October 31, 2010


This, That and T'other

I think I've begun my annual freeze up. I get cold every fall and stay that way until mid-May. I wear so many layers I look like George on Seinfeld in that puffy coat, but still, I shiver. My house is old. Not cool-old, just old enough to be kind of useless at doing anything well. The ducts are narrow, apparently, which means the heat doesn't get around much. Nor does air conditioning in the summer.

But I've found a way to feel warmer at home. I'm going to North Bay for a couple of days. I figure by the time I get back, this place will feel like Miami in comparison.

I LOVE the New York Times sections that the Toronto Star has introduced on Sundays. I love Sunday papers - and the NYT Book Review and special section is making me very happy on Sundays.

What is making me not so happy? This article on a woman who voted in the recent municipal election in Toronto. She's 100. Fine. She's nearly blind. Okay. She's nearly deaf. Okay. She doesn't watch TV, listen to the radio, nor read newspapers. Okay. But she voted anyway, and has no clue who she voted for because she didn't know who any of them were. NOT OKAY.

Really? We complain about low voter turnout. Rightly so, because though only 40-something percent of eligible people vote (and that's a great turnout), it seems 100% bitch for the four years following the decision.

I would like everyone to vote. But I would like anyone who votes to have a clue. To have arrived at their decisions with a little forethought, a little consideration, a little investment. I knew a woman once, who, while sweet as can be was dumb as a post. Truly. But she told me once that she didn't vote because she didn't understand politics. Honest enough. She asked how she could learn about it. I asked her if she could commit to reading the A section of a newspaper every day for a month. She paused. "That's not where Dear Abby and the horoscopes are, is it?"

I told her I didn't care which paper, just get used to reading about stuff she didn't understand. I told her if she figured out the Middle East thing, to let me know and she could explain it to me. But what I was proposing was that she familiarize herself with the world around her, both on her front step and far away. Get a feel for what people deal with, and how governments respond (or don't) to their people.

I then told her to pick an issue that mattered to her. Healthcare, childcare, traffic, education, development, anything. Pick one thing, and start researching a little into that one thing. One thing is not overwhelming. Find out where her candidates stood on that one topic, for starters.

When I read about this woman voting who couldn't care less except to vote because she could, I decide this is more dangerous than my acquaintance who didn't vote because she knew nothing.

Okay. I've blathered on and I'm still cold. And I know I've been crabby lately. Sorry. Anniversary of Dad's death was a few days ago, this time of year gets to me. It's also my kid's 19th birthday today, so we all know how THAT is gonna end tonight.

October 30, 2010


More Bonus....

Warranties. Sigh.

October 29, 2010


Bonus Columns!

If you're a daily reader of the Star, you may have noticed something this week. Something awesome. Ahem.

I've had a series of columns running in the A section. Yes, kids - the A section!

They're auto-based pieces on such topical things, but these small works of art started running on Wednesday as part of a bigger campaign for Chev.

Here's the first one: Fuel Economy in Olden Times. If you ever took a family trip, you'll get this.

Thursday, I got all preachy, for a change. Snort. Here.

More as they post.

October 25, 2010


Front Pocket Wallet Man

Yeah, I know. I said it. I think a wallet in a guy's front pocket, especially jeans, looks dorky. My column today has initiated a boatload of angry mail from people telling me I'm wrong. And some other things.

I know putting a big, fat wallet in your back pocket causes back problems. Just like I know carrying an oversized heavy purse on your shoulder causes back problems. See, I don't think anyone even needs to carry around all that crap. If you have ten credit cards in your wallet, having a bad back isn't even the beginning of your problems.

And I heard about security issues, as well. My kids are also carrying around phones and iPods, so this is about more than wallets. They usually zip them into inner pockets on their winter coats. Women don't stuff their wallets into their front pockets, and we mostly manage not to have our purses ripped off. But again, I get it, and I wrote it anyway.

So, hate away. Let's agree to disagree this week.

October 24, 2010


Evil

I haven't weighed in on the Russell Williams horror. I find it difficult. But a comment on my previous blog has me thinking.

When his arrest happened, I heard from an old friend of mine. We went to school together, going our separate ways after graduation. We'd been primary school friends, our sisters had been friends, our mothers even.

I bumped into Jeff in a parking lot a few years back, and we caught up. His mom was ill, but they read my column together and he told me she loved it. We continued to touch base every year or so, mostly to compare life notes, talk about old friends, lament the loss of parents.

The note I got from Jeff when Williams was arrested was totally different. He'd been Williams' university roommate. They'd been each others' best man at their weddings. They'd spent vacations together. Jeff was freaked out. I was even more freaked out.

The Globe and Mail has a long interview from April about Williams, and I wasn't surprised to see Jeff as a major source. He knew they'd be talking to him; turns out police talked to everyone.

Jeff is a smart guy. Very smart. Kind. Like many of us, he's lived through some stuff. He didn't know. He didn't know this man beside him was a monster. His press interviews reveal the candid man I know.

Would you have known? I doubt it. I always think women sense things differently than men do, but you still don't let your mind wander far enough to think that the weirdo you dated once (or turned down immediately) is anything but, well, weird. It's a reach for a normal person's brain to head straight to 'killer', let alone 'dangerous'. But that is the difference, as we have so painfully been made aware. Two glorious women snuffed out, an entire country gasping. And too many moments where that bastard Paul Bernardo has been brought back into the equation - a devastating wound that will never heal.

Ann Rule, who writes girl- in- a- dumpster true crime novels, wrote about Ted Bundy. It was called The Stranger Beside Me, as it turned out she'd worked next to him at some point. She never knew. I'm sure Jeff is reeling from the Stranger Beside Him, and I'm sure Williams' wife probably is too.

When Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffey were stolen by Bernardo, the cops had up billboards telling us what kind of car to look out for. Christopher was a baby; I looked for that car everywhere as we drove around. Everywhere. For years I looked, even though they'd long ago decided they'd gotten the car wrong. I wasn't looking for a car; I was looking for a way to bring those girls back. Makes no sense, but I soon realized the true meaning of the word haunted.

Around the same time, Nina de Villiers, a Burlington teenager, was kidnapped while jogging. While it was thought she was another Bernardo victim - the community was reeling - she instead was murdered by a violent offender out on parole. I went to a search they had organized, and we were told to look for an orange t-shirt with a tree on it. The last thing Nina had been seen wearing. I still look for that t-shirt. I am haunted by that t-shirt. That car. That desperate feeling that I could do nothing, the desperate wish that these men had been stopped before these wonderful girls had been so unfathomably destroyed.

Women birth them; women marry them. I don't know what's at the heart of these relationships. I like to think I do, but I don't. I do know my friend's life has been slammed hard, and when we catch up next over coffee I'm sure there will be a huge cross section of emotion. How could there not be?

There has been a lot of fallout regarding the coverage of Williams' trial. Many are saying news organizations are sensationalizing prurient details only to sell papers. I don't believe that. We need to know there is this heart of darkness. We need to be aware of the evil that walks amongst us. The fact you can't fathom such things is good. It shouldn't be understandable.

But it should be recognizable. For all those destroyed by these evil bastards, it needs to be recognizable.

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October 22, 2010


Really?

Surviving families of the Air India tragedy, which saw 280 Canadians murdered over 25 years ago, have been told that typically compensation is in the $25,000 dollar range.

Syncrude, a Canadian company who are buggering things up in the Alberta oil sands, has just been fined $3,000,000 for killing 1,606 ducks.

Someone hand me my calculator.

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Greecing the Wheels of an Economy

A while back, I blogged about the fallout of the recession on some of the world's economies. The first one I ever fed you was from Vanity Fair's Michael Lewis, about Iceland. I don't know if you bothered to click, but here it is again. It really is awesome. Oh go on, it's the weekend, what else you have to do? Rake leaves? Anyway. If you haven't already, read about Iceland's gnomes. Or dwarfs. Or something. And how all the fishermen decided to become investment bankers and buy Range Rovers. Oh, guess what? Fisherman don't know squat about investment banking.

Now, many didn't know it at the time, but Iceland was only the tip of the iceberg. Hahaha. Joke. Anyway, Michael Lewis has done it again, writing an excellent piece, this time on Greece. Oh my. Seriously. You have to read this to believe it, and Lewis is a terrific writer.

