Yesterday Paddy and I were driving along Hurontario (near Steeles Avenue) through Brampton and noticed a cavalcade of cars sporting red flags and stickers. They seemed to be protesting something and I was straining to read the text on the flags when we cruised by a car with a large sticker plastered across one of the back doors. “SAY NO TO IRRESPONSIBLE SEX ED,” it commanded, not understanding the irony it was presenting. You see, irresponsible sex ed is what we had in Ontario for years. Until this coming fall, in fact, this province had the oldest sex ed curriculum in Canada, one from way back in 1998. We were originally supposed to get a new curriculum in 2010, but the Ontario government got spooked by a backlash from religious groups and a small minority of parents.
Meanwhile, according to Safe Families stats, the average age of first Internet exposure to pornography is 11 with the 12 - 17 year old group being the largest consumer of Internet porn. And meanwhile a survey of Ontario high schools revealed “29% of Ontario Grade 9 girls ... felt unsafe at school partly due to sexual comments and unwanted looks or touches; 27% of the girls in Grade 11 admitted to being pressured into doing something sexual that they did not want to do; 14% of the females reported being harassed over the Internet.” And meanwhile more than 50% of transgender youth will have had at least one suicide attempt by their 20th birthday. And meanwhile a New York City study revealed only 23% of straight women use condoms during anal sex as opposed to 61% of gay men, and women 18 to 24 years old are nearly six times more likely than those aged 45 to 64 to report unprotected anal sex.

And meanwhile seventeen-year-old Nova Scotia girl Rehtaeh Parsons committed suicide because of sexual bullying aimed at her after she was the victim of sexual assault. So did 15 year old Audrie Potts of California and fifteen year old Amanda Todd from B.C. And meanwhile eighteen year old Tyler Clementi threw himself off the George Washington Bridge after being bullied because of his sexual orientation. And meanwhile we let the world break fifteen-year-old Jamie Hubley’s heart as he was relentlessly tormented by his peers to the degree that not living another day seemed like a better option. We let that happen because this is the world—the society—that we have constructed, a society some people would like to look away from and pretend doesn’t exist. But young people don’t have that choice. They’re right smack in the middle of it.

And meanwhile two awesome thirteen year old activists, Lia Valente and Tessa Hill, started a petition requesting that the issue of consent be covered in the new Ontario sex ed, a petition which garnered more than 40,000 signatures.

“We hear stories from our friends about cat-calling and slut shaming in the hallways and in the classroom,” the girls wrote in their online petition. “We also notice the lack of awareness about safe sex and consent. … Our society is scared to teach teens and young people about safe sex, and most important, consent.”

Yes, parts of society are scared. I’m scared too. I don’t want young people to be sexually bullied or harassed or have unsafe sex. I want them to know how to keep themselves safe and understand the importance of consent. I want them to respect their peers no matter what their peers’ gender, sexual orientation or experiences are. I want rape victims not to be re-victimized by people who should know better than to blame them for a crime committed against them but apparently don’t because the society we’re raising young people in is full of shame and double standards and early exposure to hardcore pornography which up until this point has not been balanced by good, comprehensive sex ed.

Yes, we used to have irresponsible sex ed in Ontario, but that’s over with, and we should all be very glad of it. The true irresponsibility resides in the fact that it took too long to make the change, an irresponsibility which still hangs on the shoulders of the folks flying those red flags from their cars, embracing ignorance like it’s a shield when it won’t protect their child or anyone else's from a thing. Only knowledge will do that.

