Sunday, 31 August 2008

For 2 Days!!

For 2 days I traveled to the heart of the Midwest and returned to a world that is both unreal and surreal.

For 2 days I subsisted on iced water and the occasional chocolate chip cookie! The food in this place is not much better then it used to be! I lost 2 pounds. Works better than Weight Watchers!

For 2 days I sang until I was hoarse and I played until my fingers bled! Lyrics returned to my lips and chords to my hands that I thought were long forgotten. For 2 days there were no egos and it didn't matter if I led or followed. I didn't stress over capo settings or tunings. For 2 days the passion in the music returned!

For 2 days I was re-energized, re-invigorated, and revitalized. I recalled, recollected, remembered and reminisced.

For 2 days I refused to see the receding hairlines, crow's feet and expanding waistlines. Instead, I chose to see lean young men with tans and curly lush manes preening for fresh-faced young girls who didn't care about makeup and polish, because they didn't need to. For 2 days we were all 18 again!

For 2 days I laughed until I cried, I laughed until I wheezed, I laughed until I peed and I laughed until I puked! I laughed at old stories and at inside jokes. I laughed at old photographs. old hairstyles and old outfits! I laughed at myself and my seriousness. I laughed so hard it hurt and pain never felt so good.

For 2 days I was insulated and isolated. I had forgotten how nice it was to leave reality at the gates and not worry about the outside world. For 2 days I didn't care about McCain's VP or whether Gustav had New Orleans in his sights. I didn't care about the news or the TV! I had entered utopia. For 2 days I was totally and blissfully relaxed.

For 2 days I watched young girls whom I had once cared for and helped nurture, become confident, strong and independent women. They are physicians and lawyers, teachers, rabbis and stay-at-home moms. I watched these little girls (in grown women's bodies) chase after their own and I blushed in embarrassment as they thanked me for the role that I had played in their lives. For 2 days I was den mother to a generation!

For 2 days I rediscovered my purpose and I remembered why it is I do what I do!

For 2 days I watched with parental pride as Younger Son assumed the mantle of musical leadership (not to mention my guitar!) as two generations of our family songled on Shabbat! I watched on in amazement as Older Son morphed into an adult before my eyes, as he gently and patiently helped young children on the Migdal. (climbing tower) Not because he had to, but because he chose to! For 2 days I watched my sons carry themselves with a confidence and a surety, developed in a place where they fit. It has given them a set of life skills that I could never alone have taught them.

For 2 days I endured aching feet, (from trudging up and down the stone paths) insect bites, dehydration and a constant state of perspiration! And, I loved every minute of it!

For 2 days I marvelled at the husband. He drove 20 hours (10 each way!), endured a painful lineup at the border, (almost and hour and a half!) and all of the above pestilence, just so that we could have this weekend. It is true that this is his place as well, but his time there was shorter and less consuming. He did this for me and the boys and for that he gets a big sloppy wet one!

For 2 days I saw what true gratitude looks like. I saw it in 500 faces as they paid tribute to the man in charge! I saw it in his tear-stained cheeks and heard it in his cracked voice as he struggled for the right words of thanks. I saw it as people reached into their wallets, beyond their means, to add a new piece to his already full legacy. I experienced it as we rose en masse to salute his life's work.

For 2 days my spirituality was renewed and my faith restored. As we prayed together on Shabbat morning; babies, children, youth and not so youth, I felt something within me stir. I was brought to tears by an alumnus' words as he linked the past to the present and maybe the future! I marveled in the enormity of the talent. I was inspired by the sheer power of simply being back in this place. Somewhere in those voices and in those images, I saw heaven and earth touch .

For 2 days I played, I connected, I hugged, I cried and I was more myself than I had been in a very long time. For 2 days-- I was home!!!

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Road Trip Survival Kit

It has been a few years since my family ventured out on a road trip together. Back in the day, it was not unusual for the four of us to pile into the old Previa and take to the open roads of North America. We actually became quite adept at it. But, time and circumstance change, and the cloistered existence of the car gave way to the expediency of the plane. Why drive to Florida in what amounts to 2 1/2 days when you can fly there in 3 hours? Not to mention the Road Trip from Hell in the winter of '97!! If you need further elucidation, suffice it to say that you haven't lived until you have spent 5 January days in the bowels of Mount Vernon, Kentucky subsisting on little more than Pizza Hut!! Fun? Wow!!!! So, the family road trip went the way of Power Rangers, sneakers with lights on them and Pokemon cards! We simply outgrew them.

When the boys finished their Hebrew school days and I stopped carpooling, we traded in the old van for a more fuel friendly and smaller mid-sized. I finally felt as though I were driving a car that was truly built for a woman blessed with the height of a garden gnome. Parallel parking became graceful again and I didn't need to worry about backing into a mailbox I couldn't see. But, the van was perfect for road tripping. One could maneuver in and out of the seats with ease and the cargo space was exceptional. Nobody complained about being in close proximity with his brother and nobody complained that we were leaving stuff behind because it simply would not fit. So, it is with tremendous excitement and a modicum of trepidation that the four of us head out on a weekend road trip to the heart of the midwest for our camp reunion. We haven't done this for a while and we really don't know what to expect. With that in mind, I have devised a simple Road Trip Survival Kit to get us through the 9-10 hour drive, (each way!!) and hopefully we will all still be speaking at its conclusion.

1. Rotate the seating arrangement. Older Son has already begun to whine (He will be 21 next week!!!) about where he will be sitting throughout our journey. It seems as though the seat behind the driver (unless the driver is me!) is rather uncomfortable if your legs extend longer than 5 feet. In my family, that is everyone except me!! Older Son seems to subscribe to the old adage that if you call SHOTGUN before your opponents, you are entitled to the front passenger seat. Upon hearing this little tidbit of information, Younger Son began his campaign for equality, and whined with identical verve!! (He is 18 and headed off to university next week!!) Mom, attempting to keep the peace, has decided that we will rotate through the passenger seat. The husband, has decided that he wants no part of this arrangement and refuses to relinquish the driving duties. Frankly, I am thrilled. I hate long highway driving and while I know that both of the boys are fine drivers, I feel much more comfortable with the husband at the wheel. I just don't want to hear complaints of back ailments upon our arrival in Indianapolis!!

