Why I’m Excited About Canada’s New Food Guide

Yesterday, Canada’s new official Food Guide was released, and I am stoked about it!


For the first time EVER in this country, the Food Guide has not been influenced by agricultural promotion. Instead, it has been influenced by SCIENCE. As it should have been all along. Way to shake off the fetters of commercial enterprise, Food-Guidologists!

That’s Reason Number One that I’m stoked. I believe that a document meant to teach people best practices for feeding themselves should be based solely on actual best practices, as determined by people who study the effects of foods on humans (not by people who study previous food guides, or who study advice from people who produce a particular kind of food). It is time, as Prof. Sylvain Charlebois put it in the Globe and Mail, for the Food Guide to “depart from its humble initial purpose of sponsoring agriculture and […] finally serve our quest for a better quality of life.”

The next reason is, I really think it will improve Canada’s health. It says:

  1. Eat your veggies.
  2. Cook your own food as often as you can.
  3. Appreciate your food (i.e. make meals important – share them with others, notice and enjoy what you’re eating).
  4. Focus on whole foods and plant foods in your diet.


I see this as being not just about physical (especially arterial) health, but also mental health. Mindfulness, and slowing down, getting joy out of the simple act of eating, and having your fellow humans close to you when you can. Bravo for saying it explicitly!

As many of you will have guessed, I am not sorry to see meat kicked off the title of a food group. Its importance has been artificially inflated all this time, and it’s time to get back to reality.

I have been vegetarian since I was fourteen. (I might have converted earlier if I hadn’t been the middle of three sisters, the other two of whom had already converted and tried to convince me. I dug in my Taurus heels and only made the switch when *I* wanted to. But I can remember being traumatized, at age ten or so, by the idea of all those cows dying.) The summer I was fourteen, I attended an animal rights seminar at Camp in which I learned about factory farming. One morning I looked at my bacon – which I usually liked, but it suddenly didn’t look so good – and decided I would give vegetarianism a try. After that, I was so proud of myself that I didn’t look back. Not even while pregnant.

But I do remember what it was like to like meat. I missed ground beef in spaghetti sauce and hamburgers, and I missed turkey on holidays, and a couple of times I randomly missed the canned corned beef hash we sometimes ate during my childhood.

There are certain people who, when they find out I’m a vegetarian, immediately go on the offensive. I am careful not to preach about it – I don’t flinch when other people eat meat around me, and I’ve cooked meat many times for other people. But the very fact that I don’t eat meat compels some people to justify (vehemently) their animal consumption. It is one of those choices that offends some people, and that people feel entitled to belittle, though I don’t really know why.

It’s not as bad as it was 20 years ago. And it’s way better in Canada than in many other places. (I can remember being ridiculed by the man who ran the Chinese restaurant in France where I ordered a vegetable soup and then wouldn’t eat it because it had chicken in it. He scoff-laughed, in broken French, “This is a restaurant, not a vegetable!”)

Nonetheless, I still encounter people who are all caveman about their meat. Grrr! I get my muscle from this meat, why would I waste away eating rabbit food, bacon is LIFE, grilling animal flesh is my heart’s greatest passion, blah blah.

**Can I just note here that “rabbit food” is also horse food, cow food, elephant food, and gorilla food. The tiny fuzzy scaredy animal is not the only example.**

The cultural hold that meat has on people, especially Westerners, in 2019, is big and powerful, with sharp teeth and attacky-type claws. So it is utterly unsurprising that the meat industry doesn’t like being shuffled into a group with beans and lentils and of course that uber-pansy of foods, tofu. I heard a well-spoken and well-meaning beef farmer on the radio last night talking about the “disappointing” news, reminding listeners of how much more efficient meat is at delivering protein.

I feel for her. It’s awful to have your livelihood threatened. I feel the same for the workers at the GM plant in Oshawa – people are just trying to do their jobs and support their families. The bad luck is that they work in industries that depend on the rigidity of certain standards… which are now shifting with the times.

The protein obsession is hand-in-hand with the meat obsession. Did you know that one medium russet potato contains between 4 and 5 grams of protein? Nobody reading this blog right now is in any danger of a protein deficiency. If you’re getting enough calories from nutrient-containing solid food, your protein is fine. (So not if you’re that guy who only consumes Coke and Oreos. But basically everyone else.)

The other lobby that’s taking a hit right now is Big Dairy. It has also lost top billing in food group land. We know from the NAFTA milk disputes that dairy is a hugely influential industry in Canada. Milk has been equated with health and wholesomeness since… well, since at least 1942 when Canada’s original wartime “Food Rules” were published. And gosh darnit, we believe what we’re told. We’re following the rules.

Plus, who doesn’t love cheese? (Other than folks with dairy allergies?) Who doesn’t love ice cream?? And stuff with butter in it?

I admit, there are many dairy and dairy-containing foods I love. Quite a large number. But my perspective on them has changed in the last couple of years, since my hubby was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.

He was not yet at the point where he needed medication, and he vowed to himself that he would get his diabetes under control with his diet. The doctor said Sean’s main concern should be losing weight, and gave him a list of foods to eat – kind of a low-carb whole foods diet, but not one that matched up with any well-known diet people talk about.

Sean did his own research and experimented on himself. He tried the ketogenic (low-carb, high-fat) diet – said to reverse Type 2 diabetes – for a couple of months, and did drop a bunch of weight in a short amount of time. For a bit, it seemed like an excellent solution. But then he also found that keto did bad and sketchy things to his digestive system  – and also our kitchen was So. Effing. Greasy.

He did not feel good about that, as you can imagine. He spent some time trying to eat more simply, more whole-foods-based, but there’s too much grey area in a diet like that. Too easy to eat whatever.

What he eventually landed on, and has stuck with for well over a year (with some periods of relaxed parameters but always coming back to it) is the Starch Solution. High-carb, low-fat, vegan – the polar opposite of keto.

