Ho Ho Holiday Memories!


by Roxanne Tellier

“Rockin’ around the Christmas tree, at the Christmas party hop.”  “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!” Oh NOes! Must be getting close to the holidays – the earworms are out in full force!

Here comes Christmas 2019. Before you know it, it will be a bright and shiny new 2020! Let’s hope that 2020 applies to our vision, rather than to our hindsight.

I’ve got a holiday gathering to go to this afternoon, and every year, it takes me a little longer to get ready to be serially hugged. But one of the perks of having written a weekly column for many years is that, now and again, we can reach back into those past ponderings and re-release them into the present, dusted off, re-edited, and ready to be digested anew.

For your Christmas reading, wonderment and wandering …. a few morsels from my past holiday tables …

Originally published December 14, 2014 – Zombie Christmas

Zombies love shopping on Black Friday .. Deals!

It’s lurching toward you … the days tick by, and you rock between anticipating and dreading the upcoming holiday season. You’re looking forward to seeing friends and family, but wonder how you’ll juggle all that you still have to do to get ready for the Big Day.

The pressure is on to try and create a meaningful experience that will leave everyone – including yourself – with lasting memories of “goodwill towards men,” exemplified by overeating and overspending, but you can already envision how exhausted you will be, and what the credit card balances are going to look like in January. 

It’s beginning to look a lot like a zombie Christmas …. 

I remember the year that I realized that Christmas presents were to be both given AND received. That was a shocker. My mum gave me a whopping $5.00 to spend on the family, and I trotted down to the Army and Navy Stores in downtown Edmonton. I bought gifts for everyone one the list; GrandMere and GrandPere, my aunt Noella, my sister, and my parents, and STILL had change jingling in my pocket on the way home. I was proudest of the perfume I had bought for my mother – Max Factor’s finest .. Sophisticat

The best Christmases are the ones that center on the very young or the very old. It’s impossible not to smile at the look of awe on a child’s face as he or she approaches Santa’s throne, grubby list in a damp, clenched hand, gathering up the courage to sit on the venerable old gentleman’s knee, and whisper their most secret wishes. Still believing in Jolly Ol’ Saint Nick, still believing that anything is possible, that magic can happen. That innocence is gone so soon. 

Somewhere along the way, most of us go from true believers to frantic shoppers, desperate to find that perfect gift for our perfect someone, forgetting what the holiday season should really mean. We become Christmas Zombies, lurching through the malls, snatching up the toys and goodies strewn before us, all part of the multi-billion dollar industry that corporations count on to fatten their bottom line.

When, really, it’s all about the festive spirit, whether you call this festivity Christmas, or Hanukah, the winter solstice or Saturnalia, Festivus or Kwanza. It’s about the smell of holiday baking, the taste of buttery shortbread, and the eggnog spiked with a drop of rum, the cold raw scent of a Douglas pine, the twinkling porch lights that glow beneath a soft layer of fresh snow, the sound of carols and the snow crunching under your boots. Spending time with friends and family, making happy memories, not of senseless consumerism, but of this glorious feast for the senses.

originally published December 13, 2015 – Christmas and Snowbound in the Treasured Past

My mum embodied the Spirit of Christmas. She loved everything about the holiday, and she made every one of my childhood Christmases as merry and bright as she could. 

She’d grown up in the depression – she knew Christmas wasn’t about money. When times were tough, she’d tell us it would be a “Hoodoo McFiggin” year – that meant the only presents would be things she had to buy us anyway, just to keep us clothed and fed – underwear, socks, boots. Presents were lovely, but some years, presents could wait. Christmas was about gathering with family, and sharing what we did have, and what we really had, enough to share, was love.

She just had so damn much joy and childlike belief in the season that it all came naturally through her to us … the breathless lead up that began months before, when she’d start asking my sister and I what we were going to ask for from Santa, and the admonition that we must be very sure of what we’d tell the Big Man when the day came … this was serious business! We were to name only one important item we really, really wanted. If there were other gifts, they would be of Santa’s choosing. We’d spend hours arguing over what toys were best, what we really wanted, and we’d change our minds a zillion times before our visit to Santa’s Kingdom.

Nor were the needs of others to be forgotten. We’d be given a small amount of money, and a list of those we needed to delight with thoughtful gifts. It’s extraordinary how far $5.00 could go back in the sixties. We would have been mortified to not have a gift to give to any of the family who had brought a gift for us. Some years would find us digging through our own stash of precious things, in order to find something we could wrap quickly and present to an unexpected guest.

In the run up to the Day itself, we’d drag out the boxes of carefully packaged ornaments that Mum had collected through the years. She’d linger over the battered aluminum stars made from pie plates, reminding me that she and I had made those together, one year when I was very young, and recovering from the mumps. She’d carefully unwrap the fragile glass ornaments she’d had since she and dad first married, each colourful globe a warm memory. And she’d always linger over a set of orbs, some round, some tear-shaped, so transparent they reflected rainbows, so precious and delicate, “they’re like soap bubbles , Roxanne! Aren’t they beautiful?!”   

