Kids' Own World

an illustrated magazine for children

Kids' Own World

an illustrated magazine for children

With Your Permission
Essays by Constance Scrafield

International Women's Day (IWD)

By Constance Scrafield

This was yesterday, March 8 and I certainly hope that every man in town made a point of giving a lady a flower, regardless of their relationship. In 1908, 15,000 women marched in New York to demand better wage equity and the right to vote, from which a year later, the Socialist Party of America called for National Women's Day.

It was in 1910 when German born Clara Zetkin, a women's rights advocate suggested an International Women's Day at a conference of Working Women in Copenhagen, where, according to notes from the BBC, the 100 women from 17 countries unanimously agreed with her.

In 1911, International Women's Day was officially celebrated in Denmark, Austria, Switzerland and Germany, marking this year the 111th International Women's Day.

The United Nations finally acknowledged and celebrated International Women's Day (IWD) in 1975. In many countries, IWD is a national holiday; in China, many women are given a half day off work; in Italy la Festa della Donna see women being given mimosa blossoms, a tradition vaguely associated with the end of World War II. In the US, March is Women's History Month, with an annual presidential proclamation honouring “the achievements of American women.”

Canada is (seemingly) a world leader in its official stand for women's rights and equality in all matters pertaining to employment and social equality on every level. Yet, we live in times where the legislation struggles behind reality and the safe houses for women fleeing abuse are full and the level of trafficking is still solid. In some countries, women are tortured and killed for how they wear their clothing and the universities in Afghanistan welcomed back students but only male. Women are still being denied the right to education, denied their rights at all.

One year, on March 8, we were in Cuba where we took a shuttle bus our resort provided to go to beautiful Havana. As Patricia and I stepped out of the bus as it stopped in the city, a chap came up to us with flowers in his hands and gave us each one, wishing us warmly happy International Women's Day.

Colin followed us out of the bus and was told, “No, senor, not for you – these are for the ladies only...” Everything else about Havana was lovely too.

Being a woman is wonderful. So much of our lives are lived on different levels, in different places from men. Whether or not we opt to have babies, create the mystery of new life within us, most of us can; we are designed for it and that has historically been a problem for men and in my opinion, the basis of their oppression, their brutality and the ridiculous idea that a woman should be paid less than a man.

In our quest for recognition of our intelligence, our bravery, our human approach to business, living, running the world, the baby bearing has been somewhat of a complication but it explains our innate wisdom and efficiency. The division of the labour of living, from who does the household chores to all the decision making can become muddled when mixed with professional lives.

But there is a con that we have bought into all along: man = strong; woman = weak, soft, even sentimental. That for a woman to be a leader of men means being a man, or stronger than a man. Or worse: to keep a man, a woman has to be silly or groomed to entice or supplicant. To avoid being beaten, she has to be less.

Some of those ideas have been knocked on the head by the MeToo movement and it was a long time coming. Even so, listen to the language that continues, the insinuations that still exist, still promoted in entertainment, in films and our culture generally.

Education begins at home, in early childhood and there is no avoiding that. Commonly, if a father is an abuser, his son stands a chance of becoming that person too. If children are listening to fighting between their parents, laced with abusive words and language, they will use those words early on and lose respect outside the home. If the parents are racist, homophobic, ableist – all that – the children will adopt those values and struggle to lose them later on when such attitudes are seen to be untenable.

If we as parents are respectful of our children, truly interested in what they have to say and sensible about protecting them from the internet, for example, when they are young, they stand some chance of growing to face the world with good defences. If they know for sure they can bring their troubles home to listening parents, we might be able to keep them safe.

It is wonderful to be a woman. We carry all the answers within us and none of them include endless war or the destruction of everything around us. If men would come to us with humility, which I mean not as debasement for them but from finally understanding our worth, together we could solve so much...

March 3rd, 2023

Of Water and Wily Beings

By Constance Scrafield

What a life to be a politician. All those opportunities for self- enrichment, the chance to do good (“har-ahr,” says the elephant); well, to do oneself or as a lessor benefit, one's party good. Hmmm – doing the party good means getting re-elected. That's the idea. And promoting individual minions so that their opportunities are excellent for self- enrichment and so forth.

You have to love the parties, you know, all that food and flattery, those monied people with plans for their self-enrichment – it's beginning to smell pretty sweet around here. Anyway, those business men sure know their business; they know how to spin the story to Joe Public – what the hell does the regular guy know anyway or – really, right? - what does he care - about anything? As long as he's making his “two tens and a five a week,” as the old saying goes; as long as he can buy a new car every five or six years and raise his kids to be okay – listening to their whining -that's natural. When they're little, they're cute until they get older, get mouthy- start listening to other kids whose parents have a little more money. Then – what a pain – they want this and they want that – something some other kid has.

All that preoccupies the little guy and his day-to-day. He isn't interested in paying attention to politics and that suits politicians just fine; let's them get on with the deals and the plans.

Some of the travelling is great - first class all the way and meeting some first class people, I can tell you, who want to talk about the big time, the big bucks – stuff the little guy can't even imagine, the deals and the way people talk about them. The way they tell the narrative, what they say to the press. It's beautiful, everybody gets to keep their lights on, put gas in their cars and do what they want.

Of course, everybody likes to moan and complain – what's life without a good bitching once in a while and they love to pretend they know what's going on, imaging how politicians and businessmen – people who matter – people running the show, how they make it all happen – there'd be no lights, no gas without them and in their hearts, people know that, don't they?

Look, if people get rich making sure the oil flows and the world keeps turning – isn't that how it all happens? And what's wrong with getting rich? That's capitalism; that's business and we're in it for the profits. What does everyone think we're working so hard for – for profits, baby – for the profits.

Then, there's the do-gooders, the “experts.” Man, it was great when politicians could tell so-called scientists to just shut up, to order them not to talk to the press – that was a good use of power. Those people just upset everybody and their grandmas. Why do old people have to be worried because a bunch of “environment people” say things are going badly? Things are what they are because they have to be. Because your common man wants what he wants – to have a steak on his dinner plate and be able to go to a baseball game on Saturdays – to drive to the cottage in the summer and take his kids skating in the winter. He just wants a quiet life.

That's what democracy is all about – they vote or, even better, they don't bother; they think running the show is somebody else's problem and they're right! Running the show is the politicians' business; it is the job of the big wigs and if they get rich doing it, they deserve it.

See, it's like this: you say what you have to at the time, what people want to hear – they want to think anyone cares about water and frogs and risking the lives of “delicate species,” for crying out loud. There'll always be frogs and birds somewhere; if you have dig up a swamp to build nice houses – so what? But, as a politician, somewhere along the line, you have to pretend to care - pretend those things matter until the deals are done and it's time to move on. One day, you're all about the frogs and their ponds; another day, it's time for the frogs to have a bad day and for business to move in. There can be other ponds for other frogs that'll look just like the one you needed for those deals.

Making deals isn't as simple as it sounds. It takes a lot of talking, a lot of shaking hands – years of it. Some deals are made years ahead of when they go forward. Years of investment and waiting for the right moment.

This isn't corruption. It's about giving people what they really want and what they don't want. They don't want to be responsible.

They just want an easy life. They just want to watch hockey on Saturday nights with a few beers and their pals.

February 15th, 2023

Faux Snow

By Constance Scrafield

The snow is in the way, only to be a nuisance until it melts.

Let's go diving...

Once upon a time, in the lovely Canary Island of Tenerife (400 kilometres off the Sahara west coast of Africa), in the village of Los Cristianos, life was near idyllic. Theme parks have since been erected and over 4,000 accommodation spaces are now available.

Once though, Los Cristianos was very pleasant – where we ate at leisure in a restaurant on the beach, where a pedestrian walk way lead to more than one small bar – chose you favourite, where the barkeeper would custom mix your booze, where the tiny shops sold locally made goods and the ladies who lived in the mountains just behind the town came down and were not shy to approach you at a coffee bar to sell you their beautiful hand -stitched table cloths and light cotton shirts, all in in the sub tropics, where it is always a European spring. Bliss, it was bliss...

And I learned to scuba dive there.

Henry and Monika, a German couple, ran their business from a reasonable dive shop attached to a hotel, where they could use the swimming pool to teach people how to dive safely, right from the basics.

For me, the basics started with snorkelling, which is a skill that knows how to be in water and still breathe. Swim on the water's surface, flippers and mask in place, mouth piece of the snorkel held firmly between my teeth, hands loose at my sides, body bottom kept just under. Kick, kick – flippers are fun.

Then, to learn to descend under the water, allowing the snorkel to fill – rise again slowly now with the breath I was holding and then – blow! And clear the snorkel for my next breath, keeping my face under water. Go around the pool and do it again lots of times because being able to snorkel is essential and easy once you believe.

Diving equipment, primarily the air tanks and weight belt, is heavy but underwater is weightless – no need to travel to space for that thrill. In fact, for anyone who doesn't know it, astronauts first learn about life in space underwater right here on earth. Same thing, only harder than space. Water pressure as one descends affects the body variously on the way down and surviving the tons of water pressing on us as we go deeper demands attention when we began to return to the surface. This is true even in the relative safety of a swimming pool.

I was only learning to dive because I was in Tenerife with my pal John Higgs -'Iggs, I call him, who is a deep sea diver, having done it all off many oil rigs in seas around the world. He was my dive buddy and stuck pretty close to me all the way, showing me how to pinch my nose to blow my ears as we lowered ourselves from the surface.

It was important to learn to clear my mask while still in the pool and Henry made sure I was confident about it once we were 30 feet down. Tip the top of the mask open a tiny bit and let a little water in to clear the inevitable fog – whoosh. Tip the bottom of the mask, bend my head back and blow thorough my nose –and there is the wonderful underwater world – miles of it.

Have you ever had a flying dream? It comes true underwater. To learn to breathe and join in with the colourful crowd who live there, as one of them nearly, is a real thrill. Fish are funny and curious. They invited me into their schools and once or was it twice. 'Iggs was after me not to travel with them. Worried eyes behind his mask and a “no” finger that brought me back to the group.

We sank slowly down the face of a cliff and Henry had come prepared with treats – for the Moray eels who lived in individual holes in the cliff. They expected him and stuck their homely heads out here and there to accept a fish – this one and that. He gestured to join him and, trust is all, I did.

One eel came out like an instructor to take the fish I offered, politely as a kindly dog. Then – Henry demonstrated how to scratch its head. I hesitated – aren't eels dangerous or grumpy at least? Not these ones. The fool thing got into the attention, enjoying the scratch as silly as a cat – who knew?

Not all marine life is as benign. In another dive with 'Iggs off the coast of Lanzarote, we saw a very colourful creature whose bright spiny body looked “cute” waving in the water and there was a fleeting second when I started to reach out to touch it but 'Iggs was there in a flash shaking his head. We later learned the name of the creature from another diver and that touching it led to paralysis that was often incurable.

Lesson: keep your hands to yourself except for the Moray eels that were Henry's friends.

February 1st, 2023

Beautiful Italy

By Constance Scrafield

Writing in another post about Italy, took me irresistibly to my own life and times in that wonderful country.

Descending from the Swiss Alps into the Italian countryside at an age of just old enough to be travelling with my equally young husband, Ernest, the contrast between the two countries was stunning. Somehow, merely a days's travel brought us to a completely different place, where the priorities of life were quite diverse and the social expectations were still to be learned. Maybe the weather, the wine, the art made the difference but the feeling of being in Italy is its own. Perhaps, it is the warmth of the colours, the red tile roofs, the sienna brick, the olive groves and the vineyards but everywhere our eyes rested, they were happy eyes for Italy is an “artscape,” (my word) by which I mean that everywhere is a place one might want to paint, want to write a poem about it or take a stream of photos.

Actually, my first reaction was that they did not paint their houses as often as do the Swiss.

We were headed for the village of Batignano deep in deepest Tuscany and I am pretty sure I have written about this part of our first adventures in Italy but let repetition of this moment be the launch for other tales. Batignano was a village of a thousand people, a country place next to which was Il Vecchio Convento, which in due course became host to an annual opera festival. However, when we arrived, it was still very basic with no running water, only a well in the centre courtyard and certainly no electricity. Just lamps and blankets for a cool evening in bed. The building itself is large, a monastery after all, three hundred years ago, halls lined with very basic rooms, a large area in which to gather and was the dining room, fireplaces, a kitchen with a stove that worked off a gas bombula – well, it was wonderful.
The olive grove that was part of the property was a our reason in theory for being there, as we had been invited by the co-owner of the establishment, Adam Pollock, to come and pick the olives when, by a charming series of circumstances, we met him while he was in Toronto, designing an opera for the Canadian Opera Company (COC).

Perforce, we learned to speak Italian once we were there, as no one in the village spoke English and our hosts were soon to leave us in the place on our own when they returned to the U.K. During our lifetime of a few months, living there, Ernest working for the contractor who was replacing the roof (we laughed at the idea that thousands of Italians came to Canada to work in construction and here was Canadian Ernest coming to work in construction in Italy). I learned to wash our laundry in the fontina, a spring fed channel, half way down the track the village, where the ladies met to wash and wring their clothes and laugh at my fledgling Italian. They show me how to grasp and wring each garment. The Italian sun soon dried them on the line up by the old monastery. Down in the village, I made a daily run ostensibly to check for letters at the post office but really to gossip with the locals. They corrected my every mistake, very kindly. It was just great. Ernest too, had an easy method by asking about everything he touched: “Como s'é chiama?” how do you call this? And learning immediately whatever it was, retaining all of it, with clarity. Generous and patient, they never minded the lessons did our neighbours; they applauded our determination to learn.

We travelled, of course we did. Christmas in Rome and what a shock it was to finally stand before St Peter's Basilica, after seeing so many photos of it. It is a place of tremendous history, after all, a power house as well, with the mighty Sistine Chapel in the Vatican Museum behind. The bones of St. Peter in the tomb called the Vatican Necropolis beneath the Basilica. A celebrity of buildings, in many ways unparalleled. Down further south, we went to Naples, the home of pizza, by the way - no pineapple in those days for sure. The city had a heavy reputation of crime, with theft a constant constraint. We were fascinated to go on to visit the ruins of Pompeii, that astonishing city of dust, where the volcano of Vesuvius blew in CE 79 so violently and fast that the ash it produced stopped people as they ran, preserving them instantly so that what they were doing and where they were going is known even now. A city moment captured and kept for all time. Long term and meticulous archeological work have uncovered and detailed the lives of those people, their lives and loves so many centuries later.

What chance gave these times to chronicle and remember is a blessing, for which I will always be grateful.

January 4th, 2023

All the Moments

By Constance Scrafield

Things are shaky, we have to admit and I suspect many people are living their lives in swathes of time. Because so much of their daily lives is spent in the virtual ocean of the virtual world, they may be missing in the actual moments of their real lives.

Time, the mischievous phantom that it is, is open to interpretation, speculation and absent mindedness, dragging its feet here, scrambling to rush us there. Primarily, it is the one asset in our lives that we can never replace and whatever else it is, it is precious, more precious than any possession we could ever own.

A moment is gone, a day, a year and that is it for those opportunities. That terrible old expression, “killing time” sets my teeth on edge. I know, it means while waiting or hoping or putting the moment on pause. Still, spare time should still be treasured.

Time should be revered.

Like seeing a ghost, still hanging around since who knows when, our perception of how we can capture the life we have changes continually. To grasp all we can and see it, feel it, know it was real – to make memories within our lives and the lives of others we know, the souls in our lives whom we love and remember to let them know we love them, that can be a good use of our time.

Every chance we have to make the moments belonging to other people, make those moments better, whether near and dear or a complete unknown, every chance - why would we ever miss an opportunity to improve it with kindness, courtesy, a smile?

The meaning of life is to benefit the space in which we find ourselves at any given moment, to assure that the air we leave behind us is in good shape from how we behaved, how we embraced the needs in any small way, of the others who were in the same space.

Silly of me to harp on about it, I realize. Too “Pollyanna?”

Think about how people drive. We all complain but how many of us participate in the frenzy of passing at high speeds on country roads, dashing in and out of lines of traffic on the highways, risking our own safety? Silly. Crazy. Living in a hurry. I do it too.

You know, we are responsible for the memories we create for others. How often do we hear stories about the time when the individual telling it is relating a moment of unexpected kindness and from a stranger? Those stories seem to last forever and some are told often, displayed like a treasured thing, as something rare and important.

That is the meaning of life. To have the privilege to deliver the unexpected kindness that becomes a treasure in the life of another.

If we are blessed with the ongoing and daily obligation of creating memories for our children and, on the other hand, our parents, would we not do everything we can to make those memories precious, bricks from which to live benevolently?

I am an only child, an only grandchild to my maternal grandparents and never a day goes by when I do not think of them with gratitude for the memories they gave me and the strength of love they bestowed on me and I do not understand how any parent or sibling or cousin would not want to do as much for their family.

By extension, almost like a joke wrapped in truth, we are, so it seems, so it is said, linked to each other, related to each other.

We are linked to every living thing around us – what has science begun to understand – that we are mere molecules from our kin, the banana. What this really means is all life is connected. The ancient Celts knew and celebrated this interconnectedness of humanity with nature with the spirit world by the weaving of their knots, in and out with no ending: life is circular, not a dead end...

There is a lot of pain in this world, intentionally, methodically inflicted pain coming from the worst in us, the undefeated darkness that disdains all but the glory of self, bathed in the debasement of others. Somehow, that darkness is working to have a strangle hold on everything, understanding all too well on how the link of everything to everything else works.

We can only stand against it, refuse to participate in it, point it out for all the cruelty and falsehood that it is. Some of us hold the line to influence in a big way; for most of us, our influence is small. Yet, every pebble by the ocean makes the beach.

Whether or not we march in protests against the dark, bearing our home made signs, tacked proudly to wooden sticks and held aloft for the cameras to see and report, whatever we do to tell the stories of harm, we can tell the kind stories too.

We can keep telling those good stories, keep making new ones and hold them up as the necessary way to run the world.

January 3rd, 2023

A Grosvenor Christmas

By Constance Scrafield

It was Christmas Day and I was in my mid-teens. My parents were bundling the gifts into the car and bundling themselves, decked out for the festivities at my maternal grandparents' home. I adored my Grosvenor grandparents and, even more, I adored my Uncle Dennis who had come home for the Yuletide with his wife, my beloved Aunt Ursel. Yet, for no reason that I could truly define at the time nor can really explain lo- all these years later, I decided that our dog and I would walk to the distance between our two homes. My mother struggled with me over this odd-ball choice but my father overruled her and they took off in the car while Mandy and I, bundled as I was, took off on our adventure.

We were living in Lorne Park at the time and my grandparents lived in Clarkson, so , it was a reasonable distance to walk and one I made from time to time, perhaps better in the summer. Dusk had settled the day into evening's darker tones. The snow was fresh and the sky was clear. One could almost imagine the bells ringing overhead of a miracle in the making.

There was a nicely wooded area leading to a park about halfway there. As Mandy and I marched through the trees, enough ambient light allowed save passage but stepping into the clearing of the park, the full moon dazzled us with a picture perfect spread of snow that sparkled and no one around to mar the moment. Not normally a winter person, the scene still took my breath away with its idyllic calm, its philosophical serenity.

We only slowed briefly, mindful of the lights and happiness of Christmas in the Grosvenor household and the smiles that were waiting for us there. Danger was not a factor on this walk. Any risk of a brutal encounter in those easier times, when Clarkson was still a “RR” address was extremely slim and we arrived invigorated by the charm of our walk and delighted at the welcome that awaited us.

Although we were not that many, seven of us plus the dog and the two Siamese cats licking their lips in anticipation of clearing the pans, the feast was served with every detail of the best Christmas standards. The Turkey – not rescued from its fate as the centre point of the meal – was stuffed with the same mixture as I use to this day and there were as many roasted vegetables, as many fine desserts, as delicate a sherry as any Baron could wish for in his own home.

If there was a life-long tension between my grandparents and my father, it was set aside so that the conversation rolled with laughter and sincere camaraderie. Later, once each dish was served and enjoyed and a cup of tea had finished the repast, there were too many ladies in the kitchen bustling about the cleanup for me to be more than in the way. That suited me, as it meant I could retire to the couch with my Uncle Dennis, where we each read what was to hand and exchanged commentary on the contents of our reading, in our way, referencing family humour – those nods to old jokes that only come within families or close, long term friends.

My Uncle Dennis joined the Canadian army when he was a year too young and in spite of his trials as a youth with scarlet fever. Much of his life was spent in Germany, where he studied with the Berlitz Language School, earning a 100% on his final exam (“I knew I was that smart,” he remarked calmly.) and speaking German with fluency.

It was in Germany that he met Ursula, where she was working for the Canadian army in an army cafeteria. They married in Europe and I still remember meeting them at Union Station on their return to Canada for an earlier Christmas. Aunt Ursel brought their own feather duvet. She would fluff it up as she made their bed and, as a child, pick me up and toss me into the middle of it...They never had children.

Back to that Christmas on the couch.

Inevitably, “Hey,” Uncle Dennis addressed me, “Are you hungry? I know there's a neck out there if I can persuade the ladies to part with it.”

“Well, yes, of course, that would be perfect after all this time since dinner,” I confirmed. “Will you face the throng in the kitchen?”

“I will,” said he.

He marched into the kitchen, intrepid and brave to the outcries of “Den! You just ate!” from Aunt Ursel and “What do you mean, you want the neck?” from Grandmy Grosvenor.

He was undaunted, blaming me, “But I have a starving kid out there!”

“Here, take it and go!” was his victory.

It didn't even come with a plate. He held it out to me: “Pull.”

And we sat at each end of the couch, picking the meat with our teeth from between the discs in the neck, grinning like a pair of miscreants.

December 7th, 2022

Now: the Grand Push-back

By Constance Scrafield

Since Monday's passing of Bill 23 at Queen's Park by the Conservative “majority,” it is time we reflected on what democracy means to any of us. Well, anyone at all with a military connection, which on Remembrance Day a few weeks ago seemed to include nearly all of us, every time, soldiers are told at least and they must believe it or surely they would never go, go and put their lives on the line – what - just to travel on the government's dime and see the world – what - just to fill the pockets of all the manipulators of war?

No. They go because they believe on some level what they are told: that they are fighting for the freedom of the people under attack, on the premise that those same attackers could someday strike at their own homes, should they succeed on this battlefield.

The world imposed serious sanctions on South Africa where the right to vote was forbidden to a large percentage of the population in the dark days of apartheid. We impose sanctions on countries to protest their infringements on human rights.

Recently, there has been talks about sanctions against Brazil for the decimation of the Amazon Rain Forests- in protest against environmental policies that are putting the whole planet at risk. Risking the lives of the Indigenous people who live there. Taking away their rights to their own homes in the forests. Pushing them out to raise cattle and grow bananas.

Rights – we care about the rights of freedom to speak, freedom to live without oppression and the right to vote.

Really huge money, really huge sacrifices.

Since Monday, there are many plans for a number of protests against Bill 23: the destruction of the Green Belt in spite of many viable alternatives – the padding of pockets - the irrefutable truth that the Green Belt cannot be moved but can only be ruined. The Bill that denied the government's own experts' opinions and urgings not to pass this bill.

Bill 23 is a litany of sins including but not limited to curbing the democratic rights of the people of this province and never mind the so- many wars in which our young men and women have died to stop the theft of those rights in other countries.

Think I'm exaggerating? Not at all. Bill 23 takes away your right and mine to know what is being built in that plot of land that should be left to Nature. Not only not informed but not appealed, not objected to. What's more? That the very experts who could warn us, whose business it has been to allow or prevent building where it should not go – they are now prohibited from telling us about it, from advising municipalities about the pending dangers coming to their own back yards.

Wait a minute, wait a minute! You mean this tide, this tragedy could have been stemmed? Without soldiers to protect us? Without sanctions against our province for the destruction it plans?

But how!?

If we had voted against the probability of Bill 23 by voting against Doug Ford's conservative government, he could not be doing this. By and large, we all knew what they had in mind and whom those plans would and would not benefit.

If the public of Ontario really wake up now and shake Doug's tree so hard, he falls out of it; if the majority of Ontarians object and use their rights to protest before those rights are taken away by another “notwithstanding clause” fiasco, we might prevent the damage he plans.

The then leader of the Opposition and the Ontario NDP, Andrea Horwath and the then leader of the Ontario Liberal Party, Steven Del Duca have a lot to answer for. It was they who blew Doug Ford back into business. Did they not notice that he never answered any questions about his record against the provincial health care system; against Ontario's education, about his own misdemeanours in parliament, his consistent absences?

He did not bother; he just parroted his lines about creating jobs. He just sat back, without bothering about his own appearances in public and waited for those two to give him the election.

Because Horwath and Del Duca each decided to have a race between then for second place. They gave the show to Doug because they each wanted the best either one of them could do, which was second place.

By election day, the public were so bored with the state of politics in Ontario, they didn't even bother with their strongly defended right to vote. 38% of the available electorate voted. Doug Ford's “majority” comes from 18% of the vote.

We protest against this statistic but did you vote to prevent it?

It is the failure of Del Duca and Horwath and I sincerely hope they bite their pillows at night – even if they do, so what...

Now, everyone of us must make up for the failure of that election day and protest the result of it.

Bill 23 has been passed as of Monday of this week and we will have to dedicate ourselves to its being rescinded or pay a terrible price.


Toadstools as Shelter

By Constance Scrafield

You're right – they are poisonous; mushrooms good, toadstools bad but the little man sitting under the one I saw looked comfortable enough. He wore a broad leaf hat on his head and a custom made spider's web around his shoulders to protect him.

“You're looking well, Constance,” he greeted me. “What brings you to the woods?”

“Just exchanging whistles with the cardinal; looking for sanity in a crazy world,” I told him, asking, “any of your kin running a rainbow with the infamous pot of gold at its end?”

His laughter at the question was a twinkle in the air.

“You're part kin, yourself,” he pronounced. “make one of your own.”

He got to his feet and shook himself, making his spiderweb cloak sparkle in the woodland shade. He nodded and off we went walking into the depths of the trees.

Not far along, there were voices, some high pitched, some rumbling and up ahead a little was a clearing filled with light. Overhead, the trees let in the sunlight and fireflies carried their busy beams to brighten the shadows of the undergrowth. Everywhere was busy as though my companion's kin were setting up for a gathering.

One female shouted a salutation to us, “Hey, here's Braagh and – look – he has Constance with him! Welcome both,” said she. “We're nearly ready. Join us!”

There was a sturdy log for me with good dry moss as a cushion. There were plenty of friendly faces, innately cheerful to be sure, yet and yet there was something different; a sort of fear, a kind of seriousness unusual in such a normally cheerful crowd.

A breath went through them that saw them settle here and there around the clearing, seating themselves variously. Some were so lightweight they were comfortable on blue flowers; others sat on logs like mine, cool moss easing them too.

Suddenly all was very still; bit by bit a glow appeared in our midst, taking on form and detail, then another and the two became clear and dazzling at the same time. Seconds passed and they were formed and solid-looking, their shining eyes sweeping over the gang and presently resting on me. Their voices were like a memory of voice, spoken but not exactly, clear but distant, as though the voices had not come the whole way with them.

“We are glad to see you all,” came the sounds, “and Constance, it's good you are here. There is great movement among us and we have messages for you to take with you when you go home.”

Accustomed as I am to meeting strange folk, I can tell you, this was different. The jokes were suspended for the moment and it was clear every word mattered.

“We have always been astonished at the mindless violence and self-destructiveness of humans,” the voice began and the blunt comment sent shivers down my spine. “And we have done all we can to quell those failings if only for the sake of the other creatures with whom humanity is privileged to share this sphere.”

A rustle in the trees told us that more than us, with me as the human, was listening. The tweets and murmurs came from the throats of feather and fur and the very trees seemed to bend to hear the voices.

“But” rang like an ancient bell alerting the city of danger.

“But, in this latest era,” they continued, “the dangers are truly fatal – for your species, Constance, for every species and the very land itself.”

They shifted where they stood as if the pain they were detailing was their own as well.

“Nature herself is pounding on humanity with her message of doom and still they carry on with their plans for death of every living thing, as though in some mis-guided place in their thinking, they believe – somehow – that Nature will relent or that some of them will survive.”

As they continued to speak, they created images in the air around us of the storms to come, storms so much worse than those we have seen so far. And not only Nature but the storms men were reigning down on the heads of other humans, other creatures and on the land, storms of unspeakable poison, beside which the toadstool is good for lunch. The terrors and nightmares that filled our vision had us weeping and calling for peace.

Added to all that were the slaves of humanity; the ravaging of the earth – mindless and seemingly unstoppable.

As it began, so did it end and timorous sun beams dared to send down hope.

“There is no hope. Only the strongest and most determined shift to changing the nature of humans can stop this. Even if Nature wasn't determined to sweep humanity into the sea, humans are helping her bring an end to it all,” came the message.

Those beings of light advised me: “Take this and tell everyone you can, Constance. Every chance you have – warn them, warn them now.”


Pralines 'n' Cream Ice Cream

By Constance Scrafield

I love ice cream. The ice cream at The Chocolate Shop is very good. Summer is ice cream season, so the queues might be long on that funny little sidewalk-cum-ramp outside the shop. There are benches not far along Broadway for sitting and consuming the delight.

Most places in the world have ice-plus-something, a cooling sweet suckable (sic), crushed or scooped on to a holder for your enjoyment. You have to hone your skills as to the drips which depend on how hot is the day, how quick is the drip and whether you are foolishly walking or wisely biding your time on a bench watching the world go by.

There is little appreciation for the Promenade here in Canada. In southern European, especially in the smaller towns it is quite the norm to lounge in the early evenings on the weekend with a drink or fine coffee al fresco. That patio overlooks the walk that is plenty wide enough for strollers who are not in a hurry, not on errands, rushing for appointments, rushing because their lives are about rushing. There is space enough for elegance to be admired, such lovely silks in the blouses and delicate patterns or bold and full of colour in the skirts. The dresses are perfectly styled for the feminine forms they adorn and the ambience of the moment.

Gentlemen are by no means outshone by the ladies. Their attire is the latest fashion in the cut of their jackets and the flare of their collars – or perhaps no collars – but the linen, please, let there be also linen shirts, rather long and a little loose – white with just the hint of the sculptured body within them.

Ah! The greetings they give each other or by seeing someone on a patio, hands clasping over the railing, tremendous enthusiasm all of them are there, at the same hour in such an idyllic time and place.

The Promenade is not necessarily a name – the capital is my nod to its specific place in a culture that loves fashion and understands the deep value of the leisurely moment, afternoon, evening. Gorgeous or funky, promenading is a long, adorable tradition. There is an attitude that leisure is an important part of life in Europe but leisure can never be defined as lazy; the two are completely diverse. Leisure is defined here by the expression “taking time to smell the roses.” Let us not divide our lives between dashing and doing nothing. Time is the only resource at all that we can never, ever replace. When that day, hour, minute is gone, it is gone forever and can only live in memory.

This is the platform upon which leisure shows its value – to spend some of our lives at a temperate pace, to savour the moments of the fine day, the excellent beverage, the good company. To create those memories and have them as dreams we can return to ...later.

After a year at university at the appropriate time of life, I opted to live in another city and eventually to take off with Ernest to dally in the world, to live there, work at jobs, learn the languages – the university of the world, I called it. Living the adventures was a sort of a retirement fund, if one wanted an excuse, calling it long term planning. How can a person know what it is to be old when one is far from old but listening to my grandparents, with whom I spent so much of my youth, it seemed their main regrets were about the things they did not do. Those regrets were so much the influence to spur us on to travel and see and learn.

It seems there can come a day for many elderly people when they lose mobility and loved ones and what do they have left but their memories? It is hard to see them grieve for the missed opportunities and my hope was to have as few of those as possible.

A full life is completely a subjective perception. As we live it, we can only mostly guess at what will be seen as a regret and what a success. Yet, surely to live with enthusiasm and ready hands to do our best by others is part of the secret of living well.

Much is learned by travelling. At a certain age, we are can understand the errors of own ways; we are still flexible enough to go with the flow of a new, possibly strange place. That is the time to be away from our own kind, drifting into conventions we hurry to follow. For a short time to try to learn what it is like to be part of another culture.

Sure gives us an enlightened perspective when we come back home.

In the course of this week, I celebrate my birthday and thinking about the value of treasuring the moment, this is the one in which to eschew the overwhelming plethora of bad news that hounds us and spend a leisurely 865 words or so with you.


The Queen's Wisdom

By Constance Scrafield

Seventy years at the same job would set a record with any firm and the British are at their most enthusiastic for their monarch, Queen Elizabeth II at the moment as the weekend of her Platinum Anniversary approaches. At 96, her Majesty has absented herself from several royal engagements and in particular, she passed on the Opening of Parliament to her son, Charles, Prince of Wales on March 10 this year. By George, I bet she was happy to dump that on her unworthy would-be-king son. All those dour old men, harping on about the same old lies and sleight of hand policies. And Boris Johnson, Britain's answer to Donald Trump – many of us still think they are brothers separated at birth but maintaining an unavoidable leaning to duplicity, ignorance and downright dopeyness (sic). Keen to ruin their own countries from the very seat of power.

What wise 96 year old lady would want to struggle down the passage to deliver a long winded document that totally lacks a single sincere wish for the betterment of the people?

Leave it to Charles, he will revel in it, warming up to what he hopes to live long enough to take up as the ultimate role of King. That was Tuesday. A couple of days later though, on Friday the Queen made a “surprise” visit to the Royal Windsor Horse Show and instantly many good things happened. She was among horses and people with good souls who love horses. It is unlikely that her visit was absolutely a surprise given her deep love of horses and dodging the desperate drag attending Parliament would have been. Very likely people nodded knowingly to each other, secret smiles at having guessed rightly that she would find a way to come. Comedian Omid Djalili took the stage to say, “Your Royal Highness, on behalf of everyone here we would like to thank you, very humbly, for picking us over the State Opening of Parliament." Joking further, “You did the right thing and I won £5 in a bet with my local kebab shop owner in Ipswich." And she laughed and waved at him for the jokes.

Perhaps equally, shrugging off parliament and being with horses had a profound healing affect on her for her smiles were broad and natural and her joy at being where she was, was evident. One display after another of “musical rides” as we call them when the Mounties are performing them, filled the vast parade ring with horses and riders in an impressive range of costumes and uniforms, reflecting history and the part horses played in it - some 500 hundred horses were in the mix with 1000 people involved. Dame Helen Mirren revived her role as Elizabeth I, pronouncing a declaration made by the Mediaeval Queen and a call of thanks to this Elizabeth from a grateful subject for her being the heartbeat of the nation. Tom Cruise was invited and was quick to accept to be part of the ceremonies, dressed in a tux that looked a little as though he had cut a quick Mission scene – or was it the challenge of getting through the throng of fans – windswept hair – crazy smile.

Mostly it was about the horses. The Queen watched with considerable pride as her granddaughter, Lady Louise Windsor drove her own ponies in a carriage display marking the centenary of the Fell Pony Society.

Horses heal. They are completely in tune with the person on their backs or the person standing before them, reins in hands. Considerable witness has been given as to the level of telepathy between horse and rider, even as strangers, especially as a long term relationship. Caregivers for neurodivergent people bring them to meet and when possible, ride horses who are all kindness and care. Troubled youngsters learn to be happy around horses. The therapy of interaction with horses is well recorded but requires no proof for those of us who love them. Therefore, when Queen Elizabeth who has been plagued with “mobility issues” was deemed unable to attend the State Opening of Parliament gathered herself together and whether her doctors agreed to it or not, she went to the Royal Windsor Horse Show and had a wonderful time. She arrived sitting in the front seat of a Range Rover right on to the fairgrounds with her window down to speak to officials, smiling in a way we have not seen in – well, those smiles were so sincere, smiles of genuine pleasure to be a in place that made sense where the lies were thinner, fewer and the hypocrisy was absent.

Historically, Queen Elizabeth II is not the world's longest reigning monarch. At 70 years and 92 days, she still has a couple of years to claim the record set by Louis XIV of France of 72 years, 110 days.

Later in the day at the Horse Show, Her Majesty was seated in a chair, an elegant shawl around her shoulders, enjoying the jokes and the very brief speeches; enjoying the many ways in which horses parade.

May 19th 2022

Thinking about Easter

By Constance Scrafield

How do you remember your childhood Easters for those of you who celebrate Easter? As a child, there was always a new outfit for me. It was the first few days of spring and we were buoyed up with the notion of resurrection and the first heads of growth in the garden. There were celebratory meals and small gifts.

Church of course, everyone went. Even if not normally, they went to church for Easter, for Christmas; Thanksgiving brought people out too. Though not a religious holiday as such the church is regarded as a place for gratitude.

Some Christians say that really Easter is the most important of the holidays, more than even Christmas because Easter is the miracle of Christ's resurrection, the proof of all he had said through his ministry about his own partial divinity and his victory over death. He commanded his followers to go out and preach the story of God's love and His role in our lives – that believing in Him is the single passage to Heaven.

However one feels about this, there is certainly the evidence that truly believing in a higher power is good for us. Empirically and very often, people who have faith benefit from it in their approach to life and their own happiness.

Yes of course there are the phoneys and the fanatics. There the war mongers using “religion” as an excuse for brutality. Let's put them aside for the moment and talk about the support of belief, the strength it gives and the reassurance of something more than a life that might be hard.

There is a great deal to wonder at in the stories about Jesus, the man who – more than anyone else - changed the world. As I understand him, he was about ending cruelty and war, about loving even your enemies – you can love your friends and those who admire you but what about loving those who revile and even wish to harm you – that is the test.

He was practical about sharing – if a man has two good coats and another man has none then that man with two should give one of them to the other.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

For me the real test of Jesus' importance is that our calendar was reset at the point of his life – BC and AD. They have been changed from Before Christ and Anno Domini to before and into Common Era. Okay – different words, same timing. Just to cover sensitivities.

It is all about semantics. The reason our spiritual lives are hard to understand is because we need words to explain things and there are some aspects of our lives that can't be explained with science and can't be really understood with words. Maybe that is why there is prayer and meditation: muttered, private, quiet, reflective, searching within and without one's own self. Both lead to a stillness that we do not otherwise indulge.

In that tiny moment of stillness comes the chance to feel. To go without words and simply be.

This is sought by everyone, really. To find that pool of calm within ourselves, maybe not to even have known it was there. Some souls spend their whole lives seeking it; others take snatches at it in their yoga, their running, their time in church.

As a species, we have ever been and believed many things. At the head are our inclination to violence, love and a determined notion that there is divinity – whether it is a celestial object, an imagined population of gods; a dependency, passionate love and fear of one god.

From very early on, we have buried our dead with a view to their continued existence on another plane. We have planted or entombed them with tokens of their earthly lives to provide them for an afterlife.

Otherwise, we reduce their physical selves to ashes but we still maintain or hope there is more to each of us than blood and bones.

At one time and another I have read the four Gospels a couple of times, not enough to quote chapter and verse, to be sure. I like them for their feeling of time travel, so real do they sometimes seem to me. We have to acknowledge their fallibilities though. It seems they were written decades after Jesus' crucifixion death and little enough is known but very much is debated. There comes a time when all the opinions cease to matter.

There are plenty of Roman scholars at the time of Jesus' life who wrote about him and there is no need to doubt that he came and taught and died a cruel death. We can go ahead and believe that he rose again because miracles have happened and they still do, even in these cruel times.

What really matters is his message of taking care of each other and loving where love seems hard. To connect with our “inner selves” (my words) and find peace there and a place with no need for words.

April 13th, 2022

Acknowledge that war is outdated

By Constance Scrafield

Donald Trump is so excited about Putin's invasion of Ukraine. Putin, to whom he pandered and deeply admires, has simply invaded a country – just like that, for only made-up reasons, lies and fictions. Trump is also clear there has been no serious push back to this aggression – only weak sanctions, barely likely to make a dent in the wealth of Putin himself. Dreadful to image what Trump would have done were he still the President.

Would he have sent in the troops with orders to start shooting? Would he have put his generals on high alert to have those nuclear weapons at the ready?

Yes, probably. While he was in office how many times did he talk about that red button – whose red button was the biggest?

Heavens, Putin has already led the way in this matter. There are photos of his generals seated twenty or so feet away from him at a very long table as he commanded them to put the high alert on their nuclear weapons of mass destruction. Their faces showed – what - their fear of this madman? Their resolve to declare him incompetent if ever he dares to call: “Fire!” Their terror lest another fanatic in the fold brushes them aside and actually does fire?

I have a theory about why Putin holds his military and political staff at such distances: because he is afraid one of them sitting close to him would be able to make that lunge and kill him...

Russians, however, are paying for the sanctions with doubling and crippling interest rates and the skyrocketing cost of the most common foods. Of course. The common person will always be the brunt of the sins of the powerful.

Money. Popularity – power, lust, incredible indifference to the pain of others: there is always collateral damage in war: the death of multiple civilians is unavoidable and of no serious concern.

Ukraine is a wealthy, democratic country that has had no true ties to any international, political or military alliance, like the EU or NATO until this very week, March 1. At the same time as Russian tanks and soldiers were entering the country, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy made a passionate speech remotely to the European parliament, urging them to finally accept his country's entrance into the European Union. He was given a standing ovation and it was recommended that “Ukraine be be made an official candidate for EU membership,” reported the Wall Street Journal.

History is mainly taught in schools from the litany of wars, unjustified invasions one country on the other – for no true reason other than to claim the wealth and power of the space being invaded. Torture, deceit, assassinations – death of millions; there have always been wars with pretence of God's commands or the alleged villainy of one demographic of the society over the rest; the greater good - the glory...some people actually miss wars when they are over, as if the powerful feelings that come during wholesale terror and grief stirred their souls more deeply than pallid peace.

This relatively new century has, so much like the centuries before, witnessed a steady stream of genocide, terrorism, and completely illegal invasions of countries. None of it justifies this next one. No excuses of previous assaults make a reason for an entirely separate savagery such as we are seeing now. This is not about Putin pre-empting an attack on Russia's borders from NATO or American troops, only an irrational move to annex an independent country with excellent resources.

This is much too dangerous a time for another war. Those schoolroom classes have done the math and there are too few decades between major battles for us to follow the old patterns. There might be 30 years between the times when world was torn by militaries battling each other and taking the “collaterals” with them but there have been wars that lasted a hundred years and there are wars now that have been going on for years. Twenty years of war in Afghanistan and it is now certainly no better off.

As an exception to its usual policy, the EU is supporting Ukraine with finance and delivery of weapons and Germany under its newly elected Chancellor Olaf Scholz, is increasing its military budget to an astonishing (so say I) 100 billion Euros or approximately USD$113 billion. Exactly as Putin specifically forbade, this alliance with the “West” will be a stunning setback for the Putin initiative; he will have to decide how this changes his approach to Ukraine.

There are protests against the war across Russia, in part because there is a natural familial flow between the countries, from the interlacing of history in the region. This does not negate Ukraine's independence, however Mr. Putin views history. What he is doing, is killing many young soldiers and – is he demanding that they kill their Ukrainian cousins to support him?

Everyone needs to cool down: times are different now.

The Cornerstone of Culture

By Constance Scrafield

I've written this book, see, about a long journey that my husband and I once made through a bunch of countries and it came up kind of long and here's partly why: because I kept writing about food, specifically about meals. Meals we two shared and meals we had in interesting restaurants or with people that we met.

I couldn't help writing about them – everywhere a meal comes up in the moment, it insisted on its right to be included.

Well, I have cooked, one might say been a chef for a living and I flatter myself that I am a “foodie” with a reasonable range of tastes and an eclectic kitchen. To be honest, Patricia and I tend toward an Italian menu for the most part, for a couple reasons: that the Italians have the most healthy menu and that we have loved being in Italy and never miss a day longing on some level to return.

The frequent meal incidents in my story telling are not really about my need for sustenance but because wherever one travels, one eats and what one eats is the culture of the place.
To share a meal whether just the couple of people having the adventure or with others is, in itself – about the people for sure but also about their home culture, the culture of the country. Where else do we learn so much about the culture of a place than by what is served at the table?

Everyone – rich or ruined – eats. Even the scrapped together meals of a ruined situation would tell an onlooker all there is to tell about the tragedy currently holding that place and those people in its grip. In a prisoner of war camp – where parents are warned not to give all the poor food to their children but to eat enough to survive so they can continue caring for those children are tales that war histories tell.

The saga of poverty, a person begging on the street, a thief that has grabbed an apple from a stall in the market place all weave together to paint a portion of the portrait of the society in which they live.
How much more, then, do the meals of common people, of the rich lay out the lives and legends of the diners?

We love our theatres – fine parades of brave souls on stage doing all that they do: they sing and perform every sort of music; they act out the plays that reflect life somewhere in drama and comedy but imagined geography to one side, they are written in our own language penned with skill to teach, amuse or even torture us. We love concerts – crazy wild men with instruments that howl; fabulous music of history; ballades – spiritual – we go; we applaud; we stand to show our approbation.

What joy we have in the visual arts – Orangeville is an outdoor gallery of sculptures and murals. Visitors barely need to go indoors but when they do, they are gratified by the prodigious achievements of the artists in this art-based region.

Our libraries are filled with gems of literature and instruction all of which tell us about us and about others in far-off or near-by lands. We love to hold a book in our hands, listen to it on a “tape;” read it electronically ...
Yet and yet, we love to eat. Indeed, we must eat. Food is the cornerstone of culture.

In Italy, a bowl of savoury spaghetti is not a meal; it is an appetizer, the first plate of a meal and a second dish of meat or fish is served sometimes with vegetables and sometimes vegetables are another course. Then there is salad and the wonderful time for conversation around the cheese and fruit. A tender “dolce” - a sweet comes last. Could be a pie that is concentrated, not fat with fruit or bulky of pastry.

Finally, the bitter pleasures of espresso with maybe an amaro – that bitter Italian herbal liqueur to assist digestion.

Such a repast is the daily norm in every Italian household, enjoyed together as a family, all hurrying to be on time to the table. Lunch takes up to two hours, with a glass or two of wine to complete the flavours of the food and aid digestion. All this is followed by an hour's siesta: the shops in town actually close in the midday to accommodate this ritual. It bespeaks a culture that fundamentally appreciates life, not rushed and unreasonable but measured, with a respect for the essentials of eating and of eating together.

A recipe for longevity.

All around this interesting and beleaguered world, the meals that are served and the way they are consumed are the definition of what is the culture in any given place. Before everything, we eat and how we do that is the cornerstone of who we are.

February 2022

A Christmas Piece, written for Country Routes in 2008

The Christmas Muse

By Constance Scrafield

Colin shovels a straight and narrow path through the snow from the door to the place where the cars are parked. It is only on this path that the cats will walk. They are suffering from the outrage that cats, who love to go outdoors from time to time, feel when the world is cold and the ice and snow bite at their delicate paw pads.

They take turns scratching at the door, determined to take in a breath of fresh air only to be rebuked by the hostility of the weather. As a consequence of the early onslaught of winter, they are already showing symptoms of cabin fever in their testiness with each other. Every so often, the high whine of conflict or the low growl of aggression will echo through the house as two or more of them confront each other. I roar at them by name to “cut it out” but their temperance and obedience can be short lived.

The dog, Mickey, bears it all with canine resignation, going out into the misery of the cold, as needs must, and lowering his chin to his paws with a mild moan, while the cats’ squabbles rage.

Being a short haired, shivery sort of a mutt, we bought him a good coat, a miniature horse blanket, actually, from Greenhawk. He wears it happily, standing quietly at the door while I dress her in it.

When he comes back into the house, he stops just inside to allow me to remove it. This weekend, we went back to Greenhawk to purchase a similar coat for my daughter’s puppy. She bought her the same style, but burgundy where Mickey’s is green and about four times the size. Watching the two of them march about outside in their coats is simply hilarious. The puppy, Chandler, has not quite got the gist of how to stand patiently for her dressing and undressing. No doubt, she will catch on soon enough.

My dear old horse, Patrick, tolerates the snow and sometimes finds it invigorating. His younger companions dash about, kicking white clumps up with their high stepping. They all roll in the snow, springing up afterward to shake their whole bodies and snort vigorously with the tingling of the cold.

For me, December also brings to mind the first days of my knowing Patrick, now twenty-eight years ago. I bought him a warmer blanket this year, while we were purchasing outdoor wear for the puppy and I feel better for his being in it at night.

Everywhere we go now, the sounds of Christmas descend from the speakers in all the public places. Theatres, halls and churches reverberate with celebration, one way or another, of the coming Yuletide. So many bands playing, so many singers urging audiences to sing with them, so many cherub-like children melting our hearts with their splendid performances of Christmas-related dramas.

And, it seems, we will have a white Christmas. It is Christmas card pretty. When our family came from the U.K. to join us for Christmas a couple of years ago, we likewise had plenty of snow. It was the first time the youngsters ages five, seven and nine had ever seen anything like it. Naturally they were enthralled, especially after we when out and bought them Canadian winter gear to wear.

Down the road, our dear friends, the Skeates have decorated their home top to bottom. Anne takes great delight and a lot of time to dress her home which she opens to a great many people over the holiday. People she hardly sees all year will come to her for Christmas dinner if they are alone. In addition, most of the Skeates’ grown-up children will join them, some coming from considerable distances so as not to miss the holiday with their parents.

Christmas does us all the favour of cancelling our busy lives for a few days, shutting down the offices and closing the stores to make us pause and have dinner with people we don’t see very often. It creates the occasion for families to make the effort and spend the money to be together. It hollows out a moment for us to truly stop and consider the other people in our lives, whether we spend a fortune on presents or not.

Even the matter of gift-giving, although somewhat exaggerated in some shops and households, is beautiful because of the time and thought for someone else’s happiness that it gives.

We go blithely through our lives, struggling to remember birthdays and anniversaries when we may honour others but the truth is that Christmas cannot be forgotten and so, we can collect our generous impulses into one happy time.

Finally, there is the reason for Christmas, to honour the birth of a child and more importantly, the birth of a philosophy of forgiving, of loving, of caring about our spiritual lives.

Don’t worry about the commercialism– that is just people trying to earn a living. Consider the joy and profundity of this season and how it suspends your life for a tiny while and gives you “time out” to remind those you have little time for during the year to say you care about them.

And from this writer, all my best wishes for a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Let's talk about freedom

By Constance Scrafield.

When Patricia and I came back to Canada, she was six years old, ready to go into grade one. The school board and the law stated definitively she could not attend school until I showed documents that she had had her MMR inoculations. In case you don't know, that's measles, mumps and rubella. Absolutely, no questions, let's see those docs or the kid stays home. At that time, there was a lot of nonsense talked about those vaccinations causing autism and other ails. Such harmful rubbish people spread for no good reason and no one really knows why. MMR vaccinations do not cause autism and doctors mourned to see small children develop meningitis as a result of not receiving essential vaccinations.

After so many decades of keeping kids safe from those dangerous diseases, plus polio, the law was justified to protect other children from the potential harm from admitting a child whose parents had not taken the precaution of vaccinations. I had them as a kid and so did most of you. Got the little round scar on my upper left arm near my shoulder.

During an interview earlier this week on CBC radio one, a nurse grieved deeply at the onslaught of yet another wave of Covid, brought about by the refusal of people to take the current vaccinations for Covid-19. Said she, “When Covid first hit, we worked so hard and for such long hours, putting our own health at risk and we learned how to treat people and what to do. And we did it all because it was our jobs and we knew and accepted the risks. “But, this time with the numbers of cases up again and we're being asked to do that work all over again – for no reason! Because people refused to get their vaccinations.”
It was completely incomprehensible to her.

There is a lot of harmful nonsense being talked about vaccinations this time too, not about the danger of taking them but to the nature of our “freedom” not to take them. Who are the brutes that insist on shovelling this irrelevant thinking at us? These vaccinations are not experimental. When Astra Zeneca was deemed to have rare but undeniable side effects of blood clotting, it was taken off the list of vaccines in most countries. The rest are safe, safer than the risk of catching Covid -19 and the Delta variant. What is freedom and where does it pale compared to the harm so-called freedom can do?

Every country, province and town have laws: we are not allowed to murder each other, steal, abuse, cheat, drive without our seat belts, exceed the speed limit, smoke in our vehicles with minors under 12; we're not allowed to assault each other, expose ourselves in public. People are not allowed to smoke in buildings or on airplanes. Nowadays, our “freedom of speech” is tightly curbed and we're not legally allowed to make racist remarks to others, nor even infer sexual aggression nor impropriety. So, why are people not in the streets protesting all these impositions on our freedoms? Why? Because these are all harmful to others. If we murder a person and get away with it, well, we're okay. If we insult and verbally abuse a person who is different from ourselves, that person is offended, even damaged emotionally but we'll be okay – so what is the problem? These curbs on our “freedoms” are all about the freedom of others. We are not allowed by law to attack others, drive dangerously or endanger others with our noxious habit of smoking because we are not allowed to willfully harm each other. Likewise, we are being mandated to get vaccinated against Covid so we stand a better chance of not being sick with it and not infecting others in the work place, on airplanes, in public places, where social distancing is not possible.

Get it? This is no more an infringement on our “freedoms” than not being allowed to smoke in buildings. They have not made it illegal to smoke in your own home but most people don't allow themselves without the need for a law to prohibit it. That is the nut of it. Laws are made because we are too stupid or too violent and whatever are our many failings, to see for ourselves what we should and should not be allowed to do. Can you believe there had to be a law against smoking in a car with children, that any person would not be able to see that for themselves? There are hundreds of laws prohibiting the obvious but it seems we still need them.

It is quite unbelievable that rules about keeping us safe from Covid, saving our health workers from having to go through the agony of nursing us all over again are being protested, being called a blow to our freedoms.

Go and get your vaccines. Wear a mask; wash your hands and if you need to protest, stand up for the environment. That is a much bigger issue.


Happy International ....Day

By Constance Scrafield

According to the Fergus Highland Games website, declaring the Festival a digital event again this year, anyway: Tuesday this week was Happy International Scotch Whiskey Day. Sorry if I'm late with this news but I hope you imbibed, if only by coincidence.

So, I thought about the proliferation of Happy International Something Days and wanted to offer a few of my own.

How about Happy Stop Building Pipelines Day. They are still being built everywhere. The waffling and unpredictable American governments – both federally and in each state – are variously cancelling and allowing pipelines to go through, like a bunch of scatter-brained kids, playing street games. Millions of dollars down the drain of partly or largely built pipelines; millions of dollars poured into finishing (or maybe not when authorities changed their minds) pipelines elsewhere.

Still, the Canadian government purchased the Trans Mountain pipeline for $4.5 Billion, so, it for sure will press on to have the thing finished all the way to the Pacific Ocean. I have wondered how much the material going into constructing this (eventually) dirty and dangerous pipeline could be sold for scrap.

There is a tender little note in the “Trans Mountain” website where they wax on about their diligence in protecting the wildlife where the pipeline is being laid. Inspectors, environmentalists inspect and note the activity of the birds and point to the nesting places of certain hummingbirds and song birds, through the research done by those experts, on what they are pleased to call the “Pipeline Environmental Protection Plan (EPP).”

Positively an oxymoron.

Says the site: “If a nest is observed, appropriate buffers around the nests are marked and roped off until the bird has left the nest.”

Lots of words mark the passages about how they work with the Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) to protect wildlife, with particular attention to the safety of birds. Makes you all warm and tingly, doesn't it? However, in spite of the pretense of safe passage for Western Canada's wildlife, pipelines inevitably leak or burst and no amount of safety checks ever guarantees they will not. What about the wildlife and environment then – to the land and, even worse, to the water in lakes and oceans?

How about Happy Finally-Shut the g-d Tar-Sands- down- forever Day? Just stop shoving the sludge into those pipelines and really give the little birds a break. The birds, the land, our grandchildren, their air and water.

A bit too late, I'm afraid, but how about Happy Stop Burning the Amazon Forests Day? Why, really and truly, is Bolsonaro burning down the world's “lungs”? Why would he intentionally be the last source to truly bring the world to ruination? And, why, oh why has the International community not actually stopped him from following this disastrous course?

All the calamities we have watched happen in “sovereign nations,” feeling -somehow – our hands were restrained from stopping a genocide, usually, or other serious misdemeanours governments were and are inflicted on their people but this killing off the Amazon forest – for what? Cattle? Bananas? Avocados, now a fad food?

It is not as though Bolsonaro does not understand the consequences. He does for sure. So, his motives are a deep mystery because it can't only be about money and corruption.

Like Doug Ford selling off the green spaces and exposing our sensitive environment to danger, there must be a darker motive for such behaviour.

Our grandchildren – How about Happy Stop Surrounding the Earth with Space Junk, not to mention Space Junkies. Circling the planet at approximately 35,888 kilometres per hour is some 30,000 bits and pieces, each with serious destructive potential. Accidents do happen in that field of space garbage, causing debris to crash to earth or to disintegrate into fragments in space.

One day soon, according to many sources, it will be too dangerous to travel to space AT ALL, for fear of being hit by a morsel of a long dead satellite. The likes of Richard B and his competitor-for -attention, Jeff B, may well find themselves engaged in Battle with Galactic Junk during their next hop above the earth.

So much for plans for Mars or inter-planetary exploration: “We would have gone but there was too much space junk in the way and we blocked ourselves in.”

Hey! There is another excellent reason to stop the fossil fuels right now and clean up our sources of energy, poisonous agriculture, suicidal meat production, stop destroying our forests because we did our usual sloppy thing and cluttered our own outer space perimeters so badly, we stuck ourselves to stay on Earth!

How's that for a joke? How's that for behaviour coming back to bite us?

Greta, let's push change with this in mind. They are not buying into “Care about us, your children.” I guess oil companies and the rest don't care about their children but, within less time than it takes to finish building ships that could take us elsewhere, space will be blocked by our own dirty, lazy habits.

A neat bit of irony that is.


Who else is watching?

By Constance Scrafield

(Writing on the eve/morning of my Birthday...)

Ok. So, we all know that Santa is watching us to ascertain whether we're bad or good, I guess all year long, because that is what that really creepy song seems to indicate. We get it.

Also, I guess the divinities are watching because they have particularly advantageous seats from which to see our whole drama/comedy. From ancient times, they have been portrayed as mystic, mischievous beings, doling out favours, punishment and even love.

There is a varied single deity, a varied father image, from punitive to loving, like any father, I suppose, but bigger. Still, watching our every move, conferring with St. Peter about individual chances of entry into Heaven...

For many decades, we have been watched. Computers listen to our telephone calls to red-flag certain keys words and Edward Snowdon's book, Permanent Record, paints a terrifying picture of our present day. We are spied on every minute and have embraced this completely in a way that is quite contrary to what science fiction writers imaged all through the 19th and 20th Centuries.

They pretty well, uniformly and with reasonable accuracy wrote in dire tones, this future of government and corporate spying on the common people to manipulate and control the masses. As it is today.

However, with more faith in humanity than humanity deserves, they consistently penned stories of rebellion against the watchfulness and control; rebellions of resistance and, sometimes with wild optimism, the overthrow of and freedom from the shackles.

Image how wrong those authors all were – not only is there no struggle on humanity's part to resist the oversight of our every moment but, conversely, we buy into it with our own participation – we even purchase smart machinery to eavesdrop on our private conversations, in our own homes, and pass them along to parties interested in us.

Primarily, this intense interest in the minutiae of our lives is less a political thing and much more a commercial thing, maybe voting too – well, many aspects of our lives – but it is mainly about how we spend our money, with the “one percent” wanting that money to go their way, Jeff Bezos and all that.

When Facebook first started getting a serious grip on society, I was really puzzled by the tiny personal details people showed about their lives and their children's lives. I have been concerned about the rights of children, in the issue of having their lives exposed, sometimes in great detail, by their parents and guardians and without their permission.

Surely, in the futures of many adults will come the embarrassment and, even, outrage of what was shared with the whole wide world about them, in their early years. This is like the jokes about parents pulling out old baby pictures of their daughters or sons to show the boy/girl friend, newly brought home to meet the family. Only way worse.

So. In the news recently and on the CBC program As It Happens, is the story that Astronomers have discovered 70 planets within complicated visual range, whose possible populations could readily spy on us, on our every move, here on earth.

I was so glad to hear this, I can tell you and, as luck would have it, if we pay good attention to the timing of these moments of revelation about other societies on other planets, we can check them out too, in a very real way. Fantastic.

First and foremost, the notion dismisses, in a single sentence, the folly of even wondering if there is life on other planets. Not only does this proposition presume without hesitation that there is but can point to some 70 planets where those other civilizations probably reside!

At last, what must be the case is finally presented, casually but earnestly, as potential peeping-toms on the privacy of us earthlings! Wonderful and I am completely a believer. The idea that earth is the sole planet in an unending universe that bears sentient beings is so crazy, it goes along well with theories that the earth is flat and only 6,000 years old.

Sadly, the spy-time is short, quite specific and because of how damn big space is, those moments are spaced out over years. Well, the speed of light dawdles at a mere (approximately) 300,000 metres per second, so, when objects are so far away, it takes ages to see them again and to truly understand their nature. So, we have to catch them as they are in an orbit that creates an eclipse of their own sun.

See? There are plenty of stars, as we see them, that are good to go as suns and have appropriate orbs circling them, suitable for and very likely supporting life on them and if life here can be intelligent – example: dolphins, elephants, octopus and more, then it is reasonable to assume there is intelligent life there too. Not reasonable to doubt it.

And they can be checking us out. Maybe we should clean our acts.

With Your Permission

Blueberry Pie for Breakfast

March 2021

By Constance Scrafield

The evenings been dodgy this week: little but brilliant sun, ruling down across the grass path to the snow bound fields beyond.
The garden waits beneath the burden of mean ice and snow for the better days of tomatoes and flowers in the earth, which is enriched annually with antique horse manure.
Along one wall, in a raised garden, I usually mix and broadcast seeds for salads, everything all jumbled up. Means it's a bit of a mystery what will be in the bowls with the lemon and oil dressing I always make. It doesn't matter, really. Salad grown at home is entirely different from what one can purchase in a shop, even a famers' market.
The feeling of luxury is sincere. When it's so lovely outside, that's where the finery is looked for – in the ground. The accoutrements hardly matter if the growing is good. When a person doesn't need a winter coat, the lack of one is irrelevant. The brocade couch can sit empty while the sun warms the deck chairs and the television, taking up most of one wall, can stay black when the goldfinches flit there and back to the feeder and the hummingbirds are like a comedy with their zip-zipping.
Yes, well, I do like the summer. It brings relief to the labours and brooding of the cold days and dark winter evenings.
So, I wonder whether this is a summer of new dawns. There seem to be more airplanes flying over my head these days and I thought that long cloud in the sky was a vapour trail. I was sorry to see it. Has the industry taken time to re-think about safe and clean ways to conduct air transport in the near future? Or will we just spin the “propellers” on the same old junk ......
There has not been a sudden flourish of new electric or hydrogen powered vehicles coming on the market and for a price any of us can be expected to pay.
Do you think it can be, after quite some time, really, and we are not exactly all back to full power – unafraid of the next person in the queue – confident of leaving our mask behind – that, after all the gushing and the certainty that things will be different – hope for: better. Or will it all be just the same?
No, we are not there yet. We have to continue to wear our masks, keeping that safe distance but there is a worry living in my mind, in spite of the glory all around, as “stay at home” means “water the garden.”
What if, in the places where it means something, we haven't learned a darn thing? We have increased, expanded and honed our ways of communicating, teaching, entertaining each other online. We've learned that it's really fun to go to concerts and the theatre by streaming for free, rather than getting dressed, in the car and paying for those events. Will we recall how much fun truly live theatre and concerts are? In our minds, will the value of live theatre and performance be remembered for what it requires of us?
In any time of trouble, some people are making good, making lots of money on the backs of the very source of the trouble – like people selling guns to both sides of a conflict. I guess the Facebook shares have leaped in value and Amazon has all but grasped the retail market in its talons.
Here's hoping the small time retailers have not been squashed, never to rise again. What a loss that would be – not to be able to walk into a store, staffed by people who are in business for the love of it, not just the grinding greed of control. A lovely independent shop, with interesting items you didn't spend an hour online looking for – a conversation about the product and, maybe, many other subjects, with a real person, meaningful, thoughtful – fulfilling.
It is, as it always is, up to us. If we acquiesce; if we opt out and keep to this enforced laziness that has brought everything to our doors and screens; if we throw our hands up and shrugging our indifference, say, “It's inevitable1” then, the changes will not be for the better. We won't be stronger; we'll just gain weight.
As the weight of a virtual home arrest, across the world, mind you, has been the weapon needed to defeat the plague that has beset us, as this lightens, here at least, we should be out there, shopping for our needs in person. Ordering a meal for take out and going there to fetch it, so the restaurant doesn't have to pay for delivery.
Buy a book, greet a sales person – I'm sure local retailers have been very frightened about their chances of survival in the face of Amazon's determined spread.
There's been so much time for reflection, as individuals and at large. What have you learned and what do you want different now?

With Your Permission

Down the Rabbit Hole

February 2021

By Constance Scrafield

Do you feel as though things are a little odd these days? How are your dreams? Has the world's reality shifted a little - or a lot – on some level of your mind? I mean, we know the difference between a cup of tea in our actual cup and a virtual cup of tea, right?
Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, that parody of Victorian life, seems in for a re-run. In many ways, he barely exaggerated the real-life people in his world. A book he wrote to entertain the children of a friend of his, his satirical portrayal of British society and politicians was pretty close to the bone in many cases. Alice in Wonderland rose to high popularity and gave his pen name self – Lewis Carroll - fame throughout Britain and North America.
At about the same time, Punch magazine, the satirical magazine that invented the cartoon, naming such illustrations first, was read at every level of society in the UK, loved for its intellectual and clean dig at society and its foibles.
It seems to me, we are more than ever parodies of ourselves. Satire, of course, has its own way of debunking villainy and chaos, hypocrisy and the self-serving. We have lost the knack of it, I think, and to our loss. Nowadays, we are all so serious in our criticism and, in dealing with our realities in black or white, make them almost too hard to face.
In this household, we do check in with the likes of Trevor Noah and Seth Meyers, American comics, each with their own shows, who do a so-so job of humorous analysis of current events and the people running them. In Canada, This Hour Has 22 Minutes works at taking on the job of making fun of the difficult issues of the day.
Perhaps, the trouble is that we are overwhelmed with mediocrity when we are badly in need of excellence: of leadership, science, peace of mind. Especially since the '60's, we have been searching for excellence in our leaders –in politics, industry and business, - and they have dragged the world down a path that is nearly at its end. Warmongers that we are, wasteful of bounty, cruel to the extreme and so short sighted that we can hardly think beyond lunch, we have little or no regard for the proofs all around us of the consequences of our ways. This all true in every land, inn spite of the specifics with regard to kindness and wisdom, our basic flaws control our better natures to the detriment of all.
If only for logic's sake, it must evident that mere short-term and, really, fictional financial gain or the falsehood of employment blanches in the face of harm to come: imagine that we are once again planning to open new coal mines – right here in Canada, we who have, in decades past, lead such a campaign against coal – done so much to shut it down. It is so bad that it is hard to be funny.
Lots of what we laugh at is far from funny and I notice there little humour addressing the political calamities in the US, where a deeply criminal ex-president is still at large. He is forgiven and supported by lawyers, senators who should long-since have turned their backs on him and apologized to their nation and the world for ever allowing him into their midst.
Well, there are heroes. They are not running countries or a big enough portion of the world's industry, farming or medicine but they are working hard to build ways to live, to eat and turn the lights on that are safe, wise, clean. Their influence is marginal until they are rich enough and there is a large enough number of them to bring the political will in line.
Sorry – enough gloom! Let's look at what is really funny.
Space travel!! Don't you love it? People lined up to make the one-way trip to Mars and beyond! You think Earth is tough? Earth is paradise. People are hell and guess what earth species is going to Mars - which will already be hell, by the way - People! Is that like Hell x Infinity?
Everybody wants a piece of the next frontier! Elon Musk wants run Teslas on the streets-to-be on Mars – he's got space travel all figured out. Jeff Bezos will offer package delivery to the vast and weird covered cities that are planned for the Red Planet.
Richard Branson will fly Virgin space shuttles for tourists – if not all the way to Mars, at least to the moon and more. Just picture the costly tours of the Space Station, everybody floating weightlessly but still in a line, the guide showing points of interest. Gosh. They'll have to double the size of it and the medics better be ready for those sudden deaths!
Internationally, the decades-old race to space is well and truly on, while people starve and our planet stumbles and fails.