Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Vive la Différence!

Teacher Teacher - 38 Special

Throughout time, there have always been children that have had emotional or social problems. At one time they went largely unnoticed by the parents because in some circles children were seen and not heard (although the nanny's could have shared horror stories) in other circles the sheer number of offspring in the family may have masked the peculiar behaviour of one particular child. 

Once children were shipped off to school and the teachers started to complain about inappropriateness, it was the heavy hand of discipline may have "cured" some of the disruptiveness, but it was most certainly not discussed outside of the family home. 

Today if it is not exactly a badge of honour, it is not a stigma to have a child declared problematic or labeled as defective. While in principle this seems like a very good thing for the self-esteem of the affected child - and let's face it, the acceptance of all differences amongst us without prejudice is a win/win for humanity. 

The problem is that it gives parents an "out" when it comes to explaining the behaviour of an unruly child instead of dealing with underlying issues. If a child can't read, it is easier to blame a learning disability than to admit that we didn't have the time or patience to help our children learn. Of course, there is an added financial bonus to hang a classification on your offspring - the monthly cheque from the government to compensate... for life. You also never again have to pull your hair out at the kitchen table trying to help them with their homework - there is school staff and in-home care if you need it. That's a lot of incentive! All the perks of parenthood with none of the responsibility or work.

People who learn differently are nothing new. It is part of what makes our world so wonderful. We simply could not function if it weren't for people with unique learning styles and interests. Imagine for a moment if we all were good at science - we would be overrun by doctors and scientists but there would be nobody to work in the stores or fix our cars. But does that make the doctors smarter? NO! They just learn differently with different parts of their brain. 

I admit that when I went to school, there were kids that we called the "dummy's" that didn't go to the same high school as everyone else, they went to the trade school. We were conditioned by our parents and teachers to believe that they were dummys - of course, nothing could be further from the truth. If we had the acceptance of today back then, it could have been the best possible scenario for society as a whole. 

The trade schools provided a far superior education for anyone interested in the construction, mechanical or beautification trades. They had the equipment, the hands on learning, and the professionals who knew more than the academic found in a text book. Meanwhile the bookies may have struggled with academics that they found no interest in, the history and geography courses that they had no interest in, and then with the diploma in hand could not find a space in a college, university or the work force. Our apprentices in the neighbouring school however were out earning a good wage and with time possibly even becoming entrepreneurs and business owners! I've known many with University Diplomas gracing their walls that wouldn't know a Philips from a Robertson and couldn't put together a simple piece of furniture even after reading the directions. 

If having a learning disability means that you have emotional or social problems, well I think that more than half of the worlds population can fit into that category at some level. Parents and teachers have called these students difficult to teach and control. 

My university educated and successful son would be included here if I had listened to the teachers. He challenged what the teachers said and questioned most of what he was taught as to its relevance to his life (he was going to be a professional baseball player at the time). I was called into the principals office more often than I care to recall - he wasn't the model student. He was a thinker outside of the box. He didn't conform and fit into the mold of the majority of his classmates. When one teacher saw potential and had him tested for giftedness instead of labeling him as disruptive, he intentionally failed the test because he didn't want to be forced away from his friends to attend another program. I suggested that perhaps he could be challenged in the mainstream classroom - what a novel idea. Except for the fact that the school policy was to give extra work to the ones needing a challenge instead of harder work! Now think of yourself in your job, what kind of a reward or incentive would it be to do your work efficiently and promptly only to get more work added to your load? Maybe if you were paid piece work wages - but otherwise we would all balk at the notion.

Working in the system I suppose made me a bit jaded. Throughout all the grade levels I saw students who used the label they were given as an excuse not to try. Let's face it, we are all lazy by nature (why else would we continually strive to invent gadgets to make life easier?). If I can talk someone else into doing it for me and they are willing (or paid to do it) why shouldn't I. Henceforth, why should someone who has made it to grade 10 without learning to read bother to make the effort now. Technology and support staff will do it for us in the school system and the sympathy of society for the disabled with help you out in the real world. 

Indeed a very dedicated grade 2 teacher that I worked with was very concerned about the high level of illiteracy in the classroom. She devised a program where the students were provided with ability level books to read. They read them once in class, once at home to a family member, once again to the teacher or myself. What a difference between the students who read at home and those that didn't, it was incredible! 

If only all parents realized how spending a little bit of time giving our children attention could impact their learning. But it is easier to brush them off, sit them in front of the television or gaming system and take care of our own needs. I mean after a long day at work, we deserve some TLC too right? The difference between parenting of today and the parenting of 25+ years ago is the commitment to the children. 

Our childrens' behaviour is no longer our problem, we can blame society for all of it. The media they are exposed to, the red "X" on their test paper, the prospect of being left behind a grade, being chastised for not completing assigned tasks all bruise their fragile little egos, making them woefully ill-prepared for the real world when and if it comes knocking. And it may still be knocking on Mom and Dad's door since these coddled children are 35 and still living at home. Unable to accept the challenges of the real world. 

Newsflash kiddies: In life, you will be wrong and people will tell you; there are no excuses for being late for work; not doing your work will get you fired; there will be no-one to keep you on track unless you are standing in front of a conveyor belt; you will be left behind before being dragged along on your peers coat tails. 

Ultimately, I think that the best of all worlds scenario would be to accept everyone for the uniqueness in all areas including learning styles. It is possible to teach to the masses regardless of style but it may take more effort and possibly creativity on the part of the educator. 

It has been determined that there are 3 types of learning styles. Kinesthetic, Visual and Auditory. Visual learning is obvious, they learn by seeing it - whether the information is in print or on the chalkboard. Auditory as the term suggests involves hearing the lessons. While the information is being written on the chalkboard it could be verbal expressed at the same time, or printed material could be read aloud. A teacher who abuses the photocopier and hands out flattened trees of work to read and do silently so they can relax behind the desks are not doing their students or the environment any favours. Kinesthetic learning is a little more difficult because it is a hands on, tactile experience to really understand. Science, math and geography studies lend well to kinesthetic teaching - English and reading not so much. But it's possible. 

While we all typically fall predominantly into one category or another, we would all benefit from the combination of all three - would certainly stave off boredom in the classroom and possibly get us up and active. Just from personal experience I learned that the combination of learning styles is present in music education. It has long been advocated that musical lessons can increase ones intelligence level. Now I don't have any proof of that but, it certainly does tap into all three learning styles. You read the music, hear the music and play the music! 