2. Keep a close eye on the border times. For those of you out there who don't do this on even a semi-regular basis, crossing the border can be a nightmare. Long line-ups have become the norm at all posts heading south. It is not uncommon to wait an hour or more to cross over and given that this weekend is a holiday weekend, we are anticipating the worst. There are websites out there that give updates as to the wait times at the individual crossings and we do plan to consult them before we leave, but they can only serve as a guidepost. Given the fact that we are a 3-3 1/2 hour drive to the border, the situation could easily change before we arrive. Thank God for the Blackberry!! The border could add even more time to an already long journey and the frustration level could be at peak before we even stop for lunch!!

3. Agree to disagree on the music!! There is no way that all four of us will ever come to a consensus on which radio station should be playing, so why bother having the fight. Ipods were invented for a reason. The only problem with the headphones is that we fail to communicate. I am sort of looking forward to having my two young man held captive for 2 days so that I can pull out an eyedropper's worth of information and emotions. The good news is that ipods cannot be recharged in my car. (That's my story and I am sticking to it!!)

4. Food will not be junk!!! Unless of course you count the camp slop that we will be served during the weekend. The good news is that none of us are particularly fond of fast food anymore. Even Younger Son has begun to see the light when it comes to healthy eating. He isn't quite there yet and still indulges in Mickey Ds on occasion, but for the most part is coming over from the dark side. The rest of us literally cannot stomach the shit. If we eat it, we will be out of commission for the remainder of the weekend. Of all of the things that I could have passed down to my children, stomach ailments was not top of my list!! No, the food this weekend needs to be of the non-slider variety! Cheesecake Factory and PF Changs are sounding pretty good to me!!

5. Stop whenever Mom says it is time to stop!!! As the only double X in the car, I am taking it on as my prerogative to dictate the pee breaks. My men are camels!! I am not, so it stands to reason that if Mom has to pee, we stop. The husband is very used to my idiosyncratic bathroom behaviour, but it has been a while for the two progeny. Thus, if I have to give up the front seat for any discernible length of time, it seems fair that stopping for Mom is not up for discussion.

6. Remember that we love each other very much, even if we get on each other's nerves!! Brothers can irritate. Spouses can nag. Parents can sound like freaks of nature and children like dumbasses! Let's just have fun! We all want to see our friends and celebrate 50 years of GUCI!! This is a vacation that we all are tremendously excited to take. Let's just remember why we are going and why we decided to drive in the first place. Because the plane fare for 4 was ridiculous!!! At least we won't be stuck at a Kentucky Pizza Hut in the snow for 5 days!!

Hopefully, I will regale you all with stories and photos upon our return. Until then, have a wonderful and peaceful long weekend.

Monday, 25 August 2008

Wolf Blitzer Needs to Retire---NOW!!!!


I am sitting here attempting to watch the opening night of the Democratic National Convention. And, while I can somewhat stomach the over-the-top patriotism, the lapel pins, the red, white and blue costumes, the obvious references to Barack Obama's religious beliefs (He is a Christian, you know!) and mood manipulations of a children's choir voicing God Bless America, I am stunned at the lack of preparation by CNN Chief Anchor Wolf Blitzer. He has consistently, over the past 2 hours, mispronounced names, forgotten who his reporters are, struggled to fill airtime and on one momentous occasion actually counted down (an actually countdown!!) to Senator Kennedy's moment in the sun. This should be a convention changing moment. The bastion of the democratic left, hauling himself out of a sick bed to pass the torch onto the next generation, and Wolf is fumbling the history.

Anderson Cooper needs to take the reins soon or else Wolf may soon end up mixing up Barack Obama with Osama!!! HELP!!!

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Stop the Presses for Stop the Stupid!!

This will probably be the final Stop the Stupid until after Labour Day. The family is taking some much needed together time and will be traveling for part of next week and into the long weekend. So, you will all just have to content yourselves with today's edition. It is a bit sad considering that next week features the Democratic National Convention and as we all have come to realize, there is very little that is as patently stupid as politics. If any of you have anything really dumb to contribute that comes out of the convention, please forward it and I will include it in the next edition. And, away we go!!

1. The Dumbass in Chief has been strangely quiet since his return from the Olympics, but it appears as though he has passed the baton of ignorance (note the Olympic reference!) off to a worthy successor in the person of the presumptive Republican nominee. "In the 21st century nations don't invade other nations." --on Russia's military action against Georgia, in Birmingham, Michigan, Aug. 13, 2000. Has Mr. McCain forgotten about actions in Afghanistan and Iraq or is he merely suffering from a raging case of "senioritis"? As if that weren't enough, there was this gem emanating from his mouth when asked how many homes he and his wife own. "I think -- I'll have my staff get to you. It's condominiums where — I'll have them get to you." How many of us cannot recall how many homes we own? I know that the taxes, fees and mortgage payments are enough to make most people's head swim. As Bob Cesca at The Huffington Post put it:
Ask any homeowner how many houses they own and they'll probably answer correctly -- or, if they're crazy rich, they'll at least answer within the margin of error (+/- one house). Ask Sen. Obama and he'll probably answer correctly (one). Yet Sen. McCain simply couldn't remember. McCain is showing the signs of being too old for the gig, and his recent history of forgetting things (whether simple details like the number of houses he owns, or more complicated facts like Sunni vs. Shia) ought to be the source of some serious panic inside the Republican loop.
For the record, Mr McCain and his family own 8 homes!! And he and his party have the nerve to call his opponent elitist and out of touch with the working class American voter. How terribly stupid!!

2. A California high school student wrote an editorial for her school newspaper concerning the school board's "abstinence-only" sex education curriculum. Margaret Dupes wrote:
"Why do the schools only preach 'abstinence only' education?" Dupes wrote in her editorial. "It is not the decision of your health teacher, your principal, the school nurse, or even your school board - but a decision forced upon state and local governments by the Bush Administration that is ideologically, rather than empirically, driven."
Impressive right? Wrong! The editorial never saw print as it was pulled by the school's administration. Apparently the principal was uncomfortable with its content. It constantly amazes me that schools have no problem giving students only half the story when it comes to sex education. Maybe if kids were fully informed, there wouldn't be misadventures involving STDs, unwanted pregnancies and AIDS. Not only that, in a country that prides itself on freedom of speech, there is a disturbing lack of it when it comes to truthful and healthy sex information. Here's hoping that the school administration rethinks a very stupid and poorly thought out decision.

3. I need to follow up on a Stop the Stupid that I commented on a few weeks back. I have been quite engrossed in the Olympics over the past two weeks, and while it has been a great deal of fun to watch, I still maintain that the equestrian events are amongst the stupidest in the Games. I know that you Canadians out there have every right to challenge me on this point given that 2 of our meagre total of medals have come from the "horsies", but I have several proofs to back up my thesis!! If you can explain the purpose or the reasoning behind the Dressage event, then you are a better sports fan than I. It looks like equine ballroom dancing. WTF? Some stupid horse prances around the ring with a top-hatted and tailed rider and we are supposed to buy into this as an Olympic sport? Not only that, but as the husband has most astutely pointed out that any sport that requires the participants to wear a jacket and tie cannot be a real sport. Check it out here! Finally, how absurd is it that 4 horses in these Games have tested positive for banned substances? 4 HORSES WERE ELIMINATED FOR DOPING!!!! Even the non-human athletes are dirty! The apocalypse is officially upon us in the form of the stupid equestrian events.

4. A New York lawyer is suing Columbia University for offering women's studies courses which he describes as "an indoctrination program responsible for spreading prejudice and fostering animosity and distrust toward men with the result of wholesale violation of men's rights due to ignorance, falsehoods, and malice." Huh? The suit continues on with "Columbia has thrown its influence and prestige into violating the rights of men by offering a women's studies program but no men's studies program." This is same moron who filed suit against NYC bars for offering "Ladies Nights" special at the exclusion of men. He was profiled in an August 2007 edition of The New Yorker. I have sat here for quite a while attempting to come up with a witty comeback for this a-hole, but I think it is better to direct you to some very intrepid bloggers who have unmasked him and his motives. His stupidity and hatred towards women defies comment. I think that my middle finger in the air says it all!

5. Tropical Storm Fay has been battering Florida for the past couple of days. Dangerous? Yes, but where there is danger there is always stupidity. Check out the idiot who decided to kite surf in the middle of a downgraded hurricane. I think that this jerk is an early candidate for a Darwin Award! Painful and stupid.

Enjoy the weekend and the upcoming long weekend! I know that as we all gear back up into regular routines, stupidity will increase the world over. Look at all we have to look forward to! Election season in both countries will be upon us, as will school and High Holidays. Enjoy the lull, because the best is yet to come!

Shabbat Shalom to all who observe.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

When Did This Happen?

Every year it creeps up on us. It happens so silently and so stealthily that we are stunned by its imminent presence. It is pervasive and insidious. It has an almost viral quality. I speak, of course of the "Back to School" season. I don't know when this happened. I don't know when the preparations for the return to the classroom took on a "Christmas-like" radiance. When did shopping for school become a moral and retail imperative? I remember when my boys were much younger and they received complete supply lists from their teachers detailing the necessities for the upcoming year. These lists (coming from their publicly funded schools!!) would often include such previously unheard of items like tissue, bottled water and Purell! This was on top of the paper, notebooks, dividers, pencils, erasers, math kits, calculators, coloured pencils, report covers, agenda books, glue sticks, and staplers!! I have often wondered how those with fixed budgets coped with this extravagance. I know and understand that public school funding is an issue, but it really has gotten out of hand!! This doesn't even begin to address the inevitable wardrobe enhancements that all the retailers tell the kids that they require. I am also loathe to understand why certain places are even running back to school sales. Tell me, honestly! What kid really requires a back to school DVD player or a back to school massage? Not only that!! These back to school sales were being advertised almost immediately after school let out for the summer!!! Show me the kid or parent who wants to think about what they will be wearing in September at the end of June!

It is a bit different in our house this year. This year, Younger Son is preparing to leave for university and turn the husband and me into empty-nesters. (Older Son has been gone, but not forgotten for three years now!) His needs and requirements are exceeding the standard paper and notebook purchases. In addition to tuition, dorm fees, meal plan, incidental meal items, (sushi-because we refuse to pay for keggers!) and orientation registration, there are sundry and not really all that marginal items like books!! His computer needs an external hard drive and a printer, because he sure as hell isn't taking ours. He needs sheets and bedding, because God forbid that the dorm beds take standard sheets. No!! They require something called extra-long. Bed Bath and Beyond even has something called a Dorm List. They present it to you when you enter the store and it is supposed to guide you through shopping hell. What a first-year needs with scented candles and bath oils I am still trying to figure out!

After diligently making our lists, the Younger Son and I headed out to the big box store nirvana in our area. We managed to procure all of the major items, and a few of the minor ones as well. It was due in no small part to a patient mother and a hungry son, who was promised sushi at the end of our excursion if he behaved like an active participant. My friends with daughters heading off in the fall, tell me tales of their girls wanting to act like underaged decorators, outfitting their dorm rooms with everything from new linens to carpets and lamps. My son--he was happy to have a new pillow!! I should be proud. I have raised a no-frills, utilitarian, bare-bones kind of kid who cares more about his classroom supplies than his living quarters. If stores were relying on Younger Son to pad their "back to school' bottom-lines, they were looking in the wrong direction. Believe me, we made a dent in our VISA card, but it could have been a lot worse. My guess is that we have not yet seen the end of it and that more is coming. Until then, I think I will be content with the Halloween candy that I found on sale during our shopping excursion. Only 2 1/2 months until the trick or treaters show up!!!

Friday, 15 August 2008

Women Deserve Better

This is powerful and thought-provoking! Loved the delivery and the subject matter. From the Individual World Poetry Slam Finals in 2006!

Here Comes Stop the Stupid!!

As I sit here watching some inane soccer match between Canada and the U.S, (which in and of itself is kind of stupid) I am ruminating on the absolute panic that seems to be taking place here in the home country over our lack of medal prowess at these games. I cannot understand why anybody is surprised. I warned of just such an occurance in this space just before the games began. It is rather stupid, however to watch and listen to the daily roll of Canadian accomplishments touting finishes in the bottom third of every single event! Ah well! In typical Canuck fashion we are remorseful, resigned, and resilient. Here are a few more Stop the Stupid items to help spruce up your weekend.

