Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Saturday, December 30, 2006

State of Mind

There, it's happened. I turned the corner. Yesterday was my seventieth year upon this earth. I'm seventy years old! True, it's true. I keep having to remind myself that this is a fact: I am now 70 years of age. Is this fair? Where, after all, have the years gone? Seems like a lot, yet on the other hand, is it really? These were certainly not sparse years. They were years of plenty. All the experiences, all the living done in those years, simply amazes me.

Guess what? Seventy? Can't believe it. There's the proof, if I want it. I have but to look in a mirror. There are times when the mirror is kind and it seems to me that I look well, like myself, not old. Assuredly not young either, but myself. Then there are those times when I just happen to fleetingly, without meaning to, look in a mirror and see not myself at all, but my mother looking back at me. Why she's there is beyond me. I don't recall summoning her, but she's there.

Age is also a state of mind, I know that. On the other hand age is most definitely a state of being, is it not? So, which is it? Both, yes, both. I'm back to doing my nightly exercises, that same set of exercises I've done for the past, let's see, about forty years. I had to briefly suspend them following my icy fall in the ravine, clunking my head a few weeks back. Those evening exercises keep me limber. As does my house cleaning. I've got a fairly youthful body; few aches and pains. So I'm certainly fortunate in that regard.

I've always appeared physically young for my age. A nuisance when one is young, but oh, so very nice when one becomes rather mature-beyond-mature. Our daily clambers in the ravine remain a challenge for the older we get the slightly more difficult those inclines and declines. I've got to stop briefly and rest for the minutest of times. Out of breath slightly, and occasionally more than slightly. It comes and goes.

Have I anything to complain about? Hardly. My husband is a month behind me. He'll catch up in a sense, soon enough, but I'm the older of we two. He has no need to stop and rest, but he kindly slows down and stands alongside me until my energy level feels restored. I don't have quite his stamina, and wonder if that's a gender thing, greater chest cavity, better lung capacity.

He made a lovely card for my birthday, and I treasure all those cards he has produced for me over the years. Gave me a facsimile of an old cookbook. Another of a gardening encyclopedia. And a third book, one about mountain climbing, and an introspective look at attempting to understand just why it is that so many people feel such an inner compulsion to climb the earth's highest and most dangerous peaks placing their lives at risk. He knows my fascination with that.

The best gift of all is having our younger son with us for these two weeks. And his gift to me arrived in the mail the day before my birthday; a lovely pottery bowl he'd made, a rose painted in its interior.

Hello, Hello, We've Got Snow!

Well, finally. Snow. Not all that much of it, mind, but it's there, blanketing the landscape beautifully. With the snow has also come cold, and that's not so much to celebrate about. On the other hand, one goes with the other. So we shiver in the frigidity of the atmosphere and blink in wonder at the sublime arras spread before us. Who could fail to appreciate that shimmering white beauty, after all?

When the snow drifts langorously in a slight breeze from the boughs of evergreens in a sunlit veil of crystals it's a memory one would love to keep intact. Such fragile, effervescent scenes escape the memory. We must needs experience them year after year, recognizing their re-occurrence, but realizing that without actually witnessing them year over year, memory would not serve to accurately bring the vision to life.

We've still far more of the white stuff to come down during the course of this winter, but the current sparse covering is a delight to the eye. And with that covering expectations of joyous revelling in the snow come to fruition. Early this morning, while we two still slept soundly our son arose, captured his skis and boots and went out into the early morning sunshine.

There he warmed up first with cross-country skies at the park toward the foot of our street. Coming back later to scoop up the downhill skis for a loopy circuit in the ravine on the fresh-fallen snow before the daily hikers could despoil the smooth and accepting surface. By the time we ventured out later after breakfast, his phantom ski trail could scarce be discerned.

We revelled, the three of us and the two little dogs, in the ambiance, the sun glinting on the fresh snow cradled on boughs and branches, wind sifting it gently into the air.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

This is Winter?

Yes, it most certainly is. We've now left behind us the shortest day(light) of the year and henceforth the days will begin, so slowly we hardly notice it, the long ascent toward lighter days hours. In a few months' time we will suddenly realize that dark no longer begins its descent in mid-afternoon, cloudy skies or clear. And we will voice our happiness over this realization, and congratulate ourselves over having weathered yet another winter.

It's cold, but everything is relative. It should be colder, according to the weather calendar. That didn't stop me from shivering during our ravine walk today. But that was my fault since, looking at the thermometer and seeing it was a full three degrees warmer than yesterday I failed to dress as well as I did yesterday, suffering the consequences of inattention and undue jauntiness.

Today I took the camera along. Because there was a weather event yesterday certain to reflect the arras of the ravine in a different way. Also, there was a softly lingering fog as the low overnight temperature gave way to a gradual warming trend. We'd heard a municipal snowplow crush the ice off the road early this morning in its sweep through the city, post-storm. Plenty of accidents reported during the freezing rain event of yesterday.

And today the creek is swollen, muddy and rushing madly to empty itself of the most current dump. As we enter the ravine, we're slowly but steadily sprinkled with fine ice droplets falling from the trees overhead. Underfoot we crisply crunch through the ice pockets on the trail. Without our trusted cleats we'd be doing more of a downhill slither than a confident stride.

Ice still captures every branch and twig of the trees we pass. Conifer branches hang low weighted down with the burden of the ice still covering every needle, but slowly shuffling off. There is a beautiful aspect to the ice-limned trunks, limbs of the trees, they take on an unexpected look of transcendence, transformed from the ordinary to the sublime.

The sky is the colour of pewter, a shimmering grey-white. The weather forecast had hinted at the possibility of some afternoon sun - as improbable as that seemed, given the low and overall overcast, yet we did almost have the impression at one point that the sun would prevail. It tantalized us with its possibility, but withheld itself from reality.

The frozen trail began to relent under the warming trend and once again gave up little puddles of muck to stride through, whenever we weren't encountering ice-glassy strips of trail. Improbably for this time of year, there was the sound of Canada geese overhead. Still not cold enough in its usual Canadian-relentless winter way to encourage them on their southward journey.

