Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Giving Until It Hurts!

In A World Called Catastrophe - Matthew Good

Standing on the edge of a cliff and wondering whether I should jump. Whatever decision I make there will be some people who disprove and others who would join me if they could. How's that for an intro to a topic that may find you wishing you could be behind me at the precipice giving a final shove? Whether you agree or not with the following viewpoint is your own decision and I am trying to sway nobody.

Charities. I am very opinionated when it comes to charities and who gets my hard earned dollar and cast-offs. Most causes these days seem to have a celebrity spokesperson attached to them and this is my first concern. Unless that person is directly affected by the cause - it's not credible to me. Years ago, Mary Tyler Moore used her notoriety to champion the Juvenile Diabetes Association. Makes sense, since she was a sufferer of the ailment. I'll even accept Bob Geldof of the Boomtown Rats organizing the charity fundraiser Band Aid to raise global awareness of the famine crisis in Ethiopia after visiting the area and being profoundly affected. See - I do have a compassionate heart.

What bothers me is the Associations that use impoverished families in predominantly African countries to squeeze monthly payments from our bank accounts to supposedly help make a difference. But from what I can see, a lot of money is going to produce and air the infomercials, and then send monthly updates on the family being sponsored. Of course, if the Hollywood icon would donate their earnings for just one movie - famine might be a thing of the past for a handful of communities. After all, as they say, only pennies a day can make such a difference - imagine what a million would do? I agree that is a sad state of affairs in many of these 3rd world countries and am grateful for all that we have here at home. Interestingly, part of my skepticism comes in part from a documentary that I saw concerning the Aids epidemic that continues to claim many lives and leave many children orphaned. Despite many people were well aware of the dangers of unprotected sexual encounters, they refused to use protection. Some even freely went on to infect others knowing they were giving a death sentence along with a moment or two of passion. I wish I could remember more about that film and watch it again. I guess the bottom line is that I would like to see how my charitable dollars are being spent and hopefully not so much on the administration costs and advertising campaigns. 

Charity begins at home. In the broadest sense within my country and of course my community. It doesn't make a lot of sense to me to donate a $2 can of soup that will be shipped half way across the country or another continent. The cash is easier to transport and purchasing local products will have the added benefit of boosting the economy. Win-win. Food donations to me should always be done locally - every community has people who may on occasion need to visit the food bank. I have been there myself. I would prefer that donations of household items go to the local woman's shelter - but I wouldn't be completely against a charity that takes donated items and sells them to the public to earn money. I just want to know how much money is funneled back to those in need and would items be provided at no charge if necessary. Getting back to the impoverished and orphaned in Africa - don't kid yourself into believing that the same destitution doesn't happen in the western world. 

I may be way out on a limb here and mis-informed but I believe that most of the homelessness in this country is to be found in major cities. It is difficult to walk a city block in downtown Toronto without seeing "street people", but in my community in the outskirts of the city, I have never seen someone sleeping in the doorways of stores or on the sidewalks. Any reasons why this is so, would be pure speculation on my part, but I don't think that the size of the community matters as much as the lure of the big city and bright lights that never sleeps instead of the carpet being rolled up at dusk and the light turned off. If you are unhappy in your community, you look for a place to hide in the anonymity of the urban spoils. Compared to Nipigon - Thunder Bay is a big city to take refuge. This is where I step outside the confines of my neighbourhood to donate to the homeless crisis. Same goes for the children's hospital, after of course I have considered the needs of the local hospital. 

There are natural disasters all over the world and some are so catastrophic that they captivate world-wide attention for days and years afterwards. Some places never returning to their former glory. But to be sure, there are disasters in Canada as well. I am not suggesting that there is anything reaching the devastation of the Indonesian tsunami, the earthquake in Haiti or hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. There are instances of flooding, forest fires, tornadoes. Perhaps not to the scale of other countries but devastating to those affected to be sure. Although Canadians do escape Mother Nature's wrath, we do have other disasters to contend with. For example, do you know how many people die in Canada trying to get a high school diploma? Even one in this civilized society of ours would be too many. Seven native students that were ripped from the families homes to attend high school hundreds of kilometers from their homes. In a strange environment without family support and guidance, these children chose the wrong paths to escape their frightening reality and in a futile attempt to find acceptance in the community they didn't know or understand. Consider yourself in that situation at such a vulnerable age. Most of us struggle with the start of high school life and we have our families standing behind us in support. Maybe some charitable dollars can go toward suitable educational opportunities in their home towns instead of boarding homes and plane rides. That is going on today in Thunder Bay and its surrounding communities. Still not convinced? Look at the issues plaguing Attawapiskat. 

