Wednesday, January 30, 2008

If I saw you in heaven

There's a blogger I know who's dying.

I've been reading his blog for almost two years now, mainly without comment, but visiting fairly regularly. He was diagnosed with ALS 4 years ago, a problem with started with tingles and numbness in his limbs, then moving on to weakness and loss of muscle control. He's been a much more faithful blogger than I, and has maintained his site even when it was difficult to hold up his head.

He's shared much of this horrifying journey with his readers, including posts that are mostly illegible (I can only guess as a result of pain or inability to control his hands). At first, I felt like I was intruding on a private conversation - having clicked on the link to his blog from that of another favourite of mine, and read a comments section from a clearly dedicated group of readers. He kept an inventory of his growing health problems, included a video (titled "So You're Going to Die!") through which I learned the facts about this 100% fatal disease.

He is a young man by today's standards - and a husband and father whose love for his family is always evident. It's not fair that he is trapped inside a failing body while his mind remains intact. ALS is the worst nightmare I can imagine: a healthy mind and a dying body. Eventually you're trapped. Even after living a long life this would be a terrible way to die.

His last post (and I'm sure it will remain such) was simply saying "I love you" to his wife and children. That was last week, and the comments section has grown from it's usual dozen or so, to over 130 messages. I check every day, waiting to read the inevitable.

When I read his last post, I started to cry. Unfortunately Jeremy was just coming into the living room and obviously concerned, asked what was wrong. When I tried to explain, I realized that to a non-blogger this type of emotional outpouring for a stranger is utterly mystifying. While he understands that we bloggers do form communities and feel strong affinities with certain others (particularly during hard times), it seemed a little strange that I was so upset.

The thing is, I was privy to this man's thoughts. He made them public. And the last thing he wanted the world to know was that he loves his family.

How can you not cry at that?

He doesn't know my name - the comment I left for him, saying thank you and sending love and prayers might be read aloud with all of the others at his bedside (as a friend of his has promised to do), but I am one of many. This is totally fine with me - we're not friends, and never will be.

But his words touched me and I will remember his story.

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am in a thousand winds that blow,
I am the softly falling snow.
I am the gentle showers of rain,
I am the fields of ripening grain.
I am in the morning hush,
I am in the graceful rush
Of beautiful birds in circling flight,
I am the starshine of the night.
I am in the flowers that bloom,
I am in a quiet room.
I am in the birds that sing,
I am in each lovely thing.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there. I do not die.
- Mary Frye

Sunday, January 27, 2008

So much for a "reality check"

I'm SO disappointed right now.

After a month of watching TLC's "Miss America: Reality Check", a show that is meant to update this almost 90-year old pageant so it actually reflects real American women, I watched this girl win the title:

If you're thinking "But she looks exactly like a Miss America - what's new about this?" then you probably understand why I'm so annoyed.

Don't get me wrong - Miss Michigan gave a great answer during the question period ("Of course you should tell your fiance if you have an STD! It's all about respect!" LOL) and had a nice dress (if you like sequins and see-through patches that is). She sang "Over the Rainbow" (which has got to be the most over-used song in pageant history. AND she sang it badly) in a ridiculous blue dress, and had the bad 80's hair that the reality show had just spent 4 weeks trying to get rid of. Oh - and she looked EXACTLY like last year's winner: pretty blonde girl with big hair and in a sequined dress with tears in her eyes and roses in her arms.

What a great role model for young girls! I'm sure they'll all be out looking for the hot rollers and sparkly gowns once again. And having a personality? Forget about that! All you need is a pretty smile and a quick answer to a "difficult" question!

The really disappointing thing was going through 4 weeks of the reality show and getting to really like some of the contestants - several of whom were showcased constantly but didn't even make the final 16. My two favourites: Miss Alaska and Miss D.C. were far and above more like real women than any of the others, on top of being beautiful, and they were completely overlooked by the Miss America judges.

