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Thursday, December 27, 2007

DOLLS



Me (age six) and my baby sister with my doll buggy
in the snow, Lloydminster, Sask.

NOTE: This was written a couple of years ago. I haven't checked on what kind of dolls are currently popular with little girls. When I was a child I much preferred paper dolls, which I found a very creative form of play, building cardboard houses for them and designing extra costumes for them or cutting out my own from Sears catalogues. It was my little sister who adored dolls the most and perhaps this is what gave her the early experience of being a 'mother' as when she grew up she had a large family and now has many grandkids which she loves having around her. She even has an expensive collection of porcelain dolls on display. I've still got my old dolls though, nostalgic treasures from my childhood.

The other day I paid a visit to the toy department of a big department store. I was hoping to see Santa Claus, to let him know I haven't been naughty. But the old fellow wasn't in, so I decided to browse around and see what sort of new toys he'll be leaving for the kiddies this year.

I wandered into an entire section of Toyland devoted to that voluptuous high-fashion super-model doll, Barbie.

On a wide screen video, three middle age women -- Barbara Cartland types -- were showing off their Barbie collections and gloating, in sugary terms, over how many of these dolls they own. (One had several hundred). They were gushing and gooing over their Barbies like obsessed, doting mothers doting over little girls made up to look like Dolly Parton...those kids who are exploited and displayed in kiddie beauty contests.

As I listened to their prattle, I looked over the shelves and racks of Barbies, her playmates and accessories to see just was IS going on these days in the world of dolls. Aren't dolls supposed to be the 'perfect gift' for every little girl? And aren't dolls meant to be played with? When I heard one of these wanna-be beauty-queen 'moms' gasp "Oh, we NEVER take them out of their boxes!" I almost choked. How can you play with a doll in a box?

I remember when my daughter, age five, got her first Barbie for Christmas. Barbie was still new then, and just as popular as she is now, only back then Barbie was made for little girls to play with. Moms, like me, had fun making all her delicate wardrobe. I recall the pleasant hours I spent that Christmas sewing cute little outfits, designing fur-trimmed coats and glittering evening gowns, and knitting tiny sweaters. I had as much fun assembling Barbie's wardrobe as my daughter did playing with her. It didn't cost me a week's wages either - just the pleasant time I spent sewing and knitting.

Back then, Barbie had a little sister, Skipper. She was my favorite. I made her wardrobe too. She was about my daughter's age, a little more suitable for a child than her big-breasted older sister Barbie. I looked for Skipper on the shelves of Toyland, but she wasn't there. Instead, there's a bevy of newcomers, none of them as cute as Skipper. Did Skipper grow up and elope with G.I. Joe, I wonder?

There's a tiny tot in the new collection. What clandestine things have been going on between Barbie and her long-time boyfriend Ken, when Toyland's shops are closed for the night? I see Barbie’s wedding dress, but does anyone remember an actual wedding?

Yes, ever faithful Ken is still around, showing off his array of trendy costumes and disguises. Ken even has his own car, boat, RV and sports equipment to keep him occupied. perhaps he even has a secret girlfriend on the side, because Barbie is so popular and busy. She has all kinds of toys and accessories for herself too, including her own house and furnishings.

There's no end of Barbies. They come in every colour and style, from the old fashioned '50's version to the deluxe year 2000 model. Prices range from affordable to exorbitantly pricey. One of these fancy-dressed Barbies is priced at over $1500. Barbie isn't a little girl’s doll anymore. She's a super star. To be politically correct, in keeping with the times, she now comes in assorted colours. There's a whole range of ethnic Barbies wearing national costumes, priced about $80.

Then there is trendy tattooed Barbie, cheerleader Barbie, Barbie the baseball player and aerobic exerciser, Barbie the nurse, secretary teacher, movie star, fashion model, and soap opera diva. Even Cinderella Barbie and Princess Barbie. Barbie loves Frank Sinatra and is posed in a stage-prop box beside a man-doll likeness of the famous singer. (I wonder if he sings.)

I am overwhelmed by this extravaganza! What became of dolls that wear baby clothes and cry "Mama" when you tip them over, and close their little eyes when you tuck them into their cradles? Where is cute little Baby Wettums who peed on your knee when you fed her from her tiny bottle? And remember the rag dolls grandma made with braided wool hair and checked dresses covered with crisp white pinafores? What ever happened to good old Raggedy Ann and Andy? Remember Chatty Cathy, the first real 'talking' doll? The Christmas my daughter got her from Santa, my son overheard us playing with her and realized Santa was a hoax. Now Chatty's been replaced by that goofy red-haired Tickle-me-Elmo critter and weird Furby, another pair who caused a sensational buying frenzy by ADULTS who price-gouged and went nuts in their quest to obtain these dumb toys as gifts (or for collections). Just as a couple of years ago rag dolls were replaced by that ugly stuffed Cabbage Patch Doll, another ridiculous 'fad' perpetuated by ADULTS.

When we were kids, my sister and I got dolls from Santa that were real DOLLS. Our Mom got great plasure making their wardrobes, just as I enjoyed sewing clothes for my daughter's dolls. I wasn't much interested in playing with dolls, prefering instead the paper variety that stimulated a lot of dramatic play. But my little sister was crazy about dolls. During the War, Dad sent her a life-size baby doll from Belgium. His name was Peter. He had baby-soft skin and blue glass eyes that moved as if he was really looking at you. Dressed in a real baby's layette, Peter could pass as a newborn. One day my sister took baby Peter for a walk in his little pram. A frantic neighbor rushed to our house to report that Jeanie had 'kidnapped' somebody's baby. Mom tried to explain that it was only a doll, but the neighbor was convinced Jean had taken somebody's baby because she said she heard it crying. She didn't know my sister could do a perfect crying baby impersonation.

You can't put Barbie or her runty little side-kicks in a pram or a doll's cradle and pretend they are real babies like little Peter. You can't feed them and they won't pee on your knee. But amazingly, Barbie's popularity never wanes, perhaps thanks to the collectors who are willing to pay outrageous prices just to have a fancy doll to show off in a display case. Even my sister has a collection of dolls -- china dolls, babies included, who live on the shelves of a display case in her rec room.

Once in awhile I unpack the little girl doll with the Shirley Temple dimples that was the very last doll Santa brought me one Christmas long ago. She's still wearing her original yellow bonnet and dress, though she's lost her shoes. Her auburn hair is slightly moth-eaten, and she's showing her age. She reminds me of a time when dolls were dolls and little girls played at being Moms. Wasn't that the purpose of dolls in the first place? And isn't that what used to make them the perfect gift for little girls to find under the Christmas tree?



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Friday, December 14, 2007

CHRISTMAS IS 'ACOMIN'....

Christmas tree in the main square,
Santiago de Chile, December 2006


Christmas is 'acomin' and the goose is getting fat,
Please put a penny in the old man's hat.
If you haven't got a penny, then a ha'penny will do.
If you haven't got a ha'penny, the God bless you!

Yes, it's that time of year again and everything is getting to look mighty festive around here in spite of the rain and gloomy days.
I was looking at this photo and reminiscing how last year in early December, I was visiting my friend Cecilia in Santiago de Chile.
They were putting up this immense Christmas tree in the Square in front of the Cathedral. At first it was just a skeletal frame-work. The men who were in charge of decorating it had to climb up very high on ladders or on the frame to wrap around the garlands and lights. It took them several days to complete it and this was the final results. A very pretty, very tall tree.

The other week I was in downtown Vancouver passing by the Art Gallery and saw a similar sight, although that tree was probably only half the size as the one in Santiago, and the men had a cherry-picker machine to lift them up to put on the decorations. I saw it once it was finished but somehow it didn't look as impressive as the Santiago tree did.

I've celebrated Christmas in Greece where there was a big artificial tree put up in Syntagma Square with lights covering it, but not the greenery that we see in the Santiago tree. My first Christmas in Greece back in 1983 was a bit disappointing, as they don't celebrate the holiday in quite the same way we do. But I made the best of it and bought a little laurel plant at the market which I decorated with tinsel and a few small ornaments and tiny string of lights.

I haven't had a real tree for Christmas for the last couple of years, just a small gold ornamental tree. But this year, because I needed a new big plant, and my cousin is coming for the holidays, I decided to buy a 'real' potted tree, a Norfolk Pine, quite pretty. I'll put some lights and decorations on it and it will take the place of the usual fir or pine tree. Trouble is, it isn't fragrant. So I think I'll buy some fresh boughs from the tree seller to give the room the essence of Christmas. Maybe some mistletoe too, though I don't know who will come to kiss me under it. At any rate, it will be a nice Christmas, as usual. Already my apartment is beginning to look very festive!
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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

JUSTICE?

WEDNESDAY, December 12, 2007

It's time to get on the soap-box again. This week there have been several trial events that have had country-wide (if not world-wide) attention. After ten months of grueling trial, some of the details of which were too gruesome to comprehend, the infamous serial killer, Willie Pickton, was finally sentenced: life on each of six counts of second degree murder, with no chance of appeal for parole for 25 years. He still has to face 20 more counts of murder so it seems very certain he'll never walk free again in his lifetime.

