Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Beginnings

Given its the last day of the year 2011, I've been reflecting a lot on this past year. Mistakes I've made, the heartbreak I endured towards the middle of the year, all the new things I've learned, the hurdles I've overcome, and how much of a better person I am. The year 2012 for me really is a fresh start. The latter part of 2011 I wish I could just go back and delete.

I hate making New Years resolutions because many of them are not long-term goals, and they often fail. My goal for the year is to do a photo blog: Project 365 - with one photo for everyday of my life. It will be posted on here, as well as on Facebook. One of my classmates from university did it, and it was interesting to see all the things she did over the course of an entire year. I think it also forces me to get out and do more on a regular basis so that my life doesn't become boring. I also love taking pictures and photos require a lot less writing than a regular blog, so I don't anticipate it will be too hard to keep on top of. These last couple of months I have been getting better at goal setting and undertaking new things.

So far in January I will be:
- starting a chess club at the school I work at
- volunteering in the french classroom
- teaching badminton at the YMCA
- joining a second badminton club
- starting zumba classes
- continuing with my 3x/ week yoga classes
- starting my photo blog
- taking care of my new Betta fish Sébastien
- continuing the organization of a Quizbowl tournament to be held in early February

It's no wonder I'm single eh? I have no time in my schedule. And to be honest, it feels great to be "doing me" for the first time in nearly 3 years. I do what I want and don't give a flying fig about what anyone else thinks. Being single is so much easier than being with anyone. Sure it gets lonely sometimes, but you can't ever be let down. The only person you can ever rely on is yourself.

Parenthood 101 (Day 5)

I have reached the halfway point of my journey. Wow. Today is New Years Eve and then I only have 3 more days until I can get my old life back. That sounds awful, as if I'm trapped, but in a way I am. My entire day revolves around the kids and I can't really go anywhere without bringing them with me. Even the 10 minutes I spend in the shower away from them, my mind is going through horrible scenarios that could be taking place when I'm not there to watch them.

In a few ways, this experience has gotten easier. Over 5 days, I have gotten used to the new routine of the day, the smells and sounds of the house, the personalities of the two kids, and whereabouts to find everything in the kitchen. I've also gotten better at deciphering what the two of them are saying. Neither of them speaks very clearly and as a language major it's very infuriating to not understand what someone is saying.

Currently supper is in the oven, as well as a batch of cookies that I turned into a loaf shape. I figured they wouldn't care what shape their cookies were in, and frankly I didn't have the patience to dick around with all the spoonfuls of cookie dough.

As tonight is New Years Eve, I'm praying that both kids pass out around 8am at the latest and I don't have to listen to the wailing of Isla again for another four hours. FML. Again, I am getting paid for this, and sometimes that is my only incentive not to put my hand through the wall. It's kinda hard for me to read all of my friends on Facebook posting their status about what they are going to be doing this evening, knowing that I'm rooted here with no possible way of leaving.

Admittedly I'm not a party animal (part of the reason I decided to take this job) but my evening will be consisting of a bottle of sparkling wine and the couch, and possibly some Lindor chocolates. It's kinda depressing in a way too because this time last year I was with my ex on New Years; the party, the kissing at midnight, the whole shebang. Sigh. How things can change in a year.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Parenthood 101 (Day 4)

Woke up a little later than usual this morning to find the kitchen had been ransacked. Isla had taken the liberty of going through the cupboards and fridge. I was far from impressed. Just like last night, she cried for hours over her mom. I've almost had it with her, and I'm slanting towards wanting a son over a daughter when I eventually have kids :P I know that's a general statement because I know some boys can be hellions, but wow. Cyrus is so calm and collected about everything. Isla throws tantrums and cries over the minimalist things.

Currently she is sobbing in her room because she doesn't want to have a shower before we all head to Playtrium today. I asked her to get a towel and now she's bawling as if her dog just died. Ugh. I don't think that showering is an unreasonable request. I love the show Supernanny. She's just great because she has a backbone and doesn't let the kids get away with garbage. I think alot of people learn to parent by what they grew up with, and in retrospect, my parents did a pretty good job. I can also see why mom opted to stay at home and raise us; it's a fulltime job and unlike me, she didn't get paid a cent for it. They wound up with three kids who all completed high school, who all have friends, who never got strung out on drugs or alcohol and who don't have kids yet. We all have good morals and goals in life.

I have a new found respect for parents, it is without a doubt the toughest job out there and you don't even get paid for it. It's also a minimum 18 year contract.

I know also understand how annoying it is to be constantly asked: "When's lunch?" and "What are we having?" My mother must have the patience of a saint.

The notion of childcare is an interesting one to me, largely I think because I never had it growing up. My mom stayed at home for nearly 20 years before heading back to the workforce. Stay at home parents are growing more and more scarce, as people are trying to create a better life for their kids by buying them things, instead of actually taking the time to parent. With my dad as the only income in our family, my parents learned to stretch a dollar. We never went without food, or new clothes or any of the essentials - but there were no family vacations or flashy new cars or a brand new in ground swimming pool in the backyard. My parents were really great with their money, instead they invested in real estate and land, two things that gain value instead of lose it.

I took the kids to Playtrium today, which is just a glorified indoor jungle gym. I remember going there for birthday parties when I was little. The two ran around for the better part of two hours and I took them to McDonald's afterwards for cheeseburger happy meals. We got to take a taxi, as I don't drive and the kids were pretty enthused haha.

10:19pm: The battle of Put-the-Three-Year old to bed is still raging. I shall update you tomorrow. Kids are great, but damn do they ever make you want to punch things sometimes :S

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Parenthood 101 (Day 3)

Made it through two days and two nights. That sounds awful, as if I'm on some survivor show, but wow. It has been eye-opening for sure. It not even having to deal with kids that is wearing on my patience, its the screaming and fighting. The youngest one, Isla, screams over EVERYTHING. And most of the time, there is nothing wrong - she is only doing it to get attention. I caught on to this pretty quickly and have been ignoring it. Its miraculous how she can turn her crying powers on and off. Last night she was homesick for her home, which was genuine. Problem was she cried for four hours. I have worked as a camp counselor and was also occasionally homesick as a child, and as awful as it sounds, a lot of kids just cry themselves to sleep. For me personally, stuffed animals make everything better, and even for this week long excursion, I brought along Billy Idol the sock monkey my mom made me for Christmas.

Just served the kids breakfast; a waffle for Cyrus and a bowl of Lucky Charms for Isla. Another thing that astounds me at mealtimes, these two don't have the concept of dessert after a meal. When I asked the pair of them what they wanted for lunch yesterday, they replied "chocolate pudding". O.o

Lunch was comprised of finger foods - cheese and crackers and grapes. Both of them gobbled it up upon hearing that they could get pudding for dessert if they finished everything on their plates. I'm gathering they don't have regular mealtimes and are generally picky eaters. Supper was chicken nuggets, sweet potato fries with corn and peas and neither of them were able to eat much of the veggies. I guess I was never a very picky kid - largely I think because I was forced ti learn to like most foods. Mom made one meal, if we didn't eat it - we went hungry. Hence I learned to like whatever was placed in front of me. The one exception being tuna casserole, which to this day I can't stomach. I'm not even entirely sure why - I like all the ingredients in it, just not all together.

