Reply to Ross

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Etiquette dictates I not post on my newspaper website, but you ask an interesting question that deserves an answer.

So here's why I don't run for office, even though as recently as last month, there was a strong effort to get me to do so.

I'm not a politician. I'm a reporter. I write about issues and hope to influence in some way the people who can make decisions on them.

To run for office would also mean quitting my job. A reporter loses objectivity if she is a member of council, even if she takes a leave of absence. It's that simple. I know others in Kamloops disagree, but it's an age-old journalistic truth.

There are other ways to make changes that we, as reporters at KTW, can do -- and are doing.

All of my colleagues gathered together gifts, money and ideas for fundraising to help the youth safehouse run by the Interior Community Services. It provides shelter to a segment of the homeless many people forget about -- those between the ages of 13 and 19. We supplied about four dozen gift bags, enough food for them to be sick of leftovers for several days, bedding -- they hadn't been able to buy new bedding for more than a decade.

Some of us organized a fundraiser for the Kamloops Food Bank and will be doing two more in 2009.

So, Ross, I'll be staying behind my Mac at work. It's where I should be.

Where there’s a (living) will, there’s a way to the kids’ homes

Saturday, December 13, 2008

I’ve given this a lot of thought.

It happens as you pass the half-century mark — did that a while ago — and your hubby starts to talk seriously about things like pensions and RRIFs.

So here it is: my living will.

I know it won’t have much legal validity, but if some of you out there remember this — and circumstances have arisen that may require it be implemented — feel free to remind my children of my wishes.

Basically, it’s quite simple.

No matter how incapacitated I may be, I want to be kept going for the equivalent of five full-term pregnancies.

Yup, one for each of the kids.

In fact, add three more weeks, since my daughter was two weeks late and the oldest son was a week past his due date.

But I don’t want hospital staff to be saddled with this chore.

Nope, it’s payback time for the kids, so I’m expecting them to look after me, from feeding through to — well, you know, the equivalent of changing their diapers.

I’d like them to sing to me, as well. Doesn’t have to be fancy — but please, no Nirvana, the only music that would lull the second-youngest to sleep in his infancy.




Should have known then the kid would grow up to be a rocker.

Smells like Teen Spirit?

Don’t think so, at least not when he was a baby.

They’ll know what I mean.

And none of that Brahm’s Lullaby stuff, either. Lord knows, after at least one year per child of having to listen to that song in mobiles, musical toys and the like, I never want to hear it again.

One song that would be acceptable would be the Sharon, Lois and Bram recording of I Am Slowly Going Crazy.

For some reason, I remember way too many nights when I felt it would be the most appropriate music to play while rocking — and rocking — the infants to sleep.

There are days, even today — with the brood now either teenagers still at home or young adults coping with all the challenges the 20-something generation faces — when I find myself doing the slow count to 10 and then mentally breaking into a rousing chorus of “Crazy going slowly am I, six, five, four, three, two, one, switch.”

You moms out there know what I mean, right?

I’ve always sort of identified the children by how diligent a mother I was.

The daughter, firstborn and now a mother herself, was the cloth-diapers-homemade-baby-food-only-glass-bottles-eventually kid.

Her brother was the cloth-diapers-Gerber’s-not-bad-glass-bottles-are-fine-but-those-baggie-bottles-are-easier kid.

Next younger brother was the cloth-diapers-at-night-only-Gerber-and-Heinz-are-lifesavers one.

Can’t remember what kind of bottles we used.

Second-youngest? Well, let’s just say I’d discovered disposable diapers by then, had no idea where the much-used food mill of the first child’s babyhood had been stored and considered buying stock in Heinz.

When the fifth one arrived — well, heck, he had those older siblings who needed to learn how to care for a baby, right?

Good life skills to have.

Now, with the youngest officially a teenager and that aura of omniscient invincibility moms are supposed to have being challenged regularly by all five of them, I’ve sort of been feeling a bit put upon.

A bit unappreciated.

A bit like it would be oh-so-much-fun to hug the teenager in front of his buddies.

My husband and I have often joked we have five kids to guarantee a place to live when we do retire.

Two months per kid and two months to camp at the lake — near a golf course — for just us, to recover from the 10 months of living with the kids.

They don’t like that idea too much.

Think I’ll send them each a copy of this column and see how they feel about it after they read it.

Read, discuss, call — and then mark your X(s)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Note: For some reason, this one wasn't on the website and since my friend Shirley said she laughed all the way through it, I thought I should post it.

Ah yes, the election rollercoaster continues on track.
Having just come down from the federal high, we’re heading back up as the municipal election gets going.
You know it’s happening.
No sooner were the McLeod, Crawford, Sommerfeld and Cavers signs down than a whole new community of names started to pop up.
Some of the names are familiar; others no so much.
It’s up to you to learn who these people are, a somewhat daunting task given there are 26 seeking eight council seats, eight vying for five school board spots and three who want to be mayor.
So, first things first — the election is not like a multiple-choice quiz.
You don’t have a 50-50 chance of getting it right if you just guess.
If you’re not sure who to vote for when you get to the polling station in 22 days, don’t guess.
Don’t put your X next to a name because you recognize it.
Don’t just check off someone because she’s female — or because he’s male.
If you’re not sure, just vote for the number you are confident can guide Kamloops.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that; in fact, some of us have been doing it for years, believing that if we vote for just a few people, and others vote for the whole slate, our votes will have more weight.
The smart voter — and isn’t that what we all want to be? — will forget about the federal election and move swiftly on, learning about all these candidates, what they want to do, what they have already done (and watch for those who just pop up at election time, not to be seen in public again) and how much the voter believes them.
For example, social issues are being touted as a major concern for some of the candidates.
It’s fair to ask them what they’ve done so far to address poverty, homelessness, mental illness, addictions and myriad other crises that confront our city every single day.
Others are running on a more pro-business model.
Find out what they mean by this.
Does their vision come at the expense of recreational land — just ask the folks up in Aberdeen, if you want one opinion — or do they have a plan?
Do they have any experience or are these just words they’re mouthing?
Some incumbents are running on a stay-the-course platform.
That requires voters to think about how the city has been managed the past three years and decide if they’re happy with this “course.”
There are plenty of chances to learn about this group.
First, there are the candidate profiles that will soon grace the pages of KTW.
There is also campaign literature and advertising. It won’t be in-depth, but will at least point voters in the direction the candidate is looking.
Then there are forums.
So far, there are four scheduled:
* The North Shore Business Improvement Association hosts one Monday at 7 p.m. at the North Shore Community Centre, at 750 Cottonwood Ave.
* The Kamloops Chamber of Commerce is holding its business-issue forum on Nov. 5 at 7 p.m. at Forster’s Convention Centre.
* A forum on seniors and downtown issues is being held Nov. 7 at Desert Gardens Community Centre, at the corner of Seymour Street and Fifth Avenue.
* KTW, Kamloops Daily News, CFJC-TV and Thompson Rivers University are hosting an all-candidates forum on Nov. 12 at 7 p.m. at the Grand Hall at TRU.
Those are plenty of opportunities to find out more about the candidates.
And then there’s always the telephone. Give them a call and see what they have to say.
If they take the time to talk to you, or call you back, that might be a good indication of the kind of councillor they’ll be.
If they don’t, well, there’s a lesson there too.

More about Donald

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Well, we finally published the story about Donald Trump and the homeless man.
The one question everyone has asked -- even though you all know the answer -- is what was it like talking to Trump?
Is he the way he is on his TV show?
Having never watched The Apprentice, or any of its incarnations, I can't answer that question, but he was polite, well-spoken, made sure he joked about the incredible author of the book Paul Lyons was reading -- Trump's autobiography -- and seemed truly sincere in his desire to help a guy out.
It seemed weird listening to the mega-billionaire talking about how tough it is for people today, but he certainly sounded sincere.
As for the story itself, let's just say it was kinda cool to listen to this obscenely rich man say he'd looked at our paper and thought it was very good.
He didn't have to say that. He didn't have to ask what I do there, or what Dave Eagles does there, but he did.
And that's all the answers I have on this one.

And for those who didn’t vote — a zipper for your lips

Sunday, October 19, 2008

My 14-year-old is angry he couldn’t vote.
He studied the issues, asked good questions at the dinner table and, in the car on the way to school, read the few campaign brochures that came to the house before deciding who he wanted to represent Kamloops and to run the country.
He never told me who he had decided was worthy of his support.
And he was definitely unimpressed when I explained to him he can’t vote because he’s only 14.
I reassured him that in the next federal election (well, maybe two from now, since we’re no doubt going to be forced into another one by the hubris of the to-be-chosen new Liberal leader), he’d be more informed than many.
A friend’s daughter, another teenager nowhere near legal voting age, also studied the various platforms, peppered her mom with questions, debated with mom on some of the issues and, on election night, was channel-hopping to hear as much as she could about the federal election.
She also wasn’t happy with the explanation her age precluded her from voting — although there was a straw vote, based on political parties only, at her school in which she was delighted to cast a pseudo-ballot.
At first, I thought it was interesting and, from a mom’s point of view, reassuring the kid and some of his friends are showing an interest in their world at such a young age.
I wasn’t surprised my friend’s daughter was similarly engaged, since my friend is also one of those people who doesn’t just sit back and complain. She gets involved.
But now, I’m starting to wonder why we don’t let my son and other young people who want to vote — and who can demonstrate a basic understanding of the issues — this right because at least they’d use it.
They are unlike the 40 per cent of Canadians who heaped shame on the graves of our forefathers who fought for our rights — and didn’t bother to vote.
Is that fact not shameful?
It takes little time to go to a polling booth. We don’t even have to work all that hard to find out what the issues are, who the candidates are, what they stand for and why they think we should vote for them.
Just read a newspaper, listen to a news broadcast or maybe ask your teenager.
The voter turnout on Tuesday was the lowest in our history of voting, even lower than the 61 per cent who turned up at the polls in 2004 to get rid of Paul Martin and started us on this idiocy of minority government after minority government.
And it’s at least a generation from the record-high 78 per cent that gave John Diefenbaker the largest majority government the country has ever seen.
Maybe there’s a correlation there?
And, if you want to know the national breakdown, here are the stats, in order of apathy: Newfoundland and Labrador, 48.1 per cent; Northwest Territories, 48.6 per cent; Nunavut, 49.4 per cent; Alberta, 52.9 per cent; Manitoba, 56.8 per cent; Ontario, 59.1 per cent; Saskatchewan, 59.4 per cent; Nova Scotia, 60.7 per cent; British Columbia, 61 per cent; Quebec, 61.1 per cent; New Brunswick, 62.8 per cent; Yukon, 63.7 per cent; and P.E. I., 69.5 per cent.
Kind of ironic the provinces with the most seats — and the ones who have returned us to this minority nightmare — also had some of the worst voter turnout, while the have-not provinces had some of the best.
Among the reasons for not voting people have put forward include the issues were too complex, the campaign was about personalities, it’s hard to tell truth from spin and people are election-weary.
As my mother would have said, those are lame excuses. If anything, they’re just rationalizations.
I was raised to value the right to vote. In all my years of voting ability, I’ve missed one civic election — because we hadn’t lived in Kamloops long enough to qualify.
Voters have earned the right to criticize and praise for the next few months this government is in place.
Those of you who didn’t vote — don’t bother criticizing this government.
You may have the right to vote but, by not exercising it, you haven’t earned the right to complain.

© Copyright 2007 Kamloops This Week

Will we get the government we deserve — again?

Friday, September 5, 2008

Perhaps I was wrong about Betty Hinton.
Could it be that her lack of involvement in Kamloops wasn’t personal, but simply a reflection of her party’s attitude toward the River City?
Why else would the local Conservative constituency association not have acted on the reality everyone else seems to have accepted weeks ago — that Stephen Harper will today ask Governor General Michaelle Jean to dissolve Parliament and cause an October election?
The NDP has had a candidate — Michael Crawford — in place for an embarrassingly long time. The Liberals made their choice of Ken Sommerfeld months ago as well.
Even the Greens have had Donovan Cavers quietly raising money, as well as his profile, for quite some time.
But, so far, only Fred Bosman has come out and said he’d be willing to carry his party’s banner into the election — and the local Conservative machine doesn’t seem to eager to act on this.
In fact, now, after saying it wouldn’t be all that hard to pull together a nomination meeting, association president Dennis Piva is saying his party might just appoint someone to run for office.
Now isn’t that just ducky.
No local vetting process — and we just have to look south to see how that can go wrong.
And no opportunity for those who keep the Conservative party in Kamloops greased — and funded — to have a say in choosing the person they’ll all be expected to rally around and support.
Perhaps Kamloops will see a candidate parachuted in after all, although David Emerson is apparently accepting reality and not seeking another term of office anywhere in B.C.
Is there any other sure-bet candidate out there just waiting to start planting lawn signs here?
No name jumps to the fore, does it?
I feel badly for Bosman, because he’s a good man who really does want to represent his community.
His views are a bit too extreme for me, but I suspect he would say the same of my political beliefs.
Nevertheless, you couldn’t ask for a stronger representative of all those basic Conservative tenets, beliefs he’s held onto as he watched his party morph from the original Reform to the Alliance of Preston Manning through the Bobbsey-twinned Reform/Progressive Conservative of Harper and Peter MacKay to the Harper-defined entity it is today.
Bosman’s presence on the ballot would certainly make the campaign clear-cut for many, with Crawford’s left-leaning ideology on one side, Bosman’s classical conservative (yes, small c) views on the other, Sommerfeld coming up the middle with a bit of both and Cavers promoting the Al Gore platform.
Either way, we’re all bound to be losers at the end of the campaign.
If a candidate is appointed, that fact will dominate debate.
If one is dropped in, expect the finger-wagging to multiply.
And, if the Conservatives decide to go the proper route and vote for a candidate, they’ll be at least a week behind in campaigning, playing catch-up with all the rhetoric that reality will bring.
Throw in the electioneering we’ll have run alongside a federal campaign by the many trying for a seat on city council or the school board and it’s nothing more than a formula for confusion and indifference.
It’s likely more people will be watching the campaigning going on in the U.S. — with its personality politics and attack advertisements — than will be paying attention to what’s happening in their own city.
Which is only appropriate, since the day after the federal election, we’ll all wake up and discover what Adlai Stevenson, American Democratic politician, governor, would-be president and ambassador to the United Nations, once said.
“You get the government you deserve.”
And the Conservatives will get the candidate they deserve, too.

Once again, Stitchman throws mom off her game

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Stitchman got married.

The middle son — so named because, as a child, he could wind up with a wound requiring sutures simply by breathing, it seemed — once again managed to throw his mother off her game.
And that’s not an easy task.
The news came between interviews. I dashed into the office to check e-mail, hoping I’d heard back from a contact I needed to talk to.
The message light on the phone was flashing.
Have you ever noticed how hard it is to ignore that red beacon?
Punched in the requisite numbers and heard this:
“Well, hi there. You’re kinda hard to reach. I didn’t want to leave a message, but I guess I have to. I’m getting married today. So you should call me.”
Who cared if I had 10 minutes to make it downtown, find a parking spot and arrive in time for an interview?
This was a mommy moment.
It was also a panic moment when I realized the son had just five days earlier moved into a new house and I didn’t know the phone number.
Would he pick up his cellphone?
He never seems to answer it.
I bet he’s got call display and is just dodging his mother.
Surprise — he answered.
“You’re what?”
It must be said now that this son, along with two of his siblings, lives in Ontario.
“Hey. Yeah, we’re getting married. I didn’t want to leave you a message because I figured you’d just freak out, but I’m getting married in [pause] wow, an hour.”
Damn it. He’s done it again.
He’s left me grasping for words, unable to say anything that doesn’t resemble babbling.
“Oh. Wow. Wow. Married.
Couldn’t stop crying.
It’s not good to start bawling in the office, especially after you’ve just let out a loud “what?” that has garnered attention.
It’s bad for the image of Mother Goose to the rookie goslings here.
This is likely a good time to mention he’s only 22. He would have me omit the “only,” but that just goes to show he really is only 22.
Apparently, he and his high-school sweetheart, with whom he bought the house, had called the local justice of the peace office to find out when they could arrange a wedding.
They were given two options: pull it all together in 48 hours or wait at least two months.
They opted for the quick schedule, taking advantage of having a week off, theoretically to unpack and get the house arranged.
His older brother found out first, thus receiving about 36 hours’ notice.
His big sister, who was apparently as difficult to reach as I was, had about 11 hours’ notice — and at least eight of those were spent sleeping.
Me? I got an hour and the realization I wouldn’t be there for the first of my children to wed.
I got to spend the day thinking about the time he fell of his tricycle — that was five stitches.
And a year later, when he fell carrying a log, smacking himself in the forehead.
That was another seven stitches.
There were other times — the kid is a klutz like his mother and a hockey player like his older brother, so he was doomed to have cuts and bruises.
Those were mommy moments, too, ones where I could hug him and tell him everything was going to be just fine.
That he’d be just fine.
I didn’t get that chance this time.
There’s been no mommy hugs.
No chance to actually share in his emotions, as I did when he was little.
It was a lot like his first day of kindergarten — a time to let him go and make his way in the world he has created.
And realize Stitchman really has grown up.

Power prevents Kamloops from getting a ward system

Friday, August 22, 2008

If anyone needs a reason why Kamloops should consider a ward system, just do the math.

According to the 2006 StatsCan census, there are 33,500 people living on the North Shore and 42,676 on the South Shore.

If every single voter on the North Shore went into the polling station on Nov. 15 and picked the same eight names for councillor and all the voters on the South Shore did the same thing, choosing eight other names, the South Shore would determine the makeup of the next city council.

Want another reason?

Only one councillor — Joe Leong — lives on the North Shore. All the others, including the mayor, are on the other side of the river, most of them downtown or in Sahali.

Here’s yet another reason.

In the nine North Shore polling stations, Leong outpolled Arjun Singh in eight of them and Peter Milobar in four. Yet, at the end of election day in 2005, Leong finished 43 votes behind Singh and 1,364 votes behind Milobar.

If wards had existed in 2005, it’s likely Peter Sharp might have retained his seat, since he came in as high as fourth in one poll, seventh in two more and eighth in two others.

By this point in the column, if he’s reading it, I’m sure John O’Fee is already writing another e-mail because we’ve been engaged in an interesting dialogue in recent weeks about the idea of a ward system.

To me, it makes sense. It’s the ultimate representation by population concept. To O’Fee — and most others sitting around that horseshoe every Tuesday — you don’t have to live in a neighbourhood to care about it.

In fact, O’Fee, in one of the e-mails he’s sent, said it’s offensive to suggest that “one doesn’t care about an area of town unless one lives there.”

Sorry to offend, then, but you do have to live in an area to understand it, to know what makes it work and what disrupts its community feeling.

You need to be seen by your community as one of them, someone who walks those sidewalks that need repairing, who notices the streetlights that have burned out and not been replaced and who can at least understand — and perhaps explain to other council members — why some projects the city approves aren’t met with overwhelming gratitude in some neighbourhoods.

The buzzword with this council and others like it is “consensus.”

Everybody talks about an issue and then, through some divine intervention, they all come to a decision.

It’s a good theory, but one could argue, consensus isn’t always to be found with a council that has Singh as a member.

He thinks outside the box — way outside sometimes — and too often during this council’s term he’s been criticized or belittled for his ideas.

That’s not consensus to me.

Terry Lake has said an at-large election system can benefit by having strong neighbourhood associations to identify needs.

Can anyone name a truly strong neighbourhood association in Kamloops?

They tend to spring up around issues — always contentious ones — and then, when the dust settles, so does the time and energy involved to keep an association viable and really doing something beneficial for the area.

There are strong associations in the city that influence city council, but they’re not neighbourhood-based.

They’re business-improvement associations and, when they show up at a council meeting, or host a golf tournament, you can bet the politicians pay heed.

Finally, if you need another reason why a ward system should be considered in Kamloops, there’s always that issue we don’t like to talk about — money.

A citywide campaign costs a lot of cash; mayoralty candidate Murphy Kennedy estimates he’ll spend up to $30,000 in his run for the mayor’s seat.

In 2005, Singh and Jim Harker each spent around $5,000, an amount the average Joe Citizen might find a bit daunting.

Having a smaller area in which to campaign would make it easier for some of those people out there who care about their city and want to get involved, but just can’t afford to put their names up for nomination.

Until then, though, expect to continue hearing a ward system wouldn’t be good for the city. It’s in the interests of the people who we keep electing to ensure the system doesn’t change.

Salmon Arm Roots and Blues

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

And now, the rest of the story

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Got the new car. First test drive is after we've paid for it, loaded it up, discovered it has a tape deck in it -- who still listens to tapes?? -- gone back to the dealership and had them pull the CD player out.

My little family must have music to travel.

I offered to sing. Apparently that wasn't an option.

So off we head, about two more hours till we get to the lake, sunshine, rest, no telephone, no TV, no Internet -- my idea of heaven.

And sure enough, we got there with little problem, just some tense nerves.

You see, we were also towing our boat and apparently the first time you drive a new car, it's not recommended you do it loaded up with suitcases (except mine, of course), kayaks, a boat on a trailer, kids, dog and no music.

But rest we did. The youngest fished every day, the teenager caught minnows, floated, swam, dad worked on his tan and mom -- well, I read a lot of books and did my best to avoid a sunburn.

(There's a reason for this. The first time the hubby and I went on vacation, I covered up, slathered on lotion, put on a hat, went down to the lake, put my feet in the water and promptly fell asleep. A few hours later, we were looking for a medical clinic to look after what we were eventually told were second-degree burns.)

Midway through the second week, confident in his boat-driving skills, the hubby, youngest and I headed up the lake to a bay that had been described as Hawaii-like.
Shoulda known then something was going to happen.

We're edging in to the shore and the hubby decides to hop off and tow us in with the nifty boat rope I was told to never lose.

Sounds simple? Should have been. Except for the fact that his trunks got caught on a cleat, he fell off the boat, went underwater -- and came up without his glasses.

Not cheap sunglasses that could be replaced. His I-must-have-to-read-see-drive-work glasses.

We looked.

And we looked.

The hubby didn't look that well, but he could be excused, since he couldn't see.

We looked until the hub and the youngest declared them gone forever and headed up a hiking trail.

I, however, had been re-reading a Jeffrey Deaver book with his oh-so-cool protagonists Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs. The thing about Amelia, you see, is when she examines a crime scene, she walks a grid.

So that's what I did.

Walked one way for a distance, stopped, took a step to the side and walked back.
Did this for a long time, way past the time when the hubby had declared me nuts to keep looking.


Found them.

Intact, fine, wet but at least we had them and the rest of the vacation wouldn't have to be done with me reading road signs aloud.

Later that day, we took the boys out tubing. We'd been doing it throughout the vacation, no problems, but on this day, one of those green cords (they all have different colours and, I assume, different functions) ricocheted off its hook.
Didn't seem like much; we stopped the boat, hooked it up again and the boys enjoyed the rest of the ride.

The next day, though, the teen said he thought the bilge pump was working overtime.
Sure enough, we were taking on water. Out comes the boat, back onto the trailer but no worries -- we were going home in two days.

So finally, the end of our somewhat memorable vacation. It had replaced the burned-feet-couldn't-walk vacation and had also surpassed the let's-go-camping-in-the-wilderness trip we took a few years ago.

The one where I forgot to pack a can opener.

And bug spray.

But I took my suitcase!

Anyhow, the hubby's packing up the car to get a jump on our final day. He's outside for quite a while when he comes stomping in, cursing up a storm.
Seems his glasses -- the ones I found in the lake -- had kept sliding down his nose.
He decided to rectify this.

He decided the way to do this was to bend them.

He came in holding one half in one hand, the other -- well, you get the picture.

Good thing we packed duct tape.

How I spent my summer vacation

The teenager foresaw it.

He was the first one to note that the Bass family had actually left at the appointed time for two weeks at the lake. This never happens. He wondered aloud what it could mean.

Just outside Kamloops, the CD player died. Now, for a family that must travel to the strains of Steely Dan, CCR and Metallica, this was very, very bad.

If only we’d known.

Somewhere south of Clinton, the husband said he could smell smoke. Ever the intrepid reporter, I suggested there must be a wildfire somewhere nearby. But, being cautious car owners, we stopped in Clinton, looked under the car, saw a teensy-weensy drip that could not be identified and one bigger one, definitely cold water — has to be the air conditioning.


If only. Ten minutes north of Clinton, smoke is pouring out the back end of the car. We pull off into a rest area, wait for the white puffs to abate, put the car into gear — and don’t go.

I’ve never seen my hubby stand at the side of a highway, right thumb high in the air and it’s a sight I never want to see again. Fortunately, he looked so darn, well, out of place that the nice man whose car was the only one at the stop facing south took one look, sighed and told me not to fear. He’d rescue him and take him back to Clinton.

I got my first sunburn of the summer sitting on a picnic table with the kids, the dog — and a dead car.

It took more than an hour but eventually, the hubby was back with Joe the mechanic. Joe’s no slouch; he could see the trail of transmission fluid for a long ways back on the highway, curving to the right and stopping in a puddle under the car.

Up goes the hood, in go six litres of transmission fluid — and none comes out. This looks good, but no, Joe says we need to let the car cool off for several hours. So he tows us back to Clinton, we wait . . . and wait . . . and wait some more.

Sure enough, several hours later, the car’s got its gears back, we all pile in and off we go.

Made it about 45 kilometres when, somewhere on a two-lane stretch of asphalt surrounded by nothing but trees, we learned Joe wasn’t really right about that waiting thing.

This time, a couple in a truck — no doubt seeing the look of complete anger and despair fighting for space on my face, stopped and took the hubby off to the nearest town, 100 Mile House.

The boys, dog and I sat in the car.

And waited.

And waited.

And waited some more.

After about two hours, I couldn’t get the plot of Texas Chainsaw Massacre out of my head. Desperation took over and I decided there had to be some spot, some tiny piece of land, somewhere on that highway where cellphone service could be found.

Apparently it’s an area about one foot square near a break in the trees. Phone the hubby. Tidying up the language, the conversation went like this:

“Sweetheart, where are you?”

“I’m in 100 Mile House at the Ford dealership. It’s closed.”

“Sweetheart, where is the tow truck?”

“It’s coming. They’ve only got one and it’s somewhere on Highway 24 but the driver said he’d get to you soon as he could.”

“Sweetypiehunnybunch, might you have some idea how long we will get to enjoy the wonderful stifling heat here in this scenic area of our wonderful province?”

“No idea. So sorry.”

“Well, snookums, guess I’ll go back to the wonderful sense of heat and boredom that I so very much wanted to experience on this vacation.”

Another hour went by. We continued to wait.

And wait.

Tow truck arrived. Up went the car onto the back of the truck.

He looked at us.

“How’re you all getting to town?”

Well, gee, I thought you’d be driving us too. Apparently I have thought wrong. How best to express this concern?