We had to have a real tree. She felt there was no point in having a tree if it didn’t come with that delicious smell, and the scratchy feel of pine needles under foot. The tree would find a place of honour in the dining room, and strict instructions about its care and watering were delivered. After the tree was set into the metal holder, she’d draw a bright red and sparkly cloth gently around the base, and then add puffs of ‘angel hair’ to make the tree look like it was floating on a cloud.

She’d drape the tree’s branches with long strands of tiny glass beads, the beads a little more worn every year, but shining nonetheless. The box of tinsel was precious too; after Christmas we’d gather as many of the used strands as we could and save them for the following year. We had two special toppers for the tree – one, a paper plate collage of an angel adorned with cotton batting that I’d made in first grade, the other , a plastic doll dressed as an angel, it’s halo tipped jauntily to the left, a scratch of pen ink faintly visible on it’s cheek.

Christmas songs would be playing on the little record player, and we’d all sing along as we decorated. Jodi and I liked to make up new and naughty words to some of the classics, just to make mum laugh, before she’d chide us to “Behave! Santa hears and sees everything you do!”

Once the tree was up and decorated, we went into a two week hiatus, where the other 50 weeks of naughtiness were replaced by determined niceness. We’d wait breathlessly for the Christmas specials to appear on the TV; without video or DVD, you had to be home to see “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” or one of the other animated delights, most of which seemed to be Rankin Bass productions.  

There was also one special Christmas box that contained nothing but photos, recipes, newspaper clippings, song lyrics, and a few very treasured books. Our favourite to read and to have read to us was Erwin L. Hess’ Christmas and Snowbound in the Treasured Past,” a large full-coloured collection of holiday poems, stories, artwork and photos, from 1961.

“We remember our best Christmas.  A flashback appears and this favourite Christmas plays on a very special screen in a picture of color, and we see the scenes we remember so well.  Immediately our story we’ll begin to tell…It snowed early that year.  In those days the holiday spirit was in the air with the first fall of snow.  Sleigh bells jingled and that meant Christmas was near!” 

We loved that book; it epitomized an ideal Christmas, one that we’d never had, nor likely ever would. But it held a promise, so much so that the phrase, “Christmas and snowbound in the treasured past” became our family code for how we imagined paradise.

originally published December 20/2015  It’s the war on Christmas, Carol

As hard as it might be to imagine holiday songs battling it out, the plain fact is … Christmas songs mean big bucks. Over and over and over again. A Number One Christmas song can mean early retirement for the writer, with a nice pension income supplemented every year in December.

Sound cynical? Maybe. But it’s the reason why many writers and artists get their ho-ho-ho’s in gear in time to hit the December charts. Pop songs come and go; a classic holiday song lives forever. 

Picture “Jingle Bells” pummelling “Santa Claus is coming to town” a la UFC, though I would think songs like “The Christmas Song” and ‘Silver Bells” would never lower themselves to a fight. Perhaps they would slap each other’s little faces with their velvety gloves, and request a sunrise duel.

I tell you, the battles are real. In England, perhaps more so than anywhere else.

The furious fight for The #1 British Christmas Song first took shape in 1973. Three songs were vying for the top spot; “Step into Christmas” from Elton John, “I Wish That It Was Christmas Every Day” by Wizzard, and “Merry Christmas Everybody” by Slade. The numbers were close, and since these were the days before computers were commonplace, the tallying went on right up until the last moment. 

Slade

Elton stalled out at #36, while Slade and Wizzard held their collective breaths … Wizzard took a respectable 4th place, and it was Slade by an angel’s hair! It seems most Britons preferred their seasonal greetings shouted at them. Still, 40 plus years later, both songs continue to enrich their writers, and keep the British public dancing.

“”The Performing Right Society put out a statement saying Slade’s Merry Christmas is the most heard song in the world because royalties come in from more countries than for any other song. The estimate is that it’s been heard by 42% of the planet, more than 3 billion people, whether they wanted to hear it or not.” – Jim Lea, Slade.

Things settled down for the next decade, but by 1984, another battle caught the public’s attention. Bob Geldof/Midge Ure’s Band Aid release, “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” was tugging at our hearts, and the video, with it’s array of current and venerable pop stars, was delighting the little girls. So, no matter how adorable George Michael was in Wham’s, “Last Christmas,” Band Aid took the prize.

Both songs were re-released the following year, so George had another kick at the top spot, but alas… only came in second for the second time in a row. Maybe that’s what sent him off in his quest for love in all the wrong bathrooms.

originally published in December 11, 2016 –  Christmas Presents

Sometimes it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to dredge up the spirit of the holidays that we all need, and have always needed, to face a cold world and a new year.

But we must have hope, and we must inspire our children to have hope, and to have faith that we are stronger together, united, than we are apart. The sharing of a meal with loved ones has never had to be about the biggest turkey or the fanciest desserts; it’s always been about communing with those we love and care about, sharing our energy, and giving each other strength

and that’s what the Grinch (and Christmas) is all about, Charlie Brown…

Beggaring ourselves to buy expensive presents that are rarely received in quite the spirit we hoped, is not how we show our love to others. The true gifts we give to each other are those of support, of listening to what the other is saying, and to responding thoughtfully without concern for more than what is best for the other. And these gifts of love must be all about understanding that not a single one of us is perfect, or without traits that will annoy someone else at some point.

