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

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Catastrophic Weather

Talk about contrasts and relativity. Here in North America we languish with discomfort under temperatures soaring to 30 degrees centigrade and full sun. Yet in Europe, in India and in China temperatures approaching the mid-40s are threatening peoples' lives and the crops they depend upon for their table. We experience a few days of heavy rain when to look out a window approximates gazing into a fishtank, and feel we're being washed away. Alternately we chafe under a situation of little-to-no precipitation and bemoan the drought situation.

These are all extremes to us. We prefer moderation in all things, including our environment, the temperatures reached, the amount of rain we receive to present us with the gentle balance of nature. The rare occurrences of hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, affect us deeply, upsetting our sense of complacency and cause us to worry about the unsettling future of climate change and how our world will be affected.

"Our world" is the very near geography we inhabit, not the greater world around us. In that greater world extreme heat of a punishing variety with no surcease has been visited upon parts of Europe, over to the near and far east with horribly disruptive results. Australia too is suffering under the onslaught of a determined drought giving no clue as to when it intends to dissolve into normal weather patterns.

Monsoon flooding in India is creating huge drowning swamps, drowning people and livestock, ruining crops, causing millions of people to search for high ground, assembling in hastily put-together relief camps. Storms, landslides, monsoon flooding in South Asia has killed hundreds of people in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Nepal. Bodies cannot be buried or cremated; grounds are under water.

Submerged highways means that food and medicines must be dropped to desperate and marooned people by air. In mountainous regions roads have been blocked by landslides, causing food scarcity in tribal areas. More than thirteen million people have been affected and countless livestock have perished. People are desperate to see a cessation of their plight.

In China over 200 million people have been affected by that country's worst flooding in decades. Heavy, ongoing rains accentuated by a heat wave has contributed to flooding in 24 of the country's 31 provinces. Red Cross figures of over 500 killed, and five million driven from their homes spells out the size of the disaster.

In Shanghai the hottest summer on record is being predicted, where temperatures much over 50 degrees centigrade have already been experienced. It's hardly to be conceived that such weather extremes are wreaking such unbelievable damage, imperilling so many people.

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Monday, July 30, 2007

Scary Food, Food Scares

Of all the things that can interfere with one's trust of food, the very last might be the realization that the fresh fruits and vegetables that we trustingly purchase, prepare and eat might pose a risk to our health. After all, we're talking fresh out of the ground. Fruit, vegetables.

Sure, we're concerned about the use of pesticides, and we take measures to carefully wash and rinse these foods, but it's not that; it's the contamination of fresh fruits and vegetables by dangerous bacteria that just shouldn't be there. Seeping into their growing medium. In the ground. On the farm, or the corporation's fields.

Cause for consternation. But if we, the consumers are befuddled by the very thought that harmful bacteria could infect our fresh food sources, it does nothing to give us confidence to learn that food producers themselves are little able to understand the process by which our fresh food is being exposed to contaminants.

How's that? The North American food supply is becoming mysteriously contaminated with potentially life-threatening bacteria and the growers are ignorant of the source?

Now that's downright scary. "At this point we really don't know what we would need to do to make produce safer," according to David Gombas, senior vice-president of the United Fresh Produce Association. "It's difficult to fix the problem when the source is unknown."

Well, who could argue with that? If you don't know what is happening to contaminate the food you're growing, how solve the problem?

Well, as a layman (or woman), someone who merely eats the fresh produce she shops for at her handy supermarket or temporary farmer stall conveniently located at highway intersections, I'd hazard a guess. Perhaps it's more than a mere guess, since I've read elsewhere the likely contamination source.

Remember contaminated spinach and the consumer panic that ensued with its publicity? That was attributed at the time to unsanitary conditions relating to the pickers not being provided with proper toilets. When you have to go, you do. No toilet, however primitive as a repository for human waste, and consequently no paper, no water, no way to wash contaminated hands that will then continue picking.

Remember that carrot juice that was hauled off the shelves on suspicion of contamination and reports of poisoning? Same thing applies; lack of responsible sanitary oversight in production. And how about contaminated green onions out of Mexico the year before? Right. And field crops like soft berries? And sprouts? These products are typically grown in open fields, and after harvesting, eaten raw.

Remember that old real estate adage of location being everything in desirability? Location, location. And then there's proximity. Chemical and other pesticide run-off. And best of all, the run-off of farm animal dung.

For that matter, the spreading of matured and collected pig manure, chicken waste, cow manure. The spreading of such waste that has not been properly composted out. The accidental leaching of contaminations into nearby fields of growing produce.

We're not thrilled with the prospect of becoming ill as a result of consuming assumed-to-be healthy fresh produce, that is in reality contaminated with dangerous bacteria with the potential to make us very ill indeed. We're very well aware of the potential for illness relating to consuming of meat that has been inadequately cooked, of contaminating food preparation surfaces in the kitchen with bacteria from raw chicken.

But there's only so much aware consumers can do to protect themselves and their dependents from contaminated-food-related harm. Consumers have a right to be worried about the safety of the food supply, the fresh produce that we take for granted.

Government issues food alerts when situations get out of control and people are sent to hospital, or even die, because of exposure to foods that have been contaminated as a result of poor business practise.

Awareness of the potential to contamination and adherence to careful hygienic practises should not only be top of the order of the day for produce growers and suppliers, seeking to restore confidence in the minds of consumers, but government food protection agencies too must begin to take a more active role in protecting our food supply.

If only to teach the elemental science of separation from sources of contamination to food growers and the efficacy of taking practical first steps in location and proximity.

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Sunday, July 29, 2007

Beware The Full Moon

Earth's companion in revolution has its own secret agenda. Yes, it conspires with the Earth to revolve around our celebrated and appreciated and still yet little-understood source of heat and life, our very own sun, but it exacts its own pull on our twin rotational contract, a mysterious, compelling demand that impacts on us in ways we cannot completely comprehend.

As the moon rises and swells, then slowly diminishes visually, many believe its influence can be detected in the way plants grow on this earth. The gravitational pull of the moon somehow instructs the oceans to behave in a manner not yet sufficiently understood, yet seen in the action of the moon-activated tides.

Is it some accident of apprehension and language that we describe unfortunate individuals who have taken leave of their senses, as being lunatic? And all those frightening folk legends about stalking werewolves, the living dead, monsters of the night, Dracula-like creatures dripping blood and deadly malice? They who people the dark, wanly-illuminated night.

What compulsion does the waning and waxing moon exact on the Earth, on all living things that inhabit this globe?

There are those, among them social-behavioral analysts at the Sussex Police in southern England who believe they've discovered a connection between the full moon and a rise in societally-adverse incidents, in their investigation of the possibility of external factors influencing peoples' behaviour.

Aggressive, anti-social behaviour was seen to increase among people out drinking in pubs and nightclubs on England's south coast. "I compared a graph of full moons and a graph of last year's violent crimes and there is a trend", according to Inspector Andy Parr. While agreeing that the theory appears somewhat fanciful, he offered the view that "There are many things we are still learning about. The moon has a strong influence on tides and magnetic forces can influence peoples' psyche."

In a recent paper, "The Lunar Cycle: Effects on Human and Animal Behaviour and Physiology", Michal Zimecki of the Polish Academy of Science analyzed studies in lunar activity. His is yet another voice claiming affirmation that the presence of a full moon can influence criminal activity and health, culminating in a notable crime increase, and increased hospital visits.

Full moon coming up. Take care.


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Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Mid-Summer Ravine

After a full week of hot, humid weather flirting with the 30s and plenty of sun, in the wake of last week-end's drenching 70ml of rain, we're back into heavily overcast skies with threat of rain events for the next few days. In all of this hot sun interspersed with plenteous rain, nature has brought her ineffable, exquisite creatures of the garden into full blowsy bloom, delighting gardeners no end.

And she's done the same with her coterie of wild blooming things, for which the bees, butterflies and birds are eternally grateful.

