Happy Year of the Pig

pig

 I like pigs. That’s right. I don’t eat them. I just like them. I always have, since I was a child. I can’t pinpoint an exact moment or reason when or why I started to have an interest in this fine animal, but the pig and I have always shared a strong bond.

So it seems timely, as a citizen of the world, that I celebrate the Chinese New Year this week, which of course is the Year of the Pig. From what I have read, the Year of the Pig is the twelfth of the 12-year cycle of animals which appear in the Chinese zodiac related to the Chinese calendar. Other great animals are part of this, like the dog, rabbit and tiger, but really, no animal is as interesting or as sophisticated as the pig.

I have to say that this loveable animal really gets a bad rap. It is often associated with being dirty, fat and lazy, and that’s not fair. I have scoured the internet (some very sophisticated research) and found some fascinating information:

Top Ten Things You Didn’t Know about the Pig

  1. They are fast. Can you run a 7-minute mile? Adult pigs can run up to 11 miles per hour. Why don’t you try that?
  2. The expression “sweat like a pig” is not accurate. Pigs don’t really sweat – they like to cool off in the mud. That’s why you think they are dirty. But they’re just hot!
  3. If my daughter’s room looked like a pig sty, I’d be thrilled. They may roll in mud to cool off, but they are naturally very clean and organized. Pigs self-potty train, and new research shows that in an open barnyard pen they will establish a community toilet.
  4. They are chatty creatures and know how to communicate with each other. They use different kinds of vocalizations to speakto each other. Those aren’t just squeals.
  5. They are not picky eaters. They will eat anything. Can you say that about your children?
  6. Maybe they don’t see so well, but wow do they have an excellent sense of smell. Just ask someone who likes to eat truffles (and I mean mushrooms, not chocolate).
  7. It’s not just my daughter who is sociable – so are pigs. They like to be together and snuggle together when they sleep.
  8. You are not that different from a pig, genetically I mean. Their stem cells are helping us humans for research into countless diseases.
  9. This one is interesting, especially as we celebrate the Chinese New Year – pigs are associated with fertility in Chinese culture. So many hidden talents.
  10. This is a smart animal, often ranked just behind apes and dolphins. According to Winston Churchill (and I have a piece of art depicting this in my home), “I am fond of pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.”

So you can see why I like pigs. I could tell you at least 10 more great things about this animal. I will admit I don’t want one for a pet. They may be domesticated, but I don’t think I’m ready to take that leap. But if anyone wanders around my house, it won’t take long to see hints of the pinky pig all over the place.

Yes, I literally have dozens of the stuffy kind all over my house, led by the big and cutest one, my long-time friend Taloulah (yes that’s her in the photo at the top of this post). This giant stuffed pig joined me when David and I lived around the world early in our marriage. I was so worried about Taloulah flying safely from France to Israel back in 1999 that I made David take my lovable friend as carry-on luggage on the journey. I still giggle at the thought of a grown man wandering through Charles de Gaulle airport with a giant stuffed pig under his arm!

The collectibles never went too far, but the friendly pig paraphernalia definitely permeates throughout my house. There’s the kitchen ice cream scoop or the citrus squeezer. Pillows and picture frames. Socks and t-shirts. It’s just enough to keep me happy but not too much to overwhelm and take over.

So this week, as Chinese communities around the world celebrate the new year and put the pig up on a pedestal, where it’s supposed to be, I will celebrate with them. As will Porky, Miss Piggy, Olivia and of course, Peppa too.

Do you want to have a Snow Day?

snow day

Some people would describe a massive snowstorm as terrible and nasty. They shudder at the prospect of cleaning heavy snow off their car, a longer commute to work and slippery sidewalks. It’s just miserable. Then there are people like me who perk up and get excited when they hear the word snow. When I saw the weather forecast a few days ago that a big storm was headed my way, my first thought: snow day.

snow day
Looking out the window during the height of the storm

A rather big snow storm blew through Toronto on Monday. For those of you who live in cities who get big storms all the time, sure laugh at us. But I’m sure that a solid 35 cm of the white stuff fell on my front lawn. And all over Toronto. The city was crazy and hectic. But as I sat at home and looked out my window, I saw the beauty of my neighbourhood covered in a shiny white blanket.

Tuesday morning, 6:40 am. My cell phone rings. I ignore it. Ten minutes later the phone rings again. I turn off the ringer.

My morning radio alarm goes on and they are reading out the list of school closures. I check my phone. Email from the kids’ school. It’s closed. Phone rings again and I finally answer it. The preschool is closed.

Snow day!

Yippee!

I firmly believe that a snow day is one of the greatest highlights of childhood. Every child has to experience at least one snow day. You wake up groggy from the night and your parents tell you, guess what, school is closed – snow day! The look of joy on my children’s faces was something I will remember for a long time. Pure happiness.

snow
Looking out at my backyard on the morning of a snow day
snow day
Three rounds of shovelling to clear the snow

Stay in your pyjamas. Make a big batch of French toast. Turn on the TV and watch morning cartoons (update for 2019: pull out the ipad and click on the Netflix app). Sit back and relax.

I looked out my front window and quickly came to the conclusion that I wasn’t going anywhere either. Getting dressed meant throwing on a pair of old sweatpants and breakfast was a homemade espresso and leftover french toast.

I flicked on my laptop and did my best to hide in my home office to work. By midday I had actually accomplished quite a bit of work. There were six children in my house, including the kids’ friends and my nephew. We were settling in for a cozy day.

After they downed a few boxes of Annie’s mac and cheese, it was time to throw them outside. What child doesn’t want to run around outside after a huge snowfall? What parent doesn’t want to throw them out there after said children slowly started to trash every corner of the house?

I don’t know what the three boys did outside, but after a couple of hours in front of an ipad or XBOX, these border collies needed their run. Again, thank you tons of snow for providing great entertainment for them. My two-year-old wasn’t quite as happy. She couldn’t move outside in the waist-deep snow (ya that happens when you are a few inches under three feet tall).

As the afternoon wore on, the brood of children grew restless, in particular the boys. So isn’t it logical to throw on a bathing suit and jump in the hot tub? If you are 10 or 11 years old, sure! Minus ten (or something close to that) and a foot of snow is a great appetizer to a 95-degree vat of water.

snow day
Matthew started to leap in with his boots on
snow day
The boots flew off as Matthew flew in
snow day
And he’s in!

Everywhere I looked in my house all day a different activity was going on. My older daughter was hosting a Playmobil pool party in her bedroom. My son took full advantage of his selection of XBOX games in the basement. The baby traveled from room to room, sharing her toys and snacks with the couch, the floor, her clothes and her siblings’ bedrooms. David and I switched off between work and cleaning up after the pack of kids.

On first read it sounds like the local zoo, but it was bliss. Outside it was freezing cold with layers of snow blanketing every corner of the city. And inside everyone was cheerful and drinking in every moment of this special day.

And as the sun began to set on the day, the fun continued. My nephew and son announced their interest to go night snowboarding at a local small but decent little hill – right in the middle of the city. My daughter definitely had a bit of cabin fever and eagerly went to her karate class.

We didn’t waste a minute of the day. Good food, good friends and good fun. Who could ask for more? Maybe another snow day tomorrow? My kids were quite sure of that as they drifted off to sleep. It was a great snow day, indeed, but another one tomorrow? Ah, I don’t think so.

It is Your Duty to Vote

vote

I feel privileged every day that I live in a free, just and democratic country. I take nothing for granted in my life, and when it is an election in my city, province or country, I take my privilege to vote very seriously.

As I write, it is late afternoon on Thursday, June 7th. It is election day in the province of Ontario, and it’s been a hard fought (sometimes nasty) campaign. I am not going to use this space to share my opinion on which candidates or political party would be better for the province of Ontario. I don’t support any specific political party and choose who I vote for very carefully. Whether it’s at the municipal, provincial or federal level, day to day I am non-partisan and support candidates and elected officials for various reasons.

Again, who I actually voted for today is not relevant here and I am not sharing my choice. What is relevant is that I voted. I always vote. It always amazes me that so many people in countries like Canada choose not to vote. Whether your candidate of choice wins or loses, I believe that all citizens who are the age of majority are obligated to cast a vote.

