Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Being Thankful For Family

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, October 17, 2012, by Sara Mattinson.


I’m sitting in an airplane on a morning flight back to Halifax and the flight attendants are making their slow progress down the aisle with the drink cart and I feel like crying.
The bawl-my-eyes-out kind of crying that you just don’t want to do on an airplane. 
Not because my mother and I made this quick overnight trip to Toronto for a funeral but for the 50th wedding anniversary of my Aunt Pat and Uncle Harry. 
They are two of the five cousins that make up my mother’s generation. They are The Family. 
Harry and Pat’s three sons planned the celebration and now between them, they have six children, ages 4 to 22. All of my own cousins are growing up, some literally, the boys now taller than me. Having to ask how old they are made me realize that I am 42 which doesn’t feel possible; I am the third youngest of this generation and everyone who seemed Grown Up when I was a kid are really only five or six or eight years older than I am. We now relate as adults with a long, shared history. Talking with them feels like I’m talking with the dearest of friends.   
Aunt Mary arrived in a wheelchair because of knee surgery; she also lives in a nursing home, apart from her husband, and she was so pleased to see everyone, so surprised to see Mum and I, that tears welled up in her eyes. I thought she was going to set everyone off. After supper, while we sat together and talked, she held my hand and I could feel the gentle shake of her Parkinson’s. 
This is the extended family I grew up with, my mother’s side of the family, who lived in different cities but gathered together every Boxing Day, every New Year’s Day, on Easter Sunday and once during the summer. Ask me about family and my memories are of The Family. From these aunts and uncles comes my standard for what family is:  laughter and love, food and friendship, stories and stability. I know how lucky we are. 
The last time I gathered with them was four years ago at Uncle Harry’s 80th birthday celebration so it was imperative to attend his 50th wedding anniversary. The photo album of the wedding day was lying on a table and looking through the pictures gave me a shock. Not because Aunt Pat looks exactly the same but because there, in several photos, were Harry’s parents, my Aunt Vera and Uncle Everett. 
Aunt Vera died when I was eight and Uncle Ev has been gone for twenty years and I haven’t seen a photo of them in a very long time. Then there they were, looking JUST LIKE I REMEMBER THEM, looking alive and well and happy. As if they could walk in the door at any moment.  Except they can’t, can they? 
So this moment on the plane, I’m thinking of these aunts and uncles, and how I’d rather attend celebrations than funerals, then I’m thinking of those photos of Vera and Ev and of holding Aunt Mary’s hand and of Uncle Neb making jokes about his upcoming colonoscopy which reminds me of the time 15 years ago when this crowd got telling stories about their childhoods together and Uncle Harry laughed so hard, tears streamed down his face and eventually he gave up trying to wipe them away. 
For better or for worse, we are molded by the company we keep. Some of us get really lucky and fly through life with families who make us laugh and cry, who stuff us full of food and advice, whose memories remain vibrant no matter how long they have been gone. Leaving that extended nest, whether for a home down the street or a place across the country, is not easy, especially as we get older...and the aunts and uncles get older. 
It is very hard to live far away from family. No matter how many photos and stories we pack into our bags, nothing replaces a hand to hold.  

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Sign of the Season

I've done up the last tide chart of the year for tomorrow's issue. When the paper stops publishing the weekly tide chart, it's a sure sign winter is coming. Although with the way our winters are warming up -- the River Philip hasn't frozen over for more than a few weeks in years but my husband remembers when it was solid ice from December to March -- there may come a time when the tide chart appears in the paper year-round.


Monday, October 29, 2012

What A Great Idea!

While watching CBC Newsworld on Sunday morning, wanting to see what Tropical Storm/Hurricane Sandy was up to (and learning about the 7.7 magnitude quake off our West Coast), the network's Washington reporter came on with his report on how people in the Capitol were preparing for the heavy winds and rains that are expected tomorrow.
He talked about duct-taping windows and buying up bottled water then he held up a large freezer bag.
"This is what authorities want everyone to buy, as well," he said (and I'm paraphrasing). "You fill these with water and put them in the freezer. When the power goes out, you can keep the stuff in your freezer and fridge cold and once the ice melts, you'll have water for drinking."
A concern for this storm since he'd mentioned earlier the "left hook that is unusual for a tropical storm", meaning the snow that's expected at higher elevations. That could put power out for days. 
The freezer bag of water is a brilliant idea so fellow Maritimers, take note. We lose our power enough times before of storms that this is an idea worth using. 





