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Let’s Do The Right Thing People

First off, a Happy New Year to all my readers! I hope 2023 finds you optimistic about the dozen  months ahead, as well as in good shape. Which will lead us to this column’s topic.

Recently my friend Keith at Nostalgic Italian was good enough to put up a nice review of a book I wrote a few years ago called Thank Goodness : 101 Things To Be Grateful For. It got me thinking about the world right now…and I’ve got a bit of extra time since currently I’m quarantining for Covid. Let me say, thankfully I’m not feeling very sick and seem to be on the mend…and for that I’m grateful.

But what it reminded me was one of the things I put in the book was “Being able to do the right thing when no one’s watching.” It’s not something that always comes automatically to me, nor I suspect, most of us. I noted that it was what came to mind when someone had asked me how I defined “character.” After all, it’s easy to do the right thing when you’re being watched. Most of us do. We pick up the doggie doo when walking the pup through a park. Stop at the red lights when there’s traffic. Wash our hands when we are finished in a public washroom. But what matters is doing that when no one is around. Give back the extra $20 the cashier accidentally handed you in change. Pick up the garbage on your neighbor’s lawn, even though you didn’t throw it there. And stay home when you’re sick!

That last one is a bit more challenging to me than the others I mentioned. And, from what I see around me, it’s downright impossible it would seem for most people in this city. But it’s what we need right now.

My sweetie came down with Covid a week ago. Although at first it only manifested itself with cold-like symptoms and a little fatigue. However, by day 2, she’d developed a bad cough and got to talk to her doctor through a tele-conference. She was prescribed some meds, and by then was trying to wear a mask all the time around the house. I too, began doing that in an effort not to catch it as well. And that worked well, for a few days. At least I’m grateful (there’s that theme again) I stayed well while she was at her sickest, thus being able to go out to get her prescriptions, get our supplies, cook her some soup and all that. But by Friday night I wasn’t feeling good, and I awoke Saturday, after an entirely uncharacteristic 11 or more hours sleep, feeling feverish and having zero energy. So, I decided to try to do the right thing and take one of the home tests. The little bar just about flew off the control strip, so high was my virus concentration it would seem. So I agreed, I should do the right thing…namely quarantine, for at least the five days the CDC recommends.

This is not a lot of fun for me. Although I am a homebody, I am also used to going out pretty regularly, running errands, shopping, taking the kiddo to work…even if only to get some fresh air and out and about for an hour. Being confined to the bedroom and bathroom is not pleasing. Especially when it’s quite nice outside, and again, thankfully, by yesterday I was already starting to feel better. Not “great” nor close to “100%” but not that bad. A bit worn out and feeling like I had a cold or very bad hayfever. Today, the trend continues, I find myself a little less exhausted than yesterday and still sniffling some. And I find myself short on coffee, and almost out of deodorant (of course, right now I can barely smell anything… but other people can!) . Certainly the temptation is there to just go out, do a bit of quick shopping, get a few steps in. I’d wear a mask, because that’s one frustrating thing through all this. I am one of those rare ones who’s refused to stop wearing masks when I go to stores or other indoors people places outside the home.

Alas, some members of the extended family don’t share my enthusiasm for that, and come by when they’re sick. And judging from what I’ve seen around town, they’re in the majority. When I went to get my sweetie’s meds from the pharmacy, the usually reasonably quiet spot in our local supermarket had a lineup at least a dozen long. Many were coughing with gusto; only two besides myself bothered to don masks; no one was trying to keep a six-foot social distance between themselves and others. Perhaps understandably. The line was so impatient one thinks that if it was attempted, four more angry sick people might squeeze in front of you and dared you to say anything.  A trip around that same store that night yielded no more than two others wearing masks, but a whole infirmary’s collection of people coughing and sneezing. And almost empty over-the-counter cough and cold sections, as the photo above illustrates.

Now, I am aware a few unfortunate souls are pretty much all alone and really might have needed to go out for themselves to buy a bottle of cough syrup, a loaf of bread or pick up Paxlovid from the pharmacist despite feeling ill. My heart goes out to them.  Although it is worth noting, the store delivers. But most people have someone they could call, or yell across the hallway to that is healthy and could do it for them, or else already have well-used Door Dash and Favor delivery accounts. And as for those shopping for cosmetics or the first swimsuit of the summer while their noses run and they’re barking like an angry seal with a Covid cough…well, don’t even get me started.

Again, I say it’s not always easy to do the right thing. It would be easy for me to say both A) I don’t feel very sick right now and B) almost no one else around this area is acting responsibly and quarantining, so why should I? and go on my merry way out into the crowds. But I won’t. Because the one person I happened to sneeze on in a lineup might be the 80 year old with no immune system, or the person you didn’t know was undergoing cancer treatment and this inconvenient extra-strength “cold” might be infinitely more serious for them.

Do the right thing people. Show some character when you’re sick these days. Let’s make it a happier and healthier new year.

A Christmas Questionnaire

Thanks to Keith at Nostalgic Italian, who gave me this idea with a post he did recently. A look at our Christmas preferences and traditions, feel free to comment or make your own list!

