Thursday, April 30, 2009

We've Done It Again...

Vancouver has once again been picked as the fourth best city in the world in which to live, according to the Mercer Quality of Living report. Well, of course. The top four cities -- in order -- are Vienna, Austria; Zurich, Switzerland; Geneva, Switzerland and Vancouver, Canada and Auckland, New Zealand tied for fourth place. Interestingly enough, the top five cities in North America were all in Canada – Vancouver 4th, Toronto 15th, Ottawa 16th, Montreal 22nd and Calgary 26th. Honolulu was the top city in the US at 29th, and San Francisco was 30th. You can check out where your city stands by logging onto this website. Baghdad remains the lowest, at 215. Paris, France was 33rd, London, England was 38th and New York City was 49th.

Like any city, Vancouver is not without its problems, of course. In the past few years we have had an increasing incidence of gang warfare, and the justice system has failed to deal with it sufficiently. These gangs are thugs -- plain and simple -- with no regard for human life, including innocent bystanders who have been caught in the crossfire. And we are dealing with a justice system that regards the perpetrators as "victims", but that approach hasn't worked so far. Apart from that, Vancouver is an extraordinary city.

My favorite thing about Vancouver is the restaurants. We have some of the best restaurants in the world here. Because we have so many people from all over the world, we have a really wide variety of food. I like Indian food the best, and my second favorite is Japanese. And no, Japanese food isn't just sushi. One of my favorite restaurants in CinCin, (pictured here) where you will get the best Italian food outside of Italy. Just be sure not to wear slippery shoes on the tile floor -- like someone I know (who shall remain nameless) -- and I she almost broke her ankle.

Next year we are hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics, so perhaps some of you might get a chance to pay us a visit and discover Vancouver.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

"W"

The Presidency of George W. Bush has now passed into history. Only in the fullness of time will his Presidency really be assessed, but right now it would appear he might not be judged so favorably. However, this post is not about George W. Bush or his Presidency, but about Josh Brolin's performance in "W", the movie of Bush's biography. I rented the movie out of curiosity because I wanted to see some of the behind-the-scenes story of George W. Bush's life. Of course, we can never really know what went on behind the scenes, but I suppose it makes for good fiction.

I was gobsmacked at Josh Brolin's performance. I have seen Sean Penn's Oscar winning performance in the the movie "Milk", and in my -- humble -- opinion, Josh Brolin's perfomance in "W" was outstanding, and should have at least been nominated for best actor. I think perhaps -- especially in Hollywood -- people were afraid of the subject matter and that is why Josh Brolin's performance was over-looked at Oscar time.

Who knew Josh Brolin was such an incredible actor. He had every nusance of George W. Bush in exact detail. He morphed into Bush, until you could not tell where one ended and the other began, not only as a young man but as an older man as well. I was mesmerized by the subtleties of Brolin's performance. Bush/Brolin? Brolin/Bush? I couldn't tell. According to a recent interview with Josh Brolin, he is a Democrat, so he did not have a particular affinity for George W. Bush. However, he played Bush with such empathy and humanity, I couldn't help thinking he somehow understood the man, even though he did not necessarily agree with his politics.

This movie is not particularly flattering to George W. Bush -- at all -- but no matter what your politics, if you haven't seen the movie, you should check it out just for Josh Brolin's incredible acting.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Cathedral Grove

Now that summer is almost here, I want to share with you one of the most mystical, magical places on earth. It's on Vancouver Island, and it was practically at my back door when I was growing up. From where I lived, we had to drive over a mountain range called the Vancouver Island Range, in order to get to the other side of the island. The Vancouver Island Range has 199 peaks, and my favorite is Mount Arrowsmith. It is part of the Beaufort Subrange. On the other side of the mountain is the most beautiful old growth forest you will ever see, and it is aptly called Cathedral Grove.

Some of the trees in Cathedral Grove are over 800 years old, and people come from all over the world to see them. The park is home to several species of birds, including rare owls and woodpeckers, as well as black bears, elk and cougar. The Cameron River and Cameron Lake are filled with rainbow trout, brown, and cutthroat trout, and my brothers and I used to go fishing there for rainbow trout. The trees in Cathedral Grove are so high, you can't see the tops, and on a sunny day the forest is in perpetual sun-dappled shade. Several of the trees are almost 30 feet in diameter. I don't know who these folks are -- I stole borrowed this photograph off the Internet. But I have stood with a group of my friends around a tree like this, and forming a circle, we were not able to join hands on the other side.

Cathedral Grove was given its name by Governor General Viscount Willingdon in 1928. In 1944, H.R. MacMillan, of the MacMillan and Bloedel Forestry Company, donated the land as a park. MacMillan received a Master of Science in Forestry at Yale University, and he recognized the beauty and magnificence of this old growth forest. The park in which Cathedral Grove is situated is called MacMillan Provincial Park.

