Monday, August 27, 2007

If I Had A Million Dollars....

One of today's big headlines: "Single Winner in $314 Million Powerball Lottery"

Imagine. $314 million bucks now belongs to one person. Could be an old lady with a bunch of really lucky dogs. Could be a college senior who will now be drunk until February. One ticket, probably costing about two dollars, and that one person's life is changed forever.

My husband and I often talk about what we would do if we ever won the lottery, as I'm sure everybody has. Now don't get me wrong, I'll never ACTUALLY win the lottery, largely because I don't play (I don't have any luck - like I say, I wouldn't win at Bingo if I was the only person playing). Like the convenience-store-gamblers say, "You'll never win if you don't buy a ticket," so I've resigned myself to that fact, but it still doesn't stop us from daydreaming about it.

Just think about it for a minute. Let's say you're a family with a couple of kids and you win a much-needed million dollars. What would you really do with it?

The first sensible thing to do would be hire a financial planner, right? That's always been my train of thought, but maybe not with ONE million dollars. Give me a half hour and a big truck, and I could spend that much at Wal-Mart. So no financial planner for this amount. First, let's pay all our bills. The average Canadian family is over $70,000 in debt. So let's say you pay off your bills, your car, your credit cards, and your student loans, and let's say all that costs you $100,000 (which it probably doesn't...paying off every single debt would probably cost a lot more, but let's just go with a nice round number). And let's say you sold your house, getting rid of your mortgage. So you're at square one, with no debts whatsoever.

What do you do first? Plenty of people would say "build a house". As anyone who has built a house knows, this venture is very expensive, often more expensive than buying. And this new house wouldn't just be ANY house, it's your DREAM house, right? Come on, you're a millionaire!!! Can't be a millionaire and build a 1200 sqaure foot bungalow! So by the time you buy a nice piece of waterfront property, get all your permits, pay for your labor, materials, furniture, etc, etc, etc,'re out about...hmmm...I'd say about $400,000. Possibly a bit less if your dream house is not that fancy, possibly more if it's a real palace. So half of your money is gone already.

Now of course you're going to need a new car. At least one. A millionaire can't be seen driving around town in a Kia! So let's say $50,000 on some fancy new wheels (not including the GTO you promised to buy your husband if you ever won the lottery...and not including the two old muscle cars he wants to buy and restore for your two boys for when they're older...and not including a minivan, which you kind of need anyway). On second thought, maybe I need to revise that number to $100,000. Five vehicles will be very expensive, and I can afford it now, being a millionaire and all.

Now we have our dream house and our dream cars. What about a nice vacation? St. Tropez, anyone? Let's go! Flights, hotel, meals, entertainment, insurance, souveniers, ground transportation.....hmmm...for four people, plus a friend for my son, plus someone to watch the baby so we can go out for a night or two while on vacation....I'll say this trip would cost an easy $25,000.

So now we're back from vacation, and we need to get down to business with this money. Our kids will, if they know what's good for them, be going to college someday. Considering how much it cost when I went, I'd be surprised if a million dollars would pay for it all in 2016. But let's put aside $100,000 for each of the kids, as I'm sure that will pay for tuition at least. And let's also assume our two kids are going to each have two kids of their own, so we have to put aside a few bucks for the grandkids too...let's say $25,000 each? There's another $100,000.

Hold on now, I better tally up these numbers. Hmm....I only have $175,000 left. Didn't I have a million dollars just a second ago? I didn't even go shopping yet!

Ok, now we have to make a few investments for the long term. $50,000 on the right stocks should do it, I think.

So that leaves me with $125,000. Still seems like a lot of money, but I have to give some away. And, being as their "favorite" sister/brother/aunt/neice/cousin/etc is now a millionaire, nobody is expecting $50 in a card, if you know what I mean. So let's figure in at least ten people, and give them $10,000 each. There's another $100,000.

Now I have $25,000 left, plus whatever I got for selling my house. I haven't given any money to charity yet, I haven't paid for the upkeep, maintenence, and operating costs of my fleet of vehicles and my huge, electricity-consuming house. I haven't paid my taxes. I haven't even bought groceries yet.

Suddenly one million dollars doesn't seem like very much, does it?

