Thursday, 31 July 2014

Looks Before Books

The news came out yesterday that Chapters, one of the most beloved stores in downtown Montreal, will be closed and replaced with a Victoria's Secret lingerie superstore.  Public reaction was immediate and condemning.

Chapters takes up four floors of a heritage limestone building and has a beautifully carved wood staircase going up the center.  The store has been there for almost 20 years, and was a Coles bookstore for many years before that. Both my husband and I have spent uncounted hours perusing the titles there.  The place is a refuge for university students and other book-lovers, and the sheer ambiance has always made it conducive for purchases.  Not to mention it's on a prime corner for watching the annual Santa Claus parade, during which the store is inundated by people seeking hot drinks at its second-floor cafĂ©.

Some people have said that the time of the brick-and-mortar store is ending with the rise of Amazon and other online order companies.  There is already another bookstore several blocks away that's run by the parent company Indigo.  However the Indigo store isn't as large, half of its second floor showcases trendy gifts instead of books, and the ambiance just isn't there, except perhaps for a neat spiral staircase in the center.  Plus Indigo doesn't have nearly as many English titles as Chapters does.

Personally I think this is partly a power grab.  Victoria's Secret owns La Senza, of which there are already two stores downtown within a few blocks of each other, one being across the street from Chapters.  V.S. already tried to snag the location of the HMV flagship store which has also been at its current spot for many years, but reports say "that lease was not available".

There are quite a few empty retail spaces in downtown Montreal right now.  Why not use one of those instead of forcing out a long-term tenant and well-loved place?  I, for one, will never again shop at L-Brands, Victoria's Secret, Bath and Body Works, La Senza, or any other subsidiaries.

Besides, L-Brands has been known to employ sweatshop labour in Asia: another reason to boycott them. It's truly sad that the world is still going the way of appearances before intelligence.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014


Everyone who has worked from home has probably experienced this situation.  You've settled down at your computer with a cup of coffee or tea, opened up the various tabs, windows, and files that you need for your project, and started to get in the groove of working when a kid barges into your home office with a question or complaint.  You help settle the issue, then turn back to work.

Five minutes later you're interrupted again by yells for help with something.  You get up from your desk to deal with it.  By the time you get back your drink is cold and you've lost your train of thought and you have to start over.  Before you know it, an hour or more has gone by and you've gotten very little work done.

Short of retreating into the farthest room of the house and locking the door, what can one do?

Lay down the rules.  Inform the other family members that you need a certain amount of time for work, and you're not to be bothered unless it's a real emergency like flood, fire, or burglary.

Get someone else to watch the kids.  If the kids in the household aren't old enough to keep themselves occupied, consider hiring a sitter for them during the times you need to work.

Set aside a block of time when the house is quiet.  Whether early in the morning or late at night, this can minimize the chances of someone walking in on you.

Take it on the go.  When all else fails and if you have a laptop or tablet, try to work somewhere else.  Many malls, coffee shops, and libraries have free wi-fi areas where you can connect to the Internet and work in relative peace.  (This also requires having someone else watch the kids.)

What methods do you use to get work done at home?

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Inspirations #4

"The Cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be."  The first line from astronomer Carl Sagan's television series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage came to my ears at a time when I was about to start middle school and begin the foundation of my future.  The series with its rich imagery and clear explanations of the relationships between humans and the universe around us bolstered my already-active imagination.  If humans could go to the moon, why stop there?  There was an infinite number of possibilities, if only there existed the drive to explore them.

My first experiences with stargazing were in the backyard of my grandfather's house in New Brunswick.  Aided by several books about the constellations and Granddad's binoculars, my brother and I enjoyed numerous sightings of satellites and planets, stars and galaxies.  I longed to see and learn more, so when the Cosmos TV series hit the airwaves I thought I could become an astronomer just like Carl Sagan.

He grew up in a relatively poor section of New York City, but his parents nurtured his early interest in science.  After obtaining several degrees in physics and astronomy at the University of Chicago he began a long association with the United States space program.  The gold records featuring the sounds of Earth that were sent with the two Voyager probes were developed by Sagan.

Among his most notable achievements were his many books that popularized science; Cosmos being one of the first.  He hoped to increase scientific understanding in the general public as well as instill a healthy skepticism.  In his later years he came to be regarded as a freethinker - a viewpoint which holds that truth should be formed on the basis of logic and reason, rather than tradition.

Sadly, he didn't live to see many long-term results of much of his work.  He was diagnosed with myelodysplasia, a type of leukemia.  Despite three bone-marrow transplants he was unable to overcome the disease and died in 1996.

I never did become an astronomer, though not for lack of trying.  Putting aside my high school music experience, I enrolled in a sciences program in junior college.  By then I had seen the Cosmos series four times.  However in my second term I hit what the professors called the "Calculus Wall".  Many students had great difficulty with calculus, as it required a formidable amount of study.  It took me three tries to pass it, upon which time I had to admit to myself that my creative brain just couldn't handle such analytical concepts.  So I abandoned the hope to follow in Carl Sagan's footsteps and settled for an astronomy elective course while steering the remainder of my program toward the arts.

His influence stayed with me, though.  Many of my personal opinions regarding religion, nuclear technology, and space travel were shaped by his ideas.  The books he wrote continue to be reminders that the sky is not the limit.  I still wish that I could have met him.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Mosaic Intolerant

This is an excerpt from an essay that I wrote for school a number of years ago, and the subject is still very relevant.  I've updated the statistics to more modern values.

