A Forest of Gratitude and Remembrance

I got to go back to my school yesterday. It was the third time I had seen my colleagues this school year. The first time was around Christmas time, when a dear soul sent up a Facebook SOS looking for resources for a special needs child she was working with. I knew where to get these resources so, I bundled them up and delivered them to her at school. It was nice to have a brief chat before bells rang and she had to leave to start her work day. The second time I saw my staff was at a retirement party for our secretary who was leaving mid-year. This time, I had the luxury of having longer chats with more people and was able to catch up with everyone in greater detail. It was a lovely time. Yesterday, I was invited back to the school by a dear friend named Deb. This time, I got to be with the kids again, too. It was a special time and served to remind me of the good that comes when we care about things greater than ourselves.

This story begins in September of 2017. That was the beginning of my final year of teaching. Among the students on my class list was a special needs child. I knew him from his days in Kindergarten, in a classroom across the hall from mine. He was a lovely boy but he required help to successfully navigate his way through his school day so, he was assigned an Educational Assistant to help him. That E.A. turned out to be a lady named Deb. A few years earlier, Deb had worked, side-by-side, with my wife in her classroom in the neighbouring town of Port Hope. So, even though this was my first taste of working professionally with Deb, it was not my first experience of knowing the wonderful person Deb is.

The best way I can describe Deb is to say that she is like a sunbeam; all light and energy and warmth. Deb has a heart as big as the universe and makes those in her orbit feel wonderful about themselves. And, for my final year as a teacher, I got to share my classroom with her. What a gift from the Gods to me. Some teachers feel threatened by having another adult in the room with them. After all, being control freaks is part and parcel of doing the job. But, that was never the case with Deb. We were partners in the education of our students that year. It wasn’t my classroom; it became our classroom and that was something that made our space that much better for everyone.

As mentioned earlier, Deb’s official reason for being in our classroom was to work with a boy who had special needs. We worked closely together to tailor an academic and social programme that he warmed to over time. He was a fairly smart boy so it was a pleasure to see how quickly he adapted to his new schedule and work tasks. Gaining social independence was one of his goals so, at times, I would teach a lesson, Deb would help him get started and then, in order to foster independence, she would move away from him for awhile. Deb, being Deb, never took these “breaks” from her assigned student for herself; instead, in those moments not dedicated to her young man, she always made herself available to help other students in the classroom. I never had to speak to her about doing this. She willingly became a second resource that any student could access, as long as she was free to help. What a huge help that was to me.

Now, one of the things that helped create such a strong bond between us was that we shared a fundamental belief that being a kind and compassionate person was important in life. Being grateful to those who work on your behalf and expressing that gratitude was important in life, too. So, as we worked our way through all of the lessons that the curriculum documents required us to teach, we always did so in combination with lessons in how to be a good person. We treated each other with great respect in front of the students so that they could see how two adults act in a healthy relationship. We always treated our students with kindness, patience and respect because we wanted them to see how adults and children act in a healthy relationship. Finally, we established our clear expectation that we wanted the children to treat each other with kindness and respect, too. We were a classroom family…..and that comes with responsibilities; one of the biggest and most basic being, treat each other nicely.

Every class has its own personality. After all, a class list is more than just names on a page. Every class is populated by individual human beings; each with their own life story. As the adults in the room, one of the most important aspects of our role is to understand how the different personalities and learning styles of our students colour the tone of our learning space. Because children come to school with unique life experiences and academic development points, there are times when the standard lesson format doesn’t always work. Not every child is a paper/pencil learner. That doesn’t make them bad kids or poor students. They are simply children/learners who require a different approach. Well, as the second half of our school year came to pass, we began to find ourselves increasingly dealing with social disputes among students, much to our chagrin. As Deb and I talked, we came to be convinced that several of our boys were becoming frustrated with their classroom experience based on having to meet the expectations that come with a rising level of academic difficulty that occurs as a school year unfolds. This frustration was taking the form of socially-inappropriate interactions with their peers. These boys were increasingly off-task, they were becoming argumentative and the tone of our classroom was quickly becoming toxic. Something had to be done. So, this is what we did.

One of the things we noticed about all of the boys was a high degree of ego-centricity. There were all about themselves. “I don’t like this work!”, “I don’t want to sit by so-and-so!”, “I hate school!” Me! Me! Me! All of the time. These boys hadn’t been like this at the start of the school year but, they were now. Deb and I agreed that academic success was going to continue to be elusive for these gentlemen as long as they remained emotionally invested only in their own self-interest. So, as Winter warmed into Spring, Deb and I decided to try something bold; we wanted these boys to learn to care about something greater than themselves so, we formed a Garden Club and informed these boys that they were its first members.

So, each day during our Reading time (which was always a difficult time for the boys), Deb would gather up the Club members and they would head outside. We were able to do this because our reading time included a fifteen-twenty minute independent reading component to it. Deb’s special needs student loved to read and did not require Deb’s help for that segment of the day; thus, freeing Deb up. For the Garden Club members, it was a chance to take a break from the rigours of our classroom, get some fresh air into their lungs and to be able to channel some of their energy into something constructive such as digging in the soil of the gardens. There were three or four raised beds at a far end of the school yard. The beds were in a neglected state when the Garden Club first arrived so, there was lots of weeding and digging and planting of seeds and the hauling of water from a great distance away. And Deb, being Deb, always managed to include some Art or Poetry or Science into whatever physical labour was on-going so that, without the boys even realizing it, they were getting fully-integrated lessons, while the rest of their peers read in peace in the classroom.

As many of you know, a growing garden does not need the help of five boys for twenty minutes a day, every day of the week. So, Deb decided to expand the reach of the Garden Club and soon, Club members could be seen running the recycling programme in our school, building/fixing things in our MakerSpace or cleaning up litter from our school yard. It was during one of the school yard clean-ups that Deb and the guys noticed that two trees had been damaged in our yard due to vandalism or rough school play. This made Deb sad because she is a firm believer in the inter-connectivity of all living things in our world. She expressed her sorrow to the boys and, because it came straight from her heart, some of her emotions went into their hearts. The group decided that something must be done. So, it was agreed that new trees should be purchased to replace the broken ones and that, in order to raise the funds to do this, the Club would move into the school kitchen and start selling hot dogs!

Trees are important for the health of our planet, as you know. They act as the lungs of the Earth so, ensuring that these trees were replaced would be important, simply from an environmental point of view. But, these trees weren’t just ordinary trees. These trees were special trees. These trees were Highway of Heroes trees. Let me explain.

Canada is known throughout the world as a peaceful nation. For most of our recent history, our soldiers have served mainly as peacekeepers in foreign lands. While not as dangerous as being a combatant in a real war, our soldiers still face danger in their attempt to keep the peace and, unfortunately, some pay the ultimate price with their lives. When such a tragedy happens, that soldier’s body is re-patriated back home to Canada. When a soldier is re-patriated, their body is flown to Trenton Air Force base. Trenton is located about 30 minutes east of our school. Once the body is removed from the plane and placed in a waiting hearse, a journey begins that sees the soldier’s body, as well as, their family members, travel down a highway called The 401. This highway runs directly by our school. On the overpasses on this highway, people gather to salute the soldier and to let the family members know that their loved one’s sacrifice was not in vain. The journey from Trenton to Toronto (where an autopsy is performed on the body before it is released to the family) takes about 90 minutes. The entire route is filled with people, all caring about something greater than themselves. Over time, this stretch of highway has been officially renamed as The Highway of Heroes.

The original trees in our school yard had been placed there as part of a much larger initiative to honour all fallen soldiers and those who survived, too. Thousands and thousands of trees have been planted along The Highway of Heroes and in neighbouring communities; each one a reminder of those who cared for something greater than themselves. Once completed, this project will have resulted in the creation of a forest of gratitude and remembrance, the likes of which has never been seen before in this country.

