2017-08-13 07:30 pm
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Winnie the Pou and Ticker Too: Sweeping, Combing & Tweezing for Bugs

I remember in grade school how the school nurse would periodically go through our hair with an orange stick in search of head lice (or at least nits). At a girls' summer camp my daughter went to when she was around eleven or twelve, there was an outbreak too, although she emerged unscathed. But this past spring, in my sixties, I had to do The Treatments for the first (and hopefully last) time in my life - they're rather nasty tenacious creatures, though apparently not a major health hazard. I was blown away by the sheer range of products available at your friendly local pharmacy!

For the record, the product recommended by a tiny little pharmacy on Wellington Street, and which we found effective, was something called NYDA, manufactured in Germany. It comes as a pump-spray and is quite easy to use; it does, however, have to be left on for a full 8 hours (perhaps overnight), before being rinsed out with regular shampoo and water. The whole process then has to be repeated after 8 to 10 days.

Of course, I'm a bit paranoid (or maybe obsessive-compulsive) about such things and while the whole thing was going on I was thinking to myself, "What if it doesn't work after all that?" So I combed the drugstore shelves looking at other potential remedies - the Robicomb (a battery-operated comb that promises to detect lice and kill them on contact - no fuss, no muss!). Or the Shield 2-in-1 Shampoo & Conditioner with natural aromatherapy oils, gentle enough to use every day!! (Perish the thought - were these things actually going to stalk me for the rest of my life??)

Anyway, it didn't come to that. When I went to my hairdresser after applying the NYDA treatments, I warned her about what she might be facing ... and after doing her usual thing with my hair, she assured me that she hadn't seen any sign of lice or nits. But just in case, I've got another NYDA kit tucked away in the medicine cabinet!

So on to the next potential hazard... apparently Ottawa (especially the west end) is considered to be an at-risk region this year for lyme disease, which is transmitted by ticks. I'm taking precautions whenever I happen to be out in the countryside or somewhere in cottage country. So far, so good.

Of course, with mosquitoes (rather abundant due to all the rain we've been having) there's also West Nile virus to worry about. And for women in their child-bearing years (not me, but certainly my daughter's generation if they're traveling to exotic locales) there's also the nasty Zika virus.

I guess it could all drive you crazy if you let it...
2017-08-03 04:08 pm

The Machinery of Sesquicentennials

It seems to be almost sacrilege to say anything against La Machine - unless of course you're objecting to massive pagan icons perched atop the Notre Dame Basilica on Sussex Drive! Certainly, those who went downtown specifically to view the spectacle seem almost unanimously to agree that the show was totally awesome and, well, spectacular. Nevertheless, I do have a couple of major objections to the show which have nothing to do with graven images or eye popping price tags, so at the risk of coming across as a crotchety old curmudgeon, I'll outline them here.

First of all, the crowds, road closures and just plain general chaos that inevitably results when staging an event of this magnitude. If this had been Canada Day or even just a regular long weekend, I could maybe understand it. Everyone knows that on July 1, or Remembrance Day, or some other major occasion, it's going to be difficult to get around in the downtown core. But in this case, the event began on a regular summer weekday, when many folk had no choice but to show up for work, doctors' appointments or whatever. Many were also planning to go to things that one can normally expect to be able to do on a summer Thursday (and to which they may have had nonrefundable tickets purchased when they didn't know about La Machine) - say, visiting the Art Gallery, going to a Chamberfest concert or a play at the NAC. Many no doubt just needed to get their everyday shopping done at the Rideau Centre or in the By Ward Market. Surely the event could have been staged in some central area which we at least know and expect to be closed to traffic - Majors Hill Park? Parliament Hill? The Sparks Street Mall? Though come to think of it, it's pretty tough to avoid vehicle traffic on the Sparks Street Mall these days, even though it was always supposed to be a pedestrian mall! I've no problem with having a big event for those who actually want to go to it but the fact is that people were obliged to tolerate it whether they wanted to or not. Heck, maybe they could have done it somewhere that's still fairly central but outside the immediate downtown core. Lansdowne Park? Strathcona Park? That beautiful area behind the Library and Archives on Wellington Street? Compounding the whole problem was the fact that they weren't willing to divulge the full itinerary until it was actually happening. Ergo, MORE chaos!!!

Secondly, this was supposed to be a Canada 150 event. Does La Machine have anything to do with Canadian history and culture? Not really, as far as I can tell. It's an import from France and while we do indeed have some important historical, cultural, linguistic and diplomatic ties with France, surely it would have been better for this sort of event to showcase homegrown talent, ingenuity and creativity?

Am I just a lone voice in the great Canadian wilderness?
2017-07-18 03:14 pm

Easy and Uneasy Relationships with Food

Food security. Food deserts. The hundred kilometre or hundred metre diet. Eating disorders. Comfort food. Discomfort food. Fast food. Slow food. Vegetarianism. Veganism. Maybe we are what we eat, but our relationship with food can certainly be conflicted and complicated!

These days we tend pretty much to go with the flow food-wise. Today, for example, we went up to the Shouldice Farms stand on Prince of Wales, bought strawberries and tomatoes, and proceeded on to Parkdale Market where we got some of the first local corn of the season, some blueberries, some broccoli, some more tomatoes (little one this time) and some green peppers. We cooked up the corn for lunch and then went to Purple Cow and had ice cream cones for dessert.

In the summer and the fall, when good fresh food is in season, life's good. I can eat strawberries every day throughout the local growing season and never get tired of them. Add a dash of Grand Marnier (which we've come to refer to as "joy juice") and some whipped cream and angel food cake, and that's even better. And I think for sure there's a blueberry pie and maybe a few blueberry muffins in our not-too-distant future! We did give Haskap berries a try this year too - not bad but not as good as blueberries (though they're apparently much hardier and can survive lower temperatures.

Strawberries are something I liked as a child too. I may or may not have related in this blog the story of how, at the age of about seven or eight, I broke out in hives all over my body. Alarmed, my mother took me to the paediatrician and the only thing she could think of that could have caused them was the strawberries I'd eaten the evening before. She said that moving forward I should generally avoid strawberries but after I recovered, perhaps occasionally risk "literally one strawberry" and see what happened.

I probably didn't eat too many more strawberries for the rest of that summer, but of course once they literally became forbidden fruit, I craved them all the more. When they were subsequently reintegrated into my diet, I had no further recurrences of hives and strawberries and strawberry shortcake once again took their place as one of my favoured desserts.

When my daughter was going to day care (between the ages of five and eight), there used to be field trips to pick berries every summer. In those days, she wasn't too crazy about the berries themselves but liked the cream and cake! That changed as she got older and her kids are fond of berries too, especially blueberries!

Corn is a bit of a different story. I rarely ate corn when I was growing up and from my mother's perspective, corn was something you fed to the chickens! My dad was a little more open-minded about food, I think - in fact, he often used to polish off the food that no one else wanted. My mother had various comments about the matter, one of her commonest being that he was "digging his grave with his teeth". He was, however, very thin and frail during his last days and weeks, so I seriously doubt that it was anything he ate that ultimately finished him off!