This was a heavily overcast morning, setting the stage for the next few days. When we embarked upon our morning ravine walk there was a light rain falling, with more promised. It was so warm, so humid, our concession to the rain was the donning of light canvas hats. And in memory of the past week's hordes of mosquitoes, long-legged, long-sleeved white cotton gear - the better to fend off those ravenous beasts.

Not even a breeze to stir the stagnant moist air, muffling us as we proceeded into the ravine. Button and Riley followed behind, her closer to us, he lagging much further behind, neither in any great hurry and that's just fine with us. They stop now and again to closely inhale dog-intriguing odours - don't ask. For us too, with our far less gifted (and more discriminating) sense of smell, there are special odours hanging heavily on the air.

Ranging from the sharp stink of a decomposing animal deep in the woods, composting gently back into the soil, to the unpleasantly pungent smell of dirty old socks. Or, from time to time, the mildly pleasant smell of potatoes, moist in their growing medium. Certainly not least, the divinely fragrant smell of ripe, sweet raspberries, where none exist in the immediate area.

The atmosphere is rent by the exquisite trill of a Whitethroat sparrow, reminding us of the many times we've heard that song, on so many trails, or coming down off summits in New Hampshire, often late in the afternoon, as though the throat of a tiny bird could summon up for us the triumph of joining with nature, however temporarily; our subliminal shelter in a roisterous world.

The Whitethroat trills again, then is still, and the only sound now heard is an overall patter of the rain, now turned to serious drizzle, falling on the multitudinous leaves that form the canopy above us tenderly conspiring among them to keep us dry and comfortable. As we pass the creek, we see the frenzied activity of water striders in the now-turgid water lazily flowing past us. And damselflies, so much in evidence yesterday, now taking shelter from the rain.

There is a plenitude of shy and alternately, brash colour beside the trail, out where the woods temporarily excuse their near presence. The vibrant red of dogwood berries, of red baneberry and false Solomon's seal berries, the orange of bittersweet. And the upright candles of Sumach; the ripe red raspberries waiting to be plucked and popped into a greedily salivating mouth.

Goldenrod is now beginning to flame alongside the slender ragweed offerings. Queen Anne's lace is everywhere, large panicles of tiny white blooms. The bright blue of cornflowers, pale yarrow, accented by purple thistle flowers, yellow goat's beard, purple-flowering raspberries, (thimbleberries!), alongside errant daisies and buttercups (what, still here?). And clover; white, pink and mauve - beloved of resident rabbits.

The dampness has encouraged Indian pipe, and cream- and sulphur-coloured mushrooms, some of which have been nibbled by squirrels. There is, strangely enough, scant squirrel activity this day. The light has diminished even more, it has become quite dark, and the rain has increased. But we remain comfortably dry, and presently arrive back at the trailhead.

When the rain, quite mysteriously, comes to a sudden end.


Friday, July 27, 2007

The Great GreaseMeister Himself

Schadenfreude, I know that feeling. But I can be forgiven, I think. I think, therefore, he is. He is what he always has been: sly, oily, smarmy, wink-wink, nudge-nudge, Myron Baloney. Sorry. Brian Mulroney, former prime minister of this great country. You'd think I might have forgotten that monster-jawed thespian by now, but no. Shame on me.

But talk about a dim, cloudy past. There are so many people in the half-know who believe implicitly that much has yet to be explained about the machinations of this man while in office, yet remain frustrated that compelling new evidence has not been forthcoming, I know I've lots of company in disdaining the man.

That another nasty creature such as Jean Chretien, another former prime minister, attempted through the willingly-eager auspices of the RCMP, to pin him down and was spectacularly unsuccessful in his endeavours, simply speaks volumes of Mulroney's deft hand at subterfuge and dissimulation.

Enter another unsavoury character, former arms dealer and German national, Karlheinz Schreiber - so beloved of his native country that they are eager to have him deported into their waiting arms to warm the jail cell awaiting his return for withholding taxes from the government - or was it merely embezzlement?

It was, in fact, Mulroney's connection with Schreiber and the notorious Airbus deal that the RCMP did their damndest to uncover, certain they could trace an enormous kick-back to our former prime minister.

He's too slippery an eel to be caught that readily, despite a verbal declaration from another former associate in the deal that implicated him directly, and despite the evidence of some very curious Swiss bank accounts. Simply insufficient to do the job. Now here's Karlheinz Schreiber wanting his pound of flesh from his former business colleague, Brian Mulroney.

Having handed over a healthy $300,000 advance fee to Mulroney in turn for his assistance in helping Schreiber build a production facility for light armoured vehicles in Quebec, and a pasta business in Ontario, he launched a suit against the man for non-delivery of said services in ostensible need for a restoration of wasted monies.

For while appearing to renege on their agreement, Mr. Mulroney did not see fit to restore the advance to Mr. Schreiber. Details in a gentlemen's agreement can be so tediously inconvenient.

Tut-tut, glad-handing, Irish-eyes Mulroney forfeiting on his good word, and sterling reputation. Can't blame slimey - er - disappointed Schreiber for demanding that either the services to be performed by the defendant be fulfilled, or the advance restored. Fair's fair, after all. Or let's say it usually is.

Things are not always as they seem in the netherworld that both men inhabit.

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Just How Suggestible?

People are uniformly given to believing what they want to believe, most particularly when a whopping, hugely-funded advertising campaign is launched to convince them that something is "cool" - and everyone wants to be cool. Ally that with assurances that the human body requires continual hydration for ultimate health and physical performance and you've achieved a great formula for credible suasion.

Everyone's uniform these days includes a bottle of water. People walk, run, amble, hop, slip and slither to their destinations hanging on to their comfort blankie, that ubiquitous water bottle. Is it a bit of a nuisance to continually have to visit the rest room to micturate? Well, that's how it goes, can't get around without water. Water from the tap? Heaven forfend, that's only for those who (sniff-sniff) cannot afford the cachet of name-brand H20.

Sure, there've been those enlightened souls, amused by the fervid trust in the powers of constant hydration who inform the public that the moisture the body receives through the normal daily intake of food and drink is more than sufficient to restore that working machine to top order. And only if engaging in hard physical labour, or extensive recreational sports would one require additional hydration.

And bottled water? the skeptics scoffed, forget it. Most of it is only water taken from municipally-treated water systems to begin with, despite those labels illustrating sylvan streams, or melting icebergs. Furthermore, there have been greater amounts of harmful contaminants discovered in bottled water than water taken directly from the tap. Still, committed water-bottle-babies don't listen to all that habit-deleterious stuff.

And let's face it, this has turned out to be big business. At one time it was only bottlers like Perrier, presenting sparkling water for discriminating tastes. Bottlers of colas realized they were missing a beat there, and began to enter the bottled water production-stream and they haven't looked back since. And the public relations and advertising schemes they've launched; it's enough to make P.T. Barnum blush.

Like sneaky suggestions that municipally-treated water, the water that gushes out of one's kitchen and bathroom taps isn't really all that healthy for you. Sodden with chlorine and all matter of health-disturbing sediments, chemicals and organic compounds. But there's a handy alternative, and that's their offerings of (patent-protected) designer bottled water. Pure, unadulterated, all the harmful solids removed.

The health-conscious, the image-deranged, the fitness-compelled, the "cool" crowd all responded with a resounding YESSS!

Hey, what gives? PepsiCo, Coca-Cola and their respective trade names are at last coming clean; their bottled water is in fact our household water, simply run through a reverse osmosis procedure to dissolve solids. Something, in fact, that our household tap with its carbon-filter attachment also does.

But wait a minute, if these huge corporations are taking tap water that the taxpayer is paying for filtering and cleansing to produce their designer label bottled water, isn't that great taxpayer base paying through the nose for a product many of us aren't interested in using, leaving the committed bottled-water crowd to pay twice?

I know it sounds kind of unreasonable, but mightn't we expect these multi-billion-dollar enterprises to pay their own way? No sweetheart deals with municipalities, please, kindly stiff it to them just the way the taxpayer must needs fund the infrastructure and the mechanical means by which our water is made completely potable and safe.

