Wednesday, 31 August 2011

The Silver Screen

When I turned 30, my 21-year-old brother Bill had a 19-year-old friend who was studying cinematography at university.  I remember wondering:  Why would someone so young be interested in old movies?  I wanted to find out what I was missing so my husband and I borrowed some of them from the public library.  Once we started watching them, we were hooked.

We rented Hitchcock classics like "The Birds", "The Man Who Knew Too Much", "North by Northwest, "Dial M for Murder" and "Rear Window".  The latter two would make great plays.  Hitchcock's techniques were impeccable.  He did an excellent job of developing his characters.  As a viewer, it is neat to watch for Hitchcock's cameo appearance in each of his films.  In "Rear Window" he is the man moving the pianist's clock forward in an early scene.

Then we discovered classic Christmas movies.  My parents had always watched "White Christmas" every year on TV, but that was the only one I was familiar with.  We had never watched "Bells of St. Mary's" for instance, in which a Christmas Play is written and presented by some young students who choose a little toddler to play baby Jesus.  We also discovered "It's a Wonderful Life" starring Jimmy Stewart.  Frank Capra, the director, gives us a great message about how our family and friends make us rich, not material things.  Then we watched "Miracle on 34th Street" starring Natalie Wood. She plays a curious girl similar to Virginia O'Hanlon, the child who wrote a letter to The New York Sun back in 1897 asking if there really was a Santa Claus.  Furthermore, my husband bought the black and white version of "A Christmas Carol" with Alistair Sims; it is by far his favourite version.  Christmas is a great time to rent the classics.

We also discovered Gregory Peck films back in the 1990's.  "Cape Fear" is an interesting story involving an attorney harassed by a convict that he sent to prison ten years earlier.  "Roman Holiday", with Audrey Hepburn, is a great romance between a royal visitor and a reporter trying to get a scoop on her, as they explore the sights of the Italian capital.  "To Kill a Mockingbird" is a sad tale about discrimination in the American South based on the book by Harper Lee.  It has been staged as a play in Stratford as well.

Peter Sellers movies will have you in stitches.  "The Party" is a story about a fledgling actor trying to make it in Hollywood.  He has a bit part in a movie where he accidentally blows up the set.  The producer demands to know who the culprit is and mistakenly records his name on the guest list for his upcoming party.  Peter Sellers' character goes to the party and chaos ensues.  The "Pink Panther" movies also feature Peter Sellers.

Yes, old movies definitely have a lot to offer.  Once you've seen a few, you're hooked.  They have a certain charm and an innocence that seems to be missing from new releases.  During the golden age of the theatre, directors relied more on their actors than on special effects.  Old films had substance.  Now I understand why people study cinematography.  It's intriguing!

Photo of Audrey Hepburn & Gregory Peck in "Roman Holiday" courtesy

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Kicking Back in Kirkton

The old car left the good Toronto
On a very hot day in July.
A small boy with a suitcase in tow
Jumped inside clad in short pants and tie.

"Are we there yet?" the boy asked his dad,
Counting each car on the county road.
Smoke started to shoot out of the rad
As they approached the Kirkton abode.

In the corn field he played hide 'n seek.
In the barn he played fetch with Rover.
He took dips with Leroy in Fish Creek.
He picked a lucky four leaf clover.

But what gave this boy limitless glee?
"Driving" his uncle's old Model T.

Photo courtesy

Dedicated to Norman Tufts on his 75th birthday, February 18, 2008.  I love you, Dad!

Monday, 29 August 2011

Koenigsberg Burning

On the nights of August 26 and 27 and August 29 and 30, 1944, Elfriede Neumann sat in her Taplacken farmhouse and listened to the drone of the planes as the British dropped 480 tons of bombs on the nearby city of Koenigsberg, the beautiful capital of East Prussia, Germany.  Churchill had called Koenigsberg a "modernized heavily defended fortress" and targeted it for attack.  The initial raid resulted in minimal damage; however, the second raid inflicted sheer terror in the hearts of the Koenigsberg residents.  Only nine months had elapsed since the Neumann family had sat for their family portrait at a studio in the city, the last time that Elfriede saw her husband alive; now he was missing in action on the Eastern front and his home province was under siege.

The bombing destroyed all seven bridges in the city.  The university was obliterated.  Many churches were targetted inlcuding the centuries-old Koenigsberg Cathedral, on an island in the Pregel River, which took a direct hit.  One hundred Koenigsbergers, including many children, were hiding beneath the church's large spire and were killed instantly.  This was not just a regular bombing, but a fire bombing.  Thousands of civilians drowned themselves in the Pregel River, their clothes burning as they ran into its waters.  Even the magnificent King's Castle was bombed (see my post "The Amber Room") and damaged, although its frame remained intact.  Statues were smashed and landmarks demolished.  Ninety percent of the 700-year-old city was destroyed.  Koenigsberg burned for an entire week and smouldered for several more weeks.  People were forbidden to enter the city.    The British had sent 800 bombers to fly over the city and drop incendiary bombs, tracking a path from the North train station to the Main train station.  Almost all of the cultural buildings, like the university, cathedral, and castle, were hit by the raids.  One hundred and fifty thousand citizens were made homeless as a result of the bombings.

Elfriede's sister, Doris, saw it all happen from her parents' farm in Nautzwinkel, a village only a few kilometres from the East Prussian capital.  She was called in by the Red Cross to help the victims of the bombings.   The fire departments and air defence were rendered helpless.  A makeshift hospital set up at the outskirts of the city was where Doris and other volunteers tended the wounded.  In the centre of the city, even those who took cover in basements were incinerated due to the intense heat of the incendiary bombs, including napalm.  The bombing of Koenigsberg was like a prelude to the attack on Dresden six months later.  When the smoke cleared, all that was left was a charred ruins.  Incandescent traces of red and orange lingered above the city for days.  Koenigsberg, the bustling metropolis where Elfriede had once shopped with her family, now resembled a ghost town. 

Dedicated to my husband Rob's Oma, Elfriede Neumann (1911-2007).

Portrait of Koenigsberg Castle courtesy

Photo of Koenigsberg Castle ruins courtesy

Sunday, 28 August 2011

I Have a Dream

On August 28, 1963, over 200,000 Americans converged at Washington D.C., swelling its streets and hotels.  They arrived by car, by bus, by train and by plane.  Seventy-five percent of the visitors were black while the other twenty-five percent were either other minorities or whites.  The participants converged at the Washington Monument where they started to march, even as their leader was still inside the Capitol meeting with politicians about their civil rights.  The crowd marched, some holding signs, some empty handed, until they reached the Lincoln Memorial, the statue of the man who was responsible for the Great Emancipation a century before.  It was on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial that their leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., delivered a speech that many consider to be one of the greatest speeches in history.  Below is an excerpt from the "I Have a Dream Speech".

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring."

I am in awe of Dr. King's use of words:  his poetry, his imagery, his knowledge of history.  I am in awe of his courage:  he refused to give up, despite death threats and jail sentences.  I am in awe of his dignity:  in the face of police dogs and night sticks and hoses, he chose not weapons, but words, God's words, to fight the civil rights battle.  He went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.  May his message live in our hearts today and everyday!

