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sarah thomson

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Last Year, This Year, Next Year

We have a calendar, in our kitchen, tacked to the cork-board.  It records special dates, travel schedules, reminders, etc.  A new year, of course, demands a new calendar and the timing is perfect.  The old year, and its calendar, are scrawled upon, dirty, and falling apart; good riddance, to both.

 

The new year, like the new calendar, is a fresh-off-the-press blank slate; glistening with optimism and opportunity.  With a sense of rebirth, the unblemished, pristine calendar gets pinned to the cork-board.  There is no past, so the old calendar goes in the blue bin and last year, if it happened, is dismissed as practise.

 

This year will be better.  Next year, I’ll be perfect.

 

As the new calendar is put up, it’s traditional to make resolutions, which I do.  I don’t know why; I don’t stick to them.  By making resolutions, however, I acknowledge a need, which is a start, and that is good enough.  I should resolve to stop being so generous with myself, but that’s a tall order, so I, usually, resolve to stay the way God made me.

 

Last year, I started intermittent fasting and resolve to stick to it, this year.  It would be embarrassing to quit, because it’s all I talk about.  I hope I’m still at it, next year.

 

Having a garden, even a small one, is a joy.  Last year, we had a good crop of tomatoes and peppers.  The habeneroes were, insanely, hot.  I hope to expand our garden, this year.  I want to try growing corn.  There’s something majestic about tall, impossibly reedy, perfectly erect corn stalks.  Like everything, it is important for a garden to have an appeasing, soothing aesthetic quality.  Food tastes better, when the garden is pretty.

 

Beauty reigns, last year, this year, next year… forever.

 

Last year, rather than green bins and brown bags, at the curb, I turned all leaves into the garden soil, which will help, this year.

 

Last year, I turned 54.  For a long time, I was sold on the premise of “Freedom 55;” the age at which I could retire and enjoy financial security, until death.  Perhaps, I could start enjoying Freedom 55, this year, if I liquidated, disowned my children, and moved into a fridge box, under a bridge.

Sometimes, that sounds worse than working, so I resolve not to quit, this year.

Last year, in September, like every other year, I shaved my head on Terry Fox Day, to honour the great man.  I’m growing my hair and beard for a full year and will have a special friend shave it all off at the Terry Fox event, this year.  It’s months away, but I already look forward to being rid of the motley mess.  No beard, next year.

My favourite sporting event is The World Juniour Hockey Tournament.  It’s great because it runs annually, starting Boxing Day, and it spans from last year into this one.  Canada always has a great team, the players get better, and the competition steeper, every year.  It’s remarkable how skilled and athletic young people are.

Canada lost to an excellent Finnish team, in the quarter final, and were eliminated, early, this year.  The Canadians played hard and deserved a better fate.  Better luck, next year.

Unfortunately, the Canadian team and its captain, especially, were subjected to sickening abuse on anti-social media.  I’d wager this year’s wages and next’s, none of the tweeters would insult Max Comtois, who is 6’ 2”, 210, and has a black belt in Karate, to his face.

The coach of Switzerland, Christian Wohlwend, is the most delightful person in sports, by light years.  Last year, he was raving his club had no chance, against Canada.  This year, he told his team and the world, “When you give, give give love, you always get it back.  That’s a fact.”

Toward the end of last year, Sarah Thomson, the editor and publisher of The Women’s Post, asked me to write an article per week, which I have resolved to do.  It won’t be easy.  In a hockey vernacular, I’m a grinder.

Quality Writing

Think, write, edit, think, write, edit, write, think, edit…

Every word, mark, and symbol is vetted, sweated, and fretted

It is to hard work that a writer is indebted

Talent, I’d say, gets far too much credit

The only way to get better at anything is practise.   I’ve always had great respect for newspaper and magazine writers, who write, well, often; Rex Murphy, for example.  Thanks to the external pressure, I’ve resolved to write every day, this year.   This time, next year, I hope to have 52 articles and a children’s musical comedy under my belt, on the Internet, in the cloud, out in the world…

Our youngest wants to travel, get out in the world, this year.  Yikes.  There were sad stories of young women travelling, at the end of last year, but I try not to think about that.

I read, a lot, but it is mostly the Internet.  I resolve to read more books; real books, this year.  I resolve to consume less garbage, disguised and sold as food, fashion, entertainment, and news.

I Resolve

Another year has roared and died

And my soft spots are more amplified

2019 is, of course, right here

So, it’s time for Resolutions

And their promise of solutions

While bringing in the year

 

I resolve my resolutions won’t be, again, insincere

I resolve things will be different this year

 

I resolve to drop a pound or ten

I’ve resolved this before and will, likely, again

 

I resolve to eat better and exercise

I resolve to order salad instead of fries…

Wait

I take that back

I resolve to tell fewer outrageous lies

 

I resolve to cut back on drinking…

I take that back, too

What was I thinking?

