You are currently browsing the monthly archive for November 2008.

I love the Christmas season and so does my husband (this is a man who listens to holiday music year-round). The month of December is usually a magical one for us. This year, however, will be a little different. We’ve made the “mature” decision not to decorate the house as we’ll be renovating over the holidays. So the snowmen and friends will stay cooped up in their boxes underneath the stairs and blocked off by dust, debris and insulation as we construct a home office out of our storage room. We’ll still have the music, the baking and the time spent with family, but it will be a little odd not to have a sparkling tree up in our living room.

We’ve also taken a serious look at our Christmas budget and have chosen to be modest with our gifts this year. No outlandish or unexpected purchases (Joe bought me a fantastic camera last year – which I love – but it’s just not in the cards for 2008). We’ve got our renovations to worry about and we’re both about to embark on entrepreneurial adventures in the new year (to be written about another time soon), not to mention we’re hoping to take a trip for our anniversary in April.

According to some pundits, our “civic duty” in tough economic times like these is to just keep spending. In fact, maybe spend MORE than we normally would this holiday season. Now, I don’t want us to end up being single-handedly responsible for worsening Canada’s recession…but as I listened to The Current on CBC radio this morning (guest Benjamin Barber was talking about his new book Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantalize Adults, and Swallow Children Whole), I felt a little bit better about our decision to cut back on “stuff” this year. Hearing about how our consumer culture hinders and hurts us was fascinating. Also interesting was Barber’s point that our current system, one whose survival relies on people spending more than they earn and going into debt, is actually a corruption of capitalism in its purest form. Listen to the show here:

And amid news that a Wal-Mart worker died today after being trampled by customers at a Black Friday sale (, I think our decision to stay away from the malls is a safer one too.


A few weeks ago I wrote about some books I’d taken out of the library. This is the first “book report” on one of those books. “The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes – And Why” by Amanda Ripley.

For any of you who like your books non-fiction and thought-provoking, totally check this one out. It is divided into three sections, each elaborating on one of the three stages a human being goes through when reacting to a disaster. As Ripley explains, “in every kind of disaster, we start in about the same place and travel through three phases”. These phases are: denial, deliberation and the decisive moment.

In each of these sections, Ripley provides fascinating glimpses into the experiences of survivors of some of the most dramatic and traumatic disasters in recent memory, as well as explaining the science and psychology behind many of our more puzzling behaviours. From the stairwells of Tower 1 in the World Trade Center to the crush of the hajj crowd in Saudi Arabia to the floor of a classroom at Virgina Tech, each story proves just as interesting as the last.

Interesting too are some of the facts she presents. “After 9/11, many thousands of Americans decided to drive instead of fly…But something terrible happened in the name of common sense. In the two years after 9/11, an estimated 2,302 additional people were likely killed because they drove instead of flew” (p. 34).

But the crux of Ripley’s book is that, with the right knowledge and practice, everyday people can and do survive amid a disaster. For some, it is because of natural advantages they possess in their brain and in their emotional makeup. For others, it can be a simple awareness of how they should react in a life-or-death situation, and why. According to Ripley, authority figures and governments are missing the boat when it comes to disaster-preparedness. Instead of trusting that with the right background information people will make informed decisions and behave properly, governments instead shelter the public from any details they think will scare or panic them. “In fact,” she says, “I think that the mistakes the public makes in calculating risk are primarily due to this pervasive lack of trust on behalf of the people charged with protecting us.”

Ripley is a big proponent of organized drills and practice sessions to engrave a disaster plan into our memories so that when the time comes, we act automatically and without thinking. In the end, though, it is up to us to become informed about the disasters that we may face, from airplane crashes to house fires, and to be aware of how our bodies and our minds may react. Take the story of Tilly Smith, an English schoolgirl who was vacationing with her family in Thailand in 2004. They were on the beach when the tide suddenly rushed out. Fish flopped around on the sand and on the horizon, the water started to bubble strangely as the boats bobbed up and down. While the other tourists stared out in stunned wonder, Tilly rushed to her mother’s side and said “Mummy, we must get off the beach now. I think there is going to be a tsunami.” Her parents began warning other tourists and then alerted the resort staff who evacuated the beach. And so, a ten-year-old girl saved countless lives from the knowledge she had acquired in her geography class a few weeks earlier. “In the end, the beach was one of the few in Phuket where no one was killed or seriously hurt.” (p. 49).

I would like to think I’m a pretty good driver. I’m courteous, careful and drive within an acceptable range of the speed limit (or “speed suggestion”, as I like to call it). And I’ve never been in an accident that was my fault. But I will admit, there are times that I am perhaps a little less attentive than I should be. Whether it’s changing the radio station, searching for my sunglasses in the depths of my purse or just contemplating the meaning of life while on the road, there are times that I am not paying as much attention as I know I should.

I understand that this is a problem and that many accidents are caused by inattentiveness. What I don’t understand is the necessity of reminding people about this using signs ON THE ROAD. This is where trying to be helpful crosses into self-defeating territory, as far as I’m concerned.

I was approaching Baseline Road driving south on Woodroffe Avenue and I saw one of those large, lit signs up ahead that they tend to use in construction when lanes are closing. From a distance, I couldn’t see what was written and I got all flustered (as I tend to do), worrying about whether I would have to move over and whether I would be able to turn where I wanted. I certainly wasn’t paying much attention to careful driving as I strained to see what was written on the sign as I approached. Turns out, the sign was there simply to remind drivers that this intersection is a high-collision one and that we should all drive carefully. Well thank you for that. I’m sure the person that was behind me as I slowed down and hesitated thanks you too.

Toronto has a series of signs above their highway system to warn drivers about upcoming traffic problems and slowdowns, which I think is a great idea that I would love to see implemented in Ottawa (“Game night – good luck getting home before 8:00 p.m.”). But I’ll never forget driving past one that proclaimed “Careful driving requires your full attention.” And what was I doing while reading this helpful sign? Right – not watching the road.

Sorry for being MIA for the past week. Joe and I are wading right into our home renovations and we’ve started with the downstairs office. The past few days have been all about prep (moving furniture, washing walls, filling and sanding holes, etc). The previous owners had a dart board in this room and obviously weren’t very good, so that was a big job.

But now the walls are painted and look amazing! I’ll be posting some before and after pics as soon as the whole thing is back together. We chose a neutral colour, sort of a mid-range beigy-brown. It sounds boring, but there’s a touch of orange warmth in it and it’ll look fabulous next to the deep brown laminate floors that will be going in over the winter. I’m so excited!

Because I’m a computer drone by day, it’s nice to work on something physical with your hands where you can immediately see your progress and get a sense of accomplishment. Tonight, I’ll be touching up the ceiling where I got a little overzealous with the edging brush and painting the trim (a coordinating light beige). I also have to catch up on a week’s worth of dishes and laundry that I’ve been neglecting…

Try not supporting big, unethical corporations this Christmas!

Join Andrea and me in our vow not to spend any holiday money at Wal-Mart. Check out her awesome post here:

If you’re looking for more information and facts about what the evil smiley face does to its employees and the public at large, check out the links in her blog entry. Especially interesting – the fact that Wal-Mart was having meetings TELLING EMPLOYEES HOW TO VOTE! Unreal.

Stay informed and vote with your wallets!

What a night, eh?

I have to admit, I was enthralled by it all. The crazy-complex electoral votes process, the punditry, the shrill raised voices on The View, the debates, the campaigns, the gaffes and the speeches. Who would have thought that someone could come along in our lifetime who inspires such hope and emotion and who embodies such a positive vision of the future?

I was impressed by John McCain’s gracious concession speech. He provided a clear directive to his followers that, although he hadn’t won, he would work towards a better future with the man who had. He encouraged everyone to do the same. And I believed him.

I was moved by Barack Obama’s acceptance speech. He made it clear that he is well aware of all that his victory has meant for his country, the American people and the world. He knows the weight of responsibility that now rests on his shoulders. But he was unwavering in his conviction that although times ahead may be tough, and the road is long and uphill, America can become the country that it aspires to be.

And I believe him.

Why I’m here

My name is Sonya. I live with my husband and our cat in the suburbs of Ottawa. I started this journal to document my thoughts and experiences and share them with friends, family and anyone else who happens to pass this way. My hope is that it will help to keep me focused on the simple things I value most in life and, above all, keep me writing.

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