Saturday, December 31, 2011

Challenge complete

So here I am, the 365th day of the year, writing the last 365 words of my daily 365-word blog. Glad this day has finally come. I had no idea what I was signing myself up for when I made the bet with V a year ago.

As a writer, I’m always looking for ways to express myself in the written word. I thought blogging would hone my skills and give me more opportunities to do this. But while I have a new respect for blogging and those who are able to build successful blogs, I’m still not convinced it’s the right medium for me. Although perhaps it was the daily aspect, forcing half-thought-out posts and late-night rambles, which has made me so hesitant.

Yet for all my embarrassment over the typo-filled, rambling blogs I’ve posted over the last year, I have had some fun – like writing the early Waiting for Wii blog based upon Beckett’s play, or retelling an account of a night spent with friends based upon the request for more action and flair. I don’t know if anyone noticed, but I’d often put in random links, like to the Karma Sutra or an on-line photo. Such small things amuse me, and it’s nice to wonder if someone else might get in on the joke as well.

I’m sincerely grateful to everyone who has read this blog. I honestly don’t think I would have made it to the end if I did not know that there were people following me. It’s odd enough to send out words each night into the void without hearing a deafening silence in return.

I have decided that for next year’s challenge, I’m going to write 100 letters. I appreciate the suggestion of monthly public art installations – but on thinking about it, that is much like what I have been doing this last year – sending things out into the faceless void. For next year, I want to get personal. I want to connect one-on-one with people. (So if you would like to receive a letter, just send me your address and I’ll write!).

But I will keep up the blog as well, so stay tuned.

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Year in review quiz, part 2

Here is the rest of my year-end quiz. I should have said yesterday that you have until Jan 5 to submit your answers in a comment.

6. What CFL player did I run away from?
a) Tracy Ham
b) Anthony Calvillo
c) Doug Flutie

7. What type of news story most depresses me?
a) tough on crime
b) global warming
c) rape in the Congo

8. Where did I meet a Haberdasher?
a) Earnscliffe garden party
b) Reach silent auction
c) Amnesty Write-a-thon

9. On which subject has the library educated me?
a) wine
b) felting
c) penguins

10. Who said, “Don’t tear up the pages of your new book”?
a) Adele Wiseman
b) Margaret Laurence
c) Gabrielle Roy

11. If I lend you a book, what would I like in return?
a) a bookmark
b) one of your favourite books
c) $5

12. NNTR
a) WTF
b) LOL
c) EOM

13. What did V give me for our last anniversary?
a) silk yarn
b) iPod touch
c) Nordik gift certificate

14. About which piece of legislation have I most blogged about
a) Bill C-233
b) Bill C-10
c) Bill S-4

15. Who assesses democracy based upon how women fare?
a) Margaret Laurence
b) Marjane Satrapi
c) Peggy Nash

16. Where did I write the PSEE?
a) at home
b) government office
c) university campus

17. How many days did it take me to walk 1,600 kilometres?
a) 64
b) 72
c) 86

18. The charity which my husband raised money for this year was
a) Amnesty International
b) Prostrate Cancer Canada
c) Canadian Red Cross

19. What group seeks to “inspire, connect, and bring peace to the world through music”?
a) One World
b) Little Princes
c) Playing for Change

20. What kind of car does Santa drive?
a) Chevrolet
c) Cadillac

21. Who is Miya’s favourite band?
a) Cornflower Blue
b) Sharon, Lois and Bram
c) Hey Buster

22. Who is Tomina?
a) a prairie writer I admire
b) my great-grandmother
c) V’s aunt

23. What breed of cow once licked Miya’s hand?
a) Jersey
b) Brown Swiss
c) Holstein

24. My guest bloggers wrote about
a) politics
b) gardening
c) princesses

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Year in review quiz

Well, my year of daily blogging has almost come to an end. I can’t say I am proud of all that I have written over the course of the year, but I am happy to have made good on the challenge (and hoping V will make good on his promise to give me a nice gift for the accomplishment).

I’m also grateful to all those who have been reading my blog. When I started this challenge at the beginning of the year, I had less than 20 views on my blog per month. This month I’ve had over 1,700! I know some of you who have been reading these entries – but can’t help wondering about the others those of you whose paths have crossed mine through this strange medium.

As a way to wrap up this year, and to thank all of you who have been reading this blog, I’ve devised a little challenge. Today and tomorrow, I will post some multiple choice questions about my 2011 blog and invite you to try and correctly answer all the questions. The person with the most right answers will win a knitted coffee cup warmer or a felted owl (your choice).

As the comments in this blog are moderated, you can submit your answers by posting them as a comment. I will see your comment but will not make it live (so no one else will see your answers). But I will post a comment with your name (or nickname if you prefer) and the number of correct answers you got. On the 31st I will reveal the winner.

Let’s begin.

1. Who bought the convent site across the street?
a) Richcraft
b) Ashcroft
c) Domicile

2. What is special about Chilly?
a) she can fly
b) she has colourful feet
c) she is a penguin

3. Who said, “who’s going to pay to drive around and see beavers?”
a) Senator Nicole Eaton
b) National Post illustrator Steve Murray
c) Professor Andrew Derocher

4. How old was I the first time I worked as a carnie?
a) 13
b) 14
c) 15

5. What did we buy in Carp?
a) garlic
b) corn
c) our Christmas tree

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Books: This Side Jordan

Margaret Laurence’s first novel, This Side Jordan (published in 1960) is set in 1957 on the eve of Ghana’s independence. The story revolves around two young couples, African – Nathaniel and Aya Amegbe – and English – Johnnie and Miranda Kestoe. Although narrated in the third person, everything is seen from the perspective of the two men – with more interior dialogue accorded to Nathaniel than to Johnnie. Even Laurence herself did not think this novel was entirely successful. In 1969 she admitted that “the novel contains too much of Nathaniel’s inner monologues” – a criticism I agree with.

The wives are important characters, but seen through the lens of their husbands. This is interesting choice given that Laurence was to become later known as the creator of some of our strongest literary female characters (Hagar in The Stone Angel and Morag in The Diviners). Perhaps her decision to write from the perspective of men demonstrates her uncertainty about her own voice as a writer.

In 1956, as Laurence was finishing her manuscript, she wrote to her friend Adele Wiseman, “who am I to write about Africa? I don’t know a damn thing about it, relatively speaking. I’ve had the nerve to write half the thing from an African’s point of view.”

There is a vivid authenticity in her descriptions – the crowded markets and bustling streets of Accra, the fading clubs where Europeans gathered to cling to their former glory. But the voices of her protagonists don’t quite ring true for me.

Her audacity in adopting their point of view speaks to her imaginative and creative abilities, and there is no doubt that she has incredibly keen powers of observation and literary talent. But I kept getting the impression that she was interpreting, as perhaps she could not help but doing, all that she so studiously observed through her own foreign point of view.

As I read this book I recalled reading a memoir by Malian author Amadou Hampâté Bâ and being swept up in a narrative and perspective so culturally different from my own. While Laurence is able to masterfully convey the exterior aspects of a culture foreign to her own, ultimately she could not enter interpret it authentically.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

23 1/2 hours

If you’re looking for a new year’s resolution, here’s one that is deceptively simple: limit your sitting and sleeping time to 23 ½ hours.

(Disclaimer: I am shamelessly building this blog from a youtube video called '12 and ½ hours: What is the single best thing we can do for our health'.)

The author, Dr. Mike Evans, argues that we spend most of our day sitting and sleeping and the best thing we could do as far as preventative medicine goes is get up and be active for at least half an hour each day. This basic approach has been shown to be successful in treating a variety of problems such as arthritis, diabetes, depression, and dementia.

This isn’t new. I don’t know how many times I’ve told a doctor about some health concern, only to be told to ‘get more exercise and sleep’. (Helpfully, it has been suggested to me that the cure for insomnia is to get more sleep.) It’s common knowledge, but perhaps so common that we’ve forgotten its worth.

What I like about this little re-framing of the time-worn advice is that Dr. Evans argues that the amount of activity doesn’t have to be extreme. You don’t have to start running marathons if you want to reap health benefits – a daily 20-30 min walk alone will bring you plenty of positive benefits. For example, a study in Japan found that every increase of 10 minutes in your daily walk to work can result in a 12% reduction in cases of high blood pressure.

