The Good, the Bad and the Careless

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 8:08 p.m.
Do you see what I see? As the last few notes of Christmas carols recede into your memories of Christmas 2010, are you looking down at your protruding paunch and thinking, “Wow – can two days of food indulgence make such a noticeable and rapid difference in my waist size?”

Readers, it has reached the point where no one can look at me and comment on my sylph-like physique. My jiggling extremities may be cute to my husband who tries to come up with the right answers in the hopes of maintaining peace and serenity in the home, but my mirror has no tact. My mirror does not lie. I daresay your mirror isn’t lying either. If you are North American and middle-aged, chances are that you don’t have the muscle tone that you could have to lead a healthy lifestyle and that you are carrying over five pounds extra than you should.

For myself, it’s not so much the appearance that concerns me, but the possibility that my careless diet and lack of exercise is going to land me in the same boat that my parents were in once they were in their sixties – an inability to walk very far or do very much because they were overweight.

Right now, I am on the cusp of making another year’s unfulfilled resolutions when it comes to exercise and my foe, bad cholesterol. What is this deal with good and bad cholesterol? Does good cholesterol ride a white horse and comes to the aid of damsels in distress? Does bad cholesterol ride into town packing pistols and shooting up the town to the point that the whole community breaks down and somebody somewhere has a stroke as a result?

My doctor told me that I should be happy that I have a high level of good cholesterol but though my bad cholesterol is not at a level for major concern, care would be a good idea. Having deep-fried potato pancakes twice in the course of two days is probably not what she had in mind. In other words, I sent the bad guys into town and the sheriff wants to have words with me.

While I have resolved to cut back on butter and get on the guilt machine (my name for the elliptical trainer that I bought four years ago to get into shape and which I have probably not used more than ten times), I’ve got a few words for the sheriff too. “It’s Christmas!” January is the time to buck up and get started and be miserable through the short days with the closest promise of relief as Easter, which is some time in April. At Christmas and New Year’s, let me celebrate. Let me throw dietary caution and guilt to the wind. Let me ignore those December magazines that tell me how to get through the holidays without gaining five pounds that are going to take me six months to lose. In other words, and very rude words, “Mr. Sheriff, shut up.”

What is the good of being healthy if we cannot eat and drink and celebrate with good friends if we must have half a mind to what we’re eating and drinking? Granted that some of us have illnesses that require us to watch what we eat in order to avoid serious harm. This is not what I’m talking about. The obsession with perfect health and youthful appearance that can be a detriment to enjoying the good things of life is just silly. I say enjoy, be moderate, and make sure that you have great people to eat and drink with, and you will be happy. This is what I wish you in the New Year. Get out there and enjoy and have a happy and safe New Year.

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At Christmas, It's All About the Magic of Redemption

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 2:02 p.m. in ,
This is the time of year when you think that people will hang out with friends and family, eat too much shortbread cookies (all right, that’s probably just me) and drink a little too much wine or whiskey with our holiday dinners. Yet many of us will use television as a form of family entertainment after a big meal to kick back and enjoy the Christmas spirit, and what will we watch?

In the next twenty-four hours there are three movies that are going to be repeated on several channels: It’s a Wonderful Life, Scrooge (A Christmas Carol), and Miracle on 34th Street. Why are these three films repeated year after year on Christmas Eve? I think it’s all about what Christmas has come to mean in our secular Western society, the opportunity to have a second chance. Without question, this is many steps away from the kind of redemption that is implicit in the religious significance of the Christmas holiday for people of the Christian faith. Yet Christmas has been adopted as a winter holiday by people all over North America, and like it or not, when people celebrate the holiday, folks choose to look past the gift-giving to another purpose whether it’s a time for being with loved ones, showing an annual social conscience by giving to the poor, or looking to the hope of peace on Earth and good will towards all men and women.

Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, which was adapted into the film, Scrooge in 1951 with Alistair Sims as Ebenezer Scrooge, is all about redemption. As Scrooge is forced to review his life, he realizes that if he doesn’t change his ways, he will die alone with no one to mourn him and no one to say a kind word about him. Through magic, The Three Ghosts of Christmas manage to bring about a serious change of heart in Scrooge who becomes a real benefactor to the Cratchit family, and who most importantly, saves Tiny Tim’s life.

It’s A Wonderful Life, Frank Capra’s masterpiece of 1946 and once called “the best film to never win an Oscar,” tells a similar story, but in reverse. George Bailey is a very good man who always sacrifices his dreams for the good of others. When his uncle foolishly loses a bank deposit, putting George in danger of going to jail, George regrets all that he has done. He is about to end his life when a rather clumsy angel, Clarence, uses magic to help George see how important his sacrifices have been, and what a poorer place his community would have been if he had never lived. Once again, a supernatural intervention takes place through the auspices of Christmas to bring about a sincere change of heart.

