Thursday, July 31, 2008

Mamma Mia: the movie - Go See It!!

As someone who is a total non-lover of musicals, I was a bit sceptical about this movie, even though I'm a dyed in the wool Abba fan from way back and not ashamed to admit it. (Although my Dancing Queen rendition leaves a bit to be desired these days, I still join in very lustily, if a touch desperately on "Gimme Gimme Gimme (a man after midnight)".

However having seen MM the movie last weekend, I have to say that if you feel like a couple of hours of completely over the top, unrestrained joie de vivre, do go. The plot plays at best a cameo role and what there is of it, is entirely predictable. However, the visuals, the cast, the setting and the music are all totally brilliant. The cast must have had a ball making this and it shows! The rendition of "Super Trouper" by the incredibly sprightly Meryl Streep, delightful Christine Baranski and insanely funny Julie Walters - in their finest seventies glitzy flares and ginormous platform boots has to be seen to be believed!

Super Trouper - ABBA

The economics of love

Economist Harry Clarke, in his very interesting blog on "economics, politics and other things" in a recent post referred to an article written by Ben Stein which was published in the July 13, 2008 edition of The New York Times. The article is entitled "Lessons in Love, by Way of Economics" and puts a rather interesting new perspective on relationships.

Ben Stein's hypothesis is centred around the idea that the level of return one gets in relationships correlates to the level of your investment. If you invest enough caring, patience and unselfishness, he suggests, you are likely to reap the rewards in terms of love. He does caution us though that high quality bonds yield more returns than poor, so we should stick to high quality human beings - steer clear of any potentially problem investments in other words!

He also advises that in love as in the stock market, research pays off, so no plunging in blinded by lust or peering myopically through rose coloured glasses. Diversification also is not profitable - returns are greater when a monopoly exists, so no fooling around on the side. A longer term investment is a more profitable proposition also, so one night stands should be eschewed in favour of more solid commitments. Other tips include keep realistic expectations and stick with winners.

Sounds a lot more sensible than any dating advice I've heard recently!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The art of happiness

Happiness (which I have sometimes seen as just an illusion dreamt up to make us think all this slogging away and muddling through has some purpose) is apparently a much more concrete entity than that, according to the latest psychological research.

A founding researcher in the field of "positive psychology", Dr Martin Seligman, was among the first to begin scientific investigations into what "makes the human heart sing" – a leap beyond "Beyond Blue" if you like. His theory is based on the very logical hypothesis that if psychologists can help people move from the extreme negatives of neurosis, depression and mental illness to normality, then perhaps they could also help them move from normality to the more positive end of the scale - in other words not just cope, but flourish. This hypothetical journey into the light, he contends, is linked to emotional competencies such as optimism, engagement, creativity, altruism and a sense of connectedness.

A fascinating aspect of his research findings is what apparently doesn't make us happy. Among the non-raters are:

  • Money (not really a surprise, although I have always suspected it must help to ease the misery to some extent)

  • A Good Education and/or a high IQ (ignorance is bliss perhaps?)

  • Youth (apparently despite their physical advantages, all that existential angst gets in the way for younger people)

  • Sunshine (a surprise here for all those sufferers of seasonal affective disorder).

And what does you may well ask – interestingly it's a lot of things in life that can't be bought, taught, inherited, or just luckily stumbled upon, e.g.

  • Community spirit – contributing to the lives of others

  • Friends, family and our commitment and sense of connection to them (what have I been saying about the value of blog networking?)

  • A sense of purpose (I think having worthwhile but achievable goals really helps)

  • Being in control of your life (makes sense - if you're a victim of any of life's really tough blows, it's clearly going to be hard).

Moving beyond the purely diagnostic, psychologists are even daring to be prescriptive and suggesting strategies to boost our feelings of happiness. These tend to focus on cultivating the art of gratitude (sincerely count your blessings, in other words) and regularly practicing acts of altruism. Other suggestions include savoring life's joys (really cherishing those pleasurable moments and sensations), thanking those who have helped us or made us happy, learning to forgive those that have done the opposite, investing time and energy in friends and family, taking care of our bodies and finding effective ways of coping with stress and hardship.

So, contrary to popular belief that happiness is an arbitrary and subjective concept, it is apparently capable of being not only put under the microscope, but cultivated, nurtured and largely self-initiated. Perhaps not a revolutionary idea, but certainly an enormously valid one and a breath of fresh air amidst the obsession with depression that seems to prevail in our society today.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Mme B - my blogging inspiration

I first became enthused about the idea of blogging, thanks to a tour Mme B kindly gave me of her lovely blog featuring photographs taken around her home and garden, birds, her cats and other delights of the natural world ( do have a visit if you haven't already). She and I have been friends for many years and share an enthusiasm for writing so it wasn't difficult to convince me to have a go. Mme B has created a great network of friends across the world through her blog, to the extent that she and MB plan to visit some of them when they go away in the near future.

This is the real joy of blogging I think, the fantastic opportunities it offers for networking and linking up with people of common interests anywhere across this remarkably globalised world of ours, as well of course as the benefits of keeping family and friends constantly updated on your own life and activities. When most of us lead such busy and preoccupied lives as we seem to today, keeping in touch with friends and family tends to fall further down the list of priorities than it should. They are however very special in our lives, and if this is one way of making that contact easier, then I think it's great!

The above photo was taken of Mme B and her lovely mother some years ago when they were living in Brisbane and I spent a hot and humid but very enjoyable week with them. Think you'll agree they make a very glamorous pair (and still do today)!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The great weight debate

In acknowledgement of our nation's growing girth, the Federal Govt Health & Ageing Parliamentary Committee recently launched an inquiry into obesity. Obesity of course has been recognised as a major risk factor for conditions such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, some cancers ... and the list goes on. Despite the wide dissemination of that knowledge in the community, statistics show that more than half of Australian adults are either overweight or obese, we are the FIFTH fattest nation in the world and what's even more worrying one quarter of Australian children are overweight or obese.

Experts are still attempting to come to grips with why this situation has developed, as well as what to do about it, however obvious factors seem to include too little exercise, high consumption of fatty and takeaway foods, the lost art of good home cooking, generally unhealthy lifestyles, children sitting in front of TV's and computers instead of being outside playing etc. Of course the opposite obsession with ultra-thinness, especially in the celebrity world, is equally as unhealthy and we don't want to be encouraging an epidemic of unhealthy dieting or anorexia. There is however a happy balance in between those two extremes and I have recently been involved with a fabulous organisation that seeks to promote that, particularly for women.

Healthy Inspirations is an organisation with branches around Australia, dedicated to improving the health, and wellbeing of women, through diet, weight management, exercise, fitness, relaxation and one on one counselling, support, encouragement and advice. I joined the Mitcham branch in February and the "before" (above left) and "after" (above right) photos speak for themselves. Not that I was huge, as all my life I've been lucky enough to stay fairly slim without much effort. However as the result of bad eating, no exercise and not caring much, by the end of last year I had really bulked up, around the midriff area especially and generally felt flabby, frumpy, unfit and not happy with myself. Thanks to the great girls at Healthy Inspirations Mitcham though, I have certainly slimmed down, but what's more important have developed good habits in healthy and nutritious eating, feel fitter, healthier, stronger, look better and am enjoying a renewed sense of self-esteem as a result. The all woman environment initially appealed to me as I didn't feel confident enough to cope with young gym bunnies (of both sexes) and the trendy "gym" environment which can be a bit intimidating to someone who's been out of it for a while. Having made friends at Healthy Inspirations with women of all shapes, sizes and ages, I am really comfortable with staying on and in fact love going. The girls who run the place are an absolute delight - you can talk to them about anything - they are fun, supportive, caring and really interested in how you're going. (They don't look like gym bunnies either!).

So for all you women friends out there who need a boost in the old bod department, do think about the Healthy Inspirations option.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

A sick boy

Poor Fergus is feeling rather sorry for himself this weekend. He had to submit to a dental operation yesterday. As the result of an infected tooth, and a couple of other dubious ones, the vet recommended a thorough going over in the dental department. Not only did the tooth in question (a large canine) have to be extracted, but a couple of others as well. A typical male invalid I have to say - in other words a drama queen. We have been subjected to many mournful "poor me" expressions, however suffice to say when food is in the offing a remarkable transformation takes place - in fact he had only just returned home from the surgery when he managed to scoff down his dinner at the speed of light and then look for more, before re-assuming the patient posture once he realised no more would be forthcoming! What remains of his teeth are now sparkling white however and his breath is nice and fragrant once more, although mother will be paying the bill off the credit card for some time to come I fear.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Brotherly love

Relationships between brothers and sisters have often been called life's most influential and longest lasting relationships - lasting longer than ties to parents, spouses, or children (Bank & Kahn, 1997). As such they can certainly teach us a lot about ourselves.

This past weekend I spent some time with my brother, just he and I, something we have rarely done through the course of our relationship . He is walking a very hard road through life at present, having recently lost his wife of almost 30 years suddenly and unexpectedly as the result of a rare complication following a surgical procedure. I spent some time sitting with him in the hospital the day she died when he was faced with the enormity of having to give his assent to turning off the life support mechanisms. The nightmarish atmosphere of that room and that day lives with me still ... I cannot conceive of the torment it must have caused him.

This photo of them both was taken during a holiday in Thailand I shared with them several years ago, when we all had a fantastic time visiting an elephant camp.

She was a delightful woman, much loved by her large family of sisters, brothers, nieces and nephews - quiet, unassuming, but warm, caring and perhaps one of the most completely unselfish people I knew. My brother has lost someone very precious.

However he is moving through the grieving process and all it entails with quiet fortitude, dignity and a remarkable degree of perceptiveness. We talked on the weekend about what this journey is revealing to him, about himself, life and also, as became evident, his other family relationships. Some of the things he is learning on this painful but illuminating journey of self-discovery I think I should try to incorporate into my own journey, to help with those periods of stress and uncertainty we all face at times. Perhaps one of the most significant is gaining a real appreciation of today and a gratitude for the life we have in our hands now, because we can never be sure there'll be a tomorrow. To me this means taking the time to say thanks, or I appreciate your help, or I love you, or I understand how you feel to those people in life who mean a lot to us. There's no guarantee they'll be around next week, next month or next year to hear those words and be cheered by them. It also means enjoying what we have in life that's good - warm clothes, delicious food, lovely fragrances, a beautiful sky, flowers, a hug from a friend, the quizzical look on a dog's face - all that every day stuff that makes life worth living ... or taking that long dreamt of trip if we can possibly scrape the money together and just soaking up the wonder and discovery of that experience to the best of our ability (and worrying about the damage to the credit card later!)

Another challenge for my brother, and for us all I think at different times in our lives, is letting go of the future, giving up trying to control the universe to conform to our desires (and as a control freak from way back, this is a major challenge for me!). The universe and much that's in it, is largely completely beyond our control and while we can do our best to influence outcomes for the better, essentially we have to roll with the punches and learn from whatever curved balls get thrown our way. The forward path is pretty much obscured for my brother right now and with the death of his much loved wife, his plans, dreams, expectations and hopes in that regard have been shrouded in a blanket of incertitude. But he is learning to move forward despite that, trusting that things will unfold and evolve in time, and in the process developing those wonderful (and rare) qualities of patience and acceptance.

So my dear brother in his sadness had much to teach me and I hope I am always able to be there at his side along the journey into the unknown, and also that it eventually takes him to a place of warmth, safety, love and security again.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Caring for Bears

Animals Asia

I seem to have inherited my family trait of devotion to animals in spades. You only need to check out the number of dogs in attendance at our family gatherings (who usually outnumber the humans) to realise we're fanatical dog lovers. All very spoiled little pooches of course, I might add. However I believe it's important also, where we can, to try and support those many animals who don't have devoted owners and in fact are subjected to all manner of inhumane, cruel and neglectful treatment, for no reason other than that they can't adequately defend themselves.

A few years ago, when planning a trip to Thailand, my travel agent gave me some literature on Animals Asia, an organisation which is doing some wonderful work with many animals at risk in Asia, in particular the Asian Moon Bears. I have been a regular supporter of Animals Asia since then. The Foundation is a Hong Kong-based government-registered animal welfare charity founded by an Australian, Jill Robinson MBE, in 1998. The organisation is dedicated to improving the lives of wild, domesticated and endangered species, ending cruelty and restoring respect for animals Asia-wide. Moon Bears have been killed for their gall bladders for 1,000s of years in Asia, as well as having been subjected to the grossest forms of cruelty and torture to extract their bile. Jill Robinson is doing magnificent work in educating those involved to stop this practice, rescuing and treating bears who have been subjected to it and setting up sanctuaries for them where they can live out the rest of their lives in peace and free from suffering.

Do check out their website. There are many ways of giving support, through purchasing gifts, making donations, sponsoring bears and even giving presents to the bears at Christmas.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

More adventures in looking for luurve online

A major area of debate with myself in the online dating venture has been deciding whether to show or not to show the photo. I am currently fearlessly exposed, so to speak as am conducting a sort of self-experiment to gauge whether or not my success rate zooms or plummets. Prior to this, suffice to say that most of my efforts (about which I remain extremely ambivalent) had met with resounding, even deafening failure।

Well as they say it's a feast or a famine। Having bravely left my moniker displayed for all to see (hopefully not the boss or anyone else who thinks I'm much too refined for such activities), I added grist to the mill by including a couple more recent shots I had taken professionally for another purpose (seriously). These are if I may say so myself, quite flattering of yours truly. In other words the photographer (more on him in another post) had performed miracles
with, I'm assured, the assistance of only minimal air brushing ... I know, that's what they all say.

Anyway what had been a spark of interest generated by the original photo, erupted into a virtual torrent of contacts. Three days later I was still ploughing through the various entreaties attempting to make considered assessments and politely respond (as we online daters are strictly instructed to do.) Until I lost the plot after a trying day at work and in the attempt to
sort the wheat from the chaff (no offence intended ... as of course what may be chaff to me could very well be someone else's Mr Right (or Mr Weetbix as the case may be), managed to delete the lot. Oh well, there's always next weekend. It seems the weekend is the peak time
for online dating activity - whether it's the climax to a week of frustrated singledom or the home alone on Saturday night again syndrome, I don't know. But the week days in between seem much quieter by comparison. Good thing, I say, gives one time to draw breath.

On the matter of polite responses, previously referred to, the online dating agencies seem rather anal in their fixation about the need for this. To the extent the one I use provides quite a long list of standard pre-prepared one liners, from which one may choose. In their attempts however to couch rejections tactfully, most of the ones that mean "thanks but no thanks" begin with "xxx is thrilled to have received a kiss from you ... however". Now to me this is a wild assumption and a blatant fabrication. If xxx was indeed "thrilled", I doubt she'd be batting the kisser away like a pesky fly. On the contrary, on the rare occasions when a photo and/or profile or email
goes so far as to generate a thrill, one loses sleep waiting for the next exchange! So why can't they tone it down a bit, e.g. something along the lines of "xxx understands your interest and sympathises with your desperation, however you are not ringing any bells with her".
Alternatively, a polite but tactful silence would, I think, be all the message anyone of any discernment should reasonably require.

EscapeNet - Flat rate ADSL2+ broadband from $19.90

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Music to quiet the soul

I stumbled upon Levon Minassian, this sublime Armenian artist of the "doudouk" on a world music site called Calabash and fell instantly in love. The album I first heard was "Songs from a World Apart" - aptly titled, as his music literally does transport you to another world ... do have a listen.

When I figure out how to put music on here, I'll try to put it up, in the meantime clicking on his website link above, will play samples.

Bookaholics Anonymous

Given my addiction to books, I was intrigued to note there is in fact such an entity as "BA", although currently no chapter exists in South Australia. Perhaps I should start one. However with the escalating popularity of Blogs on every conceivable subject, not surprisingly there is a multitude dedicated to books. So probably enough is enough. For those who are interested in checking out book blogs, BookFox gives a fairly comprehensive list.

My love of reading started from a very early age. When I turned one, my grandmother presented me with the first of many "Anne of Green Gables" books, presumably on the premise that it's never to early to develop a love of books. (I'd like to say I read it in one sitting, but child prodigy I wasn't!). My reading tastes could be called eclectic, or more honestly random and haphazard and I usually have several on the go at once. I'll keep my "current reading" list updated and will welcome any suggestions, recommendations, reviews or whatever.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Lurve on the Internet

Herein I must say a few words about my ongoing experiences with online dating. As my friends know, I have been single for quite a few years now since the demise of my second marriage.
In the earlier years, well at least before I turned (gasp!) 60 (herinafter referred to as BITGS) this was purely a matter of choice, and there were in fact frequent brushes with romance, some lengthier than others. I hesitate to launch into a roll-call here but there were some notables among them.
From time to time encounters were precipitated by an audacious venture into the world of online dating, which occasioned some optimistic leads at times. At other times Mr Potential materialised in a comfortingly sane non-cyber sort of way. Sadly the last few years have been unkind in the serendipitous romantic encounter domain and of late I have been lurking the murky corridors of one well known online dating site more often than is probably wise.
It occurred to me that the discrete blogging (no real names used of course) of a few of the more amusing excerpts from my online dating experiences may be entertaining and/or instructive especially to those women friends who are similarly partner-challenged and thinking about taking the plunge into the online minefield.
There is no dearth of advice, instruction, helpful hints, warnings etc. available now in the public domain to the hapless (or hapfull???) online dater, but nothing beats a bit of personal experience in my view. Before I launch into the truth and nothing but, an introductory list of basic do's and don'ts compiled by experts in the field may be a good intro.
I wholeheartedly endorse this list, but would include a few additional tips - take a pinch of healthy scepticism, a tablespoonful of honesty, a bucketful of caution and common sense, chuck away all expectations, throw caution to the winds and enjoy!!!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Love it!!!

"The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt". Bertrand Russell .......... mmmm some examples just spring fully formed to mind don't they ???

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Women in Politics

Have just finished reading “Getting Even:– Women MPs on Life, Power and Politics” by Anne Henderson. For a political afficionado like me, makes fascinating reading. My interest in politics was initially sparked by several years as a political staffer, which led to a period of party membership, and has been reinforced by the completion of a degree in Politics last year. For any woman with aspirations to a political career this book should be required reading. It is a very frank account of the difficulties women face in entering what is still a very blokey world. She claims that things have changed for the better, citing as examples the 1996 and 1998 elections in Australia which saw a significant influx of new women MPs into Parliament, a trend also seen in State Parliaments, however it is debatable just how much has really changed. What does appear to be a persistent trend, and I have read a previous book on this called “Media tarts: how the Australian press frames female politicians” by Julia Baird (great cover by the way) .. is the savagery with which women MP's are treated by the media, in comparison to men. Everything about them is dissected in brutal frankness from hairstyles, clothes, demeanour, speaking voice, partners or lack thereof, even empty fruitbowls! This just doesn’t happen to the blokes, many of whom quite frankly could equally do with a makeover in the hairstyle and dress departments. Why? Henderson suggests it’s because women by virtue of their gender are always going to be judged on the basis of their physical attributes and conformity or otherwise to prevailing standards of acceptable (read non-threatening to men) behaviour. Of course in any sphere women with ambition, power and influence often become targets of misogyny from not only men, but other less successful women in many cases.