Saturday, December 31, 2016

Wishing for a happy and peaceful 2017

Of course, it will take a lot more than wishing to bring about the kind of year that the world deserves.

Many people think of the Monday after Labour Day as the real New Year. I can understand why but January 1 feels like a new beginning to me. All the brand new calendars, the beautiful Christmas tree out to the curb, the settling-in after holidays to challenge the winter.

2017 is going to be a major challenge. A lot of people around the world and here at home are going to need help and support. I hope we will all do what we can to reach out to our community and beyond.

New Year's Eve is a much-anticipated celebration and, sad to say, is often a letdown for that very reason. Here's a story I've shared before in which New Year's Eve lived up to all expectations. It's the story of New Year's Eve in Madrid.

Friday, December 23, 2016

From Macy's to medieval music; from Scrooge to the Bolshoi

Back in the balmy days of August when we made our entertainment choices for the months ahead, Christmas looked something like this:

As I always think it's nice to incorporate some theatre and music into the Christmas rush, we went ahead and scheduled our outings and bought our tickets not really remembering that the reality of Christmas is often this:

We managed pretty well though and only had one day where the weather was unpleasant and — being in Halifax — it was more rain than snow. Rain and wind.

Ever since William was a little guy, we've tried to go to the Neptune Theatre Christmas production each year. In August, when we were getting the tickets, we had no idea where William might be during the holidays so we bought two tickets. But William is home from university and was happy to join us for the family tradition so Dan searched out a third ticket. Neptune had only two tickets left, both in the balcony, on opposite sides from each other. I said I'd be happy to go to the balcony (not!) so the ticket was bought.

They didn't make me go to the balcony though. Dan went up and William and I sat in the aisle seats of Row E. You get good seats when you buy your tickets in August.

Neptune's Production was Miracle on 34th Street. (Photo borrowed from Local Xpress.)

It was really good and we all enjoyed it. It runs until well after Christmas so you might enjoy it too.

That was indeed a busy day for us as we had two major events. We had a delightful early dinner at Brenton Persian Grill. I had Fesenjan:

A traditional Persian stew made with pomegranate molasses, walnuts & sauteed onions served with (or without) sliced chicken breast and saffron basmati rice. We recommend you have it with our Shirazi salad.

I took their advice and had it with the Shirazi salad which was finely chopped cucumber, tomato and red onion in lemon juice and mint and was delicious. I took home some leftover Fesenjan which Dan ate the next day and said my dish was probably the best of all three that we'd ordered.

Then we were off to the Cathedral Church of All Saints for A King's Christmas 2016, music from the University of King's College Chapel Choir.

The music was magnificent, the narrator was dramatic and accomplished, the stories and poems were eclectic. Some of the music was sung in Latin, in French, in olde English and in Gaelic. A lot of it was quite profound.

A very different evening was spent with the actor Rhys Bevan-John who did a one-man show of A Christmas Carol. It was nothing at all like I expected but it was great fun and it retained the message of the original story and the redemption of Ebenezer Scrooge. We're big supporters of Eastern Front Theatre whose production this was and we were pleased when the artistic producer, Jeremy Webb, told us that he had solicited support from the business community to provide a theatre experience for families who can't usually afford tickets. That will be a Christmas Eve event.

I'm very glad we were able to take in these live productions but in the end, it may turn out that the highlight of our season was on a movie screen — the filmed live performance of The Nutcracker by the Bolshoi Ballet.

What is it that makes something the "best in the world"? The Bolshoi has often been called that and from the very first movement of the dancers, you would get no argument from me.

The two principals dancing the roles of Marie and the Prince were Anna Nikulina and Denis Rodkin.

Anna was born in Moscow. In 2002, she completed her training at the Moscow State Academy of Choreography (teacher Elena Vatulya) with distinction and joined the Bolshoi Ballet Company. She rehearsed under the late Yekaterina Maximova. In 2004, at the age of 19, she danced Odette-Odile for the first time. Today her teacher-repetiteur is Nina Semizorova.

Denis was also born in Moscow. In 2009, after graduation from Moscow State Academic Dance Theatre Gzhel he joined the Bolshoi Ballet Company where he started to rehearse with Nikolai Tsiskaridze. Now his master-repetiteur is Yuri Vladimirov. In 2013, graduated from Bolshoi Ballet Academy (The Faculty of Education).

When Anna and Denis danced — alone, with other members of the company, or in their breath-taking pas de deux, it was easy to imagine that their feet were not touching the floor. I can't begin to describe the transcendence I felt while watching them.

Our host at the ballet did a short interview with Denis Rodkin at intermission. She introduced him to us as the "most beautiful man in the Bolshoi company." He's a beauty all right. He played the Prince a little shyly, a little distant, but also warm and loving. He was very appealing.

There you have it, some of our Christmas entertainment. There may be more to come; I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Blue lights, bubble lights, revolving trees — it's Christmas!

A few days ago, I told Dan I had come up with a new slogan that I hoped would catch on: "Christmas. It's all about change!"

I was reacting — immaturely, I suppose — to some annoyingly sweet reference to Christmas being all about love and family and tradition and doing it in such an over-sentimentalized, tear-jerking, exploitative way that it just rubbed me the wrong way. It was trying to take you back to where it thinks your childhood Christmas is lurking.

But I guess they're right. Christmas isn't about change. It's about doing things over and over and over, every year, in exactly the same way. Isn't it? Isn't it?

