April 26, 2010 § 12 Comments

On April 28th, we will observe a National Day of Mourning as established by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS).

The purpose of the day is in “commemorating workers whose lives have been lost or injured in the workplace.”  The CCOHS estimates that from 1993-1998, 14,190 people lost their lives due to work related causes.  In my books, those 14,190 deaths that could have been prevented.

On August 10, 2005, a police officer came to my door.  I had just come home from a 4 week trek through Italy and Southern France two weeks earlier to celebrate the end of my degree from the University of Alberta.  I had begun my job search as soon as I was back in the country and had an interview scheduled that day in Edmonton with Enterprise Rent-a-Car.  I never made the interview.

I was just about to step in the shower when the doorbell rang.  I grabbed my housecoat and headed upstairs.  On my doorstep was an RCMP officer.  The next couple of minutes happened as if they were in slow motion.  Every word, every detail is etched in my memory.

“Do you know a Wayne Jacob Peters that was born October 21, 1978?” the RCMP officer asked me.

I looked at him a bit suspiciously as I replied “Yes, I do.  He’s my brother.”

The RCMP officer looked at me and said “I’m sorry, your brother has been in an accident.”

That sentence hung in the air for a moment before settling on my ears.  A million thoughts and questions raced through my head in the ensuing seconds about what could have happened before I answered “Oh my God!  Is he okay?”

I expected to hear that he had been in a bad accident and that we should get to the hospital right away.  Something like “Your brother was hit by a drunk driver and is in critical condition”  was along the lines of what I was preparing myself to hear.

But life doesn’t ever bring us the news we expect.  The RCMP officer looked right into my questioning eyes.  I could see the answer then before he even said the words, but even a split second of warning wasn’t any preparation for what I heard next.

“No he isn’t.  I’m sorry, your brother didn’t make it.”

I can hear those words as though the officer were repeating them in front of me now, they’re still that clear.   I looked at the officer in disbelief and all I could muster was “Are you kidding me?”  Of course, the answer was no.  Wayne Jacob Peters of Millet, Alberta, born October 21, 1978, was found dead the previous evening 90 km north of Slave Lake around 11 pm.

The RCMP officer proceeded to ask if there was anyone he could call for me.  My mom was in BC, but I got a hold of my dad.  He happened to be in Millet.  I now stood on the other side of the news.  Having to repeat the devastating information I had received only minutes earlier to my father was worse than hearing it myself.  As soon as he drove up, he rushed out of his truck and hugged me so hard.  At 23, that’s a lot of emotion to take in in only a few minutes.

After that news and that hug, a part of me shut down for a very long time.  It’s been only in the last month or so that I’ve began to understand the shock and trauma my system was subjected to, and that six years later, I’m finally able to start processing it.

The Workers’ Compensation Board proceeded with an investigation.  Wayne was a chemical engineer working in cathodic protection.  He was checking on a pipeline in Northern Alberta.  On August 9, 2005, he was to meet his coworker back at the motel they were staying at by 7 pm.  When he didn’t show up and wouldn’t answer his cell phone, his coworker knew there was something out of the ordinary.  At 11 pm, Wayne was found dead by the rectifier he had been checking earlier.  He had been electrocuted.

After reading the report from the Worker’s Compensation Board, no one party was at fault.  There had been several factors at play with regards to the voltage going through the rectifier, and the fact that Wayne was performing tasks only intended to be performed by a certified electrician, which he most certainly was not.  Mostly what I got out of reading the report was that his death, this work site “accident” could have been prevented.

Wayne was 25.  He had a bright future as a chemical engineer.  And now he’s one of 14,190 Canadians that died for no particular reason.

I’ve struggled for years with the suddenness of his death.  I tried to tell myself that I was fine, people all over the world go through this too.  I felt like I didn’t have the right to be angry with the rest of the world, after all, there were still people much worse off than I.  But in doing so, I didn’t allow myself to find a way to come to terms with what had happened.  When I heard an ad on the radio for The National Day of Mourning on April 28th, I felt like now I could give it a reason, even if it’s just to put my own mind at ease.  He died so someone else wouldn’t have to.

I often forget just how little it takes to prevent an accident.  Turning off your phone while driving, inspecting your equipment to make sure it’s safe, not performing a task you’re not specifically trained to do even though you may have done it before.  And then something comes up to remind me of Wayne.  And paying attention resurfaces as a priority in every task I perform.

My brother died so you and I wouldn’t have to, at least not from something we could have prevented. So, on April 28th, I’ll be joining people from over 80 other countries around the world not only to remember the dead, but to help protect the living.  I hope you’ll join us too.


Earth Day: The impact we make is beyond a piece of litter.

April 22, 2010 § 1 Comment

A friend of mine lent me a book called “The Hundred Year Lie” by Randall Fitzgerald.  The first half of the book was a depressing read about all of the chemicals and synthetics that have made their way into our food and the resulting increase in cancer, diabetes, obesity, number and level of toxins contained in our blood, etc.  I struggled to get through that part of the book.  When I reached the second half, it was a welcomed read about eating better, making more natural and/or organic choices, basically taking ownership about what we’re putting into our bodies and being accountable for the results.

