Friday, August 17, 2012

In defence of the media frenzy

It's been a few days since Toronto mayor Rob Ford was photographed, apparently reading whilst driving on the Gardiner Expressway. This entry is in response to those who argue that this photograph is not worthy of the media attention it received.

I am generally of the opinion that an elected official's private life should remain so. I do not need to know if one is having an affair or where they buy their clothes. In the big picture, these actions have little effect on anything. What Mayor Ford allegedly did, however, crossed a line. It has the potential to affect us directly. Distracted driving can lead to an accident. It can hurt, even kill, someone.

When the leader of a city does not deny an act that puts his/her citizens in danger, weakly defends their actions by claiming they are very busy (who isn't?), and cannot understand the spectacle being made of it, it would be a crime to not report on it. Rob Ford is an elected leader. Like it or not, all leaders lead by example. The example Mayor Ford is setting is not a good one.

Would I expect the same attention if the photograph was of an ordinary citizen? In an ideal world, yes - public scrutiny can be an effective deterrent - but realistically, no.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Catching television criminals - then and now

Hubby and I watched an episode of Murder, She Wrote earlier today. I have always loved that show. Who could resist the charm and wit of J. B. Fletcher? The criminals certainly could not, as is evidenced at the 45-minute mark of every episode, when they break down and confess their crime and motive after being figuratively backed into a corner by a calm, observant, and smiling old widow.

The show is highly predictable. Someone is murdered and someone else is painted as the likely suspect. Jessica doubts this person's guilt and, through paying attention to minute details, sets out to prove that the character who received very little screen time is actually the murderer. In the eleventh hour, the power that is Jessica's charm and logic coerces a confession out of the murderer, usually in front of the sheriff. You could almost play detective with Jessica, and try to find that one detail, the key to solving the crime.

The soundtrack is light and airy. There is little violence and, when there is, it is milder than on a children's show such as The Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers.

I grew up watching this show with my mom and happily recreate those memories with my children today. The character of Jessica Fletcher has a way of putting rude and inconsiderate people in their place with nothing more than a calm voice and a smile. I hope to age with such grace, gravitas, and dignity. I hope my children do, too.

Later on, hubby and I watched an episode of Criminal Minds. What a difference 20 years can do to television! The formula is still there, albeit a little changed. Discover murdered person. Use clues not immediately obvious to the general populace to identify killer. Catch criminal (usually).

But, oh, the violence! The gore! Severed limbs, gouged eyeballs, and splattered blood! Sometimes we are lucky enough to witness the crime in action. I cannot watch this show whilst my children are nearby. The photography and soundtrack can make way to the kind of nail-biting suspense typical in a horror movie. I know of adults who have a difficult time sleeping after watching the show.

As the viewer, you don't really have an opportunity to solve the crime - everything is pretty much laid out for you. Though each character has his/her positive attributes, I do not find myself aspiring to become like any of them. The entertainment value of this show is not so much in the storytelling as in the shock value of its contents.

So, which is better? Then or now? Light and whimsical or heavy and dark? Family fare or guilty pleasure? I enjoy both shows immensely; it merely depends on what time of day it is. Murder, She Wrote is my cup of grape juice shared with my family at the dinner table, whereas Criminal Minds is my glass of wine after my children are fast asleep.

How about you? Which do you prefer?

Friday, August 10, 2012

Let's try this again...

It's amazing what you discover with something as annoying as your facebook layout being forced to the new timeline. My "über dich" needed some serious editing, my friends list was much larger than I thought, I have not been taking nearly as many photos as I would like, and I HAVE A BLOG!

Coincidentally, after reading a few headlines before the aforementioned assimilation into the facebook timeline, I was contemplating how nice it would be to start writing again.

And so, after neglecting this blog for so long, I am going to give it another go. I look forward to sharing my thoughts with you. =)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Craving Quark

Lately, I have been having a recurring craving for a freshly baked breakfast bun, lightly buttered and topped with German quark and blueberry jam. Fulfilling this urge, however simple it may seem, is quite the opposite.

I have yet to find high quality frozen breakfast buns (or any frozen breakfast buns, actually). For some people, the aroma of coffee brewing is a wonderful start to the day. Personally, I need that whiff of buns baking in the oven in the morning. And do not get me started on my search for quark. Any inquiries thereof just result in blank stares.

