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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Reba McEntire: Finding Life After Tragedy

With today comes the end of September 2012 and I for one cannot bid it adieu fast enough.  September 2012 was not a time in my life that was all that grand and a lot happened during that month that I wish hadn’t.  But you can’t change the past, nor do I want to.  What I can do is look ahead to the wonderful month of October, and hope that as we venture further into autumn, the days will once again be filled with joy, and life will once again make sense.

One thing that is also ending that I’m a little sad about is “Sweethearts of Country Music” month.  I’m amazed that so many of you responded to it in a positive manner.  This is a subject that I admittedly jumped into having very little knowledge about, but you all seem to have enjoyed it a lot based on the page views.  That’s really awesome to see, and believe me I want to hear more from you about what you want to see on the blog.  I may even credit you for the idea.  You might even become...well...semi-famous.  Yeah, let’s go with that.

Anyway, for the conclusion of September and “Sweethearts of Country Music” month, I’ve chosen a singer who has been all over the country charts for the last three decades.  Not only that, but she’s also made a name for herself as an actress, having a successful television show that lasted six seasons, and she is starring in another sitcom venture set to premiere in November 2012.

Just listen to some of the accolades that this red-haired chanteuse has to her name.  Since releasing her first self-titled album in 1977, she has recorded a grand total of 26 studio albums, thirty-five #1 hit singles on the Country Music charts, and has sold more than 60 million albums in total, with most of them reaching at least gold status.  She is currently the seventh best female artist, and the second best-selling female country music artist of all time (only Shania Twain has surpassed her in record sales in the second category).

She’s brash, she’s sassy, she’s “Fancy”, and she’s a survivor.

She’s Reba McEntire, our final spotlight in “Sweethearts of Country Music” month.

Reba Nell McEntire’s early childhood was always filled with music from the very beginning.  Born on March 28, 1955 in Oklahoma, she was the daughter of Champion Steel Roper Clark McEntire, and schoolteacher Jacqueline McEntire.  Interestingly enough, Jacqueline had initially wanted to pursue a career in country music herself, but opted to be a teacher instead.  However, she taught all four of her children (Reba, her older brother Pake, older sister Alice, and younger sister Susie) how to sing.  At some point, three of the four McEntire siblings (excluding Alice) started performing as a group known as “The Singing McEntires”, taking gigs at country fairs, rodeos, and recorded a ballad entitled “The Ballad of John McEntire”.  But, during this time, Reba was also very focused on her studies.  Following her high school graduation in 1973, she enrolled in Southeastern Oklahoma State University, initially planning to pursue the same career as her mother.  She eventually graduated from the school in 1976, but that same year, something would happen that would alter the course of her own life forever.

It was during that year that Reba perfomed “The Star Spangled Banner” at the National Rodeo in Oklahoma City.  When she did, she didn’t realize that established country music artist Red Steagall was also there, and was quite taken aback at how natural a performer Reba was.  He made it his personal mission to help the then 21-year-old Reba McEntire get noticed in Nashville.  Long story short, Reba recorded a demo tape, sent it in to Mercury Records, and was signed to a recording contract with the company shortly after.

Reba’s tenure at Mercury Records lasted until 1983.  It was filled with quite a few ups and downs.  Some of her singles reached the Top 5, but her albums were often critically panned by reviewers and Reba didn’t exactly like the style of country-pop that Mercury Records seemed to gravitate towards.  Reba stuck it out for a while, but when she got a case of the “seven-year-itch”, she ended her relationship with Mercury and signed up to MCA Nashville the following year.

The decision proved to be a good one. 

Initially, MCA Nashville assigned producer Harold Shedd to produce her first album with MCA (her seventh overall), but when Shedd wanted to make the album a country-pop album, Reba chose to reject his suggestions, and another producer, Norro Wilson was brought in.  But when the album was recorded (“Just A Little Love”), Reba was still unhappy with the album’s sound.  She talked to the president of MCA Nashville, Jimmy Bowen, and his advice to her was to find material that she liked.  What Reba ended up liking were classic albums in her own country music collection, recorded by several artists, and it was this collection of songs that spawned her next effort, “My Kind Of Country”, which was released in late 1984.  Not only did the album spawn two number one hits, but it was the album that first recognized Reba McEntire as a serious country music artist.

Over the next seven years, Reba McEntire would have great success with MCA Nashville.  Although her personal life was filled with ups and downs during that time (going through a divorce in the mid-1980s, remarrying in 1989, and giving birth to son Shelby in 1990), she used those experiences to create some emotional, heartfelt songs, such as 1986’s “Little Rock”, 1987’s “The Last One To Know”, 1989’s “Walk On”, and 1990’s “You Lie”.  She also proved that she could add her own style to classic country hits of the past when she re-recorded Bobbie Gentry’s “Fancy” in 1990 and it reached the Top 10 in 1991. 