1. Staying on the Olympic theme, it seems to me that everyone is missing the point about the young Chinese girl who was outed as a lip-syncher. The media was aghast that such a deception was played on the world audience and the idea that the little girl whose face was seen was not the actual singer. The main stream media fell all over themselves to remind us of recent deceptions like Ashlee Simpson fudging her performance on Saturday Night Live or the scandal of Milli Vanilli. I do not think that the lip-synching of the song is the real problem. The real stupidity lies in the fact that the singer whose voice was heard, was deemed inappropriate due to her appearance. In other words, she wasn't pretty enough. The Chinese have defended this switch as being in "national interests". I am constantly sickened and amazed at the stupidity of adults foisting their ideas of beauty onto children. We need to teach our children to recognize their beauty. Worrying about the lip-synching is not seeing the proverbial forest for the trees.

2. My hometown has suffered through a brutal week. The explosion that rocked the city 6 days ago is still wreaking havoc on area residents. Some people were still denied access to their homes as of yesterday and it looks like at least a half a dozen homes closest to the blast site will be deemed uninhabitable. The Mount Sinai cemetery, where many of us in the Jewish community have relatives remains closed while the damage is being assessed and concerns of asbestos contamination is prompting parents to worry about the safety of two schools in the area due to begin classes in a few short weeks. Residents and their local councillor almost came to blows a couple of days ago, while the fire department, public health and safety management officials search for answers. And where is the mayor? Well, after a brief appearance at a press conference on Monday morning, it seems His Honour has flown back to the west coast to rejoin his family on vacation. I don't know what he was thinking. The city is in a leadership vacuum during a most tenuous time and the mayor is frolicking in B.C!! I admit that I have never been a big fan, but I also know that Mr. Mayor could never before have been accused of abandoning his people during a time of crisis. I cannot believe how stupid it is that neither he, nor the premier (who is in Beijing!) is here to provide some leadership during this miserable time.

3. In all of the voyeuristic and smarmy hubbub over the John Edwards extra-marital affair, comes one little bit of stupidity that I am actually interested in commenting about. During his "mea culpa" interview last week with ABC news, Mr. Edwards (he of the recently failed presidential campaign) wanted to make it clear to all who were listening that his little side-journey from marital fidelity did not take place while his wife was battling cancer and it was over long before her grim diagnosis. So let me get this straight, it is okay to cheat on your wife while she is healthy, but not okay while she is sick? I could not care less about the sexual proclivities of any of these jackasses and I truly believe it obscures from the important work that needs to be done, but honestly!!! These guys are beyond stupid. They actually are starting to sicken me.

4. I have relegated the Commander of Stupid to a bit further down the list, because believe it or not it is easy to forget about him when he spends 10 days in the Far East. But, he didn't disappoint. "First of all, I don't see America having problems." He spouted this gem during an interview with NBC's Bob Costas on August 10th. Oh, really Mr. Pres? No problems? What about rising unemployment, gas prices, food prices, the uninsured, infrastructure, America's reputation abroad and a little thing called war? The man lives in a bubble all his own. As if that weren't bad enough, he was also caught ogling the beach volleyballers. Check out this or this! Kind of sleazy if not stupid.

5. MIchael Phelps eats 12,000 calories a day! Yes. You read that correctly. !2,000 calories a day. To put that in perspective, the average man eats between 2500 and 3000 calories a day and even that is probably too much to maintain a normal and healthy weight. Have you seen Michael Phelps? The man is a perfect athletic specimen and he eats 12,000 calories a day. I cannot begin to even comprehend what that must feel like. I realize that his training burns off all of it, but it boggles the mind. This is not necessarily a stupid unless any of us try to emulate Michael Phelps and gorge on 12,000 calories a day. Remember this little tidbit before trying this at home--MIchael Phelps is a freak of nature!! The vast majority of us just think of 12,000 calories and gain weight. I know that all I have to do is imagine his menu and my thighs get bigger. Don't be stupid!! Eat healthy, exercise in moderation and understand the difference between world-class athletes and the rest of us peons.

6. One of my all time favourite singers, Jackson Browne is suing the McCain campaign for using his song "Running on Empty" in a campaign commercial without permission. Mr. Browne is pissed that not only is he not being compensated, but he is a lifelong Democrat and doesn't want himself or his work associated with this campaign. Isn't Mr. McCain a U.S senator? Doesn't he know and understand copyright laws? Doesn't he have people working for him who might get it? Classically stupid!!!

7. Finally, I have long been a watcher of one specific newscast here in the Big Smoke. For many years, this news organization has employed the services of one reporter who acts as the "Consumer Advocate". The idea is that he is "on your side" and if you have problems with unscrupulous vendors or poor products he will expose it and solve the problem. Lately, this has not been the case. The reporter seems to rely on canned reports from Consumer's Report and he passes them off as if he created the segment. Not only that, while he does an adequate job of highlighting the issues, he never seems to solve any problem. What good is calling the consumer advocate if he can't rectify the trouble? I really don't care to know that nothing can be done. I want to know that you fixed it!! It is time to stop with the stupid and utterly useless reports and get a consumer advocate who can make waves! Just my two cents!!

Have a wonderful weekend-hopefully with sunshine!

Shabbat Shalom to all who observe.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

I love Keith Olbermann!!

I Hear the Caged Birds Singing--In My Sleep!!

I have never really understood the attraction of keeping birds as pets. Ok! I will admit that they are pretty to look at and there seems to be a certain weird attraction associated with peering through a cage at a grounded parakeet. It is almost like we are saying to the poor creature, "Look where you are and look where I am!! I can go wherever I want and you are stuck without so much as a wing flap to keep you happy!" Bird people seem intent on creating their own home zoos!! And we wonder why birds don't like to be cuddled like a dog or cat!! In my opinion, birds are meant to fly, (unless they are penguins or turkeys!) and keeping them in a cage defies the basic laws of nature. So, it was with some mild trepidation that I attended my weekly choir rehearsal last evening. Allow me some elucidation.