It was a chilly, rainy evening late in 2001 as I was headed home on the bus.  Abruptly my attention was caught by an outburst from the woman who was sitting next to me.  She was short, middle-aged, and appeared to be of Native American descent.

"I don't care for your language!"

I followed her gaze and realized that she had taken exception to two robed and turbaned men seated across the aisle, who were speaking quietly in Arabic.

"If you can't talk like everyone else, you should go back to where you came from," the woman continued.  The men looked up, but didn't reply. Either they didn't understand what she was saying, or they chose to not respond to her. I suspected the latter.

Immigration Canada records state that 48.3% of all immigrants in the year 2011 were from Asia and the Pacific.  Moreover, 23.8% were from Africa and the Middle East, 13.1% from Europe, and the remainder from the United States and other continental American countries.  As more immigrants arrive, they make their marks in the community.  Muslim mosques and Sikh temples have replaced derelict Catholic and Anglican churches that have closed from the lack of parishioners.  Exotic restaurants with menus of falafel and gyros have become more popular than the local greasy spoon.  This ebb and flow of cultures creates a vibrant character for a community which sets it apart from others. Unfortunately, many people think of this as a takeover rather than integration.

The native woman became annoyed that the two men were paying little attention to her. "Did you hear me?" she said more loudly. "Look at me while I'm talking!"

"What is your problem?" interjected a young black woman from the seat directly across from me.  "They're not bothering you."

"You keep out of this.  People who don't behave like Canadians don't belong here." The native woman's expression grew accusatory. "Why don't you go home too?"

"I am home," the black woman countered. "I was born here."

Flustered at being unable to gain sympathy from the black woman, the native woman tried another tactic. "They have no right to come here and flaunt their religion and jeopardize our safety!"

"You have no right to disturb us all with your argument," said a white English man seated further down.

We can still see signs of intolerance despite the rising number of well-educated Canadians: a graffito sprayed on the wall of a subway station that reads "Anglos go home" or pen scribbles in a public washroom that say "Nuke whatever-country". Covering up the paint or closing the door won't make the problem go away. Big changes are needed in the way people are educated with respect to other cultures.

I was not raised according to the tenets of a particular belief system.  My parents were of the opinion that I should choose my own path and educate myself on its merits as opposed to being told by others which path I ought to follow.  I have studied and attended services in a number of different faiths.  I have friends who ascribe to a variety of beliefs and I respect them all.  How many people of my generation can say that?

The bus ride was quickly turning into a circus. When the native woman's comments became louder and more derogatory, a middle-aged man down the aisle spoke with a Quebecois accent, "This should not concern you anyway, so please shut up."

"You shut up!" the woman retorted.

The bus driver pulled over to the side of the street, looking frustrated. "All of you, shut up." He addressed the native woman. "Either shut up, or get off."  She grumbled to herself a bit and disembarked a few stops later.  The rest of the passengers appeared grateful for the silence, but I was left with pity for the woman's inflexibility.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Differences in Parenting

There's a best-selling book series called "What To Expect" and it covers a child's life from conception to toddler.  While it certainly is a handy guide, no book can cover everything.  Indeed, there's an image being shared around of a copy of "What to Expect During the Toddler Years" that has been scribbled over with marker; a clear statement that for someone, the book wasn't helpful at all.

There's no clear-cut guide for parenting because every child and every situation is different.  Every parent in my family, however, has said the same thing: discipline and guidance need to be applied consistently. Everything else is fluff.  But what can you do when it's someone else's kid who is the problem?

I and many of my friends are believers in the concept of "it takes a village to raise a child", because that was the way things were when we were kids.  Neighbours would look out for other kids as well as their own.  If a child got into trouble, someone would be there to help out.  If a child exhibited bad behaviour while at a friend's house, that household's parents would mete out the discipline.  Unfortunately it's not that way much any more, due to people's preoccupation with their own lives and the general distrust of others.

Recently "Missy" my daughter and "Betsy" one of the neighbourhood kids have developed a rivalry, stemming from an incident during which Missy accused Betsy of trying to wrap a skipping rope around her neck at school.  Having not witnessed the event, and with Betsy claiming this was untrue, neither I nor Betsy's mother could properly resolve the situation.  Since then Betsy has been provoking Missy in various ways, to the point where Missy doesn't want to go anywhere Betsy might be.

Things came to a head a few weeks ago as my daughter and I exited the local swimming pool.  Betsy and two other girls noticed us and began to scream as if Missy was their worst enemy.  Missy freaked out and ran away.  I turned to the girls and said firmly, "Do you mind?"  They stopped at once, but then I received a tirade by Betsy's mother who said I had no right to discipline her kids.  When I pointed out that the kids had no right to scare Missy, Betsy's father politely asked me to leave.  Not wanting to create more of a scene in front of the kids, I left with Missy.

The behaviour of these kids - their ages range from 6 to 8 - can be seen as normal, especially if they're holding a grudge and are trying to exact some kind of petty "revenge".  But if a parent can't or won't control them in public and sees a mild rebuke from another parent as something that needs to be challenged, this strikes me as being irresponsible.  I can accept that these other parents believe that only they should discipline their children - that's their choice.  But if their kids' actions threaten my child in any way, I'm not waiting for them to pussyfoot around and deal with it at their leisure.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Inspirations #3

When I was preparing to go into high school in 1981 I had the choice of several optional courses that I could study in addition to the mainstream.  Given my pleasant experiences in grade school music classes and the fact that I was taking piano lessons, it seemed a natural thing to continue in that subject.  When I first stepped into the huge music room on the school's third floor and was greeted by a short woman with a round face and a friendly smile, I knew I had done the best thing.

