Having Fun in Galveston

We’ve been having great fun in Galveston. It is very much a “tourist trap” place. The old historical centre is absolutely chock full of silly things to clutter your home and waste a lot of money on. Still it’s great fun to shop. And we did shop until we dropped. We just didn’t buy anything. Well that’s not true. We bought table salt, baking soda, and white sugar which I somehow forgot to pack when we left Alonsa but I don’t think that counts. Okay, so Galvaston merchants aren’t going to make a lot on us. One thing I was very sorry about was missing the Dicken’s festival held every year in the first weekend of December. Imagine our delight to find that due to a bad rainstorm the previous weekend, the festival had been postponed so we got to go anyway! We had so much fun. it was a visual feast of people in costume and doing Dicken’s England “things”. In addition to straight up period costumes in exquisite detail there were also a large number of Steampunk Victorians and other marginally correct folks but it was all in good fun. There were many food vendors selling everything from funnel cake to grilled alligator. We wandering the place feasting on the sights sounds and smells and, I am proud to say, not spending any more money than the $8 entry fee. What a pleasure!

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Not My President! Except he is.

I really hesitated to publish this blog. I am not American. I did not vote in the election. My husband is American. I have all kinds of friends and in-laws all over America. I have been deeply hurt by the divisive, angry, rhetoric that has been tearing apart a great nation. Now that the election is over, I think it is time for reasonable people to stop and think and work for some kind of national unity and healing after one of the most bitter elections I have ever seen. That is why I decided to write this blog.

I have had three American relatives, close relatives, cut us off completely this election cycle! I also had more than three friends cut me off. They decided that Trump is racist, sexist, antiSemitic, and a hate monger, and he is so foul a person that not only is he unfit to be president, but anyone who voted from him (even a friend or family member!) is unfit to call themselves a fellow human being. One close relative told my husband he should move to Alabama and join David Duke and the KKK because he belongs there. That is the last message we heard from her. Such a fine demonstration of progressive tolerance and open mindedness. If it were a one off I think I could dismiss it as ‘she is crazy’. But it happened to us several times.

It used to be the one could hold differing opinions and still have a reasoned discussion when it came to politics, or at least that is how I remember it. It used to be that one could respect the democratic process and agree to disagree. Remember debating in high school where we all shook hands and walked out for lunch together? This time, it seems like the hate and anger is so strong that there is no room for any disagreement.

Both sides in this have been awful. There have been all kinds of vicious rumours from the right on the internet alleging things like Hilary was part of a pedophile ring. As disgusting as these hits on Hilary were it seemed to me that the left was far more likely degenerate into name calling and closed minded cutting off of any opinion that didn’t fit the preset mould, and even outright violent oppression. It was not Trump supporters that beat people up, smashed cars, punched old ladies in the face, and tore down signs and intimidated people. Wikileaks and Project Veritas showed those were Hilary supporters, many on the Democratic payroll.

I also did not have any Republican family cut us out of their life even if I called them on the unsubstantiated pedophile story. I think this is because there is a tradition on the right that everyone has a right to free speech and I might 100% disagree with you but I will die fighting for your right to say what you want. There are no safe spaces in the right. It is the left that promulgates the idea that any speech which offends or upsets others should be silenced, not tolerated, and silenced by force if necessary. So when I defended Hilary, those on the right would generally call me names, laugh at me or present counter evidence. When I defended Trump in any way shape or form, the response from those I knew on the left was to label me with a tag, usually “racist”, and all further contact and discussion ended, often with me being blocked if the contact happened to be via social media. Most of my Republican supporting family members also reported being afraid to voice their opinions and afraid to put up signs on their lawn for Trump and afraid to let people at work know their opinion because of their fear of the severity of the backlash against them. Their fear included acts of violence. Not one Hilary supporting Democrat in my circle has said anything about feeling fearful about merely voicing their opinion because of intimidation or violence from friends or family. Not one.

I am a middle sort of person. I do agree with free speech and I don’t agree with safe spaces. I think government is too large and many government policies encourage dependancy and laziness. There should be consequences for making choices like living in an urban ghetto, breaking the law, taking drugs or not working. Yet, I also think gays should be able to marry and to live free from discrimination. I also think the government should not interfere with a woman’s body and a choice about pregnancy should be between a woman and her doctor and their respective consciences because while abortion is the death of an unborn human, it is also not a black and white issue but has multiple shades of grey that the government certainly can’t handle. I think health care is a right not a privilege. I am, in fact, neither right nor left. So it is really shocking to me to find myself labeled a racist, hate monger, antiSemitic, sexist and being told that I am the one full of hate and being cut off and blocked for simply saying what I think, especially when it is family doing it to me. You really hurt my feelings when you did that. Shame on you.

I do think the mainstream media, CNN, Washington Post, New York Times, to a lesser degree MSNBC and NBC and even FOX were extremely biased against Trump. I listened to many of Trump’s speeches in their entirety and I was constantly astonished at the degree of distortion the media spun on it. I heard the first infamous Muslim speech and I was stunned when it became Trump saying banning all Muslims forever. Did CNN and WaPo and NYT hear the same speech I did? I was also shocked how Trump spoke out against illegal immigrants who come to America to commit crimes and then the media suddenly began claiming he was talking about all immigrants all the time. I was shocked when some members of the KKK came out in favour of Trump but he disavowed them but they are STILL talking about that. Yet another KKK group in California came out in favour of Hilary and that never even made the news. I was stunned when a crude locker room conversation about what woman let you do if you are rich (the operative word being “let”, as in “consent”) suddenly morphed in people seriously stating that Trump was a rapist! I happen to think Trump is a boor, crude, difficult and arrogant, and probably a bully, but he is not a racist, nor is he sexist or a hate filled person and he certainly isn’t a rapist. Democrats calling Trump a rapist was especially hypocritical in my eyes when looking at the man who would have joined Hilary in the White House if she had won. And calling Trump an antiSemite? Come on! The man has more Jewish grandchildren than most Jewish American Democrats do. This was the guy who got Blacks and Jews admitted into exclusive Florida clubs they were banned from, who rode at the front of a parade supporting Israel when no one else would, and who has awards from the NAACP and other community organizations for his good works. If my only news source or knowledge of Trump had been via the sources like Washington Post, I too would likely be living in shocked horror at the idea this evil man had been elected. I just don’t think he is so evil based on what I heard come out his mouth (in its entirety, in context) and what I read about the man outside of what the mainstream media had to say.

I also made a point of reading the Wikileak’s Podesta collection. It was a lot of slogging through a lot of unimportant detail but it did prove to my satisfaction two things about Hilary Clinton. I am convinced she lied about the email server both in her intent for having it and the content of what went through the server. Comey may have been right that there was not enough to justify charging her but there was, in my opinion, more than enough to make me decide she was a liar and therefore unfit to be president. I do not accept “All politicians lie” as an acceptable defense. I also think the Podesta collection of emails showed enough about pay to play for me to decide she is probably also corrupt. And I have no doubt whatsoever that her rapist husband is a far worse sex pervert than any “she let me do some pussy grabbing” Trump may have been guilty of. That is my opinion. I am allowed to have an opinion even if you don’t like it.

Given a choice between the two, Trump, imperfect as he is, was the lesser of two evils. If I had a vote to cast, which I did not, I would have cast it for Trump. There is even  a possibility he might be good for America. And now, like it or not, recounts notwithstanding, popular vote versus electoral college, enough people in the USA voted for Trump that he is going to be president. President Donald J Trump will be President of the United States of America, duly elected by the rules of the American’s Republic. Get over it! Adapt!

So now what?

I really think it is time for the Trump haters in the USA to stop their incredulous fussing and start dealing with the reality of President Trump. Remember all that stuff Hilary said about how the election process is the bedrock of your democracy and we must all abide by the outcome? Even if she said it when she thought she was clearly going to win and she was directing it at Trump and his supporters, it was true then and it is still true today. If you are both horrified about President Trump and a reasonable person (and the unreasonable ones would have long since stopped reading and blocked me by now anyway) then you owe it to yourself and to your country to try to understand just why people voted for him or chose not to vote for Hilary Clinton.

Even if you disagree with their reasons, you really need to get past simply slapping on the label of sexist, racist, white, male, middle aged, blue collar worker, and walking away from us. I assure you, there just aren’t that many sexist, racist, white, male, middle aged, blue collar workers with no education in the USA to explain the Trump win. And Trump did win. I am sorry if you are living in a bewildered state of disbelief and horror. I am sorry you are worried about how the country to going to hell in a hand basket, and racism and sexism, and antiSemiticism, and hate have just become mainstream and how Trump is going to get mad at someone and push the button and blow us all to Kingdom come. I am merely asking you to consider that maybe, just maybe, you might be wrong about Trump. Maybe, just maybe, you were fed bad information and maybe just maybe, there is something about the man worth respecting. Even if you can’t find it in you to respect Trump the man, at least find enough respect for the office of President of the United States that you can stop hating half you countrymen for voting for the man and respect President Trump.

And if you are one of those Hilary supporters who cut off a friend or relative like their opinions were nothing more a bunch of offensive infectious filth you are better off without, I ask you to please reconsider. Consider apologizing to them for the incredibly horrible things you said to them when you called them racist, sexist, antiSemitic and hate filled ignoramuses. Even if you can’t bring yourself to apologize to them for being a cruel ass, at least call them back and say “Okay, Trump won but we are still in this together. It’s time to move along and be a family or friend again.” And if your Republican friend or family member tells you to take your racist, sexist, antiSemitic, hateful labelling of them and go jump out off the nearest Trump Tower with it, at least any ongoing hatred won’t be your fault anymore.

I miss you. In spite of how horrible you made me feel, in spite of the foul names you called me, I miss you. Can we start again please?

Winter is coming.

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For various reasons we decided to head south December 1 this year. We knew we were taking a bit of chance weather wise and we weren’t entirely lucky. We left Alonsa after freezing rain and our original planned path through Bismarck was quite literally shut down due to a heavy snowfall. So we were stuck trying to head south along the infamous I29 corridor. I say infamous for a few reasons. It is the most boring drive in the world. It bypasses just about anything neat fun or interesting in North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Missouri. There are miles and miles of nothing but flat prairie. It is also infamous because in winter weather entire sections can be shut down. And if you are in a camper there is very little in the way of open campgrounds in December. It is also a major trucking corridor so you spend most of the drive wincing as the big truckers pass you by.

The first hour of of Alonsa was hellish because we were driving on sheer ice. I was so glad we had just put on new snow tires and had four wheel drive. Even then I could not go over 60km/hr (40mph) without the trailer starting to fishtail in a frightening way. So a drive we made many times over the summer in 20 minutes took over an hour. Once we got to McCreary the roads were wet not icy so we were finally able to hit 90k/hr (55mph). We made a pit stop to have our wheel re-torqued after the new snow tire installation and then we headed south. We took the Yellowhead into Portage La Prairie and then headed out joining up with with 75 in Morris.  We arrived at the border about 4:00pm. To our delight, this time we were waved right through. You never know what you will encounter at the border. Sometimes we get searched, sometimes we have to produce paperwork. This time all we got was a cheerful “Have a nice trip” and we were over the border. The road was clear and we were eager to get further south so we drove until we reached Fargo. In Fargo we joined about 10 other RVers parking in the Flying J. Apparently we aren’t the only snowbirds to wait for December 1. I actually like staying on truck stops. Most truck drivers are polite and professional. Always fun new stuff to see. The time it was the biggest dump truck I ever saw. We had a nice big American breakfast at the Huddle House.

