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.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Special Ed discussion on The Current

We're well into the new school year now. My former colleagues in special education have been working diligently to write IEP's (Individual Education Plans) for students identified with learning  problems.  This fall, CBC radio's The Current has been airing segments about special eduction. On October 2nd the entire show was devoted to the subject. Click here to hear a recap of that show. You would think it wouldn't matter to me anymore; I'm well into retirement. However, just hearing parents' concerns about how their children's needs are not being met, got me all fired up about special ed. again. It's a subject that I've been involved with as both parent and teacher. Frankly I'm saddened by the fact that we are still failing so many students and their families. I was pleased to be a part of the phone-in portion of the show (at the twenty-two minute mark) but there was so much more I wish I could have said. In the next little while I'll re-visit this and elaborate on my comments about early identification and specialized classes.

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.