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We Are Stardust – Following The James Webb Telescope

I sat on the swing set with my best friend Shirley, staring out at the blue, blue sky on a summer day many years ago. We wondered about the stars and the sun and how certain words in our vocabulary came to be. That was the nature of our young friendship – pondering the mysteries of the universe.

Not long after, on July 20th, 1969, I was in Shirley’s living room watching the blurred black and white TV images of Neil Armstrong taking his first step on the moon. “One small step for man…” he began. It was wonderous.

We went outside and tried to find the moon in the day time sky, but couldn’t. Still, we somehow understood that we’d never look at it exactly the same way again, because now we knew human beings had been there. It was forever changed.

I thought about that the other day when I saw the first pictures coming in from the James Webb Telescope on the NASA website. Look how far we’ve come, I thought.

I don’t like saying the word “awesome” too much because it’s overused these days. But those pictures were definitely awesome.

That the James Webb Telescope was even able to blast off was, in itself, a huge feat. Over the years it was being built, there were many cost and scheduling issues. Lots of little things went wrong along the way, and it almost got cancelled completely.

And just imagine the pressure there was to make sure the telescope was as perfect as they could get it before it launched. Because once it was way out there in space, there was no going back.

When it finally left the earth on December 25th, 2021, more than $10 Billion had been spent. And a lot of people were pretty nervous.

Would it get to where it was supposed to go? Would it unfold properly? Would it work at all?

As we saw the other day, it exceeded expectations.

Stephan’s QuintetMany Million Light Years Away

All of the pictures were spectacular and mesmerizing, but the one that struck me most was Stephan’s Quintet, seen above. First of all, I didn’t realize it, but Stephan’s Quintet is something I’ve seen many times before.

A couple of minutes into the 1946 film “It’s A Wonderful Life”, there is a scene where the angels are praying for George Bailey. The angels are represented by an animation of Stephan’s Quintet, having a conversation.

I never knew that that.

The Carina Nebula photo is also stunning, with sparkling, golden cloud dusts beneath millions of twinkling stars.

The most amazing, mind boggling thing to me is the fact that in those photos, we are looking far into the past. In some cases, we are looking back many millions of light years.

Light years. I’m still trying to wrap my head around that concept.

The telescope’s main mission will last 5 to 10 years, but its expected lifespan will be up to 20 years, similar to the Hubble telescope. Just imagine what scientists, and the rest of us, will learn from it by then.

Maybe we’ll discover all kinds of new things, including ways to help ourselves, and, especially, our tiny blue planet.

As Joni Mitchell sang:

We are stardust, we are golden, and we’ve got to find our way back to the garden.

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COVID Is Still Out There

Like many others, I’ve spent the last two and a half years diligently washing my hands, wearing masks, and trying to avoid larger crowds and risky situations. And I’ll continue to do so as long as this virus keeps circling the planet.

Now the experts tell us another wave is coming and may already have started. No matter how fed up we are with this, it isn’t going to go away any time soon.

To be honest, I was pretty smug about my success at keeping COVID at bay. Until…

About a week after he retired, my husband went on a trip to Palm Springs with a couple of other family members. It was a way to rest up, soak in the pool, and re-imagine what his life was going to look like.

He came home the Friday before Father’s Day, and so on the Sunday our adult daughters dropped by for a family barbeque.

That evening before bed, he started to feel a bit of a scratchy throat.

Oh, oh.

He took a COVID test just in case, and it came out negative. By the next morning, however, it was showing a faint positive.

Since we have a relatively big house, I immediately moved my things to the upper floor in a desperate attempt to reduce my exposure and stave off the virus. I still had two weeks of work left before I retired from teaching guitar, and I was not going to let my students down.

I did send them all emails to let them know our situation, and a number of them opted not to come for their lesson that first week. But a couple of days after my husband got it, three of us, my daughter, her boyfriend and I, started feeling the first symptoms.

Interestingly, my other daughter and the two family members who went with my husband to Palm Springs, didn’t get it.

I spent most of the last two weeks of my teaching career in bed, sick as a dog.

Ours was not the mild form of the virus by any means. We had fevers and body aches, headaches, brain fog, loss of appetite, loss of taste and smell, sore throats, stuffed heads….you name it. It was nasty.

It came in waves. One set of symptoms would start to peter off and then other symptoms began. It seemed never ending.

And then, over the next couple of weeks, the symptoms started to ease and we all finally tested negative.

Now here I am on my first “official” week of retirement, rid of this rotten virus for good. I hope.

The thing is, the experts tell us we could still become re-infected with either another variant or the same one again. Not only that, but it’s possible that the next infection could deliver even worse symptoms. I don’t want to hear it.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just get rid of the darn thing and never have to suffer through it again? Nope. It doesn’t work that way.

It keeps mutating and variating and having its way with us. The most we can do is get vaccinated and boosted in order to keep it from being even more serious.

I’ll be first in line for the next booster.

Having now experienced COVID, I’ve become more acutely aware of protecting myself and others from it. If I was starting to be just a little complacent about this virus before, this bout has now commanded my complete attention.

I also feel a deep sense of gratitude now. First and foremost, I’m grateful that my family are all well again.

I’m also very grateful for the many experts who have put their heads together to find ways to lesson the impact of this virus. I will continue to follow their guidance because I know my experience could have been so much worse.

And last but not least, I’m deeply grateful to be able to sit out on my back deck with a full heart and finally start enjoying my retirement!

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Michael Woloshen – That’s A Wrap!

You might not know his name, but if you’ve watched CHEK Television at any time over the last 42 years, you’ve seen his work many times over.

January 2nd, 1980 was Michael Woloshen’s first day on the job at CHEK as a commercial writer/producer. He came to Vancouver Island from Richmond where he had lived with his family since 1969. Before that they lived in Boucherville Quebec, a suburb of Montreal where Michael was born.

His Dad, Andy Walsh, was a well known radio broadcaster both in Montreal and Vancouver.

Michael’s passion for television began back in the early 1960’s around the age of 7, when he got the chance to be in the audience for a local Montreal children’s television show called “The Johnny Jellybean Show”. It ran in the afternoon and was a big hit for CFCF-TV at a time when local television was mostly live.

Michael remembers being dazzled by the lights and the cameras in the huge studio. He also got to play a part in another children’s show later on, and, like a lot of kids from the 60’s, he recalls sitting at home with his many siblings surrounding their new black and white television.

From that time on, he was a TV guy. He was also a bit of a ham.

Michael (left) as Tweedle Dum in “Through The Looking Glass”

In school, he participated in music and in drama, getting parts in high school plays like Through The Looking Glass and Tom Jones. Even after graduating from high school, he joined a local community theatre for the production of Bye Bye Birdie.

When he had completed high school, he went to BCIT and signed up for their television broadcast communications program. On weekends, he spun a little dough at Shakey’s Pizza.

After graduating from BCIT, he landed a job at Delta Cable. And then Michael’s whole world changed when he saw an ad for a job at CHEK 6 in Victoria. It meant moving to another city all by himself, and starting a new life.

When he first started working in CHEK’s Commercial Production department, the station was located on Epson Drive, right beside the Cedar Hill Golf Course.

Michael began by writing and producing commercials for a number of local businesses. Then he got involved in writing for the children’s television series, “Foufouli” with Dale Read.

He also co-wrote and produced “Highband”, a comedy/variety show featuring music videos and sketches, and “Everyday Things” with children’s entertainer Pat Carfra.

Then there was “A La Carte”, a cooking show which he also co-hosted, the home fixup show “Home Check With Shell Busey”, and “Reel Guy”, where Michael went on camera in his hockey shirt and housecoat, introducing the movie of the week. You had to be there.

There were also the parades. Michael wrote the scripts for and produced the CHEK broadcasts of the Victoria Day Parade and, after a time, Santa’s Light Parade.

Of the countless commercials he has written and produced, the Dodd’s Furniture spots would probably be what many would remember most. Gordy Dodd was always gracious and good humoured, allowing Michael to dress him up as so many memorable and crazy movie and television characters over the years.

