dear canada: we’re all taking notes

 
A lesson in the laws of this country:

It is, apparently, okay to fly into a rage when someone comes onto our property… perfectly okay to shout obscenities and smash the trespasser’s windshield with a hammer, kick in their tail lights while they are IN their vehicle and would very much like to be on their way at this point…

It is, apparently, okay to grab a gun, fire ‘warning’ shots (warnings of what? why warnings? whatever happened to that old chestnut: get off my lawn! )…

It is, apparently, okay to try to turn off the ignition of the trespasser’s car as they (once again) attempt to leave your property… and it is very okay, apparently, if the gun, still in your hand and now pointed at the trespasser’s head, goes off and kills them.

It’s okay because this is an accident. Because you said it was an accident.

Oops, you might say. You didn’t mean to kill them.

That, apparently, is enough for the courts in this land, enough to appease a jury of your peers (and by peers we obviously mean people as rage-filled and incompetent with a firearm as you are).

You didn’t mean to kill them.

What else is there to say? How to argue that point?

The laws of this country, apparently, condone hysteria, anger and violence toward trespassers. And errors where killing is concerned. Where pointing a loaded gun at someone’s head is concerned.

Oops.

But the laws of this country aren’t the people of this country and I hope the people of this country will stand up and make this travesty a catalyst for change.

Because none of this makes sense. That you, a man of 63, “didn’t mean to kill” but did kill  a 22 year old boy who, like every other boy, every other child that grows up in a place where there’s diddly squat to do sometimes gets up to bad business. Like you yourself might have done once upon a time. Because I’m guessing this isn’t the first time a young person went joy-riding on the prairies and made some dumb decisions. (Those decisions by the way, dumb as they may have been, were not in any way life-threatening… well, not to you anyway.) And, oh, by the way, we have dumb-ass decision makers in cities and towns too, young people who for whatever reason are bored and get into trouble… Do I understand the laws of this land to be that we have a new way of handling these situations? Because this sure as hell feels like a precedent.

(By the way… may I infer that the next time someone, oh, let’s say an Indigenous man, accidentally kills a white boy, by shooting him in the head, the court will appoint a jury of twelve members of the Indigenous community and try him in a fair trial with a jury of his peers? )

Because that would at least be something.

~

What also would be something is if the man who killed the boy was required to go to anger management counselling.

And some kind of night school program where he could learn how to use a gun properly, maybe get a copy of Side Arm Ownership for Dummies.

And if this country changed its rules about jury selection… as was suggested in a report dated 2013, by Judge Frank Iacobucci. who at that time said there was a “crisis in the justice system”.

Or wouldn’t it be something if the court had deemed it worthwhile that the man who killed the boy make a statement to the Boushie family, to ask for forgiveness, and to spend a weekend hearing about who Colten Boushie was, what his life was… to, oh I don’t know, develop a smidgen of compassion for another human being.

That still wouldn’t be justice, but it would be something.

 

 

this is not a review: ‘leaving my homeland — a refugee’s journey’

 

Kudos to Crabtree Publishing for their new ‘Leaving My Homeland’ series of picture book style books focusing on the refugee experience from the perspective of children. Each of the books covers one child’s story.

The series includes:

A Refugee’s Journey From Afghanistan

A Refugee’s Journey From Iraq

A Refugee’s Journey from Syria

(Also Myanmar, Colombia, Guatemala, Somalia, South Sudan, Congo, and Yemen)

Ten books in all.

Brilliantly done with photos and drawings and sidebars with bite-sized summaries of the country’s history, and current political situation, the children’s voices speaking about how they used to live before violence and fear took over, about what they loved and what they’ll miss. (The info is truly bite-sized, yet enough to come away with some basic knowledge of each country. Perfectly done for kids… and many adults could benefit from it too.)

Simple things explained, like the difference between refugees, immigrants and IDP’s (internationally displaced persons).

There are stories of journeys by boat, by air, and those on foot and how each of these journeys feels, the refugee camps they live in, sometimes for years, the people that help along the way and those who betray.

I especially love that these books for children don’t shy away from talk about Islamaphobia and why some people might be afraid of Muslims. They straighten out misconceptions and show children from these countries as simply children.

All of the stories are extraordinary to imagine, but despite the subject matter there is, amazingly, no drama. The books are not intended to shock or create sympathy, but merely to create a level of understanding of The Other.