Photo courtesy

Saturday, 27 August 2011

The Last Spike

It required 5 years, 12000 men, 5000 horses, 10.4 million hectares of land and millions of dollars to build.  Its poorly paid construction gangs would often go for months without seeing a pay cheque.  Its immigrant workers (7000 of whom were Chinese) often suffered injuries or even deaths due to the hazardous working conditions; many were called upon to dynamite tunnels through the Rocky Mountains or build bridges high above the Fraser Valley.  Its engineers were often stumped when asked for solutions like how to cross the swampy land near Lake Superior or the Rocky Mountain peaks.  Its funding was often in question, leading to arguments among politicians as to whether it should be a public or private venture.

And yet despite the obstacles, on November 11, 1885, Donald A. Smith, a white bearded man dressed in a black suit and a top hat, drove the last spike into the ground of the Canadian Pacific transcontinental railroad.  The building of the railway proved beneficial to many Canadians:  towns sprouted along the route and industry prospered.  The CP transcontinental route was put to use immediately when 5000 Canadian soldiers were transported from Ottawa to Winnipeg within 4 days to quell the second Riel Rebellion.    In the end several businessmen invested in the CPR as well as the Canadian government.  Within 3 decades the CPR was one of the biggest and most successful railroads in the world and included over 22000 miles of track.

Note:  Pierre Berton's book The Last Spike is a detailed account of the cast and characters involved in the building of the Canadian Pacific transcontinental railroad.

Photo courtesy


Friday, 26 August 2011

My 100th Post

It's hard to believe that I've written 100 posts already.  I considered posting the top 100 novels or the top 100 blogs.  But I decided on posting some fun facts about the number 100.  For instance, did you know that if you add the first ten odd numbers, the sum is 100?  Or did you know that the Mona Lisa was discovered stolen from the Louvre 100 years ago?  How about the fact that 75% of Canadians live within 100 miles of the American border?  Check out the link below to see the full list of facts.  Thanks for sticking with me for 100 days!

Image courtesy

Thursday, 25 August 2011

The Suitcase

In an episode of "Everybody Loves Raymond" called "Baggage", Ray and Debra come home from a weekend trip and Ray leaves his suitcase sitting on the landing of the staircase.  His wife Debra refuses to bring it upstairs, thinking that it's her husband's job.  He refuses to move it, thinking that his wife will do so.  In the meantime, Ray's brother Robert asks if he can borrow the suitcase for his honeymoon and Ray explains that it has been sitting there for two weeks, and he will not be the one to move it.  Ray prepares for business trip and Debra expects him to finally move the suitcase, but he packs his clothes in a plastic bag instead.  Furious, she rips the bottom out of the bag and Ray's clothes fall out, but he states that he has a whole set of luggage in the drawer and removes another plastic bag.  Just before he leaves, he slips a rare type of cheese into the suitcase as a joke.  Later, Debra's stereotypical mother-in-law Marie comes over, smells the stench coming from the suitcase and asks Deborah what she's been cooking.  After searching, the two women find the cheese in the suitcase.  Deborah explains what's happening and Marie warns her about an argument that she and her husband Frank had when they first got married.  They received an ugly fork and spoon set as a wedding gift and to spite Marie, Frank nailed the fork to the kitchen wall; in response, Marie nailed up the spoon beside the fork.  The giant utensils remained there for 45 years.  "Don't let a suitcase full of cheese become your big fork and spoon!" warns Marie.  Finally, when Ray returns from the second trip, he and Debra discuss the suitcase that has been sitting on the landing for three weeks.  Who will be the one to remove the suitcase?  Finally, Debra concedes and heads towards the landing to pick up the suitcase; Ray, not to be outdone, tries to pick it up also, and a tussle ensues.  Robert walks in on the wrestling match.  In the end, I believe, both Ray and Debra carry up the suitcase together.

The writers on "Everybody Loves Raymond" have a knack for taking one item and making a show out of it.  The TV show could have been a play since it is so well written and acted.  I have watched every episode three or four times and I never get sick of them.  Everybody loves "Everybody Loves Raymond".

Photo courtesy

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Life is Like a Puzzle

Rob's Oma used to love putting together puzzles.  She would tackle 1000-piece puzzles all by herself.  Bit by bit she would work away at the puzzle.  If she had trouble finding a piece, she would focus on another area of the puzzle.  If she really got stuck, she would take a break from the puzzle.  She was like the tortoise:  "Sure but steady wins the race."  She always finished her puzzles. 

This summer I am putting together a puzzle of Neuschwanstein.  Yesterday, I spent several minutes trying to find one particular piece.  Then I remembered Oma's strategy:  I chose a different piece and within 5 minutes, I had 12 pieces.  Sure enough, the 13th piece was the one that I had been obsessing about earlier. 

It seems like life is like a puzzle (although Forrest Gump might argue with me).  If we obsess about what we want, we often don't get it.  However, if we focus on what we already have, God gives us even more blessings.  For instance, when I was looking for a husband, I couldn't find one.  Then I moved to Windsor to attend Teacher's College and was so happy to be there, that I forgot all about my plan.  Within five months, I had a fiance.  The following year, I had a husband.  Similarly, when Rob and I were trying to have a baby, I obsessed about it for years.  Then, when I least expected it, we adopted Thomas.  When Thomas turned four years old, I found out that I was expecting Jacqueline.  We got not one but two healthy children.  So, count your blessings!

"But seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." (Matthew 6:33)

Cartoon courtesy

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

A Modern Stone Age Family

As a child, my husband Rob used to walk home from school every day at lunch time, take his bowl of Campbell's soup into the living room, and turn on the television to the sound of "Flintstones, meet the Flintstones, they're a modern stone age family.  From the town of Bedrock, they're a page right of history..." 

His favourite episode was "A Haunted House is not a Home' in which Fred had to stay overnight at his late Uncle Giggles house for one night in order to inherit his estate.   Fred invited his best friend Barney to join him since the house was supposedly haunted.  During dinner, the butler served the two men soup and the letters in the soup spelled out the word "Beware!"  Clippers tried to cut the guests as they headed up the staircase.  When Fred and Barney retired, two machetes mysteriously appeared and tried to chop their beds in half.  Finally, they found a hiding place inside photographs for the remainder of the night.  In the morning, Wilma and Betty rescued their husbands.  In the meantime, Uncle Giggles reappeared and told the guests that it was all a joke. 

As Rob would finish his Campbell's soup and prepare to head back to school, he would hear the lyrics:  "Have a yubbadubbado time, a yubbado time, have a gay old time!"  Then he would turn off the black and white television and head out the door.

Now it's 2011 and our children watch "The Flintstones" on DVD.   Jacqueline's favourite episode is also "A Haunted House is not a Home". Thomas' favourite episode is "Indianrockolis 500" in which Barney built a race car for Fred to drive, as "Goggles Pisanno", to raise money for Pebbles college fund. Unfortunately, the men were disqualified when the car's tires disintegrated in the middle of the race. They later did a commercial for Flintrock Tires, though, which gained them $5,000. 