For example, only 52% of eligible citizens voted in Ontario’s last provincial election back in June of 2014. Federal election turnout was better three years ago when 68% of eligible voters cast a ballot. Media reported “higher voter turnout” after Toronto’s 2014 election, which saw 60% of eligible voters participate.

Why should we be satisfied with a turnout of 60%? Shouldn’t we strive for 100% participation, or close to it? If someone can’t vote on election day, there are ample opportunities to cast a vote before. Or remotely. Our democracy doesn’t just encourage us to vote, it obligates us to do so.

I remember watching the news about 15 years ago when open elections came to Iraq. This was a country that was under brutal autocratic rule for years. There was no such thing as open, free and fair elections for the people. Iraq was still a dangerous place after the regime was toppled. Democracy was in its infancy. And there were elections.

People waited in line for hours, and many of them risked their lives just to cast a vote. Polling stations and those long lines were often attacked. Scores of people were killed. But they had to vote, or at least they had to try. I remember reading the stories and watching on TV and was in awe. The ability to vote was so easy for me, living in an established democracy like Canada. How could I not always vote? How could every Canadian not always vote?

And yet many do not. I hope the voter turnout increased today from its previous number of just 52%. The provincial government in Ontario is going to change today. Many people will be happy and a large number will be angry. But in my mind, unless you voted you do not have a right to complain about your government. The person for whom I cast my vote may or may not win. The party of my choice may or may not be in power tomorrow, . but I participated in the process. And I always will.

**That’s my grandfather, age 97 (98 in a few weeks!) voting today. He is someone who taught me the importance of voting.

A Royal Wedding is a Complicated Baseball Game

royal wedding

I slept on the couch, in front of the TV, on Friday night. Okay, I didn’t really sleep, but I was on the couch. I didn’t want to miss a moment of the THE Royal Wedding of the year across the Atlantic Ocean, and it was easiest to just park myself on the couch all night. I am happy to admit that I love all things royal, no matter which royal family it is, and this event was not one to miss. A few days later, as the streets of Windsor are cleaned up and the journalists and tourists have gone home, we are left to analyze and discuss the latest royal wedding. What do I think? A royal wedding is a complicated baseball game.

You probably won’t find this comparison anywhere else, but please, allow me to explain. This connection came to me on Monday afternoon, during the celebration of Her Majesty, Queen’s Victoria’s, birthday in Canada (also known as Victoria Day). As I sat with family, watching our favourite show, House Hunters, we of course discussed our thoughts on Saturday’s wedding.

From outfits (and hats) we loved and hated to which celebrities were invited to asking why the only member of Meghan Markle’s family in attendance was her mother, the conversation flowed easily from topic to topic. Then we moved on to the new title bestowed upon Prince Harry and his bride – the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Is a Duke the highest honour that can be bestowed upon the English aristocracy? What are the other titles? Where do Earls and Barons fit in? If a Duke is invited to dinner, does he get served soup before the lowly Baron? Is it true that Ms. Markle had to wear a specific shade of nail polish because of the rules of a royal wedding? What did the seating plan mean during the ceremony?

The questions go on and on when you dig deep into the intricacies of a royal wedding. Each step, each moment and every word are steeped in a mix of tradition and rules (even though I know Ms. Markle added her own modern twist here and there). It made me think: this is just like a baseball game. There is a seemingly endless list of rules, mixed in with ancient traditions. There are few people who are true experts on all the rules of a royal wedding or a baseball game.

Has a baseball player ever married a member of the British royal family? Now that would be neat! Imagine bringing together the detailed, intricate rules of baseball with those of a royal wedding. I can’t even imagine where to begin.

A baseball game is filled with statistics. How many baseball players have hit a triple, in the bottom of the ninth, left handed? Name which pitchers struck out at least 20 players in one game. How many times has it happened in baseball history that a second baseman hit a homerun during a game then pitched the 12thinning? Think of some crazy statistic, and it happened in a baseball game.

How many royal weddings have happened over the centuries? Too many to count I’m sure. But when you have dozens, if not hundreds, over centuries, rules are created and statistics have been collected. How many royal brides have been pregnant? Do most royal grooms where an army uniform? Have any big name guests died at a royal wedding? What is the most popular chapel used for royal weddings? Like a baseball game, the statistics are endless.

Okay, so a royal wedding is a bit more formal than a baseball game. Baseball players don’t wear a white tie and tails. But at both events there is a prescribed uniform for all participants. The Archbishop of Canterbury does not preside over a baseball game, chanting prayers, but I promise you, many a baseball player is crossing himself and saying a prayer before a key pitch. Loud, cheering fans? Check. Paparazzi photographers? Check. An exclusive group of people who are part of the inner sanctum? Check. Hats? Oh ya, check.

On first thought, a royal wedding and a baseball game may seem worlds apart, with nothing in common. But when you go deeper and do some thoughtful comparisons, they really are so alike. So, the next time you stay up all night to watch a royal wedding, put on your favourite baseball cap and remember to say, let’s play ball.

Listen to the Sounds of the Game

sounds

If you are a sports fan, May is a great time of year. There is a plethora of choices of sports to watch, read about, follow and discuss. If you want playoff action, there’s a hockey or basketball game every night. Baseball is in full swing. Soccer has come alive. There is a game on my TV every night, and I will admit, once in a while I fall asleep during the height of the action. A few nights ago, I watched a Toronto Raptors’ game with my eyes closed. I was too tired to watch, so instead I just listened. The sounds of the game fascinated me.

Have you ever closed your eyes and just listened to the game? And I mean really just sat down, relaxed and listened? The radio works, but I find the subtle and nuanced sounds the television cameras pick up are even more fascinating.

Basketball 

The Toronto Raptors play game 2 of their playoff series versus the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday evening. I won’t go into the letdown that was game 1 on Tuesday night. But I will share the audio highlights that I enjoyed from last night’s game. The sound I love most during a basketball game is how the athletes’ shoes travel across the freshly waxed and clean hardwood floor.  Some people may cringe, but it’s this sound that tells me that there’s a basketball game going on. Here is an example:

 

I also like the even tempo of the bouncing ball as a player races down the court. My son loves when a ball slides through the net with a perfect swish sound.

Hockey

A hockey game has very different sounds from a basketball game, even though they are often played in the same building. First of all, there’s no shoes or hardwood floor.  The sound of perfectly sharpened skates flying down the ice or suddenly stopping make me smile. Add a stick and puck to the mix and you get a beautiful melody of sounds. How about when the puck hits the crossbar or a player checks another into the boards? Just close your eyes and listen. It’s a wonder to the senses. Listen to the sound of the blades on the ice:

 

Baseball

The sounds of the ballpark. These are special. I went to a Blue Jays game last week, and at one point I closed my eyes so I could take in all the sounds around me. Even if you aren’t paying attention to the action on the field, there’s nothing like the concession vendors who run up and down the aisles yelling, “Beer here, ice cold beer” or “Popcorn, peanuts and Crackerjacks!” On the field there’s the sound of the bat as it makes contact with the ball or the sound of the ball hitting the catcher’s mitt when the player swings and misses. And the umpires. Some of them articulate the word “strike” so well that you can hear it for miles.

Just listen to the crack of the bat and cheers of the crowd in this example. You know it’s a baseball game in an instant.

 

Other Sports

No matter the sport, each brings its own unique sounds. The grunt of the athlete and ball hitting the racquet in tennis. The calls of the quarterback in football. Oh, how I love the sound I hear when skis turn on the snow. How about the swing of the golf club and the sound when it hits the ball?

What are you favourite sports sounds? Post a comment here or on Facebook or Tweet me @AliciaRichler.

We have it within us to Save a Life

life

There is a famous precept in the Talmud that says, “Whoever destroys a single life is considered to have destroyed the whole world, and whoever saves a single life is considered to have saved the whole world” (Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin 4:1 (22a). Not only is that a very powerful statement, but I believe it is true. I also believe it is something we must all internalize and carry with us every day.

I have thought about this line from the Talmud a lot over the past week. The deliberate, murderous attack on innocent people in Toronto last Monday has made me think a lot about how a life can be easily destroyed, but also how a life can be easily saved.