Both of them passed out around seven last night; I took them to the park for an hour today and they both had a jolly good time sliding around on a giant patch of ice and seeing a dog come by the park with a jogger. They were tuckered out and we're heading to Playtrium today - basically a ginormous jungle gym. I plan to take them to McDonald's for supper afterwards. Should be a good day. Kids are a little easier to deal with when they are tired :P

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Parenthood 101 (Day 2)

Woke up at 9:04am this morning after passing out last night around 10pm. After a whole day of running the kids around, I really had no patience by the time they had to go to bed. Thankfully it only took two tries to get them to stay in their beds, leaving me to curl up in front of the TV and watch America's Next Top Model in french on MusiquePlus. I also started a new crochet project which will no doubt be finished in a couple of days. All I was missing was a glass of red wine.

The kids got up around 8am, but they were playing nicer with each other than when I was around, so I let them be for an hour or so. I still can't get over how nice this lady's house is. When I saw the place nearly two weeks ago, I couldn't believe two young children lived there. Every room looks like its been plucked straight out of an IKEA catalogue with everything matching and all the wall decor to match. Last night was my first time sleeping in a King sized bed. O.o
It started snowing this morning so there is a light dusting of white over the front yard, to which Isla replied "WE CAN MAKE SNOWANGELS!!". Not entirely sure what the plan is for today.

I would like to make a batch of chocolate chip cookies with the kids. From one of my students from work I got one of those cookie mixes, where all you have to do is add the wet ingredients (eggs, milk, etc). I figured it would be a good way to use it up.

One thing I have discovered. Kids are easier to deal with outside, while they are running around and burning off energy then when they are doing the same thing inside the house. The fresh air and getting out of the house also does me some good I think. This experience has been relatively enlightening and gives me a much better idea of how to parent my own kids (when I eventually have them). I'm not entirely sure how often their mom works, but it seems that the two of them don't really have any boundaries. I don't think my rules are terribly strict ie: wash your hands before meals, keep your feet off the table, etc. I've read in many places too that kids thrive off routine so I've been attempting to keep the schedule similar:

Breakfast 9:30am
Dressed and Teeth Brushed 10:15am
Board Games/ TV time/ Games till lunch
12:30 Lunch
1:00pm Quiet Time for an hour
2:00 Go to the Park
3:00 Board Games/ TV time/ Games till supper
5:00pm Supper
6:00pm Wind Down time, get into PJ's and brush teeth
7:30pm Bedtime

I think its a matter of me adjusting to the schedule too. My days (now that I'm on vacation) were pretty unstructured except for mealtimes which stay pretty consistent.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Parenthood 101

Today is day one of my journey into being a mom. Hold on! Wait! I guess I should go back a few steps. Several months ago, a co-worker of mine asked if I would be interested in making a little extra money over the holidays. A friend of her dad's would be heading down to Cuba over New Years Eve and needed someone to take care of her kids for a week. I jumped at the chance - I can always use some extra cash and I love kids.
While I work with kids from Monday-Friday on a regular basis in the school system, being a nanny is a whole different thing entirely. I don't have to cook for them, or make sure they've brushed their teeth, or make sure they are going to bed in good time.
I got the chance to meet the two munchkins a couple of weekends ago - and they were nice as pie. That being said, I'm not expecting things to run as smoothly as they did the previous time. I babysat them for 6 hours...not for an entire week. I really have no clue what to expect - the whole realm of running a household (children included) is pretty foreign territory for me. As per the request of a couple of friends, I will be blogging about this experience in the evenings, after the kids have gone to bed, and I actually get a few hours to myself. Should be interesting.
I'm currently packing my suitcase for the week and will be getting picked up in about an hour to start my crash course in motherhood. Wish me luck!

Day 1: 10:33 am
So far my morning has comprised of watching Bob the Builder, getting the kids a nutritious breakfast of Lucky Charms and apple juice, opening the new play dough containers they got for Christmas and attempting to play one game of Candy Land. You have never really played any board game, until you try to with a three and a four year old :S The pair of them are chatterboxes and I guess its always difficult with someone elses kids - how you go about enforcing rules is kinda up to your discretion. I consider myself a firm but fun person. I'm a very energetic but that being said, I do demand respect. My mom was a pretty strict disciplinarian growing up, and while I don't think I'll ever been that strict, I can see know how there was method to her madness.
So far the youngest one, Isla, has taken to calling me "babysitter" while the four year old, Cyrus, has called me Bethany on several occasions. I guess I'm sorta used to having my name misspelled and mis-said often enough. The kids are still pretty wired that there is someone new in the household to show all their new Christmas presents to, but I expect that to calm down by the end of today.
The idea of having a babysitter is still a pretty foreign idea to me - I never had one growing up. I never went to before or after-school care, as my mom stayed at home. The only time I ever remember getting babysat, it was by my aunt while my mom and dad went to Canada's Wonderland on a day trip.

Day 1: 3:01 pm
Just finished washing up all the dishes from lunch: a box of Spiral Kraft Dinner. Took the kids to a nearby park and they ran off some energy for half an hour before it started to rain. Had to listen to an entertaining argument about whether we were going to watch The Incredibles or The Land Before Time, only to find out that both DVD's were missing. Chaos ensues and I had to sit though Star Wars:The Empire Strikes back instead. Oh joy. Anyone who knows me at all, knows I loath anything science fiction. Had Isla insist that the extension cord she was dragging around the house was in fact her skipping rope. Sigh. I know I'm far more patient around kids than I am with adults, but dang they can be trying on the nerves. Its the constant chatter and the persistent questions that can drive anyone nuts. Its the constant reminders to not do things and to stop hitting your sister and to finish your meal before it gets cold. Gosh it's only been one day. I know I can do this, but wow the days as a full time parent pass by slowly. I get that these two are not my biological kids, but for simulation sake I feel I'm getting a pretty good dose of reality. I can't even imagine how some (single, unwed, teenage or otherwise) parents do this. I believe I want kids, but this experience so far has made me very happy I don't have any yet.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Alice in Wonderland

The majority of people will recognize the characters of the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, the Red Queen, The Walrus and the Carpenter, the Cheshire Cat, Tweedledum and Tweedledum and the White Rabbit. Most could probably name the film or novel that the characters belong to as well – Alice in Wonderland of course. I have seen 2 different film versions of the book by British author Lewis Carroll; the classic Disney version with the usual catchy songs (ie: Painting the Roses Red) that was released in 1951 and the version by Tim Burton that came out in 2010. The children’s book full of anthropomorphic animals can easily capture the imagination of young readers, but is still a wonderful and fantastical tale for adults to relive. Both films do not stay 100% true to the literary text from which it is derived, which I suppose is common in most cases when changing mediums. They have added and omitted events and characters but the core of the story remains the same.

Alice’s age is never stated in the Disney film, but she is able to daydream this entire world of Wonderland. Oh to be a child again. They have such wonder filled and expansive imaginations. Their ability to create has no boundaries.

The version directed by Tim Burton is far more fantastical than that of Disney in my opinion. Not animated, the movie has to rely on incredible costumes and makeup to recreate this magical land and characters (which also garnered them a Best Costume Design Oscar).

