Today, a couple of updates to earlier blog entries (of course that means later or at least further-down-the-page ones if you're reading my blog in reverse chronological order!)

First, on this year's Census. As it turned out, there don't seem to have been any Statscanspolizei ready to pounce on anyone who didn't have the thing signed sealed & delivered by May 10. In fact, I even saw TV commercials several weeks after the originally-touted deadline urging us to complete the Census because of its value in planning services for Canadians - a "carrot" rather than a "stick" type of approach, in contrast to the original notification we got in our mailbox. I did, however, hear and read about plenty of frustrations with the way the thing was administered - particularly from residents of retirement and long-term care homes. There were a lot of residents who were ready, willing and able - even eager - to provide the required Census information about themselves, but were NOT EVEN ASKED!! Instead, the administrators of the residence were asked to provide some basic information for all of their people - less detailed, even, than that asked for on the short-form Census.

There are, of course, a number of problems with this approach. One thing I learned very early in my career with the public service was that wherever possible, personal information should be obtained directly from the horse's - er, human's - mouth. Or pen or keyboard or whatever. And Statistics Canada are supposed to be the experts on data collection, aren't they? I know whenever we wanted to survey even a small group of people - say, users of our library - we got cautioned that these things really should go through Statistics Canada because this wasn't a job for amateurs - or even for mere librarians!

The information obtained en bloc through these channels is less detailed, more apt to be erroneous, and will not conform to their own criteria of giving the long-form Census to one out of every however many (4? 6? 7?) people sampled. It's also very patronizing to this group of people and will not adequately represent their needs and perspectives when applying the Census data for research and planning and other purposes.

I dealt back in May with the particular problems I had with the Census, but I wasn't aware then of these other issues. And there are probably others that will come to light in the next few months or years. Let's hope they get addressed by 2021!

For my second update, I'll revisit our furnace woes that I last wrote about on March 14, 2015. During the winter of 2014-2015, we had persistent problems with our furnace failing to kick in if the indoor temperature dipped below wherever we'd set the thermostat to. Or it would start up very briefly if we turned the thermostat way up or pressed the reset button, but would stop again after perhaps 30 seconds, long before the house had reached a comfortable temperature. After my March 14 entry, I think we had one or two more instances of that problem before it finally got fixed once and for all, a week or two before the heating season ended!

Fortunately we were on Petro Canada's "furnace protection plan", so we weren't really out of pocket much, even when we had to call in a serviceman late in the evening or on a Sunday morning. But I guess they must have made a corporate decision soon afterwards that customers like us were not worth the trouble - because by the 2015-16 heating season they had contracted out their furnace servicing plans to a separate company! The pricing was very similar, we just started getting two separate bills. But I'm pleased to say that after a late start - and a correspondingly late finish - to Ottawa's winter of 2015-2016, we had no further problems with our furnace.
For prevention of forest fires, there was Smokey the Bear. In the water, there was Walter Safety. In the city, there was Elmer the Safety Elephant. Children of my generation certainly had no shortage of safety mascots. Were we any safer than previous generations - or subsequent ones? Were we happier? Or at least, more happy-go-lucky?

In a recent entry, I paid tribute to Patty Duke and mentioned an article I had saved in an old scrapbook. On the back of that scrapbook, a smiling Elmer reminded children of his six safety rules. Those rules have been reworded and re-illustrated since then and a seventh rule regarding seat belts and safety restraints in cars has been added, but apparently the Elmer program is still going strong as Elmer approaches his 70th birthday - right down to the little flags that may be flown by schools where there have been no traffic accidents involving their kids over the past 30 days.

That was interesting to me for a couple of reasons. First, I can't remember seeing an Elmer flag on a school flagpole in many years - maybe even decades. Does that reflect the fact that there are a lot more traffic accidents nowadays, or does it simply mean that there are fewer schools participating in the Elmer program? Or maybe they're participating in other ways, perhaps with computer games rather than flags and cuddly plush toys? You know, even back in the 80s or 90s. folklorist Phil Tilney expressed scepticism on CBC radio about the fact that the Elmer flag would come down for a month if a student was injured, dismissing it as some sort of an urban legend. But it definitely happened at the elementary schools I attended!

Secondly, given all the safety measures these days that are actually required by law, it would seem intuitively logical to me that there should be MORE safety mascots out there, not fewer, and they should be higher-profile than they were in my generation. These days it often seems to me that it's Safety First, Safety Last, and Safety Everywhere In-between. Are we still able and allowed to have fun? To lead an active lifestyle without constantly looking over our shoulder for the policeman to leap out of the bushes and arrest poor old Paul Soles? Is there still room for good judgement and the human factor, for assessing our own (and our children's) personality, level of skill, maturity, risks of the activity itself, etc., and then governing ourselves accordingly?

I definitely think things like bike helmets are a good thing, regardless of what the law says. But I also think there's a huge potential danger in putting too much of our faith and trust in laws and automated safety features and the like. Remember that old-fashioned saying "God helps those who help themselves?" As an atheist or agnostic who moves largely in secular circles, I might replace the word "God" with something like "Nature", but I agree with the basic idea. We need to harness our inner resources and human qualities rather than letting our judgement and problem-solving skills atrophy because we have a false sense of security about mindless and often quirky safety features. The laws and safety features are the tools we use to achieve certain objectives, so we shouldn't be at the mercy of them.

We also need to encourage our children to gradually hone their problem-solving skills, their judgement, and their capacity to take sensible risks if warranted (the old "nothing ventured, nothing gained" adage). This does, of course, take time. And yet, our social, legal and safety infrastructure does not necessarily take this into account. Independence is a process, not a birthday or a bar/bat mitzvah or a driver's licence or any isolated event, as any experienced parent will tell you.

I was struck by an article in Tuesday's paper with the alarmist headline "Study Finds 30% of Children Neglected". But after reading through the article itself, I decided the reality was rather different. Yes, quite a number of parents "sometimes" leave children aged 10 to 15 home alone. Well, by the age of 13 or 14, lots of kids are themselves babysitting. Does that mean that if you let your kids babysit before they're 16, you're automatically neglecting them? There's no mention of how LONG they were left alone, whether it was day or evening, what sort of neighbourhood they were in, how mature the kids were, and so on.

I've also been struck while watching various TV shows like Coronation Street by all the relatively old children - say, 10 or 11 or 12 - who have to be taken to school and brought home afterwards. That would have been unheard of when I was a kid, unless there were special circumstances. Even when I was in kindergarten, I was walking there and back again by myself after the first few days or weeks. And I'll readily admit that I wasn't the most mature 5-year-old out there!

I think we do our children a grave disservice if we insist until they're 13 or 16 or 18 that they mustn't do ANYTHING without adult supervision and then once they've reached that magic age, we suddenly give them all the freedom they think they've always wanted but now don't know what to do with! Come to think of it, maybe that's why half the 13-year-old girls on Coronation Street seem to get pregnant!

Is the world just more dangerous than it was a generation or two ago? Have we as a society become more paranoid? Are we losing or devaluing our humanity?

