Saturday, November 30, 2013

Random Saturday Musings

Hi all,

Hope your last couple of days have been great! 

I admit to doing some online shopping yesterday, but it was related to trying to get my shopping done as I want to mail all my packages on Monday.  I started decorating the house over the last couple of days and hope to get the tree as well this weekend and start decorating that as well.  I love this time of year and I have really taken the time to be thoughtful about what I am buying people this year, which is kind of nice, since sometimes in other years it was a bit of a chore.

Some things I am thinking about this weekend:

1) My email cup runneth over...

I got more emails from more companies in the last three days then I got the previous month!  Even businesses that I didn't think had my email seemed to have my email and wanted to tell me about their sale.

Now this would make some of your cranky.  I understand why.  It breeds mental and (potentially) fiscal junk.  You suddenly know about sales from companies that you didn't even know existed.  Of course, there is that 'delete' button and I put it to good use.  However, there were some sales I was unaware of (hello Chapters!) and it was great to find out about them. 

This is the ying and the yang of our new world, I guess.  Having said that, in my old job I used to get 100+ emails a day and at least 50 needed real action.  So my perspective on junk email, email that I can delete with impunity with a simple push of a button, is not a bad thing...

did you get a lot of love letters, too?

2) This is just what you say right before your long dead soap opera wife returns...

I read with interest this morning the following AP article:

China claims victory in scrubbing Internet clean

BEIJING (AP) — The Chinese government has declared victory in cleaning up what it considers rumors, negativity and unruliness from online discourse, while critics say the moves have suppressed criticism of the government and ruling Communist Party.

Beijing launched the campaign this summer, arresting dozens of people for spreading rumors, creating new penalties for people who post libelous information and calling in the country's top bloggers for talks urging them to guard the national interest and uphold social order. At the same time, government agencies at all levels have boosted their online presence to control the message in cyberspace.

"If we should describe the online environment in the past as good mingling with the bad, the sky of the cyberspace has cleared up now because we have cracked down on online rumors," Ren Xianliang, vice minister of the State Internet Information Office, said during a rare meeting this week with foreign journalists.

But here's the thing - it's the freakin' internet people.  And I remember 1982, when General Hospital was in its hey day and I was at university with apparently a lot of time on my hands, and Luke told his new girlfriend Holly that he loved her and they would always be happy and that he was well and truly over the death of his first wife Laura.  EXCEPT SHE WASN'T DEAD!!!!!!!!

And the pesky thing about the internet is you can't really scrub it clean.  There is always something creeping out there somewhere.  And it smells like democracy and freedom and it is insidious and this headline might better have read:

China in final death rattle of totalitarian regime

Cause you and I both know the truth: Laura is alive and she is coming back and sorry Holly, it turns out Luke still loves her....

3)   My New Love Affair - the local indoor track

It has either been torrentially raining or -10 here, so this week I had to find a new place to go for my long walks.  Enter the local rink/sports complex, which has a lovely walking track  with a specially engineered shock-absorbing floor.  I made it there 4 times this week and was so happy to find a spot when the weather is just too inclement!

no that isn't me on the left!

4) High School Musicals

I am off this afternoon to see a high school production of White Christmas with my daughter and her friend.  I love high school musicals - they work so hard and are so appreciative of the love they get from the audience.  Yay to Fredericton High School!  This will really help me get in the Christmas mood....

5) and speaking of White Christmas...

I am reminded of something every December: Bing Crosby has ONE OF THE GREATEST VOICES EVER.  Some of you may think that is an old fashioned perspective but I do not care.  Bing's voice is superb and he was the original pop singer - Mr. Popular Music from the 1920s onwards and that term was coined to describe his music.  Everybody copied him, including Old Blue Eyes.  Most of us only know Bing from his Christmas music now, but music historians and many current musicians would cite him as one of the best singers ever.

 Artie Shaw described Bing as the first hip white person born in the United States, and Louis Armstrong said that his voice sounded like gold being poured out of a cup.  I sat that his is a songbook worth exploring and really listening to and not simply at Christmas - it is a joy to listen to all of his music.

You know I love David Bowie as well, so here is my now annual playing of Bing and Bowie's hit, which I first saw live many years ago:

Finally, I would be amiss if I did not acknowledge the tragedy unfolding this morning in Glasgow.  My prayers are with them this morning as they work to free more of the club patrons.

Much love all - stay safe out there!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thinking About Gratitude

I have been thinking a lot about this topic throughout the Autumn and given that this is the American Thanksgiving and I have many American friends, it seemed like as good a time as any to talk about it.


