Sunday, February 27, 2011

Christy Clark ... A New Beginning?

Children Playing Cards
Hugh Salmson

On April 5, 1917 women were granted the right to vote in provincial elections in British Columbia, and along with those rights they were also given responsibilities. However, for many years, women were treated as second-class citizens even well until the 1970s and 1980s. I was a single parent during a time when women were discriminated against by employers, landlords, bank managers – all of whom were men. I didn’t realize at the time that I was being discriminated against, but in hindsight I can see it was appalling. It affected my life and the life of my child in so many unnecessary ways. I remember one incident where my daughter was very ill with a serious form of measles. My family doctor advised me to shut all the curtains and keep a close eye on her symptoms. After several days, my daughter recovered and I was able to go back to work. When I returned to work -- as a legal secretary for a prominant lawyer -- I was fired for having taken time off work to be with a sick child. That was a regular occurrence for many women. In addition, landlords would often decide they were not going to allow children to live in their buildings any longer, and out we went. That was a regular occurrence too. The women of my generation could share some horror stories, believe me, and the stress, worry and anxiety was always present. It changed who we were. Childhood should be a time when children are protected against the negative realities of life, and it’s up to everyone to do that. It takes a village... Eventually, however, we were able to have the archaic laws amended and those horror stories are rare today.

So, I was very pleased yesterday evening when a 46 year-old divorced, single mother of a nine-year old child became the Premier of British Columbia. Christy Clark may not necessarily be the most popular candidate with many British Columbians, but she is one of us. She gets it. She understands. I hope she has removed herself enough from the old-boys-club otherwise known as provincial politics, that she will bring a new way of thinking to her job as Premier. In her acceptance speech, she said her priorities as a Premier will be "B.C. families, job creation and the fight against poverty".  She will do well to remember the hard road that was walked by generations of women before her, in order that she can be in the position she is in now.  We will hold her feet to the fire if she doesn't keep her promises.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Boardwalk Empire

I think I have been living on the dark side of the moon in the past few months, because I have only just discovered a wonderful, brilliant new HBO television series called “Boardwalk Empire”. The series debuted in September 2010, and I have only just discovered it now. Where on earth have I been? From the opening scene, which looks exactly like René Magritte’s Decalcomania, to the final credits, “Boardwalk Empire” is a work of art. Move over “Mad Men”, there’s a new kid in town. Steve Buscemi, the star of the series, won a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Dramatic Series, and Kelly MacDonald, as his friend Margaret Schroeder, was nominated for Best Supporting Actress. The last time I saw Kelly MacDonald, she was the sweet young Evangeline who won Colin Firth’s heart in “Nanny McPhee”.

Boardwalk Empire” is based in Atlantic City during Prohibition, and it’s definitely not for the faint of heart. It’s raw, gritty and very graphic. But the sets and the costume designs are works of art. The viewer has the feeling of having stumbled out of a time machine and into the 1920s. Even the dialogue is from another era. It’s the bee’s knees and the gnat’s whistle. In other words, it’s swell.

Steve Buscemi, of course, is – well, what is another word for incredible – amazing? Fantastic? Steve Buscemi is the ultimate actor’s actor. Someone once asked Buscemi why he didn’t get his teeth fixed, and he said that his teeth were his best prop. Without those teeth, he said, he would lose out on all the best parts he has been offered, and he would just be another pretty face in Hollywood.

I have discovered 12 back episodes of "Boardwalk Empire" on my Shaw Video on Demand – free. How lucky is that?  It’s cold here in Vancouver and we’re expecting snow. I have lots of hot chocolate, and I can curl up in my big cozy chair and escape to 1920s Atlantic City.

"See you in the funny papers..."

Friday, February 25, 2011

If You Remember The 60s...

"If you remember the 60s, then you weren't really there..." This quote has been attributed to a few people, two of whom are Grace Slick and Robin Williams, and both of whom -- shall we say -- dabbled in a few mind-altering substances.  I have never been able to understand why people take drugs.  A nice glass of red wine, a cold gin and tonic on a hot summer's day -- yes.  But drugs?  I could never understand it.  What is going through a person's mind when they pop that first pill, or have that first toke of BC Bud?  Are they thinking, "Oh, good, now I am going to destroy millions of brain cells, and alter my grey matter irrevocably and forever..."?

Alcohol is a drug too, I know it's far from harmless, and it has caused destruction in people's lives. But a glass of red wine is actually good for you, did you know that? Yes it is... Wine reduces the risk of heart disease and certain cancers, and slows the progression Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease. What do drugs do except make people stupid, sometimes permanently?

