Just a ramble

Kathy Larson
Feb. 20, 2022

It’s Sunday morning, it’s cold outside, and I really don’t feel like doing much of anything.

I’ve become hooked on the game Wordle. Have my sisters to thank for that. Lol. I am very happy that they introduced me to it though — it’s my early morning addiction and I can’t wait to see how I have done compared to them. What I love about Wordle is that it is a relatively quick game; solve the word of the day and you’re done. Once I’ve solved it and shared my score (usually 5/6, sometimes 4/6) I am happy to get on with the rest of my day. I don’t waste any time thinking about mistakes I made or if I can do better on the next challenge — it’s done, and that’s it until I open it up the next morning.

I also like the brief connection with my sisters first thing in the morning. Most days we only share our scores, but occasionally we add a few words of conversation. It’s a small thing, but a good thing.

This week I began writing again. For real. It has been a long, long struggle to get back to wanting to write. For so many years I just pushed writing aside, choosing to do anything else, where once upon a time I did anything I could to find any extra scrap of time that I could use to indulge my passion.

When I sat down at the keyboard for the first time this past week I was amazed at how familiar it felt, how absolutely lovely it was to see words appearing as I typed them. I don’t even care if most of them are garbage — I’m just so happy to be doing something that makes me happy. For years I’ve treated myself as a failure for not having made a successful career out of my writing; I wouldn’t write because I judged myself too harshly.

Then, I read Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, and I realized just how much I missed writing. Words make me happy. Stringing words together in sentences makes me ecstatic. Joining sentences together into paragraphs, into pages, into chapters and essays makes me positively starry-eyed. For too long I’ve been focused on the wrong thing — trying to impress others, to seek validation in their opinions — when, really, I only ever had to worry about myself.

This past summer I boxed up all but a few of my manuscripts, my files of story ideas, my files of weird news articles, strange phrases gleaned from conversations, images clipped from magazines, words scrawled on bits of napkins, receipts and corners of pages torn from notebooks, because I had given up on myself as a writer. It was something I tried, I told myself, something else that I had failed at.

I think when I did that a switch got stuck somewhere inside me — like a light switch that is stuck halfway between on and off. The light will flicker intermittently until someone comes along and flicks it all the way one way or the other. All the empty space in my office that had been filled for so long with pages and pages of words that I had written kept flickering in my mind’s peripheral vision, like that cluster of stars in the night sky that you only see when you’re not looking directly at them.

Thank God, thank the muses, thank the Divine, thank the guardians, guides and angels — thank the Universe — that I decided to flip the switch to on.

I like feeling happy again.

A few thoughts on happiness

by Kathy Larson

Feb. 16, 2022

I just finished reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. This wasn’t a book I sought out on my own. It was given to me by my sister-in-law, Connie. She said it was okay; I said I’d give it a try.

From the beginning I was a little skeptical about someone writing about trying to bring more happiness into their life, or, more specifically, about them trying to determine if they were happy in their life. I thought it would just be another one of those painful self-awareness books exhorting us all to be our best selves!, or live our best life!, topics for which I have very little patience.

In hindsight I think that could have been a clue.

It didn’t take long for me to figure out that I didn’t have a clue about whether I was happy or not. I thought I was happy, but was I? Really?

Certainly, life had not turned out the way I had imagined it would some forty-odd years ago when I was a 21-year-old bride staring into a future that seemed to stretch on forever.

We think we know ourselves when we’re that age, think we know EVERYTHING, and think there is nothing we can’t do. Then life happens and before you know it you’re struggling to keep up, struggling to change with every new day, every new challenge. You’re learning that you don’t really know who you are, don’t really know anyone, for that matter, and it scares you. Luckily, you also learn how to grow up, to face your fears, to meet your challenges, and, even if the results are not always what you thought or hoped they’d be, you learn to accept them and ready yourself for whatever comes next.

Then, forty years go by. One day you look at yourself and wonder who you are. Wonder who the man you married is. Wonder where the people you thought you were went. You start reading a book on happiness and your mind is flooded with questions. All of them leading to one single question: Am I happy?