So, needless to say, the hot dog sales at our school took on an added urgency and importance. Again, Deb being Deb, she took the opportunity of having a captive audience of wienie workers, to tell the boys stories about the fight for peace and the nobility of channeling physical energy for a cause that helps others. She did this as the water boiled and the wieners plumped. The boys then got to deliver the finished hot dogs to each classroom. Deb always made sure to have the kids in the classrooms thank “her boys” for having worked so hard on their behalf. Gratitude expressed. Gratitude received. This is how the seeds of change are planted in the increasingly fertile minds of these young boys.

And then, just like that, the school year ended. The handful of hot dog sales had managed to raise only a fraction of the cost of replacing two trees. I retired and left the school at this point. But, Deb stayed. Her energy and commitment and determination stayed and continued on during this past school year. So, as I sat home in comfy clothes, Deb and her remaining Garden Club members boiled hot dogs. While I worked on my own gardens, Deb and her boys worked on the school gardens again. Work went on in my absence because, that is what happens in life, things continue. But, I was not forgotten.

Two weeks ago, I received an e-mail from Deb. In it, she spoke of having finally raised enough funds to replace the trees. She was so excited! But then, she told me the really grand and glorious news. She had contacted the folks running the tree programme for the Highway of Heroes Organization and had told them of the need for the two new trees. They were so impressed with what she had to say about the involvement of the boys and of the lessons they were learning about caring for things greater than themselves that, the Organization generously offered to dramatically reduce the price for Ten trees, not just two! The School Council was equally impressed and helped pay for all ten trees. So, in her email to me, she asked if I was free to attend the ceremonial tree planting. Of course I was free, I am retired!!!! LOL! But, even if I had something going on, I would have cleared my schedule for this.

The date of the tree-planting was June 6….the date of the 75th Anniversary of D-Day. There was a full-school assembly. Our anthem was sung by a choir. Primary students sang a song about the soldiers who, on D-Day, gave everything they had in the fight for freedom. “In Flanders Fields” was read aloud by members of our school’s Shakespeare Club (which Deb runs). Mr. David Turnbull (the gentleman in sunglasses in the above photo) spoke to the students about the Highway of Heroes tree planting project and how each tree stood for a life given by a soldier in a foreign land. The Deputy-Mayor of Cobourg, Suzanne Seguin (in the red blazer in this photo) brought greetings from the Town and offered congratulations on raising the money to acquire the trees. Pam Lancaster from the Ganaraska Regional Conservation Authority (the area group responsible for the health of the Highway of Heroes trees) spoke about the importance of protecting these trees; especially in their early stages of growth. Finally, *two boys from the Garden Club (one has since moved away and two others were on a class trip during the assembly) got to present a school cheque for an amount equal to the price of two trees to Mr. Hurley. The whole school applauded. Gratitude expressed. Gratitude received.

Outside, in the schoolyard, the two trees were already in holes in the ground. The boys got to fill in the holes with fresh soil. Kindergarten students got the chance to protect the new soil with fresh mulch. They saw worms and bugs in the soil and were fascinated in a way that only the very young can be at such moments. Deb managed to extract a promise from all who came outside that these trees would be protected by all because of their role in helping our climate and because of what they represent as Highway of Heroes trees. News reporters took photos, like the one above, which appeared in Northumberland Snap’d newspaper. If you look carefully at that photo, you will see a sunbeam holding a shovel…..that is Deb.

The ceremony concluded with cake inside the school. I got the chance to sit with my guys and catch up. I enjoyed hearing their voices again. Those boys are growing up, literally and figuratively. It brought me a great deal of satisfaction to watch them have such a positive moment in the spotlight. After the boys returned to class, I got the chance to thank Deb for the invitation and to catch up a bit with her. She was, somewhat, emotionally-spent, as most educators are at the end of a school year. But, she still had the humility to speak of the good that can come from simple acts of kindness. A year ago, we responded to inappropriate behaviour in our classroom, not with punishments, detentions, loud voices of condemnation or exile to the Principal’s Office but, instead, with an opportunity for five young lads to experience a different way of learning…..in a garden……where seeds are planted and the best things get to grow by those who care about something greater than themselves.

Love, Mr. MacInnes

June has been deemed as Pride month in Ontario. Many communities are celebrating by hosting festivals or holding conferences that include topics such as inclusion, equity and anti-bullying and, as well, many communities are installing symbols of support and acceptance in the form of such things as Pride crosswalks. My town of Cobourg, Ontario, is unveiling their Pride crosswalk on June 3rd. I will be in attendance at the ceremony, as will our Mayor, the Chief of Police and many other prominent citizens of our town. I am attending this ceremony in my role as an ally to those in the LGBTQ Community. However, I must confess, I was not always such an ally. While I never actively campaigned against those who followed their hearts in a different manner than my parents did, I, also, never sought to educate myself about different lifestyle choices, either. This post is the story of my growth as a person when it comes to matters of the heart.

I grew up in a coal mining/fishing town on the east coast of Cape Breton Island called Glace Bay, Nova Scotia. I could see the Atlantic Ocean from the window of our living room. The squawks of the seagulls seeking dinner, mingled with the foghorn’s lullaby as we played outside on our streets or in our yards. Many of the men in town smelled of fish or were blackened by coal dust that found its way into every wrinkle and crevice. I grew up at a time before the existence of the Internet. My worldview was formed by the people I knew, the places I visited and the things I did in my home town. And, in the 1970s, all of my friends had a mom and a dad. Every one. That was what I knew family structures to be.

Because I had no access to the waves of information that wash over our children today, I only knew a derogatory term such as “fag” in the context of how and when I heard it used. For me, a “fag” was what you called someone you didn’t like. It was a putdown and meant that you thought the other fellow was weak or a sissy. “Fag” was always directed at other boys, never at girls. Girls were called “sluts” or “skanks” if they ever found themselves in line for an insult.

It took awhile before the sexual connotation behind terms such as “Fag” or “Slut” became clear to me and, even then, my own innocence and/or lack of worldly experience precluded me from fully appreciating the conversations that were going on around me. The first time I ever truly thought about alternative lifestyles to my own came in high school. It all started off innocently enough, with me and some friends of mine all talking about Rock n’ Roll and our favourite songs and bands. Eventually, the group Queen was mentioned and I distinctly remember someone making a comment about the sound of Freddy Mercury’s voice being the way it was because his “stomach is filled with cum”. The guys laughed at a reference that I didn’t understand. Peer pressure being what it is, I didn’t ask for clarification or to seek enlightenment. Instead, I did what many guys would do, I suppose, I smiled and chuckled, too.

My high school education ended in 1982 and my real world education began in the Fall of that same year, as I left Glace Bay and moved to Toronto, the biggest city in Canada, to attend university. As I left my train at Union Station and walked out into the Toronto sunshine, across from the grand Royal York Hotel, I did so as someone who never equated people with sexuality. People were people to me. But, as I settled into my new city, I saw right away that many of the people there were different from me; they had different coloured skin, they spoke different languages, they wore different types of clothing, they ate different types of food and so on. But, what I soon came to learn and to appreciate was that, even though they were different from me on the surface, they were still awesome people. I enjoyed their friendships and I was able to broaden my cultural base because of their patience and guidance. I was growing and maturing but, I was only turning 20 years old and I remained very “young” when it came to understanding the role sexuality plays in our society.

However, as luck would have it, one of the best things to ever happen to me in my life occurred just as my university years were winding down. I met my first girlfriend. We ended up being together for slightly over three years. We broke up for reasons that are neither, here nor there but, for the most part, we were just too young and immature to start out on LIfe’s journey at that time, But, because of that relationship, I learned one of the most important lessons of my life and that was, that Love is the best thing a person can experience. That I had a loving relationship right out of the gate influenced how I interacted with every subsequent female I met socially. I never viewed potential dates as sexual conquests, as many men do. Instead, I always went on a first date hoping that this particular girl was going to be “the one” whose heartbeat would match mine and that we would hold hands and walk through Life together, side-by-side, until we were old and that golden sunset beckoned.

