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Snow

Here in Vancouver, we rarely get snow for longer than two or three days each winter and when we do, everything seizes up.  No one knows how to drive in it.  Those who have a clue don’t necessarily have the right tires. (Here’s a link for info about the importance of Winter tires ).  The bridges ice up.  The buses spin their wheels.  Trees come down. And chaos reigns… or maybe I should say, snows.

These past few days have been trying in the extreme as people  have made several attempts to carry through with their holiday plans only to be met with the kind of opposition that only the elements can provide.

My family is no exception as I have watched the once fresh, plump and juicy vegetables I bought for  Christmas Eve dinner look pitifully out from the depths of my refrigerator unloved and getting very near to being unwanted as well.

Yet, the snow continues to fall (now mixed with rain to give it added weight).    The all season radials continue to disappoint.  And Christmas, while being white,  has managed to slip by without its usual ceremony.  I’m beginning to feel just a tad like Miss Haversham sitting in her parlor waiting for a visit from Pip with the table all set for a wedding feast that never took place.  Great expectations indeed.

But, you know, we asked for it.  Every year people wish and wish for a white Christmas.  Well folks, this year, our wish has been granted.  So perhaps the best we can do is go with the flow.  And that’s probably what we will be doing when all this lot melts.

Never mind.  There is always skiing. If you like that sort of thing.

Happy New Year everyone! from me, and from Abba.

Bah-humbug?…Maybe Not

When I  began this post,  I was coming at the Christmas season with a very bah humbug attitude.  The wet weather and the winter darkness tend to push my cynical buttons and before I know it,  I’m grumbling like an old grampus and complaining about all that I have yet to do.  This seems to happen every year.  And every year I come to a point when something in my head says, Snap out of it!!.

For me though, Christmas is definitely an ambivalent, time.  On the one hand, it  strikes me as an “over the top” experience.   People are compelled to be “happy” even when they don’t feel like it or have little reason to be .   We eat and drink too much; spend too much money; celebrate for its own sake and then; we have to cope with the barrenness of  January.  For me, while all this is going on, there is also that little voice  inside saying something like , If anything bad is going to happen, please don’t let it be at Christmas.

And yet.

There is definitely something in the air at Christmastime that doesn’t exist at any other time of the year.  It’s a kind of magnetic force that pulls me in and gives me cause to pause; to be  grateful for all that is good about life.  At Christmas, people are more generous and more empathetic.  And just maybe, the closer we get to Christmas, the closer we come to giving ourselves the opportunity to take a break from our daily angst and simply be glad.  It’s hard not to love that.

So here are a few things that I love and a few things that I don’t love about Christmas

Christmas movies

Love :    Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I am partial to the version starring Alistair Sim.  He made a great Scrooge and each time I view the movie I look forward, with great anticipation, to the part near the end where he says, ” I must stand on my head!!” Check it out here. It is a moment of pure joy and one that makes me laugh every single time.

Don’t Love:   “It’s a Wonderful Life”. ( I can just feel the presence of someone ready to pounce in indignation).  To me, this movie is not only depressing but annoying as well.    Before we come to the part where George finally realizes that he has a great life , we have to drag ourselves through the rest of the movie witnessing all the things that cause him to be disappointed, resentful and well, just bloody miserable.  And all I want to say to him throughout the piece is Snap out of it!!

Christmas Song

Love: I love a lot of the more traditional Christmas songs which makes it  hard to pick a favourite song but the contemporary Christmas song that comes to mind first is  John Lennon‘s Happy Christmas (War is Over) .   I like it because it reminds me of the fragility of human relationships and the need to cherish them.  It also reminds me that Christmas is often one of the best times to do that.   This song is for blessing-counters all,  and possibly for taking that ever important inventory of the moral  balance sheet.  And, (noble sweeping statements aside),  I think it is a clever song. Period.

Don’t Love: John Denver’s, Please Daddy Don’t Get Drunk this Christmas. This song has no redeeming features whatsoever except to remind us that in spite of the time of year, there is still a lot of pain in a lot of  households.  I heard this song many years ago and must admit that, at the time,  it sounded so ludicrous  I laughed.  Now, in my perhaps more mature (okay, old) psyche I simply find it offensive.  What makes it even more annoying is that  it is one of those songs that sticks in your head and simply won’t let go…something like s…t to a blanket.

