Category Archives: Nostalgia

Reflections on reflections: What we see in the mirror

A friend sent me a link to the photographic work of Tom Hussey. Among his series is one entitled Reflections(Please take a moment to look at the work. I respect (a) copyright, and (b) his professionalism too much to copy the pictures. Here is the link:  )

Each photograph features an older person looking in the mirror and seeing a reflection of the person as they see themselves: a young efficient nurse, a physically fit firefighter, a university graduate, a stunning young artist. The photographs give us a voyeuristic view of both sides.

When my mother-in-law lived in her long-term care facility, we put pictures of her as a young, fit woman in her room. The pictures weren’t there just for her; they were there for her care staff. We wanted everyone who walked into her room to see more than a wheelchair-bound old woman, no longer able to speak. The woman in that room once played in the Canadian Open tennis championships. (Early rounds, but still.) At the age of 80, the woman in that room could outpace me on cross-country skis. When the woman in that room looked in the mirror, she saw this:


Now that I’m, ahem, getting on years, I relate to this far more than I would like. I look in a mirror and wonder, “When did those wrinkles get there?” I think, “I’m too young for such a thing to be happening to me.”

Alas, time is changing my outer self, but rest assured, when I look in a mirror, I see this . . .

Arlene editing

Editing at Maclean Hunter Cable TV – 1990

or this . . .

Dance like nobody is watching.

Dancing like nobody is watching.

or even this . . .

Conducting an early business meeting

Conducting an early business meeting

If the rest of you see a middle-aged woman, sorry about that.

Charlie Brown reflections

A Charlie Brown Christmas was the first Peanut...

A Charlie Brown Christmas was the first Peanuts television special. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A Charlie Brown Christmas debuted 48 years ago in December 1965. Do you remember that?

Do you remember how the television network scheduled the show to run once during the Christmas season?

Do you remember how there weren’t any VCRs or PVRs then, so if you missed it, you missed it?

Do you remember how families gathered together around the one 13″ TV (black and white, maybe) in the household to watch it together?

Do you remember that it was an event that you planned around and looked forward to?

Do you remember how special that was?

I had a conversation recently with two 20-somethings. They grew up in the age of VCRs and internet. They have smart phones and laptops or tablets. They call up A Charlie Brown Christmas any time they want and watch it as many times as they want. They might even watch it by themselves. They might even (gasp) fast-forward through parts.

No event. Not so special. It makes me sad.

When I told these young people about the one-time, see-it-or-miss-it showing of Charlie Brown during my 1960s childhood, I could see myself as Methuselah in their eyes. In this case, I celebrate the greater number of my years because they allowed me to experience that time, and they allow me to cherish the memory now.

A Charlie Brown Christmas, because of its nature, will be appreciated by people for years to come, but the technology that robs it of its singularity also robs it of that elusive specialness it once held.

When anything becomes ubiquitous it also becomes ho-hum, and that makes me sad.


Luke 2:10-14

10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.


Pie crust and life: Do it until it “feels right”

16-crust in dish

I remember watching my grandmother make pies.

To my recollection, she didn’t measure anything. She put the ingredients for the pastry in the bowl and just knew when it “felt right.” She rolled out the pastry and flipped it around effortlessly. No sticking. No crumbling. Picture-perfect every time.

Pie crust at my house doesn’t come so easily.

I read the directions. I measure with care. Then I curse wet pastry that sticks to the rolling surface, or I find even more colourful words if dry pastry crumbles into bits. Argh. So frustrating.

My grandmother was like any traditional farm wife of her time. One of her main tasks was to come up with meals for her husband when he came in from the barns or fields every day: Meat, potatoes and—without question—dessert. By the time I came along, my grandmother had probably made thousands of pies in her lifetime. She had fulfilled Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule. She was a pie-making expert.

My mother learned the pie crust craft as well. As soon as she was old enough, like any traditional farm girl of her time, she had to pitch in to help take care of the family. She learned the “feels right” texture of pastry that rolled out to just the right size and just the right thickness and flipped it into the pie plate with ease.

I’m a product of a different time. Dessert at my house is an exception, not a rule. I didn’t need, or choose, to spend the time developing pastry skill. But every once in a while—like this week leading up to our church bazaar—I make pies. Every time, I think of my grandmother’s and mother’s pastry skill. Every time, I wish I had it. And then, every time, I ask myself, “Do I really want to invest 10,000 of my hours into developing pie crust skill?”

My grandmother and mother had no choice. I do.