There, up high above, a few crows are in noisy pursuit of an intruder, a close cousin. The raven for some reason we're not familiar with is unwelcome here in this home of our local crow community, and it lifts off its perch and departs, hoarsely cawing in defiance. Our little dogs paddle through the ice puddles, slip on the slick ice surfaces, stop to sniff time and again, new odours revealed with the slight thaw.

Little hope of snow on the way in the next few days in sufficient quantities to transform this into the winter landscape we're far more familiar with.

No exchanges possible on this item.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Neighbours, Friends and Acquaintances

We're getting kind of spoiled. It's still not as cold here as it should be for this time of year. Early this morning light snow fell, and for a brief period of time the world looked as it should approaching the Christmas season, as a bright white frosting lay over everything. By the time we had our breakfast and launched ourselves into the ravine for our daily ramble, the snow had all but disappeared, even though it was still cold enough to stick around.

Going to and then from our walk, we came across old neighbours; Said, who looked a trifle grumpy, quite unlike his normal self. But after all, this is not his holiday swiftly approaching, and he's so bundled up despite the clement weather he betrays his Bangladeshi origins. Mohindar tells us, walking up to the post box, that he could feel better and he too is not his usual cheerful self. Not his holiday either, since he's a Sikh, our very good neighbour.

But then there's Susan whom we've lived beside for almost sixteen years. She looks as young and beautiful as when we first met her. And Susan is always cheerful, never down in the dumps even when she has cause to be. What's this? She's complaining about the damp getting into her bones - and not a word about the pleasure she feels because her parents are set to arrive late this week from Windsor to share Christmas.

We're feeling pretty good ourselves, awaiting the arrival two days hence of our youngest child, from Vancouver, to spend almost two weeks with us before he shoves off for a conference in Montreal. The sun comes out and we decide it would be a perfect day to head off downtown to Byward Market, pick up a load of hefty Jewish ryes, terrific export cheese, and the bi-monthly art magazine that has surely arrived at the magazine shop.

It's a pleasant drive, tootling along the Parkway, beside the Ottawa River. Some days we do that drive and the river is dark and brooding, vastly uninviting, but this day it is calm and broadly pacific. We wonder why there are so many cars parked at the Aeronautical Museum; note there are no sleek black horses out at the RCMP pasture, and pace a runner on the roadside soon outdistanced by our car.

We secure a fairly good parking space, feed the meter, settle Button and Riley into their bags and set off first to the magazine shop where the magazine is indeed in, along with another we always enjoy. Added bonus: we pick up several cards of postage stamps, since I've still got a few charitable donations to send off, a few more cards, and a responding letter to Angelyne.

The usual market stalls are open and full of intriguing-looking items; I feel like moseying here and there to determine exactly what is on offer at various stalls, but I'm urged on to the business at hand and give them a reluctant pass. There's more than enough people wandering about in the never-ending search for something that's different, something they really must have, to keep or to gift someone with.

At the shop where we usually get all of our cheeses we prowl about and finally make our selections. The result is a fairly heavy bag, so he carries that and I take the magazines. Then across the street to the shop that sells all things oriental and we get our heavy bag of kokua rose rice. Time's up! Back to the car, to drive the several blocks to the Rideau Bakery. I sit in the car with the dogs, and he goes in, that's the drill.

A few minutes later I pull my eyes away from the sign that reads "halal meats" and "ethic foods" (has no one ever noticed?) in the windows of the shop next to the bakery, just in time to see a large hulking, hunched figure leave the bakery. He looks remotely like someone I once knew and I wince at the memory. And there's my husband on the other side of the door, causing me to think what's he doing there rather than at the back of the store, making his bread selections?

The man shambles further up the street with the assistance of a cane, stops at the traffic light. He's much too far for me to see his face, although I strain to see if I can make out his features. He crosses to the opposite side, then makes his way slowly in the opposite direction. I could almost swear he turns his head a few times in my direction, but surely that's just me, thinking. It's a wide, broad street and not at all reasonable to think that he might know I'm sitting in a car, opposite.

When finally my husband emerges, arms rigid at his side with the weight of the bread-filled bags he's carrying, he nonetheless switches all the bags to one hand, raises the other in a victory sign indicating his satisfaction with his haul, so close to seasonal party-time. Then, as he opens the driver's side door to release the car trunk he tells me I'd never believe who he just bumped into.

Oh yes, I would, I certainly would. If there was any single human being with whom I had the misfortune to work closely whose very proximity I found troublingly loathsome it was that man. "Aharon", I said, as my husband glanced up in surprise. When he unloaded his treasure and got into the car he said how surprised he was at entering the store to see the man who had been a working colleague almost two decades ago.

This man whose gross physical features and troglodyte shape always revulsed me, but not nearly as much as his grovelling, ingratiating, demanding, sneaky, nasty manner did. I worked directly with this man and found it took a dreadful toll in patience and forbearance to do so. The man was a social climber, an elitist, a religious nutter, a skinflint of the highest order. All elements of character that found no favour with me.

I somehow tolerated working in fairly close proximity with this man for several years, and was happy to be able to sever working connections when we were re-assigned elsewhere. Toward the end of my working relationship with him, however, I found it increasingly difficult to remain openly friendly, and my distaste emerged, which served to confound the poor man, for he obviously could see no reason for me to remove myself as I did from what he obviously felt was his circle of friends.

So when my husband hailed him, asked after his health and whether he was still working for the same institution, he responded in kind, informing that he had acquired several law degrees, was still working and why wouldn't he be? Well, for one thing, with the kind of repulsive personality that he had, his propensity toward self-enrichment at a cost toward others, his subconscious belief in his superiority, socially, intellectually, religiously, he was never what one might assume to be a sterling representative of the working group he represented.

And how is your lovely wife? was the query that came back at my husband. To which he responded that I was just down the street, sitting in the car, and if he liked, he could just walk by and say hello. To which invitation this old friend stiffened and responded with the well-justified hurt of an old grievance: well, why should he, I never took the opportunity to bid him farewell properly, I treated him like dross, so for all he cared I didn't exist...

Thank heavens for small mercies.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Simon Pulsifer, You're Our Man!

Nice to know that a young man of 25 has the determination, the vision, the intellectual wherewithal to pursue a course of action that reflects so well on himself in particular and the rest of the world at large. Simon Pulsifer has devoted three years of his young life to the distillation of information, the clarification of data, the publication of ideas and concepts for the purpose of enlightening us all.

