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The Problem with Pets

November 28, 2020

I’ve written about some of the pets I’ve had in my life before (link). I’m a firm believer in pet ownership (provided, of course, the “owner” actually CARES for the “pet” and doesn’t just treat it like some sort of accessory). When I was young, we had various cats, dogs, rabbits, and birds as pets (including a chicken at one time, a rescued owl, and a couple of guinea hens). As a “grown up” (i.e., someone who has a house of their own), I’ve pretty much stuck with cats (although at the moment, I also have two rabbits), primarily because of their independent natures and the fact that they don’t need walking, don’t smell bad, can be litter-box trained, and can be left on their own for a day or two with food and water and manage just fine (my cats are ALL indoor cats). I don’t dislike dogs, I just prefer cats.

For me, pets are an integral part of my family; I don’t discriminate against them in any way. They get presents at Christmas, a celebratory meal on their birthday, and lots of love and attention. They get scolded if they do something “wrong” (scratch the furniture, bite my toes, pee on the carpet) and rewards when they behave as expected (even my four grandcats know that when Grammy’s around, there will be treats!)

I can tolerate (for the most part) the stinky food, the flying fur, the occasional hairball tossed up on the carpet, the litter scattered across the hall from the litter box, the whining in my ear at 7:00 a.m. (because it’s CLEARLY time I was up and out of bed), even the snags in the furniture and scratches on the wall from claws that need trimming (which I wouldn’t dare even attempt that with my current cat).

If I had a dog, I suppose I could put up with the “wet dog” smell (although I’d probably administer a lot of baths), the walking, the “poop duty”, the feeding routine, and the sloppy kisses (I have one grandpup, and he’s pretty cool, I must admit).

The rabbits are a slightly different matter. They live in the garage (full time in the winter; part-time in the summer) rather than the house, and they aren’t cuddly bunnies. I re-homed them last year because our neighbour was moving into a temporary rental while her new house was being built and couldn’t take them with her. Her pre-teen daughter (who’d been given the rabbits by a doting grandparent who thought she’d enjoy them) couldn’t have cared less (she rarely looked after them; I’d bring them some clover or dandelions most days, and refill their water bottle when it was empty). I took them on knowing they weren’t used to being handled (they do bite if I’m not careful!) but at least they have a much better life here than they had next door (and they’re getting used to occasional behind-the-ear scratches!)

Bugs and BunBun, Summer of 2019

So, with all this said, you might wonder … what’s the “problem with pets” teased in the title? Well, it’s that they die – long before I’m ready for it to happen. Yes, I know, everything and everyone dies eventually, but pets always seem to catch me off guard – dying when I least expect it (or can least handle it).  Every time one of my cats has died, I’ve sworn, “I’m never getting another pet.” And then, of course, I do.

I don’t really remember how or when, exactly, the pets from my childhood died (I do remember that our first rabbit, Snowball, died from “sheep diphtheria”, which confused the heck out of the vet). I don’t remember whether we buried them in the backyard, or had them cremated. Perhaps I just didn’t want to know (or recall the details). I do remember, in nearly excruciating detail, how each of my “own” pets passed, however (presumably because they were beloved members of my own little family), and where they’re buried (Muffy and Mew in the rear garden of house #2; Bandit and Sally under the concrete squirrel bench at house #3 [leaving them behind each time I moved was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do]; Claire in the memory garden of our current house. My son’s two cats – Puff and Luckee – were cremated; their ashes are on his mantle).

Bandit and Sally
Bandit and Sally

It doesn’t really matter how old (in human or “cat” years) any of my pets were, I was never ready to let them go. But, in the end, it was out of my hands. It was “their time”, whether they passed from “old age” or from having to be “put out of their misery” because of one incurable ailment or another. It was always painful and terribly, terribly heart-wrenching (but I was always with them when they died). I don’t mind admitting that I grieved for each of them as long and as hard as I did after the passing of human members of my family. The difference, of course, is that – after a “decent interval” – you can’t just go out and get another human to replace the one you lost. You can, however, get another pet. And despite all my reservations about doing so, every single time it’s what I’ve done (with the exception, of course, of Claire’s passing [from a neurological disorder that left her confused and sometimes violent], because I still had her sister, Sylvia, here to comfort me; I hope and pray she’s with me for at least another nine or ten years; I expect I’ll have one more cat before my own time is up).

Kittens near playroom
Sylvia and Claire

This probably seems like a rather maudlin post, and I apologize for that. (It was spawned by a personal story I’d recently read by one of my favourite authors about the death of her dog and the grief was she feeling.) But it also brings back wonderful memories of all the pets I’ve had, loved, and lost, and the sure knowledge that no matter what the future holds, I’ll always have some kind of pet under my roof as I continue my journey on … the other side of 55.

Here We Go Again

November 25, 2020

I cannot believe how long it’s been since I’ve posted anything on this blog. I’m not going to make excuses, or look for reasons to explain my absence. The truth is pretty simple: I just haven’t felt inspired to write anything worth sharing for a very long time.

But winter is upon us once again and I’m feeling a little more energized about putting thoughts into words and sending them out into the great electronic unknown. It’s unlikely that I’ll follow any regular schedule, and I promise to do my best to stay away from expounding on issues that might be controversial or already overdone. What I will try my best to do is make the posts more “stream of consciousness” style – “first draft” with only minor editing and a few photos thrown in for interest’s sake. I should have the first one ready in a day or two.

I’m always open to comments on anything I write, so feel free to share your thoughts. And: welcome back. I hope you enjoy the new “look and feel” of The Other Side of 55.

A portrait of me by my granddaughter, 2019

Training Wheels

February 25, 2020

NOTE: I am currently participating in a memoir writing program for seniors. At our last session we were given an assignment: using a combination of action and dialogue, write a short (300 words or less) story about the first time you tried something. This is my (mostly true) story. 

***

“Put it over your toes first,” Sharon said, guiding the strange metal contraption over her black and white saddle shoes. “Then slip your heel in.”

“Like this?” I copied her. Mine fell right off.

“It’s too long,” Sharon said, doing something underneath that pulled the ends closer together. “Try it now.”

“It fits.” I slipped the matching skate on my other foot. “Can we go now?”

“Not yet. You still have to tighten them.”

Sharon pulled a black shoelace, with a key dangling from the end, out of her pocket. She fit the key over a square screw at the front of her skate, turned it. The metal curves by her toes squeezed tighter. She repeated the process on the other skate.

“Your turn,” she said, handing me the key.

“How tight should I make them?”

“Tight enough so they don’t fall off.”

I turned the key until it wouldn’t turn any more, then gave it back. Sharon hung the shoelace around her neck and stood up.

“Get up slowly,” she said, reaching for my hand. “Walk a few steps first. Don’t try to roll too fast or go too far.”

She pulled me up. I wobbled a bit, took a few tentative steps.

“Look at me. I’m roller skating.”

“Not yet you’re not,” she said as she sailed off down Allan Street.

I lifted one foot, pushed gently with the other. The wheels beneath my feet rolled effortlessly. The street sloped downwards. I began to pick up speed. The wind tugged at my pigtails.

“I’m doing it. I’m doing it.”

A few seconds later I saw Sharon standing by the side of the road, next to the schoolyard. As I flew past, an important but unasked question popped into my head.

“How do I stop?”

RollerSkates

 

Ode to a Treadmill

February 2, 2020

CrocodileI once made friends with a crocodile
I’ve patted a porcupine
But the stationary treadmill
Is not a pal of mine

It stands there very quietly
It doesn’t make a sound
It’s well aware I’m creeping past
It knows when I’m around

It’s not that I’m afraid of it
Quite the opposite in fact
I find it very boring
So bland I can’t react

TreadmillI stand upon its thin black mat
And push the knob to ‘Go’
I daren’t try for ‘rabbit’
So pick ‘turtle’ to start slow

I walk and walk but never leave
The room below the stairs
For treadmills never take you far
Unless they catch you unawares

They can trip you up quite quickly
You stumble and you fall
But the treadmill keeps on turning
As you bounce against the wall

Yet I return to try again
Every single night
For no machine will daunt me
In this never-ending fight

PorcupineFor I once patted a porcupine
I’ve made friends with crocodiles
So on this stupid treadmill
I vow to walk a thousand miles

 

© Margo Karolyi, 2020

 

Waste Not, Want Not

January 12, 2020

Yesterday, I threw away a t-shirt, a bra, three pairs of socks, and one of my husband’s sweatshirts. The t-shirt was at least ten years old, faded and ‘warped’ at the neckline. The elastic on the bra was stretched past its usefulness. The socks all had holes in the heels. My husband’s sweatshirt had dozens of ‘pinholes’ in it (he refuses to wear a welding apron when he’s out in the shop) as well as a sagging iron-on patch on the front where I’d attempted to cover a larger hole created by some other garage task ‘accident’ two years ago. I agonized over tossing every one of those items into the trash.

