Sunday, February 23, 2014

the hockey jersey

These things I know:

The hockey jersey is the least-flattering garment known in modern times. Whatever your shape, size, age or style, put on a jersey and you look like a block. You are a block wearing your team colours. You represent. Nevertheless, you are a block, wearing a $200 polyester garment that makes you look like a block.

The hockey jersey is warm. Very warm. Hot flashes and hockey jerseys don't work well together. Women of a certain age had best wear hockey jerseys in hockey arenas only, preferably while lying on the ice. Note: this is not recommended during a hockey game, nor while the Zamboni is on the ice.

Sports fans love their hockey jerseys. Alex has 6 of them now, I think. Get on public transit on game day, and  you will see dozens of people wearing hockey jerseys to the office, to lunch, to the game. A Skytrain car full of blocks in expensive polyester shirts. Go figure!

The hockey jersey requires no imagination. Just put it on. You are immediately identified as a fan of the team. Imagination is demonstrated by people who paint their faces or dye their hair with team colours or wear watermelon shells on their heads. No, wait, that's CFL football. Never mind.

My lack of appreciation for the allure of the hockey jersey would indicate that I would NEVER, ever wear a hockey jersey. Finally, on Friday, at work, I did. I wore the jersey. Canada's men's Olympic hockey team was facing Team USA in the semi-finals. The winner would compete for the gold medal. The loser would go to the runoff match for the bronze. I borrowed Alex's team Canada jersey and wore it to work.

It was warm. I work indoors, so I wore a light T-shirt underneath. I managed to keep my cool, and keep the jersey on all day. Thank goodness. I looked like a block. Yes I did, but I represented. The Maple Leaf emblem told everyone that I was cheering for Canada. Hooray! And it was funny, people who I see everyday, who would never mention my outfit, my shoes, my haircut, my earrings, went out of their way to say, "I LIKE YOUR JERSEY!" Yes, they said it like that, in capital letters. And when we won the semi-final, several people admonished me that I had better wear that jersey again on Sunday, to ensure that we would win the gold medal. Hmmm, so jerseys also have magical powers? I knew that beards, socks and underwear have magical powers, but not jerseys.

So now I know a few more things about hockey jerseys:

Jerseys are not about looking attractive. They are meant to make you look uniform - the same as the other fans. Wearing a jersey says, "I am with YOU in our devotion to the team."

Because the jersey is in no way personal or individual, it allows others to say, "YOU LOOK AWESOME," without risking any misunderstanding about why they are saying it. The person who compliments your jersey is not attracted to you, or trying to flatter you. The person who compliments your jersey is excited that you like the same team that he or she likes.

Jerseys are imaginative, but in a different way. They encourage the wearer, and those who see him or her, to imagine winning. If there's a magical power in a jersey, it's that it allows the wearer to feel the magic of doing something tangible to support the team. That's good.

When I came home, I gave Alex back his Team Canada jersey and thanked him for letting me borrow it to wear to work. I appreciated the opportunity to share in the fun, and I learned a lot.

question: do you wear the hockey jersey?

mompoet - happy (sometimes) to look like a block, with all of the other blocks

Sunday, February 09, 2014

thinking about dylan farrow and woody allen

This post is about sexual assault.

I have been reading online and via social media about Dylan Farrow and Woody Allen. In the 90s, Woody Allen's daughter Dylan, then 7 years old, told her mother, Mia Farrow, that Woody Allen sexually assaulted her. I remember hearing about it at the time, and thinking about how horrible that was, and wondering what happened, but not really wanting to know more. I was a new Mom at the time, and felt frightened and repulsed by the thought of anyone hurting a child in this way.

The story has been raised in the media again because Woody Allen recently received a Golden Globe Lifetime Achievement Award. His daughter Dylan, now an adult, spoke publicly for the first time about what happened. Here is what she said.

A week or so later, Woody Allen responded. Here is what he said.

A google search or a look at your facebook or twitter feed will lead you to dozens of editorials and blog posts about the controversy around this devastating incident. I have been thinking and thinking about it, and wondering what an ordinary person can or should do.