Yes, there are distractions. Yes, the world is a very scary place right now. Yes, those of us sensitive to world issues fear for the lives and souls of the vulnerable.

But we also owe it to ourselves, and to those we love, to find the time to gather together, and to share what we have with each other, in a spirit of generosity and community. It’s how human beings have coped with the vagaries of our times since we first crawled out of the primordial ooze, and regardless of what deity we worshipped at the time.

My wish for all is that you have time with loved ones, and that, if for some reason you do not have that opportunity this year, that you reach out and accept an invitation to join others who find themselves alone in the holidays. There is strength in community and we all need that shared strength to get us through whatever awaits us in the new year.

…………………………………………….

Wishing everyone a warm and peaceful holiday season! See you next year!

Tradition? Tradition!


by Roxanne Tellier

Can we really be nearing the end of 2019? It seems like only yesterday that I was making excuses for not wanting to go out on New Year’s Eve! (I got a million of ’em… )

November and December have always been crazy busy months in my life; Halloween kicks off a slick slide thru November’s family birthdays, all the way to my own birthday on December 4, and then the multiple get togethers and dinners that lace the three weeks until Christmas itself.

Oh, I’m not complaining – it’s great to get together with family and friends in the spirit of the season. Still, it’s very different from my past, and the holidays I enjoyed as a child, when we could gather all of the aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews and meet at my Gram’s on Christmas Day.

That was then. These are the days of multiple marriages, and tiers of second, step, and adopted parents and siblings. 

I haven’t spent a Christmas Day with both of my kids and all of my grandkids – ever.  Yes, this is the modern world, and these are first world problems that we suffer in non-silence. Nonetheless, it does feel odd, and harder every year, to get into the spirit a good two weeks in advance of the big day, just because that’s the only time we can carve out for family that doesn’t conflict with commitments to work or friends.

Once it would have been a turkey, ham or tourtiere feast; today, with so many exclusionary diets, it is harder than ever to plan a meal that meets (or meats)  everyone’s special nutritional needs.

It’s also about the physical distance between us. Many of us have scattered with the wind in our pursuit of love or better opportunities, and it was ever thus. But distance and the costs of sending gifts across the miles means that I’ve stopped my old habit of seeking out ‘the perfect present,‘ and joined the ranks of those who send off my holiday greetings and gifts via special Amazon delivery, Groupon coupons and email. 

Instead of ‘dashing through the snow’ in search of cards and yet another body wash gift set from Shoppers Drug Mart, I’m letting my fingers – and my computer – do the walking.

That’s not all bad, you know. Oh, sure, there are reasons why we should be shopping locally, rather than online, but seriously – Americans spent $7.4 BILLION on online shopping on Black Friday alone this year. The war is over, like it or not.

I’ve always loved getting those thoughtful annual Christmas cards, especially if they come with a long letter updating family on what my relatives have accomplished or survived in the previous year, but seriously… you know that these missives, no matter how beautifully presented or well- intentioned, are headed for the recycling bin in a matter of weeks.

I do have one exception to that recycling rule; my daughter has been sending me a calendar adorned with seasonal photos of my grandkids since 2005, and I treasure and carefully store these since she began the tradition. And I can tell you.. hell hath no fury like a grandmother denied her calendar because Cara forgot to pick up a little something for the postman…. 

Traditions are good .. doing things over and over again just because that’s the way they’ve always been done is not my style. So many of the old holiday traditions no longer make any sense to me, never mind to people fifty years younger.

And really, celebrating Christmas on December 25th  wasn’t even a thing until around AD 350, when Pope Julius 1 decreed it as Santa‘s – I mean, Jesus’ – Big Day. 

We’ve only been giving gifts to the kiddies and each other at Christmas since the late 1800s. Before that, people rarely gave each other anything more than something small, handmade, or edible, and those gifts were exchanged at New Year’s. In fact, early North Americans settlers, like the Puritans, actually outlawed Christmas celebrations between 1659 and 1681.

Capitalism, big corporations like Coca Cola, and really effective advertising campaigns were the impetus for goading people to get with the gift giving, in the early 1900s.

In William B. Waitts book, The Modern Christmas in America; A Cultural History of Gift Giving, he writes that “The prescient among the nation’s businessmen saw that they could use the emerging custom of Christmas gift-giving to increase their sales. Ever since, they have moved purposefully to expand gift giving in America and have enjoyed the rewards of their effort.” 

This also focused attention on manufactured items, like bicycles, dolls, and vacuum cleaners, since these were items that could not be made at home.

Legend has it that the original candy cane came into existence around 1670,  when a choirmaster at Cologne Cathedral, in Cologne, Germany was trying to keep the kiddy choir quiet and docile during the long Christmas service.

The custom of kissing under the mistletoe came from the ancient Druids in the UK. They believed that mistletoe was sacred, lucky, and could make people more fertile. No worries here on that front.   

