Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Our Small Town Parade

It's been quite a long time since we last went to a Santa Claus Parade, but since our new town was holding theirs on the same day as our tree decorating party, we decided that it was time to remedy that oversight. Apparently, for the past few years, they have been holding the annual parade at night, and I must say that it helps to set a nice mood. Lots of people attended, and a high spirits filled the air. I took this shot of Cuppa before it began. Behind her, you can see the lights on Main Street. Although they look mighty festive, they are actually left up all year round, and I think they're a great touch.

As you can see, minutes before the parade, cars were still driving the street, but the oddest thing was that they were allowed to park on one side of the street during the parade. Indeed, a few chose to watch from that vantage point. I found that to be very strange, indeed.

For a small town, the parade was surprisingly long. Of course, there were no spectacular floats. A lot of trucks went by pulling trailers of people trying to assume Christmasy poses. There were a lot of walk-bys, like the Girl Guides in the photo to the left, and many participants were dressed in old-fashioned, Dickens-like garb. There were three small highland bands with bagpipes and drums, but no real marching bands as such.

My American friends may not realize that marching bands are pretty much an American phenomenon. We have some in Canada at the community level, but as far as I know, no Canadian high school offers a marching band program. Of course, we have high school bands but of an orchestral and/or jazzy nature.

Sarnia, where we lived until recently, was a border town (with Michigan, 60 miles north of Detroit). Due to that location and it being a larger centre, they were always able to attract several big American marching bands, and they were always impressively terrific.

But all in all, I liked this small town parade very much. No one expected huge, fancy floats. They expected spirit and fun, and they were not disappointed. And that includes me.

(See Cuppa's blog for more photos and observations.)


Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Unexpected Emotions

Tis the season to be jolly; that's what they say. Jolly is not the word that I would necessarily choose to describe the good feelings that I tend to experience at this time of year. It's more like a deep sense of well-being and contentment.

The other night at Butterfly's tree decorating party for our little clan of four (there are really six, but two were too far away to attend), I experienced these usual positive emotions, but I also experienced a sense of sadness and loss. You see, my mother made the smocked balls in the photo above, once per Christmas for much of the eighties and nineties. She made two each year: gave one to Cuppa and me and kept one for herself.

She was also planning for the future, for we have two daughters. When we all were to pass on, each girl would be left with one set of grandma's smocked balls. She enjoyed doing it and took a lot of pride in her work. In many ways, she did not seem to be a terribly giving person, but she enjoyed giving these crafts to us each year, and she enjoyed the idea that they would one day be given to her grandchildren. And I'm sure that deep in her heart, she was hoping that they wouldn't forget her, that they might remember grandma with some fondness.

I also remembered my dad that afternoon. He was a shy little fellow who sat in the background at our tree decorating parties. But every year, he would be prompted to adorn the tree with at least one Christmas ball when the tree-decorating was almost completed. Although he stayed in the background most of the time, I know that he enjoyed being included in our gatherings and adding his little contribution to the occasion.

My parents lived long lives, so I haven't been given to mourning their passing terribly much. I haven't felt lonely or empty very often, but I did feel some pangs of loss for a while Saturday afternoon when we were, once again, decorating the tree.


Monday, November 28, 2005

The Season Hath Begun

The season is upon us; good feelings are in the air; spirits are rejoicing. Although the snow cover will soon likely disappear in the warmer and rainier weather that is being predicted for the next few days, there is no denying that the festive season is upon us. Many, if not most, houses now have their outdoor lights up. We have done ours: hung some lights both outside and inside, and put up a small tree. The Christmas dishes are out, and various and sundry decorations festoon corners here and there.

On the weekend, after a hiatus of several years, we resumed a family tradition: the ceremonial and festive decorating of the main family tree. I won't repeat Cuppa's fuller version, but I will reiterate that at one time we'd have grandma and grandpa and aunt Val over to help with decorating, eat platefuls of goodies, and have dinner together. We started that when the kids were still young, and then they moved away. Grandma and grandpa passed on, and poor aunt Val was felled by a debilitating stroke. Cuppa and I carried on by still making it an occasion of sorts, but we missed the family.

Now that we live near Butterfly, she has resumed the tradition. She was a Christmas baby and loves the season. She had us over to decorate both of her trees, one of which you see in the picture, and we munched our goodies, and supped together, and even went to the town Santa Claus parade afterwards.

Yes, the season is upon us, and in the event, I hereby roll out my Christmas template. Although I can code web pages, Blogger's templates just about drives me starkers, and there likely remains things to fix and tweak. I'm not yet sure how bad some of the previous posts, with styles adapted to those colours, will look, but I don't suppose there is much deep examination of old posts anyway, and most of them will probably survive the transition relatively well.