Kim and I were really hoping to see Miss Alaska make it: short brown hair, brown eyes, not the tanned beach girl that you would normally see wearing the crown - and with a quirky personality that came out more and more as she became more confident. It was like watching the oddball kid in your class come out of her shell and turn out to be this really cool person. She was in every episode of the show, and the Advisory Panel (who were supposed to help them accept the new, hipper image of Miss America) were always talking about her.

The judges only picked a few of the girls we had gotten to know from the TV show, so it started off on a disappointing note. And things went downhill from there...

1. The announcer was TERRIBLE. This dude fumbled every other sentence, made bad jokes about everything, then repeated the joke Clinton Kelly (from What Not to Wear) told that did get laughs so many times that he killed it. He called Miss Washington "Miss Wisconsin" (who wasn't up there anymore) and was as smarmy as you would expect a Miss America announcer to be.

2. All of the girls either sang a song or did a dance (the dances being ballet or jazz). No other talents were showcased.

3. The Question Period was supposed to be random questions from people on the street - which was totally ruined when you would see one lady's eyes moving across a card as she READ THE QUESTION TO THE CAMERA. Yup, that's nice and spontaneous. Wonder who wrote that for her...

4. Miss Utah. Everything about her pissed me off. A military woman who was so much like Sandra Bullock's character in "Miss Congeniality" that it almost seemed fake. She had this attitude that was so pro-military it made us wonder why she was even competing. The point of the show was to change, and she said on more than one occasion that she wasn't planning change at all - probably because she already was totally different from the barbie dolls who usually compete. While this was mildly admirable (and made us like her at first) her refusal to try and improve anything about herself, as she made fun of the advisory panel and the pageant itself was annoying to watch. But the American public voted her in as the 16th contestant. I guess the people watching this year are very pro-military and didn't watch her ridiculous behaviour during the 4 part series. Yes, she's a strong woman, but she didn't had any touch with her femininity and seemed resentful of even having her pictures taken. I've got no problem with the military, but to vote a woman into a beauty pageant on that novelty is really dumb. 'nuff said.

5. There were commercials for the Miss America pageant DURING the Miss America pageant. Very sad.

6. Other than the DJ spinning music and the "controversial questions", there was absolutely nothing different about the pageant this time around. The reality show didn't have any impact on the result whatsoever (I doubt the judges even saw it), and the girls all looked just like they always did - overly made-up, stiff, nervously holding hands when waiting for results, and tearfully hugging when they were eliminated. Total barbie-doll, cookie-cutter pageant girls with the same sparkly (and fugly) dresses - where were the outfits they had chosen from the reality show portion? Those outfits actually looked modern and looked good.

7. Michael Urie, who I LOVE as Mark, from "Ugly Betty", had hosted the reality portion of the show, and was completely missing from the live finale. Stacey, from "What Not to Wear" was also missing from the finale.

8. They decided it would be more fun to sit the final 10 girls together before the talent competition, then randomly announced that two of them wouldn't even get to perform. That was just MEAN. It's already scary to perform in front of a crowd, but they added even more pressure by saying "two of you won't get the chance." Just awful.

9. All of the competitions were exactly the same: swimsuits, evening gowns, talents, and questions. They could do so much more to make these competitions relevant, but stuck with the same format used in the early 1900s. I would have loved to see them each talk for a couple of minutes about their platforms and themselves instead of answering questions about Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lynn Spears.

10. Overall the show looked completely disorganized and amateurish - which is sad considering they didn't change ANYTHING.

The highlight of the night for me was when Clinton asked one of the girls (I think it was Miss Connecticut)"What does it feel like to march across a stage wearing just a bikini and high heels?"

Her response: "How should I know? I didn't get to do that!"

