Thursday, 12 July 2018

Ontario's New (Old) Sex Ed. Curriculum

What a time to live in North America, to live in Ontario, where we now have our own version of Donald Trump. The similarities, the same simplistic thinking is scary and shocking.

The Ford government's decision, to revert back to the 1998 sex ed curriculum is so short-sighted. While watching an interview with a local teachers union representative, I was reminded of just how complicated this whole process really is. Doug Ford thinks you just make the decision and bingo, it's back to 1998. This teacher rep got me thinking about more logical questions like:

Where are the 1998 curriculum documents?
Teachers are just now trained on the 2015 curriculum. No doubt teachers have been creating their own carefully thought-out lesson plans,to achieve the objectives of the curriculum. Do those all get tossed?
Do teachers include any of the new material?
How do they answer students' questions, when students are now faced issues that didn't even exist in 1998, like sexting and cyberbullying?

The social conservatives that Ford is pleasing say that parents weren't consulted about the new 2015 document. "Wrong" said then premier Wynne, during the election campaign:

"It's just not true," she told reporters at an event in Toronto. "Parents were consulted. Psychologists, psychiatrists, police, people who live in communities and are concerned about the safety of young people were consulted."
About 4,000 parents, as well as child development professions, were given an opportunity to weigh in on the changes to the curriculum, Wynne noted."

And who do we have now, at the helm of Ontario schools, as we make this sudden shift in direction? The new minister of education actually has no background in education. Lisa Thompson is a goat farmer! I kid you not!
In a July 11th memo she did a good job of parroting her boss. "I can assure you that help is on the way. We will be working hard to better prepare our kids for the challenges of work and life."

However, I digress. What's an Ontario parent to do, in this confusing situation? As the social conservatives say, sex education is a parent's job. That's true but at best, parents should be discussing at home, what is being taught at school. Parents and teachers should always be partners in education. If possible, parents might want to latch onto a hard copy of the 2015 curriculum or download a copy while it's still on line. 

As a grandparent (and retired teacher) it would be handy to have a copy. There are all kinds of issues that my grandchildren will have to face, that I'm simply not familiar with. I'd like to be able to answer their questions accurately, with well thought out materials. I'd like to take advantage of the years of research, consultation and expert advice that went into the creation of the 2015 document. It's a scary world out there and keeping these materials away from teachers, students and families is putting students at risk.

Doug Ford would have us go back to the good old days. How many novels have we all read, where children were sexually assaulted because of their lack of knowledge? How many real life tragedies have occurred because children didn't have the basic facts, and never had a discussion with an adult, about appropriate touching or consent.? How dare he discard the progress that has been made in teaching this important area of the curriculum? 

But hey, at least I'll be able to buy beer at my corner store - that's what's really important.

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

The Power of Music

As I make my way through this sad season and struggle to accept the reality of life without Dad, I have been comforted lately by the healing power of music.

We've been to a few memorable concerts. The musicians involved were no spring chickens; they were all older than me. From time to time I encounter a definite feeling of ageism, an attitude from younger folks, that those of us with gray hair are pretty well finished. The musicians that I've recently encountered are examples of vital, productive, inspiring seniors.

On the May long weekend we were in Toronto. Happily, our visit coincided with a series of free concerts by Fred Penner, at Harbourfront. Our grandchildren were so excited to be seeing Fred in person, again. (The Cat Came Back is usually on repeat on their car stereo. Can you still say stereo?)
It was a brilliant sunny day as we made our way to the spacious concert area, right beside Lake Ontario. Fred Penner at 71, is as busy as ever. As he said in a recent interview,  "The phone keeps ringing." During the concert he told us that if we want to see him in Toronto next spring, he'll be at Roy Thompson Hall, with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra!

Onstage he is funny, enthusiastic, warm and entertaining. It was heart-warming for me to hear him sing his new song, Celebrate Being. It's a simple message that I needed to hear. The audience was made up of kids and adults of all ages. Penner refers to his old fans as "Fredheads." We all lapped up his jokes and songs. Afterwards he patiently met with fans for photos. It was a privilege to meet him.

A few weeks later we were in Toronto again. We attended another "children's" concert, this time with Raffi. Years ago, when we lived in Brampton, we took our  kids to several Raffi concerts. His Christmas album is always playing as we decorate our Christmas tree. Raffi, also has a name for his older fans. We are Beluga grads, named for his hit, Baby Beluga.

Again, Raffi is still a great entertainer, with a really beautiful voice. His enthusiasm,  jokes, and earth friendly songs like One Light One Sun and Inch by Inch, went over very well with the audience at Roy Thomspn Hall that afternoon.