Merry Christmas Season


Thursday, November 24, 2005

Window on Winter

On a whim, I have decided to share this early and little touch of winter with you.

This scene greeted me a few minutes ago when I came upstairs. This schoolyard is our view from the bedroom window. Children playing in the snow at recess seems quintessentially Canadian, almost as Canadian as skating on a frozen pond, so I couldn't resist.

If I am counting right, this is the fourth morning when we have awaken to a smattering of snow, but there is a little more today, and it was still falling lightly in the picture. The roads were slick this morning, and a number of accidents occurred. They always do in the first snowfall. We were going to go into town today, but tomorrow is supposed to be clear and sunny, and we can wait.

Meanwhile, I trust that not too many Americans are experiencing bad weather on Thanksgiving when some of you tend to travel many miles to be with family. Good weather or bad, I bid you ...

Happy Thanksgiving!


Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Not Exactly Lord of the Dance ...

... But Dancing Anyway

Let me confess to being a whole lot happier this Tuesday night than last. While I wasn't exactly Lord of the Line Dance, I did a whole lot better tonight.

It was almost two weeks ago that we invited our neighbours over for lunch. It was time to break the ice, and it seemed up to us to do it. Cuppa offers a fuller account in Steppin' Outside The Box if you wish, but the short version is that they took us to a country dance that night and promoted the line dance a few nights later, exactly one week ago as a matter of fact. The regular country dance had been fine: a small but friendly group and a surprisingly good band. In keeping with my new zeal, we had got up and stumbled around to the slow tunes. That's what I ask her: "Would you like to stumble around with me?" However, Cuppa was especially intrigued with the possibility of line dancing. Years ago we used to catch it on TNN periodically while channel hopping, and it seemed to call Cuppa, but we never got around to trying it ourselves. We were busy at the time, and then it seemed to fade from view — most likely because we didn't have access to TNN any more. D'ya think?

Now, she finally had her chance and was determined to seize it: our chance really because I am forced to admit that it had piqued my interest too. Come last Tuesday we were there: Cuppa, me, about two dozen women, and one and only one other male. That would bother some, but for whatever reason I'm cool with it. In fact, there was a time, a number of years ago now, when Cuppa sometimes led an exercise class in the park on certain summer morns. I was the solitary representative of the male gender at those sessions but, for whatever reason, never felt awkward or conspicuous. Others would, and I wouldn't blame them, but I didn't. I can't explain why because I'm not exactly an out there on the fringes 'look at me' extrovertish kind of guy .

So, come last Tuesday, I was ready to give line dancing a whirl (so to speak). Given my past, which I have discussed at length in the past two blogs — I Was Ten ... and On Missing Out — I was leery, however. For whether by nature or neglect, dancing definitely doesn't come easily to me. I knew that I would find it hard to get the steps. Boy, was I ever wrong! It wasn't hard; it was impossible! For me at least.

It started by the nice teacher taking the newbies, all two of us — Cuppa and me — aside and showing us the steps — to their first and easiest dance: The Electric Slide. Yes, it was supposed to be easy, but I certainly had trouble getting it. However, I didn't know just how much trouble I was in until they actually started the music and everyone gathered on the floor and we started dancing full tilt. I became lost on the very first turn, not on the first group of steps at least, but on the first turn for sure: hopelessly and helplessly lost. I was so confused and befuddled that I was forced to slink off the floor and retire to an obscure corner in an attempt to regain my equanimity and to lick my wounds.

In fact, I felt so befuddled that I had to give up for the night. If I couldn't do the first and simplest routine after much patient instruction, it would be beyond the pale for me to conceive that I could pick up the other routines on the ... well, on the hop, so to speak. So, while, Cuppa took to line dancing like an eagle to the air, easily adapting herself to the routines as she went, I cowered abjectly in my obscure corner.

It wasn't that I was ready to quit although it probably seemed like it at the time; I simply had to lick my wounds and find another path. I can't learn like that. "Here are the steps: one, two, three. Now dance to the music." I need to build brick by steady slow brick: learn the first set of steps, add the second, and practise again and again and again. Fortunately, I'm an online kind of guy. I downloaded the song from iTunes, loaded it onto my iPod, and spent hours in the basement, my iPod in my ear and my feet shuffling on the carpet.