Wikipedia earned itself a champion.

This young man is my neighbour. In the sense that we live in the same city. This is, after all, a large world, and Wikipedia through the Internet reaches millions upon millions of people. His happy distractions reflect glory on me. He's doing what he does because he feels compelled to. Doing so provides him with great satisfaction for his meticulous, enquiring mind.

Public notice was given to his activities in the last year, but it is only on this day that much has been published about his own publishing exploits, and he has been interviewed on radio and television, has had his name echoed time and again in the news.
Time magazine has given him recognition in its year-end review of notables. A recognition well earned.

He has amply demonstrated an eagerness to distribute for public consumption and awareness facts, current and historical gleanings distilled and presented from a wide array of alternative sources for our edification. This man has left his ego in his back pocket. He doesn't give us his opinion, his take on anything. He doesn't discourse on topics for the purpose of illustrating his personal mental acumen.

The people who indulge in this kind of display are bloggers. The ego is up front and centre in the product of bloggers' publications. Not so Simon Pulsifer.

It's no mean feat, authoring thousands of Wikipedia entries, let alone taking the precision-laden and time-consuming care to edit tens of thousands of others' entries.

Good on ya, Simon Pulsifer.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Odd Season

Yes, this is the season, but for some reason nature has deemed otherwise. In her great wisdom she has determined that this year of 2006 - December the month, there will be no snow. With Christmas fast approaching this is peculiar weather, all the more so in its mildness of temperature, sunshine in wake of the relentless rain not yet embraced into the rapidly-defrosting soil.

Our way through the ravine these days is slow, given our deliberate steps in aid of avoiding too-deep mud patches crossing the trails here and there and everywhere. The snow has melted, so has the ice, and instead large puddles of water crouch in the forest interior, slowly investing in the soil, and just as deliberately leaking away from its cradle onto the trails, over the humps of the hills.

We've placed our winter boots back on the garage shelves to await the eventual come-back of more seasonal weather, and likewise our trusty ice cleats. We've hauled our old hiking boots back out and muck our way through the ravine with those. Where in the throes of icy winter a scant several weeks back we layered ourselves against the cold, now we stride out with lighter jackets unzipped.

Running along a bend in the trail a bouncing brown dog of sound proportion and lovely conformation is as surprised to come aface with us as we are it. But it has friendly intentions and soon its owner hoves into view. It's the very picture of canine perfection, as akin to a thoroughbred as any we've seen, a magnificent creature, a young female Doberman. She is poetry in motion, her long legs unfolding gracefully as she lifts herself over the undergrowth.

Our toy testosterone-laden poodle stands head erect, rapid-fire barking, snarling, knowing himself to be more than a physical match for this noble giant. Our miniature poodle, being a female, is invested with more tact and good sense and makes her way delicately on the trail beyond the Doberman, knowing herself to be beyond threat.

Later, another muscularly-bronzed dog leaps forward as we begin a long clamber uphill and we recognize the woman he's with. This is a chocolate Lab, a large, loose and happy puppy in love with the adventure of life and the opportunities provided it for play with other dogs encountered in the ravine. We hail its owner, long hair burnished the colour of her dog.

This is the first time over the period of several years we've seen her accompanied by her boyfriend, although she's often spoken of him. She looks radiant, happy, beautiful. As I imagine her daughter does, a mirror-image, though younger, of her mother. I no longer enquire after her daughter, for it's too painful to hear of their clashes, and last time I asked the girl had gone back to Thunder Bay where her friends still live.

The Lab is happy to see us - happy to see anyone, and they tell us that it had enjoyed a run-about with the Doberman we'd seen earlier, both dogs, they hoped, exhausting one another. But no, the Lab keeps circling and lunging at our little black poodle, enthusiastically inviting her to come and run, come and play.

One has not yet reached a full year, the other thirteen years, an unequal match, one that Button is not keen to explore and she moves away time and again, nervously. Nothing seems to dissuade the Lab's exhilaration until the firm voice of its master calls him to heel. He's happy to bound off elsewhere down the trail, down the hill we've just ascended.

How was the interview on the week-end past, I ask her, our bloom-faced, red-haired beauty. She smiles, hesitates, admits hers was lacking, but his was good, really good, and he may very well be offered the position he wants. He's smart, she says, in his hearing, and I think to myself how she undervalues herself, her abilities, experiences, keen mind.

How typically female. Even of women who consider themselves to be fully emancipated. Women who glow when they're in the presence of the man they love.

Friday, December 15, 2006

How Many, for Heavens Sake!

Tough, but we're hard up against an unpleasant realization that what we at first took to be a minor invasion is in reality an invasion of major proportions. Where we thought there might possibly be one teeny, weeny, fur-cuddly mouse in our house there appears to be well, might there be legions? The mind boggles. Who knew?

There was the first one, and to our innocent imagination, the only one that had ventured by accident into the garage. So we thoughtfully lifted the garage door and left it ajar overnight so it might find its cute little way back out again into the wild, where it most surely belongs.

Hoped it would have the good sense to leave. But surprise! there it was again. All right, winter's on the cusp and it would find itself a dry warm little place somewhere (one of our boots?) to hibernate over winter. It's happened before. We'd no cause to suspect otherwise.

But then, surprise, surprise! That scratching sound overhead which we'd never before heard signalled the presence of what else? a mouse! In the attic, no less. No mean feat to venture upward from the garage to the attic of the house. That's three stories of determined venturing. How, in the name of heaven? I guess that's another story, one the mice won't share with us.

So, reluctantly, you've no idea how very reluctantly, the traps were set. One tiny body retrieved the following day; mark one trap absent. The following day, two more little bodies, plus another revealed with the missing trap. We were obviously onto an unfortunate bonanza up there of shelter, but where was the food and water source? These intrepid mice travelling to and from the attic to the out-of-doors on a daily basis to stock up?

The following day another two mice. Of the total two of the little creatures appeared to be more heavily weighted than the others. Conceivably pregnant females. The better to populate your attic, you see. Forgive us, for we know what we do, but feel we have no other choice. But we cannot go on forever murdering these innocent little creatures of nature.

