On Remembering You

Shannon Kernaghan bat-and-coffin-400 On Remembering You Adventure Challenges Death Family Friendship Fun Lifestyle Love Memoir Pets and Animals Relationship Travel

Call me weird, but sometimes I check the obituaries of cities where I’ve lived. I don’t have a morbid obsession with death. On the contrary, I’m more concerned with who’s still alive.

What fascinates me about obituaries is how lives are encapsulated and celebrated in mere paragraphs. Some folks are remembered for their song and dance, or their curling and Tai Chi. Others are recollected as feisty and humorous, or generous and patient. 

One woman had an interesting 89 years. Her tribute began, “Departed this world, looking glamorous as usual.” How’s this for an active life: she was passionately interested in wildlife conservation and international travel; she went on 13 safaris and two bat expeditions in Africa; and she was part of a field research team with the Royal Ontario Museum that discovered a new species of bat in Cameroon. She even had a bat named after her.

I’m not done: she sky-dived twice in her mid-70s; survived a plane crash en route to touring Antarctica; was a loving mother and lived a fiercely independent life, touching the lives of many throughout the world with her joie de vivre and courage.

The final words from her family? Bon voyage. Wow, if I deserved a third of her tribute, my life would feel well spent.

I am touched by the importance of pets in obituaries, which shows a kindness that transcends any list of accomplishments or academic degrees.

And food is often a focal point. Both men and women are celebrated for their sweet and sour pork buttons, their teenie-weenie sandwiches or their famous fudge cakes.

These small but poignant details allow me a peek into their aromatic kitchens and into their lives.

Some obituaries are historical, describing how parents struggled to raise a family during the Great Depression, with children recalling times so grim that furniture had to be broken up for firewood. One obituary revealed how the family went on to prosper in large part due to a mother’s relentless determination.

Who needs medals and certificates of merit when you have praise from people who truly love you?

Others tell a story in few words, such as this woman’s: “Dedicated to family, her character was her own and built on many passions such as the love of fast cars, fast horses, fast dogs and, of course, hollering Bingo!”  I would have liked this woman.

The most important aspect of an obituary? Remembering our loved ones, in whatever meaningful form that takes.

Have I written my own? Nah. I’m too busy living my life. The best news from today’s obituaries? I didn’t find my name!

Go out and live a little. For that matter, live a lot!

Audio song
“All For”
by Ralph Real

Dating? Learn How to Use Chopsticks

Shannon Kernaghan chopstick-final-400 Dating? Learn How to Use Chopsticks Adventure Challenges Dating Food Fun Humor Lifestyle Love Parties Relationship Risk Sex Sex and Food

Why can’t dating come with instructions? By instructions, I don’t mean a how-to book. There are enough texts on the subject, all trumpeting slick advice on how to meet, marry and mate.

The moment you stand in a bar and pertly balance your Chocolate Martini, you’ll forget the reams of advice.

Taking a deep breath, you’ll wonder, Am I supposed to approach the guy or wait for him to make the first move?

Next, the confusion will be, Do I look at him invitingly or ignore him? Dammit, I’ve read so much advice that I can’t remember if I’m supposed to yin or yang!

Now step away from the Self-Help section and relax. What works for one person doesn’t work for everyone. Instead, concentrate on making the most of the gifts you already own, such as your wry sense of humor, your patience and your take-no-prisoners method of deadheading the delphiniums.

Everyone has strengths and those strengths will be attractive to the right person.

In my world, finding a partner should be as uncomplicated as the instructions on a chopsticks wrapper, sealed for your sanitary protection:

LEARN HOW TO USE YOUR CHOPSTICKS.

Ignore the written instructions and go directly to the illustration of a hand and a set of chopsticks, a Kama Sutra for the utensil-challenged.

TUCK UNDER THUMB AND HOLD FIRMLY.

It’s tough to meet a quality partner and then parlay those fun dates into a long-term relationship because people have skyscraper-high expectations.

When a journalist interviewed a 21-year-old university student, he admitted to measuring all the women he meets to actor Angelina Jolie. Good luck with that.

ADD SECOND CHOPSTICK, HOLD IT AS YOU HOLD A PENCIL.

I prefer my day, like dating, to unfold with simplicity. For example, I recently watched a documentary on ghostly hauntings and poltergeists.

The narrator explained how these frisky ghouls are known for their disruptive behavior, all to grab the attention of us earthly beings. I watched film footage of plates rattling and crashing to the ground.  

If I’m ever graced by poltergeists, I’ll quickly set out some ground rules . . . make that ghoul rules.

“Listen up, you vaporous squatters,” I’ll shout into the ether. “If you plan to float around my property, at least make yourselves useful. See those dirty dishes in the sink? Wash and dry them, and carefully put them away. There will be no crashing or breaking. Got it, Casper? Good!”