In 2003, a plan by the BC Government to build a new parking lot to service the park was met by protest from environmental groups. In the current arrangement, the Park's estimated one million annual visitors are served by a road-side pullout-style parking lot. Government officials claim that the safety of tourists as well as passing motorists are threatened by the layout, and are seeking to build a new parking facility. The current plans for the lot involve the construction of a 5 hectare parking lot approximately 1.5 kilometres from the park. Critics claim that the construction will decrease the number of visitors to the park, and threaten the habitat and feeding grounds of the local elk population. In May 2004, the beginning of construction was halted by a protest organized by a coalition of environmental groups. The permanent protest involves a tree-top platform which is continually occupied. ... Wikipedia

"They paved paradise and put up a parking lot."

As a child, I can remember staring up at these huge Douglas Fir, Hemlock and Red Cedar trees, just as this child is doing. I could feel the spirits in the trees, and there was always the constant sense that something was watching me at all times. Cougars? Elk? Bears? Oh, yes, that and more. Sasquatch? Maybe. If they're anywhere, they're in Cathedral Grove. But most of all we can feel the life-force of the big trees and the huge prehistoric ferns that grow in their shade. Can you imagine a living thing that has been on this earth for almost 1,000 years. Think of the history that has taken place while these behemoths were reaching for the sun from out of the rainforest.

Why Do You Blog?

I must admit, I'm not a good blogger. Well, let me rephrase that, there aren't enough hours in the day and sometimes I get busy and I'm not always able to visit my favorite bloggers. And I'm not always able to reply to folks' comments on my blog. I received an e-mail a few days ago from someone doing research on why people blog, and one of the questions was, "Were you motivated to blog in order to meet other people? Why or why not?" I had to think about it for a moment, and I realized I was not motivated to blog in order to meet other people, but I have in fact met some wonderful people through blogging. However, I am a fairly reticent person, and familiarity does not come easily to me. I recognize that some people on the blogs have made very close friends with a lot of their fellow bloggers, but it is not in my nature to do that -- as much as I may like it to be.

About a year ago I had formed a friendship with a fellow blogger, and long story short, she came to visit me. After several months of forming a friendship on the blogs, once we met in person she and I could not have been more different -- in every way possible. In real life, my blogging friend was completely different from how she appears on her blog. I had gone to a lot of trouble to make her feel comfortable in my home, but without going into details, the whole visit was a disaster from start to finish. I had never seen so many beer cans in one place in my life. I didn't know people drank beer before instead of breakfast. Needless to say, we are no longer blogging friends, but we do unfortunately still have "common" blogs that we visit.

Over the course of blogging, I have seen relationships form -- close friendships -- where people are supportive of each other through their life events such as births, deaths, marriages, divorces, and so much more. It's really wonderful to see. And by the same token, I have felt comfortable being able to write about things that have happened in my life, and people have been supportive of me. It's a very positive experience.

What I am trying to say -- rather clumsily -- is that if I don't always have time to visit your blogs every day, please do not take it personally. Blogging is a hobby for me, but I don't have the time to devote to it that some other folks have. At work, we are discouraged from visiting our personal websites, and sometimes when I get home from work, I don't want to go anywhere near a computer. Also, I find my own little blog quite boring compared to some of your fabulous blogs, and I am amazed that I have as many readers as I do. I wish I could visit each and every one of you -- every day. You're all incredible, and I love you all.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Now It Begins ... Spring

There's always something ... isn't there? Saturday night I kept being woken up by a loud buzzing sound in my bedroom. Something very large was dive-bombing me, but I couldn't find anything. Finally at 6:00 in the morning, I felt something walking casually across my chest. I jumped out of bed and there was a large wasp, sitting on my duvet, staring at me. This little bugger thing was huge and very aggressive. I have never seen a wasp that big. I swatted it with a nearby magazine, only to attract two of its even larger cousins. Where on earth were they coming from? I managed to dispatch the other two wasps out the bedroom window without killing them. I don't like to kill a living creature if I don't have to do it.

Later that morning, as I was sitting in my big cozy chair having my morning coffee, I noticed dozens -- hundreds -- of wasps outside the sliding glass door on my treehouse. They seemed to be flying into and out of one particular spot. I checked it out, and sure enough, there were two holes in the window cladding, and from there they were making their way into the exterior wall of the building. Everyone was there -- all their aunts, uncles, cousins, mothers, fathers, all their friends -- the whole gang. They were having a grand time flying back and forth, back and forth. I watched about six of them in a row squeeze themselves into the little holes in the cladding.

