Monday, October 31, 2011

More Halloween mulling

Walking down the street this morning, thinking more about Halloween, I passed by a home decked out for the holiday. On the front lawn was a gravestone and skeleton. In front were skeletal bones made to look as if they were reaching out of the grave. Wondered how I would have explained it to my 2 year-old, had she been with me.

The Ottawa Citizen had a bit of explaining to do after running a front-page story in the Saturday paper suggesting that a fun thing to do for Halloween is to write “poison” on a plastic jar or bottle and fill it with candy for kids to eat. The accompanying picture showed a skull and crossbones similar to the symbol used to indicate poison – a symbol parents teach their children which means danger.

In their mea culpa, the Citizen recognized “the need to train children not to touch and never to eat or drink from bottles or jars with that symbol on it, and it was a lapse in judgment for us to have suggested otherwise.”

A student organization at Ohio University called Students Teaching Against Racism (STARS) created posters for their ‘We’re a culture, not a costume’ campaign. This campaign has generated a lot of response – both positive and negative. Some people say Halloween is a time to dress up and have fun and people should stop being so up-tight and sensitive. Others say that human dignity and respect should always be paramount.

“It’s hard to explain what is so wrong about being a geisha or a sheik for Halloween” writes Kristine Bui at Arizona University. “It’s unsettling. It’s a feeling I’ve always struggled to articulate – a discomfort that sort of just sits in the place between your heart and your stomach, quietly nagging. It’s a sense of being wronged without knowing exactly what was done to you.”

While apparently there are lots of people who don’t see what’s wrong with dressing up as a slutty geisha or a Middle Eastern terrorist for Halloween, there are others arguing that such caricatures perpetuate prejudice and are hurtful and offensive to people.

But where is the line between having fun and being offensive?

More tomorrow...

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Is it offensive or just fun?

When I was a kid, Halloween was a time to play dress-up and collect candy with friends. What could be better? There was the added thrill of getting to run around in the dark and go up to strange houses.

My parents kept us sheltered from much of the scary stuff that is associated with this holiday. There were no horror movies in our house and by the time I was old enough to choose to watch them, I wasn’t interested. I’ve never developed a taste for fear and violence as entertainment.

But not having developed such tastes, the appeal of Halloween was dulled as I grew out of the trick or treat stage and into the drunken party stage. The more I thought about, the more I found something about it to be a bit off-putting.

Part of Halloween’s historical roots is the November 1st All Saints’ Day and the preceding evening being one of debauchery and sin. Might as well have something to repent if you’re going to have to spend a day on your knees. So from a sort of cultural-anthropological viewpoint I can appreciate Halloween as a chance to explore dark desires and fantasies within predetermined boundaries. I can admit that it may be healthy and cathartic to try on roles and identities that, for good reasons, society has suppressed.

But even if that is what it is – a chance on one night of the year to dress up and be daring or naughty – does this mean I can’t find it troublesome? Perhaps by its very nature it should be troublesome.

On xojane.com, Emily argues that Halloween is a “holiday for sluts” and as good an excuse as any to “embrace your sexuality, flaunt your goodies and court sexual attention.” I’d like to point out that she is defending her choice to wear the ‘slutty nurse’ and the ‘Wonder Woman’ costume – and question whether playing up to male fantasies is really the best way to embrace one’s sexuality. Is this what feminine empowerment looks like - the right to walk into a party with your boobs hanging out of a cheap outfit dreamed up by a teenage boy?

To be continued...

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Beaver vs. Polar Bear

Odd how polar bears have become the theme of this week, but there it is. Now we have a motion by Conservative Senator Nicole Eaton to replace the beaver with the polar bear as Canada’s official emblem.

I just have to say at the outset – is this simply Eaton’s attempt to get 5 minutes of the spotlight? Recognizing that being a Senator is a thankless, mostly invisible, albeit well-paid job, maybe she was looking for something she could do that would put her name in the press. Or maybe she just has a thing for polar bears – or a vendetta against beavers.

She came out pretty strong against our official emblem, calling the beaver a “dentally defective rat”, a “toothy tyrant” and a “19th century has-been”. In contrast, she describes the polar bear as Canada’s “most majestic and splendid mammal”. Oddly, a little more than a year ago she stated in a speech that the beaver “fittingly occupies a prominent place on [Canada’s] coat of arms”. Perhaps since last June she had a run in with a hostile beaver.

While the government has stated that it has no intention of changing our national emblem (indeed, why would they want to draw any extra attention to the state of the polar bears and the northern ecosystem?) this story has gained some traction.

National Post Illustrator Steve Murray notes that the polar bear “lives in icy, snowy conditions” making it “ideal as a representative for Canada since we don’t get enough ice and snow jokes.”

Andrew Derocher, Biological Sciences Professor at the University of Alberta (shown in photo), pointed out in a debate on CBC’s ‘Power and Politics’ that people pay good money to go on tours to see polar bears, but who’s going to pay to drive around looking at beavers?

A Toronto Star editorial notes that it would be rather “hawkish” to adopt as an emblem an animal which eats its young, as opposed to the mate-for-life beavers who share responsibility for raising young.

I, for one, see no need to remove the beaver as emblem. I may be a big fan of polar bears, but let’s keep as our emblem our homely, industrial rodent.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Optimism & Pessimism

In response to my depressing polar bears blog, I was given the question: "About what am I optimistic and pessimistic?" (inspired by a Marginal Revolution article). Question's a good one.

To frame the discussion, optimism is “a disposition or tendency to look on the more favourable side of events or conditions and to expect the most favourable outcome”. Pessimism is “the tendency to see, anticipate, or emphasize only bad or undesirable outcomes”.

1. As I expressed before, I am pessimistic about climate change. However, I am optimistic about the increased awareness of environmental issues and green living –such as the 100-mile diet, eco-transport, eco-audits etc. The cynic in me says it may be too little too late, but it is a positive development nonetheless.

2. I am pessimistic about current trends in criminal justice legislation in Canada. But I am optimistic that reason will prevail in the long term. Additionally, I am optimistic about increased global awareness of human rights and believe such awareness and mobilization will be a key factor in turning the tide in our approach to offenders and crime.

3. I am optimistic about science and research developments with regards to medical technology. Where I have concerns is with regards to how well our ethics keep pace with developments and the impacts of medical developments on human relationships (i.e. the implications of enabling a woman to give birth to sextuplets or of extending human life without being able to ensure quality of life).

4. I am optimistic about my daughter’s future. She has the world before her. That said, as for any parent, there are plenty of fears and concerns.