Ironically, while one teacher fought to bring awareness to the problems in our own backyard and she was summarily dismissed. The reason, another colleague was organizing a fundraising trip to Nicaragua where they built a basketball court and brought donated school supplies and computers. If the money for the flights for 15 people from Toronto to Nicaragua was spent on improving conditions in Attawapiskat or after school programming for the needy in Brampton...what a difference they would have made. Why even in their own school community their were students living below the poverty line without the opportunity to look beyond their backyard let alone travel half way across the globe. Keep it local and fund raise for scholarships for post-secondary education for a deserving fellow student or two. You will have the added benefit of seeing with each passing year with your own eyes how your social awareness has made a difference. Call me a cynic but with the rampant poverty in Nicaragua, I would think that a garden to provide nourishment would be moderately more necessary than a concrete basketball court. Maybe it's just me?

Like it or not I will spend most of my charity dollars and free time helping the many needy and deserving families and individuals in my own community and country. Excepting of course for immediate need after natural disasters - it just seems to me that there is a lot of need right here in my neighbourhood. Although remaining the cynic on the home front I am bothered by every Tom,  Dick and Harry reaching their hand into my pocket because some inconvenience has befallen them. I'm not talking about the people who have been struck by an illness or are coping with a death due to an illness and chose to channel their grief and energies into raising money for that cause. I am talking about the family member that passes away and before the sod is laid on the grave, a trust is set up at the bank for the children. Maybe it seems cold, but I bust my butt to ensure that to the best of my ability my children were provided for in the event of my untimely death. Why didn't these people? Should I pay because they chose the trip to Florida over the contributions to life insurance policies? And in some cases, you know that the offspring and surviving spouse are well taken care of - especially in the case of a police officer killed in the line of duty for example. I would suspect though that most of us facing the death sentence of a terminal illness would go to the ends of the earth and back in the search for a cure - that sort of thing could be costly. Who should pay? I suppose it would be a personal choice decided case by case for me. Sometimes these "cures" are quackery. 

But who isn't a little jaded about "giving til it hurts" after hearing stories about people being jilted by the likes of the Burlington, Ontario young woman who by all appearances seemed to be suffering from cancer. She collected $20,000 from the bogus charity she set up, people likely thought they were donating to the Canadian Cancer Society. She isn't the only one who has gotten caught in this sort of fraudulent activity - how many are there that haven't been caught. 

And on that note: I will leave you with just one thought. I was passing through a store in the mall the other day and came across the most divine pair of shoes that would surely improve my posture and comfort of my tender tootsies. If you could possibly see your way to tossing a loonie or two my way I would be ever so grateful. Of course if you would like to spread the smile even further across my face - the most adorable dress was right next door. I've had them put it on hold. Donations of $5.00 or more will get a photograph of my new outfit. Not only will you find a outlet to restore your faith in humanity but you sure will brighten my day! :)

Friday, May 25, 2012

2-4 Not Just a Number But a Cause for Celebration

The Black Fly Song - Wade Hemsworth

You can call it the Victoria Day Holiday or you can be a true Canadian with red and white blood cells running through your veins and call it "May 2-4"! Most people don't even know who Victoria is and that she was Queen Victoria, the great-great-great-great grandmother of Princes William and Harry. It doesn't really matter to me if we celebrate her birthday just that we have another month in the year with a statutory holiday. The long weekend in May has long been considered the official start of the summer season and the time when people begin to dig into their gardens, open up their pools/cottages and dust off the barbeques. A real party weekend: hence the reference to the quintessential party supply - the 2-4 of beer. A case of 24 cans or bottles of beer for you teetotalers. But despite the party in the backyard and days of sunshine, it can still be a little chilly for a camping trip. This year is different though, we had a unusually mild winter followed with unseasonably warm spring. The weather gurus were predicting weekend temperatures into the mid-20's+ Celsius. That's 80 degrees on the Fahrenheit scale and great camping weather.

The site was reserved in the northern reaches of the vast Algonquin Park in Northern Ontario. The cars were packed with all the essentials - accomodations, clothes, food and beer...lots of beer. So with a tank full of gas, we headed north. My daughter, her boyfriend, me and a couple hundred thousand other cottagers trying to get away from the concrete jungle. We pass the traditional cut-offs for cottage country and we are still heading north. The housing developments and farm country give way to the granite formations of the Canadian Shield. I love the rugged beauty of the Shield - it's a lot like my hometown of Thunder Bay. As I drove, I marveled at the ribbon of pavement that meandered its way like as drunken sailor. I imagined this road which was in the process of being widened and divided as a country road used primarily by horse-driven modes of transportation weaving around obstacles like trees and boulders. The path just grew over time, not really altering its original course. But then you would come across a stunning rock face flanking either side of the road and it was obvious that this little mound was blown apart with dynamite to make the way clear for the horseless carriages. Why didn't they just go over them and make a small rise in the road elevation? I mean it's not like other parts of the highway are level and flat. Before the commencement of the Vancouver Olympics in 2010, I had the opportunity to drive a lot of the Trans-Canada Highway and was thrilled to see all the Inukshuks that were built on the rock shelves above the road side. I was taken aback at how the Canadian pride swelled at the beauty and the  tenacity of the people who constructed them and as I told my daughter about it, we could still see a few remaining beacons that had not succumbed to the ravages of time and weather and fallen over.  

