Saturday, 14 April 2018

My Dad

Most of you who read this, already know, but I will write it anyhow. My father, Stephen Donald Kot, died on March 29th. He was a wonderful father, husband, son, uncle, grandfather, great grandfather, and friend. Click here to read Dad's obituary as it appeared in The Ottawa Citizen and the Weyburn (Sask.) Review.

 Dad would not have wanted all the fuss but Wayne Scanlan of the Ottawa Citizen came to the house and interviewed us about Dad. By very happy coincidence, he appeared a half hour after Dad's teammate, Len Fluet, arrived at the house. Len had just cleared out Dad's locker at the curling club. How lucky was Dad, to be curling at 93! Click  here to read the lovely tribute that Waybe Scanlan wrote.

I was just looking through some old writing of mine and came across this piece that I wrote a few years ago. It will give you an idea of why we are going to miss Dad so much.

It is, of course, an understatement, but I will say it anyhow. As kids, we got lucky in the Dad department. First of all, he has always been a very supportive father to all of us and secondly, we have had him for so long.

At a dinner party a while ago I was telling some friends about a problem that came up at our house. It may have been when we had rats in the basement. I was in the middle if the story and I was saying, “ So I picked up the phone…” and a friend interrupted, “I know. You called your Dad.” 
“Of course I called my Dad”, I answered. “Who else am I going to call?”

That’s been the way we have always operated. For all kinds of issues, we have called Dad. Most of the time he has been able to help us to solve our problem of the day, whether his help has been long distance over the phone or in-person help. In the case of the rat problem, he came right over, set some traps, and helped that rat onto the hereafter.

It’s not just that Dad always helped us or did the work, on our homes and cars. What is possibly more important is that he taught us how to do some of that work. I am the least talented in those areas. Everyone else in the family is more talented than I am. However, even I am slightly inclined, because of all the time I have worked beside Dad.

A month ago Pat and I were having trouble with our garage door. The roller thing kept coming off the rail. Pat was working on it but nothing was working. I went out and looked at it for a bit and realized what the problem was. It wasn’t that hard to figure out. That’s because of being with Dad, watching how patient he is,  how he analyzes things, how he doesn’t  give up when things get difficult.

Love is a verb, not just a noun. Actions speak louder than words.

There are many ways to show love. Dad has always loved us with his actions. He has taken care of us. He has helped all of us out , wherever we have lived and whatever car or house we have been working on.

This week I’ve been with Pat at Norah and Sean’s place in Toronto. Aaron was there when Eliza was born. Just before he left to go back to Ottawa I asked Aaron to look at a couple of things at their house. One was their kitchen tap and the other was a bedroom door that was sticking. Aaron gave us advice and Pat and I were able to solve those 2 small problems. They were only small items but they will be appreciated. If we do small things to help out when we visit, it is because of Dad’s example. When Kath  and I lived out of town and Dad and Mom visited us, they never visited without Dad doing many jobs around our houses: putting in electrical outlets, doing some plumbing or carpentry.

And so we help out our kids and family because of Dad’s example. Although he wasn’t there in Toronto this week, really it is because of Dad that that bedroom door doesn’t stick anymore and the kitchen tap moves  more freely. Dad has spent countless hours working with Aaron, teaching him and teaching all of us. Besides that knowledge, he has more importantly, given us the example of using your talents to help others.

Tuesday, 27 March 2018


Why have a blog if you are not going to write regularly? How busy can a retired person really be?
As usual, I had the very best of intentions. First I was going to write about the death of Rebecca Schofield, and the remarkable impact she had on so many people. What a wonderful legacy she has left - to inspire random acts of kindness.

Then I was going to write about our Caribbean cruise; not just about the food and the pleasure of swimming in the ocean, but about the astounding good nature of the crew who served us on board. If there was an Olympic event for cheerfulness, smiling and helpfulness, the hard-working Filipino and Indonesian staff members on that ship would win the gold medal for sure. They could teach us all a lesson in how to treat people.

However, I have no time or energy to write about anything these days. For the past three weeks I have been accompanying my family on the most difficult of journeys. We are getting closer to the end now. My dear father is dying and my heart is breaking a little more every day.

Saturday, 3 February 2018

O Canada!!

Our five year old grandson loves to sing O Canada. When he was here at Christmas time we probably sang it at least a couple of times a day. He also loves to play teacher so Santa brought him his very own pointer for Christmas. Although his reading skills are still developing, he loves to stand at a wall and lead songs or poems from a wall chart.

