Wednesday 30 November 2011

The Tapping Keys on the Smith-Corona

When I was growing up I was fascinated with American History.  I saw the Boston Monument, the Mayflower II, The Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village.  I was immersed in Americana.  In high school, I became fascinated with the Kennedy family as my love for American history continued.  In university, I minored in History, taking several American History courses. 

Then it was time to apply to Teachers' College:  I listed French, my major, as my first teachable, and History, my minor, as my second teachable.  I had more than enough History credits, but I had no Canadian History credit, and therefore, I could not make it a teachable.  Fortunately, I had enough English credits to make it my teachable.  However, as an afterthought, I decided to take an introductory course to Canadian History.  My professor was an excellent story teller and from that moment on I was hooked.  I realized that Canadians are just as interesting as Americans.  Yes, our history is shorter than that of our neighbours.  But we do have a history; it just needs to be told.

Enter Pierre Berton.  According to his publicist Elsa Franklin, "Pierre was a human dynamo in his effort to tell the stories of Canada, converting the power of his Smith-Corona [typewriter] into a highly successful popularization of Canadian history." (Toronto Star, December 8, 2004.) 

I remember seeing many of Mr. Berton's books on my Grandad's bookshelf when I used to visit him.  The Last Spike, describing the building of the world's longest railroad at the time, the CPR, was one of my Grandad's favourite titles (see my blog post dated August 27).  Flames Across the Border talks about the War of 1812, told from the point of view of the soldiers, with a captivating naval battle on Lake Erie.   I particularly liked reading The Dionne Years:  A Thirties Melodrama about the Dionne Quintuplets and their childhood years where they were put "on display" for long line ups of Canadian tourists each day.  The Great Depression covered the Dirty Thirties and how 1.5 million Canadians were on relief and 70,000 hoboes rode the rails.  My Dad particularly liked The Arctic Grail about the scores of explorers who searched for the Northwest Passage, a link between the Atlantic and the Pacific.  Sir John Franklin, the most recognized of these exploreres, disappeared in his quest.  We hear about the stories of crews succumbing to scurvy and the elements.  Lady Franklin later paid for an expedition led by Sir John Ross to find her missing husband.  Pierre's work Niagara is a superbly written tale about Niagara Falls, mixing history, geography, science, art and politics.  Mr. Berton even penned a book called The Joy of Writing with practical, inspirational tips for budding writers.

Thank you to the McMaster University professor that lit a spark in me.  If every teacher could bring Canadian history to life the way author Pierre Berton has, it would be the most popular subject on the curriculum.   Although the keys on Mr. Berton's Smith-Corona stopped tapping on November 30, 2004, his stories will endure for generations to come.

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Tuesday 29 November 2011

Laughter is the Best Medicine

My daughter Jacqueline reminded me yesterday that laughter is the best medicine.  She said that if you laugh so hard that you cry, you likely won't get a cold for the next 45 hours.  My husband Rob watched some SCTV clips the other night and he had a great sleep, rather than his usual restless one.  Here are some facts about laughter and its benefits:

  • Laughter relaxes the whole body. A good, hearty laugh relieves physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after.

  • Laughter boosts the immune system. Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease.

  • Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.

  • Laughter protects the heart. Laughter improves the function of blood vessels and increases blood flow, which can help protect you against a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.

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    In 1965, a Saturday Review writer named Norman Cousins was diagnosed with a debilitating spinal disease called ankylosing spndylistis.  His doctor gave him only a few months to live.  Rather than giving up, Mr. Cousins began a daily ritual of taking high doses of Vitamin C and watching comedy films.  He discovered that watching just 10 minutes of comedy would give him up to 2 hours of pain free sleep each night.  Not only did he find comfort in laughter, but he was able to regain the use of his limbs and eventually return to work.  He penned a book about his experienced called An Anatomy of an Illness.  Norman Cousins lived to a ripe old age, passing away in 1990.

    Children apparently laugh hundreds of times in the course of a day, but many adults barely crack a smile from dawn to dusk.  Here are some tips to help us see the lighter side of life:

    1.  Smile!
    2.  Spend time with happy people.
    3.  Tell funny stories to lighten the mood.
    4.  Introduce humour into the conversation when appropriate.
    5.  Share inside jokes with friends.
    6.  Seek out entertainment with humour.
    7.  Laugh at your own expense.
    8.  Be playful and silly.
    9.  Play board games with family or friends.
    10.  Spend time with children.


