Friday, April 29, 2011

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge

I think we have all reached the saturation point with the Royal Wedding. The Abbey is closed and locked, the wine glasses are washed and put away, and William's mischievous brother, Prince Harry, is at home nursing his hangover. But I have two favourite photos I wanted to post here on my little blog. This photograph above is one.

And this is the other one. Just as William and Catherine were leaving the balcony at Buckingham Palace, Catherine glanced back over her shoulder for one last look at the crowd, and for me, the look of delight on her face summed up the whole day.  Can you imagine what she must have been feeling just at that moment?  There is a whole story in her expression.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge seem to be a down-to-earth, genuine couple and I hope they will be very happy.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Mary, Elizabeth and Kate

In spite of all the naysayers, I am rather looking forward to watching the wedding of William and Kate. It's living history. The relevance of the royalty has changed over the past few decades. Now they are more of an industry for Great Britain, than anything else. Tourism is the 6th major revenue generator for England, generating about £76 billion a year for the Brits, (that is about $104 billion in U.S. dollars). London is the most visited city in the world, ahead of Bangkok, Thailand and Paris, France. The main attraction in England? The royalty.

One of the most interesting places in London is Westminster Abbey, the church where the wedding ceremony will take place. Westminster Abbey was built in 1050 and has been the coronation church since 1066.  It feels very much like a tomb in many places, because it is the final resting place of 17 monarchs.

I was amazed to see the two old enemies, Mary Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth the 1st buried together. When Queen Elizabeth died, Mary Queen of Scots’s son James 1st became the King of England. He built a double monument where his mother and Queen Elizabeth 1st share the same tomb. I spent a long time looking at their effigies, aware that I was in the presence of such rich history. It was ironic that Queen Elizabeth the 1st had Mary Queen of Scots beheaded, and now they are spending eternity together, just a few feet apart from each other. The Latin inscription on the tomb reads, "Partners both in throne and grave, here rest we two sisters, Elizabeth and Mary, in the hope of one resurrection."

Of particular interest to me was Saint Edward's Chair (the Coronation Chair, built in 1296) which is accessible to everyone. It is carved from oak and its appearance is of aged and bare wood. On it is carved the initials and other graffiti from tourists and choir boys in the Abbey. I had imagined the site of the coronation of monarchs throughout the centuries to look much different.  I was tempted to add my initials, but decided against it.  In the movie, "The King's Speech", Lionel Logue sat in Saint Edward's Chair, and King George VI was almost apoplectic.

King George VI: "T-that... that is Saint Edward's chair."
Lionel Logue: "People have carved their names on it."
King George VI: "L-listen to me... listen to me!"
Lionel Logue: "Why should I waste my time listening to you?"
King George VI: "Because I have a voice!"
Lionel Logue: "Yes, you do."

There is so much history in that old church, and now it will be the scene of history again. An ordinary young woman whose family worked in the coal mines of England will become a princess and a possibly one day a queen. She will become part of the history of Westminster Abbey. I wonder what the old Tudor Queen would think of a future king marrying a commoner.  If folks listen closely, perhaps they may hear a ghostly voice echoing throughout the Abbey, "Off with her head...!", as Queen Elizabeth the 1st spins in her grave. I think it's a wonderful story, one that Shakespeare would enjoy.

When William and Kate are married, the bells of Westminster Abbey will ring out for three hours. And in true 21st Century fashion, if you miss any of it, you can follow Westminster Abbey on Twitter.

Friday, April 22, 2011

For All The Starving Children...

All of us at one time or another when we were children, heard our parents say "Eat all your food; there are children around the world who are starving..." And of course, as children, it meant absolutely nothing to us. Starving children were inconceivable. We had three meals a day plus snacks. Food was plentiful. Today we are a nation of overfed people, with McDonald's, Burger King, KFC, Wendy's, and the ubiquitous Starbucks on every corner. On television, there are three main advertisers -- automobiles, food and medicine.

