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April 2013

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BOOK REVIEW: King of the Class

King of the Class is set in a futuristic Israel where the religious and secular citizens lead separate lives. In 2019, robots provide not only housekeeping and babysitting but also the security necessary in the difficult political climate. Hoverboards have made it easy to move around but guard posts ensure each citizen occupies his rightful place.

The story centres on Eve, who is studying in Israel and engaged to Manny. With her North American attitudes and values, she is bewildered when her fiancé becomes drawn to a religious life. Eve must decide if she is willing to give up her scholastic dreams and live according to strict rules. At the same time she has visions of a soul named Ben who is counting on her and Manny to become his parents. Are the needs of the pre-soul as important as her ambitions and freedoms? Can marriage to Manny lead to a fulfilling life?

Eventually Eve makes a decision. When her story continues, the reader discovers the character referred to in the title, King of the Class. It is her son, Netsach, gifted in basketball skills but bullied by jealous classmates. Manny is suspicious of and does not understand the mystical link between mother and son and it is driving a wedge in their marriage.

Faced with a terrifying situation in which she is powerless, Eve must find strengths in herself and in her relationships. While the people around her all face their own challenges, they must unite to prevent a tragedy.

Gila Green does an excellent job of ramping up the tension in the final chapters. The reader becomes drawn into the suspense, and there is a satisfying resolution when Eve’s choices prove to be honourable.

HAPPY FRIDAY: Here is a pile of baby sloths

Stress of the work week got you down? Not enjoying the tail end of winter? Watch this video of a bucket of adorable baby sloths to brighten your day/week/month/life.

These little guys live at The Sloth Sanctuary in Costa Rica where they are rescued or are referred to them for special needs care. Two Canadians took this video on a trip to eastern Costa Rica.

Sloths, God’s slow moving living teddy bears, come in two-toed and three-toed varieties. Their diet consists mainly of leaves, but the two-toed breed also eat insects. They are also the cutest things on earth. Happy Friday!

Questions raised after explosion in West, Texas

The investigation continues after a fertilizer plant explosion in Texas killed at least 14 people, including several firefighters and emergency responders. The blast, which happened on Wednesday night, was the strength of a magnitude 2.1 earthquake and resulted in half of the town being evacuated.  Local authorities are working with federal government agencies to investigate the cause of this devastating incident.

Occurring so soon after the Boston Marathon bombing, there were fears that this was another premeditated terrorist attack. The investigation is ongoing, but currently there is no indication that the blast was an act of terrorism or criminal activity. However, the plant had been fined in 2006 for failing to implement a risk management plan and had previously been issued a complaint over a lingering smell of ammonia.

Before the blast occurred, firefighters had been evacuating the surrounding area because of “dangerous fumes,” police said.

Rescuers are still searching for survivors. “We still are holding out some hope,” Tommy Muska, the mayor of West, Texas, said.

Emotional poverty

In Canada the law around sexual assault is designed to protect women from “secondary wounding” that can escalate when the accused holds a position of power and influence. Secondary wounding occurs when people respond to a woman who has been sexually assaulted by making her feel ashamed for coming forward, or blaming her for fabricating the assault.  From minimizing the magnitude of the event, to implying the victim desired financial gain or attention, secondary wounding turns the victim into the criminal and forces the woman to defend her allegations.

In Canada any victim of sexual assault can report an incident to the police in complete anonymity. The victim’s name and picture are protected and will not appear in the press or be released by the police unless she chooses to go public. With municipal political figures a complaint should be made to the OPP rather than local police, who risk being in a conflict of interest.  By making a complaint with the police the offense gets registered and if another is made the police take the previous offenses into account. Sexual assaults often lack the evidence needed to convict the assailant and without proof many women choose not to go to the police fearing that their lack of evidence will only result in dismissal of their claim and work to empower the accused even further.

While I like to think Toronto is a very progressive city there are still old notions of how women must behave that dominate conservative thinking.  Pundits promote the myth that women should never claim sexual assault without proof, ignoring that most sexual assaults occur when eyes are turned the other way. Sadly, if a woman does go public the backlash can be cruel – especially from those who cling to archaic social structures, spewing their opinions with no regard to the secondary harm they cause to the victim.