Learning is a life-long 24/7 challenge. Of the 365 days in a year, children are in school less than 190 days if they are never sick of course. Education of our children must occur outside of the concrete walls of the classroom as well. That seems to be a concept that has been lost among the work schedules, extra-curricular activities and personal work-out time. It's a shame! 

One last bit of my experience that I want to share: If you believe that the institution of the School Board has your childs' best interests at heart. Think again! They are a business concerned first and foremost with the ultimate prize $$. Don't fool yourself into believing anything else. 

The quality of education at a particular school depends entirely on the heart and style of the current governing principal. He/she hires the staff and sets the expectations. At one school I was at, teachers were passed over for promotion because they didn't have the right personality to bully and badger the staff under their umbrella. Sad eh? But true! 

I have witnessed schools cheating on the standardized testing to ensure that their school comes out on top. I have seen money funneled from classroom supplies to the sports teams - especially football at the high school level. 

There are some good, exceptional, quality educators that are deeply concerned for the welfare of your children - but I sense they are in the minority with many new hires being brought on board not because of their abilities but rather nepotism. And I won't even get into how and why teachers move up the ladder to administrative positions. Your performance in the Snoozling Room may have more impact than the diploma on the wall. Not every school board perhaps...hopefully! But that was/is the operating procedure for the school board where I worked. 

Children of today are the future of tomorrow. The health of the nation and its' people depend on them as our ancestors depend on us. 

"If you hear often enough that you are stupid, you will come to believe it"

"You reap what you sow"

"We are all inherently lazy and must be motivated with love"

"Watch your tongue, for young minds really are like absorbent sponges" 

"Let the self-fulling prophecy that you instill be a positive healthy one"

"If you expect the worse, you will be pleased with the outcome"

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Raping the Earth is not Consequence-free

Oh Mother Earth - Neil Young

Sunday April 22, 2012 is Earth Day! To commemorate and honour the occasion, we'll go green too. The computer is using it's share of electricity but the lights are off and the candles are lit. Okay, it is daytime, but the point is that the question of excess consumption is being considered. Making a commitment to improving our personal impact on the earth is a life long challenge not a 24 hour sprint on a day designated as Earth Day. Ten years from now we might be looking at Earth Day as another commercially generated spending spree like Valentines Day, except this time we will be going out and buying cloth bags and reusable water bottles that we bring home from the mall down the street in our 8-passenger capable vehicles! 

It may actually surprise you to know that the notion of Earth Day had its' inception in 1970 in the United States. A US senator from Wisconsin - Gaylord Nelson - was concerned about the air pollution that was becoming an accepted symbol of a successful industrial economy, oil spills were getting more public coverage, growth seemed to trample on and destroy anything in its' path in the name of prosperity. Change was underfoot, the population as a whole was no longer afraid to challenge what they viewed as wrong. Countless young people had raised their voices in protest of the Viet Nam war. It was felt that this energy could be channeled to alert the government to the need for change in environmental practices. And it worked, the Environmental Protection Agency was born, soon to be followed by the Clean Water Act, The Clean Air Act and the Endangered Species Act. Effective or not is a matter of opinion but better than nothing, for the awareness was spreading. 

It wasn't until 1990 that the movement was launched into a global campaign and Canada was a part of the 200 million persons and 141 nations participating in changing how self-centered we had become in our views of entitlement to rape the earth consequence-free. Recycling programs got their start and tree-huggers joined the tree-planters to green up. In Canada, some people got so enthusiastic about the new initiatives that they turned Earth Day into Earth Week and in some cases Earth Month. Now they had the right idea! Caring for the world in which we live takes more than a 20 minutes clean-up challenge in our neighbourhoods once a year. It takes more than one day of using less electricity than normal. More than one day of leaving our car parked. It's not just recycling - it is reducing, reusing too. It's a lifestyle change. But really the lifestyle that we want to emulate is the habits of generations past. Some things I don't think I would want to go back to and certainly some changes have led to a healthier and more comfortable life, however it is our attitudes about entitlement that may need to change. Pens, for example, were re-used and re-dipped into inkwells. The only thing requiring replacement periodically was the nib. Now we toss the whole thing.  As we fight the notion of bringing our own bags to the stores, generations past did this exact thing before the emergence of the plastic bags. For the lack of surplus finances to spend on frivolity, toys were handed down, so were clothes and furniture. In the kitchen, most household tasks were undertaken with muscle power and not just to push the "on" button. Even when the small appliances became more the norm in the typical Canadian household, just around the corner was the repair shop. Today we are expected to throw out the toaster when it doesn't work quite right since it would cost more for repairs than the $8 to buy a new one. Even microwaves which 15-20 years ago cost the consumer nearly $900 for a low-quality oven can now be hand for the paltry sum of $50 - certainly not worth the cost of the technicians time to repair. You also had one family car that was shared among all members. On moisture free days, laundry hung on the line outside to dry - or on lines strung up across the expanse of the basement. There may have been one television for the entire household not one per room. These days it's not uncommon for each member of the home to be attached to a TV, laptop, cellphone and stereo-type device. Not wanting to go back to the dark ages, we have to find a way to make change in other ways. 

We need to go back to the fundamentals of the Earth Day ideal. Reduce, ReUse, Recycle. In that order! 

REDUCE: This isn't just to reduce the amount that we spend in consumer products - although that definitely has an impact. We also need to reduce our carbon footprint in the daily decisions of our life. Consider buying items in bulk to reduce the packaging cost and aftermath. Before you buy that apple marketed as organic from California, consider the apple grown in your own area. The apple from half a world away is leaving an incredibly large carbon footprint on its journey to your local supermarket and it likely matured on the truck during its' journey to look freshly picked just for you. Additionally the criteria on organic-status for the country of origin may be quite different than the standards for quality from your local producers. This applies to non-organic food products as well. If it's not available locally, consider the impact before you lay your money down. Maintain this mindset outside the grocery store and with every trip to the stores you make. 