Recently the 16 year-old daughter of a friend of mine decided to "experiment" with marijuana.  All her friends were doing it, and she felt the peer pressure.  Fortunately, her older sister spilled the beans, and the 16 year-old girl realized it was a really dumb thing to do, and she was embarrassed. Over the course of my lifetime, I have seen scores (no pun intended) of people whose lives were ruined by drugs.  Talented, intelligent, well-adjusted people were turned into bumbling, psychotic wrecks.  One of my high school friends was a wonderfully talented artist but he fried his brains once too often, and at the age of 30 he ended up in a long-term care facility and has been there ever since.

Some Canadians want to legalize marijuana.  Well, it's practically legal here now.   It's almost impossible not to smell the pungent odor of pot as you walk along any street in Vancouver.  But it's not harmless.  In Margaret Trudeau's biography "Changing My Mind", she reflects on her struggle with mental illness, and how much pot exacerbated it.  She said, "It is not uncommon for mental health sufferers to self-medicate with alcohol or marijuana. Marijuana can trigger psychosis, and every time I was hospitalized it was preceded by heavy use of marijuana."

The marijuana of the 21st Century is nothing like the marijuana of the 1960s. The pot grown today is a really potent cannabis, it's a $6 billion dollar business here in British Columbia, and it's not harmless. I'd rather have a glass of wine. "... a little wine for thy stomach's sake and thine often infirmities." ~~ the Apostle Paul

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Pink Shirt Day ... Stop The Bullying

Today is Pink Shirt Day here in Canada. The idea is that everyone wears a pink T-shirt to school, to bring an awareness to bullying. It was initiated four years ago, after a student in Nova Scotia was bullied for wearing a pink shirt on the first day of school, and now the initiative has taken off across the country -- and none too soon. Bullying has become completely out of hand, especially with all the various social networking sites available to kids. Recently there was a school here in Vancouver where a group of kids had a Facebook contest for the "ugliest girl in school". The loser (winner?) of the contest not only dropped out of that school, she dropped out of school altogether. She is 13 years old. Middle school girls are notoriously the worst bullies of all, and every school has more than its share of "mean girls".

A few years ago a 14 year-old girl in Victoria was bullied to death by her tormenter. The young lady in this picture boasted to her friends that she put her foot on another girl's head, as she lay immersed in the water, and smoked a cigarette until her victim no longer moved.  The young lady ended up in jail. If the situation had been dealt with quickly, two young lives would have been spared.  I felt very sad for both of the girls;  they were both victims.

When I was in school -- back when the dinosaurs roamed the earth -- bullying was not tolerated, either by teachers or by parents. Teachers had the power to deal with bullies swiftly and efficiently.  Often just the possibility of such a consequence was enough to stop the bullies in their tracks.  Now there are no repercussions for bullying, and it is escalating.

No one wants to deal with bullies, and that includes workplace bullies.  Our organization has an initiative called "Respectful Workplace", but there really is no recourse for someone who is being bullied.  We had a manager who was a bully, and I nicknamed her "The Black Widow Spider".  She always wore black, and she sat in her office with the lights off, waiting to pounce on her next victim.  Nothing was done about her, and when she retired it was as if a black cloud had lifted from the building.

Bullying is not acceptable in any form, and the folks in authority in schools and workplaces need to stop being intimidated by bullies.  Wear your pink T-shirt today, and stop the bullying...

Monday, February 21, 2011

Fallen From Grace...

It would appear that Sarah, the Duchess of York, and I have something in common. Neither of us is going to receive an invitation to the wedding of HRH Prince William and Miss Catherine Middleton -- the wedding of the decade. How on earth did that happen, you ask? Well, William and Kate have never heard of me, sadly. They have, however, heard of Fergie. Poor Fergie. Can you imagine falling so far into disrepute that you are not invited to your nephew's wedding? Fergie's two daughters, Beatrice and Eugenie will be invited, of course, but not Fergie. That's gotta hurt.

By now, everyone has seen the wonderful movie, "The King's Speech". In that movie, Elizabeth, the Duchess of York (who later became Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother), enlisted the help of a speech therapist to aid her husband, the Duke of York (who later became King George VI) with his stutter. When Sarah was a member of the Royal Family, her position was identical to Elizabeth, the Duchess of York. She was Sarah, Duchess of York, and she was a heartbeat away from becoming the Queen of England. Her husband, Prince Andrew, would have become second in line to the throne, and she was known as "Her Grace, the Duchess of York".

How embarrassing and humiliating it must be to live one's life on the front page of every newspaper, tabloid and magazine. The slightest indescretion is magnified. We are all human, and most some of us have skeletons in our closets. Unfortunately, poor Sarah was more indiscreet than most, and she has paid the ultimate price for it -- banishment. Unfortunately, she was caught in a sting, trying to sell access to her ex-husband, Prince Andrew. Oops. The official word from Buckingham Palace was "vulgar". In a later interview with Oprah, Sarah said had been drinking and was "not in her right place". Oh, okay...

I rather like Fergie.  I think she has found her niche in American television.  She has reinvented herself many times and she has been given many chances as a Weight Watchers spokesperson, children's book author, etc., so I hope she doesn't blow this opportunity too.

When King Edward VIII abdicated the throne, a little boy once asked him, "Mister, what is your job?"

He answered, "I used to be a King..."

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Does DNA Really Matter...?

When I was a little girl, I went through a stage where I was convinced I was adopted. I had two older brothers who were nothing like me; how could I possibly be related to them? In fact, they were so different from each other, I was convinced they were adopted as well. At the same time, my best friend Margaret was adopted and so was her brother, and they looked identical to each other. That confused me, because I didn't look anything like my brothers -- or so I thought. Years later I discovered that Margaret and her brother did indeed have the same biological parents.

The idea of adoption has always fascinated me. I have several friends who are adopted, and as much as they are curious about their biological families, they feel very much a part of their adoptive or "real" families. One friend of mine tells me how much she loved her grandmother, and the smell of her perfume, and they way they used to dance around the room together.  She adored her grandmother and still has fond memories of her, and yet in the sense of biology and genetics, they are not related.  In the sense of love, however, the bond is strong and unbreakable.  What a wonderful concept that is.

Another of my friends who was adopted, finally located her birth family. She discovered she had nine biological brothers and sisters. She is curious to meet them only because she wants to see if she bears any physical resemblance to any of them. Other than that, they are complete strangers to her and she has no interest or desire in establishing a relationship with them. Her adoptive family is her true family.

Rules regarding adoption have relaxed so much in recent years. At one time only a child who "fit" with the adoptive family would be placed there. Now there are interracial and intercultural adoptions, open adoptions, gay family adoptions, single parent family adoptions -- it's amazing. I believe there is enough love to go around, and certainly enough children to be adopted. At one time parents waited until a child was "old enough" to be told he or she was adopted. It would be whispered, "She is adopted, but they haven't told her yet..."

My friend, who adored her adoptive grandmother, loved her as much as any child can love a grandmother.  She was her family.  When it comes to love, does DNA really matter?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Setting Sun...

These past few days I have been too busy to spend much time in front of my computer, or to visit my favourite blogs. Tonight, here in Vancouver there is a spectacular sunset which I thought I would share with you, should you happen to pop by my blog for a visit.  Between now and May, Vancouver will have some of the most beautiful sunsets -- like paintings by John Constable or J.M.W. Turner.  There is something about this time of the year that produces wonderful colours in the western sky.  And, if you squint your eyes ever so slightly, you can see Vancouver Island in the distance.

Have a wonderful evening, everyone...

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Happy 15th Birthday, Phinnaeus...!

Happy Birthday, Phinnaeus...! You may be 15 years old, and six feet tall, but you still look exactly the same.  And you are still the goofiest, cleverest, funniest, smartest,  -- did I mention funniest? -- boy in the entire world.

Now, please go downstairs and clean up your room...!

(Kidding, kidding...)

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Princess, The Pea, And The Featherbed...

When I was a little girl, my father used to read me the story of "The Princess and the Pea" by Hans Christian Anderson. It is the story of a young woman who claims to be a princess. One stormy night she takes shelter in a prince's castle. The prince's mother decides to test if the young woman is really a princess, so she puts a pea in her bed and covers it with 20 mattresses and 20 featherbeds. In the morning the princess tells her hosts that she had a dreadful night's sleep, because of something underneath the mattress. Of course, only a real princess would have the sensitivity to feel a pea through such a quantity of bedding. The prince and princess are married, and the pea is placed in the Royal Museum.

I loved the story, and I always used to laugh because I could identify with the princess. Ever since I was a child, I have gone through phases of having difficulty sleeping. I remember once asking my father to go outside and silence a cricket that was keeping me awake, chirping underneath my bedroom window. I was four years old. As a teenager, my mother often made hot milk for me at night, because I tossed and turned until the wee hours.