A funny thing happened as I became an adult and entered my professional teaching years. I continued to meet people different than I was. For the first time that I became aware of, I started meeting people who identified as being Gay or Lesbian. Whether through work or through social contacts, I became friends with some of the most wonderful people I have had the privilege to know. People who were funny and kind and creative and passionate about life. My relationships were never sexual with these pals of mine and that was just fine with us, both. If I have learned anything in Life, it is that good people are good people regardless of how they dress, speak or who they may care to love. I believe in the power of Love and I have learned that Love conquers fear; especially, fear of those who have taken a different path in life than I have.

It may be a naive assumption but, I wish that everyone would allow themselves to be more open to the word, “different” and all that it entails. I am glad that we, humans, are not all the same. How boring and bland our world would be. I have changed a lot since I was a child who clung to the notion of familiarity of ideals being of paramount importance. I now embrace the potential for growth and for fun and for adventure that exists when you travel to countries different that yours, for instance. Or, when you study the history of another culture or eat foods that your Momma didn’t cook when you were growing up such as pirogies or curry. Change and personal growth should be a good and welcome part of everyone’s life. I know it has become so in my life. For that, I believe I am a better person.

I will close with a short story from my teaching career. For most of my thirty year career, I taught in the Primary grades (children 6-8 years old). In those grades, one of the most important responsibilities I had as a teacher was helping children learn to become good readers. There are many, many strategies that Primary teachers use to expose their students to language and to the conventions of reading. One of the ways I attempted to help children learn to read was by writing a daily message for them on chart paper. The content of the message could be about our schedule that day or about what we were learning about or it could be about the kids themselves; praising them for a job well done the previous day or taking them to task if I had a concern in need of being addressed. Anyway, regardless of what I wrote about each day, I always..always…always signed my message of the day, “Love, Mr. MacInnes”. ***If you expand the photo above, pay attention to the chart stand behind the four students (who were building a structure that could hold a heavy weight for sixty seconds). If you look carefully at the daily message, you will see where I signed it, “Love, Mr. MacInnes”.

Anyway, with every single Primary class I ever taught, the same thing would happen…some time after the first week or so went by, with the kids tee-heeing when they got to the word, “Love”, someone would muster up the courage to ask, “Why do you say, “Love, Mr. MacInnes” at the end of our letters? You’re not our Dad or anything!” The rest of the kids would hold their breath in anticipation of my reply which always was, as follows. I would tell the kids that, no, I was not their father. But, I was someone who cared about them all. And, because I cared about them all, I wanted to share something with them that was important to me….my favourite word. I would ask the kids what they thought my favourite word was. They would correctly guess that it was Love. I would go on to tell them that Love was my favourite word because it stood for things that made me happy such as kindness and friendship. I told them that Love was the best thing I had ever found in my life and that I felt I was the luckiest man in the world to have Mrs. MacInnes to love and to have her love me back. I finished by saying that I thought Love was better than money or power or being famous and that I hoped each one of them would find Love in their lifetime. Then I would end by saying that because Love is my favourite word and because I care about all of you, I want you to start every school day reading and hearing and seeing the word Love. Love is the best word there is and I want to share it with you. That’s why I sign all of my daily messages, “Love, Mr. MacInnes”.

To me, in the classroom, as well as, in life, Love is always the answer. So, when I see my friends in happy, loving relationships, it makes me happy in my heart. I never stop to create a hierarchy of what a loving relationship is. Love is Love. If you are fortunate enough to have found someone whose heart beats in time with yours, you have won the lottery of life. Two men. Two women. A man and a woman. Love is Love. It is all good in my eyes.

And so, on Monday, June 3rd, I will head downtown to watch the powers that be in my town unveil our Pride crosswalk. I will cheer and clap as an ally of those in the LGBTQ community and I will always view that rainbow of vibrant colours as a symbol of the acceptance of Love, regardless of the form that it comes in. I hope that, by being there on Monday, my presence brings comfort or reassurance to those for whom Pride is not just a time of good tunes and flashy colours but, instead, is a declaration of the validity of their life choices in a world that still, to this day, often retreats into the comfort of things familiar and safe. The world is not yet a safe place for everyone who follows their heart down a different path but, hopefully, on Monday, Cobourg’ s own Pride crosswalk will, literally, be a step in the right direction.

Love is Love is Love. Always and forever.

Love, Mr. MacInnes

Fun and Games at the Lotus Hotel and Casino

When Leah and I were still reading together each night, one of the last book series that were read through was Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan. Leah loved the books. Me, not so much. However, there was one scene in the first book, The Lightning Thief, that resonated with me as we read it together. It still resonates with me today. It was a chapter called The Lotus Hotel and Casino. In this story (which borrowers freely from the structure of Harry Potter), a young boy named Percy discovers that he is a demi-god and goes to a camp on Long Island Sound in New York to hone his Olympian skills. There, he becomes friends with a smart girl and a goofy male centaur and they end up on a cross-country adventure to retrieve Zeus’ lightning bolt, which has been stolen. Eventually, their trek brings them to Las Vegas. If you are familiar with U.S. geography then, you will appreciate that it is a long way from Long Island in NY to Las Vegas. In the story, the three kids are tired and hungry and willingly enter a place called the Lotus Hotel and Casino. Once inside, they are amazed by what they see. The casino is filled with beautiful people, music is pumping, lights are flashing, everyone is having a blast! They are offered as much cool drinks and tasty food as they can manage. The staff of the casino welcome the three friends with open arms and cater to their every need and desire. It is almost as if the three friends have stumbled upon paradise. It is only after talking to some of the other casino guests that Percy realizes those folks have been there for fifty years or more! He shakes off the drug-induced effects of the tasty treats they are being fed and realizes that, in fact, the Lotus Hotel and Casino is a trap; a pleasurable trap but, a trap, none-the-less. Percy manages to shake his friends out of their stupor and escapes back out into the real world, where life is tougher but, where he and his pals are meant to be.

The reason this scene resonated with me is because I often feel that my social media world is a lot like the Lotus Hotel and Casino. This is, especially, true of Facebook.

One of the appeals of being involved in social media is the ability to have contact with people we like without ever having to leave our homes. The Internet connects us all effortlessly. It is easy to reach out to many like-minded people at the click of a button. If we don’t want to be connected with someone, we don’t have to be. We can pick and choose who we interact with and, because we usually pick people we like and who like what we like, we often find ourselves in a positive-feedback loop. In this loop, we post things like photos of our families, songs that we like, places we are travelling to, recipes and so on. In reply, our like-minded friends send us “thumbs up” or “hearts” and reinforce our opinions of what we had posted as being worthwhile. We exist happily in this positive-feedback loop which is why it is so easy to spend way too much time on sites such as Facebook.

That is why it is often shocking when one of our “friends” posts something controversial. I don’t mean controversial, in the sense of a topic such as child abuse or animal testing but rather, controversial in the sense that is goes against the belief system of your social media family; the ones who think like you and who always reinforce each others opinions and posts. What happens when a “friend” strays out of their lane, as it were? Here are three examples of this happening recently, what this tells us about the person who made the post and why our responses to such a post are important.

First of all, I have a relative who almost exclusively posts funny memes. Keri and I get a chuckle most days from what this relative posts. She is a good person. But, every now and again, she will post something that has a nostalgic-bent to it. Something like how life was back in the “good old days” when kids were taught respect with a strap at school and a spanking at home and how they ended up turning out “ok” in life. Sometimes, folks, especially if they are older, find the multi-cultural, multi-task oriented way of our world overwhelming. I get that. I may not agree with it but, I get where they are coming from. So, when this relative recently shared a meme that said, “There is only one Messiah and His name is not Allah. Share if you agree”, I took note. I did not share her post as I did not agree with the anti-immigration undertone it was trying to promote. The meme was created by a group called Canada Proud which is a group whose aim is manipulate public opinion through social media, particularly, promoting a white nationalist agenda. Many of their posts are anti-immigration. So, what to do about my relative who shared the meme? Well, first of all, I know this person and she has a good heart. In my heart, I truly believe that she did not completely understand the subliminal messaging going on. My guess is that because she lives in a small town served by Post Media newspapers (who promote a Conservative point of view) and because of her longing for the “good old days” when life appeared simpler that, she was drawn to this message of a white Christian God being venerated. My response was to note how susceptible she was to right-wing Conservative messaging and to start sending her posts about the positive contributions immigrants are making in Canada so as to counter-balance the information she is getting. While I acknowledge that not every immigrant is a wonderful person, I do, generally speaking, believe that most are good and I welcome the opportunity they present for me to broaden my own horizons, as well as, to indulge in my penchant for wanting to be helpful to others who may need help. I believe in multiculturalism, as do many of my Facebook friends but, as my relative’s post indicated to me, not everyone shares the same opinion as I do and that is an important reminder to receive.

My second example of a post that caught me off-guard came from a respected friend of mind who had grown tired of, what she termed, “political correctness run amok”. She shared a video of a statue of Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. MacDonald, being removed from its pedestal in a public square. The person in the video decried the rush to erase “our History” based on people judging the past actions of others through the lens of modern day values. I was surprised that my friend had shared this video because, normally, she is on the Left, politically, and usually supports a Progressive agenda. So, unlike how I reacted to my relative in Example #1, in this case, I reached out directly to my friend. I asked her if she was aware that the statue was being removed because of what we have learned, as a country, about Sir John A. MacDonald’s role in the establishment of Residential schools and the attempt at cultural genocide inherent in that policy against our First Nations peoples. I had read the recently published report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that was established to look into policies and practises surrounding the establishment of Residential schools. In that report, it was noted that one of the intentions of the government’s policies was to “take the Indian out of the child” and accelerate the assimilation process of First Nations peoples into white society. My friend and I had a robust discussion, with each of us presenting our opposing views in a respectful manner. Neither of us wanted our friendship to crash on the rocks of an argument so, in the end, we agreed to disagree. But, the whole incident brought home another point for me and that was, how easily we can become seduced by, what we deem to be, the “obvious” moral superiority of our belief systems. To me, if we are going to criticize Trump for separating migrant children from their parents at the southern border, how do we not equally hold a historical figure like Sir John A. MacDonald to account as well? Well, as my friend showed me, sometimes the lens I view life through is not the same one that others apply to their decisions. It is easy to criticize a decision someone makes that varies from one’s own beliefs but, to ignore the idea that others think differently about matters that seem crystal clear to you, is pure folly.

My final example is about something I recently posted and about YOUR reaction to it. It was on the subject of Abortion and of a woman’s right to control what happens to her own body. I shared a letter from a female friend of mine who wrote a well-stated, passionate letter about women’s rights and how frightening it is that those rights seem to be under attack from Conservative elements across Canada and the U.S. Knowing that this post was important to her….and, because I wanted to show my support of her views….I shared her post on my feed. I did so with a fair degree of confidence that her views would be well-received by my Facebook “friends” because, as stated above, the vast majority of my friends share my views on a lot of things. My Facebook “friends” did not disappoint! Her post received many Likes and Shares and earned her lots of supportive comments. Most of what I post turns out like this. People, generally-speaking, agree with the positive nature of what I write or of what I share on behalf of others. But, it was the reaction to what I posted a day later that tells an important tale here.

After posting the “My Body, My Choice” post from my friend, I heard from my high school pal, Eric. As I said in my second post, Eric was one of my best friends all through high school. He has gone on to become a Church Minister back in Nova Scotia. He said that he had seen my friend’s post but felt obligated to reach out to me because he said I wasn’t getting the whole story on this issue. He went on to tell me about how many of the women he counsels in his capacity of a Minister have taken Jesus into their hearts and are morally conflicted about ever taking the life of, what they consider to be, an unborn child. He added that, for many of these women, they feel that following the teachings and philosophies of the Lord trumps their own quest for rights as a woman. Eric offered up a video that I ended up sharing because, as he stated, it is important to be able to have a conversation about contentious topics in as respectful manner and, in his mind, the woman in the video was speaking as gently and respectfully as he could want her to be. In my post of his video, I stated that I was posting it with his permission because, if there was to be blowback from my facebook “friends” I wanted him to be prepared. Well, there was blowback but, instead of Eric, it all came to me. As it turned out, I had strayed outside of my lane and violated one of the unwritten rules of the positive-feedback loop by promoting a viewpoint at odds with a majority of the group. I know that some people were disappointed with my decision to post Eric’s video. I am sorry if I disappointed you in my attempt to balance the viewpoints I was presenting. I do support a woman’s right to decide for herself what happens to her body. But, I feel it is important for those of you publicly expressing your disappointment to temper that with the knowledge that one aspect of what Eric pointed out is very true. That is, like it or not, there are women out there who do not share the same viewpoint on abortion as most of you do. You can disagree with the viewpoint of that lady in the video…as I did….all you want but, that doesn’t change the fact that Pro-Life women exist and to ignore them is something you do at your peril. Pro-Life women vote in elections, just like you do. They just tend to vote for candidates that support their world view and, in this case, those are candidates that don’t usually support a woman’s right to choose.

Facebook, like the Lotus Hotel and Casino, is a wonderful place to hang out in because everything is dreamy and cheerful and everyone loves what you say and do and think. But, as Percy Jackson discovered to his chagrin in the Lotus Hotel, Facebook is a trap. It isn’t a forum to change public opinion much at all. It is more a forum to gather support and firm up beliefs. But, with a Federal Election in the offing, it has never been more important to try to influence the opinions of those who think differently than you do. Those conversations are never easy to have because there is no guarantee that differing points of view can be reconciled respectfully. But, venting to a choir of likeminded peers is not the type of activism that will stem the tide of Conservatism that is sweeping North America. Someone out there voted for Trump in the U.S. and voted for Doug Ford, here in Ontario and for Jason Kenny, in Alberta…….no one in my positive-feedback loop, apparently…..but, someone, somewhere certainly did.

So, moving forward, if you have a bone to pick with life and want to vent about it, feel free to blast away on Facebook because you will be smothered in virtual hugs for your efforts and you will probably feel better for having so vented. But, if you have a bone to pick with the world and want to affect some sort of actual change in the situation, then, my “friend”, it is time to check out of The Lotus Hotel and Casino and venture out into the real world, where life is tougher but, where you need to be.

I’d Like To Schedule A Protest, Please.

This post is all about standing up for yourself, knowing your rights and doing what it takes to protect and preserve them. I will start with a disclaimer and that is, I am a Union guy. I have belonged to Unions throughout my teaching career. I have borne witness to the power of collective bargaining when it comes to establishing humane working conditions, levels of professional autonomy, as well as, reasonable income levels. Thanks to Unionism, the middle class of our society has had the opportunity to grow and thrive for many generations. Although I am now retired, I still consider myself an interested observer in Union matters; especially, when it pertains to Education. In today’s post, I want to focus on one aspect of Unionism that I have experienced several times over the course of my career and that is, the right to protest. So, if you think that Unions are awful things and you are against their mere existence then, you might as well sign off now because you won’t care for what this post has to say. But, if you are like me and find the current state of world affairs have your knickers in a knot (whether it be Trump, Brexit, Wiki-Leaks, Russian hacking, abortion clampdowns, alt-right extremism, the cutting of social safety nets, etc.) then, this post is for you. Please read on and enjoy.

The impetus for this post happened last week in my town of Cobourg, Ontario. It, also, happened on the same day throughout my province of Ontario, Canada. The short strokes of this incident revolve around a series of fiscal cuts to things like Education, Healthcare, the Environment and so on by the provincial Conservative Government of Premier Doug Ford. I am not here today to debate the nature of the government’s decisions but, suffice to say, the relentless onslaught of cuts to services that many ordinary people depend on has gotten citizens riled up. In addition to the fact that the government is cutting back on funding important services, what many people find most difficult to swallow is how the members of the Conservative Party are conducting themselves. The old saying used be that “all politics are local”. But now, all politics appear to be highly centralized. Members of the Conservative party speak in unison, using centralized talking points given to them by Party officials. They applaud every utterance of the Premier, as if he were God-like. Their social media accounts are all often synchronized to promote political spin. It is, almost, as if they don’t even control the words posted under their images on social media. It is very difficult to even book an appointment in the local constituency office to see any of these members of the legislature. So, not unexpectedly, citizens are growing frustrated and protests near MPP Constituency offices are becoming more frequent.

