Trump Jr. trauma a trigger

Donald Trump Jr. had to learn the hard way that determined, aggressive lobbyists are attracted to election campaigns as bees are to honey.

I have had to stop listening to the news this week as it is focused exclusively on the fact that Donald Trump Jr. received a meeting request from a Russian lawyer during the election, and he gave her a meeting.

Round-the-clock, saturation coverage of this meeting keeps triggering me and giving me flashbacks to the endless interminable meetings I have had with Falun Gong members on every campaign on which I’ve ever worked; there is no end to the requests, no end to the meetings, the letters, and the ambushes at events.

If you are managing an election campaign, the Falun Gong becomes part of your life every single day.

During one federal campaign, four Falun Gong members showed up at the campaign office on Election Day and refused to leave until they got a yet another meeting with the Campaign Manager (me).

“Buddy, we have a Get Out the Vote program to run today,” I finally exclaimed in exasperation. “GET OUT and do not come back!!!!”

“You don’t understand…” he continued speaking, completely oblivious to reality.

When I can finally shake off the Falun Gong memories, I cycle into the Tamil memories, and the rotating cast of characters from various groups that spent two months asking for meetings so they could warn me darkly to keep my candidate away from Tamils who belonged to other groups who were, I was told, dangerous liars, prone to violence, and certain to doom my candidate. Every Tamil group said this about every other Tamil group. I learned that I could predict the harshness of the threats I would hear by the cryptic urgency of the meeting requests: “Rita, I must speak with you personally about a very important matter…”

Poor Don Jr. Now he’s learned that election campaigns are to determined lobbyists as honey is to bees. Apparently, this Russian woman actually had no dirt on Hillary Clinton but instead wanted to lobby him on the Magnitysky Act. The fact that she lied to get a meeting is just so 100% politically perfect, Campaign Managers across the land must be shaking their heads in silent sympathy. Poor schmuck. Now look at the mess he’s in…there but for the grace of God go all of us.

So I’m taking a break from news for a while; yesterday I switched to 80s music on my Sonos and danced around to “Footloose” for a while. It was good therapy.


Big dogs can be a bruising experience

Ouch. Ow. Ouch! The scrapes and bruises really hurt – thank goodness for ice packs! And, Forest really, really loves me and only wants to protect Leia – but his best intentions are sometimes painfully incorrect.

I hesitated to write this post because generally, I don’t write sad posts to generate sympathy. Also I cringe at “injury” posts: “Does this look infected?” Eeeeewwww….

Dogs bring so much joy.

However, I post so many happy, funny photos and stories of Forest and Leia that I realize I am at risk of being one of the Facebook users who only post good news, never bad. This could leave readers with the idea that news is always good and never bad – especially where large dogs are concerned.

Louise Drowley-Harris, an amazing and prolific dog rescuer, notes that the biggest reason young, large, healthy dogs are given up to shelters is because their owners had no idea how much of a physical challenge they can be (most likely, WILL be – which is not news to anyone familiar with dogs).

So to balance all the hilarious and fun Forest and Leia videos, I think it is also fair and responsible of me to post this week’s photos, which is the divot in my forehead and the road-rash on my face that resulted from Forest pulling me off of my feet on my driveway on Friday evening.

We were returning from a 90 minute walk on the Durham Waterfront Trail. It was really hot out and I was tired and sweaty, but pleased we had finished our second walk of the day and were headed inside for good food and cold drinks. I was so happy to be home, I did not notice that a family with stroller, toddlers and a dog was approaching on the opposite side of the street.

Both of my dogs were on leash, as is de riguer on our neighbourhood streets (not so much the trails).

Forest, who has become more protective and growly since Leia arrived (it is his job to protect her, I have learned ) barked and lunged forward. I was not prepared. He pulled me right off of my feet and I did a face plant on my own driveway.

I scrambled to my feet, collected up both dogs, and shoved them through the front door of my house before I realized I was bleeding. I picked up the clean “dog towel” I keep on the front porch and sat pressing the wound on my forehead for a while before my neighbour Christy, from directly across the street, approached me.

“You are really bleeding a lot,” Christy pointed out, looking at the towel and my forehead.

“Am I?” I asked, completely disoriented.

“Yes,” she said. “I think I should call 911.”

“Really? OK,” I replied, in a daze.

