Ruminations

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

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Emerging Green

Our two-week-long flirtation with summer ended yesterday. After days of unusually warm temperatures and full sun we succumbed to what all growing things really needed, finally. Which translated to torrents of rain in a one-day deluge, assuaging the spring thirst of newly awakening trees, shrubs and perennials. With that rain came much cooler temperatures, and we are plunged back into spring. No complaints.

So, jacket-clad, we headed into the ravine for our daily walk, missed yesterday in light of the downpour. Button and Riley feeling particularly frisky and us as well. Mind, it was windy, heavily overcast, but no threat of further rain, not until tomorrow evening. Our garden has already expressed its gratitude for yesterday's rain, with the magnolia opening its beautiful purple buds, promising to cover the tree with an excess of magnificent blossoms.

Down the first long hill into the ravine, toward the creek, swollen with rain and the last of winter's melt-off. Hardly any ice and snow left on the trails at all. Here and there the first of the trilliums lifting themselves out of the soil, not yet ready to bloom their crimson triangles. The Coltsfoots' yellow blooms are fast fading. Amazing, how swiftly the Poplars come into leaf.

Maples are dropping their little bright red florets, but their leaves have not yet begun to show. Robins run helter-skelter about the trails, looking for drowning earthworms, gasping for air above their tunnels. At our advance, they fly up to nearby tree branches and wait for us to leave. As we make our way forward they burst into song. As does the cardinal, later, on the opposite side of the ravine, trilling the sodden spring atmosphere.

Squirrels are rushing purposefully about. Taking time out occasionally to stand still, switch tails, and then once more take up their lunatic run-abouts, racing after one another. Mourning cloaks mount into the air in a coupling dance of graceful spirals. Two days ago, when the sun was full out, we'd seen the first of the season's garter snakes warming itself after our long winter, its body sleek and green-striped.

Willows are striding into full life. White and yellow birch, oak, black cherry, hornbeam, abide their time, not yet eager to thrust their leaves into the cool air, their branches still black and sere. Rivulets of water rush down from the highest points of the ravine into the creek and its tributaries, below. We step carefully around the puddles on the trail, nowhere near as water-logged as we'd anticipated.

Hawthorne and Apple trees are beginning shyly to assert their springtime cover. And now and again we see the first incomplete white blossoming mantle of Serviceberry; they'll make a brief, brilliant show in another few days. Hazelnut bushes are full of emerging leaves. Pendulous catkins are lengthening on birches, soon to leaf out as well.

Lilies-of-the-Valley have begun poking up, encircling tree trunks. Trout lilies are everywhere to be seen as mottled-green apparitions, but now and again there's the fluted yellow flower as well. Only one mass as yet of Foamflower leaves to be seen. Like the Jack-in-the-Pulpit, they're biding awhile, waiting for the perfect time to expose their tender flowers.

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

I Am Interesting and Musical - I Am A Vulnerable Child

They're a fairly new family on the street. Three years' new. What is called in the new family parlance a "blended family". The second marriages for both adults. He, although very young in appearance and certainly physically fit, is the father of three semi-adult children, a teen-age girl and two young men of university age. She, one of those people whose age could confuse even the guess-gifted, a mother of four; a 14-year-old boy, and three girls, ages 10, 8 and 6. Lovely children all, reflective of their parents.

They moved from Nova Scotia. Their extended family is left behind, in the Halifax area. The children, no doubt, miss their grandparents, their aunts and uncles. They also miss their father. He's a Colombian by birth. Their mother, a native Nova Scotian, is involved in the work of international benevolence; she is employed by an NGO, doing work in Latin America, where she likely met her husband and sponsored him for emigration to Canada. Four years ago they parted. He still lives in Halifax.

While they were still living in that city, before and after she met her new husband, the children's father was completely estranged, by choice. The children are obvious physical specimens of mixed heritage, tawny-dark complected, black curly hair, not-quite Caucasian features. Exquisitely beautiful children. But more than that, good mannered, cheerful, friendly and sweet-tempered. They move together, the little girls, as a tight little flock. And there is loving competition among them.

The children, including the brother, attempted, while living in the same city as their father who left the family home, to contact him repeatedly. There was never a response to their pleading appeals to him. They love their father, and they miss him. They appear very well adjusted on the surface, and there is no reason not to question the surface. Their step-father is obviously and sincerely engaged in raising them, along with their mother.

When the mother is away, as she often is for her job - for three-week periods some four times a year in Bolivia, Columbia, or Chile - the children pine for her, but are well looked after in every conceivable parental way by their stepfather. The mother has her children attend regular language classes in Spanish; she insists they know something of their complete heritage. They take piano lessons, and engage in extracurricular group sports.

Here is a poem that the mother of these extraordinary children gave me, written by one of her daughters, the eldest of the trio:

I am interesting and musical
I wonder if my dad still thinks about me
I hear a tree crying when it is being cut down
I see a baby bird trying to fly
I want to hug my dog Brooke one more time
I am interesting and musical

I pretend that everything is OK when it is not
I felt my sister's pain when she got a concussion
I touch my mom's head when I am scared
I worry that it's my fault when my mom cries
I cry when I get home and no one is there
I am interesting and musical

I understand why my mom and dad got divorced
I say you should always believe in yourself
I hope people stop abusing pets
I try to come home in time so my mom doesn't worry
I hope I will reach my goal
I am interesting and musical

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Chronic Desperation

There's a lengthy news item about a family of French-Canadian derivation living near Pembroke, Ontario in an old inadequate bungalow situated on a small bay off the Indian River.

This is a family truly plagued by a recessive gene that ensures a large percentage of the offspring have succumbed to muscular dystrophy. One of the siblings, now a grandmother herself, and the owner along with her husband of the little house, has undertaken the arduous work involved in caring for two of her ailing brothers, and an afflicted nephew.

She also looks after a sister who lives elsewhere, independently, but who is so ill with the muscle-wasting disease that it would appear she too will be moving in with her sister, adding to the care of the home's inhabitants. To make matters worse, the old house is crumbling into decay.

The owners have scant disposable income to pay for needed upgrades. The house is given to flooding, sometimes severely, in concert with the time of year and weather conditions.

There were originally ten children born to area farmers, Doria and Lida Corriveau. Both hard-working people, the mother of the children succumbed to weak muscles as she became older, and when her children began falling ill, genetic testing was conducted, confirming that they had myotonic dystrophy.

As they became ill, their muscles wasting progressively, they attempted to live independently or in group homes for the disabled. But as their conditions became more severe, they were invited by their sister to live with her, where she devoted herself to their daily care, an onerous, never-ending duty, leaving her no time for herself, no time off for vacations, as their surrogate mother and nurse.

Two are is confined to wheelchairs, all suffer chronic weakness, one with the addition of heart disease. They receive disability pensions, enabling the family to pool inadequate resources. The husband of the sister who gives constant care to her siblings is himself ill with a severe but unrelated condition, and on a disability pension.

The sister in good health who dedicates herself to the well-being and care of her siblings describes her daily duties as inclusive of the preparation of meals, laundering, house cleaning, caring during sickness, escorting to medical appointments or hospitals, wheeling chairs to walking distance venues, and generally seeing to her charges' everyday constant needs.

The mother of these ten children herself had fifteen siblings, many of whom suffered from a debilitating illness they never understood. The familial inheritance of muscular dystrophy had never been diagnosed, the family claims never to have been informed, although it remained evident to them all that something was horribly wrong with many members of their immediate family.

Two generations totalling 25 individuals, with a high proportion of chronically ill people, gradually degenerating into a physical condition of desperate incapacity. Might they have taken this as normal? Never had the curiosity to attempt to understand what exactly was bedevilling their families' health?

Continuing to bear children without attempting to understand what was befalling them? Making themselves helpless to organize their own destiny, bringing into the world other children whom genetic inheritance would likewise strike down with physical incapacitation, helplessness and early death?

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Monday, April 21, 2008

It's Really Spring!

For now, in any event. And for the near foreseeable future. Before we're plunged back into more likely temperature mode for this time of early spring in Ottawa. We've been enjoying 20 to 25 degree temperatures for well over a week, with full sun.

Which has been most welcome, to banish the mountains of snow that winter left us with, a whopping 440+ centimetres this winter season, an almost-record-breaker. The snow deep enough and heavy enough to destroy the winter rose cones, and to flatten our globe cedars.

Both the roses, however, and the cedars, will recover. And the snow is almost gone, hard to believe though that is. Not in the ravine, by any means, but in our gardens, front and back. We've got scilla, miniature irises and anemones in miniature bloom, along with crocuses.

And the tulips, some with heads already evident, the lilies, and the irises and hyachinths shoving up, greening the atmosphere with promise of brilliant colour. Some of the grape hyacinths are already blooming.

I can see wee wisps of fresh green on roses, clematis, honeysuckle. They're clamouring to greet the new season. The flower buds on the magnolia are maturing, as are the rhododendrons, the tree peonies.

Yesterday my housemate and fellow gardener set out all of our garden pots and urns, preparatory to filling them with fresh new soil. Today he did the same with those for the backyard. He washed and scrubbed the deck floorboards, and put together the swinging seat I love to spend hazy summer hours on.

In the ravine, we've seen Mourning Cloaks and small orange commas, nuthatches, goldfinches, a pair of nesting Mallard ducks resting from their long voyage; and downy woodpeckers. At the base of a large pine I saw a broad fat-cheeked little face peering at me from the ground, some 20 yards from where I stood, open-mouthed at his bravery.

We see raccoons occasionally high up on particular pines, but not too often on the ground. I sprinkled a handful of peanuts around the tree after he scrambled up the trunk. He'll find them when he descends again, unless the squirrels get to them first.

The trails are about 30% free of their snow and ice-pack, and there's surprisingly little spongy dirt and muck. In those areas which are mostly shaded, there's still a snowpack of about several feet in depth, but at these temperatures, should they persist, it'll be relatively quick work for the rest to melt; the warming atmosphere is irresistible.

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Hello, Bubbe, Zayde?

The first call she made to us was just a tad after nine this morning. Slackers. We were still in bed. One of us (not me!) had got up at seven to let the older and more demanding of our two little dogs out into the backyard to do her thing, then got back into bed where I lay still asleep, the smaller of our dependents under the quilt, at my feet.

Fully alert, since he had been reading anyway, he had the pleasure of the initial conversation with us, hearing her disbelief and disapproval at our self-indulgent ways.

She'd already been on the trampoline that morning, right after breakfast. Was planning to go across the road to visit with their neighbours, Allison and Zeeb. There's the miniature horse, the out-to-pasture old racehorse, the multitude of dogs, the geese, the miniature goats to look at over there. She had done some reading before breakfast.

Busy, busy girl. Almost twelve, she's got a lot to attend to, though helping her mother isn't one of them.

I'd finished doing a deep cleaning of the kitchen after breakfast, laundered linen, was in the throes of cleaning our bathrooms when she called the second time. By then she was almost through the fourth of her most recent acquisitions from Scholastic Books; the fourth in a series of six, and she had them all, she said, gloatingly.

She told me about some new moves she was trying out on the trampoline, and I, ever the cautious worrywart, said have a care. Don't worry, her rejoinder, it's not as if I'm about to drown or anything like that. Thence followed a discussion relating to the relative dangers inherent in swimming pools as opposed to trampolines. That safety net, I said, can do just so much.

I'd call her back later, I said, had to finish doing the chores. Did the bathrooms, started moving the winter clothes to the back clothes cupboards, shifting over the summer clothing more conveniently to our bedroom cupboards. Been a busy week. On Saturday her grandfather had pried all the winter detritus out of the interior of our car. Then swept the sand we'd sprinkled over the icy walkways a mere month earlier.

And, while I hied myself off down the street to re-commence my door-to-door canvass for the Canadian Cancer Society, he continued, hauling stuff out of the garage, sweeping its floor, positioning all the garden pots in their places on our porch rail, the wrought iron furniture around the cobbled piazza, re-arranging things in the garage; snowthrower at the very back now, exchange the lawn mower's winter position.

Later I joined him, clearing away detritus out of the garden beds, marvelling at all the fresh new life springing up out of the earth, checking to see how the roses, the clematis, the honeysuckles are faring. The rhododendrons, the tree peonies, the magnolia, all look ready with their spring floral buds to promise us a fragrantly beautiful late spring.

The snow is fast fading, and none too soon. It's rather amazing that we've still got so much snow left, given the unusually high ambient temperatures of the past week, with more to come. The sun shining fully, mild breezes, highs of 25 degrees. Instant summer. We're garbed in short sleeves now, going through the ravine where the snow, in some places is still a good three feet in depth.

When she called again, around four, when I'd finished doing everything remotely resembling housework, I told her how good I felt about having done so much of the spring cleaning. All the kitchen cupboards, the bathroom vanities, the dining and breakfast room buffets, cleared of extraneous items, things I rarely used, and no longer wanted. So much space, I exulted.

Pots and pans? she asked. Yes, those and so many other things, like platters and mugs and tumblers, and even a set of dishes; redundant, all. A small electric deep-fryer, that huge old mixer with all of its incredibly heavy and space-consuming fittings; gone, all of it. Bubbe! she gasped, not that mixer on the back counter where you kept the Teddy Bears? Yep.

But it looked so good there...she wailed.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

It's The Good Ol' Hockey Game

Stomping Tom Connor knew of what he sang, that when that good old hockey game is on television the eyes of the Canadian public are glued to the game. No one leaves home unless they're going to a sports bar where they can watch the action on a multitude of screens, or they've the good fortune to have obtained tickets and are physically present at the game.

I set out this evening right after dinner with the canvass kit for the Canadian Cancer Society assigned to me, in the hopes I'd find enough people at home to make it worthwhile. Lo and behold, someone home at almost every household. Miraculous, I felt, until it was revealed to me at the halfway mark of my canvass this evening that a hockey game was in session. Ta-da! Lucked in.

My sweetly generous neighbours, despite my having interrupted their pleasure at the game, responded as they are wont to do, intelligently, generously, and with time left over for a leisurely bit of small talk. At least that half of the pair that wasn't keenly observing every whack of a hockey stick. All right, at some homes, the men too.

And then there are the few others whose response is always so puzzling to me. Those few who will tell me that they "give at the office" through donation to the universal workplace-established United Appeal annual campaign whose collections are meant to enhance charitable social services throughout the region.

They really do do not wish to be informed that United Appeal does not cover agencies such as Heart and Stroke, Cancer Society, CNIB, Kidney Foundation and a host of others. They may in fact, not even deign to donate to the United Appeal, and use it as a ruse, or give sparingly, feeling that slight contribution is sufficient as their due to society.

But it's the outstandingly puzzling response of people who have been closely touched by cancer for example, that always sets me aback with astonishment. Revealing that someone close and beloved is even now battling cancer, but they somehow don't see the need to donate. One such neighbour, who steadfastly and politely refuses to donate to any charity, a case in point.

Her husband recently diagnosed with a mid-to-advanced stomach cancer, had surgery and is now undergoing chemotherapy. Another of our neighbours, one who lives directly beside them confided this to us. So when I knocked at the door to present myself and my canvass kit, the wife informed me they had "already made a donation at the hospital".

And to clarify, explained, in hushed, stricken tones that her husband, Jean-Guy, was diagnosed with cancer and is now having therapeutic sessions. She felt compelled to speak about her situation, to describe it for me, and I felt compelled to give comfort, to tell her I knew very what how difficult it was for them, but they would persevere and he would soon be returned to good health.

Directly across from that house is another, one where the man of the house's mother, whom I had been introduced to years earlier, had succumbed, through a long, agonizing process of deterioration, to colon cancer. Here too, the householders would not donate to any appeals from any charitable institution, let alone one that assists people with cancer, and raises funds for cancer research. Lawyers, both husband and wife, money no problem.

Moreover, they seem to enjoy toying with the canvasser. Repeatedly, year after year, they've suggested that "now isn't a good time; we're busy, mind coming back another time?", and when I do, it's still not a good time. Or they'll invite me in, say they're going for a cheque book, so I trustingly fill in the receipt for income tax purposes, only to have them return, mock-ruefully telling me they can't find the cheque-book and they've no cash.

But, never fear, they'll be good to their word. Soon as they locate that elusive cheque-book they'll hie along to our house and present me with their donation. Only thing is, that little event somehow never seems to materialize. I can only wonder what kind of childish glee that comforts them with. Not that others among our neighbours haven't knocked at our door to present their donation, if I've missed them.

For the rest, their welcome to me as I canvassed tonight, their good-heartedness and willingness to convey to me their understanding that by donating to such causes they are, in a small but significant way, acknowledging their debt to society, erases the dour disinterest of the few.

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Monday, April 14, 2008

You've Got To Wonder

That old saying, "charity begins at home" represents a tired old tedium, but the fact is we have responsibilities toward others, wherever they happen to be. Still, it's quite absurd that Canadians are invested with the responsibility to respond when disaster strikes abroad, while too often turning a blind eye to the inequities and misery that resides among us.

We anguish - and so we should - over the horrendous situation in places like Sudan, over the poverty and want in Haiti, over the violently unsettled conditions in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. When natural catastrophes shake the world, we respond as generously as we can. As a country we encourage our government to do likewise, in the name of her people.

In many situations, where we send Canadian troops abroad to keep the peace, or more likely, engage in battle against those whose purpose it is to topple legitimate governments and terrorize their populations, we suffer the horrors of personal loss through the deaths of soldiers, and maimed returnees.