Brenda Walsh was just 25 years old and fresh out of teacher training after being schooled in music at both McGill and Concordia universities.  Her instrumental specialties were flute and piano.  Teaching the music classes was like jumping into the deep end for her; she had taken over the position left by the retiring Ted West who had led the high school's band to provincial competitions.  However she tackled the challenge head-on, and soon earned the respect of all the students in the program with her diligence and kindness.

She quickly recognized my musical talent on both the piano and clarinet (my instrument of choice), and once I felt comfortable with performing in the junior band she allowed me to practice with the senior band as well.  This broadened my musical scope and exposed me to more difficult pieces, and I flourished under her direction.  Every concert the band played was an uplifting experience.

When I reached Grade Ten I was shocked to discover that Brenda had been replaced; apparently her lack of tenure meant that she had to accept a transfer to whichever school had an opening.  The class felt her absence keenly but I and several others remained in touch with her.  At the first opportunity I resumed my piano lessons under her tutelage; I still remember that in the entrance to her apartment she had hung the first baton that she had used to conduct the band at my high school.  I studied piano with her for several years before heavy schoolwork and personal problems obliged me to quit in 1987.

Thereafter I occasionally telephoned and wrote letters to her, and she was pleased that I chose to continue my musical education through university.  I even invited her to my wedding in 1994 but unfortunately she couldn't attend because she was going on holiday at the time.  Not long afterward I heard through a mutual friend that she had been diagnosed with a fast-spreading type of breast cancer and had only a few months to live.  Work obligations prevented me from attending a party in her honour, and I forever regretted not being able to see her once more.  She died far too young in 1995; I went to her funeral.

I think most people can say they had one or two teachers who inspired them and encouraged them to follow their own path.  Brenda Walsh was one such: always smiling and willing to nurture talent.

Monday, 21 July 2014


News just broke that the mayor of a nearby community died suddenly over the weekend.  She was at her cottage and accidentally stepped on a wasp nest, triggering an attack that ended with her dying in hospital.  Her two teenaged kids are now orphaned, having lost their father a few years ago.

Most sources I've seen state that it can take anywhere from 500 to 800 stings to kill an average person.  If you happen to be highly allergic to a component of the venom, however, all it takes is ONE.

I clearly remember the first time I was ever stung; I was 11 and visiting the house of a close friend whose father kept honeybee hives in his yard.  My friend and I were invited to watch as the father checked on the hives in his beekeeper's suit.  Even though we were standing 15 feet away and not behaving in a threatening manner, a bee somehow managed to get tangled in my hair and stung me on the back of the neck.  Just bad luck.

Several years later I was stung again.  I was mowing my parents' lawn and rolled the lawnmower over a hole that had been dug by a vole but had subsequently been taken over by wasps.  Three of them stung me on my foot, right through the canvas running shoe I was wearing at the time.  It felt as if I had been burned; my foot swelled and I had difficulty walking for two days.  In retaliation I had someone come over after dark and set fire to the nest to destroy it, and then fill the hole with crushed stone.

The second incident in particular caused me to develop a fear of wasps.  I know that they won't sting if you leave them alone.  However if I happen to see a wasp within three feet of me I freak out, and sometimes even run if there's an avenue of escape.  I won't visit a certain friend's house in the country during the summer because wasps and hornets nest in the gables despite her efforts to remove them.

At home I spray repellent in all the weeping holes in the brick exterior, and hang a fake nest on the fence.  Many types of wasps are territorial and if they see what looks like another nest, they won't come near.  So far, that seems to have worked.

Now if I can just get the neighbour's cat to stop using my flower garden as a personal litter box.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

The Bugle's Echo

It is the soldier, not the reporter who has given us the freedom of the press. It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us the freedom of speech. It is the soldier, not the campus organizer, who gives us the freedom to demonstrate. It is the soldier who salutes the flag, who serves beneath the flag, and whose coffin is draped by the flag, who allows the protester to burn the flag. -- Father Dennis Edward O'Brien, USMC

One hundred years ago, my maternal grandfather served in the trenches of Ypres, Belgium as a young infantryman in the Canadian Army.

I had a sense of my family's military history from when I was quite young. Summer visits to my maternal grandfather's house in New Brunswick always prompted me to ask questions about the various fascinating objects that I saw there.

Ernest Sansom was born into a family of millers and woodsmen. When he was a young man his father left to take a lucrative job in British Columbia and sent money back for the family to join him. However Ernest's mother refused to go, and his father never came back. To help support the family, he lied about his age to join the military. He saw action in both World Wars, ultimately becoming a high-ranking officer.

He was proud to serve but he never spoke openly about his experiences, and my mother told me to not ask because it upset him to remember. The one story he would tell me was a poem that he recited at bedtime to lull me to sleep:
It was a grey stormy night on the coast,
The brigands great and brigands small,
We gathered around our campfire.
"Alfonso," said our captain, "tell us a story."
And Alfonso began.
It was a grey stormy night on the coast... repeat.