The paramedics arrived, cleaned my face, bandaged the wound and offered to take me to the hospital. After some conversation, lots of bobbing flashlights and commitments from neighbours to check in on me, they left me at home. Christy lived up to her word and turned up at 9pm with a chocolate cupcake for me, just “checking in.”

So, it’s been a painful weekend (four wounds that I can see on my forehead, eyebrow and in my hairline) and a giant, shining black eye (“You look like you got punched out!” Grampa Trent from Price’s Market told me cheerfully today. “Just tell everyone, ‘You should see the other guy!’”)

You know what’s the craziest part of it? This is the FOURTH time this has happened to me in my life. Twice with my lab/Great Dane Moose and twice with Forest. It’s the first time an ambulance was called, but the fourth time one of my big happy dogs knocked me out cold and left me with bruises, black eyes and scars. It always comes as a giant surprise; and yet, WHOOPS, there it is.

Our first errand today, Monday, was to go to Pet Valu and buy a “No Pull” harness for Forest (Leia already has one, and it works GREAT. I just did not think Forest, who is seven years old, needed one. I was wrong about that).

I asked my neighbour Stefani to try to get a shot of Forest modelling his new No Pull harness, and as a bonus, to try to get my bruised face in the shot. I think we got more of me than Forest, but anyway, I guess that’s the point of this post.

Warning: the puppy on the right is much closer than he appears to becoming the full grown dog on the left.

Puppies are SOOOOOOO cute. 8 week or 10 week old puppies of any breed are adorable. Labs rip your heart out. Boxers and Mastiffs look so clumsy and cute. Shepards and Rottweillers with the irresistible eyebrows and the wiggly bums…how can you say “no”?

Well, unless you have 3 hours per day to commit to a young dog, you have to say “no.” The walking, the training, the grooming, the walking….it is real work. Totally worth it, mind you – and if you luck into adopting an older dog who is already trained and needs a bit less exercise, it is easier.

Young, strong, healthy large dogs are a serious commitment of time and money and as you can tell by the photo above, can also be a “bruising” experience. Keep my face in mind next time you are looking at photos of “irresistible” puppies!



Fake news, around forever

Pardon my fake news photo….this one was taken at Jarvis Collegiate, not Holy Name, however the set up of the Jarvis Collegiate photo was much the same as the Holy Name photo which featured my son Tom. I could not locate the Toronto Star/Holy Name photo, so I’m faking it with this one.

Fake news?

In 1998 when my son Tom was in Grade 8 he attended a special program at Holy Name School at Danforth and Carlaw in Toronto.

I was working for the Minister of Education in the Mike Harris government. It was a chaotic time, but I always felt my kids supported me.

One Friday morning, I pulled all the newspapers in from the front door and was shocked to see an enormous, half-front-page, above-the-fold photo of a protest at Holy Name School, as students were protesting the Harris government.

There, smiling brightly in the middle of the photo – one of the tallest kids in crowd, right in the front row – was my son Tom. I was gobsmacked.

I paced around for a couple of hours before everyone got up and out of bed to get ready for school.

When Tom finally came downstairs, I was waiting for him. I cleared my throat and spoke carefully:

“Honey….” I began tactfully, “What are you doing on the front page of the Toronto Star protesting the government I work for?”

“Ha!” Tom exclaimed, laughing skeptically. “Ma, that was no protest. The principal came on over the PA system and told everyone we were getting an extra recess and that we should go to the playground. So we all went to the playground, where a teacher directed us all to collect up along the fence. A photographer was waiting there to take our picture. After that, we all got an extra recess which everyone thought was pretty cool, so there were no complaints. There was no mention of any protest.”

While I was relieved to learn I was not being protested by my own son, I was disappointed to know the Toronto Star and the teachers would do such a thing. But you know what? It was a great learning experience for all three of my kids. None of them have ever read a news article without a healthy dose of skepticism since that day.

In fact, that same month there was an “education fair” at which students were invited to throw bean bags at a plywood cut-out of Mike Harris. This also earned the front page of the Toronto Star; when he saw it, Tom crowed in disgust: “Look at all those students, totally hypnotized by teachers!”

There has always been fake news.  It used to be called “Yellow Journalism,” and then “propaganda,” and next “advertorial,” “sponsored stories,” and then “native content.” (What a devious description THAT is! Or as Tom Smith would snort, “Could you be a little more vague?”)