    E.E. Cummings says that "The most wasted of all days is the one without laughter."  So when your feet hit the floor tomorrow morning as you climb out of bed, put a smile on your face, think of a good joke and enjoy a hearty belly laugh.  It's infectious.  Before you know it, your entire family will be laughing right along with you.

    Monday 28 November 2011

    Peanut Butter

    Enjoyed by the Incas in South America centuries ago, peanut butter is a staple in the North American diet today.  In 1884, Marcellus Gilmore Edson of Montreal was given a patent for the process of milling roasted peanuts.  American George Washington Carver, however, is usually credited with inventing the peanut butter that we eat today.  Dr. Straub of Missouri invented a peanut butter making machine to give the protein rich product to his elderly, toothless patients who could not chew nuts.  Today peanut butter is enjoyed by both young and old alike (although sadly many children seem to have peanut allergies in recent years). 

    Skippy Peanut Butter first appeared on American grocery store shelves in 1933.  Today the company sells 90 million jars each year.  Kraft Peanut Butter first arrived in supermarkets in 1960.  Today they are advertising a campaign called "Spread the Feeling", encouraging Canadians to each donate a jar of peanut butter to their local food bank.  Their goal is to reach 75,000 jars by Christmas; last year, donations totalled 60,000.  With Canada's population sitting at 33 million, it should not be that hard to reach their goal.

    November is National Peanut Butter Lovers' Month and to celebrate the occasion, I am posting a peanut butter recipe.  Enjoy!


    (Curious:  The Tourist Guide)

    ¾ cup flour

    1/3 cup sugar

    1 tsp. baking powder

    1/3 cup milk

    1 egg, beaten

    3 tbsp peanut butter

    ¾ cup packed brown sugar

    ¼ cup cocoa powder

    1 cup boiling water

    In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar and baking powder.  In a separate bowl, whisk together milk, egg and peanut butter; stir into flour mixture.  Turn into greased 8: square glass baking dish.  In heatproof bowl, whisk brown sugar with cocoa powder; whisk in boiling water until smooth.  Pour over cake; do not stir.  Bake in 350 F oven until cake is firm to the touch, about 30 minutes.  Let cool for 10 minutes.

    Photo courtesy

    Sunday 27 November 2011

    Just Like New

    As a child, I can remember my Mom wrapping a canned good in white tissue paper and tying the ends with red or green ribbon, making it look like a large "bonbon".  We would take the gift to church for White Gift Sunday, during the season of Advent.  Recently, I read a picture book about the same topic called Just Like New by Ainslie Manson.  Opening its pages, the reader observes illustrator Karen Reczuch's beautiful watercolours which tell the Canadian part of the story. 

    Sister and brother Sally and Mike live in Montreal and attend church where they are asked to bring a present for White Gift Sunday to donate to a child in war-torn England.  The catch?  The donated present has to be "just like new".  Mike immediately picks a book that he is not interested in.  However, Sally grapples with the decision:  should she wrap up one of two worn out dolls or should she send her doll that is in near mint condition?  In the end, Sally chooses the latter, labelling the doll with its name for the new owner.  Overseas in England, where the scenes are illustrated in black and white, the little girl who receives the parcel is thrilled.  The English girl becomes pen pals with the Canadian one.

    Ainslie Manson brings World War II home to Canada in an informative way, getting to the heart of her readers through a doll.  She shows how a small child can make a big difference in the life of another child just by one selfless act.  I love Canadian historical picture books, especially those that tackle serious issues, but in a safe setting.  If you are interested in this type of book, go to the library and look for the picture books that have a red Maple Leaf on the spine.  Some will of course be fiction books, but others will be non-fiction.  It's a great way to bring history to life for young children.  And hopefully the book will be the spark to incite a lifelong passion for history in your child.  Or maybe your child will pick out something "just like new" to donate to a needy child this Christmas.