  1. 24th or 25th? I always liked celebrating Christmas on Christmas, the 25th. That’s what we did when I was growing up. Seems nice to be able to sleep in, get up, get around to opening presents and such at our leisure on the day itself, followed by a nice meal. When I was single but grown, I’d sometimes go to church with friends on the Eve – the candlelit services are quite touching and spectacular looking – , other times watch Christmas movies, sometimes at home, sometimes with one of my parents. Nowadays though we have our big celebration on the evening of the 24th, a meal with opening of the majority of the gifts, sometimes a game or bingo or something like that. Now that I’m in a big, extended family, it makes some sense, as relatives have grown kids who have spouses or significant others and often they’ll need to find time to spend time with those families. Getting together on Christmas Eve seems to work. And having a quieter 25th to reflect, eat and maybe play with the gifts isn’t a bad deal either.

  1. Real or Fake? Trees that is – get your minds out of the gutter! I, and others in my family both as a child and now with my wife and her family, have allergies. Pine is one of them, so we always had a fake tree as a kid. It’s a tradition I’ve kept and we have here too. Real trees seem a lot of work, a fire hazard and at times prone to looking mediocre rather soon. Plus, not that budget friendly… spend $100 on a store tree and it’ll last years and years. Spend $50 on a real one and you’ll spend $50 more next year and so on. Fake trees these days can look fantastic and quite realistic.

  1. White or Green? Everyone loves singing “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas”, but do they really dream of one? Well some do, but not me. Of course, context probably matters. I grew up in Canada, and even though I was in the southern part of that land, white Christmases were the norm. If the snow had fallen on the 24th or on Christmas itself, it could look pretty, but it made getting around to visit treacherous. If it was from days before, it tends to look pretty ugly really… pristine white snow doesn’t stay pristine or white for long in a big city. And I’m not fond of being cold. Now I’m in Texas and the average high on Christmas is 60 degrees, 15 Celcius. I love it. I can go outside and enjoy it in a hoodie or light jacket rather than layers of clothes and gloves. But most of the locals do dream of a white Christmas, because real snow is so rare here.

  1. Colored Lights or White Ones? To me, Christmas lights are a rainbow of colors. Red and green primarily, but you need some blue and yellow, maybe pink or orange added in too. It looks festive! But I find more and more I’m in the minority because most people I know like the uniform white ones. It’s not the same, but they can still look very nice on a tree or around a house.

  1. Eggnog or Hot chocolate? See above on allergies! I can’t eat eggs, so the nog is a no-go for me, but even if I could, somehow I don’t think I’d like it. Something about its look, smell and consistency just seems quite unpleasant to me. Hot chocolate I like now and again, with a few little marshmallows in it. So it would win that battle easily for me, though a nice winter ale followed by a good blend of coffee still top my Christmas Eve drink list.

  1. Turkey or ham? Both are quite nice, but ham is my pick. Growing up, it was usually turkey. My Mom, God love her, tried. She wasn’t a big cook, but she’d make some dinners and she always went all out on the Christmas one. But the turkey was almost always dry. She’d get up early in the morn to put it in the oven, and we’d eat at 5 or 6PM. More recently, I’ve found turkeys don’t need about 12 hours of cooking! Green bean casserole is one Southern specialty that I’ve really come to enjoy as a sidedish. Keith, whom I mentioned gave me this column idea, says it’s ravioli for him. Nothing wrong with that… eat whatever food you really enjoy on the special day.

  1. Gift cards or Gifts? On my most recent birthday, someone gave me a Barnes & Noble gift card. I love books, so I made use of it but I actually did something unusual – I splurged on a couple of things I’d normally not buy. It was an over-priced, but thoroughly interesting “magazine” documenting the entire career of Roxy Music, a band I’ve always liked, and a novel I’d never heard of but looked like it might be interesting. So it was sort of like an unexpected gift, if you will. That said, I’m not a big fan of gift cards for gifts. It’s not that they’re bad in themselves, I just find too many people give them with no thought . I prefer to give and get things that show the giver really was thinking about the person getting it and what they might really like.

  1. Christmas Story or Home Alone? A no-brainer to me, A Christmas Story. It makes me laugh every time from the “fraj-eel-ee” leg lamp to the pink bunny pjs to the villainous store Santa. Home Alone just seems mean-spirited to me and I’m sorry, but something about that Culkin lad just irritates me just looking at him. But better still…

  1. The Grinch or Charlie Brown? I’d give Charlie a tiny edge but my answer is “both”. Both were part of my childhood routines and two things I try to see each and every Christmas season still. I love both, for their stories and even their rather simplistic animation. Linus telling everyone what Christmas is really about and the tree springing to life when they gather around and sing. The Grinch’s heart growing three sizes and little Max wagging his tail at the Christmas table with the tiny Who butlers taking successively smaller trays to the kids. How can they not make you smile and appreciate the magic of the season? Point of order by the way – always the animated Grinch over the overly-long and needlessly explanatory live action remake.

  1. At home or clocking in? Most of us enjoy having the day off (with pay no less! Few think Scrooge hard done by for having his pocket picked every 25th of December, LOL). I know I always did and usually have the luxury of being at home with my family which is great. But on at least two occasions I volunteered to work on the 25th when I was single. It was when I was working as a department head in a large drug store which stayed open due to the pharmacy and other necessities it sold. I figured someone had to do it, so I might as well, get some overtime pay and let the married types with kids have the day off to enjoy. I found most people coming in the doors were in good moods, and the mood was pretty relaxed among us staff. I wouldn’t want to do it again, but it did heighten my already existing appreciation for those who have to work on Christmas – police, fire fighters, hospital nurses and staff, even the radio DJs and TV techs who make sure A Christmas Story or Home Alone are airing for the rest of us to enjoy. Keep all those types in your thoughts on this Christmas, and give them a nice word at least should you see any of them.