Yesterday I treated myself to the ultimate in luxury -- a feather mattress topper. I put it on my bed, put on clean sheets and climbed in. Oh . my . goodness. It was like lying on a cloud. I have never felt anything so comfortable.  As I was lying there, I thought of the story of the princess and the pea.  Even the princess would have difficulty finding anything wrong with this mattress.

Gosh, do you think that means perhaps I'm a princess?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Mysterious World Of Ticket Brokers...

Taylor Swift is coming to Vancouver in September, and I wanted to buy tickets for a very special little girl who is turning 12 in April. I thought it would be a nice surprise to slip the tickets into her birthday card, and perhaps she would like to take one little friend with her, along with her Mom. That would mean three tickets. Not a big deal, right? Wrong. I haven't bought concert tickets lately, but the process seems to have turned into a huge scam. Ticket brokers -- and I use the term loosely -- buy up all the tickets, and then sell them for hugely inflated prices, sometimes for up to ten times what the tickets are worth depending on the seat locations.  And purchasing an odd number of tickets is impossible.  Three?  Out of the question.

I spent yesterday morning negotiating with several ticket brokers, trying to get the best tickets for the best price. The prices they were charging were all over the map, and I managed to get some good seats for a fairly reasonable price, as far as ticket brokers' prices go.  So then I trundled off to meet the robber ticket broker at Metrotown so we could make the drop.  He turned out to be a rather nice young man who was using this as a business to pay his way through university.  I asked him what he was studying, and he said "I'm in the School of Commerce at the University of British Columbia, majoring in marketing".  I told him he was going to go far.  He said he buys whole blocks of seats and then sells them, but sometimes it's risky, depending on the concert.  Taylor Swift was a sure thing, however, and all the brokers made a lot of money.  None of it, of course, goes to Taylor Swift.

I was amazed at the demographic of people I was dealing with yesterday -- one of them was a young Chinese girl.  I told her I am obviously in the wrong business, going to a nine-to-five job every day.  However, I find the practice of "brokering" tickets appalling; it is legalized thievery.  I don't mind paying the extra money for the tickets for Marigold.  She is a very special young lady, and she is worth it.  But I can't imagine the millions of dollars that are being siphoned away from the performers, and there's absolutely no way to stop it.

In my conversations yesterday, I learned all about stage set-up, sight lines, row heights, seat placements -- things I never knew before -- and Marigold and her Mom have very good seats.  But the main thing is, they will have a wonderful time, I hope.  Besides, the best part of any concert is the excited anticipation of it, don't you think?

Friday, February 11, 2011

My Strange Addiction

There's a new TLC reality show called My Strange Addiction, that I find ... well ... strangely addictive. Most of the folks on the show seem entirely normal, and yet they have unusual behaviours that most people would find completely bizarre. A woman named Lori is addicted to sleeping with her hair dryer -- on; Kesha eats toilet paper, at least half a roll a day. Crystal eats household cleaners -- as in Comet; Josh eats glass, light bulbs and bullets. Belinda loves rocks. She has hundreds of thousands of rocks and when she is out searching for more rocks, she falls into a trance in search of the perfect rock.

Okay, these people make me feel entirely normal, in spite of the fact that I too may have a "strange addiction". I enjoy doing laundry. How many people can say that? For most folks, doing laundry is not their favourite chore. Me? I love it. There's nothing nicer than clean, fresh sheets and towels every day. No matter what is going on in life, nothing puts it to rights more than clean laundry. I have also learned that doing a small amount of laundry every day is much easier than saving it all up until it begins to resemble Mount Kilimanjaro -- daunting and insurmountable.

Am I strange? Well, yes ... there are people who would definitely say that I'm strange. Am I addicted to doing laundry? I hope not.

Now, if I could just become addicted to dusting and vacuuming.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Big Bang ... God Speed

There is a theory -- I guess you could call it the Big Bang Theory -- that all of the atoms that go to make up our corporal bodies were present at the moment of the Big Bang. In that regard, we are all closely connected; and since energy cannot be created or destroyed, we are all made from star dust and we will return to star dust.  Are we connected in other ways too?  Are we all one entity?  I sometimes wonder about this, because there are times when I am able to "tune in" to the universe in ways that I don't understand.  I don't try to do it, it just happens, and I don't question it when it does.  Out of nowhere a premonition, or a feeling of intuition -- a sixth sense -- will almost overwhelm me and I know for certain that it will happen.

Today at exactly 11:30 a.m. I had an acute and overwhelming feeling that I was going to watch a man die today.  All I could think was, "No, no, no, no, I don't want to see that..."

At exactly 4:30 p.m. today I watched a man die.  I thought, "If I knew his name, I would say a prayer for him."  I said one anyway.

Whoever that man was, his energy has gone back to the universe -- back to God, if you will. The people who love him will be devastated because he is gone from their lives. But he is not really gone, is he? What is the force of energy that divides living things from non-living?  Some folks believe life force is a spiritual energy, others believe the line between living things and non-living is not so clearly defined. I am beginning to believe we are all connected -- anything made up of matter or energy.  And we all have the ability to tap into this energy.  I seem to be able to do it without even trying.

I never knew that man, and I had never seen him before today, but I knew what was about to happen to him.  And I wish him God speed...

Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.
~~~ John Donne

Monday, February 7, 2011

Music Of The Movies...

Occasionally there is a piece of music so perfectly suited to a movie, it becomes one of the main characters. Two years ago I saw a movie called "Knowing" with Nicholas Cage and Rose Byrne. It was a science fiction movie, and the music that accompanied it gave the movie an added depth and mystery that completed the movie. I have watched the movie several times, just for the mood and atmosphere of the music. I had heard the music before, but I didn't recognize it when I heard it in "Knowing". It was so perfect, I thought it had been composed just for the movie.

And then on the weekend, I saw the wonderful movie "The King's Speech". It is a beautiful movie and deserves every one of the 12 Oscar nominations it has received. The movie has taken filmmaking to the art form that it was meant to be. My favourite scene was where speech therapist Lionel Logue was encouraging King George VI to let out his feelings, and the King let lose with a barrage of expletives that made me laugh. Haven't we all wanted to do that on occasion?

In the pivotal scene of the movie, when the King was giving his famous wartime speech, I recognized a familiar piece of music. I turned to my friend Leslie and said, "Hey! That's the music from 'Knowing'". And somehow it was perfect for the scene in "The King's Speech" as well. Instead of sounding moody and atmospheric, it sounded majestic. It was the sound of an apprehensive, hesitant man becoming a great King.  It was an important part of the movie.

On the way home yesterday, the song kept playing through my head, and I remembered where I had heard it before. It had been one of my father's favourites, Beethoven's 7th Symphony. It was composed in 1812, and first played -- conducted by Beethoven -- in 1813. And today, in the 21st Century, it still sounds as fresh, modern and as beautiful as when it was first composed.

If you haven't seen "The King's Speech" yet, go -- today.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Off For The Weekend...

Today I am off to the beautiful little village of Ladner to visit Leslie, and we're going to see "The King's Speech". I will let you know what I think of it. I want to see it before Oscar night, because I have a feeling it's going to win all the a lot of awards.  The British know how to make movies.

And here is the real King George VI's wartime speech.  You can hear him pausing occasionally.

Have a great weekend, everyone...!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Where Have I Been Lately...? Russia...

Have you ever picked up a book that absorbed you so much, you were teleported to another place? Well, lately I have been teleported to Russia. Winston Churchill once described Russia as "a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma", and it is one country that has always fascinated me. If we hold a mirror up to North American society and culture, we see Russia -- ourselves in reverse. We look similar, but North America is very new civilization, and Russia is an ancient one, steeped in beautiful traditions and cultures. Russians have endured tyranny, oppression and authoritarian rule that we can't even imagine, and yet they remain more positive, upbeat -- happier -- than we are in North America. Perhaps that is the enigma.

The book "Russia" by Jonathan Dimbleby takes us on a journey with him from Murmansk in the west to Vladivostok in the east, a journey of 10,000 miles and eight time zones. We go through isolated villages and sophisticated cities. We meet people from all walks of life, intellectuals, aging rock stars, loggers, Babushkas, teenagers, and just regular, ordinary people. In this photograph, Dimbleby is interviewing two young women at a cocktail party in St. Petersburg. I thought the blonde woman looked a bit like the actress Melanie Griffith.

A friend of mine once took the train from Moscow to Leningrad, now St. Petersburg.  She sent me postcards along the way, and at the time I thought it was probably the closest I would ever get to seeing Russia.  But this book takes me there.  It's wonderful.  So, if you have been wondering where I am, I'm on my journey through Russia.  Yes, I will send you postcards along the way...