Qs & As: The News

Sometimes I yell at the people interviewed on the TeeVee nooze.  Because they ask the darndest questions. They’re so puzzled and confused about whatever tragic, catastrophic disaster they’re being interviewed about. They need answers.

I don’t mind offering some.

 For instance, last night there was the lady in Toronto who couldn’t understand how the SPCA could, without her knowledge and approval, take her 16-year-old husky dog away and euthanized it. She was working real hard to squeeze out some tears for her beloved “Rocky” because he’d meant a lot to her over the years.

 Of course, I don’t know the entire story and maybe the SPCA was a bit overzealous, but the neighbour who called the SPCA and the SPCA itself say the dog had been left tied up in the blazing sun in the backyard without water and had passed out. Aside from dehydration, Rocky also had advanced dental disease and a bunch of other problems and the SPCA felt he needed to be put out of his misery.

So, I said to Rocky’s owner: “Really? You’re going to complain on television that they hauled your half-dead dog out of your sweltering backyard where you’d left him to die of thirst? Bitch?”

Then I was treated to some dramatic footage of the flooded cottages on Lake Winnipeg and the cottage owners demanding compensation from the government. I had to agree with those poor cottage owners. I know if I’d bought a cottage on FLOOD PLAIN next to a big lake, I’d want someone to pay me to make up for that mistake, too. Except that probably I wouldn’t buy property on a FLOOD PLAIN because I would suspect that I might be in for some FLOODING somewhere down the road.

And speaking of the clueless… The people in Kanata who were interviewed about the recent bear sightings in the suburb really made me laugh. “Where are these bears coming from?” they asked angrily. “Why isn’t anyone doing anything about it?”

 I replied, “You’re in a relatively new suburb, 14 miles outside the city and you’re surrounded by wilderness. Where do you think the bears are coming from? Maybe the bears are asking — “where all the people are coming from?”

 Damn those wild animals anyway. Can’t they see we need to build more McMansions and big box stores? Why can’t they just pack their bags and move away when they see the developers coming? Sheesh.

Finally, I was agog at the story about the church in Gloucester who gave $11,000 to the local Pioneer Gas station and told them to give away free gas until it ran out.

“This is real charity,” the people exclaimed. “Why can’t more people do stuff like this?”

 “That IS mighty kris-chun of them yup, yup” said I. “Because, I reckon, in these tough times, the one thing the poor really, really need is free fuel for their SUVs.”

CBC had some good footage of people idling their vehicles in lines while they waited for their free gas. They all looked positively gleeful.

A Breakfast, Some Presents & Lots of Hugs

Since I promised to leave town within the next two weeks, some of the Ottawa Bloggers threw me a surprise farewell breakfast this morning. I wasn’t completely surprised since it had been announced on Zoom’s blog a few weeks ago, but I pushed my face into its most surprised configuration anyway.

It’s been a long time since we all got together for breakfast, so it was really, really nice to see everyone.

Probably the very best thing about my four years in Ottawa has been the blogging community. Not that I didn’t love the Ottawa winters, or the city’s gourmet cuisine, or OC Transpo, or living this close to Stephen Harper….

But seriously, aside from a few neighbours and some people at work, the bloggers were pretty much my social network here.

I think I met Zoom first and then Hella Stella and Robin. For a while it was just the four of us who’d breakfast together every once in a while. Then Zoom and I decided we should expand the breakfast group, so the next time we invited about 10 other bloggers. That was such a success, we decided to go hog wild and invite every single Ottawa blogger we could get an email address for – and lo, the bi-monthly Ottawa Bloggers’ Breakfast event was born.

From that things snowballed into the brainchild of Lynn’s Blog Out Loud Ottawa (BOLO), which, since its first year in 2009, has been incredibly successful. Bloggers, some of whom no one has ever heard of before, come out each year to read their work, have a few drinks and network with the blogging community. (By the way, the next BOLO is July 7th at 7:00 pm at the Prescott…and I can’t be there…sniff…sniff)

All in all, I had over 100 names on our Ottawa Bloggers’ Breakfast mailing list and I’m sure Lynn has at least that many other names again on her mailing list.

There are a lot of bloggers in Ottawa.

