Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Squeaky Gate Bird...

The blossoms are just beginning to bloom on the Japanese plum tree outside my treehouse window, and it's filled with birds, all competing with each other for territory. There is one little bird which I have always called the "squeaky gate bird" but in fact I'm not sure what it is really called. Whenever I hear it, I always feel really happy. To me, it's the cheeriest sound in the world. I took an audio of it and have posted it here, in case any of you folks know the name of this little fellow.

Here he is, the cheery little squeaky gate bird...

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Phinnaeus's First Game...

Today is Phinnaeus's first rugby game against another actual rugby team, and he is excited and I think also a bit nervous. Me? I'm terrified. Wasn't it just last week he was a tiny little boy, sitting on my knee, singing the stinky feet song?

Stinky feet.
I know I got stinky feet
Just hold your nose and then repeat:
That boy got stinky feet!

Now he is six feet tall and playing rugby. I would love to be able to attend the game, but unfortunately I can't take the time off work. However, I don't think Phinnaeus would really like his Oma standing on the sidelines hollering, "Stay away from Phinnaeus, you big bullies…!" *heh* No, that might be a bit embarrassing.

Oh, goodness…

Now, if they were to do the Haka dance before the game… that might be fun.

Good luck, Phinnaeus. And don't break a leg.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Getting Back To Basics...

A Field of Tulips in Holland
Claude Monet

As you may (or may not...) have noticed, I haven't been doing much blogging lately. There are a couple of reasons for that, the first being that spring has sprung here in Vancouver, and the second being that -- for some strange reason -- I get busy and forget to turn on my computer. Yes, I know that does sound odd, doesn't it? I have been discovering lately that there is a life away from technology. Oh, I can hear you all gasping... "There is...?" Yes, there is.

Yesterday was a beautiful spring day here, and I laced up my new, very comfortable, very unsexy walking shoes and went for a walk. I felt as though I were in a strange, surreal world. The streets were filled with people -- silent people -- all with their heads down, reading, texting, or playing with the apps on their handheld computers. Outdoors. On a gorgeous day. I wondered if any of those folks noticed the tulips, daffodils and the cherry trees are blossoming.  Probably not.

How clever are the businessmen behind the new technological devices. They created a product and then convinced us we need it, we cannot live without it, day or night, rain or shine, 24/7. We no longer live in the real world, but in a world of little glowing screens, apps and pixels. As I watched everyone yesterday, I felt like the lone survivor from "Invasion of the Body Snatchers". Everyone seemed to be in an unblinking trace.  It's no wonder folks like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are amongst the wealthiest men in the world. They have created an addiction, and like any addiction, we need larger and larger fixes all the time.  They're our pushers and we're their junkies.

Being a bit of a contrarian, I am being pushed away from the cyber world, and moving more towards the natural world.  I didn't plan it that way, it just happened.  I have discovered the real world again, and it's wonderful.  There are birds and flowers and sunshine and rain...  Yesterday I even saw some baby raccoons.  I wonder how much those people are missing, when they have their heads down staring at their mobiles.  Or perhaps I am the one missing out on all the new apps.  Who knows.  Maybe I have become unplugged.  There's probably an app for that.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Ladies And Gentleman, We'll Be Circling The Airport...

As everyone knows, I am not particularly fond of flying. I am what is called a white knuckle flyer. I prefer to be called a two-vodka-and-orange flyer. I prefer to sit in the middle of a plane, wrapped in a blanket, with a drink in each hand, pretending I am on a bus.  No window seat for me, thank you very much.  But I had a friend who was an international pilot for Air Canada, and I once asked him, "How on earth can you fly planes for a living?  You fly between here and Hong Kong, and that must be at least 14 hours each way..."  He said to me, "Flying is really safe.  I have been flying these birds for over 20 years, and I have never left anyone up there yet."

Oh, okay...

Well, I guess he never flew into Reagan International Airport in Washington, DC.  Just when I thought there was nothing more to worry about on planes -- loose screws, loose screwy terrorists, etc. -- now I have to worry about the air traffic controllers falling asleep, while the plane circles overhead.  It's sort of ironic that it happened at Reagan International Airport, since President Ronald Reagan fired all the air traffic controllers in 1981 because they wanted silly thinks like, oh, decent working hours and better pay.