Military memorabilia of all kinds was visible in his house, from a large portrait of him wearing his uniform that hung in the great room, to a collection of ribbons and patches in an unobtrusive brass box. Just about every item had a story attached to it. For example, a stiff piece of cloth embroidered with a crown set above a crossed sword and baton was his rank insignia. Or a table lamp created from a mortar shell casing was a gift from one of the regiments he had served with.

Over time I learned that many members of his family had also served, including two of his brothers. There is a display in the military museum in Fredericton that commemorates his grandfather, and the war memorial in his hometown of Stanley shows the names of several relatives. The family military tradition continues: my brother was active in the militia, and his youngest son has been following in his footsteps.

Today his medals, dress sword, and certificates of achievement are on display at my parents' house - proud examples as well as sad reminders of the courage and sacrifice that many people made for this country.
To most people around him, he was "the General". But to me he was just "Granddad".

As a point of pride I made myself memorize Granddad's medals as a testament to him and all those who served. From left:
1. Companion of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath
2. Distinguished Service Order
3. Knight of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem
4. British War Service Medal 1914-1920
5. British Victory Medal with Oak Leaf for Mention-in-Despatches
6. 1939-1945 Star
7. Defence Medal
8. Canada Volunteer Service Medal World War II 
9. British War Service Medal 1939-1945
10. George V Silver Jubilee Medal 1935
11. George VI Coronation Medal 1937
12. Canadian Forces Decoration with service bars.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Photo Friday: Red

My daughter's favourite colour is red.  It was once my favourite colour too, until someone told me that red was bad luck and my young impressionable self didn't think to find out if this was true.  In fact, the colour red symbolizes good luck and wealth in several Eastern cultures.

It's always a joy to see these tulips in the spring.

Early in the summer I spotted this raspberry plant that had crept through a neighbour's fence.

This pretty much describes my recent attempts at getting my house organized.  And the fact that I can't seem to find another photo example...  

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Thursday Treat: Allan's Chili

Today is an unseasonably cool day for this time of year, and it reminds me of the dish that I frequently prepare on cool nights in the spring and fall.  It's based on a simple chili con carne recipe but my father liked to change it up a bit.  This is his version.

Allan's Chili con Carne

To make this you will need:

Large skillet with cover
Spatula or mixing spoon

1 pound (500 g) lean ground beef
1 medium sized yellow onion, finely sliced
1 8-oz can condensed tomato soup
1 15-oz can red kidney beans, drained
2 tbsp chili sauce
1 medium bell pepper, diced (optional)

Brown the beef over medium heat, ensuring that no pink remains.  Drain off any accumulated fat.
Add the onion (and bell pepper if using) and sauté until it's just starting to soften.
Stir in the tomato soup and cook until mixture is bubbling.
Add beans and chili sauce, stir well until combined.
Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes.  Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014


"One cannot collect all the beautiful seashells on the beach; one can only collect a few, and they are more beautiful if they are few." -- Anne Morrow Lindbergh

In the powder room at my parents' house is a large glass jar full of seashells, surrounded by several other large shells that are too big to fit in the jar. They represent the many vacations that the family has taken over the years, spanning the continent. Their colours are fading from the long years of being on display, but they're still beautiful to look at.

A conch shell from our first long-distance trip away from home to the Bahamas. I was only five at the time and enjoyed every moment of it. My parents still marvel at the fact that I remember that vacation. Well, to a five year old, a trip on a plane is a big thing worthy of remembering - especially since there was a huge snowstorm on the day of our departure and for a while we weren't sure if the plane was going to be able to leave.

Oyster halves from South Carolina. We have cousins living there and my parents frequently stopped in to visit while en route to a winter destination in Florida.

Cold-water scallops from New Brunswick. We spent many summers visiting my grandfather there and taking excursions to the beaches on the Bay of Fundy. Even in mid-summer the water is cold but so much fun to play in. One only has to be careful of the jellyfish.

They say that when you hold a shell up to your ear you can hear the ocean. The ocean holds a wondrous mystique, and for me it has created many wonderful memories.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

The Barbarian Princess

Our young daughter has a very mercurial temperament, meaning that she can go from being calm to extremely upset at a moment's notice.  Usually it happens when something doesn't go as she expects it, or if she has been disciplined for improper behaviour.

When she becomes agitated in this fashion, there is very little we can do to calm her down and no amount of reason will help her understand the situation.  She fixates on the notion that she's not at fault, or she screams and refuses to obey, to the point where one of us has to discipline her or send her to her room, or sometimes both.  Occasionally her quick temper has disrupted her class at school, and I've had several discussions with her teachers and the school principal about it.

We all agree that she should have an evaluation for ADHD type disorders.  It's clear that there's nothing wrong with her intelligence - she is at the average or above average level in her schoolwork - but her outbursts will eventually cause her to be isolated and perhaps even bullied by her peers.

Table manners are another, possibly related, issue.  I grew up in a household where everyone was expected to be at the table promptly for meals, and to remain until everyone was done and Mom dismissed us. However creating that atmosphere with my own family has been less than successful.  More often than not Missy eats like a three-year-old instead of a girl who is 7-1/2.  She knows how to use a fork and knife, and she knows the mealtime rules, but all bets are off if the TV happens to be on and she'll want to eat in the TV room because she "hasn't seen this episode before".  It doesn't help that Hubby eats quickly and disappears into the TV room before either Missy or I are done.

A catchphrase from one of my favourite books is "Let it be a challenge to you."  Well, this is a definitely a challenge.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Path of Least Resistance

It should have been a fun weekend.  Instead I found myself not quite awake at 4 AM on Sunday as my brother knocked on the door to announce his arrival and that I had to pack up.