Anyway, the brunch was great. And there was a surprise within a surprise when the gang hauled out a suitcase jam-packed full of farewell gifts for me!! The gifts were amazing – from home-baked bread and crafts to gift cards, bags, a travel mug and a hip flask, to disco shoes and a home-made 48-page booklet of every Toronto statistic imaginable. And, I got to keep the suitcase!!

Best of all, the Mindful Merchant, is very kindly going to haul Bazel and me to Hogtown the week after next so we can meet up with our belongings. So she and I will get to spent many more hours of quality time together. Mwah-ha-ha.

This morning, I didn’t really get to express my regret at leaving this great bunch of people. They tried to make me give a speech, but it was very short and very lame – mainly because I was afraid I was going to start blubbering.

However, if I’d known ahead of time that I was going to have to give a speech, I would have written something. I probably would have said that I really can’t imagine what life in Ottawa would have been like without The Bloggers.

I would have mentioned that aside from the breakfasts and BOLO and all the other times I’ve spent with many of them individually or in smaller groups – some of these people have become good friends. Friends that I hope to maintain a friendship with whether we live in the same town or not. You know who you are!!

I would really have wanted to tell them that what I find particularly interesting about The Bloggers is that we are all such different people – we come from very different places and have had a wide variety of different life experiences. We spend our days in very diverse ways. We agree on some things but disagree vehemently on others. There is a more than 30 years age range in the group. And yet, we can sit down together for hours (without booze) and thoroughly enjoy each others’ company. Everyone is supportive and generous and encouraging of each other; both in person and online.

And then I would have thanked them profusely for the wonderful send-off – particularly Zoom and Laura for organizing the whole thing.

And then I would have wrapped things up by saying:  “Thank you all for welcoming me into your community and for sharing your good times with me and for trusting me enough to share your sad times as well – thank you for making life in Ottawa special.”

And then I would have quickly looked away and pretended I had something in my eye.

Disappearing People

Aside from providing a few weeks of most excellent ribaldry, the pre-Rapture and post-Rapture has also caused some people to speculate on what the real end of the world is going to look like – if indeed, it ever happens. Like the Kosher Samauri, I wonder if maybe the Rapture (if such a thing exists) might not be more of an ongoing, subtle thing.

I’m always fascinated, for instance, by what could possibly have happened to all those millions of people who seem to have vanished off the face of the earth. In the US alone, some 500,000 people disappear, without a trace every year. And this doesn’t include people who disappear and are eventually found. (Dead or alive). And it doesn’t include people who just pack their stuff and take off.

No, I mean stories like the one about the US couple who were traveling and the woman woke up in their hotel room one morning and her husband had disappeared. All his belongings were still there, but he was completely gone and no trace of him was every found.

Some people disappear at sea. I’m not going to worry about them because it’s pretty easy to disappear at sea. The ocean is vast and deep and there are pirates.

So, how does an adult simply vanish?

In the age of constant surveillance and forensic wizardry how does someone just evaporate into thin air? Have you ever thought of just disappearing and starting over somewhere else? How would you go about that without leaving any sort of evidence?

Aside from the Rapture theory, people speculate that The Disappeared might have slipped into another dimension somehow. I’m pretty sure my cat, Bazel, has discovered a secret time-slipping portal behind the coat tree in our foyer. He sometimes suddenly appears from there when I’ve been searching for him high and low. And when he appears from behind that coat tree he looks really smug.

And there’s the “abducted by aliens” theory. But, the only reason I could think of for aliens needing 500,000 Americans every year is as a food source. And surely, even aliens couldn’t sustain themselves on such a diet?

There’s the “kidnapping by clandestine operations” theory, too. I guess that means our governments are kidnapping their own citizens for experimentation of some sort. I almost believe that theory. I suspect a lot more Canadians will be disappearing over the next four years.

My favourite theory though is the “spontaneous human combustion” (SHC) theory. I never knew such a thing existed (if it really does exist) until I read Charles Dickens’ Bleak House. There have been many cases of people discovered in their homes burned to death – sometimes completely, sometimes leaving only a fragment or two of bone – while the rest of the house is perfectly intact, except perhaps for some damage to the chair or bed they were in at the time.

