Wednesday, 20 August 2014

My V8 Moment With The Ice Bucket Challenge

For the last few weeks the internet has been captivated by the Ice Bucket Challenge. The meme is so pervasive that it really doesn't require any further explanation, but the recent connection to ALS  has quite simply made an already viral experience explode into the stratosphere. I have read many recent posts as to why the entire experience is frivolous, irritating, self-serving, and just plain stupid. I am choosing not to link to these articles because frankly, I am jealous that I didn't think of it first.

Why, you may ask?

I wish that I or any member of my family had come up with such a brilliant marketing ploy that could  have possibly raised untold millions for an orphan disease that is afflicting one of our own.

Last November I wrote about my father-in-law's struggles against the insidious neuromuscular condition called PSP. PSP is truly a disease with little publicity and even fewer advocates. There is no  known treatment and no known cure. His fight against PSP somewhat mirrors those who have had to endure the misery that is ALS, as he too is a prisoner in his own body with a mind that is still fully functioning. It is a nightmare to witness a loved one deteriorate before your eyes, knowing that you are absolutely powerless to stop it.

Like ALS, PSP researchers struggle mightily for funding as it isn't a "sexy" disease with a high profile celebrity spokesperson. So when a couple of wise people figured out that they could raise a bit of cash for a very worthwhile cause by tying into a previously infantile internet stunt, I had my V8 moment. Why didn't I think of that?

Last year during this same time period, ALS raised a little more than $1.9M. As of yesterday they were close to $16M. I can't think of a better reason to dump ice water on my head. And for those of you criticizing self-involved celebrities for dunking, do you honestly believe that all that cash came from people who refused to be doused? The majority have been doing both. So what if they stroke their egos a bit in the process? If I could raise that kind of cash for PSP, I would sit all day in a dunk tank filled with ice. And you all know how I feel about being cold.

Yes. The Ice Bucket Challenge is juvenile and yes, it probably will peter out like any good internet meme fairly soon, but the ALS foundations are a bit further ahead today as a result of the childishness and frivolity. Until you have walked a mile in those patients' and their families' shoes, maybe criticism of a worthy endeavour might not be the best use of your time. Remember that the next time you buy a pink ribbon or a daffodil.

Note: You can donate to help fight PSP at http://www.psp.org or to help fight ALS at http://www.als.ca




Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Facebook and Tomato Sandwiches




I invited myself to lunch yesterday with a couple of dear friends.

It started when one of the girls posted a picture on social media of her gloriously ripening backyard tomatoes and the rest just took care of itself. It seems that we all have a fondness for fresh tomato sandwiches on challah, made with just a hint of mayonnaise, basil, and some wonderful cheese. (Lactose free, of course.) My mouth is still in saliva overdrive.

I have to say that it was a wonderful diversion from the myriad of "stuff" plaguing us all. For two lovely hours, we just sat in the sun, consumed the aforementioned delicacy, and chatted. Somehow, in the middle of it all we got to talking about the ills of social media, ironically the very thing that made our lunch yesterday possible.

I have been thinking a great deal about the collective misery that we have been witness to this summer. The horrors in the Middle East, the nightmare in Ferguson, the loss of iconic celebrities, ebola, the bullshit being spewed during this Toronto municipal election campaign, and the crappy weather have all made for a rather soul-crushing season. And social media, especially Facebook, has contributed mightily to much of the ugly discourse.

Social media can be a wonderful tool, but it is just that...a tool. It cannot and should never be a substitute for critical thinking or fact checking. Source material of suspect origin has invaded our feeds and what has me concerned is just how many of us have abdicated our social responsibility to the greater good by passing on trash, rumours, innuendo, and spam. It is dangerous and difficult to undo. Author Terry Pratchett once famously wrote, “A lie can run round the world before the truth has got its boots on.” We have a duty to every single person to whom we are connected, to do our homework before carelessly posting and pushing that share button.

I loved the frivolousness of our lunch yesterday. It reminded me of the best parts of social media. Connections. We sometimes lose sight of those connections in our busyness. I am not for a minute advocating dismissing social media from our lives, (there is a genie/bottle metaphor in there somewhere) merely to temper it with a few ripening tomato photos and a stupid status update now and again. It might just lower the ulcer-inducing discourse a wee bit.