The Druids are also responsible for the original idea of having a holiday tree indoors. They would bring evergreen boughs into their temples as a symbol of everlasting life. It wasn’t until the 11th century that Christians began to include symbols of evergreen trees as a sign of peace and renewal.

So you see, traditions are mutable. What we thought was ‘just the way it has to be’ has changed and evolved over the years, just like every other part of our lives.

So it’s goodbye to the relatively old, and hello to the 21st century and a higher tech meant to make our lives easier. Fighting to retain what no longer makes sense just seems pointless.  

Some things continue to be relevant. My pioneer ancestors would have prepared themselves for winter by stockpiling food to keep them fed during bad weather, and I continue to do a certain amount of that as well. I know that inclement weather will keep me a little cloistered and housebound for the next four or five months, but I’ve got a hoard of goodies stashed away to soothe my impatience.

But all the rest, all the geegaws and frippery that was once thought to be integral to the season, I can do without. I can enjoy tales and movies of Christmases past, but I’m not gonna cry any tears over a lack of candles on a tree – especially considering that so many of the trees I’ll see in the next few weeks will be of the plastic variety.

Times change, people change. The joy of the holidays comes from our connection to each other, not from a devotion to the past.  

Enjoy those who choose to share their love and joy with you at the holidays. Family and good friends are precious, and irreplaceable.

Happy Holidays!

Beware the Holiday Judgster


rox headshot 2 dec 2018by Roxanne Tellier, December 27, 2018

 

 

 

Beware the holiday ‘judgster’.  Like tricksters, they cannot bear to hear the sounds of other people’s joy. They feel that it is their vocation to police the holidays, under the guise of being concerned for your health and welfare.

It’s not concern – it’s anger that you’ve slipped their control noose for a moment or two, and are actively enjoying your food, drink, surroundings and the company of other people. It is always about control.

If you drink alcohol, they’ll worry that you might overdo your consumption, and consequently, ‘act out’, but if you drink soft drinks, they’ll express concern for your health. And if you choose water, they will wonder out loud if a person can maybe get too hydrated.

Even if you only indulge in rich, sweet foods once a year, they will monitor and admonish your intake and enjoyment, ever vigilant that you might be tempting diabetes or an internal disorder. “Moderation in all things!” they’ll Controlling-Personmurmur.

Pretty, shiny decorations represent hours of work spent on a frivolous pursuit, rather than time that could have been spent on something ‘important,’ … meaning .. important to them. And all that nonsense is only up for a few days, so they find it pathetic that you would spend time putting it up, and then taking it down … and that you would then have to store all of those ornaments until next year? Such a waste!

A judgster feels that only the judgster can decide taste and value.

christmas mantle

In conversation, they will steer the discussion to their own concerns, and admonish any dissension as unseemly. If voices are raised in joy or song, they are quick to remind everyone that the neighbours might be disturbed by such noisy revelry.

This constant control and fear that someone, somewhere, is enjoying themselves without supervision, is why the ‘judgster’ isn’t really all that fond of Christmas – or any other holiday where people might give in to a little relaxation of the day to day norms. They prefer that everyone keep their emotions and appetites under complete control – just as the judgster struggles to do daily.how we treat others Paulo Coelho

Controlling people are attempting to force other people to ‘behave.’  Seeing other people enjoy themselves is a bitter reminder that they are not really able to enjoy their own selves – unless they are actively controlling someone else’s pleasure.

Beware the ‘judgster,’ … they’ll suck the joy out of any occasion for celebration, and leave you as internally bruised, cynical, and jaded as they are themselves.

Exit the Idiot Whisperer


Ever have, oh, I don’t know… about 6 or 700 of ‘those days,’ where you start to wonder if it’s actually possible that you just might have woken up on another, identical, but much stupider, planet?

thanks god none of you peole are realI have spent far too many hours attempting to reason with those who adamantly refuse to see logic or sense. The sad truth is that they are happy in their interpretation of the world. And I suppose I should be happy that they are happy. It’s all working out for them.

In the past .. well, up to about a week ago .. I would have spent a great deal of time and energy attempting to change someone’s mind. But the thing is, I’m not getting any younger, and the kind of gymnastics needed to argue with a firmly committed Trump cultist is something that no longer feels like fun.

It’s more akin to wrestling a pig. The pig likes it, but I just wind up feeling dirty.

10 commandments of logicThe few diehard Trumpists that get through my anti-Trump wall tend to be friends of friends. Again, in the past, I might have opted to be gracious, rather than potentially offend someone. Now, I’m more inclined to block the one, and unfriend the other. Tiptoeing around crazy people just feels too much like work, and baby.. I’m retired.

I’m tired of being the Idiot Whisperer. I quit. Research your own damn questions yourself. Use your Google fingers to do what every other inquiring mind has to do .. look it up. Find a decent source, and if what you’re reading actually agrees TOO much with what you personally feel about a subject, check with Snopes to ensure that you’re not buying into a hoax.