I’ll be a tough taskmaster with my poltergeists, the same way I’d be with any new partner. I don’t have time to ghoul around.

HOLD FIRST CHOPSTICK IN ORIGINAL POSITION, MOVE THE SECOND ONE UP AND DOWN. NOW YOU CAN PICK UP ANYTHING.

Did I say chopsticks were uncomplicated? Not according to the stained front of every shirt I own.

Like chopsticks, I wish more people came sealed for my sanitary protection.

And as for finding the right person? Throw away the instructions, baby. It’s as easy as picking up that last grain of rice in the bowl.

Audio version music
“Jamlet”
by Coolzey

Your Resting Bitch Face Scares Me!

Shannon Kernaghan resting-bitch-face-400 Your Resting Bitch Face Scares Me! Adventure Career Challenge Challenges Humor Memoir Read Along Risk Teambuilding

Can’t we all just get along? No. At least not at work.

An online poll of 2,000 adults revealed that 22% despise their colleagues. That’s strong language!

Cranky people obviously responded to the poll. Those who enjoy arranging staff birthday parties and NONE OF US IS AS STRONG AS ALL OF US teambuilding events are too busy for polls. Either way you slice the birthday cake, that’s a whole lot of despising.

There’s more: one third of the respondents had quit their jobs to escape undesirable co-workers. The word “obnoxious” was bandied about like helium balloons.

“The office is a lot like a family,” says Franke James with officepolitics.com. “And nobody knows how to push our buttons like a brother or sister.”

My siblings are scattered across several provinces. We all get along just fine. Then again, my sister isn’t stealing my three-hole punch and my brother isn’t dropping cruller crumbs into my computer keyboard.

But there have been a few peeps I’d place in that 22 percentile. Please join me in the Wayback Machine, to when I worked at a sales job.

I watched a male co-worker slam down the phone and cartwheel across the room, ecstatic after closing a deal. I clapped and congratulated Dave as he bounced off walls. (I’m not exaggerating; he did a series of side kicks like the Lucky Charms leprechaun.)

Our boss walked past me and I blurted out, “Dave just made a big sale, isn’t that great?” This was followed by lots of rah-rahing and back patting. The mood was charged.

The minute our boss left the room, Dave strode over to me with a loaded index finger and a florid tinge to his face. Then he started to snort. “Who the hell are you to announce my news?  I’ll make the announcements when I’m good and ready. Got it?” His resting bitch face scared me.

“Oh-kay . . . got it.”

The mood was no longer charged. Dave must have missed the inter-office memo on teamwork. Then again, I shouldn’t have rained on his Lucky Charms parade. Who knew being a cheerleader was so hazardous.

Cold comfort? My over-the-top colleague was soon fired for pulling the same explosive stunt on another supportive co-worker. This time the boss was watching.

Thanks to the dismal statistics and my tramp down memory lane, I’m nervous. When I show up for the next staff meeting I’ll wonder if 22% of the boardroom despises me. I’d better keep the lid clamped down on my cheerleading charm. Better yet, maybe I won’t go.

Nah, I’ll go, and not because I’m brave. There might be birthday cake.

*Note* Backing track in Your Resting Bitch Face audio story  is
“The Rising Cost of Living” by Lyndon Scarfe.

‘Smoke Genie’ Grants Two Wishes

Shannon Kernaghan Legal-weed_Kraven-Cache_400 ‘Smoke Genie’ Grants Two Wishes Challenge Challenges Culture Health Lifestyle Memories Recreation Weed

It’s the late 1990s and I’m seated in a restaurant with two people. Before we’ve even ordered our meal, one says to me, “I hope you don’t mind if we smoke.” The other person smiles and reaches for her own cigarette pack.

By the time the appetizers arrive, my eyes are burning and my nose is plugged. I know that in less than an hour I’ll have a full-blown headache.

Now, if the two people were my friends, they’d be considerate enough to go outside, or I’d be brave enough to ask them not to smoke at the table. Since both are my employers, I say nothing. If only, I think, I live long enough to see smoking banned in restaurants.

To my surprise and delight, my wish is granted in the 2000s. Between the Smoke-Free Environment Act and the Tobacco Act, I don’t have to suffer the wrath of other people’s second hand smoke in a myriad public places. No more gasping over my glass of wine or arriving home in clothes that reek.

My wishing didn’t stop at cigarette smoke. Let’s be blunt: I’m not old enough to claim hippie status. Yet I am old enough to know that I’d be laughed out of a Pink Floyd-infused party with the prediction that pot will be legal in Canada by 2018.

