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.

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!

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Holy Week - The Sunday Edition

Well, here we are in mid-April already. For Christians, this is the end of Holy Week. For many of us, this week has not felt holy. Rather it could be characterized as a very scary week. Palm Sunday in Egypt saw two churches attacked and many killed. In just one week, Trump has fired missiles at Syria, detonated the largest non-nuclear bomb ever, on Afghanistan and issued combative tweets at North Korea. It feels like we are living on the edge of something catastrophic. How do all the folks who voted for him feel now? Is this what they wanted? It is what many of us feared and what Hilary Clinton meant, when she declared him "temperamentally unfit for office."

If I think about the world situation too long, it's too upsetting and so I try to find something positive, some goodness and perhaps even some holiness in my busy life. We spent last week taking care of our young grandchildren. The opportunity to spend time with them is one of our greatest blessings now.

Yes, it is exhausting work but it's a privilege to be along for the journey, as they develop and discover the world around them. You get to answer profound questions such as,  "Why does Humpty keep falling off walls?" and hear such pronouncements as, "Oh, that's a monster poo!"

A high point for me this week was working on the Easter eggs with my mother. Not many people my age get to walk into their childhood home and work with their mother, who still wants to make Easter eggs for the whole family. It's a family tradition. Her mother started to make them, back when my mother was working in a downtown office. That would be back in the 40's. She made thirty eggs this year. Everyone gets one, with their name on it. If anyone has tried to teach me about goodness and holiness, it's mom.

So often, it is CBC radio that makes me feel better, opens my mind and restores my faith in humanity. 
On March 5th there was a short item on the Sunday Edition that was simply so moving. It's about a book club that takes place in prisons. A former prisoner, Jarrod Shook, recited a poem that he wrote, about his experience with the book club. He uses the phrase, "me the least" to describe himself. It reminded me of a hymn we used to sing back in the 60's. The line is "Whatsoever you do, to the least of my people, that you do unto me." It refers to Jesus' teaching, about the importance of showing love to the "least" among us, the needy, the vulnerable. This young man saw himself as among the least and was so appreciative of the book club. He is now working on his second university degree.

That short item was a welcome reminder that there really are so many good people in the world. Shook's poem is a reminder that all of our actions and interactions matter. We're all in this together. For a short reprieve from our troubled world, for a moment of holiness and hope, click here: The Sunday Edition

Here's wishing for a Happy Easter, a Happy Passover, a Happy Spring!