Social media (facebook/twitter) is creating a more transparent world, challenging the social structures that protected male entitlement.  Women who speak out about sexual assault represent an affront to the old way of doing things. The establishment insists women should deal with sexual assault privately through the police — but without proof charges usually get dropped and the criminal walks away justified. Studies show that the recidivism rate (reoccurrence) of sexual assault can be as high as 88.3 per cent.

With enough exposure calling someone out through social media will put the incident on public record and can serve to bring other victims forward.  The accused has every right to sue the victim for defamation, but this is unlikely because those who commit assault usually have a lot more to hide than their victims.

Studies have shown that there are shared personality traits among men who commit sexual assault. They are men with terrible role models like Chris Brown, or O.J Simpson; they are men raised to be thugs. They cling to anything that focuses on male strength; they hide their emotions, and claim not to “understand” women. Men convicted of sexual assault have an overwhelming sense of privilege that extends not only to the world around them, but into their personal relationships. The respect they show for others is a performance rather than a true understanding of civility. Their relationships aren’t fulfilling or empowering because they aren’t taught the value of respect for themselves, their influence in the world, or their impact on others. They view women as objects rather than equals.  Their exalted belief in their own male perfection dampens their natural drive to mature and develop as individuals. Without this drive emptiness haunts them, drugs and alcohol numb them, and their relationships are chaotic.

These thugs have children, and their daughters grow up believing their fathers’ misconceptions and sharing the same view of success – power, money and men.  They use their sexual power over men and cling to it because in a world of male entitlement it’s the only power they have — but as they age their relationships fail, they become less attractive, and they lose their sexual power over men, turning into sad bitter women lashing out at women who don’t conform as they did.

I could never hate someone with this level of emotional poverty. They are people who are raised without ever understanding the importance of civility or respect. They are deprived of ever having strong meaningful relationships. They rarely question themselves or their limited version of the world around them. And they fight against anything that doesn’t conform to their myopic sense of male entitlement.

There are times when it is important to speak out. When a thug attains power their sense of entitlement escalates, they become falsely confident, demanding and taking more from all those around them. They justify their illegal behavior (drugs/assault/drunk driving) by claiming the “stress” of their position drove them to it.

It is never easy to stand up to the tide of male entitlement that floods our society but unless we do there will be a new generation of emotionally stunted thugs who shun challenge, who expect the world to serve them, and who don’t understand how to have respect for themselves or others.

Civility is the glue that holds us together in a safe, fair and just society. Civility requires respect for others, the ability to accept the truth no matter how it is presented. Civility doesn’t force people into silence, or shame those who refuse to follow custom. Civility stops us from harming each other and allows a deeper understanding of the human condition.

Mayor’s roundtable a resounding success

Political and community leaders from the Greater Toronto Area met Thursday night at the Harbourfront Community Centre to discuss the ever growing problem of transit in the region.

Answering questions from moderator and Toronto Transit Alliance Chair Sarah Thomson were Oakville Mayor Rob Burton, Oshawa Mayor John Henry, Chair of Greater Toronto Civic Action Alliance John Tory, and, in place of storm-stayed Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion, Mississauga Councillor Bonnie Crombie.

The event drew several influential audience members, including Toronto city councillors John Parker of Ward 26, Denzil Minnan-Wong of Ward 34, Shelley Carroll of Ward 33, and Metrolix CEO Bruce McCuaig.

The roundtable discussion functioned as a platform to spark conversation and involvement between different municipal governments and appeal to the province and federal government for aid in progressing on longstanding and frequently delayed and cancelled plans to improve and modernize the public transit and highway systems that connect the different communities.

While the panel’s answers varied in some regards, it was clear from the outset that they were all in agreement that transit was the number one priority facing the region. Oakville’s Burton drew applause when he stated that “there is a freaking emergency around moving people in our metropolitan area.”

While the group came to some conclusions — increasing property tax is not an option for any of the municipalities represented, higher levels of governments must be involved — the cooperative nature of the meeting was the biggest win of the evening. All involved were hopeful that the discussion would open the door to greater communication on transit issues in the region and lead to cooperation on a comprehensive plan for regional transit.

THOMSON: The separation of transit funding from politics

The Toronto Regional Board of Trade recently released a discussion paper announcing four transit funding options for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) to support the Metrolinx “Big Move” regional transit expansion plan. Their four funding options are: A dedicated sales tax, fuel tax, parking levies and high occupancy vehicle lanes. It’s important to note that the amount of transit funding needed for infrastructure expansion is astronomical with the initial price tag estimated at $50 billion, or $2 billion per year over 25 years.