5. Despite bumps and detours in the road, I am optimistic that my career will advance, in some shape or form. I am also striving to be an optimist that I will become a published writer.

6. I am pessimistic about Canadian politics but encouraged by current grassroots mobilizations (i.e. Occupy Wall Street).

7. I am pessimistic about increasing media consumption – especially passive, uncritical consumption. I’m also pessimistic about the increase in time spent on media consumption as compared to the decrease amount of time spent on face-to-face conversations, outdoor activities, etc.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Reconnaissance mission

Tonight I volunteered at the 31st Annual Auction for Reach Canada. Reach is a “cross-disability lawyer referral organization” that provides legal assistance to people with disabilities. The organization is a non-profit charity that raises almost all its own funds through a variety of special events.

I was there because I woman I greatly respect recommended I get connected with Reach – but also to learn how successful fundraising events work. I’m partly responsible for organizing a fundraising event next week which will include live music, wine-tasting and a silent auction. Having never organized such an event before, I’m a little nervous. Tonight was a great opportunity to learn from the pros.

Tonight’s event was both a live and a silent auction. Items up for the live auction included VIP box tickets for the Senators, round trip flights, dinner packages and – the item I most coveted – a Leonard Cohen painting! I asked the organizer if she got to talk to Leonard Cohen, but she said sadly it was just to someone who works for him.

The silent auction had a large range of items like paintings, prints, jewellery, wine, books and multiple gift certificates. I was working at some of the silent auction tables and also walked around the room selling 50/50 tickets.

There were bidding sheets for each item – with indications of the retail value for each item, the minimum bid and the increments at which people had to increase their bid. That I think could have been done better since there were a few people whose bids were disqualified just because they didn’t notice that and/or didn’t do the correct math.

The closing of the silent auction tables was staggered – some closed at 8:30, others at 9:00, others at 9:30. This can be helpful in that it prevents a massive rush at the cash handling table – and it also might encourage more people to bid on the later tables if they were out bid on some of the early ones.

But I learned tonight that it is really important to clearly indicate when each table closes since there were many people disappointed that they couldn’t bid – which ultimately means less revenue for the hosting organization.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Polar Bear Plight

Global warming stories always depress me. They depress me to the point that instead of getting me fired up, I tend to feel overwhelmed and helpless. Sure, fighting for social justice during the reign of the Conservatives may seem like a lost cause – but compared to global warming, I feel that there’s at least something I can do.

But I cannot stop the rapid melting of glaciers and icebergs, the break-up of the Arctic, the rising of ocean levels and the steadily increased global temperature. Sure, I dry my clothes outside, compost my compostables, plant trees, park the car, support environmental organizations ... but these seem ludicrously small efforts when I look at things like the tar sands or big industry.

I tend to be an optimistic person and believe in the best in people. But it’s hard to be optimistic when thinking about global warming. So ironically, the fact that I care about this so deeply means I give it less thought.

But a news story today about climate change actually has a nice balance of the dire (polar bears are dying) with the positive (Coca-Cola is putting its muscle behind a campaign to help protect their home). Really, it’s only decent of them, seeing as they’ve capitalized on the polar bear image for so much of their advertising.

But it’s encouraging to see that over the next 5 years, Coke will donate up to $3 million to the World Wildlife Federation (although what does ‘up to’ mean??). I’m a big fan of WWF – and encourage anyone who may be approaching the holiday season with a desire to give gifts that matter to look at WWF’s wildlife adoptions.

Anyway, back to the polar bears, WWF will be focusing two efforts in the Arctic – one which is a series of conservation projects and the other which will try to identify the location of year-round Arctic ice which could become a sanctuary for polar bears. (Will they be sending doomed seals to the sanctuary too?)

Canada may also place the polar bear on its list of species at risk, which would require the government to develop plans to prevent them from becoming further endangered or extinct.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Painfully earnest prose

So I put two entries into the Canada Writes twitter story contest tonight, one on my behalf, one on V’s.

Mine: “Words are like problems we never solved. Your kiss is the only thing about you that I can understand.”

V’s: “He stared. She sighed. They endured.”

You can tell I’m the English major, trying too hard. A funny post on the contest said: “Grade 11 English class called. They want their grating, painfully earnest prose back.” My own writing often seems very overly earnest to me.

But I am very tempted to turn these last 2 months of the 365-word blog slog into a twitter-length challenge instead. I never realized until this year just how very long 365 words can be. I think 140 characters are much more realistic. A tweet a day for a year – now that’s an idea. Is it too late to change?

Although truth be told, there have been many times this past year when I have intended to walk away from all social media entirely – no more email, facebook, twitter, blogs. If you want to talk to me, pick up the damn phone – or better yet, drop by.

Today I came home with Miya after picking her up at school to find a friend waiting for me in the driveway. What a lovely surprise. She came in and visited while I gave Miya dinner, then carried on her way home. That’s the way relationships should work – not by voyeuristically scrolling through random photos posted on the internet by friends of friends, or by exchanging long threads of ‘let’s get together sometime’ emails.

Sadly, life and work are what they are in this day and age and corner of the world that it would be unrealistic and perhaps almost impossible to remove myself from social media for a year - although I am very, very tempted. Maybe that could be next year’s challenge. ..

In the meantime, I want to thank all my readers for bearing with me through the ups and downs, the dull and the drunken, the inspired and the, well, not so inspired.

And if you are feeling generous – please send me a topic to write about.

Monday, October 24, 2011

So I think I'm stressed...

Strange dream last night. I was getting ready to bed down on a thin air mattress in a tent I was sharing with another girl. We were on some military exercise. I noticed two rifles laid out on a little white coffee table on one side of the tent, so I guessed our exercise would involve some shooting on the range. I was thinking about how long it had been since I’d last handled a rifle and wondered if I remembered all the protocol.

At the next point in the dream I was in that odd omnipresent state often comes in dream states – where I could see myself but also see beyond where I was. I saw people coming down some hall to our room (it was now a room) and I knew they were coming to attack us. I tried to grab a rifle just as they burst through the door, but I seized the wrong end and fumbled with it. I also wasn’t sure if this was a real attack or some part of an exercise, so I didn’t really think I should shoot anyway.

I was huddled on the bed with my roommate and the attackers were leaning over us. One pointed her weapon at me and said ‘pow’ – so I knew that this wasn’t real. But at the same time, they were rather rough with us and I felt annoyed. I was thinking that this wasn’t much fun and after this weekend I was going to go back to my unit and quit the military. I saw a knife and made a half-hearted lunge for it – not knowing what I should do even if I did manage to grab it. How do you fight if you don’t know the rules? How do you defend yourself when you’re not sure if the attack is real?

