Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Goodbye Summer

Well, if it's October, summer must really be over. I don't usually complain about the weather but really -  the weather this past summer was dreadful. It was one of the coolest, rainiest summers that Ottawa has ever experienced. So I have really enjoyed September. It must have been miserable for all the folks working in the heat, after having summer holidays ruined by the constant rain. September is always a treat for us retired guys, but this year it was extra sweet, with the best weather of the summer for sure. What a treat, to swim outside with falling leaves swirling around!

It's not only the weather that improved. Our September visitors had a much easier time getting around  downtown than our July visitors did. Canada Day was advertised extensively and people travelled from far and wide to be here for the July 1st birthday bash. What a blowout that was!

With the threat of terrorism, warnings of long lineups for security and a forecast of rain, we completely skipped Parliament Hill on July 1st. Instead, we went downtown the day before, when the Canada Day rehearsals were taking place on The Hill.

Having lived here most of my life, I've seen a lot of changes in security on Parliament Hill. In years gone by, wherever we had out of town visitors, we would drive them around the Hill and under the archway at the Peace Tower. Those days are long gone. I have never seen anything like this year's security-  so many police officers, everywhere. After having my backpack checked, I entered the security lineup on Wellington Street at Bank St., in front of Parliament Hill. It took about 10 minutes to snake through the metal barricades.
The metal barricades were fairly empty on June 30th
Then I entered the security tent, where we were warned not to take photos. That took another ten minutes. Again my backpack was thoroughly searched. Once I finally made it onto the hill I found that there were very definite entry and exit points.
Specially built exit ramps from Parliament Hill
One of the complaints, after the whole fiasco was over, was that the government kept reporting that they expected seven or eight hundred thousand people to come to Parliament Hill on Canada Day. At the last minute we heard that the actual capacity on the Hill is something like twenty five thousand. Why mislead your visitors? The reduced size of the lawn was evident when I looked around on June 30th. All the media tents were spread out on the west side. VIP viewing tents were on the east side and the stage itself came way out onto the lawn.  Even without the crowds, you could see that the actual standing space was much smaller than in previous years.

This year's stage came way out onto the lawn, taking up viewing space.

VIP viewing tents were new this year

This past week The Ottawa Citizen ran a piece that included many tourists' complaints to Heritage Canada about their Canada Day experiences. Click here to read some tales of total frustration.

Thank goodness our family's Canada Day weekend visitors also visited Parliamen hill on June 30th. They spent Canada Day at parks and sites away from the lineups. My only outing on Canada Day was to the Rideau Canal, to watch a group of canoes paddle past, as they recreated an historic journey from Kingston.

As my mother waited with me, in the  pouring rain, to catch a glimpse of my sister, we saw and heard many helicopters going over the area, probably police surveillance. My mother sadly observed that the terrorists were winning. They had succeeded in scaring  the entire city, on what should have been a joyful day.

After July 1st, things seemed to improve. In mid July, when we were back on the hill for a free musical event,  we didn't have to go through any security but there were a lot of police officers about, all with hands on their guns. On top of the nearby building were more police snipers.

However, then came La Machine, a gigantic robot experience from France. This was the old Ottawa, with crowds all over the place; all of us like little kids, excited to see the dragon and spider as they prowled Ottawa's streets. The crowds were thick. What was the difference? Why were we allowed to freely cram together in such huge numbers for those days and evenings? Whatever the reason, it was a welcome reprieve, after the confinement of Canada Day.

La Machine's fiery dragon
Another huge hit this summer has been the Mosaic garden in Jacques Cartier park in Gatineau, right across the river.  The floral sculptures are fantastic, it's free and just a lovely way to pass an hour on a summer day. It will be missed when it closes in a couple of weeks.

Paul Henderson's winning goal

Mother Earth
There are a few more 150th events coming this year - football (The Grey Cup), hockey (The Outdoor Classic) and curling (Roar of the Rings). Hopefully they will be successful, with no major incidents.   I wish we didn't have to worry so much about security but recent tragic events in Edmonton and Las Vegas remind us that we are living in very challenging times. Regardless of the lineups and frustration of Canada Day, no one lost their life here that day. That's something to be thankful for.

Friday, 15 September 2017

Life Lessons

Once again, it is New Brunswick teen Rebecca Schofield, who has got me back to the keyboard.  I first wrote about Becca in February. She is dying of brain cancer. Instead of thinking only of herself, she launched a campaign asking people to perform random acts of kindness. She loves it when people share their good deeds, using #beccatoldmeto. I was very happy tonight to see an item about her on CBC's The National. Tomorrow in New Brunswick it is Becca Schofield day! Click here to learn more about Becca and to hear part of her interview.