I have been a huge fan of Tim Burton for several years. He is unique and bizarre, which makes him memorable. I remember a few months ago I was watching Burton’s remake of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory in the family room. My mom came in, took one look at the screen and asked, “That’s by Tim Burton isn’t it?” He has such a style that it makes any of his films recognizable. Even his live action ones tend to resemble the animated ones. Having watched a solid handful of his movies: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Alice in Wonderland, Willy Wonka, Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare before Christmas, and 9, it is easy to pick out the commonalities between them. Johnny Depp stars in the majority of Burtons works – playing the title character in Edward Scissorhands, Sweeney Todd, and Willy Wonka – and playing the secondary role of the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland. Burton’s partner of many years Helena Bonham Carter (Bellatrix Lestrange in the Harry Potter films) also appears in his films; the wife of Sweeney Todd, The Red Queen, and Charlie’s mother Mrs. Bucket. His movies tend to have dark themes but they are also fantastical. The man is undoubtedly a genius, and I was excited to hear that a Tim Burton balloon would be unveiled at this year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in the United States. I unfortunately missed out on the Tim Burton exhibit that was being held to showcase TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival). That would have been absolutely incredible to witness and grab some photos of. The “twisted, nightmarish, and dark” world of Burton is what sets him apart and has contributed immensely to his success.

In a world of millions of people, making a name for yourself and distinguishing your identity can be difficult. I like to go against the grain, against what is out there. I would rather be overly ridiculous than overly boring and have people forget me.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Yoga and Me

Yoga and Me is a documentary film which explores the psychological benefits of yoga. Yoga teachers from around the world share their personal journeys to show how the ancient teachings of yoga can be applied to modern day life. Feel free to check out the trailer:

And the website to purchase the film on DVD:

While I am not a renowned yoga instructor like those in the video, I took up yoga as part of my life. I started doing yoga just over two years ago. It initially was a health kick that myself and my two roomies started together while in university – waking up at 6am, changing into our workout clothes, and doing yoga to one of the multiple DVD’s we’d purchased. As it turned out, I was the only one to stick with it. Two months into the semester, their schoolwork/programs were far more time consuming than mine, and I was soon the only one waking up at the crack of dawn to get my yoga on and my endorphins going. As it turned out, yoga was also a wonderful part of my recovery from G.A.D. (generalized anxiety disorder.) It was a great way to de-stress not only my body, but my brain.

I currently have a membership at the YMCA, which as it turns out offers yoga classes nearly every night of the week. I go to the Yogafit classes (which are far more of a workout) and to the regular Yoga classes (which are focuses more on mindfulness, relaxation and very exotic twisted positions of the body). I encourage everyone who has not tried yoga yet to give it a shot. Admittedly I know very few guys who do it, which I assume is because they are less flexible. I have always been a pretty flexible person, despite having never taken gymnastics or the like.

There were/are a lot of reasons I love yoga:

1) The cost: a mat is around $30 and assorted DVD’s are between $7-$15 depending on the length and where you purchase them. It’s not a huge monetary investment to start doing yoga at home. A membership to a yoga studio however can be considerably more costly (between $100-$135 monthly for unlimited sessions from what I’ve seen)

2) Low intensity: Yoga is gentle, fluid and not stressful on joints and ligaments. I have never been a huge fan of running for this reason – it’s hard on my knees. In my classes, the ages of participants stretch from people in their twenties to ladies in their fifties and older.

3) Multi-purpose: Yoga is multiple workouts rolled into one – it helps your flexibility, core strength, and cardiovascular system as well as including meditation.

4) Time commitment: in a busy world, with a to-do list the length of my arm, making time to workout and exercise is difficult. But even 30 minutes of yoga makes you feel like a million dollars.

5) Self-awareness: Yoga incorporates mediation and focus on breathing as part of its practice. This might just be my favourite part. After a workout, the relaxation of the body is overwhelming and is pure bliss. You become not only more aware of your body but of your place in the world. Yoga really is an inspirational journey.

6) Variety: from Hatha yoga to Hot yoga, the discipline has a wide range of styles and positions, which prevent it from becoming boring. Switch it up! Try a new class!

7) Results: within a month I noticed the results of practicing yoga. There was less tension in my muscles and my mind was more at peace. I was also considerably more flexible and lost about 10lbs. My clothes were all looser, and I went down a size at Lululemon.

8) Lack of equipment: other than yourself and your mat, there really isn’t anything else you need. You use your own body weight to strengthen, balance and tone during your practice. You don’t even need to wear shoes!

I’m not going to lecture you on the benefits of yoga – there are thousands of websites out there already for that. Plus it’s always nice to be surprised by the results of something new. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and try something new! Happy Yoga-ing! :D

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna

I remember receiving this two cassette length movie for an Easter present when I was 14 years old from my parents. Staring Amy Irving in the title role, the film follows the life of Anna Anderson, a woman who gained notoriety after claiming that she was the last Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov. The movie originally came out in 1986, three years before I was born and before DNA testing was able to prove whether Anna Anderson was indeed a descendant of the Romanov's or an impostor. Testing later proved that she was genetically linked to a Polish factory worker and not the Grand Duchess.

The mystery and allure of the story of the Romanov family has captivated me since I was 9. At my public school’s book fair, I bought a copy of My Anastasia by Canadian author Sharon Stewart. To this day it still remains one of my favourite books; I must have read it at least 25 times as the dog-eared pages proves. This book tells the story of Dunia Ivanova, who runs away from her abusive father and through a twist of fate, encounters Gregori Rasputin. Rasputin has connections to the highest of powers in Russia, the palace of the Tsar and Tsarina. In turn Dunia meets all the grand Duchesses and becomes the protégé of Alexei, the heir to the throne. This rags to riches story enthralled my young mind and I didn’t realized until years later that it was a piece of historical fiction, and that the Romanov's had existed as the most powerful family in Russia for a couple of centuries.

The last of the Romanov family was comprised of Tsar Nicholas the Second, his wife Alexandra, their four daughters Olga, Tatiana, Marie and Anastasia, and their only son Alexei. Tsar Nicholas II was a timid man who never wanted to become emperor. He was a kind man but was not suited for politics. His wife Alexandra was a German princess before she married the Tsar, which was not well looked upon in later years because Germany and Russia were enemies during WWI. She was not well liked by the Russian people and was made the scapegoat of anything that went wrong, namely the genetic cause of the only heir’s ailment. Their youngest child and heir to the Russian throne Alexei was born with Hemophilia, a disease which prevents the clotting of blood and causes incredible discomfort and bruising. Only women can pass along this gene, and only men can be hemophiliacs. Alexandra, as a descendant of Queen Victoria, was responsible in the eyes of the Russian people for giving Alexei the disease.

It was imperative that this terrible secret be hidden from the public. The faith in the Tsar was already waning and the mob could not know that the heir to the throne had a life threatening disease. Any bump or bruise could trigger internal bleeding. Doctors were summoned to stop the bleeding but few knew anything about how to treat it. Gregori Rasputin was considered a holy man, and had made his way into the upper ranks of society. Despite his womanizing and alcoholic ways, he seemed to be the only one capable of stopping the bleeding. Because in the eyes of the Tsarina, Rasputin was the only one who could save her son’s life, he was a man to be trusted and kept close. He held ultimate power and became a dangerous player in the fate of the Romanovs. While the Tsar was on the front lines during WWI, the Tsarina was left alone to run the country. With Rasputin whispering things in her ear, she rarely denied him what he wanted. This fact sparked rumours of an affair between the Tsarina and the monk. Rasputin made the rulers of Russia his puppets. For those of you who haven’t heard the song “Ra Ra Rasputin” by Boney M, should have a listen: It’s a Russian history lesson in a song!

The death of Rasputin is shrouded in legend and mystery. It is said that Rasputin warned that if anyone in the Romanov family should contribute to his death, the entire dynasty would fall within a year. This turned out to be the case. In multiple ways Rasputin was a major contributor to the fall of the Romanovs. He had many enemies in the Russian government who were not pleased that a man of the church could have so much influence. It has been claimed that he was poisoned, and shot several times, before being tossed in the river to drown.

