Category: Posts

What to do when relentless rains drench Vancouver?

I spent several weeks in Vancouver this January. Average rainfall at YVR in January is 168 millimetres. This year, there were 249 millimetres, making it the fourth wettest January since records were first kept in 1937.

I can handle the light rain, what my mother called “the Scottish mist,” intermittent showers, and the fog. I can even deal with the occasional tropical deluge or pineapple express which blows the rain horizontally. In these circumstances, locals generally don a Gore-Tex, grab a handy umbrella and carry on doing whatever they planned anyway. I can do that, too. We all know the local secret. So long as it rains for any period of time at any time of the day, the news will report “rain in Vancouver,” and easterners who hear the weather reports will chortle and stay away.

But when the rainfall becomes relentless, so that it goes on for forty days and forty nights of soaking rain, even locals become depressed. So I learned in January. I never thought I would ever say that, but I found it to be true.

The challenge was that we had a visitor from Toronto coming for several days. Originally from Colombia, he came west to help a friend move to Victoria. Since he was coming anyway, we encouraged him to come to Vancouver and stay in our Vancouver cottage. Why not? He had never been to the west coast before and nothing gives me greater pleasure than to show the sights of Vancouver to a newcomer. But what sights do you show a newcomer when you can’t see the sea or the mountains, and walking outside leaves you drenched and miserable?

The first day, he came from Victoria by ferry through the Gulf Islands, and by public transit on the bus and Canada Line to our apartment. That’s an adventure in itself. On his arrival, he joined a small dinner party which my husband had prepared for a few guests. That’s easy, and fun, and a warm welcome to the local scene. The next day, two mutual friends en route to New Zealand had a long stopover in Vancouver. They had rented a car and, as the sun actually came out for a few hours, we toured the North Shore to see the beaches at Whytecliff Park, the fresh snow on the mountains above Horseshoe Bay, and the view of the city and beyond from the lookout up the Cypress Mountain Parkway. But the clouds were coming in, the winds were blowing, and the view was so unsharp that I failed to identify the new Port Mann bridge on the horizon.

The next day, the dreaded deluge returned. That’s okay. We drove through the west end, around Kitsilano and along the shoreline out to the Museum of Anthropology at UBC. There, in addition to the usual treasures, we saw a special exhibit of indigenous woven carpets from the 19th Century. Our tour around UBC by car was a washout, but we headed to Granville Island for lunch. Parking was easy and we had no problem finding a comfortable table beside the windows in the Farmers Market food court. Protected from the rain, we could watch the birds and the boats on False Creek and enjoy the buskers while we ate. The ambiance gave the illusion of a bright day and we loved it. We then drove back over the Burrard Street Bridge, along English Bay and home. A good first day.

The second day, we took the bus very early and got off at the first stop after Lost Lagoon on Georgia Street. In a light rain, we set out to walk the Vancouver harbour to the Convention Centre and Canada Place. Before we even reached Jack Poole Plaza, the rain was pelting down, and we took to looking for any kind of shelter along the way; an occasional glass overhang, an inset doorway, a glassed-in staircase, an outdoor café (closed of course) beneath a building above, anything to protect us. Ultimately, near the Convention Centre, we spied a waterfall leading down into a food court in an underground plaza. Over a hot cocoa, we considered our course of action. What to do?

We learned that underground tunnels connected the food court to the SkyTrain at the downtown Waterfront Station. The reconstructed historical concourse of that station is worth a visit. I then decided that I wanted to see the new Evergreen extension of the Vancouver’s SkyTrain system which goes all the way out to Lafarge Lake in Coquitlam. If I can ride the new extension of the Toronto subway, I can ride the Vancouver addition as well. And I thought that our friend could get a view of my old stomping grounds in Burnaby, New Westminster, and along the Fraser River. So we got on the original Expo Line and did the circuit, transferred to the extension that passes through a long tunnel to the new stations in Port Moody and Coquitlam, and then took the newly configured Millennium Line back downtown. The views were disappointing, but I was impressed by the potential of the new extension. It took us one hour to travel the entire route and cost me only $2.80.

The highlight of our trip was meeting the falcon. As we transferred onto the Expo Line at Commercial Drive and found a seat in a crowded car (thank goodness we are seniors), we noticed that we were surrounded by a crew of young people carrying fancy cameras and a big box which they carefully put down on the floor beside me. When I asked what was in the box, they said that it was a falcon. A falcon? Yes, they had a six-week contract with the city to document how the mere presence of their falcon on the SkyTrain platforms would scare away the pesky pigeons. They told us that in the six station span of their project, it worked every time, except for one station where the pigeons roosted too far away to pick up on the falcon’s presence. We were amused and wished them well.

By the time we returned to Waterfront, the rain had abated enough to allow us to visit the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden and to walk the streets of Gastown. We then took the SeaBus to the Lonsdale Quay and a bus back to West Vancouver. Altogether, not a bad day.

Day three was a challenge. I decided that, depending on the state of the weather once we got outside, we would take the Skyride up Grouse Mountain, or drive the Sea to Sky Highway to Squamish. Since the local mountain was invisible, we took to Highway 99 up the east side of Howe Sound, past Lions Bay, Porteau Cove Provincial Park, Britannia with its Mine Museum, Shannon Falls, and the world-famous mountain face known as the Stawamus Chief. The new Sea to Sky Gondola nearby was open, but who wants to hike trails at the top of a mountain in the rain? At Squamish, there was no rain. We proceeded up the highway to Brackendale where the signs advertise “bald-headed eagles.” Oh yes. That’s right. I suddenly recalled that, every January, volunteer naturalists come to Brackendale to count the eagles feeding at local rivers. I’d heard of that before but never been there.

So, we turned west and drove the streets of tiny Brackendale until we came upon Eagle Run Park on Government Road. There we found numerous interpretive displays, an Eagle Watch Interpreter Program, and a well-maintained dyke viewing area which is accessible via a ramp at the south end. We learned that the spawning of chum salmon runs in the Squamish, Cheakamus and Mamquam rivers provides an ideal habitat for feeding bald eagles. In 1994, the Brackendale-Squamish area set the world record count with 3,769 eagles counted in a single day. We saw our share of eagles: big adult birds, black with white heads, and the motley brown youngsters, sitting on the logs and rocks at the river’s edge, roosting in the trees, and sweeping across the skies. We were ecstatic. It was the totally serendipitous highlight of our week.

If any readers have suggestions for rainy day activities in Vancouver, please use the Comment section below to enlighten the rest of us. My cousin suggested we could have hiked in Lighthouse Park where we would have experienced an old growth forest as it really is. Or we could have hiked in Pacific Spirit Regional Park on the UBC campus as I described in an earlier post. Good suggestions. Are there any more?

