Posted by Somebody's Mother on 2:48 p.m. in
Last month, I had the privilege to hear Stephen Lewis speak at the Quebec Provincial Teachers Association Convention in Montreal. He was a very engaging speaker with many heartbreaking stories to tell yet there is one story that I came away with that continues to haunt me:

Lewis spoke about the horrible massacre that took place in the Ivory Coast where thousands of children were attacked and had arms and legs cut off. The Canadian Foreign Minster, Lloyd Axeworthy, was visiting a hospital and went from bed to bed talking to the patients. He sat down next to one little boy and asked him, “What do you want? What can we do for you?” The little boy answered, “I want to go to school.” That was the major theme of Lewis’ talk: the vast number of children who want to go to school right across the African continent and the vast number of children who cannot go to school because of school fees.

Last summer, the Manchester Guardian published a statement about school fees in Africa by the Minister of Education of Ghana, Papa Owusu Ankomah, “…an estimated 77 out of 94 poor countries, mostly in Africa, still charge some type of fee for basic education. Fees consume nearly a quarter of a poor family's income in sub-Saharan Africa and pay not only for tuition but also indirect costs such as parent-teacher association contributions, textbooks, compulsory uniforms and other expenses.”

Ankomah spoke of the amazing results that can happen when school fees are lifted. When Ghana abolished its school fees in 2004, enrollment went from 4.2 million to 5.4 million. These kinds of results have been repeated in other countries:

“In Uganda, primary school enrolment grew from 2.5 million in 1997 to 6.5 million in 2000; in Kenya in 2003, it jumped from 5.9 million to 7.2 million; and in Tanzania, enrolment more than doubled from 1.4 million to 3 million. Our collective experiences are living proof that abolishing school fees may be the single most important policy measure to dramatically transform school enrollment.”

Education does more for children than teach them to read. In his speech, Lewis emphasized that going to school releases children from child labour and it gives them the chance to play with other children so that they can have a normal childhood. More and more schools provide AIDS prevention education so that these children will have the information that they need to avoid becoming another statistic in the spiraling number of Africans contracting HIV.

Presently, the Stephen Lewis Foundation has a Grandmother-to-Grandmother initiative that allows Canadian grandmothers to raise money and support grassroots organizations that help African grandmothers who are the only ones left to raise their grandchildren as AIDS has killed their children.

I wonder if a school-to-school initiative might be another way to raise money for school fees for children in those countries who still have such fees. One Canadian school could adopt an African school and fundraise to assist children in overcoming this barrier. Teachers could adopt teachers. There could be a mutual advantage in this as children could share letters and artwork so that they could have a better understanding of a culture so different from their own and this interchange could take place between teachers too.

Meanwhile, we could advocate for the abolishing of school fees in favour of better means of financing. A press release from UNICEF states "We live in a world where children whose families cannot pay for tuition, uniforms, desks, pencils, books and building repairs are shut out of classrooms. And yet we also live in a world that ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child a decade ago, a world that recognized free and compulsory education as the right of every child. Governments have both a legal and a moral responsibility to fulfill that obligation."

We may not have a cure for AIDS but we can help children to go school. This is something that governments and people all over the world can implement if only the will is there.

This Christmas, it would be nice to think beyond our own children and grandchildren who are iffy about this school-thing that is a basic part of their lives. Giving the gift of education to millions of children across Africa who are hungry for education and who are hungry for a real childhood could be the greatest gift that we Canadians could give. Merry Christmas, readers and a very Happy New Year!

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Posted by Somebody's Mother on 1:49 p.m.
"But Names Will Never Hurt Me"

I'm just back from the hospital and I have to write my column and I have to get over being mad at the world. I have been witness in the past two weeks to some very aggressive cyberbullying and verbal graffitti that I have seen hurt people tremendously.

Who the hell wrote that stupid rhyme about sticks and stones? Words hurt. They hurt like hell. Words have tremendous power. They start revolutions, they act like a conduit for hate and they can spread hate as wide as a continent.