I have to tell you, if you’d told me three years ago that my husband would go vegan, I would have said, with a sardonic laugh, “Yeah, right. When pigs fly, fool.” (Okay, I actually probably wouldn’t have said those exact words.) In all the time we’ve been together – almost 17 years! – he has flirted many times with vegetarianism, and never stuck with it. Now suddenly he’s able to restrict himself way past anything I’ve ever tried, and stay true?

The thing is, Sean’s a compulsive researcher. The more research he did, the more evidence mounted saying that this was a way he could reverse his diabetes – cheaply, and with a much smaller carbon footprint, and much MUCH less negative impact on his arteries and heart. And other organs (which all need clear arteries to function well).

Also, Sean worked at an old-age home when he was younger, and he’s seen people with wounds that never heal and limbs that have to be amputated because they had unchecked Type 2 diabetes. He does not want that.

And here are some other things. When he is loyal to the principles of the Starch Solution, he:

  • feels great (to the point where sometimes he’ll just randomly text me, “Man! I feel great today!!”) – physically and mentally
  • has lots of energy
  • sleeps better
  • is digestively happy
  • barely gets sick – hardly even a stuffy nose
  • feels less drawn to junk food
  • cooks a lot more
  • finds his neuropathies (numbness in limbs) disappearing
  • is clear-headed
  • loses weight
  • has normal blood sugar readings.

Clearly, this is the lifestyle for him. As a result, our whole family eats a lot more vegan food. I am usually eating in solidarity with Sean (although I am less strict than he is), and I have to admit, I feel better when I eat this way too. Lighter, less bloated, more energetic. It’s not as hard as you’d think. Even the kids, who still eat dairy but not as much of it, have rarely been sick since we made the shift.

Obviously, the new Food Guide is not suggesting that everyone immediately start eating high-carb, low-fat vegan. (Can you imagine? Agriculture in Canada would implode, and the cave-people would riot.) Obviously, people are going to eat meat, and vociferously so, I’m sure. Cheese and butter and eggs, too.

But it is so, so nice, after all this time, to have a food guide that does not imply that you will be unhealthy if you are vegetarian or vegan. (My son has a friend who told him last year that he would be unhealthy because he doesn’t eat meat.) A guide in which plant-based proteins are not just dubbed “alternatives” to the REAL FOOD of meat and dairy. Now we can officially teach kids that if they are vegetarian or don’t like meat (and many don’t), or if they’re allergic to dairy, they will be FINE – or better.


Plant foods have incredibly healing properties. Plant fibre is what keeps our gut healthy. We need plants to fill us up and clean us out. And on a planet smothered with almost 8 billion people, it is simply unsustainable for everyone to eat animal products in the quantities that North Americans do. So plants will also be what provides for us to survive as a species.

Lovelies, I did not intend to make this into a huge post. I was just excited, and then got carried away. But since we’re here, if you feel like cooking tonight, lentil pie is a vegetarian WINNER.

And if you want more information on plant-based nutrition,

  • Dr. John McDougall literally wrote the book on the Starch Solution and has been studying plant-based eating for over 40 years;
  • Dr. Michael Greger makes nutrition very easy to follow;
  • Mic the Vegan combs through ALL the studies so you don’t have to;
  • YouTube is FULL of amazing innovators who invent recipes for you to use.

You’ll find that the vegan-research rabbit hole, once you get into it, is more of a gorilla-hole.

I wish you lots of wholesome, delicious meals, eaten in good company!


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Truth and Reconciliation, One Human at a Time

The TRC Bentwood Box, a tribute to all Indian Residential School Survivors, carved by Coast Salish artist Luke Marston.

Today is National Indigenous Peoples’ Day, formerly known as National Aboriginal Day, established to celebrate First Nations, Métis, and Inuit culture in Canada. I know that for many Indigenous people, this day seems like lip-service, since we have not yet established a day to focus on Truth and Reconciliation. I decided to use this day for that purpose.

On this year’s 150th anniversary of Confederation, today marks the official beginning of Canadian celebrations that culminate on Canada Day – the biggest national party we’ve ever had. But some Canadians cannot feel celebratory about a Confederation that served to marginalize our First Peoples. Some are acutely aware that the number 150 has nothing to do with true Indigenous history and everything to do with its erasure. Therefore, we as a nation must make this, right now, a season of commitment and burgeoning for Truth and Reconciliation.

In 2008, the Government of Canada finally apologized for its part in the damage done to Indigenous peoples through the Indian Residential School system. That apology was a landmark event for Canada, and one of Stephen Harper’s better moments, but it could have gone much deeper.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was also formed in 2008, and released its final report in 2015 to let Canadians know what Indigenous peoples needed for healing. There has been some progress since then, including a new and more inclusive government, but in truth, the work has barely begun.

I am white. I was born in Canada, to American immigrants with European roots. I acknowledge that my life, down to the very land I live on, has always been privileged. In this writing, I use the word “we” to refer to generations of us – since long before residential schools – who have enjoyed, and continue to enjoy, privilege that exists at the expense of generations of Indigenous peoples. I use the word “you” to reach out to all Indigenous peoples of Canada, you who are alive today as well as your ancestors, who have been victims, and bear the burden, of that same privilege.

As a teacher, a parent, and a proud Canadian, I am trying to figure out how best to participate in Truth and Reconciliation in my country at this historical moment. Perhaps an apology is a good place to start, even as I wonder whether it’s my place or my right to offer one. I don’t know if these words are the right ones, but I hope that they may still be worth writing.


First: I’m sorry to be speaking to you as though you were one homogeneous group. I know that you are many different peoples, languages, traditions, stories, and histories, and that it’s partly the dominant white perspective that lumps you together. Sadly, your suffering has also given you much in common, and that is what I want to address.

I’m sorry that when we arrived in this beautiful land, one you had already known and loved and worked and understood for millennia, most of us utterly failed to recognize your civilization, your wisdom, even your humanity – and, of course, your prior claim.

I’m sorry that we so thoroughly abused any welcome or trust that you showed us.

I’m sorry that we lied to you, over and over, about everything, with such sweeping consequences.