But let me start at the beginning.

My brother and I received phone calls Saturday afternoon from my father's neighbour, and the situation was urgent.  The alarm system in Dad's house had been triggered in the wee hours of the morning.  There was nobody there; Dad and his lady friend were off on a holiday, so when the alarm went off the neighbour went over to check on things.  However there had been no break-in.  The alarm had sounded due to a motion sensor being activated by the collapse of the kitchen ceiling, as a result of a water leak.  There was water everywhere.  The neighbour had the presence of mind to shut off the water to the house, and since my father was unreachable, contacted us later in the day.

So my brother and his 23 year old son drove overnight from New Brunswick to pick me up in Montreal at 4 AM and then headed to Dad's house in Ontario.  We arrived there at 6 AM and were met by the neighbour with the keys to the house.  I fervently hoped that it wasn't as bad as the neighbour had made it out to be.

It was worse.

A huge section of the gyprock ceiling above the eating area was down, and there was impact and water damage to the kitchen table and other furniture in the vicinity.  Water had spread across the floor and caused the baseboards at one end of the room to separate from the wall, and then it seeped through the floor and soaked into the suspended tile ceiling of the finished basement below.  When the tile became saturated the water dripped down onto an area rug, damaging that and the hardwood floor underneath.

We did some investigation and discovered that the water had originated from the upstairs shared bathroom.  It quickly became clear that there had been a leak for some time, because the plywood under the bathroom floor was wet, as was some of the carpeting in the adjacent bedroom.  The cause?  The seal between the water supply pipe and the toilet tank had failed.  A small leak had developed, and water dripped down the piping, through the floor, and was absorbed into the gyprock until it couldn't hold any more.  Nobody noticed what was happening because that bathroom was very rarely used unless guests were in the house, and Dad typically used the master ensuite.

We all heaved a big sigh of relief that nobody had been there at the time, and that the damage had not affected any of the precious family heirlooms that were in the house.

Then came the hard part: dealing with the mess.  Since Dad would be incommunicado for another week, my brother and I invoked our legal authority to act on his behalf.  Despite it being a Sunday, we were lucky: reaching the insurance company, getting an adjuster to come to the house, taking lots of pictures, getting a contractor to assess the damage, and giving permission to initiate the cleanup and drying out.  Repair will come later.

Unfortunately we couldn't stay for the entire process, as we all had work and family commitments.  So after coordinating things with the neighbour and making arrangements for the appropriate people to access the house as required, we drove back.  I was dropped off at 6:30 PM, just in time for dinner, and my brother and nephew continued on their way back to New Brunswick.  I sincerely hope they have a safe drive, because both of them have only slept about three hours in the last 24.  I myself probably only slept five hours on Saturday night.

But you have to do what you have to do.  We want to make things as smooth as possible before Dad gets home from his holiday and finds his house a wreck.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Inspirations #2

It was December 1978; my parents took me to the theatre to see a movie that would become one of my all-time favourites.  From the first brilliant blue swoosh of the opening credits, I believed that a man could fly.

That film was, of course, Superman the Movie starring Christopher Reeve.  He was a young (and handsome) actor; fresh out of the theatre programs of Cornell and Julliard, with several Broadway plays under his belt.  His only film role prior to Superman was a small part in Gray Lady Down (1978).  Although he wasn't a comic book fan, he saw the Clark Kent/Superman dual role as a challenge for his acting abilities.

Reeve was the sort of man to stick with his principles.  Following the success of Superman he was offered a number of action hero roles but he turned down many of them, saying that he couldn't act in a role that didn't feel right for him.  He also trained regularly with horses (I was horse-mad at the time like many girls my age were), supported several causes related to the environment, and had political aspirations.

Then in 1995 came the news that during a competition, his horse refused a jump and caused him to fall headfirst on the ground.  For the rest of his life Christopher Reeve would be a quadriplegic, strapped in a wheelchair and dependent on others for his very survival.  But that didn't stop him.  He and his wife became activists for spinal cord research and stem cell research, he wrote books, and he returned to work as an actor and director.  Despite his injuries he kept on living as a true man of steel, until a severe reaction to an antibiotic killed him in 2004.

Christopher Reeve's legacy stands today as a beacon of hope to all who are struggling with physical disabilities.  If we can believe that a man can fly, we can believe that one day the paralyzed can walk.

So what about you, fellow bloggers?  Who do you consider an inspiration to you?

Friday, 11 July 2014

Photo Friday: For the Birds

Several friends of mine keep chickens and geese, and lately they've been crowing over their newly-hatched chicks or the antics of certain birds.  All this has reminded me of the summer trips that I took to my aunt Joy's hobby farm in rural Ontario when I was a teenager.  I still miss the place.

One summer she had a rooster and hen on loan from a neighbour.  The hen was shy but the rooster wouldn't hesitate to come for a treat.  I called him Rusty.  His crow was quite loud and could be heard at dawn every day even from the confines of the barn.  There was another smaller rooster with golden feathers and a green tail that would follow Rusty everywhere and try to imitate him.

Here's a shot of me in front of the farmhouse with two of the other hens and my aunt's dog Sheba. 

Also among the cast of farm characters were a pair of white geese, seen here.  Aunt Joy would joke that they were better than guard dogs because once angered they could get really nasty.  When they became used to me they would come when I called and eat from my hands.  However only the goose would allow me to pick her up.  The gander preferred to hobnob with the other birds.