    Photo courtesy

    Saturday 26 November 2011

    Santa Claus is Coming to Town

    The stars were out, the weather was mild, and the Christmas lights sparkled as we walked past the old Victorian homes up Park Avenue.  Arriving at Victoria Park, we joined our friends who had already saved us a curbside spot and we unpacked our lawn chairs.  We had a perfect view of an old red brick church with a turret, now converted into apartments.  Although the parade started late, no one seemed to mind as we simply enjoyed each others' company.  The kids kept inching out into the street to see if the first float was coming.  Eventually, we saw the lights of the first vehicle slowly approach us.  One by one the floats went by, the passengers holding their signs, waving their hands and tooting their horns.  "MERRY CHRISTMAS!" read many of the signs, rather than the politically correct, "Happy Holidays".  One even said "KEEP CHRIST IN CHRISTMAS!" followed by a donkey and Mary and Joseph.  It was heartwarming to see that Brantfordites have not forgotten the true meaning of Christmas.  Towards the end of the parade, we waved at our son Thomas who danced his way down the street beside a white limou full of members of his youth group from New City Church.  Finally, we heard "Ho! Ho! Ho!"  The kids looked wide-eyed as Santa waved from his high perch.  With the parade coming to a close, we packed up our chairs, the kids packed up their candy, and we walked with our friends back down Park Avenue to Victoria.  Everyone was in good humour.  My husband Rob commented on the evening:  "Brantford has 'salt of the earth' people."  I agree.  Thank you, Brantford, for a great parade!

    Photo courtesy

    Friday 25 November 2011

    I'm Published!

    I received a cheque in the mail today from the Christian Courier for my poem "The Magic of a Father and a Daughter":  I can officially say "I'm published!"

    Eventhough I've been writing steadily for about five years, I've never considered myself a published author.  I wrote an article for the Brantford Expositor back in 1998 about adoption.  I wrote a poem about adoption called "Did I Ever Thank You?" published in a vanity poetry anthology in 2001.  I've taken writing courses online at Mohawk College in recent summers.  I've participated in NaNoWrimo (National Novel Writing Month) for the past three years where I (along with my writers' club friends)wrote a novel of 50,000 words in the space of a month.  And this year when I attended the Christian Writers' Conference in Guelph, they asked me if I was published or not and I said "No".  They hold a writing contest for attendees each year and the top three winners have either all or some of their registration fee paid.  I was intending on entering the contest, but I can't.  If you've been paid for your writing, you're considered published and therefore ineligible.  What a great problem to have!

    While I haven't had the ever elusive book published, I'm still working on that project.  Nonetheless, it is encouraging to be recognized for my work.  While I may not win a Pulitzer Prize, I will keep tapping away at the computer keys as I edit my book, add posts to my blog and write newspaper articles and poetry.  Thank you, Christian Courier and Maranatha News, for giving me the opportunity to showcase my writing! 

    Photo courtesy

    Thursday 24 November 2011

    Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

    It covers 43 city blocks, its spectators number 3 million; it features 800 clowns, 40 balloons, 25 floats, and 10 marching bands.  The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade was originally called the Macy's Christmas Parade:  it starts with a large turkey and ends with the arrival of Santa's sleigh.  It's a hard concept for Canadians to understand, given that the temperature is still well above zero here when we celebrate Thanksgiving.  The parade starts at 77th street, winds its way past Central Park, past Radio City Music Hall, past Rockefeller Center, turns on to 34th Street, where spectators watch from the Empire State Building, and stops at Macy's Department Store. 

    The Thanksgiving Day Parade started in the Roaring Twenties and was originally planned and executed by the Macy's employees.  The early years of the event featured animals from the Central Park Zoo but within a short time they had helium balloon characters, the first of which was Felix the Cat (1927).  In 1939, Superman flew above the metropolis for the first time.  In 1947, the year that the movie "Miracle on 34th Street" premiered, Artie the Pirate was added to the cast of characters.  Popeye flexed his muscles in the Big Apple in 1957.  Snoopy donned his flying goggles as a World War I flying ace in 1968.  Kermit the Frog hopped down New York City streets in 1977.  Spiderman spun his webs between the high rises in 1987.  Arthur the famous aardvark joined the parade in 1997.  Hello Kitty floated through the streets in 2007.  Every year at least one new character makes an appearance at the Macy's parade.  It's reassuring to see New Yorkers, both old and young, enjoying the innocence of a parade.  Happy Thanksgiving, America!   

    Photo courtesy

    Wednesday 23 November 2011

    War, Peace & Small Slices of Life

    Life magazine was created to help people see the world:  "war, peace, small slices of life and epic themes" were all covered by the photo journalist periodical which debuted on November 23, 1936 at 10 cents a copy.  Originally started in 1883 as a humour publication, it folded during the Great Depression and then was bought by Henry Luce who turned it into a picture based magazine.  At its peak, Life enjoyed a circulation of over 8 million.  Churchill and other statesmen chose to have their memoirs published in the magazine.  One of its most famous photographs appeared in the August 27, 1945 edition depicting a nurse in the arms of a sailor in New York City on VJ Day which marked the end of World War II. 

    Photo courtesy

    Fort Peck Dam was featured on the cover of the first issue of Life.  Here are some other famous photographs that have graced its cover over the decades:

    1.  The Dionne Quintuplets, May 17, 1937.
    2.  The Golden Gate Bridge, May 31, 1937.
    3.  A British Air Raid Victim, September 23, 1940.
    4.  General Dwight D. Eisenhower on D-Day, June 19, 1944.
    5.  Billy Graham, July 1, 1951.
    6.  Queen Elizabeth's Coronation, April 27, 1953.
    7.  The Conquest of Mount Everest, July 13, 1953.
    8.  The Sinking of the Andrea Doria, August 6, 1956.
    9.  School Integration, Little Rock, Arkansas, October 7, 1957.
    10.  Neil Armstrong Landing on the Moon, July 25, 1969.

    Tuesday 22 November 2011

    Welcome to Dallas, Mr. Kennedy

    I was sitting in a Grade 9 history class back in 1981.  My teacher was drawing stick figures on the blackboard (I didn't say he taught art) with arrows pointing up, down, forwards, backwards and diagonally.  He was rhyming off names, dates, facts and figures.  My eyes were glued to the blackboard; my ears were trained on his every word.  I was hooked:  Who shot President John F. Kennedy? 

    Photo courtesy

    Most of us can remember what we were doing and where we were on September 11, 2001 when the terrorist attacks took place in New York City and Washington D.C.?  Well, for my parents' generation, most people could recount their whereabouts on November 22, 1963 when the President was shot in Dallas, Texas.  And in the coming years, there would be multiple books written about the assassination, two official investigations (1964 and 1978) and many conspiracy theories.

    Photo of President Kennedy & Jacqueline Kennedy in limousine at time of first shot courtesy

    Why was Kennedy's death a conspiracy? If you look at the cases of the other assissinated Presidents, each case seemed to be open and shut. When Abraham Lincoln was killed, many witnesses in Ford's theatre saw John Wilkes Booth shoot the President. When James Garfield was shot at a Washington D.C. railroad station, again, many witnesses saw it take place. Similarly, when William McKinley was killed in Buffalo at the Pan-American Exposition, many witnesses watched it happen. However, when John F. Kennedy was killed riding in his motorcade past Dealey Plaza in Dallas, no one actually saw Lee Harvey Oswald pull the trigger. He was allegedly hidden in a window on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository, but no one could be sure.

    Photo of Texas School Book Depository (sixth floor) courtesy http://02JFKsnipernest.jpg.

    From the moment I sat in that history class, I would devour every book I could get my hands on about the assassination. For at least 10 years straight, I lived, ate and breathed the topic. I couldn't get enough of the mystery.  The more I read, the more convinced I was that the official Warren Report, which claimed that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, shooting the President from the Texas School Book Depository, was false.  The Warren Report was a hastily prepared document that pinned the blame exclusively on Oswald.  Much of the information was irrelevant including Jack Ruby's mother's dental records.  (Read Rush to Judgement by Mark Lane.)

    The first book I bought on the topic was Best Evidence by David S. Lifton, a thick paperback full of information and photographs. It presented all of the circumstantial evidence as well as all of the theories formulated about the case. Critics claimed that the President's wounds were not consistent with the number of shots fired that day. Those who supported the Warren Report claimed that there were three shots fired, one going through both Kennedy's neck and Governor Connelly's back, chest wrist and thigh and then exiting in pristine condition; the other hitting Kennedy in the back of his skull. The third bullet did not hit anyone but ricocheted off of the curb.  Critics maintained that such a bullet would be battered.  They claimed that there must have been a fourth bullet.  However, Oswald would have not been able to fire off four bullets that quickly; therefore, there must have been a second shooter.  Also, the President's wounds were not consistent with the location of the sniper's nest at the Texas School Book Depository. Apparently, immediately after the shots were fired, many spectators ran towards the grassy knoll where they saw smoke rising into the air, consistent with a rifle being fired.   The grassy knoll was ahead of the motorcade rather than behind it like the Book Depository.  Some witnesses claimed that the President's head was knocked backwards, not forwards, with the first shot.  Critics maintained that there must have been a second shooter positioned behind the fence by the grassy knoll.

    Photo of the grassy knoll across from Dealey Plaza courtesy

    We do know that John F. Kennedy had made a lot of enemies in his 1000 days as President and in the six months leading up to his November 1963 Dallas visit, he had had 400 death threats.  Who would have the power and the means and the motive to commit an assassination?

    Photo of full page ad in The Dallas Morning News dated November 22 courtesy http://jfkadhate.jpg.

    Some point the finger at the Mafia.  Within two days of the assassination, as Oswald was being transported from the Dallas Jail to another jail, he was shot by Jack Ruby.  Although Ruby claimed that he committed the murder to spare Mrs. Kennedy the trauma of testifying at the trial, he did not seem like the altruistic type, given the fact that he ran a strip club and had connections to the Mafia.  Rather, it seemed like Oswald was being silenced so that the real killer could be protected.  Why would the Mafia want to eliminate J.F.K.?  There is some evidence suggesting that Mafioso Sam Giancana tampered with votes in Chicago, Illinois during the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon election, which was a nail-biter, to guarantee Kennedy the presidency.  However, once in office John's brother, Robert, went after the Mafia.  Were Ruby's actions the result of a hit ordered by the mob?  We may never know since some of the documents pertaining to J.F.K.'s assassination are sealed until the year 2033.  (Read Mafia Kingfish:  Carlos Marcello and the Assassination of John F. Kennedy by John H. Davis.)

    Photo of Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald at the Dallas Jail courtesy

    Another theory states that the C.I.A. orchestrated the assassination of John F. Kennedy.  The President seemed to have done a 180 degree turn regarding Cuba while in office.  He originally approved the Bay of Pigs invasion in attempt to overthrow Communist leader Fidel Castro, only to back away once the invaders were met with much resistance.  Not only were C.I.A. officials disappointed about this retreat but also Mafia leaders who wanted to get their Cuban casinos back.  John F. Kennedy might also have upset the C.I.A. when he announced that he would withdraw 1000 troops from Vietnam and get out completely by 1965.  (Read Coup d'Etat:  The CIA and the Assassination of JFK by Michael Canfiled and Alan Weberman.)

    Photo courtesy

    Many rightwingers did not like Kennedy and Texas was full of rightwingers.  The President was a champion of civil rights and had signed bills promoting this cause to the consternation of those who wanted to keep the racist Jim Crow laws.  Furthermore, Kennedy's running mate, Lyndon B. Johnson, who was from Texas, was never his first choice and it was rumoured he would be dropped from the ticket in the 1964 re-election campaign.  (Read Death of a President by William Manchester.)

    Photo of Lyndon B. Johnson being sworn in as President aboard Air Force One courtesy

    With the revision of history, however, came the theories that stated J.F.K. really was killed by lone assassin Harvey Lee Oswald afterall.  My husband by this point had become interested in the subject and he read a lot of information online about this theory.  (Read Case Closed by Gerald Posner.)  However, I remained unconvinced.  If the case was so transparent, why hadn't the American government unsealed all of the files for public scrutiny? 

    Photo of Lee Harvey Oswald holding the alleged murder weapon courtesy

    Now we are approaching the 50th anniversary of the assassination.  We still do not know who killed President John F. Kennedy.  Many of the witnesses who watched the parade on that sunny day, including Abraham Zapruder who filmed it with an old black and white camera on a tripod, have since passed away.  We may never know who committed the crime.  But there will always be doubt in my mind that Oswald acted alone.  And it all started with stick figures drawn on a blackboard by a teacher who knew how to bring history to life.  Thank you, Dr. Cooke!

    Photo courtesy

    Monday 21 November 2011

    How Do I Get Rid of Mold?

    1. John 3:16: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
    2. Jer 29:11: For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
    3. Rom 8:28: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
    4. Phil 4:13: I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
    5. Gen 1:1: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
    6. Prov 3:5: Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.
    7. Prov 3:6: in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.
    8. Rom 12:2: Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
    9. Phil 4:6: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
    10. Matt 28:19: Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
    11. Eph 2:8: For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—
    12. Gal 5:22: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
    According to Bible Gateway, these are the top 12 most read Bible verses.  If you want to see the top 100 Scripture verses, go to  Although the Bible is 2000 to 4000 years old, it is still the original book and it remains the best selling book of all time.  To some, especially those who rarely read the Bible, it may appear outdated or boring.  However, the Bible is still applicable today just as it was in the days of the early Christians. 

