Saturday, December 21, 2013

Double standards and our celebrities

As humans, we seem to have a tendency to, sometimes in our minds and sometimes overtly, reject things that are different than ourselves. To that end, I should admit that I avoided Duck Dynasty for what must surely be that reason. I watched an episode very recently and I have to admit I laughed. A lot. It was fun. That family is different than any I have encountered and there are aspects to their lives I definitely do not agree with. I mean, those beards must be SO hot and itchy! Also, I'm not religious and not a fan of guns. Let me make this clear: these are my opinions and I'm entitled to them.

Switching gears, I am not a fan of Justin Bieber. It may be because I'm 44 years old or it may be because his music just irritates me. His antics do as well. But he's 19 and he's famous and he has a ton of money and bad judgement. Seems like his lifestyle had a better than good chance of occurring the way it has. So what?

Back to Duck Dynasty: Phil Robertson made some less than acceptable conjectures in an interview. One might consider them ignorant, especially if you consider there's a vague possibility he's misinterpreted the bible, and one might also consider them unacceptable. Personally, for my life, I find them both ignorant and unacceptable. Thankfully, I didn't make them. Also, this man is not in my life or the lives of my family and friends so I don't have to worry so much about him affecting me directly. I do not believe that by watching his show, I'm going to turn into an ignorant homophobe. I'm probably also not likely to watch his show all that much, either. That decision is based on what I choose to entertain me.

This brings me to what I really wanted to say regarding Phil Robertson and Justin Bieber and countless others like them in the spotlight. I have a diverse group of friends on social media and they are from all walks of life. There are varying opinions about music, fashion and lifestyle and I respect that. They might not see me expressing my opinion that often out there in social media because I tend to remain quiet about my views. But the following is what I believe:

It is okay to be outraged by what a public figure says and does and when they choose to do it. It was ill-advised for Mr. Robertson to say what he did in an interview and he should fully expect repercussions. One of my friends pointed out that while what he said did not break the law, it does not mean he should be held unaccountable. At the time, he was representing his franchise so, in short, 'working hours'. If any of us said something offensive on the job, we might be held accountable by our employers as well. Whether or not he was truly offensive or hateful is really up to he and his employers to work out.

Here is what bothers me: Phil Robertson, Justin Bieber or anyone else that may say or do offensive things still do not deserve hatred spewed back at them. I mean true hatred - name calling, belittling, etc. Doing that just makes us as bad as we feel they are. A celebrity makes a remark against our LGBT society or says something that is inferred as discriminatory such as 'Anne Frank would have loved me' (to paraphrase) or even inferring that a reporter is a pedophile (thanks Rob Ford) and we take these things as offensive, but to turn around and call them long-bearded, ignorant hicks or little idiot or, and this one really gets me, 'fat fuck', really only illustrates that we are just as capable as them of being pretty darn stupid, inappropriate and judgemental.

I am not saying take such a high road that we don't hold EVERYONE accountable for their mistakes when those mistakes are hate-filled, offensive and really, really bad examples to set for our young. I'm just saying, why would you want to repeat their behaviour? To me, it's like teaching a child to hit by hitting them. Why not just say 'I find this remark/behaviour/example deplorable and as a result I dislike this person and will no longer read/watch/listen to them.' And there's the rub, you have a choice to not pay attention to them. You also have a choice to lead by example. That's how lessons are taught and learned.

Caricature by DonkeyHotey (Justin Bieber, Just Justin) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Internet, I can't live without you

I write to you today, Internet, with apologies that the majority of this world forgets that they should use title case for your name. You see, I feel like you deserve so much better for everything you have given me.

Thank you, Internet, for teaching me patience and how to be a better listener through Social Media. Were it not for all the drama and constant complaining on Facebook, I might never have learned that anyone can be a social worker - even me. I can also be a chef, a photographer and a doctor without having to even go to school. Thank you for Google.

Thank you for the friends from my childhood with whom I'd long since lost touch. I'm so glad that most of them are back in my life. As for the others, thank you for the ability to block and ban.

Thanks so much for giving Justine Bateman a new home. In the 80s, I wanted to BE her. Now that she's back (and batshit crazy), I think I want to be her even more.

I really appreciate having a place where I can mindlessly correct every spelling or grammar mistake from a safe distance. While these people can leave the digital party every bit as easily as they could leave a real life party they are attending with me, they won't. They never will. Thank you for the captive audience.

When you went mobile, the world rejoiced. Oh! Internet on the go! I will never get lost again as long as I use Google Maps on my iPhone and not the alternative. I will know where my child is at all hours of every single day until he figures it out and leaves his phone at home or turns it off.

Remember that day when you tricked me into believing I'd reached the end of the Internet? We laughed until we cried, didn't we?

You make people do crazy things, Internet. Sometimes they do illegal things. To your credit, you're a darn good detective and you sure do help track these miscreants down. Credit goes to them for often being stupid, but to you for allowing them to showcase their stupidity and get caught.

I don't know where you come from, Internet. I don't know how you got here. I just know that you changed everything and when you can do that, change the world to the point where it simply can't go back, that's something.

Photo by Justine Bateman (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Parade - the musical

Don't think of this as a review because, as I've pointed out, I'm not really a reviewer. Think of it as the words of a person who went to a show and wants to tell you how she enjoyed it in case you are looking for something to do over the next week or so.

There's something you should know before I tell you how I feel about Parade - the musical. I am really not the biggest fan of musicals. I tell you this so you'll understand how insanely picky I am about what I choose to watch. I like only a handful: Les Misérables, Cats, Into the Woods, Girls in the Gang. Sound of Music? NO. West Side Story? Blah. Phantom of the Opera? Please no more! And even though, like Les Misérables, Parade goes against my rules and portrays real-life people breaking into song and dance for no really good reason, somehow it worked.

Here's why: 

The score: 

It's a little reminiscent of Les Misérables, though that may be reflective of the subject matter. Perhaps it was my proximity to the performers - George Ignatieff theatre is a small venue - but when these performers sang, it was apparent to me that they felt every single note, every single word, each and every drum beat. The band, by the way, was tremendous. Not once did I feel as if the band simply played and the performers were 'laying a vocal track' over the score. The band engaged each performer. To that end, the performers were listening to the band. All too often in shows, you can tell the performers are only listening to themselves. That was not the case in this show. 

I was most impressed with Scott Labonte (Leo Frank). This is a lead character, but a character that could easily have been lost if not for Labonte's keen sense of timing not only in his acting, but also his singing. Of note is a scene in the court room where Leo, as a memory, demonstrates the testimony of the local girls who work in his factory. Labonte switches from stuffy Jewish New Yorker, to slimy playboy factory superintendent with incredible ease.

Other notable performances include Luke Witt (Frankie Epps). He is unbelievably passionate, but demonstrated great control and mastery over songs that had him running the gamut of emotions.

When Lauren Lazar (Lucille Frank) sang, her voice is so sweet, but so incredibly strong and she is invested in this role. She is invested in Leo. I never doubted it for a moment.

When Andy Ingram (Britt Craig) takes to the stage to sing about just how he's going to profit from what's happened to Leo Frank, it's like watching the inn keepers in Les Misérables or like a showman introducing a burlesque act. Wickedly good.


It's one thing to have a good story to work with, but it's quite another to turn that story into an intriguing stage production. I love a good true crime story and this one was no exception. The true story of Leo Frank and the murder of Mary Phagan is somewhat epic. How do you squeeze that into a two act musical drama? Pick up a ticket, you'll see.

The couple sitting next to me stood at the end and on the way out of the theatre, the wife remarked that she had to find out the whole story. I remember thinking exactly the same thing and wishing that my phone wasn't so close to dead so I could Google the story on my way home. This is a good thing - always make them think.

I think it's also important to mention some acting performances that impressed me. Kelly Lovatt Hawkins (Sally Slaton) portrayed the Governor's wife with subtlety and strength. Luke Slade (Luther Rosser) managed to make the defense attorney even more 'slimy' than the prosecutor, Will van der Zyl's Hugh Dorsey. Both played their equally corrupt characters without ever taking it too far. Dorsey enraged me as much as Leo Frank's ineffective defender who was completely bereft of humility.

My one difficulty with this production was the character of Mary Phagan. I felt like the whole package - costume, makeup, casting (Avra Fainer) may have been a little bit over the top. Luke Witt (Frankie Epps), stole the first act number, The Picture Show, though there was definitely good chemistry between the two characters. I remained, however,  unable to accept Mary Phagan as a 13-year-old factory girl who became a victim. Rather, I pictured this spunky little creature fighting, biting and kicking until an inevitable escape. But, by the second act, her character is played as a memory and is more acceptably subtle.

This show is a great reminder that there's some phenomenal theatrical talent in Toronto. The set was simple and exquisite. The costuming was quite elegant (when Leo asks Lucille if she is wearing and new outfit and tells her that it's very becoming - it really is!)

Parade - the musical runs until August 18th and the George Ignatieff Theatre at the University of Toronto. It's a mere $25 to see and quite worth the price.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Virtual Identity Crisis

It's funny how blogging is something I very much want to do and yet, I have the hardest time just churning out something interesting for people to read. I feel very disconnected from my blog. I have attempted reviews. I have attempted covering minor news stories. I have even attempted to work within the confines of 'content farms'. I think I may have decided it's just not personal enough.

Now, I don't know how personal is too personal, but what I do know is that my blogging probably needs to be a reflection of the things I like to talk about the most. I'm not sure if every blogger takes this approach or if they would even agree with me that your blogging voice should be somewhat interchangeable with your IRL conversation voice, but when I read what I've blogged so far, I can't even imagine having a conversation that sounds anything like any of those posts.

Anybody who knows me IRL knows what I love to talk about the most (sometimes to their chagrin) is my son. Beyond that, I love technology, I love TV, I love movies. I have some insights, though hardly expert, into relationships.

So maybe what I need to do is finally open up and lay to digital paper what I generally use to dominate conversations. Maybe give my real life friends and colleagues a break? ;-)

That's me in the photo, by the way. I'd like to talk about my large head, but I'll save it for another post.

Monday, September 24, 2012

You wanted it, he had it...


In the late 80s, I finished high school and got myself a couple of summer jobs. One was with a kids arts camp and the other in a record store. I would get up in the morning, grab the camp bus at the mall nearby. When I returned at the end of the day, I’d rush like crazy to get the transit all the way from the north west end of Mississauga to Kipling station in Toronto. For those in the know, that’s a hefty trip.

I worked for Music World. But I didn’t want to work for Music World. I wanted to work for Sam the Record Man.

By the fall, I transferred to the Music World store in Square One, Mississauga. It was just across the hall and down the escalator from Sam’s. I was happy as long as I was around music, but I still (not so) secretly wanted to work for Sam’s. And so I set about visiting the store frequently and pestering the manager until he finally agreed to employ me.

It was a better store. It had a better selection. Its flagship store in downtown Toronto was THE store to go to. After all, musicians flocked there. Sam Sniderman was a mentor of sorts to these musicians and, I daresay, many would not have wound up where they are without him.

If you were looking for pretty much ANY music, he had it.

Over the years, I worked at many stores: A&A, Sunrise, Discus, Music World and other Sam’s locations. Eventually, finishing up post-secondary, I was forced to move on to working within the area I had studied and had to leave behind retail record store days. I will never forget:

  • Hand writing orders on carbon paper order forms

  • Manual inventory

  • Writing up record bags with sharpies

  • Spending almost my entire wages on records I kept in the back room in a milk crate awaiting next pay day

  • Those crazy wax pencils we used to price the product because it wiped off so easily

  • The wonderful characters I worked with and the variety of musical tastes - this is where I learned the most about music

  • Amazingly creative displays created by store staff

There are so many other things and it’s impossible to list them all, but I will always, always be grateful that I worked in an industry that fostered creativity and a love for music. It was the ‘cool’ place to work. It’s unfortunate that we lost the stores before we lost the man.

Photo Credit: By Ian Muttoo (Flickr) [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Read about Sam Sniderman!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Personal Responsibility

Is it lost on our kids? Today I read a meme on Facebook. It was a cartoon showing Wile E. Coyote strapping himself to a rocket and lighting a wick to blast himself off, undoubtedly in pursuit of the Road Runner.

The insinuation is bad enough even without the comments that followed which included parents now owning up to educating or being responsible for their children and that we have had a whole generation of kids that just don’t have a clue. I don’t think I’ll bother to glaze over my response:

Oh please with the sweeping generalizations and mass pigeon-holing. A lot of kids get bad marks because someone thought they’d go to teacher’s college for lack of anything else to do and didn’t even really WANT to be a teacher. A lot get bad marks because of difficulties at home. A lot get bad marks because they have a learning disability which has yet to be identified. We do not have a whole generation of kids who don’t have a clue because we have no way of measuring A WHOLE GENERATION. And guess what? Our parents were saying the same thing about our generation. They were just saying it face to face, not on the Internet where it reaches millions. We’re so separated from what this allegedly ‘clueless’ generation is up to, it could be argued WE are a bit clueless.

Do we have a problem with the education system today? Yes. Did we when we were growing up? Most certainly. I do believe our parents, the parents of those who are likely the ones teaching today, DID say the very same things about us just as their parents did about them.

As a mother, I’m offended. And if I thought my son was a problem, I doubt I’d be complaining about him on Facebook. I’m quite certain I would be working WITH his educators to solve the problem. Part of that work would be trying to identify if, in fact, the teachers tasked with educating him are up to snuff. It’s naive to imagine that the mere title of ‘teacher’ puts you above responsibility. There are bad teachers out there. Deal with it.

There are also very good teachers out there. It requires cooperation and communication between home and school. We can’t just shuffle our kids out the door each day and expect that they are learning all they need to know at school. We also can’t claim that ALL parents are doing this and that an entire generation of children are clueless.

Guess what? I was completely clueless. I did things my mother did not approve of and probably still doesn’t. I had friends who did worse. I had friends who did almost nothing wrong. If we are trying to teach them to think for themselves and take responsibility for their lives - revel in their unique qualities, then how in the world does a sweeping generalization and pigeon-holing teach them that?

Are we going to tell an entire generation that this is what we think of them? ‘Forget it, kid. Your generation is lost. Don’t bother trying.’

Remember, parents, when you make a statement like that, YOUR kids are part of this so-called clueless generation. Also try to remember that they very well might be reading what you’re writing. While you’re complaining that the parents of this generation aren’t taking responsibility for their kids, what is it you’re doing with yours?

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Why do I like bloggers?

I love bloggers because they will talk about anything. This works out well for me because I will read about pretty much ANYTHING. I love to get to know people. I think it’s fantastic to get to know the world from anybody’s point of view and not always just from the point of view of CNN or television news. Too much is carefully hidden or censored in favour of ratings. I’m not saying I want sensationalism. If that were the case, I’d be happy just watching FOX.

Why should I care what a stranger in another part of the world is doing and how they see their world? Why shouldn’t I? The Internet has made this world much smaller and it feels like I can almost walk over to any old country and check it out. That’s just plain cool.

So, I think every now and then I would like to just throw out a mention to a blog that I’ve come across. Today, I was led (by CNN) to a blog belonging to a 9-year-old girl in Scotland.

Some time ago, I recall watching Jamie Oliver bring his efforts to better feed school children to the U.S. and how interesting I found it that many schools in the U.S. require the children to eat lunches provided by the school. Following that, I was more than a little dismayed to see what the children were forced to eat and while I don’t strictly care all that much for ‘cooking’ shows, I enjoyed watching Jamie’s great efforts to educate governments on ways they could improve the diets of children in school.

Back to Scotland… Martha Payne goes by the name VEG (Veritas Ex Gustu, truth from tasting in Latin) and takes a photo of her school lunch each day. Following a criteria she set out on her own, she critiques the lunches on her blog. As you can well imagine, this blog has gone viral and through all the positive feedback, she has also received some not so positive attention.

Among her followers, she boasts students, teachers and parents who send her photos of their own school meals and sometimes their critiques. Not only has Martha been able to learn about various places in the world (her father tests to see how long it takes her to find a place on a map), she learns about their diets and food preferences. I’d say that’s a grand education for a young girl.

But more importantly, she has drawn attention to an issue that is worldwide - are our school children being fed properly? This is extremely effective use of social media by a 9-YEAR-OLD, no less. In addition, this effort has raised incredible amounts of funding for Mary’s Meals, a global movement to set up school meals for poor communities.

So, Martha, good for you, girl. Also, you’re a pretty good writer. Keep at it.

Photo Credit: Photo by Rex / Rex USA (1043010a)

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

What is a donair?

A donair is a variation of the Turkish dish, doner kebab (gyros, shawarma), and was invented in Canada in 1972 by Peter Gamaoulakos, who had emigrated to Canada just before the 1960’s and met with little to no success with selling his Greek gyros.

In an effort to adapt to local tastes, he used beef in favour of lamb and created a sweet sauce in place of tzatziki.

The donair was officially unveiled in 1973 at King of Donair on Quinpool Road in Halifax.

The beef is combined into a loaf with flour, bread crumbs and various spices. It is either cooked on a spit or baked in a loaf pan and then grilled before it is wrapped in a flatbread pita with diced tomatoes and onions.

Donair sauce is distinctively sweet, made from evaporated milk, sugar, vinegar and garlic. It’s used quite often for dipping garlic fingers or as a gravy for donair poutine.

There are many variations on the donair, including donair pizza, donair pogos and donair subs. While the donair is primarily enjoyed by Haligonians, it’s also prevalent in Alberta and Southern Ontario.

On my way home from a training course downtown, I called my husband about dinner. I knew about The Fuzz Box and was hoping to try it out as soon as possible. Specializing in real Nova Scotian Donairs, said the sign. The menu was literally replete with familiar dishes from my childhood - fried pepperoni, rabbit stew, annapolis coleslaw.

Ironically, my first donair was in Windsor, Ontario while attending university. Subsequent trips to visit my brother in Halifax proffered more opportunity to have donairs and I quickly discovered that the ones I had had in Windsor were fine, but nowhere near what could be had in Halifax.

As I was trying to convince him we should have these donairs, I tried to describe what he would be eating. When I said it was like a shawarma, Neil Dominey, the proprietor of The Fuzz Box, quickly chimed in that it was not like a shawarma. I simply couldn’t think of any other way to describe it to a nearly lifelong Ontarian who had never experienced a donair.

Frankly, it’s much messier. In case you don’t have enough donair sauce on your donair, you can buy it on the side because this is not a tightly wrapped, neatly sealed shawarma or gyro.  Neil uses a softer, fluffier pita. This pita helps soak up the extra sauce, but it’s still extremely messy. This is the only way to have a donair, he says. It should be dripping. Instead of a vertical spit, Neil prefers to bake his beef in a loaf, creating a perfect crumble that soaks up the donair sauce beautifully.

I’ve since been back a few times and I do find myself thinking of ways I can get away with going there instead of cooking dinner. Even my son thought it was the best new (to him) food he’s tasted in a long while.

Highly recommended. Get there as fast as you can. (I’m aiming to try the Blueberry Grunt as soon as humanly possible).

Be sure to have a look at Neil’s Facebook page and follow The Fuzz Box on Twitter.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Riding a New Red Rocket

My son likes to write. He’s very serious about it and his ideas sometimes even astound me. Often, much like his mother, he finds it difficult to concentrate at home and is sometimes left without inspiration. I suggested we find some time and do what I used to do - sit in a coffee shop and write whatever comes to mind.

And that’s exactly what we did. Sitting with Harrison in the front window watching the Danforth, listening to Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash, he wolfs down a completely delicious gluten-free peanut butter cookie and sips on a ‘Dirt ‘n’ Worms’ hot chocolate.

I give him my laptop and pull out my notebook, intending on trying to rekindle the creative juices that seem to run so freely through my son. I sip on a chai latte, which, our server explains, is made from steamed tea and not the overly sweet syrup I’m accustomed to from other establishments. It has a lovely little leaf design made from caramel on top of the steamed milk - just sweet enough.

While Harrison is writing feverishly (he seems to have found that inspiration he couldn’t at home), I stop to look around. Classic comic book prints such as Little Lulu and Nutsy Squirrel  line the wall by the entrance. Robot action figures make frequent appearances with their likenesses even drawn on the bathroom mirror. It’s simple decor - deep browns and dark reds accentuating coffee-cream walls - plain wooden tables with simple silver chairs near the back with two leather armchairs in front of a fireplace near the front. The counter in the window looks a log cutting that is simply lacquered. It’s wonderful and comfortable. Within a half an hour, Harrison has comfortably written several paragraphs of inspiration and I have already ordered a second incredible peanut-butter cookie as well as a nice medium-roast coffee - quite delicious. The wonderful women at the counter today are Cayley and Markie. They’re extremely friendly and have genuine smiles on their faces the entire time we are there. I’m so impressed, I have to tell them. It seems to me, at first, that I have totally forgotten to rekindle my inspiration and try to write alongside my son. And then, it dawns on me, I know what to write about…

Red Rocket Coffee’s newest site is at 1364 Danforth Ave., just a few blocks east of Greenwood. They are on Facebook and Twitter and are absolutely my new favourite.

Thank you, Cayley and Markie, for a wonderful experience for Harrison and myself today.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Shakespeare Returns to Africa

A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. ~ Margaret Mead

The Artistic Director of Shakespeare Link Canada, Kennedy Cathy MacKinnon, often uses this quote and she’s right. Her small group of thoughtful people, however, is steadily growing. This small group is heading back to Africa this summer.

In Quelimane, Mozambique, SLC will partner once again with A Companhia de Canto e Danca Montes Namuli this time to build a bilingual production of A Winter’s Tale. The visit is slated to last three weeks with the eventual goal of touring the show through Canada and the UK.

Coming off the tail end of their second fundraising campaign for the trip through social media, the group is inching closer and closer to meeting its budgetary goals.

What I’d really like to highlight is the effect this group has, not only on the various groups they work with, but on their own members. In a Facebook group formed to assist SLC in obtaining funds to continue their work, there has been an outpouring of support from the community and a number of extremely touching entries shared by members of the group describing their experiences working with the group, memories of Mozambique, and what the group means to them:

“I try to teach my son that one person can make a difference, but the truth is I have often felt the opposite. We live in an age of media and technology that makes it easy to be aware of so much that is happening in the world but I have felt so helpless and overwhelmed, not knowing what I could do or where to start…and then this project came along.” - Jane Spence

“A thought, a rememberence, I fondly recall working on R&J (Romeo and Juliette) with Montes Namuli, and during a particularly hot afternoon I was working with Isabella (Juliette) a founding member of the Montes, she turned to me at one point and indicated that she wanted to see the text (which was translated into Portuguese) ‘No’ she said the real text she meant, and through our part portugese, part gesture, she let me know that she wanted me to share with her the story again, because there was something that she was missing. So that is what we did we began story telling to one another back and forth until we had cleared the barrier, it was one of the things that makes me a better teacher and director - clarity. Once that was accomplished she turned and decided that the line she had been having troubles with needed to be spoken in english and wanted to know how to say it. It didn’t matter to her or to us that very few people in our audience would understand her english they would understand her intention and besides ‘In Shakespeares’ time not everyone would have understood his words, would they?’ she stated ‘I learned that from you Shakespeare Link, so let’s be like that time - we’ll all be children learning together’. It was simple and profound and to the point!” - Edward Daranyi

Photo Credit: Felicity Somerset