Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep


keep calm and gobble onHappy Thanksgiving weekend! Hopefully most of us will be lucky enough to be gathered together at some point with friends and family to share the bounty of the harvest – or at least the goodies we’ve bought from our local grocers — and that most precious of commodities …. our time.

It’s crazy how fast the days and years go by. That’s not an ‘old people’ thing anymore; even kids in grade school find it hard to accommodate all of the information and entertainment they need to constantly absorb in order to successfully process their world. Those of us with much to remember don’t stand a chance, post-retirement, of guessing the day with much accuracy. (Helpful hint: Write everything down!)

Although I’m not a religious person, I consider myself blessed. I have a roof over my head, food in my fridge, and a husband, family, and friends that love me. I also have a keen awareness that I am more fortunate than a great many people, who often lack the things that a lot of us take for granted.

While I do try to do what I can to help others, this weekend I’m grateful to be enjoying the hospitality of two lovely friends, who asked us to share their respective feasts.

toronto-skyline-nightOn Saturday night, we joined long time friend and writer Ira Band for dinner at the Island Yacht Club, on Mugg’s Island. It was a beautiful night, with weather more like August’s than October’s. Earlier this summer, the island was horrendously flooded, but is now back to being it’s luxuriously landscaped self. After a delicious Thanksgiving buffet, we alternated between enjoying the fireplace inside, and the view of the Toronto skyline from the comfy lounges outside. A perfect evening!

Today, we’ll be joining fellow scribe/photographer/Energizer Bunny Pat Blythe for her amazing festive spread. That woman can cook most people under the table, and still sparkle as the hostess with the mostest. We will enjoy the company of friends, and Pat’s famous pies, and who could ask for anything more!

i-came-in-like-a-butterballMonday will be Bring On The Fat Pants Day and let it all hang out. I can live with that.

But let’s talk about Canadian Thanksgiving. I like when we celebrate the holiday. Let the Americans have theirs on the fourth Thursday of November; ours is just better positioned. We’ve got Halloween at the end of the month, which acts as a speed bump before we get on the tilt-a-whirl that is the countdown to Christmas, and that’s just fine by me.

So why aren’t our holidays celebrated simultaneously, you ask? It’s all about history.

According to wiki, “the first Canadian Thanksgiving is often traced back to 1578 and the explorer Martin Frobisher. Frobisher, who had been trying to find a northern passage to the Pacific Ocean, held his Thanksgiving celebration not for harvest but in thanks for surviving the long journey from England through the perils of storms and icebergs. On his third and final voyage to the far north, Frobisher held a formal ceremony ifrobisher-thanksgivingn Frobisher Bay in Baffin Island (present-day Nunavut) to give thanks to God and in a service ministered by the preacher Robert Wolfall they celebrated Communion.”

Over the years, succeeding waves of immigrants brought their own harvest traditions and delicacies to Canada, and we gratefully blended those new foods and tastes into what we now call Canadian cuisine.

And of course, we cannot forget how new Italian/Canadians brought their own tradition of the Spaghetti Harvest to our great land.

What we think of today as a traditional Thanksgiving feast owes a lot to what American film and TV has idealized as the proper fare… the groaning board that begins with pickles, olives, and hot dinner rolls (Pillsbury Crescent Rolls are a favourite for me) and carries on with mashed potatoes , roasted vegetables, cranberry sauce, stuffing and giblet gravy, all but the preliminaries to the guest of honour, the roast turkey.

And when you’ve had your fill, and have moved your belt buckle over a notch, lo and behold, the desserts arrive – pumpkin or cherry or raspberry pie, carrot cake, ice cream …. Ahhh … yep, sounds like Thanksgiving at Pat’s!

I’m happy to have a day designated for giving thanks. We’re an entitled bunch of gits, and having to stop and actually think about what’s good in our lives is rare; we’re far more likely to be complaining about what we don’t have. This is a day – or a long weekend – on which Canadians can all agree that they are blessed to live in a country which, because of or in spite of current leadership, allows us freedom in so many ways.

thanksgiving-gratitudeI try to have an “attitude of gratitude” as the platitude goes. No matter what life brings, I try to remember that there are people on this planet who would kill to be in my shoes. Which is not to say that I don’t occasionally complain, but I do value what I have, and I thank those who make my life better, just by their presence and love.

 

“When we neglect to require our children to say `thank you’ when someone gives them a gift or does something for them, we raise ungrateful children who are highly unlikely to be content. Without gratitude, happiness is rare. With gratitude, the odds for happiness go up dramatically. The more you recognize and express gratitude for the things you have, the more things you will have to express gratitude for.” Zig Ziglar

grateful-for-everythingSo, what are you grateful for in your life? I’m grateful for my husband, my children and grandchildren, and my family and friends, who continue to love me despite my many, many quirks and odd behaviour. I’m grateful for the food in our pantry and the roof over our heads. I’m grateful that I’m getting older, because the alternative sucks. I’m grateful that I get to write this column every Sunday, and some of you actually read it and even discuss ideas with me, whether you agree or disagree with my points. I’m grateful that I’ve never lived in a country ravaged by war or pestilence or famine, and probably never will.

Little girl asleep in bed.I’m grateful when I lay my head down on the pillow at night, and know that the odds are good I’ll be waking up in the morning to another day filled with possibilities. I’m grateful for every bit of my life so far, and the wonders that still await my discovery. For as long as I am on this planet, I want to be cognizant of the beauty that is all around me, and never take for granted the gift that is existence.

Even when the going gets rough and it seems like there’s nowhere to go but down, it’s best to consider the good you have in your life, and be thankful. That small shift in thinking can put things into perspective.

Never underestimate how important it is to have people in your life who are kind and loving and thoughtful. When all else fades away, love and kindness are the greatest gifts you can give or receive.

There’s a reason why this song has over 52 million hits … the simple lyrics, and the joyful delivery remind us of the things that are most important in our lives.

Have a wonderfilled Thanksgiving weekend, everyone, however you choose to celebrate.

 

 

Everything is Everywhere


Since I have a fear of flying, and a flight to B.C. tomorrow morning, I’ve been in a constant state of panic for the last week or so. When I finally fall into a restless sleep, I have non-stop nightmares of arriving at the wrong terminal, without a ticket or some vital bit of identification, and wearing all the wrong clothes, if I’m wearing clothes at all. Even when there’s no reason to panic – and I can always find a reason to panic – I’m in a simmering pre-panic mode. My house looks like an exploded suitcase. Everything is everywhere. mickey suitcase

I’m reeling like an enraged Tasmanian Devil, with piles of lists that disappear under yet more piles of lists, of things that I need to buy or do, or do bee doo bee doo, before I hit Pearson International in the a.m., legs trembling, and a nervous smile flitting spasmodically over my lips.

So I’m going to keep it short, and just tell you about a few musical events happening today that will make this hot and sunny September Sunday a day to remember.

The timing of this trip meant that I wasn’t able to volunteer at the Kensington Market Jazz Festival this year (September 15-16-17) as I had last year. With over 200 Canadian musicians playing over 150 shows at very cool venues up and down the Market streets, it’s a weekend that’s chock full of great music.

Tory on phone jazzfest Sept 2017Trip and jitters aside, I still found the time on Friday afternoon to drop in on Greg Godovitz at El Mocambo‘s pop up shop, Prohibition (66 Kensington Avenue,) where I bought a couple of rocking t-shirts for my western family. Then it was off to the media launch at Tom’s Place, (190 Baldwin) where local luminaries, including a texting Mayor John Tory, the dashing Richard Flohill, and chanteuses Molly Johnson and Genevieve Marentette, along with Celine Peterson (daughter of Oscar) and a host of others, gathered to celebrate the beginning of the fest.

The ever effervescent Joanne Smale greeted me as I entered. She’s handling the media around handsome young santur player, Sina Bathaie, and his latest production.

From the artist: “This album, Rays of Hope, is dedicated to all those who have pursued; who have suffered while the world waits for us to remember this perennial first wisdom that love ignores all boundaries. What we hope for in the end is that remembrance with which we can hurdle every fence, tear down every wall and arrive at that place where hope greets us in warm welcome. Each text in the cover is a verse of a poem which celebrates our timeless elusive pursuit for peace, hope, and the most important of all these, love. “

santurTo my hippie ears, his new CD has a sort of new age-y updated feel of Mike Oldfield‘s Tubular Bells, played on this fascinating Persian instrument.

The album release concert will be on Friday, October 13, at the Toronto Centre for the Arts, Lyric Theatre. Or you can catch him this afternoon, from 3:00-4:00 pm at Handlebar, 159 Augusta. ($12. at the door,)

If you can find your way down to the Market today, there’s still a lot of great music to be heard, starting at noon with the Sidewalk Crusaders Street March, and including a slew of free concerts at the Yamaha Grand Piano Room in Tom’s Place, by some of Toronto’s most respected players, including Brian Dickinson, Carl Bray, Don Thompson, Joe Sealy, Mark Eisenman and Robi Botos.

Danny-MarksToronto’s favourite son and perennial Energizer bunny, Danny Marks, will be playing at the Hotbox Cafe (204 Augusta) from 1:00-2:00 pm, ($12. at the door) and then at Prohibition from 4:00-6:00 pm (Pay what you can.)

Bertie & The Gents, with the wonderful Manfred Koch on trombone, will be holding court from 6:00-7:00 pm at El Gordo’s Backyard (214 Augusta) ($17. at the door.)

Hit Amadeus’ Restaurant, (184 Augusta Ave) at 6:00 pm to get your jazz on for free, courtesy of Rick Donaldson & The Jazz Cats with Jim Heineman. amadeus resto

And at the kitschy, eclectic Lola, (40 Kensington Ave.) there’s Donne Roberts from 4:00-5:00 pm (($12. at the door,) Anh Phung & Alan Mackie playing from 6:00-7:00 pm ($12. at the door,) the Selcuk Suna Trio featuring DIA from 8:00-9:00 pm ($12. at the door,), ending with Eric St-Laurent ($12. at the door,) from 10:00-11:00 pm.

For more info, maps and schedules, head on over to the fest’s web site.

http://www.kensingtonjazz.com/mobile-phone-schedule-a-z

As for me, hopefully I’ll get to hear some fine jazz this afternoon , and still be at the right airport terminal tomorrow morning, with the right paperwork in hand, and without having forgotten something deathly important. Like clothing. I’ve got this! Head’s up, British Columbia! I’m on my way!

Sorta kinda.

 

Temptation Redux


Much as I have tried to pull together at least a preview of a project that I’m working on to share with you, it is not to be; there is much back burner simmering to be done before that column is ready to be savoured.

Hmmm… back burner simmering … sounds like something good to eat! Speaking of eating … here’s something I wrote in the Spring of 2013, and have revised and updated for your dining and dancing entertainment. Bon Appetit!

The Last Temptation

Mmm … food. Can’t live with it, can’t live without it. For some, food is a sensual pleasure, as delicious and desirable as sex. To others, feeding themselves is a chore; if they could, they would be content to fill their nutritional needs by swallowing a tablet.

Gourmet or gourmand? That is the question. I believe the essence of human sensuality is embodied in one who not only enjoys good food, but revels in all its glories; heaven on the palate, a visual treat, and a tactile experience. To me, there is little as delightful as a feast for both the eyes and the stomach. Good food, in all of its 3D wonderment, warms the cockles of my heart, quickens my breath, and eases the tensions of life.

Oh yes, I know. Everything in moderation, and if I ever figure out how to do that, I’ll get right on it! But the warring culinary DNA factors in my blood and heart crave lashings of French cooking, with a shanty Irish reliance on carbohydrates swimming in butter, and a British sensibility that encourages such brutal delicacies as steak and kidney pudding. I love food. pomegranateNo – I am in lust with good, honest, fresh, beautifully prepared, delicately seasoned, lovingly plated and brilliantly presented food.

I grew up when food was only available in season, and then just in the grocers for a very small window of time. Pomegranates, black cherries, tangerines … gifts from the gods! We snapped up these delicacies, pressed them to our breasts, and rushed them home to be enjoyed in the loving spirit in which they had been grown.

dragonfruitTimes have changed, and for the most part, I applaud the growers of the world, who now bring old favourites and new sensations to our tables and taste buds all year ’round. I approached my first Dragon Fruit with apprehension, but fell to its creamy goodness. I still have yet to cook an artichoke, so fearful am I of bruising its delicate heart. I weep for the people of South America, whose primary staple grain and protein, quinoa, has fallen afoul of North American foodies and vegans – their lust for this important protein supplement is now one of the two main causes of deforestation in Brazil.

Oh brave new world that has such wonders in it!

The flip side of this global food consciousness is, of course, the prolific rise of fast food – an abomination in my eyes – and the voraciousness of the gaping maws of people who apparently no longer have an OFF switch on their hunger. shopping nightmareA visit to the grocer the day before a holiday will have you convinced that we’ve just been alerted to an impending weather disaster, zombie apocalypse or nuclear holocaust. Carts crashing into each other, shoppers strip the aisles clean of all available food stuff like piranha. It is to weep.

Food has always been woven into our culture, enshrined in art, music and literature.

Today, trained and novice chefs compete for our attention in an orgy of food porn on their own television channels. From the likeable Jamie Oliver, intense and so well meaning, to the scatological ravings of kitchen madman Gordon Ramsey, to the ‘en garde!’ insanity of Iron Chef, or the folksy drawlings of now diabetic Paula Deen, you can scarcely spend an hour in the 500 channel universe without being reminded that you’ve not eaten in at least fifteen minutes.

nigella lawsonNigella Lawson is embraced and acknowledged as the courtesan of TV food; although neither a trained chef nor cook, her softly curving figure and clearly erotic attention to the food she prepares seduces the viewer into a relaxed and loving appreciation of goose fat and Riesling.

But it is in classic film that the connection between food and sensuality is best exhibited, in a veritable moveable feast.

In 1963, a lascivious dining scene in Tom Jones, of Albert Finney and Joyce Redman devouring a chicken, left movie goers gasping.

Or consider … Alan Bates describing the best way to eat a ripe fig in Women in Love (1969). Phew! “Like a prostitute, the bursting fig makes a show of her secret.”

In 9 ½ Weeks, Kim Basinger and Mickey Rourke played sensually with jello, pasta, grapes, cherries and strawberries and the surprise of an jalapeno until her face was sticky with juices and she begs, with mouth agape, for more. Not very subtle, but very effective.

Babette’s Feast, (1987,) a film based on a story written by Isaak Dinesen, showed the healing properties of glorious, delicious food on a religious community divided by fear of strangers. Big Night, (1996,) Stanley Tucci’s film about a New Jersey restaurant, exalted in the remarkable healing powers of a shared meal.

Is there a right way to eat ramen, that glorious noodle soup? Why yes – and Tampopo (1985) showed us how to give respect to the ingredients. “Appreciate its gestalt. Savor the aromas. Jewels of fat glimmering on the surface. Schinachiku roots shining. Seaweed slowly sinking. …” More than a haiku to the food, it is total appreciation. There’s also a nod to drink, with the sipping of sake from a woman’s navel.

“Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.” Goodfellas –  a celebration of food! “Pauly … had this wonderful system for doing the garlic. He used a razor, and he used to slice it so thin that it used to liquefy in the pan.”

La Grande Bouffe is nothing more than a story of four friends who set out to eat and screw themselves to death in the French countryside. I’ll spare you the visuals on that one. Nor will I include scenes from the shocking waste of butter in Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider’s romp in Last Tango in Paris. Butter aficionados will find it on their own.

No Reservations (2007), starred Catherine Zeta-Jones as a sexy chef who made her puppy dog underling sit up and beg for treats.

You’ll never feel the same about quail after watching this scene from Like Water for Chocolate (1993) Tita uses her suitor’s gift, seasoned with her blood and longing, to make quail in rose petal sauce. Her passion is communicated through the delicious food to Pedro, her potential lover, while her haughty mother dines in salty disapproval. Eventually, her heat causes an outhouse to erupt into flames.

In the similarly themed Chocolat (2000), Johnny Depp and Juliette Binoche enjoyed the magic of lovingly handmade chocolate candies. In Woman on Top (2000) Penelope Cruz, playing a chef, has phallic-looking chilli peppers rubbed on her lips.

You remember the shimmering, shadowed, shower, but do you remember Jennifer Beals devouring a lobster tail in the seduction scene in Flashdance (1983) ?

A full menu of films that piqued our appetites would leave us overstuffed, so I’ll stop there.

We all hope to age gracefully and beautifully, like a fine wine. But many of us will eventually come to the point where, for health or dietary reasons, we can only look longingly at a delicious spread, and whimper into our hands.

harvest.jpgAs harvest time nears, and before political correctness, weight gain, national health, and propriety wipe these elemental pleasures from our memories, bite into a ripe strawberry, bury your nose into a bushel of fresh tomatoes, nibble at the edges of a freshly cut pastrami or hold a mouthful of champagne against your taste buds, reveling in it’s effervescence.

And raise a glass and a fork to one of the most basic and natural joys of living … the enjoyment of food!

 

Blackberries and Entitlement


There is a very nice house on the corner of my street. The back yard is surrounded by a tall fence, but as you walk by, you can peep through, and see that there is a lovely garden inside, with a deck, and a nice patio seating area. It’s all very well kept and tidy.

Plants peek out through the fence, as plants will. There are some flowers, and a few weeds, and some of those long, brambly, blackberry stalks, the sort that seem to go from manageable to ‘ow! that long branch just scratched my arm!” in a matter of seconds.

blackberry bushA few months ago, the blackberries appeared. Blackberries start out red and inedible. It’s not until they turn black that they become tasty. There is usually about one week in the summer when the berries all hit peak perfection simultaneously. At my old house, I had a wall of blackberry bushes. When they were ready to pick, I would go into hyper drive, trying to get as many of the berries harvested as I possibly could, so that I could make a summer jam. I’d also offer my neighbours some of the bounty. And, inevitably, the birds, squirrels and raccoons would have a messy feast as well.

The first sighting of the blackberry plants escaping the fence on the corner house gave me a little frisson of emotion, a combination of happiness at seeing the familiar fruit, and a twinge of sadness at no longer having my little Scarborough fruit and veg garden. Planting in containers just isn’t the same.