If there's a highlight in this concert list, is has to be the Paul Simon concert at the Air Canada Centre, on June 12th. Again, Simon is getting up there. He's 76 and has called this tour  Homeward Bound. He says it's his last, so that's why I was desperate to hear him again.

What a night! Simon walked out on stage and the crowd leapt to their feet to give him his first standing ovation of the night. He started with America,

"Kathy, I'm lost I said, though I knew she was sleeping.
I'm empty and aching and I don't know why.
Counting the cars on the New Jersey turnpike
They've all come to look for America
All come to look for America."   before speaking to the crowd.

America was very much on his mind.  "Thank you." he started. "Oh no, Thank You", is what we answered, with another thunderous ovation. He then referred to President Trump's comments to Prime Minister Trudeau after the G7 conference.  "That's not what is in the hearts and minds of Americans. " he assured us. "We'll always be family." Again, we were all on our feet, to thank him for that.

Near the end he sang the hauntingly beautiful American Tune, from 1973.

"But it's alright, it's alright.
For we lived so well so long.
Still when I think of the road we're travelling' on
I wonder what's gone wrong,
I can't help it, I wonder what has gone wrong."

When I bought the tickets for this concert I was just thinking about hearing Paul Simon. I didn't think about who might appear with him. It was such a bonus to have so many fine musicians on stage. He never treated them like backup, like afterthoughts. Through his words, onstage position and gestures he honoured his fellow musicians and gave them the spotlight on many occasions. They were all, regardless of their age or experience, a vital part of the musical extravaganza. I especially enjoyed the horn section and their part in such hits as, You Can Call Me Al.

The concert seemed to be ending with another energetic horn performance in Late in the Evening. Everyone left the stage but of course, after a sufficient frenzy of cheering and clapping,  he came back on stage. This time though he was alone; just Paul Simon and his acoustic guitar.  He sat down and played Homeward Bound and we all sang along. It could have been any campfire or house party from the 60's or 70's, with some friend leading the group in song, but it was Paul Simon and all of us, thousands of us, singing along in unison, every word, just like we did in our youth.

Maybe that's the thing. For those brief moments we were those teenagers again, singing those earnest songs of our youth, with as much enthusiasm as ever. It was magical. When he sang Bridge Over Troubled Water, I was transported back to my high school bedroom, with that album playing over and over again, on my little red and white plastic record player.

After twenty-five songs he ended with Sounds of Silence. It was one of those nights you didn't want to end. You just wanted to be with him, singing along to those wonderful songs, with the guy who created them.

The following day we were in Peterborough, to visit my mother-in-law. who is living with dementia.
Pat brought her and a few residents to the dining room and sat down at the piano. Once he started playing, more residents joined us, and sang along to old classics like Take Me Out to the Ballgame  and Irene Goodnight. It was quite the contrast to the 20 000 plus crowd at the ACC, the previous night, but the effect was similar. For the time that we sang with them, the residents there were connected to each other in song. Even those who now barely speak were smiling and singing along and totally into the musical experience. For that short time, they were outside of their usual daily experience and part of the music itself. They were actively creating music and feeling good about that.

So from the toddlers at the Raffi concert to the older kids at the Fred Penner event, to the boomers at Paul Simon, to the seniors at the long term care residence...we were all lifted out of our everyday lives and connected to each other by the power of music.

For a lovely, online musical experience, check out Paul McCartney's Carpool Karaoke with James Corden.  (Click here) At seventy-six, he's still having a great time creating and sharing music. The faces on the pub crowd, who enjoyed his surprise concert, pretty well sum up everything I've been saying.

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Infill Housing # 4

You never know when construction sites will be active. Work could start first thing in the morning or it could be busy for just a few hours in the middle of the day. So it's hard to predict. Neighbours next to infill construction might be up all night with a baby or sick child, they could be working the night shift, they might be sick themselves or maybe just plain tired. Regardless, builders are allowed to start working at 7 am on weekdays. It can go on until 8 pm.

When I was a child, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, Sunday was a day of rest. It was a restful, quiet day, meant to be spent with family.  Stores were closed and very few activities were running. Of course that day is long gone. Today's noise bylaw offers us a brief respite on the weekends. You can work from 9 am until 7 pm.

So we know we are in for a noisy summer. Things haven't been too bad so far. My parent's house is about five minutes north of us, closer to the Ottawa River. That neighbourhood is built on rock so when infill houses are constructed there, neighbours have to put up with a lot of drilling and blasting. Here it's mostly clay so we have been spared the drilling and blasting. Instead we have only the noise of the machines and the loud thuds as they deposit the dirt and debris into waiting dump trucks. Last Friday, however was different.