"To know that I get this day and it's not just my day, it's a day to celebrate the people that we can be and the people that we should be — it just warms my heart to know that we have a day like that where we can come together as a community."

Becca's interview reminds me of fifty year old MP Arnold Chan, who died yesterday. I was moved when CBC radio played a part of his last speech in the House of Commons. In it he appealed to all of us, to be our best selves.

"I would ask Canadians to give heart to their democracy; that they treasure it, revere it," Chan said. "Of course I would ask them in the most basic of things, to cast their ballot, but for me it is much more than that. I ask them for their civic engagement, regardless of what it actually may mean, whether it is going out and coaching a soccer team, whether it is helping someone at a food bank, and for me it can be even something simpler than that...
"It is thanking our Tim Hortons server. It is giving way to someone on the road. It is saying thanks.
"It is the small things that we collectively do, from my perspective, that make a great society, and fundamentally to me that is ultimately what it means to be a Canadian."

Click here to learn more about Arnold Chan and to hear his speech.

So tomorrow, on Becca Schofield Day and every day, let us remember the lessons from these two remarkable Canadians. 

Tuesday, 5 September 2017


It's the day after labour day, the real new years day. As a retired teacher, mother and grandmother, it will always be this day that marks the end and beginning of the year, the start of new adventures. And so today I am thinking of the passage of time.

Most importantly, today is the first day of real school for our oldest grandchild, our precious Avery. He's very excited for today and we hope that the staff at his school care for him to the very best of their ability. He has been so well prepared for today, over these past five years, by his loving parents.

Last week we visited my mother-in-law, Rita, who has Alzheimers. Time means little to her now. She really does live in the moment and is unable to recognize the change in days, weeks or seasons. However, her emotional sense is intact so she is very much aware of those who make her feel happy, loved and well cared for.

Last week also saw the celebration of my parents' 65th wedding anniversary. As part of our gathering, we played an anniversary quiz game that got them reminiscing about their early years together. They and we, are fortunate that they are able to remember and recount those precious memories. It was fun to hear about their first car,  their wedding day, and the friend who tied all the tin cans to the back bumper of that new car. We are indebted to them for a lifetime of care.

Yesterday we received the sad news that our friend Irene has died. She lived with cancer for ten years. I will always remember her kind welcome to me when I was transferred to her school. I was missing my former school and feeling lonely in my new situation. Her office became a welcome oasis where we shared a lot of laughs. She continued to laugh, love, travel and enjoy life as much as possible throughout her cancer journey. She will be greatly missed.

So, it's a day of beginnings and endings. Whether we are young students starting off in a new class, a patient, a senior, or those of us in the middle, we are all in need of loving care. As the Beatles famously sang,  "And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make."

Friday, 18 August 2017

I'm Back

Why did I not write for almost two months? At first it was because I was occupied, (being the hostess with the mostess around Canada Day) but then it just got to be a summer habit. I've been thinking of writing, many times but just never sat down to do so.

One of the floral sculptures in Jacques Cartier Park this summer

It's been a busy summer. We've enjoyed visits with out-of-town family and friends here in Ottawa, we've taken in some of the Canada 150 events and we have  mooched a few cottage weekends with friends. This spring and summer we've been to two family weddings and hosted the "after party" for one of them. Time with our grandchildren is always more enjoyable in summer without cumbersome snowsuits. What fun to just sit and play outside in pjs or shorts!

However, it has not all been delightful. Our sandwich generation status has resulted in a fair number of visits to doctor's offices and hospital clinics  with grandchildren, elderly parents and myself. I'm happy to  report that my banged up right hand does not have any broken bones - just had it x-rayed yesterday. Thanks to my great physiotherapist, my left shoulder/neck/back pain  has mostly subsided. It's not terribly effective to swim with a sore shoulder on one side and a sore hand on the other. I'm well aware that my minor complaints are a drop in the bucket, compared to the folks I know who are living with cancer and chronic pain.

Lately I've been thinking about how very grateful I am, to live in this country with such terrific medical care. Whether it is something major, like a friend's stem cell transplant procedure, or my simple hand x-rays  - it is all covered. I hear people complain about the high cost of hospital parking but that is often the only cost involved. We are so lucky! Last week I was in a hospital clinic, watching a plastic surgeon work on my granddaughter's burnt fingers, while a child life worker kept her amused and entertained. The child life worker and the plastic surgeon worked like a well choreographed dance couple as they switched from hand to hand, never letting our little one see the scissors that were used in the procedure. Paying my bill at the parking lot was the least I could do.