It is reassuring to see the next generation watching the TV show that we loved as kids.  "The Flintstones" is timeless and can be enjoyed by young and old alike.  Yubbadubbado!

Photos courtesy

Monday, 22 August 2011

The Prettiest Town in Canada

I remember driving along Lake Huron on the Bluewater Highway every summer from our mobile home in Grand Bend to Goderich 45 minutes away.  As we entered the town, we passed a sign that said "Goderich:  The Prettiest Town in Canada", a phrase coined by Queen Victoria.  Another sign read:  "Drive Canny".  I used to wonder what canny meant until my Mom explained it.  We would stop at the Metropolitan and eat lunch at the 1950's style cafeteria. 

The highlight was the town centre shaped like the spoke of a wheel.  Apparently, Walt Disney's grandparents lived in Goderich for a time and he used to visit them.  Walt liked the town square design so much that he patterned Disneyland after it.  In the centre of the square was the town hall and courthouse, a huge stone building where Steven Truscott stood trial for murder back in 1959.  Artists sometimes displayed their paintings on the courthouse lawn which was covered in large century-old maple trees.  Around the courthouse was an octoganal traffic circle and around the traffic circle were several shops including a drugstore, clothing stores, restaurants, inns and an old-fashioned movie theatre with a marquis. 

I remember stopping for picnics near the old Huron County Gaol, now a museum, on my way to Silver Lake Camp in Kincardine.  My Mom would bake Magic Cookie Bars for the occasion.  The picnic tables overlooked the harbour complete with the world's largest salt mine.  The harbour water flowed into Lake Huron where the sunsets were unparalleled.  Yes, I can see why Queen Victoria called Goderich "The Prettiest Town in Canada".

So I was shocked to read the headline today:  "Tornado touched town in Goderich.  Town square obliterated."  Thirty-nine residents were injured and a mine worker from Lucknow perished in the storm which registered as an F3, Ontario's worst tornado in 15 years.  A state of emergency has been declared and Dalton McGuinty has promised the town 5 million dollars in aid.  A Facebook page has been set up offering support, supplies and prayers for the victims of the tornado.  May Goderich be restored to its former glory.

Photo courtesy

                                                 The Square, aerial view, 2001

Sunday, 21 August 2011

The Ghosts of Mississippi

On June 12, 1963, a Mississippi housewife is home with her three children when she hears a shot, runs to the door and sees her injured husband drag himself up the driveway 30 feet and collapse in a pool of blood.

This is a scene from Rob Reiner's movie "The Ghosts of Mississippi" which premiered in 1996.  It is based on the life of Black civil rights activist Medgar Evers who was the victim of a racist killing.  Ku Klux Klan member Byron de la Beckwith was arrested and tried for the murder in 1964 and again in 1965.  However, he was freed twice by an all-White jury and returned to his home in Tennessee. 

Medgar's widow, Myrlie, moved to California after the second trial and attempted to provide a safe home to raise her three children.  Although she left Mississippi, she continued to further Medgar's cause, working for the NAACP and later becoming its chairwoman. 

In the meantime, lawyer Bobbie DeLaughter, played by Alec Baldwin, managed to secure a new trial to attempt to convict Byron de la Beckwith, played by James Woods.  Although many of the witnesses who spoke at the first and second trial had since died, Mr. DeLaughter was able to find some surviving witnesses who were willing to talk.  Incredibly, he also found the murder weapon in his late father-in-law's house, knowing that judges used to collect trial evidence as souvenirs.  Equally important was the original trial manuscript which Myrlie guarded with her life.  Bobbie was able to establish a trust with Medgar's widow and eventually she gave him the manuscript.

In the movie, there is a disturbing scene in the men's  washroom where Mr. DeLaughter asks Mr. Beckwith how he could just shoot Medgar Evers the way a hunter would shoot a deer.  Beckwith's response is that a deer is one of God's creatures and he would never shoot a deer. 

With a passionate lawyer on the case, a new judge and a new jury, the State of Mississippi was able to secure a conviction against Byron de la Beckwith in 1994, over 30 years after the original crime.  As Bobbie DeLaughter said in his closing statement, "it's never too late to do the right thing".  The final scene in front of the courthouse when Myrlie Evers, played by Whoopi Goldberg, pumps her fist in the air victoriously after the conviction, is heartwarming.  Will the ghosts of Mississippi finally be laid to rest?

Photo courtesy

Saturday, 20 August 2011

The Glass Castle

"I had almost a hundred dollars saved, enough to get me started in New York.  I could leave Welch [West Virginia] in under five months. 

I got so excited that I started runnning.  I ran, faster and faster, along the Old Road overhung with bare-branched trees, then on to Grand View and up Little Hobart Street, past the barking yard-dogs and the frost-covered coal piles, past the Noe's house and the Parishes' house, the Hall's house and the Renkos' house until, gasping for air, I came to a stop in front of our house.  For the first time in years, I noticed my half-finished yellow paint job.  I'd spent so much time in Welch trying to make things a little bit better, but nothing had worked."

(The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls, page 370-371)

Jeannette Walls was one of four children born to Rose Mary and Rex Walls, and raised in abject poverty, first in Arizona and Nevada and later in West Virginia.  Her well-read father had an engineering background and had served in the air force during World War II.  He had dreams of building a glass castle one day for his family.  However, he was never able to keep a job since he was an alcoholic and drank away any money that he did get his hands on.  Her mother was educated as a teacher, but rarely held a job as one, choosing instead to develop her artistic talent as a painter.  She would spend hours painting, not having the inclination to even cook for her own children when they did have food in the house. 

Jeannette recalls a childhood accident when at the tender age of three she tried to cook hotdogs and spilled boiling water on herself leading to burns that required a skin graft.  Jeannette and her brother Brian enjoyed spending their early childhood in the desert, where their mother had also been raised, and recalled playing outdoors for hours chasing snakes and scorpions and toads.  Because the Walls could never pay their bills, they often had to "skeddadle" in the middle of the night and move to another town, becoming well-accustomed to a nomadic existence.

After deciding that Arizona held nothing more for them, they decided to move east to West Virginia, Rex's hometown.  They drove their current jalopy, a 1956 used Oldsmobile they bought for $200, across the country with their belongings strapped to the roof and got snickers from passersby.  Mrs. Walls commented that it was pretty bad when "you out-Okied the Okies".  Somehow, she was able to keep her sense of humour amidst all of the misery. 

Life in the Appalachian mountains in the early 1970's seemed not to have changed much since the time of the Hatfield's and the McCoy's, or at least since the Great Depression.  The main industry in Welch was coal mining, leaving the houses black as well as the miners' lungs.  Many families lived on food stamps.  The Walls' moved in with Rex's parents, to whom Rex had not spoken for years.  Rex's Mom greeted her grandchildren at the door with rotten teeth and a cigarette hanging out of her mouth.  Jeannette and her siblings soon discovered that their grandparents were heavy drinkers and even made their own moonshine, stored in giant bottles in the basement. 

After staying with their grandparents for a few months, the Walls moved into their own home, a dilapidated house leaning on a hill with a rotting porch and no heat or hot water.  Jeannette and her brother Brian attempted to help their father realize his plan of building a glass castle by digging a foundation in the backyard.  However, Rex never put his plan into action and the large hole ended up serving as a garbage dump for the family since they could not afford garbage pick up.