Inukshuk perched on the rock face at the side of the road.

All along the highways in Northern Ontario you can spot the pictorial signs portraying a moose with its head down charging across the road. Personally I would love to see a moose in is natural elements but not poised at the side of the road ready to intervene as I pass by. But the intelligentsia in the government department responsible for road signage has come up with a good one to infuse a little humour into the danger. Two feet square on the diagonal on the reflective yellow background is the familiar black silhouetted charging moose. But the added feature of a light above is explained below - " moose crossing when light flashing". Just like a pedestrian crossing downtown. But wait...who taught the moose to push the button to activate the flashing light? Reminds me of the story of the woman who wrote her local politician asking him to move the deer crossing sign in front of her house because it wasn't safe for the deer to cross there as too many were getting hit and killed. Take a minute and think about it if you need to - it's hilarious!

Soon enough, we get the first glimpse of our home away from home for the next 4 days. The trees, the nature, the lake...untouched beauty. No cell phones, no computers, no lights or electricity. You aren't going anywhere, time is irrelevant. Step one, crack open your first can of beer and toast the first camping trip of the season. Nothing like a Keith's chilled over ice! It really wasn't until we started to set up the tent that nature began to show it's more unpleasant side in the form of nasty little varmints with voracious appetites and persistence that would drive the most patient and tolerant person mad. Laugh if you want, but initially this true Canuck did not even know what these pest were - all I knew was that Deep Woods Off was ineffective in repelling them. The boyfriend assumed they were attracted to our feminine scent and blamed that shower filled with flowery aromas that we had to make time for before leaving or the very colour of our clothing. He didn't seem to be bothered by the gnats - that's just unfair. Rest assured that for the rest of the camping trip, cameras were banned because the fashion became something no one would want to be reminded of. The hoodie covered the head and the upper torso except for the face, track pants protected the legs and were tucked into the socks. Breaking the cardinal rule of summer fashion - on the feet were sandals. Socks and sandals together normally make me cringe...but this was survival! I was being eaten alive! By days end, relief only came in the form of inebriation. The following day the rest of our party arrived and the only thing we learned was that we were indeed dealing with black flies, commercial repellents did not repel them but stopped them from biting (not!), smoke from a camp fire did not bother them,  food seemed to encourage them to visit. On the positive side, black flies may have genetic origins in Mexico where an afternoon siesta is common to escape the heat of the day. Peel the layer and enjoy the sun and heat...bug-free! If I had a chainsaw I might have hewn 75% of the trees on our sight and sit in the shadeless midst of our site just for the relief. And for those few hours we relished in the nature around us. The forests as far as the eye could see, the clear sky with birds not airplanes soaring above, the bright sunshine, the crystal clear expanse of water that lay before us and the ducks. Canadian geese, 3 families all with little fluff balls in tow living at the waters edge and we watched as they soiled the grass with mounds of goose poo and then took the youngsters into the water for some swimming lessons. They are surprisingly quiet when they are left to their own devices. 

But too soon, the sun begins its decent on the horizon and the irritants return with a vengeance. You don't have a lot of options 1) pack up and leave 2) hide in the tent until the moon is out 3) make the best of it. I won't deny that I considered option one as I shed tears because I swatted a bug near my eye with a hand coated in toxic bug repellent and for a while I even hid in the tent. But eventually, I emerged and while sitting at the picnic table swatting at the cloud of varmints it occurred to me that our neighbouring campers that I thought were so friendly were probably not waving but swatting at their own uninvited guests. In an instance of what can only be considered shear genius a new pastime was born - officially known as the Catch and Release Game. Okay maybe not genius but it was fun and gratifying at the same time. With both hands flailing, grab at the air and close fist around the mighty but tiny black fly. Don't open your hand to look for a successful snatch but in a quick fluid motion throw whatever you hold forcefully onto a plate with some viscous sauce left from the last meal consumed. If you are good at it and the bugs are plentiful, your plate will soon be well coated with tiny legs kicking up at the air in a futile attempt to escape while the sauce acts like a glue on their wings. Smile broadly because they will no longer have the option of biting you! Works better than the most expensive can of commercial repellent. Initially, the hope was that the sight of all their relatives in the throes of death would be a deterrent on its' own - that didn't happen but the burial site was quite impressive :)

This was only the beginning! 

