Life in the Dull Normal Lane

After several days of intense whoop-dee-doop, today was very boring. Well, except for accomplishing a list this long of chores, that is, and – oh yes! – getting Youngest Daughter to ride her Big Bike all by herself all the way to Royal Rock and back. About a kilometre. Woohoo.

It’s always odd when you get back to your normal routine after a disruption, how weird it feels to be normal again. To do laundry and mow the lawn and prepare lunch and work on homeschooling and pay the bills and whatnot. But it’s good, it’s good.

Of course if I listened to myself I would never allow any deviation to the routine. I’m terribly particular about my schedule, and I like things to be just so at the time when I expect them. (Obviously this personality trait doesn’t help me with the zen thing. Oh well. Can’t have everything – where would you put it?) But whenever something disruptive happens it always gives me the opportunity to slip back into the Dull Normal setting and enjoy the quiet predictability that comes with it.

Anyway, that’s a long-winded way of saying that after doing a bunch of chores and getting John to an early-evening event, we traveled to the lake to recharge the batteries in preparation for a hard weekend. It’s late and I’m very tired, but also very happy to be here even if it’s too dark (moon hasn’t gotten up yet) to actually see much of the lake. The stars, though; what a sky we had for the boat ride…

Now to let the loons cry me to sleep.


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Eat fat and do a happy dance

Well! About time!

LONDON — A new report encouraging people to stop avoiding food with high saturated fat content, and to focus on “the consumption of food in its natural form” regardless of its saturated fat content has been labelled “irresponsible” by public health officials.

Recent data from Public Health England suggests that 61.7% of adults in the UK are overweight or obese, with men more likely to be obese than women. And, a recent study by Imperial College London revealed that there are now more obese adults in the world than underweight adults.

The report — authored by non-profit organisations, the Public Health Collaboration and the National Obesity Forum — calls for people to stop counting calories and to cut out refined carbohydrates and “low-fat” foods in order to “reverse obesity and type 2 diabetes”.

“The Public Health Collaboration suggests that the UK stops recommending the avoidance of foods because of saturated fat content in order to focus on the consumption of food in its natural form, however much saturated fat it contains,” reads the report.

The report states that “eating fat does not make you fat”, “saturated fat does not cause heart disease” and that “full fat dairy is likely protective”.

“The UK should avoid foods that have a high carbohydrate-density in order to focus on the consumption of foods and drinks that have carbohydrate-density of less than 25%, as they are usually found in their natural form,” the report continues.


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Another full and successful day… of filming this time

Les jours se suivent mais ne se ressemblent pas around here.

After three days of happy and successful (if tiring) karate tournament we took off this morning for a long day of filming for our Right to Arms documentary and our True, Strong and Free documentary. Yes, we’re producing two documentaries at a time (I explained why here). We are going to England and Scotland next month to film the bulk of both projects but there are some things we can do right here in Ottawa and today being a beautiful day, we struck. But not before driving an hour out of Ottawa to go interview Bruce Montague and his lovely wife Donna (they live far away from Ottawa but were in the area for a couple of days so we struck), about their struggles fighting gun control laws.

Now it’s time to sit down with some popcorn and a movie with the kids, who were wonderful troopers all day, following us around and helping out. And then ice cream because.


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How to one-up the First Lady in two simple steps


A new look is coming to Nutrition Facts labels on food packages, with more attention to calorie counts and added sugars. And no longer will a small bag of chips count as two or three servings.

Michelle Obama said parents will be the beneficiaries.

“You will no longer need a microscope, a calculator, or a degree in nutrition to figure out whether the food you’re buying is actually good for our kids,” the first lady said Friday, announcing the new rules.

Ahem. Here we go.

Parents who want to make sure the food their kids eat is good for them should pay zero attention to what the First Lady says or what’s on the labels. Parents who want to make sure the food their kids eat is good for them should buy the kind of food that has no nutritional labels.

You know. Ingredients. That you put together in a meal yourself. And on the rare occasions when you feel like a processed-food treat, go ahead and eat it without bothering with the labels because those are too depressing anyway.

Simple, right?


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The journey is the reward, but winning is fun, too

If you’d asked me last November if I thought I could qualify for the national karate team I would probably have laughed. But you train and you train and you train, and you listen to the ones who know a lot more than you do (Master John and Sensei Danny get special mentions here) and what do you know, there you are.

Eldest entered in one division, and I entered in four. We qualified for Team Canada in all five divisions (which was what I hoped we’d managed to do, but what’s more I ended up winning silver in three divisions yay me). We’re pretty pumped, and starting to enthuse about the planning of the trip to Ireland in the fall for Worlds. (Planning the trip is at least half the fun.) But there is more than that. Than being pumped, I mean.

There is also the inspiration to train harder and get better. I’m pretty happy with how we performed this weekend, but now we have bigger goals: Not only to make it to the Worlds, but to do well there. That’s a whole new level of intensity, training-wise and we’re keen to get started. And then there’s the other two kids and my husband who are now inspired to try competing. And why not? I find that pushing myself to get on that mat and perform a kata in front of judges, and get on that other mat and get into fights with pretty tough opponents is making me tougher, stronger and a whole lot less scared to do other things, like finally get around to publishing that novel, about which I’d been a notorious chicken for years.

It’s all very cool. Now I have to pass my test for third-degree black belt this weekend, and go through another test weekend after that with the brown belts going for black and first-degree black belts going for second degree. One quote I saw recently, about the black belt test, was that the journey was the reward. This may be true about many things one does in life, but it’s certainly true for martial arts. And the further along I am on that journey, the more I’m enjoying the trip.


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Normal by death (a novel) – chapter six

[previous chapter] [start from the beginning]

Another positive development in my life, or so it seemed at the time, was Claire introducing me to Abdul Bédard-Lellouche, whom she’d gotten to know through her clients at the peeler’s bar who dealt dope for him. She knew Abdul was always looking for smart men with not much to lose to help him run his business. She told me she knew a guy who might want to hire me to do administrative work, well-paid work, work that paid under the table, even, so I could keep my welfare checks coming. And wouldn’t life be sweet with that much money?

It took a while for Claire to arrange the meeting with Abdul. He wasn’t a successful crook for nothing; he was the king of paranoia, and needed to make absolutely sure I was not an undercover cop. He watched me like a hawk and spent almost two months following me whenever he had a few minutes to spare.

To say I don’t look like a cop would be a funny understatement. I’m tall enough, sure, but that’s about it. I used to be pretty fit in my teens and twenties, but this had all gone by the time the Unpleasant Events happened. Some of my friends moved away, others got married, people didn’t have time to meet and play hockey anymore, and that was that. I kept skating for a while, especially in the summer on roller blades, but eventually that fell by the wayside and my waist began expanding. Now in my early thirties with HIV, I was exactly the opposite of what you think about when you think about a healthy guy.

Abdul wasn’t overly concerned about that. He only wanted to make sure I wasn’t a cop, and that my HIV wasn’t going to turn to AIDS and kill me next year or, worse, incapacitate me and make me unable to work. After shadowing me long enough to be satisfied I was who Claire said I was, we met a few times, and we got to know each other a little better. Think of it as slow dating from the underworld.

He took me out for coffee and lunch a bunch of times. A couple of times we went on long car rides to Saint-Sauveur and back. It’s a rich kids’ paradise, that place. Lots of drug business.

Then one day, maybe two months into our, quote, relationship, Abdul decided he knew me enough to start giving me some details. To open up, as it were. “You see,” he explained, “I’m not thinking anything violent. In fact, I’m thinking something good, positive. You worked in nursing homes. You know many people in there are no longer really alive, right?


“That’s true,” I said. “Many of the nursing home patients I’ve encountered in my short career were not properly alive. Their bodies continued to work, mostly, though without proper control over their most basic operations, and who knows what would happen if they stopped taking all these drugs. For all I know they’d fall down dead within a week. Which, like you say, would be a relief for everyone concerned. The families, who wouldn’t have to continue visiting someone who no longer recognized them and who was obviously holding on by a mostly inhuman thread, the health care system that wouldn’t be so clogged with bed blockers in hospitals, acute care, and sometimes intensive care and could devote more of those valuable resources to helping people who at least might stand a chance to live for a while yet, and the patients themselves, who’d finally be allowed to go rest in peace in heaven or wherever they thought their soul was headed, instead of being kept alive for no good reason, just because medicine could.”

Wow, I’d never had a chance to be so open and honest about these things before, but it was all true.

“I get that allowing many of these folks to just fall asleep and never wake up would often be an act of mercy,” I added, seeing as I was on a rhetorical roll. “And don’t kid yourself; it happens more often than people think, especially in hospitals. It’s not uncommon for doctors to stick a DNR, that’s a ‘Do Not Resuscitate’, on patients with poor recovery prospects if the family hasn’t clearly prohibited it in writing. I’ve seen it happen in my training. Nobody says anything about these cases, because deep down we all understand that someone has to draw the line somewhere. I’m not against helping patients survive pneumonia if they have a good chance of getting most of their lives back. But once someone’s heart gives out, especially someone who has been bed-ridden and mostly senile for years, why would you bring them back to life? To what life, anyway? To the life of a bed-ridden, senile, incontinent and brain-damaged 90-year-old? Makes no sense to me.” I shook my head as I said that. “No sense at all.”

“Yes,” Abdul agreed. “No sense. And I’ll bet you some of those doctors could get in trouble if some busybody discovered they’d taken matters into their own hands. But you know what? At some point someone has to do something. Past a certain point, keeping someone alive just because you can becomes abuse, pure and simple.”

I thought the same thing. “So what are you proposing?”

Abdul took the plunge. “OK. I have this idea. There should be a service for people who are ready to go but who can’t do it because assisted suicide is still illegal. What scares people about suicide is the pain. They don’t want pain. So they need drugs. But drugs are hard to get.”

Yup, all true. Most people who are ready for suicide are no longer able to do it themselves. That’s why they needed help. And that’s also why so many people were in favour of allowing physician-assisted suicide. You can see it in poll after poll after poll. People are thinking about themselves; they’re thinking that one day they’ll be stuck in a bed, unable to take themselves out, and they don’t want it to be illegal to ask a professional for help. People have a deep desire to choose the time and place of their demise after a proper send-off with their family but more importantly, they really care about a clean and painless death. What they want is to be able to take a pill, go to sleep, and not wake up. For sure this sort of assisted suicide isn’t for everyone, and there are a lot of good people who argue against it on grounds that life should be protected no matter what and who are we to play God, but I don’t really give a shit about that. I mean, if you want to control your death and someone is prepared to help you in exchange for money, what exactly is wrong with that?

“So,” I asked Abdul, “what’s your idea, exactly?”

“We offer these patients and their families something the law won’t let them have in the open, a way to put an end to their suffering, without pain.”

“Using what method?”

That was the first time I’d seen Abdul so relaxed. “We use drugs that put people to sleep and they just don’t wake up. No bruises, no signs of violence or struggle or poisoning, nothing to give anyone reason to suspect anything. That’s still technically illegal, so of course we need to be careful about how we give the drugs to people. I’ll explain that later. We don’t want to get caught.”

“What if the laws change?”

He smirked. “We’ll have to find something else to do. But for now this’ll work. You’re a nurse, Jean. You know giving someone a pill to swallow ain’t rocket science.”

Yeah, I snorted at that. No kidding. It was always nurses that did this kind of work. Doctors just prescribed, and mostly worried about looking important.

“OK,” I said. “I’m interested.”


A lot had happened since that conversation, and our operations now spanned the areas of Montreal, the South Shore, Laval, Rosemère, St-Jérôme, Oka, and every now and then we made a call in Repentigny or Sorel. We started out small; maybe one or two interventions in the first six months. But word of mouth quickly did its magic and before we knew it we were very busy indeed.


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A good second day

Winners, kata, 42 and over

Second day of competition at the WKC Nationals in Ottawa was pretty good. My daughter placed fourth in her kata division (classical kata, girls, 10 and under), and that earns her a spot on the Canadian team for the World championship in Dublin in the fall.

She did a very strong kata (bassai dai, for those who know). In our system it’s a second-degree black belt kata and she’s still a brown belt so it’s not something she would work on during her regular classes. I helped her learn the kata about two months ago and I’ve worked on it with her most days during those two months. We will continue to work on it throughout the summer and see where that takes us.

She impressed me with her discipline the last two days, and also her focus and strength. I am so crazy proud of her (and I do demand bonus points for not jumping to the ceiling when they gave her the form for Team Canada.)

I did the same kata yesterday and today, in both veteran women divisions (35 and over, and 42 and over). I came second in both, and earned my spot on the Canadian team for both divisions.

Then it was off to point sparring, again in both veteran divisions (35 and over, and 42 and over). After the first round I’m fourth in the 35+ and third in the 42+. Finals are tomorrow morning. I’m going to get myself to bed soon (after tea and ice cream), and get some much-needed rest.


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Targeting the wrong thing…

I’m all for innovation, and I do love crowdfunding. But this is targeting the wrong thing. It’s not the oil or fat on our plate that’s the problem. It’s the ultra-processed foods and empty carbs.

Eat real food, oil and all.


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The world really is upside down

Or so it seems today. Why are people so worried about young people’s physical safety but not, you know, their moral or metaphysical well-being, to say nothing of their innocence?

I was just at Bridgehead in the Glebe (for non-Ottawa folks, this is one of the trendiest neighbourhoods, all perfectly progressive) with my girls. They were sharing a hot chocolate and Eldest was feeding her younger sisters the whipped cream with a spoon. They were pretending to be a family of birds. It was so cute the two ladies at the table next to us oohed, aahed, and generally enthused. Then one whipped out an iPad and snapped a picture. Without asking me.

I asked them not to do that please. One of them looked suitably chastised but the other one, the one who took the picture, shrugged and said, “why”?

Because they’re children! My face, as those of you who know me can guess, wasn’t looking very pleasant. “You should ask permission before taking pictures of someone else’s kids,” I said, not as a suggestion. She just shrugged.

This was not a kid. This was a woman who appeared to be in her 60s. I was floored. It struck me as extremely disrespectful of my children’s right to privacy and of their personal space. And also creepy.

And at the same time I read stories like this, which scream “peak wimpiness” at me in bold crayon letters:

LONDON — A British university has banned the traditional hat-throwing tradition on graduation day, claiming it poses an “unacceptable risk” of injury.

The University of East Anglia (UAE) in Norwich said a number of students have been injured over recent years by falling mortarboards.

LONDON — A British university has banned the traditional hat-throwing tradition on graduation day, claiming it poses an “unacceptable risk” of injury.

The University of East Anglia (UAE) in Norwich said a number of students have been injured over recent years by falling mortarboards.

So invading little kids’ personal space for your own personal enjoyment is fine, but not letting young adults throw their hats in the air just in case they can’t duck fast enough?

If that’s not upside-down, then I don’t know what is.


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Normal by death (a novel) – chapter five

[previous chapter] [start from the beginning]

You’ve never really known despair until you have been faced with the unmovable reality of a respectable world closing its doors in your face. I was a good person. I had a lot to offer. But nobody in the real world wanted to give me a chance to earn a living honourably, doing something useful. I even applied for jobs in restaurants, grocery stores, warehouses. I was desperate.

It didn’t matter.

Eventually, my savings ran out and I got kicked out of my apartment. I wound up on welfare, living in a cockroach-infested dump in a social-housing complex near the highway. About the only good thing that happened there was to meet the love of my life.

Claire had barely turned 20 when I met her. She was so beautiful. She’d run away from home in Abitibi a few years before. She lived off welfare and the occasional week or so working under the table (and sometimes on top of it) at a “gentleman’s club” to help her friends when they were short a few girls.

Her friends were not the respectable kind. But let’s be clear about one thing: Claire is not, and never has been, a prostitute. She only danced. She didn’t let people touch her. She had eyes that looked like moonlight on a still lake, and at the risk of sounding overly poetic, I lost my soul in them.

Then she gave me HIV. She didn’t know she had it, and to this day has no idea where she picked it up. We discovered it last winter, after she kept getting sick with the flu and nasty colds one after the other. She had been feeling tired and feverish for weeks and one day decided to go to the local community clinic to get checked out.

Well. It didn’t take long for the doctors at the community clinic to suspect it. They were used to dealing with patients from the local social housing complex, along with the area’s prostitutes and migrant workers, and as a result of this they tended to see more than their fair share of sexually transmitted infections and diseases, including this one.

“We’re going to have to get some blood tests done,” the doctor, a tall lanky nerd type had told her, to make sure it’s not mono or something. Yeesh, mono. Claire was scared of that one. Ironic, huh.

Two weeks later they called her back into the office to discuss her test results and that’s when they dropped the bomb.

“I’m sorry to tell you the test came back positive for HIV. We’re going to do another test, to rule out what we call a false positive, but just in case you should refrain from having unprotected sex with anyone for now.”

Well, great timing. We had just started getting serious, and had stopped using condoms about a month earlier. We had agreed to be faithful to each other as a first step towards a bigger, longer commitment. Gives a whole new meaning to ’til death do us part, HIV does.

I’d like to say I reacted like a good person, but that would be lying. I went to bits. I withdrew for a couple of days, to mull things over. Claire was of course feeling terribly guilty about what had happened to us, even though she knew in the back of her mind and even suggested that it was possible that I’d given her the virus, not the other way around.

I hadn’t thought about that. But I suppose we’ll never be able to rule it out. Regardless of whose fault it was, we both had it now, and she felt responsible. And scared to death of what life was going to be like for us.

“So I guess that kind of traps us together, does it,” is what I said when I emerged from my apartment at the end of the third day. She wanted to scream she was so relieved.

“Oh, Jean, I don’t see this as a trap. I’m sorry we’re both stuck with that disease, but I like the idea of being with you for better or worse.” She wanted to laugh and cry at the same time. “You’ve made a romantic out of me,” she added, risking half a smile.

And so it had been and would remain for a while, two lovebirds – sick with a disease that did not forgive and that would not be forgotten – but very much attached to each other. That was one way to turn a bad situation into something positive, I guess.

[next chapter]


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