The Good, the Bad and the Careless

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 8:08 p.m.
Do you see what I see? As the last few notes of Christmas carols recede into your memories of Christmas 2010, are you looking down at your protruding paunch and thinking, “Wow – can two days of food indulgence make such a noticeable and rapid difference in my waist size?”

Readers, it has reached the point where no one can look at me and comment on my sylph-like physique. My jiggling extremities may be cute to my husband who tries to come up with the right answers in the hopes of maintaining peace and serenity in the home, but my mirror has no tact. My mirror does not lie. I daresay your mirror isn’t lying either. If you are North American and middle-aged, chances are that you don’t have the muscle tone that you could have to lead a healthy lifestyle and that you are carrying over five pounds extra than you should.

For myself, it’s not so much the appearance that concerns me, but the possibility that my careless diet and lack of exercise is going to land me in the same boat that my parents were in once they were in their sixties – an inability to walk very far or do very much because they were overweight.

Right now, I am on the cusp of making another year’s unfulfilled resolutions when it comes to exercise and my foe, bad cholesterol. What is this deal with good and bad cholesterol? Does good cholesterol ride a white horse and comes to the aid of damsels in distress? Does bad cholesterol ride into town packing pistols and shooting up the town to the point that the whole community breaks down and somebody somewhere has a stroke as a result?

My doctor told me that I should be happy that I have a high level of good cholesterol but though my bad cholesterol is not at a level for major concern, care would be a good idea. Having deep-fried potato pancakes twice in the course of two days is probably not what she had in mind. In other words, I sent the bad guys into town and the sheriff wants to have words with me.

While I have resolved to cut back on butter and get on the guilt machine (my name for the elliptical trainer that I bought four years ago to get into shape and which I have probably not used more than ten times), I’ve got a few words for the sheriff too. “It’s Christmas!” January is the time to buck up and get started and be miserable through the short days with the closest promise of relief as Easter, which is some time in April. At Christmas and New Year’s, let me celebrate. Let me throw dietary caution and guilt to the wind. Let me ignore those December magazines that tell me how to get through the holidays without gaining five pounds that are going to take me six months to lose. In other words, and very rude words, “Mr. Sheriff, shut up.”

What is the good of being healthy if we cannot eat and drink and celebrate with good friends if we must have half a mind to what we’re eating and drinking? Granted that some of us have illnesses that require us to watch what we eat in order to avoid serious harm. This is not what I’m talking about. The obsession with perfect health and youthful appearance that can be a detriment to enjoying the good things of life is just silly. I say enjoy, be moderate, and make sure that you have great people to eat and drink with, and you will be happy. This is what I wish you in the New Year. Get out there and enjoy and have a happy and safe New Year.

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At Christmas, It's All About the Magic of Redemption

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 2:02 p.m. in ,
This is the time of year when you think that people will hang out with friends and family, eat too much shortbread cookies (all right, that’s probably just me) and drink a little too much wine or whiskey with our holiday dinners. Yet many of us will use television as a form of family entertainment after a big meal to kick back and enjoy the Christmas spirit, and what will we watch?

In the next twenty-four hours there are three movies that are going to be repeated on several channels: It’s a Wonderful Life, Scrooge (A Christmas Carol), and Miracle on 34th Street. Why are these three films repeated year after year on Christmas Eve? I think it’s all about what Christmas has come to mean in our secular Western society, the opportunity to have a second chance. Without question, this is many steps away from the kind of redemption that is implicit in the religious significance of the Christmas holiday for people of the Christian faith. Yet Christmas has been adopted as a winter holiday by people all over North America, and like it or not, when people celebrate the holiday, folks choose to look past the gift-giving to another purpose whether it’s a time for being with loved ones, showing an annual social conscience by giving to the poor, or looking to the hope of peace on Earth and good will towards all men and women.

Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, which was adapted into the film, Scrooge in 1951 with Alistair Sims as Ebenezer Scrooge, is all about redemption. As Scrooge is forced to review his life, he realizes that if he doesn’t change his ways, he will die alone with no one to mourn him and no one to say a kind word about him. Through magic, The Three Ghosts of Christmas manage to bring about a serious change of heart in Scrooge who becomes a real benefactor to the Cratchit family, and who most importantly, saves Tiny Tim’s life.

It’s A Wonderful Life, Frank Capra’s masterpiece of 1946 and once called “the best film to never win an Oscar,” tells a similar story, but in reverse. George Bailey is a very good man who always sacrifices his dreams for the good of others. When his uncle foolishly loses a bank deposit, putting George in danger of going to jail, George regrets all that he has done. He is about to end his life when a rather clumsy angel, Clarence, uses magic to help George see how important his sacrifices have been, and what a poorer place his community would have been if he had never lived. Once again, a supernatural intervention takes place through the auspices of Christmas to bring about a sincere change of heart.

A Miracle on 34th Street has two versions, one made in 1947 and a re-make in 1994. If you’ve never watched the old version, give that one a try as I find that it has a certain magic lacking in the modern one. There are some very tough messages in this one about faith for a secular society. Santa’s magic is on trial and the judge and jury are really an unbelieving single mother and young daughter. Yet in this film, the magic is much more subtle – is it magic or just a set of coincidences? The viewer is left to make up his or her own mind. For those of us who want to believe in magic, there’s just enough evidence to help us out.
If you want to believe that people can change, that the world can change, these three Christmas classics will help you convince that doubting Thomas uncle of yours that there is magic in the world, and that this magic is more likely to take place around December 25th. To all readers of The Record, I wish you all the joy and magic of the holiday season and then some.

Times and Channels: A Christmas Carol/Scrooge, CTV, Friday night at 11:30; It’s a Wonderful Life, Friday night, NBC at 8:00; A Miracle on 34th Street (1994), Friday night, CBC, 8:00. CBC will air the 1947 version on Saturday night at 11:00 PM.

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Christmas Magic to Soothe a Cold

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 2:01 p.m.
It had to happen; I’m getting sick, yes, sore throat, chills, runny nose the whole bit, and Christmas is coming. I should be shopping, baking cookies, decking the halls, and jingling bells, but all I want to do is lie on the couch and watch Christmas shows. If I haven’t the energy to “deck them halls,” as Lucy told Schroeder in the the Charlie Brown Christmas Special, then I’ll just have to watch someone who can; maybe an animated character who is immune to animated cold germs.

What do I watch? Being the age that I am, I mostly say phoeey to the new Christmas specials, and that’s probably a mistake. Why, just this past week, the three Canadian tenors were belting out carols as was the remnants of Barenaked Ladies on CBC. I go for the classics.

In no particular order, (I’m too sick to prioritize), here are some of my wacky Christmas TV favourites:

A Christmas Carol and all its manifestations: My favourite, of course, is Scrooge with the irreplaceable Alistair Sims as Ebenezer. I own it on DVD …my kids hate it. So we go with some other versions like The Muppet Christmas Carol with Michael Caine. Surprisingly, they do use a lot of Dickens’ text, but they also have singing vegetables and dancing rats. Then there’s that old classic, Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol. I’m ashamed to say that I know some of the songs by heart.

Speaking of Muppets, there’s also the other Muppets Christmas Specials. I’ve managed to buy two as I’m a big fan of the work of Jim Henson and Frank Oz. In my favourite, the Family Christmas (1987) Fozzie surprises his mother by bringing the whole gang to her farmhouse on Christmas just as she greets Doc and Sprocket of Fraggle Rock who have rented the house for a quiet Christmas. They don’t get one. The DVD is very disappointing because songs have been cut as Henson only got the rights to use some of the songs for a one-time TV special. I tend to watch it on a tired, old videotape that also has A Charlie Brown Christmas which I still love.

A Christmas Story with Darren McGavin and Peter Billingsly: Set in the 1940’s, it’s the story of Ralphie, a boy who wants an official Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle, and is thwarted by the inevitable, “You’ll shoot your eye out.” This is a Christmas Eve favourite that we watch year after year. You can buy it at Archambault, by the way.