I sound a little cranky, I know, but I resent funding an international scam of these huge proportions. And I'm not at all amused that so many people are so completely gullible that they place themselves willingly in the hands of these sly manipulators - oops, of course I mean entrepreneurs.

Hey, not on my dime, OK?

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

What're You Doing There?

Good on you, Mr. Prime Minister. Visiting a part of the world where no one in their right mind wants to go to, for who really wants to confront such dreadfully mind-numbing and visible poverty, violence and hopelessness? Yes, there are so many other parts of the world for which comparable levels of all of those descriptives could apply. They're a blight on humanity.

Haiti seems always to have had a miserable tradition of ignorance and violence and poverty. One dictator after another preying on the people, living in magnificence while the people stagnated in their limitless cesspool of poverty and want. But there's Prime Minister Stephen Harper electing to visit that country, to view for himself that which one would really rather not.

With the position of state comes some obligations. With the position of representative of one of the wealthier, comfortable, stable and free countries on this earth, there is the obligation to lend oneself to the furthering of other less stable, certainly less materially endowed countries.

Considered to be the poorest, most unstable, lawless nation in the Western Hemisphere, there is our prime minister, greeting a brace of little girls at a school and medical clinic partially funded by Canada and the U.S. The children attend school, they are given vaccinations and cared for in lieu of parental attention by often HIV-positive or AIDS-stricken mothers.

Situated in the slimy mess of a slum district, giving hope to the residents, and possibly a future to the young who have the grave misfortune of having been born into that world. "You go into a neighbourhood like Cite Soleil, where there has been considerable improvement in security and life, and yet you see how difficult that life is obviously for most people," said Mr. Harper after a meeting with Haitian President Rene Preval.

"I think all of us, as fellow human beings, as people who have our own families, can only begin to understand the true difficulties and the challenges that so many people in this country face on a day-to-day basis" he explained. Haiti is the second largest recipient of Canadian foreign aid, after Afghanistan. And Canada's current Governor-General, Michaelle Jean, was born in Haiti.

People who live in the slum move about glumly, with no real reason to feel elated at the presence of foreign dignitaries in their place of residence. One woman, asked of her opinion of Canada, and whether she felt the world was sufficiently involved in helping her country replied: "I am hungry, and I need money."


Thursday, July 19, 2007

You Want Colour, Texture, Fragrance?

We're talking flowers here, summer flowers. Annuals that bloom bright and beautiful. We're talking garden pots, large, small, terra-cotta, glazed clay, 'stone'. Classical in shape or mere receivers of garden beauty. They all have their place in the garden as ornaments par excellence.

They all attract the eye. They surprise, comfort, connect and elicit admiration from the onlooker. Most particularly from the gardener who planned and planted them, who waters and fertilizes them. Who plucks look-alike weeds from among the foliage of the flower-producers. Who clucks over their health, and discards spent foliage and flowerheads.

They are not the backbone of the garden, but they most certainly are the equivalent of objets d'art in the garden. The bees love them, and as do hummingbirds, attracted by the promise of their bright colours, their open readiness to allow the extraction of their sweet nectar, their dusty pollen. Butterflies and beetles hover and zip about their bright attractiveness.

Any time you're passing by, drop in have a look around, enjoy yourself. Be my honoured guest.


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Blessed Summer Invasions

It's that time of year, school is out, and what to do with young children when parents are away at work? Particularly when said young child huffs indignantly at the very mention of summer camp, and waxes downright offended at the prospect of day care. There have been handy exchanges between parents in like situations, where one child stays with an temporarily at-home parent for a day in and then the favour is returned. But then sometimes serendipity runs out and parents look elsewhere.

To grandparents, for example. And thus it is that last week we had our granddaughter spend three days with us and this week once again. You'll be bored, I warn her, and she responds that she most certainly will not be bored in our company. "In our company" being the operative I remind her that her grandparents were not put on this earth for the purpose of entertaining her. She's heard that often enough to know to agree, to promise she'll find things to do. Ha!

She finds things to do, plenty of things to do - always with us. But that's all right for a temporary shift in out-of-the-ordinary activities for two old duffers. We lend ourselves happily enough to the enterprise of absorbing her presence into our lives on an intensive basis for a portion of the week. Child's play, literally, compared to our having had her with us eight hours of each working day for the first nine years of her life, as her day-care-givers.

She well remembers the menus in this house, and recalls happily enough helping me bake goodies. Only now, she observes, she no longer has to haul over a little step-stool to bring her height sufficiently up to the central baking counter, since she stands a half-head taller than me now. We'd bake cookies; how about butterscotch-chip? And she agrees. In fact, she boasts, she knows how to bake them herself, and I take her up on that, insist she tell me the ingredients we'll use.

She's taken aback at first, then rallies, and remembers; not only from baking with me, but with her mother who usually bakes goodies on Saturday mornings. Butter or margarine, she says, brown or white sugar, eggs, flour, baking power. Hurrah! We proceed to bake the cookies, she insists on doing as much of the physical work as possible, beating the batter, dipping an incautious finger in from time to time, to murmur appreciation. Before they're cool out of the oven, she's at them.

Well, oh dear, it’s been an interesting few days. We picked the child up, as scheduled, early Monday morning, because her mother had a 9:00 am meeting scheduled. Our daughter was not thrilled when we saw her first thing downtown in front of her building, for as we met her sour face informed us something was awry. She had gone in to the office especially for that important meeting; she usually works from home on Monday. The meeting had been called off. Never mind, there was plenty that called her attention at the office and although she meant to leave in the early afternoon, other meetings took her attention.

As for us, the first order of the day was BREAKFAST, as in what’s for breakfast today, Bubbe, I’m starved. I usually take a fruit juice with us that she can suck on while we’re driving home, before she can dive into some real food, and it’s just as well. She deliberately holds back from eating anything at home before leaving, because she anticipates the ritual of our all sitting down together at the table. She has two fruits, then eggs, then toast slathered with cream cheese, a hot cocoa drink, and tea. After which comes a quick clean-up and a departure for a ravine walk. She goes along with either an apple and a cookie or a bagful of cherries which she loves to squish in her mouth, then power-eject the pit in an effort to determine whether she can break her previous long-distance record.

The snacking in between meals is incessant and never-ending, but generally good stuff like fruit or carrots or something equally salubrious to her health. A litre of chocolate milk may last a day. Dinner the first night consisted of chicken soup and rice, a roasted chicken, grated potato and onion quick-stirred in olive oil, candied carrots and a huge slice of watermelon. A half hour later she asked what she could have for a snack. It’s daunting. Yet it all goes down, and settles somewhere - where? Her legs are long and sleek, her body is well proportioned and slender, but the appetite is enormous. Guess I’ve forgotten what it’s like to keep a pre-teen-age child in fine fettle.

Well, we went to the Beacon Hill Sally Ann for a look-about. She and I looked about at the summer tops. Every time she saw a top with monkeys on it, or bears, she asked if she could have it, and ended up with a nice collection of six gently-appreciated summer tops. And then she came across a pair of flip-flops with enormously thick soles and just HAD to have them, Bubbe. Despite the size printed on them they fit her exactly, and they made their way into the shopping cart as well.

Anything I saw that looked as though it would fit and suit her elicited an “eeeuuww, Bubbe!” , so I desisted. But then her grandfather and I came across an absolute bonanza of books, all piled high in a shopping cart preparatory to being priced and put on the shelves. We pawed through them frenetically and each of us amassed a very satisfactory pile of new reading material, well suited to our interests. I came away with a novel by a Japanese writer, Yuko Tsushima, Umberto Eco’s “The Island of the Day Before”; An Oxford Language Reference guide, Mordecai Richter’s “Barney’s Version”, and Michael Ondaatje’s “Anil’s Ghost”. Hey, lucky me.

She adores going out into the gardens, right after breakfast, as her grandfather and I are wont to do, when it’s still nice and cool out, and there’s dew on leaves and flower blossoms, and I get caught up in doing little things like staking up plants, and dead-heading flowers. She thinks it’s neat to grab one of the secateurs and dead-head right alongside me. On Tuesday afternoon, despite that it was a really hot day (a temporary aberration this week) she helped me to fertilize the garden pots, dissolving fertilizer into the garden watering pails then having a go at drowning all the flowers in the pots. I swear, I can see the increased vigour beginning to take hold immediately, as the plants swill down that bloom-affirming liquid.