For example, in A Refugee’s Journey from Myanmar,  by Ellen Rodger, the complicated history and present situation facing the Rohingyas is explained in simple and clear language that not only informs but will, hopefully, lead to questions and conversation.

There are stories about what happens when children go to their new schools, how they don’t fit in, don’t speak the language, but the focus is never on how that makes the child feel sad, or of being bullied or teased, though we know that happens, but instead, the mandate of the books seems to be… now that we know something of the situation these individuals have come from, the things they’re dealing with…. what can we do to help?

Imagine living in a country where fear is normal. You fear government soldiers, the police, and maybe even your next-door neighbour. You might be scared of being attacked if you leave your home. That is what life is like for some people….

Each book also includes a glossary and lists of websites and other excellent reading along the same lines, like Margriet Ruurs’ Stepping Stones and many others. This is really such brilliant, welcome and necessary reading for kids, and families together.

Books that matter. Can’t have too much of this.

how to: birthday lunch (thirteenth year), in four parts

 

Part one, the appetizer:

Begin at the fish and chips place you hear is all the rage though oddly it’s entirely empty at 12:30 p.m. on a Friday. (That’s fish day, no?)

Consider leaving until the oh-so-lovely server tells you that Fridays are funny, sometimes busy, sometimes not, that dinner is when things really get hopping and that, “believe me”,  she should know because she has worked there for “twenty five long years”…

Order a plate of fries and enjoy the art.

Get lost in the beauty of entire walls covered in scenes of nautical joy.

Dig into the fries as you draw up plans for the invention of an electric toothbrush you call The Squiggly  (instead of vibrating it squiggles, obvs) (possibly cat shaped) and discuss A Wrinkle in Time, which the thirteen year old tells you is the first book written in third person that she has liked.

Be a little stunned that she knows about third person.

Part two, the main course:

Head to the Mexican place for tacos.

Try all the hot sauces offered.

Notice the table behind you is is talking about Vancouver at precisely the same time you are talking about Vancouver. Talk about Calgary instead.

Part three,  le dessert:

Hint…. DQ is right next door.

Discuss what sports you are bad at and how you don’t care.

Discuss your dislike of certain kinds of shellfish. And liver.

Discuss how you are both practically vegetarian but not quite.

Discuss how one of you is considering becoming an actual vegetarian.

Discuss how only just this xmas one of you gave an actual vegetarian
a lucky fish.

Discuss the word serendipity.

Part four, the libation:

Decide that The L’il Organic Kitchen is possibly your new book club meeting space (except in summer when you will meet at the beach and eat fries from Jenny’s chip truck.).

And that the first book will be Maud, by Melanie Fishbane.

For the thirteen year old… orange, lime, pineapple and strawberry power juice.

For you, warm coconut milk with turmeric, cinnamon and ginger.

Chat includes things you regret having done.

You— among other things, stealing wax lips when you were nine.*

Thirteen year old— accidentally eating her birthday candle.**

The end.

  *   Lips remained stolen for exactly nine seconds. Turns out you weren’t made for a life of crime… (you left them on top of the mailbox outside the store and ran all the way home).

**  The candle remains eaten.

 

human beans, as souvenirs

 
When I come back from the east coast it’s usually sand and shells that come with me, the memory of cormorants flying a thin line above the ocean at sunset, the embrace of solitude in all that surf and space and horizon, the pleasure of spending time on red dirt roads that lead sometimes to a new beach where (I once overheard someone say) there is nothing to see.

But this time it’s more than the tangible, the feathers and stones, that have stayed with me… it’s the two women at the shared lunch table at Point Prim who have not only heard of the obscure Ontario town where I live but who lived there too, twenty something years before moving to PEI.

The guy who works at the lighthouse (also from Ontario) who says the ferry crossing over to Nova Scotia should be okay but calls ahead to check and then gives me his card and says if it isn’t I can phone and yell at him.

It’s the young man and his guitar who sings about the girl he left behind in Moncton, and a chef on the same boat, making free blueberry crepes.

And the owners of our B&B who tell us they’ve had 1200 people stay in their not so very large home in the past year and then invite us for a glass of wine.

And the photographer at breakfast, on his way to the Cabot Trail, and next to him a slightly addled couple with almost no sense of direction who you wonder how they drove here from Alberta and you just pray they’ll find the lobster supper they’re heading for in New Glasgow, and next to them the American who says her favourite part of Canada is the gasp, which, after a few questions, we understand to be The Gaspé.