For a variety of reasons, I cannot write about what I have seen though I should be able to write about what I have seen. Nothing is better than exposing hatred, racism and sheer stupidity to the light of day so that it can be seen for the rotting pile of excrement that it is.

My silence has to do with protecting people who are the victims of these nasty and cowardly acts. They shouldn't be made to suffer any more than they have.

I hate when people hide behind the Internet and masquerade who they are as they rub their hands in glee and go after others. It is beyond cowardly. Yet this is the negative side of communications technology: people who haven't the guts to look others in the eye and express the crap in their brains get to communicate that crap far and wide hurting others.

You just have to hope for the power of Instant Karma.

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Staying Sane over a bad few weeks

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 12:10 p.m.
Staying Sane
The past week has been a strange time of hellos and goodbyes for me, all of them negative. I suppose that it is true that the older you get, the less comfortable you are with change and that it is also true that the more things change the more they stay the same.
The shooting at Dawson College was a wake up call that yes, these things do happen here. I remember the shock that I felt when fourteen women were gunned down at the Ecole Polytechnique in 1989 and then three years later at the shootings at Concordia where four members of the Engineering faculty were killed.
What is so shocking is how hatred can poison a life to such an extent that the human mind is cut off from the evil of ending life. For Valery Fabrikant of Concordia, professional grievances outweighed the rights of his colleagues to live. Marc Lepine’s hatred of women drove him to kill Engineering students because they were “all feminists”.
Now, we have Kimveer Gill from Laval whose love of guns and hatred of his own life drove him to fulfill his wish to go out in a blaze of glory. He may have gotten his wish but as someone recently said to me – and I will be forced to censor the colourful language – it’s tragic that an eighteen year old girl had to die and that so many people had to be maimed because one young man couldn’t keep his life together.
Then in the midst of all this madness, there was my own little tragedy; I almost feel ridiculous writing about it on the same page as this massacre. My cat, Willa, who has been a constant companion for the last ten years, disappeared. We checked with the SPA and dropped her photo off. We walked through the woods near our home calling her name and one week later, she’s still gone.
I don’t know if she was hit by a car or if she ate poison or if someone simply liked the look of her and took her home far away. We took her home from the SPA about ten years ago and she was a faithful friend to me whether she was jumping in my lap when I watched TV or lying by my head all night purring too loudly.
Yet while I have castigated myself for mourning the loss of my cat while there are parents out there mourning the loss of a child, I feel that that this is the nature of our struggle to make our lives liveable. To me, insanity may be either a chemical or learned inability to see reality as it is. We need to be able to perceive the positive and the negative aspects of our environment clearly.
Through the years, it has become plain to me that there are small things in our lives that make our short time on this Earth beautiful, even if it’s only for a few moments every day. It may be a cat or a dog or a friend or even the person from whom you buy your morning coffee every day. They are all entities that touch us in great and small ways that make it a joy to be alive. They are what keep us sane.
I will miss Willa very much because her quiet way of showing affection to me was a comfort when the bigger issues of this world upset me and when the trials and tribulations of daily life wore me down. None of us like to say goodbye and no one likes to see a good thing end.
I would love to convince myself that she just may come back in another week. Even more, I would like to believe that tragedy happens elsewhere to other people but that would be insane. It happens everywhere and all we can hope for is that we can be that reason for living for someone else at some point in time and have friends beside us when tragedy strikes

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Billy Bragg

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 12:10 p.m.
I went to see Billy Bragg this week and he was just wonderful. He also did several amusing acts of crowd control. I suppose that after years of being heckled, he knows how to deal with drunks and idiots.

I was disappointed that he didn't sing Levi Stubbs Tears as it was the song that introduced me to him. I love the first line:

"With the money from her accident, she bought herself a mobile home"

It just sucks you right in. It's one of the best songs about domestic violence around. I think he's playing in Toronto tonight. Enjoy, Torontonians.

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Two Wrongs Will Put Everything Right…Right?