Thursday, 24 July 2014

Pushing Through the Pain

I was listening to a Susan Werner live album the other day and I was struck by a conversation she recalled having at one time with her grandmother. She asked this wonderfully astute centenarian what  she thought was the secret to a long-lasting marriage. The older woman replied "Well...it seems to me that you should marry somebody that you can live with, and not somebody who you can't live without."

Here's another.

Several years ago, I asked my mother a similar question. 

Me: "Mom, why do you think that you and Dad have survived marriage when so many others have failed?"

Mom: (Without missing a beat) "Pain".

I was obviously dumbfounded and confused. I had expected an answer that was all tied up in platitudes like mutual respect, common interests, and love. So I pressed her for elucidation.

Mom: "You see...If you can survive the pain...the physical and the emotional...then you can survive anything. You have to push through the pain"

Have I ever told you that I think that my mother is brilliant?

Pain is the great equalizer in a relationship. Look...it is easy to enjoy the hearts and flowers, the romantic moments and the happy vacations. It is the coping with the pain that separates the marriage flounderers from the survivors.

The Husband and I have been reminded of that lesson this week. 

After several years of suffering (and I do mean suffering) with chronic kidney stones, he underwent a procedure designed to clean out the mess. The outpatient surgery lasted less than an hour, but the subsequent days of recuperation have been less than a stellar experience. Without delving into gory details of the procedure or its side-effects, suffice it to say that the wretched discomfort that he has undergone would bring professional football players to their knees. The cocktail of narcotics and analgesics that he is on is barely making a dent in managing his pain, and it took a trip to the emergency room the other night and two doses of morphine to allow him his first sleep in two days. (mine too, but that is so beside the point.) 

Watching this man, this man for whom the word love is too pedantic for how I feel towards him, suffer in this way has been gut wrenching. Every movement or spasm resonates through me as it does through him. And yet...I am rendered absolutely helpless as he struggles to make his way through this nightmarish week. Sure...I can nurse him, wait on him (to his utter horror and misery), run his errands, and generally just be here for him, but I cannot alleviate his suffering no matter how much I might wish it to be so.

Thankfully, this too shall pass (sorry for the pun, but it is all in the name of laughter being some kind of medicine) and our lives will move on when the worst is over, but I know that it has already become another plank in the foundation that has made our relationship strong. 

As the wedding of Younger Son and His B'sheret rapidly approaches, I have been wracking my brain for sage and sensible advice that might be passed on to the next generation, L'dor Vador if you will, as to the secrets for a successful marriage. So if I may be forgiven a few platitudes, here goes.

Marriage is one of the most difficult life projects that you will ever undertake. It is filled with pitfalls and obstacles designed to test your patience and your abilities to weather adversity. Absolutely celebrate and enjoy all of the wonders and marvellous times. Those are the Kodak moments. But my mother and Susan Werner's grandma were right. It is how you survive and endure the pain that will truly cement your relationship. That is the person that you want to live and be with. If you are there for each other through all of that, the rest will take care of itself. 


Sunday, 6 July 2014

You Know You're a Tourist in Newfoundland When...

After 10 days of travelling around this province I have learned a few things. The Islanders can spot the tourists a mile away. How do they do it, you may ask? Check it out in the latest edition of...

YOU KNOW YOU'RE A TOURIST IN NEWFOUNDLAND WHEN.....



  • Everybody in the local pub is eating moose burgers, moose stew, Jiggs Dinner, and cod tongues and you are eating a salad.
  • You are the conspicuous idiots in town holding your cell phones aloft searching for service. This is especially true if your carrier is Rogers.
  • When you complain vociferously that the totality of your moose sightings on the highway is limited to a solitary baby with no discernible antlers.
  • When you can't understand the directions to the washroom even though the nice woman who gave them to you spoke English.
  • You begin to marvel at the fact that most small towns here have more churches than fire trucks.
  • Potholes become a bigger and more dangerous road hazard to you than are other cars and drivers, and you let out audible sighs of relief at the very scarce 500 metres of freshly paved asphalt.
  • You squeal like a seven-year-old girl with a new puppy at the sight of every single iceberg in every single bay across the entire province.
  • You spend a Saturday evening of your vacation partying in a motel room with your friends, a bag of nacho chips, a jar of salsa, and a fifth of Wisers because that's all that there is to do in St. Bride's.
  • You actually consider buying that kind of cute puffin bottle opener you spotted inThe craft shop/tourist trap in Bonavista.
  • It's nine degrees Celsius outside with a brisk windchill and you are the only people in town NOT wearing shorts and a tank top.
  • When you are surprised that every gas station has a liquor store.
  • You are stunned at the pleasant nature and authenticity of the locals and you notice that nobody has honked a horn or flipped you the bird in almost ten days.
  • I invite my travel companions to add their own observations in the comment section. This has been an amazing journey. We will come back from away soon b'y.

