Monday, August 29, 2005


These days the news is better. Better because finally the real truth of the matter is being revealed to the public. Unearthed little by little. We are finally being told what kind of secret documents and false information led to the disaster of war. There were no weapons of mass destruction cached in Iraq. There were no uranium deals. There were no direct terrorist connections. Suspicions were embroidered into fact.

And so now, with this truth finally bubbling to the surface, my spirit of optimism starts to return. I feel better when I watch the news and find that what so many of us have suspected for so long is really the truth of the matter. But that is small comfort because better news is not what life is really about. Life is about real people.

And even sadder than innocent people being killed by bombs or weapons or bullets of a pre-emptive war, is the business of innocent people being killed by lies. No death is more obscene, no death more needless, no death more tragic.

Friday, August 26, 2005


Today’s blog was written two weeks ago. It is a personal and rather intimate blog written to console myself and members of my own family. But it would seem an indignity if these reflections were not honored by putting them in safekeeping for all time rather than in the bottom of a chest or drawer. So for safekeeping, I have chosen the Web.

Today is a sad day. Our family has lost a family member. Last night Youngest Daughter’s (YD’s) loving, loyal, and ever-faithful little dog passed away. The little dog that she and her fiancee, now husband, got when they were still students, some 10 or 12 years ago. Viscount has been an integral part of their (and our) family, ever since.

Viscount was a little dog who reveled in inclusion. He didn’t normally jump up on chairs but when we gathered around the table on holidays or a Sunday afternoon, if there was a vacant chair at the table, Viscount would jump up on it and sit there upright, paying the boldest attention. It seemed important to him to be included. To participate in the laughter and discussion at eye level with the rest of us. And I do believe that more than once, I saw a dog grin when someone delivered a comic line.

How many human phrases Viscount knew, I can’t be too sure. But I know it was far more than even we suspected. But they say a dog is capable of learning no more than fifty phrases, and so when YD took Viscount to Dog-Training school, we were not surprised that he was disinterested.

He was so disinterested that after the first class YD kept him at home. As for his disinterest, we simply concluded that Dog School did not pan out because his storage of understood phrases was well beyond his max. I am convinced that Viscount had a greater vocabulary of abstract words like "funny", "love", "sharing", and "special" then he did of "sit", "ball", "frizbee", or "fetch". The latter words understood, but the former phrases the type that occupied his mind. And during family discourses, when conversation waned, Viscount jumped down from his chair and demonstrated his affection for us all by doing "funny" and "special" performances for our amusement.

One of Viscount’s performances was rolling on his back or side and then thumbing his tail loudly on the floor. But depending on the floors at various of our homes, he thumped the longest and had the most fun, when it was a floor that resonated loudly and when he had an audience that enjoyed his performance as much as he enjoyed doing it. Carpeted floors were a dismal disappointment, but my kitchen floor was a favorite. It always responded with a very loud "Thump, thump, thumpity, thump." And when we were sure he was thumping his tail as hard and loud as he could, we would say, "Viscount, are you thumping?" And Viscount would look at us with laughing eyes and thump his tail even louder.

Viscount was a little Sheltie dog. But among dog members in our family we have basset hounds as well. So whenever we got together the dogs would romp about together. Then one day, YD and her Hub took Viscount to a Dog Walk-a-thon. For the most part, Viscount strutted along in stride with a slackened leash. But every once in a while he would pull with determination on the leash, oblivious to YD’s objections. YD soon noticed that he only acted that way when he spotted a basset hound in that sea of jogging dogs. So we knew Viscount didn't just identify his own family though the canine ritual of latter-end-smell, he identified them through a sophisticated observance of how they looked from the front – the special beauty he saw in the faces of valued kin. The beauty and familiarity of basset faces with their long ears, sad eyes, and saggy faces. He identified the bassets from a distance and was certain that each one he saw was a friend he knew and loved.

Viscount was convinced he could climb trees. Every time he spotted a sassy squirrel in a tree, he made a heroic effort to climb the tree and often surprised those squirrels by climbing higher than a dog should be able to climb.

Now in the past few years, our family has morned the loss of our dog-father basset, and now our dear beloved Viscount. And when things like this happen, we find we always come back to the same old thoughts about whether or not dogs have souls or a place in Paradise. I have two reasons for believing with unshakable security in dog heaven.

Number one. There is none in this world more charitable, more caring, more dedicated, more honorable, more true, or more deserving of heaven.

And Number two. God has told us that he sees every little bird that falls and if that is so, I know he is watching with love over every little doggie as well.

