I'm getting tired of still having to deal with this crud...

Here is a column I wrote two months ago in the Kitchener Post, when Ontario’s sex-education curriculum again became an issue for the Conservative leadership. I stand by everything I said, and I am appreciative of the good things others have said about me in response:

Knowledge is power when it comes to sex education

Ontarians deserve better than another dog whistle issue like sex-ed says James Bow

The single most discouraging thing to come out of the sudden leadership race for the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario are new promises to roll back the sex education curriculum by candidates in this race.

One candidate in particular infuriated me with the comment, “Educating our kids is the most important job in the world … We need to focus on teaching kids facts, not ideology. That’s why if I’m elected as leader, I’ll take issues like sex-ed to parents.”

Because, sure, there are no facts in sex education.

Look, I’m a parent of two daughters. I know the idea of our children eventually having sex is uncomfortable for us. And I believe that, as a parent, I should take an active part in my children’s education.

But do you know the real reason why I send my kids to school? Why I have teachers teach them English when I’m already reading to them at bedtime?

Because I alone do not have the resources to teach my kids everything they need. It takes a village to raise a child well, and in that village are a whole lot of teachers.

So, while my wife and I have spent a lot of time teaching our kids a healthy approach to their sexuality, particularly regarding issues of consent and birth control, that’s not enough. I want my kids to have a better education than we can provide, and schools are an important resource.

Do you want to talk about the damage ideology in education can do? Then look at the education systems in the United States that teach “abstinence only” sex education, or don’t teach sex education at all, like Mississippi.

Now look at education systems like New Hampshire that teach comprehensive sex education, including forms of birth control, sexuality and consent. Now compare the two.

Which state has the highest rate of teenage pregnancies? Mississippi, with 55 births for every 1,000 young women.

Which state has the lowest rate of teenage pregnancies? New Hampshire, with 16 births for every 1,000 young women.

According to the Centres for Disease Control, Mississippi has the highest rate of the sexually transmitted disease gonorrhea in the United States. It has the third highest rate for chlamydia and the seventh highest rate for syphilis.

Massachusetts, which also teaches comprehensive sex education, has one of the lowest rates for STDs.

Knowledge is not only power, it is safety. Sex education is as important to our children as mathematics, English and science. The sex education curriculum provided to our kids here in Ontario is a vital resource that will keep our children healthy and safe through their teenage years and will reduce unwanted pregnancies.

Parents who want more control over their children’s education already have options. They can home school their children. I have tremendous respect to those parents who make home schooling work for their kids’ benefit.

But it is unfortunate that Conservative leadership candidates have decided to take up complaints against the sex education curriculum as a dog whistle to social conservative voters. This puts the Conservative Party at odds with the majority of Ontarians who understand that this knowledge will keep our kids safe.

Rather than deal with facts, these candidates would sacrifice facts about sex and sexuality to the ideological alter of parents wishing to believe that they can prevent their teenagers from having sex.

It’s a dishonest approach, and it’s one that will mean more tragedies for our children if implemented. Ontarians deserve better.

The Saga of the Industrial Sander

Further to our post from yesterday, our renovations will forever be linked to the story about the saga of the industrial sander. I covered it in this column in the Kitchener Post:

Surviving a potential do-it-yourself disaster

Industrial sander bares its teeth in home reno project, says James Bow

We've been renovating our house this past month. I'm saying this because we are both proud, exhausted and kind of surprised.

Have you ever seen those do-it-yourself reality shows on HGTV, possibly entitled DIY Disaster? That's the one where camera crews trawl the parking lots of local hardware stores, looking for the unlikeliest couples hauling out the largest power equipment.

That may describe our relationship when it comes to tools. To start with, we have to find them.

I'm sure that half of the time spent doing handyman tasks around the house is wasted trying to find where we've placed a particular screwdriver, a particular bit or a particular power tool. I've no idea where our jigsaw has gone. Only large items like a mitre saw or a table saw have proven difficult to lose.

We now possess multiple ratcheting screwdrivers and tape measures because we've found it easier to buy new rather than hunt for the old. I wonder how many hardware stores are in business thanks to our absent mindedness.

In our most recent renovation, however, we made use of two services in the city to give us the tools we needed.

Recently, the Kitchener-Waterloo Library of Things opened its doors. Located at 91 Moore Ave. and open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays, this community-run resource is a lending library for all manner of tools and devices. Need a wet saw? Want to borrow a chocolate fountain? A year membership costs just $40, and you can borrow up to 10 items each week.

We borrowed two pairs of knee pads and a circular saw, which saved us money and storage space in our home. We would have borrowed a pry-bar, but these are among the items on their wish list (donations are gratefully accepted). I expect to be using this service a lot these next few months.

For bigger items, we had to rent tools at a large hardware store in a nearby power centre. And, there, we may have been a little unwise.

We wanted to scrape carpet glue off of a concrete floor, and the scrapers we had on hand weren't cutting it. So, we decided that something more industrially-scaled was necessary.

When you think of an industrial sander, you think of a mechanical sander only bigger. I was expecting to deal with a large disk of sandpaper. What I got was a spinning wheel of razor blades.

Looking at this device, I wondered what part of it held the sander in place and kept it from careening off out the door and down the street terrorizing the squirrels. I soon realized that the particular part was actually yours truly, and that, in this, the design was highly optimistic.

To our credit, after 15 minutes, we did get most of the carpet glue off the floor. After several near-misses, and some weird accident that snapped the spinning disk and sent razor blades in all directions, we decided we needed to return the industrial sander to the hardware store.

The attendant on duty said, "Well, at least you got damage insurance," accepted our return and kept a straight face until we were just out the door. We only think we heard them laughing from the parking lot.

So far, we've installed cabinets, sinks and counter tops. We've laid down flooring. I am pleased to say that our marriage has withstood these famous tests of character.

But I also have to say that these accomplishments feel far better having been done, than doing them.

The Month of Renovations

renovation-start.jpgI haven't spoken too much about this because, at the time we were doing it, we wanted it to be a surprise.

Back in December, my mother-in-law and her husband rented out their condominium to a nice young family, and used the funds to head south for the winter (good choice). The lease they signed was for six months, but they still expected to return to Ontario in early April (not such a good choice in retrospect). So, for the three months, at least, between their return from Florida and the end of their tenants' lease, we decided the best thing was to have them bunk in with us.

The guest room, such as it was, was my downstairs office, and while it was still a functional office, it had taken something of a beating over the past couple of years. We'd had a leak from the concrete wall, thanks to a eavestroph issue that we solved, and it meant that we had to rip out the carpet, leaving the concrete floor. There was a couch that expanded into a guest bed, but it was less than comfortable, and not a pleasant experience to be had by someone planning to stay for more than a few days.

But we decided to look at this as an opportunity. We had to lay down new flooring in the basement office -- that was a given. However, we also had two other rooms that were not living up to their full potential and were instead dumping grounds for stuff we needed to store. There was an actual storage room in behind the basement office, and there was a sun room upstairs, that we had planned to use as a kid's play room, but was now a storage repository for the kids games and other things.

The upstairs sun room was bright, and could function quite reasonably as an office. In any event, I was finding myself upstairs more than often, working at the dining room table while the kids were at home. This arrangement was precisely the reason why we decided we needed to move to a place with more room, like a dedicated office. The sun room was right behind the dining room that I was using as a de-facto office.

So, the plan came together. We would pull out all of the books and bookcases in the office and move everything into the sunroom upstairs. We would buy flooring and waterproof underlay at Lowes to provide a finished floor for the old office, now guest room. My desk would be moved behind one of the big windows in the sun room, and some of the bookcases mounted to the walls there. And the storage room... now there was an opportunity. If we pulled off the door and turned it into an alcove of the old office, we could place a bed in there, and make the guest room space much more livable.

This required not just removing all of the stuff in the storeroom, but pulling down and actually finishing the walls and the ceiling, and we knew that this was beyond us. So this was the surprise. We hired a contractor, one of two candidates who really impressed us, to strip everything back to the concrete, put in new studs and drywall, finish the ceiling and fix the electrical.

That was our March, and the late part of February, and some of April too. We rearranged our storage needs (moving some shelves to the laundry room), culled what we could, sold a surprising amount of stuff on Kijiji, and bought a lot of stuff on Kijiji. We laid down surprisingly unforgiving vinyl flooring while our contractor did amazing things, and we were mostly done for the reveal when my mother-in-law and her husband surprised us by arriving early.

We are exhausted, but quite proud of what's been accomplished, here. The new space has added quite a lot of value to the home, and the office, while still somewhat cluttered, has come together in a really good way that hasn't hampered my productivity. Erin even comes in to sit with me occasionally, which is something she didn't do when my office was downstairs.

I'd like to thank Cameron Dixon who came up to Kitchener and willingly got put to work laying down the new flooring. And I'm thankful for the patience of my family, as they put up with a month of chaos. In the end, it has really been worth it.

You can see pictures of the renovation in progress on my Flickr here.


The North Wind Doth Blow, and We Shall Have Snow...

put-out-robin.jpg...and what will little robin do then, poor thing?

The picture above is a zoom-in of our pond. It's frozen over again, and the heater to allow some oxygen to get through the ice to the koi now provides a small respite to a robin who didn't come north to deal with all this poop.

This weekend has been a little hard to take, but I also think we may have dodged a bullet, especially compared to some of the things I've been hearing elsewhere in southern Ontario.

On Friday, we listened in disbelief as Environment Canada warned of a potentially "historic" ice storm affecting southern Ontario. The warnings came and went, and then came back, so we decided to stock up on supplies, and prepare to stay indoors for the weekend. By Saturday morning, it was clear we were having some weather. At first the ice came as pellets, such that it felt like it was raining wet sand. It didn't coat any branches, which is a good thing, but it settled on the driveway and our sidewalks with the consistency of cement.

Sunday was substantially worse. More and deeper ice pellets. Then, as evening set in, the classic freezing rain arrived. The wind picked up, and I was sure we'd be seeing power outages.

As Monday dawned, it was too slick to move. The schools wisely cancelled classes, with everybody shocked that such a thing was possible on April 16 in southern Ontario. Ida our electric car did not come with winter tires (we'll install these later in the year), and its approach to encountering slick conditions in our driveway was to simply stop the wheels turning. Fascinating. So, we decided to stay off the roads as much as possible, at least until the plows were through.

The city has been cleaning itself up. The garbage and recycling people did heroic work picking up ice-laden waste at the side of the road this morning. I was amazed. And Kitchener-Waterloo seems to have escaped any power outages or tree damage.

Even so, every local that I know is in mourning at winter's last gasp. It just doesn't seem fair or right, especially after the earlier signs of spring-like weather that we saw last month.

But while April is capricious, spring is coming. We see the sun on Wednesday, and temperatures start climbing into the teens this weekend. We may finally be leaving the minuses behind.

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