The idea for this blog post was reinforced last week when I was working on my Remembering Kennedy post and I ran across this quote:

As we express our gratitude,
we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words,
but to live by them
John F. Kennedy

I don't know if Kennedy himself came up with those words, or just a really fabulous speechwriter, but no matter - those words called out to me across the years.

I have been guilty in life of not being as grateful as I might be for what I have.  Sure, I thank God for my family and friends every night, especially for my children, but sometimes those prayers and thoughts of gratitude become rote exercises in our lives; we say them, but do we think about them?  More importantly: do we live them?

However, this Fall seems all about my learning to be thankful - the online course I've been doing with Brené Brown, meditation, my writing.

We write about clothing and decorating and the books we read and the movies we watch, but those things are all made by people (well some may be made by machines, but I am not particularly smart when it comes to those things so I am going to gloss over that! I am after all the person who thinks the TV has fairies in it...) and not simply the designers and the writers and the movie makers, but people doing the physical work of creation for us as well. 

I was unpacking Christmas things last night and while my items are imbued with the memories of my family and the Christmases where these items have served as silent (or not so silent - hello to my Mother's crazy wide-mouthed bass that sings Christmas carols that is the most god-awful thing but will always get to stay as it reminds me of her!) sentinels to our good times, but I thought of the people who made them first, the people who drove the trucks to get them to the store, the people who worked in the shops where we bought them.

Yes Virginia, there is an Indy Claus..

It is human, I think, to be thinking and planning ahead.  It is human to want the new "thing" - I mean Adam and Eve wanted that shiny new apple and if they'd hung around The Garden of Eden long enough they would have been scoping out the new Apple Computer for sale by that Mr. Snake Guy - but all things have a cost and if we start to look at the world around us as the magical place that it is, it starts to change our perspective. 

Deepak Chopra says that if you are always thinking of the past or thinking of the future you are living in a dream world.  The only real thing is right now.  By the time you read these words I will be off doing something else altogether.  Learning to be in the present and enjoying the present naturally leads to gratitude.  And if you are not in the place this year to feel that gratitude (and believe me I have had times like that too), the most important gift you can give yourself in the next year is to try to find some way to get your sense of gratitude back.  Baby steps.  Maybe you are just grateful for your lungs that help you breath.  Or that somebody invented dark chocolate and red wine.  Those are good places to begin.

This practising of gratitude is starting to make a huge difference in my life.  It is not Pollyanna-ish - it is actually a gift that we can give ourselves.  Now when I am waiting in line at Starbucks for my tall decaf cappuccino, I am looking at the whole enterprise in wonder - isn't it amazing that I can pop into my local bookstore and these people are just waiting to serve me?  And it may take 5 minutes to get my coffee, but I can take that time to breath deeply and look at the shiny machines and wonder how if the guy behind the counter minds wearing a hair net.  And then my cappuccino comes and it is excellent and I am warm and feeling lucky indeed.  And it makes my interactions with them friendlier and more personal and that can only be a good thing.

I wish I could say I was born feeling grateful as I ought to be - I was not.  I have suffered my own share of "the grass is always greener" and I will struggle with that for the rest of my life I guess.  But I am making progress and that progress is making me more joyful and content.  I think of people I know who are naturally filled with gratitude; they are my teachers.  I read once that the comedian Jack Benny was like that: every sandwich was the best one he'd ever had; he was always filled with wonder.  One of my good friends, G, is married to a man who is like that.  He makes me just gloriously happy to be around him because he is always so pleased and happy for others (and for himself and he should be - he's married to G!).  Cultivating gratitude in our lives is a gift for ourselves and a gift for others - I can't imagine anyone who wouldn't want to be around G's husband.

I have a friend who recently took an amazing trip.  The destination was the original motivator to go; the journey was the gift and he accepted the gift with gratitude.    Through his pictures of life in a very different place, I not only got to see this world, it also helped me be grateful for the life of potential and choices within which I live.

I tried this yesterday when I went to the grocery store.  Normally, I don't like the grocery store; it is big and overwhelms me with the selections.  I only had to get a couple of things, but as I walked the aisles, I focused on how amazing it was that there were these many choice - that you could have red, white or green chai tea, caffeinated or decaffeinated.  Really - could you want more?  And people delivered that tea there and stocked those shelves with that tea and someone invented the machine that let me check out all by myself.  It was quite miraculous, really.

I think that for many people in the past, the remembrance of gratitude was reinforced by the church (of course, for others, the church had the opposite effect!) and that in 2013, we are looking for ways to feel connected.  The world is a big place and we sometimes feel small.  But by practising gratitude and kindness we are able to break down that vastness that separates us from one another.  Not only when we are face to face, but across the miles as well.

On this fine Thursday (and Happy Thanksgiving to my American Friends!), I thought I would leave you with a quote by Brené:

I don't have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness - it's right in front of me if I'm paying attention and practicing gratitude.

I am grateful to day for all of you, whether you leave comments or not - you are ALL important to me!
Have a happy Thursday and say safe out there!


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Style Wednesday - Velvet Frippery

Ah we move from plaid to sparkle to velvet, the fabric of opulence and richness.

The perfect holiday decorating fabric:

The loveliest fabric for dresses for mothers and daughters:

Trousers can be lovely and I actually like these ones from J Crew that were just released today:

Collection tailored sweatpant in velvet

A waistcoat for a man is lovely:

And I love my green velvet Cole Haan Loafers:

Right now, I have almost no velvet in my closet.  I thought I had remedied it earlier this fall when I bought the following dress from Brora:


I took a chance and ordered the size that they told me would fit.  It was a dismal failure.  You cannot wear this dress if you have much of a chest, sadly.  It hangs in my closet, bullying me.  I should have returned  it and missed the first window, so now I am going to write to them to see if they will still take it and give me a credit - if not will sell it.  sigh....  If you are a UK size 12 and love this, let me know - yours for a song....

But I am undaunted and I know that there is a velvet dress out there for me somewhere!  Likely not in time for Christmas though!
How about you?  Do you like to deck your hall with velvet come Christmas?

As always - stay safe out there?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Wendy's Gift Recommendation, Take 1: S

Hello All!

Am in quite a fine mood now - after a month of intense writing I completed my NanoWriMo book last night - 80,000+ words, 264 pages in 26 days.  Of course, this is a first draft and it is going in a drawer for a while, but very proud to get it done. I have now completed three draft books this year and am going back to edit #1 again after getting some fabulous advice! 

And speaking of books, over the course of the next three weeks, I am going to share the odd item that I think will be a fantastic gift for someone on your list.  Today I start with S, by JJ Abrams and Doug Dorst.

Here is the description from Amazon:

One book. Two readers. A world of mystery, menace, and desire.
A young woman picks up a book left behind by a stranger. Inside it are his margin notes, which reveal a reader entranced by the story and by its mysterious author. She responds with notes of her own, leaving the book for the stranger, and so begins an unlikely conversation that plunges them both into the unknown.

The book: Ship of Theseus, the final novel by a prolific but enigmatic writer named V.M. Straka, in which a man with no past is shanghaied onto a strange ship with a monstrous crew and launched onto a disorienting and perilous journey.

The writer: Straka, the incendiary and secretive subject of one of the world's greatest mysteries, a revolutionary about whom the world knows nothing apart from the words he wrote and the rumors that swirl around him.

The readers: Jennifer and Eric, a college senior and a disgraced grad student, both facing crucial decisions about who they are, who they might become, and how much they're willing to trust another person with their passions, hurts, and fears.

S., conceived by filmmaker J. J. Abrams and written by award-winning novelist Doug Dorst, is the chronicle of two readers finding each other in the margins of a book and enmeshing themselves in a deadly struggle between forces they don't understand, and it is also Abrams and Dorst's love letter to the written word.

This is a jewel of a book.  It comes in its own case, which is absolutely necessary, as you shall see in a moment:

Inside is the "library book", Ship of Theseus, written by the mysterious V.M. Straka:

It is a handsome book, and don't you love the library sticker on the front?  It almost made me giddy with delight!

Inside is the actual book, which you read, but you are also reading the interaction between Jennifer and Eric as they attempt to solve the mystery of Straka.

It is absolutely fascinating, and it is like a puzzle box of delights, because you are also trying to figure out Eric and Jennifer as well...

All kinds of papers and postcards are stuck in the book and you will need your own bookmark so you don't get lost or move them out of order...

The book was conceived by JJ Abrams and written by Dorst and from what I have read thus far, it is a happy collaboration.  I am not yet through the book and must be honest - I am truly taking my time, luxuriating in the whole experience as it is just so much fun.  If you love fine books and a good mystery and clever writing, this is the book for you and perhaps someone on your Christmas list.  At least one person I know is getting this from me for Christmas!

Both Amazon and Chapters have the book (my local chapters has it for only $25, though it is almost hidden back behind the checkout) and I give this 5 stars on the old Wendy Review-o-Meter.  You didn't know there was a Wendy Review-o-Meter?  Well me neither till I just wrote it, but there you have it - it exists!

Have a great Tuesday and stay safe out there!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Everything I Know in Life I Learned From the Movies: Casablanca

Next week we begin a round of Christmas movies, but I'd like to talk about my favourite movie today.

In my opinion, it is almost a perfect movie: well acted, well written (every other line is a quote that has become part of the collective zeitgeist of popular culture over the past 70 years.) and well directed, this movie is a little jewel whose shimmer can never tarnish...

What's to love?  What's not to love....

1) even tough guys play "the song"

For me, it was Andy Gibb in 1978 and I was in love with a boy who really couldn't grow a moustache.  For movie stars like  Humphrey Bogart, it is one of the greatest songs of all time, "As Time Goes By"...

Never has any actor so exemplified the wronged lover than the hangdog Rick Blaine.  He is a mass of throbbing pain when Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman who is luminous) shows up; this is a guy who's become too cool for school as a result of a broken heart.  Friends, this is called nursing a drink and a grudge...

"Rick: You know what I want to hear.
Sam: [lying] No, I don't.
Rick: You played it for her, you can play it for me!
Sam: [lying] Well, I don't think I can remember...
Rick: If she can stand it, I can! Play it!"

2) You say you stick your neck out for nobody, but really, you stick it out for everybody

In fact, our hero turns out to be the biggest bleeding heart ever to appear in the movies, despite his protestations otherwise.

Captain Renault (the sublime Claude Rains) accuses Rick of being a Secret Sentimentalist and he is absolutely right. 

By the end of the movie, he has pretty much saved everyone.

3) Everybody Goes to Rick's

It's a bar!  A place to gamble! A waiting place to get out of Europe! A place to hide secrets!  A place for romantic rendezvous...In short, this was the 'it' place and no wonder, the way our hero slouches so pleasingly against the bar...

Rick's Café Americain has it all and is as much a character in the movie as any of the people.

4) You have to love a man who remembers what you wore:

Dear God!  My husband doesn't remember what I wore this afternoon!

5) When things get tough, a good quip is worth its weight in gold...

Sure, the Nazis are breathing down your neck, but Rick never loses his cool.  Take a page from his book and never let them see you sweat...

6)  A sense of time is over-rated:

Especially if you are running the town....

And scruples are optional....

7) And if you are going to fall in love, Paris is the can regret it together in the rain later on....

Sure the Nazis are coming.  Sure you think your resistance-leader husband is dead.  These are desperate times, who can blame you?  Later when you meet again, you will both be full of heartbreak and regrets, but you will have the best line ever when you look back at those desperate days.

Rick: We'll always have Paris

And haven't you said that yourself at least a couple of times?

8) In the end, you will always do the right thing...

Let the girl go, thwart the Nazis....Even if it breaks your heart to do it.  Because, dammit, you are a good guy....

9) But you will have friends who will turn out to be good guys too, despite their bad boy persona...

Sure, Rick's killed the bad Nazi, but that guy had it coming and it was for the greater good.  Turns out that Captain Renault is a sentimentalist at heart, too.  He gives the now infamous command "Round up the usual suspects" and Quentin Tarantino's future movie is born...

10) There are other kinds of love, not as good as the love of Ingrid Bergman, but not bad...

Sure she's gone.  You've saved the resistance, you've saved the girl, you've got rid of the bad Nazi.  And it turns out that the guy you used to just get a kick out of is a kindred spirit,  And thus, one of the greatest movie endings of all time:

Louis, this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship

Never has two men walking off into the mist been so beloved (although I would have liked it if that had happened on Brokeback Mountain!)
If you have not seen this movie, I implore you to add it to your Christmas list.  This is the greatest movie and funny and sad and inspiring all at once.  It never gets old.  I leave you with a taste...

Have you seen Casablanca?  Do you love it as I do?  Have a great day and stay safe out there!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Remembering Kennedy

You didn't have to be American to have felt the after-effects of the assassination of President Kennedy.

I was only 10 months old at the time; I do not recall the day it happened of course.  But I recall the aftermath.  My parents were young and idealistic - for they and their friends, there were many dinner party conversations that revolved around "Where were you when you heard Kennedy was shot?"  I never really understood that feeling until September 11th, 2001.

There are greater minds than mine that can explain the resonance that that act of terrible violence had upon America's psyche.  The death of hope, the death of dreams, the birth of an unsettled time in American history.

All of these are true, I guess, in their own way.  But they are not the truth.  The truth is more complex and more personal I think.

There is a certain thing that happens when one dies tragically young.  They are forever young and beautiful and in your mind, you are often frozen in that time with them.  There are no pictures of an old chubby President Kennedy, just as there are sadly no pictures of an old Bobby Kennedy or an old JFK Jr.

JFK was not a perfect president, nor was he a perfect man; the historians have made that abundantly clear.  But there were areas where he acted with great integrity and great honour.  There were areas where he fired our imaginations to dream bigger and dream equally.  There was a promise of something more and that promise was struck down on that fateful day in Dallas.

Kennedy ended his inaugural speech on January 20th, 1963 with the following words:

In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility—I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it—and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.

My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own.

The history of JFK (and of Bobby and even of JFK Jr.) is really the history of the great "what if" - what if the shot had not met its intended target?  What if?

Much has been made of the defining image of John-John saluting his father's casket going by.

But I am often struck by the funeral cortege itself, the rider-less horse....

 and Bobby and Jackie and Teddy walking behind, followed by other dignitaries.

It touches me because I believe that the American people, and many other people from across the world, walked behind that funeral cortege in spirit on that day as well.  And they have been walking behind it ever since.

A Man May Die,
nations may rise and fall,
but an idea lives on

John Fitzgerald Kennedy


I have just heard that beginning at 1:40 EST, CBS.COM will be livestreaming the 4 days of coverage of Kennedy's assassination and events leading up to and including the funeral in real time, as it appeared on TV during those 4 days 50 years ago.

Those interested can check it out here.

Au Natural

If yesterday was manmade glory - does a sequin exist in the natural world - oh wait - hell dragonfly wing - then today is my beginning of Christmas decorating and it turns out it was all natural...

Amaryllis bulbs, newly planted, waiting to become the beautiful flowers of December that Barry and the kids will tell me "stink"!

I bought these bulb planters last Christmas and I love them!  Once the roots well, take root, it is so cool to watch them in the water below.

This is creepy to my family, but I love it!  They kind of remind me of those Mandrake things in Harry Potter:


But they don't scream (even if they do smell!)

I also had an idea for what I wanted to do with my greenery on my dining room table.  I saw some $5 mini ice buckets at Winner and picked up 4 and put baby Norway Spruce in each of them.  Eventually, those Norway Spruce will go outside and I will have 4 little ice buckets for parties!

Aren't they fun?  I am currently debating whether to put bow around, but I am currently holding myself back from doing so!

I am thinking of putting some moss and bow up above them on the chandelier and hang some silvery bobbles.  How fun, eh?

It is a funny place to start Christmas decorating, but one must start somewhere!  How about you - putting any bits and bobbles out yet?

Have a great day and stay safe out there!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Style Wednesday: SPARKLE ALL THE WAY!

I'm not going to lie - at times, I wish I could be always tasteful.

I wish I could be reserved, less enthusiastic about life, hold a little back.

I see a refined individual and think "oh to be like them".  But I am not like them.  I have never been like them, really.  And while I can visit their land and try their clothing and their décor, and even use it myself by times, there is something particularly, well, excessive about me. 

So it can be no surprise that I adore Christmas, since of course it the season of over the top.

Yes, I see those tasteful homes with their tasteful and minimalist Christmas trees and décor.  But that is not here.  It will never be here. 

Cause I like me some sparkle.
I was thinking of this today as I was looking in my closet to get dressed in the morning.  The party clothing has somehow migrated into my main closet for the holiday season and it was making me smile....

The pale chiffon camisole with the pink paillettes that sparkle gold when the light catches them...

The shimmery black Vera Moda Sweater that looks divine with skinny jeans and these over the top ballets:

And maybe I'll take along this clutch sometime in the next month:

Oh the sparkle doesn't come out nearly as much as it would like to, but I always find it cheers me considerably.

On my writing desk right now I am looking at a little sparkly globe:

and a lovely circus tent ornament I found at Pier One, which could be put away at the end of the season but won't be, as it reminds me that sometimes it's not a bad thing to run away and join the circus...

We are coming to the darkest days, and I am ready to sparkle.  And won't apologize for it!!!


How about you - any plans to don the sparkle this season?

Have a great day and stay safe out there!