Sunday, January 27, 2008

E is for Ellen

(An Encyclopedia of Me blog.)

I grew up in a time when girls were named Linda, Mary, Barbara, Patricia, Kathleen, Carol, Janet and Susan. Through my school years, I knew at least a half dozen of each. I even knew a few Sharons. But Ellen? Not so much. I've personally known only two other Ellens in my entire life.

Ellen always seemed like such an old-fashioned name. I could imagine an Aunt Ellen sitting in her Victorian parlour serving tea to respectful visitors and offering them an assortment of dainty biscuits neatly and precisely placed on doily-lined serving plates. Conversation would hover around the weather and the latest gossip in the society pages. She would discreetly give advice about which eligible bachelor would be suitable for which young lady and everyone would nod in agreement and marvel at her great and kindly wisdom. Not that I knew anyone even remotely resembling this Aunt Ellen – but it satisfied my more romantic tendencies.

There didn't seem to be any real life Ellens around. I noticed there weren't a lot of Ellens in movies, TV or books either. I longed to see my name in print or spoken aloud onscreen.

Then along came Ellen Ripley, Sigourney Weaver's character in the Aliens series of movies. No tea-serving prim Aunt Ellen there – no sir. The problem was the viewer only found out her first name if they were paying close attention to a brief scene near the end of the first movie. Otherwise, she was invariably called Ripley throughout the entire series. The next screen Ellen I remember was on a seventies TV show, called Thirty-Something – but wait – it turns out she spelled her name "Ellyn", so it doesn't count. (Although one could argue that when spoken, it sounds the same and on TV you don't see it except in the credits, so who cares?) Much later, came Ellen De Generes and her eponymously named TV shows.

Recently, I've noticed a glut of side-characters in movies and on TV named Ellen. And side-characters they are. Usually the friend, or friend of the friend. But seldom THE main character.

As you can see, I pay attention to my fellow Ellens. A few real life Ellens I've found are Ellen Barkin, Ellen Burstyn, Ellen Pompeo (Grey's Anatomy), Ellen De Generes, and more recently, Canadian actress, Ellen Page. I'm particularly fond of Ellen De Generes because her middle name is Lee – making it the same as my first and last names.

Over the years, my friends and family have gradually morphed my name into Ell (not Elle of the trendy, please). My middle initial is "L", which makes it even more convenient. ELL -- shortened nickname, acronym and initials all rolled into one.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Miscellaneous Miscellanea

(A Sunday Scribblings prompt)

My life is made up of miscellanea.

The subtitle of my blog sums up much of what drives me and my life. I'm inquisitive. Eclectic is the word I use to describe myself.

I love gathering information, following every trail, sniffing out odd words and associations, looking up birthdates, birthplaces and schools of people I see in the news and online. A place I've never heard of? I'll be looking it up. A new book I haven't read? I'll be searching for a review. There isn't a sport that I won't watch at least once, a musical genre I won't give a listen, an author I won't try.

When asked about "favourites", I have a hard time coming up with an answer.

For example, if someone was to ask me what my favourite sport is, I'd, first of all, have to ask spectator or participation? If spectator; I'd say I like hockey, figure skating, basketball when Phoenix (Steve Nash) is playing, some football (depending on the time of year and teams), baseball during the World Series, tennis if certain players are playing (too bad Andre Aggasiz retired), golf if Mike Weir or Tiger is playing, curling during the Olympics and the Tournament of Hearts, speed skating, downhill skiing, triathlons, marathons, gymnastics, swimming, synchronized swimming, diving, and probably cricket if I could ever learn the rules. Depending on time of season and mood, I'd have a hard time choosing what to watch on TV. If someone was to ask me what my favourite type of music is, I'd have the same problem. I'm always listening and learning.

Yesterday, I used the term "a walking contradiction". When viewing the miscellanea in my life, that's how I feel about myself. It's oddly reassuring:

I'm both intrigued by people, get along with most, but like to be alone.

I like sports, but don't think I'm particularly athletic.

I read almost anything except romance novels, yet went through a phase where I read practically every pink-covered, damsel-in-distress covered book I could find.

I used to say I hated opera, but now find classical music and opera one of my favourites forms of relaxation.

I'm both optimistic and pessimistic, but if I were to choose, I'd say I'm more of a glass half full type of person; which would make me an optimist, I guess.

I strive to be more concise, but enjoy my rambling, never-ending, stream of consciousness orgy of words that overtakes me from time to time.

I'm a very private person, yet I have a blog that shares some of my most intimate thoughts.

I believe in the innate good of people, but am always wary of the hidden dark side.

I'm a good judge of character, but can be bamboozled by someone close to me.

Who am I? I'm an eclectic collector of miscellaneous miscellanea, living a life of perpetual inquisitiveness, gathering an endless assortment of both useful and useless trivia in order to live a life acquiring as much knowledge as possible - just because I can.

D is for Dexter

One of my sons recently introduced me to Dexter.

It's a Showtime Cable TV series based on the novel, Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay. The title character works for the Miami Metro Police Department as a blood splatter expert and also happens to be a serial killer.

(Warning: If you're the least bit squeamish or don't like black humour, this is probably not for you.)

It's told in a first-person narrative. I won't give away too much of the plot, but in short; Dexter suffered a childhood trauma that caused him to become disconnected with others and have a compulsion to kill. He was raised by an adopted father who understood what Dexter was and who instilled in Dexter a certain warped code by which Dexter lives - and kills - by. His father also taught him how to behave in a way that would allow him to seem "normal". Dexter doesn't kill randomly and his victims are only those who have killed others and who have eluded the justice system. On the one hand Dexter acknowledges that he is doesn't feel the same as normal people and is a monster, yet his actions often show him to be deeply connected to certain people and that he cares about the good of society. He is the proverbial walking contradiction.

Deeply disturbing on many levels, it's also darkly funny.

The show's first season is currently out on DVD and the second season has just finished airing on cable networks. I watched the first season on DVD and just started watching the second season on a local cable network.

Apparently, some major US networks are thinking of airing an edited version of it on primetime TV. I think it would take an awful lot of editing to make it palatable for network sponsors and would probably change it considerably (and not for the better). My advice, if you're interested, is to try and see it on the cable stations or watch the DVD.

Another Encylopedia of Me blog.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Canadian Figure Skating Championships - new men's title to Patrick Chan

I spent the better part of last week and all of the weekend at the Canadian Figure Skating Championships held in Vancouver. I've been a figure skating fan for over forty years and this was the first time I've been able to attend a national championship from start to finish.

There were many highlights, but the biggest and best was Patrick Chan's long program that won him the men's title. It was one of the most thrilling, goose-bump inducing live programs I've seen. By the time he got to his final footwork sequence with about a minute to go, the crowd was cheering and clapping. By his final spin, everyone stood in a great surge.

He's barely seventeen (his birthday was on December 31st), but doesn't skate like it. It's the first time I've seen him skate live and I was blown away by the quality of his skating, his musicality and maturity. I hope he joins the ranks of other Canadian men like Donald Jackson, Brian Orser, Kurt Browning and Elvis Stojko who have gone on to win World championships.

Here is Patrick Chan, the 2008 Canadian Men's Figure Skating Champion in his Long Program:

The following is his Short Program:

The commentary is by Kurt Browning (four time world champion) and Tracy Wilson (former Olympic medalist).

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Music on a Saturday

What I'm listening to on a rainy Saturday afternoon:

Raising Sand - by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss

You can listen to the entire album on the official website (click on the above title).

This collaboration by former Led Zeppelin front man, Robert Plant, and bluegrass country fiddle player and singer Alison Krauss, on the surface, seems unusual, but it really works. The more I listen to it, the more I like it. Always a good sign. I received this CD from one of my sons for Christmas.

J, knowing I'm too cheap to buy CDs for myself, is always trying to expand my music library. I have very eclectic tastes that cross pretty much all musical genres with the exception of rap (to me, rap is a form of spoken poetry, but that's an entirely different discussion). My opinion is that I won't know if I like or dislike something until I've actually heard it.

In the past couple of years, besides the Plant and Krauss, he's bought me Ryan Adams (Cold Roses); Neko Case (Fox Confessor Brings the Flood); and Sigur Ros (Hvarf Heim) CDs -- all artists I'd never have tried on my own.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

60s Nostalgia

After reading The Boomer Chronicles and her blog about 60s memories, I rummaged around to find some old ticket stubs.

This is what I was doing in August of 1964:

In case you can't see it clearly, the concert ticket was $4.75 and the movie ticket was $1.25. Of the two, I only had to pay for the movie ticket.

At the time, I was waiting tables at my uncle's restaurant. One of the regulars was a local concert promoter. He gave me two tickets to the Beatles concert as a tip. I was ecstatic!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Re-gifting Gift Bags

Gift Bags

As I was doing the final post-Christmas clean up, I realized just how much the trend of using gift bags has overtaken the use of gift wrap around here. I took this picture of bags from this year.

I'd say 80% to 90% of our gifts came in bags rather than the traditional box and wrap this Christmas. We probably gifted with bags in about the same proportion. I don't know if this is true elsewhere. Maybe someone out there can enlighten me.

Personally, I think it's great. Our family has been using gift bags for a number of years and I'm glad it's catching on. It appeals to my sense of not wasting things and recycling whenever possible. Besides being recyclable, gift bags are reusable. It's fun to receive a gift in a bag that you gave someone else.

There is one bag that's been making the rounds in our family for about three or four years.

We have a joke that you're not really a member of the family until you've received this bag at least once. It's still in pretty good shape, don't you think? It kind of lends itself to all sorts of occasions, is appropriate for all ages and is fairly gender neutral. So far, it's been used for birthdays, Mother's Day, congratulations for ..., and hostess gifts.

Why Should Old Equate to Bad?

I am getting so tired of self-help books and TV shows that go on and on about looking younger; in essence, saying young is good and old is bad. I discussed this earlier in my little rant about Oprah and some of her programs.

Just when I think I can let it go, Crabby Old Lady at Time Goes By posted this article and YouTube video by Charla Krupp.

Ms Krupp has written a book titled How Not To Look Old. She gives tips that she claims will make us older women look ten years younger, ten pounds thinner and ten times better. Why? Is ten the magic number that's going to make us happier, more fulfilled and content? She is delusional if she thinks minus ten pounds and ten years is the cure-all for what she admittedly calls a youth-obsessed culture.

Let's do the math: at forty, we'll look thirty; at fifty, we'll look forty; at sixty, we'll look fifty; at seventy, we'll look sixty; at eighty, we'll look seventy; and at ninety, we'll look eighty. At some point, you'd think even Krupp would have to accept that we're going to look old if we live long enough.

Given her advice about wearing thongs and fishnet stockings, I think what she really means is for us all to be stuck looking thirty-something. Thanks, but no thanks.

In her video, Krupp actually says if we look younger, it is going to "beat the system" and will help us stay vibrant and visible. She's got this ass-backwards. How can older women stay visible by looking and pretending to be younger? This only perpetuates age denial. The way to beat the youth obsession is by being visible and vibrant as we age -- whatever the age – not by trying to look younger.

In the grand scheme of things, I'm not that old yet, but I'm not young either. I often get the comment that I look young/good for my age (despite the white hair). My appearance is due to a combination of a reasonably healthy lifestyle and luck of the draw in genes. It's not something I obsess over. I have wrinkles that are not going to be botoxed and breasts that are not going to be augmented. I have a five-minute makeup routine that I skip altogether if I'm not going out anywhere. I can be up, showered, dressed and out the door in twenty minutes. Yes, I'm still vain enough to put on the glam when the occasion calls for it. It's not for the purposes of looking younger, but to look the best I can for me, now, and at my age.

So, why do books and programs like Krupp's bug me so much. Well, for one thing, I intend to continue aging naturally. I don't like the idea that my worth or the worth of other women should be based on how old or young we "look". I hate the notion that has crept into our consciousness that looking old is bad. Our age is our age. When I'm seventy, I don't expect to look young and I'm not going to deny being old. I want to look my own version of seventy. And that should be good enough for anyone.

So ends another rant about ageism. I have a feeling it won't be the last.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Tree chipping time

Happy New Year!

I know. It's a little late, but every time I thought about posting something, stuff got in the way.

We had a warm family Christmas with all the important people in my life around. The turkey and trimmings were a hit; as was the Fruit In Snow dessert. I ate too much shortbread and chocolates, but it's all gone now < grin > and I can get back to a more normal eating pattern.

This morning, I watched the World Junior Hockey Championships on TV and saw Team Canada win the gold medal for the fourth year in a row. This afternoon, I've been procrastinating over putting away the decorations and taking down the tree. I'm always a bit reluctant to take the Christmas decorations down. It's a bit sad. I like my tree. I love the smell, the lights, the special ornaments gathered over the years, and all the memories it evokes. I've felt the same about every tree we've had over the years.

This year, my older son and his g.f. bought their first tree for their first apartment together. They have the same reluctance to take it down. They named it "Chuck" after Charlie Brown - probably not a good idea. Hard enough to send an anonymous tree to tree chipper heaven, let alone one that you're on a first name basis with.

When my sons were young, they'd always beg me to leave the tree up until the last possible moment. So, when was the last possible moment? -- Well, every year, on the first weekend after New Year's Day, a local charitable organization sets up a tree chipping machine in the community centre parking lot. For a donation, residents can take in their old Christmas trees and have them chipped and recycled. -- Therefore, the boy's definition of 'last possible moment' was always the last afternoon (Sunday) just before the tree chipper was turned off for yet another year.

That means I have the rest of this evening and tomorrow morning to take down the tree. I think I'll light a log in the fireplace, pour a glass of wine, turn on the tree lights, turn off the room lights, and enjoy this year's tree for one last time.