I don't know if it is an initiative started only in the remote provincial campgrounds but this second trip to the Algonquin Park had facilities that were remarkable on a few levels. First of all the facilities were located on the second level of the structure and let me tell you that hill can be a challenge with some decent inebriation or in the darkness of the night. But compared to the olfactory offense of the previously common outhouse, this is a breath of fresh air (no pun intended). I really hope that this venture proves to be successful because it is much less offensive, it is a compostable toilet. A list of do's and don't on proper usage proclaims that you can help the facility do it's job while you do yours. Common sense rules the same as your household porcelain seat. Besides being clean and seemingly more sanitary than your average outhouse, there is an added bonus of a rush of cool air when you sit. A little freaky at first, but really it is a solar powered fan that is aiding in the decomposition of the waste. I could have lived without the knowledge of how the high tech collector uses a variety of microbes down there - it was a little too close for comfort if you know what I mean. Given the alternative, I'll take this. 

Before we knew it, the beer was gone and it was time to pack up and head out. We were halfway home, and screeched to a stop at the first Tim Horton's we saw when the last of the black flies were no longer buzzing about our heads in the car. Like a trail of bread crumbs we tossed dead bodies out of the window as we went - not one was permitted to find a new home in my neck of the woods. Once home the layers were peeled off and thrown directly into the washing machine. Maybe it was my imagination but I thought I detected a film of tiny black bodies coating the surface of the water. The blood and guts that were smeared and smushed into the clothing I didn't think would ever be washed out. And I swear the drain in the shower was nearly clogged with the carcasses I washed out of my hair! 

Rock faces carved out to make way for the road.

We know now for next time that if we go camping during black fly season next year that instead of heading north we will try west or east or maybe the backyard where they deliver 2-4's when you run out!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Duct Tape and WD-40 Won't Work!

Bulletproof - Blue Rodeo

It was probably written as a love song, with the exception of a few lines, I hear an excellent theme song for the Canadian Mental Health Association. It has both hope and understanding. Maybe it will do for you what it does for me - makes me feel better and not so alone.

Going through days or even weeks of not feeling like yourself is actually quite normal, it is when your daily life suffers that it is indeed a problem. Most women are very familiar with these changes in outlook and we do our best to teach the men in our lives. Honest we are trying to teach you not torture you. :)
I don't claim to be any sort of expert on depression beyond some first hand knowledge, but then again I just read an article about a reputed health and wellness expert on a speaking tour - her qualifications? She lost some weight. Well, I have suffered (and continue to suffer) from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Depression, Anxiety and some phobias. Incredible that I can even get out of bed in the morning eh? The thing is that at this stage of my healing process, there are good periods and bad ones where I struggle to get up and dressed. Fortunately as time passes, the good far outweighs the bad. Like a wildly swinging pendulum, the mood swings used to be quite brief and very extreme. You know that boat at the amusement park that swings back and forth?
Pirate Ship Amusement Park Ride
Well, 1 1/2 years ago I was on that ship and it wasn't swinging it was sinking. It was only when I reached out for help that I got on the ride and started to see some positive periods. Initially, the pendulum swings heavily to the dark side and stays there for longer with the sun just barely able to penetrate. Being on that boat, you are sitting on the far extremes of bow or stern where the ride is more intense, wild and terrifying. Gradually, with the support systems starting to fall into place, you can begin to move more towards the centre of the boat. You are still swinging wildly but the lows aren't quite as low and the return to "normal" (or centre) is a little quicker. Ultimately the goal is to ride through life sitting 2 or 3 rows back from the middle of the boat, feeling the ups and downs of life but not being overwhelmed by them. Of course there are going to be times of extremes - a wedding, the birth of a child or the other end a death or illness. The main difference is that with the life events, we can see a definitive cause and a clear ending. With mental instability, sometimes it can be difficult to find the cause because it can be seemingly insignificant but in your mind it is overwhelming. Like a greasy stripper pole, once you are on it, there isn't much you can do to stop the downward slide. At best you can hope not to hit rock bottom.
If I could give anyone advice based on what I have learned thus far in my own process of recovery is:
1. Find and establish a support system that works for you. Whatever that may be, it does not need to be family - for they may not be in the best position to understand you. Family can sometimes revert to denial, not believing that there is anything really wrong that a canolli or a shot of some libation won't fix. On the other extreme they think they can fix your depressed state with some moments of laughter - folks, this can't be fixed with a some duct tape and WD40!
2. Don't be afraid to seek professional help. Even the seemingly most "together" people have sought the guidance of someone who knows or has been there. If you don't connect with the person/therapist you are referred to, I would suggest that you let the referring physician know. It is most important that you are comfortable sharing information and feelings with your therapist. Personally, I found that there were times when it felt like they were the only people who truly believed what I was going through. That's critical in the recovery process.
3. Don't give up and know that there really is light at the end of the tunnel, regardless of how dim it seems at times. There is help available, via phone contact, live person to person chat. If you have difficulty finding the financial or emotional support that you need, call your local politician. In Canada, services are administered by the municipal, provincial or federal governments. Try them all. Nobody knows what it available like the politicians whose salary we pay with our taxes.
4. Allow yourself to cry. The shedding of tears can be quite cathartic. Letting the sadness out may help us to return to an even keel with a different perspective on things. A sad movie or book with a happy outcome may permit you to feel some hope also. But know what works for you. Hearing the woes of others never had me feeling any better personally, because although I had buckets of empathy for other people in my own times of sadness I wanted the empathy and had none to share.
5. Know your triggers. When I was feeling "blah", I avoided television. I couldn't stand to see all the happy people with the intact families and perfect relationships and I won't even get into the physical image of them. Anything wrong with my life I didn't want to see personified on the screen without the troubles I felt. Movies were the same - no love stories with happy endings, no chick flicks.
6. Keep yourself safe. If you have been there, you know what I am talking about. Like climbing over the meagre protective barrier at the Scarborough Bluffs, when you are perched on the edge, you don't really know how far you can go before the ground disappears and you are on free fall. You need to understand that alcohol is a depressant and does not mix well with most medication. Don't drink alone, because the temporary "feel good" sensation does not last. Personally there were times I was afraid to drive - for I couldn't be sure where I would end up. I didn't trust my own thought process.
7. Find your natural high. Reading, creating, writing, gardening, shopping - whatever it may be and do it as often as you can. Find yourself with a lot of time on your hands suddenly because work has been put on the back burner - volunteer. There are so many organisations that need help that you will likely be able to find an outlet that encompasses one of your special talents or "natural highs". It's win-win for you and the organisation. It's also possible to create your own volunteer opportunities. There is nothing like keeping your mind off your troubles by focusing on the positive people outside the realm of your world of pain. 
8. Get out! Another benefit of volunteering is that it forces you out of the house. You have to get dressed and out of bed to fulfill your commitments. The fresh air and vitamin D never killed anybody, and there is the added bonus of endorphines that are released when you are physically active. If I had a dog I think I would go hang around a leash-free dog park. Open air (not necessarily fresh :), like-minded company, and the love of dogs. All good. 