The steps don't come naturally or easily to me, but I persevered. I did that a lot for two days following last Tuesday night — spending many hours in the basement through Wednesday and Thursday. By Thursday night, I more or less had it. That number happened to be danced at the regular country dance that night, and I more or less got it right although dancing amongst others after learning on my own was a bit disconcerting at first.

Tonight, I danced it again, even better this time. And I also danced Changes which I added to my repertoire over the past few days through more and long diligent practise. That one is a little harder, and I made some missteps, but at least I always managed to find my way back into the beat. On line dancing night, they usually both start and end with The Electric Slide, so I got to do that one twice, and it's becoming familiar enough to me that I really enjoyed it. In fact I'm quite pleased with myself. (I thought I'd throw that in, just in case you couldn't tell.)

I still sat out most of the songs, but at least I wasn't smoldering in the corner. With enough practice I might learn the other dances too, but it will take a lot of practise and patience, and with, perhaps, only twenty more years left to live, there may not be enough time for a slow plodder such as I.

We have all heard it more than once. You can't just leave things to the people who are really good at them — if only the best lovers made love, where would you be? We all move in our own directions and at our own pace. For example: while I typed my one blog yesterday, Cuppa made five starts and gave up on hers in frustration. The lady writes well, really well as a matter of fact, but it's harder work for her than me, and sometimes she finds it difficult to concisely articulate her thoughts. Well, I understand that because I'm like that with lots of things, and dancing is one of them. It's hard for me; it takes me much practice, and even then I make wrong steps and don't exactly glide with elf-like fluidity across the floor.

But, for now, I will persist. I will spend time in the basement with my iPod in my ears, practising my steps.

Success is ninety percent perspiration and only ten percent inspiration.

The only failure is in not trying.

Success is moving from failure to failure, without loss of enthusiasm.

Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on after others have let go.

Me? I'm perspiring freely, trying my best and hanging on enthusiastically.

There's an undeniable sense of accomplishment when we persevere to succeed in that which does not come easily to us. We need to do that, however. It's part of the path towards becoming more fully and richly human.

When you die, God and the angels will hold you accountable for all the pleasures you were allowed in life that you denied yourself.


On Missing Out

(This is a continuation of the previous post, "I Was Ten ..." Click here if you need to read it but don't see it directly below this entry.)

Over the long course, I have been able to put most of the Thou Shalt Not's where they belong — far behind me. I have even gambled once or twice: played the slots and lost about ten dollars and found it ever so silly, dull and not worth my time. I do buy a lottery ticket about once a month, or less or more, depending when it happens to cross my straying mind.

Dancing, however, has been more problematic, for I have never, or at least seldom, found myself in social situations where dancing was de rigueur. We and most of my friends got married in the church, so I didn't even need to bother with dancing then.

There was one time, way back in the shrouded mists of yesteryear, when I graduated from elementary school if you please, that I did dance. But the event was fraught with much angst. It took prayer, searching the scriptures, and much spiritual contemplation before I seemed to receive the Divine's approbation. As with everything else (that I mentioned in the previous blog), once I partook in this supposedly devilish pursuit, I couldn't see the harm in it. We sort of waltzed (or whatever) and sort of jitterbugged (or whatever), and I quite enjoyed the night.

But I never really got or made the opportunity to do it again because I went into my high-schoolish shell, not really knowing where I stood with my faith and the world. Aside from that, I have never been a groupie. I've generally had one or three good friends, and while they didn't necessarily suffer from religious proscriptions, they weren't particularly the dancing types either. So, I missed all of the sock hops and every other dance event that came along. I was barely even aware that they existed as a matter of fact.

When I say that I missed it, I don't mean it in the sense that I felt that was missing out, if you understand the distinction. There were always things to do. When you don't fill your life with events A and B, well, you busy yourself with C and D, or X and Y, or whatever. You go swimming with your best friend twice a week; you play road hockey; you play tennis; you just hang out the way that kids do. You fill your self with what presents itself; you have a good and satisfying time living life in the way that it comes to you.

I am endeavouring to say, as clearly as I can, that I never felt as though I had missed out by not going to dances, never felt cheated in any way, shape or form. Still don't. But! But ... there is a best time to learn skills in your life. I find that with cooking, for example. To a certain extent, I now enjoy cooking, but I came to it very late, and procedures tend not to stick in my head very well. Cuppa can remember how to cook something that she hasn't made for years; it's well recorded and readily accessible in her brain. But not in mine. On the other hand, I started using computers much earlier than she, and it has, therefore, become much more second nature to me than to her.