 

 

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Afghan Migration Goes Personal

I met Mujeeb at Costco before Christmas. He was pushing a dolly which held a half-dozen deep grey plastic bins, some more full than others. When I asked him what he was doing, he explained that he was filling orders for an on-line computer shopping site. He was using an iPad to keep track of the orders. Apparently, people choose what they want to buy on the website. He is their personal shopper who fills the orders and later delivers them. He told me the name of his company but I have lost the note on which I wrote it down. (I should have used my iPhone “notes,” as I normally do to record such information. Perhaps I was so excited about meeting Mujeeb that I forgot.)

Sensing that he might be new to Canada, I asked where he was from. He replied that he was from Afghanistan, and that he had come to Canada with his parents and his siblings. I told him about my son and daughter-in-law in the Canadian army who had deployed several times to Kabul and/or Kandahar. He told me that all his family were now working in Canada and that his sister was a student at the University of Toronto. He also told me that there was a book written about his family.

No kidding? I had vaguely heard of a book written by CBC journalist, Carol Off, about an Afghan family whom she befriended and had helped come to Canada. Apparently, four months post-9/11, Off was in Afghanistan gathering information for what later became a very successful CBC documentary. Among her most significant sources at the time was Mujeeb’s father, Asad Aryubwal, who provided her with information about war crimes by Afghan warlords. His forthright cooperation with a western journalist however came at a cost. After numerous threats to his life, he had no choice but to flee to Pakistan which, as the political circumstances continued to change at home, he did four times before he was forty. In the fall of 2007, Off learned that Asad needed her help. Contrary to customary professional journalistic practice, she felt she had no choice but to become involved.

Needless to say, I rushed off right away to find Carol Off’s book, All We Leave Behind: A Reporter’s Journey Into the Lives of Others (Random House Canada, 2017). Reading it was a revelation, a totally compelling view of how a single family dealt with the turmoil in their homeland and their seemingly-interminable seven-year wait for permission to immigrate to Canada. Off’s description of their travails will break your heart.

This book is an absolute must for everyone who wants to understand what it means to be a refugee from a society such as Afghanistan.

Carol Off now co-hosts the CBC Radio current affairs program, “As It Happens.” Several weeks ago, this book won the prestigious $40,000. British Columbia National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction. Jury members praised it as “a timely memoir that offers both context to, and a closeup of, uncomfortable truths: the failures of the West’s involvement in Afghanistan, the hurdles confronting refugees who seek safety in Canada, and the dilemma of a combat journalist expected to maintain professional distance from her sources.”

It’s a wonderful book. The Timeline of Major Events and the Cast of Characters at the back of the book are in themselves an invaluable thumbnail guide to Afghanistan’s history. I am thankful that my chance meeting with Mujeeb brought his family’s story and this book to my attention.  I wish them all the best.

 

 

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ETHEL’S TOQUES

How do you see yourself at 96 years of age? On Monday, my sister and I visited an old family friend who is truly aged, has many medical issues, and needs full-time caregiving support. She now lives with her daughter and son-in-law in their expansive Markham home which accommodates her walker, has a stair-lift climbing the staircase to the second floor bedrooms and, on the main floor, a kitchen table looking out to a backyard busy with birds at the feeder, bushy black squirrels and even the occasional fox.

When we arrive, Ethel is in the family room watching the Olympics on the television. She rises to greet us. Her freshly made up face lit up with a radiant smile, her white hair immaculately coiffed, and wearing a stylish black checked jacket, she looks twenty years younger than her age. Before long, she opened up a plastic bag and gave us each a soft, hand-crafted woollen toque, navy blue with a white pompom, which she had made for us. We were thrilled.

Ethel has been making toques for about ten years. She saw a woman at Eglinton Square in Scarborough working on a round plastic frame called The Quickie Loom. Intrigued, she bought one right away and took it home to show her husband, Vic. Before long, they had two frames, one for toques and one for scarves, which both made for family and friends. One year they made forty toques and gave them to a church which distributed them to street people. So far this year, Ethel has made more than a dozen, two for us and the others which also have been collected and given to people in need.

When we asked, she was eager to show us how she makes the toques. The trick is using an inexpensive frame called The Quickie Loom which can be bought at a craft shop such as Michaels or even Walmart. She uses Bernat Roving acrylic and wool (hat weight), which she also buys at Walmart.

Several videos on YouTube provide simple instructions for what is called loom knitting. Ethel begins with a slip knot placed on an anchor peg on the plastic frame. She wraps the strand of wool around each peg on the frame to make one row of loops, and then continues the same thing to create a second row. Once she has laid down two rows, she uses a pick to hook the bottom strand over the one above. She repeats the process of hooping and hooking, two rows at a time, until she has completed sixty rows for a large size toque and forty rows for a medium. As she loops and hooks the wool on the frame, the toque forms itself.

It’s easy. She can make one in an evening while she is watching television. And she didn’t have to be a knitter.

Looms come in many sizes with increasing numbers of pegs to make toques and scarves for dolls, babies, toddlers, and adults. There are YouTube instructions for making different types of hats; unisex slouchy beanies, pussy-hats, a rib-stitch hat, and also scarves. There are instructions for changing colours, making pompoms, and adding a flower to the hat. For the toques she made for Kath and I, Ethel added white pompoms. Making those pompoms for the first time required the ingenuity of all three adults in the household, but now she has the hang of it.

Loom knitting hats is easy for children. Ethel told me that when her pastor’s young daughter was diagnosed with cancer, Ethel gave a Quickie Loom and some wool to both her and her sister, to make hats for themselves. She told them that when they showed her the hats they’d made, she would give each of them $5.00. Two days later, on Sunday morning, they met her at church with big grins on their faces, and their finished hats on their heads. Ethel was delighted to depart with the $10.00. The girls went on to make dozens of hats for their friends and for the church.

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone. 

***** Photos with thanks to Keith Carbert *****

 

 

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Toronto’s Christmas Present: A New Subway Extension

It’s Boxing Day, that treasure from our British past which I cherish. For those of us who have no inclination to seek bargains, it’s a time to relax, sit around the fireplace, read a book, eat leftovers, and sink into the sublime serenity of a day with nothing on the schedule.

Before settling down to an evening of binge watching The Crown, I want to share with you my reaction to Toronto’s new subway extension. Last Thursday morning, I rode Toronto’s Number One subway line from Queen and Yonge Street downtown all the way up the old Spadina line to Sheppard West station (the end of the previous line at Sheppard and Dufferin), and then to the new terminus at Vaughan in York Region. It took me 51 minutes to make the trip. Without leaving the system, I then did a tour of each new station, to the extent I could see them without going out of the turnstiles. I did not see the exteriors of the new stations. But I took photos, talked to TTC staff and passengers, and left utterly exhilarated by what I saw.

The terminal station, Vaughan Metropolitan Centre, is a Transportation Hub which connects to the York Region Viva bus rapid transport north of Highway 7 and to York Region Transport (YRT) buses at the SmartCentres Place Bus Terminal. With seven knockout panels as part of the design, it is also intended as the centre of a planned downtown to feature a large park, condo towers, shopping and entertainment facilities to be constructed in the next decade.