I don't know. But let's not forget that to a great extent, our job as parents is to ultimately put ourselves OUT of the job.
... but I'm afraid that if you can't or won't log in, you don't really count. Like most of the people I know in the various communities I belong to, I was glad that the Liberals reinstated the long-form census. That said, I believe there are still a number of problems with it. Some relate to the questions themselves, but the bigger problem is the way it's being administered and the accompanying instructions for how to complete it.

We received our notification this past Monday, in our Community Mailbox (thanks, Mr. Harper). It was a single sheet of paper, folded and sealed, which consisted of a "Secure Access Code" and a form letter from Wayne R. Smith, Chief Statistician of Canada. It outlined two possible ways to complete the Census: (1) Online (which clearly was the preferred way); and (2) By calling a toll-free number to request a paper version. It alleged that completing the census online was "quick and easy" and admonished (just in case we hadn't read it on the front before opening it) that completion of the census is required by law. In bold letters, it read "Please complete it by May 10".

Well, it seems you can't believe everything you read, even if the source is as reputable as the Government of Canada.

For starters, it seems that the computer system couldn't handle the surge of users eager to log on and fill in the Census (or more likely, eager to get their patriotic duty out of the way and off their to-do list). And let's remember that, even in 2016, not everyone owns or has access to a computer. Even if they do, I have to wonder whether we have almost reached that point where we are legally obligated to use a computer in our dealings with the Government (and with many other organizations besides)?!

Surely the use of a computer (or not) is still an individual choice in a free and democratic society? Or perhaps we need to enshrine it in the Charter?

Now let's suppose you're one of those Canadian residents without ready access to computer. Let's hope you at least have telephone service so you can phone and get your paper copy, though I suppose there are people - the homeless, for instance, or those "of no fixed address" where even this wouldn't be a valid assumption. If they're going to mail you a paper copy, I'm not convinced it would even reach you by the May 10 deadline, let alone allow for the necessary time to complete it and mail it back. Perhaps a Census officer would be available to deliver it to you in person and help you complete it on the spot? If you do phone for a paper copy, I shudder to think how long you'd have to wait on the line for the "next available agent" while they assure you that "your call is important to us"!

I seem to recall that for the 2011 Census, we received both a paper copy AND a code to log into the system for those who preferred to complete it online. And though we opted to complete it online, it sure was handy to have the paper census so we knew in advance what the questions would be, and what supplementary documentation we should have at hand if we wanted to complete it in one sitting. This time around, I learned on visiting the Census site that for those with the short version of the census, there would be NO option to come back later to finish it and that a page would time out after 20 minutes leaving you in illegal Census limbo if you needed a bathroom break or whatever. Talk about a lack of respect for those of us with wonky vision and arthritic keyboard-fingers!

Now, there are only two of us in our household and we are both retired, so finding a time when we were both available was not too much of a problem. But supposing there'd been seven or eight of us, all with different schedules and commitments. That would have been a nightmare.

We did do our Census online on Tuesday morning, like the good, polite, law-abiding Canadians we are. But I'd have to say that I found it neither quick nor easy. To begin with, I had no idea until I logged on with our access code whether we would be dealing with the short- or the long-form Census. It wasn't until I saw the "come back later" button at the bottom of a screen that it dawned on me that we had been presented with the long one. And once all the questions had been answered to the best of our respective abilities, it occurred to me that a Census is generally a snapshot in time, and the questions (in theory at least) were being asked for the situation on May 10, 2016. So if anything dramatic happens between now and Tuesday, it's possible that one or more of our answers may prove to be incorrect. But I was so busy obeying the stern warning to complete it "by May 10" (which to me means that on the day itself would be acceptable but sooner is better) that that little wrinkle did not occur to me until afterwards.

I'll just touch briefly on the questions themselves. With both the short- and long-form versions, there's the issue of gender and the gender-binary. I don't know if the questions relating to ethnicity were on both versions of the census, but they did involve a fair amount of discussion on "Who do we think we are?" Questions about how much we spent on home maintenance and utilities and so on also involved a certain amount of guesstimation. We had to make some judgement calls about whether certain health conditions were chronic and to what extent other past diseases and health issues should be listed. But I can see how the aggregate answers to such questions could be very useful in terms of planning future services.

One saving grace in the choice of questions was the free-form one at the end, in which we were asked to indicate any questions we had trouble answering, or any general comments about the Census itself. Still, I think if I'd had a paper census in front of me and had been able to think it over at my leisure, the quality (and perhaps quantity in terms of level of detail) of my answers would have been correspondingly better.

I suspect the decade of Conservative rule has taken its toll on the Census-taking infrastructure. But I hope my - and everyone else's - comments will be taken to heart in the design of the 2021 Census!
On Monday afternoon, as a Friend of the Library and Archives of Canada, I attended a lecture by Caroline Brazier, head of the British Library, speaking about the value of national libraries. She's an engaging speaker and made some excellent points. Her central thesis was that there have been changes over the years in HOW they do things, but not so much in WHAT they do. She also referred to some research done by John Holden on attributes of public value, which I may look up later.

She began her talk by outlining three major functions of a national library: custodianship, research and business. Of these, she considers custodianship (encompassing things like collection, preservation and ongoing care and maintenance) to be at the heart of everything else they do. Well, right there I was hooked! A lot of the problems of modern librarianship, in my opinion, stem from the wanton disregard of the physical form of the documentary entity. A recent Librarian and Archivist of Canada (who fortunately has now moved on) spoke blithely about freeing information from the constraints of its "containers" as if the physical format were but an accident of fate and an inconsequential vessel! Well, I guess if you're responsible for safeguarding 800-year-old original copies of the Magna Carta, maybe you view things a little differently?

In Canada over the past ten or fifteen years, we have seen the disbanding of the Canadian Book Exchange Centre, the closure of numerous federal government libraries, the gutting of the interlibrary loans network, and... well, I won't go on because it's just too depressing. Still, the (fairly) new Librarian & Archivist has shown more promise with, for example, the Sylvestre-Wallot lecture series (of which Brazier's lecture was one) and the offer of collaboration with Ottawa Public Libraries opening up the possibility of a "Grande Bibliotheque" for Ottawa akin to the one in Montreal.

But I digress. Getting back to Holden's research on the attributes of public value, Brazier said that national libraries have an intrinsic value, an instrumental value and an institutional value (the 3 i's?). She then mentioned more specific values, which I suspect could be grouped under the three general categories, maybe with a certain amount of overlap. Service value. Cultural value (she referred to some of their exhibitions, for example). Social value (for example, she said she was quite proud of the fact that a number of visitors said they offered the best cup of coffee in the area!)

Of course, libraries are constantly looking for stable sources of funding and that can involve quantifying the touchy-feely remarks about how and why people love their libraries in general, and the British Library in particular. In one study, visitors to the British Library were polled about the primary purpose of their visit. The results were interesting:

cultural: 32%
academic research: 30%
"personal escape": 21%
individual research: 10%
work: 7%

I don't know if visitors were presented with these categories at the time of their visit or if the responses were totally free-form and grouped into categories later. Still, I found it fascinating that one in five people apparently views the library first and foremost as a means of personal escape. I wonder what people would say about the Library and Archives of Canada. Has a similar study ever been done here?

One thing Caroline Brazier stressed very clearly was the danger of measuring the wrong things. As she felt is often done in, for example, the health care system. A case of lies, damned lies and statistics?