 

I would resolve to be a better husband, but I don’t think I can

She’s a lucky lady and, as Homer Simpson said, “I’m a wonderful man”

 

I had resolved to be a better dad, but now I needn’t bother

Rather, I bought the t-shirt: World’s Greatest Father

 

I resolve to spend more time of the couch, with flicker in my hand

Flicking through the channels

The world at my command

 

With God as my witness

I resolve to put The Trumps out of business

I resolve to make America great

I resolve to titillate




I resolve to slay the beast and bring peace to the middle east

 

I resolve I’ll lower gasoline prices

I resolve to fix the migrant crisis

I resolve I’ll slow Canada’s traffic:

Highways and death traps, where carnage is graphic

 

I resolve to win the lottery

Financial freedom sounds good to me

Especially, when it comes so easily

 

I resolve I will no longer dream

Instead, I resolve to plot, hatch, fantasize, and scheme

 

I resolve to be short and sweet

I resolve to be fast and neat

I resolve to be discrete

 

That is a long list of resolutions and I can’t disavow

There’s much, much more to resolve, somehow

Yet, I’ve resolved to write The End soon

It’s another problem I’ll solve

I resolve

The End. Happy 2019.

 

No dissing this

Where We Live

A compilation of Various Artists

I’m not usually a fan of music made for occasions. And you’d think that a compilation of 16 artists lending their voices and instruments to Earthjustice, an organization devoted to “the universal right to clean air and clean water,” would drip drip drip with sanctimony. Or be slapdash, piecemeal, tossed off.

 

But no! Benefit album it may be, but Where We Live is full of musical delight, of pop performers finding the inner gospel singer who’s been struggling to get out all these years. For what we get is largely churchy in feel, but it’s been secularized in the smithy of the ecological soul.

There’s not really a bad turn on the CD, but a few tracks particularly stand out: Pop divas Maria Muldaur and Bonnie Raitt collaborate on the Southern-gospelly It’s a Blessing; the still smouldering Tina Turner does a supercharged version of  A Change Is Gonna Come (Robert Cray on guitar) which almost matches that of its great originator, Sam Cooke;  Karen Savoca’s Two Little Feet is purringly innocent but sexy; Pop Staples takes the 1960s protest chestnut I Shall Not Be Moved and really makes you feel as if he is going to glory on the wings of his own perfect pitch and Ry Cooder’s slide guitar. Bob Dylan revives a 1971 tune that never should have died; Watching the River Flow must be about the Mississippi, for it has an infectious Professor Longhair New Orleans piano-roll .

Then there are Nora Jones’s sultry-sweet Peace, Los Lobos’s credibly passionate version of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, Willie Nelson’s laconically touching Living in the Promised Land and the Neville Brothers funkified chug-chug, Sister Rosa. Dan Zanes and Friends, with the help of Lou Reed (taking a walk on the sweet side), do a post-hippyish version of Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World; Mose Allison gives us a jazz hipster Getting There; John Hammond (witnessed by Tom Waits) testifies that I Know I’ve Been There; the lovely harmonies of the activist group Sweet Honey in the Rock turns More Than a Paycheck into an environmental protest; Michael Franti and Spearhead offer a folk-reggae Yes I Will, while Ruben Blades’s Estampa lends a latinate stamp to the enterprise. As a truly weird coda, the one and only Captain Beefheart croaks out Happy Earthday.

This one warrants repeated listens and it’ll be a while before I automatically diss a project like this again.

http://www.allmusic.com/album/where-we-live-mw0000318745

Cleansing your new home with a sage smudging ritual

A common Cherokee proverb is “Listen with your heart, learn from your experiences, and always be open to new ones”.

Moving into a new house often feels like the beginning of a new chapter. This can be incredibly exciting, but also incredibly scary. Building a house full of love and comfort is no easy task and rituals often help to make me feel more at home. Each time I move, I have a smudging ritual to cleanse my home and begin anew.

Smudging is an indigenous tradition also known as the Sacred Smoke Bowl Blessing. It has been a tradition for thousands of years in many clans across North America, and I was fortunate to be taught about the ritual from a Cree friend in Western Canada when I was a child.

Smudging has become a popular tradition among spiritualists as well. At the risk of it sounding like cultural appropriation, and with permission of my aboriginal friend, I have also used it for many years. The tradition differs depending on the region you live in. For example, in Western Canada, people traditionally use desert sage, sweet grass, pinion and tobacco. In the East, it is more common to use cedar, juniper, pine needles, cypress, sage, tobacco and sweet grass. Using an Abalone Shell, a traditional bowl in First Nations culture, to hold the sage while it burns is recommended because it signifies water in the ritual.

For my new home, I decided to bring desert sage from a small native arts & crafts shop near Calgary, my birthplace. Sage often comes in bundles, but can be burnt as loose leaf as well. I prefer the bundle because there is less chance of the embers spreading in your home. Find a feather for the ritual and then you are set to begin the smudging. By lighting the sage in a bowl, it releases smoke that is said to soak up all of the negative energy and bad thoughts, cleansing your space.

Once the sage is burning (embers only, no open flames needed), take the feather and cleanse yourself by moving the feather from your feet up to your head. Try to think of all the negative thoughts being dispelled in the smoke to rid yourself of negativity. If the sage lights on fire, blow out the flames and leave the embers burning. The smell of sage is earthy and has an incense-like scent. It is not for everyone, but I personally love it because it reminds me of where I’m from.

There are a variety of smudging prayers that you can say or you can complete the ritual in silence while meditating over the negative thoughts leaving your body and home. I prefer to complete this part of the ritual in silence. Be sure to cleanse anyone else taking part in the ritual. Next, I begin cleansing the home of any negative energy. Begin in the eastern corner, which represents air and the fresh breath of the rising sun each day. Move slowly to the south that symbolizes earth, and the creative inner child within. The west represents sun set and the deep introspection of darkness and water. Finally, end the cleansing ritual in the north, which is the direction of fire and knowledge, compassion, and the future of your home. Continue in a full circle ending back in the eastern corner of your home and be sure to fan the smoke in each direction. I also play drum music, which is believed to imitate the sound of the heart and say a prayer while completing the ritual.

The prayer is as follows:

May your hands be cleansed, that they create beautiful things.

May your feet be cleansed, that they might take you where you most need to be.

May your heart be cleansed, that you might hear its messages clearly.

May your throat be cleansed, that you might speak rightly when words are needed.

May your eyes be cleansed, that you might see the signs and wonders of the world.

May this person and space be washed clean by the smoke of these fragrant plants.

And may that same smoke carry our prayers, spiraling, to the heavens.

After the ritual is complete, I make a feast and have friends and family over to celebrate the ritual and my new home. Because the house is cleansed, it is a good time to create positive and loving energy in the home, with the added benefit that the smell of sage cleanses everyone who attends. Another common custom is to burn sweet grass after the smudging ritual to encourage kindness and peace. I have not tried this before, but may try it this time.

The smudging ritual is a custom that causes one to pause and consider what energy we want to bring and sustain in our homes. Oftentimes, people are so busy trying to move their furniture in and continue their lives that we forget to meditate on how to create love and happiness in our new dwelling. Every new beginning is an opportunity to cleanse and recreate the ever-desirable feeling of peace in the midst of urban life. The peace of mind and renewal that comes from the ritual is worthwhile and leaves me refreshed every time.

Disclaimer: You may want to disengage the smoke alarm temporarily, or it may go off. Don’t forget to turn it back on!

Let’s talk getting naked with your partner

Do you find yourself trying to cover up when naked in bed with your partner? Are you racing to put clothes on after the shower? Is being in the nude nearly un-‘bare’-able? You aren’t alone.

Many women dislike being unclothed in front of their partners, and this is ultimately damaging to confidence in a relationship. Women are surrounded by air-brushed lingerie ads of women who are perfect looking, and this leads to damaging self-criticism. This discomfort needs to be destroyed. It is time to throw off the clothes and learn to love that naked body for exactly how beautiful it is. Feeling comfortable being naked in front of your partner will not only strengthen your relationship, it will ultimately make you feel better about yourself.

Embracing the nude isn’t a process that will happen overnight. It takes consistent effort and, if you work at it, slowly but surely it will become completely natural to hang out in the nude with your partner. Start by confronting your fear head-on, the dreaded mirror. After a shower, instead of avoiding your reflection, take a look. Instead of glancing at yourself with critical eyes, try to see what your partner sees. What is beautiful about your sexy body? What makes your feminine self desirable? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and self-criticism is not helpful. High self-esteem starts with yourself, and meeting that beautiful woman in the mirror for a post-shower ego-boost will adjust you to being naked and increase confidence.

Taking care of your body will promote a healthier relationship with your body. This does not mean develop a punishing regiment for daily exercise, but instead should inspire you to learn how to love your body without being fixated on trying to change it. How about a massage or even treating yourself to a manicure and pedicure? Treating your body as a temple will promote a sense of much-needed self-love. Exercise is important and creates a healthy self-image, so challenge yourself to move your body in ways that feel sexy and fun. Do you like to dance? Put on some music and bust a move! Do you enjoy hula hooping or swimming? Grab a hoop or jump in the pool! Moving the body in a fun way makes exercise enjoyable and will make being naked even more fun.

After some serious self-love exercises, it is time to test the waters and try to get naked with your partner. If you are still feeling nervous, enact a ritual to feel more confident like putting a bit of mascara on or putting coconut lotion on your body. If the lighting feels too bright, use a lamp, candles or softer lighting. It creates sexy mood lighting and will make your partner very excited. Remember, your partner wants to be there with you and your beautiful naked self. Men aren’t critically assessing your stretch marks or blemishes, but are simply excited to be with a naked woman they love. Good men are not looking at the flaws, but instead are looking at the woman beneath them. Try and see yourself through the eyes of desire, you will look pretty dang good.
Being naked with a partner will ultimately forge a more intimate relationship, with the added bonus of shaking up your sex life. Be brave, and love your naked body. Women come in all shapes and sizes, and that is precisely what makes women so beautiful. Embrace the body you were given and make it your temple — if only for your own benefit.

What’s the true cost of birth control in Ontario?

Women are forced to pay for birth control, feminine hygiene products and take responsibility for their fertility in a way that men are not. As a country that purports democracy and equality, steps need to be taken to ensure women aren’t forced to pay for much-needed products.

Birth control in Canada is expensive and cuts deep into the pockets of young women already trying to make ends meet. Without insurance, birth control has an added cost and women are expected to fork out the cash. One third of women in North America have reported struggling to pay for birth control at one point in their lives.By providing it for a cost in Canada, it questions whether protecting yourself is actually a right of women or is it instead a cash cow for greedy pharmaceutical companies who are actively taking advantage of women.

Birth control is universally covered in Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and China, among other countries. Canada does not offer birth control for free or subsidized without insurance coverage, and this limits accessibility for women looking for different options.

After comparing prices at three different pharmacies in Toronto, the average prices for the five main types of birth control are astronomical. Mirena, a hormonal IUD offered by Bayer who is one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in Canada, has an average cost of $416. Though it lasts for five years, finding this type of money as a young woman is unrealistic and often prevents women from accessing this option.  The Nuva ring is the second most expensive option because it must be bought monthly. It is approximately $31 per month and this cost adds up quickly throughout the year to $328. Though oral birth control appears affordable month to month at $20, it adds up to $240 per year making it the third most costly option.

Women who are low-income have alternative options to seek cost-free birth control, but the availability is certainly limited. There are 14 sexual health clinics in Toronto, most with extremely limited drop-in hours. These clinics will help provide low-to-no cost birth control to women who need it, but these clinics have long waitlists and are drop-in only. Oftentimes, these clinics are so busy that there will be over 20 people waiting at the door prior to its opening.

Other options include Family Planning, which offers certain birth control options free and charges a discounted price for others. The IUD is discounted, but still has a price tag on it. If you are looking for an IUD as well, you must phone at the beginning of the month to schedule an appointment that will be at least three weeks later. The other option is the Bay Street Centre for Birth Control, but book quickly. The waitlist to book an appointment at the centre was three months long.

It is clear that Canada has is an issue when it comes to birth control. The act of charging women to protect themselves from getting pregnant is arguably discrimination.  Canada needs to join the other countries that have moved to universally cover the costs of birth control, and grant access for women of all incomes to different types of protection. Only then will I say that Canada is a country that truly supports the rights of women.

 

RELATIONSHIPS: Reconnecting with your childhood crush

How much changes after 35 years — and how much stays the same?

I never forgot my childhood crush.  Over the years through dead-end relationships and dating disasters, I would go back to that comforting place in grade four and wonder about the cute boy who captured my attention and still held a special place in my memory.

The fantasy of reconnecting years later often presented itself in my mind. What was he doing now? Would he remember me?

Truthfully, I wasn’t even sure that we wouldn’t pass each other on the street and feel a twinge of familiarity but just keep walking.  After all, grade four kids are only nine years old. How much connecting could we really do at that age, I thought.

But suddenly, there was a chance encounter at Tim Horton’s with my grade four teacher. There she was, timeless and preserved as if it were still 1977. As I said hello, the memories came flooding back to me and I immediately went home to fish out the class photo that was carefully protected behind a plastic sheet in an ancient photo album. My crush was as cute as ever, as he stood posing with the group.  It was perfect for a Facebook post.

Although we weren’t children of technology, many of us born in the late 60s have adopted the habit of sitting behind a computer or phone to connect with our past. Many of my classmates from elementary school who were on my friend list flooded the photo with comments. Then suddenly, there he was. On someone else’s friend list.

I sent the friend request. Would he remember? Butterflies in my stomach. I attached a little note to ask.

The response was immediate. Are you kidding, he said. Of course I remember you! I always thought about you over the years.

It turned out that he lived in New York City and pictures indicated a lovely family of his own.  He was doing well.

We exchanged the usual promises to meet up one day for a coffee. But we were hundreds of miles apart and we hadn’t talked for 35 years. They were nice thoughts and I filed them away.

One year later, a trip to New York City presented itself. So I contacted my grade four crush. The coffee meeting was possible.  Was he up for it?

Yes indeed. An exchange of cell phone numbers and a promise to touch base was made. Truthfully, I still wasn’t sure it would happen.  But from my hotel room in New York, I sent the text, proposing a time. A response suggested a place – Times Square.  It was confirmed.

I walked through the busy streets of New York City on a cool spring day and suddenly, in the middle of Times Square, there he was – my grade four crush. We stood there for a minute among the hustle of the city and looked at each other and smiled.

Over Starbucks, we talked as if three decades hadn’t passed by. We reminisced about our grade four teacher and classmates, and we discussed his move to another school all too suddenly. He cried, he confessed. He was sad that he would not see me again.

I stared. You did? I asked.

He continued to reveal details of our friendship –details that I didn’t remember. We used to lay stomach down on the carpet side by side and read stories to one another, he recalled. He used to tell his mom about me.

I tried to recall those memories but my own told me that he was the cutest boy in the class and I had a crush on him, as did many of the other girls. 35 years later, I learn that I was the one he was most fond of.  More importantly, I find out that nine year olds can make connections that last a lifetime.