When I went next door to look after our neighbour's garden in their vacation absence, she was eager to accompany me, to resurrect an old ritual she well remembers from her many years of living with us. Next door we went, looking about to ensure there was nothing amiss in our neighbours' absence, watering the vegetable garden in the backyard, picking the ripe red tomatoes for our own dinner salad, as per instructions, and watering all the flowers in pots hung here and there for decorative effect. A tiny rabbit ran across Angie's feet in its startled rush to evade our unanticipated presence.

And that evening she was an honourable trencherman again, digging into her fresh vegetable salad, leaving only the tomatoes (like her great-grandfather, she eschews tomatoes; go figure), carefully selecting two ears of corn on the cob, and vastly appreciating the delicate flavours of the barbecued steelhead salmon we had for dinner. She dug caverns with her serrated spoon throughout the bright red, yielding flesh of the watermelon dessert, and dinner was proclaimed a success. Oh, is it snack time yet?

She thought it was great fun going downstairs to visit with her Zayde in his workshop, where he had her put on gloves so she could help cut the stained glass under his direction, form the lead around it, and feel she had accomplished something. He has great patience with her, but then he also demonstrates that same kind of patience with anyone who is interested in anything he’s doing. He's done the same with neighbour children who express an interest in observing him at that kind of work, on occasion.

After dinner she thought it was great fun for both of us to sit out back on the deck, swinging in the glider, little Riley stuck in between us, snoozing. I would be trying, finally, to snatch a peek at the day’s newspapers, while urging her to get on with her novel about cat rescues, and she would read for a while, and then sneak a sideways glance at me, anxious to begin a gossip-type conversation about something I’d read, or something she had noticed, and then we would make great fun out of whatever it was and she would collapse with shrieking giggles. Occasionally she would offer her own pithy observation and I’d think it so cleverly observant that I would be the one to break out in shrieking laughter.

The only fly in the ointment, what turned out to be the real bane in the treat of having her with us for this half-week, was trying to programme and download music to her MP3 player. Instructions that come with the device are almost useless; they don’t address the formula for downloading from the Internet. Mind, the CD that came with the player had to be downloaded with the appropriate software (ha!) most of which was devoted to Yahoo! programmes and when we went on line to check them out they weren’t at all what I’d anticipated. Mostly to encourage anxious music down-loaders to sign up for a monthly fee enabling one to access music downloads.

I'd initially cautioned her grandfather not to buy her the thing; she's still, at two weeks into eleven years of age, a trifle young. And her mother's computer is a groaning oldie, hasn't the require speed or capability and she's also on dial-up service. This kid is interested in Pop and (shudder!) Rap music, appropriate for her age, as an eleven-year-old. I found it awkward and quite nasty to navigate the various web sites that I went to, once I left the Yahoo! site in disgust at their hard sell. And guess what? With dial-up Internet service it takes an average of 20 to 30 minutes to download a single song.

I’d suggested that she bring along some of her CD s of performers she likes, like Christina Aguillera, and others of her ilk, and it wasn’t difficult to transfer the songs she liked (which turned out to be a mere two or three tunes from each disc) onto the MP3 player, but getting them off the Internet was another thing altogether. Guess I’m too old and too dumb to manipulate and intuit the required moves properly. We spent two feverish nights trying to overcome the difficulties that seemed to assail us at every turn, trying to understand the process sufficiently to proceed. I even copied a set of instructions I found on line, but they hardly managed to instruct me to proceed with any degree of confidence.

Then on Wednesday she finally suggested we return the MP3 player. She had been so anxious to acquire one, you wouldn’t believe it. And her Zayde, of course, wanted to accommodate her every whim. Wasn’t he surprised when she finally said she didn’t think much of it, and even less of the procedure whereby it might be rendered useful. Whereupon they both undertook to return it to the Source where it had been purchased - no problem! then took her to another store and bought, at her request, a stuffed animal in place of it.

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Sunday, July 15, 2007

A Diminishing Presence

We are all human beings; we share the same emotions, have similar basic needs, live our lives as best we can, have a deep and abiding love for our families, share pride in the accomplishments of our children, derive a deep satisfaction and affection for our source groups, their traditions, history, emphasis on social- and self-responsibility.

We are Jews. And while we have much in common with people whose ethnic derivations are other than our own, a common ancestry holds us slightly apart; we are recognized as being 'different'. That 'difference' has always been the impetus for a historical and histrionic targeting of the Jewish presence among those of other ethnic, social and traditional groups.

Jews were held to be inferior in their antecedents, were seen to harbour ambitions of vaulting themselves over the aspirations of all other peoples; seen to plot their ascendancy over all others, by seeking to control the means with which this ambition could be contrived. Moreover, Jews held themselves traditionally separate and apart, practising their religious conservatism, holding themselves to be superior, it was reasoned.

History's perennial scapegoat for whatever could go wrong in the world - at the street level where disgruntled and hard-done-by citizens looked with envy at the purportedly hidden resources of their humble neighbour, and whom their religious leaders assured them was the fount of all their woes, became a ready target in a wider sense when singling out the Jews in their midst enabled political charlatans to charge their presence was a detriment to the country as a whole.

The Twentieth Century was no kinder to world Jewry than the previous annals of history. It succeeded in compounding the alarm Jews normally felt when seeing themselves targeted, then solidifying that alarm into a mass carnage of humankind worst excesses delivered with a cold intent of annihilation on a scale previously undreamed of. But there is that about the Jews; they are a stubborn people.

By nature resilient, indomitable, determined, and through their religion convinced that the God whom Abraham served would never desert His people at their time of need. But no miraculous Golem appeared to rescue them, no Archangel flew down from above to render Israel's enemies speechless and frozen in intent; no cataclysmic upheaval was ordered by Jehovah to unsettle the conviction of much of Europe that fascist extermination was the order of the day.

Mankind faced its excess of debased human derangement by denying that they knew what was occurring, that it was the temporary madness of a militaristic society that was at fault, and there quite simply existed no opportunities to rescue the millions of human beings being sacrificed to the insane whim of a relative handful of fascists determined to produce a new world order.

The long-term consequences of the Holocaust haven't been much examined. Human beings, as part of their emotional baggage that permits them to surmount the most horrendous of circumstances, are by their nature hopeful. Hope leads to hanging on by the slimmest of existential threads - to eventual survival. We've been imprinted to survive, to pass on our genes, our attributes as well as our failures of vision.

Jews have attained to a sanctuary of their very own, one whose purpose is to succour and support, to encourage the finest in human aspirations and to reach the pinnacle of human endeavours leading to success in science, medicine, the arts, philosophy. Yes, there is the dross of the pedestrian, far outstripping the extraordinary, but somehow genius manages to raise its creative head for the betterment of mankind, and among Jews, it does so far more often than from among other human groupings.

It is estimated that Jews number approximately thirteen million throughout the world; a steady number neither increasing nor decreasing. As such, Jews represent about two of every thousand people in the world. But the world population has itself been increasing, at a rate far outstripping that of its Jewish component. To gain some perspective, Jews represented 3.5 of every thousand in 1970, 4.7 of one thousand population in 1945 - and 7.5 out of one thousand in 1938.

The six million Jews who were slaughtered by Nazi Germany and her helpers, aided and abetted by the indifference of the world at large, had an overall effect on the population of Jews world wide. Their numbers were diminished by almost half. Roughly analogous to the population of the State of Israel today, but not quite; while six million were exterminated during the Holocaust, the Jewish population of Israel stands at 5.4, outstripping in numbers the United States with its 5.3 million Jews.

What the evil intent of Nazi Germany and her allies failed to accomplish, according to the Jewish Agency's Conference on the Future of the Jewish People, intermarriage and a diminution of Jewish identity, along with a paucity of Jewish education is managing to bring to reality. And the further reality is that this diminishment of Jews and the Jewish identity harms not only this particular group, but also the world at large.