The other night I watched a program on "American Experience" about one of the several famines that happened in Russia during the 20th Century.  Millions of people starved to death, and as I watched the program, it was an eye-opener for me.  There really were starving children in other parts of the world.  In North America, eating has become a hobby.  We don't eat to live, we live to eat.  Food is no longer for nourishment, it is for fun.  At work, we are inundated with co-workers bringing in chocolates, doughnuts, cakes, pies, cookies...  Every day we have snack food and every day we work hard sit at our desks and nibble on snacks.  It occurred to me, when I watched "American Experience" that the plethora of food we have available to us in North America is almost obscene.  What would these people think if they could see it?  It would be beyond the realm of their imaginations.

It is no coincidence that the Nestlé Corporation, one of the largest manufacturers of junk food, is also the owner of the Jenny Craig weight management program. Or that Weight Watchers, another weight management program, was owned by the Heinz corporation, also a manufacturer of junk food. That's good business; fatten people up and then help them to lose the weight. It's a treadmill that millions of folks can't seem to escape, and I am as guilty as anyone.

The formula for losing weight is easy:  3,500 calories equals one pound.  Cut back on the calories, or expend them as energy, and the body will lose weight.  It is the simple principle behind any weight loss program, including Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers, with their packaged, artificial, processed food and complicated points formulas.

Yesterday at work one of our patients brought in a huge box of Tim Horton doughnuts for our staff.  As I looked through the doughnuts to see which one I wanted, I thought of how one of those doughnuts may have kept a Russian famine victim alive for just one more day.

My parents' advice about cleaning my plate because of "all the starving children" was well-meant, but ultimately bad advice which led to bad habits.  Because of those starving children, I am going to be very careful from now on about eating without thinking about it first ... well, starting right after Easter dinner.  ;-)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Twenty-five Things...

With the royal wedding less than two weeks away, the Vegas bookmakers' odds against the couple reaching their tenth wedding anniversary is 8 to 1. Well, with the track record of royal marriages in the past few years, I'm not surprised. William has said that he wants the marriage "to last forever". Well, I hope so. I do think William and Catherine are genuinely in love with each other, and with any luck, the world will leave them alone. Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip have been married for 63 years, and they're still going strong.  I find that amazing.  I would imagine Philip has been quite ... challenging, to say the least, but the Queen is indomitable, and their marriage has endured.  Here are 25 things about them I find rather interesting:

1. The Queen’s former private secretary said of Prince Philip: “He is the only man in the world who treats the Queen as a human being.”

3. Philps` pet name for his wife is “sausage”.

4. The Queen Mother used to refer to Philip as The Hun, as he is a member of the German house of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glucksburg.

5.When the pair honeymooned at Broadlands, the Mountbatten’s country home near Romsey, Hants, the bride had 15 suitcases, the groom two.

6. Under pressure from his wife-to-be, Philip gave up smoking on the morning of his wedding.

7.When Philip’s cousin Patricia Mountbatten remarked on Elizabeth’s flawless complexion, the Prince joked: “Yes, and she’s like that all over.”

8. In traditional upper-class fashion Elizabeth and Philip had connecting bedrooms. When he walked into Philip’s bedroom one morning, royal valet James MacDonald was embarrassed to find Elizabeth in a silk nightgown and Philip naked. “Prince Philip didn’t care at all,” said MacDonald. “Pyjamas? Never wear the things,” Philip said.

9. When they first moved into Buckingham Palace, Philip had a direct phone line installed so that he could talk to his wife without going through the switchboard.

10. Once, when the Queen repeatedly sucked in her breath at his fast driving, Philip told her: “If you do that once more I shall put you out of the car.”

11. Both the Queen and Prince Philip dislike duvets and prefer sheets and blankets.

12. On the day of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip’s wedding, a footman lost the bride’s bouquet and her tiara snapped in half as it was put on.

13. In the year of their wedding, the Queen and Philip attended a fancy-dress ball. She was dressed as a maid, he as a waiter.

14. Philip has nothing to do with his wife’s life as sovereign but does deal with family problems, of which there have been many.

15. The Queen still carries in her handbag a silver make-up case given to her by Philip as a wedding gift.

16. All the Queen’s major decisions – paying tax, giving up the royal yacht, urging Charles and Diana to have an early divorce – were taken after consulting Philip.

17. At the Coronation in 1953, Philip was the first layman to pay homage to the Queen. He knelt at her feet and kissed her left cheek.

18. After the death of King George VI in February, 1952, the royal couple did not want to move into Buckingham Palace but Prime Minister Winston Churchill insisted.

19. The Queen and Philip still have blazing rows. One courtier said: “You can hardly believe what you are seeing. There are cries of ‘Rubbish’ and ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about.’”

20. When arguing with her husband, the Queen’s technique is to talk in riddles to confuse Philip’s logical mind.

21. Philip could never have a bath with his wife because a maid is always in attendance.

22. The Queen loves to do impersonations and does a very good one of Philip.

23. Although they still sleep in the same bed most of the time, they stay in separate rooms if one of them has to get up early.

24. The Queen finds video recorders complicated so Philip is in charge of taping her favourite programmes.

25. They eat breakfast together with cereals on the table in plastic Tupperware containers.

With thanks to the royal expert James Whitaker.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Stranger Things Have Happened...

American politics fascinate me; there is always something weird and wonderful going on in the world of American politics.  Who would ever have guessed that The Donald would one day run for President of the United States?  Could it be that the man with the impossible spray-on tan and even more impossible hair could actually be a legitimate candidate?  Some folks are even taking his candidacy seriously.  Well, why not...  Could the Americans do any worse?  I have always believed that governments are a business and should be run by businessman, not politicians.  Americans are now paying between $3.50 and $4.00 for a gallon of gas.  That's insane.  And most of their oil and gas comes from Canada -- not the Middle East, so there's no excuse for that.  Maybe it's time for a businessman to run America like a business.

I'm not a big fan of Donald Trump, ever since he bought the wonderful sand dunes in Balmedie, Scotland, and turned them into a golf course.  Does the world really need another golf course, just so The Donald can make even more money?  No...  On the other hand, when it comes to business, the man is a genius.  If you have ever watched Trump in action on "Celebrity Apprentice", he is able to see right through to the heart of a matter in nanoseconds.  His instincts are right on point, and he never falters.   He may be the comic relief at the moment, but I think he will end up being a serious contender.  And usually what Donald Trump wants, Donald Trump gets.

American politics are just so much fun.  You couldn't make this stuff up...

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Ultimate Luxury...

It's Saturday morning, which means only one thing at my house -- it's time to vacuum. I hate detest despise don't like vacuuming. If someone wanted to torture me, putting lighted matches under my fingernails would be a distant second to vacuuming.  There are folks who vacuum every day, can you imagine?  Voluntarily.  And I have known real live, living, breathing people who said they actually enjoy vacuuming.  I should invite them over on Saturday mornings.

The folks who live upstairs from me having a cleaning lady. *sigh* If I were to win a lottery, the first thing I would do is hire a cleaning lady.  The second thing I would buy is a robot vacuum cleaner.  And then I could sit back in my big cozy chair while the little guy zipped around and did all the work.  Besides, he's rather cute; he reminds me of the little fellow in "Batteries Not Included".  What's not to love about a vacuum cleaner like that?

Doesn't this look like fun?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Catherine Zeta Jones And Bipolar Disorder

Yesterday Catherine Zeta Jones revealed that she had recently undergone treatment for Bipolar II disorder, and I think that is amazing. Catherine Zeta Jones is one of my favourite actresses, but I admire her even more now. She has shown a great deal of courage in revealing she has the disorder, as there is still a stigma around mental illness. Most people suffer in silence and shame, and that's just wrong.

According to the Mayo Clinic, Bipolar II disorder is a form of Bipolar disorder marked by irritation and a mildly elevated mood - a state known as hypomania. It's generally less debilitating than Bipolar I, a condition marked by mood swings and a severe mood elevation known as mania. Previously it was called manic depression because of the mood swings.