Music critics also fell more and more in love with Reba McEntire with each album she released, and she ended up being honoured with several awards including a Grammy Award, and her being named the country music “Entertainmer of the Year” in 1986.

As the 1990s began, it appeared as though everything was going well for Reba.  She had kicked off a tour for her 1990 album, had a new husband and brand new son, and was the happiest she had ever been.

And then came the events of March 16, 1991...and on that day, Reba’s highest highs became her most depressing lows.

The night before, on March 15, Reba and her road band had performed at a private performance for IBM executives in San Diego, California.  While Reba and her husband stayed behind at a hotel, the members of her band took off in two separate charter planes shortly before 2:00 a.m. from Brown Field Municipal Airport en route to their next destination.  The second plane ended up making it to its scheduled destination safely, but the first plane ended up having trouble almost immediately after take-off.  When the plane reached an altitude of 3,572 feet above sea level, it ended up losing control and crashed right into the side of Otay Mountain.

The crew that investigated the crash of the first charter jet blamed the crash on poor visibility near the mountain.  All ten people aboard the plane were killed instantly.  The dead included the pilot Donald Holmes, co-pilot Chris Hollinger, Reba’s road manager Jim Hammon, and seven members of Reba’s band.  The band members who were killed were Chris Austin, Kirk Cappello, Joey Cigainero, Paula Kaye Evans, Terry Jackson, Anthony Saputo, and Michael Thomas.  All the band members were under the age of thirty.

The news of the crash completely devastated Reba.  Many of the band members had been with Reba for several years, and she considered her band members to be members of her own extended family.  Her heart was completely broken, and many people wondered if she would ever sing again following the devastating loss.

Not only did she sing again, but she ended up dedicating her entire sixteenth album to the members of the band who died on that March morning.  I can’t imagine that recording the album “For My Broken Heart” was easy for her, and I can only imagine her trying to keep it together as she sang each and every song.

“For My Broken Heart” was released in October 1991, and inside the album’s liner notes is a dedication for the ten people killed in the crash along with a message stating that the album is a “form of healing for all our broken hearts”.  And, I get where Reba was coming from.  Having lost someone incredibly close to me a few days ago, I know what it means to try and express your grief through creative measures.  After all, I ended up doing just that this past Thursday myself.

The album was also a change in tone for Reba’s music.  Whereas most of Reba’s songs were happy-go-lucky and optimistic before the crash happened, this album featured more sombre hits.  After all, it was a dedication of love for all of the friends that she had lost that day...but the songs were also written through the perspective of someone trying to overcome a broken heart.  In this case, it was Reba. 

There were four singles released from “For My Broken Heart”.  The title track reached #1, and “The Greatest Man I Never Knew” reached #3.  A third single, a cover of the 1972 Vicki Lawrence single “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia” just missed the Top 10, but was still positively received.

And then there’s the song that I have decided to feature for this blog entry, the second single released from the album.

ARTIST:  Reba McEntire
SONG:  Is There Life Out There?
ALBUM:  For My Broken Heart
DATE RELEASED:  January 1992

Now, here’s a funny story about the music video for the song “Is There Life Out There?”.  Would you believe that CMT almost banned the video from regular airplay? 

Certainly 1992 was a year in which other artists ended up having their videos banned.  Later on that year, Madonna’s “Erotica” would be pulled from MTV due to its sexual content.  But Reba’s video was wholesome and good.  But CMT argued that the video put message ahead of music, and weren’t impressed with the amount of dialogue that was inserted into the video.  Just ignore the fact that Pat Benetar, Michael Jackson, and Janet Jackson had successfully mixed dialogue and music into their videos (for “Love is a Battlefield”, “Thriller”, and “What Have You Done For Me Lately?” respectively).

Luckily, fans of Reba didn’t agree.  Nor did the voting panel of the video, who awarded the Video of the Year award to the video in 1992. 

And what a video it was.  Reba plays the role of Maggie O’Connor who is trying to balance a job at a diner with earning a college degree, all while taking care of her two small children and her husband Andy (played by Huey Lewis).  I’m sure that anyone who has ever been in Maggie’s situation can relate.  Maggie got married very early in her life and gave birth to her children very young, so she ended up putting her college dreams on hold.  But she’s finding that trying to do everything all at once is causing her stress.  Her family life is hectic, her professor is constantly on her case, and her job at the diner is one stressful day after another.  The climax of the video stems from an incident in which her young children end up spilling coffee all over her just finished term paper, and it causes her to have a bit of a miniature nervous breakdown over it all. 

But thanks to the support of her loved ones, as well as her perseverance, she manages to get an A on her paper, and graduates from college.

TRIVIA:  The music video ended up inspiring a television movie of the same name in 1994, also starring Reba McEntire.

