Friday, August 28, 2015

Notes to My Older Self

Inspired by a recent post of my favourite blogger Ann Cannon, here's a list to my older self. I hope I remember to read and live it.  I'm reminding myself about a scene in  Still Alice where she made a  file on her computer to remind her of things but couldn't once dementia ate that part of her brain.

Dear Older Self:
Please take a shower regularly which might mean every day given your old skin smell and please use deodorant and talc powder for your lady parts. While your nose might have lost all olfactory ability, everyone else's works just fine.

Dear Older Self:
If you decide to go without a bra, please buy a thick camisole so your nipples which are larger than jelly beans don't show.  And if your bra is older than a year, it's time for a new one.

Dear Older Self:
Tweeze those whiskers on your upper lip and straggly hairs on your cheeks. On second thought, don't forget your eyebrows too. Maybe you can't see these but trust me, others can. There are wonderful salons who can take care of all this for you.

Dear Older Self:
Invite people over for dinner. Prepare something that takes more than an hour to cook once in a while. You might have to eat it for a few days but it will be delicious. Microwaves don't make a good chef.

Dear Older Self:
Keep up with the news and trends and pop culture. You don't have to like the music or the movie but at least you can discuss it with someone younger.

Dear Older Self:
Have patience with my impertinence when I wrote this. I had a few experiences with some older people recently which was such a turn off. I don't want those I love and enjoy wishing they could plug their noses.

With love,

Thursday, August 27, 2015

What Going to Harvard This Summer Taught Me

1) Where ever you go, there are new friends.
2) Whole Foods is NOT the place to buy groceries every week.
3) Yogurtland on the way home is better than Yogurtland on the way to school.
4) Harvard Square is a vacation destination. Thousands clutching their cameras come each day. Who knew?
5) Those coloured (red, green, yellow) chino pants, collared button down shirts and boat shoes ARE the Harvard male look.
6) While literary criticism can be a wrecking ball on neat paradigms, it also makes spaces for increased faith.
7) Only the service people - firemen, policemen, cab drivers etc speak like John F. Kennedy. Everyone else is from somewhere else.
8) I'm not a shark but I can swim with them.
9) There's a distinct homeless culture with its cardboard signs.
10) What I know could be crammed into a thimble compared to what there is to learn.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

This is home for now

Just outside Harvard Square a world of activity buzzes in your face. There's the guy creating and selling his art for $10/piece just to the left of the Harvard T (metro) station. It's not Monet but there is something appealing about the paintings and their vibrancy.

Along this walkway, there are numerous beggars with their cardboard messages "I'm hungry" or "I'm unable to work" and even one that says "I'm sexy, judge for yourself". They come in all sizes and shapes but the thing that you notice most is the precision in which they have drawn the letters with their Script felt markers. It's easy to miss them as they slouch along the walls of the buildings. Nearby them, a  man sits at the table with a sign ban the ban for no-smoking on patios.

A corpulent black woman sits Buddha style on a colourful blanket where she displays jewellery and trinklets for sale. Further down the way, a group of homeless youth drape themselves across the doorway of a vacated business. Noticing beyond their dreadlocks, multiple lip piercings and camouflage clothing, defiant symbols of their counter-culture, you see fatigue,  misery and vacancy.  Their skin is dull and green and I wonder about their livers as I pass by them. One has a stray pup attached by an old beaded belt to his wrist.

You can hear music sung or played above the traffic and hum of the place. Several are very good and one in particular makes you rest awhile to listen. He strums his guitar and closes his eyes as he sings Billy Joel's "she's got a way".

There are the "wicked smahrt" Harvard tour guides sporting their burgundy polo shirts and khaki shorts and their broad rimmed hats herding in their curious flock. I overhear one say that Harvard freshman have been known to streak across campus in the dead of winter for their hazing.  Maybe not last winter.

The cobblestone sidewalk along JFK boulevard, uneven and narrow, is always crowded with tourists and students. I'm surprised how many come to see the campus and explore the area.

I'm glad I'm here and that I add to that buzz however faint it might be.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Unlucky in Love

We're ploughing through the Old Testament of the King James Version for one of my religion classes.  Reading about the genocide in Joshua and the gang rape in Judges has left me scratching my head about a few things. Today I understood something about one of the stories that I'd never considered.

Remember the story of Sampson whose strength comes from his long hair? As a child who spent most summers at Vacation Bible School, I was  impressed Sampson as he brought down the pillars on all the Philistines. It's his strength and that tricky Delilah that I remembered. But here's the new insight (and I suppose why we should read the Bible more often): Samson sucked at love.