Back to the drawing board, and the memory of the summer months when we'd thought it so adorable to see a succession (of days) of mice leaping easily from the driveway into the mouth of the downspout. We waited to see them emerge and they did not, although we could hear them scrabbling upward. Well, upward indeed, up the length of the downspout to gain the roof and from there entrance.

So, sleeves of wire netting were fashioned to place over the four downspouts. That should spell the end to these entrance points, we think. We hope. I daresay, we hope.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Sounds Good To Me

It's hard to fathom how a decently civilized fair-minded society can accept the presence of homeless people in their midst. The very fact that in a land of plenty, where generally the population shares a healthy appreciation of social responsibility and fairness, we can now take for granted something that once seemed intolerably brutal: that there are among us people who live their fractured lives on the streets of our cities.

As though it's one of life's many inevitabilities. There's universal agreement on the humanitarian requirement to give assistance to people in need, and that's one of the reasons why Canadians believe that government-sponsored, tax-paid welfare is available to a wide range of people and families whose fortune has soured, or has never been promising for one reason or another.

Mental illness comes to mind, physical ill-health or/and incapacity. The bad luck that comes with losing long-time employment as a result of market factors out of one's control and with advancing age further employment appearing dim. The socially-stigmatized but very real calamity that befalls people who for one reason or another become drug-addicted and irresponsible.

In their great wisdom, social service agencies and provincial governments saw fit to close down group institutions which at one time looked after the needs of those in this society whose mental and physical incapacities left them incapable of forging their own futures. These unfortunates were gradually released to the public venue to fend for themselves, now representing a sizeable portion of the homeless.

There are those whose limited incapacities have resulted in poor social skills, including the acquisition of skills required to take one's place among the working population, and these people too fall by the wayside. Gambling addiction, along with that of illegal drugs has left people adrift, jobless, unable to care for themselves, on the streets.

There are young people, those still in adolescence, who have chosen to escape an abusive family background and find themselves homeless, helpless, hopeless, resigned to living on the street, exposed to conditions inimical to their health, their independence and physical well being, but determined to make their way in these socially primitive conditions.

There are the families living a pay cheque away from being thrown out of their living arrangements and to whom the final blow does arrive, where the current assisted living agencies seem unable to cope with the crush of familial disasters with an inadequate supply of municipally-designated housing in support of the working poor.

Along comes statistics and arguments gleaned from experimental outreaches here and there indicating that for an outlay of a sum of $25,000 per year each of these homeless souls could be accommodated with decent living arrangements, enabling many of them to have their dignity restored along with a determination to make an effort to become independent through education or job searches.

Sounds like a lot of money, $25,000 a crack to restore life and promise to a forgotten segment of society. On the other hand, it's estimated that costs associated with an informal upkeep of these lost people which includes medical, hospital, policing and incidentals related to temporary shelters and food provision the cost can range as high as $130,000 per individual.

Sounds like the way to go is to empower social service agencies, provincially and municipally to work hand in glove to solve this dreadful dilemma. Life on the streets anywhere in Canada during our hard winter months takes its inevitable toll on too many. As a country of great wealth and opportunity we can do much, much better.

Time to care enough to give it a try.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Battle is Joined

This is truly heart-breaking. Yes, we find it extremely difficult. How to explain to yourself the need to eradicate something living from your environment? It just cannot be right. It is a minor tragedy that we have come to this pass. Something that nature has pressed upon us. Unhappily we discuss our options. But there really are none, save to opt for the status quo.

And is that a truly agreeable option? Things do have a way of getting out of hand. Ignore pressing matters for long enough and they become ever more difficult to deal with. Humankind is not really meant to share its intimate living quarters with other denizens of this earth. Nevertheless, other creatures do venture into our close sphere in their innocent search for survival.

We manipulate our surroundings in a way not given to other creatures. We manufacture for ourselves artificial environments which support and enclose and protect us from the elements. Far more difficult for other mammals to achieve anything remotely similar in their self-defence. They creep unbidden, unwanted into ours.

For some of these creatures we harbour ill will and feel no compunction in eradicating them. Take, for example, those primitive creatures that haunt urban living spaces, like cockroaches and rats. Take them do, for we don't want them. We've had our own experiences with them, living in climates where both commonly invade homes.

On the other hand, take mice, sweet innocent-appearing, tiny bits of fluff with large, appealing eyes. Who could harbour ill feelings toward these tender creatures? We love to see them in their natural surroundings. Not so crazy about spotting them where they clearly don't belong, according to our interpretation of the fitness of things.

So here we are, what a dilemma. Setting heartless traps of wood and wire. Small enticing blots of peanut butter will do it. And they're there, up there in the attic for we can see a series of tunnels running about here and there through the fibreglass insulation. So, one trap here and another there, several feet distant of one another.

We knew they were there, heard them scrabbling and scraping and scribbling and scratching about overhead. Right over the bath in our bathroom. Directly over our bed in our bedroom. Unsettling. Don't know what's more upsetting, the thought that they're there and the spores from their feces are circulating in the air we breathe, or the fact that we've got to do something about them.

This morning. The ladder put in place. A look about up there. The retrieval of one still, tiny body. Bagged, it's tormentingly sad. The other trap nowhere to be seen.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Not My Size...Thanks Anyway

All other things being equal what other to do on a Tuesday than take advantage of Seniors' Day? So off we went to our not-so-local Salvation Army Thrift Shop. Our local shop is still being re-built, after having been torched by area goodfellas away back in the spring (was it then? I think so). In the meantime, we toddle along to another one which is fairly close but not nearly as nice, spacious and sparkling as our (sob!) old one - soon to be restored to us.

Good fortune is with us this day. We've hardly arrived, not yet in the store itself, and there, in front of it, two abandoned shopping carts. We know they belong there, as most self-respecting shop-owners or purveyors of goods great and small, would be mortified to own up to these two particular carts. They've seen better days, and that's putting it kindly. One for him, another for me, and we're off. Into the store, that is.

Into the child seats go our two little dorgs, in their respective pouches. They make themselves comfortable and begin to doze off as is their wont, post-ravine walk. They're good and quiet, not a peep out of them but it hardly matters, they're noticed by everyone who passes and then they endure good-naturedly, all the pokes and pettings that people insist on gifting them with.