Nearing the end of the war, Russia was a pot that was able to boil over. Nicholas II resigned the throne and the family was taken into captivity for their own protection. They were shepherded across the country, far from their lavish lifestyle at the imperial palace by the Red Army. On the morning of July 17, 1917 the family was awaken in the middle of the night, and ushered into the basement of the Ipatiev House – or the “House of Special Purpose”. They were told that they were going to have a family portrait taken and were arranged in two rows. Then without warning, firing squad-style, the soldiers of the Red Army open fired on the imperial family. They burned and buried the bodies in an attempt to remove all traces of evidence. They rewrote records and tried to erase the history of the family’s existence. This sparked the possibility that one or more of the Grand Duchesses may have survived the massacre and would thereby be entitled to the families inheritance. No surprise, this resulted in an onslaught of impostors claiming to be Anastasia Romanov, none of whom were real.

There is a great documentary that National Geographic did about the discovery of the remains, and the attempt to piece together the last days of the family: The story of the Romanovs remains one of mystery and tragedy. They were canonized as saints in 2000 by the Russian Orthodox Church, a lasting impression on their importance in Russian history.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Beautiful Mind

I was walking home after work last night, looking up at the constellations. I have always been able to find the big dipper before the little dipper, and I want to eventually find my zodiac sign in the stars (Cancer). Star gazing reminded me of the scene from A Beautiful Mind when John Nash (Russell Crowe) and his girlfriend and future wife trace the shapes of an umbrella and an octopus in the sky. I saw A Beautiful Mind when I was in high school; I’m pretty sure in psychology class. The story profiles the early life and descent into schizophrenia of famous American economist John Nash. Although incredibly intelligent, he suffered from a crippling mental illness. His brain was both a blessing and a curse. Schizophrenia is an illness in which the individual loses touch with reality. Sufferers are often unable to act normally in social situations (demonstrated in multiple scenes of the movie,) think logically and experience delusions. There is a thin line between genius and insanity and many of the world’s most brilliant people walk that line.

Renowned German physicist and scientist Albert Einstein is often considered one of the smartest people who ever lived. His brain was donated to science and has been studied extensively trying to pinpoint what made Einstein smarter than the rest of us. The “Father of Physics” also won the 1921 Nobel Prize. He is the epitome of a “mad scientist” although he never demonstrated any sort of mental illness.

Legendary Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh toed this line most of his life. At an early age he was distant from his peers and had few close friends. While his works are now amongst some of the most recognized in the world (Starry Night, Portrait of Dr. Gachet, Night Café, The Potato Eaters, Irises), it is his eccentricity and his notorious cutting off his ear that many associate with the artist. He loved to do portraits, as the people in his paintings helped to fill the void of actual human contact. While filled with an artistic aptitude that few could touch, he was a very troubled and disturbed man. He suffered with anxiety, extreme loneliness and mental illness, taking his life with a gun before the age of 40. He died penniless and unknown and it was only after his death that his influence on the art world would be noted. I watched a wonderful documentary: The Life and Death of Vincent Van Gogh on CBS. For those of you who are interested, I encourage you to check it out:

There has been keen interest into the minds of serial killers. Most serial killers have above average IQ’s and yet have deviated into malice. This combination is what makes them so cunning and difficult to apprehend. The book: My Life Among the Serial Killers: Inside the Minds of the World's Most Notorious Murderers details the exploration of the author into the minds of these criminals. Being compulsive liars, having an underdeveloped emotional capacity, and lacking empathy are all characteristics of these social deviants. From Wikipedia: the Organized type of serial killers are usually of high intelligence, have an above average IQ (105-120 range), and plan their crimes quite methodically, usually abducting victims, killing them in one place and disposing of them in another. They will often lure the victims with ploys appealing to their sense of sympathy. Others specifically target prostitutes, who are likely to voluntarily go with a serial killer posing as a customer. They maintain a high degree of control over the crime scene, and usually have a good knowledge of forensic science that enables them to cover their tracks, such as by burying the body or weighting it down and sinking it in a river. They follow their crimes in the media carefully and often take pride in their actions, as if it were a grand project. The organized killer is usually socially adequate and has friends and lovers, often even a spouse and children. They are the type who, when captured, are most likely to be described by acquaintances as “a really nice guy” who “wouldn’t hurt a fly.” Most of the most prolific criminals fall into this category.

I consider myself a pretty bright person. I have always excelled in school and averaged 120 on the three IQ tests I took. While I am grateful for having the brain I do, it this same organ that reeked havoc on my life for about a year. After having a massive panic attack while in my second year of university, something flipped in my brain. I was worried constantly, mostly about dying. I was paranoid about being alone, for fear that something bad would happen and no one would be there to help me. I was unable to sleep at night, for fear of the dark and the belief that there was someone out there who was out to get me in the night. It consumed my life and was absolutely crippling. During those months I wound up calling 911 on a couple of occasions, thinking I was dying. I don’t even want to know what my blood pressure was like during that time. Trying to explain this to someone who doesn’t have anxiety is very difficult and before I was diagnosed I thought I was going crazy. I didn’t have a name to put to what I was feeling and experiencing – a thought that was even more frightening. As it turns out G.A.D. is very common, affecting nearly one in ten people. I wound up doing 12 weeks of psychotherapy treatment, as I’m not a big believer in taking medication because it doesn’t actually fix the root of the problem. Honestly one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. While the process was painful, I’m far more self-aware now (how I tick), which I think can only make me a better daughter, sister and future girlfriend.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


I watched Juno when I was in my first year of university with my roommate at the time. It had gotten rave reviews in the theatres, so we torrented it and had a girl’s night in complete with popcorn and chocolate covered almonds. Starring Canadians Ellen Page and Michael Cera in the two lead roles, the film tells of the struggles of a teenage couple with an unplanned pregnancy. Ellen Page totally deserved an Oscar nod for her performance. She is smart and witty and totally lovable. Like many teenage couples, they consider adoption because they cannot support this new life and want to give the baby the life that they could not provide. While moments of the film are humorous, unwed teen parents is far from funny.

The MTV series Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant tell the stories of teens all across the United States in this same predicament. While each girl’s story differs (from her family situation, to the length of time she has been with the father of her baby, to how supportive their family is to keeping the baby, to the status of their relationship with the baby daddy) – they are all unprepared, financially unstable and naïve in life. What I find the most disturbing is that there are enough girls across the US who get themselves into this predicament to have three series and counting. It’s a massive responsibility that no teenager needs – and once you have a child, your childhood is over. Having a baby changes everything (not that I would know from experience). I enjoy the series a lot – I find that they don’t sugar-coat the tensions and struggles that teenage parents go through (though I know that they do get paid to be on the show). Growing up is scary enough, and by having unprotected sex teenagers take the chance of being thrust into (no pun intended) adulthood far sooner than they need to.

Bringing a child into this world is difficult even in the best of circumstances. My parents had been together for 4 years and married for 1 year before they had me. They had bought a house, had a car and had all their finances in order. But she suffered from severe postpartum depression with me and had to endure a cesarean section and the pain/ recovery associated with that. Throw in a screaming baby that disrupts your day-to-day life and you have a recipe for emotional ups and downs. They are fully dependent on you and as much as they drive you crazy you have to provide all their needs. My parents planned me, my brother and my sister. No child should be a mistake. With all the contraceptives out there, there really are no excuses. Considering a box of condoms costs around $10.00 and a child is around $10 000/year (including food, clothing, toys, doctor’s appointments, etc) – it’s easy to do the math.

