Thursday, 30 June 2011

Pounding the Pavement

     He dipped his artificial leg in the Atlantic Ocean on a frigid April day back in 1980.  Every morning he rose early to run his quota of miles.  At first, no one knew who this figure was running along the side of the highway.  Some Canadians waved; other honked; and some even ran him off the road.  He made his way through the Maritime provinces, not making too much of a mark.  In Quebec, he became discouraged because he did not get a very warm reception.  The Quebec Provincial Police even asked him to stay off of the main highways.  He asked:  "Don't people in Quebec get cancer, too?" 

     Reaching Ontario, his campaign really picked up steam.  Pierre Trudeau shook his hand in Ottawa.  Daryl Sittler hugged him in Toronto.  The Toronto Argonauts let him kick the ball at one of their games.  No longer a lone figure on the side of the road, he was now escorted by the Ontario Provincial Police.  With the goal of raising 24 million dollars for cancer research, he hoped that every Canadian would donate $1.  As he ran through Southern Ontario, it seemed within his reach.  His face sunburnt and wrinkled, he pounded the pavement day after day to conquer the disease that had taken his leg.  The more people told him he couldn't do it, the more determined he was to prove them wrong. 

     And then, as he approached Thunder Bay, he started to get sick.  Each day became more of a struggle.  He had a nagging cough.  In Lake Superior, he took a dip with another cancer survivor, a young boy who had lost his hair.  Shortly after, he was forced to abandon his run and fly back to his native British Columbia.  The Marathon of Hope might have ended, but his cause continued and the Cancer Society continued to raise money.  Diagnosed with lung cancer, he underwent chemotherapy, determined to beat the disease once again.  By now, everybody knew his name.  I'll never forget seeing the Canadian flags at half mast at the end of June 1981.  It's been 30 years since his death and yet he is not forgotten.  The Marathon of Hope is held every year; both young and old participate.  He fought a valiant fight to bring cancer into the limelight.  He ran close to two-thirds of the way across Canada.  He is a Canadian hero.  Thank you, Terry Fox, for your fearless sacrifice.

Photo courtesy

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Stuffies Galore

My daughter loves stuffies!  And her Daddy cannot say "No".  From the moment she was born, Rob has taken great pleasure in buying our little girl stuffed animals.  It all started with a pink bear that he bought at the hospital gift shop the day after she was born.  Over the next few years, she received small bears, medium bears, big bears and Care Bears.  One February she spotted a giant white bear with pink heart footprints that was bigger than her.  Her Daddy said "No" and she cried and cried and cried.  A week later he brought it home for Valentine's Day and she was thrilled!  She still sleeps with that bear.  Other animals followed:  giraffes, tigers, lions, dogs, cats, fish, bunnies, unicorns, snakes, and many others.  I would say "No", but often her Daddy said "Yes".  One day we took her to African Lion Safari and as we were about to walk out of the gift shop, I noticed a baboon in the bottom of my daughter's stroller.  I was almost a shoplifter thanks to my little girl's addiction.  First her bed and then her bedroom became engulfed with stuffies.  She could play hide and seek in her stuffie pile. And yet she wanted more.  For a long time her favourite stuffie was a giant Dora doll.  One day she was misbehaving and I warned her that I might take away her Dora.  The next thing I know, she had the ugly baboon in her hand:  "How about taking this one instead, Mommy?"  A couple of years ago, she spotted another giant bear to match the Valentine's one.  Now when she sleeps she is the filling of a bear sandwich.  We took her to the zoo and she saw a display of used stuffies.  She begged us for one:  I said "No" and reminded Rob to stay strong.  Fighting back tears, she walked to our van.  Weeks after that visit, she still hadn't forgotten about that stuffie.  On trips to Disney World, she sneaks stuffies into her Daddy's suitcase for the flight there.  The Disney staff then displays them neatly in our bedroom window for passersby to enjoy.  She is getting older, but her obsession continues.  Today, we visited a Dutch bakery and restaurant in Mount Pleasant.  We made the mistake of checking out the gift shop.  With her stuffie radar, she spotted a white bear with a pink shirt.  She batted her eyelashes at Rob and the test began.  It took a few minutes, but we left without the Teddy bear.  Long live stuffies!

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Fishing for Followers

My son says that I am obsessed with getting new followers of my blog.  Yesterday at the dentist I mentioned it to the two secretaries during a long conversation.  Afterwards, my son said:  "You spent all that time talking and yet you didn't give them your business card?"  So, back I went to the counter to pass out my new business card which says "Linda Jonasson - Writer" against a backdrop of a beautifully manicured lawn.  Walking out to the parking lot, I mentioned:  "I should make you my literary agent, Thomas."  To which he replied:  "In that case, you owe me for the past two weeks."

I jump up and down every time I see a new square underneath the Followers button.  I mercilessly begged my family members to sign up.  I sent out an e-mail to the Coffee Break ladies at church announcing that I had started a blog.  My husband tells me that I should be concerned more about the number of blog hits I have rather than followers.  So my son checked it out yesterday and discovered I have 529 hits.  Well, 100 of those are probably mine since I often go back to various posts to edit mistakes or add pictures.  However, the majority of the hits were made by other people.  I have 45 viewers in the United States, 15 in Germany and 2 in Denmark.  I wonder who the lonely soul is from Australia?

Last Saturday, I broke down and joined Facebook.  My son helped me set up my home page.  What was the first thing I wanted to advertise on my Facebook page?  It was my blog address, of course.  Without even half trying, I accumulated several "Friends".  My callous response was:  "I don't want friends; I want followers!" 

Right now I have 8 squares underneath the Followers button on my blog home page.  My goal is to get twenty-five followers by the end of the summer.  Will I reach it?  Only time will tell.  Maybe I'll take my son up on his offer.  However, if you see me serving Koolaid to my followers, you'll know I've crossed the line.  Everything in moderation.

Cartoon courtesy

Monday, 27 June 2011

Wrath Against the Math

Math always came naturally to my son.  I remember about a year and a half ago he asked my daughter to solve a complicated math equation that he rapidly rhymed off:  “What’s 4 + 6 – 5 + 9 – 7 + 8 – 3 + 10 – 2 + 12 – 1?”  My response to my son was:  “You don’t even know the answer to that question.  How do you expect your little sister to know?”  Yet, he insisted that he did know the answer.  So I suggested that he give his sister another question and this time I would pay close attention so that I could compute the answer in my head.  He rhymed off some random numbers and he gave me his answer; sure enough, it was the same answer I arrived at – barely.   My son’s mind worked so fast that I could just keep up and yet he was only 10 ½ years old at the time. 

Now it is his sister’s turn to learn arithmetic.  I have been working with her at home on learning basic addition and subtraction facts.  Her brother offered to drill her today and I thought it would be a nice break for me so I agreed.  They retreated into my son’s room and things went smoothly at first.  However, within a few minutes, I heard my daughter’s voice rising.  After all, she didn’t want to spend her summer doing homework!  The battle ensued inside the bedroom, although my son was managing to keep it together despite my daughter’s resistance.  The door opened and out came my daughter; my son followed and said that she only completed 50 out of 70 cards.  I said:  “We don’t go to the water park until you finish all of the cards.”  My little girl sprouted crocodile tears but reluctantly retreated back into the bedroom.  Finally, the battle was over.  Out came my children:  “How did she do?” I asked my son, knowing full well what had happened in there.  His response?  “Well, her math has improved, but her attitude hasn’t!” 

