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.
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.
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.
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:
The past several weeks have been a very interesting experience in speaking out: being silenced, and being supported.
I was born in the United States and I am a Donald Trump supporter (I give a fulsome explanation of why I am a Trump supporter in this blog).
I lost my mind for a minute there the weekend after Trump’s inauguration while viewing coverage of the so-called “women’s marches,” which had nothing to do with women’s rights and were simply anti-Trump rallies organized by a bunch of democratic sore losers who would be happy to see America fail if it also meant Trump would fail. I believe these people, their beliefs and their actions, are exceedingly dangerous to Democracy and the American republic. They are a danger to the entire globe.
While I was attacked pretty venomously when I published this blog, “America owes you nothing,” I was touched and encouraged by the number of people who contacted me to thank me for writing it. Probably my tone was harsher than it needed to be to make my point, but after two days of Linda Sarsour, Ashley Judd and Madonna, my patience and good will were at an all-time low.
My favourite vote of support came this week from a “pocket call,” a cell phone call I accidentally made while out on a dog walk. Rustling around in my coat pocket for a dog treat or a poo bag, I inadvertently “called” a long-time work associate. He was confused by the call from me and the fact that he could not hear any voice but only the wind and the water for 60 seconds.
Later we had a great chat and a laugh over my “pocket call” and I was saying good-bye when he interrupted me: “Rita, Rita, before you go – I wanted to thank you for what you have been writing lately. It is really encouraging to see somebody defending democracy and a rational point of view.”
When I was in Michigan last weekend, my sister asked me, “Why do you care so much about what goes on here?”
“Because,” I shrugged, “without America, there is no Canada.”
She nodded philosophically; we all know it is true.
“If you don’t believe you are better than all the alternatives, nobody else will, and there’s no reason for you to continue…it has to be replenished psychologically. All of you in this room, we have a duty, each according to our station, each day, to say ‘The United States is better than the alternatives, and what in my own way can I do to remind people of that? And I’m not going to be silent about it.’ Criticizing what’s going on in this country is going to earn you wages that are very unfortunate, but if we don’t want to earn them, we’re going to lose the country.”
A dog trainer once told me that most people are surprised to learn that dogs love carrots.
“I use them as training treats,” he noted, pulling a baby carrot out of his pocket and giving it to one of his dogs, who gobbled it up happily.
My vet also once told me that in an effort to prevent weight gain, I could mix Forest’s dog food half-and-half with green beans. “He won’t know the difference!” the vet promised me.
I tried both of these tactics with Forest, who wasn’t being fooled for a second. The carrots he sniffed disdainfully, then discarded. The green beans were worse: he managed to eat all of the dog kibble in his bowl, carefully avoiding the green beans, so that when I emptied his bowl it was full of green beans and nothing else. I have to admire his integrity: he was holding out for real liver bits, which are his idea of a “treat.”
Enter Leia! Leia loves EVERYTHING. This dog has not met a sunrise, a frozen creek, a muddy walk, or a bowlful of boring food that she does not attack with relish and gusto. I only have to say “Well, good morning!” to her and she launches herself into paroxysms of joy and airborne acrobatics.
Yesterday I put a massive pot of beef bones and other essentials, including carrots, on the stove, to make beef broth. Five giant carrots were bubbling away in the pot along with celery, onion, and seasonings.
I hated to think of throwing the carrots out, big fat nutritious carrots cooked for 24 hours with beef marrow bones. “Maybe I could dice them up and use them for dog treats!” I thought, remembering the trainer’s words.
First I did a little test, tossing each of the dogs a circle of carrot. Forest spit his out on the floor; Leia ate hers, and then his, too.
Then I diced up some carrot and put a bit in each dog food bowl. Forest declined to eat much of anything at all, while Leia gobbled up everything in her bowl – carrots and kibble – and licked it clean. She looked longingly at Forest’s bowl, now up on the counter, virtually untouched. I’ll give it all to her later to finish, and give Forest his usual kibble with a couple of dots of cooked liver.