We were kidnapped and herded down the hall with several other girls. I now figured that the exercise we had come on was to be about how to survive in some sort of P.O.W. environment. This wasn’t what I had bargained for and I was not impressed – but there didn’t seem much to do beside’s play along.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Felting delights

I think I’ve found my calling. Give me some roving and a needle and I’m off.

Back in April I went to a felting workshop and had a lovely evening sculpting wool. I came home with a little felted rabbit and, on Easter morning, hid it in the tulips for Miya to find. I’d had so much fun that I meant to try it again, but it just kept slipping my mind.

But as I’m part of organizing a big silent auction for Nov 1, I contacted the woman who offered the workshop to ask if she’d be willing to donate a felted item or a felting kit. She generously did and when I picked it up, I also bought one of her kits to make crazy owls.

I had Miya with me at the time, and one the way home we stopped at a lovely wool store where I chatted about felting with the woman working there. I asked if she knew how to do wet-felting – something I’d heard about but never tried. She told me that basically it involved rubbing wool under warm soapy water under the fibers bind together – something even a child can do.

My daughter loves playing with water and soap, so this seemed like the perfect craft. We bought some more wool and came home with our loot. Before long we were wet felting away and Miya loved it. We made three little balls that night –even continuing the felting during her bath that night.

Since that was so easy and fun, after she was in bed I took out a needle and made a little owl. He’s a bit wacky looking, but has grown on me.





There was enough roving (bundles of wool fibre that has not been spun into yarn) for two owls, but I made a penguin instead.







Today we were back at the wool store so I could pick up some white, red and grey – and tonight I made a little Santa.

Felting basically involves sculpting wool by stabbing it with a little needle – a very satisfying motion and the results are amazingly quick. I’m even trying to convince V to give it a whirl....

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Books: Intimate Strangers

Intimate Strangers: The letters of Margaret Laurence & Gabrielle Roy is a lovely little book which affords a personal and touching glimpse into the lives of two of Canada’s most respected and loved authors.

Laurence and Roy had never met when they began corresponding in 1976. Laurence humbly initiated the correspondence after hearing that Roy was interested in meeting her. The connection between the two authors was immediate.

Though Roy was 15 years older than Laurence, both writers were in a similar position when they began writing. Laurence had just received the Governor General’s Award for The Diviners and Roy was would receive the same award, French category, a few years later for Ces enfants de ma vie.

Yet despite their success as authors, both women were struggling with the realization that their creative energies were being drained by various demands and weakening health. Laurence in particular was very saddened that she could not write another novel. “I still have not found my way into the novel I want to write,” she writes. “Patience is difficult for me, and I am fed up with making false starts at it.”

Roy encourages her friend. “Don’t tear up the pages of your new book. Let them rest away from your eyes for some time.”

In addition to sharing their challenges as writers, the women share in their letters a love of the prairies from which they both came (both were born in Manitoba), their shared affection for rivers and nature, and their concerns about Canadian and Quebec politics.

Laurence and Roy met only once – at a conference in Calgary two years after their correspondence began. Yet their friendship deepened through their letters and their mutual respect of each other’s writing. Much of the correspondence is filled with thoughtful praise of the other’s work. When the French translation of Laurence’s The Diviners came out in 1980, Roy was quick to assure her that the translation was true. “You can rest your mind, dear Marguerite, [the translations] are done with uncanny feeling and talent.”

Intimate Strangers is a book of only 32 letters, yet is rich in its depth, sincerity and wisdom. I feel privileged to have read it.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Morning commute

A young woman, coming down the steps of her apartment building, turns to see her cat peering at her from the top step.

A baby sits on her mother’s lap. In the seat ahead of them a woman is wearing a red hat with a long tassle. The baby can’t resist grabbing the dangling string.

A man, going for a morning jog, passes a woman he sees daily but has not yet mustered to courage to address.

A father walks with his son to the bus stop. They are on their way to the boy’s first day in a new school.

...

The woman races to catch the bus and reach the office on time. But she worries about the cat – which is an indoor pet and which has never spent the day outside. She hopes it won’t rain.

The mother apologizes profusely, returns the hat to the other passenger and turns the baby to face the back of the bus. The baby begins to cry.

The jogger stops and busies himself adjusting the laces on his shoe, glancing up to see the woman walking down the street toward him. He ties and unties the laces, hoping to untie his tongue as well.

The boy silently follows his father. The third school in as many years. His stomach aches.

....

The woman sits on the bus, looking at the picture of her cat on her phone and debating whether she could take an extended lunch break and come back home. She imagines life without her cat and is embarrassed by a sudden rush of tears.

The mother and baby get off the bus, 10 blocks from their stop. Both are red in the face. The baby is soon distracted by a passing garbage truck. The mother’s arms start to ache.

The jogger stands as the woman approaches. He smiles at her and opens his mouth to say hello. She looks at him, looks through him, and turns her head before he can speak.

The father leads the way into the principal’s office and talks privately for a few moments with the school administrator. The boy is given his schedule and directed to his first class.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Dance your PhD

All day, the news has been dominated by the death of Moammar Gadhafi in Libya. I find this story, the reactions of people around the world, disturbing and sad for so many reasons... but I didn’t really want to blog about all that.

So I was looking around for something else, something a little more uplifting. Sure, there’s the feel-good story about thousands of penguin sweaters pouring into New Zealand, but I kind of covered that yesterday... then I found: Dance Your PhD.

A Canadian scientist, Queen’s University biologist Emma Ware, just won an international award for expressing, in modern dance, her doctoral thesis on “how responses from female pigeons affect mating displays from the males”.

The video is actually really cool –and convincingly explains what Ware is studying, how her study is conducted and her hypotheses. The dancing is very skilled and artistic.

Another Canadian student made the cut for the competition. Erin McConnell is a Carleton University biochemist whose thesis examines DNA Aptamers as a tool for studying mental health disease. While her dance video lacks the skill and artistic presentation of Ware’s (the latter actually being a dancer), it looks like a lot of fun. She claims that her friends have told her that since watching the dance video, they finally understand what she does. Frankly, it’s not as convincing as the Ware video – but I love the idea of turning a thesis into a dance.

The international competition has four categories: physics, chemistry, biology and social science. Winners were selected by a jury of scientists and professional dancers and received a prize of $500 US, with one taking home an additional $500 for overall best PhD dance performance and a trip to Brussels for the Tedx conference.
So I’m thinking about my friends who have PhDs – and tossing out the challenge. How would you dance your dissertation?

Sadly, my master’s thesis on urban violence would have likely produced a pretty ugly dance. It probably wouldn’t have been too hard to imagine it as a movement piece, given that it is about human relationships and conflict. But I am in no way claiming that I could dance it – knit it perhaps... (-:

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

If you knit a penguin a sweater...

In the last couple days, friends have been sending me links to the sites requesting knitted sweaters for penguins. It sounds like a joke, but it is actually true.

A recent oil spill off the New Zealand coast has dumped 350 tonnes of oil into the Bay of Plenty – and could leak as much as 1,700 if the ship breaks apart before the rest of its load can be pumped out. Maritime authorities are racing to rescue local wildlife – including many little blue penguins who are being covered in oil.

This is not the first time little penguins who live near Australia and New Zealand have been threatened by oil spills. Spills and dumped crude can be fatal to these little birds since the oil breaks down the penguins' natural insulation and the birds swallow the petroleum when trying to clean themselves off.

However, penguins exposed to oil can be rescued and cleaned by hand with warm water and mild detergent – but they are often sick when they're found and the cleaning process is quite stressful.

So penguins waiting to be cleaned – or recovering from being cleaned – can be protected by being sheathed in a cozy wool sweater which will keep them warm until their feathers insulate them again. The wool also keeps them from ingesting petroleum when preening.

Not surprisingly, appeals for protective penguin sweaters has gone global and viral. When the Tasmanian Conservation Trust issued an appeal in 2001 for penguin sweaters, they hoped to be able to create a stockpile of about 100 sweaters (or jumpers as they call them). They have received over 15,000 and have since closed the project.

Snopes has verified that this is a legitimate appeal – but warns that appeals can often go very wrong and in this case the road to hell could be paved with good... sweaters.

However, the idea of knitting a little sweater to potentially save the life of a little blue is, admittedly, very tempting. So I fired off an email to a yarn store in New Zealand that put out a call for sweaters to check if they do indeed still need sweaters, I mean jumpers. If they do, I’ll start knitting.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Intimate Strangers

I borrowed a book from the library titled Intimate Strangers: The Letters of Margaret Laurence and Gabrielle Roy.

When I was flipping through it today, a piece of paper tumbled out. On the top of one side is a short type-written paragraph in French about Roy’s book Rue Deschambault. Beneath is a beautiful cursive script, again in French, with an overview of the book and comments about reading Intimate Strangers and finding their friendship quite funny.

The note isn’t signed and appears to be incomplete. It ends with a question – written below and with a different pen – comment ‘y prendre quelqu’un. This question, translated literally as ‘how to take someone’ has to do with the perceptions we make of someone, the way we feel after a meeting.

How to take an anonymous note left in a library book? I love that it’s there. I like this glimpse into the thoughts of someone – even though I don’t know whose thoughts I’m glimpsing. But if I could guess from the handwriting, I’d definitely say it’s an older woman since the penmanship is quite lovely.

I enjoy lending books to friends and often encourage them to write some comments down when they return it – or leave a bookmark in the book. I like to create bookmarks from things lying around when I’m reading – photos, notes, ticket stubs, etc. which I then leave in the book after putting it back on the shelf (books I own that is). When I open the book again, these bookmarks hold memories of the last time I opened these pages. I have a few books with an additional bookmark from a friend – another layer which I enjoy.

I’m now quite tempted to leave behind little notes in books I borrow from the library – or maybe even a photo with some musing jotted on the back. I wonder if a librarian would remove these? Perhaps I’ll need to be subtle, to sneak it in there. Would someone else enjoy it – or would it be tossed out without a glance. Regardless, I think I’ll give it a try. There may just be someone else out there who, like me, enjoys the camaraderie of written words.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Day for the Eradication of Poverty

Today is the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. Sadly, that does not mean poverty was eradicated on this day in history. There is still a long way to go before that will happen.

One of the struggles faced by people advocating for the poor is that there is no common definition of poverty or standards by which comparisons can be made. And if you can’t measure the problem, it becomes harder to come up with solutions.
And yet, there is no denying that there is a problem.

Organizations such as Make Poverty History claim that more than three million people in Canada live in poverty, including more than 630,000 children – which is one in ten. At the Ottawa Food bank, 37% of 43,000 people they serve each month are children. In Canada’s First Nations communities, one in four children lives in poverty.

Poverty doesn’t just mean being unable to afford new clothes and a car. It means hunger, lack of educational opportunity, lack of access to adequate health care and recreation. It means substandard housing, insecurity, uncertainty.

There is a private member’s bill before Parliament – Bill C-233: An Act to Eliminate Poverty in Canada – which would bind the federal government to a long-term commitment on ending poverty and building a strategy through consultation with provinces, territories, cities, Aboriginal communities, and organizations. Unfortunately, most private member’s bills do not become law – especially when coming from the opposition in the face of a majority government.

As I mentioned, the lack of standards for defining poverty make the problem hard to measure. While there are many who say that poverty looks different across the country or between cities, towns and rural communities, there is agreement that more sharing of knowledge is needed to fully understand and address poverty in all its manifestations and complexities.

What can you do to eradicate poverty?

Support groups like Make Poverty History and the Dignity for All campaign. Sign up for their newsletters and lend your support when they call for targeted action.

Support your local food bank. Even dropping the odd can of soup or jar of peanut butter into the bin when you’re out shopping can make a difference.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Curling season begins

Today I dug out my silk long underwear from the bottom dresser drawer, donned a pair of woollen socks and unearthed my curling shoes. Another curling season has begun. On Sunday mornings I curl with Saskatchewan Mafia. I kid you not.

I am not by any stretch an avid curler. I have curled on and off for probably about 5 years now, but this is with non-competitive teams and my seasons have been interrupted by such things as injury, pregnancy and child care.

I do, however, enjoy the game. Or is it a sport? At the level I play, it seems more like a game. Sure, I have some muscles that will likely be stiff tomorrow, but I didn’t break a sweat or significantly raise my heart rate. And how can something for which beer drinking and sweeping are integral parts be considered a serious sport?

Whatever it is, sport or game, there are several things I find very appealing about it.

For one, unlike with many sports, when I curl I don’t have the feeling that I likely peaked in my abilities 10 years ago and will just steadily decline from this point on. For example, when I play basketball I feel old and broken. I can’t keep up with the 20-somethings racing around the court, my knee injury flares up, my shoulder aches... I know that even if I were to start playing basketball daily, I'd never become good enough to even play at a college level again.