Winning $1,000,000 in the 6/49 isn't the same today as it would have been twenty years ago. Many of us have spent a million dollars and more in our lifetime, and certainly aren't rich. It makes you wonder if winning that much would really be enough. Surely, if I won a million dollars, I wouldn't be building a house worth five-hundred grand, but when you hear that someone won the lottery, they're automatically "The Rich People", and they're expected to live a certain lifestyle. I have a feeling that a millionaire's only brother would be a little bitter getting $10,000. And $50,000 doesn't seem like very much to invest on your future. So these numbers I have used as examples might be skewed somewhat, but we can all agree on one thing - it doesn't take long for money to disappear. If not on houses and cars and vacations, it would go somewhere else, and fast. To live the life of a celebrity, to have every material possession we want, would one million dollars be enough? Probably not.

Still, if anyone has a spare million they're willing to part with, I would be happy to take it off their hands.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Home of Our Hearts (if not our careers)

It probably seems like I'm harping, but I love Cape Breton. In my opinion, there is no greater place to be from, and no better place to live.

This ideology is great in theory, but sometimes it isn't very practical.

It's no secret that Cape Breton isn't where you go when you're looking for a good job. Just the opposite - so many locals unwillingly relocate in order to find one. My brother loves Cape Breton, and yet he toils in Alberta, like so many others, making money, living, and missing home. Look at all the working parents who have to leave their families in Cape Breton to make a living out West for months at a time, sometimes longer, just because there isn't enough opportunity at home to sustain themselves.

During my workforce days years ago in Cape Breton, I never really had a problem getting a job because, for awhile at least, I was in the food service industry. Lowly waitress to some, but I defy you to find me a more profitable minimum wage job. I counted on tips as part of my take-home pay, and without them I would have been on welfare, like so many other people I knew. As I got older and moved to the city, I began to look for a job which utilized my (very expensive) education. In the Metro Halifax area, those jobs are a bit easier to come by, but in Cape Breton, they're almost non-existant. This is what leads me to my latest rant, as I completely understand where all the displaced Cape Bretoners are coming from, now more than ever.

My husband has a good job, and I've been on indefinite maternity leave for a few years. I decided recently that I would like to go out into the workforce again, and we prepared ourselves for the ramifications of that decision. This is what we discovered: for me to put my baby in day care (which we would have to be put on a waiting list to acquire), and to have my older son receive after school care, would cost a minimum of $45 per day. Per day. That equals $225 per week, and that's money I have to make just to justify leaving the house. It would cost even more on days where my oldest son has no school.

Then figure into that the money I would need to spend on clothes for work, the extra expense of packing four different lunches, transportation to and from the sitter, and then to and from work. The stress of getting two kids up and fed and packed and dressed and ready at the crack of dawn, and finding the time to make myself look presentable as well. I also have to take into account the loss of stability we now get to enjoy, since my youngest spends all day at home with his mom, and his brother gets to come home every day after school.

I ask you, is all of that worth $7.50 per hour?

Imagine that daily ritual, figure in the expense, and ask yourself if making $56.00 per day, before deductions, is worth it. That's $281.25 per week, again, before deductions. After deductions, it would likely cost me more to go to work than it does to stay home.

Sadly, there are plenty of you who don't have to imagine it at all, you live it every day. When I look on the JobBank today, there are 33 available jobs listed, which I can tell you is the most I've seen in a long time. Of these jobs, the majority are in the Port Hawkesbury area, making it even costlier for those in rural surrounding communities to get work. A full 23 jobs are either part time, seasonal, or term positions, and 28 of the 33 posted jobs are either minimum wage or just above. Only 2 jobs are significantly more, both term positions, and both in the $10 per hour range. The wild card is a job with the local Regional Development Agency, which requires 3-5 years of experience as a General Manager of a Transit System. I'm assuming, since it says the wage is to be negotiated, that the person they hire will be paid quite a bit more than $10 per hour. That's great for the person from Sydney or Halifax who will apply and transfer here to take the job. The online offerings this week are comparable to the normal selection, though there are usually fewer jobs available in the off-season. Welcome to the Strait Area.

And so how are we expected to live, to raise our kids, to get ahead in life, as the cashier at Dollarama? I mean no disrespect to those people toiling away at their jobs, just making ends meet, or maybe not making ends meet at all. On the contrary, I have the utmost respect for people who are ambitous enough to get out of bed every morning and go to work every day at a job that they despise, underpaid, overworked, disrespected, and discouraged. To have paid the Nova Scotia Community College lots of money for a diploma in Office Administration, and to be cleaning rooms at a hotel in town for $8.00 per hour. To be on your feet as a retail sales clerk for eight and nine hours a day, and to not be able to afford to send your kid camping with his friends because you're broke after you pay your babysitter. I feel for all these people, because I've been there before. I'm fortunate now that I'm in a position where I have a choice, but so many other working parents don't have a choice at all, they have a responsibility to take care of their families, and they do it, like it or not.

So after searching and debating and pondering, I've decided to stay home with my kids instead of getting a job. A second income would have been nice, required maybe, but not at the necessary cost.

To all of you who are working hard, I admire your resolve and determination.

To the government of Nova Scotia, take notice. People who are residents of a region with high unemployment are often thought of as lazy, but really that is probably not the case. We need jobs that pay us for the work we do, that allow us to support ourselves and our families. There isn't much point in discouraging people from moving to Alberta and staying in Cape Breton - you're not leaving us much choice. A power bill, a litre of gas, and a carton of milk costs just as much for someone making $15,000 per year as it does for the guys at the mill who make $80,000. Giving us a break on the cost of day care would be nice, but even that doesn't help the people with no children. We need the government to raise the minimum wage, give tax break incentives to companies for paying higher salaries, and create jobs for qualified individuals. The time is now, so that all people living in the Strait Area, and in Cape Breton, can prosper and stay where they belong - HOME.

Back To School

Well, ladies and gentlemen, it's official - summer is almost over. This weekend at Wal-Mart, I was greeted by a huge wall of school supplies. The end is near.

In a way, I'm looking forward to the beginning of the school year. At the very least, it promises to lessen the frequency of the "I'm bored" speech I have to hear every day. Thousands of dollars worth of tvs, vcrs, dvd players, mp3 players, gaming consoles, toys, bikes, skateboards, rollerblades, sports equipment, on and on and on - and they're bored. All of them, sitting in their houses, driving their parents nuts with "I'm bored". Twenty-eight degrees, sun splitting the rocks, pool, trampoline, a dozen friends nearby, and "I'm bored". When I was nine, my parents sent us outside after breakfast and didn't see us again until supper, when they usually had to come looking for us. Kids these days, I don't know if they want us to dress up in clown costumes and entertain them all day, but they certainly don't seem to realize how lucky they are. My son didn't believe me when I told him that going for a walk was something us "old folk" used to do for fun. Perish the thought.

Anyway, as much as the prospect of school is relieving to me, there is one aspect that makes me cringe: packing my son's lunch.

At my house, we have a hot lunch. It's probably not fancy, it's probably not elaborate, but it's hot. Every now and then I make sandwiches, but usually it's Kraft Dinner, chicken noodle soup, hot dogs, or something of the like. When packing my son's lunch for school, I like to ensure that he eats something hot there too. Again, nothing fancy, but a can of ravioli, a pizza pocket, even leftover steak subs from supper. I would think that a school would try to accommodate students and parents in this pursuit.

But no. Now the rule is "no use of microwaves", no heating food at all. Last year, the first time I sent my son to school with a container of leftovers to be heated, it was returned with a note that said not to send something like that again, and that I owed the cafeteria $3.20 for the meal they gave him as a substitution. I was not pleased.

So that leaves me with two choices: no hot food, or buy from the cafeteria. The latter might be an option if it were a little cheaper, but show me someone who can afford to spend $20 per week on grease food, plus pay for snacks and drinks on top of that, PER CHILD, and I'll show you someone who doesn't realize how rich they actually are. I won't pay it, and I'm sure the majority of parents can't afford to pay it either.

The other option leaves me with a very limited menu of cold food. One day I sent him with a bag full of chunks of pepperoni and cheese, and he told me the cafeteria workers had suggested his mother send a more balanced, nutritious lunch. Nice. Again, I was not pleased.

And what's left? Ok, sandwiches.

Let's see...he's allergic to tuna, and doesn't like egg or chicken salad. Sliced ham, flakes of ham...maybe turkey if things are really desperate. And this is what he's supposed to eat every single day for hundreds of days? A sandwich made with meat that's been soaked in brine for weeks? He is not pleased, nor do I blame him.

When I was a kid, we took a peanut butter and jam sandwich to school every single day, and we didn't complain. I can say this loud and proud because every other kid had one as well. The flavor of jam might have varied a bit, from strawberry to raspberry perhaps, but that was about as exotic as it got.

But that was twenty years ago.

Now, lunch time at an elementary school is much different. My kids don't have PB&J every single day for lunch when they're at home, so I don't expect my son to eat it every single day at school either. But even if I did, I wouldn't be allowed. No peanut butter. No peanuts. No nuts of any kind. Nothing that has ever come into contact with anything resembling a nut. No peanut butter on toast in the morning for breakfast, as the smell of peanut butter on a child's breath is apparently harmful as well. No homemade peanut butter cookies, or any other cookie with walnuts, pecans, almonds.

