I can’t be in Michigan for American Thanksgiving this year, which makes me very sad.
I have no explanation for this, but I cannot get Steven Spielberg’s movie “Lincoln” out of my mind. While slavery still exists today – horribly – in Africa and the Middle East, thousands of American men gave their lives to extinguish it in the United States of America. Yet somehow, if you consume very much of American media these days, you could come away with the idea that Americans are in SUPPORT of slavery. How did such a ludicrous idea take hold?
When Spielberg’s “Lincoln” was released, I booked the entire day off to attend the opening. I was surprised to see so few people in the theatre, as I assumed it would be considered a blockbuster.
The film lived up to every expectation that I had. Based upon Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book “Team of Rivals,” with a screenplay written by Tony Kushner (author of “Angels in America”), the story is absolutely thrilling. Lincoln decided, as the American Civil War ended, that all of the blood spilled and losses mounted during that war would be wasted if a new amendment to the Constitution – the 13th Amendment – was not passed. Lincoln made it his life’s mission to get it passed.
Frankly, I think every NFL player “taking a knee” during the national anthem should move to Somalia or Saudi Arabia ASAP.
Also, I am throwing down a challenge to every one of my American relatives: if you have not watched Spielberg’s “Lincoln” with your kids already, you should do so this holiday season.
One Christmas, my brother Pete built me a wooden Nativity. I loved it from the first moment I saw it and have treasured it ever since.
A generous friend saw how much I loved the Nativity structure and bought me a set of wooden figurines. Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, the shepherds and angels were rustically hand-carved in Germany and very lovely.
Unfortunately, they were also extremely brittle. I learned this when my cat ran across the roof and tipped it over. Two of the shepherds snapped in half! I was dismayed, but philosophical. I could get by with two less shepherds.
Then, I stopped home one busy workday to be greeted by my housekeeper Krys and her daughter Kirsten. Krys had been part of our family as a babysitter since she was eleven years old, and we had a great working arrangement: after her babies were born, I offered to pay her to look after my house and bring her own kids with her. She did not have to pay for daycare and I did not have to worry about the endless important details of looking after a home. It made for a very happy house, and most days it worked out perfectly.
Except on this day, which was so traumatic I still cry thinking about it.
Krys met me at the door with four-year-old Kirsten, who had tears streaming down her sweet little cheeks.
“Show Rita what you did,” Krys commanded.
Sobbing and hiccupping, Kirsten held out her shaking hands. The Joseph figurine was broken into two pieces. Joseph’s head was in one hand, while his torso was in the other. I have never seen a little girl so frightened and heartbroken.
“Oh my God, those crappy Nativity pieces!” I exploded. “Who makes Nativity pieces that no one can touch?” Without even setting down my car keys, I turned around and left the house.
Krys had no idea of where I was going. She half thought she was going to be fired.
I jumped in my van and drove straight to FlatIron’s Christmas Market. “I have got to buy some Nativity pieces which are unbreakable,” I told the saleswoman.
“Oh, you need the Fontanini pieces,” she informed me. She led me to the back wall of the store – past numerous locked glass display cases of hand-carved wooden pieces, I observed morosely. Who makes Nativity pieces that no one can touch?
The Fontanini display was incredible! Mary, Joseph, Jesus, shepherds, angels, Kings, oxen, asses, camels, sheep, rams, dogs…all in hard, painted resin which could be endlessly handled and washed. I lost my mind, picking out all the figures I wanted. The Nativity, to me, represented every important thing humanity needs: love, hope, optimism, shelter, warmth, respect, caring. Joy. Work. Responsibility. Mothers. Fathers. Family.
I bought a duplicate Mary, Joseph and Jesus to give to Kirsten as a gift.
And then, I got to the cash register: $400 worth of figurines. I swallowed hard and presented my credit card; there was no looking back now.
I arrived home with my bags of figurines and enlisted Kirsten to help me set up the new Nativity. “You can play with these all you want,” I assured her. “That is the whole point of a Nativity: kids should play with the people. That’s how you learn what is important.”
Imagine my delight when, a few days later, I asked Krys if I should get my brother to build a Nativity for Kirsten.
“Oh, don’t worry about that!” Krys laughed. “Kirsten emptied out her Barbie house and put Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus in it. They already have a home.”