“With you, I thought.”

“The three of you and the dog too? I don’t know . . .”

Those of you who know me can imagine the verbal debate going on in my head. This is a time that requires tact, diplomacy, a bit of dumb-blonde-please-rescue-me stuff that I don’t find easy to pull off.

Before the role-playing had to begin, though, the driver asked me if it was my cab pulling up behind us.

I thought he was being a smart-ass and was about to reply in an appropriate manner when . . .

“Daddy to the rescue!” the youngest yelled out.

And sure enough, the hubby — having heard the actual words that were spoken in the tidied-up version earlier in this column, was worried that perhaps mom was losing it a bit out on the highway with the dog, the kids, the dead car


And waiting.

So, fulfilling his role as pater familias, he had hopped into a cab and headed out to rescue his family and get them to 100 Mile.

Dad and the dog were accepted into the tow truck. Cabbie, boys and I headed to the Ramada Inn.

Now, you’d think a hotel room in 100 Mile wouldn’t be that hard to get. Not for us, though. We chose to break down on the weekend of the annual show and shine.

The Ramada was full, the Super 8 was basically full — that last available room suddenly wasn’t when the desk clerk saw the dog — so off we went to the 99 Mile Motel.

New movie plotline popped into my head — The Devil’s Rejects.

But the place was clean and they didn’t mind the dog.

Time to unload the clothes since we’re gonna be there for a while.

Off comes the boys’ suitcase.

Next comes the hubby’s.

Mom’s is the beige one.

It’s not there.

Apparently it was never packed into the car.

The hubby looks at me.

He looks at the car.

He looks back at me.

Back at the car.

It’s hard to read what’s going through his mind but I’m sure it wasn’t eased when I broke out into that laughter that’s reserved for those times when you think nothing more can go wrong — and something does.

Sunday, we discovered The Bargain! Store, which had a sale of women’s summerwear.

Got some nifty shorts, tops, a bathing suit, all those things that were sitting at home, carefully folded in the beige suitcase.

Monday morning, 7:30 a.m., the hubby and I are at Sunrise Ford, peering in the windows.

The office doesn’t open until 8 a.m., so we pressed our downcast faces up against the door and stared until someone opened up.

“That’s our dead car over there. How much is a transmission?”

He told us.

“How much is that car in the used-car lot there?”

He told us.

Didn’t open a door, didn’t even test-drive it. Told the salesman — a former Kamloops cop, he said — we were trusting him.

“Sold,” my sweet hunnybunch said.

And then we were off for what remained of a peaceful two weeks at the lake.

No more problems could possibly happen, could they?

Ah, that, as they say, is another story.

Two years is 23 months too long to have to wait

Thursday, July 3, 2008

In our letters to the editor section on the next page, you’ll see one from a parent who waited for two years before his child was finally diagnosed with a learning disability.

The Grade 4 teacher thought there was something wrong and suggested testing.

The Grade 5 teacher agreed.

So did the Grade 6 teacher.

And now, as another school year ends, this family finally learns what has caused the child difficulties learning — something that comes in handy when you’re trying to help the child learn.

They were lucky. I started complaining in Grade 2 that my oldest son couldn’t read well.

The pat-on-the-head reply: It’s a new system of learning. It’s whole language. He’ll catch on.

He didn’t.

By the end of the year, the vice-principal was the go-between if I wanted to speak with my son’s teacher.

That routine continued for several years. We hired tutors for him, we spent hours working with him, we begged — we even bribed him to keep on trying but the love of reading had never been fostered in him.

Finally, a gifted Grade 9 science teacher at the former John Peterson secondary lent him a book he thought my son might like. The long bus rides home and to work gave him plenty of time to make his way through it and, for whatever reason, something finally clicked.

The words were finally worth reading, so he put in the time and effort required to succeed.

It’s not a matter of the march of time that’s seen the system improve somewhat.

When I was in kindergarten, my teacher noticed early in the year there was a problem teaching me and before the snow had started to flow, a bunch of suits had come in, played some totally stupid — to a five-year-old — games and declared me “different.”

They didn’t have all those cool terms to describe those “unique” students, like they do today.

Unfortunately, parents who find themselves tripping over every stumbling block the education system has within it aren’t that uncommon.

I have many friends who have found the system not particularly kid-friendly when it comes to putting away the cookie cutters and dealing with each student as the individual he or she is.

A couple of us have shared horror stories — our horror, not the teachers’ — about the times we’ve sat in meetings while the representatives of the education system tell us all the things that are “wrong” with our children.

He can’t do algebra.

He can’t handle French grammar.

He can’t sit still.

He can’t — fill in the blank. Many of you know how these sentences end.

At a recent such meeting, I listed all the “can’ts” a medical specialist had once given us to describe the future of our youngest child.

After each “can’t,” I pointed out that he now can — and then asked if we could spend the meeting time more constructively by identifying all those “cans” and determine ways to build on them.

It’s not that these teachers and support people don’t want to see each child succeed. It’s just that the system has to be quanitified and analyzed and justified and rationalized — and there must be standards established to help determine all those signs of success.

I remember my Grade 13 history teacher pushing me to join his profession when I grew up. It’s an honourable profession, he said.

Perhaps it was then, but now, it seems to be a profession where teachers can’t truly do the jobs they want to do, can’t ignore the bureaucracy that surrounds them and just teach the child — and can never do enough to satisfy many of us parents, even though we know they’re doing the best they can.

We just always want it to be a bit better.

So perhaps in today’s education bureaucracy, two years to diagnose a learning disability isn’t shocking to teachers.

But it is shocking — and we can’t remain complacent or even more children will lose precious learning years.

Happyspeak press releases never tell the true story

Friday, June 6, 2008

Ya gotta love happyspeak.

It’s something that isn’t easy for everyone to do — that magical way of spinning words to make something that is really not so great sound absolutely spectacular.

Take the recent press release from the Interior Health Authority.

“Ponderosa Lodge to remain open to meet needs of Kamloops seniors.”

Wow. That’s super.

The facility they’ve been threatening to shut down for years is going to stay open. Reassuring, for sure.

Read a bit more and one discovers that, actually, Ponderosa is staying open with 42 beds for seniors.

Hmmm. Doesn’t it have more beds than that number?

Don’t expect to find the figure in the press release. Nowhere does it say the IHA is actually reducing the number of beds at Ponderosa Lodge from 114 to 42.

Shutting down 72 beds just doesn’t sound nearly as positive as “meet the needs of the local community, with 42 transitional beds.”

Read on and you discover Minister of Health George Abbott sees closing 72 beds and keeping just 42 open “will help ensure our seniors continue to receive the best possible care as they move into their golden years.”

Well, yes, that too is spinning the words. His quote was actually in reference to the provincial government investing in 5,000 new beds for seniors in the province, including 190 in Kamloops this year.

Those would be beds in residential-care buildings built and run by for-profit companies, including the one mentioned in the press release‚ Ridgeview Lodge at 920 Desmond Ave. in Brocklehurst.

It’s opening on Sept. 3 and, according to the press release, “current residents at Ponderosa will move to their new home at Ridgeview Lodge or one of the other residential-care facilities in Kamloops.”

Ridgeview only provides comprehensive care for seniors. That would include 24-hour professional nursing service, 24-hour direct care by trained resident-care aides, the services of a registered dietitian to develop menus, daily recreational and music therapies, services of a physiotherapist and occupational therapist to assess resident needs, and then all those other neat little things, like secured entrances and exits, lounges, an outdoor courtyard and a mini-bus for those trips off-site.

All for the nifty price of $4,500 a month. That wasn’t included in the press release extolling the value of Ridgeview Lodge, but a quick e-mail to Dea Godfrery, human resources co-ordinator for the Baltic Properties Group — which owns and will run the new facility —came back with that information.

Let’s leave that rental amount for now — although many of you may still staring at those numbers, and the comma separating them, in complete incredulity.

Beds are being closed.

What about the staff? How many will lose their jobs?

Nothing in the press release about that, either, although it does quote Claire Ann Brodie, IHA’s director of home and community care for the Thompson-Cariboo-Shuswap region, saying: “We are fortunate to have employees who have been here for a long time providing quality care to our seniors. Our goal is to work with these individuals to accommodate them at Ponderosa wherever possible. We are optimistic that remaining staff will be able to secure employment given the current employment environment.”

Got any idea what that means?

Call IHA’s communications office and get one of its staff, Erin Toews.

Apparently, no one at IHA has any idea how many staff will be out of work with this closure. They’ve got to work with the union representing staff “to create a transition plan. There are a lot of steps to determine what it will look like.”

And, Toews adds, they won’t have any firm idea until the end of summer, when Ridgeview opens.

Although, to her credit, she did acknowledge there are only so many staff you need with just 42 beds to operate.

So here’s a rewritten version of this happy press release:

“IHA is shutting down 72 beds, sending seniors out to find a place in a facility that’s run by a private company and where the rents are in the thousands of dollars monthly. Staff will lose their jobs but, heck, B.C.’s economy is booming so they’ll find something somewhere."

It’s not happyspeak — but this is not something that inspires happiness.

Those really were the days, my friends

Friday, May 23, 2008

How to know you’re really old: You read that Ted Kennedy has probably a year at best to live — and you cry.

Most of my co-workers probably don’t even know who he is.

Bobby? JFK?

Get out the history books.

I remember a co-worker many years ago who, when hearing some of us discussing Richard Nixon, complained that “some hearing” kept interrupting her favourite cartoon shows.

Some hearing. Watergate.

I should be this old.

But to know that Teddy has an inoperable, malignant brain tumour is somehow like finally nearing the end of a favourite book. You know the story. You’ve read it over and over again, never daring to finish that final chapter because, once you do, the story is done.

This is the Kennedy family to me.

As a child, I had a life-size poster of Bobby Kennedy hanging on my bedroom wall.

I had smaller ones of John, not because he was lesser in stature — after all, he was the president while Bobby was the senator/attorney-general/presidential wannabe — but because, for some reason, I always identified more with Bobby.

He was the one behind the headline maker. He was the one who cleaned up his big brother’s messes.

He was the one who many of us back then thought could truly fulfil the promise his big brother’s presidency began with, the promise that ended in one shot.

And, lest those of you 50-plus think the memory of Chappaquiddick is missing from my history vault, it’s not.

Teddy did wrong and got away with it, likely more because of his family’s name and the demands that placed upon him than anything else.

I’d like to think he learned from it and strengthened his resolve to do right. Who knows? Maybe he stayed a philanderer even to these days.

Hopefully, he didn’t.

That’s the key to those of us who are 50-plus, who lived through those years — hope, and how we lost it.

We remember where we were when the radio announcer interrupted some stupid disco song to announce JFK had been shot dead.

That Bobby had died on the floor of a hotel kitchen.

That Martin had been killed outside his motel room.

I was in elementary school for each of these announcements, yet still felt their gravity to my world.

Such was the lessons I learned at an early age at my parents’ knees — we are in this world to do good and, back then, the Kennedys and their friends did good.

I was blessed to meet Cesar Chavez at the height of the farmworkers’ boycott in the 1970s. One of my bosses at the paper I spent most of my life working gave me proper hell for going out on an assignment wearing a “Nixon eats lettuce” pin.

Those were good days. They are days our children will never experience. They’re growing up in a time of American Idol and Grand Theft Auto 4, of no one who really qualifies as a true hero, someone to look up to.

Name one person today who could fill that role. There are none on the Canadian national scene. My own bias would have me name Stephen Lewis but, even then, how many born after 1970 know of his many incomparable accomplishments?

It’s sad this is the legacy we’re leaving our children.

I feel dismay that, when my children are in their 50s, they won’t ever find themselves sitting in their homes grieving because someone they always thought was larger than life — who wanted to and many times did change the world we live in — was facing his own demise.

Because, behind all that grief is the realization that we, the often-maligned, much written about, baby boomers were privy to some incredible moments in the history of this world.

It’s too bad that, at the time, we didn’t realize it.

It’s only now, as these moments become pages in history books, that their true value becomes evident.

B.C. would do wise to follow Alberta’s ‘moral’ decision

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Several years ago, while attending a support-group meeting for families dealing with autism, I met a couple who had given their child up to the government.

The youngster was living hundreds of miles from the family home and these two incredible selfless parents made the trip as often as they could to visit their child.

They loved their child deeply and unconditionally — and knew the only way their child could be assured of receiving help from the provincial government to deal with his autism would be in foster care.

Imagine the courage that decision took. It’s beyond heart-breaking.

It’s incomprehensible.

Consider now the case of Suzana and Jeff Pekrul, who have made the equally tough decision to keep their severely disabled child, providing round-the-clock care for a youngster who can’t walk, talk or even breathe normally.

She’s the victim of severe microcephaly, which means her brain never developed the way it should have.

A government-paid helper is there during the day while Suzana is at her full-time job and Jeff is functioning on very little sleep, having worked a 10-hour night shift, going to sleep at about 2 a.m. and up again at 6 a.m. so his wife can leave.

All they wanted was what Community Living B.C. (CLBC) advertises on its website, to take advantage of the At Home Program providing respite care.

Of course, of the 14 sentences describing the program, there are two that are key: “Respite funding may not be available immediately. Families may be waitlisted for benefits.”

The Pekruls were approved for respite, giving them one night a week when they could try to relax, interact as husband and wife, perhaps visit with friends — do all those things the rest of us take for granted.

However, as all mothers know, leaving your ailing child at home with someone else is one of those decisions that floats in front of you throughout the “night of relaxation.”

Two months after being approved, however, the B.C. couple was put back on the waitlist, told there isn’t enough money in the budget for them.

The head of CLBC won’t discuss the Pekruls’ case specifically, but Rick Mowles did admit he knows his agency is not providing services to everyone who needs them, but he believes most parents are getting the respite they need.

Look next at the province to the east of us, and the way that government has responded to the needs of the Pare family.

Son Trevor Pare, one of only 13 in Canada born with a rare progressive neuromuscular disease, needs a unique drug he has been taking for four years as part of its manufacturer’s trials.

The trial — and the supply of the drug — was to end this month, leaving the Pare family facing an annual $775,000 cost to keep their son treated.

The provincial government has stepped up and will ensure Blue Cross will cover the drug’s cost.

Alberta’s health minister, Ron Liepert, explained the decision in words his counterparts in B.C. would be wise to listen to:

“It’s a very difficult decision because there are significant financial impacts to the health-care system.

“However, at the end of the day, this does not come down to a business-case decision.

“It comes down to a moral decision.”

His government is in the process of developing a policy to help all Albertans who require expensive drugs for rare disorders, Liepert said, something the Canadian Organization for Rare Disorders is calling for on a national basis.

Somehow, it doesn’t seem right that parents who choose the hard road of caring for their children, no matter what the diagnosis, have to go through so much hardship just to get what the government naturally provides for children in its wardship.

And, while stories like those of the Pekruls and the Pares are the kind reporters love to grab hold of and run with, it would be such a better world if parents didn’t have to bare their souls — and their families’ stories — to the media just to get some help.

Dickens deserves fellow trustees’ support

Sunday, May 11, 2008

It’s refreshing to discover at least one Howard Beale getting in the faces of Kamloops school board trustees.

The fact it is one of their own who is mad as hell and not going to take it anymore is laudatory.

Dick Dickens needs to know that, while his fellow trustees think he’s done nothing more than grandstand and seek out headlines in an election year, there are many parents who applaud him for stating the obvious: the provincial government has broken the education system and now expects school boards to fix it, without giving them all the parts to do so.

At this week’s school board meeting, trustee Annette Glover insisted she and her colleagues are not running a business, but are there to ensure students receive a quality education.


In the end, she and all trustees save Dickens behaved like good little business people and caved in to the heavy hand of the Gordon Campbell government.

This same group will, on Monday, approve a budget that does not reflect reality but rather conforms to a bad law.

They will likely take the opportunity at the special board meeting to chastise Dickens again for not agreeing to give the budget bylaw its required three readings.

He’ll sit there quietly while they dump on him, knowing he has stayed true to his beliefs and dared to point his finger at the provincial bullies.

All school boards are required to submit balanced budgets to the government or risk being placed in trusteeship, effectively stripping these elected representatives of their seats.

That’s a mighty big threat for people who like the political life.

And it means school boards never really tell the truth .

They never stand up and say “there isn’t enough money to do the things you are telling us we have to do. That means we aren’t providing the best education possible to our students.”

The budget includes all the money the provincial government agreed to pay school staff, negotiations in which school boards have no meaningful participation.

But then, the province doesn’t give the boards enough money to pay those wages ­— which means something has to give and, virtually every year, it’s supplies, teachers and support workers that face cutbacks.

As district superintendent Terry Sullivan noted at the meeting, there will be layoff notices issued next month but, once final funding is resolved by the province, many will be recalled.

Sounds like such a simple process, but for those who get those layoff notices, the weeks of waiting and wondering aren’t that simple.

Provincial officials will point to the fact the district received $115 million last year at a time when the district’s enrolment continued to decrease.

Predictions are there will be as many as 400 fewer students in school this September and perhaps 20 teaching positions will be gone because of this.

Statements like those simply confuse the issue.

The problems are simple.

The provincial government has all the control, all the money, doles it out in dribs and drabs throughout the year and taking some back when it applies calculations to show it has the right to take some back.

Trustees are told to ensure quality education is provided to every student, but they are not given the tools — or the cash — to do so.

And as long as trustees are willing to hide behind the “we-must-do-this” mantra, none can say they truly are sitting at that big table on Ninth Avenue for the students.

Dickens has dared to stand up against the provincial bully.

It’s time others join him in declaring they’re not taking it anymore.

Items that might someday grow up to be columns

Friday, May 2, 2008

A few years ago, our managing editor at the time, Gord Kurenoff, would write columns that didn’t have a single theme.

He’d call them things that bugged him that might eventually grow into big columns.

Today, in honour of Gord, things that have made me wonder what’s going on in our world today.

• First, Facebook.

In particular, how it has managed to become so addictive to just about everyone I know — including that face in my mirror every day. We don’t use e-mail anymore; we Facebook-message people.

Can’t remember when a friend’s birthday is? Don’t check your calendar. Log on to Facebook to see if it’s there on the right-hand side of your profile page.

I have friends supporting issues with pages on Facebook — and these same friends, who would comparison shop in a grocery store, don’t bother to check out the legitimacy of these causes.

But the final straw? Wednesday, I finally rolled chili and a bun.

And I pumped the air.

How sad is that? And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, consider yourself normal.

• We move on to Surrey and, in particular, Princess Margaret School, where 15 Sikh students were told they could not wear their T-shirts bearing the image of Sant Jarnail Bhindranwale, a militant in their homeland who sought creation of an independent Khalistan before he was killed by the Indian army in 1984.

What better way to get these students’ passion for this cause fuelled than to tell them their shirts are banned?

Anyone who has ever raised a child, or even spent time with one, knows the surest way to encourage defiance is to tell them they can’t do something. Let them wear the shirts and turn what is now a controversy into a teaching moment.

Isn’t that what schools are supposed to do?

• Anyone notice the amount of money being dropped off in Kamloops by our local provincial politicians these days? Thousands are being left behind as Claude Richmond and Kevin Krueger rush from photo-op to photo-op.

On Monday alone last week, they both remarked how hectic that day would be as they raced to a variety of non-profit agencies throughout the city.

For those of you who care to keep track, the next provincial election is in 375 days and counting — both money and headline-buying funding announcements.

And, while we’re on the topic of elections, is there anyone out there who still believes Stephen Harper and his Conservatives see Kamloops as a riding they can retain?

Kudos to Fred Bosman for putting his name forward but, with the lack of interest the local party riding association is showing in holding a nomination meeting — and the $600,000 that has somehow disappeared from Betty Hinton’s much-hyped airport extension funding announcement — it looks like Harper’s scratched us off his to-do list.

• Maybe, when we finally do have a federal election, we can put in a government that will get serious about our justice system, just as a public inquiry starts to wrap up on the murder of a mother, her son and parents were killed by her estranged husband.

Just weeks after Sunny Park tearfully was videotaped predicting what would eventually happen to her family following what police called a bizarre vehicle accident that saw Park’s husband drive into a hydro pole, crushing the side of the car Sunny was sitting in, the man who was told to stay away fro his family made his final visit.

More recently, in Prince George, police arrested a man who had assaulted his wife and threatened to shoot her — only to see him released on bail.

Innocent until proven guilty is a key underpinning of justice, but the innocents are the underpinning of our society – and they need to be protected.

• Finally, while on the subject of justice, a goodbye and good luck to our most recent police reporter, Cassidy Olivier.

A lot of young reporters have entered and exited through what we have sometimes joked is a revolving door into the editorial department, each one bringing their own qualities and, hopefully, leaving with a bit more knowledge about this wacky job of reporter.

For someone who started in this business many, many years before the young Cassidy learned to say his first word, having such an enthusiastic, dedicated and fearless young reporter around has been refreshing — and reassuring that those who predict the end of the newspaper business is nigh are quite simply wrong.

Canada’s Worst Driver? Too many candidates

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Further in this edition of KTW, you’ll find a story about a search for Kamloops residents who would qualify for the TV reality show Canada’s Worst Driver.

I have oh-so-many people I’d like to register for this show. Too bad providing licence plates isn’t sufficient.

The producers need names, which means I’d have to know these people — and if I did, well, I’d take the time to explain to them some key elements of the vehicles they drive.

For example, I’d have them sit in the driver’s seat and then show them that cute little lever, to the left and just behind the steering wheel, that goes up and down.

Up means the car’s about to turn right. Down means the opposite.

It would be necessary to explain that this lever doesn’t operate on its own. Much like the drivers can’t really read their children’s minds to divine what it is they want done, these pieces of electronics and plastic need some direction (pardon the pun) in order to let the rest of us know the direction.

While we’re at it, this would be a good time to explain to the person in the driver’s seat that the steering wheel is for guiding the vehicle down the road, not to rest your arms on as you try to roll up that rim while driving.

Or apply your mascara.

I’d love to suggest the driver of the dirty brown truck I followed for almost nine minutes a few weeks ago as he forced cars off the road (mine included) as we came off the Halston Bridge toward the Husky Gas Station on the Yellowhead Highway.

This was all in a desperate effort to catch up with some tiny import of a car, which the truck driver did, only to start gesturing wildly and in a threatening manner at the driver of the tiny car, trying to force it off the road.

Sensing road rage, and being a reporter (albeit off-duty returning from piano lessons), I followed this idiot as he swerved at the smaller car, continuing to yell and shake his fist.

And yes, the police were called.

Then there are the people in this town who should have handed in the licence years ago, sometime after they hit their 90th birthday.

Now, don’t get me wrong.

This is not an anti-aging thing, but the reality is that when some of them are out on the street, surrounded by those never-signalling-always-eating-completely distracted other drivers, it’s a scenario that could lead to disaster.

Like the dude in the red sports car who jumps from lane to lane as he soars through Valleyview, once even dropping down into a right-hand turn lane then whipping across the cross-street and re-entering the highway through the access road — just to avoid a red light.

All of these people would be strong contenders for the title awarded by the people behind the worst-driver show.

No sense in even touching the truly crappy driving we all see every day from that one new breed of driver.

You know, the car that almost crosses the white line, then weaves over just a bit to the other side, then starts to slow down so the driver can finally concentrate on the cellphone call being taken.

I just know how much attention that driver is giving to the road.

And there are no polite words to use for those drivers who feel it’s OK to drive along the Trans-Canada Highway and keep those high beams glaring against oncoming traffic.

Consider this the tidied up words I’d like to say to them. “I can’t see the road, you moron! Sure glad you can see it so brightly!”

When I learned to drive, my instructor — a retired bus driver — made it clear to me that the hunk of metal (yes, this was oh-so-many years ago) was not a toy, but something that could hurt people if it wasn’t handled properly.

And he made it clear to me that no matter how good a driver I thought I was, I wasn’t — which meant there would be a lot of over-confident, but truly bad, drivers on the roads with me.

Growing up at racetracks, I also learned early just how much damage a car can cause, even if it just bumps another one. It just takes watching your uncle, one of the top drivers back in the 1960s for the Joie Chitwood Hell Drivers, do a flying T-bone into another car to impress that fact on you.

My cousin, a stock-car driver, hit the wall in a race once and walked away alive.

Yes, I learned at a very young age that driving a car isn’t to be taken lightly and that every time you get into one, you’re level of responsibility to everyone else in your community rises.

But if there’s just one thing you do to change your driving habits today, take a second when you get into the car to introduce yourself to that lane-change lever.

It would be a big step to avoiding becoming one of Canada’s worst drivers.

Many thanks

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Those of you who read KTW may have seen my story in the April 16 edition, the one where I give the truly short and succinct thank-you speech I was unable to give on April 12.

That was the night that, while doing my job and trying very discreetly to return to my seat at Sagebrush Theatre, Doug Sage of the local branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association pulled a fast one and had a public education award presented to me.

Lack of space in our paper precluded me actually saying what I wanted to, as did the need for the boss to edit my remarks. But here, I'm in control, so here's the whole thing:

Going public with the fact I have bipolar disorder was something I did on my own, without consulting my husband or children. In fact, my beloved said after he had read the column that he might have tried to dissuade me from doing it. After all, once you've waved that red flag, some people want to put you down.

But it was important for me to try to put another face on the image of mental illness. I figure if I can raise five kids, stay married to the most wonderful -- and patient -- man in the universe for all these years, hold down a job, give something back to my community and maintain some semblance of a normal (whatever that is) life, it's gotta be good and might even convince some of those out there that mental illness can actually affect the person next door just as much as the marginalized out there wandering the streets.

To be recognized for doing this is way beyond anything I would have anticipated or desired. Indeed, receiving this award was truly humbling, embarrassing and surprising.

And I have to say that, after receiving plenty of awards for my writing, this one is perhaps the most special because, unlike the others, which were given for telling other people's stories, in essence, this one is for telling my story, and that of others like me.

And that's kinda cool.

A skeptic realizes her future is indeed in the cards

It’s so good this province has done away with mandatory retirement — because, apparently, I will live into my mid- to late-90s.

And, since that kind of longevity never figured into my retirement plans, KTW is going to be home for many, many, many more years — news I’m sure will delight my bosses.

My husband and I are going to have a large number of grandchildren, I’m told.

Great. More people to visit in those many years of senior citizenship — and they won’t be able to say no because we’ll be the pater and mater familias, due massive amounts of respect.

All this is predicted by Mrs. Marra, also known as Psychic Marra, a Burnaby woman who claims to be a fifth-generation gypsy and who looks like she just stepped out of central casting.

The hair is long, black, flowing.

There’s the ever-present cigarette, complete with gold holder and, although the air doesn’t reek of it, smoke is definitely noticeable.

The tarot cards are worn, but not so worn that they’ll interfere with seeing the future, apparently.

In a nod to consumerism, there’s a sign proclaiming 90 per cent accuracy and, of course, customer satisfaction.

And into this comes me, a “skepticynic,” as my husband describes me, who for reasons that defy logic, decided it might be kinda cool to find out if there’s any reason to start buying lottery tickets.

“Do you want a palm reading or tarot cards,” Mrs. Marra asked at the West Coast Amusements carnival that came to town last week.

What’s the difference?

“If you have problems in your life, the tarot is better.”

Who doesn’t have issues? I asked her. She smiled what would be described in the movie script as a “meaningful, world-weary smile” and picked up the deck.

My son, who was wondering what his mother had dragged him into this time, just gave that look only a teenager can muster.

She had me shuffle the deck and think about the one question I wanted answered.

“I see you are recovering from a serious illness,” she said.

Good guess. Anyone my age has pretty good odds of having had some sickness at some point in recent years.

Skepticism level is rising.

“You have love in your life.”

The wedding ring may have been a hint, along with the son’s presence.

Skepticism level goes up again.

“You are worrying about your daughter.”

Yup — wait a minute.

Who told you I have a daughter?

“You are worrying about her job. She has lofty goals but always seems to fall short.

She now has my attention.

“Do not worry about her. She will be fine and she will accomplish all her goals before you know it.

“And you have a wedding coming up. You have doubts about this as well. Do not worry. The female [her word] is going to be very good for your son.”

Son? Who told her my middle son is getting married — and yes, I have all those concerns a mother has when a child barely out of his teens announces wedding intentions to someone you’ve only met once.

I told my 21-year-old about this, thinking he’d be delighted to know that happiness had been predicted for him. He sighed that sigh my children make often when I talk to them and asked why I hadn’t found out if he was getting a promotion.

Oops, didn’t think about that. After all, this is my future, not his.

I find myself leaning in now.

“You are having many strange dreams right now.”

OK, Mrs. Marra, you’re back into movie-script mode here — although I am remembering my truly bizarre dreams more often these days.

“You should listen to your dreams. They are telling you something.”

What? That I really will be shipwrecked on an island where the local tribe is run by my weird cat that hisses whenever I come near her. She is apparently an Egyptian spirit caught in a feline body.

But then Mrs. Marra left the script again and took one giant leap into things that have happened in my past that no one knows about.

Nothing dramatic or controversial, just weird stuff that doesn’t happen to everyone and about which I don’t talk because, well, I get tired of the sighs and rolled eyes from the family.

And for several minutes she told me things about my past that she shouldn’t have known.

I’m the one shaking my head now.

“And that question you wanted answered” — she tells me it.

She’s got it right.

“This will happen in the next year.”

She hands me her business card.

“I’m in Burnaby. Come see me if you’re there.”

And I wonder: she can tell me my future, but she doesn’t know if I’ll be coming to Burnaby?

Showers update

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Well, what a surprise. Exactly what Bob Hughes of the AIDS Society of Kamloops (ASK) said would happen actually happened.
And yes, they're all couching in terms like "wait and see," "small steps," "let's find out what's needed," but the reality is that the North Shore Business Improvement Association (NSBIA) finally realized it has no business deciding if ASK can have showers in its facility for the marginalized.
It's fair to wonder if the compromise one-handicapped-shower-for-now is the result of some neanderthal businessperson on Tranquille Road, who threatened a lawsuit if the showers went in.
It's also fair to wonder on what basis such a lawsuit might be launched and why the NSBIA would even give this person credibility -- but the end result is a small toe has made it through that door to social justice.
Baby steps. It's annoying, but it's a reality.

Introducing the real faces of mental illness

Normally, I’m delighted to see my boys reading the paper in the morning while they have breakfast.

It shows they’re interested in their world, engaged with it, curious about it — and it is reassuring for a print journalist who is told frequently by others the newspaper business is losing relevance to the next generation.

But that delight wasn’t there this week.

“Three children were killed by their dad?” the youngest asked Wednesday morning.

“Why would he do that?”

Why indeed

If it’s incomprehensible to a 12-year-old, it is certainly unfathomable to the rest of us.

While the judicial system will be oh-so-careful to say the dad of the young innocents who were knifed to death on Sunday is just a suspect, the rest of us know in our hearts what we would declare the verdict.

And, although we all profess to believe in the criminal justice system — perhaps not as fervently as our parents and grandparents did — each one of knows we would welcome a completely different justice system in a case like this.

It’s wrong, it’s not the way we were brought up to think, but it’s a reality that makes us all the more human.

And, of course, the protestations are also coming forward.

He’s not a bad guy. He has a mental illness. He’s not dangerous.

He’s sick.

As someone who lives with a mental illness daily, it’s people like this guy who, quite frankly, give the rest of us a bad name.

So let’s be clear here — we are not talking mental illness in this situation.

To be charitable, we are talking about a severe mental defect.

There’s a completely different category for the Clifford Olsons and Paul Bernardos of the world and they should never be lumped in with those people who struggle with depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and the other illnesses that play havoc with the normal functions of a person’s brain.

And that’s why, when Doug Sage of the Kamloops branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association called and asked if KTW would support Kamfest, I didn’t even bother to ask the boss.

The answer was obvious — of course we would.

If there was ever an agency that is essential to the community, it’s the CMHA.

Just a few days ago, I met a woman who used to live in Lillooet.

She told me how, back in the 1980s and early 1990s, the only Kamloops agency that ever sent anyone to that community to help those who needed it was the CMHA.

A counsellor came for a day every seven weeks. Even today, this woman remembers and appreciates that fact.

Just a few years ago, Matt McLean called KTW to ask for some coverage of his campaign to get money to keep the CMHA evening program for teens going. He was working there at the time and had planned a march through the downtown to try to get some headlines Kamloops MLA Claude Richmond might read and be inspired to help out.

It took a long time for McLean to see that money come through, but he kept at it, as did the teens who were congregating at the CMHA Clubhouse every night around 5 p.m., because they all knew how important the program was.

It was vital because these teens were worth the fight.

They had issues, but those challenges didn’t define them.

They just made it hard to get through the day.

So, if there must be a poster child for mental illness, let’s make it those determined teens who knew they could do better and were willing to fight to see it happen, rather than a coward now hiding from the law.

And let’s support the work the CMHA does.

It doesn’t come to the community often looking for financial help but, tomorrow night, it’s holding a fundraiser at the Sagebrush Theatre — a night of music, comedy, fun, surprises, awareness and understanding.

It’s a night for families, Sage says, although it’s also a night to show some appreciation for the work he and his staff do every single day.

So, if we must talk about mental illness this week, let’s not let the face of the suspect in Merritt come to mind.

Instead, let’s celebrate all those other people who get up every morning and — whether living with it or helping to heal it — must accept the fact a mental illness is going to be there with them that day.

Tickets for Kamfest are only $20 and there are still a few available.

You can get them from the Kamloops Live box office.

Showering council with criticism it truly deserves

Sunday, April 6, 2008

While the city’s attention has been distracted by the silliness surrounding Coun. Arjun Singh, a truly heinous decision by our local politicians is hidden away from sight.

It involves an oh-so-simple and truly generous offer by Local 7819 of the United Steelworkers to put showers, washers and dryers in the AIDS Society of Kamloops office on Tranquille Road for use by the marginalized.

It was a laudable project, one that needed a tiny favour from city council only — and which has been so badly derailed that, if it weren’t so annoying, it would be laughable.

But it, as well as the Singh resignation from the social planning council, both point to some strange decision-making by Mayor Terry Lake.

Let’s deal with Singh first, because it’s such a tempest in a teapot that, had he not outed himself on his blog, it might not have garnered the headlines it received.

Singh, a first-term councillor, is passionate about his beliefs — and his concerns are many.

Among them are social issues and, as a member of the social planning council, he certainly spoke up about them.


Some might say constantly.

Others might say to the detriment of the other volunteers and agency representatives on that group.

Its chair, Ray Jolicoeur, would say Singh frequently hijacked the meeting.

Singh would say he made some mistakes — “not ones I feel of intent, but ignorance. But big mistakes nonetheless and ones I need to take responsibility for.”

Plans were afoot, following a complaint by Jolicoeur to Lake, for the mayor to remove Singh from the social planning council.

Instead, the admittedly outspoken and often controversial councillor went public with the concerns about him, resigned, apologized, took his public flogging and now is in some kind of purgatory — a councillor without a subcommittee on which to serve.

If only Lake had been that decisive when it came time to simply pick up the rubber stamp, say thank you to the Steelworkers and give the go-ahead for the showers to be built.

All the union representatives wanted for their $49,000 investment in the project was to have the permit costs waived so they could get to work quickly. Councillors Pat Wallace and Joe Leong agreed, moving that the city take the $400 permits would cost from the city’s contingency fund to cover those costs.

It was going to be great, ASK executive director Bob Hughes said at the time. Plans were for at least four showers, a couple of them handicap-accessible, a new sink, washing machine and dryer — a facility that would help not only many of ASK’s clients, but the ever-growing number of street people populating Kamloops these days.

The goal was to have the project complete and open by now.

The presentation was made to city council on Jan. 29 by Richard Boyce — co-chair of last year’s United Way campaign and an employee at Highland Valley Copper, a major donor to myriad charitable projects in the region.

Questions were asked and Wallace and Leong put forward their motion.

Then Lake got involved.

He talked council into adding to the motion a requirement for consultation on the plans with the North Shore Business Improvement Association — the same group that threw a major hissy-fit a couple of years ago when ASK took over the outreach program for sex-trade workers.

The NSBIA board discussed it — and killed it.

At best, discussion now centres around maybe agreeing to one handicap-accessible shower — and that’s a big maybe.

ASK representatives who expressed gratitude and delight when the project was announced didn’t want to talk about it now — or even acknowledge there is a problem.

That’s not surprising — one tends not to bite the hand that feeds him, even if contains only crumbs.

Which brings us back to Singh.

If he was mayor, he would have immediately seen the value of showers for street people. He may have discussed it too loudly and too much, but he wouldn’t have derailed it.

Perhaps Lake should read some thoughts of William Temple, who once said: “Good intentions are at least, the seed of good actions; and every one ought to sow them, and leave it to the soil and the seasons whether he or any other gather the fruit.”

Drop by TRU and have a spot of tear — for Sue

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

I NEVER GOT TO KNOW SUE Lachowicz as well as I would have liked. We’d see each other a couple of times a year, always at the fund-raisers our mutual friend, Kathy Roberts, holds to raise money to help local people dealing with breast cancer — of which she was one.
The last time I saw Sue was at Kathy’s fall version, where she strode around the room, giving out bear hugs to friends, showing off the outfit she was wearing — one that stood out even in an event that is centred around fashion — and finally taking the stage to tell the 300 gathered that what they had heard was true.
Her cancer had not only returned, but her doctors had told her she likely didn’t have much time left.
But before she left the stage, she promised to do everything she could to be at the next fundraiser, which takes place Sunday at the Grand Hall at Thompson Rivers University.
But this time, Sue won’t be there.
All we’ll have is the memory of a truly amazing, strong, determined woman who weathered so much in her short life and, if she ever complained about it, few knew.
Last September, just two days after her 51st birthday, Sue was the guest speaker at the annual Pink Ribbon Ball.
She spoke of being diagnosed with breast cancer, the same disease that took both her birth mother and her twin sister.
She talked about how ugly the disease is, as are its treatments of chemotherapy and radiation.
She spoke of how, on that very day, just like every day before and since, six women in British Columbia had been diagnosed with the disease.
But this amazing woman also talked of the gifts she had received because of the disease.
Sue had decided the disease would never control her.
She couldn’t control it, but she wasn’t going to give in to it, either.
“I had the power,” she told a completely captivated audience.
“I could make a choice about my attitude. And so I made the decision to live.
“I made the decision to try to continue to live my life in as normal fashion as I could.”
And so a cruise she and her husband had planned went ahead, even though by the time departure came around, the disease had taken its toll on her physically.
It just didn’t beat Sue’s spirit.
She wore the most special dress she had ever bought, an extravagance she could have said no to, if she’d let the disease do the talking.
But Sue didn’t do that.
She started a blog, writing about her life, her goals, her ups, her downs — and through it, Sue made friends from around the world.
On Sunday, many of Sue’s friends will attend the fashion show and fundraiser.
They’ll laugh at the skits — this year’s theme takes a broad swipe at the reality of menopause — and they’ll marvel at the fashions.
They’ll spend a lot of money on tickets for the many door prizes.
They’ll sip white wine — and more than a few will make a silent toast to their silenced friend.
And they’ll notice, when Kathy calls all the cancer survivors in attendance to come up to the stage, that their friend isn’t there.
There might still be some tickets left for anyone who’s interested.
They’re only $20 — and for that, you’ll get a lot.
But more importantly, you’ll be giving so much more.
You’ll be standing up for those who can’t anymore — for the 500 women each year in B.C. who die from breast cancer.
Including the incredible, unforgettable Sue.

The Olympics are all about politics

Friday, March 21, 2008

I always thought the clique that is behind all things Olympic was comprised of people with no concept of reality.
The Games must go on — even if the world’s going to hell.
Or at least a large part of it.
Sports are wonderful. To see an athlete at his or her prime, competing and completing, is truly a sight to behold.
But it’s not a sight worth beholding if it means we must not look at other sights.
Have we really forgotten Tiananmen Square? Has that image of a lone student staring down an Chinese army tank faded away?
Are the news photographs of bloodied — but unbowed — Tibetan monks being relegated to the dustbins of our minds?
Ignore the fact this group of elitists, led by Olympics head Jacques Rogge, made the unfathomable decision to send the elite athletes of the world to a country where the air alone could kill them.
That’s enough to make you wonder what they were thinking.
But the arrogance of Rogge to announce his organization “has to deal with sports, does not have to deal with politics,” is beyond incredible.
Does he not remember the 1972 Olympic Games that saw Israeli athletes slaughtered?
Has he never seen a picture of Jesse Owens, a black man, celebrating his gold medals at the Berlin Olympics of 1936? The politics of a black American winning in a country ruled by Adolf Hitler could not be more apparent.
How about 1968, when Tommie Smith took the podium, his gold medal and, along with bronze medallist John Carlos, promptly gave a Black Power salute?
Of course the Olympics are all about politics.
They’re all about what country has the best athletes, the best secret doping system, the best advertising campaign — heck, the best mascots, even.
Which is why no one can possibly support the Summer Olympics in Beijing this year. Not as long as the Chinese government continues to crack down on the people of Tibet, a country it has claimed as its own and whose government it forced into exile decades ago.
It is laughable to think anyone will believe Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao when he says the Tibetan monks and other supporters of the Dalai Lama are fighting with the Chinese just to sabotage the Beijing Olympics. It’s more likely they continue to be fed up with being controlled and dictated to by the Chinese government.
What does Rogge expect will happen when they take the Olympic flame through Tibet in June on its way to Beijing?
Spontaneous applause?
Rogge has said no country is considering a boycott. He must not read the news, since members of the French Olympic committee are doing just that — at least for the flashy opening gala.
Other countries’ leaders are being condemned editorially for not speaking out about this travesty, where athletes are to ignore the long record of human-rights violations for which the Chinese have normally received condemnation, and put on a happy face for a few weeks to promote their sport, their country — and their own wallets.
Just this week, journalists were banned from covering the upheaval in Tibet. A CBC-TV reporter was forced to use a small cameraphone to shoot video of Tibetans fleeing a heavily armed and reinforced Chinese army.
It’s unlikely few countries — and no athletes — will put the lack of human rights in China before their own self-aggrandizement. After all, the eyes of each nation will be upon them as they take to the track, the fields, the overblown, expensive opening and closing ceremonies.
Unfortunately, once they have all headed home, nothing will really have changed in China.
It will have held the international spotlight for a few days, pretending there is nothing seriously wrong with the country.
China will continue to dominate Tibet. It will continue to send its army in to quell any uprising anywhere, anytime.
Just as the Games must go on, so too will China’s dismissal of basic human rights.

More random musings

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Just a few things that have occurred this week that need some comment:

1. Libel laws precluded KTW from printing any of the letters received after we published a column on Mary, a woman fleeing an abusive relationship. Each was heart-breaking in the retelling of the individual stories, but each also ended with a declaration from the writer that this will never happen to them again.

It's a noble sentiment, one I hope they are able to follow through on. But, in 2008, it's simply wrong that we haven't moved any further than the generation of my parents, when men -- and yes, some women -- feel it is alright to abuse their spouse, be it physical or emotional.

A co-worker asked me if it's true that women really do celebrate International Womens Day. I don't know how many do, and lord knows my days of all-day-long involvement in the events are long gone, but as long as one person raises his hand or his voice to his partner, we sure do need it.

2. I guess the fact that spring is almost here hasn't hit the news managers at the other paper. Why else would they glorify that age-old tradition of skating on a frozen lake just as all those frozen bodies of water start to react to the warming temperatures? Springtime -- yup, that's a great time to suggest the kids strap on their skates and head out to the weakening layer of ice.

3. Every time I drive by Convergys now, I wonder if the unspoken message in its CEO's recent speech will come to fruition and the multi-national call centre will take its low-paying jobs to even lower-paid workers in Asia. The mayor says in this global community, these things are a reality, but he also acknowledged losing 1,200 jobs would be a major blow to Kamloops.

On the bright side, maybe we could then get some sort of decent retail outlet in that massive expanse of business and start to see some growth develop in the Valleyview/Dallas area.

4. Boy, the Blue Grotto is doing some great stuff these days. Econoline Crush, our own Joey Jack and crew (and yes, Joey is very, very funny), Hayley Sales, Justin Nozuka (above) . . .the list goes on. And it's not the only one putting some oomph into the local music scene. My other favourite is the Leisure Loft, a brilliant use of normally vacant space by Mike Turner. Check out some of these places; you'll be surprised. And the price is right too -- Nozuka's got a Juno nomination and the admission for his show, shared with Sales, was about the same as a double-double-non-fat-soy-based-with-a-shot whatever that would be.