I’m sorry that we were unspeakably arrogant, assuming you to be the savages, and ourselves to be the enlightened ones.

I’m sorry that so many of you died from the toxic gifts we brought: firearms, alcohol, and disease.

I’m sorry that we used every tactic possible to push and push and push you to the very margins of your own home, as if our sense of entitlement made any sense whatsoever.

I’m sorry that so many of us, including our governing representatives, saw you as a pest to be managed, and treated you accordingly.

I’m sorry that we thought it was in any way acceptable to wrench your families apart, the better to force your children to become what they were not.

I’m sorry that so many of those 150,000 children – your babies – and also your grandparents – were deprived of their languages, forcibly evangelized, neglected, overcrowded, underfed, beaten, raped, sterilized, experimented on, and otherwise abused, such that thousands died, and thousands more bore – and still bear – every level of scars.

I’m sorry that we outrageously pretended, until very recently, that this was all for your own good.

I’m sorry that, rather than offering necessary support – recompense, remedy, apology, or even sympathy – to your Survivors of residential schools, we spent so many years sweeping it under the rug.

I’m sorry that we deliberately attacked, suppressed, and endangered your languages.

I’m sorry that our actions have made it so hard for your families to re-grow the roots and branches of your tribal and family trees.

I’m sorry that so many of us have no understanding of land claims, seeing them only as traffic disruptions.

I’m sorry that after the centuries of physical, political, and spiritual marginalization we inflicted on you, we have – incredibly – not progressed enough to make restitution; that instead, we continue to desecrate the small bits of land remaining to you with pipelines, highways, and disrespect.

I’m sorry that we seem to expect you to suck it up and be fine, as though “we’re not the bad guys” and “it’s not our problem.”

I’m sorry that so many of us view the addictions, violence, and suffering in your communities as your fault, rather than as the inevitable aftermath of the mass torture of generations of your people.

I’m sorry that we have felt entitled to stereotype you, to use whichever archetypes we like, to mock some aspects of your culture and to co-opt others, with no real understanding of their origins, significance, or sacredness.

I’m sorry that despite being a country that prides itself on respecting, welcoming, celebrating, and being a refuge for a diversity of cultures, we have made you feel so unwelcome and disrespected in your own home.

I’m sorry that we congratulate ourselves on the high standard of living in our nation, even as so many of you live in deplorable conditions.

I’m sorry that we have a reputation for niceness and politeness that glosses over our ugly white supremacist history.

I’m sorry that you have lost so many of your beloved people, especially young ones, to hopelessness and suicide.

I’m sorry that so many of your women have been kidnapped, abused, and murdered – and gone so long uninvestigated by our police.

I’m sorry that such a disproportionate, horrifying number of your babies have been – and are still being – taken away, even from safe families and communities, due to racism and lack of due process on the part of our child welfare authorities.

I’m sorry that despite overwhelming evidence that you are right, and have always been right, when it comes to the urgent necessity of respecting, protecting, and healing this intricately, wholly connected planet we share, many of us are still pretending that we can afford to trash it.

I’m sorry that instead of following your lead of respecting every being, acknowledging that all our futures are interdependent, we are becoming more and more a culture in which derision and cruelty are accepted and fomented – even though we (should) know better.

I’m sorry that there may well be people who read this and dismiss it as exaggeration and overly dramatic.

I’m sorry that there are still adult Canadians who are ignorant of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, its Calls to Action, and its profound importance to Canada.

Image via mrbarlow.wordpress.com


I know that I am very fortunate to be here. I love that this country is, in many ways, beautiful, safe, diverse, peaceful, and generous. But we have darkness that needs to be acknowledged. We can always do better. I want to be even prouder of us.

Here is what I am starting with, in my journey to be part of an improved Canada that takes Truth and Reconciliation seriously:

I promise to speak frankly to my children and my students, as I did today, about residential schools and Indigenous history that has been misrepresented or left out of education for so long – and to impress upon them that we are all Treaty People.

I promise to continue to  make Indigenous history and teachings an embedded part of my job as a teacher, as authentically as possible. I know that this means including real Indigenous voices as often as I can.

I promise to make every effort to respect Indigenous cultures without appropriating them – never to teach what I do not know or am not entitled to share.

I promise to continue to educate myself as much and as often as possible, to learn from Indigenous people living today, so that my teaching has value.

I promise to stand with you in protesting the violation of our water sources and the desecration of our planet.

I promise to challenge racism out loud when I have the chance.

I promise to make Truth and Reconciliation part of our charitable budget.

In solidarity with you, and in keeping with my own Quaker upbringing, I promise to sit in sacred circles, to listen to  nature, and to remind myself every day of the profound interconnectedness of life on Earth.

Having read the TRC’s report “Honouring the Truth and Reconciling for the Future”, including all ninety-four Calls to Action, I promise to ask my fellow Canadians to do the same.

And I promise to keep learning about the best ways to be part of Truth and Reconciliation in Canada.

To that end, I am grateful for the people whose work and wisdom I know to be making Truth and Reconciliation more accessible for Canadians: Geronimo Henry, David A. Robertson, Cherie Dimaline, Lee Maracle, Richard Wagamese, Jesse Wente, Jan Sherman, Colinda Clyne, Nancy Rowe, Sean Lessard, Rosanna Deerchild, Thomas King, Wab Kinew, Jeanette Armstrong, Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, Nicola Campbell, Michael Kusugak, Tanya Tagaq, Chelsea Vowel, Candy Palmater, Randall Charboneau, Bruce Beardy, Midnight Shine, Samian, Buffy St. Marie, A Tribe Called Red, Neil Monague, Norm Tabobondung, Gord Downie, and others.






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#NaBloPoMo, Day 4: The Cabinet, etc.

Today, I’m so grateful for our new government.

trudeau's new cabinet

Remember how I said, a couple weeks ago, that I’d decided to be optimistic and allow myself to be excited about the new PM and his MPs? Well, I can tell you now: being hopeful is FUN. Way more fun than cringing and waiting for things to go wrong(er and wronger). Telling the niggling doubter-voices in the back of my mind to shut the bleep up is fun too.