9. Get moving. Besides getting your mind off your troubles and thinking about something else, something as simple as washing the car, mowing the lawn or dusting the knick-knacks will also leave you with a sense of accomplishment. You many even find you are gaining a bit of that self-confidence back that you used to have. Of course, studies have shown that exercise also releases feel-good brain chemicals like Neurotransmitters and Endorphines that may ease depression. 

10. Know that this is not your fault. Like most other ailments, like the flu or Alzheimers, you did not cause this. There may or may not be anybody to lay blame to. There will be time for seeking retribution after you have taken care of yourself if you still need to close that door before moving on. A wise woman (Livia Sdraulig) often said "There are some people in the world that if they haven't got anything to talk about, they make it up just to hear themselves talk. In order to look better than you they have to tell lies about you - you are still better than them unless to stoop to their level and give them your time to talk to them." 

11. Laugh! Sing! Dance! Believe me, I know that it is sometimes easier said than done to even plaster the smallest semblance of a grin on your face - but once accomplished it does wonders. At times even watching the funniest of movies I couldn't even get the corners of my mouth to curl upwards, but at least I wasn't crying. Singing, always makes me feel like I am talking to someone in words that I am having trouble stringing together. Of course if the room isn't empty before I start, it sure will be vacated after the first few notes emitting from my voice box. Is there anywhere to go to fix a broken voice box? Dancing gets you moving and your blood flowing. But be careful not to slip on the tears and if you are like me - stay away from mirrors and open windows! Slow dancing with your arms wrapped around yourself may have the neighbours calling for the rubber truck to make a house call. 

"Sometimes I laugh so hard the tears run down my leg"

You may enjoy this website experienceproject.com it is a forum where you can speak to like minded people with integrity and consideration for each other. 

For help in Ontario: call the Mental Health Helpline at 1-866-531-2600 or go to www.MentalHealthHelpline.ca I am sure that other communities also have help lines in place. Check out the facebook page (facebook.com/cmha.ontario). 

In conjunction with Mental Health Week (May 7-13) Ontario launched a campaign aimed at raising awareness. I found the "Read Your Mind" self-assesment quite revealing and enjoy mapping my mood. You can find this site at www.notmyself.ca Turns out I am not alone - even within my small community. Indeed 1 in 5 Canadian adults will have a mental health issue in any given year. 

