Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Strange Cottage...

A Cottage Near Brook
Helen Allingham

When I was a child, my mother and father loved to garden. My parents' garden was featured in magazines a few times, it was so beautiful. My father built unusual rock gardens and my mother filled them with flowering cactii and other wonderful plants. On Sunday afternoons we used to go for drives along country roads -- Cherry Creek Road and Beaver Creek Road -- and get cow manure for fertilizer from some of the old farmhouses. One Sunday afternoon it was late as we were driving back, and the sun was just setting as we drove past a cottage with beautiful delphiniums in the front yard. My parents stopped the car to have a better look. These delphiniums were magnificent, at least six to eight feet tall. My mother was shameless famous for taking cuttings of unusual plants from public parks, and rooting around in abandoned fields for daffodil or tulip bulbs.  Mom said, "I wonder if the people who live here would give us some seeds or cuttings."

"Can't hurt to ask", my Dad replied.

Here were go again. I slouched further into the back seat of the car.

An ancient, old man and his wife greeted my parents and invited them into the house, so I went with them. There was no electricity, just a faint twilight came in through the windows, and as my eyes adjusted to the light, I could see the house was immaculately tidy. There were little pots of primroses placed throughout the living room and starched, white, lacey doilies on all the furniture.  I wondered how long the elderly couple had been together, and if they had lived in the house with their children when they were young.  I imagined they had lived there for all those years without electricity.  My parents chatted with them for a few minutes, and the woman told my mother to take cuttings of anything she liked in the garden, which she did.  The delphiniums soon found a place of honour in the garden on the west side of our house.

A few weeks later, on one of our Sunday afternoon drives, we went past the house again.  My mother wanted to stop for a moment and chat with the old couple, to let them know their cuttings had found a good home.  No one was there, and the house looked dilapidated and abandoned, and the once well-cultivated garden looked unkempt.  My mother called over the fence to the neighbours to enquire about the elderly couple.  The neighbours looked puzzled, "What elderly couple?"

"The old man and his wife who live here," said my Mom.

"No one lives there," said the neighbour.  "An elderly couple lived there many years ago, but that house has been abandoned for over a decade." 

None of us spoke on the way home, and we never mentioned it again.  My mother pulled the delphiniums out of the garden and replaced them with something else.

Some things in life just have no explanation, and it's best not to try...

Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Letter ...

In a Field of Buttercups
Marianne Stokes

One of the first things I learned about life is that it is not what we expect it to be when we first start out. I remember as a little girl, sitting in a field of buttercups beside the Somass River, thinking that this was going to be my last summer before I became a "big kid" and started school. That was when my real life would begin. I also had a very strong sense that, no matter what I did, I would really have no control over how my life unfolded. That proved to be very true. "The best laid plans of mice and men..."

Child with Red Hair Reading
Lilla Cabot Perry

When you were a child, you amazed everyone -- me, your grandparents, your cousins, your friends' parents.  People were amazed by your easy talents and abilities. All of the other mothers wanted their kids to be your friend, so some of whatever you had would rub off. That made me laugh. But you have always been overly modest about your talents and abilities, and that makes me sad. You are extremely intelligent, funny, talented, capable and accomplished. You are the backbone of your family. What would they have, if it were not for you? Think about. And consider too, all the people you have helped in your profession over the years. You have changed people's lives. Changed people's lives...!

Title Unknown
Luigi Crosio

I always knew that you would be a good mother, and you are. Your beautiful, smart, talented children are a reflection of you -- utterly and completely. And you have made a wonderful home for them, in addition to managing your career.  Just don't let any other human being on this earth make you think you are less than.  You have all sorts of people who admire you, and they're cheering you on.   All of us are given just one "kick at the cat", as Gambie used to say (poor cat...).  We have to make the best of it, even if sometimes things don't turn out the way we expected them to turn out.  But, if we take a chance and shake of the ennui, who knows -- sometimes things turn out even better.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

All The World's A Stage...