For four weeks, the reality show on TLC preached to the girls about being strong, modern women using less makeup and being more "real". They did segments on some of the girls during the 4 week program (it would have been better to showcase them all actually - we didn't see anything of Miss Michigan at all) where some of their personal stories allowed us to relate to them in a way that I personally have never related to any beauty pageant contestant. For the first time, some these girls seemed like smart, fun people with their own personalities and opinions, and I was excited to see what they would be like during the finale.

Only the girls who stuck with the cookie-cutter Miss America mold got to advance. The edgiest and most modern by FAR was Miss Washington, with her brown hair, exotic looks, support of gay marriage, and singing "Angels" by Robbie Williams (beautifully I might add). She made it to the final 8, and stood amidst a group of big-haired blondes. I knew she wouldn't win.

The 1st runner up, Miss Indiana, was one of the girls most resistant to change. She looks just like a soap opera star, with excessively bright eye makeup and blush - and wore a dress that was fit for a ice dancing competition. Yet she wins the second prize. I just don't get it.

I used to watch this competition as a kid - it was fun to see the dresses and the talent parts, and I remember picking a state and cheering for her throughout the show. This time around, I had 3 favourites (the top being Miss Alaska), and they were overlooked for the same kinds of girls I saw on TV when I was 10 years old. It was worse this time though - we got invested in certain people, believed things would actually be relevant and different this time. And as soon as they called the final 16, it was clear things haven't changed at all.

They spent four weeks trying to change the contestants, but obviously no time at all in changing the judges. I wonder what would have happened if the people had gotten to vote for this using the American Idol style? Imagine how much fun it would be - have the series teaching the girls to be the "new" Miss America each week, then have the talent competition one week, the swimsuit (including a fitness or health challenge rather than parading them in freaking bathing suits) competition the following week, then a final episode with evening gowns and questions. Each week people could vote for their favourites, ending with the "LIVE! FINALE!" that these shows love so much. Yes, it's a reality show, but would actually be a relevant one. No panel of fashionista judges looking for an 80-year old ideal - just real people voting for somebody to represent them.

Unfortunately, they've delivered exactly the opposite of what was promised this year, and it doesn't look like the organization is willing to change. I'm so glad they wasted our time.

I guess the "reality check" is that this pageant still has no touch with reality...

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Being an actor

This is what happens when celebrities have too much time on their hands. Absolutely brilliant.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Say a little prayer for me

(click to enlarge)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Pretty Winter

Usually by the middle of January I'm cursing the cold and snow, but for some reason I'm really enjoying the winter weather this year.

Maybe it was experiencing a rainy, damp winter with only two fluke snowfalls last year that made me miss it. I'm now willing to get out of a warm car, then tramp through snow and up a bridge to get pictures of a pretty river, or to explore a forest when it's -10 degrees.

The results have been pretty great so far and I'm looking forward to getting more snow (which of course means we'll get 5 feet of it and I'll forget all about how pretty it is while shoveling or scraping it off of my car).

These were taken at the French River in Northern Ontario just after Christmas.

And then there was the day I decided to take my camera for a walk by the Thames River here in London - right before the sun started to set.

I froze my ears, nose and camera batteries (they stopped working after a half hour but came back when the camera warmed up again), but it was totally worth it.

Monday, January 14, 2008

I always thought this was a kid's song

Now that I've watched every episode of every TV show you can watch online, I decided to visit YouTube to see what I could find. After listening to a few of my usual choices, I found myself typing "Hooked on a Feeling".

It's SUCH a good song. Always makes me smile...

It's associated with a very happy memory: It was two months after I've moved out of my parents house and I was living in a house with two girls in their 30s, Cindy and Andrea (or Andy). Andy was actually from California and was having a very hard time in her marriage, so she took a summer to try and sort herself out. Cindy was dating a man called Charlie, who was a heavy drinker, super nice guy, and absolute fanatic about darts.

I was pretty lonely during that time - in a brand new place, not many friends (and most friends were leading very busy lives) and not yet comfortable with the idea that I was "on my own". Oh right - and I was going through a break-up. Not a fun time...

