Monday, March 29, 2010

Oh, my mother!

In response to a previous post, blogging buddy Cheryl suggested I have a look at to find out about my ancestors which I have done. It's rather addicting to say the least. Hours slip by as minutes.

I've managed to add many names to the little squares in my family tree. The one that has had the biggest impact on me to date was my paternal grandfather. His name was Emile. I'd never known that.

My father was born in 1917 and was raised by a single mom and her parents on a farm in northern Ontario. The story goes that grandmother married grandfather against family wishes and within short order, but not before becoming pregnant, she discovered he was a heroin addict and gave him the boot. Admitting defeat and returning to her parents' home must have been difficult for this woman who by all accounts was a force to be reckoned with. She never remarried and my father only met his father when he turned 21. They never formed a relationship, seeing each other only twice before Emile died.

The names of these grandparents were never spoken in our home. They had both died before I came along so I didn't consider not knowing about them to be unusual.

I did, however, miss having grandparents for my mother's parents had also died before I was born.

Being able to put a name to this disgraced grandpa was really something.

I was talking over the phone about this with my mother last night, once more lamenting that somewhere along the way Dad's family tree that he'd had done back in the 70s had been lost.

"Oh, I have that," she said.

Oh, you have those? I've only been asking for them for 29 years! Twenty-nine years. Plus she knows that I'm tracing the family tree now and never offered them up. Mom, geez!

"How many times have I said I wish I had them?" I asked her. "And you know what I'm working on and it never twigged with you  to give them to me?"


That said, it seems one of the trees has been lost as she only has the one from my paternal grandmother's side of the family and both sides had been done. I'll be visiting her at the end of next month and will hunt for the other.

To be fair to Mom, and some days that's harder than others, she is trying much harder with me than she ever has. Over the course of my life with her, she has been so self-absorbed that I can well believe she never once heard me regretting the loss of the missing information. Now in her 80s, we've come to a new stage in our relationship, at my insistence, and I can tell she makes notes when we talk so that she remembers to ask about things in my kids and my lives when we speak. Good for her. Really. It can't be easy to change after eight decades.

So way to go, Mom. I appreciate your effort.

Anyone have any family stories to share?


Friday, March 26, 2010

An Open Letter to Americans

I am begging you to explain your country's fear of universal health care. I do not get this at all.

With the passage of the health-car reform bill in the U.S., it seems the debate is far from over and the crazies are becoming even crazier than before. From Sarah Palin's website that paints cross-hairs over the states that supported the bill to people making threatening phone calls, it all seems surreal.

Even, conservative pundit David Frum was fired from a right-wing think tank for disagreeing with the conservative approach to health-care reform. This is the sort of thing he has said that got him into trouble.

“In a democracy, there are competing teams, and each team has to bring its best game to the table ... health-care reform is here to stay, it isn't going to be repealed, and it was within our grasp to help formulate it and we failed to do so. Instead, we decided to do whatever we could to make Democrats look wicked and evil.”(Today's Globe and Mail)

So he gets fired for being reasonable because that is not the conservative way, apparently.

Why are people so upset about this issue?

The U.S. currently pays more of its GDP for health care than does Canada yet it has worse outcomes. You pay almost twice as much per capita as France, almost 2.5 times as much as Britain. As a matter of fact, the U.S. pays a higher percentage on health care than any other country yet does considerably worse on basic measure of health performance (life expectancy and infant mortality.) As an example, the U.S. has the same infant mortality rates as Malaysia -- a country whose average citizen earns 1/4 that of an average American. Being born into an uninsured household in the U.S. increases the probability of dying before the age of one by about 50 per cent.

It's not that the Canadian system is perfect. It has many flaws. I don't think anyone would disagree with that. I'd like my country to look across the Atlantic to countries like Sweden and France to see how we could improve on ours. But I'd never want to lose what I already have.

Though I am no expert, I have lived with a government-lead system my whole life so I am at least semi-qualified to explain it. Here is the low-down on Canadian health care.

In Canada, no one loses his or her life savings for becoming ill. Our emergency care is second-to-none. If you show up in dire straits and need care, you'll get the best in the world. No one has to approve required tests or procedures. That's between you and your doctor.

If you require palliative care, you get it. If you require a transplant, you go on the list. You don't need to prove that you have $1 million in your bank account to afford the after-care needed before you can go on the list. You get to see your doctor whenever you need to. No one gets to approve or disapprove of your visit. Mammograms, checkups, blood work, etc. It's all covered.