I'm sure parents of children with peanut allergies think the peanut ban is a nessessary step for a school to take. And I know that peanut allergies can be very serious, if not deadly. I feel for these parents and children. But 1 child (maybe) in a school of 450 students, and a common household food is banished from our lives? It's not anthrax, it's peanut butter. It's not airborne, it's injested. If you're allergic, don't eat it. If your child is too young to take the necessary precautions, the teachers and staff should be responsible for ensuring the student does not come into contact with any nutty substance. My son is allergic to seafood and shellfish, and his throat closes over when he is exposed to either of them in any form. I don't expect the schools to go on a witch hunt for tuna lovers, nor do I expect the school, it's staff, it's students, and the parents to change their eating habits and grocery orders; I expect him and his teacher to be aware and careful.

I may seem insensitive, but that's just the way I see it. I've spoken to many, many parents who feel the same way. People hesitate to admit it, but banning peanuts, or any other food, is a bad precendent to set. What's next, banning chips for the kids battling childhood obesity? Banning windows for the kids allergic to pollen? In my thirteen years of school, there was not a single peanut fatality. Was it just a fluke that everyone survived? Or was it that, back then, nobody seemed to overreact the way they do now, people didn't go to such drastic measures, and we all turned out just fine? It may be a bit taboo to even complain about the peanut patrol, but too bad. Someone has to do it.

However, all the complaining in the world doesn't rid me of my lunch-packing woes. I want to give my son a proper dinner without putting myself in the poor house, is that too much to ask?

What does the "student fee" pay for? Do a few microwaves use up so much electricity that the school doesn't have it in it's budget to nuke a few bowls every lunch hour? I wonder if the teachers are allowed to use the microwave? (Oh that's right, there's a private one in the staff room.) Should the staff be allowed to criticize parents on their choice of lunches, when the alternatives we're given are so limited? Next time my son comes home with a story like that, I'll be marching down to the school and telling the cafeteria lady to either fire up the microwave or keep her opinions to herself. And probably not in words that sunny and cheerful.

If you have any suggestions for a good lunch, please let me know, I'd love to have a few new ideas. Pretty soon, I'll be sending him to school with bread and butter. Cold bread and butter.

Not So Merry, After All

Over the past few days, I have been very apprehensive about writing this next blog entry, as I do not want anyone to misinterpret my intentions. Since I have been unable to get this topic out of my head, I'm going to take my chances and write it anyway. I do want to add, however, that I do not know any facts of this case beyond what I have heard in the media, nor do I, in any way, accuse any particular person of being responsible or having any involvement in this crime.

December 2005 was a great time for my family. It was my baby boy's first Christmas, the kids had loads of gifts under the tree, and I made my first big Christmas dinner. At the time, we lived in a nice little subdivision in Timberlea, and we liked to drive around to look at all the brightly decorated houses. On the 27th, my husband went Boxing Day shopping in Bayers Lake, and I baked his birthday cake (he was celebrating his....ahem....seventh consecutive "28th birthday" the following day). I remember looking at the clock several times that afternoon, wondering if I would finish his cake before he returned home.

On the morning of the 28th, the first thing I noticed outside was a police cruiser. Since seeing the police was a rarity on our street, I found it even more strange to see several of them drive by within an hour or two, as well as an RCMP helicopter overhead. When my husband called home from work, I told him about the noticeable police presence, and he dropped the bomb on me: a body had been found in a car parked at the school. A what? A body? In Timberlea?!? I didn't believe him. I humoured him and hung up.

His claim was confirmed on the news that evening. Paula Gallant, originally from Cape Breton, a teacher at Beechville-Lakeside-Timberlea school, mother of a baby girl, had been murdered. I was shocked, confused and horrified. Over the next few days, weeks, and months, I began to follow the story as details were released, as I'm sure most residents of Timberlea did. My son attended BLT, where Ms. Gallant taught grade three. The school, and her house, were so close to mine, that anyone with a good arm could throw a rock and hit either building. This crime was a little too close to home for my liking, a feeling I shared with, I'm sure, plenty of others.

What made it even more terrible for me was the fact that she had a baby the same age as mine. The thought of a mother being taken away from a child that age was heartbreaking. It still is. If anything threatened my ability to come home to my kids, I would scream and fight with such fury that my attackers would probably flee, fearing for their lives. I can't help but think that, while I was baking a cake and looking at the clock in the early evening of December 27th, 2005, Ms. Gallant was doing just that, fighting for her life. It bothers me to think about that.

And here we are, almost two years later, and her killer is still roaming free. Maybe driving past us on the highway, maybe behind us in line at the grocery store, nobody knows. Her little girl is without a mother, her sisters and family are still grieving, and I'm still at home thinking about it, often. As much as I hate wondering what happened to that poor woman, two other points make me even crazier. My preamble and question is this: we lived in a community where everyone knew your business. They knew what kind of underwear you wore by looking at your clothes hanging out on the line. They knew if the neighbors' teenaged kids got home at 3am. They knew if the guy in the blue house had a drug problem, if the lady who drove the white Malibu was cheating on her husband, and if the people with the loud Yorkshire terrier screamed at their kids all the time. After the fact, the neighborhood hairdressers, storekeepers, and busy-bodies whispered rampant speculation and knew all the comings and goings at Ms. Gallant's house. My question is, how is it possible that so many people are so nosy, observant and intrusive, but NOT A SINGLE PERSON SAW ANYTHING THAT DAY WHICH WOULD HELP THE POLICE?? From what I heard and read, whoever was responsible for Ms. Gallant's death returned her car to BLT, a very visible school parking lot, empty during Christmas vacation, and drove away in another vehicle. I'd be willing to bet that, had someone been parked there for an illicit rendezvous of some sort, people up one street and down another would know all the details by the next morning. But how did no one see anything in THIS case, when it matters? Very frustrating.

And another thing. There are cases in the past few years which have not left the forefront of the media for more than a few weeks. The only place I have read about possible breaks in the Gallant case is, sadly, in "Frank" magazine. I'm sure this fact must infuriate her family. Had I been the victim of a horrible crime like this, I like to think that my husband would not rest or shut up until the killer was apprehended. He would be crawling up the leg of Steve Murphy's pants to get on the 6pm news every night, just to remind people of what happened and how they might be able to help. Ms. Gallant's sisters have seemed very diligent, but there is only so much that one or two women can do. It is up to everyone else, Paula Gallant's neighbors, friends, colleagues, and mourners, to keep her case in the forefront of our minds and, hopefully, the media. Someone knows something, and with enough scrutiny, pressure, protest, and persistance, that someone or something will eventually surface.

Until it does, I will keep Ms. Gallant, her daughter, and her family in my thoughts. I implore you to do the same.


With Lindsey back in rehab, I feel it necessary to throw in my own towel and make an admission.

Hi. My name is Gina, and I'm a pop-oholic.

Everyone together: "Hi Gina."

They say the first step is admitting your problem, so I'm coming clean.

Though I have always enjoyed pop "recreationally", I didn't start "using" on a regular basis until I was nineteen. My drug of choice has always been cola, diet cola to be specific. I will have a regular Coke or Pepsi in a pinch, but only if the diet variety is unavailable. My taste has become more refined through the years, and now my preference leans toward Big 8 Diet Cola, even above the sweeter, more bubbly Diet Pepsi, which used to be my favorite poison. The whole 7-Up, Ginger Ale, Cream Soda, of alternatives would save me in an emergency, much the same as we'd all eat grass and worms if regular food were obliterated and we needed to prevent starvation. So for the sake of this rant, we'll say I'm addicted to diet cola, and leave other flavors out of it.

Pop is much more than just a beverage to me. It can be, and often is, the ultimate thirst quencher; the perfect way to wash down a good meal; a meal replacement, if need be; a partner to a ciggarette; a stress reliever; a nightcap; a cool breeze on a hot summer day, if you will. I look forward to my first drink of the day, and I miss it terribly when it's gone. While most people sip a glass of pop and place their empty cup in the sink, I relish every part of a good drink of pop, from beginning to end. Be it frosty, fresh, warm, or flat, it delights my palate each and every time. As most people can't live without their daily "double double", I would be a wreck if I didn't have my daily fix of pop.

Some of you might take offence to the comparison I am making between pop and drug addiction. While I appreciate that drug and alcohol addiction are very serious and difficult beasts to tackle, and while I use this comparison for humour's sake, being addicted to pop has it's physical and psychological side effects as well. Anyone who has ever quit (or tried to quit) can tell you - it's not easy. I have only tried to quit once, unsuccessfully, after hearing that the chemicals in Coke dissolved a penny or fueled a 747 or some such nonsense. The few days I went without pop were painful, anxiety-ridden, and unforgettable. I decided to go cold turkey and switch to water, figuring that my body shouldn't be subjected to the ravages of digesting airplane fuel. In hindsight, I think downing a pint of pure unleaded gasoline would have been easier on my body than the absence of pop. I had splitting headaches. I felt completely drained of energy, fatigued, and lethargic. I was on edge and cranky. I had trouble sleeping. I joked about going through withdrawls, when really that's exactly what was happening. Only after I gave in to my craving and gulped a massive bottle of diet cola did I feel complete and healthy again. Quitting smoking, known to be one of the most difficult pursuits, was easier for me than quitting pop.

And so I sit before you, still a hopeless pop addict. There is no hope in sight for me. If anyone can advise me on a positive course of action, I would be greatful. A good 12-step program maybe? Don't bother telling me to quit cold turkey - I tried that, see above. And the switching to 7-Up or flavored, carbonated water thing, that won't work either, as has been suggested to me in the past. When milk goes down in price I might have a fighting chance, but as long as I can buy a million litres of pop for three bucks at Superstore, I can't see a salvation in my near future. So if you've quit, or know someone who has, please let me know how. As much as I dearly love my pop, I'm ready to fight the beast. At least that's what I keep telling myself. Wish me luck.

And on a related note, contrary to the recent actions of the news media, my recovery/self-destruction will not, thankfully, have to be the first thing Steve Murphy reads tonight at 6pm.

Lucky Me

Checking online news from cities around the country, I came across these headlines.

From Calgary: "Stabbing rampage wasn't meant to kill anyone, police say"

From Montreal: "Mental illness to be defense in Laval cop slaying"

From Edmonton: "Police ask for help in tragic carjacking case"

I could go on, but you get the point.

And now this, the top story on the news from 101.5 The Hawk, my local radio station. I swear to you, this is the top story:

"Lobster Stolen in Arichat on Weekend, RCMP seeking info about crustacean bandit"
almost wish I had written this blog entry last week when the top story was a missing tricycle (I thought it was amusing). That's the story that got me thinking about how truly lucky we are in this part of Cape Breton.

I'm not trivializing these lobster or tricycle thefts, as I'm sure the victims have felt the impact of their losses. However, I think even they would admit that, in the grand scheme of things, their loss could have been much greater.

Growing up, I remember being so desperate to graduate and get out of my go to a big city, somewhere with more action and people and noise. I remember thinking, "this place is so BORING, nothing ever happens here." At the time, I didn't realize what a blessing it is to be able to say that. I think the biggest crime ever committed in the history of my hometown of River Bourgeois, at least in my lifetime, was the attempted robbery of the local Credit Union. Two men got away with a few dollars, and I'll never forget us crowding around the family TV set, watching the ATV reporter broadcast the story from the front of the Credit Union. I'm pretty sure that was the first time our community had been on the news, and it was all very exciting, since I was only about 8 years old. I could be wrong about the year this took place, but I'm sure it must have been 20 years ago. The fact that a 20-year-old attempted robbery (involving no violence) still sticks out in my mind as a huge crime in my community - that is really saying something about where we live.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying this is Pleasantville. We have our share of abuse cases, vandalism, domestic violence, and fatal car accidents, as does every community in Canada and abroad. Though these cases are largely unreported, their existence is a fact of life in rural Cape Breton. But luckily, we are spared the violent, random crime that is becoming so common in larger cites and towns.

Having lived away from Cape Breton, for several years and in several different places, I have had to adjust my fear and paranoia accordingly, depending on the city. Our family just relocated from Lower Sackville, a beautiful community, and, in my opinion, a perfect place to raise a family if your job is in the Halifax Regional Municipality. In Sackville, we locked our car and our front door. My son was not allowed to leave the small cul-de-sac where we lived, and had to check in with me every hour on the hour when he was playing outside. I never left my kids in the car alone, even just to run into the corner store. My son's bike was locked up every night. The fear of child abduction was always on my mind. The fear of mugging and gun violence was always in the back of my mind, especially walking through the Wal-Mart parking lot at night with a million bags. In general, I was more alert, more aware and more wary of the people around me. Nothing bad ever happened while we lived in Sackville, but it was "the city", and you can never be too careful, I decided.