The police, and others including victim's families were disappointed as there were many pages of evidence unadmissible to the court in order for a 'fair' trial, he was only found guilty of 'second degree' murder (because the jury couldn't find proof for intent to kill).
Unfortunately, some of that unadmissible evidence may have swayed the decision. The day after the sentencing, the newspapers ran copies of letters Pickton had written to a pen-pale in which he states that "God put him on earth to rid the world of evil doers..." At any rate, most people feel it is certain he was not in on this alone and it's just unfortunate the police could never pin anything on the other culprits -- namely his brother. The whole things has been a hideous tragedy, and yesterday when the families read their victim's impact statements, the were lots of tears, as well as rejoicing for justice done on behalf of the victims. Pickton had nothing to say. Witnesses described him as 'dead', stone cold, icy and unemotional. His defence lawyer wouldn't let him speak in court. And, strangely, there didn't seem to any sign of his 'supporters', including his brother or other family members. Was 'justice' really done if these other suspects are never called into account?

The same day, another court room scene unfolded with the sentencing of two youths (part of a trio) who attacked another youth, beat him, sprayed him with pepper spray and took an ax to him, rendering him a quadriplegic for life. They were tried as 'adult's rather 'youth' but still, the one lout got only 3 years less 1 year already served and the other got 20 months of community service and house arrest. This kid was smirking and laughing the courtroom so now there is to be an inquiry into the lenient sentencing. The mother of the victim was angry, as can be well expected. Her son is suffering and incapacitated for life and these thugs get away with it. The third one is due to be sentenced later this week and lets hope they throw the book at him -- as they should have with these two. Is this 'justice'?

Then there's the arrogant S.O.B. Conrad Black who still refuses to admit any wrong after bilking millions from investors and walks away with a mere 6 years prison term. His team of high-paid defense lawyers claim they'll appeal and get him off with an even lighter sentence. Money talks, obviously. And certainly there are a lot of his 'victim's' who will cry 'injustice' here.

Sometimes it makes you wonder, about our court system. In all three cases it seems that the victims were let down although at least Pickton will never go free again. It's just hoped that the next long trial, for the 20 other victims, will go ahead as planned. These women deserve justice.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

MAKING THE PUNISHMENT FIT THE CRIME

This is my weekly rant. I've had these things on my mind for days and finally got the time to put it all down. It's all about taking responsibility for one's actions. Making the punishment fit the crime.

All too often lately it seems like people who break the law, steal, drive drunk, (often resulting in other innocent people's lives being taken or having them maimed,) shooting off guns so innocent people get killed (this city is rife with gang warfare and in spite of Canada having gun laws -- it seems that far too many goons are carrying them and innocent people are getting caught in the cross-fire), and biggest of all, the notorious murder case of the Pig Farmer which I wrote about for awhile until it got too gruesome to bear.

It was good to see the other week that a man who purposefully shot an innocent young man, a talent artist and skate-board enthusiast, was found guilty of murder and sentenced to a life term with no chance of parole for 10 years. It's about time these characters faced the music. All too often they are getting a light term for one reason or another.

But in the case of the police officers who blatantly tasered an innocent immigrant at the airport a few weeks ago, it seems like the buck has been passed. Even the airport staff who, on camera, were seen to turn their back on the man who had been stuck inside the luggage area of the airport for 10 hours after a 14 hour flight, are all being absolved of their responsibility. That airport itself has made countless excuses why nobody was on hand to interpret for the Polish man, or why a computer check (which would have taken a minute) was not done to assure his mother who had driven miles to meet him, that he was in fact in the airport. Instead they told her he had not arrived. It's sickening the way they are trying to evade responsibility in this drastic, tragic matter. Now they cops are planning a trip to Poland (at tax payer's expense) to 'investigate' the Polish man -- to see if he had mental illness or was a substance abuser -- another ploy to skip out of being held responsible for their rash actions. They lied all the way through with this, but too bad for them, someone had filmed the entire episode so the whole world could see what really happened. It is a national disgrace!

Now we are waiting on tenderhooks for the verdict to come in on the infamous Pig Farmer, Willie Pickton, who has been on trial for the gruesome deaths and dismemberments of six sex-trade workers whose remains were found on his farm and in his living quarters at the farm. (He still faces another 20 charges). The defence lawyer has tried to dispute the graphic testimony of several witness saying they were delusional drug addicts. I don't think anyone would make up the story of seeing a body hanging on a meat hook. Besides, how could he came to be 'innocent' when body parts were found in a freezer right next to his trailer. The guy is a bit slow, but nobody is that slow! Yes, I believe there were others in on this with him, but he hasn't spoken up to accuse them. Yes, maybe he's going to be the fall guy for these other people who unfortunately the police haven't been able to get enough evidence on. But...the fact remains personal effects and blood of the victims and other things were found inside his trailer and on his property. Doesn't that make him guilty?

It will be interesting to see what the jury finds. They've already been deliberating five days, going through hours of tapes and evidence to review the case. It must be a terrible thing to serve on such a jury. And even more terrible to be one of the victim's family members who are waiting hour by hour at the court house.

Let's just hope that whatever the verdict, the punishment fits the crime.