I'll have more to say on that one in a forthcoming blog entry about my frustrations with this year's Census.
Beverly Cleary, author of a popular series of children's books, turned 100 this past week. When asked to explain her popularity, she said that she has always written to entertain, not to teach moral lessons. But she did apparently worry back in the 1980s about how celebrity-oriented the children of that generation were becoming. Is that even more of a concern in the age of Internet and instant gratification? Or perhaps the thirst for stardom has abated now that any kid (within the limits of whatever parental controls are imposed) can go on Facebook or Twitter or YouTube and be seen and also heard?

Ramona was originally a supporting character in the Henry Huggins books but went on to become a bigger star than Henry. Evidently a lot of kids - myself included - could relate to being the bratty tagalong younger sister!

Ramona went on to have her own TV series starring Canada's own Sarah Polley as Ramona. In fact, I think it was the first series I remember seeing Sarah Polley in, though of course she went on to star as Sara Stanley in Road to Avonlea, and then to acting and directing for the big screen. Not all child actors are able (nor perhaps willing) to transition as well to adult roles. Megan Follows, for example, who at one time seemed to be in virtually every obscure CBC drama out there, as well as the famous ones like Anne of Green Gables, doesn't seem to be nearly so high-profile nowadays. Or perhaps she has simply pursued a different route (maybe stage-acting or some creative endeavour that's primarily behind the scenes)?

I wonder if we can expect any new stories from Beverly Cleary. Or perhaps one of her descendants will pick up the mantle using some of the same characters? Whatever the case, she will be leaving a rich legacy that will entertain many generations to come!
Crisp? Cubed, perhaps?

Nootrobox Inc. has come out with a product called Go Cubes, chewable gummies that contain as much caffeine per cube as half a cup of coffee. I don't know if that's half a cup as in 125 ml., half a regular-sized Tim's Dishwater Blend or half a grandissimo espresso. It'll probably catch on at least as a novelty item, similar to the "astronaut ice cream" (which bore no resemblance taste-wise to the real thing) they used to sell at toy stores. Maybe it could be served at Pi Day Coffee Circle, in keeping with the geometric theme. But is it of some practical value too?

I can think of a couple of uses. If you want to stay wide awake during the complete Ring cycle (be it the Wagner operas or all of the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings films) without having to miss half the action as you pop out to the loo and wring YOURSELF out, then Go Cubes are the way to go - without "going".

Ditto for transatlantic flights where you're scrunched into the middle seat and can't get to the washroom without disrupting your neighbour - that's assuming they'll ALLOW you to leave your seat, which they don't during takeoff, landing or turbulence. But you'll need to be extra-alert once you reach your destination, even though you're dimly aware you've lost your night en route. I mean, how else are you going to understand all those trick questions they ask you at the border, or remember to pick up all your baggage and important documents you need to bring with you when you get through the airport? And you probably don't want to just go to your hotel and crash for several hours, because then you'll be wide awake and raring to go by midnight in your new time zone!

Most of the time, I plan to get my coffee the good old-fashioned way, so I can enjoy the taste and the ritual of sitting down with my papers and puzzles. But for special situations like those I outlined above, I might give Go Cubes a go.

Will that be one lump or two?
But Patty's only seen the sights a girl can see in Brooklyn Heights - what a crazy pair!

Patty Duke died last week at the age of 69. I admired the work she did in many different areas, but my first introduction to her was through the Patty Duke Show, which I started watching when I was in grade five and didn't stop watching until it went off the air three or four seasons later. I also saw both movie versions of the Miracle Worker: the one where she played Helen Keller and years later, the one where she took up the role of Helen Keller's teacher, Annie Sullivan. Still looking at her screen career, I also saw her in Billie and in Call Me Anna, based on her memoir of the same name.

Then there was her singing career. I still have two of her hit singles, released by United Artists: Don't Just Stand There, and Funny Little Butterflies.

But impressive though her acting and singing careers were, perhaps her most far-reaching accomplishment was the work she did in putting a human face to mental illness, particularly bipolar disorder, and helping to destigmatize it.

I recently went through a couple of my scrapbooks from the sixties, where I came across an article by James Quig of Weekend Magazine (That was in the days when the Saturday paper came with several full-colour supplements!) The captions on the accompanying photos are interesting to say the least.

"Like any other teenager, Patty adores new clothes. Helped by a wardrobe assistant, she chooses a dress for her new film."

"From the sidewalks of New York: pert Patty Duke is riding high with three show business careers keeping her right at the top."

"It's work, work, work for Patty Duke but that's what she likes."

The reality, it seems, was rather different.

To be fair, it's possible that the author had little say over the layout or captions, as the body of his article is considerably less gushy and makes it clear that Patty Duke's life was not just about pretty clothes and adoring fans. Still, there's a stark disconnect between the carefully packaged image of the good wholesome American teen and the inner mental torment she was going through and that she was later to reveal in her books.

And the slings and arrows came not just from within, but also from without. Apparently she went from a less than ideal home life to an even more controlling life with the Ross family, where she was never allowed to go anywhere alone or please herself about anything, and where her identity as Anna was arbitrarily co-opted and she became "Patty" . When she was filming the Patty Duke Show, she was made to go back and forth between two different dressing rooms (one marked Patty, the other marked Cathy) as a bizarre publicity gimmick - even though everyone knew the two roles were played by the same person.

The Pepsi Generation is slowly dying out, and this is one member of that generation who will be sorely missed.
We all know that food is about more than just physical nourishment. It's interesting to note how many religions prescribe periods of fasting for several weeks - Lent, Passover, Ramadan - followed by a day or so of feasting. So for now, let's leave aside aside illness, weight-loss diets, food allergies and sensitivities and consider the following question: What psychological and spiritual benefits do people derive from observing periods of fasting?

At first blush, the requirements imposed upon our diets by religious doctrine would seem in many ways to be diametrically opposed to those recommended by standard health and medical guides. For example, we are told that yo-yo dieting is bad for us and moreover, crash-diets for weight loss purposes do not work. If you go on a very strict diet, your metabolism will just slow down so that when you start eating normally again, weight will pile on even more quickly. We are also told that it's better to eat high-calorie foods early in the day and to eat more lightly in the evening. That way, we work off the calories in the course of our daily activities and in the evening, our bodies have time to assimilate the evening meal before we go to bed.

But isn't a fast period, followed by a feast day (or even feast-week), followed by a normal everyday diet (whatever that is), precisely an example of yo-yo dieting? And in many cases, the fast period calls for total abstinence from solid food between sun-up and sun-down, followed by a meal (though admittedly a light one) after dark.

There have to be some benefits to the fast period, other than the confidence that God won't strike you down with a thunderbolt!

I suspect it has something to do with generally slowing you down, giving you the personal space - as well as the social and community permission - for quiet reflection without constant bombardment from the all-pervasive technological distractions. The idea that the unexamined life is not worth living.

On the other hand, I guess a cynic would say that if you're food-deprived, sleep-deprived and getting headaches and dizziness and delirium as a result, you're that much more likely to see visions and mirages - which you'll interpret as signs from the gods if you happen to be a believer.