He sees the girl. He loves the girl and convinces his parents despite their misgivings to arrange the marriage. He has a riddle. Nobody can guess the answer during the seven day wedding feast. His wife's loyalties are with her kin who are going to lose a lot of linen. He falls for the drama queen act "thou dost but hate me, and loves me not."  I should point out that he put up with that nonsense for seven days. Samson tells her because "she lay sore upon him". She tells her kin about the honey in the lion's carcass and Sampson loses the bet.  Strike One

He goes back home to his parents.

Sampson cools off from being duped. He comes back a little later and brings meat. His father-in-law thought Sampson had gone for good so he gave Sampson's wife to his friend. Sampson sets the fields on fire with the foxes tied together. Sampson's wife and father-in-law are killed in retribution. Strike Two.

And then we come to that tricky Delilah. Why, why, why Delilah? This is a horrible woman and Sampson doesn't seem to see how duplicitous he is. She wants to know the secret of his strength. He manufactures one reason after another. She grows wrath with him because he isn't telling her. She asks him "how can you tell me that you love me when your heart isn't with me?" Seriously? Sampson wake up! You'd think he would have learned from the first wife. Nope.

You know the rest of the story.

My question is how many times does a guy have to get burned before he realizes that the wench just isn't worth it?

Monday, June 29, 2015

An instructive rebuke

Professor McDreamy in Tweed uses the Socratic method of instruction where he asks critical questions to jump start our thinking. He is not afraid of a pregnant pause and faces down a blank stare  with patience. 

Today he rebuked me for not answering his question in a full sentence. He said "Let's practise speaking in full sentences, shall we?" The sting of his comment hasn't left me. I wasn't sure if this was his attempt to silence me (extroverts don't fare well in small classes).  If you've watched the Paper Chase where Professor Charles Kingsford played by John Houseman questions his first year law students,  you'll know what I mean. 

There is no question that I find this method intimidating and unnerving. My academic confidence  took a hit today. I didn't like feeling stupid in front of my class. I didn't like that he thought I was incapable of formulating whole sentence responses. I didn't like that he used his role in this way. 

But here's the thing: I didn't come to Harvard to be molly-coddled nor stroked. Discovering annoying aspects of yourself in this way chips away at your carefully constructed self-image,  but it also opens a path for self-evaluation and discovery. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Dante's Inferno Canto II

Listen. Visualize. Isn't this just glorious?

"As flowerlets drooped and puckered in the night
turn up to the returning sun and spread
their petals wide on his new warmth and light

just so my wilted spirits rose again
that such a heat of zeal surged through my veins
that I was born anew."

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Literature of Journey and Quest

Everyone needs a good stretch mentally and this second course is certainly going to provide me with that opportunity. We will explore the themes of journey in world literature with particular attention to the religious dimensions of those themes.  We will consider the relationship between interior journeys and journeys through external landscapes, between home and exile between it welder meant uncertainty and between the religious and literary dimensions of literature itself.

We spent a good deal of time today discussing what is a religion and looked at a dozen quotes from philosophers and theologians. What does religion mean to you? I'd like to know your idea. Even Virginia Woolf who was agnostic had a form of religion that guided her morality.

An anthropologist Arthur van Gennep studied hundreds of people who were on a quest or journey. He summed up his findings with these three commonalities: 

1) separation - we all have to depart, be a stranger, feel alienation
2) luminal stage - we have one foot in the former paradigm and the other exploring the new
3) re aggregation - where we are in a new state, and it's hard to go home.  

We spent fifteen minutes rush writing about our own journeys and then a few read. 

I am again in a wonderfully diverse class. Here's my take: 

Pregnant chaplain - Harvard Divinity School master's candidate

German pastor - from Switzerland and who left her medical practise to work on souls

Harvard Student # 1 - General education requirement just returned from Iraq where he shadowed a doctor for a month. He was appalled to see the dozens of young women with internal bleeding from being rated or involved in human trafficking by ISIS

Little Korean from Canada - a senior in high school who has not lived at home with her family since she was a child

Alien - a visiting college student whose father was a diplomat. He's been uprooted his entire life. Even when he is "home", he is a stranger. 

Outback Senior - a travel correspondent from Australia. He's in his 90s and here living his dream. 

Harvard Student #2  - general education requirement  who studies human evolution biology. 

Faculty Assistant - piano performance undergraduate who explored music therapy in a master's program but abandoned it to seek now a new path that will be more fulfilling. She accompanies a ballet school. 


Monday, June 22, 2015

The Great Code of Art or so says Blake

The long wait is over and it's time to roll up my sleeves. While I have studied the Bible since my VBS days, this is a broader view of the canon. We are going to look at how and why Judaism grew into a religion of rites, Biblical ideas concerning history, sin, faith, and the end of the world.  We will discover why the Bible remains an essential resource to understanding high art, popular culture and international politics today and how it shaped the arts in the West.

Pity we can't teach the Bible in school.

My classmates are diverse as the Bible itself. Here's my first impressions and descriptions of them:

British Accent - she's old, studied Economics when women couldn't enter into professional programs, she might be losing her mind because she seems to wander all over the place when she talks.

Porcelain Doll - she's a high school student in her senior year who is in pageantry. She assures us that beauty queen pageants aren't about walking across the stage in a pretty dress, that the women are very smart. I can't help but feel she's here at Harvard this summer to prove that point. She practises her smiling throughout the class.

Jewess with the very large hair - she wants to know about Kabbal and the mystics. She's also a senior in high school and ONLY plays the piano.

Harvard Senior #1 - he needs this credit to graduate, he has never opened a Bible nor been instructed in its teachings. He is a math and economics.  The prof is spewing out facts and drawing maps and HS#1 can't keep up with the note taking. He's discouraged. I wonder if he will be here tomorrow.

HS#2 - she is also a math major and needs this credit to graduate. She's the complete anthesis from Porcelain Doll.  She's late. She didn't read the updated email about class relocation. She loves when we have to draw the map of the middle east.

Catholic Journalist from "those islands near China" - I wonder why he doesn't just say he's from the Philippines? As a new  born again Christian, he wants to know the Bible inside out.

Chinese dance instructor - we all lean in to hear what she has to say because she speaks softly. I notice her note taking which is much like her voice: small and condensed.

Ex-Military War Correspondent - she's like me working on her masters and this is her last semester. She's from Alabama, the Bible belt, and yes she's picked cotton. She's travelled all over the world with her job. She looks you straight in the eye when she talks to you and I just liked her immediately for how authentic she was.

Our prof taught at Cornell for 12 years before he came to Harvard. He specializes in Milton and Shakespeare. The student review Rate My Prof suggested he was McDreamy in Tweed. He could use one of my shopping makeovers. He looks frumpy but who cares? This guy knows how to tell a story and keep us mesmerized. He follows the Socratic method of teaching. He brings in a very pagan crude statue with a large round "world" on top of a donkey and on top of the world there is a pregnant woman crouching ready to give birth. I'm not quite sure how this stature relates to the lecture. He assigns the first 25 chapters in Genesis for Wednesday. I'm feeling pretty good that I have already done this reading for another class that starts tomorrow.

Our evaluation will be based on two tests, a memorization (Pslam 137), a research paper and class attendance.

Friday, May 22, 2015

All I Want is Music Music

Our daughter's frequent visits these days also means she plays on our old upright piano for several hours. Clair de Lune or The Heart Asks Pleasures First fill out the cobweb spaces in our house.  Bob is practising the sax each day too as he prepares for his recital. I hear him humming his pieces later. It always brings a smile to my face.

I need more music in my life.

What kind of sound system do you have?

Friday, May 15, 2015

Ivy League Here I Come

My brain is going to have a serious workout this summer. It's now official. I am going to Harvard Summer School where I will take two religion classes. No weeding garden boxes this summer. No long walks in Fish Creek. No Stampede clothes.

Here's what I am going to experience:

Lenox, Massachusetts
Crossing the Charles River every day
Harvard Square
Charles River Bike Path
Fogg Museum
Oleana Restaurant
Leslie Graff art studio

And people and places I don't even know about yet.

Thanks Used to Be Mother for this gift.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Minimalist Wardrobe Capsules

There's a trend sparked by Un-fancy to cull your wardrobe down to 37 items, to have a "uniform" and to stop shopping. This resonated on many levels.I went through my wardrobe the other day trying to pare it down. Because I  love to shop, this is proving challenging.

Does it make me shallow and vain that I spend free time shopping?

When a friend wants to go shopping, I can't stop myself from helping her find things that would suit her body type, style and budget. When some women walk into a department store, they freeze or feel overwhelmed. I see potential. The hunter gatherer is in my DNA and I won't be denied the quarry.

Though I don't spend a lot of time watching What Not to Wear, I do agree that clothes should make you feel beautiful and happy. Whatever your price point and how you feel about your body.

Yup. Shallow and vain.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mom Looks Like Maxine

Doesn't she look like Hallmark's Maxine?

It's been ages since I blogged but I felt inspired today after reading the portrait posted on The Chattering Crow

My list:

She was the only one of her thirteen siblings who had flaming red hair.
She quit school and went to work in a factory to help her family with their finances.
She drank too much during my teens.
She taught me how to pray.
She was efficient with her time and worked like a Trojan.
She taught my nieces and nephew bawdy songs.
She was immaculate, punctual and efficient.
She passed a bookkeeping class at the top of her class in her 40s.
She was a great dancer.
She deserved her Lily Lysol moniker.
She hated waste and extravagance.
She loved making slippers and jigsaw puzzles.
She never felt the love she wanted.
She loved music and hummed when she was happy.
She could add long columns of numbers in her head.
She hated driving but every fall she drove a truck during harvest.
She was left handed but was forced at school to write with the other hand.
She gave us lickings with a belt.
She lived by the adage "bloom where you're planted".
She baked bread and became a delicious cook.
She peed her pants when she had to speak in public.
She wanted to fix things even when we resisted.
She had a second chance at love with her teenaged heart throb.
She was generous especially for birthdays, anniversaries and Christmas.
She never found peace in her faith though she practised it until her death.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Hector and The Search for Happiness

We watched the movie Hector and the Search for Happiness which was refreshing after thirty minutes of watching the Birdman  chosen by the Academy to be the best movie. Like the Academy Awards themselves: Birdman is self-indulgent and self-absorbed. I seldom walk out of movie or turn it off, but Birdman was just way too whacky for me. I nearly choked on all the navel gazing fluff.

I had no expectations of Hector who journeys around the world trying to find what makes people happy. Here's what he discovered:

  1. Making comparisons can spoil your happiness
  2. Happiness often comes when least expected
  3. Many people only see happiness in their future
  4. Many people think happiness comes from having more power or more money
  5. Sometimes happiness is not knowing the whole story
  6. Happiness is a long walk in beautiful, unfamiliar mountains
  7. It’s a mistake to think that happiness is the goal
  8. Happiness is being with the people you love; unhappiness is being separated from the people you love
  9. Happiness is knowing that your family lacks for nothing
  10. Happiness is doing a job you love
  11. Happiness is having a home and a garden of your own
  12. It’s harder to be happy in a country run by bad people
  13. Happiness is feeling useful to others
  14. Happiness is to be loved for exactly who you are (People are kinder to a child who smiles)
  15. Happiness comes when you feel truly alive
  16. Happiness is knowing how to celebrate
  17. Happiness is caring about the happiness of those you love
  18. Happiness is not attaching too much importance to what other people think
  19. The sun and the sea make everybody happy
  20. Happiness is a certain way of seeing things
  21. Rivalry poisons happiness
  22. Women care more than men about making others happy
  23. Happiness means making sure that those around you are happy
Some resonated with me, particularly #14. I've learned recently what a rare gift it is to be loved even when you are disagreeable, say stupid things and sanctimonious.

What makes you happy?

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


There's no turning back now. This little girl has mastered sitting up on her own. In a few days, she can add crawling to her repertoire. While this didn't make today's headline news, it was celebrated and noticed by a very enthusiastic crowd.

When I look at this picture, I am reminded of her mother. I had no idea when she was that age the places she'd go nor her many accomplishments. Maybe that's a good thing. There's already so much pressure on young parents to "get it right".

I don't feel that angst as a grandmother. I see my role more as a cheerleader and confidante.

What traces of me and my mother and her mother are found in this little girl?

I want to know the memories you have of your grandmother and the influence she had on you.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Ask Her More

twitters went viral with the #askhermore campaign to encourage media interviewers to focus on the woman and not just on her dress.

I've been known to ask zinger questions. I'm not Barbara Walters but I don't pull any punches either.  If I were the interviewer, here's a few questions I would ask:

1) how did you prepare for your role

2) what has this role taught you about marginalized women or Alzhemeirs patients that you didn't know about before.

3) how do you balance family and work

4) what would you advise prospective actors

5) what do you consider your greatest achievement

6) what actors have you were role models for you and why?

What questions would you ask?

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Oscar Overdose

I'm just a few minutes into the Oscar orgy broadcast and want to note these:

Eddy Redmayne rocks his blue and black tux. Best messy hair. Best smile. I love this guy.

J Lo knows how to wear a gown.

Did Rosamund Pike run out of time so didn't do her hair? 
Or did she and Patricia Arquette plan to have the worst hairdos ever?

Forty women were nominated for awards this year. A married gay man is hosting the Oscars. We've come along way. 

It's show time.  

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Valentine's Day circa 1960

Going to Purdy's the other day, I noticed their boxes of Sweet Georgia Browns wrapped in pink foil with embossed hearts. A black garter gave it a little sass.  I bought one for Bob (maybe he'll share). We don't typically celebrate Valentines in any special way although this year we are going to a play.

Later in the grocery store,  the excessive amount of Made In China trinkets for your Valentine attracts my attention. Underwear with hearts, stuffed animals holding a heart, pink and red treat bags, candles in, you guessed it, a heart shape, muffin and cake tins and on and on. All this hoo-ha would make you think the whole world were on fire with passion and love. For me it was a  big turn off.

In elementary school, one of our art projects was to decorate a brown paper bag or shoe box for our Valentines. This was a time before the teacher sent home a class list to make sure everyone got a Valentine. No sir-ee. We let our classmates know exactly where they stood. Bulging bags amid thin or even empty bags were a sign of your popularity. I think now how Cheryl Davies must have felt each year with her empty or thin bag.

I didn't care about that very much in 1960.

Happy Valentine's to you.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Almost There

One of my childhood pleasures was visiting my Aunt Mae's house in the city. The ride there wasn't much fun squished in between my older siblings. My brother couldn't sit still and my sister buried her nose in a book.

The reward for spending a hot and tense ride into the city came upon arrival. I say tense because my dad always got lost. He was a terrible driver in the city and it created no end of stress and angry remarks trying to find the right address.  Aunt Mae and Uncle Mike showered us with kisses, invited us to take something from her rose coloured ceramic candy dish and sent us off to play with our cousins.

The men always sat in the living room, the women cooked and did the dishes in the kitchen (hey this was the early 60s) and we played outside or downstairs. There was a little space underneath the stairs that felt like a clubhouse. We'd tip over the sauerkraut crock pots for chairs, put up blankets for walls and play house or school or doctor (that was innocent and before puberty).

Hanging on the wall near our fort, hung an oval black and white photo of my Aunt and her sister before they married. Their unsmiling faces and stern look made me think they could have been spinsters looking like that all the time. One was wearing a broach with ornate edging.  I always coveted it because of its unusual shape and composition.

Dinner was a big deal and always made from scratch.  We loved the placinta (strudel), cabbage rolls, roasted sausages and mamaliga (corn mush) and homemade pickles. This food set us apart. It was the delicious aspect of our otherness.

We played hide and seek and some of us often crawled underneath the big pine tree out front. We were never caught.  We played tag too darting all over the yard and once in a while Aunt Mae would come out and remind us that her gladiolas didn't like all that noise.

When most of the cousins had gone home, Uncle Mike would suggest that my younger sister Holly and I go for a walk to the little grocery store at the end of their block.

He had to sneak the forbidden ice cream. He told our aunt he was going to buy us ice cream which he did but there was always an extra one for him. He was tall thin man with a head full of curly grey hair. In his thick accented and raspy voice he would say "Don't tell your Auntie Mae".

Sometimes we stayed overnight. My younger sister Holly and I slept in their bed. I don't ever remember where everyone else slept. We loved this because we'd find those clear strong peppermints Uncle Mike hid in the little sliding drawer of the headboard.

More memoir later.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Go Set A Watchman coming to a bookstore near you

How do you follow To Kill A Mockingbird? Was Harper Lee paralyzed with writer's cramp? Did she have other story lines she pitched with no success? Did she pick up her pen and rush write?

 Over fifty years have passed since she wrote  Go Set a Watchman which will be published later this year.  Two million copies. Not shabby.  Already  booksellers are rubbing their hands anticipating its success. Still others like the Cambridge professor Dr. Ian Patterson who characterized To Kill a Mockingbird as a "soggy sentimental liberal novel" most likely won't be ordering the novel for his Kindle. 

 Sure I am going to read about Scout as an adult and her relationship with Atticus but for me the real story is Harper Lee and what's informed her all these years about her "lost" manuscript and  her Pulitzer prized novel. 

I studied her picture which appeared in The Guardian today. She's more attractive at 88 than she was at 35. Her Dutch boy bangs and rimmed glasses and red lipstick made her look hip. 

If this sequel ever is made into a movie who could give Atticus the depth Gregory Peck brought to the character?