Take Care

This piece appeared in the under the title As a Society, We’re still in the Adolescent Phase.

A nation is formed by the willingness of each of us to share in the responsibility for upholding the common good.

— Barbara Jordan

We were wishing we had more lives to live on this planet. “It isn’t fair that we only get one life,” my daughter said. “One life is not enough to do and to be and to experience.”

Perhaps there is a parallel universe or two that we will one day be able to access and “know” that we are experiencing at the same time as our earth-life. But currently, this is it, and how do we want to live it? Also, we only get one world, but what a world!

And since it is spring, a time of renewal, and we’ve been celebrating the Earth throughout April, caring is something that has been on my mind — to care for this one life, for this one world, to care for other lives.

“Most people don’t care, as long as they get to do their favourite thing,” the cynical comedian Louis C.K. jests, in all seriousness.

“They won’t even do their second favourite thing.”

Louis goes on to describe a driver in the right lane who wants to make a left turn and “just shoves his car through everybody’s life,” cutting everyone else off. “What else could I do?” Going another route is “not my favourite way though. That only meets 99 per cent of my criteria.”

That is to say, our “favourite things” often end up causing others harm.

Why don’t we care more? For others. For our planet?

Continue reading

Grow your kids Interest in Nature with a butterfly Garden

Here’s my latest piece in ParentsCanada Magazine about a family that breeds monarch butterflies and plants for nature.

butterfly_garden-2For Sunila and Devin Melanson, the adage “a family that plays together, stays together” is truer still when it comes to connecting in nature.

The Ancaster, Ont., couple consistently make it a priority to expose their children, Calvin, 12, and Sean, 10, to the natural world. “We have always tried to nurture the kids’ sense of wonder,” says Devin. “Even as toddlers, we encouraged them to see what native flowers they could find.”

Five years ago, concerned about the plight of the declining monarch butterfly, Devin and Sunila started trying to encourage pollinators on their property by planting 36 common milkweed plants. The family visited the Butterfly Conservatory in Cambridge, Ont., and got a book on how to raise monarchs.

Over the last couple years, the Melansons have deepened their commitment to raising and releasing monarchs by nurturing even more of them. Devin built a system that allows the caterpillars to create their chrysalis in a safe environment; the butterflies are then moved into an outdoor dining tent (a recent addition) that contains beds of milkweed and is in the partial shade of a maple tree. They’ll linger here for a short while before they are released to join fellow monarchs on their more than 1,000-km journey to Mexico.

To date, the Melansons have released more than 500 monarchs.

Sharing Knowledge

The Melansons have welcomed people interested in learning about the project into their yard and they continue to encourage other families to raise a monarch or two – providing them with a few eggs to get them started.

They are also protective of habitat that contains the food these butterflies need in order to thrive. Sean explains how he and his mother took action on noticing that a patch of milkweed by the local swimming pool was being cut down. “We talked to the administration there and they put up a sign saying don’t cut the milkweed.” The family is currently raising Swallowtail butterflies, too. “We found them on the parsley and dill – it’s what they like best,” says Sean. “They are in the chrysalis for the whole winter.”

The family frequently offers presentations to school groups and to the broader community through the Hamilton Pollinators Paradise Project, a locally based initiative whose goal is to plant a “highway” habitat of native species for pollinators across the city’s urban landscape.

Continue reading

Free Tuition in Ontario? Yes!

In the today  (my latest column):

B822411425Z.1_20160320162535_000_GLF1L6UOR.2_ContentTo be human is to learn. And knowledge wants to be shared.

But somewhere along the line, it became the way for some kinds of people to have opportunities to gain certain skills and access certain types of knowledge or to deepen their self-understanding, while others were to be kept in the dark; subservient, inferior, ignorant — tools in aiding the privileged further along.

Knowledge was viewed as being a scarce resource — something to be hoarded by the special few. By and by, when access to some of the good stuff — like reading — became available to the masses (through the printing press and public schooling), it was to be doled out in bite sizes, controlled, managed, agenda-driven. It remains, for the most part, this way in today’s schools. We persist in thinking of “education” (that’s what we call learning within the confines of brick walls) as something to be coveted and restricted.

But everything about education and learning is changing — however much some of us would resist. Everything is pushing on — from the ways we learn and what we learn, to what being educated even means (that is, who defines what educated is)

Continue reading

Volunteerism and activism build strong communities

Hamilton Spectator Dec 28,2015

As the year draws to a close, I am reflecting on all the good that has happened in this community to counter the not so good. Hamiltonians get volunteering; in a country that understands and values volunteering, Hamilton has one of the highest rates of volunteers in Canada (Vital Signs). We contribute our skills and time freely, and do our part to make things a bit better for the communities and interests we are concerned about.

What I find interesting is that with such high volunteer numbers, why aren’t we as politically motivated, why aren’t more of us pushing for solutions to root problems?

That is what makes volunteering (broadly understood as nonconfrontational civic engagement) palatable and activism (the more in-your-face, status-quo challenging sort) something to shun. And can we really get to a peaceful, habitable and just planet (Maurice Strong) without more of us putting ourselves out there and tackling what we know to be wrong?
It’s socially acceptable to serve the hungry in a soup kitchen, or plant a tree than it is to advocate for a sound food policy or for industrial emissions to be curbed. I suspect that part of the answer lies in a fear of upsetting the ruling powers. Confronting power is always uncomfortable, scary and in many places, dangerous. Continue reading

Hail the Changing face of the Public Library


Nov 16, 2015 | Hamilton Spectator

“There is not such a cradle of democracy on earth as the Free Public Library, this republic of letters, where neither rank, office, nor wealth receives the slightest consideration.” Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919)

Our country is still reeling with the aftermath of election frenzy and never have the concepts of inclusion, democracy and a fair society needed more reinforcement. That’s why I’ve decided to write about the public library. What, you may ask, has the public library to do with democracy?

Everything, I will answer. To my mind, it is perhaps the best examples of a democratic institution.Take the Hamilton Public Library (HPL), which has just celebrated its 125th anniversary. With the slogan “Freedom to Discover,” the HPL values include intellectual freedom, and providing access to all expressions of knowledge and creativity. HPL’s other values are inclusiveness (connecting with diverse communities); innovation (anticipating and responding to changing needs); respect (embracing a diversity of opinions and protecting the dignity of individuals); and accountability (ensuring that library services are vital and relevant).

Imagine if countries were run with these values at the fore.

I chatted with Laura Lukasik, who is the outreach co-ordinator and visionary behind much of the HPL’s innovation. “You know that when you walk into the public space of a library, you are welcomed,” Lukasik says. From the chess players, tai-chi practitioners, ukulele learners and newcomers for conversation circles, to parents and young children that story time and teen homework help, no matter your age, your income level, your station in life, your intellectual ability, the public library accepts you. Continue reading