I loved the spectacular colours of the upper level windows; such bright colours will lift the spirits on the most dreary of days. As in all the new stations, there are shiny new elevators making the system wheelchair accessible to all levels, glistening escalators which are lit at foot level and which go up and down (if not side by side, at least at different ends of the platform), and solid metal handrails in the middle of the staircases. For those of us who take stairs, such handrails will be a godsend. As an incentive, the SmartCentre which runs the local parking lot is free until January 1st.

Approximately five minutes south is the next station, Highway 407. Located just west of Jane Street, south of Highway 407 on the west bank of Black Creek, it connects with York Region Transport and Brampton Transit, and includes a commuter parking lot with 585 spots, plus a passenger pickup and drop-off area. Parking is free until April 1st, 2018; obviously an effort to entice commuters with cars onto the subway. An attendant told me that, since the extension opened last week, the parking lot has been full each morning by 7:30 a.m.

Commuters can also park at the third station, Pioneer Village, at Steeles Avenue West and Northwest Gate, to the west of York University. There, the parking lot can accommodate 1500 cars, and is free until April 1st. The ceiling lighting installation called LightSpell over the subway platform is already controversial. The design of the fixture is distinctive in itself. What I failed to appreciate, until I read about it in the Toronto Star, is that five keyboards on the platform allow passengers to type eight-figure messages that will be reflected in the lights for the edification and/or amusement of their fellow travellers. The TTC has apparently delayed full implementation of the fixture until they can develop software to prevent hate messages, an enterprise that has provoked complaints of censoring free speech. That the installation is provoking controversy already heralds a notable future for the site.

The fourth station, at the heart of York University’s Keele Street campus, is the reason for the subway extension in the first place. The platforms are busy with students using the new station. It breaks my heart to think of the hundreds of thousands of students and staff who have endured years of commuter time and inconvenience travelling to the university since the extension was first proposed decades ago. The lack of political vision, persistent partisan bickering, constant changes, and construction delays which have plagued extending the subway even to York University is a shameful history which we must remember but cannot dwell on. The extension to York University is finally built and everyone is exultant.

The York University station has an elaborate Information Centre on the concourse at the turnstiles. The walls are festooned with promos that would be of interest to students, the signage in the concourse specifically identifies York University sites of interest, and there are two pay telephones for those who need such amenities. (There is always someone.) Most engaging of all was the TTC customer service representative who was knowledgeable about the extension and keen to answer my questions. I may not have fully appreciated the “exciting” Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) artwork which the TTC touts at the station. For me, as for most students, getting to the campus quickly and comfortably is such a treat; everything else is superfluous.

The next stop is Finch West station, located under Keele Street, north of Finch Avenue West. This station will also feature a bus terminal, commuter parking lot, passenger pickup and drop-off, and secure bicycle parking. Again, the bright red of the corridors and brightly coloured windows at the concourse are delightful. Already, many people are using this station.

The last of the new stations is Downsview Park, the first stop west of the old Sheppard West station. An attendant told me that the station is in Downsview Park, very close to the rebuilt hanger called HoopDome, a gymnasium facility used for several years for basketball, indoor soccer, volleyball, and many other activities which attract athletes from across the city. The station is also a five-to-ten-minute walk from the entrance of the Downsview Canadian Forces Base to the east. Effective January 2018, the GO train on the Barrie line will stop at this station. Passengers will be able to transfer there onto the TTC and get a half-price discount on TTC fare.

There have been complaints that the subway extension does not include a washroom at each station. However, there are washrooms at: Sheppard East, the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre, and on the top floor (the bus bays) of the Highway 407 station. TTC riders can access these washrooms without leaving the system. 

It’s been so long since the TTC has generated genuinely good news. And maybe even longer since it has won any awards as the North American “Transit System of the Year.” We’ve finally done it. The system is beautiful, shiny, new, accessible, well-marked, and efficient. I am very excited about what is a world-class extension of the system which can make us proud. Check it out for yourself.

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Dior Divertissement: Haute Couture as Therapy

Searching out the upbeat. Choosing what we can control as a diversion from a world run amok with negative news. These are recommended strategies in the age of Trump. If you are feeling anything like me these days, then the Christian Dior exhibit now on display at the Royal Ontario Museum is for you. It’s wonderful.

The haute couture house of Christian Dior opened in Paris in February 1947. The exhibition uses the ROM’S collection of Dior fashions to illustrate the first decade (1947-1957) of designs created for a “clientele of habitually well-dressed women.” Holt Renfrew, the sponsor of the exhibition, obtained the first license to sell and make Christian Dior designs in Canada. These are the actual day dresses, afternoon dresses, and evening dresses worn by Canada’s elite and donated to the museum. They are spectacularly beautiful.

Curator Alexandra Palmer has created a remarkably interesting show. It describes how the house of Dior functioned and how it achieved its international influence in a short ten years. We learn about “The New Look” and how it reflected (and added to) the aspirations of the post-war period. We learn how the house resurrected skills from the 18th and 19th centuries and adapted them to modern designs and materials. We visit the dressmaking atelier, see how the dresses were actually constructed, and what it took in both skill and materials to make “the look.” We see the difference between the original design concepts and the end product. We meet the tradespeople and suppliers of exquisite textiles, sequins, ribbons, and hand embroidery. We learn how their businesses operated and how they flourished with the success of Dior. We come to appreciate the relationship between the designer, the artisans, the models, the suppliers and ultimately between the design house, the merchants, and the clients. We see how the house stimulated other businesses to produce shoes, stockings, handbags, gloves, costume jewellery, and perfumes which promoted Dior’s design principles and added to the lustre of the label.

For a small exhibit with what seems like a modest footprint, it packs a wallop. It’s a fascinating insight into an amazing world.

To get full benefit from the show, make sure to read the electronic placards which describe all the dress designs on display. Klutz that I am with new technology, it took me awhile to figure out how to manipulate the touch screens. Once I did, I was enchanted. The placards describe the name of each design, the collection, the primary dress-maker, the model for whom the design was created, the significance of the design, the choice of the textiles and embellishments, and some of the clients who purchased the dresses. Here you will find copies of the original design drawings which are intriguing and beautiful works of art in themselves. There are also samples  of textiles from which the dresses could be made.

Also, sit down and watch the film. Apart from resting your feet, to see the real images of Dior working with the dressmaker and the model to perfect the dress in its last stage is to understand the relationship between them. Join the world’s major fashion buyers and their exclusive clients as they watch the models presenting a new collection of designs on a 1947-1957 runway. Some of the designs we saw on the original runway are on display in the exhibition.

Everyone I heard talking at this show had opinions on what they liked and what they didn’t. All were awestruck by the care put into the creation of the designs and the exquisite workmanship on display.