He goes directly off to peruse the books on offer, while I poke about the various clothing racks, looking for items of a certain colour, certain style, certain size; certain I'll come across one or the other, perhaps an item embracing all three categories. A tall, seemingly well-proportioned older woman stops before me and exclaims "you're small! I know just the thing for you".

She explains her disheartening adventure of trying on a nearly-new, black turtle-neck sweater that turned out to be too small, despite that it was labelled as large. Not at all, she said, pointing to the green turtle-neck sweater visible through her open coat "this one I'm wearing is a medium, and it's larger than the so-called large one!". I thanked her and said I'd look for it when I got around to that rack.

Off she went and I took no further notice, but then she returned, with the sweater in hand, gushing as she handed it to me, about how good it would look on me. I lifted it into view and sighed (inwardly), told her she might think it was small but I could readily see it would be too large for me. She looked at me, dumbfounded, and went on extolling its nearly-new virtue. But it's too large for me, I repeated.

She denied it was, and I pointed out to her the area between the armpits, between the neck and the bodice, all meant for a larger woman than me. The disappointment on her face! Still, she stolidly continued that it would indeed fit nicely, and I should re-think it. I smiled at her, thanked her for her trouble, took possession of the black turtleneck (two such of which are already in my wardrobe - and they actually fit me) and placed it in my cart.

Triumph lurked in her nice brown eyes; she saluted me happily, and went off on her own search for adequately-sized garments. I went back to shuffling garments on the rack, looking, looking for something interesting, fascinating, truly different. When I reached the rack where I assumed the black piece had come from, since that's where the black items were assembled, I allowed it to join its sisters.

Not long afterward, a tall (practically anyone is taller than me), nicely garbed older woman happened by, lunged at the cart to tickle Riley on his topknot and garbled hoarsely how she loved dogs; she once had a black one Riley's size and it drove her crazy, with its bark,bark,bark endlessly barking. I smiled sympathetically; I know what's like, I told her. Interesting hairdo; a long white braid looped from the back of her head over one shoulder. I know what that's like too; I used to wear my hair like that aeons ago.

Finally, it's time to remove ourselves from the premises. He's urging me to look at the books he's selected. There's Sylvia Plath's
Bell Jar and I tell him I've read it. I pick a junior book by a writer I know of, although the title is unfamiliar - it'll be interesting for our granddaughter. Short story collections, he loves them. I've got a few nice little winter sweaters; no turtle-necks, though.

They look awful on me. Especially since I've just cut my hair. Every time I cut my hair I tend to cut it too short. Now I look, I told him yesterday, like the Bride of Frankenstein. Thanks, he said, dryly. He'd cut his own hair the day previously. Too much did he cut it. Cut it? He buzzed it, close to the scalp. Looks bald, he does. Which, he says, he prefers to looking sloppy. That's us, Frankenstein and wife.

We make our way to the cashier's desk. The young Russian woman is frazzled, as usual, she has too much to do, and asks if we wouldn't mind waiting a minute, she'll be right there, as she hauls off with an armload of garments. A skinny young man, darkly hirsute, tattooed, nose-ringed, drops a load of garments he's carrying over to one of the racks, exclaiming with delight at the presence of our two dogs. He dashes over for a nose-cuddle with Riley, then turns to rub Button's indifferent head.

Our cashier returns, her pretty face weary, as she smiles at us and begins to check out our selections. When she sees the title of the book I've got her face clears and she exclaims "oh!". I ask if she has read the book, but no, she's seen the film made from it, and it was very good. She carefully enunciates her words, and her charming Russian-accented English is immaculate.

Finally, we're through, paid the inconsequential bill, marvel at what so little can purchase and drive off home.

Monday, December 11, 2006

These My Neighbours

The world is becoming a smaller place. It's peopled by a single race, but oh how different the cultures, histories, traditions. Human values, we like to think, are overwhelmingly universal. They must be, since all humans share similar general traits; we all are imbued with emotions which make us human. Some of which are there to ensure our fundamental position in the universe: survival. It is our survival instincts, hailing back to those dim annals of long-forgotten historical existence that are now often our worst collective enemies.

Tribalism is what once kept us tightly together for protection from the great unknown. That unknown being fiercely predatory animals living in close proximity to our ancestors and more often than not, other tribes with needs similar to our own, but presenting in their geographical proximity, a threat to our own survival, since we all required habitable areas, potable water, hunting opportunities and guarded jealously what we had for self-preservation.

This is a world of relative plenty. From mineral deposits to food production, from energy sources to fishing the world's oceans. A greater number of discrete nations now live in prosperity than ever before, while emerging economies in other nations are dragging them forward into prosperity as well. Some nations become bogged down in rigid traditionalism which holds them back from advancement in technology, trade, and amicable relations with their neighbours.

But take citizens of those countries which lack privileges for the many along with the economic advantages offered for personal advancement because of religious tradition which disallows dreaded modernity - and bring them into a more open and free environment and they adapt as readily as native-born. You really can take the tribalism, the illiberal traditionalism, the fanatical religion out of some people.

It is these people who recognize the advantages of absorbing an hitherto alien culture and society into their personal experience, and who become eager and willing citizens, adapting to societal norms, while still maintaining a comfortable affiliation with those aspects of their ethnic and social traditions that contribute to a successful society such as Canada's.

People of the Middle East, with their rigid interpretations of Islam, their tribal angers and angsts, their primitive xenophobia, their seeming inability to accept different as being equal, are conditioned by history, geography and tradition to continue in their mindset hindering social development and economic thrust. The regional and religious sectarian animosities burn brightly. They are at home in their countries' values and denial of temperance.

Take these people out of the geography and place them in North America and they become our neighbours. They are my family physician of 33 years, a Syrian-Canadian. They are my oldest son's medical condition specialist, an Egyptian-Canadian. They are the neighbourhood Lebanese small-shop owners we've known for years, who greet us with affection. They are the two Christian Egyptian families on my street. They are the Muslim Bangladeshi family down my street.

We are comfortable in one another's company, and see each other as humans, as Canadians.

They are not the legion of disaffected, angry, disentitled, miserably-housed and fed they once were; perhaps never were entirely. Then there are those others, whose emigration from homelands for various reasons bring them to other shores and they find the values, mores and public morals wanting in the accepting countries. These are those who should have stayed where they were.

