Saturday, April 11, 2015

Under Construction.

Oh, My Word! is building the new.

Please bear with me as posts + widgets disappear/get moved around. Stay tuned...I hope to be back up and running with new content soon.


(Image via)

Friday, April 10, 2015

Thank You, Greece.

At 11 p.m. tonight, my partner and I were scheduled to set out on a 2-week trip around Greece. We had spent months plotting out a coast-to-coast road trip - stunning coastlines, otherworldly mountains, and all the fresh seafood we could eat. Much of our journey was pre-booked, work had been carefully scheduled so as to be fully left behind, and I had already packed my suitcase in anticipation. (Sidenote: I am happy to share details of this itinerary, if it catches anyone's eye!).

Unfortunately, we received news of an unexpected family health emergency on Saturday night. As we anxiously made plans to travel home, we realized that we could not be out of the country over the next few weeks - the trip would need to be cancelled. As Michael Bluth says: family first.

Since we are not millionaires at the moment, we took advantage of many "pay now, non-refundable" accommodation fees. We also bought plane tickets with no cancellation insurance (Dane actually thought he had purchased it, but it turned out he had only purchased 24-hour cancellation coverage). All in, we had put up $3,500 for the trip, more than two thirds of which was absolutely, positively gone.
Flashback: Just to back up for a second, I should remind you that Greece has come upon some financial trouble of its own. Until Thursday, it was looking as though the country might be unable to make the 460 million euros payment required by the International Monetary Fund, thus putting them at risk of being pushed out of the eurozone. In addition to this payment (and another to come shortly), the government needs to pay nearly 2 billion euros in public sector wages and pensions by the end of the month. Greece's unemployment rate is twice the rest of the eurozone. There are, as you can see, tough times afoot.
Okay, back to us. So, given the current financial climate, we figured that any hope of leniency on the non-refundable policies was an impossible dream. Nevertheless, as we sat for seemingly endless anxious hours in the hospital waiting room, I dashed off emails to all of our accommodations - explaining our situation, expecting the worst, hoping for the best.

Our dear friend, Janet, spent over half a day being passed from operator to operator as she tried to get through to FlightHub and British Airways, our flight vendors. "Send a doctor's note and they will see what they can do," was the conclusion of her day's work. So we did.

We had tried our best, and then we left it; there were much larger issues that needed to be handled. We had made peace with our trip being cancelled, and we would consider any refunds to be a bonus.

Then, a day or two later, something amazing started to happen: all but one of our accommodations, from small independently-owned inns to large international chains, agreed to refund our money in full. They didn't ask for proof our circumstances, they didn't make us feel badly about it. Not only that, but many of them offered condolences and kind words in their response to my message. Even the airline - an industry which often gets a bad rap - refunded us fully, and FlightHub cut their cancellation fee by two thirds.

To be clear, we knew that we had signed up with non-refundable fees. None of these vendors owed us anything, and were well within their rights to tell us to take a hike. But they did not. Chalk one up for humanity. 

I cannot tell you, in a time of immense stress and worry, how meaningful these compassionate gestures were for us. We recognize that this may have been a sacrifice for some of the smaller accommodations, and we have promised all vendors that we will visit them as soon as we can make our way to Greece (although we may be another year away from that.).

In one of my classes on service quality, I teach students that people are far more likely to share a bad customer service story than they are a good one, and I want to try and reverse that trend in some small way. We cannot possibly repay the generosity of all of these vendors, but I want to share their names and locations with you, in hopes that you might consider traveling with them one day.

There is good in the world, even on dark days. Check these do-gooders out:
Our airline was British Airways via FlightHub.

Our rental car vendor was Hertz

In Athens, we planned to stay at the Central Hotel on our way in, this AirBnb on our way back, and the Sofitel Athens Airport Hotel on our way out.

In Karpenisi, we planned to stay at Galini Hotel.

In Agios Nikitas, we planned to stay at Myrto.

In the Pelion Peninsula, we planned to stay at Amanita Guesthouse.

In Limni, we planned to stay at Eviali Apartments.
Please spread the word!

(Image of Meteora via Mike Reyfman)

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

One Year Later.

I hate April Fool's Day because it will always and forever be a reminder of the day that I lost my favourite, furry pal.

It's hard to believe that it's been a year since Beagle died. It has been a long journey of making peace; much more difficult than I expected. Most days I think back on him fondly, but I can still get a bit sad when he comes to mind, especially when I think about him in the last week of his life - sick and in pain, but always by my side:

What did I do to deserve such a sweet, unconditionally loving pal? Any dog lovers out there will appreciate how unbelievably special these guys are. 
People often ask about whether I'll get another pup. I think I will eventually (recently, Dane and I have been perusing the KW Humane Society adoption listings more than usual), but not yet. I'll know him when I see him, so stay tuned.

That's all for today. Just thinking fondly of my pup, wherever he is.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

When Everything Feels Like the Movies: 21st Century Censorship

When I introduced you to this year's Canada Reads Contenders a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that I hadn't heard of When Everything Feels Like the Movies by Raziel Reid. To be honest, I don't know how I missed it - this novel seems to be courting accolades and controversy in equal measure.  

In 2014, this novel made Reid the youngest winner of the Governor General's Literary Award for children's literature. The book tells the story of Jude Rothesay, an openly gay teen who experiences bullying in his small-town high school. The novel is steered by narrator Jude's rich fantasy life, guiding us through his world as if it were taking place on a movie set. The novel is geared toward a YA crowd (12-18 years), and touches on sexuality while using (from what I read) plenty of explicit language.

Cue the controversy...

Frequent point-misser Barbara Kay referred to Reid's win as "wasted tax dollars on a values-void novel," while Kathy Clark, a children's author herself, started an online petition to have the government rescind the prize on account of the book’s vulgar content.

Between the sex and the swearing, the novel seems to have brought out the puritanical streak in some Canadians. However, Emily Keeler suggests that the uproar related to the book might be reflective of more harmful attitudes. In a recent National Post column, she said, "it’s sickening to me that the moral panic surrounding the book regards teens reading about blow jobs and not its painfully, stylishly wrought portrayal of kids being bullied to death, or growing up with fear because it’s not safe for them to be who they are."

Having not read the book, I find it difficult to comment on whether the writing was worthy of a GG (and, even if I had read it, I'm not sure I'm qualified to make that judgment). However, I find this 21st century book controversy very interesting indeed. As someone who works with children and youth (and was a youth myself not so very long ago), let me assure you that the majority of Canadian teens are no stranger to blow jobs, f-words, and multiple sexual partners - whether it is their personal reality, hallway gossip, or something from the Internet, they have been exposed.

I can't help but think of the ongoing hoopla related to the newly revised sex education curriculum in Ontario. Parents around the province are wringing their hands at the thought of their children being force-fed Ministry-sanctioned content around consent, sexual identity, and exploitation. While I can appreciate that these topics can be difficult and uncomfortable to discuss with children and teens, these conversations are critical. I heard Leah Parsons (whose daughter Rehtaeh was driven to suicide by cyberbullying after photos of her alleged rape surfaced) on the CBC today saying that she believes the new curriculum could help save lives - young men and women need clearer understandings of both sexual assault and consent.

What do you make of this controversy? Have you read the book? Is it unworthy of the accolades? Why are Canadians (North Americans? Everyone?) so up-in-arms about teens and sex? As a parent, are you more likely to buy the book or sign the petition? Would love to hear your take!

Freedom to Read continues...

(Image via Arsenal Pulp Press)

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Matched: Arnold Spirit Jr.

Speaking of freedom to read, today we focus on the Canadian authors and stories that have found themselves under fire from censors over the past several decades. For reasons varying from Satanism and violence to sex and inappropriate language, some real gems have landed themselves on the list of frequently challenged books (here's a list of books, Canadian and otherwise, that have been challenged in Canada).

Sherman Alexie (whose book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian appears on this list) wrote a great column on why the best kids books are written in blood. This week's Matched is dedicated to his brave, flawed, and determined character: Arnold Spirit, Jr.

I will leave the last word to Alexie:
As a child, I read because books–violent and not, blasphemous and not, terrifying and not–were the most loving and trustworthy things in my life. I read widely, and loved plenty of the classics so, yes, I recognized the domestic terrors faced by Louisa May Alcott’s March sisters. But I became the kid chased by werewolves, vampires, and evil clowns in Stephen King’s books. I read books about monsters and monstrous things, often written with monstrous language, because they taught me how to battle the real monsters in my life.

And now I write books for teenagers because I vividly remember what it felt like to be a teen facing everyday and epic dangers. I don’t write to protect them. It’s far too late for that. I write to give them weapons–in the form of words and ideas-that will help them fight their monsters. I write in blood because I remember what it felt like to bleed.
P.S. Fight the power, youths!

(1. Art School Confidential by Daniel Clowes; 2. Neopiko Line 2 black pen; 3.Ray-Ban Clubmasters; 4. Trader Joe's PB&J chocolate bar; 5. I Hate You Good Game tee; 6. Society 6 Art Print [RIP, Oscar!]; 7. Jordan AJ1s)

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Oscars 2015.

Dane and I are lucky to live a 25-minute stroll away from the wonderful Princess Cinemas, and we try to see a movie or two every month. In the last little while, we've seen a variety of things - Boyhood (impressive), The Trip to Italy (fun), Wild (overrated), The Skeleton Twins (sweet and sad), Whiplash (intense), etc. We also missed a bunch that we'd hoped to see (Frank; Birdman; Two Days, One Night). Man, there were some good ones that I wanted to see! I guess it's easy to miss movies amidst general life busyness.

I have movies on the mind since tonight is Oscar Night! I've hosted a few Oscar parties over the last few years. Most recently, Prom Oscars, which mandated early 2000s dress, make-up, and hair. Simply amazing:

This year, Janet is hosting, and the theme is Night at the Movies - I suspect the snacks will be high in calories and deliciousness.

In honour of the glitzy film fun we're going to have this weekend, I'd like to share this list of 2014 films that made under $100,000. I've seen one (Happy Christmas, on Netflix!), but I'm definitely throwing some others on my to-watch list.

Enjoy the show tonight, if you're tuning in, and don't forget to clink your glass to the beautiful, small, not-often-enough-watched films, too.

(Images via: 1 + 2)

Friday, February 20, 2015

Canada Reads Contender: Intolerable.

Next up in our list of Canada Reads 2015 contenders is Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes by Kamal Al-Solaylee.

In the book, Al-Solaylee describes growing up in the Middle East amidst political strife and religious intolerance. As he comes to terms with his identity as a gay man, he realizes that he can no longer stay in Yemen. He earns a scholarship to undertake doctoral studies in England, and then relocates to Canada.

The memoir is both personal and political, telling Al-Solaylee's story as it traces 50 years of Middle Eastern history. As he moves farther away from his homeland, he finds himself becoming increasingly distant from the family and country that he has left behind.

Perhaps tellingly, the dedication is as follows...

“To Toronto, for giving me what I’ve been looking for: a home.”

Intolerable, which was shortlisted for the 2012 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction and the 2013 Toronto Book Award, will be defended by Kristin Kreuk, an actress based in Vancouver.

Book number two, Intolerable. Have a great weekend, all! 

P.S. Kamal Al-Solaylee's life in books and an interesting interview in the Toronto Star.

(Images via CBC Books)