I took in the exhibit with ease in about ninety minutes. I left with impressions and questions which diverted me for hours. I consider that good therapy. The show runs on the fourth floor of the ROM (using the new elevators to the left of the entrance foyer) until mid-March. See rom.on.ca/whatson for talks and workshops on the subject.

 

 

 

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Response to Globe and Mail “Dear Reader” Letter

Dear Mr. Crawley, Publisher and CEO of the Globe and Mail

Thank you for your “Dear Reader” letter in today’s Globe and Mail (Saturday, December 9, 2017).

I appreciate your explaining the extraordinary circumstances which afflicted your première edition of the new GM. You and your staff must have been horribly disappointed. That the edition which so attracted my ire was a “one of” is good to know.  I am also interested to learn of the efforts made to improve the journalistic standards of the GM, and the design goals you seek to achieve. 

Two caveats. I would have more impressed if you had not printed your “Dear Reader” piece in such a light type face. I found it very hard to read. Is your relationship with your readers at this very important time of your transition not as important as the key news stories you choose to report using darker type?

You indicated that you have “bumped up the size of the type in your sports scores and stock listings.” I find your choices for immediate action very telling. Am I wrong to assume, in the reality of our contemporary world, that sports scores and stock listings are still of interest primarily to men? And that Bay Street is your most important lobbyist?

It’s not the justified lines that matter. For my demographic, it’s the fainter typeface. Implicit in your choice of a lighter or darker type is your assumption about what is important and what is not. When I have to strain to read what you publish, my reaction is that you consider that particular item less important to your readers. Your assumptions may not coincide with mine.

I look forward to continuing my “feedback, interest and support” in the future.  Just don’t make it so difficult that I don’t enjoy it. At my age, if it’s not fun, I don’t do it. As Robyn Doolittle’s front-page story on “The Unfounded Effect” is in a darker type, I should have no problem  reading and analyzing that for a future post.  

Thank you.

The Effervescent Bubble

 

 

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The Globe and Mail Blew It

For several days they led us on. They promised a “new Globe and Mail,” presumably with new content, format and style that would befit Canada’s national newspaper. When they began to put out the promos, I was intrigued. Other news media are whining the blues. What was the Globe and Mail going to do to meet the current “crisis in journalism” and keep us reading from coast to coast?

When the first of “the new” publication arrived last week, I was horrified. What have they done? Who do they think they are publishing for? I am 73 years old, read three newspapers every day, and consider myself relatively well-informed about Canadian politics and public life. Most of the young people I know no longer read newspapers in hard copy. If they read any newspaper at all, it’s on the internet.

We pre-baby boomers, and baby boomers, too, are accustomed to our old habits, welcome the arrival of the newspaper on our doorstep (or outside our hotel room) each morning, and enjoy the luxury of being able to read it through with our coffee, at leisure. We may not represent the far distant future but, for the moment, and perhaps because of inertia, we may well be the primary demographic which continues to have all-week newspaper subscriptions in hard copy.

Now I can’t even read the Globe and Mail. Literally, I can’t read it. And I am not the only one. My husband and several friends have had the same reaction.

In the interests of what I assume is saving money, they have made the newspaper smaller in size, and apparently changed the font and/or lightened the type. The smaller size I can live with; it’s easier to fold into my purse or briefcase to take on public transit. The new font and/or typeface, however, is positively illegible. It gives me a headache to look at it, and more of a headache to read.

In an age when everyone (and I mean most everyone, including us old duffers) is using mobile devices and iPads with multiple fonts and expandable print capacities, it is positively counter-intuitive that a major newspaper seeking to expand its readership would go to print with what can only be considered a “reader-adverse” font and/or typeface. Who chose it? Someone under 60, I bet.

Since I started writing my blog, I mine the Globe and Mail, National Post and the Toronto Star (when in Toronto), and the Vancouver Sun (when in Vancouver) for potential topics of interest for a post. It takes up time, but I try to go through each newspaper daily. Each has its strengths and weaknesses. And apart from different perspectives, I like to pick up on quirky articles which alert me to something that I knew nothing about before.

In the past, I always went to the Globe and Mail first. Why? Because it’s “the national newspaper,” because I know people who write for it, and, although I do not always agree with its editorial perspective, at least I can expect competent coverage of major issues.

Now, it is too painful to read. As of last week, I now start with the National Post, or the Toronto Star, skim their coverage, and then pick up the Globe. But it’s so difficult to read beyond the headlines that I tend not to read it in detail. I make no comment on the new organization and content of the “new Globe and Mail” because the new font and/or typeface have deterred me from reading it further.

It has occurred to me that perhaps the powers that be at the Globe and Mail really do want to drive us all onto the internet. Make your hard copy inaccessible and subscribers will give up.

 

 

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Meet the River Otters

It’s amazing what a late afternoon walk will bring. Although it is getting close to Christmas, the leaves of some trees are still autumnal scarlet and have not yet fallen to the ground. Even as a muted sunset settles over Kitsilano, there is enough light to see wildlife that inhabit the local area.

There are many people on the Seawalk, even so late in the afternoon. Most seem determined to get their constitutional finished before it gets dark. When a group is stopped on the sidewalk peering into the water, I know that there is something to be seen. Sure enough. Three seals or otters are swimming back and forth off shore. Then they disappear. The head of one pops up out in the deep water, first in one place; then in another. It then stops, turns, and heads back to shore, squeaking with a strange peeping sound over and over as if calling to the others. Eventually, all three of them are cavorting near the rocks only yards from where we are watching. One eats a fish, two slither ashore and climb onto the rocks, totally oblivious to the curious onlookers. Who would have guessed that they are so big? That their legs are so long? And that white markings are on their coat? A woman who seems knowledgeable tells us that these are river otters who are known to steal salmon from the fisherman on the nearby Capilano River. Now that would be something to see.

When I got home, I decided to play with the otters on my new photography program. In the past, I’ve taken courses from several very skilled photographers who have recommended using Adobe’s Lightroom for post-production. I’ve finally taken the plunge. A couple of weeks ago, Peter Levey, at the Advanced Digital Training School in North Vancouver, helped me download Lightroom and gave me a couple of lessons on how to use it. I can see the advantages that Lightroom offers over the Apple Photos program that I have used for years but which seems increasingly inflexible and of decreasing quality. But Lightroom, among other things, presupposes that my picture files are properly organized and readily findable. Organization of my digital files (for documents and for photographs) has not been my strong suit. Clearly that must change. Equally obviously, to learn the full extent of Lightroom’s capabilities and how to export the improved photos to other platforms correctly will require much practice. That’s the point. I want to learn new publishing programs (such as Blurb or Shutterfly) to make the photography books that my grand-kids love. And it wouldn’t hurt to upgrade the photos on my blog, as well. Any suggestions would be much appreciated.