How hard can that be, people? Don’t repeat stuff that’s stupid. If you are unsure if it’s true, look for another source before you pass on that article, that meme, or that obituary. And if the only reason that you’re gonna forward something is because you know it’s going to rile up people – don’t share it. Life’s hard enough without people going out of their way to be ornery.

face tat failAnd for those people who might be job hunting, it’s best to keep in mind that those checking out your resume will probably also have a gander at what you share on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, along with checking your references. You might want to go easy on the kind of uploads that get a person sent repeatedly to Facebook Jail. What you’re saying and sharing online is a pretty good measurement of how you’ll conduct yourself offline, on a social level, whether for business or pleasure. Social media is not the place to let it all ‘hang out,’ or to boast that you fooled that personnel interviewer by temporarily concealing your skin head and rad tats.

Here’s another thing we all have to stop doing ….. taking the bait of every professional AND non-professional journalist that hosts a webpage. Most stories, even those that are put up by highly reputable sources, still fall within the realm of ‘entertainment.’ It’s all about the clicks.

Yes, we agree with the 97% of climate change scientists who assure us that what we’re seeing is real. Yes, we agree with the majority of psychologists pointing out Trump’s massive mental issues and how difficult it is to deal with his deficiencies. Yes, his choices for important roles in his administration are tearing the fabric of America apart, and it may never be able to be repaired …

BUT…

Have any of our complaints and demands for change been heard or acted upon in a timely manner? Yes, Whitaker is likely an illegal, unconstitutional appointment to the role of United States Attorney General, but have any of our heated debates or stern warnings on the subject got him fired from the gig?

No, they have not. The U.S. is essentially an autocracy where things happen as decided by the autocrats, and no matter how cogent our carefully thought out arguments may sound, or of how angry we may become, our words and emotions have about as much chance of making a dent as a Nerf bat.

And our ruminations are about as important to the world as those of the Thirty Helens Who Agree on Coleslaw.

So, you may as well let a lot of those clickbait articles, and columns asking rhetorical questions, to just sail on by. The last thing any of us needs is to have a stroke over the very idea that raking up the over one million square feet of California forest would have prevented all that destruction.  (Spoiler alert: It wouldn’t have.)

Better to spend that time answering questions that may help you to figure out what historical figure you were in a past life, and if it’s true that you are a fire horse in Chinese astrology. .

Remember when going on Facebook used to be fun, and we’d connect with old friends and relatives and share cat videos and terrible jokes?

Yeah .. that all changed ’round about 2015. Now it’s more like negotiating an armistice or surviving a Civil War. No thanks, Zuckerberg. Most of us have one foot out the door, and we’re taking our advertising dollars with us when we find our next social media platform.

Now, I am not saying that I am going to turn over a new leaf, stop commenting and forwarding political columns and memes, and devote myself to some new hobby, like fly fishing. Far from it. I will definitely continue to attempt to make some sense of the political machinations exhibited daily, from both sides of the border. Someone has to keep an eye on these bastards.

novelty tea cut toiletI’m just saying that not all of us have to be on guard, all of the time. The holiday season is nearing, and a lot of the people whom we care about, really don’t care about politics. In fact, they would prefer it if your holiday gift to them this year would be a promise to not discuss politics at the dinner table. They’d rather have that than pretty much any of the novelty gifts you’ve been thinking of getting them this year … even more than that tea cup you thought would be a hoot.

I’m just saying that it might be time for us to do what the mass media and social media refuse to do – take a few days mental and physical break from the constant bombardment of stupidity, greed, corruption, whipped up paranoia, and hysteria that has become our daily diet.

idiot whispererI’m just saying that maybe it’s time to deny oxygen to the people and things that can’t survive without our steady attention. Maybe letting ‘the cheese stand alone,’ bereft of the attentiveness and arguments that are used to make him appear relevant, will help some of his most stalwart supporters to see what most of us already know – that the trump presidency and administration is a gasbag of noxious farts meant to keep us all looking in the other direction, so that the pickpockets can fleece us without our noticing.

Or maybe I really did wake up on an identical, but much stupider, planet. It’s as good a theory as any other out there.

 

Empathy and a God in Our Own Image


The holiday season is a good time to think about our interactions with other people. We really want to make our loved ones smile, so we’ll do as much as we can to please them. We search out gifts for giving that we think will delight our friends and acquaintances, hoping to strike that balance between spending too much or not enough. And, in the best case scenario, we find it in our hearts and pocketbooks to donate a little to those who have less than we do; some of us will do that because we think it’s right to share what we have with others, while some will do so because donations can be written off on next year’s taxes. Either way – our donations and caring will have some impact on those in need.

For most of us, that is all that the holidays require; a little thought for others, an attempt to ease some of the stress and strain that we humans navigate most days. Our songs and stories commemorate how we feel when we come together, in peace and joy, ‘heart to heart and hand in hand,” and lift the winter’s darkness for a short time.

lincoln empathyWe are driven by kindness and care, and empathy – the ability to understand and share the feelings and emotions of others. The quality is usually strongest in children, who can be almost clairvoyant in their ability to feel the pain of others, either human or animal.  From a very early age, we can sense goodness and meanness in the intent of others, and even as babies, we instinctively dislike those who are cruel to others. Little children have yet to learn that most grownups are oblivious and indifferent to the feelings of animals. And many children, sadly, will grow up into adults who will, very often, be just as oblivious to the feelings of those who are different from themselves.