So, if a person is just out walking in a park one day and spontaneously combusts, they’ve effectively disappeared, right? No one is going to notice a random finger bone by the side of the road.

Anyway, I like to believe there are still some things going on for which even our brightest science guys don’t have the right explanation yet. I’m looking forward to them maybe figuring it out.

Gender-Free Kids

There was an article in The Star on Saturday about a Toronto couple who is keeping the gender of their new baby a secret because they don’t want the child growing up with any gender-imposed limitations or expectations. Only the parents, siblings and midwives who delivered little Storm know the child’s gender. They want the child to decide for his/herself when or if to reveal his/her gender.

Storm also has 2 older brothers (Jazz and Kio), who everyone has always known were boys, but who have always been allowed to choose for themselves what they want to do with that information.

The boys get to decide how they want their hair – Five-year-old Jazz likes to wear his long in 3 braids. Two-year-old Kio likes his curly hair about chin-length.

They choose their own clothes and their own toys. Jazz likes pink, loves to paint his nails and wear sparkly jewelry. Kio likes purple. Both boys are usually mistaken for girls. This apparently upsets Jazz because he wants people to know he’s a boy.

I have no problem with letting kids make choices. I’m a big fan of child-led parenting, but that doesn’t mean the kids are in charge of everything. I think you still need to parent. You need to establish some sort of schedule – mealtimes, play times, quiet times, bath times, bed times. You need to make healthy food choices for your kids. You need to establish boundaries for acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.

And, to some extent you need to give some sort of guidance on how the kids present themselves in public. Firstly, because you want to make sure the dress for the weather. Secondly, because part of parenting is guiding your kids so they will establish a healthy relationship with the culture in which they are living.

That doesn’t mean your kids have to be little clones of all the other kids. That doesn’t mean they can’t push some boundaries, be individuals and express their personalities. For instance, if 5-year-old Jazz likes to wear pink dresses, that’s great. But if he’s also upset about getting mistaken for a girl and about other kids not wanting to play with him, maybe Jazz’s parents could explain to him why this is happening and suggest that if he wants to fit in more there are ways of achieving that.

It’s all very well for parents to have a non-conformist philosophy and rebel against cultural norms, but, while they think they’re letting their kids choose everything for themselves, they are also imposing their own philosophies and choices on their kids.

Is Jazz really choosing pink for himself or are his parents, ever-so-subtly, perhaps even unconsciously guiding him in that direction to prove to the world how nonconformist they are?

Storm’s parents are forcing Storm’s brothers to keep their sibling’s gender a secret. They’re not allowed to refer to Storm as he or she – they have to say “Z” instead. When changing the baby’s diaper in public, they hide in closets so no one will accidentally see.

What sort of impact will all this have on Storm in the long run? And on the two brothers?

In my experience, gender identity is not something you can impose on a child or free a child from. Nor can you protect your child from cultural gender expectations and biases. I get that these and many other parents want their children’s identities to based on who they are, not what gender they are.

But pretending gender doesn’t exist? That can’t be healthy either, can it?

Left Behind Party

Those of you who are not CHOSEN by around 8:00 p.m. Saturday night following THE FINAL JUDGMENT, are invited to my most awesome LEFT BEHIND PARTY.

There will be:
– Music & Dancing
– Wailing & Gnashing of Teeth
– A Looted Goodies buffet table
– Burgers & Hot Dogs at the Flaming Maw of Hell barbeque pit
– A midnight Fire & Brimstone fireworks display over the Rideau/Styx in honour of Victoria Day/End of the World

It should be a good time.

And hey, guys and gals… I understand all four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are single and looking for forever relationships (I.e.: until October 21st when they have to go help destroy the world).

R.S.V.P. as soon as possible so I know how much punch to make.


Freeing the Wage Slaves

Every summer we take on a few university students here at the office. It’s a boring summer job, but it pays a lot better than most summer jobs students can get. One guy has come back every summer throughout his entire university career.

His passion is sports and he took a degree program in some sort of sports psychology thing. He plays a lot of sports and had volunteered his sports psychology services to a lot of athletes over the years. He graduated this spring, with his master’s.

And now ….. he’s being bridged in as a permanent federal public servant in our unit.