The woman who runs the local co-op art gallery.

And the woman who runs a magical world of love, laughter and literature for people of all sizes.

The person who takes time to show us a ‘hotel’ room in an old railway car at Tatamagoush and the guy behind me in line at the Charlottetown Dollar Store who’s talking to someone in front of me about the number of frogs dying in ponds and rivers because of pesticide run-off from farmers’ fields.

It’s the group of elderly tourists, German maybe?, who arrive at Brackley beach as I’m sitting on the wooden steps, hello, hello, hello, they all say in passing and then take pictures of each other… and how there’s always one in every group that tears away from the herd, seeking a moment of solitude. The way that one plays at the edge of the water and jumps backward with all the joy of a child when the waves roll in as he knew they would.

And the woman who works at the tourist place in St. Peters who tells me that most restaurants are closed at this time of year and when I ask So where do the locals eat?  she replies, Well, at home of course…

It’s the server who says that winter on PEI is so quiet the speed limit on certain streets changes from 50 to 70. It’s everyone on the beach, including the guy who asked if I was Nicole Picot, the Minister of something for New Brunswick. (I am not.)

The discovery of George S. Zimbel while waiting out a rainstorm after seeing the wonderfulness of an exhibition that included Montgomery’s manuscript for Anne of Green Gables.

Familiar faces wandering around Summerside farmers’ market and a woman who sells me bags of freshly picked dulse.

The seaweed fanciers at a seaweed workshop where seaweed is fondled and used to paint seaweedy scenes.

The couple who, on a dockside patio, check their phone for info on Acadian history and then one of them reads out loud… loud enough for us all to hear. Go ahead, ask me anything.

The woman who is almost my friend and the warmth of her welcome.

The young people who on this beach of red sand discuss having once been on a beach where the sand was black but can’t remember where that was…

The people from the south shore who come to the north shore and stand in line for fish. But only on weekends.

And lovely Arthur from Florida, originally from Boston, embarrassed about Trump… and the equally charming people he’s travelling with and how they meet up each night to play cribbage.

Barb and Barry from Milton who in not more than ten minutes not only introduce themselves but list everywhere they’ve been on this driving holiday (because they’re retired; he from the fire department, she from banking), everywhere they’ve played golf, hiked (they “did” four hikes in Fundy in one morning “plus saw the tide thing”), where they’ve spent every night (because every day and every night are laid out in advance), as well as how one daughter who has a new boyfriend is studying in Guelph to be a vet while the other is working as a teacher in the U.K. but her landlord is giving her a bit of a runaround at the moment because his email has been hacked. The daughter happens to text while Barb is sharing all this so Barb texts her back then reads me the text her daughter sends in return. The landlord problem seem to be resolving, albeit slowly.

(The next day Barb and Barry announce “they have done the entire shoreline” of PEI. They also “did” Greenwich but can’t remember much and sadly have terrible things to say about the lovely woman at the St. Peters tourist place. Felt she was holding out on them about there being few places open to eat.)

The wedding party who take photos on the dunes beside the signs saying don’t climb the dunes and the guy who parks his car almost on the dunes at the sweetest beach but only steps out for a second, long enough to take a shot of the lighthouse then drives off.

A woman who made a museum of the place LM Montgomery boarded while she taught school and the view from her window.

A guy who knits socks.

A guy and his food truck.

A cat named Charlie (because cats are people too).

And his not necessarily best friend.

The painter who tells me about the land she’s just bought where she wants to build a studio. I tell her I’d love to move here.

She says do it, buy the property next to mine, I’d like to have good neighbours.

 

 

*don’t tell me to buy a lawnmower either, shirley

 
Kerry Clare recently wrote a piece about the prospect of not necessarily coveting a house or even lamenting the impossibility of owning one in Toronto any time soon. She wrote about being a happy renter in her city of choice, about living close enough for her husband to stroll to work, close enough to walk the kids to and from school and how everybody’s home at the same time to have dinner together.

You wouldn’t think this would inspire negative comments, but then you’d be silly. Because, it seems, everything inspires negative comments.

It’s actually stunning to watch, anthropologically, this need humans apparently have to take things personally. How almost anything can be interpreted as a slight against something else. In this case the fact that she’s coming out as a contented renter is really pissing off a lot of people who own, which begs the question why?  If you’re happy in your world why does it trouble you that others are happy in their different  worlds?