If I rate myself according to Rubin’s Eight Splendid Truths I would say I am semi-happy. I try to make others happy by being happy myself; like most people, though, this is tough to do ALL. THE. TIME. I try to focus on things in my life that make me happy. This one is even tougher to accomplish, because I tend to end up feeling guilty and selfish if I spend too much time focusing on things that only make me happy. Then, I don’t feel happy anymore. Catch-22 anyone?

Her Fourth Splendid Truth states that ‘you’re not happy unless you think you’re happy”. Huh? I’ve tried going about my day telling myself ‘you are happy!” over and over again, but when there is evidence to the contrary floating all around me I end up feeling silly and beleaguered and resentful. Anything but happy.

I won’t go through all the Splendid Truths, just suffice it to say that they boil down to something we all know and have heard a million times – you alone are responsible for your own happiness and no one else’s. You can make people happy by being happy, but, no one can make you happy, and you can’t make someone be happy if they choose not to be.

Generally speaking I’d say I’m a reluctant optimist. I believe that things will work out — eventually — and I accept that they may not work out exactly as I’d like. I believe that most people are good at heart — even though they may do things that would seem to prove otherwise. Though the glass is half full for me, I’m extremely careful about where and how I set it down — in case it spills and I’m left with nothing. My proven strategy to getting through life is to expect the best and prepare for the worst.

Perhaps not the best recipe for happiness, but it’s gotten me this far.

After finishing The Happiness Project I immediately began contemplating starting my own happiness project. Because it’s apparent that I could stand to be a little more happy. The problem is that thinking about getting started has made me feel very unhappy. At this particular time in my life I’m dealing with a whole lot of stress and uncertainty and though it sounds counter-intuitive, taking time to focus on my personal happiness just seems impossible.

So, I’ll keep doing what I’ve always done — take each day as it comes — and approach it every morning with a positive attitude and the belief that today will be a good day. Maybe it won’t be a particularly happy day, but it can be a good day.

I liked Rubin’s book; it gave me a lot to think about. In the end, though, I think it’s as simple as this: Happiness is a choice — you can choose to be happy or you can choose to not be happy. Maybe choosing happiness is the harder choice, but it’s also the better choice. As the Grail Knight says to Indiana Jones: Choose wisely.

Full circle — A bowl of oatmeal

by Kathy Larson

As a kid I ate a lot of oatmeal. Our family was large — eight kids, my mom and dad, usually a dog and one or two cats — and we were poor. Not destitute poor, or heartbreakingly poor, but with my dad being a Corporal in the Canadian Forces and my mom employed solely in the raising of us, well, there just wasn’t a lot of money.

Staple foods were a large part of our diet. Bread, potatoes, pasta, root vegetables, canned vegetables, hamburger, hotdogs, bologna, apples, oranges — these made up the base of many of our meals. And then there was oatmeal. Until I was in my teens and the financial situation got a little better in our house we had oatmeal almost every day for breakfast.

You’d think my brothers and sisters and I would hate the stuff, but there’s not one of us that does. For sure, they don’t eat it every day anymore, but in talking to them recently they all said how they love a bowl of hot oatmeal (with lots of brown sugar and milk, of course) every now and then.

The stuff my mom made was always the Quaker brand 5 minute oats — she could whip up a big pot of that in no time and we would all help ourselves from the pot as we filed downstairs each morning before heading out the door to school or play. The bag of brown sugar was on the middle of the table — a big old picnic table my dad had assembled in the kitchen — the only thing big enough to seat us all at — along with a bag of milk in its little plastic holding jug.

Bagged milk! Still sold in Ontario. Not sure about Manitoba where we grew up. It would be delivered twice a week to our door, two three packs at a time, and still we would run out in between. Eight kids — thats a lot of bones.

For a while after I left home I didn’t eat oatmeal at all. It was beneath me. Oh, the ridiculous ideas we have when we’re young. Then I got married and started a family of my own and oatmeal entered the picture again. It was the perfect food for a toddler — and I could put anything in it — bananas, strawberries, chocolate syrup — and my son would gobble it up. The only thing he wouldn’t eat in it was raisins. He would spit those at me every time.