One of my personal beefs is with the advertising for the new and more efficient appliances like washers and dryers. The new machines purport to use not only less energy but less water as well. But, not only do you have to purchase specialized laundry detergent, you also have to buy cleaning agents (chemicals) to use monthly to ensure efficient operation without foul smells invading clothes. My machine is not one of these High-Efficiency units, I have never cleaned it with anything other than vinegar once a year or so, and when I wash clothes they always come out smelling better not worse! But let's say your disposable income affords you the opportunity to buy this new laundry room miracle. And you leave the appliance department holding your head up high because you are going to be doing your part to "Green it Up". But wait, what is going to happen to the perfectly serviceable machines that you had up until now? Landfill clutter? It's like automobiles, if we all go out and replace our vehicles with the new hybrids, what is to become of the goods we already have. With gas prices what they are, good luck getting fair dollar value for that V-8 guzzler you have. Fill it up with the toaster that has become fickle, the digital clock with one LED light out and the TV deeper than 6" because nobody wants them and drive it all to the landfill. I will keep my washer and moderate my usage of it instead. Like the dishwasher, I will wait for a full load before I start it. When it's irreparable, then I will replace it. I own a laundry team that was built to withstand 20 years of family needs - the high-tech machines of today may last you 10 years - if that, for I've heard a lot of complaints about quality thus far. "Should have kept the old ones" is not an uncommon phrase. And I'm not talking marital partners. 

REUSE: This is a tough one for many people because it requires some common sense. We all know some people who are sorely lacking in that! Do not reuse Toilet paper, Valentine's Day Cards, personal hygiene products, intravenous needles, condoms and gum. Reusing some plastics have been proven to be harmful to our health because of the leaching of chemicals. Sometimes reusing requires a person to be a bit of a crafty handyperson, then you can make a swing from a tire or a bird feeder from a plastic bottle. 
Reusing the plastic disposable water bottles is a practice that I engaged a lot in, I was uncomfortable about the quantity of bottles in the recycling bin every week. Then out came the news that harmful chemicals were leaching into the drinking water with every re-fill and worse if you tossed it in the freezer the night before. My first thought was that it was the moguls of industry that were putting the fear into us to ensure we kept spending. If those plastic bottles were no good....were any other refillable receptacles safe? And why wasn't anyone working to make the plastic safe? Personally I was comfortable drinking municipal water (at home) until the Walkerton Ontario incident. Then we all learned that tap water could kill! At the town level, short cuts, short staffing, human error put us at risk. At home, the age and material of indoor pipes put us at risk. People bought bottled water in droves because they were scared. It can take months or years to find the cause of a disaster like Walkerton that is investigated immediately, but somehow decades after the fact with all evidence long disappeared, scientists can still tell us that the water we drank from the garden hose on a hot summers day in 1972 could cause adverse health effects. I'm just grateful that someone found a way to use my water bottles to make fabric, park bench and objets d'art and thus absolve me some guilt. 

Fear is the also the reason that we bought into the notion of cleaning our homes with disposable chemical laden cloths instead of household sponges. We had special towelettes for each room of the house because we couldn't risk so called cross-contamination. How did we ever managed to survive the past generations attempts to kill us by not washing their hands with antibacterial soap, they didn't disinfect tables, counters or cutlery. Egad! They used not only the same utensils but the same cutting boards for food preparation. And the cutting board was germ sucking wood! A 70 year old relative promptly threw out all the cutting boards dispute she had not killed any of her four children and started to buy disposable cutting boards for poultry. Fear will make us spend irrationally on "un-friendly" products. The fear is fed to us by the media and the companies that market the items. It is beneficial to their bottom line if we are using consumables and replacing them.

RECYCLE: Make this one easy for people and only the most insolent members of society will refuse to partake. I have found that when the choice of a recycle bin and garbage bin are both close at hand, people will stop to consider the proper receptacle for the item. This is behaviour that does a heart good to see. The problem often lies in the difficulty in knowing what is acceptable, especially when it comes to plastics. This number in a triangle is okay but that number in a circle is not. Not being an engineer, plastic is plastic - make all of it recyclable. If the margarine container is, the yogurt container should be also. Something are still too difficult to recycle. In some larger communities this isn't the case, but there is a lot of population outside of major metropolitan centers. Batteries, tires and paint cans are not accepted at curbside, so what is to be done with them? Sometimes in the absence of feasible options, the recourse is the landfill. Granted, if you have a vehicle you can use your carbon footprint to transport your batteries to a metropolitan disposal site...if. 

I am pretty proud of the efforts of my community in its' commitment to lowering the contribution to the landfill site. When we were all provided with an animal-proof composting bin, the curbside collection schedule changed. Weekly the composting and recycling is collected. Every other week garbage is collected. We reduced the household garbage to less than a green garbage bag in two weeks. There is no smell to it, because it is primarily packaging from consumer goods, the smell comes from the food scraps and such that is composted. Compliance to the programs was initially met with disbelief but now stands at 80% all for it. 365 days a year we care for the earth. And did you hear that the orange peels that I am tossing into the green bin are being earmarked for the tires that will be a standard option in the industry. But I need to know, will they smell freshly squeezed as you roll along down the highway? 

I think that people are really starting to get the idea that resources are limited and conservation is key. Whether you subscribe to the Global Warming Theory or not you cannot deny that everything we do impacts the health of our planet, some of which can never be repaired or recovered. Newtons' Third Law of Physics states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The Law of Karma states that every action in life creates another reaction which produces another action and so on. Even the Bible itself supports this notion in "as ye sow, so also shall ye reap". They are all saying the same thing. What we do today will affect our tomorrow. If we want a tomorrow as glorious, bountiful and plentiful as our today we must be aware of how are actions will impact the future. The future for those who will still be here after we have gone and for those yet to come. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

I Guess I Am a Fool

Bad Timing - Blue Rodeo

I am hurting and feeling pretty gullible and stupid right now. Yet again! And I have to wonder if I will ever get to a point again where hurting me isn't a number one priority for the people who come into my life. I am not that strong, my shoulders are not that big that I can heft the weight of all that is thrust upon me. I feel like the pressure cooker in the kitchen that everyone is afraid to use and go near so it stays hidden in the back of the rarely opened cupboard. All but forgotten. My chest is constricting, it's hard to breath, and I can't stop shaking. 

Thank you to the writing talents of Blue Rodeo's Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor and the soulful voice of Jim Cuddy to help me remember that there will come a day when the tears will dry up.

Bad Timing

Hey it's me, what a big surprise
Calling you up from a restaurant 
Around the bend
I just got in from way up North
I'm aching tired now
And I could use a friend
I might be a fool 
To think that you do
Want to see me again

It's been awhile since I talked to you
Nothing wrong
Just nothing ever goes as planned
Many times I thought I'd call
Didn't have your number in my hand
I know it's true 
You'd never do
The same thing to me

I never meant to make you cry
And though I know I shouldn't call
It just reminds us of the cost
Of everything we've lost
Bad timing that's all

Maybe soon there'll come a day 
When no more tears will fall
If we each forgive a little bit
And we both look back on it
As just bad timing that's all

We used to have so many plans
Something always seemed to turn out wrong
I never could catch up to you
Moving on and doing what you've done
I don't know why
The harder I try
The harder it comes

I never meant to make you cry 
And though I know I shouldn't call 
It just reminds us of the cost 
Of everything we've lost
Bad timing that's all

Maybe soon there'll come a day
When no more tears will fall
If we each forgive a little bit
And we both look back on it
Just bad timing that's all.

And maybe someday there will for even me come a day when tears won't fall. Or at least there may be someone there to help me catch them. If it's not to late. 

What is the cause of the pain. Take your, men, the system, work,  the mirror...all of it...none of it. It's never so easy as to say it's just one thing. It's too much for one person to handle. It's not one that is resolved before the next rears it's ugly head. It's David fighting an army of Goliaths' all at once with no chance of winning. For there is another battalion of Goliaths' around the bend...waiting. 

In the past little while, I have been paying a lot of attention to the human interest stories of people who have had struggles in their life and have risen above the challenges and come out ahead to achieve great things and make their trials and tribulations have some meaning. And I look upon myself and wonder what's different. Well, I didn't have to look to deep to come to the realization that I have been fighting demons that have been pushing me down while I struggled to stay afloat. The difference between them and me - they had support while I was struggled to maintain the scant amount of self-respect that I was left with. Strength comes from having supporters by your side encouraging you not from people whittling away at your spirit with words used to hurt not love. 

I've said it before, I'll say it again...just because I let you hurt me doesn't mean you should. 

Maybe one day things will change and people will accept some responsibility for the grief they inflict. Maybe they will look in the mirror and see what I see when I look at them. Maybe someday...

Is Anybody Out There? K'Naan feat. Nelly Furtado

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Ship of Dreams...and Nightmares

Dreamboat Annie - Heart

Sideline on the music choice: Ultimately this one won out for the haunting introduction and the single line "Ship of Dreams". The other choice was Into the Ocean by Blue October. Have a listen, it is a good one also.

Does anyone else find society's obsession with the Titanic a little strange? There have been many disasters (sadly) with loss of life greater than the 1500 or so who perished with the sinking of the Titanic yet, it is the unsinkable that captivates us more than others. I wonder why it is so. 

Back in the day (my youth) the word Titanic was always accompanied with "unsinkable". I first saw a to-scale version of the ship in a plexiglass enclosure in a mall in Minneapolis Minnesota. It was massive and I just couldn't imagine how big it really was. It didn't compare to the really ocean going vessels I had seen coming in and out of the harbour in Thunder Bay. I think that is what captivated me. How could a ship that was unsinkable sink? And I wanted to know what made them think it was unsinkable, for at the time I didn't know about the many watertight compartments. But then I wondered why did they fail, it seemed like a sound idea. 

Although this year on April 15, 2012 is the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, people have never let the story go. Long before James Cameron came out with his modern tale of love on the ill-fated ship, people were obsessing over the luxury liner. He didn't renew the fascination with the tragedy, he just re-kindled the flames. Much like Dr. Ballard did when he finally located the remains in the oceans depths. That was 1985 and many years had passed with unsuccessful searches. It seems that today, he is disappointed by the fact that no government has taken steps to preserve the underwater graveyard of so many souls. If when he had made the discovery, he had brought back just one artifact, then he could have claimed the site as his own and no one could legally go down and pillage. With his passion to see the site memorialized as a shrine, he could have donated his ownership to a worthy museum. Now it is a free for all. Thus far, I don't believe that anyone has gone within the rusted framework to collect souvenirs, but the site has suffered some damage and disturbance none-the-less. I imagine it will be just a matter of time before a real scavenger hunt begins. 

Some original footage of the ship before leaving port

It seems that a number of locations have laid claim to bits and pieces of the Titanic story. Belfast of course, because it was there that the ship was made and designed. It was the Irish working man who made it unsinkable. To be fair, they also constructed the sister ship of the Titanic, the Olympic sailed for many years problem free - well, she always floated! The craftsmanship and ability of the Irish working man remains intact. Southampton was the port that saw the Titanic official embark on its maiden voyage and where most of the passengers boarded the vessel. New York City has laid a claim for it was not only the intended destination of the ship but also the American headquarters of the owners, White Star Lines. Halifax, also has a connection to the Titanic as it was from here that the MacKay-Bennet was commissioned by the White Star Lines to search for victims of the disaster. And they found much more than they expected. A sea of floating bodies, 328 were pulled aboard to attempt identification via personal effects with 119 returned to their watery grave with damage too extensive for personal identification. A minister aboard gave them a proper burial at sea. All but 59 bodies that were shipped to surviving family members were buried at one of three cemeteries in Halifax marked with simple granite blocks paid for by White Star Lines. Then there is Las Vegas which is currently hosting an exhibit of artifacts including a 15-ton piece of the starboard hull which was raised 12,500 feet from the ocean from after 80 years of rusting and enduring 60,000 lbs of pressure per square inch. It would be incredible to see, particularly when you consider that at 26 feet long you would need 34 similar pieces to represent the 883 foot length of the the Titanic. Some artifacts that you see within Titanic exhibits are not necessarily from the ship after its demise. Some items on the Titanic were identical to the items on White Stars other ships, some items are replicas, some left the Titanic before the ship sailed, some floated on the surface of the water, some came from the some 700 survivors.

So, should we use the technology available to us today to preserve and conserve the artifacts of the Titanic or should it be left for Mother Nature that claimed her to dispose of her in her own time? While we cultivate this fascination for this particular ship for whatever reason, I don't think that we need to have tangible materials to hold in our hand to feel a greater connection. 100 years after the fact, knowing exactly how she sank is of no real value. Anything further that can be learned will not be accomplished by plucking a victims jewelry from the fleshless bones. We have found her final resting place and can visually see if she broke apart in two or more pieces, but the china cup and spectacles recovered from the 1st class cabin is not necessary. Besides, even if we pulled every last piece of her up there would still be arguments over the conclusions made. Consider that some 50 years after the death of US President J.F. Kennedy, there are still people who don't believe the official version of the events and the investigation began immediately not 100 corrosive years later. The Titanic sank, a lot of people died, it was terrible. Do we need to know more? Let them rest in peace.

Titanic memorial wall at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, Halifax Nova Scotia
Survivor names in white, Victims names in black 

Here are a few facts that you may not have known about the Titanic.
1. The Titanic was the largest moving object of its time.
2. It cost $7.5 million dollars, 3 years and 10,000 men to construct it. Today it would cost about $400 million to build it
3. In the days when White Star and Cunard competed to have the biggest and fastest vessel to cross the Atlantic Ocean, more than 100,000 people gathered to watch the Unsinkable commence it's maiden voyage.
4. A first-class ticket sold for $4,500 each (equivalent to $90,000 today). Third class was $40 ($770 today) and you had to share one of two bathtubs with 700 other passengers. But to tell the truth, back then they didn't bathe too frequently for fear of catching disease from the practice. Third class on the Titanic was said to be similar to second class on any other liner. 
5. There is only one survivor of the Titanic still living today. She was 2 months old at the time and remembers nothing. Don't bother asking her for eye-witness accounts.
6. A Swiss watchmaker who claims to have purchased a 1.5 kg of steel and pieces of coal retrieved from the depths of the Atlantic in 1991 will be selling Titanic-DNA watches. The luxury wrist adorners also comprised of platinum, gold and steel will sell for between $7,800 and $173,100. Exactly how big and heavy will these timepieces be?
7. I don't think I have a personal Titanic connection...but I did sit in a replica deck chair at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Don't miss the riveting exhibit at the museum, second only to the display depicting the effects of the Halifax Explosion. 

Saturday, April 14, 2012

A Hot Guy with Handcuffs Finally Comes to the Door and All He Wants is a Report

Come On Over - Shania Twain

Just my luck to invite someone hot and in a uniform over to the house and all he wants to do is talk! That's talking foreplay a little to seriously lol! 

Okay to be fair, he was a police officer and I called him to make a report. But he was hot and friendly and...married.

A little background, I moved into this house when the kids were barely double digits on the age scale and it was like a piece of heaven in more ways than one.  We had just spent a year in a two bedroom apartment on the third floor of a town house. It was crowded to say the least and miserable at the best of times. Mind you we had come from much more spacious quarters in beautiful Nova Scotia prior to that. So even though we were only going into a small semi-detached bungalow, we were all going to have our own personal space and a yard, and a basement. The neighbours were like heaven sent angels. They were recently retired and had lived on the street forever, they were the original owners of their house and could tell me a complete history of not only who lived and died in my house but nearly every house on the street as well. Yes, I said died, an old man expired of natural causes when he owned the house. The old man next door was constantly helping with whatever needed doing in and around the house and he was quite handy. It worked well, it got him out from under her skin and I got things done around here too. 

Do you remember the TV show Everybody Loves Raymond? The in-laws across the street Frank and Marie? Well, that was what my neighbours became over time, nosy and always in my business. My very own Frank and Marie - let's call them that. There was still a lot of appreciation on my part, but there were times when I knew how to do it and could do it fine on my own. But it turns out that my "Frank" was a bit of a sexist and there were certain things he didn't think women should be doing. That's why he was so helpful. However as his hearing deteriorated over the years it became more and more annoying to have him "help". There was one year when he came over to remind my son that it was time to put up the Christmas lights. We told him that we had decided not to bother with putting up lights that year, and thought that was the end of it. Until a week later he was knocking on the door with the ladder in hand saying it was time. There was no stopping him and after he took the lights himself to check if all the bulbs worked, we had Christmas lights up. 

The summers though were a bigger nuisance though. The patio was in the side yard and all that separated us was a hedge and a lilac bush. It was impossible to do any yard work or entertaining without either Frank or Marie poking their heads over the hedge to ask what was on the barby or offer words of advise on gardening options. Enjoying company but not liking the lack of an option for solitude, I tried letting the hedge grow taller to provide some privacy just in that area. Frank took it upon himself to fix my trimming job. He also disliked the way my manual push mower cut my grass and would re-cut it after I was done with his "power" gas machine. "There now, isn't that better" he would say. I really didn't care it was just grass so, if it kept him busy no harm no foul. And yes, against my wishes he took my two outdoor extension cords and spliced them together into one. The thing is that as far as neighbours go, they could have been worse. It was certainly nice to know that if you needed a spot of milk for your morning coffee, or someone to sign for a package there was someone you could trust. And for 8 years it was exactly that.

The houses were built in the late 1950's and they were amazed when I hired a contractor to come and finish my basement and upgrade my wiring. It wasn't necessary to re-wire and Frank could put up panelling in the basement like he did at his place. No, I don't think so. For quality of living, the basement was definitely a family priority since it could be used 365 days a year and would save money on heating. Frank and Marie were old and set in their ways so during these renovations, I began to prep them about the fence that would be going in at some point, my comments were largely ignored. They didn't see a need for a fence, we had a hedge. I wanted to let the dog out without worrying about tying him up - no hedge would stop him! The first to go was the lilac bush and that was when the grumbling started. The lilac bush had to stay because it provided shade for their side door in the hot days of the summer. I suggested a fence may accomplish the same thing. Throughout the construction that summer, Frank and Marie watched from inside their house, every move that the contractors made and Frank would often come out and question them - delaying the progress and annoying the crew. When it was all said and done, it looked great. Rather than force them to pay for half through their taxes and seeing as they claimed not to have the money to pay for half, I only went halfway down the property line. Just enough to give me the privacy I wanted without shutting them out completely. 

But they weren't happy and the bulls**t started. They complained to the town that the fence wasn't on the property line, that it was too high, that it was crooked and sloped towards their property, that it wasn't regulation. They complained to the the town that I hadn't received a permit for construction of the fence, patio, front deck, basement renos. They complained to the tax assessors that I had done basement renovations without alerting them, that I had installed another washroom without reporting it. They complained about the dog being unleashed, barking incessantly, being unlicensed. It was all ridiculous and I ignored every new onslaught that they threw my way and wrote them off. I refused to stoop to their level. Things calmed down eventually.

