Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Remembering Our Manners...

Usually Canadians are not flag wavers, or overly patriotic in any way, but occasionally something will get my goat, and out comes the flag. We have a "temp" working in our office and she has been with us since Christmas. She is from the U.K. and lived in the U.S. for a few years until her visa ran out and they told her she could no longer stay there. So, she ended up in Vancouver and ultimately in our office. She's a very nice person, and we have gone for lunch together a couple of times, and she's quite likeable, but over the past few months she has spent hours of time complaining about Canada. "In the U.K. ... blah, blah, blah. In the U.S. ... blah, blah, blah..." "Things are so much better in the U.K. Things are so much better in the U.S. ... blah, blah, blah."

Yesterday a group of us were chatting, and Miss Such-and-Such was complaining about something again, and comparing Canada unfavorably to the U.K. Everyone was agreeing with her -- things are so much better in Romania, things are so much better in India ... It made me feel really sad, like when someone is saying something nasty about someone we love.  I looked around at the group of people, and I said, "Do you realize, of the four of us, I am the only one here who was born in this country? Canada took you in, fed you, housed you, clothed you, gave you employment, educated your children, and gave you medical care." I said, "Both the World Health Organization and the United Nations have rated Canada ahead of the U.K. and the U.S., and I feel very uncomfortable when I hear people constantly bashing my country. So, if you're that unhappy here, I'll be glad give you taxi fare to the airport." Omigosh, was I actually saying that? Well, apparently I was. I said it with a smile, but I got my point across. Afterwards, each of them came to me privately and apologized. Miss Such-and-Such said she had not realized just how bad she must have sounded all these months, knocking the country that is keeping her from being destitute.

I feel rather bad that my patience ran out, because I'm sort of like the Incredible Hulk -- you don't want to make me angry; you wouldn't like me when I'm angry. But I do think if we are a guest in someone else's home, it's a good idea to remember our manners.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

English As She Is Spoke...

“Good English I speak; no excuse for bad grammar, there is.” ... Yoda

Last night I was watching the 6:00 news, and I thought perhaps I was hearing things. The announcer said, "Would have went..." Did I hear him correctly? This morning I received an e-mail from someone at work, and the writer -- an intelligent person -- wrote, "Should of..." It makes my brain hurt when I read things like that. The English language is fluid and it's always changing, but there are certain grammatical rules that should apply, especially to folks in the professional broadcast business.

I'm not a writer, and sometimes I am guilty of using split infinitives, but it seems I am in good company.

"I don't care if he is made to go quickly, or to quickly go--but go he must!" ... George Bernard Shaw

"To boldly go where no man has gone before..." ... Gene Roddenberry

There are so many writing rules that I don't understand, because they don't make any sense. But the spoken word should flow, and it should follow the rules of grammar.  The way we speak says a lot about us.  I remember when I was a little girl my grandfather told me that we can go anywhere in society if our nails are clean, our buttons are polished and we speak properly.  Well, no one polishes buttons anymore, but speaking well is so important.

The other day there was a burglary in Vancouver, in a nice neighborhood with upscale houses.  The next-door neighbor was interviewed, and he said, "I seen the guy walking up the sidewalk, and then a few minutes later I seen him come out of the house..."

It hurt my brain.

Another tendency folks have is the misuse of "I" and "me""He gave the book to John and I."  Argh.  Weren't they listening in grade six English class?

When I read through the blogs, I am amazed at how many wonderful writers there are out there, and it's a joy to read something that is well-written.

You would never say, "Would have went..." ... would you?

Monday, March 29, 2010

Lady Gaga -- Art Or Porn...?

A friend and I went on a shopping trip to West Vancouver the other day, and as we were driving over the Lions Gate Bridge I heard a song by Lady Gaga on my friend's car radio. "Who is that?" I asked her, "She has a great voice." My friend said that was Lady Gaga and asked me if I had ever heard of her. Well, of course I had, but I had never heard her sing. So, last night I thought I would check out some of her videos on YouTube. Marigold has a birthday coming up, and I was thinking I would be "cool" and perhaps get her a CD.

Um ... no.

I must be turning into a prude *gasp*, but when did popular music -- you know, the music kids listen to and watch -- become XXX-rated? These folks are putting exotic dancers like Candy, Bambi and Foxy out of business. I guess I have been living under a rock for the past decade or so, because I had no idea. I tried listening to the lyrics, but I turned it off when she started singing about her muffin. And no, I don't think she was referring to her grandmother's special recipe for raisin bran. Oh, goodness... It's too bad; she really does have a nice voice.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Kathy Bates

I have a new favorite actress -- Kathy Bates. She's everywoman. She has had a role in each of the last few movies I have seen, and in each one of them she has stolen every scene. She played Michael Oher's tutor in The Blind Side, and brought his grades -- and the movie -- up from a C- to an A. She was wonderful. And who else could steal a movie from Michelle Feiffer or Kate Winslet? Only Kathy Bates. And for some reason, Kathy Bates never seems to age. She has had the same face for 20 years.

Kathy Bates was blessed with an expressive, mobile face and she can either look attractive or she can look dreadful, and she can switch from one face to the other in an instant. As Annie Wilkes in Misery, the role for which she won an Oscar, she was truly frightening.