The Greek government has an accounting system that resembles my son's. The concept of money and responsibility is all Greek to him. Geez, I'm just cracking myself up tonight. I am so tired. But I digress. The Greeks have this house of cards banking system that has been thrown under a bus by the government. They keep leaving things off their budget estimates, like annual billion dollar pension plans. The whole economy is predicated on bribes and tax dodgers and craziness. They are in debt a quarter of a million dollars per every working person in the country. And of course, the rest of the European Union is a little crabby with them, especially those uptight Germans. But, go read. I don't want to wreck it for you.

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October 18, 2010


Go Kart, Young Man


This is me.


This is Ari.




I am not competitive. Really. Well, maybe at Jeopardy, but not at sports (::cough::) and not at driving. Actually, I don't think I know if I'm competitive at sports - I don't think I've ever played on a team of anything. That should make anyone picked last feel better; I don't get picked at all.

Anyway, Ari and I went go karting the other day. It was fun. It was a media thing, and since I knew I would be bringing my competitiveness in a thimble, I asked if Ari could come too. He loved it. Racing around an outdoor track (Toronto Kart Club) with a lawn mower engine strapped to a contraption 3 inches off the ground, he had a blast. I mostly just tried to get out of the way.




I didn't get a trophy. But I had fun. Thanks to Jim Wang of the Toronto Kart Club for the pics.

October 14, 2010


Off To New Hamster...

I'll be in beautiful New Hampshire this weekend at a pumpkin festival.

Yes, a pumpkin festival. A friend of mine, Sarah Spykman, has just started a column with her paper there, the Sentinel (Google her; I can't find the link - I'm beat, and still packing). Anyway, the invite was too good to turn down, so I'm hopping over the border to visit and sit around a campfire and drink wine.

Talk amongst yourselves. Webgod Jeff is in Algonquin, probably freezing his butt off.

So with nobody to monitor, you can all get really bad.

Roz, watch it. I know where you live.

October 13, 2010


What's That Smell?

I admit I opened this article in the NYT because it said someone was having trouble selling a swankypants apartment in New York. You know, one of those multi-million dollar deals. They were having trouble selling because of a bad smell. Seems there is a truffle business in the lobby storing truffles, and the stink is killing everyone in Big Moneyland.

I thought to myself, "Self, since when does chocolate smell so awful?" I have often found fabulous little truffles on pillows better than mine in rooms better than mine in cities more expensive than mine. How could these perfect little chocolate explosions be a bad thing?

Oh. Those other truffles. The mushroom kind. Shoulda known, though I'm sick of the same word meaning two distinctly different things. I've written about this before. I don't trust menus for that reason: are they going to shave chocolate all over that pasta? I sure hope not.

But the smell is real, and the people are having trouble renting and selling units in a building whose lobby smells like "a refrigerator crammed with rotting carrots and lettuce. Throw in the earthy smell of dirt, half a dozen pairs of teenage boys’ worn-out sneakers and some stinky, stinky cheese." Awesome.

I can imagine it, because that is what my house smells like when the boys roll in with their friends sometimes.

I was raised in a fragrant house. My father used manure on the garden. An entire truckload of manure, every year. He grew tons of garlic and onions, and he ate tons of same. My mother, bless her, did her best. But is was hard to come into a house with the smell of blueberry muffins wafting through the air and not notice, just a little bit, the smell of sheep shit wafting in from the yard.

I find my green bin can get a little high. I prefer winter when everything can freeze. My dad used to trap squirrels and skunks and raccoons - and occasionally the family cat - out back by the woodpile, and pile their sorry little bodies out for garbage. Oh, be quiet. He was a farmboy who's been dead for 14 years. He's probably playing whist (ten points if you know what that is) with a bunch of squirrels as I write this. He never killed the family cat, by the way. And I feed those squirrels, so penance is being served.

In the east end of this city, there is a pork rendering plant. It's gross. I spent a summer working right next door to it, and we'd get sent home when it got too bad. I wouldn't want to live downwind. My Dad worked at Dofasco, and there were lots of houses in the shadows of the steel plants. That area had its own gritty smell I couldn't have gotten used to. Except, you do. I know this. I've known people who live all over, and the same way I'm used to being able to smell the lake - both good and bad - you get used to your smells.

My sister and I headed to the cottage on Sunday to close up. We took my niece, who scooted about the cottage declaring that it smelled musty. I smiled to myself. This is what the cottage, shut tight between times when we can get there, has always smelled like. For nearly 4 decades, I've loved this smell. Her 12-year-old nose smelled 'musty'; my nostalgic one detected only sun and rain and fun and storms and old books read and reread and black nights around sparking fires staring at more stars than I knew the universe held.