When I was a political staffer in Ontario, the Protocol Office was run by a brilliant and fabulous man, Ernesto Feu.
He had a dramatic accent and an exceedingly generous nature; calling him to ask a question on provincial, national or international protocol was always a delightful experience.
“Thank you for calling! I am so glad you called! What can I do to help you?” Ernesto’s enthusiasm about protocol was more than impressive; it was inspiring. If the purpose of protocol is to make people feel comfortable, Ernesto Feu was the living embodiment of it.
I called him once to ask about the protocol around the placement of flags on a stage when an international statesman visited Ontario. He carefully detailed for me the exact placement of the flags on the stage so that we would position them as a visiting dignitary would expect. He even sketched it out and faxed it over to me.
I recall, also, unpacking a set of Canadian flags at an event in Ottawa; the young event planner working with me burst into tears when she saw how wrinkled the flags were. She ran out to borrow a hand steamer and was frantically steaming the wrinkles out of the flags right up until the moment the Cabinet Ministers approached the stage.
All of which leads me to the events of the past few weeks, with NFL ball players “taking a knee” during the American national anthem and the flags waving while it is performed.
That’s one thing, I get it, they wanted to protest and opted to take advantage of the attention afforded them by the playing of the national anthem and the veneration of the flag at an NFL game to make the biggest splash possible.
While that has been hard enough to swallow, what’s even harder is listening to their spokespersons on multiple media appearances denying the fact that these actions are in anyway disrespectful.
“We love America! We love the flag! We respect our military!” one kept crying on FoxNews last night. He seemed oblivious to the fact that his words and his actions were in complete conflict.
Earth to the NFL: there are protocols which are internationally agreed upon, acknowledged and accepted, and they have been for centuries. It’s called “civilization.” Some protocols are actually written down and codified; others are only traditional but equally important.
If you feel you must show disrespect for the basic tenets of any nation’s most cherished traditions, at least have the courage of your convictions and admit that’s what you’re doing.
Disrespecting the flag, the anthem and the military and then hoping to get some kind of credit by claiming you love all these traditions is not just an insult to these symbols; it’s an insult to our intelligence. I’m sure there is some kind of protocol, codified or traditional, which states “Do not imply that your fellow citizens are complete gullible imbeciles.”
Ernesto Feu, God rest his gracious soul, must be rolling over in his grave.
There is no happier day for a political activist, a paid lobbyist or a concerned citizen than the day a government which shares their views is elected to office.
Whether you are an environmentalist fighting for protections, a business owner hoping for lower taxes, or a beleaguered driver who despises photo radar, the day “your” team takes over government is a day to celebrate and then double-down on your efforts to achieve regulatory change.
I worked for Canada’s conservative Minister of Health when we decided to ban Bisphenol-A (BPA) in baby products. This move was greeted with ecstatic support by the left wing group Environmental Defense, headed up by former NDP staffer Rick Smith. We worked together for a rare period of time when the desires of both sides of the political spectrum coincided completely.
It was one of the best initiatives on which I ever worked. The day before the event, I mentioned it would be great to have some moms with babies at the announcement.
“Oh, I know lots of moms,” Rick offered. “I can make some calls.”
The next day, a parade of moms came pouring into the media briefing, commandeering the entire front row in order to park their strollers. It was fantastic!
It was a surreal experience to have Rick at our press conference, not criticising our government but instead speaking in full support of the ban. He held his own scrum, competently taking media questions on the political and scientific implications in French and English.
Which leads me to draw a comparison between our BPA ban and the Charlottesville street riots protesting Confederate statues and monuments. In the event that any of my friends actually believe these outrageous violent clashes had anything whatsoever to do with Confederate monuments, I suggest you ask yourself: where were all of these people and their organizations during the eight years Barack Obama was president?
Had these groups truly been motivated to seek change, they would have had Obama’s office on speed-dial the day after his election in 2008. They would have held productive meetings, developed practical plans, and moved forward with the work required to get the Confederate monuments removed.
Obama would have held an announcement event, flanked by supportive members of a wide variety of groups. He would have pointed proudly to the initiative in speeches and press conferences. What could have been better than to have America’s first black president address historic grievances which were causing untold pain for millions of Americans?