The fount of much which the world holds dear had its birth among that group historically, in religion, philosophy, science, medicine and the arts right through to modern history.


Saturday, July 14, 2007

Hidden Spaces, Secret Places

Surprise me, I say to my garden, when I slip out into the outdoor every morning. Show me something I haven't noticed before. And it does. It always does. It seems to thrive on the challenge. Something, invariably, has come up during the space of the seemingly-few hours between I was last out there on my interminable search.

These are little things, a seedling that has suddenly decided to make itself available to the fresh air, the sun, encouraged by the gentle rain and the fact that it's parent-bloom scheduled it to return at some later time, to delight us with its unexpected presence.

And then there are the accelerated, truly surprising growth spurts where a vine suddenly curls itself over and over again onto a supporting pole, in an enthusiasm one might only suspect was possible in the space of a few short hours, from one day to another. And those flowers! where on earth did they erupt from; I cannot even recall the presence of the buds during my careful daily perambulations.

The inventory of which I'm so proud, with which I'm so enthralled changes daily. I can hardly credit nature's constant attention to detail. When does she find all that time to attend to everything, for heaven's sake?


Thursday, July 12, 2007

Don't You Know Who I Am?

Headline: Wind farm blows wrong note in cottage country: Anne Murray lashes out at 'imposing structures'.

Well, no - who are you? Someone who thinks obviously, they're sufficiently important to pull rank, I'd guess. Someone who obviously feels they have a great deal to say, and who doesn't mind saying it. Someone accustomed to saying what she thinks and feels, and who feels that she should be heard, that anything she says has a great deal of value to society. She is, after all, a celebrity, Canadian-style.

Anne Murray is angry and she simply will not stand for it. "It" being the perfect view from her Northumberland Strait cottage interfered with. Ditto for the scenic views available from the nearby golf course which she frequents. Quality of life, after all, is vitally important. Who could possibly argue with that? Certainly not the denizens of the area, representing the many wealthy residents living alongside Ms. Murray.

Most certainly not the elite of the nearby golf world whose use of the pristine grounds carefully tended by the Northumberland Links Golf Course would be irremediably sullied by the interruption of the groomed landscape through the installation of (shudder!) a proposed wind farm development hard by this ocean paradise.

The wind farm is scheduled to receive up to 27 units; 120-metre tall turbines. The turbines are planned to generate 30 megawatts, power sufficient for the needs of approximately 15,000 homes. To go on line in 2009. Ms. Murray protests the area's scenic beauty would be ruined for the fortunate individuals who have situated their 'dream homes' there.

"Her 'dream homes' will be the ruin of her precious coastline", retorts Jennifer Graham, coastal co-ordinator for Halifax-based Ecology Action Centre. For needless to say, as happens all too often, people with means have built their precious homes close to and upon environmentally sensitive areas.

And despite the pain of having to avert their aesthetic senses from the presence of those very installations meant to render a sustainable, environmental solution for the ongoing energy needs to power these homes, they should get accustomed to it, over time.

To halt their installation would halt progress in a local initiative to arrive at an integrated management strategy.

Ms. Murray: sorry, it's going to be in your backyard.

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Monday, July 09, 2007

Perverse Habits, Reverse Expectations

Haven't we come a long way, from an economy and a society that valued its primary producers for the hard work of the plow resulting in produce to support urban society whose work was that of the brow. We celebrated the fecund production of farms that supplied us with grains, vegetables, fruits, chickens, eggs, milk and beef. We needed the farmers that surrounded our urban settlements, their work was fundamental to our existence, our well being.

Ah, trade, commerce and the ongoing opportunities presented with the establishment of highways and refrigerated rolling stock. We no longer look forward to seasonal produce. The world has become for all intents and purposes, as far as commercial trucking in produce is concerned, a much smaller place. Coveted and seasonal produce that consumers looked forward to as timely seasonal treats have become available year-around.

And at such a reasonable price. Quite remarkable. Greenhouses are able to make available local produce throughout the year but in limited quantities. But foodstuffs grown in geographic areas where harsh winters don't limit potential, are now trucked in daily from afar. Of course, this means that produce will be plucked from the vine well before full maturity, impacting on quality and taste.

And new scientifically-enhanced products able to sustain long journeys through changes to their structure making them less likely to bruise, to become over-ripe in transit, have altered the basic produce we once knew. Misshapen apples and pears and tomatoes are no longer acceptable for the fastidious diner, and apples and raspberries hosting tiny worms are definitely not sought after.

Pesticide use has grown exponentially, even more so as the geographic transfer of insect pests and viruses have grown, making it ever more necessary to use a growing number of chemicals on the food we eat. On the other hand, food grown close to hand can be picked on the cusp of ripeness, and can be grown in traditional ways, organically, their transfer from farm field to grocer less time-consuming.

But, alas, a costlier process, because small specialized farms cannot compete in price with large farming conglomerates, even taking into account increased costs for transportation, even considering the offset effect of harm done to the environment. Supermarkets no longer make an effort to stock produce grown in season by area farmers; too much bother when they can purchase large quantities, more economically.

Living in Ottawa, we can no longer find area-grown berries, although if we travel to a nearby U.S. State like New Hampshire, there are Ontario-grown strawberries for sale in supermarkets alongside California-grown strawberries; one tasting as fruit should, the other a reasonable facsimile. And while California-grown strawberries are cheaper to purchase in Ontario than are fresh farm-grown strawberries, in New Hampshire it's just the reverse.

Confusing? You bet.

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Sunday, July 08, 2007

After The Rain

It's been extraordinarily dry. Grass has begun to turn brown, yellow, stopped growing. It's a waste of water to haul out the sprinklers, better to wait out the dry spell. The grass will simply go into a rest period until rain restores its vigour. Shelter your eyes from the arid appearance, wait.

The gardens, though, and the garden pots, that's another thing entirely. They must be watered to ensure all the flowering elements of the garden that give it colour and beauty and form and fragrance don't languish into nothingness. Expire, and become compost. That's too cruel an end for so much loveliness.

There are occasional, teasing and swiftly-over episodes of desultory drizzles, amounting to nothing at all, barely a sweep of moisture over the thirsty landscape. But then, when nature tires of her teasing games and lets loose a hefty, overnight, all-night rain, everything is restored, all is returned to health.

We turn about the garden, see a robin intent on pulling worms from the soil; its reward for patience. We see goldfinches weaving their way from the birdbath to the overhanging boughs of the apple tree. And wonder of wonders, the iridescent green of a hummingbird flits past on its way to one bright red Monarda flower to another.

Over the top of the back fence, a black squirrel rummages, then runs across to our neighbour's side. In quick succession, a tiny red squirrel follows the same back fence route, then runs back to the opposite side again, uncertain of proceeding. He's likely had occasion to note the occasional presence of our other neighbour's oft-skulking black cat.

The wonderful passion flower vine on the back deck stretches its tendrils happily; it has found the supporting poles I plunged into its containing pot yesterday, before the rain. The seeking tendrils of the black-eyed Susan vines are doing likewise over their tee-pee'd poles, promising perky yellow flowerheads soon.

The flowering plants that I had moved about in one small garden yesterday to ensure they won't soon overgrow the other, shorter blooming plants have now been more than adequately moistured into their newly-receiving soil. The sweet basil that I cut back so amply yesterday is newly encouraged to perform.

We are truly grateful.

Summer Saturday's Ravine

Today the creek rushes through the ravine, swollen with last night's rain, muddy and fierce in its determined direction. Formerly tinder-dry, the ravine has been resuscitated, rescued from its dry spell, the plants languishing in the heat, the earth cracking beneath our feet. It's heavily overcast, the threat of ongoing rain events continues, and we're wearing light rain gear, happy to be out. The newly-rehabilitated trail that the municipal works crew created with the considerable assistance of a Bobcat only two days previously has weathered the rain well. We come across no other walkers.