What’s the point of this story? EVERYONE is different. Especially to parents of young children – and I am happy to know so many – the advice you get from professionals might work for one child, but not another. The tried-and-true tricks you used to make one child happy might not make a second or third child happy at all.
Kind of like Leia on ice – one day she prances across the frozen creek or pond’s edge, gleefully running away at full speed and coming back laughing. The next day, the melting ice breaks beneath her weight and she gets a quick, cold bath in shallow water– whoops! Who knew? She’ll figure it out.
a heading at the top of an article or page in a newspaper or magazine.
“a front-page headline”
noun: click bait
(on the Internet) content whose main purpose is to attract attention and encourage visitors to click on a link to a particular web page.
“these recent reports of the show’s imminent demise are hyperbolic clickbait”
The internet has changed the rules of engagement for headline writing
and story layout immensely; now, instead of glancing at a headline
which gives a time-saving summary of the story,
you are more likely to see click-bait:
“12 ways to lose weight! #7 flipped us out!”
or “You’ll never guess who owns this puppy!”
Back in the day, I actually learned how to lay out newspapers on these things called “flats,” which were thick coated paper (not quite cardboard) scored with light blue (invisible to print) lines and columns custom designed to fit our newspaper, Taxi News.
The printer of Taxi News was a local newspaper, the Korea Times (KT). KT provided us with the flats, which fit their press. Once each month, after laying out the entire 32 page edition of Taxi News, we would drop it off at KT and they would print 10,000 copies of it for us. One day later, we would pick up the 10,000 copies of Taxi News and drop them off at taxi companies and gas stations around the city.
Taxi News was very progressive at the time, so early in using Desk Top Publishing that it purchased the very first laser printer Apple ever sold in Canada, using a Beta version of Adobe PageMaker.
It was a unique intersection of old and new: we used the very newest technology to laser print text to paper – custom measured to the column size provided on our KT flats (a Taxi News column was 2 inches wide); but we cut each column with an Exacto knife, waxed it with a waxer, and affixed it to the KT flat in a very physical process. We did not lay out entire pages on a computer screen, as we do now. We stuck waxed pieces of text to the flat for a very specific reason: ad sales.
All newspapers run on ad sales. What was true then is just as true now. Newspapers in years past were so ready to accommodate advertising sales that they developed an entire layout system around it. We called it “Proper Paper Procedure,” or “PPP” for short.
PPP meant that we followed the layout rules established for newspapers at least a century ago: articles were written in “reverse pyramid” format, meaning that the most important paragraph, the lede, contained a concise and compelling statement of all the news to follow and the most important factual statement. We were taught that a lede could not be more than 19 words long.
Paragraph #2 elaborated on Graph #1 with additional facts which provided context.
Paragraph #3 was generally the “Nut Graph,” which contained the nub of the information being presented with more context and would likely answer the question, “Why does this article matter?”
Everything below Graph #3 was carefully written as a stand-alone paragraph which gave the reader further information, but was basically disposable. Nothing in Graphs 1, 2, or 3 could be dependent upon information in Graph #4 and onward. If the article had 8 paragraphs, #8 was the most disposable, #7 the second-most disposable, and so on.
Nothing in any paragraph could be dependent upon or refer to information in a following paragraph.
Why was this so? Ad sales! Every publication which prints ink on paper wants to maximize the number of ads within its pre-determined number of pages. Adding pages is almost never an option, so squeezing the absolute maximum number of ads into a limited number of pages becomes something of an art form.
If an ad salesman turned up with an ad at the last minute during layout and we needed to make space for it, articles got ripped off the flat to make room for the ad. Ads always take priority over articles; they pay the printer. And the staff.
So, if we needed to make room for an ad at the last minute, we began editing articles this way: the bottom paragraph went first – gone.
The second bottom paragraph went next – gone.
And so on, until we had emptied enough column inches to place the ad. Sometimes such an edit would affect only one article; more likely we’d pull off the disposable bottom paragraphs of each article on the page to keep the most important information, while preserving at least the lede, Graph #2 and the “Nut Graph” and a couple of others.
There was no editorial authority required to ask if we could trim a reverse-pyramid article from the bottom up: every hard news article was written in this style and anyone with an Exacto knife could cut from the bottom up, confident that no important information would be lost, and that no preceding information would suddenly be put out of context. For a couple of centuries, every newspaper being printed followed these rules, Proper Paper Procedure.
Taxi News was 5 columns wide at 2 inches per column; an article across the top of the page would be 5 columns wide; beneath that, probably 3 columns wide; and at the bottom nearest the fold, 1 column wide.
An article 2 columns wide and 4 inches deep – 8 column inches – could be pulled to make room for a 2 inch x 4 inch ad.
A larger ad (or maybe a breaking story) could mean that the layout team would have to re-arrange an entire page, pulling the least important articles completely and trimming – literally cutting the paper – the larger stories from the bottom up in order to free up enough column inches to place the ad.
How does PPP affect headline writing?
A headline which runs across 5 columns would be long, providing enough room to give a pretty good precis of the story below. If there was room for a 2- line headline, even more so. However, a headline 2 inches deep and 10 inches wide is 20 column inches – that’s a lot of space! That’s an ad 2 columns wide and 5 inches deep. That’s money.
As we started laying out the flats, we could be fairly generous with the headlines when there was space. If ads got sold as we were laying out – and we really would take ads right up until virtually the last minute – the first thing to go would be the long, deep headlines. With an Exacto knife, we’d cut off the second line of the headline and re-arrange the page to move the story up and make space for the ad.
This is why headlines must be written in “reverse pyramid” style the same way articles are: so they can be easily be cut without re-wording and with no editorial authority.
So, using my favourite parody headline as an example:
Boy trapped in fridge eats own foot
Police, medics too late to the scene
If we had to pull the second line, it would simply read:
Boy trapped in fridge eats own foot
If we had to move the article down the page where the headline could only be 3 columns wide, not 5, it would be laid out as:
Boy trapped in fridge
Eats own foot
If it had to be narrower still, it could be cut as:
Eats own foot
In the same way that an article written in reverse pyramid cannot allow any paragraph to be dependent on a paragraph that follows it, PPP headlines are written so that no line is dependent on the line below – it has to be complete in itself and stand alone, in case it must.
By observing the rules of PPP throughout the writing and layout process, including both the article layout and the headline layout, newspapers could quickly rearrange an article, multiple articles or an entire page to make room for paid advertising or hot stories. More likely, paid advertising.
PPP rules apply to hard news stories; editorials, Op-Eds, columns, features and other human interest pieces often follow a different format, with teaser openings or telling a story in chronological order, not using reverse pyramid.
For 30 years now, newspapers have used software and other tools to quickly lay out entire editions electronically. However, even computer layouts need to follow the long-ago developed rules of PPP if print publications want to retain their ability to take last minute ads without adding pages.
The internet has changed the rules of engagement for headline writing and story layout immensely; now, instead of glancing at a headline which gives a time-saving summary of the story, you are more likely to see click-bait: “12 ways to lose weight! #7 flipped us out!” or “You’ll never guess who owns this puppy!”
Online publications, in addition to having a financial incentive to coax readers to click through endless, time-wasting pages, have virtually unlimited space in which to publish. A person who came of age reading online publications may not even realize there used to be a time when you could scan the headlines and/or the first couple of paragraphs of a whole newspaper section and get the gist of what was being reported that day. Instead, they are lost in a maze of links and lures. (“Geez!” my daughter once told me. “I went online to check something, and when I looked up, an hour had passed!” That kind of experience is the exact opposite of the logic of reverse pyramid and PPP.)
Personally, I have always appreciated the fact that somewhere, a team of writers, editors, headline writers and layout people are hard at work organizing information to save me time and effort. The Toronto Sun’s daily electronic paper is an exact replica of its paper edition, and I LOVE it! The logic, the flow, the prioritization and placement of content is all there, electronically. It’s awesome.
On January 22st I posted a blog detailing what I thought about the “Women’s March” in Washington DC. The backlash was swift, and severe. In fact, in one 24 hour period I was contacted by four Muslim men, basically telling me to sit down and shut up.
I would be so perfectly content to go back to posting nothing but happy food and dog stories – and I’ve done lots of those – but on February 16th, Canada’s Parliament will be debating M-103, a motion which is a step on the way to making criticizing Islam against the law.
I would simply like to reiterate the point I made when Ontario fought the introduction of Sharia Law in 2005: we do not need two sets of laws. Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms already protects all religions equally. That includes Islam. We do not need a special, separate law to protect Islam.
12 years after the Ontario battle against Sharia, we are fighting it again at the federal level. The solution is the same: one law for everyone, and everyone equal before the law. Muslims are not special in our democracy, or our civilization. They need to toughen up, the same way everyone else does. The great news is that they can choose to do so. I wrote about that here after the Charlie Hebdo shootings, and when I go back to read it is seems only more true now than it did then.
Watching Americans rip themselves apart on immigration issues over the past month is such a contrast to my favourite winter story this year.
My son Captain David Smith, his fiancée Mey and I were just rounding the end of the Samuel Wilmot trail at the parking lot with our dogs.
As we approached the parking lot, we saw that a small car was very stuck in a frozen, icy spot. The driver was using a combination of salt and carpets to try to back the car out of the ruts. He was VERY stuck.
“Honey,” I said to Captain Smith, who is as fit and muscular as any human being you have ever met, “you should go help that guy.” I needn’t have made the comment, as David was already striding over to assist. A Lake Ontario Fisherman in full gear with boots and spikes was already there, trying to push the driver out.
From a distance, I could only see that the driver was Oriental. He could have been Chinese or Japanese or Korean – you couldn’t tell. It was clear that he was very stuck in two deep ruts, though.
Mey and I watched from about 50 feet away, and could see that very little progress was being made. I handed Forest’s leash to Mey.
“Here,” I said. “Make sure he does not run behind the car.”
As I walked over toward the stuck car, I called to Dave, “Is the car standard or automatic?”
“Automatic,” he yelled back, over the sound of spinning tires and spraying salt.
“Tell the driver to get out and push, and I will take over the wheel,” I shouted. I am a pretty experienced Ontario snow driver.
David did deliver this instruction to the driver, but he did not seem to understand English as he remained in the driver’s seat, accelerating and reversing studiously. Salt and carpet fragments were flying everywhere.
Fortunately, the muscle and weight that Captain Smith brought to the job was clearly making a difference; with every rocking movement the car made, it was getting closer to being sprung free. The Fisherman was pushing with all his might too.
As I approached the car, I could see it was almost out. I gave up on trying to communicate with the driver; I extended one index finger to press lightly on the front fender as Captain Smith and the Fisherman gave a huge push. The car shot backward, free, out of the rut and into the flat parking lot.
Like a successful duellist, I “blew” the smoke away from my “pistol” finger. I brushed the snow off of my gloves and proclaimed, “Well, clearly all you needed here was the help of a woman. Call me, next time you need any help.”
My timing could not have been more serendipitously perfect; everyone was laughing uproariously and doing high fives. We were all enjoying the moment and the humour; the driver of the car was nodding and laughing. He took a long time driving out of the parking lot, stopping to offer several vigorous “thumbs’ up.” I took advantage of the group’s attention to flex my biceps and pose pretentiously. There were lots of calls of “Merry Christmas!” and “Have a great weekend!” Dave and Mey and I laughed all the way home.
We never exchanged a word of English with the driver. The Infantry Captain, the Ontario Fisherman, locals and neighbours communicated in a more fundamental language: help and caring. It was so happy; so effortlessly kind; so funny.
I subscribe to several recipe sites, and one morning last fall I woke up to find a recipe for “Eggs Caprese” in my inbox. It looked fast and fun, and I thought I’d give it a try.
Little did I know how popular this little breakfast sandwich would turn out to be! When my dad visited in October, he ate it for breakfast almost every day. Dave and Mey and Tom had it over the Christmas holidays and they loved it too – one morning, after everyone finished their sandwiches, they asked for seconds. I had to send them over to my neighbour’s house to borrow more eggs, and then we had a complete “Second Breakfast” of Eggs Caprese, Part Deux.