You can see that I made myself think.

In fact, every year, I look at the Canadian Tire catalogue and all the flyers and brochures from the hardware stores and the department stores and I see page after page of "new" Christmas stuff — new-style trees and wreaths and lights and ornaments — and I always wonder who's buying it? There's way too much simply to supply a young generation of people just starting out and buying their Christmas stuff. But doesn't everyone else already have all their stuff? And don't they use it making the same Christmas year after year?

It so happens that we went the other night to David Myles' Christmas show with Symphony Nova Scotia. David does put on a good show. He has so much personality and he’s funny — not to mention a good singer/musician. He sang a lot of the old familiars and some of his own Christmas compositions which turned out to be nice also.

One of the songs he sang was one I didn't know: Buck Owens' Blue Christmas Lights.

(Excuse me, Miss, but do you have any...)

Blue Christmas lights for my Christmas tree?

I want some blue Christmas lights just as blue as me

The one I love has set me free, but I still got her memory

Give me blue Christmas lights for my Christmas tree. . .

It wasn't a great song, not particularly memorable, but there must have been something evocative about it because right there, in the middle of the concert, I began to think back to my childhood and the very first tree I ever saw that was covered completely with blue lights.

In the '50s, in Chatham, NB, I lived in the NB Power Commission houses — commonly called the "hydro houses" — right on the edge of town. I often remind people that the Welcome to Chatham sign was in our backyard.

There were six houses, three on each side of the small cul-de-sac, each one across from its own mirror image. On our side, our house was closest to the road. In the middle was the Calabrese family, and next to them, the Parks family.

The Parks two oldest girls were almost my age — Edith (Edie) a little bit older, Lynn a little bit younger — and we spent a lot of childhood time together. It was always a little bit of an adventure for me because their family was very different from mine. It was a big family, four kids then, five later, and much more raucous than mine. My family would probably be considered reserved.

When I look back now, I think the Parks parents, Anna and Howard, were very young — maybe barely out of their 20s. They were from up-river. Anna was from Whitneyville and Howard from (I'm pretty sure) Sunny Corner. Howard was robust and a great kidder. My mother probably wouldn't have approved of some of the things I heard when I was over there.

But they took great enjoyment out of life and Christmas was a time of year that they leaped into with gusto. They had spectacular decorations and it was there that I first saw a tree that was completely lit with blue lights. And now that I think about it, the blue-lit tree was only one of their Christmas trees that I remember. One year, Howard had the tree on a revolving platform that turned at the flick of an electric switch.

Of course, the tree had to be placed out into the room, away from the walls, and it had to be decorated all the way around, not just on the part that faced the room. I may be embellishing it in my own memory but I think there was music involved too. I think Christmas melodies played while the tree was revolving. It was quite a neighbourhood attraction.

Another year, the Parks' tree had these lights. Do you remember these?

I'm not sure they ever caught on in a big way. I've probably seen them a few times since that year at the Parks but I think I remember reading or hearing that they weren't very reliable and maybe were more trouble than they were worth.

Our family pretty much had these and we had them as long as I can remember.

Every year, they came out of the box and Dad would untangle them and plug them in and replace the ones that weren't lit. The only new bulbs that ever got bought at our house were the little packages of replacement bulbs.

But you can't run a consumer society on a family like ours, who used all the same Christmas stuff year after year. (I still have some of it — not the lights but the treasured old glass ornaments.) Today, Howard would have the time of his life at the Canadian Tire, changing it up every Christmas and delighting little neighbour kids with theme trees, coloured trees, and trees of all sizes for all occasions — tasteful, tacky and otherwise.

Howard would have a ball.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Trump: Worst of the worse, lowest of the low

The rotten deed has now been done and it's all over except for the disastrous consequences. You can't unvote. You can't unelect the declared winner of the just-past US election.

I'm not going to list all the descriptors that have been used about him during the campaign. . . oh, okay, I will: racist, misogynist, homophobic, xenophobic, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, cruel, mean. Shall I go on or is that enough?

Any one of those would have been a good enough reason for me — and probably for you — not to vote for him.

But consider this: Donald Trump pimped 14 and 15 year old girls to rich old men, telling the girls that having sex with the old men would help them in their modelling careers.

"The morals of Donald J. Trump, as a longtime model lover and then a modeling agency owner, were forged in another era, one in which young girls were used as a sort of currency between men doing business with one another." (Italics and emphasis mine.)

I have no intention of rating his behaviour — bad, worse, appalling, disgusting, criminal — and I know his taunts and threats and actions are much more frightening for some people than for others. But how can anyone who voted for Donald Trump face the fact that he trafficked in young girls, that he deliberately brought them to places where revolting old men were waiting to pay money to "have sex" with them?

Interviewing Donald Trump always had/has a pattern. I can imagine how frustrating it must be. First, you ask him about providing young girls for old men at parties in the Plaza Hotel. He casually dismisses it, says it's a bunch of lies. You tell him there are witnesses who are willing to be named. He says they're liars and he'll sue them. He'll change the subject, attack an opponent or the media, go on the offence. If you're interviewing him on live TV, you probably feel that you have to move on.

But trafficking teenage girls is more than just mean or threatening or sexist. It is clearly a criminal act. Why was he not investigated, arrested, charged during the campaign? Maybe the witnesses were not reliable. Maybe there was no evidence. But did law enforcement even look? This information was in the public domain and there's nothing vague about it. The writer is a credible reporter and understands the principles of proper sourcing.

