Saturday, December 30, 2006
Jag has been my sister's faithful companion through the past 12 years, a constant presence when life upended and changed, at her side through it all.
Jag was always Janne's cat and then he met John, who set out to win him over. And did so with charm, playtime and treats and in the end, Jag was Janne and John's cat.
My sister’s first baby has been sick for a long time and was cared for with love and devotion, until the most loving act was to end his suffering. This morning, Jaggy was given peace.
We will miss him.
(photo by a JagParent)
Thursday, December 28, 2006
Liam is developing his flirting skills, while Morgan channelled her inner hamster.
It was nice to see my mother's floor strewn with toys and playing children (the one in the middle is Ken).
When I say that Janne and John wrangle the twins, I wasn't kidding.
Tissue paper was a big hit. Morgan made confetti (lots and lots of very tiny confetti) and Liam liked waving it about at great speed.
I continued my quest to be a bad influence and taught Morgan a new game (thankfully, there is no picture of what I looked like during this)
And in the end, the kidlings conked out after a wonderful evening, one with dad and the other with Michele.
Friday, December 22, 2006
Every December, I'm reminded more so than usual of my roots. We may celebrate the same holiday on both sides of the pond, but we do so in very different ways and several times each December, someone will ask me to tell them about Christmas in Denmark.
And so, I tell stories of waking up in the early morning as a child, during a time of year where it is dark about 18 hours a day - a kind of darkness unparalleled by anything I've experienced in Canada. I tell stories of eating my cornflakes while the advent candle burns down another day, of watching the Christmas calendar on Danish TV - every year, they make a different one and it's such a big deal that the entire country grinds to a halt at 6:30 p.m. to watch it. There are Danish Christmas lunches, with endless smorgasbords and equally endless supply of alcoholic beverages - they last hours and effectively shut down workplaces for the remainder of the day. We make Christmas ornaments - braided hearts, garlands and other handmade things for the tree - and Christmas decorations, using a lump of clay and sticking candles, evergreen branches and pine cones into the clay, to fill the house with light and the scents of green. We stick cloves in navel oranges, tie red silk ribbons around them and hang them everywhere. We have at least one gløgg party (my mother makes the best I've ever tasted) and we bake cookies and make homemade chocolate and I have to stop now or I'm going to book a ticket on the next plane home. It's all about the hygge.
This year, now that we have little ones to including Christmas, I have been thinking primarily of our way of doing things as seen through the eyes of a child and I have come to the conclusion that Danish Christmas is a month-long torture session. First, you build up the anticipation with all the different foods, the making of decorations and gifts, the Advent candle/calendars and then… the climax of it all:Christmas Eve.
The day would last forever - sometimes, we wouldn't decorate the tree until the afternoon of the 24th, which would occupy me for awhile. My father and I decorated it at first, later it was my father and my sister and I and later still, just us girls. When it was finished, we would call mor (who was usually in the kitchen at this time) and she would come to the living room, wearing her Christmas apron and tell us that it was the most beautiful tree she had ever seen. Then we would wait some more, until finally, after watching the last episode of the Christmas calendar, dinner was served. Is it just me, or do adults eat really slowly? One of the traditions in our family is that in between the main course and dessert, the kids get a small present - it nicely occupies them, while allowing the adults (so I see in retrospect) to enjoy the meal with limited cries of "aren't you done yet?". After indeterminable washing of dishes and making of coffee, we hold hands and dance around the Christmas tree in a circle, singing carols. And then, at long last, when we are in a feverpitch of anticipation, we open presents. One at the time, oohing and aahing over each one. See what I mean? Engineered to torture children. I can't wait to inflict… erm, pass on the traditions to Liam and Morgan!
I have terrific plans for my own Christmas holiday. There is a traditional dinner at mor’s on Sunday, getting together with friends throughout the week and best of all, the time between Christmas and New Year's is so wonderfully quiet and I plan on developing my own solitary hygge. I'm going to be watching movies, putter with great abandon, eat too much and read. For the purposes of the latter, I have acquired something trashy (which I mean in only the most positive sense of the word – reading a book by Jennifer Cruisie is the perfect little vacation), something edifying and something in between. It's going to be great.
What are you plans for the holidays?
Monday, December 18, 2006
When I did my undergraduate degree, I had a bit of a reputation for being radical (so I discovered later). There were a bunch of political stickers on the back of my wheelchair and I possessed some fairly left-leaning opinions (I know – big surprise). The radical bit surprised me - when I lived in Denmark, I wasn't very ‘political’. Which means, I had opinionated stickers on the back of my chair, impassioned debates and even attended a demonstration or two. I remember one of them very fondly - it was an evening demonstration, early in December. The snow was falling and we marched through the dark streets of Copenhagen carrying torches - it was beautiful. (And for the smartasses among you, no. there were no pitchforks and no, we didn't burn the monster) But in comparison to many of my peers, that wasn’t very politically active.