No matter how clairvoyant (or high) the prognosticator, legalized marijuana was a dream until recently. It’s not that I smoke – see above allergies – it’s that I’m appalled at how people have been arrested for possession of a few joints.

If a criminal record isn’t enough, this black mark prevented people from crossing borders. They had no choice besides pony up money to apply for a legal pardon and be patient as the process takes years. If only, I think again, I live long enough to see pot decriminalized.

Again my wish is granted! But . . . is legal weed good or bad news for our communities?  I’ve read reams of logical argument and support. If I make one prediction, it’s that the jury will be out for a long while. Toggling the benefits of creating new opportunities in the marijuana market and the challenges of figuring out how to monitor drivers who toke (merely two of the issues), these early days will be interesting.

Until then, I’m happy to enjoy a smoke-free meal in public and to know that recreational pot smokers won’t be demonized and criminalized.

Thank you, Smoke Genie.

Audio music track
“Cumulus Nimbus”
by Quincas Moreira

A Wooden Leg Does Not a Pirate Make

Shannon Kernaghan wooden-leg-400 A Wooden Leg Does Not a Pirate Make Challenge Challenges Childhood Family Farming Humor Lifestyle Memoir Pirates

In 1978 President Jimmy Carter proclaimed the first Sunday in September after Labor Day as National Grandparents’ Day. The idea originated from a woman in West Virginia whose motivation was to persuade grandchildren to listen and learn from the wisdom of their grandparents.

This special day reminds me to appreciate my own family tree. Take my grandfather, a hard-working and good-natured farmer. He had a wooden leg, the result of a war injury. As a farmer, dealing with a missing limb must have been a daily challenge although my mother says she never heard him complain.

Today, prosthetics are made of lightweight polymer and flexible titanium capable of increasing agility and mobility. None of that innovation was available for my grandfather’s leg: his was a heavy and unwieldy contraption held in place by a bulky harness and shoulder strap. Although it had a knee hinge, the mechanism didn’t always work unless my grandpa gave it a couple of hard thumps. He told my mom that the knocks were to show it who was boss. Grandpa also swore this leg had a mind of its own.

Correction: Mom said he did complain one day when he started to limp and couldn’t put any weight on the prosthetic. Climbing in and out of his tractor produced a stabbing pain at the place his thigh joined with the artificial leg.

Sitting on the side of his bed at night, he told my grandma that he was glad the day was over, that he’d have to see a doctor about his sore leg . . . until he unstrapped the harness. Lodged in the leg’s socket was a ring of keys.

“Hey, I’ve been looking for these all day!” and he started to laugh. His pain was from several jabbing keys! It never occurred to him to take off his prosthesis and check. “Too busy,” he told Grandma, caught up in his laughter.

One of the advantages of a wooden leg, he bragged, was that it would save his life if he ever fell into deep water. His theory was tested while canoeing with a friend. When the boat capsized, the leg floated but it didn’t help my grandfather – he was trapped below the water’s surface while the leg bobbed above! The true lifesaver was his friend who dragged him to shore. Since that day, the leg became known as “Troublemaker.”

Even after Grandpa passed away, the artificial leg continued to cause trouble. My mom was enlisted to bring it home from the hospital. But what was she supposed to do with it? She decided to phone the Salvation Army and the charity agreed to pick it up. An entire week went by.

While waiting, nobody wanted Troublemaker in their bedroom (I was scared of it!) so Mom propped it inside the front hall closet behind our coats. When Grandma phoned to say she was driving in from the country for a visit, Mom called the Salvation Army again and explained the situation.

“Please,” I overheard her imploring conversation, “I don’t want my mother to see his leg, it’ll be too painful for her!” Still no truck.

An hour before my grandma arrived, a driver picked up the leg and my mom could relax.

Her relief was short-lived, however, when days later someone from The War Amps phoned to inquire about the prosthesis. He wasn’t happy to hear that she’d given it away and informed Mom that it had been “on loan” for all those years.

“You want it back?”

“If it’s not returned by the end of the month,” he said, “you’ll be charged its full price.” That leg might have been low-tech and well-used, but it was still expensive.

With a quavering voice, Mom called the Salvation Army and explained that now she needed the leg back. She had to make more inquiry calls the following week and explain the story each time. Finally, a woman answered and said, “Oh, YOU’RE the leg woman. We got it, we found your leg!”

The same driver returned to our door and plopped the limb, now missing its sock and shoe, onto our WELCOME mat.

“Hey lady,” he said. “Tell the owner to make up his mind about his body parts!” and he turned on his heel.

My grandfather would have laughed if he knew about the commotion caused by his wooden leg. “See? he’d say. “I told you Troublemaker had a mind of its own!”

Audio story backing track
“Papa Hammond”
by Urban Pastiche from Sony Sound Series