You might guess that it's the medical concerns that have affected my mood but it's not only that. It's just hard to have that carefree summer feeling when you pay any attention at all to the news. Just when you think you've heard the very worst, the scariest, the stupidest, the most shameful utterances of any elected official ever, in the history of the human race - it only gets worse. If I feel this worried and concerned now, in the middle of summer, how am I going to feel in the midst of a cold, miserable winter?

All we can do is make the most of any positive opportunities. This week we went to Britania Beach and enjoyed sitting there, reading and watching so many folks taking advantage of such a lovely setting. Out on the water there were plenty of sailboats and throughout the park there were folks of all ages - from new Canadan families to seniors with walkers. I watched an immigrant father walk his two sons into the water. They wore underwear, not bathing suits. The dad was in rolled up pants and a long sleeved shirt. What fun those two boys had, just splashing around in the water. Again, it makes you think: Where have they come from? What have they endured to get here? How will they make out? It made me feel good, just to see them having so much fun. Yesterday we treated ourselves again -  to a picnic lunch in a lovely garden, followed by a swim at our favourite swimming hole.

In the midst of the gloom there are so many joyful moments and so many good people. Throughout our medical encounters this summer, we have met so many cheerful doctors, nurses and caregivers. Right now I'm thinking of my mother-in-law's day nurse, Erin. It doesn't matter whether we contact her in person or by phone, at the beginning or end of her shift, she always has time for us. She, and all the other fine people around us, make life so much easier.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Free Wine ?

For the past few years I have often been accosted while walking near Wine Rack stores in my neighbourhood. At Superstore it happens when I have just finished my grocery shopping. My bags are all packed and crowded into my cart. I just get started, pushing my heavy load and some employee of Wine Rack steps out in front of me with a plastic wine glass in hand and asks,
 "Free wine miss?"

Really? You want me to stop there in the middle of the aisle,  with no family or friends around, no occasion to celebrate, no dinner to eat, just stand there in the middle of a bunch of strangers and drink wine? The idea has always struck me as weird and a desperate ploy to get folks into their store. The same thing has happened in other shopping malls where Wine Rack stores are located. Now they have a store on the main shopping street in our neighbourhood. On several occasions I have seen employees standing up on the nearby bench,  frantically waving the Free Wine sign back and forth, to get motorists' attention. It looks both ridiculous and pathetic.

Many times I have told the salespeople that I totally disagree with the notion of handing out free wine on streets or in malls. When I stated that I thought this was placing temptation right in the path of those trying to stay sober, one employee callously replied, "That's their problem."

That particular sales pitch wouldn't go over well with today's guests on CBC radio's The Current. Click here: The Current, to listen to a discussion on a recent study by The Canadian Institute for Health Information. The study speaks of a looming alcohol crisis in Canada. Today's show featured interviews with Tim Stockwell, the director of The Centre for Addiction Research of B.C. at the University of Victoria and writer Ann Dowsett Johnston. Stockwell said that research shows the link between alcohol consumption and many types of cancer. He also noted that consumption rates increase as alcohol distribution expands and privatization increases. Johnston summarized our culture as having "surround sound advertising". No doubt the free wine offerings are part of that image.  Dowsett spoke of her own experience, living in recovery and what a struggle that is. The last thing she or other people living in recovery need, are people waving free wine signs in their faces.

Click here to read Andre Picard's piece in The Globe and Mail. He makes some interesting points about the harm inflicted by alcohol. He notes that, "When you legalize drugs selectively - such as alcohol and now cannabis - you send an implicit message that they are safer and better. Legalization doesn't magically make a drug safer. The dose makes the poison. The biggest problem with alcohol is that it's overused. Drinking has become the norm in virtually all social settings, rather than an occasional pleasure ."

"All social settings" now seems to include the check out line at my grocery store.

As a confirmation of the harm that just one drink can do, have a look at this segment from CBC TV's The National. The unexpected faces of addiction relates the story of a respected college professor in Vancouver. He was an alcoholic who had been sober for many years, living a happy, satisfying life. On a weekend with friends he had one beer and that was the start of a downward spiral which ended with his death of fentanyl poisoning. Sometimes that's all it takes; just one drink.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

How do I loathe thee? Let me count the ways

How can we ever count the ways, the reasons why Donald Trump is such bad news for the U.S., for Canada,  for the entire universe? Would we start with his scary war-mongering, his inconsistent and incomprehensible tweets, his total lack of maturity, his unbelievable ego, his boorish behaviour or his complete disregard for the environment?  I often think of a phrase from the election campaign: "He is temperamentally unfit for office."