Later, in Canada, I was always somewhat involved in 'the disability thing'. It was a subject of interest - not the only subject that interested me, but something that I wrote essays about, read about, talked about. And when I started working, one of my responsibilities was to run a committee that was trying to make the workplace more accessible and I was therefore also plugged into a number of community initiatives regarding disability and accessibility. And I didn't always like it much. Apart from being the only person with a visible disability in this rather large workplace (we made jokes about the token cripple), the only community initiatives I could find at the time was in the awareness field.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with disability awareness, but in environments where it is unsupported by legislation, it can get weirdly rah-rah and almost condescending at times. The disability simulations might be fun, but I doubt they work - 20 minutes in a wheelchair or wearing a pair of goggles won’t magically change people's perception for longer than maybe a day - and awareness days felt like the way for the able-bodied people in charge to feel all proud of how inclusive and open-minded they were. Well, at least for a day or maybe a week. After that, we were expected to go back on the periphery, happily sucking up the discrimination. I often had the nagging feeling that we, like Oliver Twist and others considered “less fortunate”, politely, cheerfully and with great decorum asked “please, sir, can we have some more?” – more access, more understanding, more participation. Powerless, waiting for the powerful to deign to grant us privileges, instead of rights. And as we all know, privileges can be taken away if you’re not a good little boy or girl or if the powers that be decide that there isn’t enough money. Which is why we need legislation and which is why the employment rate of people with disabilities (never high) plummeted after Mike Harris scrapped the employment equity legislation. But that's a post for another day.
To make a long story… er, longer, I never really felt quite at home in either of these areas. It was all just a little too polite, y'know? There certainly is a place for manners, patience, cheerfulness, decorum, education (and education and education and education, ad nauseam), but working within the system like that... I did accomplish certain things, especially in terms making the workplace more accessible, but it didn't allow for the full reality of my experience. So when I lost my job (see above re: Mike Harris), I drifted away from the disability field.
And these days, I find myself accidentally being back in it, except now, it's a place where I feel more at home. There is a balance between the academic, educational, etc., but thanks to the Internet and to blogging, I've now tapped into places where people are living their lives unapologetically, in-your-face, a place with edge, sarcasm, humour, demands for rights and oh yes, spitting rage. A place where there is not only hope and working for a better future, but also real sharing of real lives, not just the accepted surface. Balance. And I like it a lot. Don't always agree with everybody, but that's a great thing about it - there's actual diversity. People are only polite and cheerful if that’s how they feel, not because they have to be. And that’s pretty radical.
There is the Ragged Edge magazine. Podcasts from Disability Nation (American – haven’t listened yet, but they look good) and Ouch! (from the BBC and very funny). There is Disability Studies at Temple University - always interesting and get this: there is a graduate program in disability studies! Holy crap! And then there are the people who blog. Arthritic Young Thing writes in one week about the feeling of shame when receiving public assistance and in many ways, she reminds me of myself, not just when I was younger, but about the issues I think about today. PlayfulFairy at Sexability writes about disability and sex, there’s The Gimp Parade and all these sites have links to other sites and I know how I’m going to spend the down time between Christmas and New Year’s: catching up, reading and finding out more about how things have changed.
Friday, December 15, 2006
What is it with the spam these days? In the past couple of months, I have received more spam than I have in my entire computing career (and I started in 1991). I am inundated, everyday receiving at least 50 spam messages and I was getting worried that I might miss actual real e-mail in the frenzy of hitting the 'delete' key. Then I updated my darling Internet security program (TrendMicro’s PC-cillin, easily the best and most unobtrusive antivirus/anti-spyware program I've ever used) and am madly in love. The wonderful and talented people at TrendMicro have added an antispam function, which installed itself in my Outlook Express and takes care of 95% of the spam I get. Woo-hoo!
I saw a clip from a talking heads program discussing the movie Happy Feet. The 'journalist' - and I use the term loosely - asked her guest if it wasn't clear that, what with the message about being accepted and happy with you who you are (hardly ever seen in kids movies, y’know) obviously, these penguins were gay. Yes, indeed! Happy Feet is homosexual propaganda, designed to subvert all our innocent children to their dangerous and ungodly lifestyle! Needless to say, this clip was from Fox News (and again, I use the term 'news' loosely). I wasn't sure whether I should laugh or cry...
And speaking of news, I also saw clips from the White House press conference regarding the Iraq Study Group's report (which I haven't read yet, although I do own it and intend to do peruse as soon as I feel capable of doing so without having an apoplectic fit). Tony Snow, the White House spokesperson, talked about not being able to answer questions asked of him by the press corps, as the White House had yet to 'parse' the report. Parse? What the hell is parse? So naturally I looked it up and every single definition I saw referred to splitting information into component parts, apparently used in linguistics or computer programming, although I suppose it might be expanding into other areas. But still... Aside from the fact that the improper usage of words bother the crap out of me (yes, I am aware that makes me sound like I'm about to use the word whippersnapper any minute and yes, English changes all the time), it’s very simple: don't use a fancy word if a simple one will do. I will never forget the book I read in which our brave hero kept cogitating instead of thinking. Stop trying to look like you’re smarter than the rest of us - it ain't working!
Am I the only one who is bugged by the term 'the less fortunate', which is bandied about relentlessly at this time of year? Partly, it bothers me because people forget about those less fortunate for the rest of the year, partly, it's such an us-them statement, isn't it? It nicely establishes a hierarchy where someone is below you and you are above them. Wouldn’t it be better to remember that we are all people and sometimes, people need some extra help?
I found this nifty geography test which drops the name of the state at the appropriate place in a map of the US and have been utterly obsessed. Although neither Alaska or Hawaii is part of it, it's taught me all kinds of things about where e.g., Missouri and Iowa are located (yes, I know - my bad). I managed to finish the test and my new challenge is to do it in alphabetical order. It's still a work in progress.
Many, many horses. Found this link via dooce and was alternately amused, intrigued and brought to tears. I blame the latter on the music. If you tear up, please let me know so I don’t feel like the only sap. My darling sister doesn’t have to. Many years ago, a friend of hears was making fun of her for crying when they saw Single White Female and I immediately asked Janne if a pet died. It’s genetic in our family.
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
I never liked sweets much. Let me rephrase that, as it sounds as if I didn’t like candy. As a child (and still), I did/do like candy, but not the sweet kind. I went for the sour, the salty, the licorice that rips off the top layer of skin in your mouth (yum) and growing up in Denmark, I was lucky because there are an awful lot of those kinds of candy. It works for fruit, too - I love oranges, clementines, have been known to actually eat pieces of lemons for the fun of it (not often here in northern climes, but my first California lemon was an almost religious experience) and things like papaya, mango and ripe bananas are... Well, you don't want to see the face I make. In terms of chocolate - I adore dark chocolate, the darker the better, but back in the old country, even milk chocolate was pretty darn good. Moving to Canada was a shock for the taste buds. There are many wonderful things about North America, but dear god(s) in heaven, you people can't make chocolate. In general, actually, the level of sweetness of North American candy is out of control.
For most of my time here in Canada, I have noticed how much sweeter things are on this side of the pond, but it didn't become a real problem until I started Enbrel two years ago (has it been two years already?). The medication intensified the effect of everything and also made my body reject anything that wasn't good for it, which meant that I stopped eating sugar. No cookies, no candy, no chocolate and surprisingly, you can live without it. However, trying to find healthy snacks or healthy food without pots and pots of sweet in it? Virtually impossible. I once went hunting for healthy bread and because of a nut allergy was limited to the prepackaged ones and much to my surprise, found than if there was even a hint of bran or grain in the bread, large amounts of something sweet had been added to... I dunno, hide the healthy?
It's become a bit of a soapbox for me, ranting about the sweet. Especially about the sweet that's force-fed to children. You can almost get insulin shock from walking down the cereal aisle in the supermarket, where all the 'good for you'/boring cereals are on the top shelf and the bottom two shelves are packed with colourful sugared cereals, just in reach of children – how is this ethical? And don't get me started on pop. Oh! and while I'm in this area, let's talk about children's ice cream. Here in Canada, the only ice cream that I am aware of that is peanut and nut free and is specifically “for kids” is Chapman's. I have purchased Chapman's ice cream when desperate (ice cream used to be my hobby before I became lactose intolerant) and it is the sweetest, most plastic, foulest, has-nothing-at-all-to-do-with-ice-cream brew. What the crap are we doing to our children? Would quite so many of them be on Ritalin if everything they ate wasn't half sugar? Would the obesity epidemic be quite so bad if everything we eat wasn't half sugar?
And now to the interesting thing (yes, I know, it took me awhile). Having been off sugar for a long time has made me realize something: sugar is an addictive drug. After about a year on Enbrel, I desperately needed to gain some weight, healthy measures weren’t doing enough, so I started eating cookies and chocolate again. Or rather, I tried. I had to start slow (a quarter of the square of chocolate to begin with) and gradually increase it. I discovered two things about sugar: 1) when you're not used to it, too much make you sick (even ¼ square can be too much); and 2) the more you eat, the more you want. Doesn't that sound like an addictive drug?
I wonder if it’ll ever become a controlled substance?
Friday, December 08, 2006
I like watching movies more than once. Mind you, not all movies are worthy of repeatedly spending a few hours in their company, but there are some that I usually end up buying and watching once a year or so. While 'on vacation' at mor's, we watched a couple of older favorites that both sent me wandering down memory lane.
The Hunt for Red October. What's not to like? It's got a young, very hot Alec Baldwin and an even hotter Sean Connery (what is it with that man? Every woman I know, regardless of age, would happily... erm... 'spend an evening in his company') and a nailbiter of a plot that gets me every single time. After watching this movie more times that I can remember, I know exactly what's going to happen, can even quote certain lines of dialogue, yet it keeps me on the edge of my seat, happily worrying about the outcome until the end. The first time I saw this movie was on a first date with a man I was quite infatuated with - I remember being incredibly aware of his presence in the chair next me and I'm sure the adrenaline flowing from the action on screen didn't help matters one bit. This was the man who started my tendency to bestow nicknames on my boyfriends/lovers/partners (still struggling to find a good word for that). This one, I called The Minimalist, from his remarkable ability to be content with very little, to the point of not doing anything much. Not surprisingly, we didn’t last long.
The Silence of the Lambs. Jodie Foster is fabulous, Anthony Hopkins is even more fabulous - his performance is beyond chilling, even the 11th time you watch the movie - and that scene at the end with the nightvision goggles freaks me out even though I know how it ends. The movie unnerves me on my tiny TV and it was even more unnerving on my mother’s 37” screen. I first saw this in the early 90’s, when my friend Andrew and I would haunt the local movie theatres a couple of times a month. We very much wanted to see this movie and choose the first week of its release and the late show. When we were lining up in front of the theatre, we talked about how we wanted to listen in on people's conversations as they came out, as that always gives you a good sense of how the movie is. When the movie ended, the doors opened and an entire theatre full of people came out, pale and silent. I remember the moment where we looked at each other, completely puzzled, never having experienced something like this before. Then we went in and spent the next two hours desperately clutching each other's hands, when we weren't fighting about who got to hide behind the other’s back in an attempt to turn down the tension. I still remember the awful flash of the scene with the cop on the cage (you know the one I mean). And then we left the theatre, pale and silent and utterly terrified. The dark of the night and the empty parking lot convinced us to never again choose the late show unless we were watching a comedy.
What’s on your movie memory lane? And what do you call a boyfriend once you've grown out of your teens?
p.s. I finally got off my arse and joined the Amazon Associates, except I'm apparently too much of a Techno Twit to figure out how to build a bleedin' link. Anyone out there willing to take me through it, slowly? Correction: I don't mean in Blogger - I can't figure out the proper code to use from Amazon.
Monday, December 04, 2006
In September, when his recent trip to Turkey had already been planned, Pope Benedict XVI made a speech at a university somewhere in Germany in which he quoted a 14th-century Byzantine emperor by the name of Manuel II Paleologus as saying "[s]how me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached". Naturally, many Muslims found this offensive, as did many non-Muslims - myself among them. I live in a country and a city where respect and tolerance for other people’s beliefs are paramount and I was astounded that the leader of a major religion would do something that idiotic. I mean, before he was Pope, Ratzinger was a very smart theologian, professor at several universities, a major policy maker in the Catholic Church and Pope John Paul II's right hand man. One might say a lot of things about him, but he is not a stupid man.
And then, back in September, the fact that Pope Benedict is not a stupid man made me think. I started wondering if perhaps, he did it on purpose. I wondered if maybe, he had chosen this quote very carefully in order to start facilitating if not peace yet, then the beginnings of conversation. And this week, with the success of his trip to Turkey and the small start of a dialogue between two major world faiths, this theory came back to me. I read up on Benedict at little and found that when he chose his papal name, it was seen as an intention to be a reconciler (after Pope Benedict XV – pope 1914-1922 – who was seen as a bridge-builder). And then I started thinking about Catholicism and priests and choosing to sacrifice yourself for the greater good. I started wondering if perhaps this old Pope, chosen to be a bridge between John Paul II and what comes after, selecting the name of a bridge-builder and doing something which seemed beyond stupid and offensive at a time of great unrest, had decided that if his papacy, expected to be short, should mean something, then what greater gift to the world than the start of dialogue and coming together?
And regardless of my opinions of his conservatism and certain Vatican policies, if indeed I’m on to something here, these days, I'm starting to think that in some aspects, he might be a very good priest.