As a big fan of walking, it’s not surprising that I would be a fan of the advice to walk 30 minutes each day. Hippocrates said that ‘walking is man’s best medicine’ and Nietzsche said, ‘all truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.’

So here is one goal for 2012 (not the only goal – about which there will be more in the coming days): limit my sitting and sleeping time to at most 23 ½ hours. V gave me a lovely moleskine day-timer for Christmas in which I can record my daily activity. I don’t think it will be hard – allowing me plenty of time for other challenges...

Monday, December 26, 2011

Watching Anne

One of the things that I remember about the Christmas holidays from I was growing up was watching the Anne of Green Gables movies which used to air on CBC in December.

The Emmy- and Gemini-award winning first- movie, which tells the story of Anne’s arrival at Green Gables and how she wins the hearts of her Prince Edward Island community, was filmed in 1985. I don’t know how many times I’ve watched it over the years – I’d keep coming back to the familiar story and its loveable heroine.

This year for Christmas V bought me the DVD set of the trilogy and tonight I twisted his arm into sitting down and watching the first part of the first disc. He tolerated it well enough – and for me, it was like stepping back into my childhood memories.

I grew up reading Lucy Maud Montgomery’s books and loved her Anne and Emily heroines. They were imaginative, independent, feisty and kind-hearted dreamers and I would lose myself in the pages of their stories.

In making the Anne movies, director Kevin Sullivan managed to stay perfectly true to the character of Anne, even while changing the story’s timeline and events. He captured the strong, emotional friendship between Anne and her ‘bosom friend’ Diana, Anne’s stubborn refusal to let herself fall for Gilbert, and the deepening bond between Anne and her foster parents, Marilla and Mathew. Apparently the film has been studied in American universities’ communications courses on how to successfully adapt literary material for the screen.

Of course, to have such a successful movie, the acting has to be solid – and the central actors are all fantastic, especially Megan Follows (who plays Anne and who was only 16 when first cast in the role), Colleen Dewhurst (Marilla) and Richard Farnsworth (Mathew). And an interesting bit of trivia, Schuyler Grant who plays Diana is the great niece of Katherine Hepburn who recommended Grant for the part of Anne – but as Sullivan was determined to have a Canadian play Anne, he chose Follows.

Watching part of the Anne trilogy tonight has been a lovely walk down memory lane – a lane of cherry blossoms and idyllic vistas. A perfect holiday tradition.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

It's the most wonderful time of the year

When I was a kid, Christmas was something magical that happened. Presents, dinners, cookies, parties – all of these things magically appeared as if Santa came down the chimney and with a nod of his head, filled stockings and cookie tins.

As an adult, Christmas runs the risk of becoming a long to-do list. Gifts to buy, cards to send, meals to plan, baking to do, rooms to clean, presents to buy and wrap... And yet, in the hustle and rush of it all, there is still some magic to be found.

It’s been a busy weekend. Hosting a party with friends and loved ones means baking, cleaning, shopping, and prepping. Wanting to have a special Christmas breakfast meant leaping out of bed to get coffee brewing, a quiche cooking and snowman biscuits baking. But it's the doing of these things that makes the holiday extra special.

Today we had a picture-perfect white Christmas. Wanting to get out of the house and away from plates of cookies and crackers, my plan had been to give Miya a sled for Christmas as the last present with the hope that she would want to take it for a spin outdoors. It worked perfectly.

As soon as she saw the sled, she wanted to sit in it. She contentedly sat in the sled, munching on a biscuit, while we got ready, then was happy to get bundled up in layers (it was -16 after all) and head outdoors. Snow was softly falling and the air was crisp as we took her through a park to deliver a Christmas card.

Other families and children were out in sleds and on skis. A little boy slid down the hill and into the trees, wailing for his mommy the whole way down. A 4 year-old neighbour girl was learning to glide down a hill and climb back up. Dogs bounded through snow drifts, tails wagging.

I couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day. And in looking back at this Christmas, it has been lovely. We create the magic and watch it sparkle in our daughter’s eyes, we gather with friends and create the memories and moments to cherish.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Twas the Night before Christmas (retold)

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the houses
Women were bustling and nagging their spouses
Cookies were baking, turkeys were roasting
There was still much to do before the dinner we’re hosting.

The children had finally been coaxed to their beds
With wish-lists for Christmas rattling ‘round in their heads.
I with my to-do list had just send my man
To rush to the store for a bigger roasting pan

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter
I sprang to the door to see what was the matter
In the cold night of winter as I opened the door
Frosty air swirled around where I stood on the floor

Street lights on the crest of the new-fallen snow
Sparkled and glistened as though the ground was aglow
And what to my wondering eye should appear
But a Cadillac sedan with red shiny veneer

With a little old driver, so lively and quick
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick!
My, the times are a-changing, I mused to myself
As he climbed out of his car with the aid of an elf

He was dressed all in fur, from his tips to his toes
With a chuckle of laughter, he struck a comical pose
As a bundle of gifts he pulled from the trunk
Some tumbled to the ground with a resounding clunk

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his task
What I had been baking he didn’t bother to ask

With a nod of his head and a wink of his eye
All cooking was finished, dishes washed and dried
At our Christmas tree then he scattered some presents
And filled all the stockings with wondrous contents

I offered him milk, but he chuckled in decline
And instead offered me a bottle of wine.
With a nod and smile, he turned to depart
And I thanked him profusely, with my hand on my heart

Then I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!"

Friday, December 23, 2011

Next year's challenge?

The year end is approaching and while I’ll be so happy to be done with this daily blogging – and admittedly proud that I’ve made good on the challenge – I am fool enough to be looking for the next new year’s project.

I asked for ideas a couple of days ago and agree with the observation that I’m looking for an on-going project with measurable targets. And since I found the daily aspect of this blog the most difficult part, I also want something for which the targets are spread out more, like over a week, month or even the whole year.

Ideas I’ve been given, or have toyed with, thus far:

1) Go green – either by reducing household energy consumption by 15% compared to 2011 or by producing zero waste.
These ideas appeal to my values – but what makes them difficult is that I’m not the only person consuming energy and producing waste in this household.

2) Raise a certain amount of money for a charity of my choice.
Again, this one has a certain appeal. But I’m not so sure about the financial target because raising money for charity often means hitting up friends and families – and I usually feel guilty about doing that. If I could raise the money through some feat or performance – like a guy in Ottawa this summer who ran an impressive 7 marathons in 7 days – that would be different. But I can’t think of anything right now that I could work toward. Maybe for 2013.

3) Get a golf handicap under 18.
Given that I had to ask V what a golf handicap means and that I’m more likely to be found protesting the environmental travesty of golf courses than swing a club (sorry Doug), I don’t think this one’s quite right.

4) Write 100 letters.
This is one that I’m seriously considering, especially given my love of snail mail and my mission of saving our postal system. It also seems a nice counter to a year of internet writing.

3) Deploy one public art project per month. Public poetry and yarn-bombing most certainly count.
This is the other top contender (and V’s pick). Love it.

Decisions. Decisions.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Spa en nature

Get really hot, so hot that you’re dripping sweat from every pore in your body, then step out into the brisk winter air and walk under waterfall that spills from a bank of snow and ice above. Your heart pounds and blood races through your body. It is the epitome of invigorating.

As you might guess, V and I spent several lovely hours at the Nordik ‘spa en nature’ today. This is one of my favourite places in the region – a little paradise I love to visit a few times a year.

For anyone who has not had the luxurious pleasure of visiting Nordik, they use the Nordic techniques of hot and cold baths. For the hot, you can sit in a sauna or a steam room – feeling your pores opening and your muscles relaxing. From there you plunge straight into one of the icy-cold baths.

It’s recommended that after the hot-cold experience, you rest awhile so your body can resume its normal temperature before beginning another sequence. For resting there are plenty of options – whirlpools, fireside seats, hammocks (in the summer), quiet rooms... When you’re ready, you go back into the heat.