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 1:01 p.m.
Newsflash: An Iranian newspaper, Hamshahri, has received over 700 entries for its contest to find the best Holocaust-related cartoon. One entry supports Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s view that the Holocaust was a myth. It depicts a circle of nine Jewish men entering and leaving a gas chamber that shows a counter reading "5,999,999," implying that Jews have inflated the number of Holocaust victims. Another cartoon shows Jews lining up and entering a gas pipeline.
Yes, there’s certainly nothing like laughing to bring people together and what better way to unite the world than running a contest like this every year. Maybe next year, Hamshahri can run a contest calling for cartoons on the killing fields of Cambodia. The year after that, there’s always Rwanda and with any luck, Darfur will be good for a few more laughs.
History is a gold mine of slaughter and human misery. Just ask the aboriginal people of North and South America. Their massacre over hundreds of years should supply the entire world with lots of laughs and lots of fodder for hysterically funny cartoons. Monty Python had an enormous amount of fun with the Spanish Inquisition (“Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!”) Nazis were absolutely adorable on Hogan’s Heroes. Blood, guts and gore are a lot of fun.
Yes, folks, you are probably wondering if I’ve lost my mind. Join the club. I am most definitely wondering if I have lost my mind when I see this headline: Iranian Paper Holds Holocaust Contest. I surely must be hallucinating…yet sadly, I am not.
Many people agree that the cartoons that made fun of Islam that were published in a Danish newspaper were objectionable and ill-timed. To make fun of someone’s deeply held religious beliefs shows a high degree of xenophobia and an even higher degree of poor judgement. In plain English, it was stupid, really stupid. I saw them, thought they were poorly drawn and they reminded me of those horrible World War II cartoons that made caricatures of the Japanese people, showing them to be insects.
In order to have an enemies, you must make them less than human. People have been calling each other dogs, pigs, rats, etc. for years. Frankly, these members of the animal kingdom command greater respect than some of the human butchers who have pranced across history, slaughtering millions, only to die in humiliation. The recent demise of Slobodan Milosevic comes to mind. The Butcher of the Balkans killed and maimed throughout the Nineties, only to die in a jail cell and perhaps by his own hand.
I think that these cartoons - whether they make fun of Jews, Muslims, Africans, North Americans or whoever - are tools to propagate hatred so that those who thirst for power may pursue whatever path is necessary that will enlarge the scope of their power. The people of this world are just putty in their hands.
Isn’t there anyone who will stand up and say that he or she has had enough of the hatred that is being disseminated around the world? Perhaps, loving our neighbour is just a stupid pipe dream.
As in the novel 1984, we are constantly proving that two plus two does make five. Two wrongs do make a right and the more wrongs, the merrier. It may be entirely possible that we will blow everyone up in the process of proving this but prove it we

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Theme Months May Actually Teach Us Something

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 9:19 a.m.

