Category Archives: Parenting

Guns Don’t Deserve a Sober Second Thought

Someone, at some point way back in my school days, introduced me to the concept of sober second thought. You could probably imagine a lot of different meanings for that term, with at least a few relating to alcohol-induced evenings, but it actually has a much bigger in meaning. It’s a great guiding principle.

That said, I do have to admit that its origin is tied to Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. McDonald, who was known to imbibe rather regularly in the drink. But instead of describing the morning after a bender, it was used as the reasoning behind creating a second body of government (the Canadian senate) that would examine legislation and make it a little less likely that the truly silly ideas would end up as law. Well, we all know that the process clearly isn’t perfect, as evidenced by the reality that politicians invested valuable time to create a law making it illegal to drag a dead horse down the streets of Toronto on Sunday. Why it was necessary to point out something so seemingly obvious is beyond me. That’s not one of the finest moments for the great minds in government.

These days, now that we are immersed in a digital world and staring at our phones pretty much 24/7, the idea of sober second thought has never been more relevant. To be blunt, your first reaction to most things is probably the last thing you should post online, but a lot of people neglect to remember that rule. I’m all for making this guideline a must-read in every parenting manual. Letting our kids run wild online is going to haunt a lot of young folks in the coming years.


So, in this spirit, I try to govern what I write in this forum. It is, after all, a public place and may be read by anyone who wanders in. It’s remarkably easy to misstep online, either by not considering the power of words or by forgetting that words are not three-dimensional, so the true feelings and spirit behind them are not always so clear. But today is one day where I’m going to park this political correctness on the shelf. There are rare times when it’s just not worth the caution.

The headlines are filled yet again with another mass shooting in America. Even sadder, is the reality that there were actually two mass shootings on the same day, with the second barely getting a mention in light of the first. There have now been more than 350 mass shootings (meaning four or more people) in the U.S. this year. That’s more than one a day. It’s so many that people truly are becoming numb to it and barely reacting anymore. And that may be the saddest sentence I’ve written in all my years of producing words.

So in the spirit of ignoring political correctness, let me state a few things that I believe a lot of reasonable people believe. Mainstream Americans are not okay with a proliferation of guns. In fact, the dialogue is being driven by a small group of money-driven lunatics who do not speak for the majority, or even close to it. Democracy is supposed to mean the majority get to rule. It’s not a perfect system. Hell, look at some of the people being elected. But it is the best system we’ve got for now. And if you put the issue to a democratic vote, I firmly believe the majority would stand up and support more gun control. The lunatics don’t have to run the asylum.

To all those spouting off about needing guns because the government is coming for you, no, they’re not. Unless you’ve already shot someone. In which case, you deserve it.

The mysterious bad guys that the fear-mongers keep talking about are not invading your home anytime soon. There’s not a single statistic that supports a rampant need for guns for protection. In fact, when you look at the reality of gun death, far more people die from suicide than homicide, and among the remaining people killed by guns there are far too many cases of family violence and innocent kids stumbling on guns that their moron parents neglected to secure. That’s the reality of guns in America.

You want to boil it down to its most black and white terms? How about the analogy passing around recently? If one kid throws a rock on the playground, the answer isn’t to give every kid a rock, because surely the good kids will win. That’s about as logical as fighting obesity by handing out Big Mac coupons.

The gun epidemic (and that is an accurate word) in America is not a lost cause. In recent decades, England and Australia have both faced severe cultural issues as guns began to proliferate. They legislated. They eliminated the majority of guns. And the result was dramatic drops in gun deaths and suicides. That’s the reality. Everything else is rhetoric.

I can appreciate that the cornerstone of a good debate is hearing the opposing side’s position and considering the facts to make the best decision, but at this point, I could care less what gun supporters have to offer. I’ve watched the reality of their argument play out in blood on the news. They have nothing left to offer to support their point. And they need to go away. That’s about as sober a second thought as I can muster.

INSPIRATION FOR TODAY: While I usually like to sprinkle in some random musings at the end, I’m going to shift gears instead and spread a little positive. This constant onslaught of violence deserves a counter-balance. There’s entirely too much hate being spread in a world that can offer so much more, so my little bit of inspiration for today comes from a teenager in Newfoundland. Read the details here, but she responded to online bullying by looking it right in the eye and calling it for what it is. This girl is an inspiration, and her attitude deserves praise for not falling victim to the cowards who use the internet to hide and spread this idiocy. Here’s to parents who raise a lot more great kids like Lynelle…

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I Think Christmas Runs on Sugar in Spain

Much to my shock, the holiday season is suddenly upon us once again. And as every parent of a young child knows, Christmas is not just a day in December. It’s a marathon of sugar-fueled, sideswipes of the toy aisle and endless conversations about what might be under the tree. So much for holidaying!

Christmas is front and center in Spain for weeks. Even though the biggest gift-giving day actually arrives the first week of January, that doesn’t stop the retail crowd from marching out the mistletoe and jingle bells well in advance. With no Thanksgiving celebration to get in the way, store aisles are already clogged with all the trimmings.

Sweets are a key feature, although they are a real mixed bag in my opinion. Familiar chocolate names like Lindt and Nestle have lots of options at the ready, but the fixture of the displays are more traditional Spanish treats.

If the level of sugar on display in Spain is a good indicator, it seems fair to assume that Santa is an addict. With the mounds of sweets as far as the eye can see, the jolly, old fat guy has to be as hopped up as a pint-sized Spider-man working his 12th street on Halloween. There are literally piles of the local favorite turrones, which are brick-like bars of candy that must have the dentistry association dancing in the streets. Honestly, I have no idea how to bite into one of these things. I could construct a brick walkway from a spare box of them.

Then there are the endless bins of individually-wrapped sweets in countless flavors. Some are small chocolates that are tempting. Then there are the ones that are similar to a spongy cake with a buttery or fruity taste – a little rich, but okay. Finally,  there are the biscuits. These are the toughest to describe. The best analogy I have is picking up a cup of sand from the Sahara for a little nibble. They are a tad dry and dusty. But judging by how many are in view, the locals like ‘em.

Of course, the holidays also mean the return of some of Catalunya’s most interesting traditions. The famous pooping log full of toys and treats has made its first appearance of the season in the stores here, and Liam has made his annual request to obtain one, although I’m not sure I’m real keen on the tradition. Of course, filling the shelves near the pooping log is the famous squatting fellow also doing his business, known as a caganer.

To demonstrate just how much the caganer is ingrained in the local culture, stores even have picture and sticker books aimed at small kids with the caganer’s unique IMG_0198Christmas story. The tale is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I have to admit it’s pretty funny to think of a child peeling off the sticker of the squatting caganer and deciding where he should be placed in the nativity scene. Just try and blame that on the dog.

The school break for Christmas this year is more than three weeks long. Even though we’ll be getting outta dodge for a good chunk of it, that’s still quite the lengthy break. Keep in mind, the break also means that only two of the four weeks in December are full school weeks, coming on the heels of November where only one of the four weeks had five days of school. It truly is remarkable how many holidays fill the calendar. I guess the holiday season snuck up so fast because I was too busy trying to fill all the other holidays!

RANDOM THOUGHTS: Advent calendars all also a big thing for kids here. It’s a cheap investment to try and entice good behavior for 24 days straight. Liam has agreed to the deal that he gets the chocolate every night that he’s good, but I get the chocolate every night when he falls short. I’m taking bets on who puts on more weight by the time Christmas rolls around. Over/under starts at 12… I have to admit to enjoying a climate where it isn’t necessary to turn on the furnace until Nov. 22. Of course, the flipside is the cost of utilities almost makes it mandatory to wait as long as possible. Those lucky few with big country houses here (especially in the mountains) must have some whopping bills for gas and electric… But even though the weather is mild, it is still funny to see the locals drinking a cold beer on a chilly day while sitting on a metal chair outside – all at 10 in the morning. They are still hardy folks despite the warm climes…

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Oh Sorry, I’m Just Being Canadian

I invested a couple of hours in watching the documentary Being Canadian the other night and it got me thinking more about, well, being Canadian.

As the film stressed, the world doesn’t have a clear image on what is uniquely Canadian. Most countries have a couple of things that seem to define them. America is a land of opportunity, or for the glass half-empty types, the place where everyone has a gun. Germans are highly efficient. Brits like warm beer. And the Japanese are really picky about cleanliness.

All these things are just stereotypes, but there’s a grain of truth embedded somewhere in the middle. So what’s the stereotype that defines Canadians? It’s comical that we are famous for being polite, but then every one of us does have a tale of walking into a door and then reflexively apologizing to it for our clumsiness. Or is it the old reliable stereotype that Canada really is just hockey and healthcare.

At least each of these is fairly positive, even if not exactly overwhelming in depth. I think many Canadians took pride in the country’s reputation as a peacekeeper with our leaders always willing to step into a troubled situation and keep the fighting factions apart, but clearly that reputation has slide in the last decade. That’s a sore spot for many of us.

We are good at laughing at ourselves and happily play along when prompted to add a few “ehs” to our sentences as if it’s the first time. But we’re also quick to play the “he’s Canadian” game every time a familiar name pops up. I never tire of surprising people with another under the radar Canadian like Ryan Reynolds, Morley Safer, Seth Rogen, Will Arnett, architect Frank Gehry, William Shatner, Ryan Gosling, Jason Priestly, Warner Bros. co-founder Jack Warner, or even “America’s Sweetheart” Mary Pickford.

And don’t forget some of the things that were invented in Canada, such as the telephone, insulin, egg cartons, basketball, standard time, garbage bags, peanut butter (high on my list), the jockstrap (thank you) the Wonderbra (you’re welcome), paint rollers and the zipper.

So maybe Canada’s famous national inferiority complex isn’t quite deserved, but it still doesn’t get us any closer to defining what it is to be Canadian. As I watched the filmmaker meander across Canada and experience a little more of the country, I certainly felt the urge to do the same, seeing Canada not only through my eyes but those of my young son who has never lived on Canadian shores. If I could awaken in him a sense of pride at his roots and a little clearer identity, well, that would make my year.

As I have become less rooted while moving not only cities, but countries, I’m left wondering how he will define himself as an adult under the worldly but complicated umbrella of being a Canadian/American/Vietnamese kid who lives in Spain. There’s a lot of messages in there. If nothing else, hopefully it will mean more open doors.

But even taking that expansive cross-country trip isn’t likely to provide more clarity about what is a Canadian, since there really isn’t a simple answer. I guess it’s hard to define because Canada has always been about welcoming such a diverse set of ideas and thoughts, instead of pigeonholing people into just one box. Canadians no more think all alike than they look all alike. Maybe that polite thing isn’t such a bad stereotype after all. We could do a lot worse.

RANDOM THOUGHTS: The most poignant line in the film came from Mike Myers when he said “No description of me is complete without mentioning I’m Canadian.” Amen to that… It seems like it’s election season everywhere, including Canada. I wasn’t a fan of Stephen Harper when he became Prime Minister, but I have to admit now that he probably was the best one for the job at that time. Now it’s a new time and the same policies are feeling rather unCanadian… People laugh at me bringing back something as heavy as peanut butter when I visit Canada. Trust me, it’s worth the effort. But the bottom of the jar is now in sight. Withdrawals should commence by end of October…

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Back to School – With Many Intermissions

Back to school time has arrived in Spain after the summer rocketed by at record speed. For a number of the international schools, Sept. 1 marks the start of the year, while most local schools wait until mid-month. After all, Spain does love a good, long holiday.

The new school year comes to a screeching halt in short order as the first of many holidays arrives in week two. That is quickly followed by another couple of days off the week after next as Barcelona’s biggest street party of the year arrives. I wasn’t kidding when I said the only thing the Spanish like more than a holiday is another holiday. They pop up on the calendar about as fast as new rabbits here.

For us, as newcomers, the regular holidays do end up being useful as an excuse to get out and do a little more exploring around Spain and beyond. We’re going to miss the big street party this year to take a little look at one of the nearby coastal islands (Menorca) for a few days. But, literally, there are more days off in Barcelona than you could ever afford to use as traveling holidays.

Liam’s Christmas break this year stretches for more than three weeks, followed soon after by more than a week off in February and the same again in March. Add to that a sprinkling of long weekends and there’s a whole lot of red days on the calendar.

We did wrap up the summer holidays with a couple of day trips. Barcelona is a great city, but its appeal also lays in the fact that there is so much to see and do nearby. A 30-minute train ride took us south of the city to a great beach town for a day on the sand, followed by a really good dinner. The train was only 4 Euros each, so you can’t beat it.

A few days earlier, we ended our week with a car by driving north to a town featuring a 700-year-old castle for a night’s stay. Not that such a thing exists in the US, but if it did, no doubt the experience would cost a king’s ransom (so to speak), but here we booked a great room with breakfast for the three of us and still had change from $200. That’s well above our usual nightly room tab, but well castleworth it to sleep among 700 years of history.

The castle has seen the surrounding lands controlled by many different kingdoms over the centuries and there have been plenty battles, but I was particularly interested in a story from only a few decades back. It seems that the artist Salvador Dali attempted to buy the then-decrepit castle in exchange for some of his artwork. I’m already a huge Dali fan, but hearing this kind of ballsy negotiating makes me even more so. The previous owner of the castle wasn’t swayed by Dali’s offer, but the famous artist did manage to swing a deal for another castle only a few miles away. I’m not sure of the art-only deal was successful the second time around.

RANDOM THOUGHTS: Since I’m on the topic of Dali, I stumbled on a piece of fascinating trivia, Dali once stated that he was a big fan of a physicist, Dr. Werner Heisenberg. If that name rings a bell, it’s because Heisenberg was the alter ego of Walter White in the Breaking Bad TV series. You can’t get much more fitting than that… While Sept. 11 is remembered with great sadness in the US, it is a major celebration here in Catalunya. The day commemorates the anniversary (from 1714) of Catalunya falling to Spanish forces and being absorbed into the larger country of Spain, although the dancing in the streets would have you think the result was a victory instead of a defeat. Celebrations are even more heady than usual right now with the push toward Catalan independence gaining steam. That said, I think I can hear laughing from Madrid since Mother Nature is literally raining on the Catalans parade today… Is it just me, or is anyone else watching in awe as the Republican candidates lob bombs at each other? Jon Stewart couldn’t write this stuff any better…

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Hey! Where’s All the People?

As August arrives in Barcelona, the annual migration out of the city by the locals is in full force. It’s really remarkable how much of the city shuts down for an entire month, if not longer.

I think I mentioned before that the local version of the DMV stops doing driving exams for the entire month. If you really need a license, well, come back next month. On top of this, the auto school where I have been taking a weekly class to prep for the test takes a break that adds up to eight weeks. That’s not a misprint – eight weeks between classes. If you really want to know what mysterious road sign means, well, come back next month.

I recently noticed a new café opened around the corner from us, maybe a month or two ago, which I guess may explain why they are only shut for a week in August. After all, two months of work deserves a break, no?

Newsstands are shuttered and displaying handmade signs stating that owners will be back in September. Seemingly, the majority of local cafe owners are on an extended break. Even regular office workers tend to take advantage of their 4-5 weeks of annual vacationbeach and disappear for the month, so even if the office is open, only a skeleton staff will be in place. There’s a surprisingly number of locals with second houses north of us on the beaches of the Costa Brava or on one of the Spanish islands where they flee for the entire month.

I’ve read comments online from tourists who are in a bit of a panic that they will come to Barcelona (or any other Spanish city) in August only to find everything shut. Here’s the dichotomy. This is peak time for tourists, so all the bars, restaurants, tours and shops catering to visitors are in full swing. It’s the businesses in the residential neighborhoods and the government functions that roll up the sidewalks for the month. Even in our local neighborhood mercado, about half of the 20+ stalls are quiet for the month.

All this seems even more remarkable to me considering that stores and restaurants are only open limited hours during the rest of the year. Outside the tourist spots, virtually nothing opens on Sundays, many things are not open on Saturdays and probably the majority close for at least part of weekday afternoons. Even among restaurants, it’s a real rarity to find one open before 8 p.m. Coming from the U.S. where so many stores only close 1-2 days a year, it’s an eye-opener.

In a nutshell, the Spanish certainly have a patent on how to live a relaxed life. It’s no wonder Spain has the longest average lifespan of any country in Europe. I haven’t looked it up, but I’m starting to think they didn’t even bother inventing a word for stress!

RANDOM THOUGHTS: During our walk to swimming class yesterday, Liam suddenly revealed to me that he is the master of 11 different elemental powers, such as water and wind. I couldn’t help but ask if that meant he was full of hot air. “Yes it does,” he confirmed confidently… I’m still trying to get used to seeing the Spanish word for free displayed outside places such as parking garages. I learned the hard way that this actually means open, as opposed to no charge. It’s an interesting twist of language.. I was very happy to discover a cinema showing movies in English only walking distance from our flat recently. I took Liam to see Minions. The minions speak in this oddball made-up language that liberally throws in real Spanish words. Suffice to say, the subtitles were quite the mixed bag when half the words flying across the screen were not even real. My new favorite oddball translation was for the character Frankie Fish Lips, which appeared across the bottom of the screen using the Spanish words for Frankie Face Fish. Somehow I’m thinking that moniker is not going to stick real well… The second tooth has fallen, meaning Liam now has a very pronounced gap across his bottom row of teeth. Beyond a slight lisp, he seems no worse for wear. It’s a good thing this happens in childhood when we don’t know any better. If I had to go through swapping out all my teeth at this age and not being able to bite anything worth a crap, the world would certainly hear about it…

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