Christmas Food

Love: Okay so there’s not much about the gastronomy of Christmas that I don’t like.  The usual suspects that grace most peoples’ tables on Christmas Day are my favourites too… not very adventurous, but there it is.  The best thing about Christmas food comes on Boxing Day, when the leftovers come out of the fridge and are unceremoniously nuked for a dinner requiring little work and not much clean up. Yum.

My favourite Christmas food?  English Trifle.  Check out a recipe here Love the stuff.  Hope you do too.

Don’t Love: Christmas Pudding.  Yuck.  Just Yuck.  But if you like it, here’s a recipe for that too. And may the force be with you.

and finally,

Christmas Pastimes

Love: If we are lucky enough to have snow at Christmas, there is something magical about going for a walk at night and looking at the Christmas lights in the neighbourhood.  Some people do a beautiful job of decorating their homes.  And when the air outside is crisp, clear and still, I am reminded of just how lucky I am to be here.

The best part about Christmas though, is spending time with people I care about, especially when there are children about.  My granddaughter has just turned three and I expect that Santa has made his presence known to her by now.  I love a house that includes Santa.

Don’t Love: Putting Christmas away for another year.  And oh yes, those Christmas lights that I so adore on Christmas Eve?  Well, they start to get on my nerves if they’re still there in the Spring.

So, that’s it folks.  Happy Christmas!  And may you have many more.

In the past few days, we have seen and heard a lot about the U.S. elections.  And for good reason.  Not only has history been made in America but people around the world are feeling something they perhaps have had little experience with of late.   Hope.  Of course, hope takes many forms and is born out of a variety of expectations but It sure feels good when it happens.  And when it emanates from the words of one man, well, then it takes on a life of its own.  Here’s a clip .

Some people will say that Barack Obama has charisma. Well he certainly has great drawing power.  There can be no denying that.  And if there are hopes being given out, my hope would be that he will prove to have more than a charismatic personality.

Charisma tends to burn bright and then burn out.  And it has a dark side too.  Adolph Hitler had charisma.  So did The Reverand Jim Jones. Osama bin Laden has it too.  All three have had a disasterous impact on humankind. Masses of people, at one time or another, have viewed them with awe, often blindly doing their bidding.  These leaders are people who have fed on the hope of others to their own advantage and for their own glorification.  Charisma gave them that opportunity.

So, my hope is that Barack Obama proves to be not only charismatic but transformational in his leadership of the American people, and that through his influence, the rest of world will seek to be transformed as well.  Transformational leadership contains an element of charisma but  is grounded in a set of high ideals, a solid work ethic and the expectation that all people have the capability to raise themselves up and through their own hard work, reach the higher ground.

Winston Churchill was a transformational leader.  He had that same “Yes we can” mentality and during the second World War,  it was he who gave the people of Britain the strength and the courage to fight against what must have seemed impossible odds.  And to win.  Not without sacrifice.

As I was listening to Mr Obama’s acceptance speech, I was also watching the faces of the people in the vast audience before him.  Many had tears in their eyes.  I wondered how many of those people were thinking that this man represented their own salvation; that he would change the things that weren’t going well for them and make it all better.  I wondered too, how many of those people realized that if change is to happen, they will have to change too.  How many of them will find it surprising when they are asked to make a concession or a sacrifice in order to make change real.  And how many who were saying “yes, we can” then, will, when faced with difficulty say “no, we can’t”.

It all remains to be seen but Mr Obama strikes me as the kind of leader, and human being, who comes from a place of humility.  And that’s a very good place to start.

Jim Collins, who wrote the book “Good to Great – Why Some Companies make the Leap and Others Don’t”, talks about his notion of  “Level 5 leadership”.  Level 5 leadership is basically characterized by a combination of professional will and personal humility.  It is a rare and somewhat paradoxical coupling that when applied, creates an environment of possibility.  It settles for nothing other than that which will lead to progress and accomplishment.  I see great potential for that in the new President-elect of the United States.