People with Bipolar II can generally continue to function, Dr. Thomas Wise, professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Medical School, told CBS News. "It can cause excessive energy and lots of optimism and being really flighty in terms of ideas," he said. "The symptoms can be a little annoying to others, but people can still work."  Wise said stress can sometimes trigger symptoms of Bipolar disorder, but typically in people who have a hereditary predisposition to the disorder.  Those with Bipolar II tend to have more depression, with the mood swings spread over a longer time and the "up" periods less elevated. The episodes can be triggered by major stress or life changes.  With appropriate treatment - often drug therapy with lithium or another mood stabilizer and psychotherapy - people with Bipolar II generally have an excellent prognosis, said Dr. Wise.

I believe my mother suffered from a mild form of Bipolar disorder. I adored my mother, and in retrospect, I feel so bad for how she must have suffered.  Her mood swings were like an itch she had to scratch. She would let off steam by yelling and hollering, and then she felt better. Once it had happened, my brothers and I were in the clear for perhaps a few hours, or even days or weeks, until it all built up again. Often my mother would go for days without speaking to anyone, she would be in such a deep depression.  Those times were the worst.  We, of course, felt like anxious, weary, battle-scarred little warriors.  The sad thing is, when she was angry or depressed, we all thought she didn't love us.  But she did love us, and and she would be devastated to know what a profound and lasting effect her moods had on our lives.

My mother was a very creative person, and often creativity and Bipolar seem to coexist.  I was very proud of my mother for her beauty, her artistic abilities, her charm, intelligence and warmth; she had a certain je ne sais quoi that none of my friends' mothers had. She was magical and she had that mysterious thing called star quality.  But I realize now she also had Bipolar disorder, and she was as much a victim of her disorder -- if not more so -- than we were.  Today is the anniversary of the passing of my mother from this earth.  She left behind so many beautiful memories, but also some very deep scars which have taken time to heal.  I wonder how different our lives might have been if my mother had received the treatment she so obviously needed.

Margaret Trudeau suffered from Bipolar disorder all her life, until she finally sought help. She said, "There is no shame in having the disease, the shame is in having the disease and not getting help for it." In that regard, I applaud Catherine Zeta Jones.  The spotlight will not only be on her, but also on her courage.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The "Pod"...

The organization where I work is one of the leading organizations in Canada -- North America, in fact. We are known as a "Centre for Excellence", and the organization has definitely earned that title. A study done by our organization was recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine. No small potatoes, by any means... But when it comes to organizational thinking, well, let's just say there is room for improvement there.

I have worked for the organization for ten years, and my work space was wonderful, with lots of space and natural light. I could watch the seasons change, and any time my eyes needed a rest, I could look out the windows at the clouds or sun, or rain, or whatever. And the air quality was good -- just like little Baby Bear's porridge -- not too hot and not too cold. Everything was perfect, until a design company was hired to "improve" our work space.


The first thing they did was build walls around us; they call it a "pod". Natural light? Gone. They gave us desks that are too small; all our space ... gone. Then they squeezed us all into one little corner where there is no air. We feel crammed into each other's personal space, but because of the new walls on the "pod" our area actually takes up more space than it did before. And everything is grey.  The good thing is, we get more work done because we're too depressed to socialize.

My advice to any designer would be, if it ain't broke, don't fix it -- unless you're the one who has to live with it.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Mystery Of The Rear Window...

I have lived in the same treehouse for 13 years, and with the exception of a very few people, I have had the same neighbours for all of those 13 years. Most of them I know well enough to chat with ... "Lovely day today..." that sort of thing. A couple of them are fairly close friends. But the folks who live in the apartment two houses away are aloof and mysterious. I have never seen them, ever.  It could be Bigfoot and Godzilla living there, and neither I nor any of my neighbours would know it.  The lights are usually on in the evenings, so we are fairly certain the apartment is in fact inhabited, but the curtains are always closed and the place remains hidden behind the branches of the trees, like a Gothic English novel. It looks cold, dark and uninhabited.

