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

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

She's Driving Us Crazy!

True, that's a bit of a stretch. It's questionable whether we aren't already in a rather compromised state of intelligence-balance. We've got two dogs, after all. And allow them to rule the roost. We plan our days to revolve around their needs. We insist on certain rituals meant to enhance their everyday living experiences. We coddle and cuddle them. Worry about their every little cough and runny nose. Do they need winter coats today to face their ravine walk? How about their boots? So we must already be half-way to insane. Granted that, she's on a roll, driving us utterly nutsy.

She's the smart one. He's the little holtzene-keppie (wooden-head). After an arduous winter when they're quick to re-enter the house after day-time forays into the backyard to do their doggy business, they begin somehow to differentiate climate. Honestly, they do. We can look at the calendar and rejoice; winter is ebbing, spring cannot be far behind. They, on the other hand, rely on animal instinct and unacknowledged animal intelligence which enables them to recognize change through a tacile cognizance.

Usually they both go a little berserk as spring arrives. The days and nights are moderately more clement, the sun's rays are distinctly warmer, and they pine to be able to lie about in the backyard at their leisure, soaking up the sun. That's in the early spring, mind, when it's still too cold for us to want to do much more than dash in and out well coated up against the chill. When the snowbanks are still melting, when the winter-accumulation of ice and snow slowly drips off the roof.

Egad, not this year. Here we are, just approaching the end of January and she agitates continually, when the sun is out - and it has been thus far most days this month - to be let out into the backyard. We always take care during the winter months to keep the deckboards and the backyard pathways shovelled clear of snow to enable them to do their business without stumbling through piles of snow. So unless there's a new snowfall, the paths are clear and the deck is too.

It may be incredibly cold out still, but when the sun is out there she is, lingering hopefully at the sliding doors leading to the deck, eager to be let out. And of course it's just too cold. She understands that, and she positions herself back on the opposite side of the sliding doors, waiting to be admitted back into the house - shouting indignantly at us if we're not quick enough. But in the afternoon when she's let out the air is becalmed, the backyard sheltered, the sun warmer, and she spreads herself out on the deck and basks in the sun. For a half-hour at a stretch, despite my attempts to cajole her back into the interior warmth.

It's still winter, yet she appears to want to believe spring is swiftly approaching. The sun has so assured her. Even we recognize the days, the daylight hours, are getting longer once we're past the winter equinox, and we think we can feel that the sun too is warmer. She's obviously more easily convinced than we are. When we bring her back into the house her paws are cold, her ears too. But soon as she warms back up, there she is again, at the sliding doors, wanting to be out again in the sun.

She wanders out the doors, stands sniffing the breeze at the top of the deck stairs, her ears picking up stray sounds from hither and yon. Then she slowly makes her way down the stairs to the garden level and stands there on the path, waiting, luxuriating in the warmth spreading over her dark haircoat. I'm just wondering if we can anticipate that this unnerving behaviour is destined to continue for months until spring finally arrives. Or whether she's just a little discombobulated by the odd weather patterns we've begun to experience of late.

Does she know something we yet don't?


Sunday, January 28, 2007

Life's Progress Into Death

We make our brief appearance, we practise our lines, act out our part, and exit stage left. We do it, the birds do it, the bees do it, trees do it, all manner of life upon this earth embark upon life and encounter that final horizon. What lies beyond the horizon is anyone's guess, but most or perhaps many people accept that there is quite simply put nothing there. The journey takes us to a void, a completion beyond which what we once were ceases to exist. We retreat from youth and advance to death.

This is the way of all living things. On a truly stellar scale the giant stars that blink in the night sky will eventually, over a prolonged and truly long period of time no longer exist. Their matter will be transformed, taken up by the process of ongoing life; atomic particles distributed in its many and still-unknown forms. It's said by scientific authority that the infinitely minuscule, powerfully-microscopic matter of which we are all formed once lived in another form so in that sense we have much in common with the stars that live, flare out and die. We are of them.

When we are introduced into this world we are assisted along the way by loving parents whose seed come to fruition we represent. As living tabula rasa we consume knowledge that we are constantly bombarded with in exposure to life upon this earth at a rapid pace, our nimble brains storing information, recognition and memories. This is a process we are little aware of at this level; we focus on inter-personal matters, our emotions, our place in the small universe of family and society.

As young people the slow and steady approach to personal extinguishment is never in mind, although at some point we become aware that those of our families who have gone before, our grandparents, are old, look feeble and frail and are steeply descending life's trajectory while our own ascent confers the sure knowledge of invincibility upon us, fresh and young. Without our acknowledgement that we even recognize this we are prepared to accept that the inevitable happens - to others, to the elderly, the ill, the unfortunate others.

In middle age reality intrudes as we admit to ourselves that our future while still looking down upon us, also includes a decline we could not until then attribute to our failing vitality, our resolute physical march to decline. Anything resembling age becomes anathema to us, a certain indication that we are becoming our parents, our grandparents, leaving behind the bright promise of youth; we are what we always denied: friable; life-expendable.

We waste precious time urging ourselves to continue regarding ourselves as young, spend countless hours practising a sad deceit upon our physical selves. All the while dreading the real knowledge we have acquired, that our physical presence is finite and we are steadily advancing toward that no-turning-back event. Time becomes our enemy. We bemoan its passage, dread its annual reminders of another year's birth-anniversary. What was once celebrated is now a matter of funereal observation.

We should be, in fact, celebrating all the years that we have experienced as having lived a great adventure. Which is what life really is, an adventure into the unknown for each of us, with endless roads to be taken, countless possibilities, some disappointments, but far more satisfactions. Even our physical persona, our ageing selves, our grey hair, lined faces, failing bodies don't really stop us from experiencing because our minds are there, ready and eager to be entertained and challenged, absorbed and interested in fresh realities.

Age needn't mean we stop being interested in launching ourselves into new areas of opportunity, or learning situations, or social and cultural theatres of expression. We've more than ample company in the community of the ageing and aged. In fact, the same opportunities that we were exposed to as social creatures when we were young face us now, only now we've had the good fortune of having acquired knowledge through our previous experiences and we have the potential of making more of these new opportunities.

Value what we have, whatever it is, and not simply sit back and rely on memories to enrich what's left of our lives. Live to live, to extract from this very popular experience whatever we can derive from our progress on that too-short road. Thrive on the privilege of life's journey.

The rest will take care of itself.


Saturday, January 27, 2007

This January Day

It's so damn cold out. But that's January in Ottawa. It's cold, but it's beautiful too. Everything now covered as it should be, with a nice thick covering of snow. Looks like winter. Mind, it's also damp and windy or it was this morning when we set off for our daily ravine walk under cloudy skies. But even then the sun was a high glimmer in the skies, trying very hard to beam through the clouds.

We were well bundled against the chill, and even our little dogs wore their boots, otherwise this level of cold - minus 15 degrees celsius - is guaranteed to stop them in their tracks. Nice, too, to come across old ravine buddies from time to time. Everyone warmly and colourfully attired, the women sporting red cheeks, the men with icicles hanging off their faciall hair.

And the dogs! full of joy to be out there in the woods happy with life, with the weather, with their companions who left their warm homes to offer them this treat. The dumps where someone had spilled unshelled peanuts are still there. We'd left peanuts around ourselves from time to time, but can't imagine who could have left such a large stash. The squirrels don't appear particularly eager to avail themselves of this largesse.

Later the sun did come through and managed miraculously to send all those clouds elsewhere. With the clear skies came a more crisp feel to the cold. We set off on the Eastern Parkway, passed people skiing, walking dogs on the paths alongside the Ottawa River. And the river is finally frozen over; we can see ski tracks on the frozen river and here and there an ice hut. It's a superb winter day, and we're glad to be out in it.

Passing the Aeronautical Museum, the RCMP stables, the Peacekeeping Memorial, and the Parliament buildings. Even in this cold temperature, there are groups of sight-seers visiting all the tourist destinations of this beautiful city. As we access the Western Parkway we see the rapids on the river have kept the river from freezing over and it's darkly open, rushing onward.

Wisps of white clouds reappear in the sky, and they're lovely to behold, nature's paintbrush busy changing her landscapes. We reach our destination, a small shop which sells stained glass and lead and all manner of supplies for those interested in creating their own landscapes in imitation of nature's effects.

Yet another of many reminders we live daily of our good fortune.


Thursday, January 25, 2007

By Their Deeds Shall Ye Know Them

Well c'mon, get real. We know, dear Mr. Prime Minister, that yours is a (relatively) new government. We aren't entirely dense, after all. Certainly you're not. Canadians have learned, grudgingly perhaps, rather slowly I grant, that you're a man to be reckoned with, that you are resolute and commited and highly intelligent and a credit to the country that you're now leading. But really, to initiate such a silly device as to brand your new Conservative government as "Canada's New Government" is ridiculous.

It was all right for the first month, as a casual reference point, but to emblazon it on official web sites, to insist that on official papers and throughout the civil service it be officially utilized? That's going just a tetch too far, isn't it? You're not convinced, obviously you're not. Either that, or you've simply forgotten about it, then realized that people haven't and now you don't know what to do about it. As a device it remains a reminder that you're still a trifle insecure, although on the surface you don't appear to be.