Why isn't Trump in jail?

I sometimes try to imagine these people who voted for Trump. I know it's not an easy answer. I know there was a cross-section of the population and there were definitely people we'd prefer not to think about.

But I was thinking today about those evangelical fundamentalist fathers who take their daughters to a "Purity Ball" and have their little girls swear a pledge to remain virgins until marriage.

More than 60 per cent of evangelical "Christians" supported Donald Trump. Without a doubt, many of those supporters are fathers who tooks their own daughters to a Purity Ball. How can they justify their vote when they know that Trump pimped 14-year-olds to rich old men for his own disgusting ends?

In fact, did the evangelical dads ever give a thought to how Trump relates to his own daughter?

In an. . .interview from September 2004, [Howard] Stern asks Trump if he can call Ivanka "a piece of ass," to which Trump responds in the affirmative.

"My daughter is beautiful, Ivanka," says Trump.

"By the way, your daughter," says Stern.

"She's beautiful," responds Trump.

"Can I say this? A piece of ass," Stern responds.

"Yeah," says Trump.

So much has been spoken and written about Donald Trump that's there's nothing much left to say. I'm just having a hard time getting past those goddamn hypocrites who take their own precious daughters to Purity Balls and then vote for a misogynist jerk who doesn't mind using other people's daughters for his own perverted reasons.

And I don't care what reasons those fake-religious guys give for voting the way they did. The hell with them.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Move? I'd rather die. Or get a divorce

No, I've never heard anyone say that about moving even though death, divorce and moving are considered pretty much equal in all the lists of stress-producing life events.

And without doubt, moving can be very stressful. Which is why I'm going to give you two pieces of advice which you will almost certainly ignore. I'm going to give it anyway:

Starting today, don't buy anything you don't need. No kitchen gadgets, no pretty little picture frames just because they're on sale, no plastic toys for the kids/grandkids, no trendy tools that "might come in handy someday." I mean it. Don't buy stuff.

Furthermore, even if you have no intention of moving, get rid of stuff. Even if you plan to stay in the abode where you're living until the end of time, someone will, at some point, have to deal with the stuff. How much easier is it to deal with it now, little by little, a designated amount every week? And you'll feel so good about yourself.

We moved early in October. I told you a little bit about it right here. It's a little over a month-and-a-half and we're happily settled and enjoying our new place although we're still arranging everything, just the way we think things should be. I made a point of not duplicating arrangements as they were in our other place. There are still boxes to be unpacked.

Because the move is such a big topic and could cover so much, I've narrowed it down to three things (and please, click on the photos):

1. The View:

When you think of Halifax, maybe you think of the Public Gardens and the Citadel. There they are: the Gardens in the left foreground, Citadel Hill in the background. You can even catch a glimpse of the Macdonald Bridge — the "old" bridge — in the upper left hand corner.

In this one, you can see much more of the bridge. You can also see Citadel High School, the hospitals and a closer view of the Gardens where things are becoming more visible every day as the leaves come down.

This one looks straight down to the harbour and across to Dartmouth. You can see the magnificent Waterfront Campus of the Nova Scotia Community College and I often see a container ship or a tugboat or the Woodside ferry making a crossing. I even occasionally see a Naval vessel on its way out of the harbour.

I make a point of spending time every day, honouring a vow I made to myself that I would never take the view for granted. I enjoy it so much.

2. The Sky

The street we moved away from is lined on both sides with 100-year-old trees. They're beautiful and the street is the very definition of a "leafy, shady, residential street."

This is how it looked from our verandah.

It couldn't be pleasanter but I'm enjoying all the drama that goes on in the sky when you can see so much of it. I like watching the weather roll in, not to mention the fog. I'm never up in time to watch the sunrise but I know it's there.

I enjoy seeing the moon, super or otherwise, and I'm looking forward to the next time I see a note in the media announcing meteor showers. The celestial spectacles are just a bit of a change.

3. The Sounds

Yes, I enjoy the sounds of the city. For some people, I suppose it's just noise but it gives me the feeling of being engaged, of being in the centre of something. I like the background hum — air conditioning, heating, refrigeration, whatever it is that happens on the tops of buildings. I like the sound of the traffic — the buses, the street cleaning truck, the garbage and recycling.

Halifax is a military town so we hear helicopters and the occasional drone of a heavy military plane as it comes in low for a landing at Shearwater across the harbour.

And we're next door to a school so we can hear the charming sound of children playing at recess and the always recognizable sound of a bouncing basketball.

Until recently, I could hear the Harbour Hopper as it made its regular rounds. The Harbour Hopper is an amphibious vehicle that schleps tourists around the streets of Halifax and then plunges into the water and takes a little spin around the harbour. It provides a running commentary. I've never taken the tour but I've heard some of the commentary from the sidewalk as it passed by and I managed to keep myself from leaping aboard and correcting the inaccuracies. Fortunately, from my apartment, I could hear the voices but couldn't really discern the words.

The sights and sounds of trade and commerce often remind me of one of the favourite children's books that we read when William was little. It was called Night Cars.

It is late at night in the city. From his father's shoulder, a sleepless baby watches the snow drift down from the sky onto the busy street below. What are all those noises? What are all those lights? His tired but patient father explains everything, from the bustle of taxis swishing through the slush to the grinding and slamming of the early-morning garbage trucks.