That’s some of my thoughts, would love to hear yours! One more thought – no matter what Christmas means to you , or even if Hanukkah or something else is your special time at this end of the calendar, I wish you a happy and healthy one and thank you for reading.

Charitably Uncharitable ?

I don’t mean to be uncharitable…but some charities are really beginning to get my goat. To be polite about it. Which is to say, I’m all for giving but regret that I’m starting to be less forgiving of some who are asking.

A bit about me. I believe in helping out where you can, and getting behind charities and services you believe in deeply. I was raised by parents who taught me about “tithing” and it was a core value for my dad and stepmother. My dad walked the walk, giving to a range of charities and even doing hands-on work to help a local charity – a homeless shelter that also offered some counseling and education to the people who wound up there – for several years after he retired. So, ever since I was old enough to get paycheques, I’d try to give what I could. I still do and in the last couple of years, situations have changed so I could give a little more.

Personally, as regular readers here know, I’m a strong environmental advocate and organizations that try to preserve natural areas, protect wildlife and improve the environment are always front and center in my mind. But so too are the ones which help out people having hard times, often through no fault of their own. It’s a pretty sure bet I won’t walk out of a grocery store that has a Food Drive collection bin without dropping in a few cans of soup or stew, maybe some rice, cereal, peanut butter. Hospitals that help out those who can’t afford regular topnotch treatment win my approval and when I can, my dollars too, as do several medical research charities. I use Wikipedia regularly for research and love that it’s free and runs without ads (which would clutter it and possibly influence the content), so I help them out now and then.

I say that not to toot my own horn; most people I know will do what they can for the causes they believe in too and I never want to forget I’m pretty fortunate in many ways.

All that said, charities are getting a bit out of hand in my house… or mailbox. Obviously at least a good portion of the charitable causes extend their charity to sharing their list of donors with any number of other ones. This is OK… to an extent. It even makes sense in some cases. If I give to an organization that buys up natural areas to preserve, it might make sense that I’d also be interested in one which, perhaps spends money to preserve or improve existing parkland. But lately I find it’s spiraled crazily.

I’ve gotten used to getting regular mailings from organizations remotely similar to the ones I have contributed to – obscure diseases trying to spread the word on their unusual illnesses and combat them, nature clubs from all four corners of the globe, things involving libraries or literacy…you name it. I usually read over their mailing, stash away the address labels they’ve enclosed – because they always send address stickers – and divide into three groups basically. The “wow, that’s good work! I am going to do something for them right now!” pile, the “interesting, maybe at some point I’ll send them $10 or so” one and the “nah, doesn’t interest me, into the recycling bin with you” pile.

Lately though, the mailbox is getting more crammed and the requests more “out there.” I’ve had mailings from both far Left and far Right political orgs. I’ve had requests to give to fight abortion laws and ones from other groups wanting help lobbying judges and politicians to strengthen those same laws. Go figure.

All this is fine and well I suppose. I’m not obliged to help them or even spend time reading their spiel. But the limits on my patience have been sorely tested this past week. Twice, I’ve gone to the mailbox to find stuff literally jammed in there, mail bent, magazines rolled up tight. The culprit – huge, fat unsolicited mailings from charities I’d never even heard of!

I won’t specifically name them because they might both do some good and the problem I fear isn’t limited to them specifically. One was for a private school for less fortunate kids. They sent a reusable vinyl shopping bag, a calendar, a pen and various notepads. That was eclipsed a few days later by an even fatter envelope from some sort of a shelter. It had a calendar, a day book, three pens, a CD of Christmas music, notepads and welll… I don’t know what all else. I haven’t even emptied their envelope yet.

Scrunched in with the mail being squeezed by that package was another envelope from the first group, in an envelope marked “the favor of your reply is requested!” It wondered why they hadn’t heard from me with a generous gift in response to their shopping bag and other knicknacks I hadn’t requested. Now, I believe in education and improving levels of it but have never been a fan of private schools. Send everyone to the same schools, and put the saved money into making them better is my philosophy. Still, their cause did seem like it was well-intentioned, so their mailing sat in my “middle pile.” Sorry to say, after the “where’s our money?” mailing, any thoughts I might have harbored of giving them a small donation flew out the window faster than a canary who’s cage door had been opened for the first time.

Now, a couple of things come to mind about it. Including some small little gift with a request no doubt works well… for awhile. It’s basic psychology. It makes us more likely to feel positive about the giver, and I’m sure they hope, makes us feel a bit guilty if we don’t dole out. I’m OK with that, but I’m sure I’m not the only person with a whole little office drawer full of return address stickers that have pictures of everything from my initials in Gothic script to pictures of bears to children’s cartoons on them. To a point, they’re handy, but when the stack gets to be an inch thick or more, I get to thinking I’d never mail enough things to use them up if I lived to 100 years old and never left my current address.

The charities probably have thought of this themselves and have lately looked to other things they can put in an envelope we might appreciate more. Calendars are in vogue, but becoming a similar problem. For 2023, I believe I’ve kept three of the free ones and have put another half dozen or more into little free libraries in town so someone else could perhaps get some use out of them.

I give kudos to the ones I mentioned this week that came up with a CD or a reusable shopping tote; it’s creative and might be of use. But at some point, I have to wonder shouldn’t they be using more of the money coming in for the causes they promote instead of buying mass merchandise and mailing unsolicited half-pound packages to unsuspecting targets, err “prospective donors”? How many responses do they have to get back with money enclosed to even break even on their costs? And sending a snippy “where’s our gift” sort of letter three short days later seems unlikely to increase the roll call of said donors.