I have a feeling there is a back story to the poor, unfortunate air traffic controller who fell asleep the other night, but believe me, I don't want him in the tower in any airport that I may be approaching.  No, thank you.  I want those airplanes wheels on the ground as soon as possible, preferably with the rest of the airplane intact.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Last Of The Great Broads...

I once had the opportunity of seeing Elizabeth Taylor in person, and I was astonished by her beauty. She did have those famous violet eyes, and the most extraordinary luminescent complexion.  But the thing that impressed me the most was her laugh.  She laughed a lot and it could only be described as bawdy.  She was clearly a woman who enjoyed life to the fullest, in all its manifestations.  Elizabeth Taylor was also an amazing actress, having won as many Oscars as Meryl Streep.  My two favourite Elizabeth Taylor roles were as Catherine in "Suddenly, Last Summer" and Maggie in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof", both written by the brilliant playwright, Tennessee Williams.  It was as though Williams had written both roles just for her.  They were great friends.  One of her lines from "Suddenly, Last Summer" is: "Truth is the one thing I have never resisted." I have a feeling that is how she lived her life as well. She was small in stature, but larger than life, and she will be missed.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Just Entertain Me, Please...

What am I missing? I watched both the "The Fighter" and "The Social Network" twice, just to be sure I wasn't missing something, and I didn't care for either of them – the first time or the second time. I really, really wanted to like them, but I didn't like them at all.  Oh, I can hear you all gasping now... I am stymied. Can someone please explain them to me? They are both biographical stories of young men in their 20s, and they were both disjointed and erratic. There have been a few good boxing movies that I have enjoyed, "Raging Bull" and "Rocky" just to name a couple. Those were good movies, and if you haven't seen them – watch them. Interestingly, Roger Ebert didn't care for "The Fighter" either, saying, "Because we aren't deeply invested in Micky, we don't care as much as we should, and the film ends on a note that should be triumph but feels more like simple conclusion." Another critic said: "Whenever it should bounce backward, it lunges forward; it jabs instead of feints, and stomps down hard when it needs to dance." That was how I felt about the movie as well.

One of the best movies this past Oscar season was "Winter's Bone" and I would be surprised if anyone has seen it. It was nominated for Best Picture, and in my opinion it came a close second to "The King's Speech".

I'm a movie buff, and I have enjoyed watching good movies all my life. The Turner Classic Movie channel plays the old classics from the 1940s and 1950s and some of those old movies are amazing. They were movies made by grownups, about grownups. The characters were realistic, the storylines were believable, and we didn't have to watch anyone vomiting or urinating – two of my pet peeves in movies. Why do we have to see that?  Maybe I'm a prude, but is it really necessary to see -- and hear -- folks' private ablutions? Watching someone vomit is not one of my favourite things, thank you very much, but every movie seems to have a vomit scene now, or a group of men standing at urinals, piddling.  *Y-U-C-K*

Please, just give me a good story, no mock documentary (mockumentary?) make the characters believable, and most of all entertain me.  All "The Fighter" and "The Social Network" succeeded in doing was annoying me.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Nurturing Our Souls...

Branches with Almond Blossom
Vincent van Gogh

Tomorrow is the first day of spring, and I have decided to make a whole new paradigm shift in my life. I have decided to stop being around people who really don't like me. We all have them in our lives -- family members, co-workers -- people who barely tolerate us, and in that subliminal intolerance, they make us feel like pond scum.

Rapport is a strange, elusive thing that we either have with someone, or we don't.  Someone once wisely said, "We can't make people love us, but we can make them hate us..."  It's very true.  It's puzzling when someone doesn't like us.  We wonder why.  But there it is -- they don't like us.  Period.  It is depessing as h*ll to be  around people with whom our every word and every movement is questioned.  "Why did you do that?  Why did you say that?  What do you mean by that...?"  It can drain the lifeforce out of us.

In the alternative, when we are around people who like us -- who see who we are -- we feel good about ourselves.  I have friends like that.  They see me, they know me and they like me.  And I enjoy being around them.  It is a nourishing to our souls to be with people with whom we can be ourselves, unconditionally and without fear of judgement.  They know we have no hidden agendas, no covert strategies or plans, just "what you see is what you get."

My plan for this day forward is to spend my time with people who nurture my soul, and for whom I can return the favour.  Life is too short to spend any time with people who do not like me, starting tomorrow when I'm going to tell our department manager to put my job where the sun never shines that I am leaving there and taking some art courses, something I love to do.  Nurturing my soul begins with me.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Earthquakes And Hangovers...

Vancouver sits on the Ring of Fire, where there has been a lot of earthquake activity in the past few weeks -- first in New Zealand and now in Japan.  Something is going on in the earth's tectonic plates, a major paradigm shift, as it were.

We also have 100s of volcanoes in our mountain ranges, and Marigold has a perfect view of the volcano Mt. Baker from her bedroom window. Another of the volcanoes in this area is Mt. St. Helen's, which erupted at 8:32 a.m. on Sunday, May 18, 1980. I was at my mother's place in Victoria on Vancouver Island, and we could hear the explosion. The plume of ash rose 80,000 feet in the air and ash was deposited over 11 states in the United States, as well as over British Columbia.  This is a picture of Mt. St. Helen's the day before it erupted, and then two years later.

We often get small temblors (not tremblors) here in Vancouver.  I sometimes glance over and see my plants swaying, or I will hear a loud crack in the building.  These are quite common occurrences. These temblors register on seismographs, but most people will go about their business and not notice them. Earthquakes are measured on what is called the Richter scale. Major earthquakes usually measure between 6.0 and 9.5, which was the highest ever recorded. Each increase of one unit on the Richter scale represents a 32-fold increase in the intensity of the earthquake. An 8.5 earthquake is 32 times more intense than one that measures at 7.5, and a 9.5 is 32 times greater than an 8.5.  The earthquake in Alaska that caused the Pacific Tsunami which hit the town where I lived was 9.5, and the recent earthquake in Japan was 9.0.  Those are extremely powerful earthquakes.

On February 28, 2001 Seattle had an earthquake that registered 6.1, and we could feel it here in Vancouver.  I was in the photocopy room at work when the cabinets began swaying.  I went back to my desk, and my co-worker was sitting with her head between her hands.  She said to me, "Oh, Jo, I was out for dinner last night and I think I drank too much wine. I have such an awful hangover, it feels just like an earthquake..."

"Um ... Danika, it is an earthquake.  We have to evacuate the building..."

Vancouver is long-overdue for what they call "the big one" and I have an earthquake kit under my desk at work, just in case. But Japan was probably the most earthquake-prepared country in the world and it was no match for a 9.0 quake. Once those monsters hit, there's not much folks can do, except maybe put their head between their hands and pray.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Barbie and Ken ... After The Final Rose

Is there anyone else besides me who finds these people just ever so slightly cheesy? Am I missing something? What am I missing? Brad Womack is described as a heartbreaker. I suppose he is a nice fellow, moderately good-looking in a David Hasselhoff sort of way, but  a heart-breaker? He's an oil worker who got into bartending.  In his first go-round as "The Bachelor" in 2007, he did the "unthinkable" by not choosing either Jenni Croft or DeAnna Pappas.  They may have escaped with their lives.

I haven't followed the series because ... well, I would rather waste my time doing something else. But I did click onto the ending of the final show to see which woman he chose.  Barbie and Ken are alive...  Seriously, these people scare me.

What happens when the final roses wilt?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

A Guardian Angel Always Near...

When I was a child, I was raised in the Anglican Church, and when I was married, I converted to Catholicism. The two religions are very similar, so it was not a difficult transition. Since then, I am what you might call a "lapsed" member of any formal, organized religion. I am, however, a spiritual person, and I do believe one can be spiritual without belonging to any particular relgion. I also believe in guardian angels. I think they are all around us, and they manifest themselves through our friends and acquaintances, our families, and even sometimes through strangers.  And I do believe that when it is our time to make the transition from this world to the next, our guardian angel is here to guide us.