Of all the groups around the world who have become politically active in the past few years, one of the most vocal have been young people of High School or University age. These young people realize that the world is burning while our politicians most often fiddle about. So, around the world, with examples such as those striking for Climate Change, those fighting against gun violence in the US, in particular and those fighting against sexism and racism, the kids of today are motivated, educated and highly organized. Which brings us to the incident in question from above. A small group of local high school students….members of their school’s Amnesty International Club (a club that deals with issues of social justice) decided to protest recent cuts to High School education by holding a peaceful sit-in in the constituency office of our local member of the legislature. The date of the sit-in was well-advertised in the hope that our Member of the Legislature would make himself available to hear an airing of their concerns. When the students arrived at the constituency office, they were met with locked doors and a note that included the line, “Sit-ins are not permitted within any constituency office.”

That line, “Sit-ins are not permitted within any constituency office” killed me. It raised my hackles. It ruffled my feathers. It certainly got my dander up. To me, it said that the government won’t be inconvenienced by those who are being inconvenienced by them. They are trying to thwart public protests by simply refusing to acknowledge the protesters or their grievances. Last time I checked, we were still living in a democratic society and, one of the hallmarks of living in a democratic society is the Right to Lawful Assembly and to peaceful protest. It is something that is enshrined in our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is something worth fighting to protect. It is, certainly, something to get angry over.

To their credit, the students met the appearance of locked doors with civility and politeness. They did not attempt to break down the doors or trash the office in outraged indignation. Instead, they spoke with the Member of the Legislature via the phone and arranged to meet at a time convenient to his schedule. How mannerly of them to do so. I hope when that meeting does take place that he actually converses with them instead of reciting lines from the provincial script.

I’m a calm fellow 95% of the time but, I recognize the value and power of anger. When used selectively, great change can come about because of righteous anger. When I read the sentence about sit-ins not being permitted, my first thought was how ridiculous a proposition that was to make. Essentially, anyone with a beef against the actions of this government is being told to schedule their protest at a time and place convenient to the government. Well folks, that is not what protest is all about. There is an anger and an energy and an urgency to a protest that gives the protest its strength. So, as I read that line, I thought about how the government and their backers are trying to discredit the notion that protesting is a credible response to feeling aggrieved. And why wouldn’t they? History has shown the power of mass movements such as those during the Vietnam War, the US Civil Rights marches, the Solidarity demonstrations in Poland at the Gdansk Shipyards, the Black Lives Matter folks and the hundreds of thousands who marched for Women’s Rights a year or so ago around the world.

Mass protest is one of the few tools ordinary workers and/or citizens have to stand up to authority. Collective action is often more powerful than individual action. Anger is ok, when channelled properly. So, this lead me to thoughts that I often have when times seem dire in our society and that is, that music and poetry and literature are often the way that the masses are informed and aroused and called to action. Artists play such an important role in helping to motivate citizens. Immediately, I began thinking of protest songs and the circumstances that led to their creation. As I began thinking about this, the first person that sprang to mind was a man named Henry Rollins.

Henry Rollins came to prominence in America as lead singer of seminal hardcore punk band, Black Flag. His schtick was anger. He railed against injustice everywhere he saw it. As a result, Black Flag shows were known for the intensity of the energy Rollins and his bandmates exuded. At his shows, you sweated, learned lessons and were challenged to stand up and fight back out in the real world in which we all lived. Henry Rollins has morphed into middle age and now, tours the world giving spoken word lectures. Still angry. Still intelligent. Rollins is able to readily articulate what is on his mind and, as result, I have a lot of respect for him. Recently, he was on the Stephen Colbert show and was asked about whether being angry was “part of the problem” in our society. Rollin’s response was perfect and can be found here.

So, I thought, who better to talk about the importance of “protest songs” as a means of unifying and focussing the energy of anger in a protest, than Rollins. Here is another video of him. This time, he is in a record store…..remember those…….talking about influential protest songs. The teacher in me wishes I could share this with every person, young and old, who is fed up with what is going on in our world. It is ok to get up and stand up for your rights. Please watch Rollin’s video before going on. Once done, come back and I will play every song he mentions and give you a bit of information to put each group/song in context. His video can be accessed here.

The first group Rollins mentions is his own, Black Flag. That is a much younger Rollins in the photograph, just given’r. He mentioned a song called Revenge. The lyrics are raw and begin, “It’s not my imagination, I’ve got a gun at my back” and goes on from there. To listen to it, click here.

Rollins next mentions a group called Bikini Kill. They were a powerful feminist band and one of the best of all the grunge and punk bands that came out of the “Seattle” scene in the late 80s/early 90s. They were led by a singer named Kathleen Hanna who, in addition to doing her own thing with Bikini Kill, served as muse for Kurt Cobain of Nirvana in their formative years. Anyway, Bikini Kill sang about things still on the minds of women today; objectification, rape culture, female empowerment and so on. Their music continues to inspire and empower many women, a full generation later. You can get a taste of their music from this video for Rebel Girl, from the soundtrack of the cult classic movie, Ghost World. The video is here.

The Clash are fairly well known. They exploded on to the music scene in England during the rise of Punk Rock. As Rollins noted, they often spoke of the hardships and frustrations of working class folks and/or about the political scene at the time. They are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for a reason. This song, “Guns of Brixton” is about a series of race riots in Brixton, England. The video is a live recording and can be found here.

Jimi Hendrix, like The Clash, is well-known. He was a guitar virtuoso, the likes of which we have rarely seen since. Like Bob Marley, with his song “Buffalo Soldiers”, Hendrix was angry about how the government was using US soldiers against its own people and, more specifically, how soldiers of colour were being given the dirtiest of jobs in War. Rollins mentioned his song, “Machine Gun”. The video is here.

In the early days of Hip-Hop, many of the artists and the songs they sang reflected the politics of their lives on the mean streets of America. Race was, and continues to be, such an issue. So, it was no surprise that racially-charged tunes began gaining in popularity during the mid-80s. One of the most forceful of Hip-Hop’s early groups was Public Enemy. Led by Chuck D. and Flavor Flav, Public Enemy blew the roof off of the simmering unrest that characterized life for so many people of colour during that time with battle cries such as “Don’t Believe the Hype”, “911 is a Joke” and their biggest hit, “Fight the Power”. The video for “Fight the Power” can be found here.

All throughout recent history, protests have been held to oppose injustice. There is power to collective action and, as it turns out, there is good music, too. The best thing about a good protest is that you don’t need an appointment, all you need is a just cause.

Here are some more powerful protest songs and singers. Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Midnight Oil, U2, GrandMaster Flash and the Furious Five, Macklemore/Lewis/Lambert, Alanis Morissette, Bob Marley and the Wailers. There are many other great songs, too, that all have something important to say. Do you have a favourite protest song that helps fuel your fire? If so, feel free to post the link in the comments.

Words Into Action

As a core principle of my life, I believe that it is important to live with the mindset of making things better for others. When you step forward into the world with kind intentions and a compassionate heart, good is likely to follow in your wake. With that having been said, I wish to take a few moments to introduce you to a friend of mine. Her name is Rose Wilton. Rose runs an organization in Port Hope, Ontario, called The Rose Project. I want to showcase Rose and her good works because she is a perfect example of the good that comes from having a charitable heart, a determined mind and a willingness to step up and turn those thoughts and words into action that makes a difference. Although young, Rose is becoming a community leader. This is her story.

Rose and her sister, Jules, have lived fortunate lives. They were raised by parents who both possess kind and generous hearts. Larry and Deb Wilton have lived their lives filled with love for each other, for their family, for their friends, for Nature, for the Arts and for humanity, too. They are well-known for sharing meals with anyone who is lonely or down on their luck. They are the type of folks who walk along the Lake front trails of Port Hope, stopping to pick up litter as they walk so that the beauty of the trails can be maintained. They have lived lives of charity and have inspired others to look at life with more compassionate eyes. One of those most profoundly moved by their example was their daughter, Rose.