Off beat favourites include: Garfield’s Christmas where the greedy and gluttonous Garfield learns the true meaning of Christmas with lots of songs packed into thirty minutes, and the Claymation Christmas, which we must watch on VHS as I can’t find it on DVD for under $30.00. This show is simply a series of carols that have been animated in the Claymation way, and it’s really a treat. The California Raisins do a jazzed-up version of Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer. Yes, those raisins sure can sing.

So if you’ve come down with a cold, like me, don’t let it get you too far down. Lie on the couch slurping chicken soup or tea with lemon and honey, and be prepared to make a leap of faith that with Christmas magic, everything will be all right.

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Beware The Little Man With An Idea

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 7:53 a.m.

A few days back, while I was perusing my Twitter page, I discovered a news story that seemed to be ignored bye the major media of the day:  Senator Bernie Sanders, an Independent senator from Vermont, held an 8 ½ hour filibuster on the U.S. Senate floor protesting the proposed tax bill that had been agreed upon by the Democratic and Republican parties.

Senator Sanders, affectionately known as Bernie by many, is the first Senator to declare himself a socialist and who admits to admiring European style social democracy.  In Canada, we call them NDP; in the U.S.A., they’re called Communists, pinko-s and loonies.

That long a filibuster is a triumph of the spirit over the flesh.  Bernie is 69 years old and for a filibuster to be carried on, the person is not allowed to eat or go to the bathroom.  If he does, he loses the floor.  Senator Sanders, a 69-year-old man, did not eat or leave the floor.  He did have some short-term subs in the persons of Sherrod Brown a progressive Democrat from Ohio who spoke for 3/4 of an hour and center-right Democrat Mary Landrieu who took the microphone for 1/2 an hour.

Historically, Senate filibusters have been used for bad purposes too.  In the 1960s, Strom Thurmond pulled a filibuster to oppose the Civil Rights Act that was passed in 1964.  The famous senator, Huey Long, spoke for fifteen and a hour hours to block a bill that would have also benefited rich Americans over poor ones and wound up reading from Shakespeare to keep going.  Interestingly enough, no filibuster has ever successfully blocked a bill from being passed.  Sanders definitely knew from the get-go that history was working against him.

No matter where you stand on taxation, socialism, and the income disparities that are a serious problem in many Western nations today, you have to admire the courage of the man to get up and speak for the little guy.  In his speech, Sanders referred to Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, two billionaires who have openly questioned why they need a tax break. 

He spoke passionately about the jobs that are leaving the United States as corporations move to countries like Thailand where the minimum wage was recently doubled…from eleven cents an hour to twenty-two cents an hour.  Sanders asked how American companies were expected to compete with companies whose labour costs were so low and he asked why it is that we are all racing to the bottom because of the greed of big corporations.  Finally, Sanders enumerated the banks and corporations that were bailed out at American taxpayers’ expense, thanks to the recent disclosure of the list.  This list includes Korean, Japanese and Bahrainian banks.  Then he spoke of small and medium-sized businesses that were unable to even get a loan, businesses that could be a source of jobs for a population starving for jobs.

I watched about a half hour of his speech and I was riveted, not because Bernie is such a dynamic orator – he isn’t – but because the ring of truth was so loud and so clear that you couldn’t help but admire the honesty of the man.

Tommy Douglas, in his famous Mouseland speech said that, “Beware the little man with an idea. You can lock up a man but you can’t lock up an idea.”  Sanders sent a definitive message in homespun words that a government that ignores the working and middle classes is doomed to failure…and more debt.
Ellen Goldfinch may be reached at radiomother@yahoo.ca

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Surprised by Winter

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 7:33 a.m.

They said that it was snowing in excited tones on the news

I wonder why they always sound so surprised ‘cause every year it snows

Anybody ever hear of Sandy Denny?  She sang for a while with a popular British folk-rock band called Fairport Convention, had a solo career, and met an untimely death from a brain haemorrhage caused by a fall down a flight of stairs.  I’m glad I’m not a rock star.

The first snow always makes that lyric play in my head and I was reminded of it by something that my husband said.  He was at Clark’s and one of the salespeople remarked that the store had sold 120 units of mittens and gloves even though they hadn’t had a lot of people come in.  I suppose the freezing rain may have had something to do with that.  I took a slide on to my backside while walking the dogs last Saturday and my husband sent me back to the house to take a long hot shower and put some ice on my back.  Strange how middle age can make a gentle fall that might be nothing for a kid a potential catastrophe.

The run on mittens and gloves is probably a reaction to snow, freezing rain, and everybody hastily putting up their Christmas lights while the weather was relatively mild a couple of weeks ago.  People are finally realizing that winter is here and it always surprises us, maybe because our autumns seem to be getting gentler.  Sure, we had a freak snow at Halloween, but everybody knows that the two coldest days in the fall are Halloween and Remembrance Day, both days where you have to be outside for a long time whether it’s walking your little one around or standing at the Cenotaph.  I can’t remember anyone ever complaining that either of those days was unseasonably hot. Yet this year, October and November have been fairly warm.

When I took that slide on the ice that was hidden by a thin layer of snow, I could vaguely smell January coming.  Everybody always complains about November and rightly so.  November is grey, bleak, with a damp cold that is downright unfriendly, but November has anticipation.  We can’t help but look forward to Christmas, so as the days get ridiculously short, we’re putting up lights and glitzy decorations that take the sting out of the cold, grey weather.  When New Year’s has come and gone, there’s nothing to look forward to but a dark January, which I like to call the long, dark night of the soul.  Once the holidays are over, that seasonal adjustment disorder hits me like a ton of bricks and I am SADD in all capital letters.

Of course, skiers have a completely different take on January; they revel in it.  They watch weather reports with baited breath.  They bounce up and down with glee at the first snow flake, and comes a blizzard, they are almost unendurably ecstatic.  You may want to kill them but if you are a confirmed hater of winter, you have to envy that love of winter snow.  This is their season and I try to take comfort in the joy of others.

Of course, my other solution has been to take up cross country skiing which, believe-you-me, is a lot of work.  Like an idiot, I bundle up and then when I’m sweating like the proverbial pig, I’m peeling off the hat, the scarves and tempting pneumonia with reckless abandon.  There are mornings in the woods when the sun shines on the snow in the trees and it’s magical – so much so, that I can almost enjoy winter…and that’s the trick.  Get out in it and enjoy it.

Equipped with my brand new woollen mittens that my husband picked up at Clarks with the cat food and the dog food, I will try to approach winter and snow with the joy of my dog, Molly…but I refuse to roll in the snow unless I’m sent flying by a hidden sheet of ice.

            Ellen Goldfinch may be reached at radiomother@yahoo.ca

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A New-Found Twin in Yonkers, N.Y.

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 2:09 p.m.
I have just discovered my twin and she’s an African American woman named Charlene who works in a post office in Yonkers, New York.  The reason that I bring up the fact that she’s African American is because I’m definitely not and this calls into question a whole bunch of stuff, yet Charlene was pretty convincing so I have to believe her.  If Charlene says that we’re twins, it’s good enough for me.

Two weeks ago, my family were down in New York visiting my father who is in a nursing home in the northern most tip of New York City, an area called Riverdale.  We’ve discovered a Marriott hotel that is a 15 minute drive north in the city of Yonkers that makes staying in New York and visiting my father much easier as the hotel has its own parking lot.  I can tell you some very unhappy stories about trying to find parking in lower Manhattan, but I’ll just put you off driving down to one of the most vibrant cities in the world.  Actually, if you must stay in Manhattan, a hotel called On the Avenue which is on 78th Street and Broadway, is a very nice hotel (although the rooms are small, but all Manhattan hotels have small rooms), and we’re usually able to find parking on the street within ten to fifteen minutes of getting near the hotel.  This hotel is a good option if you want to bring your car into the city.