In the song, Reba asks if there is life beyond her family and her home.  And you know something, there was.  In the process, Reba found out that there was life after tragedy.  She continued to record singles, win awards, and tour the country.  As well, her performance in the video seemed to also prove that she could handle being an actress, as was the case with her sitcom “Reba”, which ran between 2001 and 2007.

I think that’s why I chose to end this “Sweethearts of Country Music” month with Reba...she ended up finding life after the worst thing that could have happened and thrived.  She is a true inspiration for women and men to follow their dreams.

I know I wonder all the time if there is life beyond work and the town I live in...and my take is, if Reba can find her way, then there’s no reason why I can’t.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Kidd Video

I'll admit it...growing up in the 1980s was a fantastic experience, mainly because all of the cartoons that aired during Saturday mornings were creative and innovative.

Seriously, when I was a kid, I really had a difficult choice trying to choose which network I would watch. ABC, CBS, and NBC had their own Saturday morning line-ups, each one having their hits and misses. The frustrating part about Saturday mornings for me was trying to decide which show to watch, if two of my favourites happened to air in the same time slot. Eventually, I made the decision to watch one show the first six months of the year, and the second show the last six months, just so I could maximize my Saturday morning cartoon viewing experience.

For the most part, it worked out quite well, but despite my best efforts, there were a few shows that I missed out on completely. In a lot of cases, they were shows that I had absolutely no interest in (despite my assertion that cartoons from the 1980s were awesome, there were a couple of clunkers in that mix). But in the case of today's blog topic, it happens to be a show that I didn't even know existed until a few years ago.

Have any of you ever heard of a television show known as “Kidd Video”? Well, it debuted on NBC in September 1984, and ran until early 1987 when it was brought to CBS. I suppose that's one reason why I ended up missing this cartoon, being that I was all of six years old when the show went off the air.

Anyway, the cartoon was one of those ones that had several elements to it. The most important one being that of music. Seriously, one of the main reasons that I believe the show isn't readily available on DVD sets is the fact that during each episode, there would be snippits of songs that actually made the Billboard charts. In some of the episodes that aired, you might hear songs by The Police, The Pointer Sisters, and Lionel Richie, amongst others. It was almost as if you were watching a cartoon version of MTV.

The entire plot of “Kidd Video” seemed to revolve around music as well, as the four main characters were teenagers who had formed a garage band (appropriately enough named Kidd Video). These four kids were...

KIDD VIDEO (Bryan Scott), the lead singer of the band and lead guitarist.

CARLA (Gabrielle Bennett), the drummer and percussionist of the band.

ASH (Steve Alterman), the keyboardist, saxophonist, and bass player of the band. He is known for his klutziness.

WHIZ (Robbie Rist), the geeky looking guitar/keyboard player.

(And, yes, Robbie Rist also played Cousin Oliver on The Brady Bunch back in the 1970s.)

But, wait a minute. The band is live-action. How can you have a live-action band in a cartoon series?

Just watch the introduction to the cartoon below. All will be revealed.

You see, somehow, all four of the band members end up triggering some sort of warp porthole in which an evil cartoon force known simply as “Master Blaster”. Master Blaster was the evil, tyrannical ruler of a magical land known as the “Flipside”, and he decided that he wanted to kidnap all four band members. So into “Flipside” they went...and in the process, they all transformed into cartoon characters.

Now, you would think that the band would be completely doomed, but luckily the group had help from a small fairy named Glitter (Cathy Cavadini). Once they were rescued, the quest to get back home again was the band's main goal.

But, of course in order for the band to achieve that goal, they had to help the citizens of “Flipside” escape the misery that Master Blaster and his army of evil cat minions known as the “Copycats” thrust onto the land from Master Blaster's jukebox shaped castle high up in the air.

And, that was basically what each episode of Kidd Video was about. Helping the good guys, outwitting the bad guys, all to the theme of the ultimate 1980s soundtrack. What could be better than that?

Well, how about blending in the fads of the 1980s? You know how break dancing was quite huge back in the 1980s? Well, on the cartoon, it wasn't all that uncommon to see the main characters performing their best moves. You remember how skateboarding was the ultimate, most radical way to get around? Well, admittedly in 2012, this still holds true, but the gang of Kidd Video rode on skateboards a lot. And, did you know that there was one episode of the show that revolved around arcade games, which were hugely popular in the 1980s?

You see? It wasn't just about the music.

But one thing that I found that was interesting is that there were actual music videos that were filmed that featured the stars of Kidd Video performing in live-action. According to any sources I looked up, the band did do their own singing, so I thought that was kind of cool, even though the music videos are horribly dated. Have a look and see for yourselves.

One more thing that I have to say about the videos. Apparently they made such a huge impact in Israel that the Kidd Video stars ended up becoming teen idols of sorts! There were even chocolate bars, colouring books, and other pieces of merchandise made with the band's faces on them!