This morning I felt like I was coming down with a cold. I hadn’t slept well, was sneezing and had that slightly headachy feeling. But after a few hours of steaming and relaxing – and breathing in plenty of eucalyptus – I’m feeling better than fine.

This was the second time that V has come with me to the Nordik. The first time I think he was a little unsure about going to a ‘spa’ – but he was curious to see what it was I’d been raving about since I first went there as part of a birthday outing for a girlfriend of mine. You’d think I’d just discovered chocolate the way I was carrying on.

It didn’t take him long to appreciate it too – and while the clientele is predominantly women, there are plenty of boyfriends and husbands accompanying their fairer halves. And it was nice to go there together today, to take a few hours to sit and breathe deep. So tonight I’m feeling rested and grateful. It’s been a lovely day.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Winter Solstice

A freezing rain is falling on dark, icy streets outside. It’s fitting weather for Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year. We in the northern hemisphere are now at the furthest point away from the sun. After tonight, the days will start to get longer – although the temperatures will continue to get colder for several more weeks.
There are candles burning around the house tonight, marking this long cold night and signalling hope for the lengthening days.

Solstice and the approaching year-end have me thinking a lot about endings and beginnings, and about change. As Heraclitus said, ‘the only constant is change’, yet as we get older, sometimes the change is harder to see, harder to realize.

When I was in my 20s, change was my constant. I was much better at starting fresh than I was at planting roots. I don’t regret that – and often miss the freedom, spontaneity and discovery of travel and new beginnings – although I do value what I have gained by learning home and community.

Indeed, the two biggest changes in my life – marriage and parenthood – have made a different sort of constant out of change. These changes are permanent and all that I do, all the changes I make, for the rest of my life must include and accommodate them. Change has now become more complex, an interconnected movement and dance, no longer a solo show. How do the changes I make as an individual affect my partner, my child? What does it mean to dream and create the possibilities of change and discovery when my life is not solely my own?

Sometimes I look at my daughter and imagine the endless possibilities before her. It’s exciting to know that there is so much she will do, be and discover. While we get glimpses of her personality, she is still growing and changing at such a rapid pace it’s almost dizzying. But for myself, I’m no longer so certain what it means to plan and hope for change.

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time” - T.S. Eliot

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Losing steam as I near the end...

It’s 11:50 and I’ve spent over an hour looking around on the Internet, hoping to find something to inspire a blog topic. I’m still at a loss.

While there are many news stories which interest me – the death of North Korea’s Kim Jong-il, the on-going crisis in Attawapiskat, the funding of health care – to none of them can I offer any new insight or angle. I don’t also know enough about these issue to have informed opinions so haven’t anything to add to what you could read for yourself.

Getting nowhere on the news sites, a few clicks and I soon find myself lost in the quagmire of youtube.
Youtube just released their listing of the most popularvideos of the year. Curiosity got the best of me and I ended up clicking on a few – cute babies, funny pets, wanna-be pop stars, the usual semi-amusing, semi-depressing collection. Youtube is one of the reasons why I have little faith in democracy.

The internet depresses me.

Over dinner tonight with some new friends I bemoaned a little too long the loss of letters and letter writing. In my defense, one of the people we were eating with works at Canada Post and was commenting that it is a bit of sinking ship. My audience was receptive enough – but I know that I’m arguing a losing case as I try to bring back the dying art of letter writing, as I try to convince people to write personal greetings in letters and cards.

Our society keeps looking for shorter and quicker ways to communicate, to get more information more quickly. And here I am trying to slow it all down. Just because we can send something quicker doesn’t mean it’s better – in fact, grammar, manners and tact are flying out the window as fast as missives into cyberspace. One recent study even found that people are more likely to lie in text messages than they are in person. Shocker.

I’ve been thinking about what I want to do for next year’s challenge. It has to be something not blog or internet related. As you can see, I sorely need a break from this. Any ideas for me?

Monday, December 19, 2011

In defense of Christmas cards

As I was checking addresses for sending off Christmas cards the other day, a comment was made that mailing out cards was a rather environmentally unfriendly choice. So today I present my arguments for the old-fashioned in-the-mail Christmas card.

I’ll admit, a Christmas card sent in the mail has a larger carbon footprint than an e-card or email newsletter. However, as one who still wants to hold a hardcopy, printed and bound book when I read, my strong affection for print is not new. And I firmly believe that tangible hold-in-your-hand, string-up-on-your-wall cards are much more meaningful to send and to receive.

You’ve got to admit, getting a card in the mail is so much better than opening an e-card (no matter how cute the jingle) or downloading an annual letter. And it doesn’t even compare to a post on facebook.
A card in the mail says, we’re thinking of you – and we took the time to get a card, address, stamp and mail it.

Cards can be decorated, coloured and signed. Miya likes to add her flair of stickers and scribbles to the one for her classmates and friends. Even if she doesn’t help with the card, I’ll often tuck in a photo or sample of her artwork. Such cards can become keepsakes or at least share a tangible glimpse into our lives.

Also, the Christmas cards we receive are a key part of our festive decorations. Although they may not get the same focus as a tree or the string of lights, they stand on the mantle as a reminder of our friends and loved ones. Unlike the ornaments we unpack from the box this year, the familiar things we hang from tree branches and window sills, we never know what we’re going to get.

I remember as a kid we’d have so many Christmas cards that we couldn’t possibly display them all. Instead, my mother would put out a festive bowl or box into which the cards would pile up. I recall looking through the pile, seeing photos of old friends, updates from far-flung relatives.

But as of today, we have received 5 cards, one of which is from our local MP. 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Top news stories of 2011

A year is a long time. A lot can and has happened. But in looking back at 2011, these are some of the news events that stand out the most for me:

Arab Spring. Demonstrations in Tunisia toppled the regime of Ben Ali and sparked revolutions in Egypt which ousted Hosni Mubarak, fuelled a civil war in Libya which lead to Moammar Gadhafi’s death and spurred civil uprisings in Syria, Bahrain and Yemen. Protests were also launched in Algeria, Iraq and other countries in the Middle East. This movement brought the world’s attention to political and cultural clashes in the Arab world, demonstrated the power of social media and may bring about real and lasting democratic change for millions.

Jack Layton’s Death. Jack Layton led his party to unprecedented success in the spring federal elections as millions of Canadians turned to him and his party in hope of positive, progressive leadership in Parliament. Yet after achieving the goal of leading Canada’s Official Opposition, Layton lost his life just when his political future had never been brighter. His last letter to Canadians fuelled a nation-wide outpouring of grief and admiration.

Japan’s tsunami and nuclear meltdown. A 9.0-magnitude earthquake off Japan’s northeast coast in March triggered a tsunami which devastated much of the country, killed nearly 20,000 people, and triggered the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl. This crisis was significant not only for the devastating toll on human lives, but also because it raised questions about the safety of nuclear energy.

Omnibus Crime Bill. The Conservatives won a majority government in the spring and their absolute, ideological rule of our federal government is only too apparent in the muscling through of the of omnibus crime bill – a ‘tough on crime’ legislative package whose passing required curtailing evidentiary hearings and informed debate, and disregarding both democracy and reason.

Occupy Wall Street Protests. The disparate voices of the 99% came together in a cacophony of frustration, anger and solidarity. What began as a September protest in New York has since become a global movement which remains leaderless and vague, yet persistent in bringing forward the complaints of those who feel betrayed and abused by the rich and the powerful.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Cesaria Evora

In 2003 I went to see Cesaria Evora perform at the Ottawa Bluesfest. Already a fan, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to see her live – as it turned out many others were as well.

She seemed a little uncertain and stiff when she took the stage – Bluesfest was perhaps an odd venue for this reticent singer who was already well into her 60s. But the crowd was so enthusiastic and supportive that she warmed to us as with each song the applause grew louder, the joy more palpable.

The only English I remember her speaking was when she said, ‘Thank you’, but as she warmed to us, she also talked to us more in the Portuguese-based Creole spoken in native Cape Verde. We didn’t understand a word, but we cheered and applauded and she beamed back at us.

About halfway through the concert, the woman known as the “barefoot diva” said something which was likely to the effect that she needed a break. The spotlight was turned off and she sat down on a chair beside the grand piano, lit a cigarette and sipped on a drink. While the band played, we could see the smoke from her cigarette drifting above the stage as she leaned back and listened to the music.

After the song, the Grammy-winning singer rose again, came to the front of the stage and picked up the mic. We cheered our welcome and the show continued.

Sad to hear that this legendary singer passed away today in Cape Verde, her small country of islands off the coast of West Africa. Cesaria Evora had turned 70 in August. Her music has been compared to Billie Holiday’s jazzy-blues, combined with Brazilian and African style rhythms and sounds. It’s very soulful and beautifully sad.

Cesaria Evora did not become known internationally as a singer until well in her 40s. Her performances were understated – all about the music, not about the performer. Having grown up in an orphanage, she was familiar with poverty. She always performed in bare feet, a symbol of her solidarity with the people of her impoverished country.

Rest in peace, Cesaria Evora. Thank you for your beautiful music.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Miya's Winter Concert

Today was Miya’s first school concert, although to be honest, concert’ might be a bit of a stretch. What a group of 1 and 2 year-olds produce is not exactly musical – but it was absolutely heart-warming and lots of fun.

This morning after breakfast Miya put on the little Christmas dress made of stiff black- and red-checked fabric which her grandma had bought for her, new tights, new black shoes and a fancy little headband. She stood in front of the mirror, grinning at herself in all this finery.

Because Miya’s Montessori school is in one of two campuses owned by the same Wesboro Montessori group, the toddler programs from the two schools were coming together for their winter concert, which was held at the sister campus.

I dropped Miya off there at 9:00 and then V and I were back two hours later for showtime.

Parents and grandparents filed into the small gymnasium in which a little ‘stage’ was set up – a stage which consisted of a round carpet and some decorations on the wall. We nabbed seats in the front row – by which I mean we sat at the front of some coloured foam mats laid down across from the carpet stage.

Around 11:00, the first group of toddlers trotted in and we all clapped and laughed as they shyly performed. Miya’s class was next. I thought that once she spotted us she wouldn’t want to go to the stage, but she willing went with her class and settled in beside her best friend, Gwyneth.

My daughter loves to sing. At home she belts out ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’, the alphabet song, the ‘Itsy-Bitsy Spider’ and many other favourites. But put in front of a room full of strangers, not surprisingly the only real singing came from the two young teachers. Miya did some of the actions and enjoyed the applause, but it’s unlikely our daughter will be auditioning for the Mouseketeers anytime soon. She’s very far from diva, this child.

I feel like as a parent I’ve witnessed an important first – and Miya’s been buzzing around on high ever since. Her favourite bedtime story has now become “Miya and the School Concert”.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Espresso Book Machine

McNally Robinson’s, an indie book store from the prairies, has recently installed Espresso Book Machines in their stores. In the amount of time it takes to brew a coffee, they can print up a book for you.

Espresso book machines are attached to a computer through which a customer can order a book. The machine will start to print the book and as the pages are printed they will drop down onto a tray. Once all the pages are together, glue is applied to the spine. At the same time, the cover is printed and dropped down to meet with the pages. Cover and pages are glued together and pressed down. A sharp blade cuts the book to size and it shoots out a slot.

There are only 11 such machines in Canada.

Self-published authors can use the espresso machine to make a limited number of their books. The machine can also make physical copies of out-of-print books and public domain titles. For example, Alice in Wonderland is a book in public domain which you could order a physical copy of with an Espresso Book Machine. If you could then find a coffee espresso machine and get a nice hot latte, your morning is set.

V says, “What’s the difference between this an e-reader except it wastes paper?” I sigh.

But he does have a point, especially when it comes to public-domain works. If you want to read Alice in Wonderland, you can download it for free from Project Gutenberg. And e-books are apparently outselling paper books on these days as more people become comfortable reading their books on their computer or hand-held devices.

I remember making the switch from print to pdf with texts and articles I had to read from my master’s program. It felt odd at first – I missed being able to highlight as I read – but I soon got used to it. I also found it very helpful to be able to do word searches when I was trying to find a quote or passage from the text.

And so the question is – is the espresso machine part of the future of e-literature, or is it clinging to the paper-based-past?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Santa: Magical story or big, fat lie?

“Santa’s not coming to our house,” my daughter says emphatically. “He won’t come here.”

Miya has been very insistent that Santa should not come here. Strange scary man in red, with a beard so bushy it hides his face, breaking into our house in the middle of the night. The potential of gifts in a stocking does not offset the unease with a big stranger in the house.

“That’s okay,” I tell her. “Santa doesn’t need to come here.” She is relieved, but the next time she hears Santa mentioned she will remind me that he is not to come here. When she saw Santa recently at a Christmas party, she wanted nothing to do with him. I didn’t force the issue.

At this time of year, there may be many parents out there wondering how much longer they should keep up the Santa myth with their child. And likely there are a good number of kids who know that Santa isn’t real, but play along with their parents out of loyalty or perhaps out of fear that admitting they know there is no Santa will mean the presents will go away.

But I’ve been wondering about if and how I should tell Miya about Santa. I’m all for childhood stories and fantasies. I purposefully tell her magical stories and anthropomorphize nature. We have conversations with her stuffed animals, wake up the Christmas tree each morning, and look for elves in the trees. This is all part of the wonder of an imaginative childhood – although our little realist is forever challenging me with, “but that’s not a real thing, Mommy.”

So is Santa part of the magic of childhood and of Christmas, or is he a big fat lie we tell our children, setting them up for the disappointment and disillusionment that is bound to follow when the discover the truth?

Should I be stringing Miya along, convincing her that a ‘ripe jolly old elf’ will fly through the sky on Christmas eve, slide down our natural gas ‘chimney’ (an opening so small that not even a bat can fit through any more), deposit present and eat our cookies? Is this what good parents do?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Occupying homes

Before writing this post, I just want to say that I was tucked up in bed, about to fall asleep when suddenly I gasped. “I haven’t blogged.”

Sorely tempted to stay in my warm bed, especially since I have to get up early tomorrow and the clock is inching close to midnight. But it’d be a shame to drop out only 18 days from the finish line. So, here I am, wrapped in blankets in a dark and sleeping house. Blogging.

I haven’t blogged about the Occupy movement yet – although I have often considered it. What has kept me from doing so is my feeling that I have nothing to add to the many discussions and articles about it already circulating around the web. I had thought about spending a day with the Occupy Ottawa crowd, but sadly never made it down to their campground in Confederation Park.

Like many others, I have wondered about the efficacy and purpose of this movement – though at the same time applauding the efforts of the underdogs to challenge entrenched power. I can only hope that the energy being applied to these new and marginal forms of protest will also be applied to other forms of democratic expression – i.e. voting.

But while recognizing that I have little new to offer, I heard a story from the Occupy movement that really struck me – and was for me the first time I could find something to really grasp as far as the practical effects of the Occupy movement.

In Minneapolis, the Occupy Movement has moved from tents to the three-bedroom home of a woman facing foreclosure. Monqiue White turned to Occupy Minnesota for help when she was facing foreclosure on her home. For more than 5 weeks, dozens of protesters have been living inside and around her home. This action is part of “the shift from physical encampments in public parks to actions targeting economic inequality.”

I heard Ms. White and one of her supporters interviewed on CBC and was impressed with this example of people coming together to stand up to face Goliath. And I may be slow to catch on, but it’s finally starting to make sense to me.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Women too hard to buy presents for?

So you say women are too hard to buy Christmas presents for.

Hogwash, I say. As long as you’ve put some thought into it and tried to find something which corresponds with her interests and taste, I’m sure you’ll do just fine.

For example, if she wears jewellery (and esp. if you know where she likes to shop for it) it’s hard to miss with a necklace or earrings.

But you say jewellery is too hard to buy.

How about a cashmere sweater? It’s a luxury item many women won’t buy for themselves, but would be very happy to cozy up into.

But you say clothes are hard since she’s picky about what she wears.

How about a subscription to local theatre or dance? You could make it a double with the promise of many dates to come.

She may like that, you say, but it’s not really tangible. It’s more something to slip in a card than to wrap up under the tree.