The rise of teenage pregnancy across North America is another reason why I believe that abstinence should not be taught instead of a sexual education class. While abstinence is good in theory – it is rarely ever practiced. Teens are curious and their hormones are raging. Encouraging abstinence also contributes to more teens engaging in oral and anal sex, as they believe it is safer than vaginal penetration. Teens need to be educated and given the tools to deal with this unknown territory; both sex and in their relationships. I never dated when I was in high school and didn’t have my first boyfriend till I was 19, so my parents never really had to deal with any boy drama with me. I didn’t suffer any heartbreak or pregnancy scares, no teen should have to deal with that.

Even at 22 I feel that I would be nowhere close to being ready to have and support a child, let alone 16 years old, like many of the girls from the TV series. I’m having a difficult time as it is supporting just myself and getting by, let alone another life. I’ve noticed recently that the trend seems to be having kids really young (before the age of 20) or quite late (over the age of 35). I come from a small town in Ontario and there are over 60 girls that I went to high school with that now have babies. Another handful are married, and even fewer are both. It’s scary. I think of where I am in life, and I’m nowhere ready to be settling down and having a family. I’m not done all my schooling yet and don’t even have a man in my life for that to even take place. I’m just living my life for me right now. Not that I don’t want those things in the future – it’s just not a priority.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

This movie, based on the book by Steig Larsson, is one of my new favourite series. The late Swedish author created a novel centered around an unusual heroine, Lisbeth Salander – a tattooed, pierced and anti-social personality that has a photographic memory and incredible hacking abilities. The Millennium trilogy (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl who Played with Fire, and The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest) is an action packed, suspense, mystery and romance genre all rolled into one. Lisbeth Salander (the aforementioned girl with the dragon tattoo) is described as having multiple body modifications which renders her even more of an outsider by her peers and co-workers. In the book she is said to have a large dragon tattoo tracing down her back, a tattoo of a wasp (after her nickname on the internet) on her neck, an eyebrow piercing, and nose ring just to name a few.

Body modification has been happening for centuries, and is for aesthetic, affiliation, or religious reasons. The most common type of body modification include piercings and tattoos. Ears, noses, and navels are very common areas to have pierced in today’s society. Other areas one can have pierced are extensive: tongue, lip, genitals, nipples, etc. One of the newer types of body modification are microdermals and transdermals which are placed under the skin and held in place by a type of anchor so that they don’t come out/ move. More bizarre types of body modification include tongue splitting, foot binding, tooth filing and ear gauging. I’m all for the freedom of expression and we live in a free country, but for those people who have extensive body modification when they are young probably aren’t thinking what they’re going to look like in 30 years.

I, like thousands of other people, have piercings and tattoos. I have 6 piercings: 4 in my ear lobes, my helix and my nose done. I also have 3 tattoos: my zodiac sign with 3 stars (representing me, my brother and my sister on my left shoulder), a French quote on my foot that reads: “La vie est un défi à relever, un bonheur a mériter, une aventure à tenter.” French is super important to me – I did my university degree in French and when I become a teacher, it will forever be a part of my life. My last tattoo is a Stephen King quote: “Be brave. Be true. Stand,” between my shoulder blades. King is my favourite author, but the quote also has special meaning to me as it is my motto as part of my recovery from G.A.D. (generalized anxiety disorder). There are 3 more tattoos that I would like to get eventually, but gosh darn they are expensive so I’ll have to be waiting (and saving my money) for a while yet.

I am very supportive of those who wish to get piercings and tattoos, permitted that doing these things won’t prevent future job prospects and that they have meaning (more so the tattoos in this case.) I love the TV series LA Ink, Miami Ink and NY Ink. Kat von D is absolutely incredible. She is a wonderful artist and if I could afford it, I would love if she did one of my tattoos. I’m not a great artist, so I have the utmost respect for artists that are able to transfer artwork onto the skin with only one attempt to get it right. That being said, some of the things that people decide to have permanently put on their skin astounds me. Even Kat von D, as gorgeous as she is – I can’t help but think about what’s she’s going to look like when she’s older. Tattoos that are done in memory of someone I think are a wonderful display of your love for that person, and that is something that is never going to change. Getting the name of your girlfriend on your wrist is not a terribly bright idea. Those people who get Chinese characters don’t strike me as very smart either.

While tattoos are removable by laser, it is an expensive and painful process, so before you get inked you should consider a few things.

a) Check out the prices and shops in your area, look through artists portfolio’s to make sure you feel good about your choice.

b) Colour or black and white? Colour tattoos are more expensive and some tattoos look better in greyscale.

c) Bring a friend with you if it’s your first tattoo (and make it smallish if this is the case). Everyone has a different pain tolerance and it’s always more comforting to have someone there to hold your hand and support you.

d) Think about what you want to have tattooed for a couple of months. Don’t get an impulsive tattoo – you will likely regret it.

e) Placement on your body. Where do you want your tattoo? Will it affect you getting a job if you plan to work in a professional environment? If this is the case, make sure that you get tattooed in a place that is coverable. While not all workplaces discriminate against those with tattoos, take it into consideration.

Happy Inking!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Bacon, le film

This Québécois film, directed by Hugo Latulippe follows the social impact and consequences of the mass-produced meat products here in Canada. The film garnered major recognition being an official selection at film festivals in Barcelona, Montreal, Halifax and Edmonton. The globalization of the meat market but also of the food industry is quite disconcerting. Food rarely comes home-grown on the farm, as it is not profitable. Instead factories and farms are becoming a sort of assembly line, mass producing food for the world and shipping it thousands of miles away. Taking the 200km challenge is incredibly difficult, meaning not eating foods that come from any further than 200 kilometres from your place of residence. The quality of food and meat has decreased immensely. Organic and free range products are still available, but they are harder to find and more expensive. Due to all the pesticides, hormones and treatment of animals in these factory-farms, many people have turned to being vegetarian or vegan.

I was a vegetarian for just over two years. I was a lacto-ovo vegetarian; someone who refuses to give up eggs and dairy products – I could not live without my yogurt, cheese and milk. I also figured it can’t be that healthy to be eliminating major sources of protein and calcium from your diet. I avoided all meat, including seafood (which proved to be my vice). Not eating meat exposed me to a variety of new foods and forced me to get a little creative with my cooking. I tried lentils, bean salads, tofu, ground round, and soy milk for the first time. I would substitute the ground beef in lasagne with sliced zucchini and eggplant, chicken slices with refried beans, sour cream and salsa in fajitas, and traditional beef burgers with Portobello mushroom Swiss ones. It really wasn’t a major ordeal for me. I love all veggies, from broccoli (steamed and smothered in cheese sauce) to celery (with peanut butter and raisins on top) to radishes (with ranch dip) to Brussels sprouts (with butter, pepper and salt).

I didn’t become a vegetarian for moral reasons. I have nothing against eating meat. My father has been a hunter for as long as I can remember and I have eaten most meats known to man from duck to rabbit to venison. I didn’t become a vegetarian even for health reasons. I could probably afford to lose another 10lbs but I’m in pretty good shape and on my multiple doctors’ visits my blood pressure is normal. I became a vegetarian sort of as a challenge to myself. In university I had 4 close friends who were all vegetarians, and I challenged myself to give up meat for just a week, to see if I could do it. The first week was actually pretty easy. I have never been a picky eater, so I didn’t even miss meat in my diet. One week became two weeks, which became a month, which turned into a year. My family wasn’t terribly supportive of this new lifestyle I’d adopted, largely because we were always an omnivorous family. Coming home to visit was always a little touchy just because my mother didn’t cater to my not eating meat, and the main course usually comprised of something chocked full of it.

Even now (no longer a vegetarian) I don’t eat much red meat and I despise pork. I read an article in a magazine talking about how whatever an animal eats turns to meat on their bones. Pigs eat everything, including their own feces – hence all pork products are laced with viruses and e coli. As soon as I found that out, I was completely turned off ham, bacon, and pork chops. I do eat a lot of chicken and seafood. Chicken and seafood contain far less saturated fat than red meat, but still have the same protein content. Both are pretty versatile too. Chicken can be used in fajitas, stews, sandwiches, salads and soup while seafood is awesome in stir-fries, with pasta, and on crackers with cream cheese. Seafood is probably one of my favourite food groups and I cannot imagine being allergic to it. Sushi is divine (anyone who wants to win major brownie points can take me out to a sushi place anytime), scallops are incredible and shrimp are so tiny and yet so tasty.

As it turned out, seafood turned out to be the reason why I didn’t continue being a vegetarian. I caved one day and splurged on seafood lasagne. My mouth exploded with flavour and my resolve collapsed. I started eating fish on a weekly basis, so I could no longer call myself a vegetarian. Fish turned to chicken, which turned into the occasional beef hamburger *gasp*. Even now, I toy with the idea of going back to being a meat-free individual, but I grapple with having to give up seafood again. I really have no issue with not eating beef or chicken again. I don’t eat a lot of foods that are processed – you won’t find sugary cereals (Lucky Charms, Fruit Loops or Count Chocula) or white bread in my cupboards. I do however love a good dark chocolate bar. My last grocery trip consisted of: pumpernickel bread, hummus, giant stuffed olives, yogurt, Cheerios, milk, eggs, 2 cans of condensed mushroom soup, 3 pints of blackberries, ground chicken, chow mien noodles, frozen veggies and almond butter. Food really is the fuel that you put into your body to keep it going. Garbage in, garbage out. I love eating and I love healthy food. While buying organic is not always practical or possible, you can still read the packaging. If you can’t pronounce some of the ingredients, you should leave it on the shelf. Period.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Bowling for Columbine

Bowling for Columbine was the making of director, producer and writer Michael Moore (same man who brought us Fahrenheit 9/11 and Sicko). The focus of the film is the prevalence of guns in American culture, focusing on gun violence and youth; the easy access that anyone has to these deadly weapons and the need to enforce gun control laws. The title references the tragedy at Columbine High School in April 1999, where Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold went on a shooting spree, killing a dozen students and injuring dozens of others with stray bullets. While violence occurs in other countries, the number of gun-related deaths in the United States is ten times greater than any of the other countries mentioned. For those of you who haven’t seen Chris Rock’s stand-up skit about gun control should check it out:

The whole Columbine incident has fascinated me for a number of years. I’ve watched a couple documentaries on it and read a book that came out about a year ago: Columbine by Dave Cullen. In fact, any criminal activity, namely serial killers have mystified and intrigued me for a long time. What possesses people to commit these horrendous acts against other human beings? What makes these individuals tick and how can they possibly think that doing those horrible things is ok? I have never taken a psychology course and I’m no expert in the field but I have read piles of serial killer biographies and the whole field of criminal psychology really peaks my interest. As I consider myself a “normal” person with a conscience and morals, the factors that shaped these people’s lives must have been monumental in their development as young adults and also later in their lives. My life is still being written and only within the last couple of years (and several hours of psychotherapy) have I realized that events in your childhood definitely wire you the way you are.

I have read the biographies of: John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer, Richard Ramirez, Gary Ridgeway, Aileen Wournos, Andrei Chikatilo, Paul Bernardo, Robert Pickton, Levi Bellfield, Albert Fish, Jerry Brudos, Henry Lee Lucas and David Parker Ray just to name a few. In all these cases, they suffered turbulent childhoods, from fetishes, to a severe dislike of women, to abusive fathers, to violence against animals, to abandonment by one or both of their parents. Seeing how important childhood is to the development of a person makes me want to make damn sure I’m ready to bring another life into this world. I really did have a great upbringing. My parents were emotionally, and financially stable. I’m not saying that I’m without my flaws because that’s simply not true. Of course events in my life shaped who I am but I was spared any severe deviations and trauma largely due to, I believe, a stable home life.

TV shows such as the CSI Franchise: Miami, New York and Las Vegas tap into this unnatural way it seems that thousands meet their end. While forensics is often the way that serial killers are brought to justice (either with DNA or fibre matches) and linked with their victims, the way that this evidence is miraculously found irks me. Some of the actors annoy me too, most specifically David Caruso (Horatio Cane on CSI: Miami). He is a horrible actor, and the sunglasses and red hair make me nauseous. He is an absolute joke, as you can see from multiple parodies:

I know that I cannot be the only one with this unusual fascination with the deviated brain. Criminal Minds takes this idea even further, delving into the psychology of humans on a wide scale. Detective Reid (Mathew Gray Gubler) also provides some delicious eye-candy. Each person is unique and their life experiences aren’t the same, but sometimes some of the story-lines and scenarios I find to be a little far fetched (I know it’s a TV show and for entertainment purposes but still.) I’m sure many people have twisted and violent thoughts in a moment of rage, but there are only a small fraction of those people that actually act on those. People who are able to take the life of another have no empathy for others, and no conscience. This is such an unusual concept for me, as I have always had a very guilty conscience, ever regarding the most trivial of things. I feel bad if I’m five minutes late for meeting a friend for coffee, or having to cancel appointments last minute, whereas psychopaths seem to show no remorse or issue with taking the life of another person.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Mean Girls

There are very few people my age that cannot quote parts and pieces from Mean Girls. The film is a cult classic and is chocked full of memorable quotes:

“Four for you Glenn Coco, you go Glenn Coco!”,

“I’m kind of psychic, I have a fifth sense.”

“If you’re from Africa, why are you white?”,

“...and on the third day, God created the Remington bull action rifle, so that man could fight the dinosaurs…and the ho-mo-sex-uals. AMEN!”

The film’s focus is the socialization, cliques and girl on girl victimization in high school, with Lindsay Lohan playing new girl Cady Heron. The movie came out nearly 10 years ago and though I’ve seen it over seven times, it never grows old. One part of the movie that I can relate to is the claim that Cady joining the Matheletes would be “social suicide” in the eyes of both Damian and Regina.

There was never a competitive math team at my high school (and frankly I was never a stellar math student), but there was a trivia team. I have always loved (and been pretty good at) trivia game shows: Jeopardy, Who Wants to be a Millionaire, Are You Smarter that a 5th Grader?,etc. My long term memory has always been good, which is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, I breezed through school and found studying for tests and exams pretty easy. On the other, it is very hard for me to forget painful memories or irrelevant information. My brain is like a sponge, it is constantly absorbing things. I read all the time, so I’m constantly learning things without even really trying.

In Canadian high schools, the principal academic competition circuit is called Reach for the Top. I played for my high school all four years. We never did particularly well as a team, but it was fun and my teammates were all friends of mine. I even got to go on TV three times because of these trivia competitions. The team really didn’t have a coach, so none of us took it very seriously or even practiced to be honest. Our teacher supervisor was incredibly lax about the whole scenario, simply encouraging us to watch Jeopardy every night, and that would count as studying. I loved trivia because it was social, it was a place where I could hang out with my friends and share a pile of laughs over some of the ridiculous things people would answer to the questions. I wasn’t particularly competitive or serious about it, trivia was simply another extracurricular that I did in high school.