Curling however, is not reserved for the young and super fit. Sure, at the top levels the curlers have to be in pretty good shape to stay on top of their game. But it’s nice to know that my game is likely to improve over the years, especially if I work at it, not steadily worsening until it becomes embarrassing to show my face. There are seniors at curling clubs who show up youngsters all the time.

Secondly, I like how social curling is. When I went to the club this morning, I was greeted with hugs and handshakes from other curlers – many of whose names I couldn’t remember. A fun group. An enjoyable morning.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Complicit silence?

Am I missing something? I am failing to be a part of the movement which will define 2011? Or am I, like most, confused about what this ‘Occupy’ movement is all about, and thus continued to go about my day as normal, despite the calls for protesters in our city centre.

Demonstrators gathered in cities across Canada today as part of the global spread of the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement which began last month. Close to 3,000 in Vancouver, another 3,000 in Toronto.... thousands of others around the world. They march into financial districts and city centres, holding signs opposing capitalism, climate change, oppression, lack of political transparency, etc. With no clear purpose or endgame, it is grouping of the diverse disgruntled.

I share many of the concerns of the demonstrators. I believe that our political system needs to be more transparent and representative. I think the interests of the rich far too often trump the needs of the poor. I think climate change is not being addressed with the urgency it deserves because politicians are too afraid and corporations too greedy.

And yet I was not among the crowd of demonstrators today.

Perhaps if I did not have a young child in my care, I would have been – attracted as much by curiosity as from a sense of power or necessity. But it did not seem prudent to take my child into a large crowd which could have potentially come into conflict with police.

Still, I wondered as I went about my day with my little girl –having a latte and a slice of poppy seed loaf at the cafĂ©, buying pyjamas and leggings in the mall, driving to the suburbs to pick up a pumpkin from a pumpkin patch – have I become too comfortable? too indifferent? Do I think I’m too good to join the movement until they become focused? My time too important to spend with a rabble of frustrated citizens who are taking to the streets in a hope that their voice might actually be heard, that their message might penetrate into the chambers of commerce, business and politics?

Is my silence so loud that it drowns out all their cries?

The pumpkin patch

This morning Miya took a trip to Foster's pumpkin patch on the southeast end of Ottawa.






There were piles of pumpkins for sale, but it was much more exciting to head off the big pumpkin patch and choose her own. The weather was cool, with sprinklings of wind and smatterings of rain, but Miya was undaunted.



She and her father carefully searched through acres of pumpkins (okay, a small field) to find the perfect daddy sized pumpkin and Miya sized pumpkin.

Next step will be making jack o' lanterns.


Friday, October 14, 2011

Don't hire me to plan your wedding

I was thinking the other day about what I would say if asked that common interview question – ‘what are your weaknesses as a professional?’

Of course, there is the ol’ – ‘well, I’m just too much of a perfectionist that can’t accept anything until it’s perfect’. But that one can be seen through pretty easily.

If I were to be more honest, perhaps I would talk about something I’ve come to understand more about myself in this last week.

In many ways I am cautious –like when it comes to relationships and opening up to someone. But in many other ways, I like to dive into something and assume that things will work out.

For example, I love travelling without a plan. To me, a key part of the adventure and the fun of getting away from everything is to go somewhere and discover. I love leaping with faith and discovering what will catch me. I don’t even mind some bruises when, at times, I fall.

I also tend to be a ‘big picture’ person – much more interested in puzzling existential questions and human motivations then I am with organizing details.

The combination of these two characteristics does not, it turns out, make me a good event coordinator. I’d be a terrible wedding planner. Not only would I not understand why the couple couldn’t embrace some spontaneity, but I’d fail to appreciate why someone would care very much about the precise colour of the linens or want plan every moment of the day.

But of course, if I was sitting in a job interview, I couldn’t say I’m terrible at details and would rather just be backpacking around the world. I’d have to talk about how I’ve learned to strengthen my weaknesses... and I sincerely believe I have.

For one, admitting the problem is always the first step. I know that the small details are not my forte. But I’ve also learned to work with others for whom the details are extremely important – both to learn from them, and to learn how to work with them. And after the week I’ve just had, I have a whole list of ways I’m learning to do just that.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Handheld (micromanagement) devices

In case you hadn’t heard, the world ended this week. Well, at least according to Blackberry users and abusers around the world who suddenly found themselves without service. And while buses continued to run, children still got dressed and went to school, the earth stayed on its axis – you wouldn’t think so to hear some of the wails of dismay from RIM clients.

‘When I leave the office, I can’t get check any of my email.’
‘I can’t google something on the fly. I do all my research at the last minute and I didn’t have access to the internet.’
‘I don’t know how to get in touch with anyone.’
‘I had to use the phone. It was horrible!’

This a sampling of the comments I’ve heard in news stories. People are genuinely distraught that they could not be wired to the internet for every minute of their day. Sure, they could still access the internet and their emails in the office – but not on the commute to the office!!!

IMHO, Blackberries have turned the world into micromanagers and I for one would be greatly relieved if everyone could take two steps back from whatever device hooks them to the internet, like a junkie to a drug, and think for just one minute about why this was such a catastrophe.

I’ll tell you why. It’s because they could not be part of every conversation and oversee every detail of their operations. If email is the seed of micromanaging, then handheld devices are the genetically modified super foods which wreak havoc on surrounding ecosystems.

I’ve been on a lot of planning committees lately and I am a daily witness to email micromanaging. It’s not just that people want to be kept abreast of developments by being cc’ed on emails – but they want to weigh in too. And cc’s are like bunnies. They multiply exponentially - bringing with them multiple new opinions. What happened to one or two people taking responsibility for something and having private conversations between the two of them (possibly even on the phone!)?

We are surrendering our privacy, individuality and the power and responsibility to make our own decision without even a fight.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Miss Representation

A friend posted a link on facebook today for a trailer of the movie ‘Miss Represenation’ – a film which “exposes how American youth are being sold the concept that women and girls’ value lie in their youth, beauty and sexuality.”

I reposted the link since I agreed with what I watched. Yes, the media represents a very narrow view of women, and of what it means to be a successful woman. Yes, sex and the objectification of women’s bodies is a massive and pervasive marketing trend. Yes, young girls are bombarded with these images and many fall short in their own eyes when they compare themselves to the standards set by the media.

These things are all rather grim, but sadly, none of it was surprising.

I’ve heard these arguments for years. So while I support any effort to empower girls and women and to challenge destructive gender stereotypes, I’m discouraged that we are still having to make the same pleas.

I know that feminism has made some progress. There are those who say we’ve moved beyond feminism into some sort of post-feminist state or some sort of third-wave feminism. So we can vote, but does that mean we’re equal. When you look at the number of women who are involved in high political and corporate positions, you realize that there is a long way to go in overcoming the gender divide.