I am certain that if I lived in the city, my cravings would not go on unfulfilled for very long. The situation being what it is, I am back in the suburbs without a driver's license. I am not flexible in the least. Can anyone give me any tips as to where I may find a good bakery and, just maybe, some German quark in the GTA? I am hoping that with some solid tips, I can convince someone to drive/accompany me to where I need to go.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Auf deutsch, bitte!

For the past 6.5 years, in an effort to raise our children bilingually, hubby and I conversed with them in our mother tongues - he in German and I in English.

This was simple for me. Not only is English my mother tongue, it is also spoken fluently by about half of hubby's family as well as most of our social circle in Berlin. I almost never needed to switch between English and German.

Unfortunately, neither did hubby. In addition to our predominately English-speaking home and social life, he works for a British company and, therefore, speaks English at work almost exclusively. As a result, he has endured years of constant reminders to speak to our children auf deutsch from his family, the school teachers, our pediatrician and random strangers - but mostly from me.

Now I am in Mississauga with the children, minus hubby. I have developed a newfound appreciation for the role he played during our time in Berlin as the sole German-speaking adult of the household. That role is now mine, and it is not an easy one.

There is noone in my daily life that I can converse in German with, save for our children. I find it extremely difficult instantaneously switching from an English conversation, to German, and back again whilst at the dinner table, at the grocery store, and so on. I have given up trying to help our children with their homework in German. It is so frustrating at time, I have all but thrown in the towel. If it were not for the encouragement of friends and family, I probably would have.

I am in the process of brainstorming ideas in coping with the constant language switch. All I have thought of so far is training our children to keep saying "Auf deutsch, bitte!" to me until I switch to German. Do any of you have more ideas?

Friday, February 12, 2010

That was easy! ...or maybe not?

One thing I appreciate about Canadian bureaucracy is its simplistic nature. The lack of repetitive questions result in fewer forms to complete, sign and send in which, in turn, result in fewer headaches for me.

Accustomed to German bureaucracy, I was prepared with all possible paperwork on hand when I registered my kids at our local school in Mississauga. I was ready to answer the same question, albeit worded differently, over and over again. This did not happen. I walked in with my completed application forms, our official documents were photocopied, and I was sent happily on my way. With the exception of arranging for the kids' ESL assessments, there was nothing more that I needed to do.

The school registration process was nowhere as simple in Berlin. First, I had to register at our local school. Then I had to register for an official transfer to the bilingual school. That was followed by a medical examination by the child health authorities at city hall, which was later followed by a general language assessment. Then I had to return to the bilingual school for the second language assessment. And so on, and so forth.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered the process of removing your child from school in Berlin was relatively simple. All it took was a letter explaining the situation and essentially guaranteeing that we will continue our children's education in Canada. (NB - You are required by German law to send your children to school by the age of six. Homeschooling is illegal except in extreme circumstances.) We packed up, flew to our new home, and I thought to myself,"That was easy!".

Perhaps I should not have spoken so soon. Hubby received a telephone call from an office so specific, we did not even think that it existed - the emmigrant department of the school and sport office at Berlin city hall. They need some sort of official documentation that proves my children are indeed attending school in Mississauga.

My view that German bureaucracy is OCD in nature has just been taken to a whole new level.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

While You Were Sleeping

Both in Canada and in Germany, whilst in labour, I was asked if I would allow medical students to perform extra pelvic exams. I said yes. My answer would not have been any different if I was to be unconscious during said examination, along with 62% of Canadian women.

Unfortunately, all this is of no conequence in Canada. Apparently, it is routine for medical students to perform gynecological exams on women under general anaesthetics, without first receiving their explicit permission to do so.

I hate to say this, but does this not amount to rape? I understand that these students are our future dotors and that practial training is just as essential as theory. However, is it really necessary to perform these exams without the consent of the patient, especially when the majority of women do not have a problem with it?


Monday, January 25, 2010

Yes, I've gone crazy...

...and it is not because of the light-jacket-and-an-umbrella-will-suffice, spring-like weather we have on this mid-WINTER day. It is because of the constant ringing of our telephone. We receive at least 10 calls everyday from 1-800/866 numbers. Most messages on our answering machine are either hang-ups from telemarketers or recorded messages from scams like icor. No kidding. I am seriously considering changing our answering machine message to this:

Dear Telemarketer,
noone is this household is interested in changing our windows and doors, switching credit cards, or buying whatever product it is you wish to sell to us. We are also not interested in partaking in your fraudulent sales of telephone numbers to other telemarketers. We have left bags of old clothes outside our door so often for charities, that we have nothing else to give. Please leave us alone. Have a nice day.

