Random stuff, reflections on the meaning of life and death, humour, self-deprecation, a bit of bad poetry.

What do you get when you put two immigrants together in a phone conversation, each with a different mother tongue, one whose second language is English and the other who speaks French?

You get broken telephone, of course.

Thirty years ago my best friend Marisa brought a bottle of wine to my father’s 60th birthday dinner. After the party, my dad wanted to call all the party guests, including Marisa, to thank them for coming and for the gifts they brought. I gave him Marisa’s number and forgot about it.

Next time I spoke to my friend, I asked her if she’d received a call from my dad. She looked puzzled at first until something slowly dawned on her.

Apparently she was out when my dad called and he had tried to leave a message with her mother. Picture my English-speaking, East Indian dad trying to leave a message with my friend’s Italian mother in his broken French: « Papa, je suis, de Sharin. »

The message Marisa received from her mother was that a Jesuit Priest of the order of Sharin had called.

Marisa’s sister Pat said it best, « Why would a Jesuit Priest be calling you? »

The answer, in short, was he wouldn’t be.


Dressed to party.

On another note, I can’t believe we are the same age my father was at that birthday party. I thought he was so old then with his dusty bow ties and his dad mugs. Perspective and time changes everything.

Yesterday after work, I drove my son to the local driving school to register him for driving lessons, at least for the initial theory lessons. Once those are completed, he has to take a bit of a detour (pun intended) to the Constance-Lethbridge Rehabilitation Centre due to his diagnosis of developmental coordination disorder.

As we pulled into the little strip mall where the driving school is located, I advised my son of my intention to park as far away as possible from the school’s store front so that nobody in there would observe my poor parking skills and judge him for it.

“Okay, mom.”, he said, without batting an eye.

As much as I like rules, regulations and structure to guide me through life’s highways, two yellow lines ain’t gonna cut it.

I was sixteen when I went for my first driving exam after having aced the theory exam (much to my driving instructor’s surprise, he who, from the vantage point of our shared bench seat, the knees of his 6’2” frame crushed against the dashboard, witnessed me turning the wrong way down a one-way street and nearly plow into some boys from my year cutting through a field, all in the same lesson) and promptly failed when my car jumped the curb during the parallel parking portion of the exam.

“Madame, you lost control of your vee-hee-col. I cannot pass you.”

Through sheer luck (and a bit of practice), I aced my second attempt. To this day, I continue to jump curbs turning right at intersections, going through drive-thrus, and trying to get out of senior’s residences. However, since passing my driving test, I have never ever done so while parallel parking.

And that’s the truth. 😇

My son was accepted into the Liberal Arts program at a local college. I’m happy for him, envious almost, because I too had hoped to go into the arts (literature or music) at his age but had been dissuaded by my pragmatic father to go into a field of study that was more guaranteed to land me a job at the end of it: health science.

Looking back, I never really enjoyed my science classes except maybe for biology. Despite my OCD tendencies for measuring ingredients when it comes to baking, I really sucked at labs, once nearly blowing myself and my classmates up in organic chemistry by making bromide gas outside the fume hood.

My favourite classes were the humanities, one in particular: Ancient Religious Thought. It’s nearly forty years later and I still remember some of the class discussions.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my job, one that has given me financial security and stability. A job that allowed me to pursue my true passions as hobbies.

My boy’s favourite subject is history, with philosophy and ethics side by side in second place. He’s done well in all subjects but has decided to follow his bliss, at least for now.

Readers, did you follow your dreams after high school? Any regrets?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary had five different definitions of the word « baseline ».

Healthcare workers use this term a lot as a reference point for comparison. For example, we ask, « Is the client at his or her baseline level of functioning? » In other words, how is the client functioning now compared to how they were before a specific event such as a hospitalization?

After a period of convalesce or rehabilitation, we evaluate the client and determine if they have reached their baseline or if they have a new baseline level.

I have slowly begun to accept that I have a new baseline level of functioning, that my running days are over and that on bad days I will walk with a limp. It’s been a challenge getting to this point but it’s okay. I’m okay. I’ll be okay.