As we move from Black History Month in February to Women’s History Month in March, people may wonder why we need these months at all. There definitely are a lot of theme months and some months even do double duty. In the health areas, we find Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Family Health Month and Physical Therapy Month. Minorities have American Indian Heritage Month, Hispanic Heritage Month and Polish Heritage Month. This doesn’t even begin to look at all the weeks such as Freedom to Read Week (this week, by the way), Teen Reading Week and School Bus Safety Week. As a librarian, I’m always looking for a decorating theme to highlight some good books but surely, this isn’t a good enough reason to bury the calendar under a myriad of themes.
As far as the History and Heritage months go, they may make up for the enormous gaps in how history is taught in our schools. Our teenagers are taught world history in Grade 8, Quebec and Canadian history in Grade 10 and World History again in Grade 11 but only if they opt to take it. It’s really hard to get into much depth when you run from Ancient Egypt through World War II in one year.
Then, once we get out into the working world, the most history that the majority of us come into contact with is a movie that will probably make many errors to keep the plot going. I have no problem with that. Movies are usually produced to entertain and make their backers a lot of money. No one is too worried about educating the public.
Over February, there were some good documentaries on Black History on a few television stations and a few movies that got me interested in reading books on the topic. I’ve often found the same to be true for women’s history. The fight to achieve one’s rights makes some pretty dramatic reading and there are more than a few heroes in the American Civil Rights movement and in the Nineteenth Century Suffragette movements in Great Britain, Canada and the United States.
Many of us know who the American suffragette, Susan B. Anthony, was but what about Canadian women like Nellie McClung? Because of McClung’s tireless efforts, Manitoba was the first province to give women the right to vote and run for public office. She was a bestselling author and worked for a wide variety of social causes. Another memorable Canadian feminist was Agnes Macphail. In 1921, she was the first woman to be elected to the House of Commons. Macphail promoted workers’ rights and pensions for seniors.
These women are an important part of Canadian history and many of us don’t know their names because we flew through Canadian history in a race to get to the end of term so that we could pass the provincial exams. Luckily, many teachers are finding ways to give students the chance to go deeper into Canadian history through research projects and we can only hope that teenagers come out knowing more than what year the British North America Acts were passed. Dates are quickly forgotten but a good story will be remembered far longer.
So don’t be so quick to roll your eyes when a month is chosen to promote a health or historical theme. It may be an opportunity to learn something that you didn’t know before and it can’t hurt any of us to smarten up a bit.

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Being Funny Can Be Hazardous to your Health

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 3:23 p.m.
I’ve spent the past week reading about the cartoon controversy and the ensuing demonstrations and burning of embassies in the Middle East. Once again, I am challenged in this blog to add to the media frenzy with something more articulate than “Oh, wow” or “Yikes!” Frankly, it’s not easy because I could get into trouble. Luckily,the trouble that I will get into is not life threatening.
Critiques of some of my blogthat were meant to be funny have come in the form of mildly cajoling emails and one or two Letters to the Editor. I have been castigated for making fun of people who shop early for Christmas presents and for my continuous jibes about the College Street bridge in Lennoxville while it was being repaired. What I thought were gently humorous digs at every day life issues were taken quite seriously by readers and though I apologised for offending these readers, I did not apologise for writing my opinions and for describing my own observations of the world. Any columnist worth his salt welcomes this kind of criticism because it means that the blogs are being read and discussed
What I find completely frightening is what happens if a cartoonist, columnist or newspaper editor does not gauge his reading audience well and goes out of the bounds of what is thought to be good taste or appropriate standards. It’s a new world out there. Salman Rushdie wrote a book and received a death sentence for what he put in it. Do authors and cartoonists deserve to die because they express beliefs that are considered blasphemous by others?
I also wonder about the innocent victims of this controversy. I cannot understand why the embassies of these countries were burned down and why their industries are being boycotted. The guy who works on the floor of a Danish cheese packaging plant has absolutely nothing to do with the cartoonist who drew the controversial cartoons yet he is losing his job because that cartoonist and his editor didn’t use some common sense.
Anyone in our society has to recognize that there are lines that we all draw concerning free speech no matter how liberal we think we are. No sane person would allow a six year old to watch a pornographic film or a hard-core violent film. Most of us would think that the photos that the American soldiers took in the Abu Ghraib prison as a joke were horrible. Our society does not look kindly on jokes that humiliate minority groups or women or for that matter, jokes about the Holocaust. It’s something that you don’t put in a newspaper.
In Canada, we have used the expression, the Two Solitudes, to describe English and French Canada. This is nothing compared to the Two Solitudes that our world seems to have been divided into. Many people within the Middle East feel that it is their people who are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan and now the West is kicking their most sacred icons and principles that go beyond discussion: their religion, their deity.
In the West, we are used to making fun of everything, literally everything. Our stand-up comics crack jokes about God, racial groups, sex, you name it. We pride ourselves on the much cherished freedom to discuss and make fun of any topic that we want to. Yes, it’s a relief to live in such a world but in reality, the world we live in is a much smaller place as some Danish cartoonists found out in the past few weeks.
Whether we like it or not, there is another solitude out there and they don’t think that we’re one bit funny. This is a truly frightening reality and one that we will be dealing with for years to come. Both sides have got to start talking to one another instead of screaming; we have to find out about one another instead of aiming guns or cartoons.