“Are you crazy?” I asked him. “What happened to your passion? All that work you put into the sports psychology thing? Your dream job of helping athletes achieve their maximum potential?”

“Ya,” he said sheepishly. “I talked to my parents (who are both public servants) and decided that it would be too difficult to find a job in my field.

I’m very disappointed. He was such a bright lad. So full of life. Such a brilliant future ahead of him. So much potential. And now…..pfft!

XUP Jr. has never had the slightest interest in the federal public service — or in any kind of office job. I’m glad. She wants to be an entrepreneur; be her own boss. I’m thrilled. Probably that makes me an irresponsible parent for not at least trying to guide my child into a safe, secure career choice. I don’t know.

Self-employment is very risky and there’s no pension or security of any kind.. But I think the time to take risks is when you’re young. And if she starts now to sock away a bit of her income every month, she’ll have a tidy sum when she gets older.

Anyway, I think the whole environment of the public service and all those other so-called secure workplaces is going to change drastically over the next 10 to 20 years. It’s just not sustainable with an ever-aging population.

This year, the government took away our severance pay this year and the union let them. This will mean big savings in the long run. I think our pensions are next. They’ll start chipping away at the pensions – increase employee contributions, increase years-of-service eligibility. At the same time, the public service will continue to be reduced until there are only a few administrators left in each department and all the work will be done by independent contractors.

And I think a lot of other businesses will have to follow suit. Keeping employees on payroll, contributing to their benefits and paying them a pension after they retire is really expensive.  Not to mention all the headaches associated with a stable of full-time, permanent employees.

So, it seems to me that being self-employed is the way to go. And, as more and more of the population becomes self-employed, more organizations will have to spring up to afford group medical and dental benefits to the self-employed – maybe even group pension schemes and income insurance. Who knows?

I’ve known several people who were made redundant from their safe, secure jobs.  When they weren’t able to find another job, they ended up creating their own jobs in order to earn a living. Now they all say that getting fired was the best thing that ever happened to them.

So, I think if I was a young person today just starting out, I’d risk it, wouldn’t you?


Leave it to Eddie

One kind of fun thing that happened recently is that XUP Jr. fell madly and passionately in love – the kind of mad, passionate, all-consuming love generally only experienced by teenagers.

Do you remember your teenage love? The one you were so sure you were going to grow old with? The one with whom you planned your future together — a future where anything was possible. The one you shared all your hopes and dreams with. The one you felt so secure with and so sure of? The one who (and I quote XUP Jr.) “makes the whole world seem like such a much better place.”

I was beginning to wonder if she ever would experience this. She’s 18 now and so far, the boyfriends she’s had were all very casual. Here today, gone tomorrow. No big deal.

 But not this one. This one is “it” apparently. The one. No doubts whatsoever. She’s completely besotted with him and he with her. They are going to spend the rest of their lives together, they tell me.

I call him Eddie because he reminds me of Eddie Haskell from Leave it to Beaver– but in a good way. He doesn’t look like Eddie Haskell and as far as I know he isn’t a little creep when adults aren’t around. But he is always very chatty and polite and tries really, really hard to please. Really hard. He desperately wants me to like him. Although, before the election, he did throw caution to the winds and tell me very ernestly:

“I don’t know what your politics are, but I just wanted you to know that I will never vote Conservative. I don’t know if that changes your opinion of me or not, but I thought I should put it out there.”

Then he looked really worried.

Do I  look like a Harperite or something? Sheesh. I was torn between slapping him for thinking I might be a Tory and adopting him on the spot.

Because Eddie would make a good son. When he eats here, not only does he clear his dishes, he clears the whole table, washes the dishes, dries them and puts them away AND tidies up the entire kitchen. Once he even cleaned XUP Jr.’s room while she was in the bathroom having a shower.

I’m sure he would vacuum for me every week if I asked him to — or maybe even if I didn’t ask and the place just  looked like it could do with a bit of a hoovering.

I had to find a YouTube clip of Leave it to Beaver to show the both of them since neither of them knew who Eddie Haskell was. Eddie’s not quite sure if the comparison is meant to be a compliment or not. I told him to stop worrying and that as long as XUP Jr. likes him and he was good to her, he could relax and just be himself.