We vociferously hold countries like China and Burma, Iran and Zimbabwe to account for their human rights abuses, and in China's case, threaten to upset the stability it hopes for surrounding the Olympic Games because of her totalitarian burden on Tibet. Yet here is Canada, in the throes of expectation for the upcoming advent of Vancouver's hosting of the Olympics - complicit in denying basic human rights for our own.

It's an exceedingly costly proposition for any city of any country to take on the monetarily onerous task of mounting the world extravaganza of sports excellence that is the Olympic Games. The city, the province, the federal government, all commit to spending inordinate sums of taxpayer-funded monies to ensure the success of such a venture.

The payback is seen in terms of world prestige, in the fall-out of spending locally by foreign tourists who flock to witness the Games in person. But in the final analysis no Games site has ever been able to recover the equivalent of funds expended on the mounting of the games, from building vital infrastructure, to policing, to accommodating the needs of participants.

Those funds have to come from somewhere. How inconvenient for aficionados of the Games that activists for the poor and the homeless in Vancouver are threatening to appeal to the United Nations to weigh a human rights complaint against Canada for her failure to provide low-cost housing accommodation for the homeless.

What were once called vagrants and a low criminal class, are now countless homeless people in cities across the country. They are middle-aged white men and women, youth, aboriginals. They suffer from mental illness, from isolation and dislocation, from addiction, from dependence on the hand-outs that the responsible few in society can offer them, scantily, inadequately.

While the country celebrates the upcoming 2010 Olympics in Vancouver with huge anticipation - and ungrudgingly supports governments at every level in their attention to so. many details which must be in place to ensure the Games will be a success - the plight of the homeless goes without response.

Metro Vancouver through the work of volunteer activists, recently conducted a count - later proven to be vastly under what the true figures would be - but that count came to 2,592 homeless individuals. The Province of British Columbia hosts an estimated 15,500 homeless people. Their degraded plight has never been adequately addressed.

Moreover, any community within the country also has notable numbers of low-income families, families in dire need of assistance. Yet the municipal governing bodies, no more than their provincial and federal counterparts, in a northern country like Canada's with its extreme winter climate, has never sufficiently addressed this national calamity.

What we do is react to emergencies. We make no meaningful attempts to avert such human emergencies. And while those emergency reactions, from policing to temporary overnight accommodation, to medical and hospital requirements, and social services monitoring, are extremely expensive, they solve nothing, and are mere temporary measures to emergency situations.

Whereas, if we really cared enough, far fewer funds could be realistically spend on building suitable housing for those unfortunates in our society, providing them with adequate social counselling and health care, as required. The misery of their temporary lives would be immeasurably improved, the country would have the benefit of their eventual absorption back into mainstream society.

We would then have good reason to feel good about ourselves knowing that we cared enough to reach a solution that took some depth of commitment. Rather than celebrate the hollow achievement of hosting an international sports event, regardless of the cachet.

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Friday, April 11, 2008

My Daily, Breathless, Update

She arrives home by bus from school just after four in the afternoon every day. The telephone will ring any time from ten after four until quarter to five, for my first briefing of the day. Yesterday her first question shot at me was whether I'd spoken with her mother. I had, I assured her, and knew her mother was fine. That it was an unfortunate accident, but not a serious one, simply a result of someone not paying due attention while driving and attempting to make an illegal lane change.

Her mother, sitting in her vehicle, just happened to be in the way. And was thus hit, side on, the rear door behind the driver's side crumpled somewhat, but the door was still functional, could still be closed and locked. He'll be charged by the police, fumed our granddaughter, and I agreed. We both agreed that it was very nice that another motorist had stopped to hand his business card to her mother, with the assurance he'd seen everything unfold, and offering himself as a witness.

Feeling the subject sufficiently aired to the point of exhaustion, she burbled the good news. Her books had arrived. Not those picked up at the post office on the week-end, the Anne of Green Gables and Emily books ordered through Amazon.com. They'd already enjoyed their brief period of fame and pre-enjoyment. These were the books she had herself ordered through the Scholastics catalogues that every elementary school distributes to their students.

Now, she said, she's broke, nothing left of the money we'd given her for books. We'd give her more, I assured her. And then she explained that she and her school pals had decided to go out for lunch together on Friday. We'd already explored the financial side of her mother's vehicle repair, that the insurance would completely cover it and a car rental, to her great relief. Had it been otherwise, she would have hesitated to ask her mother for lunch money.

We'd give her that, too, I said. Along with more money for books. Thank you, she responded. She doubted she'd order any more books, she said; she has more than enough. She's proud of her home library, likes to boast she has more books, more interesting books than her school library. Then she laughed, listening to herself, said she's just like me, claiming she'd not order anything more, but fully realizing she's been bit by the bug, and more books would be in the offing.

She called back after dinner to let me know her friend Leanne wouldn't be going out to lunch, after all, and that's a pity because, even though they wouldn't be paying for Leanne's lunch, they planned it to celebrate her birthday. For which she had already bought lip gloss and a Teddy Bear as a birthday gift. Lip gloss and a stuffed bear; just the ticket for eleven year-old girls, one tentative foot into the teen years, the other lagging in childhood.

Well, I suggested, offer to buy Leanne's lunch - thinking money was the problem. I obviously don't understand, said she, it's punishment being meted out by her exasperated parents for something Leanne shouldn't have done. And part of it wasn't her fault anyway, she said indignantly, it was her older brother, the one in grade eight, pointing the finger of malfeasance at his sister, their parents believing it, and disciplining her for it.

Postpone the lunch, I suggested, have it another day. It was going to be cold and blustery, likely freezing rain, or snow, anyway. Was I kidding? She and Sarah were looking forward to going out for lunch. "Going out" rather an elaboration on their relatively modest plans to visit the recently re-opened poutine stand on the main street of their little village. Poutine and onion rings; comfort food perhaps; not high on the health-and-nutrition scale as standard fare.