Or maybe, as boring and wishy-washy as it sounds, the truth lies somewhere in between?
Actually its birthday was yesterday. Yes, on March 25, 2012, I wrote my first-ever blog entry. It was a leap year, as is this year - although my February 29 2016 marked my first-ever leap-day as a blogger. On March 26, 2012, exactly four years ago, I wrote about Hugh Adami's column in the Ottawa Citizen and how the media in general can serve as a pillar of justice, basically keeping people honest because they have a vested interest in avoiding negative publicity.

In many ways, that's even more true now than it was in 2012 because usage of social media sites is more widespread. One outraged tweet from someone who's had lousy service from a taxi company is enough to get hordes of people flocking to Uber and urging everyone else to do likewise.

In another interesting coincidence, Hugh Adami is retiring and his final column - a look back at the highlights of his career - appears in today's paper. And what was the first highlight he mentioned, complete with photo? Why, the firing of Dan Brown (no relation as far as I know to the author of the Da Vinci Code and other bestselling novels), the security guard who wasn't bilingual - a move that was hastily reversed because of the public outrage sparked by Adami's column.

Most of the issues I was writing about are still relevant now, although in the next few weeks I may offer a few updates on various themes. And there are also some fairly new or emerging - or re-emerging - issues. So here's to another four years - and beyond!
The President of the Treasury Board has promised that under the Liberals, we can look forward to a new golden age for public service workers. For the sake of our children's and grandchildren's future career prospects, I really hope that's true. They have an ambitious agenda ahead of them; on the other hand, many public servants who have survived a decade under the Conservatives are feeling that almost anything would be better than the status quo!

On May 3 2012, I wrote a piece in praise of formal credentials, expressing the view that in the shift towards competency-based human resource regimes, recruiters were placing undue emphasis on the "soft skills" at the expense of professional knowledge and experience. While I still stand by what I wrote nearly four years ago, it has since occurred to me that there are definitely some soft skills or competencies in which the baby boom generation tends to excel.

The first of these is loyalty, both to the organization as a whole and to one's specific department and work unit. When overwhelmed by bureaucratic red tape and the stresses and annoyances of office politics, we could always shrug and say "Oh well - it's all pensionable service!" Even when faced with having to defend a policy that we didn't personally agree with, we would try to reframe things a bit and emphasize the positive aspects. And because there was such a diversity of types of work in the public service, we could always meanwhile start applying for jobs that were more to our liking, or more in synch with our personal values and ideals. Because when we signed up for a public service career in the 1970s, it really did look as if we would be guaranteed a job for life. Maybe not one with a fabulous salary, but certainly a secure one, where our credentials would be recognized and we would get our annual increments, if not promotions, and have a decent pension at the end of it all.

Supplemental to loyalty was discretion. We would generally refrain from making public statements that related to policies or directives that were still in the works, or were seriously at odds with what our political bosses were trying to implement. In return, as long as we were performing our job duties properly and in good faith, we enjoyed a certain immunity from prosecution or the duty to testify in public fora, via the doctrine of ministerial responsibility and deputy ministerial accountability. This was - and, I would argue, had to be - something that came from within. And of course, public servants' freedom to speak out depended on the level and nature of their jobs! I'm not talking about penning a song about the prime minister on your own time while fulfilling your job responsibilities to study migratory bird patterns during working hours. Nor about those who argued - again on their own time - that metrication was a misguided direction for the government to take, even though the performance of their own job was in no way compromised.

Once politicians, political appointees and senior public servants began to chip away at the founding values of the public service - "downsizing" and "rightsizing" those who had been led to believe their jobs were secure, watering down the doctrine of ministerial accountability, eliminating severance pay, trying to eliminate banked sick leave that had already been negotiated at the bargaining table, and so on - then all bets were off. It's something that our new government will definitely need to address if it truly wants this new golden age to come about.

Another area where I believe the boomer generation excels is in terms of patience, analytical skill, and the ability to take the long-term view. The organization I worked at for the last eight years of my public service career was big on management training. To be honest, I don't think in retrospect that it was an ideal environment for me. But I tried to do my best and play the game as I saw it at the time. During a "learning circle", one fellow boomer participant lamented, "Whatever happened to the days when you just came to work and did your job?" She felt that the new recruits were wanting to know right away when they would be promoted or when they'd get to go to a conference or when someone was going to come and ensure their workstation was ergonomically correct or whatever. In short, they seemed to be preoccupied with everything EXCEPT the day-to-day logistics of their work. I guess these newbies were, in a sense, taking a broader view of their work life - it's just that they wanted their personal medium- and long-term goals to be achieved right now, if not yesterday, and there seemed to be no sense of aligning their own goals with those of their work unit!

All of which brings me to another competency that I believe baby-boomers can offer: that of bridging the generation gap. Boomers have been the eager young pups just starting out and they are also finding themselves in an environment where their skill sets and personal values may be seen as quaint or obsolete. Outside of their work environment, they may well be performing sandwich-generation roles as caregivers to aging parents or other elders, while they themselves are dealing with some of the health concerns associated with aging. While every generation may have slightly different priorities and preoccupations, I would suggest that the baby-boom generation often has a lot of practice in mediating between the various age-groups.

So by all means, let's put in place the conditions that will attract young people to the public service. But let's not throw out the baby - or in this case the older generations - with the bathwater. We need a diverse workforce that will represent the range of values and priorities of our national mosaic.
One trend I really don't understand is colouring books directed at adults. I mean, if you enjoy colouring and find it relaxing to focus on something like that, or if you find the repetitive activity somehow soothing, then more power to you - but it's not really for me.

It's odd in a way, because I AM quite interested in the "book arts" - bookbinding, paper making, preservation and so on. And for me, there's no substitute for good old-fashioned paper. The feel and touch and smell of a good book or a "real" (as opposed to electronic or microfilmed) newspaper from yesteryear and elsewhere-town. I'll patiently line up for quite a while to have a book signed or personalized by a favourite local or not-so-local author. I love combing second-hand bookshops and rummage sales for that quirky out-of-print or small print-run book that you'd never come across in one of the chain stores like Chapters or Indigo - or even at your public library.

And yet, it's precisely that kind of store that seems to be capitalizing on the trend towards adult colouring books, presumably because these days they figure people are more likely to buy them (along with shawls and scented candles and candy) even if they do all their reading on their tablets or e-book-readers. Or maybe it's that there's a higher markup and profit margin on that type of merchandise? Certainly it's harder to pass something like that on to your friends and family after you're done with it - you can't just erase it and re-use it like you can with a slate or Etch-a-sketch or old-fashioned board that worked with a little magnet and iron filings! Or, for that matter, with some kind of computerized colouring or designing software (at least until that particular version or format becomes obsolete).

Perhaps the appeal is that you end up with potentially hangable, frame-able artwork afterwards, even if it's not your own original design? I've certainly done needlework kits and embroidered pre-set or stamped designs on things, so it's not as if I object to absolutely everything that's not totally original. Maybe it's partly that I don't think I've ever been very good at colouring, so I don't really get any sense of accomplishment from it? I've always felt somewhat awkward and uncoordinated so for me it would probably just be stressful to feel I had to colour neatly or between the lines or whatever.