With the father often disappearing for days on a bender and the mother immersed in her painting, the four children learned to fend for themselves.  They found food in the school cafeteria garbage cans or ate at a friend's house.  As they got older, they took part time jobs to improve their lot in life; however, often Rex found their hidden stash of money and wasted it in bars. 

While most residents of Welch never left the city limits, the Walls children realized that leaving West Virginia was their only hope for success.  They also realized that they could only change themselves, not their parents.  The oldest sibling Lori got the idea to become a professional artist in New York City and moved there when she graduated from high school.  Jeannette followed and got a part time job and within a couple of years saved enough money to enrol in Barnard College's journalism program.  Then brother Brian arrived and became a police officer.  Lastly, "baby" Maureen moved to New York and stayed with Lori  Four years after Jeannette came to the Big Apple, her parents followed suit.  While Jeannette lived on Park Avenue with her lawyer husband, her mother scavenged through dumpters looking for food.  For several months the Walls were homeless; Rose Mary told her daughter that life on the streets was one big adventure.  Eventually, however, they became squatters in an old building in the city. 

The Glass Castle is a superbly written memoir that sat on the New York Times bestseller list for 100 weeks after its publication in 2005.  Apparently, it is about to be made into a movie as well.  Once you read one page, you won't be able to set it down.

Photo courtesy

Friday, 19 August 2011

The Erie Beach Hotel

We drive to Port Dover and arrive at the Erie Beach Hotel.  It's like a trip back in time.  The front lawn is perfectly manicured like a golf course.  Black chairs neatly line the front patio.  We are greeted by a friendly host and escorted to the dining room which is nicely furnished.  As we sit down at our table, Jacqueline looks around approvingly and turns into a little lady.  A salad cart is wheeled up to our table and we have your pick:  coleslaw, carrots, celery, pickles, onions, beets, marshmallow salad and bean salad.  The waitress brings a basket of celery bread to the table -- we take one bite and we're in heaven.  Rob and I order fish and chips.  The Lake Erie perch is lightly battered and tastes delicious.  Thomas and Jacqueline order chicken strips which are excellent.  Everyone raves about the food.  We are all stuffed by the end of dinner; not even Rob can finish Jacqueline's fries.  Thomas says that now he knows why we drove all this way for dinner.  We exit the restaurant and take another look at the perfectly green lawn.  Then we get in our van and head out of town -- until next year.

Photo courtesy

Thursday, 18 August 2011

To Cut or Not to Cut?

The editing process can be a painful one.  A year ago I started writing my picture book I'm Just a Home Child about my Great Grandma, Daisy Blay (see my post "The British Home Children", dated August 1).  I have gotten several good suggestions from fellow writers; however, with every rewrite, I add to my word count.  Now I am up to 2400 words.  Ideally, I would like to cut the book in half.  But how do I do that without losing important details and scenes? 

Ever since I first started writing, I have always gone above my designated word count.  If a professor asked me to write a 1000 word essay, I would give him 1200 words.  If he wanted 1500, I would give him 2000.  It is a real talent to say a lot in a small amount of space.  Less is more, as they say. 

I'd like to submit my book to a publisher by the end of this month so I have my work cut out for me.  Again, I appreciate the tips that I receive from other writers, but at the same time, I don't want to take so much advice that the work isn't mine anymore.  Should I cut the beginning?  Should I shorten the ending?  Should I cut the middle section?  Should I focus on one day of Daisy's life, one year or her entire childhood?  How do I write from a child's point of view, but at the same time keep the material interesting enough for an adult (since parents usually read picture books to their children)?  How do I convey the helplessness of my Great-Grandma's situation without making each scene melodramatic?  How do I make the book educational, but not scary?  How do I paint a picture for the reader rather than simply tell a story? 

These are the questions I ask myself as I read over my manuscript for the hundredth time.  What is that special quality that my writing needs to attract the eye of an editor?  I have sold the idea (three publishers said they wanted to read my manuscript); now I have to sell the finished product.  I long for the day when I hold the actual book in my hand.  For now, I will hang on to others' success stories.  Back to the drawing board I go.

Cartoon courtesy

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

The Toronto Zoo

We went to the Toronto Zoo today.  Heading east on Highway 407, we tried to take Donald Cousens Parkway south to the zoo, but we got stopped by construction in a new residential area.  After driving around on a wild goose chase, we stopped at a gas station and a nice man redirected us to the zoo.  It's hard to believe that Toronto has any vacant land anymore, but we wound our way through the country until we finally found the zoo.  We pulled into the huge parking lot and found a spot in the shade under the trees. 

After a long wait in line, we entered the zoo.  By then, it was lunch time.  Rob and the kids ate hotdogs and I had a whole wheat baguette with tuna.  Then we headed to the pavillions:  Africa, Indo-Malaysia, Australasia, Eurasia, the Americas and Canada.  We skipped the latter pavillion, though, because it involved an hour of walking just to get there and back with a steep hill (we figured we'd be doing enough walking with the other pavillions).  We saw everything from spiders to butterflies and from hippos to polar bears. 

My favourite animal was the mountain goat perched on top of a man-made mountain.  I wondered which goat got to sit atop the mountain each day?  Did they take turns or draw straws for the spot or was it the toughest goat that won the covetted perch?  Rob's favourite creatures were the snakes.  Jacqueline preferred the tigers.  And Thomas seemed to enjoy all of the animals.  He took several photos on his I-Pod.  I tried to take one picture of the kids with the device and it took me about 15 attempts.  Remember my post "Technology:  In Forward or Reverse"? 

We stopped at Coyote Jack's for supper (the McDonald's that Rob and I visited as kids is no longer there).  Then our last stop was the "Zootique".  Staring right at us as we walked in the door were two large tables full of stuffed animals.  Remember my post "Stuffies Galore"?  Well, Jacqueline was in heaven.  One table was full of foxes and the other was full of leopards.  We would have guessed that they cost $30 each, but they were on sale for $7.99.  Jacqueline picked a leopard, saying that she would pay us back with money from her piggy bank.  On the way out, I noticed that about 10 leopards had been sold just in the 5 minutes we were in the store.  Jacqueline said she noticed another girl eyeing the leopards, but when she asked her Daddy if she could buy one, he said "No".  Jacqueline's response?  "I couldn't believe it!" 

We made our way to the gates of the zoo and climbed back in the van.  We thought we would have no problem on the return trip.  We were wrong!  We ran into more construction and the street that we thought would connect to Highway 407 didn't.  So after several attempts, we finally got back on the highway.  At least we missed rush hour, though.  We made it home at about 8:30 pm.  What a great day!