 

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Vancouver’s Circle Craft Market

Last Friday, I spent the entire day exploring the Circle Craft Christmas Market at the Vancouver Convention Centre. When the doors opened at 10:00 a.m., already there was a lineup of shoppers like me, eager to see the wares without the crowds. Circle Craft is a self-sustaining cooperative of BC artists, formed in 1972, to promote “direct from the artist” quality crafts at the Market and at their gallery on Granville Island. Circle Craft is more intimate than the gigantic One of a Kind show, which runs in Toronto at the end of November but, with three hundred exhibitors, this offering is no less engaging.

One of the delights of these shows is the chance to speak with the artisans who produce such creative treasures. The X-tails couple from Prince George with their colourful line of children’s books started out by accident and are now in great demand for stories in schools. The Out of Ruins couple from Ottawa offered to come to my home in Toronto and propose a glass insert for my foyer window fashioned from their recycled glass. The Abeego Designs folks from Victoria promise that their beeswax paper will lengthen the freshness of left-over food. The Lemon Square bakers from Vancouver offer samples to die for. The 4 Paws Pure people from Prince George have an array of dried treats for animals too exotic for my cats but which the dog-lovers in the crowd were buying up with gusto. Don Pell of Wingnut Enterprises, Bellevue, Saskatchewan, told me that the brightly coloured whirligigs that I admired were for outdoor use and would withstand even the coldest prairie winter. The young man at Gift-a-Green had a range of inventive greeting cards that grow. An intriguing idea worth a try, I thought. The bamboo sleepwear on display at This is J, was colourful and soft, but I was in no mood to try on clothing, so took their Fall/Winter 2017 catalogue and may well buy online.

And so it goes. Back and forth along the rows, with too many wonderful treasures to explore. In the interests of expediency, I skipped the jewellery shops, and generally avoided the pottery, ceramics and wood. I declined the free samples offered by various distilleries, wineries and breweries; drinking so early in the day would undoubtedly deter me from the serious power shopping ahead.

For anything too heavy or cumbersome to carry back to Toronto, I decided to rely on webpages. Almost all the artisans seem to have an internet presence, and collecting cards for future reference online is useful. They also have those new-fangled little gadgets for taking credit cards and issuing receipts by email at the same time. Finding my email address already embedded in some machines was somewhat disconcerting; my email address preceded my attendance at the Market! I later thought that perhaps this occurred because I made purchases at the Harmony Festival in West Vancouver before, although not from these particular artisans. Even more shocking was to return home and find so many receipts clogging up my email. Did I really buy all that?

As at the One of a Kind, I made good use of the Parcel Check to store my purchases as I went along. The only downside of the practice is that I forgot how much I’d acquired until it was time to go home. Then I had to arrange all the bags on my arms and in my backpack, and then pack all the parcels myself up the escalator, across the foyer, and down the escalator again to get outside. Fortunately, I didn’t have to stand long until a cab came and whisked me over the bridge just as the setting sun lit up all of North Vancouver.

In the vast expanse of the One of a Kind in Toronto, I typically meet no one I know. At the Circle Craft Market, by contrast, shortly before noon I heard my name called, turned, and found my cousin Diane standing right behind me. Over a lemonade together, we caught up on all our news. Later, the same thing happened again; this time with the two new friends who had met me and my DOH companion at the airport last week. I may be in Vancouver for only a short time, but such encounters make me feel at home.

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Remembrance Day in West Vancouver

When the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month finally reached the west coast this morning, Marine Drive was closed and a huge crowd of folk was assembled in front of the arch in Memorial Park. It is located across the street from the West Vancouver Memorial Library which opened on November 11th, 1950, as a living war memorial to promote literacy and equal access to education for all. The annual Remembrance Day ceremony is organized by the local branch of the Canadian Legion, but it is fitting that Jenny Benedict, the Director of Library Services, was the “Master of Ceremonies.”

Just before eleven, the West Vancouver Youth Band played and the crowd clapped as an honour guard of flag-bearers led into formation a parade of veterans, alarmingly few remaining it seems, and ranks of local cadets, first responders, scouts, guides and cubs. Then, as four Harvard training aircraft flew overhead, there was the Last Post, two minutes of silence, the Lament and the Rouse. It is always stirring when so many people of all ages, children and dogs among them, stand in perfect silence to mark the ritual of remembrance. Whenever I hear the familiar words of In Flanders Fields, recited as they were today by two students, I think of the thousands at home and abroad who serve in our military and related services. Out of sight, they are not out of mind. Never more so than on November 11th.

At the end of the ceremony, the local Legion, the West Vancouver Lawn Bowling Club, and the Friends of the Library invited everyone to Open Houses. I went to the Library where the Book of Remembrance was on display, as were examples of the Research to Remember Project which accumulated documentation relating to all local participants in the two World Wars. With coffee and cookies at hand, the Dundarave Players led everyone in a sing-along of First World War songs. We sang the repertoire: The White Cliffs of Dover, It’s Long Way to Tipperary, Lili Marlene, Pack Up Your Troubles, There’s a Long Long Trail, A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square, and on and on. It was spirited, sentimental, and great fun. It occurred to me that the days of such sing-songs are likely numbered. Even without the words on the overheads, the crowd in the library knew the words and the tunes; few young people and new Canadians will know them now, or in the future. 

To end the day, I attended “One Last Song,” the 25th Annual Remembrance Day concert of the seventy-voice Chor Leoni Men’s Choir. Directed by Erick Lichte and accompanied by pianist Ken Cormier, they sang a rich collection of music, one piece after another, interspersed only with poetry readings from Siegfried Sassoon, Rudyard Kipling, and others. From the Scottish traditional “Will you go to Flanders?” and “Un Canadian errant,” through Alberta Celtic song-writer Lizzy Hoyt’s “Vimy Ridge,” adapted for choir and accompanied by a guitar, to a première performance of a new tune to “In Flanders Fields.” Then, Mendelssohn’s “Beati Mortui,” Kenneth Jennings’ music to the Dylan Thomas text “And Death Shall Have No Dominion,” Siegfried Sassoon’s text “Armistice: 1918 (Everyone Sang).” The concert concluded with the Last Post, two minutes of silence, and the entire congregation joining in the singing of “Kontakion,” with text from the Eastern Orthodox Memorial Liturgy. There was not an empty seat in the large West Vancouver United Church where the concert took place and few left unmoved by what we had heard. Such music seems so very right on Remembrance Day.

 

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The Daughters of Hoyle Score Again

For thirty-two years, the self-styled Daughters of Hoyle, also known as The Sisters of Precious Little, have been getting together. Usually for a weekend in early November, it is a highlight of our year. In the past, we have come from Ottawa, Kingston and Toronto to a rented cottage where we can enjoy the autumn colours, somewhere in Prince Edward County, on Amherst Island, on Rice Lake, or in the Rideau river system of eastern Ontario. Once we met at Mary Ann’s home in Kingston; another time at Janne’s cottage near Minden. Two years ago, we ventured further afield, for four days in New York City. This year, we’ve spent five days at my “cottage” in Vancouver.