We chatted for the afternoon and he walked me to a street that would take me to my hotel again. We promised to keep in touch and parted ways.

That was over a year ago and we continue to connect on Facebook.  His emails make me smile and he checks up to see how I’m doing from time to time, with offers to talk when life throws a curve ball.

I’m happy that he’s found a love that keeps his heart full. He’s no longer my crush, but a bond that began in elementary school, lasted through decades of distance and came back, familiar and comforting as if we had shared stories on that carpet, in the second floor of that old school building, just a few weeks ago.

 

 

 

Follow Women’s Post on Twitter at @WomensPost.

All I want for Christmas

Christmas is upon us, so I’m making a list of everything I want.  I want everything I want and I want it, now.  That’s what I want.

I want peace; at home and around the world.  Some people love acrimony.  I want to cure that.  Intermittent Fasting helps.  I want everyone to try it.

There’s nothing like exfoliating.  I want a new luffa brush.  Bill O’Reilly, who’s on a long list of Irish-American / Canadian uber-conservative idiots, told an associate-producer he wanted to watch her scrub herself with a “felafel thing.”

I want Bill’s hero, Donald Trump, arrested and sent to prison, in Mexico.  Trump makes George Bush look a stable genius.  I want to ask our good neighbours, “Why did you vote for that foul, awful thing?”

I want a cure for Histiocytosis, a horrible, rare disease, which has afflicted my niece, Julia.  I want to thank and praise the medical community, in Hamilton, for miracles.  Another beautiful, young girl I know is in a fight at McMaster Children’s Hospital, where Julia was.  I want all children to be healthy and happy.

I like to do home renovations, but am leery of electrical jobs.  I want to take a course.  I like my old house.  I want to die in it, then be buried in the garden.  I want to be compost.

I want my daughter to stop bringing home animals.  I love them, too, but I want a break.  Having said that, I want to walk Doug, our great dog.  I want Doug to be happy, all the time.

There’s window, where I sit to write.  Much of the time, however, I watch squirrels.  If there’s reincarnation, I want to join my rodents.

Action Entertainment

Across a thin wire

Then down a tree

One’s in pursuit

One tries to flee

 

They cut to the left

Then to the right

But the aggressor still follows

The one that’s in flight

 

Back up a tree

Across a long fence

This racing rivalry

Is really intense

 

It’s pure entertainment

A wonderful sight;

There’s nothing quite like

A good squirrel fight

 

I want my car to start.  I want my computer and furnace to work.  I want my heart to keep ticking, my legs to keep kicking, and my heels to keep clicking.  I want to watch TV, because I love channel flicking.  I want to rhyme, a lot of the time.

I want to curb some appetites.

Sometimes, I want to save the world.  Most of the time, I want to lie on the couch, in track pants, comfy clothes, leisure wear, or quitters and save myself.

I Want, I Want, I Want

I want to be famous

I want to be rich

I want to be idle

I want perfect pitch




I want a place in the countryside

I want beachfront 2 miles wide

I want to be handsome and hazel eyed

I want to be purified, glorified, and beatified

 

I want servants at beck and call

I want my very own shopping mall

I want to be thin and I want to be tall

I dare say I want it all




I want I want I want

Write this down in your biggest font

Like a spoiled debutante

I want I want I want      

 

I want the beach house and the shore

I want Candy and her store

I want everything, heretofore

I want it all and then some more




I want to be famous, celebrated, cheered

I want to be loved, admired; completely revered

I think I want to be internationally known

But really, I think I want to be left alone




I want I want I want

Write this down in the biggest font

Like a spoiled, rotten debutante

I want I want I want

 

I Want song lyrics:  I want to know what love is.  I want you to show me.  I want to feel what love is.  I want you to know, I want you to know, right now, you’ve been good to me, baby; better than I’ve been to myself.  The best things in life are free, but you can give them to the birds and bees.  I want money.  That’s what I want.  I want to wish you a Merry Christmas, I want to wish you a Merry Christmas, I want to wish you a Merry Christmas, from the bottom of my heart.  Feliz Navidad. 

Feliz Navidad, indeed.

What more could I want?

The Philosopher Kings regain their throne

 

As a kid of the 90s, the 80s and before then if I am being honest, I have always felt the urge to go back in time when it comes to music as this is closely tied to collective as well as personal memories. Although, I am always open to discovering new musical talent through my streaming platform of choice, Spotify, I am prone to revivals of music that I listened to in my teens and late teens because those are the ones that feel timeless and hold a special place in my heart.

With that in mind, I could not miss the soulful performance of The Philosopher Kings at the Mod Club in Toronto on December 20.

After a break of two decades, The Philosopher Kings returned with their new album Return of the King. The Toronto-based group captivated their long-time fans with its unique combination of funk and pop sound. In a recent interview for ET Canada, to the question “At what point are you on a break and at what point don’t you exist anymore?” Gerald Eaton, lead vocalist answered, “We will always be making albums.” It sounds like a promise!

I love their music as much as I am drawn to their moniker. The Philosopher Kings evokes the best form of government according to Plato’s Republic, one in which philosophers rule with wisdom and intelligence, and forge a society to their image. In times where some of the rulers of the world, score low in the knowledge of philosophy, not as in abstract academic discipline but as in its original sense, as a way of thinking about the world, mankind, nature, existence, and the ability to make connections among all of the above. The name is certainly a timely reminder that we need more of such enlightened rulers in the world.

Juno Award winner in 1996 for Best New Group, climbing the charts with the hit single ​Charms the same year, The Philosopher Kings became one of the most popular bands in the country and worldwide during the 90s until they took a break in 2006 to pursue individual music careers. Gerald Eaton continued to sing as a solo artist under the pen name of Jarvis Church, and collaborated with Nelly Furtado, Esthero, and K’naan. He and fellow band member Brian West are part of the duo Track & Field.

Return Of The Kings is a medley of their most memorable pop and alternative rock songs, including​​ I Am​ the Man, ​Cry, ​Hu​rts to Love You, and​ Cas​tles in the Sand as well as brand new material that holds the sign of a natural musical evolution towards new and current elements of pop music. Nevertheless, “It sounds like the Philosopher Kings.”

The performance included a cover from another very popular 90s band: Linger by the Cranberries. It was also a tribute to the vocalist of the group, Dolores O’Riordan, who died last January at the age of 46. The performance turned into a sing-along when the audience joined the chorus of ‘Do you have to let it linger’. The whole performance felt timeless. Maybe a song that is 20 years old is not that old yet, if it still sounds fresh and current. Or maybe it is the timeless power of good music that stands the storm of the years that go by.

As I reflect on the music experience of last night, I can’t help but wonder, how lucky my generation is to have had so many outstanding bands which made memorable so many stages of our life.

6 holiday traditions from different parts of the world

What does Christmas mean to you? This holiday is celebrated all over the world. For some, it’s all about the brightly lit streets and crowded stores, with people all looking for presents to share with their loved ones, but for others the holiday can be more about tradition or spiritual guidance. The interesting part is that the commonality is family, gift-giving, and myth.

Here are six Christmas customs from around the world:

Japan

In Japan, Christmas is not a national holiday, but it is still celebrated by many people in the country. There is no Santa Claus. Instead there is Santa Kurohsu. Santa Kurohsu takes after a Buddhist monk in Japanese culture, who would travel to peoples homes to leave gifts and was said to have eyes at the back of his head to observe if children were being naughty. Strangely, the Japanese tend to eat a lot of KFC during the week of Christmas, thanks to clever marketing dating back to the eighties. Their unofficial ‘Christmas cake’ is strawberry shortcake.

Norway

Christmas in Norway is known as Jul and is celebrated on Dec 25. However, the gift-giving is done on Christmas eve. One of the most interesting customs is that all brooms are hidden on Christmas eve. This way, it can’t be stolen for use by evil spirits or witches.

Venezuela

Residents in Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, adore Christmas. Venezuela is a predominantly a Catholic country so going to mass on Christmas is necessary, but it’s just the method of getting there that’s odd. Residents in Caracas can be seen roller-blading to church mass in the earl morning hours, and it’s so popular that the roads are often cleared of traffic and a special path is provided. Venezuelan’s celebrate Nochebuena, which is seen as the night before Christmas, where families exchange gifts and eat a full christmas dinner.

Italy

Christmas celebrations start eight days before Christmas in Italy, with many families headed to mass. Families offer special Novenas (prayers) and typically gather on Christmas Eve for a midnight celebration. On Christmas eve, no meat is eaten with the exception of a light seafood dish. More importantly, in Italian tradition, children await Befana, a friendly witch that travels to children’s homes to fill their stocking with gifs. This night is known as Epiphany or feast of the Three Kings, which is celebrated 12 days after Christmas, on Jan. 6.

Czech Republic

One of the most interesting Christmas traditions is reserved for single or unmarried women. An unmarried woman must stand with her back facing an open door and throw a shoe over her shoulder. If the front of the shoe lands facing the door, she is to wed within the next 12 months. It also signifies possible love in the new year. In the Czech Republic and other European countries, they also celebrate St Nicholas Day, on Dec. 5, where children wait for St Nicholas to arrive with angels and with devils. The devil might give you a lump of coal while an angel will give you sweets or fruit once a child sings a song or recites a poem for St Nicholas.

Ukraine

The Christmas trees tend to look a lot different in Ukraine, as they are often decorated with artificial spiders and webbing. Instead of the colourful balls and happy tinsel, the tree might look like a scene out of a Halloween tell. However, the story behind this Ukrainian Christmas tradition is rather fascinating. As the tale goes —an old woman was once unable to afford decorations for her tree, but when she woke on Christmas morning, she instead found a spider, who decorated the tree with it’s shimmering web.

Do you have a Christmas tradition or custom you know about? Comment below

Postcards to my grandmother

I love writing.  Besides having two daughters, nothing has impacted my life more.  I write all the time.  I think-write. While doing everything else, my stream of consciousness writes.  Occasionally, when stars align and time allows, I put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, shoulder to grindstone, and there is rapture.

Eli The Musical Guy And Pearl The Shakespearean Girl, a musical comedy, I wrote, enjoyed success in Hamilton, our hometown, recently.  In his review, Julian Nicholson, a well-regarded theatre veteran said, “There’s not much else I can say about this farrago except that it is the most inventive and enjoyable musical I’ve seen since Spamalot.”   

My writing farrago started with postcards to my grandmother, three decades ago, on a magical journey.  From postcards, to a musical comedy, writing has taken me on another magical journey.  

After finishing university, in 1986, I worked for a while, then hit the road.  With a working-holiday visa, backpack, and $1200, I flew to London, England.  I didn’t have a credit card or clue, and no one had cell phone, back then.  I wasn’t sure how long I’d be gone, or where, or what I’d do, but made one commitment: to write my grandmother, who was housebound.

“A few months in Europe” became a six and a half year global odyssey.  Adventures included working in London, hitchhiking through Europe and Southeast Asia, working in Australia, sailing a homemade, cement boat to New Zealand and Tonga, working in Hawaii, sailing a small fishing boat to Alaska, working on a tugboat, staying with a friend in Victoria, living by the beach in Newport, California, teaching English in Japan, and riding a bike from Victoria, B.C., to Hamilton.

Each time I called, or got a letter from home, I was implored to keep writing Granny.  She loved the missives, I was told, and kept them in a box beside her.  She read them, repeatedly, and made guests enjoy /endure the communication, as well.

My grandmother was from Glasgow, originally.  She had a terrific accent and a great sense of humour, despite a hard life.  Janet Lindsey left a Glasgow slum at 17, sailed across the Atlantic, then travelled on trains, for just as long, to meet her older husband, on a dirt poor homestead, in the middle of Saskatchewan.  They had seven kids.  When my father, the second youngest, was seven, their father died. Then, things got bad.

All seven children grew to be honest, hard working, productive citizens.   

I tried to keep the postcards to my grandmother worthy of the high regard in which I held her.  After picking the perfect card, I’d plot for days before committing ink.  When I realized how quickly I’d forget “unforgettable” ideas, I started jotting them down and still do.  Writing, or getting lost in the thought of it, enhanced experiences and assuaged loneliness.  Like most travellers, I loved reading. Reading was one thing; writing another.

The lessons learned writing postcards to my Grandmother still apply: respect your audience; love your audience, be interesting; don’t be vulgar;  rhyme sometime; brevity is wit; levity’s a hit; don’t quit; have fun, son.  Go, girl.

My grandmother died, while I was on the road, and I stopped writing, temporarily.  I didn’t come back to Canada for the funeral, but, the next time I was home, I was given the box of postcards.  

In 1992, I was living in Nagoya, Japan, with a friend, talking about books, when he said, “You should write.”

There were two of us in the room.  I said, “Me?”  (Some people thought I was illiterate.)

“Yes,” he said.  “You see the world in an interesting way and have a funny way of expressing it.”  His comment changed my life.  A switch was turned on and hasn’t gone off, since. I thought of Granny’s postcards and the accompanying bliss.  

A week after my friend’s suggestion, I was cruising, on my beach cruiser, through a narrow Nagoya alley-street, when I said to myself, “I’m going to write a book,” and stood up, on my pedals, to accommodate the epiphany.

I knew one thing about writing: it required a pen and paper, which I bought, at a lush Japanese department store.  That was easy.  The next requirement was an idea, which couldn’t be purchased in the consumer economy.

“Write what you know” is a sound principal.  I was reading spy novels, at the time, but couldn’t write one.  All I knew was growing up, a caucasian male, in the suburbs of Ottawa: a blueprint for dull.

Nevertheless, that’s what my book is about.  It took me 14 years and hundreds of rewrites before I published it.   The first few versions were scrawled, with pens, into notebooks.  At various stages in its development, I’d send out waves of submissions and have received over 200 rejection letters.  

The Internet changed everything, and, in 2006, I self-published I’m Gretzky, You’re Gretzky, which some friends and family like.  Some love.

One of the publishing houses, which rejected my manuscript, was Insomniac Press.  Mike O’Connor, the proprietor, included a nice, personal note, so I called him and asked for advice.  He said, “Get published in newspapers and magazines to establish your name and credibility.”

Later, when the first edition of The Hamilton Examiner arrived at our door, I felt divine intervention.  It was January 1998 and the periodical was monthly.  Terrified, I vowed to write a submission, nevertheless.  In February, of that year, Team Canada was eliminated from the Nagano Olympics, in Japan, and Wayne Gretzky watched the final shootout, from the bench.  

I was crushed.  Such is my reverence for the man, I wanted to call my daughters Wayne and Gretzky.  My wife said, “No,” so I called my book, my other baby, Gretzky.  

After the Nagano loss, I wrote a piece called “Chasing The Dragon No More,” articulating my need to stop having Canadian hockey players determine the quality of my life.  I would find my own happiness, I wrote, through lottery tickets.  I printed the article and hand delivered it to Sarah Thomson (nee Whatmough,) the publisher of The Hamilton Examiner and later the Women’t Post. Sarah liked the submission and published it, which was the start of a long, wonderful relationship.  