Our health care does not cover prescription drugs however, seniors and those on welfare receive theirs free. Some provinces also have plans for the working poor. Our drugs are cheaper than yours. We can use generic ones which is why American seniors flock to Canada (yes, there are even bus tours for this) to buy their prescriptions.

In Canada, no one tells you which health care provider to see. We choose our own.

It is true that there are caps set on certain government-covered services such as eye exams that are paid for every two years. This doesn't stop anyone from electing to go more frequently. You would just pay out of your own pocket for more regular visits.

Again, no one tells you what you can or can't do.

Like you, we also have privatized coverage. Many employers offer additional coverage to their employees. Costs are often split between employer and employee 50/50. As with your privatized plans, this is where we run into the issue of someone telling us we can't have something because it isn't covered. Still no insurance company can tell us which health-care provider to see.

For anyone who is interested, here is a link to Health Canada. It's not the best website in the world, but it gives you an idea of what is covered.

There are two main downsides to the Canadian system as I can see. The first is cost. Unlike many, I disagree with the statement that we are spending too much. Between 1992 and 2006, spending rose from 10 to 10.3 per cent per capita. That's hardly the spending spiral we've been led to believe.

However, and this leads me to problem #2, we do need to look at better models of health care and avoid looking south of the border when we do. We have to shift our system to one that focuses on prevention and education. Shifting to a community-based model would be wonderful. We all know that if we decrease smoking and obesity, for example, our health outcomes would be better and cost us less. (The same idea as spending money on education decreases spending on prisons.)

So, according to me, the Canadian system needs some creativity applied to improve our delivery and results.

Now it's your turn.

Tell me why the American people are so frightened of having their less-than-stellar system modified? Why are they frightened of taking power away from HMOs and keeping it for themselves? Why don't they want to save a bit of money?

It's time for those of you who want health care reform to get vocal. Write and call your representatives. Make sure that the only voices heard aren't those of the opponents.  

Lucy! You got some 'splaining to do.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

Ann Coulter Uncovered

I promise this is my last post about Ann. I just had to share an epiphany I had this morning about her.

The CBC introduced a piece on the furor (fuhrer?) Coulter is causing in Canada by calling her a performance artist.

Now I get it. I guess I've been a little slow on the uptake. I could not fathom her shtick, how anyone could believe the things she says she believes, how hate-filled one person could be.

But it's performance art. Like that woman who made a dress out of meat.

Just you wait. In a couple of years, she will unveil herself as a left-wing provocateur and dash what is left of the right.



Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Ann Coulter Kicked Out of Ottawa

Well, my, my my.

Ann Coulter was kicked out of Ottawa.

I never would have guessed that it was possible. Not that people would want her gone, but that Canadians, renowned for our apathy, would be so bold.

Here's what happened.

Coulter spoke in London on Monday and the Globe and Mail reported she said things like this:
There are two things gay men can’t do – “get married to each other” (She knew she was in Canada where this is legal, right?) and “throw a baseball without looking like a girl.” (I wonder how girls who play ball feel about this one?)

And that she thinks feminists, gays and illegal aliens all want to be black as they complain their rights are being attacked in the same way the rights of African-Americans once were.

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, she had joked that Muslims denied air travel should take “flying carpets.” When the student challenged that remark, Ms. Coulter told her to take a “camel,” adding that, “I thought it was just American public schools that produced ignorant people.” 

When she showed up at the U of Ottawa yesterday, there was a very boisterous crowd demonstrating against her. She cancelled her speech when organizers decided it wasn't safe for her to speak.

Not safe to speak in Ottawa?

Anyone who knows Ottawa would find that comical. (Right, Becca?)

Her response?

“It's at the absolute bush league, bottom of the barrel schools that you get the worst treatment and yet and still I've never seen this before,” she said.“I'm guessing the scores to get into the University of Ottawa are not very challenging.”

According to the daily newspaper:

Riding a wave of controversy over her speaking tour of Canada, Ms. Coulter told CTV news earlier yesterday that she’s being treated unfairly here because she’s conservative.

No, Ann. You're being treated this way because you are a bigot. There are lots of conservatives who could speak freely. I am happy to report you aren't considered to be of their standard.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A rant about your fave and mine: Ann Coulter

I usually have a rule about ignoring the ravings of the insane, but today I am making an exception.

You see, Ann Coulter is appearing on my home turf for a series of speaking engagements this week.

Why, Canada, why?

I believe in a fair and intelligent exchange of ideas. I believe that people who disagree with me should be heard. I also believe that Ann Coulter does not contribute to the former and is too headline hungry to represent the latter.

At $10,000 per engagement, our universities could have selected a better speaker to represent conservative views. What about Meghan McCain, for example?

