Thursday, November 30, 2023

Stompin' Tom Connors, Canadian Icon

 Stompin' Tom Connors was born Charles Thomas Connors in New Brunswick in 1936 to a single Protestant mother who was not allowed to marry his Catholic father. The first part of his life was lived in abject poverty and he left home at age 13, bought a guitar at age 14 and hitchhiked around Canada singing for his next meal.

At his last stop in Timmins Ontario, he found himself a nickel short of a 35-cent beer at the city's Maple Leaf Hotel. Tom told the bartender to put the cap back on the bottle and he'd head for the Sally Ann, but the bartender, Gaëtan Lepine, accepted the 30 cents and offered him a second beer if he would open his guitar case and play a few songs. These few songs turned into a 14-month run at the hotel, a weekly spot on CKGB in Timmins, eight 45-RPM recordings, and the end of the beginning for Tom Connors.

Connors was never part of the Canadian musical establishment like Gordon Lightfoot or Leonard Cohen. He wrote and sang of a nation without politics, to its proud history, and to its better angels. His songs remind us that Canada matters—that we've built something amazing here, and must not take it for granted.

 Stompin' Tom smoked about 100 cigarettes per day and consumed an equivalent amount of beer. He died of kidney failure in 2013 and it seemed all Canada turned out for his funeral. 

Sunday, November 26, 2023

What goes on inside your head?


What do you see inside your head?

John Green who created this meme was astounded that people could visualize as real pictures to greater or lesser degree. His visualization was based on words only. On the other hand, I am at a level 1 as I visualize in great detail. I can lie in bed at night and see, one closeup frame at a time, the farm where I grew up. The details of fences, gates, trails, water troughs, barns and out buildings, every crack in the cedar posts and every rock or hole in the trails to the pasture, the cows, horses. I can do the same for our home in Mar'yanivka, the trails, the gardens and so forth. I have never tried to visualize a new thing, only things I remember. But if you draw me a picture, I can see it and maybe even build it. 

And what thoughts ramble through our minds? Mine is never quiet, there is always a flow of thoughts expressed as silent words in my mind. Sometimes they bounce around like the balls in a pinball machine. Oh, look a squirrel, as my daughter says. Which is why talk radio or podcasts make me crazy as they are too slow to hold my attention. I prefer the printed page. 

Are some minds totally quiet? I see so many people with headphones on, walking or riding the bus, as though they are afraid to be alone with their thoughts. If I need music away from home, I can sing inside my head, usually in the  style of whoever recorded it, though I enjoy music videos and have a wide selection of music on my computer. 

Temple Grandin thinks in pictures, not words. Where as we will go from abstract to specific, she has to start from specific and work her way to the abstract. One example she uses is a church. She has to start with a specific picture of a specific church and work her way to the generalities of churches. 

I am curious how my readers think or visualize and invite detailed comments so I can learn.

Monday, November 20, 2023

The Florence Centre in Zaporizhzhia Ukraine and the "I Am Beautiful" Program

 A week ago (12th of November) Elephant’s Child, who blogs from Australia wrote about a charity program called “It’s in the Bag”. Participants are asked to fill a good sized hand bag in good condition that they no longer use with essential and luxury items to make a woman who is struggling feel supported and cherished.  Many women shortchange themselves anyway, but when times are tough it seems to be almost a rule.  So I went shopping.  I picked up tampons and pads, deodorant, shampoo and conditioner .  I also purchased moisturiser, hand cream, nail polish, eye makeup, lip gloss, a fun pair of earrings and a few other things.

This reminded me of a program that the Florence Center (see below) ran a few years back called “I am Beautiful”. It focused on self-image and building self-worth/esteem for women who retire from paid employment.  In the former Soviet system, someone was really only worth something if they earned money.  Women over 55 or later 65 would feel they were not worth anything. Many of them lived in poverty as state pensions were not very high.

The 13 week program had three components:

  • 1.    Complete makeover: hair, make up, clothes.
  • 2.    Psychological support.
  • 3.    Social activity of people in old age.