Our synagogue choir is deep into the throes of High Holiday rehearsals. We are a small organization, and thus we do not have access to our rental space during the dog days of summer. In past years we have rehearsed in members homes, but over the last couple of summers, we have been welcomed at a local senior residence. It is a win/win proposition. The residence provides us with a wonderful room in which to rehearse and in return, we offer some entertainment to the residents. Over the past three years, we have befriended a group of seniors who regularly join us for our rehearsals. They get to hear many advance performances of Kol Nidre and we get to practice free of charge. It has even spilled over into other programs within the shul, in that we now hold our Shabbat morning summer services at the residence as well, and a strong core of regulars have been melded into our synagogue community. All was right with the arrangement until this year. You see, this year the senior's building has procured some new communal mascots--three parakeets! One blue, one green and one white. They reside in two separate cages in the common room in which we rehearse. Why two cages? Well, it seems as though the little green guy is a mean motherf$#@$r, and doesn't play well with his peers. Apparently he attacks first and bites later!! I assume that these little friends have been well-received by the residents and they seem to have found a permanent home. The problem for us, is that they are noisy little bastards. You see, parakeets sing! It seems to be what they do. They sing ALL THE TIME! They don't shut up. It is a constant din and when one starts, the others seem to chime in even louder. As background white noise it isn't an issue, but when you are trying to master the harmonies of Rossi, Lewandowski and Friedman it can get a bit irritating. Like fingernails on a chalkboard irritating. Worse still, the louder we sing, the louder they sing. They seem particularly partial to the deeper and more resonant alto parts, which by coincidence is what I sing!! And, they have a terrible intonation problem!! If they would only sing on key, I might be more forgiving. Our accompanist, who is inflicted with perfect pitch is ready to pull out his hair. By the time that I started attending the rehearsals, the choir had already come to terms with the feathery little shits. I am not nearly as tolerant. I literally could not concentrate on my work. One of the members suggested that if we cover their cages, we might be able to fool them into thinking that it was bed time and they would go to sleep. HA!! There is no deceiving these descendants of Satan. They simply sang louder until we were forced to acquiesce to their will. Last evening, our cellist joined us for rehearsal and as he began his introduction to Avinu Malkeinu, the trio chimed in--perfectly dissonant!!! It was so bad, I missed my first note. I am now hearing these buggers in my sleep. What to do? They live there, we are just visiting. I am starting to craft elaborate bird muzzles in my dreams. Tiny little Hannibal Lechter-like gizmos that will silence the caged wonders. If any of you bird-lovers out there has a more humane solution, I am ready, willing and able! I wonder what parakeet tastes like. Chicken, anyone?

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Philanthropy is a Funny Thing!

I think that we all want to help out. I believe that given the right circumstances and the right situations, we would all engage in some form of Tzedakah. Some of us give with our wallets and some of us give with our time. A friend of mine recently told me that she and her son are volunteering for a Habitat for Humanity build here in the city. She couldn't have been more excited, as she felt as though she was giving back in some small measure. My sister/cousin has been making food for Out of the Cold for years. She has roast beefs cooking in ovens all over the north Jewish ghetto at various times during the winter months. Not only does she purchase and prepare the food, she drags her butt out of bed before dawn to set up and serve. (This is often after working 4 or 5 straight shifts at work!!) I know people who walk for breast cancer and golf for hospital charities. I know individuals who donate their time and money to synagogue work and buildings. Many of us act as mentors or Big Brothers or Sisters. We all want to do our part. So why is it that it never seems like enough? I don't mean that there are too many problems in the world (which there are!) or that most organizations are grossly underfunded (which they are!)! I mean, why is it that no matter how much we give, we are always asked to give more? I speak in particular of the intrusion of charity calls on the phone or at the door!

We here in Canada have been rather slow at implementing the "Do Not Call" list intended to curb intrusive sales pitches. While this list will be up and running come September, (5 years after it was first established!!! Never let it be said that we Canadians do anything in haste!) there are several exemptions to the registry. Registered charities are among these exemptions. And while I understand that hospitals, medical organizations and food banks need our support, I think that I speak for most of us when I state that these charities are more likely to get my help if they don't call my house. This includes the inevitable door to door pitch! Several years ago, it was revealed in a major newspaper investigation here in the Big Smoke, that a good chunk of what is donated to a charity is actually used for administration costs. It dramatically changed the way that many of us donate to Tzedakah projects. In our house, we became much more discerning about our charitable donations. We will not give to those charities that solicit over the phone. I know that this sounds harsh and crass, but unless they will agree to send us literature, they are off of our giving radar. We have had several instances of double charging credit cards and hounding phone calls at dinner, and thus have turned off of the phone guys. It doesn't seem to help that we have call display. These interlopers have stayed one step ahead of us by blocking their numbers. We will not give to any organization that uses an automated calling system. If I have to yell "Hello" into the phone more than once, we hang up!! We will not give to the door to door guys, no matter how cute, young or deserving their charity. I think that it is the height of impudence, (not to mention danger) to send a 12 year old out door to door to collect money for Jerry's Kids! That is why it is with a great deal of sadness that I opened the door this afternoon to two young women collecting money for The Hospital for Sick Children. This is a hospital that is most deserving of my dollars, but the door to door pitch turned me off. I can't explain why it felt sleazy, but it did!

I will give to any friend who is walking, cycling, jogging, golfing, knitting and the like for a good cause. (I am a really soft touch!) I will give to any organization that is supportive of good works the world over, provided that I am reassured that all that I donate goes directly to the people that need it. I will volunteer my time and money to any organization that I have been or am still associated with, provided that I am convinced of the efficacy of the group's long term goals. I don't require recognition and I don't require a trinket like a lapel pin. I just want to know that my time and money are being well-spent on those that need it most.

Please know that I understand how truly blessed I am. I want to help and I am more than willing to help. I just resent being browbeaten into helping. I will sign up for the "Do Not Call" List as soon as it is available. My hope is that charities take a bit more care in how they solicit. I truly believe that they would be further ahead.

Monday, 11 August 2008

The Ring is the Thing!

It seems that one of the top Olympic beach volleyballers lost her wedding band in the sand during one of her matches over the weekend. (Yes it is true, that in a house full of "Y" chromosomes, the women's beach volleyball is the number 1 Olympic viewing experience! I know that it has nothing at all to do with the "thrill of victory or the agony of defeat"!!) As chronicled here, the story is much more about Kerri Walsh keeping her composure during the match and not fretting about the lost ring. She basically traded carats for CARATS!! All is well in Beijing (and in the Walsh's marriage) as the ring was located in the sand after the match, but it got me to thinking about that little band of gold. (or silver or platinum or whatever your fancy!) I know that this sounds extraordinarily unromantic and a bit callous, but I rarely wear my wedding band. Please do not take this as a dismissal of my marriage or of the husband. We are as committed to each other as ever before, (either that, or we should be committed after all of these years!) but the ring, which is a symbol of that commitment, resides on the fireplace mantle as often as it resides on my finger. Why? Well, it doesn't fit as well as it used to. It is a bit big and it seems to get bigger when my hands are cold, which is often. It has a knack of slipping off my finger into my gloves in the winter, and one miserable January morning found me on all fours, scouring the garage floor for the trinket which flew off as I was carrying in groceries. In the summer heat, the opposite happens! My fingers swell and the ring has a tendency to cut off my circulation. (The husband likes to joke about the fact that his ring, which refuses to budge, has permanently put him out of circulation!!) As a result, removing the ring is the first thing that I do when I come home! I can't play guitar with it. It moves and interferes with the strings and the chording. I can't bake or cook with it on, otherwise I would find myself in an "I Love Lucy" episode with my fingers stuck in the drain. Working out? Forget it! The sweat would remove it within minutes, which is why I am so stunned at Kerri Walsh's determination to wear hers during competition!

When we first got married, that ring was representative of all of the hearts and flowers associated with love, commitment and the like. And while it is still important (I would never change it or redesign it) I think that there are other things in our life that are just as representative. How about the two kids? How about the 23 years? How about the memories, good and bad? How about the jokes and the tears and the fights and the friends and the friendships? The ring? I would miss it, for certain, but I am not sure that I would beach-comb for it. The ring can be replaced. The other stuff--not so much!!

Friday, 8 August 2008

Stop the Stupid! It's Friday!!

I awoke this morning very early. While this is not really out of the norm, I feel a bit out of sorts on this grey and rainy (shockingly predictable weather this summer!) day. Knowing that today is 08/08/08, I clicked on the TV to catch the over-hyped and over-spent opening ceremonies live from Beijing. While stunningly beautiful, colourful and uniquely Chinese I am sure, they are as boring as watching paint dry! I think that at one point, there was actually a segment where I did witness paint drying. As I am composing this post, the athletes are making their way into the stadium, alphabetically (Chinese alphabet, so for us Westerners there is no understandable order!)--all 205 countries! This could take a while. I thought that I would catch up on my stop the stupids while I wait for Canada's appearance!

1. Since the current occupant of the Oval Office is visiting the land of Olympics this week, he has been rather quiet and thus his off-hand remarks have been sparse. I imagine that every word he utters while in China this week has been vetted thoroughly so as not to insult his hosts into starting WWIII! (Or is it IV?) I did find some stupidity in his trip. It seems that the White House press corps plane was detained on the tarmac at the Beijing airport for upwards of three hours. They had expected to be ushered through to the VIP terminal, but were instead directed to the normal international gate. Apparently, these flights are usually given "custom of the port" clearance which means that the reporters, technicians and all of their equipment and luggage get off of the plane and immediately go to their hotels or offices, while the US State Department takes care of their clearances and security. Not so in Beijing. Chinese officials insisted on inspecting every piece of luggage, equipment and passport and screened every single person on the plane. Veteran White House reporters could not remember a delay like this and were slightly miffed. Well, get in line friends! Welcome to the real world of air travel! You guys have lived in a bubble for way too long and it is time you found out how the rest of us live!! Even the prez couldn't help them out and many of them missed his first official appearance in the Chinese capital! Even when it isn't his doing, the Chief comes out looking a bit stupid!!

2. With W out of the country, he left it to his would-be successors to take up the stupid mantle and Johnny Mac didn't disappoint! This week saw the presumptive Republican nominee try and get closer to his "peeps" as he attended a biker rally in Sturgis South Dakota. As the L.A Times reported it was an occasions filled with leather, tattoos and Harleys! One of the highlights of the event is the Miss Buffalo Chip pageant, a topless and sometimes bottomless display of female biker flesh!! In his typically stupid and incoherently misogynistic ways, Mr. Mac offered up his wife Cindy as a competitor! “I was looking at the Sturgis schedule and noticed that you have a beauty pageant and so I encouraged Cindy to compete. I told her, with a little luck, she could be the only woman ever to serve as both the First Lady and Miss Buffalo Chip!” To which the crowd responded with the uproarious chant of "Wet T-shirt"!!!! How can any smart, strong and independent woman vote for this guy? He may be a decent guy, but he is so stupidly out of touch with women and their issues! Beware Ms. America!!

3. The Canadians just entered the stadium wearing some ugly outfit of red and white emesis! I know that I have said it before, but we should be ashamed of the designs our unfortunate athletes need to endure. But, what is truly stupid is listening to the CBC's Ron McClean trying in vain to contact one of the Canadian athletes in the parade by cell phone. He sounds like a pilot engaging in a WWII battle!! "Sylvie, this is Ron McCLean. Come in Sylvie!! Sylvie come in, do you read me?" SHE CAN'T HEAR YOU!!! Moron! It is either too loud, to f@#$#d up or the Chinese are blocking the signal! Take your pick, dimwit! This is a live broadcast and you sound like dillweed!

4. In the wake of the tragic and gruesome story of the man beheaded on the Greyhound bus near Winnipeg, comes word that PETA, always the bastion of good taste, will launch an ad campaign in the Portage Daily Graphic newspaper. This ad will draw comparisons between the gruesomeness of the murder and the treatment of animals in slaughterhouses. From PETA's own media centre comes this quote.
PETA's ad, which refers to the "ignored cries" and "cut-off head" of a victim, is meant to spur people to think about the terror and pain experienced by animals who are raised and killed for food. The group aims to demonstrate that animals--just like humans--are made of flesh, blood, and bone and deserves protection from needless killing. In this day and age, food choices are rich and plentiful, and a vegetarian diet helps prevent premature death from killer diseases like cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, and strokes.
This is so disgusting that stupid is a kind word for this behaviour. Where do these people come from and where is their sense of decency?

5. Finally, an update to my boys travel experience this week and their delay in ChiTown. As previously reported, they ended up staying in an airport hotel overnight as a result of a flight cancellation and poor weather in the Windy City. The cost of this adventure was outrageous when factoring in the cost of the room, food and the roaming charges for all of the cell phone calls. What really added to the stupidity was when Older Son attempted to connect his computer in the room and discovered that the internet charges were $6.95 for every three minutes. This is supposed to be a hotel that caters to business travel and they don't even offer free internet access? The Days Inn and Motel 6 offer free internet access!!! STUPID!!!

Shabbat Shalom to all who observe and let's hope for a bit of decent weather. Enough with the rain!

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Olympic Sized Headache!!

I have been pondering quite a bit about these pending Olympic Games. It would be easy to discuss the broken promises of the Beijing organizers on the deadly serious issues of human rights, Tibet, press and media freedoms, the environment and it's government's policy in Darfur. It would be a no-brainer to call out the IOC for it's avarice and greed. It would be the height of simplicity to make the suggestion that politics and the Olympics are as intertwined as movies and popcorn. No, I think that I will avoid the standard Olympic posting, and instead try to locate the lighter side! God knows there are numerous serious issues with the Olympics. I figure that if these Games are going to dominate our collective consciousness for the upcoming fortnight, we may as well try to laugh a bit. And, so I offer a few ridiculous tidbits from the world of Olympic competition.

1. Have you ever noticed the garb that the beach volleyball players wear? The men wear sport shorts and tank tops, while the women are clad in what could generously be described as bikini bottoms and a bra! Why are the women barely dressed while the men get to cover up? Don't feed me some bullshit about ease of movement because it seems to me that the women could move just as easily if dressed like the men. Nope! This is all about ogling and sex and in that case, it seems that we women are being shafted by not be allowed the same access as the men!! Equal access should be the mantra at the beach volleyball courts!!!

2. Does anyone out there actually know the rules for sports like European Handball and Field Hockey? The IOC, in it's collective wisdom, has removed such crowd pleasing sports as men's baseball and women's softball for the 2012 games, but these little-known and virtually invisible sports stay on the menu. When somebody out there can rhyme off the top ten handball players in the world as quickly as they can spout off names like Ichiro, Park, Pujols, Beckett and Morneau (a veritable global cornucopia of baseball players!) I will subscribe to the theory that the IOC was either bribed or sleeping (or both) when they decided to keep these marginal "sports" over the greatest team sport ever!!! (Sorry all of you ice hockey fans!)

3. In it's pre-Olympic press conference yesterday, the Canadian contingent was busy (in typically muted Canadian fashion) trying to "downplay" medal expectations. It is true that most of Canadian sports resources are funneled towards winter sports with an eye toward the 2010 games which we will host in Vancouver. Given the fact that my home country is the only nation to ever host the Games and not win gold with home-field advantage, (we managed this dubious feat twice!!!) it is understandable that we would be gearing up towards '10! That said, we are also the only country that finds excitement with a top 16 finish! Yippee!!! "We're number 16!!!!" Doesn't quite have the same ring to it, does it? So, while the USA and China will be battling it out for world supremacy in the sporting arena, we here in the north hinterland will be placidly cheering our athletes on to those coveted "personal best" times, scores and placings. Way to go, Canada! We couldn't be prouder.

4. Isn't it just so typically Canadian to mess with success? A wonderfully and unique business like Roots, built in Canada by two American guys, grabbed this country's attention with it's award winning Olympic gear for years. At Olympics after Olympics, our athletes were the talk of the village with their hip, cool and trendy garb. The signature red po' boy cap is firmly ensconced in fashion lore. Olympic sweatshirts, caps, jackets and pants flew off of the shelves. Then, a few years back, the deep thinkers at the COC gave the Olympic clothing concession to the Bay, a Canadian company now owned by Americans. The results have been an unmitigated disaster. Have you seen the shit that they are hawking this year? It looks like some animal retched all over the clothes. The fabrics feel cheap and the athletes are in danger of being laughed out of the stadium and off of the podium. (if they are one of the precious few who make it that far!) The good news-the stuff is expensive! Please, I think that I speak for all Canadians when I plead for the return of Roots to the Canadian Olympic scene. Well, at least I can buy American wear. The Yanks know a good thing when they see it and Roots is designing their stuff!

5. When the Equestrian events are concluded, who gets the medals? It seems to me that it should be the horse, but it is actually the rider. When pundits discuss Equestrian events, they talk about the horse-athletes, so what exactly are the riders and why are they rewarded with the medals? I was under the impression that these were the "human" Olympic Games. I don't see the greyhounds racing here or the Westminster Kennel club lobbying for inclusion. Look, I will make a deal with the horses. I won't attempt to run the Kentucky derby if they will stay the hell out of the Olympic Games. And, these idiots have removed baseball from 2012! (I know-but it pisses me off!!)

6. Everyone in the media is simply ga-ga over Dara Torres. If you have been living under a rock for the past month or simply don't read the sports section of the newspaper, (nudge to the husband!) Torres is the 41 year old American swimmer who will be competing in her 5th Olympics. She began her Olympic career back in 1984 (I wasn't married yet and the two progeny were but a pending thought!) and she has amassed nine medals. She is the mother of a two year old and she is owner of the hardest set of abs I have ever seen on any peri-menopausal woman! Check her out on the cover of the August 4th edition of Time. At an age when the body seems to creak and age for most of us, Torres has actually bettered her times in the pool to the point of setting new American records at the trials last month. Oh, I hope she is real! I hope that the only foreign substance in her body is the food! I desperately want to give her the benefit of the doubt and to her credit, she has never once tested positive, but if eating right, exercise and good habits were all it took to look and compete like her, why haven't more athletes done it? In this age of BALCO and Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens and a whole host of others, it is very easy to be jaded. We here in Canada understand the national shame of a Ben Johnson. Let's hope that Dara Torres is all that she claims to be--a role model for the over-forty crowd who are desperately searching for a fountain of youth outside of the Botox bottle.

7. Let me get this straight-The Olympic Games are supposed to celebrate the best in sport and fitness and two of it's major sponsors are McDonald's and Coca Cola? Together, these two companies have added more inches to the waistlines of the world than any designer I can think of. It seems slightly comical to me that we will be watching all of these fine-tuned athletes, with their perfect bodies born out of their strenuous training regimes, (and in some unfortunate cases, the pharmacies!) brought to us by Coke and Mickey D's!! So grab a Coke and a Big Mac, settle in onto the couch like a lummox for the next two weeks with nothing but a remote to keep you company, and watch other people do what we all should be doing--MOVING!!

8. Finally, these Games will be held in a time zone a half a world away from the viewing audiences of North America, so there will be plenty of us that will be sleep deprived for the next couple of weeks. The majority of events will be held in the middle of the night and the wee hours of the morning, so if you are a true fan, and can't wait for the inevitable tape-delayed packages we know how you will be spending your nights. Just understand that it really is not that important to be the first at the office to know the results of that day's European Handball Game between Croatia and Nigeria! Get a life, get some sleep and read about it on the internet!