Photo courtesy

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Julie & Julia

Julie & Julia:  365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1Tiny Apartment Kitchen is the story of a New York City woman who is stuck in a depressing job dealing with insurance settlements from 9/11 victims and their families.  In an attempt to distract herself from her tedious job, she develops a passion for cooking.  She finds her mother's old cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking and decides to cook all 524 of Julia Child's recipes in the space of one year.  A fledgeling writer, her husband gives her the idea to blog about her cooking project and she takes him up on the idea.  Although Julie's blog starts at a slow boil --  she receives criticism from her mother and others -- it picks up steam and before she knows it, the blog is sizzling fueled by a large following.  Julie describes the joy she feels when making Julia's "Mousse au Chocolat" or the horror she endures when trying to debone a duck for "Duck a l'Orange" or split a lobster in two with a knife for "L'Homard a l'Americaine".

Julie is so real and genuine that she is able to connect easily with her readers.  People enjoy hearing about the cooking successes and mishaps (especially the latter) of an average American woman.  Julie & Julie (the paperback edition was published as Julie & Julia:  A Year of Cooking Dangerously) is a great book for both cooks and writers.  It is a great book for someone with an unrealized dream.  It's exciting to see Julie undertake this project the way a runner might attack a marathon.  Unfortunately the real Julia Child heard about the Julie/Julia project and thumbed her nose at it, thinking that it was simply a stunt.  But I see it as something positive and uplifting at a time when the average New Yorker needed inspiration.

Julie & Julia was published in 2005 and appeared on the big screen in 2009, starring Amy Adams and Meryl Streep.  It is interesting to see the movie jump from 1950 Paris to 2002 New York and back again.  We see Julia Child's early days at the Cordon Bleu cooking school where she first develops her love for haute cuisine.  Then we see Julie Powell in her tiny kitchen in Manhattan also developping a passion for fine food.  Both the book and the movie are excellent.

Bon Appetit!

Photo courtesy

Monday, 15 August 2011

Bon Appetit!

Julia Child took 12 years to write and publish her cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  It first appeared in print in 1961 when Julia was almost 50 years old.  How inspiring to see someone succeed later in life!

Julia was born on August 15, 1912 to a privileged California family.  She attended private schools where she excelled at both academics and sports, reaching a height of 6-foot-2-inches in her teens. Julia studied history at college and intended on being a writer, but her unsolicited manuscripts were rejected by the New Yorker and nothing came of her early attempts at writing. 

During World War II, Julia was hired to work for the OSS (Office of Strategic Services) and was sent abroad on assignment.  While in China, she met a fellow American named Paul Child and they fell in love, marrying in 1946.  The newlyweds moved to Paris, France two years later where Paul was posted by the Foreign Service. 

It was in Paris that Paul introduced Julia to "haute cuisine".  She enrolled at the famous French cooking school Cordon Bleu.  While studying there she met two women named Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle and the threesome opened a French cooking school called "L'Ecole des Trois Gourmandes".  They also started writing a cookbook with the intent of bringing French cuisine to the American mainstream.  However, it soon became apparent that one of the three women, Louisette, did not pull her weight; even so, her name remained on the cover. 

The cookbook became Julia's "raison d'etre" for the next 12 years as she followed her husband from job post to job post around Europe.  The first publisher that got involved in the book project, Houghton Mifflin, declared that it was far too long and ressembled an encyclopedia rather than a cookbook.  But Julia persevered and found a new publisher Alfred A. Knopf.  The final edition of the book ended up weighing 3 pounds, covered 734 pages and included 524 recipes.  Julia and her fellow authors' attention to detail and helpful drawings were appreciated by their readers.  It is considered to be one of the most influential cookbooks ever published and features such favourites as "boeuf bourgignon", "bouillabaise" and "cassoulet".  Never out of print, it is estimated that at least one million copies of Mastering the Art of French Cooking have been sold. 

Julia Child went on to publish almost 20 books.  She starred in a cooking show in the 1960's called "The French Chef".  She wrote many magazine articles and had a regular column in the Boston Globe newspaper.  But the moment that launched her career was the publishing of Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  So, the next time you cook boeuf bourgignon, think of Julia.  Bon Appetit!

Photo of Julia Child & Master Chef Max Bugnard at Cordon Bleu in Paris courtesy

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Angela's Ashes

"When I look back on my childhood, I wonder how I survived it at all...People everywhere brag and whimper about the woes of their early years, but nothing can compare with the Irish version: the poverty; the shiftless loquacious father; the pious defeated mother moaning by the fire; pompous priests; bullying school masters; the English and the terrible things they did to us for eight hundred long years."

These are Frank McCourt's words taken from his memoir Angela's Ashes.  He masterfully sets the scene and transports the reader back to 1930's Ireland.  His characters are convincing; his dialogue is excellent; his attention to detail is flawless.  He certainly knows how to weave a story.  Mr. McCourt talks about growing up in Limerick in a rowhouse where several families shared one washroom.  He describes how his Protestant Northern Ireland father struggled to get work in Roman Catholic Southern Ireland during the Great Depression.  When he did get work, he drank his pay cheque away in the local pubs and left little for his wife and children.  Frank talks about his long suffering mother who stares into the ashes of the fireplace each day, wondering how she will feed her large family and nurse her malnourished children.  He remembers his First Communion and the excitement of attending a movie that evening at the Lyric Cinema starring James Cagney, the happiest day of his life.  He also recalls his battle with typhoid fever at only 11 years of age.  Frank envies the families who have Sunday dinners with roast beef and starchy potatoes and vegetables and trifle.  He longs for a mattress to sleep on without fleas.  He dreams of shoes without holes.  And when his Dad leaves for a job in England and never returns, he longs for a father figure.  Although Angela's Ashes is painfully sad, Mr. McCourt's sense of humour permeates every page, uplifting the reader.  I'm sure it was his sense of humour which got him through his childhood.  It's a fascinating tale!

Photo courtesy

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Escaping from East Germany

It was with mixed emotions that Elfriede said goodbye to Ruhla, a stable home for the past six and a half years.  She had found steady work there, her children had attended school there, and Irmgard had been confirmed at the Lutheran Church there.  This had been the only home her son Manfred truly remembered.  Even so, she could not risk their safety.  The communists in her workplace wanted her to become political and she wasn't willing to comply.  She had to get out of East Germany.

It was in 1953 that Elfriede starting planning her escape from East Germany.  She left Ruhla in April of 1954 with only the clothes on her back and her two children in tow.  Ironically, Ruhla was only 30 miles from the West German border; however, it would not be safe to escape there.  They would have to cross the border in Berlin.  Wearing her Communist pin that she had earned for her hard work at the Wartburg auto factory, Elfriede and her children boarded a train for Berlin, 300 miles to the northeast.  In the capital, they purchased tickets for the untergrundbahn (U-bahn) or subway to the western half of the city, telling the authorities that they were visiting Elfriede's Tante Hanna for a week. 

Elfriede was nervous, but she tried not to convey her feelings to anyone as she climbed aboard the yellow CII train.  As the U-bahn headed west, she was forced to show documentation at every checkpoint.  Borholmer Strasse -- yes, the guard let them continue their trip!  Chausseestrasse -- they were free to go!  Invalidenstrasse -- the guard passed them by!  Friderichstrasse -- yes, they passed that checkpoint safely!  As the train progressed, Elfriede's children watched the posters of various Communist leaders like Stalin fly past -- all of a sudden, the posters stopped -- they must be in West Berlin!  Little Manfred and Irmgard could not mask the excitement on their faces, but Elfriede put a finger to her lips, reminding them to keep silent, not wanting to alert the Stasi (Communist secret police).  Then they hit Heinrich-Heine-Strasse.  No check.  On they went to the Oberbaumbrucke check point.  No check.  Finally they reached Sonnenallee Station.  Elfriede ripped the medals off of her chest in a moment of liberation.  She was sure that the reason whe was not questioned on the train is that she wore the Communist medals, convincing the authorities that she was a proud Communist.  And yet it was Communism that she was fleeing.  Hallelujah!  The Neumann family was finally safe. 

