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Harry’s Bar

Like many of you, I was appalled at the chaos unleashed at the U.S. Capitol the other day. It was especially sad to see that beautiful building, a place many of us have been to, invaded by swarms of ugly, hateful rioters.

My one and only visit there was in June 2019, when my husband and I took off for a whirlwind trip to New York City and Washington. Our good friends joined us for the NYC part of the trip, but we visited Washington on our own.

To be honest, I wasn’t all that excited about the idea of going to Washington. For one thing, the occupier of the White House did not impress me much. But my husband had always been interested in visiting the city, so I tagged along.

We took the train from New York through Philadelphia, along the Delaware River past Wilmington, Baltimore and finally into Washington D.C. It was a great way to see a little bit of the eastern coast of the U.S.

We booked an older hotel, not far from the National Mall and within walking distance of many of Washington’s landmarks and museums. On our first afternoon and evening, we took a bus tour to get our bearings and to see the sights at night.

I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the city. The architecture was impressive, especially the Capitol building. The history represented in places like the Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson Memorials, was inspiring. And there were so many museums. We could easily have spent weeks there exploring it all. I was especially moved by the Korean Veteran’s War Memorial, where we witnessed two vets, both in wheelchairs, introduce themselves to each other, sharing their memories of that time.

We did manage to drop by the Whitehouse. I was a little hesitant to go at first, but we found out that the Orange One was off golfing somewhere at the time, so that made the visit somewhat easier to stomach. And what gave me a little sense of hope were the other members of the public who were there, out on the street in front of the White House, protesting his presidency. A man stood on a riser with a megaphone and spoke out against many Trump transgressions. Another fellow seemed to be a permanent fixture, living in a tiny trailer across the street plastered with protest signs.

But we also noticed the numerous souvenir vendors along the way, selling pro-Trump paraphernalia. Bobble heads and MAGA hats, t-shirts and buttons. People were gleefully buying all this stuff.

At one point, we saw a busload of what appeared to be high school students, disembarking for a tour of the Capitol building. A number of them were wearing those unmistakable red caps, which was particularly disappointing. So young, and likely completely unaware of what that hat actually meant.

All of these things were like ugly scars on an otherwise beautiful city. This historic and distinguished community had been crashed by a nasty clown.

I’ve mentioned our hotel, which seemed to be a good deal when I booked it. It was an older building and the room we stayed in was pretty much stuck in the 70s, but it had everything we needed. Downstairs there was a restaurant and bar that we tried out a couple of times. And, of course, there was a souvenir shop with MAGA hats. Groan.

Harry’s Bar was a little bit dark, but certainly colourful, with stained glass light fixtures and red soda fountain chairs from some other decade. There appeared to be a regular crowd that hung out there. People who knew the place.

So it was a surprise to us when the name of that hotel popped up in the news the other day. With all of the Trump supporters expected to crash Washington to attend his rally, the hotel was promoting the fact that it would temporarily shut down.

Why? Because the Hotel Harrington, the place we stayed, is apparently a favourite hangout of the Proud Boys. And Harry’s is their bar of choice.

In 2019, I’m not sure if the term “Proud Boys” had entered into my consciousness yet. I wouldn’t have recognized the people in Harry’s as being anything other than maybe a bunch of bikers or something like that.

I remember standing in front of the White House back then and reminding myself of something important: that presidents whom I have admired had also occupied that famous residence. Presidents who understood and respected the office they held. I looked at it again, with that in mind, and it felt much better.

In a couple of weeks, the White House will once again be occupied by someone I have great respect for. Someone who understands that the presidency isn’t just about the President.

January 20, 2021 can’t come soon enough.

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Hindsight is 2020!

There’s a joke going around that at one second after midnight on January 1st, hindsight will actually be 2020. By the time you read this, 2021 will have arrived. Thank goodness for that!

2020 started out as such a nice, round number, didn’t it? A brand new decade! A fresh beginning! What an enormous let down.

Sometimes we like to reminisce about the old year as we are entering the new one, but I really don’t want to do that this year, do you? I mean, it’s nice to find the positive and all that, and there have been lots of positives to be sure. But, I’m sorry. The negative stuff has just been so…well, negative. Too many people have lost far too much this past year. So I’m just writing it off.

2020, over and done. Yep.

I’m one of those boring people who still likes to make New Year’s resolutions. It’s funny, though, for the past few years it’s been the same one. My repetitious resolution has been to have an Attitude of Gratitude. I didn’t invent that phrase, but it rhymes quite nicely and as a songwriter, I like that.

Outside of the fine rhyme, I’ve realized over time that “attitude” is pretty much everything. If you have a bad attitude, you live a miserable life. On the other hand, if you look for even a tiny bit of good in something, that simple act makes your life a little better. It’s not easy to do and requires a lot of commitment, especially these days. And don’t get me wrong. I get the grumps too. But every New Year, I basically try to renew and recommit to a better attitude.

One of my favourite podcasts is Hidden Brain, which you can find on NPR Radio’s website. The podcast describes itself as exploring “the unconscious patterns that drive human behavior and questions that lie at the heart of our complex and changing world.” Human behavior has always fascinated me, and there is so much that I have yet to learn about the brain and all of its mysteries.

A recent podcast titled “Why Nobody Feels Rich” piqued my curiosity. In it, they discuss how we tend to compare ourselves to those who have more rather than to those who have less. I recognize that in my teaching. My students are often frustrated with people who can play guitar better than they can. They rarely focus on those who can’t play as well. Why is that?

In the podcast, they describe how comparing “upward” or towards someone who has more than you, on the one hand, can be painful. But on the other hand, it is a way of perhaps driving ourselves to do better, to find a way to achieve more. So although my students may find it frustrating not being able to play like James Taylor or Eddie Van Halen, having those two icons in front of them might inspire them to work harder at it.

The way I see it, while working harder can be a good thing, the reality is that very few of us will actually achieve that level of excellence. So what I work on with those students is in finding joy in the small accomplishments, and just being happy to play. If you enjoy it at least 51% of the time, it’s worth your effort.

And if I spend a little more time looking for the positive, I will usually find it. Sitting back and recognizing all of the good in my life helps to make me happier. My attitude of gratitude. As difficult as it will be in the next few months for all of us, I hope you, too, will find something to feel happy and grateful for.

Happy 2021, friends.

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The Company Christmas Party

Remember company Christmas parties? Ah, yes. Good times, good times.

My first work Christmas party was when I was employed at the Vancouver Public Library many years ago. I was pretty excited about it until I realized that it was not really a party at all. It was a tea. Well, they had cookies.

But tea.

A couple of years later, I realized where the REAL party was at the library every year. It was in the bindery department. The bindery was where books were repaired, fumigated, prepped for life on a library shelf, or anything else that books might need. The bindery was not a public place, which made it the perfect spot for a staff Christmas party. This is where the laughter sprung and the liquor flowed. Sshhhhh!!!

If you were lucky and worked on what was always a half day shift on Christmas Eve, you would take your break and spend it in the bindery. Needless to say, we took a lot of breaks. Some of us were soused by noon.

For lots of people, staff or company Christmas parties are a highlight of the year. For others, well, maybe not so much. The first Christmas party I attended with my husband at his new job was nothing like the library.

Instead of tea, there was plenty of wine and beer and whatever you wanted to drink. Instead of cookies, it was a full buffet dinner complete with amazing desserts. And they had PRIZES! Not just company prizes, but union prizes and staff association prizes. You could win a TV. I was dumbstruck.

They also had speeches. Lots of speeches. Well, many of those I could have lived without.

At that first company Christmas party, I noticed that as soon as the dinner was over with and the first few beats of canned music began, the “old” people left. The rest of us took to the dance floor all the rest of the night.

Now, almost 40 years later, we’re the “old” people. I refuse to leave right after dinner, however. I’ll dance as late into the night as my hips will let me. Just as long as we don’t have to dance to the music those damn kids want to play…

Over the years, I’ve learned a few things about the company Christmas party. Here are my observations:

OUTFITS: It’s okay to wear the same thing two years in a row. It really is, ladies. I fretted and fussed so many times over the years, worrying that somebody was going to recognize the same dress from the year before. Truth is, nobody cares. They’re far more worried about how THEY look. I’m not sure the males care at all. Lucky them.

THE BAR: Get to it early. Don’t say hello to anyone, get to the bar immediately upon arriving. Just in case they run out of booze. It could happen.

MC’s: I know, I know. You’re trying to be funny, witty, amazing. And many times you are. But when you see the first head nodding off to sleep, it’s over. Get to the food part.

THE FOOD PART: At my husband’s company party, it’s usually the luck of the draw which table gets to the buffet first. But one year, the MC’s placed questions on pieces of paper on each table, and the first table to answer correctly got to go up. Okay, so that’s fine, but don’t leave the questions to those young whippersnappers. I don’t know what “an element of a culture or system of behavior that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, especially imitation” is. Do you? Just ask me the capital of Denmark!

THE SPEECHES PART: Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

THE MUSIC PART: Over the years we had both live bands and canned music. There are great things about each of them, don’t get me wrong, but there’s nothing like a live band. I’m a musician, so of course I’ll say that. At any rate, there’s an energy and an aliveness that you just can’t get from canned music, although we’ve had some pretty good DJ’s over the years too.

There’s one year I remember well when it came to the music. Because of certain circumstances, we had neither a band or a DJ. One of the employees took her iPod and downloaded all of our requests, pairing the iPod up to the speaker system that was already in place. That was one of the best years we had because it was so spontaneous, and just about everyone got a song they wanted!

I’ve been to Christmas parties at hotels like the Empress and the Laurel Point, parties at restaurants, clubs, and at golf courses. Every one of them was so much fun. Sigh. But I’m thinking that the company Christmas party of 2021 is going to surpass them all, because we’ll appreciate being able to be together so much more. Let’s hope we’re able to.

Oh, by the way, an “element of a culture or system of behavior that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, especially imitation”, is a “meme”. I’m old…how was I supposed to know that word?

And Copenhagen. The capital of Denmark is Copenhagen.

Merry Christmas everyone!

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The Light At The End Of The Tunnel

When our girls were small, one of our little Christmas traditions was driving past a row of houses on the 1200 block of Tattersall near Blenkinsop called “Candy Cane Lane.” The decorations were clever and fun, and the street sign name was even changed to “Candy Cane Lane” over the holidays every year.

It took months for the residents at that time to set the displays up, and it became very popular. Hundreds and hundreds of people would walk, ride bikes, or drive past that block of houses every year. It finally closed down in 1999 as many residents in the neighbourhood grew older, and some moved away, but a few of the decorations were passed on to other people and are still displayed today.

These days, you can find maps to homes that are decorated for the holidays online through various media websites. We’ve decided that this year we’re going to check some of them out, just for old times’ sake.

Decorations are a big part of Christmas, but for me, it’s all about the lights. Fancy, sparkling, happy lights. The more lights, the merrier I am.

Firelight, sunlight, candlelight and Christmas lights. Light is something we all need enough of to keep going, not just physically but mentally and emotionally too.

We need enough light to see our way. We need sunlight to get our doses of vitamin D. Some of us require light therapy to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SADS. Any natural night we can expose ourselves to helps us to maintain our good health. And humans need energy from the plants we eat, and oxygen from trees, which require light in order to grow and thrive.

Light is a metaphor for things like awareness, ideas and hope. A lightbulb goes off at the top of your head. We begin to see the light, or go from darkness into light. A smile is a light that brightens up a room.

Here in the northern hemisphere, we have been experiencing shorter days and less light leading up to winter. Our shortest day of the year, December 21st is coming up. This always happily reminds me that the days are going to start getting longer again. But this year, another special event is happening up in the starry, starry night on December 21st.

There will be a great “conjunction” of Jupiter and Saturn, where the two planets will appear as though they are right beside each other. Some are calling it 2020’s Christmas Star. Maybe it’s the universe trying to light the way and give us a little hope. That’s what I’d like to think, anyway.

