Monday, February 22, 2016

To anyone and everyone who is suffering from loss, grief, depression 
or a challenging time of life. The sun will rise again!

Photo credit - me - Sunset at Naples beach, Florida

Monday, May 4, 2015


Have you ever had a transformative day? It’s a rare thing, but oh so powerful. I've had a few and they often have something to do with meeting people that are far removed from my own personal context.

Recently, I met a young woman who has just completed her masters of Divinity. A beautiful, charming, intelligent, spiritually enlightened person who is hoping to be ordained as a United Church minister in May. Miriam is confined to a wheelchair, her body and voice corrupted by a cruel disease. Understanding her speech was difficult at first – the words so hard for her to produce. I could imagine her frustration as she tried to express the thoughts churning in her mind – such intelligent thoughts that came out laboured yet so articulate.

I attended two workshops with Miriam and was awed by her unabashed desire to participate in the discussions and activities. There was no holding her back and there will be no holding her back in the future. This is a woman with strength, substance and soul. She is going places and has it in her to make the world a better place.

In the Old Testament, Miriam was the older sister of Moses. She also became Israel’s first female prophet. In the Exodus story, after crossing the Red Sea, Miriam leads a group of women in a song that scholars say is one of the oldest poems of the Bible. Miriam wasn’t perfect – she had her flaws, but she had the tenacity to stand up for herself and her faith during a time of struggle and hardship.

I’m sure it’s not the first time that these two Miriams have been compared, but I think the Miriam I met the other day was as much an inspiration to me as the Biblical Miriam would have been to her contemporaries in the Old Testament story from about 3500 years ago. 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

God's Not Dead...or is He?

Just before Easter I saw the movie "God’s Not Dead." At this time of year there are a plethora of films relating to the Bible – “Noah’s Ark” is another one that comes to mind, but I have yet to see it. I thought “God’s Not Dead” would be interesting as it attempts to debate the existence of God...a debate that has raged on since Old Testament days. Even Abraham, the father of Judaism and Christianity had his work cut out for him. Not only did he have to convince his people that God existed, but to follow him to an unknown land, where their future was gravely uncertain. Then and now, no proof exists and no movie, book or religious leader can elucidate the truth. Faith has always been, and will likely always be the only path to God, even if people return after near-death experiences believing they have met with the divine.

The problem with such movies is not the debate itself – questions and discussion are valuable tools for growth and learning – but when a story is woven together with clich├ęs and stereotypes, there can be no debate or even discussion. Kevin Sorbo, who played Hercules for many years, takes on the role of a college philosophy professor who bullies his students into declaring in writing that ‘there is no God.’ Only one student stands up to him and refuses to comply. This sets up the conflict: With contempt, the professor tells the student that if he can convince the class that God exists in three twenty minute lectures, he will pass the course. If not, he will fail and compromise his entire future.

Unfortunately, anyone who has the vaguest curiosity about this question will likely lose interest at the get-go. The good guys are believers and the bad guys are atheists. Hmm, is there no such thing as a good atheist? The characters are all so one-dimensional that it is impossible to empathize with them or believe in their transformation. A poor script cannot carry a movie, so even if the acting had been wonderful (which was not the case) the movie couldn't possibly succeed. Guess what happens? Not only does the student convince the entire class that God exists--in sixty minutes, but he also convinces his ornery professor. (Sorry for the spoiler.)

As for the topic? It’s current, it’s important and it’s interesting. But if people really want to delve into the question of God’s existence they should do some of their own research or join an open-minded church. There are hundreds of thousands of books written on this subject and they go a lot deeper than ‘free will’ or ‘God having a role in evolution.’  I would love to see a film that tackles this topic with depth and intelligence. In the meantime, I’ll just continue watching clever and fun films like “The Grand Budapest Hotel!”

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

For the Love of Words

Words, words, words. Sometimes we use too many when we speak (and write) and sometimes we use too few. Do you use words that most people are unfamiliar with or do you speak and write with clarity and concision? Are you laconic or verbose?

If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that I love working with the English language. I have a passion for writing and I love playing word games like Scrabble and Boggle, and doing crosswords. I’ve even created my own word puzzle book called “Wordsynerd.” (see:

Good writers know that one of the most important aspects of written communication is to get their message across in a clear and concise way. This means saying what they have to say with a few strong, meaningful words rather than running on with words that most people don’t understand and a message that is swallowed up in a quagmire of garble.

Consider this excerpt from a recent National Post article:

My experience, and the recent conduct of this organization, are redolent of the most frequently invoked failings of the working press: Its self-appointed leaders, in the CAJ [Canadian Association of Journalists] and otherwise, are morally bankrupt myth-makers, full of self-righteousness, endlessly attending workshops and conferences in which they ululate from the podium about rights, duties, and the perfectly informed society. This hypocrisy and claptrap dishonours the majority of working journalists who are, in fact, despite a frequent lack of thoroughness, relatively fair-minded men and women trying to do their jobs and report it as it is. Black, Conrad (2013, June 22). Journalism’s self-righteous myth-makers. National Post. Retrieved from 

Did you get past the first sentence? Do you know what “ululate” means? I have nothing against the occasional abstract word that is thrown into a speech or an article and if I’m captured by the author’s style and content, I will take the time to find out what it means. Building our vocabulary keeps our minds sharp, but if a writer tries to impress me with big words and a lofty writing style, the opposite will be achieved. For me, one of the biggest faux-pas in writing is to look down on the reader with pompous, irreverent language. Anyone can dress up a piece of writing with clever words that they find in the dictionary or thesaurus, but will the reader be engaged? No matter how interesting the subject matter is, if it is drowned in literary clutter, the less compelling the message will be. Thank you, Conrad Black, for the example of how NOT to write.

I once wrote an article for a trade publication and the marketing director of the company rewrote it in a style that was convoluted and obscure, populating it with words that I would never use. I showed his article to three professional people and none of them had a clue what he was trying to say. When I showed them my article, they said it was straightforward and clear, and that they learned something from it. The marketing director’s revised article was published and I was embarrassed to have my name associated with it.

Here is another excerpt from an article written by a well-known Canadian journalist:

In the past few years, ADHD – attention deficit hyperactivity disorder – has become the go-to diagnosis for kids who can’t sit still in school. Today, almost every class includes some kid who’s on Ritalin, Adderall or another stimulant. These medications calm them down and improve their focus. But astonishingly, their long-term effects are largely unknown. We’ve been conducting a vast, uncontrolled experiment on our children, with no idea whether the benefits outweigh the costs. Wente, Margaret (2013, June 18). Does Ritalin really help? The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from

Clear, concise, and compelling - thank you, Margaret Wente. I don’t always agree with your point of view, but I read your articles because you engage me with your interesting topics and clear, concise language. One of the most important things I learned about writing through my various studies is that readers identify with people, not with abstractions.

So, when you are writing a letter, an essay, a memo, or even an email, I hope you’ll know which of the above examples to follow. And if you ever catch me using pompous or suffocating language, please let me know!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


He looks at me longingly. He craves a moment of my time and a snippet of affection. If he is in the room with me while I’m on the sofa, he’s quick to snuggle up close, often on my lap. No, I am not talking about my husband. I'm referring to our pet rabbit, Waffles. If you haven’t had much to do with rabbits other than “Peter Cottontail” or as the main ingredient in a fine French stew, then you will learn something new from this article.

We adopted Waffles from a friend about three years ago when he was six. He was a Christmas present for our then fifteen-year-old son who had been pleading for a bunny for years. I thought a pet rabbit would be like a hamster or a guinea pig, cute but minimally interactive. I presumed that the feeding and cage-cleaning would eventually fall onto me, the mother, as is often the case with family pets. Another household chore that I wasn’t thrilled to add to my already overloaded domestic plate.

But before long, Waffles had hopped into all of our hearts. He offered solace when we were down (we call this “Waffles therapy”) and companionship to everyone in the house, including our dog, Taffy. Incidentally, Waffle's name was Taffy when we got him, but we had to change it to avoid confusion. We considered using Taffy 1 and Taffy 2, but that idea won out to Waffles, our son’s choice.

Waffles lives in a comfortable condo type cage, all on one level, but with a couple of rooms. He has a carpet that he can hop onto outside of his cage whenever he wishes. There is a hut on that carpet, which we call his bedroom. He doesn’t venture off the carpet because he is afraid of the slippery hardwood floor. In the morning he’ll spring onto the carpet to greet us with an anxious plea for affection. If we kneel on the floor beside him, he’ll put his little head on our knee and luxuriate in a head massage. And when I talk to him he flicks his right ear and twitches his whiskers. I’m sure he knows what I’m saying, but my younger son thinks I’m a little woo-woo to believe that.

Taffy is a lap dog and weighs just a few pounds more than Waffles. But surprisingly, Waffles is more inclined to sit on our laps than Taffy is. If he is out for a hop-around on the carpet in the family room while I’m watching TV, he’ll jump onto the couch and then onto my lap, and will stay there for as long as I pet him.

When springtime comes and the weather warms up, Waffles spends many hours in our fenced-in backyard. As is a rabbit’s nature, he’ll burrow under a shrub to conceal himself from predators. While there, he enjoys digging in the earth and flipping twigs. If I happen to be in the yard doing garden work, he’ll come out from his lair and pay me a visit. I think he knows that I won’t let any big bad creature get him!

Studies have shown that rabbits who have constant human interaction will live twice as long as those who don’t.  Likewise, milk cows will produce twice as much milk when they are given names and are spoken to with kindness by farm hands. And I’ve been told that even speaking to plants will help them become healthier and more fruitful, which apparently is no myth.

So, talk nicely to your pets, and the birds and the bees, and also the trees. But most importantly, be nice to your mother (so I tell my children)!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Tales from an Amateur Gardener

The entance to my garden...I wish!
 Carla, Carla, how does your garden grow? “Not so well, if you really must know.”

I love gardening. I mean, I hate gardening. It can be creative and gratifying or frustrating and annoying. Sometimes I wonder why I even bother. Let me explain: As you know, gardening is a lot of work. There’s weeding, churning the soil, mixing in bags of nutrient rich earth, the garden planning, the purchasing, and the actual planting.

For me, the soil prep is the worst. You can really strain your back hacking at the concrete-like clay that we have in our neighbourhood. I know all about it because I recently spent a day chopping away at the garden beds in our backyard with an axe because I couldn’t make headway with a shovel. The good news is that I finished the job and then planted my annuals and some new perennials. I will check daily to see how my garden is doing and make sure to water regularly. This is the satisfying part. Now I can just maintain and enjoy.

Or not...

The problem is that I’ve been through this before, spending days getting the garden ready, only to be sabotaged by elements outside of my control. For instance, last year I planted three beautiful long-stemmed rose bushes. I did everything the instructions told me to do and they were beautiful...for a week or two. Then came the Japanese beetles, those nasty little hard-backed bugs that seem to defy all means of eradication. Health Canada reports that these little monsters are the hardest garden pest to deal with. Not only do they eat leaves and blooms, but grass roots as well. The best way to get rid of them – says my research – is to pick them off the plants one by one when they are drowsy and then drown them in a bucket of water. Not so much fun when there are thousands of them. If you don’t have time to do that you can buy a beetle trap which lures the beetles and then traps them in bags. Unfortunately, these contraptions sold out quickly last year and I missed the boat. I resorted to manually picking the beasties off the plants, but I couldn’t keep up with them. Seems that I was just offering more dining opportunities for their friends.

At least my annuals were flourishing. Guess how long that lasted? Before long, the beetles found my flower containers and from one day to the next my beautiful arrangements, that I’d so meticulously designed and planted, were chewed right down to the stems – every blossom obliterated. I wanted to cry, especially when they devoured the leaves of our beautiful white flowering shrub beside the deck. By now I wasn’t just sad, I was mad! Out came the Raid – my last resort. Normally, I’m environmentally conscious and don’t want to succumb to pesticides, but I had no choice. I couldn’t let these nasty vermin overtake my entire garden... or my psyche. The spray seemed to help, but the shrub itself didn’t take too kindly to the chemical invasion. I think it liked the beetles better.

Another disaster was my summer weeding project a couple of years ago. The weeds – dandelions, clover creeping Charlie and crabgrass – were taking over the entire front yard. This, after having done the recommended lawn maintentance such as adding compost, fertilizing and aerating. Since we are no longer allowed to use chemical weed killers in Toronto (and the organic ones just don’t work) I went after them with a spade and trowel. I spent a few hours every day sitting on the grass digging them out by hand, one weed at a time, which was a great way to connect with neighbours, by the way.

“How’s the weeding going, Carla.”

“Great! I think I’m making progress.”

“Are you beating those weeds, Carla?”

“Yup, I’m definitely winning the weed war.”

“Good for you!”

Thanks for the vote of confidence.

Before I had a chance to fill in the empty spaces with earth and grass seed, a new crop of weeds suddenly appeared after a heavy rainfall. The lawn became worse than before I’d started the painstaking weed-digging task. I’m sorry to say (and I hope I won’t get in trouble for this) I had only one option left: chemicals. You can’t buy chemical weed killers in Toronto, but you can get them in the States and bring them across the border. There is no law that prohibits you from doing so. We use it carefully and sparingly, but it’s the only thing that seems to work.

In the last few years there has been a host of fatalities in my garden: a hydrangea tree, a hydrangea shrub (the all-season plant), a cedar, a fir tree, and Russian name a few. Perhaps my thumb is more blue than green. Not to be completely dour, I do have a few success stories. My father gave us a stunning peony plant as well as some cedars when we moved in and they are thriving.

My last gripe that I’ll share with you (although I have many more!) is my tulip trouble. Last fall I planted a huge bed of tulip bulbs that I meticulously surrounded with chicken droppings, which is the best squirrel deterrent, says the Toronto Botanical Gardens, where I bought all my spring plantings. Come the spring, I anxiously awaited the fruits of my labour to surface. Low and behold, not one tulip appeared. The squirrels had eaten each and every bulb. The only evidence of my efforts was a few straggly daffodils that the squirrels had rejected.

In sum, I’ve lost my spring plantings, my summer plantings, and my lush green lawn to insects, squirrels and insidious weeds. I’ve wasted hours of time and a lot of money endeavouring to make my garden pretty. What’s the point, I ask myself? Why should I even bother?

But every year is a new year. Guess what I spent most of my Victoria Day weekend doing? Yup - tilling, planting and weeding. I’d like to think that a new season brings new possibilities, a little bit of hope, and finally...a nice garden.

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Curse of Stuff

this is not our house...just so you know!
Do you have too much stuff? Is your garage so packed with things that you can’t get your car in there? Are your closets overflowing with so many items that it’s hard to find what you are looking for? If the answer is yes, you are not alone. We have a collective problem in our society and we might as well admit it.  Because the more stuff we accumulate and the more space it takes up in our lives, the more overwhelmed we become, and the heavier the burden in our minds, our hearts and our souls. Perhaps it’s time take action. And for those of you (and I know a few) who have already mastered clutter- free, spending-controlled living, I laud you and applaud you. Maybe you can share some tips on how you do it.

Our family home is a decent size and I must confess that sometimes I feel like we are drowning in our stuff. When we downsized about five years ago from an even larger home, we had a great opportunity to purge, and purge we did! (the strollers, the car seats, the old IKEA furniture from earlier days). My intention was to keep our garage free and clear of junk and to use the laundry room and the furnace room to store seasonal items and occasional products like wrapping paper and Christmas decorations.

As our sons grew older and their interests evolved, the space quickly filled with band equipment, vinyl records, large speakers etc. Then there are the tools. My husband, the sometimes handyman, has collected enough tools to fill a barn.I’m exaggerating, but we do have an awful lot of tools and gardening equipment. My own downfall is clothing. I know I should get rid of old pieces when new ones come in, but I can’t bring myself to do it. Hence, an overstuffed closet that can make it challenging to find what I’m looking for.

I don’t consider the penchant for accumulating stuff as just a physical space problem, but a grave psychological problem as well. I am no psychologist, but it seems clear to me that we are gratifying some need by accumulating stuff and then holding on to it much longer than it’s needed. Maybe we have a deep-rooted fear of another serious economic depression like in the early 1930s, when jobs and stuff were hard to come by. Maybe we think we are protecting ourselves from starvation or something by clinging to material goods.

We tend to believe that much of our stuff has sentimental value even if it doesn’t have material worth. That chipped china in the box in the garage that our grandmothers used to serve Sunday dinner on, or the overstuffed chair that is splitting at the seams, where great-grandpa used to smoke cigars and read the paper. A professional organizer might suggest we set the table with the china, take a picture of it to help keep the memory alive and then chuck it. Same with the chair – do we really need to keep that bulky piece, taking up space and collecting dust, just for the memory?

 In the 1950s, the average American home was about 900 square feet and in 2011 the average size was over 2500 square feet. And families were larger back then. Despite the fact that we have more space now and less people to share it, we have more stuff than we know what to do with. Some people rent self-storage units so they don’t have to deal with the overflow. There is over 2 billion square feet of self-storage space rented out in the U.S., and a proportionate amount in Canada. Sometimes those storage units are abandoned and the items are auctioned off—are you familiar with the popular television show “Storage Wars?”

I was happy to see daytime talk-show host Katie Couric doing a show on “getting organized” not too long ago. And I was particularly pleased to see that she herself has a "stuff" problem. She brought the viewers into her home office and openly and honestly went through the messy and over-packed space with a professional organizer. She had a hard time letting go of things that she hadn’t seen for years or even remembered that she had. That short TV clip gave a very strong message about society’s need to cling to things that really don’t matter at the end of the day. Here is a clip from the show about 5 things you can do to prevent clutter: FIVE RULES TO PREVENT CLUTTER (scroll down to the bottom of the page)

Who is to blame for this societal weakness? Advertisers...commercial developers (more stores and more selection)...the Joneses? Or ourselves?  Well it’s springtime now, although it doesn’t feel like it in blustery Toronto, and I think my family should invest some time in finally dealing with the curse of our stuff. By summer we might feel a little lighter and a lot happier. And I might have more room in my closet for some new clothes...just kidding!