Halfway through July, the magic moment arrived, and suddenly the branches bent low with beautiful, glossy black berries.  I’m sure I wasn’t the only passer-by that helped herself to a berry or two when I walked by the house. The branches were, after all, bordering the sidewalk, and just a tiny portion of the plants that lined the inside of the fence.

The day after the appearance of the berries, a small sign, written in crayon, and in a child’s handwriting, appeared on the fence. It said, “Please don’t pick the berries. Thank you.”

depressed personNow, perhaps my chagrin at seeing that sign stemmed from a desire to be inside the fence, gobbling down handfuls of the berries before harvesting a bushel or so for jam making.

But the first thought that crossed my mind was that someone had missed a wonderful opportunity to teach a child about sharing and responsibility. Since the home owner had allowed their plants to cross over into common ground, the berries were, ostensibly, now to be had by anyone who passed by the branches on their way down the street.

And if someone picked a berry and enjoyed it, that was a way of spreading the wealth, so to speak, without having to make any real effort. A way to allow others to enjoy a little treat, without that gift costing our benefactors any loss or stress. You  might not know who enjoyed that pleasure, and they might never know that it was you that let them have it, but there can be a strange, inner joy that comes from simply giving away some of the surplus of what you have.

Instead, the parents of that child taught her that she needed to keep a firm grip on what she ‘owned,’ even if that ‘property’ wasn’t actually contained within its bounds.  Best to assume that others will take things away from you, if you’re not stern and disciplined, and keep a firm grasp on your ‘stuff.’ And if you don’t tell them to back off, they’ll take and take and …oh!

i've got mineThat’s a weird and ugly paradigm that many live by now; the world of “I’ve got mine, and I’ll fight anyone that tries to get some for themselves!”

That’s the mindset of those who are threatened by anyone else enjoying even a sip of life’s cup, since it is a sip they feel to be taken from their own mouths. It’s what people earning a comfortable living feel like when they hear the minimum wage might be raised so that others with more menial jobs can actually afford to live. And it’s the way that many Canadians feel when they hear that there is a cost to ignoring the civil rights of other Canadians, and in the resentment they feel when the courts actually have to shell out millions to pay those costs to the victim.

It’s in the self-righteousness of the outwardly religious who piously mouth the Lord’s Prayer, but deny Christ’s preaching to love everyone as he loved them, and to treat others as they wish to be treated.  It’s in those who would put the possible cost of healthcare for transgendered people in the military over a respect for those peoples’ basic rights, as they spend their lives in the defence of their country.  It’s even in the behaviour of the driver who feels the need to be in constant touch by telephone entitles him or her to break the law and answer their cell phone while zipping down the highway at 140km an hour.

It’s a selfishness and entitlement that can be seen daily, on the streets, and in the houses of corporate and political power. The real trickle down that we’ve seen over the last few decades hasn’t been the money that the rich and powerful never did let fall on the lowly, but the examples that they’ve shown us, of how disrespect, lying, and a lack of accountability can enrich those who simply don’t care about anyone other than themselves.

We want to celebrate those who have stood on the shoulders of giants, but instead we are too often and too loudly confronted by those with feet of clay, who prefer to stand on the throats of the weak.

“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Isaac Newton.

baby crying over statue removalNowhere was the inevitable down slide of perverted entitlement seen more clearly than in this weekend’s parades, protests, and riots in Charlottesville, Virginia. Far-right activists descended upon the city for a Unite the Right rally against the removal of a statue of Confederate leader, Robert E. Lee.

In April, the Charlottesville City Council voted to sell the bronze statue that stands in downtown Charlottesville. The city council also unanimously voted to rename Lee Park. However, two members of the five-member city council still voted against removing the statue. In May, a judge halted that removal for six months.

For those playing along at home, Lee was the general who lead the charge of the Confederate Army, in defence of slavery, against the prevailing American forces of the time. The Confederacy lost. The statue was commissioned in 1917, 52 years after the war ended, and was finally erected in 1924, 59 years after the war ended.

The march of the alt-right was composed primarily of young, white, decently dressed young men, who seemed to feel that their lack of melanin outweighed their concurrent lack of anything remotely special about themselves. Just having been born white and American has lead them to believe that they should have everything they feel they deserve in life – even if it means taking from others less fortunate.

Some are equating this all-white/alt-right protest to the Black Lives Matter protests. I would unequivocally disagree. One is a group seeking to elevate themselves socially by denying the rights of others, while the other is a traditionally oppressed group seeking their civil rights. Violent protests are wrong no matter who participates, but the messages are in no way equivalent.

“[…] I agree with Dante, that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in a period of moral crisis maintain their neutrality.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

A state’s leader that would qualify his objection to ‘hatred, bigotry and violence‘ by adding “on many sides” is no leader at all, but rather a fool who dog whistles to his bigoted and racist followers, egging them on to further violence, in a game of false equivalency.

“… there was strong reaction to Trump’s refusal to denounce far-right extremists who had marched through the streets carrying flaming torches, screaming racial epithets and setting upon their opponents.

The clashes started after white nationalists planned a rally around a statue of the Confederate general Robert E Lee that is slated to be removed, and culminated in a car being deliberately driven into a group of people peacefully protesting the far right rally, killing one person and injuring at least 19.”

Even those within his own party disapproved of Trump’s lukewarm response.

The Republican senator Cory Gardner of Colorado tweeted: “Mr President – we must call evil by its name. These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism.” This was echoed by Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah who lost a brother in the second world war. “We should call evil by its name. My brother didn’t give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home.” ”  (The Guardian)

Despite the public disavowal of those who committed these offences, there were still many on social media who defended their racism by claiming that their protests are a reaction to what they see (the removal of a statue of a Confederate general) as a ‘direct assault against white people.”

Essentially, they are saying they’ll go to civil war to protect the past in an effort to avoid moving forward. The lives of those they harm are of no consequence; their actions say that their traditions and history are more important than the lives of other human beings.

charlottesville carThe Rebel staffer, Faith Goldy, was complaining about left-wing protesters not being inclusive, when she was interrupted by the killing of one of them, preserved on video as it happened.