It's only five days and counting until the mid-term elections for our neighbours to the south. Here in Canada, we find great amusement in watching the whole brouhaha mêlée process.  In general, Americans are great people.  They're just like us; they work hard, they have families, hobbies and lives, and they just want to get on with it.  But their politicians and political processes are a whole other matter.  Shakespeare would have had a field day with American politics and politicians -- the intrigue, the deception, the sincerity and the insincerity -- it's all there.

At one time, during the Cold War, everyone was united against the "evil empire", the Soviet Union.  But since the fall of the Berlin Wall, it would appear that folks in the U.S. have been turning against each other and have become completely polarized.  The name-calling and propoganda is straight out of kindergarten -- Tea Partiers, Birthers, Truthers, Repugs...  The thing is, you can't make this stuff up, and it would be funny if it weren't so ... sad.

In a recent issue of Harper's Magazine, I read that America is "a nation in decline".  How did that happen, and was it inevitable?  I hope not, but perhaps it's time for the American folks to dust off that old slogan from the 1960s and 1970s -- "All Power to the People", get rid of all their current politicians and start afresh.

In the meantime, it's entertaining for us across the border here in Canada.  Shakespeare couldn't make this stuff up.

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,

  ~~ William Shakespeare, “As You Like It”

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

"Life" ... By Keith Richards

Today Keith Richards is releasing his autobiography entitled simply "Life". And what a life. I always thought Keith Richards was the coolest of the Stones. He had a certain dark je ne sais quoi that the rest of the Stones didn't have. It turns out he's actually quite a decent man. His public image and private life are poles apart. He has been married to ex-model Patti Hansen for 27 years, and he has not cheated on her once. He is an avid reader and owns an extensive library. He once disclosed that it was his ambition to become a librarian. Keith Richards a librarian? Who knew!

Keith Richards and Mick Jagger are not particularly close, and Richards sometimes refers to Jagger as "Her Majesty" and "Brenda".

In August 2009, Richards was ranked  No. 4 in Time magazine's list of the ten best electric guitar players of all time, and his riffs in "Sympathy for the Devil" are the best guitar playing I have ever heard. The Rolling Stones have always been my favorite band, and I always preferred them over that other band ... who shall remain nameless. I once saw the Stones in concert on the occasion of Keith Richards' birthday.

Pandemonium ensued.

I am looking forward to reading this book, and perhaps I will put it on my "Christmas wish list" ... just in case. In Richards' own words he says, "What I hoped was worth sharing with people turned out to be far more important than I could possibly imagine."

And just in case you have been living on the dark side of the moon and haven't heard Keith Richards' guitar-playing in "Sympathy for the Devil" ... enjoy!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Socialism Or Not, It's Only Right...!

I read the following on CNN today:

(CNN) -- One man was electrocuted and his female partner was severely burned after the couple attempted to steal copper wire from a vacant property in Southern California, police said.  "I believe they thought the power was off," said Lt. Keith Hupp of the South Gate Police Department. "It was a pretty ugly scene," he added.

A witness said he rushed to the site after hearing an explosion. "I just heard a loud explosion and a lady screaming, just screaming like crazy, so I walked over there and I seen her like half burned, and she was just like crying, asking for help for her husband," Jose Carrasco told CNN affiliate KABC. 
Police said they believe they found the couple's children -- ages 3 and 6 -- waiting in a truck near the vacant property when they arrived at the scene Saturday afternoon. The woman was being treated for severe burn injuries and listed in critical condition Saturday night, Hupp said, and the children were in the custody of protective services. Police have not released the names of the victims pending notification of next of kin.

I haven't been able to get that image out of my mind. And then tonight I watched a segment on "60 Minutes" about people in California who had done everything right -- got an education, worked hard, had good jobs, and then lost everything through unemployment. Many of them have Masters Degrees and PhDs, and they're resorting to working in Walmart, or rifling through trash bins for pop bottles to sell. Most of them are facing homelessness when their benefits run out and they can no longer afford to stay in their homes. And then I wondered if the family in the CNN news story mentioned above might be in that same situation.