Michael with the “cast” of Dodd’s

For all of his work, Michael collected his fair share of awards from B.C.A.B, the British Columbia Association of Broadcasters, and CanPro, the Canadian Television Program Festival. Life was good.

During this time, the station had gone through a move to its present location on Kings Road, and a couple of changes in ownership on top of that.

And then one day, it all came to a grinding halt.

Michael, along with the entire commercial production department, was laid off. It was a cost cutting measure as CHEK and a number of other stations across Canada were put on the market yet again. This was in early 2009, when the world experienced the domino effect of the 2008 stock market crash in the U.S.

For Michael and everyone in his department, it was devastating.

And yet, somehow over the next 9 months, he found a way to employ himself independently, working wherever he could to make ends meet. Even worse news came when CHEK itself was put on the chopping block and was going to shut down completely.

Then, just like in the movies, there came the happy ending. A group of investors stepped up, and along with CHEK’s employees, they put their money together and bought the station. Michael was the first person that was hired back.

On his first day of work, he had to scrounge around just to find a chair and a desk to use. But it was the beginning of completely rebuilding the commercial production department, literally from scratch.

As we sat around the kitchen table the other morning (it’s okay, we’re married), I asked Michael what he enjoyed most about his work.

“Putting all the pieces together,” he said. From coming up with the concept, to writing and shooting and editing all the bits, and finally seeing the end result, that’s what pleases him most. “I mean, there’s lots of aspects of it that are interesting.”

But when I asked him what he wanted to be remembered for, he said that it’s all about the people he has worked with over the years. As an example, he enjoys helping someone who had never been in front of a camera before, getting them to relax and bring out their best performance.

And it’s also about making clients happy. “You have a connection with clients and the goal is to help them with their business and create that message for them.”

But overall, building the production department back from nothing, employing people as a result, and creating so many local television series’, has given him the greatest satisfaction over the last few years.

I might be slightly biased, but I think he’s done a fabulous job.

On Friday, May 27th, Michael moves on to another chapter of his life; retiring after over 40 years of doing what he loves most. You can’t beat that.

So, as Michael has said so many times, “That’s a wrap!”

Save Juno Beach

Juno Beach, June 6, 2017

On an early morning in June a few years back, my husband and I got up to catch a train from Paris to Caen, a town in the Normandy region of northern France. From there, we were to meet up with a tour bus that would take us to Juno Beach, one of the beaches invaded by allied forces on D-Day.

My father, a history buff who served in the RCAF during World War II, had mentioned D-Day many times to me when I was younger. But it took this visit to make the events of that day very real for me.

The Allied invasion of the north coast of France in 1944 included Juno, Utah, Omaha, Gold and Sword beaches, involving U.S., British and Canadian forces.

It just so happened that our little tour bus rolled into Juno Beach on the anniversary of D-Day, June 6th. The weather on our tour was apparently similar to the weather leading up to the invasion, with a lot of wind and rain showers.

The beach itself is huge, and the area includes several bunkers, tanks and monuments, along with the Juno Beach Centre, which is a museum and memorial. Along the beach you’ll also see Canada House, which was the first house to be liberated by allied troops on that day.

We stood at the bunkers imagining the terror and the pain that these young men must have endured, and we walked along the beach where so many of them lost their lives. We choked up as we stood and sang Oh Canada inside the Juno Beach Centre during a ceremony to mark the anniversary.

As the rain and wind kicked up on our walk past Canada House, we were invited inside. This was a rare experience, we were told. Tourists aren’t usually allowed inside, but they felt sorry for us because of the inclement weather.

The moment that really stood out for me, however, happened when we were returning to our tour bus at the end of the day. An older man who lived nearby walked up to us and asked us if we were Canadian. When we told him we were, indeed, he thanked us and our country for our part in D-Day.

And as we drove through the streets of Courseulles-sur-Mer up behind Juno Beach, we saw houses with little Canadian flags on their lawns to mark the occasion. The entire day was a profound experience for both my husband and I.

But I was floored recently when I read a story of how local French developers want to build 70 condos on this historic site. A “questionable” municipal land deal handed these developers a large piece of land right next to the Juno Beach Centre.

There has been plenty of local opposition to it, and two years’ worth of litigation, which has all been paid for by the Centre. But to no avail.

A website called savejunobeach.ca has been set up to encourage Canadians to write to our MPs and to donate to the Juno Beach Centre Association so that they can continue to fight for this historic site. As we all know, once development starts, it doesn’t stop.

It was through the hard work of veterans that the Juno Beach Centre was built in the first place, and it is solely supported by volunteers and donations. And now, as the website says, “The legacy that our veterans built for future generations may disappear entirely.”

We need these sacred places, if only to remind us of the past and what those generations before us sacrificed for us. While the world witnesses a brutal invasion by another mad man, the saying “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” is more relevant than ever.

We have to save Juno Beach. Let we forget.

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We Love Music – But Who Pays For It?

There are so many bad things happening in the world these days that a lot of news stories end up even lower on the radar than usual.

It certainly didn’t receive anywhere near the attention that Will Smith’s incident with Chris Rock did, but did you know that last year, Canadian songwriters made an average of only $67.14? Talk about a slap in the face.

Ever since music ventured into the digital realm, more and more people have been using streaming services to create their playlists. And many find ways to create digital copies of songs so they don’t have to purchase them.

But, of course, it didn’t start with the internet.

When cassette tapes were the big thing, we would record songs off the radio or make copies of our albums to play in our cars. And with the advent of recordable CD’s and the internet, we found a way to download and record songs that we wanted copies of.

With everybody streaming music these days, I decided to research how much a songwriter actually makes from streaming their songs. It turns out that they get, on average, about $0.005 per stream. That means their song would have to be streamed 200 times just to make one dollar.

One dollar. For 200 streams.

Spotify is reported to have about 406 million subscribers. About half of those pay $10 a month for the service while the “free” service includes ads.

That means Spotify rakes in about $2 billion a month just from subscribers. Never mind the ad revenue. Where does all that money go?

If you’re a Rihanna or a Justin Bieber, you’re not too worried about money. But if you’re a songwriter trying to make some kind of living from your work, well, don’t give up your day job.

Don’t get me wrong: it has always been a challenge making a living as a performing songwriter. Never mind how COVID has impacted live performances in the last couple of years.

But when I was doing that back in the 90’s, at least I could sell a CD or two.

I can’t tell you how many times I was told that not getting paid for a gig was okay because it would be great “exposure”.

Sometimes I was lucky and they would pass a hat during my performance.

On one occasion, I was asked to play right after a poetry reading night at a coffeehouse in Burnaby. They were going to pass the hat that night, and they did so during the poetry readings.

When the poetry was done, the poets and the patrons left and took the “hat” with them. I was left with empty pockets and one person to play to for an hour. She sat on the couch politely listening, probably too embarrassed to walk out and leave me all alone.

If you got your song on the radio back then, which I did a few times, you were at least fairly compensated. And if you were really lucky and the song caught on, you were on your way.

When the internet became a thing, I remember thinking that this would be a great way to reach so many more people without having to go on the road.

I was partially right.

In fact, in the very beginning, I got a couple of my songs on one of the first digital music platforms, mp3.com. A lot of businesses played mp3.com stations, and if your song got into rotation on one of those, you were doing well. I made some real money from that.

According to Wikipedia, “At its peak, MP3.com delivered over 4 million MP3 formatted audio files per day to over 800,000 unique users on a customer base of 25 million registered users.”

It was a great venue for independent artists to not only get that “exposure”, but make a little money at it too. And then everything changed, mp3.com was sold, and it morphed into something else. 

Big digital companies caught on to mp3.com’s success, and now here we are with streaming services that, once again, have no respect for content creators.

SOCAN, the Society for Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada, is trying to do something about this by pushing for Bill C-11, the Online Streaming Act.

But I really think more needs to be done to force digital streaming services to pay actual money for the content they use to make their fortunes.

Now THAT would be music to my ears.