I hope you find all this information useful, but what I really want to tell you about is my twin, Charlene.  I had to go to the post office in dealing with some family business and was pleased to find that the post office was open all day Saturday.  I walked in with a bunch of mail that I wanted to put into a package, so I needed to buy an envelope, stuff the mail into it, and send it on its merry way.  Every time poor Charlene started to suggest what I could do and how my task could be achieved, I repeatedly anticipated what she was going to say and as usual, I was incorrect every time.  This is an unfortunate habit that my family has dealt with for years.  Charlene had a different approach.

She said to me, “Do you know what the word foreshadowing means?”  I was taken aback by the question, but I reassured her that yes, I did know what foreshadowing means.  She continued, “I used to do the same thing to my English teacher in college and she used to say, ‘Charlene, you’re foreshadowing.’ ” I promised her that I would be quiet and let her talk.  She looked at my husband and said, “And I want you to be quiet too.” He complied.

Charlene weighed the package and gave us our options and we paid for it to be sent.  “You’re my twin because you do the same as me.  What’s your name?”  Well, that was it.  We started to chat, I wound up telling her that we were from Canada and the whole mailing experience was about as pleasant as it could have been made to be.  I found out a little bit about Charlene, her colleague Daisy re-weighed our package and found that we owed a few more cents…and then wouldn’t let us pay it.

I think that Charlene and I really are twins because it’s always been my own philosophy that if I’m going to work, I’m going to have fun with it which luckily is very easy when you’re working in a small high school.  I get to joke around with kids all day long; some kids get my jokes and some don’t.  Sometimes it’s the ones who don’t get what I’m on about that provide greater entertainment.  Trying to have fun with things as simple as buying stamps just makes life more liveable and that’s the attitude that makes Charlene and I twins even though Yonkers and Lennoxville are far apart.  Try it some time.

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Lennoxville's New Café

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 5:47 p.m.
The borough of Lennoxville is very much like most of the college towns that I’ve seen and we have the bars to show for it, but most college towns have a variety of daytime hangouts. Lenn, as kids affectionately call it, has McDonald’s and the drop-in centre forthe high school kids. Café Java has been a university hang out of sorts. Tim Horton’s gets a mix of folks, and now we have La Brulerie de Café.

As soon as I walked into the new café, it was like stepping into a more urban setting.
Brick walls, wood ceilings, and jazz pumping out of the sound system made it seem
like a Montreal café. One student was surfing the Internet on her laptop (I meant to ask
whether or not the Wi-Fi was free), and in the passage between the front and back rooms,
there were two computers with enormous screens being used by people also happily
surfing the ‘Net sipping on big mugs of coffee…and that’s what I was really there for.

While the ambiance was very welcome, I showed up for the caffeine. I’d heard that there
was a coffee roaster there, and that you could buy bags of Ethiopian fair trade coffee
that is a very wonderful blend of coffee. For years now, I beg my husband to go to Café
Myriade whenever he’s in Montreal to pick up a brand of coffee called 49th Parallel
which has flavourful coffee beans that are perfect for espresso or regular coffee which
we make in a contraption that we bought at Myriade called an Eva Solo. I’ve been very
excited about the fact that there is a coffee roaster within a ten-minute walk of my house,
but I’ve been too busy to get there till last weekend.

We went for lunch and coffee. Unfortunately, we showed up after 1:00. It’s important
to know that they close the kitchen at 1:00, but happily, there were some sandwiches left
which heated up were really delicious. I had a date square for dessert and my husband
had a cranberry raisin square. Both of these were really good too.

We ordered two cappuccinos. As some of my readers will remember, I was in Italy this
summer and that experience turned me into the worst kind of coffee snob. Don’t get me
wrong – I am very willing to drink bad coffee and mediocre coffee as long as there are no
pretensions involved. I was hoping for an excellent cappuccino at La Brulerie de Café,
but it wasn’t excellent. It just wasn’t strong enough and a cappuccino should be strong.
People get all caught up in the milk foam, and this is very wrong. In Italy, you get the
steamed milk and a little foam on top, because in that country, it’s all about the coffee.
The coffee is always rich and strong, and that’s the way it should be. The one that I had
at La Brulerie de Café was very drinkable but it really wasn’t strong enough.

I’m not a complete traditionalist; a true Italian would never drink a cappuccino in the
afternoon and I was happy to be able to go out for a cappuccino close to home so I’m
hoping that this will improve and that the folks at the Café will use a stronger blend. I’d
be willing to settle for a smaller cup and less milk.

My other suggestion is that the staff should walk around and clean tables. When I went
in the back to look for a cozy table, one had coffee cups still on it and just about all the
empty tables had crumbs. This doesn’t make a good impression. Apart from that I,
like all of my friends, are delighted that La Brulerie de Café has opened up a branch in
Lennoxville, and I’m hoping that it has a long run in our town.

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Battling the Children's Crusade

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 7:56 a.m.

In his novel, Pattern Recognition, William Gibson called the endless adolescent crowds that invade Camden Market in London on Saturdays, the Children’s Crusade.  We, in Lennoxville, have our own Children’s Crusade between 8:00-9:00 every weekday morning.  I’m referring to the parade of young adults who emerge from the houses and apartments on College and Depot Street and trudge across the bridge to the Bishop’s University/Champlain campus.  They brave the College Street crosswalk and dare traffic to stop.  Mostly it does; sometimes it doesn’t.

With time, many of us are getting better at seeing pedestrians who have a right of way that they did not have before.  It was only a few years ago that any one who wanted to cross College had to dash out when no car was coming with the hope that an automobile didn’t just materialize from another dimension.  It should have been an Olympic sport, but unfortunately, there are no medals for courage or agility in outwitting cars.

I should be more sympathetic to the students’ plight but as a motorist, I’m getting testy.  Is it just me or does the traffic on College seems worse now than in years past, and is the crosswalk the cause of the problems?  I have seen joggers run blissfully past me as my sporty little car that is capable of great speeds painfully inches its way toward the third traffic light just in front of Bishop’s where I wait to make that left turn across the bridge that will take me to work.  I could understand this kind of traffic if I was back in Montreal or even New York City, but Lennoxville?  This is a small town of 5000 tops, even when the students are here.  What’s with all this traffic?

On mornings when the traffic is moving, it’s a lovely 5 minute drive with the mountains, the trees, and church steeples all looking very pastoral and very pretty.  Yes, those are the mornings that make you glad to be alive.  Most mornings, however, I am faced with the monumental decision of which street will be less congested, Queen or College.  My coffee is not strong enough to fortify me with the prescience needed to make such a crucial choice.  If I go down Queen, I can make a left turn by the Town Hall, and if I’m lucky, I can make another left on to College from Depot, but I have to be cocky.  I have to have nerves of steel to sneak out in front of the traffic and make my way to the Promised Land in hopes that the crosswalk won’t bog the traffic down too much.  At least my hairdresser appreciates my problem; the traffic has turned my hair gray and she’s making money dying it closer to its once youthful brown.

It could be that the new 410 overpass will alleviate some of the traffic so that the large trucks that are a pesky component of the morning traffic will go another way, but I’m not overly optimistic.  There is still the Children’s Crusade to contend with, and though the kids finish school and graduate, there are more, always more, to take their place. 

If this is the case, once the new highway is up and taking the strain off in-town traffic, we can be sure that more experts will come up with a new scheme, maybe a fourth traffic light, so that at least you could move for a few minutes before the next student waits to cross the street.  Maybe we could see a footbridge go over College Street, something like the bridges in Venice, or maybe they will come up with hover crafts so we can all fly to work like George Jetson.  Yes, that’s the answer…except by that time, I will have retired.  Pity, I always wanted one of those.

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Jury Duty and More Jury Duty

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 7:44 a.m.