In order to hook up the new house to water and sewer, a trench had to be cut, pretty well right across the street in front of our house. Apparently all the neighbours were supposed to receive written notice that our street would be closed for five days because of the open trench. No notice was received. A worker casually mentioned it to us, when we happened to be outside, the day before.

Now that was noisy! As the machine banged its way through the pavement  the noise was tremendous. Our whole house was shaking. That probably didn't do our foundation any favours.

Neighbours only three doors down were having a family wedding that very day. Our block was to be closed to traffic for the annual block party on Sunday. Here's what it looked like at the end of the workday last Friday.

We left the next day but it sounds like there was plenty of action. The young neighbours, with all their little kids, weren't happy that the worksite was not properly secured. Bylaw officials and our local city councillor were notified. Besides the hole and the noise, one neighbour has had her phone and internet cable cut twice so far. This is what it's like to live near infill construction.

Because real estate folks have declared our area a desirable neighbourhood, developers are crawling all over the place, outbidding people who just want to buy a house and live here. Developers come onto our streets. knock down houses (many of them in fine shape), then disturb the neighbours with construction for months. Often they build houses that simply don't fit in with existing homes. Sometimes, the builders stay; they actually live in the new houses. Most of the time however, after all the disruption, they sell the new place, make their profit and move on to another conquest. The city allows all this, in the name of intensification of the core, which we're all supposed to embrace.

Simon and Garfunkel famously sang, "Silence like a cancer grows." We could change that to, "Infill like a cancer grows. " It really seems that once one house on a block is knocked down, others soon follow. On this one side of this one block, we have just heard that a fourth house will soon go up for sale. Surely they won't all be destroyed.

Friday, 8 June 2018

Premier Doug Ford ?!

How it pains me to write those three words together - Premier ... Doug....Ford.

This is a sad day for many of us in Ontario. I can't believe this is happening again. When Donald Trump ran for the leadership of the Republican Party, most of us thought it was laughable, until he won. Even after he won, we never thought he had a real shot at capturing the presidency. Again, the unthinkable happened, We've had a year and a half of watching him stumble through every aspect of his presidency, making a mockery of the highest office in the U.S., bringing us all to the brink of nuclear war and now starting a trade war with his allies. You might think that the Ontario electorate would look at that scary American situation and ponder. They might come to the realization that you shouldn't hand over power to simple minded people, with no political experience, who promise you more money and old fashioned jobs.

However last night that is just what millions of folks in Ontario did. They gave this very simple- minded, inexperienced buffoon, the keys to the premier's office. One caller on CBC radio in Ottawa this morning happily stated that he was going to have more money in his pocket and pay less taxes - just what Rob Ford promised him. Which goes to show that if you continually tell the people a simple,  straight-forward message and appeal to their selfish nature - they will buy that message.

What make me the saddest today is to acknowledge that there are so many selfish people in this province  - people who are only thinking of themselves and their bank accounts. Maybe when they put their children or grandchildren in school and have to put up with larger class sizes because teachers have been cut, or maybe when they try to put their parents in a long term care home and can't find one, or maybe when they're waiting in a hospital emergency department, maybe then they'll come to the realization that we all need to pay taxes so that we can receive important government services.

Was the Liberal government without fault? Of course not. Plenty has been written about the gas scandal etc. And yes, they had been in government a long time. However, I think there have been some positive achievements as well. Having free prescriptions up to age 25 is a wonderful advantage, as is free university and college tuition for needy families. It was brave of the Liberals to stick to their guns and press ahead with the much needed, improved sex education curriculum in Ontario schools.

Last night, after watching the three leaders speeches, I felt sick. Doug Ford is so simple. He thought it was appropriate to bring up the memory of his  brother, who many remember as a crack-smoklng embarrassment of a Toronto mayor. Please don't remind us of your family background Doug! I would have been happy if Andrea Horvath had won, but last night I found her to resemble a shrill teenager. And then there was Kathleen Wynne. She spoke with grace, humour, warmth and intelligence. It was a classy speech that started with her praising people from all different backgrounds and areas of the province. Contrasting her speech with Doug Ford's reminds me of listening to Barrack Obama, next to Donald Trump.

It's a sad and scary time indeed.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Toronto the Good!

As usual, I am late in posting this story. 

It is starting to feel like it happened a while ago now - those multiple deaths along Yonge Street in Toronto on April 23rd. For the families involved, it must still seem like a nightmare.  When something like that happens, it is easy to become fearful and suspicious of others. While it is important to be vigilant, I would like to write about the goodness of Toronto, by recounting an incident that happened to me there, while visiting my daughter, just days earlier. 

On Thursday April 19th I found myself at the corner of Danforth and Greenwood. My right leg was giving me trouble. Norah dropped me off at the Danforth Greenwood Walk In Clinic. All I had to do was walk across the street and then walk about ten steps into the clinic. However, that simple task was suddenly impossible.