"Don't limit a child to your own learning, for he was born in another time."
—Rabindranath Tagore.
Have you ever wondered how Conservative Party of Canada politicians and their supporters (perhaps to your horror this even includes some of your unfortunate loved ones and friends!) have continued to defy any sense of logic and reason in maintaining their blind devotion to a party led by a man with the worst economic record of any Canadian Prime Minister since the end of the Second World War and who has dragged Canada back into recession; been a poison pill to national democracy by proroguing parliament on multiple occasions, constantly muzzled scientists with grave climate and environmental concerns, flagrantly ignored Aboriginal rights issues; attacked unions and helped erode checks and balances in the workplace; a party that nixed the long form census – a valuable statistical tool used to guide government resources in battling poverty and reducing the marginalization of disadvantaged groups; a party which crippled the status of women’s budget in a country where 50% of women will be sexually or physically assaulted in their lifetime and where the gender pay gap is double the  global average; a party headed by a guy who appointed eight senators who have been caught using  taxpayer dollars for inappropriate expenses—the same guy, in fact, who showed a chilling disdain for this country when he proclaimed, in 1997, that:  "Canada is a Northern European welfare state in the worst sense of the term, and very proud of it."

How is it that any Canadian would still consider placing a vote for a Tory government, let alone look themselves in the face in the mirror if they’re actually a member of the party, you no doubt wonder? Don’t they care that the Conservatives are prepared to plunder our environment ad infinitum, stealing our descendants’ future? Don’t these people have kids, or grandchildren, you might ask, scratching your head? Don’t they care about the economy and want Canadians of all stripes to have good jobs?  Don’t they want to stand up for our human rights, or are they all really just obsessed with Justin Trudeau’s haircut?

Well, recent evidence has come to light that finally explains this puzzling, irrational support for the Conservative Party. Yep, information has surfaced which suggested that for several years now the Tory party has operated a string of pharmaceutical manufacturing plants which have produced a drug known to key members of the Tory party as Conservazolam. Inspired by the Soma of Brave New World, Conservazolam dulls higher reasoning function, preventing independent and critical thought in its users and instills a euphoric sense of well-being and affection for the Conservative party. In fact, your friends or loved ones may even have been dosed with Conservazolam without realizing it as the drug is tasteless and dissolves quickly in water. In addition to the effects mentioned above, other common side effects include brain fog, dry mouth and constipation.

Conservazolam, the Tory equivalent of Soma 
If you or a loved one feels an unreasoning attachment to the Tory party I strongly advise you to secure an independent water supply at once. As soon as Conservazolam has been out of your system for 5 to 7 days side effects will abate and higher reasoning function return, leaving you free to vote in the coming federal election with all faculties intact. Some high profile Conservative party members who stopped taking their daily dose of Conservazolam in recent months are Peter MacKay, John Baird, Shelly Glover and Christian Paradis. They got off Conservazolam and embraced reason, and so can you! As Jack Layton liked to say, "Don't let them tell you it can't be done."   
Recently I had the chance to read Carol Riggs's cool new YA sci-fi book, The Body Institute, due out September 1st. I'm a big fan of sci-fi whether we're talking about the Across the Universe series by Beth Revis, John Wyndham novels, episodes of Doctor Who or Falling Skies, or flicks like Looper or Her, so I had a ton of fun diving into the near future society Carol has envisioned in The Body Institute. Here instead of encountering body snatchers we have reducers, people others willingly allow to temporarily take over their bodies and lose weight for them. Move over, diet pills and Weight Watchers International! But, as you can imagine, all may not be well with this method of losing weight...

Here's the jacket copy from the book's publisher, Entangled: 

Meet Morgan Dey, one of the top teen Reducers at The Body Institute.

Thanks to cutting-edge technology, Morgan can temporarily take over another girl’s body, get her in shape, and then return to her own body—leaving her client slimmer, more toned, and feeling great. Only there are a few catches… 

For one, Morgan won’t remember what happens in her “Loaner” body. Once she’s done, she won’t recall walks with her new friend Matt, conversations with the super-cute Reducer she’s been text-flirting with, or the uneasy feeling she has that the director of The Body Institute is hiding something. Still, it’s all worth it in the name of science. Until the glitches start… 

Suddenly, residual memories from her Loaner are cropping up in Morgan’s mind. She’s feeling less like herself and more like someone else. And when protests from an anti–Body Institute organization threaten her safety, she’ll have to decide if being a Reducer is worth the cost of her body and soul…

Are we our minds...or our bodies?   
The Body Institute cover

And here's the blurb I've written for the book:

"The Body Institute is a roller coaster of a book! This fast-paced sci-fi thriller grapples with issues of identity and scientific technology run amok in a society only two steps ahead of our own, while scrutinizing an all-encompassing obsession with being thin which is very much part of the here and now. Readers will love the twists and turns and be prompted to question their own relationship to technology, body image and the ever-growing power of mega-corporations."

You can learn more about author Carol Riggs at her website or follow her on Twitter or Facebook

Yesterday I was at Niagara-on-the-Lake for the first time in about a year. If the dictionary sported photos along with definitions under ‘picturesque’ you’d find an image of this quaint theatre town of 15,000 people which is home to the Shaw Festival. Because my plantar fasciitis isn’t much better after over a year of sheer plantar HELL (yep, I have a doozy of a case that physio, expensive custom made orthotics and shockwave therapy haven’t helped, and some nice heel spurs – ouch – now show up on X-rays) I can only walk at a purposeful pace for about fifteen minutes before intense heel pain stops me in my tracks or up to an hour if I can amble at a shopping mall/supermarket pace. As a result I spent *a lot* of time on the benches that line Queen Street yesterday. A lot, a lot! Thankfully there are many benches, with some interesting and heartfelt remembrance plaques to go with them.

While in town one of the highlights is always the Christmas shop, which features gorgeous and kitschy (like this NHL themed tree) decorations alike.

I made sure to say hello to my old polar bear friend (photo of my previous visit with him here). He's such a fine dresser that he makes me feel schleppy.

And, of course, one of life's biggest pleasures is exploring great independent bookstores! So if you're in the area don't miss the charming Old Niagara Bookshop on Regent Street. You'll want to pick up something from their wonderfully unique collection.

One of the books we snapped up was this adorably tiny version of  Sherlock Holmes: The Essential Mysteries in One Sitting.

In Niagara-on-the-Lake even your dog gets the Downton Abbey treatment! Look at this water bowl, on an ornate platter and complete with a flower for decoration, left out in front of a local shop for your pooch to drink from.

Paddy is a huge fan of  the flavoured coffees at Victoria's Teas & Coffees which makes stopping in there a must also. For non-coffee or tea people, like me, they have a great gelato collection too. 

Lastly, rarely do we visit Niagara-on-the-Lake without dining at The Olde Angel Inn, Established in 1789, it's the oldest operating inn in Ontario. That considered, its reputation for being haunted is hardly surprising. They also serve exceptionally tasty pub food. Below you can see the Ploughman’s Lunch Paddy ordered: a selection of cheeses, fresh vegetables, fruit, pickled onions, hardboiled egg, Piccalilli, Branston Pickle and served with fresh bread and crackers.

I've been seated by this picture of King John signing the Magna Carta several times and always have a hard time taking my eyes off it. 

One of the wait staff noticed me snapping pictures of it and kindly moved a coat rack out of the way so I could capture an unobscured view. Then she shared the first of several ghostly stories about the inn. She's been working there for over ten years and on this past June 12th, the eight hundred year anniversary of King John's signing of the Magna Carta, the above painting, which has been hanging on this wall for over fifty-five years without incident, suddenly flew off the wall and hit her forcefully in the back.

A close-up of King John looking peeved

When I reacted to her account with equal parts delight and anxiety, she showed me a recent letter from a female inn guest who had written to her describing her own ghostly encounter while staying in the General's Quarters, in the bedroom closest to the sitting room. There she was awoken in the middle of the night by the smell of cold ashes and a dark, shapeless presence who began pulling at the bed covers and pillow. Her sister, in a separate room, also had strange experiences and the second night, freaked out by the strange energy of the place, the two ended up cowering in a room together until dawn arrived. The guest concludes her correspondence by vouching for the presence of active spirits in the inn but stating she had a thoroughly enjoyable stay nevertheless. 

So slow were Paddy and I to finish our lunch that I was able to coax a third story out of the same employee, this one involving the table next to us. Some time ago a woman and her young son were having a meal there. The pub's bathroom is located downstairs and at one point the woman took her son down. Once they were back seated in the restaurant he asked her matter-of-factly who the man with no feet at the top of the stairs had been (although there'd be no one there!). But apparently the woman didn't think much of it at the time, or until some point later when she was at home looking through photo album pictures with her son. He pointed out at photo of his great grandfather (a man he had supposedly never met) and said that was the man he'd seen at the top of the stairs that day. Eventually the customer shared this story with the employee I was speaking with, who didn't have any further details about who the great grandfather was and whether he'd ever lived in the Niagara area. Personally, I wonder if the boy may have thought he was the same man because of old fashioned clothes and style the apparition could have been sporting, but either way it makes a very cool story and I really appreciate her taking the time to share these incidences with me.

If you want to read more about paranormal activity at the inn you can start at this Niagara website, and the inn's own site. There are also a couple of accounts on a Toronto Ghosts page and whether you're into ghost-hunting or just want to grab some good food, The Olde Angel Inn is a great place to spend some time while in Niagara-on-the-Lake. But lest you think it's all about the nosh and the goosebumps, the Olde Angel Inn also has a romantic heart. The wooden walls of the women's bathroom stalls are entirely covered in declarations of love. Most of them etched roughly into the wood and others inked on with marker.

And don't forget to read some of  the dedications on the town benches--they tell mini stories of their own!
“...almost before Anne realized it, spring had come again to Green Gables and all the world was abloom once more.”
Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery
There was a time when I didn't notice whether the trees were in bloom or not. Years and years when I didn't notice, in fact. Even if someone pointed out a tree bursting with lovely pink or white blossoms I would turn towards it, seeming to stare at its gorgeous spring colours but not actually register its full beauty. How is this possible? I have no excuse for my oblivousness; I don't understand it from here myself.
For at least a decade now seeing magnolia, cherry and apple blossom trees in bloom has been a big part of what makes May my favourite month. The period when the trees are at the height of their beauty is short and precious. It's also the time of year when Southern Ontario weather can be at its finest, a period when we can feel grateful for spring's warmth and sunshine without feeling stifled by the humidity which often accompanies full-fledged summer.
So in this, my very favourite month, I wandered down the road to capture a bit of spring. My most favourite tree in all the world is among these pictures: a stunning magnolia that lives not far away. Visiting a tree seems like a very Anne of Green Gables thing to do but I honestly do try to stop by and admire this tree every year when it's a bloom. It's a beauty any day of the year but never finer than in May.


Happy spring!

This is me at seventeen in the summer of 1986. If the photo extended as far as my feet you'd see that not only am I in a Late Night with David Letterman sweatshirt, I'm also wearing the same brand of blue-striped white Adidas running shoes that Dave regularly sported on the show back then. Yeah, that's how much I admired David Letterman, I even had the same pair of running shoes.

I first saw Late Night while sleeping over at a friend's house during ninth grade in '83; her older sister was a fan and that night the three of us tuned in to the 12:30 show. But it wasn't until the following year, when I was fifteen, that a laxer bedtime allowed me to become a more regular viewer. At the time the cultural landscape was markedly different than today and for me—a suburban Canadian teenager—watching Late Night felt like discovering a cool underground club dedicated to pointing out the hilarious meeting point of the mundane and the absurd (Dave’s disdain for NBC owners General Electric, Chris Elliott as the Guy Under the Seats, Larry Bud Melman wandering around in a bear suit trying to get change for a ten, Dave dropping stuff from a 5 story building). In short, Late Night with David Letterman developed my love for comedy.

If I’d had a craptastic day Dave’s 12.30 show was a sensational place to hang out (when there weren't many cool, funny places for someone my age to be) for an hour. And If I’d had a good day, Late Night was the icing on the cake. No matter what was going on in the outside world or my daily life I would always, always feel immeasurably better after watching the show. Elated even. Discovering Late Night felt like finding another member(s) of my tribe, even if Dave and his team of writers were all the way down in New York and I didn't know them personally. The following day my best friend and I often discussed show highlights. Along with fantastic 80s music like Talk Talk, The Thompson Twins and The Smiths, David Letterman and Late Night was our awesome alternate universe. I didn’t care about reading Shakespeare, my upcoming math or science quiz, or clothes shopping at the local mall. I cared about getting good tickets for the upcoming Tears for Fears concert or watching David Letterman flirt with Teri Garr.

Then and now, I am a huge David Letterman fan. I will always be an enormous David Letterman fan and I really don’t want to think about how in five weeks' time Dave won’t be a presence on the late night airwaves anymore, how from May 20th onward there will always be something missing.

David Letterman, The Late Show

When my brother, a fellow diehard Letterman fan of thirty-plus years, sent me a link to a clip of Elvis Costello on the show several months ago and noted how at the very end Elvis says, "it's the last year of our youth, Dave," whoah boy, I felt that something fierce. This is the last year of my youth too. The end of an era.

Some months after my brother forwarded the clip he called and asked whether I wanted to go see The Late Show with him if he could get tickets. He wasn't positive it could happen but he had a contact that greatly improved the odds.

As it turned out the odds were excellent. His request for Late Show tickets was granted about ten days ago. My brother arranged the entire trip to New York City and made a lifelong dream of mine (and his!) come true. On March 31st we were members of the Late Show studio audience, a wonderfully giddy, surreal experience.

As a writer I have many alternate universes but I can't think of one that means more to me than the one David Letterman introduced me to over thirty years ago, the one he created and cultivated for millions of viewers in stolen hours of the night.

Whatever large or small things happen in the news after May 20th, from the political to the inane to human rights issues, I know I'll find myself wondering what Dave would've had to say about them. I hate the thought of saying goodbye, but I can't allow these final weeks of The Late Show to go by without saying thanks. Thank you, Dave, for the role you played in my life, and endless thanks to my brother for making our Late Show experience happen and for always knowing, just as well as I did, that Late Night and the Late Show were never just TV shows.

Al Franken very eloquently sums up what David Letterman accomplished
in his years as the host of Late Night and The Late Show beginning at the 7:15 mark

A Josh Gad clip from the Late Show recording we were at

New York morning, March 31st

Outside the Ed Sullivan theatre with my brother, March 31st

The prized Late Show tickets, March 31st

You are here! March 31st

Times Square, April 1st

Last view of New York off to the left, April 1st

Now this was a shame. On Friday February 13th Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper assaulted Quebec icon Bonhomme outside Hôtel de Glace near Quebec City. The visit started out promisingly enough.

Yo! How's my fav snowman?

But only minutes later the Prime Minister caught Bonhomme by surprise when he viciously kicked him in the stomach as he accused Bonhomme of being in league with Canadian scientists. It's well known that Canadian scientists have been repeatedly muzzled on the subjects of climate change and other environmental concerns during Harper's time in office.

In 2014 The Climate Change Performance Index (published annually by Germanwatch and Climate Action Network Europe) labelled Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Australian counterpart Tony Abbott the "earth's worst climate villains."

"Think I don't know you're on the scientists' side?

Moments after Friday's unsportman-like attack, Bonhomme, having recovered from his initial surprise, wrestled Harper to the ground and dunked his face in the snow several times. "That's from the polar bears," Bonhomme reportedly declared in French. He was quickly restrained by RCMP who pulled the Prime Minister to safety.
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