And I have to say, Justin Trudeau is making optimism really easy. Before he was even sworn in, he was doing cool things. Now that he’s officially our Prime Minister and has chosen his cabinet ministers, I’m truly impressed with the number of his actions that have made me go, “Brilliant! How did no one do this sooner??

Highlights of that list:

  • Inviting not only the provincial premiers but the federal opposition leaders to join him at the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris. How do you show you’re serious about environmental cooperation and innovation in this vast and varied country? THIS IS HOW.
  • Changing the name of the Ministry of Environment to the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change. A seemingly small thing, and yet in light of those people who are still in denial about it, not small at all.
  • Changing the name of the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development (so “us and them”) to the Ministry of Indigenous and Northern Affairs. (Carolyn Bennett considers herself “Minister of Reconciliation.” YES.)
  • Opening up the grounds of Rideau Hall to the public for the swearing-in ceremony. A great metaphor for the governmental openness that has been promised.
  • Appointing a family physician as the Minister of Health – I guess I don’t know if this has been done before, but when I look at this appointment, it suddenly seems like a no-brainer.
  • Appointing a First Nations leader as Minister of Justice. This is so fitting and makes so much sense.
  • Appointing a cabinet with some actual cultural diversity.
  • Appointing many people who are smart and knowledgeable people first and politicians second (or barely). In a time when lots of people are feeling disenchanted with politicians, what better way is there to change the way the game of politics is played – or better yet, throw out the game board and get down to the business of improving Canada?
  • Instituting gender parity in the Cabinet. This one is, when you think about it, so ridiculously obvious that one must ask oneself: what took us so long?? Trudeau showed today that no, these things don’t take time (or any other dumb excuse), they just take someone with the clarity and decisiveness to do it – someone who recognizes that the way we’ve been doing this forever is actually bullshit and represents neither our country nor our times – therefore, there’s no need to perpetuate the status quo. DONE.

I also loved watching those little Inuit girls throat-singing at the ceremony. So focused on their song, and then breaking into giggles. To me, that’s respecting cultural tradition and thinking into the future – and also not taking ourselves too seriously.

Anyway, I could go on, but the point is, I am having a lovely time being thrilled at what has happened in our new Canada so far. And I’m full of gratitude for the whole refreshing phenomenon.



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Dear Jian Ghomeshi: you inspired my list of heroes. Now what?


Dear Jian,

In March 2013, I was inspired to write a blog post entitled “Living Canadian Heroes.” I had been moved by the interview I’d just listened to on Q – the one you had with Stompin’ Tom Connors, replayed on the occasion of his death.

I remember thinking how often we talk about Canadian heroes who are not alive – how it’s somehow easier to call someone a hero once they’re gone, and how we should be celebrating those people who are making Canada better every day, right now – people who represent Canada with integrity, thoughtfulness, respect, and skill.

You have been one of my Living Canadian Heroes for a long time. That blog post is still sitting in my drafts, for myriad reasons. Now, I am feeling frankly disillusioned about it.

I remember talking about you with my sister one time. She wasn’t a huge fan of yours – thought you were a bit pretentious or conceited or whatever. I defended you: “But he’s AWESOME. He can interview anyone, and he’s knowledgeable about everything, and he asks amazing questions, and all kinds of people just open up to him, and plus Moxy Früvous, hello?? He’s a CANADIAN ICON.”

When the news broke last weekend that you and CBC were breaking up, I was genuinely upset.

I have been struggling to write about it ever since, but I’ve been paralyzed, watching the hope/grief scale tip inexorably toward the side where you are actually an asshole.

At first, like all your fans, I wanted to think that the CBC had made a mistake. I thought: There is no Q without Jian.

But then, I deeply love my CBC Radio, and I have always trusted it to do its research. Back when you were a teenager obsessing over Bowie, I was a wee nerdy kid already listening to Ted O’Reilly on “Stories and Music for Children,” Jay Ingram on “Quirks and Quarks,” and Jurgen Gothe on “DiscDrive.” That connection was there long before you were, and it remains.

All the same, I wanted to believe your Facebook post, so seemingly earnest (except I wanted to forget your use of the word “jilted” – a distinctly un-classy term, for you). My first impression was: who gives a crap if he’s kinky in the bedroom? Not my business, and after all, BDSM is a notoriously misunderstood form of sexual expression.

But somehow, I couldn’t find the conviction to make a comment of support.

As more opinions poured in, I wanted to remind folks – aren’t we supposed to be innocent until proven guilty? Still, I couldn’t write about it –  because something was off.

Then, more and more stories, more women coming forward, more supporters backtracking. Loyalty fizzling. Worst-case scenario looking increasingly plausible. The sleaziness that was, apparently, common knowledge in the national arts industry was shocking to the rest of us suckers… but somehow still believable.

At this point, the scale has tipped. Now, I’m finally able to write, even though it’s all been said. Even if what I write here is now irrelevant or over-discussed, I have to process this for myself.

At the risk of sounding maudlin: it feels like we, your international audience, have been cheated on. The evidence looms large that the person we thought we knew and loved has been doing slimeball things for who-knows-how-long. We’re reeling, wondering how we could have failed to see it. We’re realizing our entire history with you is tainted, and we’re questioning whether all our memories involving you are valid or even worth keeping. There were moments where we hoped it could still somehow turn out to be just a big misunderstanding, or even a bad dream.

But at this point, I don’t see how any kind of “misunderstanding” conclusion could fix this. This kind of chronic violence can’t be blamed on a misinterpretation of BDSM, or a false inference of consent. This isn’t just a bunch of “jilted” women getting mad and conspiring against you. Those who have gone public are not the vengeful connivers you describe; they just want your audience to know that there are many cats to exit the bag.

What were you thinking all this time?

Maybe you thought what you were doing really was fine. A delusion of that magnitude, superimposing enjoyment over the pain of your sexual partner, is a serious health issue. A case of hyperinflated ego that has squeezed your brain, perhaps, resulting in galactically stupid behaviour.

Maybe this is an addiction, a mental health issue you’ve struggled with. But in that case, wouldn’t a reasonable person seek help? Wouldn’t there be remorse?

Maybe you knew it was bad, and you didn’t give a shit. Or felt you were untouchable in your stardom. Which surpasses the “asshole” category. That kind of duplicitous depravity is actually filed under “evil.”

Your unsuspecting former fans will not be able to brush this off for the sake of your past work. Because unlike Sean Penn, Woody Allen, Mel Gibson, Sean Connery, and any number of other celebrities who are still popular despite violent track records, we didn’t know you were in the acting business. Your popularity was based on you being, ostensibly, you.


It sucks that you were so great at your job. You really could converse with anyone – you talked to Joni Mitchell, Mike Tyson, Taylor Swift, and Justin Trudeau with equal grace. You were eminently knowledgeable, intelligent, adaptable, insightful, charismatic. A champion of all the right things. I was proud to have you represent us all, as one of the most recognizable public broadcasters Canada has ever had.

I hate that if I ever hear one of your interviews in future, I will be listening for deceit and misogyny, and thinking about how your oh-so-listenable voice must trigger ugly flashbacks for a lot of women.

And Moxy Früvous… oh. God. You will not destroy The Gulf War Song or Fell In Love for me. And breaking into “your” version of Green Eggs and Ham is all that gets me through that confounded story some days. Even if you were already a reprobate in your musician days, you sure could sing one-quarter of a beautiful song. I hate that you have befouled those songs, and betrayed your bandmates.

At least, not unlike the shooter in Ottawa, through your dishonour you have provoked a useful conversation in this country – this one about rape culture and violence against women, still all too pervasive, even in Canada.

And at least we can be confident that the CBC will find someone brilliant – and decent – to replace you. It was a relief to find out that your opening essays – which have awed me on many occasions – are not actually written by you. A lot of extremely talented people contributed to your success, and will continue to do so with someone better. (While you try to get a date on some other continent.)

I can now assuredly say that I’m looking forward to it.



P.S. I was really sorry to hear that your dad died. Now, I’m just hoping it means he was spared the knowledge that his son is not one to be proud of after all.

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Thanks To The Gunman

Art by Bruce MacKinnon
Art by Bruce MacKinnon

To the gunman who bloodied Parliament Hill yesterday: thank you for making a statement.

Actually, you made several statements. But are they the ones you meant to make?

Whenever someone famously and violently takes a life, I wonder what brought the perpetrator to think that killing another human is the best option.

What did you intend to accomplish? Since you’re dead – and you surely knew that was a likely outcome – we can’t ask you.

Currently, we know you were born Canadian. You had a criminal record. You had long black hair and wore a scarf with a distinctive pattern. You were disconnected from your parents.

Maybe you idolized ISIL and wanted to commit “heroic” terror.

Maybe the violence that killed Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent inspired you.

Maybe you suffered from mental illness and needed to destroy something.

Maybe you wanted to see how much panic you could kindle.

Maybe you think guns are awesome, and wanted to shoot stuff like a tough guy.

Unfortunately for you, the intended meaning of your statement is unclear.

However, your ill-conceived, muddled message did do something for Canada.

You didn’t succeed in panicking the country. You didn’t unite us in hatred. You didn’t reveal us to be passive.

You made the nation think, instigating a productive, earnest discussion. Today, more than on any Remembrance Day or Election Day in memory, Canadians are soberly pondering what Canada is, and what we want it to be.

Yes, there are citizens using you to justify their personal Islamophobia – for which moderate, peaceful Muslim-Canadians certainly aren’t thanking you.

But mostly, I see thoughtful questions, careful consideration, and a calm pride born of remembering what makes our home special.

You’ve reminded us how extraordinary and beautiful it is that our government buildings have been simply open to the public all this time. We’re noticing the deep symbolism of soldiers guarding our national war memorial, unarmed. Because Canadians know that more guns do not equal more freedom, we affirm that our openness is not naïveté – we have chosen it; we cherish it.

You’ve demonstrated that cowardly violence does not necessarily result in a hysterical, aggrandized media frenzy; our CBC did us proud with calm, pragmatic reporting throughout the lockdown – no fear-mongering or jumping to conclusions. Twitter and Facebook followers philosophically discussed CBC’s questions “Is Canada changing? Has it already changed?”

We’re talking about justice, and whether our justice system is there for its people – when dramatic quasi-political deeds turn tragic; when acts of hatred go unchecked; when Aboriginal women go missing; when abuses of power go unabated; when environmental destruction goes unpunished. Our system is flawed, but we know justice is a process. We’re unwilling to abandon rational thinking for alarmism.

I admit I’m really sad about what you did. It hit our family close to home. My husband and several longtime friends were formerly Argyll reservists. In a slightly shifted reality, your victim could have been one of them. And obviously, the death of Corporal Nathan Cirillo represents the two worst parental nightmares: loss of a son, and loss of your child’s father. It is a heartbreaking tragedy.

I’m sad for you, too. Your life also ended yesterday, and while Cirillo’s death was clearly not in vain, I believe yours was. When you committed your life to hatred, you wasted it. You and Cirillo were young Canadians with the potential for remarkable lives in this country – and you ended them both far too early.

I’m also sad that you’ve further complicated an already-thorny question. As a pacifist, I’m distraught by ISIL’s atrocities, struggling with my belief that war is not the answer. I don’t want Canadian soldiers “taking a combat role” (read “killing people”) when the killing is so gargantuan already. Your twisted message has strangely strengthened both sides of this national argument.

Thank goodness Canadians have kept their wits.

Right now, they are sending caring, hopeful messages to each other, tweeting their most beautiful perspectives of Ottawa; Canada’s leaders of all political stripes are embracing each other; citizens are engaging in free expression.