Two weeks have gone by since I wrote my last column about reactions to jury duty.  I’ll cut to the chase: I got exempted because of my poor French skills (I’m not proud of that), and the fact that I am health care proxy for my 91 year old father who lives in The Bronx.  In the last two weeks, Dad has taken a turn for the worse. I will head down to see him soon, something that I would not have been able to do had I been selected, so thank you, Sheriff’s Office, for your understanding at a bad time.

On a more cheerful note, I’ve had some wonderful conversations with friends and emails from folks who have been called up for the selection process. One reader was convinced that if she thought about jury duty often, she would get called up and sure enough she was:

“I tend to believe in the law of attraction...What I think I create. Well.... I have been thinking briefly, but profoundly about this event and I "knew" that this was coming for me. When I received the notice I felt such a contradiction of feelings. I felt excitement and terror all in the same bundle. I think I am bilingual enough to be chosen, but I really don't know how strict their demands will be. I have such mixed feelings especially because I am a teacher and my students and I are beginning to build a strong and cohesive community together, I feel worried about them as I imagine the possibilities. So, my rendezvous is Wednesday, October 13th (I am not one bit superstitious) I hope and wonder and dread what the outcome will be.”  She wasn’t the only teacher that heard the call of Lady Justice; I’m wondering how many teachers if any will wind up as jurors.

What I find truly interesting is that some people that I spoke to and heard from by email expressed an honest concern about doing the job properly, whether it’s following the nuances of the case in both official languages or going in with preconceptions about the accused.  I received one email that explained this worry with a story that I’m going to reproduce here:

“I've honestly been working on not judging people by their looks for a good twenty years. When our daughter was tiny, we went to the fair and she wanted to go on a bouncy castle thing. Adults weren't allowed beyond a certain line. She had to take off her shoes and in her excitement got a knot in her laces. A big guy, tattooed arms, shaved head and leather vest approached her and I was about to scream ‘Get away from my kid!!’ when he knelt down, untied the knot and gently lifted her up on the air mattress. I try to remember that.”

Other people’s reaction was to ask me how I “got off.”  There was a fair amount of understandable worry that they might be perceived as being more bilingual than they really are.  For example, at the courthouse, one of my friends got into trouble when she said, “I don’t speak French.”  This was not what the lawyers wanted to hear; they wanted to know whether or not potential jurors could understand French.  When my friend quickly explained that she meant to say that she didn’t understand French, she received her exemption.  Yet another friend who is over the age of 65 - which is supposed to be an automatic exemption - tried calling up to get out of going in but was told that he had to go – I, on the other hand, was exempted by phone.  Go figure.

Meanwhile the process continues, and I wonder if the search for a juror will move to another locality where they will try to find twelve more not so angry men and women who will give the accused their fair shake at justice.  If you see a yellow letter in the mailbox, try not to panic.

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A misty morning , September 26th

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 6:33 p.m.

Over and over again, RG told me to take the camera out.  Sometimes I do listen to him.  I pulled out the Sony, went upstairs and decided it would be best to get the zoom lens out.  I'm awkward at it but I managed to exchange lenses without too much of a hassle, and most importantly, without asking for help.

I went out on the balcony and took about 35 shots.  This was my favourite.

People keep asking me how it is that someone who grew up in New York can live in the Eastern Townships.  I've been here for close to 22 years.  If this photo doesn't answer the question, then there's a part of me that you really don't know.

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Jury Duty!

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 6:15 p.m. in , , , ,

If you were one of the 4000 people who received a yellow letter in the mail summoning you to jury duty, as I was, I’d be very curious to know your reaction.  My reaction was, “Why me?  Why now?”  Just that morning on my happy walk through the woods where a mysterious Good Samaritan had cleaned away the enormous trees that I clumsily climbed over for months, I was attacked by bees and stung three times on the arm.  Then my husband phoned me at lunch to tell me that I had received a letter from the Ministère du Justice and did I want him to open it for me.  Bees and jury duty in one day makes me wonder about fate, destiny, and all that other existential stuff.

It is one week later and over the course of the week, I’ve discovered that many of my fellow Townshippers are experiencing the same call to be the lady with the scales, Lady Justice herself, and their reactions are joyful.  Most people have responded with fear.  What will I be asked to do?  Will it be some gory murder trial?  That certainly crossed my mind. Show me blood and I’m going to faint, and then have nightmares for the next twenty years.  Luckily, I never tried to work in an Emergency Room of a hospital because people showing up with things sticking into their bodies that should not be stuck in their bodies would just render me useless and possibly unconscious as would photos of the same.

There’s also the level of fantasy about delivering a guilty verdict to some gangland criminal and spending the next twenty years, (I’m kind of stuck on the number twenty in this article – I apologize for the repetition), living in fear of someone hunting down jurors, one juror at a time, once he got out of prison to fulfill his goal of the ultimate revenge.  You think you’re safe, and then, wham-o!

People who know that I write – whatever that means, we all write, we all have stories to tell only some of us are brave enough to put it on paper – where was I?   Yes, I was being a writer.  People who know of this habit of mine tell me that jury duty is a wonderful opportunity though I’m not sure to what.  My imagination is good enough for me, thank you very much, and most of us have sat through enough episodes of Law and Order to have a sense of the courtroom.  My nephew-in-law has told me on a number of occasions that this is patently untrue; courtrooms in real life are not at all like they are on television.  If that’s the case, I don’t need to sit through something more tedious than Law and Order to get a feel for courtroom tedium.  Tedium is exactly what writers are not supposed to convey, so I am hesitant to perceive jury duty as a golden opportunity.

What I find truly fascinating is that the people who have NOT been called for jury duty say that they wish that they had been summoned.  Maybe someone should go on television and say, “Who wants to do jury duty?  Call this number and come on down.  We will see if you’re the kind of guy or gal that we need!”  I bet they’d find people who would work out just fine.  There would be people who would be willing to give justice its best shot.  Unfortunately, most of the people that I know just aren’t champing at the bit to get into the courtroom and participate in the wheels of justice.

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Thank You, Good Samaritan With a Chainsaw…and Goodbye Terry Jones

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 2:30 p.m. in , , , , , , , , ,
This past Saturday, my husband came into the house after running an errand, waving an envelope that had the word, “Done,” printed in ink on the front. Inside the envelope was a cut out of my Somebody’s Mother column of a week ago, “Dear Good Samaritan With a Chainsaw.” My husband smiled and said, “The plot thickens.” You see earlier my long suffering husband who had put his back out badly walked the dogs and found that the three huge trees that had fallen in our dog-walking path and which I had written about in my last column were now sawn up and piled into neat logs on either side of the path.

Oh, Good Samaritan with a Chainsaw, you are truly a class act, and I and all the other dog walkers in the neighbourhood thank you! I’m especially grateful because on Friday after scrambling over the trees, I unthinkingly walked on the board that someone had put down over a small ditch to allow bikers to use the path. The board was wet, and before I knew it, my legs had flown up from under me, and I landed right on my back with my head slamming against the board and very luckily, not on one of the rocks nearby! I lied there and whimpered like a baby with my head aching and my neck stiffening up within moments. I told you that I’d break my leg, but I practically broke my head; I only have one of those. When I walked past those logs on Sunday, I was singing your praises.

I was thinking about you, Good Samaritan, and comparing your anonymous act of kindness to the type of media-grabbing, attention-seeking stunt that Pastor Terry Jones pulled by threatening to burn the Qur’an last week. As a librarian by trade, I’m not in favour of burning books; I’m rather set against that. I also think that someone who claims to be a spiritual leader, and who holds his government hostage by waving another religion’s holy book and threatening to burn it, is not very spiritual and is, in fact, committing a hate crime of the most offensive kind. There is a fine line between freedom of speech and hate crimes, and here in Canada, we have laws against hate crimes. I’m not so sure about Florida and what its laws consider a hate crime to be. Then again, when Bush won the election ten years ago because of the shenanigans with ballots and chits and such things, I began to have my doubts about Florida. What’s in the water down there?