Anyway, corn on the cob is another of those foods that I rarely get tired of - though it's certainly helpful to have the dental floss close at hand afterwards!

Looking back at the title I chose for this post, I realize I haven't really said much about UNEASY relationships with food. I think I was planning to comment on things like the recent Netflix video about eating disorders in which Lily Collins (who herself battled an eating disorder) starred, or the recent evidence about the dangers of artificial sweeteners and wire barbecue brushes, or the requirement for restaurant chains to post calorie counts for their offerings... but that'll have to wait for another day.
2017-07-05 10:42 am

Our home and not so native land?

This land is not your land. This land is not my land. It's all sacred unceded indigenous territory.

Or so the current thinking seems to go. I may have been born and raised right here in Ottawa, but nowadays it almost seems I have to apologize for being a Canadian!

On Saturday, July 1, tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people descended on downtown Ottawa hoping to get to Parliament Hill or at least one of the nearby sites to enjoy the festivities, only to be met with four- and five-hour lineups for security screening. Worse than the airport, for sure. The main difference being that if you go through all the indignities and freedom-losses of airport security screening, you at least have a reasonable hope of getting to some far-flung exotic place you've never seen before, whereas in this case, people were bravely enduring all this just to get to their own backyard. Oh, wait - we mustn't consider it our backyard any more, because it's all contested land! Then, on Sunday July 2, thousands of hardy souls did it all over again to be able to say "Oui!" to We-Day.

Luckily I stayed home both days but those who did make it to the Hill were met by a cacophony of conflicting national and cultural and celebratory symbols and personae: a teepee, Charles and Camilla, Gordon Lightfoot, Gord Downie, fireworks, weather (including thunderstorms and summer downpours), and so forth. Shards of broken glass making up the vertical mosaic?

But according to one letter to the editor in today's paper, the national anthem was not sung once during all those hours the letter-writer was on the hill for the festivities. Of course, maybe that's because no one is sure any more what the words are to "O Canada". Maybe some thought it might be more appropriate to sing "God Save the Queen", given that the heir to the throne was on the Hill - but didn't know for sure what the protocol was and didn't want to offend anyone or risk getting kicked off their hard-earned spot on the Hill.

Maybe we should forget about our current national anthem and go with "Land of the Silver Birch" instead?
2017-06-30 03:46 pm
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What has Blogcutter been reading?

Regular readers of my posts will be aware that I read a lot of crime fiction, especially by local authors, and that has continued to be on my reading menu of late - but I do read other things too!

The book I just finished reading is a memoir by Alan Doyle (of Great Big Sea fame) about growing up in Petty Harbour, Newfoundland. It was one of a rack of sale books I perused (and ended up buying) outside of Perfect Books on Elgin Street, either just before or just after a recent dental appointment. A fascinating read by someone who's as entertaining a writer as he is a musician. He vividly captured the culture of the place - the way of life in Petty Harbour, some of its eccentric characters, the sharp Catholic/Protestant divide, the attitude of residents towards "townies" and towards Canada and Confederation. It definitely reinforced my determination to visit Newfoundland at least once before I die!

Another book outside of the crime fiction category that I recently read and greatly enjoyed was Hope Has Two Daughters, by Monia Mazigh. Now, I knew that Monia Mazigh was a Muslim, that she once ran for the NDP in an Ottawa riding and that she is the wife of Maher Arar, but I didn't know much about her background. Apparently she was born and raised in Tunisia and moved to Canada in 1991. Hope Has Two Daughters is a novel set in Tunisia, weaving together the stories of a mother and daughter and centring around two key events: The Bread Riots of 1984 (which the mother, Nadia, lived through) and the Arab Spring in 2010, which Lila, her daughter, becomes involved in when she visits her mother's childhood friends in Tunisia at the age of 18, having grown up in Canada. The story moves back and forth in time, told largely in the form of letters or diary entries - and like in all good stories, everything pulls together nicely at the end. I think I'm going to have to get hold of Monia Mazigh's memoir, Hope and Despair, and perhaps her other works too.

Getting back to crime fiction, I (fairly) recently read The Vinyl Detective: Written in Dead Wax, by Andrew Cartmel. The detective in this book buys up old records, some of which he keeps for himself, some which he re-sells at a profit at all the various flea markets; he also accepts requests from individual clients to track down particular rare recordings on their behalf. it was an interesting and quirky sort of a book, apparently the first in a series. The second one, The Run-Out Groove, was supposed to be coming out in May (though I haven't tried yet to get hold of it, with all the other books awaiting my attention), and the third, Victory Disc, is due out in May 2018.

I also read a book called The Question of the Felonious Friend: An Asperger's Mystery by E.J. Copperman and Jeff Cohen (who rather than being co-authors may be one and the same person). I'm not sure I would have bought this book, but it was one of the freebies in my goody-bag when I attended Left Coast Crime in Hawaii back in March. The sleuth in this book, Samuel Hoenig, owns a business called Questions Answered, and he himself has Asperger's Syndrome (sometimes referred to as high-functioning autism). A client who is
also autistic (but not so high-functioning) comes into Samuel's agency with the question "Is Richard Handy really my friend?" When the evidence he gathers seems to suggest a negative answer to that question, and when Richard Handy is subsequently murdered, suspicion inevitably falls upon the autistic client - but of course, things are rarely that cut and dried in the world of crime fiction! Anyway, this book is also part of a series, and while it was an interesting read, I'm not so sure I would seek out other books in the series.

I've also been reading the most recent output of some of my favourite local authors: the latest Stonechild and Rouleau mystery by Brenda Chapman; the latest Linda Wiken book, Roux the Day; the first instalment of Vicki Delany's new series, Elementary She Wrote; the latest Barbara Fradkin. And I read a book by a local author I hadn't previously heard of, Jeremy Hanson-Finger, entitled Death and the Intern, which takes place at the Ottawa Civic Hospital. Well, how could I resist that one, as a life-long Ottawa resident who was born at the Civic, had my own child there, and was hospitalized there for a couple of weeks at the age of sixteen? And that's before counting the handful of times I've gone there as an outpatient. It's described in the blurb as "set in a vivid and compelling world of anesthesiologists gone bad" - and that's a pretty good description! It's got Hells' Angels, drug traffickers, dog-walkers and more. Hard-boiled but with some dry black humour in there too. The author has a website, hanson-finger.com. Still not sure it was quite my thing, but I'm glad I bought and read it as I like to see what's new out there and think it's important to support these small not-for-profit publishing companies.

Now I'm concurrently reading two books - one a 1999 thriller by Aline Templeton, Night & Silence; and the other by Gwen Cooper, Homer's Odyssey, a nonfiction book about how she adopted a blind kitten. This last one I just picked up second-hand at last weekend's Friends of the Farm annual booksale. I'm enjoying it so far, although I found the sale itself rather disappointing (a less wide-ranging selection compared to previous years). But never mind - it's not as if I'll be running out of reading material any time soon!
2017-06-19 09:06 pm

Do you have summerphobia?

An article in today's paper (originally from the London Telegraph) asks "Can summer make you sad?"