Not long after the Board made their announcement, Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath rejected their proposal, claiming their measures were not “fair and balanced.” Instead she suggested the provincial government close “corporate tax loopholes” to pay for transit. Her suggestion ignored the importance of having long-term dedicated transit funding that is secure and free from political intervention.

The issue of transit funding has become a political football that has been tossed about for the past 40 years – and unless we separate funding from politics through a secured and protected funding stream the Toronto regions economic viability could be severely hindered.

I implore Ms Horwath to become aware of the “hidden” tax that gridlock is already imposing on people and corporations in the Toronto region. The Board of Trade estimates that gridlock is costing Canada $6 billion annually and this number is increasing each year. To suggest that we impose $2 billion more per year in taxes on companies that already suffer from this hidden gridlock tax could well drive them and the jobs they create out of the region.

I have always had great respect for Ms. Horwath; she is a smart, dedicated woman and I encourage her to listen to her constituents in the GTHA. They want action on gridlock, and are very much aware of the fact that politics has stood in the way of the transit expansion.

I hope that Ms. Horwath evaluates all forms of transit funding so that she understands the level of funding needed and why supporting the funding options suggested by the Board of Trade is an important first step to transit expansion. I hope she takes careful consideration of the idea of phased funding with a dedicated 1% sales tax being the first phase connected to the next phase of development for the Big Move plan.

Copying Mr. Hudak’s failing and blatant attempt to win votes and block transit expansion will only serve to lose her core NDP support in urban areas where they understand the need to fund transit expansion .

A much stronger stand for Ms. Horwath would be to insist that jobs and contracts for transit infrastructure expansion be awarded to Ontario companies. If Ms. Horwath truly wants to protect and create jobs for Ontario families, insisting that infrastructure expansion be done using Ontario companies offering jobs to Ontarians has much more consistency with her message — and doesn’t get in the way of transit expansion.

By working together, by agreeing to phase in dedicated transit funding and include voters every step of the way, we can move the transit file ahead significantly.

I implore Ms. Horwath to support transit expansion funding options outlined by the TTC and the Board of Trade and to work with the Liberal government to get the Toronto region moving forward. Together.

Experience wine tasting, Canadian style!

If you are a wine lover or have always wanted to try something different from the traditional wine tasting experience, you won’t want to miss the Canadian experience. Take a cheap flight to the heart of Ontario’s wine country to explore this area and see firsthand how they make their infamous Icewine. You will discover this process is unique from traditional wine because they use frozen grapes right off the vine. The process yields the unique and tropical tastes.

Inniskillin is located in the heart of Wine Country in beautiful Niagara-on-the-Lake. Inniskillin is world renowned for its award-winning Icewines. Begin your visit to the Estate with a glass of Sparkling Vidal Icewine. You will get an in depth look into how the process of this wonderful drink was crafted. The grapes have been left netted on the vine far into the winter months in order to concentrate and intensify the flavour. Then it is only harvested after the temperature drops below -8°C for a long period of time.

You will then descend to the Underground Cellar where a historic Icewine collection, dating back to 1984, lie in the racks while aging to perfection.

The first Ice wine produced by Inniskillin, a 1984 Vidal, was in fact labelled “Eiswein”.

Of course a true Icewine tour would not be complete without an Icewine tasting. Icewine is full of rich and sumptuous flavour, but still balanced with refreshing acidity. Experience this for yourself with a private, comparative tasting session. First, try a sample of a Riesling Icewine and discover the distinctive taste when the Icewine is sampled from a Riedel Vinum Extreme Icewine glass. Next, explore what makes an Oak Aged Vidal Icewine more unique than your average barrel aged wine, and then taste the marvelous magic of a Red Cabernet Franc Icewine. Then comes a unique delectable conclusion as you cleanse your palate with the strangest food pairings: aged parmesan cheese and dark chocolate.

If you enjoyed the experience of Icewine tasting, you also may want to check out the annual Niagara Icewine Festival. For 10 days in January, the Niagara region is changed into a winter wonderland to celebrate Icewine. This is the place to sample a wide variety from over 30 wineries and 100 varieties of Icewine, known for its delicious sweetness, fruit flavour and dark nectar colour.

