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17. November 2014

REFLEXIONS

    I was thinking back at the municipal elections we had about four weeks ago. One thing always
strikes me as difficult to understand every time elections are called -  the lack of people following the
call to participate. The percentage of men and women who bother to vote hardly ever reaches the
midpoint. I find that sad. While there is no shortage of voices complaining about every decision made
in Ottawa or Winnipeg, many of us cannot be bothered to take part in speaking through the ballot
box.
    This phenomenon is by no means simply a Canadian one. In my native country, Switzerland,
participation in voting opportunities seems to lose percentage again and again. And that, despite the
fact that the Swiss electorate does not only vote in electing people to parliament, but has the right to
vote for or against many decisions between elections. I have found, through a little research, that
citizens of many other free countries do not like to take the time to speak up when they have the
right to do so. Why is that, I wonder. Oh, I've heard again and again the sorry excuse : "Why vote,
they do what they please, anyway", or that other gem: "They're all the same, they are in it for
themselves".  None of those excuses are convincing reasons to avoid speaking up when it is our right
- and our duty - to do so.
    I'm sorry to say that I think not voting is not because people don't believe their vote makes any
difference. I believe it's more simple than that - it's just a matter of being lazy.
    What I'm starting to think is that countries like ours have rights and freedoms coming too easy.
Most of us live our lives without having to suffer persecution or abject poverty. We are allowed to
speak out against our government without fear of reprisal. That's why we go about our normal life on
election days without realizing that it is up to all of us to contribute. Maybe one voice does not matter
much, but when a major percentage of eligible voters doesn't speak up, it sure makes a difference.
    What can we do to defeat apathy at the ballot box? I think that there is not enough education
about the subject of politics in our schools. When children learn that we have duties as well as rights
in that line, my opinion is that they will be more likely to remember that fact when they are adults.
    I keep hoping that the trend can be reversed and that next time an election is held, the
participation rises over the fifty percent figure.
12 Dec. 2014

Christmas is coming

The first days of December always bring back my memories of Christmas as a child in a small mountain
village in Switzerland.   They were very different and much simpler than the holiday festivities we enjoy
now, but they shine their golden glow down through the decades and never lose the power to warm my
heart.
     In Switzerland, and in some other European countries, Santa does not visit the children on
Christmas Night.   His time for the annual trip around the country is December 6.  Strictly speaking, he
is not that old man with a beard, called Santa.  He is Saint Nicholas, a legendary bishop from the early
church, who is said to have been a benefactor of children.  In our village, the good bishop’s gifts to the
children were simple, practical things - a special piece of clothing, maybe a simple toy, if it had been a
good year.  There were always a few apples, oranges and nuts - treats, that then were only available
around Christmas time.  
     Christmas was more of a religious holiday.  It started early in December, when we celebrated
Advent, the time representing the years before the Saviour’s birth.  We would gather pine boughs and
make an Advent’s wreath, studded with four candles, one for each week before Christmas.  Every
Sunday  another candle would be lit, as the family sat together, saying a prayer and singing songs.  
The Christmas tree was never put up until Christmas Eve, just as the first star appeared.  The
youngest child   -  in our family I was the one - would have the task of keeping watch for the star.  As
soon as it was visible, I’d run and gather the family together to put up the tree.  It was  a fun thing to
do, and I was excited - not least because my mother always had some special cookies baked for the
occasion.  We would snack on them while hanging all the old ornaments and real little candles in special
clip-on holders on the tree.  After everything looked perfect, we’d light the candles for the first time
and do some more singing.
     Everybody always went to Midnight Mass.  Our family lived one half hour up the hill from the main
town.  There are several small hamlets dotted all the way up the hill.  Each hamlet had its own little
chapel, where people could visit to pray, but church services mostly took part in the town proper.  The
tradition on Christmas night was that at eleven o’clock the bells in all those chapels, as well as the main
church in town, would start ringing.  The bells in the chapels would stop ringing after a half hour, but
the church in town would keep ringing its bells until midnight.  People would leave the lights on in their
houses while going to church that night.  They also left the front door unlocked and left the table set
with food.  The thought behind that custom was to have shelter and food ready in case a needy person
came around while the family was away.
     I will never forget those Christmas nights, walking downhill with my family and with neighbours,
listening to the church bells ring in the birth of Christ, the lit up windows of the houses everywhere
sparkling to rival the stars.  The frosty air nipped at my nose, but my hand was warm in my mother’s
pocket, encircled by her loving fingers,  and my heart was singing with the joy of the night.  Life was so
much simpler then, it seems.  Although not blessed with lots of material possessions, we found our
happiness in family togetherness and lovely traditions, which stayed the same from year to year.  I can
still find that happiness, just remembering that time, as I do again every year when Christmas rolls
around.
     