Friday, October 26, 2012

Pretty Bird, Don't Fly Away

I'm from Ontario and my sister lives in Georgia. For us, cardinals are common. I remember walking the dog through the streets of my hometown early in the morning, even in winter, and hearing the distinctive voice of a male cardinal from a nearby tree. When we visit my sister, we listen to the cardinals as we sit outside in the morning drinking coffee. At Disneyworld last March, as we walked out of our resort early, early in the morning to catch our shuttle bus back to the airport, a cardinal serenaded us.
But here in Nova Scotia, there are no cardinals. At least not traditionally. In the past few years, there have been sightings in the Valley, and I think someone saw a cardinal in Amherst and in Wallace. Every report of a cardinal, my husband would say, "They're coming. I know they're coming."
I don't know why a man who loves ospreys and eagles is so keen on having cardinals at our feeders but he is. He's enjoyed them in Ontario, Georgia and Florida, but he's been disappointed every winter that no cardinals had shown up yet. Evening grosbeaks and pine grosbeaks are regular guests, and once, a painted bunting during the summer, but that's as exotic as our birds have been.
But now it appears his dream has come true.
"Come up here quietly and slowly," Mum called downstairs from her in-law suite the other day. So up we crept to see this lovely lady eating off the balcony my mother uses as a giant bird feeder:



"I knew they'd come," my husband whispered softly. "I knew it."
My mother promptly drove off to Truro to buy safflower seeds, the cardinals' preference. She's going to have to get a job just to support her seed habit. 
No sign of a male yet. Three days and he hasn't shown up. We remain hopeful.
Lots of blue jays, though. They must like having their picture taken because they pose where I can shoot them through the glass. 




Thursday, October 25, 2012

Blueberry Fields Outside of Oxford

The way the sunlight was hitting these fields was so striking, I almost drove off the road looking at them. Had to return later to get some photos. We kept driving, looking for more fields like this but everything else was dark red and purple; this was the only field with bright patches of orange in them. Glorious!




 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Good Man Gone

I just learned that someone I interviewed for "In Conversation With..." has passed away.
Here is the link to that conversation with Darold Kaluza and his wife Reta and daughter Donna, with my most heartfelt sympathy. I am very grateful for the hour I spent with them and for the chance to hear the stories they told about Dad's (Darold's) garage next door.


http://www.fieldnotescumberland.blogspot.ca/2012/07/in-conversation-withdarold-reta-and.html


In Conversation With...John Chouinard

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, October 10, 2012 by Sara Mattinson.