If I have 10,000 hours to allot to honing a skill, sorry dessert lovers, but it won’t be pie. Thanks to my feminist fore-sisters, an endless number of life choices stretch out on a path before me. I choose to write, make mistakes, and then become a better writer. (A misplaced modifier is the writer equivalent of sticky pie pastry.) I choose to keep searching for ways to make people think differently about what’s going on in the world. I choose to volunteer in my community and around the world and with each effort and new relationship make the world a better place. I’ll keep doing it until it just “feels right.” No sticking, no crumbling and picture-perfect every time.

How are you spending your 10,000 hours?

Paul McCartney: lighthouse

paul-mccartney-ottawa-july72013I was blessed enough to attend a Paul McCartney concert here in Ottawa on Sunday night—an evening of many perfect moments. Before he sang “Blackbird,” he told the audience he wrote the song at the time of civil unrest in the southern United States. When he wrote it, he envisioned someone strolling through a store feeling a lift of hope upon hearing the song over the speakers.

Paul McCartney: lighthouse.

A lighthouse stands steady and shines light to those who need help or guidance. The lighthouse doesn’t try to save everyone, everywhere; it shines light in its own corner of the world, leaving other rocky shores to the care of others. A lighthouse doesn’t target its light at a certain area. If it concentrated on one area or boat in distress, it would leave others to perish on the rocks. The light looks different to every receiver, depending on point of view. Some people can’t see the light at all, for they are too far away and don’t need the light. A lighthouse shines steadily, dependably as a source of good.

McCartney asked how many people in the audience had tried to learn “Blackbird” on the guitar. I sizable portion had. (I have. Have you?) When I plucked out those notes on my guitar, I didn’t know the spark that had led to its creation. I just knew it gave me a lift of hope.

McCartney shone the light of “Blackbird.” He didn’t try to save everyone, everywhere; he shone his light in his corner of the world and left other rocky shores to the care of others. He didn’t target his song in a certain area so he wouldn’t leave others to perish on the rocks. The song looked different to every receiver, depending on point of view. Some people didn’t see it at all, for they were far away and didn’t need the light.

The song shone steadily, dependably as a source of good.

Photo courtesy of Shawn M. Kent

Photo courtesy of Shawn M. Kent

A Bolivian musical transporter

bolivian-dancersWe don’t need a time travel machine or a Star Trek transporter to take us to another time and place; we have sounds and music.

(Quickly—what sound does the Star Trek transporter make? Took you back in time, didn’t I?)

Last year in Bolivia, our Habitat for Humanity Global Village group was invited to an evening presentation of traditional Bolivian dances. I arrived on the terrace before the others, just as our host tested the sound system. He put on a song and then left to check on something else. I sat listening to the music in the tropical evening warmth. I looked up at a moon surrounded by feathery clouds. It was a perfect moment. As I sat there, the trip leader joined me. He sensed the quality of the moment and, without speaking, sat beside me to survey the moon. The perfect moment lasted until the song ended and the rest of the group crowded the terrace.

I bought a copy of the music, and when I hear the opening strains of that song, it transports me—boom—back to the tropical warmth of a Bolivian evening.

MJ wrote about this on her blog last week. Paul McCartney transports her to another time.

What are some of your time travel songs?

For the love, or hatred, of bagpipes

Photo by Wiseman Photography

Do you love bagpipes, or loathe them?

If you were to ask a random sampling of people, “What do you think about bagpipes?”, you would rarely hear, “Meh, I can take them or leave them.” People either love them or hate them.

I love them.

This is lucky for me. As I write this piece, I’m sitting on my back deck listening to my next-door neighbour practise his bagpipes. The haunting notes waft through the air to me here in my peaceful place. Chills, it gives me.

I harbour the quiet belief that anyone who says they hate bagpipes has never heard a massed band play “Amazing Grace.” In the 1990s I covered the North Lanark Highland Games many times for Rogers TV. When all the competing pipe bands assembled on the last day to march and performed together in a massed band, I cried every time. Chills, it gave me.

On my birthday last year I awoke to a warm, sunny day. I took the paper and my coffee to the front porch to enjoy the morning just as my next-door neighbour stepped out his front door to prepare himself for a pipe band competition. He played a perfect version of “Scotland the Brave.”

I soaked up the performance. “What a perfect birthday present,” I thought. “It doesn’t get any better than this.” 

My teenaged daughter, disturbed from a Saturday morning sleep-in, appeared at the door. Bleary-eyed she said, “What is up with that awful noise?”

Bagpipes: They aren’t for everyone.

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