And love. In Canada and abroad, people are nullifying your vitriol, defiantly scattering LOVE to the four winds, knowing it’s the more powerful force.

Photo shared on Twitter by Danielle Donders, @DaniGirl


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Killing the White Poppy

As always, humans are up in arms about stuff right now. The thing I’ve been reading about today is the white poppy.

Image from torontosun.com
Image from torontosun.com

Traditionally, the red poppy is worn to remember and honour war veterans, both living and dead. In the past, I’ve worn a red poppy to indicate that I am thinking prayerfully of soldiers, like my grandpa, who did what they felt they had to do, and experienced things no human should have to experience, in the pursuit of an end to conflict.

Every year on Remembrance Day, I also think about the others who have made (and continue to make) sacrifices in times of war. All those who die or are broken or see their lives torn apart. They are innumerable.

That is what I understand the white poppy to be about: the recognition that peace is the goal. That war equals tragedy. Lest we forget.

In the past few years, I’ve been aware of another belief: that by honouring those other people, the civilians, or by expressing the wish to make peace a priority, I am disrespecting the soldiers and veterans.

I am not wearing a white poppy… because I do not want my message to be mistaken.

The “I Remember for Peace” campaign at Ceasefire.ca has elicited many heartfelt messages from people who wish to respect soldiers and veterans and also honour their pursuit of peace. Inevitably, there are people who feel it’s appropriate to add messages like these:

“White poppies are bull shit and everyone involved in this should be shot.”

“wear a white poppy? expect a white loogy in return for spitting in the face of every soldier who sacrificed their blood on the battle fields so you can have the rights and freedoms you enjoy today. I will gladly spit in the face of anyone I see wearing a white poppy and I will be encouraging others to do the same.”

Incredibly, these people believe that they are showing respect. I am not wearing a red poppy this year because I know these people are wearing them. Again, I do not want my message to be mistaken.

Every year since I’ve been blogging, I have posted on Remembrance Day (and Veterans Day). This year, I am giving the floor to veterans. Even so, I know there will be people who read this and want to spew ugliness over it. I’ve decided that tomorrow, I am just going to be silent, and show my respect that way.


The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.

– Douglas MacArthur

Any soldier worth his salt should be antiwar. And still there are things worth fighting for.

– Norman Schwarzkopf

I am tired and sick of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, for vengeance, for desolation. War is hell.

– William Tecumseh Sherman

An honorable Peace is and always was my first wish! I can take no delight in the effusion of human Blood; but, if this War should continue, I wish to have the most active part in it.

– John Paul Jones

No one hates war like a soldier hates war.

– Tommy Franks

War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.
– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers

This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.
– Dwight D. Eisenhower

We know how to win wars. We must learn now to win peace…
– Stephen E. Ambrose, Band of Brothers



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Is “a bit of fresh air” really worth it?

Let’s take a walk!

What could be more invigorating, more wholesome, more beneficial for body and soul? I can take the kids, we can all get some fresh air, and the baby can have a nice lung-cleansing nap.

On Wednesday I took my children for a walk around the neighbourhood. We have been graciously handed down a “sit-and-stand” stroller from a friend, so I could put A on the front in her car seat, and E could choose to sit or stand at the back, or walk.

We’ve done this a few times, and it works fairly well. E is happy and keeps his eyes open for tire swings and other interesting facets of people’s houses and yards. For instance, when we passed the house with the gaudy hot-pink garage door, he exclaimed, “That’s a SO beautiful pink garage!” and then proceeded to repeat pink garage, pink garage to himself for the next block or two.

on a walk with a preschooler
Wide-eyed at the environs.

Plus, A is ridonculously cute in her fuzzy snowsuit thingy.

baby in the stroller
Getting sleepy on the ride.

The stroller is rather large and unwieldy, but it’s worth a bit of straining around corners to have both children contentedly bundled and riding.

By Friday, it had turned snowy. That tipped the balance: given the number of households likely to have cleared their sidewalks (not many), I was not willing to try manoeuvring the behemoth on snow.

That is how Friday afternoon found me lugging the singleton jogging stroller up from the basement. That thing corners like it’s on rails… relatively speaking, of course. I should ask my son to just walk, so we don’t need a stroller – he actually has pretty good endurance – but it’s harder in the snow. When he poops out, I won’t be able to carry him on my back. The whining that would therefore ensue is not an option today. (I know you feel me, mamas.)

Strap on the 3.5-month-old in the baby Trekker. Find a hat that fits her fast-growing head. Don my sister’s voluminous blue second-hand Coat of the Nineties, because it is big enough to zip up around the baby. Situate folded receiving blanket where it will (I hope) absorb the most drool.

Help three-year-old with coat, hat, boots, mittens. Equip him with a snack. Let him clamber into the stroller. Opt not to do up the safety straps because frankly, this kid has gotten huge.

Navigate out the door. Lock door with one hand while preventing stroller from tumbling down stairs of front stoop with other hand.

Whew – it’s chilly. That’s a windchill. (It’s -13C with wind – that’s 9F for the Yanks.)

After we’ve passed about six houses, I stop and awkwardly put the plastic weather shield on the stroller so that E doesn’t freeze. It’s wrinkly, ripping at the seams, and generally disreputable from being bunched up in the storage basket. Between that and the highly fashionable coat I’m wearing, I allow myself a giggle at what an awesome mom-picture I must make.

A is gazing as far up into the trees as the head support for the carrier will allow. She has, of course, positioned herself such that she’s drooling onto the coat. Actually, she’s sort of licking it dreamily.

Well. Getting ourselves going was a production, but now it’s pretty! Lovely and white! Not to mention invigorating!

Until we turn westerly. I realize too late that any road we take heading vaguely west enables the wind to blow the cavernous hood off my head, so that there is no barrier for A’s face. She gasps as the wind steals her breath, and pieces of my ears begin to crumble away in icy chunks. I shield her with a mittened hand, steering with my other hand, as she complains. Good thing the stroller is so light and lithesome. Kind of. With a 35-pound kid in it.

The whole nap idea is not working out as I’d hoped. Instead of sleeping, baby fusses periodically as we change direction, taking the shortest possible route home.

She finally falls asleep about a block from our house, on our own street where the trees shelter us. I ask E, “Hey buddy, you doing okay?”

There’s no answer. I peek over the shade. My son, who has not had a regular afternoon nap in well over a year, has also fallen asleep. Or frozen in place, I suppose.

I do an extra lap of my street, trying to make the most of the situation. The longer E naps, the more it will screw up his bedtime. The shorter A naps, the grumpier she will be at dinner hour. I’m sure I could figure out the optimal length of time using calculus – if I remembered any.

In my wish that E will awaken cheerful and enlivened when we arrive home, I am sorely disappointed. His circuitry has somehow gotten stuck on whine mode in his sleep.

So that settles it. We’re going to make popcorn for dinner and then commence hibernation. It’s way more fun to hang out all day in our pajamas anyway.

baby girl and big brother
Yay pajama party!

All you mamas and daddies with three or more children who EVER get out of the house as a group… I bow down to you. You have my eternal admiration.


For some great reading, click over and sample the blogs at Yeah Write!


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James Hill – and Anne – Concert, with baby in tow

On Friday evening, Sean and I had the good fortune to see ukulelist James Hill in concert with his cellist fiancee, Anne Janelle (Davison)… in the company of our not-quite-four-week-old Baby A.

We had debated about whether to go, since we would have to buy our baby a ticket, and then there was always the possibility that she would fuss and we would have to take turns missing the concert anyway. She has gotten past the stage where she falls asleep on a dime and continues sleeping no matter what.

But Sean said, “Oh, come on, we should go! It’ll be fine.” The tickets were not that expensive – still totally (potentially) worth it. I have wanted for years to see James Hill perform.

I was kinda nervous about the whole scenario – especially when A cried most of the drive to the concert venue – but she had calmed down and was actually sleeping when we took our seats. I allowed myself to get giddily excited looking at my program insert for a few minutes before the show began. Then, of course, A woke up and squawked just as James and Anne took the stage. Thank goodness for magic boobs – I got her on there and she barely made a peep for the whole first half. The only real drawback to this was that I couldn’t applaud – had to settle for grinning my face off. (There were several times when, if I’d been able, I would have initiated/elicited some more enthusiasm from this rather timid audience.)

As you may know, James Hill is the artist who inspired me to take up the ukulele (well, he and my husband – Sean’s the one who bought me my first uke). I thought (and still think) his instrumental-only album, A Flying Leap, is pure brilliance – exactly the kind of music I’d want to write if I were a ukulele virtuoso. (That sounds like a dumb thing to say, now that I’ve written it… but really. I deeply relate to his chord combinations.)

james hill a flying leap
A Flying Leap

Then we bought Man With a Love Song, and I realized this guy can write, AND sing. Frickin’ awesome.

Then I put myself on his email list, so I personally received the email announcing that he and Anne were engaged. Which means we’re, like, practically buds. (We’re like THIS.)

James and Anne started off – after saying how glad they were to be in our city – with a story about being in quarantine in Singapore during the swine flu debacle (it was actually kind of a funny story). You’d never guess, listening to it, that those were the circumstances under which the “Assam/Like a Bird” medley was written. I adore this number – makes me so happy whenever I hear it. E loves it too – calls it “fair music“; sometimes we dance to it together in the living room.

I guess the concert was only billed as “James Hill” because most of the songs played were ones he wrote, and he is the guy with the melody most of the time – but really, James and Anne are a duo on stage. You can tell they’ve been playing together for many years, so seamless is their interaction, both musical and conversational. Seamless, affectionate, and full of humour.

They mostly played material from Man With a Love Song (all my favourites – ‘cuz, you know, we’re buds – but with dazzling uke solos added); it was interesting to find out that James uses a capo to play “Hand Over My Heart” on the ukulele (was it the tenor uke? I’m not sure – in the video, his banjo uke has no capo); during “Heart-Shaped Tattoo”, I wished – hypothetically, since I’m still not that great – I had my Lady (and no baby in my lap) so I could play too. James told us that the song “You Should See Me Now” – a gentle, wistful tune I’ve dubbed a lullaballad in my head – was inspired by the inane catch-phrase of the town of Springhill, Nova Scotia: “You Should See Us Now!” (The duo lives near Truro, NS.)

I was stoked that he asked us to sing along for the “ooohs” in “Man With a Love Song” (pretty much the most gorgeous song ever – I listened to it about five times in a row when we first got the album). He explained that he thinks of it as fatherly – or, in his case, avuncular (yes, he used the word avuncular, with great relish) – advice to a daughter/niece. Suddenly that song makes way more sense – and is somehow even more charming.

Man With a Love Song

They also played a few from their collaborative album, True Love Don’t Weep, and a couple of Anne’s own songs, which I hadn’t heard before. They were lovely. I found I could hear Anne’s voice more clearly and individually in the live setting; it’s like a clarinet, very sweet, and pitch-perfect. (If you visit Anne’s website, you can listen to some of her music; you can also discover as I did that she is a photographer and modern dancer in addition to cellist and singer. Ridiculous in the talent department, I tell you.)

true love don't weep james hill anne davison
True Love Don’t Weep
anne janelle beauty remains
Beauty Remains

We were also fortunate enough to witness the playing of “Billie Jean”. Folks, it’s CRAZY. No looping machine, just one guy with two hands. I’d seen it on YouTube already, but now having seen it live, in its component parts, then put together… I still cannot figure out how it is accomplished.

Similarly, during the encore, they played some traditional East Coast fiddle music (“Smash the Window” and “St. Anne’s Reel” – no fiddle in sight, mind you) and James tried to teach us in the audience how to do the also-traditional galloping triple-stomp foot-tap thing (seen above at the end of “Like A Bird”). I like to think of myself as a coordinated person, being a dancer and all, but I could not do this foot-tap for more than a few bars without messing up. He did it flawlessly… and then added this wild, complicated uke-playing on top of it. I was blown away.