Hmmm. Well, I guess any season you don't like much can make you sad. Isn't it enough that we already have Seasonal Affective Disorder in the winter months, spring fever in the spring, and... what is it we get in fall - dread of returning to routines and punching a time clock?

Anyway, the article seems to attribute summerphobia (and my less-than-helpful spell-checker seems to have a phobia of the word itself) to a fear of abandonment (when friends head off on vacation), a lack of structure - activities shut down for the summer - and a general need to be busy.

I have to say that the things I dislike about summer are almost the opposite to what this article describes. As a retired person, I relish the fact that my time is essentially my own. I generally prefer to do things when not everyone else is doing them. I'm a bit of a loner and don't cope well with crowds. I have a number of personal projects I'd like to get down to when I have a few uninterrupted hours - or better yet a day or two or three - on end. Some of these are things I'd like to do (in some cases to get them done, in other cases for the pure joy of it) at home; others involve exploring other places (both nearby and more far-flung) on my own. No expectation that I'll be home by a certain time for lunch or whatever.

And yet, I don't live alone. I'm not even sure if I would want to at this stage - certainly I'm aware that those who live alone can be more vulnerable as they get older. I'm not a total hermit - I do like to get out and see friends and family sometimes. But I value opportunities for solitude too.

Virginia Woolf wrote eloquently about a room of one's own. Maybe I just need a woman-cave. I like to think things through and daydream a bit. I like having the luxury of not needing to multitask but rather to just focus on one thing. But unfortunately that's not really the way of the world these days. Murray McLauchlan asked "Where's those quiet places to come home to?" Or, for that matter, to go out to?
2017-05-09 03:03 pm
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Ho ho, hey hey...

... defined benefit pension plans have gotta stay! Why, you ask?

Well, partly because the career decisions that today's pensioners made thirty or fifty or seventy years ago were made on the basis that they were entering employment that was at least SECURE, if not in many cases as well-paid as the work they might find by working for themselves or in another field. In the words of the National Association of Federal Retirees, the government should Honour its Promise.

Also, young (and maybe not-so-young) adults now entering a complex and more precarious workforce for the first time need to plan for their future - a future which, given current and forthcoming scientific and technical advances, may be a fair bit longer than ours! How are they going to gather the information they need to make their plans in the face of so much change and uncertainty? What kind of a future can we expect for our children, grandchildren and future generations?

On Friday, I attended a rally outside Trudeau's office in the Langevin Block organized by the Ottawa Committee for Pension Security. In the rain. PIPSC people handed out blue rain ponchos. PSAC people handed out orange rain ponchos. NAFR people handed out red placards bearing the "Honour your Promise" slogan. Various other people handed out buttons with "Stop Bill C-27". There were speakers from the aforementioned committee, from unions and from a couple of federally regulated corporations, including Canada Post. People chanted "Trudeau! Morneau! Bill C-27 has got to go!" I was impressed by the large turnout, despite the miserable weather. I saw a CBC cameraman, but sadly any coverage that might have been on the 6PM news was pre-empted by flood news. What did disappoint me was that no politicians, either from the government or opposition benches, came out to address us. Now that was a missed opportunity for sure, especially given that seniors are some of the most likely people to show up at the polls on election day. We are, after all, the student protesters of yesteryear. And baby boomers, whether they vote or not, make up a significant portion of the eligible electorate!

Do demonstrations like this make a difference these days? I guess we'll have to see.
2017-04-17 07:01 pm
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A sad farewell to one of the impractical cats

For many people, April and Easter are a time of new life and new beginnings. For me, this time of year is associated with loss.

As noted in my entry of April 30, 2015, my mother and my mother-in-law both died in April (though on different dates and nine years apart). And on Saturday morning of this Easter weekend, we said goodbye to Tony (also referred to in this blog as Albert), one of the two cats we adopted following my mother-in-law's death.

We had known since taking him to our vet for a checkup in 2015 that he was susceptible to heart problems and he did in fact undergo a number of cardiological tests that first summer before we decided we could risk getting him put under long enough to neuter and microchip him. There were no real complications and he seemed to cope well enough with the anesthetic. But the tests indicated one chamber of his heart was slightly enlarged and he had an irregular heartbeat. There was always the possibility that he might suddenly stop breathing, possibly dying in his sleep or even just being here one second, gone the next. But the scenario was suggested as being relatively painless, at least from the cat's point of view. I thought to myself that while I didn't want that to happen, there were certainly worse ways to go!

By the end of summer 2015, he seemed in fine fettle, having progressed from that scared little boy cowering under the china cabinet or on the windowsill to an oft-affectionate (though it had to be on his own terms) purry kneady and needy beast who loved to leap on furniture and people or chase laser pointers across the floor and up the wall. And this weekend, as recently as Friday night, he seemed very much his usual self.

But on Saturday morning, he didn't come running to get his breakfast the way he usually did. In fact, he wasn't in any fit state to run. We heard a yowl and I found him at the bottom of the basement steps. His back legs were paralyzed. Coronary thrombosis. We took him to the veterinary hospital and the prognosis was not good.

Still, we were there with him at the end and we're glad he was part of the family and our lives, although it was for too short a time.
2017-03-30 04:01 pm
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Crime and Convention

Just over a week ago, I got back from the Left Coast Crime convention, held this year in Honolulu, Hawaii. It took me several days to fully recover from the six-hour time difference (in the opposite direction from the 6-hour time difference between here and Iceland) but now I feel in reasonably good-enough shape to offer at least a short travelogue.

I've always been drawn to islands, for some reason. If there's another language and culture to learn a little about, that adds to the mystique for me. A more idyllic setting (right on the beach in Waikiki) could scarcely be imagined - or a starker contrast in climate with the one we have in Ottawa! Though I have to say, perhaps for that very reason, that I didn't quite feel the affinity with Hawaii that I did for Iceland or Scotland or some of the other places I've visited. A great place to visit but I wouldn't want to live there - I'd miss the shifts in seasons that we have here: snowmen and skating in the winter, sugaring off in the spring, harvest time and colour-changing leaves in autumn. I honestly wouldn't really want the summers to be much longer than they are here as I can't take the heat and especially the humidity.

A key problem was not having a thing to wear - or, more to the point, suitable gear to wear in transit. The day before I left for the trip, it was snowstorms and -10 degree temperatures in Ottawa. In Hawaii it was shorts and tank-top weather (though not so much with the air conditioning going full blast indoors). I settled on a pair of shoes with portable overshoes and an all-weather coat with zip-out lining. Under it, I dressed in layers (a turtleneck under a long-sleeved T-shirt) and a pair of tights under my jeans. I packed sandals and my bathing suit and some lighter-weight tops and bottoms.

Amazingly, there were no flight delays. I had direct flights between Vancouver and Honolulu, so my itinerary didn't pose some of the climate challenges it might have if I'd been travelling a different route. Customs and Security clearances also went smoothly. I'd been a little nervous about travelling to the U.S. under the Trump regime's travel restrictions but there was no problem. And even though I was going there during the Ontario March break week, and coming back just as the kids in Hawaii were starting theirs, officials seemed to be well prepared for it all and I didn't have to deal with long line-ups or delays.

