Wednesday, 15 March 2017

NINJA JIM

"Surmounting difficulty is the crucible that forms character." Tony Robbins

In January, 2005, Jim underwent knee replacement surgery. Six months later, relatively pain free and in great shape, he was climbing 'munroes' with me in Glencoe, Scotland. Thus in June, 2014, when hip replacement surgery was recommended, Jim had no qualms. Same hospital, same surgeon, a surgery considered not as extreme as knee replacement.....what could possibly go wrong?

"That's not right,"commented our very observant physiotherapist friend Cathy when she and her husband David visited Jim the day after his surgery. What Cathy had noted was that Jim's right foot on his affected leg lay on his hospital bed at ninety degrees to his left foot. Using a pillow, she immediately propped the foot up to vertical. That would be Clue #1. Oh, Cathy, we should have listened then!

A year later, strolling the beach at their cottage, Cathy nodded towards Jim who was walking ahead with David. "Something is definitely wrong, Daf; his stride is totally off. He needs to go back to his surgeon." Jim now walked with his right foot at a forty-five degree angle to his left. That would be Clue #2.

Clue #3? Despite extensive therapy and ongoing corrective exercises, the tendency of Jim's right foot to remain now at ninety degrees to his left plus his discomfort and pain when tempting to pull it in parallel to his other foot, increased. Then the tripping began. After a bad fall in Newfoundland and two severe stumbles at home, Jim reverted to using a cane, but now his hip discomfort and pain became constant and grew in intensity. A solid night's sleep was a rare luxury for him.

Long story short, almost three years after the original surgery, after countless X-rays and MRI's, a second medical opinion at Sunnybrook's Holland Centre diagnosed the problem - two muscle groups were never re-attached during the initial hip replacement surgery. Whaaaaaat?

Historically, a ninja was a skilled fighter in feudal Japan. Modern vernacular designates anyone who survives a treacherous obstacle course in life as a ninja. To me, Jim has earned the title. Yes, he worried and yes, he complained about his discomfort. Did he beg his doctor for pain killers? Did he stop living? Did he sit in a easy chair at home, using his condition as an excuse. No! No! No! During the three years since his disastrous surgery, Jim has refused to stop living; he has refused to limit himself.


Walk down the road with your right foot at a ninety-degree angle to your left and imagine your hip burning with pain. Come on. I dare you. Now in that condition, walk the streets of Paris for eight days straight, never resorting to transportation. Better yet hike both coasts of Newfoundland like that. Have you seen those trails? Don't forget to climb the stairs and treacherous rocky trail to Brimstone Head on Fogo Island. Then let your spouse talk you into three weeks of walking and hiking in southern Italy. Oh, don't forget to suggest that, in that condition, you climb every tower/campanile in sight. 


At home, clear the driveway and paths of snow. Oh, while you are at it, help others on the cul-de-sac. Put out the garbage, work in the gardens, mow the lawn, rake and remove the leaves and, best of all, lay new hardwood floors. Yes, I said lay hardwood floors! If you want to head into town for a movie, evening out, parade, whatever, insist on walking!

On Monday, Jim will finally undergo corrective surgery at Sunnybrook in what will be a lengthy operation. Recovery, too, we have been warned, will present its challenges, but nothing that my Ninja cannot surmount with 'parallel feet' as his goal.

I salute you Ninja Jim. I love you. By example, you have taught me the truth to Nelson Mandel's words, "It only seems impossible until it's done".









Saturday, 11 March 2017

BECOMING UXBRIDGEAN

In August, 2012, leaving behind over thirty-five years of life in York Region's Thornhill, Jim and I immigrated to the Town of Uxbridge in Durham Region. Thankfully, there were no passport checks or Kellie Leitch-like screenings for Uxbridgean values before we were allowed to settle in our new home. In hindsight that is perhaps a shame because I do know the words to "Oh, Canada".

However, as "our need to belong is not rational, but is a constant that exists across all people in all cultures"*, Jim and I were not immune to immediately attempting to fit in. How to be more like a native Uxbridgean became our quest and minor obsession.

Jim first noted that just about everyone drove a shiny big GM or Ford truck, walked at least one dog and had children in hockey. We drove two Toyota SUV's, didn't have any pets and could not talk our forty plus year olds, Christopher and Matthew, into moving home and attending hockey camp. So much for that idea!


Wait! Isn't 852 the original telephone exchange for Uxbridge while we newbies are assigned 862? We'll just sweet talk old Ma Bell into changing our telephone number. We've known her for years; she should be amenable. Right? Whaaaat? She refused? So much for that idea.