Our mindset in Cape Breton is much different. I can tell you that, in the six months we lived in River Bourgeois, neither our car nor our house has been locked even once. (Since moving to Port Hawkesbury we've been locking up, so don't get any big ideas) My son can go play outside for hours without me having to worry about where he is. There might be half a dozen cars that drive on our road the whole day, so traffic isn't an issue. I can run into Bucky's garage for milk and even chat with the clerk for a few minutes, without having to worry about someone coming along and swiping my kids out of the car. My sons bikes, and many other toys, are outside in the yard every night, and never once have we woken up fearing they might have been stolen while we slept. What my son might consider "a stranger" is, in all likelihood, the father of a girl I went to high school with, or a woman I used to babysit for. When I see a bunch of shady looking teenagers on the street, chances are they're not going to accost me, they're probably going to say hello because I know their older brother or something. And gun violence? My only fear of guns is that I'd probably suffer a heart attack and die of shock if I heard of gun-toting criminals roaming the streets of Richmond County. Maybe it's naive of me to think that I can live here with this sense of security, but history speaks for itself, and I'll take my chances for now.

The moral of my little story is this: consider yourself blessed if you're lucky enough to reside in our peaceful little corner of the world. Remember that not everyone is as fortunate to raise their kids in such a safe place. If you leave, don't assume every town and city is as safe as ours.
Appreciate living in Cape Breton!

Even if it is boring.

Why I Don't Watch Canadian Idol

Last night at 10:30, as I was fruitlessly channel-surfing, my husband asked why I wasn't watching Canadian Idol. It then occurred to me - that's actually a pretty good question, for a lot of Canadians.

I am a rabid American Idol fan. I watch it religiously, anticipating the start of the season, analyzing every performance, critiquing and praising the appropriate contestants and judges. I may not be a music expert, but when it comes to that show, I defy you to tell me I'm anything but. When the season is over, my television psyche always feels just a tiny bit empty and under-stimulated. The Canadian Idol season begins right after American Idol ends, so it would seem to be a natural transition, wouldn't it? Yet, for some reason, though I have sporadically watched a season or two, I've never been able to enjoy our Canadian version nearly as much.

You have to give it to them - the Canadian Idol people try extremely hard to make their show as much like AI as possible. And on paper, the two are strikingly similar. The opening music, the million audition blooper episodes, the metrosexual host, big-name guests, the obnoxious judge. But there is something lacking in the Canuck counterpart that the Americans have mastered --- production value.

AI performances (after the herd has been thinned) are taped at a huge studio in Los Angeles; the same one, in fact, that is used by Deal or No Deal, Dancing With The Stars and formerly Hollywood Squares. This is not an impressive fact in and of itself, but when you compare that studio with the dorm-room feel of the John Bassett Theatre in Toronto where CI is taped, the difference is glaringly noticeable. Couple this with the grandiose AI finale at the prestigious Kodak Theatre, and us Canadians look more like folks putting on a variety concert in a school gymnasium.

Then you look at the judges' credentials.
Simon Cowell is a record executive, behind several multi-million dollar grossing musical acts, and responsible for over 70 number one records.

Randy is a Grammy winner, producer for some of music's most well-known and successful stars, and the head of A&R and talent scouting at one of the biggest record labels in the United States.

Paula, as much as we might hate to admit it, has sold over 30 million albums, won numerous industry awards, and holds us all guilty of tapping our foot to at least one of her hits over the years.

And who do we have?
Farley Flex, who was a well-known radio personality (supposedly) and who is responsible for the likes of Maestro Fresh Wes. Nice one.
Jake Gold takes credit for the Tragically Hip, which I suppose is seen by some as an accomplishment, but could also be a stroke of luck, considering his success since.
Sass Jordan had a few songs which I'm sure are considered hits by her and those who like her, but her biggest similarity to Paula is her over-medicated rambling and MILF appeal.
And Zack Werner, while trying desperately to embody the spirit of Simon Cowell, is merely using big words and being rude to deflect attention away from his own failed music career.

Granted, I may seem to be rather critical of our homegrown judges, but I think results speak for themselves. Winners, even runners-up, of AI have sold millions of albums worldwide, won Oscars, and are enjoying careers in every area of the entertainment industry. Can you name two winners of Canadian Idol? Do you own any of their albums? Could you even pick them out of a lineup? Most people can't. The Canadian judges just can't seem to pick 'em like the US trio. Either they don't have the same eye for star quality, or they're not looking for it at all. I can't name two Canadian Idol contestants, winners included, who would have even made the top 24 of American Idol. Eva Avila might have sneaked through day one the first round, but the rest would have been home in tears an hour after their first audition. Can you picture the likes of Ryan Malcolm getting past Simon Cowell?

And don't even get me started on the band. Orin Issacs (of "Mike Bullard" fame, for those of you who remember) and his squad don't even hold a candle to Ricky Minor and the American Idol house band. Watching AI performances, with spot-on reditions, professional musicians and sometimes full orchestra, makes CI shows look like open-mic at your local coffee house. It's really quite sad.

But I think the biggest problem has to do with the talent pool.

Now before you all get your bloomers in a bunch, I'm not saying that there is less talent in Canada than in the States. I know that to be false, or at least I believe it to be false. In Cape Breton alone there are hundreds of people who would put on a better show than Kelly Clarkson any day of the week. The problem has to do with American vanity and Canadian simplicity.
Americans are obsessed with celebrity. The women spend thousands trying to look more like the Pussycat Dolls. Even men are going out to get abdominal implants to look more Brad Pitt-ish. Canadians are image-consumers too, but not to nearly the same extent as our Southern neighbors. Everyone in America wants to be a star. Worse yet, lots of them think they ARE stars who just haven't been discovered yet. That's why you see so many thousands of scantily-clad teenies flock to the auditions down South, ever-so-confident in their talent, however mediocre it may be. When given the opportunity, they'll splash their bits across the screen, in hopes of garnering enough public acceptance to generate the almighty dollar. Works like a charm, too. The United States has an audience full of these people, people who will lap up all the showing off, the strip-teasing, the lights, camera & action of it all. Canada has these people as well - I'm guilty as charged. But, on the whole, Canada is different than the States. Canadian auditions don't have the same percentage of pre-pubescent teens writhing around to "Like A Virgin." More of them are singing melodic tunes to showcase their voice moreso than their potential sex appeal. A lot of the time, the contestants pick classic Canadian tunes. Most of the kids are modest, appreciative of praise, and accepting of rejection, however disappointing it may be. Very seldom do we see a bitter contestant swearing and vowing their revenge next year. It's a different attitude, a different mindset, a different industry.

And the problem with this? The Canadian Idol people are trying to market their show too much like American Idol, and the result comes off as a cheap, campy imitation. We don't have the market to support a Britney or Christina in Canada. I don't think our culture is interested. A Nelly Furtado? Shania? I guess so, but those two are flukes. "Proud Canadians" who live in Los Angeles. Who had the personal and business contacts to infiltrate the U.S. and rarely look back, save for a few magazine interviews. Canadians take more pride in the Jimmy Rankins, Natalie McMasters, and Gordie Sampsons - the people who, though they may travel, always know, and will proudly and unabashedly admit, where they came from. No one wants to invest their time, interest, and loyalty on another flash-in-the-pan Mandy-Moore-wannabe, who is bound to fall on her face as soon as the show has ended it's season. There are people who watch Canadian Idol, but it will never reach the same heights as it's American counterpart. Until they change the forum from pop to rock or traditional music, it will always be just another failed attempt to Americanize our country - and I dont think people want that as much as they think they do. Not unless it's done right, which Canadian Idol is not.

Some may argue that Canadian Idol is the most popular show in the history of Canadian television, and they're right, it does have plenty of viewers. (So does Corner Gas, and I wouldn't be too quick to classify that as a pop culture juggernaut either....but I digress...) It's the follow-through that counts with a show like this. Every Canadian man, woman and child could watch every week - but if nobody goes out and buys the impending album, what's the point? It's defeating the whole purpose. What good is supporting and rooting for a contestant, voting till your fingers are numb, and then forgetting about them as soon as you turn off the TV? That's what Americans do differently: the majority of people are voting for the person who's music they want to hear, who they're willing to invest in, and the voting has resulted in the creation of musical sensations. In Canada, we vote for "that sweet little girl from New Brunswick"...or "insert home province here." We're caught up in the novelty of watching all the kids get on the stage and being able to decide the winner. We're not nearly as concerned over who the best singer is, or whether they have a legitimate chance at a music career. It's the same thing year after year after year, and it's getting very old.

Until Sass decides to kick it up a notch and starts making out with one of the contestants, until a Speedo-clad Ben Mulrooney gets in a wrestling match onstage with Farley, until they hire a drag-queen to pole dance in the corner and bang a gong after a crappy performance....Canadian Idol just won't hold my attention. I'll continue watching American Idol, marvelling at the pomp and chauvinism of it all, and being thoroughly entertained. I even bought the Chris Daughtry album.