But dare I hope that for those who DO embrace the adult colouring book trend, it may become some sort of "gateway drug", ushering in a renaissance of good old-fashioned publishing and beautiful leather-bound quality-paper books?
We finally have two visions for Lebreton Flats on the table. Sort of. The bidders aren't allowed to publicly discuss financing, or so they say. Nonetheless, the two proposals have captured public interest in Ottawa, with presentations to standing-room-only crowds earlier this week.

If I had to choose one or the other, I'd go with the DCDLS proposal, Lebreton Reimagined. I quite like the idea of Lebreton Flats as a kind of cultural hub, with museums, a major library, and plenty of parkland and space for outdoor festivals and other activities, all anchored by accessible public transit. If it rejuvenates the west side of downtown and revitalizes the Sparks Street pedestrian mall after many decades of relative dormancy, then so much the better! I'd also like to see a more extensive underground city, given that Ottawa is by many measures the world's coldest and snowiest national capital, not to mention having one of the highest incidences of freezing rain in the country. If Montreal is the city we're trying to emulate at the moment - and I get the sense it is, given that Montrealer Melanie Jolie is responsible for the Capital Region, our PM spent a good deal of his childhood and youth there, and the possible partnership between the Ottawa Public Library and Library and Archives Canada would be to a great extent modelled on Montreal's La Grande Bibliotheque - then maybe there really is a future for Underground Ottawa. Of course, Place de Ville was modelled on Montreal's Place Ville Marie but has met the same fate as the aforementioned (and adjoining) Sparks Street Mall! Dare we hope that while Ottawa was not ready for it in the 1960s, it may be now, or at least by 2020?

The main problem I have with both bids is that while my Canada and my National Capital Region definitely include Quebec, they don't include a hockey stadium in downtown Ottawa. I have nightmares of not being able to get anywhere NEAR the library (or for that matter the other cultural attractions) on game nights! As for this notion that we must also have condos and a shopping centre on the site, I sometimes wonder what planet these people think they're on. This city is already overloaded with condos and cold, impersonal big-box shopping centres! The representative for the DCDLS proposal said that there's something for everyone in the package. To me, that's precisely the problem. I think if you set out to be all things to all people, you usually end up doing nothing really well.

I guess time will tell, although I don't know if I'll actually live long enough to see the outcome of all this!
What did you do in 2015 that you'd never done before?
Did the Walk to Fight Arthritis. Underwent eye surgery.

Did you keep your New Year's resolutions and will you make more?
I don't really do resolutions but I do have a couple of goals for 2016. One is to learn more about Muslims (particularly Muslim women) and the Islamic faiths in general. The other is to explore art therapy and journalling therapy.

Did anyone close to you give birth?
Yes - my daughter.

Did anyone close to you die?
My mother-in-law. A close friend's mother. A few others who weren't super-close but their deaths were still a bit of a shock.

What countries did you visit?
I didn't travel outside the country or even outside Ontario and Quebec.

What would you like to have in 2016 that you lacked in 2015?
More energy and better eyesight.

What dates from 2015 will remain etched on your memory and why?
April 21, 3:30 AM (when we got the call about my mother-in-law) and all day May 27 and 28 (when we looked after grandchildren #1 and 2 and awaited the arrival of #3)

What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Probably integrating two 13-year-old cats into our family.

What was your biggest failure?
I'd say the failure to divest myself of some of my excess possessions and organize the rest, and maybe the failure to update my will, PoA, etc.

Did you suffer illness or injury?
Nothing life-threatening, but I did experience a resurgence of my arthritis and a problem with my left eye that required surgery.

What was the best thing someone bought you?
If it has to be something bought, then possibly... a yoga mat? It's something I wouldn't have thought to buy myself, and I do find it useful. If I can include home-made items that were given to me, I'd say the cards made for me by my grandson, and a very interesting game he gave me (that I still haven't completely figured out how to play).

Whose behaviour merited celebration?
I was really quite touched by the outpouring of support and encouragement by family, friends and colleagues as I went through various life-moments such as the loss of my m-i-l, my walk for arthritis, and my eye surgery.

Where did most of your money go?
Various things around the house.

What did you get really really excited about?
Grandkids and cats.

What song will always remind you of 2015?
Harperman, it's time for you to go!

Compared to this time last year, are you (a) happier or sadder, (b) thinner or fatter, (c) richer or poorer?
(a) a little sadder as I contemplate the limits of my mortal existence, (b) about the same, (c) slightly poorer, although finances are not a big concern.

What do you wish you'd done more of?
Maybe exploring new things.

What do you wish you'd done less of?
All those health maintenance activities (doctors' appointments, blood tests, filling and picking up prescriptions, etc.) which, while necessary, detract from time I'd prefer to be spending on other things. Also time spent on boring paperwork and in endless telephone-tree hell.

How did you spend Christmas?
Most of the socializing was on Christmas Eve when my daughter's family were over. Christmas Day was quiet but pleasant. New Year's Eve we stayed home and barely managed to stay up till midnight, when we split a tiny bottle of fake champagne (with a fake cork in it). New Year's Day evening was a bit of a TV-watching marathon with 2 hours of Coronation Street followed by 1.5 hours of Sherlock.

Did you fall in love in 2015?
Absolutely.

How many one night stands?
We always buy nightstands in pairs, one for each side of the bed. They have doors hinged on opposite sides so each of us can easily access their own stuff - unless of course one of us gets up on the wrong side of the bed.

What was your favourite TV program?
In terms of fairly new programs, I've rather been enjoying The Librarians, which airs at 8PM Sundays on Space.

What was the best book you read?
Maybe the one by David Lagerkrantz which was a fictionalized account of the death of Alan Turing, told from the point of view of the police sergeant investigating the case. The same author has also written a sequel to the Stieg Larsson books entitled The Girl in the Spider's Web, which I hope to read in 2016.

What was your greatest musical discovery?
Requiem for the Fourteen Roses, written by local musician Elise Letourneau in 2014 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Montreal Massacre. We actually went to a performance of it here in Ottawa for the 26th anniversary.

What did you want and get?
A healthy third grandchild. A more progressive government. And a new sofa for the living room.

What did you want and not get?
We didn't make much headway on home improvements (new bathroom, new windows, heat recovery ventilator), for various reasons.

What did you do on your birthday?
Went to see the movie Mr. Holmes, in Kanata. Stopped off at the cemetery to visit my parents' graves on the way home. Went out to dinner at Asian Stars.

What one thing would have made your life immeasurably more satisfying?
I don't know - maybe a second life, provided it was a good one!

How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2015?
Classic easy-care casual.

What kept you sane?
I really treasured my alone-time, whether at home or out and about.

What political issue stirred you the most?
I'd say the events in Paris - first the Charlie Hebdo business and later the attacks in November. I had just been in France (Lyon and Paris) in August of 2014 to attend a conference and I really enjoyed soaking up the atmosphere in the Saint-Germain-des Pres area of Paris - it's sad to think that many people aren't or don't feel safe there any more and that I'll likely never go back.

Who/what do you miss?
All the significant people in my life who are now gone. My youthful self and energy levels.

Who was the best new person you met?
My new granddaughter.

Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2015.
The world won't fall apart if I don't read the newspaper cover-to-cover and do all my Sudokus and Kenkens every day.
And for those who like to rock... sorry, but the rocking chair has been removed to make way for a vitrectomy chair.

