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BiChristmas, by God – Will the True Holiday Spirit Please Stand Up?

December 14, 2012 6 comments

When the inflatable Santa appeared on my neighbour’s lawn on November 1st, eclipsing even the towering Douglas Fir behind it, I knew it was coming. For not I, the Grinch, Hurricane Sandy, or the war-torn Middle East could stop Christmas from rolling into town and dominating the lives of those that celebrate it.

There’s much to say about this season in the snow, people love it or abhor it, everyone has a shopping tip, drunk staff Christmas party story, or recipe to share. But in the same way my hunger instantly disappears when faced with an All-You-Can-Eat buffet, I’m stymied; am I in the love or hate camp? I’m not sure. On any given day, at different moments, I could be either.

I’m biChristmas.

I love the idea of giving my kids something they will be over the moon excited about, but hate the fact that this dream necessitates me tearing around the city and stalking malls everyday of December. (I know, I shop online too, but still need to grab most of the stuff in person. Call me traditional, but I’m saving a fortune in shipping fees.)

It’s a Wonderful Life. Elf. Christmas Vacation. Charlie Brown’s Christmas. Yeeeeeesssssss! Frosty the Snowman. Santa Buddies. Nooooooooooo!

Cover of "Santa Buddies"

Make it stop.

Invite me to a party and I will be there – I happen to be gifted at merrymaking. The constant low-grade headache I have throughout December is another matter.

The memories of my childhood eyes seeing Santa through the crack of light in my door are precious; the ghosts of boyfriends past I could live without.

I hate the rain that is inevitably present in our city, but the snow on our mountains? Sign. Me. Up.

My joy of giving starts out strong early in the season, but by the time I’ve found a box of chocolates for the piano teacher, my daughter’s other best friend, and the barista that occasionally remembers my name, it snaps from joyful to snarly.

I held back tears of pride at my oldest daughters’ first Christmas concert; ten years and two kids later they are tears of boredom, and frustration that the tallest father in the school sits in front of me every year.

My children are not sure if they will return from school to a mother baking shortbread while cheerfully singing the incorrect lyrics to Santa Baby, or one savagely Gorilla-gluing the gingerbread house together (because why, for the love of god, does my roof always cave in?) When it comes to Christmas, I’m fifty shades of grey, fifty shades of red and green.

Love it, hate it, or Switzerland – what’s your verdict on Christmas?

writing prompt: flawed

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The Vestal Verdict on Vampires

November 29, 2012 1 comment

(Sigh) – It was just okay. I liked Breaking Dawn Part 2, but I didn’t love it;  much as I wanted to. Yet it’s one of those things where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts – like a Jackson Pollock painting, the splotches of colour don’t mean anything in isolation, but together, the canvas is captivating. You can’t think of this movie as its own entity, but rather as the final farewell to this cast of vampires and werewolves we’ve come to admire, or at least, enjoy looking at.

This last installment of the Twilight series seemed to miss a hint of the magic that laced the others. I missed the love triangle between Jacob, Edward and Bella. The alternate tension invented for tension purposes (between the same three, but because of Renesmee) can’t compete. And as this tension has waned, so has the (almost, at times) witty dialogue. I wanted more of Charlie, and less of the vampires from all corners of the earth. Edward has lost some of his magnetism, but that could be the most recent Kristen Stewart sex scandal’s influence on me, I’m not sure.

But still.

There were many things I did like. Here are a few:

-sitting in a movie theater in a plush seat, with no one pulling on my arm, shoveling popcorn into my mouth

-watching beautiful vampires with perfect skin (shame about the eyes)

-its dramatic cinematography and incredible scenery, filmed in the very same woods and trails where I love to run (albeit not as fast as Bella and Edward, but a girl can dream)

-the concept that the unlikeliest of loves can persevere

So even though this last movie wasn’t all we Twi-hard fans hoped for, it was still great to see them; the Cullens, Bella, Jacob, and Edward, and all of their beauty, with their problems that are not of this world; projected on a gigantic screen for us to admire, forcing us to leave more pressing issues at the ticket booth, at least for two hours.

My daughter and her thirteen year-old friends agreed in unison that most of all, they were sad the saga had come to an end. I would concur, but at the same time, the story had clearly run its course; arguably one movie ago. It was time to say good-bye.