We will never know exactly what happened. There's lot's of discussion and opinion about that, without much light shed. I think for myself, it's beside the point. Here's what I am thinking:

I have to believe Dylan Farrow's account. Maybe I am wrong, and I am wrongly believing that Woody Allen did this horrendous thing. I would rather risk believing this wrongly than leaving a survivor of sexual assault to hang out to dry. Experts on both sides of the controversy can tell you about studies and statistics around wrongful accusations of abuse and manipulation of child witnesses. All of that pales in the light of what a story like this tells us about what is right and wrong, and what it means to be a victim of sexual assault.

I am choosing to think about this on a personal level. What does this situation say to people who have experienced sexual assault or harassment, or people who will be survivors of sexual assault in the future? Dylan Farrow describes her experience of being disbelieved and disregarded, while her famous and powerful father continued to live as a highly regarded artist. Her trauma and guilt have been with her since that day, while he has gone on to continue to live a good and happy life.

I have (thankfully) little experience with instances of sexual assault and harassment, and (blessedly) no experience with cases in which a child is involved. My indirect personal experience (as a friend and supporter) affirms the fact that survivors find themselves in a no-win situation. They are disbelieved, examined to determine if they did anything to provoke the assault, and isolated in their state of injury. Many (not all) people would rather disbelieve them because believing them is just too upsetting. When you read Dylan Farrow's personal account, then Woody Allen's description of the expert witnesses, you see what a person is up against if he or she comes forward with allegations of abuse.

What happened with Woody Allen and Dylan Farrow is not just about the high profile principles in this story. It serves as a cautionary tale for someone who has been assaulted. It tells friends and family who receive a report that maybe they should be skeptical, or at least that they need to caution the survivor that an investigation may be painful and unsuccessful. It helps explain why assaults go unreported. It illustrates the painful fact that the survivor will feel guilt for not protecting others who are vulnerable to an assault by the same perpetrator.

In short, it stinks. Taking a personal perspective, I have to remind myself to be open and aware. When someone says they have been harmed, they need acceptance and support. They need to be believed. They need the community around them to take action to make them know they are protected and valued. The same community needs to let the world know that sexual assaults are not acceptable, and that survivors are the priority for our care, attention and protection. We need to assume that the balance is tipped against the survivor when it comes to legal and societal response to their situation. We need to change that too.

Talking about it, not dismissing it because we can't be sure, is the first step. In my limited experience, I have been heartened to see hearts and minds changing through the experience of being a supporter and friend. I have seen individuals and groups taking accountability for improving safety for people who are vulnerable, and making ways for those who feel unsafe to ask for support. There's no way we can make predators disappear. We can adjust our thinking and actions to be better human beings when awful things happen.

This is what I'm thinking about as I think about Dylan Farrow and Woody Allen. I hope that we will all think about them, even though it is hard to do so.

question: how can we be better human beings?

mompoet - pondering

Sunday, February 02, 2014

buy my valentine

I was at the card store the other day, looking for an anniversary card for my parents, birthday cards for a couple of friends and also for my cousin. I was also looking for a Valentine card for my husband. Finding the right card is harder than you might think, considering how many there are on the shelves.

Andy and I don't buy presents for one another for birthdays, Christmas or Valentine's. We sometimes go on a trip together, or get something nice for the house, and that's our gift to one another. We do buy each other cards. Usually, I can find a suitable birthday card for him. For some reason, I have a more difficult time with Valentines.

Here' a list of some of the unacceptable Valentine cards that seem to prevail on the card store shelves:

  • Too many words - This is the mushy Valentine card that has 2 or more panels of mushy talk. Often it folds out like an accordion, to accommodate several short paragraphs of sweet thoughts. It's all very nice, but usually at least some of what it says is not what I want to say, and the on-and-on-and-on sentiments feel like they are trying too hard. A message of love should be loving, to the point and brief.
  • Short story of a silly dog, cat, elephant, etc. - This one features a couple, usually cartoon animals, with a short story of the card-giving spouse's shortcomings: "I know you think I spend too much time at the mall, and my cooking is not any good at all. You help me out when I break a nail, and you bail me out when I'm stuck in jail..." It ends happily with the card-giving spouse expressing gratitude to the card-receiving spouse for putting up with him/her for all these years! Ug.
  • Ones that are the shape and size of a cheque. I know there are birthday cards shaped like this, meant specifically for enclosing cash or a cheque. I don't think anyone puts money in a Valentine, so I wonder why they make Valentine cards in this shape?
  •  Sexy-rude Valentines - I just do not understand these.
  • Valentine cards made so that you can't write your own message inside - A card should have space and a paper surface so you can write your own little love note inside where you sign the card. Some cards have a shiny surface that resists pen ink, or no discernible space for a personal message. Are these meant to be sent anonymously?
  • Insulting Valentine Cards - some insult the giver, some insult the receiver. I find both totally insulting to everyone. A Valentine should be lovey-dovey.
  • Valentine cards meant to be given to or from pets - believe it or not, these are available: "Happy Valentine's Day from your Cat." Meow.
  • Musical Valentine Cards - not many words, but a big blast of computer chip music when you open the card. This almost always startles me. Nobody wants to be startled on Valentine's Day.
  • A chimpanzee in a pink dress or a tuxedo - yuck.
I am re-reading this and hoping that Andy doesn't read it and feel intimidated to buy me a card this year. Apparently I am discerning to the point of snobbishness when it comes to Valentine cards.

So here is what I like to find, when I am looking for a Valentine to give to my sweet heart:
  • A short, heart-felt message of appreciation and love.
  • Preferably Valentine colours - red, pink, white, purple
  • Preferably costing less than $5. Cards are expensive!
 Eventually, I found a very nice Valentine card for Andy. It took me longer than I thought. I don't mind. I love him very much!

question: have you found a Valentine for the one you love?

mompoet - NO chimpanzees in pink dresses please

Sunday, January 26, 2014


Here it is, 2014, and I just took my first online continuing education course. It's for my Emergency Social Services work. I took "Introduction to Disaster Psychosocial Services," an online learning course developed by the North Carolina Disaster Response Network.

I have talked to friends and family members who have done online courses, so I understand that the course I took was a real lightweight as far as online learning goes. It was made up of eight 30-minute modules. There were no written assignments or discussion board exercises. The only coursework was a module pre-test (6 questions, multiple choice) and a test to take after completing the module (same 6 questions, multiple choice). Marking was automated and immediate, and I ended up with a perfect score on every module. YAY me!

I appreciated the way the course was put together. It was logically organized and professionally presented with good slides and narration. Each module was narrated by a different professional in the field of disaster psychosocial services. Every one of the instructors was knowledgeable and an engaging presenter, even online. Concepts and principles were brought to life with examples from real disaster situations in which the presenters had participated as relief and support workers in the area of psychosocial services. I was impressed with the insights they shared about how natural and man-made disasters can have profound and varied effects on the people who experience them. I was especially interested in the discussions about resiliency - that's how well a person takes unexpected events in stride and finds a way to restored thinking and functioning after a catastrophe. I'm grateful to know the many ways that psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers contribute to the emotional and mental health care of disaster survivors and relief workers. I learned a lot, and I am inspired to learn more.

All that said, I have also learned that e-learning is not my preferred mode of learning. I really like interaction, and taking a course online is definitely not interactive. As interesting as the presentations were, I caught myself peeking at the little progress bar to find out how many minutes remained before the end of the current module. I also took a couple of brain breaks while listening and watching the slides. Luckily, I could back the presentation up to the place where I lost track, and re-listen with better attention. It helped to take notes as the presentation went along. That kept me engaged and responsible for noticing what I thought was most important about what was being said.

