times, and then he turned again and was gone.

I confess I cried when I said goodbye. I have a very, very soft spot for animals (as you may have noticed…), and I really hope this little guy will be OK.

And so ends the tale of Little Garter Man, who, all unknowing, helped turn this Thanksgiving day from “meh” to something much nicer — tears and all.

If you need me, I’ll be over here hugging my cat and cuddling Boyd (yes, he cuddles). And maybe having that stiff drink after all.

Smiter over & out.

Goodbye, my friend.

Goodbye, my friend.

Nature, red in beak and talon

Yesterday I was on my way to the hobby shop to get some paint for my next modelling project (Spitfire MK Vb) and came upon a group of people clustered about on the sidewalk, staring up at the side of a building.

We're goin' in.

The reason for my trip.

I joined them and saw to my astonishment that there was a nice healthy red-tailed hawk sitting happily atop a pigeon nest (presumably the pigeons weren’t really very happy) having an impromptu lunch.

(Aside: do red-tailed hawks ever have planned, i.e., not impromptu, lunches? Note to self: Google this.)

Anyway, I managed to get some video of her as she ate, and here it is, for your delectation.

Red-Tailed Hawk Raiding a Pigeon Nest.

PS. Stick around for the credits. :)

Vitex: your ticket off the Hormone Express!

I believe this is a first for me, but… TMI Alert! In this post I will be talking (tactfully but forthrightly) about Women’s Things, namely periods, hormones, and menopause. I will pause a moment and let any gentlemen and uninterested folks leave the room.

Girl talk! Run away, run away!

Girl talk! Run away, run away!

<Muzak… doo doo doo… Richard Clayderman… dingle dingle, la la….>

OK, everyone ready? Good.

For the last few months I’ve been riding what can only be described as the Roller Coaster from Hell. Or possibly TO hell. Or maybe a combination of the two, endlessly looping from misery to mania to misery and around again.

I’m not known, in the first place, for being even-tempered <ahem> but this was beyond the pale. Everything, and I mean everything, was upsetting me — work, leisure time, pets, chores, TV commercials, get-togethers with friends, traffic jams, scary movies, specks of dirt on the hallway floor. Anything at all would send me into either a towering rage or a prolonged bout of gut-wrenching sobs. Often both.

Welcome aboard the Hormone Express.

Welcome aboard the Hormone Express.

The sobbing was what finally clued me into the fact that there was something else at play here. I am infamously not a crier, except in rare cases like when I watch the episode of Little House on the Prairie where Laura’s dog goes missing, or when I hear the “Humming Chorus” from Madame Butterfly.

I was so concerned, actually, that I was considering making a (rare) doctor’s appointment and asking for a course of antidepressants. But as I see her rarely, I knew she’d do a full history, which always (for us girls) includes “When was your last period?” (Guys who are snickering here: may the Gloved Finger of Probing sober you up in a big hurry!)

And so I had a look at my calendar and, to my horror and dismay, noted that the worst “brain hurricanes” seemed to coincide with the significant bits of my menstrual cycle — the actual period, and mid-cycle, or ovulation.

I also noticed that my once regular periods (my doctor used to joke that I could set my watch by them) have become a bit unpredictable — sometimes every 22 days, sometimes 40.

I have been blessed my entire life with periods that are no trouble at all — negligible PMS (easily managed by Evening Primrose Oil), no hemorrhaging half to death or migraines or cramps or any of the myriad miseries many women seem to suffer with the arrival of “Aunt Flo.”

This has been fun but I've got to scream now!

This has been fun but I’ve got to scream now!

So this was, to say the least, a huge — and unhappy — surprise. I had always hoped to sail unbothered through menopause, which I’d always looked on as being a somewhat “Western” construct cooked up by Big Pharma (marketing opportunity!) and by women with too much time on their hands and a tendency to whinge.

But, alas, it seems this is not to be the case. I am creeping up on 50, and it seems I am not to be spared the joys of perimenopause, which is the precursor to actual full-on menopause and the start of the whole shutting-down-of-the-baby-factory process.

(For those of you with a penchant for languages, peri is from the Greek word meaning “around” or “about,” and menopause is from the Greek meaning “I am homicidal and will rip the limbs off anyone who approaches me.”)

Currently my only issue is the mood swings (“only” as in “only a sucking chest wound”) — although I presume that as time ticks along, my body will begin to go through other changes, such as the notorious hot flashes (currently being enjoyed by my friends J and W, who can now almost literally fry eggs on their foreheads).

Perimenopause forecast: scattered storms and a chance of destruction.

Perimenopause forecast: scattered storms and a chance of destruction.

Long story short, I said “Enough, already!” to the mood swings, and headed down to my local wholistic dispensary (yep, I live in that kind of neighbourhood) where I pleaded with them to give me something to help me. The nice man smiled knowingly and said the magic word — Vitex — and sold me a bottle of same.

Vitex sounds like a brand name, but it’s actually from the Latin name of the plant, Vitex agnus-castus, otherwise known as Chasteberry. And the word “Chasteberry” refers to its use centuries ago in monasteries to keep the monks’ sexual drives under control. (I am not making this up!)

The star of our show.

The star of our show.

There is loads of information about Vitex and its uses, side effects (few), and history on the Internet, and I strongly suggest that you Google the heck out of it before ingesting this — or any other herbal supplement  – and talk to your doctor first. Although herbal supplements and naturopathic remedies are only loosely regulated here in Canada (and thus not taken terribly seriously yet), many preparations have very potent and well-known side effects and interactions, and can really mess you up if you take too much or mix them with another drug you’re on.

Anyway, I’ve been taking these little nuggets of Happy for about three weeks now and they do seem to be helping. I’m familiar with the placebo effect and this is definitely not it: try talking yourself out of a murderous rage or 30 minutes of bawling along to an episode of Roseanne and you’ll see what I mean.

For the first time in months and months, I feel “together” enough to do a bit more socializing, and it’s been more than three weeks since I smacked the crap out of my laptop or the vacuum or that cupboard door that won’t stay shut. I can focus on my work again (honestly, at one point I wondered if I’d had a stroke because I couldn’t hold a thought in my foggy, soggy brain for more than … hey, look! a puppy!). I can watch Star Trek TNG (or the news, or a commercial for lawn fertilizer, come to that) without a box of tissues in my lap (seriously…).

Vitex apparently takes about three months (!) to get fully into your system and be truly effective, but (fingers crossed) so far so good.

Stay tuned for the first week in August, when I’ll crack out the Little House on the Prairie DVDs and perform the ultimate in field testing.

~ Smiter out.

Field testing: Ve haff vays of makink you veep.

Field testing: Bring out the big guns, baby.

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