So now it begins. I have contacted the head of the Strata Council and informed her of the problem. Since the exterior walls of the building are considered to be "common property" it is up to the council to deal with the problem. In any case, I am not going to do battle with a bunch of angry wasps. I will leave that to the professionals. I imagine they will form a committee -- with the wasps -- to decide what to do. Is it really necessary to remove them? How shall they do it? They will hire a consultant, and to be fair, a representative of the wasp colony will attend. Someone will take minutes. The wasps will insist that, since they are living in the common property, they have a right to be there. The strata council will concur, especially since eradicating the wasps would cost money. Someone will suggest we should all agree to live together peacefully. The wasps will continue to have parties in my bedroom in the middle of the night.

*sigh*

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Do Re Mi ... The Joy Of Life

On March 23, 2009 more than 200 dancers performed a promotional stunt for a reality television program in Belgium. The purpose of the reality show is a search for someone to play Maria in the lead role of “The Sound of Music”. The young dancers had only two rehearsals for this act, and the early morning rush hour crowds in the Central Station of Antwerp were not prepared for what they saw. After a few minutes, many of the spectators joined in. I think I would have too. Talk about the joy of life. If you haven't seen this video yet, I hope you enjoy watching it as much as I do.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Wash Your Hands

Two years ago, in an interview with Castwest News Service, Health Minister Tony Clement said that Canada must take immediate action on global warming to cope with the threat of new infectious diseases from abroad. Clement noted that diseases such as the West Nile virus are spreading and surviving because Canada's climate is getting hotter. ''There is an increasing threat of other infectious diseases,'' he said. ''Dengue fever is another one that epidemiologists are worried about right now, coming to our shores". He added that his department's pandemic plan will also be renewed shortly to address the risks of avian influenza and other diseases that would not normally be a threat in Canada's climate.

The truth is, global flu makes the threat of terrorism look like a walk in the park on a summer’s day.

In response to cases of swine influenza A(H1N1), reported in Mexico and the United States of America, the Director-General convened a meeting of the Emergency Committee to assess the situation and advise her on appropriate responses. The establishment of the Committee, which is composed of international experts in a variety of disciplines, is in compliance with the International Health Regulations (2005). The first meeting of the Emergency Committee was held on Saturday 25 April 2009.

After reviewing available data on the current situation, Committee members identified a number of gaps in knowledge about the clinical features, epidemiology, and virology of reported cases and the appropriate responses. The Committee advised that answers to several specific questions were needed to facilitate its work. The Committee nevertheless agreed that the current situation constitutes a public health emergency of international concern. Based on this advice, the Director-General has determined that the current events constitute a public health emergency of international concern, under the Regulations. Concerning public health measures, in line with the Regulations the Director-General is recommending, on the advice of the Committee, that all countries intensify surveillance for unusual outbreaks of influenza-like illness and severe pneumonia.

The Committee further agreed that more information is needed before a decision could be made concerning the appropriateness of the current phase 3.


... World Health Organization

Whenever the Munchkins and I go anywhere, the first thing I insist they do when we come home is to wash their hands, wash their hands, wash their hands. Buy a good scrub brush from Crabtree and Evelyn and scrub the front, backs and under the nails. It sounds obsessive, but it is one of the main ways to prevent the spread of contagious illnesses, and it's amazing how many people don't do it properly. It's not necessary to use antibacterial soaps, just hot soap and water. The rule of thumb ... pun intended ... is to say the alphabet while you wash. By the time you have reached the letter "Z", that should be sufficient.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Priests ... I Love These Guys!

I have only recently discovered these three wonderful Irish tenors, and I am gobsmacked. They are Catholic priests with voices like angels. I watched the PBS program of their performance at Armagh Cathedral, and I loved them. These wonderful singers have even been on Regis and Kelly, for goodness sake. Where have I been? They are practicing priests in Northern Ireland, and they have been singing together since they were students at students at St MacNissi's College. Two of them are brothers.

Father Eugene O’Hagan is Administrator of the Parish of Ballyclare and Ballygowan with two churches: The Church of The Sacred Heart and the Church of The Holy Family, Diocese of Down and Connor.

Father Martin O’Hagan is Parish Priest of the Parish of Cushendun with two churches: The Church of St. Patrick (Craigagh) and the Church of St. Mary, The Star of the Sea (Culraney), Diocese of Down and Connor.

Father David Delargy is Parish Priest of the Parish of Hannahstown with two churches: The Church of St. Joseph and the Church of St. Peter, the Rock, Diocese of Down and Connor.

They have recorded one CD which was released in November 2008, and it made the Guinness Book of World Records for the fastest-selling UK debut for a classical act. Quelle surprise! They are wonderful. Their music is mostly classical and Irish ballads – you should hear them sing “Funiculì, Funiculà” and “Danny Boy” -- but they also sing other music as well, and are listed as “alternative rock”. I like that. These priests rock. And what beautiful voices they have. Here they are singing the "Irish Blessings".