I've tried not to write about Trump, but an item on Monday night's The National really got to me. Of everything I have heard about this man, this piece on deportations spoke to me the most profoundly. Click here: deportations, to watch. It's about the forced deportations of illegal immigrants in the U.S. Families are being ripped apart as heavy-handed authorities enforce Trump's brand of America. One of the saddest statements I've ever heard is that of a girl named Karen Rodrigues. She looks to be in grade 8. She and her sisters and mother are all American citizens but her father is not. Authorities have granted him permission to stay until her graduation. That poor girl cried as she stated, "He'll be here for my graduation but what about Christmas and birthdays and Thanksgiving? What will we have to be thankful for this year?" I do not understand this cruelty, this short-sighted, mean-spirited policy. I cannot imagine how much damage Trump is going to inflict on everyone, if he remains in power for four years.

Recently Naomi Klein spoke on The Current about how important it is to stand up to Trump. Tuesday night's The National profiled  California's struggle to defy federal authorities' deportation orders and become a sanctuary state.  Stories of struggle, protest and defiance are badly needed to get us through these dark days. As usual, thanks to the CBC.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Life speeds up

Somehow my favourite month is over already. May gets my vote for many reasons: increased temperatures, the promise of summer,  and a variety of fragrant, flowering trees everywhere. After a busy month of family activities, we started off last week with a bike ride to Ottawa's Experimental Farm.
Even on a cloudy day, it's a pleasure to walk among the gardens there.
 As we admired the lilacs, I was reminded of so many past trips to The Farm over the years; with our parents, our children and grandchildren. There's a spot where I remember one of my former work colleagues, Shukri, from Kenya. She assisted my class when I taught ESL to women from Somalia. I took them on their first trip to the farm and they loved it. When we walked among those lilacs Shukri declared, "Tonight I will come back to this spot with my blanket and sleep under this tree."

Tuesday, May 30th was the twenty year anniversary of Peter Gzowski's last Morningside Show.  The Sunday Edition marked  the occasion by airing a collection of clips from the show. This seven minute segment is a lovely reminder of a very special time in Canadian radio. Just listening to that opening theme again filled me with nostalgia for that unique time in my life, in Canada's life. I  count myself as incredibly fortunate, to have had the opportunity to listen to Peter Gzowski's Morningside for most of his fifteen year run. I was home with my children starting in 1980. Gzowski started in 1982. Anyone who has spent years at home with toddlers knows it is challenging in so many ways, not least of which is the lack of adult stimulation.  For those of us feeling somewhat isolated in our homes, as we cared for our little ones, Morningside provided a welcome background to our mornings. We laughed, we learned, we cried, we sang, as he united us and introduced us to our fellow Canadians.

The great thing about the show was that it was a magnificent mix. It wasn't just arts and culture. Camp, Kierans and Lewis provided our weekly political fix. It was a bit of everything and it worked well. We cared for our kids and homes while listening to the entertaining, eclectic mix that was Morningside. In the twenty years since, it has not been matched.

Last week marked another anniversary; fifty years since the release of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. How could it be fifty years already? I still have my album. One of the cute little ditties on that album is When I'm Sixty-Four. At the time it was released, that song was a cheeky looking- ahead, to an age that seemed almost impossible to imagine, for the Beatles and certainly for me. I was only fourteen at the time. Somehow, last week, I reached that milestone myself. I was happy to mark the occasion with a visit to my parent's home where I picked my favourites, lily of the valley.

Along with these anniversaries have come the recent deaths of a few relatives. In two cases we heard that the families were searching for the funeral plans and wishes. What if, like most of us, they never got around to making plans? This has finally sparked some discussion of our death and dying wishes. It's a subject we have been avoiding. We are a death-denying society for sure. If for no other reason, it is an act of kindness for our families,  to make some kind of a plan. At this point we don't have all the details nailed down, but at least we have started the discussion and made a few basic decisions.

Who knows how long we will have? That's the great mystery of our lives. The fifty years since Sgt. Pepper came out have vanished. Gzowski died just five years after his show finished, at the age of sixty-seven. Stuart McLean, who we came to know on Morningside, died this past year at sixty-eight.

Life seems to be speeding up. It's time to plan. It's also important to make more time for trips to The Farm, for concerts, travel and fun. So for now, we will make those plans, put them away and enjoy the rest of this unpredictable ride.