But look here, drop it. It isn't necessary, it isn't even useful to you. Its existence leaves you open to ridicule, and you surely aren't interested in that. I believe you've suffered that kind of finger-pointing before and found it wanting. Prime Minister, Mr. Harper, apart from a few really disappointingly bad early decisions you made which cost you dearly at the time, you've moved unerringly in the right direction. You've made Canadians sit up and take notice. You've brought Canada back onto the world stage with distinction and dignity.

You've performed some needed house-cleaning and amends-making. You're making decisions which can only enhance your position and assist Canada in its obligations to itself and to the world at large. We're proud, really, of many of the positions you've taken - unequivocally and intelligently. But trust me. Cast this brittle little device aside. Labelling is for products. Do you really believe yourself and your governing style, your colleages to be a product? Do you really think that advertising your 'product' in this manner will endear you to the electorate?

Think again. It is the quality of your decision-making, your unabashed ability to recognize when you haven't sufficiently realized the gravity of a situation, then to embrace necessary change that will distinguish you. It is your determined efforts on behalf of good governance for the country as a whole that will persuade people to commit you and themselves to a longer and more secure opportunity to govern this country.

You govern, Stephen Harper, the Government of Canada. Most definitely do you not govern Canada's New Government. This is reality. Really.


Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Happily Tipsy Poodles?

Where do people get these bright ideas? Beer for canines? What for? People enjoy forgetting themselves, relaxing their inhibitions, behaving idiotically and then ascribing it to the effects of alcohol consumption, but why target innocent dogs?

Oh, right. Beer without alcohol. What's the point? To relax Fido? Fido's already relaxed. Most dogs spend most of their time relaxing. Gotta be someone who knows squat about dogs who acquired this really bright idea.

After all, who doesn't know that dog lovers spoil their pets rotten? In a world where a significant proportion of children aren't brought up in healthy living conditions, haven't enough food to eat, live in inadequate shelter, die as a result of proximity to war situations, we spoil our dogs.

So here comes another bright idea. Not enough, after all, to buy the most nutritious, carefully balanced dog food the market has to offer. They get biscuit treats too, of any variety you can think of: chicken or beef flavoured, and don't forget peanut butter and bacon flavoured as well.

Toys for dogs? Of course, take your pick. Balls galore, plastic hamburgers, hotdogs, ducks, they're all available so Fido can be entertained. Dog beds and sofas, you bet. Nice soft cushy pillows to be flung here and there on the floor for our very favourite, lovely and loving Fido? Yup.

We even take out health insurance for our delicate little four-footers. And don't forget the sweaters, coats and jackets for winter, the raincoats for inclement weather. Ah, and boots, don't overlook the boots. All of this takes money.

Oops, forgot the most important thing, the large amounts of hard-earned cash handed over the counter at the veterinarian office for regular physical examinations, annual inoculations and emergency treatment. Yes, and there's grooming costs.

Nothing cheap about keeping a companion pet, no sirree. And now we can also indulge their drinking habits. Or rather create a drinking habit for them. For a Dutch pet shop owner has launched a non-alcoholic beer - Kwispelbier - made from malt and beef extract. Yummy!

When the owners relax and celebrate the end of the day with a pint or more, so can Fido. What's next?


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Those That Have, Get

Within general folk wisdom it's always been acknowledged that children born within a privileged social-economic group have a leg-up in their future; those children born to a milieu of want and deprivation are generally destined to look forward to a future of more of the same. When my own children were entering the public school system 45 years ago, and we represented the bottom rung of the middle-class, there were public meetings arranged by the local school board to apprise parents of educators' acknowledgement of these facts and conveying to them that the board meant to level the field for children.

Of course even within the sub-groupings of socio-economic levels there are anomalies, where a set of parents living on impossibly low wages still have the intellectual wherewithal and values to point their children unerringly in the right direction, teaching them to make the most of opportunities, indeed to make their own opportunities, and to settle for nothing less. That's a minority option for most families living on low incomes.

Canadians have always exercised their social consciences, and even when I was a very young child I was aware that there were intra- and inter-school programmes whereby children from truly disadvantaged families would be offered a place within the school itself out of hours where they were taught to practise good hygiene, and were given nutritious breakfasts to start off their day. It's no surprise that hungry children will be unable to perform academically.

And while my parents certainly qualified as being representative of the working poor when I was young, I was never included among that group of have-nots whom society recognized as needing a leg up, for I never went hungry and books were my early 'toy's. The disequilibrium of options and opportunities between those children coming from disadvantaged backgrounds as opposed to those from comfortable family situations continues, despite society's awareness of the unevenness of opportunities and the consequential dashing of aspirations.

The classic example of how children's early exposure to everything that society can promise its young is severely compromised by their families' lack of social and economic advancement is exemplified by a 60-year-old study undertaken in England where 7-year-old boys and girls from a variety of social/cultural/economic backgrounds were solicited for this social experiment in upbringing and potential. The children were filmed and interviewed, their inborn personalities, details about their families' fortunes and lifestyles classified and noted.

At seven-year intervals the children were further filmed and interviewed, invited to express their opinions on a variety of topics, including their aspirations for their futures, their interests in what they perceived happening around them, their perceptions about school and their futures. These children took well to the interview processes, they responded casually, naturally, with some aplomb as children are wont to do, and with an almost universal confidence in themselves and the futures they had already mapped out in their minds for themselves.

As the children grew and matured and experienced more of life's puzzling contradictions or, as the case would have it for the more happily endowed, opportunities, their responses became more thoughtful, some of the earlier ebullience in leaner evidence, or as the case may be, were more confirmed in the comfort of their trajectory toward success in life mirroring that of their assured and professional parents. Later, as they developed and matured, some of the children grappled with complications like depression, drug dependency, while others bloomed, excelling at school, at sports, at social relations.

There was a clear and definite demarcation between those children representing the upper class with all the potential available to them through social connections, through a superior environment, through confident expectations of success and those children whose meagre social support left them emotionally adrift, confused and falling far short of their own plans for their future when they were very young and still full of hope.

We continue to fail children, for society is able to do so much and no more. As long as families live in social and economic deprivation their children will continue to experience early disappointments, never be able to catch up academically, always be part of society's disaffected, vulnerable to illicit and anti-social behaviours. The poverty-and-welfare syndrome appears ready to continue unabated with all the societal-detrimental fall-out that results from it.

With the best of intentions, we seem to be remote from ever successfully accomplishing our obligations to all the young of our society. What a dreadful waste.


Sunday, January 21, 2007

Granma, What Big Eyes You Have!

This is a new phenomenon, one we've not heard much of before because it simply hasn't happened in the numbers that are now showing up. Older, much older and even elderly women deciding after decades of marriage (generally to the same man) that they've simply had enough. And no more, thank you very much. Leaving their unsuspecting spouse of many years of shared experiences good and bad, to fend for himself. For that, generally speaking, is what occurs; women tend to take singlehood more in their stride than do men long accustomed to having a woman in their life to tend to the minutae of daily existence.

Women tend by nature to be more inclined to have a coterie of friends on whom she can rely for company, conversation and comforting. Men tend to be more reserved, less likely to have a circle of friends on whom they can rely to fill in the now-yawning gap in their lives. As a species with two distinctly other sensitivities and sensibilities the genders really don't reflect one another all that closely. Women gather around one another to give emotional support each to the other, while men are more likely to sit at home, perplexed and lonely.

A new book, entitled "Calling It Quits: Late-Life Divorce and Starting Over" by Deirdre Bair, singles out this new social cataclysm, and informs her readers of various particularies in a number of older women's lives which somehow propelled them to the decision to launch new lives unencumbered by their spouses' presence. A woman, for example, in her 80s no less, married for 50 years who seemed to all onlookers to reflect a contentment with her partnership with her devoted husband, suddenly reaches the conclusion that life might be better without him.

Nothing in particular appeared to precipitate this decision; the 80-year-old abandoned her marriage, it would seem, because she felt she "could not go on living the same old life, in the same old rut, with the same old boring person". Ouch. I wouldn't care to let myself temporarily into the thoughts of that "old boring person" to whom she referred, her ex-husband of a half century. While it's conceivable that he might have viewed her to be a "boring old person", it's more likely that his wife's decision was a devastating one for him, and most certainly for his potential longevity.

One other woman was described as having been married for 53 years, always been a housewife, had no financial security, and had just undergone an organ transplant. She related to the author that she felt "I don't know how many years I have left; I just know I don't want to live them with him". To which I can only sigh, how did you manage for that half-century-plus, for heaven's sake! If, after that length of time there was no kindling of a deep abiding love and respect, no depth of comfort and exchange of utter concern each for the other, it was an unfortunately failed marriage, no matter how long it survived.

