Frosty morning in Kingston

I couldn’t resist bundling up and taking my camera down to the lake shore in front of my apartment building early this morning. It was a frigid -17C but the sun was trying to break through and the wind was whistling fine snow over the breakwater.  Stunning.

Winter 3a

WinterWinter 2

Winter 5

Alone but far from lonely …

20140121-111743.jpgDoes anyone know any good songs that actually celebrate living solo? I can only think of songs like “One is the Lonliest” or “All by myself” or “Lonely boy”. Even the pop songs that have a more positive tone to them are more “give love the finger” songs like “I will survive” or that iconic Cher dance tune ” Do you believe in life after love?” (after love, after love, after love)

Recently, on CBC radio, there were two programs that dealt with people living alone. According to last year’s census, 27.6% of households (over 3.5 million of them in Canada) have a single occupant and there are more people living alone than coupled with children.  I suspect that many of you reading this blog are living solo.

Sometimes that is by choice, other times by circumstance, but the reality is that there are more people living on their own than in coupled relationships. So why is it that our society is so couple-oriented? People who live alone are stigmatized as being reclusive or lonely or waiting for that “perfect” relationship to make them whole.

Maybe some are, but I suspect that many, like me, are 100% satisfied to be independent, flexible and downright happy to be living on their own. When I was younger, I would not have imagined this would be how I might be living now, maybe because that was simply not something one aspired to in the 60’s.

My circumstance is a bit different than some. I did follow the conventional formula toward marriage and parenthood but my life changed when my wife died of cancer in her 40’s. I did have the chance to follow the societal (and biological) drives to partner and procreate.  My relationship was a happy one until illness intervened. My kids now have children of their own and I enjoy being a grandfather (and watching my own kids relive some of the parenting moments that are now past for me.)

For the past 19 years, however, I have lived alone but I am seldom lonely.  I do what I want when I want. I wake up and eat and go to bed whenever I feel like it. I spend my evenings doing whatever I feel like doing.  I can pick up and travel at the drop of a hat. I have many interesting and energizing friends of all sorts, male and female, old and young, gay and straight, single and partnered. I am almost giddy thinking how great this is.

Many young adults today seem to be embracing the single life and deferring steady relationships until later than ever…or not at all. Mature adults may find themselves living alone because they have chosen that path or the “right person” has not come along to make a long-term bond. Or they may have tried the marriage thing, only to find it was not as satisfying as Chatelaine magazine made it out to be.

It’s time that our society acknowledges that “living solo” is a perfectly natural choice for many.

Last year, a Facebook friend posted this Rolling Stones YouTube video and commented that for some reason it reminded her of me.  Was it because I am sliver-thin and dance like a Howdy Doody puppet or is it the theme? (Got to get me one of those hats.)


In response to this I  had a friend suggest this one.  It fits perfectly.

Desks to schools in Kenya…

I put many hours a week into the CanAssist African Relief Trust. Sometimes I wonder why I do it.  Today I received an email that reminded me.

Last year CanAssist received an application from a development group in Kenya asking for support in providing desks for three schools in Rachuonyo District near Homa Bay.  We did not know the schools or the AFORD development organization but thought that they presented an organized appeal and, in the past, we have found provision of school desks to be satisfying.  Not only do the children of the schools receive furnishings to help them learn better, the desks are locally made which gives carpenters and suppliers some income.

In December, I visited some elementary schools in Canada and they have donated about $1000 toward the $5000 needed to build 170 desks that will serve 450 students.

Last month I asked the school for some photos of the school so we could help promote this project.  Today I received these grainy photos taken recently at two of the schools. I will let them speak for themselves.  I think you will agree that they are heartbreaking.  Although the Kenyan Ministry of Education does offer “free” education to elementary school students, this is the quality in some of the remote districts.

The Kamser Elementary School.  Crowded conditions not conducive to learning. There are 450 students at two schools like this one and they are requesting 150 bench desks to accommodate the students, many of whom sit on the floor.

The Kamser Elementary School. Crowded conditions not conducive to learning. There are 450 students at two schools like this one and they are requesting 150 bench desks to accommodate the students, many of whom sit on the floor.

Photo3_Kamser primary 2

Students at the Kamser Secondary School.  This school requests 20 individual desks.

Students at the Kamser Secondary School. This school requests 20 individual desks.

Our Kenyan field representative, Dan Otieno, will visit the schools sometime in the next month and we hope we can to move ahead with the funding and construction of new desks very soon.  If you would like to help with this, CanAssist appreciates gifts of any size. The average cost per bench desk will be about $40. Can you afford to donate one? (or two would be nice.)


Walking on the beach

There is nothing more exhilarating for me then walking on a deserted beach by the sea. This morning on longboat key it is much cooler than yesterday. Early this morning not many people ventured out onto the beach. But it was gorgeous! A cool north wind, bright sky, crashing waves, vast expanses of sandy beach and no one else there but me and one brave seagull. See for yourself.









Movies, movies, movies

There are always a rash of new movies that come out over the Christmas period. One of my holiday treats to myself is to indulge in seeing a few. Here is my quick take on the ones I have seen.


Gravity is a visually stunning piece that reminded me a bit of 2001 A Space Odyssey many years ago but with all the additions that 21st-century technology can add to a film. I do recommend that you see it on a big screen and in 3-D to get the full effect. Generally I am not a big fan of 3-D. I often find it is almost distracting but in this case it is used both subtly -with the exception of the obligatory few objects hurling at you from space – and to good effect. The movie has lots of very creative special-effects and it was not hard to watch Sandra Bullock flounder around in space,struggling to survive, for an hour and a half. After seeing the Wolf of Wall Street a couple days before, it was a relief to have only one F-bomb and after all, in her situation we felt that she deserved it.

imageI found All is Lost starring Robert Redford to be pretty, well, boring. I couldn’t seem to believe that a 77-year-old man could have the hair of the 25-year-old, so that squelched the credibility of the whole thing for me. I was waiting (hoping) for it to come loose when he was swimming underwater. And he could hold his breath for two minutes under the sea after 8 days without food or any fresh water without seeming to have any problem. That is acting.  I wondered why he was even out there in the first place. These two  struggle-for-survival movies had very similar themes.  Gravity was much more fun to watch. If there was something existential about either of them it went over my head.

The Wolf of Wall Street certainly has been the most controversial release recently. You either love it or hate it. People who hate it are often people who haven’t even seen it.  It puzzles me how people who have not seen a piece of theater or art can actually give an informed  commentary on its value. I saw it, however, and so I will tell you what I think.

The movie is three hours long.image The first hour was mildly amusing and had some really good, and funny moments. I was most impressed by the 10 minutes that Matthew McConaughey was on the screen.images-1 He gave an amazing supporting role performance as a coke-snorting, chest-pounding mentor for Jordan Belfort (Leonardo Dicaprio). I also enjoyed McConaughy’s performance in The Dallas Buyers Club.  He deserves accolades for his work in 2013.

The second hour of Wolf of Wall Street became tedious. We got the point -non-stop drugs, depravity, greed, hookers, gratuitous sex and swindling trade deals. Enough already. The language was vulgar both in the words used and the thoughts expressed.

By the third hour, I was not amused at all. There was one scene when Belfort is so stoned that he can hardly crawl to his car, slobbering spit and rolling down a flight of stairs. This has been described by some reviewers as slapstick. In a different circumstance it would have been funny but I was actually annoyed at the woman behind me for laughing at it. Did she not see how pathetic this character was?

imageBut then I wondered if this was not the point. The novelty had worn off and all the amoral indulgence and self-serving neglect for the feelings of anyone else that had been curious at first had become vulgar and hollow and distasteful. It was actually vulgar and hollow and distasteful all along but for some reason we are initially amused by it.

This movie is not for everyone and I would not recommend it unless you want to see just how depraved people can get, caught up in the pursuit of money. I can’t say I enjoyed it but I am glad that I went to see it as it will be a topic of conversation for some time to come. The theatre, by the way, was full, making us all feel like the poor victims that had fallen prey to Belfort’s almost evangelistic sales pitches. We lined up to buy tickets to sit through three hours of feeling both titilated and disgusted.

imageNext on the list was Saving Mr. Banks. I knew that I would like this one before I went and was not disappointed. Like so many movies (including Wolf of Wall Street) it is based on a true story, this one about how Disney persisted to get the rights to the Mary Poppins movie. But it turned out to be much more than that.

The movie was a surprisingly testament to what fathers and daughters do for/to each other. Maybe because I am from the Disney World era or, more likely because I am the father of two daughters, I found this movie touching and heart-warming. Tom Hanks reincarnates the avuncular Walt Disney that I remember from the days of black and white TV and Emma Thompson is perfect as the cranky British author with more baggage than the Mary Poppins valise she carries. No problem recommending this one to anyone.

The movie that I think will be the dark horse this year, overtaking the rest to be the favorite, is Philomena. I saw this at TIFF in September but it is just hitting the theatres now. Judi Dench is a delight to watch and the story is captivating. This is not a blockbuster. It is a good old-fashioned story with characters you care about that is told well and leaves you feeling satisfied. No spoilers.   A movie that everyone will enjoy.  Put it on the top of your list and watch it shine at award time.