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CANADA’s CHILDREN AND THE POLITICAL WILL TO PUT OUR MONEY WHERE OUR MOUTH IS

What does political will have to do with the care we have for our children, you ask? Plenty, really everything.

Canada is a nation that sine 1978 is part of the G8, also called the Group of Eight (now I guess G7, after Russia is kicked out due to taking over Ukraine’s Crimea). These are industrialized nations that have banded together in a group to protect the rest of the world (and of course themselves) from any influences that can put their welfare and wealth at risk. They met last month in Amsterdam in The Netherlands.

One could say much about the disparities within those nations and between those nations. I won’t get into those, except as it relates to children and child welfare. As a part of the G 7 club, it is well accepted that Canada is a rich county, with the federal government talking about ending the deficit next year, if not this year, and Canada not having had the 2008 financial crisis to the extent of other nations have.

We prided ourselves on that fact and thanked god for our regulated banking system that prevented the extensive fraud and consequent failure of banks, as took place in Britain and the US.
Those of us that invested in those American banks and lost a good part of our savings in our RRSPs were not happy; now we have to work longer before we can retire, or go back to work, even. To be clear, our public services and our social programs, that are funded by tax revenues of the nation designed to protect the most vulnerable, are in reality quite minimal, and are not that much of a drain on the government coffers, because business reigns in Canada. “Canada is open for business,” as our prime minister Harper likes to say. Evidence is his most recent trip last year to China where he took about 200 people with him including 30 oil executives, all on the tax payers’ dime, to talk trade. He announced with much fanfare (and diverted attention from an exploding Senate scandal of fraud by senators appointed by him) by announcing a deal with the EU that would bring jobs, jobs, jobs to Canada, contrary to what the pundits thought this deal would do for the nation.

Our federal government and the provincial governments are catering to the business world by keeping minimum salaries low. If needed, we can import even cheaper labour from other countries and employ temporary workers that are paid even less and have no protection from unscrupulous employers. Environmental standards are broken all the time to advance production of oil and gas, and governments justify breaking their own laws in that respect “for the good of all and creating jobs”, supposedly.

So, what’s with our children then? You’d think they should rank high on the welfare scale, one would think with all this economic benefit. So who’s on top? On the list of all countries in the word, Sweden is on top, next The Netherlands, and so on, and on, until Canada……ranks 60 from the top on the list of child well-being in the world. Yes, you read that correctly, # 60 from the top on the long list of all nations in the world.

On a UNICEF list of child wellbeing of the 29 richest, industrialized countries, Canada ranks 17, in the middle. The Netherlands (my home country) ranks first on this list, all of its measures consistently scoring in the top five. See more on http://www.unicef.ca/en/discover/article/child-well-being-in-rich-countries-a-comparative-overview

This number represents all children in Canada, included First Nations’ children. It is estimated that a 13.3% of Canada’s children live under the poverty line. The United Nations has commented on that in the past, and called for the Canadian government to address this scandalous situation. It has not happened yet.

How can that be? I will try to explain.

Children’s welfare is measured on five dimensions: education; health and safety; housing and environment; family income (material well-being); behaviours; and risks.
The legal minimum income in various provinces is so low that even when two parents are working at minimum wage, they still cannot meet the high costs of living and have to resort regularly to visiting the food bank to get free groceries. They will have a combined income that is under the poverty line.
I had never heard about food banks, until I came to Canada, and was flabbergasted when I first heard of those. Who in Canada needs to get handouts for food to prevent going hungry? And another question: what sort of food is that? That, however, is a question for a blog post on another day.

For now, it is sufficient to know that not only “lazy, no-good people” go to the food bank, but also those working families with children who rely on income assistance, as their salaries or income assistance benefits are not enough to cover the costs of basic living. Unemployment benefits (a federal responsibility) run out quicker each time the government makes a change–never more weeks, always less, never fewer weeks of continuous work time to qualify, always more. People with a disability, when unable to be accommodated in the workplace and unemployed, have that same low level of income as welfare (unless they were employed and fall under an insurance claim of some sort through their employer). If they have children, those children live under the poverty line.
Benefits for returning soldiers from Afghanistan have been cut back, and stopped when they cannot return to work due to PTSD or severe depression. Their children end up living in poverty on welfare. We hear of fathers shooting themselves in the head out of desperation.

Education is a cost that is paid for by public funds. We pay provincial and municipal taxes to fund education services. At the current movement towards more conservative policies, in an attempt to lower deficits, governments cut here: education, welfare and child protection. These areas fall under provincial jurisdictions and concern the most vulnerable people in society.

Education is in dire straits. Classes are full and teachers bunch up kids 33 to a class at elementary level, as the staff levels have been cut; this is not an unusual situation. For some years already, parents have had to chip in for school supplies and other fees. School buses have been cut back further and parents have to chip in with fees for transportation, or take their child to school. Children get only extra help in the class room when they are “designated” with a certain classification of the problem they have. If they don’t fall within the criteria, they are out of luck–and so is the teacher, having to accommodate all these children regardless of their challenges and disabilities together in one class. Children are on wait lists to be assessed by the school psychologist, sometimes waiting for years. Without an assessment, they get no help, a real catch 22 situation.
University and vocational schools for youth are not free for anybody, except for the few that are at the top and earn grants and scholarships. Most others start their working life with high levels of student loan debts, not secure in the knowledge of finding a job to pay those debts off. Unless their family is well off, completing a college, vocational, or a university education means hardship and is not accessible to everybody.

What other public funds are allocated to children?