God bless you, Dear Viscount. Thank you for bringing us much joy while you were here. We will remember you always. I pray your paradise will have chatty squirrels aloft in trees you can climb, basset friends, a vacant chair at the table, and a sound-enhancing board floor for you to thump your tail on.

Monday, August 22, 2005


My kids are grown up now but I remember what it was like to have toddlers and teenagers around. Nothing was safe. The scissors were always missing, the tweezers as well. The new roll of packaging tape was safely in the drawer so I would have some when I needed some. But then when that day came, I would pull open the drawer with happy confidence and comfort that I had a full roll of tape and what did I find? Nothing except a cardboard roll without even a scrap of tape left. Scotch tape, glue sticks, felt pens, writing paper, envelopes all depleted – fully depleted.

In frustration I was forced to rip and reverse envelopes that bills were sent in, in order to have an envelope to mail a get-well note to Aunt Martha. When I lit up the barbecue to cook chicken, I would find the tin foil depleted and even the foil pie plates spirited away for some kind of child craft. And if I went to the bathroom to clean my ears, the Q-tips were all gone. Looking for a cotton swab or a band-aid? Forget it. Cotton balls gone – all glued to the collection of child art stuck to the fridge. Band-aids gone as well. Stuck on Teddy bears, china dolls, Barbie’s blisters, Ken’s sprained wrist, or G.I. Joe’s war wounds. That’s how life went on. Nothing was sacred. Nothing.

So one would think that now that I am retired and the kids are gone some things could remain safe from villains. But no way.

Now out back of the house is a large wooded area with a network of hiking trails. I decided to use these trails for a little fitness workout each morning. I thought I should set a benchmark of 20 laps per day. That would equal a distance of approximately 2 ½ miles. So last Friday was day one.

Now, initially I tracked my laps by counting off each time I passed the big spruce tree but I found the counting took too much concentration for me to revel over other things. To stop and watch squirrels, pick berries, admire foliage, flip stones, and examine unusual toadstools, insects, or fungus. Or even, to pay proper attention in case there were other things sneaking up on me. Bears, porcupines, or coyotes. So in thinking about how I could keep track in an easier way, I happened to notice a large white mushroom that had a dip in the middle creating a bowl-shape.

‘How perfect,’ I thought. ‘I will pocket a few red berries – cranberries or dewberries and each time I pass that mushroom on the side of the trail I will toss another berry in the mushroom cup.’ Now my mind was free to absorb everything around me without losing track of how many laps I had walked and how many more I needed to do to complete my routine. My make-shift pedometer worked perfectly and when I counted 20 red berries in the mushroom, I headed to the house satisfied that I had completed my goal.

Now it just so happened the next evening the kids came home for a visit. And after supper, all of us decided it would be a beautiful evening to enjoy a long stroll through the woods. Something we often do during the warm days of summer. We hadn’t hiked far when Hub who was at the tail end of the group yelled out.

"Wait up. Wait up, you guys. You won’t believe what I found. I found a magical mushroom berry collector."

All gathered around in awe and wonderment to examine the mushroom he was holding with its collection of various colored red berries. I didn’t want to rain on their parade. I didn’t want to crush the wonderment of the moment. All were in such awe. And truly, you all know that moments of joyful ecstasy are the best gifts in life, but next to that is the sense of rapture that one feels when they encounter a miraculous thing. So with this consideration in mind, I never said a word.

Not until now. And what I want to say right now is "Is nothing sacred? Can’t I even have a pedometer without someone smashing it, stealing it or losing it?"

Anyway, I remained silent about the magical berry collector. I’ll just wait for the day, and it will be soon, I know that for a certainty, that Hub starts out telling someone the story about the magic-berry-collecting-mushroom he found in the woods. And then I’ll just blink with astonishment the way they all did when Hub ripped it up and showed it to them and say, "Hub, you’re nuts. You never showed me no such thing." (That will be my revenge for not leaving "my stuff" alone!)

Saturday, August 20, 2005


Alright, you bunch. Cough them up. I want to know where they are.

What am I talking about? I’m talking about a rapidly fading memory of sweet, tender, green cabbage, with a gentle rather than pungent aroma, that you could sauté in butter, drizzle with heavy cream, a good shot of fresh ground pepper and then lap it up. Cabbage that was green when you bought it and after cooking still held a luster of that lovely pastel green.