Throughout our conversations, there's a background of wild activity, as the family dogs clamber over and about her, clamouring to be noticed. The little ones under foot and annoying, the larger ones assertively nudging her, taking her wrist in their mouths to pull her into play. Which isn't so bad, she says. It's the gripping-to-sliming she objects to. She loves them all, but prefers to herself select the time when she will give them attention.

And oh, they had a math test today and she did pretty well in it. What a relief. Math tests, the bane of her school existence. She just doesn't "get it", she laments. Despite the times her mother has sat down with her. She will not ask for help at school. Her teacher will only yell at her, she claims. And her friends, for whom math isn't the huge puzzle it is for her will only give her the answers, not spend the time to instruct her on method. She doesn't want the answers. She wants to know how to arrive at them.

Our conversations are notoriously tangential, no single topic is worth spending all our time on, and we verge and diverge, speaking of many things. She on this occasion to speak of an item she had seen on television, about a funicular cog railway running up a mountainside and how utterly neat it was. Then other trains wending their way through long tunnels deep in the sides of mountains. I describe the cog railway on Mount Washington, tell her of the long, dark tunnels trains travel through in the Fraser Valley.

And always, forever and ever, before the conclusion of the conversation, will come the query: what's for dinner? She has an abiding, consuming interest in food. Her appetite for food and for talk of food is vast. She likes to hear all the details of exactly what will comprise our evening meal; whether salad or soup, what the main dish is, the dessert, then offers her approval or withholds it, depending on the meal content.

When she's with us for a few days I marvel at the bottomless pit of her appetite. Wonder where she finds room for it all on her tall, fairly spare newly-curving frame. But she does, and she relishes all she consumes, the touch, the fragrance, the taste and texture. She has her favourites, and will ask for them to be prepared for her, and it is with great pleasure I accede to her requests. The way to touch a grandmother's heart.

And how are our conversations concluded? "Guess I'll let you go now?" she queries. Yes indeed.

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Reasonable Assumptions

So much for reasonable assumptions. One being that if people feel aggrieved and hold opinions that run counter to decent social relations, the best way to clear the air is to air their opinions, get things out into the clear air of reasonable debate.

Except for that little fly in the ointment of opinions taking the place of rational judgement, and discriminatory attitudes settling deep into the holder's consciousness, determined to stay there, and not being amenable to reasonable debate.

So, it might appear, was the end result of the well-intentioned, but perhaps fundamentally flawed "Reasonable Accommodation" of the Bouchard-Taylor Commission in the Province of Quebec and its series of open public hearings enabling the public to come before the commission members in well publicized and televised town-hall-type events.

Some presenters were moderate in view and put forward reasonable suggestions and recommendations. While others vented somewhat differently, as though with great relief that at long last here was an opportunity presented to them to flout politically correct convention, and tell it the way they really felt it.

That the presence of immigrant groups or minorities was seriously troubling to the pure laine French.

In a sense, a community of long-established French-heritaged Canadians felt their social mores, their way of life compromised by groups unable or unwilling to accommodate themselves to the prevailing way of life, to embrace Canadian citizenship with that distinct French-Canadian flavour.

It was as though the generosity of Canada in accepting immigrants was reciprocated by communities unmindful of due gratitude, ingrates who demanded their special due as "others" with exotic cultural underpinnings, and unacceptable religious demands. Despite that these "others" may sometimes represent second- and even third-generation citizenship.

It rankled that immigrant groups might go out to a traditional maple syrup festival, and ask of the proprietor that loud French-Canadian music be toned down, that their maple-sugar flavoured beans be prepared without pork. Many maple syrup producers, happy to convenience these requests, acceded comfortably, some felt umbrage.

That Conservative Jewish communities had kosher products for consumption rankled some, though it would never impinge on them. That some religious Jews would have the temerity to ask that a gymnastics and dance studio adjacent a synagogue cover its windows so that pious Jews entering their place of worship would not have their modest eyes assailed by the spectacle of half-naked women, did not endear them to some Quebecers.

The inevitable clash of cultures, of values, of public seemliness. The secular coming heads-up against the religious of orthodox bent. It's understandable there would be resentment of the querulous demands of interlopers in an otherwise homogeneous society, not accustomed to, nor willing to accustom themselves necessarily to a more heterodox, sensitivity-demanding society.

But then, in the wake of those hearings, judged a successful social experiment by some, a failed attempt at the encouragement of social acceptance by others, it has been revealed that an upsurge in anti-Semitic activity had occurred - initiated and coinciding with the very month
that the hearings took place, last fall. Regrettable, to say the least.

B'nai Brith, Canada's Jewish community's advocacy organization, has released data indicating a steep rise in reported anti-Semitic incidents in the past year. 2007 stands out as having the highest recorded figure for anti-Semitic incidents in the last 26 years.

But what holds true as bigotry advanced toward the Jewish community in Canada, reflects also as a prejudice yardstick against other minority groups in the country. Good will within certain communities appears to be doing a slow evaporation act. That two-thirds of these instances of anti-Semitic acts took place in the province of Quebec isn't all that surprising, given its long tradition of anti-Semitism.

Surprising, still, in that Canada is more and more becoming a country of visible immigrants from hundreds of different ethnic groups, cultures and traditions.

Ontario and its sister provinces don't appear to be experiencing too great a problem absorbing the presence of all these superficial "differences". Still, harassment represented by verbal abuse, hate propaganda and school or workplace discrimination continues to occur. Alongside vandalism and isolated events of violence. Synagogues, community centres and cemeteries have come under attack.

The fact is there will always be prejudice and hatred expressed by some groups against others. It's a signal failure of the human spirit, the human community.

It's to our credit as a society that these hateful incidents, as numerous and painful as they are, still are reasonably accommodated in a society such as Canada represents, for they represent the failures of a very finite minority whose bigotry is dear to them, and not at all representative of the country at large.

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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Absolution

I am my daughter's confessor. Mother-confessor. I am my granddaughter's sounding board. Grandma-listener. I am my husband's constant companion. As he is mine.