With vaccines beginning to trickle into the earth’s population starting this week, I do feel more hope. Maybe it’s the end of the beginning, or at least a small human triumph to cling to. Oh, there are still going to be plenty of hurdles, along with many more COVID cases, before we can literally breathe freely at last. And vaccines aren’t necessarily perfect either.

But our human resilience, our determination, and those vaccines, are going to help get us past all of this darkness we’ve been going through. We are now beginning to, just barely, see the light at the end of the tunnel.

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You Are Not Alone

This has been a more difficult post to write because, usually, I try to be light about everything. Sometimes it’s not so easy. There have certainly been enough opinion pieces, news, and statistics about anxiety and depression these days because of the pandemic we are experiencing, so who needs more of that? But there is light at the end of the tunnel. I promise.

I didn’t get on an airplane for many years because of my fear of flying. It’s called aerophobia. It started after a flight back from Hawaii on our honeymoon. We hit a bumpy patch during the flight, as often happens, but I was on my way back to my seat from the washroom during one of those drops, and almost got knocked off my feet. Of course, we landed just fine and I didn’t think anything more of it.

What happened in the following months, however, was that I started to have nightmares about planes crashing. Over, and over and over. And I convinced myself that it might be some kind of premonition, so I decided I would no longer set foot on a plane.

And I didn’t. For 20 years. One time I even had the opportunity to go on a free trip to Hawaii. I didn’t go. Instead I got really mad at myself for being so scared. What the heck was the matter with me?

I started to research it a little bit, first of all realizing that a LOT of people have the same fear. Many people take anti-anxiety medications before they fly to counteract it. Some have other forms of treatment like cognitive therapy. And then there are those who never get over it, and stop flying all together.

Me? I turned to one thing I thought might help. I got back into mindful meditation and practiced it as much as I could. Ommmm…

A couple of years later, we took the chance that I might be able to handle a flight, and booked a trip back to Hawaii. It was a celebration of my daughter’s graduation from high school. This would be my big test. Leading up to the trip, I worked really hard to not let those anxious thoughts overwhelm me. It didn’t always work, but I kept at it.

On the day of our flight, I sat in the airport lounge and did a lot of deep breathing and tried to stay calm. I remember the walk onto the ramp and into the plane, trying not to panic. Strapping myself into the seat, I wondered how I would keep myself from screaming for them to let me get off.

On the taxi down the runway, I grabbed my daughter’s hand and clung to it. We finally took off into the clouds. Over the next while, I tried to relax a little bit. It took a couple of hours, but eventually I could smile a little and looked out at the puffs of clouds and the blue water below.

I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to finally walk barefoot on the sands of Waikiki. The picture you see here is from that first moment. I’m not saying that I overcame my aerophobia in one trip. It took many. But I have had lots of successful, anxious-free flights since.

I’ve been anxious about many things in my life, but that was a major one.

And now anxiety has reared its ugly head again, as it has with so many others during this pandemic. I started worrying about getting sick. Not just from COVID-19, but pretty much anything. Any time I felt a twinge of pain or an upset stomach, I “catastrophized” it, convinced it was a serious illness.

After weeks of this, I decided to tell my immediate family about it, and they have all been wonderful. My daughters have both dealt with anxiety too, and know what it can do to you.

I’ve gotten back into my meditation. I take frequent walks outdoors when I can and remind myself of the “okay” moments. Hey, right now, I’m okay! I tried CBD, or cannabidiol, which is derived from the hemp plant, to help me sleep. Sometimes it works. I have a pretty healthy diet, but apparently certain foods can help with anxiety too, as can staying away from others.

I don’t let myself get sucked into all the negative stuff as much, especially online. Realizing how many stupid people there are out there can drive you crazy! And keeping track of COVID-19 numbers is not a great idea either.

Ultimately, I try to talk about my anxiety more, which is why I’m writing this.

I know there are many, many of you out there going through the same and much worse. Don’t be afraid to tell others. Be gentle with and forgive yourself. Don’t feel guilty or embarrassed. Talk about it. It’s been a long, long haul for all of us but we’ll get there. And you are not alone.

(For those of you in the Island Health region, if you need help or you are in crisis, please call 1-888-494-3888 or 1-800-588-8717, any time day or night.)