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Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Take your bad romance elsewhere

The RCMP reports that the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre received 1,249 complaints of romance scams in 2021. That doesn’t count the victims who were too embarrassed to report what had happened to them. The total amount lost over those 1,249 complaints? Fifty million dollars. Most of us have been targeted by a romance scammer through social media or email. It starts with a friendly message or simple connection request from a stranger. You click on their profile, they appear to be legit, maybe they even have some interests in common with you. But look a little closer. Do you have any friends in common? How did they come across your profile? Do they have more than a dozen posts on their page or is it something new that they just set up? Is their profile a common name with an underscore and string of numbers? Most people come up with a more unique and individual profile handle. If it looks like a name that a robot could have generated, you should see red flags waving. Most victims of romance scams tend to be people who don’t use social media often. Maybe they don’t even use their email very much. So when someone starts an online friendship with them, they are easily duped. And the scammers are getting smarter. They will create profiles using stock photos of good looking people, male or female. Once they make a connection with a target, they explain that they travel a great deal for work or they live many miles away, so they can’t possibly meet in person (this last part could be very true, by the way. Your scammer is quite often part of an organized crime ring in somewhere like Nigeria). After a few weeks or even months of cultivating a romance online, when they feel their target is sufficently involved in the relationship, the scammer will pull the trigger and ask for money. They will say they need it for a medical emergency for someone in their family, or even to pay for a travel visa so that they can come and meet their online sweetheart, and start a new life together. I have never been in a position to fall for one of these schemes, but I have accused real people of being scammers in my paranoid skepticism. And I have met a victim of a romance scam, a nice farmer in the States, who rarely used his computer. When he did, he met someone via email who used my photo and name to con him out of tens of thousands of dollars, all in the name of love. -30-

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Raising women in the age of Barbie


I was a fan of Barbie when I was young. I had an old apple basket that I used to transport my dolls. I would bring them to the backyard where I would imagine they lived in treehouses (in the boxwood hedge we had around our yard). Occasionally there was danger, when G.I. Joe arrived with the help of the boys in the neighbouring yard. Joe was far too aggressive for Barbie’s liking.

Being a brunette myself, I was always on the lookout for dark-haired Barbies. I remember getting scolded for misappropriating a certain doll from a friend’s house, and having to return it to its rightful owner. I do not remember thinking that I should aspire to look like Barbie when I grew up. That never crossed my mind. It was a ridiculous idea. She had no curves to speak of. She was plastic. She was a doll. I didn’t imagine I was expected to try to look like my Dawn doll either.

I was, instead, a victim of the airbrushing era of the 1980s supermodel in beauty and fashion magazines. But that is another story.

I remember being told that I could grow up to be “whatever I wanted”. I can’t remember who told me that (perhaps a teacher) but I believed them. I had no reason not to believe them. I competed for highest marks with the boys in my class. I often won. I felt I was being treated equally.

And yet, as I matured, I realized that something weird was going on. Slowly but surely, society began to carve out an image for me and my girlfriends. We were expected to act, dress, walk and talk a certain way. We weren’t supposed to be too loud, ambitious, competitive, or victorious. And that wasn’t necessarily coming from the men. Our female mentors, teachers, club leaders and coaches also advised us on society’s expectation of a nice, young lady.

I’m telling you it held us back. Made us falter when we should have spoken out against injustice, harrassment, maybe even assault. Had us questioning our instincts and doubting our own abilities when we were developing and daring to pursue our dreams. Society told us, in so many soft little whispers, that we were wrong. That it would be too hard.

Now, every chance I get, I encourage my daughters and granddaughters to trust their instincts and listen to their gut. To try new things, and find what gives them joy. I hope they will do those things, because the world needs more Barbies who have busted out of their boxes. The world needs more joy.


Pictured: Dawn doll "Lily" circa 1972

Festival season has begun


Well that was the show of a lifetime. I have loved Shania Twain for about 25 years now, and I finally got to see her in person, at Ottawa Bluesfest. The lovely surprise was that this megastar is so down to earth, you feel like you are watching a smalltown musician’s performance on a school auditorium stage. She just exudes “Ontario girl” when she performs, giggling along and never taking herself too seriously. She brings a touch of Vegas to this show, however, with her impressive light show and graphic video special effects that transform the stage into Twain Town Saloon.

I love that this 57-year-old mega superstar is just like me – reinventing her look at every opportunity to play dress-up. Heck, if I was on stage 5 times a week I would wear a different outfit and a new wig each time too. It doesn’t mean she isn’t happy with her looks. She just likes to have fun. And I love that she created all of those costumes herself, by just going through her closet and redesigning pieces that she already had.

The songs were right on point too. Every tune was just as recorded, just as expected. Yes, Shania has in recent years lost some of her singing ability due to trauma in her vocal chords from Lyme disease and she may have been singing along to her own vocal track at some points but that doesn’t bother me. It’s still Shania. And she has been performing live, several times a week, in different cities each time. That has got to put some strain on the voice, and the body.

All in all, it was a good show – and it more than lived up to my expectations after reading so many harsh reviews. What I wouldn’t give a good review to, however, is RBC Ottawa Bluesfest itself in its handling of this oversold event. With a capacity of 30,000, the LeBreton Flats space had trouble accommodating the extra 5,000 people that were sold tickets on opening night for Shania. About an hour before the 9pm show began, the gates flew open, security stopped checking tickets and bags, and they even allowed people to scale the fence, because there were so many people inside, you could barely squeeze in past the electronic turnstiles.

You’ve got to do better, Bluesfest. I am glad you are bringing in these big names but you have to move to a bigger venue, just on the edge of town, where your happy crowds can spill out into the surrounding fields without issue. Maybe partner with the Hard Rock Café on the south edge of town. Your fans deserve to be safe and comfortable.

The Class of 2023: One for the history books



Another year, another graduation ceremony. For fifteen years now, my mother, sister and I have been presenting an award in my father’s name to a deserving student who is truly interested in science. As I sat there this year, watching one student after another shaking hands, or enthusiastically hugging or clapping the back of their young principal, I realized that something was different. There was an unusual vibe permeating the festivities.

The grads were dressed creatively, as per usual, with each one attempting to shine in their own individual spotlight. Of course, one or two were trying to blend into the crowd, but most were taking the opportunity to express themselves. They left their grad robes open in front, to expose their brightly patterned tropical shirts and shorts, their flip flops or cowboy boots. I swear I even saw the telltale red soles of a pair of Christian Louboutin designer stiletto heels.

Last year we were asked to ‘hold the applause’ until the end of a group of graduates. That didn’t work very well. This year the organizers just let us clap at will. Some students illicited hoots and hollers from their biggest fans and closest friends. Things proceeded in a fairly orderly manner, but there was a really casual tone to the event.

As one young man accepted his diploma, instead of returning to his graduating class, he kept right on going out the exit door. He called back to one of his friends, “Steve! Come on!” But Steve did not follow. The teachers just smiled. The principal shrugged.

Maybe they played “Pomp and Circumstance” as the class filed in, maybe they didn’t. I don’t recall. But it was definitely more like a house party than a convocation ceremony. And that’s fine. I mean, who am I to judge? As I contemplated this, I realized that this was a very special graduating class. This particular class started in the fall of 2019 – a mere six months before the worldwide pandemic hit, forever changing what their high school careers would look like.

They learned how to complete Grade 9 and 10 in virtual classrooms. By the end of Grade 11 in 2022, the smoke was beginning to clear. But they had been changed forever. These resilient, resourceful students had found a way to succeed in an impossible situation. Dozens of them graduated as Ontario Scholars, with an average over 80 percent. There were remarkable students in the group, winning thousands of dollars in scholarships and awards.

Yes, some students barely made it through. But perhaps they learned far more about themselves than a textbook could ever teach them. And now they go out into the world to teach the rest of us.

Monday, June 5, 2023

June is a month to be proud

In case you missed it, June is Pride month. This is the month where we provide a platform and space for members of the LGBTQ2SIA+ community to speak up, support each other, and educate the rest of us on what it is like for them to face daily challenges just by being their authentic selves.

I was born and raised in a small town, by a school teacher and an administrator. We didn’t have many people in our community who identified as gay – at least not openly – but I feel I was raised with a healthy sense of acceptance and an open mind. I can’t say the same for some in my community – and I’m not sure what they are using as an excuse. Perhaps they were raised by bigots, or they aren’t aware of what the Pride movement truly stands for – or maybe they are just afraid of things they don’t understand.

It’s still a shock to me when I hear someone say there should be a Straight parade as well. Educated people. People who should know better. Straight people have not been criticized, ridiculed, discriminated against, bullied or even physically attacked and killed for their lifestyle. That is why we have Pride. Because everyone deserves to live authentically, as their true selves, free from hate. The world would be so boring without all of those rainbow colours.

Gender expression is one thing, and sexuality is another. It can get complicated and confusing if you try to put labels on people. I have learned it is best to let people introduce themselves. They will tell you what you need to know about them. Everything else is their own private business.

I took part in this year’s Pride parade for the first time, along with my theatre group. As I marched, I noticed my former junior high teacher on the sidelines. When she caught my eye, she put one hand on the shoulder of the woman beside her, and one hand over her heart. She was introducing me to her sweetheart. After all these years her private life had been just that. Private. That moment was the highlight of my day.

The perfect ending to the day was a Pride comedy event at Bubba and Bugs, our local café and safe place for the LGBT+ community. They will also host Queer Prom this month, so that those who feel they don’t fit in at their school prom can still celebrate their graduation with someone they love, on their own terms.

To learn more about how to support someone in the LGBT+ community, visit

I am proud of how my little community is progressing in acceptance and pride – but we do have far to grow.


Friday, May 12, 2023

The peanut butter in the sandwich

My mother is a wonder. Not only is she a reliable, dependable and devoted mother, ready to spring to action the instant my sister or I ask for help, she is also a dedicated daughter. She is the proverbial peanut butter in the sandwich, holding the team together with her strength and love. 

My mother’s mother passed away at the age of 102, a few years back. The last few years of Grandma Vicky’s life, Mom spent nearly day at her side, taking care of her basic needs, ensuring she had everything she would require to be comfortable and happy in her cozy room, even playing (and purposely losing) cards for hours. Mom generously gave of her time, energy and resources until Grandma decided to bid the world adieu.

Then it was my other Grandma’s turn to need some support. A few scares with high blood pressure and a tumble or two made Mom realize that Grandma needed someone to check in on her each day. My mother spends a large amount of her time there, now, making sure pills are taken and Grandma is feeling ok. We just celebrated her 100th birthday in February.

I have no doubt my mother will live to be 100. She is coming to the end of her 70’s looking and acting decades younger. What keeps her young? It could be the two litres of water she tries to drink every day, her daily walks, her weekly exercise class, or maybe it’s her evening glass of white wine for medicinal purposes. But honestly, I think it’s her optimistic spirit, her generous heart, her love of laughter and her tendency to dance around the room when she hears a favourite tune that keeps her healthy and happy. I hope I have inherited some of her joie de vivre too. She never complains about the number of miles or hours she puts in to looking after the rest of us. Because her heart is involved. She wouldn’t have it any other way. And I know exactly what that feels like.

I know what it’s like to get a call in the pre-dawn hours about a sick grandchild who needs daycare, or someone else who needs to borrow a vehicle or a few bucks until payday. I am a busy mom and grandma, and consider it a true privilege that my children know they can turn to me for help.

And someday, when it’s my turn, I will be ready to look after my mom too, the way she looked after me, my children, and even my grandchildren.  I will take my place in the middle of the sandwich.


Happy Mother’s Day to all the Mothers out there.



The play's the thing

The first play I remember being in was “School Days”, in Grade 6. I played the schoolteacher. I had to sing a song about students and their excuses for not doing their homework. I still remember the song. Our play director was also the choir director. He taught me how to project my voice to the back of the room. I was on the front page of the Advance on opening night!

I was bitten by the acting bug, to be sure. Moving into junior high and then on into high school, I was in the play every year. Sometimes I had a supporting role, but more often than not, I had a lead part. (I could project my voice, after all.) Only two of the plays stand out in my memory: “The Children’s Hour” (an edgy, progressive piece about two female schoolteachers accused of a romantic relationship, set in 1934) and “The Farm Show” (performance art and skits – I played the grandma standing in her washer, showing off her photo albums and delivering a lengthy monologue on family).

I loved the camaraderie of the cast. For weeks and months leading up to the performance dates, we learned our lines, developed our blocking and practiced reacting to each other. It was exciting to watch it all come together. Opening night was almost a let down, because it meant our fun was almost over.

Flash forward close to 40 years. I went to the NAC to see the musical “Come From Away” with my husband. At the end of it I was on my feet, laughing and cheering, with tears streaming down my face. I realized how much I missed being part of something like that. So, I signed up for the North Grenville Community Theatre’s spring production. Lucky for me, they had someone drop out and the part of Lady Catherine was available. It is a minor role, so I don’t have to test my powers of midlife memory too much.

First written in 1902, “The Admirable Crichton” is a story about the family of a manor house and their servants. The group goes on what is meant to be a short trip but they are caught in a storm and their yacht sinks. They end up on a desert island, where it soon becomes apparent that the serving class is far more equipped for survival than the Lord of the Manor and his daughters. It’s kind of a twist between Downton Abbey and Gilligan’s Island. Tickets are available online and will soon be at the B&H. We are on stage at The Urbandale Arts Centre May 24-28! Come on out and enjoy some community theatre.