I checked in with my dad today and we spoke about the London, Ontario attack that killed four members of a Muslim family and seriously injured a nine-year old boy.

He wondered if the family had been wearing traditional clothing that may have identified their faith.

« It’s better to assimilate. », he said, « to blend in. It was a very difficult decision to cut my hair but I felt my turban would hold me back from opportunity. »

(In Sikhism, kesh (sometimes kes) is the practice of allowing one’s hair to grow naturally out of respect for the perfection of God’s creation. )

I reminded my dad that he was still a brown man with a Punjabi name and a funny accent. Cutting his hair may have opened doors that would otherwise have been shut but he had faced discrimination nonetheless, all at a terrible cost.

I never fully appreciated the sacrifice he made until, on a family pilgrimage to India in 2001, I witnessed him practicing his faith at a Sikh temple in New Delhi: head covered with a borrowed handkerchief, fingertips touching forehead to each of the marble steps ascending to the temple, and lips reciting the Granth Sahib (sacred Sikh scripture) by rote. I had never seen him do this in Canada and that made me incredibly sad.

While I appreciate what my father gave up for his family and his new country, part of me wishes he had stuck it to the man and kept the turban.

My parents in the Punjab circa 1962
Me and my folks circa 1963

The only picture I have of my dad’s uncut hair, without his turban. Circa 1962.

I rolled into cubicle land last Friday morning, the day after the big office move, to find an unexpected gift on my desk: a beautiful painting of a red cardinal. Even if it hadn’t been signed, I would have recognized the characteristic style of painting.

A red cardinal to brighten up my cubicle space.

Tears in my eyes, I sought out the artist, a dear colleague and fellow bird mom. She told me she had been inspired to try to paint backyard birds after seeing some of my bird photographs on social media and was quite pleased with the results. She’d painted two cardinals and had thought of giving one to me as a retirement gift … except I never retired.

I am incredibly touched by this kind gesture. It lifts my heart and lightens the drudge every time I see it.

Funny, my last office space was filled with personal touches: cards and notes from clients, pictures of my husband and son, artwork by the children of friends. I took it all down when we moved and had no intention of putting it back up.

I’d forgotten how important these personal touches can be: how therapeutic, calming, inspiring and validating.

Thank you for the beautiful gift, Lynn. I will treasure it forever.

I started off writing about a trivial topic tonight but was stopped in my tracks when I discovered through a facebook post that a Muslim family of five had been deliberately mowed down by a truck in London, Ontario. The lone survivor, a nine-year boy now in stable condition in hospital, has lost a grandmother, both his parents and his fifteen year old sister, to hate.

The suspect was apprehended and charged with four counts of murder, premeditated, and one count of attempted murder. In Canada of all places, darling destination of immigrants for its positive multicultural policies and attitude towards immigration.

Islamophobia is clearly alive and well in this country and not only in Ontario. Quebec has its own history of the mass murder of Muslims with the Quebec City mosque shooting in January of 2017. Six worshippers were killed and five others injured during evening prayers. Despite this, our premier denies the existence of Islamophobia. He also pushed through the controversial law 21 that targets Muslim women in particular, a minority group already marginalized.

I am sick about this latest incident. I am sick of the denial that Islamophobia exists. And I am sick to death of our complicity in allowing a law that goes against the charter of rights and freedoms, pushed through without the checks and balances of debate or public consultation.

Being East Indian, my dad is wont to leave out prepositions when he speaks. He is also low vision now, no longer able to drive and depending on his recently purchased CCTV machine to decipher bills and financial statements.

The other day my mother and I were emptying the fridge of expired food items, dumping them unceremoniously on a section of newspaper flyer placed in front where my dad was sitting at the kitchen table, having recently finished his lunch.

« What hell is this? », he exclaimed.

« It’s recycling, dad. »

« Recycling? », he repeated, not understanding.

