Monday, 30 June 2014


Costume design is a beautiful but precise art.  One needs to understand the setting, time frame, and even the personality of the character that one is creating the clothing for.  Although many laymen can look at an outfit and think "that belongs in the 1970s" it's much more nuanced than that.

Let's look at Jean-Pierre Dorléac, an award-winning costume designer who worked on many films and TV shows.  His work is seen on Battlestar Galactica (1978), Buck Rogers (1979), Automan (1983), Airwolf (1984), and Quantum Leap (1989) among others.

Here are two examples.

To provide the look of the computer-generated hologram of Automan (Chuck Wagner), the costume was a unitard with adhesive panels of highly reflective material.  A device called a beam splitter was attached to the camera to bounce the costume's reflection back into the camera lens, making it appear to glow.  The blue starfield effect was added in post-production.

Each episode of Quantum Leap was set in a different time period, anywhere from mid-1950s to mid-1990s. All the costumes had to be commensurate with the setting.  However the character of the observer Al (Dean Stockwell) was the exception. Even though he existed in the "present" of 1999, he had little regard for fashion and tended to have extremely outlandish combinations of clothing.

More often than not, the stars of the show get most of the accolades.  Let's not forget the many people who work behind the scenes to make the stars look good, from costume designers to makeup artists.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

The Pretense of Justice

The blog I intended to write today was superseded by a news report that inflamed my sensibilities.

More stories of so-called "honour killings" are coming out of the Middle East.  Yes, I'm a biased Westerner, but still...

A couple in Pakistan who married for love were lured to her parents' home, tied up and had their throats slit because the man was from a "less important" tribe.  Should that be considered honourable?

Another recently-married young woman was lured home on the pretense of preparing for a "proper" wedding ceremony.  The family swore on the Koran, their most holy book, that she wouldn't be harmed. But they had her shot anyway and even forgave the killer while the husband was forced into hiding.  What does that say about their "honour"?

Women in India, Pakistan, and other countries in the region are in constant danger from rape while the authorities can or will do nothing.

And who can forget the case from a few years ago here in Canada where four women of the same family were drowned in a canal because the father didn't approve of the girls' preference for a Western lifestyle?

And they call us barbarians.

The concept of honour varies from country to country.  In places like China and Japan it often translates into a rock-solid work ethic, to the extreme that if a person fails at their job they might commit suicide.  To a Christian, an honourable life might include attending church, communicating with God, and treating others fairly.

However I just can't see anything honourable about a belief system that encourages the violation and killing of women for the "crime" of merely speaking to someone outside of the family, or (gasp) marrying the person of their choice.  Even the Old Testament advocates death for not being a virgin upon marriage or being a victim of rape.

But we've evolved beyond that.


Sometimes I wonder.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Photo Friday: Cosplay

Part of being a geek is going out to conventions and having fun dressing up as a character.  I've attended many conventions over the years and for most of them I wore a costume of some sort.

My fiancé and I went to SakuraCon in Seattle in 2001, as Princess Serenity and Tuxedo Mask from Sailor Moon.  No, that's not my real hair.

We went to SakuraCon again in 2004 and I dressed as Misty from Pokemon.

I've been to several other conventions dressed as the Fourth Doctor from Doctor Who.

I haven't decided what I'm going to be for this year's ComicCon in September.  (Last year I went as Indiana Jones.)  It'll depend on my mood and the weather. It's unpleasant wearing a heavy costume in hot temperatures.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Thursday Treat: Lemon Refrigerator Cookies

These are an example of "refrigerator" or "icebox" cookies, where the dough is kept in a cold environment until it's ready to bake.  The dough can also be frozen for a time before baking.

Southern Lemon Refrigerator Cookies

To make this you will need:

Two large mixing bowls and spoon
Electric mixer
Waxed paper
Baking sheet

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
Dash of salt
3/4 cup white sugar
3/8 cup (3 ounces) butter at room temperature
1 egg
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon peel

Stir together the flour, baking soda, and salt.
In a separate bowl, beat together 1/2 cup of the sugar with the butter until light and fluffy.
Beat in the egg, lemon juice, and lemon peel.
Gradually blend in the flour mixture.
Form the dough into two rolls about 2 inches wide and 7 inches long.
Wrap the rolls in waxed paper and refrigerate until firm, about an hour.

Preheat oven to 375 F.
Unwrap the cookie dough and cut into slices about 1/4 inch thick. Sprinkle slices lightly with remaining sugar and place on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake for about 12 minutes until lightly browned around the edges. Cool the cookies on a rack and store in an airtight container.

Makes about 2 to 3 dozen cookies.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

The Duck Brush

Most people know what re-gifting is.  When you receive a gift from someone and you don't like it, or you don't want it, you thank the gifter very nicely.  And then you wait a while and give the item to someone else, preferably someone unrelated to the person who gave it to you so that they don't find out.

One year my mother received a Christmas gift from someone; to this day nobody in the family remembers who sent it.  It was a beautifully carved wooden clothes brush that resembled a male mallard duck.  Mom thought it was rather tacky and couldn't see herself using it, but as courtesy dictated she wrote a polite thank-you note to the sender and hid the brush on a shelf in her closet.

The following Christmas, my father received the duck in his stocking.  After he made a disparaging comment about it, we all had a good laugh.  This began a funny tradition that lasted several years.  Each Christmas someone in the family would receive this duck brush, say something silly about it, and then put it away until the next year when it was passed along to another victim.

One year the brush disappeared.  A thorough search of the house turned up nothing.  For a while it was thought that Mom had parceled it up and sent it to my brother, but he denied having seen it.  We never saw the brush again.  We could only hope that whoever got it made a funny tradition out of it also.

Monday, 23 June 2014

A Problem of Lust

A friend on Facebook called attention to two articles that had differing views on the subject of modesty.

The original piece by Phylicia M. talked about how one day she wore her yoga pants out in public, which triggered a conversation with her husband about how she had "failed at modesty".  The balance of the article outlined her so-called myths of modesty and quoted the Bible concerning how women should pay more attention to what they wear so that they don't incite lustful thoughts in men.

The follow-up satirical article by another Christian author signing herself as L.P. talked about how men cause lustful thoughts in women by wearing well-tailored suits.

Both articles have a point.  The clothing projects an image whether the wearer intends it or not, and the viewer interprets that image as they will.  For example, many women find men to be more sexy when they're wearing a suit because the suit conveys power and strength, which women find attractive.  Or a woman wearing cut-off shorts and a tank top on a hot day might only want to be comfortable, but others see her as a slut because that's the way that type of person has often been portrayed in the media.

It's not the clothing that's the problem.  A woman wearing a full-length burqa is just as much at risk of being sexually assaulted as a woman wearing a bikini.  The problem is the people's attitudes and how they understand the subtle message that certain types of clothing sends.

We shouldn't have to darken our windows just because some group is afraid of the influence that certain clothing can have.  We need to take control of our own thoughts and not allow ourselves to be influenced by our imaginations, the media, and other forces.  If you don't like what a person is wearing, don't look at it.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Same-Sex Marriage

Many thanks to my good friend Annie for allowing me to share her rant on this subject, which exactly matches my own personal opinion.  If you have a problem with it, well, nobody has the right to dictate how another person should love.

I am still surprised sometimes when a person I know makes a derogatory comment about same sex couples/marriage.  I suppose I should be used to hearing ignorant comments by now, but I guess I'm still a bit naive.  You see, I just don't see what the big deal is.

It's none of my business what people choose to do in the privacy of their own homes, just as it is none of their business what I do.  As long as it is two consenting adults and no one gets hurt, why should I care?   How does what THEY choose to do affect me or my daughter?

"But you'd have a different opinion if your daughter said she was a lesbian!"

No, I wouldn't.

In fact, my daughter and I have had this discussion already.  She asked me what I would do if she told me she was a lesbian.  I told her I wouldn't care who she dated, as long as the person treated her with respect and wasn't abusive... and wasn't a Ferengi.  Yes, I admit it... I'm a bit of a racist.  I wouldn't have a problem with a Vulcan or a Klingon, but no daughter of mine is going to date a Ferengi!

Love is love.  If you fall in love with a person because of their skin colour, gender, wealth, or appearance, in my opinion, you are not falling in love with that person, but rather their skin/money/beauty/etc.  Love goes beyond physical attributes and material possessions.  Real love is deeper than that.

Now, I'm not talking about having sex.  People have sex all the time.  I'm talking about two people who choose to spend their lives together.  Two people who love each other for who they are.  Why should it matter if it is two women, two men, or a man and woman?

"The Bible says it's an abomination!"

Really?  The Bible also says eating pork is wrong, yet I see you have no problem with eating bacon.  The Bible also says tattoos and mixed fabric clothing is wrong too.  I have a few tattoos, are you going to condemn me as well?  How about selling your daughter into slavery so that you can get out of your debt?  The Bible says that's okay.  Oh, and since you want to follow the Bible and all its teachings, you'd better stop shaving!  Yep, the Bible says that women should not shave... so hairy pits and legs are good.   BTW... I'll make sure not to contact you on Sunday mornings, as you'll obviously be in church at that time.

What?  Don't like all those "rules"?  Why not?  I thought you followed the Bible?  What do you mean you don't go to church every Sunday? Ooooh... I see, you follow the Bible when it supports your ignorance and intolerance.

I am so very thankful that there are a lot of Christians who actually DO take the teachings of the Bible to heart.  They have shown time and time again what it means to genuinely Love and practice their faith in their daily lives.  They Love everyone unconditionally, without wondering if they were gay, lesbian, bi, trans, straight, etc.  They follow what Jesus taught: to love each other, to love their neighbours, to help others, to treat others as they would like to be treated.

