Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Symantics, Again

Living in Canada has presented the downside of socialism front and center to us. We witnessed a bit of a more severe form in Peru, and can definitely see the leanings in the States. I've alluded to our frustration at the lack of actual health care access, even though our family income supports a "free" system of healthcare. Symantics - health insurance does not ensure health and more than welfare ensures fewer poor families.

The London Free Press newspaper and the internet are my sole sources of current events. Adjusting from a relatively conservative way of thinking in Texas to a relatively liberal way of thinking in London was rather jarring to my senses. I'm numb to it now. There is a very, very strong sense of entitlement here. The sad fact is that all this entitlement means higher taxes, ensuring that more folks will need the entitlement, meaning higher taxes, and in the end a hugely bloated government employing more "supervisors" and "overseers" than private industry.

One recurring theme in the newspapers concerns the environment. CFL's (compact fluorescent lightbulbs) have irked me from their inception. We are told they will "save energy." Here we are facing legislation that will make it illegal to purchase regular incandescent light bulbs. I can picture the hoards of folks trying to smuggle 60 watt bulbs across the border as I type, and smile at the silliness of it all.

Okay, symantics. Can we actually "save energy?" In short, no, we can't "save energy." If we could how about shipping our saved energy to countries that lack sanitary water systems because of a lack of this precious energy? How about gathering all our "saved energy" and letting it do good where folks could use the benefits just to have a bare existence? The reason is that you can't save energy the way you can save money, which is another topic for another time.

What we can do is consume less energy. We can become more efficient -- but we cannot save energy, anymore than we can save sunshine. We can only consume less. I prefer doing this voluntarily, rather than in the punitive manner espoused both north and south of the US/Canadian border.

Oh, and punitive measures abound here in the north. We have used cloth bags for groceries for a few years now. To "make" people comply our grocery stores started to charge 5 cents per plastic bag. I notice this past weekend that one store was charging 10 cents.

In order to drive a car we need to carry car insurance, plus get a pollution check. I want to breathe clean air, just like the next guy, but when I found out that there were several loopholes in the check system, I became incensed. Busses here belch pollution but are exempt. If a car is older than 7 years, they are exempt. If you can't afford to repair your car, you can be exempt. Vehicles that run dirty also use more diesel or gasoline to get from point A to point B. One more irksome idea floating around our community involves penalizing folks who let their cars idle. Now, that sounds great in concept, none of that nasty pollution boiling into the air while the car isn't going anywhere. But, remember that a lot of people here live in apartment buildings, without weather protectionsfor their cars. A whole lot of folks here do not use their garages for cars, opting instead to keep them stuffed with stuff. In the wintertime ice can get pretty thick on the windows, so many folks will let their cars idle at least long enough for the defrost to help clear the windows so they can drive safely. Not allowed now. Trains criss cross the city, often blocking intersections for up to 15 minutes at a time. Nope, idling not allowed. In fact one of the city council folks proposed a 1 minute limitation on idling. How about stop lights??? So they are now considering lengthening it to 3 minutes. I just know that the constructions crews that use diesel equipment will receive exemptions, and they should. You can't just turn diesel powered equipment off and on without destroying the engine.

Plus, get this, it takes up to 10 times as much "energy" to restart an engine than what would be consumed while idling during an equivalent time period. If there is a car belching pollution, then jerk it off the road. Give the person a bus pass if necessary. Okay, I've calmed down.

So, it really isn't as much about reducing pollutants spilling into the air as raising revenues, and being punitive in the process. I understand that human nature is fallen. I have witnessed folks doing and partaking in activities that are not in the interest of their fellow humans. A simple example is tossing used food cartons from a moving car.

Litter was the huge push when I was in grade school. There were campaigns calling our attention to how unsightly litter was along our streets and highways. And I agree completely. Between high school and college I worked on the State highway road crew for the summer. One of the less desirable, but necessary jobs, was to go out and empty trash cans on the highway. That was over 30 years ago. Yet, still today there is vast evidence that people still litter. Personally, I can not understand the mentality that says it's okay to have the items in your car while you are eating food, but entirely okay to jettison it when you are finished.

For a far more intelligent commentary on the current jargon about "saving the Earth" please read Father James Schall's essay for today, Wednesday, July 22 at The Catholic Thing.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Counting Blessings

With Tom out of town this entire week I have found myself griping. Not to the kids, but inside my mind. This needs to stop, so today I'm going to blog my blessings. No complaining allowed.