Trump re-purposed a fake news clip from a fake wrestling match shot years ago…it’s not just fake, it’s meta-fake. It’s also very funny.

Now we have CNN reporting Russian hacking stories based on no evidence; the New York Times denying its own headlines to support a new narrative. Donald Trump’s efforts to blow up this entire ossified media infrastructure are to be supported and applauded; he is providing a giant service to everyone. At the very least he’s delivering a great wake-up call. At the best, he is yanking up the standards of serious journalism in North America.

The video tweet of him wrestling CNN to the ground – a fake fight scenario making fun of a fake news station at a fake boxing match with a fake promoter and a fake executive – is hilarious and brilliant.

Or as Tom Smith might say, “Look at all those viewers hypnotized by media.”

He was “woke” at age 13. We all should be by now.







Rule of Law gets a Kick in the Teeth

Honest, decent, hard-working, law-abiding members of the taxi industry slept outside of City Hall on a hunger strike in November, 2015. All calls to ask Toronto to maintain one consistent law for all vehicles for hire – Taxis, Uber, Lyft, whoever – fell upon deaf ears. Faith in Canada’s Rule of Law has been decimated for these guys.

On November 19, 2014, John Tory stated confidently, “Uber and Hailo are here to stay.”

Ironically, ride-hailing firm Hailo had left Toronto weeks earlier. A law-abiding entity, it could not compete, waved a white flag, and left. Tory was unaware of this fact.

Uber has been a different story. Toronto allowed it to break any by-law it chose for almost three years, giving Uber an unprecedented business advantage.

Alas, Uber has not lived up to John Tory’s expectations. In fact, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick was forced by investors to step down after a horrendous six-month run of disasters. Female engineers at Uber reported on sexual harassment and discrimination; regulators discovered Uber is using “Greyball,” software designed the help it avoid the law; Uber is being sued by Google for allegedly stealing its self-driving car technology. Uber is overcharging passengers and underpaying drivers.

Uber’s gleeful lawlessness is proving to be its Achilles heel. This was obvious to anyone with common sense while Toronto was re-writing its vehicle for hire by-law for Uber last year and SHOULD have been immediately apparent to the politicians we pay to make our laws. It was not.

On June 21, in an article entitled “Uber can’t be fixed; it’s time for regulators to shut it down,” Benjamin Edelman wrote in the Harvard Business Review: “The company’s cultural dysfunction, it seems to me, stems from the very nature of the company’s competitive advantage: Uber’s business model is predicated on lawbreaking. And having grown through intentional illegality, Uber can’t easily pivot toward following the rules.”

“Having built a corporate culture that celebrates breaking the law, it is surely no accident that Uber then faced scandal after scandal. How is an Uber manager to know which laws should be followed and which ignored?” Edelman asks.

In Toronto, the cost of the short-sighted decision to reward law-breakers has been brutal: it has caused a true crisis of faith for immigrants who came here honestly and work tirelessly. I doubt the damage done to their concept of Canada’s Rule of Law will ever be undone.

“I left home to get AWAY from this kind of corruption!” I have heard from cabbies from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Egypt. “And here it is again!”

Hans Wienhold, a taxi driver and blogger puts it this way: “Given that the taxi industry is disproportionately populated by recent immigrants…what message does this send to the new waves of immigrants and refugees looking to build a secure life for themselves?

“I’ll tell you what message it sends… ‘Do not work hard and invest your life and savings for the long term, because you now live in a regime where everything can be taken away from you by a simple vote at a city hall.’”

Wienhold also made a sad observation on the fact that all of the most expensive elements of a secure taxi industry were never about safety at all.

“Now we see clearly that none of these things ever had anything to do with safety; they were just power grabs and cash grabs. No one will ever buy the politicians’ BS again.”

Recently, we have seen more drivers ignoring the law, refusing short fares, or requiring a minimum fare; basically rejecting the City’s authority to set fares and rules.

Because, what law?

John Tory and Toronto Council should have seen this coming. They did not.

As this week’s Time Magazine cover says, “Uber fail.”