From that attack alone we all know how a life can be destroyed in an instant, and when that life is destroyed it really feels like the whole world is being destroyed too. We question how one person can sink so low, into such misery and desperation, that he can murder not one, but ten people, in a matter of minutes. We question, what has our world become and how is a human being capable of something so despicable? Has our world been destroyed just a little bit more each time a person destroys a single life?

If we focus on the destruction of life it will be hard to think about how we can turn the world around. So instead, as the people of Toronto heal, let’s focus on the second part of the statement, on saving even a single life.

What actions can we all take to try to save a single life? I wish I had a simple answer that I could write about in this space. It is something I have been struggling with for the past week. There are many individuals in our society who are different, who don’t fit in, who feel they sit on the outside. Some people are well adjusted and others seek out dark places to find comfort and belonging.

It could be your neighbour or your brother or maybe someone you work with. I believe that all of us are unique, and we all handle success and failure or joy and grief in different ways. How aware are we of the people around us, in particular, the people who may be silently screaming for help? What small actions can all of us take to show kindness, support or patience when interacting with someone who may be different?

While in no way am I saying that anyone who may not fit the mould in our society or appears to be different is capable of destroying a life. But you never know when an action that you take, by reaching out a helping hand, could potentially save a life. I keep going over in my head all the times I may have slighted a person who may have made me feel uncomfortable or seemed different on the outside to me. Did I do harm? Were my actions, or lack of action, yet another hit on a person who just needed some kindness?

I really do feel that we have it within us to save a life, even if we don’t know it when we do it. Hold the door for that person struggling to walk up the steps. Smile and make eye contact when someone stops you on the street and asks you a question that is clearly nonsense. Does it make a difference if you hand the homeless teenager a sandwich or hot drink instead of cash? I guess I’m just saying, take a moment to think when you interact with other people. Our actions affect everyone else. If we can all save just a single life then together we can save the whole world.

This is our New Reality

new reality

I wanted to write about the new royal baby today. When I heard the news on Monday morning that Kate gave birth to her third child, I was excited to write about the British royal family. While I’m not obsessed, yes, I’m a fan. But on Monday afternoon I turned on the radio shortly after 2:00 pm. I was in my car, about to leave a parking lot. I couldn’t move. Horror washed over my body. I suddenly felt sick to my stomach. This is our new reality.

In the age of technology, with instant news and lives shared on social media, the details of the horror on Yonge street in Toronto spread rapidly. The world saw videos and photos, heard and read witness accounts, after a man drove a van block after block, on the sidewalk, intentionally murdering people.

I couldn’t focus yesterday, and my heart ached for the people killed and injured and their families and friends. So many questions immediately went through my head, like why did this happen? What was going through this man’s mind when he committed this heinous act? What has happened to our society?

While it did not make me feel any better, I quickly realized that this is our new reality. We often speak of how we live in a modern age, with equality, freedom and justice. In Canada children are raised to be anything and everything they want to be. We are free to speak our minds in public and protest against injustice. People walk down the street and hold their heads high, without fear.

Or not.

When I was a child, at age 5, I walked home from kindergarten most days with my brother. School was s short distance from our house, and we walked home together with a group of kids. We went to the nearby park on our own and played sports on the street. Our parents knew we were safe. When we ran off down the street to play with our friends, our parents knew we would come home. When parents kissed their children good bye in the morning, they knew they would see them that evening, after work.

But that is no longer the reality and hasn’t been for years. I’m scared to let my children out of my sight in public, and I will admit that when I say good bye to my husband in the morning, when he jumps on the subway, I often have a quick, horrifying thought in my head, what if I never see him again? What if the subway is attacked or someone drives up on the sidewalk and hits a crowd of pedestrians?

And then it happened to someone’s husband, or wife, sister, brother, mother, father or friend yesterday. Someone said good bye for the last time.  And I wasn’t surprised. I felt sick, horrified and angry, but I was not shocked. This is our new reality.

Or maybe it’s not new, it’s just evolving. Mentally ill individuals, who for any number of reasons were angry with an individual or society, have used violence on a massive scale to voice their grievances. In some cases, there is a religious motivation, but often not. There was the massacre in 1989 which targeted a group of female engineering students at the University of Montreal. An individual murdered police officers in Alberta in 2005.

And yet, yesterday’s attack was somehow different. Or at least it was different for Canadians. Driving a vehicle, intentionally, into a group of people, is not new. It is a tactic that has been employed for many years to murder innocents around the world. But it was new in Canada and in an instant changed our reality forever.

I wish I could offer some unique insights or an inspirational thought to make us all feel better. But I can’t. What I feel today is sadness, as do thousands of Torontonians. We love our city, and I believe that most of us think the best of all people. Right now, we are coming together to grieve and to pay tribute to those whose lives were lost, to those who were injured and to the first responders who did a tremendous job to help those in need.

Moving forward we need to face our new reality with our heads held high. We must show kindness to our fellow human beings and reach out and support people who suffer from mental illness or who feel they don’t have a voice. I wish that would mean our world would be a better place, but at least we can try.

Do Women Want Gender Parity or Do They Want Recognition?

women

On March 8, every year for over 100 years, we celebrate women around the world. Officially what I have read and learned, it is a day that focuses on the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. That’s a bit vague, but okay. I also know that this day is widely marketed as one that focuses on accelerating gender parity. I will admit that I am not much of an activist and am not drawn to women’s marches or protests. For me, International Women’s Day is a day for reflection and discussion. It’s a day that puts women at centre stage to state our case to the world. As this annual celebration comes to a close, it makes me think, is what we want really gender parity or is it more about recognition?

If one looks at the definition of gender parity, this is it: a numerical concept related to gender equality. In the context of gender equality, gender parity refers to the equal contribution of women and men to every dimension of life, whether private or public.

But is that realistic? Gender parity is about numbers – equal numbers, across all parts of life, all around the world. While in theory it may be something nice for our society to aspire to this, I think it is simply idealistic and a fairy-tale. It is not going to happen. And quite frankly, I don’t think it has to happen.

I would love to celebrate women every day. We are great. And we are different from men in so many ways. Our bodies are physically different. We think differently and definitely behave differently. We internalize our experiences in such different ways. And that’s okay.

I don’t think either men or women are better than the other. Each gender contributes to the world, but I don’t think they do so in the same way. Numerically, in the workforce, yes, they should be equal. No doubt. If a 35-year-old woman with ten years’ experience puts in an 8-hour day as an accountant she should be compensated the same way her male colleague, also a 35-year-old-accountant with ten years’ experience, is paid.

I think where I disagree with many people is the notion of equal contribution of women and men in every dimension of life, whether private or public. Men and women do not have to be equal in every dimension of our lives. Because of the vast differences between men and women that I stated above, I believe that it is not possible to be equal at everything.

A wise friend of mine (yes, of course a woman) discussed this very issue with me today. We talked about how men and women see themselves in the world. When you get to a certain age, how does a man versus a woman view their accomplishments and contributions to society?

For the most part, the men I know measure success on career advancements and their contributions to their profession. Losing a job, not getting a promotion or failure in a business venture means he is not successful.

The women in my inner and even outer circle measure success very differently. No doubt, my female friends and family are ambitious and want to achieve great things in their careers. But for most of them, life is about more than that. Whether it be running a household or supporting a close group of friends, women see the big picture. If one part of their life has stalled, they pick up the pace somewhere else. Women balance a career and all that life throws at them.

And women do it well. On International Women’s Day, heck every day, we want to be recognized for being different from men. I’m not saying we are always better or that we deserve more. In some parts of life, for sure, we demand equality. But we also demand the recognition of being different and the respect we deserve for who we are.

So, happy International Women’s Day to all my female friends and family. May you go from strength to strength, and be recognized for that strength. Every day.

Million Dollar Reality on my Television

reality

Have you ever watched the real estate show Million Dollar Listing LA? I had seen it a few times a number of years ago and randomly came across it this week. It’s all about brokering big deals and displaying big drama in Los Angeles, California. If it wasn’t reality TV then I would be sure that someone with great creative skills and writing abilities was scripting these people. But oh, they are for real. This show is in full juxtaposition to the other reality happening right now in Los Angeles: wildfires.

As I randomly surfed the TV channels last night I came across both a new episode of Million Dollar Listing LA as well as live news coverage of the wildfires that are ravaging parts of Los Angeles. It occurred to me that the same homes, which may have sold recently for $5 million or $16 million, which were built for the uber rich with no expense spared, may be up in flames right now.

I know that the whole city of LA is not under threat to burn down, but parts of well-known exclusive neighbourhoods, such as Bel-air and Ventura, have gone up in flames. I read an article on CNN last night that explained how a number of factors, including low humidity and high winds, have all come together to contribute to this very dangerous situation.

A fire doesn’t care if a home is in an exclusive neighbourhood or a tenement. It rages on and destroys everything in its path, which is what is happening all over LA right now. But I just keep thinking back to Million Dollar Listing last night, and I know that some of the homes featured on that show over its 10-year run are probably a pile of ashes right now.

Southern California is a beautiful place, and I enjoyed a trip there about 15 years ago. For the most part, the climate is temperate and the landscape is beautiful, which is in part why the area has attracted millions of people over the last 150 years. It is the land of brilliance and creativity and yet also frivolity and foolishness. What is considered serious and important on the reality show Million Dollar Listing LA makes me want to laugh out loud. Then again, these featured brokers could never have known when the current season was being filmed that their beloved city was about to be hit with the worst wildfires in the region’s history.

The wildfires across LA are unfortunately a reality, and they are no laughing matter. They are to be taken quite seriously. I hope the hard-working firefighters get the blazes under control soon, and that the city can come to together to clean up and rebuild. I don’t doubt it that the people of Los Angeles are resilient. I hope that they stay safe, and I am sending them my best wishes.

There’s Doping at the Olympics. Really?

doping

Were you as shocked as I was yesterday when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) publicly admitted that there’s a doping problem in Russia? Didn’t you always think, like I did, that the Olympics are where clean and honest sport comes together in a show of strength and fair play? Now I know the truth: there’s doping at the Olympics. Really?

My apologies for my rather sarcastic comments above. Honestly, I am not surprised at all by yesterday’s announcement from the IOC that Russia has been banned from the 2018 winter games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. It’s not because a few Russian athletes were found guilty of doping. Doping is a state-run industry in Russia, and after years of investigation the hammer has finally come down.

I have been reading stories about just how deep doping is entrenched in Russian sport. There is some sick desire to always win. Young athletes must be living in a culture where they are forced to break the rules and destroy their bodies just to be number one. It saddens me to know that there are probably hundreds, maybe thousands, of talented young Russian athletes whose dreams have just been crushed.

Do 16-year-old skaters and 21-year-old skiers deserve to be thrown out of the Olympics before they even have a chance to compete? Did these athletes scheme and plan behind the scenes so they can stand on the podium in February? I doubt it. Unfortunately, they are part of a very broken system that demands cheating in order to win.

And the IOC made it clear this must stop. Doping is unacceptable, ever. It’s terrible that hundreds of young, hard-working, talented Russian athletes will not be allowed to compete at the Olympics in a few months. They are caught in what may seem like an unfair system. But the IOC had no choice. The Russian Olympic Committee didn’t just break the rules for years, it laughed at them and stomped on them.

I am intrigued by the IOC’s attempt to reach out to individual athletes from Russia, to separate individuals from their country that sponsors doping. I see this as a message to these young athletes, in particular those who have managed to stay out of the doping controversy (dare I say, are verifiably clean?) that they are welcome at the 2018 Winter Olympics. If these individuals qualify to compete (based on criteria outlined by the IOC), they are welcome, but not as Russians.

These athletes won’t see a Russian flag and they won’t hear the Russian anthem. They will participate as athletes who do not represent any country. But if they agree to these rules and compete using only their abilities and relying on hard work, then I believe they will be warmly accepted by the Olympic community.

IOC President Thomas Bach said it well yesterday, when he noted that the long-time Russian doping represented an “unprecedented attack on the integrity of the Olympic Games.” So, I hope that integrity returns to the Olympics. This is just a start.