As soon as Jones began his posturing, people’s lives were endangered once again and that becomes more urgent than the debate over a mosque being built near the hole in the ground which is the burying place for all those people who died when the planes smashed into the Twin Towers of my hometown, New York City. As I write this, people have already died as a result of Jones’ stupidity. No, they are not Canadians or Americans but they are people who have families who are grieving over them today and looking at this side of the world as evil just as some North Americans see them as evil when they burn our flags. Hate is a plague that is as contagious as swine flu. Who knows how many others will die because Terry Jones picked the ugliest way to attempt to gain power in a world where the media would allow him access to it.

In a week or so, Terry Jones will fade into obscurity unless he comes up with a new stunt that a gullible media will latch on to. The only Terry Jones some of us will remember is the member of Monty Python who is hilarious, and who should sue the pants off of the other Jones for besmirching his good name! I’ll forget him, but Good Samaritan, I won’t forget you. I’ll be telling this story for a long time.

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Dear Good Samaritan with a chainsaw…

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 7:51 a.m. in , , ,
Dear Good Samaritan with a chainsaw,

I know that you’re out there, and there is a vague possibility that you are reading this or perhaps there is a better chance that someone who knows you is reading this. In any case, I am casting out these few crumbs in the hopes that you will read this and help me one more time.

I have started walking my dogs with my husband in the woods just up the hill on Lorne Street in Lennoxville. I have already seen one of the wonders that you performed last year when you chopped up a tree that had fallen across the path. This tree was huge and my husband had to shorten his daily walks, which really was sad for the dogs. Then one day, lo and behold, the path was open again because you came along with your trusty chainsaw and chopped it into reasonable bits and placed those bits on either side of the path. This was an anonymously performed good deed, and I couldn’t properly thank you.

The chainsaw is a tool that has been much maligned, don’t you think? Normally, when people think of chainsaws, particularly city people, they think of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. They might think of loggers who indiscriminately cut down old growth forests or beloved trees in parks. If they’ve been watching too much Space Channel, they might think of that dumb commercial that it is replayed excessively to advertise their evenings of horror movies. All this media coverage is giving the chainsaw a lot of bad press.

The media may be the reason that we don’t think of new beginnings or rebirth when we think of chainsaws, and yet this is what the chainsaw is capable of achieving. A chainsaw can clear away the dead wood and open up a new path where there was none before or bring back a path that had become blocked or overgrown. Its power is truly awe-inspiring.

People can be very narrow-minded when it comes to chainsaws. They can also be pretty stupid about them. Some people should never be allowed to use one. I myself would never pick up a chainsaw, and I would really prefer that anyone that I love never pick one up. I firmly believe in heredity, and clumsiness definitely runs in my family. The Eastern Townships will certainly sleep better in the knowledge that I will never wield a chainsaw even though I have a great need to do so, which brings me back to my original point about dog walking and the woods above Lorne.

Three great whacking trees have fallen across the path just behind the houses that face Lorne that are on my dog walking route…and the dog walking route of quite a few other people, I should add. Every morning, I have had to balance precariously as I scramble over these trees and I’m getting older and clutzier by the day. Come winter, there’s every chance that I’m going to break my leg going over those three great whacking trees.

Would you please take out that magic chainsaw of yours like the Good Samaritan that you are, and if you do, please leave a note behind so that I can thank you. You have taught me a lesson about chainsaws that I will never forget.

Your admirer, Ellen Goldfinch

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Of Mice and...Me

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 8:44 p.m.

The ghost of Topo Gigio, the little mouse who used to ask Ed Sullivan to kiss him good night, is stalking me.  My husband has accused me of murdering him, but I swear to all readers of this blog that I am completely innocent of the crime.

It began when I was washing the plaster off the bathroom floor of the house that we’ve been building for the last nine years.  Okay, so we’re slow, but we’re not in debt for it…yet.  I had swept the floor, vacuumed it – plaster dust is stubborn stuff - and was fishing around for a bucket that I could use when I remembered the two buckets of water that we moved out of the bathroom into a corner once we had turned on the shutoff valve for the plumbing upstairs.  The buckets of water were for pouring in the back of the toilet so that we could flush it.  I feel compelled to give you all this background detail as evidence that I’m not an altogether namby-pamby-New-York-City-born-and-bred gal who can’t rough it.  I can do without many comforts when the need arises.

I sauntered over to the buckets where a gruesome sight awaited in me.  In the bucket was a rather large, perhaps bloated, dead mouse floating with splayed legs and a pathetic expression frozen there in his last seconds of life.  I yelled.  My husband, who was working outside, immediately responded with a “What’s the matter?”  To his credit, it was not, “What’s the matter now?”

“There’s a dead mouse floating in one of the water buckets.”  I rushed out to the porch, “Could you deal with it?”  There it was, the line of what I won’t do and what he can do.  When it comes to dead mice and emptying out the kitty litter box along with most of what the dogs and cats upchuck and…well, you know…my long-suffering husband crosses the line of what I have great difficulty doing and does it. 

When he’s not home, I have cleaned up the dog messes, etc., but anything to do with rodents, alive (the squealing presents that Shadow the Cat bring home) or dead, these jobs become his jobs.  I won’t say the man’s job – the feminist in me is humiliated at admitting this in public – but it’s my husband’s job.  I am one female who does not or cannot bring herself to the task of cleaning up dead mice. 

Although he was willing to clean up little “Topo Gigio’s” remains, he was definitely not willing to let me off the hook.  When the mouse was disposed of, my husband gave me the all clear to come back in the house with a big grin and his best mouse voice, “Eddeee, why did you kill me?  All I wanted to do was marry Suzee the leetle mouse from Chez Helene?”

This is my alibi.  Topo and Suzie are long gone, buried in the annals of television history.  I’m not going to take the fall.  I don’t know who this mouse was, but suicide can be the only answer.  This mouse was in the midst of an existential crisis, lost between being and nothingness, and he apparently made the wrong choice. It was written all over his face.

 I don’t know what happened in the field that forced him to invade my house and dive into my bucket, but you can’t hold me responsible.  Remember, I don’t deal with mice so you’re going to have to look further a field.  Yes, I said it, further, a field.

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Ten things that I will miss about Italy

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 1:54 p.m.

1. I’m staying just outside a town that is about 80 kilometres north of Venice. It has a beautiful covered bridge that overlooks a small waterfall and beautiful mountains in the distance.  The historic centre has gorgeous old buildings and very few tourists.  I will miss that town.  Which one is it?  I promised my family that I wouldn’t tell!

2. Caccciotta cheese: it has a creamy mild taste and is amazing to eat when you’re hungry and want to nibble on something before supper, but it’s also easy to overeat.  Alas, we don’t get it in Canada!

3.  The bells.  Wherever you go, bells echo off old buildings on a cloudy day just before it rains, or on a sunny day when people are filling the trattorias at lunch time; it doesn’t matter.  The bells make me happy and remind me that I am somewhere else.

4. The Brenta river.  Uh-oh.  That’s a hint to number one.  White-water rafting down the Brenta was more fun than I expected, especially because our guide kept us ramming into rocks and made us jump into the river.  I jumped into the river and was more than happy that I was wearing a wet suit. A church bell in a tower by the river chimed noon, and it was a perfect moment.

5. Italian coffee.  Caffé Diemme is a brand of coffee that we discovered that was super whether it was done up as a macchiato (espresso with a little steamed milk) or as a cappuccino.  I have guilt because it’s probably not fair trade coffee.  I may write a letter asking them to go fair trade but I’m afraid that my Italian is not up to letter writing. 

6. Pizza.  Would it be so hard for North Americans to learn how it’s really done in Italy?  Thin crust, thin crust!!  Sauce that doesn’t taste like it came out of a great big tin, so that you taste the tomatoes rather than the sugar.  We can do this if want to – it’s important!