Thursday, April 23, 2009

To See Ourselves As Others See Us

Girl at Mirror
Norman Rockwell
1954

I have always loved this little painting by Norman Rockwell. I can identify with this young girl. When I was about ten years old, my mother hung a full length mirror in the hallway outside my bedroom. She placed it there to give the illusion of more space in the hallway, but for the first time, I started to notice my own reflection. I remember standing in front of the full length mirror looking at myself and thinking, "So, that's what I look like." I gazed at my reflection for a long time, thinking how plain I looked. I had fair skin, fair hair, freckles across my nose, and completely nondescript features. Like the little girl in this painting, I compared myself to some of the beautiful, glamorous movie stars at the time, and I knew I was not one of them. I was neither pleased nor disappointed -- I just accepted the face I saw staring back at me. Every time I walked past the mirror, I would sneak a glance at it to see if there was anything interesting reflected back at me, but to no avail.

Recently I have noticed a similar theme in several blogs I have been reading. The theme is to describe ourselves in 13 words. I love that idea. We can describe ourselves physically, spiritually, or in any way we choose, using a combination -- all the traits we see in ourselves. I think sometimes we see ourselves very differently from how other people see us -- both positively and negatively.

Oh, wad some power the giftie gie us
To see oursel's as ithers see us!
... Robert Burns

I am going to let you go first. You can take your time and think about it for a while, or you can do it quickly, like a word association.

How about it? How do you see yourself -- in 13 words?

Addendum: Okay, here is my list -- as I see me.
1. Impatient.
2. Strong-willed.
3. Affectionate.
4. Organized.
5. Laughs easily.
6. Not skinny.
7. Doesn't suffer fools gladly.
8. Not "sweet".
9. Artistic.
10. Curious.
11. Wary.
12. Obsessive-compulsive.
13. Creative.

Have You Ever Had One Of Those Days...?

Have you ever had one of those days? You know the kind I mean. Your alarm clock doesn't go off, you go to make a piece of toast and you're out of bread; you head off for work and the bus is late, you get to work and you notice the sweater you're wearing has a mustard stain on it from the last time you wore it and you forgot to wash it. Someone brings in a box of doughnuts, and you spot a cruller -- your favorite. Yes!
But then your phone rings, and when you go back to get the cruller, someone else has taken it.

*sigh*

And it's not even 10:00 yet.

On days like that, there is only one thing to do. Go to the Dairy Queen and get a chocolate sundae. It's a vacation in a cup. This is an actual photograph of the sundae I had -- just before I ate it.

I'm feeling much better now.

History of The Stanley Cup

I'm not an avid sports fan, but I am a fan of history, and the history behind the Stanley Cup is very interesting. The Stanley Cup is one-of-a-kind, and each year the winning team has the name of the players, coaches, management, and club staff engraved on its chalice. Unlike the trophies awarded by the other three major professional sports leagues of North America, a new Stanley Cup is not made each year; cup winners keep it until a new champion team win it. The Stanley Cup is the oldest professional sports trophy in North America, and it is Canadian. It was first donated in 1892 by Canada's Governor General, Lord Stanley.

Lord Stanley was appointed by Queen Victoria to be the Governor General of Canada, and he was a huge hockey fan. He commissioned the Stanley Cup to be made by silversmiths in Sheffield, England. He had five stipulations with the cup created in his name:

1. The winners shall return the Cup in good order when required by the trustees so that it may be handed over to any other team which may win it.
2. Each winning team, at its own expense, may have the club name and year engraved on a silver ring fitted on the Cup.
3. The Cup shall remain a challenge cup, and should not become the property of one team, even if won more than once.
4. The trustees shall maintain absolute authority in all situations or disputes over the winner of the Cup.
5. If one of the existing trustees resigns or drops out, the remaining trustee shall nominate a substitute.

No one name appears on the Stanley Cup more than Jean Beliveau. He appears 17 times: 10 as a player and seven as management. Henri Richard has won the most Stanley Cups as a player, with 11. Twelve women have had their names engraved on the Stanley Cup. The first woman to have her name engraved on the Stanley Cup is Marguerite Norris, who won the Cup as the President of the Detroit Red Wings in 1954 and 1955. The only Canadian woman to have her name engraved on the Stanley Cup is Sonia Scurfield, who won the Cup as a co-owner of the Calgary Flames in 1989. The Senior Director of Hockey Administration Charlotte Grahame's name was added in 2001 when the Colorado Avalanche won. Charlotte's son John later had his name engraved as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning, making them the only mother-son combination to win the Stanley Cup. ... Wikipedia

There are actually three Stanley Cups: the original bowl, the authenticated Cup, and the replica at the Hall of Fame. The authenticated version or "Presentation Cup" was created in 1963 by Montreal silversmith Carl Petersen. It is authenticated by the seal of the Hockey Hall of Fame on the bottom of the Cup, which can be seen when winning players lift the Cup over their heads, and it is the one currently awarded to the champions of the playoffs.