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the building of the concrete version of the Berlin Wall.  Originally a barbed wire barrier, it eventually became a concrete wall.  Between the end of World War II and the erection of the wall, 3 million East Germans escaped to the West, even though the borders were closed (except in the capital city).  It was the Communists' intent to prevent further defections by putting up the wall.  Although escapes were more dangerous once the wall was built, they were still risky in the late 1940's and 1950's.  Under the watchful eye of the Stasi, escapees risked jail time or even death when trying to cross from the east to the west.  By the 1960's, escapes were made by hot air balloon, by plane and by tunnel.  A concrete wall would not stop their trek to freedom.

(I dedicate this post to Elfriede Neumann, Rob's Oma.  To learn more about Elfriede, read my post titled "Bon Voyage" dated June 2, 2011.)

Photo of Conrad Schumann defecting to West Berlin courtesy

Friday, 12 August 2011

The Stork Club

As a warm breeze blew off of Lake Erie, the cars made their way to the small town of Port Stanley.  One by one the occupants of the cars emerged and entered the dance hall.  The young men were dressed in suits and ties; the young women wore elegant evening gowns, their hair freshly set.  The Johnny Downs Orchestra, a Canadian band from London, Ontario, warmed up and the couples took to the dance floor.  They glided around the 24,000 square foot floor, some say the biggest in North America, under the light of the Chinese lanterns. 

Couples danced to the strains of "Sophisticated Swing" and "Begin the Beguine".  Later they picked up the tempo with the "Bunny Hop".  My Dad met Johnny Downs in the 1950's and wrote a theme song for the band called "John's On".  They also played the following compositions written by my Dad:  "Blue Water Bay", Will She Make It?" and "Bette" (dedicated to my Mom).

The steady rhythm of the band kept the dancers in sync.  As the moon rose, strains from the orchestra drifted across the lake.  Scents from the fishing boats wafted from the harbour.  The bright lights of the dance hall illuminated the town.  Port Stanley came alive!

*Here is a list of American orchestras that performed at the Stork Club, which operated from 1926 to 1978:

1.  The Official Glenn Miller Orchestra
2.  Stan Kenton Orchestra
3.  Artie Shaw Orchestra
4.  Gene Krupa Orchestra
5.  Woody Herman Orchestra
6.  Harry James Orchestra
7.  Dorsey Brothers Orchestra
8.  Elgart Brothers Orchestra
9.  Ray Anthony Orchestra
10.  Benny Goodman Orchestra
11.  Les Brown Orchestra
12.  Guy Lombardo Orchestra**
13.  Count Basie Orchestra
14.  Duke Ellington Orchestra
15.  Louis Armstrong Orchestra

*List of bands courtesy my Dad, Norm Tufts.
**Guy Lombardo, a Canadian, came from nearby London, Ontario.

Photo courtesy

Thursday, 11 August 2011


Tucked into the Bavarian Alps of Germany is a 200-year-old castle called Neuschwanstein.  Its white walls are dotted with windows and its black roof is interrupted by mini turrets.  Some large turrets point heavenward on the outside walls.  Neuschwanstein has a fascinating history:  it was commissioned by Ludwig II of Bavaria, a reclusive king who lived there.  As soon as he died, the castle was opened to the public and has seen over 60 million visitors frequent its halls. Choirs sing in its chambers.  Apparently, during World War II the Nazis hid stolen European art treasures within its walls.  Neuschwanstein also served as Walt Disney's inspiration for his Sleeping Beauty Castle in Disneyland built in 1955 and later Disney World, completed in 1972.  Featured on the big screen in many movies, Neuschwanstein's history will captivate you and its beauty will take your breath away.

Photo courtesy

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

The First Long Distance Call

On August 10, 1876, on the shores of the Grand River just south of Brantford in a two storey white farmhouse with green shutters, a man spoke into a primitive instrument to his assistant in the nearby town of Paris, Ontario.  The assistant's response was transmitted successfully through the instrument, marking the world's first long distance phone call.  Alexander Graham Bell was born in Scotland.  The damp climate made tuberculosis rampant and both of his brothers succumbed to the disease.  His parents packed up their things and moved to Canada with young Aleck, settling just outside of Brantford.  Alexander was always working to find an instrument to help his mother who was hard of hearing.  This was how he came to conceive the idea for the telephone at the family home.  The first telephone call was made in March of 1876, the famous exchange where he says "Mr. Watson -- come here -- I want to see you!" Then, it was time to make the first long distance call, which took place five months later, right here in Brantford.  Although Bell is credited with 18 patents, including one for the metal detector and for a hydroplane, he is still best known for his invention, the telephone.  And it all happened in the little city of Brantford.

Photo courtesy

Tuesday, 9 August 2011


What is so comforting about the cadence of crickets humming?  Is it a sound that we associate with our childhood? Is it because the crickets' hum serves as reassuring background music to our day?  Is it because crickets hum in a steady rhythm?  It's interesting how crickets hum in sequence; you don't hear one odd chirp -- you hear many chirps all at once.  The crickets have their own orchestra, tuned and ready to play every evening.  If their lead violinist gets sick, the show still goes on.  Their leader doesn't have an ego like Boris Brott.  Each performance is free of charge.  While we might not hear the crickets on a stormy evening, we always know they will return the next evening for another performance.  The cricket concert continues uninterrupted until the masestro sets down his baton.  And then the violins and violas and cellos go back into their cases until the sun re-appears above the horizon. It's an endless outdoor concert under the stars.

Cartoon courtesy

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Technology: Life in Forward or Reverse?

Technology can be a great tool:  Rob was able to complete his thesis and graduate from the PhD program in 4 1/2 years thanks to the Internet and the wealth of information at his fingertips; my sister-in-law was able to Skype with her husband when he was away for two weeks on a business trip in Arizona; my son is able to download songs which he then teaches himself on the guitar.

However, technology isn't so fun when you spend an hour and a half researching and writing a detailed blog about the London riots only to lose it with one press of a button!  Technology isn't so fun when you are at the Orlando airport and the computers are down and the waiting line gets longer and fuses get shorter.  Technology isn't so fun when you keep getting phone calls saying you haven't paid your water heater bill, but then it turns out that it's the people who had your phone number before you. 

Technology has moved us so far forward and yet at the same time it has put us in reverse.  We would not be where we are today without technology.  However, when technology breaks down due to a technical error or due to human error, we are lost.  It has both simplified and complicated our lives.  Nobody can do anything the old fashioned way.  Remember the old credit card contraptions that rolled across your credit card and made a copy of it?  Remember when cashiers made change in their head?  Or how about a face to face conversation rather than two teenagers sitting side by side on a couch texting each other?