Once a month, for the next 12 years, I’d write a 1000 word piece for Sarah.  I wrote about my kids, pets, gardening, traveling, writing…  It was perfect.  I worked hard to produce a piece decent enough to be published. I stumbled and fell, a lot, but there was always a hand to help up.  I started finding a voice and confidence.  

After five years, in 2003, Sarah asked me to write about art; once a month, 1000 words, which was another life changer.  The request came from nowhere: I knew little about art.  For three years, I would immerse myself in millions of words, hundreds of pictures, hours of thought, and countless rewrites to distill an article, worthy of the subject.  It was a surreal education, which honed writing skills, sharpened focus, and taught me about art, artists, fraud, and fraudsters.

Dr. Barry Allen, a guide on my artisan safari, said it best, “Art is an accomplishment.”

I interviewed Fred Eaglesmith, also in 2003, for The Women’s Post and ended up making two fan magazines for him.  Fred had an idea for movie, and he asked if I’d write the screenplay.  I never say, “No,” and tried to put Fred’s vision into a manuscript.  The script, Billy Rocker, about a aging, failing, murderous rockabilly star was well-received, but quickly buried.

The exercise was far from futile, because I discovered a love of writing dialogue, so acute, I wrote a play, Unethical.  When it was finished, I shared Unethical with a friend, who encouraged me to send it “somewhere.”  (Thank you, Pascale.)

I didn’t know what to do with a play, so mailed a copy to Luke Brown, at Theatre Aquarius, in Hamilton.  Expecting another letter for the rejection file, I was, joyously, surprised, when I got an email from Luke, wanting to meet.  Life changer.

In 2012, Luke invited me into the Theatre Aquarius Playwright’s Unit, which has been another surreal education.  The world of theatre is a howling, joyous one.  In 2013, I wrote a comedy, Jack And Jill Beiber Fever, and brought it to the Playwright’s Unit.  It was dissected and vetted beautifully, by Luke and the other playwrights.  

Ryan Sero, a member of the unit, brought the play to The Hamilton Fringe Festival.  Ryan, who directed and starred, assembled a great cast and they put on a terrific show.  Watching was delightful and instructive.  There is a quantum leap from page to stage and seeing actors take words from my script and make them dance and sing, was exhilarating.  

Playwriting is a gas.

In 2005, a friend suggested I write for a Hamilton blog, Raise The Hammer, a website dedicated to making Hamilton a better place.  Free, easy, and limitless, I fell in love with writing on the Internet and have been publishing articles, reviews, poems, short stories… on RTH, since. 

My earliest memory is my mother reading me Dr. Seuss.  I love rhyme and poetry.  In 1996, my oldest daughter was born and I started writing poems, all of which rhyme. 

Along the way, I started a series called 50, which are poems of exactly fifty words.  A play, poem, or article take forever, so when there’s a need to finish something, a 50 is ideal.

Life Write Life

Family, job, pets… sleep, read, write…

And hope that life, somehow, works out

If life didn’t get in the way so such

There’d be much more time to write, no doubt

But, if not for life and all its business

There’d be nothing much to write about

Right, Life?

Right

Combining a love of poetry and playwriting lends itself to musicals, so I wrote one.  I’ve blessed to collaborate with Becky Jackson, who writes beautiful music to accompany the lyrics.  

Eli The Musical Guy And Pearl The Shakespearean Girl takes the idea of stage parents, who live vicariously through their children, and blows it up.  Eli, who’s been pushed since conception, has lost touch with reality and sees life as a big musical.  Eli sings and dances all the time. Similarly, Pearl lives as if she’s in a Shakespearean drama, and always speaks the Bard’s tongue.  

It was fun to write, but more enjoyable watching the talented cast bring the loveable nuts to life.  Now, I’m writing a children’s musical comedy, Singerella.  It’s Cinderella meets American Idol and it is a pleasure to write.  Becky is writing great music, again.  

Someday, I hope, a large cast of children light it up and Singerella is a smash hit. If it is or isn’t, I’ll keep writing.  I hope to die with a pen in my hand.

The greatest joy I get from writing is sharing the love.  I’ve run a Writers’ Club for children, aged 8 – 13, for the last dozen years.  When we perform, I tell the audience they’re about to see a magic show, because students, using only pens and paper, make art, where there was none and everyone has fun.  My (writer) friend, Peter Gruner, wrote of his experience, watching children craft killer, rhyming poems, on the spot.

 Writing is a wonderful hobby: it’s free, fun, liberating, empowering, fun, therapeutic, fun, challenging, rewarding, disappointing, and fun.  You can do it, anywhere, anytime; think about it.  If you’ve, ever, considered picking up a pen or pecking away on a keyboard, I can’t recommend it enough.  

 

Like a Dr. Seuss character setting off with a backpack and a one-way ticket, you never know the places you’ll go.  If you’re not sure where to begin your writing journey, start with something small, like a postcard to your grandmother.  She’ll love it.  You’ll love it, too, Writer.

Write on.