This post isn't about them.  I have several wonderful Christian friends who are great people.  One of them is a sweet Jehovah's Witness lady who comes by for a visit once a week or so.  Sure, we chat about the Bible and her beliefs, but we also chat about MY beliefs and we don't try to convince the other they are wrong for what they believe.  She knows I'm not about to be a JW convert, and I know she's not about to start lighting incense and meditating and practice Yoga any time soon.  So what?  She's a kind lady who treats me and my daughter with respect, and I'll show her the same.

The person this is about has been unfriended and I've explained why to that person.  Now, I know and understand that everyone has their own beliefs, and that's fine as long as it doesn't impact others and doesn't affect the way they treat other people.  I can understand disliking one particular person.  I dislike several people, too.  But to hate a whole group of people just because they are what YOU deem to be different is wrong and I simply can't remain quiet on that, and constantly making racist and homophobic comments and insults in front of people is a surefire way to rile me up.  Oh, and trying to laugh it off and say, "But I was just joking!" doesn't wash.
I want to make it clear, I'm not a Christian, but I do believe in those concepts: treat others the way I want to be treated and to help when I can.  It doesn't matter to me what gender a person is, what sexual orientation a person is; the ONLY thing that matters to me is how you treat me, my family, and others.

If you treat me with respect, I will treat you with respect.  Simple as that.
-end quote-

Friday, 20 June 2014

Photo Friday: Montreal

Summer is festival season in Montreal.  Certain streets are closed to car traffic, restaurants and bars set up outdoor terraces, stores have sidewalk sales, and everyone comes out to party after the long winter.  Today I'm showing off a few photos that I took during various bike rides and outdoor meanderings.

This is a view of downtown as seen from across the river on the Saint Helen's Island bike path.  The hill in the background is Mount Royal, the eroded remnant of a magma intrusion - not an extinct volcano as some guidebooks report.  Much of the hill has been designated parkland and is a protected area.  A steel cross on the summit was installed in 1924 as an homage to the original cross that the city's founder placed in 1643 as thanks to the Virgin Mary for sparing the settlement from flooding.

This shot is of the Old Port area including the clock tower (right of center) which serves as a memorial to Canadian sailors lost in the First World War.  Visitors are allowed to climb up the tower's interior staircase to enjoy the view.  Many summertime activities and concerts take place on the piers.  The photo was taken from the Concord Bridge that connects Saint Helen's Island to downtown.

Here's another view of downtown looking east from the Kondiaronk Lookout in Mount Royal Park.  The park is open year-round and is accessible by all modes of transport, including by foot if you don't mind climbing 200 stairs.  The white cross-shaped building in the background is Place Ville-Marie; it is the centerpiece of downtown, the main access point for the world's largest Underground City, and the four-beam rotating beacon on its roof can be seen up to 50 km away.

We Montrealers love our city.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Thursday Treat 3: Banana Bread

Everyone in our house loves bananas, so they tend to disappear quickly.  Once in a while some happen to be forgotten or they're left out too long and start to go soft, so I use them for baking.  If I don't have all the ingredients on hand, the bananas can be sliced up, put into a container, and frozen for later use.

Banana Bread

To make this you will need:

Two medium sized mixing bowls and spoon
Manual sifter or sieve
Potato masher (trust me on this)
Electric mixer
Bread pan, greased

3 large ripe bananas, sliced
1/3 cup margarine (5 tbsp + 1 tsp)
2 large eggs
1-3/4 cup flour
2-1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup white sugar

Preheat oven to 350 F.
Sift the dry ingredients together into one bowl.
In the second bowl, mash the bananas until they form a lumpy paste.  Add the margarine and eggs, and mix well with a spoon.
Gradually stir in the dry ingredient mixture and mix well.
Beat the batter with the electric mixer on its lowest setting for about 30 seconds. This puts more air into it to facilitate rising.
Pour the batter into the greased bread pan, and let it sit for 10 minutes.
Bake at 350 F for 55 to 60 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
Allow to cool for 10 minutes before turning it out of the pan.

1/2 cup raisins, chocolate chips, or walnuts can be added to this recipe for extra taste.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

All the Noise

"Silence is golden, speech is silver." -- American proverb

Ah, summer, the time of year when you can finally sit outside with a cup of tea or enjoy a good book under your favourite tree.  Until one of the neighbours starts to cut their grass with a whipper-snipper or some young'un cranks up an incomprehensible tune on their car stereo.  In general I don't mind such noises much because I experience my own personal noise all the time and I'm happy to have it masked for a while.

I suffer from severe tinnitus, which is the perception of sound in one's ear when there is no sound present.  It is mainly caused by damage to the inner ear; in my case it was a childhood ear infection that was treated too late, resulting in the loss of 50% of my hearing.  As I've gotten older the tinnitus has gradually become more bothersome.