Before I begin the count, let me digress a bit and peek back at where I was earlier this week. We've decided to pursue becoming home owners here, and this past weekend we drove through various neighborhoods and stopped into a few open houses in order to get a sense of the variety in London.

Right after our Monday phone call from the broker giving us a green lift my usual manic self took over, trying to create comparison sheets for MLS listings. By Wednesday our realtor went with me to look at the inside of 5 different houses. That was time well spent, though many of my assumptions got blown out of the water and several concerns popped onto the radar. Not the least of which is the fact that a lender will not let us get into a home with less than 10% down. That changes the landscape a lot, considering we still have two daughters at a private Catholic university, plus their apartment, utilities, etc. to support. Not to be unpatriotic, but we an only hope the US dollar weakens enough for parity with the Canadian dollar. The exchange rate is steep!

This morning while I was walking with our son to his job, we started to talk about what type of house would be good for a new home. As we walked along, it occurred to us that we do not need to be in a rush. I didn't have to go through last year's task of getting our possessions, kids, and pets ready to move out of Peru, and having all the intricate web of details to have to fight our way through! We don't have an impending cat 5 hurricane breathing down our necks. It isn't like 7 months ago when we were frantically trying to find a new rental house, right after we had moved to London, before winter blew in. Our first rental had been a card house collapsing as each new "surprise" was revealed. In fact, life has been rather calm, and dull lately by comparison to our past 12 months.

So, as I walked back home, alone in my thoughts, it came to me that we are not in a bad place right now. If we do not get into a hurry, the right house will come along. Our landlord is nice, will let us out of the lease early if need be. She will likely let us just go month to month once our lease if up in December. This will give us time to really look, save money, and not jump too soon.

Tom will be in by midnight tonight, the best blessing right now. Here are a few more, in no particular order:
  1. Our weather has rained just enough to avoid having to drag long hoses around to water the lawn. It has also been just cool enough to make my daily walks pleasant.
  2. We get to breath relatively clean air here. Our neighborhood is quiet!
  3. Our house isn't huge, making it a snap to keep picked up. Our teens are great helpers, taking over tasks when asked, and sometimes surprising me with jobs done without having to be asked.
  4. I thoroughly enjoy chatting with all of our kids! They are interesting and interested people with good hearts.
  5. Tom has his dream job, keeping him on his toes, and letting him do what he is gifted to do. He is also racking up airmiles that enable us to fly our girls for visits, and me back to help make wedding plans.
  6. Our oldest daughter is getting married in 2 weeks! We'll get to visit with a lot of family and friends as we celebrate. Plus, our family will grow, and I need not be pregnant at 53! We are also looking forward to a nice, rather leisurely drive north on our way back to Canada from Texas.
  7. Our other two daughters are relocating to a different apartment, costing us less money for rent, and giving us some peace of mind with a bit of a less "interesting" neighborhood.
  8. My close, dear friends make the effort to stay in contact with me.
  9. We are able to live our faith without fear. We have a choice of Masses to attend, as well as parishes.
  10. We are meeting and becoming friends with many families who have similar values.
  11. It is nice to be able to just drive where I want without having to ask my chauffeur! We can walk and not feel threatened. Did I mention we breath clean air?
  12. Other than some poison ivy, we have little to fear in the outdoors here. No rats, sewer back-ups, iffy water supply, copperheads, fire ant mounds, killer bees, very few cockroaches, and so few mosquitoes that I am surprised when one does show up!
  13. We have a choice when and where we shop for food. I can trust that labels are accurate. We can recognize the products and still try food that is new to us. Milk, eggs and meat does not taste like fish!
  14. The local library system lets me browse shelves discovering treasures, or search online, reserve and have them delivered to our local branch, all for free!
So many of these things, until I experienced a lack of them, held little value. Some of these blessings are so common I forget to recognize them for what they are. All in all, the times I get grumpy and start to crab about living so far from family and close friends reveals how small I really am inside. My perspective gets readjusted each time I meet families who face challenges I can only imagine. I am certainly not asking for any crosses. These teensy little irksome things that my small mind gets sidetracked and focused on are just toothpick size by comparison.

My ancestors were immigrants leaving oppression for freedom, folks who crossed the Oregon trail on foot going days with fresh water, all lived through privations I can't begin to imagine. I hope I humbly learn by their examples, and be someone whom they would want to call their own.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Failing at Humility

Random thoughts jumble through my brain this morning. So much has happened, and much more is looming in the near distance. Yesterday I had my second visit with our new doctor. She is not an MD, as they are impossible to see here on Canada's national socialized health care system.

In many ways, that has been a mixed blessing. We still take care of our own maladies. Fortunately we do not have serious health issues, other than high blood pressure for Tom. When I first visited with Dr. N, my concerns had a lot more to do with slipping away from my own natural lifestyle. She is helping me regain perspective and be brave enough to look honestly at choices.

Gray hair is compelling me to begin having professional coloring. Oh, vanity I suppose. But more that Tom has asked me to pay a bit more attention to my appearance. So, I am beginning to move in that direction, as well. Wrinkles, creases where I really don't want them, gray hair, thinning eyebrows, dry lips all face me each morning in the mirror. My eyesight requires glasses, but only for objects far away. As a consequence I see a crystal clear image in the mornings. Some days I can get fixated on the outside, and that is when I stare only into my eyes reflectioning back, and remember that I need to pay far more attention to the inside, physical and spiritual.

Part of Dr. N's reminders involved exercising. Walking up and down half-flights in our house do not count, though my knees might protest that it really is exercise. And, as things usually do work out, M and P both landed a wonderful babysitting job within walking distance of the house. But, not close. So I walk with one or the other to the job, return home. Then four hours later, I walk to pick them up, then back home. The distance is close to 4 miles every day.

My first week killed me, in that I had to rush the last 2 blocks (after being tired!), unlock the door, push our wild dog out of the way, and dash upstairs to the bathroom. Whew! Getting older in plenty of places! But, I noticed today, after walking for 2 weeks now, I am doing much better. Arthritic feet and knees are responding better, I can actually put some pep into my step, and some of the jiggle is calming down!

Okay, spiritually, I recited a Rosary on the way back this morning. Halfway home, on the narrow sidewalk walking toward me were three women. An older woman with two younger ones. As they came closer I realized that they were not going to move over. So I stepped onto the grass to the side. Unfortunately, as they passed, instead of being humble (like I really knew I should have) I glared at the young woman who walked so close to me her arm brushed my side. I am not given to prejudice, or dislike of folks from other cultures. But, I will say that it might have been a cultural thing for these women, because as the young woman walked past her eyes had a look of triumph. Hence, my glare. Failure ... She "won" and I "lost." But, not in the way she thought. The meek shall inherit the earth ... I have a long way to go toward being naturally meek and humble, may the Lord keep me moving in the right direction.

Complaining has lately risen inside me, and that is another place I definitely need to exercise humility. While my friends in Houston are weathering hot, hot weather, I have been blessed with balmy days to take these walks. I have nothing to complain about! How silly I can get about having to keep learning a different approach to life here in Canada. So, more lessons in humility and meekness. Just don't expect me to begin apologizing for everything, even when it is not my fault. That is not meekess, but the tendency of my Canadian compadres to do this drives me batty. If you think you might need to apologize, don't do whatever it is in the first place. And if you intend to do whatever it is anyway, don't bother apologizing because you really don't mean the "sorry." Humility ... I have a long way to go on this path!

Most of my complaints are not about living in a different place. They really are more because I am in an unfamiliar culture, and each glaring difference tends to smack me between the eyes. I finally remember to ask where the washroom is (not the restroom) in public places. Times when I have to respond with more than two words, I cringe inside, just because I know my "American" presence will be detected. That is usually met with a clouding of the eyes, and a subtle but not nice change in how I am then treated. Humility. Hey! Clue here, I did not vote for Obama, and I do not believe that Canadian's get free health care any more than I believe that you are denied health care in the US unless you have a credit card. Insurance does not guarantee actual access to health care.

Tomorrow we are going with a realtor to look at a few houses. We've decided to plunge into owning a house here. Sticker shock is still getting me, as well as the extra money we'll have to come up with because we choose to remain US citizens living in Canada. We hope to locate an ideal home, but know that reality will fall short. Still, with diligence I hope we find a neighborhood where we fit in a bit better, don't need to witness the Indy 500 on the street out front, or overhear family fights in Chinese from the house next door.

Tom is in Yellowknife this week, and when he called last night about 9 our time, he said they have plenty of bright sunlight. At least I can count those blessings, that we are in a nice community in Ontario, and not living closer to the project. Winter was hard enough for us after having lived apart from snow and ice for close to 9 years!