Cream of Asparagus Soup starring Ontario Asparagus

This cooking video is actually at least a four-in-one deal:

  1. How to make luscious, delicious Cream of Asparagus soup using fresh Ontario Asparagus.
  2. How to make a smooth, buttery roux to thicken your soup (a good skill to have for any number of recipes).
  3. How to avoid painful burns – skip the standard blender and use a stick blender!
  4. How to enjoy creamy soups in the middle of winter, that taste like you made them today.

Click here to view the video. 

Made and posted with love, by Rita Smith

A real dog-and-pony show…

Carefully organized perennial beds, fences with wide gaps, horses and….Leia. What could go wrong?

Forest, Leia and I set out for a perennials farm yesterday to load up on new plants.

The place is lovely, and the owners so nice. Clearly, they are city-folk living a Green Acres retirement as the quaint wooden sign on their front lawn reads, “Living the Dream!”

“You can let your dogs out, if you want,” the fellow told me brightly.

“Really? Are you sure?” I looked around at the neat perennials beds and potted plants. “I wouldn’t want them to upset anything.”

“Sure! No problem! As long as they are friendly, we welcome dogs!” he offered magnanimously.

“REALLY? Are you REALLY sure?” I asked again, dubiously.

I didn’t see any good coming out of this. But the man and his wife were so generous and welcoming, I ignored my better judgement and let the dogs out of the car.

Immediately, they bolted for the fence line where there stood – two large red horses.

“Oh, except we hope they won’t bother the horses,” he added, a little anxiously and a lot too late. Leia had already bound through the wide gaps in the wooden fence and she and Forest were both barking their fool heads off at these huge new “dogs.”

“FOREST! LEIA! COME HERE!” I bellowed in my loudest dog-calling voice. Amazingly, Forest stopped before he reached the fence and came back. Leia was long gone.

“I’m just afraid the horse might kick them,” the man offered helpfully.

“Yeah, that would be a real problem,” I replied morosely, already imagining how much THIS vet bill was going to be, after Leia got sent sailing through the air by one swift kick.

I deposited Forest back in the safety of the car before I returned to the fence line to try and retrieve Leia.

After their exciting equine adventure, Forest and Leia were deposited back into the safety of car.

Leia was in her glory, joyfully cavorting and gamboling directly under the horse’s feet. In fact, she was running perfect “Figure 8s:” around the front hooves; under the horse’s belly; behind the back hooves; under the belly again; another lap around the front feet. Every time she circled the horse’s back feet, I held my breath, waiting for the kick to come.

None came.

“That is one patient horse you have there,” I told the ‘farmer.’

“Oh, she’s not mine, this is my neighbour’s field,” he informed me cheerfully. Oh, lord, I groaned. Vet bills AND lawsuits!

Meanwhile, his wife came running over with a bag of dog treats, shaking it noisily and calling “Here! Treats! Here!” Clearly, this had happened before.

“LEEEEE-IIII-AAAAA, HEEEEEEERE!” I called in the trail walking command we have been practicing since February. She actually heard my voice over her own excited barking, turned and trotted over to me. Miracles happen!

“I’ll just put her in the car before I pick out my plants,” I panted, hauling Leia by the collar in the direction of the car. Both horses ambled back home to the far side of the field; perhaps they’d had enough excitement for one morning.

The rest of my shopping was uneventful and I picked out a trunk load of beautiful perennials for my garden. As I loaded them in the car, a woman pulled up with a German Shepard in her car.

“Is it OK if I bring my dog with me?” she called to the owner. “I have his leash, and poo bags!”

“Sure!!” the ‘farmer’ responded enthusiastically. “No problem!”

As I pulled away, I remembered I had planned to look at tomato plants. I decided those could wait. Like the big red horses, I figured I’d had enough for one day…





Smart scientists make dumb protest decisions

Correct me if I’m wrong – I don’t think “smart” people make fun of the taxpayers who fund them and the politicians that make spending decisions.

My brother hunts with beagles. The best photo he ever sent was of a “heap ‘o hounds,” four dogs collapsed together, a hilarious pile of big paws, long ears, and sensitive noses, sleeping in blissful, oblivious contentment.

“It’s good to be part of a pack,” my brother observed.

Viewing coverage of the protests by scientists organized for Earth Day, I can’t help but draw comparisons to my brother’s hounds: they were blissful, but oblivious.