But about the conference itself: I had a wonderful time. International guest of honour was Colin Cotterill, who lives in Thailand but writes a series about a 70-something coroner, Dr. Siri, set in 1970s-era Laos. I read the first book in the series, The Coroner's Lunch, just before I went, and I look forward to reading more. Faye and Jonathan Kellerman were also guests of honour, getting Lifetime Achievement awards. I read a recent Jonathan Kellerman book, Breakdown, while travelling there, and I left it on the Exchange Table for someone else to enjoy prior to going back home (which also freed up a bit of space in my luggage for the books I acquired there). I had borrowed and read a Faye Kellerman book of short stories and memoirs from the library just before leaving Ottawa and while I'm not sure I'm likely to read more of either Kellerman's work, it was good to get an idea of the kind of thing they write. I made it to the New Authors breakfast, something I always enjoy as it enables me to learn about authors I enjoy but might otherwise never discover. And when I signed up for an author-hosted table at the Saturday dinner, I opted for one hosted by authors based in Hawaii (none of which I was familiar with). I'm long overdue to write another "What has Blogcutter been reading?" instalment, so I'll tackle that soon!

There wasn't a lot of time for sightseeing away from the resort, but I did make it to an interesting Art Museum which had a special exhibition on of young Hawaiian artists. I also went to their zoo, which was a bit of a disappointment as several of the animal areas were temporarily closed. I found that the "hop-on, hop-off" Waikiki Trolley tours were a good way to see the area when you have limited time. I saw the Iolani Palace as well as some spectacular scenery at Diamond Head. Didn't make it to Pear Harbour, though - maybe next time, if there is one!
2017-03-27 04:29 pm
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More on my puzzling life

Nearly five years ago (can you believe it??) I wrote a post entitled "My Puzzling Life". Several years later, I'm still something of a puzzle addict. Most mornings. we go for a walk and pick up the Metro, which has a Sudoku and a Crossword. 24 Hours (English and French) are no longer published in Ottawa. The Citizen is now 6 days a week (Monday through Saturday) and I always do the Jumble, the Sudoku, the Kenkens and the Canadian Cyberquote. I also like to pick up occasional puzzle book in which I do the Frameworks/Kriss-Krosses, StretchLetters and Cryptoquizzes/Cryptoclans. Online, I do the daily "Nightmare" Sudoku, the 7X7 KenKen (I think it appeals to me because it's the highest 1-digit prime-number) and just recently, the brand-new 2048 puzzle. So far, the highest score I've attained is somewhere just above 20,000 - I've managed to score two 1024's (as well as some 512's and 256's 1nd 128's) but haven't yet managed to put them together to make a 2048. Once I actually manage to win a 2048, my enthusiasm for the puzzle may wane, but we shall see...
2017-02-15 08:22 pm

Educating the next generation

There's something crazy and just plain WRONG about having to bus five- and six-year-olds for miles and miles, just so they can be educated in the majority language of their own community. Yet that's precisely what's happening in Ontario in the publicly funded schools of the Ottawa-Carleton region.

Early French Immersion has become so wildly popular that 70% of families are now opting to place their children in those programmes. And so many neighbourhood schools are now half-empty (or half-full, depending on your viewpoint) as it is that they can't sustain both an English stream and French-immersion stream class at every grade level. As a result, it's the often far-away "collector" schools that are grouping together the English-stream children from several neighbourhoods.

Now, I'm prepared to admit that Early French Immersion may be a good option for some children, but certainly not for ALL, and probably not even for the majority of anglophone children. Parents want to give their kids the best possible start in life - I get that! They know that fluency in both official languages can be an asset, if not an actual requirement, for many jobs. I get that too. But education begins at home, and begins with giving the kids a good grounding in the language and culture of the family. If the parents speak more than one language, then that's great! If not, starting school - already a big step for many children - may prove quite traumatic indeed.

Late immersion is a different matter - by the intermediate school level, most kids are fluent in their native language at least, and have the linguistic and cognitive apparatus they need for more sophisticated thought and other developmental processes. Mastering another language (or two or three) at this stage will if anything serve to enrich and enhance those processes. Teens and adults probably do not learn language quite the way that babies and toddlers do, but that doesn't have to make the process more laborious, as so many people assume. In fact, I would argue that in many ways adult learners tend to learn more efficiently and economically precisely because they can learn and reason deductively rather than inductively. They have the "competence" or "langue", not just the dozens of instances of "performance" or "parole".

I think part of the reason French immersion has become so wildly popular is that "core French", at least as it was taught in my day, was such a dismal failure. But surely it would have made more sense, both logically and fiscally, to enhance and improve the core French curriculum rather than insisting that most children go into early French immersion, sometimes to the detriment of achieving a good grasp of their native tongue? And sometimes only to end up switching to the English system anyway, away from all their friends and feeling like failures? Isn't a bit more French or a bit better French instruction better than virtually none? Consider that we do still have a French-language school board in the Ottawa area that could easily serve children wanting to focus more on learning in French at certain points in their school careers.

There are many issues here, of course, and I've barely scratched the surface. Having a whole parallel system for the Roman Catholics is another ongoing annoyance. And, of course, there's also the urban/rural divide. But that will have to wait for another day.
2017-02-05 03:35 pm
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The "Are you serious?" Department

The February issue of Chatelaine has an article entitled "One for the books". It's described in the Table of Contents as "Ingenious and stylish ways to store (and display) all of your books". Just what the doctor (and librarian) ordered, right? Excitedly, I flipped through the magazine pages to find the article in question.

First suggestion, complete with helpful illustration: "Group books with colourful pages together for a pop of brightness". Then, on the same page, "HIDE THE SPINES. Take the visual clutter off your shelves by displaying your books backwards for a clean, minimal look." It goes on to the classic group-by-colour idea so everything matches your paint or wallpaper or sofa cushions and you'll be ready when someone asks, "Oh, by the way - do you have the orange book, by any chance?" Of course, it might get a little more complicated if you have some particularly difficult guests who ask for a particular title, or wonder if you have anything by Ian Rankin or Terry Pratchett!

In a way, I guess I should find it refreshing that there are still folks around who can appreciate the book as a tangible, physical, aesthetic object to be owned and treasured. Or who realize that you can't always judge a book by its cover - or its spine. But how exactly am I to figure out where to find the book or kind of book I'm interested in, when most of the books' salient attributes are hidden? Maybe by the thickness of the book? Or by how well-thumbed and well-loved the pages seem to be? Do publishers have some sort of secret (or not-so-secret) page colour-coding for the types of books they deal with? If so, I'm afraid they've never let me in on it.

By the way, Freedom to Read week starts on February 26. I plan to take full advantage of the occasion, just as soon as I can locate that purple book with the turquoise pages...
2017-01-10 04:14 pm
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Looking back on 2016

Another year has come and gone. I'm a year older than I was this time in 2016 - that's the good news and also the bad news! Good news in that I'm still here; bad news in that I don't really feel I've evolved much as a person. Of course, lots of people don't think people of my age SHOULD still be evolving ... it's freeing in a way: there's not the same pressure to "make something of myself" and the older generation (as far as my family is concerned) is gone and with them their expectations of me, be they real or just in my imagination. On the other hand, I'm increasingly aware that my time here is more limited than it used to be, and I've got to make each year count! So with all that in mind, I've decided to once again tackle the review questions, at least the ones I see as relevant to my life.