Yes, technology is great but I miss the days when we did things the old fashioned way.  Yes, we had to use our brains more.  We had to use our imaginations.  Life was simple.  And I wouldn't have had to rewrite my blog today!

Photo courtesy

Saturday, 6 August 2011

What Beauty in a Setting Sun

It's almost dusk, the evening's come.
The sun descends, the birds have fled.
The day is long, the day is done.
What beauty in a setting sun.

Streaks of yellow and orange and red
Paint the horizon up ahead.
God's many creatures do abide
Underneath their canopy bed.

The artist works without a guide.
He strokes the brush from side to side.
An endless canvass he's begun.
He paints the sky -- so vast, so wide.

Then one by one the colours run.
The twilight is about to come.
The day is long, the day is done.
What beauty in a setting sun.

Linda Jonasson
(June 1, 2006.)

Photo courtesy

Friday, 5 August 2011

The Dust Bowl Trip

Dressed in short pants, a dress shirt and a cap, a little boy climbed into his father's shiny new 1936 Chrysler along with his mother and his grandmother.  Born and raised in Toronto, he was excited about leaving the metropolis and heading out west to visit his relatives.  It would be interesting to sit in a car that was actually moving, rather than pretending to move, like when he "drove" the old Model T that sat abandoned on his uncle's farm in Kirkton each summer.  The heat had peaked that summer in North America and Canada was no exception.  Meteorologists were announcing record temperatures everywhere.  The trip through Ontario seemed uneventful, but that would not last long.

The maroon-coloured Chrysler crossed the American border at Port Huron and stopped in Grand Rapids where the little boy got out, stretched his legs, and said hello to his American cousins for the first time.  After a pleasant stay, he and his family headed to the ferry to cross Lake Michigan.  A worker took the boy's father's keys to the Chrysler and headed up the ferry ramp to park it.  To the little boy's horror, the worker failed to manoeuvre the sleek automobile around a post below deck and smashed the bumper.  Forced to postpone their trip while they waited for the car to be repaired, the family was stuck in Grand Rapids. 

Within a week, with the Chrysler as good as new, the little boy watched his father guide the family automobile back on to the highway.  The family crossed the Canadian border a second time and then headed due west.  Once they reached the Prairies, the little boy could not believe the heat.  Water was hard to come by so his mother tried to get him to eat oranges but he hated oranges.  Finally, she convinced her son to drink some skim milk instead. 

Progress was slow:  the vehicle only went 40 miles per hour at top speed.  There were nothing but plains as far as the eye could see.  Furthermore, every so many miles, the father had to pull over at a garage and have the car serviced:  hundreds of grasshoppers from the fields kept getting trapped in the automobile's radiator and had to be removed.  The little boy's mother, city-bred and not used to roughing it, was growing quite upset by the plagues of locusts.  His grandmother, however, remained calm and unfazed, having grown up on a farm herself.  The grasshoppers were so powerful that they stopped not only cars, but also trains when they covered the railroad tracks.  And worst of all, they ate the farmers' crops.  At one point, the lad noticed a strong stench which grew stronger the further they progressed.  Sure enough, after about 25 miles, the Tufts' reached a small lake that had dried up and the dead fish were rotting in its bottom.  The little boy from Toronto thought that they would never make it to their destination. 

Their dust-covered automobile was like the little engine that could as it headed into the foothills of Alberta.  Finally, they reached their relatives' house, their journey complete.  Handshakes were exchanged and introductions were made.  Then the father carried the trunk and the little boy lugged his suitcase through the dirt to the front door.  Relieved to be out from under the relentless summer sun, the families prayed and shared a meal together.  For the three-year-old boy, it was a trip he would not soon forget.

(Dedicated to my Dad, Norman Ross Tufts.)

Photo courtesy

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Ponte Vecchio

     Last summer, the kids and I put together a puzzle of the Ponte Vecchio ("Old Bridge"). It is one of the oldest stone bridges in Europe, spanning the River Arno in Florence, Italy and is the only bridge to be spared by the Nazis during their retreat of August 4, 1944.  The Nazis destroyed every other bridge in the city, but left the Ponte Vecchio intact after a direct order from Hitler, possibly because of its history.  Instead, the Nazis destroyed the buildings on either end of the bridge to prevent access to it.

     The first records of the bridge date back to 998, but within 100 years of its construction, it was destroyed when the River Arno flooded.  It was rebuilt and served as a home for several shops housing fishmongers, butchers and vegetable sellers.  So much trade was done on the bridge that people believe that the word "bankrupt" originated here.  Each merchant did his business on a "banco"; if he ran out of money, his "banco" was "rotto" meaning his bench was broken.  "Bancorotto" means broken bank and without a bank, the merchant could no longer do business, hence the term "bankrupt". 

     When Ferdinand 1 de Medici, an Italian duke, used to pass over the Ponte Vecchio in the 1500's, he did not like the smell and so he ordered that the fishmongers, butchers and vegetable sellers be replaced with goldsmiths and silversmiths. 

     In 1966, the Ponte Vecchio was assaulted by yet another flood on the River Arno during which many shops were destroyed but the bridge itself survived.  The shops were rebuilt and the bridge remains a centrepiece of Florence today.

Photo courtesy

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Follow Your Dream

     Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper editor for lack of ideas.  Forty-five years after his death, he is still a household name.  Thomas Edison's teachers told him he was too dumb to learn anything.  Now he is credited for dozens of inventions, including the lightbulb.  An MGM testing director declared that Fred Astaire:  "Can't act.  Slightly bald.  Can dance a little."  Now he can be found in several movies.  Albert Einstein did not speak until he was four years old and did not read until the age of seven.  Later he coined the scientific "theory of relativity". 

     Canadian artist Ken Danby attended Ontario College of Art with my Uncle Greg. Some of his teachers said he would never make anything of himself; he even quit college early.  By the 1980's, however, he was a famous photorealist and owned a studio, selling his paintings all over the world ("Lacing the Skate"; "Leather Hat"). My uncle wished he had taken his sketches out of the garbage can when he had the chance. 
     Like Danby, Disney, Edison, Astaire and Einstein, Monty Roberts also had a dream.  He was the son of an itinerant horse trainer, and had moved around for much of his childhood.  His schooling was frequently interrupted and his marks suffered as a result.  In high school, one of his teachers assigned the class the task of writing an essay about their future.  Monty set to work composing a seven-page paper explaining how he would have a horse ranch complete with a diagram.  The 200 acre ranch would have stables and a track among other things.  He would also have a 4000 square foot dream home on the property. 

     After pouring his heart and soul into the exercice Monty was astounded to receive an F on his essay with a note saying "See me after class".  The teacher then explained that he thought his student's dream was far too unrealistic given that he was from a poor family with few if any resources.  He offered to re-mark the paper if Monty submitted a new one with a different plan.  After thinking about his teacher's offer for a week, Monty's reply was:  "You can keep the F and I'll keep my dream". 