One night, I was reading and listening to a random mix of song when "Hooked on a Feeling" came on. Smiling, I went out of my room to say something to Cindy, and wound up meeting her in the hallway. Andy appeared from downstairs, taking the steps two by two and finishing with a twist and curtsy. Without a word, we all turned, fingers pointing in the air as we sang along. When the song finally ended, we smiled and went back to what we'd been doing before. It's probably the most random thing I've ever been a a part of. I remember thinking "Huh. That was fun" on the way back to my room, shaking my head and for the first time really believing I could make it on my own.

Having never seen the video before, I clicked on the "original video" tag, and this is what I saw:

Not sure what to say?

I'm not either.

Knowing it would be safe, I typed "the beatles" into the search bar and listened to a few favourites, one of which is quite obvious:

When I hear this song, I remember our 4th anniversary: sitting in the February night under heat lamps, on long picnic tables. The air was full of garlic and herbs and tomato sauce, and everybody seemed to having a good time. What I loved the most about it was ironically being ignored by most of the people there - a lone musician standing in the darkened square playing on his acoustic guitar.

Poor Jeremy - I spent the next half hour completely mesmerized by the music and kept trailing off in mid-sentence or saying (ie. shouting) "Hey! this is a great song!" Luckily he's used to this and we both spent time just listening and enjoying each other's company.

When I went back to the list of Beatles songs, I giggled to "Yellow Submarine" (song that makes me think of dancing around in Kindergarten) and ran over to Jeremy's office to make sure he was listening (not sure why I deserve such a patient man). After that, we were talking about songs from elementary school when I remembered the next song...

It's a song from my childhood that used to make me think about childhood, recess, and campfires. I remember loving this song as an 8 year old, singing it at Brownie Camp and with my friends at school. I always thought this was some southern folk song (turns out it's Cajun), but Now I don't know what to think.

Ignorance was such bliss.

Friday, January 11, 2008

An apt name for us

Today's news was full of interesting things today. After reading a beautifully written piece about snowfall in Iraq (see previous post), an article about my generation having a dramatic impact on the upcoming election in the USA caught my eye.

As a Canadian, I'm very interested in the politics of our southern neighbours - mainly because American politics have such a powerful impact on our own. If I had the opportunity to vote in their election, I'd probably go with Obama. Apparently I'm in the majority for our generation, as the journalist writing the article found that he is very popular with people aged 18-29. He just seems to be more of an ordinary, real person - who cares about issues like health care in a way that makes you believe it's not just a selling point for voters.

But what really caught my attention was the description of our generations worldview: the reality of debt and a fiercely competitive job market after being raised to believe we had all of the opportunities in the world.

The article has all kinds of cute names for us, the children of the baby boomers: generation y, the "millennials" and (most accurate in my opinion) "generation debt".

"At first, the Millennials were the Children of the Rising Dow. They grew up during the greatest period of wealth creation in modern history, but watched their elders consume resources and run up deficits as if the party would never end. Then came the dot-com crash, terrorism, war, climate change. Epic uncertainty informs their worldview. When asked to name the issues they care most deeply about, bread-and-butter concerns such as the economy, health care, and education routinely rank high. In an October Pew Research Center poll, 80 percent of voters aged 18 to 29 cited the economy as a "very important" concern, vs. 61 percent who felt the environment was a major issue — a telling finding given all the campus activism swirling around global warming these days."

"Millennials walk the economic high wire. If nothing goes wrong, they will make it safely to the other side. The slightest disruption — a layoff, an illness — and they are off the wire and falling hard," Warren added.

...A more apt name for people like her may be Generation Debt. No group has ever started life so deeply in the hole, due mainly to mounting college costs, dwindling financial aid, and credit-card debt. The average college student now graduates with $20,000 in loans. Drew University sophomore Dominique Wilburn, 20, works three jobs — at a bookstore, as a resident assistant in a dorm, and at the school gym — to support herself and pay off her $41,000 debt. "In today's day and age, you have to have a degree, a graduate degree, to be competitive," says Wilburn.