The book had a very moody quality and was lovely to read. It was written by Teddy Jam, the pen name of author Matt Cohen. I may have to get it out and read it again.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Don't worry, we'll find it when we move

I have a very clear memory from early childhood — I may have been four years old — of looking for something precious that I'd lost. I think it was some kind of a fancy pencil, with tassels and ribbons, a treasure that was uncommon in those days unlike today where fancy pencils turned up in every loot bag of every birthday party your kid ever went to.

We were still living in Newcastle Creek on New Brunswick's Grand Lake but even at that tender age, I must have heard about and anticipated moving away. It's hard to imagine that the concept of gathering up everything in the house and taking it to another house would be clear to me but I remember searching through the rooms for my fancy pencil and then telling myself, "Don't worry, we'll find it when we move."

It's become a catch-phrase for me over the years and believe it or not, it's quite a comforting thought. You can't find it? Don't worry, we'll find it when we move.

When you're packing up your house to move — yes we are — the first universal truth you run into is that the further you are into the process, the more ruthless you become. Two or three days ago, whatever you're holding in your hand might have had a chance. "Well, I might use that sometime." Today, nope. Throw it in the garbage.

Of course, throwing things away is not as simple as it used to be when you could just toss it. Now you have to take it apart and put some of it in the green bin, some of it in the bag of paper, some of it in recycling — after all that deconstruction, maybe then you have something to throw in the garbage.

People want to know why we're moving. The answer I've perfected is that I need/want a different life rhythm. I've enjoyed the life I've lived here and I still do. It's become routine though and I'm pretty sure I'm ready for some new routines. Once we decided to do it, we said let's not wait. We'll do it as if we're ripping off a band-aid.

That's why we're here on the eve of the moving van's arrival, still emptying shelves and drawers, filling up boxes, going through years of papers and possessions, making some hard choices. Doing it this way though has saved us from a year of sadness, saying, "This is our last summer in the house," or "This is our last Christmas here."

I've lived in this house for 18 years, the longest I've ever lived anywhere. It seems a long time to me although it must seem like nothing for some people — some people I know, in fact, now in their 80s and still living in the house they were born in. They wouldn't have it any other way.

There are lots of things I'll miss. And there are new things to enjoy.

I think it will be fun to stroll up the street to the library, browse through the books, have a cup of coffee — and maybe stop at Pete's on the way home to pick up something tasty for dinner.

Meanwhile, spare a thought for us, surrounded by boxes and packing paper, sorting through old letters and programs and souvenir tickets, kind of regretfully tossing the Christmas cards because we haven't thrown out one Christmas card since we've moved here.

What can I tell you? We're the sentimental types.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The ever-living never-ending blame game

As the US election season goes on, the underlying threat from Donald Trump against Hillary Clinton is that he's going to bring up the subject of Bill Clinton's infidelities. The clear implication is that if your husband cheats on you, it's your fault and you are automatically disqualified from being President.

Of course, when this came up recently, I assumed I had written something about the subject in the past. I went to my archives and found this column which I wrote in January of 1989.

(I should note that Chatelaine is a magazine that has gone through many incarnations in its long life, some of them better, some of them worse. When this was written, it was one of their bad times.)

The current issue of Chatelaine – boy, I hate to admit it when I occasionally pick one up – has an article about the difference between "The Other Woman" and "The Other Man". I'm not going to get into it because it's as ludicrous as most of their articles lately but it did get me to thinking about the Eternal Blaming Syndrome: the notion that everything that happens anywhere can somehow be blamed on some woman. Starting with Eve, of course.

So for example, if the married Mr. X runs off with Ms Y, there are two things you'll definitely hear: 1) "What a hussy that Ms Y is, to get her claws into another woman's husband." And, 2) "It serves Mrs. X right. If she can't hold onto her own husband, I've got no sympathy for her."

Notice who gets off scott-free in this romantic triangle – not too many people pass judgment on that treacherous snake-in-the-grass, Mr. X.

The blaming syndrome is found on a larger scale as well. Thus, even after all this time, we're still inundated in our magazines and newspapers with the propaganda that all of the ills of our present-day society can be directly attributed to the women's movement.

"Feminists," I was informed just recently, "are the ones who want all women to rush out and have a career and they make women who stay home and care for their families feel ashamed of what they do."

The propaganda works very well, doesn't it?

But the way I see it, it's feminist women who recognize that our society is founded, not on the "sanctity" of the family, as we've always been told, but on the unpaid and low-paid labour of half the work force – the half that takes care of the children and the elderly, that volunteers for work in the schools, hospitals, churches and around the communities, that provides housekeeping services for the paid labour force.

It's also feminists who demand that society place a higher value on the work that women traditionally do, whether it's in the home, the office, the restaurants or the factories. And because our society expresses value almost exclusively in monetary terms, feminists lead the fight for homemakers' pensions, fair divorce settlements, dependable child care for the benefit of all mothers and children, and pay equity for women who work outside their homes.

So how can anyone say that feminists don't respect women who fulfil traditional roles? On the absolute contrary, society had devalued all women's work long before the current women's movement came along.

Perhaps the misunderstanding has come about because feminists do see the need for economic independence. Too many women are forced to remain in dead and dying marriages or in violent homes because they have no money and no certain means of getting any. Many more women are deserted by their husbands (remember old Mr. X) and left to fend for themselves and their children and are forced onto social assistance and probably into a deadening cycle of poverty, struggle, job retraining, no child care, and hopelessness.