Kind of makes me want to check and see if any of their songs charted in Israel!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Robin Scherbatsky from How I Met Your Mother

Well, today is Friday, and it's time to dig out the TV Guide to select a television show that we will be focusing on this week.

Well...actually, I have a confession to make.  This entry is a week late.  This was the entry that I had intended to do for September 21, but as you all know from reading yesterday's blog entry, my mind was all over the place, and I just didn't feel like writing all that much in my blog that day.  I had way too much on my mind at the time, and felt it best to not talk about pop culture that day.

But fear not, cats and dogs...I'm back in full force now, and am ready to honour my commitment...albeit a week late.

And for today's edition, I thought that we'd do something that I very rarely do.

We're going to be taking a look at a television show that is currently on the air.

I've done this before a couple of times...most notably with “Two and a Half Men” and “The Big Bang Theory”. But it's something that I don't usually do because I don't really care for a lot of what passes as “quality television” in 2012. I'd rather be watching classic reruns of television programs, to be honest.

In this case, I'll make an exception. And, I believe that I have chosen a fantastic subject for today.

Remember how two weeks ago, I did that blog entry on Doogie Howser M.D.? Well, in that entry, I had mentioned that for Neil Patrick Harris ended up finding success on another show that is currently on the air.

That show, of course is “How I Met Your Mother”, which has been on the air since September 19, 2005 on CBS.  It is currently in its eighth season, and is one of the most watched programs on CBS at this time.

And, for today's blog entry (which is really late, I know)...I thought that I would do a character sketch on one of the characters on the show.

But it won't be the character that Neil Patrick Harris plays. Granted, Barney is a decent character and I certainly could talk about him and never run out of things to say...and I imagine that Neil Patrick Harris has his fans.  But, to be honest, there's one character that I really wanted to do a feature on, mainly because the character (and the actress that portrays her on the show) is Canadian.  And since I myself am Canadian, we already have so much in common!

Today we're going to do a character spotlight on Robin Scherbatsky, who has been played by Canadian actress Cobie Smulders since the show's debut.

Now, before we get into the whole idea of who Robin is, and what her contributions to the show are, we should talk about what the show is about.  Yes, I am well aware that the show is still on the air, and that most of you already know what the show is about.  But on the slight chance that someone has not seen the show, here's the gist of it.

We're introduced to two teenagers (played by Lyndsy Fonseca and David Henrie) in the year 2030.  They're sitting on the couch in their living room, listening to the story of how their father met their mother.

TRIVIA:  "Full House" star Bob Saget is the voice of the narrator.

We quickly discover that the narrator is actually the 50-year-old version of Theodore Evelyn Mosby (known on the show as just Ted).  You see, part of the storyline goes that as Ted tells his children the tale of how he met their mother, we go back in time to what we consider present day and watch the younger Ted (Josh Radnor) in his many misadventures.  At first, the story seems to be centered around Ted, dating couple Marshall (Jason Segel) and Lily (Alyson Hannigan), and his womanizing best friend Barney (Neil Patrick Harris). 

But then a beautiful brunette enters his life named Robin Scherbatsky.  And, initially, the meeting between the two of them is not exactly the most romantic...

...but keep in mind that whole scene was staged as a way to help Robin's friend feel better about a break-up.  But that one incident ended up cementing Robin's place in the Ted/Marshall/Lily/Barney group.

And in her first seven seasons, Robin Scherbatsky ended up making quite an impression on the show, and in the lives of the four other main characters.  But just how much of an impact did she make?  And, what did she do before she moved to New York?

Well, let's play a little game called "Did you know...?".

Did you know that Robin was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada?  It's true.  And the reason why Vancouver was chosen as Robin's place of birth was because of Cobie.  Since Cobie herself was born in Vancouver, it made perfect sense for Robin to hail from there as well.

Did you know that Robin's full name is Robin Charles Scherbatsky Jr.?  She was named after her father, Robin Charles Scherbatsky Sr. (played in a couple of guest appearances by "Twin Peaks" star Ray Wise and Young and the Restless star Eric Braeden).  On the show, Robin Sr. and Robin Jr. have a strained relationship, and Robin Jr. actually resents her upbringing.

Did you know that Robin was once a child starlet in Canada when she was in her teens, and that she recorded a couple of hit singles in Canada, such as the one below.

(Oh yeah...despite the fact that Robin was born in the summer of 1980 and that the video was clearly shot as if it seemed like it was the late 1980s, Robin's explanation was that in Canada, the 1980s came about fifteen years too late.  Sadly as a Canadian, as far as music goes, it seemed to be somewhat truthful.)

Did you know that when we're first introduced to Robin, she was a journalist at Metro News 1?  She eventually ended up hosting her own morning show...which aired at four in the morning.

Did you know that Robin ended up having romantic relationships with both Ted and Barney?  It's true.  At some point, both relationships ended, and this lead to some friction, but as of 2012, everything is fine between Robin and all of her friends. 

Did you know that Robin is a terrible liar according to her friends?  Ted believed that Robin could not tell a lie without giggling incessantly, but Lily notes that Robin tends to speak in a higher than normal voice (something that Lily refers to as her "truth voice") whenever she does speak the truth.  So, which is the truth, and what's a lie?  Who knows?

Did you know that Robin is a smoker?  And that she's very knowledgable in the subject of cigars?

Did you know that Robin has a rather strange fetish of sorts?  She seems to be attracted to men who have scars, missing teeth, or bruises.  In fact, she once found Barney more attractive when she believes he has gotten into a fight.

(Hmmm...I wonder what she would have thought of my own scar...well, if she were real and not a fictional character, that is...)

Did you know that Robin had never wanted to settle down and have children?  Sadly, it was discovered that Robin was unable to have children, and she broke down in Ted's arms over the discovery.  Of course, Robin tried to pass off the fact that she was really upset about not making the Olympic team for pole-vaulting, but Ted saw through it.

So, I suppose you've figured out by now that Robin is obviously not the mother.

In fact, after seven seasons, we still don't know who the mother of Ted's two children are...meaning that the 50-year-old Ted is a complete windbag!  But, I imagine that at the end of the series, we'll all find out who it is...and you can bet that Robin is going to be a part of it in some manner.  You can bank on that one.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The 7 Stages of Grief

Profile pictures can be quite interesting topics of discussion. Depending on the context of the profile picture that one uses on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+, the reactions can range from “wow, that profile pic makes you look so fine” to “AAAAAHHHH!!! Turn it off! Turn it off!”

Recently, I have changed my own profile pic on my personal Facebook page (and no, I won't post a link to it on the blog). But I will post the whole image of the photograph directly below for all of you to see.

I know what you're saying. What the heck were you thinking choosing a photograph like that? I'm standing in the kitchen area of the employee lounge, I'm wearing my work uniform (well, the vest at least), and my expression looks as if I am about to mimic my best impersonation of the Incredible Hulk.

But there's a story behind this particular picture that I want to tell all of you before I really get into the real topic of today's blog entry.

This picture was taken a little over three months ago. In fact, I even remember the date. Friday, June 22, 2012. On that date, all of us employees gathered together in our tiny little employee lounge to bid someone a fond farewell. And for me, it was someone that I knew very well.

The person that we were sending our best wishes to in his retirement was my old supervisor. His name was Alex, and he and I worked together for approximately seven years together. Throughout those seven years we ended up forming a very close friendship. Although he was considerably older than I was (and I won't reveal how much of an age difference there really was, as he used to always smack me whenever I brought it up), in many ways, he was young at heart. He always had a joke to tell (sometimes very raunchy ones at that), and he was always willing to go to bat for you whenever you needed him to do exactly that. There have been times in which we have disagreed with each other (including one particular dark day in December 2009 in which I completely deserved the stern lecture I received from him for my particularly poor attitude back then), but for the most part, we got along great.

So when Alex came to us in May to tell us that he was retiring from his job effective June 2012, my co-workers and I were quite saddened to hear the news. Although we knew that he hadn't been feeling well at that time, we thought that it was probably the best thing for him to retire so that he could focus on getting better.

I was actually asked by our personnel manager if I wanted to plan a bit of a sendoff for Alex on his last day, and of course I jumped at the chance to do it. After all, of all the people who knew Alex, I was one of the ones he was closest to in the store. How could I not be a part of his send-off? We chose the cake, we selected the card for each of the employees of my store to sign, and I was asked to compose a retirement speech for Alex. I'll be the first to admit that I was incredibly nervous about reading a speech in front of the hundred or so people who were in the employee lounge at the time, as public speaking is NOT MY FORTE. But I stared fear directly in the face and got through the speech as best I could. In fact, that photo was taken while I was reading the speech out loud. Somehow, I got through it, and all ended up fine. I could tell that Alex was really moved by it, and in the end, that was what I had hoped would happen. A few people told me that I did a great job, but it was in honour of Alex. I had worked extra hard on the speech because it was for him. It was his moment, and he needed to know how much he meant to not only myself, but to the number of co-workers that he worked with over the seven-and-a-half years he was with the company.

I remember that when the time came for Alex to leave the store for the final time, I told him to not be a stranger and that he should come and visit the store lots and lots because we all wanted to hear about how he was going to spend his retirement. I had no idea that conversation would end up being the last one that I would ever have with him.

On Wednesday, September 19, 2012, my former co-worker, my former boss, and my friend Alex passed away. And, when I heard the news, I felt immediately sick and unable to process the news.

Just three months earlier, we were celebrating his success within the store, and we were all sending him our best wishes. It was like a kick in the stomach when I received the news that he had passed on. It was so shocking that it has taken me eight days (well, six or seven actually, as I found out some time later) to really sit down and express how I was really feeling.

You know how there is something called the Seven Stages of Grief? I think that I ended up feeling all seven stages all at once when I left work the day I found out the devastating news. I'm still having a difficult time trying to make sense of it. I probably will have this feeling for some time to come because he was such an important person in my life. When it came down to sign a condolence card set up in the store for his loved ones, I really struggled with what to write inside of it. I didn't want to come across as not being genuine, but at the same time, I didn't want to take over the entire card to offer my support to his family.

So, I thought I'd share my feelings right here using the Seven Stages of Grief.


When I first heard the news about Alex, I think that my heart may have stopped beating for about a microsecond. Remember how I said that hearing the news felt like a kick in the gut? Well, that's exactly how it felt to me. And even after hearing the news, I still couldn't believe that it was real. I mean, three months earlier, he seemed fine. I mean, sure, he walked with a cane, but a lot of people do. Certainly that didn't mean that he was on his way out, I thought. I actually believed that he would come back better than ever once he spent some time away from the store. There was no way that he could have gone downhill that quickly, I told myself. There was just no way.


It probably wasn't until I got home from work that day that the pain of what had happened really hit me. I think that I was subconsciously trying to keep a brave face during the rest of my shift on the sales floor even though it took everything in me not to break down in front of a customer who was asking where the chocolate milk was being sold. Once I got home, I completely shut down, and was very upset. At the time, I was also having some personal conflicts with a couple of other people, so it was a really bad time. Remember that time last week in which I was half-heartedly into this blog and informed everyone that I didn't feel like writing at that time? That was everything happening all at once. As far as the guilt goes, I'll admit that I did feel some guilt. I remember that Alex had given me his phone number, and I ended up losing it about a week later. I always felt guilty for losing it, and I really wished that I could have had one more conversation with him before he passed away...and when I kept thinking about that, I broke down even more.


Soon my pain shifted towards anger over the whole situation. What had happened was incredibly unfair to my friend. He had just retired three months earlier. He should have had at least ten, twenty years to enjoy doing what he wanted to do. All that time was taken away from him, and that made me so angry at the world. It was just too cruel a fate. He should have had more time to enjoy his retirement. I never really did much bargaining though...I was too upset to even think about that at the time.


That whole night, I stayed in my bedroom in the peace and quiet, thinking about things. I didn't want to be near anyone else at that moment. I just wanted to be alone. It was too much to bear. I couldn't even imagine what Alex's loved ones must have been experiencing at the time. I would think that their pain would likely be ten times worse than mine. I did a lot of thinking about the time that Alex and I spent together as co-workers, and most of the time was filled with wonderful memories. I remember first meeting him seven years ago, and he would always use to poke fun at me. At that time, I worked in frozen foods, and he would often call me by a nickname that I really can't repeat on this blog as it's kind of offensive. (But if you really want to know what it is, I suppose you could private message me on Facebook or leave a comment on this blog with an e-mail address, and I will tell you.) At first, it was annoying...but I sort of grew to like it. And that was Alex's way. If he liked you, he gave you a naughty nickname. It was like a rite of passage. It's all I can do to keep holding it remember the good times we shared with each other, you know?


It's taken me a few days to reach this point. Although I tried to distract myself this past weekend by going out of town on an excursion, I was still feeling down. I was so down that I actually felt car sick and had to get out of the car to breathe in some fresh air. Whether that was actual nausea, or whether it was brought on by grief, I haven't any idea. But by the following Monday, I was feeling slightly better, and I was able to cope a bit better. Of course, there were moments in which I couldn't help but think about Alex. I'll admit that trying to get back into a regular routine at work was challenging - I actually shed a tear when I came across Alex's old cooler jacket while I was doing the temperature checks for my department – but it was something that I needed to do. Alex wouldn't have wanted me to feel sad for very long, and the more I kept telling myself that, the better things ended up getting...


...and the better that things got, the better I felt about the job. I remember several of my co-workers coming up to me and asking me how I was doing, but I was more concerned with how they were feeling. After all, Alex ended up touching a lot of lives while he was working at the store. He was well liked by the majority of the people at the store, and it dawned on me that I wasn't the only one who was grieving his loss. Knowing that other people were feeling sad helped me talk about it more...and everyone knows that the more you express your feelings, the better you feel.


So, here we are. September 27, 2012. At this point in time, I have accepted the loss of my dear friend. I still feel sad, and I am probably going to miss him for such a long time, if not forever...but I've also made peace with the fact that he is no longer suffering in pain. I have the feeling that he probably knew that his time was limited on this earth, but never told any of us just how serious things were, for he didn't want any of us to worry, and I get that. There's also no funeral service or memorial planned for him, which was also quintessential Alex. Alex and I even had a bit of a conversation about that a few years ago, and he said that when he died, he wouldn't want everyone grieving him at a memorial service...he would rather have people remember him for who he was. So, as far as closure goes, I always have this blog entry to look at whenever I start to miss his presence. As long as I remember him for who he was as a person while he worked at the store, then I can have that closure.