Though I started out making the quick-cooking oats just as my mom had, one day I switched to buying the instant type oatmeal. It came in so many flavours and was so ridiculously fast to make that I couldn’t help thinking what a no-brainer it was. It was shortly after that that my son decided he didn’t like oatmeal anymore. And I had to agree with him, I no longer liked it as much, either. It didn’t taste like oatmeal should. It was gluey and salty and chemical tasting. I went back to making the stuff I had to cook myself, but the damage was done and pouring from a box was just simpler, so we switched to cold cereal. To this day I don’t think my son has ever eaten oatmeal again.

About 15 years ago my husband went through a phase of eating oatmeal. Every. Single. Day. He had read an article about what a super food it was and so once a month while watching Star Trek on television he would make up a month’s worth of little plastic bags of oatmeal mixed with raisins, craisins, nuts, dried fruit and artificial sweetener. Every morning he’d grab one of these bags, nuke his oatmeal in the microwave and eat it as he made the drive into town to work. We went through a lot of lost bowls during that phase. Eventually, he grew tired of eating the same thing every morning and those little bags of oatmeal languished in the pantry til well beyond the best-before date.

Despite not having oatmeal as a breakfast staple anymore I always kept a bag of it on hand. For cookies, to add to meatloaf, to add to bread when I baked it and for that occasional nostalgic moment when I longed for the feeling of comfort and home that nothing but a bowl of hot, brown-sugary oatmeal could supply.

Lately, I’ve returned to eating oatmeal most mornings. A couple of years ago my doctor prescribed cholesterol medication and that got me thinking about how to avoid having to take it. (Unfortunately, according to my doctor and a bunch of on-line research, avoidance isn’t good practice) so I grudgingly take it. Still, it made me take a hard look at what and how I eat and I’ve made changes. One of those changes is to include oatmeal in my morning routine.

Just about every day, after my morning glass of water and my first cup of coffee are out of the way, I make myself a bowl of oatmeal. I add a handful of seeds and nuts, some dried fruit, a teaspoon of brown sugar and splash of some form of milk alternative.

It’s not the same as mom used to make, but it sure is inspired by her.

I stayed home; my politicians didn’t

Talk about starting the New Year off on a sour note. Politicians all across Canada decided to take ‘well-earned and necessary’ vacations during the holidays. Even though they knew it was wrong.

I don’t believe any of the bullshit excuses that have been offered to explain away their stupidity; it all boils down to one thing and one thing only — elitism. Because they are in positions of power the rules just don’t apply. They all know that the little people (you and me) are powerless to do anything about their transgressions. And, so what if they get their hands slapped? They still got a tan, still got to enjoy swim-up bars, sun, sand and an escape. Yeah, they’ll face a few angry letters and phone calls, but, in the end, it will be business as usual. They’ll continue to take our money and our trust and laugh while they’re doing it.

I have taken government restrictions seriously. My family and friends have done the same. We gave up gathering together to celebrate EVERYTHING because we were told it was our responsibility and our duty in order to protect the most vulnerable amongst us. I have been sad, angry, depressed, morose, miserable, and fearful for the better part of a year. I want to plan holidays, I want to travel across Canada to visit my mother and siblings, I want to go out for dinner; I want my life back.

Should I just say to hell with it, I’ve done enough? Start ignoring the restrictions, stop wearing a mask, hop on a plane, defy government orders?

Or should I become a politician? Apparently, it makes you immune in a pandemic – no shots required.

Christmas Countdown — Day ?

by Kathy Larson

Predictably, I am behind in my goal to write every day about the Christmas/holiday themed movies we’ve been watching. What can I say? Life happens.

But I am here now, at the keyboard, attempting to remember everything we’ve watched and what I/we thought about it. Here goes: (these are in no particular order)

  1. Big Bake Holiday — I watched an episode of this just to see what it was all about. As the name suggests it’s about baking big things. In this case it was cakes, and they had to have an animated feature. The three teams who squared off in the episode I watched made a shotgun house in New Orleans complete with a working iconic street lamp; a California beach house with a little pink convertible that glowed in the dark; and the team from Thunder Bay, Canada(!) made a Japanese pagoda with a top that rotated. It was interesting to see how these bakers accomplished their designs, but the most amazing thing about it all for me was the fact the cakes were edible. That was an important criteria, and I guess, for people who have enough money to hire someone to make them a 4 or 5 foot tall cake with movable parts and working lights it would be an expectation. The team from Canada won, which made me smile, but I won’t be watching this show again.
  2. Black Christmas — we decided to mix things up a little and watch a horror/slasher movie. This wasn’t dreadful, but it wasn’t good, either. I was saddened to see Cary Elwes, of The Princess Bride fame in this one. Elwes is a good actor, I don’t know why he continues to make such dreadful movies as this one and The Purge series. Anyway. . .
    . . .this movie takes place at a college, Hawthorne College, to be exact and it is Christmas break. Most of the girls have left for the holidays and the plot centers around a few who either not going home or taking their sweet ol’ time getting on the road. Girls start getting mysteriously, and hilariously, killed, but no-one notices until it’s too late. There is a plucky heroine, who has suffered terribly in the past at the hands of a not-so-nice super-popular guy from one of the best fraternities, and her band of merry sisters, who save one, are all dispatched by the evil bad guys led by, you guessed it — Cary Elwes.
    Like I said it’s not dreadful, but unless you’re desperately in need of a switch from holiday goo, I’d avoid this one.
  3. The Holiday — this one is favourite of mine. I’ve seen it several times and it always makes me laugh and cry and feel really good when it’s over. Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, and Jack Black are the primary characters and Eli Wallach stars as an old Hollywood writer who Kate Winslet befriends.
    Released in 2006 it is the story of two women who are terrible at being in love and who decide to swap places for the holidays and try to forget about the men in their lives. Iris (Kate) is from Surrey, England, while Amanda (Cameron) is from, you guessed it, LA. It’s a sweet, rather predictable story, but the acting is wonderful and Kate Winslet is a joy to watch. As is Jude Law — that man is gorgeous! You’re not going to go wrong cuddling up with someone special to watch this movie.
  4. Santa Fake — this is a puzzling little movie. It’s available on Prime and was released in 2019. It stars Damian McGinty (Celtic Thunder), John Rhys-Davies, Jeff Fahey, Heather Morris and Judd Nelson.
    This is a story about a young Irish lad come to America who gets mixed up with a New York crime boss, ends up on the run and then disguises himself as a shopping mall Santa Claus in Santa Fe, New Mexico in order to avoid the hitmen sent to kill him. It sounds like it should be a helluva lot of fun, but it’s actually just kind of a mess. McGinty sings — thank goodness — because that makes sitting through this holiday mess of a movie more than a little tolerable.
    This is family friendly entertainment, it’s gentle and humourous and it’s not going to make you think too terribly hard. If you watch this one, you’ll probably be scratching your head at the end going: whaaaat?
    The bonus of watching this one? Doing a YouTube search after for performances by Celtic Thunder. They are amazing.

    Hallelujah!

Christmas Countdown — Day 5

by Kathy Larson

On day five we watched Love the Coopers. If you haven’t seen this one it was released in 2015 and stars Diane Keaton and John Goodman. They are a 60-ish couple whose relationship is in crisis and they are hosting what is to be one final family Christmas before they part ways. There is an eclectic cast of supporting characters that make up their extended, slightly wacky family.

This is a fun, funny movie, not too heavy on the syrup and with just enough charm that you don’t mind watching it again. Are the Coopers maybe a tad too wonderful? Perhaps, but we don’t really mind as we watch their various stories unfurl and they all find the happily ever after ending that we want them to find. This is Christmas, after all.

The performances in this movie are all good, all believable. Diane Keaton always amazes me with how beautiful she is and how absolutely effortless her acting seems. John Goodman does a good job as her husband of 40 years who is only giving up on their marriage because he can’t seem to get her attention anymore. All the other characters are well acted and believable, even if they are a little unbelievable. Even Rags, the dog, who narrates the story and is voiced by Steve Martin, is impeccable. He is a beautiful looking dog, has incredibly expressive eyes, and steals scenes while he’s stealing food off plates.

It was nice to curl up on the couch with my blanket and mug of warm cider and watch this one. I laughed, I cried and then I went to bed feeling I’d been fairly entertained.

Love the Coopers was playing on standard cable, but we opted to find it on Netflix so that we didn’t have to watch a bunch of commercials. Hope you enjoy it.

Are those sleigh bells I hear?

Christmas Countdown — Day 4

by Kathy Larson

Today’s choice was Jingle Jangle, A Christmas Journey. This is a Netflix original movie, released this November.

I had high hopes for this one based on the trailer. It stars Forest Whitaker, Ricky Martin, Keegan-Michael Key, Anika Noni Rose and Phylicia Rashad. The cast is nicely rounded out by a host of other talented actors. The special effects in this one also play a starring role.

It’s a simple plot: man has everything, man loses everything, man becomes bitter and turns his back on life. Jump forward 30 or so years and he is forced, through the machinations of an innocent, equally talented as himself grandchild, to confront his fears and embrace life again.

This is a musical — however, the singing is kept to a minimum, and there are only a handful of stunning, though sadly repetivive, dance scenes. The sets, costumes and musical score are all beautiful — you definitely know that this is a fantasy. Victorian England, or wherever the story is supposed to be taking place, never looked so clean or colourful.

The movie was . . . okay. I wish I could say it was fantastic, but it just wasn’t. Despite all the lavishness, and the depth of the actors involved it fell flat. Whitaker seems to sleepwalk through his role, while others seem to go way over the top in trying to deliver their performances. The shiningest light in the whole movie is young Madalen Mills, who plays Journey. She has a lovely voice, and brought to her character a simple and honest portrayal of a young girl trying to forge a relationship with her grumpy grandfather.

This is family friendly entertainment. If I was going by a star rating I’d give Jingle Jangle 2.5 stars out of 5.

Jingle, jingle, jangle!

Christmas Countdown — Day 3

by Kathy Larson

Day 3 was a bit of a struggle. I wasn’t feeling particularly festive after what can only be described as a ‘trying’ day. But, I persevered and after a little bit of searching I stumbled upon It Happened One Christmas.

The movie was released in 1977 and it stars Marlo Thomas. Remember her? Danny Thomas’ daughter, star of That Girl and The Marlo Thomas Show. For a while Marlo was a huge star on television and personified the all-American, girl next door. I remember watching That Girl, it was funny and, for its time, groundbreaking.

But, we are not here to discuss old tv shows. We are here to talk about It Happened One Christmas.

Essentially, this movie is a reimagining of It’s a Wonderful Life, with the main character roles reversed. Instead of George Bailey we have Mary Bailey. Instead of Mary Hatch we have George Hatch. It was a simple character switch that allowed the main plot of the movie to stay the same. Another character shift was to replace Clarence the angel, second class with Clara the angel, same designation. Cloris Leachman played Clara, and honestly, she was simply awful. It was a good thing that her role was much smaller in this adapted version of the story than was Henry Travers’ in the original.

Despite the movie hailing from 1977 it was easy to watch and not at all as dated as you might expect. That is due to the fact that they kept it true to the era of the original film — 1928 — so costumes, scenery, and attitudes were essentially the same. Bedford Falls was recognizable as Bedford Falls, supporting characters looked and sounded enough like their original counterparts that I sometimes found myself thinking they were the same actors from the 1946 IAWL.

The major changes were subtle, but important. In this version you have a strong, independent woman who wants to chart her own course through life, but, like her male counterpart George in the original story, sacrifices her personal goals and desires for the good of her family and community. The important distinction, however, is that Mary Bailey is the representation of the true feminist ideal that was being pursued in the last half of the twentieth century. She was smart, strong, beautiful, knew her own mind, was unselfish, thoughtful, and caring. On top of that she ran a successful business, managed to have and raise four children, looked after her injured war-hero husband and happily took a backseat to her younger brother’s dreams and aspirations. Through it all she remained perfectly put together, with impeccable clothes and beautifully done hair and make-up. And, unlike George Bailey, she never shows any frustration or anger at her situation (other than when she wishes she had never been born, there is no way that could have been left out of the story). Other than that one lapse, she is a stoic and smiling figure of the EVERY WOMAN all women should strive to be.