One of Jim's golf buddies jokes that he has resided in the same property on a sideroad just off Lakeridge Road for twenty-five years. When answering the question of where he lives, he is always greeted with, "Oh, the old Bennett property!" If I speak of a favourite shop on Brock in the old part of town, native Uxbridgeans never fail to mention the numerous businesses that have preceded in that location. Hmmm? Could Jim and I emulate that knowledge?  Perhaps we should head to the Registry Office and study past owners and town businesses. Are you kidding me? Too much work! So much for that idea.


Responding to the words, "Have a great day", most Torontonians I know would respond with, "You, too!" Not so with native Uxbridgeans who invariably answer, "You as well", a phrase which reflects Uxbridge's Quaker history. Okay, we've got this one. "Have a great day. Happy holidays. Stay warm. Stay cool. Enjoy."  And we blurt out, "You, too". Huh? We can't help it; the words simply fall from our tongues. Why can't we automatically respond with, "You as well"? Could it be sixty-five years of GTA training? So much for that idea.

And then it happened. Walking home from a Monday matinee at our little Roxy Theatre, waving to all of the shopkeepers along the way, we came to the realization that we are indeed Uxbridgeans. It came not from a flashy truck, an 852 exchange, an extensive knowledge of our towns past or an ability to instinctively respond with "you as well". Belonging came from a deep love for our adopted little town and the knowledge that we are home. Yes! Jim and Daphne are true Uxbridgeans.

* Simon Sinek













Monday, 6 March 2017

FOLLOW THE LEADER

One player is chosen as Leader. No matter how bizarre the Leader's actions - dancing, skipping, crawling through hoops, twirling in circles, yodelling - the task for Followers is to immediately emulate the actions of their Leader. To fail to do so is to be expelled from the game.


I am most likely dating myself, but I clearly remember this childhood game. Do you? Ah, the innocence of our youth. Sadly, in adult life, Follow The Leader is no longer a sweet little game.

Albert Einstein once wrote that, "setting an example is not the main means of influencing others; it is the only means".

And President Trump is now Leader. His example - his actions, words and deeds influence others, his Followers.
* "When Mexico sends it's people......they're bringing crime. They're rapists."
* "...because laziness is a trait in blacks."
* "...total and complete shutdown of Muslims' entry..."
Xenophobia has now been officially sanctioned. Citizens are now more comfortable showing mistrust and fear. Hate is being normalized. Emboldened white supremacists feel justified in their actions. They have a Leader. Is that what Trump meant when he declared himself "President for all Americans"?

Hate crimes and racist incidents have significantly increased since Mr. Trump's election. American mosques have received letters calling Muslims "a vile and filthy people". A Puerto Rican family awoke one morning to discover their family car with the words "Go Home" emblazoned on it. Latino students have been bullied. "You wetbacks need to go back to Mexico." Dear God, these are just children. A Sikh man was shot in his driveway, the shooter yelling, "Go back to your country".

No one knows the pain of hate crimes more than the Jewish population and they have not been immune to recent attacks. The U.S. has experienced a spike in vandalism and bomb threats targeting Jewish institutions and property. One might argue that the President supports Israel, but like a cancer, once unchecked, hate insidiously grows and spreads. I promise that the thugs attacking Jewish institutions don't give a damn about Trump's Israeli policies. Anything or anybody different is now a legitimate target.

"Oh, get over it" you say. "We live in gentle Canada."

Trudeau, Sr. once spoke of Canadan-U.S. relations, comparing them to "sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly or even-tempered is the beast......one is affected by every twitch and grunt." Despite Canada's reputation for being kind, friendly, open-minded, 'oh-sorry-ish', we have an intolerant, bigeted, white supremacist underbelly eagerly awaiting the right Leader. Tragically, Toronto and Quebec City have already experienced the targeted actions of this sewer-dwelling segment of our population. Canada is not immune and I worry.

So? I for one refuse to play this American version of Follow The Leader; I am relieved to be expelled. I have promised myself to not remain silent, to speak out against xenophobia, racism, intolerance and lies, and to work diligently against any Canadian leadership hopeful exhibiting Trump-like qualities. Follow The Leader is no longer a childhood game.

















Saturday, 4 March 2017

SIMPLE PLEASURES

"I adore simple pleasures. They are the last refuge of the complex." Oscar Wilde


If I were a rich man........how many times have you heard friends muse about winning a big lottery? Luxury homes, fancy cars, exclusive travel to exotic locales, and, and, and are all part of the accompanying dreams. Not me. My dream would be to have a housekeeper put fresh linen on our bed daily. Quite simply, I love crawling between fresh, crisp, clean sheets. Perhaps it is my imagination, but I actually sleep better. Clean sheets....a simple pleasure, but such blissful comfort!

It is said that grandchildren make the world a little softer, a little kinder and a little warmer. Oh, how true. Jim and I treasure our sleepovers with Morgan and Zachary. I love to awake to the early morning chatter of our grandchildren in the next room. I smile at the muffled talk, stifled giggles and quiet opening of our bedroom door. "Are they awake?" Their whispers hang in the air. A simple pleasure, but one that fills me with overwhelming love.

What about that first sip of coffee in the morning? Ahhhhhh! Someone once referred to it as a 'coffeegasm', such is the rush and sense of well being that accompanies that first cuppa'. Speaking of coffee, I love the cafe music of our little Tin Cup coffee shop. The happy chatter of patrons, the tinkle of clinking china and the whoosh of frothing milk and steam. Such a simple pleasure, but oh so soothing.

A rainy day, a blanket and loosing oneself in a good book. Fluffy dandelion seeds, backlit by the sun, floating on gentle air currents. The magic of flickering Christmas candles and colourful twinkling tree lights.  The heady aroma of rich soil in the early spring. Dancing autumn leaves, their rich oranges and reds flitting to the ground. My simple pleasures list is endless.

In the complexity of our world, it is easy to lose sight of life's simple pleasures. Violence, terrorism, racism and hate darken our lives and occupy our thoughts. When I am ready to depart this life, it is not the insanity of mankind I wish to remember, but rather the meaningful simple pleasures that were the nourishment for my soul.

Simple pleasures are life's treasures.



Friday, 24 February 2017

A TRULY SPECIAL COOKING CLASS

"Food is a central activity of mankind and one of the single most significant trademarks of a culture." Mark Kurlansky

The door opens, the bell tinkles, the wooden floors creak, and it is once again time to enjoy the delectable atmosphere of food and camaraderie that is any cooking class at The Passionate Cook's Essentials. Lisa Hutchinson, the owner, has created the unique opportunity to enhance one's cooking skills and expand one's recipe collection, all while enjoying the company of others genuinely interested in delicious, made-from-scratch food. Classes are limited to twelve students, a class size intimate enough to allow for questions, conversation and plenty of laughter.  Quite simply, I love these classes which have afforded me the privilege of meeting many like-minded residents and which have taken me to Italy, France, Morocco, Spain, Newfoundland, India, and even Mongolia without ever leaving Uxbridge.


Last night I enjoyed the privilege of being transported to pre-civil war Syria. Cecilia, fromager for The Passionate Cook Essentials, has worked closely with one of Uxbridge's refugee Syrian families to learn more about their delicious cuisine and to teach us more about the food, culture and customs of Syria. Food, she reminded us, is a universal language.


It is easy to forget that even under Bashar al-Assad and before the disasterous civil war, Syrians had lives and homes like us. Part of the Lavant 'fertile crescent', Syria was once the bread basket of the Middle East; their food culture is ancient. "Bread and salt between us." We learned that the Syrian culture is one that emphasizes the importance of family, hospitality and generosity. To cook is to be home and to commune over a meal with family and friends.

Interspersed with cooking demonstrations for shamandar (beet dip), lamb kofta in tahini sauce, vermicelli rice, Syrian salad, and m'hallabiya and while savouring these tasty dishes, Cecelia offered us a far more intimate insight into what life was like in Syria and how our refugee families are handling what she referred to as "their soft landing in the warmth of Uxbridge".


Of the many cooking classes, I have enjoyed at The Passionate Cook Essentials, this class offered to me, so much more than food and on so many levels. Not only did I enjoy the chance to taste and learn to prepare the cuisine of another culture, but it brought home many truths.

Food is indeed a universal language. How eager this Syrian family has been to share and teach Cecelia about their food and culture. Her relationship with the family has quickly developed into one of friend.

The class illustrated for me how much has been lost in the Syrian war, how the bread basket of the Middle East has been wiped out and how, due to an uncertain future, an ancient food culture and way of life may disappear.

How alone some of our refugees must feel. How they must miss the aromas and activity of their markets, their language, their neighbourhoods and their friends and family either left behind or now dead.

Mostly, listening to Cecelia reminded me that treating our refugees with interest in their culture and respect for what they have lost will go a long way to promoting a peaceful transition, trust and understanding.








Saturday, 18 February 2017

JUST NOT THE ONES FROM TENTS

"In time we hate that which we often fear." William Shakespeare

I know that I am frequently naive, that I enjoy rose-coloured glasses. I love nothing more than to pat my Canada on the back for not being governed by fear and hate as is our neighbour to the south. I congratulate my Canada for its compassion, for understanding that the current refugee crisis is the largest such crisis since World War II. To quote the Mayor of Belluno, Italy, "...a problem that is much bigger than us." I am overwhelmed with relief that my Canada has stepped up. In 1979 we welcomed 60,000 Vietnamese boat people to our shores. One of those boat people is now my dentist and one, my eye doctor. Both are extremely talented men, eager to give back to the community which  welcomed them to Canada and took them in. By February, 2016, we resettled more than 25,000 Syrian refugees, a process which compassionately continues.

That said and in spite of rose-coloured glasses, I am fully aware that the seething fears and hatreds now characterizing America are on simmer in Canada, merely awaiting their chance to boil over. All that is needed is permission to turn up that heat, either from the general public or a Trump-like leader. Kellie Leitch, a Conservative Party leadership hopeful, is sure eager to do so. Rick Mercer frequently warns that Canada is not immune to such fear and hatred. He reminds us that in 1939, fearing German spies on board, we turned back a ship carrying 907 Jewish refugees. Perhaps, I should have titled this blog, "Oh Canada, We Stand On Guard For Thee".

Closer to home, an anti-Islam group blocked entrances to a Toronto masjid during prayer services. And yesterday at little Uxpool, the full reality of this simmering fear, hate and ignorance brought me to my knees in frustration.

Swimmer: I hate that all of these people are being allowed in.
Me (trying to be the voice of reason): Have you met any of our Uxbridge Syrian families?
Swimmer: No! I'm from Port Perry and we have THEM there, too.
Me: And?
Swimmer: One is a lawyer. Okay, I guess. Just don't let the ones from the tents in. It's disgusting.
Me (now biting my tongue): I think if you spoke to your lawyer refugee, you would discover that he
lived in a tent. One of our young refugee families gave birth to their son in a tent. (Now with a slight edge to my voice). By the way, she is a medical doctor and he, an accountant.
Swimmer under her breath: They're disgusting.



Dear God! Remind me to contact the United Nations Refugee Agency and Canadian Government screeners; they should be told to just interview refugees residing in luxury hotels. Tongue bleeding, I actually cried in utter frustration while driving home.

I was taught to face my fears. Jump in that deep water. Knock on that door. Speak to that audience. How I wish that, rather that sitting on the sidelines simmering with fear and hate, these Canadians would take the opportunity to meet just one of our recent refugees. Hear their heartbreaking story. Feel their excitement about their second chance at a new life. I'm betting that views would change.

Our government has led the way. Let us show some compassion.


Saturday, 28 January 2017

MY CONUNDRUM

For decades, I have suffered from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), so much so that I take prescription medication. I cannot express how distressed I felt this week to find myself, even medicated, exhibiting some SAD symptoms......agitation, anger, depression, hopelessness. Then my calmer, saner mind ran further down the symptoms list. No, I wasn't sluggish. No, I wasn't suffering from insomnia. Then what? Right in front of me, in my hands, was the answer.

Much of my time has been absorbed reading about the blowhard billionaire with the thin-skinned, powder keg personality who now calls himself President of the United States. Racism, war crimes, cruelty, anti-feminism, divisiveness, tweet diplomacy....... That hateful, ugly, cruel face haunts my dreams. If that were not enough, Mikhail Gorbachev is of the opinion that "the world is preparing for war." And looks whose finger has access to that red nuclear button! Dear God!


So now my conundrum. Do I keep on top of issues in the U.S. which so affect Canada and the world or, for the sake of my sanity, do I bury my head in the sand, remaining blissfully uninformed? No more mouthy POTUS, no more feelings of outrage, anger and disbelief. Ahhhh!


Sadly, a wise man once wrote that "the deeper you hide your head in the sand, the more defenceless is your ass." Oh, how I wish I could ignore my university political science background and the obligation to remain informed with which Keith Spicer charged his International Relations students. I haven't forgotten, sir! And therein lies the answer to my conundrum. Poor Jim will just have to get used to my angry outbursts when reading and my vocal arguments when watching the news. It's only four years.....we hope....Hon!