This isn’t about lawns or renting or owning, it’s much bigger. Sadly, the emotions triggered by the small stuff may suggest an intolerance also to the bigger stuff… race, class, gender, religion, age, and all those other isms.

So what is it? Are we wired to create divisions? How else to explain this constant sorting of them  from us. And why don’t we get that there is no them? There’s only  an us. Some of us like lawns. Others of us don’t. Some of us like bubble gum flavoured ice cream and others of us have taste. (Ah, see that? That’s exactly how easy it is…)

Also, don’t we get tired of it all? The sides, the I’m right you’re wrong, no I’m right you’re wrong, no me, no me…  the incessant, uninformed griping about The Other. Do we ever get beyond it, smarter, more broad-minded? Or does our brain function max out at self-righteous smugness?

For the record, Shirley, (tho’ I doubt this makes us kindred spirits) I live in a house probably similar to yours. I didn’t always. For more than a decade I lived in Toronto in various apartments similar to Clare’s. I also lived in a council flat in Oxford, a pretty house on a hill in the Caribbean, an impossibly tiny bachelor in an Edmonton basement. Had you asked, while I was living in any of these spaces, I’d have told you I was content with my world, not just the structure of where I lived, but the lifestyle it allowed me to live.

Because that’s what it comes down to: are you happy with your life/style?

The point, Shirley, is that I would love it if we all stopped categorizing everyone. We are all of us ever-changing bits of various things based on where we’ve been and where we happen to be at the moment. Today’s renters are tomorrows owners. Or not. And vice versa. Who cares. We deal as best we can. And if someone’s managed to make their own version of lemonade (or bubble gum ice cream) then maybe we can celebrate that instead of telling them iced tea (or vanilla, obvs) is the way to go…

Finally, Shirley (are you still there?), I think it’s important you know that not everyone who lives in a house needs a lawnmower. And that you surely, Shirley, do not speak for me.

* The title for this post is a riff on Kerry Clare’s response to one of the comments her piece inspired and it amused me no end.

 

 

 

 

 

things i learned in a few patio hours with my favourite eccentric

A teaspoon of red wine vinegar tossed into a bowl of lentil soup just before serving apparently turns lentil soup into nectar.

Shivasana is THE most important yoga move. Ten minutes is good.

Persimmons for arthritis.

Raccoon poop is best disposed of with a) gloves, b) crumpled newspaper. Forget the trowel or shovel because then  how do you clean off the toxic??

Margaret Carney, nature writer and birder extraordinaire, once upon a time worked as an editor at Harlequin.

Lima beans, aka butter beans, will last — tops — three days in the fridge once the tin is opened so after you use half a tin for making a butter bean flan, use the other half — straightaway! — in a butter bean salad (red onion, celery, dressing of choice).

A lavender farm has opened not a million miles away from my front door.

And if that isn’t enough there’s ANOTHER lavender place even closer.

Ways of peeling garlic. (The knife crush is but one.)

Levine Flexhaug.  (1918 – 1974)  Famous for more or less painting the same cheesy landscape scene over and over in audacious colours and with various ‘differences’. So bad it’s brilliant.

The word minim.

 

 

the reason my house and car and pockets are filled with stones

 

They line stairs, window ledges and bookshelves; fill flowerpots and bowls beside my bed. And that little space in my car, the alcove-esque area above the gear shift, is for what if not stones…?

My theory for the why of this (apart from stones are lovely) is the way my dad would every now and then on a summer night after working in a factory all day and after mowing the lawn and after supper… announce that he was heading to the beach to get some rocks.

He didn’t ask me to come with him. I was a skinny kid with noodly arms. Not super helpful in the rock lifting department.

But something in the way he said he was going to the beach… different from the way he said he was off to Canadian Tire… sounded like an invitation.

And so we went.

He and me.

He to collect rocks for alpine gardens, to edge various beds or frame his collection of seashells.

And me, to skip stones, bury my legs in cool nighttime sand and wonder how long it would take to swim across Lake Ontario and what, if anything, was on the other side.

It’s possible he took breaks from the rock gathering. He may have sat on a length of driftwood at some point, lit a cigarette and wondered too about the swimming and the other side.

I don’t remember the details of these beachy missions.

Only that cool nighttime sand.

And my first pocketful of stones.