They feel no obligation to their new host country, find only fault. These are not my neighbours.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Sounds Good: About Time

So - according to a news report Prime Minister Stephen Harper has unveiled a new programme - finally - for Canada to identify and crack down on toxic chemicals used in products that we normally take for granted without realizing the deleterious effects they can have on our health. Chemicals whose use is ubiquitous and secretive, which use does a direct physical harm to Canadians and a great disservice to the country in its attempts to serve a healthy population - and all in the name of free enterprise and the bottom line.

Now, according to this new plan the onus will ultimately be placed on industry to prove the chemicals it uses in the production of its line are safe and do not pose dangers to the end-user. Up until now the industry had expected government to check into the safety of the chemicals it uses, and to give it a green light to proceed. Unfortunately, government health-check and safety bodies don't have the time and the funds to engage in full searches of all the chemicals which come into use on an ongoing basis.

Which meant, of course, token assurance to the public that all is well and manufacturers went on their merry way producing all manner of goods and products from cosmetics to hygiene products, to plastics and containers and food wraps, many of which did and do pose a hazardous risk to the consuming public. While it isn't certain whether single exposures pose a risk, certainly long periods of accumulation in the human body does ring an alarm bell.

Now the government appears to be acting and it's about time. Fully 200 chemicals out of an industry arsenal of tens of thousands will be earmarked. Government will evaluate these chemicals over a three-year period by grouping substances for six-month consultation periods, and then decide the appropriate action to take. Let's hope that this will be an ongoing programme, since new chemicals come on the market at a steady and ongoing pace.

And here's hoping that the government crackdown will include the deleterious to-human-health chemicals that are commonly used by the lawn-grooming industry, so that pesticide use in private lawn care will no longer be an option whereby some selfish home owners anxious about the health of their greensward are permitted to endanger the health and well-being of their neighbours.

Three years seems a long time to wait, but considering the fact that we've been living in ignorance about the health effects of the many and varied chemicals sloshed into the ingredients list of common household cleaning products and other consumer goods for an awfully long time up to now, it's time and long overdue time.

There's a federal government investment of over $300 million over a four-year period on this plan. We'll get our money's worth if the harmful chemicals are isolated and banned.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

License to Practise, License to Print...

Just what is it about some professions that encourage their practitioners to behave so bearishly overbearing. All in the interests of accruing greater bottom lines. I can think of three highly respected professions in our society which appear to indulge in questionable behaviours resulting in greater, and generally unneeded use of their services, all to enhance financial security for themselves at our expense.

Now let's see, dentistry for one, veterinarian services for another, and then there's cosmetic surgery. All of these professionals, all of which require long and difficult years of gaining an education for the purpose of qualifying for practise certification appear to be top-heavy with practise over-achievers. In the sense that they all seem to go out of their way to encourage clients to accept treatments which they don't really need.

Case in point, our long history with the veterinarian clinic we've taken our two little dogs to over the years. For annual physicals and annual booster shots. Until we protested that it was our understanding that rabies shots need be given every three years at most, they insisted on giving these shots on a yearly basis. And of course there's the heartworm medication that veterinarians insist healthy dogs take throughout the course of a summer/fall season to ensure that they don't become infected.

We do all of that with our little dogs, fearful lest they become infected with some dread disease. Several years ago another concern was added to the litany of possible infectants for our little companions. And that, after the scare about bird flu which never did materialize and West Nile disease which our vet assured us they'd have a serum to protect against available very soon. This time it was leptosporosis, and although we'd decided not to succumb to all the dire warnings, this fall we did, after all, have them innoculated.

The veterinarian said they'd seen a number of cases in their practise, this year. What's more, he warned darkly, it's transmissible to humans. He should know, he said, his wife had a case of it, and that wasn't very nice, having to undergo a miserable treatment therapy. Besides which, he warned, it could be fatal to dogs, albeit not to humans. Panic. I turned to my husband and whispered "let's get it done". Happily, the veterinarian assured us there was no charge for the vaccine. Oh, he said as an afterthought, they'll require re-vaccination, a booster shot a month later.

So in we went a month later and zip-zap, our two little dogs were given their booster shots for leptosporosis. Poor little guys, soon as we drive into the parking lot for the clinic they realize where they are, and begin hyper-ventilating. There are some slap-happy dogs who look forward to these visits, tails wagging like crazy, you can just see those wide smiles on their trusting faces. Not ours, they're too smart for their own good.

By the way, the vet said, post-shots - you may want to sit around a bit in the waiting room, just to make sure there are no surprise reactions? Reactions? Yes, it would appear some dogs experience severe allergic reactions necessitating immediate counter-treatment shortly after the booster shot is administered. Oh. You have to wait for the bill to be processed anyway, she went on. Oh.

And the bill? A whopping $90 each little mutt, to be repeated same time same place next year. Surprise, surprise. This is the place too where another of the veterinarians on staff has tried to persuade us to have dental surgery done on our toy poodle's front teeth, to have them extracted and the other teeth scraped. So much for our brushing their teeth three times a week. Cost? A casual $500. But our pet plan insurance will kick in.

After the yearly deductible, and after deducting our portion of the bill, they get to pay a majestic $150 of the total bill. That works out to roughly 5 months of insurance payments. We've never used their insurance yet, since we originally had them insured in case of any potential life-threatening or otherwise catastrophic accident or health condition occurring. Our 13-year-old miniature poodle is in good health; good thing the veterinarian hasn't noticed her front teeth are loose, too.

My husband decided to fashion his own tooth scraper. We know what they look like, our daughter has one and she has always scraped her seven dogs' teeth to ensure their hiegenic gum and dental health. If she can do it so can we, and we have now for the first time. A gentle scrape of the tool and away comes that guck that brushing teeth doesn't dislodge.

Reminds me of that time about 15 years ago when we were living in Atlanta and I went to a dentist for a check-up and he took X-rays, then proceeded to inform me that in light of the fact that it would appear my top front teeth are in crisis due to the fact that the X-ray revealed that their roots were being "subsumed" by the gum tissue, he urgently recommends that I allow him to pull them out.