Three who met as “mature students” at Queen’s U. law school added me, the fourth, from Osgoode. We are all under or near five feet tall (except for Janne, a.k.a. “Stretch”) and we sport navy blue shirts emblazoned with “Daughters of Hoyle” in red print on the back. When we walk the streets together, we sometimes attract questions.

Mary Ann is a dedicated activist who fills us in on current causes. Knowledgeable about music and skilled at modern technology, she chooses the playlist which sets the ambiance. Peggy, who spends three months each year in Costa Rica and the rest visiting her large family around the country, putters in the kitchen. She makes sure that everything in the refrigerator finds its way into one meal or another. Janne, the artist, scouts out the latest exhibition or craft show we must see at the galleries. This year, I have luxuriated in the fact that my eastern friends are visiting in Vancouver when the sun is shining by day, there is a full moon by night, and a fresh fall of new snow on the North Shore mountains.

So what do we do? Each year, we pick up where we left off the last, as if we have never been apart. We talk, and talk, and talk, about all the things going on in our lives. We’ve been together through illness, death, family break-up and divorce, the care of children and of aging parents. We talk about the idiosyncrasies of the profession, politics, books and movies, our friends and families, our hopes and dreams. We drink lots of wine, although we are switching to water with various additives as we age. Mary Ann lays out a tray of fancy cheeses, spicy spreads, patés, prosciutto, smoked oysters, and crackers for snacks. This year, we’ve fed on chicken and salmon dishes prepared by Janne, Peggy, and me, and have felt absolutely no desire to eat out. Peggy’s Eggys with spinach, avocado, and prosciutto are the best Eggs Benedicts around. In New York, we ordered in and shared Thai fare with the night staff at the tables on the ground floor of our little Hell’s Kitchen hotel. They said that this was their first experience of Thai food. 

We listen to music, walk the local paths, and see the sights. If there is a church bazaar around, a bake sale or a craft fair, we will find it, and shop for treasures. In rural Ontario, our Saturday lunch is often a traditional pre-Christmas tea in a church basement, the tiny sandwiches and familiar sweets a nostalgic reminder of times past. In Wakefield, Ontario, we once caught their traditional pie auction and, after tasting the samples included with admission, we left with a winning pie. In New York, we walked the High Line in bright sunlight, had lunch at the Chelsea Market, and, after seeing the wonderful play The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, stood at the stage door, to meet the actors. This year, we caught a show of portraits from the Queen’s collection at the Vancouver Art Gallery and, on Saturday, hit the bustling Flea Market at West Vancouver United Church, and the craft fair at the community centre across the street.

Once dinner is done, we settle into playing cards. I come from a birth family where playing cards was a favourite pastime. In my eastern life, I never play cards except with the Daughters of Hoyle. On my first weekend away with them, when we were sole occupants of an historic cottage at Isaiah Tubbs resort in Prince Edward Country, Mary Ann set up an easel to help teach me the proper names of the suits of cards. If I was going to play bugger bridge, I couldn’t bid calling one suit “broccolis” and another “shovels.” The next day that same weekend, we played cards on the rocks of Sandbanks beach in the hot November sun, a memory we often recall. This year Peggy brought along the “Five Crowns,” a five-suited variation on rummy. No matter what game we play, or how hard we play it, Janne always seems to win. Playing cards is good for serious strategic planning, acting out latent aggressions, and hearty laughs which sometimes leave us in tears.

At the end of our time together, we set the date for the next year and talk about suitable venues. Long may the Daughters of Hoyle continue to meet.

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Toronto Sings for Gord Downie

On October 24th, I joined the masses gathered on Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto, to honour Gord Downie by singing his songs. Daveed Goldman and Nobu Adilman (aka “DaBu”), the founders in 2011 of the weekly drop-in singing group, Choir! Choir! Choir! in Toronto, organized and led what was a communal hootenanny. Most everyone knew the music and lyrics by heart; the rest of us sang along using words we’d downloaded from the internet. It was a very stirring event.

I went because I knew so little about the man and the band which has become a national phenomenon. I needed to fill the gap. The Tragically Hip is a familiar name. When they played the Dawson City Music Festival years ago, I knew that my sister had hosted the band in her home at the after party. Gord Downie’s actions, since his diagnosis with a brain tumour in December 2015, quite properly made him a national hero. I admired the Secret Path graphic book and also the album designed to tell the story of Chanie Wenjack’s tragic escape from an Indian Residential School, and promoted on the Hip’s last national tour. All proceeds from the Gord Downie/Chanie Wenjack Foundation go to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba.

For all that, I knew very little about Downie’s music over time; neither the tunes which made him and the band popular nor the lyrics which often read like poetry. I’m not alone. I’ve since learned that many of my cohort are equally oblivious to the impact he had on younger people, especially on those now in their late thirties or forties. People like the Prime Minister.

I now appreciate why his work has been so appealing. “I am a stranger… on a secret path,” the lead poem/song on his Secret Path album, released in tandem with the graphic book, is haunting and emotional. “Bobcaygeon,” where he “saw the constellations reveal themselves one star at a time,” resonates among those who know the north. “Ahead by a Century” speaks to who he was and what he stood for. “New Orleans is Sinking” and “Wheat Kings” speak of that which is familiar in ordinary life: “Bourbon blues on the street,” “hands in the river,” “Sundown in the Paris of the prairies,” “wheat kings and pretty things wait and see what tomorrow brings. “Late breaking story on the CBC.” “You can’t be fond of living in the past, Cause if you are then there’s no way that you’re gonna last.” “Courage” sings of the human condition: “No simple… explanation for anything important… . Any of us do and yeah the human… Tragedy consists in… the necessity Of living with… The consequences Under pressure. Courage… it didn’t come… it couldn’t come at a worse time.”

Mike Downie spoke to the crowd about the Downie Chanie Fund. In Gord’s honour, Don Kerr adapted “Fiddler’s Green for Gord.” The lyrics can be downloaded online. Beautiful.
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Current Legal Issues Worth Attention

1. Sean Fine’s gripping case study on unreasonable delay in the criminal courts: “I know the truth” in the Globe and Mail Focus section, Saturday October 21st.

In July 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. Williamson threw out Kenneth Williamson’s convictions for buggery, indecent assault and gross indecency on Byron Ruttan because it had taken 35 months for the case to go to trial. Normally, victims of child sexual abuse are shielded by a court order banning publication of their identity. In August 2017, Mr. Ruttan requested that a judge lift the order so that he could tell his story. The judge agreed.

His story as conveyed to Sean Fine will break your heart. Mr. Ruttan, a fatherless child, was twelve years old at the time of the abuse. Mr. Williamson was his court-appointed big brother, a student at Queens University who later became a teacher. For decades, Mr. Ruttan lived with the effects of the abuse on himself and on his own family (including his children). In 2008, after telling his probation officer what had happened to him so many years before, Ruttan spoke with the police and charges were finally laid against his abuser.