The End Has Only Begun - Lifehouse

"What you do
No one can decide, it's up to you
And who you are is what you choose
These times when the world falls apart
Makes up who we are"

Have some compassion - you could be next. Educate yourself, understand and be understanding.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

A Cocoon Wrapped Around a Caterpillar

.Tangled Up In You - Staind

It is possible that when the vocalist penned this song, he was indeed thinking of the love for his wife - but for me, the moment that I heard it I thought of a completely different kind of love. The love I feel for my mother, thinking of her, of the love I felt when I was around her, her laughter, her hugs, her smile, her wooden spoon, her tardiness - I feel warmth and comfort. A good mother is like a cocoon wrapped around the caterpillar, while it grows and matures into a fully independent and beautiful butterfly ready to fly on its own. That's what my mother feels like to me. My shield from the dangers of life allowing me to grow.

I had my mother in my life for 12 short and formative years before she was instantly and permanently ripped from my life - but not my heart. We are now pushing on 40 years that she has been gone, and the pain is still real. It never really does go away, you just learn to cope with the loss on a daily basis. But then those special days come around and you feel like your heart is being ripped out again and the tears flow. Tomorrow is Mothers' Day and I want to be with her to hug her, to show her how much she still means to me. I still feel tangled up in her love. She is my world, my light when I am afraid and my thoughts when I need to understand. Some of the maternal witticism that my mother left me with was meant for a child learning to find her place in the structure of a home and family surrounded by love and understanding. Some of it needed to be expanded to fit into the bittersweet trials and tribulations of coping with a world that won't protect you from harm. 

Livia Sdraulig - My Mom!

Mom's Encyclopedia of Knowledge
1. If you have nothing nice to say, then don't say anything at all. These words flowed from her lips often and was directed to one of the four of us but meant for all. It is awesome advise for a child. It prevented harsh words from being spoken between family members and staving off quarrels. But it also prevented gossip that could be hurtful and bullying. We understood that name-calling was not acceptable and we were not to judge others. But somewhere in the process of growing up, we need to learn that we can use our words to protect ourselves even if the words are not appreciated by the listener. 

2. Don't stand with your arms crossed in front of you. Be Proud of who you are - not ashamed. As a pre-teen, this was my favourite stance, especially when I was in a bathing suit or dance leotard. I really had nothing to be ashamed about, I was an average young girl. Unfortunately this advice never stuck for the long-term. I'm sure it was the very day that I returned from the hospital after the accident with scars still healing from the burns, my grandmother handed me a pair of gloves and said I should wear them always because people might not want to look at my scars. Pride left faster than a cheetah on the run - it wasn't just my hands that were scarred - should I don a paper bag over my face as well. Great timing with the popularity of the Unknown Comic - we would have made quite the pair. I was hidden and quite used to being made fun of.

3. Respect isn't just for your elders, all people deserve respect. The only thing I didn't learn was when people no longer people deserved respect - what then? I think that I often gave people the benefit of the doubt long after they abused my good nature. Respect is something that must go both ways, although it could be a struggle, I often over-looked flaws to find some tiny bit of good in people. Guess what - some people really don't have any redeeming qualities that fit into the values of your life. I choose to "write people off", once I have been dis-respected, I feel that people are no longer worth my time. In the case of co-workers or other people I can't eject from my life, I ignore them - speaking only when necessary but not sharing my life. It's a defense mechanism designed to protect myself from further harm. Once bitten, twice shy, twice bitten, you're dead to me. 

Although our time together was short, I got things from my mother other than her maternal wisdom that no one could ever take away from me. It is the very core of who I am, my personality that sets me apart from others, my character that defines me. My mother fostered those qualities in me and loved me unconditionally. The demons that invaded my home and life after her death worked tirelessly to mold me into their ideal. From them I learned that I had to protect myself so I built a wall and hid my true self behind it. The real me has an indomitable spirit and stubbornness combined with fortitude and strength of character. I survived in spite of the obstacles I faced. When Alan Alda as "Hawkeye" on M*A*S*H* uttered the words "Don't let the bastards win", he was referring to death being the victor. When I repeat those same words in my thoughts I am thinking of the people who have tried to bring me down and make me something I am not. I don't like to lose, especially to people who think they are better than others and fake. I have a lot of cause to hate and be angry - my mother taught me that neither of those negative emotions were beneficial to a happy and fulfilling life as they can be consuming and make you a truly ugly person. There are times I am sad and frustrated but those feelings are directed within and prevent you from lashing out at others. Not a bad thing really, but if people cause you too much sadness and futility they must be expelled before they do permanent damage. Yes, the death penalty could come in quite handy here :)

I'll never know the kind of person I could have become with the witticism and knowledge my mother could have shared over a lifetime. So I am tangled in the web of memories that was my mothers love for her young daughter. In the photographs of my mind, my Mother is ageless - 34 years old forever. I often wonder what she would have been like as an older woman, as a grandmother. Would she be proud of me? Would we go get pedicures together and talk about the latest good song on the radio or book we've read? If I am half the woman and mother that she was I think I would be doing well. But it would sure be nice to have her here to re-affirm it.  