Cumberland County’s four fire towers are closed as of the end of this season as the province relies on aerial patrols and calls from the public using cell phones. John Chouinard is the last man to work in the tower on Sugarloaf Mountain and at the beginning of this interview, he is baffled as to why I want to interview him. 
“To me, there’s nothing there,” he says. “I just go up, go to work, look around and see things, make sure there is no fire, watch for smoke.”
Working in a fire tower six days a week, eight hours a day? For 16 years? There has to an interesting story here – as they say, where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
John lives in Millvale with his wife, Vonetta. Born and raised in Quebec, he joined the military, working in communications, and came to Nova Scotia in 1976 when he was posted to Debert, ending his career working at Folly with NATO. After retiring in the spring of 1990, he worked as a commissionaire then at the fish hatchery in Millvale. In 1996, the man who was working at the fire tower on Sugarloaf Mountain was leaving so he applied, knowing the skills he picked up in the Forces, like map-reading, would help with the job. 
The Sugarloaf tower is one of the shortest, only 65 feet high. “That was the good thing about it,” John laughs. 
From the tower he can see the island; he watched the last span of Confederation Bridge being installed. “That’s more than 25 miles away but it was a beautiful day,” he remembers.
It reveals the range he is responsible for: as far as he can see in any direction. 
“When I see the smoke, I have to figure out where it is,” says John. “I have a big map in the middle of the tower which I point towards the smoke. Then I have so many degrees away from me and I have to decide which space it goes from. It’s educated guessing. Otherwise, to be exact, that’s why we have the other tower in Springhill. We can ask the other guy. Because of the way the mountain is, sometimes he can see what I cannot and the other way around.”
But it’s hard to judge distances and exact locations so how does John pinpoint the source of smoke in an area full of trees and hills?
“We see the smoke,” he says then picks an envelope off the desk in the office and indicates that this represents the mountain. “Now this is the hill and I’m over here. On this side of the hill, when I see the smoke, if it’s all green, the smoke will be coming from here. But if it’s on the other side of the mountain, you can only see half of the smoke. Then you have to figure out where it’s at. Is it one mile past the top of the ridge, is it two miles? It’s mostly instinct than anything else. After awhile you get to know your land and everything else. You figure it out. It’s the same as your own home. If someone moves something in your yard, you know it’s been moved because you’re so used to looking out and saying, ‘That machine used to be there. How come it’s not there?’ It’s the same thing with fire. ”
Did he ever prevent a forest fire?
“Twice,” John says. “One in Shinimicas. It was early in the morning. No one knew about it. The people who owned the land were in Amherst. The other one was by my place. It was a funny one. I was looking at it and thinking it doesn’t make sense. Then all of a sudden, what is supposed to be green turned white. But the smoke didn’t get above the ridge so I wasn’t sure. I called it in. I told them I was sending them in but I wasn’t sure. It was just a precaution. But I was right; the fire was just starting.”
He explains that the difference between the smoke of burning brush and the smoke of an actual fire is the colour.
“Real fire, the smoke will be white. You have a big pile of brush, it starts black then turns white but as soon as it’s really burning, you don’t get all the smoke. It goes down.”
This is why he watches so carefully; by the time he gets the map table moved and “I take my bearing, all of a sudden the smoke will go down. If it comes back up, that’s when you really have to know your bearings.”
When I ask if he had problems with bats or birds in the tower, he lights up, sits forward in his chair, becomes animated
“Mating time! You see these little hawks, they come around, they fly up and then they – ” he smacks his hands together quickly – “and fly away. It’s so beautiful. Those little hawks, they stand on the cables there when they’re first learning to fly and the mother comes around and swoops over them. Ah, it’s so beautiful. Then there are the hummingbirds, they come in the spring and the fall. I don’t know, at my place we have hundreds of hummingbirds and before they leave in the fall, they come up to the tower, look in the window, don’t ask me why, they look in the window and then they go – ssshhhhzzz – and you can see them fly until they disappear. It’s like they come to say good-bye.”
The hummingbirds won’t find John in the tower when they return next spring. His last day was September 28.
“I enjoyed this job,” John says. “I couldn’t ask for a better job. I’m in my seventies now. It’s so peaceful. You look around, in the springtime, the leaves are not there then all of a sudden, everything changes. Green everywhere. In the fall, it’s the other way around. The blueberry fields go different colours. They turn dark red. Ah, the peace and quiet. But it’s over now. I’m going to miss it.”



Monday, October 22, 2012

Upcoming House Concert

Weather will be clear and cool this week so no excuse not to drive to Beckwith for a great evening of music.
Had an email from local singer-songwriter Eric Fresia about the house concert he and his family are hosting this week.
Details:

Thursday, October 25
7:30 pm
Bert McLeod Road (off the Beckwith Road which is off Route 6 near Port Howe)

Joining Eric, Charlotte and Sam Fresia will be the Jammin' Divas, a trio of women from Ireland, Australia and the US.
An evening of celtic, folk, and world fusion with a little blues thrown in.
$15

Coffee, tea and dessert will be served.

For more information, give Eric a call: 447-3134 or email him: ericfresia "at" gmail.com





Sunday, October 21, 2012

Results of Saturday's Vote

Town of Oxford:

Mayor of Oxford: Trish Stewart
Councillors: Barry Patriquin, Darlene Ellis, Paul Jones, Tom Kay, Dawn Thompson, Wade Adshade


Municipality of Cumberland County:

District 1: Don Smith
District 2: John Kellegrew (acclaimed)
District 3: Keith Hunter
District 4: Allison Gillis (acclaimed)
District 5: Lynne Welton
District 6: Bill Baker
District 7: Dan Rector
District 8: Ernest Gilbert (acclaimed)
District 9: Mike McLellan
District 10: Michael F.J. McLellan (acclaimed)

Town of Springhill:

Mayor: Max Snow
Councillors: Harold Delaney, Doug Dobson, Darrell White, Jack MacDonald, Lance Lockwood




Saturday, October 20, 2012

Voting Day!

It's our municipal elections day. Have you voted? Get out and be counted.


Worth Getting Out of Bed For

The colour of the air around the house changed around 7:30 this morning as I was feeding the dogs. Poor Stella had to wait, her full breakfast bowl sitting on the counter, while I dashed outside with the camera to catch this glorious Cumberland County sunrise along the River Philip as it started to rain:









Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Mashed Potato Ceremony

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, October 3, 2012 by Sara Mattinson.


With Thanksgiving just days away, I’m bracing for a major production of something my husband calls his ceremony. 
For those first few minutes after a plate of food is placed in front of him, whether it’s bacon and eggs, a bowl of chowder or a turkey dinner, he is seriously intent on salting, peppering, and buttering everything that can be salted, peppered, and buttered. 
If there are eggs or fries on the plate, the ceremony moves to the next level with ketchup and/or gravy. 
No matter how hungry he is, he does not take a bite until the ceremony is completed. It’s so distracting, I can’t begin eating because I am compelled to watch what he is doing. There’s something about the idea of conducting a ceremony over food, like saying grace, I suppose, that makes it rather charming. 
The ceremony takes a strange twist, however, when mashed potatoes are served. After plopping two large spoonfuls onto his plate, before taking from any other serving dish of food on the table, he proceeds to flatten the potatoes until they are spread out over two-thirds of his plate. 
Seeing this, I think, ‘He needs a platter, not a plate.’
Maybe it’s because I’m not much of a potato person that I don’t get the ritual of devoting that much real estate to mashed potatoes. First of all, they’re already mashed. Must be a man thing to have to mash something beyond recognition. What’s wrong with a beautiful pile of fluffy mashed potatoes? Those white mountains of glycemic spikes rising from a valley of meat and veggies? Aesthetically, mashed potatoes should two be piles, eagerly awaiting the light drizzle of butter and gravy. 
If I’d wanted you to flatten them, I would have served squash. 
Time for an unscientific survey of the staff at the Journal office: 
Of four women, only one flattens them. The rest of us prefer them fluffy. 
Of three men, all three flatten their mashed potatoes. Apparently, it’s all about spreading the butter, allowing it to melt over every inch of potato. 
Seriously? If you’ve ever watched a square pat of butter melting gently down the sides of a whipped up pile of potatoes, you understand the beauty of that trickle of creamy yellow goodness, the agony of anticipation as you watch it slowly descend down the side of the mashed potatoes, oozing into every crevice like a hidden treasure waiting to be discovered.
And I don’t even eat mashed potatoes.  
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether one’s potatoes remained piled up on the plate or double mashed across half of it; I’ve come to appreciate that it’s the ceremony that counts. There is something rather anticipatory in my husband’s actions, something rather intense in the silence as he performs the ritual that I will not interrupt. 
After all, I’m married to the high priest of mashed potatoes and one doesn’t mess with a man’s religious experience. Especially on a holiday.


Monday, October 15, 2012

Your New Favourite Dish

Finally, it's time to bring out the comfort food recipes. Nothing says fall like stew.
Here's a baked stew that we ate over the weekend. Baked stew, you say? Well, it's British and they call it a pie. Not sure why but it's a big, hearty, delicious dish and with the name "Cumberland Pie", I had to share it. (Once we make it our own by tweaking the recipe, we'll call it Cumberland Stew.)
My mother discovered the recipe in a British food magazine so its origins are the most northwestern corner of England, along the Scottish border (a nod to our Scottish roots) with the English counties of Northumberland and Durham to the east, Lancashire and Westmorland to the south.


Mum has been dying to make this since she bought the magazine last March but it's not a summer dish. Perfect for a cool and sunny or raw and rainy day in October. We went to the movie while she baked (biscuits, too, for mopping up sauce on the plate).


"Crispy Topped Cumberland Pie"
(from Good Food magazine, March 2012; Sarah Cook, deputy food editor)

2 celery sticks, sliced
1 onion, chopped
2 really big carrots, halved lengthways then chunkily sliced
5 bay leaves
3 thyme sprigs
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp each plain flour, tomato paste and Worcestershire sauce
2 beef stock cubes, crumbled
850g stew beef chunks
1 lb large potatoes
25g/1oz each old cheddar and Parmesan, finely grated

1. Heat over to 325 degrees F.
2. Soften celery, onion, carrots, bay and 1 thyme sprig in a large pot with 1 tbsp oil and the butter for 10 minutes. Stir in flour, followed by the paste, Worchestershire sauce and stock cubes.
3. Gradually stir in 600ml of hot water, then add the beef and bring to a gentle simmer.
4. Transfer to baking dish, cover and cook in oven for 2 hours, 30 minutes. Uncover and cook for 30 minutes to one hour more until the meat is really tender and sauce thickened.
5. Meanwhile, boil potatoes until they are 3/4 cooked.
6. Remove baking dish from oven and increase temperature to 400 degrees F. Slice potatoes into 1cm thick rounds and gently toss with seasoning, the remaining oil and thyme leaves.  Layer slices on top of beef, scattering the cheese as you layer.
7. Bake for 30 - 40 minutes until golden brown and crispy.
Serve with peas.



 

The perfect dish for Friendly Village dishes.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Diggers

The dogs are doing more gardening than I am these days. Only this time, the dirt on their faces isn't from burying bones under tomato plants or lilies but from inspecting the holes put in the lawn by skunks digging for grubs. Abby shoves her nose into the hole then digs into it. Stella jogs over to inspect because you never know: that silly puppy might have unearthed something to eat.
We're all about snacks in this family although I think we all draw the line at grubs.

 
This wet weather is worrying. What if I can't get any bulbs planted? What's spring without daffodils? How will I know it is spring if there aren't any daffodils?!
I have no hope that the nippy north wind is going to dry any of the gardens up enough for planting bulbs and the forecast isn't promising. But it's sunny and we're off to Masstown Market where I'm going to carry on the tradition of hope and optimism that every gardener must possess in order to stay sane and that means buying a great big bunch of bulbs. I won't give up on planting until there's six feet of snow on the ground.





Wednesday, October 10, 2012

In Conversation With...Richard Dittami

First published on Wednesday, September 26 in The Oxford Journal by Sara Mattinson.


“No one has ever interviewed me about poetry before,” Richard Dittami says, leaning back in his chair at the cafĂ© in Pugwash. 
Yet this is how I know him, as a poet, and so I wanted to know more. 
Richard is a Come-From-Away who has made Pugwash his second home. He’s retired after working in construction for 30 years and he arrived in Nova Scotia from his hometown in Massachusetts via South America.
That’s quite a road trip.
More than a decade ago, when he was in his forties, Richard was upset with the US government’s decision to invade Iraq after the terror attacks of 2001. Protesting that war was very unpopular, so much so, Richard decided to go to South America.
“I’ve always been a writer so I had this idea of writing a book,” he says of the decision. “I wondered what would happen if I bought a $100 car and just kept driving?”
He tried. 
“I’m kind of a mechanic,” he says, “so I ended up driving to Chile.”
But that’s getting ahead of the story because it turns out, it took him two attempts to get to South America. The first time, Richard made it to Costa Rica before realizing he didn’t have enough money. He returned home to Massachusetts, worked and saved his money for a couple of years then headed out on the road again.
He drove across the States, through Mexico and the rest of Central America, down, he says, “the end of the road in Panama. From Panama, I sold the car, took a flight to Ecuador and drove from there all the way down the coast of Peru. Which is very long. If you look at a map, you wouldn’t think so but it’s 2,000 miles of coastline.”
In Chile, he wrote his book (“which nobody ever published,” he laments without bitterness) and worked as a mechanic. He was alone. Asked about why he went there, the real why, not just the book-writing why, he leans back in his chair again, places a hand on top of his head and thinks for a bit. 
“It’s a long story...” he kind of sighs and that’s the sense I get: There is so much more to the story but his reaction suggests it is too personal to share or perhaps just too complicated for a newspaper story. 
Of the long, solitary drive down south, he says, “It’s very meditative. I met lots of nice people. At the time, I believed there was nothing to be afraid of.”
Does he still feel that way now, at the age of 54? 
“I still maintain that there’s nothing to be afraid of but...losing your spirit. That is something to have concern about. Because your spirit is the only thing that is irreplaceable.”
Which sounds like an idea for a poem.
Richard began writing poetry when he was in university studying Sociology and English. 
“I worked my way through school with the Labourers International so [after graduation] I just ended up becoming a construction worker,” he explains. “I worked my way up to foreman then superintendent.”
Did having an Arts degree make him a different kind of construction boss? 
“Not right away,” Richard admits. “I had a few years when I yelled and screamed. But once I grew up a little... I supervised a lot of work so I could use my brain and communication skills. It was a brutal business, people use brutal language and it was brutal work but I was able to run work like a gentleman.”
Over the years, he’s written poetry and short stories. He published some, including an essay in a Canadian literary journal about his drive to the end of the road in Panama, but these days, he writes poetry simply when he feels like it.  
“It’s a noise in my head that has to come out,” he says. 
There are certain themes Richard explores in his poems. 
“Sanity and mental illness. The nature of the universe in small things,” he says. “Everything is connected to everything else. You could write a poem about that desk and how it’s related to the tide in the harbour which is related to the birds migrating which is related somehow to the war in Afghanistan. Threads that become apparent you try to tie together.”
He doesn’t write many poems about love although he has been inspired for a couple by the local teacher he’s been dating since the summer of 2011. He writes longhand, in notebooks. 
“I have a suitcase full of poetry,” he says.
Richard came to Pugwash in the summer of 2003, on a sight-seeing trip with a friend from South America. They ended up in Nova Scotia after running out of New England to explore. It was the “World Famous for Peace” slogan that attracted this former war protester. Richard liked the village so much, he came back in the fall and bought a house.
Now he spends half his year here and half back in Framingham. 
“I just seemed to fit as soon as I landed here,” says Richard. “I have good friends here. People are very nice to me here. It’s the spirit of the people I enjoy being around. I learn things and end up a better person.”


