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.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

High and Dry

Looking across to Gatineau, Quebec

We're feeling lucky to be dry. Out of town friends who have watched coverage of the floods in Gatineau and Ottawa, ask us if our basement is dry. Thankfully it is. Actually we have spent the past few weeks working on our basement rec room. Can you still call it a rec room? Anyhow it's the room the grandchildren play in, when they come, the room we retreat to, on a hot summer day. We've been tearing out the old wood panelling and white ceiling tiles, putting in insulation and drywall. Nothing extravagant but an upgrade for us.

When I see and hear these people who have been flooded and lost everything, I cannot imagine how they must feel. This project of ours has taken so much time, energy and money and it's only a small room. How will they clean up their homes and make them liveable again?

Today I went down to the river where I spent so many childhood days. Mom and Dad are still in their home, which is one block from the Ottawa River. Luckily, their basement is also dry. In the sixties, the Ottawa River Parkway was built. That raised road, between the river and my parents' block, helps to keep the water from my parent's block. Here are some scenes from the walking/cycling path along the river.

The signs here, show the location of the walking/cycling path.

The river is now receding, leaving a lot of debris behind.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Ottawa Flypast

Take time to smell the roses...or watch the flypast

There are many perks to living in the nations' capital. Today's flypast was one of them. Canada's Snowbirds, along with France's aerobatic demonstration team, La Patrouille de France, flew together, in formation. It was one of the many events scheduled throughout this year, to marks Canada's sesquicentennial.There were nine Snowbird Tutor planes, eight French Alpha jets along with two photo chase planes. The event was delayed because of yesterday's rain. A crowd gathered at Parliament Hill. We didn't make it downtown but as often happens with Parliament Hill flypasts, the planes were visible in our neighbourhood as we are fairly close to the Ottawa River. The planes fly along the river, on their way to The Hill.

In the midst of a busy morning, with many indoor and outdoor jobs vying for my attention, it was fun to take a break and stand in the middle of Champlain Park with my ninety-two year old father and watch the planes fly overhead.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Earth Day

Happy Earth Day!

While I was teaching, earth day was a major date on my calendar. I was on the environment committee at my schools and dubbed the Green Queen, by one of my colleagues. However, I'm pretty sure that my environment committee updates at staff meetings drove some people crazy. April was a busy month as we planned our earth day assemblies. I have fond memories of earth day songs, activities,  games, prayers, videos and skits...all in an attempt to teach and engage students in environmental issues.

I wish the educational work was over, that the fight had been won, but of course it will never be over. It's now forty-seven years since the first earth day. With the election of the current U.S. President, the environmental agenda has suffered a huge blow. His government's abrupt U-turn on Obama's policies have sparked today's Marches for Science all around the world. Click here The National to see a good recap of the current political situation regarding the environment.

It's encouraging that so many scientists and sympathizers turned out today. The Washington march had a science superstar at the helm. Good old Bill Nye The Science Guy is back. Not only was front and centre at today's march; his new television show,  Bill Nye Saves the World, started yesterday on Netflix. Click here Bill Nye the Science Guy,  to hear his interview on CBC radio's Quirks and Quarks show today.

We need leaders like Bill Nye and David Suzuki and events like today's marches to keep climate change in the spotlight. After that, it's up to all of us, to make environmentally friendly choices in our everyday lives.

I'm happy to report that this week I re-discovered a real gem: The Restore. Restores can be found all across Canada. It's such a wonderful, common sense idea. Stores and individuals donate building materials they can no longer use or sell. Customers can then purchase the donated materials at a fraction of their original cost. All the profits go back to Habitat for Humanity, the charity that builds houses for needy families. It's a win win situation for everyone. From their website: "Retailers often have high quality items that can no longer be sold in store. These items often get sent to a landfill. Donating end-of-line products and customer returns to a ReStore can substantially reduce waste. In 2015, ReStores across Canada diverted over 36,000 tonnes of material from landfills. Individuals can also help to reduce waste by donating items of value that might otherwise be thrown out."

So, if you re-model your kitchen and there's still life left in your cupboards, you can donate them to your local Restore. Here's a kitchen I saw this week at one of Ottawa's two locations.

Unfortunately I didn't think of the Restore a couple of years ago, when we were replacing some light fixtures. I wish we had, because they have an amazing selection. Here's a sample of the tiles available.

            Need a door or window? They are all sorted, measured and well organized.

Click here, The Restore, to learn more. For other environment themed posts you can read my gloomy "The Sin of Bottled Water," from December of last year. On a happier note, there's also my Ottawa Citizen piece about Giveaway Weekend (June 10, 2016)  here in Ottawa. That reminds me, we must be getting close to this spring's version of Giveaway Weekend!

Remember - Reduce, Re-Use and Recycle!