The truth that must be said, that must be shouted and proclaimed, by not only the President of the United States but by all of his followers and sycophants, is that there is no equivalency between those who marched for their white rights, and those who had finally had enough of those who believe they can only be ‘equal’ if they are allowed to be superior to others through oppression. This was domestic terrorism, as deadly and frightening as any other sort of terrorism. The difference here is that this terrorism is being nurtured by other Americans.

White Americans, and especially young, white, male Americans, aren’t oppressed in the least. No one is trying to take their guns or Christmas away from them. Their churches are not being burned, and there are no burning crosses on the lawns of ‘whitey.’ No one is trying to take away their right to marry the person of their choice. They are under no worse of a travel ban than the need to remove their shoes before being allowed entry onto an airplane. No one feels so threatened by their very presence and colour that even the murder of a child walking home from school can be justified because someone ‘feared for their life.’ And there are no political groups so threatened by ‘the white demographic’ that they have to jury rig districts to ensure the right/white candidate is elected.

They don’t have grandparents and great-grandparents who lived through slavery and systemic racism that took from them even the hope of the prosperity of the average white American. Their parents weren’t imprisoned for marrying someone of a different colour, or for merely being mistaken for an actual criminal because ‘they all look alike to me.’

Racism and bigotry – that’s America’s real history and legacy. Great strides toward a more equal and civilized society have been made in the last several decades, but the actions of those who would ‘make America great again’ by ‘making America white again’ threaten to halt that progress, and tear the nation apart. It is only by accepting the ugly past, and learning from it, that a better future can be attained.

The willfully ignorant, those who are armed and dangerous to anyone who disagrees with their bigoted beliefs, who create their own echo chamber filled with half-truths and lies, are the cancer that will bring America to it’s knees.

America’s president has been very bold in denouncing global terrorism. It is apparently only domestic terrorism that keeps him silent.

What’s That In Your Pants?


If anyone had said to me, even a couple of months ago, that in July of 2017 the President of the United States would suddenly decree, apropos of nothing, and via Twitter no less! to “please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military”  … I’d have snorted like an outraged donkey.trump trans tweet

What the lemon scented fart? If any further proof was needed that the POTUS is not only ignorant of the Constitution, civil rights and the year, his homophobic proclamation sealed the deal.

I get it. He’s 71, and possibly – no, make that probably – suffering from senile dementia and/or Alzheimer’s, and was never the hippest dude on the block even during his heyday, but this ridiculous knee-jerk revealed the ignorant, paranoid and prejudiced clod that somehow managed to fool enough of America to hit his Peter Principle pinnacle; the American paper fortune tellierPresident has reached the extreme tippity top limit of his competence, and is sliding into total incompetence and irrelevance, while clutching America’s nuclear codes like a paper fortune teller.

The news cycle went into overdrive after his tweet. Possible reasons for this cruel verdict included the reveal that a congressional fight over gender reassignment surgery, which threatened funding for his controversial wall with Mexico, was at least partly to blame. This despite studies that clearly showed that the highest possible cost estimates of hormone therapy or gender reassignment surgery would range from $2.4 million to $8.4 million, (equivalent to two or three Trump weekend getaways to Mar A Lago.) Costs overall would represent an “exceedingly small proportion” of total health care.

The militarsarah huckabee sandersy spends much more on Viagra. The Department of Defence spends $49.3 billion each year on health care.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the President was concerned about the policy. “This is a very expensive and disruptive policy and, based on consultation that he’s had with his national security team, he came to the conclusion that is erodes military readiness and unit cohesion and made the decision based on that,” she said.

I’m gonna guess that consultation involved less of the security team and more of his little, green, G.I. Joe figurines.toys for boys and girls

Tarah Demant, Amnesty International USA’s director of Gender, Sexuality, and Identity program said Mr Trump’s decision violated the human rights of all transgender Americans, adding: “It lays bare the president’s prejudice and underlines the fact that creating policy based on bigotry is becoming a dangerous and cruel pattern for President Trump.”

In other words, his own prejudice about how he personally would feel about serving alongside transgender military personnel was to supersede the many surveys and studies done within the actual military community that concluded that letting transgender people serve openly would have a “minimal impact” on readiness and health care costs, largely because there are so few (between 1,320 and 6,630) in the military’s 1.3 million-member force. Awful big talk from the Bone Spur Kingtrump bone spurs

Beyond any real or imaginary financial or morale implications, Trump’s words were a dog whistle to his base, those who agree with his fearful and intolerant ravings. Thankfully, there are less and less of them.

Without getting into all of the macho silliness and obvious fear of sexual inadequacy 45 has displayed throughout his life, you’d still think that he’d, by the age of seventy-one, at least be over his fear that the gay might get on him.

Because at the heart of it, an awful lot of people, especially older men like Trump, fear that their sexuality is a delicate thing. Masculinity, defined by male genitalia, is apparently so fragile that even a chance encounter with another male’s naughty bits will break it. Those kids in school who feared getting the gay cooties, who thought the queer might rub off on them if they even spoke to a transgendered kid, or who yelled out “fag” at anyone who broke fashion ranks with the ‘boys’ are more scared of their fragile grasp on their own sexuality than their victims are of their tormentors.

Even the word “homophobia” is a misnomer. A phobia is defined as an “irrational fear or hate,” something you might feel about heights, or spiders. If anything, the term would more appropriately be “homoism” since the range of negative attitudes and feelings towards those whose sexual taste differs from one’s own is more akin to words like racism, sexism, or ageism.

(Homophobia) has been defined as contempt, prejudice, aversion, hatred or antipathy, may be based on irrational fear, and is often related to religious beliefs.” (wikipedia)

Those emotions are a lot more definitive and deep seated than any you’d bring to bear on that poor spider who just happened to wander into your shower.

No, this whole ridiculous and overt terror that some ostensibly macho men exhibit is their fear that contact of any kind with homosexuals or the transgendered might change their “All Boy” identity into one that is “not-normal“.

It’s also that they’re afraid that a man will hit on them the way they hit on women.

It’s so irrational that it even out-irrationalizes racism; a bigot may hate people of a different colour, but he’s really not too worried that he might wake up one morning and find his skin tone has changed to black. No, that would be silly!

i woke up like this. jpgBut a homophobe does have a secret fear that they could wake up one fine morning and find that they suddenly crave the touch and scent and feel of someone who’s got all the same plumbing as they themselves are concealing in their boxers.

Several studies have linked homophobia to latent homosexual arousal. Maybe. After all, it’s not uncommon for those entering puberty to wonder about their own sex’s sexy bits, as well as the opposite’s. Most young people are worried that the acting out of their desires will disqualify them from fitting in with their peers. Closet homosexuals, therefore, have the most to fear; namely, that they’ll be found out, and socially ostracized.

henry rollins gay marriageIt’s crazy and irrational, and that’s why civilized society had to take a stand, and let the grownups decide that the establishment of civil rights made it a federal crime to “by force or by threat of force, injure, intimidate, or interfere with anyone. ” And that means ALL people, regardless of race, color, religion, or national origin, and, since 1974, gender.

Which didn’t stop a small group of people, all puffed up with religious arrogance, from deciding that their own Holy Book‘s preachings gave them the right to ignore that legislation, and discriminate against legal same sex marriage.

By late 2014, same-sex marriage had become legal in states that contained more than 70% of the United States population. More than 70% of Americans lived in a jurisdiction where same-sex couples could legally marry. .. On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down all state bans on same-sex marriage, legalized it in all fifty states, and required states to honor out-of-state same-sex marriage licenses” (wiki)

Those who morally disagreed with this decision pushed back. Some, putting the lie to that old saying, “If I knew you were coming, I’d have baked a cake,” refused to bake wedding cakes for gay marriages. So sue me, they said. And the newlyweds did …

What makes people fear the gay and gay marriage? It’s because you’re giving these people equality. And that’s the biggest fear that people with power have: that you’ll get some too.

“I don’t want to be married. But if two people are crazy enough to be that in love with each other, damn, that’s a great thing. Give them a break. Life’s really short.

If you don’t want a gay marriage, then don’t have one.”

Henry Rollins on Big Think

Trump’s declaration of war upon those who protect their fellow citizens during times of both war and peace is unsavory, ill-advised, homophobic, and unconstitutional. It’s also very ill timed, since it was just last June 30, 2016, that then-Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced that transgender people would be able to serve openly in the military in a memorandum directing the completion of such inclusion by June 30, 2017.

With the deadline approaching, current Defense Secretary James ‘Mad Dog” Mattis announced that he would be delaying the policy, writing: “After consulting with the service chiefs and secretaries, I have determined that it is necessary to defer the start of accessions for six months. … We will use this additional time to evaluate more carefully the impact of such accessions on readiness and lethality.” mattis isis waswas

Mattis and Trump seem unaware of the legally sticky wicket they’re facing with this strategy. An attempt to enforce a reinstated ban against transgender persons currently serving in the military would face steep legal challenges and precedent. Under well-settled law, the courts would almost certainly hold that soldiers who came out as openly transgender in reliance on the military’s own policy could not be subsequently penalized for doing so. Current transgender soldiers, who are relying not just on a policy of de facto tolerance, but on an official policy expressly permitting open service, could and would take legal action.

More importantly, and on a human level, the conversation about transgender military service should not revolve around numbers, or deeply held, albeit illegal, prejudices. Either America respects it’s values and citizens, or it does not. The current President of all Americans has drawn a hard line demonstrating that he stands with those who lack respect for the value and rights of LGBTQ American citizens.
……………………….

And now, a musical interlude to clear your palate …

In the bad old days, the majority of LGBTQ people in the entertainment business strove to cover their sexual proclivities. But there were a few brave souls who dared to flaunt their fabulousness.

Jackie Shane YongeSt_onstageOne bright light that graced Toronto‘s stages was Jackie Shane. Born in Nashville in 1940, he cut his teeth touring with musical house mother, ‘Queen of the Blues’, Marion James, eventually becoming part of the band, The Motley Crew, which was based in Toronto.

Jackie was a soul/R&B singer who frequently performed at the Sapphire Tavern. His appearance was androgynous; he often wore makeup, and sometimes an evening gown.

His flamboyant stage act, makeup and attire so threatened the media gatekeepers that even the  CHUM radio station refused to interview him on-air, and only began playing his hit single, “Any Other Way,” after it had begun climbing the charts, finally peaking at the number two spot in Canada in 1962.

“Jackie Shane wasn’t bringing his act to Toronto so it could be better understood. Instead he was taking it out of context, to someplace where it seemed more alien and strange. Maybe he liked it better that way. By coming to Toronto he was escaping segregation and getting to perform to white people with presumably deeper pockets, who had never seen anything like him before. You could cross over in the States, but then you’d have to pull a Little Richard and turn your ‘freak’ show into a clown act, taking out the gay innuendo.” (Carl Wilson, music journalist)

Shane was the stuff of mystery and legend. Rumours swirled around him, including one that claimed Shane was cousin to Little Richard. Shane left Toronto in 1971, moving to Los Angeles, where Jackie turned down an offer to be part of the band Funkadelic.

After returning to Nashville after her mother’s death, Jackie lived as a woman. Shane had become a legend, and, like most legends, there were rumours of her death, including one claiming that she had been murdered in 1998.

She was gone – but not forgotten.

From Now Toronto‘s Michael Rancic, ” In 2010 the CBC produced a radio documentary about her life, and rare live footage of Shane was featured in Bruce McDonald’s three-part TV documentary, Yonge Street: Toronto Rock & Roll Stories, in 2011.

Noted music journalist Carl Wilson wrote his own extensive take on Shane’s enduring relevance for Hazlitt in 2013, placing Shane within a larger context of the history of queer and Black performers. The following year, Videofag hosted an exhibition for an animation by Sonya Reynolds and Lauren Hortie called Whatever Happened To Jackie Shane?

Her live album was nominated for the Polaris Heritage Prize in both 2015 and 2016, and earlier this year, The Globe And Mail published an article calling Shane a “lost transgender superstar,” and a volume of Toronto queer history, Any Other Way: How Toronto Got Queer, was published by Coach House and featured an essay by Steven Maynard.

Archival record label Numero Group is releasing the first-ever artist-approved collection of soul singer Jackie Shane’s work.

Named after her most well-known single, Any Other Way is an extensive collection of all six of Shane’s 45s, highlights from the often bootlegged 1967 live set recorded at Toronto’s famed Sapphire Tavern, as well as three never-before-heard tracks.”

Any Other Way is out October 20.

Our Flag is Red and White


biggest protest in canadaCanadians … we love our country, but that’s never stopped us from having our beefs with how it’s run. Unlike many other countries, we feel free to speak up about what angers us. For all our reputation of being a polite and respectful people, we reserve the right to disagree with those who would impose their will upon the nation.

We love our healthcare, but are aware it needs tweaking to be all that it should be. We know that it is not ‘greedy’ or ‘entitled’ to demand that the healthcare that we pay for with our taxes, works for every Canadian.

We love our democracy, but want to ensure that we remain democratic, which calls for electoral reform. We don`t want to run the risk of any party taking control of the system and bending it to it`s favour – we won’t accept trickery or gerrymandering in our elections.

don't do it againMany were angry at the direction we took in the last decade, under the Conservative prime minister . We now have a Liberal prime minister, and likely just as many have issues with his party. In our Canadian way, we will protest against what we dislike, and in due course, vote for the direction we would like to have in the future.

Because this is not a “my country – love it or leave it‘ place, we can and will criticize those in power, and insist upon our right to do so.

On July 1, we honoured the establishment of Confederation in 1867. But the interesting thing about the adoption of the July 1867 date is that, at that time, Canada consisted of only four provinces; Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. While Canada Day acknowledges an important national milestone, it’s not really celebrating all of the country we now call Canada.

Nor does the concept of Canada Day include the indigenous peoples who were here before the settlers came from Europe. Even our national anthem ignores the fact that this is not our native land. Instead, we live ON native land, 89% of which is Crown Land administered by Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, and still in dispute, hundreds of years after the first treaties were written.

resistance150The First Nations people have been here for over 13,000 years, and for many, the celebration of Canada Day amounts to ” celebrating resource extraction of our territories. The Indian Act is still in place. The government is not allowing First Nations to have a voice. So why would I ever celebrate?”” (Anishinaabe traditional storyteller and teacher Isaac Murdoch.)

The #Resistance150 movement was created nearly eight months ago by Murdoch, Michif visual artist Christi Belcourt, Cree activist Tanya Kappo and Métis author Maria Campbell, as the group discussed the festivities planned by the Liberal government for Canada 150. They found it increasingly difficult to accept that the government, while giving lip service to plans of reconciliation, continued to ignore the ongoing fraught relationships between native Canadians and the rest of Canada.

Canada150 protestTheir resistance movement was developed to inspire other indigenous people to reclaim what they lost during colonization; their land, language and traditional ways.

The group created a camp for indigenous children and youth to attend called Nimkii Aazhibikong on Ompa Lake, located about 20 kilometres north of Elliott Lake, Ont. this year. Here the children can immerse themselves in traditional languages, explore their culture, and discover their environment under the tutelage of visiting local elders.

“Beyond attention to culture, Murdoch`s group also wishes to send a strong message on the negative effects of climate change and the First Nations longstanding dispute with the government over land ownership.

All over the country there’s this free-for-all in resource extraction that’s happening,” he said. “First Nations people are screaming and saying, ‘No’ and Canada just keeps saying, ‘Yes.’”

first-nations-elections-law-oct15-9-638On top of sounding the alarm over how resource extraction and pollution is hurting the environment, Murdoch said the #Resistance150 movement is also calling for the abolition of the Indian Act, which was first introduced in 1857 by the British colonial government, and reads very much like a treatise from the Southern Baptist religionists banning dancing in the 1984 film Footloose. Cruel, vindictive and petty, the Act aimed to crush the people and their culture, by any means available.

” Over the next hundred years the Indian Act was amended a number of times but each time was aimed at a more efficient means of assimilating First Nations into white society. The Act was amended to ban the “Sun Dance” an important ritual among the Lakota and other Plains aboriginal cultures. On the west coast the “Pot Latch”, an elaborate ceremony of feasting and gift giving was also banned. With an eye to forced assimilation, the Act authorized the forced removal of children to Residential Schools and stripped any Indian who obtained a University Education or Ordination of his rights under the Act.

The act vested title to reserve land to the Crown represented by the Minister of Indian Affairs deeming it “Crown Land set aside for the use of a Band of Indians.”

The 1876 act also made it illegal for an Indian to sell or produce goods without the written permission of the local Indian Agent, who became the de-facto ruler of Indians on reserve. (this includes fruits, vegetables, and farming, to this day.) Indian Agents had to give written permission for Indians who wanted to leave the reserve for any reason.

Status Indians were not allowed to vote until 1961.”

When I speak with many middle aged to older Canadians about the past, present and future of our First Nations people, whether status or non, it’s clear there is a confusion in what is believed to be true and what is fact. Sadly, the contents of the Truth and Reconciliation documents mean little if you’ve already made a pre-judgment on the nature of a people.

However, fairness and justice is what we should be working towards, for all Canadians. There are specific problems that need to be addressed amongst indigenous people. Some of these problems are brought about by where the reserves are located. There are currently about 150 long-term and short-term drinking water advisories in First Nations communities that are difficult to reach in good weather, and impossible to reach in winter.

In some of these far flung communities, suicide rates, especially among the young, are five to seven times higher than the national average.

First Nations and Metis are 2-3 times higher at risk for diabetes than the non-Aboriginal population, while tuberculosis – almost nonexistent among non-Aboriginals, is 26.4 times more prevalent in First Nations Canadians.

Canada Day 20170701I am proud of my country, but I know that my country has to include ALL of it’s people – those who came before us, and those who will join us in the future – to be strong and united. As a country, we can do so much better. And I have faith that we will work towards being a better, stronger, fairer country in the coming years.

In an article on what it means to be a Canadian, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, ” “This is something we are able to do in this country, because we define a Canadian not by a skin colour or a language or a religion or a background, but by a set of values, aspirations, hopes and dreams that not just Canadians but people and the world share.”