I have to add, I’m not all that wealthy; the sum of my giving is not huge by anyone’s account. I have to wonder what kind of barrage of requests and unwanted gifts the rich who can routinely drop $1000 cheques without a worry face everyday.

So my charitable message to these groups is this : send me a nice little note about what you do and why I might like to help you out. If I do that, then maybe send me a calendar or a notepad and do keep me in the loop with news about what you’re doing. Don’t send me pounds of unsolicited gifts that divert funds from your goals and don’t give my name and address to any old Tom, Dick or Harry organization whose goals are nothing like your own.

Is it just me? Are any of you out there starting to feel just a little uncharitable towards some charities?

Thankful Thursday XL – Fish Wrappers

This Thankful Thur…, err Friday, I’m thankful for newspapers, an important anachronism in this day and age.

I grew up in a house that had newspapers. We subscribed to a daily big city paper (the Toronto Star) and were in a suburb that had a couple of weekly or semi-weekly local ones delivered automatically. I might have been nerdy as a child, but I loved them. By the time I could read well, I’d always look at it; perhaps even more than my parents did a lot of the time. I got to know what was going on in the world as well as the weather and keep track of the baseball scores and stats in that era that long preceded the internet and real-time updates. And of course, being a kid after all, I looked forward to the comics every day… Peanuts was my favorite back then. The local papers were thinner and didn’t have as much of interest, but being local, they were great at informing us of minor events in town and once in awhile, you’d see people you knew in the photos.

As I grew up and went out on my own, the papers stayed a big part of my life. Much of the time I subscribed to the Star, like my parents (my dad did right up until his death, even though he was having a fair bit of difficulty seeing it well enough to read in his last year or two) and quite often I’d buy the rival Toronto Sun as well. The Star was a big, broadsheet, but was surprisingly liberal in stance; the Sun was a tabloid that was more conservative … the opposite of what most would expect. Both had their pros and cons. The Star was better for in-depth national and world news and usually had better comics (yep, still liked them as I got older though by my 20s I was a fan of things like The Far Side). The Sun was better for local news and sports. Plus its smaller size made it ideal for reading on the bus or at a coffee shop table, making it all the better to take to work. Both offered thought-provoking editorials and by reading both, I’d get two sides to the same story quite often. It helped me think better and be better-informed.

Since I relocated, newspapers aren’t as much a part of my life. For a couple of years we did subscribe to the daily in our city here. It was a disappointment compared to the ones I was used to – much thinner, with more limited national and international news, drawn almost exclusively from wire services, less actual coverage of local events – but it was still something. I’d get the big stories of the day, and at least baseball boxscores for early games the night before. But it kept getting smaller and its price went up so when we moved, we decided to forego it. And with it now costing $2 a copy at the stores, I rarely buy one on a whim.

It’s a theme repeated across the globe. It’s a downward spiral and one of the worst side-effects of the Online Age. Fewer people have time to read a whole newspaper, and most of the things they want to see in one are found online anyway. Classified ads are a dinosaur, so ad revenue drops for the newspapers, circulation drops, so they cut back to try to save money. Which in turn makes the paper less interesting… less original content, smaller staffs, fewer photos, less expensive syndicated columnists or features…and sales drop more. One by one, city newspapers across the country shut down shop.

It’s a shame, and a socially dangerous trend. One only has to see All the President’s Men or know a bit about American political history to see the importance of a widely-read newspaper with good journalists. Or more recently, Spotlight chronicling the Boston Globe‘s role in exposing child abuse and the church cover-up to try to avoid blame. At their best, they not only report the news, they find it.

The only security of all is in a free press,” Thomas Jefferson once said. So yesterday I decided it was time to do my part, and subscribe to the local one again. I’m thankful there still is one and that we live in a land where they’re free to print, and we’re free to read them.

Thankful Thursday XXXI – Talking About My Generation

This Thankful Thursday I’m thankful for my generation. Not the Who song – that was representative of the generation before me – but Gen X, as we’ve come to be known. Or more precisely, to be a part of it.

Of course, each generation probably thinks it’s the best. I, perhaps typical of this generation, don’t necessarily claim that ours was the best. But I’m glad I grew up when I did.

To me, my generation got the best of music, the best of TV and, more importantly, the best conditions to grow up in. Notice I don’t say “easiest” however. I love that I grew up listening to Top 40 radio on transistor radios in the ’70s that exposed me to a bit of everything ranging from Motown to country to early heavy metal to disco. Sure, we didn’t really see The Beatles in real time, but I heard them plenty on radio and courtesy my older brother. By the ’80s as adulthood came a-knockin’, college classes were bookended by a new music that was actually exciting. Young kids these days won’t know the High Fidelity-like experience of hanging out at a grubby, crowded record shop looking for import Depeche Mode singles and hearing the music snobs behind the counter going on about the Pixies and Marshall Crenshaw. We were a generation that wanted to change the world. Well, don’t they all, I suppose. But it seems to me that outside of the tail-end of the Baby Boom, young people before were too conventional to challenge the status quo. The youth of today want to change the world too, but I’m not sure that that extends too far beyond the right for young women to call themselves”men” and vice versa for most of them. Some of my happiest times were summers during my university years, working for a conservation agency, with dozens of similarly-involved people around my age. We sure knew how to party at night… but by day, we were all about working on environmental projects and educating people about the need for conservation. Whether it amounted to a lot or not, we were doing something that we felt was bigger than ourselves, that was going to make the world a better place.