Another picture of the crew in front of the old barn.  The geese and baby goat are keeping watch over some of the ducks. There was also a small flock of guinea hens but they rarely let anyone to get close to them.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Thursday Treat: Ribbon Cake

One of the good things about my first marriage was going up to the family's lakeside cottage on weekends during the summer.  The family matriarch was an excellent cook, and made many sweet treats that quickly disappeared.  Because the cottage had limited access to electricity she tended to take short cuts and used packaged mixes instead of making things from scratch but they were still yummy.  I chose this recipe for today, but unfortunately I don't have a photo of the finished dessert.

June's Ribbon Mousse Cake

To make this you will need:

Nine-inch by eleven-inch pan
Electric mixer
Mixing bowl and spoon

2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 package instant chocolate mousse mix
1 package instant vanilla mousse mix
1 package instant strawberry mousse mix
1 package Dream Whip dessert topping
Chocolate sprinkles or chocolate powder

In a nine-inch by eleven-inch pan, spread the graham cracker crumbs evenly to form a base.
Choose which flavour of mousse to use first and prepare it according to the package directions.
Evenly spread the prepared mousse over the graham cracker base.
Chill for 20 minutes or until set.
Repeat for the other two flavours of mousse.
Prepare the Dream Whip topping and spread it over the layers of mousse.
Spread the powder or sprinkles liberally on top.
Chill once more for half an hour.

Suggested serving is a 3 x 2.5 inch piece.  Makes about 12 servings.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

A Letter to my Ex's Girlfriend

Dear New Girl: I recently took a quick peek at my ex's Facebook profile and noticed pictures of a Cuban vacation, in which you were prominently featured.  I realized that he was in a relationship at last, after having been alone for a number of years.  I offer you my congratulations.  And my deepest sympathies.

Why would I be sorry for you, you ask?  The reasons are many.  Although many years have passed since I left him and he might have mellowed over time, it has been my experience that men never change their habits.  So I am writing to warn you about what to expect down the road.

Has he told you about his past?  Has he even mentioned me?  It's unlikely, since it's considered bad for a relationship to bring up an ex for any reason.  So let me ask you a few questions.  When he's angry while driving, does he step on the brakes to jerk the vehicle and scare the daylights out of you?  When another driver cuts him off in traffic, does he tailgate the offender and flash the high-beams while grinning like a teenager playing Grand Theft Auto?  Has he demanded sex at inappropriate times, such as while you're trying to sleep or when you're busy with something else?  If the answer to any of these questions is 'yes' then he hasn't changed, and you can expect more of the same.

For the last year of my relationship with him, he made my life a living hell.  I endured mental abuse, isolation from my friends, and treatment as an object to be used instead of cherished.  Very few knew about the monster he was in private, because he had forbidden me to talk to anyone about our personal problems.  His own family insisted that 'he was not brought up that way' and believed him to be a good person.  But I knew better.

The last straw came when I went out to spend some time with a dear friend on his birthday.  I didn't realize that I was being followed.   He eventually confronted me and my friend, accused me of cheating, and pushed my friend around.  I moved out soon afterward, and then he told anyone who would listen that I had been cheating and it was my fault that our relationship had ended.  All of his family and most of our mutual friends cut me off completely.  When I invited him to my new place in an attempt to talk to him reasonably, he sexually assaulted me.  I suffered a nervous breakdown and needed therapy for months.

So please let this letter serve as a warning, New Girl.  He might seem like a great guy at first, but as time goes on he will become abusive and manipulative.  I know you will most likely disregard all this as the rantings of a jealous ex, but at least I can continue my life with a clear conscience.  Good luck to you.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Snow Days

"The Oconee County County Sheriffs Office announces that Valentines Day has been CANCELLED from a line North of I-16 to the Georgia/Tennessee border...due to ice, snow, freezing rain." -- Unknown

The above message was supposedly posted by someone with a wicked sense of humour but I was reminded of it as I sit in an air-conditioned room while others are outside in a day of high heat and humidity.  All over the world, severe weather has been affecting people in some form or other, particularly in places that are not accustomed to it.

Take last winter.  Ice in South Carolina.  Heavy snow in Washington DC.  A slushy mix of rain, ice, and snow in New England.  Not to mention three inches of snow in Montreal along with strong winds and zero visibility on the roads during one particular snowstorm.  But we're used to it.  Such a storm was business as usual: snow crews were out in force, most schools were open, and there were few power outages.

However I've seen images flashing across the Internet of near panic happening when a quarter-inch of snow hits the the ground in Texas, versus two feet of snow in Maine with snarky captions of "Bitch please" or something similar.  In the middle of January the media had assigned the name Janus to a particular snowstorm - and at one TV station an unfortunate graphic artist rendered a screen coloration so that the letter J was hardly visible, which must have been a major embarrassment.  What I couldn't understand is why someone chose the name Janus anyway; he was the god of gateways, but since the month of January was named for him I suppose it made some sense.

Anyway, severe weather in places where it's unexpected is not really a laughing matter.  The existing equipment and infrastructure are frequently unable to deal with it.  Leafy trees cannot support the weight of heavy snow.  Roofs that are flat or with a low pitch that aren't properly supported are vulnerable to collapse. Most people in southern areas might not even own a snow shovel or have appropriate tires on their vehicle.  It's little wonder that a "mere" two inches of snow in Atlanta can bring everything to a screeching halt.  By the same token, many parts of the continent aren't used to having a hurricane on their doorstep.