Okay, how about getting something for her hobbies or interests? Does she like to knit? Buy expensive yarn. Does she like to paint? Buy some canvasses and quality brushes. Does she take photos? Custom frame one of her photos or buy her a photography class. Does she like home renos? Get power tools. Does she cook? Some handy gadget for the kitchen...

These all sound too practical, you say. Not romantic enough.

Are there causes she cares about? You can give a meaningful gift to her by supporting the things that matter to her. I happen to love the WWF ‘adopt an animal’ campaign and support Plan’s ‘gifts of hope’. So if she’s complained about the commercialization of Christmas or wants to scale back the holidays, a gift like this shows you respect her values and choices.

Yeah, that’s nice, you say. But I still want something special for her.

Okay, on the opposite end of the spectrum – how about pure pampering at a spa? You could even go together.

That’s more like a good date than a good Christmas present, you say.

And I say, I don’t know that women being hard to shop for is really the problem here.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Season finale of the Amazing Race

V and I don’t watch much t.v., but we usually make a point of catching the Amazing Race each Sunday night.

After racing through Indonesia, Thailand, Malawi, Denmark, Belgium and Panama, the final 3 teams (of 11) made for the finish line in Atlanta, Georgia.

The finalists were: Jeremy and Sandy, a dating couple who had consistently under-performed; Ernie and Cindy, a young engaged couple who’d run a good race despite many mistakes; and Amani and Marcus, a married couple whose solid relationship, communication and sense of humour were fun to watch.

“We’re playing at home and the ball is on the 10 yard line,” said Marcus as they all headed to Atlanta. A former NFLer, he was always good for football metaphors.

At the first challenge, teams had to bring a flight from 25,000 feet to touchdown in a simulator. Jeremy made it look easy – succeeding on his first attempt. Ernie and Marcus failed and had to try again.

But while J&S got a head start after the simulator, they couldn’t figure out that their clue for the ‘former residence formerly known as the dump” meant the old home of Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone with the Wind. They ended up wandering around a furniture wholesale store called ‘The Dump’ while E&C successfully landed their second flight, solved the next clue and took the lead.

At ‘the dump’ a team member had to type up the clue while figuring out that the missing #1 must be replaced with a lowercase L. Ernie struggled but finished before J&S arrived and while A&M were still stuck in the flight simulator since Marcus kept running the plane off the runway (effectively putting them out of the race).

E&C headed on to Turner Field where Cindy easily plotted the course of their race by clipping her rope through carabineers hanging off countries on a massive, vertical world map. As before, E&C were done before the other teams arrived. Their next clue led them to the finishing mat.

So, as often happens with this show, the last leg wasn’t the most exciting. We watch because we want to see who won, but it’s kind of unsatisfying all the same.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Human Rights Day

Today is Human Rights Day when people around the world act in solidarity to call for justice and encourage those locked in the struggle for universal rights.

I’m taking a break from letter-writing in order to write this blog. Funny how unused to handwriting I am and how quickly my fingers cramp up when using a pen. And having copied a letter in triplicate in order to ‘cc’ others, I’m suddenly more appreciative of email.

But there is something satisfying about writing actual letters, especially since they carry more weight than a email – and significantly more than a ‘signature’ on an on-line petition. I’m proud to say I even got V to write a letter. He just handed it to me saying ‘here is my letter to the President of Azerbaijan – and I never thought I’d hear myself saying that.’

He writes: “Mr. Savalan has violated no laws and is being held as a prisoner of conscience. As such I must add my voice to the international chorus calling for his immediate release.”

I’m also writing to President Aliyev – and here at home to Minister Vic Toews to express my concerns about Bill C-4, the “Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada’s Immigration System Act”.

I write that “I am very concerned that Bill C-4 will violate Canada’s international human rights obligations” since this piece of legislation will, among other things, make a mandatory one-year imprisonment for anyone (children, pregnant women, victims of torture included) who arrive in Canada ‘irregularly’. Their cases will not even be looked at for at least a year – a direct violation of the Covenant on International Civil and Political Rights.

Bill C-4 is very much in response to the 490 Sri Lankan refugees who arrived on Canada’s West Coast in 2010 aboard an illegal Thai ship.

“Our Government will not sit back while Canada becomes a target for criminal operations that are trying to take advantage of Canada's generosity,” then Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said at the time. And certainly the Conservatives have worked to tighten legislation around refugees – but to the point that Canada may be guilty of violating our international and humanitarian obligations. Yet Another black-eye for Canada.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Women in politics

Yesterday, NDP leadership candidate Paul Dewar made a proposal targeted at increasing women’s participation in politics (and likely also targeted at increasing his appeal among female NDP voting members).

Women currently make up less than 25% of our Federal Parliament.

Dewar suggests more women would be elected if there were more incentives for political parties to put forward women candidates. While Harper is working on phasing out the per-vote subsidy, he would like to bring it back – with some modifications.

Dewar’s “improved per-vote subsidy model would require political parties to nominate a minimum of 30% women candidates to qualify for the basic subsidy of $1.50”. The amount of subsidy would increase up to $2 per vote according to the percentage of female candidates.

The argument behind such a proposal is that gender equality is far from a reality and that women and political parties need extra incentives to run for office. I’m not sure whether to feel offended or flattered.

While I agree that we have not reached gender equality in Canada (given such things as income disparity and gender-based violence), I’m still never sure how I feel about measures which hint of preferential treatment.

Women only won the right to vote and run as candidates in 1921 (in my grandparents lifetimes). That year, Canadians elected a woman to office – Agnes Campbell MacPhail who served until 1940 in the Federal Parliament and went on to serve 5 years in the Ontario legislature.

In our last election, a record number of 452 women (28.5% of 1,587) ran for office. Manitoba had the highest percentage of female candidates (33.8%) and Nova Scotia the lowest (13%). Of the major parties, the NDP had 40.3 % women candidates, the Greens 32.6%, the Bloc 32%, the Liberals 29.2% and the Conservatives 22.1%.

Of those who ran, 76 (24.7% of 308) won their seat. Of these 76, 38 were elected for the first time and a there was also elected a record number of women under the age of 40 (18 in 2011 compared with 5 in 2008).

So it seems we are steadily moving in the right direction. Would a financial incentive help? Perhaps. Is it necessary? I’m not sure.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

427,000 feet of commercialism (a.k.a. new IKEA in Ottawa)

Yesterday Ottawa celebrated the grand opening of Canada’s largest IKEA store. The local paper reported that prior to doors opening, “IKEA employees warmed up the shoppers by pounding plastic "thundersticks" and chanting IKEA! IKEA! as dance tunes blared from huge speakers.” During the opening ceremony, both the Canadian and Swedish national anthems were played while flags were raised. Why are national anthems being played at the opening of the biggest big-box store in town?? Commercialism = nationalism?

As someone tweeted yesterday: ‘People are willing to line up at night to get into the new Ikea but don’t vote because, “It takes too long.”' Democracy loses to desk lamp.

The multi-level Ottawa IKEA store is 427,000 square feet of ‘Swedish style’. To navigate the mazelike interior, which is “purposely organized to confuse shoppers into buying more than they ever planned,” one must follow 1.3 kilometres of arrows from entrance to checkout.

IKEA had expected more than 14,000 people to visit the store on the first day. All staff – including many new hires - were on-site. Although only a few hundred customers showed up, the opening is still being celebrated as a success and there’s little doubt that the giant store will be a prime shopping destination during and beyond the holiday season.

Admittedly, I’m a sucker for IKEA’s style. I like the clean lines, the primary colours, the functionality – and even the challenge of building my own furniture. This doesn’t mean I’m buying into the craze.

We all know IKEA is a massive, global retail giant. But did you know it’s actually, a Dutch charity? Well, not a charity in the sense of an organization for humanitarian benefit, but rather the ingenious construct of financial loopholes which allow the world’s richest foundation (a.k.a. IKEA owners) to find safe-haven in charitable status with minimal taxes or disclosure.

Despite branding, the store has not been legally Swedish since the early 1980s. What they actually do is provide “Scandinavian designs at Asian prices” through a private Dutch-registered, tax-exempt, ‘non-profit-making’ company dedicated (not to alleviating poverty or curing communicable disease) to “innovation in the field of architectural and interior design”.

Hooray for disposable culture and those making millions off it.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Favourite Ottawa restaurants

I don’t know about you, but I tend to like restaurants for one or two particular dishes. I order the same thing nearly every time I go. My thinking is, if I want something different, I’ll go to a different place. Sometimes, usually after being ribbed, I try to break out of my comfort zone and order a different dish instead of my preferred pick. I'm almost always disappointed and wish I'd just eaten what I had come for.

When I was in Mali, I remember craving a particular dish (a roasted vegetable and goat cheese salad) from a restaurant in Centretown. I was so disappointed when I came back to find that this restaurant had closed – and I’ve never found another salad quite the same.

While there are a few exceptions to my one-dish per restaurant preference (i.e. the Wellington Gastropub often changes their menu and I have tried several different things those times I’m lucky enough to get to eat there), the following is a list of my favourite restaurants and my favourite dishes there – in other words, where I am very unlikely to order anything else.

I’d be interested in hearing yours too – esp. from local fellow vegetarians.

Taj Mahal (our favourite Indian restaurant): palak paneer and onion bajia. The second, and more conveniently located choice of Indian restaurant is Indian Express where I actually alternate between palak paneer and chick pea curry.

Siam Bistro (best Thai place around): vegetable green curry

The Works (the go-to place for a burger craving): I’ll have the ‘Johnny be Goat’ with goat cheese, warm leaf spinach, roasted red peppers and a veggie patty. Another good place for a veggie burger is the Manx (which actually has a menu I deliberate over) as well as the Corner Bar and Grill (a new and welcome addition to the neighbourhood).

Basmati (fab little Indian restaurant downtown where I often pick up a lunch to go): vegetarian wrap –it’s goodness in a naan.

Fuschian (this is a little Vietnamese place in Chinatown that used to be called Cam Kong – lucky for me, the new owners serve a very comparable dish to my previous fav): vegetarian spring rolls on vermicelli

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Pattern for knitted fingerless gloves

I’m a big fan of fingerless gloves – perfect for fall and spring weather. So in the spirit of Christmas, I’m offering here my own pattern. (For all you non-knitters, apologies for a blog that will be written in a language you likely won’t understand.)

This pattern is knitted up with 4.5 mm needles to fit a women’s medium size. You’ll also need a cable needle or a double-pointed needle of at least roughly the same size. The photo shows these gloves knitted in Araucanía yarn (80% wool, 10% camel and 10% silk).

Left Glove
Cast-on 34 stitches.
Row 1-3: K1, P1 rib.
Row 4: K10 P1 K6 P1 K16
Row 5: P16 K1 P6 K10
Row 6-7: repeat rows 4-5
Row 8 (cable row): K10 P1 cable 6 (slip 3 stitches on cable needle and hold behind while you knit the next 3 stitches on your left needle; knit 3 stitches from cable needle) P1 K16

Continue in this pattern, cabling on rows 14 and 20.

Row 21: repeat row 5
Row 22 (increase for thumb): K1 Kfb (knit into the front and the back of the next stitch so as to increase by one) K8 P1 K6 P1 K16
Row 23: P 16 K1 P6 K1 P11
Row 24: K2 Kfb K8 P1 K6 P1 K16
Row 25 pattern
Row 26: K3 Kfb K8 P1 cable 6 P1 K16
Row 27 pattern
Row 28: K4 Kfb K8 P1 cable 6 P1 K16

Continue in pattern until row 37, cabling at row 32.

Row 38: K4 cast-off 5 stitches, continue in pattern (cable row)
Row 39: P16 K1 P6 K1 P7 cast-on 5 (turn work and knit into last stitch, slip stitch back onto left needle, 5 times, turn) P2
Row 40: K2 (before next stitch, slip needle under thread between stitches, knit next stitch then slip thread over that stitch) pattern

Continue in pattern to row 63, cable row 44, 50, 56, 62

Rows 64-66: K1 P1 rib.
Cast-off and sew together.

For Right Glove, follow the pattern in reverse (start with K16 P1 K6 P1 K10). For thumb increase, always start increase 8 stitches after cable in order to slant in opposite direction.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Sad day to be Canadian

The world’s governments have been meeting in Durban, South Africa for this year’s United Nations’ climate summit (Nov 28 – Dec 9). Sadly, our Canadian government is making a very poor showing. Yesterday Canada reaffirmed that it will not sign up to fresh commitments under the Kyoto Protocol. And rumours are that we not only will not recommit, but we will also formally withdraw from the Protocol. Shameful.

As with so much that is happening under this Conservative government, this is not the Canada I want.

We are one of the world’s top ten greenhouse gas emitters. Our cold climate and spread out populace certainly doesn’t help, but neither does our government’s unwillingness to take firm measures to cap carbon output or reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

Although urgent action is needed to slash greenhouse gas emissions and invest in measures to counter and address climate change, Harper’s government is reneging on Kyoto agreements and digging in its heels when it comes to making any real change.

According to ECO - a publication published by Non-Governmental Environmental Groups at major conferences since 1972, “Canada is negotiating in extremely bad faith” in Durban and “is acting on behalf of polluters, not people”.

Peter Kent, Canada’s Environment Minister, said it will stick by the Copenhagen and Cancun agreements (which are not legally binding) to try to prevent global warming from achieving or exceeding two degrees Celsius. Though it’s a measurable goal, but not binding countries to any actions to achieve this goal, I don’t see how it will be effective. Kyoto is the only accord that specifies curbs in greenhouse gases.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, Canada agreed to cut C02 emissions to 6% below the 1990 levels by next year. Instead, our emissions have continued to increase. By backing out of the Protocol, Canada will also be reneging on paying the penalties for missing its targets.

Canada isn’t the only country which won’t renew the Kyoto vows – Japan and Russia are also backing away from commitments. The U.S. has never signed on.

What with our shameful showing the Durban and the passing of the omnibus crime bill today in Parliament, it is a sad day to be Canadian.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

NDP leadership debate

This afternoon my mum and I headed downtown to watch the NDP Leadership debate. Since we were late and the Convention Centre was filled to standing-room only, we headed to a nearby pub where Paul Dewar’s crew had arranged for people to watch CPAC’s telecast.

I’m now decided that the best way to watch political debates is in a pub, with a beer and snacks, in the company of others. (The only downside was that CPAC only provided the English translation of the French part of the debate – leaving us tele-viewers to rely on random ndpldr tweeters for reports on how well the candidates did in French).

There were quite a few jokes in our little pub peanut gallery about how friendly the debate was. Many of the candidates complimented each other, graciously thanked each other, offered up bits of mild praise. Nathan Cullen said at one point that he was “in violent agreement with his colleagues”. An odd but rather fitting description of the debate over all.

Yet while the friendliness of the debate seemed almost comical at times, I was very glad to see the positive tone. ‘The ability to inspire and elevate the political debate is a position that’s ours for the taking,’ Cullen remarked and Niki Ashton called for help in bringing ‘new politics to Ottawa’.

I think this new, elevated politics could be brought forward by a leader who would campaign not only on personal merit, but on the ability to draw together the strengths of a team. This would be a candidate who could inspire people with a vision of a progressive, socially and environmentally responsible government – and with a demonstration of constructive, positive teamwork and the wisdom to celebrate and strengthen the party as a whole. As Thomas Mulcair said of the team, ‘together we are unbeatable’.

Obviously, such a position would be a delicate one to take during a leadership campaign – the goal of which is to be chosen as leader of the NDP. It would require not an insubstantial amount of finesse to highlight the skills of other candidates (opponents) but still look like the best pick. It would be hard, but it could be done.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

5 things I love about winter

Ottawa winters are often rather indecisive at the beginning. The temperature drops below zero and we might get a few inches of snow, but a few days later we’re back up above melting point and the grass looks green again. I hear many complaints about this time of year – and of the months of cold and snow to come – but for the record, here are five things I love about winter.

1) Snow. When I was growing up in Nepal, snow was something seen on distant mountain tops and in picture books. As an adult, I don’t think I’ve outgrown that childhood longing for blankets of snow transforming the world into a winter wonderland. Sure, I’ve met the less attractive sides of snow – shovelling walkways, scraping off cars, etc. But these can never overshadow the joy in seeing sparkling coats of white draped on trees, houses and the ground.

2) Firelight and candlelight. I light candles year-round, but as winters chill creeps in and darkness falls early, I love having a flickering candle in my window reflecting on the glass. I love watching flames dance in fireplaces and lit candles. So immediately cozy.

3) Walking in a winter wonderland. Walking is one of my favourite things to do no matter what the weather – but there is something rather magical about walking through snow, especially when soft flakes are falling. While living in Saskatchewan, I also came to value winter-ready gear and clothing and enjoy the exhilaration of braving biting cold when I know that I’m dressed for it.

4) Christmas. One of the things that makes the onset of winter extra enjoyable is that it brings with it the promise of Christmas. I love decorating the house for the holidays, getting a tree and filling our house with the scent of pine. I love the glowing lights on houses in the neighbourhood, ornaments hung from trees on the lawn. It’s easy to get discouraged by the commercialization of the holiday season – but it’s also easy to turn the focus back to my own home and my own reasons to celebrate.

5) And finally I can wear and share all the things I knit year round.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Crime bill goes to final Parliament vote

On Monday, the Omnibus Crime Bill will go through third reading in the House of Commons. Once a Bill has been read three times, it’s sent to Senate for consideration. After being passed by the Senate, it will be presented to the Governor General for Royal Assent and becomes law.

Experts and advocates for both victims and offenders have all lined up in recent months to express their concerns to this costly bill that will see more people sent to prison for longer periods. Some provincial governments, Quebec in particular, have stated their opposition to this legislation that will see their correction costs balloon.

In light of widespread opposition, and piles of evidence showing its wrong-headedness, Conservatives have shut down debate on the Crime Bill – repeatedly using their majority to put limits on the length and depth of debate.

Given that they have majority in the House of Commons, it is unlikely that this Bill won’t sail through third reading and move on to the Senate. While those advocating for more humane, effective responses to crime will soon turn their efforts to addressing Senators (those unelected officials who, as far as I can tell, have absolutely no accountability to the public), it is not too late for one last public outcry of opposition to our Members of Parliament.

Today I called my local MP’s office to ask if he would be voting in opposition to the Bill. I already knew he would, but perhaps he would still find my phone call encouraging. I then called Rob Nicholson’s office – the Minister of Justice who tabled this Bill – to say, ‘for what it’s worth, I am against this Bill.’ The secretary politely thanked me and that was the end of our conversation. I also wrote to many of my contacts, encouraging them to make calls as well.

Despite my discouragement over the likely outcome of this bill, I have been encouraged by the groups who have publicly expressed their opposition. These include: Canadian Bar Association, John Howard Society, Elizabeth Fry society, Assembly of First Nations, Native Women’s Association, Leadnow, Harm Reduction Network, Canadian Civil Liberties Association, Church Council on Justice and Corrections and United Church of Canada.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

11 down, 1 to go

The first of December. Eleven months of daily blogging behind me – the last stretch ahead. What an odd experience this has been.

One of the more significant, and even attractive, aspects for me of being a writer is the solitariness of the craft. I’ve written poetry, stories, a novel – as well as plenty of academic and professional writing - all of which has been done with me and my pen or my computer. Alone. The vast majority of what I have written personally and even creatively has never been read by anyone other than myself.

Since I was a child, writing has been my way to work something out, to figure out how I feel about something or to diffuse pent-up emotion. In my diary, my writing is purposefully raw and uncensored. I also use creative writing to go to the edge of an emotion or an experience, and then take it one step further.

So given that my primary methods of writing are solitary and explorative, blogging is a strange medium for me. Despite that I may be sitting alone while I write, the minute I publish this to my blog, I have no control over who will read what I’ve written.

Instead of the freedom of solitude, I feel constrained by the undefined presence of my readers. I worry about boring you or disappointing you. Not knowing who is reading this, nor with what grace you extend toward me, I am afraid to become too vulnerable. So this has been a strange dance of giving enough of myself to engage, but not so much as to feel naked.

It will not be surprising, then, that I do not feel like I have found myself or my calling through blogging. I have a new respect for how this medium could be used for social or political causes and appreciate the value of sharing thoughts and reflections with others. I have been moved by some blogs I have read, and certainly prefer the intimacy of blogging to the gossip of facebook. But to be honest, I don’t know what I’m going to do with this come 2012. Whatever I do, it won’t be another 365x365.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Happy Birthday Winston Churchill

Today is the birthday of Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, born almost exactly 100 years before me in 1874.

Churchill is widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the last century and among the most influential persons in British history. He was also a respected statesman, orator, historian, writer and artist – and the only British prime minister to have received the Nobel Prize in Literature.

He twice served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (1940-45 and 1951-55) and died 46 years ago.

Today was also the launch of the Ottawa Winston Churchill Society, founded by local Churchill scholar Ronald Cohen, and rung in at Earnscliffe, the residence of the British High Commissioner, who recently said of Churchill, “He wasn’t perfect and nor were his policies, but he had many good qualities, chief among them honesty and strong leadership.”

Churchill began his career as a journalist and writer. His was praised by the Nobel Foundation for “his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values.”

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about political leaders lately – what with the shenanigans among the American Republican leadership contenders and more close to home the leadership campaign for the New Democrats. How I wish we had a strong, visionary leader in Canada – someone to raise our eyes toward a higher goal, to inspire and to lead.

It’s almost as if no leader dares to be too visionary, to wax poetic or to engage in philosophic reflections. Churchill wrote about Canada: “A wild beauty haunts these solitudes, so plentifully supplied with water, so clothes in forests”. Can you imagine such poetry coming from a political leader of our day?

“We are crossing a petrified sea whose waves are rocks, whose foam is forest,” he wrote of northern Ontario. Having driven though this land of endless forests, rocks and trees, his words resonate with me. How strange that a British statesman who visited our country only 9 times should be able to describe this land in a way I have never heard from a politician of our own.

In my search for inspirational leaders, must I turn to the past?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Write for Rights

On International Human Rights Day, December 10, would you like to be part of the biggest annual human rights event?

Amnesty International is organizing a global day of action: Write for Rights. People from around the world will come together to write letters calling for the protection and promotion of human rights. Last year, Canadian Write for Rights participants contributed 60,000 letters to the 500,000 world total.

These letters have proven to be effective in making positive change in people’s lives.

Amnesty International provides information about various human rights abuses about which you may want to write. For example, there is the case of 20-year-old Jabbar Savalan, a young man from Azerbaijan imprisoned for his Facebook activity. He had posted messages such as an article from a Turkish newspaper that was critical of the Azerbaijan president and he had called for a day of protest.

In February, he was arrested and later charged with possessing marijuana. Savalan, his family and friends have continually insisted that he never used drugs – even a blood test after his arrest showed no trace of marijuana. Human rights groups like Amnesty are insisting the drug charges are false and that his imprisonment is part of government crackdowns on activists using social media to protest against the government.

Savalan continues to be held in prison in Baku, not due for release until August 2013.

During the writeathon, you can write about cases like Savalan’s to leaders in our country and the country concerned. You can also write to the individuals affected and to their families and supporters. Addresses are provided.

Let the people who are suffering know they are not alone. Let those who allow human rights abuses know that the world is watching and that there are many people who care.

Sign-up for Write for Rights with Amnesty International.

For those of you in Ottawa, there will be a letter-writing event on the 4th floor of the Canadian Museum of Nature on December 8th. The evening will include live music, all-ages crafting, letter-writing, snacks, cake and a cash bar - as well as some ‘special surprise’. Entry to the museum is free for this event. Anyone want to join me??

Monday, November 28, 2011

Ed Broadbent on the phone

Ed Broadbent called me today.

Well, it wasn’t quite like it sounds – I got a pre-recorded voice message when I answered the phone during Miya’s dinner time.

“Who called?” she asked.

“Just a politician asking me to vote for another politician,” I told her.


“Um, politicians are our leaders and this man wants to help me decide who to choose as the party’s leader,” I tried.


“It was Ed, sweetie. A man named Ed.”

That satisfied her and she continued on with her meal.

This is not the first time Ed’s called me. I’ve also had voice messages from Paul Dewar and am getting emails from Nathan Cullen, Brian Topp, Thomas Mulcair and Peggy Nash – all of whom among the 9 candidates vying for leadership of the federal New Democrats.

The campaign started in September and candidates are campaigning across the country. The leadership convention will be in March in Toronto. I can’t be there, but I am trying to follow this leadership race and become informed about the candidates. I want to find out how I can vote if I can’t be at the convention - and have enough information to make an informed decision.

I have realized that in the past I’ve been a bit lazy when it comes to political leadership races – and I’m guessing I’m hardly alone given our country’s abysmal voter turn-out. While I do vote, I don’t go too much out of my way to inform myself about my local candidates. I will read what is given to me, listen to what is said to me – but basically feel that if you, as a candidate, don’t know how to get your message to me, than you likely aren’t going to be much of a political leader. Right or wrong, I admit that this has been my default approach.

But for this NDP leadership campaign, I’m actually working to go beyond what is targeted at me. We so desperately need a stronger opposition in our Parliament – so I’m going to do what I can to find out about and support the candidate I think will have the best chance of building a healthy, positive and focused democratic party.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

More princess talk

This weekend, I was given two of the best gifts I’ve had all year– our friends visiting from out of town each provided a guest blog, sparing me, for the first time in over 300 days, from the daily drudgery of coming up with a blog subject. My gratitude is boundless.

I was also interested to see their takes on the princess discussion I had introduced in an earlier blog. And while apologizing to readers who do not particularly care about princesses or Disney and are already bored by this subject, I can’t help weighing in again with my .2 cents...

Do I think interest in Disney princesses will condemn my daughter to a life of eating disorders, sexual submissiveness, appearance obsession and pink convertibles? I do not.

Will she encounter Disney stories, movies and characters during her lifetime? Absolutely. And hopefully she'll come through the experience with a kind of affection and nostalgia that most of us have for the fictional characters we met in our youth. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that.

That said, as a mother raising a daughter in a mass-media dominated society which is constantly telling women and girls that their value lies in their beauty, sexuality and youth, I feel that a certain amount of diligence and proactive effort is required.

I feel it is my duty to be aware of what is she is being exposed to – through the books, games, puzzles, music, videos, etc. I think about what messages she is receiving through these various mediums – do they promote friendship, empathy, social responsibility, or do they talk about winning, appearance, and selfish behaviour?

I also feel it is my responsibility as a parent to be aware of how my daughter, given her age and development, absorbs and responds to the messaging around her. The way a two year-old understands a message will be very different than how an eight year-old or teenager will respond.

While the messaging of Disney princesses may not be entirely negative, I need to be aware of how she is receiving it.

There may always be princesses – I just need to be sure they’re not the ones raising my daughter.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Guest Blog: Tales of a princess generation tomboy

I grew up with Disney.

We had 34 Disney videos on our fireplace mantle, most of them featuring a princess. Blonde, brunette, redhead, privileged, gifted and under-appreciated; all thirty-one flavours.

I loved them and all of their fairy tale wonders... Strike that, I love them (present tense). I am also a power tool junkie, a savvy business women, and can take my husband in a fight with one arm tied behind my back. Thanks to the princesses, I also love wearing evening gowns, doing my hair and going on a romantic walk with the man I love.

For me, Cinderella, Jasmine, Belle, and Ariel were inspirational. I think that, without them, I may never have found such pride in feeling beautiful and confident as a woman, not just as a person. I love feeling pretty and having all eyes on me; I love when my husband protects me and acts with chivalry, even though I am strong, smart and can do just about everything I want to on my own.

When I was a child, my family all got together one Christmas to give me everything from the bright pink Barbie aisle at the toy store: the horse, the convertible, the wardrobe of clothes, the man and of course, the girl herself. I received just one present that year that had nothing to do with Barbie.
I cried and cried and cried.

Barbie looks and dresses and dances just like the princesses. What is the problem? Why had I, and have I, never shown any interest in Barbie? (forget about why would my family decided to buy nothing but Barbie even though I had never shown any interest in her). Barbie is too two-dimensional. She has no flaws, no depth, no dark past, and no bright future. All she is, is a doll; even if you have a great imagination and give her life when you play with her, what is she?

The Princesses have lives. They have dark sides, histories and something they are moving toward. They aren’t my idols by any means, but they do present a quiet side of myself that I like to let shine from time to time and cherish.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Guest Blog: Disney defence

A guest blog by Bizarro Anita (aka Doug)

Save us Princess!

Recent slanderous comments towards the great benefactor of the feminist movement, aka Disney, need to be address with hard facts.
Think back to the dark, un-enlightened days of the early 80’s. As recently as 1980, men outnumbered women in bachelor degrees awarded (Men: 469,883, Women: 465,257) However, based on current enrolment, female undergraduates will outnumber men almost 1.5 to 1. (2016-17 (estimated) Women: 1,057,000, Men: 707,000).

What changed? How did the most dramatic shift in gender educational ratios in the history of the world occur? The answer is clear: the increased participation in post-education activities by women is directly correlated with the introduction of the Disney Princess line. The combined inspirational power of Snow White, Belle, Ariel, Cinderella and Jasmine has achieved what decades of suffragettes could not: they have taught women that they can pursue any dream they chose.

Sure, feminists feared that a generation of girls raised on visions of princesses would destroy all the hard work of decades of women fighting for equality, but that simply has not happened. The explanation is clear: the incredible, remarkable potential of women is not that they must act like men, nor that they must act like princesses. The miracle of femininity is that they can do either, or both, or neither. The “sky is falling” viewpoint forgets the most obvious thing: women are smart enough and secure enough to forge their own path. They are not so weak as to be swayed solely by a cartoon dream. They can enjoy the princess dream as a child, much like little boys can dream of being knights or astronauts. But when the time comes to make real decisions about their lives, our little princess girls are making smart, independent choices for their future. And for the most part, those choices involve textbooks and laboratories, not pink dresses and ballrooms.

So please, stop underestimating the ability of our future women to tell the difference between fantasy and reality. The girls are fine. If they want a pretty little doll in a fancy dress, then allow them their joy. They’ll make the right choice when it really matters.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Books: The Prophet's Camel Bell

In the last days of 1950, a young Margaret Laurence and her husband sailed from London to the then British Proctectorate of Somaliland. Her engineer husband had taken on an assignment to build ballehs – large water reservoirs – in the desert of Somalia’s interior.

The book, ‘The Prophet’s Camel Bell’ is a memoir of the two years the Laurences spent in Somaliland. Though unpolished and overly-long, it conveys much about the author, her keen sense of observation and her belief in human dignity.

Laurence optimistically believed that since she herself was not an ‘imperialist’, upon arriving in Africa she’d be able to pierce the cultural divide and build rich relationships of mutual respect with the local population. Much of the book deals with her coming to terms with her own naiveté and with the complex realities of race relations in the decade preceding independence.

She invested a great deal in trying to understand Somali culture and people. She learned the language and studied the culture and the people with an eye for detail and pathos. Her first published book (A Tree for Poverty) was a translation of Somali poetry.

Yet while she worked hard to understand Somali tribesmen, she readily acknowledged her deep antipathy for colonialists, whom she described “not [as] people who were motivated by a brutally strong belief in their own superiority, but people who were so desperately uncertain of their own worth and their ability to copy within their own societies that they were forced to seek some kind of mastery in a place where all the cards were stacked in their favour and where they could live in a self-generated glory by transferring all evils, all weaknesses, on to another people.”

While I can’t recommend this book as a page-turner or poetic masterpiece, Laurence’s struggle to find her place – both with regards to Somalis and the other expats – is thoughtful and thought-provoking. Anyone who has lived abroad, particularly on the doorstep of abject poverty, will find resonance in her writing and her personal struggles. Upon leaving Somalia, Laurence noted a poignant regret, which she described as a feeling which “arose from unwisely loving a land where I must always remain a stranger”.