1. What did you do in 2016 that you'd never done before?

Went to Iceland. Had cataract surgery.

2. Did you keep your New Year's resolutions and will you make more?

Last year, I mentioned two goals. I wanted to learn more about Muslims, especially Muslim women, and I did do a bit of reading on the subject. I also said I wanted to explore art therapy and journalling therapy. I really didn't make any headway on that at all, though it wasn't entirely for lack of trying. I signed up for two Ottawa Board of Education workshops, both of which were cancelled at the last minute. I think I'm done with OBE courses now, but I do plan to keep that goal on my list for 2017. Among other things, I want to start keeping a hand-written journal again. I do plan to keep on with this blog, but there are some thoughts and feelings that I really don't want to commit in perpetuity to the internet or the blogosphere! But writing them down can, I think, help me to deal with what's on my mind in a relatively safe way. And speaking of the internet, I want to get a bit better at making technology work for me. Well, wouldn't we all, you might well ask? Specifically, a lot of people are on social media these days - I'd even venture to say it's more the rule than the exception. Are there some social media that are relatively benign in terms of maintaining a reasonable measure of privacy? I'm dubious, and yet there are now so many forums that I just can't participate in without a social media presence so there's definitely that feeling of being left behind. There's also that annoying "one-way door" type of phenomenon when it comes to the on-line world. Very often, you can't really just try something out to see if you like it and then go back to older methods if you find you DON'T like it. For example, with receiving monthly bills electronically, or with writing cheques, or whatever. I don't believe in burning my bridges behind me but I'm really worried for the younger and coming generations. After all, what younger person (or older person, for that matter) DOESN'T occasionally do something rash that s/he later regrets? But in the online world, it seems there may simply be no way to just move on and get a second chance to make good.

But back to the resolutions thing... I do want to make more of an effort to be kind to others and to nurture friendships and other relationships.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

I guess no one who was that close to me directly, although my grandchildren are acquiring new cousins on their father's side of the family. I generally consider it a hopeful sign when younger generations still want to have kids.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

While I'm not aware of any (human) family members who died (my daughter's family lost one of their two cats to kidney disease), I think loss certainly becomes a permanent feature of life as you get older. In September, I went to the funeral of a former boss and Ex Libris colleague who had had a major impact on my choice of career. And just this past week, I went to a memorial service for a longstanding member of Apaplexy who died in December.

5. What countries did you visit?

Iceland - I think that was probably the highlight of my year. Other than that, I stayed in Canada, with visits to relatively nearby cities - Montreal, Kingston, Toronto and Niagara Falls.

6. What would you like to have in 2017 that you lacked in 2016?

I think perhaps a new cell phone. I don't want ever to be practically glued to my mobile like some folk are; however, I know it's past time I learned how to use my voice-mail and how to send and receive an occasional text. But at the same time, it's got to be user-friendly and ironically, that might mean something resembling the ones from 20+ years ago- the size of a brick, with big enough keys, and with a flip-cover so it doesn't keep turning itself on when I'm not using it.

7. What dates from 2016 will remain etched on your memory and why?

Probably the date of the U.S. election; I sort of feel like the main character in that short story about someone going back in time and accidentally stepping on a butterfly; once back in the present, said character learns that the other guy won the election. At least I don't have to live in the U.S., but what happens south of the 49th inevitably affects our lives to some extent.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Maybe just managing to sustain a fairly healthy lifestyle in terms of diet, physical exercise and the like. If we're talking specific projects, I did manage to complete the file of Canadian Expeditionary Force members I was working on for the Friends of the Library & Archives. It was quite interesting in terms of learning about little towns, villages and hamlets I hadn't know about, as well as occupations that we no longer see these days. A little window into what life might have been like 100 years ago. Even so, the work was rather time-consuming and occasionally tedious for the extra access it gives people, so I don't plan to do any more files in the foreseeable future.

9. What was your biggest failure?

I'd say something in terms of setting priorities...

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Nothing out of the ordinary.

11. What was the best thing that someone bought you?

Do I have to pick one best thing? Everything people bought me was great!

12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?

I've been meaning for some time to give out some service awards, because good service can be pretty thin on the ground these days! In terms of great service, I'd give the nod to our roofers, our snow-clearing service and the staff at the Riverside Hospital. And I forgot last year to mention the good folks at Handi-House, who set me up with the rental equipment I needed for the days following my vitrectomy in 2015.

13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?

Donald Trump's and Pat Phelan's. Well, the second one is a fictional character. As for the first, I only wish he were fictional.

14. Where did most of your money go?

Home maintenance, a new roof and a trip to Iceland.

15. What did you get really excited about?

Cats, grandchildren and Iceland (in no particular order)

16. What song will always remind you of 2016?

The trumpet exercise that always gets one of our cats out of her hiding place (I think it's Clark(e)'s study no. 2)

17. Compared to this time last year, are you happier or sadder?

Sadder but more content with life as a whole, if that makes any sense.

18. What do you wish you'd done more of?

Having real conversations with people I care about.

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?

Relying on technological devices that constantly need recharging.

20. What was the best book you read?

I read a lot in the crime fiction genre so there were a lot there that I enjoyed, including Michael Ridpath's Where the Shadows Lie, the latest Ragnar Jonasson book in his Dark Iceland series, and Louise Penny's latest, Great Reckoning. Then there was He's Gone, by Alex Clare, a police procedural about Detective Robyn (formerly Roger) Bailey, who returns to work following The Operation and has a hard time dealing with the macho police culture, amongst other things - looks to be first in a series, and I look forward to any subsequent books. I also took a course (Learning in Retirement) on 20th century mystery and detective fiction, where we discussed 6 books considered to be landmark books or classics in their time. Of those, the three I enjoyed most were E. C. Bentley's Trent's Last Case; Eric Ambler's Epitaph for a Spy; and Peter Hoeg's Smilla's Sense of Snow.

In non-fiction, one that springs to mind is Lindy West's Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman. Interestingly enough, she is going to be giving a keynote speech at the Ontario Library Association conference next month. I'm not sure I could pinpoint just one "best" out of all those.

21. What did you want and get?

A new dishwasher, that actually works well. A new kitchen faucet that doesn't drip and has a fully functional spray-hose attachment. A new roof. Better eyesight and a new pair of glasses.

22. What did you want and not get?

Various other improvements to the house.

23. What kept you sane?

Independent time spent on errands and personal projects.

24. What political issue stirred you the most?

Probably the November U.S. election. In scientific and medical news, the idea of a head transplant continues to creep me out. Closer to home, the rash of stabbings in the Ottawa area. On a more positive note, various other local issues - the new library, rapid transit and a new site for the Civic Hospital.

25. Who do you miss?

All the people (and cats) that are no longer with us.
2017-01-01 03:40 pm
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As we enter 2017...

... and with this being Canada's sesquicentennial year, there will no doubt be plenty of occasions for looking back on 1967, and predicting what the next 50 or 100 years and beyond will bring. I didn't go out to any New Year's Eve celebrations, but I did watch a few minutes of the Parliament Hill fireworks on CBC at midnight. Looked like there was a good turnout and spectacular display, despite the rather snowy conditions!

I recently realized to my surprise and shock that I've now been retired for over 7 years. Where does the time go? Mind you, I think most of us are quite familiar with the phenomenon of time (seemingly) speeding up as you get older. But in my case at least, my general perceptions of times gone by seem to be changing, depending on whether we're talking recent past, long-ago past, or something in between. When I recall something that happened, say, two years ago, it feels as if it must have been LONGER ago than that - say, four or five years back. But if I'm recalling something that happened 20 or 25 years ago, it feels as if it was only perhaps 7 or 8 years ago. It's all a bit odd and perplexing to me.

One thing I did learn in one of my Learning in Retirement courses last fall (entitled "The Brain and the Mind: The Neuropsychology of being human") is that so-called "working memory" (kind of like the mind's buffer, if I understood correctly) tends to decline slightly with age. I guess that might account for why, for example, I tend not to instantly recall the phone numbers, postal codes, and so on, of people I'm regularly in touch with. It's a bit distressing, especially since at one time I used to have an excellent memory for such things. Like many people my age, I suspect, the thought of perhaps one day descending into dementia absolutely terrifies me. I guess all I can really do is try to keep reasonably healthy and active, both physically and mentally.

While I can't really control any rogue genetic factors that might be working against me (or FOR me, for that matter!) I do have to wonder about the environment we live in these days, and the extent to which it's age-friendly or age-inimical; or friendly or unfriendly vis-a-vis my own particular personality or world view.

As far as our brain's relationship to typing versus writing stuff with pen or pencil and paper, there does seem to be some persuasive evidence out there that in the latter case, humans tend to remember better what they've physically written in their own handwriting, as opposed to typing it. What about texting and emojis and social media? I'll tell you one thing (I've likely written it several times before in this blog and then promptly forgotten!!) - the tiny little keys on a cell phone are NOT age-friendly if you have vision problems and/or arthritic fingers.

As far as getting things accomplished, I definitely feel I work better with reasonably-sized blocks or chunks of time. But unfortunately the modern world doesn't tend to work that way! It's almost as if ADHD is the new expected norm of our society and I don't mean just for kids! Certainly I do try to make use of little bits of time here and there (some of which I can anticipate, like if I'm in a doctor's waiting room, and some of which is the gift of "found time" - when I wake up early, or get out of a meeting early, or whatever) and there's also nothing wrong with just zoning out for a bit! But surely there's still a role for the longer attention span, or for the luxury of being able to properly focus on something.

I remember in one of my jobs, a co-worker would regularly lament (probably in reaction to yet another ill-advised bureaucratic decision), "They just don't think it through!" This, by the way, was in the early 1980s, and I think it's probably doubly or triply true now! I'm not saying that the only way to think anything through is to sit by yourself with a pen and pad of paper for hours - clearly that depends on what you're doing, what your preferred learning style is, and so forth.

But anyway, this started out as a kind of welcome to 2017 and ironically, I seem to be losing my train of thought! Later this week, or at least some time during January, I may tackle some version of the Q&As I've been doing over the past few years, and perhaps discuss things like goals and bucket lists and resolutions.

One thing before I go, though. Not to be overly negative or anything, but I really think if you're serious about making plans, goals and resolutions, you (and by "you" I guess I really mean me, or people in general) need to state not just what you WILL do but what you WON'T do, or what you'll stop doing. That could of course be taken to ridiculous extremes (as in "I won't go skydiving" or "I won't win millions in the lottery" or whatever); the point I'm trying to make is that there are only so many hours in the day and years in a lifetime, so if I'm going to work towards achieving certain things, I may have to divest myself of other commitments (for example, I plan to scale back a bit on what I'm currently doing for Ex Libris and Friends of Library & Archives Canada).

So hello there, 2017! Stay tuned.
2016-12-02 09:51 pm
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Storm & Drangus and Pining for the Fjords

In November I went to Iceland to attend a Nordic Noir crime fiction conference. It was my first visit there and I really enjoyed it. The only real disappointment was that a tentatively scheduled trip to Siglufjordur in the north did not go ahead, although we did get out of the city on a day trip, exploring some of the southern peninsula.

Not all of the featured authors were Icelandic, but the author who was to lead this tour, Ragnar Jonasson, is, and is the author of the "Dark Iceland" series of books, which take place up there in the northern reaches of Iceland, and which I've been reading as they get translated into English (by Quentin Bates, who was also at the conference and who also writes his own series set in that part of the world). Other featured authors at the conference included Yrsa Sigurdardottir, Michael Ridpath, Val McDermid, Ann Cleeves and Leena Lehtolainen.

As interesting as the conference itself was absorbing some of the national culture as well as the natural landscape in and around Reykjavik.

There seemed to be a museum for virtually everything, including a phallological museum (a.k.a. The Museum of the Penis), which I walked past but didn't actually visit. Those I DID visit included the "Art Museum" (modern art, including an exhibit by Yoko Ono and some comic book art), Volcano House, the Punk Museum, a photography museum, and a very interesting historical exhibit of Scandinavian design relating to children (toys, clothing, furniture, etc.) which was on at Nordic House, where the majority of conference sessions were also held. One interesting thing I noticed was that the cut-off age for a "senior" was usually 67 and sometimes even 70. Is that good or bad, I wondered? On balance, I decided it was probably a good sign of the healthy Icelandic climate and lifestyle, even though it meant I didn't qualify for the cheaper rate. Perhaps along the lines of the old Participaction ads that maintained the average 30-year-old Canadian was less fit than a 60-year-old Swede?

I never did make it to the Icelandic National Gallery, nor their National Museum. As is often the case here, they seemed to be closed on Mondays. So on the Monday which was my last full day in Reykjavik, I decided to go up the spire in the Hallgrimmskirkja, where I was treated to a panoramic view of the city. Afterwards, I went to a nearby indoor swimming pool with high outdoor decks and hot tubs, where I again enjoyed wonderful views of the city. I nearly chickened out when I got to the women's changing room and realized that before entering the pool area or even donning my swimsuit, I would first be required to take a shower sans swim-attire. Luckily it was not a particularly busy day there and the few others who were there seemed to be going about things quite matter-of-factly and unselfconsciously. After doing a lot of touristy things in the preceding days, it was actually quite nice to be taking part in something which seemed to be mainly a pastime of the inhabitants!

Christmas, or at least the festive season - Yule, Solstice, or whatever - seems to be quite a big thing in Iceland. Well, if you've only got a couple of hours of daylight each day, I guess you want to make the most of it! I will say that when the sun did appear, it could be fairly intense and I was glad of my sunglasses. Anyway, in Reykjavik The Season seemed to arrive in full force on Saturday, November 19. When I went downstairs on Saturday morning, there was a big tree in the lobby and lots of seasonal decorations. Major personalities of the season are the 13 Yule Lads, the first of which arrives December 12 and leaves December 25, with each subsequent one arriving and leaving a day later. They're all pretty naughty and mischievous and have names like Door-Slammer and Sausage-Swiper. There's also Gryla and her Yule-Cat, and I think one or two other characters who come into play. I'd been worried that November might be a rather miserable time to travel but it turned out to be a fairly good time - not peak tourist season, yet before the severe winter weather really kicks in.