At least in the 70s. Now, of course, we know that for women to try and be all that is ridiculous. And exhausting. And not good for our mental health.

Political overtones aside, as in the original, this is charming little movie. It is not nearly as good as the original with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed, but I didn’t expect it to be. If you’re looking for a feel-good movie the whole family can enjoy this will fill the ticket. We found it on Prime.

Happy holidays!

Christmas Countdown — Day 2

by Kathy Larson

Okay, so today I watched two Christmasy/holiday shows.

  1. The Holiday Baking Championship — I actually started watching this about a month ago. It’s a ton of fun. Jesse, the hunky host, who is actually a former NFL player, does a great job leading the show, introducing the day’s challenges, as well as adding some gentle humour. Today’s show saw the contestants get whittled down to six.
    I’m always amazed at what these bakers can whip up in the allotted hour to ninety minutes they’re given. Sometimes the ingredients are more than a little bizzare. Like the time they had to make a holiday dessert based on an ingredient from a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Sage? Balsamic vinegar? Sausage? In the end they all presented some pretty astounding, and according to the judges, delicious desserts.
    This is a fun way to while away some COVID hours and get a little inspired to try some holiday baking. Check it out.
  2. Die Hard — Now some may argue that this is not a holiday movie, but I am firmly rooted in the camp that believes it is. It takes place on Christmas Eve, in New York (no city in the world dresses itself up better for the holidays than New York!), there is Christmas music playing during much of the movie, and who can dispute that Alan Rickman is the grinchiest Grinch that ever was?
    This movie is a classic. Originally released in 1988, it has stood up well and I had as much fun watching it this time (probably my twelfth, though I can’t honestly say for sure) as I did the first time. You can’t help but cheer for John McLean and I can barely watch without flinching every time he pulls all that broken glass out of his poor, battered bare feet.
    If you have been living under a rock and never seen the film (the best one, imho) then do yourself a favour and grab a bowl of popcorn, a pillow to grab on to and enjoy a fun, fun, fun ride.

    Well, that’s what I watched today. Hope this gives you some ideas for your own quarantine-until-Christmas television watching.

    Ho!Ho!Ho!

Christmas countdown. . .Day 1

by Kathy Larson

So, like most of the rest of the world we are essentially in lockdown again because of COVID 19. No one has actually said the dreaded l-word, but come on, we can’t invite anyone into our homes who doesn’t already live there, we’re restricted to ordering take-out (if we’re brave enough), and nearly every form of mass social interaction has been put under closure or extremely close to it. The only busy places these days are hospitals and emergency rooms.

God bless all the doctors, nurses and other front-line health care workers who continue to make sacrifices on our behalf. I am sure when this pandemic is finally over that there will be an annual global day of recognition instituted to pay tribute to their heroic efforts.

But this post is not a rant about COVID. No, it is about trying to get into the Christmas spirit.

And, I have decided that one way to do that, besides decorating super, super early, is to watch a Christmas or holiday themed movie or show every day from now until the BIG day.

This actually started a couple of weeks ago when I watched Bridget Jones’ Diary for the umpteenth time. Then I watched Last Christmas. Followed by The Man Who Invented Christmas.

I thought my pace of watching schmaltzy holiday movies was pretty good, though indulging a little early, but, what the hey. Then, new, tighter, more restrictive measures were put in place in the ongoing battle to manage the pandemic and I thought, somethings gotta change. Seeing as I’ve got to spend the bulk of my retired life cooped up in the house I might as well try and enjoy my time. Thus, the idea I mentioned above, was born.

It began in earnest last night with The Christmas Chronicles. If you haven’t watched this one yet, then do. It’s tons of fun, Kurt Russel is amazing as a pretty hot Santa, it’s cute but not too-cute, and it’ll leave you feeling good without having your heart torn out and stomped into fake snow. It’s playing on Netflix right now, but I’m pretty sure it can be found on many other stations. (Is that an old-fashioned reference?) Lol. You’ll figure it out.

I’ll be back tomorrow with a brief run-down of what I watched today.

Jingle, jingle!