One part that stuck out for me especially is when Randall Fitzgerald talks about the rise in male breast reduction surgeries.  He attributes it to there being so many more hormones in the water today because the birth control pill has become so commonly used among women and there is no process to remove it from a city’s water system.

This kind of indirect result of increased use of birth control made it’s way to the forefront of my thoughts as I read a friend’s Facebook status this morning:

Rea Sauter wishes you a happy Earth day!  Pick up some litter today, or pick up a new green daily choice. It’s your planet & your karma.

It is my planet and my karma.  Combined with the new outlook to treat my body better from reading “The Hundred Year Lie” and the fact that whatever we put into our environment affects the health and wellness of other people, I suggest we all look not only to pick up some pieces of litter, but also to think about the foods you eat and the products you use, the chemicals that are in them, and the impact beyond today that they have on our planet and on your fellow man.

“It’s not all a Dog’s Life”: Jasper

April 12, 2010 § 5 Comments

A few weeks ago, Wendy mentioned the writing competition I was entering with the Grande Prairie Public Library. The theme was pets and I wrote about my dog, Jasper. The gist of my submission was that he thinks he’s a person.

I was a non-winner as we used to say when I worked with the Ontario Lottery Corporation in terms of prizes, but Jasper won the admiration of those who read the story before I entered it in the competition.  I share it below for your entertainment.

It was also a winning experience in that I don’t often get a chance to write feature pieces and it was a lot of fun encouraging others to enter the competition and to have a friend drop the gauntlet at my feet to get me to push my creative skills.

I am happy for whoever won. I have had my taste of awards throughout my career and I believe Jasper’s story will have a future life in some other form. Stay tuned.

I hope you enjoy reading about Jasper’s escapades as much as I have writing about them and experiencing them … well most of them.

It would be great to hear about your own pet experiences!

And now, without further ado, meet Jasper!

A Day In The Life of Jasper

Hi, my name is Jasper. I am eight years old and this is my story.

Before I get into telling you about my life, I must apologize in advance if you have trouble understanding what I have written.

First, my housemates insist on having swivel office chairs in front of our computer.  It is difficult enough for a short, furry person, who is only 2 ½ feet tall to get up into the chair, tuck his tail, and then steady the seat in one spot. On top of that, they don’t have a keyboard that is conducive to someone with dew claws.

But it is not my fault I am going through this ordeal. The other guy in the house should be writing this tale. He is the writer of the family.

However, it is Saturday, February 20 and the deadline for the writing competition is looming. My story deserves to be told.

Therefore, it is up to me to enter my own submission, even though I am not a gifted writer.

My family would tell you that I wouldn’t even know a subordinate claws.

I am not sure what that word means. I think it has something to do with equality – we all get one third of the bed!

But I digress.

Today was a great day.

The others in the house know the routine for a Saturday morning.  They have begun to realize that I know the difference between Saturdays and Sundays and weekdays.

Before they have even made coffee, I get out of our bed and remind them it is time to head out to the hot tub so I can have my kong filled with peanut butter and treats. I have them trained that I need some cold coffee to complete my weekend morning repast.

I go outside and enjoy the sunshine as they sit in the tub. Apparently I would not like water that hot. My baths in the big soaker tub inside are with tepid water and special shampoo.

It is busy for me, trying to get those tasty morsels out of the kong while also protecting everyone from the birds hidden in the hedge. First these vermin will infest the shrubs. I think they will try to get into the house next! Not on my watch!

I scare those pests off and resume my breakfast.

I don’t let the others rest for long after they finish their soak in the tub. They should know by now, the next thing on the agenda is going for a walk, often around Hudson’s Pond, located in the south end of the city.

They know the routine. I pace. I sing. I pace some more. I pant. I sometimes even throw in a howl. This will go on for about an hour. Eventually, they realize resistance is futile.

My efforts are for their own good. If not for me, they would get involved in other things and put off our excursion. I need to be exercised. I think they would spell it … e-x-o-r-c-i-z-e-d.

Walks are a good thing. I get to catch up on the news of the neighbourhood as I snuffle my way along the paths and roadways.

There are also regular snacks, especially when we meet people with those creatures called “dogs”. I am always very curious about them so my family wants to distract me.

Today is a good day as we reach the pond. No critters are in sight.  I am allowed to run ahead.

There are a lot of things to see and smell. There have been animals out here – coyotes, deer and moose. I always enjoy seeing these “big dogs” but I am not allowed to play and frolic with them for some reason.

We complete our outing. It was satisfying. Now it is time to nap.

Hmmm, which bed should I choose?

I pick the couch downstairs. It has a nice cozy blanket and is quiet and dark there. There are fluffy pillows and I can bury my nose.

An hour later …

Ahhh … stretch. That was a good snooze.