Our sons are elsewhere, living out their lives on their own, far from our close ministrations to their needs. They no longer have need of our near presence. Our daughter, always the renegade, the rebel, who chafed incessantly against our too-close presence in her young life, now, as an adult, with so many failed relationships behind her, needs our near presence.

Subliminally, that is. She has no cognitive recognition of her need of us. She still, from time to time, lashes out against what is now ancient history. Her brothers, older and younger than she, seldom-to-never caused us anguish, grief, anxiety, irritation; only she.

She it was who required an early physical separation from us, to take on life on her own terms. And when that failed, back she came, to nestle once again, aggrievedly, in the bosom of her family.

While the boys, when the time was right, struck out on their own to find their singular missions in life. And having found them, settled in to form and expand on their desires and satisfactions.

As parents we have fond reason to be grateful to all three of our children. For every parent ardently desires that their children become reasonable, well-functioning, intelligent social beings, and ours have succeeded admirably in attaining that status.

They have, all of them, moreover, attained to a level of academic education that we never did. Our own impoverished familial backgrounds slammed a door shut on any such aspirations, and we vowed, when we were young, that it would be different for our children.

We would tend them, see to their emotional and learning needs, hover over their learning experiences, encourage their sense of adventure, expose them to a fair and just way of life, encourage them to make much of any and all opportunities they could recognize and value.

They have, each of them, distinguished themselves as human beings, as sensitive, sensible, compassionate and fair people. What more could we ask? That they be safe, and healthy, and remain accomplished in the tasks they set for themselves. That they receive satisfaction and the modicum of happiness that life offers to those who will take advantage of their privileges.

Ah, today I fulfilled another small task, giving communion to our daughter, and absolving her of the misfortune of having run over a small black squirrel as she drove on the rural highway leading from her home to her place of employment. She will not forgive herself, but on behalf of nature, her mother gives her absolution.

Some misfortunes simply cannot be avoided.

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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

No Problem...

How I detest that phrase, as it has become an integral part of the lingua franca, the flippant response given so thoughtlessly to any and all - usually irritating - situations.

So when our good neighbour Mohindar, came knocking on Sunday evening, son Ineran in tow, he was greeted like the good neighbour he is. We're always glad to see him, and his son, too. Mind, the timing wasn't considerate, just a tad after six in the evening, and we were already seated at the table, having our dinner.

Mohindar is usually sensitive, careful to be obliging, not to offend. So, we felt there was a little urgency in the matter, but in fact, it was a rather routine matter. As Mohindar explained it, they just wanted to know if Ineran could use our computer, access the Internet and arrange for a subscription to a new Internet provider; their contract had lapsed, and they were looking for an alternate, less expensive source.

He apologized, of course, when he realized we were having dinner. Ineran, all of 15 years old, had had a late hockey practise session, and they'd had lunch at two in the afternoon, so they'd be having their dinner late; he hadn't foreseen we would be eating. No matter, we told them they could work upstairs where the computer is located, and we'd get on with our dinner.

When they left, mission accomplished, fourty minutes later, I tried to use the telephone; busy. We've got dial-up service, so up I trudged to have a look at the computer. Monitor off, but computer on. Ineran hadn't gone off line. So I right-clicked the monitor icon to go off line, but instead of the usual rapid response, there was no response. Did it again, and repeated it once more.

Something was awry, so I just put the computer in rest mode and it went off line. Later, when I went back up to go on line myself, there was the icon back in place and informing me that I was on line, but I wasn't. And no amount of clicking to and from, using any of the various options, seemed to do any good.

Nothing for it, but to try shutting the computer down, and that did it; once up again the icon behaved as it should, was responsive to my commands.

Later, when I accessed various web sites common to my evening practise, I discovered that all of my password settings had disappeared. So for every single one of them I had to re-set the passwords. What about courtesy, I fumed, what about simple computer etiquette? I've had many people use my computer, and never, ever, have I encountered this kind of nuisance residue of their use.

Each of them have respected my privacy and the integrity of my personal computer. We've known Ineran since he was an adorable toddler. True, he wraps his parents around his little finger. The household beats to his tune, and none other; his is the deciding voice in all matters. He's a quiet, not a boisterous boy, although he loves competitive sports.

I'd always thought of him as being cerebral, bookish, and was shocked when, in response to my query, he said he never reads anything, neither newspapers nor books of any kind. So? Most young people today naturally gravitate to other means of entertainment, information-gathering, all related to computers, games, electronic devices.

I haven't asked him since what or why he did what he obviously felt compelled to do.

His parents know nothing whatever about computers. He obviously feels we know next to nothing about them, as well, and he's partially correct. We're not 15-year-old kids who delight in fads and gamesmanship and electronics. He's outwardly respectful, and a very decent young man. Why would he deliberately compromise someone else's computer, in such a petty manner?

Later, I put the computer through some paces, looking for the possible presence of malware interference, or viruses: clean. Merely childish mischief? One of life's little mysteries.

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Monday, April 07, 2008

Hollywood's Wrath of Gawd

There were three actors of note as dramatic personalities larger than life on the big screen, when we were kids. There was Kirk Douglas, there was Charlton Heston, there was Burt Lancaster.

There were also a whole lot of other, minor male character actors, and a goodly number of female "actresses" to keep us all charging out to the local theatres to watch movies that came out of Tinseltown. By and large it was entertainment on a grand scale, and there were some very good films made back then.

There still are now, on occasion, but did a film like "Enemy at the Gates", with its superb cast, sombre landscape and shattered setting, its desperately desolate tale of two countries at war with one another, each focused on foiling the intent of the other - Nazi Germany mounting an offensive against a defending Russian army in Stalingrad; one celebrated sniper competing against another peoples' hero sniper - break box office receipts?

Well, what did we know back then? Those huge, expansive, expensive epics with larger than life personas acting out their egotistical fantasies portraying prophets of gloom and eventual doom kept us gawking and applauding. The looming presence of Charlton Heston who portrayed biblical characters with monumental presence, exhibiting as much emotion and nuance as a graven image brought him great acclaim.