And in spite of all this, I still hear young women embarking on their marriage careers with stars in their eyes, thinking how wonderful it's going to be to share everything in life – including the husband's pay cheque. Most of them, on their wedding day, would never believe that the day will come when they'll ask for money and he'll demand "what do you want it for?" Or that they'll be trapped in a violent situation with nowhere to go and no money to get there.

So feminists believe this battle has to be fought on two levels. When they suggest marriage contracts, or job training and experience before marriage, and part-time work outside the home during the marriage it isn't because of lack of respect for homemaking and child-rearing. And when feminists fight for fair divorce settlements, for pensions for women, for more vigilance from the courts to see that child support payments are made, it isn't because of any cynicism about all women's right to choose the kind of work they do.

Instead, it's based on the observation that so many women do so much work for so little money and that can only be changed around when women's traditional work is valued and honoured – monetarily as well as all other ways.

It's also done with one eye firmly on the divorce and desertion statistics.

Friday, September 23, 2016

The myth of the 'weaker sex' lives on

I wrote this column in The Daily News in Halifax in 1990. I spent a lot of time, both before and since I wrote this, thinking of women's lives and how they have been misinterpreted and undervalued. The feminist writer, Dale Spender, wrote a book called There's Always Been A Women's Movement This Century.

This brought home to me that with a different slant and a different analysis, the lives of our mothers and grandmothers could be seen in a whole new light.

I would write some of this differently today but this is how I saw it in 1990.

How many times have you told friends, acquaintances, strangers at bus stops that, in your family, girls were encouraged to be strong and independent? How many times have you said, “my mother always told me I could be anything I wanted to be; I've never felt that I didn't have equal access to a good career and a decent life...”?

How many times have you expressed the novel idea that your mother and her sisters and their mother were the strong members of your family, the ones who held things together through thick and thin, who survived adversities without complaint, who displayed the kind of stamina and fortitude that you're now handing down to your daughters?

How many times did you think to yourself that your family was the exception?

I'm of the opinion that families with strong women are the rule rather than the exception and that the myth of “the weaker sex” is another part of the conspiracy that keeps women from fighting back against a system that keeps them down.

I think of so many ways that women's strengths are slighted – either by being taken for granted or scorned through derogatory attitudes towards “women's work.”

A few years ago, involved in my editing work, I came across this intriguing sentence in the minutes of a Women's Institute meeting: “It was decided to use the proceeds from the bake sale to buy our African family a goat.”

Well, no editor worth her paycheque is going to let that pass without finding out a little more. I found that this particular group had been supporting their family for some time in a program not unlike the foster child program except it included whole families. The women worked closely with international relief organizations and they had been told the goat would be easy to care for, wouldn't eat much and would provide milk and cheese for the family which could also be bartered for other special needs.

I checked with a few other groups and found that most women's organizations had, for years, been manoeuvring around governments and bureaucracies just as if they weren't there to provide people in other countries with life-supporting products but also with school supplies, hygienic provisions and things like eyeglasses, even children's toys.

I began to remember things from my own childhood: I remembered going door-to-door with my mother collecting woollen fragments and bits of fabric, packing it all in boxes, sending it away somewhere and seeing it come back, miraculously, as blankets. The blankets were sent “overseas,” along with more boxes of knitted wear, tonnes of it, it seemed, knit by my own auntie.

The women in my past – and in my present – don't expect any thanks for this kind of world's work. It's just as well as it usually goes unacknowledged.

There was another event that brought back some of the same memories. That was the time that a musician by the name of Bob Geldof organized a trans-Atlantic rock and roll concert called Live Aid. It ran on television over many hours and raised a huge amount of money for victims of famine in Africa.

In the months following the concert, Geldof was touted as a possible nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize; he was invited to Washington to give some advice to then American president, Ronald Reagan (that must have been some show); and he made an outspoken tour around the survival camps in Ethiopia, spouting opinions on the crisis at every stop among a multitude of cameras and microphones.

Now I have nothing against Bob Geldof – in fact, I kind of like him. I just think it's necessary to remind ourselves every five years or so that the concept of aid to the Third World was not invented recently and that for years, it's been alive and well in the church halls, parish centres, and rural living rooms of our nation.

Not only that, but why wasn't my auntie ever invited to Washington to give advice to a president, or why wasn't she ever offered a Nobel prize?

Oh well, she and my mother are no longer with us but many women continue their works for others – with or without the world's gratitude. Presidents, prime ministers and rock and roll singers come and go with their grandiose plans but I like to think that somewhere, a Women's Institute branch is saving the money from bake sales, bazaars and church suppers to buy an African family a goat.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Happy anniversary to Each New Day

I missed the first anniversary of Each New Day. My first post here was called Welcome to my day and it was published on September 8, 2015. I don't even have to say, "Wow, time flies!" because everyone knows that already.

In that first post, I explained briefly why I was starting this project.

One day back in the spring, I noticed that I was spending a lot of time taking part in discussions on Facebook. I was commenting here and there, leaving behind observations, some of which were researched, others that were well-thought-out and carefully written.

A few days later, I wanted to take another look at some of the things I'd written and I had no idea where to go to find them, so random was my commenting history. I was suddenly struck by how easily misplaced some of our thoughts are when they're part of just one of thousands of discussions by millions of people on Facebook.

That’s when I decided to start this space so that when I have something I think is worth saying, I’ll say it here and then I’ll always know where to find it!

I still leave comments on Facebook because I like to have conversations with friends but I'm more likely to avoid getting into discussions on serious issues with people I don't know very well. I do feel better about that.

The second reason I started this space was for self-improvement:

The other reason I’ve started Each New Day is that I plan to write here often (I almost said “every day” but that puts a lot of pressure on me) so it’s a way for me to practice self-discipline. I preach self-discipline a lot so it’s good for me to practice what I preach.

This is a good time to start a new project. The second most popular day in the calendar year for fresh starts is the day after Labour Day.

I've done quite well. I haven't written every day but I've come pretty close. I've written quite a lot more than every second day, for example.

I'm a night owl and I often write here late at night. I usually know what I'm going to write about and I sometimes start it earlier in the day but writing late at night has become a habit.

I do notice that my subject matter and style have changed over the year. When I started, I was often content with two or three paragraphs about something I had done or cooked or seen during the day. As time went on though, I feel I reverted to my days as a columnist. My pieces became longer and were often — not always but often — more serious and issue-oriented.

I also went back to memoir-style posts, stories of my childhood and youth which — is this surprising or not? — always attract the greatest number of readers.

The most-read post in the past year is one I wrote on June 8 and shared again a few days ago. It's called A secret lake — and a walk in the woods. It created a lot of Facebook conversation when it was first published and it continues to attract readers.

A runner-up is A little addition to our family — and how it happened, the story of how we adopted William when he was two days old.

William has been working and attending Community College since he graduated from high school but this month, he headed off to university where he's studying political science — an appropriate choice.

We're very proud of William for knowing when the time was right for him.

You readers also liked the story about things lost in the fire at the old house in Black River, Leaving our lives behind while the chaos continues; the recent story, A sweet romance in the summer of '61; and especially, the love story in three parts called Love is the sweetest thing. . ..

I confess, I'm never sure which pieces are going to strike some kind of popularity chord. I think that's a good thing because although I'm always happy to have lots of readers, I don't want to become ratings-driven. I might stop being honest and start doing research into key-words and algorithms. I'll just stick with the old-fashioned rule, "Write what you know" — and I hope you'll stick with me as we enter Year Two of Each New Day.

Thanks so much for being here.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

There was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run

In the summer, William and a bunch of friends went to Montreal for Osheaga, the big music festival on the old La Ronde/Expo '67 site. They all got there by different modes of transportation — William drove up with a couple of guys in a van, leaving Halifax in the late evening and driving all night. Some of the other guys flew in or drove with other people. Once they got there, they all joined together and lived in a pre-arranged apartment.

They had a grand time at Osheaga. They had been at Evolve in New Brunswick just a couple of weeks before and I think if William had to choose, he might choose Evolve just because Osheaga was so big.

Here's a small part of the Osheaga crowd — a photo I borrowed off the Internet.

But it was great; they heard some good music and got lots of sun and enjoyed themselves a lot.

When it was over, some of the guys had to go home, including the ones that William had driven up with. But as it happened, William and a couple of his closest friends decided they'd like to have a couple more days in Montreal — and who wouldn't? So they settled in and did some sight-seeing and played tourist.

A few days later, he texted me. "Where do we get the train?" William has taken trains in Italy, France, Germany, Belgium and England. In any of those places, his question would have made perfect sense. I would look it up, tell him which station to go to, tell him what time the trains were leaving.

Unfortunately, in our country it's not simple. I told him to go to Central Station under the Queen Elizabeth Hotel, go to the ticket office and see what he could find out. It was Thursday.

When he got back to me, he said, "No train today. The train tomorrow is sold out."

I had checked it out by that time: departures from Montreal Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Three trains a week.

I take this quite personally. This train — the Ocean, formerly the Ocean Limited — played a significant part in my life. I lived in Montreal as a young woman and I travelled back and forth on that train several times a year. I was on a first-name basis with the porters and the sleeping car staff.

This is one of my most-used photos, I'm sure you'll agree.

I use this one too for winter stories:

I not only travelled by train but I took people to the station and waved them off and I met people who were coming to visit.

The train was there and we assumed it would always be there.

People accuse former Prime Minister Stephen Harper of saying, "Give me 20 years and you won't recognize this country." But Stephen Harper didn't say that. It was Brian Mulroney — Prime Minister from 1984-1993 — who said that. I remember him saying it because I very clearly remember thinking, "Why wouldn't we want to recognize our country?"

Mulroney did a lot of damage to this country and one of the things he did was decimate our train service. In October of 1989, the New York Times reported it this way with the headline Trains To Be Cut In Canada.

Even today, all these years later, the details are shocking to me:

TORONTO, Oct. 4 — The Canadian Government said today that it would cut passenger train service by more than 50 percent nationwide, touching off bitter protests in a country that was stitched together by railroads in the 19th century and where trains and the people who ride them are the stuff of national folklore.

The cuts, from 405 trains a week to 191 in the heavily subsidized rail network, had been expected for months because of Government budget cuts. . .

The Government-owned Via Rail Canada Inc. would end up offering little more than skeleton service in wide areas of the Maritime Provinces, along Canada's Atlantic coast, and in the western provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia. Northern Ontario would be hard hit, too, as would parts of Quebec. . .

More than 2,700 of Via Rail's 7,300 employees would lose their jobs as a result of the cuts, but a confidential Via Rail report, copies of which were leaked to Canadian newspapers, said that nearly 60,000 Canadian jobs depended on passenger rail services, nearly 30,000 of them in tourism, and that many of these might be in jeopardy, too. . .

Mulroney said the cuts would be irreversible and he was right. In many places, the tracks were pulled up promptly. In other places, they've grown over with weeds poking up between the ties and the rails rusted and broken. He stressed, over and over, that this was all about money. We couldn't afford our trains.

But getting rid of the trains was not good transport policy. I'm sure the research has been done (I'm not going to look it up right now) that shows the loss of our freight trains and the vast increase in the use of tractor-trailers on the highways has not been a more efficient or a cleaner alternative.

As for passenger service, William's is only the most recent story. There are many stories throughout rural Canada where the loss of rail service went far beyond inconvenience.

William got a flight home to Halifax, by the way. It was cheaper than the train ticket would have been.

And that's a whole other story.

Friday, September 9, 2016

A sweet romance in the summer of '61

When I was telling you about William leaving home to go to university, it made me think about my own experience leaving home.

The summer before I left for Montreal was the last full summer I lived at my parents' house in Chatham, NB. I had decided to go into nursing and I knew that my life was changing course and there would be no turning back. I would be leaving early in September.

My boyfriend that summer was someone I had known for years but had never thought of in a romantic way. My mother had known him since he was a small boy. She was never able to become comfortable with the eccentric young man he had become.

When we started to "go around" together I, unlike my mother, enjoyed the person he had become. It's fair to say that he was not like anyone else in our small town; he had no desire to be and although he was not oblivious to what people thought of him, he didn't care. He was tall and skinny and wore thick glasses. He was very smart and more than capable of carrying on an intelligent and informed conversation but mostly, he didn't see the point.

He had a few friends whose interests were not unlike his. They engaged in intellectual pursuits — they read, played chess, invented things.

Today, they'd be called nerds or geeks. Or both.

We were the same age — 18 — but I had graduated a year before him because I had skipped grade two. We went to his graduation prom together. I wore a new prom dress although I didn't try to outshine the graduating girls. He wore a dark suit with a white shirt and tie and looked quite lovely. We had a sweet and memorable evening together and after that, we were pretty much inseparable as the summer days — and nights — wore on.

He wasn't interested in talking to many people but he talked to me. He also wrote — poetry and songs and stories. He was enigmatic — genuinely so. He wasn't faking. It wasn't always easy to know what he was talking about but it was an interesting challenge to listen to him or to read his latest work.

We spent hours together every day, taking long walks, sitting on the beach, reading, swimming. Often in the early evening, we'd go down and board the ferry that crossed the Miramichi from Chatham to Ferry Road.

(Photo courtesy of Our Miramichi Heritage Facebook group)

We would climb up to the upper deck and settle in next to the bridge. The Captain never seemed to mind because we'd often sit there for a few hours, several trips back and forth, enjoying the weather, each other's company, the legendary River.

Fred (Coonie) Smith, a well-known fellow in Chatham, had opened a burger joint/diner on Water St. at the bottom of King St. We often went there when we got off the ferry and sat at the counter. Fred was always glad to see us and we had some great conversations. He loved to talk and tell stories and he couldn't have found a better audience than we were.

We would walk home slowly after our visit with Fred and we would part company reluctantly.

Many times after we'd said our loving good-nights, I'd be lying in my bed and I'd hear the sweet sounds of his ukulele as he serenaded me under my bedroom window. He would sing his own songs, not always comprehensible, but I always loved them. I think — I hope — my mother was usually asleep when this happened. I would get up very quietly, sneak past their door and out through the kitchen and the back door and I'd meet him under my bedroom window.

One horrible night, I went out to meet him and it was cool and rainy so we came into the house. We went as quiet as two mice into the living room and settled happily on to the couch for a little more time together. At 4:30 in the morning, the phone rang loud and shrill in the quiet middle-of-the-night house. Mum answered; it was his mother who had got up in the night and discovered that he wasn't there. No, he wasn't. He was sound asleep on our couch with his arms innocently around me. I was also asleep, of course.

I guess I could say it hit the fan that night. I resented it — I think I still resent it — because it was such a beautiful and wholly innocent relationship and the parental reaction to it took some of the pure glow away from us. They were so angry they tried to forbid us from seeing each other — as if we were 12 — but we stood our ground and we remained two-against-the-cruel-world even though our time was running out.

The day I was leaving for Montreal, he wanted to come to the station and I insisted that he should against my mother's wishes. We sat sadly in the back seat of the car, holding hands, at a loss for words.

When we reached the station and were on the platform, he said he had to run an errand and he'd be right back. Now the Newcastle train station is on a street that runs across the top of the town — it's not really near to any shops. But those long legs were put to good use and he was back shortly before I was to board. He had picked up a magazine for me, said he knew I liked to have plenty to read when I travelled.

After I kissed my parents, he held me and whispered sweet nothings in my ear and told me how much he was going to miss me. I couldn't speak and I simply turned and boarded the train.

When we were about half-way to Bathurst, I pulled out the magazine he'd bought and began to leaf through it. I came across a small scrap of paper that said "I love you." As I flipped through the pages, I found more and more little notes. All of them said, "I love you." I was so sad.

