Monday, 4 June 2018

"I dream things that never were...."

After years of planning and saving, our big adventure was upon us on June 5, 1968 - we were going to Ireland with our mom, to visit the country of her birth, and meet our great-grandmother!

I'd like to tell you that the trip went well, but I suffered from incredible motion sickness as a child (well into adulthood, to be honest), and I had a major freak-out at the sight of the plane that was taking us from Toronto to London (England). The small airport in my northern home town could only accept propeller planes, and I was terrified of this jet with no visible means of lifting us into the air. I suspect that I cried and threw up for at least the first couple of hours of the overnight flight, much to the distress of those around me.

The Aer Lingus flight from London to Dublin was much easier for me as the plane had propellers. It was also packed with Irish Americans heading home for visits with family, just as we were. The sky was blue, the sun shone, it was a perfect morning, and we had just cleared the British coast when the pilot made an announcement.

Bobby Kennedy had been assassinated.

The happy conversations turned instantly to sobs, grownups around me, women and men alike, were crying uncontrollably.

Even the 7-year-old me was aware of who Bobby Kennedy was. He was, after all, on the news nearly every night of the week, and usually on the cover of The Toronto Star, too! Yes, I did read the paper. No, my parents never stopped me. They had a subscription and it was delivered to the magazine shop in town late every afternoon, where dad would pick it up on his way home. I've mentioned in previous blog posts how I credit this habit with my success at trivia.

I've talked about this in a previous post:

and to this day, I remain inspired by the Kennedys and their vision for the world.

"Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not?"
     Senator Ted Kennedy's eulogy for his brother

Wednesday, 14 March 2018


My aunt, Elizabeth Walsh, died on Tuesday, March 6, 2018, leaving behind a large grieving family headed by her daughter, Cindy, and husband Roger Scott. Our family will not be the same without her.

Here is the eulogy I presented at her celebration of life service:

My aunt was one of those people with a rare gift - she could walk into any room and turn it into an instant party just by her presence. Her personality was as big as her smile and bright as her hair and it makes us feel her loss that much more keenly.

After my sister and I moved to Toronto, my aunt became a second mother to us. The best time was our birthday weekend, as our birthdays are less than a week apart. Aunt Liz treated us to lunch, and the restaurants got increasingly fancier as we got older. For my 18th birthday, she took me to the old Silver Rail on Yonge Street for my first grown-up drink.

Having worked as a cocktail waitress for years, she was unfailingly polite and kind to servers and taught us to be the same way. To this day, Melanie and I can go out and have wait staff tell us how we made their day by being their best customers.

Many years later, I was able to repay the favour; I somehow got tickets to see Swan Lake by the National Ballet on Aunt Liz's birthday and there was no question I would be taking her. We went out for Mexican and margaritas and then across the street to see the timeless story of the swan queen. We both loved it! Several years later, she was my date to a Placido Domingo concert - and we both adored that!

It's a rare and precious thing to have a second chance at love - but Aunt Liz and Uncle Roger are proof of the saying that love is lovelier the second time around. Their devotion to each other was tested in recent years due to illness, but it held fast. Uncle Roger, I said this to you on the weekend, but I'll repeat it now with a room full of witnesses - you're stuck with us.

My Wild Irish Clan has lost the brightest star in the constellation, but she will always be a part of us.

I then read the poem "Song of the Star" by the American writer Suzy Kassem.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Another day in Jeopardy!

It's been over 4 years since my first audition for my favourite TV show, and in the intervening time period, there were times I convinced myself that a second audition would never come.

Due to the Battle of the Decades Tournament spanning the 2013-2014 season, there were 8 weeks of shows where new contestants weren't required, and only one person from my audition pool showed up on my TV; he played for the Hamilton Tiger Cats, which gave him added interest to contestant coordinators. Rumour has it the Ti-Cats are the host's favourite CFL team, so that may have also had something to do with it.