For example, a study published in Canada in 2009 found that women who work full-time, year-round earn only 71 cents for every dollar earned by men and women account for 60% of minimum wage workers.

Additional factors such as raising children alone or being a senior dramatically increase women’s likelihood of poverty. Women are also more likely than men to have no job security or benefits.

And then there’s the whole issue that Miss Representation is getting at: young people, girls and boys, receive a loud and constant message that women are valued for their beauty and sex appeal – all other accomplishments and strengths are distant second to these.

True change takes generations. I hope that when Miya is my age a film like ‘Miss Representation’ will not still be relevant or necessary.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Conversations with my daughter, part ii

It happened literally over-night – Miya has entered a new and dreaded stage of toddlerhood. And no, I don’t mean that she has started throwing tantrums or demanding to dress up as a princess everyday. She has discovered the ‘Why?’ question.

I recently read that two-year-olds ignore things they don’t understand. Our daughter didn’t get that memo. Sure, I did notice for awhile that if we talked about things she didn’t follow she’d sort of tune out and look away. Then about a month or so ago she would interrupt me if I was talking to someone else and she couldn’t follow the conversation. “What mommy saying?” she’d ask. She was very aware when she wasn’t understanding something – and she didn’t like it.

But she has now moved from wanting us to repeat something to asking that question that parents come to dread. Why?

She had been asking a few random ‘whys?’ and ‘whats?’ this last week, but this past weekend I went into her room when she woke up crying around 6:30 a.m.

“Mommy, you are wearing your sleeping pants,” she said, “Why?”
“Because I was sleeping.”
“Why?”
“Because it’s night.”
“Why?”
“Because the sun went down.”
“Why?”
“Because the earth turns.”
“The earth! We live on the earth!” Pause. “Mommy is going to the kitchen.”
“No, I’m going to go back to bed.”
“Why?”
“Because I want to sleep.”
“Why?”
“Because I’m tired.”
“Why?”
“Aren’t you tired, my love?”
“No.” (Obviously.)

Thus it begins, I thought. And short of starting to cart around an encyclopaedia and the patience of Job, we’re going to need a survival strategy.

V has so far managed to stump her by proclaiming her why? an invalid question. She considered this and turned away. (Perhaps there is still some of that ‘ignoring what they don’t understand’ left in her.)

I’ve tried creating a loop.
“Time to go to sleep.”
“Why?”
“Because it’s night time?”
“Why?”
“Because it’s time to go to sleep.”
She quickly loses interest.

I’ve also tried throwing the question back at her – the good ol’ “Why do you think?”

Or there’s the limit setting – you can ask 3 more ‘whys’.
Bet you can guess the next word.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Thanksgiving

What a gorgeous Thanksgiving weekend! It’s been a weekend of warm sunny days and brilliant fall colours. I love this time of year and this weekend was autumn at its showiest.

With a busy toddler and busy lives, there wasn’t much time to prepare a big Thanksgiving dinner, but we did manage to get a nice meal on the table for Miya, her parents and her grandma – a recent and very welcome arrival to Ottawa.

As is our custom, we went around the table saying what we are grateful for. As usual, those expressing thanks seem to feel uncomfortable doing so, so the tone is light, almost mocking, masking sincerity and heart-felt emotion. But despite how we may fail to clearly articulate our gratitude, I think we really are. I know I am.

I am thankful for family – for my amazing, beautiful, expressive, curious, funny little girl. She is the joy of my life and in the course of her yet so short life, has managed to completely change mine. I’m thankful for my devoted, quirky, brilliant husband and the safe arrival of my lovely mother to Ottawa – who already has and will enrich our lives (and offer invaluable free babysitting!).

I’m thankful that, even though I don’t always act on it, I know that I have friends I can call when I really need someone to talk to. And thankful that I have many to call on for play dates and many whose company at parks and playgrounds has brought friendship and laughter to the last couple years.

I am thankful that I am building a career, through fits and starts, in a field I value and with people I respect. I’m even grateful for all the bumps along the road this last year – I have learned more from the problems than I have from the times of smooth sailing.

I am also deeply and respectfully thankful for the privileges and prosperity I enjoy. Though we may stress and crunch numbers, I am repeatedly struck by how fortunate we are in the place and time we live in. I cannot say I don’t, although I never wish I would, take this bounty for granted.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Books: The Tomorrow-Tamer

Although Margaret Laurence is best known for penning the Manawaka series (most particularly The Stone Angel), she actually began writing fiction set in Africa, not in small-town Manitoba.

From 1950 until 1957, Margaret Laurence and her husband lived in Somalia and Ghana. She approached this time in Africa with a writer’s curiosity and her keen sense of observation. In Somalia she fostered relationships with locals and expats so as to understand and ultimately translate Somali poetry – which became her first published book: A Tree for Poverty.

The Tomorrow-Tamer is set in Ghana around the time of the country’s independence from British colonialism. In a series of 10 short-stories, Laurence explores the themes of freedom, change, belonging and foreignness. Though aware of the risks she took, she boldly chooses to write not just from the foreign perspective, but from the perspectives of Africans, male and female, young and old.

For those who know the Manawaka series, you probably know how true the characters are. The characters of Hagar and Morag are so vividly real to me when I read about them. Their voices, through Laurence, are hauntingly real.

Not surprisingly, this authenticity doesn’t come through in the Tomorro-Tamer’s short-stories, although there are certainly glimmers of it. Indeed, one can see the development of Laurence as a writer in comparing this early work to her later novels. The vivid descriptions and details are there, but she is not able to fully inhabit her characters the way she did in her later work.

Laurence was aware of these shortcomings. “I actually wonder how I ever had the nerve to attempt to go into the mind of an African man,” she mused in a later essay, “and I suppose if I’d really known how difficult the job I was attempting, I would never have tried it.”

Yet despite some weaknesses, these stories are still valuable – both as insight into Laurence and her young, yet very evident, talent, and to the socio-political context which she describes. Africa was under-going rapid transformations and Laurence, as a keenly observant outsider, offers a rich, if flawed, perspective on these changes and the tension between modernization and tradition, belonging and foreignness, home and away.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

26 uses for a paperclip

I have heard that a measure of divergent thinking is how many uses one can come up with for a paperclip.

So, to test my own divergent thinking, the following is my list:
1) Keep papers together (get the obvious one out of the way first).
2) Attach cards and/or photos to a ribbon – like at Christmas time.
3) Temporarily replace a broken zipper.
4) String colourful ones together as decorations for a Christmas Tree.
5) When I was in Grade 8 there was a fleeting trend in my class of making little bracelets out of coloured paper clips and sharing them with friends.
6) Use a chain of paperclips to hold up a tarp when caught in a rainstorm (if you happen to have a large container of paperclips and a tarp handy).
7) Keep some keys together or identify a key.
8) Clip on into a paper airplane and use it + a rubber band to get extra height and distance.
9) Use them as pretend money in a pretend store when playing with children.
10) Wear them as earrings.
11) Use them like hair clips to keep hair out of your eyes.
12) Re-attach a broken-off arm of a pair of glasses or sunglasses.
13) Scrape off nail polish.
14) Clean under your fingernails.
15) Scrape the inside of a faucet or some other hard to reach place.
16) Pick something out of your teeth.
17) Keep a bag closed.
18) Attach a grocery list to your husband’s wallet or backpack.
19) Fix a broken purse strap.
20) Fix a broken bra strap.
21) Use one to help thread a cord through something like a hoodie (a big safety pin works better, but a paperclip will do in a pinch).
22) Mark your place in knitting
23) Secure the ends of thread or yarn so you can braid or twist them.
24) Poke out the bit of coffee grounds that got stuck in the little air hole of your travel mug.
25) Punch a hole in a piece of paper or cardboard so you to pass a string through – i.e. for hanging.
26) Use as a bookmark in the book you’re reading.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Kienan's return: a positive crime story

Very encouraged to read a positive story relating to criminal justice. Lately I’ve been so caught up with the omnibus bill and all of its misguided legislation that it’s easy to get cynical and discouraged.

So it was nice to read a story about the parents of the little boy who was abducted in B.C. and see an example of compassion and meaningful encounters.

In case you don’t know, last month a three-year old boy was abducted from his bed at home in Sparwood B.C. The parents made a public appeal for his return and to everyone’s astonishment, little Kienan was returned unharmed.

The parents do not think he was harmed emotionally or physically.

The man accused of kidnapping Kienan was found not long after and is being held in prison until his trial.

What is so striking and encouraging about this story is not just the safe return of the boy, but also that his parents asked to meet with their son’s kidnapper and were allowed to do so.

Shortly after the man had been arrested, Kienan’s parents had a face to face conversation with him at the local RCMP station where they were able to ask the questions weighing on their mind and “talk it through”.

The father credits his strong Christian faith with his ability to meet with, and forgive, his son’s abductor.

This is a lovely story of compassion, but it is also a great illustration of how justice could become more meaningful for victims. Most victims of crime are plagued with questions, yet very few will have the chance to express these questions to the perpetrator of the crime and get some closure from that.

While certainly it would not be possible or advisable to have victim/offender encounters arranged following every arrest – the fact that in this case there was a positive encounter is encouraging. I commend the Herbert family for their courage, strength and compassion. And I commend their local RCMP office for seeing the value in the encounter and allowing it to happen.

“What does vengeance do,” Kienan’s father asked. “Anger feeds anger and hate feed hate.”

In so many way’s Kienan’s story is one of beautiful hope.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Busy news day

For once there is plethora of choice when I sit down to blog.

First, there is the death of Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple and revolutionary of modern technology and communications. This, of course, is V’s recommended topic for the day. But I admit that I know little about Jobs. I own a used ipod but have otherwise never swung over the Mac side. Unlike my husband, I have never followed an Apple product unveiling live and participated in the immediate ensuing internet chatter.

Second, the Ontario provincial elections results are rolling in as I type. It’s interesting watching these results and feeling very little emotional engagement with them. Sure, I will be disappointed if we see yet another Conservative victory, but this isn’t exactly a nail-biter for me.

But it was only a few months ago when I was watching a similar screen fill up with the federal results and my initial joy at seeing the results from Quebec was steadily dampened, then squelched, then ground into dust, by the Conservative majority victory.

As I write the Liberals are hanging on to the lead, but the numbers are going up and down and it looks like the race will be as predicted, too close to call till the end.

Third, the federal Conservatives finally put some cost estimates forward with regard to the Omnibus Crime Bill. However, their estimates take into consideration only 2 of the 9 bills which make up this mega-legislation, since they claim that the other 7 won’t result in any federal costs. How is that possible when one of the bills they refuse to estimate costs for will see conditional sentencing massively restricted? Keeping someone in prison is 3.7 times more expensive than maintaining them in the community (i.e. half-way houses and house arrest) - $109,699 per year vs. $29,476 per year.

The cost estimates Ministers Nicholson and Toews gave to the reviewing committee today project federal expenditures of $78.6 million over 5 years. But this seems ridiculously low – to me just one more example of their smoke and mirrors tactics.

Parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page who is currently reviewing the omnibus bill thinks the costs will exceed $3 billion.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Fire at Earnscliffe

Last night a blaze broke out in Earnscliffe, the official residence of the British High Commissioner. Firefighters rushed to the scene and were able to contain the blaze to the attic – although there was extensive water damage and walls and ceilings were ripped up.

I’ve been working at Earnscliffe for more than 5 years and was supposed to be serving at a dinner there tomorrow night.

The High Commissioner, his wife and new little puppy are staying with friends for now. It will likely be quite some time before the High Commissioner and his wife can move back in. Apparently the house is quite a mess – especially from water and smoke damage - although the firefighters did save the extensive art collection and many other valuables.

The High Commissioner, Andrew Pocock, sounds quite optimistic about it all. “"Standing on the lawn last night watching flames lick through the roof, I was very concerned,” he told the press, “but this morning, in the light of a pretty Ottawa autumn day I can report that Earnscliffe is very solid, very much still here."

He added that the British Government is committed to fully restoring the heritage building.

Earnscliffe, a National Historic Site of Canada, is a beautiful house built in the 1855 by the same man who built Rideau Hall, the Governor General’s residence. In a style called Pinwheel Gothic, it has a steep metal roof, and ornate woodworking on the exterior and interior. The house looks over the Ottawa River, has beautiful large rooms with high ceilings, chandeliers, fireplaces, etc. I enjoy working receptions there and seeing the awed faces of guests who are visiting for the first time.

Sir John A. Macdonald bought the house in 1883 and lived there during the years he was Prime Minister until his death in 1891. The main guest bedroom is the room he died in. A little morbid, but very historic.

The Canadian government considered buying Earnscliffe in 1930 for the official residence of the prime minister, but the prime minister at the time, R. B. Bennett, decline the offer. So the house was bought by the British government instead, for the official residence of the High Commissioner.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

To phone or not to phone, that is the question

Do you ever wish you could jump ahead 10 years just to check the answer to some question that’s bugging you? I’m not talking about wanting to find out if you’ll get rich and famous or win the lottery. In this case, I’m talking about cell phone use.

This week, Health Canada came out with a slightly modified position on cell phones: they encourage parents to limit the amount of time kids under 18 spend talking on them. I’m sure there are plenty of parents of teenagers rolling their eyes at this – charting it up with 8 hours of sleep each night and 7 servings of fruit and vegetables. Good luck with that.

What bugs me is how inconclusive the whole debate on the cell phone /cancer link is. This is where I wish I could skip ahead 10 or 15 years and I swear the only thing I will do is check for what the science and evidence-based studies have found.

Perhaps by then this will be a forgotten issue. Cell phones will have evolved in some way we can’t even imagine now and this whole debate will be a relic of the dark ages. Remember how afraid people used to be of cell phones? Did they think people on television were looking at them too? Were they worried that typing on computers could cause finger cancer??

Or perhaps in 10 years it will be obvious that sustained exposure to radio frequency messes with our body systems – and people in the future will shake their heads at our stupidity, just like how so many now shake their heads at how we and our predecessors have made such a mess of the earth’s climate.

But right now, here in the fall of 2011, the evidence is still inconclusive. The American Cancer Society says that while “most studies published so far have not found a link between cell phone use and the development of tumor... these studies have had some important limitations that make them unlikely to end the controversy about whether cell phone use affects cancer risk.”

If you have theories I’d like to hear them – but perhaps best to just email me for now.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Knitting season begins

Suddenly summer is over. In the last week, the temperature suddenly dropped by 15 degrees and across the city people are scrambling to dig out our mitts, scarves and warm jackets. Here at home, my knitting needles have begun clicking away.

I tend to knit year-round, but I really pick up the pace between the first cold days of fall and Christmas. ‘Tis the season to yarn together a hat that fits my daughter’s ever growing head, or a pair of mittens to warm her hands. Then, as soon as I fill the immediate demands, I turn to Christmas gifts – which I usually am knitting right up till Dec. 25th.

Once Christmas is done I’ll continue to knit for the rest of the winter, but at a less frenzied pace. I’ll finish a sweater, perhaps experiment with new yarns or ideas. As spring approaches I lose the momentum – it seems odd to start a cozy knit project when the snow is melting. And projects that weren’t completed during the winter tend to languish half-completed until the weather turns cool again.

Today I finished up a little hat for Miya – I had planned to make something a little more elaborate, but this sudden shift in the weather had me quickly knit up something that she can wear for these cool mornings. And for some reason she keeps requesting legwarmers, so I have to get cracking on those. She’ll also need mitts.

For our 4-year anniversary, V gave me some beautiful, fine silk yarn. As soon as I’ve finished my immediate projects for Miya, I’ll be eager to get working with that. And then my knitting circle friends and I have come up with some knit graffiti ideas... never enough knitting hours in the day!

For anyone out there who has never tried knitting, I fully encourage you to give it a try. And yes, that includes men. There are plenty of guy knitters out there. Sure, looking at a sweater pattern can be intimidating – but don’t try to start there. Scarves are no-fail for beginners, especially with funky yarns. Then you move on to hats, then mitts, and soon you’ll be lost in wonders of yarn.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Books: Through the Glass

I have had the privilege of reading an advance copy of Shannon Moroney’s book – Through the Glass. This is a raw, very personal story of violence, betrayal, and the hope for real justice. It is written by a woman who has been devastated, stripped of her identity and livelihood, and stretched to the limits of compassion, love and forgiveness.

Moroney had been married for one month when a police officer knocked on her door to tell her that her husband had been arrested for violent sexual assaults and kidnapping. In that moment, her world came crashing down around her – and this book is the story of her pained, determined journey to hope, healing and recovery.

One of the major hurdles which Moroney faced was that she did not fit neatly into the traditional criminal justice system. As the wife of an offender, she was not seen as a victim (even though she had been a victim of voyeurism which was discovered after the arrest) and so could not access help through victims’ services. Instead she faced the stigma of guilt-by-association – from her community, her employers and even close friends.

Moroney never denies or minimizes the violence, harm and betrayal of her husband’s actions. Yet amazingly she continued to stand by him and support him. The book traces her struggle to come to terms with what he did and with what could have brought him to commit such brutal attacks. But more than this, it is about her own struggle to heal.

As Moroney points out, there are thousands of offenders in Canadian jails – for each of these offenders there are not only victims, but in most cases there are also families – spouses, parents, siblings, children. These people are profoundly impacted by an offender’s actions and the punishment received – and yet their voices and perspectives are almost never heard, especially in the traditional court of law.

I believe her book will be invaluable to families of offenders – as well as to victims, offenders, and many others who work within or are touched by the criminal justice system. It is also a strident call for a more humane justice system and a prioritization of rehabilitation over punishment.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Playing for Change fan club

Back in February of this year, I was introduced to the music of ‘Playing for Change’ – collaborative music made by musicians from around the world.

Playing for Change seeks to “inspire, connect, and bring peace to the world through music.” Not only do they travel the world recording musicians in India, Brazil, Israel, Russia, Cape Verde, Jamaica, Cuba, etc. – they give back through a nonprofit corporation which builds music and arts schools in communities that are in need of inspiration and hope – communities in impoverished places like Nepal, Mali and South Africa.

The first time I watched a Playing for Change video I was entranced. The video, filmed mostly outdoors in locations around the world, brings together artists and layers their music into a mosaic of harmony and collaboration.

After I watched a few clips on youtube, I bought the album on iTunes. The first one came with 7 videos –songs like ‘Stand by me’ and Bob Marley’s ‘One Love’ and ‘War/No more trouble’.

Their second album was recently released and I’m loving it. This one comes with 10 videos and songs, as well as a short video about the Playing for Change project and foundation.

And it’s not just me who enjoys watching these videos. Miya has become a fan in her own right. She can identify many different instruments (great variety) as well as nationalities of musicians. Sure, I don’t know how meaningful things like nationality is to her at her age, but it’s still pretty cool to watch these with her and talk about people from around the world coming together through music.

Since Miya and I have been enjoying watching and listening to the music, I thought she might like making some of her own. So we took a trip to Ten Thousand Villages and bought two little flutes – one from India and one from Peru, as well as an Indian percussion instrument. Great, noisy fun.

I hope that some day I can take my daughter to some of the places we see in these videos and that we can hear, first hand, the music from around the world. Till then, we’re loving the videos and huge fans of the movement.