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Archive for February, 2011

Red Carpet Glamour At Oscars

February 28, 2011 1 comment

Anne Hathaway and Valentino at Oscars

Forget who won what. They’re all talented, some more so than others, and they’re all earning bucket loads of cash to dress up and play pretend, so you can’t feel too badly for those who didn’t bring home a golden statue last night.

Let’s talk fashion: how these artists choose to express themselves when the most famous couture houses in the world are knocking on their doors is the subject of many a fashion critic and blogger alike. It’s easy to throw stones at those who live in glass houses, especially when they are beautiful and making millions. If I sound jealous it’s because I am.

The Oscars are a time for starlets to either strut like a peacock down the red carpet or choose understated elegance, wear up-dos or shaggy tresses, Jimmy Choos or Prada shoes. It is a night for couture houses to shine alongside Academy members, the night People and InStyle magazines salivate over as they pick their best and worst dressed.

The men will all look suspiciously like waiters. The real question is what will Hollywood’s hottest women wear?

Will Helena Bonham Carter actually brush her hair and find matching shoes? Will Sandra Bullock still look  crest fallen? Will Nicole Kidman keep with her classic elegance? Will Scarlett Johansson improve on her Golden Globe windswept look?

Mila Kunis - most beautiful gown

I was on pins and needles all day.

The verdict: classic glamour – often vintage, in fact – prevailed. In fact, it’s hard to find fault with most of the beautiful choices that graced the red carpet on Sunday night; there were no January Jones missteps to dwell on.

Marisa Tomei proved that understated can still shine – she sparkled in a midnight blue 1950 James Charles dress, with gorgeous sunburst inspired earrings. A classic look that reminds you to hold on to those oldie but goodies in your closet.

The youngest person to ever to host the Academy Awards, Anne Hathaway, started the evening by repealing to old Hollywood in a red archival Valentino gown. A diamond necklace from Tiffany’s was also fittingly elegant. Her low chignon was the perfect hairstyle to complement the look, her way of saying I’m still hip.

Best Supporting Actress, Melissa Leo

There were a proliferation of Japanese-inspired high-neck, cap-sleeve, straight bodied gowns. Scarlett Johansson wore an amethyst lace styled number, Amy Adams a blue sequined one, and Annette Bening a sparkling black gown. Best Supporting Actress Melissa Leo – who will forever be remembered by her f-bomb slip – also wore a variation of this theme.

Reese Witherspoon channelled Betty and Veronica with a high ponytail containing lots of extensions. Although her hairdo was puzzling, her black Armani dress with white trim was a great figure flattering choice.

Jennifer Hudson was a walking advertisement for Weight Watchers in a skin tight tangerine Versace gown. She was stunning, despite overdoing the cleavage.

Best Actress Natalie Portman looked every bit a champion in an eggplant coloured gown. She proved that fashion and baby bumps can, in fact, coexist.

My runaway favorite of the night was Mila Kunis, wearing a lavender chiffon Elie Saab gown with a low neckline. Gracefully draping her body with a short train, it was the perfect modern choice for a storied evening. If they come out with a Best Ordinary Person award, I might sell my car and buy it. I assure you my acceptance speech will be classier than Melissa’s.

Get well, Big Brother

February 26, 2011 4 comments

John and my sister, Marybeth

We all know that bad things happen to good people; but it never makes it easier.

My brother, John, who is way too young and sparkling with life to have any sort of affliction has battled a rare cancer in his leg for the last six months, and is battling still in ICU this weekend as he recuperates from a fourth surgery.

Finally, we can keep up with him. Normally he will have played eighteen holes of golf and gone for a run before most people roll out of bed.

If people were awarded celebrity status based on character alone, John would be more famous than Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber combined. He is kind, generous, intelligent, and funny; a dedicated teacher and vice-principal who has made a positive difference in many lives as a coach, mentor, and friend. He is the person we all strive to be.

I know this first hand. All of my life my claim to fame has been that I am John’s sister. Once people realize this I am granted special status in their eyes, and they tell me how John was their favorite teacher, how he was responsible for their child’s success, how he was the best paddling coach they ever had, how wonderful he is. I have become adept at excusing myself from conversations where people sing his praises; they are usually lengthy and rambling.

These tendrils of respect are far reaching and hard to escape. I was in San Diego recently, and I had a conversation with a man from Nova Scotia who told me his family was indebted to John. Instead of showing his teenage boy heavy handed discipline, John had offered him creative solutions and support, which enabled a troubled child to grow into a productive person.

It’s not easy to keep the most active, energetic and athletic person I know down, but the recent past has put him through the ringer.

It’s been a year filled with medical surprises. His swollen knee was first thought to be a torn meniscus, and he waited for months to have this surgically fixed. During this surgery his doctor realized this was something different, and biopsied the swollen tissue. The next week they told him he had a rare type of cancer in the fat cells of his knee. They prescribed a course of radiology followed by another surgery to remove the mass. He endured the major surgery in January, where doctors removed the affected tissue and replaced it with John’s calf muscle and donor ligaments. The incision ran the length of his entire leg.

He thought he was on the road to recovery, only to be knocked down again: his leg wasn’t healing properly, so another surgery determined more muscle had to be taken from his abdomen to surround exposed bone. Another six hour surgery landed him in ICU, a high risk of infection rendering him immobile.

Can you imagine going through hell and back, only to return to its fiery depths so soon?

As he lies still, exhausted by medical intervention and dashed hopes, all of us – his wife, children, family and friends, are sending positive thoughts and prayers through the airwaves, thoughts that say stay strong, get well, breathe deep, hold on, be safe, my brave big brother. We love you so much; you are our star.

Study Shows Cell Phones Mess With Your Brain

February 26, 2011 2 comments

photo courtesy of mtsofan, Flickr

My eleven-year-old daughter has been begging me to buy her a cell phone.

I have solidly stood my ground – it seems wrong on so many levels, not least of which are the risk factors. I’ve put a lot of time and energy into her health and safety, it seems counterproductive to me to let her put an electromagnetic field next to her developing brain.

Finally, some backup for my mother’s instinct: a study published this week in the Journal of American Medical Association shows conversations of less than an hour produce an increase in brain activity. Guess what we will be discussing at dinner tonight?

The study is small, but its results prove that further testing is warranted on the long term effects of cell phone use. Most importantly, it adds fuel to my fire: cell phones can be a dangerous tool for developing organs.

47 participants were tested between January and December of 2009. Cell phones were placed on each ear; on one occasion the cell phones were off, on the other they were muted but would receive calls and texts. After the 50-minute exposure period, each person was given a PET scan to measure their brain activity.

The resulting scans showed that when the phones were turned on, there were significant increases in the brain glucose – the main fuel source for the brain – closest to the phone antenna.

The researchers were led by Dr. Dr. Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. She noted that whether cell phone radiation actually causes brain tumors is unresolved. “Further studies are needed to assess if the effects we observed could have potential long-term consequences.”

It is early days on these studies, I’m sure we will be bombarded by many more in days to come. And from what I witness, most kids use their phones for texting more than speaking. Nevertheless, when it comes to my child’s brain, better safe than sorry seems to be a fitting motto.

The other potentially bad news that could result from this study is an increase in the army of people who walk around talking to themselves. It always takes me a minute to determine they are actually using minute headsets…I’ll admit, it looks weird, but I’m buying one anyway.

Article first published as Study Shows Cell Phones Cause Changes in Brain on Technorati.

We Interrupt This Program for a Poetic Interlude

February 24, 2011 1 comment

As promised, today I am reproducing three of many beautiful poems I discovered on bentlily, a blog by Samantha Reynolds, dedicated to posting a poem a day. She has embarked on this project in an effort to remain more present in her life and find the beauty that lurks in mysterious places.

Always one for shortcuts, I’m hoping to achieve this same result by reading her poetry. Enjoy a moment of savouring language.

The short story

I know people who hate short
stories. I don’t
blame them.
They are arrogant
and gorgeous. They are literary
one night
stands.
All intimacy and no
commitment.
Just as you are falling
in love
they disappear. You knew
all along
there was no future
but you can’t help it,
the wondering.

Those tiny things

It’s nice to be appreciated
for hard work and
our best qualities
like grace
competence
boldness.

But those are only
the bullet points
of my being.

What makes me crumble
with love
is when you adore
the poetry
that is smudged around
the edges of me:

those tiny things
about me
that I didn’t know
existed.

We are not so innocent

In German
the word for nipple
is breast
wart.

It’s no wonder
they grow so many
existentialists.

But we are not so
innocent.

Consider the effect
of telling a child
they have
hit
puberty.

I always imagined
my little body
young and running and free
and suddenly
a wall.
Now, I watch myself
walk.

What if we gathered our young
and whispered instead
with sparkle in our voices:

How exciting,
you are about
to meet
your adult
self.

Samantha Reynolds is Founder and President of Echo Memoirs, a company which captures memories of individuals and companies and turns them into storybooks. These poems are reprinted with her permission.

Poems, Sonnets, Words, Gifts

February 23, 2011 3 comments

It is getting harder to impress my daughter who is eleven going on twenty-one. She has already discarded me as an obstacle to her coolness, and refuses to walk home with me when I show up at her school in a sweat suit.

But on Valentine’s Day, she told me about “…some poem about marriage and true minds” that they had talked about in school. When I recited the whole of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 while fixing her after-school snack, she stopped pecking at her keyboard and listened; dare I say, impressed. And by that I mean she said, “Hmf.”

I have always loved poetry. What I love about writing the most is simply words, after all, and how they can be delicately woven to evoke images and meaning. Poetry is the best of writing, skimming away the fluff and keeping the most important, beautiful words. Yet I haven’t cracked a poetry book other than my Norton’s Anthology of Literature since university. That was for pressing flowers.

Poetry has been seeking me out despite the fact I have inexplicably shunned it, like a friend I had meant to keep in touch with but didn’t.

A blogger I follow sometimes posts poems when she is at a loss for words. She apologizes to her readers while I thank her silently for her weighted words. Syllables roll around on my tongue and linger like a sweet thai curry. Her name, by the way, is Kathy, and her blog is reinventing the event horizon.

And then another gift. An entrepreneur I interview mentions her blog. She is writing a poem everyday this year on her blog bentlily. Her words stop me in my tracks, each poem a short story in its own right, deeply personal but also universal – how can that be? The paradox of poetry, or the human condition. Either way, I am hoping she finishes out the year and then begins anew in 2012. Her name is Samantha, and she tells me writing poetry is her way of staying present.

I haven’t written any poetry, but reading it lately has been like smelling the aroma of a lemon grove.

Tomorrow I will share one of bentlily‘s gifts, so you, too, can smell the lemons.

Categories: Life Tags: , , ,

Baby Gyms – Now I’ve Heard Everything.

February 22, 2011 7 comments

Ann Johansson for The New York Times

At first glance, I thought the term “baby gym” referred to gyms where a superb level of childcare was provided for members intent on rediscovering muscles that had been largely ignored during baby making phases.

Silly me.

Baby gyms – where indeed the participants are babies and toddlers, and indeed the main purpose is exercise – are popping up all over the United States and Canada, with big plans for hitting China next. Someone needs to capitalize on the growing 35% obesity rate in America. You can imagine fears of extra pounds being put to rest as parents sign up their unsuspecting offspring for aerobics, never mind the small fact that they can’t yet stand.

Today on my favorite radio show, Q, host Jian Ghomeshi interviewed Darlene Bolhuis, the creator of Gymtrix, a library of videos designed to put your toddler through the paces of exercise. Its website lists potential benefits of these videos as accelerated physical activity and the prevention of obesity. Ms. Bolhuis told Ghomeshi she believes in physical literacy, in the same way regular literacy should be encouraged from an early age. If you teach a baby how to kick a balloon with his foot, the idea is he will have a better idea of what to do when he walks onto the soccer pitch.

Read: give your kid an advantage! This concept preys on those parents desiring Tiger Woods or Sidney Crosby proteges to fund their retirement.

In his New York Times article, Sports Training Has Begun for Babies and Toddlers, Mark Hyman highlights this is not an isolated incident – there are other companies making similar DVD’s, such as athleticBaby and Baby Goes Pro, not to mention a plethora of gyms set up under the guise of altering skyrocketing obesity rates. They encourage parents to  start the gym habit with infants as young as four months old.

All this on the heels of the outrageous Baby Yoga video that made headlines in January, showcasing a Russian woman carelessly handling an infant as though it were a yo-yo, the premise being this is actually beneficial for babies. What is this world coming to?

Encouraging a healthy generation of children can be accomplished by good eating habits and normal, age-appropriate exercise. Think fewer Doritos, more hiking. Leave the infants to discovering their fingers and toes, and the toddlers to doing what they do best: playing.

Disneyland or Bust

February 17, 2011 5 comments
Disney - Disneyland Rose (Explored)

Image by Express Monorail via Flickr

Deprived of Vitamin D and perplexed with ways of entertaining children indoors as rain and snow pelt their windows, many families throw in the towel this time of year and book a pilgrimage to that storied place that bills itself as the Happiest Place on Earth: Disneyland.

But this hot spot can quickly become Nightmare on Main Street if you don’t plan properly. Read this list of dos and don’ts before arriving in the Magic Kingdom to ensure you don’t tell Mickey to take his overpriced ears and shove them where the sun don’t shine.

  • Do plan to be up with the birds. Be at the park when it opens to get a few minutes of peace before the mobs arrive – it only gets busier as the day goes on.
  • Do bring a daypack.  The energy required for hoofing it all over the Magic Kingdom requires more fuel than greasy donuts and pop. Stack your day pack with healthy snacks and bottled water. After a day filled with grease and sugar, even the unlikeliest of suspects will be clamouring for a grape. Once you pass through those gates, there is not a vitamin-filled morsel to be found.
  • Do book lunch beforehand. If your entourage includes little girls who are starstruck by the thought of meeting princesses wearing more make up than Lady Gaga, don’t stand in those long lines at the wishing well to meet Snow White. Book lunch at Ariel’s Grotto, where six princesses will come to your table while you eat your lunch in a booth shaped like an oyster shell. You need to eat lunch anyway, and having the princesses come to your booth can save you an entire day of pain and suffering as you try to track them down.
  • Do start at the back of the park. It’s not easy to drag your children past some of their favorite rides, but books have been written on this subject: start at the furthest reaches of the park and work your way forwards for the best use of your time.
  • Do plan to hit a show at the peak of the sun’s rays. Usually it’s the rides that get top billing, but some of the musicals I’ve seen in Disney rival Broadway. If it’s a hot day, pick a noon time or early afternoon showtime, and sit down in a nice cool theater for an hour of bliss. Aladdin and A Bug’s Life are two of my favorites. No joke.
  • Don’t buy your child a souvenir until the end of the day. Every ride you exit forces you to go through a gift shop for that ride, to the chagrin of every parent alive. Murphy’s Law has it that they will buy the Winnie the Pooh mug, only to find the Jack Sparrow mask they’ve dreamed of ten minutes later. I’ve had great success putting this task off until the end of the day while we are waiting for the parade to start. Almost all of the souvenirs can be found in the shops on Main Street; those Disney marketers know what they’re doing.
  • Do set a souvenir budget. Be forewarned they will be wanting every Goofy hat and Belle boa that walks past them. If you don’t prepare them beforehand, you will spend their education fund on such useless trinkets.
  • Don’t bother reserving a curbside seat for the parade or fireworks. People will stand in front of you at the last minute anyway, and it’s difficult to find a bad seat for the fireworks. Do your souvenir shopping and wedge in somewhere at the last minute.
  • Don’t ask a person with a thousand pins on their banner for directions. They may look like a Disney employee, but these people are not employed by the park, they are just strange people who spend a lot of time at Disneyland.
  • Do use Fastpasses for the most popular rides. As you are hightailing it to the back of the park to begin your day, grab a Fastpass for a super popular ride like Space Mountain on your way, to save yourself an hour long line up later. The caveat, however, is you can only hold one of these golden tickets at a time.
  • Don’t put your little cherub in her Cinderella costume on hot days. I’ve seen more children melting in these polyester torture devices on hot days than exhausted adults. Throw fashion sense out the door and dress all family members in runners and comfortable clothing, with either sunscreen or umbrellas at the ready in your day pack, depending on the weather forecast.
  • Do divide and conquer. Little boys won’t be as enchanted by the magic castle, and my eleven-year-old won’t care to ride the merry go round. If there are two adults involved in this pilgrimage, split up for part of the day to concentrate on child specific requests.
  • Don’t try to do it all in one day. We have attempted this, and it is the equivalent of running a marathon backwards. Don’t frustrate yourself and your children by promises of doing it all. Pick the most important things, and be happy with a few extras thrown into the mix.
  • Do bring Tylenol. You’ll thank me later.

I have seen more unhappy children at Disneyland than any other place on this planet. Plan and prepare properly beforehand so that your child isn’t added to this medley of overtired, sugar-fueled, hysterical orangutan’s during the fireworks.

Parenting: Democracy or Dictatorship?

February 16, 2011 6 comments

I know some really good parents, and I know some really bad parents. I’m not naming names; you know who you are.

Or maybe you don’t. Maybe, like Amy Chua, you think forcing your child to practice the piano for hours each day is your idea of a loving relationship. You’re thinking, they’ll thank me in the long run.  Forcing them to bring home A’s, even bribing them into doing so, is your idea of caring.  Chua’s book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother reads more like an exercise in child abuse rather than a useful parenting tool.

There has been a huge backlash since Chua’s parenting memoir was released in January. For a truly chilling account of her parenting style, click on this article by Chua which appeared in the Wall Street Journal, which details why she would never let her child go on a play date, receive a grade less than an A, or let them play any instrument other than the piano or the violin. It is all shocking, but she attributes these methods to the reason Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful children.

It would be easy to attack someone who mandates their children practice their instrument for three hours a day (the first hour is the easy part, Chua says, it’s hours two and three that get difficult). Rather than climb aboard the growing anti-Chua train that is snaking its way across North America, I thought I’d write about an entirely opposite parenting movement that is gaining popularity in my neighborhood that embraces a much gentler and respectful style.

A growing group of parents I know actually go to a parenting group. They meet on a monthly basis and discuss their issues with the help of a counselor.

Many of these people start their sentences with, “Jim Skinner says…”, Jim Skinner being their therapist/guru/demi-god. Skinner uses the Adler approach to parenting, which emphasizes the freedom to be creative while making decisions within a respectful and responsible family structure. My interest piqued by all this Skinner-disciple talk, I decided to check him out when he lectured at our school.

Almost everything he touched on made intuitive sense to me, and seemed to take into account both the wishes of the parent and the child. Here are some of the highlights from the one lecture I attended:

  • Parenting with a hands joined in a democratic arrangement is by far the most successful of parenting styles, judging from his twenty years of helping families. Military style parents: throw your whips out with the garbage. To summarize, in a democratic house, when misbehavior occurs, you and your child come up with consequences together. This gives the child a voice and some control over the situation, rather than being rendered a helpless deer caught in the headlights, awaiting the blow of whatever punishment the parent deems worthy.
  • Pampering and spoiling children does them a disservice; this includes overindulging, being over permissive, over dominating, and being over protective.
  • The best parenting style is one that fosters and develops a child’s self-esteem through encouragement.
  • Think of successful sports teams: they are co-operative, and work together as a team to produce great results, as opposed to a team with a few individual stars on its roster. A family should also be set up in a co-operative way; minimize competition, maximize working together to achieve goals.
  • People don’t change, they simply become more or less of who they are from the beginning. It is the role of the parent to help invent a child’s future by determining their unique strengths.
  • Help children learn from their mistakes, rather than simply chastising them.

If this parenting style catches your fancy more than Chua’s, ignore her controversial book and instead pick up Honey I Wrecked the Kids, by Alyson Schafer. Your children will thank you, and Child Services won’t come knocking.

Pragmatic Romantics: Boycott Valentine’s Day Flowers

February 14, 2011 10 comments

As the rain pelted sideways on the weekend, I stooped to throw a bouquet of roses into my grocery cart. An attempt to cheer up our joint on the darkest of winter days, add a little sunshine into the mix, mask the stale aroma of February. But I was horrified when I noticed the normal $14.99 price tag had been jacked up to $29.99, courtesy of my least favorite Hallmark-induced holiday, Valentine’s Day.

I was prepared to leave this one alone this week, to let bloggers and columnists wage their own wars with cupid, falling either in the pro or con category. If I were to predictably fall into the con category, you might think I am a washed up cynic, jaded by fifteen years of marriage, any romantic spark long since replaced by everyday realities.

And you would be right.

Suckers only need apply

My image on the line, I’m still prepared to go down this route to exploit the flower industry as the crooks that they are. Forget Hallmark, who at the very least can’t double the printed cost of their red and pink cards as February 14 rolls closer, the florists of this world are the biggest benefactors of this artificial holiday. I’m disgusted with the injustice of jacking up their cost of arrangements to double their normal price tag.

The last thing I have ever wanted for Valentine’s Day is flowers (honey, are you reading this?). I have long been a proponent of the “give me flowers any other day of the year instead, when they are half the cost” club. I cannot relate to all of those tweets and stories I’m reading about women who just want flowers for Valentine’s Day – “would that kill him”? What is romantic about receiving flowers on the day some marketer has deemed it romantic to receive flowers? Our collective lack of imagination has too many people resorting to being sheep, with the florists of the world being the lucky benefactors.

I would rather receive a new water bottle.

At least most retailers worth their salt have wizened up and offer pre-Christmas sales, so we don’t feel we are complete victims to the cause. If you are one of those smug people that goes around toting flowers at double the cost on Valentine’s Day, you may as well have “sucker” tattooed on your forehead, or  “kick me” attached to your behind.

Contrary to how this sounds, I actually am romantic, but also pragmatic. Read me a poem on Valentine’s Day, instead. I promise I won’t laugh.

Spelling Duals From the 49th Parallel

February 9, 2011 8 comments
P writing blue

Image via Wikipedia

I am of two minds.

I’m not talking about my wild mood swings at monthly intervals, I’m talking about spelling.

Brought up and educated in Canada, I have learned to spell using British English as opposed to American English. British English generally houses a couple of extra letters, for example it’s colour not color, and analogue not analog. If in doubt, throw in a rogue “u” to make it Canadian. I write with candour, and clamour to make chilli for dinner (this is the British English spelling for chilli – doesn’t it look better to you?); whereas if I was born south of the border I would write with candor, and clamor to make chili.

You Americans are more to the point, more phonetically accurate.

In Canada, true to our bilingual mandate, we ask for the cheque in restaurants, not the check. We measure in litres,not liters, but don’t get me talking about our weather inconsistencies – for the love of god, is 75 degrees Fahrenheit shorts weather or not? You must agree the Celsius scale, which uses zero degrees as the freezing point, makes more sense.

Canada wins on the weather front, America on the spelling, where brevity is concerned.

Of course in this new marvellous (as opposed to marvelous) world where spell check conveniently underlines every word we misspell, getting it right takes on a new lustre, lest your document be egregiously underlined and marked up like a SoCal woman undergoing plastic surgery. It’s hard to press send or publish with red lines all over your page, which happens if the spellcheck program happens to be of a different nationality than yourself. This causes me no end of grief.

If anyone is a mixed bag it is I: I read roughly half American publications, half Canadian, and have a weakness for British classics and The Economist magazine. I’m bombarded by glaring spelling differences on a daily basis. Who to honour? My British heritage or geographic neighbour? Ignore all of those red slashes on my screen, or give in to the spelling my computer wants? Who wears the pants, the pajamas or the pyjamas?

We Canadians are clearly caught in the middle, victims of circumstance, fed by the leviathan of American marketing, yet still hearing echoes of the British English that we were taught. Not a stickler for details, I tend to be ambidextrous on the point, switching from one usage to the other depending on the word – I actually prefer skeptic to sceptic, for instance.

It seems congruent with our easy going nature that when it comes to spelling, Canadians can swing both ways. I hereby exempt myself from labouring the point any further, red lines be damned.