When I read the news story, I was shocked -- no pun intended -- at the heartless comments left by people, saying this couple had deserved to die, and they should be awarded the Darwin award.  Hardly anyone had any compassion for them.  I read the other day that over 4,000,000 Americans are homeless, and 25% of them are children.  Another several million are reaching the end of their 99 weeks of benefits.  What on earth is going on?  How did a country like America get into such a predicament, and what can they do to fix it?  I know that sounds rather simplistic, but I don't have any knowledge of economics.  However, I think we all have some experience of humanity.  Shouldn't folks to be doing more to help their fellow down-and-out neighbours?  Or does that involve that term -- socialism -- that our friends to the south seem to dislike so much.

From my extremely limited understanding, capitalism doesn't owe any explanation to anyone except the shareholders.  So what good does it do to have iPhones made in Shenzhen, China, if no one in America can afford to buy them anymore, because all the jobs have gone to -- China?  Foxconn, the company who makes iPhones and iPads employs 250,000 at one plant alone in China, and last year the company made $2.3 billion.  One employee of Foxconn, a college graduate who works in product development, earns $293 a month.  $293 a month!

I feel so sad for the family who lost their father in the horrible accident in California.  I think he must have been desperate.  I hope someone steps forward to take care of that family, and all the other families in that situation.  Socialism or not, it's only right.

Rainy Days And Sundays...

When the weather is dark, stormy, rainy ... blustery ... here in Vancouver my favourite thing to do is to stay right here in my cozy home. I light the fireplace and curl up with a book or a movie, and do absolutely nothing. I always feel as if I should be going places or doing things. "What shall I do today...?" It's very seldom that I do nothing, and usually when I do, I feel rather guilty. But the rain gives me a good excuse to stay home. Why go out if I don't have to -- besides, I'm saving money, right?

Does anyone else ever feel guilty about relaxing, just kicking back and doing absolutely nothing?  At work we are expected to give 110% (is there such a thing as 110%?...) and at home we are expected to do our daily chores.  Dust that table, polish that mirror, wash those dishes, vacuum that rug...  Why?  Are those things more important than we are?  It's as if we become servants to our things.  If on occasion we relax, rest and rejuvenate, those things will still be there tomorrow, waiting for us.  So, today, that's me you see over in the corner, curled up in my big cozy chair, next to the fireplace.  Rainy days and Sundays don't get me down...  I think they're wonderful.

Have a fabulous day, everyone, and do something relaxing...

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Randy Quaid, A Refugee From ... Hollywood...?

When I was a little girl, about seven or eight years old, the only place I really wanted to go was Hollywood. I thought Hollywood was the centre of the universe. Other little girls my age wanted to be princesses or brides, but not me. I wanted to be a movie star. Just imagine being a famous actress, and living in a beautiful home in Beverly Hills -- with a swimming pool, of course. My only friends would be other famous actors and actresses, and I would be married to ... oh ... Gregory Peck or Steve McQueen.  We would go to parties and movie premieres every night.  I would be widely acclaimed for my fame and beauty, and I would win an Oscar for every movie role.

So it came as a great shock to me yesterday when Randy Quaid was arrested just a few blocks from my house here in Vancouver, and is claiming refugee status in Canada. A refugee from Hollywood...? What on earth happened?  Randy Quaid has always been one of my favorite actors.  The roles he has chosen were a bit quirky, but suited to his personality.  He wasn't blessed with the movie-star good looks of his brother Dennis, but Randy is by far the better actor.  He has appeared in over 90 movies, and he has been excellent in every one of them.  He can do a bang-on impersonation of Roy Orbison that would knock your socks off, and his role as Lyndon B. Johnson was almost eerie in its authenticity.  There is a back story to Randy Quaid's slow annihilation, and it would be interesting to find out what it is.  What would cause a man, blessed with talent and good fortune, to snap and start behaving in such a bizarre manner?  It would seem that Hollywood is not all about glamour and glitz and swimming pools in Beverly Hills, but rather it is about regarding people as commodities; there is always a newer, better, more up-to-date version.  "Get me a young Randy Quaid..."  Or even "Get me a young Dennis Quaid..."