Yesterday we came across an excellent cross-sampling of nearby residents coming through the ravine, on foot, in pairs and singles, as well as young families. On two-wheelers, young boys and girls thrilled to be out on a cool, humid and overcast day when school is out and they're on their own with no thoughts of classrooms and homework to bedevil them for the rest of the summer. There are runners, ears plugged with the sound of personal music choices.

They're not the only ones out and about. Goldfinches weave their way through the trees, robins hop about on the ground, and cardinals thrust their warbling high notes high on the still air, through the treetops. A small rabbit hurriedly hops across the trail into the underbrush, and red squirrels, grey and black squirrels, and chipmunks busy themselves up and down tree trunks. Sumach candles are beginning to turn their inimitable bright red.

I can hardly believe Queen Anne's lace is already beginning to bloom. As well as cornflowers; isn't it too early in the season? Is summer slipping by so quickly? Yarrow is now in flower, and heliotrope, and good grief, ragweed. And there, where they appear regularly every year, a group of Tiger lilies, bright, insouciantly orange. Milkweed as well, and finally we see our first Monarch butterfly of the season.

Something far ahead is bounding up the trail toward us, raggedly cream-coloured and swift. It's none other than the irrepressible Toby, one of those heedlessly, happily bumptious little dogs of mixed breeding whose enthusiasm is so boundless no one can resist admiring him. Something tiny, a cream and russet wisp of an animal is right behind him, dragging a red leash, as determined as Toby to come abreast of a different brace of animals.

Toby knows Button and Riley, and they him, and they little react to one another other than a casually friendly acknowledgement. The tyke of a Yorkie stops short of reaching Button and Riley, hesitates, runs back down the trail, turns and scampers back up again, to finally reach first Button, then Riley, daintily leaping with its tiny front paws on each of them in turn. And finally, Toby's owner hoists herself into view, with her brassy red helmet of hair.

She's dog-sitting, she tells us. It's her sister's dog. Her sister is back in hospital for rehabilitation. She's an incurable alcoholic. Long separated from her husband, she tells us. He finally left after one binge-and-hospitalization too many. No children, all to the good. They'd known one another long before marrying, were in fact schoolyard buddies, but he loved her and thought he could turn her around. Now, she has only a dog for company, that tiny wisp.

Not for long, though, since she's incapable of looking after it. Paid $1,500 for the terrier, she said to us, with lifted eyebrow, but she'll have to give it up. It's high maintenance, needs a lot of care and attention - and so does her sister. Only seven months old, weight negligible, energy obviously inexhaustible. We walk along together, all four dogs variously engaged, the tiny pup rushing about everywhere, curious to know everything possible about its world.

I've recommended removing its leash, feeling it a hazard, dragging along, catching now and again on protruding roots, but to no avail. Two middle-aged women are descendingthe last long hill leading to our street, and one of them knows Toby's owner. Both women exclaim over the appealing little dog, and they're informed it's up for grabs. Not house broken, unfortunately. The owner will likely accept less than what she paid.

Peoples' personal tragedies are profoundly sad. The casual disposal of a tiny living creature highly dependent on dedicated attention to its needs moves us greatly. What a complex world of struggle, failure and occasional triumphs we inhabit. Good thing humans are motivated by hope for the future, assurance that they will surely surmount all difficulties placed before them.

Dependent creatures offer us the opportunity to reveal our inner selves for unquestioning love and loyalty. We must needs be capable of providing the basic necessities and securities of existence for them. In the hopes that we can do likewise for ourselves.

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Saturday, July 07, 2007

A Chance Fable

It does happen. You meet someone by chance. Begin a conversation. Discover things about people, not because you've enquired particularly, but because so often people need someone with whom to speak, someone to share with. They're alone and lonely. Can someone whose wont it is to speak interminably be capable of listening to another, without interruption? Permitting that person to unburden himself, to inform someone, a stranger, about his life?

My husband was in a Canadian Tire store, with him our two little dogs, both accustomed to being carried about in shoulder carriers when we enter stores. I was elsewhere, shopping in a food supermarket where we cannot take our dog companions. To while away the time and just incidentally stock up on some needed hardware items, my husband was there alone, with our two dogs, until sufficient time had elapsed that I would have completed the food shopping and he would pick me up.

A tall, well-built older man approached my husband, interested in the two dogs, as so many people tend to be. People are drawn to the presence of the two quiet little animals, they remark over their presence recumbent in their bags, their quiet behaviour. Wanting to pet them, to talk invariably about their own pets, past or present. And so it was with this man, who informed my husband of the series of dogs he had himself owned.

He had got fed up with investing so much love in these animals, none of whose lifetimes had expanded much beyond a decade, but for one, a small Shi Tzu dog, which one of his children had bought for him as a gift, and at a time when he had declared himself to be henceforth out of commission as a dog owner, after the death of the latest pet. But, he laughed, he had succumbed, and that last dog had died at 15 years of age.

It always depresses my husband when people speak to him about the deaths of their beloved dogs, and the emotional toll it cost them. It's part of the future we don't look forward to with any kind of anticipation. Then the conversation took a more interesting, intriguing turn. His new and temporary companion felt no urge to part, seemed eager to settle into a prolonged conversation. How old was he? Why 78, much to my husband's astonishment. The man was in excellent physical shape.

Might have something to do with the fact he'd had a long career with the RCMP. He'd been single until he was almost fifty, his career was his main interest in life. He'd had a two-year posting in Tokyo, Japan, and that's where the convergence in interests came in, as they now both talked animatedly about their personal impressions of living in Japan. This older man had married finally, a Japanese woman considerably younger than him.

They returned to Canada, and had four children. He spoke of his children with great pride. They were all over-achievers, one a banker in London who owned a million-dollar house. Another in high-tech, living in Vancouver, and he owned no fewer than three condominiums. His wife? She left him eleven years ago, for a younger man. A younger man who died two years ago, at age 51.

Yes, he was lonely, he most certainly was, but life goes on, you make the best of things. He lived for many years in Blackburn Hamlet - as had we. And then he moved to a large house, all on his own, in another part of Ottawa, which is where we too now live. He showed my husband a wallet-size photo of a beautiful young Japanese woman, obviously proud of her appearance.

That's when my husband became his usual verbose self, calling on his memory of some of his former colleagues who had succumbed to the allure of Japanese women, married them, brought them home to Canada. Then spent years complaining about the ambitions of their wives, who continually harrangued them with the need to finer-tune their careers, to become more elevated on the ladder of achievement, to earn larger salaries. Invariably, the marriages failed.

They discussed the differences in the cultures, the gender differences. The Japanese are success-driven, competing from a very young age, compelled to understand by their anxious parents that their success in grade school would lead to valued places in well recognized universities which would in turn lead to career opportunities and wealth and prestige. From our own experience in Japan, it became readily apparent that young Japanese women were far less interested in marrying a Japanese than they were the possibility of marrying a foreigner. It was the Western lifestyle and the freedom of women there.

He was, the older man said, of Polish origin, born in Poland. Ah, my husband offered; his parents had come from Poland also; Polish Jews. Really? The man avowed that he felt there was a Jewish inheritance in his own genes. They exchanged old business cards, kept warm and snug in their wallets, long past retirement.

He'd call, the fellow said, they'd go out for coffee.


Every Day In Every Way

From the first light of dawn to the hazy hours of dusk and beyond, I am nurtured and enfolded in his love for me. We’ve been children together, emerging adults, a brace of married teens, young parents, and finally grandparents. From fresh-faced innocence of the world to experience-inspired knowledge of our place in this world, our lives have been partnered, an exquisite travel through time and unfolding of our twinned desires and destiny.

From the mundane experiences of coping with the irritations of everyday life and all its unexpected turns, to the sublime enlargement of our knowledge of one another, our appreciation of the splendour of our togetherness, we have travelled a lifetime together. We reveal our deepest selves, yet still there is that within us that remains mysterious, apart and unknown one to the other.

This is not a deliberate intent to veil ourselves from complete knowledge, an attempt to forestall any possibility of vulnerability, but rather an extension of the mystery of one’s self to one’s own understanding. As much as can be humanly known from one member of the human race to another, that is the extent of our knowledge of one another.

This man, whose curiosity of the world around him has never waned, whose tender solicitation on behalf of an errant spider, a sow bug, a bumble bee in distress, leads him to the act of rescue, resides deep in my soul. To gently lift a caterpillar off a trail to the safety of nearby scrub. To patiently and carefully rescue a bird or a squirrel from the deadly confines of a stovepipe or a fireplace.

This man whose urge to explore, to understand processes and who rejoices in revelations of the mind has been an inspiration and a joy to me, in sharing my life.

His daily attentions to my personal well-being overwhelm the onlooker, be it a child of our own or a stranger, wondering at the constant and ingrained consideration proffered on my behalf. Our daughter and sons construe this as stifling, interfering, manipulative and controlling, and so it could be, but it is not. There has never been a question of my individuality and my insistence on its recognition.

Our minds do not always meet in agreement on matters of external matters, but do on those of mutual concern. There is always the banter and discursive explanations of perspective and the possibility of one leading the other to a more rounded appreciation or understanding. Our political and social orientations don’t necessarily mesh, but our values, concerns and mode of behaviour in response to each do.

He is quick to judge yet amenable to reason, as am I. His initial impressions remain open to adjustment, mine less so. He is generous of spirit and kind in nature, but removed from a gregarious societal need to join, be a part of something, receive constant validation from the presence of others and their approval granted as a member of one’s group. He prefers the solace of privacy to that of constant social interaction, yet is appreciative of spirited conversations and debates of substance in public situations.

He is an omnivorous reader of books of every description, from autobiographical works, to history and exploration, and mystery novels. While I am also an avid reader, never without reading material, from newspapers to magazines, novels to biographies, I cannot match the manner in which he devours reading materials, his ongoing hunger for new works to consume.

There is our shared love of music, and his need to share the beauty that he hears with me. Music elevates our spirits, it ennobles our souls, it ushers us into a place of peace and security of the senses. If he is listening to something as pedestrian as a song that we danced to when we were young he will leap upstairs to join me. Because it's a tune from our childhood, he will insist on our briefly saluting its place in our memories by dancing to it, as we did once long ago.

We love the music of Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Hayden, Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and so many more brilliant composers of the past. When Gluck's "Dance of the Blessed Spirits" is aired, or Orpheus's lambently soulful lament on his loss of Eurydice is played, he leaps to action and brings the music to me, busy upstairs, not listening to the radio, while he is diverted in his basement workshop.

He is taken by the creative need to alter his surroundings in every possible way. From the creation of stained glass artworks, to oil paintings, the design, excavation and construction of outdoor hardscapes of stone and brick, to the interior laying of ceramic, marble, wood plank flooring, and the embellishment of fine mouldings and inset cabinetry. Nothing daunts him or dampens his spirit of curiosity and enterprise.

His innate creative spirit compels him to teach himself woodcraft and every artistic form of expression that appeals to him. He has collected original works of art for a half century, responding to the pull of originality and creative design comparable to what he considers the finest of creative integrity and human imagination. The scope of his interests and the knowledge he has acquired never fail to amaze me.

His knowledge of the arcane to the pedestrian, instills great admiration in me for the fineness of his mind. He often indulges in skepticism bordering heavily on cynicism that infuriates and befuddles me, its sharp contrast to his other attributes a quick reminder of just how complex the human mind and apprehension of the word about us, he personifies. He is able to swiftly disarm me by his proclivity to sly and witty observations that manage to encapsulate a situation, or a personality.

To be his constant companion, to be with him always, share the ordinary and the extraordinary in our lives together, is my gift from an unknown benefactor; chance, good fortune. To share his insights, his humour, his love of all things aesthetic, his appreciation of examples of humankind’s creative and imaginative constructs results in a rare and beautifully instructive bounty of life.

We share a keen appreciation for the out-of-doors and spend, together, as many hours as possible within green spaces. When we were busy canoe camping or alpine camping it was always one of his adopted duties to do the planning, the cooking and the clean-up detail. I loved his careful and conscientious ministrations toward these needed actions to each of the outdoor situations we found ourselves in.

As a child I was not exposed to the ordinary recreational opportunities that many children take for granted. As a young mother of three children, I caught up. He put together a two-wheeler for me from parts discarded by others; we bought bicycles for the children and while he taught our children to ride bicycles, he also taught me, in the very same way. Just as later he taught us all to cross-country ski, and to ice skate. And then came the acquisition of a canoe and we all learned together how to use it and enjoy it.

His enthusiasms become mine. His energies deflate mine. His determination is inexhaustible and exhausting to contemplate. His ongoing hunger for knowledge and understanding echoes through my own. His sharing of his opinions, of his perceptions, helps shape mine, just as mine shape his. His habit of sound-boarding me through the twists and turns of books he has recently read offer me the opportunity to ‘know’ the contents of volumes I would never myself read.

He is patient and slow to anger, forgiving much and swiftly; forgetting little. He does not suffer fools gladly, yet will be polite and surface-amenable, capable of pulling himself away from slight relationships which gain him nothing. He can be incautious in expressing his personal opinion to some whose receiving of it can be construed as critical. Is this honesty, or is it casual forgetfulness?

Nothing, absolutely nothing daunts his insistence on performing physically arduous tasks others his age would blanch at. And proving himself adept and capable of surmounting difficulties.

He will experiment and discover the where the why and the how of making his own wine, marmalade, or pickles for the joy of doing it and producing something decently potable, edible. His spirit of universal enterprise in art, the mastering of a myriad of small but necessary mechanical household tasks, his curiosity of the world about him has seeped into his children’s consciousness and rendered them accomplished.

From plumbing to electrical wiring, furniture construction to outdoor excavation nothing keeps him from accomplishing a purpose he has designed, devised and deemed required. 52 years of marriage have confirmed my good fortune in my life partner, as he continues to intrigue and amuse, instruct and entertain me, challenging my fortitude for new and demanding adventures.

While at the same time being cosseted and treasured, my every need and wish fulfilled. Our bedtime kiss for the night’s recess to our morning kiss in welcome of dawn. Hugs are a frequent day-time requirement. Solicitous questioning and offerings abound. Pre-breakfast morning-shared showers means a back scrub for each of us; his doling out of shampoo for me; post-shower anointing my back with moisturizing cream. Was ever a woman more spoiled?

Break off one of the earpieces of my eyeglasses? They’re repaired immediately. Snap off one end of a silver chain, carelessly wearing the bauble while doing the gardening? Not to fret, the chain has been reclaimed, made as good as new. Cut my cheek, just below the eye? His are the careful fingers that place the bandage in the just-right position, and that replaces it when required because I’m too impatient and feel queasy about in the process.

Sliver in the sole of my foot from the wood deck? He deftly removes it, just as he did when we looked after our grandchild for ten years, and earlier, when our children were young, tending to all the medical emergencies that inevitably erupted. Help in the garden to stake up something large, to dig a deep hole, to remove something truly recalcitrant? He’s my man.

Something puzzling happens to him when he’s behind the wheel of his car. He becomes an alpha male. Experience anything remotely resembling a challenge and I cannot recognize the transformation. And that’s when I swing into gear and tell him to cool down. Have I yet mentioned that he always asks my opinion about things? And then, all things considered, proceeds with his first intention, undeterred?

When he was a young boy he played hockey on the streets just like all the other little boys. It was his boyish passion. When we met at age 14 and he used to come over to my parents’ house to spend time with me, he sometimes brought with him his trusty old bulky wood hockey game. A novelty for me at first, I succumbed to playing games with him, before the freshness wore off.

When he was fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, he played football for his school, Oakwood Collegiate Institute. He hasn’t, over the years, remained transfixed about sports, an avid watcher and cheerer-on. Something else for which I am grateful. He does enjoy talking; he is not a man of few ideas and fewer words. Many people who talk much are not, by their nature, also listeners. He is one such.