About a year ago their grandson moved in. Suddenly garbage was constantly strewn around the patio, feces were flung onto the interlock, the storage cabinet doors were wide open. The hose nozzle and it's attachments were stolen, cigarette butts littered the property, lawn furniture that had been covered was not, and the bricks holding down tarps vanished. It's all stupid little stuff but it's been consistent and escalating in frequency. It got to the point where every time I came home I would look around for new damage or surprises. When I recognized it as a feeling of being unsafe, I called the men in blue. 

He was very easy on the eyes and easy to talk too and sympathetic and did agree that some of what I described could indeed be attributed to wind and nature, but not all of it and some did seem to be just nuisance activities. While it is said that you can leave your doors unlocked and feel safe in this town, the same cannot be said for vehicles. The youth in our community enjoy rifling through neighbourhood cars to see what treasures they will find. But as the officer told me, they never seem to go into backyards, so the likelihood of the grandson being the culprit was quite good. It also seems that the he himself had a run in with the lad one late evening at a local drinking establishment that necessitated him driving the drunken sot home. The officer was concerned about the potential for escalation of behaviour but given the trepidation that I was feeling, it was worth the risk. 

Officer Handsome called me back to report on his conversation with the neighbours. They denied everything regarding their displeasure over the fence, I am apparently the greatest neighbour ever. They did acknowledge that the grandson smokes and may have thrown cigarette butts over the fence when his butt can went missing a while back. They assured him they would discuss that behaviour with the young hooligan and of course they denied everything else. But now at least they know that if anything happens to me or my property, a report has been filed and they will be prime suspects and may think twice before retaliating. I feel better so it was worth it. 

Interestingly, Officer Handsome and I had a nice conversation about the collecting of unique objects - his mother collects very specific butterflies that his wife helps to locate. He was asking me about where I find all the Pink Panthers. The thing that struck me as unusual afterwards that he really saw nothing. The license plate of course, and a few in the kitchen. Really nothing that I would think would prompt that kind of conversation starter...hmmm. If he only knew the extent of the collection lol! Then maybe he might pull out those handcuffs and use them :)

My little piece of heaven in the concrete jungle-the Patio Bar!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Hair Today Gone Tomorrow

Hair - Cowsills

I remember reading a book as a child called The Gift of Magi about a very poor couple who wanted to buy each other gifts. She had long thick hair that she had cut off and sold to buy him a watch chain. Unknowingly, he sold his watch to buy her combs to enhance the beauty of her hair. Hair was so valuable that money could be made just for having it. Then there is the image of Lady Godiva riding through the town on her horse with nothing but the length of her hair to risk exposing herself. It seems that this spectacle was not a regular occurrence but rather something done once on a dare from her husband. The villagers were all ordered to stand behind closed doors during the ride and all complied save one. Tom, the original Peeping Tom! I love folklore :)

Throughout history, both men and women have had a obsession with hair. Men have long denied their impending baldness with the "comb-over" to hide what everyone sees is there (or not there as the case may be). Who hasn't smirked at the bad "rug" that men have worn to hide the shine? Donald Trump comes to mind as one who is often ridiculed. Thinking to pictures of famous men throughout history, baldness is not an image that is prevalent. Perhaps because the life expectancy wasn't great enough to allow the natural loss of hair to occur before death or maybe it was the bad "judges" wigs that the society members donned that hid the signs, but either way men seemed to always sport a lion's mane of locks. Consider Einsteins' wild tresses or Mozart horizontal curls adorning the side of his head and for a real good laugh, Don King was just bizarre. It seems that only in the past few decades that men have sworn off the flowing mane and intentionally shaved it all off or short razored. Maybe they are retaliating against the mothers who refused to have their sons flowing locks cut. When the trip to the barber shop was finally made the passage into boyhood was likely more traumatic for mom than son. Particularly in the era of the male heirs wearing dresses to go with their curly locks as infants - although that was likely a cost-saving practice. Even culturally, there has been a change from the blowing in the breeze wild afro to the closely shaved tight spring-like style. Sometimes even going so far as shaving designs or patterns into the stubble that is left behind. 

But men are lucky in the respect that they don't generally spend the time and money on hair care that women tend to. Society has always looked favourably on the graying man using words like distinguished to describe the wisps of age that invariably appear. While women go into panic mode and begin to pluck the single offender at first sight ignoring the wives tale that purports 3 will grow back to replace the one lost. Fortunately, while hair colour products were once marketed exclusively to the aging woman, now teens are embracing the colour change world so no-one ever need know when a woman is doing it to stamp out the signs of age or just being fashionable. For we are also defined by shade of our tresses. Brunette are boring, blondes are dumb, redheads are feisty. Culturally, the asians and darker skinned people sport black hair while the northern Scandinavians were fairer in complexion and hair colour. Now all bets are off - pick your colour, nothing is off limits included pink, green and blue! For many years it has been said that men are more attracted to a long flowing haired blonde over a mousy brunette for a sexual encounter. And many a lonely heart looked at the washed out blonde staring back at them in the mirror with high hopes.

But what isn't fashionable is the bald woman, even though it is more accepted. To help change this line of thought, the childhood example of female perfection - Barbie - is now going to be bald and come with a selection of wigs as a show of support. Hair throughout history has always been seen as a sign of health, youth and prosperity. Indeed women with long hair were believed to be more suitable as mates and reproductive partners (even non-blondes).  Flowing locks were a sign of sexuality and even today this remains the norm as seen on the catwalk, on the Hollywood red carpet and yes even in pornographic movies. Today, when one sees a bald woman, it is automatically assumed that she is suffering from cancer and the side-effects of the treatment. I can't imagine that anybody, knowing the potential circumstances, would openly mock the bald or balding woman but they are still viewed as unhealthy and fragile. But there are other reasons for hair loss that may not necessarily be a death sentence or major medical setback. Alopecia is one, heredity is another and there are more causes both permanent and temporary. 