I hope Mr. Quaid gets the help he needs. And if he wants to stay in Canada, why not? We've let much worse people into this country. Best of luck, Mr. Quaid.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Ear Worms

Thomas Ralph Spence

Have you ever experienced one of those delightful little forms of torture known as an ear worm? In case you are not familiar with ear worms, they are a portion of a song, or a tune, that plays over and over ... and over ... inside your head. According to research by James Kellaris, 98% of individuals experience earworms. Women and men experience the phenomenon equally often, but earworms are more likely to last longer for women and to irritate them more than men. The psychoanalyst Theodor Reik used the term haunting melody to describe the psychodynamic features of the phenomenon. The term Musical Imagery Repetition (MIR) was suggested by neuroscientist and pianist Sean Bennett in 2003 in a scientifically researched profile of the phenomenon. Another scientific term for the phenomenon, involuntary musical imagery, or INMI, was suggested by the neurologist Oliver Sacks in 2007. People with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are more likely to report being troubled by ear worms - in some cases, medications for OCD can minimize the effects. ~~ Wikipedia.

There is a blogger whose blog I enjoy visiting very much, and I usually visit her blog in the evenings -- my favorite time for blogging.  She plays music on her blog, and I invariably end up with the music playing in my head, over and over ... and over...


It's really a lovely piece of music, and I think I would enjoy it if I were to hear it once.  But twice ... three times ... not so much.  Arthur C. Clarke, the science fiction writer, once wrote a short story called “The Ultimate Melody”, where an ear worm drove the listener mad, and he ended up in a catatonic state from which he never awoke. I can definitely see that happening. However, in my case the ear worm had the opposite effect, and on Monday night I lay awake at 1:00 a.m., 2:00 a.m., 4:00 a.m., as the ear worm played in my head, over and over ...

and over...

Last night I went to bed early and I slept for 10 hours, no music, no ear worms, just blissful, quiet Zzzzzzzzzzs.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

You've Got Snail Mail...

I absolutely love my New Yorker Magazine. The only problem is, so does my letter carrier. She also likes my Time Magazine. We have had the same letter carrier for several years, and on several occasions she has pilfered borrowed read my magazines before she has delivered them. How do I know this? The mustard stains are a dead giveaway. A few years ago I went out for a short stroll. I checked my mail box before I left, and my Time Magazine was there in my securely locked mail box. I left the magazine there thinking I would pick it up on my way back. When I got home, more mail had been delivered, but the Time Magazine was gone. I had long suspected some hanky-panky, but to me this was proof.  And now the same thing is happening with my New Yorker Magazines.  At one time they were being delivered on the same day that the newstand issues were on the stands, and the on-line copy was sent to me.  And then they started to be a few days late, and then a week late, and now they are consistently two or three weeks late.  Often the cardboard inserts are torn out of them when I receive them.  During the summer Ms. Letter Carrier was on vacation, and a young fellow replaced her.  Et voila!  My New Yorkers arrived on time and in pristine condition.  As soon as she came back, the old pattern emerged.

Just recently Canada Post discovered one of their letter carriers had been storing mail in the lockers of the men's change room at Canada Post's office in Richmond. RCMP were called and searched the man's home, where they found more mail dating back about seven years, as well as five unregistered handguns. RCMP is recommending he be charged with one charge of mail theft, five counts of possessing a firearm.

Goodness gracious.

If my letter carrier is that desperate for my New Yorker Magazine, she is welcome to read it.  I just wish she would deliver it as soon as she's finished -- minus the mustard stains, please.

Monday, October 18, 2010


Today would have been my father’s birthday. Why am I posting a picture of Robert Redford with this post? Well, because my father looked exactly like Robert Redford. Well, I should say, Robert Redford looked exactly like my father -- exactly. When Dad was a young man, he had rather a lot of girlfriends, as my mother kept reminding him over the years. I especially used to hear about one girl named Phyllis, whose name kept cropping up, and I once saw a picture of her. She was beautiful – just like my mother.

Dad was trained as a Chartered Accountant, and he worked for the firm of Arthur Andersen in Toronto for a few years, but he didn’t like being “desk-bound”. He said wearing a suit and tie was not something he enjoyed, so he came back to British Columbia to work in the woods. Dad loved the outdoors, hiking, camping, fishing… My father was one of the first forgers of the rugged, world-famous, West Coast Trail along the coast of Vancouver Island. On their honeymoon, my mother and father spent their first night together in a farmer’s field on Vancouver Island, and they woke up with a bull staring at them. My father created a distraction while my mother sprinted for the fence surrounding the field. My mother always joked that her trousseau consisted of hiking boots and a back pack from the Army and Navy.

My father was extremely intellectual, and I loved having conversations with him. He was a bit of a philosopher, and our conversations about politics, religion, art, science, literature and music have formed so much of who I am today. Red could be opinionated, and if he disagreed with something he would holler, “Bunkum…!” I think bumkum and claptrap were two of his favourite words. There was no way you could pull the wool over Red’s eyes. He had the clearest vision of anyone I have ever known, and he was always right. Whenever my brothers and I had done something wrong, my Dad used to say, “You know when something is wrong. There is right and there is wrong, and you know when you have done something wrong…!” It’s true; we always did.

One of my favourite pictures is of my father and my oldest brother – who was about 18 months old at the time – sitting on the front porch. My Dad has his arm around my brother, and Dad has the sweetest, most tender look on his face. That photograph sums up who my father really was. He was very affectionate, but he did not always show it.

My Dad was multi-faceted and he played piano well, he painted, he loved to cook, and he had a wonderful library of books. When I was a teenager, I discovered so many great authors in my father’s library – W. Somerset Maugham, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Mark Twain, William Faulkner, James Joyce, Orson Welles, T.S. Elliott, James Thurber, Thomas Wolfe, Henry James, Joseph Conrad, Charles Dickens, Leo Tolstoy, A.L. Rowse … I could go on ...

Red was probably the most important person in my life, and I still think about him every day. Every once in a while when I see someone doing something that is wrong, I can hear my Dad’s voice saying, “That’s just not right…!” and it makes me chuckle

Happy Birthday, Red.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Thank You, Mrs. Cleaver...!

Yesterday the Beav's Mom passed away at the age of 94. Everyone loved Mrs. Cleaver, she was the perfect mother, wife, homemaker -- always vacuuming and baking cookies in her pearls. She set an impossible standard for any of our real Moms. I thought my mother was the perfect mother -- she was a wonderful cook, gardener, home decorator; she could teach Martha Stewart or Rachael Ray a thing or too. But often when I came home from school and got off the school bus, there was my mother on her hands and knees in the garden, wearing ratty old pedal pushers and one of my father's shirts, with dirt all over her face, as she worked her magic on the petunias or the begonias. "Oh, gosh, why couldn't Mom be more like Mrs. Cleaver? And why couldn't our life be more like 'Leave it to Beaver?'"


If folks ever tell you they grew up in a "Leave it to Beaver" household, don't believe them. The presumption of a "Leave it to Beaver" lifestyle was impossible, even in the make-believe world of television.  Most housewives were more like Lucy and Ethel than they were like June Cleaver or Donna Stone (the Donna Reed Show).  It's no accident that TV shows like "Leave it to Beaver" or "The Donna Reed Show" were sponsored by Campbell’s Soup, Johnson and Johnson, General Electric. The shows were half hour advertisements, marketing a lifestyle, and people bought it. None of my friends had mothers who vacuumed in their high heels and pearls. And none of them had fathers who ate dinner in a sports jacket and tie. Most folks in post-war middle class North America had traditional middle class jobs, where they got their hands dirty doing a day's work. In 2007 Barbara Billingsley told an interviewer that the reason she always wore pearls on camera is because of a small indentation just above her sternum that didn't look good on television, so she covered it up. Who knew!

If anything, Mrs. Cleaver was the catalyst who started the feminist movement; she was the bridge to women's social activism of the 1960s. Women started looking at their lives of vacuuming and cookies and said, "Is this all there is?" Now women have unimaginable choices that they never had before. They can work at challenging careers, and they can still be good Moms and vacuum and bake cookies, but they can do it on their own time and they don't have to do it in their pearls. Thank you for that, Mrs. Cleaver.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Instant Familiarity...