7. Siesta.  Things stop at 12:30.  Stores close and don’t reopen till 3:00.  It’s inconvenient but civilized.  People eat lunch with family and friends and relax.  Lunch is the big meal supper isn’t.  No wonder Italians look so trim…except that there is ‘way too much smoking going on.  This may be the real reason that they stay so thin.

8. Reasonably priced public transit – You can take a train from the town that I’m staying in to Venice for about 8 euros fifty.  That’s under $15.00.  It costs a lot more to get from Sherbrooke to Montreal, and wouldn’t it be nice to take a speedy train than hassle with traffic and parking?

9. The climate…but ten days of thirty-eight degree weather did teach me that I don’t love heat as much as I thought I did.  I think I need to check out winter in Italy.  I hear it’s shorter.  Unfortunately, there’s nothing much Canadians can do about that except to love skiing.  I’m not sure that I love skiing that much.

10. Finally, I will miss the Italian language and the Italian people. As soon as you make an effort to communicate in Italian, people will warm up to you and be happy to engage in conversation.  Plus, it was lovely to be in a place where people talk as much and as loud as I do!

Arriverdeci, Italia!  I will miss you and I hope that I get back before too long.  Ellen Goldfinch may be reached at radiomother@yahoo.ca

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Viva Italia!

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 1:52 p.m.
I’ve been in northern and central Italy for about two weeks now visiting family and touring around as well.  The joy of re-visiting a country that I’m madly in love with for its food, its language, its beautiful countryside, and rich culture is being mitigated by one negative factor – blistering heat.  After four years that have included four winters of complaining about the cold, I put aside a little money every month so that I could finally go away with my family to Italy, and what have I done for the past two weeks?  Yes, I’ve been complaining about the heat in pigeon Italian, “E caldo.  E molto caldo.  E caldissimo.”

I really would like to chalk it up to trying to make conversation and using the few words that I know but it has been thirty seven to thirty eight degrees every day which means that you can only walk in the shade and when you sit down, you perspire so heavily that natives of Florence or Venice refuse to come anywhere near you.

It is a mystery of nature how the women of these cities manage to look perpetually cool, elegant, and chic in such high temperatures. I would like to think that they walk around in some sort of transparent air conditioned bubble that is only available to native Italians. In Florence, women manage to look fashionable, wear extremely high-heeled shoes, and cycle through anarchic traffic while looking like they are about to fall asleep. Meanwhile, my ankles are caving in from hours of walking in my comfy flat sandals, my deodorant surrendered hours ago, and I am looking for the nearest air conditioned café to drink aqua frizzante or carbonated water on ice.  They must have a technology that I don’t have.

Apart from this, I feel like the luckiest woman in the universe to have been able to share this experience with my son (who managed to keep my husband and I museum hopping for ten days) and my daughter who, like me, enjoys the experience of sitting in a nice café while eating good food.

Yet some of my happiest times have been meeting a very dear high school friend who lives in the walled city of Lucca with his lovely and personable family, and hanging out in what I have come to think of as my Italian hometown, Bassano del Grappa, a small city in the foothills of the Dolomite mountains where my sister-in-law lives.  It takes about one hour and twenty minutes to take a train from Venice to Bassano, and though it’s not in most guidebooks, it’s one of my favourite places to be.  It’s old, there’s great food to be had, beautiful scenery, and not a lot of tourists fighting you for your space.

Today, there was a huge thunderstorm at four in the morning and it’s been cloudy all day.  Best of all, the temperature has gone down to twenty-five degrees so it’s been a real treat to walk around Bassano’s old town and eat a pannino (the real word for pannini) in an outdoor café with a really good cappuccino to end the meal.  This is the good life; I’m trying very hard not to think about the winter to come.

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Organizing Stuff and Facing the Unexpected

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 1:48 p.m.

Vacation.  Breathe in, breathe out.  Breathe in, breathe out.  Decompressing from the stress of work and shifting gears is not easy.  The first Monday of my summer holidays was spent looking for things that I misplaced and trying to organize the house for vacation mode.  As a professional librarian with twenty-seven years of experience, organization should be second nature to me, and it is…at work.  Home is another story.

Getting ready to frolic requires reservations, itineraries, changing money, preparing the housesitter/dogsitter, getting the animals to the vet, making lists, packing…wait a minute. Organizing is what I do for a living - why am I spending days of my vacation doing what I do at work?

Then there’s helping my children organize their lives. When you have kids in university, they invariably move, and they move once a year so there’s the packing and organizing of someone else’s stuff which requires lots of questioning and hence lots of arguments about what to throw out, what not to throw out and the best way to organize stuff. No matter who you are, you will eventually have to organize someone else’s stuff.

It’s somewhat amusing to me that my last rather serious column was about organizing your parents’ stuff or getting your parents to organize their own stuff so that life doesn’t become a complete and utter living hell when all hell breaks loose.  Yet, the other side of the coin is that no matter how organized you think you are, life has a way of throwing challenges at you that makes that old British game show, The Weakest Link, look like child’s play.  It’s always best to leave room for the unexpected because it’s coming and it’s darn well going to get you. Don’t be The Weakest Link

Travelling is an invitation to the unexpected which is both its attraction and the thing that causes many people to just stay home, put their feet up with a cold beer, and watch whatever game is going on TV.  That’s the safest bet but without the unexpected, life just doesn’t have any spice.  The older I get, the less I like the unexpected, so that’s why I comfort myself with lists, research, and planning so that I can get the most out of a travelling vacation that I can get while still maintaining the point of view that if things go out of whack, you just have to go with it and see where you wind up.

One of my first adventures was nearly ruined because I was bound and determined to see the Sistine Chapel, the Tower of London, the Eiffel Tower and all those sights that we expect to see.  I soon learned that sitting in a café with new friends and watching the world go by was far more fun and gave me more insight into a new culture then rushing off to tourist sights. When I went to India this year, I found the Taj Mahal very beautiful, but it wasn’t the highlight of my trip – singing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star to a mentally handicapped little girl in an orphanage was.  Her smile will always stay with me even though I didn’t take a picture of it. 

There’s no doubt that organizing stuff can make a trip safer and more fun, but leaving room for the unexpected will always allow for the opportunity of a magical memory and apart from relaxation, that’s what we really hope for when we travel.

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If you love your children…

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 5:16 p.m.

 This has been a sad time of year for a few of my friends as they have either had parents who have passed away, parents whose chronic age-related illnesses have gotten worse or parents who have been forced due to deteriorating physical and mental ability to move into a nursing home.

Someone once told me that no matter how old you are, you are still someone’s child, and even in middle age, I find that I miss my deceased mother’s guidance and the guidance of my father who is suffering the ravages of dementia. He does know he’s losing it and it saddens him. There is no question that no matter how old you are, it’s tortuous to watch your parents come to rely on you instead of it being the opposite way around, the way it’s always been for most of us who have had parents who did their best to bring us up.

What is so difficult for most families, however, is to undergo this kind of pain and to make matters worse, deal with disorganized finances of parents who could not face the fact that someday they might not be able to take care of themselves.  This was the case with my parents.  Although they had made out a will, they never created any trust funds, always kept their home in their own name, and never discussed any of their finances with my sister or me.  They assumed that they would live in their home until they keeled over. 

Then my mother’s cancerous tumour burst in her colon and as I sat with my father in the hospital while my mother was in surgery, it became all too apparent that Mom had been hiding the severity of my father’s dementia so that they could continue living in their own home.  Both were in their eighties and once they both came out of the hospital (yes, Dad had to be hospitalized at the same time with heart and respiratory problems), my mother and father had to be moved to a nursing home, which in the United States can cost $10,000 a month…each!

The usual practice below the border is that once placed in a nursing home, the elderly run through their money quickly, voluminous forms are filled out, and they go on Medicaid.  They lose the ability to pass down money, homes, etc. to their family.  I remember a horrible moment in a nursing home room in upstate New York with my parents and their elder care attorney when after learning what the nursing home would cost and what Medicaid would eventually take, my mother looked me in the eye and said, “You would have been better off if we had died.”  Sadly, if my parents had faced up to age and been better informed, this might have been avoided.