Different by virtue of skin colour, or gender, or by an accident of birth that sticks a silver spoon in one child’s mouth, and bitter alms in another. Children are born all over the planet, every minute of every day, but not every child will be welcomed by it’s family, or it’s people, or by those who hold power over the powerless.

So, here we are, with Christmas 2017 behind us. The days will get shorter now, and for many, the snow will fall far more than we’d like. The young, the old, the sick and the well – all of us will cope with good and bad events, to varying degrees, and with varying success.

The poor will suffer the most, since winter is hardest on those who live in inadequate housing, with uncertain heat, and even more uncertain nutrition. The middle class will struggle along, carrying the largest burden, since it is the middle class that invariably bears the cost of keeping society afloat. And the wealthy  … ah, the wealthy will have their own special burden, that of hiding their untold riches in ever more clever niches.

Inequality, already a societally crushing issue in the United States, was exacerbated last week when a group of old, mostly white, and mostly male Republicans forced through a bill looting the Treasury coffers, while enriching themselves and their donors. There is no other way to look at the tax scam perpetrated by the Trump administration than as the brutal rape of the American taxpayer, for the benefit of the wealthy.

tax scam 2017Every tax payer in America will suffer, and I say ‘every taxpayer’ because the wealthy were already well ahead of most Americans in the non-paying of taxes. Even as the rhetoric on American taxation being ‘the highest in the world’ (it’s not) crescendoed, the wealthy and corporations snickered up their sleeves, knowing that their trusty accountants and willing elected officials had long ago resolved that little problem. Very rarely do the tax bills of the 1% exceed 1% – it’s more likely that they’ll be coasting on credits from past corporate ‘losses,’ government grants, and well established tax havens in other countries.

The Republicans gathered to celebrate these cuts that were given to those who are currently sitting on trillions of dollars that they cannot be bothered to invest in their own employees and companies, and the corporations responded by cutting staff and automating the lowest paid jobs. And buying back their own stock. And giving themselves massive, million dollar bonuses.  Oh – and bemoaning a rise to minimum wage, as it would impact their bottom line.

trump tax ripoff

Meanwhile, the American people can look forward to death by a thousand tax cuts. There are cuts to pretty much everything necessary to live, not the American Dream, but a life not lived on the streets.

No sector of society has been left untouched. Health costs will soar, children will die from the loss of medication and treatments. The young, the old, the poor, the sick, small businesses, students, home owners, veterans, ‘dreamers,’ refugees and immigrants … all will pay the price for the corporations’ champagne dreams.

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” says the plaque on the Statue of Liberty, but now, she’s beckoning them closer so that she can mug them, and then sell their blood and organs to the highest bidder.

The astonishing lack of empathy or fellowship shown in this tax scam is frightening. How do you explain to someone what it means to care about their fellow man? To care for their neighbour, not just because there’s something in it for them, but because their own laws say that all men are created equal?

I don’t know how to open the eyes of those who cannot see the suffering in front of them, or who do see the suffering, but brush it away with impatience. The greed and detached cruelty of those who have the power to ease the misery of others, to elevate the standard of living for all, and yet fail to do so, is astounding.

The gleeful joy and unbelievable callousness exhibited by those who passed this bill is beyond me. I think it’s likely beyond even our fictional monsters. It took Scrooge three ghosts to understand his perfidy, but I think the Republicans cut back the ghost jobs last year, and replaced them with automation.

I’ve got mine, Jack,” they gloat. “Pull yourselves up by your bootstraps,” they say, neglecting to mention that the bootstraps and ladders they used to climb to power were pulled up behind them, and the door closed to those who might use those means to succeed in the future.

There are practical, and even self-serving reasons, to make sure that all of your people have health care, public education or access to higher education, and better paying jobs that enable the masses to buy the junk that corporations have made in cheaper lands. But even that doesn’t penetrate the scaly skins of the elected officials.

minimum-wage-graphic Ontario 2017Years of recession, of belt tightening, of cutting staff to the bone, have weakened respect for workers, and tested our own belief in the value of what we do. After all, if we had any importance, surely our jobs and wages would not be treated with such disdain and indifference! When we are no longer valued for what we bring to a company, when corporations would prefer to pay as little as they can get away with, rather than pay a minimum wage that would allow their workers to have a decent life, the very idea of the dignity of work loses meaning.

When we see hundreds or thousands of jobs cut, and the CEO rewarded with multi million dollar bonuses for his/her skill at excising these workers, we begin to see our lowly place in the big picture. We see that minimum wage is, indeed, the lowest amount a company can legally pay a worker, but that they’d gladly drop that amount by even more, or welcome slavery, if only it would come back into fashion and usage.