The Misses Vickers
John Singer Sargent

John Singer Sargent is one of my favorite painters, because although his subject matter is often groups of people, there is a formality about his paintings.  I feel more comfortable with formality than informality.  I grew up in an era when adults were called "Mr." or "Mrs.", but never by their first names -- ever.  People slowly got to know one another, and friendships took time to grow.  Insant familiarity did not exist. I am not comfortable with instant familiarity but it seems to me that today everyone is everyone else's best friend forever, as soon as they have met.  There is something unsettling about that for me.

We have a new colleague at work, whom I like very much.  I am slowly getting to know her, I think she is a decent sort, and she has a great sense of humor.  We have brief conversations about art, literature, movies, current events ... and we are of a like mindset.  She's an interesting person.  I have noticed, however, that some of the folks at work have established a familiarity with her to the extent of calling her endearing nicknames and giving her hugs -- sort of like a car going from 0 to 60 instantly.  I have never been able to do that, and in fact I find it odd.

Even in the blogging world, people who have never met each other and who probably would not recognize each other if they were to pass on the street, are instantly and famously best friends, and leave endearing comments on each other's blogs.  I sometimes wish I could be that sort of person, but I am not.  It takes me a very long time to get to that point.

Is this instant familiarity a new trend?  Am I missing something?  Am I too stand-offish?  Should I be hugging someone whom I just met and exchanging intimacies with them?  I think there is a fine line between being friendly and being too familiar, and in my opinion it takes much longer to get to know someone on a deeper level.  Until then, don't expect any cute little nicknames from me.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Families And Fortune...

This past weekend I came to the realization that my family are really nice people. Well, I should say, I knew this before, but I sort of took it for granted.  I suppose -- as all families do -- they have the occasional blips on the radar screen of life, but their "set point" seems to be one of enjoyment, intellectual curiosity, and just general joie de vivre.   It also occurred to me this weekend just how very fortunate they are.  They live in a gorgeous vintage house decorated in French country style, they live in a lovely town, the kids are well-adjusted and go to good schools.  As I have said ... oh ... about a million times before, it's really the small things in life that make people happy.  I hope people are aware of the the small blessings they have, because in the greater scheme of things, those are what add up to make the larger fortune.  Life really is just one day at a time, one small blessing at a time.

We can all tend at times to look at the glass as half emptry, rather than half full.  We may live in a nice house, but someone down the road lives in a nicer house; we have a good job, but Ms. Such-and-Such-a-Body has a better job.  I sometimes look at my friends and think that Fortune smiled on them more than it did on me.

There is a theory that if a group of us were all to throw our troubles into a pile in the middle of the room, and then run and pick up any troubles from the pile, we would pick up our own.  I think the same counts for blessings as well.  Since my husband died when I was very young, I have never remarried.  There are times when I have felt rather sad about that.  But, I have a friend who has been married and divorced twice, and each time was unimaginable pain for her.  She is now deeply bitter about the experiences.  Would I trade places with her?  Probably not.

Most good fortune is the result of hard work.  People have to keep putting one foot in front of the other, and always do the best they can.  And maybe then, good luck with find them, and maybe not.  But even the effort is a type of blessing.

"I'm a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it." ~~  Thomas Jefferson

Count your blessings; you will probably find you have a lot more than you realized.  I know I do...

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Giving Thanks For All The Good Things ... And Brussels Sprouts ...

Monday, October 11th is Canada's Thanksgiving Day. The official proclamation of Canadian Thanksgiving was: "A Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed … to be observed on the 2nd Monday in October."

The history of Thanksgiving in Canada goes back to the year 1578, when the explorer Martin Frobisher returned safely after trying to find a a northern passage to the Pacific Ocean.  Since then, Canadians have sort of amalgamated the harvest festival held in England, and the football festivals held in the U.S.  Here in Canada,  the Canadian Football Leage holds a nationally-televised doubleheader known as the "Thanksgiving Day Classic".  What football has to do with Thanksgiving, I have no idea, but I suppose it gives the men something to do while the women slave in the kitchen cook the Thanksgiving meal.  Actually, I shouldn't say that, because I know some men who are wonderful cooks too.

In Canada, the traditional Thanksgiving dinner is turkey with all the trimmings, and dessert of pumpkin pie, or perhaps a pie made with a harvest fruit. It's all good.  To me, turkey dinner is just an excuse to eat Brussels sprouts.  Turkey, mashed potatoes, vegetables, gravy, cranberries ... pshaw ... bring on the Brussels sprouts, and lots of them.  I have discovered a new recipe for Brussels sprouts.  Even folks who say they don't care for Brussels sprouts will love them done this way.

1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper.

Trim the Brussels sprouts, removing the loose leaves. Cut an "X" in the stem.  You can cut the sprouts in half if you like, but it's not necessary. Put the sprouts in a bowl and mix them together with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Place them in a pyrex baking dish or on a cookie sheet and put them into a pre-heated 400 degree oven. Roast them for 35 to 40 minutes, stirring them occasionally. They will caramelize and develop a lovely caramelized colour and flavour. Omigoodness... Better than chocolate. No ... really! Better than chocolate.  But Brussels sprouts are delicious any way you cook them...

Happy Thanksgiving to all my Canadian friends, and I hope you have the chance to spend some time with your family and friends.  And remember, on Thanksgiving weekend, d.i.e.t. is a four-letter word.

Friday, October 8, 2010

John Lennon

October 9th would have been John Lennon's 70th birthday.  Imagine...!  John Lennon was taken from the world too soon, as was his idol Buddy Holly.  One would like to think the two of them are together somewhere ... jamming.  More than any other entertainment figure in the 20th Century, John Lennon changed popular music, politics and culture, and even fashion, and I think he would be amazed to see how iconic he has become.  He was an incredibly gifted and talented artist, both musicially and artistically.  He was a poet and a philosopher, and he was a cool dude.  He is still greatly missed by the world.


Tuesday, October 5, 2010



1.  Empty boasting; bragging.
2.  A boasting person; braggart.

Isn't that a wonderful word -- braggadocio? It's such an elegant way of saying braggart. And the definition of a braggart is someone who is boastful and self-aggrandizing.  Every office has at least one braggadocio. They are usually so busy exaggerating boasting about their accomplishments, they don't stop and take the time to listen to what other folks may have accomplished as well -- which often is more than the braggadocio's.

We have a braggadocio in our office, and she is wonderful, and don't we know it because she keeps telling us she is wonderful.  It's very difficult to deal with a braggadocio.  We get to a point where we listen to yet another of their stories about how great and accomplished they are, and we would like to say, "Oh, please, just shut up now..." but we must smile and nod and say, "Yes, yes, you are so clever. We are mere peóns compared to you and your extraordinary knowledge and skills ..."


The trouble with being a braggadocio is that sooner or later they get found out.  "Oh, yes, I can leap tall buildings with one hand tied behind my back; I've done it many times.  I was given an award for doing it, not long ago...  Here, let me show you how it's done..."

And that is when we feel just the slightest tinge of Schadenfreude as we watch them fail.  Braggadocios never learn, do they?  They just go on to brag another day, and we continue to endure them.

I have come to the conclusion that braggadocios are actually lacking in confidence.  More often than not they are unsure of themselves and their abilities, and as a result they feel compelled to build themselves up.  A lot.  They cross the line between confidence and exaggeration.  Unfortunately, they are able to hoodwink the majority of people -- for quite a while at least.  But eventually their bragging rights go past their "best by" date, and their stories become stale.  I am hoping that is the case with our braggadocio, because I am very close to the point of saying, "Oh, please, just shut up now..."

“We confide in our strength, without boasting of it; we respect that of others, without fearing it.”  ~~ Thomas Jefferson

"We wound our modesty, and make foul the clearness of our deservings, when of ourselves we publish them." ~~ William Shakespeare

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Circle of Life...

In the Grove of the Temple of Isis
J.W. Godward

One of our co-workers gave birth to a baby girl today, and we are all very happy for her and her family.  There is nothing more exciting than a new life, is there?  At the same time, another of our co-workers is in the final stages of a disease she has been battling for several years.

The circle of life...

These two women never knew each other; they had never met, and yet they shared the same work space, but at different times.  It occurred to me today how much our lives intertwine.  We are like bubbles that bounce up against each other and then drift away, only to bounce up against other bubbles -- sort of like the theory of Six Degrees of Separation.  One of my co-workers is friends with Billy Gardell, the fellow in the new sit-com "Mike and Molly".  That would make me separated by two degrees from "Mike and Molly".  It's strange when you think about that, isn't it?

There is a definite rhythm -- a music -- to the circle of life, and it's quite beautiful.

We have all read Linda Ellis's poem, "The Dash".  There is so much in that dash.  I hope the new baby born today will have a long and happy "dash", as a new circle of life begins.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

What Causes Happiness...?

The Lake
Isaac Levitan

The other day a fellow from British Columbia won a $6.5 million lottery. He is an unemployed father with four children. He had a $20 bill in his pocket and he spent $19 of it on the lottery ticket. "It's all based on my dad's numbers. It took 20 years. There have been times I can't play the lottery because I have no money to play, but somehow on that day, everything worked out. My father passed away in 1997, so I feel that my dad has sent me this blessing." He says he doesn’t want the money to go to their heads, but he is going to pay off his bills and now that he can afford passports, he is going to take his wife and family on a trip to Disneyland. The fellow looked so happy when he was receiving his cheque, I was happy for him.

This led to a discussion at work yesterday with several of my co-workers, “What is happiness?” “Can money buy happiness?” Well, yes and no. For me, happiness means the absence of anxiety, and of course, having money takes away a lot of anxiety. A lot...! But I suppose it can also bring new anxieties. I wouldn’t know, however, because I have never experienced that particular problem.

For many years my life was filled with anxieties. After my husband died, I was a single mother during an era when landlords could refuse to allow children to live there, when employers could refuse to hire a single mother, or alternatively, could fire her if her child got sick. I spent so many years tap-dancing from one crisis to another; it was all I could do to maintain some semblance of normalcy. My main concern was that my daughter was healthy, well-educated, and had childhood fun. She was a very bright, funny, intelligent child, but sometimes I felt completely inadequate, and my anxieties ruled my very existence. I was in a constant state of worry. Worry, worry, worry... And then one day, several years ago, I woke up one morning and realized that many of my worries and anxieties had fallen away. I felt this very strange, foreign feeling. What was this odd feeling? Happiness... I felt happy, serene, and content. And the feeling lasted -- first for one day, then a week, and then a few weeks...

Could this be for real? I didn’t have any more money than I had before; nothing in my life had changed. But then I realized I had changed. Oh, I am still a worrier, believe me – but my overall feeling is not one of discontent or despondency, but rather of contentment. What on earth has caused this? I have no idea. I do know that I have learned to be happy with the smaller things in life, rather than the extravagant. I’m happy when I open my mail box and find my New Yorker magazine there. I’m happy when I get a good night’s sleep. I’m happy when my friends and family are safe, healthy and enjoying their lives. But I also understand that awful feeling of anxiety, and its two cousins, depression and ennui. They can stop folks from living and enjoying their lives.

Sketch with Trees
Isaac Levican
There is a theory that folks can teach themselves to laugh, and they will automatically feel happy – fake it till you make it. Perhaps there is something to that theory. As my mother used to say, “Life is short, and you’re dead a long time...” We should learn to enjoy this wonderful gift of life, and not let the anxieties get in the way of our daily enjoyment. I know that is sometimes difficult to do, and I suppose it depends on where our priorities lie. If you get the chance today, stop and smell the roses, or go for a walk and crunch leaves, or listen to your favourite music – whatever makes you happy. We still can’t change all the awful things that life sometimes throws at us, but we can learn to balance the good with the bad, the sunlight and shadow, the yin and the yang. It's our choice.  I wish I had learned that lesson years ago, but it’s never too late.