The Annual Christmas Letter – 2009

Christmas A Normal Family

I’ve been sending out an Annual Christmas Letter since 1984. The first letter was a way of responding to all the notes that were in the Christmas Cards I had received that year. People were summarizing their year with glowing accounts of how successful their career was, how brilliant their children were, and how “Martha Stewart” their lives were. I could have written a similar letter, I suppose, but there is a cost to using that kind of creative license. No, I wanted to talk about my family in the most truthful way I could.

And the truth was, we were an average Canadian family, except we moved around a lot. My husband’s job was the catalyst for many of our moves, but sometimes we moved houses just because it seemed like a good idea at the time. We had three kids and a cat who had to adapt to our nomadic circumstances.

So, I could have written about my husband and his successful career. But it was much more fun, and instructive, to expose his learning curve in home renovations. The kids did reasonably well in all the schools they attended, but it was more interesting to speculate about why the eldest knew that the back doors of police cars couldn’t be opened from the inside. And while we all enjoyed reasonable health most of the time, one year my entire letter was dedicated to how our family was coping with a child who had cancer.

My letters are rarely sent out before Christmas. December is sometimes a big month for us, so I often have to wait until December is over before I can adequately summarize our year. One year the letter went out just before Valentine’s Day! I figure the Christmas season is busy enough without obsessing over THE LETTER! I capitalize THE LETTER because it has taken on a life of its own. It has become my little gift to everyone I send it to, and I put a lot of effort into writing it. Friends appreciate it, and if they haven’t received it by the end of December, they ask me where it is!

My first letters were typed on a typewriter and then photocopied. When I got a computer, the letter looked much better because I didn’t have to white-out mistakes! Simple text editors were adequate in the beginning, but eventually I wanted to insert clip-art and use different fonts.  I’ve experimented with several ways of doing this. Last year I used Word, and this year I will try Office Publisher. Both of them can be converted to .pdf documents to attach to e-mails. It is an excellent format that is small in size, and readable by just about everyone. There are several free .pdf document converters available for download. I snail mail The Letter to anyone who snail mails a Christmas card to me. I send an e-mail attachment to anyone who sends their Christmas greetings to me by e-mail.

This year, I will be writing a story about bats, stepladders and scotch whiskey. But December isn’t over yet. Who knows what else will happen before the year is over!

There are some excellent websites with suggestions for writing Christmas Letters. Take a peek at this one for some good ideas:  Christmas News Letter.

Post 06

Computer Based Devices Help People with Special Needs

cryptic spoken here

My nephew has Down Syndrome. He has special needs that are a result of his physical and mental challenges. His ability to talk to and understand the world around him is limited in many ways. But with the assistance of a computer, cell phone, iPod and digital camera, he is creating a richer world for himself, and showing others who he is.

When it comes to these four tools – the computer, cell phone, iPod, and digital camera – many of us become Special Needs folks. Each one of these tools presents distinct mental challenges once they are turned on – if you can find the button to turn them on. I am quite computer literate, but that comes from years of practice. I view the cell phone as merely a tool of convenience should my car break down on the highway. So I have not established any kind of rapport with my phone. My one attempt at text messaging was a disaster. I love my digital camera, but I know it would work even better if I could remember what all the cryptic little symbols mean. Then there is the iPod. My thoughts about that are in a previous post.

My nephew, on the other hand, is cell phone, iPod and digital camera savvy. Apparently he speaks cryptic little symbols. The computer is more of a challenge to him. It uses cryptic little words and phrases, and reading isn’t part of his skill set. But with “text to speech” software, and a bit of coaching from his family, his computer has become a useful tool, and good company.

My nephew asked me to clean-up his old laptop computer because he was giving it to a friend. The computer didn’t contain any sensitive information he wanted removed, he just wanted it to run better.

I always look forward to peeking into another persons computer. To me, it is like looking into their eyes and seeing what is going on in their brain. What they put on their desktop, what programs they install, how they organize their files, how their mind works – is right there on their computer.

My nephews computer told me many things. Someone had spent a lot of time installing programs to help him, and then teaching him  how to use them.  These included photo programs, and games. With the text to speech software, he had been able to read e-mail, and things on the internet. And with iTunes, he was the master of his music.

The computer had, however, got bogged down by the fact that not enough attention had been paid to the dreary task of maintenance. You can say what you like about the self-sufficiency of modern operating systems, but now and then someone has to come on over and do a bit of house cleaning.

Once I booted the computer up, I was greeted by a browser hijacker called “Anykuy”.  There were also quite a few auto-start programs sitting on the desk, ready to go. The hard drive was quite full. The computer moved as slow as molasses. I won’t go into great detail about how I wrestled with this computer, but the work included:

– the removal of a number of worms, trojan horses, spyware and viruses.

– the download of 97 Windows updates.

– the update of Internet Explorer.

– the update of virus and spyware programs

– the removal of 17 programs that weren’t needed.

– the deletion of lots of unnecessary files.

– the use of a Registry Cleaner.

– Defrag.

Some of the problems on this computer resulted from the fact that my nephew doesn’t know how to respond to warnings that come from his anti-virus and anti-spyware programs. Some of the problems resulted because his computer was not set up to automatically update the most important programs on his computer. And some of the problems came from the fact that a lot of software thinks it should load up when the computer is booted.

If you have read the above and you know exactly how my nephews computer should have been set up in the first place, then please volunteer your time and skills to people who need that kind of help. If you sell computers, offer a service that helps people to set up their computers to fit their specific needs. If you have no idea what I was talking about, than please go out and find a computer-wise person who can help you!

Post 05


How to Replace iTunes with CopyTrans Manager

I’ve inherited several iPods from my husband. He has graduated to an iTouch, leaving me with several Nanos that he no longer wants. I decided to put my Christmas music on the smaller size one, and the rest of my music on the other. I downloaded iTunes onto my computer. The installation took quite a long time, and installed a lot of other things on my computer as well. Then I discovered that iTunes wouldn’t let me put the music from the iPods into my iTunes, so I went through all the steps that would transfer the music from my husbands computer to my computer into my iTunes.

This took me most of the evening to figure out, and when I was done, well, I was tired and I still didn’t have everything working right. I plan on buying a new computer soon, and I didn’t want to go through this whole thing again, so the next day I went online and searched for an easier way to manage my music. I came across a free program called CopyTrans Manager . The simplicity of it is that the program  resides right on your iPod, and you can use your iPod on any computer without having to use iTunes.

Once I had my iPod humming along with CopyTrans Manager, I removed iTunes, and all the other little programs it had installed. Then I realized that I couldn’t play iTunes music on my computer, because my computer doesn’t have the codecs to play AAC (M4A) files. So I downloaded and installed the correct codecs from Orban. Now I can play AAC files while my iPod is connected to my computer.

All that I am missing is the ability to convert MP3 or Wav files into AAC files. Which, of course, iTunes can do. But iTunes is on my husbands computer, so he can do that if I need it.

I certainly understand all the benefits of using iTunes.  I just don’t want to live with all the limitations the program also imposes. So I prefer the simplicity of a program like CopyTrans Manager.

Post 04


Sunflower Essences and Dark Chocolate

One of my favourite flowers is the Sunflower and the various members of that family. I particularly like the ones that randomly appear in my yard from seeds that were in the bird feeders. My husband is very diligent about keeping the feeders full. Some of the smaller birds don’t want the sunflower seeds, so they simply pluck those seeds out and drop them on the ground. The blue jays spirit the sunflower seeds away, and hide them in caches in the ground. Blue Jays apparently hide more seeds than they ever eat, so each spring I get a new crop of sunflowers in these odd locations.


The sunflower is actually made of many tiny flowers called florets. The outer florets are large yellow petals. After pollination, every little flower or floret produces a seed.

The Essence of Sunflower is said to increase self-esteem and encourage optimism. I’ve never made a flower essence, but apparently it involves brandy, so I think it would taste quite nice.  I guess I would have to ration myself as to how many sips of essence I took each day. I already have to ration how much dark chocolate I eat each day, so perhaps I could combine the essence sipping and chocolate nipping.  I can certainly see how my self-esteem and optimism would increase with these little rituals.

Update – June 2013 – I continue to reinforce my self-esteem with the daily twice daily big time consumption of dark chocolate. As you probably know, dark chocolate contains some of the same disease-fighting antioxidants as red wine, fruits and vegetables. It is also thought that cocoa flavanols found in chocolate could be useful in enhancing brain function for people fighting fatigue, sleep deprivation, and even the effects of aging.

Climbing Preikestolen, Norway, in Comfortable Shoes

NorwayA few years ago we  hiked to the top of Preikestolen in Norway. Preikestolen is a steep cliff that rises 604 metres (1982 feet) above Lysefjorden, opposite the Kjerag plateau. It has an almost flat top of approximately 25 by 25 metres (82 by 82 feet), and is a very popular hiking destination.

We were advised to wear good walking shoes because of the terrain. The hike up was steep and challenging, but the view from the top of the cliff was breathtaking. We stopped at the summit long enough to catch our breath, admire the view, and have lunch.

As we sat munching sandwiches, an elderly Norwegian woman arrived. She wore a simple cotton dress, knee high hose, and comfortable older-fashion sandals. She looked like she had just stepped out the back door to put wash on the line.  I was amazed that she could clamber over the rocks and boulders in a dress and sandals, but she did, and apparently in relative ease. I was impressed!

More people arrived onto the plateau at the summit, and most of them were dressed in serious hiking footwear. Then a young women came into view. She was wearing white, pointed toe, thin soled go-go boots, with clothing to match the look she was trying to achieve. I was amazed that she could clamber over the rocks and boulders too, but the look on her face said she hadn’t found it as easy as the elderly lady. “Ouch”, her feet said.

We all made it off the mountain that day. Some had sorer feet than others.  But what I don’t really understand is why some women think they have to stuff their feet into uncomfortable shoes. Men don’t do that, do they? Why do women?

I suppose the answer to that question is, “It is fashionable.” So the next question is, why are so many women slaves to fashion?

Did you Get the H1N1 Flu Shot in 2009?

purple monster

Toonaday flu bugH1N1 was probably the most talked about topic in the whole world in 2009. Worldwide, annual flu epidemics are estimated to result in about 3 to 5 million cases of severe illness, and about 250 000 to 500 000 deaths. In 2009, H1N1, or Swine Flu was the pandemic.

It was hard to pick through the rhetoric to find out how spooked (or not) you should be by this bug. The easiest to read and most user friendly source I found was at the US Department of Health site at FLU.GOV

Less easy to read, but useful to Canadians is FIGHT FLU

I wanted to understand how this flu affected my age group. Good News! According to several sources, there may be some benefit to being a healthy person over the age of 60. Research suggests a percentage of people in this age group may have some natural immunity to the H1N1 Flu virus. This immunity may not prevent you from getting the flu, but it may reduce the symptoms significantly.

Apparently H1N1 has met the criteria for inclusion as a pandemic.  I lived through the two previous flu pandemics, but I don’t remember anything about them. Will I live through this pandemic? It’s hard to say. I’m pretty healthy, but no one knows what this virus might do. Will I get the vaccine? I might, but I am not going to take a vaccine away from someone who is at greater risk than I am. According to the clinic in my area, the criteria for getting a flu shot this week is “pregnant women, children under five and people under 65 with chronic health issues”.

I’m not going to fall prey to all the hype and fear that swirls around this flu. That could make you sicker than the flu itself, I think.

I do, however, love all the stories that have circulated on the internet about Swine Flu and Miss Piggy…

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