Yes, we have Medicare in Canada – medical insurance for everybody. But, it is flawed in many ways. Regardless of income, it covers everybody. I wonder why rich people should not pay themselves for their costs, when health care costs are spiraling out of control and more and more treatments are requiring payment of some user fees and waits are getting longer for important and urgent matters.
As well, the costs of dental exams and treatments are not covered by the medical services plan, nor are cost of medications prescribed by physicians.
People on welfare get only their mental health medications paid for and basic dental care. Children living on welfare and in families under, or just above the poverty level do not get their medications paid for, as they should; there are no Medicare funds for that. So if little Tommy has the sniffles and a bad cough and bronchitis and it’s not all that bad, or if Johnny’s ADHD medication runs out and the rent is due, guess what? They do not get their needed medication.

By the way, fully employed people in good positions might have a separate, added insurance for medication and dental treatment, such as through Pacific Blue Cross that pays part of the most commonly prescribed medication and dental treatments. I have that, but we pay in for that off our salaries. I clearly am not talking about this segment of our society, the middle class.

Canada’s Medicare system and government social benefits are often quoted in the US as an example of better. The trouble is that those people have not looked farther than their horizon. Yes, compared by the barbarian situation in the US that lately has come to light with Obama trying to implement some sort of medical benefit for its population, Canada looks good. I suggest that they get in a plane and fly to Europe to see how people live and work and how their children fare, or do their research on the beautiful world wide web at their desk and include other nations in their searches. The US ranks on the list of all countries somewhere lower to the bottom, below Canada, on the global child well-being list. Concerning is that on the UNICEF list of the richest 29 countries in the world, Canada ranks on the measure of Health and Safety of children on # 27, near the bottom.

Canada’s population is concentrated in the southern part, in urban areas, as well as in agricultural and wooded areas between the urban centres spread out along the border with the US. Now, if we are widening our view and look at people that live beyond that southern stretch of land in more remote communities in the northern half of Canada, mostly on First Nation reserves, we see a different picture. Little known is the fact that these towns and communities might have electric power, but most often have no good drinking water. Children and adults get sick. TBC has been a recurring disease. Life expectancy there is so much shorter. Suicide rate among the young is high. Substance abuse is high as well, with little safety for children in those homes where substance abuse is a problem. This situation has been there since forever, since soon after the Europeans introduced alcohol and disease and
the Canadian government dismantled the exiting societies and their way of healthy living with the mandatory “education” efforts and boarding schools for children. (The British model?) This situation is not fixed yet; it is a third world situation in a rich nation.

Our Aboriginal children and the Canadian government.

The federal government is responsible (under the antiquated and patronizing Indian Act, established in 1876) for all First Nations’ people in all of Canada, on or off reserves. Funding issues are like ping pong balls batted back and forth between jurisdictions and deferred to the other authority. Provincial governments sit by idle and the federal government said it is a local issue; the politicians sit on their hands.Negotiations with First Nations’ representatives go on and on, without much impact.
Until last year when the grass roots movement “Idle No More” started, appealing to the general public and Canadian governments to stop being idle about these inequities between poor en rich that are getting larger, the average citizen feeling estranged and alienated from the governing process in Canada. The call is made by young and old, the First Nations’ activists among them prominent, to end poverty, and to end apathy among Canadians about this situation.

People on reserves and their children often live in poverty with, at some places, 98% unemployment, while the old ways of living off the land was destroyed in many places, due to environmental degradation and loss of habitat and wildlife. Half of all First Nations’ children live in poverty. Nationally that compares to 13.3% of all Canadian children living in poverty (according to a report from the UNESCO, also quoted on CBC website). The children on reserves have already many more strikes against them, due to our government ‘s history with forced assimilation and removing children at age 5 and over, to be brought up in Catholic and other religious boarding schools, far from their families for years, where the Indian-ness was beaten and “educated” out of them. Many were sexually abused as well, a shame that the Catholic church officials long covered up and still, the new pope is not clear and decisive about what to do with those priests that prey on children. A whole generation grew up that way and lost their cultural and emotional foundations. Their children pay for the Canadian government’s mistake to leave that education in the hands of the religious schools with their own agendas.

While services and funding for on-reserve children are clearly a federal responsibility, the federal government also provided some funding to urban Aboriginals. The off-reserve social support and services are distributed in the urban areas through so-called Friendship Centres that gets a core funding from the Government of Canada.

Children living off reserve fall under provincial child welfare policies. How are the authorities dealing with poverty, lack of housing and other systematic inadequacies, such as those that need help trying to find out which authority funds what services?
This systemic abuse and neglect of our First Nations is continuing and First Nations children are falling farther behind. First Nations’s youth (and adults) are over-represented in jails, as well as in foster care. It is clear there is a problem that is not going away.

The national Truth and Reconciliation Committee was established after advocacy from First Nations’ national organizations and some prominent Canadians with political clout.
The Truth and Reconciliation committee worked over the last 4 years to hear testimony from all over Canada from residential school survivors about the abuse perpetrated on First Nations’ children. The committee worked much like the South African committee of its namesake after the end of apartheid, to purge the evil and get the truth out, in this case about the terror and injustices of parents and children, and the abuse the children suffered at the hands of government agents and school staff. This major undertaking only was allocated $60 million to organize these hearings. In addition, each victim got allocated $3000 as compensation, to get some counseling.

Now those hearings are ended; the last one took place last Friday. And the results, you ask? How do you think such a person would feel, child victims then, after a life of suffering now in their sixties? I heard many felt bought off with a symbolic price that put value on a wrecked life of a First Nations person at the amount of $3000. Never mind the wrecked lives of their children, also adults now who did not receive the parental care they needed, because they
were too damaged and alienated from their history and culture to raise their own kids, and so on. Hence poverty and child abuse, children being taking int care, and so on.
What are those victims, their families and children going to do, get on with their lives? Is five years, $3000 and an admission by government they are sorry, and victims reliving the trauma leading to going to heal decades of hurt that affected at least two generations of First Nations people? How could they heal themselves when most are still living in poverty and are daily experiencing devaluation and many are not living in healthy families, and don’t have their children living with them, in many cases?

It needs to be said that at no time in history was a greater number of Aboriginal children in government care than at present, including the time of residential schools that affected roughly 150,000 children. At least 5100 died while in those schools. The number of dead children might grow, as documents are slowly obtained through court actions from government possession. At some schools 60%’of children died.

In the 2011 census, only 4.3 % of all Canadians were Aboriginal.
Almost half (48.1%) of all children aged 14 and under in foster care were Aboriginal children.
Nearly 4% of Aboriginal children were foster children, compared to 0.3% of non-Aboriginal children.

More information at the website http://www.fncaringsociety.com/publications/truth-reconciliation-transforming-legacy-residential-schools-2 and http://www12.statcan.gc.ca/nhs-enm/2011/as-sa/99-011-x/99-011-x2011001-eng.cfm.

Are we currently perpetuating a disaster to even to greater proportions than the residential schools disaster?

Just to provide some perspective on government spending, the following facts are enlightening: the British Columbia provincial government spent in the last few years $180 million on a new computer system for social services and child welfare that still is not working to keep BC’s kids safer, and makes it even more difficult than before, as it still is working poorly for that purpose, according to a report published by the children’s Commissioner of BC, Marie Turpel Lafond.

The BC government freely allocated millions to the capacity development of First Nations, to help them develop their own delegated child welfare agencies, so they could start managing their own child protection agencies in the future. These fund were provided without clear guidelines for the time frame of the funding and what the objectives in measurable terms were. Marie Turpel Lafond also reported on this in her report. Suddenly, this funding was cut recently and the plans towards First Nations organizations and authorities taking over the delegated child welfare work in BC has stopped, without notice. It it any wonder that government is perceived as “talking out of both sides of their mouth”?

In February 2014 the Canadian federal government cut the core funding of the Friendship Centres without notice. For forty years that funding had been in place. During that time programs improved and urban First Nations’ people that needed counselling or parental supports, etc. came to rely on those programs, delivered by staff of Aboriginal ancestry, for most part. The excuse is that the government of Canada isn’t into delivering programs and wanted to get out of that.

On the other hand, the Government of Canada subsidized the Olympics and athletic participation. Yes, that’s nice. Each year 62 million is provided, as is proudly explained on its website Own The Podium. So, for 4 years to work towards the Olympics, that is 248 million for the last one.

These government actions put spending towards child well-being in perspective, and it clearly shows where the priorities lie within our governments.

Prime minister after prime minister (federal), and premier after premier (provincial) promised to fix this situation and take care of all Canadians, not just the ones living in urban centres and/or non-Aboriginal, and promised to finally include equity for First Nations children in their mandate. It has not happened. Yet, as Dr. Cindy Blackstock, prominent advocate of First Nations and a member of the Salish First Nation of Canada’s west coast, points out: no area is too remote when it comes to mineral and oil exploitation. I guess oil is more important than water for the children of northern and First Nations’ residents.

Knowing all of this, it then becomes quite clear that it is obviously acceptable to Canada’s politicians that children get sick from the contaminated and undrinkable water, and it’s OK that they do not get access to clean water. It’s acceptable that First Nations children are not as valuable as other children and that when they live on a reserve, they get less health care and less education funding.
Children on FN reserves do not get the same medical insurance package and care as children living elsewhere: fly in doctors once a week, maybe, or the nurse will look after medical issues, as we can’t afford to station someone there. Handicapped kids can only get one implement or wheelchair part per calendar year, and not what they would need with no maximum, as under MSP for non-Aboriginal children: if they need it they get it.

First Nation children on and off reserve, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children of low income families, children of unemployed or low income workers, these all do not get equitable care.
When children of low income families stay sickly, due to poor food, and when not having their prescriptions filled, or do not get dental care, and do not as well in school, this all causes them as adults to have lower education, poor health, and have no, or low paying jobs, (if they do get work), and the cycle of poverty continues.

If children are hungry or sick, or even if they are healthy, but cannot participate in sports and expensive other recreational activities due to lack of parental income, the result will be that they are left behind, and again this puts them even lower on the grid of well-being.

This post tried to explain why Canada is doing so poorly on ensuring children’s well-being and ended up number 60 from the top on the list of all countries, and I am deeply ashamed for Canada. It needs to change.

Posted in Uncategorized, Diversity issues, EU, the Netherlands, world issues, International politics, Children and child protection, latest news items, healthy eating, alcohol abuse, Children | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

FIVE IN BLOOM: Strong Women and Complex Heroines


FIVE IN BLOOM: Strong Women and Complex Heroines.

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Finding Older Single Men: Part 2


Finding Older Single Men: Part 2.

Great post from Life in the Boomer Lane.

Thanks LBL!

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HERE COME THE DUTCH!


HERE COME THE DUTCH!

On Saturday a week ago I happened to watch an update on the Olympic Games with speed skating going on. I heard that the Dutch team won 24 medals, 23 in speed skating. They apparently won in each distance and each colour of metal, a force to reckon with, and the team to challenge. Wow, how did that happen? A country as small as the total size of Great Bear Lake, a mid-size lake in the NW Territories, how did they specialize in speed skating? A nation of rain and hardly any significant ice, with about half the residents of Canada, it sounds almost not logical. The nations with months on end of temperatures below zero, like Canada with double the residents of the Netherlands and many times it size, or the Scandinavian countries, or Russia would make more sense to have won all that metal.

As a Dutch-born and raised woman, I remember we all went outside as soon as it started freezing to try out the ice; when it had been freezing a few days on end, we were out skating on a purposefully frozen pasture (our skating rink), or on a pond or canal. Because the levels of the Dutch waterways were strictly controlled throughout the year to prevent floods, the canals made a good network of natural ice all throughout the nation. The nation is as flat as a pancake, no hills, no skiing, and no reason not to take the bicycle everywhere.

Stands would spring up along the side of natural ice, selling hot cocoa, hot water with brandy, or with lemons and sugar, which went down easily. This was in the time without much TV and no video games. Soon after, talk would begin about the seven-city tour, a challenging ride across natural ice, the participants skating along the edges of the large inner body of water, called the IJsselmeer. That tour was extremely challenging and took over a whole day, really a marathon on rough ice and the photos of frostbitten faces appeared on the front pages of the new papers. I still remember the names of winners of those tours. Unfortunately, due to climate change that tour happens less often, maybe every 15 year or so when it’s extremely cold. Skating was a passion in the Netherlands. When the country became more affluent in the seventies, the outdoor rinks were replaced by indoor rinks, ovals they call those in Canada, where skaters could fine tune their skills and train in relative luxury. Speed skates developed into speed machines, and were a common birthday present in those days.
During the years of the Second World War a lot of people in Europe did not have enough calcium in their diet due to food shortages; thus after the end of the war, milk was promoted up the Ying Yang by parents and the milk industry, resulting in large-boned children, and their parents became even larger. The Dutch are supposed to be the largest (not heaviest) people in the world, follows that they have long legs as well. It was funny to see a race of the Koreans skate against the Dutch: enough said about that.
In Canada, the provinces that have several months of cold weather and that are flat, making skating the natural option for recreation one would think, are the Prairie Provinces, Saskatchewan and Manitoba and much of Alberta. It is often minus 20 Centigrade and colder, so one doesn’t think of going outside, unless suicidal. I have no idea what those people do in the winter. Oh, yes, I do know: they are playing inside in rinks, curling, hockey, and the girls (and some men) do the twirling on white figure skates. They enjoy beer while doing this and the bonspiels in small towns are famous for the overindulging in that golden liquid during those times and sometimes followed by scrapping. I am not a reporter or sports aficionado, but it seems to me that hockey is all about scrapping or waiting until that happens. I am showing my ignorance here. In spite of talents who are great to watch, such as Gretzky and Sid the Kid, I cannot get excited: I hardly see where the puck sails off to. In Canadian affluent society, rinks are everywhere; most small towns have one, the ice time shared by every club and the public as well. Due to the cold weather, it doesn’t even costs that much to keep the ice good; the rinks’ roof and the bleachers inside make it rather OK to be inside.
Canada is all about hockey. Canada IS hockey, the national past time. Everybody can play in the summer, in the streets with a cheap net, or just two rocks or backpacks as goals at each end of a stretch in the street—skinny hockey. In winter it takes a dad to flood a backyard. Wayne Gretzky’s dad is famous for giving his kid a good start in the game on their backyard rink. Unfortunately, even with programs to help poorer families to get their kid into the game, as it is expensive to play with a club, where the road to become professional begins. Nevertheless, many families scrimp and save to have their kids play and hope for a golden future. The salaries are enormous and in my view, rather outrageous. I am sure the footballers in Europe and Brazil have comparable salaries.
I find it still a rather strange premise under which the Olympic are allow athletes to play. The Dutch speed skaters are amateurs, I bet, while the Canadian hockey players definitively are not. In the two nations, different circumstances led to specialization.
As a mountainous nation, Canada has many ski resorts where kids play and party during the winter months. The trip to the mountains is part of being young, ski hard, party hard: better than becoming a couch potato in front of the idiot box. Being active outside is the best way to enjoy the long winter.
This year the winter Olympics saw the Canadian and Dutch athletes established in their own specific sports. Canadians, with their crazy skiing, with their knack for performing at breakneck speed down a mountain in a sled, or on skies or a board, and on a rink with a stick and puck, or a rock and a broom, had a quite substantial number of medals, and the gold for hockey, while the Dutch with their long legs and buns of steel, took 23 of the 25 medals in the speed skating field (losing two to Canada).
Way to go, congratulations!

Did you enjoy the Olympics? What is your view of it, waste of money, enjoyable, other?
What was your favourite sports or moment?

Posted in Children, Green living, International politics, latest news items, the Netherlands, world issues | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

REFLECTIONS ON A SATURDAY MORNING


 

 

When I read the paper at the coffee shop this leisurely last Saturday morning, my horoscope said to keep a low profile today and go my own way. I was exactly doing that already and enjoyed the luxury of my breakfast Panini and “Americain” coffee— an Italian bun and French coffee that is called American. Since I began to read my favourite newspapers on line a couple of years ago, I hardly ever have an actual newspaper in my hands anymore and I have missed that, I now realized. It’s not the same and in fact a less social thing to read at home on a tablet, although I am not speaking to any of the others here in the place.

On the page with the obituaries (that I usually skip) my eye fell on the photos of the people. Underneath a photo of a youngish looking woman, I see a date exactly 2 days before my own birthday and I feel weird all of a sudden.  I started reading the ad. The woman had suddenly died abroad. It said that past year she had had a bout with breast cancer. It mentioned a lustrous career with accolades from the world she had made a career. She left mature children, a husband and parents behind. I wondered what had happened to her. Had she decided she did not want to spend the rest of her days battling and undergoing horrible treatments? Had her illness been discovered too late? Had she decided to go to a warm place and enjoy her last months the way she wanted to? I hope she had company and enjoyed her time. I feel for the family.

Maybe I was projecting what I think I would do if I was discovered to have advanced stage cancer. But then, what would anyone do? We are conditioned to fight, not to give up, as that is considered weak. Then there would be the physicians and relatives that want you to fight, as it is well known that motivation and mental state are strongly associated with becoming healthier. Relatives just don’t want to face that you might die and having to say goodbye to you.

Thinking about this sad description in a rather long obituary that expressed someone’s admiration for this woman, but still a life measured in only a few words – about a 2 inch advertisement – about a woman, I could not escape noticing that she was much like me and only born two days earlier. I suddenly was flushed with gratitude. All that I have in home and friendships, and at this age physically healthy, I must admit, it was quite extraordinary.  Yes, some years are less easy than others. I have been resentful and had losses in the last years, but all of that seems so trivial, so petty. I have many opportunities ahead of me; the world is really opening up for me with newly discovered talents and the assurance that I can follow my dreams.

Encouraged, feeling warm and energetic from the coffee and my spinach, sun dried and cheese Panini I left the coffee shop and headed to Winners.  Yes, life is too short to believe that thoughts of scarcity and saving money are better than spending a bit and enjoying life. I needed socks. In my last move in the summer I had been feeling generous and wanted to move less stuff. I had given away all my socks, most of my jeans and lots of my long sleeved tops to the Goodwill. Time to make a few purchases that can be justified at prices up to 70% off, as that is the slogan for their everyday prices.

Life is precious and so short. I am very aware of the need to make every moment count. The need to be true to oneself, to spend time alone and to be grateful for life and the people that surround me, I Have become very aware of this. I am grateful for the fact that my new second hand laptop is working and even publishes this blog post automatically with Windows 7 without having to log in on my website. I am sure I can download photos too, once I have figured out how.

 

I would love to hear from you. How are you feeling these days?

Posted in Babyboomer, Dealing with aging and dating, Exercise; old age; aging gracefully; yoga practice ; wholesome life, Mental health, religion, Retirement, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

DIGITAL PAIN


 

Never would I have thought that I would complain about a computer since I became the owner of one with the windows operating program (what was it, 1995?) that made \\dos a thing of the past and the ten year old Windows easy to use for the most computer challenged person. After all these years with a few upgrades that required no more than dropping off my tower at the tech and receiving some additional bytes and programs, the time has come that I have to get a whole new hard drive. My old one has not enough memory to even upgrade to the latest versions of software. I found that out when I could no longer download photos to my websites and when it took a whole evening for that to take place with freezes and much frustration.

I write and need to be sure I can find what I wrote in my folders. I received messages that said to make more space on my hard drive or to upgrade. I have Windows XP operating system. I started deleting programs that I never used and while I was busy with that, I deleted my Word program as well, by accident, mind you.

It took a while to find that out. I could not open my old work anymore. Until I had only the most basic accessories left, I kept deleting stuff. I assumed that now I would have enough clear space to download a newer version of Word, as the older version I had deleted, and was not available anymore to download from Microsoft. I had to get, at the very least, the Word version included in the Office2013 software package, the only available Word on the market now it seems. I had heard that the new Windows 8 is for touch screen versions and would not work that well with the regular screens. Office 7 was the one to get.

 I started downloading Office 365 from Microsoft. Once in the process of downloading, the message came up that this program would not work on my current Windows and I had to upgrade to at least a Windows 7. So I did. It went OK, although that was a very slow process and at the end it was clear that my system had all it could handle with Windows 7. There was no way I could upgrade to Office 365. I contacted Microsoft to ask for a rebate as my computer was not equipped with enough memory or whatever the proper term is. I did get my payment credited back to my account.

What to do next? I decided that maybe there is Word somewhere that I could get without the other office programs that I don’t need as a writer. I found one from a program for free. When I downloaded it, all kinds of pop-ups appeared FOR A WHOLE NEW TASK BAR WITH A BUNCH OF THINGS I DID NOT BARGAIN FOR. So I deleted that bar and stopped the downloading process.

Next I asked a few people for advice. I am not a gamer and do not need many applications. I also have a Facebook and a Twitter account and two websites for writing.  Other applications are wasted on me. I basically use the computer for email, Internet searches and as a word processor for writing and sending my stories out. I would recycle my own old system and I can’t afford to buy a new system.

For everyday checking and reading I have an iPad, the first version, and am pretty happy with it, although there’s one problem: I can’t download photos and text on my blog website on WordPress from it, and since that is a weekly activity, I need a PC to do that, or possibly a MAC that is not touch screen. I send my writing pieces from the iPad to the PC, or write and save directly on the PC. I signed up for Dropbox, but have been unable to make that work. Now that I can’t use my Word program on my PC anymore, I have another problem. I would like to know how to fix my old PC. My writing work is now in Notepad version only, although I am grateful I have at least access to those again.

 I did in the meantime find a 2 year old laptop with Windows 7 on it, on which I downloaded the new Office 2013 with Word, but that version (for Home office and Student at $139) has no Outlook, so I can’t email my pieces from my iPad to the laptop to download on the websites, although I have Internet on it. I probably should have bought the more expensive version of Office 365 with Outlook. Such overlap and still not what I want and need!

So to conclude all this misery:  I have a MAC tablet, a PC and a laptop with Windows and none does what I want it to do.

HELP!

I would appreciate any help and suggestions that don’t cost a month wages. Commiserate  comments also very welcome.

Posted in Creative fiction, E Books, Exercise; old age; aging gracefully; yoga practice ; wholesome life, memoir writing, Publishing, Short story, Uncategorized, Writing life | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

BETWEEN THE STACKS


BETWEEN THE STACKS

Vern was an awkward boy, built square, as wide as he was tall, a pale-skinned boy and very shy. Each time he was called on in class and met the teacher’s demand for a certain fact, I was surprised to hear his voice, a very thin and high pitched squeak, not at all what you would expect from his substantial physical appearance.
He was the last to be chosen to a team during the gym class. He moved slowly, as if he was not certain that he could count on his limbs actually following through on the brain’s commands. Vern tried to be invisible especially at those times.

Vern was the teacher’s last resort in the classroom. Vern always knew the answer to any question; his knowledge seemed beyond his age and more like an adult’s, not a sixth grader. I bet he knew as much as my auto-didactic dad.

Vern was an enigma. He never participated in any of the school events, nor did I see him around town with his parents, or with other relatives. Vern’s family did not go to our church, although he was enrolled in our Christian school. We kids knew very little about Vern. He didn’t have friends. He generally stood by the wall close to the entrance doors that were locked during recess time, as if he couldn’t wait to be let back in. Other kids were running around the school yard playing. Vern was too awkward to even be asked to play. I don’t think he ever asked anybody to play with him either.

Two kinds of parents sent their kids to my school. One kind chose our school as the only one on this side of the east bound highway to Germany that cut our village in two. Their kids walked to school without having to put their lives in danger crossing that two-lane main traffic artery.
The other kind of parents – mine – selected the small, separate school for its strict adherence to religious underpinnings, bible stories in the curriculum, and the practice of prayer at the start of the day. I was pretty sure that Vern’s parents belonged to the first category, because I had never seen Vern in our church.

I found out where Vern lived by accident through my buddy-next-door, Hank. His family had run the bakery cum grocery store on the corner from my street for generations. The business had a delivery service: twice a week for bread, once a week for groceries; bread delivery was often left to the elder children – under 13 years old – and sometimes also friends of the family pitched in. Hank was born the second of seven kids. They used bicycles equipped with a carrier over the hind wheel that held dual-sided, large canvas bags. That was for the bread. Hank’s parents delivered the groceries with the family’s station wagon packed to the hilt, on Fridays. No matter the weather, the deliveries had to go out.

One day Hank said he would show me where Vern lived. We were making deliveries after school, Hank on the bike with his bike’s side bags bulging with bread; I rode my own bike.
Hank was allowed to take the back entrance wherever he went. As the delivery boy he was required to use the back door and would have received a chiding had he rang the door bell at the front, forcing the resident to drop what she was doing to answer the door.
When we entered through the back door of Vern’s home, I thought that we had entered the shed or a utility room, because piles of newspapers were stacked up in rows all the way up to the ceiling.

In those days people collected all kinds of things, such as newspapers, metal scraps and old clothes, to sell for a small sum to the local recycling business we called the Rag Man, a Gypsy who ran his business from a large barn in the oldest part of town two blocks from my home. Vern’s “shed” with recyclables and stacked newspapers was nothing unusual to me.

Hank called out: “Hello, the baker!”

We heard a response from inside the home: “Come on in, Hank.”

A woman appeared who obviously could have been nobody other than Vern’s mother. She had his face, but older, and the same stocky built with the same mousy-coloured, thin hair that lay flat and greasy against her head in a blunt cut.
Behind her stood Vern. We said “hi” to each other hardly audible, our eyes hardly met before glancing away quickly.

“Hi Hank, how are you? And who is this young lady you brought along?”

Hank explained: “This is a friend and she’s in the same class as Vern. She’s helping me today”.

“That’s nice of her. How’s your mother?”

“Mother is fine. She is asking if you plan on coming to the store to pick up the groceries Friday.”

“I’ll let her know, it depends on the weather. So, Vern, you know this young lady then?”

Vern confirmed with a nod that yes, he knew me. Vern looked as timid as he was in school and stayed quiet during our brief visit, standing around behind his mom. His mother seemed more talkative and was very friendly to us. She beckoned us to come inside the house and told Hank to drop the bread off in the kitchen.

We moved into a different space as told. I followed Vern’s mom and Hank. I was not really aware it was a different space, as we were unable to see any walls or doorways. We walked through small corridors between the rows of stacked magazines, newspapers, cardboard boxes with who knows what, and books stacked all the way up to the ceiling. The home looked like a corn maze made of paper in all of its possible manifestations. We very well could be in the living room, by the looks of a chair at the end of a paper path.

I followed Hank who moved deeper into the paper forest. We must have ended up in the kitchen, as I saw a sink, with empty cans and jam jars in boxes covering the countertop completely, arching for the ceiling. The rest of that space was full with much of the same: paper. I saw no stove and no table, or anything that might indicate a kitchen cabinet for plates and cookware.
I wondered how Vern’s mother cooked their meals and realized in the next minute that maybe they did not cook, just ate from the can, or ate sandwiches, bread. No wonder Hank was received so welcoming: he literally brought their daily bread, doing God’s work.

Vern’s mom and Hank chatted a bit more; she seemed smart and normal to me. Then Hank told her: “We have to be getting on; we have more deliveries to make.” We left.

I was starting to realize the weirdness of Vern’s situation and his home, could not wrap my head around it: this smart classmate of mine, who was destined for university and was considered a genius at school, and yet he was coming from this unusual home and this mother. The woman was kind and seemed normal in all ways, just wasn’t a good housekeeper. I was confused.

My mom was a good housekeeper who washed her windows every 2 weeks, daily dusted the furniture and at least weekly vacuumed, who scrubbed her doorstep weekly and polished the copper doorknob and letter slot as well. She did the laundry every Monday and Tuesday. That was normal to me.
I was floored by Vern’s mother and the way her home was not what I considered “proper”. Yet, she treated us with respect and not like my parents who thought that kids need to play outside and be quiet, be seen and not heard, heck, preferably not even be seen. That did not meant my parents didn’t love us, just that it wasn’t important to spend quality time with your kids. In the large families of those days before the invention of “the pill” kids mainly raised each other: the older ones taught their young siblings.

As kids we were a loosely formed band of neighbourhood kids that got together and roamed the town and the forest surrounding it for their entertainment. We spent our days outside doing kids’ things, unsupervised by adults. Vern was not part of that group. I imagined that he read and had conversations with his parents. His father was a farm labourer. I imagined things were tight around his home and food not important, judging by the state of the kitchen. But then, no children I knew those days had wealthy parents.

Vern and his mother were the first unusual persons I met. They did not fit the template of my eight year old self on how people should be, which had really been my parents’ template. I was unsure how to evaluate the new information about Vern. He was an outsider at school, a very smart outsider. Did he know something about the world that I didn’t? Why did he stay on the sidelines? Vern was left alone by the other kids – no, ignored. Not by Hank who always greeted Vern cheerily. As a representative of his family’s business and taught by his kind and gracious mother, Hank accepted all kinds of people as a matter of fact. He treated anybody with joviality and kindness.

From that day on I made a point of saying hello to Vern at school in passing. Although I did not become his buddy, I did not join in the occasional negative talk about him around the play ground. We kids just played.
Vern continued to make himself scarce and hung around the edges of the school yard. He did not make it hard to avoid him. I imagined he was aware of his home’s unusual appearance and might have felt unable to invite anybody to his home, if he ever had made a friend. Now that the cat was out of the bag, he seemed less strange to me.

Vern went to a different high school than me, in another town, and he disappeared from my life. I left my home town to never return, moving away as far as I could to the other end of the country, to Amsterdam. In my early thirties, I decided to emigrate and flew across the ocean, to spend the better half of a life far away from home. I now know that I tried to escape my parents’ “proper” world within me, hungry for the unusual and unknown, always looking for new truths and new experiences, the kind that I got from knowing Vern that shifted my view of what a good mother is, and redefined it.

I asked around to find out what became of Vern. He indeed went to go on to university in another part of the nation, got a job, married and had two children. Like 50% of my generation, he also got divorced. I don’t know if he is satisfied with his life.
If I could do it all over again with the knowledge I have now, I would invite Vern to come and play at my home, and make a stronger effort to chat with him in the playground, showed more compassion. If I could meet him again, I would tell him that meeting his mom had a profound effect on me, which I only realized years later.

I say this as a mature, older woman. I know as well that as a child I was too eager to belong to a group, wanted to be thought of as popular and that image would be blighted had I hung out with Vern on the playground. My parents did not teach us anything beyond the rules of the church and religion that basically squeezed all the fun out of life and taught kids to fit the mold. Rather than becoming the unique person each is born to be with a functional brain to figure out what to think, we were fed pre-chewed thoughts and discouraged from developing critical thinking. Conservatism was good, having status was preferred. In that small world of seamless social control no child could survive by rebellious or non conformist behaviour. No wonder I had to fight that soul crushing world I was raised in. I am still fighting…

Posted in Babyboomer, Children, Children and child protection, Diversity issues, Parenting, Short story, the Netherlands, Uncategorized, Young Adult books | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SAN ANDRES FIESTA, AJIJIC, JALISCO, MEXICO


Continue reading

Posted in Babyboomer, Diversity issues, Exercise; old age; aging gracefully; yoga practice ; wholesome life, Global immigration, Immigration, International politics, Mexican life, Music, Relocation to mexico, Retirement, world issues | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

THE END OF WORK?


My last post was dated July 4, 2013. What happened since? I am sorry I was unable to keep writing and I hope I did not lose too many readers in the meantime.

 

ON AGING

ON WORK AND MENTAL ILLNESS

BAD BEHAVIOUR OR SYMPTOMS OF ILLNESS?

 

My last blog post was written a long time ago. The hiatus was due to other things happening and taking over my life. The year 2013 was one of upheaval and change for me, all of it leading to the realization that the next stage in my life is pushing hard to take the place of the present. Yes, that would be retirement from my day job.

 

I have not been able to write. My brain would not focus. My usual ability to take distance from my daily life–finding refuge in imagination and writing–was completely shattered during this time.

 

In the months since I last wrote on this blog I was assigned a new job over the summer, and failed in the eyes of my superiors. I was assigned yet another new job with reduced responsibilities and less exposure to stress at a new work site, new supervisor, plus less salary.  I was ill with anxiety.

 

I had little input in these changes; I felt chastised and very vulnerable. Never before in my life had I felt less control about my work life, or less sure about my rights as an employee. Perception of the reason for my incapacity is everything. Was my poor performance wilful defiance and did it warrant discipline?  Was it a mental health problem and accommodation for illness would be more relevant? How can one tell the difference? What is the right course of action?

 

Just now the discussion of incapacity on the job is front and centre in the media with Rob Ford, mayor of Toronto, as the subject of the scandal. The man is obviously mentally unhinged and possibly ill, besides being a bully, but he does not seem to know it.  

My trip into mental deterioration started in  2011 and resurfaced this year, 2013. I became aware that I was not myself mentally in January 2012. My deterioration happened due to several causes, but the most obvious was that the stress I experienced from the particular work I did. The exposure to hostile and aggressive clientele during long years on the job, added to the absorption of the trauma told to me on the job by many women and children, finally affected my resiliency. I became ill: my ability to focus and to cope with stress decreased acutely as a result. 

 

I won’t speak here about other factors that were related to the work site. Suffice to say that I made mistakes on the job, followed by more scrutiny from superiors.  As a strong person, a straight shooter and outspoken, a shop steward for many years, and a volunteer on committees and in associations, it was hard to see for others what was going on with me. Besides the perception of me and my illness, others have their own agenda: office politics always play a role on any worksite.

 

Once cool-headed and able to deal with the most explosive or hostile rant from any difficult client, I now was crumbling on the job, breaking down crying, hiding from calls, confused, exhausted, full of irrational fears, unable to stay at work. I was off sick for several months. However, I recovered with a short period of prescription medications and by leading an active and healthy life style, yoga a very useful part of it. I returned to work gradually and was deemed rehabilitated, although I felt somehow different, changed forever, vulnerable.

 

I was easily unhinged: return to the same job with increased stress (as my case load increased) caused a similar flight or fight response and similar reactions of withdrawal as before. Yes, my illness returned. This time I recognized the symptoms and turned to my physician and therapist sooner. I was able to prevent deterioration to he previous point of serious illness and was off for only a brief period.

 

My illness lingered anyway at a lower level of intensity although my capacity to work was clearly affected. Eventually, the medication prescribed by my specialist together with the clinical counseling I have enjoyed in the last months helped me get back on an even keel. I enjoy the desk job I now occupy. I feel functional again. I have less fear and anxiety about going to work. I have seen the light at the end of the tunnel and know that I am heading for the end of work as I knew it.

 

Will I ever be the old me again? No, I do not expect that. One always changes through the experiences of life. I would be very concerned if I would not have changed through this ordeal. That would mean that my self preservation instincts were dismantled and then I really would be in trouble.

 

I have never been a fearful type and usually entered any adventure or challenge put before me. I was proud of my lack of fear. My mantra was “I will try anything once”.

In the least three years I learned what it means to live with anxiety and be fearful. 

My trust in others has drastically changed. Everybody has an agenda, although it may be hidden. What is obvious to me, might not be to others. Trust in myself has changed. I obviously cannot get out of any difficult situation anymore without harm. This is nature; growing older and wiser is part of aging; knowing one’s limits and strengths is part of wisdom.

 

In a few years I will retire. I will have gained another increment of wisdom towards becoming a Sage. Ha! I don’t have to prove myself any more, nor compete with the Gen-Xers. In this time of overvaluing looking young and unblemished, when plastic surgery for cosmetic reasons is not frowned on while, strangely, young people are not really valued, I am content. I am not young. I am not old, but aging, looking forward to being able to devote more of my time to writing.

 

I  will continue to write stories and will blog again. Who knows, my experiences of the last years might come in handy one day and show up in a story.

First I will leave tomorrow for a vacation in Mexico. Stay tuned…

 

Posted in Babyboomer, Exercise; old age; aging gracefully; yoga practice ; wholesome life, Mental health, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

CANADA DAY and HOMEGROWN BOMBERS


On CANADA DAY (July 1) we could easily have had a disaster on the lawn in front of the British Columbia legislature in Victoria, with similar effects in terms of injured and maybe deaths as occurred only two months ago at the Boston Marathon.

Canada experienced the dubious “first” in recent times of having the first female involved in a planned bombing. (I remember the left wing Baader-Meinhof terrorist group with the famous couple staging attacks in Germany in the seventies).
This young woman, Amanda, was born in 1983 and is two years older than my daughter who lived also in Victoria until recently. Together with her boyfriend, John, born in 1974, Amanda placed three home made bombs in the crowd that was celebrating Canada Day, a rather friendly and sedate–and typically Canadian–festivity where we enjoy being Canadian and listen to bands performing for free. It was Canada’s 146th birthday.

Canadians paint their faces with little maple leaf flags in red and white. Ethnic foods are offered and readily consumed. More exuberant youth dress in flags and paint part, or their whole bodies red and white. In the evening crowds gather for the fire works while many youth take this opportunity to indulge a little in the alcoholic variety of drink. This takes places all over Canada in small and large towns, and in our big cities. It is a nice day off that offers one day in the year for use to be (guardedly) proud of being Canadian.

Analogue to the home grown terrorists that caused such mayhem at the Boston marathon, these two BC residents placed pressure cookers with nails and other sharp object in the crowd. It would have been an even greater disaster than that unfortunate event that shocked the American people and their neighbouring Canadians. Nobody of the public knew about this operation in progress,were it not that the bombs did not go off.

What happened?

On July 2 these you radicalized youth were arrested in a city on the mainland close to Vancouver (Abbotsford) on Monday at 2 PM by the RCMP. They were brought before a judge, charged with conspiring to place an explosive device in a public place with the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury, knowingly facilitating a terrorist activity and being in possession of an explosive device.

It is getting close to home: 2 young people, one of them a musician from the province of BC, the so-called California North, and I wonder why these young people with their whole life before them resort to such a destructive act that surely would bring them a whole lot of attention and notoriety in this otherwise laid back province and equally peaceful nation.

The police are closed mouthed and only informed the public that the Canadian Security Intelligence Services detected the plot early, in February, and that many targets and locations for the assault were discussed since then. The police stated that they made sure that the devices would not be alive and were completely under their control, and presented at no time a threat to the public.

They gave no motive for the attempt and pronounced that no links to international organizations were present. This couple allegedly acted strictly on their own, and no direction from any terrorist group was connected to them, although for some reason the police spokesperson found it necessary to add that the threat was “inspired by al Qaeda ideology”, whatever that might be. The next court date will be in a week.

The pair has been living in basement suite in Surrey, another suburb of Vancouver. No other information was presented.
The newly elected premier of our province, Christy Clark, stated that she was informed of the pending arrest that same morning, shortly before she headed out to celebrate Canada Day in Kelowna–my city! It so coincidentally happened that she is campaigning here. Ms Clark lost her own seat in her riding as member of the BC Legislature in the last election. It is weird fro the premier not to be elected herself, so the caucus arranged for the current member to step down and create a need for the by-election in our region: a traditional area where her party is strong.

I did not watch any TV at all as I was out most of the day on Canada Day, watching performers in concerts and having a few drinks myself. When I heard the news the following day, I was pretty shocked, but pleased that these two young people were stopped in their tracks. I also wondered whether staging attacks with home made bombs is now the new bad boy/bad girl thing to do, when nothing else can hold their attention–or get them attention? I surely hope not.

Many of our young people stay quite sedated and passive, causing nobody grief. I wondered what happened to BC bud (the notoriously strong local weed with high levels of THC) that it did not manage to keep these two placated and passive. Maybe they did not smoke it habitually or not often. I am sure eventually we will hear what happened to these two young people who ruined pretty much the rest of their lives, for the most part. I am glad for us and for them that they did not become killers.

Do you have any thoughts about this event or anything you wanted to comment on? I would love to hear it.

I would love a “Like” on Facebook, or a retweet, and if you rate the top that would be even greater.

Posted in adolescents, alcohol abuse, Children and child protection, International politics, Kelowna event, latest news items, Uncategorized, war on drugs, world issues | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment