Friday, 31 October 2014

Store-Bought Halloween

Halloween is always fun at our place.  It's a safe neighbourhood with lots of kids around.  A guy across the street is well known for his ostentatious display and boom box that plays tunes like "Monster Mash", "Ghostbusters", and "Purple People Eater".  We start giving candy at about 5:30 PM and approximately 400 kids show up at the door over the course of the evening.  Typically we run out of candy by 8 PM although other neighbours continue until 9 PM or later.

One of the things that has saddened me about Halloween recently is the apparent sexualization of costumes. Many store-bought costumes, even ones for kids, are becoming skimpier.  Some can't be worn outdoors on a cold night like we have in Canada at the end of October, like the mini-skirted Monster High stuff.

Granted there are adults who might like to dress up for fun at parties and such.  But they're in a minority.

Speaking of store-bought, that's another thing.  Fewer costumes seem to be home-made these days.  I remember every single one of my Halloween costumes was hand-made by my mother, either from a pattern or from her own imagination.  I guess people just don't seem to have the time or make the time to do it.  It's unfortunate.

I think I'll just sit back with some candy and watch a Tim Burton flick.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Thursday Treat: Reese Trifle

Since Halloween is tomorrow, I decided to share a recipe that I picked up some time ago.  I love chocolate. I also love peanut butter.  Naturally I love Reese's Cups.  This is a dessert that contains all three.  It's a little time-intensive to make but the result is worth it.

Note that this is not for diabetics or anyone who has allergies to either peanuts or chocolate.

Reese's Peanut Butter and Chocolate Trifle

To make this you will need:

Trifle dish or other deep cake dish
Cake pans
Medium sized saucepan
Mixing bowls and spoons
Measuring cups and spoons

Plain chocolate cake, either homemade or store-bought
500 mL (16 oz) 35% heavy cream
Two 110 g (3.8 oz) packages chocolate pudding
One 283 g (10 oz) bag peanut butter chips
1/4 cup milk
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
12 Reese Peanut Butter Cups, chopped
One 170 g (6 oz) package Reese Pieces


• Prepare the chocolate cake and the chocolate pudding according to their respective directions, and allow to cool.
• In a saucepan, melt the 10 oz package of peanut butter chips on low heat; stir in 1/4 cup of milk, 1/2 cup of the heavy cream, and 1/4 tsp of vanilla until combined. Allow to cool. This is your peanut butter sauce.
• Whip the remainder of the heavy cream.
• Break up the chocolate cake into approximately 1 cm/half-inch pieces and layer it on the bottom of the trifle bowl. Top with thin layers of chocolate pudding, peanut butter sauce, chopped peanut butter cups and Reese's pieces, and a layer of whipped cream.
• Continue building the trifle with these layers until you've run out of ingredients (or room in the dish).

Keep refrigerated until served.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Living with the Times

Like the clouds that have been covering the sky for the past few days, our environment is gray. A good friend and her kids are being forced out of their apartment by a jackass neighbour. Another friend is going hungry in order to feed her kids because there isn't enough money. Many university-educated young people are having to work part-time in warehouses because they can't find jobs in their field.

And in the meantime governments at all levels are cutting services to the bone in order to balance budgets. Obviously they can't or won't see what's wrong even when the evidence is right under their noses that the system is broken. Something's going to give eventually.

On the other hand, I know someone who's expecting her second child any day now. My eldest nephew is about to finish his PhD and become a full-time teacher. Several other friends are celebrating the success of their businesses. I have to believe that there's still hope for my husband and I to get jobs close to where we live. I dislike the prospect of change even though the world around us is changing so rapidly.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Not Standing Out

Almost everything I've read concerning job applications, résumés, and such has stressed that you need to tailor your documents so that you stand out from the pack.  But how can you do that if the standard is always changing?

I've spent most of my life NOT standing out.  When I started school and began to socialize more with other kids my age, I quickly learned that standing out or being different was dangerous: my intelligence, kindness, and overall attitude made me a target for repeated bullying.  Over time I became withdrawn and went to great lengths to not put myself into a situation where I might be subject to scrutiny.  A few times I deliberately kept my course marks on the low end by not working to my potential, because the nerds were always picked on.

When I went into the workforce I hadn't changed much.  I was good at what I did, but I was happy to sit in my little corner and do my job while not having to worry about shaking things up or dealing with too many people.  I just didn't like to call much attention to myself.

Unfortunately that attitude has come back to bite.  I've had only one interview in two years of job-hunting.  I'm told that a major reason could be that my résumé doesn't have enough substance to it, although I've retooled it many times according to the ever-shifting guidelines and wracked my brain for the tiniest detail that might be relevant.  My online profiles have only a handful of readers despite my best efforts.

There's a poem that states "pretty good isn't good enough", and it isn't.  But where to go when even one's best doesn't seem to be good enough?

Monday, 27 October 2014

The State Has No Place

A well-loved drama teacher was fired from her school board because she had acted in some erotic videos OVER 40 YEARS AGO.  She described them as having nothing to do with the kind of things one sees in most "adult" films today, and they have no bearing on her ability to do her job.

The whole "GamerGate" debacle started because someone published the sordid tale of his breakup and falsely accused his ex of sleeping with a journalist in order to garner favourable reviews for her work.

Now a prominent radio journalist has been fired from his job because of allegations from his ex-girlfriend of sexual misconduct in their bedroom.  He issued a statement that it was consensual but she became upset when he broke up with her and she had started a campaign to smear him.

Here we go again.

The late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau once said that "there's no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation".  What goes on in private between consenting adults provided it doesn't hurt anyone should not be used against them.  Also, in this country people are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty.

Many of us have plenty of reasons to smear an ex when a relationship ends badly.  But do we really think about what our actions will do to them in the future?  I admit I'm guilty of saying bad things about certain exes, but I never mention names and I'm careful of what I say because I know I shouldn't sabotage them no matter how much I might want to.

Unfortunately due to the Internet and social media, allegations and falsehoods get shared around the world in minutes.  Misinformation spreads, jobs are lost, and reputations are ruined just because someone chooses to publish their beliefs on a whim or they want to "get even" during a fit of pique.

We need to think more instead of having knee-jerk reactions.  And stay out of people's bedrooms.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Not Criminally Responsible

In the wake of this week's attacks on soldiers on Canadian soil there's a lot of speculation as to the mental state of the young men who perpetrated the crimes.  What's clear is that they had been radicalized by Islamists overseas, having been more susceptible due to their own disillusionment with Western society.  Would that be considered "insane"?

I've always had a problem with people using an "insanity" or "not criminally responsible" argument in court.  If the evidence is clear that person X killed person Y, then person X should be locked up or otherwise punished appropriately.  If they're successful at using the insanity defense they usually end up spending a few months or years in hospital or a psychiatric institution before being released back into society.

This shouldn't be happening.

The real problem is the sentencing.  Lunatics should never be released.  They should stay in a suitable facility until they die.  In fact MORE murderers should be classified as insane because only an insane person could willingly kill another human being.  This would end the notion that a life sentence is twenty-five years.  Let's just remove these people from society forever, and let them work during their sentences to pay their way for cost of keeping them behind bars.

And no more plea deals like that woman I won't name who, after killing her own sister and two other girls, made a deal that sent her ex-husband to prison for life while she walked free after only ten years.

I know people who say, "They're of no benefit to society, so drop them naked in the middle of Antarctica in the dead of winter."  But it's too easy to speak out from the comfort of our own lives and judge these people based on the depictions from the media.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Halloween Endings

"Dear Great Pumpkin, I am looking forward to your arrival on Halloween Night. I hope you will bring me lots of presents." -- Linus Van Pelt

I love Halloween.  My mother always made me delightful costumes for going out, from a fairy to Red Riding Hood to a witch.  When I got too old to go out I would still dress up and answer the door for the younger ones.  Some of the best costumes that I remember were mother-made or even self-made - forget the store-bought stuff.  I knew two kids who painted their faces blue so they could be Smurfs one year.  Now of course I have my own little one to dress up and have fun with.  One year she was a pirate, another year she was a bat.

Many of our neighbours get into the act.  A fellow across the street has the most gaudy setup of decorations and lights you've ever seen.  Someone down the block has his front hallway disguised with black paper, lights, and even a smoke machine.  There's always someone with their front yard decked out like a cemetery complete with skeletons.  I don't go that overboard, just a few flashing pumpkins and ghosts, but it suffices.  Friends of ours have an annual Halloween/Samhain party at their house where costumes are mandatory for everyone.  Anyone not in costume is stuck with clean-up.  Fun to be had all around.

And the occasion gives me the excuse to play my recording of Danse Macabre by Camille Saint-Saens over and over.

Of course I do understand the significance of the holiday for my Pagan friends.  It's harvest time, the end of the year, the renewal of the cycle.  The past year has been more difficult than many.  But life goes on as we remember those who are absent, and take comfort that we have what we need while so many others don't.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

The Day After

Yesterday the unthinkable happened: a disillusioned, radicalized young man with a grudge and a rifle walked into Parliament in Ottawa.  He killed a reserve soldier who was guarding the National War Memorial before engaging in a firefight with security forces, during which he was shot dead.

Chaos reigned in downtown Ottawa as the city was locked down and authorities hunted for another possible shooter and/or the driver of the car that the gunman had used.  As of this time, he hasn't been found.

All of the government officials have made comments on the matter but Elizabeth May, the leader of the Green Party, said it best:

"So, while it is too early to jump to conclusions, I intend to hold fast to the following: we must ensure that this appalling act of violence is not used to justify a disproportionate response.  We must not resort to hyperbolic rhetoric.  We need to determine if these actions are coordinated to any larger group or are the actions of one or two deranged individuals.  If it is the latter, we must develop tools and a systematic approach to dissuade our youth from being attracted to violent extremist groups of any kind. We need to protect our rights and liberties in a democracy.

"We do know that through history these kinds of events open the door to a loss of democracy. [...]  The shootings on Parliament Hill do not change everything.  It is up to all of us to ensure that, to the extent we encounter demands for change, we keep in the forefront of our minds that once we surrender any rights it is very difficult to restore them. Let's demand answers, sensible policies, and proportionate responses."

Also, too many people have put up pictures of the shooter.  I feel sorry for his family, too, but if you are going to remember the dead, repeat the names of the victims and show their pictures.  These are the people whose images and names should be enshrined in our memories.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014


For Americans, the morning of September 11th 2001 was something that had previously been unthinkable. A terrorist attack on home soil.

Today Canada has experienced its own unthinkable event.  Just before 10 AM this morning several gunmen drove a car up to Parliament Hill in Ottawa.  After shooting a young soldier on duty at the National War Memorial, they proceeded to storm the Centre Block of Parliament.

Thanks to Parliament security, at least one gunman was killed within a short time and a second was reportedly killed about half an hour later.  As of the time of writing, Parliament and the downtown area of Ottawa is under lockdown while police and military forces search for other shooters.  Another possible shooting at the nearby Chateau Laurier hotel is being investigated.

The duty soldier has sadly died.  At least three other people are known to have been transported to hospital with non-life-threatening gunshot injuries.  Many government and municipal buildings across Canada have been closed.  The full scope of the incident probably won't be known until later today or tomorrow.

As I sit here still reeling in shock, I wonder just how safe are we any more?

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Quebec's Disintegration

I missed yesterday because I was busy with important household stuff.  So much for my October 31 Days blog challenge.  Anyway...

The political landscape in Quebec has been extremely volatile for the last forty-odd years as both English-speaking and French-speaking people try to be heard and accepted.  The French claim oppression by the English since the Conquest of 1759, while the English claim marginalization by the Quebec separatist movement since 1968.  Meanwhile the province's economy and culture has become lost in the bickering.

The Expo 1967 Worlds Fair in Montreal showed the world what we were capable of: a world-class visionary city with a robust economy.  Quebec has large amounts of hydroelectric and natural gas resources at its disposal.  There's no reason it can't be a strong province within Canada.

Unfortunately the rise of the separatist movement and its divisive politics, economic uncertainty, and pervasive governmental and industrial corruption has caused many corporations to move their offices from Montreal to Toronto, and driven hundreds of thousands of people to leave.

Now Quebec is suffering.  Despite receiving billions of dollars in equalization payments from the Canadian government, it's still floundering in debt and disarray.  It's the highest-taxed jurisdiction in Canada.  The once-proud city of Montreal is falling apart at the seams.  English-speaking residents are harassed, denied services, and turned down from jobs if they don't speak French.  Maclean's Magazine has described Quebec as "the most corrupt province" and is "closed for business".

I'm hoping that it won't take another forty-odd years to bring Quebec up to the level at which it should have been.

Sunday, 19 October 2014


One of my daughter's favourite cartoons is called Winx Club, an Italian-made show that has been translated into English.  The main character is Bloom, an Earth girl who discovers that she in fact s a fairy and was born in another dimension.  She is promptly invited to Alfea, a school where fairies are trained on how to use their powers.

The show follows Bloom and her fairy friends as they face formidable enemies, develop their powers, and find relationships.  The main villains are called the Trix, three witches who are obsessed with power and whose goals include the capture of Bloom and destruction of Alfea.  The animation, particularly the transformation sequences, is well done and uses a lot of bright colours as befits a girls' show.

However the current (sixth) season is nowhere near as good as the previous ones, making me think that the creators/writers are running out of ideas.  (Mind, this is from an adult point of view.)  The storyline is interesting but the villains are predictable and the heroes make stupid mistakes.  For example, one episode features vampires overrunning a town, and it takes almost the entire episode for one of the fairies to realize that her light-based powers can destroy the vampires.

It doesn't surprise me that a seventh season is in the works, given how popular the show is.  But I think they ought to give it a rest.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Jazz Voices

I was listening to some jazz music the other evening and was reminded of my university Jazz History professor.  As part of his course he made a set of audio recordings for all the students to borrow and copy.  These were recordings of jazz pieces by both obscure and well-known musicians.  We had to listen to them until we were able to identify them just from hearing a short phrase.

One of the songs was a piece called "Gimme a Pigfoot", composed by American songwriter Wesley Wilson and first performed by the great blues singer Bessie Smith in 1933.  The lyrics are below, and contain some New York Jive slang which I've translated here:

Full of corn - Alcohol made from fermented corn, most likely moonshine
Pigfoot - Fried pig's foot, a cheap delicacy
Gates - Men
Shim Sham Shimmy - Classic tap dance routine
Reefer - Marijuana cigarette
Gang - A lot

Gimme A Pigfoot

Twenty-five cents? Ha! No! No!
I wouldn't pay twenty-five cents to go in nowhere!
'Cause listen here!

Up in Harlem ev'ry Saturday night
When the high-brows git together it's just too tight
They all congregate at an all-night strut
And what they do is tut-tut-tut
Old Hannah Brown from 'cross town
Gets full of corn and starts breakin' 'em down
Just at the break of day
You can hear old Hannah say,

Gimme a pigfoot and a bottle of beer,
Give me gates, I don't care
I feel just like I wanna clown
Give the piano player a drink because he's bringin' me down
He's got rhythm, yeah! when he stomps his feet
He sends me right off to sleep
Check all your razors and your guns
We gonna be rasslin' when the wagon comes

I wanna pigfoot and a bottle of beer
Send me 'cause I don't care
Blame me 'cause I don't care

Gimme a pigfoot and a bottle of beer
Give me gates, I don't care
I feel just like I wanna clown
Give the piano player a drink because he's bringing me down
He's got rhythm, yeah! when he stomps his feet
He sends me right off to sleep
Check all your razors and your guns
Do the Shim Sham Shimmy 'til the rising sun

Give me a reefer and a gang of gin
Play me 'cause I'm in my sin,
Blame me 'cause I'm full of gin

Friday, 17 October 2014

Conspiracy Theories

Many people love a conspiracy.  Perhaps it's the challenge of unraveling it that piques their interest, or they want to be entertained by reading about the various theories that surround it.  The stranger the theory is, the more likely it is to be true, right?  Also if there is more than one source to a story, it appears credible.

The Ebola crisis is spreading and as usual the conspiracy theorists are out in force.

"Ebola is a bio-terror project that got out of control.  The U.S. has sent troops to Sierra Leone to shut down a bio-weapons lab rumoured to be the source."

"Islamic State fighters deliberately infected themselves in order to transmit it to the West."

"Ebola is a hoax that's being used to cover up secret human testing of vaccines and chemicals."

And so on.

There are those who have said that governments will naturally discredit these theories through mainstream media.  A conspiracy theorist is just another term for a critical thinker who actually asks why, like a "real" reporter should do instead of accepting the status quo they are told to report for everyone to accept.

That thing about a bio-weapons lab in Sierra Leone being the source?  The first documented case in this Ebola outbreak was a family in Guinea who had eaten meat from an infected animal - over 100 miles away.

Troops being sent over?  The United States will send military reservists like the National Guard to West Africa to help launch a major health care training and hygiene program.  They have all been trained in preventing infection although only a very few will be expected to come into contact with infectious people or objects.

As for the other aforementioned theories: totally false.

I'm just waiting for someone to say that the whole thing has been exploited by the Illuminati in order to gain control of the government.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Throwback TV Thursday

Way back in the 1980's there were many television shows that had interesting concepts but just were not executed well or they were too avant-garde for their time.  Such shows never lasted more than one season, or even more than a few episodes, before they were cancelled.  I used to lament that almost every time I became interested in a TV show, it would disappear.

So for today's throwback I have a list of the short-lived TV shows that piqued my interest and imagination.  I've included a few more recent ones as well.

It bears mentioning that a hallmark of 1980's TV was a pre- or post-opening credit teaser or voice-over that explained the show's back-story.

The Phoenix (1982) 5 episodes
The Powers of Matthew Starr (1982-3) 22 episodes
Voyagers! (1982) 20 episodes
Automan (1983) 13 episodes
Manimal (1983) 8 episodes
Wizards and Warriors (1983) 8 episodes
The Master (1984) 13 episodes
Misfits of Science (1985) 16 episodes
Street Hawk (1985) 13 episodes
Blacke's Magic (1986) 13 episodes
Sidekicks (1986) 23 episodes
The Flash (1990) 22 episodes
No Ordinary Family (2010) 20 episodes
The Chicago Code (2011) 13 episodes

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Conformity is Overrated

"He who trims himself to suit everyone will soon whittle himself away." - Raymond Hull

The family recently rewatched Disney's Princess and the Frog.  It's a well-done take on the classic story and the soundtrack is excellent and peppered with jazz.  One song in particular "Dig a Little Deeper" drives the point home that wants and needs are two entirely different things, and it's who you are that matters most.

In a strange way, this reminded me of the dark times I was having at the end of my first marriage.  My spirit had been crushed by mental abuse and being forced to be what everyone else wanted.  One song that helped inspire me to finally get out was from a kid's show, of all things: "Put One Foot in Front of the Other" from Santa Claus is Coming to Town.

A great deal of the inspiration in my life has been caused by music, and I'm truly glad that my husband understands that. We frequently have music of some form playing in the house. But I digress.

Conformity is overrated.  Unfortunately many young people are shoveled through the school system and taught that individuality is a detriment.  Too many parents try to foist their own dreams on their kids so they can live through them instead of with them.  The world would be a very boring place if everyone did the same things and thought the same way.  We would not have much art, music, or other forms of creativity.  Indeed, a great number of schools have already reduced or axed their art and music programs due to lack of interest or funding.

We are not robots.  Granted, there are times when one must conform and/or obey orders - if you're in the military for one.  But overall conformity just doesn't seem like a very "human" thing to me.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

1000 Pounds of Trouble

As we were recovering from a bit of overindulgence during the Thanksgiving weekend, I recalled a larger food-related story.

Several years ago I heard about a New Jersey woman, who weighed 602 pounds at the time, had her sights set on seeing the scale hit four digits. She had previously earned the Guinness Book of Records title for being the world's heaviest mother when she gave birth, and was quoted in news reports as saying her strategy to add weight includes reducing her activity as much as possible and consuming more food.

She became an Internet celebrity of sorts when she set up a monetized web site that effectively allowed the public to enable her by watching videos of her eating and being bathed by caregivers.

This woman should have been considered insane.  Not only was she taking an extreme risk of contracting obesity-related conditions (if she hadn't already), her children will inevitably also suffer.  They will either be forced to enable her, or to be removed from her care when she becomes unable to move from her own room due to her size.  Her obesity plan should be considered as neglect of her children.

It's disgusting to think there are people who are morbidly obese and either can't or won't have something done about it.  At the same time, there are folks who struggle to keep themselves at a healthy weight, and then there are people who are starving for the lack of nutritious food.  There's something VERY wrong with this picture.

When I was in grade school I saw a film by Canada's National Film Board called "Hunger", in which an average man falls prey to gluttony and becomes extremely obese.  At the end he dreams about falling into the middle of a crowd of starving children, who tear him apart.  Drastic imagery, certainly, but a stark lesson about the contrast between plenty and want.

There is a hopeful ending to this story though.  More recent reports show that she has abandoned her 1000 pound quest and wants to lose the weight in order to be able to better care for herself and her children.

Monday, 13 October 2014


Today is Thanksgiving in Canada.  Historically days of thanksgiving were observed at various times of the year, but slowly gravitated toward late October in the early years of Confederation.  Eventually in 1957 it was officially set at the second Monday in October.

In the United States the date is observed as Columbus Day - which I will interpret as a form of thanksgiving, for after all, if Columbus hadn't landed in the Bahamas on this day in 1492 the world as we know it might have been totally different.  Anyway...

Here's what I'm thankful for today.

I am thankful that I woke up this morning to enjoy the sunshine for another day.  I am thankful that I have a roof over my head, that I have a full belly, and my that family does not know what hunger is.

I am happy that I am reasonably healthy and that those near and dear to me are as well.  I am grateful for a husband who puts up with me.  He must either love me or be crazy - probably a combination of the two.  I am thankful for our child and the joys and challenges that she brings to our lives.  I'm grateful for out cat, we rescued her almost a year ago and she has been a source of happiness since then.

I am blessed to come from a great family who loves me and constantly has my back as I have theirs.  I have learned so many life lessons from them.  I am also glad to have the "family that you get to choose" with my friends.  They are the most eclectic, wonderful, zany people I know but will always be there for you when you need them.

Lastly I am happy for both the good and bad in my life because they have shaped me into the person that I am.

So this is a day to stop concentrating on everything we don't have and focus on what we do have.  Because as the saying goes, we don't always appreciate what we have until it's gone.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Disrespecting the Environment

"I think the environment should be put in the category of our national security. Defense of our resources is just as important as defense abroad. Otherwise what is there to defend?" -- Robert Redford

This weekend is the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, where most people gather with family and friends to celebrate what we have in our lives.  Sadly, the one thing that should be celebrated and protected often is not.

A few years ago there was a border dispute between Quebec and Newfoundland, regarding the potential development of a 29-kilometer-long undersea oil and natural gas deposit in the Gulf of St. Lawrence known as "Old Harry".  It's estimated that this area will be able to serve Quebec's energy needs for the next 25 years.  But exploration has been stalled because nobody seems to know or agree on where the provincial border lies.   More recently, Quebec has continued to explore the St. Lawrence River estuary for natural gas fracking sites.

Clearly nobody involved with these schemes has learned anything from what happened in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. The Gulf of St. Lawrence is a huge breeding and migratory area for hundreds of species, including the endangered beluga whale.  It provides the livelihood for numerous towns along the coast, in terms of both fishing and tourism.  All it would take is one accident to destroy all that.

Oil development, whether on shore or off, has the potential to be extremely destructive of the environment. Shale gas drilling is not much safer, due to methane emissions and contamination of groundwater.  A reminder: less than TEN PERCENT of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska has been recovered, and the region is still suffering.

I once saw an application making the rounds of Facebook in which you entered the name of your city, and a projection of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill was overlaid on a map of the region.  I tried it; centered on Montreal, the spill covered almost the entire St. Lawrence river valley from Gananoque to Rivière-du-Loup. It's scary to think about.

There have been continued calls from political opponents for a moratorium on offshore drilling, but it's unlikely that anyone will listen.  We do need to develop more alternative energy sources - wind, solar, water, tidal, - and SOON.  Oil and its derivatives will not last forever.  What will happen when it runs out?  The world economy will collapse, and anarchy will result.

We are poisoning our environment at an alarming rate, but many people who have the potential to do anything to help, such as world leaders and politicians, are turning a blind eye in favour of the Almighty Dollar.  I have one thing to say about that: without alternatives, your money will be worth nothing.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Haunted Wi-Fi

A friend whom I've known for many years is having issues with her fruitcake of a downstairs neighbour.  He blames the signals from her wireless router for giving him headaches, concentration issues, insomnia, and tinnitus (noises in the ears).

Supposedly he read online that WiFi signals are toxic, and has self-diagnosed as being sensitive to these "carcinogenic" waves, and accuses everyone around him of being insensitive to his special status.  So the guy began to harass her AND the landlady of the building they both live in, insisting that the router be turned off.  After doing a bit of tech tweaking, my friend made her home network and laptop invisible to other devices.  This seemed to stop the problem temporarily.

However a month later she got a new cellphone and had to make the router visible again for a short time in order to set it up with the phone.  Almost immediately the neighbour called the landlady to complain that the WiFi was being used as a weapon, AND then he called the police.  Fortunately for my friend, the police believed her side of the story.

Fed up with all the harassment, she's taking the guy to court.

In the meantime, he continues his insanity by getting a funky gadget that can tell him where the WiFi signals are, and lying to the police about the situation.  It has gotten to the point where the police are laughing about him because of his antics.

You can't make this stuff up, folks.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Cut-Throat Hospitals

People continue to find reasons to blame subsidized medicare, but the reality is that it's more of a boon than not for people who don't have health insurance through their workplace.  That said, problems continue to occur because many procedures are not covered.

Someone I know had been scheduled for neurosurgery that would help alleviate his chronic pain.  When informed of the cost, he knew that he couldn't provide the requested amount up front.  The hospital's financial manager asked if he could pay at least half of the total amount, and after thinking about it he told them what he might be able to manage and asked if he could pay in installments.  They said they'd get back to him on that.

The following day he called them back and got no response.  So he checked the hospital's online portal to discover that his surgery was gone from the list!  Then he found out it was canceled by someone in financial services.

Are hospitals allowed to do this?  What kind of hospital just cancels a surgery without warning or notifying you, or without even giving you a chance to arrange payment?  A friend described the situation as "a hypocritical Hippocratic oath".

After many phone calls and arguments, he now has a new respect for insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid. What was the point of all the financial aid paperwork he filled out if they are still "working on it" after months?  It should not take them this long to see that he has no money, because no one will hire a person that supposedly can't sit, stand, or walk for more than 30 minutes at a time due to their condition.

I feel sorry for him and I hope that he can sort out his predicament soon.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Wading through Misinformation

As my friends and online followers know, I left the workforce when our daughter was born in order to stay home and raise her.  When she started school full time I polished my résumé and supporting documents in the hopes of getting employed again.  That was two years ago.  Two years of online searching, document tweaking, and sending applications, and getting nowhere.  Frustration has set in big time.

There are innumerable articles online about how to tailor your résumé, write a fantastic cover letter, and what to say in interviews.  I've researched many angles, and I have only questions.  How does one tell if such advice is helpful or not?  And is it really worth it?  With the large gap that I have in my professional experience, is there any amount of tweaking that I can do that will get me hired?

Larger companies often use keyword software to filter through applications, so the bulk of them aren't even seen by human eyes.  After that, there are HR people who don't usually take a second look at résumés that show work gaps of more than a year.  It's almost as if you need to know someone within the company in order to get your foot in the door - which explains the popularity of services like LinkedIn and BeKnown.  Still, it's practically impossible to get noticed when there are 400 qualified applicants for a single position.

Now, I'm aware that being a homemaker has given me a number of transferable skills, but how advantageous is it to put those on a résumé when companies appear to be looking for highly educated professionals with up-to-date knowledge of their field?  I'm a middle-aged woman who has been out of the workforce for eight years and I'm not fluently bilingual.  That's three strikes right there.

It's little wonder why many of my peers have chosen to start their own businesses in areas such as consulting, crafts, and artwork.  One could say that my chosen craft is writing, but even there the competition can be even more cut-throat as it is in the corporate world.

Perhaps it's time to rethink this whole business.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Anne's Turkey Stuffing

My mother was a wonderful cook and she loved to show off her talents during the holidays.  I would joke that she could probably have become a restaurant chef if she really wanted to, and her reply always was that anyone could be a cook if they had a good cookbook and were able to follow directions.  A particular favourite cookbook of hers was Joy of Cooking by Irma Rombauer.

One of the best parts of her holiday cooking, in my opinion, was her turkey stuffing.  Most stuffing recipes have a similar base but since Mom made it I always felt that it tasted better.  She steadfastly kept her recipe under wraps until relatively recently when I happened to find it scrawled on a piece of paper tucked inside one of her well-used cookbooks.

Thanksgiving Recipe: Anne's Turkey Stuffing

To make this you will need:

Large skillet
Large mixing bowl and spoon
Cutting board
Sharp cutting knife
Measuring cups
Set of measuring spoons

1 large (625 g) loaf whole wheat bread, cut into cubes
250 ml (1 cup) butter
1 large yellow onion, finely diced
500 ml (2 cups) celery, finely diced
500 ml (2 cups) fresh cranberries
1 L (4 cups) chicken or turkey broth
2.5 ml (1/2 tsp) dried basil
2.5 ml (1/2 tsp) dried thyme
50 ml (1/4 cup) fresh parsley, chopped

Before beginning, the bread needs to be left out overnight so it will go stale.  If you're in a hurry, the process can be sped up by putting the bread on a baking sheet and baking at a low temperature for half an hour.  When done, put the bread cubes into a large bowl.

In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat.
Add the diced onions, celery, and cranberries; sauté for about 5 minutes.
Pour the broth into the skillet and bring to a gentle boil, stirring occasionally.
Add the basil, thyme, and parsley; stir.
Remove from heat.
Gradually ladle the broth mixture into the bowl with the bread.  Toss gently.
As the bread absorbs the broth, the stuffing should be moist but not overly so.

This recipe is enough to stuff a 12 to 15 pound turkey.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Meow, hiss!

"Well, then," the Cat went on, "you see, a dog growls when it's angry, and wags its tail when it's pleased. Now I growl when I'm pleased, and wag my tail when I'm angry. Therefore I'm mad." -- Cheshire Cat, from Alice in Wonderland

There are some times when one looks at a situation and sees that despite the appearance of seriousness, it's utterly ridiculous.  We have been threatened by our neighbours, over a cat.

We live in a rented row-house, and one of the terms in the lease states that tenants can't have pets.  That doesn't stop many of the people who live in the adjacent houses from having dogs or cats - because despite the no-pets clause, it's not enforced - and people let their animals roam free.  So there are at least three cats that we have witnessed coming into our yard and using it as their toilet.  Fences or barriers don't stop them, they can slip through any opening they find.

Our daughter likes to play outside in the summer months, and the last thing we need is cat excrement in the yard.  I comb the grass almost every morning but there's always the possibility of missing something.  So we have taken to spraying water at any cat that we happen to see coming into the yard, just enough to send the message for it to leave.  The animal is not harmed in any way.

However our neighbours once happened to witness me scaring a cat out of the yard.  They took me to task and said that I had no business doing such a thing.  I replied that particular cat wasn't theirs (I know which cat belongs to them), so they had no right to complain.  Then I attempted to explain that my actions were just to keep the cat out of the yard.  They run a daycare so they should understand the importance of keeping poop away from kids.  But they didn't accept this and stated that if they saw me "terrorizing" another cat, they would call the cops.  I was furious as well as intimidated, but I didn't want to escalate the situation and so went back inside.

I love dogs and cats, but there is a proper place for them.  Don't force me to pick up your animal's mess.  By the way, we have a cat - she used to belong to a neighbour but ran away after that family got a big dog. She's kept indoors and cared for, and she's happy.

Monday, 6 October 2014

The Ongoing War on Women

"Though we adore men individually, we agree that as a group they're rather stupid."  -- Winifred Banks, from Mary Poppins

A few years ago, a bill was introduced in Georgia that appeared to indicate that a felony charge would be slapped on a woman who has a "non-natural miscarriage", i.e. an abortion by another name.

In South Dakota a bill was proposed to make it legal to murder anyone who performs abortions.

In Maryland, funding for a a low-income kids' preschool program was cut because "Women should really be home with the kids, not out working."

In 2011 the U.S. Congress tabled a Republican amendment to cut all federal funding from Planned Parenthood health centers.  It was reintroduced in 2013 - by a woman.

What is wrong with this picture?

It's looking like the so-called democratic nation of the U.S.A. is beginning to take cues from Muslim countries and rein in the women around them.  Men seem to be increasingly afraid of us.  Why?  Perhaps because they see us as a threat to their authority.  We are not just baby-making machines any more.  We are equally intelligent and we can do just about any job that a man can do, be it a janitor or a scientist.  If we are pushed, we push back.

I've noticed online discussions saying that women are meant to stay at home with the children, be uneducated and submissive, and provide for the men's needs.  In this country.  Never mind the Middle East where this is considered "normal".  If a woman wants to control what happens to her body she gets screams of "Abortion is murder!" - even from other women.  There continue to be places where a woman can be *legally* beaten up, raped, or killed for merely talking to someone.  It makes me sick.  (sarcasm)  Why don't we just go back to the days where young women wore chastity belts and young men wore spiked contraptions around their genitalia to discourage arousal?

I'm forever grateful that I have wonderful men in my family and circle of friends who love and support me no matter what decisions that I make.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Respect the Car

"Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?" -- George Carlin

A recent surge of traffic accidents and fatalities involving pedestrians and cyclists in my city has got me thinking.

When I was 13 I was on my way home from school one day and got hit by a car, which put me in the hospital with bruises, scrapes, and a concussion - fortunately nothing worse.  When I turned 17 I took driving lessons, which scared the living daylights out of me.  The drivers in Montreal are notorious for bad manners, reckless behaviour, and law-breaking when there are no cops around to witness them.  Much to my parents' dismay, I made a conscious decision that I would not drive a car.  Period.  I did not want to be at the controls of a machine that was capable of killing me or other people given one second of distraction.

"But having a car is a necessity!" everyone said.  "You need to get to work, to medical appointments, anywhere."  WRONG.  At least, not in this city.  Yes, I admit that travelling by public transit can be a pain sometimes, and it takes longer in most cases to get where you need to go.  But it's a LOT less stressful than, say, being stuck in a traffic jam or having someone rear-end you on the highway.  And the monthly cost of a transit pass is FAR less than the cost of the vehicle, insurance, and fuel.

All that being said, I respect and admire cars.  I have been to a few automobile shows just to look at the designs and feel the emanations of power from these machines.  I've even scored high on a variety of "name the TV show that featured this car" quizzes.  The auto is so firmly ingrained in our society that more movies and TV shows that I can name have paid homage to it.  Who doesn't recognize the Lincoln Futura from the 1960s Batman series?  The Pontiac Trans-Am from Knight Rider?  Or the DeLorean DMC12 from Back to the Future?

Some say that automobiles will cease to exist when we no longer have the fossil fuels to power them.  Electric cars are still expensive, inefficient, and have a limited range.  We are far from the nuclear-powered car that we see at the end of Back to the Future.  (And "flying cars" do exist, people: they're called personal aircraft.  You need to know a whole different set of rules plus have a license to use one.)  However I think there will always be some sort of personal transportation device - chariot, buggy, car, no matter what we call it - because our society has been built around it.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

The Train

It's rainy and cool today, after a week of beautiful warmer than normal weather. It's the sort of day where one just wants to stay inside and watch TV, or take care of those projects that one has been putting aside for ages.

On days like this I'm reminded of an old favourite by A.A. Milne.

Let it rain!
Who cares?
I've a train -- 
With a brake 
That I make
From a string sort of thing --
Which works --
In jerks,
'Cause it drops
In the spring 
And it stops 
With the string,
And the wheels all stick 
So quick 
That it feels
Like a thing 
That I make 
With a brake, not string.
And that's what I make 
When the day's all wet,
It's a good sort of brake,
But it hasn't worked yet!

Friday, 3 October 2014

What Service?

We have been without a functioning fridge for ten days.  I first noticed that something was wrong last Wednesday when I realized that the fridge didn't seem to be as cold as it should.  After careful observation we discovered that the freezer compartment was working - thank goodness the compressor hadn't failed - but the cold air wasn't being pumped into the fridge.  This fridge is only seven years old and such a failure was totally unexpected.

First thing on Thursday morning I phoned the Sears service line, since the fridge had been purchased there.  They told me that they were extremely busy and a tech couldn't come out to our home until Monday between the hours of 8 AM and 4 PM.  Fine.  We bought some ice so we could keep our few perishables in a cooler.

Monday arrived, and the tech didn't get here until late in the afternoon.  He confirmed our suspicion that the fan motor wasn't working to blow the cold air from the freezer into the fridge.  No, he didn't have the parts with him, he'd have to come back on Friday.


Surely a dead fan motor is a relatively common problem.  Is it too much to expect a tech to have parts with him when he goes to inspect appliances that were bought at his company?

In recent years we have spent over $12K at Sears for appliances, clothing, and vacations.  Why should we have to wait ten days for a fridge repair and then on top of that have to replace anything that spoiled in the interim?  No wonder the company is having financial trouble: the service sucks.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Throwback Thursday: Home and School

I'm feeling nostalgic today given that it has been 20 years since I left the warmth and safety of my parents' home to marry and venture out into a world for which I was unprepared in many ways.  I sometimes dream of returning to the community to live but given how the economy and housing market have changed, there's absolutely no way I'd be able to afford it.  I do go back once in a while to visit old friends and neighbours.

This is the house where I spent the bulk of my formative years.  The photo was taken in late fall of 1977.

My Grade 4 class picture, taken in the spring of 1978.  I'm front and center.  The school closed in 1981 and reopened as a private school for German students the following year.

Here I am raking leaves in front of the house, in the fall of 1978.  I had grown my hair longer because I was frequently mistaken for a boy.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Grey Lives

"I am Grey. I stand between the candle and the star. We are Grey. We stand between the darkness and the light." -- Delenn, Babylon 5 episode 2-11

What do you do when your family, your supposed friends, or society turns their back on you for your beliefs?  Some forge their own path, for good or ill.  Some live out their lives alone.  A few can't deal with it and commit suicide.  The last option has sadly become more prevalent, particularly among young people who are still sorting out their identity.

Among the more publicized cases: 13-year-old Seth Walsh of California hanged himself after being repeatedly bullied by his classmates for being gay.  18-year-old Tyler Clementi jumped off a bridge after two of his "friends" secretly filmed him in a sexual encounter and posted it on the Internet.  Another young man committed suicide after being scorned by his own family when he outed himself to them.

This sort of thing is reprehensible, and shows how closed-minded some people really are.  Regardless of any personal opinion on a subject, or an 'us vs them' mindset, one should remember that 'they' are people too and have their own feelings and lives.  Nobody deserves to be cast out or punished for not conforming to the majority.

I went through something similar in middle school, when someone started a nasty rumour that I and another girl in my class were having a "relationship".  One evening the girl's parents paid us a visit and told my folks that it didn't matter whether the rumours were true or not; the idea of two girls in a "relationship" was against their beliefs and they made it clear that I was not welcome in their home any more, and neither was I allowed to associate with any of their children at any time, anywhere.

I was understandably upset, but later my mother told me that she didn't care about the rumours, true or false.  In her opinion, these people were being stupid.  Plus if they held such antiquated beliefs that they prevented their own children from seeing their friends or broadening their social experiences, they didn't deserve to be my friends anyway.

Mom was a wise woman.  I hope to impart some of that wisdom to my own daughter if ever she comes up against similar troubles.  Life isn't always black and white.  But it takes intelligence and a bit of wisdom to sort out the shades of grey in between.