"I'm your number one fan. There's nothing to worry about. You're gonna be just fine. I'll take good care of you. I'm your number one fan. You better show me a little more appreciation, Mr. Man."

I think that's the scariest line ever spoken in a movie. It still makes my hair stand on end. During an interview she once said, "I read the book and had to do the movie," she says. "My response to any material is through my stomach. If it grabs me there, I have to do it, and Misery did."

Kathy Bates appears to be having the time of her life in every role she plays. It's as if she knows she's the best thing in the movie, and she plays it to the hilt, but in a subtle way, as if her fans are part of a private club, and only we are in on the secret. Her hot tub scene with Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt was a hoot. Lately Kathy Bates has had a recurring role on The Office, as the CEO of a company taking over Dunder Mifflin, and she has completely re-energized the show.

Kathy, I'm your number one fan.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Invisible People...

The other night I finally got around to seeing The Blind Side, and of course I enjoyed it. Part way through the movie it occurred to me how similar the story was to Precious. I didn't care for Precious the first time I watched it, but on the wise advice of Phinnaeus, I watched it again, and I'm glad I did. I was able to get past the bleakness of the movie, and the awful language, and see the souls of the young woman and the people who were trying to help her. And the more I watched, the more I could again see the similarity to The Blind Side. In both movies, the teenagers were at the very bottom of society, with no hope of any future. They were each sent to alternative-type schools, but again with no great expectations for their ability to achieve an education. And they were each helped by one person who saw a glimmer -- a spark -- that they were indeed something special. The Blind Side is a true story, and Precious is fiction, but they both resonate with the same message -- don't give up on people who appear to be invisible.

How many times have we walked past invisible people -- perhaps in the hallways at school, or on the street, or with a group of people we know? And, in the alternative, how many times have we felt invisible ourselves? I think everyone has at one time or another, and it's frustrating and demoralizing. Imagine what it must be like for someone on the fringes of society. How many Einsteins or Van Goghs or Beethovens are we overlooking?

There was once a homeless man here in Vancouver by the name of Frank Paul. He was a Mi'kmaq from New Brunswick, and a police officer "accidentally" left Mr. Paul in a back alley in the middle of winter, and he died of hypothermia. I used to see Mr. Paul occasionally, and every time I saw him, I could see a spark of something in his eyes. There was something in there -- a great artist or musician -- and I could see he knew it too. I could also see the look of sadness and shame in his eyes, because he knew there was no hope for him.

I didn't think either Precious or The Blind Side were by any means the greatest movies I've ever seen. One was too brutal, and the other was a bit like a "Hallmark Hall of Fame" TV movie, but I enjoyed them. If you haven't seen them, I would definitely recommend them.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Lulu's Story...

Lulu and I have been friends for many years. As soon as we met, we became instant friends, and although throughout the years our lives have taken different twists and turns, we have always remained close. We were joking the other day about how many of her husbands I have known. Three. Or four. Lulu is one of those people I like -- a true character. She is intelligent, a bit acerbic, witty, well-educated and funny. She is an interior designer, and had designed the offices of one of the companies situated in the World Trade Centers. On the day the towers came down, Lulu phoned me from Toronto, and all she could say was "Oh, sh*t, oh, sh*t". Everyone she knew in that office had perished, as well as many of the people she had known in the Windows on the World Restaurant at the top of the North Tower.

Lulu had been adopted as a child, and she had always been curious about her real identity. Her adoptive family was Scottish-Canadian, and she had been raised in the Scottish tradition, but she was never sure if those were her true roots. She had one brother, also adopted, and she said she always felt a bit like a lost soul. There was a part of her that seemed to be searching for something, a persona that she carefully guarded. She had a wandering spirit, and was able to pick up and leave wherever she was, and just as quickly put down roots in another location. She had become adept at making a home for herself anywhere.

The other day Lulu told me she had recently found her birth records and had found her biological mother and father. She was delighted to know that she was indeed of Scottish heritage, and she told me her real name. I laughed because it suits her even more than the name she has now, and as she said it, it seemed to slip around her shoulders like a comfortable, perfectly fitted jacket -- tartan of course. The look on her face was like watching a lost piece of a jigsaw puzzle snapping into place, completing the picture. Her birth family even has a traditional Scottish tartan, and the strange thing is, for as long as I have known Lulu, she has owned a kilt in that very tartan. Lulu was also delighted to learn that she has eight brothers and sisters. I asked her if she had found any of them, and she said, "It would be rather difficult to find eight brothers and sisters", and I said "But you would only have to find one -- the rest would follow." She said she couldn't imagine finding other people in this world who might perhaps look like her, or have some similarity to her. She has never known what that feels like.

I can hardly wait to hear the rest of Lulu's story. I have a feeling there's a lot more yet to be discovered.

From Zero To Panic

Do you ever worry about things? Let me rephrase that. Do you ever worry unreasonably about things that on an intellectual level you know are just silly? I worry about things. Oh, yes I do. I can go from zero to panic in less than 60 seconds. Most worry is completely unnecessary, but I think the part of the brain that controls worry is reptilian, and we often can't control it. On my research about what part of the brain controls worry, I found this:

The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is in the front half of the brain. It is responsible for our focus, planning, impulse control, emotional control, empathy, judgment and insight. Healthy activity in the PFC leads to conscientiousness, thoughtfulness and a goal-oriented personality. If the PFC is low in activity, it can make a person disorganized, easily distracted and sometimes antisocial. On the other hand, if the PFC is overworked, it can cause anxiety, inflexibility and impulsiveness.

Interesting. Well, I am not inflexible or impulsive, but I do worry about the most idiotic things. Once, when I was about 13, I had a teeny, tiny freckle on my arm that I was convinced was something bad, and I tried to convince my parents that I needed my arm amputated -- now -- before the freckle spread. I couldn't understand why they laughed at me. And when I was about 10, our next-door neighbors belonged to a particular religious cult that believed the world was coming to an end very soon, and they kept telling me to be prepared. Oh, goodness, how many hours did I spend worrying about that? Don't even ask.

For the most part, my set point is fairly easy-going. I'm a creature of habit and and routine. I prefer peace and serenity, rather than chaos, and I want everyone in my life to be the same way. I would prefer folks to be healthy, happy, serene and content every day -- in other words, all of those things that are almost impossible in our modern world.

"Don't worry about the world coming to an end today. It is already tomorrow in Australia." ... Charles M. Schulz

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Congratulations To The American People

I think the American folks really got it right with the new health care legislation, and I think in time it will benefit everyone. It may not be perfect, and it will probably require some fine-tuning over the next few years, but the main thing is that in the long term it will help people. It's regrettable that the debates about this issue have caused so much bitterness and animosity in the U.S., but hopefully that will subside. To me, the new legislation is all about charity and kindness towards people who are less fortunate. The most over-looked demographic in almost every country is the working poor, those folks who fall into that grey area between middle-class and poverty. This bill will help them. Health care should not be about big business, but rather it should be about a country being able to look after the health and well-being of its people. Life is a pre-existing condition.

Congratulations to the Americans for getting it right.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Today would have been my mother's birthday. I'm not going to tell you how old she would be, though, because my mother always said a lady never tells her age or her shoe size. For most of my life, I didn't know my mother's age, but I knew her shoe size was 6-1/2. She was very petite. She was a combination of Coco Chanel and Ava Gardner, and I was always in awe of her. She loved fashion, and a few times a year she and I would make a trip to Vancouver so she could buy the latest dresses, suits, hats, jewelry, shoes, handbags...  Sometimes she would buy something and hide it away in her closet and say, "Ssshhh... don't tell your Dad."  And then weeks later she would put it on, and my father would say, "Oh, that looks nice, I don't think I've seen that before," and my mother would reply, "Oh, this old thing?  I've had it for ages."  My Dad was always wise to her tricks, but he went along with it anyway.  My mother was beautiful and she knew it. Whenever she and I went downtown after school, my friends would gasp and say, "Is that your mother?" Yes. *sigh*

My Mom and Dad occasionally went out to formal events, and I remember one evening my mother wore a gown that was floor length pale green brocade, with a bow at the back and a deep cut bodice, and the fabric rustled when she walked.  Another dress was a deep mauve taffeta, and it shimmered and changed colors in the light.  And she always wore Chanel No. 5.  My mother was also very funny, with a droll wit. Whenever she wore her high heels, she would chuckle and say, "I sound just like a hor ...sss."  For years I didn't get it, and then one day I repeated it out loud, and I got it.

Her favorite flowers were gladioli and in the summer our garden and our house was always filled with masses of them.  She was a wonderful gardener and cook, and she loved to entertain.  My job was always to polish the silver, because everything had to be done just so.  My mother was always the center of any gathering.  One Christmas I was invited to a party at the house of a CEO of a large corporation in British Columbia.  My mother was staying with me at the time, and I took her with me.  Half way through the evening my daughter and I looked over, and there was Mom sitting on one of the chesterfields, with everyone gathered around her, mesmerized, while she entertained them with one of her stories.  We laughed.

My mother was born and raised in South Africa and educated in England, and how she ended up in a small town on Vancouver Island always caused her the greatest consternation.  She was a wonderful artist and wanted to go to Paris to further her art studies, but her father -- a Captain in the British Army -- prevented her from doing it, afraid he would never see her again if she left.

When I remember my mother now, I realize what a unique person she was, but she was like a caged exotic bird.  She came from a world far away from small town British Columbia, and she always had that far-away look in her eyes.  There is not a day goes by that I don't think about her.

"Some people think luxury is the opposite of poverty. It is not. It is the opposite of vulgarity." ... Coco Chanel

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Friendships And Unexpected Gifts -- Just Because

When I went for dinner with my friend on Saturday night, she brought me a little gift -- the letter "J" that you see here. My friend said she had been carrying it around with her since she saw it in a shop window a few months ago, and kept forgetting to give it to me. I'm not a big fan of bling, but I love gifts that are given for no reason -- just because. So I will always treasure my little "J", and I will definitely wear it. Gifts that are given spontaneously are always wonderful, aren't they? They aren't given to us because it's our birthday, or because it's Christmas, but because the person saw something and thought we would like it, so they bought it for us. I had two such gifts this week.