Firstly, colon cancer – if Mom had gone for regular checkups, the polyp that turned cancerous could have been removed, but my mother was too frightened to go to the doctor.  Secondly, if my parents had kept up with their taxes and if they had gotten financial advice when they were in their sixties or seventies, they could have made provisions to protect their family estate so that they wouldn’t go through the pain of watching the government take their home and all their savings.  We, their children and grandchildren, might have had more time to focus on their care then spending hours on the phone trying to settle matters and not fight with one another about the best way to deal with all the issues that we had to face. 

It is very difficult for all of us to face old age and death.  We don’t like to talk about it and we don’t like to think about it.  As I get older, I can understand how difficult it might be to talk with my children about these matters, let alone trust them with my finances, but if we love our children, this is precisely what we must do.

If you are in your sixties or seventies, I urge you to take a deep breath and make plans for illness and incapacitation so that things work smoothly for your children and so that they can take care of you instead of taking care of your money.  It’s the kindest thing that you can do for them and they will praise you for it, and you will keep your children from the kind of battles that might keep them from talking to each other for years. On the other hand, if you’ve done this already, kudos to you…go play with your grandchildren.

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Who Can I Blame?

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 2:56 p.m.

The good news is that Bangladesh has lifted its two-week ban on Facebook.  The bad news is that nine activists died in a flotilla carrying humanitarian supplies for the citizens of Gaza.  The good news is that, five days later, when the Israeli army boarded the Rachel Corrie ship, no one was hurt.  The bad news is that the Egyptian Supreme Court has upheld a law stripping citizenship from any Egyptian man married to an Israeli woman and there are approximately 30,000 Egyptian men who are married to women with Israeli citizenship as during the Iraq war, Egyptians found work in Israel and subsequently married women of that country.

The bad news from the Middle East keeps getting worse and the good news is so mild in comparison, so scant, that even a cautious optimist like me has to throw up her hands and try not to read too much news on the Internet.  There is so much conjecture and hot air fuming out of my TV and computer these days that I can scarcely breathe in my home.  I would like to throw a verbal temper tantrum but I would only be adding to the pundit global warming that is going on these days.

The Middle East isn’t the only problem: go south of the border, very south of the border to the oil-drenched shores of Louisiana.  The good news/bad news rollercoaster there is not buying friends for the folks at BP or for President Obama.  One day, capping the leak with mud failed.  A few days later, we hear that the containment cap placed on the gusher trapped about 1.67 million litres of oil…but the oil is still coming out.

I like a scapegoat as much as the next guy but if you’re going to pick between Mr. Obama and BP Chairman Tom “I’d like to get my life back” Hayward, I know which one I would choose to throw the rotten tomato at.  How he could fit a very big foot like that in his mouth is a question for physics.  When you think how many men died on that rig, how many livelihoods may be ruined by this disaster, it is hard to pity Hayward for losing quality time at the ski hill or golf course when so much of the Gulf of Mexico is likely to suffer damage that, some experts are saying, will not be fixed in our lifetime.  Perhaps this is a pessimistic assessment. The damage to fish stocks, animal and plant life may be understood better next year at this time, but right now, it’s looking very bad. Blaming Hayward may feel good, but what does it accomplish?

With all this bad news, the world desperately craves someone to blame, so making scapegoats of Obama, Hayward, the Israeli people, (instead of the Israeli government) seems to be a simple reaction to complex technical and political problems.  This is where we all get into trouble. 

There is no question that we need to hold guilty parties accountable for their actions and that measures have to be taken to provide equitable solutions to people who are suffering, whether it’s the people of Gaza who are living in an economic hell, the Israeli people who never know when a rocket will be lobbed on them, the widows and families of the men who were killed on that BP oil rig, and the people who make their living from the waters that still have gallons of oil gushing into them.

Regulatory agencies that are supposed to ensure the safety of offshore drilling need to do their jobs instead of kowtowing to the oil industry.  Politicians need to stop posturing and start negotiating in an atmosphere of mutual respect and a willingness to protect human life and the dignity of human life.  Until people do their jobs right, this planet and its inhabitants remain in a perilous state, and no amount of pointed fingers will change that.

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A Cry for Civility

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 6:10 p.m.

As of last week, Facebook has been banned in Pakistan.  While this is a blow to freedom of speech, it is also a perfect example of how a world made small by technology is open to culture clashes that can eventually cost people their lives.

The ban is a reaction to a Facebook page entitled, “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day,” that encouraged people to draw Mohammed on May 20th.  Graphic representations of the prophet are strictly forbidden in Islam, so you might wonder why anyone except a drunken college student would come up with that so-called bright idea. When it comes to religion knee-jerk responses are so easy to snuggle up to, and this was yet another knee-jerk response made in protest of fundamentalist Islamic groups who threatened the producers of the cartoon, South Park, for depicting Mohammed in a bear suit costume.  You may ask yourself if someone else will up the ante with another over- the-top response.  You bet!  Holland has a popular anti-Islam party which according to the Associated Press is one of the fastest growing political parties in that country, and what’s the response to that?  Associated Press reports that, “ …an alleged al-Qaida militant detained in Iraq said he had talked to friends about attacking Danish and Dutch teams at the World Cup in South Africa next month.”  And so it goes…

I blame all this on the loss of a value and a word that is old-fashioned, civility which is a stately way of describing the act of being polite.  Civility on television, radio and the Internet has gone right out the window.  American talk radio is certainly inflammatory which may attract listeners but does more to harm public discourse than anything I can think of.  People interrupt one another without hesitation, and trading insults is the main agenda for all parties.  Call Obama a Communist, a Fascist, Adolf Hitler reincarnated and you will probably attract listeners but as far as engaging in serious political analysis, forget it.  Talk radio sounds like a bunch of bullies participating in mindless name calling.

Civility has been replaced by shock.  Insulting major religious figures may be amusing to adolescents and adults who can’t quite climb out of adolescence but in the end, it has needlessly increased tensions between East and West among factions that are just crying out for a reason to up the ante, and this is all done in the name of profit.  The producers of South Park have to satisfy the appetites of fans who crave that kind of material and this need supersedes any form of common sense.  It’s all about entertainment and entertainment is all about money.

I am not advocating surrendering our freedoms because we are threatened by people for using them.  Art will always call into question our most sacred values and the conflict will always exist between freedom of expression and religious expression.  Yet even the makers of South Park would be loath to call what they do art.

If people are going to wave the freedom of expression flag, then let’s hope that it is waved every now and then with some seriousness, and for a purpose that is just a few notches higher than entertainment with shock value.  If as much effort was put into finding common ground between East and West as in finding fault with another, we might make some headway, and that can only happen if people actually start to listen to one another respectfully.

Maybe civility is as old fashioned as costumes in a Jane Austen movie but without it, we’re all just a bunch of mindless louts shouting at one another and getting nowhere fast.

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Mom-less on Mother's Day

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 5:27 p.m.
A funny thing happened on the Saturday before Mother’s Day. I was upstairs working on the computer when the doorbell rang; my husband answered the door, and within seconds I heard my son’s voice which was strange because my son works in Ottawa. I came downstairs and there was both my son and daughter. My daughter ran up the stairs from our entrance and yelled, “Surprise,” extending a bouquet of daisies. I burst into tears and hugged them both.