In terms of time zones and TV stations and such, Iceland is on Greenwich Standard Time year-round, which for me meant a 5-hour time difference. In my hotel room, I mainly watched UK TV stations - BBC and ITV. I heard all about severe flooding in Bristol due to storm Angus, and pensioners having their benefits cut. But I did get to jump ahead on my Coronation Street viewing - they're about 10 days ahead of what we're seeing in Canada!
2016-10-13 03:08 pm

How I spent My Summer Vacation: Niagara Falls, Cataract Surgery & the Toronto Zoo Pandas

Near the end of August, I took a trip to Niagara Falls. The last time I had visited Niagara Falls (except for briefly passing through on the way to Niagara-on-the-Lake) was with my parents, almost exactly 50 years ago.

On that trip half a century ago, we were on our way home from the station when we heard on the car radio news (and possibly saw direct evidence) of the Heron Road bridge collapse, which killed a number of workers.

The Niagara Falls trip this past summer involved nostalgia of a more positive sort too. At the Fallsview Resort, I went to a performance by Peter Noone of Herman's Hermits and Coronation Street fame. I really enjoyed that show - he sang most of his big hits ('enery-the-eighth, Leaning on the Lamppost, I'm into Something Good) as well as some of the songs from the era of Herman Hermits' heyday (like Ferry Cross the Mersey, Jumping Jack Flash, It's Not Unusual, I'm a Believer...). And from the woman from Virginia sitting next to me, I learned a new word, "Noone-a-tic" which apparently is analogous to "lunatic" and means a fan of Peter Noone!

But what about Niagara Falls itself? Well, the Falls are of course beautiful. I enjoyed wandering about in the vicinity, though I didn't zip-line across! But as for the town... I think the word "tawdry" is what springs to mind. From the standpoint of natural beauty and one of the great wonders of the world, I really think putting casinos in there was a big mistake. And I hadn't realized until I went there this summer that there are TWO major casinos in town, not just one. Luckily the one in the Fallsview Resort (which also houses the Avalon Theatre where Peter Noone was performing) seems to be the slightly more "upscale" of the two. The other one, which I mistakenly went to first, was in the midst of an area that looked rather like the Ex!

This was also the first time I had done the trip between Toronto and Niagara Falls by train. The train itself was an Amtrak train and was rather more plush and comfortable inside than the Canadian VIA trains (although the staff going through the Canadian portion of Niagara Falls are still VIA employees). But I was shocked that there was no wi-fi service available, and rather surprised that you had to walk through another coach to get to the snack car (rather like CN rail used to do in the 70s)

In Toronto, I went to the zoo for the first time in many years, and saw the visiting giant panda cubs (they were around 6 months old, I think - I'm not sure how long they have in Toronto before they move out to Alberta).

On August 30, I got cataract surgery on my left eye (I've been told I may want to get the right one done too, but I'm in no rush!) and just today, I went in to our local New Look Eyewear to pick out some new (weaker) glasses. More on that at a later date!
2016-08-19 07:32 pm
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Pride

What are you proud of? Are you proud of your sexual orientation or your gender identity?

My mother used to say that the notion of gay pride was just plain wrong-headed. She thought it was like being proud of having blue eyes or red hair - something you were born with but basically had no say over. And frankly I think she had a point. Doesn't it make more sense to be proud of something you've actually achieved through hard work, self-discipline and perseverance, all while staying true to your core values and ideals? The GLBTQ activists are constantly reminding us that being gay or transgendered is NOT a choice. If it's just destiny, then how is it something to be proud of?

The best explanation I can offer is that those in the community want to make it known that they're not ASHAMED of who they are or whom they're attracted to. And then, exaggerating somewhat for the sake of emphasis, they say they're actually PROUD of these aspects of themselves. I certainly agree that it's legitimate for them to be proud of having stood up for and struggled for, and in many cases won the battle for basic human rights and anti-discrimination laws, and for having fought the battles in the courts of public opinion, whether in their own country or on the international front. And I hasten to add that the struggle is not yet over, although some significant battles have been won.

Do events like pride marches actually make a difference?

Yes, in that they're very visible. Yes, in that some high-profile people often take part: our Prime Minister, our Premier, various other politicians and entertainers, regardless of whether they themselves are gay or gender-variant. But for those who are still in the closet, or who have emerged from the closet but don't particularly want to draw attention to themselves, who just want to blend in and go about their day-to-day activities free of constant staring and regular or occasional harassment of themselves and their families... well, I'd say not so much. Things are changing, at least in our part of the world, but changes in social and personal attitudes can take a generation or two. And the changes aren't really linear; I don't even think the pendulum analogy is all that accurate.

I think the main thing is to foster free and open debate and discussion and exchange of ideas, moving beyond the bland and often the politically correct as well. Can this be done with respect and integrity and without censorship or will the indignant accusations of cultural misappropriation and harassment and libel and slander be constantly rearing their ugly heads? The thought police, I think, are still very much with us.
2016-07-24 11:25 am
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My Surreal Life

Life at home in the 'burbs has started to feel vaguely surreal lately.

This past week, a fresh-faced young woman carrying a rainbow-patterned folder came to our door one evening. She said she was with a local film group who wanted to do some filming involving a white bungalow "like this one". I politely told her I wasn't interested. She then asked if she could leave me a sheet of paper with the details, just in case I changed my mind. "No thanks, don't bother," I told her and shut the door.

The previous week, two tough-looking guys came to the door and handed me a leaflet. They claimed to be with a group called "BACA", which stands for Bikers Against Child Abuse, and said they were in the neighbourhood "doing something for someone" and not to be alarmed if we saw them around and heard their motorbikes.

In other words, they were trying to forestall what might be very legitimate concerns and objections to the "work" and supposedly good deeds they do. This appears to be a U.S.-based group that originated somewhere in Texas, although they have chapters in a number of Canadian cities too.

I'm already creeped out by the lack of privacy in a world dominated by social media, Google maps, Google Streetview, Google-everything-else, Facebook This, Twitter That, phone scams from phony Microsoft and Canada Revenue Agency officials, and so on ad nauseam. At a recent library conference, I picked up a cloth bag from the Privacy Commissioner's Office that bears the message "No thanks, I prefer not to give you my e-mail address" so clearly I'm not alone in my concerns.

Come to think of it, I guess we're NEVER alone in this wired world. And therein lies the whole problem. Twitching lace curtains I can cope with. But how can I on my own expect to stand up to the entire cyber-universe?
2016-07-17 11:44 am
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Blogcutter's Impractical Cats Update

Last July, I wrote here about adopting two 13-year-old cats which were orphaned following the death of my mother-in-law. I'm pleased to report that they have settled into the family quite nicely. And we recently took them to our vet for their annual checkup.