The condition is different for everyone.  Sounds that are typically "heard" include ringing, buzzing, or whooshing.  The most common form that it takes for me is a constant high-pitched whine in my right ear, and intermittent whooshing sounds in my left ear.  I have learned how to tune it out for the most part, or sometimes I mask it with soft music, but at night when the house is quiet it occasionally prevents me from falling asleep.

There is no known cure or treatment for this.  It can only be managed via sound therapy or relaxation techniques.  The phantom sounds never go away completely, they're like the neighbour that always mows the lawn at 6 AM on a Saturday morning when everyone else is sleeping: annoying and unwelcome.

I haven't experienced true silence in many years and it's likely that I will never be able to again.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Slightly Crazy

"Which of us has not felt that the character we are reading in the printed page is more real than the person standing beside us?" ― Cornelia Funke

As a lover of prose myself, I believe that writers are slightly crazy.  In order to create believable characters in one's work, one has to personally believe in said characters.  Seeing in the mind's eye people who are not alive, places that are not real, and events that never happened.

There's a monster in the new Doctor Who series called the Weeping Angel that is truly terrifying in that it only moves when you're not looking, and even a projected image of it causes it to become real.  This concept can be seen as the embodiment of any imaginary character: once you imagine, write, or draw it, it becomes real for you.

Ideas pop up in my head frequently.  Sometimes I'm inspired enough to write them down, sometimes I'm not.  I've had characters that I wrote about 20 years ago reappear, as if to say "my adventures aren't over, write some more about me!"  Much of the time I don't, because the scenario is too complex or too outlandish to be believable anywhere other in my own imagination.

Somewhere in the mess that is my home office there's an old notebook in which I scribbled down some of these ideas, and upon re-reading it months or years later I shake my head and say to myself, "it seemed like a good idea at the time, but even I can't believe that."  Perhaps it's just as well, because once I start believing in my own imagination, people will think I'm crazy.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Keeping Interest

One of my Facebook friends shared an image this morning, of a letter written by a dad to his young daughter saying that he didn't care about any future boyfriend's physical attributes as long as he was genuinely interested and caring of her.  All a woman should need to do to be interesting is to be herself.

That's some of the best advice a woman can have.

The media is filled with advice to women on how to keep their partner's interest: lose weight, wear particular kinds of clothing, use certain moves in bed, that kind of thing.  Basically, change yourself to suit your partner.

I went through that.  My ex would get on my case about how un-womanly I seemed to be because I had a fairly conservative wardrobe and I wouldn't wear high heeled shoes.  His blunt demands for sex were a turn-off for me but he refused to see that; instead he called me "frigid".  He paid more attention to his vehicle or his computer than to me.  I came to the conclusion that I wasn't "interesting" enough.  Even though he had claimed to have married me for love, it certainly didn't seem that way any more.

So I tried to change.  I started attending church to see if it would help me figure out what made him tick.  I bought more trendy clothes, kept up with the housework, and even sat through some awful adult movies (at his behest).  It worked for a short time, but then I would lapse and things went back to same-old same-old and I had to work twice as hard to regain his affection.  He would blame it on me of course.

Eventually I realized that I was fighting a losing war.  We were both set in our ways, and any attempt by either of us to change would only result in a short-lived solution.  He was unwilling to meet me halfway and I was unable to fulfill everything he wanted from me.  This was on top of all the emotional abuse that he was already heaping upon me.  It was only a matter of time before our relationship was doomed.

If a woman has to change herself to keep her partner, then that partner is not worth her time.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

A Father's Youth

"After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world." -- Philip Pullman

I really enjoy my father's stories.  Too many people don't think to listen to what their elders have to say until it's too late, and wonderful memories can be forgotten.

Dad grew up in Cornwall, Ontario: a small city of about 46,000 and one of the first incorporated communities in Upper Canada.  Until the late 1990's the main industries were cotton processing and paper manufacturing.  He and his parents lived on a dead-end street in the east end; their house was the only one on the street with a telephone because the previous owner of the house had been a company executive and could afford to install a phone.  The residents of the street had a mixture of French and English names: Rowe, Boisvenue, Marlowe.

One of the clearest things that Dad remembers about his early childhood was staying with his 17-year-old sister Joy.  When he was five, his elder brother Billy was dying of leukemia (there was no treatment then). To enable his parents to better care for Billy, Dad went to stay with Joy at her house in Toronto and he attended Kindergarten there for most of the school year.  One of his favourite activities while in Toronto was buying a ticket for the streetcar and riding all around the city by himself - something unheard of today.  After his brother passed away he returned to Cornwall for the remainder of Kindergarten.

By then the Second World War had broken out and making a living became difficult for some.  Fortunately Dad's father had a good job at the Cortaulds chemical plant.  However Dad's uncle Alfred, who worked a farm in what is now Surrey, British Columbia, was having trouble getting help because all of the able young men were serving in the military.  Dad and his mother went to the farm for the summer, where they helped grow and harvest strawberries, beans, and various other crops.  One day they went to a local fair, where Alfred purchased as a present for Dad a tiny totem pole carved out of bone that was made by a Native American artisan.  That totem remains on Dad's bureau to this day.

My grandparents made a smart decision to enroll Dad in a French school for Grade One.  At the time, the laws governing education were still based upon those that had been set down in the BNA Act of 1867.  French-speaking people had been given many freedoms under the Act, but education was limited to Grades 1 to 12 only.  Plus French-speaking people were only permitted to attend French schools, and the English speakers could only attend English schools.  However, my grandmother happened to know someone high up in the French school - there was only one in Cornwall, known as College Classique and run by clergy - and arranged for him to go to the French school until Grade 12.  As a result he became perfectly bilingual.

The stories continue.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Forgiveness is Never Easy

"When you hold resentment toward another, you are bound to that person or condition by an emotional link that is stronger than steel. Forgiveness is the only way to dissolve that link and get free." -- Catherine Ponder

A recent post by a fellow blog writer got me thinking about forgiveness and its role in our lives.  Some people I know have said that it's not our place to forgive the doings of others, but God's.  And yet doesn't the Lord's Prayer say to "forgive those who trespass against us"?

We tend to more easily remember the bad things in our lives than the good things.  Perhaps that's related to our instinct to flee from danger: it keeps us alive.  But if we let our anger over the bad things take over, it might transform us into something else.

As an example, I have had four serious relationships in my life.  The first one broke my heart, but I forgave because I knew that I was as much to blame.  The second broke my heart twice, but I forgave (many years later) because he was weak and had never intended to keep his promises to me.  The third broke my spirit, and that I have not yet forgiven and I doubt I will any time soon.

There are uncounted people who have suffered worse than I.  How many victims of violence have been able to truly forgive the people that hurt them?  Nobody can really answer that.  It's a true test of character to be able to absolve someone and move ahead with one's life, but it's a necessary thing.  Otherwise there will always be that kernel of anger inside that will fester and steal one's happiness.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Photo Friday 2: White

My cousin who lives in South Carolina has a large garden.  Almost every day she posts pictures of something that's growing there.  Her favourite colour of flower is white, so I went out and found some around the neighbourhood for today's blog.


Most varieties of the crab-apple tree have pink blossoms, but this had beautiful white ones.

The peony was named for Paeon, a student of Asclepius, the Greek god of healing.  It's a perennial that's easily recognizable by its spherical buds and large flowers.  Some believe that ants are needed to help them bloom, but in fact the ants are attracted to the coating on the flower buds as well as the nectar of the flowers themselves.

Columbine is a hardy perennial found in meadows and fields throughout the Northern Hemisphere.  Native Americans were known to use the petals as a condiment, although the seeds and roots are highly toxic. Some species of butterfly and moth use them as a food source.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Thursday Treat: Oatmeal Cookies

I like to host parties during the holidays (who doesn't?) but I need to be careful of what I serve because a friend's kids can't eat anything containing eggs.  So I came up with this tasty recipe for them.  Our nephew liked these cookies so much that this past Christmas he asked me to bake him an extra batch!

No-Egg Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

You will need:

Electric mixer
Large mixing bowl and spoon
Baking sheet

1 cup softened butter OR 1 cup margarine
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed 
1/4 cup white sugar 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1 teaspoon baking soda 
1/4 cup boiling water 
2 cups quick-cooking oats 
1/2 cup raisins OR 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Beat butter or margarine, sugars and vanilla until light and fluffy.
Add flour and salt, mix well.
Dissolve baking soda in boiling water and add to mixture.
Stir in rolled oats, and raisins (or chocolate chips).
Drop by teaspoonful onto ungreased cookie sheet.
Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 10-12 minutes.
Yields about 36 cookies.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Epic Music

I've mentioned before that I have an educational background in music and I can appreciate music of almost all kinds.  There is one style that I am particularly fond of: film scores.  Depending on the type of film, the composer is challenged to create music that suits the imagery and style that the producers want to convey.  In my opinion, few people have done this better than John Williams and Basil Poledouris.

Basil Poledouris was born in Kansas of Greek heritage, and received music lessons during childhood.  He chose to pursue music and filmmaking at the University of Southern California.  He has many film and TV credits to his name, and his intricate and powerful soundtracks gained him awards for best film music for RoboCop (1987), The Hunt for Red October (1990), and Free Willy (1993).  His score for Conan the Barbarian (1982) is considered to be one of the finest examples of film scoring ever written.  Personally I prefer his soundtrack to Conan the Destroyer (1984), especially the opening sequence which in my opinion is about as epically powerful as music can get.

Conan The Destroyer Opening

John Williams needs no introduction; he is simply one of the greatest film composers ever.  Originally from New York, he was educated in California.  After a stint with the Air Force in which he began his composition career, he studied at the prestigious schools of Julliard and the Eastman School of Music.  His early composing work in film and TV attracted the attention of Steven Spielberg, who requested that he score the music for The Sugarland Express (1974) and Jaws (1975), and the rest is history.  Williams has maintained a friendship with both Spielberg and George Lucas, and provided the score for many of their films.  More recently, Williams composed the music for the first three Harry Potter films and will reportedly be working on the new Star Wars sequels.  He holds the record for the most Oscar nominations in his lifetime for his music and is a member of the American Classical Music Hall of Fame.

My forever favourite piece is of course the main theme from Superman (1978).  The film itself is no slouch either - the opening titles were animated and composited BY HAND before computers.

Superman the Movie Opening Credits

Monday, 9 June 2014


"Mummy went MMMM ... chocolate!" -- Tom Smith

Everyone knows this sweet treat.  When certain holidays such as Christmas, Valentine's Day, and Easter are approaching, store shelves are full of chocolate yumminess.  It's an almost universal gift of appreciation.

The word "chocolate" is thought to derive from an Aztec word meaning "bitter drink".  The food as we know it is actually a processed and sweetened concoction derived from the beans of the cacao tree that is native to Central and South America.  The beans are very bitter and must be fermented in order to unlock their flavour.

After the beans are fermented they are dried and roasted, their shells removed, and finally ground up.  This is pure chocolate in its rough form.  Afterwards it is processed in various ways to get the different varieties of chocolate that we are more familiar with.

When the process was discovered by the Spanish conquistadores in the 16th century it very quickly made its way to Europe.  For a long time only the rich could afford it, but at the advent of the Industrial Revolution, mechanization made it easier to produce greater quantities for commoners.

Why do people love the stuff so much?  Cocoa has been found to contain chemicals that affect the body and the brain in pleasant ways.  Some research shows that moderate consumption can lower blood pressure and give other benefits.

Sadly, not everyone is able to enjoy it.  An estimated 1 out of 500 people can't eat chocolate because they are allergic to one of the components.  Also, one of the naturally occurring chemicals in it is toxic to household pets.  So think twice before giving your dog that chocolate cookie.

As for me, I'm somewhat of a chocaholic.  If there is any in the house I'll have one or two pieces a day if I can get away with it.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Did Someone Call A Doctor?

Just a short one today.  Saturday is usually our day to sit, relax, and unwind after a busy week.  We watch TV, play games, and all-around be lazy.  Today we decided to get out a DVD of classic Doctor Who.

For the uninitiated, Doctor Who is a long-running British television show that began in 1963, and recently celebrated its 50th anniversary.  The central character is the Doctor, of a race called Time Lords.  He travels through time and space in a ship that looks like a 1960s British blue police box on the outside.  When a Time Lord dies, his body "regenerates" into a new one - thus enabling a new actor to step into the part when the need requires.

Both my husband and I have been fans of Doctor Who since we were teenagers, and we've recently introduced it to our daughter.  The episode we chose was a Fourth Doctor story called Pyramids of Mars (1975).  The Doctor and his human companion Sarah Jane Smith stumble upon a plot to release the Egyptian god Sutekh from the place where he had been imprisoned by Horus millennia ago.  As with many Doctor Who stories, the body count goes up as time goes on, before the enemy is finally defeated.

The show is extremely fun and loaded with in-jokes, literary references, and social commentary.  One example, from another Fourth Doctor episode: "Oil? An emergency? Ha! It's about time the people who run this planet of yours realized that to be dependent on a mineral slime just doesn't make sense."  I wouldn't recommend showing any episode to very young children because they can be quite scary - and some stories are purposely so.

A great many of the shows and specials are available on DVD and BluRay.  The latest series is scheduled to begin airing in September.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Photo Friday #1

I come from a family of green thumbs.  My grandfather planted vegetables in his back yard.  My mother always had a beautiful flower garden.  If I had the space and the money I'd also create a paradise of colours in the yard.  Today I'm featuring flowering trees and shrubs are common in many neighbourhoods in and around my city.

Trees in Bloom

One of my favourite plants is the lilac.  Its sweet-smelling flowers that bloom in late May and early June are a sure sign of approaching summer.  Hummingbirds are sometimes attracted to it.

The spiky pods of the horse-chestnut tree can be seen as a nuisance, and the nuts are slightly toxic, but the beautiful spring flowers make up for that.  This type of tree was the one that Anne Frank wrote about in her famous diary.

The star magnolia is native to Japan and is easily identified by the showy blooms that appear before the leaves open. 

What are some types of flowers that you like to see or have in a garden?

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Thursday Treat

Today I decided to do something different.  Instead of posting a personal story or an opinion piece, I'll shake things up and write about something yummy.  So here's a Thursday Treat.

Fruit Fool

A fool is a traditional English dessert made from puréed fruit and custard, although a more modern version replaces the custard with whipped cream.  I frequently make this light and fluffy confection during the summer when local fruit is plentiful.

To make this you will need:

Blender or food processor
Electric mixer
Medium-sized mixing bowl
4 small serving dishes

One cup berries or diced soft fruit such as peach or cherry
Half-pint (240 ml) whipping cream, also called 35% cream
1/3 cup or 5 tablespoons+1 teaspoon confectioners sugar, aka icing sugar

If the room is very warm, chill the bowl and the mixing beaters for 1 hour prior.

Purée the fruit in the food processor and set it aside.
Pour the cream into the bowl and beat it on medium-high setting for about two minutes or until the cream forms peaks.
Slowly add the confectioner's sugar and blend it in, about 30 seconds.
Add the puréed fruit and blend it in, about 30 seconds.
Spoon mixture into serving dishes, chill for half an hour.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Everybody Loves a Train Wreck

"Fame makes a man think things over; fame makes him loose, hard to swallow; fame puts you there where things are hollow, fame!" -- David Bowie

The headlines are everywhere. "Drunk Mayor of City Caught on Video" "Celebrity Arrested for Drag Racing" "Singer Dies from Drug Overdose".

These events tend to set off a huge outpouring of sentiment, both positive and negative. Some of the comments that I have seen in various places inspired me to write about why there tends to be such a large to-do about such things.

The first thing one needs to understand is that being in the public eye is harsh. Your every move is flashed around the world. People intrude into your private life. You are viewed by many as a hero, as an inspiration. Some can't live up to their image all the time and try to banish their demons through alcohol, drugs, or risky behaviour. The strong ones survive the pressure. Unfortunately others don't, despite whatever their families or friends might have tried to do to help.

That said, we are partly to blame also. We are the ones who put these people up on pedestals and expect them to be perfect. We vote politicians into office expecting them to keep their promises. And then we are disappointed when they prove to be human after all. What gets me angry is the lack of compassion that some people appear to show.

Quote: "Let's talk a little less sadly about the woman who self destructed and threw her entire life away through drugs and alcohol for fifteen years, and let's talk a little more about the poor mixed up young lady she left behind."

Quote: "I have been a fan since I was a little girl. But, I am already tired of hearing about (it). We are celebrating as though she was doing everything right."

Quote: "Why are we wasting our time with this? We should forget about their poor example and devote our time to more important things."

I like to think that celebrities and people in high positions were good people before the pressures of fame and their own stupid choices brought them down. For part of their lives, they gave us happiness for part of our lives. Do we cast their works aside just because they made a mistake? Do we forget them because they showed themselves to be human and not superheroes? Certainly not. After all, aren't those who forget history doomed to repeat it?

Against all reason, we love flawed people. If a person is very creative they are often also flawed. It might not be an addiction to drugs or alcohol, it might be a behavioural thing, but we tolerate it because they are creative - just look at the artist Vincent van Gogh. We sort of expect it and we love them "anyway". But let's be more careful about who we choose as role models because they don't always meet those expectations.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Acceptable Length

As the weather finally warms up and people remove the layers of clothing, many schools are clashing with their students concerning appropriate attire in the classroom.  Recently in my area a girl was called out in front of her high school class because the jean-shorts she wore were deemed too short according to the school's dress code.  When she protested, she was suspended from school for a day.

Calling a student out for what he or she is wearing is tantamount to bullying by the teacher and/or administration.  They should have simply taken the girl aside or spoken to her in an office, instead of shaming her in front of her peers.

Aside from that, a classroom is a place to learn, not for ogling members of the opposite sex because they're wearing skimpy outfits in hot weather.  Young people are ruled by their hormones and they don't need the extra distraction of bare flesh.  I know some will say that they need to control themselves better, but the fact is that most can't or won't.

My high school didn't have a dress code as such, as I found out in my senior year.  (There was a uniform for gym classes and sports teams, but that was all.)  One hot day in June one of my fellow students was sent home by her math teacher because he was of the mind that what she was wearing - cutoff shorts and tank top - was inappropriate for class.  The teacher in turn was scolded by the principal for doing so because the principal believed that the students could wear what they wanted as long as they did their schoolwork.

The math teacher figured that if there was in fact no dress code and the students could wear what they wanted, then the staff could also.  He decided to bolster his argument by showing up for work the next day wearing an honest-to-goodness dress - borrowed from his wife, or who knew where he got it.  He taught his first two classes of the day in that dress, much to the amusement of the students.  The principal was furious and insisted that he change back to regular clothing, but the point had been made.  Whether the incident actually effected changes in the dress code, I never found out.