This is the first time I've read anything about politics that so closely tied to my own concerns. Apparently some of our preceding generation HAVE noticed that their kids are dead broke and inheriting a world full of economic and political uncertainty. I have two university degrees and am literally getting buried in debt because I can't find a job with a salary high enough to pay all the bills. When my mother graduated from teacher's college, she had a job practically waiting for her. She's never had to write resumes, cover letters, complete portfolios, or compete with others to get work. And this is typical of people in her generation. I have more schooling and more experience coming into the workforce, but less chance of getting a job.

Putting aside how pathetic it is that my generation can't afford to get sick because the majority of us have no health benefits (I got sick a couple of months ago and had to fork over $60 for medication) and no pension plans, it's still a sad state of affairs when somebody with 5 years of post-secondary education has to scramble just to make ends meet. Of the people I know, only 3 couples have a house and are paying into the principal of their school and credit card debts. Every single other person I know is drowning in interest payments, rent, and other bills, has no doctor, no health plan or benefits, and doesn't know when they'll ever have the money to get married, get a house, or raise a family.

I'm not saying "poor us, pity us!" here - but this is getting pretty ridiculous.

Right now I'm battling with 3000-4000 other applicants for supply teaching jobs here in London (that is the only way to get into the school board) - mainly people in my age demographic. Why so many? Because Ontario decided that allow RETIRED teachers to stay on and work after they have retired.

I totally respect people for wanting to continue receiving paychecks and for not wanting to leave the profession they (and I) love. But this practice means they will get paychecks from the board, take jobs away from people like myself, all the while still collecting their pensions (and teacher's pensions are among the top in Canada).

What a great world: the baby boomers get to stay on and teach while their children's generation get to work at McDonald's and hope they can afford to buy groceries after paying all of their bills while we wait for them to finally retire so we can work in our field and no longer be trapped in a minimum wage, dead-end job.

So what happens when they finally all do leave their jobs and retire FOR REAL? What happens when our generation has to start caring for our aging parents after years of inadequate paychecks and mounting debts?

Ironically, our generation (or at least the people I know) have accepted their circumstances and against all odds seem to have hope that we'll someday be financially comfortable and able to live like we did when we were little and still at home. The family trips, multiple vehicles, mountains of Christmas presents, and other middle-class trappings are just a sweet memory for us. Our reality is collection agencies, car leases (or owning 10-year old broken down vehicles), scraping by to have a night out, and budgeting every penny we earn because we can't take the chance that we'll lose our jobs or get sick and not be able to work. Yet we do it, joke around about it, and find creative ways to get ahead. We want stability, pensions, families and houses, and maybe the chance to take some vacations like we did when we were little. I don't think that's too much to ask for...

Every time one of us succeeds is reason to celebrate.

I hope that the governments elected in the USA and here in Canada start to take notice that we are due to start taking things over - and that rising tuition costs, a overly-competitive job market, and inflation are going to need to be managed properly if "generation debt" has any chance of bringing back the world we knew as children.


There are no words I can add to make this story any better.

Reading this made me feel hope for a part of the world that didn't seem to have any hope left...

Monday, January 07, 2008

off to a good start

I celebrated the new year with Jeremy, Kim & Steve after a fun night of board games and strawberry daiquiris. For the first time since my friends and I discovered drinking, I woke up New Year's Day without a hangover or even a headache. The day progressed from there with us being extraordinarily lazy (one of us put their pj's back on 5 minutes after getting in the door - I'll let you guess who) and pretty much doing nothing other than watch TV reruns and playing computer games.

While things certainly aren't perfect - we haven't won the lottery and erased our debts, then bought houses in Hawaii, the Muskokas or the south of France - 2008 is definitely off to a great start...