So it is with dancing. As the years went by, I got to the point that simply conjuring a fleeting vision of myself stumbling and bumbling about a dance floor sent me into cold paroxysms. Just the thought of dancing sent my body into a cadaver-like stiffness from my brain to my feet — almost a kind of rigor mortis setting in to a still-but-barely-breathing body. Hence, even when sporadic opportunities happened to present themselves, I would take all the necessary preventative steps to avoid the trauma of having to dance, for it's ruddy difficult for cadavers to dance, doncha know? It even looks awkward in the movie animations for goodness sakes!

A few years ago, however, we were attending the wedding party of a couple of my daughter's friends. The dancing commenced, and I began to regard the event with some interest. What I saw were a bunch of people just kind of moving their bodies; there weren't any pre-defined steps to follow. Everybody just got up and kind of shuffled their bodies around. I said to myself, "AC; you can do that. Get up and dance you old coot!"

I did, and I survived. Cuppa and I even plodded together through the slower dances — the waltz-like ones (except that nobody really knows the proper waltz steps any more), where you hold onto your partner and kind of sway and waddle about. Another wedding followed, my nephew's. I danced yet again and quite enjoyed myself. Then came my daughter's wedding where I managed to stumble my way through the traditional bride-father dance in front of the whole world — or at least thirty people.

I think that I have finally brought you, or brought myself really, up to present times and can next tell you about recent goings-on. I thought I would be able to do that in the previous blog and then surely in this one, but I have rambled on long enough for now. I'll catch you up real soon. Promise.


Sunday, November 20, 2005

I was ten ...

... and our little family was at the beach that day, not right on the beach at that moment, but in the park-like picnic area set back from the water and its sandy fringe. There were two slightly older girls at the table nearest to ours. Periodically, they would briefly break into some sort of dance step, just a few steps. I suppose it was the jitterbug. I regarded them curiously, for this was new stuff to me. Apparently, as I was watching them, my saintly mother was intently studying me, for at the very instant that I began to emulate these exotic creatures by audaciously daring to move my feet — just a little, mind you — my mother was right on me, like salt on potato chips: "Just remember who you are and who you belong to." (Translation for those who require one: "Remember that you are a Christian and you belong to Jesus.")

You see, we were Pentecostals, and, in those days at least, the devout were greatly influenced by the holiness movement. Heeding the words of the apostle Paul, we were supposed to be "in the world but not of the world." We were not to derive enjoyment from worldly pleasures. We weren't to smoke, even then when it was a more common and socially acceptable habit. We didn't drink, didn't gamble, didn't go to movies, didn't play cards, didn't go to amusement parks, didn't watch tv on Sunday, and didn't dance. And who knows what else we didn't do? At that age, kids believe what they are taught — it's called indoctrinaton — and since we all spend more time in the world than in the church, my beliefs began to cause me some confusion and discomfort.

I didn't quite know how to deport myself through most of my high school years. How could I be in the world but not of it? I would have to be careful of making the wrong kinds of friends, of overhearing the wrong kinds of jokes, of being in the company of people who might use the wrong kinds of language. I was forced to live my life on the fringes, relegated to hang about the periphery, constrained to be careful about becoming too involved with the wrong crowd . Difficult, painful and lonely times indeed.

At some point, I began to tenuously, very tenuously, experiment with some of these supposed vices. I wasn't being particularly rebellious, but I guess that I was beginning to think and evaluate for myself. I went to an amusement park and failed to find anything particularly unregenerate about riding the roller coaster or The Wild Mouse. Even a little more tenuously did I venture into the dank confines of a theatre to watch a movie. I came to a similar, surprising conclusion, for I discovered it to be no more grimily stainful to my soul than watching tv at home.

No, I didn't plunge headlong into the wild life, always thought that there was some virtue in moderation or even in eschewing certain activities, and I continue to think that way. Even as an adult, in my late-twenties or early-thirties, I remember getting involved in a card game with some of Cuppa's worldlier relatives. I felt sick to my spirit at having to gamble despite the fact that the grand purse consisted only of paltry pennies, nickels and dimes.

There's no scintilla of doubt that I will always be affected by those early years, for we are what we were when. For example: although I now drink a little wine or beer or put a dab of Bailey's in my Christmas coffee, I remain pretty darn moderate. I no longer hold it sinful to have a drink, but, at my core, I can't help but feel that it not a terribly moral choice to consume significant quantities of alcohol on any sort of regular basis. I'm sure that I have never been drunk although two glasses of wine can render me a trifle woozy. Hence, my daughter, somewhat jealously, deems me a cheap drunk. I say "jealously" because I'm sure that she wishes that she could be as easily affected by consuming such a paltry volume.

Pretty well the last Thou Shalt Not item on my list has been dancing. That is really what I wanted to write about today, but all of this seemingly necessary background has consumed so much of both your and my time, that I feel it incumbent upon me to put these ruminations on Pause for the nonce and advise you to stay tuned for some of the more recent developments in my journey towards some semblance of normality.


Thursday, November 17, 2005

A Non-Post

It seems that I am in a de facto blogging funk, for I've had nothing to say for a week now. At some point in time, the ideas, energy, enthusiasm, what've will come back. It might happen tomorrow or in three weeks.

Meanwhile, the last song that I posted was, in keeping with the occasion, somewhat lugubrious. In counterpoint, I offer a bouncy, high-energy, feel-good, meaningless ditty by Great Big Sea. It's called Mari-Mac. Enjoy.


Friday, November 11, 2005

Remembrance Day 2005

How many countless short stories did I study (I use the word loosely) in high school? There aren't many that I can bring to mind any more. For a number of years, I also taught high school English, but I don't recall many of those short stories either. In point of fact, I recall so few of the stories, plays, novels, and poems that I taught, that I was surprised by some of the titles that I rediscovered when I found and perused my old teaching notes prior to discarding them this past summer.

I do remember a fragment of one story from when I was a student in grade twelve, however: only a fragment, not even the title.

Aliens had snatched a human to interrogate. It seems that the purpose was for them to discover whether we were worth keeping around or whether the universe might not be better served by our extermination.

In the event, they happened to choose a older, salt-of-the-earth, white-haired, grandmotherly woman. You know the kind: naively optimistic with a heart of pure gold — neither an intellectual nor a sophisticate. The only part of the story that I recall somewhat more specifically than that broad overview was that when they asked her what she thought of war, this poor, dear soul, unknowingly saved the planet by telling her truth — that she hated war; that it was a terrible thing. The super-advanced alien beings let her go and spared all of us because, based on what they learned from this woman, whom they supposed to be an ordinary and typical human, we must be a fine species indeed.

Don't you wish there were more people like her? Don't you hate the hunger for war and mayhem that so pervades the beautiful blue planet that is our home? Some say that war is necessary. I disagree, for at the beginning of every war, there must always be a terribly misguided person who begins the unnecessary conflict for misguided reasons. I do agree that there are times that the rest of world must defend itself against aggressors such as those. I understand that; I really do. But don't you think that we should only enjoin battles with reluctant, heavy, and sorrowing hearts, knowing that gentle people will be uprooted, maimed and killed? Don't you hate that there are those plunge into battle slavering gleefully and rubbing their anticipatory hands together over the prospect of battle when they know that much precious blood will be shed?

And that is what I am thinking on this Day of Remembrance It isn't much, but it is.

I give Dale all of the credit for helping me to think of posting this song. When he mentioned to me that he wanted to play his Remembrance Day video clip (do check his blog and watch that video today), I couldn't help but think of the song that I have posted below. If there's a more poignantly suitable song for Remembrance Day (Veterans Day) than The Band Played Waltzing Matilda, I don' t know of it. Please hit play, listen, shed a tear. And while you remember the fallen and slain, may you also join this me in wishing that this, the twenty-first century will see an end to the waste and ravages of unnecessary war.

Update: file has since been inadvertantly trashed, but I think most people who wanted to listen have done so.

The Band Played Waltzing Matilda was written by Australian, Eric Bogle, and this version is sung by Canadian, John McDermott. You can find the lyrics and a brief background here.

(Thank you Lisa for showing me how to stream the music like this.)


Thursday, November 10, 2005

Speaking of Poetry

... as I did, briefly, in my previous post. I have been reading Warrior Geezer lately. If you're not familiar with George, you might, likewise, be impressed.


Success and Failure

The Goddess posted a meaningful poem today: Don't Quit. I often find myself glossing over posted poetry, but this one grabbed my attention.

I was really taken with the Winston Churchill quote posted in the comment section of the same blog: "Success is moving from failure to failure, without loss of enthusiasm." It's one of those statements that strike me as being so very true, kind of an axiom that I don't question. I decided to repost it here because I couldn't remember the exact words and had to go back to the Goddess'es Blog to look it up. Now I have an outside chance of finding it on my own blog if and when I need it again. I'm not a quote kind of guy, but it reinforces my other one: "The only failure is in not trying."

PS: For those who remained confused over the issue, until further notice, this is my active blog. The other blog is, for now, a place to experiment in the making of blog templates without causing the eternal ruination of this one. Sorry for the confusion.