Yesterday as I was walking home from work, I saw a man sleeping on a park bench.  He was sitting upright with his hands folded in his lap, his head back, his mouth open -- and it was pouring rain.  As I approached him, I could see instantly that he was more than asleep.  The paramedics were called, but there was nothing they could do for him.  I wondered how long he had been sitting there, with passersby glancing over, looking at the sleeping man.  Perhaps hours...  In repose, he looked very peaceful, and I hoped his guardian angel had been there with him.

Keep an eye out today for guardian angels.  They are all around us, and they help us in ways we cannot even imagine.  Perhaps they even work through us.

"These things I warmly wish for you: Someone to love, Some work to do, A bit o' sun, a bit o' cheer, And a guardian angel always near." ~~ Irish Blessing

Thursday, March 10, 2011

How Will You Fill The Pages...?

Yesterday my friend Russell sent me a lovely journal from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Each week of the journal is accompanied by a painting by an impressionist painter, but the days of the week -- Monday to Sunday -- are blank. They are meant to be filled with notations, events, to-do lists, invitations and all the other things that go into making up the days of our lives. As I opened the journal yesterday and looked at the blank pages, I wondered what sort of entries I was going to fill into the pages.  And then it occurred to me, it's entirely up to me how I fill the pages. 

Cottage in the Dunes
Stanislas Henri Jean Gazin
(The week of March 7th to 13th)

Most of us go through our lives on autopilot. We go to work, we go home. We pay the bills, we buy groceries, we do all the necessary things we need to do in order to survive. The days, weeks, months, years pass this way. We call it taking care of business. Any of the joyful things we manage to do are usually extraneous, and usually -- only -- if we have enough money left over to do them. Hobbies, vacations, concerts, movies, parties, museums, a day at the water park, these are all special things we do -- luxuries, as it were. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could fill the pages of our journals with one of these things every day, or at least every week?

As I looked at the blank pages of my journal, I decided I didn't want to fill them with "went to work ... went home". One day I would like to look back at the pages of my journal and see that I actually had some fun -- at least occasionally. Maybe it won't be every day, but it would be reassuring to see that I was able to punctuate the boring, humdrum days with some fun and perhaps even some excitement.

How would you fill the blank pages of your journal?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

International Women's Day ... Not

Today is International Women's Day, and the theme is "Equal access to education, training and science and technology: Pathway to decent work for women". Well, I'm all for that -- definitely. That theme almost seems outdated in the 21st Century, because there are more women enrolled in universities than men, especially in the fields of medicine and law. Each country adopts its own theme for International Women's Day, and in Canada the theme today is, "Status of Women: Strong Leadership. Strong Women. Strong World: Equality". I have an idea for International Women's; why don't we start with "Women treating each other as equals, and with respect". This seems to be an area where women fall far short of the mark. In fact, women's behaviour towards each other never ceases to embarrass me.

Women have very specific tactics they use against each other, usually involving some sort of passive aggressiveness.  The silent treatment -- shunning -- seems to be a favourite, and it's almost instinctive.  Very little girls use this tactic against each other, and it works even better if they can rally the troops and have everyone give the victim the silent treatment.  Ostracism is a very powerful form of abuse, and women really know how to use it. It's the same form of punishment used by various religious groups to banish one member of the group.

Another favourite tactic women use is the whisper campaign. I work with a woman who wrote the manual on the whisper campaign. She is toxic, and she has caused long-lasting harm to people's lives.

Why do women do these things to each other? Is it biologically programmed into them? It doesn't seem to matter what their level of education, or their hierarchy in the organization, they can be counted on to act like women. For International Women's Day, I would like to see women in the workplace treat each other with respect. That would be an achievement.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Ashes And Snow ... Gregory Colbert

Gregory Colbert is a Canadian photographer and this wonderful photograph (click photo to enlarge) is part of his exhibit "Ashes and Snow". According to an article by Alan Riding in "The New York Times", “The power of the images comes less from their formal beauty than from the way they envelop the viewer in their mood. . . .They are simply windows to a world in which silence and patience govern time.”

As Gregory Colbert says, “When I started Ashes and Snow in 1992, I set out to explore the relationship between man and animals from the inside out. In discovering the shared language and poetic sensibilities of all animals, I am working towards restoring the common ground that once existed when people lived in harmony with animals.”

"Every culture from the Egyptians to the Mayans to the American Indians to the Bedouins created bestiaries that enabled them to express their relationship with nature. Ashes and Snow is a 21st-century bestiary filled with species from around the world. Nature’s orchestra includes not just Homo sapiens but elephants, whales, manatees, eagles, cheetahs, orangutans, and many others."

I have always believed that animals are more like humans than not ... well, humans on a good day, that is. We should be so lucky as to be more like animals. They have a dignity that we seem to have lost, and maybe they have something to teach us.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

How Can We Make Them Go Away...?

This past week I have been immersed in work nonsense projects, and have only recently emerged from my cave office.  Having been out of touch, I was curious to find out what had been going on in the world lately.  I switched on CNN.   The biggest news on all the news networks was -- Charlie Sheen? Are they kidding? Really ... are they kidding?  Has Charlie Sheen looked in a mirror lately?  He looks at least a decade older than he is, and he looks ill, gaunt and dissipated, with dark circles under his eyes.  He reminds me of someone we would see stumbling around the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver.  It would seem that all of the recreational chemicals he has been using have fried his brains as well.  He referred to himself as a "high priest Vatican assassin warlock". Say what?  Just go away, Charlie; you're a bore.

And while we're at it, how do we get rid of the rest of these people?

Lady Gaga actually has a beautiful voice. The lady can sing, but does she really have to keep showing her crotch in her music videos?  Is that art?  Recently, a little ten-year old girl shared the stage with Gaga, singing "I Was Born This Way".  Has the child's mother actually watched the video?  The next person to follow Lady Gaga is going to push the envelope even further, and we will all accept it.  That scares me.  Please go away, Lady Gaga.

Oprah has her OWN network. *Y-A-W-N* First of all, I have never liked people telling me how to think. A typical Oprah quote: "My philosophy is that not only are you responsible for your life, but doing the best at this moment puts you in the best place for the next moment." Say what?  News flash, Oprah, most people, out of necessity, live their lives as reactions to others' actions.  It's a dance we all do.  You're very, very wealthy now, Oprah, so please go away.

What can one say, when a 17 year-old boy's latest haircut makes world headlines?  Will future sociologists and anthropologists look upon this as odd?  Will they wonder what a strange society we had constructed for ourselves?  I mean, think about it.  Really think about it.  A 17 year-old boy gets his hair cut and it's headline news in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.  You're a very wealthy young man now, Justin.  Please just go away.  Or better yet, go back to school.

Is this a crazy world or what?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The More Things Change...

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose...   I have learned that, sometimes in life it is sufficent just to wait and patience will prevail ...

He that can have patience can have what he will.
~~ Benjamin Franklin

All things come round to him who will but wait.
~~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

A handful of patience is worth more than a bushel of brains.
~~ Dutch proverb

Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.
~~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Bring Back Political Incorrectness...

Watching the Oscars the other night was like watching an episode of "Sesame Street". I love James Franco and Anne Hathaway, but not as hosts of "Hollywood's biggest night". Franco phoned it in, and Anne was delightful, but was doing all the work. It was painful. I remember watching Academy Award ceremonies that were hosted by Bob Hope. He was edgy, entertaining, irreverent, politically incorrect, and really, really funny.

Every year, folks complain the show is too long and too boring -- which it is. Most of us are not interested in best animated short film, or sound mixing, or short live action film. We're mostly interested in the big five -- best supporting actor, best supporting actress, best actor, best actress and best film. All the rest is a big yawn. The Oscar show should be about the show itself. It's a major production, and Hollywood is a company town; they're in the business of entertaining us. So entertain us, already...

I was mortified for Melissa Leo dropping the "F" bomb during her acceptance speech. It wasn't bleeped out here in Canada, so we all heard it. But you have to admit, it was the most memorable moment of the evening.  It was the main topic of conversation the next day.

I thought Ricky Gervais was amazing hosting the Golden Globes. He was ... edgy, entertaining, irreverent, politically incorrect, and really, really funny. Please invite him to host the Oscars next year. We're big kids, we can take it. No more "Sesame Street" ... please.