Last year, it was the male (referred to in earlier entries as Albert) who garnered most of the veterinary attention. He had never been "fixed" and we were worrying about all the usual problems humans tend to have with unneutered tomcats. He was also a very neurotic creature who used to cower behind the bed and snarl at anyone who dared to approach him.

But by the end of last summer, after he'd been snipped and had had the chance to settle in, there was a huge change in him. We awoke one morning to find him on our bed, purring loudly and looking for some attention and affection (and food, of course). He's also very spry for a 14-year-old cat and will leap up on people's backs or try to climb the wall when chasing the laser pointer or any stray fly or spider he spots. He still has a wheezy-sounding purr and snore and the irregular heartbeat thing is something that will probably always be with him, but meanwhile we'll enjoy him for as long as he's with us and seems reasonably happy and healthy!

The female ("Victoria") seems to have a few more health (and perhaps emotional) issues. She had lost a considerable amount of weight and while she had been very much overweight last year, the vet suspected that there was something else going on as well, particularly when we told her about Victoria's digestive problems - she had been throwing up quite regularly, sometimes 2 or 3 times in succession. So the vet decided some bloodwork was in order.

The blood tests confirmed two problems: firstly, a vitamin B-12 deficiency and secondly, hyperthyroidism. We're dealing with the first by weekly injections of B-12, which will gradually taper off to monthly ones. We were offered two options for the hyperthyroidism: tapazole tablets twice a day (probably for life) or radiation therapy (which usually is a cure rather than just a treatment, but comes at a cost).

The main drawbacks to the radiation option were: 1) it would have to be done in Carp, which admittedly is closer to home than St-Hyacinthe, but could still be quite an ordeal for a cat who doesn't travel very well; 2) it would require about a 3-day period of boarding out there; 3) we would have to deprive her of ANY medication for the condition for a couple of weeks before the therapy; after the therapy, she would have to have special food and litter for a while afterwards, which could not be shared with the other 2 cats in residence here; 4) the financial factor - we didn't go as far as getting a cost estimate since the option seemed impractical, but it would undoubtedly be costlier than the medication, and even if it did cure her (occasionally it doesn't, or needs to be repeated), how many years, realistically, are left on a 14-year-old cat?

The main concern we had about the pills was whether she would be able to keep them down. If she just brought them right back up again, the whole thing would be something of an exercise in futility. But we thought that our initial plan of attack should be the pills and B-12 shots.

Luckily, we noticed a change almost immediately. She's had 3 of her 6 weekly B12 injections and the process is much less problematic than I had feared. And the vomiting is no longer a daily event. Her coat is looking glossier too, and she seems to be putting back a little weight, though we hope she won't get severely overweight again. She's much more agile when it comes to jumping up on a bed or sofa, though I suspect she'll never be a leaper and climber like the other two.

The emotional issues I alluded to earlier in this post relate to her habit of wandering around the basement and occasionally yowling, as if she's trying to find her dear departed human down there! Or perhaps as if she feels something is missing from her life but she's not quite sure what it is. On the other hand, she's yowling less than she used to (and she would often yowl just before she threw up, which is happening less often now as well). She seems to be socializing a little more than she used to.

Tomorrow we take her for more blood tests to see if there's an improvement in her thyroid and B-12 levels. Stay tuned!
2016-07-01 10:42 am

More updates

First, an update on that wonderful (mostly) vegetarian restaurant located within the Glebe Community Centre, The Pantry. I first wrote about its being under threat in November 2013, asking "Can this Pantry be saved?" Then on May 26, 2014 a more optimistic entry, where it seemed it would get a reprieve, at least for a couple more years.

Well, those couple of years have come and gone, and I heard on the news yesterday that it has (probably) served its last meal. This time, the main issue seems to be not so much competing programs offered by the Community Centre as the decision of the current proprietors to retire, with no one waiting in the wings to fill their shoes.

Of course, the restaurant always closed during the summer anyway. Its schedule was tied to that of the (Ontario) school year, being closed during Christmas holidays and March break as well. There is some talk of possibly establishing another restaurant somewhere within the Community Centre, though whether that would be another vegetarian place and where in the centre it would be remains unclear. So stay tuned, folks. Maybe we can look forward to a similar situation to Books on Beechwood, one of the last independent bookstores in town - when the former owner decided to retire, one of its loyal customers stepped up to the helm. We can always hope!

Secondly, an update to "Your neighbourhood pharmacist", which I wrote on August 4, 2014, several months before the last major flare-up of my arthritis in April 2015.
In that entry, I argued among other things that we don't tend to fully utilize the skills and expertise of our pharmacists.

Since then, it appears that pharmacists have been under increasing pressure to earn their keep and justify their existence. I think maybe they earn a certain number of brownie points (or at least don't accrue demerit points) for every "medication review" they conduct with a patient and for every time they phone you to "remind" you that it's time to renew one or other of your prescriptions or that your renewals have all run out, and would you like them to fax your doctor to get permission for another 3 renewals? It got so annoying that I basically ended up telling them "Don't call us, we'll call you." Moreover, when they begin a phone call with letting you know that "This call may be monitored for quality control purposes" it raises some serious red flags about the privacy and confidentiality of one's medical information. Big Pharma is watching you?

On a more positive note, I think maybe I HAVE finally trained the pharmacy NOT to dispense my medications in containers that are almost impossible for me to open when my arthritis is at its worst. But it took a lot of persistence on my part, even after they supposedly had a note on my file and I on one occasion even mentioned it in a voicemail when I phoned to renew a prescription. I still don't go too far away from the pharmacy without first opening the little white bag to make sure they've complied with my instructions. And I'll also acknowledge that I've had no more episodes of getting someone else's prescription. Occasionally they still aren't able to completely fill a prescription, but they do give me enough pills to tide me over until the rest of them come in.

Finally, an update on my PRESTO card. If you were following my blog in 2013 and 2014, you may recall I had a whole host of problems with it initially, what with the top-up feature not working, and then the card itself failing. On May 26, 2014, I wrote an entry where things seemed to be going more smoothly. And that was the case for a couple of months until the replacement card failed as well! But this time, it seems the Presto folks at Rideau Centre were a little more ready for me. They quickly replaced my card, I didn't have to pay $6 for it, and the nice man loaded on a few free trips (which I'm not sure ever did get billed to my credit card). I still had to phone Presto to get the balance from my old card transferred to my new one and it still took 24 hours or so but at least it didn't seem to be quite such a rigamarole and I wasn't stuck in some endless telephone tree for hours on end. And nearly two years later, the card is still working (touch wood - but don't touch anything magnetic!)

A good thing too, because tickets are being phased out to make way for rapid transit and all-tech options for fare paying. Of course, all fares have gone up as of today (and will rise again on January 1). Amongst other factors, it appears that the Metrolinx folks are trying to extort yet more money for the "privilege" of using the PRESTO card system that's been plagued with problems since day one. Ah, well - hopefully most of those problems are behind us now. And I do think it'll be nice to finally have a proper light rail system in Ottawa - once it's up and running.