Scientists are the most recent group to adopt the tactic of street protests which make everyone feel excited and empowered to be part of a pack but do little to advance their cause among elected officials.

Take, for example, teachers and the Mike Harris government. Aggrieved teachers took to the streets to protest Ontario’s new funding formula; inside government, we scrambled to respond to what appeared to be a public relations nightmare.

In fact, the team around Harris had gleaned through polling that the more the teachers protested, the more Harris’ approval ratings went UP; we actually began planning events that would attract protesters. Mike Harris easily won a second majority government in 1999.

The taxi industry in Toronto loves printing up yellow t-shirts and packing City Hall when taxi issues come up. In planning sessions I asked: “Why are we doing this? Councillors hate it when we do this. They feel threatened and intimidated. We are not allowed to speak or even clap. Why are we doing this?”

Because, the industry loves it. The Rotunda is a cross between old home week and a family reunion, thoroughly enjoyed by all. We lost every vote at council, though.

In 2009, I attended the Science Communications program at Banff with about 20 Ph.D scientists who were there to learn how to communicate science more effectively. At that time and in the years since, I have warned many of the good people I met, “Do not get into public protests. You will destroy your credibility, and garner no sympathy from politicians or taxpayers. Don’t become just another special interest group whining for more money. Don’t try to become politicians; they will not trust your advice if you try to compete with them as politicians.” Clearly, I lost that debate.

Under Stephen Harper, scientists paraded around Ottawa carrying a coffin, mourning “The Death of Science.” On Earth Day, 2017, they protested the Trudeau budget, taking their sector even further down the road toward being labelled as a group that will run out of governments to protest.

And yet, one of the Banff faculty members, who teaches journalism at an American university, posted this:

“I’ve been advocating for scientists to become more engaged in communication, policy, and politics for at least 20 years…I’m struck by how very far we’ve come and optimistic for what comes next.”

The coverage I saw had scientists waving signs that said, “Make America Smart Again” – mocking the president whose government will make funding decisions and insulting taxpayers who are not as “smart” as they are. Scientists should not play politics; they should not protest in the street. They should not call taxpayers stupid.

No matter how great it feels to be part of a pack.


Work is Love made visible

Fried onions, cabbage (or-kale!), and mashed potatoes are Colcannon. Topped with two fried eggs, it’s a heart-warming breakfast full of Love.

Yesterday, I was honoured to swim in such a deep sea of Love that I woke up singing.

I spent most of the business day as a volunteer facilitator at the Healthy Minds/ TriOs College professional development day on Mental Health in the Workplace. Conference leader Sara Lindsay, who is doggedly and successfully living a fantastic life while managing a bi-polar disorder, was the most engaging, insightful presenter I’ve ever seen. The staff at TriOs College were 100% committed to finding ways to be ready to support both students and staff dealing with mental health issues that might prevent them from succeeding. I left the TriOs campus on wings, so excited that skillsets I needed desperately 15 years ago are now being taught positively and comprehensively.

I made a quick detour to drop off a pack of Tom Smith’s Blue Jays memorabilia on the front porch of work associate’s porch for her son who loves the Jays; then I drove to downtown Toronto to drop off a 33 rpm turntable and tape recorder from Uncle Dave’s basement to beloved friends who collect them. Our friendship was forged working together on crazy projects during a tumultuous time for the Ontario government. We had not seen each other for 10 years; they are new grandparents and we spent 2 hours talking and laughing, and laughing, talking and talking. I had to run out the door at 6:08 because my parking meter expired at 6:09!

From there I drove up to the David Duncan House, where 3 amazing clients were waiting for me. They had planned an incredible dinner in one of the most beautiful places in Toronto to thank me for my many years of hard work on behalf of the taxi industry. The pepper steak and ceasar salad made table-side were the best I’ve ever had. We talked and laughed for more than 5 hours before I headed home with an enormous “doggie bag” of delicious food.

This morning, I used the left over mashed potatoes to make Colcannon for breakfast. I will eat the rest of the pepper steak for dinner. I will think of everyone with every bite. If I lived one day like yesterday every 5 or 10 years, all the work in between would be worth it.

I wish everyone a day like yesterday: swimming in a sea of Love. Work is Love made visible.




Preparing to meet God: “What did you do with the Talents I gave you?”

My neighbour was diagnosed with Stage 4 Cancer only a couple of months ago. This guy worked for OPG for 38 years and during that time, he took one sick day. ONE. In 38 years.

He retired 18 months ago, and was diagnosed with Stage 4 Cancer about a year later. It was in his lungs, his lymphatic system and his adrenal glands.

His decline was astonishingly rapid…the man who was vibrant, full of life, hefting stone porch steps and organizing gardens last summer could now barely breathe or talk.

He showed up at my front door one day last winter to return a plate. He rang my doorbell multiple times, then came into my house and took a seat at my table. Maybe he ate a cookie. I might have served him tea; I don’t recall.

The main thing was, that we spoke heart-to-heart, Cancer patient to Cancer patient.

“I remember the day I realized I was about to come face-to-face with God,” I told him. “All of a sudden, I knew I was going to have to explain to Him what I had done with my life – I was going to have to defend my life, when He asked me: ‘What did you do with the Talents I gave you?’”

That year, I was in a purely self-centred mode. Maybe I was dying; who knew? Maybe I would never have another chance to fix things with God.

When I look back on the life that I have lived, I think I did a pretty good job of working hard and using the Talents God gave me to the best purpose possible. However, I did regret that I had not given away more money to charity. Granted, I was broke for the first 35 years of my life, but later, when I did start to earn real money, I did not give enough of it away.

I hoped that perhaps I could remedy this problem by forgiving a $17,000 loan I had given to Jewish woman who was engaged in an activity that was very helpful to young children. It’s a long story, how I came to loan her the money and how she came to not pay it back, but anyway, in my self-centred and optimistically manipulative mindset (being egotistical enough to think I could manipulate God), I accepted her invitation to meet up for a bagel and negotiated this deal with her:

“Look here, I am not asking you to repay this loan, not now, not ever. Just keep helping kids. However – if I die and have to explain my life to God, I am going to tell Him this was a gift, for which I should get some kind of charitable credit. Since I am Catholic and you are Jewish, I hope I’ll get credit in both religious traditions.”

(My Greek Orthodox neighbour Sylvia, who prays for me often, is under strict instructions to deliver this message to God if she meets Him before I do: “Rita can explain.” I’m a big believer in having people of all faiths rationalize my life to God, in the hope it will make a difference.)

My neighbour almost never dropped eye contact with me while I cheerfully blathered on during this long story. He was listening intently; he seemed to be getting great comfort from a conversation that addressed some version of his looming reality, rather than delusional optimism about defeating Cancer. We hugged “good-bye” several times.

I saw him a week ago. Three of his grandchildren were raking his lawn; both of my dogs were running around like idiots. He was sitting on his beautiful stone porch step in a bathrobe, and his voice was so weak and raspy we could not actually speak but we hugged a lot before we said “Good-bye.”

He died at 3am this morning, Easter Saturday. I am glad for every conversation and hug that we had. I hope his conversation with God goes well. I think it will.





Essential Pans for new cooks

I probably never would have attempted Paella for a dozen people before, but my 15″ cast iron Lodge skillet gave me confidence. A truly bad ass cook, the kind who owns a skillet like this, is not afraid to try anything. But – NOBODY starts out at this level.

In a nice ironic coincidence, the same week two friends asked me about what are the most important pans to own, I received an email from Paderno announcing its semi-annual Factory Sale.

I took advantage of the opportunity to shoot a video (six videos) explaining my beliefs on what are the most basic important items (a cast iron skillet and a sharp French knife) to items which are more specialized, more expensive, and fun!

Putting all the information in one video resulted in a 47 minute video (!!!) so I have opted to post them here, Tier 1 to Tier 6, from the most basic items to the more expensive. The segments range in time from 4 minutes to 10 minutes.

I hope you find this information helpful – I love to see people encouraged to cook using the simple and straight-forward necessities. I hate to see anyone get caught in the clutches of a crazy-expensive kitchen wares store which will try to sell them every gadget possible, before they even have the basics. Please let me know if you have any questions.

Here is the link the the University of California – Davis paper on the safety comparison between plastic cutting boards and wood:

Good luck!

Love, Rita

Tier 1

Tier 2

Tier 3


Tier 4: Dutch Ovens and Stock Pots

Tier #5: The fun stuff!


Tier 6 – Roasters


Here is a FABULOUS video on how wooden cutting boards are made: