Dog Days

The family dog, in her last days, no longer pretty or picture-worthy, is still faithful to her calling. Barking hoarsely and un-intimidatingly at moving things on the street. Leaping and then ultimately faltering in her arthritic legs to properly stand guard. Those sad, tired, sagging eyes have witnessed that front door open and slam shut a thousand times as our big family passed through, carrying with us the mundane and the monster joys and sorrows of life. Our lives in black and white to her. Our half-hearted ear scruffs and belly rubs and steak leftovers, never enough. But at least she has her unconventional best friend to cozy up to on rainy days.

A dog's life. Not much different than our own, sometimes. Hoping for a little purpose in the journey and maybe a little attention along the way.

She tells Bette Davis lies

She tells Bette Davis lies

"Funny business a woman's career. Things you drop on your way up the ladder so you can move faster. You forget you'll need them again when you get back to being a woman." 

Bette Davis delivered those lines from the backseat of a prop car in 1950 on a black and white screen. However, the sting of the script and its truth lingers in full technicolor 67 years later. 

I sort've resent that the writer for "All About Eve" was a male. Partly because he seemed to project his own reluctant tolerance for the strong female role, but also because he seemed to understand the bittersweet reality of working women, almost more keenly than I. In our honorable and justifiable fight for equality and accomplishment in our careers, we still inevitably lose something of ourselves. Something soft and something intangible that I do believe can be recovered when we're finally ready to settle down and... "get back to being a woman." 

The ladder and the steps that hold you on your way back down, however, can be unsteady and unforgiving. 

"I am woman, hear me roar!" is the trumpet call. Because if you trumpet loudly enough, perhaps others will be too distracted to notice your pain. 

In Memorium: The Lady in Pink

In Memorium: The Lady in Pink

The laughing lady in pink was the former president of the General Federation of Women's Clubs and served as deputy special assistant to President Reagan while on the women's council in the White House. 

She was a feminist of the vintage variety. You might not recognize her type these days as she believed in promoting "family unity and free enterprise". My kind of feminist.

The impressive woman in mention happened to be my Great Aunt Mary Elizabeth (emphasis on "great"). She passed this February 25th. I was touched to see today's women leaders take a page to memorialize her life:

"Born and raised in eastern Kentucky, Mary Elizabeth was orphaned by age 16 and took the responsibility of caring for her brother and four sisters. Mary Elizabeth joined the Pikesville Women’s Club after marrying and went on to live a life of volunteer service as a member of GFWC for over 75 years... After her term as GFWC International President, Mary Elizabeth worked in the White House, where she served as President Ronald Reagan’s liaison to national social service and volunteer groups."

Her extended bio at GFWC reads a little more cheekily: 

"Raised in eastern Kentucky, orphaned at 16 and married two years later to an older man who thought women should not work, Mary Elizabeth Preston ended up a White House aide and friend to presidents. "It's only in the United States of America that something like this could happen," Preston said, "where an insignificant hillbilly could have such a wonderful life."

As a teenager I was inspired by her accomplishments and secretly hoped to leave a legacy as impressive as hers. She didn't let her Kentucky poverty or family tragedy become a hurdle for her success. That just wasn't Aunt Mary Liz.

She never had children (save her poodles), but remained a great matriarch of sorts for The Ratliff Clan. She was the first of her siblings and the last of them to leave this earth. Ninety plus years of incredible impact.

May I become half the woman Great Aunt Mary Elizabeth Quint Preston was. 

 

 Courtesy GFWC

Courtesy GFWC

Buffalo's Favorite (Super) Hero

Buffalo's Favorite (Super) Hero

That's Buffalo Bills former quarterback and NFL great, Jim Kelly readying to catch my wobbly spiral six years ago today.

He was spotted on my flight from Atlanta to Buffalo and I crawled over airplane seats to ask him for an interview for the show I worked on at the time. I wasn't going to let that opportunity pass me by because I was afraid of prostrating myself in public at 34,000 feet.

Apparently being the daughter of a salesman helps in these situations. He agreed and gave one of the most authentic, soul-baring interviews I've ever conducted.

Six years ago, he had persevered through four Super Bowl losses, losing his child to disease and very nearly losing his marriage.

Since that interview, he's overcome two war-like battles with cancer. He credits his faith in God and his family for carrying him through those valley stretches of death.

On days I think I have it bad, I reflect on this human superhero, and the time he gave an ambitious no-name tv journalist.

He had a killer cold for the interview, but like that was going to hold Jim Kelly back.

The Hip Final Tour + Social Media = Canadian Gold

The Hip Final Tour + Social Media = Canadian Gold

For my American friends, there are some Canadian musicians that hit the big time in the States and go on to make their nation proud. Bryan Adams, Drake, Arcade Fire just to name a few. But there are some musicians and bands that don't just make their nation proud, they help define it. None more so than The Tragically Hip, whose lead singer announced a 'goodbye tour' as he battles brain cancer. Dozens of my friends have taken to social media to post musical eulogies for The Hip, but for some reason, this below Facebook post by my friend Tim Carson, a musician and a great common Canadian, grabbed me. I don't pretend to be an expert on the band or on Canadian culture (I'm just a former permanent resident), but I do love Canada and I hurt when they do, so I'll let Tim take it away for me:

It seems to me that only The Tragically Hip could have a send off like the one they had tonight.
Not just for the capacity crowd in Kingston, but at packed viewing parties from Bona Vista to Vancouver Island.
I witnessed the spectacle amongst a couple thousand at Sorauren Park, in the Parkdale neighbourhood of Toronto. A well sized screen and an ample sound system filled the air with what was essentially an incredibly well performed and equally well mixed and filmed farewell performance.
The band was clearly in peak form. Playing well, looking well. Necessarily dapper for such an event. Seeming not to be strained by the obvious catharsis that was shrouding the festivities.
I entered through the north side of the park, which served as the back row. It was overrun with the finest of Toronto's most elegantly aging lovelies. A forest of Peruvian style carpets, wine store goodies and cans of local craft beer. Strollers, side cuts and vintage rock tees. Wafts of good weed danced and tickled in the nostrils. Middle age parents, hipsters and curious young folk, feeling the import of being a part of something so obviously special were holding fort in the hilly back areas of the park, chatting and posing, enjoying the festivities in a passive and unremarkable way. I could faintly hear the band chugging through hits from Fully, Completely. An album full of gems. The record that transformed the bar band startup to the purveyors of Can Lit Rock.
Gord Downie is something of a magician. I've seen him perform a few times. His stage presence is animalistic. The stalking type. Musically, the band is adept. They focus intently on generating heavy grooves, in easily digested progressions, nothing sonically or harmonically challenging, sometimes just a chord or three. The idea is to create a landscape upon which Downie can blow. His melodies are slippery yet catchy. His lyrics esoteric, but easily memorable. The drunk on the park picnic table and the Bay Street executive know every word. And each watch adoringly, side by side, as Downie weaves his spell over his crowds.
At this party, as in most, the folks in the front were the most engaged, and I naturally drifted towards them.
There is often an awkward period, at many shows, when a band as monolithic as The Tragically Hip play new songs, off of a new record, as they did tonight. Many, even ardent fans haven't listened to the most recently composed tunes. It usually takes a bit of time to embrace new members of the family. Man Machine Poem is a fine piece of art and will be recognized as such in time. As with most debut performances, it was tolerated by this large gathering with reserved enthusiasm.
But now, it was time for some hits.
It didn't take any effort to slip to the front. The crowd seemed easily obliged to have this duality play out; Crazed dancing fools up at the screen, chilled observers watching from their relative comfort in the back rows.
For the next couple of hours I was in a sort of melancholic ecstasy.
Like making love to the greatest partner I could ever wish for, but knowing they would be gone in the morning. Forever.
I grew up in a small town in Ontario. My earliest memories were, as well as the usual horrors of growing up, listening to my parent's record collection, CBC radio, playing hockey and going to a tiny church. Each of which imparted an indelible smear on my consciousness. I found a fine group of ne'er-do-wells to chum with, mostly musician types, and with whom I could navigate the shaky ground of teenage years. We lived life hard and fast. Cars, girls, drugs, booze, sports, guitars, books, music, concerned and disapproving parents. We meant well and destroyed things even better. 
We were the kind to push our way to the front of the crowd. Eager to make the most out of our small town lives.
All the while to a soundtrack, which always included The Hip records, as well as Downie's immaculate solo albums.
He was our poet laureate.
To a bunch of passionate Ontario boys, facing the complexities of life, endeavouring to make our own mark on the planet, this man spoke our language. Hell, he spoke our truth.
As the band seamlessly wove through favourites, My Music at Work, Lake Fever, Fiddler's Green, Poets and the timeless Bobcaygeon, I could feel my friends close to me. Dancing, smiling. Though they were spread far and wide across the great expanse of our country, they were standing next to me as though no time, space or circumstance had ever driven us apart. Rob, Tyler, Matt, Brian and Zach and the beautiful women who put up with us in those days. Some of those brave women even married some of these hooligans.
The band courageously ploughed through three encores and I looked around at a sea of strangers, dancing and singing to music and lyrics they clearly hold as religious in their hearts and minds. I could see that everyone of these folks had their own peculiar upbringing. Their own friends and cars and girls and music and books and horror stories and great triumphs. They had their own Robs and Tylers and Matts and Brians and Zachs. Some of their girls were even gracious enough to marry them.
I wasn't alone, here. In this massive city full of lonely strangers.
These songs strung us all together.
No dress rehearsal. This is our life.

Climb Every Mountain 🎶

Climb Every Mountain 🎶

"Do you miss it?" 

I get that question about NYC almost weekly from old friends and new faces here in Vermont. The answer I usually give is "no, not really." Now if I'm asked that question again in the dead of winter I'll probably give a different response, but I've quite taken to the more laid back lifestyle. The shortly coiffed hair is making straggly lengths to grow and so is my soul. Unfurled from the 300 square foot Manhattan apartment and concrete Lego stack of a city, it seems its got more room to stretch out and think about the things that really make for a great quality of life. I even attend yoga classes now. Seriously.

I like the contrast represented in this photo below. At 36 years old, I'm not in the best of shape but I managed to crawl my way to the top of the highest peak in Vermont via a double black diamond mountain trail. Yay me. But the reality is my experience in NYC was not that dissimilar. It's a tough, crowded thoroughfare of dreams and disappointments, but it's still worth a pat on the back sometimes to say, "yeah, I did that."

 

Onward and upward (to The Green Mountain State)

Onward and upward (to The Green Mountain State)

I was a weirdo 17 year old enthralled with the way this pictured contrarian John Stossel told stories on tv. I knew at that time I wanted to be a journalist and I was pretty sure I wanted to be a journalist like him. Fact-driven, but funny and always in the pursuit of personal freedom. 

Many times throughout my career I applied to be his intern while he was at ABC and then later an entry-level producer for him when he was at Fox, but never getting any response. 

Three years ago my dreams were finally realized when I became a higher-level producer for him. It was not long after I was even more thrilled when he and our EP asked me to be his field correspondent. 

He's a tough host, but he's made me a better tv producer and presenter and for that I thank him, because now I can chase after new dreams. Which is what I've been doing since June 1st having taken a job in Vermont (yes, Vermont). 

I have an incredible media opportunity that lets me become an executive producer AND an entrepreneur, putting me closer to my goal of world domination (he he). The show in still in development, so when I can share more, I will. 


In this photo-moment I'm telling John before we start to roll tape that he nicked himself shaving and he has blood on his face I need to discreetly wipe off in front of a live audience. Ah, the producer life. Ain't it great?

Making Contrary Canadian TV

Making Contrary Canadian TV

A little belated posting here, but it was bittersweet to document my memories at the little network that could, that did a lot, but ultimately couldn't permanently because of the onerous regulatory barriers placed upon upstart Canadian media. 

“We don’t have a reporter position available, but we do need a senior producer for Ezra Levant,” Sun News Network management told me during my 2011 interview. 

“Who’s Ezra Levant? ” I wondered. But I was too hungry to waffle, so I gobbled up the offer. It’s a rare thing for a journalist to get in on the ground floor of a new media venture, especially one so audacious and plucky. 

Once I’d gone home to Google this “Ezra Levant,” I wondered what the hell I was getting into. He’d had some court tangles and said a lot of highly controversial things. He was almost . . . un-Canadian in his politics. But that just made me like him more. I didn’t choose a career in television news to be an empty-headed prompter reader, but a muckraker. And oh, into the muck did we go at Sun News. 

You can read the rest at Walrus Magazine.

p.s. my former tv host and his band of happy rebels refused to quit as real men and women in the arena tend to do.

.

Of crackers and Cubans

Of crackers and Cubans

On my flight from Miami to Havana I was seated next to a very chatty Cuban native in the middle of the row. He works in Miami and sends money to his family. In his hands he had a cheap toy, like the kind you get at the Dollar Store, unceremoniously wrapped in a plastic bag.

He explained it was a Christmas present for his young son who he had not seen in many months. I smiled politely but the truth is I was sleep deprived and uncomfortable in my seat and nervous about getting into the country.

It turns out he was nervous too--about flying--and I think talking calmed him. I may have spoke more Spanish than he did English, which made the conversation more of a difficult translation game.

When we landed the entire plane of Cubans clapped like they'd witnessed a modern miracle, but this grown man in the middle seat, wiped big tears from his eyes. He apologized, "I'm just happy to be home and see my son."

As we were deboarding, the chatty father gave me a half eaten stack of Saltine crackers. I laughed because I thought it was a joke, but he was very serious in his generosity. Almost somber about it.

I quickly exchanged my snort for a very serious "gracias."

We waved goodbye in the humidity on the tarmac and I worried about throwing away the crackers later. I had an intimidating customs and visa process ahead of me.

By the time I finally arrived at my AirBnb, it was late and I was starving. It would be 10pm before I could sit down to a proper meal. I looked down at my carry-on bag at that sad stack of Saltine crackers and said, "what the hell?"

About 6 crackers later, my hunger was staved and I was humbled by his meagre gift.

There were several times when I was miles between the next meal in my travels, and those Saltines kept me going until I arrived at the next Cuban adventure.

Yes, I realize celebrating Christmas in Cuba by yourself is a bit unorthodox, but it's not like I lacked for any show of generosity, thanks to many kind strangers, and the man in the middle seat.


**Update from a Cuban-American friend who read this post: "Saltine crackers are a staple in a Cuban household. He must have really liked you."

Redemption is for broken fathers, too.

Redemption is for broken fathers, too.

He told me to just stay in New York. Grandpa probably only had a few hours left and I wouldn't make it in time. But that wasn't the point. I needed to be with my dad more than I needed to say goodbye to my grandpa. The thought of him watching his father die without any of his children by his side was just unbearable.

As his oldest child, I had done my share of not listening to Dad when I should have, but this was one of those times when I knew he'd understand my small act of rebellion was really an act of love. I booked my flight to Tampa where Grandpa had made his home, near strawberry fields and majestic trees draped in sad, Spanish moss that swayed in the Florida breeze. 

My dad's journey to my grandpa took longer than the couple-hour flight from his home in Oklahoma. It started about 25 years prior when he realized he wanted his children to have a relationship with their grandfather, although he had not had one himself. My dad's parents divorced when he was very young. The Army lifestyle combined with unspoken heart breaks that often lead to poor decisions, left my dad mostly fatherless. Life in Lexington was a struggle as my dad's mother never remarried. The Southern belle with no post-secondary education but a whole lot of pride, worked hard to provide for my dad and aunt. Even still, my dad recalls that a glass of milk at supper was a luxury so his mother would water it down to make it last longer.  

A few years ago my dad showed me and my brother the mountain trail he climbed during his rocky teenage years outside of Lexington. He never understood why his dad didn't want to know him. With tears in his eyes he told us that when he climbed those Kentucky hills, his insecurity was left at the base. At the top of those rocks, he felt special. Untouchable. Victorious. 

I don't know what it's like to doubt the love of your father. That has never been my journey. My father vowed to be a different man to his seven children. From age five to 35 he has carried me. At first, it was in his arms. Later, it was in his belief that I could accomplish anything. Now, it's in his pride that I did accomplish the dreams he helped set sail. 

My grandfather got a second chance at being a good dad. He remarried and had two more beautiful children who have become my kindred spirits. They each stood by my grandfather's hospital bed squeezing his still warm hands. The sheets wet with their adoring tears, feeling the same way I do about my father. But they weren't the only children in the room weeping over the wonderful memories made with my charming and unforgettable grandpa. My dad fought to get his own dad back. And he did. My grandpa learned to love his first-born the way my dad deserved to be loved all along. Seated next to my dad in the hospital room watching his tears make trails on his face, I was overcome with gratitude because I realized, there is no expiration date for redemption.

After my grandfather passed, we made our way to the beach to trade sadness for sunshine, if only for a day. Digging my toes into the sand, I overheard my dad tell my brother on the phone that I had been strong. Strong for him. He'll never know how much it meant to hear him say that. It's a running joke that I'm the emotional crybaby in the family. I think people often mistake my tears for weakness, but I want to tell them that sometimes my love is so brimming over, these salty rivers have nowhere else to go. 

My dad has done so much for me, that to hold his hand and his heart in mine as he watched his father pass, did not require incredible strength. Really, it was just the least a grateful daughter could do. 

Uncle Tony, Aunt Monica, me and Dad. Taken at sunset at the home of my grandpa not long after he passed. We let him know he could leave, because with each other, we were in good hands.  

Three Things I've Learned in My First Year of Living in NYC

Three Things I've Learned in My First Year of Living in NYC

1) I don't miss my car like I thought I would. 

I'd had Lil Red since I was 25. She made the journey from Oklahoma to Canada and somehow, with rear wheel drive and no snow tires, survived 7 winters. Even when I moved to the semi-pedestrian city of Toronto, I couldn't let her go. She was fast. She was hot. She was small. She was filled with memories. Most of all, she was a gift from my father.

From 2002-2005, I was working 30 hours a week and going to college 6-12 hours a semester. I didn't want to go into deep student loan debt, so I paid my tuition along the way. Dad promised that if I graduated college with a 3.5 GPA, he would buy me a car. I really didn't need the extra incentive to excel in courses; my own self-satisfaction and basking in the pride of my parents would've been enough. But come on...it was a red convertible.

I never felt spoiled driving Lil Red. I felt grateful. It was only a decade prior we were on food stamps and I was borrowing my track coach's lawn-mowing shoes because we couldn't even afford Wal-mart tennis shoes. My dad was finally in a position to show me the kind of generosity many fathers wished they could for their children.

Despite my nostalgia, the car was a material possession I could not afford to keep in Manhattan. I needed the money from the sale to help pay for my expensive move.

Saying 'good-bye' to Lil Red

It was a wistful goodbye to that chapter of my life behind the wheel, but I still get tune-ups. It just that these days, they're for my feet. Pedicures are not a luxury anymore. It's just mandatory upkeep for my new wheels.

A little over a year later, I'm fully pedestrian and loving every step of it. I can hail taxis with the best of them, and navigate the subway tunnels with near ease. I walk to work every day and never grow bored of it. There's characters at every intersection and I'm constantly entertained by the stuff New Yorkers say. You can also feel the city at your feet in a way that you can't from the seat of a car. It's pulsing with life. Sometimes I wonder where the conductor is when one person briskly walking north, and another hurriedly walking east, just barely escape a collision with each other. It's a walking symphony and I have a front row seat.

2) It's not always Sex-y in the City. 

I walk to work with headphones on most of the time. Many of us pedestrians do. With the right song, you can really hit a good stride and feel like the star of your own music video with the sun kissing your face and the wind whipping your skirt at just the right flirty height. That music video in your head comes screeching to a halt, however, when your nose gets a whiff of the real Manhattan.

There's nothing like a wave of piss and gunk, just simmering on the street, to turn your healthy sidewalk stride into a stumbling dry-heave.

There was a moment last fall when a couple of tourists walking next to me in Hells Kitchen asked aloud, "what's that smell?" Without skipping a beat I answered, "That's NYC."

It's not just the smell. There's real, live rats. Some of them even terrorize us on the subways. There's cockroaches. Cockroaches so big they could qualify as a roommate on your apartment lease. And then there's the reality of almost zero green space for everyone's precious puppies to poo and pee. It's an obstacle course dodging the doo on the sidewalk.

My front yard that needs no mowing

Like I said, I love my pedestrian life, but it isn't always Carrie Bradshaw glamorous. My life is more like Smells in the City than Sex in the City, and the public dry-heaving keeps me humble.

3) I'm stronger than I thought I was.

I love an adventure but I don't really relish change. Moving countries is uncomfortable, and sometimes, for an uncomfortably long time. It took me several years to settle into Canada and its culture, but once I did, I flourished. I'm proud of the career achievements I made there, and I'm even more proud of the friendships I cultivated. Those folks kept me upright during very tempestuous times, including the dissolution of my marriage. I was a professional success, but a failure in my personal life. My friend-family loved me in spite of it. When I got the opportunity to pursue my dreams in NYC, my friend-family selflessly relinquished me back to my homeland.

I literally am living the dream. I have a cute apartment in midtown Manhattan and an interesting career, but I catch myself whimpering when the 40 hour work week easily balloons into 60. I had a better work-life balance in Toronto and my best friend was just a subway stop away. Starting over from friend-scratch can be trying. Starting over from romance-scratch is even harder. The vulnerability and time it takes to turn strangers into sidekicks sometimes seems insurmountable--until I remember I've done this before. And I can do it again. And I want this. I've wanted this since I was that awkward teenager embarrassed we had to use food stamps to pay for cereal.

"I need a vacation" 

In this wild city, I have permission to be my brazen self. I've been told before I'm too aggressive, but in NYC I'm allowed to have late nights, obnoxious laughs, and loud phone conversations. My aggression has come in handy when confronted by hawks and hustlers on the street. And beware the crude man who mistakes me for a naive, starry-eyed tourist.

I don't have to apologize for wanting to put my career in sixth gear, when many other women my age are slowing to first.  Everyone else is here to do the same thing. To be the best in their industry. To test their limits and capacity in a city that could crush you in an instant if you're not careful.

I'm stronger because of my friendships and my family that keep me and push me. On the phone with my dad today I remarked that nearly all of my friendships are long-distance, and it's a testament to them that they've remained solid through wear and tear.

Dipping my toes into Coney Island with new friend, Kristen. 

I don't have much time for written reflection these days, but I thought it was important to mark a year of Survival in the City. I spent my NYC anniversary on Coney Island with a new friend I made in NY. Turns out, you can find great sidekicks just about anywhere if you open your heart to a little change.

We stuffed our faces with Nathan's famous hotdogs and cotton candy, slurped Brooklyn lager and squealed as we rattled from tall heights in a cage on the historic Wonder Wheel. Dangling from a 95-year-old amusement park institution I thought, "what a scary, eccentric ride it's been," and "can I go again?"

The Long Way Home: Part I

The Long Way Home: Part I

Sometimes I feel like an immigrant in my own native America. I use an extra "u" in "humour" and "neighbour" and only realize the error of my ways when Word makes an angry, red squiggle line.

I answer in Celsius when someone asks the temperature, just to be shot a disappointed look.

I say, "eh," at the end of a statement and am predictably and mercilessly mocked for it.

I crave poutine after a solid Saturday night on the town and settle with a sigh for ordinary fries.

For all intents and purposes, I make a half-decent Canadian, but alas, I left before swearing oath to Queen and Country.

It wasn't so long ago I was struggling to spell like they do, tell temperature like they do and make proper use of their sing-song affirmation at the end of a sentence.

"Did I get it right this time, eh?"

I even warmed to watching ice hockey...for fun.

Seven winters. That's how I count my time in Canada. So my chronology is a little macabre, but for 26 years my blood ran warm in the mild Fahrenheit temperatures of Oklahoma. Not even a puffy Canada Goose down, fur-lined jacket could stem my disdain for a season that seemed to drag on out of spite.

When I explained to an American customs agent that I was entering the border to stay this time, she greeted me with an enthusiastic "welcome home!" but my heart was betwixt. Home, I realized in an instant, was just a backwards glance over my shoulder. What lay ahead was something I loved, but barely recognized.


To be continued...



POTUS takes a potshot at Americans

POTUS takes a potshot at Americans

President Barack Obama's staff took to his official Twitter account Friday evening to remind "severe conservatives" that despite the Supreme Court challenge to the Affordable Healthcare Act, Obamacare is here to stay.

The reaction to the President's message was met with both favour and fury, with one Twitter user describing the tweet as giving "the presidential finger."

It just all felt so very...un-presidential. 

With the annual Conservative Political Action Conference underway in Washington, one of the largest gatherings for conservative politicos in the States, the timing of the tweet seemed targeted at killing the Republican revival buzz.

The President is no stranger to social media, and was successful at using it as part of his strategy to mobilize support among the younger voting base in both the 2008 and 2012 elections. It's the perfect platform for rapidly spreading clever partisan ideas. With over 28 million followers, Team Obama owns Twitter and uses it effectively. But as we saw on Friday, sometimes they can act like real trolls.

The President's tweet was aimed at "severe conservatives trying to roll back progress," but who are they? 

According to recent Rasmussen polling, 48% of Americans disapprove of Obamacare, with only 45% in favour of the reforms. 

Obama is a loving leader to the less than half of Americans that agree with his healthcare policy. The other half become the butt of his vindictive Twitter jokes. 

With divide and conquer politics such as this, you can sympathize with the citizens of nearly 20 states that have petitioned to secede from the Union in a desperate attempt to have their frustrations with the White House heard. 

Posting snarky social media messages is a nani-nani-boo-boo brand of leadership you might expect from an insecure authoritarian, not the leader of the Free World. 

In the firestorm of comments that followed the President's tweet, I half-expected a retraction or an admission that perhaps the tweet was dismissive to those that respect the Office of the President, but don't always agree with its politics. How naive. Apologies aren't for those that hold a second and final term. 

And hey, the graphic paired with the tweet looked slick. So get on board, America. This is the new progressive. 

Of montages and mothers

Of montages and mothers

When the television network I work for put out a call to staff to send in photos of their moms to air as a tribute on Mother's Day, I didn't realize how difficult such a simple task would be. I had one print photo from my graduation day and that was about it.

I franticly emailed a few friends and family members to see if they had any on stock. The fact that I even had to do that depressed me greatly. I had plenty of photos taken with my dad and brothers and sisters, but hardly any with my mom. I resolved in that moment to take more pictures with my mother while I'm still blessed to have her on this earth.

Perhaps I sound a touch on the melodramatic side, but living so far from home for the last several years, pictures with family mean more to me than they ever have before. I need something to hold onto that affirms, "yes, we're family and we've shared memories together."

Luckily, my dad came through and sent me a low resolution photo taken from his iPhone.

This photograph represents one of the proudest days of my life (and one of the coldest nights in Canada I can remember). The documentary I had poured my heart and soul and sanity into for the last several months was making its premier in Calgary. I told my parents how much it would mean to have them there for such an important day.

I knew it was a long shot. It was sort of last minute and it was the middle of the week during the school year. Someone would have to watch my younger siblings. The flight from Oklahoma City to Calgary would be expensive, but they didn't even blink. Despite the fact that my mom is an organized planner still on mom-watch and absolutely abhors cold temperatures, she said she wouldn't miss it for the world.

And I needed her there. I was so nervous at something so personal being displayed on a massive theatre screen before several hundred strangers. With dad on my left and mom on my right, I held my mother's hand in a sweaty death grip. She squeezed back just as fierce.

I watched her watching the film. She cried at the parts I had cried at, laughed at the scenes I had laughed at in post-production, and smiled the proudest smile I've ever seen her smile over me. Yes, I needed her there desperately.

As the oldest of seven kids, it's easy to get lost in the sea of activities and accomplishments of my other siblings. Growing up, I felt I didn't have her approval on much, and over the years our relationship has been fraught with a sometimes tense dynamic.

When she was 19 years old, she married my dad and inherited me and my brother from his previous marriage. When I was 8 years old, she made the tremendously symbolic and important gesture of adopting me, and even then my insecurity failed me constantly as I doubted her love and acceptance of me as one of her own.

She sacrificed much to raise me and my brother at the time. Her youth, time alone with a new husband, and even her career. When she met my dad, she was enrolled in television broadcasting at a local college. I still find it funny that I ended up on the same path she wasn't able to finish so many years ago.

More than anything, I wish I could be home celebrating this Mother's Day with her. She likes the simple things on days like this. To be surrounded by her children in church, for her family to be at peace with each other and not bickering like we often do, and rest from her household chores.

That's why the small gesture of honoring her in my own small way was so important. I wanted the world to know that my lack of Kodak moments with her is not a reflection of my love and admiration for her. That I am a success because of her love for me. And while my mom may not have given birth to me, she has certainly given me life. No television montage on Mother's Day will ever be enough to honour that sacred gift.

So many years later, Mom finally makes her national television debut.

The People in the Arena

The People in the Arena

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
— Theodore Roosevelt

And this is why I have all the time in the world for those brave enough to make an informed opinion without fear of reprisal. Long live editorialized news.

 

The Miss Saigons of Dufferin Mall

The Miss Saigons of Dufferin Mall

I was determined to not go back if I could help it. The last time I was at that cheap nail salon I left in a rage and threatened to call the Better Business Bureau. I remember my dad using that threat on sleazy salesmen growing up and thought it might work on the nail artists who charged me extra for a pedicure because I refused to pay in cash.

Alas, their late business hours, convenience to my house, and competitive prices sent me crawling back in shame with my nail fashion emergency.

You know the place. Where everyone's name is "Tammi" and they call you "honey" and double-check five times to make sure you don't want bio-gel on your nails even though you've politely declined seven times. The kind of place littered with decaying fashion magazines and scrupulous disinfecting habits, where they twitter about in their native Asian tongue, doing half-ass jobs on a foot massage, but you still love it because it's the most attention your poor feet have received in months.

A calendar hung on the wall with a Vietnamese woman dressed as Miss Saigon. A tacky reminder of home, I thought.

I was soaking my nails in polish remover when I received a phone call I had to take from work. I needed my television host to tape a quick hit and directed him and the camera man on what we needed to do. A few minutes later I received another phone call on my personal cell I had to take. "Tammi" appeared shocked I had two phones. How could anyone be so busy they needed two phones. By that time two Tammi's had joined in.

"What you do for work? Why you need so many phone?" they demanded.

I explained the television news business doesn't stop, especially for a producer, and why it's important to separate business from work, even if it's placebic in its desired effect. By now I was surrounded by three small Vietnamese women curious about the television industry and mistaking me for some kind of hot shot.

In their very broken English, they asked me about the news of the day, what I thought about Obama, Middle East tensions, and pop culture all the while my nails were receiving a top coat. Only half the time did I understand what they were saying, but it felt like we were having some kind of cultural breakthrough and the sins of the past were forgotten on both our parts.

One woman in particular seemed to appreciate how demanding my job could be and then stunned me with a sincere question.

"You think our job hard?" she asked. What she was really asking is if I thought my job was more important than theirs.

My mind raced through a decade of cheap nail salon experiences and the storage shed of quiet judgment I had built.

"Yes. Yes, I do," I replied.

She pushed further. "How?"

"Well, for starters," I said, "you mess with all sorts of nasty feet, hunching your back all day, listening to privileged white women drone on about their white women problems. You have to pretend to care. You have to laugh at their unfunny jokes and smile through their patronizing tones."

At this point I was sure I had lost them. But I hadn't. They laughed in surprise at how much I seemed to understand and I watched their defenses completely melt. We spoke some more about bad news going on in the world. When it was time to pay, they didn't fuss over the fact I used a debit card and they didn't over-charge me.

The oldest Tammi said, "maybe next time you tell us good news."

I immediately started to rummage through my purse, as delicately as I could (my nails were still drying from the polish), for my personal phone. There was a photo from a newspaper I had seen earlier that had melted all my work stress away, albeit briefly, and I wanted to share that photo with them in the hopes that it would set their work world right too.

They waited patiently as I impatiently waited for the wireless signal to download the photograph of a young Afghan girl, awkwardly and proudly holding a lamb in her arms. It was truly a picture of innocence.

The Tammi's crowded together to squint at my phone's small screen. They coo'd over the picture in Vietnamese. Then the oldest Tammi said in English, "she peaceful."

Yes. She peaceful indeed.



Of hearts and homes

Of hearts and homes

Before I forget and not post anything for another few months, I have to describe two very different experiences I had with homeless people in Toronto recently, a city estimated to have up to 10,000 youth and adults living on the streets each night. It's a shocking statistic and while it's a reality here in Canada and sometimes even more severely abroad, I never get used to it. My face often remains stoic walking by those passed out on a subway vent with bare feet exposed, but my heart always, always twinges.

On Saturday night I sat chatting joyfully next to a friend on the subway home. I got to sleep in that day and I got to see a movie that made me laugh, cry and be inspired. Life was simple but perfect in those moments. My reverie ended when I realized the man sitting on the floor of the subway train wasn't sitting there because there weren't any seats available, but because he was so hammered and/or high he couldn't even make it to a seat.

He was friendly though and in the mood to talk to every passenger. I admit I smiled patronizingly at his alcohol-induced loquaciousness, but when he began to say things like, "I have a place to stay tonight if I want to, I just choose not to go home," my heart sank. He wanted to prove to us that he wasn't a bum of circumstances. That he was a man in control of his own life. I openly cried for him. Not out of pity, but out of an understanding heart that knows a little bit what it's like to hang so desperately onto shredding pieces of your pride.

On Sunday night I swooped into a parking spot at my local drug store with my red convertible, still hanging onto its Okie plates. A man stood by the store entrance asking for spare change. I answered honestly that I had no change, and it being night, and me being a single woman, I felt no guilt in not reaching into my purse, although I did say I was sorry I couldn't help.

He replied, "Ma'am, do not feel sorry. It's okay."

I could tell he was sober by the way he spoke to me. His eyes were clear in his polite reprimand. I was struck by his sincerity and almost believed he wouldn't use the money at the liquor store a block away.

As I left, I smiled when I passed him. He must've noticed my Oklahoma plates and my car that doesn't fit into the winter scenes here, because he yelled out laughing, "welcome to Canada!"

He made my night and I can't articulate why.

Welcome to Canada indeed. And to my new residence of Toronto. Where the roof-less are often more friendly than the 3 million covered by roofs. 

Give me liberty or...

Give me liberty or...

This blog is woefully neglected. But better this blog than my life as lots of changes been happenin' over the past few months.

Friends describe me now as a woman liberated, but freedom always comes at a cost as sometimes it seems you trade in one set of chains for another.

I'm still smiling--with an authenticity--and a hope that this new path I'm forging in Canada is not for anyone else but myself.

However, if anyone else finds their life benefiting from my existence in the True North Strong and Free, well then, that's just gravy. 

America the Beautiful

America the Beautiful

It's been nearly a month since the 10th anniversary of 9/11. The World Trade Center memorial has been unveiled and the poignant speeches have all been spoken. By now, the survivors and families of victims have made the dizzying rounds on the media circuit, and with soundbites and sentiments packaged, the international networks and local news crews have packed up and left. What remains are fizzed out leftovers of American nationalism and the steady wave of NYC tourists curious about the gaping holes in the southern tip of that busy island.

I was tempted to indulge in my own mourning and remembrance of 9/11 in a sappy blog, but I didn't think I could add any more to the pundits already postulating on the significance of that day. I had some stuff to say, but I couldn't justify using 9/11 for a spike in blog readership if tagged properly.

And so 10 years and one month later, the timeliness of the news hook is delayed, but I still remember. And it still hurts. And I still can't figure out why physically being on American soil on the date of the anniversary mattered, but as it turns out, it mattered very much indeed. 

I had just flown in for a quick visit home and was tickled happy to be sitting at the table surrounded by all of six of my siblings and their significant others. These moments are rare and I relished it, and my dad's perfectly grilled steak, with sweet satisfaction. When my dad said he had an announcement to make, all eyes moved towards the head of the table. Forks clinked loudly on emptying plates and I think I may have nervously joked, "who's pregnant now?" 

Taking advantage of our presence on the eve of 9/11, Dad he said he wanted to take a vote about what to do with the American flag on our family's property. Do we do as the rest of the nation and lower it to half mast in symbolic mourning, or do we leave it up in defiance of proper protocol? 

It was unanimous. 

In honour of the nearly 3,000 victims, we voted to leave it raised, letting it fly proud and free. 

On the morning of September 11th, I attended church with my family. I was restless, and sometimes, tradition brings comfort. 

You couldn't deny the heaviness in the air and I wondered how my home pastor would tie in the anniversary of the attacks with a sermon. As much as I believe him to be a sincere man of God, I blanched at the thought of him trying to politicize such a day or manipulate our emotions for the purposes of "the Kingdom." He introduced the worship team for a special song and as they started into the old classic, "America the Beautiful," I started to bristle with my new-found Canadian cynicism. 

In the end, my humanity won out and I could help but weep at the 200-year-old hymn, turned patriotic song. Singing in solidarity with my fellow Americans in my parents' church felt right and I couldn't imagine being anywhere else. Looking down the aisle, I saw ripe tears falling on several of my family members' faces. It was visceral and healing at the same time. 

This September 11, 2011, Ground Zero found its way all across America. From the gutted out financial district of Manhattan, to the church pews of Oklahomans, who remember the violence of terror all too well themselves. 

When we came to the line in the lyrics, "thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears," my voice caught in my throat and I wondered if the writer of that old poem knew how poignant her words would one day become. How prophetic even. Because even through my wet obscurity, America had never looked more beautiful. 


The flag on my parents' property at sunset

Tippin' another sacred cow

Tippin' another sacred cow

He's adored, revered, highly sought after, and one day I'm sure he'll be enshrined as Canada's first nationally televised hipster. I even find him quite likeable most days. But today, he's ass-backwards wrong.

I'm talking about Greek media god, George Stroumboulopoulos. 

Today on CBC's website, he gave a touching eulogy on the gradual fase out of the classic Cuban car as Cuba has lifted the 50 year old ban on private car sales. Seriously. He's mourning the death of one of the symbols of Cuban communism, when the rest of freedom lovers are celebrating. 

Newsflash classic car lovers (myself included) and Mr. Strombo: there is nothing nostalgic about communism. When Castro decides to let people decide for themselves what car they want to drive, we dance in the streets, not romanticize a dictatorship. 

Cue the pitchforks as I dodge the angry village people of Strombo Land.