He was a natural. Ham. Kirk Douglas, whom I wasn't quite certain whether I liked or disliked, did his part in biblical and historical epics, although he did his time in other, more contemporary and sometimes criminal roles, convincingly enough. But for sheer acting ability, electric presence and beauty of face and form, I avidly watched Burt Lancaster.

Gone now, all of them, to greater glory. One of them at the very least entertaining St.Peter, the others either lingering outside the Pearly Gates or playing poker down below.

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Sunday, April 06, 2008

Spring Bulbs

We've suddenly leaped into spring. Amazing; where only a few days earlier winter adamantly refused to give up its mandate, chilling us, killing us with the suspense of the wonder of it all - where spring could be hiding in fear of winter - all of a sudden, there it is. No mistaking the mild temperatures, the warmth of the sun; even the wind is a kindly one, now. Our mountains of snow, determined to hang on, will yet evaporate in the warm breeze, under the mounting sun.

We've kind a way to go, though. Six feet of snow still towers over us at the edges of our lawns, thrown up there throughout the course of the long winter months, with one snowfall after another, regular as clockwork, every two days out of three. Incrementally, it gave us a denser, larger, higher snowpack than we could handily recall from winters past. Striations can now be seen at the edges of those snowpacks as they begin the shrinking process, marking successions of storms.

Robins have returned; clearly they knew something we did not, when they showed up - poor things, live eaters that they are - while chill winds were still blowing, snow and freezing rain still pouring down upon us. We're now seeing pairs, in the ravine, where before we saw mostly singles; nuthatches, cardinals, woodpeckers. Squirrels are leaping about, finding the peanuts and crackers we've stowed here and there for their awakening.

We're dropping calf-high into deep snow when we're heedless enough to step too carelessly off the tamped-down trials, but even those hard-packed trails are beginning to betray us as they succumb, and suddenly where once there was a certain tread, now there is a trap. Deep wells appear at the bottom of tree trunks, as the snow shrinks away, abandoning the cast-off cells of the tree bark. Pileated woodpeckers are causing havoc, pick-axing tree trunks.

And in our back garden, a huge surprise to warm our souls and delight our senses. Spring bulbs, well advanced, dark and pale green with tinges of red have hoisted themselves out of the sleeping soil. While the snow piled beside the backyard pathways, faithfully shovelled clean after every snowfall for our two little dogs, still looms four feet in height, there is shrinkage at the edges of the garden beds.

And that is precisely where we see tulips, narcissus, hyacinth, crocuses and grape hyacinth raising themselves, not timidly and much later in the spring as is their wont - for all of our bulbs are of the mid- and late-spring variety - but now, while most of the gardens are still heavily weighted with snow. It's just that; the unseasonably early covering of the earth with one snowfall after another, acting as an insulating blanket that had kept the ground from freezing this winter.

Normally, we'd have the ground freezing to a depth of several feet, but with this winter's early and generous snow covering, that hasn't happened. As a result, when the snow begins to shrink back, the bulbs don't have to fight their way through frozen soil, or wait for it to thaw sufficiently, but are able to spring to action as soon as the snow covering releases them.

If this spate of mild weather continues, with clear skies and the occasional shower, truly all this snow will dissipate, and our gardens will be released to gift us with their brilliant colour. One little misfortune must be seen to - several of the gnarled branches of one of our weeping caraganas have succumbed to the accumulated weight of the snow; some wrapping will help them to anneal back to the trunk.

And then all the wonders of spring will begin to reveal themselves to us, renewing all manner of garden life forms for our deep and abiding wonderment.

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Friday, April 04, 2008

Wal-Mart! Who Knew?

Imagine, the corporate retail giant that so many adore, and so many others loathe, is really a good citizen disguised as a big bad retailer. Undercutting the lowest prices that most other retailers sell at, they've scarcely any competition. Mind, if the shopper is assiduous enough in determination to discover lower prices, they can be found, for goods of like value.

It would appear that Wal-Mart's low, low prices are more myth than fact, but it would also appear that the great shopping public has become addicted to the fiction of Wal-Mart as their primary shopping destination. What, after all, cannot you get there? Hard goods and groceries, everything from flat-screen television sets to cartons of eggs. One-stop shopping, a retail adventure.

So there's that aspect of the great shopping emporium whose presence just about everywhere has given small-shop owners heartburn, and left-wing activists cause for action. But there's another side to Wal-Mart; it also does things to ingratiate the community with its overwhelming presence, from encouraging employees to represent them while doing volunteer work, to making sizeable corporate donations to area charities.

Community involvement.

And there's one other little thing. After Hurricane Katrina extinguished hope for the future in Louisiana and Mississippi in August 2005, when the federal government vanished from sight, Wal-Mart stepped up to fill the noticeable void. While FEMA was wringing its metaphorical hands and doing nothing whatever that could be minutely construed as helpful, Wal-Mart was instructing all of its employees to use their compassionate judgement.

"A lot of you are going to have to make decisions above your level" regional and store managers in the affected disaster areas, were informed by chief executive officer, Lee Scott. "Make the best decision that you can with the information that's available to you at the time, and above all, do the right thing."

Authority was thus delegated to become responsive and be responsible on behalf of Wal-Mart, which was, after all, footing the not-inconsiderable bill. This, and much else has been revealed in a literary look at that catastrophe by an economist at St.Lawrence University in New York, Steven Horwitz.

Mr. Horwitz follows the outstandingly inept failures of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, their institutional incapacity to deliver essential life-saving supplies. He parallels that failure with the actions of Wal-Mart managers and their subordinates who did everything in their power to facilitate assistance to the desperate survivors.

From a store employee who smashed a warehouse door with a forklift to obtain water for a nursing home in Louisiana to another store that became a barracks for police constables whose homes had been submerged in flood waters. In Mississippi where an assistant manager ordered a bulldozer through the store to retrieve necessities for community disaster use. Another where a locked pharmacy was broken into to provide medicines for a local hospital.

It was Wal-Mart trucks loaded down with supplies from regional depots that were spot on the case wherever refugees were collected by officials unable to supply the people they corralled for safety, with the necessities to maintain themselves. In recognition of these volunteer good works, FEMA officials went out of their way to persuade the volunteers to desist.

Well, it wasn't only Wal-Mart that responded with such alacrity to the urgency of the situation, but other big-box businesses such as Home Depot and Lowe's as well, all of them handing over millions of dollars of stock, without charge, in a concerted effort to assist where they could.

Although the people representing Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Lowe's were acting out of pure concern for the people in desperate straits living among them as neighbours and shoppers at their places of employment, the concern emanating from the companies wasn't entirely altruistic. But that point, in a sense, needn't be belaboured.

It's a simple fact that a healthy community, where people live comfortable lives, shop regularly and profitably for the stores involved. A community where disaster has struck and jobs evaporate, where homes are destroyed and people die prematurely as a result of disease and accidents resulting from that climatic disaster, is an unhealthy community.

Where people cannot reside, they migrate elsewhere. Where they cannot be employed, they travel to find employment. Where people are exposed to unclean water, mouldy interiors, they become ill and cannot function, and die before their normal life-span. There's the incentive for business to respond, to help in ensuring the previous health of the community will endure.

And so will their corporate enterprise. It is all about the bottom line, after all.

It's a two-way street, right?

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Amazing, Just ... Amazing

You're looking good for 71 years of age. Sometimes that's what I tell myself, scrutinizing my image in the mirror. That's when I take a deliberate look, and I happen at that moment to look all right. It's different when I'm caught unawares, happen to glance at a mirror and see a truly familiar/unfamiliar face peering back at me. Right: that's not me, it's my mother. But thanks for that back-handed compliment.

We went along to the Great Canadian Superstore this morning. We left our two little Poodles at home, wailing at being deserted. We weren't gone long, the little idiots, but it was as though we had completely abandoned our little charges. As if. Not surprising, however, given the rarity of the event, since there's nowhere we go that they don't accompany us. Hardly anywhere.

On this occasion we were going to the photographic studio operated inside that huge store. I'd never been in there before, although my husband often drops by to do a little grocery shopping now and again. I shop downscale, at a cut-rate supermarket, where you do your own packing, into large plastic bins, and where comestibles are considerably less pricey.

The young woman operating the studio is bright and cheerful, just the kind of person able to deal naturally with clients, unlike so many who disdain to even notice potential customers lurking in the foreground, hoping to be noticed, and served - if it isn't too much trouble, please.
She invites us, separately, into the small booth, where we're to sit on a stool, and she takes our photographs.

It's quick work, and she is very professional and yet laid back at the same time. Pleasant demeanour, her mother should be proud of her. We've had some stinkers, but she isn't one of them, and I compliment her on her ability to serve customers without a patronizing air. She laughs, and says she knows exactly what I mean, and she thinks it's deplorable how some young people behave. Hmmm.

The photos taken with that digital camera are relayed wirelessly to a nearby printer, and she carefully cuts each to size, stamps the back of one of each set, and places them into the requisite folder to be handed over to the Passport Office. She shows each of us our photograph, for approval, before proceeding with this last step.

Last time we had photographs taken for the purpose of taking out passports was 22 years ago. I still remember how dissatisfied I was with the photograph taken of me at that time. We looked at them recently, his and mine; we hadn't bothered renewing them. Amazing how different you look at 49. My hair was a deep dark brown, my face unlined, eyes bright. That was then. Now, when I look at that photograph, I think: how beautiful I looked.

We look, aghast at the creatures peering back at us. Grey hair, pale faces; shrivelled old geezers. A vapid smile draped across each elderly face. Is this vanity that causes us to disown those images? They're ours, after all. We're not strangers to our 71-year-old appearances, we've taken our share of casual photographs lately.

Any we don't particularly like, we delete. These passport photos are permanent, they will accurately describe our features to officious agents of the state, wherever we travel.

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Mist Rising Off Snow

Our curvaceously voluptuous mounds of snow are finally dissipating, albeit slowly. Stepping onto the snow-hardened trails in the ravine is fraught with the perils of dropping thigh-deep into innocent-appearing, but altered snow pack, melting from beneath.

Finally, we've achieved a high of 8 balmy degrees, along with a nice wind packing a punch up to 60 kmh. We had early morning rain this day, then drizzle, then the opportunity to embark on our daily ravine walk. We're exercising the usual caution to avoid dog droppings littering the trail.

The narrow path is where companion dogs now choose to deposit, obviously disdaining that deep sinking experience when venturing politely and purposefully beyond the dense pack of the trail. I keep a keen eye out for this particular type of detritus, but in an unwary second, there it was, I stepped fully onto a redolent pile.

For a while, as I tread along the path, I leave bright orange-brown bits patterned after the cleats pulled over my boots. The pattern persists, though I attempt time and again, to leverage my weight to the side, shoving the malodorous boot into the deep snow, to remove the offending bits. Gradually it becomes lighter in deposit and in colour.

As we lope down the first long hill into the ravine mist rises lazily in a narrow, fluctuating band above the snow, like shallow ghostly drifts, emulating the snow itself. At the creek level the mist appears as a gentle fog, enveloping everything, us included, in its damp embrace. The landscape down there is fully veiled, half hidden in light fog.

I look back to see my husband emerging from it, as we cross the first bridge, still densely packed with snow, and begin to climb the opposite hill. It appears we won't eclipse the previous record snowfall set back in the winter of 1970-71. We're short by a mere 18 centimeters. We don't mind, we've had enough snow for one winter.

The creek is in full melt, roiling and muddy, hurrying along its watery path, taking possession of all that the early morning rain, the warming temperatures deposit for its swollen delectation. We can smell spring, it's there on the cusp of being. But we know too how nature capriciously loves to tantalize us.

There will be more days of freezing rain, light snow, and colder temperatures before winter slinks back for good, allowing spring its entrance. This particular clock, though, doesn't turn backward.

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