Wednesday, 26 August 2009

I Am Now A Charter Member of the SDL!

I like to think of myself as a generally peaceful person. I like to believe that all of God's creatures have been created with a purpose and I like to think that I understand that this is their world and I am but a visitor. But my tolerance for nature begins and ends with the bushy-tailed urban menace known as sciurus carolinenis, or the eastern grey squirrel. This is not the first time that I have written about my ongoing war with the little f*&@ers. I have complained vociferously in this space on no less than five previous occasions about the havoc that these miserable rats with pelts have played on my lawn, my shrubbery, my fruit trees, my pool, my nerves and my sanity. I have regaled you the readers with stories of squirrel parties on my front lawn, the annual opening of the rodent fruit and nut buffet that usually occurs in August as a result of ripening oak and pear trees, and the smug manner in which the little bastards seem to laugh in my face, as I engage in futile attempts to relocate them to a house in a galaxy far, far away. I have read up on humane squirrel deterrents that include boiling concoctions of onions, jalapeno peppers and chili powder, (sounds like a Mexican dinner, doesn't it?) straining the mixture through a cheese cloth and spraying on squirrel surfaces. I could swear the next morning that the squirrels were wearing sombreros, shaking maracas and swinging at a miniature pinata filled with acorns and pears! Nothing works.

I am not a violent person, but I have taken to daydreaming about nuking the little shits. I have visions of a complex Rube Goldberg device that will ultimately chop their carcasses up into little bits and scatter them about like fertilizer. I see tiny little Torquemada-inspired racks on which the bastards are strung up by their almost opposable thumbs and left to twist in the wind. I envision a combination Beverly Hillbillies/Julia Child bake off in which we create our favourite squirrel recipes. I want to make gloves out their tails and give my warmed middle finger to PETA. I know! I can't believe this is me either. My left-wing sensibilities have been shattered and I am starting to believe that simply shooting them is not nearly enough. (I have never held a gun of any kind. I am one of those pinko-commie mothers who wouldn't even let her children play with water pistols. My boys shot through summer with animal facsimiles of water guns, much to their masculine dismay.) That said, I have reached my breaking point. I find myself watching this video over and over and over again, (I couldn't post it to the blog in all good conscience. When you watch it, you will understand why!) and deriving a sick sadistic pleasure from it. But best of all, I have decided to join the SDL! Yup! I am now a charter member and a regular reader of the Squirrel Defamation League! (I even purchased one of their t-shirts, which is forthcoming.)

I refuse to be beaten. I now know that there are many others out there like me-ordinary and peace loving citizens-who are simply at their wit's end. We will join together to form a squirrel-fighting militia and defeat the enemy where he stands. As Thomas Jefferson said all those years ago "As our enemies have found we can reason like men, so now let us show them we can fight like men also." If nothing else, I will go down fighting. Semper Fi! The marines have landed.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Health Care is a Moral Imperative, Mr. Lieberman

It is that time of year again when I am fully engaged in my work. High Holiday preparations are in full swing around here and I am becoming a true pain in the ass to live with. Aside from my obvious nervous disorder and my closet full of neuroses too numerous to mention, I find that somewhere wrapped up in the endless rehearsals, meetings, searching out of new melodies, discovery of meaningful readings/poetry, and the minutiae that accompanies conducting worship for a small but transient congregation, is the true feeling that I am beginning my own spiritual preparations for the Yamim Noraim (High Holidays). I find that I am looking at the world and the people around me with a slightly different eye. I am entering into a personal phase of reconciliation,not only with those whom I may have wronged, but with God as well, and I find that my sense of social justice is on heightened alert. It is with these antennae buzzing that I find myself appalled by the less than civil discourse that is occurring south of the border regarding health care reform. Rather than even attempt to unravel all of the half-truths, heinous epithets, or out and out falsehoods being hurled around all in the name of supposed informed debate, I thought that I might comment instead on yesterday's comments from Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-Connecticut), a man who American Jews used to like to rally around as a role model of religious piety and progressive values. In his rush to align himself with his good buddies on the right, Senator Lieberman seems to have forgotten all of those Jewish doctrines that he claims to religiously espouse.

Speaking on CNN's State of the Union yesterday the independent senator, who caucuses with the Democrats said that he thought that many of President Obama's health care initiatives were hurried and he urged the president to hold off until after the recession.

"I'm afraid we've got to think about putting a lot of that off until the economy's out of recession," said Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman. "There's no reason we have to do it all now, but we do have to get started. And I think the place to start is cost health delivery reform and insurance market reforms."
The esteemed senior senator continues.

"I think it's a real mistake to try to jam through the total health insurance reform, health care reform plan that the public is either opposed to or of very, very passionate mixed minds about," Lieberman said.

In other words, according to Mr. Lieberman the approximately 50 million uninsured Americans who have been pleading for reform from every administration since Truman, can just wait until the US government has its financial house in order. Hard to imagine that day ever coming, but Mr. Lieberman is willing to stake the health of 50 million Americans on the pipe dream. I believe it is time that somebody of faith, (preferably of his faith) reminds Mr. Lieberman of the Jewish response to health care.

As a practicing and committed Jew Mr. Lieberman, one would think that you might be dedicated to the principle of Tikkun Olam, the reparation of the world. One might think that you'd understand how Judaism has historically dealt with public health care. From the Reform Action Committee's Health Care Guide.

Throughout the Torah, God shows a special concern for the vulnerable and sick
and acts to lift them up. The Torah also teaches God’s command that society organize in such a way that all members have genuine access to the resources needed to live a dignified life, as well as provide for those who are unable to care for themselves. It is for this reason that Maimonides, a revered Jewish physician and scholar, listed health care first on his list of the ten most important communal services that a city had to offer to its residents (Mishneh Torah, Hilchot De’ot IV: 23).
Almost all self-governing Jewish communities throughout history set up systems to ensure that all their citizens had access to health care. Doctors were required to reduce their rates for poor patients, and when that was not sufficient, communal subsidies were established.
In Judaism, we are taught that all humanity was created b’tzelem elohim – in the
divine image. God did not divide creation between the sick and the well; between
those who can afford health care and those who cannot; between those who are
entitled to health care and those who are not. Rather, God created us all, endowed us all with equal rights, and charged us with the responsibility to be partners in the act of healing.

We are taught in Jewish tradition that an individual human life is of infinite
value and that the preservation of life supersedes almost all other considerations.
By assuring that everyone has access to health care, we are affirming the dignity of
each human being and enabling each person to regain health and enjoy the dignity of
productive work.
It is antithetical for you as an observant Jew, Mr. Lieberman to espouse the idea that sick people can wait for health care. It has been continually demonstrated that this issue is as much a moral one as it is a financial one. Tell the parents who lined up in Los Angeles two weeks ago, waiting in queue for 8 days to procure dental care for their children, that they should wait a bit longer. Tell the cancer victim who was denied coverage by his insurance company based on some trivia and is now in bankruptcy and losing his home that he should wait a bit longer. Tell the family of four who is making less than $44,000 a year and almost 20% of that income goes towards health insurance that they should wait a bit longer. For shame, Mr. Lieberman.

As Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur approach, it is incumbent upon you, Mr. Lieberman to face your God with repentance, prayer and charity. U'tshuvah, u't'fillah, u'tzedakah..Meavirin et ro'ah hag-zerah. Repentance, prayer and charity temper judgement's severe decree. As we read in the Machzor (High Holiday prayer book); B'rosh Ha-shana yikatevu, uv'yom tzom kippur yechatemun. On Rosh Hashana it is written, on Yom Kippur it is sealed. You are potentially sealing the fates of millions of people. Please Mr. Lieberman, put politics aside and remember that health care is a Jewish moral imperative. It is the righteous thing to do.

Shana Tova u'metukah, Mr. Lieberman.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Vaughan Tornado August 20, 2009

This is actual amateur video of one of the tornados that touched down only a couple of kilometres from us yesterday evening. There is extensive damage in my city above Toronto and a state of emergency has been declared. Thank God the injuries in Vaughan are minor, but the property damage is in the millions. We living in the east side of the city were spared. Nature's wrath shows no mercy.

Monday, 17 August 2009

I Want the Valium Concession!

Anybody who has ever had the pleasure of shopping at IKEA knows that the do-it-yourself home goods store from Sweden has attempted to make your consumer experience a happy one. There are cafes, restaurants, child care stations and baked goods available on site, just in case your collision with conspicuous consumption becomes a bit too overwhelming. I have decided that there is one concession stand missing from the IKEA menu. Of course, I am speaking of mood enhancers. The one thing that IKEA is lacking is a concession stand brimming with Valium, Xanax and perhaps a shot of tequila or two. After my experience today, I could have mainlined the shit.

