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Monday, October 31, 2011

Can you afford to win?

The Princess Margaret Foundation is currently running a TV commercial to urge the public to make donations toward cancer research.  To motivate potential donators, the Princess Margaret Foundation gives away a few luxury prizes.  The commercial shows a $300,000 Ferrari, but this is just one of many they say.

Curious as to what else can be won, I went on The Princess Margaret website and had a look.  I found a $3,000,000 mansion, a $1,000,000 house and a few luxury condos.  Other than the $300,000 Ferrari there were a number of other cars. 
All in all the various prizes amounted to about $10,000,000!

Naturally, this got me thinking … how many tickets does the Princess Margaret Foundation have to sell to recover the ten million they spent on these prizes?  If they have ten million to spend on these items, why not put that money toward cancer research?   

Do we need mansions and sports cars to motivate us to donate?  What’s is wrong with offering a modest house, furniture, appliances and jewelry?

Think for a moment if you were to win the $3,000,000 mansion … would you be able to afford living in it?  Think of the taxes on such a property, the amount of money it would take to heat and cool such a living space, not to mention the furniture it would take to keep so many rooms liveable and the work it would take to keep them all clean.  You would need considerable staff to look after the house and the garden.

Not interested in a mansion but you fancy the Ferrari?  You might have a problem there too.  Not only will you pay a small fortune on taxes every year, but that baby guzzles up gas like a sponge.  Gas prizes being what they are, you better open your wallet, wide!  As for car insurance, open your wallet even wider.

So why buy a ticket if you cannot afford the prize?  To sell it and pocket the money?  How many buyers do you think you will find for a $3,000,000 mansion or a $300,000 car?  Most people have downsizing and living more frugally on their mind.

'Help conquer cancer' the Princess Margaret foundation says ... how, by wasting millions of dollars?  Visit their website and see for yourself and then decide ... is this a foundation you want to donate to?  I don't.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The 'visitor'

It was late, it was raining and I had at least a thirty-five minute drive ahead of me to get home. When my friend Diane offered that I could spend the night in her house, I eagerly accepted.

Diane lived with her mother in a spacious country house. The obviously old furniture in the guestroom was not quite what I had expected in the otherwise modern home.

"It's my grandmother's furniture," Diane explained. "When grandma passed away, my mom decided to keep her stuff for the spare room. The mattress is new though and the sheets are fresh, so you should be quite comfortable."

A few minutes after I had turned out the light I heard the door opening and softly closing. I was about to ask Diane if she had forgotten something when I heard her moving through the room, every so carefully as to not to disturb me.

I heard her by the vanity table, opening and closing drawers.
Not wanting to make Diane feel bad for waking me up, I pretended to be asleep.
But I smiled as I heard her rummaging, apparently she could not find what she was looking for.

Suddenly I felt her sitting down on the bed.  I stiffened as my body tilted towards the extra weight.  Enough was enough. Diane and I were good friends, but we were not THAT close.  So I reached up and switched on the light. There was nobody there.

Had I dreamed this?  Had I fallen asleep while Diane was in my room and had she left unnoticed?

"Did you find what you were looking for last night?" I asked her over breakfast.

"Hu?" Diane said, not understanding.

"Last night," I explained, "you were in my room, going through the drawers of the vanity table. I heard you but I did not want to say anything.  I didn't want you to think you woke me up."

"Girl I was not in your room," she said with a shake of her head. "I fell asleep the moment my head touched the pillow."

When I told her what had happened, Diane and her mother exchanged meaningful glances.  According to their story, last night was not the first time that room had a 'visitor'.

"And you put ME in THAT room!" I cried.

"What other room was I going to put you in?" Diane asked.  "I'm fairly certain you wouldn't want to sleep with me. I snore."

"What about the blue room?" I said. "You could have put me in there."

"Oh oh no," she shook her head, "you definitely do not want to sleep in the blue room.  That room is really creepy.  There is a presence there and the room is always ice cold, winter and summer."

After breakfast we went to the blue room together and I did not even have to go inside to feel that there was something very strange there.

As Diane told me, she and her friends had performed a spell in that room when they were kids, and after that the house was never the same again.

Needless to say that I never spent the night at Diane's again.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The spider

Halloween is coming, so for the next three days my blog entry will be scary.  Halloween used to be about ghosts, goblins and witches, bats and crows.  Lately though, spiders have been added to the cast, which gives me the creeps.

I do, however, have good story about a spider, but for obvious reasons there will be no accompanying picture today.  I suffer, and I do mean suffer, from arachnophobia.

The following is a true story my grandmother told me ...

It was 1929, and my grandmother's neighbors had found a spider in their house. But not just any spider, this was a creature of monstrous proportions. If rumors were to be believed, this beast was the size of a dinner plate.

The neighbors, unable or unwilling to kill the spider, had caught it and deposited it in an empty aquarium. They even turned it into a little business. Whoever wanted to see the amazing spider had to pay a small fee.

At first my grandmother had claimed to have no interest in the spider; but finally, curiosity got the better of her and she, too, went off to have a look at the monster. After paying the fee, she was admitted to the parlor where the spider was in residence.

Grandmother, a woman who was not easily shaken, came back shivering all over.

"It really is a monster," she reported to all willing to listen. "Black and hairy, and so big it wouldn't fit on a dinner plate. And it has eyes and a mouth."
"Well of course spiders have eyes and a mouth," one of her listeners said. "How else would they see and eat?"
"Knowing that they have eyes and a mouth is one thing," grandmother said. "Actually seeing those black beady eyes and black thin mouth is quite another."
"You saw the mouth?" another listener asked.
"Well, I didn't actually see the mouth," grandma confessed, "but a pencil lead was dropped into the tank, and the spider bit it in two. I swear it! I saw it with my own two eyes."

By now more people wanted to see the spider, but the very next day the neighbors had bad news ... the spider was gone.
"WHAT?" was the general reaction.

Suddenly the whole street, neighborhood, and city lived in fear.  Most of them were not afraid of a spider, but this was no average spider, this was a creature of horror. Everybody searched high and low, but the spider could not be found.

Meanwhile in a local pub, Janet, one of the customers, reported that she had been hearing the sound of a bell, but when she went to open the front door, there was nobody there.  At first she smiled, thinking the neighborhood kids were playing a trick on her, but after the 5th or 6th trip to the front door, the game wasn't funny anymore.

"Take me to your house," a man dressed as a sailor commanded the woman.  When she spluttered in protest the sailor held up his hand and went on "Madam, I have a strong suspicion that the spider that was discussed earlier is in your house."

Janet didn't need telling twice.  She immediately made her way home, with the sailor and several others in tow.  At the precise moment that Janet and the sailor walked into the house, a wall mirror that was suspended at an angle by an inch thick twine cable came crushing down.  On the wall at the other end of the cable sat the incredible spider.

Once again the sound of a bell chimed through the house, but this time the sailor commanded Janet to remain where she was, not to move an inch, and not panic.

Meanwhile he slowly produced a knife and in one fluent motion threw the knife in the direction of the spider. The knife hit and pinned the spider in place.

As the sailor explained, the spider must have been there for weeks as it had bit by bit chewed its way through the thick twine cable.  Chiming like a doorbell was its way of communicating fear and frustration.  As long as it was hidden by the mirror, the spider had been at ease, but once exposed the spider had chimed in anger and would have jumped and could have killed someone.

When asked how come he knew so much about spiders, the sailor confessed that it was probably his fault to begin with that this spider had ended up in civilization.  A few weeks ago he had returned from South America, and he guessed the spider had been a stowaway in his suitcase.

The dead bug was taken away by the fire department and donated to the zoo where it was put on display.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Donations ... what is your money used for?

Has anyone seen the ad from the Princess Margaret hospital on TV?  They’re website is, which incidentally is also their slogan to motivate you to donate.  But what is your money really used for?

Visit the website and have a look at the houses they are giving away.  How did they come into possession of those mansions?  Were they donated or were they bought?  Bought with your donations?

They must have an awful lot of donations.  The mansion in Oakville is valued at $3,999,000 and the one in Muskoka $1,175,000.  There are also luxury condos to be won at King Street West and Downtown Toronto.
In addition there are fourteen cars to be won, ranging between $300,000 and $18,000.

All in all over ten million on prizes are to be won.  TEN MILLION!!!  How did the organization get ten million dollars?  If that’s the total amount of donations, shouldn’t that money be used for … oh I don’t know, the research and treatment of cancer!

When will people open their eyes and close their wallets and say “You’ve wasted enough of our money.”

Is what's good for the goose really good for the gander?

Tonight I followed a conversation about whether or not to offer constructive criticism on a manuscript.  Some recommended being brutally honest.

I tend to disagree.  Everybody has different tastes and as such a different opinion.  You may like a sweet and sappy story, someone else may hate it.  You may like a murder mystery and think ‘the bloodier the better’, someone else might prefer something a little more subtle.  So criticizing someone’s work should always be done with extreme caution.

Take into account that this person has worked on his manuscript for weeks, maybe even months.  It started with an idea, through bouts of inspiration it took shape, with hard work and perseverance it was finished. 

Since finding a literary agent or publisher is extremely difficult, the author then proceeded to self-publish, because he’s proud of his work and feels he has something to share. 

Having read hundreds of books and followed several critiques, I can honestly say that I put no stock whatsoever into what a critic has to say.  What he gives is his opinion of the book, which may or may not be the opinion of the general public. 

The same with movies and plays.  How often have you read a raving review about a movie and were thoroughly disappointed when you saw it yourself?  By the same token, how often have you seen a movie the critics slammed, and loved it?  There is simply no accounting for taste.

Keep in mind that even J.K. Rowling had to take a certain amount of criticism and rejection when she approached literary agents and publishers with the first Harry Potter book.  Whether you like or dislike the Harry Potter series … today J.K. Rowling is richer than the queen of England.  Can you say as much?

Other than that, authors are only as good as their editors.  Open any book and read the acknowledgements, each and every author will thank her editor(s).  They are the ones who read the original work, slashed unnecessary details and advised what should be expanded upon. 

But even with an editor’s help, a book sometimes is not all that it could or should be.  Take “Duma Key” from Stephen King for instance.  In general people rave about Stephen King.  I only read 35 pages on “Duma Key” and tossed it.  In those 35 pages the main character did nothing but swearing and shouting.  Okay, so he was angry.  Mr. King didn’t have to devote 35 pages to that emotion, I understood the man anger in one or two pages.  Couldn’t King’s editor have advised him to slash 33 pages?

In the end it’s all about personal choice.  What’s good for the goose is not necessarily good for the gander.  If you have to offer criticism, think before you speak.  How would you like to hear someone trash your work?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The importance of an up-to-date passport

I never gave my passport photo much thought. I figured if I could recognize myself, then others would too. Then I attended a lecture on the importance of using current identification and saw passport photos in a whole different light.
The speaker at this lecture was Phillip, a jovial, middle aged man, born and bred in St. Louis, Missouri.  As a financial consultant overseeing several accountants, he had traveled the world and had learned from his mistakes.  Assuming the role of a harbinger, he warned us about the dangers of an outdated passport.
"I can't stress the importance of up-to-date identification enough," he informed us. "Never mind if you don't look beautiful or even remotely attractive in your passport picture.  Be honest and look closely at your passport, or other identification picture.  Are you recognizable in your photo?"  Phillip then proceeded to relate his experience during a holiday visit to Israel fifteen years ago.  Hoping that they were about to hear a travel horror story, his audience hung onto his every word.
"If I had known then what I know now, I never would have traveled with an outdated passport photo," Philip began. "I had no trouble leaving for Tel-Aviv from St. Louis, and was treated with professional courtesy by all.  Unfortunately, when I returned to the States, I walked into a nightmare."
He recounted that the trouble started at Ben Gurion airport when he handed his passport to the customs officer for inspection. The male officer took one look at his photo, then he carefully looked at Phillip, and his brown withered face morphed into a mask of hostility.
"What is this?" he barked.
"My passport," Phillip had replied politely.
"Your passport?" the customs officer had said in a mixture of disbelief and contempt. "You want me to believe that this is you? This is not your passport. Look at this man. This man looks nothing like you."
Phillip smiled at first because the customs officer had a point. In the passport picture he was a few years younger and sporting an afro, while his hair at the time was shorter.  Due to the lack of a hair dryer, teasing comb and lacquer, his hair was now considerably less voluminous.
He was taken aside and led to a tiny windowless room.  A hermitage it seemed, dark, dusty and threatening.  After a while five men walked in, four surrounded him with guns, while the fifth one starting firing questions at him in a language that he didn't understand. When Phillip said that he didn't understand them, the leader of the group turned to English and instructed him to remove his clothing. Phillip thought this rather odd, but complied, all the while trying not to panic.
When ordered, at gunpoint, to remove his underwear too, he was not so compliant. More so, he was now severely ticked off and at a point where he didn't care anymore what happened.
"No !@#$ way!" he swore. "There is no !@#$ way I'm taking this off. You can !@#$ shoot me if you want, but I'm not taking off my underwear!”
Much to his surprise, within minutes he was let go. From what he was told his attitude and bad language had saved him. Apparently, only real Americans can swear with such gusto and resist getting naked even at gunpoint.
Needless to say, as soon as he arrived home from his holiday he had his passport picture updated.