To spare me from embarrassment should they fall out on their own, for example, while we were being socially entertained at a social soiree. I've still got those teeth, and they're just fine. Or the time here in Ottawa when the dentist-substitute for our usual dentist decided a few years back that I had an embedded wisdom tooth which had never broken surface; it should be removed and she was prepared to make an appointment for me with a dental surgeon.

The urgency and the language employed by all these professionals is psychologically geared to invest their concerns for your personal health and safety with your trust edged on by fear. The normal human response under these circumstances is to agree. Migod! my health is at risk, gotta do something, now!

Of course in the case of cosmetic surgeons they're working on quite another aspect of human frailty, the overwhelming concern that one is not sufficiently attractive facially or bodily; that one's physical aspect can be so easily remedied - so why not? From varicose vein removal, to liposuction, from nose alterations to breast augmentation, they will shamelessly offer to brand a new, secure you.

Why are we such suggestible dolts?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

He's At It Again

Cripes, he's incorrigible! Every now and again he gets ants in his pants and feels like getting out without us hanging over him. So, out he goes. Ostensibly to get something I'm unable to procure for him during my usual weekly shopping outings at the downscale supermarket I shop at. Which has cut-rate prices, a smaller selection of items to be sure, and I've got to pack everything at the check-out in my very own rigid plastic cartons, but the price certainly is right.

Since I buy mostly staples and very little to absolutely no processed-type foodstuffs, this is the right place for me. I buy a lot of fruits and vegetables since a good deal of our daily diet consists of those, but all the other items we require for a good balanced diet are available there as well, from grains, pastas and pulses to fish and poultry, so we do all right.

He goes out when he wants to get fresh coffee beans, which aren't available at my supermarket. Or to sneak some pasty white bread into the house. Or, anything he sees that he thinks is a "good deal" and that means "cheap", as though cheap is important, which it most definitely is not. Like the time he bought a huge bag of rice because it was on sale, and therefore cheap. No damn good to us because it wasn't the kind of rice he likes, which is sticky oriental rice.

I shouldn't leave the impression that he reserves his right to visit only grocery supermarkets. He's keen to venture anywhere, and he does. On this occasion he brought back a raft of articles from a variety of venues. He proudly carries his loot in to where I'm sitting comfortably reading the newspapers and ta-da! begins to withdraw items for my approval.

He's a true impulse shopper. It satisfies some deep consumer craving within. So, out come boxed sets of CDs; favourite classical symphonies and Mozart, lots of Mozart. I certainly approve and he beams. Out comes a large white down-fluffy mother bear. How do I know it's a mother bear? Why, there are two little bears appended to it, that's how. That's a gift for our granddaughter. She'll be pleased no end.

Aha! Even the dogs' needs aren't forgotten, for out come two large bags of peanut-flavoured chewies. Such largesse. Must be the season, that's the reason. It's coming into visual contact with the usual seasonal hysteria, the colour, the sounds, the mad rushing about. That'll do it. It's like a communicable disease.

What, more? For me, smoked salmon cream cheese. And bacon, a pound of bacon - on sale. I'd already bought a pound the week previously and we haven't finished it. But, it was on sale! Our favourite Saturday-morning treat. Ogod, how much can two people eat. Wait for it, there's more.

At this time of year, particularly at this time of year his aspirational taste buds cling to memory of childhood and the oohandah opening of boxed chocolates. He's come away with a huge box of chocolates, msut be at least two pounds. We haven't yet finished the last box you bought! I whimper. We will, he assures me, and then, then we'll start on these. Yes indeed.

Oh no, what's that? A box of maraschino cherry chocolates, you love them. He's convinced I love maraschino cherry chocolates, there is nothing I can say or do to convince him otherwise. Now that our grandchild is no longer with us daily to help me to consume them they're all mine. Damn. He peers closely at the box and his face falls. Ten? he says incredulously, ten?

Only ten of them in that big box? he repeats. I heft the box, it's heavy. Must be filled with lead instead of syrup, I observe.

Postscript: When, the following Saturday, he opens the two-pound box of chocolates, he tries one, sets it down half-munched, tries another, then another. All of them miserable, none of them suited to his taste. He shoves the box over closer to me, encouraging me to do the munching for him. I do eat two of them and they're actually quite nice, in my opinion. And then I think: if I eat all this crap I'll look like a house. And I begin to berate the poor man telling him if he doesn't like the taste, they go directly into the garbage. He looks at me, hurt feelings so evident; he paid good money for these things, what a waste, why won't I eat them? Me? I don't want the bloody things. The garbage welcomes them. 'Till next time.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Eek...There's A Mouse!

I kid you not. A mouse. A tiny trembling, troubled creature rushing hither and yon. In our garage. What's in doing in there? How did it enter? What's to become of it? What can we do about it?

It's awfully cold out. Cold too in our garage. There have been springs when we've discovered the inside of a boot full of burlap strings, gnawed off larger pieces of unused burlap usually used to cover vulnerable trees in the garden, to shelter them from winter sun and wind. A tiny burlap nest that obviously held a wee hairy creature in its snug embrace over winter.

I used to find bits of burlap string made into nests burrowed deep under the snow in the front garden too. Usually close by a plant. The plant roots well utilized for nutrition throughout the long cold winter; the plant to be tossed come spring. Small price to pay for the life of a little animal.

We've a large, heavy concrete urn positioned at the top of the rock garden which runs alongside the length of our house, down the left-hand side. The urn and its column stand upon a large circular piece of concrete, under which mice obviously burrow, as we have seen them from time to time in the spring and summer, scurrying in and out when the area has been disturbed.

Sometimes, in the summer, if I happen to be looking out the dining room windows at night, one part of which overlooks the garden, the other the front porch, there will be the active nocturnal peregrinations of a tiny mouse, leaping from the garden bed onto the porch, then back again in a circumnavigation of its little kingdom.

We've witnessed also, the acrobatic demonstrations of other mice alongside the driveway, running about when disturbed in the garden and up, up, leaping right up into the downdrain that leads up onto the roof over the garage. Mice, they're everywhere! Our little dogs are intrigued by their ghostly transitory presence, sniff vigorously where the mice once were, fascinated by the presence of these little creatures.

And here we've got one in the garage! First time we witnessed its scurrying about the large ceramic garden pots we've got assembled in the garage for protection from winter blasts, we thought he must surely have blundered in error into the garage. Likely when we hadn't closed the garage door completely on our last foray into the ravine. So we lifted the door slightly, just enough to permit a tiny creature exit.