A Little Slice of Heaven Hidden in a Summer Reading List

June 13, 2012 5 comments

A good reading list should be as balanced as our diet: filled with nutritious niblets of several genres, with some servings of pure alcohol, caffeine and chocolate in good measure (or mainlined, whatever.) Biographies, sagas, mysteries, and classics are the food groups of literature, with romance at the top of the pyramid to provide those sugar highs we occasionally crave. A little of everything for any diet is on this list. What these books have in common is they are all beautifully written, with characters so real you expect to look up and find them in your bedroom (or car, or kitchen, wherever you happen to be reading). For the most part, they’re not even new books; but books that I happened to love this year.

What is not on this list is Fifty Shades of Grey (or Fifty Shades of Awful, by my estimation.) Don’t get me started on that trilogy of tragedy.

Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides

This book takes you into the mind and struggles of a hermaphrodite, Callie. When was the last time you were there? Ya huh. It’s a family saga that spans three generations, beginning in Smyma in the early 1900’s, and their harrowing emigration to Detroit. It’s filled with colourful characters and poignant moments, and made me ponder the strong relationship between sexuality and identity. It kept me reading into the wee hours; Eugenides deserves his reputation for being a master storyteller.

When God Was a Rabbit, by Sarah Winman

Life rarely makes sense. And so it goes for Elly, the heroine of this book. A traumatic event shapes her early years, and as the book unfolds its repercussions are felt, again and again. The book is as quirky as Elly herself. It’s beautifully written, charming and funny in spite of itself.

State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett

She’s best known for her award winning Bel Canto, but my personal favorite of Patchett’s is still The Magician’s Assistant, by the by. A hint of mystery kept me turning the pages of her latest novel, set in the jungle of the Amazon, as the protagonist, Marina, discovers the wonders of the Lakashi people deep in the heart of the rain forest.

The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton

A story before its time, Wharton depicts societal norm as the joke that it really is. Ellen, the protagonist, challenges standards by leaving her loveless marriage. When she meets Newland Archer, who is newly engaged, Ellen and Newland begin a lifelong game of cat and mouse, and a love for all time. If you read one classic this summer, or ever, choose this.

Your Voice in My Head, by Emma Forrest

This memoir by Forrest reminds us that life is filled with ups and downs, and that no relationships are easy. As she spirals into sadness, Forrest finds a light in her therapist; when he dies from cancer she is left wandering in the dark once again. Her hostile and lonely world make for beautiful passages, and a wonderful memoir leaking with truth and life.

Here are the books that are burning a hole in my bedside table, and I’m excited to devour them this July, come sun or what may:

The Sisters Brothers, by Patrick deWitt (Back to my tomboy days with some country and western. And the author happens to be too chilled for words, great non-vibe from this guy.)

Half Blood Blues, by Esi Edugyan (Oooh so excited for this one.)

A Moveable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway (Why have I not read this book?!)

The Dovekeepers, by Alice Hoffman (When my tenth friend told me to read this, I put my hands up in surrender. I surrender!)

I’m hungry just looking at them. Read ’em and weep. Or read ’em and eat. Whatever you do, fold yourself into the pages of a delicious dessert this summer. Happy summer reading.

A New York State of Mind

May 7, 2012 11 comments

Many people have told me the best way to see New York is during the NYC Marathon. Mind you, these people were runners. And since I consider myself one, also, I have been holding off on a New York trip until I trained for that race. I wanted to see the five boroughs on foot, the arduous way, alongside the 50 000 other runners that make the trek out to Staten Island. I just had it in my head I would do this one day.

But sometimes life doesn’t play out perfectly on cue. Despite my best laid plans, a trip to New York has presented itself, but over the Mother’s Day weekend instead of race weekend. Far be it from me to decline, give or take the marathon. Marathon? What marathon?

Who cares? I’M GOING TO NEW YORK! This occasion absolutely calls for all capitals.

I am ecstatic to finally visit this iconic city that never sleeps, and experience it’s peculiar energy and buzz. I’m excited to browse through SoHo, drink a genuine Manhatten, visit the MoMA, Times Square, Top of the Rock, enter the New York Public Library, walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, and yes, run leisurely through Central Park. I’m going to a show on Broadway and will be eating in restaurants that are far too cool for me. We are going to an underground rave, and I’m told, will be conquering Century 21. We will do this, all of this, in three days. Of course no one ever sleeps in this city.

We are staying somewhere in Midtown; since someone fun and hip booked this trip, the hotel, I’m told, is fun and hip. Not that it matters. Sleeping isn’t on the itinerary.

I’m as excited to see New York as I am to get the monkey off my back of Not Having Been to New York. It is a conversation stopper, when people are musing about past trips to the Big Apple, to drop in the tidbit that I haven’t been before. Like blasphemy, or pant-wetting, it causes people to shift uncomfortably in their seats. They often mutter, “You should really go, you will love it.” Like I don’t know this.

So since I’m finally going, I’m going big, hitting as many highlights as possible. It will be exhausting, I know, but my children will totally permit me to sleep for a week upon my return. The more I see, the more I will be able to converse about. In my near future, when people say, “Don’t you just love the High Line?” I will say, emphatically, yes, I love the High Line; and the whole conversation will be much more comfortable without the slump in their shoulders on account of me never having been before.

What’s your favorite thing to do in New York City? I have loads of time to fill.

A Real Housewife of Vancouver Speaks Up (And Her Eyebrows are MOVING)

April 26, 2012 8 comments

It is beautifully and perfectly ironic that there is nothing real about The Real Housewives of Vancouver. From the prominent tips of their fake breasts down to their carefully shellacked toes, these girls elicit as much reality as a happily married Kim Kardashian.

And all this before they have opened their mouths. As soon as they do, I’m wishing their lip enhancements could inhibit their speech. Every non-thought they utter collectively shrinks progress made by women globally. Just when feminists had propelled us forward, the Real Housewives of Vancouver use their fuzzy Prada slippers and stilettos to step back into a time and place where boyfriends need to be found to provide them with expensive presents, and new horses to ride, so to speak.

Yet, we are watching, but not to be inspired or lifted. Rather we are watching for the same reason we crane our necks to get a glimpse of a car accident on the highway as we pass safely by and privately think, better them than me! We are watching for the same reason we watch any reality television, to see people make fools of themselves. (And possibly to see if any of their faces will move in this episode – so far, they haven’t.)

If nothing else, it is fascinating to watch five women who spend entire days on their appearance. Who knew you could look so terrible after all of that time and expense? So perhaps there is another reason we are watching: to revel in our normality, and decidedly low-maintenance approaches. For me, another housewife of Vancouver, it’s a big day is when I floss my teeth and manage to take my multi-vitamin; two little gestures that are all about me. Facials of whale sperm are far from my reality, which is fine in practice, but clearly not when it comes to entertaining television.

Even the most gullible among us realize the Real Housewives of Vancouver are as far from a real housewife of Vancouver as you can get. We should launch a counterattack, a backlash series, entitled creatively The REAL Real Housewives of Vancouver. The first episode could be called “Multi-tasking,” and the opening scene would feature a rather harried woman slapping peanut butter on a slice of bread with one hand, while arranging a playdate on her Blackberry with her other hand, and helping her daughter with her homework with her – shoot, I’m out of hands – spare toe. An amalgamation of Edward Scissorhands and motherhood. Truer to life than The Real Housewives of Vancouver.

Boring, say the executives in Hollywood, who really are masterminds, to be fair. Much better to throw five strangers housewives together on a deserted island in Vancouver and watch them try to survive. Reality television is nothing if not original.

To find out the antithesis of what a real housewife of Vancouver thinks about, looks like and acts like, be sure to tune in to The Real Housewives of Vancouver, tonight, on Slice. Did someone say pizza party?

(Still, it is shocking they have no shortage of incendiary characters to choose from in our fair city, women who must have willingly walked around with ‘kick me’ on their backs as kids, or yesterday. I know, I get it, my life is boring, who would want to watch a real housewife of Vancouver floss her teeth whilst shuttling her kids to soccer? But seriously, what price for fame, girlfriend, what price for fame?)

Consistently Inconsistent

March 27, 2012 6 comments

If I were to pluck a parenting book off a shelf, I’d wager there’s something between those pages about the importance of consistency. As in, you should react roughly the same way in similar situations. As in, the same rules should roughly apply for each member of the family. Roughly, right?

It sounds simple on paper, yet is astoundingly difficult in practice. When it comes to parenting, the only thing I am consistent about is being inconsistent.

I ruminated on this when I woke up clinging to the edge of our king size mattress, as my seven year-old lay stretched out like a snow angel in the middle of the bed, and my husband clung to the opposite side. We had been militant about not bringing our first and second children into our bed, lest it become a habit. Yet our third child lands between our sheets on a nightly basis, and we barely bat an eye. (We were right about one thing: it is habit forming.)

We barely recognize ourselves, and hardly know how we got here. Are we simply too tired of resisting? Are we susceptible to her status as our baby? Or have we simply relaxed our views on co-sleeping? Probably a little of each.

When my oldest child was two, I enrolled her in swimming lessons, gymnastics, preschool, and skating lessons. For the skating lessons, I recall dressing her like she was about to summit Everest, and then watched her crawl – CRAWL – around the ice with a marker in her hand, colouring on the ice, for twenty minutes. The dressing up and dressing down took longer than the lesson itself. It was ridiculous in so many ways,  but to be fair it was as much about me getting out of the house than about her learning double axels.

In comparison, my third child has recently taken her first set of swimming and skating lessons at the tender age of seven, and only because she begged me. The reasons for this one are more obvious: I’ve learned that until a certain age, these activities are useless, and I’m already too busy driving my other children around.

These are just the tips on my parenting iceberg. There are so many other examples – I can’t recall one time I have punished kids number two and three beyond telling them not to do something. Yet my first child has had so many time-outs it rivaled her time-ins. We have reels of videos of our oldest saying her ABC’s before she was two, but I had to give my second child a crash course on them the day before she started kindergarten.

With each child I’ve birthed, my parenting persona has done a triple toe loop. My over-bearing grip loosened with my second child, and then relaxed almost completely with my third. I’m inclined to blame it on my laziness, but I see it happening in families around me as well: generally speaking, parents chill more with each passing baby.

I once read a book about how your birth order affects your personality, suitably titled Birth Order and You (there was no chapter about being the ninth child, however, so no clues into my own quirks and oddities – judging by my own parenting, it’s amazing I was even named.) Otherwise, it was strangely accurate in its depictions of oldest, middle, youngest, and only children – I recognized a few of my siblings, and lots of my friends, in its characterizations. It’s fair to assume these personality traits are borne from the expectations and treatment by their main influences, their parents.

So I’m part of a predictable trend that creates headstrong firstborns, peacekeeping middle children, and smart but spoiled youngest children. (As my baby hogs my pillow, I detect a slight smile on her slumbering lips, and although my shoulder is killing me, I don’t dare change positions in the event that I wake her.) At least there is comfort in numbers.

Do you fit the birth order stereotypes? And if you’re a parent, have you unwittingly changed your tactics as your herd has grown?

When In France, Eat Like the French Do

July 11, 2011 5 comments

I have a penchant for competition, but I would never dream of attempting to beat the French at their own game.

Their passion for eating, that is.

It would take a serious training regime of long lunches and longer dinners – over weeks, preferably months, perhaps years – before one could possibly achieve a similar metabolism, let alone the tolerance for wine that would render one a contender.

Food and drink are their game, and they play it extremely well.

Everywhere you look between the hours of 12 and 2, and then again from 7:30 – 10:30, people are enjoying sumptuous lunches and dinners, eyes closed and conversation hushed as they concentrate on the task at hand.

Rose is consumed like water. We stopped at a little cheese shop the other day and noticed the proprietor was also doing a booming business selling rose out of a vat, filling large glass jugs for his patrons for one and half euros per liter. (It was pretty good wine, I might add.) Bottled water costs more, so it is perfectly rational to drink wine instead.

So although I freely admit I will never beat the french at this game of eating, I would like to join them at playing their game, in my own miniscule way. And so to this end we ventured to Jardin d’Ivana the other night.

Jardin d’Ivana is exactly as it translates: Ivana’s garden, which also serves as a restaurant every night. Ivan is apparently the host, server, and busboy while his wife, Nadine, concocts miracles in her kitchen. It was a short walk down the hill from where we are staying, so we struck out on foot. We felt a little sheepish walking into our neighbor’s yard, but this is how it’s done here we reminded ourselves, and went in.

Ivan greeted us and ushered us in to our table. This night their tables were all set under their sheltered veranda – the mistral, high winds that blow down from Siberia, had arrived the day before, and were whipping up the tablecloths and making waves in their small swimming pool.

In the next fifteen minutes, twenty other people were ushered in to surrounding tables, reconciling our previous worries that this was, in fact, very normal here.

The feast began.

There of course were no menu’s, just Ivan telling us what the menu would be that evening. We didn’t understand all of what was to come, so it was a bit like getting a grab bag of of delicacies – each course a little present in its own right.

It was a slow but steady procession of dishes in various forms of pomp and circumstance. Slim aperatifs were served in tiny champagne flutes. Pureed carrots laced with parmesan and cardamon arrived in glass bowls. A long slice of eggplant spooned an equally long slice of zucchini on a salad plate. A pork stew with thick sauce came in round bowls. Slices of apricot sweetened with brown sugar and some other divine sauce were set down just as I started to see double. Wine glasses were replaced with tiny digestif glasses smaller than shot glasses. Espresso in tiny vessels with saucers.

As we rolled out of their garden, I humbly raised my white flag in defeat. I couldn’t eat like that every night, but it was fun trying.

And I hoped like hell that Ivana had an industrial sized dishwasher.