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We then headed south to North Sioux City South Dakota where there is a year round KOA. We decided we needed an oil change before moving on so we had a side trip into Iowa to a service place before we continued south. It had still not gone above freezing so we arrived with ice and snow on our trailer. We rolled into another year round KOA in Kansas City Missouri about 8:00pm and finally it was above freezing. Our trailer began dripping as the ice and snow melted. We continued dripping and shedding ice and snow as we followed the I29 south and then veered off for a side trip through Oklahoma. It was a joy to finally leave the standard campground behind and stay at a state park. It was fun to see new territory in Oklahoma. I even felt a genuine Oklahoma earthquake, a gentle rattle and roll from a nearby 3.9. KOAs have their place in RV life and I do like them but not day after day. Plus the KOAs cost more and the campsite in Lake Eufaula State Park was huge, gorgeous and only $26 and we had a grand total of five other campers in the huge place. It rained all night. We woke up to find the ice and snow had finally melted away and the rain washed our trailer and truck clean. From there we travelled to Mt Pleasant Texas for a two day overnight break at another KOA. We had a breakfast meeting with a colleague, a much needed long walk on green grass with the dogs, laundry and quiet.

So that was it. Instead of a nice leisurely trip stopping to see sights along the way and taking our time, we did a straight flying trip south as fast as possible of 2300km running away from winter. And I woke up to news this morning that home has been totally socked in by a mega all out blizzard. So we didn’t leave ourselves a lot of room weather wise by leaving in December.

Will we do it again? I’m not sure. This part of our trip was not fun. It was all about getting south. We saved a lot of money by waiting an extra month and a half in terms of health care costs and our weak Canadian dollar against the American dollar. We got to enjoy our cosy home in Alonsa and the company of our friends for an extra month and a half. But it does take the joy out of the trip south. So we may not do this next year. We shall see.

Grandma’s Holiday Shopping

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It’s that time of year again, when we have to decide in what material way we will demonstrate our love for each other. Don’t get me wrong. I love the holiday season and I love seeing how little kids eye’s pop open as they squeal with delight while opening presents. However, shopping is problematic for this Grandma and Grandpa.

Reason one is that we go to the south for the holiday season so we aren’t physically around. That makes it difficult to wrap packages and deliver them and enjoy the holiday joy. Reason two is a bit more complicated. My husband and I practice as Jews but the kids of a mixture of no religion, Christian, and Jewish. Therefore it can be all too easy to mix things up and upset someone by saying or doing the wrong thing. Reason Three is I want some direct interaction with the grandkids and just sending a cheque isn’t good enough for me. Reason four is I know they know I love them and they love me but it still smarts when I get a present for them and discover they no longer collect those things or they have outgrown what I picked or their tastes have changed.

We have come up with a perfect compromise that is working very well for our family. We decided a few years ago that while we will observe birthdays for the adults, we do not get them holiday gifts. Instead we make a budget and decide what we can afford, and we divide that amount between the grandchildren. Since we are now up to nine in total including members who joined us by blending of their own families, we need to be able to concentrate our resources on the children. (We don’t differentiate between “step” and “biological”. A grandchild is a grandchild is a grandchild. No child can have too many doting grandparents.)

Each year, about a month before the holidays, we tell the parents how much we can afford per child. We then ask them to take the kids shopping on line to a place like Amazon.ca or Toys R Us Canada, and let us know what they want. We order, pay, and have it delivered to them directly at their home. This saves us the entire hassle and cost of buying presents, wrapping and mailing them over the border where they are subject to theft, confiscation and addition of import taxes and costs. Many companies will even send the package prettily wrapped with a special message from Grandpa and Grandma for little or not additional cost. And I get a message when it is shipped and when it arrives so I know it got there safely.

There have also been some pleasant surprises doing things this way. The kids are getting old enough to use social media and this year, I got to exchange a bunch of messages with one grandchild via Facebook as he planned his purchase. The other nice surprize has been that they sometimes decide on one big thing for the whole family. For example, one year, one family wanted an air hockey table and they all played it, including us when we visited. Now that is a good way to max out our limited grandparent resources.

The other wonderful thing is it gives me a yearly glimpse into what the kids are really “into”.  Letting them choose something they want on line, means when I order it I get to see what is special and important to them. This often leads to more conversations and insights about them as individuals. Each child is precious and any chance to learn about them as individuals is wonderful, especially for those grandchildren who were blended into our little clan instead of being born into it.