To read why the case took so long to proceed through the courts is to weep. Although his abuser admitted some of the offences and a jury found him guilty of them all, the case is a classic example of how and why the courts repeatedly failed to provide the justice his situation required. I have never read a better rendition of the problem. The story is as searing as the photos taken by Fred Lum which accompany it.

2. Quebec’s Bill 62, forcing women with face coverings to show their faces to give and receive all government services.

By a vote of 66 to 51, the Quebec legislature on October l8th passed Bill 62, An Act to foster adherence to State religious neutrality and… to provide a framework for requests for accommodations on religious grounds… . Unprecedented in North America, the law extends to provincial and municipal services, to public transit, daycare, libraries, medical care, and more. Although popular in the rural areas of Quebec, the new law has aroused a storm of protest in Montreal (where the majority of face-covering women in Quebec live) and throughout the rest of Canada. The debate continues in the press and around dinner tables.

Toronto criminal lawyer David Butt wrote an opinion piece in the Globe and Mail on Friday, October 20th, entitled Quebec ban on face coverings is doomed in court.” His is likely the mainstream legal analysis on the issue, that the law is “a blatant violation of religious freedom guaranteed by the Charter of Rights,” an example of gender discrimination, and more. He explains that any limits which governments impose on such freedom must “be reasonable and carefully tailored to pursue legitimate social objectives” that alleviate some valid harm. Here, what evidence is there of any harm? And the law is vague and so potentially over-reaching that no one knows what it means or how it will be implemented.

So why, he asks, would the Quebec government pass a law which so obviously violates the Charter? Because it is politically useful to cater to majority public opinion, leaving it to the courts “to do the politically unpalatable, but necessary, work of striking down bad laws that violate… minority rights.” He concludes that such political calculation does not excuse the Quebec government which “is catering slavishly to the meanest urges of the voting mob” and encouraging “the infuriatingly persistent social tendency to tell women what their choices mean, and then impose that meaning on them.”

3. Bribery Charges under the Ontario Elections Act thrown out of court.

On October 24th, Judge Howard Borenstein, of the Ontario Court of Justice in Sudbury, acquitted Liberal operatives Patricia Sorbara and Gerry Lougheed of bribery charges under the Ontario Elections Act. He did so on a motion for a directed verdict, before the defence was even called to lead any evidence. As defence counsel Brian Greenspan told the press, “These are rare events. They occur when prosecutions ought not to have brought at the outset… when the law states very, very clearly that there was simply no evidence upon which any reasonable jury could possibly have convicted.” This is a definitive legal result which the opposition parties, who have made considerable political hay over the charges, would prefer to ignore.

Geoffrey Stevens, former managing editor of the Globe and Mail, compared the Sudbury prosecutions to that of Mike Duffy in a piece entitled, “A tale of two senseless and unnecessary political prosecutions,” which will appear tomorrow in the Waterloo Regional Record. I quote: “On the face of it, the two prosecutions… have nothing in common beyond the fact that both involved political figures and allegations of bribery.

Mastering the Technology of a New Car

Our fifteen-year-old clunker, a 2002 Nissan Sentra with only 118,000 kilometres on it, finally ran into the ground on the July long weekend. There was a terrible racket from underneath the car that turned out to be a heat shield dragging on the pavement. A minor repair maybe, but we had long ago agreed that we would not put another cent into it. I called the Kidney Foundation and a few days later, they towed it away, providing me with a $300 charitable donations receipt.

We mined Phil Edmonston’s Lemon-aid New and Used Cars and discovered a new class of vehicle which we did not know existed. It’s a CUV, a crossover utility vehicle, which is smaller than an SUV and apparently very popular. That the seats of the car are higher off the ground is a huge advantage for seniors with mobility issues, and apparently there are now all sorts of safety features that will prevent crashes. We considered only two vehicles: the Nissan Rogue and the Toyota RAV4. Ultimately, we settled on the Toyota because I wanted a hybrid.

I made an appointment on the internet to test drive a RAV4 hybrid first thing Tuesday morning. The local Toyota dealership was only a short distance away by streetcar. When we arrived, the young sales rep showed us the exact model we were interested in and, within an hour, we became owners of a new RAV4 hybrid he would deliver to our home two days later. On delivery, the sales rep spent an hour and a half explaining how the car worked, and then left us with the car and two thick manuals. Undoubtedly, this was the most expeditious car purchase we have ever made.

Buying is easy. Learning how to use it more difficult. Three and a half months later, the car is still a continuing revelation. Keyless, the car door opens when we approach, so long as we have the fancy fob (worth $800 if lost) in pocket or purse. It took me several days to realize that, locking it, requires two taps on the door handle that will activate a light on the mirror to tell me that the car is actually locked. And although it is clear that one has to depress the brake before pushing the ignition button, the car is so quiet that we have on occasion forgotten to turn it off. Once, several hours after we last used it, a neighbour knocked on our front door to tell us that our car parked on the street still seemed to be running. Even yesterday when I was outside the car, the lights were still on and the door would not lock, and I couldn’t figure out why. Only then did it come to me that I had forgotten to depress the ignition button.

Then there is the gear shift lever. Whenever we put it into reverse, the camera appears on the master console screen with yellow and red lines showing where our car is in relation to cars behind it. The yellow line is apparently the trajectory of our car. The red line is the point at which I would actually hit the car behind. Gauging how those lines reflect the reality of the space required for parallel parking has been a challenge. But I’m getting the hang of it, finally. It even beeps a warning if someone or something should cross my path behind.

The warning beeps, and the flashing lights, are marvellous. So long as the various safety features are turned on, the lights on the mirrors will flash when a car, or sometimes even a bicycle in a bicycle lane, is passing in my blind spot. Or when I am drifting out of my lane on the freeway. If the beeps or lights come on, I now know to pay attention. Something is wrong; my job is to figure out what.

For all the wonderful safety features of this new car, the Master Console Screen is terribly distracting. It will take us forever to understand all its features, but already we are learning. We have more or less mastered the Audio; endless radio choices, SiriusXM if we knew why we should subscribe to it, and my entire music collection accessible by merely inserting a computer stick into the USB port below. And, just to make sure that we are fully informed, the screen identifies each program and each piece of music we hear.

As for the Apps, the Navigation feature has already proven invaluable. Tap in an address and a map and a friendly voice will give directions. Maybe even several options, with times and distances, for how to get there. How we are to evaluate the routes, we doen’t yet know. But we’ve already learned several things:

  1. The system will not allow us to tap in a new destination when the car is moving. Apparently that is a safety feature to prevent distracting the driver.
  2. The directions for the downtown core must be taken with a grain of salt. Often we know better than the system how to get from our home to the Gardiner expressway, for example. To its credit, the system adjusts to the route we actually choose to go.
  3. On the highway, the directions are usually right and we second guess the system at our peril.
  4. I must become more tolerant when the voice mispronounces local street names. The fact that AI is not perfect, I should consider some consolation.

