Sunday, December 22, 2013

Christmas Greetings 2013

There was a Latvian explorer and hermit who lived in the shadow of Angel Falls who abandoned his family to pursue the Mystery of Life. He was convinced both mystery and gold could be found in this wild place, if only he could be quiet long enough to hear it.

When we moved to Grande Cache, I was convinced that mystery and discovery, just out of reach, lives here. There were two treasures I hoped to find. This place is remote, hundreds of kilometers from any other community. The protected wildlife dominates, and people live to the very edge. This is a place where the forces of nature can be watched and understood. I believe I caught the mystery before I had to leave. You can ask me about it over a stiff tea, if you are so inclined.

The second treasure is more of a paradox in human behavior. It is easier to sympathize with the poor who are far away. We have our class distinctions and our prejudices here in Canada too, even if we are polite about it. Before Grande Cache, I had intellectualized this injustice, though I had done nothing about it. I had lived with my discomfort. Here we are in a small town with a larger than average income for its size, struggling like everyone else to provide basic services, and living right beside a community with a vastly lower standard of living. I mean, how many Canadians today live without running water?

To be fully human means embracing everyone as my brother, and here I am living right beside two communities largely ignoring each other. I was graced with the opportunity to work for Aseniwuche Winewak Nation and Rachelle MacDonald. This is a community of non-treaty, mostly Cree people whose quiet mountain culture was severely disrupted by progress. They are recovering by degrees, and visionaries like Rachelle and David (the man of the infectious laugh) are masters at finagling funds to lift the community. May they continue to grow strong. Ply me with more tea and I may speak more of this paradox. Here's David's famous smoke house:

David's Epic Smoke-House

But I had to leave this place. Like everyone else, we have to work to eat. I toyed with the idea of running for mayor, but the salary could not have kept us. So I have left so much. There's the mountains of many faces played by cloud and light and people of every description.

There are the Palette Pals ladies, anchors in the community and keepers of memories. And the Koffee Klatch outside Noelle's Cafe, pontificating large on matters big and small. We have churches and pastors building the community and fighting a losing battle with nature to attract attendance to their services. We have a local paper, the Mountaineer, and a hardware store of narrow aisles reminiscent of my childhood.

We have heavy equipment operators, miners, and prison guards putting in hard hours to power industry and police our convicts. This is a town of hope, a chance at prosperity, for a man of strength to pay off his debts or make new ones. This is a town of new Canadians, South Africans leaving a hard place, and starting fresh in a country dripping with peace and security. A rough paradise less and more than they hoped for.

And I had to leave this place. The grief is a barely remembered ache, brought fresh when I write a letter of remembrance like this. Or when I suddenly realize there is no-one like Billy in this city. A man of deliberate speech and broad heart who would give a man his last shirt if he needed it more. There is no Billy here to pull up beside me in his pickup just to make sure I am OK.I am crying.

Art in the cab of our U-Haul

Art and I left this place on a rainy day, feeling the ache in our bones and moaning at the mounds we had to load. Art and I did it, one foot in front of the other and with the help of a sturdy dolly brought in on order from the hardware store. Our old bodies reminded us we aren't cut out like we used to for this sort of work. The Filipino couple Art had befriended at the local Subway store will miss us, too. They worked for hours helping us load our stuff.

We are in a cute apartment in the City, not too far from where I work for an engineering firm in Sherwood Park. We battle the commute through the construction of the last leg of the Anthony Henday twice a day. I am closer to my family and Art is back with familiar faces at the Kingdom Hall.

This summer we played around at the Corn Maze in Bon Accord.  I've got photos.

There's an edge to the city, an energy, and a restlessness. A restlessness perhaps from living with barely perceived mysteries unsolved, padded over with busy work. Don't dare slow down or you might find yourself trapped in a cab with Billy, deliberately winding around to what is really important in life. Do you have the time to hear him?

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Tyranny of the Queue

Despite the great lengths we took to speed through the pharmacy line, there was a hiccup at the counter, and I was the cause of a quickly growing queue snaking behind us. As I growled my displeasure, hubby tried to shush me with mild threats, with little effect.

This should not have happened.

It matters, and I'll tell you why.

I decided some time ago that a passion to carry me through retirement might very well be to shorten these lines, in any way I can. It was a pharmacy failure that inspired me to start this blog years ago. The queue is dispiriting, it deadens the soul. Temporary strangers are caught, helpless, in a chain of events out of their control. In the heirarchy of petitioner and petitioned, the pharmacist has all the power. Social constraints keep us bound to the other side of the counter, unable to leap the barrier and rifle through the baskets ourselves. No matter how broken the process, all of us on the other side of the line are caught until someone untangles the mess.

I care because I carry some chronic health conditions. I will be spending time in lines. If there is a queue, I want someone to be alert, to parse the business process to catch the failures, and to make it better. I want my humanity to be recognized, to never be reduced to a number. I will not stand by, deadened to passivity.

From bureaucracy by dudayaduda

(Bureaucracy by dudayaduda)
I've had it very good the last few years, by the way of a small town pharmacist who remembered my name from the first day. He would see us coming from our entry in the store, and our medications would be waiting for us by the time we arrived at the counter. When we discussed the nuances of insurance or drug interactions, I felt like I was in the care of an informed professional, and that I received respect as a fellow human being. I knew from that first meeting that Jaime Fournier of Fournier Drugs, Grande Cache, would spoil me for any other sort of service.

So. Well. We leave my beloved small town, and it is big city again. I had a plan to conquer the queue, and I did so with a vengeance. Insurance plan cards and drug lists in hand, Jaimie's phone number displayed on my iPhone, I introduced ourselves to our chosen pharmacy. For that initial visit, there were no prescriptions to be filled. I was giving ample notice of our existence, to be vetted through the system. The attendant was a tad frazzled, I'll give her that. Two other pharmacists were busy at the filling station. An equally frazzled line had formed at the receiving end of the counter. That first visit was successful, and I made a mental note never to visit at "rush hour".

It's been a few weeks, and a small pile of vials were due for refills. Determined to bypass the rush, I had hubby drop off the prescriptions first thing in the morning.

So far, so good.

Granted, I took the chance at arriving after work, but things were looking up. There was but one customer ahead of me. Our prescriptions were found quickly. But.

But hubby's insurance had not gone through.

My strategy crashing around my ears, I am the outraged diva. Of course his insurance should work. I still had his card on me, and I made the girl look it up again. After some rushed number crunching, she calls out, "Good news, it took!".

"Of course it took," I growled. Hubby made nervous shushing sounds. A line started forming at our back.

Some further frantic number crunching, "And yours took, too!" Bravo, I silently rumble, the system works.

I fuss over payment, and we clear the counter to freedom.

I had done everything in my power to smooth the way for a speedy delivery. Insurance information was provided weeks ahead of time. Our orders were placed seven hours in advance. What went wrong? In my opinion there were two fails on Seth Godin's list, "It's not my job", and "I am not a fish." The attendants that day had the time, the process, and the tools in place to get the job done. What was missing was that element of humanity. The first time the insurance did not clear, during a slow period of the day, the attendant did not take a minute to put herself in my shoes. How might I feel at the end of the day if the insurance had not cleared? There's a husband and wife team here, on the same plan. Could something else have gone wrong?

She had done all that was required of her at the time, following process, and doing it efficiently. But she effectively doubled her effort at the worst time of day by not taking a moment to see not papers and slips but a human being at the end of the line.

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Almighty Signature, Last Stand for Paper Forms

Hubby and I have spent the past month preparing to move from Grande Cache back to Edmonton. There's a lot of paperwork from here to there, as we put our home on the market. Living in so remote a location, real estate forms, financial applications, rent applications, and leases all had to be done online. I have over an inch of paper generated in the past month just to get through this.

 The bugbear is the requirement for a signature.

This back-and-forth necessitated the printing and re-scanning of the forms multiple times, the quality degrading through each pass-through. How can integrity be maintained if the document is no longer readable?

 The process was so painful I was wondering if I might help industry take the leap to e-signature. Electronic transactions are legal, most governments having some form of electronic transactions legislation to ease the way for commerce. The process, however, must be proven confidential, secure, and valid. There must be some sort of validation to confirm that the Jane Doe signing is truly Jane. The signing must be password protected, and the transmission encrypted. Privacy watchdogs must be reassured that the identifying information and passwords are protected from loss or misuse.

I believe also there is public hesitation to trust an online process with their signature.

The potential benefits outweigh the risks, in my opinion, as society greens up, and is switching to electronic media wherever possible. Paper elimination saves trees.Crossing this final hurdle of e-signature could finally move offices to paper-free.

I was pleasantly surprised to find in my final transaction, a property management company that uses an online signature service. I initialed and forwarded my final forms completely online. The service is docusign, and it gets an excellent rating from PC magazine. A similar product for comparison is RPost Office. With several products out there, it is time to make the move to e-signature.


As a post-script, I followed up this blog with an e-mail to the Alberta Real Estate Association, and I received a prompt and thorough reply. The ARCA has been hampered by legislation, specifically the Statute of Frauds and the Real Estate Act of Alberta, which requires "wet" signatures. Changes are in the works and the ARCA will be publishing forms that allow for e-signatures this September.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Kaizen Motivation

It has been an eventful few days as we travelled at times only hours ahead of floods and road closures in Calgary. What a spectacular flood. Now we are heading north to home and hearth. I am finishing up a borrowed book on Kaizen and I came across a quote I must not forget. "Individual-oriented Kaizen is often regarded as a morale booster, and management does not always ask for immediate economic payback on each suggestion. Management attention and responsiveness are essential if workers are to become "thinking workers" always looking for better ways to do their work"

I think of my time with the government, and the supreme effort required to being in the smallest change. I think of the bright recruits who sincerely asked why we might do a job differently. They were absolutely right, but the effort to implement would freeze me to immobility.

Stop employees often enough and they simply quit trying. The bold ones leave, the ones who stay a sepia portrait of their former selves.

I ran in to that same blandness at the town office. I needed to talk to Taxation, but their number is buried under the general directory, not under the department listings. It took a couple calls to figure that out. I mentioned this to the town worker. She admitted that more than one person has commented  on this, and then changed the subject. She treated this small issue as insurmountable as the Rockies visible out the window.

Am I exaggerating to think that an atmosphere where the individual employee is so disempowered, cannot build, grow, thrive, energize?

Sunday, May 5, 2013

What does 100 calories look like?

I love 100 calorie snacks. Be a virtuous snackist and have your fun, too. Not only that, but the marketers of these reduced packages have convinced us to pay more for the privilege.  But of course the foot pundits must spoil our fun. They may be 100 calories, but are they good calories? Being a type-2 diabetic complicates things further. I am also supposed to make sure it is balanced. I am to pack in a carbohydrate, a protein, and roughage in to that teeny tiny bundle. There are days, well, the thinking needed to put together the perfect little snack, while my body rages to be fed, is more than I can handle. On days like that, I throw the marketing model in to my lunch bag.

I got to thinking, what's stopping me from putting together my own 100 calorie wonders? I document the creations as I go, and I never have to measure a second time. A happy by-product of this exercise is I got a better picture of what a hundred calories looks like. It's little.

One Wasa rye cracker, 2 tablespoons hummus, sliced bell pepper, and five Wasabi peas (hot!)

One Kavli cracker, 1/4 pepperoni stick, two skinny cow (lite) wedges, and carrot peels.

A great bedtime snack, shared by a type-1 buddy, is half a protein bar with 125 ml of (1%) milk. This tides over to breakfast very nicely.  It comes out to about 200 calories.

An egg is fifty calories. I paired it with half a crusty bun and a little ketchup. Salsa or fresh tomato would look better. I really wanted to show off my microwave egg cooker. One minute and fifteen seconds!
Two measly dates, stuffed with Laughing Cow cream cheese. Yum, tasty; a calorie punch in a tiny package.

Ten peanuts, count them and weep. Maybe measure with a tablespoon, no cheating!

Edamame, 1/2 cup. Now this is more satisfying! Break open one end and suck the seeds out. Try with parmesan cheese or a little hot sauce.
Half an energy, protein or health bar. Taste of Nature; nuts and agave nectar. Another favorite of mine is The Simply bar, carb-free and fiber-full. These bars are handy portable snacks, but typically about 180 calories each. Cut them in half for a home-made hundred calorie treat.

Chickpeas, 1.2 cup. High in fiber and protein, low in fat. So satisfying! Roast them, munch on them like nuts. I buy dried and reconstitute them overnight in water. Here's a fabulous oven-roasted recipe by Chris Rochelle.

Bad news, cheese-lovers. Due to its high fat content, cheese is a very dense calorie choice. This is Armstrong Extra Old low fat cheese, 3 cm, 80 calories. I fleshed it out with two croutons. Cheese is still great for its protein content, and it is so beautifully portable. And tasty. To keep from over-eating, I precut my block in to squares, line five cubes along a strip of plastic wrap, and wrap them tightly. I store them all in a Ziploc in the freezer, and take out a few at a time. If I am using a previously frozen cube in baking, it crumbles rather than shreds.

Four walnuts, or eight halves.

Under 50 calories:

I will post more.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Feel Free

Chances are if you have wandered here you found one of my Feel Free cards.

Be free to dance, wherever you are.
roll those shoulders
Feel free to set aside the burdens of the week, the daily worries, and responsibilities. 
Have fun.
Children play in the park, shrieking, running, rosy cheeks, gushing adventure
 Today, take play back.
Take in the beauty of a scene. Be still
Taste it, savor it, roll it on your tongue. Promise yourself not to forget.
Open your new freedom account at a bank.
Dream a new dream that is all your own.
Allow the intimacy of massage, a fragrant oil maybe.
Whatever free means to you, do it. You have my permission.

There is time enough to take up your load again.