Baby A did very well, in general. She mostly nursed/dozed; a few times she surfaced and just looked around, seeming to enjoy the music (as well she might, since she’s been listening to it ever since she grew eardrums in utero). During intermission, we’d taken her out to the lobby where she was adored by the usher ladies. It was a good thing, too, because some of those ladies were very helpful, guiding us to seats by the “secret” exit for the second half, just in case. And A did run out of patience and start fussing about two songs from the end, so Sean scooped her up lightning-quick and took her out the secret door, where he could still hear the music and sing to her along with “Hand Over My Heart”. Another usher ferried the diaper bag out to them, and carried the car seat down to the lobby at the end of the show, just out of kindness – well, and also a confessed obsession with babies.

At the end of the show, James and Anne were all, “Hey, we’re going to be out there in the lobby, and we’d really like to meet you all, so please come say hi.” As if we’d be doing them this great favour by keeping them company out there. HA!

Of course, this would turn out to be one of those situations where my shyness and social insecurities – which I so often squelch – come rushing to the forefront. A time when I’m unable to assert my turn in the midst of an awkward clump of fans… when I’d love to say something scintillating and memorable, and instead can only think of things that would sound cheesy, like “I love your music!”, “Great show!”, or “You inspired me to take up the ukulele!”, all of which are true, but come on. Boring.

A little girl had them autograph her shiny red ukulele. James noticed it had already been signed by the Good Lovelies and said, “Yeah, they’re good friends of ours.” One of the many reasons to be a Great Canadian Musician: you get to hang out with other Great Canadian Musicians (the likes of David Myles, Stephen Fearing, Melanie Doane) and, you know, jam and stuff! Sigh.

I did manage to get James and Anne both to sign our ticket stubs (all three of them), and told them it was a great show. I also mentioned how much my colleagues and students who got to see his educational performance last year loved it (I was really envious about that because I couldn’t go). And, Sean took my picture with James. I’d like to think James won’t mind me posting it, since I know from his photo galleries that he understands the urge to have one’s picture taken with artists one admires.

Di and James Hill
Dilovely with James Hill.

Then, luckily for me, Sean had to go get the car from its faraway parking spot, which meant I was waiting in the lobby for quite a while – long enough for the crowd to have basically dispersed, so that chatting with James and Anne became much easier, almost inevitable. I got to congratulate and talk with Anne about the upcoming wedding (next September – several international celebrations happening), and found out that she and James have been together for ten years, having met while studying music together at UBC (University of British Columbia). They both met the baby (she was sleeping, but it still counts), and did not seem to mind that she had created a disturbance or two.

Then Sean returned and jovially shook hands with James – he has never been subject to shyness, that I know of. He was the one who mentioned I’d been learning to play the ukulele, leading me to admit that I’ve been learning a lot by playing along to his album. When I mentioned that I’d first heard him on CBC and found that video of him playing “Down Rideau Canal”, he looked kinda sheepish and said he’s not sure he can even play that one any more – that was back when he was “young and foolish”. (I’m sure that’s not really true – if he can play “Ode to a Frozen Boot“, which he did, his fingers are obviously still pretty nimble.)

When we got in the car and Sean found out I hadn’t even talked about my ukulele with James, he chided me (gently) for wasting such an opportunity. I guess if it had been up to him, I would have told him all about belly dancing to his music, my musical background, my progress with the Lady, etc. Ah well, maybe next time. 😉

If you have read this and now wish you’d been at the concert, well… sorry ’bout your luck. But there’s lots of cool stuff to hear/see/read on jameshillmusic.com and annejanelle.com. Teachers (and all other interested parties), check out Ukulele in the Classroom and The James Hill Ukulele Initiative – you’ll be inspired!



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Okay Stephen, now I’m ******* ticked off.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper
Langevin Building
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa ON K1A 0A6

Mr. Harper:

As a polite Canadian, I’d like to be able to write a proper, respectful salutation; unfortunately, I have seen no evidence of respectful governance to warrant one.

This is my second open letter to you. You obviously did not heed (or read) the first one, shortly after you were elected, discussing your obligations to the more than half of Canadian voters who did not vote for you. You have, it seems, forgotten all about that particular 60% of us, but WE ARE STILL HERE. And some of us are very angry.

I already knew that I disagreed with almost everything you stand for. You glorify militarism; you want to mess with socialized medicine; you revere corporations.

You are an expert sneak, taking transparency and accountability to a new low – and no wonder, because if you were open about your dealings, people might realize that you are a disgrace to the nation. They might object to your deregulation of everything for your own purposes.

I have been unimpressed (read: disgusted) by many things you have accomplished (e.g. G20 summit) and worked on (e.g. fighter jet boondoggle) since you came into office. That robocall we received didn’t go over well either.

But still, somehow, I retained an apparently preposterous hope that you would not actually — rape — Canada.


Now it is clear that I was hopelessly naive. Assuming that Bill C-38 is the crystallization of your intentions, it’s official:

You are effing up my country. Continue reading “Okay Stephen, now I’m ******* ticked off.”

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An Open Letter to the Gunman

toronto eaton centre shooting crime scene

Dear Mr. Shooter:

So. It appears, from the status of the person you succeeded in killing, that your decision, i.e. to open fire in the crowd at the food court in the Toronto Eaton Centre yesterday, was gang-related.

We, the public, still don’t know who you are or where you’re from. We don’t know what your history is. What we can assume is that you’re angry. You’d have to be, to pull a stunt like that.

As a teacher, I automatically wonder what kind of a child you were, and what your teachers thought of you in school. I wonder if you were ADHD or ODD. If you were a bully, or if you got bullied. If you were part of a visible minority that felt it had to stick together to survive, or if you had a bone to pick with visible minorities – or both. I wonder if you were neglected or beaten as a child, if you had enough to eat, if you had a parent in jail, or if you witnessed murder. Continue reading “An Open Letter to the Gunman”

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