Power Surge

I am more or less an even-keel type of guy, but, like everyone, I am subject to mood swings. Sometimes, I understand them; often, I don't. I don't know why, but for no apparent reason, I can find myself operating in a gloomy fugue when the sun is shining outside and nothing obvious is wrong on the inside. But yesterday, the opposite happened. I drove to the grocery store (hardly a treat) on a dank and cloudy day that was cold enough to begin to freeze the rain on the windshield.

On my way between the car and store, hood pulled way down over my forehead as protection from the elements, I experienced a kind of pure joy. I will name it and claim it as The Joy of Being for I know not what else to call it or how else to describe it.

I don't know why the power surge of gladness hit me then any more than I know why the waves of despondency sometimes break unbidden upon my shores.

It was great while it lasted though.


Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Refresher Course at the Movies

Near the end of September, I wrote Picture This, about our first foray into the quaint little theatre in our town. We didn't get back there for a whole month after that initial visit but have paid two last-minute- on-the-spot visits in the past two weeks. I have told you that the admission price is a six-dollar bargain, but Wait There's More!

They also have Cheap Tuesdays when admission is reduced to four loonies (dollars) each. Of course, Cuppa must have her popcorn fix at each and every movie, but even that is a relatively inexpensive. For $4.75, we get a large popcorn with real butter plus a soft drink. That's a grand total of $12.75 for a night out. Not bad considering our last experience in town cost $13 per person before the popcorn. The whole evening totalled the best part of $35, before gas consumption was factored in.

Last week we saw Elizabethtown with Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst. It was one of those redemption movies where a upwardly mobile young guy with terrible values ends up in a small town. The town and the zany girl change his values and his life. It's better than some movies of similar theme: better than Garden State in my opinion because it explores its theme without cussing and swearing and seedy joint-smoking characters. I don't think there was a single language incident in the whole performance, so I'm sure that Debra would like it. My daughter says that I'm picky about movies, but I don't think so. I liked Elizabethtown, partly because I decided to perceive it as a fantasy and to just go with that somewhat unreal flow.

Last night, we ended up watching Dreamer in the same place, same seats, and same popcorn (so to speak): another nice picture with a good although sometimes schmaltzy story and absolutely no bad language. Kirk Russell and little Dakota Fanning perform really well; Dakota is a precocious doll. I hope that she's half as nice in real life as she seems on screen. I'm pretty sure that Debra and many of you would really enjoy this flick too.

An added benefit was the kid who sat in front of us. Unlike Mel's recent negative experience with Mr Triangle Hair, this little fellow was an absolute delight. He was into the movie and made cute comments and noises: an "Aw" when they kissed and so on. More than once, Cuppa, I, and others giggled delightedly at his spontaneous but always positive outbursts.

I was so pleased with the boy that I made a special effort to chat him up a bit afterward. I don't normally go out of my way engage strangers, but I was so taken with this little fellow that I wanted to let him know in some way. I don't know if he understood that I was trying to tell him how cute he was or how much I liked him, but I was happy that I tired.

I learned a bit of a lesson too. Perhaps that doesn't put it exactly right because I find that it is more likely that, at this stage of my life's journey, I am more likely reminded of old lessons ... again and again. Sitting behind them before the show began, I could tell that the aunt loved the boy, but I could also tell that she was the unpolished type, sitting there in her slightly greasy hair and her slightly soiled team jacket, the kind of garment that you'd expect a young guy to wear, not a forty year-old woman.

You see how I'm being judgemental: "unpolished, soiled, team jacket?" Well, she may have been those things, but I hardly needed to categorize her like that. It was obvious that she loved the boy and happily engaged him on his level. Later, she was very friendly and quite well-spoken with us when we made the effort to talk them at the conclusion.

So, AC must relearn the old but true saw: you can't judge a book by its cover. He must try not to be so judgemental. He does that: makes quick assumptions about people and pigeonholes them. He tends to pre-judge people too much: this person appears to be worth knowing or talking to but that person is not up to his high standards. As if he's any prize.


Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The Birth Dearth

If I don't get this blog written, I may never blog again. *grin* I slipped into this topic accidentally, several posts ago, pretty well against my will. It's too much like teaching. Teaching is a fine thing to do, but you have to complete topics even when you'd just as soon move on. I'd rather keep my blog more personal and let my random thoughts and observations take me where they will rather than lecture on topics.

You will see, if you have been paying attention, that there is a new and final section added to the graph above: phase 5 of the demographic transition model. You will see a question mark in the phase because we don't truly know what will happen as it unfolds. (Please note that I had trouble with my drawing in adding this stage. It would have been better to have drawn the whole graph at the beginning rather than add to it. Technical skills, or the lack thereof, notwithstanding, however, the information is more or less correct.)

What you see in stage five is the crossing of the birth rate and death rate lines. If a country's fertility rate declines to below replacement levels, which is 2.1 per children per woman, over the long haul, the resultant aging population structure will, eventually, mean that the death rate will exceed the birth rate.

This is not conjecture, but reality. The world's more developed countries now average a fertility rate of only 1.6 children per female. Obviously, this means that the typical couple does not replace itself — the couple (two people) only reproduce one-and-a-half children (approximately). However, for the time being, that is still enough for most developed countries to grow their total population.

How can that be so?

It's simple really. Past population growth, such as the post-war baby boom, left us with a lot of couples to make babies. Even if they didn't make many babies per couple, they still made lots of babies as a group. In fact, there have been many more baby-makers in our society than old people. In other words, despite the decline in the fertility rate (the number of children that a woman bears), the birth rate has continued to exceed the death rate in most developed countries.

Nevertheless, the gap between birth rates and death rates has narrowed, and eventually they will cross each other — or so it seems. Developed countries will enter the phase of negative population growth. This can be mitigated to some degree by immigration. Not only does immigration add to the population in the moment, but it also increases the future birth rate to some degree because it is usually younger couples who are accepted into new countries. These couples also tend to come from areas of the world where higher birth rates are the norm. Where a native-born couple would tend to have one or two children, an immigrant couple might be more likely to produce three or four offspring.

Immigration notwithstanding, it will be hard to admit and absorb enough immigrants to avoid reaching negative population growth at some point.

Remember, however, that this is only occurring in developed countries. There is still a very real population explosion occurring in less developed countries. Although their fertility rates are decreasing significantly, the average third-world woman still gives birth to 2.84 babies. That is projected to fall to about 2.17 by 2050 — essentially replacement level. So, there is still a lot of population growth to occur in LDCs, probably three to four billion people, before the whole world reaches a no-growth stage (or stage five). Therefore, although population is set to soon decline in DCs, it will hardly put a dent world population growth.

Jordan, for example, will still double its population from about 6 million in 2005 to about 12 million in 2050. Morocco will expand from 32 million to 50 million, Rwanda from 8 million to 20 million. All of these countries are or soon will be lowering their birth rates dramatically, but there remain many young couples to reproduce children. (Note: these three examples were chosen at random and not for effect.)

Meanwhile, some European countries are already in stage five and already experiencing negative population growth. Germany's growth rate currently stands at -0.2%; its population growth has stopped, and its population will fall from its current 82 million to about 73 million by 2050. Poland will decline to 32 million from 38 million. France lags a little further behind in the process; it will grow very slowly from its current 60 million to about 63 million in 2030 before it then declines to 61 million in 2050.

The non-European developed nations are not as demographically advanced as their European counterparts. The North American countries will continue to grow until mid-century or beyond. The USA will still be growing by 0.7% in 2050 when it will house 420 million people, up 125 million from today's 295 million (note: the USA's present growth rate is 1.7%), for its fertility rate remains high (for developed countries) at 2.1/woman. Canada's fertility rate is lower — 1.6 — and it's growth rate will be as low as 0.2% by 2050. Likewise, Australia's fertility rate is 1.8, and it will grow moderately until 2050 when its growth rate is expected to be 0.1%.

However, even these slower, and not yet negative, growth rates have repercussions. Our society is aging. We don't build schools; we build nursing homes. An older population requires more social services, yet it has a smaller work force to sustain it. The USA, for example, finds itself looking at ways to make Social Security sustainable. In Canada, we have already raised the old-age-pension tax moderately. Another thing: traditionally, older people have less disposable income to spend than working people, and even if they do have money to spend, they tend to hoard it more. That could hurt the economy, but that scenario may not come to pass as baby boomers won't necessarily stay home and dine on toast as their predecessors might have been wont to do. Still another concern is that people will have to work longer. The raising of the pension-able age beyond 65 is already being discussed and may become necessary because developed countries could soon begin to endure a shortage of workers. Canada has already passed a law making it illegal to make retirement at 65 mandatory. Although that may only yet apply to government works (I'm not sure), you can see where we may be headed.

Low or negative population growth isn't and won't necessarily be an economic disaster, but it may require changes in the way we think about our working lives. Also, low and negative population growth in the relatively lowly-populated developed countries does little to slow total world population growth and does nothing to halt still rapidly glowing populations within the less developed parts of the world.

To summarize these posts:

  1. we in the western world (developed countries) had a population explosion as a result of the industrial revolution;
  2. the third world (less developed countries) are experiencing a large population explosion resulting from the aid of western nations;
  3. fertility rates are decreasing in the LDCs, and most population growth will end late this century or early next, probably with about 4 more billion people being added to the planet;
  4. and, fertility rates in DCs, below replacement level, are already resulting in negative growth in some European countries and slow growth in most developed nations.


Saturday, November 05, 2005

Please Humour or Humor Me

Oh where, oh where did AC go? Well, among other things, he decided to try his hand at building a new blog template. I'm not replacing this one at the moment, and when (notice that I said when) you go to the new one, you'll understand why. It was a learning experience, and I think I learned quite a bit by doing it. Lisa and Gemmak have it down to a science, but, alas, I am a rank, but not a stinky, amateur.

I'm hoping that the faithful will slip over to Anvilcloud's Raindrops (as opposed to just Raindrops, this blog) and drop a comment. As I will explain when you get there, I could use some comments to work with.


Tuesday, November 01, 2005

My First Halloween

Little AC sitting with Grandpa Arthur and Frisky.

I'm almost four years old in the picture. My parents, grandad, Uncle Charlie, and I all lived in the same house — grandad's house. We had probably lived with grandad and Uncle Charlie for several years at this point and would live with them for several more before moving to our own little place. The extended family seemed natural, just as it seemed natural when we moved out on our own. Humans are very adaptable.

Frisky appeared at the door one day. Some kids were selling him cheaply or giving him away; I'm not sure which. Grandpa accepted Frisky into the house, and we named him Frisky because that's what he was: a young dog full of energy.

The fateful day arrived: I didn't know it was Halloween Day at the time; in fact, I don't think that I knew diddly about Halloween at that tender age. I recall Grampa saying that he was going to the store and that he was going to take Frisky with. For some reason, I was to be included in the trip. When we were about to leave the house, Grampa decided that Frisky didn't require a leash. I remembering getting quite upset and predicting that he would be killed by a car. But Grampa was sure that Frisky would be fine, even though we had to cross a busy street.

How is that a three-year-old kid can see better than a seventy-year-old man? He wasn't dumb, and I wasn't a child-genius, but I could predict the consequences better than he. Sure enough, Frisky ran into traffic and was run over by a car. Grampa carried the broken and bloody body home and buried him in the back yard.

Although I don't clearly remember, I must have been more than a little distraught, so much so that my mother, in order to distract me, sent me out for Halloween that night. She threw an old coat on me, and I don't know what else, and said that I was to identify myself as a tramp, and out we went.

That was my first Halloween. As far as I recall, I hadn't known that Halloween existed up until that point in my life. I can't recall my emotions and barely recall going out, but I suppose that I thought it was pretty darn wonderful to receive all that booty. It probably did serve to take my mind off the day's trauma too, but it's not the Halloween part that's vivid in my memory fifty-five years later. What's vivid is my angst when I as a little boy somehow realized that Frisky probably would be killed. I can still, even now, relive the dawning apprehension that I felt when Grampa said that he was going to take the dog out without a leash, and I can still see Frisky being run over. I can play that track at will, and it sometimes plays unbidden as my brain does its random shuffle thing. It's probable that I can only relate the Halloween part of the story because I have been told it many times, but the Frisky incident is indelibly archived.

My Most Recent Halloween

Last night Cuppa and I sat in our little porch waiting for the kiddies to come by. We were dressed up in whatever we could find. We left our porch lights out, rendering some of the more timid kids reluctant to enter. We spoke kindly and cheerily to those children. But for the older and bolder among them, I lurked in the corner, the hat brim covering my eyes.

Unobtrusively, as Cuppa dished the treats, I would turn on the speaker and blast some eerie Halloween sounds: screams, groans, creaking doors, witches' cackles and so on. Then, I might let my brooding eyes catch theirs from just under the brim of my hat. I startled some. Others said, "Cool!" And some little guys got down and looked all over, much more curious about the sound and its source than anything. It takes all kinds to make a world, from the quiet and timid souls to the bold and curious spirits.

I'm glad that Cuppa and I did a little something beyond the ordinary. We'll remember the night for a quite a while, even if it's soon lost in the haze of a busy night for the little trick-or-treaters. They'll mostly forget, but I'll remember, just as my mother remembered more about my first Halloween than I do. She passed on the story though, and I pass these accounts on to you and to those who inherit my genes.