In 1994 the Stanley Cup was stolen from us won by *gasp* the New York Rangers, and it has been in the possession of American teams ever since. In 2004 the Stanley Cup was awarded to the team in Tampa Bay, Florida -- hockey in Florida? -- and in 2007 it was won by the Anaheim Ducks. *sigh* It's time to bring it back to Canada. There is currently a team here in Canada who perhaps may be looking very hopeful. They shall remain nameless, but we all have our fingers crossed.

You know who you are -- bring the Stanley Cup home!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Smile, You're On Candid Camera

Police in British Columbia want to increase surveillance cameras, and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association says this is an infringement of our rights. I think both sides are right. It makes me feel a bit creepy to know that my every move is being watched, the minute I step outside my house. On the other hand, if I'm not doing anything wrong or illegal, why should I care? And then the question becomes -- "define wrong or illegal". And around it goes. However, if it had not been for surveillance cameras, that very clean-cut young medical student who is alleged to have murdered Julissa Brisman, may never have been caught. He still has to stand trial, of course, and be proven guilty, but he is the main suspect, having been captured on film. How many lives have been saved by such quick police work with the help of 21st Century technical assistance.

On the other hand, the police have had the surveillance and video cameras turned on themselves as well, and often they don't like it. If it had not been for the Paul Pritchard's video tape of the tasering death of Robert Dziekanski, that event would have been covered up, and the Braidwood Inquiry would never have taken place. As it turns out, four of the RCMP officers lied about what took place. The RCMP confiscated Paul Pritchard's video with a promise to return it within 48 hours. The next day they told Pritchard they would not be returning the video, and he hired a lawyer to get the video returned. It has now become proof that Robert Dziekanski was tasered four times, and one RCMP officer kneeled on Dziekanski's neck. Coincidentally, tapes from the surveillance cameras in the area were removed shortly afterwards.

Recently three off-duty policeman were charged with beating and robbing a newspaper deliveryman outside the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Vancouver. The whole event was caught on camera.

Women in particular are vulnerable at such places as Skytrain stations, bank machines, bus stops. I don't have a problem with video surveillance cameras in these places. I think if we aren't doing something wrong, our civil liberties are not necessarily being infringed. In my opinion, the yin and the yang of it is that more of the "bad guys" will be caught with their pants down ... so to speak ... because we don't always know who the bad guys are. They can be the police, or that clean-cut medical student.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Fire Of Spring

Vancouver is famous for its Magnolia trees, and today at lunchtime I took this photo of a Magnolia that is just finishing its bloom. I missed the full beauty of it by a couple of days. Where this Magnolia is blooming, there is a long walkway through a park close to where I work, and it is bordered by Magnolias on both sides. When they are in full bloom, it is beyond spectacular. Today everyone ventured outside at lunchtime to have a look at the strange yellow orb in the sky. And the sky was an unusual color -- someone said the color was called "blue" and the strange yellow orb was called the "Sun". Whatever it was, I was able to snap this picture before the clouds and rain rolled in again.

Vancouver is also famous for its Cherry trees, and we are in the full bloom of our Cherry Blossom Festival. Almost every street in Vancouver is lined with Cherry trees. In Kitsilano, the Cherry trees on the streets leading down to the water all bloom at the same time. You have to see it to believe it. It looks as if all the trees are covered with white and pink snow, with the sparkling blue water at the foot of the street. I never get used to seeing it, and every year it takes my breath away. I can't take credit for this picture, but it is a very typical Vancouver scene, with the city and the mountains in the background.

The other day as I was strolling through my 'hood, I saw this very unusual flower. I have never seen anything like it before, and I thought it was quite beautiful. It looked quite cheery growing along the side of the boulevard, and if any of you gardeners out there happen to recognize this, and know what it is, I would love to know the name of it. As I walked past, it seemed to have this cheeky attitude, "Look at me! Look at me! I'm prettier than all the other flowers." It's one I would love to have in my little terrace garden on my tree house.

Come, fill the Cup, and in the Fire of Spring
The Winter Garment of Repentance fling:
The Bird of Time has but a little way
To fly -- and Lo! the Bird is on the Wing
. ... Omar Khayyam

It's All Greek To Me...

The other day one of the Munchkins and I were chatting, and he said, "I went to the library and took out some books and CDs, and I have decided to teach myself Greek." What a character. He was describing to me the Greek alphabet, and what each letter does, and I found it so interesting. I would think Greek would be a particularly difficult language to learn because the Greek alphabet is so different from the English alphabet. Well, it's all Greek to me -- but it's fascinating. I love languages, and the more languages a person learns, the easier it is to learn other languages. They're all inter-connected, and reflect the flow of humanity across the globe.

After a few minutes, our conversation sort of went off on a different tangent, as our conversations often do, and we began talking about the similarities between the Greek and Russian cultures. I have always found them to be similar. Can you tell me in this picture, which costume is Russian and which is Greek? I have always found them to be similar. Their religions are Greek and Russian Orthodox, their music and musical instruments are similar, many of their foods are similar, some of their ethnic costumes are similar, and even some of their dances. I believe the answer to the similaries lies in the Byzantine era, which was the beginning of Orthodox Christianity in Greece, the Balkans and Russia. Now my curiosity is piqued, and I might pay my own visit to the library to learn more about this.