While we were up there, I tramped through the woods a bit. It's the time of year for mushrooms, and tripping over them sends up the peaty smell of northern Ontario as it prepares for winter.

When I read that article about boxes and boxes of stored truffles in some downtown building, I couldn't help but think of that real estate adage: location, location, location.

October 9, 2010


Happy Thanksturkey

I've been chatting with an American friend who took all of two second to tell me Canadians are crazy to be having Thanksgiving today. "Yeah, let's have it a few weeks before Christmas to ramp up the horrible holiday hostage situations that take place when families get together," I thought, but didn't say. We then fell to trying to figure out what Thanksgiving was about, anyway. She's smart, and came back to Abe Lincoln wanting to thank god. Or God. Take your pick. For all my schooling, Thanksgiving for me will forever be centered around a drawing I made with pilgrims in it, where I paid meticulous attention to getting the buckles on their shoes just right.

Thanksgiving is about buckles. And people with buckles on their shoes always remind me of leprechauns. Who knew two such disparate groups could share the same footwear? And then of course I think of the cereal commercial with the annoying little leprechaun, and Thanksgiving is now about Lucky Charms. Which are on sale at No Frills this week, by the way. Coincidence? I think not. Turkeys, aisle one, Lucky Charms, aisle three.

Everyone will be here later for turkey. I was up early and tossed a 22 pound sucker into its sea salt bath. (If you've never brined a turkey, it is easy, fast and makes the guaranteed best turkey, ever. And it cooks in under 3 hours. Email me if you want to know how, though it's too late for today. But you could do it tomorrow. So, ask.)

Roz will be here this afternoon to gracefully shove me out of the way and take over. I will pretend to offer to help, but mostly just open wine. Her hubby will disappear to watch TV that isn't centered around the girly girly fixup shows that Roz makes him watch on a regular Saturday. Gilly and her crew will be here later; her youngest has a hockey game, though if I know my sister she will leave him to his Dad and arrive here early to assist Roz. I will give her wine.

Both boys are working till 6 or 7. This is a new twist in these things, watching them grow up and having responsibilities beyond putting their laundry away. Which they still don't do, by the way. But as I was elbow deep in a turkey's arse this morning, I couldn't help but think I was doing my Dad's job. He'll be gone 14 years on October 26. He always cleaned the turkey. He also peeled the vegetables, which I will do, too. Gilly and Manny do the baking - my mother's domain. So much the same, so much different. The same dishes made by different hands.

We're not too inventive, chez Sommerfeld. We serve the same dinner for Thanksgiving and for Christmas. The kids used to call Thanksgiving Christmas without the presents. I've told them if they don't start putting their laundry away, we'll be having Christmas without the presents, too.

I'll tell you one thing for free: we used to come home for dinner every Sunday, and it was a good thing. My Mom would make a mom dinner - roast beef, usually - but we all made the trek to the dining room on Sundays. Didn't matter if we lived in the same house or hours away, you knew if you weren't home on Sunday you were going to get a call. And we would fight and badger and laugh and be bored. We would look around that table at these people we were connected to by blood or wedding bands, and wonder if we could get out of next Sunday's dinner so we could do something else.

Looking back, I'm grateful I got to far more than I missed. I look at both of my sisters in the middle of this chaos, and I finally realize who I am thanking. This is where my children come from.

October 6, 2010


Covering Your Privates

Excellent essay on internet and social media security.

The fact I made this lovely lady spend some time with me in North Bay notwithstanding, she's a smartypants who really knows her stuff.

Read here. Great information you may not have realized, excellent reminder for things you may have forgotten.


I'm Gonna Live Forever...

So, according to this piece, researchers have discovered a liquid that extends life in mice.

May I request that they take their invention and hurl it down the toilet?

The mice in my house are living just long enough, thankyouverymuch. May I be so bold as to suggest they are actually living too long? Because anything that allows them to live long enough to crawl from their mother's womb, navigate my garage, scamper up the three concrete steps to my obviously-not-impermeable-door is too long.