Why can there not be a law against unsolicited calls such as these? In Germany, a company cannot legally call you unless you have personally given them your number. I miss my relatively quiet house phone in Berlin...

Friday, January 15, 2010

Am I crazy?

When I stepped outside this morning to walk the kids to school, it was different. Very different. It was very green and mild.

I do not like it. I want it to get cold and very snowy again. I miss the crunch of fresh snow under your feet, the glare of the sun reflecting off of the snow, and swishing-noise of snowpants on each side of me. I want my Canadian winter back.

Am I crazy?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Hubby's debut as Santa Claus

I have been so busy with getting things in order after moving back, that I have never had the chance to properly peruse our Christmas photos until now. As is always with children, we have many cute shots of the kids, but there is one particular picture that particularly made me laugh.

It has been tradition in Germany that my MIL's family spend Heiligabend (Christmas Eve) at my home for our dinner and Bescherung (exchange of presents). Santa does not leave your presents under the tree. He visits you after dinner and hands it right to you!

Such is the importance of Santa's presence on Christmas Eve, that there are rent-a-santa services available. Instead, my step-FIL has assumed the role for the past three years, and my children (except for Big M) have been none the wiser. They never recognised their Opa under the costume, nor did they ever question their Opa's absence during our Bescherung.

This past Christmas was different. We spent it in Canada, which meant that Opa was not available to play pretend. Hubby, being the token 'white' male in my predominantly Filipino family, had no choice but to take over.

After dinner, hubby and I rushed upstairs, dressed him in a Santa costume, stuffed it with a pillow and blanket, grabbed a duvet cover to act as Santa's gift sack, and proceeded to get hubby outside our front door before the kids could notice we were gone. I told hubby to count to ten slowly, shut the door, and ran back to the kids.

Ten loooong seconds later, there came three loud knocks from the front door. Surprised, the children ran excitedly to receive our new guest. And then came the funny shot:

Big M, being 10, already knew about our plan. She was integral in keeping her siblings occupied whilst Santa got ready. She still could not help laughing at the site of her Papa. Lil' M shrieked with joy. Big J's reaction in this picture is classic! He was genuinely afraid! I suppose it did not help that hubby's Santa looks nothing like the Opa Santa.

We welcomed Santa into our living room, where he asked us if we have all behaved, asked us to sing a song for him, and announced he had presents for us. Each of us took a turn to pose for the camera with Santa, who was growing increasingly rosy in his cheeks under the pillow, blanket, fake beard and cheap polyester costume. Then Lil' M and Big J started to ask questions...

Where is Papa?
He's upstairs, hon. But don't go up there! He's poo-pooing and it is reaaallllly stinky up there!

Why is Santa wearing Papa's shoes?
What?!?! Oh! You know how Lola and Lolo get really angry when you walk around with dirty outside shoes in the house? Santa left his boots outside and borrowed your Papa's shoes so that Lola and Lolo won't be mad at him! (Thank goodness the kids didn't go outside to check!)

Why is Santa's beard moving?
Oh look! Santa got you a nice remote-controlled car!!!

All in all, hubby's debut went well. The kids accepted my answers and distractions as such for the evening. I wonder if it is slowly becoming time to hit Lil' M and Big J with the truth?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Suspicious Junk Mail

I opened my Canadian bank account not too long ago, and I am already receiving junk snail-mail.

I received a letter from RBC Royal Bank offering me 6,000 bonus RBC Rewards points if I apply for the RBC Rewards Gold Visa before March 31st. It was addressed to me using my maiden name. The only document/card anywhere that still uses my maiden name is my SIN card (Social Insurance Number), which I provided when I opened my bank account (with my married name, at bank other than Royal Bank). Everything else, my passport, health card, etc. lists my married name. Even my birth certificate was amended.

Can anyone explain to me how this happened? Because this is obviously linked to the sudden activity with my SIN, I feel like some privacy rule has been violated.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

An expat in my home country

I know I have not posted in a while. For anyone out there who still reads this, here is a short update:

  • I was visiting my family in Mississauga in October when my father was murdered.
  • Hubby and I have decided to move back to Mississauga.
  • My children and I have moved in with my mother.
  • Hubby helped me bring the kids to Canada, but is now back in Berlin because of work. We do not know when he can move back, yet.
In trying to cope with the stresses of grief and a sudden trans-Atlantic move, I have decided to try my hand at blogging again. I am not going to elaborate on the details of the murder - I do not feel ready to do so in such a public forum.

If you, my reader, are still there, I look forward to sharing my wacky experiences as an expat in my home country with you.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Why I Love Berlin – Part 2

Today, for the first time since last October, we have had beautiful t-shirt weather here in Berlin. Luckily, hubby had a relatively short work day (he was back home by 2:30 pm) and we went out and took advantage of the opportunity to enjoy another aspect that I love so much about Berlin – namely, how green it is.

Berlin is the largest and most densely populated metropolis in Germany, although you would not think it at first glance. Unlike the concrete jungles familiar to North Americans, Berlin is an urban woodland blessed with an abundance of parks and forests, as well as having most residential and major streets lined with trees. I do not need to venture far from my front door to enjoy mother nature – and I live right in the city centre!

I will never understand the North American obsession with replacing trees in the city with concrete. It is quite sad, actually.

Inside the Sony Centre at Potsdamer Platz - a square built upon a former dead-man's-land. A perfect example of the German habit of incorporating nature as much as possible in new urban developments.

Unter den Linden - "under the linden trees" in English - is a grand boulevard in the city's core.

Inside Kranzler Eck, another example of the incorporation of nature in modern urban development. In the centre-left of the photo is a birdcage filled with exotic, colourful species.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Laughs of the week

The only late-night shows I (loosely) follow are The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. After seeing these two clips, however, I might just add Jimmy Kimmel Live to the list. The first clip is Portia De Rossi's Prop 8 PSA, and the second clip, well, made me laugh until I cried and my stomach hurt. Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Why I Love Berlin - Part 1

The past few days have had their toll on me. Gastroenteritis paid our home a visit just as hubby’s two week break ended. Our laundry loads doubled and we lived off of electrolyte solutions and crackers as the kids and I quarantined ourselves from the outside world and waited for our guest to leave.

Today, with the smell of fresh laundry and orange-poppyseed cake wafting through our home and the satisfaction that there were no remaining traces of the stomach bug having visited us, I took the kids to Tiergarten for an afternoon strol
l. (Tiergarten is to Berlin what Central Park is to New York City.) It was our first time outside for half a week and the kids were thrilled. So was I.

I mentioned earlier that my love of Berlin warranted a blog post of its own. I was wrong.

There is so much that I adore that a single blog post would be misrepresentative. Funnily enough, however, I can categorise most of what I love about Berlin in one word: choice. This post is centered on the choices I had today, literally, just outside my doorstep – public transport.

Berlin has an intricately dense web of buses, streetcars, U-Bahn lines (subways) and S-Bahn lines (light rail). I can get almost anywhere in the city within an hour, the few exceptions being the most desolate and obscure corners of Berlin that I would visit once a year, if at all. Just outside my doorstep, I have the choice between an U-Bahn line and two bus lines (four if you count the overnight routes). Within a two-minute walk from my doorstep I have an additional U-Bahn line and four more bus lines at my disposal. Within a fifteen-minute walk from my doorstep I have access to yet another subway line, at least five more bus lines, three S-Bahn lines and a number of Regional Express lines which take me outside of the city for a tiny surcharge.

Many people are hesitant to depend on public transport for their daily commute. I can confidently say, from six years experience, that the BVG (Berliner Verkehrs-AG, responsible for buses, streetcars, and the U-Bahn) and DB (Deutsche Bahn, responsible for the S-Bahn) are extremely reliable. An advantage to having two different companies running the different methods of transport is that the city rarely has a complete shutdown. When busses, streetcars and the U-Bahn ceased to operate due to striking workers last spring, the S-Bahn, run by DB, continued to operate and even increased their service to pick up the slack.

I have no need for a car. The opportunity cost is much too high to justify my owning one. Between the monthly car loan payment, gas, and insurance, my wallet would be around 550 EUR lighter every month – more than FIVE TIMES what hubby and I spend monthly on public transportation.

As odd as it may sound, I find travelling in the city with my kids on public transport easier than in the car. I never have to struggle getting impatient kids/babies buckled in or repeatedly fold and unfold my stroller. Hubby and I can freely interact with our children without having to concentrate on the traffic. Our oldest son is completely infatuated with anything train-like, so rides on the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, and streetcar are always a welcome novelty to him.

I have said it before and I will say it again – if you live in this city, own a car, and use said car daily, you are either lazy or crazy, or both. Berlin is a city in which you can live car-free. Sadly, I cannot say the same about the city of Mississauga, where I grew up.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Say what?

Take a quick glance through FP's latest list, The World's Most Unexpected Crime Waves, and you run across the usual culprits: white-collar fraudsters, marginalised youths, disenchanted elderly, drug gangs...

Hold on a second there - did you just read
senior citizens along with drug gangs in a list of crime waves? Yes you did. One in seven crimes in Japan has been committed by the over-60 crowd last year, the most common offenses being pickpocketing and robbery (a man robbed a grocery store in Nagoya and escaped with the aid of his walking cane). There has been a significant increase in assaults commited by the elderly as well. The problem is so bad that the government is spending 8.3 billion yen to build special senior wards - complete with walkers and support rails.

As FP rightly said, it is difficult not to laugh at the visual of a man, who can barely walk, threatening a cashier with a knife. Amusement aside, however, this is a serious problem. The reason that so many seniors are turning to crime is because their world has been ruined by a combination of Japan's "stagnant economy and the breakdown of the traditional family structure" (emphasis added by me). In other words, besides their country's economic woes, many seniors enter a life of crime to make ends meet because they do not have enough younger family members to support them.

Oh, how I hope and pray that the pro-lifers do not get the idea to use this to support their opinions. I would not put it past them. Remember the Krispy Kreme Abortion Doughnuts and Elisabeth Hasselbeck using Ashley Judd's PSA against aerial wolf hunting as a segue to pro-life ramble (you can watch that craziness below)?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Mariecel's silence, explained.

Of the blogs that I follow, many have had recent posts either of an apologetic nature, or simply to ascertain that the blog is not completely abandoned. This is one of those posts.

I was going to name this post “I’m back” but decided against it because, in truth, I never really left. I have not gone on vacation, or have had a prolonged absence from home that would have made it impossible for me to sit in front of the computer and type. So what has come between my blog and me?

As I already mentioned here, I have been reading books again. A lot. Which is, in itself, not helpful because a) the only time I have to read is after I put the kids to bed, b) I usually have a very hard time putting a book down until I have finished the chapter/book, and c) I have become a very slow reader. For the past couple of months I have been living off an average of 3-4 hours sleep each night.

To fight off the yawns, I spend as much of my time with the kids as I can outdoors. Nothing wakes you up more than a nice breath of cold, fresh air, which leads me to one of the reasons I love the city of Berlin so much: There is always something to do here, with or without kids. The city enjoys not only an abundance of beautiful parks and forests but also of museums, theatres, and other culturally stimulating venues for when it becomes too unpleasant to stay outdoors. But I digress. My love of Berlin warrants a post of its own.

What keeps me from posting is not a lack of something to say but a frustration with, and sadness because of, the likes of Jonathan Krohn, the Vatican, and the current recession, to name a select few. By the time I finish reading the news I am so worked up that any post I start to compose in my head just ends up an almost incoherent rant of all the things going wrong in the world today, which results in a frustration at my frustration at whatever set me off that day and, ultimately, the discarding of my post. Wow – it is frustrating even just reading that sentence!

Luckily the plethora of updates on the horrid shooting in Winnenden was interrupted by a short report on CNN about the “feud” between Jon Stewart and Jim Cramer/NBC. I am grateful to have seen this report, as it granted me access to a good dose of humour to counter the sadness I feel for those affected by the shooting. People such as Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have a wonderful way of bringing controversial points of view to light, and encouraging the discussion thereof. In case you have not seen it, here is the segment that ignited the quarrel (Stewart's latest clip is embedded in the article linked to above):

All in all I wish to let you, my reader, know that I have learnt my lesson – namely, to search out humour when my mind is abuzz with frustration – and that I am still here. I hope to see you here again soon =)

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Magical Meme

I have not written on this blog for a while, and it was not for a lack of things to write about. Perhaps it is the normal winter slump, the nasty cold that I have, or my Fernweh that is keeping me away from the keyboard.

There is something special about this facebook meme that is getting people to reveal random facts about themselves; even people who normally do not take part in this tagging game. It is that special something that finally got me out of my slump. I won't bother tagging anyone, as most of you have done this already! (Don't let that stop you if you have not done this yet, though!) Here goes:

  1. I love cooking with offals. Unfortunately, what offal I cook and when I cook it depends on hubby. He enjoys liver and oxtail, so I can cook those whenever I wish to. I save recipes with tripe (“Eck! Even my mother’s dog refused to eat that!”), and my favourite, chicken heart and gizzard adobo, for when he is away or when I am especially annoyed with him.
  2. Since high school, I have justified impulse purchases of sale items by means of the number of chocolate bars I could have purchased with the money I saved. (“Look! I bought this shirt for 20 bucks less than the original price – that’s 40 chocolate bars at the dollar store!”) The only time I do not feel the need to do this is when I purchase books. Books are always worth the expenditure.
  3. When I start humming loudly for no obvious reason, it is often a sign that I just relived an embarrassing memory. Hubby knows this and exploits it to no end, and I love him for it =)
  4. I do not own a driver’s license, and plan to get one only when it is absolutely necessary.
  5. Scotland Yard is my favourite board game, followed closely by chess (even though I am horrible at it).
  6. The only movie I have seen where the dubbed German is better than the original English is “Ice Age”. Otto Waalkes outshone John Leguizamo as the voice of Sid.
  7. I can roll my Rs using the front end of my tongue, but not the back end. Hubby tried to teach me numerous times but I usually just end up coughing.
  8. I am a city-gal through and through. The only way I will voluntarily move back to suburbia is if it is extremely well connected to the city. My own car would not hurt either.
  9. I do not have a middle name. I kind of wish I did. In Germany, middle names do not exist – they are counted as another first name that you are free to use when you like.
  10. I love the cut-and-paste nature of the German vocabulary.
  11. I think Tyler Connolly has a sinfully sexy singing voice.
  12. I think Colin Firth is sinfully sexy. Period.
  13. I am the black sheep on my side of the family. On hubby’s side I am the foreigner, which always makes for interesting get-togethers =)
  14. My favourite beer is Erdinger’s non-alcoholic Weißbier. Very yummy and safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women to drink. It gives you a nice boost of vitamin B and folic acid.
  15. During my last pregnancy, all I wanted to watch were violent and gory movies. Dramas and rom-coms bored me.
  16. I do not understand how someone can be politically apathetic, even though I used to be exactly that.
  17. I received a pot of orchids (my favourite flower and VERY difficult to maintain) for my birthday two years ago. It seems to have awakened the plant-whisperer in me as it is still alive and blooming. I am proud.
  18. When I can, I purchase from the bakery and butcher downstairs. I love that community-feeling you get, the kind you can’t get from the large, generic grocery stores.
  19. I never knew that homosexuality was taboo until I was about nine years old and my mother shushed me for mentioning that my aunt is lesbian.
  20. I don’t care if my children end up being homosexual, as long as they give me grandchildren!
  21. Sometimes I wake up with a very deep voice, especially when I am sick. I like to scare hubby with it, and make him think that he just spent the night with another man.
  22. My favourite household chores are the ones I was never forced to do when I was a child – scrubbing the washroom clean and the laundry. I tend to drag my feet when cleaning bedrooms.
  23. My singing ability makes William Hung’s voice sound like that of Luciano Pavarotti.
  24. I like to sing. A LOT. I feel sorry for my family.
  25. I have a Filipino accent that creeps in when I talk with my mother, or when I am flustered. Hubby finds it charming. It embarrasses me.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Joe the Delusional

Every now and then someone comes along that makes you slap your forehead in complete and utter disbelief. Joe the Plumber is one of those people. This man, after exposing himself as a liar and a tax cheat, has the gall to say “I don’t know if the American public deserves me”. If anyone is suffering from a delusion of grandeur, he is. That is all.

My Rediscovered "Vice" - Books

With the exception of the daily news, I have not watched television since Christmas. My DVD collection has remained undisturbed. I have neglected my blogs, the number of undeleted junkmail in my inbox grew, and my memory card is full of photos that have yet to be transferred to the computer, let alone edited. I have reverted from baking time-consuming, complex cakes and pies to quick and easy muffins and cookies. At fault is my passion for reading, which rekindled once my youngest learnt to sleep the whole night through.

I have always been a bookworm. Whilst other children snuck money from their parents to buy candy and toys at the local convenience store, I snuck money away from my lola (grandmother) to buy books from the book fair. Receiving my first library card at six years of age felt much more liberating than getting my driver’s permit at 18. Even after my mother profusely blamed my sudden need for eyeglasses when I was eleven with my nightly routine of reading for hours with the assistance of a measly 25 watt bedside lamp, I never stopped flipping those pages and devouring the words. Never mind shoes and handbags – the bookstore is the most dangerous threat to my wallet.
NB - This also happens to be a trait shared by hubby and his mother, who alone has over 3000 books and, whilst house-hunting, had to have specialists assess if the structure of the prospective new home was strong enough to support the weight. Throwing away/selling our books is unheard of in our family. In my opinion, owning a book possesses a certain seductive quality that owning, say, a Kate Spade handbag does not.

Oftentimes I found myself with a growing pile of unread books that I picked up on the sale tables of Dussmann and Hugendubel (or Chapters and Indigo if I happened to be in Canada), which resulted in a recurring New Year’s resolution to read them all before buying more. 2008 was the first year that I followed this through, which probably explains the number of books I received from hubby and his mom last Christmas.

Within the next month I had already devoured all four of them, plus one of the books that hubby received from his mom. (It may not seem like that many, but I read much more slowly in German.) On the next available opportunity hubby I packed up the kids and went on my first visit to Dussmann in months, where we made a lovely discovery – a riveting, growing book series that covers very nearly everything from Anarchism to The Meaning of Life to Wittgenstein: Very Short Introductions from Oxford University Press. I fear that I will find it impossible to restrain my purchases until I own the complete series!

Another recent discovery of mine is, a website that combines the social networking of facebook with the concept of the book/reading club. My initial attraction to the website occurred during my search for a library-like widget for this blog. A nice spillover effect from joining this site is that it enables me to be genuinely surprised on my birthday again. By compiling and maintaining an online wishlist, I need never be pestered about my birthday/Easter/Christmas wishes again (I hate dictating to people what I want to receive, which is especially tiresome in a family that refuses to give gift certificates on principle).

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

CUPE Local 3903 vs. York U and McGuinty

It is no secret that strike action is France’s national sport of choice. It seems that this sport is gaining in popularity. One particular strike that has especially caught my attention is the York University strike in Toronto.

Hubby and I have been following the York University strike since we have first heard of it from our dear friend Melissa. It sparked many memories for hubby, as he lived through an almost identical strike during his last year at York.

I normally try to stay neutral. Hubby is usually found leaning toward the opposing side of unions’ negotiators. Hubby’s recollections in regards to York’s labour relations have made me lean starkly toward CUPE. The recent actions of York, McGuinty, and the police have cemented my position.

Retrospectively, York’s conduct in this conflict has been strategic at its best, and appears as bad faith negotiations at its worst. Their presence at meetings appears to be nothing more than a guise of a supposed intent to negotiate, whilst they waited for McGuinty to step in. It seems they never wanted to collectively move forward, disregarding the cost to enrolled students and academic employees. (Historically, York was always more pugnacious than its GTA competition. With the ascent of Lorna Marsden to the office of the University Presidency, however, these inherent tendencies developed a new quality.)

McGuinty’s conduct has been counter-productive and seems to be driven by blatant populism instead of good policy sense. In my opinion, by introducing the back-to-work legislation he more than merely pushed on boundaries. He has obliterated them with implications that have set worrisome precedence.

BTW-legislation brands a workforce as an essential. However, it appears that what constitutes an essential service is virtually un-scrutinized by the public. As it stands, any striking workforce can suddenly become an ‘essential’ service if they annoy a large enough number of people.

Unlike elementary- and high school, attendance at a university is not required by law. The university has a set of paying customers (the student body) who can freely decide to take their business elsewhere if they find the labour relations eradicate the opportunity cost of not attending an alternate choice. Despite its grave impact on the quality of education (less bang for buck), I see no reason for the government take legislative action in this conflict.

The police’s conduct as ‘keeper of the peace’ during a recent street demonstration of striking CUPE members has been mind boggling. (Not to be misunderstood, I am in favour of the use of tasers and similar non-lethal tools when a situation dangerously spirals out of control.) I believe the police, in their handling of the striking individuals, did not maintain impartiality and acted on public displays of pre-supposed, private opinions. I can easily imagine that there were some disorganized attempts to antagonize traffic flow for the purpose to making a bigger impact but that does not justify open threats to use tasers and excessive police force against people exercising a constitutional right. I doubt that anyone in that crowd fit the profile of a potential violent trouble maker and that the described police action was warranted.

In short; the “negotiators” at York have been stubborn, antagonizing, stonewalling arses. The police have been bullies and thugs. McGuinty and his back-to-work legislation have blown the ideal of collective bargaining back to the stone age. My sympathies go out to the TAs, GAs and contracted faculty at York University. All this seems extraordinarily un-Canadian.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Right to Privacy and the Right to Smoke

I feel as if I am in a bit of a moral pickle. Or, to be more precise, lawmakers in Ontario (and Nova Scotia) should feel as if they are walking a fine line. In these two provinces, it is illegal to smoke in your car whilst carrying passengers 16 years of age and under.

Please do not misunderstand me. I am a non-smoker, vigilant in my efforts to minimise the amount of smoke that my children are exposed to. I have gotten into shouting matches with people who have the audacity to blow smoke into my children’s faces in designated non-smoking areas. The few members of my family who still smoke know better than to do so whilst in the company of my children.

Where I feel uncertain is in this new law’s über-intrusive nature. In essence, this law prohibits you from partaking in what is otherwise considered an acceptable act whilst in the confines of your personal, privately-owned space.

Now that this law has passed, why not take it a step further? Why not fine the pregnant woman who failed, or even worse, refuses to quit smoking? Why not ban smoking in the company of children altogether? It does not matter whether you are in a small space, such as a car, where the concentration of cigarette smoke is higher, or your living room, where such concentrations are not as strong. Either way, you are exposing your child to toxins.

Furthermore, what of the people who smoke regularly at home, in the presence of their (grand-) children? They are doing much more harm to the children than the cigarette-smoking taxi drivers who are likely to never see the children again.

My question, however, is how much privacy can be surrendered in the interest of a greater good. Where does it stop? And who is making sure that it stops?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama turned me into an emotional chameleon

When Wolf Blitzer announced over the beautiful performance of Air and Simple Gifts that it was already past noon and Barack Obama officially became the 44th President of the United States, I sighed. It was a sigh of relief, hope, and happiness. Being the sap that I am, I also shed a couple of tears.

When President Obama stumbled on the oath, I laughed. I have no doubt that there are those ridiculing him on it, but I took it as an unintended gentle reminder that he is human, just like the rest of us. I found it quite endearing.

As President Obama gave his inaugural address, I was entranced. It was very well written and equally well delivered. I only spoke once during the speech. After Obama said "...we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist", I breathed the word wow. I think that is my favourite phrase from the speech. It is so picturesque.

At the end, I gave into the tide of emotion and cried.
In the time frame of about half an hour, my children curiously watched their mother sigh, gently cry, laugh, watch the television zombie-like, returned to life to breathe a single word, turn back into a zombie and, finally, cry once again. They must think I am crazy!

How about you? How did you feel during the swearing-in and the address? Did it turn you into an emotional chameleon?

A bittersweet day...

...Not because Bush is leaving office, though. That's the sweet part of the day. The only thing bringing my mood down today is the burial of my mother-in-law's dog, Bijou. Even though she was not our dog, we all still loved her as a part of our family. As much as this hurts us, today is not the day to blog on the loss.

Like much of the rest of the world, my home is filled with the voices of reporters covering Obama's inauguration: depending on where I am, CNN on television, and NPR on the radio. My poor toddlers are confused as to why they are denied their daily time playing on Kids' CBC (confused, but not upset - they happily went to their rooms to play with their legos). I am as excited today as I was when Angela Merkel was sworn in as the first female German Chancellor. Now, if you would kindly excuse me, I have got to get the rest of my chores and errands accomplished in time to witness history in the making!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

English-English: Hash, Gash, and Stone

As every Bridget Jones fan (such as me) would attest, North American-English differs quite a bit from English-English. You know; washroom vs. loo, trunk vs. boot, and so on. Knowing this, I was still mollified by the sheer diversity when I moved to Germany, where the English of choice is of the British variety.

I received my awakening shortly after the move, when I needed to leave a message on hubby’s cell/mobile phone. I got the usual spiel: “You have just reached the O2 voice mailbox of (…) After the tone, record your message. To end, press hash, or hang up.”

What hubby would later hear is my short message, followed by some cursing whilst I pressed several random buttons. The problem was that I did not know what the hash key was. Was I supposed to look for a button on the telephone with a hemp plant on it? Or perhaps a button with a hash brown on it? Turns out that what I knew as the pound key is called the hash key by the Brits. Am I the only person in world that calls it the number sign key?

– I realise that the pound key would have been the logical choice. My mind, however, was at the time fried from the information overload familiar to amateur expats everywhere.

My next lesson on English-English came from hubby, who told me you do not call garbage garbage in the UK. You call it gash. Is that not a large, bleeding, cut wound? Not in the UK!

Then there is the measurement of weight in stone. Do bathroom scales in the UK tell weight loss in brimstone or granite? I was always tickled by this. We are living in the digital age, yet the Brits give the impression that they still hang out with Fred Flintstone. In fact, I purposely did not learn how that system works, so as to not lose the image of Wilma standing on a digital scale...

Fred: Honey you look great!

Wilma: Thanks, but I didn’t lose 4 stone like I hoped… I only lost 2 stone and 2 pebbles…