Friday, August 12, 2016

The Lonely Struggle

Barack Obama famously said of Donald Trump, "It's just not cool to not know stuff." but sometimes it's not all that cool when one does know stuff, either.

I am on a personal quest to have the place where Collingwood's young people jump down into the water, you know, the spot behind the grain terminals, called its proper name.

It's not a pier.

It's a quay, pronounced key. Piers are on stilts, quays are land formations, whether man-made or natural, altered to accommodate the docking of boats.

Seriously, Google it if you don't believe me.

Once you know it, you can't un-know it, but be aware, when you start telling people you're going to the quay to jump into the water to cool off on yet another blistering summer afternoon, they will cock their head like a dog when it hears music. "Huh? What's a key?" And then, like me, you will get to sound all pompous-like, explaining the difference between a quay, pier, wharf, and dock.

No matter what, you're going to sound like a know-it-all.

Maybe I'll just call it the harbour. Spelled with a U, dammit!

Monday, August 8, 2016

Kids These Days

I'm on the far side of 40 didn't get to have children of my own, so I should be sitting on my front porch, quietly breathing obscenities at the kids I'm pretty sure are playing Pokemon Go down the sidewalk, but instead, I'm being astounded at the amazing people my near and dear are bringing into this world.

Between now and Friday, I'm learning how Rugby 7s is played, since I'd like to look like less than a dotty old aunt when my lovely niece kicks some butt at the Ontario Summer Games with her team. This kid nearly made it onto the Ontario team, keeps a straight-A average, devours fiction and paints terrific little landscapes when she needs to chill out.

Last Friday, a knock on my door brought a surprise visit from a cousin who lives in Calgary and his two children, both of whom, even though they're 9 and 7, can tell complete and funny anecdotes about their lives, who sat patiently while the grownups talked and were generally a delight.

Saturday, I watched in awe as another niece's five children played in a creek at our family reunion, the older ones keeping an eagle eye on the baby twins as they toddled about, one of the little girls charming my Sweetie by jumping into his lap for a cuddle, after being astounded that she and he share a first name. The three older kids, all younger than seven, dutifully made the rounds saying goodbye to us old farts as they headed home, with a, 'it was nice seeing you" said with full eye contact and hugs.

Later in the day, the nine year old daughter of another friend astounded me with a delightful story told with a beginning, middle and end, a punchline and no 'um's or 'ah's. She was charming and articulate and pretty much adorable.

With 90 days left to the US election, I've been fretting about the future of North America and indeed, the world, but I somehow think, with the band of smart, merry and kind young folk I saw this weekend, we might be just fine.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016


If Orlando was ISIS, what was Newtown?

If Dallas was Black lives Matter, what was Colorado Springs?

Shooters are never clear about their motives, except in Umpqua, Charleston, Isla Vista and Montreal.

Since San Bernadino was Islam, what was Aurora?

So many places, all devastated. But what does it all have in common? "No one can think of a way to stop this trouble," I say sarcastically. It's must be a religion that's to blame. Definitely a culture.

And the suspects! We never know their motivation, unless they live, like Dylan Roof, James Holmes and Robert Dear,caught alive, not blown up or shot dead. Micah Johnson and Omar Mateen, not so much.

I say sarcastically, I just can't see any patterns here. Nope, none at all.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Je Regrette Rien

About two months ago, one of my girlfriends told me the sad news that her mother had chosen to take no more treatment for the ovarian cancer she had been diagnosed with 18 months previously. Because of the wording she used, or perhaps because of the wine we were drinking, it took a few minutes for what she was saying to truly sink in. When it did, the purpose and finality of her mother's choice struck a chord. A loud chord in a melancholy minor key.

It was just a few days later, my own mother, who's hale and hearty and turning 74, was talking to some of her friends about her extensive travels ('everywhere they speak English, plus Scotland!'), and I chimed in that I'd love to take a "Jane Austen" trip someday, perhaps looking at the houses where the movies were shot, seeing where the author lived and wrote. I do love Austen's work and I read all six of her novels every few years.