But, surprise! He's no dummy, wants to stay where he has guaranteed winter protection. Look here, the oregano and the parsley growing in the rectangular pot are bright green yet and obviously happy where they spent the winter before as well. Could the herbs be providing sustenance for the mouse? He's welcome to that and more. Should he choose to stay.

Might have to make other titbits available to him as well, before he nests up for good and begins his long hibernation.

Babe, Is That You?

It's a real relief, now that the temperature has plunged, likely for the season, more in keeping with what we anticipate for this time of year. In December, after all, we don't expect the weather to continue to be mild enough that we will receive rain, snow pellets, high winds and freezing rain in lieu of good old winter snow.

But that's what we've been experiencing and it has created great difficulties for people since it invariably results in dreadful driving conditions, conditions as well hazardous to the uninterrupted supply of electrical energy as a result of weather-related uprooting of trees. Since we do have winter weather, those facing power cut-offs also face the fallout of no water, no heat.

So thank heavens, it's become cold. So cold that once again the wooden rafters in the roof have begun their yearly ritual of groaning and creaking and cracking. Not a sound one likes to hear, but that is also part of a Canadian winter. The ground is now nicely frozen, on its way to freezing to winter-depth. Much easier to walk upon in the ravine now that all the muck caused by so much rainfall has been frozen in time.

It's really cold, down to minus 7 celcius, but it'll get much colder as the season gears up. Our little dogs don't yet need their winter boots, but they are clad for the cold. Riley in particular, being the smaller, isn't accustomed to seeing and feeling underfoot the boards on the bridges crusted with ice and snow and he walks slowly, gingerly, across them; he'll learn.

We're halfway through our ravine walk when we see in the distance a familiar sight; at another access point a young woman is in the process of taking her large dog off leash and the dog lunges forward, beside itself with the freedom it has gained. This is Babe, a rescue dog. Of course we knew nothing about her, let alone her name or provenance when we first met her years ago.

"Met" is kind of generous; she came up silently behind us on a cold, snowy winter day in the ravine and we heard, before we saw, a snarling, menacing, continuous growl that leapt into the air around us, enveloping us in its surprise quotient, rising in tempo and making the hairs curl on our neck with dire forboding before we even managed to turn about to confront this terrifying animal.

There she stood, large, dominant, daring us to confront her. A dark brown-red, we identified her as a Rhodesian Ridgeback, and that put fear into us for the well being of our two little dogs both of whom we lunged for, to place them in the safety of our sheltering arms. As though satisfied with herself, Babe turned and ran back the way she had come.

This type of thing happened now and again, and each time we heard that low rumbling snarl capped off by a series of loud clapping barks of warning (don't mess with me!) the same dread descended upon us, the same reaction of leaping to protect our little dogs. Then we met Babe's owner, a pretty, slight, black-haired young woman who apologized for her dog's manner, going to great lengths to try to assure us she was all bark, no bite.

She just couldn't bear to leash Babe in the ravine, wanted to give her the feeling of freedom. Babe had been abused and was really a loving, protective and, believe it or not, fearful dog. Her intitial response on confronting those unfamiliar to her was to snarl, bark, back off, hackles rigid. She knows us now, and we're accustomed to her. We trust her elemental good nature, hidden under her protective carapace of bravado.

So who did we come across, after walking some distance in company with Babe and her mistress? Why, another, older, sturdily-built woman who regularly walks two dogs; a golden retriever and a black Labrador. The same black Lab that once was barely arrested in the process of attacking our meek little black poodle. Whose snarl really does mean what it portends.

Both Babe and the black Lab were off leash, and each was considerably ahead. They picked up pace as they neared one another, while their respective owners called them back, just as they ignored the commands to return. They stood, nose to nose, sniffing, each tail, wagging companionably, widely, side to side. The black Lab's owner reached him first and leashed him. Babe's owner then leashed her, too.

As we passed, I commented, smiling in comisseration "tricky situation". "Not my dog at fault!" huffed the black Lab's owner, casting a dirty glance at Babe's owner, while I rolled my eyes.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Look Out, Here Comes December!

There are, to be sure, lovely things about December. The assurance that one will hear countless renditions of Handel's Messiah not the least among them. A lot of our neighbours have already lit up the exteriors of their homes with coloured lights and that can be cheerful at this time of year.

December brings us that much closer to the actual season of ... wait for it ... Winter (eek). Only three more weeks to the formal acknowledgement that winter has descended upon us. The winter equinox, the shortest day of the year. After that, don't you know, the days begin lengthening, as the earth moves inexorably on its axis, bringing us ever closer, agonizingly slowly, to be sure, but closer nonetheless, to spring.

Ah, spring. But winter - it's all right. Got to live with, so might as well live with it, right? Which means accepting its presence. Which translates to making the most of it, whatever it offers; the good and the bad. The kids make snowmen at the first snowfall, they slide and glide. Get out the old toboggan, the snowshoes, the skis, the skates.

All right, this is Friday, the first day of December, 2006. About seven this morning the snow began to flutter down from the skies. And on it came, sometimes in nice large flaky clumps, sometimes in single, tentative drizzles, but down it came. Expected, after all. But we had hardly four cm fallen lazily down over everything, when it turned to - well, let's see: first icy pebbles, then freezing rain.

Did I forget the wind? Lots of that, too. Filthy weather, that. If it's a prelude to true winter we have been pining for, we now have it. Take your pick; fluffy snow, ice pebbles, freezing rain, pelting ice - all hurled by high winds, furiously lashing faces, windows, roadways, trees. It gets to be pretty heavy stuff after awhile. Weighing down limbs of trees, eventually breaking off boughs.

Of course whole trees fall too. And when they do, they often fall into hydro lines and guess what happens then? And then there's the matter of the roads; slushy at first, then icy-slick, and you're really sorry you didn't invest in ice tires when you had the chance, damn! Lots of fender-benders, plenty of vehicles just slithering into rural ditches.

The misery of your furnace not coming on because you've lost electricity. Hang in there, hydro crews are out working frenziedly to get you back on line. On line; oops, you're teleworking, and can't get your computer up. Lost day, lost pay.

Hail winter!
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