The following day, you can walk into an outdoor bar carved out of ice to sample Icewine vintages in Jordan Village. Stroll through Niagara-on-the Lake, one of Canada’s prettiest towns, window-shopping and sampling Icewines from over 20 wineries. Attend the Winemaker’s Dinner Series, where award-winning Icewines are paired with the likes of foie gras with quince brioche, elk strip loin and Quebec artisan cheeses, prepared by celebrity chefs such as Jamie Kennedy and Michael Fagan.

Your experience doesn’t need to end there: you can continue sipping on your very own Niagara Icewine from home.

Woman of the Week: Helen Ziegler

At Helen Ziegler and Associates, located on the 24th floor on Dundas Street West, is a painted portrait of a nurse with her face turned away. What is interesting about this piece is that it is positioned in such a way that it seems she is looking out of the window and onto the heart of the city – the CN Tower. Though in Toronto this is considered a premium view, something in the nurse’s face looks unfulfilled.

Perhaps this scene is meant to represent any one of the 8000 healthcare professionals who come to Helen Ziegler and Associates seeking change and employment in Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar or Kuwait. But instead maybe it is a depiction of the company’s president, Helen Ziegler, before she found formed her company and found her calling.

“I am just restless – I always have been, intellectually restless,” says Ziegler, who wears all black with a long, chain-link necklace she acquired in Europe.

Intellectually accomplished might be more accurate, with her masters in social work from Wilfred Laurier followed by an MBA from Western University. However, it’s really her experience—or rather the depth of it—that makes this woman truly fantastic. Having worked as a nurse, a marriage counsellor, the owner of the popular magazine Med Hunters, as well as a mother of three children and a wife of an equally restless cardiologist, Ziegler wasn’t sure where her mind would settle. Then her Middle-East healthcare provider agency “fell into” her lap.

“I went to Saudi Arabia with my husband and three kids where he worked as a cardiologist, after a year I came back,” says Ziegler. “I have always worked, I had always had a career and my operating motto has always been never depend on a man and I’ve been married to the same man for a long time. So I came home and formed this company in 1981.”

Thirty-two years is quite a long commitment to make for a woman whose brain is constantly searching, but given that her company is a marriage of all passions—counselling, research, nursing and communications – boredom has not been an issue to date.

“Every day I play a different role. I answer the phones just like any of the other employees here and see where the day takes me,” says Ziegler. “I don’t think of myself as a figurehead or icon at the office, I am just one of the workers. If I am a role model it’s because I can combine having a very demanding job and family while never losing sight of the details.”

In Ziegler’s profession of managing thousands of people’s careers and essentially lives (the company also finds housing for its American and Canadian workers), she feels details are what has kept her business a leading venture. A woman’s attention to detail is why she prefers to work with the fairer sex in her office and what she loves most about being a woman herself. Her advice to becoming a superwoman: snagging a fulfilling career while maintaining a successful home life are actually one and the same.

“Having interesting work that absorbs you and holds your attention is crucial. At the end of the day make sure you come to the table with your own story, if you are happy in yourself I think you are more tolerant and loving in your home – don’t be self sacrificing.”

Women of the Week: Helen Ziegler

At Helen Ziegler and Associates, located on the 24th floor on Dundas Street West, is a painted portrait of a nurse with her face turned away. What is interesting about this piece is that it is positioned in such a way that it seems she is looking out of the window and onto the heart of the city – the CN Tower. Though in Toronto this is considered a premium view, something in the nurse’s face looks unfulfilled.

Perhaps this scene is meant to represent any one of the 8000 healthcare professionals who come to Helen Ziegler and Associates seeking change and employment in Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar or Kuwait. But instead maybe it is a depiction of the company’s president, Helen Ziegler, before she found formed her company and found her calling.

“I am just restless – I always have been, intellectually restless,” says Ziegler, who wears all black with a long, chain-link necklace she acquired in Europe.

Intellectually accomplished might be more accurate, with her masters in social work from Wilfred Laurier followed by an MBA from Western University. However, it’s really her experience—or rather the depth of it—that makes this woman truly fantastic. Having worked as a nurse, a marriage counsellor, the owner of the popular magazineMed Hunters, as well as a mother of three children and a wife of an equally restless cardiologist, Ziegler wasn’t sure where her mind would settle. Then her Middle-East healthcare provider agency “fell into” her lap.

“I went to Saudi Arabia with my husband and three kids where he worked as a cardiologist, after a year I came back,” says Ziegler. “I have always worked, I had always had a career and my operating motto has always been never depend on a man and I’ve been married to the same man for a long time. So I came home and formed this company in 1981.”

Thirty-two years is quite a long commitment to make for a woman whose brain is constantly searching, but given that her company is a marriage of all passions—counselling, research, nursing and communications – boredom has not been an issue to date.

“Every day I play a different role. I answer the phones just like any of the other employees here and see where the day takes me,” says Ziegler. “I don’t think of myself as a figurehead or icon at the office, I am just one of the workers. If I am a role model it’s because I can combine having a very demanding job and family while never losing sight of the details.”

In Ziegler’s profession of managing thousands of people’s careers and essentially lives (the company also finds housing for its American and Canadian workers), she feels details are what has kept her business a leading venture. A woman’s attention to detail is why she prefers to work with the fairer sex in her office and what she loves most about being a woman herself. Her advice to becoming a superwoman: snagging a fulfilling career while maintaining a successful home life are actually one and the same.

“Having interesting work that absorbs you and holds your attention is crucial. At the end of the day make sure you come to the table with your own story, if you are happy in yourself I think you are more tolerant and loving in your home – don’t be self sacrificing.”

Women of the Week: Shauna Podruzny

“True success happens when you pave your own path, not by riding on the coat-tails of others.”

Many years before she would give me that advice, when she was 25, Shauna Podruzny was planning to go into environmental law. Armed with a degree in Environmental Spatial Analysis, it was the logical (and typical) next step. Her heart and passion, however, were not in it, so she decided to change paths and become a businesswoman.

It was a risk, given her youth and inexperience, but Shauna believes it was the smart thing to do.

“I was 25 years old and naïve about the business world, which looking back, completely helped me,” she says. “By not knowing what I was getting myself into, I was able to dive right in and start my own game plan from scratch. “

Frustrated by the lack of “high-quality, natural based” skin care, in 2004 Shauna started Blossom Bath & Body: “an upscale bath & body care boutique offering young independent brands that were not common in the Canadian marketplace.”

Over the years, the company evolved and in 2008 Shauna expanded the business into clothing, opening Blossom Lounge.

Now the owner of two storefronts—one in the Distillery District, the other in Unionville—Shauna’s decision to explore the world of entrepreneurship has proven to be a wise one. The secret to her success? Originality.

“I’ve never had the desire to sell what someone else has. When I think a line, whether it’s clothing or bath & body, has become too mainstream, it’s time to be taken off of Blossom Lounge’s shelves.”

This original streak extends to her advertising plans. She maintains a fantastic blog, Blossom Everyday, and uses it not to explicitly hype her products but to “sell a lifestyle.” Through pictures, Shauna shows the many personalities you can express using the Blossom Lounge line.

“I find that consumers don’t want products or services pushed at them, but when it’s softly presented, you have much better results,” she explains.

Incredibly smart in terms of the importance of social media in today’s world, Shauna uses these new programs to connect with her market in a way that print ads never could.

“There’s no excuse to not use these free tools, it should be fundamental in everyone’s work day,” she explains. “It gives you interaction in real-time with real people, and helps to build relationships with your consumers.  Not using these social media tools mean you lose valuable contact with potential customers.”

Customer interaction is very important to Shauna, and she is using what she has learned to expand her company yet again. Harper 76, her upcoming clothing label, is a collection aimed at women aged 20-40.

“Working directly with customers over the years has given me an advantage to know the classic styles everyone gravitates towards, season after season,” she says.

But Shauna’s life isn’t all about work. The mother of a 7-year-old son, Shauna admits balancing home and work life is “a daily struggle.” Yet she has found the way to manage the roles.

“I’m fortunate to make my own work hours so I make sure that when school is out for the day, my work is put on hold until he goes to bed. I think it’s important to show your kids that they come first, but to also show them the importance of great work ethic.”

It is clear that Shauna has a fantastic work ethic. This work ethic, and the path she created for herself, are the reasons why the Blossom Lounge brand will continue to grow in the upcoming seasons and Shauna Podruzny will continue to achieve true success.