    Saturday, 5 July 2014

    Whether the Weather

    If one is thinking about a trip to The Rock, a few items need to be on any packing list.

    1. A good and sturdy pair of walking shoes. I'm not talking about your basic gym shoes here. These need to be all-weather, ankle-supported, excellent traction, comfortable footwear. You will not be walking the city streets of Europe here. Without decent foot-coverings you might find yourself sliding down an embankment in Elliston or puddle-jumping in St. John's. I have never been so happy with a pair of shoes as I am with my new Merell hikers. I could do a commercial for them. (And I just might!) They have saved me several times over the past week.
    2. Warm clothing that can be layered to accommodate the ever-changing weather patterns. When we left Glovertown this morning it was sunny and hot. When we arrived at the ecological reserve at Cape St. Mary's this afternoon, it was foggy, gusty, drizzling, and chilly. Several layers and a light pair of gloves were a godsend.
    3. An all-weather windbreaker is an absolute must. (A hood is a great idea too.) Besides the obvious warmth factor, the jackets have provided protection against rain, mist, intense, wind, and cool fog.

    All of the above played important roles in our trip and hike out to Cape St. Mary's to view the natural nesting habitats of several of Newfoundland's native birds. The 1.5 km path, while mostly flat, does have its share of rocky hills and divots, and the entirety of the walk out to the cape is littered with sheep shit. It is almost as if the sheep that were grazing on either side purposefully meandered over to the path to relieve themselves so that we two-legged mammals have to run an amusing gauntlet so as to avoid their excrement. Those aforementioned Merells allowed me to venture off the path from time to time so that I might keep from stomping on sheep pies. Twin Son's Better Half was amazed at the idiot girls wandering out in flip flops. That could be an unholy mess.

    The intense weather picked up the closer we got to the cape. (By the way...for all those concerned...this is NOT Hurricane Arthur. That is hitting the west side of the island and Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. We may get some residual rain tonight, but this is just normal Newfoundland weather.) The wind gusts were mighty enough to blow us off the path several times, and the fog and drizzle intensified with each step. Twin Son lost vision in one eye because his glasses got so foggy. Hikers walking back warned us to stay far enough away from the cliffs when we got there. They said they were almost knocked over and since none of us flew like the gannets we were hoping to view, the warning was well heeded. Our windbreakers were key to this adventure. The hoods allowed us to keep moving and kept us relatively dry.

    It is hard to fathom why we would push on through such mess, but there was method to our madness. The nesting grounds at the cliffs are a wonder to behold. Northern Gannet, Murres, and Black-Legged Kittiwakes were all in abundance and their nests visible. It is a natural beauty unlike any I have ever seen and worth the walk even in such inhospitable weather.

    Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. You just have to be prepared for whatever Newfoundland throws in your direction.

     

     

    Friday, 4 July 2014

    Newfoundland Truisms

    A few truisms from The Rock.

     

    Everything is picturesque here. Even an abandoned pile of lobster traps can make for an incredible photo. I have surmised on more than one occasion as to what this province must look like in the winter. I shudder at the thought.

     

    There is very little room for subtlety. When a native Islander wants something, they tell you immediately. Today we were sitting on the porch of a small pub in the remote fishing village of Salvage. (That's pronounced Sal-vah-ge, just in case you were wondering.) Twin Son was blocking the path of a not so tiny waitress as she attempted to make her way to a far table. She looked him square in the eye and said with complete sincerity and humour "Whose you think youse looking at, b'y?" She basically meant that there was no way that she was going to squeeze through unless he moved. We fell off our chairs laughing with her.