I don't think I would have had the opportunity to take this course if it wasn't for an online option. I am sure I will do more online learning. I'll also make sure to get out to the real-life courses too, with in-person presenters and other students in the class. Sharing experiences and networking with other people involved in emergency services is really interesting. Either online or in-person, I'm glad for the opportunity to continue learning more.

question: have you taken an online course? what was it, and how did you like it?

mompoet - I like to see the whites of their eye (and have them see mine)

Sunday, January 19, 2014

learning music by ear, and brain, and heart and gut

I started singing in a community choir near my work, about 18 months ago. This fall I switched to a new choir that has just started up in my neighbourhood. I have discovered that learning to sing in a group is exhilarating, challenging and life-affirming. I have no formal music training, don't read music, and have never thought of myself as musical, so I am interested in discovering how it is that a person can learn to sing a song. It's complicated and fascinating in my experience so far.

The choir that I sing with now is made up of about 28 men and women. We rehearse weekly for two hours. In between rehearsals, I practice at home. I suppose learning to sing is like learning to play an instrument, you have to repeat and repeat and repeat your work, in order to gain confidence and proficiency. There's more to it than that, though. The repetition somehow unlocks something in the body and brain that makes the music make sense. My Dad explained this to me when I was taking the advanced math course in high school. He said that math was like music: Repeated practice would help the concepts sink in and be connected in a logical and intuitive way in my brain. At the time I was dubious, but I wanted to get a good grade, so I tried solving the math problems again and again, until I saw the beauty of the math, and it fit together so I knew what would work. Learning to sing is like that.

Right now, our choir is preparing for a concert that will take place mid-February. We have just a few rehearsals before the concert, and we have a lot of work to do. There's this one song that is complicated and beautiful, and I am doing my best to learn my part so that when I am in rehearsal, I am keeping up with the other singers in the choir (most of whom are more experienced than I am). Here's a YouTube of a student recital at the Manhattan School of Music. The students are singing the song that we are learning:

Beautiful huh?

To learn my part, I begin by recording each choir rehearsal on my iPod. We spend about 30 minutes maximum on any given song, learning passages in our separate singing parts, then putting them together. Our choir leader is remarkable in his ability to help us know how to be a choir together, and sing beautifully. My recording catches all of his instructions and remarks. In rehearsal, I listen and practice my part, and also attend to the other parts, following along in our sheet music and hearing what they are singing, because all of those parts have to fit together and make sense. We have to know every bit, not just our own, in order to find the beauty of the choral piece.

Then I go home and listen to the rehearsal and sing along. I follow in my sheet music, and use my iPad piano program to check any notes of which I am not sure. I don't read music, but I do know how to plunk those notes on the keyboard, using what I must have learned in elementary school: Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge, and FACE. I also have figured out sharp and flat, which generally can be found on the black piano keys. (People who read music, please don't laugh too hard at that. It is an epiphany for me.) Sharp and flat in singing all comes out of the same place that the regular notes (which are called natural) come, although it does not always feel natural.

I also practice when I am driving in my car. I can plug my iPod in to my car stereo. I try to find time to practice everyday. When I am working on a song like this one, it's hard not to sneak practice time in, because I am intrigued about learning it, and wanting almost desperately to sing well when I get to the next rehearsal. I had to talk myself into posting my blog today, instead of just singing. Oh well, I thought, I can blog about singing and embed a youtube of the song, so I can listen to it while I blog. Okay, my brain works like that.

It's usually easy to learn my part by itself. It's harder to sing it along with the other parts. I am discovering that the best thing to do is to sing it quietly, and as well as possible, listening carefully to the other singers in my section, but also to the the singers in the other sections. If I am stuck I just drop out for a bar or two and listen to the sounds of all of the singers together, then join back in. If I do this over and over again, suddenly it makes sense, and I could cry with happiness at how it fits and works together. It is beautiful.

Slowly, but surely, I am unlocking the mystery of learning how to sing. The notes on the page are beginning to have sounds attached, and when I plunk the piano key at the end of a passage, I find myself still on the right note. TAH-DAH!

I am happy to have found this activity, this choir, and my own affinity for singing.

question: do you like to sing?

mompoet - tra la la-ah-ah-ah

Friday, January 17, 2014

what makes you laugh out loud?

At work today, my friend was watching a video online about laughter yoga. She told me that she is organizing a laughter yoga session for employees during Mental Health Week. Another friend mentioned that she was chatting with a relative who expressed a desire to laugh so hard he cried, or almost cried. He told her that he had not done this in a long, long, time. We three friends looked at each other and said simultaneously, "I do that all the time!"

To laugh so deeply and loudly and for so long that your belly reverberates with it, and your face feels like it could split open, and tears stream down your face, now that feels good. We talked them about what makes us laugh.

One friend likes to listen to comedy on the radio. CBC Radio has some brilliantly funny shows: The Debaters,  This is That, and The Irrelevant Show are all hilarious. I like to listen to the stories on The Vinyl Cafe too. It's not knock-down-drag-out funny like the others, but most of Stuart McLean's stories have a climax that causes me to shout with laughter, even if I am driving by myself in the car, or walking along, listening to my iPod.

We talked about funny films too. I think Charlie Chaplin and the Marx Brothers are very very funny. There are lots of modern, funny movies, but the old timey stuff is just so absurdly funny, I find it irresistable.

Then there's the category of funny mistakes, conveniently collected and posted online for your enjoyment. Try looking at Damn You Autocorrect without chortling. I somehow manage to forget about this site until I am in an airport. That woman in the boarding gate lounge falling off of her seat? That's me, maximizing the laughs available from my 15 minutes of free airport internet. Cake Wrecks is pretty funny too. Oh my, Andy just came downstairs to see why I was laughing so loudly, so I showed him Cake Wrecks. I think it's funny. He isn't so sure.

I once got caught in a laughing fit at a funeral. Luckily we were not in the chapel yet, just outside in the parking lot. I had to duck behind a car so that nobody would see me and be offended or hurt. I did not think it was funny that a friend's parent had died, but some small funny thing set me off. I think it was nervous energy that caused me to experience a moment of entirely inappropriate hysterical laughter.

Of course, when we were kids we always laughed fully, loudly, deeply and convulsively. One kid would laugh, then the others would join, and just when the laughter was dying down, somebody would hoot, or gasp or snort, and we'd be off again. This type of laughing felt so good, and it was almost impossible to stop laughing. I remember this especially from sleepover parties. We would all be crazy with tired silliness and we could not stop laughing even when the host kid's Mom or Dad spoke very sternly to us: "It is midnight now, and time to be quiet and sleep!" "OK...BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!"

When adults laugh for silly or immature reasons, or make up silly or immature ways to provoke laughter, I have to love it. This playfulness is something that we should practice whenever we can. So here's a list of a few things you can do to make yourself (or other silly people around you) laugh:
  • Sing "My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music with a lisp. "Raindropth on rotheth, and whithkerth on kittenth..." Go ahead, I dare you to do this (er thith) with a straight face.
  • Wear your underwear on the outside of your clothing.
  • Find a bunch of things in your house: books, ornaments, coffee cups, whatever, and line them up down your hallway or across your living room. When someone asks you what it is, make up an answer that amazes them and amuses you.
  • Play with silly putty or throw one of those sticky octopus toys at the wall. 
  • Borrow a pair of shoes much too big for you, and wear them out in public. 
  • Ask a small child to tell you a funny story. Warn the child that you are not allowed to laugh. The child will make it his or her mission to MAKE YOU LAUGH.
You get the idea. Just be silly and find out how it feels. The worst thing that might happen is someone will laugh. Maybe you will laugh. Even if you are the only one who thinks you are funny, that's okay! You will have fun. You will be well. If you do it right, your face will ache and your belly will hurt, all in a good way.

question: what makes you laugh?

mompoet - I hope you laugh

Saturday, January 11, 2014

a new blog

I have started a new blog just for my cooking posts. It's called the big bowl. I hope you like it.

I'll post my recipes and cooking adventures there, and everything else here.

question: how many blogs is too many for one person?

mompoet - I think 2 will be okay for me.