Here is the wonderful Igor Moiseyev Ballet company from Moscow performing the Greek Sirtaki. The dance is not a traditional Greek folk dance, but was created specifically for the movie "Zorbá the Greek" in 1964, and it is also called Zorbá's dance. Now more than anything else, we associate it with Greece. Have you ever gone to a Greek restaurant, had just a wee bit too much Ouzo and danced the Sirtaki? If not, you should try it sometime -- it's lots of fun.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Laughter ... The Best Medicine, And Sexy Too

Question: If stress is bad for us, and weakens our immune systems, can laughter be good for us and make us healthy? Apparently so. A couple of recent studies have shown that a good belly laugh not only helps us mentally, but it helps us physiologically as well. When people laugh, anxiety levels go down, and good cholesterol -- HDL -- goes up. Laughing relaxes us and improves our mood. The curative power of laughter has been known for centures, and Aristotle said, "Laughter is a bodily exercise precious to health."

In 1988 a German social psychologist from the University of Würzburg conducted a study with some volunteers. Half of the volunteers were asked to hold a pen between their teeth, thereby creating an artificial smile. The other half of the volunteers were asked to hold the pen in their lips, thereby creating an artificial look of disappointment. The volunteers holding the pen between their teeth felt happier, just by creating a smile. In other words, when we smile, we automatically feel more cheerful.

Laughing is also sexy. In another study done at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, "women are more likely to consider a man in a photograph a desirable relationship partner if the picture is accompanied by a funny quote attributed to him. In fact, the women preferred the funny men." In the alternative, men don't necessarily prefer witty women, but they do prefer women who laugh at men's jokes. Well, women have always known that, haven't we? The sexiest thing a man can have is a sense of humor. Women are more likely to fall in love with a man who can make them laugh.

I love to laugh, and I in fact have had my laugh tape-recorded. *sigh* Laughing is fun, it's free, and it's apparently good for us -- body and soul. Heard any good jokes lately?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Grey Gardens

If this face of the woman in this picture looks vaguely familiar, with the wide set-apart eyes and the strong mouth, it is because she is the first cousin of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. Her name is Edith Bouvier Beale ("Little Edie"), and her story is a fascinating one. The story of her life and her mother's life ("Big Edie") has been made into a movie called "Grey Gardens", starring Jessica Lang and Drew Barrymore. I have seen a trailer of the movie, and in my opinion, Jessica Lange may be looking at an Oscar for her uncanny portrayal of "Big Edie".

"Big Edie", Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale, was Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy's aunt -- she and Jacqueline's father were brother and sister. Edie came from a wealthy family, married a wealthy financier, Phelan Beale, and their lavish wedding took place in St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York. Edie and her husband had three children, two sons - Phelan and Bouvier, and a daughter, "Little Edie". In 1946 "Big Edie's" husband sent her a telegram from Mexico, announcing he and "Big Edie" were now divorced. She always referred to it as her "fake Mexican divorce". Her husband provided child support, but no alimony for her, and her 14 room mansion became run-down and decrepit.

"Big Edie's daughter, "Little Edie" had been a great beauty, and was presented at the debutante ball on New Year's Day in 1936. She was equally as beautiful, talented and well-educated as her famous cousin Jacqueline -- you can see a strong family resemblance in this photograph. However, life had not been as kind to "Little Edie", and in 1952 she returned to live with her mother at Grey Gardens in East Hampton. In 1972 the health department raided Grey Gardens because "Big Edie" and "Little Edie" were living in squalor, their house filled with garbage and filth, with over 40 feral cats, several raccoons, fleas and no running water. Jacqueline Kennedy, her sister Lee Radziwill, and Jacqueline's husband Aristotle Onassis helped to clean up Grey Gardens, fix the water and heating systems, and have 1,000 bags of garbage carted away. After the raids on their property, "Big Edie" and "Little Edie" never left Grey Gardens while they lived there. In 1975 a documentary was made of their life at Grey Gardens. I have seen the documentary, and it is fascinating.

Grey Gardens is a magnificent house, designed in 1897 by Joseph Greenleaf Thorpe, and purchased in 1923 by "Big Edie" and her husband. "Big Edie" died in 1977 and "Little Edie" sold the house in 1979 to former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee and his wife, Sally Quinn. According to a 2003 article in Town & Country, the building and grounds have been completely restored. Philanthropist Frances Hayward currently rents the home 11 months out of the year from the Bradlees. "Little Edie" died in 2002 at the age of 84. ... Wikipedia

The movie is being released today on HBO, and it looks wonderful. However, if you ever get the opportunity to see the documentary, you will be amazed. The so-called upper echelon of society can certain produce some eccentric folks, and these two fill that bill, but they are also eminently likeable.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Susan Boyle

Never judge a book by its cover. You may be very surprised at what lies beneath the surface. Unless you have been on the dark side of the moon for the past few days, you have probably seen this video by now. But just in case you have not seen it, you are in for a wonderful surprise and a treat. Because of its popularity, YouTube has disabled the embedding capability, so click on the link, and enjoy. I guarantee, you'll be knocked right out of your socks.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

My Big Brothers

When I was a little girl, I had two older brothers, and they were a complete mystery to me. They lived in a different world than the one in which I lived. They lived in a world of boys' bicycles, fishing rods, hockey skates, boyish rough-housing and tree-forts. They had a wonderful fort in our back yard, and during the summer evenings they were allowed to sleep out there. It was as remote to me as the surface of the moon. Only once was I ever allowed a glimpse inside their little hideaway, and that was only for a few seconds. It was fabulous -- they had air mattresses and sleeping bags, flashlights, bags of chips and chocolate bars, books -- all the comforts of life. They kept me out of their fort by telling me it was inhabited by spiders as large as dinner plates.

My two older brothers were already graduating from high school when I was still in elementary school, but I enjoyed being part of a family, and having two older brothers. I felt very well-protected; my family made me feel safe. Well, I think that's what families are meant to do.

When I was in grade two, my mother made me a yellow dress. Mom was a wonderful seamstress, and I thought the yellow dress was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. My mother worked on it during the evening, and I went to bed so excited to wear my yellow dress to school the next day. I knew I would be the envy of every little girl there. The next morning, my oldest brother gave me a ride to school on his bicycle. I sat in the basket on the front -- what a sight that must have been. As I was sitting in the basket, I could see the oil and grease from the road was being deposited on the hem of my dress. "Stop! Stop! My dress is getting dirty!" I don't think my brother could hear me, he kept on pedaling. When I got to school, I burst into tears. The teacher asked me what was wrong, and all I could do was show her my beautiful new dress, completely ruined. My mother had worked so hard on it. I sobbed all day. That evening, my brother felt just awful about it. He is a very kind-hearted soul, and he still remembers the incident and how terrible he felt.

My other brother is a born actor, and he used to entertain me for hours, putting on plays and acting out all the parts. As a teenager, whenever he came home from a date with one of his girlfriends, he would do a perfect imitation of the girl's father. I have seen my mother laugh until the tears ran down her face. My brother still has a very warped sense of humor.

Unfortunately, in our family -- on my father's side -- there is a history of genetic ischemic heart disease. Our paternal grandfather died from it at the age of 53. Both of my brothers have inherited it, and last weekend one of my brothers had a heart attack. I am terrified of losing them both, they're my family. They're my big brothers.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Only In The Movies

Have you ever noticed that, in movies, actors do certain things that people never hardly ever do in real life? One thing I have noticed consistently is that someone will pour a boiling hot cup of fresh coffee, and then pick the cup up by the bowl -- not the handle. Have you ever tried to do that? If the coffee is really hot, you won't be holding it for very long, trust me. I was watching "Medium" the other night, and District Attorney Devalos was having breakfast in his favorite diner. The waitress poured him a hot, steaming cup of coffee and Devalos picked it up by the bowl rather than the handle. In every movie and every TV show I have ever watched where the character is drinking coffee, he/she never picks the mug up by the handle. So, I decided to try it. Ouch ouch ouch...!

Another thing I have noticed is that, when a movie or TV character goes shopping for groceries, they always carry the groceries in a paper bag, and there is always a baguette, some carrots and a bunch of celery sticking out the top. How many people actually eat baguettes? Celery? How many stores pack their groceries in paper bags? And of course, the paper bag is always being carried by a woman -- Meg Ryan? -- and the road is always slippery, and she drops the bag. This is when our hero swoops in and rescues her and her baguette groceries.

I love Chinese food. It is my favorite food next to Indian and Japanese. The spicier the food is, the better -- and I love eating with chopsticks. We have some wonderful Chinese restaurants here in Vancouver, and I often order take-out when the Munchkins are visiting. They're pretty adept at using chopsticks, too. But only in the movies do you see Chinese food being delivered in actual Chinese take-out boxes. Here in Vancouver our Chinese food is delivered in little flat, round containers with aluminum foil lids. There's something sort of je ne sais quoi about eating Chinese food out of the Chinese take-out container, with chopsticks. It's just not the same from the little flat, round containers. Only in the movies...

A few other things I have noticed only in movies -- if someone is having a nightmare, they sit bolt upright, panting, when they wake up.

No one ever says "Goodbye" after a telephone conversation.

You can always find a taxi when you need one, except if you are being chased -- in which case you must always run down a dark, blind alley.

You can see the Eiffel Tower from every location in Paris.