Partway across the street something happened to my right knee. Whenever I tried to put any weight on that leg, a searing pain went up the back of my knee. Somehow I managed to inch across to the other side of the street and was so grateful to have the clinic wall to lean on. I had no idea about how I was going to manage the remaining distance. To passersby I was not an impressive sight – a grey-haired grandma, tilting to one side, while leaning on a wall, at 9 am.

Fortunately a kind-hearted man stopped and offered to help. I asked if he could see if there were any crutches at the walk -in clinic. He went into the clinic and came out with the pharmacist and an office chair. "Better than crutches!" he declared. The two men helped me onto the chair and rolled me into the clinic. Everyone in the clinic:  the pharmacist, the receptionist, the kind x ray technician who supported me as I transferred from chair to x ray bed – they were all so very kind. 

It was a long day. Norah re-arranged her day, then stopped and bought me a pair of crutches before she came to rescue me. She took me to have an ultrasound and later in the day, delivered me to a waiting wheelchair at Union Station. I was clearly no help to her at that point, so she shipped me home!

In the end, this is not a serious injury. I was walking again, after a few days. I've had lots of tests done and this week I hope to get a more definite answer as to why I still have so much fluid around my knee. 

In those minutes on Danforth though, my physical status changed abruptly from able-bodied to disabled. I'm so grateful to the many people who helped me out. I felt very well cared for, by folks I’d never met. I like to think that's what Toronto is really about.

Infill Housing # 3

So, those lilacs? The ones in full bloom, at the right side of the property? The day after my last post, the new owners arrived on site and ordered their  removal. So, just like that, they were gone. I know; different strokes for different folks. Those lilacs were at the very edge of the property. If they wanted them, they could have been saved. However, most homebuilders don't appreciate the value of mature trees, which provide beauty, texture, oxygen, shade and privacy. Trees also take up space and these days it's all about maximizing the space.

Here's what the property looks like now, without the lilacs as a border. Thank goodness the one large mature tree at the back is staying.

So, I just couldn't stop myself from taking this next photo. When this truck showed up, about an hour after the lilac trees were ripped out, I thought it was pretty ironic. Green with envy indeed! Most of the greenery has been destroyed!

I can only assume that this company was there to give an estimate on planting small bushes, some new tiny trees and no doubt, a tall fence.

This latest shot shows the placement of stakes, outlining where the house will be situated on the lot. You can build within 1.2 meters of the side property line and that's where they all build - right to that limit.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Infill Housing # 2

So, after years of waiting, it has happened. The house across the street from us is down.  We were away last week and missed the big show. On May 17th we received an email from our city councillor's office, advising us that the demolition permit had been issued. Early the next morning we received a message from a neighbour with this photo.

Note the pink flowering tree to the left of the property
Apparently it only took only thirteen minutes to knock the house down. Imagine how much time it took to build it ! Destruction is simple and mindless, compared to construction.

So when we arrived back in town on the 22nd, we walked around the building site. Regardless of the fact that it was not in great shape, it was a family home for many years, probably built in the thirties. Now it was a pile of rubble.

I can't help but think of the nature of these people's jobs. Imagine spending your days doing destruction. You arrive at the site of some perfectly fine houses and use those hulking machines to destroy what were once the scenes of family lives. What satisfaction could there possibly be in tearing down what others have built?

As we walked to the back yard, we went around a pink flowering tree. Perhaps it was a crab apple. At any rate it was in full bloom. I naively wondered if maybe they were going to try to save it, as it was to the side of the property. Maybe the plan allowed for its preservation?

Not so. About an hour later a worker arrived, got into the machine and promptly knocked it over. Just like that, it was on the ground. It might not have seemed so heartless if we weren't at the peak of the flowering tree season.

Killing that tree seemed to be the only thing on his agenda so he immediately left. Again I walked over and surveyed the damage. The  back of the property was covered in pink blossoms.

Our established neighbourhoods are losing not just our original houses but also many mature trees. It's an ongoing battle involving neighbours, the city and developers. Often the trees disappear before neighbours have a chance to try to save them. I'm hoping that the lilac trees on the right side of the property will survive but I won't be surprised if  their roots are damaged so much that they too will disappear. I've seen it countless times over the years.

So what are you going to do? If I had a lot of energy I might have measured the circumference of the trunk and investigated to see if this company had wrongly killed a tree that should have been protected. However, I just don't have that kind of energy right now. So I cut myself myself some flowers. I filled the trunk of the car and took some to mom. The others I made into bouquets for our place. As Erma Bombeck famously said,"When life hands you lemons, make lemonade." For a few days, we'll enjoy what was once a lovely sign of spring.