Approximately six or seven years ago, Rose found herself with a collection of small soaps and other tiny toiletries that she was given or had acquired from hotels on family vacations. Rose didn’t really need these toiletries for herself but, she felt guilty about simply throwing them away when there were others who could possibly use them. So, she came up with an idea. Rose decided to sort her toiletries in a way that allowed her to make up kits that contained deodorant, tooth paste and a tooth brush, some shampoo and so on. Rose decided to take a kit into Toronto the next time she went, to see if a homeless person, living on the mean streets of Canada’s biggest city, might have some use for the contents inside. There were no shortage of potential candidates. Rose opted to approach someone living outside of the Eaton Centre Shopping Mall. She cautiously approached and then, quietly offered the person her toiletry kit, asking if it could be of any use. Her gesture was greeted with much appreciation. Rose’s heart was filled with joy at having been able to make a difference for this one person. That moment helped crystallize an idea that, previously, had seemed like a flight of fancy but now, outside a bustling mall in Toronto, was brought into sharper focus. Rose felt empowered. She decided to dedicate a large part of her life to helping to bring some small measure of dignity to those on the edges of our society. Thus, The Rose Project was born.

When Rose returned to her home, she went on social media to ask her friends and neighbours for donations of new, unused/unopened toiletries. She was met with an overwhelmingly enthusiastic response from the local community. To fast forward a bit, since her first request for donations, until today, Rose has been able to fill kits that number into the thousands. She has broadened her donation reach, based upon experience, and now collects new socks, mittens, hats, Tim Horton coffee gift cards, too. Rose continues to provide kits for the homeless in big cities such as Toronto but, as word of The Rose Project has spread, she has been contacted by Women’s Shelters, local schools and other community-based organizations that work with folks in need in her area. Rose has become a community leader in Port Hope and has been recognized with multiple Port Hope Community Civic Service awards for her volunteer efforts.

While Rose’s decision to help others continues to make life better and is worth celebrating for that fact alone, there is more about Rose that I value. Just like Rose’s parents, Larry and Deb, I, too, believe that one of my most important roles in life is that of setting a good example for my children. Sometimes, that takes the form of being a good role-model, myself and leading my girls to do good deeds by the example I try to set for them. But, in addition to that, there are times when I seek others to help reinforce the messages I wish to impart. As a teacher or as a father, any time I can place my girls/my students in the presence of a strong, successful female role-model, I jump at the chance. For that reason, I am very grateful to Rose for helping to play a significant part of my eldest daughter, Leah’s birthday a few years ago. Here is that story.

Leah loves the TV show, The Amazing Race Canada. So, for her with birthday, we used the format of the show to take Leah and her friends…all girls….on a nine-stop race around Cobourg and Port Hope. Most of the stops had some connection to Leah’s life but two, were different. I wanted Leah and her friends to have an opportunity to “give back”, as it were, during the course of this party. So, one of the stops was at our local animal shelter (where the kids walked dogs, cleaned cat kennels and where we made a donation of food, blankets and money when we were done). The other stop was at Rose Wilton’s house to help prepare some kits.

After the kits were all filled, Larry and Deb invited the girls to gather round their table for some delicious brownies and chocolate milk. Leah was even given a special present at this time; a beautiful rose pin that she still treasures to this day. The kindness and generosity of the Wilton Family helped make Leah’s birthday resonate in a way that most birthdays don’t. My gratitude to them and, in particular, to Rose is immeasurable.

In this photo, Rose’s sister, Jules, helps to deliver kits to Port Hope High School. The Rose Project is very much a family affair, with all members of the Wilton Family helping with the processing of donations (which often fill every nook and cranny of their cozy home), the preparing of the kits and the delivering of them to local spots, as well as, going on road trips to bigger cities. It is hard work to do what the Wiltons do but, as Rose would readily attest to, it is work that is important to do and work that she and her family wouldn’t hesitate to do if it meant bringing dignity to those for whom life has turned a blind eye.

For me, the impact of The Rose Project extends beyond the immediate helping of those in need. What Rose and her family have done for my girls and their friends is to make it seem normal for women to be successful agents for change. They give my girls the impression that being a female who has achieved great things is just a regular thing for a woman to do. Because of Rose and Jules and Deb, my daughters don’t really worry themselves about such arbitrary concepts as glass ceilings. My girls look at the Wiltons and believe that being of service to others is ok for them too. So, they do lots of good things, as well. From where I sit, I don’t get the sense that the girls think they are anything special because of what they do, for them, they just think it is what all girls can do.

Whether it is her Battery Bucket or cleaning the beach with her friend, Sophie is becoming quite an empowered young lady, just like Rose.

As well, Leah is developing quite a name for herself as a young historian. In this photo, Leah is giving a history talk on the sinking of the Titanic to senior citizens at The Rosewood Retirement Residence in Cobourg. The folks there have taken a real shine to Leah and think she is quite something for being so smart, mature and well-spoken. Leah, from her point of view, thinks being an intelligent and successful female is not that big of a deal. Thanks to Rose, Leah thinks that there is nothing unusual about being a girl in the spotlight.

Ideas and intentions are wonderful things. But, ideas and intentions put into action become powerful things. Rose Wilton is changing the lives of those in need around her and inspiring other girls to believe that they have the power to bring their own ideas to fruition. What a tremendous legacy to have. What a truly accomplished woman you have become, Rose. Thanks for all that you do for everyone. The link to The Rose Project’s Facebook Page can be found here. ***Just fyi, Rose cannot accept cash donations because The Rose Project is not yet a registered charity. But, if you wish to make a donation of new, unused toiletries, socks, etc., you can contact Rose directly through her Facebook page or else, you can contact me and I will make sure Rose gets whatever you might care to donate.

Love is a Hockey Card

National Hockey League Hall of Famer, Leonard “Red” Kelly passed away yesterday at aged 91. Kelly was a member of eight Stanley Cup Championship teams over the course of his illustrious career; four with the Detroit Red Wings and four with my beloved Toronto Maple Leafs. Upon the completion of his playing career, Kelly served several terms as a member of Canada’s Parliament. He, then, returned to the NHL, holding several coaching positions before finally retiring for good while in his late 60s. I never met Mr. Kelly in person but, he came to be the central figure in one of my most cherished moments in life. This is the story of that moment and why Red Kelly’s passing holds such a special place in my heart.

If you look past the surface of most cliches, you will often find a grain of truth. For me, a Canadian boy growing up in the 1960s and 70s on Cape Breton Island, that cliched truth was that I loved hockey.

I loved playing road hockey with the guys who lived on my small street. Sticks with spear-like curved blades, taped just like our NHL heroes did. Playing on that street, I scored more goals than Gretzky ever did. So did everyone else, too. We shot! We scored! Tennis balls for pucks. We would play for hours on end, stopping only when our Moms would call us in for dinner.

I loved watching hockey on TV. Back in those days, we only had three tv channels; CBC English, CBC French and CTV. Hockey was only broadcast on CBC on Saturday nights. At 8:00pm, in living rooms all over town, the anthem of my youth….the opening theme to Hockey Night in Canada….would play. We would all be transported; one week, to the Forum in Montreal, where we would listen to the dulcet tones on Cape Breton’s own, play-by-play man, Danny Gallivan, as he described the exploits of the Flying Frenchman who wore the bleu, blanc et rouge of the Montreal Canadians. The next week, we would find ourselves listening to Bill Hewitt, “live from the Gondola at Maple Leaf Gardens”. I loved the Leafs. Being just a small boy, I am not sure if my attraction to the Leafs was more of a cultural one because, after all, I was English and the Leafs represented English-speaking Canada. But, never-the-less, the Leafs were my team and those Saturday nights, watching with my dad when they were shown on TV, were among my favourite childhood memories.