When I went to university, I wanted to keep playing trivia. As it turned out, there is no Reach for the Top at that level. There is however NAQT (National Academic Quizbowl Tournaments), often shorted as Quizbowl. I was pretty confident going to my first university trivia practice, after having nearly 4 years of experience playing in high school. I didn’t answer a single question. The structure and difficulty of the questions was substantially different that what I was used to and was pretty overwhelming. I debated whether even or not to go back, but decided that I needed an excuse to meet people outside of my residence and that maybe with time I would get better. This was the case, and once I adjusted to the new system of playing I enjoyed myself a lot more. I wasn’t a particularly strong player that being said. My area of expertise in school (French) is so specific that the opportunity to answer a lot of questions wasn’t there. I guess I consider myself like that athlete in the Olympics who finishes 23rd. Compared to the average population, I’m pretty darn good, but if you throw me into the ring with a bunch of other Quizbowl players, I’m not even a blip on the radar.

I quickly realized my strengths lay in the administrative end of trivia. There are people needed to organize tournaments, moderate the games, score keep, purchase the trophies and prizes, book the rooms, write the questions, and make the schedule for all the teams attending. I was president of my university club for two years. I worked my tail off, ordering team jerseys, hosting and writing questions for 3 fundraiser tournaments to help cover the costs of going to tournaments, staffing the clubs tables to attract new members, and a whole pile of networking with other clubs on campus and the local high schools to promote trivia within the university and the city. It was all voluntary but I did it because I loved it. I was important in the success of the club and the team, and ultimately as president, was in charge of a lot of aspects.

I have also moderated (read and score kept games) at Reach for the Top Nationals for the last two years and plan to do it again in 2012. I fully support any sort of academic competition and to see the best teams in the country is very humbling (I was certainly not that good at their age). I got an official press pass each year, a free t-shirt, a couple of lanyards, as well as an entire weekend in Toronto free of charge (the organization covers the cost of hotel and meals for all moderators). Currently I am also on the executive for the Ontario Quizbowl Association, which promotes Quizbowl to high schools across the province; so that when they encounter NAQT in university it isn’t such a shock. It is interesting to note that Reach for the Top does not like people involved with NAQT. They see Quizbowl as stiff competition in the academic world and don’t want to get pushed out. Reach is a purely Canadian thing, whereas Quizbowl circuits are established all over the United States, Canada and parts of the United Kingdom. All the Ivy League schools in the US play Quizbowl (and Harvard has won Nationals for gosh only knows how many of the last few years.)

There is a large trivia circuit out there, but unless you are involved in it, it remains very much underground. I love learning, which is why I suppose I love trivia. My brain is stuffed full of useless information that no one cares about. But no matter how much I know, there will always be things that I don’t. It is a continual learning process. Like life.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Whale Rider

I watched Whale Rider in my first year of university, while taking a Women’s Studies course. The film actually happened to be my midterm exam, we had to watch the film and write a short essay as to whether we believed the film to be feminist or not. It tells the story of Pai, a young aboriginal girl trying to find her place in her tribe. She is next in line to become chief after the death of her twin brother, but her traditional and patriarchal grandfather believes that role is reserved for males only. Her grandfather is devastated with the death of her brother, and angry that he was left with a “worthless” female heir. He disregards her inheritance as chief and starts a school for the local boys and will choose a leader from among them. Pai, against her grandfather’s wishes eavesdrops on the lessons, besting the tribe boys in fighting stick competitions (which only angers him further) and learning all the traditional songs and rituals. Her persistence pays off at the end of the film when her grandfather asks for her forgiveness and she assumes her role as chief. The film is truly inspirational and portrays the difficulty women face living in a patriarchal society.

I am proud to be a woman. In Canada and other first world nations, as women we often forget the rights and privileges that women in other countries are deprived of. We have the right to choose who we get to marry. While arranged marriages occur in Canada, it occurs only in some cultures and the vast majority of women are able to date whomever they would like. We have the right to vote and select which party will be in power in our constitutional democracy. We have the right to an education, which is a major step towards being financially independent and successful in life. "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."~ Nelson Mandela. Many economists believe that much of the world’s poverty could be eliminated with the education of women. Educated women are able to have jobs and better provide for their children, husbands or extended family. These new skills can be shared with others. Jobs promote the economy, further stimulating growth.

It is unfortunate that in some countries (namely India and China) women are not valued the same as men. Due to the one child policy in China to curb the population, families wanted only sons, someone to carry on the family name and to inherit the family estate. The only two options for families are to kill the baby (often drowning them in the rice paddies) or put the child up for adoption and try again to have a son. As a result, the orphanages in China are flooded with healthy baby girls (who through no fault of their own had the misfortune of being born female). This practice has resulted in a deficit of women, which has resulted in woman being auctioned off to the highest bidder because there are not enough women to marry the number of men in China.

As is custom in India before a marriage, the father of the bride must provide a dowry to the husband’s family. This is very expensive to many families, as poverty is rampant in India. Many young girls are abandoned or killed by their families in order to avoid losing family funds. Simply put, girls are too expensive to feed and clothe, let alone marry and therefore in the eyes of many, do not deserve to live. Another issue concerning the desire to have sons is related to religion. Parents believe that they will not reach Nirvana (heaven) unless they have a son to light the funeral pyre. Couples in poverty who already have five daughters will continue to try to have a son, solely for this purpose.

The “Honour killing” of women occurs mostly in the Middle East and parts of Asia. Women are killed because their husbands, brothers or other male family members believe that they have acted in a way that shames their family. Often this involves dating outside their race, having an affair, having a child out of wedlock, or being homosexual. This act of honour killing occurs in mainly patriarchal societies, where the man is the head of the household and has the ability to control women, simply because he is born male. Due to the absolute dominance of men in these societies, women are rendered powerless. Often honour killings are committed with no rational or justifiable reason, such as in 2008 when a woman was killed in Saudi Arabia by her father for "chatting" to a man on Facebook.

I do consider myself a feminist, but not a radical one by any means. I believe every woman should have the right to their own body (deciding who they have sex with, marry, and when they want to have children). They should also have the right to education. The Because I am a girl campaign addresses gender discrimination around the world. Being a woman, and being aware of women’s issues in other countries, I tend to give to women’s organizations and support the female gender. My sponsor child last year was a 12 year old girl from Bangladesh, and all the Christmas shoe boxes I filled were always for girls aged 10-12. I fully support organizations that promote women’s rights and help thousands of girls get out of poverty. Anything that can be considered a woman’s issue should be a human rights issue, and any transgressions should not be tolerated.

Monday, November 14, 2011


Wimbledon, starring Kirsten Dunst and Paul Bettany came out in 2004, right before I really started following tennis. This rom-com tells the story of budding tennis star Lizzie and the should-be-retired former star of the male circuit Peter. An expected encounter between the two gives Peter new hope that he may stand a chance at the title this year. Sparks fly, much to the dismay of Lizzie’s father as she is neglecting her practice. The usual communication problems occur, as with any romantic comedy flick, and Peter finds himself in the finals. He confesses his love for her during an interview, Lizzie returns says all is forgiven; Peter wins his title, proposes to her which (of course) she accepts. They have two children (a boy and a girl of course) and watch them play tennis at their new home. It’s all a little fairy taleish for me. In fact, there are very few tennis couples on the ATP or WTA circuit, and none of them have met like that.