In his first official press conference as President-in-waiting, Mr Obama talked about the all- important shopping trip he would be taking with his daughters to find a dog to take with them to the White House.  He said that because one of his children was allergic to animal dander, they would have to be very selective about their choice.  He said too, that if his daughter was not sensitive in this way, he would prefer to go to the pound and pick out, “A mutt like me” .

In my observation, mutts tend to be strong and very resourceful with cheerful dispositions, unwavering loyalty and unbreakable tenacity.  Pure breds might have charisma but are more often simply crazy. Given a choice, I think I’d take the mutt.

Just for fun, check out the Barack Obama music video here.

Recently, I went with my husband on a trip to New York City.   Usually, I am not happy about the prospect of being among millions of people .  In fact, I tend to avoid crowds and tight spaces like the plague.  But there is something about New York that transcends all of that.  New York encourages and invites even the most claustrophobic of beings to break free and become part of the chaotic to-ing and fro-ing that constitutes daily life there.

I should point out that this trip was not intended to be carried out on a shoestring.  It was being made in acknowledgment of my recent 60th birthday and so the rationale for going “high-end” on this vacation was in some way compensatory for having to watch my once perky everything take the inevitable nose dive toward the ground.  So, if you are contemplating a trip to the Big Apple but don’t want to spend much money, you’ve probably come to the wrong blog.  Go and find a writer with perky bits intact and I expect you will find what you’re looking for.

We stayed at the Lucerne Hotel. It is in the upper west side of Manhattan, about two blocks from Central Park, in a busy neighbourhood replete with children of all ages and people going to and from work with cell phones firmly attached to their ears.  The hotel itself used to be an apartment block many years ago and so it is relatively small, classically furnished and very comfortable.  We know about it being an apartment block because Stella told us.

Stella is in her eighties and used to live in the same neighbourhood as the hotel.  We met her at the Blue Note Jazz Club where we went to see Sophie Milman, a jazz singer from Toronto (click here and check her out). Sophie was great, and in the dark I could see Stella’s head bopping up and down to the music so she must have thought so too.

There seem to be a lot of women about Stella’s age in Manhattan.  They are formidable and fabulous.  I wouldn’t want to annoy one of them.  Many carry walking sticks and I imagine would not be opposed to using them for purposes other than ambulatory should they see the need.  Would that I could be that feisty in my old age.

During the day, we visited some galleries, the most notable for me being the Frick Collection on 5th Avenue. The collection is housed in the once home of Henry Clay Frick, a Steel Magnate.  To learn more about him click here.  Suffice to say, the art collection is right up my alley with many amazing portraits by artists like James Abbott MacNeill Whistler, Hans Holbein the Younger, and George Romney whose 1782 portrait of Lady Hamilton has a mesmerizing effect on all who cast eyes on it.

After The Frick, we went to the Guggenheim.  We had heard a lot about the Guggenheim and were anxious to see it.  The building did not disappoint. It is an interesting piece of art in itself.  The exhibit, on the other hand, was not to my taste at all.  It featured the work of Louise Bourgeois. Ms Bourgeois is a well known sculptor.  Her work has been featured in The Tate Modern gallery in London as well and she is highly regarded among her peers.  I suppose that I am far too naive to appreciate her work but none of it “spoke” to me, except maybe to say, ” This stuff is not for you Pollyanna. The exhibits in the cafeteria might be more intriguing” Suffice it to say that perhaps my imagination did not allow me to understand the deeper meaning of exhibits that all looked like genitalia to me. And once you’ve seen one, well…

Being suitably steeped in culture, our next move was to go and see The Lion King, (click here to see a little of it) Now that’s more my cup of tea.  The Lion King is currently playing at the Minskoff Theatre on Broadway.  It is simply a wonderful show.  The costumes are spectacular and the music takes you away to a very happy place.  We had seats in the orchestra and although they were very good, if given another opportunity, we might have chosen seats in the mezzanine so that we could appreciate the illusion of the animals the costumes are meant to create .  Sitting so close we could actually see the performers inside the costumes and that took a little away from the overall impression.  Although, I have to say that the Hyenas were hilarious whether further away or up close.

In between all of this culture and entertainment, we managed to eat very well too.  Our favourite place to eat was at Nice Matin.  The fact that the restaurant was adjacent to the hotel was really beside the point.  The food was excellent and the hot cocoa superb.  Check it out. The warm apple and almond tart with home made ice cream was decadent, fattening and supremely delicious.  Hey, when you’re on holiday you get to indulge!

On our last evening in New York we went on a dinner cruise. It is something people do when they are in tourist mode, or, if they are celebrating a special milestone.  I guess we were doing both of those things so the cruise seemed appropriate.  The boat left Pier 81 at about 7:00 p.m and travelled up the Hudson River, past all of the Manhattan landmarks.  The piece de resistance was of course, the Statue of Liberty.  I mean, you can’t go to  New York without seeing her can you?

We spent a very pleasant evening eating and dancing to the usual tunes ( you know, YMCA and all that).   And it was a fine time.  Don’t expect the food to be spectacular.  It was good but really can’t compare to some of the restaurants in New York.  Go for the experience and you will find that it only serves to add to your good memories of a great city.

So, there it is.  All that, and a walk in Central Park, (Check it out) served to give us a great holiday that we will remember for a long time to come.  Thanks New York.

Click here andTake a tour yourself. Maybe it will whet your own appetite and then you too can Start Spreadin’ the News…

Good-bye…Hello

I’ve never been very good at saying good-bye. Of course, not too many people are very good at it. After all, good-bye is a word more often tinged with melancholy than anticipation, unless of course one is waving off relatives who have come for a visit and then outstayed their welcome. But saying good-bye, for me, has always been particularly painful.

I knew I was in trouble when I was about twelve. I was watching the cartoon version of Gulliver’s travels. Things were going along merrily until the Lilliputians gathered at the end of a pier and waved good-bye to Gulliver,who, having built a boat that actually fit him, was setting sail for parts unknown. The piteous look on the faces of the little people, waving wet hankies and snuffling into their sleeves made me burst into tears. I was inconsolable for a good three minutes.

I’m afraid I’m no better now, at sixty something, than I was at twelve when it comes to saying good-bye. And at sixty something, I have had to say good-bye a number of times in a variety of situations, some as silly as the empathy I felt for the Lilliputians and some as deeply hurtful as the inevitable pain that the death of a loved one inflicts. You’d think practice would make it easier but it’s doesn’t. Maybe it’s just not something we are meant to get used to.

Of course, in the good-bye department, it depends on whether you’re the Leave-er or the Leave-ee. As the one leaving, there is always a sense of anticipation about what’s next. When I left Toronto to come and live in Vancouver, I was too excited about the prospects of what lay ahead to allow any feelings of regret to steal into my thoughts. Those came later, as I remembered my parents’ faces as I said good-bye to them, stoic, brave faces but with moist eyes and trembling chins. These were faces that wanted me to stay but couldn’t wait until I was gone so they could relax and give in to the loss they felt.

I remember too, being the one left behind. A little boy of ten dressed in brand new jeans, shirt and cable knit sweater tied jauntily around his waist was alight with anticipation, excited about the plane ride he was about to take. He was going back to Ontario to live with his Dad and see all of his old friends, or at least as old as friends can be at ten.

He had waved to me enthusiastically and then turned and walked away, with the flight attendant on one side of him and an old man in a wheelchair on the other, each having to be escorted for reasons that illuminated the polar opposites of life. I watched the little boy for a very long time, bouncing along, talking happily to his escort. I watched him until he was gone. He never turned around to look. It was perhaps at that moment that I fully appreciated how my parents might have felt when they said good-bye to me. But I was forty and he was ten. And so it was also at that moment that I felt the pain not only of loss but of failure too.

Somebody’s always saying good-bye. That’s what Anne Murray says anyway. I think she’s right.

Of course the sadness of a good-bye has a way of heightening the joy of a hello. Recently I was at the airport waiting for some friends to return from their vacation. The Arrivals area was relatively calm, the air flat and uninspiring. And then scheduled planes began landing.

It was then that the entire place came alive with little buzzes of conversation here and there and faces filled with excited anticipation, as tired passengers filed through the doors searching for the sight of a loved one. It became a joyful place, a place of hello.

And so I think too, that every good-bye must make room for a hello. Hello is where hope lives. It is also where joy and learning, potential and possibility take up residence.

Hello can more than compensate for the pain of good-bye, if we choose to let it.

And I do. The Beatles do too. Click here to see what I mean.

I am not generally a fan of reality shows. To me, they are designed only to provide a forum for people to be unspeakably mean to each other. It is not something I care to watch. Makes me cringe actually.

However, I stumbled upon a show the other night on CBC TV called “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?”. The premise of this show was to invite young women to audition for the role of Maria in an upcoming Toronto production of The Sound of Music. It was a grueling process for each of the 40 young women who appeared at the beginning of the show. And, by the end, there were 10 left standing.

The process of elimination was no less direct than in other shows. There were winners and losers in this game of pick-the-best-Maria. The thing about this show though, in comparison to others, is that it took a respectful, encouraging and objectively critical approach. And so, although there were tears and highly nervous moments, the emphasis was not on this so much, as it was on the relentless pursuit of a goal. And the “losers” were all so talented that you could just tell that this failure only represented a small obstacle in their eventual road to success.

This show is not about making people feel stupid. It is a demonstration of the courage it takes to pursue something that is believed to be beyond our reach, but nonetheless in our dreams. It is about striving for a big life and being brave enough to keep going even though the pathway is littered with disappointment, .

I read something recently that suggests it is not our inadequacies that we fear, but our potential to be very powerful indeed. It was written by Marianne Williamson in her Book, A Return to Love published in 1992. This passage is often attributed incorrectly to Nelson Mandela who used it in his inaugural speech in 1994. Click here to read the entire passage.

I am not a particularly brave person but I’ve lived long enough to recognize the times in my life when I have “stepped up” and dared to do something different. Each time it was hard and even painful. Each time, after I had moved through it, I was glad for having done it. Each time there were people in my corner encouraging me. And, each time, the quality of my life improved.

As for the Maria Show, no doubt there will be other tense and scary moments for the remaining nine young women. Only one will be chosen in the end. In the meantime, each of them will have experienced something unique, exciting and worthy enough to tell their grandchildren…because they found their courage and tried.

I believe too, that each of these young women will raise themselves up, perhaps beyond their own imaginings, because they welcomed a difficult challenge into their lives and embraced it even knowing that they might fail.

Good for you Marias. Here’s a clip of forty Marias performing at the Palladium in London. Enjoy

Dad

I was thinking about my father today. Dad died a few years ago and yet, I don’t think a day goes by without my thinking about him and, as father’s day approaches, I reflect on the impact he had on both the quality of my life and many of the perspectives I hold about it.

I was born in 1948, three years after the end of WWII. It was a time when men and women were readjusting to peace time. During the war, men were away in Europe or in the Pacific Region, fighting ,and women, by necessity, were doing “male” jobs at home. When the men returned, everything went back to “normal”. Men tended not to do household chores or look after children (womens’ work you know). And women did, well, everything else including raising the children.

In our house though, things were a little different. For as long as I can remember, at least until she retired, my mother worked outside the home. It was unusual, given the culture of the time, but for my mother and father it was a necessity and that was all there was to that. They were a team.

Of course when I was little, I didn’t know, understand or care about any of that. All I knew is that it was my daddy who put me to bed every night. It was he who gave me my bath and allowed me to splash water all over him in the process. It was my Dad who sang “Three Little Fishes” to me while I was being bathed. And it was he who ran up the stairs several times a night just to give me another kiss goodnight.

When I grew a little, it was also my Dad, (a person who really did not like shopping), who drove me from one mall to the other when I was sad and needed cheering up. And even when I was being a complete brat, and at odds with my parents, it was Dad who forgave me first. It was he who offered the first conciliatory hug and the reassurance that in spite of our differences, we would still be all right. He would still love me.

Now, many years later, I am so grateful that he was in my life. And every now and then, I catch a glimpse of him in my son, Rob. Rob loves and cares for his daughter as much as my Dad loved and cared for me. He is a fine Dad and one that Maya, my granddaughter can only be proud of.

Happy Father’s Day Rob. And thanks Dad.

I love you

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