But, there were lots of days in the week that hockey wasn’t being shown on TV and that the boys weren’t gathering to play road hockey. On those days, I got my hockey “fix” from my hockey card collection. I was a big hockey card collector as a boy. Opee-Chee hockey cards, to be precise. They were sold, eight cards to a pack plus, one stick of hard, hard pink bubble gum, for ten cents a pack. I used to get $1.00 per week as an allowance, which was a King’s ransom in those days, and blow the whole dollar at Mary MacQuarrie’s corner store, buying ten packs of cards at a time. Without any exaggeration, the moments when I would start opening those packs were as exciting a few minutes as I had as a boy. Every pack contained the stories of my heroes. I opened each pack, hoping against hope, that I would find Toronto Maple Leaf players inside. Sometimes I was lucky and added to my collection. Sometimes, I just found cards I already had…or traders, as we all called them because, those would be the ones I would take to school the next day and trade with my friends or else, sacrifice while flicking them against the school wall….closest card to wall collected everyone’s cards. One time, for a couple of bucks, I sent away for a hockey card locker, as advertised on the Opee-Chee wrapper and kept all of my cards in that. The locker was cardboard and had storage slots for each team. I wore that cardboard locker out, to the point where the doors would fall off simply from being opened and shut so often.

As I left childhood and entered adulthood, my love of hockey stayed true. But now, there were mid-week hockey games to watch on TV. I joined organized hockey pools and placed small wagers on the outcome of games and of the scoring prowess of my favourite players. In my early twenties, I moved to Toronto and even got to see a few games at Maple Leaf Gardens. If hockey was my religion then, Maple Leaf Gardens was my church. Being there felt like history coming alive. My only regret about watching my Leafs play in person was that I was unable to share that experience with my father, who had passed away when I was eleven years old. He would have liked to have been there, I’m sure. In his memory, on the occasion of my first visit, I walked up and placed one hand upon the old building and thought about all of those evenings at home, sitting with dad in his Lazy-Boy chair, cigarette smoke curling skyward. The Leafs actually won that night. I credit my dad with having offered some Heavenly intervention on behalf of my team. The thought of it still makes me smile.

But, in my thirties, something happened that changed everything. In my thirties, I met my wife, Keri. She is my soul-mate and I knew that right from our very first dates. Everything was different with her. I recognized that right away and felt enriched beyond measure by her love for me. Love is a funny thing, though. It is the tsunami of emotions. It rolled through my life and obliterated all that had previously seemed so important….including hockey. I no longer hung on the plus/minus stats of certain players or what my position was in the pool. What I cared about was being with Keri and, believe it or not, I happily traded hockey for her and felt the better for it when it happened.

That brings to mind the opening stanzas to the song, Fireworks by Canadian band, The Tragically Hip.

“If there’s a goal that everyone remembers,
It was back in ol’ 72
We all squeezed the stick and we all pulled the trigger
And all I remember is sitting beside you. You said you didn’t give a f*ck about hockey
And I never saw someone say that before
You held my hand and we walked home the long way
You were loosening my grip on Bobby Orr.”

Keri didn’t give a hoot about hockey. Still doesn’t. But, she gave a hoot about me and, still does. Love works both ways; sometimes it is all about you adapting to the person you are with and, at other times, it is all about how your partner adapts to you. For Keri, falling in love with me meant falling in love with someone who loved hockey, even if my love for hockey was not as obsessive and all-encompassing as it had once been. She was hitching her wagon to a man who wore Toronto Maple Leaf socks and sweatpants and who, to this very day, wears a Toronto Maple Leaf ball cap. She knew I bled blue but, she loved me anyway. And love makes you do things you could never have imagined yourself doing.

For our first Christmas, we decided to set a small limit of $10-20 on our gift(s) for each other. I have no idea what I ended up getting her for Christmas but, from her, I got a gift that proved her love for me better than any words could do. For Christmas that year, Keri got me a hockey card.

In the Fall of that year, Keri had noticed an ad in our local newspaper that indicated that “Toronto Maple Leaf Hall of Fame legend, Leonard “Red” Kelly” was coming to a mall not far from our house and would be autographing hockey cards for a buck a piece. Keri did not have a clue who Red Kelly was nor did she care that he was a key member of the last Leafs team to win the Stanley Cup in 1967. No, all that Keri knew was that I loved the Leafs and this man was a Leaf. She rolled the dice and gambled that I would appreciate who this man was and that her gesture would bring about the desired result which was, that she would have been able to make me happy.

I did know who Red Kelly was. But, more than having an autographed card, her gift had meaning because of what she did to get it for me. My Love, who didn’t give a hoot about hockey, stood in a line for 45 minutes in a skanky little mall, surrounded by dozens of hockey nerds (like I used to be), all because she loved me and sought to make me happy. Her efforts resonated in my heart then and now, with Mr. Kelly’s passing, those pangs of love surface once again. I received this hockey card eighteen years ago. I have not felt the need to buy another since. My autographed Red Kelly card is the last hockey card I have needed.

Mr. Kelly’s passing is timely because it happened during the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs. The dream of every hockey player is to win the Stanley Cup. Red Kelly did that eight times, which is an amazing number. Most players are lucky to win it once. Red Kelly is, indeed, a legend in the game of ice hockey and has more than earned his eternal rest. For a man who never crossed my path, Red Kelly sure left his mark on my life. For sometimes love takes the form of diamonds, roses or hearts and flowers. But, for me and my wife, love took the form of a hockey card. Thank you, Red Kelly. Rest in peace.

Little Cakes

I love being around creative people. I love their energy. I love their originality and ingenuity. Most of all, I love their Art. Creativity manifests itself in numerous ways; everything from painting, pottery, gardening, woodworking, writing, performing on stage and so much more. Regardless of the form that it takes, when creative people do their thing, the end result is Art. I love Art and the artists who create something out of nothing. This post is about creativity and those who possess it. It is about how Art makes our lives brighter and better. Finally, this post is about how, when done properly, the act of creativity attracts others, like a flame attracts a moth.

My daughter, Sophie, is an artist. She possesses a creative mindset that is interwoven in all that she does and all that she is. I wrote about her previously, in a post entitled, Maker Sophie. What I particularly like about Sophie’s brand of creativity is that it is relatively pure. By that, I mean she creates things for the joy of creating them and, not for the purpose of drawing attention to herself. Sophie, the Artist, does not wave her own flag when she makes what she does. Instead, Sophie, simply, creates and then, she lets her Art speak for itself. Quite often, Keri and I don’t even know she has made something until we stumble across her work by accident. Here are a few examples.

In Sophie’s bedroom, she has a pair of cube shelves. There are eight cube spaces in each shelf. In each empty space, Sophie has a canvas cube holder. She uses these canvas cubes to hold bits of this and that so that her bedroom has some semblance of order to it. However, the problem that she (and, by extension, Keri and I) was having was knowing which canvas cube held what, when it came time to clean up her room. So, in order to help solve her own problem, Sophie decided to label her cubes. And Sophie, being Sophie, didn’t just write on the handles or on a piece of masking tape (which, I admit, would probably have been what I would have done). No, one afternoon, Sophie quietly got out her hot glue gun, some glitter glue sticks that we had gotten at the craft store and then, she proceeded to make “tags” in writing, out of glitter glue. Then, once the glue was dry, she peeled it off the parchment paper it was on, grabbed some yarn and tied it to the handles of her canvas cubes. The glitter glue tag in the photo says, “Odds and Ends”, all in one connected piece. She also made tags that said, “Toys”, “Papers”, “Beanie Boos” and so on. Each tag glitters in a different colour and helps us all know what each cube is being used for. Art, as an organizing tool.