He is not much altered physically from the young boy I once knew, the adult with whom I grew up. It’s not the weight of his physical presence that has changed, as it has not. His mind, however, has matured and blossomed into what now completely captivates me, as it did incrementally throughout our years together, up to and including the present.

His hairline has receded; no big surprise since, as a genetic marker we should have known by his father’s example. He can be a little hot-headed at times, mostly confined to driving. He can be as obdurate as I am, but he is always first to submit to the possibility that there are more ways to interpret a situation than he was at first willing to admit. That’s progress.

His vocabulary has expanded greatly since that time, 56 years ago, when we first met. Even then he enthralled me with his ability to convey his impressions of his experiences, so unlike my own. Even so, “nice” generally suffices to describe his impression of how I look at any given time, even when I’ve taken great pains with my appearance and have dressed in a new and flattering garment.

I love his face, his mind, criticize his memory when it fails to recall in match-step with my own. His capably strong hands fascinate me. His often cynical and sly sense of humour amuses me in a way no one else can manage. Our older son has inherited that proclivity, among other traits. I sometimes doubt our daughter has a sense of humour at all. Our younger son has inherited his father’s indomitable will to do anything he feels he can, along with the talent to do just that.

This has been a remarkable half-century escapade.


Friday, July 06, 2007

Penny For Your Thoughts

Finally, a good idea from the NDP. Not surprisingly, it's from Pat Martin, one of the few remaining NDP members of Parliament whose brain is in sufficient working order to enable him to come up with a good idea. He's drafting a private member's bill, it would seem, to discourage the continued production and use of the one-cent coin.

It's been done elsewhere, where countries feel it's more of a bother than a solution to making change. One penny doesn't account for very much, after all, in the general scheme of marketing and profit. Mind, there are people who believe in omens, and who always stoop to pick up a lost penny - for good luck to accrue to them. They won't walk under ladders, and black cats frighten them, too.

But how's this for an economic argument in favour of their discontinuance? Is a penny worth one cent? Well yes, because that's all you'll get for it. Mind, it's such a nuisance that most small retailers use the expedience of keeping a container of pennies handy beside the cash register so that if shoppers are short a penny or two, they can pick one out and hand it over.

Silly, isn't it? Yet sometimes, when I'm looking for three pennies in my change purse and they aren't there, and I have to hand over paper money like a fiver or a twenty-dollar bill because that's all I have at the moment, I feel resentful about it. Because everyone has pennies, lots of them; they're stored away in the most convenient or inconvenient places in our homes.

Why's that? Because they're a nuisance, they weigh too much and take up too much room for monetary exchange devices that aren't worth a damn. Sorry, a penny. I repeat: Is a penny worth one cent? Ssshh! don't tell anyone but it costs 5.95 cents to produce a single penny. Yep, that's what it costs The Royal Canadian Mint in Winnipeg, to stamp out one of those copper-toned coins.

They'd save us $30 million each and every year if we just said, hey it's all right, we don't need them any longer, stop producing the damn things. And they aren't maintained in full circulation, either. Why? Glad you asked: because, it would appear, people hoard them. No kidding: "People keep them in a bucket under their beds," said Mr. Martin.

Oh sure! On the other hand, could be. It's estimated there are 20 billion pennies in circulation in Canada, which works out to about 600 pennies for every Canadian. We're penny-wise and hoarding-foolish. What happens without pennies to weigh down your pocket or purse? Well, cash purchases would be rounded out. Now that's nice!

Don't pay in cash? You'll be charged the actual product price, including the pennies. If New Zealand, France, Spain and the Netherlands can get along without pennies, so can Canada. Go to it.

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Arrest the Speed Syndrome, Save Lives

The use of an electronic eye on speeding license plates produces results. It slows drivers and it saves lives. In the early 1990s the Province of Ontario instituted a photo-radar programme, detested by motorists and decried as a scheme to grab ready cash from unwary motorists. Too bad; drive too fast, endanger yourself and scores of other motorists, and it should cost in fines, darn right.

As a life-saving, cost-effective programme it got a bad press and people loved to shrilly denounce both it and the government that introduced it. The result being that the following government, that of hard-bitten Mike Harris, who also cut back welfare payments and other social programmes, was quick to bring it to a scudding halt and it died a quick death to the relief of hurried motorists.

Police are not that plentiful that they can be stationed anywhere and everywhere in the hopes of apprehending those drivers intent on jeopardizing public safety. Photo radar was a much unappreciated, but vastly effective deterrent. People hate paying fines, they're insulted when their driving skills are questioned, and they balk at restrictions to what they consider to be their freedom on the roadways of the nation.

Tough. A study published in the December 2005 issue of the journal
Traffic Injury Prevention where researchers with the School of Public Affairs at Baruch College in New York City assessed the impacts of a large photo-radar programme in British Columbia revealed photo radar's economic effectiveness. The conclusion revealed a huge annual net benefit to British Columbians and an allied net annual savings for the Insurance Corp. of British Columbia.

Automated photo-radar traffic safety enforcement was seen as an effective way of managing traffic speed, reducing collisions and injuries and lifting the huge economic burden to society of rampant road speed. The study concluded that the focus of such programmes should remain safety, not economic benefit, and it effectively adds to growing research favouring photo radar as a countermeasure in traffic safety concerns.

A sizeable proportion of Ontarians now appear to favour the re-introduction of photo radar in an effort to improve traffic safety. An almost equally-large proportion is resistant to its re-introduction as a measure by which safety on the road can be enhanced. A decade ago a safety research report revealed that photo radar was responsible for a dramatic downturn in speed on Ontario roads.

The Ontario Ministry of Transport revealed that overall speeds dropped by approximately 42%, with a concomitant change among high-speed drivers resulting in a 71% reduction in drivers clocking over 150 km/h. If people feel they'll be caught, they're far more careful in their behaviours. Like Pavlovian training; be bad, get smacked with a fine.

The point of the exercise is to impress responsibility upon drivers, and if enacting a process of costly fines is the key to success, then we should re-introduce photo radar.


Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Family Pet Mauls Child

People who love children and who have children have a responsibility to protect them, to allow them to be children while ensuring they grow and thrive in a safe and nurturing environment. They have a responsibility to teach children how to grow into adulthood, teaching them step-by-step how to safeguard their own futures by themselves becoming responsible, both to themselves and to those who will follow.

Thus, parents have a responsibility to their children. Grandparents have a responsibility also, to their grandchildren. We love our children, understand how vulnerable they are to untoward events, to accidents which may occur as a result of their inability to understand the consequences of their actions, whether it is to push something into an electrical outlet, to withdraw a poisonous substance from a kitchen undercounter, or to prod and irritate the family pet.

Adults have a responsibility to the companion animals they bring into their homes. As with children, their responsibility is to feed and to nurture and to socialize that animal. If it is a large dog, that responsibility becomes more urgent, to ensure that the animal understands through careful and long-standing indoctrination and teaching, that it must behave in a satisfactory manner toward the others that share its abode, and to which it is occasionally exposed outside the home.

And when adults, and parents have a combination of small children, along with family pets, that responsibility is doubled, becomes more relevant and pressing. Children must be taught to respect animals, not to bother them. Animals, because they are animals and their behaviours are unexpected at times and potentially critical, must at all times be monitored in the presence of children.

There's a potent potential for great harm in exposing an infant or a toddler to a large animal, no matter how well socialized the dog is, how satisfied the dog owner is that the dog's behaviour can be anticipated. When the two are left alone together, even for short periods of time, an instant is sufficient for great harm to come to a child. People are warned of this time after time by animal behaviourists, and by hospital spokespeople who often are faced with the task of repairing great physical damage to children caused by encounters with dogs.

We become too complacent. We're too busy to pay full attention. We simply don't want to believe that anything seriously untoward can happen, between the child we love and the animal we trust. But it will, it does, and when the unanticipated event occurs, tragedy ensues. A child mauled by an angry or taunted, or hot and tired dog, with no adult present to discipline it before the tragedy occurs, and to retrieve the child from imminent danger.

The child can't be saved. The dog is euthanized. The family lives forever with the memory.


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