A Miracle on 34th Street has two versions, one made in 1947 and a re-make in 1994. If you’ve never watched the old version, give that one a try as I find that it has a certain magic lacking in the modern one. There are some very tough messages in this one about faith for a secular society. Santa’s magic is on trial and the judge and jury are really an unbelieving single mother and young daughter. Yet in this film, the magic is much more subtle – is it magic or just a set of coincidences? The viewer is left to make up his or her own mind. For those of us who want to believe in magic, there’s just enough evidence to help us out.
If you want to believe that people can change, that the world can change, these three Christmas classics will help you convince that doubting Thomas uncle of yours that there is magic in the world, and that this magic is more likely to take place around December 25th. To all readers of The Record, I wish you all the joy and magic of the holiday season and then some.

Times and Channels: A Christmas Carol/Scrooge, CTV, Friday night at 11:30; It’s a Wonderful Life, Friday night, NBC at 8:00; A Miracle on 34th Street (1994), Friday night, CBC, 8:00. CBC will air the 1947 version on Saturday night at 11:00 PM.

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Christmas Magic to Soothe a Cold

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 2:01 p.m.
It had to happen; I’m getting sick, yes, sore throat, chills, runny nose the whole bit, and Christmas is coming. I should be shopping, baking cookies, decking the halls, and jingling bells, but all I want to do is lie on the couch and watch Christmas shows. If I haven’t the energy to “deck them halls,” as Lucy told Schroeder in the the Charlie Brown Christmas Special, then I’ll just have to watch someone who can; maybe an animated character who is immune to animated cold germs.

What do I watch? Being the age that I am, I mostly say phoeey to the new Christmas specials, and that’s probably a mistake. Why, just this past week, the three Canadian tenors were belting out carols as was the remnants of Barenaked Ladies on CBC. I go for the classics.

In no particular order, (I’m too sick to prioritize), here are some of my wacky Christmas TV favourites:

A Christmas Carol and all its manifestations: My favourite, of course, is Scrooge with the irreplaceable Alistair Sims as Ebenezer. I own it on DVD …my kids hate it. So we go with some other versions like The Muppet Christmas Carol with Michael Caine. Surprisingly, they do use a lot of Dickens’ text, but they also have singing vegetables and dancing rats. Then there’s that old classic, Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol. I’m ashamed to say that I know some of the songs by heart.

Speaking of Muppets, there’s also the other Muppets Christmas Specials. I’ve managed to buy two as I’m a big fan of the work of Jim Henson and Frank Oz. In my favourite, the Family Christmas (1987) Fozzie surprises his mother by bringing the whole gang to her farmhouse on Christmas just as she greets Doc and Sprocket of Fraggle Rock who have rented the house for a quiet Christmas. They don’t get one. The DVD is very disappointing because songs have been cut as Henson only got the rights to use some of the songs for a one-time TV special. I tend to watch it on a tired, old videotape that also has A Charlie Brown Christmas which I still love.

A Christmas Story with Darren McGavin and Peter Billingsly: Set in the 1940’s, it’s the story of Ralphie, a boy who wants an official Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle, and is thwarted by the inevitable, “You’ll shoot your eye out.” This is a Christmas Eve favourite that we watch year after year. You can buy it at Archambault, by the way.

Off beat favourites include: Garfield’s Christmas where the greedy and gluttonous Garfield learns the true meaning of Christmas with lots of songs packed into thirty minutes, and the Claymation Christmas, which we must watch on VHS as I can’t find it on DVD for under $30.00. This show is simply a series of carols that have been animated in the Claymation way, and it’s really a treat. The California Raisins do a jazzed-up version of Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer. Yes, those raisins sure can sing.

So if you’ve come down with a cold, like me, don’t let it get you too far down. Lie on the couch slurping chicken soup or tea with lemon and honey, and be prepared to make a leap of faith that with Christmas magic, everything will be all right.

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Beware The Little Man With An Idea

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 7:53 a.m.

A few days back, while I was perusing my Twitter page, I discovered a news story that seemed to be ignored bye the major media of the day:  Senator Bernie Sanders, an Independent senator from Vermont, held an 8 ½ hour filibuster on the U.S. Senate floor protesting the proposed tax bill that had been agreed upon by the Democratic and Republican parties.

Senator Sanders, affectionately known as Bernie by many, is the first Senator to declare himself a socialist and who admits to admiring European style social democracy.  In Canada, we call them NDP; in the U.S.A., they’re called Communists, pinko-s and loonies.

That long a filibuster is a triumph of the spirit over the flesh.  Bernie is 69 years old and for a filibuster to be carried on, the person is not allowed to eat or go to the bathroom.  If he does, he loses the floor.  Senator Sanders, a 69-year-old man, did not eat or leave the floor.  He did have some short-term subs in the persons of Sherrod Brown a progressive Democrat from Ohio who spoke for 3/4 of an hour and center-right Democrat Mary Landrieu who took the microphone for 1/2 an hour.

Historically, Senate filibusters have been used for bad purposes too.  In the 1960s, Strom Thurmond pulled a filibuster to oppose the Civil Rights Act that was passed in 1964.  The famous senator, Huey Long, spoke for fifteen and a hour hours to block a bill that would have also benefited rich Americans over poor ones and wound up reading from Shakespeare to keep going.  Interestingly enough, no filibuster has ever successfully blocked a bill from being passed.  Sanders definitely knew from the get-go that history was working against him.

No matter where you stand on taxation, socialism, and the income disparities that are a serious problem in many Western nations today, you have to admire the courage of the man to get up and speak for the little guy.  In his speech, Sanders referred to Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, two billionaires who have openly questioned why they need a tax break. 

He spoke passionately about the jobs that are leaving the United States as corporations move to countries like Thailand where the minimum wage was recently doubled…from eleven cents an hour to twenty-two cents an hour.  Sanders asked how American companies were expected to compete with companies whose labour costs were so low and he asked why it is that we are all racing to the bottom because of the greed of big corporations.  Finally, Sanders enumerated the banks and corporations that were bailed out at American taxpayers’ expense, thanks to the recent disclosure of the list.  This list includes Korean, Japanese and Bahrainian banks.  Then he spoke of small and medium-sized businesses that were unable to even get a loan, businesses that could be a source of jobs for a population starving for jobs.

I watched about a half hour of his speech and I was riveted, not because Bernie is such a dynamic orator – he isn’t – but because the ring of truth was so loud and so clear that you couldn’t help but admire the honesty of the man.

Tommy Douglas, in his famous Mouseland speech said that, “Beware the little man with an idea. You can lock up a man but you can’t lock up an idea.”  Sanders sent a definitive message in homespun words that a government that ignores the working and middle classes is doomed to failure…and more debt.
Ellen Goldfinch may be reached at radiomother@yahoo.ca

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Surprised by Winter

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 7:33 a.m.

They said that it was snowing in excited tones on the news

I wonder why they always sound so surprised ‘cause every year it snows

Anybody ever hear of Sandy Denny?  She sang for a while with a popular British folk-rock band called Fairport Convention, had a solo career, and met an untimely death from a brain haemorrhage caused by a fall down a flight of stairs.  I’m glad I’m not a rock star.

The first snow always makes that lyric play in my head and I was reminded of it by something that my husband said.  He was at Clark’s and one of the salespeople remarked that the store had sold 120 units of mittens and gloves even though they hadn’t had a lot of people come in.  I suppose the freezing rain may have had something to do with that.  I took a slide on to my backside while walking the dogs last Saturday and my husband sent me back to the house to take a long hot shower and put some ice on my back.  Strange how middle age can make a gentle fall that might be nothing for a kid a potential catastrophe.

The run on mittens and gloves is probably a reaction to snow, freezing rain, and everybody hastily putting up their Christmas lights while the weather was relatively mild a couple of weeks ago.  People are finally realizing that winter is here and it always surprises us, maybe because our autumns seem to be getting gentler.  Sure, we had a freak snow at Halloween, but everybody knows that the two coldest days in the fall are Halloween and Remembrance Day, both days where you have to be outside for a long time whether it’s walking your little one around or standing at the Cenotaph.  I can’t remember anyone ever complaining that either of those days was unseasonably hot. Yet this year, October and November have been fairly warm.

When I took that slide on the ice that was hidden by a thin layer of snow, I could vaguely smell January coming.  Everybody always complains about November and rightly so.  November is grey, bleak, with a damp cold that is downright unfriendly, but November has anticipation.  We can’t help but look forward to Christmas, so as the days get ridiculously short, we’re putting up lights and glitzy decorations that take the sting out of the cold, grey weather.  When New Year’s has come and gone, there’s nothing to look forward to but a dark January, which I like to call the long, dark night of the soul.  Once the holidays are over, that seasonal adjustment disorder hits me like a ton of bricks and I am SADD in all capital letters.

Of course, skiers have a completely different take on January; they revel in it.  They watch weather reports with baited breath.  They bounce up and down with glee at the first snow flake, and comes a blizzard, they are almost unendurably ecstatic.  You may want to kill them but if you are a confirmed hater of winter, you have to envy that love of winter snow.  This is their season and I try to take comfort in the joy of others.

Of course, my other solution has been to take up cross country skiing which, believe-you-me, is a lot of work.  Like an idiot, I bundle up and then when I’m sweating like the proverbial pig, I’m peeling off the hat, the scarves and tempting pneumonia with reckless abandon.  There are mornings in the woods when the sun shines on the snow in the trees and it’s magical – so much so, that I can almost enjoy winter…and that’s the trick.  Get out in it and enjoy it.

Equipped with my brand new woollen mittens that my husband picked up at Clarks with the cat food and the dog food, I will try to approach winter and snow with the joy of my dog, Molly…but I refuse to roll in the snow unless I’m sent flying by a hidden sheet of ice.

            Ellen Goldfinch may be reached at radiomother@yahoo.ca

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