I couldn’t help but be excited today when I made the dreaded trip to town. Everyone was talking about the fresh cabbages that had just come in at the local grocery store. At last, I thought, a real cabbage. A summer cabbage. A green, tender, freshly picked cabbage. You could understand my excitement if you knew how sick I am of what they call ‘winter cabbages’ with leaves as thick as an overshoe, as tough as an overshoe, emanating an odor similar to an overshoe. The only way to rid winter cabbage of its toughness is to cook it until it is total mush. Sautéing winter cabbage is totally out of the question.

So I raced into the store and examined the fresh cabbages in the bin. They were much, much bigger than I thought they would be. They were whiter, less green, than I thought they would be. But nevertheless, I bought three of them all the while thinking about gently-sautéed sweet tender cabbage coated with fresh cream and seasoned with salt and freshly-ground pepper.

Now I have a thing about cabbages. I don’t grow them in my own garden because of the worms. As soon as you see little powder-blue butterflies flitting about you know they are laying eggs that will quickly turn into disgusting cabbage worms. The solution for many in this area is to regularly shake generous plumes of insecticide powder on the cabbages while they are growing.

Now you know how a cabbage forms. One layer tightly compressed against the next. Doesn’t that mean that as each layer of that cabbage tightly forms around the previous that there is an awful lot of insecticide powder trapped in between those layers? When I see the neighbors in the cabbage patch I can’t help but think that I would much prefer a cabbage grown inside old pantyhose (another less common method of preventing the butterflies from laying eggs on the plants). I’ve never tried this method but many say it works perfectly. Others feel different however. One of the neighbors who loves cabbage soup said he’d swear off cabbage for life if he ever saw it growing inside his wife’s panty hose.

Anyway when I came home from the dreaded trip to town, I had three fresh cabbages, origin unknown, but highly suspect that there was a goodly amount of insecticide trapped in those compact heads. So I coarsely chopped the cabbage and washed it thoroughly in a colander. I found a worm. Only one, mind you. But it was comforting in a small way to find one. If perchance I missed one, but I’m damn sure I didn’t, I think I would rather eat a worm than four or five ounces of toxic insecticide. But with my trusty bifocals on, and my reading glasses overtop, that was one gigantic worm that I could readily see. But I guess I know why there was only one insectia in those three monster cabbages – the cabbage had no green coloring, no sweet smell, every leaf was as thick as leather, as tough as leather, etc. etc.

Friday, August 12, 2005


I’ve been thinking about something for a very long time and at the risk of ruffling a few feathers I think it should be discussed.

You all know what the new child-rearing persuasion is – some refer to it as ‘avoidance discipline’. No whacks with the wooden spoon. Just artful distraction or time out. But where is it leading? What are the long-term effects?

Now you know gentle persuasion or diversion or time out requires heavy demands and concentration on the part of parents. Especially parents with large families of children. But, if it works for you, that is great. For others, however, in their attempt to work out all the psychology behind it, the kids have surpassed the parents. Surpassed them enough to know that they can push buttons without fear of consequences. And in these situations, parents become so frustrated they start to mutter "I can’t wait till this child starts school and is out of my hair" or "What made me think I ever wanted children?"

But what is kindling in the mind at a deeper level is an unhealthy contempt between child and parent that is so-o-o not good. And it grows, smoldering underground. Destroying the relationships between children and parents until there are only charred remains of what once was, despite the purist of intentions. And eventually, though residing in the same household, parents and child withdraw into themselves. Preferring to avoid interaction with each other. "Avoiding problem-causing situations", as the experts would say.

This, of course, is only my personal theory but I do wonder why I see so few kids in shopping malls with their parents, or in vehicles with their parents, or even in parks and playgrounds with their parents. Have birth rates plummeted that much, or have parents found that these kinds of excursions are too much of a trial so the kids are at home with a sitter? Or are these excursions economized in order to increase their value as rewards for good behavior? Or is it because the gentle consequences of today’s disciplinary philosophy have insidiously bred little heathens that are out of control? Too out of control for parents to find any joy in sharing time with them beyond what is required. How many parents cringe with dismay when school is let out for the summer rather than counting off the days when they and their kids can work and play and laugh together?

And nothing is more disconcerting to me than the idea of rewarding ‘good behavior’ with as one expert suggested, "a trip to the park". Taking the kids to the park should be a spontaneous thing that is as rewarding to the taker as the receiver. And it is, if one truly enjoys the companionship of their children and the joy of seeing them have a good time.

Now, on the other hand, some of us were raised in the old school when parents knew they could count on their children to behave and mind their manners. Things learned through a quick and smarting reaction after two warnings. The physical hurt was short lived. The emotional hurt lasted a bit longer but not near as long as a household poisoned by children’s longing to be away from frustrated parents and frustrated parents’ desire to be free from the aggravation of annoying kids.