There's lobster in my freezer.

Jeremy put together our BBQ so we finally got to enjoy the steak dinners I've been missing for a year and a half now. (and have had 4 dinners in the last week from the grill)

We've got gift cards from all sorts of fun places (La Senza, The Bay (to get a duvet cover courtesy of my mother-in-law to be), Tim Horton's, The Keg, and M&M Meats), which means shopping for house stuff and food, two of my favourite things to shop for!

I found out the school board here in London will be hiring for supply teachers soon.

There's a fantastic new reality TV show about Miss America on TLC that's hosted by one of my favourite characters from Ugly Betty. AND Clinton & Stacey from "What Not to Wear" are going to be on it telling the pageant hopefuls how to dress! The show looks to be 'so bad it's good', with the girls all living together in one house and being coached on how to be more modern and relatable to the American public. One look at some of these ladies and you can already tell they're going to have a hard time putting down the mascara brushes and hairspray.

But the best thing that's happened so far this year is:

Even if you're not a hockey fan, this is more than worth your time (highlights of the game and the celebration at the end for you non-hockey watchers) - even if it's just to watch them sing our national anthem at the end. Pierre McGuire gets cut off at the end of the video, when he says "I don't care how many times you see and hear that - it never gets old."

So yet again, we've won the gold medal at the World Juniors. This year was very different for Team Canada - a lot of adversity, drama, goalie issues, and an increasingly strong group of opposing teams. The boys who represented our country were part of one of the youngest teams to ever attend this tournament, and only had 2 returning players. The only team to beat us in 4 YEARS (in round robin or elimination rounds) was Team Sweden during the round robin, so when the final game started, we all knew that it wasn't going to be an easy win. And many people doubted that this inexperienced team could pull it off.

But just like every other year, they came out for the gold medal and would settle for nothing less.

I'd like to say that it was a pretty goal that won the gold medal, but I'd be lying. That winning shot was a lot like the rest of this tournament - a lot of hard work, and a little bit of luck. Add the passion for the sport and the desire to make a country proud, and you've got this year's Team Canada.

If you watched the video, you might have noticed the sea of red in the stands. Consider for a minute that the tournament was held in the Czech Republic, and the fact that over 4,000 of the people in the crowd of 7,500 were Canadians - it was pretty damn amazing. The victory celebration took twice as long because the team actually went up into the stands (first time I've ever seen a team do that) to let their fellow Canadians touch the cup and share the celebration. They credited the faithful Canucks who were there for every game, cheering loudly and making sure everybody knew they were there with helping to win the gold medal this year. After Sweden scored their first goal, the cameras panned the crowd, which showed a huge group of dejected Canadians and three Swedish fans (in yellow and blue) jumping up and down and cheering. It didn't take long for the racket of "Go Canada Go!" to start up again - which I'm sure gave our boys the extra jump in their step that was badly needed when overtime began. That group of 4,000 represented thousands more back home, yelling at their TVs and cheering with strangers in bars whenever things went right.

And those thousands of us who saw an ugly goal hit the back of the net in overtime cheered all together from places all over the world. I wonder how many others got a little teary-eyed when they raised our flag yet again...

And so ends my favourite holiday tradition with the singing of O Canada along with a bunch of teenagers who in two short weeks become national heroes. Some will never go further than junior level hockey, while others will be drafted into the NHL, and a small group of players will become team captains, all-star players, and heroes to more than their countrymen. In a few years names like Tavares, Stamkos, Mason, Turris, and Marchand will be listed in professional rosters and little kids will want to grow up to be just like them.

And just like now, when I hear "Sydney Crosby scores the game winner!" or "Dion Phaneuf is a force to be reckoned with!", I'll smile and remember the year they proudly stood on the blue line with their team-mates with gold medals around their necks.

O Canada, we stand on guard for thee