Minimum wage today buys less than it did in 1950. That’s why some households have two, or even three, family members, all desperately working as hard as they can, just to bring in enough to cover their basic survival needs. That house of cards shivers every time something unexpected happens – an accident, an illness, an unanticipated expense … or the cost of an education that might allow a family member to dream of a better job.

min wage earnersWhen I see the memes of the self-righteous, those who sneer at those who fill these jobs that pay only a minimum wage, I cringe. It chills me, especially when those jeers come from someone who grew up in a time when there WAS a more level playing field, more opportunities for advancement, or who came from a middle class family able to pay for the speaker to get a leg up in life.

Those people are often under the false impression that it is only the young and incompetent that work for such a low salary. They are very wrong. And even when it is shown to them that they are wrong, they will defend their position, trotting out sexist, racist, or xenophobic tropes to bolster their words.

I don’t know if such an ugly and pitiless state of mind comes from the mindset of a political party, the real and imagined fears of the unknown or unknowable that plagues some as they age, or just a sheer bloodymindedness and complete lack of empathy for anyone other than oneself. I don’t know – because it is unimaginable to me.

Worst of all, those who propound these horrors, ‘for the good of the economy,‘ most often profess  to be good Christians, following the Bible, manipulating and misquoting it’s words to defend their deeds.

golden rule empathyIn all religions, there is one rule above all others, and the only one that must be followed. It is always some variation on the Golden Rule … “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Somehow, the importance of that must have gotten lost in the conservative/right wing/Republicans’ bibles.

These people worship riches, not a God. They deify those who have amassed assets beyond any conceivable use, and spit upon those who have not been ‘blessed’ with wealth. And yet, they simultaneously and methodically put into place barriers prohibiting the vast majority of others of ever attaining a similar goal. It is inexplicable. Somewhere along the line, our justified laughter at the silly crassness of the “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” morphed into an adulation at the altar of the Kardashians.  And it ain’t pretty, folks, it ain’t pretty at all. In fact – it’s nauseating.

Religions tell us that we were made in God’s image. That we are little God mini-me’s. It suits their purposes, because they can then mold our thinking to what works for the benefit of the religion, the church, and for those who profit from the preaching of the tenets of the faith. If we are just like God, we must be right and just. What we fear or hate is rational, as it is God’s own fear. We must love those that believe as we do, and hate those who believe differently. Carrot and stick – behave in the way we’ve outlined, and you get to go to Heaven. Misbehave, and it’s eternal damnation for you, buddy!

In reality, we create our Gods in our own image. We decide what a God should be, and it would seem that we’ve decided that’s he’s a pretty nasty creature, who demands absolute adoration, and will strike down all of ‘his’ children at the slightest indiscretion. He needs money, apparently, lots of money, to build fancy places of worship. This faux God insists that he is the arbiter of faiths, and that all who profess different beliefs are infidels, and must be converted, or murdered so that our religion is the only one worshiped.

What a vicious, reprehensible, ugly, vile, bugger some have chosen to represent the Almighty! Is this really how an all knowing, all seeing being, capable of creating the heavens and the earths would wish to be portrayed?

A benevolent God doesn’t hate poor people – in fact, they are his best beloved, along with children, the sick, the lame, the blind, and all of the others that elected governments prefer to throw under the bus, in order to curry favour with those who already have too much wealth and power.

rich need bigger needleGod DID hate those who wielded money and power like a weapon. Remember when he threw the money changers out of the Temple? Or that bit about the camel and the needle? Were you aware that the word “Gospel” literally means “Good News,” and that, at the time of this usage, had no religious feature, but instead meant ‘the forgiving of debt?’

An omniscient God doesn’t hate gay people, or refugees, or those with a different coloured skin or language. A compassionate God loves all mankind, not just a neat subsection of people exactly like Himself – or yourself.

A Vengeful God that spits out vindictive words and bile about ANY other human being is a false God, created in the image of the fallible and power hungry.  When the likes and dislikes of those imperfect humans are foisted onto a deity of your choice, the only religion that can be carved out is one that reflects our own prejudices and fears of ‘the other.”

empathy religion. JpgThe essence of empathy is an understanding that we are all equal, and all deserving of love and compassion. When empathy is removed from business and politics, we are on a slippery slope to the collapse of an Empire.

A nation is built upon the backs of ALL of it’s citizens, all of whom must have a place at the table. When the political administration in power only caters to the wealthy, they have forgotten that they serve at the pleasure of all of the people … and that their time in power is only temporary, and at the whim of those people.

This holiday season, the Republican party flaunted a lack of empathy and a slavish devotion to the upper class, all the while telling the middle class that they were giving them a ‘Christmas present.’  Those same smiling faces said that this year, you could once again say “Merry Christmas,” as though there had been some admonition against it while ‘the black man’ was president.  In truth, you could always say “Merry Christmas,” but after this tax scam, you just won’t be able to have one. strong people. jpg

The new year will reveal exactly how low they are willing to go in their abject fealty to these overlords. With luck, it will also open the eyes of those who’ve enabled their ugly, selfish, partisan goals, and lead us all to a world where fairness and democracy replace greed and apathy.