However, every Friday night like clockwork, the drapes are opened to reveal a spectacularly furnished apartment with wonderful antiques and carpets, candles and soft lights, and a table loaded with food and drinks.  The curtains stay open on this festive scene from around 7:00 in the evening until around 6:00 the next morning ... and no one is ever there.  Not a soul.  At dawn, the curtains close again until the following Friday.  I once thought I saw a flicker of a shadow in this diorama, but I realized I was mistaken; it was just my imagination.

For 13 years this same scene has played out every Friday night.  I'm sure there must be a story to it, but I am stymied as to what it might be.  I would love to hear some of your suggestions.  Do you have any idea what is going on when those curtains fly open on a Friday night?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Customer Service...? Not...

Several years ago we had a chain of department stores here in Canada called Woodward's. They were very exclusive, much like Harrod's in London, complete with a gourmet food department. My first job when I was in high school was at Woodward's, and customer service was drilled into me. The chain of stores was owned by Charlie Woodward, and he always referred to himself as a merchant. He said he was in the business of selling merchandise. If anyone need anything -- from groceries to private school uniforms -- they shopped at Woodward's. Folks could find anything at Woodward's and the service was wonderful. In 1986 the chain of Woodward's was bought by the Hudson's Bay Company, and most of the stores, excluding the flagship store, were torn down.

Yesterday I decided I needed some new pillows, but not just any pillows, I wanted Tempurpedic pillows, so I made some phone calls to see where I could find them. Big mistake. Do you think I could get a live person on the phone at any business in Vancouver? Just guess. Nope -- just voice mail. I called The Bay ... one ringy dingy ... two ringy dingies ... 24 ringy dingies later, no one answered. I called back and again the phone rang 30 times. There wasn't even a voice tree.

Finally I decided to go to Sears, after logging onto their website and choosing the pillows I wanted. When I got there, the store was so empty, you could shoot a cannon down the main corridor. I traipsed up to the third floor, and not a soul was in sight. After trudging around the cavernous linen department, I found the pillows I wanted. Were they on sale? I couldn't tell, and there was no one to ask. I glanced up and saw surveillance cameras with a sign "shoplifters will be prosecuted". As if I am going to walk out with two large Tempurpedic pillows and perhaps a new duvet cover, especially with Big Brother watching me. There were no sales clerks to help me, just lots of cameras ... watching...  Rather than making me feel like a valued customer, the store managed to make me feel creepy.

Did I end up getting the pillows? Yes, I went to Ed's Linens where there were three lovely sales clerks ready to answer all of my questions about what was the right product for me. They even threw in some free bath lotion.

Charlie Woodward was right. If a person is in the business of selling merchandise, they had better at least make an attempt at selling the merchandise.

Monday, April 4, 2011


Today is Marigold's 12th birthday. Twelve...! My goodness, how did that happen? I remember when she was born, on April 4th, Easter Sunday morning, and now here she is on the cusp of being a teenager.  I wish I could post a picture of her, because she is so beautiful, but we have an agreement not to post pictures of Phinnaeus or Marigold on the Internet.  So I will tell you about her instead.

Marigold is exquisitely beautiful, fine-boned and delicately featured, with a gorgeous smile.  But don't let that fool you -- she is a straight A student, with a talent for mathematics, and she is extremely athletic in soccer, swimming and track and field.  An inclination towards mathematics and athletics are two things which I cannot lay claim to, so that particular DNA did not come from me, unfortunately.  She is also a very good pianist and takes lessons every week.

I love spending time with Marigold, just the two of us, which is something we don't get to do very often.  When we do spend time together, we have lovely conversations, and I am always amazed at her insight on life in general.  Nothing gets past her.  She has a quiet nature in many ways, but she is also the type of person who sees "the glass half full", rather than "half empty".  That, I think, she might get from me -- optimism in the face of adversity.  She can tend to be quite philosophical about things, and in that way she reminds me of my mother.  She also inherited my mother's dark, straight hair, while the rest of us have unruly curls and a tendency towards red hair.

Marigold is quite the beauty, inside and out, and I can hardly wait to see how the next few years unfold.  I have a feeling, too, that her big brother is quite protective of her, despite the fact that they don't always -- shall we say -- see eye to eye on everything.  When they come to visit me, I am always amazed at what good friends they are, and I think that friendship will last all their lives.

Marigold is a very special young lady with her own little star quality, and I think she is going to make her mark in the world.

Happy Birthday, Marigold...! 

I hope you have a special day.

Love, Oma

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Man Or The Party...?

When I was in grade 12, we had a debate as to whether, in an election, we would vote for the man or the party. The premise was, if the right man were running for the wrong party, would we vote for the man or the party? Or alternatively, what if the wrong man were running for the right party? Of course, the definition of right or wrong would depend on where the individual stands.  If one is left-leaning, then that is the right party; or if one is right-leaning, then the left party is the wrong party.  Confused?  The conclusion I reached after the debate was that I would vote for the person, not the party.  The candidate who heads the party is ultimately responsible for setting the tone.

On May 2nd, exactly one month from today, Canada faces a federal election, and the two main candidates are these two men pictured here.  The man on the left is our current Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, the head of the Conservative party.  Folks in Canada love to hate Stephen Harper because he is a staunch conservative, but they keep electing him.  He has been Prime Minister twice (39th and 40th) and I predict he will be the 41st -- with a majority.  He is the very definition of conservative, and he makes no apologies for it.

The man on the right is Michael Ignatieff, the head of the Liberal party, and he scares the sh*t out of me.  Really.  He is the very definition of smug and disingenuous. He was born in Canada, but until very recently he lived out of the country for 30 years, referring to himself as an American. He is also on record as being the Member of Parliament who missed the most days in the House of Commons.  If a man is voted by the public to do a job, shouldn't he at least show up for work?

Canada has had a reputation for being soft on crime, and while our crime rate is not as high as many other countries, we have had an increase in violent crime. However, until now the criminals have had more rights than the victims. In 1984 the "Young Offenders Act" was enacted, which basically gave license to anyone under the age of 18 to do whatever they wished. Last year two boys aged 16 and 17 murdered 16 year-old Kimblerly Proctor in Victoria, B.C. They kidnapped her, tied her up, repeatedly raped her, choked her, kicked her and beat her, suffocated her, mutilated and burned her body and then dumped it under a bridge. It was a pre-meditated murder which they had carefully planned. These two monsters young men should be locked up for life and never see the light of day again. But because they are "youth", they will be sentenced under the "Young Offenders Act" and will get a minimal sentence, perhaps three years, with time off for "good behaviour", and we will never know their identities. This law should be changed, or scrapped altogether. Our current Prime Minister, Mr. Harper, is tough on crime, and says "Canadians deserve to live in a country where they don't have to worry when they turn off the lights at night, where they don't have to look over their shoulders as they walk down the street, where they can expect to find their car where they parked it."

Maybe we have swung too far to the left, and we need more structure. I don't know. I'm not particularly a conservative, but in this case I may vote for the man and not the party. At least Mr. Harper is Canadian.

Friday, April 1, 2011

It Only Hurts When I Walk...

The other day we moved offices, and I lifted something(s) that I probably should not have lifted... I guess I should not have carried that printer over to the other side of the office, and now I'm paying the price. But, it only hurts when I walk ... or talk ... or sit ... or breathe.  Thank goodness for extra-strength Tylenol and heating pads.  But I am not able to sit at my computer for any length of time.  I have had so many wonderful new visitors to my blog, and I would love to pay you a visit ... and to my regular friends too ... as soon as I am able to sit ... or walk ... or talk ... or breathe.

Have a wonderful weekend everyone.  Go out and have some fun.  And remember, if you really must do the chores, they will still be waiting for you when you get home.