When I was once again eligible to write the online test, it turned out Canadians were barred from writing due to some dumb internet privacy rules enacted by the CPC government. Even voluntarily giving your personal information to entities outside Canada was verboten, and our access to US game shows was cut off. Then the government changed and the ban was lifted after a face-to-face meeting between the Prime Minister and that other Canadian treasure, Jeopardy host Alex Trebek.

My next attempt at the online test was an abysmal failure. To say I bombed would be an understatement. Then I saw a former champion post online that she wrote the test (for fun) the same night I did, and she described it as "brutal". I didn't feel so bad.

I wrote again at the beginning of June and knew I passed. It was only a matter of waiting to see if my name would be pulled out of the hat by the computer.

And it was!

Once again, I would be off to Toronto to audition at a major downtown hotel, this time the Royal York - the grande dame of the city's numerous hotels, that was once the tallest building in the entire Commonwealth.

Given the weather-related horror story of my last audition (, I promptly began joking about facing another weather-related horror - a raging blizzard this time - since the audition was in November, not July. But we northern girls are a tough lot and I'm sure I could have scrounged up a dog sled if it became necessary!


It wasn't!

I dropped my bag at the Via Rail baggage check and wandered across the street to the Royal York 45 minutes before my appointed time! A film crew was camped out in the Library Bar and I couldn't see any signage for the conference rooms so I stopped by the Concierge Desk to get directions and wisely decided against downing several tequila shots at another bar on the way.

Upon arriving at the Prince Edward Room, I encountered Ray who was also attending his second audition, though he told me that his first had taken place about 30 years ago in Pittsburgh! We shook hands, wished each other good luck, and then I proceeded to pace the room and the hall outside.

As more potentials arrived, I finally sat down, updated my application with a few names and an anecdote about angioedema, then put in my earbuds and listened to my favourite power song:  Make You a Believer by Sass Jordan.

I pulled the earbuds out as the contestant coordinators walked in, including the legendary Maggie Speak. It's not a claim made lightly; former contestants talk of her in almost reverential tones.

Maggie has one of the most thankless tasks in show business. About 20% of the potentials obviously have the knowledge to make it on the show, but their personalities could kindly be described as dull. Maggie questions, charms, and cajoles even the most taciturn individuals into revealing themselves during their short interviews. She'd probably be a formidable trial attorney!

There was more front-loading spiel than I remembered from my first audition; then we got down to business and wrote the next 50-question test. I kicked myself for blanking on three easy (well, they should have been for me) questions:  a world capital, the author of a classic book, and identifying a hit song from its lyrics – a song that is on my iTunes! *deep sigh*

Maggie and fellow contestant coordinator Ryan left the room to score our tests and leave us to our own devices... or so we thought!

I had once again chosen to sit in the front row, and I heard the door to the room open and close and then there were gasps and a buzz from the back. I turned to see Alex Trebek himself walking between the tables inches away from me! "Oh my god", I said, out loud, before I could stop myself.

Alex didn't miss a beat, though, he had heard me, and winked and said "not quite". I erupted into giggles.

It turned out that Alex was on his way to Ottawa to get his Order of Canada on the Friday and decided to stop in at the auditions taking place in Toronto. Though I learned later that he had not been at the morning session the day I was there.

"Any questions?", he asked us, and 28 people gazed back at him, for long, quiet seconds, before loud-mouthed moi spoke up and said "we have two people from Sudbury here today". They identified themselves and they chatted with Alex about his home town and what they do there. It broke the ice, and the questions flowed after that. I managed to work into the conversation the fact that I'm from Kapuskasing, which got me an appreciative smile.

I'm ridiculously jealous of my dear friend, Andy Saunders, who got a photo of himself sitting down with Alex at the next morning's audition!

15 minutes later, Maggie and Ryan returned with the results and Alex left us sitting there wondering if it had really happened; even if none of us make it to the show, we got to spend time with him.

Once again, I was called up as part of the first group to play the mock game, and while I didn't dominate this time, I did well. Maggie approved my buzzer-technique of using my index finger to manipulate it, and it worked well (though I will continue to practice with my Jeopardy! pen).

During my interview, Maggie asked me about the list of 50+ names of former champions and contestants attached to my application. We talked about the "family" vibe of the group and I got a bit emotional when I told her how much their acceptance of me as a "wannabe" meant. So JFamily this one's for you:   

Every potential is asked what they would do with the money, and almost to a person, everyone says "travel". Even I did last time, though I got into the specifics of taking the Queen Mary II to Europe due to my fear of airplanes. This time around, though, I mentioned how much I'd love to build an ultimate master bedroom suite in my large, vaulted attic. "Claw-foot tub?", Maggie asked me. Copper slipper tub, I responded, and got an enthusiastic thumbs up!

I then said that they need to put me on the show SOON since Nana is going to be 100 in January 2020 and would like to see her granddaughter on TV before she shuffles off this mortal coil. Which prompted Tracy (a teacher with fabulous purple hair) next to me, to mention that her grandmother is 104. So I put my arm around her and said "you have to put BOTH of us on for our grandmothers". It got a laugh from everyone!

So now I wait.... my expiration date this time around is April 14, 2019. Almost sounds like canned goods when I put it that way.

Being superstitious and not renewing my passport four years ago didn't help; so I'll have to keep that promise I made to Kerry and get on it, since I now have travel health insurance through work for a crazy low price! If nothing else happens, I can hop on Amtrak and visit Pat in Chicago for a long weekend.

Dear Reader - please keep your fingers crossed for me! Oh, hell… keep everything crossed!

Monday, 16 October 2017


In the wake of the obviously long-overdue exposé of the horrendous behaviour of Harvey Weinstein, many high-profile women in the entertainment field have been tagged to weigh in by various news agencies, particularly the New York Times.

Canadian actor-director Sarah Polley was one, actor Mayim Bialik was another. I choose these two out of the many others because both have been involved in the entertainment industry for most of their lives. And their op-eds in The Times took very different tacks.

Ms. Polley took the system that protects predatory behaviour to task, Ms. Bialik said she chooses to protect herself by "...(dressing) modestly. I don't act flirtatiously with men as a policy". To my mind, she also appeared to suggest that ugly girls/women aren't targets.

A lot of people are - justifiably to my thinking - angry with her. As one of those ugly women, I can assure her that she's wrong.

The stalker I had at university was the older brother of a classmate. He was meeting the brother at school and I had thanked him for holding a door open - that's it. For the remainder of the school year, he would suddenly appear around campus in places where he knew I'd show up, despite not being a student. Then he somehow got my phone number.

I started university in the 1970s, no internet in every pocket, and this was pre- Theresa Saldana / Rebecca Shaeffer; stalking wasn't considered to be threatening, much less dangerous or criminal.

When I realized that the Paul Cooper on the phone was not the same Paul Cooper from the model United Nations committee, I told him not to call me ever again. To his credit, he didn't - but then I started getting letters.

Which meant he had my address.

He wrote long, rambling letters about being a born-again christian and how he "knew" that god had ordained me for him and that I would get a sign when the time was right.

People told me he had a crush and to forget about it. The campus police said they could do little to stop him, which is true when you consider the size and location of the downtown campus of the University of Toronto. They also thought he had a harmless crush, but I was frightened, and my boyfriend, friends, and other classmates ensured I was never alone walking around the campus, especially on those dark winter afternoons when I went from Hart House to the arena on The Philosophers' Walk.

The letters continued and I would simply "return to sender". Shortly after the holiday break, my beloved Hank was diagnosed with cancer and left school. But my classmates continued to surround me in a protective bubble for the remainder of the school year and the letters eventually stopped, though I would sometimes see Paul lurking at the corners where he thought he wouldn't be noticed.

Hank died that summer, and I returned to school in September broken in spirit. Three weeks into the school year, the incident occurred.

Following a class, I went to lunch at the Trinity College cafeteria with a group of friends - waiting for me was Paul with a massive bunch of flowers in hand.

He was bubbling over with happiness - Hank had died and this was the sign from god that I was meant to be with him, surely I had to see that.

There, in the middle of a room packed with 200 people, I started screaming and screaming as the impact of his words hit me. He dropped the flowers and ran only to be stopped by other students, while my friends tended to me and others contacted campus police.

This time, he was escorted off the premises and warned not to come back unless he had genuine business.

All I had done was say "thank you", nothing else.

I could tell you other stories; of the man that I went to work for as a summer temp the next year, who had the agency replace me without letting me know so that he could ask me out. On a Monday morning, I walked into the office to find someone else sitting at my desk, and he was waiting for me, wearing a new suit, sporting a new haircut. They didn't know my grandfather had died 2 days before and my family thought it would be good for me to go to work that day.

Or of the man that had a serious mental illness that worsened over the course of the year I knew him, and how no one took me seriously about the assaults because he was my boyfriend and had a key to my house. It wasn't until he caused a scene somewhere else and was coming to my place to "get" me that the police did anything - and even then, I had to phone a friend who worked for CSIS to get someone to come to my house. To the credit of the Toronto Police, when this came to court, they formed a protective bubble around me and I have never forgotten their kindness that day.

I am fortunate that I don't remember details about the assaults and that I had a wonderful psychiatrist who told me that I didn't have to remember in order to heal like so many people said.

He was fortunate that he had rich parents who could pay for his problems to go away, and that he was blessed with a ridiculously handsome face that helped. Like the probation officer that I called after he contacted me in violation of a court order. She didn't believe that a man "who looks like that" could be guilty of everything in his file. I called her supervisor and got him assigned to a male probation officer.

I am not attractive, I am not flirtatious, I did not invite these actions - these men did what they wanted, how I felt was not a matter of consideration. This is the mindset of the abuser/harasser - they will have what *they* want, PERIOD.

Any suggestion that dressing, speaking, looking, or behaving in a certain manner will protect you from this is WRONG! PERIOD!

And having the suggestion come from someone who uses their credentials as a scientist as proof of their feminist bona fides makes it even worse.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Right Back Where We Started From...

I deleted the update to my October 2014 post that I posted in the spring of 2016; none of it was true anymore.

Here we are at World Mental Health Day again, and my life has retreated to the point it was when I wrote about my struggles with avoidant personality disorder 3 years ago. There is no doubt that the issues I am facing in my workplace have a lot to do with this.

And the loss of the only supportive relationships in my life has been the most detrimental of all.

There are many people in this city who are smarter and more qualified than I am who cannot find work representative of their talents, so 5 interviews in 3 years shouldn't be regarded as a bad thing, but that's not the way my mind perceives it. That my two most recent directors dismiss my abilities, experience and education is even more debilitating.

Two days from now, Pints & Politics through the Urban League is hosting an event about loneliness. I signed up and I've been reading the links they've posted about loneliness in the context of living in a city. It's been difficult reading those articles.

This letter from The Guardian (UK) stood out:

When you’re approaching 50 and trying to ‘start again’ in a new place, it can be really hard. In a city it can feel like the whole world is out having fun, which makes you feel like a bit of loser. 

I was 45 when I moved to London and I am approaching 60 now. It is difficult to meet people for friendship when you are a middle-aged single woman. Most other single women in your age group are juggling children from their now-ended marriage, their jobs, and, usually, a new relationship. The female half of couples in your age range regard you as a threat to their relationship, and other single women in the same position as you look at you as competition. My experience of this city until 4 years ago is that it is cold and insular.

I have managed in that time to meet people who share my interests - mainly politics - but the biggest issue I've faced is that they are 10, 20, 30 and - in a few cases, more - years younger than I am. And other than a couple of interests, I have nothing in common with them. So I find myself on the outside, with my nose pressed up the glass of  social media feeds that make me feel even more alone.

Tonight I returned from a weekend where I spent days tending to my aging mother. It's emotionally draining for a reason other than the obvious one.... in 20 years, there will be no one to look after me.

In the 2 years since I developed chronic ideopathic angioedema, my panic attacks have returned; I'm afraid to sleep, afraid to be alone.... afraid that one day it will be the type of swelling that affects my tongue and and throat instead of just my lips and I'll die alone here and no one will know.


I was betrayed this summer by someone I cared for, my personal safety and security compromised. And there's a voice in my head that tells me that I should never expect more, that this is what I deserve.

I have no one to talk to about this, no support system.

More than anything, I hope other people don't have these feelings too, and that they are able to reach out and find what they need. As the song says:  there must be something better than this.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

A tale of two countries...

I'm not sure where this post starts; today is the 16th anniversary of my father's death, and that event always leaves me with a deep sense of loss. But I think it stretches back 25 years to the day I got my first internet account.

In 1992, there was no world wide web, no pictures, only words. And I was fortunate enough to stumble upon a group filled with witty, challenging, loving words created by a group of witty, challenging, loving people from around the world, mostly, of course, in the United States. Over time, I got to meet many of them. We went whitewater rafting, held quilting bees, attended chocolate fairs, and weddings, and consumed copious quantities of amazing food and drink.

I think it's fair to say that Nancy was the most beloved member of our group. She was a funny, kind, deeply loving woman with a great love of animals - no more so than her pet lizard, Herman. Nancy was a docent at the Memphis Zoo, the doting mother of Jenna and Derek, and an employee of the University of Memphis, where she covered the door to her office with Dilbert cartoons.

In May 1998, Nancy was diagnosed with a rare cancer of the bile ducts. The tumor was large and would have been difficult to remove surgically, but, by some miracle, Nancy's HMO agreed to let her have treatment at the Vanderbilt University Hospital cancer centre. The doctors were going to perform a chemoembolization - where the artery feeding the tumor would be blocked with a plug containing chemotherapy drugs to cut off its blood supply and shrink it to a point where it could be removed.

This is a fairly routine procedure today, but almost 20 years ago it was considered experimental, and Vanderbilt decided to fight with Nancy's HMO for her to have the treatment. They had it all arranged and approved, and she checked into the hospital in Nashville for the procedure.

Only to have someone at the HMO change their minds and pull the plug on the treatment while she was being prepped for surgery.

In the 1990s, universities in the US were one of those employers with "great" health plans for their employees. But, as remains the case today, insurers decide what treatment you get, NOT the medical professionals treating you.

Nancy died on August 12, 1999, she was 56, the same age I am now. Her loss was keenly felt by our group as a whole, and I think it's fair to say that we miss her still.

Despite having good coverage under her work health plan, Nancy's chemotherapy still cost thousands of dollars, and after she died, Jenna and Derek were forced to sell the family home to settle the debts that remained.

Fast-forward a year to Papa's diagnosis with throat cancer.

My father lived in Ste-Thérèse, on the north shore of the St. Lawrence across from Laval and Montréal. His cancer was discovered when he had a stroke caused by a tumor pressing on an artery in his neck. At his choice, he delayed chemotherapy to undergo physio to treat the side effects of the stroke.

Then he had another, more serious, stroke, paralyzing him on one side of his body. And started aggressive treatment for the cancer.

Here's the big difference in how treatment progressed for my Papa and Nancy:  Papa had the same oncologist as one of his hockey heroes - Jean Beliveau. Somehow, I can't see Michael Jordan would have been denied treatment as Nancy was - simply because he could pay for it without worrying about those pesky insurance company flunkies.

When my father died, my online family asked if my sister and I required any financial assistance to meet his expenses. Papa had prepaid his funeral and all his treatment was covered by the Ministère de la Santé and the Régie des Rentes, as he was placed on partial pension due to his illness. We got money back from the hospice because the Régie paid a month in advance for his stay.

No assistance needed.


Nearly 20 years after these events, my friends and family in the United States continue to find their health care choices left to the mercy of insurance companies and conservative politicians who are little better than faith healers and snake oil salesmen.

After the vote in the US Congress last week, I publicly expressed my wish that I could adopt my American friends, and thanked my grandparents for emigrating to Canada.

Our health care system is far from perfect, and still underfunded, but I am grateful that I can walk into a hospital and walk out without handing over a credit card or worrying about pre-existing conditions negating the insurance I do have. Yes, my tax rate is higher, but it's a small price to pay for peace of mind.

And that's what makes The True North genuinely strong!

My previous post about my Papa:

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

I See You...

In the 1970 song "Everything is Beautiful", songwriter Ray Stevens echoes the words of 17th century clergyman Matthew Henry: There is none so blind as he who will not see.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately as a result of a Twitter conversation with my friends Marci and Amanda coupled with a book I've been reading.

I live in London, Canada, a city currently in a state of upheaval due to proposed changes to our transit system. We are the largest city of our size without a rapid transit system of either light rail or buses running on a separated grade. And we are bisected by two rail lines. While the southern line has many over and under-passes (as there are 3 rails), the northern line, run by Canadian Pacific, has one rail that runs at grade.

In the 11 years that I have lived here, I cannot tell you how many times I have sat in a bus on Richmond Street, stopped in traffic due to a train blocking the road. To make matters worse, two of the city's main hospitals are on the north side of those tracks and ambulances sit in traffic, too. The proposed transit plans would see a tunnel built under the tracks that could also be used by emergency vehicles.

Amanda has been economizing and using public transit instead of driving everywhere. She is a naturally gregarious person and chats with fellow riders and the bus drivers, and one of the topics of conversation is the transit plan. To her astonishment, a fair number of transit riders and even DRIVERS say they are unfamiliar with the plans.

And that fact astonishes ME, because there's been no shortage of public participation meetings about both transit and the municipal plan that has transit at its centre, as well as television and newspaper coverage. But, more than that, there were information posters ON THE BUSES themselves.

The information posters were conveniently placed in dedicated frames attached to the door of the driver cubby, where they can store their coats in winter. It's one of the first things you see when you step on the bus.

But you have to actually LOOK at it in order to SEE it!

Which brings me to the conversation with Marci and Amanda. Marci asked how we make people LOOK at something in order to SEE the information?

And, of course, the answer is - we can't.

That made think of all the things we look at, but don't really see.

This introspection was brought about by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, the acclaimed children's author, who died last month at the age of 51. A week before she died, the New York Times published an essay she wrote about her marriage and her husband. Having never heard of her before reading the deeply moving essay, I looked her up and discovered that she was not "just" a children's author, she had written some witty and insightful adult books, and was generally a "bon-vivant" - she lived very, VERY well!

I went to Kobo and found that her "Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life" was on sale and downloaded it.

It is, indeed an encyclopedia of Ms Rosenthal's life, but I was struck by how much she saw in those ordinary things that we do each day. I have an odd gift for remembering, but Ms Rosenthal absorbed life and found beauty daily in the world. She perpetrated random of acts of kindness, and hosted a flash mob at the Millennium Park in Chicago in 2008.

Last Saturday was an almost perfect spring day despite the snow the day before. So I hopped on a bus to head out to shop for groceries. I had forgotten to charge my iPad and didn't have anything in my hands to distract me on the trip there or back.

In eight and a half years of making that trip to that store, how had I never noticed that the sign outside the restaurant Piri-Piri has the caption "Eat, Drink, Repeat" under the name? Or that the Portuguese Fish Market sells juices for home-made wine and lists them all on a board on the outside of the store?

I have been making a conscious effort to see the world this week as I continue reading Ms Rosenthal's book.  With some luck and effort on my part, I will continue to do so, it's not natural for me. I'd rather tuck myself into my books and games and music on my travels - maybe so that the world won't see me.

In our transit debate, it seems more and more that the people against the plan refuse to see the people who actually use transit. "Certain types of people" use public transit a downtown merchant said to the chair of the transit commission, and the merchants are certain that "those people" don't patronize their establishments. As one of "those people", I'm tempted to ensure that those merchants don't see a penny of my hard-earned money!

This morning, someone nearly walked into me because she was too busy looking at her phone to see where she was going.  Has our connected world made us look at things - and people - but not SEE them?

It seems so; and the words written by a man who could not have foreseen the existence of cell phones ring truer than ever:  we are willfully blind because we will not see.


Amy Krouse Rosenthal got less time on planet earth than I have had, and that's a sad thing. But her publisher has found a way to honour her spirit, and you can join in. Visit this web page to learn more: