One Year Later


The first anniversary of my mother's death passed this past Sunday. It was much on all of our minds, but we've coped with it. Some of us are surprised at how well we coped with it, although I caution that sometimes we focus so much on the anniversary of such traumatic events, we're unprepared for how much harder the days after that anniversary turn out to be. But, still we cope.

I haven't had much energy to put into this blog, but I have been keeping busy. I've maintained a steady pace of roughly two-to-three non-fiction kids books since this past September, which I'm grateful for and proud of the results. My column with the Kitchener Post continues, and I surprised myself by making considerable progress on The Sun Runners and a potential sequel (inasmuch as it's set in the same universe) tentatively entitled Pen Pals. Actually, I'm already over 2,000 words into Pen Pals, though Erin tells me that I must finish The Sun Runners first. Either way, I think my mother would be pleased about that.

The weather was brutally cold until just a few days ago, and then suddenly became so warm that a good half of our accumulated snow melted. And just when we were thinking "January thaw", we've been issued with a flash freeze warning. The temperature has dropped by 12 degrees Celsius in the span of four hours. At least it's not raining at the moment, where I am, or else we'd have a coating of ice. We still might, from all the puddles.

Erin's hard at work on a new project that is involving Vivian. Nora has told us that she wants to be known more as "Eleanor". I'm proud of her for choosing her own name (and we named her as such in the expectation that she might), but it's going to be a significant adjustment _not_ to call her Nora. She's been trouping off to school, destroying her competitors at Math games, and fixing her own lunches. How quickly (and differently) they grow up.

It's grey now, and it doesn't seem fair to be losing the warmth after too brief a thaw, but I expect we'll have some bright days ahead. The Polar Vortex at least graces us with clear blue skies. And we continue to look forward to spring.

The Year of Worry and Wonder

IMG_2414.JPGFrom my last column of 2017, for the Kitchener Post...

For the last column of 2017, it's traditional to look back on the year and pass judgment. Was it a good year? Or was it, as the Queen once said, an Annus Horribilis?

It is coming up to a year when my mother passed away after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer. Though her passing technically happened in 2017, I still think of it as a 2016 event.

It was an illness that capped off a year that ended really badly for many people. It seems trite to compare my mother's passing to the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States, but I know she was horrified.

And before the shocking election occurred, people were reacting to 2016 in horror at all the beloved celebrities who had passed away, from David Bowie to Leonard Cohen.

Many of us came out of 2016 shocked, horrified and numb. At the time, I said that winter was coming, and it would be a long one. However, though winter came, the world did not end.

I confess to jealousy about that. When I learned of my mother's diagnosis, I was about to attend a friend's party. Of course, I didn't go. And though it's not rational for me to say so, seeing photographs of this party later on upset me. How could the world carry on in the face of what I'd felt?

But it does carry on, whether we like it or not. It is what we do, personally and politically, and as we do it, we eventually rekindle the flames of hope.

In 2017, the attendance at Trump's inauguration was dwarfed by the number of people who came out in support of the Women's March. The neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville this past summer was met with outrage throughout the world, and people mobilizing against hate.

Throughout the United States, more than 30 state, local and federal districts have flipped from Republican to Democrat, many in areas that had voted heavily for Trump. Alabama, one of the reddest of the red states, has elected a Democratic senator for the first time in 25 years. Decent people who previously stayed quiet are learning the value of speaking out and others are working to give them safe spaces to do so.

Closer to home, when a small group of people raised spurious objections to a proposed Islamic prayer centre, dozens of people came out to the Waterloo council meeting to speak in support of the Islamic applicants.

Throughout our community, activists work on issues of accessibility, tolerance and safety. Homophobes and racists may have been emboldened by the election of Trump, doing things like spray-painting LGBTQ+ friendly churches, but decent people have shown their support for these churches, and the true message of Christ that they teach.

For much of this year, I've been picking up the pieces of what 2016 broke. I've been busy helping others cope, and I've been lucky to have friends and family to help me cope as well.

This year has been about mourning, but it has also been about wonder. This August, we went to Nashville to see the total eclipse of the sun. It was a profound experience for myself and my children, and I'm looking forward to seeing the next eclipse in 2024.

And I'm looking forward to 2018 as well, because we carried on through 2017. The world has thrown a lot at us, but we're still here. We're here for others, and others are here for us. Because of that, I believe that spring will come.

I stand by what I said above. It's been a hard year, but we've been planting seeds for the next. Vivian is loving her new school. Nora left the French Immersion stream to focus more on English Math and is smoking her classmates in math games and is overcoming problems that don't show up until the grade eight curriculum. I started writing The Sun Runners again, and I've written and submitted ten non-fiction books for kids. Erin finished her big writing project, and is pursuing others. We have a lot of work still to do, but hopefully those seeds we've planted will bear fruit in the coming months.

Happy Holidays

hhCcwqN9QqGJZHhGvvbe9Q.jpgIt was a good Christmas, I thought. I'd been kind of dreading it because, of course, my mother isn't here. But she probably was in spirit. In the lead-up, there have been stressful times, possibly made more stressful by feeling her absense, but on the day, we had breakfast with Eric and Rosemarie and Michael and we opened presents. We hunkered down against the snow outside and watched television. We had a really nice dinner, again with Michael and Rosemarie. Perhaps we let go of our expectations, and that made things better. For once a bit of a long time, we didn't have deadlines to contend with, or shopping to do. School is two weeks away. And perhaps the weather helped. It can't get more white Christmas than this. There were even snow squalls reducing visibility.

Today is Boxing Day -- or, as we're calling it, "Books-ing Day". The plan is to build a pillow fort in our living room and to have everybody just lounge about and read. Or possibly write. My father-in-law Wendell and his wife Judy are coming over later, after having wisely decided to ride out some snow squalls in Windsor. They spent a lot of their time in Lincoln, but have been in California for years, so their cold weather acumen has probably atrophied. Enjoy the snow, you two!

But as I write this, it is bright and the sky is clear and blue. This is prairie weather, and that's the best kind of weather for a winter morning.

Milestone Reached

I should have thought to take and post pictures, but maybe we'll take them tomorrow. In the meantime, I need to note that yesterday, Vivian measured herself back-to-back against Erin and called upon me to compare their heights. She thought that she might end up being taller than her mother.

Erin has (semi-seriously) been dreading this moment. She knows she doesn't have the tall genes, but her kids do, something she blames me for. And the kids, realizing that they have something to hold over their mother, are hyping this up, Vivian especially, because she knows the time was coming soon when she was officially Taller than her Mother.

Well, the stood back to back, and Vivian looked like she had a good half inch on Erin, and I looked down at their feet and saw... Vivian's heels were on the floor.

She was actually and officially taller than her mother.

I was surprised at how much of a moment it was for me. I actually went, "Oh, my God" and put my hand to my mouth, which of course was cue for Erin to freak out, because she knew what this meant. The moment had come.

It's a milestone becoming taller than your parents. I vaguely recall how happy I was to be taller than my mother. I'm still somewhat ruefully disappointed that I didn't pass my father's height of five feet, eleven and three-quarters inches (I'm five feet, eleven and one-quarter. We're both disappointed that we didn't make six feet). It's a rather tangible milestone on the road to adulthood -- all the more surprising given that not every kid gets to be taller than their parents, or else basketball would become a comically easy game within the first two generations...

But, for Vivian, that milestone has been reached, just a month and a half after her twelfth birthday.

And so begins her job of getting things off the top shelf for her mother. That could be Erin's way of getting her own back.

Remembering When Ontario Was an Oil Power

oil-pump-jack-sunset-clouds-silhouette-162568.jpgHere's a column from a couple of weeks ago that I wrote for the Kitchener Post. Did you know that we're coming up on the 160th anniversary of the discovery of oil in Oil Springs, Ontario?

Forgetting our fossil fuel past

Did you know that next year is the 160th anniversary of the day Ontario became an oil power?

In August 1858, an asphalt producer named James Miller Williams tried to dig a water well in a southwestern Ontario community called Black Creek.

Instead, what he got was crude oil.

His discovery launched North America's first ever oil rush. The community of Black Creek soon renamed itself Oil Springs.

You can learn about this and more at the Oil Museum of Canada, currently located in Oil Springs, within Lambton County.

Ontario tends to forget its history in oil and natural gas. Our diverse economy softened the boom and bust cycle of fossil fuels as our commodities were taken out of the ground and oil wells ran dry over the next century.

Soon, we were eclipsed by Texas and Alberta.

When I researched Ontario's oil industry's 150th anniversary 10 years ago, I was struck by several things. I was surprised to learn that Ontario was still producing over a thousand barrels of oil a day. True, that was dwarfed by the millions Alberta was producing at the same time, but it was still not a small number.

And, at the time, as oil prices were shooting through the roof, energy companies were still exploring in Ontario. Most of our oil wells might be dry, but there were still untapped gas reserves in Lake Erie.

Despite all this, I was struck by how the anniversary had passed almost unheralded. We make such of a kerfuffle over a sesquicentennial and yet, I saw no advertisements promoting the anniversary or the Oil Museum of Canada. My profile of Ontario's industry was one of the few things written on the matter.

Today, now that fossil fuel prices have tumbled and are only slowly recovering, I wonder at the state of oil and gas exploration here in Ontario.

People couldn't make the connection between Ontario and oil 10 years ago when oil prices were high. Today, many could be forgiven for thinking that the province has moved on from the industry.

Recent advances in solar power have made this energy source as inexpensive as fossil fuels. More and more houses, mine included, now have solar panels on their roofs. While it is true that solar power provides just two per cent of our energy production, solar power capacity has been doubling every two years since the beginning of this decade.

Electric cars were unfeasible, or playthings for the rich. Now, they can handle the drive between Kitchener and Toronto, and their price and quality is comparable to good conventional cars. Charging stations in Ontario are becoming easier to find.

Earlier this week, 25 years after the Toronto Transit Commission abandoned its electric trolley buses, the TTC announced plans to purchase 30 battery-electric buses which could be plying the streets by 2020. These buses are not much more expensive than their diesel counterparts. The commission plans to go emission free by 2040.

It's hard to imagine the world of the future when you are living in the present. However, it's worth remembering that, for a long time, Ontario was the centre of Canada's oil industry.

Thanks to a diversified economy, new technologies, and the limited nature of non-renewable resources, we now live in a time where our oil heritage has been largely forgotten.

So, while it may be hard to imagine a solar-powered, electric vehicle future, a time will come very soon where we can hardly imagine a fossil fueled past.


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