I can also begin to move forward from this, and knowing Alex, he would likely tell me to do exactly that. As I said before, Alex was never the type of person who wanted us to fuss over him, or worry about him (which is why I don't have a picture of him included in this entry...mainly because I think he was just as camera-shy as I was in many ways). He took life by the horns and he rode it for all it was worth. And, in some ways, I think he ended up passing his way of life onto me, and I hope that one day, I can find a way to embrace life the same way he did while he was still living. In some ways, it might end up being the ultimate way to show my gratitude towards him for his friendship over the years.

I think that I'll always miss him while I am still living...but he would want me to go on and pursue my dreams because he never once gave up on me. He always supported me whenever I was at my lowest, and I could talk to him about anything. I think that our talks will likely be the one thing that I will remember the most about him. He may have doled out advice amidst a slew of F-bombs and dirty jokes, but that advice was golden.

In fact, one of the last things that he ever said to me before he retired from the store was that I should never, ever sell myself short. And, I will hold his words in my brain for the rest of my life. He knew that I always had low self-esteem, and during our seven year friendship, he not only improved my self-worth with his advice, but he did it so effortlessly that I knew I could always count on him to be there for me no matter what. He certainly proved his friendship to me over the years when he visited me in the hospital several times when I was recovering from my gall bladder removal surgery from hell.

So, I dedicate this blog entry to my friend Alex, and I hope that he is in a better place. Who knows? If there is such a thing as Heaven, maybe they have wireless internet up there and he's able to read this right now...and I hope that he would find this piece just as touching as the speech I wrote for him three months ago.

That's all that I have to say today.  

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Legend Of The Paper Crane

My relationship with arts and crafts in school tended to depend on how creative and experimental our instructors were.

Most of the time, I absolutely loved art class.  Being one who preferred to play with Crayola crayons over the hottest toys of the 1980s, I used to enjoy art period.  And depending on who the teacher was, we sometimes did fantastic art projects.

One year, we ended up making a replica of a stained glass window using black construction paper and various squares of tissue paper.  It was an ingenious craft, and while I don’t like to boast, mine was quite spectacular looking.  Another year, I attended a paper making workshop during my spring break, and I ended up making a sheet of recycled paper using compost!

(You stare at me as if I don’t know what I am talking about, but I still remember how to do it nineteen years later.  All you need is a banana peel, some newspaper pulp, some water, and a really good blender to mix the concoction together.  You sift out the water, and leave the pulp mixture to dry, and then grab a clothes iron to flatten it out.  It’s really easy to do.  Just make sure that if you do attempt to make some banana paper, you don’t make a mess in the process.  Making recycled paper can be a messy activity.)

And, I have just gone off on a really bizarre tangent, haven’t I?

The point is that I’ve been lucky enough to have the experience of doing some rather elaborate arts and crafts.  Sure, there are some instances in which I have had a few teachers where their idea of creativity is to grab a colouring book and telling us to colour a pre-drawn picture.  But even then, I would think outside the box.  While everyone else turned in pictures of grey or brown elephants, I was the only one to have one that was blue and pink striped with giant yellow ears. 

(Would you believe that my art teacher at that time tried to give me a low mark for not even attempting realism in that picture?  Please.  Art is supposed to be all about creativity and imagination, both of which I exhibited in my pink and blue elephant.)

And again, another tangent.  I’ll stop it now.

There were some art projects that for whatever reason, I didn’t understand, or couldn’t do.  I’m sure everyone has tried to build a house out of popsicle sticks at some point during their youth, right?  I couldn’t even build a fence.  Although, I must admit that the frustration over not being able to build a structure out of wooden sticks was somewhat counterbalanced by the idea of me having to eat about 250 ice cream bars to get the necessary materials to attempt that craft.

Then there was the time that my second grade teacher believed that it would be a good idea to learn geometric shapes by having up attempt to build our own three-dimensional shapes out of paper and that useless mucilage glue in the plastic bottles.  Needless to say, that glue ended up being my undoing.  My pyramid looked more like a cone, my cone looked like a cylinder, and I never did figure out how to build a cube, as the sides kept getting bent and torn.  By the end of that frustrating exercise, I ended up with half a triangle.  It’s a good thing that I knew my times tables, or else that geometric craft nightmare would have caused me to stay after school and clean the blackboard, or some other punishment.

(Just kidding, my second grade teacher was the best!)

And regarding paper folding...hah...I completely sucked at anything that had to do with folding paper.  Would you believe that I am thirty-one years old, and I still have no idea how to make a paper airplane?  I have tried to make one for years, but every single time I have tried, it either crashes to the ground in one second flat, or it falls apart before I get a chance to toss it.  Paper folding is not my forte.

And, if I can’t master the art of making a paper airplane, then today’s blog topic is one that I would likely fail at as well.

To transition into this blog entry, I’m about to show all of you a little bit of insight into my personal life that I have not shared before.

This picture above is a part of my living space about a year ago.  And, as you can see, I have quite a lot of knick-knacks on my dresser.  I’m not a hoarder, I swear it.

However, you will see some Nintendo DS games, a video game console (yes, I still have a PlayStation 2), a television, a lamp, various M&M’s memorabilia (the green M&M was a GIFT, I swear it), and two curious glass jars with what appears to be coloured bits of paper inside of them.

Those jars are actually Minute Maid and Fruitopia glass bottles (yes, there was a time in which our fruit juices came in glass bottles instead of the standard plastic), and inside them are about a hundred of these little guys.

Paper cranes of various colours and sizes live inside these jars.  They were given to me by a dear friend of mine named Kitty who I met during my first attempt at a college education.  We grew really close, and I hated having to say goodbye to her, but she decided to give me something to remember her by, which were the two bottles of cranes.  You see, my friend was originally born in Hong Kong, and she immigrated to Canada when she was a young girl.  And while Hong Kong is a part of China, my friend studied the ancient Japanese art of origami while she was a young girl.  The collection of paper cranes that I now have in my possession are years of labour from her.  It really means a lot to me that she would give me something that had so much meaning for her, and since she gave them to me, I have treasured them forever.

Unfortunately, Kitty and I sort of lost touch with each other (she moved around quite frequently and I have been unable to track her down on Facebook, as apparently there are a gazillion people out there with her first and last name.  Who knew, right?  Although maybe she’ll find this blog one day and respond to it, and we can have a bit of a reunion of sorts.

At any rate, I’d like to dedicate this blog entry to my friend Kitty (wherever she may be), and I’d also like to talk some more about origami.  After all, it is a craft, and it happens to be the topic I have picked for today.

As I mentioned before, origami is most common in Japan.  If you translated the name “origami” from Japanese to English, it would mean “paper folding”.

And that’s really what origami is...folding pieces of paper in such a way that it makes something beautiful, such as paper cranes, for instance.  In fact, the paper crane is probably the most common of all the origami creations.  But, do you know why this was the case?

As it turns out, there is a Japanese legend that states that a person that folds one thousand paper cranes will have their biggest desires come true.

Another legend involving the paper crane involves a young Japanese girl named Sadako Sasaki.  Sadako was a victim of the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima at the tail end of World War II.  At that time, she was merely an infant.  By the time she had reached her twelfth birthday, the radiation from the dropping of the atomic bomb had weakened her severely, having been diagnosed with leukemia.  After hearing the legend of the paper crane, she made it a mission to try and fold one thousand paper cranes, hoping that her greatest desire (to get better) would be achieved.   But when the young girl realized that there was no way that would happen, she decided to change her wish after seeing so many other sick children in the ward of the hospital that she was in.  Instead, she wished for world peace, so that nobody else would have to suffer due to war and conflict.

According to how the story went, Sadako tried her best to achieve the goal of making one thousand cranes to ensure that her wish came true, but ended up passing away from leukemia after only having made 644.  But after Sadako passed away, her classmates ended up making paper cranes as a tribute to their friend.  At Sadako’s funeral services, she was buried with a wreath of one thousand cranes, to symbolize her dream, hoping that it would come true.

Today, a large granite statue stands in Hiroshima, in tribute to Sadako Sasuki.  The statue features a young girl with her arms outstretched, with a paper crane flying from her fingertips.  Since the statue was dedicated, it attracts thousands of visitors each year who place wreaths made from a thousand paper cranes at the base of the statue.

I would call that a wonderful way to remember somebody’s life.  Who knew that the paper crane would end up being so symbolic?

Of course, there are other things that can be made by using the art of origami.  You could make roses, flowers, geometric shapes, and so much more.  I imagine that you could pick up a book all about origami at the local library if you really wanted to learn how to make these beautiful and intricate creations.  But I wanted to focus specifically on the paper cranes because to me, they will always represent a very valuable quality.


Now, as for how many cranes I have...I know that I don’t have one thousand.  At most, I probably only have 275, 300 tops.  So, at some point, I’d like to learn how to make my own paper cranes so I can make seven hundred more so that I can make my dreams come true.

Of course, I suppose I would have to learn how to make a paper airplane first...

That's all I have to say about paper cranes and origami...but remember how I said that paper cranes represented friendship?  Well, tomorrow's entry is also about friendship...only in this case, it will be a bittersweet tale.