Try and enjoy the Games for what they are-a jingoistic, nationalistic and extremely expensive show run by a bunch of people clearly out of touch with the vast majority. The athletes? They do it because they love it! Why else would anyone play European Handball!!


Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Camp Laundry!!

Just be glad that you cannot smell it!! This is the result of 10 weeks away for two young adult males. I find it interesting that both boys did their own laundry all summer and the Older Son does his all the time, but the camp laundry is all mom's!! Older Son just sort of flashes me that look. You know the one! The batting of the long lashes, the half-cocked smile and the "I love you Mom" in that "warm like butter" voice that he has!! Younger Son makes no such pretense. It is just an accepted fact of life that I do his laundry. Frankly, he wouldn't know where to start with this pile! it goes! I might be available to see the light of day by Thursday. Oh, yeah..THEY ARE FINALLY HOME!!!

Monday, 4 August 2008

There's No Place Like Home

It seems quite obvious to me that more and more, the airline industry is doing everything it can to commit Hare Kare!! I mean, this is a business that is totally reliant on the whims and habits of an increasingly fickle populous. If the economy is good, then people travel. If the economy is tanking, then so are the airlines. Every blip in the public consciousness has an effect on the habits of the flying citizenry! So, at a time when gas prices are at record highs, people are suffering the ill effects of sluggish markets, and public dissatisfaction with big business is at it's apex, what does the airline industry do? They make flying and travel even more challenging, more frustrating and more expensive than ever before.

Anybody who has traveled via air recently can quote chapter and verse the restrictive new fees and regulations that have been imposed. Passengers are being "nickel and dimed" into submission. Extras, that used to be inclusive are the norm. It is now commonplace to pay service fees for a first checked bag, let alone a second. Beverage service is now on the pay menu. Inflight movies, newscasts and audio casts now ask for a credit card number. Baggage is weighed to the exact 1/10 of a pound and heaven forbid that your suitcase is .01 pound over the limit else you are subjected to a $50.00 fee. The third bag (OMG!!!! A THIRD BAG????) is anywhere between $75.00-$150.00! This includes musical instruments and on occasion, depending on the airline, sporting equipment like golf clubs and skis!! We are told that these "extras" are needed in order to offset the high price of fuel and believe me, I might buy into that logic if only they were providing at least a modicum of customer service to go along with the increase in costs. Try talking to a flesh and blood person at an airline these days. (At Air Canada it costs $30.00 just to speak with a real person!) If you manage to make it through all of the various menus, touch tones and mind-numbing muzak, the tired, overworked schnook on the other end can barely be bothered to tell you if the flight that you are inquiring about is on time. God forbid you should be asking about you misplaced luggage. Last week, there was a nightmare of a snafu at New York's Kennedy International involving American Airlines computerized baggage service. Luggage that was to be flown to destinations all over the world, was grounded for two days in the Big Apple!! My parental units, who were on their way to Turkey had to wait three days in Ankara for their luggage to find them. It is bad enough to be crammed in like sardines with barely enough to eat on a TransAtlantic flight to satisfy a gnat, but to be stuck in 35 degree celsius heat in the Turkish heat wearing the same underwear for three days is inhumane!! And, then there are my XY offspring!!

My progeny were due home from their summer employment at 2:00 pm on this very afternoon. This is a trip that both of them have made many times before, and it is never without excitement. It is true that the Toronto to Indianapolis and back route is not one of the more heavily traversed in the aviation world. As a direct result of this light travel, it has become commonplace for the direct flights to be cancelled without notice. Several years ago, Older Son found himself stuck at the Indy airport for upwards of 12 hours waiting for a secondary flight after his original was dumped!! They refused to allow him to check in more than four hours in advance, so there he was, camped out alone in front of the desk with two large duffle bags and a backpack. He couldn't leave his luggage unattended to grab a sandwich or even for a potty break. When he finally dragged himself off of the plane 15 hours late, he was tired, hungry, dirty and miserable. Since that time, we have always booked the boys on connecting flights through the WIndy CIty. The logic being that at least there are numerous flights a day from O'Hare to TO!! Boy, was I wrong! God must have been pissed today. Weather fronts bringing thunderstorms, hail, and tornadoes socked in Chicago all morning. Their flight from Indy to ChiTown was delayed for over three hours. At one point, they actually taxied away from the gate, only to be turned back by the weather. Knowing that their connection was in jeopardy, the husband and I got online to check out the options. Well, lo and behold we discovered that their flight to Toronto was not merely delayed, but cancelled outright!! The husband immediately got on the phone to American and after traversing thorough the various menus, touch tones and mind-numbing muzak, finally got to speak to an overworked and very tired schnook!! It seems that for reasons other than just weather, known only to the high-minded thinkers at American, many of the afternoon flights were cancelled. The progeny were rebooked on a flight for Tuesday morning. Would American put them up for the night? Of course not, but there is a hotel in the airport for the low low price of $400.00 a night. The boys chose to take their chances with standby and had hopes of talking their way onto one of the three remaining Toronto bound flights. It is a good thing that they are experienced travelers and at the very least, know how to handle themselves in situations like this one. Younger son, always the more tightly wound of the two, handled it like a pro--he whined!! Older son, handled his younger brother with all of the tact and grace of a cactus!! I have nothing but compassion for both of them. I know that I would be whining and screaming with a healthy dose of tears for good measure. And what is the airline doing about all of this mess? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!!! Their only obligation is to get them on a flight within 24 hours and that is what they have done. The rest is up to the passengers. No wonder less and less people are flying and more and more people are staying home.

The progeny are definitely spending the night in Chicago!! The husband was able to rebook a hotel room in the airport. That is the good news. The bad--it is costing an extra $60.00 from the price quoted this afternoon. With meals and lodging, the boys are spending a good percentage of what they earned this summer. It is a good thing that their parents love and miss them a great deal! Our reunion is put off for about 12 hours!! Until then.

Nether Lands

We were fortunate enough to spend yet another weekend at the cottage, and while the weather was less than perfect, the visuals were breathtaking! Just watch, listen and enjoy God's handiwork!

Music by Dan Fogelberg