I've been meaning to write out O Canada on chart paper for him, but haven't got around to it. One of my excuses was that I didn't know whether to use the new version or not. If I wrote "In all of us command" and tried to teach him that, it would be confusing for him, as they are no doubt using the old version at school.

Now, however that issue has been resolved. I was happy to learn that this week the Senate finally passed the bill which amends our national anthem. The Conservatives are angry that other members of the Senate found a way to pass this motion. Apparently eighteen months was not long enough to debate this big change of two words.

I'm especially pleased that we will never have to explain to our granddaughter why O Canada has (had) the words, "In all thy sons command."

Now if I could have everything my way, they would have also changed, "Our home and native land" to "Our home and chosen land" but you can't have everything. This change, to gender neutral wording, was more important. Thanks to the late MP, Mauril Belanger, for championing this cause.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Flashback to the Ice Storm of '98

For the past week, many folks in this area have been saying, "I can't believe it's been twenty years since the ice storm." The actual ice storm lasted from January 4 to 10th of 1998. The aftermath was a lot longer for many residents. One afternoon while we were without power, I sat in our family room and hand wrote a little piece about my observations of the storm, as it affected our family. My sister had power and a fax machine so I took it over to her place and faxed it to The Toronto Star to see if they might be interested. Lo and behold, they published it a couple of days later! It was my second published piece. 

All kinds of things have changed in twenty years. I don't think any newspaper would consider a handwritten offering today. What am I talking about? It is now so difficult to get freelance pieces published at all. How the publishing world has changed, with our tiny newspapers, and advertisers all online. 1998 was before laptops and cell phones and Google and Facebook. It was another era and not a bad one either.  

Our family did not endure any real hardship during the ice storm. We were lucky. Here is my humble offering, as it appeared in The Toronto Star on January 13, 1998.

Some good things from the ice storm          

"Here comes the sun, little darling. Here comes the sun, and I say . . . It's all right."

That wonderful old Beatles tune ran through my head when I woke up to sunshine streaming through my bedroom window Saturday morning. Here in ice-bound Ottawa, it really does seem like "it's been a long, cold lonely winter" although we're only at the start of January.

Our family hasn't been hit hard, as have those in Montreal or in rural areas. Compared to many, the past week has presented us with only minor inconveniences. On Thursday we lost our power for five hours and Friday it was out for six hours. During our brief blackouts, as we have struggled with everyday household tasks, I have learned some new lessons and re-learned some old ones.

Electricity is a good thing, but maybe we rely on it too much.

Even a little power is a good thing. My parents are experiencing a partial blackout. They have heat, one TV, some lights and outlets in some rooms, the fridge, and a very weak stove. Mom says that as long as they have a furnace and a fridge they'll be fine.

Knowing someone who has power when you don't is a good thing. On Thursday night we finished cooking dinner in our neighbour's oven.

Winter days really are short! Friday, we decided that since we were stuck inside we would take down the Christmas tree. About 3:30 p.m. I looked around the living room and realized that we were starting to lose light and by 4:30 the room was almost dark. A power outage in summer wouldn't be that bad, would it?

Kids adapt to a power outage just fine if their friends live close by. On the other hand, teens don't find days at home with parents to be very cool.

Boys operate toilets better in lit rather than dark bathrooms - enough said!

Candles are wonderful! You can do a lot of things by candlelight. Our 12-year-old was not thrilled when his dad insisted that he could practise piano the other night. He was happier when he and his friends took the candles to the basement and had a great game of candlelight ping-pong.

Gas is good. Although a gas furnace will not operate in a power outage, a gas hot water heater will. (There's another candlelight activity for you.) Some powerless people with gas fireplaces have ended up with a few families camped out in their living room. A gas barbecue outside is a good idea.

Be prepared. It is a far better thing for every good Canadian to keep a supply of salt, matches, candles, flashlights and batteries than to risk life, limb and lineups driving to Canadian Tire stores in an ice storm.

It's the old trees that go first in an ice storm. I really thought that the small trees would bend first but, no, it's the older, taller ones that have been destroyed by the weight of the ice. It is awful to lie in bed and hear the same sequence of sounds over and over; a tearing, ripping and sometimes snapping sound as the limb separates from the tree, followed by a crash as it hits the car, garage, house or ice-covered snow below it.

There are always people in much worse situations than ourselves. When our power came back on last night we watched the news. As we learned that many in Montreal have lost drinking water as well as power, as we listened to owners of Christmas tree farms and sugar bushes cry, we knew that we were indeed very fortunate. We have absolutely nothing to complain about and much to be grateful for.

Monday, 18 December 2017

Still sexist after all these years

There are days when you just wonder - really, are we still engaged in these same struggles? That thought came to mind today while listening to CBC radio's The Current. Click here to listen to their item on gender-specific toys for children. It's an interesting discussion about how boys, girls and parents choose toys and what part marketing plays in those decisions.

Here's an example for you. I took these photos at an upscale children's store. The actual toy idea is an old fashioned concept - lacing cards. Now you would think that you could simply have one set of cards that would be appropriate for all children. But no, this manufacturer felt it necessary to make one set for boys and another set for girls.

The boys' pictures illustrate great options - superhero, firefighter,  cowboy, pirate or astronaut.

However the "girly" girls only have one active option - a superhero.
Wow, they can twirl!
Daydream - now that's ambitious!
Maybe this is the girls' version of astronaut?
Really - this is all they could think of for girls?
What would recently retired Chief Justice of Canada Beverley McLachlin think of these options?

Today's radio discussion got me thinking about the time I spent at Queen's University's Faculty of Education. It was a year (1975-76) that changed me.That was the year of my engagement, the year that I realized  I didn't have to change my name when I got married. 

Besides engaging in name-changing discussions with classmates and profs,  I took a course about sex role stereotyping in the classroom. It's a subject I had never thought of before. Maybe that's because sex role stereotyping is so subtle and yet so pervasive. It can be a simple statement like, "Can I have a couple of strong boys to help me move these desks, carry these books, etc." Right away the teacher sends out the message that boys are stronger than girls.

Another course that changed me was outdoor ed. I had camped with my family as a kid but I had never been as physically challenged as I was in that course. I'll never forget the day our instructor told us that the guys would carry the canoes on the portage while the women would double pack. I could barely manage to carry my own pack on my back but now I was expected to carry one of the guys' packs in front, at the same time! The old Mary Ellen, the one who had grown up in a house of 4 girls playing with dolls - that Mary Ellen thought she would expire on the spot. It was empowering to realize that my body was totally capable of carrying such a heavy load.

One of the best teaching tools I picked up that year was a terrific music album called Free to Be You and Me by Marlo Thomas. It features Harry Belafonte singing Parents are People, Alan Alda with William's Doll, NFL football star Rosey Grier with It's All Right to Cry, among a great group of songs and stories. Over the years I often used that in the classroom. It helps that the songs are funny, with catchy tunes. However what is much more important is the non - sexist message, the important life lessons. I highly recommend this album for teachers and parents. It's still very relevant and (unfortunately) necessary today.

Maybe it's time for me to pull it out for my grandchildren.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

JFK assassination

For those of us of a certain age, this is not just any ordinary day in November. This is November 22nd, the day of the JFK assassination.

I was only 10 when President Kennedy was killed so I can't pretend that I really understood the significance of the event when it happened. What struck me more than anything else that day was the fact that my teachers were actually real people, not just strict dispensers of knowledge who lived at the front of a classroom. In the middle of an afternoon class, my former grade 5 teacher, Miss Rice, walked into my grade 6 classroom wailing, "Isn't it terrible? Isn't it terrible?"` There was no polite knock on the door, no discreet note sent to another room. No, this normally austere woman simply burst into our room, without warning.That was our clue that this was a day entirely out of the ordinary.

Like many boomers, I've followed the Kennedy family's ups and downs ever since then. I was devastated on the morning of my grade 10 math exam,  when my mother woke me with the news that Bobby Kennedy had also been killed. That summer (1968) our family embarked on our longest road trip; across North America to Las Vegas,  up the Pacific coast to Vancouver and finally, a short jaunt across Canada, back home to Ottawa. My parents are saints!

Reading provided me with an escape from the squabbles with my five siblings. At a gas station in Denver I picked up a copy of William Manchester's Death of A President, which I still have.

It's seven hundred and forty-nine pages of tiny print but I dove right in. In fact I remember my mother telling me to "get your nose out of that book and have a look out the window". She was right. At that point we were driving by the Grand Canyon and I've never returned to that area. I should have put the book down and admired the scenery but I couldn't. 