And as writer Mike MacNeil responded to those concerned that the Canada Day150 celebrations ignored Canadian history and absolved us of our crimes against the First Nations people, “ It”s not the pilfering and genocide that’s being celebrated. It’s instead – and finally – the recognition that something positive is being done to correct decades of misuse and mistreatment. It’s slow, granted. It’s imperceptible, granted. The pace of change could be infinitely faster, granted. But the change – however it’s characterized – is there.”

And that’s Canadian, eh.

Putting the ‘Wow’ in Pow Wow


2017PW-PosterThe Na-Me-Res (Native Men’s Residence) lucked out with the weather for the annual traditional Pow Wow held Saturday, June 24th, at the Fort York historical site. The day was sunny, yet breezy, and very well attended.

Barbette Kensington and I were early to this celebration of song, dance and ceremony. From the impressive Grand Entry, through an entire day filled with the pounding heartbeat of the drums competing to be heard over the cheerful chatter and laughter, the old Fort was a sea of smiling faces of all shapes and colours

Powwows honour Native tradition, and I was grateful to our emcees, Steve Teekens and Jay Lomax, who outlined the elaborate etiquette and protocol that is integral to understanding the rituals and colourful regalia.

The Grand Entry, for instance, is not to be photographed nor videotaped, since this is a sacred moment during which the members of the procession may be praying for loved ones or members of the community. The regalia, often the work of many hands over a long period of time, represent the totems of the wearers, with the colours reflecting their spirits. No one may touch any part of a dancer’s regalia without first asking permission. rox at pow wow June 2017 with dancer

” The moment you take on the role of an initiated dancer, a great deal of pressure is put on you by the people, not only to perform, but to be a role model, to be honorable. When you put on regalia, you take on the essence of the sacred animal, honor culture, tradition and the Creator.

“Being humble should be the number one priority for any dancer, thankful that you are allowed to dance with the animals you wear, your sweat and suffering are for the people, making people proud of who you are, showing your respect, because you represent them,” said Elder Antoine Littlewolf.

One of the unwritten rules of powwow is that no one should touch another’s regalia without first being given permission by the maker or owner.

Eagle feathers, which traditionally are earned, and all feathers, for that matter, should be treated with special care. It’s necessary to be humble and respectful to each feather being worn. The spirits of all animals being worn must be respected above all else.

Care and respect of the sacred circle extends, not only to respecting the arbor, sacred objects and other dancers, but to the whole atmosphere, the ground themselves, mother earth.”     http://ammsa.com/publications/windspeaker/powwow-etiquette-dictates-respect-tradition-0)

Arena Director Earl Oegema handily kept the dancers in line in accordance with all of the tradition and protocol. “Powwow etiquette and tradition dictates that the Grass dancers be the first to enter the arbor, symbolically stomping down the grass to provide a flattened circle for the rest of the dancers to follow. They enter the arbor from the south entrance and go clockwise with the drum, following the wheeling movement of the sun, moon and stars.”

The Grand Entry is next, followed by songs and prayers, during which the attendees are asked to stand as a sign of respect. The beauty, colours, and the dignified spirituality on display before us brought tears to my eyes.

Bill and Vicki Wood PowWow June 2017We’d run into Vicki and Bill Wood (the Woodies, Eye Eye) on our way in to the Pow Wow, and spent some time chatting with them. Now it was time to begin our walkabout through the 50 craft vendor and information booths on site, chatting with old and new friends.

We were on a mission to find the Anishnawbe Health Toronto booth, as Barbette had some questions for the staff. On the way, we flirted and chatted with some of Toronto’s finest, part of the Aboriginal Peacekeeping Unit, established in September 1992 , the first major urban police service in Canada to establish a unit to deal specifically with the issues faced by the Aboriginal community.

pow wow at pow wow June 2017With lunch on our minds, we were happy to see our friend Shawn Adler‘s Pow Wow Cafe was represented with a food booth on site. From the moment the Cafe opened, the foodies were lined up for blocks; the food IS that good. So we were lucky to see the multitalented artists, Annalee Orr and Nancy Beiman, close to the head of the very long line up for his Indian Tacos. They asked us to join them, and with little persuasion, and some apologies to those we’d line cut, we did, and soon had our plates of bannock smothered in beef, vegetables, salad and sour cream clutched in our hands.

Annalee and son Daniel had established a little ‘camp’ under the one tree in the Fort, and there we quickly polished off the tacos. Bellies full, it was time to visit the vendor booths.

Barbette knows many of the craftspeople and vendors from Native Centre encounters, so we made a very slow promenade, admiring the jewellery and artwork, being inspired by the craftworks, and chatting with some of the artists.

dancers pow wow June 2017Dancers in full regalia drifted through the crowds, brilliant visions of colour and sound as the jingles attached to heels rang.

We were delighted to run into Leslie Saunders, former manager of The Meeting Place, a community drop in centre for those in need in the Bathurst/Queen area. Nearly half of the centre’s participants are First Nations people.

rox barbette david de poe Pow Wow June 2017And it is always a joy to encounter David DePoe, community activist, retired teacher, and Kensington Marketeer, best-known for his activities in the late 1960s as an unofficial leader of the Yorkville hippies, and founder of the Diggers movement in Yorkville.

What a pleasure it was to be introduced to the legendary, multi-disciplinary, artist, Stella Walker. The woman’s energy is breathtaking! She’s a singer, writer, actor, producer, comedian and painter, and in the middle of producing a new musical comedy that includes content from award winning Newfoundland writer, actor and comedian Andy Jones, and will be directed by John Mitchell. Barbette appears in one of Stella’s many videos – Under the B .. Busted.

As the day wore on, my energy was starting to flag, and we made our way out of the Fort, stopping briefly to watch the talented hoop dancers and inter-tribal dance exhibitions. If we had stayed, we would have been welcome to join in the Feast, and to enjoy the evenings musical offerings, which included Crystal Shawanda, the award winning country music artist.

aboriginal celebration June 2017

If you’ve got Pow Wow envy, you’ll have another chance to join the fun on Wednesday, June 28th, when the 8th Annual Aboriginal History Month Celebration at Yonge & Dundas Square begins at noon.

There’s a great line-up of entertainers, including Amanda Rheaume performing at 7 pm, along with an all day Kid’s Arts & Crafts Tent, craft vendors, and Indigenous agencies showcasing what’s available in the community. Hope to see you there!