And there has been one other totally unexpected bonus. The kids have a budget and they have some special limitation on where they can shop. They take the shopping very seriously carefully combing the websites, comparison shopping, and looking for the best possible deal to stretch their money. So the experience is also a lesson in money management, addition, subtraction and prioritizing wants and needs. Now what grandparent would not want to spoil their grandchildren while also teaching them valuable life skills?

This gift giving method also sets us apart from the other grandparents. Children have four grandparents in their lives and with blending, that can grow to eight. One set of our grandchildren are fortunate enough to have grandparents on the other side who can afford very extravagant gifts, the best of everything and anything they might want. Even though they give much more, we give in our own way that is special because the kids shop and choose exactly what they want. Our gift stands out because they got to pick it themselves even if it is not the most expensive of the bunch. I always like it when a child picks a needed accessory for the big fancy present from the other side. It makes me feel like we are sharing the wealth in a way proportionate to our means.

In another family, we are the “rich” grandparents. Their other side gives things like hand made mittens and dollar store specials, made with love and carefully chosen but not costing a lot of money because they just don’t have it. The cousins on that side get very little for the holidays. We do not place our grandchildren in the position of having the modest gifts from the other side opened on Christmas morning next to ours, which are so much more expensive by comparison. Rather, the kids pick what they want from us, and they get it when it is delivered and not when the other side gathers to exchange gifts. And so we get to teach lessons like being compassionate and thoughtful of those who have less material goods.

Finally, with the parents guiding them, we know the kids get what they actually need, even the little ones. When children were very little Mom and Dad did the shopping for them. I learn too. I had this psychological block about playpens. I don’t like them. So I was perturbed when I was asked to send a baby fence to create a quasi playpen area. I trusted my daughter-in-law and ordered it anyway. Later, visiting their home, I could see how she was right. The baby had his safe space and the household had some peace, especially big brother who is very fussy about the special Duplo creations his toddler sibling has absolutely no respect for. My gift was not a playpen to confine my grandson. My gift made for peace in the family and respect for everyone. I would never have gotten him something like that because not being around everyday and living in that house, I either wouldn’t know or my personal prejudices might get in the way.

This is how we solved the problem of being grandparents during the holidays. Every family is unique and will find their own solution but if you haven’t reached it yet, perhaps this one might help you. Happy shopping!

Day 2 of the International Disability Rights Affirmation Conference

Day 2

Embryogenesis Explained

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Day 2 of the International Disability Rights Conference opened with a talk about L’Arche. The speaker was Melanie Saxon, Community Leader / Executive Director of L’Arche Jacksonville (FL). She shared some of L’Arche’s history and mission through the use of short videos  and her own words. I must admit I had never heard of them before and I am kind of ashamed of myself for that since they appear to do wonderful things.

Virtual Ability member Mook Wheeler has created a number of displays and exhibits on Healthinfo Island about l’Arche, Jean Vanier, and the concept of community for persons with disabilities. If you are in Second Life, please visit them.

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The second talk was Dr. Margaret Nosek, Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Baylor College of Medicine (Houston, TX, US) and two co-presenters, Stephanie Silveira and Rachel Markley. She got some group chat going about how our avatars interact…

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International Disability Rights Affirmation Conference Day 1

How I spent my Friday

Embryogenesis Explained

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I (meaning Natalie) spend time in the virtual word of Second Life doing a variety of things both serious and work related and just plain fun. Today I am attending and have the honor of being an introducer in the International Rights Disability Conference hosted in Second Life by Virtual Ability.

Virtual Ability is a great place designed to provide support and community for people with disabilities. Each year they host a conference designed to promote disability rights and encourage fuller participation of the disabled in their own community.

I have been providing very occasional and small consultative help to Virtual Ability almost since they started in Second Life. It has been astounding to me to see how this have taken off and grown from a tiny single plot in Second Life to an entire huge multi-sim island in Second Life with a large and vibrant community.

Entry into…

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