Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Etiquette of Yard Sales

The warm spring weather brings with it the beginning of yard sales for 2011. We've already had a couple here in Saint Andrews, with more and more sprouting up as the weekends roll by. The first yard sale I ever went to was the town-wide sale here in 1997. This annual event will include over 40 different households and storefronts which set up tables in front of their houses and all along the front street with anything and everything for sale. Cleverly and ironically my first purchase was a shopping cart. Even though it was clear where this cart had originated, since I was buying it at the courthouse, I figured I was safe - and I was.

This purchase proved to be most useful. Luckily for me I was accompanied by a great yard sale enthusiast and in no time I had picked up a number of helpful tips, not the least of which was "keep moving". There are some guidelines for shopping at yard sales which will enhance your shopping pleasure. The number one pet peeve I hear from those people who set up their tables and yards is that potential customers arrive far too early. Just because the sign is up, doesn't mean they are open for business prior to the posted time. If it says 9 to 3, that's what it means. Arriving early and rummaging through bins and piles of household goods and clothing only frustrates and irritates the seller. I know people don't want to miss out on the star items for sale, but respect for the seller and his or her private property must be regarded.

If you are a smoker, do not flick your spent butt on the lawn or even on the street in front of the house or shop. That rule of course applies everyday, but one can imagine that during a yard sale the sheer volume of cigarette butts to pick up at the end of the day can be overwhelming and disgusting. Ask if there is someplace to deposit your cigarette. If there is not then put it in your pocket. That's just one of the hazards of smoking.

If you bring your small children along for the adventure, which I encourage, be sure they are never out of your eye sight. Explain to them that if they pick something up and they drop it or break it, they must be responsible for any damages and must fess up to the owner. Ultimately a dropped and broken item by you or your offspring is your liability. A yard sale is no different than a shop in this regard. Most of the time, accidents are forgiven, however, one should always offer, if not insist, on paying for the item. To avoid such embarrassment and expense, be very careful about handling items. If you are concerned about the fragility of something that catches your eye, or if you are not sure how something works, don't pick it up. Ask the seller to show it to you. If they say help yourself, then you're off the hook!

Usually everything at a yard sale has a price on it. Seasoned sellers are quite used to bargaining. If you want to offer a lower price, do so. This is part of the whole yard sale process. However, do not be insulting by offering too low a price. Also, do not berate the seller by indicating the price is "highway robbery". Once you come to an agreed upon price, do not gloat about what a steal you've just gotten until you've left the sale area. Gloating is a form of bullying and is rude and unbecoming. Finding a bargain is a time for gratitude and not for uncivil behavior.

If you are on the hunt for a particular item, ask the seller if they have such a thing. Just because something is not in plain view does not mean it isn't hidden away somewhere. Engaging people in conversation and discussing the kinds of things you enjoy collecting are ways to further enhance your browsing pleasure. People enjoy swapping stories about yard sale experiences as much as they do sharing a fishing story, and usually with the same stretch of the imagination.

Have your cash for purchases at the ready. That is the preferred and usually the only form of payment accepted. If you are known to the seller, perhaps a personal check would be okay. Having exact change is helpful. Too many times small bills and quarters become scarce. You will definitely be a hit and speed up the transaction at the same time if you are prepared in advance.
Respect your fellow shoppers. If they are examining an item, don't think that it is okay to grab the item until the person has put it down. Remember that there are very few truly unique and irreplaceable things in the world and that the next yard sale is just a week away. A yard sale is after all only about things!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Butt Flicking

Several days ago a friend commented on how disgusted he was looking out his office window and watching a group of people smoking, huddled around the front entrance to another building. What irked him was the careless disposal of their cigarette butts onto the sidewalk or into the street. This act is a crystal clear example of disrespect. But this arrogance, to which many smokers feel they are entitled, is not the entire picture. One might ask, "Why doesn't the building provide suitable butt disposal receptacles; why don't the smokers put their butts in their cigarette packs; why, why, why not?" The list of arguments and suggestions are numerous. The basic principle of respect is what this simple act ignores completely. These folks have made a conscious choice to jeopardize their own health, which is their right. Being a reformed smoker, I sympathize with those who smoke and respect their choice. Quitting smoking requires a very big commitment and is much easier said than done.

There is also plenty of proof of the hazards of second hand smoke, hence the reason smokers are forced out of doors in the first place. Frankly, standing outside the entrance to a building and smoking does create an unpleasant atmosphere for others entering that building, another form of disrespect for others.

Flicking cigarette and cigar butts on the ground illustrates yet another case where entitlement takes hold. The thought process goes along these lines. "If I have to be inconvenienced to the point of being forced outside to have a smoke, I have every right to flick my butt into the street." For some it is such a knee jerk reaction that it doesn't seem to qualify as a conscious choice as much as a simple involuntary reaction. This is where disrespect is elevated to the level of arrogance.

This is why in front of some store fronts, even here in St. Andrews, cigarette butts can be seen strewn all over the sidewalk directly in front of a butt receptacle. Yet this behavior is evident in cities and towns everywhere. As a result, the responsibility to keep the sidewalks free of litter falls on the shoulders of the shopkeepers themselves, some of whom are oblivious to the eyesore and ignorant of the fact that their lack of caring is in and of itself, a form of disrespect. I know that I make a point of picking up butts in front of and behind my building when the culprits are actually smoking. In some cases this has a positive effect, but not always.

One can stroll down the avenues of bustling New York City and see cigarette butts whisked away by an army of street cleaners. However in smaller towns and villages, local pride can speak volumes to visitors on whom their entire economies depend.

This harkens back to the days when dogs could freely roam the street of cities and owners were not responsible for cleaning up after them. In fact, it wasn't even considered necessary. Your dog would do it's business in the street and the street sweeper would remove it in due course. I remember clearly the distinctive stench in cities like New York and especially Paris. Eventually laws were enacted banning such irresponsible practices and the difference to these cities was dramatic. For the most part today people pride themselves in looking after their dogs responsibly.

Legislating human behavior has historically proven to be ineffective except in such obvious cases as traffic laws and human rights. Even then, people are constantly pushing the envelope. What, then, can we do? One thing companies can do is to remind their employees that they are representing the company even when they are not working. Allowing workers to smoke during work outside an office building does indicate a lack of respect for the community if inadequate space and receptacles are not provided. Therefore, it comes down to each of us who smoke to take the moment it requires to leave our surroundings the way we found them. Much like the sign in the airplane washroom which asks each occupant to wipe the sink so the next passenger has a clean place to wash their hands, so too we should leave the streets and sidewalks as clean as they were when we walked onto them initially. Please keep in mind that flicking a lighted butt anywhere is a potential fire hazard.

It also is an opportunity to burn an animal's feet, like a dog walking along the street where a butt has just been carelessly flicked. Flicking your butt in the street, while driving a car, riding in a boat or even walking along a sandy beach or rocky coastline is just plain wrong. If this one careless thoughtless act were to be eliminated from our daily lives, it would send ripples of civility everywhere.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Spring Forward

It happens to me when I least expect it. I change my mind. As the wheels start turning inside my head, I imagine that as a result of some new decision I have reached, I will hurt someone else's feelings. I will allow thoughts to churn away in my mind for weeks before gaining enough courage to ask someone for what appears to me to be a huge favor. In their reality, they looked at it as a chance to lend a helping hand. I have experienced first hand someone coming to me for a favor. In their eyes it is perceived as an imposition on me. In my eyes I see it as an opportunity to share and be grateful.

And I know this happens to other people because I was asked by several people this week how to avoid this very thing. One person decided to opt out of a housing arrangement for next year's college term. The conflict arose as they were coming up with a reason why they decided to change their mind which would not upset others involved. Another person was worried about telling an old high school friend they hadn't seen in years that they couldn't bunk in for the week while visiting from far away. A third person was concerned about not offending an overbearing whining child who was throwing a tantrum. These examples illustrate how easily we allow other people to control our lives and intrude upon our personal boundaries. And how in all of this we deal with feeling guilty or selfish for not wanting our lives turned upside down.

Now that we have just reset our clocks for Daylight Savings Time, why not consider resetting our internal control panel and take a look at how often we take responsibility for another person's feelings in exchange for some relief of guilt or fear. Spring is a time of rebirth and renewal. The amount of effort we use in trying to help others or on walking the fine line of offending someone is enormous. We quickly become zapped of energy and fall prey to confusion and pain. The amazing reality of all of this is that it usually is happening only in our imagination. We want to please everyone; we don't want to hurt anyone's feelings; we want to make everything nice. In short, we want to feel like we have some control in our lives.

The irony is that the more control we take over other people's lives, the less control we have of our own. I suggest some internal spring cleaning. It is very important to develop an awareness of where responsibility in our lives lies. We are in fact showing great disrespect for someone when we decide that we have a better idea of what is best for them than they have for themselves. We also are showing a lack of compassion for them and for us. This internal spring cleaning involves taking some time out to reflect on how we can use the precious time we have on earth to be of benefit to others without producing a negative end result for ourselves or others.

When I was a young boy, I remember my father explaining to me how to evaluate a situation using "the yellow pad". Drawing a line right down the center, he suggested writing the positive aspects on one side and the negative aspects on the other. This enables us to see the balance or imbalance of the situation and make our decision based on reason. This kind of thinking can happen in the blink of an eye with some practice. It can also be used to thoroughly investigate a challenge we face which may be of great importance. This technique works because we become more aware of how we feel about something and how our actions might affect other people.

Taking some time to consider our actions, both what we say and what we do, provides us with an opportunity to discern what is an appropriate course of action from what is inappropriate. Spring is the season to do this. Yes, it requires a commitment of time. It also gives a chance to reorder our priorities, to have a reality check. If we truly want to be of service to our communities and to our family and loved ones, it helps to be balanced on the inside. I encourage everyone to take a "time out". Push the reset button. Give people a chance to take responsibility for their own lives. They can do it!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Wearing of the Green

This week marks the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day here in New Brunswick. Celebrations have been ongoing this week and will culminate on Thursday, March 17th. This holiday honors the patron saint of Ireland and is primarily a religious holiday in Ireland. In this short column I will point out a few interesting facts, myths and traditions for St. Patrick’s Day. I hope these thoughts will be educational and give an understanding of Irish heritage.

St. Patrick was born in Wales. At the age of 16 he was captured and sold into slavery and taken to Ireland where he spent his time studying Christianity. After his release and return to Britain he was determined to return to Ireland as a missionary to convert the Irish people to Christianity. With a modest amount of religious education to guide him, Patrick returned to Ireland and successfully converted the Irish people. It is felt that St Patrick's ridding Ireland of snakes is a metaphor for ridding the island of Paganism. Although his true original color is the very distinct St. Patrick’s blue, over time it has changed to green, reflecting the hundreds of greens in the Irish landscape. This is also symbolic of the Shamrock which represents the holy trinity and was a tool for the young missionary’s way of teaching Christianity. Green has since been used for military uniforms and other national symbols to further ingrain it into Irish society. Falling within Lent, this celebration was a welcome one-day reprieve from the abstinence of alcohol and has been celebrated with great enthusiasm since the 18th Century.

In Ireland, the traditional food eaten on this day would be Irish stew, a very simple stew originally made of mutton, onions, potatoes and parsley. Over the years carrots, turnips and stout have been added to the recipe. A great Irish stew is a fantastic meal and is often complemented with Irish Soda Bread. Here is a wonderful recipe for Irish Soda Bread. This recipe makes a very moist and lovely loaf of Irish bread for St Patrick's Day.

Pre heat oven to 350 degrees
Grease and flour a loaf pan (yes, what you'd use for meat loaf)
Soak 1 C raisins in warm water to plump
3 C all purpose flour
1/2 C sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
4 tsp. baking POWDER
1 egg
2 T vegetable oil
1 T sour cream
2 C buttermilk
Add the raisins
Bake for 50 minutes, check with tooth pick or straw and continue baking another few
minutes if needed.

In Canada and the US, the traditional St. Patrick’s Day meal is usually corned beef and cabbage. Beef in Ireland was far more expensive than lamb. Therefore lamb was used (and sparingly I might add). When the tax collector came by and could smell meat cooking, your tax bill might well go up, so onions covered the meat nicely in the pot. When the thousands Irish immigrants settled in Canada and in New York especially, during the potato famine of the 1840’s (not a myth), they lived in close proximity to their Jewish neighbors. It was the Jews who introduced the Irish to Corned Beef. The brisket cut was an inexpensive cut and the corning process helped to preserve it. And, if the truth be told, the word ‘corning’ refers to the pieces of salt used for curing which were about the size of corn kernels. This main course is served with potatoes, cooked cabbage and other root vegetables which would have been stored throughout the cold winter months.

For those of you curious about cabbage (which, frankly is an acquired taste – I don’t care what anyone says), it was introduced to the British Isles by the Celts, who brought it from Asia during the 6th Century B.C. And, while we’re at it, potatoes were brought from South America to Europe in 1536.

As to green beer, St. Patrick’s Day parades and other celebrations of this, the first of real springtime causes for jubilation, we can find most of the origins in New York City. I remember when living and working in that fair city that March 17th was essentially a day off. It was a time to think about leprechauns, rainbows and pots of gold. Lucky thing, I suppose.

Whether you enjoy collecting four-leaf clovers, expounding about the gift of gab brought to you by kissing the Blarney Stone (yes, I must confess to having kissed it myself), or enjoying a good pint of Irish beer, St. Patrick’s Day has a wonderfully unifying force which serves also to lighten one’s spirits if only for a day (or a full week if you live in Saint John). We all appreciate the customs of a once foreign land and its richly diverse heritage. We take a moment to think of the struggles of many people over the centuries and realize how lucky we are to come from such strong stock. Our resilience is echoed in the respect we have for our ancestors, wherever they may come from, and for people from all over the world who make up the fabric of the society in which we live. And to think that it all begins and ends with respect.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Personal Privacy

I will never forget the morning when the telephone rang and at the other end of the line was a typically pleasant representative from the Canada Revenue Agency. She went on to explain, without going into details, that my identity had been assumed by someone else. I knew this was not a good thing. I wondered why they had chosen my identity to steal. I then wondered how they could have done such a thing. I am a relatively private person living a pretty quiet life. Then it hit me. I had decided to discard about 20 boxes of files which were old and useless, or so I thought. Rather than take the time to shred thousands of sheets of paper, I thought the recycle bin would be the "green' way to handle this disposal. Naive as this decision was, it is a solution many of us select far too often.

Fortunately for me, this attempt at using my social insurance number for ill-gotten gains was thwarted and no harm was done. I have a paper shredder in my office now and understand first hand the hollow sinking feeling one gets when one's personal information becomes public.

Individuals rummaging through landfills is not the only way we expose ourselves to identity theft. With the deluge of social networking which has swept the globe, we have more and more ways to share information with "the public". Some of us try to interact with friends, old and new, through such sites as Facebook and Twitter. There are ways to control what information is available to whom, but in this fast paced world of new found avenues of communication, we forget to engage those controls. In our excitement we share far more information with many more people than we may want or realize.

There are factors such as age and inexperience which become part of the equation as well. Because we can hide behind the great wall of the internet, we too often say things we would not say face to face. Once the 'send' button is pushed, there is no retracting our words. In some cases we can delete our entries, but a lot of times we don't. We take a certain delight in expressing ourselves in an uncivil way, forgetting that the world is witnessing our indiscretions.

One devastating result of these actions is a function of their permanence. Cyberspace lives on for eternity. People who want to find out more about us have access to virtually everything we've ever written online. What we may find amusing and harmless one day, we may regret the next. Potential employers may shy away from applicants who show little or no discretion in their on line lives. These behaviors are viewed as personality traits and reflect poorly on one's character when applying for a job requiring tact, civility and discretion.

Common sense dictates that whatever you share on a social networking site is in the public domain. It requires very little technical know-how to review anyone's posts and comments on any blog or topic they may have written. As enthusiastic as we are, my advice is to post nothing on line you would not say face to face to someone. Information of a personal nature does not belong in a public forum of any kind.

Times when it might be best to exercise additional caution before posting something on line, or before answering an email, would be when you are under stress. Receiving disturbing personal or business news can cause us to react abruptly. We may be given to responding to such news without fully thinking our thoughts through. Additionally there are times in our lives when we feel overwhelmed, depressed, and exhausted. Before pressing the 'send' key, set your remarks aside for a period of time. Revisit them and make adjustments as necessary. You may save yourself considerable embarrassment. A reasoned response is generally better than a knee-jerk reaction.

Above all, be aware of how you are feeling and what you are trying to communicate before you actually do anything. Take a little extra time to be sure that the tone of your message is appropriate. Try to stick with the facts and avoid inserting your feelings about those facts. Stating your feelings is important, but it is equally important to recognize that your feelings are not the facts themselves and are best communicated in private. Be cautious with what you share whether it be in what you write or in what you throw away!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Service Animals

Not until I joined the board of The Delta Society in 1992 did I have any idea how complex the relationship is between humans and animals. This human- animal bond extends back thousands of years. It was not until the last half of the 20th century that scientists took an interest in proving the benefits animals can provide in healing, rehabilitation and emotional support. The mission of The Delta Society( "is to help lead the world in advancing human health and well-being through positive interactions with animals. We help people throughout the world become healthier and happier by incorporating therapy, service and companion animals into their lives."

While on this amazing board I helped establish one of the first animal assisted therapy program into the New York hospital system. I also became an animal evaluator, matching a variety of animals to people who could benefit from interaction. These animals were mostly dogs and cats, although rabbits, birds, and a whole host of other small and large animals (even Iguanas) were also engaged. It was quite an education learning to discern the differences between appropriate and inappropriate actions while in the presence of "animals at work".

Animals are an integral part of many peoples' lives not only for companionship but for their roles in enabling people with a variety of disabilities to lead active fulfilling lives. We are familiar with seeing eye dogs for the sight impaired; we know of animals who can assist wheelchair-bound people carry out any number of tasks; but do we ever stop to think that these animals are "on duty"? Before these amazing animals can be reliable, they must go through a rigorous training program. Many do not succeed. Those that do become partnered with a person have been trained to know when they are on duty and they are off duty.

Whenever we see someone with an animal engaged in an assistance exercise of any type, we need to be aware and we need to be sure not to interfere. Imagine an invisible boundary line around this human/animal team and do not cross it.

We as outsiders are rarely sure of the extent of assistance an animal is giving a person in any particular place and time. The ability of a dog or a horse to respond to a command can be severely compromised when these boundaries are not respected.

Much of what we see are interactions known as animal assisted activities(AAA). These are non-therapeutic and are designed for people to stretch beyond the limitations of their disabilities. These limits can be physical, mental or emotional. An example would be a sight impaired person going for a walk, to the store, or to work. There are also environments such as working farms where animals are vital to many activities such as hauling carts, plowing fields, and herding cattle or sheep. These tasks seem routine enough but if you add a group of at risk youth to the mix, suddenly you have a setting for animal assisted therapy(AAT). I have seen first hand how a troubled youth can change in an instant when their need to communicate with a huge horse suddenly comes into play.

Some of us have witnessed first hand the benefits of a hospital patient or a resident of a long term care facility, suffering from high blood pressure or anxiety as they quietly stroke a rabbit or cat lying peacefully on their stomachs. Disturbing this quietude would be inappropriate and jarring to both the animal and the person. Move quietly around animals at work, especially when healing is taking place.

There are also many opportunities to become involved as a "Pet Partner", someone with a pet who wants to volunteer their time and their pet's time in either AAA or AAT. Check with your local hospitals and retirement homes to see if they have such a program. Contact The Delta Society for more information about this growing field of interest among many, many people worldwide. They can help you become a Pet Partner or assist your facility in setting up a safe and effective program.

Animals often improve our quality of life. Be aware of how you benefit. Appreciate the many ways animals can be trained to assist people with many kinds of disabilities. Respect the space that the human/animal team occupies. It shows you have compassion for these people and also a real understanding of how important respecting their boundaries are. We can avoid embarrassing and even potentially dangerous situations. The person will appreciate this and so will their animal partner.