Monday, October 08, 2012

The Ancestral Gravy

My mother and I made a quick trip to Toronto on the weekend to celebrate a 50th wedding anniversary but we would be back home in time to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner. Once we were on our way from the airport, I phoned my husband, who was doing all the work, to ask if he wanted anything when we stopped at a grocery store in Elmsdale.
"Another pound of butter would be good," he replied. "And mushroom soup."
Knowing the soup was for his gravy, I asked, "Do you want me to make my gravy?"
"Oh, yes," he said. "I like your gravy better than mine."
I only discovered last spring that I make a good gravy. I was putting together a roast beef dinner to take down to my in-laws and since my husband wasn't around, I asked Mum how to make gravy.
So as as my mother and I walked into the grocery store, I said to her, "You know, you could make the gravy. It's really yours. You taught me how to make it."
"Actually, it's Grandma's gravy. I learned it from your father."
I laughed. "We don't have a gravy train. We have a gravy tree."




Friday, October 05, 2012

Thanksgiving Weekend Event

The Festival of Fall Colours is on this weekend in the Wentworth Valley.

Photo courtesy of skiwentworth.ca

The forecast is calling for a mix of sun and cloud both Saturday and Sunday so the weather will be no excuse for not walking all the way to the top of the ski hill! (Or you can take the chairlift. See? No excuses.)

Photo courtesy of novascotia.com

The chairlift runs from 11 am to 4 pm and you walk back down the mountain. No bikes or pets, folks, and there is a cost so bring your cash.
BBQ at the ski lodge at noon.
For more details, check out the ad in The Oxford Journal.

So, to recap: fresh air, fall colours, chairlift ride (but walking is free), a view of Wentworth Valley that usually only skiiers get to see, plus a BBQ. Sounds like the perfect outing for Thanksgiving Weekend. Is it time to start a new family tradition?

Happy Thanksgiving! What are you thankful for?

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Is Your Phone Smarter Than You Are?

First published in  The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, Sept. 19 by Sara Mattinson.


At a recent end-of-summer family barbecue, there was one notable absence.
“Do you realize there weren’t any cell phones there yesterday?” my mother pointed out. “It was really nice.” 
I hadn’t noticed because they weren’t interrupting our fun. Not once did a phone chirp the arrival of a text. None of the kids were holding a phone in one hand while tossing washers with the other. Not a single person missed the party because they were updating their status or tweeting about how much fun they were having. 
I hadn’t noticed because I was busy dodging wayward washers. 
Not having a smart phone myself, the absence of them doesn’t register with me. It’s their presence that catches my attention. Because it usually means I don’t have someone else’s.
We need to take a serious look at the fact smart phones are addictive. What are we doing to ourselves that cigarettes, fried food and alcohol haven’t already done? And why do we want to do that to children?
Consider an article in Maclean’s about the high rates of stress, anxiety and suicide on universities campuses. According to the article, taking time for introspection is key to getting over the hurdles of life but that time is missing in the lives of most students: “Students aren’t left alone with their thoughts on the bus to school or the walk to across campus. They’re texting, listening to music, checking Facebook or Twitter, often all at once. There’s no time to mull over difficult, complicated emotions.”
Add to that the conclusion of a psychiatry study out of England: Digital multi-tasking slashes your IQ by 10 points while you’re doing it. 
An article published in The Economist magazine states that “several studies have shown what ought to be common sense: People think more deeply if they are not constantly distracted.”
It’s bad enough to realize how many adults are driving vehicles, running offices, inputting our vital statistics, and operating on our loved ones with lowered IQs and heightened anxiety as a result of their smart phone obsession; it’s worse to know we could be exposing our children to that when their brains are still soft and moldable. 
Smart phones and tablets are starting to make television look good. 
My best friend’s daughter came home from her first day of Grade Six at a new school in a new town in northern Ontario, population 3500, and announced, “Mummy, I need a cell phone. Everyone else has one.”
To which her wise mother replied, “I don’t have one.”  
Like my BFF, the reason I don’t have a cell phone is that I don’t need one but this column isn’t the whingeing of a Luddite; I check email, I maintain a blog, and I use the Internet extensively. How did we ever work and communicate without it? Technology is my friend but not my best friend; I don’t tell it everything and I don’t think it’s wise.  
Yet I may be approaching that slippery slope on a Crazy Carpet. A brand new tablet was unboxed in my house last weekend. The reason I have one of those is simpler than the gadget itself: My home is being swamped by magazines and e-reading appears to be the road to clutter rehab. 
Having never had an addiction -- not even to chocolate (but only because it gives me pimples) -- this could be the one, baby. 
Already I can see why we love these gadgets: They are very cool. Touch! Swipe! Apps! A world clock at my finger tips! But really, what do I need that for when we already know it’s five o’clock somewhere?
That’s the power of cool, easy-to-use gadgets. They seduce us with limitless “fun” distractions  that ultimately consume time and energy but don’t enhance our lives. They make us believe we are connected to each other and to the world but we end up more isolated than ever. In the end, social media ends up being more about quantity than quality. Is every Facebook comment and every Twitter tweet worth the time it takes to read it? 
When you could be using that time to practice your washer toss technique. 
Speaking of which, I really enjoyed playing with my great-nieces and great-nephew but they are growing up so fast, they may be ones arriving at next year’s end-of-summer barbecue with a smart phone that is way cooler than washer toss.
Maybe there’s an app for that. 


Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Election Candidate Goes Green...and Orange

One of the candidates running for mayor in the Town of Oxford decided to forgo the usual plastic lawn signs in favour of something that benefits both the environment and the community.
Trish Stewart bought a whack of pumpkins from farmer Charles Thompson, who donates the sales of all his produce to the local rink fund. Trish has distributed her "decorated" pumpkins around town.


I wonder why she didn't find someone to carve her likeness into the pumpkins?

Remember to vote in the municipal election on October 20.
Advance polls: Saturday, October 13 and Tuesday, October 16.
(All election information can be found in The Oxford Journal)

Monday, October 01, 2012

What Makes A Writer Happy

You might assume that what would make a writer happy is a regular column or a three-book deal or the chance to interview his or her idol/muse/inspiration/fave person but the pleasure is much simpler than that.
It's a new notebook. Crisp, fresh, clean, pure. Ready for crisp, fresh, clean, pure thoughts about these crisp, fresh, clean, pure autumn mornings.


What? You don't recognize lined paper in a spiral notebook and a ball point pen? That's true writing and sometimes those wonderful, awful, miraculous, sensational, horrible, secret thoughts flow better out of a pen and onto paper instead of bouncing off a keyboard to land on a screen.
For a writer, a new notebook is like a new year or the first day of school every three months.