My wish is that 2018 be the year when we finally understand that ‘peace on earth, goodwill towards men’ was never meant to last for just a day, but rather, needs to be our goal, every day, every where, and for all people.

happy-new-year-quotes-2018

 

 

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.

 

 

The Luck of the Irish


If you didn’t get your chance to get your Irish on on Friday, March 17th, Torontonians will get another chance to do so today, when the annual St Patrick’s Day Parade starts at noon. The route begins on the corner of Bloor and St George, heads east on Bloor, south on Yonge, and west on Queen St, before finishing up at the parade reviewing stand at Nathan Phillips Square.

The parade is still a big deal for many of Irish descent .. and there are a lot of us! As of 2006’s census, the Irish were the 4th largest ethnic group in Canada, with 4,354,000 Canadians (or 15% of us all,) have full or partial Irish descent. And more than two million Irish Canadians are in Ontario!

st patricks day queenI haven’t been to the parade in years, though I did get to be one of the rabbit stole wearing girls waving from the back seat of a convertible many years ago as the “Miss Irish St Augustines,’ in Montreal.

When I was a teen growing up in Montreal, St Paddy’s was always a big day. My grandfather, whom I’d never met as he’d died before I was born, was literally “a man without a country.” His own parents had fled Ireland’s economic woes, and he was born, mid Atlantic, before they docked in New York‘s harbour. They stayed briefly in the United States, before moving to Montreal.

My family loved their Irish heritage. A musical lot, they were the sort to gather ’round the piano to play and sing the songs of the ‘ould country.’ I was brought up listening to a mix of classic Irish tenors, as well as the rebel songs, and of course, the  lighter ‘stage Irish’ fun songs peddled in theatre and film.

There were two sides to the Irish connection, in my world. On the one hand, I loved the singalongs, the funny accents, and the camaraderie, especially on the holiday itself, when I could be guaranteed a fine old time. On the other hand, and always present, were the realities of a divided Ireland and ‘the Troubles.’

My mother’s family were not prone to arguing over politics, which was a good thing, considering that my grandmother was British, and my uncle Dennis had married a Dubliner.  Hard-line rebel songs were strongly discouraged, but we’d always be in for a‘cead mile failte.’

There are some that look down upon the ‘stage Irish’ of the Irish Rovers, or even der Bingle’s portrayals of kindly Irish priests, but it must be remembered that the Irish faced a great deal of discrimination on their first arrival in North America.  Early Irish entertainers and newcomers could rely on getting a rise from a hostile audience by sending up their own people as friendly, ginger, alcoholics, quick with a joke and a laugh.

“Irish men and women both had a hard time finding skilled work in the U.S. due to the stigmas of being both IrishNo Irish need apply sign as well as Catholic. Prejudices ran deep in the north and could be seen in newspaper cartoons depicting Irish men as drunkards and Irish women as prostitutes. Many businesses hung signs out front of their shops that read “No Irish Need Apply“, or “NINA” for short. The initial backlash the Irish received in America lead to their self-imposed seclusion, making assimilation into society a long and painful process.”  

But the Irish played a significant role in American society, especially in teaching and policing occupations. Eight of the original signers of the Declaration of Independence were of Irish descent. Irish Catholics have served in all layers of American government, in every capacity, from mayors to Presidents.

Ontario is rife with towns named after the places and last names of Ireland, including Donnybrook, Dundalk and Dublin, Enniskillen and Galway. and Tara and Waterford.

Canada has had our share of notable Irish-Canadians, in every field, from the arts, to sports, and politics. Writers like Morley Callaghan and W.P. Kinsella have explored the many facets of Canadian lives, as have my cousins Rita Donovan and Michael Donovan, while Stompin’ Tom Connors and Denny Doherty have shaped how we sound. Add to that list my husband, musician Shawn O’Shea, also of Irish descent, who’s even born on March 17th! (In a bizarre coincidence, two other members of the heymacs, Kid Carson and Carlyle Walpola, were also born on March 17th.)

I can’t picture Canadian comedy without the stylings of Mary Walsh, our Amazon Warrior. And what would the world of show biz be without Mack Sennett,  producer, director, writer, actor and founder of Keystone Studios?

Politically, Irish Canadians have been integral to the country since the days of Thomas D’Arcy McGee, one of the Fathers of Confederation, while Louis St. Laurent, Sir John Thompson, Paul Martin and Brian Mulroney have all served as Prime Ministers.

In world entertainment, the Irish have always had a strong presence, and there’s no shortage of musical talent exported from the Emerald Isle, with memorable stylings and poetic imagery flowing from U2, Enya, Gilbert O`Sullivan, Sinead O`Connor, the Cranberries, Van Morrison  and Thin Lizzy.

The Irish in North America have come a long way from the days when thirish_blessing_cottageey stumbled off the boats, fleeing famine and political strife. Many of those marching in St Patrick`s Day Parades today have no interest or stake in the politics of modern day Ireland, but the urge to celebrate their heritage remains strong.

And the rest of us, in our green wigs, and drinking green beer, just wish we could have a little of that fabled Irish luck and good humour, if just for one day.