22 Mar 2015

Where have all the pretty shoes gone?

Ahh – shoes! There was a time – not that long ago, it seems – when I couldn’t have enough shoes.
Point me to a shoe store and I’m there. For hours. Trying on all the pretty pumps, sandals, whatever.
Of course I couldn’t leave the store empty-handed. That would have been rude, when the sales
woman had spent all that time helping me find the best shoes for my needs. It was  only right that I
contributed to her commission. She had to make a living, after all.
So I went home with a new pair of shoes – well, maybe two pair. It was my money and I lived alone,
so there was nobody around to raise eyebrows at the sight of a Bata shopping bag.
There was still room on the shoe section of my closet. Maybe I made a mistake by leaving those cute
sandals in the store? Hmm . . .  Maybe not. Payday was still a week away, and a week is a bit long to
go without food.
The shoes miraculously multiplied over time. When I moved from my apartment, a lot of the boxes I
schlepped with me contained fashionable footwear I just couldn’t do without. I’m quite sure there are
still a number of sixties style heels in my old bedroom at my parent’s house. My mother never threw
anything out. Who knows when I might come back and look for my stuff?
As things turned out, my obsession with pretty shoes came to an end when I fell in love with – of all
people – a farmer. He was irresistible and before I knew it, I had married him and moved onto a small
cattle and grain farm in Canada.
Our life was happy, if not blessed with much money to spend on extras. Heels were not exactly the
right footwear for gardening or cleaning out the chicken coop. They were not suited to running after
the kids that came along in time. I did have one pair of heels – the three-inch kind – to wear for
special occasions. Other than that, flats, runners and boots were the usual things I wore.
I don’t live on the farm anymore. Time has passed in the blink of an eye, it seems. My husband has
gone to that big farm in the sky. The children have grown and moved away, as they are meant to do.
I live in a city again – a smaller city than the one that was my home in younger years. There are a
number of nice shoe stores here, too. These days, however, I have no great desire to check them
out. My serviceable flats are fine for my needs, and I can buy replacements online. No need to check
out the new styles every spring.
But – sometimes – just sometimes – I think back of those shoe store visits long ago. They were so
much fun.
26 May 2015

Addicted to Glamour?

Lately I’ve had some thoughts about our addictive interest in the lives of the
so-called “beautiful people”. Film stars, sports celebrities, royalty and assorted
folks with too much money all come under that category. Most of them
bemoan their lack of privacy in words, while their actions show clear efforts to
stay in the public eye. And we, the public, are so ready to believe the words,
while loving all the tidbits scattered in the press to whet our appetite for news
in their lives.  
The month of April 2015 has been a constant worldwide wait for a new arrival
in the Royal House of The United Kingdom. It was supposed to happen
sometime “between the middle and the end of April”, according to a well-
dropped bit of information from the Duchess of Cambridge’s own mouth. In
London, crowds of people lined up, starting in mid-month, outside the hospital
where the Duchess was expected to give birth. The rest of the world checked
television and computer daily, lest we miss the birth of the fourth in line to the
throne. What the heck does that even mean? Judging from the long life of the
women in that family, even the first in line might reach the heavenly gates
before the present occupant is ready to give him a chance to do the job he
was meant to do. The second in line might have a prayer, but as for George
and Charlotte?  Who knows what the world will be like by that time?
In this day and age, why are we so interested in a happy event in a royal
house? Surely kings and queens belong somewhere in the past? You would
think that I, a native of a fiercely republican country, Switzerland, wouldn’t give
a hoot about another member of a family who lives in mansions and castles.
But, there I was, checking my computer every day towards the end of April for
news. And, after the baby arrived, wasn’t I oohing and aahing over the first
picture of the little one being presented to the world by her parents? Everyone
enthused over “how cute she was”. Helloo! Did you have a look at William and
Catherine? Did you expect those two to produce an ugly baby? Mind you, she
is cute-and she seems smart, as well. She wasn’t a bit impressed by the
crowds there to greet her. She ignored it all and just went to sleep.
So here I am, making fun of the worldwide interest in that royal birth, while
admiring the little one and her parents just like everybody else. What does that
say about me? I’m afraid it proves that I’m just as addicted to news about the
“beautiful people” as the rest of the sheep. Catherine of Cambridge has
probably spent more money on that cute little dress she wore for her daughter’
s unveiling than the amount allotted to clothes in my budget for an entire year.
But she does always take a lovely picture, doesn’t she? And her husband is
not a bad looking lad, is he? I do quite like that couple. And I don’t mind
admiring Catherine’s great looking, expensive clothes. Not to mention the
lovely bling she wears-oh, my goodness!

Does that mean I’m addicted to glamour? I don’t think I’m quite that far gone,
but I am starting to sound a lot like the rest of the crowd. Baaah!