I have a trap in my bread cupboard. I am aware that normal people have a bread box, or bin. But we are not normal people. We must have on hand, at all time, a loaf of rye, a loaf of bazillion grain bread, a loaf of whole wheat, two bags of bagels, a package of flax seed wraps (never know when someone is gonna want to stuff the leftovers into a wrap, and then stuff it in their mouth), hotdog buns, hamburger buns, and sometimes a loaf of Italian bread in case Mom makes garlic bread like she keeps promising but never delivering.

The mice love this cupboard. I stopped buying rye with caraway seeds. And the wraps with flax seed. Because. Ari spilled the pepper grinder yesterday, and I watched small black pellets spew on the counter and wanted to weep. I now must discern between caraway seeds, flax seed, peppercorns and mouse crap. My life is tough enough.

I turfed a fat little sucker two weeks ago. Somehow, they send out a signal, and the others stay away just long enough for me to get my guard down. I actually threw the little bugger out front in a bag as a kind of warning sign to his brethren; a mouse version of a head on a pole.

Maybe I'll get those live traps and collect a bunch, and mail them to the researchers.

Collect.


The Little Prick Defence

I've actually known people who used this excuse while driving. But I think I've decided it would have to actually be stuck inside your helmet with your head before I'd buy it in this case.

38 miles an hour over the limit. Isn't that what a Ducati is for?

October 4, 2010


Need To Laugh?

I'm having a horrendous day. Don't ask. But a friend sent this link, and I feel better.

It's the email dictionary you will want to share with all your friends. Actually, the whole site is pretty funny.

You're welcome.

Edit: This link is brought to you by Sarah. Happy, Sarah?

October 1, 2010


My Mom Loved Liberace

She also loved Rock Hudson. We had to have some really sad talks with my Mom at various times.

Anyway. Just to prove you never know what you'll find on this blog, I'm sending you to this delicious piece on Liberace. No, I never use that word. But it just seemed so...apt.

Very funny.

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Uhm, I Have a Question...

...or sixty.

Two stories in the past day or so have given me pause. While I was spanked for writing recently that sex offenders can indeed place themselves within the range of your kids, I still maintain now, as I did then, that it is not all that tough for them. Bad people work hard at being bad. They are good at it.

David Frost, that creep who escaped punishment in Ontario for being the original pig hockey coach (partying with his young players, screwing their girlfriends, on and on...)and most importantly, being at the root of the incarceration of Mike Danton, a young player in his charge who went on to play in the NHL. Oh, and apparently also went on to try to take out a hit on his former Svengali.

The whole thing was sordid. And gross. And the subsequent trial revealed even more sordid and gross. If they didn't convict Frost of anything illegal, he was certainly shown to be ... icky. Is calling someone 'icky' actionable?

Anyway. As you would imagine, he slunk away. Much like that coach who was convicted of sexually assaulting his young male players, Graham James. I'm going somewhere. Hang on.

Graham surfaced in Spain. He's been coaching kids for three years. Nice. And now, Frost has surfaced in California. He is coaching kids. Awesome. But Frost changed his name. You know why people change their names? To hide. He denies he is hiding. He just took his middle name and his wife's maiden name...to not hide. Maybe I'll change my name this afternoon. Not to hide. Just for a change. It's like changing wallpaper. Submit suggestions in comments. I'm partial to vowelly names.

Someone Googled 'Jim McCauley' or 'David Frost' and up came his doughy picture. Apparently, some parents had some qualms. But worse, some knew and didn't care. KNEW AND DIDN'T CARE.

Come on people. These are children. You're supposed to ask questions. Lots and lots of questions. Grown men don't materialize out of nowhere, and it's easier than ever to do some research. I'll take a stab at people who would send their teens to a hockey school without checking things out: they Google their kid's name every day (or their own), but never the 'coach'. Google as a vanity project, rather than a research tool.

I could end this here, but one more thing: in Toronto, where school board trustee elections are on the slate next month, a name has had to be removed from the ballot. Linda Pitney registered to run in Eglinton-Lawrence. Made it to the ballot.

Why? Because she was charged with threatening to bomb an elementary school and shoot its teachers. For 6 months she kept up her campaign.

Really stupid? She was removed from the ballot because she lived 100 km outside of the jurisdiction.

Thank god for the Al Caponish victories of small laws.

Because apparently, nobody can be bothered to ask any damned questions to keep these kinds of people away from our kids based on REAL crimes.

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