Moreover, I think I’m lucky because I straddle the digital and analog age. I grew up spending lots of time in libraries. At school, at the city ones, looking through stacks of books, going through card catalogs to find a title. It seemed like there wasn’t a question that couldn’t be answered by the Encyclopedia Britannica, all fifteen feet of shelving of it. I took typing classes at school, banging away on old manual machines, periodically getting my hands dirty changing the ribbons. It was good experience. But thankfully I was just young enough to see the value of computers by some time in the ’90s, and pick up the skills I needed to write articles, fix photos, design posters or search the internet for wacky kitten videos quickly. My brother, about six years older than me, got through school long before “cyber” was a word and hates computers to this day. Our dad, bless him, tried hard to adapt, but never got beyond playing Solitaire or checking, with extreme difficulty, his e-mail on his laptop. My mom never even got that far along in the process. I feel lucky I am reasonably tech-savvy, but have the background in old, analog ways. I wonder if anyone under 18 today could find an answer any question about science, history or pretty much anything else besides BTS if Siri stopped answering or Google went on holiday.

We didn’t have it easy, but then again, it wasn’t a battle. My parents both were youth in Europe during WWII. That’s hardship and stress. We on the other hand, had to live with the sword of Reagan and Gorbachev’s missiles hanging over us, which was stressful but there was always food to be had, electricity for the lights and despite the fears, no big wars materialized to worry about. We were however, the first generation of “latchkey kids.” For the first time, most women were working and one-parent households were common, so I wasn’t unusual in often coming home to an empty house after school. Like so many others of my peers, that was OK. It gave us a bit of freedom to grow, and more importantly, let us learn real quickly how to make a dinner, or wash our clothes. We walked or rode our bikes to school…yes, yes, you know, in the snow, uphill both ways!… and had our own legs and our friends to rely on. We got part-time jobs as soon as we could to buy our own records and snacks and if we were real lucky and smooth, use the funds to go on dates with. It astonishes me to go by a neighborhood school these days and see cars backed up around the block waiting to get their ten and twelve year olds and drive them immediately home, where they will stay, playing video games, until it’s time to drive them back to class the next morning. Where will their sense of adventure or independence arise from? Will it ever arise, for that matter?

Well that’s my grumpy old, thankful rant for this day, now that we Gen X-ers are getting up there … tomorrow marks the 30th anniversary of the release of Nirvana’s “Smells like Teen Spirit” in case you’re keeping track. So how about you? Are you happy you were born when you were? What is your generation’s best feature? Whatever it is, I hope you’re thankful to be you.

Thankful “Thursday” XXVIII – Allie Dog

This Thankful Thursday… err, Saturday in reality – I’m thankful for Allie Dog. Long gone, sadly, but remembered fondly as the only dog I’ve ever had. A bit of backstory.

I love animals, but have allergies. We never had pets when I was a kid, save for a fishtank for a bit. This saddened me a bit, but was just a fact of life. I particularly like cats, and most of them seem to take readily to me, so if not for allergies, it’s likely I’d have been surrounded by kitties over the years. As my dad grew older, he turned into a Cat Person, taking in a couple of tiny black kittens and putting food out for neighborhood strays.

Dogs however, were a bit of a different story. Not only do they seem a bit messy, they can be frightening. While I’ve always been OK with little dogs, big ones tend to scare me. I’ve had too many run-ins with boxers, German shepherds and other similar ones running loose to take fondly to them. And as luck would have it, despite being chased through a city street by a doberman (which had gotten loose from an auto shop) once, the only time I actually ever got bitten was by a Black lab, of all dogs. Supposedly the friendliest of pups, I seemed to come leg to face with the one and only mean-spirited representative of his kind. I was a teen and hiking through an urban woodlot when one rushed me, took a chomp out of my thigh and barked ferociously. Besides ruining a good pair of new jeans, it also necessitated a trip to the ER, a tetanus shot, and a call to police, who found the dog, just as aggressive as advertised, and took it in. Luckily it wasn’t rabid. Since then, I was particularly disinclined to like big black dogs.

Of course, God or fate or karma, whichever you prefer, has its sense of humor. Fast forward about thirty years, and my sweetie (also with fur allergies) are living a nice domestic life in happy, dog-free house when one of her distant relatives had to move and couldn’t find anyone to look after his dog while he got settled in to his new digs. She volunteered to look after the dog while he did that. A week, two tops, we figured. I was not amused and the dog and I seemed to view each other with suspicion when it came. She was set up with a food dish and water and an old doghouse in the backyard and seemed dejected when her owner took off, leaving her behind.

You can probably guess the rest. The one or two weeks became well over a year. The dog, Allie, seemed glum the first few days in a new home without her familiar person. We had a leash; eventually I apprehensively put it on her and tried to see if she’d walk. She did. It didn’t take long for her to decide I was the best human around, and me to notice Allie was the best dog in the world. She was a quiet dog, a definite plus to me. Her bark would scare off the most hardened burglar, I’m sure, but it would almost take someone trying to break in to coax her to show that. I’d spend time with her out in the backyard, and rain or shine, we’d go for a walk to the park down the road every day. Although by “walk”, I tend to mean “jog”…Allie was always energetic and ready to examine the next smell along the way. It was a daily highlight for us both.

Inevitably, over a year later, her original owner returned and took her back. It was a sad day in our household. However, the already aging pup (we figure she was about 12 at the time) lived a few more happy years and I got to see pictures of her frollicking in the Gulf of Mexico, quite enjoying it before she took off to the Happy Butt-sniffing Grounds of the doggie great beyond.

So here’s to pets. They add so much to our lives and ask so little in return for their friendship. And to the unexpected circumstances. Allie showed me again that life’s detours don’t always lead us into unwanted areas.

Thankful Thursday XXI – Canada Day

This Thankful Thursday, I’m thankful for Canada. Appropriately enough since today is Canada Day, the national holiday celebrating the country’s origins and independence from England 154 years ago. To many, it will be an extra-special one since last year’s was a total washout due to the pandemic. Although initially Canada had done well in keeping the virus at bay, last summer having infection and death rates much lower than their neighbors in the U.S. or in Europe, a growing disinterest in following the “rules” – social distancing, masks etc. – and problems obtaining the vaccines when they became available led to a spike in numbers this spring which led to widespread lockdowns once again. But things are looking up, with illness rates dropping and numbers of people vaccinated increasing by the day. As of last weekend, 66% of Canadian adults had received Covid vaccinations, compared to less than half of Americans. So, Canadians may not be crowding together into bars to drink Molsons tonight nor heading to the Rogers Centre in Toronto to watch a Blue Jays game, but they should be able to at least get together with a few friends and bbq a burger and perhaps sing along to the Tragically Hip before taking in some fireworks. I hope they do and enjoy it!

Of course there will be some protesting the people having fun because they object to the day itself. The killjoy contingent of Cancel Culture enthusiasts have taken to Canada like flies to a dungheap, which is conveniently pretty much what they compare the country to. They propose eliminating the holiday and erasing its name from history, because they object to parts of the country’s history. The whole thing has gained traction since news of the bodies of long-deceased children at long-closed Native boarding schools has come to light, suggesting possible widespread abuse of the students.

There is absolutely no justification for the abuse of the children, and indeed, it is reasonable to investigate it further to see how widespread that might have been, who the victims were and prosecute the violators should they still be alive. That in itself is unlikely, as the very last of the schools was shut for good in 1996; they were most active and in all likelihood most abusive during the first half of the 20th Century. Prime Minister Trudeau has apologized – several times – on behalf of the country and its forefathers, and created a list of 94 recommendations to right the wrong. Many Native Canadians are already receiving cash payments in return for being displaced from their land generations ago. That seems to me like a reasonable resolution. Let’s not forget the past, but recognize it is the past and move along together from there.

I’m a Canadian and I’m proud of the country. It is by no means perfect. No country that I know of is, or comes very close to that mark. But it is a good land with a history of great individuals and great deeds. Liberating Holland from the Nazis in WWII. Developing insulin. Gas masks. Hockey masks. An ebola vaccine. Lacrosse and basketball. Hawaiian pizza… well, I said Canada wasn’t perfect!  Add in more great artists, musicians, actors, athletes and comedians than you can shake a Zamboni at and you’ve got reason to feel good about the Great White North. And let’s not forget that magnificent scenery from the mountain lakes at Banff to the glowing fall colors in Algonquin Park, all saved for posterity in the parks.

My dad and his dad as well were struggling in post-war Europe when they came to Canada. They learned the language and soon found good jobs and built lives for themselves in the new land. My mom went through many an air raid and bombing as a child in Britain during the War and didn’t take to the climate there, so she too found her way to Canada (why she didn’t pick Australia for a better climate while still being able to see the queen on the money, I never fully understood) and soon was teaching classrooms of kids from a smorgasbord of different backgrounds. I went to school with kids whose parents had come from Germany and England, Jamaica and Japan. One of my best buddies in high school had escaped the Philippines not long before with his family. He missed his country but not the secret police busting down their door in the middle of the night and taking family members away for unknown reasons. His dad, sleeping safely at night for once, started a very successful electric company in town. After all sorts of asthma and other medical problems as a small child, I was probably only alive to meet him because of Canada’s fine health care system, funded by taxes but making world-class hospitals as accessible to a factory-worker’s kid, or an unemployed person for that matter as they were for the CEOs of the companies employing those workers.

Actress Jennifer Garner recently quipped that people often assume she is Canadian. She’s not, being from California in fact. But, she says it makes her feel great because if people think she’s Canadian, that must mean she is pretty nice. That’s a great compliment to all of us who are from there!

I’ll never say Canada is perfect and probably will never like the climate – I really hate cold weather. But I will always say I am proud to be Canadian, and glad that is where I began my life. Happy Thursday, and Happy Canada Day no matter where you hale from.

Yetis And Life’s Other Little Mysteries

About a decade back, I briefly wrote a few blogs entitled “Things I Don’t Get.” Life’s little mysteries. Things like people’s fascination with zombies. Or their fascination with the Kardashians. “One day last month,” I wrote about the latter, “while in line I counted (Kim Kardashian’s) pouty mug on seven magazines (by the cashier)…the one proclaiming ‘Kardashian World!’ did make me think the retailer genius for also putting Tylenol at the check-out for subsequent impulse buys.” I was a bit snarky ten years ago apparently. Little mysteries. Of course, big mysteries always interested me too. UFOs. That missing Malaysian jet. And Bigfoot.

On the one hand, it would seem like if there were giant ape-man sasquatches out there in our dense forests, some gun-loving settler would have shot one and had it in their den by now, or a tractor trailer doing 80 would have hit one. I mean, dozens of people get run down by cars, can Bigfoots be that much smarter than us? But on the other hand, there are so many convincing reports of them, most from the pre-internet era. One doesn’t imagine Natives of coastal B.C. would have had much chance to talk to and share oral stories with the ones in the Appalachians, yet both have similar Bigfoot-like creatures in their histories.

I thought of those pieces not long ago when driving behind a big pick-up. Of course, in the decade since, there’ve been no shortage of things I don’t get. People falling off cliffs playing “Pokemon”. About half the politicians elected across the globe. Ice coffee. The Simpsons still being made about fifteen years after anybody I know stopped watching. And Yeti stickers.

This Dodge truck was shiny and of behemoth proportions, looking more or less straight from the factory…except for the Yeti sticker in its back window. Now as odd as this was, what is odder is that I see all kinds of vehicles around with those stickers. At first when I encountered one I was hoping it might signify the car was being driven by a Bigfoot. You know, some people put Italian flags on their window to signify their origin, maybe this driver was doing the same. Certainly his fast acceleration and lane-changes without benefit of turn signals suggested that could be the case. Humans on the road should be able to drive better than that. But sadly as they turned off, I could see an ordinary driver of adult human proportions and child-like lack of motor skills. Subsequent encounters with Yeti-stickered cars, trucks and vans alike have shown similar lack of content that would interest crypto-zoologists.

I’ve never been one to want to decorate a vehicle with lots of “bumper stickers”, be they on the bumper, window or any other part. I’ve seen too many people working too hard on scraping off “Wassup” stickers that didn’t seem quite as hilarious anymore or “I HEART Bill Cosby” ones which unintentionally did. Besides, I figure if someone wants to know me, let them talk to me. But I usually can understand the rationale for most stickers. A car with Texas plates but Acadia National Park and Everglades stickers; probably a person who likes to travel and nature. “My kid is a honor student at Washington Pre-school and Kindergarten”; proud and possibly delusional parent. A brother-in-law served in the military and has small but proud Marine logo stickers on his. I get that. And of course, I might assume quite different things about someone in a Prius with a “Bernie!” sticker than someone in a Ford F-150 with “Trump 2020” proudly emblazoned on the window. They at least tell us something about the people in that auto. But a Yeti?

This I don’t get. For those unfamiliar, Yeti, besides being the Asian name for a Bigfoot which may or may not exist, is the brand name of a popular line of travel mugs. They are usually metal, and by all reports very good. A cold drink stays cold in them, a hot one, hot. But why advertise them on your car?

The logo itself isn’t interesting. There’s no clever little sasquatch worked in, nor any bright colors. Just the word in big, bold white font. At least, Apple, say by comparison has a colorful interesting, almost decorative logo. And saying you’re an Apple fan perhaps exudes an air of “cooldom” or “superiority”. Hard to imagine the same is true of someone based on their choice of what to put their morning commute coffee in. After all, the cups and mugs start at about $20…expensive for a travel mug but well within almost anybody’s budget. It’s fair to say that if you can afford a car and the gas for it, you can put together the cash for a Yeti mug should you want to. So that can’t be it. If prestige is what they’re going for, one might as well put a Coca-cola logo on there instead to signify you will pay that extra dollar a case for what’s inside your Yeti. No Walmart-brand cola for me, it would scream to the masses!

Maybe one day people will yawn and ask “Who?” when somebody starts talking about a Kardashian. Maybe someday those TV explorers will actually find a bigfoot out for a stroll instead of just hearing mysterious growls in the forest or seeing bark oddly ripped off tall trees. Maybe one day we’ll know where those other socks go in the washing machine. And maybe one day someone will explain why they want to put a $4 sticker for a $20 item on their car. Then again, maybe some things we just were never meant to know.

Thankful Thursday XIX – Timmies

This Thankful Thursday I’m thankful for one of my fonder memories of Canada – Tim Horton’s. Only a few Americans know what that is, and fewer people still from other countries. But to Canadians… they’re a way of life and as much a cultural keystone as maple leafs and geese.

Tim Horton’s, or simply “Timmies” to many Canucks, is a chain of coffee shops. Diners perhaps would be a better word since they offer an array of foods as well. But they are a great deal more than that up north; not only do they define the national obsession with coffee and the “down to earth” mentality, in many communities they have become the de facto “town square” – the meeting place, the place to hang out when you don’t want to be by yourself. Quite an achievement for something begun in the ’60s by a second-string hockey star as a single little coffee shop in the factory city of Hamilton.

Today there are over 4000 of them, the vast majority of them in Canada, although Americans close to the border – those in Western New York, Washington State and the like – have some of their own, perhaps as much for the Canadians driving south as the locals. Although they started out as simple purveyors of cheap coffee and a range of donuts (another Canadian obsession, and something Tim’s does very well) they have through the years expanded the menu to have a number of lunch options from sandwiches to soups and chili, and even brought in cold soft drinks for those who for some difficult-to-understand reason don’t always want a hot coffee! As such they’ve become a viable competitor to the various sub and burger places in the fast food market.

Through the years, I consumed many a cup of that java. Many a thousand cups, actually. When I was going somewhere in winter, there’d always be a Tim Horton’s along the way to stop and get a coffee at and quite probably, get rid of the last coffee, if you catch my meaning. Many a work lunch break was spent sitting in one, a cup of coffee and a bagel with cheese (their poppy seed bagels are pretty extraordinary too) as I read the newspaper and forgot about the job for half an hour. I’ve taken dates to Tim’s, sat and chatted with my dad for many an afternoon, packed my laptop and sat in one late at night when the wi-fi at home gave out. I might add that I wasn’t convinced they offered the best coffee of any chain in Canada; but they were the one that was always there for me. And the 33 million others in that land.

And therein was the appeal. Tim’s are a unifier there, a totally democratic sort of institution. The prices were reasonable, the décor comfortable but very basic. It’s the place the grubby street people go and sit in when they’ve panhandled up enough for a drink and a donut just as much as they’re the place the office execs from the shiny city towers stop at to get their cruller and double-double at on their way to work. If Ryan Gosling or Bryan Adams are back in their hometown, chances are if you wait long enough, they’ll be at Tim’s. The local cops are likely to be there between calls, just as are the teens coming home from school, the socialites heading out for a night on the town and the retirees who don’t have a lot to do during the afternoon hours. So they find the Tim’s and each other and then have something to do in the afternoon. So engrained into the culture are they that they’ve even added to the lexicon. “Timbits” anybody? “Roll up the Rim?” The Canadian in the crowd will know.

That sort of thing doesn’t really exist in the States, or at least not in my part of them. Coffee isn’t king down here (mind you, I guess it takes a special breed of crazy to be like me and want hot coffee day in, day out, in a place where half the year days top 90 degrees) and of course, there is a Dunkin’ here and there if you search them out, and a few Starbucks but it’s not quite the same. Dunkins seem a place to get in and get of quickly; Starbucks are pricy and have a sort of elitist air to them. They’re all places where you can get a hot drink, but not a place to go.

While there isn’t a Tim’s shop for about a thousand miles from here, at least we can get the coffee in imported bags at the supermarket. So sipping one in my own room isn’t like being in a busy restaurant watching the world go by, it is pretty good “jo”. And a nice reminder of where I came from.

Thankful Thursday XVI – Vacations

Yesterday was a busy day for me, so I took a break from Thankful Thursdays. Not quite a holiday but a wee break from one thing that’s part of my routine, even though it’s one I quite enjoy. It got me to thinking that this “thankful Thursday – redux” I’m thankful for vacations. Both little ones and grand ones, ones I’ve enjoyed, ones others have taken and just the concept itself… one that resonates, I’m sure coming onto the unofficial first long weekend of the summer.

My dad loved to travel; my mother not quite as much but she still enjoyed getting away from it all – not to mention staying in a hotel and having the cooking done for her – from time to time. My family wasn’t poor but neither were we rich, so our holidays when I was a kid were somewhat modest. When I was young, we had a camper trailer – a modest one mind you, nothing like the behemoths we see being towed along our highways today with their own satellite dish and front and back doors – so we’d often get away for a week or so and go camping. Exploring the eastern half of our Canada, and adjacent areas of the States; cooking some dinners over a camp fire, going to town for the local restaurant other days, sleeping in a trailer with screen windows, hearing the hooting owls and cacophony of bugs in the woods around us. By day we’d explore the forest trails, take some pictures, or maybe visit the nearby towns and explore the local shops and attractions.

A few years later, when I got to be of double-digit age, we found a fondness for Florida. For several years we took a summer holiday in southern Florida. That seemed crazy to some, but we liked it just fine. The prices were cheaper, the beaches less crowded and we had all the time in the world. Well, a few weeks anyway, given that it was school break and my mom was by then working as a teacher. Sometimes we’d head down there by bus and my Dad would drive down a week or two later when his holiday kicked in, all driving back home together. We made friends there, found that the 90 degree days there in July were quite tolerable with the sea breezes absent in the 90 degree days back home and enjoyed dips in the Gulf water.

They were good times, generally relaxing times. It was driving back from Florida I got to marvel at the vibrancy of American cities like Atlanta and the beauty of the Appalachians. I don’t remember a lot from when I was about four years old, but I remember standing under “The Big Nickel”, as the name suggests a statue of a very big five cent coin – in Sudbury on one of our camping trips. I recall vividly the excitement I had a few years later when I, as a young baseball fan, looked out the window and saw the magnificent home of Pete Rose, Johnny Bench and Ken Griffey and all those great Big Red Machine teams – Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium – go by as we crossed the Ohio River. I remember stepping into a patch of long coarse grass one time in Florida near our hotel and hearing a loud, distinctive buzzing set in right away , and quietly backing away, not in fear but rather awe knowing that I must have awoken a sleeping rattlesnake. Still wish I’d been able to see the critter, from a safe distance.

When I grew up and became an adult, budgets usually didn’t allow for a lot of exotic holidays, but I have equally fond memories of camping in some of the provincial parks along Lake Erie during the bird migration; of the sights of New York when I went for a long drive, and experiencing that vibrant Atlanta as an adult. My dad meanwhile, with his equally fond-of-travel new wife, took many trips back to his homeland in Switzerland and hers in Britain before they sadly became too old and unsure of their health to do so any more. They’d regale me with the stories of their trips, photos of the landscapes and tales of the best food they got in the foreign restaurants. That was mostly my dad’s thing.

The travel industry took a beating in the last year with Covid. There are pros and cons to that; obviously it’s bad because it effects so many people’s livelihood but the reduced air pollution from the fewer jets and cars on the road has done a wee bit of good to the environment and enabled people to find interesting things to do at home that might have eluded them previously. Still, it would seem that the more people get to travel, the more we might hope to understand each other. It’s easier to have empathy for others when we’ve actually met them and seen their lives a little rather than just the Hollywood sterotype depictions of them.

So, vacations. They can be big or small, far or near, but here’s to them. Hope you can treat yourself to one, no matter how humble, sometime soon.