Do we have to give a platform to every nut out there to ensure freedom of expression? Sure, you may be saying, but who will make that decision?

Given that the provost of Ottawa U, where Coulter is appearing tonight, felt the need to write a letter to encourage Coulter to brush up on Canada's free speech laws, I suspect this one speaker might have been an easy call.

According to today's Globe and Mail:
"After mentioning the Charter of Rights and Canada's free speech laws, Mr. Houle invited Coulter to 'educate yourself, if need be, as to what is acceptable in Canada” and noted, by example, that “promoting hatred against any identifiable group would not only be considered inappropriate, but could in fact lead to criminal charges'"
This apparently led Coulter to email (a conservative online news site) that “The provost of the u. of Ottawa is threatening to criminally prosecute me for my speech there on Monday – before I've even set foot in the country!”

Coulter is known, at least in my country, for saying Canada is: “"lucky we allow them to exist on the same continent' after the Canadian government refused to join the 2003 invasion of Iraq." (G&M)

The Globe also prints two other Coulter bons mots:

 '“not all Muslims may be terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims,'


'the government should be spying on all Arabs, engaging in torture as a televised spectator sport, dropping daisy cutters wantonly throughout the Middle East, and sending liberals to Guantanamo.'"

Aside from the obvious inaccuracy of the first statement, in Canada, both could be interpreted as propagating hate, which is against the law.

I wonder if the guy who flew his plane into a federal building a few weeks ago would even stand a chance at not being labeled a terrorist if he was Arabic or Muslim.

C'mon Ann. I know you like to stir the pot, but would a bit of accuracy hurt now and again?

And to Canadian Universities: yes, we must promote discussion. Is this our best attempt to do so?


Friday, March 19, 2010

Uncovering roots

I've been watching Lisa Kudrow's new show Who Do You Think You Are? with fascination. There is something about tracing family roots that I find compelling. I think it has something to do with finding a sense of history, of continuation. A sense of home.

I imagine this is because of my feelings about my own impermanence.

It may have something to do with the fact that my family moved every few years as I was growing up. It may also have to do with my own loss of family when I was five and again when I was 12.

My older siblings and my younger sister and I do not share the same mother. Our lives have been completely different from each other. The oldest three were raised French-speaking and Catholic. My sister and I were raised English speaking and atheist. They were poor. We were middle class. They didn't have a father around because we had him.

Before I was born, the three of them came to live with us. It had to have been a strained situation for them, to say the least. My mother was the Jezebel who had stolen their father away, or so they had been raised to believe.

They lived with us after I was born and for the first five years of my life. At least the boys did. My older sister had gone back to live with her mother sometime during that period. Exactly when, I am not sure. I have no recollection of her although she was the one who picked my middle name.

My older brother was the next to leave for work and then marriage.

It was my other brother, Gilbert, whom I idolized.He was the middle kid of the first family. Born with a club foot, he spent years in and out of Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto. Back then, there were no accommodations for parents to stay near their children so his mother couldn't visit. Although Mom and Dad went to see him, it wouldn't have been the same as things are today for hospitalized kids. He must have been so alone. He was the one who struggled the most in school. He was the kid who grew to love my mom. That couldn't have been easy for him either.

While most little girls go through a phase when they want to marry their fathers, I wanted to grow up and marry Gil.

When I was about four, he bought me a white bathrobe. It had three-quarter length sleeves with layer upon layer of white lace from the elbows down capped by a single band of red velvet. The belt was a piece of red velvet ribbon. It made me feel like I was a fairy princess.

When I was three or four at dinnertime, Gil noticed that I was fiddling with my peas. I hated them and he knew I did. He also knew that if I didn't eat them, I might be at the table for a long time. He promised that if I ate them all, he would take me on his ship. I wolfed them down and he was true to his word. When the day come for my parents to take me on board, I was excited and hopped around his cabin waiting for his shift to end. After some time, a tall black man entered and laughed when I didn't recognize him.He showered and there he was, my big brother. While I pictured him as a captain, he worked in the engine room shovelling coal.

When I was five, my older siblings had a disagreement with our father and vanished from our lives. In a second, they were gone. I didn't know why. I don't know if I ever asked.

I was, at some point, instructed not to talk about them. In grade two, when the class was given an assignment to write a story entitled All About Me, I began by listing the names of my siblings. My mother made me erase it and start again leaving them out. She said that other people won't understand divorce or step-families.

It was a few years before I saw them again. Contact was first made with my oldest brother. Some time later, as we were en route to our new home in northern Quebec, we stopped in northern Ontario to see my sister. She pleaded with us to call Gil. My father acquiesed but when Gil asked us to visit him, my father refused.