The Telephone App is a light-year improvement over the dashboard cradle which used to hold my iPhone in the Sentra. So long as the smart phone is in my purse, it apparently connects by Bluetooth to the console screen. Phone numbers magically appear on the screen. Those numbers we use regularly are now installed for instant access by touch. And I’ve discovered a button on the steering wheel which I can push to activate a personal assistant who will call someone else on my Contacts list or find coffee shops, gas stations and restaurants nearby. All I need to do is think up something for the assistant to do and, voilà, the call is made or the results appear on the screen. Talking so easily on the telephone in the car is a new treat for me and I love it. As for the computer searches for nearby restaurants, I have to steel myself not to look at the results while driving alone. That would be dangerous.

Learning not to be distracted by the Master Console Screen is a major challenge. At first, we were endlessly fascinated by the colourful image which shows the flow of power in our hybrid from the gas engine and the battery, and back again. Trying to figure out what conditions cause the operation to change, and how that affects gas mileage, was an initial preoccupation which we have given up. I now just rely on the gas gauge showing the mileage to the next fill-up. It appears somewhere in the second set of information windows behind the steering wheel itself. Those are controlled by a toggle on the steering wheel which has multiple functions that I am gradually learning how and when to use. I wish I could just read the manual and assimilate all its info, flat-out. Alas, that’s not my learning style.

Last week, my husband looked up how to turn on the heated steering wheel and the heated seats which were supposed to be in this car. In the past, he scoffed at such amenities. Not any more. He likes the heated seat, even in warm fall temperatures. He says the warmth reduces the pain in his back. And the heated steering wheel? All the better to assuage arthritis in aching fingers and wrists. Who would have guessed that our new car, as well as being a fabulous new computer (perhaps more properly a mirror for my computer), was also going to be a new mode for therapy?

This could be the last new car we ever buy. Just as well. Learning how to use all its features may well take us a decade.

 

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A Rental House From Hell

My husband and I spent two weeks in Halifax this past August. When in April I put my mind to our accommodation, I discovered that Halifax was already booked out for the time we needed. So I looked at Vacation Rental By Owner and Airbnb.

I discovered a house which I thought would be suitable. It was in Dartmouth, across the harbour from downtown Halifax. The promo for the house spoke of the quiet street on which the house was located and touted the wonderful view of the harbour. Since we love our “cottage” overlooking the harbour in Vancouver, we thought we would compare Canada’s two major ports. The rental price was steep, but we assumed that, if the proprietor was charging the rent he did, the house would be up to the standard we expected.

It was a modern house, pleasant enough. There was a cozy living room with a fireplace, many interesting artifacts, and a wall-mounted television. Across the hall was an open dining room and kitchen. French doors led to a patio which, indeed, had a splendid view of the Halifax harbour. Furnished with a table and chairs, the patio was a very pleasant place where we could eat dinner, watch the boats go by, and check out the success of the fisher-folk with their lines out in search of catch on the shore beneath us. The house had laundry, three bathrooms, and parking in the back. The location was close to the Alderney Centre, where I could catch the ferry that transports commuters from Dartmouth to downtown Halifax every fifteen minutes. So far, so good.

I have had little experience in using computer rental services, and, when I spoke with the owner over the telephone, I did not think to ask him about the bed. The blurb for the house had a picture of the bed which looked okay. Elsewhere in the promo, it said that it “slept two.” As we discovered on our arrival, that is code for “double bed.” Maybe Maritimers take doubles for granted, but we haven’t slept in a double bed since we left our Paris apartment 46 years ago. And this was a soft double. Since my husband is six foot four and had medical issues at the time, sleeping on a soft double was highly problematic. It took us at least three or four nights to get used to the constraints of the space. Had I realized that the bed was a double, I would not have rented the house.

But that’s not the worst part. The owner definitely did not tell me about the train directly across the street beside the water. Even if he had, I probably would not have picked up on the significance of it. We are used to trains on the CN track below our Vancouver apartment in Ambleside. There, several trains pass by daily. We sometimes hear them if our sleep is fitful, but generally we forget that they are there. They pass by and are gone. When I arrived at the Dartmouth house, I noticed what I thought was a single track across the street, and asked the owner if we would hear the trains. “Yes,” he said, “you will hear them.”

And indeed we did. During the daytime, I was at my writing course. When I returned for the evening, the tracks were quiet. Only later, the activity began. We discovered that what we thought was a single track was instead at least three sets of tracks and that the purpose of the tracks was to marshal the railroad cars parked between us and the ferry terminal. Beginning shortly after midnight, the bumping and the clanging began, as an engine backed into the closest car and began to assemble the cars that would make up a new train. Have you ever heard train cars crashing together when they are being marshalled into a train? It is horrific, a constant clatter of loud banging, squealing and clashing, repeated as many times as there are cars in the ever-growing train, a persistent staccato, over and over. I heard the train from the moment the marshalling started, shortly after midnight, until the first train was assembled and pulled away an hour or so later. It would then be quiet for a while, until about 3:00 a.m. Just when I was finally back to sleep, I awoke to hear the chugging of the engine in the distance as it got closer and closer. Before long, the clatter and banging and shrieking started yet again and continued for another hour or so until train number two was assembled. Sometimes that happened three times a night.

My husband, who takes sleeping pills every night, generally slept through the racket. I had a few pills left on my high-power sleeping pill prescription, to be used only in times of great stress. When I discovered the trains, I decided to hoard the pills for those nights before I needed to present something orally in my course. Very shortly, I finished my supply of pills, Nytol didn’t work, and I was dragging myself around exhausted. I never even thought to close the window or go out and buy ear plugs. My lack of practical problem-solving skills in this situation may indicate early onset dementia. More likely, I was just too tired.

There were other issues with the place. On our arrival, the owner advised that the dishwasher didn’t work. Okay, we could wash our own dishes. Then his wife told me that they did not have a coffee pot. Her daughter apparently borrowed the coffee pot and not yet returned it. A tea drinker, she suggested that we could make coffee using paper filters over a cup, one cup at a time. We also discovered that the kitchen sink fixtures were in poor repair. What does it say about owners who charge big bucks for rental that covers their own vacation, who have more than three months’ notice to make the repairs before their unsuspecting tenants arrive, and who do not fix the dishwasher, pay $79.00 for a new coffee pot, and have a kitchen sink in proper repair? And then there is that antiquated double bed, an anomaly by modern standards. All of these would be deductible expenses.

When I told a friend about the rental house, she advised me to write a review on the VRBO website to warn future prospective tenants. I decided that I would write a post about the house instead, and then email the owner with the link. Mr. and Mrs. owner of 72 Shore Road, Dartmouth… be warned. As for me, I will know what to ask in the future.

 

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