My husband and I were both raised in homes, and during times, when you didn’t throw things out (clothes or pretty much any household item) unless they were beyond repair. If you outgrew an article of clothing, or found yourself in possession of some item you no longer had use for, you passed it along to someone else. Old sheets and towels were turned into rags; newspapers lined bird or rabbit cages or were used to wrap ‘wet’ kitchen garbage; boxes and bags were folded flat and tucked away to be pulled out when something needed to be boxed or wrapped in the future.

1950sShopping

Shopping in the 1950s and 60s

If a small (or even large) appliance stopped working, you took it into a repair shop or called in a ‘repairman’ to fix it. If you needed new furniture or appliances, you started at the second hand store, then moved on to searching for ‘quality’ items at the furniture or department store – things that would last for years and years before having to be disposed of (my parents had a refrigerator from the 1960s that went from the house I grew up in to the garage of their retirement home [where it was relegated to being the ‘beer fridge’]; it stopped working around 1995 – some 30+ years after it was first purchased). When it came to groceries, we made careful lists, shopped prudently, and bought only what we could consume in a week. On the rare occasion when we had ‘leftovers’ (after Christmas, Thanksgiving, or an evening with company), we’d enjoy an eclectic meal known affectionately as ‘COTF’ (clean out the fridge) night. Nothing went to waste.

We ‘made do’ with what we had, fixed what was broken (sometimes several times), and expected our possessions to last a very long time (refrigerators and stoves, televisions and radios, furniture and cars had anticipated life spans of at least ten to fifteen years). ‘Reduce, reuse, recycle’ wasn’t a catch-phase in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, it was a way of life.

 

SearsSaleAd2015

Special sales, like “Black Friday” encourage people to buy things they don’t really need

So what’s happened to our world? In the past fifty years, the growth of consumerism, driven by capitalism, commercialization and over-consumption, has turned things on their head. We purchase way more than we can consume; we consume a small percentage of what is produced; we produce significantly more goods than we could ever need, toss out the excess and make more; goods are manufactured to break down or wear out shortly after their warranties have expired (even clothing has ‘planned obsolesce’ built in these days). Every year brings new makes and models of everything from cars to vacuum cleaners, TVs to telephones, which we’re encouraged to buy whether the old ones are ‘worn out’ or not. Fashion and furniture trends change with the seasons. Everyone wants the ‘latest, greatest’ of everything. Special sales are heralded as a time to buy, buy, buy (this year Amazon claimed Black Friday as their biggest sales day EVER). So, its ‘in with the new and out with the old’. As a result, we’re burying ourselves in garbage – an alarming amount of which is items that have barely been used and food that will never be consumed. We produce so much waste that we’re choking the planet with it (on land and even in the oceans).

3RsWe might claim to believe in the ‘Three Rs’ but most of us either don’t practice them, or don’t do it very well (and the recycling facilities aren’t recycling most of what we put into our blue boxes, anyway; in Canada only about 10% actually gets recycled, the rest is either shipped overseas or ends up in a landfill).

Businesses thrive on producing more goods than can be consumed and encouraging us to buy, buy, buy (whether we need what they’re selling or not).  Many stores (especially the large grocery chains) berate staff for letting ANY item ‘sell out’; shelves must continually be restocked to avoid empty spaces. They also ‘rotate out’ (i.e., toss) any dairy item (milk, cheese, yogurt, etc.) that is within three days of the ‘best before’ date, followed by produce that is still ‘in its prime’. In the big box, department and drug stores, non-food items that fail to attract a buyer even after being marked down end up in the compactor (most stores have multiple compactors right next to the loading docks); this includes all sorts of goods like shoes, children’s car seats, strollers, luggage, household goods, and even electronics. (NOTE: my sources here include members of my family who’ve worked in grocery store chains, department stores, and a major drugstore chain.)

Clothing stores often ‘slash and trash’ items that don’t sell (only this week a woman found multiple clear plastic bags behind a Carter’s OshKosh B’gosh store at Toronto’s Dufferin Mall, filled with brand new slashed children’s clothin. This is not a new phenomenon; for years, many high-end clothing stores have followed this practice, despite being encouraged to remove tags and donate the items to charities. Heaven forbid ‘needy’ families should be wearing designer togs that didn’t sell at outrageous prices in the first place).

InsideBigBoxStoreWalk into any grocery store, drugstore, ‘big box’ store, clothing store – just about ANY store – and ask yourself how much of what you see displayed can possibly be sold (even without regular restocking). My guess? Fifty percent, MAX. The rest will inevitably end up at one of two places: a liquidator or a landfill (and what doesn’t sell at a liquidator goes to landfill eventually).