On November 23, I had eye surgery to repair a macular hole in my left eye. The thinning of the macula was forcing away the vitreous gel in the eye and resulting in poor straight-ahead vision in my left eye. If I looked at an image through that eye, the image would appear all broken-up. So the procedure involved scraping away the vitreous residue and injecting a gas bubble, which then was to expand and close the gap. Or something like that - that's a layperson's interpretation of it, anyway!

The good news is that the surgery seems to have been successful. The not-as-good news is that the convalescence has been a little more arduous than I expected.

Although it was just day surgery and I was conscious (though sedated and fitted with an intravenous drip) throughout, the usual pre- and post-surgery instructions still applied. No solid food after midnight the evening before, and only clear fluids the morning of. So I had a cup of black coffee and a glass of apple juice (milk and o.j. were off-limits) before arriving for my 7AM appointment. After surgery I was to spend as much time as possible - at least 45 minutes of every hour - in a face-downward position, for 5 to 7 days. Hence the aforementioned vitrectomy chair. No lifting any weight greater than 20 lb. for at least two weeks, and no strenuous exercise for at least a month.

As it turned out, I didn't use the vitrectomy chair very much. Nor did I need the contraption designed for lying down - a pillow with a hole in the middle, supported by a metal frame. They're clever devices, mind you, and the rental fee was mostly refunded by my supplementary health care plan.

I had initially assumed that I would be required to sleep on my stomach, not a very natural position for me. Not so. I was told instead to lie on my right side, with my chin tucked in towards the pillow. For sitting up, I was instructed to simply look down at my lap as if I was reading. There was no particular requirement to put my nose practically down to my knee. The few times I did use my special chair, I just listened to music or looked down at my laptop (resting it on the little shelf below) so I could deal with e-mails, surf the net and enlarge the font as needed.

What I wasn't so prepared for was the dramatic drop in my energy levels and overall stamina. For the first week, I didn't go out at all, except for my 8AM appointment the next day to get my eye-patch off (enabling me once again to wear my glasses), and then again at the end of the week to return the rented equipment. For a couple of days, about all I felt like doing was flopping in bed, listening to the radio. I gradually started getting up for a little longer each day. In the second week, I resumed my daily morning walks, although I still didn't have much energy. And I wasn't really confident enough to go out alone, since my eyes weren't functioning in tandem - they still aren't, although they're much better than they were and improving day by day.

My first solo foray was on December 7, exactly 2 weeks after my surgery. I went to a library community holiday social at a downtown pub. I also bought myself a new pair of winter boots, with retractable ice grippers in the soles. I'm terrified of falling, since my weird vision is making me into even more of a klutz than usual. Luckily we've been having an unseasonably mild December so far, so there was no ice or snow to worry about that day.

My 2-week post-surgical checkup was two days later, on December 9 at the Retina Centre. I had somehow naively expected that by then, my vision might almost be back to normal but my doctor, although reasonably pleased with my progress, informed me that the blurriness in my left eye would persist for several more weeks or even a few months yet. He also said the pressure in the eye was up a bit, although that wasn't unusual after this operation. He prescribed eyedrops to counteract that. Given that my dad had glaucoma and my mother had macular degeneration (not the same thing as a macular hole), I'm crossing my fingers and hoping for the best... as well as donating to the Foundation Fighting Blindness, which seems to have funded a few promising research breakthroughs in recent years. Still, when I asked the doctor if my macular hole was an inherited condition, he said no, I was just unlucky. Hmmm.

I made another solo foray on December 16, when I attended a seasonal breakfast at Gibsons (which used to be the Southern Cross). Afterwards, I did a bit of Christmas shopping and returned home about 1PM. It could almost have 1AM, I was so exhausted. I've developed a new appreciation this year for online Christmas shopping!

So far, I'm definitely glad I got the surgery done. I did fleetingly wonder when I signed the waiver if I was signing my life away, even though the odds were certainly in my favour. I was told that in about 10% of cases, the eye will revert to how it was before and that there was a 1% chance of "something really bad" happening. When I asked for clarification of "really bad", he said "well, like an infection or something like that." But it was already starting to heal the next day and progress has been steady if a little slower than I hoped. The staff at the Riverside, the Retina Centre and even Handi-House where I rented the equipment were all very attentive and solicitous.

My next doctor's appointment will be towards the end of January. I mustn't fly anywhere for several months and it will probably be about that long before I can get my eyes tested again and reliably determine what sort of a glasses prescription I need. But in general, the future looks fairly rosy and hopefully not so blurry!
Some time in the 70s, there used to be a TV commercial for CN Rail saying that before the national railway was built, we lacked a convenience that Canadians nowadays take for granted. My dad once harumphed with his usual dry humour that Canada was still quite lacking in public "conveniences"!

Today is World Toilet Day. Over a billion people worldwide still lack access to a toilet. At least a billion more live in impoverished areas which lack proper sanitation, where people become seriously ill or even die from diseases that could be easily prevented, treated or cured in the developed world.

But while Third World toiletlessness certainly has the most dramatic and catastrophic repercussions, toilet politics are by no means confined to the developing world.

With light rail coming to Ottawa, folks are urging the City to ensure that adequate public toilet facilities are available in the major stations. And yes, there's an app for that. The "Gottago" app available through your smartphone will tell you how close you are to the nearest public washroom. And probably map out how to get there too.

Probably coincidentally, tomorrow is Trans Day of Remembrance, a day when trans and gender-fluid folks and those supportive of them gather downtown to remember victims of transphobia. Remember the kerfuffle about the transgender rights Bill? It got bogged down (pun definitely intended), all because quite a number of gender-normative folks were uneasy about the possibility of voyeuristic trans-women and cross-dressers wreaking havoc on ladies' rooms. Some pretty harsh and unladylike words were exchanged on all sides!

Personally, I think the washroom issue is and should be kept entirely separate from the LGBTQ rights issue. The fact is, plenty of people - in all walks of life and of all family statuses and degrees of disability and sexual orientations and gender identities and expressions - are uncomfortable using many public washrooms as they currently exist. And the solution is probably not (or not primarily) a legislative one, in my opinion. But a public facility warrants public consultation (or at least the opportunity for consultation) with all interested stakeholders - which in this case is virtually everyone!

The move towards "Family Washrooms" in many shopping malls and other public places is a good start. Change tables in the Gents' as well as the Ladies'. Or more of the unisex one-holers. When there are stalls, they should be fairly roomy if possible, and equipped for folks with wheelchairs and walkers. And of course, they need to be properly serviced and maintained!

So often, toilet facilities are either an afterthought or an excuse for discrimination. Well, we can't have women working on a construction site because they can't pee into a bottle. We can't hire anyone who relies on a wheelchair or walker because our only washrooms are up a long flight of steps. And so on.

We certainly have the technology and the necessary infrastructure in this part of the world to build and make adequate facilities available to all who need them. But do we have the will?

I think we do, but in order to make it happen, we need to come out of the closet - in this case, the water closet - and actually talk about it.
In this case, the question is almost a literal one. One of the Liberals' campaign promises was to save home delivery of mail. And early this week, the head of Canada Post decided to halt the installation of new community mailboxes. But even if the eventual decision is to keep home delivery for those who still have it, for us it will be too little too late. Or as Maxwell Smart put it, "missed it by THAAAT much!"