My mother used to amuse me with this limerick:

There was a young man from Quebec
Who got frozen in snow to his neck.
When asked, "Are you friz?"
He said, "Yes I is,
But we don't call this cold in Quebec."

And we don't.  However even in Montreal we had an unseasonably cold winter; at one point we had temps in the minus twenties for a week.  That's anywhere between -4F and -13F for you folks to the south.  So next time you complain about the cold?  Be thankful.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Drawing the Line

Everyone has heard the expressions "kids will be kids" or "they need to sort it out themselves".  However when does one make the distinction between childhood antics and bullying?

Yesterday afternoon I took my daughter "Missy" to the local swimming pool so we could spend some time together.  However two students from her school were there - I'll call them "Betsy" and "Carrie" - and Betsy in particular has been a source of trouble since last September.

Betsy is taller than most of the other kids in her class and that fact has made her somewhat bossy.  The other kids have a tendency to rally around her in the playground and will shut out anyone who is not deemed worthy of their time.  I've frequently heard Betsy rudely tell others that they can't play with her, Missy included.

Adding to the problem is that my daughter is known to get upset easily, and Betsy knows how to exploit this.  I've told Missy simply to avoid Betsy, or if it gets too much for her, to tell an adult.

So this afternoon when I saw that Betsy and Carrie were at the pool, I instructed Missy to stay away from them.  Everything was all right for a while, but then I noticed that Betsy seemed to be following Missy around.  When Missy went to swim in the shallower end, Betsy went after her.  Missy saw this and started to go to the deeper end instead, and Betsy followed her again.  At first I wasn't sure if Betsy just wanted to swim with her, but finally Missy came to me and said that Betsy was following her too much and ruining her fun.

I took Missy over to the wading area instead.  As we passed Betsy I saw the girl stick her tongue out.  So in effect my daughter was chased out of the pool by this kid.  I knew from experience that I wouldn't get any help from Betsy's mother, because in the past I'd talked to her multiple times about Betsy's behaviour only to get the response "I can't control what Betsy wants to do".

If this happens again I plan to have words with the child's mother.  Not controlling one's child appropriately is asking for big problems in the future, and by all indications Betsy is already becoming a major brat.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Friendly Trees

"I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree." -- Joyce Kilmer

A good friend of mine lives in a rented house on a large suburban lot with many mature trees.  The trees literally surround the house.  They offer privacy from the other neighbours, they offer a windbreak from storms, they provide shelter from the sun during the summer and help keep the house cool.  They provide a nesting area for many wild birds and squirrels and provide shelter from aerial predators.

However recently she said that her landlord paid her a visit and announced that he was going to have all the trees cut down, to be sold for the wood.  Obviously the property is merely an "investment" for him: as soon as the city changes the zoning restrictions from small agricultural to residential multi dwellings, he plans to sell. He isn't interested in selling to a single family because apparently there's no money in that.  He wants to sell to a developer who will give him top dollar and tear everything down.  By removing the trees now, he's making more money in the end because he will not only get the money from the wood, but also more money from the developer who won't have to clear the property.

I don't consider myself a "tree-hugger" but I have absolutely no respect for people who cut down trees for no apparent reason.  If a tree is diseased, dying, or in danger of falling, that's fine.  However I've often wished I could cast a pox on anyone who is willing to destroy a mini ecosystem or knock down a perfectly good house on a large lot in order to build a McMansion or a condo tower; not to mention any public official who approves such projects.  I've seen it happen too many times in the suburbs of my city: promises are made to preserve wooded areas for the benefit of the residents, and then suddenly the land has been sold for development without public consultation.

It's a real slap in the face for residents - present and future - and detrimental for the environment.  All these people seem to care about is the almighty dollar and not the well being of the people and creatures that love the trees.

Update: The landlord followed through and had all the trees taken down, and now the property is a mess of torn-up ground and stumps.  My friend plans to get some measure of "revenge" by turning the property into an urban farm/garden.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Photo Friday: Orange

Today is cloudy, cool, and rainy - a welcome change from six days of oppressive heat. So today's colour will be orange to brighten the day a bit.


This is a common Fulva Daylily, sometimes called Tawny or Tiger Daylily although tiger lilies are a completely different plant.  It's an extremely hardy ornamental plant which has been known to keep growing back for years even after being cut down.

Below is a cluster of Asiatic lilies.  While not as fragrant as other lily species, they can grow almost anywhere and multiply quickly.

This is a fruiting Mountain Ash tree, called Rowan in Europe.  The berries are good food for many types of birds, and even can be made into jelly.  Contrary to popular belief the berries are not poisonous, however the juice is acidic and so surrounding grass can be damaged by a high amount of fallen berries.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Thursday Treat: Mock Mince Pie

Mincemeat pie is a traditional British holiday staple that has been traced back to the 13th century.  Many modern recipes omit the meat and use more fruit instead - hence the "mock" above - making this a wonderfully sweet treat.  The recipe below is for a full-sized dish pie but it can be divided to make tarts.