Here are just a few statistics (w/links to resources) that totally blow me away (I suggest taking a deep breath or two before reading!)

Garbage in General:

A recent study states that Canadians produce more garbage per capita than any other country on earth – approximately 31 million tonnes* a year. Only about 30% of that goes into blue box programs (and we know not all of that gets recycled). Each Canadian generates approximately 2.7 kg (5.94 lbs) of garbage every day.

LandfillCanada currently has over 10,000 landfill sites. The decomposition of organic waste in landfills produces a gas which is composed primarily of methane, which is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide in terms of its potential impact to climate change. Emissions from Canadian landfills account for 20% of national methane emissions and estimates illustrate that approximately 27 Megatonnes (Mt) of carbon dioxide equivalent (eCO2) are generated annually from Canadian landfills.

*1 metric tonne = 1.1 imperial tons

GroceryStoreFoodWasteFood:

A whopping 58% of all food produced in Canada (35.5 million tonnes) is lost or wastedannually; about a third of that could be ‘rescued’ and sent to communities in need across the country. Some 4.82 million tonnes is lost or wasted during the processing and manufacturing process; 2.38 million tonnes, is lost at the consumer level. Reports show that approximately $31 billion worth of food is ‘wasted’ at the grocery store level. In total, the value of all food that is lost or wasted in Canada is a staggering $49 billion; the annual cost of avoidable food loss and waste in Canada is $1,766 per household.

TextileWasteFacts

Clothing:

In Canada, each household throws away 46kg (101 pounds) of clothing per year. Around 8-12% of municipal landfills are made up of textiles.

Between 2000 and 2014, clothing production doubled (to more than 100 billion items produced globally each year). The average consumer buys 60 percent more clothing than they did 15 years ago, yet each clothing item is now kept only half as long.

 

Durable Goods:** (U.S. Statistics; I couldn’t find Canadian numbers)

As of 2017, durable goods represented 57.1 million tons of solid waste (21.4% of total municipal solid waste generation):

  • 10.8 million tons were recycled (18.9% recycling rate)
  • 9.1 million tons were combusted (26.7% of total combustion with recovery)
  • 37.2 million tons ended up in landfills (26.7% of total landfilling)

DurableGoodsDisposal

**NOTE: durable goods include large and small appliances, furniture and furnishings, carpets and rugs, rubber tires, lead-acid automotive batteries, consumer electronics, and other miscellaneous goods such as luggage, sporting goods and household goods.

~~~

So, you might ask, what can I do about all this? Well, that’s really up to you, I suppose. You can certainly think a little more carefully about what you’re buying the next time you go shopping for clothes or household items (ask yourself if you really NEED the item, or just ‘want’ it; how many times you’ll use/wear it; how long you’re likely to keep it; how you’ll dispose of it when it’s served its purpose).

When you head off to the grocery store, you might want to take a list and stick to it, buy only what you can eat in a week (assuming you shop once a week), and avoid those ‘middle-of-the-week’ extra trips to ‘just pick up a couple of things’ that always end up with you arriving home with two bags of groceries you didn’t really need. Take reusable bags or containers with you; shop in bulk food stores when you can; keep an eye on ‘best before’ dates and shop accordingly (NOTE: many items, like yogurt and juice, are still edible for days beyond that ‘magic’ date on the label!) You can also just eat what’s in your fridge and cupboards instead of buying more.

You can review and improve your recycling habits: donate good used clothing to places like Value Village, the Salvation Army, or other charities or thrift stores; clean, sort and put all recyclable plastics, paper and cardboard in your blue box for pick up; take advantage of the green bin (composting) programs in your area (or, if you’re in an area that doesn’t have a green bin program, or a rural area like me, invest in a composter and create your own organic garden material). Know what is recyclable and what isn’t and use refillable containers wherever possible. Practice ‘clean’ recycling (don’t contaminate other recyclables by refusing to wash containers out, or by putting non-recyclable materials in your blue box).

You can make yourself (more) aware of the problems we face with respect to our wasteful habits, share your concerns with others (including your local politicians), and aim to cut your waste as much as possible. Even the smallest of steps – if we ALL take them – can add up to big changes.

I don’t know about you, but I want to leave this planet in a much better state than it is now, for my children and their children, and any generations yet to come. I hope you do too. So how about it? Will you join me in making our planet a less wasteful place here on … the other side of 55?