Do you understand what I am saying? The experts think that violence breeds violence. But if it is true, that violence breeds violence, then tell me, does a constant aura of contempt, disappointment, frustration, suppressed anger, over many weeks and months and years of raising and nurturing an active, curious, normal, yet all-too-often manipulating child create a healthy climate? Or will such a climate of unexpressed resentment cause that child to grow up feeling isolated, sad, pessimistic, and emotionally deficient? So artful at repressing their feelings that they never really know who they are?

Our initial mandate was very good. Where any kind of child abuse exists, it has to be stopped. And with this I heartily agree. But now I see children, nasty children through no fault of their own, being neglected in physical and emotional ways by not only parents, but neighbors and peers.

The new methods of disciplining of children are as challenging as a chess match. And for those without the ability to puzzle over each and every move, avoidance discipline becomes a dance of avoidance. Yes, these kids are still fed and clothed and kept from physical harm, but emotionally they have been abandoned.


Parenting is really a delicate balancing act. Consider this. Too much determination can become stubbornness. Too much ambition can become selfishness. Too much assertiveness can become aggressiveness. Too much self-reliance can negate any understanding of team spirit. Too much conciliation can become indecisiveness. And too much self-esteem can become arrogance.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005


Some days, and today is one of them, I pine for the large chunk of my life I wasted on what adults ensured me were things of ultimate importance when I was a kid. They swore I would need this stuff, that it would be valuable, that it could be recycled for useful purposes throughout my lifetime. But that was such a bunch of crap.

So I gave them so much time from the limited period of my youth. I am particularly chagrined about the time I dedicated to learning shorthand. Believe me nothing, not even a second language, is as difficult to learn as shorthand. It took the strictest dedication and perseverance. And to what purpose? Everyone promised me it was good and necessary. But I never used it and obviously never will.

And French. Three years of that study in order to be able to graduate from school. Too little time to learn French but at the same time a pursuit that extracted way too much time from my youth. And when I finally visited Montreal after more than twenty years, I found I couldn’t even figure out how to ask for a cup of coffee.

And then there was math. We had to be able to do the math. Algebra, cosines, multiplication, division. That was a big chunk out of my youth as well. And do I use it? Yeh, I use my elementary math. For simple stuff like how many dinner guests do I have so how many plates will I need? But other than that, like everyone else I whip out my calculator if any part of the equation is two digits or more.

And research. How much time I dedicated to research only to find that a few years later it had suddenly become fiction or so irrelevant, there was no practical use for it.

Even English. All that stuff about prepositions, verbs, nouns and pronouns. All that stuff did was make me angry and bitter in later years over those who disregarded the rules. Offended that those rules I so conscientiously tucked away were now altered or no longer mattered. I think I could have learned as much (or more) through reading the classics. But in order to be soundly versed in English grammar, I read my thick, cumbersome, English text twice in Grade nine – from cover to cover. That was time I could have spent reading something applicable to real life on an enduring and long-term basis.

But my Mother and my Father taught me relevant stuff. I guess what today’s society would call "Life skills" although I think there is much of this missing from today’s curriculum. My parents taught me honesty and integrity. How to nurture, care for, and empathize with others. My mother taught me how to care for babies, love God, bake, sew and garden. She taught me about morals and ethics and self-fulfillment. None of it a waste of time. All of it relevant and usable in every stage of life. No refuse here.

But going back to that refuse I learned in school, that I can’t even recycle, the biggest and most concentrated effort in school was good penmanship. Bah. What for? I’ve seen people write twice as fast though each one of the letters is improperly formed – starting at the bottom instead of the top or starting at the left instead of the write.

I mentioned this to MD (middle daughter) while whining about the robbery of great chunks of my youth. For the sake of good penmanship, which at the time seemed to be the be-all and end-all, I spent more time rewriting notes than studying notes. An endeavor that dramatically reduced my absorption of facts. To what purpose? Better marks at the time for 'year's work' but lower marks on exams. But ultimately, nothing practical on a long-term basis. After all, the only thing I write manually now is my own personal grocery list.

But MD insists that good penmanship is not a waste of time. "There is a great sense of worth and dignity that comes with good penmanship," she responded, "and whether you manually write anything or not, that sense stays with you for life." Is she right? I don’t know.