« Compost, dad. Organic waste. »

« Oh. »

Yesterday, he asked me how the office move was going.

« It’s okay. », I responded. « We’re in cubicles now. »

« Oh. How many people in your cubicle? »

Laugh out loud.

« Only one, dad. That’s the whole point. »

He’s recently been suffering from very swollen and painful fingers on one hand. I asked him how it was.

« Funny you should ask, my whole body was stiff this morning. »

« How did you manage?», I asked, not really interested because I do this all week in my cubicle and like to take a break from other people’s pain on the week-end.

« I pound my back twenty times and then I’m able to walk », he replied, demonstrating for effect.

A week ago when I visited my parents, I noticed my dad’s head had sprouted two unruly « Bozo » puffs of curly hair on either side (if ever I wondered about the origins of my crazy hair, here was my answer). Yesterday, he sported a buzz cut.

« Nice haircut, dad. »

My mother piped in, « Doesn’t he have a nice shaped head? »

« They molded and shaped my head when I was a baby. It’s what Indian people do. »

Wish my Indian aunties had molded and shaped my head as a baby but my Welsh mother wouldn’t let them. As a result, I’m left with a flat spot that means my pony tail never quite sits right.

Happy Sunday, peeps!


Every Friday evening my mother calls me with a grocery list. I reorganize the list according to the layout of my local grocery store and complete the order on Saturday. Once the bags are unloaded and unpacked, my mother directs where items should be stored.

For two elderly people of average size and modest appetite they sure have a lot of food, enough to feed a small army I would say. Their split-level house hosts two fridges, a large freezer, wire shelving units lined with staples in the basement, all this on top of what they have in the kitchen cabinets.

Having enough food for themselves but more importantly to feed others is the type of house I grew up in. The definition of a party pooper in the Cheema household would be that one guest who declared they were on a diet when my dad tried to heap a generous second helping on their plate. More often than not, the dieter soon succumbed to my dad’s charm and persistance.

Before my parents fell ill, I’d go home regularly with a doggie bag. This was especially appreciated post divorce (I don’t cook) because I could stretch it out over a few days and feed my son healthy, home-cooked meals.

No doggie bags these days but my dad’s instinct to feed us all is ever present so he tries to give me money for take-out when I’m leaving which I politely decline.

I’m not certain where this compulsion to make sure we are well-fed (over-fed is probably a more accurate description) comes from. It may in part be from the Sikh concept of langar, or community kitchen. My father was sixteen when he had to flee for his life during India’s Partition in 1947. Despite the hardships he endured as a refugee, my father insists they were well-fed at the camps, with everyone participating in the preparation and doling out of the communal food. Once my father was safe and reunited with his family, he gave back to those camps by volunteering his time to feed other refugees.

What was your experience with food and community growing up? Has it influenced your attitude towards food, in particular receiving guests today?

I may not cook but I am my father’s daughter when it comes to making sure my guests are adequately fed and hydrated.

My parents and son, circa 2011. I took doggie bags for granted back then.

Most days I am up with the birds, or rather, before the birds. I’ve always been an early riser no matter how late I go to bed.

I love the deep quiet of the house at that time, the sleepy dawn light, and the slow awakening of nature.

There are chores to take care of first. I hoist my two shih tzus out of our bed, one at a time, then the three of us pad down the stairs to the back door where I let the boys out to relieve themselves.

If there is a bit of light out, I can usually spot two or three squirrels waiting hopefully on nearby branches for me to throw out some bird seed or peanuts.

I feed the fur kids as I prepare my coffee, black these days (you get used to it) and settle in for an hour of reading, contemplation and social media.

Back to chores as I give my sick parrotlet his meds, feed him and my other two birds, make my husband’s coffee and head up to shower.

Monday, Wednesday and Friday I participate in an online weight training class. If there’s time, I do a dog walk with my husband before heading to the office.

What’s your morning routine? Do you wait until the last possible minute before getting up or are you like me, preferring to let the morning unfold at a leisurely pace ?

Cristian Mihai

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