It was the last time we spoke with him.

He killed himself the next year. His funeral was on September 4, 1971, my twelfth birthday.

I remember people saying how awful he looked in his casket. That his skin was blue from asphyxiation. I thought he looked beautiful.

I remember too that I felt guilty for not having argued with my father that day when we talked to Gil on the phone. I remember wanting to, but holding my feelings inside. That's what good girls do.

It was a long time before I stopped looking for him. Watching for him in crowds, behind the wheel of a big rig (I'd heard he'd been a trucker for a while), walking down the street. I still think about Gil almost everyday.

So, tracing family roots is a project I have slated for my retirement years. Names filled into squares that connect to other squares that let me know that I am a part of something. To be able to run my fingertips over the names and know that I belong somewhere.

And that no one can take that away from me.


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Wy people go postal

I just got off the phone with Bell Canada. What a frustrating experience it was. Here's what happened.

I signed up for e-bills two months ago thinking it would be better for the planet.

My first bill notification arrived on February 4. I logged in and was astounded to find a charge of $185 -- double my regular bill. I had recently changed my service but had not expected an increase. I clicked on Bill Details to find out what the new charges were. I got a message telling me that no details could be found. I hunted around the site clicking on different options trying to get a detailed account of the charges. No luck.

I paid the bill so it wouldn't be late and nagged myself to make a call to Bell to get it sorted out. Why didn't I just make the call in the first place? Because I knew it would be a hassle. It always is.

March 4 arrived and I received my second email notification of my second e-bill.

Knowing I'd have to check into it sooner or later, I procrastinated till this morning when I sat down for the monthly bill paying exercise. Always fun in itself.

Same deal as last month. I logged in and still couldn't find a detailed account of the charges. I made the dreaded call.

I spoke with Molly or whatever they call the irritating voice that guides you through the automated menu of choices until I was finally connected with a real, live person.

I told her of my problem and that I wanted to switch back to paper bills.

She told me there would be a $2/month charge to get a paper bill.

Two bucks a month to get a bill to pay for a service I already pay more for than the rest of the developed world.

(Standing next to a woman from NY at a cell phone provider's counter one day I heard her tear the guy a new one when he told her how much her new Canadian service would cost. "I could make a mortgage payment with that!" she freaked. That was when I realized how much more we pay than US customers.)

She tells me the charge is to encourage people to go paperless. I wasn't happy and expressed that it was outrageous to pay for such a thing.

She explained how I could get help to access my bill. One of the options was to email Bell and have a techie walk me through the process. I told her that too was ridiculous. You shouldn't have to work to see your bill. It should be a simple and transparent process. Who should be expected to pay for something when they don't know what that something is?

Seriously Bell Canada?

I can't just create an online account, click on a link and see an electronic version of the old paper bill I used to get? I have to link accounts or call a help desk to get a bill?

If Bell was seriously trying to help the planet, this would be an easy system. As it is, it appears the company is trying to hide charges by making the process too cumbersome.

Get with it, B.C.!

(Or maybe those initials stand for something... like your antiquated way of providing service perhaps?)


Sunday, March 14, 2010

A snippet of dialogue

I like home design shows. My favourite designer is Sarah Richardson whose new series started this week. Since I was going to be away, I recorded it and watched it yesterday. The following is from the show and was delivered without irony or sarcasm. Just two friends talking. It made me smile. A lot.

Tommy (co-designer): You expect me to jump over that? [small trench dug in yard]
Sarah: Do you want me to hold your hand?
Tommy: I can do it. I took ballet when I was a kid.


Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Truth About Toronto

Having just returned from the city of my birth, I am struck by the bad rap Toronto gets. It is true it is not a pretty city. While there may be pockets of beauty or areas of stunning architecture, as a whole what we saw was rather shabby.

That said, I appreciate its patchwork construction.

Toronto is really an umbrella for a grouping of smaller communities. Little Italy. Chinatown. Little Portugal.Greektown. Kensington Market. The Beaches.

A person could live her life in Toronto feeling that she lived in a neighbourhood. An actual neighbourhood. The sort of place where people get to know you. Where you have your favourite coffee shop and the servers say hello. Or chat and wave goodbye as ours did on our last day there. Or buy us an espresso as ours did at a restaurant we ate at.

I was struck also by how friendly everyone was.

Sure, no one thinks twice about colliding with you in heavy foot traffic. I was the only one hollering 'sorry" over my shoulder.

But -- like most places -- if you take the time to extend a greeting or make a comment while waiting in line, Torontonians will chat with you. On different occasions, strangers offered assistance without being asked.