If a detective is "taken off the case", you know he is going to solve it.

In a war movie, if a fellow is writing a letter to his mother, you know there is a bullet with his name on it.

When you pull your car up in front of someone's house -- where there is always a parking spot -- you must honk your horn, twice.

If the Earth is being invaded by aliens from outer space, you never hide, but instead go outside to investigate the space ship hovering over your house -- especially if you're in Paris, and of course you have a view of the Eiffel Tower.

Only in the movies...

Yes, I'm Still Here...

You must be wondering where I have gone. Things have been a bit crazy lately -- literally. This morning I woke up, saw the beautiful sunshine streaming through my windows and jumped out of bed ready to greet the day. I had a leisurely breakfast, returned some e-mails, watched the morning news, got ready for work ... you know the drill. When I got to work, some of the lights were still off, and most of the usual suspects were not there yet. Hmmmm.... very strange. I logged on, looked at the time on my computer, and it was 8:00 a.m. I don't start work until 9:00, and even at the best of times I am never there until about 9:03. It was the weirdest feeling! I was completely discombobulated. I guess that's what happens after four days off work.

Well, anyway, I have been crazy busy and haven't had time to post any new posts or visit any of your fabulous blogs, but here are my five interview questions for the folks who want to participate in the interview:

1. Have you ever been influenced by a work of art – music, painting, book – and if so, how?
2. If you were a chocolate bar, what type would you be?
3. What is your secret weapon to lure the opposite sex?
4. What, in your opinion, is your greatest accomplishment?
5. How many friends do you have on your Facebook account?

Silly questions, I know, but sort of fun. And now you post the questions and answers on your blog, and if other folks wish, you can interview them. It's a great way for everyone to get to know each other.

I'll be back soon...

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Interview

I have just recently discovered a new blog of someone who lives in South Africa, and she had a rather interesting post recently. Well, I have to admit, it is a meme, and I have promised to keep my blog a meme-free zone, but I rather liked this one. You are invited to participate as well, if you think you might have some fun with it. It involves five interview questions.

1. "You are given the opportunity to spend Christmas in any country of your choice - where would you spend it and why?"

I have always wanted to spend Christmas in New York City. Maybe because in every Christmas movie I have ever seen, from "Miracle on 34th Street" to "Elf", Christmas in New York City always looks so wonderful. There always seems to be plenty of snow, lots of Christmas lights, good cheer, sparkle and energy. And I would love to go ice skating at Rockefeller Center, and then spend New Year's Eve in Times Square.

2. "You are shipwrecked on a deserted island - what three articles would you most want to have with you?"

This is a difficult question, because there are so many things I would not want to do without, but I think in order of priority I would want need my year's subscription to the New Yorker Magazine; I would want a boat of some sort so I could paddle around in the water and maybe catch fish, and I would definitely need my fluffy white goose down duvet. That way, I could read, I could play, and I could get a good night's sleep.

3. "You are given One Million Dollars to spend - how will you spend it?"

I would give some to my favorite charity, I would divide the rest equally between the members of my family, and I would keep enough to buy myself a little cabin or cottage on a lake, complete with a canoe. We have lots of cottages in my neighborhood just like this, so I wouldn't have to move very far. And if I bought a cottage like this in my neighborhood, I probably wouldn't have much money left over for a canoe.

4. "You get to have dinner with your favourite celebrity - who would it be and why?"

I have always been fascinated by Queen Elizabeth the First. She reigned from 1558 until 1603. Like Queen Elizabeth the Second, she was only 25 years old when she became Queen, and in a patriarchal society, she worked hard to be a strong Queen. I once owned a book called "The England of Elizabeth" and the age in which she lived was one of the most interesting culturally and in every way. If you ever get the opportunity sometime, pick up a book of recipes from the Elizabethan Age. Amazing!

5. "What was your proudest moment?"

When I was in elementary school, and we were studying South Africa, my grandfather was invited to give a presentation about his experiences in South Africa. The presentation was made in the auditorium to the whole school. My grandfather was so funny and entertaining, and I had heard all his wonderful stories before, I was just proud everyone could see how handsome he was. Most of my friends had already met my mother, and after the presentation everyone said to me, "Your mother is so pretty and your grandfather is so handsome -- what happened to you!?" *sigh*

The rules of the meme are, if you would like to be interviewed by me, leave me a note in the comment section. After a day or two, I will send you five questions. Once you have answered these questions, you are welcome to interview others on your blog.

1. Leave me a comment saying: "Interview me".
2. I will respond by e-mailing you five questions. (I get to pick the questions).
3. You then post the questions and answers on your blog.
4. If you wish, you can offer to interview someone else with five questions of your choice.

Addendum: For all of you folks who have said you would like to be interviewed, please send me your e-mail address to josie_n@shaw.ca and I will send you the questions. If you don't feel comfortable doing that, I will post them in the comments box on your blog.