Cartoon courtesy

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Double Fisting Bologna

"Go! Go! Go!" cried the toddler as she double fisted bologna at the Germania Club in Hamilton.  My niece Cassandra, my sister's second-born, used to run to keep up with her sister, Amanda.  She was the fearless one, the risk taker of the family.  As she grew, she used to come to my house for sleepovers with her sister.  I remember Cassandra telling us a joke she made up at 7 years old:  "What do you call a girl standing on a cat?  --  A statue."  We have a photo of her sitting in a rocking chair on the porch of the Bell Homestead on the banks of the Grand River where we took her one summer.  I also recall her reasoning when Rob and I adopted our infant son and had to wait 3 weeks during which his birthparents could have changed their minds:  "Why don't Aunty Linda and Uncle Rob just take him to Grandma and Grandpa's house in Grand Bend (and hide out) until the 3 weeks are over?"  She desperately wanted a new cousin.  I also remember Cassandra getting her first pair of glasses at about 12 and my Mom calling her "Marion the Librarian"; I think they were more for fashion than for her eyes.  I enjoyed sitting in an old Anglican Church in downtown Hamilton and listening to Cassandra's beautiful voice during her years in the Hamilton Children's Choir.   She also took up sewing, inspired largely by her Nona, an immigrant from Italy during the 1950's.  During high school, Cassandra got involved with theatre.  She also went on a couple of mission trips, one to Eastern Europe and one to the U.S., with her church.  She graduated from high school with high marks, earning many awards.  This summer she is working as a seamstress at the Huron Country Playhouse in Grand Bend, the very place her mother worked as an usher back in the 1970's.  In the Fall, Cassandra heads to London's Fanshawe College to put her skills to good use in the fashion arts program.  The 2-year-old toddler who double-fisted bologna is now a 20-year-old woman.  Happy Birthday, Cassandra!

Saturday, 25 June 2011

The Great Stink

In the year 1858, Londoners could be seen crossing the River Thames with handerkerchiefs over their noses.  The House of Commons staff had to soak their curtains in lime so as to not smell the stench coming in the windows.  And London's cemeteries were bulging at the seams with sometimes as many as 14 graves, one upon another, their occupants having succumbed to a dreaded disease called cholera.  This was the year of The Great Stink.  London, the world's largest city, had many congested areas where clean drinking water was at a premium.  Human waste was dumped into the River Thames at an alarming rate, especially with the invention of flush toilets.  The industrialized city also had hundreds of factories dumping toxic waste into the river.  Londoners took note that people who drank the water were falling ill and dying at a rapid rate, with major cholera outbreaks in 1831 and 1854.  As a short term solution, many residents started drinking beer or even gin to avoid getting sick.  Apparently, even children were given beer.  However, this practice gave birth to many alcoholics.  It wasn't until 1858 and the Great Stink, where many Londoners considered abandoning the city, that city planners finally got serious about the problem.  The solution came with Joseph Bazalgette's sewer system in the 1860s.  After the installation of the sewers, the River Thames lost its foul smell and its waters became palatable once again.  Only one other cholera outbreak occurred, in 1866, and its origins were traced to the River Lea, a tributary of the Thames. 

Cartoon courtesy

Friday, 24 June 2011

Sunset over the Ice

The older I get, the more I realize how small the world really is.  I realize how we are all interconnected and that what happens on one side of the world can affect the other side of the world.  For instance, many people have heard of the volcano Krakatoa that exploded in August of 1883 on the Asian continent.  But how many  have heard of a painting called "Sunset over the Ice on Chaumont Bay, Lake Ontario" painted by Frederic Church in North America in December of 1883? 

Believe it or not, the volcano and the painting are directly related.  Krakatoa's explosion had many after effects including four tsunamis that killed 30,000 people and submerged hundreds of towns in sea water.  The dust that Krakatoa pumped into the air found its way across the ocean to North America where it hovered for months, affecting weather patterns everywhere.  In fact, Simon Winchester writes in his book Krakatoa that on one occasion the fire department of one town in New York state saw an orange ball across the Hudson river, jumped into their fire trucks and headed across the bridge, only to find out that it wasn't a fire they saw, but a sunset.  It was this type of sunset that Frederic Church painted on a beautiful evening over Lake Ontario. 

Here is the poem that I wrote inspired by Krakatoa's eruption and Church's famous painting.


It’s called “Sunset over the Ice”,
Painted by Frederic Church one day.
Its beauty came with a high price
As twilight came to Chaumont Bay.

Monkeys ran amok in the heat.
An elephant ransacked a room.
A crocodile took to the streets.
All followed by a giant boom.

Echoes reached Rodriguez Island.
Sonic waves rippled France’s sea.
Skulls washed up in Zanzibar’s sand
One day in 1883.

What caused the sunset’s afterglow?
Krakatoa’s dust made it so.

Frederic Church's "Sunset over the Ice on Chaumont Bay, Lake Ontario" courtesy

Thursday, 23 June 2011

On Call for God

Today I picked up the newspaper on my front porch called "The Brant Connection".  Normally it goes straight from the porch into my blue box, but not today.  I recognized the woman on the front page:  she was holding a book titled On Call for God.  That's it!  Before I even opened the newspaper to read the article, I realized that I met the woman in the photograph last summer at the Brantford Writing Workshop held in the Laurier Brantford building beside the public library.  Mirella van der Zyl, a local woman, had written a series of stories about her life as a chaplain.  Unassuming, she was not the first person I had in mind to publish a book.  However, the story that she read about a Christian harbouring a Jew during World War II was captivating. 

I clipped out the article and posted it on my fridge as a reminder that stories do get published.  Mirella is an example of a writer who, despite the naysayers, persevered to see her book in print.  One minute she was taking a course with me in downtown Brantford on how to get published and the next minute she was talking to a reporter from the Brantford Expositor about the finished product.  Before you know it, she will go into the local bookstore and see her story on the shelf; or do a search of authors on the public library website and find her name; or visit a local radio station to promote her book.  Mirella can officially say that she is a published author now, regardless of whether she has one book or one hundred books in print.  She can hold the book in her hands and see her name on the cover. 

Furthermore, it is reassuring to know that, even in the 21st century, people still want to read about God.  I was reminded yesterday that the number one bestseller of all time is still the Bible.  While the topic may not be politically correct, it is real and every reader can relate to it.  While dinosaurs and vampires are passe, God is timeless. 

I will save this newspaper clipping to remind me that Mirella's dream came true.  Maybe mine will, too.  Congratulations, Mirella!

Cartoon courtesy

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

My New Nephew

Wrapped in a blue blanket with a white tuque on his perfectly shaped head, my nephew looks like a glow worm laying in the glass bassinette.  His lips are full, his nose is wide, his eyes are shut and  his ears are red.  His head is covered with light brown hair, but it is light at the edges; his eyebrows are so fair I can barely see them.  Every so often he makes a noise that only a newborn could make:  a sigh, a coo or a gurgle.  His face is the vision of peace as he sleeps.  When he wakes up, he reluctantly opens his eyelids, as if to say that he isn't yet ready for the outside world.  He drinks a few drops from his bottle, gives an inaudible burp and goes right back to sleep. 

All of a sudden the silence is broken by a toddler's voice calling "Mommy".  As Mommy slips into the washroom, she recognizes her son's voice.  A toddler enters the room with two balloons in his hand.  "Where's Mommy?" he asks.  Mommy reappears and hugs her older son.  She points out her new infant in the bassinette.  "You're a big brother now."  He puts a finger to his lips and whispers "Shhh", looking proud as a peacock.  His mother  lifts up the baby as his older brother leans up to give him a hug and a gentle peck on the cheek.  The nurse arrives with a sandwich for Mom and a bottle for baby.   Big brother asks if he can feed the baby and he proceeds to put the bottle nipple into his brother's mouth.  After no more than a minute, he declares that he is finished and returns to playing with his balloons. 

At one point he crawls under the chair and becomes silent.  A strange smell fills the air and we think it is the newborn passing gas.  However, it is his older brother filling his pants.  His aunt attempts to change him as he hops on the couch, so excited that he can't sit still.  Finally he's clean and it's time to say goodbye.  The toddler kisses Mommy and his baby brother.  He toddles down the hall, his balloon swaying to and fro, accidentally knocking a few passersby who greet him with a smile. 

Welcome to the world, nephew!

Photo courtesy

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Willing to Pay the Price

A Vietnamese immigrant slept on a sack of sawdust for three years on the floor of an American bakery.  The story goes that Le Van Vu was born and raised in North Vietnam where his family had become quite wealthy, owning about one-third of the real estate there.  Sadly, his father was murdered and he and his mother moved to South Vietnam where Le went to school to become a lawyer.  With the American presence expanding during the war, Le built up a successful construction business.  Returning to the North on a trip, he was captured and jailed by the North Vietnamese for three years.  Le managed to escape by killing five guards and returned to the South.  The Southern Vietnamese, thinking he was a plant, put him in prison.  Later he was freed and started a fishing business, becoming the largest canner in South Vietnam.  When the Americans started pulling out of Vietnam, Le decided to go with them and exchanged all of his riches for safe passage to the Phillipines.  Once again, he started over by developping the fishing industry there.  Le's ultimate dream, though, was to immigrate to the United States, and he used his savings to purchase two boat tickets.  On board a ship heading to the new land, Le became distraught, realizing that yet again he would have to start his life over.  He was about to jump overboard when his wife talked him out of it, asking what would happen to her and pointing out that they could overcome any obstacle together.  Le agreed and put aside any thoughts of ending his life.  Arriving in America,the Vietnamese couple settled in Houston, Texas where they had relatives to help look after them.  Le's cousin offered them jobs in his bakery which they accepted.  However, they did not rent an apartment or a house for they had other plans.  Le's cousin promised to sell them the bakery once they came up with a $30,000 down payment.  Knowing that he would never be able to come up with such a hefty sum if he paid rent, Le and his wife slept on sawdust sacks in the back of the bakery for two years until they came up with the required sum.  Le's cousin then lent them $90,000 to cover the remaining cost of the business.  Rather than buying a home, they chose to spend another year on the bakery floor until they could pay off the loan.  Finally, after three years of bathing in the public bathroom sink and of sleeping on the floor, Le and his wife owned the bakery free and clear and were able to get their first apartment.  Although wealthy, the Van Vu's continue to live beneath their means, to use cash rather than credit and to save.  Today, Le is a multi-millionaire.

John McCormack

*Taken from Chicken Soup for the Soul (Jack Canfield & Mark Victor Hansen)

Photo courtesy

Monday, 20 June 2011

The Scrapbook

The scrapbook sits on the oval wooden coffee table serving as a fixture of the living room.  As thick as the New York City phone book, its pages have been turned on a daily basis by its owner.  Gracing its cover is a large golden number 50 inside a circle. 

No one who enters the living room is allowed to leave without "taking a tour" of the scrapbook.  When the owner opens it up, the guest is treated to a walk down memory lane.  Each page is covered with photographs, often black and white, sometimes in colour.  Beside the pictures are creme-coloured sheets, each with a memory or a good will message for the owner of the scrapbook.  Many pages had wedding photos of a couple.  The groom is sharply dressed in a black suit, with a beaming smile on his face.  The bride, wearing a full length white wedding gown and a lace veil, looks more demure as she holds a bouquet of flowers.  Interspersed with the black and white wedding pictures are photographs of the groom drawing geometric shapes on the blackboard, his son in his cub uniform, his daughter at her 21st birthday party, a family picnic at a cottage, a family visit to Wimblewood Beach in the summer, the couple singing in the church choir, their grandchildren visiting at Christmas, a visit to the family farm, and their 40th wedding anniversary celebration. 

Handwritten messages are glued to the scrapbook's pages including one about the couple's first dinner party.  The bride decides to bake two pies, one apple and one cherry.  As the guests wait for their dessert, the groom steps into the kitchen to see what is taking the bride so long to prepare.  The bride is in tears:  all of the guests want cherry -- what is she to do?  The groom calms her down with his slow, steady voice and suggests a solution.  The newlyweds return to their guests in the dining room and all is well once more. 

The highlight of the scrapbook is the most recent photo showing the bride and groom at a huge affair.  They dress up as if they are going to a wedding.  They are greeted at the door by their son who takes them in a Model A, the 100th one built in Canada, to Kimbourne Park United Church.  At the church, the couple is greeted by their family and friends.  Along with at least 50 guests they eat a meal, catered by the U.C.W., in the church basement.  As the guests enjoy dessert, they are treated to an evening of speeches interspersed with jokes and tidbits by the Master of Ceremonies.  An anniversary cake marked "Happy 50th Anniversary!" is brought out, carved up and eaten.  The couple opens some gifts from guests, the most memorable of which is given to them by their daughter:  it's the scrapbook.  It is the perfect ending to the perfect day.

The couple brings the scrapbook home and lays it on the oval wooden coffee table where it sits ready to be read; many hands turn its pages.  With the passage of time, the bride adds more photographs to its pages until its bursting at the seams.  Every guest that enters 47 Lankin Boulevard must sit on the gold chesterfield beside the owner of the scrapbook and examine its contents from beginning to end.  The scrapbook never gets a chance to collect dust due to its frequent handling. 

Today, I add a new chapter to the scrapbook:  more family picnics, their 60th wedding anniversary, the wedding of a grandson, the birth of twelve great-grandchildren, and the 50th anniversary of the couple's son and daughter-in-law.  If I were to make a scrapbook today it would have the number 80 on the cover.  Their marriage was one for the record books.  Happy Anniversary, Grandma & Grandad Tufts!

Grandma & Grandad being congratulated by the mayor. 
Photo courtesy Norm Tufts.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Digging in at Dinnertime

D - digging in at dinnertime.
A - always big and tall.
D - daring to kill centipedes.

My little girl wrote this poem for her Daddy for Father's Day.  She also gave him a frame she made with tissue paper, glued on in a blue, black and brown pattern with a photo of herself inside.  She made a card which says on the front:  DADDY FOR SALE!  Taped to the card are other items Daddies use like batteries, a clock, a penny and some keys.  When her Daddy turned the card over, he read the words:  JUST KIDDING, YOU'RE WONDERFUL!  

It makes me think back to other gifts Rob has received for Father's Day.   Many times he has received socks and underwear.  One year we gave him a Dairy Queen cake, complete with an icing tie. The most exciting gift of all though was the year that my son choreographed a dance and performed it with my daughter.  It was set to the song "Real Gone" by Sheryl Crowe from the movie "Cars".  During rehearsals, I remember reminding my son to twist my daughter gently so that he wouldn't snap her arm off when they did their spins and twists and lifts.  I felt a sense of relief when the performance went off without a hitch.  What a great surprise for Rob!

Although the dance was the most exciting Father's Day gift Rob has ever received, the most honourable present that Rob ever accepted was the trophy with the words "World's Best Daddy" beneath a little golden plastic cup.  We paid only a dollar for the gift, but it's real value is priceless.  Thank you, Rob.  You are the World's Greatest Daddy!  We love you!

Picture courtesy

Saturday, 18 June 2011

I'm Just a Home Child

(This poem is dedicated to my Great-Grandma, Daisy Blay.)

I’m just a home child named Daisy Blay.

I could hear the pigeons cooing on the rooftop of the St. Pancras Workhouse the day I was born in 1894.

I could taste the bugs in the gruel they served us at the workhouse.

I could smell the stench of the Thames River on a hot summer’s day.

I’m just a home child.

I could touch the ruffles on my mother’s skirt as she bent over to scrub yet another floor.

I could smell the canopy of smoke that belched out of the London factories as I walked down the street.

I could feel the heat of the fever that wracked my baby sister Alma.

I’m just a home child.

I could feel the knots in my tangled hair and smell the dirt on my ragged clothes.

I could see my mom hold her head in her hands the day my dad died of cancer.

I could hear the click of the skeleton key turn in the lock as my brother and I returned from school to an empty apartment.

I could hear my mom sobbing the night baby Alma died of rickets.

I’m just a home child.

I could see the one broken chair in our apartment after my mom sold everything to pay the rent.

I could hear the growling of my empty stomach as I searched the cupboards for a morsel of food.

I could feel the calluses on my mom’s hand as she held mine on our way to the Barnardo Home on Stepney Causeway.

I could sense her despair as she waved goodbye one last time as I stood on the steps of the Home.

I’m just a home child.

I could smell the flash powder burning as the Barnardo worker took a photograph of me against my will.

I could feel the fabric of the clean dress I changed into.

I could taste the delicious food they gave me.

But it could not fill the hole in my soul.

I’m just a home child.

I could feel the chalk between my fingers as I practised cursive writing on my slate during lessons at the Barnardo Home.

I could see the knots in the fine wooden trunk that the Barnardo workers gave me for my journey.

I could hear the fog horn on the Kensington docked at Liverpool, as I prepared to immigrate to Canada in 1903.

I’m just a home child.

I could hear the voices of the 400 other child immigrants singing “For Those in Peril on the Sea” on board the ship.

I could see the majestic icebergs complete with polar bears as we crossed the Atlantic Ocean.

I could hear the dock workers speak a foreign language as we reached our destination at Quebec City.

I’m just a home child.

I could hear the rooster crowing at dawn as I prepared to start the work day on a farm in Ontario.

I could smell the heavenly scent of the meals I cooked for the family with whom I lived.

I could hear the orders of the lady of the house as she instructed me on how to wash her family’s clothes.

I’m just a home child.

I could feel the hot tears fall down my cheeks as I read William’s letter describing how he walked shoeless across the frozen stubble of a farmer’s field in Manitoba.  

I could feel the pain in my throat the many times I had tonsillitis.

I could touch the report from the Ontario school saying that I was truant once again.

I’m just a home child.

I could hear the warnings of my Canadian classmates:  “Don’t play with her.  She’s just a home child.”

I could see the beautiful Christmas tree in the Bracebridge home with no presents underneath it for me.

I could hear the rude responses from the children I babysat when I tried to discipline them. 

Even though I was now a teenager, I was still just a home child.

I could hear the seagulls squawking over Bedford Basin in Halifax in 1914, three weeks before the war broke out.

I could see the look in my groom’s eyes as he said:  “I do”.

I could feel the gold and pearl necklace as my husband Charles attached the clasp around my neck.

For the first time, I was more than just a home child.

Photo courtesy Barnardo Home, London, England, 1903.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Grandad Stroud

I never knew my maternal grandfather since he died when I was only a baby.  He was born Robert Henry Stroud on June 17, 1915 in Toronto, Ontario.  He attended Scarborough Collegiate and graduated from Grade 13, hoping to go on to college where he would study law.  However, he had many siblings and his father could not afford to send them all to school so he went to work. 

In 1938 he married Eileen Fenn in a ceremony at the bride's parents house in Bracebridge.  The couple settled in a home on Kingston Road in Dunbarton and proceeded to start a family, having three girls in a row, Marlene, Bette (my Mom) and Sandra.  In 1947, my Grandad Stroud opened a grocery store in Oshawa called "Stroud's Fruit Ltd" (later Stroud's Food Market).  By 1949, having added a boy to their brood named Robert Jr., the growing family moved to a much larger home on Simcoe Street North in Oshawa.  What a step up!  Now they enjoyed the luxury of indoor plumbing rather than an outhouse.  In fact, like the Jefferson's on TV, the Stroud's went from one washroom to four.  My Grandad was also closer to his store where he spent much of his time.  Trips to Toronto were taken to watch a Maple Leafs' game, sit on Santa's knee at Eaton's or buy fruit at the market.  My Mom remembers him taking her along on a hunting trips.  If one of the hunting dogs did not return when he called it, he would lay his coat down in a clearing in the woods and return the next day where he would find the lost dog. 

As the three Stroud girls became teenagers, they were expected to start working at their father's store.  When school ended each day, they would board the bus for downtown.  Arriving at the fruit market they would man the cash register and bag groceries until closing time.  By 1950, my Grandma gave birth to another boy named Bruce.  Stroud's Fruit Ltd continued to prosper and the Stroud's were one of the first families in Oshawa to buy a television.  What a treat!  Although Grandad worked hard at the store, he was still able to pursue hobbies, including breeding beagles and duck hunting.  In 1955, baby Jill joined the family and the oldest three girls were expected to help, taking her for walks in her pram. 

As Grandad's daughters became adults, they married one by one.  His first grandchild, a baby girl, was the subject of his newest hobby, photography.  When my sister Lisa was born, Grandad had another subject for his camera; he took one shot of her which he entered in a photography contest and won first prize.  He also received recognition for a close up of a blue jay that he took.  Grandad had many talents that were put to good use.  He also took fishing trips to French River and returned with a prize catch for his little girls.  In the meantime, his business prospered.  After several years in the grocery business, Grandad tried his hand at selling insurance for which he was also successful.  In 1965, Grandma gave birth to yet another baby named Heather, at 46 years old, completing the brood at seven.  Grandma and Grandad already had four grandchildren at this point. 

Grandad's health had been waning in recent years, likely in part due to his heavy smoking.  He decided to join one of the first fitness clubs, Victanny's, to get back in shape.  One night after a workout, he paid a visit to the sauna, went home, had a heart attack and died.  Grandma was left a widow at a mere 49 years of age; she had to raise her youngest child, only 3, on her own as well as two teenagers.  Although his life was cut short, Grandad left a legacy in his seven children.  Robert Stroud, whose father could not afford to send him to university, ended up running two successful businesses.  He truly was a self-made man.  Happy Birthday, Grandad!

Photo courtesy

Thursday, 16 June 2011

The Christian Writers' Conference

Today I attended the Christian Writers' Conference called Write Canada 2011. What a great experience! Everyone was warm and friendly. The volunteer workers were so efficient and well-organized. The speakers were well-prepared, well-spoken and informative. The food was delicious! The weather was beautiful (although the organizers can't take credit for that one).

The speakers managed to cover a lot of material in a relatively short amount of time. Not once did I find my mind wandering. Some speakers brought handouts; others had power point presentations; still others brought nothing with them but had such a stage presence and such a sense of humour that they held our attention easily.

The theme of the conference was "Changing the world with words". One speaker, Tim Huff, suggested that as writers we might start first by changing our own world and then bit by bit we'll change the world of those around us.

It was inspirational to meet other writers, especially several who have already published books. They serve as mentors to those of us who have not yet published. It is nice to hear of other people's success stories. I tried to picture myself standing at the front of the room with a copy of my published book in my hand at next year's conference. Until then, I will hang on to other authors' success stories.

Congratulations, Write Canada 2011!

Picture courtesy

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

The Garden

Sonnet, rondeau, villanelle, pantoum, haiku, acrostic -- I tried my hand at all of these poems when I took an online poetry course at Mohawk College five years ago. One poem was particularly challenging: write a poem of 20 lines in which each line that appears in the poem must repeat itself later in the poem. Before I took the course, I always thought of poetry as artsy-fartsy. However, after writing poems like "The Garden" (below) I gained a new appreciation for the genre. Poetry writing can be so mathematical. Often each line of a poem has a certain number of syllables. Often poems follow a certain rhyming scheme. As many poems have a formula, so too does a mathematical equation. Regular poetry writing keeps your mind sharp.

A poem is a great way to capture a moment or a memory like a sunset or a sleigh ride. It's also a great way to honour someone like a war hero or a loved one. No Remembrance Day school assembly would be complete without a recital of "In Flanders Fields" by John McCrae. At Christmas time, we sing "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" based on the poem "Christmas Bells" written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow whose son was seriously wounded in the American Civil War. Shakepeare's "All the World's a Stage" is still quoted today. Robert Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" is a staple for many poetry courses as is "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe.

Enrich your writing experience by composing a poem. You won't be able to stop at just one.

The Garden

When I open the garden gates,
What beauty do I see?
A feast for the senses awaits
In each flower and bush and tree.

What beauty do I see?
The colours are vibrant and rich
In each flower and bush and tree.
And the bluebird has found his niche.

The colours are vibrant and rich;
I've never seen such scenery.
And the bluebird has found his niche
Amidst this garden of greenery.

I've never seen such scenery
Underneath the harvest moon.
Amidst this garden of greenery,
The bluebird sings a tune.

Underneath the harvest moon,
A feast for the senses awaits.
The bluebird sings a tune
When I open the garden gates.

Painting courtesy

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

C is for Cooking

My little girl opens a blue coil-bound book called C is for Cooking: Recipes from the Street, complete with an apron-clad Elmo, Cookie Monster and Zoe on the cover, and turns to page 116. I remind her to wash her hands with soap and water and she retreats to the washroom. Returning, she dons a bright red and green Minnie Mouse apron, and starts collecting the ingredients one by one: flour, sugar, butter, eggs, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, yogurt, applesauce, vegetable oil, and vanilla. My little girl grabs a chair to kneel on at the kitchen table while she stirs the dry ingredients with a big wooden spoon. I set the oven 25 degrees below the directions in the recipe since my stove burns everything. My little girl takes an egg, gently cracks it on the side of the counter and nothing happens; she tries again until she makes a slight crack, then breaks open the egg with her small index finger and pours its contents into the bowl, retrieving any remnants of shell she can find. I pour in the applesauce since my daughter is not a fan of apples. My little girl blends the wet ingredients with the dry ones. I gently tuck some strands of hair back behind her hair, the ones that have escaped from her ponytail. Later, my little girl sports a chocolate moustache; I try to wipe it off, but she'll have no part of it. I place the two cake pans into my warm oven and set the timer for 50 minutes. As the chocolate cake bakes in the oven, we assemble the remaining ingredients and I make the icing, while my little girl dips her finger in the bowl for a taste test. My daughter leafs through the recipe book while I ice the cake. Now that "Elmo's Hurray It's My Birthday! Chocolate Cake" is complete, it looks like a tornado has just torn through my kitchen: baking ingredients cover my counter, dirty dishes fill my sink and flour sprinkles my kitchen table. But it was all worth it for the look on my little girl's face. We close up the cookbook and put it in the cupboard for our next culinary experience. Will it be "Abby Cadabby's Pumpkin Muffins" or "Cookie Monster's Me-Love-Mini-Meat-Loaves" or "Rosita's Pita Pizzas"? While C is for Cooking has some great recipes, it's the company that makes the experience unforgettable. Bon Appetit!

Photo courtesy

Monday, 13 June 2011

Journalism 101

It was a warm sunny day as I entered the doctor's office on a mission. My homework assignment for my online writing course was to write about an everyday place like a park or a coffee shop. I thought: Why not a doctor's waiting room? Since I had taught all day and I had to pick up my kids immediately after my appointment, I thought it was the only way to get the assignment completed and a great way to kill time.

Opening up my notebook, I pulled a pencil out of my purse, intent on getting a story eventhough I wasn't an official journalist and I didn't think I had that "go get 'em" attitude. Using my five senses, I described the scene which started to unfold. I mentioned the colours of the paintings on the wall, the periodic ringing of the phone, the sterile smell of the air, the regular calling out of surnames by the receptionist and the honking of the cars and trucks which passed by on the street outside.

Thinking that I was writing a mundane piece, I turned out to be dead wrong. I started to eavesdrop on the conversation between the elderly man on my left and the teenage girl on my right. The man asked: "How did you break your arm?" The girl explained: "It's a long story. I was driving around with my Mom when we were passed by a criminal followed by a police car. The police officer shot at the criminal and missed, hitting me instead." She described how the bone had been damaged and the man started to talk about how he hunted deer and therefore had some experience with bullet wounds.

My mouth dropped wide open. I had read about this the other day in the local paper. You might expect this type of story in Toronto, but not in Brantford. I started scribbling furiously to make sure I didn't miss anything. After several minutes, I put my pencil down, thinking that I had my scoop for the day.

After over an hour, the receptionist called for "Jonasson". I entered the doctor's office and he introduced himself. He examined my finger and assured me that he would be able to remove the hematoma safely. As the doctor wrote down the details of my surgery, I glanced at a large photograph on his wall with him in a white military uniform surrounded by his family. I asked: "Were you in the Vietnam War?" He replied: "Yes, I was a medic. I treated injured soldiers." Story #2. Apparently, he had to retrain as a doctor once he immigrated.

I continued to probe, asking: "How did you end up in Canada?" He answered: "I was a boat person." Story #3. Once again my mouth dropped open. I'd heard of the boat people when I was growing up, but I didn't realize we had one right here in our midst. I examined the walls further and discovered a picture of the doctor in a white gi with a black belt. He was a karate master. Next, we moved to the topic of music. He explained that he was an amateur jazz musician and had recorded a CD with his small group. Add another talent to his resume. I mentioned that my Dad was also a jazz musician. Pleased that I was interested in his family history, he offered me an autographed CD. I thanked him, shook his hand and hurriedly left the office, knowing that my children would be waiting.

When I had arrived at the doctor's office, I had been doubtful that I would get a story. Instead, a scoop had fallen right into my lap -- in fact, three scoops. I had entered that waiting room a patient and I had left a journalist. Open your eyes and ears; you'll be surprised at what you discover right under your nose!

Cartoon courtesy

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Coming out of the Ice

Years ago, I read a book called Coming out of the Ice about an American named Victor Herman. Victor's Russian father had emigrated from the Soviet Union to America before Victor was born. He had settled in Dearborn, Michigan outside of Detroit and worked for the Ford Motor Company. It was there that Victor and his siblings were born. However, Mr. Herman missed home and got the idea to bring free enterprise to the Soviet Union by opening a Ford dealership there.

He packed the family up and returned to the Soviet Union to complete his task. Victor excelled in school, particularly in sports, and was soon making a name for himself at sports events. He even was billed "The Lindbergh of Russia" for his record-breaking parachute jumps, earning him many medals. As a young adult, it soon became apparent that although Victor was an excellent athlete, he was not a politically correct citizen. Wanting to return to the United States, Soviet officials insisted that he renounce his American citizenship which he refused to do.

Victor became a target of the Soviet regime and was put in jail for being a political dissident. He made the long cross country trek on the Trans-Siberian railroad to the infamous Gulag where he would serve out his sentence. In the work camp, he was worked to the bone. One task that he and many other workers were given was to fell the giant trees and stack a certain number of logs row upon row. Each worker had a quota that he had to fill; otherwise he would be sent to solitary confinement, or even to his death. Victor worked like a dog for the first few hours, but quickly realized that it would be impossible to fill the quota. Therefore, he figured out a way to stack the logs so it appeared like there were many more than there actually were. It became a game of survival.

At one point, the Gulag officials were only feeding Victor a watery soup. He was getting weaker and weaker and knew he had to get protein or he would die; he even started to go blind. Once again, his survival instinct kicked in and he trapped giant rats in the communal washroom, drowned them in the toilet, cooked them on a fire and ate them. His eyesight was almost instantly restored.

Released for short periods of time, he met and married his Russian wife who gave birth to a daughter. Although the threesome lived in an ice cave in the Gulag for a year, they were forced to spend many years apart as Victor went in and out of the prison system. Although his time in prison weakened him physically, he refused to let the Gulag break his spirit.

It took 18 years in total, but Victor finally "came out of the ice". One of the joys of his release was being able to eat an apple again, a delicacy in Siberia, but an everyday food back in Michigan where he had spent his early childhood. Victor and his family moved to an apartment in Moscow, but eventually, when the laws were loosened, Victor returned to the United States with his Russian wife and daughter.

Victor's book was first published during the Cold War. It's hard to believe how far we have come since the 1980's. Communism does not have the hold it once did on Eastern Europe. The Soviet Union is no more. The Eastern Bloc regimes have fallen, one by one. Now only China, North Korea, Vietnam and Cuba remain Communist. It's time for these countries to "come out of the ice", too.

Book cover courtesy

Saturday, 11 June 2011

The Freedom Writers

Ever since I started keeping a blog, I have felt a sense of liberation. There is no better feeling than to know that you have a voice and that your voice matters. Here is a journal entry that I made back in 2008 as part of my online writing course.

I just finished reading The Freedom Writers Diary with Erin Gruwell. Ms. Gruwell's story was recently made into a movie starring Hillary Swank. In 1994, Erin Gruwell was a new high school teacher in Long Beach, California assigned to teach a group of "unteachable, at-risk" students. Rather than saying they had nothing to offer, Ms. Gruwell told each and every student that they indeed had something valuable to offer. She encouraged them to keep a journal. The students were hesitant to do so. However, eventually, every last student took her up on her suggestion. At first, they didn't write about Shakespeare or Tolstoy; they wrote about their everyday lives. Many of them came from single parent homes; some faced eviction; some had parents who were alcoholics or drug addicts; many belonged to gangs and faced death everyday. The writing process became cathartic for them. The more they wrote,the more they wanted to write. Suddenly, they were on fire to write; some stayed late into the evening to complete their latest writing assignment. A local businessman even donated 35 computers so that the students could type rather than write their assignments. These journal entries were eventually published as The Freedom Writers Diary.

Erin Gruwell not only turned them on to writing, but also reading. Once they had established their journals, she introduced them to literature, starting with The Diary of Anne Frank. The students were so moved by Anne Frank's writing that they invited the Dutch woman who sheltered her, Miep Gies, to visit them in the United States. They raised enough money to pay for her round-trip plane ticket. Ms. Gruwell also had them read Zlata's Diary: A Child's Life in Sarajevo about a young girl from Yugoslavia who experienced atrocities of the Bosnian War in the 1990's and eventually fled to Ireland. Once again, they invited Zlata to their school. Bosnia and L.A. didn't seem so far apart after all: while Zlata had experienced the Bosnian conflict, the American teenagers had experienced the L.A. riots. Her message of hope was just what they needed to hear.

Erin Gruwell didn't simply feed her students information; she lit a fire beneath them. They developped a burning desire to learn more. They also read about Rosa Parks who sparked the bus boycott staged by the "Freedom Riders" in the 1950's during the early phase of the American Black Civil Rights movement. One student suggested that since they were avid writers attempting to overcome adversity, they should name themselves the "Freedom Writers". Ms. Gruwell not only gave them a taste for literature, but also for history.

The learning became infectious and soon everyone wanted to be in Erin Gruwell's English class. She made these former gang members put down their weapons and pick up a pen. She made them realize that their stories mattered: every story had worth just as every life had worth. The Freedom Writers achieved great success, many of them going on to college or university after their high school graduation. They were even interviewed by a People magazine reporter as well as by Connie Chung on "Prime Time Live". What an inspiration!

Photo courtesy

Friday, 10 June 2011

Be Careful What You Wish For!

I was raised by a licensed auto mechanic who could build a car from scratch. As I grew up, I lived, ate and breathed cars. Every family photo my Dad ever took was of my siblings and I in front of the family car. I could tell you what make of car Mr. Smith drove, what colour it was and even guess at the year it was made and usually be correct. In our house, we drove Fords only, my father being a Ford employee and a loyal man. My Dad had his winter beaters which were used cars that he drove through the slush and salt. He also had his new cars which he kept in the garage and only drove in the summer.

His first new car, a baby blue 1953 Ford Convertible, was the car that my parents took to California on their honeymoon. It sat in our garage most of the year and my Mom would only drive it once a year to take us to the dentist. We held our breath the whole ride there and back. I can remember my first fluoride treatment. My friend Brian across the street gave me a banana to eat right before I went to the clinic. I hated the taste of the fluoride and up the banana came, right in the dentist's chair. All I can recall thinking was: Thank goodness I didn't throw up in my Dad's convertible!

It was practical having a father who could fix his own car when it broke down. However, like the plumber whose house always has a leaky faucet, our house always had a car on blocks in the driveway. Sometimes I was recruited by my Dad to help with car repairs, even though I didn't inherit one iota of my father's mechanical ability. By the time I grew up, I'd had my fill of cars.

So, I vowed there and then to marry someone who had zero interest in automobiles. I was finished with car talk; I wanted nothing to do with it. Enter Rob Jonasson. As my father's friend Bill Chalmers said in his toast to the bride on our wedding day, when he first met Rob he pulled up in a Chrysler K-car with one headlight out. Enough said. Rob was not raised during the glory years of the automoblie. He could not have cared less how big the car's engine was or whether it had a nice hood ornament. Rather than parking a mile away to avoid door bangers, he would park in the closest spot to his destination. He had never washed a car; my Dad washed his car everyday. For Rob, an automobile was simply a means of getting from Point A to Point B.

For the daughter of a mechanic, Rob was my dream man!!! In the first years of our marriage, I reveled in the fact that I could park wherever I wanted to, regardless of door bashers. I didn't have to wash the car if I didn't want to. I could even eat in the car! And I didn't even have to buy a Ford, although we continued to do so. I enjoyed this freedom for a time. After several Fords, we did make the break and bought our first GM. And Rob ate his lunch everyday in the Cavalier on his long commute to work, evidenced by the crumbs littering the front seat. After a few years, my mother-in-law commented to my son about how our car didn't look very clean. My son responded with: "I know. That junky Kleenex box in the back is nine years old!" While my son had exaggerated since the car itself was only five years old, he had made his point.

Well, it's been 19 years since Rob and I got married. Everything in our house is breaking down. In the past four months we have replaced our dryer, television, computer and now our van. If Rob knew how to do simple repairs, we wouldn't have to pay the dealership so much to fix our cars. We also wouldn't be duped by shady garage owners. However, just as my Dad has talents that my husband lacks, my husband has his own set of skills. For instance, Rob is the son of an accountant and has inherited a gift for numbers, enabling him to complete our tax return every year in a calm manner. This was always a painful event in our household. I usually leave the banking to Rob as well. Yes, I am confident with my husband to deal with financial matters. But don't ask him to assemble a car, or even a barbecue: you'll end up with a hole in your brand new couch!

Photo courtesy

Thursday, 9 June 2011



Put her hair in braids today;
It may be your only chance.
Give her a nice red ribbon.
Time wil pass very quickly
And before you tie the bow,
I think she'll be all grown up.
Little girls become young women fast;
So put her hair in pigtails for it sure won't last.

There is a scene in the remake of Father of the Bride(1991) where the family is seated at the dining room table and the daughter announces that she is engaged. The father, played by Steve Martin, gives his daughter a double take, tells her she is too young to get married and imagines her once again as a little girl with pigtails sitting across from him.

Before I had children, parents would advise me that when I had children, I would blink and they would be all grown up. I didn't believe it until I saw it with my own eyes. It seems like yesterday my son was born and now he is almost as tall as me. He is going through a growth spurt and is hungry all of the time. I never thought that I would see anyone eat faster than my husband, but I think my son has broken his record. Similarly, it seems like only a couple of years ago I was pregnant with my little girl and now she has outgrown her car booster seat.

Usually, I style my daughter's hair with either a ponytail, a braid, or a bun. However, today, for the first time in a year or more, I put my little girl's hair in pigtails. There seems to be some confusion as to what pigtails are so I looked up the term in the dictionary and discovered that they are definitely braids (they ressemble a pig's tail), not ponytails. I was happy to see that although my daughter is growing up fast, she is still definitely young enough for pigtails.

So, before another year passes, I'll have to "put her hair in pigtails while I have the chance". Because before I know it, she'll be sitting at my dining room table announcing: "Guess what, Mom & Dad? I'm engaged!"

Photo courtesy

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio

Nineteen-fifties housewife Mrs. Evelyn Ryan from Defiance, Ohio raised ten children successfully, despite being married to an alcoholic. How did she do it? She wrote. She wrote essays and poems for newspapers. More significantly, at a time when many companies were looking for input from their consumers, she would write ditties for their advertisements. She would enter contest after contest, mailing numerous entries under variations on her name like E. Ryan or Evelyn Ryan or Mrs. E. Ryan or even substituting one of her children's names. Just when she had no money left to pay the milkman, she would get a letter in the mail saying she had won a contest and a small cheque was enclosed. While her husband, Kelly, was squandering his pay cheque at the bar, she was writing. She wrote when she ironed. She wrote while she watched television. She wrote while she cooked dinner. She never stopped. She won many products, from something as small as a toaster to something as big as a sports car, which she subsequently gave to her son. When she wrote, she had a knack of saying a lot in only a few words (usually 25 words or less) and companies recognized that. At one point, she won a large freezer, but she had no money to buy food to put in it. However, on another occasion, she won a shopping spree, racing with her children from aisle to aisle as she loaded the cart while the stopwatch ticked, and therefore was able to fill the freezer to overflowing. She even won a trip to New York City, something exciting for someone who didn't even own a car. In the meantime, her husband continued to drink away their bank account, even taking out a second mortgage on the house, but failing to make payments. Just as the bank was about to foreclose on the house, she won a Dr. Pepper contest and was able to burn the mortgage.

Her husband, rather than being appreciative, often resented his wife when she won these contests, making him feeling inadequate since he couldn't pay the bills on his own. He was often verbally abusive to her and the children; they knew that when objects started to fly, it was time to vacate the room. Even so, Evelyn tried to remain positive and loving towards everyone, especially the children, despite her husband's negativity.

The Prizewinner of Defiance, Ohio is the title of the book about Evelyn Ryan's life written by one of her daughters, Terry. In 2005, the book was made into a movie filmed in Paris, Ontario. If you watch closely, you will notice the scene where Julianne Moore (Evelyn) drives across a bridge; it's the lower level bridge across the Grand River.

It is inspiring to hear about a woman who, despite having a troubled marriage and financial woes, used her talent for writing to make a living and raise ten children. A devout Roman Catholic, she counted her blessings and not her burdens. What an incredible woman!

Photo courtesy

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

The Bike-a-thon

Last June, my little girl did not yet know how to ride a two-wheeler bicycle without the training wheels. My son still had his kiddy bike and we hadn't yet bought him a new one. We decided to make it our mission to start going on family bike rides. So, I purchased two bikes for my husband and me with our airmiles. I then bought a bigger bike for my son. And my son removed the training wheels from my daughter's bike. She took off! It turned out to be easier than we thought. Now we were all ready to ride and we biked along Gretzky Parkway to a local park. My daughter loved the experience, even though she had to work ten times as hard as the rest of us, her little legs peddling as fast as she could to keep up. It became a weekly tradition for the summer.

The following Spring arrived and our kids' school announced their annual bike-a-thon. My daughter had grown so much that she was ready for a bigger bike. We found a sidewalk bike on sale at Zellers and she tested it out. It was perfect. I signed us up for the bike-a-thon, knowing that this was the first year we could all participate. I was ready to check off the 5 km route but my daughter wanted to ride all the way (25 km). I said, "See how you feel when we reach 5 km."

Saturday dawned dark and dreary. We arranged to meet my daughter's friend and her family at the starting line since my little girl had slept over at her house the night before. Unfortunately, I had the wrong meeting place. We sat in our vehicle and waited and waited. In the meantime, a thunderstorm was brewing. Shortly after unloading all four bikes from our van, we proceeded to put them back in the van. I certainly didn't want anyone getting hit by lightning on the bike path!

Finally I decided to circle the block and see if I could find the family we planned to meet. After some searching, we hooked up at the school. Some people had already started to bike and were drenched; others were trapped under bridges trying to ride out the storm; others still were disappointed because they didn't get to bike at all. My daughter and her friend were in the last category. Thankfully, they were able to stay for the barbecue and play laser tag. I then drove my daughter home in the car (my husband and son had gone home early in the van with the bikes). We promised the kids that we would bike the next day since the weather forecast looked promising.

Sunday arrived sunny and warm -- the perfect day for a bike ride. We went to church in the morning, stopped at home for lunch and then headed to the rail trail with our bikes. When we reached the trail,I realized that I had forgotten to bring anything to drink, but I thought we would be okay, assuming the trial would be shaded. However, I was wrong. Setting out, the first section of the trip was comfortable thanks to the trees and the cool breeze coming off of the river. However, once we reached open ground away from the water, the air started to heat up. My daughter, full of energy at the beginning of the journey, started to wane before we reached the halfway point. My husband and son were game to push on and against my better judgement, my daughter and I followed. The sun was beating down mercilessly and under her helmet my daughter was getting more and more uncomfortable. At first she said her legs were getting tired. Finally I insisted that we turn around and as we started to head back, my daughter said that she felt like she was going to pass out. I asked her if we needed to find shelter under beside a bush or if she could make it a few yards to a highway overpass. She said she would try to make it, but that her tummy felt funny. By this point, she was off her bike and was pushing it at a snail's pace. I coaxed her bit by bit until we reached the overpass.

In the meantime, I had sent my husband and son on ahead to the van where they could drive to the closest variety store and get water. Thankfully, under the bridge, my daughter took off her helmet and sat down in the shade where she got a chance to rest. Her face lost its red beet colour and she stopped sweating. Now it was just a waiting game. A couple of people from our church walked past. A trio of boys paused at the overpass to shoot the breeze. A man in black jogged by. And still we waited.

It must have been close to half an hour before I was relieved to see my son pedal up to the bridge. He climbed off his bike, and took two cold bottle of water out of his oversized pockets. Hallelujah! My daughter guzzled the contents of her bottle down and was once again ready for the journey. I asked where my husband was and my son said that when they had reached the end of the bike path, his tire had blown. So he bought the water and then sent my son on without him. On the last stage of the trip, my daughter was able to keep up and only stopped for breath once. How relieved we were when we reached the end of the rail trail.

Battling the rain on Saturday and the sun on Sunday, it took us all weekend to complete the bike-a-thon, but we finally finished. Here's to perseverance! And the next time we bike, we'll come prepared.

Picture courtesy

Monday, 6 June 2011

World's Greatest Grandad

On June 6, 1902, Harold Ross Tufts entered the world. Born in Kirkton, Ontario, he was the son of a farmer and a homemaker. He was the grandson of an Englishman, Thomas Tufts, who first immigrated to Canada in 1851 at the tender age of 15. A true pioneer, Thomas settled on virgin land, felled the trees, built a house and barn, and worked the land, all with his own hands.

Thomas married Harriet Beavers and they proceeded to raise a family of ten children. All ten children were raised in the Christian faith, attending the Methodist church in the village. Thomas considered not only religion, but also education to be important, and donated the materials for a brick schoolhouse to be built just north of town to replace the wooden structure.

One of his sons, Samuel Tufts, married Annie Ross who gave birth to Truman Samuel, followed by Harold Ross. Harold grew up on the farm and quickly learned how to help plant and harvest the crops. He also developped an affection for the horses. By six years of age, he attended the one room schoolhouse for which his grandfather had donated the materials. From an early age, he was an enthusiastic and dedicated student.

In grade seven and eight, he had to ride his bicycle a few miles up the road to Winchelsea where he attended a middle school. It was at Winchelsea school that he wrote a math test for which he received a mediocre grade. His teacher posted the test on the blackboard and ridiculed Harold for being weak in math. Determined to prove the teacher wrong, Harold set out to ace every math test in the future.

Harold graduated from Grade 8 and enjoyed his last summer on the farm before moving to board with a family in St. Mary's, a bigger town with a high school, the following Fall. High school proved to be a good experience for Harold where he managed to improve immensely on his math marks while at the same time not neglecting his other subjects. He made new friends and continued to visit the farm on weekends, and at Christmas and Easter. In the summer, he returned to the farm where he helped his Dad and his older brother tend to the crops.

After attending five years of high school and receiving many excellent report cards, Harold was accepted at the University of Western Ontario in London. The 1920's was a time when not many people attended university, often because they could not afford it. Fortunately, Samuel had made provisions so that Truman would inherit the farm and Harold would attend university. Still remembering what that teacher had said in Grade 8, Harold chose to major in Math. In fact, he chose to do a double major in Math and Physics, thereby increasing his chances of getting a job.

While at Western, Harold was not just an academic, but a well-rounded student, pursuing extracurricular activities like long distance running and even boxing. At church, he honed his skills as a piano player and a tenor in the choir. After five years of university, Harold graduated from the University of Western Ontario "summa cum laude" in 1925.

Harold was accepted at the Ontario College of Education in Toronto to study for his Bachelor of Education. Once again, he was out to achieve not mediocre, but excellent, marks. Even though the economy was not doing so well, Harold managed to receive three teaching job offers on Easter weekend of that year. The fact that he had taken a double major had paid off.

On a personal note, while singing in the Danforth Avenue United Church choir, Harold met a young woman named Dorothy Brown. In 1931, they married and later had two children, Norman Ross, my Dad, and (Florence) Marilyn. I remember celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary as a new teenager and their 60th anniversary as a new fiancee.

Harold went on to enjoy a long, successful career with the Toronto Board of Education. He taught at Eastern High School of Commerce for 45 years, missing only one day of school! Adored by his students, he truly loved his profession and it showed.

Even though my Grandad retired a year before I was born, I can remember him telling me stories about teaching and he acted as my inspiration to become a teacher. While many of his students considered him to be the "World's Greatest Teacher", my siblings and I thought he was the "World's Greatest Grandad". I can recall us giving him a present one year, a pen holder with a little man on it with just such an inscription.

There is a postscript to this story. Thirty years after Grandad retired from the Toronto School Board, he was living in an old folks home in the metropolitan area. He was in his nineties and unfortunately had developped Alzheimer's Disease. One day, he escaped from the home and, accustomed to walking four miles a day, he set out to do just that. However, he got lost and confused, not knowing his place of residence or even his name. After about a mile of walking, he fell and broke his glasses. Thankfully, in the great metropolis, he did not run into a thief or a drug dealer or even a stranger. He ran into one of his former students! And even more surprisingly, the student even recognized Mr. Tufts, despite the passing of over 30 years! The student figured out where my Grandad lived and returned him safely to the old folks home. You reap what you sew, as they say.

Below is a poem that I wrote dedicated to Harold Ross Tufts.
Happy Birthday, Grandad!


"World's greatest teacher", the inscription reads.
His students numbered 8000 or more.
Devoting his life to doing good deeds,
He planned his lessons down to the ties that he wore.

Mathematics was the subject he taught;
He traced perfect shapes on his large blackboard.
He would stay late if extra help was sought;
Slow to criticize and quick to reward.

His hearty laughter filled Eastern High's halls.
His radiant smile calmed his student's fears.
His guiding hands led the school band at balls.
He served his profession for forty-five years.

He inspired many to follow his lead.
Mr. Tufts, "World's Greatest Teacher", indeed!

Photo courtesy Eastern High School of Commerce.