Not two hours later, Mom called to tell me about a trip she had seen in the travel section of the newspaper. It was to England and Wales, including Bath, which is where Austen lived for three years, (two of them happy) and which was the setting of Northanger Abbey. My immediate reaction was to say no. It was too expensive, and my husband would not want to come along, plus I could tell it was going to be a "Q-tip bus ride": white-haired old ladies farting and shuffling along, plus from what I understand, a lot of being rushed from place to place. Even so, I told Sweetie about it as part of a conversation about mothers in general and the heartbreak our friends were facing. The next thing I knew, at Sweetie's insistence, I was writing a big fat cheque to my mom to cover my half of a week on a blue-hair bus trip.

It was a red-eye to the UK, and the trip was indeed set mostly on a bus: Windsor Castle to Stratford Upon Avon (literary? check.) to York, Liverpool, Llandudno, Conwy, Chester, Snowdonia National Park, Ludlow, some other places in the north of England and south of Wales, Bath and back to London. There was a castle or cathedral to look at every day,sometimes two. They call these trips ABCs: Another Bloody Castle, or Another Bloody Cathedral. There were indeed some old ladies with canes and complaints. My mom (apart from the snoring) was a marvelous traveling companion. She's funny, although I think she's going a little deaf. That, or she simply ignores a lot of what I say, which is equally possible. (Probable, actually...) She's also sometimes silly, but she's willing to walk 90 minutes to look at Buckingham Palace even though she's seen it before, and willing to be dragged through pubs as I taste the local beers, and willing to check out local grocery stores, because I find the little differences, fascinating.

I'm grateful to have traveled with my mother, and I will do it again, since the very night before we left, Sweetie and I went to a visitation with the family following the death of my friends' mom. Her shattered husband and daughters will never again get a chance to see the world through her eyes.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Honesty in Accounting

The stories about the latest crisis unfolding on a native reserve far, far away are front and centre in the newspapers again, and I have been involved in some kitchen table conversations with various friends who have a lot of opinions about what has happened and what hasn't, in places like Attawapiskat.

Some of what I have been hearing in recent days is tinged with racism, and some of it is just simply misinformed. I confess to a lot of ignorance on these issues, too, so I went looking at the money part of the equation, leaving aside the questions that arise from the legacy of residential schools.

There are widely varied public reports of how much federal money actually flows to Attawapiskat each year, but from what I can gather, is it's somewhere about 100 million dollars a year. That's 100 million dollars annually to cover all the housing, all the health care, including mental health services, all the education, all the roads, water and sewer services, any firefighters, plus salaries for the people who provide all of the above to the about 2000 people who live there.

Let's compare, shall we? The budget for the municipality where I live was 66.8 million dollars this year for road and sidewalk plowing, asphalt, recreation facilities, salt, firefighters, salaries and services, but not for education or health care for the 18-thousand people who live in Collingwood.

My local hospital's budget is around 300 million from the province, but that figure doesn't include doctors' pay. I have no idea what is spent on the twice-a-year doctor appointments my husband and I average. There are also at least five mental-health counsellors working full time in a facility near the hospital; is there a way to know what it costs to house them, in addition to their pay?

The province pays for the nurses who work at the hospice. The province also subsidizes a lot of daycare spaces, while the feds are increasing the payment to parents this coming July to somewhere around 5K per kid per year, depending on your income.

The county spends another 300 million or so on things like welfare and operating the social housing units in our town, picking up trash, recycling and compost, and let's not forget the county-run old age home and the county-designated roads, which require plows and salt.

Do you know how much is shelled out on your kids' schools, including the salaries of teachers, support workers and janitors? How about the buses? I'd love to have a dollar figure per kid across Ontario, but I bet it's somewhere around 150k per child, and let's not forget the millions that flow to colleges and universities before you pay the tuition.

If only we could compare the raw dollars and then consider how much more it costs to do things up north before suggesting that the reserves are wasteful or corrupt or stupid.

It's possible some of the millions going to places like Attawapiskat is indeed wasted, but I'd wager if it were all added up, the number of dollars spent per person down here is much, much higher than what is spent on our fellow Canadian citizens on reserve.

Furthermore, after the report that came to Collingwood's town council recently about a dire lack of available information about the sale of half of COLLUS a few years ago, no one in this town should have even one word to say about a lack of reporting or mismanaged record-keeping elsewhere.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

You're colouring? I'm judging.

I cannot understand this adult colouring book phenomenon. If you're not familiar with it, then, good for you; I suspect you're leading an interesting, fulfilling life.

In case you missed it, there's a big movement of (nearly all) women who, yes, colour. Yup, the verb. They colour inside the lines of pre-printed books, on paper, with crayons and pencil crayons. Most of the images I have seen are of fairies and flowers. I suspect there is likely a surfeit of unicorns. They colour in the pictures, just like they did when they were seven, although I hope with a bit more skill. It's a real thing. It's asinine.

The other day, I overheard two women talking about their colouring efforts and showing off their respective works, gushing over how marvelously relaxing it was and how there were times they just didn't want to engage their brains, and how colouring provided a creative outlet they just couldn't get anywhere else.

"Yes," I thought to myself, "God forbid you engage your brain. Or learn something, or be moved by actual art or create something lasting or useful, or feel anything but relaxation."

Well, actually, I didn't say that to myself. I said it out loud and the two women spent quite some time failing to convince me of the merits of their efforts, with several citations of relaxation as their prime motivator for taking up a child's activity. One of the two says she actually hurt herself while colouring, which tells me more about her physical fitness than anything else.

I. just. can't. even.

I am truly at a loss for words to describe my thorough disgust at this trend. I usually don't care what other people get up to in their spare time, but I'm practically apoplectic about this.

Is it the clear waste of paper and effort and brain power that annoys me so deeply?
Is it the breezy anti-intellectualism?
Is it my Scottish background and the horror I feel encountering a belief that relaxation should be the default aim in life?

I really can't say, but I will sort out my feelings after I read something challenging and take some exercise; perhaps I will ponder it more while working on my latest quilt or making a from-scratch dinner for my sweetheart.

If I have time, that is.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Panama, Shanama- the COLLUS Papers

We're going to need a bigger bus, what with so very many people being 'thrown under the bus' in the Collus Papers scandal. Full disclosure: no one but me is calling it that, but a girl can hope...

To catch you up, Collingwood's town council hired a lawyer to put together a map of how decisions were made regarding the sale of 50 percent of the town's utility, COLLUS. The final vote to sell was in January, 2012; half the utility is now owned by Powerstream, which owns and operates the electricity systems in Newmarket and Barrie and a few other places.

The report was delivered last week at a 2pm town council meeting that was standing room only. I got there early to secure a seat. In addition to interested citizens, a former mayor was there, along with at least three former town councillors. So was the rabble-rouser who got released a chain of emails between Ed Houghton and John Brown through a Freedom of Information request. Brown is currently the acting CAO for the Town of Collingwood. Houghton was the President of Collus when the town decided to sell off half the utility. Houghton was the town's acting CAO for about a year starting about three months after the decision about the sell-off was made. He remained the head of COLLUS during his tenure at town hall and is still the President and CAO of the half of the utility the town owns.

The lawyer's report basically says he couldn't actually offer up a 'decision tree' or a map of what happened, because either there are no records, or no one will give them to him. The report says there is no paper trail of decisions about the sale, no way to know how the decision was made of offer up 50% of the utility, and also that no one ever does a 50/50 sale of a utility, and he's been involved in dozens of these types of transactions. The report expressed consternation that a town would sell an asset for 8-14 million dollars (depending on how you do the math) with no real records of how the decision was made, in spite of repeated attempts to get those records.

During the 'questions' part of the meeting, one town councillor laid the blame for 'information gaps' at the feet of the former head of Collus, Dean Muncaster, who died two months after the deal was made. Another member of town council tried to blame Ed Houghton, although Houghton's name was spoken aloud only one time that I could count in the meeting, which I found very, very odd since he's front and centre at both the utility the town owned and town shortly thereafter. I was left wondering, is he Voldemort or something?

Emails leaked in that FOI request appear to cast blame for a lack of records from meetings on the Mayor at the time, who is still the mayor, saying that at the end of the day, final decisions were hers.

Now, a blogger in town whose LinkedIn page lists him as working for the Ontario Municipal Water Association, where Ed Houghton is now the Executive Director, appears to blame the town or the town clerk for bad record-keeping regarding the sale. Ian Chadwick the blogger was also a town councillor during the time of the sale, and his post also blames the current acting CAO because...rudeness. He suggests the lack of records could be blamed on spelling errors and a lack of politeness in John Brown's email correspondence requesting information about the sale.

So, that's four. So far. Yup. Definitely gonna need a bigger bus. Or at least, bigger tires.