He said he was being himself. (I’m going to make damn sure he knows where the vacuum cleaner is kept). He also very solemnly assured me that he would always treat my daughter well and that he thinks she is the most amazing person he has ever known.

Coincidentally, he’s going to university in Toronto in the fall, too. I don’t know what would have happened if they had to separate. They’ll be apart for most of the summer as it it, except for occasional weekend visits. I expect there will be a lot of pining (and skyping) going on.

I like Eddie. He’s very nice and smart and very genuine with just the right amount of old-fashioned ingenuousness.

And I kind of hope they do stay together forever (and not just for the excellent house-keeping benefits).

I think there’s a lot to be said for finding your true love when you’re young. It’s got to be better than serial dating for 20 years and becoming all bitter and jaded and finally just settling for someone with as much or more baggage as you because you’re freaking out about the possibility of dying alone, right?

Finally Done

Yes, I’ve finally finished my French training and I succeeded in getting the required levels, but I gotta say, it almost did me in. In theory, getting paid to go to school sounds like a marvelous lark. In practice, it’s a bird of an entirely different complexion.

Sitting in a tiny, airless room for 8 ½ hours every day with four other people, and an instructor, having one subject and one subject only pounded into your tired old brain day after day after day without a break isn’t as much fun as it sounds. And it’s not like real school where you can zone out when you get bored. No, you have to pay attention every second or miss something really important. Also, with only five people, you have to do a lot of participating.

Add to this the constant stress of tests every few weeks and, in my case, being in a class where everyone else was way more advanced…well..it takes a toll. I had three colds in 7 ½ months! Normally, I get a cold once every five years or so. I also developed some sort of killer stomach acid problem and now have to take some nasty pharmaceuticals for a while and I don’t get to eat or drink anything good anymore.

 It IS cool that I can now have a simple conversation in French, but man – I wish they’d just let me go to France for those 7 ½ months for immersion instead.

So now I go back to work for a while and then at the end of June, I’m moving back to Toronto. XUP Jr. will be finished high school and is going on to post-secondary studies in the fashion biz in Toronto. I’ve got myself a transfer to our Toronto office. And… most of our extended family is down in that neck of the woods — so aside from all the lovely people I’ve met here in Ottawa, there is no reason for me to stay here.

Meanwhile, I finally have my weekends back, so I can catch up on the blogosphere a bit. There have been so many blogworthy events I missed out on.

À bientôt!!

Student’s Log: Stardate….something, something 2010

Well, French is every bit as consuming as I expected it would be. And then some.

However, my mole network informs me that my continued absence from the realm has been “tweeted” and then I made it to the finals in the Canadian Weblogs Awards, so I thought I’d better make an effort to try and justify all this attention. I only hope I can remember enough English to string together some coherent sentences.

Seriously. When I’m not being bombarded by French for 8 ½ hours during the day, I’m doing French homework or watching French TV or thinking about French or thinking about running away to France.  

It all occupies an incredible amount of headspace. There really isn’t room for anything else. I go to the grocery store at the end of the week and don’t know what I’m doing there. I stand in the aisle confused, scratching my head reading French labels, desperately trying to remember if “tofu” is masculine or feminine. 

Through some clerical error (or black hole in the stratosphere) I’ve been placed in an accelerated program with people who all know how to talk French already – at least they know a lot more than I do. So, the whole course is operating at warp speed. It’s like being shot in the head for 8 ½ hours every day with a submachine gun[1]. Most of the shots are through-and-throughs, of course, but a few fragments get lodged against some impenetrable spot in my brain.  

There’s a lot of leakage, too. (Leakage of wiki proportions.) I try to stop it, but some days I just get too tired and just sit back wearily, watching it all pool at my feet. 

Then other days, I miraculously seem to be able to speak enough French to hold a simple conversation for a short period of time. Or for no particular reason, I’ll remember an entire conjugation. Unfortunately, it never happens at the same time. It’s a crazy process. 

However, my classmates are a fine bunch and my teachers are very good and patient and I reckon if hundreds and hundreds of public servants can get through this program and pass their exams, then why shouldn’t I be able to as well. Right? 

So, I’d really love to stay and chat, but imparfaits beckon. And you’ll be as shocked to learn, as I was (I’m sure) that imparfaits have nothing whatsoever to do with delicious whipping cream, mascarpone, berries or chocolate!! 

Parfaits Recipe:

Blend into a cream: 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream, 3 tablespoons icing confectioners’ sugar, 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract. Scoop into a parfait glass between layers of berries or other fresh fruit. Finish with the cream and sprinkle with shaved dark chocolate. You could also toss in some granola and call it breakfast. Or make the whole thing with yoghurt instead and call it healthy. Or leave the fruit and granola out and just have the cream with layers of dark chocolate and call it Really Parfaits!


 ________________________________________________________________ [1]  I don’t know exactly what that is, but I imagine it’s something that fires a lot of bullets all at once, really fast, without stopping.

Back to School

Since Canada is officially a bilingual country, a great deal of effort and expense has been put into ensuring that as many federal government employees as possible are bilingual. There is a particular emphasis on bilingualism here in eastern Ontario, in New Brunswick and in Montreal, Quebec – not only for government employees, but for anyone who wants a job anywhere that they are likely to have to deal with other human beings.

Most people living in these areas either grow up with two languages, go through school in French or English immersion programs, or learn the language later on in life at their own expense.

For federal government employees there are various opportunities to learn the second language at the employer’s expense and time. There several types of part-time courses you can take as part of your regular, annual learning plans or there is full-time French language training.

Unless you’re a senior manager/executive, it’s very difficult to get full-time French language training, for obvious reasons. Usually one of the only ways a regular employee can get French language training is to win a competition for a bilingual non-imperative position. Bilingual “non-imperative” means the position will be bilingual in two years, so basically, the person who won the position has two years to become bilingual or they lose that position.

However, I guess there is a large enough pool of federal employees who are already bilingual because about 10 years ago the public service more or less cancelled the “non-imperative” option for new positions, except in rare circumstances. This means that anyone not bilingual will have a very difficult time getting a government job and those who already have a government job will find it impossible to advance in their career if they’re not bilingual.

Once in a blue moon, however, the stars align and a department runs a competition looking for bilingual candidates and doesn’t find enough who are suitable. Then, after a lot of business case writing and justifying and pleading, they are allowed to run a “non-imperative” competition. I was lucky enough to win one of these non-imperative positions last year.

After a bunch of bizarre assessment tests, they determined that it would take me 30 weeks (7 months) to become bilingual to an acceptable government level. Now, eleven months later, they’ve given me a date to start my French language training. So, this fall, I go back to school.

Every day. Five days a week. Eight hours a day.  For seven months. To learn nothing but French. No vacations allowed.

I’m excited for the opportunity. I’m excited for the change. I’m really excited to become competent in French.

From others who’ve done the full-time language training, I understand it will be grueling; that you have to eat, sleep, breath and poop nothing but French if you want to pass the exams; that you have to take your exhausted brain home at the end of the day and do a few hours of homework every night and read French magazines, newspapers and books and watch nothing but French TV. I’ve never yet heard anyone say they had a great time.

I think it’s the grammar. I’ve done some French courses part-time and of course did French back in elementary and secondary school, so I have some idea of what to expect. French grammar is insane. Masculine, feminine, regular, indicative, subjonctif, imperative, conditionnel, imparfait, passé compose, future anterieur, infinitive, participle, words that have 12 letters, of which only the first 2 are pronounced, a lot of shrugging and pursing of lips… I may have to start smoking fat, smelly cigarettes, etc., etc.

Ah me. Can my ossified old brain handle all this? I don’t know. I hope so. I did offer to go to France for 6 months instead, promising to come back fully bilingual, but they wouldn’t go for it. Merde!

I definitely will have to immerse myself completely into this thing, though. And I’m pretty sure that’s going to mean I won’t have the time or the brain space to blog with any regularity – unless it’s to conjugate some French verbs and that would be kind of boring, I think. So, I probably won’t be around the blogosphere much. I probably won’t be doing much of anything, ever again, until next summer…… except maybe drinking… I might feel the need to do more of that…but only French wine or Cognac or Calvados or other French stuff.

We’ll see.