They came at a great time. This was my second Mother’s Day since my own mother, Lynne, passed away. I think it was worse than the first one. Seeing my own children was a wonderful consolation after the weeks of Mother’s Day advertisements that depressed the heck out of me.
Mother’s Day was a big deal for my mother – heaven help the child that forgot it. In later years, emails and FTD florists took the worry out of realizing three days before that Mother’s Day was coming. A credit card and a phone call would send a new plant or bouquet of flowers my mother’s way and she always appreciated it. Every year, she told me that I shouldn’t have, but I knew that if I didn’t send something, I’d never hear the end of it. That was one of my mother’s endearing quirks; she simply wanted her children and grandchildren to pay attention to her and to express their love in one way or another. It took me a long time to understand it.
It also took many years to establish a non-combative relationship with my mother. She had a very vivid personality, so vivid that it’s hard to believe that she’s gone. My mother was the life of any party, she water skied and spent the summer in a bathing suit when all the other kids’ mothers were playing cards and she had the richest, most beautiful singing voice. Though I inherited her love of music, I didn’t get that voice, only a shadow of it.

Over time, I find that I’m taking on many of her characteristics. When my father tells another of his improbable stories, I can hear my mother’s voice saying, “Sonny, you know that didn’t happen.” I can feel my face take on my mother’s expression, the rolling of the eyes. It’s all that I can do not to say, “Dad, you know that didn’t happen,” but my father is ninety-one years old. His stories are overwhelmingly exciting. When I hinted to the nursing home staff that they were also untrue, I could see their faces begin to fall. I had to catch myself. He’s ninety-one and he’s entitled to an audience.

Coming from a home with two gregarious and charming parents was not easy. Everyone seemed to compete for attention and believe me, there’s still a fair bit of emotional baggage that my parents’ children and grandchildren are dealing with. Yet my mother was absolutely right when she said over and over again that I would miss her when she was gone. Of course, I miss her. Two years on, I’m still surprised to come home from work and not have a message on my answering machine with her usual, “Hello, it’s your mother. I’ll talk to you,” followed by the click of the phone hanging up. I miss my mother terribly.

It only makes sense that when my children surprised me on Saturday, I was thrilled to see them. They reminded me of the role that I have to play and I try to never ever say that they will miss me when I’m gone, because of course they will. Our bond is bigger than our disagreements.
I imagine that this isn’t going to get easier as the years go on. It is a pain that I will get used to every Mother’s Day, and there are some of you out there who have lived with this for years; you know this pain better than I. About six months, before my mother passed away, I thanked her for the wonderful life that she gave me; I’m so glad that I did.

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The Doctor is Back

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 11:48 a.m.
A new season of Dr. Who started on the Space channel last week, and it makes me happy to see the Time Lord back even though the latest incarnation is so young looking that it makes it difficult to believe that he is thousands of years old and wise in all things. Still, I am willing to cut the new and baby-faced Doctor a lot of slack because I’ve been following Doctor Who for a long time.

I first “met” Dr. Who in Hedon-on-Hull, England in 1979 when I was twenty-four and about to begin my great adventure of crossing Europe. My husband and I had only been married for two years, but we worked and saved money for a European trip. Just before we left, we bought forty acres with friends of ours in the Eastern Townships with the hope that we might live there some day.

During a three-month stay at a long-suffering friend’s house (and I subsequently named my first child after this kind friend), I discovered the joys of British television and there were two very different shows that particularly struck my fancy: Dr. Who and All Creatures Great and Small. Both shows do share one thing in common; they tell stories that take you “somewhere else.” This is obvious with Dr. Who as the stories leap back and forward in time. All Creatures takes place between the 1930s and 1950s in a gentler world where people were more or less polite to one another and courageously struggled to get by on very little. Mrs. Hall, the vets’ housekeeper, would have been outraged at the loose morals and wastefulness of today’s throwaway society.

I am still amazed at how many story lines the Dr. Who script writers can come up with, particularly with villains who look like Hoover vacuum cleaners turned right side-up, the Darliks, and whose main line in every script is “Exterminate. Exterminate.” Since they can only say this in a monotone voice, forgetful and tone-deaf people everywhere would have no trouble with a sing-along-with-the-Darliks album which no doubt would be called, you guessed it, Exterminate.

As actors are prone to coming and going and not wanting to waste their precious talents on being stuck in a childish science fiction show like Dr. Who, the writers came up with the ingenious idea that if Dr. Who was about to die, he would morph into a new person who would continue in the battle to save the universe from evil-doers and megalomaniac robots who also seem to share his abilities to go back and forth in time thus explaining, for example, why aliens might be attacking Earth in the nineteenth century.
The first Doctor Who that I watched in the 1970s was the inimitable Tom Baker who wore a ridiculously long striped wool scarf and was followed by his female companion Ramana and his trusty robot dog, K-9. His huge eyes could say volumes. Peter Davidson, the actor who played Tristan on All Creatures Great and Small, soon followed Baker; my young son and I watched him together and dubbed him the Tristan-Doctor. Until the present actor, Matt Smith took the part, Davidson was the youngest actor to be cast as the Doctor.

Each actor who has played Dr. Who coincides with a different point in my life and every time that a new one takes the part, I am convinced that he just won’t do. I felt exactly that way when David Tennant took over for Christopher Eccleston who quit Dr. Who after only one season, but over the five years that Tennant played the part, I warmed up to him because he was nuts, plain and simple.

The main prerequisite for playing the part is the ability to portray a brilliant maniac which Tennant did so very well. If an actor can do that, and if the writers can keep spinning impossible stories, the die-hard fans like me will watch and keep watching for years to come.

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The Zen of Taking and Sharing Photos

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 12:01 p.m. in , , , , , ,

On Easter Sunday, before going out for dinner at a friend’s house, my husband and I went down to the Old Port in Montreal and I did something that I’ve always wanted to do.  It may sound crazy but I’ll let you in on the secret: I spent an hour taking photos of the large silos that are on the Highway 15 as you come into Montreal on University St.

Remember how beautiful and warm it was on Easter Weekend? On that day in Montreal, the sun was warm, the sky was a bright blue and there were very photogenic puffy white clouds in the sky.  I even took a few shots through the car window with my Blackberry, uploaded them to Facebook as we were driving down the Eastern Townships Auto route and within minutes, my friends in San Francisco could see the snow on the ski hill in Bromont…and one commented that she liked the shot!

The speed of the technology that we live with still amazes me.  In fact, I’ve just seen a Skype phone advertised. If you can catch broadband wireless, you can have a videophone conversation with someone anywhere in the world on a small phone.  If we had flying cars, we’d be the Jetsons!

The park at the Old Port was crowded with people going for walks and riding their bicycles, but as soon as my husband and I crossed the bridge to the silos, we were truly in a no man’s land.  I know this because a Montreal Amphibus bus went by on its way to the water and the tour guide explained that only drunks and homeless people hang around here.  We did get a lot of strange looks so I played my part and waved to the tourists in hopes that they would return home and tell their friends that Montreal drunks and homeless people are very friendly.

Today’s digital SLR cameras allow you to shoot in different formats and I’m just learning to understand a few.  Most people are familiar with JPEG photos.  This is a compressed format that allows you to send photos in small sizes that make it easy to email, for example.  Another format that is much bigger in size is called RAW.  The advantage with RAW is that the data in the photo is saved in an unprocessed format.  You can manipulate your photos in a program like Photoshop or Aperture (that’s the program that I bought with my Mac; I’ve tried to use Photoshop and I think you need a one year course to understand the program). With these programs, you can fix problems with colour and exposure without degrading the quality of the original digital file.

Because I’m a hobbyist and not a professional, I am sometimes very happy to make a few corrections on a copy of the photo in iPhoto and then either have them professionally printed or just upload them to Facebook to share with my friends.  You can get great snapshots with JPEGs.  All the photos that I have taken on my travels have been done in JPEG and though some of my old film photos may have been slightly sharper, I get many more all-around, better quality photos shooting with a digital camera.

iPhoto makes it very easy to upload photos to Facebook.  You just highlight the photos that you want and click on the Facebook button on the bottom right hand corner of the screen. That’s all you do! I just discovered that the photos don’t even have to be next to one another to select them– you simply hold down the command key and click on the photos that you want to select.

The fun of taking photos is not only the finished product; shooting pictures forces you to really look at what’s around you. You have to focus your mind as well as your camera and on a beautiful day, that’s not hard to do.

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