It is that time of year again. Back to school is upon us, and of course all of us unsuspecting parents who have hoped to keep the credit cards in mothballs are feeling the cold and familiar sweats of shopping, outfitting and replacing the old and decrepit. This fall, Younger Son will be moving from the dorms to housing off campus, and thus requires some basic necessities in order to fully function as the model student that his father and I know him to be. After some false starts in planning and some hemming and hawing as to his actual needs, it was decided that number one on his "must have" list was a bed. (It doesn't seem all that unreasonable to me that my second-born should want to sleep on a mattress as opposed to the floor in a sleeping bag. I am not so sure about The Husband's view on this matter, but at this point it is irrelevant.) I was given advice on bed shopping by several friends, and so with my VISA card making whimpering noises that were clearly audible from within the depths of my purse, Younger Son and I set out on our mission.

Department stores were a non-starter. The cost of mattresses, box springs and frames was enough to pay his rent for the first semester alone, so IKEA clearly became our best bet. At this point I should relay the information that we came very prepared for the excursion. I had sent the boy downtown to his new residence yesterday armed with a tape measure, graph paper and a camera. I told him that he was to accurately measure the room, draw a scale diagram, (complete with windows, doors and radiator!) and take photos (the camera broke, of course!) so that we could assess the space and discern what furniture would easily fit. Sometimes my anal retentiveness pays dividends. He came home with a wonderful drawing (he is a computer software major-so entirely mathematical!) which we took with us and the aforementioned tape measure. IKEA is a wonderful store to meander, if you are in a meandering mood. If you are in a directed mood, it sucks shit. All I wanted to do was get to the bed department, but instead we had to follow the f*@%ing yellow brick road that took us through kitchens, bathrooms, offices, kid's furniture, and storage until we were finally allowed to see the wizard. After some diligent shopping and measuring, we decided that the double bed frame with a name that I could swear sounded like a sneeze, was perfect both for sleeping and for my wallet. We accurately recorded the ridiculous handles for both the frame and the mattress. Given that I don't regularly drive a U-haul, we knew that both pieces would need to be delivered to his new home. After picking up a few other odds and ends, we made our way downstairs to collect our smaller purchases and to check out. Not so fast, Dawn.

As we start to queue up, a semi-helpful IKEA employee (semi-helpful in that she wasn't on her cell phone!) comes over to ask if we would like self-service check out. I explain that we will need to deal with home delivery for the bed and mattress. She looks at our cart and quizzically asks, what bed and mattress? I didn't realize that we had to actually go and retrieve these items as well from the warehouse if we were getting home delivery. Back we go. We find the appropriate aisle for the bed frame and both the boy and I now realize that we will now require another cart (flatbed style) in order to transport the bloody thing. Off he runs to retrieve one. While he is gone, I realize that this is just the frame and the slats and the mid-frame bar are not included. Younger Son returns with the flatbed and the two of us go up and down the aisles searching in vain for the missing items. NOBODY WILL HELP US!!! Their personal calls are much more important. I explain loudly and not so nicely to the boy that he will need to run back upstairs to retrieve the stupid Swedish names for these items along with the aisle and bin numbers. 10 minutes later I call him to tell him that I think that I have found what we are looking for, just as he is writing down Farvegnuggen or some such nonsense! Down he trudges as we turn our attention to the mattress. He has the right location, but the mattress in that bin is the wrong size. We need the full/double and these are twins. Another 20 minutes wasted while we walk up and down the warehouse. I am ready to set myself aflame in the middle of the floor, when finally he finds it and we queue up once again. We are now in the self-service line when our friendly semi-helpful employee (bitch!) informs us that if we want home delivery, we need to be in the full-service (much longer snaking around the f!@*ing store!) line. 25 minutes later, we are directed to yet another line down at the opposite end of the store to arrange for the delivery of the items that we just shlepped, wheeled and paid for. What exactly is IKEA doing for the $70 bucks that I shelled out? Driving it downtown!

Three ulcer-inducing hours later, we were finally out of hell and on our way home. The stuff is supposed to be delivered tomorrow between 9-5, so the boy is headed downtown to wait. He actually had the nerve to ask me if I wanted to come with to see the place. After I gagged on my swallowed tongue, I politely told him that I will come down in a day or two after my meds kick in. I have visions of directions written in Swedish and a missing allen key and, frankly it was all just too much to handle. I'm telling you IKEA-Valium!! It is a gold mine in waiting!

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Is this Biblical?

Our synagogue parking area has been playing host all spring and summer to a family of turkey vultures. At first it was just Mama and Papa swooping down to haunt and terrorize unsuspecting congregants, as they attempted to protect their nest in a dead hollow right in front of the office door. Several weeks ago, the fledglings hatched and the happy family stayed cloistered in the tree. Last week, Mom pushed her two babies from the nest in an effort to accelerate their flying learning curve. Unfortunately, as many of us parents can attest, the kids weren't quite ready to fly on their own, and have hence set up shop on the porch in front of the temple office. They hiss and regurgitate loudly whenever anybody comes near, but they are for the most part, harmless. That hasn't stopped the mom vulture from swooping and protecting, and it has forced the rescheduling and relocation of several synagogue evening meetings so that we don't accidentally collide with the young 'uns in the dark. I have thought since this whole nature/city interaction began, that there is something extraordinarily biblical about vultures circling a synagogue. Without sounding morbid or apocalyptic, it does bring a certain mortality concept into the discussion of organized religion, and whether or not we have truly captured the needs of our members. I will leave that open for discussion and invite you all to comment. In the meantime, enjoy my buddy the baby vulture. I think I will name him.......? Anyone?

Monday, 10 August 2009

Florida's Wildlife

Even though I am not in the southern home during the summer months, I cannot help but feel an invisible umbilical cord every time I hear a news story from in or around my North Miami neighbourhood. This little item on CNN today had me glued to my TV and subsequently my computer for a good part of the afternoon. It seems that a beaked whale and her calf decided to beach themselves in the shallow waters off of Hollywood Beach between Johnson and Michigan Streets. This is on the Broadwalk where we walk daily and anybody who knows the area well, knows that it is streaming with tourists. The visitors and locals were immediately turned into volunteer marine biologists for a few hours as they struggled to return the pair to each other and to the ocean. Nobody really understands the mystery of why marine animals attempt suicide by beaching, but it is one of the great tragedies of oceanic study. The mother and baby thrashed around for hours, all the while the many brave and tireless volunteers attempted to keep them wet and shielded from the hot Florida sun. Unfortunately, when a whale is determined to die, there is usually a reason, and the mother ultimately and sadly succumbed. Beaked whales cannot survive in captivity, so it was determined by the experts to euthanize the baby because she was far too young to fend for herself in the wild. A sad ending to a captivating story, but I wanted to give a shout out to my people on Hollywood Beach who just jumped into the water without prodding to attempt to rescue these glorious animals. Way to go Hollywood Fla!!

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Heads and Other Mouse Tales From "The Cottage"

I am very much the city girl. I like the energy, I deal with the crowds and I tolerate the smog. I have often remarked that small-town living, while certainly less stressful and most assuredly sleepier, would drive me postal within a week. There simply isn't enough to do to keep my mind and body occupied. That said, it is always nice to get away from the mania of my life for a few days when Twin Son and his Better Half open the doors of "The Cottage" for our annual Big Chill-like weekend. While the reasons for our yearly get-together are far from funereal, I consciously curb my inner Glenn Close while clearing the dinner dishes. Eight urbanites who seem to collectively twitch nervously when losing cell service, joined together for an extended weekend of eating, drinking, eating, drinking, eating, drinking and a trek into the wilds of Mother Nature.

The prelude for the weekend started a week before, when the entire group seemed to be universally fixated on the long range weather forecasts. You see, every single time that I have been to "The Cottage" the weather gods seem to laugh, point their fingers and playfully suggest that "Hey Dawn is coming this weekend. Why don't we have some fun and purposefully wreak shitiness on her head in the guise of rain and cold?" Anybody who is a regular visitor to this site knows full well how I feel about being cold. The Husband, whose mood this miserable summer has alternately shifted from surly to downright pissy, (nothing says summer for a pool owner like 6 straight rainy and cold weekends! ) was glued to Environment Canada's site for days. I was receiving emails and messages from Twin Son's mother no less, to inform me that if the climate at "The Cottage" was crappy, she was more than willing to share her electric blanket and heating pad! Needless to say I packed with all of the summer essentials in mind--foot duvets, mittens, sweatshirts and nice warm socks. Imagine my stunned but grateful surprise as we headed out on Friday in warm sunshine that for the most part, continued for the next four days. Yes, it is true that I required a sweatshirt at times and yes, it is also true that I wore my foot duvets on several occasions, but in all of my journeys to the cottage, this was the first time that I didn't stay huddled on the couch wrapped in a dual blanket cocoon pleading for heat. Cold and rain are certainly some of the byproducts of cottage life.

The Twin Son and his Better Half, along with his sister and her Mr. Fixit husband have created their own version of Shangrai La. "The Cottage" is located on a very small and secluded lake in the Kawarthas. There is no television, no computer or Internet access, the radio is for emergencies only, (iPods are of course an imperative but only if you are willing to share with the group!) the land line is operational but the cell service is hit and miss and that is a charitable description. (Imagine the sight of the eight of us with our Blackberries wandering around the house and dock, holding our handhelds to the sky in a vain attempt to locate bars!) If one really and truly requires a newspaper to ascertain that the mayor of Toronto is still a moronic a-hole, or perhaps a crossword puzzle to entertain, then a small town beckons only 11 kilometres away. It was a joy to be off of the information highway for a few days and frankly, everybody should go on a 100 hour Facebook/Twitter/Blog/Internet fast. It was extremely cleansing and liberating. There are few rules at "The Cottage"; remove your watches, sleep as late as you wish, calories are ambiguous and no imbibing until noon. (Ok-maybe 11:30. No-make that 11:15!) Food is never an issue. Each visiting couple was expected to provide one lunch, while Twin Son and his Better Half dealt with the dinners. The problem that we all seem to struggle against is our ethnic upbringing. We are Jews. Why should one buy only a dozen bagels when 18 is a much nicer number? Chai and all! (There were actually 2 1/2 dozen bagels!) You would have thought that we would have checked with one another as to what we were bringing, but that would have required planning, organization and logic. As a result we had more bread then would fit into two separate freezers, enough blueberries to feed an entire summer camp pancakes, enough chocolate, cookies, cakes and pies to induce a diabetic coma, and enough leftovers to feed the neighbours for many weekends to come. Gluttony is certainly one of the byproducts of cottage life.

Having lived through this eat-a-thon before, I was determined to at least keep active. I mentioned to the girls that I was planning to embark upon long and vigorous walk around the lake so as not to let all of that food settle into a newly formed muffin-top. My friends, being the good sports that they are, decided to join me. I was thrilled to have the company, but to be honest the insects could have stayed behind. I was instantly swarmed by horse flies and mosquitoes, while my two compadres sauntered blissfully along unencumbered by the pests. I was gnawed on, sucked on and irritated beyond an inch of my sanity. I must have been quite the sight power walking the quiet roads, all the while flailing my arms about me like a girl guide sending semaphore. Insects are certainly one of the byproducts of cottage life.

The days are spent sitting on the dock, an occasional swim if you are of strong constitution and are inclined to enter water of 15 degrees Celsius, a boat ride or two, enjoying the magnificence of the ambiance, and of course eating and drinking heavily. (Being the only teetotaler in the group, it always amuses me to watch my friends slowly descend into inebriation.) Conversation is inappropriately adult and disgusting-there are only so many euphemisms that can be found for the word head-and definitely not for the Victorian amongst us. Evenings are spent watching the stars, reading, conversing and dodging critters. In our short time at "The Cottage" we managed to come up close and personal with loons, a crafty otter, a few dead frogs and more than a few live ones, a lengthy garter snake that was lunching on said frogs, bats and one small field mouse who decided that he wanted to join our party inside rather than wait for our crumbs outside. Witnessing eight grown people attempt to outwit a rodent with more balls than brains was hysterical at best. At one point Twin Son's Better Half actually laid out small peanut butter sandwiches for the little bugger. He boldly stuck his face out and tentatively inched forward towards his impending feast, totally oblivious to the empty yogurt container balanced over his head, intending to trap him. (I need to digress for a minute to explain that the Better Half is at one with nature, and adamantly refuses to kill anything at all from a spider to a mouse, so a killer trap was entirely out of the question. She has very good karma and will be ascending to Valhalla while the rest of us descend to the lowest depths of hell!) Mickey Junior had the last laugh and was certainly fleeter of foot than a group of middle-aged, overfed and slightly tipsy city folk. He grabbed the sandwiches and made for the walls. Sated, he didn't need to re-emerge, but we became overly concerned with his whereabouts for the rest of the evening. We laid out humane traps, but this is his environment and we are but visitors. He knows the terrain far better than do we. At least we were consoled in the knowledge that the creature ate well that evening. Critters are absolutely one of the byproducts of cottage life.

I am always grateful for the yearly invitation to "The Cottage". It is vitally important that we all get away to spend time with good friends and to recharge our batteries in a low-wattage setting. That said, another bathroom would be nice. Waiting in line doing the pee-pee dance does not have to be a byproduct of cottage life.