The good, the bad and the ugly of Celebrity

He wore a baseball cap that had no team emblem and a T-shirt with no sign of his number 81 on it. He smiled for several of the private photographs taken that day; and that was a bit out of the ordinary. Otherwise his visit to Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children went unnoticed even when he opened up a case and revealed – for the children and staff at the hospital only – the Stanley Cup, the one he and his fellow Pittsburgh Penguins had won last spring. And his visit would have gone unnoticed, but for a hospital staffer who tweeted:

“SickKids was buzzing with #StanleyCup fever today! Thx for visiting our patients & families @PKessel81 #NHL.” [more…]

Precarious or preferred?

1930 Lewis Hine photograph depicting "skywalkers," steelworkers atop Empire State Building, is often used to symbolize "precarious work."

1930 Lewis Hine photograph – depicting “skywalkers,” steelworkers atop Empire State Building – is often used to symbolize “precarious work.”

We hadn’t seen each other in awhile. We stopped to catch up. My friend told me it had been a tough summer. His father had passed. He’d had to put a favourite pet down. So, his work as an artist had suffered. We’re about the same age and we talked about whether the idea of stopping work or even retirement had entered his thinking. He pointed out, while it might be appropriate and healthy to slow down or even retire, that it wasn’t feasible.

“I can’t just decide to stop working,” he said. “Working artists can’t afford to do that.”

We talked a while about what retirement might look like for him. He sensed that he might do more work of his own choosing, as opposed to the work that customers needed or wanted done. But ultimately we came back to the kind of work life he experiences.

“Freelance work never stops,” he said. [more…]

Make it awkward

The man sat at the back of the audience area through most of my presentation. I spoke, as I usually do in those situations, walking among those in the audience, in this case 30 people seated at about eight tables. My topic was the Battle at Vimy Ridge coming up to the 100th anniversary next year. And I was speaking at a small Ontario fair last weekend. I could see the man was reacting to what I had to say. He frowned a lot and when I’d finished he put up his hand.

“Is it true that all the French-Canadian troops threw their rifles overboard on the way over to France?” he asked.

I paused a second, wondering where he was going with the question. I didn’t want to think there was prejudice involved. “No. I don’t think that’s true, since one of the key regiments at Vimy was the Royal 22nd from Quebec.” [more…]

The martial art of teaching

Entering a Dojo requires adhering to specific protocols.

Entering a Dojo requires adhering to specific protocols.

It’s a little like entering that ride on the midway, you know, the one that’s as dark as the inside of your hat. You can barely make out shapes or forms, but that’s all they are. And it stays that way until you’ve made your way all the way through. I felt a little like that the day I entered what’s known as a dojo in Windsor, Ontario. Not that it was the least bit threatening, just slightly intimidating.

“Welcome to Aikido Canada,” the man in the martial arts robe said. “I’m Kevin Blok.”

“Oh, Chief Instructor Blok?” I confirmed.

“Yes,” he continued. “Take off your shoes and join us.” [more…]

A house that was a home

My neighbour's house comes down piece by piece.

My neighbour’s house comes down piece by piece.

The demolition had been going on for over an hour. Layers of roofing, above the second floor were now caving in. Rafters that hadn’t seen the light of day for over a century and the walls that could tell stories of many of those years came cascading down. It was all quite controlled. With the precision of a surgeon, the excavator operator was bringing my neighbour’s house down piece by piece.

Murray Huntington spots an important clue.

Murray Huntington spots an important clue.

But suddenly the excavator shovel – Murray Huntington’s industrial scalpel – powered down. Huntington opened the excavator door, stepped out of the cab and climbed over the debris that had been the second floor.

“What’ve you got?” I called out to him from ground level.

“Maybe you can use this,” Huntington said.

And he gently tugged at a few of the floorboards atop the pile of rubble to reveal some paper. He’d spotted it in the debris, brought it down and handed it to me. It was a newspaper. [more…]

Backyard stories for the universe

Reading room as a broadcast studio.

Reading room as a broadcast studio.

We sat down on a couple of plain chairs at a wooden table. We both splayed reference papers and notes across the table in front of us. The setting could easily have been his or my summer kitchen. Then, after some casual conversation, he hit the start button on a pocket-sized audio recorder in the middle of the table.

“It’s a warm sunny day,” he started. “I’m seated in a reading room in Port Perry Library overlooking Lake Scugog…”

I couldn’t resist. “… And under normal circumstances, we should be down at the lake enjoying the water,” I interrupted.

“But we’re not,” he continued. “This is the inaugural podcast of ‘Durham Past and Present.’” [more…]

Mid-summer’s day dreaming

When I wasn't napping, here's what dawn at a friend's cottage looked like.

When I wasn’t napping, here’s what dawn at a friend’s cottage looked like.

It kind of snuck up on me. Caught me off guard. My wife and I had taken a few days off from a relatively hectic few weeks of work. We’d joined some friends for an extended weekend up North at a cottage on a lake, whose name I’ve forgotten. To feel less guilty about abandoning projects that needed attention back at my office, in fact, I’d even brought along my laptop and some files. Then, somewhere between transcribing an interview and writing a letter to a publisher, it happened.

I moved from my impromptu desktop – a table and chair in a screened-in porch – to a summer couch in a quiet corner of the cottage to read … and I fell fast asleep. [more…]

Character in comeback

Michelle Obama illustrated the importance of not giving up.

Michelle Obama illustrated the importance of not giving up.

It’s no wonder she is a model mother. It’s no coincidence she has earned such great respect as the U.S. first lady the past eight years. But if the new leaders of her country – whoever they turn out to be – are wise, they might turn to her often to deliver positive energy and a way through the rhetorical mess that is sinking America. I mean, who paints stronger images than this one?

“I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves,” Michelle Obama said to the Democratic delegates on Monday, “and I watch my daughters, beautiful, intelligent, black young women – playing with their dogs on the White House lawn…” [more…]

By any other name, it’s still theft

It was a case of: She said – She said.

In 2008, Michelle Obama said, “Barack and I were raised with so many of the same values: like you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and that you do what you say.”

This week, Melania Trump said, “My parents impressed on me the values: that you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say.” [more…]

When it’s wrong, say so

The liner St. Louis, loaded with Jewish refugees, was refused entry to Canada in 1939.

The liner St. Louis, loaded with Jewish refugees, was refused entry to Canada in 1939.

As people often do, a colleague of mine sent me what he considered a joke by email, the other day. I read it and I didn’t laugh. It painted a scenario of an immigrant who, through odd circumstances, had a lot of dependents. Eventually, the man of Arabic background requests assistance from the government. The story concludes with this response:

“I’ve arranged to start mailing cheques … as soon as you arrive in Canada,” signed Justin Trudeau. [more…]