Accounting for more than numbers

Ebenezer Scrooge at his ledger – more important to him than his nephew’s Christmas greetings. Victorian Web.

The new year brings annual habits. Some of my friends are already eating crow about their promises to eat less, workout more and save somewhere in between. Others are still writing cheques (remember them?) with 2017 in the date box. Me? Well, I ran into my annual problem, especially at the franchise stationery shop.

“Do you have any ledgers?” I asked the clerk.

“You mean like lined-paper ledgers?” she said as if I had just asked her to fix my typewriter, give me a roll of pennies or fill ’er up. Then, she shook her head unsympathetically and I realized this was a no-go.

Baked, but bored to tears

There we were. A spirited game of oldtimers’ recreational hockey done for the night. Sitting around cutting everybody down to size – who botched what pass, who couldn’t score if his life depended on it, or, which tender let in the worst goal. Then, not surprisingly, the conversation shifted to comparing planned or dreamed-about vacations in the South. There was this pool-side service or that all-inclusive price or this best beach for just lying in the sun. And I couldn’t resist.

“Yes. Sounds OK,” I said. “Then, what do you do after that?”

Anybody who’d heard my snide comment looked at me as if I had horns growing out of my head. Of course, the answer was: “After you’ve had a day in the sun, you do the same the next day and the next day.” But some of my friends have grown to expect my cynicism about vacations in the South. They know that I’m not the escape-from-the-Great-White-North-to-the-Sun-Belt kind of person. It’s partly because I’ve always looked at down time as a time to do things. A time to be invested in exploring, physically doing something, keeping the synapse in my brain firing. Not just lying around.

Years ago, my parents bought a condo in a gated community on the Atlantic side of Florida, near a place called Pompano Beach. It was nice as an escape to a place with pools, some recreational distractions, and minutes by car to Hwy. U.S. 1 that was home to some fun restaurants. But, again, after a day or two of that, there was nothing to do. One of those rare times we were down there, I found out that a travelling exhibit of Titanic artefacts and memorabilia had just opened in Miami. I couldn’t wait to buy a ticket and take in the exhibition. Anything to get away from just lying around, baking.

Another time, at my wife’s suggestion, we decided to do a little exploring inland away from the ocean-side resorts on the Atlantic and the Gulf Coast. She was actually looking for an equestrian facility where dressage competitors had gathered. I was certainly game to check it out. So, we got a map, gassed up, drove away from the coastal green of hotel resorts, golf courses, inland waterways and palms, toward the Everglades. I was amazed.

“Not only is there nothing to do here,” I editorialized, “but it’s flat as a pancake.” I mean there was nothing. Not even trees or hills. Yes, periodically there was evidence of the inland swamp, where water and a bit of sawgrass interrupted the skyline. But otherwise, as far as the eye could see, was empty, flat horizon. Is it just a coincidence that Florida is as flat as it is boring?

All right, so what’s so good about doing things here this time of year?

Well, I happen to think there’s lots. A few weeks ago, I was up the highway to Bancroft for an evening presentation. On the drive up I listened to an astronomer on radio talk about that night’s first display of Geminids. They’re the once-a-year meteor showers from the asteroid Palladian. Anyway, after midnight when I was headed back south, I stopped a couple of times to watch for the shooting stars. I didn’t see that many Geminids. But the chance to see the winter northern hemisphere of stars away from light pollution farther south, was worth the drive. They’d be impossible to see anywhere else.

A lot of us wimp-out in the winter. “Ah, it’s too cold to do anything outside.” Maybe. So why not do things indoors? Why stand in line at all those expensive movie theatres at those vacation spots in the States, when you can see “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” at the Roxy right here in town? Or, forget about going all that way to see Lightning hockey during your Tampa holiday or Heat basketball while you’re vacationing near Miami. I know they’re not winning a lot this year, but why not get out and support the Bruins? The hockey’s often more spirited. Even better, if the temperatures moderate at all, maybe there’ll be some pond hockey out there for us. Or, there’s the next best thing…

Last week, while the kids were still out of school, we found out there was ice time available at the arena for public skating. And I’ve been encouraging my city-dwelling daughter to get her boys out on the ice. They both seemed a bit hesitant; they’re not the athletic types. But one of the boys was suddenly curious enough. We found him some skates that fit. I laced them on. And he took his first ever strides on ice skates. And I was there to prop him up and witness it all.

No. I won’t win any friends in Florida tourism circles, but escapes to the sunshine state, for me, border on humdrum. When it comes to winter getaways, for my time and money, it’s got to be more than waiting for the sun to burn me to a crisp.

Away from the spotlight of praise

Caring when nobody notices but the kid cared for.

I almost missed it. My daughter and I were up in the bleachers watching her son at a house league hockey practice. The six-year-olds were skating, falling, trying to stickhandle and the arena was bursting with noise. Then I spotted this one boy standing way off to the side, crying, wanting off the ice. One of the volunteer coaches skated over to him, got down on his knees and quickly connected with the boy in conversation.

The boy stopped crying. The coach’s face looked very encouraging and before long the boy was over the trauma and re-joined the practice. Nobody seemed to notice the exchange. It was low key, calming, but clearly motivational. And I thought of that quote by that U.S. national basketball coach from the 1970s.

“The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is looking,” John Wooden once said.

The Twelve Days of Christmas

Double the Christmas gift.

As I wrote last column, welcoming a baby grandson into the world was truly a gift. That was the First Day of Christmas. On the Second Day of Christmas, I went looking for a gift for my sister. I searched and then I found a photograph, taken of the two of us about 1972. So, I went to a local photo place and the guy said he could duplicate it, but that he didn’t normally adjust for contrast and brightness.

“But in the spirit of the season,” young Michael said, “I’ll see what I can do.”

Thoughtful, I’d say. Unexpected gifts are the best.

A Dickens of a story

Church of the Ascension, immediately after our reading of A Christmas Carol, Dec. 3, 2017.

I found Christmas over in Port Perry last Sunday afternoon. I wasn’t alone. And, no, there wasn’t a sudden conversion in my life. But I was in a church. A few minutes after 3 p.m., last Sunday, I was invited to a lectern to initiate a fundraiser with these words:

“Marley was dead, to begin with. There was no doubt whatever about that. … Old Marley was as dead as a doornail.”

Testosterone-free meeting

The Griddle Pickers – (l-r) Mike Milner, Sean Patrick &  Dale Patrick. Photo: Jim Campbell.

It was following their second or third song, that the two youngest members of the acoustic country and bluegrass band, The Griddle Pickers, paused. The two brothers in the band were enjoying the relative peace of the moment, performing in a church sanctuary in front of a capacity audience.

“Gosh, it’s sure different singing and playing in here,” commented banjo player Sean Patrick.

“Yeah,” his brother Dale, the guitarist and lead vocalist, agreed. “Most of the time we’re trying to play over a noisy crowd, or a bar fight.”

Ted Barris invited to join honoured neighbourhood

Meet “150 Neighbours,” and be inspired by the stories of those who work tirelessly to enhance community for all residents in a way that makes this uniquely Scarborough, and uniquely Canada.

“150 Neighbours” is a photo-documentary series marking Canada’s sesquicentennial, celebrating local accomplishments as part of our national festivities. This social-media driven and crowd-sourced campaign has featured 150 Scarborough community and nation builders—past and present—over 150 days, from Saturday July 1st to Tuesday November 28th.

For more information about the “150 Neighbours” doc and a short feature about the invitation to join, go to:

Beyond the Wall Tour – June 10-23, 2018

On Jan. 19, 1989, the head of the East German state exclaimed, “The Wall will be standing in 50 and even 100 years.” Ten months later, both he and the Berlin Wall were gone. For 40 years, concrete and wire had physically divided a Germany already ruined by WWII. It had often brought the Communist Bloc and the Western Democracies to the brink of another world war. Perhaps most important, its existence and its demise changed Europe.

From June 10 to 23, 2018, the wartime experience before the Wall, the Cold War deadlock during its existence, and the nature of the Europe since it came tumbling down, are the focus of Merit’s “Beyond the War” Tour.

Again, co-hosted by award-winning author and historian Ted Barris and his wife Jayne MacAulay, the tour gives travellers a unique exploration of stops in Poland, the Czech Republic and Germany where war, politics and people knew a history that can only be touched to be understood.

Please use this link for full itinerary and travel details:

It’s more than Scarberia

Aileen Hill, one of 150 Scarborough Neighbours honoured.

I wouldn’t have known that she was my neighbour. But it turns out that in more ways than one, she and I have been connected. First, we have both supported the arts and those who create them. Next, we are both the children of immigrants. But for me the surprising aspect of our neighbour connection is that Aileen Hill and I both have Scarborough roots.

“I was born here,” she told me, “then, moved with my family to the Caribbean, but have now come back to Scarborough.”