Why did none of this occur?
Because the trumped-up Charlottesville conflicts were designed to achieve one goal: discredit President Donald Trump. You have to admit, it looks pretty bad on him; only six months into his presidency, and already race riots are breaking out across the nation.
The good news is, race riots are not breaking out across America. A friend just returned from a vacation in South Carolina and knew nothing of the supposed “race riots” until he read about it in Canada.
“There was no tension anywhere…there were white families enjoying the beach and black families enjoying the beach and Indian families enjoying the beach and mixed families enjoying everything, and everyone existed in harmony,” he wrote. No one was trying to tear down anything, he noted, mystified by the media hysteria.
Most of my family lives in Detroit and they report only booming business, Tiger games and weekend landscaping projects.
Ignore the trumped-up news. The Americans are alright.
THANK YOU SO MUCH!!! To all the YouTubers out there who take the time to organize, shoot, and post helpful videos, for free, on your own time, to assist all of us in learning how to solve problems or challenges in our lives, homes, or businesses.
My first experience in getting help – for free – on a really thorny problem was when I was able to figure out how to fix my running toilets, as detailed here.
I also used YouTube to learn how to post ads to my website: a real estate agent in Virginia actually posted a little lesson in coding to help people learn how to do it.
Of course, the cooking videos I watch are legend; there are some great volunteer videographers out there, and I love to keep “PhillyBoyJay” or “Hands that Cook” running in my kitchen while I am doing monotonous tasks.
This summer, I have been pestered by “fridge pee,” puddles of water leaking out of the freezer of my Maytag refrigerator (with which I am NOT happy, and Maytag has not been helpful at all. So much for the myth of the Lonely Maytag repairman! Basically, they told me, “Bite it.” Thanks for nothing, Maytag.)
So I went on YouTube and searched, “Maytag fridge leaking water” and immediately came up with several helpful videos, some amateur and some professional. This is the one I found most relevant and it did, indeed, solve my problem! Yay, YouTube! Thank you, smart people who give away video solutions!
I shoot and post cooking videos, too, so I know precisely how much time and work is involved in the process. Editing a 15 minute video can take two hours or more, easily.
The fact that knowledgeable plumbers, carpenters, appliance repairmen, cooks and computer specialists take time to share their skills is really a gift to everyone.
I am long past due in taking the time to say, “Thank you.”
More than 30 years ago, when I was just a novice cook (well, I started cooking when I was eight years old so I was not exactly a novice cook; maybe more of a novice gourmet) I bought the December issue of Chatelaine magazine with a cover photo filled with home made gifts you could make for Christmas.
The most appealing photo and write up on the recipes was Brandied Fruit. It looked luscious and colourful and was packed in a mason jar with a ribbon and a lovely label. I was so excited to make some Brandied Fruit, and give it away as a gift!
Then I read the recipe, published in December.
“Clean a quart of fresh strawberries,” it read. “Rinse a pint of blueberries, raspberries and red currants….”
“Well, for cripes’ sake!” I exclaimed in disappointment. “The ONLY way you could make this recipe would be if you started in July!”
I won’t say the Chatelaine Magazine was a complete waste, as it did motivate me to organize myself to get out and get picking all the berries required the following July. But advertising Brandied Fruit as a “home made gift” you could give away for Christmas, in December, was pretty misleading.
It is no wonder young cooks get discouraged.
The entire reason I started shooting cooking videos is because I so despise the current batch of cooking shows. They are all stressful to watch, with young chefs getting cut, chopped, fired and insulted, running off of the set in tears. This is NOT what cooking is about, not at all!
I grew up to believe cooking was a wonderful thing, work done with love for people that you love. My mom and my sisters were patient, persistent and purposeful, involving me in every step of numerous processes so that I would understand cooking.
When I was eight years old, my mom handed me a box of Jiffy yellow cake mix and a chocolate frosting mix.
“Here,” she instructed me. “Make this.”
She only returned to the kitchen once, to tell me not to try to frost a cake hot from the oven.
“Let the cake cool before you frost it,” she told me, before she disappeared again. That cake was actually pretty good, which is kind of amazing when you realize I only learned to READ the year before; and now, I was reading instructions including measurements and oven temperatures.
My sister Jeannie taught me how to brown hamburger meat. “You never put raw hamburger in spaghetti sauce or chili,” she told me. “First, you brown it, and drain away the fat.”
My sister Mary, who worked in food service her entire life, made endless Easy Bake Oven cakes with me and taught me about the fact that food can go bad. I had no knowledge of this before the day she sniffed a container of potato salad and exclaimed, “This stuff smells raunchy! Throw it away!”
Mary, who worked in the kitchen of St. Joseph’s Home for the Aged at Cornwall and Cadieux from age 12, came home from work one day and informed me that the public health inspector had visited the home that day.
“He took a swab from underneath everybody’s finger nails!” she described dramatically. “THREE PEOPLE had germs under their nails that could make residents sick!”
So I learned early on to follow instructions, to fully cook ground meat, and wash, wash, wash my hands.
Also I learned how happy it makes people to arrive home to a meal cooked with love. All of my older brothers had newspaper routes and were gone early in the cold, dark mornings to deliver bike loads full of copies of the Detroit Free Press.
On weekends, I was happy to stand in front of the stove and fry eggs and potatoes for each one of them as they returned from their routes. They ate with such gusto and appreciation, I felt I must have been the most brilliant girl on Earth, that I managed to get a plate of good, hot food in front of them moments after they entered the door.
One of the first winter Saturdays on which I took over the stove, I was dismayed that the potatoes had turned an odd orange colour – I did not know what I had done wrong, and was quite embarrassed at my failure.
“I’m so sorry,” I confessed when I served the plate of eggs, ham, potatoes and toast to my brother Wally. “I do not know why the potatoes are orange.”
“Rita, honey!” he laughed. “These are golden brown! They are perfect! This is exactly how you want fried potatoes to be!”
That’s how I learned about “golden brown.” Who knew? I was eight, and did not know from “golden brown.” I knew how it felt to be loved, and to share love, though. To this day, I believe this is what cooking is about.
Now I see that cooking has become a combination of complicated, competitive, and confusing. I subscribe to a number of channels that deliver a new recipe to my email box every day, and many of them are simply wrong: the photo of the finished meal cannot possibly be achieved with the steps described.
The worst offenders are crock pot meal recipes. The photo provided often displays crisp, caramelized meats which can ONLY be achieved by broiling or barbecuing. Nothing that comes out of a crock pot ever looks like that! It is so unfair to mislead new cooks this way.
Then there are the almost-impossible “simple” recipes demonstrated in 30 second videos which skip half of the steps required. A friend recently commented on my fresh Ontario strawberries, which are – as all real local strawberries are – much smaller than the giant, woody imported berries she bought at the grocery store.
“I was trying to make Jello shooters I saw on a video,” she described. “I was supposed to hollow out the inside, and then flatten the bottom. I hollowed out the inside, but by the time I flattened the bottoms, the filling was running all over the tray. It was impossible to do!” she moaned.
“It was a stupid idea, which has probably never worked anywhere but on that video,” I comforted her. “Cups are cups, and strawberries are strawberries. God did not intend for strawberries to be cups, I promise you. Just enjoy the strawberries; make a daiquiri, if you want. Pour it in a cup.”
When I was a teen-ager growing up on the Bruce Peninsula in rural Ontario, we got two TV stations: CBC and CTV. The CTV affiliate, CKCO-TV Kitchener, had a cooking show and a sewing show which aired weekly. Each show was half an hour long and featured a mature woman, who clearly knew what she was talking about, teaching something that was sensible and helpful. By the end of half an hour, I had learned something new and had a hope of re-creating it.
There was nothing complicated, competitive or confusing about those shows. They used ingredients or materials we could buy locally; nutrition and value for money mattered; the women were friendly and informative.
Nobody ever got fired, or ran off the set in tears. No one was ever required to make a “mystery basket” recipe including fish and pineapple. There was no swearing and no insults.
I realize that we will never go back to those simpler times; however, I still feel sorry for young cooks who will grow up thinking that cooking has to be difficult and challenging. Cooking should be about love, whether you are cleverly whipping up a paella or just frying some eggs.
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.
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.
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….
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.
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!
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?”)
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.