The profound sense of loss for a woman is the same regardless of the cause. The very definition of beauty is intertwined with the presence of one's mane. Pick up any magazine and look at just the pages touting the products for hair care - the sheer numbers are astounding. Now look at the other ads regardless of the product being pitched, make-up or cars, the hair of the woman in the ad is dominant. You will notice the same phenomenon in the commercials during a television program. Consider to the importance placed on the female locks during the television show or movie - sometimes subtle, sometimes not so much. For a woman, the loss of hair is like the loss of part of their sexuality - after all, how many times are we told and shown that men like to run their fingers through our hair. And yes, women do the same to men, but as often, a woman will caress the smooth skin of the bald man with just as much zeal and sensuality. 

But ironically as much as hair on the head is a coveted crown of glory for women, other body hair is seen as so much of a curse that pain is endured in it's removal. And with each generation or so even less is tolerable. It is also a cultural preference. While the plucking of the errant hair of the eyebrows produced a more polished look for some, for others every last hair was removed so that the eyes became more dominant and a line was drawn in. Personally I saw this as having the exact opposite effect for it seemed too unnatural. But I have known those who have gone this route quite unintentionally in their effort to make both sides match. Fortunately, the invention of the razor ensured that we were not forced to spend hours in front of a mirror plucking each follicle from our arm pits. While I agree that especially with sleeveless garments the look of shaved underarms of a woman is more appealing, I wonder where this practice began and why. It was but some 30 years ago that on the topless beaches of Italy, it was quite common to see the bare bossoms flanked with sprouts of the dark European hair poking out from under the arms. Of course this was a time before the world shrunk with the advent of the internet and we became more knowledgeable about other cultures and even adopted them. Then the sight of a woman shaving her legs in the bathroom sink sent waves of panic that someone was attempting suicide with a razor. Yes for the Europeans all hair that was adorning the body was the will of the creator and even the moustache on the menopausal grandmother was viewed as a right of passage, a sign of respect and worn as a badge of honour. 

I wonder what the Europeans of that time would have thought of the practice of the bikini wax? Ah, for all of those who thought that tweezing the odd hair from the eyebrow line was enough to make the tears water, it doesn't even compare to the overall body experience of the application of the hot wax followed by the ripping of multiple hairs. The waxing of the legs accustomed to years of nicks, rashes and ingrown hairs is a new adventure in pain. But the Brazilians added a whole new dimension to the simple bikini wax by taking it a step further and for the cosmopolitan woman of today, it is more the norm than the exception to wax the most sensitive of areas. Even man-scaping is gaining in popularity although not to the extreme of the woman except in the porn industry. Natural is just not good enough in a society obsessed with anti-septic germ free environments, the new look is considered cleaner and healthier. One school of thought is that in a society with a broader view of sexuality and more openess to varied sexual partners, there is a clearer view of potential STD's. As much as the uni-brow is not accepted, all areas of the body are expected to get individual hygenic attention regardless of sex. 

The bandana that is perched on top like a decoration telling the world our neighbourhood affiliation, the doo-rag with its' long tails hanging down or the turban hiding all but a few wisps, we are identified whether we show the world our hair or not. Second to the women in society being identified with the presence of a healthy head of hair, must be the Sikh man. The faith dictates that hair must never be cut as a symbol of respect to the perfection that is creation. The turban keeps the hair clean, neat and tidy. For the Sikh it is as sinful to cut one's hair as Westerners feel about incest - it ensures a one-way ticket straight to hell. So many would rather face death than the barbers chair. But did you know that the hair is very tightly wound up in the turban day after day, this constant strain and pull at the roots of the hair often lead to a form of hair loss - Alopecia. And what of the Sikh who must undergo cancer treatments and lose their hair? I saw someone with a turban and no facial hair and while it struck me as odd, it wasn't until later that I realized why. I suppose that to save face a turban would continue to be worn even though there may not be tresses wound within its length. Sometimes a cut requiring stitches means that a small patch of hair must be removed to expose the injury. Would this be permissible

Worship it or hate it, suffer to pull it out or cry when it falls out, either way it  says a lot about us. To degrade a person and ensure that they will conform with the will that is deemed necessary, hair with be cut short or shaved off. Prisoners and slaves were often forced to keep their hair closely cropped, as a means of identification. Maintenance of hair has always taken time and money, none of which the poor and defeated had. Consider the ritual of entrance to the army. Step one - buzz cut. The original purpose of this was in the pursuit of health and to avoid the infestation of lice and fleas which were commonplace in the trenches of war and never changed through the years because it was found to ensure a level of compliance especially with those in need of discipline. Interestingly, Elvis Presley was so admired for his thick dark locks that the barber shop that reduced his mane to fluff on the floor has been designated a Historic Site by the state of Arkansas. Throughout the mid-century, the only young people who willing cropped their mop tops were those in the forces of the military or rebellious members of society (skinheads) and other members of gangs who wanted to be identified as such. An old rocker with close cropped hair is just an old man with a guitar trying to recapture some lost youth. How willing would you be to invest you hard earned money with the banker who has a lengthy ponytail hanging midway down his back? How serious would you take the physician with her close cropped spiked hair with blue tips? It's not just the clothes that define us! 

Sometimes we can't change the force of nature and the fate of our life. But we will spend fortunes on maintaining what we have, trying to replace what we have lost or removing it from places where most will never even know we do. And behind the scenes the scientists and advertising agencies are working diligently to ensure that hair on the head is coveted and revered and a direct reflection of what we perceive as our self worth. 

All the while artists like India Arie will try to convince us otherwise. Wouldn't it be good...

"I am not my hair
I am not this skin
I am not your expectations no no
I am not my hair
I am not this skin
I am a soul that lives within"
I Am Not My Hair - India Arie

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Keep the Faith - Happy Easter!

Heaven Coming Down - The Tea Party

Happy Easter to everyone. I'm going to take the road less traveled and see where it takes me. 

I was born and raised a Roman Catholic, an Italian Roman Catholic. I never doubted the concept of heaven and a higher power that put us hear on earth. I called that higher power God. Heaven was the place that my father called home. It was comforting to know that he hadn't really left, he just moved and as I have mentioned in other blogs, I believed he came back and allowed me to feel his presence at times also. I had the faith from within and I didn't need to have it shoved down my throat at a weekly ritual called the mass. Church with Mom was an enjoyable venture rather than a necessary chore. If Mom heard about a church that was holding a special mass - like a special guest speaker or music, we went there. I remember the guitar mass at St. Patrick Cathedral in Thunder Bay it was the best service I had ever attended and I don't even remember specifics, just the spiritual uplifting I felt. 

One thing you have to know about my Mom was that she was notoriously late. She tried every memory trick going, but somehow she always forgot or lost track of time. Can't blame her, the woman had way too much on her plate to deal with! Regardless, it was this tardiness that ensured that we never had a set time or parish to go to for weekly mass. We would start off planning for Saturday night service, because no one wanted to get up early on Sunday morning and rush to get ready. Probably the though of getting 4 kids ready one more day during the week, prompted that mentality. Either way, if we missed Saturday evening and Sunday morning we would try for Sunday evening. Good thing there were a lot of options because somehow it always seemed that something would come up and we would miss all the services for another week. Maybe it was just the tardiness, but to me I felt that my mom paid less importance on the church as a building than a religious life. Spending time with unexpected company that dropped in was more important, even a really good Walt Disney special on TV sometimes took precedence. But, if we hadn't gone for awhile, we were expected to make sure to attend. Even if Mom didn't join us. Sometimes, despite all good intentions, we were just late again and Mom thought it was more respectable to have four children walk in late alone than the embarrassment she would have felt joining us. How late were we? Well, more than once we walked in as the congregation was walking up the aisle for communion! For anyone in the know of the Catholic Service, that is about 3/4 of the way through the service. In fact many people keep walking right after communion, right out the door and to their cars. Despite our lax attendance at the church on a weekly basis, our faith was very important to us as a family. We were expected to live a good Christian life - Mom's often repeated motto was "If you haven't got anything nice to say, don't say anything". Which is why some of the people who have crossed my path have not heard my true feelings about what I think of them. 

Over the years, my faith has taken some hits, but my belief in the concepts have not. After my Mom and sisters were killed, my conviction to the notion of heaven and angels grew. I had to believe that they hadn't left me alone but had just gone on to another place to watch over me. They could still be with me - albeit in another form. My faith allowed me to accept my fate. But it also made me question the logic behind the church as an institution. 

As that faith was cemented in my young mind, my trust and belief in the concept of the church was being razed. Sunday services with my grandparents took on a whole new meaning. Now my brother and were expected to get up at the crack of dawn on the coldest winter mornings to prepare and ensure we were not only not late for church but early enough so that no one else would take our seats. This was a whole new ritual to the Catholic experience that I had been unaware of. When my brother finally got the courage to ask why just once we couldn't sleep in and go to a later mass, the truth came out. That had to be at "that" mass because what would the congregation and priest say if they weren't there. Everyone looked for them to be in their customary pew, and if they weren't there, something was surely wrong. That would have the priest making an unexpected call to the house to make inquiries and the whole congregation would have their tongues wagging. To my grandmother, this was completely unacceptable. Social house calls from the priest were only permissible when everything was okay and there was no need for his presence. He came now and then to bless the house and drop off some holy water. Sometimes I would be hiding around the corner of the hall, wishing he would perform an exorcism to remove the evil I felt permeated the house when Mom left and others moved in. 

I will never forget when the priest made the mistake of bringing up the topic of the tithe with my grandfather. As a member of the congregation, envelopes with the parishioners name on it was provided for the purpose of the weekly tithe. By nature of the title, the church expected 10% of the household earnings to be given to the church. And of course, the envelopes ensured that the church knew exactly who was giving and how much. The church would claim that they kept records so that at the end of the year they could issue tax receipts for charitable contributions, but that day the priest used the information to let my grandfather know that while he knew that his salary had gone up over the years, the amount of money in the "busta" (envelope in Italian) had remained unchanged. The priest suggested that my grandfather consider increasing his $5 contribution. The priest should have returned for a repeat blessing after all the expletives that spewed from my grandfathers mouth at the audacity he felt the priest displayed in even making such a request. At the time, my grandfather had surpassed the age of retirement in order to have an income to support my brother and I. I don't know the details of the financial health of the household but I do know that it was my grandfathers opinion that he gave his $5 every week for years and years without fail and had no intention of increasing it. On the other extreme, I once worked with a young married father who took his weekly tithe off the top of his pay cheque without fail, sometimes not leaving enough for groceries after the bills were paid. The church had such a hold on him that he would see his own family go hungry before he went against the demands of the church. Pity really.

Praying and spiritual fulfillment doesn't need to come from a building. Is it really praying when like obedient livestock you are told when to stand, sit, kneel, recite? You are told what to say and when to say it? In fact it has always struck me as ironic that when the priest tells people to pray, everyone lowers their head. I was a young teen when I thought to myself - if God is UP in heaven and the devil is below why do I look down to the devil to pray to God? With arms raised, and eyes looking above, I should be praying to God by looking up to him. Looking at someone when I speak to them is a sign of respect that I learned from my mother. Ironically, when a person feels bullied and belittled they do not have a courage to look into the eye of the person addressing them, they look at the floor. Think of the child who has just been chastised by his parents for a misdeed or how the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board treats its employees. Eyes downcast as though not worthy. I have never understood that logic and I have heard all about reverence before.

It is said that the true Catholics place more religious importance on the Easter celebration than even Christmas because of the events in biblical history leading up to the celebration. But of course, consumerism has turned it into a feast of chocolate indulgence and bunnies hopping everywhere. But it is the time when even non-practicing Catholics find themselves squished into the pews of the church. Weddings, funerals, Christmas and Easter - the church parking lot is busier than the beer store before New Years Eve. Non-christians who balk at the mention of religion in the courthouses, schools and government offices would never object to the Easter (or Christmas) celebrations as long as they are ensured a day off to make a long weekend without work - or extra pay for working on that day. Ah the power of religion rears its ugly head again. What can I get out of it? they ask.

I too, have taken full advantage of the days off work to celebrate the coming of spring and the prospect of new life in the form of the blooming flowers and budding trees. But you won't find me sitting in the pews. Any praying I do, is done to my God and family alone. Not once a week on Sunday like I am told, but every day of my life when and where the notion strikes me. You can talk to any God that you want to or none at all. You can go to a building or get down on your knees at the side of your bed. You too are a child of God in my eyes and unless you hurt others by taking advantage you are welcome. But for the last time, get it right - it is Christmas and Easter celebrated by Christians all over the world. If you don't like it, you are free to protest by refusing the day off and the time and half extra pay for working on that day. 
Until then...Happy Easter and may God bless you! Especially if you sneeze