My very special friend sent me a wonderful book about Edward Hopper, one of my favorite artists, from the Des Moines Art Center in Iowa. The book is filled with wonderful paintings, pencil sketches and photographs by Edward Hopper, and there is even a photograph of Edward Hopper himself. The title of the book is "Edward Hopper, Women" and on page 48 there is a painting he has done, entitled "Jo Painting". Edward Hopper and his wife, Jo, used to frequent a chop suey restaurant at Columbus Circle, and they observed the office workers and secretaries who had lunch there every day. Edward Hopper said the restaurants "... must have seemed peaceful oases ... and one imagines the dining rooms filled with the soft tones of quiet conversations between girlfriends." Out of this the wonderful painting "Chop Suey" was born. I had no idea of the history of that painting, my favorite of all of Edward Hopper's work, until I read the book my friend gave me.

Again, I see a certain synchronicity with my two gifts. To an observer, my friend and I having dinner on Saturday night must have seemed similar to the two women in "Chop Suey". We were engrossed in our conversation, and the restaurant felt like a peaceful oasis. And, I'll always treasure my two unexpected gifts and my friends for giving them to me -- just because.

Synchronicity, The New Moon, And The Midnight Train To Georgia

Last night I had dinner with a friend at a steakhouse here in Vancouver called Pinkys. It was wonderful. The decor at Pinkys is retro 1970s, with nostalgic music to match -- "Midnight Train to Georgia" was one of the songs I heard. The food and the service was excellent, which is always good because it leaves folks relaxed and able to enjoy the company of their friends. Our waiter was attentive without being obtrusive. I had a filet mignon, done to perfection, and my friend and I shared a crème caramel for desert.

When I got home, I decided to put my feet up and watch "Twilight, the New Moon". Oh, I know, I know, I'm a 13 year-old girl at heart. The movies are completely silly, but they're fun and they're filmed here in Vancouver. The movie stars Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner and a small part by Dakota Fanning. Well, it turns out that while the stars of the movie were filming here, they visited Pinkys Steakhouse and sat at the same booth where my friend and I had just had dinner. Okay, as far as my claim to fame goes, those are pretty slim pickings, but I love synchronicity like that. I also love a well-cooked steak (medium rare, please) so, if you live in Vancouver, I recommend Pinkys Steakhouse. I wonder if Edward Cullen asked for his steak raw rare.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Trading Up...

Usually when people are looking to buy a new house, they try to trade up from their present living conditions to something a bit more upscale, perhaps with running water and electricity.

When folks want another car, they usually find something newer, perhaps with all the bells and whistles, in a color they like.

So, you have to wonder, what on earth was Jesse James thinking? He's married to a lovely, charming, talented, funny, beautiful, intelligent woman -- an Academy Award winner, for goodness sake -- who loved him; why would he cheat on her? What on earth makes some men do these things? Honestly, I just shake my head...

Maybe it's time for Sandra to trade up.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Lemon Tree

Every once in a while there is a movie so beautiful, it draws you in and makes you part of it. You are no longer the observer sitting in a darkened room or theatre, but have been pulled through the invisible wall that divides you from the story. Such a movie is "Lemon Tree". It's an Israeli movie, and it takes place on the border between Israel and the West Bank. A Palestinian widow, Salma Zidane, has inherited her family's lemon grove, and it is her only source of income. The Israeli Defense Minister and his wife move into the house next door, and the Defense Minister orders Salma's lemon grove to be cut down, arguing that it could be a hiding place for terrorists. Security forces set up a guard tower and barbed wire around the grove, and order the trees to be uprooted. Salma is forbidden to enter the grove to pick the lemons or to tend the trees, and they slowly begin to die from lack of care and water. Salma decides to take the case all the way to the Supreme Court, and her quiet dignity and determination are magnificent. The actress who plays Salma Salma, Hiam Abass, was also in "The Visitor", and she is an amazing actress.

In "Lemon Tree", Salma and the Israeli Defense Minister's wife, Mira, become friends. Mira has great respect for Salma and empathy for her plight, and she is disgusted with her husband's overbearing attitude and the way he bullies Salma. She understands Salma, and they develop a bond that transcends the Israeli / Palestinian conflict. I have often thought what a wonderful world this would be if women had the chance to run things for a while. Perhaps they might give a whole new, more humane perspective. Eran Riklis, the producer of the movie, said, "I wanted to populate this film with a lot of faces and give each character their own moment of grace, even when, on the surface, it's one of the 'bad guys,' so to speak... This film does address the ugly side of occupation perhaps, yet no blood is spilled." The movie gives a sympathetic view of the Palestinians, even though it is made by Israelis. The movie is not about war or peace, it is about the beauty of living a simple, day-to-day life. The New York Times named it a 'Critics Pick' of 2009. Well, it certainly gets Jo's 'Critics Pick'.

Google Street View

I absolutely love Google Street view. Isn't it fun? Thanks to the folks at Google, I am able to visit all of my old haunts without ever leaving home. Yesterday I was curious to have a look at the little house where I grew up on Vancouver Island (it's slightly bigger than it looks in these pictures, and you can click on the pictures for a better view).  I was able to get a 360 degree view of the street and my house, and I was able to see all of the neighbours houses.  Our house has changed a bit.  My mother always had a wonderful garden, and our house had been featured in a couple of magazines.  I still have the pictures.  We had two lily ponds -- one in the front yard and one in the back.  When the water lilies bloomed, they were a mass of pink lotus blossoms.  The ponds were stocked with goldfish that grew into carp.  My brothers and I used to take live worms from the compost heap and hold them over the ponds and say, "Here fishy, fishy, fishy..." and the goldfish would leap out of the water and take the worms from our hands.

But I digress...

Have you used Google Street View yet?  It's amazing.  You just type in an address, a map comes up with a marker on it. You click on the marker, and it takes you to the street view. From there you can actually drive along the road and look at the entire view at a 360 degree angle. So I was able to "walk" past the house and have a look at it from the other side. My mother and father built the house themselves from a piece of property in the woods. So they saved some of the large trees in the forest to keep near the house.  The large monkey puzzle tree that my mother had planted is gone, but there is a smaller one there now.  There was also a lovely, tall poplar tree in the back, which is also gone.  I used to love to listen to the wind in those trees. There are several large Douglas fir trees where I live now, and I understand why I am most comfortable living near those big, old growth trees.

If you haven't tried Google Street View, give it a try.  It's just way too much fun.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

My Little Corner Of The World...

Now that I have switched to this new Blogger format, I can publish lovely big pictures like the ones I have admired on all your blogs. I can't take credit for this photograph, however, nor for the gorgeous spring day.  I can take credit for the wonderful mood it puts me into, however.  I can hardly wait to walk home at the end of the day.

A Light exists in Spring
Not present on the Year
At any other period —
When March is scarcely here

A Color stands abroad
On Solitary Fields
That Science cannot overtake
But Human Nature feels. ... Emily Dickinson

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Irish Humor For St. Paddy's Day...

A man stumbles up to the only other patron in a bar and asks if he could buy him a drink.

"Why of course," comes the reply.

The first man then asks: "Where are you from?"

"I'm from Ireland," replies the second man.

The first man responds: "You don't say.  I'm from Ireland too! Let's have another round to Ireland."

"Of course," replies the second man.

Curious, the first man then asks: "Where in Ireland are you from?"

"Dublin," comes the reply.

"I can't believe it," says the first man.  "I'm from Dublin too! Let's have another drink to Dublin."

"Of course," replies the second man.

Curiosity again strikes and the first man asks:

"What school did you go to?"

"Saint Mary's," replies the second man.  "I graduated in '62."

"This is unbelievable!" the first man says.  "I went to Saint Mary's and I graduated in '62, too!"

About that time in comes one of the regulars and sits down at the bar.  "What's been going on?" he asks the bartender.

"Nothing much," replies the bartender. "The O'Malley twins are drunk again."

Happy St. Patrick's Day...! And remember, on St. Patrick's Day, everybody's Irish.

The Tunnel

The human mind is a very strange place, and I can't begin to understand some of the strange things that have happened to me. I am a pragmatic sort of person, and I don't believe in the supernatural, or psychic occurrences, and yet these things keep happening. One day a few years ago I was on an inter-city bus, going to visit my brother who at that time lived in a suburb of Vancouver. As the bus turned a corner a few blocks from his house, I began to feel strange. I had the feeling I was in a speeding car, and I had no control. I began to have a feeling of panic as the car entered a tunnel. My breathing began to quicken and the feeling of panic overwhelmed me. At the next stop, I got off the bus and composed myself, walking for a few minutes and breathing the fresh air.

When I got to my brother's place, the feeling had passed and I was completely myself again. My brother offered me a cup of coffee and a snack, and we chatted, and I felt as if nothing had happened. But the strange event stayed with me, and I could not forget it.

When I got home a few hours later, I switched on the television to see the news report of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, in a tunnel in Paris. With the time difference between Vancouver and Paris, I determined that the accident had happened at precisely the same moment I had had my strange incident on the bus.

I had never felt a connection with Diana, and I wondered why our minds had chosen to connect across the universe at just that moment in time. And then I thought perhaps we are all connected on some level -- with one consciousness. Some of the strange thoughts that pop in and out of our heads may actually be the echoes of other people's thoughts -- a sudden craving for a Crispy Crunch chocolate bar, a piece of music, thoughts of a friend who is just about to phone us, and we pick up the phone knowing who it is. These things happen to us every day, and they remain a mystery to all of us.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Who Do You Think You Are...?

There's a new series on NBC called "Who Do You Think You Are?" based on the popular BBC series that has been running since 2004. The premise of the show is to trace the family trees of celebrities. I have always been interested in genealogy, and I would love to trace my family tree. My mother always claimed her family was descended from French barons and baronesses, and my father always used to counter with, "Well, that makes up for the fact that my family is descended from Irish horse thieves." I think for both of them, the truth lies somewhere in between. As with all families, if we shake our family trees, we will shake out a few famous people, and a few infamous.

Last week's episode featured Sarah Jessica Parker. She was amazed to discover that one of her ancestors was Esther Elwell, her tenth great grandmother, who had been arrested for practicing witchcraft during the Salem Witch trials. Esther, along with two other women, had been accused of performing witchcraft on their neighbor, Mary Fitch, causing her death. However, the date of the deposition, November 8th, 1692, happened after the dissolution of the Court of Oyer and Terminer and her case never went to trial. Esther lived to be 82 years old, and she was the last woman to be accused of witchraft in Salem.

How much of our ancestors' DNA do we inherit? I have always felt a very close affinity with Queen Elizabeth the First. When I read about her, and the time in which she lived, I have a very strong feeling of déjà vu. It's almost as if I can remember things from that period of history. And she was a redhead, and there are a large number of redheads in our family. As well as our physical attributes, are our ancestors' memories encoded in their DNA and passed on to us? If so, what memories are we passing on to our descendants? When Sarah Jessica Parker was learning about her ancestors lives, she felt an emotional connection with them. Does the silver thread that connects us remain unbroken throughout the generations? Are we the sum of our ancestors' lives and experiences? Perhaps we are more closely connected to these strangers than we realize.

Who do you think you are?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Back Soon...

Don't forget to move your clocks forward tonight. I have been uncharacteristically busy the past couple of days, and I do apologize for not having time to respond, or to visit you. I'll be back soon.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Here In The Backwoods

During the recent health care debates in a certain country just south of us -- which country shall remain nameless -- Canada was used as an example of a country with bad health care. The insurance companies in that country south of us don't want folks to know that not only is health care in Canada some of the best in the world, Canadian residents don't have to mortgage their homes or go bankrupt in order to pay for medical procedures, medications or treatment.

I work in the health care system, and I see first-hand how caring the doctors and health care professionals are, and how they will move mountains if necessary to help anyone who needs help. If you think that sounds a bit melodramatic, it's not. I have seen doctors spend hours with patients who have been diagnosed with serious or life-threatening illnesses, making sure the patients get the help they need with medical attention, diagnostic examinations, treatment and even providing outreach workers to help the patients psychologically in addition to their medical help. In British Columbia, a patient can have an x-ray done at a northern outpost, the x-ray can be posted to a grid and read instantly by a radiologist in Vancouver. The same applies to other laboratory and diagnostic tests. And if treatment is required, the patient receives it immediately. There is a province-wide computer network of all patients' medications, so no patient can "doctor shop" for duplications of medications, or inadvertently take medications that have adverse effects on each other. In other words, we have actually progressed from leeches and blood-letting.

So, I was quite pleased to read the following article in today's Vancouver Sun newspaper:

(Vancouver – March 10) Research published today in the New England Journal of Medicine sheds new light on which Hodgkin lymphoma patients are likely to relapse after receiving treatment.

BC Cancer Agency researchers have discovered that the number of macrophages – a type of white blood cell that normally scavenges foreign material – found in a patient’s tumour had a strong correlation to treatment outcome. The greater the number of macrophages; the greater the likelihood of a relapse.

Hodgkin lymphoma is a cancer of lymphocytes which typically affects young adults, but can occur at any age. It is a highly treatable form of cancer, with about 75 to 85 percent of patients cured with initial treatment. However, if the first therapy fails, secondary treatment usually includes a bone marrow transplant, which is only successful for about one-half of these cases.

“The study demonstrates that high numbers of macrophages are associated with treatment resistance in Hodgkin lymphoma suggesting a way to identify the 25 percent of patients who currently don’t respond well,” says Dr. Joseph Connors, one of the study researchers and clinical director of the BC Cancer Agency’s Centre for Lymphoid Cancer.

The research was conducted with funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research with additional funding from BC Cancer Agency Centre for Lymphoid Cancer, the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research, the Lymphoma Research Foundation, and the Cancer Research Society of Canada.

In a perfect world, no one would ever get sick, but unfortunately that's not the case. As I have said many times before, I am puzzled as to why a wealthy country like that big country to the south of us has such spotty health care -- two different systems for the haves and the have-nots. We love our cousins to the south; they're Canada's best friends, and we hope they get their health care problem fixed, and we hope they get it right. Whatever works for them is definitely the best solution. And what works in Canada may not work for them, but perhaps we here in the backwoods Canada may have something to show them, if they'll let us.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Truth Is Out There...

Do you ever have completely insane dreams, and you wake up the next morning and think ... "What the h*ll...?" I have been doing that a lot lately. The other night I dreamt I was in a tsunami. It's sort of a recurring dream, because I was once actually in a tsunami and it was very frightening. Last night I dreamt I was walking along the banks of the Somass River in Port Alberni, and I was with David Duchovny. We were on a high cliff, and I was showing him how crystal clear the water was. He leaned over a little too far, and I said "Careful, don't fall in..." and just at that moment he fell head first over the cliff and into the water. There was a group of people picnicking on the shore, and I hollered at them "Call 911! Call 911!" And then I woke up.

David Duchovny...!?

David Duchovny doesn't cross my mind from one year to the next -- I have never even watched "The X Files" and it was filmed here in Vancouver -- how did he get into my dream? And why were we walking along the banks of the Somass River?

I also dreamt last night that I was caught in a huge blizzard. I had gone shopping for groceries, and while I was in the store, snow had started falling. As I went outside, the wind was howling and the snow was knee deep. I remember trudging across the road thinking, "Why didn't I wear my boots?"

Where do we go when we dream? The scientific explanation for dreams is that the synapses in our brains are processing things that have occurred during the day. In his book "The Interpretation of Dreams", Sigmund Freud once called our dreams, "The royal road to the unconscious." He also said, "... every dream will reveal itself as a psychological structure, full of significance, and one which may be assigned to a specific place in the psychic activities of the waking state." I do believe there is a scientific reason for our dreams. But why for goodness sake was I dreaming about David Duchovny?

The truth is out there...

Precious...? Not So Much...

Yesterday I had the opportunity to see the movie "Precious", and apart from being the most disturbing movie I have ever seen, it also opened a window to a world I did not know even existed. In fact, the movie was so disturbing, I had to turn it off a few times before I could continue watching it. And please note, if you decide to watch it, make sure any family members under the age of 18 are out of the house. I don't think anyone should be subject to that sort of language or visual content until they are mature enough not be traumatized. I'm only slightly younger than Methuselah, and it traumatized me. I had definite mixed feelings about the film, and about Gabourey Sidibe's performance. She was perfectly cast in the role, but it was obvious she had not had much acting experience. In most of her scenes, I had difficulty hearing what she was saying. She seemed to do what most new actors do -- she spoke a little too quickly and she mumbled. Only in her voice-overs was I able to clearly hear her. I wanted to love her performance, but I didn't. I loved her character, though, and Precious is a true hero overcoming almost insurmountable odds.

The film was produced by Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry, and directed by Lee Daniels. A reviewer by the name of Armond White who writes for the New York Press had this to say: "Winfrey, Perry and Daniels make an unholy triumvirate. They come together at some intersection of race exploitation and opportunism."

Another reviewer called the movie "Social pornography at its worst, festering in racial self-loathing and oblivious to a system that ignores its neediest." I felt that way too, but I think the movie touched a chord with Oprah because it must have felt slightly autobiographical for her.

Mariah Carey was amazing as Precious's social worker, and she stole every scene she was in. The nuances of emotions that ran across her face and through her eyes was wonderful. Who knew Mariah Carey was such a good actress. Did she know she was such a good actress? Do we see an Oscar in her future? Well, I hope we see more roles with Mariah Carey. And of course Mo'Nique's performance was in a whole other stratosphere. She should have won the Academy Award for Best Actress.

I didn't like the movie "Precious", but then, I didn't like "The Hurt Locker" either and it won Best Picture. Maybe I need to put my rose colored glasses back on. Too often I am able to see exploitation and propaganda where other people are not. My emotions are not easily manipulated, and it kind of ruins the fun. As one reviewer said about the movie "Precious", "There is a thin line between compassion and voyeurism; soul-searing drama and overwrought melodrama; opera and Oprah. This film tramples all over it."

I'm afraid I agree... I wanted to like this movie, but I didn't care for it.

Monday, March 8, 2010


I work with several Iraqi and Iranian doctors, as well as doctors from Saudia Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. They enjoy telling me stories of growing up in their countries, what their family lives were like and what is was like going to school in their home countries. Talking with them has been a real education for me so, I thought perhaps I would share some of what I have learned with folks who perhaps don't know a great deal about those mysterious places in the Middle East. Before I go any further, let me say this is not about politics, so please don't misunderstand me. I don't completely comprehend the complex politics of the Middle East, and for the purposes of this post, they are not relevant.

Until 1920, the country of Iraq did not exist. It was created out of the spoils of the First World War. The Ottoman Empire was carved up and France was given mandate over Syria and Lebanon, while Great Britain was given mandate over Jordan, Palestine and Iraq, of which Baghdad is the largest city. The roots of Baghdad go back to 1200 years B.C., but in the 8th Century A.D., it became an important centre of commerce and education. One university, Bayt al-Hikmah, attracted scholars from all over the world, where students translated Greek manuscripts, preserving them for all time. It was home to great philosophers, scientists, astronomers, mathematicians, doctors, lawyers, engineers, artists, scientists and religious leaders. They studied the works of Aristotle, Plato and Hippocrates. While Europe was still in the Dark Ages, Baghdad was the centre of a rich, intellectual civilization. Today the museums in Baghdad house thousands of priceless ancient artifacts, but the museums have been closed to the public since the invasion in 2003 in order to protect the treasures.

Baghdad is built on the banks of the Tigris River -- one of the four rivers from the Garden of Eden -- and it has a population of approximately 7,000,000, almost the size of New York City. Baghdad has existed through dozens of sieges over the centuries, and it will survive the current one as well. Iraq is a country with a very different culture from ours. We in North America do not fully understand it, nor are we expected to understand it. The doctors with whom I work tell me of their religious traditions, their family traditions and their cultural traditions. Their customs seem so foreign to me, as my customs are foreign to them. They bring to the office wonderful things to eat -- kebbabs, bamia, falafel, dolma, and delicious pastries made with phyllo dough, pistachio nuts and honey. There are special dishes for special feasts, and some of the recipes go back 10,000 years. I find the Iraqis to be very warm, generous people and they love to hug. All I can think is how unfortunate it is when we all have so much to share, that we should spend so much time in unecessary hostilities. We here in North America can be somewhat naïve at times, and often we don't know as much about the rest of the world and the people who inhabit it as we think we do.

An Open Letter To The Academy

Dear Sirs and Madams:

Okay, what did you do this year, hold a competition to see who could produce the most boring Academy Awards -- ever? Hollywood is the movie capital of the world, and Oscar night is the biggest award night of the year. Can't do you even just slightly better than you have in the past few years? Never mind that you keep churning out movies that no one wants to see anymore, couldn't you at least make your award show entertaining? We're sitting out here in the dark, waiting to be entertained, so please entertain us. And while you're at it, could you please start making movies that we actually want to see?

How many folks have seen "The Hurt Locker"? Well, I've seen it. Yes, I paid my money, and I have seen "The Hurt Locker". "The Hurt Locker" played to all the stereotypes. It's a piece of war propaganda, trying to sell the idea that American soldiers are in Iraq for good reason -- which they are not. Between "The Hurt Locker", "Avatar", "District 9" and "Inglorious Basterds", I am beginning to wonder if war and violence are drugs, and folks in Hollywood can't get enough of them, and they need a higher and higher fix until they are completely stupefied, as witnessed by last night's astonishingly boring Academy Awards show.

Phinnaeus and Mac phoned me after the show, and they both said, "Well that was the dullest thing I have ever seen." I agreed. And the movies aren't much better. Smarten up, Hollywood, or no one is going to pay attention anymore. I'm a movie buff; I love movies. Please make some movies I want to see.


Sunday, March 7, 2010

Splish, Splash, I Was Taking A Bath...

Telus, one of our local telephone and internet companies, has an ad that is so popular, it has gone viral on YouTube. The only problem is, people love it so much they're going out and buying toy hippopotamuses, and not telephones. Everyone here in Canada is in love with this hippopotamus. Enjoy!

Sunday Stew And Mulligatawny Monday...

I saw this cartoon in the New Yorker Magazine, and I laughed. It's true, isn't it? It seems everyone has a blog nowadays. All you have to do is sign up with Google Blogger, et voila! you can get started. And there are so many types of blogs -- crafting blogs, photography blogs, family blogs, funny blogs, slice-of-life blogs, political blogs ... the list goes on. Someone once asked me what I thought constituted a good blog. Well, gosh, I have no idea. I prefer current affair blogs where people talk about ideas and recent events, either in the world or in their own lives. Other folks prefer photography blogs, and yet others blog with folks who like to do crafts. I do know that the number of comments a blog receives is not an accurate indication of whether that blog is good or not. It just means that particular blogger has reached more people; the more people you visit, the more people will visit you back. And I have noticed a trend lately of people finding ways to link the whole internet back to their blogs -- awards, badges, Mr. Linky, Mute Monday, Tongue-tied Tuesday ... what-have-you. What will happen when folks run out of days of the week? I personally prefer blogs that are organic, and stand on their own merits, but that's just my opinion. Everyone has a different idea.

And that brings me to my question: Is blogging a social network? What do you think? Should blogging be a reciprocal activity? Do you feel disappointed if you comment on someone's blog, and they don't comment back on yours right away? I often wonder about that, because I get so many new, wonderful visitors, and I don't always have time to reciprocate. I am always thrilled to bits when people comment on my boring-little blog, but often I am not able to return for a couple of weeks or so. Is it like inviting someone for dinner, and expecting to be invited back to their home for dinner? Well, tell you what -- this afternoon I am trying out a recipe in my new crock pot for Mulligatawny stew with lamb and rice, so you're all invited. Gosh, does that make today Sunday Stew? If I have leftovers, would that make tomorrow Mulligatawny Monday? ... Okay, I'll stop now.

Have a fabulous Sunday, everyone.


Saturday, March 6, 2010

Our Obsession With Food

Why is it that, whenever people are on a "diet", all they talk about is food? One of my co-workers decided to go on a weight loss program a couple of weeks ago, and ever since then he has brought to work doughnuts, cakes, cookies, chocolate... The sole topic of conversation with everyone at work is food, how many calories are in this, how many calories are in that, how much protein is in this, how much fat is in that... They are all obsessed with food. This morning I got up, had breakfast, and switched on the TV to watch the morning news. What were they doing? Cooking. I flipped around the channels -- everyone was cooking ... and more cooking ... and more eating.

I once had a friend whose mother spent her whole day cooking and baking for her family. She was famous for her home made cinnamon buns, but she was a skinny little thing. I asked her how she could spend so much time cooking and baking, and she never gained weight. She laughed, "Me? Oh, I never eat this stuff. Eating bores me." I thought how wonderful it must be to be bored by eating. But that seems to be the trick -- if you don't eat, you don't gain weight. There are so many weight loss programs out there -- low carb, high protein, low fat, low calorie, don't eat anything white, don't eat anything with sugar in it, eat only organic food, eat only raw food, don't eat meat, don't eat starch ... it starts to get very confusing after a while. We see food advertised on television and in magazines and newspapers -- right next to the weight loss programs. We watch TV shows with Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver, et al, cooking food. We are obsessed with food. We lose weight, only to put it all back -- and more. But the secret to losing weight and keeping it off is just to eat less and exercise -- walk -- more.

I think the next time one of my co-workers brings in a box of Tim Horton's timbits, I'm just going to say, "No, thanks, that stuff bores me..." *sigh*