To me, this should be the norm: no tank tops or spaghetti straps that allow a bra to show, and shorts that cover from the waist to mid-thigh.  Better yet, use school uniforms.  Then nobody has the right to complain. Those low-rise, belly-button revealing, butt-hugging things that show your crack are NOT shorts; save those for the beach.  If you wouldn't wear it at an office job, you shouldn't wear it in school.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Special People are People Too

"I may be an idiot, but I'm not stupid." -- Roger Rabbit

When I was in grade school back in the 1970s there was a classroom down the hallway with the number JO4 above it.  Nobody knew what the number actually represented, other than it was different from all the other classroom numbers.  But everyone knew that the students in that classroom were different from all the other students in the school: they were special.  Special, meaning slow.  Special, meaning retarded.

This was in the days before young people with mental disabilities were put into the mainstream classes.  So most of the time my peers never gave them a second thought; it was like they didn't exist.  A few of the JO4 kids (as they were known) had the unfortunate circumstance of also being physically different in some way - there was one boy whose face looked normal on one side and droopy on the other.  When they were seen outside of their classroom they were met by stares at best and derogatory comments at worst.

I never thought that way.  I could see in their eyes how much the stares and taunts hurt them, so I would greet them kindly.  And I happened to know that one of them was no less intelligent than any of the other kids, but she had a form of cerebral palsy that made it hard for her to control her movements, and so she was placed with the special kids through no fault of hers.  Heck, I had even been called "retarded" a number of times because I happened to enjoy reading books that were under my grade level or hanging out with kids younger than me.  So I could totally relate.  Which was why, when my teacher asked for volunteers to read books and record them onto audio cassette for the JO4 class, I had no qualms about raising my hand.

Just because someone is less intelligent, or has some form of illness or disability, is no reason to be harsh toward them.  But the sad truth is that many people fear what is different, and those with special needs are certainly different.  They can be hard to live with, hard to take care of, and might not have the capacity to be self-sufficient.  But they are human too, and they deserve as much respect as anyone else.

Which brings me to another person that I knew from middle school.  His name was Alan, and he came to school in a special bus that was adapted for his motorized wheelchair.  He had cerebral palsy so severe that he could barely walk, and his face and body would sometimes contort into scary expressions despite his best efforts to control himself.  But there was nothing wrong with his intelligence - he graduated top in his class.  Now he is an artist who specializes in storytelling and comedy.

Alexander Graham Bell, Albert Einstein, Walt Disney were dyslexic.  Geri Jewell, Thomas Ritter, Josh Blue have cerebral palsy.  Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Thomas Gore are blind.  They and many others have proven that the world would a better place if we embraced the diversity of our fellow beings.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Mental Freedom

Like a compass needle that points north, a man's accusing finger always finds a woman. -- Khaled Hosseini

There's a group on Facebook of which I am a member, called Psychopath Free. The admin is the author of a book by the same name that offers advice to mentally abused women. I was introduced to this group by a friend after I had mentioned that my ex husband had almost driven me to a nervous breakdown. It's full of stories of broken hearts, broken trust, and advice on how to leave the pain behind and move on. While I have been free for 14 years there are many others who still suffer, and I don't hesitate to share my stories as a warning as well as a message to others to say, you are not alone in going through that.

Some abusers don't even realize that what they are doing is abuse. Others are well aware and every move is calculated to bring them the biggest advantage. Still others are immature children in an adult's body who cling desperately to anything that will help them get their way. My ex was all of the above, which made him the most dangerous kind of person. To everyone else he was a great guy, and his family thought the world of him. But in private he made my life a living hell.

One of his favourite tricks was to step quickly on the brakes while driving, which had the effect of jerking the vehicle. He knew that it was dangerous but it scared me speechless, which effectively allowed him to have the last word if we ever had a disagreement while on the road. He would just jerk the brakes to shut me up.

Another of his quirks was this: if another driver cut him off in traffic he would tailgate the offender and flick the high-beams at them, at the same time grinning like a teenager playing a video game. I was riding with him during one incident where he took things further. When my ex flicked his high-beams at another driver, the guy sped up and pulled ahead - obviously not wanting to get into a confrontation. However my ex refused to let it go and chased after the other driver at high speed through a residential area until the person pulled into a driveway. By the end of it I was terrified and sick to my stomach. From that day forward I feared for my life every time I had to ride in a vehicle with him.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

My breaking point came when he accused my friends of brainwashing me against him, and he refused to let me go anywhere unless he was with me, or unless I agreed to a list of demands that he made. I realized then that I had to leave him, or else I would go insane or turn into his slave, or both. As if to spite me he told his family that I had been having an affair, and they almost immediately cut me off - to their Catholic upbringing, cheating on one's spouse was one of the worst crimes. My attempts to explain fell on deaf ears.

So I left all that behind. It took years for me to recover, financially and emotionally, but it has made me a stronger person.