Some things aren’t funny anymore; they are serious, deadly serious.

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Frolicking is Over Thanks to Global Warming

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 8:13 a.m.
I guess I won’t be cross-country skiing any time soon and neither will you. Yes, January thaw came and stayed for all of January and it slipped right into February. It kind of took the wind right out of January Thaw’s romantic sails.
In the course of a long and argumentative life, I’ve debated with people over the existence of January Thaw. I’ve always known there to be an island of sanity in our climate - that window of opportunity to walk outside and feel the breeze on one’s face without pain. It’s like a weather-holiday after Christmas yet there are many unbelievers. I consider these people who don’t believe in January Thaw to be like those Bush supporters who believe that global warming is a bunch of nonsense.
Yet this year, it’s hard to deny global warming and when you have rain almost every day, you can’t call it much of a thaw. It’s a New York City winter that has moved up north and is here to stay. It may not be painful but it certainly isn’t very much fun. An Eastern Townships winter implies a certain amount of frolicking in the snow with the aid of snow-frolicking tools such as skis, sleds, fancy sleds (GTs), snowmobiles and snowshoes.
This winter, I have aged 30 years as I do the shuffle down my driveway to my car and I’m not the only one. Several gentlemen of my acquaintance have admitted to doing some shuffling of their own for fear of breaking an arm, leg or hip and these guys are under fifty. If we have winter after winter like this, we will need to get ice climbing shoes just to walk outside.
The summers are getting hotter, the winters are getting warmer – call me crazy but I believe in global warming. President Bush claimed in a 2001 speech that the climate runs in patterns – he says it gets warmer for awhile and then colder. It’s just a natural pattern. I think that this is all wishful thinking on his part. Nobody wants to tell millions of Americans or for that matter, people in up and coming developing countries such as India and China, that they can’t drive an SUV, that gas will never be affordable again and that the future doesn’t have limitless possibilities. The big surprise is that we may have to limit ourselves so that we have a future at all.
Like many Canadians, I will be curious to see how long Canada remains signed on to the Kyoto Accord now that the Conservative Party is in office. In addition, Prime Minister Harper may decide that he no longer needs the services of Rick Mercer to cajole Canadians into figuring out ways to help Canada meet its goals in reducing greenhouse emissions. Of course, it is industry that should be the real target and no Prime Minister wants to tug on the coattails of big companies about how much they’re chugging into the air. It doesn’t matter whether he or she is a Liberal or a Conservative. It’s much easier to go after little people.
Meanwhile, it may be time to throw all our snow frolicking stuff into this summer’s garage sale, stock up on some very good umbrellas and shoes with excellent traction. Winter just isn’t what it used to be.

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Posted by Somebody's Mother on 7:26 a.m.
Relaxation in a bottle…and dishes that sparkle too
Modern technology never fails to excite me with the new tools it comes up with to make my life easier and better. Just last weekend, I was shopping at the supermarket and I realized that we were running out of liquid dishwashing soap. I noticed that one brand, a name brand, was on sale and that it came in a wide variety of scents: cucumber, lemon, etc. Then I noticed the very last one, aromatherapy…and the label said anti-stress!
Now, just imagine the multi-tasking possibilities here! I can actually wash a pot and relax at the same time. Yes, there’s a sucker born every minute but the bottle is on sale and promising me that those scented bubbles will fight my stress. How can I resist? Can this be false advertising? Not in Canada.
Ever since childhood, there’s a side of me that…now, this is hard to confess to such a wide audience, but here goes: there’s a side of me that likes commercials. I’ve always known why. Commercials have happy endings and I want to believe that happy endings are possible.
Sixties commercials never failed to have happy endings. If the lady switches to the right brand, everything is right. If the neighbour’s sheets on the clothesline are cleaner than your sheets, you listen to her advice, buy the detergent and then your family really, really loves you. Buy that whitening toothpaste and you get the boyfriend, the big job, the trip to Florida and the luggage. Commercials make life seem so simple. If you have the money, there’s always an easy solution.
Life is very busy these days so if a dishwashing soap can lull me into a state of bliss two steps up from comatose, why should I resist? Of course, it’s all fun and games till we find out that the secret ingredient in the soap is illegal.
All kidding aside, stress is a very real problem. Just the other day, a friend passed on a news headline to me that says that most teenagers are so stressed out and depressed that if they were in this condition twenty years ago, that state of mind would require professional help. Nowadays, we just accept it.
One journal states that the rate of teenaged depression may be as high as 20%. It does go on to say that many of these cases will be short-lived but if you think of the pressures that teenagers are under between school, sports, extracurricular activities along with the strain in relationships among family and peers, this figure is not so surprising.
After all, we expect sixteen and seventeen year olds to pick an area of concentration in CEGEP. I barely know what I’m doing with my life now. How can we possibly expect kids to figure out what they want to do at such a young age when they can barely decide which jeans to wear to school? That’s stress.
Now I know better than to suggest that if we get teenagers to wash our pots and pans with anti-stress aromatherapy dishwashing detergent, their stress will go down the drain with the grease, dirt and grime. I don’t think this one has a happy ending.
Advertisers will keep stressing our kids and us out because we can never have enough and all the bottles of aromatherapy soap won’t make us stop and realize that maybe, just maybe, there are a lot of whistles and doo-hickies that we really don’t need.
If we’re not stressed, we’re not spending.

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Posted by Somebody's Mother on 4:35 p.m.
Anglophones: The Invisible Voters of Quebec

About two weeks ago, I received a phone call from a nice lady who was working for one of our local candidates. She asked me who I was voting for.
“I’m sorry but I never discuss my vote.”
“All right, then, but I hope you make the right decision.”
“I’m sure I will.”
As I hung up the phone, I thought, “I just lied.” Even now, I’m not sure that I made the right decision last Monday because, apart from the debates that I watched before the election, very few of the candidates vied for my vote or working to tell me, an English-speaking Quebec voter, why I should vote for him…except for Mr. Harper.
For the past few weeks, Mr. Harper’s television commercials exhorted me to “stand up for Canada.” These commercials reminded me many times of the Liberal Party’s wrongdoings and repeatedly urged me to trust Mr. Harper as a leader. Sure thing, that is what I’d expect - but what about the Liberals? What about the New Democratic Party? For that matter, what about the Bloc? Where were they?
During the debate, Mr. Layton urged us not to vote strategically but it is more than evident and not surprising that our federal candidates campaigned very strategically. Anglophone Quebeckers were unimportant and were to be sacrificed for more significant constituencies in Ontario and British Columbia.
As a television watcher, I suppose that I should be grateful. I was spared all the cheesy advertisements, the sincere appeals to patriotism and the promises of a better tomorrow but as a voter, I still feel hurt. I feel inferior. Harper loves us but nobody else does. You’d think that even Mr. Duceppe would have tried to convince us that his vision of a sovereign Quebec was a really, really good one but he probably knew better. He assumed that there was no chance Anglophones would buy that one.
The Liberals probably thought that we would vote Liberal because Mr. Martin is one of us, a Quebecker so why bother convincing us of what we already know. As for Mr. Layton, the NDP have long given up on us. You didn’t see so much as a poster in Lennoxville, a university town that could be ripe for a few votes from the stereotypical university leftie. They seem to have some sort of misguided thinking that Quebeckers are allergic to the NDP. On the other hand, you have to hand it to the Green Party. At least, they weren’t so cheap as to count the cost of a few posters.
Those of us English speaking Quebeckers who care about the future of our country made it our business to figure out what was really behind all the promises and party platforms. We then made our decision as best as we could. I think, however, that it is sad that three out of the four national parties did not even think that English Quebec was worth a few television commercials and in some cases, a few posters. This last election may bring a new meaning to the slogan, Je me souviens.

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Posted by Somebody's Mother on 4:54 p.m.
Next Christmas, No Electronics
This is my New Year’s Resolution: I will never, never, never (may I repeat never) give anyone an electronic present for Christmas again. No one will get anything that requires the installation of software (not compatible), the connections of cables to a computer (not compatible) and the transfer of music from one electronic device to another (it sounds like mush!) This is my gift to me next Christmas and to you. If you had a similar experience to mine this past Christmas, you may not have come to the realization so I am here to help you come to your senses.
There is something about electronic devices and computerized contraptions that bring out the frustrated and ready-to-smash-dishes side in a tired human being no matter what age that human being may be when said doo-hickey does not function the way it should at 7:00 AM Christmas morning.
By the way, how many of us feel like highly functioning computer technicians at 7:00 AM Christmas morning? I know that I don’t. I also know that I don’t want to even try to feel like one. I want to open gifts and enjoy them without the gift putting me to work. In fact, electronic gifts are not the only culprit in making Christmas mornings less than relaxed. Remember electric trains? What about Lego sets? All these gifts do is force you to work and work and work some more.
I have to make breakfast so why do I want to be a computer technician, architect and/or engineer at an ungodly hour of a morning that is a holiday? Parents, next Christmas, let’s put the holiday back into holiday and give our kids gifts that require little thought on our part.
Actually, that’s the beauty of what ever comes in a Christmas stocking. Chances are, it goes on your feet, hands or head or you can eat it. The stuff is usually small, simple and pleasant. The work comes with the bigger gifts. This is certainly not an easy problem to solve. Clothes are no good because chances are, they won’t fit. You will have to go back to the store and fight crowds of like-minded cranky people who are returning gifts.
Video games that don’t hook up to a computer may also seem like an easy if expensive solution but think of the noise and blood-guts-and-gore factors. What’s so pleasant about getting the latest video game to work so that your beloved young ‘un can kill hundreds of cyber-people? Remember peace on earth, good will toward men? Can’t we spare a little good will for all those animated types who are destined to get the bullet over and over again?
Honestly, I think it’s back to wind-up toys for me…or dolls. I don’t care that my children are young adults. Next year, they’re getting dolls and I will blissfully send them back to their rooms to play with their new acquisitions and let me get another hour’s sleep. Better yet, if they’re so mature, maybe it’s time that they make breakfast.
Next New Year’s Day, I will wake up and not have to figure out a thing except where I put the Tylenol and Alka-Seltzer. That sounds like an easy one to handle. If every day could be that simple, it would surely be a Happy New Year.

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Posted by Somebody's Mother on 4:43 p.m.
Bridge Blues Revisited In the Darkest Month of the Year
Ah, January, the month that weighs in on those of us who suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). For the light-starved among us, January makes us really, really…well, sad. Christmas is over, the coloured lights are coming down and springs is more weeks away than I want to think about.
No matter. This Monday, I trudged into the car and turned the key in a cavalier fashion. I hummed along to the music on my speakers until I hit the traffic. It was déjà vu of the most horrible, horrible kind. What did I see before me? The College Street Bridge had one lane closed again.
You see, as the school term came to a close and as I knew that the January blues would hit me in two short weeks along with the long-term indigestion of too much holiday feasting, there was a small hope on the horizon, the hope of a two lane bridge and the five minute drive to work that I had known and loved for the past ten years.
Yes, I have cast my eyes heavenward and asked God to give the world peace, to release those who were kidnapped and to keep an eye out for my aged parents. It just seemed to be a teeny-tiny bit presumptuous to ask the Supreme Ruler of the universe and the Creator of all things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, to expedite the repair of one small bridge. That would seem a trifle selfish and piddley considering the weightier questions that exist in this complicated world.
Yet, surely at this point in time, I have reached traffic hell in the middle of January and nothing short of a bona fide miracle will bring about the completion of that bridge and the triumphant moment (cue the orchestra!) when the nice men in hard hats pack up their equipment and go away, very far away.
Unfortunately, my public kvetching is earning me a link with that bridge that might stay with me for years. People greet me and say, “How do you like the bridge? It’s almost finished.” Age, willpower and my mother’s stern upbringing helps me to refrain from saying, “Are you crazy? Almost doesn’t count!”
Last week, when both lanes were open, my husband warned me not to get too excited. He pointed out the equipment on the side of the road and the covered signs. In my heart of hearts, I knew that he was right. I knew that the construction workers were on holiday and that in a matter of days, the signs would be uncovered, and the equipment would be back sitting idle in a closed lane while I sat swearing in my car waiting for the one open lane to move.
Yet I had an unrealistic hope that the work was finished and that they just didn’t have time to take their equipment away. In my little fantasy, on January 9th, they would just bring all kinds of trucks that they would schlep the equipment up and into, and go off singing something like, “Heigh-Ho, Heigh-Ho, it’s off to Tadoussac, we go.” Then they would drive away and all this construction work would be a dark memory.
Ah, January, it leaves you no illusions. Once the temperate January thaw is over, we will descend into the deep freeze and those poor guys will just have to work a bit faster. Ha-Ha, did you hear me, boys, faster!
Meanwhile, I hope that my car doesn’t stall in the middle of that one open lane. Then those construction workers might be using the same sort of strong language about me that I’ve been using to describe them.

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All The Little Christmas-es

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 8:11 p.m.
Happy January 6th. In case you didn’t know it, it’s a big day around the world. For many, it’s Epiphany. It’s the Ukrainian and Armenian Christmas. It is also the birthday of Haile Selassie who is the Messiah of the Rastafarian religion.
In Ireland, January 6th is both known as Little Christmas and Women’s Christmas. It is the last day of Christmas holidays for children and as Women’s Christmas, it’s a day when men take over all household chores and give women the day off. Friends of mine from Cork tell me that the bars are full of women out for a good time. Then on January 7th, the tree is taken down and Christmas is officially over.
I’m looking at my tree and heaving a ponderous sigh. While our tree is not a big tree, there are a lot of decorations on it and all must be put away the right way, my way. You see, I’m not obsessive about many things except keeping CDs and DVDs in alphabetical order (I am a librarian after all) and putting away Christmas decorations so that they don’t get scratched and are easy to put up the following year. This is why I very uncharacteristically ask for no help when undoing the Christmas tree. I don’t want to have to explain and defend my methods. I just want to get the job done right with as little havoc and destruction as possible.
Putting up the tree is usually festive with the soundtrack for the Charlie Brown Christmas show wailing away in the background and family members finding prominent places on the tree for their favourite ornaments. Taking down the tree is definitely a time for blues. You don’t want something too depressing, for example, an old Leonard Cohen album might make you feel positively suicidal considering the fact that you may not have seen sunlight for weeks and that your body is dehydrated from all the beer, wine and/or champagne that you’ve been swilling as opposed to good, healthy water. No, you want something a little bluesy but upbeat – maybe some B. B. King or Bonnie Raitt.
Then once the right music is selected, all the boxes for the Christmas glass balls come out with their appropriate lids placed underneath. Then the glass balls are removed first so that they don’t break while every thing else comes down. These boxes go at the bottom of a big carton because next year, the glass balls will be the last thing to go up. Then all the ornaments go in plastic bags and are twist tied shut. The strings of beads that I use for garlands go in sealed sandwich bags and are placed on top of the ornaments. Then the stockings and room ornaments go on top of those in the big box because those will be the first to go up next Christmas a good two weeks before the tree.
Finally, the lights are wrapped around these nifty plastic thingies that we bought that are specifically for keeping Christmas lights from getting tangled and knotted. These are a good invention, folks, go out and buy extras as the amount of grief that they have saved us over the years is enormous.
Now, Christmas is over and the long, dark night of the soul, January and February, have begun. With that in mind, I break three different New Year’s resolutions and crack open a Guinness. Happy New Year.

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