Category Archives: Writer

Measures for our judgmental world

This week, Marian at Plain and Fancy Girl reminisced about her childhood songs and recitations. She reminded me that, about a thousand years ago (or so it seems) when I was in elementary school, we sang “God Save the Queen” and “O Canada” every morning. After that, every student recited The Lord’s Prayer. (In that part of rural Ontario, Canada in the 1960s every child was Christian.)

The idea shocks me now. I’m in favour of secular education that excludes no one. But back then that was the way of my world.

My Grade 8 home room teacher took things a step farther. He made us memorize and recite a small selection of his favourite Bible verses. Among them:

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?

Matthew 7:1-3

I have Mr. Delport to thank for the fact that decades later I can still recite those words without hesitation. And I feel we need them more than ever in our polarized world. People at extreme ends of political, religious or climate change spectrums cruelly snipe at and try to diminish or dehumanize each other.

Not helpful.

Of course, we judge others. It’s a built-in survival mechanism that prevents us from handing over our life savings to the scammer on the phone who says he represents our credit card company.

But we can still extract wisdom from the ancient scripture. It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t judge others or expect never to be judged ourselves. It does mean that we should apply the same measure of kindness and consideration of circumstances to others as we would wish them to apply to us.

My teacher was trying to urge us, during the wild hormonal ride of Grades 7 and 8, to assess our relationships with others with care. Before making catty comments about another girl’s wardrobe or hair, we could look at the circumstances of her life and realize that she was doing her best. Before spreading rumours, we could consider how hurtful such a rumour would be for ourselves. Instead of making a person with a lower mark on a test feel bad about the result, we could sympathize or even offer to help.

My grade school days are over, but this crazy world of extremes needs Mr. Delport’s guidance more than ever.

A measure of kindness.

A consideration of circumstance.

Some empathy or sympathy and some offers of help.

The standard measures at 62 Fahrenheit verified by the Standards Department Board of Trade 1882 of 1 foot, 2 feet and and Imperial Yard. As mounted on at wall in Glasgow, UK.

The ups and downs of it all

The most common response to roller coaster, my word(s) for 2023, is . . . horror. Eyes widen and lips fall open. A person might event take a step away from me.

I read the thoughts: Why would she choose something so . . . erratic? Why would she invite that kind of energy into her life?

So far this year I have spent a lot of time going up and down, up and down, up and down. We skied for a week in fabulous Revelstoke, British Columbia, where the gondolas and ski lifts pulled me up, up, up, and gravitational potential energy converted to kinetic energy carried my down, down, down.

It was FUN!

One of the things I appreciate about the ups and downs of it all is that up is both a grand thing entirely and a tough old slog or a concern.

Things are looking up.
She's so upbeat.
It's an uphill climb out of debt.
The grocery store prices are up.
Something's up over there.

And down is both a breezy joyride and a depressing turn of events or a concern.

The hard parts over, so it's all downhill from here!
I'm down with that.
The best is over, it's all downhill from here. 
She's looking down in the mouth.
Something's going down over there.  

I enjoyed the up rides on the ski gondolas and chairs. I put forth no effort. I chatted with strangers. I warmed up and rested a little. A grand thing entirely.

Arlene Somerton Smith inside a gondola on its way up Reverstoke.
Riding the gondola. A grand thing entirely.

At the mountain peak, I looked down at the spectacular view and the ski trails. “It’s all downhill from here!” Whoosh! whee! A breeze.

View from the peak of Revelstoke Ski Resort. The sun breaking through clouds and illuminating a distant mountain peak.
I had to go up in order to see this spectacular view.

But if I were standing beside a bicycle at the bottom of a mountain looking up at an arduous climb, I would see it as a tough old slog. ( My daughter’s boyfriend LOVES to climb hills on bicycle. See? We all can’t seem to agree.)

Or if I missed my bus on the way to work, arrived late to an important meeting and spilled coffee on my boss, the rest of my day might go downhill from there.

Up, down, up, down, up, down.

On my 2023 roller coaster I might be riding, climbing or slogging up, or I might be whooshing, slumping or tumbling down, but the one thing I will not be doing is standing still. It’ll be fun!

What’s up with you? I hope you have everything down pat in your life.

ROLLER COASTER: My word(s) for 2023

“Roller coasters are driven almost entirely by basic inertial, gravitational and centripetal forces=, all manipulated in the service of a great ride.”

Hang on! It’s going to be a great ride!

My family helped me to choose this year’s word(s) over New Year’s Day dinner. I liked the idea of surrendering to the ups and downs of what life brings to me. (For the record the other words chosen by my family were: ADVENTURE, PROACTIVE, CALM, AND INTEGRITY.)

We spent some time discussing whether ROLLER COASTER should be disqualified because it’s two words instead of one, but I’m rolling with it because it’s a single concept, so I think it counts.

I’m on the 2023 roller coaster. Wheels clank against the rails as we climb up, up up. I can’t wait to see what’s on the other side of the crest of the track.

I’ll do my best to throw up my arms, shriek, and enjoy the ride.

Roller coaster cars cling to the edge of a curver.
Photo by Stas Knop on

Merry Christmas, Happy Christmas

King Charles III and the Queen Consort, Camilla, released their first Christmas card since Charles became king. The message reads: Wishing you a very Happy Christmas and New Year.

Upon seeing this, my husband noted that in Canada we tend to wish people a Merry Christmas, whereas residents of the UK wish people a happy one.

Having mulled it over, in future I will wish people a Happy Christmas, because that is my truer wish. A person can be merry without being happy at all.

Merriment is surface stuff. To be merry, a person needs only to smile, laugh, and overindulge in shortbread and eggnog.

Happiness runs deeper than that. A happy person doesn’t need to be merry at all. Happiness is sitting at peace in the moment and being grateful for what is. The merriment, the gifts, the gingerbread, and the spiked hot chocolate are mere bonuses.

No matter what or how you celebrate, may you sit at peace in the moment, grateful for what is.

Happy Christmas.

A lit Christmas ball hangs from the branch of a tree laden with snow.

3 things to hate and love for fun and gratitude

During a writing workshop led by the fabulous Melissa Yi (emergency room doctor and writer, because both are so easy), she proposed finding humour by turning hate into love.

Here’s how it works: Think of a situation, and name three things you hate about it. Perhaps a ride on a municipal bus, for example.

  • I hate when a bus is late, so I have to stand outside and wait.
  • I hate when people hold long, loud telephone conversations on a bus. I especially hate when they use speakerphone.
  • I hate when someone falls asleep and snores.

You’re with me? All those things are contemptible. But Melissa suggested I should flip that into love.

  • I love when the bus is late, because it gives me time to have a conversation with a neighbour and hear all about his prostate operation.
  • I love when people hold loud, long telephone conversations, because it gives me good dialogue tips for the annoying characters in my stories. And speakerphone gives me both sides of the conversation. Two annoying characters at once!
  • I love when someone falls asleep and snores. It keeps me awake so I don’t miss my stop.

Here’s your challenge for the day. Turn some hate into love. You might laugh, and you’ll for sure find some gratitude.

A stop sign is posted on a gate, Below the words STOP are the words HATE. STOP HATE.

Asking is better than wishing

I work part-time at a library. Almost every day this happens:

A child about 7 or 8 years old enters with a parent.

"Mommy (or Daddy), do they have books about____________ (dinosaurs... Lego... unicorns...)?"

"You'll have to ask," the parent says.

The child slinks behind the parent's leg, unwilling to face the scary prospect of talking to an adult. "You ask."

Last week a similar scenario unfolded beside me. A young boy asked his father about a book and his father told him to ask me.

After some time the boy worked up his nerve. “Do you have The Mysterious Benedict Society?

“Yes!” I said. “Right over here.” We walked together to pick up the book.

“See?” his father said. “Asking is better than wishing.”

The rest of the afternoon I pondered,:

  • Have I been wishing for things without doing the asking?
  • Could I receive those things if I voiced the request?

If you could work up the nerve right now, what would you ask for?

A child's drawing of a house full of cats. The heading reads: If I had one wish, I would wish for 18 kittens."
My daughter once wished for 18 kittens. She never ASKED for them though . . .