We got the keys for our community mailbox last Thursday and began picking up our mail there on Monday. So far it's gone fairly smoothly, although we still don't know what time the box gets filled, assuming it even does happen at a consistent time of day. If you check it and it's empty, you can't be sure if you just didn't get mail that day or if it'll come later... unless of course there are neighbours there at the same time who do have mail. Then again, maybe some folks don't check their boxes every day, so it could be yesterday's mail they're collecting.

It won't be much fun in the dead of winter, when we'll all have to bundle up in winter gear just to get our mail. Or to see that there wasn't any mail after all, or just junk mail that other people have scattered about because they don't figure it's worthwhile carting home! It won't be fun if I get another flare-up of my rheumatoid arthritis and my knees swell to three times their normal size. And for a week or so after my eye surgery in November, I'll be spending nearly all my time face-down, staring at the floor or couch or whatever while the eye recovers, so I doubt that I'll be getting out much then, even to fetch mail!

Of course there are a lot of important issues on the Government to-do list, and it could be argued that the matter of mail delivery pales in comparison to Syrian refugees and long-form censuses (censi?) and trade agreements and anti-terror legislation and electoral and senate reform.

Maybe in spring, just as the weather is getting nicer again and it's easier getting out and about, we'll actually get door to door delivery back, if we're lucky. But I have a catchy little ditty for the incoming government, one that I used to see on postmarks way back when (btw, does anyone actually collect stamps and first-day covers and postmarks any more, you might well ask?): Why wait for spring? Do it now!
Back in 1968, Canada elected a swinging "young" prime minister, Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

Only thing is, he was nearly fifty!

Also in 1968, a movie was released, Wild in the Streets. It featured a catchy soundtrack of songs by the fictional band Max Frost and the Troopers, one of which was "Fourteen or Fight", advocating a lowering of the (U.S.) voting age from 21 to 14. At that time, you had to be at least 21 to vote in Canada as well.

In the "Wild in the Streets" scenario, folks were shipped off to concentration camp once they reached the age of thirty. Of course, the inevitable happened. The leader of the youth uprising, Max Frost, already 25 when the film began, soon realized he was rapidly reaching the artificially-imposed age of decrepitude. "Nothing can change the shape of things to come" warned another song from that movie.

According to Wikipedia, which may or may not be a reliable source, folksinger Phil Ochs (who committed suicide at a rather early age) was offered the role of Max Frost but turned it down. Apparently he didn't approve of the storyline, though evidently he later decided he wanted to die before he got old.

Fast forward to 2015. Our voting age has been 18 since the early 1970s, round about the time Trudeau fils was born. He'd like to be Canada's next prime minister, but his detractors are saying he's "just not ready". Really? Personally, I'd have said he'd been groomed for the role since birth, if not before! But then again, it's not young people who are clamouring for the vote these days! Fourteen or fight? It's enough of a battle to get the 18-to-30 demographic out to the polls! Apparently it's only about a third of them who plan to vote and presumably even less who are taking a more active role in the current election campaign. Those most likely to vote and get actively involved are seniors, especially the younger seniors, those baby boomers who would have been between 14 and 21 back in 1968!

To be sure, it may simply be that baby boomers are more likely to be retired and have the time to get involved. It may be that more young people would vote if we made it more convenient for them - say, by allowing them to vote online, or by making the identification process less stringent. Still, many seniors manage to vote in spite of major mobility and identification challenges!

Were young people more or less political back in the day? Certainly the anti-Vietnam war protests spread to Canada, for a variety of reasons. But then there was also the turning on and dropping out and going back to the land movement as well.

Is it a question of apathy and complacency, of feeling that the feminists and the other human rights and civil rights activists have already won all the major battles that need to be won? Or is it that young adults are so preoccupied with the day to day battles of finding un bon boss et un job steady, of taking care of the next generation, and of just getting by in life?

I don't have the answers, but I do still hold the perhaps old-fashioned view that voting is a civic duty, assuming you are eligible. Even if you don't really feel your vote will make much difference to the election outcome. And for this election that's coming up in October, it looks as if the outcome is anything but a foregone conclusion.

So get out and vote. You may be pleasantly surprised by what happens!
I'll tackle the "how" first. The truth is, reading has become a bit more of an ordeal than it used to be. It's not a matter of being illiterate or dyslexic - the problem is much more physical and mechanical than that, the result of my ageing eyes. Still, I'm very interested in the whole relationship between medium and message. If you listen to a novel as an audiobook, how does that affect the way you relate to the characters and the story? I've never been much into audiobooks, although I've listened to one or two. I've read a handful of large print books (although the selection as far as paper books go is a bit limited). Then of course there are the ubiquitous e-books. I have a kobo e-reader (which always seems to need recharging, even when it's been mostly turned off), and a kindle program on my laptop. But that's never been my preferred way to read, although the adjustable font size is certainly a useful feature.

For now, I'm mostly reading the same formats I've always preferred: traditional paper newspapers and magazines, and books on paper. It's just that I generally have to look over my glasses or remove them completely and put the page right up to my face. It means I don't generally read for long periods at a stretch like I used to.

Anyway, on to the "what".

I recently finished The Arc of the Swallow, by S.J. Gazan. Her first book, The Dinosaur Feather, was voted Crime Novel of the Decade by the Danish Broadcasting Corporation.

Like The Dinosaur Feather, Arc of the Swallow takes place in an academic setting. A biology professor is found hanging in his office one day and the death is dismissed as a suicide. But the PhD candidate whose work he was supervising is aware he was just on the verge of releasing some groundbreaking and highly controversial research regarding vaccination in the developing world. She and several of his colleagues are convinced that he would never have killed himself, particularly at this point in his career.

The book combines an enthralling murder mystery, which is pure fiction, with some interesting and factual information about the Bandim Health Project in Guinea-Bissau, where a Danish-founded research group discovered some disturbing non-specific effects of the high-dose measles vaccine on the mortality of girls - their mortality DOUBLED after the vaccine was introduced. Had the WHO not withdrawn the vaccine (albeit very quietly), it could have cost at least half a million additional female deaths per year in Africa alone!

Subsequent research points to the conclusion that ALL vaccines have some nonspecific effects, though luckily most of them are beneficial ones. And in April 2014, the WHO finally decided that more research into the nonspecific effects of vaccines was warranted. For more on the Bandim Health Project, see http://www.bandim.org

My own take on this is that there was resistance to acknowledging the findings in both the prosperous first-world nations and in the developing world, but for very different reasons. In the former case, the attitude was "Well, we mustn't encourage Jenny McCarthy and all those wacko antivaxxers who think vaccines cause autism, so vaccination must be presented as unambiguously positive in all instances"; in the developing world, girls and women are considered (at least by those in power) as inferior and expendable so the attitude is "Well, if the effects are limited to the female of the species, then who cares?!" Needless to say, both extremes are severely misguided. "Vaccine-hesitancy" as I've recently heard it called, is a legitimate stance that deserves a thoughtful addressing of concerns on both an intellectual and an emotional level.


The other book I recently finished reading was Us Conductors, by Sean Michaels, about the inventor of the theremin. I've seen and heard a thereminist in action a few times now, at both this year's and last year's Music and Beyond festival. It's a fascinating and eerily ethereal instrument. And Us Conductors, a novel about the inventor of the theremin, his life in New York City, his marriages and doomed love affair and his subsequent return to and imprisonment in the Soviet Union, makes for some gripping reading.

Finally, I'm about two-thirds of the way through one of Doris Lessing's shorter books, Memoirs of a Survivor. While she called it something like an attempt at or a fragment of an autobiography, it certainly doesn't read like a traditional memoir or autobiography, although it's told in the first person. But the characters in it, be they fictional or otherwise, are certainly preoccupied with survival, so at least that part of the title is accurate! The "I" of the story - I don't think we actually learn her name - finds herself early in the book saddled with a girl of about 12 or 13, named Emily, brought to her by a man who assures her that Emily is her responsibility now. Emily and her cat-like dog named Hugo live with her for the next year or two and Emily gets drawn into the street-culture of transient children and youth outside, who seem to be homeless or at least more or less left to their own devices most of the time. In the building where the narrator and Emily are living, a wall periodically opens up and the narrator sees visions of the recent past - perhaps ten years ago - when Emily was a much younger child and had parents and a baby brother. She tries from these visions to piece together who Emily is and where she's come from.

I'm trying to decide what books to tackle next... something not too long or challenging, while still being interesting.
NOTE: This is the final instalment in our cat adoption story. If you are top-posting (or top-displaying) these entries from most recent to least recent (which is what I personally prefer and what most people seem to do and expect - though there have been some vigorous arguments about it around our place!) you may want to scroll down and catch up on any parts you may not yet have read. This is NOT the last you'll hear of these cats, but it seems fitting to be posting the last part of our adoption story on the August long weekend, two years after we found ourselves walking into a Pet Valu store and asking, "How much is that moggie in the window?"

So Albert got his heart tests done. Next day, the vet who had conducted these tests phoned to discuss the results. They were mostly positive, but did indicate that one chamber of Albert's heart was slightly enlarged. That meant a bit of extra risk with anaesthetic although the vet said if it were his cat, he would consider it a risk worth taking. And Albert had already had some sedation for the tests, and come out of it okay. The neutering operation, at least with the male of the species, is quite quick so he would not need to be under for very long. Dental work, on the other hand, would mean sedating him for significantly longer. We decided the priority for now was to get him snipped, and the dental issues could be addressed later or by some other means. But our vet was not going to be back from holidays for another week, so we decided to defer the operation until her return.

It was done on Tuesday, July 21. And he survived, intact except for his dignity and the intended physical modification. He did, however, breathe as if he were snoring, the aftermath of having had a tube down his throat for a while. He was prescribed drops to be inserted into his cheek to alleviate the pain. I was a little apprehensive about being able to successfully medicate him but fortunately it was quite easy - he had a hearty appetite right from the time we got him home and I was able to insert the dropper into his mouth while he was ravenously gobbling his food.

While we didn't want to risk the dental work at that time, we did get him microchipped and claw-trimmed while he was under, as those procedures could both be done quickly and easily.

Nowadays, when we're at home to keep an eye on them, we allow the cats to mingle quite freely except at mealtimes or when there seems to be trouble brewing. When we go out, we need to confine all the cats to one part of the house so that they can't activate the motion detectors and trigger the burglar alarm. Reigning Cat is not a problem - she comes running whenever she hears the "magic cupboard" opening - that's where the cat treats are kept. We're hoping she'll tell Victoria and Albert about it too, so that as they get more daring about exploring the house, we can round them up quickly if we need to, just by opening the cupboard door.

I think the cats still have a few issues they need to sort out with one other - and with us, too. I'm hoping one day I'll actually be able to stroke Albert when he's NOT engrossed in his food, and maybe groom him a bit as well. Victoria already seems to be losing a bit of the weight - she's more active these days but still walks with a limp and does not seem able to jump up on chairs, beds, etc.

But we're getting there.
Note: As noted above, this is part four of our cat adoption story. If you haven't read any of parts 1 through 3, you may want to scroll down and read them first.

So our story continues the morning of July 2. We brought Albert to the veterinary hospital and got him all checked in. Then we left, after being told to expect a phone call from the vet later that morning.

Before putting an animal under anaesthetic, they typically do a preliminary workup: bloodwork, weighing and measuring, listening to his heart, and generally ensuring he's fit to be put under.

Mostly, Albert checked out OK; the one concern was that the vet noticed an irregular heartbeat that she hadn't detected during his physical just two weeks earlier.

She said it could be just that he was stressed out - though that didn't seem to fully explain it as he had been considerably calmer that day than during his checkup of two weeks ago. His slightly wonky heartbeat might make it riskier to put him under, but without knowing the cause, it was difficult to know if the risk was significant. Would we like her to arrange an appointment for some additional tests with a cardiologist at another local veterinary hospital?

We did have a few questions. Was there much risk associated with the tests themselves? And if those tests (including an echocardiogram and electrocardiogram) indicated that his heart was fine, were there other unrelated concerns about his health? He was, after all, a 13-year-old cat and if he already had cancer or some terminal disease and was not expected to live more than a few more months, there wouldn't be much point in proceeding!

Our vet's responses were reassuring and after discussing it briefly between ourselves, we asked her to go ahead and set something up with the heart specialist. Albert's ordeal was over for today and we could come and pick him up after lunch.

But when we arrived, there was yet another glitch in the plan. Apparently the cardiologist had left at the end of June and they weren't sure when there'd be a replacement. The closest veterinary cardiologist they knew of was it St-Hyacinthe, Quebec. Did we want to take Albert there?

Well, no. We weren't prepared to go that far - literally, metaphorically or financially. We figured the stress of the journey alone would probably be more than poor Albert's heart could bear!

The other options were: 1) Postpone the snip until there was a cardiologist at the nearby local hospital; 2) Go ahead with it and take whatever risks were associated with the anaesthesia; or 3) Get some heart tests done next week here at our usual veterinary hospital by one of the vets on staff who was very experienced but just not a cardiologist.

We chose option 3.

Unfortunately the week ahead already promised to be a rather frantic one for us. We had medical appointments of our own - doctor, dentist, ophthalmologist - and so did our car! There was also the matter of a protest outside the Saudi embassy to protest the plight of Raif Badawi. The Music and Beyond festival was about to start too, and we had hoped to get to a bunch of concerts. We settled on Friday for the heart tests, as we were only going to an evening concert that day.

We brought him in as scheduled Friday morning. When we went back home, we allowed Victoria and Reigning Cat to mingle with each other, without the added complication of a third cat in the mix.

Interestingly enough, while Albert tends to be a bit hostile towards humans, he took to Reigning Cat quite readily right from the beginning. With Victoria it's been just the opposite. Sweet and affectionate with humans, she would hiss at poor Reigning Cat, who would back nervously away or else puff herself up and arch her tail. It seems both of them want to be the lady of the house. Albert, on the other hand, was not so keen on gender reassignment (or more accurately, de-assignment).

Anyway, we picked him up at 3:30 PM, subdued but unharmed, brought him home, and settled him back into his bedroom with Victoria. That left us plenty of time for supper and our evening concert.

NEXT TIME ... I'll reveal the results of Albert's heart tests and what we decided to do.

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