Participants came back out of the experience very excited and positive and often would continue to meet, form club-like groups, and do things together and for others.

Fashion show

Psychological support

The program has morphed into "I Love Life". The project is for women 60+. The main aim of the project is to help people to live with PTSD, Most people have it in Ukraine because of the war. At the same time it is a little bit of fun, exercises, how to deal with stress, depression, how to deal with conflict situations, how to make decisions, etc. There will also be some sessions on how to look nice, as it helps to have adequate self-esteem, etc. We plan to have 10 sessions, 2 groups of women. By the end of the sessions it would be a fashion show plus a concert.

The Florence Centre in Zaporizhzhia came into being in 2004 through the initiative of Otto and Florence Driedger, who spent a career as professors of Social Services and Restorative Justice at the University of Regina, and the initiative of Professors of Social Work of the National University of Zaporizhzhya. This is a non-governmental agency which is significant in Ukrainian society. The Centre is run on a small budget with just a few professional staff, plus many volunteers, many of whom are students from the faculty of Social Work. Many become acquainted with the Centre in their Practicum studies, and stay on to volunteer. It is funded primarily by the Mennonite community in Canada with project funding from other sources as well.

The Kangaroo Program, which started as a small day care program for children with special needs and has become a learning centre for children and their parents who play an active role. One part of the program deals with children from 2 to 7 years, the other is for children over 7 years of age. For the most part, these are children not accepted in the public schools because of their special needs, and children not accepted in society. Mothers are often confined to their homes to provide care in isolation. The children progress and develop social, communication and living skills. Many who have been non-verbal begin to interact with others. The hope is many will eventually be accepted for integration in the public schools. Apartments that house the program are funded by the Mennonite Family Centre.

Other Projects and Programs include:

  • ·         Classes in Conflict Mediation for adults and children
  • ·         Workshops on bullying for high school students
  • ·         Addressing domestic violence issues
  • ·         Caregiver professional development and support
  • ·         Parents’ support club
  • ·         Seniors’ support club
  • ·         Educational resources for clients and personnel
  • ·         I Am Growing Up – Sexuality Education for Grade 4 students
  • ·         Counselling services
  • ·         Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) educational presentations
The war scattered staff and volunteers of the Florence Centre to western Ukraine and neighbouring counties where they continue to provide services to Ukrainian families wherever they are as “Florence Centre International”. The Centre still operates in Zaporizhzhia on a reduced basis, including the Kangaroo Program. Lucy Romanenkova, the indefatigable Director of the Centre, dodging rockets by day and night, manages the Centre’s programs and coordinates international staff and volunteers by Zoom and other Social Media.


Sunday, November 12, 2023

Ekaterina Shelehova, Folk Singer, Pop Singer, Opera Singer, and Rising Star

Ekaterina Shelehova, fluent in Russian, Spanish, Italian, and English and not yet thirty years of age, is one of opera's outstanding new voices and a rising star in the music industry. She has a loyal fan base that follows her on social media. She is also a humanitarian who supports various causes and charities.

Ekaterina was born in Kaliningrad in 1995. She began singing lessons at age three, participated in several competitions and festivals, winning the top prize in the "Russian Hopes" festival when she was six. She also recorded a CD of Russian children's songs, Дождичай.. Her family moved to Canada, and she finished high school in Hamilton Ontario, where she studied at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. She won first prize in Kiwanis competitions in 2008, 2010, and 2012 and performed operas “Carmen” and “Tosca” presented by Opera Ontario in 2005 and 2007.

In 2014 she moved to Italy and became a student at the Conservatorio di Milano, completing her Bachelors and Masters in Opera with outstanding marks. She performed several roles in Barlassina at the famous Teatro Antonio Belloni: Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro, Adina in L'Elisir d'Amore, and Musetta in La Bohème.

She won prizes in opera competitions such as Concorso Lirico Salvatore Licitra in 2015, Concorso Internazionale Cleto Tomba in 2016. She won the Young Opera Hope award at the Magda Olivero International Competition in 2016 and The Public Choice Award at the Giuditta Pasta Competition in 2018.

She toured China in 2019, studied improvisation, extended vocal techniques, and folk music in Mexico during Covid in 2020, and her 2021 performance on the show Italia’s Got Talent caused a sensation in the media. Her performance of Earth Melodies was beautiful and meaningful, without structure, libretto, or words of any kind. The video of her IGT performance has been viewed millions of times.

In a departure from opera, she toured Europe in 2022 as the lead vocalist of Era the popular French new age group that combines Gregorian chants with modern elements. She has recorded many singles and albums, pop, folk, opera available on YouTube and streaming services such as Spotify.


Friday, November 3, 2023

The Case of the Wheelchair Murders


The sign on my door says “Rick O’Shea, Private Investigator”. My cases almost always involve dames, either being spied on for someone or spying on someone. Divorce lawyers love me or hate me, depending on whose side I investigate. 

I work for cash. I’m fifteen years off the police force, paying alimony to two ex-wives, child support, and have a taste for expensive whiskey, so every dollar helps. I bought a 12-year-old Scotch one time. His mother was furious. But I digress. Sometimes I work pro bono for a friend with a very unique case. This is one such story.

An old friend walked into my office with a sorrowful look on his face. I poured him a drink and he began his most unusual tale. His mother, in her early 90s, was dead. Heart attack. The circumstances were very strange. I poured him another drink.

“My mother was in a seniors’ care home. She had all her marbles, even at 93, but physically was confined to a wheelchair. It was motorized, controlled with a joystick and had two speeds. Very slow for inside a building and about 10 kmph on the street. She never used the street mode as she did not go out by herself.

“Out in the hall, she was approaching a very frail lady, even older than my mother, slowly making her way down the hall with a walker. Suddenly the wheelchair malfunctioned. It went into street mode and slammed into the old lady at 10 kmph. She hit her head on the floor and died on the way to the hospital.

“Instead of writing it off as an accident, the police started questioning my 93-year-old mother as though she had done it deliberately. What was her relationship with the frail old lady? My mother was not friends with anyone in the home, she said they were all idiots, but she would ignore them, not kill them. The stress of being accused of murder was enough to give her a heart attack. One wheelchair, two dead old ladies in the care home.”

“Did the cops examine the wheelchair?”

“Of course not. They just wrapped up the case and called it an accident.”

“Could the controls have been jimmied with?”

“That’s my way of thinking but why would someone do that?”

“Did any of the workers in the care home have anything against the frail old lady or your mother?”

“My mother was not the easiest woman to get along with and I know nothing about the other old woman.”

“Okay, I’ll have a look. I’ll need to see the wheelchair, a list of employees at the care home, and the autopsy report on the frail victim. In the meantime, tell me about your mother. Was she mentally capable of killing someone?”

“Oh, Lord, yes. In her younger years we had a visitor show up at the farm and she came screaming out of the house with two butcher knives and my father had considerable trouble restraining her.”

“What in hell was that all about?”

“Long story. My mother was born in eastern Germany close to the Polish border. Her maternal grandparents were Jewish, quite wealthy, owned a wholesale/retail chain servicing small mainly Jewish owned shops. In the late 30s the Gestapo started coming for her family. One at a time they would disappear. She was 7 and small enough to hide behind a cupboard. After the war broke out, the rest of her family were taken to the concentration camps and in cleaning out the house, my mother was discovered. She was sent to a concentration camp for kids in Serbia someplace.

“She ended up on a list of kids to be sent to Auschwitz but missed the round up as she was sick in bed. As Germany began losing and the Red Army approached, the camp guards told all the 12-year-old girls to head west as fast as they could. My mother was in the group that escaped and ended up in a British run camp for Displaced Persons after the war. It was there she met my father, a German farmer, who had dodged the Gestapo and worked in the underground.

“Eventually they married and moved to Canada in 1955, along with many others and settled on farms in a close community. It was one of these farmers she tried to kill. She said she instantly knew he was an SS concentration camp guard by his arrogant attitude and clipped accent, different from all the other neighbours. How he got through, no one knows but the RCMP picked him up and eventually deported him.”

“Your mother survived a great deal. She must have been one tough old bird. Do you remember his name, by the way?”

“It was in the papers, but I was young. Kohl, Gottlieb or Gunther, something like that. Don’t quote me. Check the local paper archive.”

“Were your mom and the other victim from the community? Care home staff? If possible, I need details such as previous addresses, previous names of the staff. I’m sure we can get a list of the staff if someone needs a bit of spare cash”

“Staff, yes, all from the community. The patients from within a 50 km radius.”

We arrived at the care home, and I went to work. For a hundred buck, HR gave me as much info as they had on the staff. The coroner-ambulance driver-mortician (no conflict of interest there) was equally helpful, for the same price. The local rag was ecstatic that someone wanted to look at its archives and brought me a tall stack of dusty old papers.

The papers confirmed that a Gunther Koehl had been deported several decades back. The coroners report gave the old lady’s name which sounded Polish to me. She had a tattooed number on her arm indicating Auschwitz. Everyone in the care home would have known about the tattoo though some may not have known its meaning. Ok, what did she find out that suddenly made her dangerous?

The wheelchair was in a storeroom. No one would touch it. The console had a small lever on the side to switch from inside to street mode. Could not have accidentally tripped. Opening the console revealed a baffling mass of electric wiring. I called a friend in the electronics business, and he agreed to drive up to see what he could see.

In the meantime, I worked on the staff names. The tattoo made me think German. Who was on duty when the incident occurred? Narrowed it down to 10 people. Six of them had German first names and three had German last names which would not be unusual for that community. They were all married and none of the names meant anything to me. I needed names prior to marriage.

If they had been married in a local church, there would be a record. There were three. Good thing it wasn’t a Mennonite community as five Mennonite families would have seven churches. Second church I hit paydirt with a contribution to the mission fund. Hilda Janzen. Hildegard Koehl had married Helmut Janzen in 1989. Now I needed a baptismal certificate as a birth certificate was out of the question, even if I could have lied well enough to get past Vital Statistics bureaucracy. Likely she was baptized in the same church she was married in. That called for another contribution to the mission fund. Bingo. Born 1957 to Gunther Koehl and Mary Murphy in the community hospital.

We had a suspect, now what was the motive? Had the old lady tumbled onto the fact Hilda was the daughter of a deported SS prison guard and threatened to expose her for some reason? That would be most likely. And my friend’s mother was not-unwelcome collateral damage.

By this time, my electronics whiz kid had arrived and was anxious to see the wheelchair control panel. It didn’t take him long to spot a tiny radio-controlled switch that bypassed the side lever.

“Clumsy solder job”, he said.

“Where would she get a thing like that?”, I wanted to know.

“Online, maybe even Amazon, or a dozen other places. YouTube would have how-to videos. It isn’t rocket surgery as my mother would say.”

“If she were handy with tools, Hilda could have come into the room at night, taken the wheelchair to the maintenance room and soldered in the switch. Safe enough since my friend’s mother never used street mode anyhow.”

“Thank you. Now my friend and I will go and see about Hilda.”

My friend was impatiently waiting for me. I explained what we had found out and asked what he wanted to do.

“Let’s just talk to her first. What is done is done. Both women lived many years, maybe they would have lived a few more, who knows. My mother did not want to linger for years, so she got her wish.”

We spoke with the Director and must have looked and sounded very serious, as she immediately summoned Hilda to a small meeting room. She recognized my friend from his visits to see his mother. She crossed her arms and gave us a hostile look. I laid out the case before her as though it were completely factual, even though some was pure bluff.

Her face went pale, and she broke down completely, so I knew we had scored a bullseye. “I just didn’t want anyone to know my background. With all this stuff in the papers about Nazis, I was terrified people would turn on me.”

“We are not going any further with this but if anyone else in this care home dies under mysterious circumstances, we will go to the police. Do you understand?”

My friend was relieved that his mother had no part in any of this and was simply used by Hilda to deal with the frail old lady with the Auschwitz tattoo. He insisted on paying my out-of-pocket expenses and bought me a bottle of 16 year old Laphroaig.

I couldn’t say no.