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Writer-s-Bloc

The dog and the robo-vac

By Doreen Zyderveld-Hagel

The robot vacuum whirled to face us, and then circled menacingly, or at least the dog thought so.  

Whenever the machine would roll towards her, Tig’ger, the Australian shepherd would tuck her stubby tail and run out of the room.  After all, the robot did make strange, loud, humming sounds, like some kind of alien animal.   

To make things even spookier, the rolling, whirling, dirt-eating disc had later knocked the wicker basket laundry lid on top of itself, and now was incognito. I grabbed my cell phone and recorded the strange phenomenon. 

It spun round and round in tight circles, akin to a buffalo with a brain injury after rutting season. I think the lid had obstructed its vision and then became disorientated, leaving the robo-vac dazed and confused. 

 I must admit, the thing gives me the willies too, especially when we first got the self-propelled vacuum. I couldn’t help but wonder if there isn’t a camera inside, hidden in plain sight.  

In this day and age, one has to be concerned about our smart phones, TVs and even our own vehicles recording our every move and conversation since home surveillance systems and baby monitors are being hacked by nefarious individuals or entities. 

I was having tea with an elderly woman a few years back when we heard a really bizarre growling gurgling noise coming from her bedroom’s audio video monitor. 

“Sounds like Gremlins,” the 90-something-year old said nonchalantly as she took another sip. 

It was all I could do not to run screaming from her house. 

Another case in point, I was alone recently and using my nine-year-old lap top late one afternoon and happened to say out loud that I didn’t understand why I was so tired. 

Seconds later, an ad came up on the screen about chronic fatigue syndrome.  Now that was freaky.  The camera had been taped over, but how do you shut off the sound? 

Hence the notion of a roaming vacuum saucer spy, sneaky enough to cover itself in camouflage, may not be that far-fetched after all. 

Perhaps it thought it would blend in better with the surroundings of the hard wood floor and tanned carpet, believing it fooled this inferior human. 

 The appliance is a more compact and flattened version of Artoo Deetoo  —the glorified shop vac — and quite possibly, far more sinister.  

They say to trust your dog’s instincts about things.  I don’t know who “they” are, but that’s good advice.   

My dogs over the decades have warned me correctly about sketchy people, whom I initially had been fooled by, but the previous pooches never encountered a robotic vacuum either, and some canines actually attack them.   

Good thing Tig’ger’s a pacifist. 

This robo-vac is plenty shifty too, besides going undercover and terrorizing the dog, it also acts like a unionized employee.  Some days it works for 30 minutes, then goes back to roost on its home base.   

I then have to retrieve it, lift it up, carry it to another room and shut the door to its recharging station, so it won’t try slacking off again. 

Other days the vacuum travels throughout the house and cleans for two full hours, before calving from exhaustion, or a dead battery.  

I catch myself talking to, or scolding it, saying:

  • “Nice try, but you’re going back to work”
  • "Oh, honey robovac, I'm home, you hoo, where are you?"

Oftentimes, there is the issue of the machine going missing, and my having to go on a search-and-rescue mission. 

One time I found it under the bed, and it had dragged one of my boots by the laces and got all snarled up in it.  The following week, it got tangled up in my apron strings. 

I heard of adult children being unable to let go of Momma’s apron strings, but this is ridiculous. 

I can never be certain where it will end up at on any given day. I can’t help, but wonder what it does when home alone with the dog.

I may need a home-monitoring, audio-visual system to spy on the vacu-spy. 

The results may very well be spine tingling. 

Tig’ger and I may need therapy after. Caesar Millan, dog whisperer, here we come.

Doreen Zyderveld-Hagel is a Kelowna writer.



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Hey, look out for me!

By John O’Flaherty

Hello, I am a school bus. I am big, yellow and black, and I carry children to and from school. I have red lights flashing both front and back, along with two red and white stop signs with flashing red lights popping out into oncoming traffic's view when I am picking up or discharging children.

My driver takes pride in picking up and bringing children home, with safety at the top of list when driving. When the driver activates the safety equipment on the bus, it means that drivers of other vehicles either oncoming or following are to stop 60 metres from the bus to ensure the children are safe. The driver is responsible for transporting your children, grandchildren, brothers or sisters, nieces or nephews, or friends.

When the driver observes a vehicle preparing to run through the bus lights, they are prepared to take down the licence number, make of vehicle, whether the driver was male or female, date and time, and location. You will probably hear the driver honk the air horn to get your attention. Then the info is put into a report and submitted to the RCMP. We then wait for the RCMP to charge the registered owner of the vehicle.

We as drivers take great pleasure when we get the call from police stating we are required in court to give evidence against the vehicle that went through the safety lights and stop arms.

As far as we drivers are concerned, this violation is no different than careless or dangerous driving, as it puts children’s lives in severe jeopardy.

Once in court, the registered owner goes before a judge and is found either guilty or not guilty. If they are guilty, they have to pay a fine and receive demerit points. If they have tears, or a poor me story, they can usually get the fine reduced, without another thought of how they put a child’s safety in jeopardy.

This is a friendly reminder that when coming upon a school bus, be safe, slow down, and watch for the lights and stop arm, then stop.



Practising the pause

By Matthew Rigby

You need to take a moment.

I know, I know. You don’t have a moment. You’re multitasking. You’re stressed. All of life’s usual chaos hasn’t magically disappeared with the passing of a new year, and now you have a handful of resolutions that you may or may not have already broken. (Hey, you made it a week… that’s something).

You’re pushing a boulder uphill at work, and taking your hand off for even a second costs something. You’re overwhelmed at home. The house and its residents resist any and all attempts at cleaning or organizing. You finish one meal only to be asked when the next snack or meal will be. You read the news on your phone and you’re anxious and angry. You feel more isolated than ever before, despite being surrounded by people and online connections. You feel like the wheels are coming off, and you’re exhausted from keeping up appearances. 

How did I do? I don’t know you at all, but I’m willing to bet that I hit at least a few nails on the head. I would bet this because I feel the exact same way regularly, and so do many of my friends and colleagues (once we finally feel safe enough around each other to be even a little honest and vulnerable). 

It’s my sincere belief that the vast majority of us are more anxious and stressed than ever before. Practices such as yoga, meditation, mindfulness, or even just breathing deeply have skyrocketed in popularity and interest because we are desperate to take a moment. Re-acquaint ourselves with our body, our breath, and our thoughts.

And I can’t write to you as a practitioner or expert in any of these disciplines. I’m a novice at even simple breathing meditation. I feel too old and out of shape to subject myself to a local yoga studio, or even slip in the back row of a local YMCA class. And being aware of my thoughts is dizzying, like eavesdropping on a drunk who has suddenly lost all filter. 

But what I have found (and attempt to practice) is the pause. The space between input and reaction. A willingness to sit with that which we are unsure of, uncomfortable with, or afraid of. And of course, ‘sitting with’ may not involve sitting at all! Sometimes we can manage no more of a pause than a deep, slow breath. Sometimes that’s enough. Sometimes ‘sitting with’ is actually standing at a sink full of dishes without music, podcast or Netflix. Sometimes ‘sitting with’ is folding clothes in silence. Sometimes ‘sitting with’ is going for a walk with your dog.

I like the pause. It comes a little too naturally, and I can extend it a little too long. When I’m overwhelmed or stressed, I like to freeze everything. No new input. Everybody stop moving.

Of course, that doesn’t usually work. I work in an emergency department. I don’t get to ask the emergencies to hold off until I feel ready for them. Neither can I expect even my closest friends or family to wait indefinitely until I am ready to respond to the next choice/plan/requirement. The world doesn’t care about your pause. The world remains just as demanding as it was a second ago.

A pause is not a stop. It is implied that you will continue moving, continue engaging, continue to react to what your world presents to you. A pause is simply space and time to defer your judgment. To gain a little perspective. To think about your response and actions.

When you read about the increasing escalation in Iran. Pause.

When you are frustrated with corruption in government. Pause. 

When you feel like your job is all consuming. Pause.

When you read something grossly offensive in the comment section. Pause.

(And seriously: never, ever, read the comment section.)

The pause doesn’t negate what you are feeling. It only gives it space. It tells you that you don’t need to react in this moment. Breathe. 

A while ago I thought that someone should invent a new form of social media. You could call it “Slow Facebook” or “Slow Twitter” (catchy names I know). You could comment on someone’s post, but only a day later. Imagine how many fewer Twitter feuds would exist if someone had to sit with their idea for 24 hours. Imagine how many responses would simply be shrugged off, as people’s anger had a chance to dissipate. 

When we don’t have the pause, this is what I believe we are left with: fear and anger. Read any divisive online post or comment section and see how true this is. One of the best status updates I ever read on Twitter belongs to the author Robin Hobbs: “Good morning Twitter, what are we outraged about today?

Outrage is understandable. Fear and anger is an appropriate response to the potential start of a new war. Appropriate when you see a government official dismantling political safeguards meant to ensure a healthy democracy. Appropriate when you feel that your life’s work is reinforcing the wealth of the top 1%, while you struggle with inflation and bills. Appropriate when you see ignorant and hurtful notions being slung and celebrated online.

But the practice of the pause reminds us that we are not at our smartest, deepest, most grounded selves in the moment of insecurity. A pause reminds us that situations are more complex than they initially appear. The pause reminds us that while news stories break in the first 15 minutes, their full context may not be revealed in the next 15 years. The pause reminds us that complex problems will require intelligent solutions. The pause reminds us that there is joy, vitality and beauty to life that we will not see or experience if we continue to run around frantically. The pause reminds that we have more emotions than simply fear and anger. 

So at the start of this upcoming year and decade, consider practicing the pause. Consider this the easiest of your resolutions. There’s no weight to lose, no gym to join, no budget to stick to. Just the consideration that maybe, just maybe, we need to take a moment when we’re unsure, stressed, angry or overwhelmed.

We will pause. We will breathe. We will reflect. And then we will engage.

And if you completelydisagree, feel free to tell me so in the comments section (but maybe wait 24 hours).

Matt is a grateful husband to one, father to three. He works as a registered nurse in emergency and acute care. He writes, records, schemes and dreams at somethingfromeverything.com.



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Back in the saddle

By Doreen Zyderveld-Hagel

It was like getting back in the saddle again, but safer where from I sat, in a sleigh directly behind three draft horses. They pulled our human herd, of over 20 people, effortlessly through the snow in the dark.  

A giant spotlight lit the path in front of the horses to help them see, as they wore blinders to prevent them from spooking, and thus limited their vision. I could smell the sweet aroma of their sweat as they trotted along, and the sounds of sleigh bells softly rang out, as our pack sang acapella and mostly off key, the lyrics to some Christmas carols.  

It was particularly heartwarming to hear my adult son join in, as he is on the autism spectrum, but high functioning. His strong, melodic, baritone voice rang out, which was unusual, as he is normally quite withdrawn and introverted, uncomfortable in crowds and group settings.  

There is something about horses that are therapeutic for those on the spectrum and those who are not. For me, it was a bit of a breakthrough being that close to the back of a horse once again. The last time, the experience was horrific – to put it mildly.  

Forty months ago, I swung my leg over the saddle, which I had done thousands of times before, but this time the horse lit into bucking. After I repeatedly hit the saddle horn, I was slammed to the ground. 

I suffered from extreme blunt force trauma, and was critically injured. After over two months in the hospital, and several surgeries and complications later, I went home to learn to walk again, using snow shoes.  

My 50-plus years of being around horses had come to an abrupt and bitter end.  However, I was very grateful to survive and walk again, as many people are not that fortunate.

Hence, I was understandably nervous around horses afterwards, and so it was a real blessing to go on a sleigh ride, and feel that connection again, not once, but twice during this past festive season.  

I must admit that when the work horses stopped to catch their breath after a long pull uphill, I got nervous; along with when a couple of snowmobilers went by, on that day-ride, a week later. My body stiffened, then relaxed when the giant equines carried on. They took it all in stride, reassured by their driver’s cues. 

Draft horses are known for their level heads, because they are of the cold blood strain, being slower and heavier; that’s a good thing, as you wouldn’t want a horse that size to be hot blooded and wild in its reactions. A sleigh ride would become a ride from hell, of which I had had enough.  

Notwithstanding, my great grandfather, of Scottish heritage, was said to have stopped a runaway wagon team back in the early 1900s in Ontario, so rides from hell do happen on occasion, and probably even more so back when horse and buggies were the main mode of transportation.  

It would be like the modern day car wrecks, which happen on a daily, and minute-by-minute basis worldwide; albeit it is a greener, safer, but slower way to travel than the modern day vehicles.  

I came from a long line of jockeys, saddle makers and wagon drivers, which explained my obsession with horses, regardless of being piled, stepped on, fallen on, falling off of, kicked and bitten. On the other hand, I was gently carried home by my horse when I had a concussion after being hit in the head by a widow maker tree, and teetered side to side in the saddle, as my mare would throw herself underneath me, so I would not fall off. We zig-zagged our way back to the vehicle, far out in the bush.  

Then there were times when riding back to camp in the dark, stalked by predators, or sunk in the muskeg, and the horse came through with flying colours, keeping us both safe, and risking her life to save me.  

On some occasions the whole world felt like a terrible place, but while on the back of a horse I felt at peace.

You take the good with the bad, and by just crossing the street, one can get hit by a bus, so there are no guarantees of tomorrow, and a person’s life can change in an instant; as did mine, when my young gelding decided that it was not a good day for a ride and so he unloaded his rider.  Nothing personal, just being a horse, reacting to whatever ailed him that fateful day, over three years ago.  

In quiet introspection, I sat on the sleigh bench next to my son, covered in a warm blanket and sipping hot chocolate. Life is good I have concluded.  

Doreen Zyderveld-Hagel is a Kelowna writer.



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