     

    Nobody has any thought about distances. We decided that we would only drive about 4 of the 7 hours that it was going to take us to get from Gros Morne to Cape St. Mary. As a result we decided to stop this afternoon in Glovertown. (That rhymes with Clovertown.) We were told by our host Keith to drive a short while and we would find Salvage, the most photographed fishing village in Canada, (who am I to argue with Keith) and another short hop would take us to Sandy Cove. Well, we covered more miles during this "quick jogs" than we did over the last hour of our drive on the Trans-Canada. Nothing is close here, but people live in their vehicles and don't seem to mind.

     

    The Atlantic Ocean is "frickin' freezing" here. Twin Son's Better Half finally got her chance to stick her feet in the water at Sandy Cove. Her utterly priceless reaction was that it was "foot-numbing" and certainly not Florida's Atlantic Ocean. It must be all those icebergs that we are still seeing in copious numbers.

     

    Do you remember that priceless scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, when Andrea Martin's character looks incredulously at John Corbett when he tells her that he's a vegetarian and then she informs him no worries, she'll make lamb? Well, that has been the reaction of most servers to The Husband and me when we have ordered salad for dinner. What's the matter? We''ll make you somes fish, missus! It just doesn't seem to be on the radar for restaurants here. Oh well. Nobody said an alternative diet choice was going to be easy.

     

    It must be some kind of law here that everybody who runs a B&B must be an extroverted quirky character with personality right out of an Alice Munro short story. Keith, like Preston before him, has made our B&B experience more than pleasurable and certainly worthy of praise. The Lilac Inn is a beautifully appointed old manor with all of the modern conveniences. He has been a true gentleman and a wonderful tour guide. These two guys have done their province proud. Trip Advisor is going to see some raves from these Ontarians.

     

     

     

    Thursday, 3 July 2014

    Culturally Speaking

    As we sat in a pub last evening listening to another Newfoundland band playing some great tunes, The Husband remarked to me that while it is obvious that The Rock has its own unique culture and is extraordinarily proud of that history and in maintaining it, he was hard-pressed to come up with anything that would remotely resemble an "Ontario culture". And as much as I am loathe to admit it, proud as I am of my home, I think that he is correct on this account.

    Newfoundland is built upon a rich history stemming from the people's love affair and total awe of natural occurrence. Their livelihood depended on whatever the sea provided and however she might behave at any given moment. They have built memorials to those lost in maritime tragedies; written songs, poems, and elegies to celebrate and commemorate; and hate and loathe any government official who has ever tampered with what they view as their birthright, namely the fisheries. (The memories are long here. They still talk about the cod moratorium of 1992 in funereal tones.) The newfound wealth coming from the oil exploration just doesn't inspire the same sort of reverence as do stories of fathers and grandfathers out on cod and lobster boats. We have had several conversations with old timers who still lament the loss of their families history to government intervention. In Twillingate, an elderly chap saw us stopped at the side of the road taking pictures. He pulled over to tell us that we were at the former staging area for the cod boats. He sadly told us that his grandfather worked there proudly his whole life but that was all gone now.

    So it is only natural that the people here are fiercely protective of everything native. The wildlife, the food, the language, the music, the self-mocking, (they can tell a "Newfie" joke but don't you dare) the history, the moose....they are all pieces that fit together to explain a rich and diverse heritage that is hopefully being passed down to the next generation....if only they would stay to absorb it.

    Ontario? We have much to celebrate. Our cultural diversity, our natural beauty, and perhaps even our historic place in Canadian confederation. But unique? I am hard pressed to support that side of the debate. Maybe if we had a song or two? (Ontar-ri-ari-ari-o just doesn't cut it.)

    A few random thoughts. Gros Morne national park is astounding. We hiked today in several locations and returned spent but happy. There is incredible beauty in a nature walk to the fjord, a climb to an abandoned lighthouse, and even in the remains of an old shipwreck strewn across the rocky shore.

    If you don't like the weather here, just drive for 10 minutes or wait a bit and it will change. Today we were bundled up in layers at one point and decked out in tank tops at another. Crazy!

    The Husband is still awaiting his first fully grown moose. He desperately wants a photo. I am all for the possible sighting, but would not like to see it happen while we are driving. The numbers of moose meets motor vehicle collisions are astounding. In the hundreds in some areas.

    Here is a view of the wreck of the S.S. Ethie that has its remains strewn all over Sally's Cove since 1919.