Stephen King has written,  "I was also deeply impressed - and moved, and shaken - by my rereading of William Manchester's Death of a President . . . this massive work, published only four years after that terrible lunch hour in Dallas, is closer in time to the assassination, written when most of the participants were still alive and their recollections were still vivid. Armed with Jacqueline Kennedy's conditional approval of the project, everyone talked to Manchester and although his account of the aftermath is turgid, his narrative of 11/22's events is chilling and vivid, a Zapruder film in words."

A friend recently recommended Stephen Kings novel, 11/22/63.

I loved it as soon as I saw the book jacket. On one side you have the familiar photo of John and Jackie in the motorcade, along with the shocking headline of the day. However, on the back cover you have the opposite headline!

Like the Manchester book years ago, I became totally engrossed in this one. Again, at eight hundred and forty-two pages, this is no light read. It's a time travel affair and I rarely read time travel. The main character, Jake Epping, a teacher, is sent on a mission: to travel back in time to prevent President Kennedy's assassination. Throughout the book we learn all sorts of details about Oswald and his background. The focus is on him, more than on Kennedy. It's a fascinating read. While I was originally attracted to this book because I cared about Kennedy, King is such a masterful storyteller that I ended up really caring about Jake Epping.

The political and historical information that King presented was impressive but what I really enjoyed was the way he was able to re-create the time period. He didn't sugar-coat it. He presented the negatives as well as the positives. What he makes you long for is the slower pace of life, the simplicity of the 50's and 60's, the more personal interactions in daily life. 

 On October 29th, CBC radio's Cross Country Checkup, discussed the question, "Are your changing shopping habits killing the department store and the mall?" Click here to go to that discussion. It was interesting to hear shoppers discuss the closing of Sears and what that means to shopping malls and our shopping patterns. Many listeners lamented the lack of social interaction with on-line purchases. No one knows you on line. No one has a clue about you in the checkout line of a huge store. I refuse to shop at Walmart and hold them responsible for the deaths of so many small independent stores, the demise of so many small towns.

That radio discussion reminded me of one of my favourite sections in King's book. This quote from 11/22/63 gives a nostalgic snapshot of life in the 60's. Here King is talking about the town of Derry, where Jake Epping lives, in the 60's.

"Here's home: the smell of the sage and the way the hills flush orange with Indian blanket in the summer. The faint taste of tobacco on Sadie's tongue and the squeak of the oiled wood floorboards in my homeroom. . . . Other things too. People saying howdy on the street, people giving me a wave from their cars, Al Stevens taking Sadie and me to the table at the back that he had started calling "our table," playing cribbage on Friday afternoons in the teachers' room with Danny Laverty for a penny a point, arguing with elderly Miss Mayer about who gave the better newscast, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley or Walter Cronkite. My street, my shotgun house, getting used to using a typewriter again. Having a best girl and getting S&H Green Stamps with my groceries and real butter on movie popcorn. Home is watching the moon rise over the open sleeping land and having someone you can call to the window, so you can look together. Home is where you dance with others, and dancing is life."

I love the feelings conjured up in that section. When he talks about playing cribbage in the teachers' room I think of my own days in teachers' rooms and the fun lunches we used to have. Now at many schools, teachers rarely bother to go to the staff room.  When they do eat their lunch there, the conversations are limited. Most of the young teachers are bent over their phones, communicating with anyone but the people they are sitting beside. It's a different time altogether.

Thanks to Stephen King for the research, for the compelling story, and for the warm glimpse into days gone by. Earlier this month more than 2800 government documents related to the JFK assassination were released. Maybe, if the remainder of the files are released next year, we'll have an even better idea of why President Kennedy was killed on November 22nd. 

Monday, 6 November 2017

Special Needs Education - Ottawa Citizen Article

As promised, I have written a piece to expand on what I said during the CBC  radio phone-in, regarding the state of special education.  Click here to read  my piece in today's Ottawa Citizen.

In it, I stress the need for early identification of learning problems. Many will disagree, but I also write about my preference for special classes for learning disabled students. In this age of three year olds heading off to full day kindergarten, I also applaud the Toronto Board of Education. They're offering some fall babies the opportunity to enjoy an extra year of school.

There have always been controversies and disagreements about how to best serve our students. As a retired special education teacher, parent and grandmother, I'm happy to remain a part of those discussions.