Of course we kept in touch — he even came to Montreal and visited me in my residence — but our lives were very different. He went to university, I was living with a lot of pressure and I think, in the end, we just grew apart. His own life took some bizarre turns, at one point bordering on the tragic. Our paths crossed years later and he was still enigmatic and was living outside the strict rules of society but I think it was working for him.

Wherever he is, I hope if he ever thinks of the summer of 1961, it makes him smile and just for a few minutes, remember what it felt like to ride that ferry back and forth across the Miramichi on a soft summer evening.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

A delicate blend of an ending and a beginning

Cape Breton is as beautiful as ever. The drive up Route 4 from the Causeway along the beautiful Bras d'Or Lake to Sydney is still one of the champions in the Nova Scotia scenery department.

Just a few weeks ago, I shared the story of William being born in Cape Breton and how we met him there and brought him to Halifax when he was not yet two days old. This week, he returned to Cape Breton as he and his girlfriend, Keisha, begin university life at CBU. We all drove up to celebrate new beginnings and we're all looking forward to the unfolding of this new chapter.

(They're wearing their new residence — Harriss Hall — t-shirts.)

They have both been working during the time between high school and the present and William's also been taking courses at Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC). He often groaned about those courses so you can imagine that he — and we — were gratified to find that the credits he gained at NSCC will migrate with him to CBU. It's a nice little head-start that he wasn't expecting.

Harriss is the newest of the residences at CBU. William and Keisha have nice rooms separated by a small foyer and they share a bathroom — nicer than using the communal bathrooms and showers. They have a cafeteria with excellent food — open all day — just an elevator ride away.

My friends wonder if I'm sad at the change in our lives. "Sad" is not the right word. It's an adjustment for our family — one that most families go through — and it feels natural. It prompts me to look back to when I left home and how differently I and my mother probably felt about it. I felt a little apprehensive about my future but mainly, I felt free as a bird and excited about my new status as an independent person. I would like to think that she saw it as an opportunity to expand her own life and interests — and maybe she did. She was busy and enjoyed her work — she was a teacher — and she was active in her church and her community.

It's probably a good sign if both parent and child accept this separation as a natural step in their ongoing relationship. It's a delicate blend of an ending and a beginning, a blurred line that results in a mix of emotions, all of them an ordinary and accepted part of life.

We're grateful for the experience.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

The summer of love — and then some

William and I are watching Aquarius — separately, but almost at the same time. We each have a small Samsung tablet and we recommend Netflix offerings to each other. This time, we happen to be on the same wave-length. He's a few episodes ahead of me but we can talk about it and he's careful not to give away any important plot lines.

Here's the IMDB description of the series:

Aquarius stars David Duchovny as Sam Hodiak, a seasoned homicide detective whose investigations dovetail with the activities of real life cult leader Charles Manson in the years before he masterminded the most notorious killings of a generation, the Tate-LaBianca murders. A small time but charismatic leader with big plans, Manson has begun to build up his "family", recruiting vulnerable young men and women to join his cause. Teaming up with a young cop who will help him infiltrate Manson's circle, Hodiak is forced to see things through the questioning eyes of someone who came of age amongst the current anti-establishment counterculture.

The show is described as "historical fiction" as it is inspired by Manson but not historically accurate. It also contains fictional story lines but in a period setting and it involves historical events, politics, music, and social issues of the era.

I tell William that it's hard to convey, even in a multi-episode series, the generational upheaval that took place in that era. Aquarius is set in 1968 — the summer of love — but there was a lot more than love happening that year. Trying to explain to William what it was like to live through it has fixed it more firmly in my own head.

I think of the Vietnam war at the centre. From that grew the massive anti-war movement which led to millions of young people turning their backs on their parents and on the "values" they had been instilled with since childhood. Their parents became the enemy and the way their parents lived — in the suburbs, amassing possessions, cultivating respectable careers — became a toxic existence to be wildly fled.

There was music, drugs, free love, long hair, back-to-the-land. All that was political but there was also movement politics that reached beyond the war. It was the time of Black Power, the Students for a Democratic Society. Feminism and environmentalism were growing out of those movements and out of pacifism.

And there was a dark side, of course. Young people turned their backs on the families that had born-and-bred them but they still craved the love and closeness of a family-like structure. Charlie Manson wasn't the only one who provided such a setting but he definitely became the most notorious.

I think the show does a very good job portraying Charlie. He's kind and cruel and has a depth that is believable and frightening. He's vulnerable and evil. He's magnetic and repulsive. He's played by a good actor — Gethin Anthony. I believe Gethin comes from Game of Thrones.

I was a young woman during this time and although I could completely understand and agree with the politics of the youth movements, I was also old enough to deplore the very poor choices that were made by so many. I did think of myself for awhile as a hippie. I went back to the land and wore flowing peasant dresses and drove everyone insane with my totalitarian nutritional decrees.

I did become a radical feminist — which I am to this day — and I think more positive than negative came out of the upheavals of the '60s.

I'm wondering if you weren't there, if Aquarius is too dark. The racism and the sexism are shocking and hurtful. The references made to gays — homosexuality was still illegal — are cruel and vicious. Charlie's method of recruiting and his treatment of his "family" are brutal. It's not clear to me yet whether the series will be able to show that breaking down the system that was in place and starting to build a new system was, in fact, a good thing to do.

It was a scary time but it was stimulating and exciting. It's interesting to be reminded of it.

Aquarius is running on Netflix.