Mock Mince Pie

To make this you will need:

Large saucepan and spoon
Nine-inch pie dish

1-1/2 cups seedless raisins
4 Granny Smith apples peeled, cored, and sliced
1 tablespoon grated orange peel
1/3 cup orange juice
1/2 cup apple cider (apple juice also works but it's sweeter)
3/4 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
2 soda crackers, finely crushed
Pastry for a 9 inch double crust pie

Preheat oven to 425 F (220 C).
Stir the raisins, apples, grated orange peel, orange juice, and apple cider together in a pan.
Simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until apples are very soft, about 20 minutes.
Stir in the sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and soda crackers until well blended.
Refrigerate until ready to use, or pour apple mixture into the prepared pie crust. Top with the second crust.
Pinch and crimp edges to seal the crusts. Pierce the top crust in several places with a fork.
Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes.
Reduce oven temperature to 350 F (175 C), and bake until top is golden brown, about 30 minutes.
Cool before serving.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Inspirations #1

With the end of the school year I got thinking about the teachers and other inspirational people in my life and decided to write about some of them, so that their stories will hopefully will inspire others.

Andreas Gutmanis was one of the people who most influenced my love of music.  He had a wonderful ability to share his passion by his firm but patient teaching style, and had a classroom decorated with all manner of musical posters.  The first time I met him was in Grade Four; I was new to the school and hadn't had any classroom music instruction apart from singing along to tunes from popular Disney films at the time.

One day early in the term I passed him in the hallway and greeted him shyly, but I mispronounced his name - I think I called him Mr. McGinnis or something like that - and he corrected me in a kind voice with a big smile.  From that moment I knew he was special, because very few of my school teachers thus far had been nice to me or the students in general.

Born in Latvia, Mr. Gutmanis spent his adolescence in Argentina before coming to Canada in 1957.  He studied at McGill University in Montreal and Potsdam State College in New York before returning to Montreal to become a music teacher at both the grade school and high school levels.  He became well known in the arts community as being a director of small instrumental ensembles, as well as founding the Lakeshore Chamber Orchestra.

He also taught private piano and violin lessons, and many of my classmates studied with him.  At the time I had piano lessons with another instructor whom I hated and I wanted to switch, but for some reason I don't recall, my mother insisted that I stick with it.  (By the time I finished Grade Seven I'd reached the limit of my patience and quit.)

Some of my favourite memories were of being in the grade school choir and putting on concerts.  One year Mr. Gutmanis took the choir to an inter-school competition, but although we didn't win it was still a lot of fun. In class he taught music theory using the Orff Method, as well as recorder and ukelele (I still have my recorder).  He frequently had his students sit in the classroom and listen to music: everything from Mozart to modern electronica.  It came as no surprise to me that some of those same students ended up becoming musicians and/or music teachers themselves.

The last time I saw him was in 1992 at the wake for a dear family friend who had died of cancer; he played on his violin several times during the service.  I was in university by then, finishing a Fine Arts degree in Music.  He congratulated me on my educational choice and seemed proud to hear that I was following his footsteps.

After that I lost touch with him, although I heard from mutual friends that he was decreasing his workload in order to care for his ailing wife.  His grade school music teaching post was filled by another former student of his and classmate of mine.  Then in the fall of 2002 I heard news that he was involved in a bicycle accident. The injury itself was not fatal, but Mr. Gutmanis was a haemopheliac, and he died later the same day in the hospital.  It was a loss felt by many.

He is fondly remembered by hundreds of people who worked with or studied with him.  One of the high schools where he worked now offers an award in his name for outstanding achievement in music.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Political Stripes

"It is better to debate a question without settling it than it is to settle a question without debating it." -- Joseph Joubert

Today is Canada Day, or Dominion Day as it was originally called: the day in 1867 that the British North America Act was passed, which united the territories of Upper Canada, Lower Canada, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia into the Dominion of Canada.  So I thought it appropriate to write about something political.

I was unfriended and blocked by an acquaintance on Facebook a while back (let's call her "Sherry") for no apparent reason other than I had expressed a political opinion that ran contrary to her own.

Sherry's initial status read that given the crazy weather in the U.S. at the time, Mother Nature must have wanted President Obama out of office as much as she did.  A friend of hers (I'll call her "Lori") replied: in that case, Mother Nature should have voted in the last election.  While this might very well have been a joke, the tone implied to me that it wasn't.

My first comment was that I failed to understand why so many people seem to hate President Obama so much.  From where I sit, it appears that he has been honestly trying to get the job done but he has been stonewalled at almost every turn.  Lori wrote that she didn't believe that because as far as she was concerned, everything that came out of Obama's mouth was a lie or a smokescreen.

I asked Lori for proof.  Sherry's rejoinder was, because I didn't live in the U.S. I didn't have the right to say what was or wasn't happening.  I disagreed; just because I don't live there doesn't mean I am not entitled to an opinion.  What happens in the U.S. both politically and economically has a direct impact on what happens in Canada.  Besides, I've seen enough from my own government to recognize a smokescreen when I see one.

Lori was ready to write me off, as evidenced by her final comment of "Blah blah blah."  I politely encouraged her to read another of my blog entries to learn more about the crap that English speakers have to put up with in the province of Quebec.  But then Sherry declared the matter closed and that she wanted no more political comments on her status (as if she hadn't been the one that started it).

I decided to send her a private message and apologize for taking things in that direction, only to discover that I could no longer access her profile.  Ergo, she had blocked me.

Personally, I see this as no great loss.  Sherry had been on my friends list simply because we both played the same Facebook game at one time, and I had chosen to keep her there.  But if someone initiates a debate that runs counter to their own beliefs and then they block people who express an opinion that differs from those same beliefs, they're not much of a friend anyway.