All of a sudden, for these suddenly-transformed elderly feminists, the concept of freedom or having more control over their lives has erupted and they have fixated on that potential. At that age, I would venture to ask, freedom to do what? Experience whatever life now has in store, the undesired episodes as well as the triumphal experiences without someone near and dear with which to share? Control precisely which aspects of your life that you cannot now account for? Could one's spouse tetchily refuse the other opportunities to expand horizons, at this stage of the game? How the hell did you manage to put up with it for all those years without screeching "no more!", or without gently teaching your partner that your life is yours to do with as you will, partnership aside, up until now?

We learn through this recently-published book that it's conceivable that a lack of ability to communicate one with the other might possibly be the source of the problem. Imagine living with another human being in such close proximity, in a tight personal duality - where was the sensitivity to the other's needs and aspirations, emotions and wishes? If communication was lacking or inadequate doesn't it take two to dance? That late-life divorces featuring elderly wives leaving their husbands has become an "epidemic" in North America and Europe is an amazing social failure, a cultural shift of critical proportions.

In my own mind's eye I see a lot of lonely and lost people. Certain at a critical time in their lives that they were doing the right thing - finally - for themselves, and caring not a whit about the welfare of that singular person with whom they have shared a lifetime. Elderly women appear to have signed on to a trend where, for example, there are greater numbers of women in the U.S. living without a spouse than ever before; some 51%. Mostly these represent a new breed of women, post-feminism, who have somehow procrastined a tad too long about the possibility of marriage and child-bearing, who have missed that life-experience-duality , or decide not to re-marry, or trying out co-habitation determine it's not for them, and finally just settle in to permanent singlehood.

This all strikes me as somehow sad beyond words. An unwillingness to experience the comfort of sharing a deep and abiding love with another human being. The possibility of raising children together. Or just living harmoniously and pleasurably together, sans children. Rather than focusing on an exaggerated view of self, of wishing to prolong a kind of expanded childhood leading into single adulthood with no one special to be companionable with, to share with, to view life with. Does this bespeak a selfish gene? Or, one who feels comfort in their own sufficiency. Or shades between.

As for older women...why this late-age wrenching decision? Was marriage so utterly intolerable? These glumly lugubrious admissions of intolerance for the intolerant bespeak exactly what? Other than to amply demonstrate the iniquity of human nature...


Saturday, January 20, 2007

Persuasively Upping The Ante

China was one of many countries in the mid- and far-East bullied incessantly by those two great imperial powers, Russia under its succession of ambitious czars, and England under its long-reigning Queen Victoria. China had but to look at the constant pressing forward of Russia's long arm of acquisition, and England's presence in India, both impressive predators - along with both countries' constant militant striving for ascendency in Iran and Afghanistan.

A long history of being nervous about the intent of neighbours near and far, more or less consolidated by the Japanese invasions of Korea and China in the early 20th century, cementing historically uneasy centuries before. That's a long stretch from then to now, but it's telling. China is proving to be a fascinating country to observe as it outgrows its ancient and middle history to become an emerging world power in every sense of the word. A situation the United States, having helped Russia shed its previous superpower status, isn't that anxious to see come to fruition.

The U.S. feels it is morally superior, more intellectually advanced, technocally unstoppable, economically overpowering, culturally aware and responsible not only for its own ongoing status as sole arbiter of world affairs, but looking down from its aerie, responsible too for the overall well-being of the rest of the world. It will sign agreements with other countries when it is seen to be in its own best interests, however, not necessarily in the best interests of the world at large.

The past superpower, at a time when there were two, and the emerging superpower at a time when there will once again be a tentative two - until India also fully emerges to make a fidgity threesome - will not lend itself to being offered advice. President G.W. Bush, representing that great country to the south of Canada, has declared that the United States will "preserve its rights, capabilities and freedom of action in space" as indeed, it does elsewhere on this mortal coil.

Invitations from China and Russia to agree to a global prohibition on space-based weapons tests were turned down out of hand by President Bush and he authorized a new U.S. space policy to "deny, if necessary, adversaries the use of space capabilities hostile to U.S. national interests." In that the overtures from Russia and China were meant to ensure that no one country entered into a programme of weaponization of space, that statement is a telling one, leading one to understand that the U.S. believes it has the right and duty to itself weaponize space, ostensibly for the protection of the entire world.

Military spending in China is a mere fraction of that of U.S. levels. But the U.S. has no monopoly on human resources which produce highly creative and intelligent scientists; China, after all has a long and glorious historical record of civilization, arts and science and technical and medical advances behind it, thousands of years pre-dating that of the U.S. China's response to the U.S.'s refusal is a persuasive demonstration of technical know-how and risk-taking. As well as a cautionary nose-thumbing.

Immediately following President Bush's negative reaction to the joint China-Russia proposal China evoked an interesting level of awareness and acute concern in the Pentagon by the use of ground-based lasers to illuminate a number of U.S. satellites rendering them useless. The illumination had the effect of "blinding" the satellites; stellar devices which the U.S. military relies heavily upon to snoop, guide smart bombs, pre-warn of possible security threats to the country.

It followed that come-uppance with its latest demonstration; launching a ballistic missle to destroy one of its own outdated weather satellites. Thus amply indicating its own rather spectacular technical advances in military hardware. Illustrating also China's apprehension at a state of affairs where its ancient nemesis, Japan, has now foresworn its former post-war pacifist stance in re-naming and re-orienting its former Self-Defence Force into its Ministry of Defence. Ready and able and willing to not only defend itself from newly-perceived regional threats (such as North Korea with its nuclear capability), but to go on the offensive, if need be.

And who is Japan's ally? Well, the world's only superpower, of course. And does it rub China the wrong way that that superpower has immense influence in the Pacific? Why it most certainly does. Fully understanding China's position, Pentagon planners are themselves alarmed, warning that China's new and improved military may some day challenge U.S. dominance in the Pacific and beyond. An economically-advanced country of some 300+ million population as opposed to an economically-emerging one with a population of 1.2 billion, with all the baggage that comes with it scenario.

Ignoring the scorpion only serves to encourage it to bite your unprotected flank.


Thursday, January 18, 2007

Don't Underestimate Your Neighbours

There, I did it. Again. Said I wouldn't, did it anyway. Just one of those people who cannot say no. Well, I can and sometimes do say no, but often forming that little denial becomes difficult, and it somehow comes out a squawky, tight little "all right". Again, a volunteer for The Ontario March of Dimes called in December as they've done for the last three years. First time I agreed, despite wondering whether I was truly insane, agreeing to go out canvassing door-to-door during the month of January.

Actually, it wasn't too bad, turned out quite all right. I didn't freeze, I wasn't disappointed post-Christmas, by the response from our neighbours. But that was also the year I canvassed for Heart & Stroke, Canadian Cancer Society and CNIB; four in total, and that really was too much. I truly did sympathize with my neighbours, having to see my face at their door on four separate occasions, urging them to cough up some of their hard-earned cash for charity.

Because, after all, most people do give to charitable causes. And most people have their favourite charities; favourite in the sense that they have a personal connection, in that they or another member of their family or even a close friend had a close call with a dread disease, or is living with the effects of some debilitating illness. And then there are all those other types of causes, funding charities who do good work on our behalf abroad.

So here I come along with yet another charitable cause or two clinging to my lips, ready to write a receipt for a donation to provide yet another charity with the wherewithal to go about their good work. Still, people do understand that it is in our best interests to support these institutions which offer assistance to people in need, which fund medical research. If not because we will need their help in the future, then because we have an obligation toward others in society who do require their assistance.

So, I decided I would go out canvassing for them this month. I had lapsed last year and canvassed only for the Cancer Society and the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, leaving the Salvation Army, the Arthritis Society, the Canadian Diabetes Society and the Heart & Stroke Foundation without my voluntary services. I took a break and in so doing gave our neighbours some additional breathing space.

I've had this canvass kit for roughly three weeks. I keep proctastinating. I rationalize, it's still early in the month, it's too cold to go out walking on the street, the weather is too inclement with freezing rain. Comes a time, say past the ides of the month when you haven't got all that much time left, and when a really mild evening presents itself and you have to propel yourself out the door.

And this I did, this very evening. Went door to door to greet my neighbours, rouse them out of their post-dinner hazy, lazy rest to respond to the doorbell and in so doing wafting a cloud of cold air into their cozy homes. When they see me, they smile, welcome me and invite me in. They're so accustomed to seeing me at the door, canvass kit in hand; they only need to know what the charity-of-the-moment is. They profer the cash or write the cheque and accept the receipt I've written in exchange.

Pleasantries fly back and forth. We bring one another up to date on things that have been happening in each family. I gape with amazement seeing the toddler I'd known years back now a tall and husky young man or a slim beauty. Compliments are exchanged and accepted. We honour one another.

Mission accomplished.


Entertainment? You're Not Serious!

Well, I expect the people addicted to watching what is termed reality television do consider these offerings to be entertainment. Although why such artificially constructed scenarios where people are variously challenged, humiliated, celebrated, insulted, and generally encouraged to behave in ways unbecoming to those among us whose credentials as socially-responsible, civilly engaged people are unveiled as considerably otherwise is considered to be amusing or instructive.

Behaviour we've long associated with selfish children, self-obsessed adolescents, alternately narcissistic and self-loathing teens is being encouraged and admired when seeming adults demonstrate that they're no slouches when it comes to slinging insults at one another, chargine each other with behaviour unbecoming to practitioners of the latest cool trends, all in an effort to prove that they're somehow superior, more deserving of praise, their personal attributes laudable.

If it weren't so adolescently sad, it would be laughable. And therein, one supposes, lies the purported entertainment value. But people take these shows and their contestant-participants seriously. As though the content was important, the ends justifying somehow the means through which participants prove or disprove their very special status. This is all so utterly meaningless, so troublingly shallow as we unveil our very least human proclivities and seek to bring meaning to these hollow facades.

That so much public interest is invested in these pathetic programmes that call themselves "reality" when in fact they're about as artificial as they could possibly be, is absurd. Are people really and truly all that shallow? Could their values really be represented by the casual and light-headed intelligence we see portrayed by these earnest participants? Where on earth are the values that have been passed on from generation to generation to ensure that individuals recognize their social responsibilities to the culture within which they live?

People certainly are strange. Decades before reality television shows became a reality, Japanese television programming included a much-applauded and pretty entertaining number of game shows. The Japanese tend to be fairly restrained in their social niceties, the culture encouraging this as a means by which societal control can be exerted on a large population living in constrained geograph proximity. Courtesy to others was and is the order of the day. One does not bring public attention to oneself; one fits conveniently into the homogeneous society.

But on these game shows reluctance to participate in public displays of exuberance, one's lack of openness, one's unwillingness to participate in truly comedic and over-the-top skits geared to produce the ultimate in personal inconvenience, demonstrating physical clumsiness and lack of agility when challenged, flies out the window. Cultural convention is stood on its head. All in the name of entertainment and for a brief televised appearance of boldness and a devil-may-care attitude otherwise foreign to this particular society.

And that really was reality television. People showing themselves as they truly are, holding back nothing, cultural and social public restraints tentatively but briefly relaxed. The result was hilarity and good feeling, a truly entertaining spectacle of people unfazed by their lack of ability, the whole point of the enterprise being that they made the attempt, regardless of the outcome, and for this they were briefly celebrated. This was good-hearted and good-natured fun. And those with a hitherto hidden streak of extroversion briefly flirted with a kindly-dispensed notoriety; their 15 seconds of public acclaim.

At no time, however, were the contestants rude to one another, mean-tempered or officious, self-aggrandizing or demonstratively egotistical. Unlike the character traits better hidden that are so brazenly flaunted in today's reality shows. Kindly intent toward one another is certainly not the order of the day in these. Now it transpires that the British reality TV show "Celebrity Big Brother" has unveiled a situation where thousands of East Indians are rallying in support of a one-time Bollywood actress, Shilipa Shetty, where nasty-temperedcultural ridicule directed at her by her fellow contestants has kindled racism complaints.

Should we be surprised? After all, these shows rely on the avid attention of their audience, watching for episodes such as these which evoke the worst of manners, the least consideration for the well being of others, the most egregious lack of concern for miserable impulses to hurt other human beings for their popular acclaim. If people are personally insulted or defamed and the requisite result ensues, all the better; consider it collateral damage.

And no one, of course, considers the damage done to society when doltish behaviour resulting in harm to others is considered the norm, thought to be entertaining. The buzz affecting ratings, upping the ante on the bottom line really does reflect our unfortunate culture.


Business, as Usual

Off we went, yesterday, to run a few errands. Our intention was to go to the bank, the nearest pharmacy we use, those few instances when we require anything of such an establishment, and finally to our local dollar store, which we've frequented for the past decade and more. Loonie-Toonie, they call themselves. And there's also a Loonie-Toonie Two, as the family of enterprising Lebanese-Canadians who own the first store also own a second.

These stores support two extended families, and do so quite well. These particular dollar stores lend themselves to a long-gone feeling of casual friendship among constomer and shop owner. Moreover, the stores stock items of unquestionable value and generally higher quality than most such dollar stores. The two families who work long hours and who have established an excellent rapport with their clientele represent a mom-and-pop entrepreneurship that is slowly slipping away in our economic climate and culture. And we're the poorer for it.

Well, the bank was no problem; it's always there when needed, carefully hoarding our funds for us and grudgingly allowing us to take back some of it when we require them to do so. The pharmacy was obliging enough in offering up the items we needed; megavitamins (which the Harvard Medical School suggests I take with a large helping of folate to assist in avoiding some pretty insolently-nasty disease cultures), plain old zinc ointment, and Herbal Essence shampoo, on sale.

We did look around at other items, and were, as always, amazed at the high prices of items available elsewhere of comparable quality, sometimes even the very identical items, but at a fraction of the cost. We were also incredulous, as we always are, to see that a drugstore/pharmacy stocks food items including perishables, household-cleaning items, small home appliances, kitchen hardware, cosmetics galore, toys, party supplies, fast-food snacks and even items of clothing.

So where do we go as an alternate source for items readily available, equal in quality and infinitely less dear? Why our neighbourhood dollar store whose owners greet us familiarly as valued customers. All set to enter as usual, we were unable to. It was there, but it just wasn't there any more. Its physical presence was in evidence, but the warm and welcoming windows were covered by blank sheets of paper, and there was signage that informed their valued customers that they were closed, and their custom would be welcomed at their other store.

At the other store we were informed that their lease was up, and would not be renewed. The pharmacy meant to expand, and along with the supermarket were the property owners' largest and most influential renters. The pharmacy didn't like the fact that shoppers could purchase socks, gloves, small kitchen items, paper products, cosmetics and hygiene products, toys, tools and a host of other products, all of which the pharmacy also regularly offers for sale, at much lower prices for products of equal quality.

These small business owners were thrown for a loop. Their decades-long cultivation of a dedicated client base, their outstanding contribution to their community, their honest business acumen was all cast aside as though worthless.

Business, as usual.


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Egotist Within

I was 60 years old when I became a grandmother. For the first time. For all I know for the last time as well. We have but one grandchild. She's now ten, I'm 70. She's a wonderful child, for aren't all children wonderful, and most particularly those of your own, generationally. When she was old enough to attend school we enrolled her at a school close to where we live, since we had been her daycare providers from the time she was 8 months old. She was bused to and from school by a school bus.

During the first several years of busing she had female bus drivers, one of whom was an absolute and utter harridan, the others more kindly, more given by nature to working among and with children. In her third year taking the bus to school, when she started attending grade one, her driver was an older man. We would walk her to the bus stop at the corner of the street early mornings, and pick her up at the same stop in the afternoons. We became familiar with the bus driver, a truly jovial, kind-hearted man.

Our granddaughter enjoyed taking the bus and would object strenuously when it was suggested to her that we might just this once drive her to school on a special occasion. She preferred the bus. She liked the experience. She met other children aboard the bus some of whom became her friends. And of course she had a strong rapport with her bus driver who would never permit her to exit the bus when she was younger unless we were there to gather her up.

We were grateful to him for his wonderful manner with the children. We were grateful because we felt her to be in capable, caring hands when she was being transported to and from school. When her bus driver (whom we had long ago exchanged first names with) would drop her off, he would look during clement months of the year, to see if I was working in the front garden, and stop to let her off prematurely, right at our driveway. And then tell my husband when he arrived at the stop that she was home.

This was because he wanted to speak with me, however briefly. It became clear that somehow this man had become enamoured of me. The way in which he would look at me, the way he spoke with me, his admiration for me came through loud and clear. Certainly it was flattering. I would have enjoyed speaking with him without this additional element, because one does respond positively to people with a happy outlook on life, their optimism shining through.

There were times when he would tell me he thought I was beautiful and I hardly knew how to respond, and laughed instead. He would compliment me on how wonderful the gardens looked, but then everyone said that of our gardens. His predecessor would always slow down to have a careful look at the gardens as she passed on her route, and she had told me once that even in fall or winter the gardens had an attractively distinctive look.

I never did mention to my husband any of my thoughts about this fascination my presence seemed to hold for our grandchild's bus driver. He and my husband had a genial, warm and friendly relationship also. Then the talk would be of a far different calibre. And last year our daughter moved away from our area and for the first time in ten years we no longer looked after her. She began attending school in another district altogether, a full hour's drive from our home.

From time to time I'd see a school bus driving down the street for there are other children on this street who require school transport. I've never been very good at peering within moving vehicles to recognize occupants or drivers, but I realized that one of these buses would be his and he would be looking out to catch a glimpse of me on occasion. Such irrelevant matters within the course of one's life recede into dim memory of another time.

Today, when we had dropped by our local bank and I waited for my husband in the antechamber as he conducted some brief business, who came sweeping through the doors? None other than the old bus driver. I say old, he must approximate our own age. A large smile swept his broad face and he positioned himself directly before me. We acknowledged one another, asked after one another, and he said how well I looked.

He asked after our grandchild, and by then my husband had joined us. Throughout the three-way conversation he dropped sentences that betrayed his ongoing devotion to someone or something he felt I represented to him. He mentioned that at times he would pass down the street and see me, and feel a compunction to pick me up. I told him the police would get him for that. He asked if our granddaughter was as beautiful as I and I responded that she had healthy, natural good looks.

He asked my husband if he had yet turned 70, and his response was, not yet; another month. Whereupon I chirped that I was 70, and he turned to me in surprise, saying he would never have guessed it, saying how young I looked. I told him it must have something to do with my having met my husband when we were both 14, and growing up together, what fun it had all been and continues to this day. His face creased in a responsive, appreciative acknowledgement.

We parted, assuring each other what a pleasure it had been, and we hoped to see one another again, soon. And I wondered just what it was that persuades people that someone so utterly peripheral to their own lives has some especial meaning for them. It's potently flattering to be the object of someone's unabashed admiration. The stuff of romantic novels.

In a way, it's also quite sad.


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Charged With Cruelty and Neglect

Two brothers living in Britain, it would seem, have been prosecuted by Britain's Royal Society for the prevention of Cruelty to Animals. That incendiary headline alone would be enough to ensure that the casual reader would outright condemn the two hapless brothers. After all, to be charged with cruelty to a poor helpless animal is pretty low. Cruelty to an animal which obeys, trusts and loves its owner/s is fairly indefensible.

Dogs, those most forgiving of creatures who know their furtive forays, their playful annoyances, their frantic barking, their insistence on attention will always be forgiven - know also how to manipulate their owners into thinking they are the leaders of the pack, while everyone knows who runs the house in actual fact. They are masters at interpreting our body language, let alone the verbal language in which their owners communicate. Try spelling; no use, intonation will give you away.

Here was this pet Labrador retriever, a companion animal shared between David and Derek Benton, now 10 years old and suffering the identical medical conditions that so many people do when they over- indulge and let themselves go. I suppose the question here is was that Rusty's choice? Or did his evil owners design his health downfall deliberately and with full intent. For Rusty, at age 70 (for large breeds, about 7 human years to 1 dog year) has succumbed to old age with complications.

Personally, my husband and I are always anxiously on the lookout for potential health problems surfacing with our two little dogs. After our toy poodle was neutered (admittedly at a time when he was already mature at 5 years of age) we realized that while eating the same diet as previously he was putting on a lot of weight. We implemented a diet for Riley and he wasn't dreadfully thrilled. Mostly, we cut back on his cookies, his treats, no longer encouraged him to share our meals at table.

He did lose a little bit of weight, but never did return to his svelt pre-neutered shape. At the same time we realized that Button, our (then) 12-year-old miniature poodle was heavier than she should be, and a similar diet was imposed upon her. They both lost a little weight. And this past summer and fall neither experienced much difficulty climbing mountains with us in New Hampshire. A little bit of additional weight has since been restored. We're clamping down again on the treats.

At least we say we are; my husband sneaks extra tidbits to them, and I invariably relent when I'm cutting up vegetables for salad and offer them their favourite bits of red pepper - on top of what they already have consumed in their own post-dinner salads, a daily staple. So we're recidivists. And they're smarter than we are; we've never challenged them on that point, just take it as a given. Besides which, we've placed them both on lower-calorie kibble, still the same high quality, but for older (in Button's case) and overweight (in Riley's case) dogs.

The thing about having pets is, they take advantage of what we like to term our better natures, and what they actually realize and take full advanage of is our habitual stupidity. We know that they know that we know what they're doing. They know, in addition, what pushovers we are. They feel sorry for us. They are prepared to put up with our resolutions on their behalf, knowing full well that those resolutions will collapse the moment we're eyeball-to-eyeball with their sad, pleading eyes. Game over.

So what Rusty's owners succumbed to was the deliberate blandishments, pleadings and insistence of their beloved pet. Rusty, moreover, like most large-breed dogs had begun to suffer from hip dysplasia from the time he was a year and a half old. That led to an arthritic condition. Which led him to resist his owners' efforts to have him exercise as regularly as he should. Which in turn - you guessed it - led him to gain weight.

Prodigious weight gain, I might add. For Rusty now weighs about twice what he should if he were a well aged and well exercised and well fed dog. The British Veterinarian Association admits that 30 to 40% of pets are overweight. They don't feel that pet owners should fear prosecution - if they follow the advice of veterinarians. Of course advice of any kind is often open to interpretation. Or subject to exigencies of one kind or another.

Hell, none of us is perfect.


Welcome Back! Stick Around...

Just kidding, said Old Man Winter. He's a tease, he is. Mostly at the tail-end of the season, though, seldom at the snout end. When the season for winter is upon us it always seems, though we anticipate its arrival, to be kind of well, in a nutshell - too soon. We're never quite prepared, it seems. Winter arrives in a great humping whirl of snow, cold, ice, and wind, and we either like it or lump it.

So when winter fails to arrive as expected we wonder whatever might have happened. Did we, heaven forfend, and surely without meaning to, offend it somehow? Or was winter just in one of those moods, hermit-like, sequestering itself away, huffing in indignation at our continual surprise when he arrives, despite that we certainly know he's on the way. That's it: we've taken winter for granted for far too long and winter is feeling a trifle resentful.

Also confused. Since we always declare our love for winter and its companion snow. Yet we grumble and complain about traffic slow-downs and accidents and discomfort, and heating bills. While the kids run rampant through the white stuff, sledding and skiing and generally having one whale of a time. This must be winter's way of delivering an ultimatum; get it right, folks.

All right, we've missed you. Where have you been? Yes, we do hear the news, you've been tormenting...oops, sorry about that...delighting all those folks in British Columbia who have long settled down to the realization that winter for them, means rain, not snow. Now they've more snow than they know what to do with. You've gifted them with all those snowstorms we missed. And we had none! Well, that's past tense, to be sure.

You sent us some snow night before last, continued it throughout the day and followed up with more last night. So, thank you. Thank you very much. Mind, all that wrong-headed crabbing about driving and accidents and frozen toes and fingers won't go away; we are ingrates, I know. Anyway, we'd especially like to thank you for the delightful ravine walk we enjoyed today.

First time Button and Riley got to wear their winter boots this year, too. Along with their winter coats, of course. And they managed, somehow, not to lose even one boot, not even once. We absolutely loved the gorgeous look of the trees entirely wrapped in all that new snow you gave us. And the ground is now blessedly white, as indeed it should be, rather than the grey/brown we've been looking at for this past month or so of winter.

Everything looks so enchantingly beautiful! We do admire that landscape. It was cold, true, but we didn't mind. It was so nice seeing the wind persuade light sprinklings of snow off the tree boughs and they sparked magically as they filtered through the air in the bright sun of this day. We didn't at all mind when the wind picked up and dumped gobs of snow onto our heads, so it could melt and dribble down into our collars.

We clumped along, only now and then almost slipping on the ice underneath, for this snow is a fluffy, dry variety and doesn't stick to the ice on the trail. The sound of the snow crunching underfoot, that's the sound we like to hear. The snow seems pretty deep; how soon we forget - we're just getting out of practise, since we know we've received only 30cm of the usual 120cm for the month thus far. But we know you plan to make up for your late arrival.

Gee, it was kind of tough slogging for us old geezers, we two 70-year-olds. Quite the work-out, up hill, down dale - a lot more demanding than the usual jaunt in the ravine. Our usual 40- to 60-minute hike took somewhat longer. Button did all right, since she's a miniature-size poodle, with longish legs. But poor little toy-sized Riley experienced some real logistical difficulties. We did our best to even out the snow covering the trail, but it'll take awhile.

Riley bravely forged ahead, his boot-clad little feet pumping away. At times he assumed a continual hopping strategy to propel himself over the snow humps in his anxiety to keep abreast with us. That's another thing, he usually lags far behind, sniffling and snuffling and just generally lazing on the trail. Not so today; he more than maintained the pace, difficult though it was for him.

See, we all missed you. Welcome back.


Sunday, January 14, 2007

Me, Naturally....

You do give thought to such things. Particularly if you're a woman, since women seem more attuned to such matters as how best to represent themselves in a physical sense. Among women there is an awareness that, in public, we are, in a sense, on show. So, to be or not to be - natural. Fact is, it seems to me that some women gravitate toward embellishing their natural attributes, while others don't.

Sensibly, one might be satisfied, for example, with one's natural endowment if that reflected a natural attractiveness, a bequest by nature. While those whose DNA hadn't predisposed them to attractiveness-by-nature might seek to enhance what little they have by the use of cosmetics in the short term, and more dramatic enhancements with the help of cosmetic surgery in the long term.

That's not the way it seems to work. From simple observation it becomes clear that some very plain-looking women will accept the genetic cards they've been dealt and still eschew attempts to make themselves look more attractive by denying the use of cosmetics. While other women whose natural attributes can be spectacular still eagerly adopt the use of cosmetics in the belief that this will make them even more attractive.

Women seem to fall into two clear categories; those that seem more or less content with what they have, and those who feel "every little bit" of enhancement of natural attributes helps. Whether it helps their internal self-regard, or their allure to those of the opposite sex, is, I suppose a matter of personal need and taste.

I've always been one of those who felt no affinity toward the art and use of cosmetic enhancement. Although to be truthful, when I was young I thought that those who took the time and developed the skills to apply cosmetics were to be somehow admired. I soon felt otherwise as I matured and though I remained interested as an observer, I had no wish to paste goop on myself in an effort to become what I was not.

The fact was, even though women seem to be born to be self-critical and never seem to be quite entirely satisfied with themselves, I was as happy with my choices as I was with my natural endowment. Exceptions shall go unnoted, since I never felt inclined to do anything about them. I was even naive enough at one point to consider pierced ears somewhat related to self-mutilation.

I did succumb to having my ears pierced, in my mid-40s and have never regretted it. And I do recall feeling surprised and somewhat let down when for the first time I saw a young woman whose looks I had admired, sans-cosmetics first thing in the morning. She looked positively dreadful; wan, creased and colourless. Twice her age I looked far younger, my skin more elastic and firm from the time I awoke to bedtime.

Once she got her make-up on, though, she shone. But who was she? Was she the person I was familiar with in full cosmetic regalia, or the one I'd come across one early morning and surprised in a cosmetic-naked state? And who really wants to be someone who walks around with a mask all day only to wash it off before bedtime, and retire as someone completely other.

I did have a brief and unsatisfactory flirtation with hair colouring when my hair began turning grey at a rate faster than I could tweeze out the offending strands. Then wisdom returned and I allowed my hair to be what it is. Much as my brief acceptance of hormone replacement therapy, pressed upon me as a necessity by no fewer than three doctors was ceased by me when I realized I was being manipulated by an industry into medicalizing myself for a natural condition.

So now I'm 70 years old. And I'm me, myself, and none other. What you see is what I am. Although I can scarcely believe it. Grey hair, wrinkles, all hardly fought, but hard-won. Ageing is not something one struggles against; one grows into one's age. It can be done gracefully, even gratefully, for a life well lived results in a graceful older age of acceptance of all that has graced one's life.

Can't fight it, but you can live it, so might as well live it like the graceful mantle it is.


Saturday, January 13, 2007

Small Pain + Big Gain = Great Day

Angelyne, post- and pre-cut.
Who could ask for a better Saturday? Sleep in comfortably (nothing like that luxurious fleecy sheet set), sing in the shower, eat breakfast at leisure, all the while the sun bursting through the winter windows. So it's cold, so what? We put winter jackets on Button and Riley and of course on us, and pull the cleats over our boots and set off for the ravine. Colder than it has been of late, colder than yesterday by a wide margin, when it rained, washing away the measly 5cm of snow we'd had dust the landscape the night before.

There's a winter breeze, but not nearly as bad as two days earlier; the days and nights seem to delight in alternating between frigid and mildly cold, so what kind of nutty winter is this anyway for the Ottawa Valley? Never mind, we can always appreciate what we do have and today there is much to appreciate. The sky is incredibly clear, the sun bright, the trails either bare and hard or icy and also hard, but with our cleats negotiating safely is no problem. And then we see the two doves, gentle creatures of peace seated together on a tree branch beside the trail, undisturbed by our close presence.

Later, we've bundled all the bags into the car and set off for the day. The new white, down-filled jacket with fur-trimmed hood for Angelyne, along with two zippered velvet hoodies and a number of Scholastic publications suitably frightening for a reading-adventurous ten-year old - and a bag of chocolate treats. The USB 1GB memory stick for her mother, the tins of salmon and tuna on sale, along with a large frozen fillet of Steelhead Salmon. Oh, and the bag of onion buns from Open Window Bakery.

We're on the Queensway, traffic moving nicely as usual, but when we approach Bayshore traffic begins to And thus it goes and becomes worse, much worse, as we begin to sit, idling for long periods before jerking to a short, hopeful start, only to slow again, and stop. In short, a disgusting stand-in for a parking lot. The line of traffic ahead seems endlessly at a standstill. Accident? Nothing to be seen anywhere, only this long line of stalled traffic.

Which doesn't ease until we pass (why didn't we guess?) the Palladium. Finally, we arrive at our destination, the journey having taken a mere half-hour longer than the usual hour's drive, although it seemed as though it had taken infinitely longer. There she is, at the door, the light of our lives. There, behind us just coming in the door is Shik. He'd been out trying to fix heavier hinges onto the door leading to the propane tank shed; high winds had caught and twisted the others. And then, Karen rounds the corner from the guest house, where she'd been working out with her newly-acquired free-weight set.

Whoa! Did I forget the dogs? They're everywhere, hurling themselves at us for attention, all eight of them, exclusive of our two. Tibby the cat is nowhere to be seen. There's a general unbundling of bags; the salmon into the freezer, the long stick of cheese into the refrigerator, cans stacked on shelves - and clothing examined, not found wanting, and modelled. Our daughter sets about installing her new hardware, then turns her attention to the two rabbits she has been busy trying to bond for the last several months. They're stubborn.

I find that book by Lafcadio Hearn which had got mixed up with Angie's novels and give it to Shik to read. But for the present he's been buttonholed by you-know-who, and is set for the next hour or two, as they compare notes, ask questions and one of them expounds endlessly on his experiences and the conclusions he has reached about said experiences and how they relate to life in the round. I mention briefly the philosophical-literary style of Lafcadio Hearn and what a following he has of Japanophiles.

Angie and I get busy with her digital camera. She has 68 photographs to download and can't remember exactly the protocol to follow, so I lead her through it. After we've created a number of new folders and deposited the photographs appropriately, she runs through them, deleting those she doesn't like, which turn out to be mostly those taken by her best friend who has a penchant for photographing anything and everything. Something like me, by habit.

I ask Angie if she'd like to have her hair cut and she's agreeable to the prospect, as she usually is. I generally get around to cutting her hair every three months or so. Her hair, a particular familial inheritance, is luxuriantly thick and healthy. And, of course, cursedly curly. One cannot draw a comb through her hair; even approaching her with a comb is enough to have her draw back in horror, eliciting the imagined pain of early memory, the little kvetch.

We assemble brush, comb, waste dispenser and set to work. I'm her dedicated hair groomer, and it's not at all difficult to cut her hair, since what can conceivably go wrong? In the same way that I cut my own hair, I do hers. We've both got curly hair, so the sins of comission are more than adequately hidden by the curly tresses which tend to turn in on themselves and very nicely hide any possible unevenness. When I'm finished she looks far different. Like a shorn sheep, her mother says. But now we can see the little sheep's face.

Little, did I say? She is ten years old and already almost an inch taller than I am. I feel really really good about having cut her hair. Order has been restored to that unruly scalp. It will be easier to groom. It will dry faster when it's been washed. Best of all, she will look more civilized. This will, of course, do little for her behaviour, always civil and civilized, loving and sweet-natured - other than when she's behaving little a spoiled little harridan, of course.

The drive home, alas, brings us back to the former situation, only this time all the hockey fans have exited Scotia Place (Palladium), post-game. And we trail in their wake, stalled, hopelessly stalled.


Thursday, January 11, 2007

Sadly Disappointing at Genuine Entertainment

I'm not all that keen on television, since most of what appears there falls into the commodious category of drek. Total waste of time. Although we did see most of a presentation last night entitled "The Fog of War", and watched, fascinated, as a 85-year-old reconstructed Robert MacNamara, Minister of Defense under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson held forth on his views of the horrors of war, morality (within war situations), human fallability, happenstance and the nuclear nightmare.

I had seen a few advertisements now and again for a new situation comedy hosted by CBC: "Little Mosque on the Prairie" and thought how intriguing was the concept, the idea behind the new programme, and whether it might live up to any potential for entertaining while educating its viewers. We made an especial effort to be around to watch the first installment of the series, an initial eight in total.

I don't regret having watched it, but do very much regret that not only did it not live up to my expectations (that coy title!) but it did not, after all, offer good entertainment, nor did it educate me. It did make an effort to tweak my nose, to entice me to laugh, to bring me to an elemental understanding of what it assumes I don't know, but it failed, and failed miserably. And that's truly a great pity.

While it's possible that the succeeding issues of the series may improve, I doubt it, since the value of the initial installment is that it will so impress its cautious-but-hopeful watchers that they will feel compelled to watch the series to the last delicious episode. It had the potential, the idea was good, some of the cast isn't bad, but the introduction was dismal and doesn't promise on the basis of what was offered, to improve substantially.

How can it, when the premise of the series is that Muslims and non-Muslims are destined to dance suspiciously around one another, demonstrating the kind of spontaneous ignorance that can only be attributed to true imbeciles. Mind, the imbeciles are mostly in the non-Muslim camp, and we're pretty good at chuckling about our inane stupidities, but there's an unevenness here to the cadence and in the end the joke is on the producers.

We can poke gentle fun at the bigots among us, as long as they aren't die-hard, and susceptible to change when the errors of their ways are amply demonstrated. As in how could anyone in their right minds resent the presence of people with a different cultural/religious/social background, once they discover that the issues that keep us apart are not all that remarkable and can be handily overlooked with the realization that these are people whose aspirations and needs are no different than our own.

The episode clearly delineates those in the average population whose intransigence in refusing to accept a long-recognized fact of Canadian life; an amiably heterogeneous population as beyond the pale, separating them from those who sincerely and generously accept the enriching qualities of embracing differences and valuing our common humanity. The characters are beyond gauche, too rigidly stereotypical of the worst type of bigot to make a point.

This verges on ignorant slapstick comedy; there is no subtlety, no cleverness in the script and character development, only full-blown rejection one of the other. There is no true resemblance to the Canadian acceptance of pluralism which in itself has more than ample opportunities for amusing mischaracterizations and misunderstandings. This show tries too hard to make its point, and the point it makes is that we're kind of well, stupid.

We're not. There is a troubling divide among some elements of the Muslim and the non-Muslim population but it is by no means universal. There are those within the Muslim population as well as within the non-Muslim population who will be resentful and angry at what they perceive as the others' associations, lack of empathy, lack of civic responsibility, and despite the circumstances where the world has been temporarily turned on its head as a result of religions' political rigidity and growing belligerence, they are in a minority.

Did the producers and writers feel that if they treated the subject with more mature subjectivity, maintaining the comic aspect of human beings' propensity to attribute miserable devices to one another in contrast to our own sterling qualities, they would fail? In the end they have failed, for insulting our intelligence, for bringing to the small screen a tepid portrayal of the solitude of suspicion and fear in a truly ham-handed manner.

Too bad, so sad. Perhaps another, more talented attempt.


Durability of This Old Bod

Could be I'm one tough old babe. In the sense of physical durability. Some of which likely represents genetic inheritance, and a goodly portion the result of a lifelong fascination with physical activities. Those activities including hiking, canoe camping, mountain clambering, alpine camping, and generally enjoying out-of-doors opporunities nature throws our way.

I've had fun skiing, snowshoeing, skating and plenty of fun canoeing, swimming and wild berry picking. I've also kept up almost five decades of cardio-vascular, limbering-up exercises on a casual but regular basis. This all helps, needless to say. Along with a commitment to eating nutritionally sound foods. Eating: that's one whole lot of fun too.

I've reached the almost-venerable age of three-score years and ten. I'm neither wobbly, dreadfully wrinkled, white-haired (grey instead) or overweight. Life is terrific, quite grand, thank you very much. Likewise for my husband, same age as me (a month younger) and with whom I've shared all of life's joys for almost 52 years. And then there's our two little dogs, Button and Riley, 13 and 6 years of age respectively. Button is the female, smart and independent, a miniature poodle, while Riley is the male, kinda dumb, overly dependent, a toy poodle.

From the time she was a puppy Button made it her business to get out of the way to ensure she would never be trampled upon. From the time he was a puppy Riley maintained this truly irritating habit of being underfoot all the time, barely managing to survive episodes when he was indeed trod on, that wee wisp of a furry-bit of a dog. However, as he got older he got a little smarter about that and learned to move with alacrity when the occasion demanded; he kind of stopped his habit of straying underfoot.

A month or so ago when we were doing our usual hour-hike in the ravine beside our house, I slipped on a sheer icy patch and cracked the back of my head. When I use the word crack I don't say it casually; there was a huge CRACK! as my head, last to hit the ice, met that solid glacial surface. It took a week for the pain to move from my head down to my neck, my shoulders, my arms, my hips, my legs. My head is healing nicely, it's my arms that remain sore, often waking me at night with the burden of soreness. But as I said, I'm one tough old bird; we didn't miss one circuit in the ravine after that, just pulled on our handy cleats and trekked on. I did have to forego my evening exercises for a few weeks, since resumed.

Then last night, cute little red-haired Riley twice within the space of five minutes caused me grief by positioning himself directly behind me while I worked at the kitchen stove. The first time this happened and I realized, as I turned, that he was there, I was able to circumvent a potential crush of his little body. The second time it happened, I was as unprepared as the first time, but somewhat more surprised since it had been so long and now suddenly he reverted to his irritating old habit. This time I was propelled, in my attempt to avoid slamming into him, halfway across the kitchen.

This time I landed on the lovely porcelain tile floor knees first, then outstretched arms, then front of my head. I landed in an angry daze, knees sore, wrists sore, arms sore, head sore from having clunked against the kitchen cupboard under the sink. I crouched there in a daze, barely able to answer my husband's anxious questions, becoming more and more angry with that little dog who was himself enquiring after my health by popping up next to and licking me. He was ordered out, and left promptly, while innocent Button made herself scarce too, hearing the loud voices.

Well, here it is another day. My head is fine; still positioned firmly where it belongs. My arms, forget my arms, they are painfully sore. It'll take a little while, I guess, before my arms are back to normal. Damn! they hadn't reached that level yet from the after effects of the earlier fall. But that hasn't stopped me from doing all my usual things; laundry, ironing, bed-making, cooking, ravine hiking. I forge on, like that battery-operated bunny.

Hey, good thing I'm so robust for my age; pliable, resilient, strong. Bring it on!

Er, give it a rest.


Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Jews As Wanderers

Quite the history, a truly ancient one, well documented throughout antiquity to the present day. China? Yes, most certainly China qualifies. But actually I mean Israel. From biblical times to the present, there has been a notable historical and current dynamic presence within the Middle East of a sprawling Jewish population. David envisioned the building of a great temple to the greater glory of God, but because he made himself impure by murdering Bathsheva's husband so he could himself take the woman he lusted afte - so the legend goes - he was disqualified.

It fell to his son Solomon - he of great and celebrated wisdom - to build the first Temple in 950BCE named the Temple of Solomon, and the sacred Ark which David had secured from the Israelites' enemies was installed within, in the most inner chambers - the holy of holies - where God was said to have resided. In 910BCE an Egyptian pharaoh plundered the temple; and it was repaired in 835BCE. Then in 587BCE King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (he of the famed Hanging Gardens) destroyed the temple and brought the defeated Jews to Babylon. Many returned in 541BCE from Babylon to Jerusalem to rebuild the second temple.

Doesn't this constant turmoil, unrest, conquest, bloodletting, war - sound familiar? Ongoing in the Middle East, as elsewhere in the world, as mankind continually preyed on themselves, one group against another, to enlarge national territories, to grasp greater glory, to plunder the riches to be found in the coffers of others' estates. Because humankind is as it is nothing seems to change all that much; we continue to the present day to forge alliances of convenience and conversely to march upon the territories of sovereign countries claiming that we do so in a just manner for the good of all.

In 70CE the Roman General Titus laid waste to Jerusalem, murdering and plundering as he went. Of course he had his reasons; mostly that the Jews were so impossibly insolent, refusing as was their wont to consider anyone, no matter how exalted his rank in the constellation of human royalty, equal in respect and obeisance and to be honoured as they did the sacred presence of their one and only god. The second temple was destroyed, and the Jewish population, what was left of it, dispersed. Jews refused to render unto Rome the awe-filled respect Rome considered its due.

In 638CE the Muslim conquest of the Middle East became a fact of living history. And in 700CE the first mosque was constructed on the Temple Mount, where formerly stood the First Temple (of Solomon) and its successor, the Second Temple, sacred to Jewish history and religion. Muslims now, of course, claim the Dome of the Rock (Temple Mount) to be their exclusive and rightful property, while Jews now pray at the Wailing Wall, the sole remaining portion of the Second Temple, under the Dome of the Rock.

Jews went here and there and everywhere. Throughout Africa and Asia and Europe, near and far, settling where they might, establishing their little colonies, facing ongoing persecution as the world's unwanted and very unappreciated outsiders. Although there remained always a population of Jews in the Middle East, the greater aggregation went elsewhere. There were ancient settlements of Jews in Italy, in Russia, in Ukraine, in Ethiopia, in India, in China and throughout the Middle East.

Now we learn that the current Prime Minister of Israel, Ehud Olmert, has a long family history in Harbin, China, where his grandparents migrated from Russia to escape persecution a hundred years earlier. Although there is much documentation of Jews settling in China millennia ago. So there is the connection of ancient history, culture and religion of two disparate people, two original countries of origin, both of which have greatly benefited themselves and the world at large to the present time.



Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Rescat in Pace, Juliette

Hardly to be believed. I'd lost touch with her. Shouldn't have, but did. I should have made an effort over the years to get in touch. On the other hand, I knew how busy and involved she was, and I was only a little chapter in her life. She had five children, her first grandchild, a close and extended family, many friends. Our friendship was that of working colleagues. And I had been out of the country for half a decade and more. That was that.

I did think of her from time to time. But one tends, sometimes to do just that, and then nothing more. I've been busy too, with my own life. Still, I feel quite badly about not having at least made an initial effort to get in touch. And then, only a few days ago, in the week-end newspaper my husband saw the lovely public notice. Juliette Chatterjee and her husband Kam celebrating 50 years of marriage.

Quite the milestone that; fifty years of marriage. I can remember, years ago, when Juliette was facing the prospect of her fiftieth birthday with some trepidation, that I gave her a birthday card emphasizing the half-century of her life and inside it had tucked a photocopied $50-bill, with the invitation to go out and spend it recklessly. That was 22 years ago. Two years later I celebrated that same birth milestone myself, in a foreign country.

Juliette had become my second-in-command at the office we operated in assistance of people living with diabetes. We maintained a growing membership, we operated a "store" where we sold supplies for the maintenance and control of diabetes. We held regular meetings both for members and for the executive committee of the group, inviting guest speakers to hold forth on new promises in medical advances.

We busied ourselves with fund-raising initiatives. We taught newly-diagnosed and also long-term diabetics how to look after themselves, to regain perspective, to once again embark on their lives, controlling the symptoms of diabetes, and maintaining their health overall with the aid of medical testing devices. We were busy and more than a little engaged in the work we shared.

Juliette was a wonderful person to work beside, to spend time with, to converse with, to plan with. She was good natured, big hearted, practical. She loved a good joke, and could take one that poked fun at her own condition. There was never a mean bone in her body. She was spirited, happy and a doting, loving mother of five children; completely bonded to her husband.

She told me she never had any doubts when she first met him, that this was the man she would marry. Raised a Catholic in a close community of French-Canadians she had the courage of her need in defying public opinion a half-century ago when she determined that this beautiful, intelligent dark-skinned man would share her life. She never looked back, had never any reason to regret her decision.

I saw her confidence shaken only once, when the first of her daughters to marry gave birth to her first grandchild. It was a little girl. Juliette's daughter was a beautiful young woman, possessing the grace and beauty so commonly seen in women whose genetic diversity combined East and West. Only in her mid 20s, she gave birth to a child with Down Syndrome. To say that this was a blow to the entire family's equilibrium would be putting it mildly.

But soon Juliette recaptured her exuberant view of life and realized that her grandchild was there to be raised and loved and cossetted just like any other child. She told innumerable stories about all of her children, taking immense pleasure in their life skills and accomplishments. Tales of her grandchild's growing awareness of the world around her abounded.

On those few occasions when my husband and I met socially with Juliette and her husband we were impressed with his calm and generous demeanor, his obvious pride in his wife. Fifty years together resulting in much love and emotional support, and five children. Bringing matters more up to date, they have between them produced, through their five offspring, ten grandchildren.

Two days after we saw the happy notice in the paper celebrating fifty years of marriage between Juliette and her Kam, there was another notice. An obituary. Juliette had been stricken with brain cancer. It seems she fought a long and hard battle. Expert medical advice and various options must always have been available, since both her husband and several of her children were respected members of the medical community.

The obituary ends with a little notation from her children: "Au-revoir, maman"


Sunday, January 07, 2007

What Is It With Spas!

What explains this latter-day fascination with spas? Yes, there has always been an acknowledgement of the health benefits of certain mineral-infused waters, and people have recognized their healing attributes and used them from time immemorial. That's not quite what appears to be happening in most instances now, with people eager to share new vacation adventures at posh new spas opening up throughout the world.

These turn out to be costly holidays, combining in the vacationers' minds with health benefits. Yet another service being flogged for the wealthy, the bored, the adventure- and romance-seeking and spoiled upper crust elites and wanna-be hangers-on of the international scene. Of course these little adventures in ego-boosting and body-tingling are available closer to home. But they're not quite the same as those on offer at more exotic locales.

Spa-hopping seems to have become popular among the indolent upper-crust, much as extreme mountain climbing has its addicted following among the truly death-denying/inviting adventurers among us. As many experiences in as many geographical sites as possible, and then swap cocktail stories to the envy (or scorn, or disinterest) of those less given to throwing their hard-earned cash to the winds.

One can go to Switzerland where a subterranean catacomb of pools is on offer. Choices, from a "fire" pool (42C) to a plunge pool (14C) are available, with everything in-between temperatures, including picturesque grottos and scented pools. And did we mention the spectacular mountain scenery? Single rooms start at about $289 including half-board and access to the spa. Travel expenses, needless to say, are additional.

Or how about northern Slovakia at the CryoTherapy installation where a face mask (shirt, shorts, socks) is obligatory as you enter a cool minus 60C chamber for 30 seconds, then follow that with a minus 120C chamber. You can conclude with a 20-minute medically-supervised aerobic workout. There are also geothermal outdoor pools. Cost: $170 includes breakfast and dinner.

In the Caribbean you can opt for the Ayurvedic massage, administered to your unclad body by two large men. They massage the body, quietly speaking between themselves, in a language not shared by the visitor. Bear in mind that in so many instances it is women, often travelling alone or in pairs who enjoy these adventures in health, where richly scented oils are rubbed into the skin for a completely relaxing experience. In high season a garden room starts at about $600.

How about the Czech Republic to a spa with a menu listing dry CO2 bath, cryotherapy, gas injections, laser, parafango, inhalation, floating, medical gymnastics and dental irrigation? How's that for pampering? Pandering? Confusing? Don't forget the mood lighting, the aromatheapy and New Age music to set the stage. Here you can have a massage also, and if you're the least bit retiring, you may come away from the experience feeling rather stressed.

And then there's always Beijing; a 24-hour flight can get you there. It appears the latest craze is foot massages in the middle of the night. Dance to Asian techno at various clubs, then make your way to the spa where male attendants dressed in Mao suits and females in pink polyester bow and greet their clientele. It does hurt to know that the foot-massage therapists work 12-hour days, six days a week, sending their earnings to their impoverished peasant families.

Ah, the unpleasantness of reality. Good thing that type of reality is reserved for the great masses of the unwashed, those whom one never need come face to face with on the streets; only as waiters and waitresses, masseurs and bartenders in those posh hotels and spas.


What's With Some People?

How cute, how really sweet. Cute as in clever as a fox. Talk about conflicted; the author is upset that she and her daughter have somehow, (through exposure via another child's infected head of hair) contracted with the lesser animules of this world to host them, however grudgingly, for a while. And on the other hand, because this little scenario is one unfortunately visited time and again upon the unwary, evidently not because of a lack of decent hygiene - but just because - one can make light of it.

So all right. There's the admission that the thought the author's itchy-scalped child was just complaining as children are wont to do, endlessly and without reason - and whyever might her child's mother leap to the conclusion her child has nits? So we accept that. It seems outlandish, in a way, that one would immediately assume one's child's scalp has become a playground for lice, coming from a middle-class household with all the hygenic and cleaning amenities in most modern households.

I wonder why it was that I, a grandmother who looked after our granddaughter daily until age ten, often thought of the possibility and the bloody nuisance it might be, and wouldn't it be far, far better to diminish opportunities by ensuring that the child's luxuriant long mane was swept up and out of the way during school hours, and this mother did not. It isn't as though the information is lacking that headlice are a scourge of young children in elementary schools.

But then, this writer for, Emily Yoffe, didn't even click in when, as she describes it she suffered "a feeling of my hair being on fire that the flames seemed to burn from the nape of my neck to my ears...I spent all day scratching and, that night, asked my daughter to look at my scalp for a rash. "I don't see a rash, but I think I see things moving", her daughter responded.

Yes, it's supposed to be an offhandedly-amusing piece and it was that, but it was also an irritatingly stupid piece. Once this mother accepted that both she and her daughter had a case of full-blown headlice she purchased over-the-counter medications to eradicate them. A process which I understand to be a long and tedious and often infuriatingly unsuccessful one. Good on her, she got right to it.

And where do you think she began the eradication process? At home perchance? This woman and her child sequestered in their home, desperately attempting to annihilate the uninvited little monsters ravaging their scalps, laying eggs, multiplying and generally living the good life. One cannot but feel great compassion. Wait a minute, save your compassion.

She and her daughter casually dug out the occasional minuscule clawed monster from their tresses while on a family holiday, as guests of a Bed and Breakfast. Here's a little tidbit: "I had noticed a magnifying glass in our hosts' living room. After breakfast, my daughter pulled another creature out of her head and we looked at it through the glass. It was an eighth-of-an-inch-long insect...It was perfectly clear that my daughter and I were hosts." At a Bed and Breakfast, these two were kindly hosting a multitude of tiny bloodsuckers.

"Having lice is bad enough", she wrote "but what is the etiquette of travelling while infested?" Hey! I've got my hand up! Ask me, ask me! The etiquette at this juncture is to thank your unwitting hosts and explain that an emergency situation has arisen and you have been called away. You must perforce return home to attend to that selfsame emergency. Failing that, you can choose to admit to the host and hostess of the Bed and Breakfast that you have brought (unwittingly, admittedly) a tiny scourge into their premises, and hope they don't mind.

But oh no, not this little family, including the co-conspirator husband/father. For one reads further:
"Our family, boxes of Nix cream rinse hidden in our suitcases, arrived at our next destination - a lovely inn. It turns out when your head's been colonized for more than a month, your scalp resembles a lice version of New Year's Eve in Times Square. After my daughter and I treated ourselves with insecticide and combed out cascades of lice for two hours we all went to dinner in the dining room. "At one point, I tossed my hair and a permethrin-drugged louse fell out and staggered on the white tablecloth."
This doughty pair of travellers had, by the author's admission, a month's worth of headlice yet they embarked on this family vacation, exposing other people to the contamination which they were so enthusiastically attempting to shed. I'd like to know the names of the B&B and the Inn they stayed at. The better to avoid them myself.

How do you think you'd react being seated at an Inn dining room and spotting a louse, expired or otherwise, on the table linen? Retch time.


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