And so now, one final thought. We have become such a sophisticated society. So conscientious of waste and recycling. Our kitchen waste is labeled and sorted, sold, recycled and toxic stuff sealed and packed off to appropriately designated sites. We worry ourselves into a frenzy about sustainability of the purity of forests, trees, and lakes. We stand in our kitchen surveying bins of inanimate debris and constantly ask ourselves, ‘What else can I do with this stuff today to positively affect what happens tomorrow?’

So why, prey tell me, with this level of consciousness about these things, do we dump on our children, during the limited years of their youth, facts and ideologies that assassinate their purity and lap up their time but cannot be reused or recycled. There is no thought given to sorting garbage here. There is no repeated asking of one’s-self ‘What can I do today to positively affect this child’s future?’

When it comes to our children, we may not teach them, but we allow them, even encourage them, to waste great chunks of time lapping up ideologies that are equivalent to toxic and radioactive waste. And we give no thought to worthwhile conservation. Life Skills should have much to do with sustainability of things of importance, but the courses offered in school are sketchy. Nothing in there about empathy, charity, and integrity. Instead, much to-do about money and time management and balancing relationships in a way that glorifies the refuse that has been dumped there. And I’m not talking about English, French, Math, shorthand and penmanship either.

Saturday, August 06, 2005


This summer I am feeling so proud to be Canadian! Awash in a tide of unexpected emotions that I can neither control, understand, or deny. Emotions that make me want to weep and embrace all my fellow-Canadians in an enormous group hug.

No, we did not have another election, and yes, the appointment of a new Governor General has been announced, but that has nothing to do with it.

It’s a feeling that wells up inside of me every time I see Canada’s Snowbirds perform at another air show.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005


Today’s rant is to remind the current generation of something they probably never knew and something I knew but had forgotten. And what they never knew and what I forgot is the value of mystery. I forgot that mystery, though such a simple thing, has a value greater than diamonds, greater than gold. I forgot that mystery is as precious as precious can get.

I think one of the best examples of mystery magic is the success of the Harry Potter books. Now I have never read Harry Potter or even watched one of the Harry Potter movies, but you and I both know that amidst wizardry and magic stones, the real fascination that woos so many Harry Potter fans, is the mysteries embedded in these tales.

Another example of the mysterious powers of mystery is politics (in Canada, anyway). Mystery is the reason why Liberals keep returning to power in every election because, like Harry Potter, they are so mysterious. There is the mystery of phenomenal amounts of missing money, the mystery of a government that promises one thing and delivers another, even the mystery of how they win every election. Mystery works. It’s what people want. Silly conservatives, tell all, withhold nothing, and harbor no mysteries. So you see what happens.

Next, consider Christmas and how much one’s joy is reduced when they have no surprises, no mysterious packages to open. Well likewise, the joy in living is totally wrapped up in mystery. It is this that makes us chase through life with the joy of an adventurer. Wanting to travel, read, love, and learn more about who we are and why we are here.

Likewise, it is not surprising that every good book, every fascinating life, and every successful TV show is well permeated with mystery. Who will win 'Canadian Idol', excel in 'Fear Factor', or survive in 'The Survivor'? And how depressing is it, if someone knows and tells all before the story plays out. Woefully depressing. So what I want to do today is remind those who are so anxious to reveal all, don’t forget about holding back a little fascinating bit of mystery. It is as important in every aspect of life. A bit of mystery is so relevant to the appeal of all things. When all miracles are explained, there are no miracles. And without miracles there is no wonderment.

And if we consider relationships we see the same parallels. What is the most common catalyst in failed relationships? People grow tired of each other very quickly when all the mystery is gone.

And that thought leads me to the young people of today. It is so wrong for us to expect young adolescents to find the same joy in life’s mysteries, after we have given them all knowledge without reservation. After we have ripped opened the mystery box, dissected the contents, and tiresomely discussed every detail of it. Too much information. So much information that like a movie one has already seen, with no mystery left, our young people look for other appeal. This is when they graduate from the ecstatic joy found in first love and the miracle of their own physical and emotional make-up to an alternate fixation. The mystery is gone and so without mystery, many begin to think their disinterest in love and life must arise from gender issues or depression or a physical disorder. It is so unfair that parents and schools insist on tampering with other’s mysteries when mysteries are, like turkey dressing, the stuffing that gives life its wondrous flavor.

Now originally I suggested this was something the current generation never knew and that it was something I had forgotten. And because I had forgotten, I have blogged away, so out there, so unmindful of retaining some mystery, that my readers know as much, and probably far more than they want to know. And when Roberta has shed every speck of mystery about who she is and how she thinks, there is little appeal in the stuff she writes.

Kick me, please.