I was on an elevator with a young man wearing the most colourful sneakers I'd ever seen. I told him that I liked them and his grin was as big as the outdoors. He made polite conversation by asking me about my plans for the evening. It was a lovely interchange.

The downtown core is built for walking. Streets run on a N/S & E/W grid so newcomers will find it easy to make their way around. Just look for the CN Tower. That's south. Go any further and you'll get wet.

Those who don't want to hoof it or who have to travel further afield (and this city sprawls!) will love the public transportation system is.

I can see now why a transit strike is so calamitous. Everyone uses it. Not just those who can't afford a vehicle. Everyone. And it works well. Streetcars, buses, the subway. They blend seamlessly and without the long waits I am used to.

Union Station is a wonder. Its subterranean level acts as a hub for commuters from other cities and the 'burbs. Filled with fast food outlets, dry cleaners and other shops, the Station is home to the GO Train, VIA Rail and the Greyhound Bus. Doors swoosh open and hordes poor through, rushing purposefully this way and that. Here, there is no time to greet a fellow traveller though the staff are helpful and will take time to explain how to find one's way around.

After walking my niece to her platform, I turned back to find a group standing with bowed heads waiting for a train to arrive. For a moment, I thought they stood in prayer. Until I saw the ubiquitous Blackberries in their hands. A Norman Rockwell tableau for the new milleneum.

I'm still not sure that I'd ever be comfortable living there and I still have to deal with the idea that my son will someday soon be on his way, but I can see some of the charm of this somewhat grubby, bulging place.


Monday, March 8, 2010

He's ready

Tomorrow we leave for Toronto, my son and I along with his best friend. We are going to find the two of them an apartment for their move in May. He hopes to get into film school; she is going for the change of environment.

I have woken today with a heavy heart. My boy is leaving.

I want to cry. I feel the tears well inside me but I fight them down. He can't see them.

I want to tell him he can't go. That Toronto is too far. We won't see each other often enough. Every day isn't often enough for me. But I don't say that.

It's his time. This is the right thing for him.

I can't look at this as him leaving; instead I must see this as a new phase of our lives. But letting go is one of the most difficult things I've ever had to do.

It's stupid, maudlin, yet I can't stop thinking of the day he was born and the days leading up to his birth.

It had been a terrible period of my life. His father left the house one day for a few hours and never came back. Vanished. He'd run away. I was left penniless and alone with a seven-year-old and this unborn child and what was I going to do? How would I support them? How would I get through this?

As my belly grew, I tried to rouse myself from my depression. The only thing that got me out of bed each morning was having a seven-year-old to take care of. I despaired at having another one.

On the day my baby was due, I ran some errands at the nearest mall. While there, I noticed a young couple with a newborn. A wrinkly, pink, mewling newborn.

It was like the clouds parted. "I'm going to have a baby!" The idea struck me with such joy. I was ready.

Three days later so was he and we never looked back. I have loved every minute with him. Literally. We are so similar. We share the same sense of humour, the same logical approach to tackling problems, The same sensitivity to other people's vibes.

And now, he is a man, though barely, and he is ready again. Ready to see what the world has for him.

This time I am not. It came too fast. I should have been more vigilant. Against what, I don't know. Against him growing up? Yes, it's silliness. I know. I know. But I want a do-over.

Instead, I'll be my most encouraging because that's my job now. That's what he needs from me. And I'll look to the universe to keep him safe, to keep him happy, to bring him back to me once in a while.


Friday, March 5, 2010

Writer's Digest Articles

A nice article about the Purpose of Scenes from Writer's Digest and another about Showing and Telling.

Have a great day.


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Slow life

The interesting thing about living without a car is how much slower life gets.

I can no longer "just zip over" to wherever I want to go. I have to plan where I'm going, my route and how I'm getting there and back. If I want to go to the mall to shop for something, it takes an afternoon not an hour.

The Halifax Shopping Centre which is less than a 15 minute drive away from my place takes 30 minutes to bus to. Bayer's Lake -- home of every box store known to man, or almost -- is also less than 15 minutes away by car. It's one hour or so by bus depending on how much time I have to wait for a transfer. That's at least two hours of travel time to, say, buy a pair of running shoes like I had to do last week. Add the walk to and from the bus and shopping time and half a day was shot.

This means that 1) I rarely head to the mall and 2) when I do, it's for a reason.

I can no longer run a series of errands on one day so anything that isn't really necessary doesn't get done.It really takes a lot of stress out of daily living.

You might want to try it. Just imagine the money you won't spend and the insignificant busy work that you'll cast off. It might be fun.