I’ve been an avid follower of tennis since I was 16, the same year that my high school decided to hold tryouts for the school tennis team. I’ve played badminton since I was about 9, and I figured the two were pretty similar (the lines on the court, serving cross-court, etc). The racquet is substantially heavier than my 30 gram badminton racquet. A tennis ball actually comes into contact with the court before you hit it as well, unlike a badminton birdie. I made the school team, and went on to place 4th at Regionals.

Roger Federer was number one in the world at that time and even those people, who are not huge fans, cannot help but admire certain qualities of his. He is a great athlete. Anyone who is able to stay in the top ten in the world in their sport is in remarkable shape. Federer is now 30 years old, and is still 4th in the world. He has great sportsmanship and has won the Laureaus sportsman of the year award over Tiger Woods and other great athletes multiple times. Born in Switzerland, Federer is fluent in English, French and High German. As a person who loves languages, I find this admirable. He has won every Grand Slam (Wimbledon, French Open, US Open and the Australian Open) at least once. As if there wasn’t enough to admire, he is also a family man now, marrying his long-time girlfriend Mirka Vavrinec and having twin girls. Federer was my favourite player for nearly a year until I stumbled across the likes of Rafael Nadal. Their rivalry has been one of the best on the ATP circuit, and although they meet in the finals often, they are good friends.

I have been smitten with the Spanish tennis star for over 6 years. Anyone who knows anything about me can attest to this. One look in my bedroom and I suppose it’s pretty obvious: every wall is adorned with posters, pictures of him and one wall even has the Spanish flag. I have his Vamos Rafa ball cap, a “Got Nadal?” t-shirt, and a copy of his biography which I have read cover-to-cover. I suppose initially I liked him because of his looks, but over the years his talent is undisputable. He has won the French Open six times in the last seven years (earning him the nickname “King of Clay”), won the gold medal at the 2008 Olympics and completed his career grand slam in 2010 by winning the US Open at the age of 24. Currently ranked 2nd in the world after Serbian Novak Djokovic, Rafa is without a doubt my favourite athlete. There’s really nothing that’s not to like: he’s humble, he’s talented, he’s Spanish (and has the most gorgeous accent in interviews) and he’s a philanthropist. I actually got to see him play live at the Roger’s Cup in Toronto in August 2010, a small stop on the ATP circuit. I wound up getting tickets to one of the semi-finals and luck was on my side apparently. Though he wound up getting beaten by Andy Murray, the entire game was so surreal. I WAS IN THE SAME BUILDING AS RAFAEL NADAL! I took dozens of pictures as you can imagine; probably the best day of that entire year.

Back to couples on the tennis circuits…as I mentioned before, it doesn’t really happen. Most couples are from different walks of life, and if they do happen to meet through tennis, one of them has usually already retired. A relationship of two active players is not likely to work, as both circuits have their own schedules and destinations for tournaments. Roger Federer’s wife Mirka was a tennis player too – they met at the 2000 Sydney Olympics but she soon retired due to injury. Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf are another tennis couple – meeting after they won their respective titles at the 1999 French Open, but Graf retired a few months later and she continued to support him in his career. For those of you who have not done so yet, I encourage you to read Open by Andre Agassi. I really didn’t know much about Agassi, as he took his retirement in 2007, just as I was really getting into the sport. Even if you don’t follow tennis as closely as I do, it is an engaging, at times disturbing and eye-opening account of the life of one of the greatest tennis players in the Open Era.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


I never have fully understood what draws people to any given interest. Since Grade 8, the history of the Roman Empire has completely fascinated me, most specifically the period of time revolving around Julius Caesar. Caesar was truly a remarkable character from what I’ve read in multiple history books and also the myth built around him. He and his heir Octavius can be held responsible for the transformation of Rome from a republic to a monarchy. The roman statesman and general was born into a wealthy family and quickly gained notoriety on the battlefield with his conquests in Gaul which extended the borders of the empire (during which he wrote his own accounts of his victories) and his political manoeuvres. He, along with Pompey and Crassus formed the first triumvirate in 60BC. With the death of Crassus at the hands of the Parthians, the relationship between the two remaining men became strained and a power struggle began. Pompey who held power in the senate was forced to take up arms when Caesar crossed the Rubicon with his troops, resulting in civil war. Caesar’s power was unrivalled and he assumed his authority over the entirety of the empire. He was declared emperor for life, though his dictatorship was cut short by a group of senators who conspired to have him murdered in the Senate. Even in death, Caesar’s legacy remains; the Russian word tsar and German word kaiser both take their meaning from the root of caesar. We still use the Julian calendar, and the month of July (my birth month) is named after Caesar himself. I’m not entirely certain how Caesar salad got its name, but it is yet another example of something that bears the name of the Roman emperor.

Ridley Scott’s Gladiator takes place long after the assassination of Caesar on the Ides of March, during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, the last of the “Five Good Emperors”. Aurelius was not murdered by his son like in the film. However, the film accurately portrayed the eccentricities of his son Commodus, from his extreme paranoia to his desire to be a gladiator and be worshipped by the masses. He was an egotist (who thought of himself as a demigod and had several statues created depicting himself as Hercules) with neurotic tendencies and his rule as Emperor was highly criticized. Commodus was not politically nor military savvy which resulted in multiple conspiracies and attempted coups by other members of the administration. He participated and put on lavish gladiatorial shows in an attempt to remain popular with the people, but this did not win him much praise. He charged the people outrageous amounts to see him appear in the arena and would slaughter hundreds exotic animals. Commodus was eventually poisoned and strangled in his bath by those closest to him.

The character of Maximus (Russell Crowe) is based on several military men in Rome and gladiators of that time period but never existed as a historical figure. Gladiators in Rome did achieve celebrity status after winning battles and in a way can be viewed like movie stars today. They drew large crowds and were the objects of desire of many women, who would sneak into the lodgings of the gladiators after hours to have rendezvous’. The movie, which came out in 2000, not surprisingly won the Best Film Oscar. It was relatively historically accurate and the story of good triumphing over evil is always a crowd pleaser. Maximus did eventually get his vengeance for the slaughter of his wife and son, succeeding in killing Commodus and joining his loved ones in the afterlife. The movie is visually stunning, and the immensity of the Coliseum is overwhelming. I have every intention of visiting Italy at some point to see the ruins of the Roman Empire. It is remarkable that remnants of this iconic period still remain standing to this day.

Though there are hundreds of historical sources pertaining to the Roman Empire, written by philosophers and thinkers of the time, many people still have the typical images of Rome in their heads. Eating grapes while lying on lounge chairs, with servants fanning them, all wearing togas with a crown of laurel leaves is often the first image conjured up. I took a Roman civilization course in university, which was a combination of the history and culture of the empire, starting with the founders of Rome (Romulus and Remus) to the fall of the empire with the evasions of the Germanic tribes and eventual sack of Rome. It was an interesting and enlightening history of one of the greatest periods in human history. Not to mention my professor was amazing. Part of one class was dedicated to showing us how to properly put on a toga (which is far more difficult than you might think). We covered things from all the different types of gladiators there were, to the interesting fact that many of the “bad” emperor’s names start with the letter “C”: Caracalla, Commodus and Caligula. I think I only missed one class all semester just because it was so interesting. I love learning new things. Though I was not a history major, much can be learned from the mistakes of the past – not just in the world but in our personal lives.