I wander around to see what everyone else is doing.

Hmmm! The house smells yummy. They are preparing f-o-o-d. That is one of the words they spell out when I am around.  I know they are up to something when they spell out … w-a-l-k … or … p-a-r-k … or… v-a-n … or … t-r-e-a-t.

Since I am not allowed to sit at the table yet – that will happen sooner or later – I assume a strategic position to catch anything that drops.

I did take matters in my own paws one time.  Once, when we had company, I helped myself to their bowl of cereal on the table.  Mmmm. Froot Loops.

Now, I am careful not get banished. That will surely mean I don’t get to be the pre-rinse cycle for the dishes when dinner is done.

My family has come a long way over the years. At one time, they tried to suggest that I should stay out of the living room as if I were some kind of animal!  Can you believe that?

Baby gates! Pffft.

Granted, not having access to the whole house wouldn’t be quite as bad as the indignation of living in a dog house. However, by the time it came to move across the country from Ontario, they found hotels that accept furry children with tails.

I must admit, I didn’t get off to the best start. But the way I like to think of it … if I were a dog or cat, I would have been long gone.

You see, I consumed books voraciously before the age of two – literally.

I had a taste for heirloom and special books, including an autographed Jean Beliveau book. The woman here was so concerned I would be a goner when her husband arrived back from a conference that she didn’t inform him of the munched book until six months later!

Well, it wasn’t totally chewed up. I did leave the autographed page unscathed. I don’t know what the problem was. I always saw the two of them spending a lot of time with books.

Then there was the time the other guy fell asleep on the couch downstairs and left his glasses on the coffee table. I was curious. They were crunchy. You fill in the blanks of what was said … because he couldn’t see me. This is a G-rated story.

Eating glasses didn’t help me see better anyway. My teeth just hurt and I got in a lot of trouble. That is one of the last times I really got scolded. I stuck to chewing what I am supposed to after that.

Well, except for the time I got into that black plastic bag with turkey bones after Christmas. I can’t believe I ate the whole thing. My tummy hurt and they made me see the doctor.

I don’t think that was the time he said I was a “solid” boy.

Or then there was the time I tried to turn on the TV using the remote with my teeth. I learned yet another use for Duct Tape.  I don’t know what everyone was upset about. The device worked perfectly after that!

I am pretty much a regular child now. Like I said, sometimes I can be demanding for walk time or snacks. But mostly I am pretty content with my life … just like any other 85 lb. floppy-eared, furry boy with brown eyes and a long nose.

So, if you meet me on the street, be sure to stop and say hi. I am a real people person.

Spring Cleaning

April 5, 2010 § 2 Comments

It’s almost March.  And it’s a beautifully sunny day in Calgary.  In my apartment, my entire south facing wall is nothing but a huge window and a sliding door overlooking 17th Avenue.  I don’t live in a big building, it’s only 6 floors in all, but there aren’t any bigger buildings behind me, and so the sun shines into my little abode pretty much the entire day.  Today is the first day in a long time that I’ve been in the right mindset to check in with myself, take inventory of where I’m at and just see how I’m doing.  In these kinds of moments, I can spend 20 minutes, sometimes more, just gazing out the window.  Focusing on each car that goes by, each bird riding a current, and how the sun falls on my favourite leather chair just so.

Today, as I settled in to ponder and my gaze headed out the window, I noticed just how dirty the windows had gotten over the winter.  It’s funny how we sometimes don’t notice the build up of dirt and grime over time, or how we’re willing to look through the dirt to see the world because we don’t really feel like washing that window.

Somehow, gazing through dirt just didn’t cut it today.  It was time to wash the windows.  I have these microfibre clothes made by a company called Norwex.  There’s one specifically for windows and glass.  You don’t need any cleaning agents.  Just some water and the cloth.  And boy, that cloth can clean a window and make it sparkle better than any bottle of Windex I’ve ever tried.  In all, it only took me about 20 minutes to clean off the dirt inside and out.  I’m back on my couch and the difference 20 minutes… 20 MINUTES… made for a clearer view is phenomenal.

How much scum and dirt do we let pile up on ourselves and on how’re we’re seeing the world around us because we’re too lazy to take a few minutes to wipe it clean?  I want to compare looking out my windows now to looking out of them before being washed to that drinking and driving commercial where it shows how much your vision is impaired after each drink.  How much less clear is our perspective with each layer of dirt that settles in (on our windows or in our lives)?

I’m sure I’ll be going through this exercise again.  A few months will pass and I’ll notice that my window isn’t quite as clear as it could be, and that’s just from day to day exposure.  It makes me think about my own housekeeping, all of the things I’m exposed to day to day that I don’t notice until they build up and just how much better I feel after it’s all been wiped away.  Whether we think our lives are currently well put together, or there’s a pile of dirt that seems to have built up and soiled what we have to show the world, and what we can see of it, there’s always going to be some housekeeping to do for optimal performance.  The good thing is, it doesn’t have to take a lot of effort to wipe things clean again.

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