Mother and Child Reunion - Paul Simon

To my children: Thank you for making my job as a mother so easy. The relationship I have with you is the one I dream I would have had with my own Mom. I pray it means as much to you as it does to me. We learned from each other and I hope you can look back on your childhood with fond memories knowing that you were loved for exactly who you were. I couldn't be more proud of the successful young adults that you have become. Sometimes it was hard but we did it and when I look at you I can feel my heart soar and know that "We WON!"  

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

A Carrot, An Egg and a Cup of Coffee

If Today Was Your Last Day - Nickelback

It's been a rough week. It never seems to be just one big thing that turns the tide but a lot of little things that just become over-whelming. The fear and self-deprecating soon follow. I know the pattern, I just need to know how to stop the progression. Ironically, a news segment just today spoke of escaping the pain with the use of illegal drugs. I don't believe that will be the particular path I will travel, but I can certainly see the logic in choosing it. By the way, if your rough week consisted of burnt toast and a lousy commute to work...I'll trade you anytime...even for just a week. Rain or shine I guarantee you saw some brightness in your days.  

For those who are looking for something new I thought I would share this tidbit of wisdom for you to ponder.

"A Carrot, an Egg and a Cup of Coffee"
{A folklore tale of wisdom}

A young woman went to her mother and told her about 
her life and how things were so hard for her. She did 
not know how she was going to make it and wanted 
to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling. It 
seemed as one problem was solved, a new one arose.

Her mother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots 
with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots 
came to boil. In the first she placed carrots, in the second 
she placed eggs, and in the last she placed ground coffee 
beans. She let them sit and boil; without saying a word.

In about twenty minutes she turned off the burners. She 
fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled 
the eggs out and placed them in a bowl.

Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl. 
Turning to her daughter, she asked, "Tell me what you 

"Carrots, eggs, and coffee," she replied.

Her mother brought her closer and asked her to feel the 
carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. The mother 
then asked the daughter to take an egg and break it. After
pulling off the shell, she observed the hard boiled egg.

Finally, the mother asked the daughter to sip the coffee. 
The daughter smiled as she tasted its rich aroma. The 
daughter then asked, "What does it mean, mother?"

Her mother explained that each of these objects had 
faced the same adversity: boiling water. Each reacted 
differently. The carrot went in strong, hard, and 
unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the 
boiling water, it softened and became weak. 

The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had 
protected its liquid interior, but after sitting through 
the boiling water, its inside became hardened. 

The ground coffee beans were unique, however.  
After they were in the boiling water,
 they had changed
the water.
"Which are you?" she asked her daughter. "When 
adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? 
Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?

Think of this: Which am I? Am I the carrot that seems 
strong, but with pain and adversity do I wilt and become 
soft and lose my strength? Am I the egg that starts with 
a malleable heart, but changes with the heat? Did I 
have a fluid spirit, but after a death, a breakup, a financial 
hardship or some other trial, have I become hardened 
and stiff? Does my shell look the same, but on the inside 
am I bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and hardened heart?

Or am I like the coffee bean? The bean actually changes 
the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. 
When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and 
flavor. If you are like the bean, when things are at their 
worst, you get better and change the situation around 
you. When the hour is the darkest and trials are their 
greatest, do you elevate yourself to another level? How 
do you handle adversity? Are you a carrot, an egg or a 
coffee bean?

May you have enough happiness to make you sweet, 
enough trials to make you strong, enough sorrow to 
keep you human and enough hope to make you happy.

The happiest of people don't necessarily have the best 
of everything; they just make the most of everything 
that comes along their way...the brightest future will 
always be based on a forgotten past; you can't go 
forward in life until you let go of your past failures and 

When you were born, you were crying and everyone 
around you was smiling.

Live your life so at the end, you're the one who is 
smiling and everyone around you is crying.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Downsizing an Upsizing World

You're Beautiful - James Blunt

So does anyone else find it ironic that while the population as a whole is up-sizing, things around us are down-sizing. There is a lot of talk in the media about the increasing mass of the world, and I'm speaking of the numbers on the scale. 

I don't live in the city of Toronto but close enough that the mayor is featured in the news on a regular basis. Personally, I am not a fan because I find that his ego needs to be shrunk more than his belt size. It was the Mayor Rob Ford who at the beginning of the year issued a challenge to the citizens of Toronto and a select few other city leaders to join in his "Cut the Waist" weight loss challenge. I don't know how successful he was in his recruitment parade, except for signing his slightly smaller brother (who also happens to be a member of council). Initially the weekly weigh-ins were going well and had all the media buzz to keep the momentum going, there there was a plateau, a few pound weight gain and poof! Well he didn't exactly vanish into thin air but for the past few weeks he has skipped his climb onto the scale. Interestingly just before posting this blog I heard that he has finally made an appearance at the public scale and I offer my congratulations on his further two pound weight loss. It's not easy, especially wen facing public criticism for being caught on video while stocking up on a late night snack of KFC. A recent poll conducted by Metro News, showed that 58% people believe he invites public opinion on what he eats since he made this goal a public affair. But really, I don't care either way how successful his venture is. Enjoy the Double Down Mr Ford...it's only here for a limited time. 

We all know about height, age and health restrictions on some amusement park rides. Some are banned for the very young, pregnant and those with health concerns like heart irregularities, how about weight constraints. No, I don't suppose that they are going to start installing scales at the entrance of the ride, but there are other ways that may have you uncerimoniously turfed from the ride once you have been seated. How embarrassing! As it turns out, not everyone can play. Some of these rides are not built for the differences in the population - but rather for what the designers deam as the average user. This morning during a promotion to herald a new roller coaster at Canada's Wonderland (located just outside the city of Toronto), a number of people were given free passes to give the train on rails a go. Some people couldn't get enough after riding two times and were ready for more. One fellow didn't even get one ride, for after taking his place, he was escorted off since the safety harness could not accomodate his Molson Muscle. Come back when you lose a few pounds the host suggested - although not in those exact words.  And this is not exactly the type of thing that you would no ahead of time. Maybe soon, they will need to advertise weight size restrictions. I feel more sorry for the young children who seem to have expanded in GIRTH, would they fit on the kiddie rides. I recall my daughter being iffy on some rides because her legs were so long that her knees were almost touching her ears when she sat. Do you as a parent stop your child from riding the kiddie coaster or flying airplanes and put them on the motorcycles or bumper cars instead? 

Parking lots are a particular sore spot with me. As cars got smaller, the spots to park them at the mall got smaller also. Not a bad idea initially but in the beginning when there were still alot of big sedans on the road, the average vehicle was subject to a lot of door dings. Now, with the exception of a few oversized SUV's and Hummers, who's drivers have egos bigger than their rides and who feel some sort of warped sense of entitlement that affords them the right to use two spaces, cars are narrow enough to fit nicely. It's the people who can't get out without opening the door all the way that are the problem. It's the ones who prop their car door against yours while they try to get junior in or out of the car seat, or worse the ones who have to open their door to the maximum to heave their bulk out of the smallest compact car on the the market. And with the fluctuating weight change in the vehicle the shock absorbers are working overtime stabilizing the car and scraping their door against the side of your car. It's not their fault, so much as the fact that there really is no room. Never mind if you have carrying extra fast food weight...what if you are pregnant?

Okay, I am sure that any man reading this wouldn't understand but being in the latter stages of pregnancy is not a lot different than being very overweight. You get first hand knowledge of what daily life is like for the extremely obese. Regardless of the size you start off at, when you are 9 months pregnant carrying what amounts to an unweilding beachball in front of you, getting in and out of a car is a challenge without adding the confinement of the public parking spaces. Now, obviously someone recognized this predicament for they have created Pregnant and Family parking spots nearest the door, next to the Handicapped spots. But what about public washrooms? Installing wheelchair accessibility was a good thing, but in doing so, some stalls became smaller to accomodate. I don't know about men's facilities but woman's facilities not only have the toilet rolls mounted on the walls, but sometimes a purse shelf and waste receptacle. I recall being pregnant myself - some 20+ years ago and having to go in and straddle the toilet to have the manoueverability to close the door. There simply wasn't enough room to step in, turn and close the door without some gymnastics. It was then that I got a new-found sympathy for the obese that must do this dance each and every time and some I would think may never make it in and be resigned to using the accessible facilities. Does anybody remember the day when you went into a stall with your mother and there was room for both of you in there? 

I often find that I am more likely to use the spacious facilities given the chance of a little breathing and elbow room, if you will. I am not alone, I often see mothers and their children exiting from there, and people just like me. The most used stall I would bet. Having frequented a number of them, there is something that I have noticed that bothers me. If, you were physically challenged and entered a designated stall, there is no means with which to close the door once you have entered. Think about it...most of the doors swing out, in order to pull it closed, you must grasp the bottom of the door (the top of the door if you are standing). There is no handle. Unless, you live in the province of Nova Scotia. Perhaps other locations have also considered this dilemma and have handles in consideration of the wheelchair bound, but not so if you live in the Southern Ontario area. There is an accomodation that should be made for the service of the handicapped. While they are in there fixing them, maybe they can alter all the doors to swing out so we can stop this potty dance! 

No one is suggesting that public areas are able to accomodate every size and shape of person on the planet. The large, the small, the short and the tall...We must recognize that there is no such thing as one size fits all. One size doesn't even fit most anymore.