As Sophie matures, she is displaying a tendency toward liking Mathematics. In particular, she has a good spatial sense and often sees the world in a geometric manner. Here is a good example. This photo shows the front of our dishwasher in the kitchen. Like many families, our kitchen has long been used as a gallery of sorts to display drawings, photos and souvenirs of importance to us. When we recently re-did our kitchen (which I wrote about here), we had to strip our fridge and dishwasher surfaces down and put all of our magnets and photos away. Now that the kitchen reno is over, I asked Sophie and her sister, Leah, to go through what we had taken down to see if they still wanted everything. If not, then, we could purge the unwanted magnets and start fresh on our displays. Without saying a word, Sophie went about her task and created what you see in the photo. The dishwasher has always been her display space while Leah uses the fridge. But, what struck me about what Sophie did with the dishwasher was that her display is perfectly symmetrical. If you ignore the row of her school photos on the bottom, the entire rest of the dishwasher display is symmetrical. And she didn’t say a word after she was done. She was content to have created something interesting and, in this case, Mathematical. Art, as Math.

But, one of the ways that Sophie most enjoys being creative is when it comes to cooking and baking. For a while now, Sophie has shown a desire to create colourful, tasty treats such as her unicorn milkshakes and her three-layer, rainbow cake. She is able to do most of the work herself (*with an exception granted for using the stove to melt butter). She measures, mixes, cuts, adds ingredients and much, much more. Because she is so interested in creativity in the kitchen, her repertoire of creations is growing; everything from homemade pizza, to cookies, to her own breakfasts on the weekend, to fruit smoothies and to what you see above. Sophie does a good job getting the ingredients ready first then, mixing and creating her food. She is, also, good at cleaning up afterwards because, when she first started expressing a desire to cook, we insisted that she had to do so in a responsible manner which meant, among other things, leaving the kitchen as clean as it was when she first entered the room. Sophie is gaining independence over when she eats, how much she eats and, specifically, what she eats. Art, as food, means a lot to Sophie. Like all things with Sophie, when it comes to baking and cooking, it is almost the case that she enjoys the process of creating her treats almost more than she does consuming them. But, let’s be honest, she likes that, too.

The thing about being quietly creative is that, at times, you can attract the attention of admirers and like-minded creative types, without having to make a production out of yourself. Today’s post is about how Sophie came to recently make a French dessert called Madeleines. Madeleines are little cookie/cakes and, believe me, they are delicious. The story of the Madeleines is a story that is almost thirty years in the making. It is a story that began in a classroom in Courtice, Ontario and, more specifically, with a report card written about another little girl who was quite something special, too.

In my third or fourth year of teaching, I had a really nice group of Grade 2 students. Among that group was a little girl named Stacey Duggan. Stacey was a smart little girl and was a valued leader in the classroom. She was a good friend to her peers and a hard-working student for me. So, when it came time to write her first term report card, I gave my honest assessment of Stacey which was, simply put, that she was a wonderful human being and that I was happy to have her in my class that year. When her parents, Will and Gloria, came in for Stacey’s report card interview, they wondered if I had mixed up their kid with someone else’s child. I told them I had not and we proceeded to have a chuckle over the whole thing. As the school year closed, the Duggans invited me over for a barbecue. Accepting that invitation changed my life for the better because we have been fast friends ever since, for over thirty years now. In fact, I was asked to be the emcee at Stacey’s wedding. Will and Gloria, in turn, have been an integral part of my life, with Will acting as one of my two Best Men at my own wedding, among many other things that have gone on over the years.

One of the things that attracted me to Will and Gloria from the very beginning was that they are both creative. For instance, Will is a master carpenter, whose work can be seen on Twitter by searching for Gryffon Wood Designs or @gryffonwood. As for Gloria, for as long as I have known her, she has loved to cook. I have had many a good meal at the Duggan Family table because of Gloria’s prowess in the kitchen and Will’s skill on the barbecue. Not long after I started blogging for the first time, I began to encourage Gloria to start a blog of her own that could be used to showcase her great cooking. Reluctantly at first, Gloria decided to give blogging a try and, as a result, she started a blog called Homemade & Yummy that would talk about food that was all “homemade” and would taste “yummy”. Gloria applied herself with great determination and, in a relatively short period of time, her blog has taken off in the cooking world and she is making a name for herself on the Canadian cooking and blogging scene. Not surprisingly, when you become known in an industry, you end up making connections with others. One of the connections that Gloria ended up making was with an author called Mardi Michels. Mardi had just published a cookbook of French recipes for kids to create. About the time that Gloria was crossing paths with Mardi, we were publishing photos of Sophie making milkshakes or cookies or whatever on Facebook. This gave Gloria an idea.


For Christmas this past year, Gloria gave Sophie the cookbook that Mardi Michels had published, along with a special pan for making Madeleines (which were featured in the cookbook that Sophie is holding). At the time that Sophie received her gift from the Duggans, we made them a promise that, once our kitchen renovation was completed, the very first thing we would make would be the Madeleines and that, when we made them, we would invite Will and Gloria over and, in addition, we would take photos to send to Mardi Michels (who had autographed the cookbook for Sophie, by the way). So, that is what we did. Here is the proof, in photos.

Madeleines are little cakes that have a seashell design on one of their sides. In this photo, Sophie is preparing the Madeleine pan. In order to do so, I melted butter for her and then, she applied the butter with a butter brush; making sure to get inside all of the seashell grooves. Then, Sophie sprinkled a bit of flour into each mold. The pan was then, put into the freezer for thirty minutes to chill. ***Just to answer those of you with eagle eyes, this is Sophie at the start of our second batch. We have a batch already done in a container just north of her hand.

While the Madeleine pan was chilling, Sophie made the batter. Eggs, sugar and vanilla extract comprised the “wet” ingredients, which were blended with an electric beater. Flour, baking powder and a pinch of sea salt made up the “dry” ingredients, which were folded into the wet, using a spatula. Sophie mixed everything for several minutes until it was silky smooth.

Once the Madeleine pan had finished cooling, Sophie was able to spoon in the batter. Then, we put the batter-filled pan into the refrigerator for an additional twenty minutes. At that point, everything went into the oven (set to 400 degrees) for 10-12 minutes and the end result was a dozen Madeleine cakes that simply slid out of the pan and on to a wire baking rack to cool. At that point, we put them in a container and told the Duggans that we were ready for them to come over. The Duggans arrived the next day.

Being a chef, it seemed like the obvious next move to invite Gloria to, not only check out our new kitchen but, to actually work in our new kitchen. So, Gloria and Sophie completed the recipe by working together to make a lemon glaze and then, sprinkle some icing sugar over top of the glazed Madeleines.


Over thirty years ago, I recognized the potential that existed in Gloria’s daughter, Stacey. This past weekend, Gloria returned the favour by recognizing the creative potential that exists within my daughter, Sophie. This photo was sent to Mardi Michels who, in turn, replied that she was delighted to see how well the Madeleines had turned out and how thrilled she is whenever she hears from folks about how children are using her book and her recipes to create good food. ***As an aside, I have come to know that published authors are no different than a blogger author, like me, when it comes to receiving feedback. I love reading your comments and so do “real” authors. We never hesitated contacting Mardi Michels and involving her, even from a distance, in what we were doing with her book. I know that she appreciated our thoughtfulness. So, if you read something you like somewhere, take a moment and leave a review on Amazon or on Chapters-Indigo or on the author’s website. I can guarantee you that they will appreciate your kinds words.


Creative expression takes many forms. This past weekend, it took the form of tasty little cakes called Madeleines. Thanks to Gloria and Will Duggan for helping Sophie grow as an artist and as a young woman and for sharing a creative partnership with me that has spanned three decades now. Caring about each other’s children is about as important and privileged a responsibility as there is. Of course, I encourage you to please feel free to check out Mardi Michels‘ website and Gloria‘s, too and leave a comment if you like what you see and read there. I know both ladies…..both artists…..will love to hear what you have to say.

And finally, to Sophie, thanks for being the amazing young lady you are. I am continually awe-struck by the things that your mind conjures up. Being a creative thinker is such an important skill in life; not only for solving problems and findings solutions but, simply, for making the world more beautiful and more interesting, too. You have the gift of seeing the world with an artist’s eye. It is my pleasure to understand that and to recognize the wonder of what you create as you go about living your life. I am proud to be your father. You are my favourite artist.