     Then the adult-Monty turned to the group assembled and said "I tell you this story because you are sitting in my 4000-square-foot house in the middle of my 200-acre horse ranch.  I still have that school paper framed over the fireplace."  He added that a couple of years ago he had invited his former teacher to the ranch with 30 kids as his guests.  The teacher said to Monty that he used to be a "dream stealer" and that he had stolen many kids' dreams.  However, he was glad that Marty had the gumption to not give up on his dream. 

     Without dreamers we would have no Disney World, no inventions, no movies, no paintings.  Don't listen to the dream stealers.  It's never too late to follow your dream.  What are you waiting for?

(Excerpts taken from Chicken Soup for the Soul's "Consider This" & "Follow Your Dream")

Ken Danby's painting "Lacing Up" courtesy

Ken Danby's painting "Leather Hat" courtesy


Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Rear Window

A house-bound man named L. B. Jeffries, played by Jimmy Stewart, sits in his apartment and watches his neighbours out his rear window as the mercury in the thermometer threatens to hit 100 Fahrenheit:  a couple sleeps on a balcony on a mattress; a young ballet dancer performs her routine; a composer writes a new tune on his grand piano; an old spinster is annoyed by the noise; and a middle aged salesman fights night and day with his beautiful young wife; an opera singer practises her scales; and newlyweds arrive home from their honeymoon.  All the while a little dog scurries through the gardens of the courtyard down below.  Between the apartment buildings, one sees through to the street where kids play hopscotch on the sidewalk. 

In the meantime, Mr. Jeffries (Jeff) sits in his apartment waiting for his broken leg to heal.  A motherly nurse named Stella comes each day to care for him, giving him sponge baths, massages, checking his temperature.  Jeff asks Stella for advice about his girlfriend, Lisa, played by Grace Kelly, whom he says is in love with him but he remains uncommitted.  She has two words of advice for him:  “Marry her.”  At this point, director Alfred Hitchcock makes his cameo appearance, this time winding the mantle clock of the piano player. 

The heat wave is broken by a heavy rain storm during which Jeff hears a scream ring out and his reporter mind goes into overdrive.  Then more strange occurrences happen.  The shades are drawn in the apartment as the mysterious salesman makes several trips in and out with his suitcase.  With binoculars in hand, Jeff watches the salesman from his window; his wife is nowhere to be seen.  All the while you hear the children playing on the street below.

Jeff gets his reporter friend involved after he sees the suspicious salesman have a large trunk carted away.  He also gets help from his girlfriend Lisa who identifies the salesman as Lars Thorwald.  In the meantime, the little dog starts digging in the salesman’s garden.  The reporter does a background check and finds out that Mrs. Thorwald is supposedly visiting her mother.

Even so, the incriminating evidence against the salesman adds up, especially when he rifles through his wife’s purse.  The reporter returns and declares Mr. Thorwald innocent, but Jeff still maintains his guilt. A scream interrupts a party going on at the composer’s apartment:  everyone comes to their window to see what’s happened.  The little dog is dead in the garden, strangled. 

Jeff gets brave and sends a note with Lisa to the salesman asking:  “Lars Thorwald:  What have you done with her?”  Then he gets really brave and phones him asking if he got his note.   Lisa and Stella try digging up the garden where the little dog had dug looking for evidence, but to no avail.  Lisa risks searching Lars’ apartment, and finds his wife’s wedding ring, but he catches her in the act. 

Mr. Thorwald phones Jeff who spills the beans by mistake, thinking someone else is on the line.  Then there is a long silence followed by heavy footsteps on the stairs; the door slowly creaks open; Jeff is sitting in the shadows in his wheelchair.  Thorwald asks:  “What do you want from me?”  Wheelchair-bound Jeff blinds Thorwald with the giant flashbulbs from his camera.  The police arrive in the nick of time to save Jeff from the salesman’s evil grasp, but not before he falls from his balcony.

The final scene shows the thermometer has dropped to a comfortable 70 Fahrenheit.  The balcony couple has a new dog; the ballet dancer has a new boyfriend, a soldier; the newlywed husband quits his job; Jeff has not one but two broken legs; and Lisa is reading Bazaar magazine.  Hitchcock works his magic once again.    

Photo courtesy


Monday, 1 August 2011

The British Home Children

     Today, 4 million Canadians are descendants of British Home Children who immigrated to Canada between 1869 and 1939, mainly from England’s large cities.  Brantford MP Phil McColeman, whose uncle was a home child, had a bill passed in Parliament declaring 2010 “The Year of the British Home Child”.  

     My great-grandma, Daisy Blay, was also a home child.  Raised in London, England, her mother sold their furniture to pay the rent; her father died of liver cancer; and her baby sister of rickets.  Eight-year-old Daisy was abandoned by her mother at the Barnardo Home in 1903. 

     The London of Daisy’s great-grandparents had quadrupled in size from 1821 to 1900.  Late 19th Century residents were entertained by Jumbo the Elephant and terrorized by Jack the Ripper.  While the world’s largest city had wealthy areas, the slums prevailed, portrayed in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist.  The Industrial Revolution brought thousands of rural residents to the city; but low wages and limited jobs left 30% in poverty.

     Victorian living conditions were appalling:   lack of clean water led to infrequent bathing; charwomen dumped slop pails into the streets; smokestacks pumped fumes into the air; and tainted drinking water caused cholera outbreaks, killing thousands.  Many adults preferred drinking beer, rather than the foul liquid from the River Thames, using it not just as a beverage but as a panacea.

     Evangelical Dr. Thomas Barnardo treated cholera victims at a London hospital in 1866, 65 % of whom hailed from the East End slums.  Preaching from a chair, Dr. Barnardo pleaded with East Enders to surrender their life to Christ.  Finding “street arabs” on every corner, he opened Stepney House to shelter these waifs, two-thirds of whom still had one surviving parent.  More Homes opened and their occupants were called “Home Children”.

     With Stepney House full, Dr. Barnardo sent some wards to Canada.  Adventures abounded on these trans-Atlantic passages.  The Scotian, crossing two days before the Titanic, dodged icebergs complete with polar bears.  The Sicilian dodged U-boats on a 1915 crossing.  Ships carried up to 400 children and four parties sailed each year.  Dr. Barnardo believed Canada offered the home children fresh air, a strong work ethic and good Christian values.

     In 1903, Canada’s population was 5.3 million, only slightly more than London’s.  The urban Britons experienced culture shock as they moved onto Canadian farms.  Daisy’s home-child brother William was whipped if he didn’t milk the cows quickly enough, running away more than once.  Many Barnardo children fled, often being found miles away, starving or even frozen to death.  The average home child moved four times, often due to abuse, but sometimes due to a sponsor no longer needing them.  Sometimes even peers showed disrespect:  “Don’t play with her.  She’s just a home child.”  Not all home children were mistreated, however; occasionally, they were unofficially adopted by their sponsor.

     Adult home children qualified to withdraw their wages earned (boys at 18, girls at 21), if the money wasn’t already used to bring a parent or sibling to Canada.  Eleven thousand Barnardo boys served in World War I, including William.   Barnardo girls took jobs as telephone operators, teachers and nurses.  Despite a sad childhood, Daisy married and raised four healthy children, forging a strong Canadian identity as so many of the “little immigrants” did.

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