    I remember my brother was having trouble with mold in the old apartment building where he lived.  I opened up the Bible and actually found a passage (Leviticus 14:37-48) describing how to get rid of mold!  Are you building a new home?  Read Ephesians 5.  Are you getting married?  Read Proverbs 5.  Are you establishing a business?  Read Ecclesiastes 5.  Are you planning your budget?  Read Mark 4.  If you want a guide to life, read the ten commandments in Exodus.  The Bible is a lot more practical than we realize. 

    Furthermore, the Bible has so many genres of writing.  If you prefer practical advice, read Proverbs.  If you like poetry, read the Psalms or the Song of David.  If you like geneology, read Matthew.  If you want to learn about the parables of Jesus,  read Matthew or Luke.  If you like history, read 1 Samuel or Kings.  If you are fascinated with creation, read Genesis. 

    Yes, the Bible offers something for everyone.  Far from being a boring, outdated book, it is a well-written and fascinating read.  If only you open it up.  And what's the best benefit of all?  By reading its pages, you grow closer to the Author.

    Photo courtesy

    Sunday 20 November 2011

    A Nantucket Sleighride

    She was 87 feet long.  She weighed 283 tons.  She was American.  She contained 4 whaleboats, each 20 to 30 feet long.  Her name was the Essex.  Her captain, Geoge Pollard, was a mere 29 years old.  She left Nantucket on August 12, 1819 on a two and a half year voyage to the whaling grounds off the coast of South America.  She sailed thousands of miles, survived a squall where she lost 3 whaleboats, and her crew survived the unknown waters dotted with islands where cannibals lived.  However, there was one foe that she could not beat:  an 85-foot long sperm whale lurking in the Pacific Ocean.

    On November 20, 1820, the Essex was searching for whales 2000 miles off the coast of South America when her crew spotted a sperm whale pod and took hot pursuit.  The Captain and the second mate had harpooned a small whale in their whaleboat and were being dragged away in a "Nantucket Sleighride".  Back on the ship, the sailors saw a giant sperm whale off of their bow.  With incredible speed, it rammed the ship and battered it from side to side.  One of the crew thought about harpooning the mammal, but reconsidered after seeing how close it was to the Essex's rudder.  The whale then circled the ship and sat in wait, ready to pounce.  With one final approach, it opened its 18 foot long jaw, bearing its giant teeth and gave the ship a blow, "crushing it like an eggshell", then disengaging itself and disappearing under the waters surface. 

    The Essex was mortally wounded and its crew was forced to abandon ship, finding refuge in one of the whaleboats.  The sailors were lost at sea for weeks; many died of starvation and were buried at sea.  After 95 days, the whale ship Dauphin picked up the seven survivors, many of whom later returned to the sea. 

    A young man named Herman Melville read about this battle between a boat and a beast and he started writing a novel.  With already two successful books under his belt, he thought this story would also be well received.  However, after the book garnered mixed reviews, the story was largely forgotten.  It was not until the 1920's, that the book was re-discovered and became a staple of American Literature.  We all recognize its title, Moby-Dick.

    Painting courtesy

    Saturday 19 November 2011

    Four Score and Seven Years Ago

    "Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."

    It lasted only two minutes and change, but the speech that the weary President delivered on November 19, 1863, devoid of his trademark tophat, has been remembered for almost a century and a half. The Gettysburg address is one of the most famous American speeches ever delivered at a time when the nation was more divided than it had been since the American Revolution. President Lincoln was there to consecrate the grounds of a new cemetery where the victims of the Gettysburg Battle had been buried only four months before. The leader was also at Gettysburg to remind the crowd that the United States of America was founded on democratic principles that were being threatened by slavery.

    What was the reaction to Lincoln's speech? Some maintained that the crowd was almost hushed into silence by the President's stirring words; others claimed that the crowd was not buying it. Historian
    Shelby Foote described the applause for Lincoln's speech as "delayed and scattered". Mr. Foote was featured in the Ken Burns' documentary "The Civil War" broadcast on PBS in 1990. Burns' documentary is an excellent account of what transpired during the four year period from 1861 to 1865, drawing on 16,000 archival photographs, paintings and newspaper images from the era. The director employed actors to read quotes from historical figures including Morgan Freeman as Frederick Douglass and Sam Waterston as Abraham Lincoln. A highlight of the documentary was the theme song "Ashokan Farewell", a haunting tune that was played 25 times during the course of the show.

    President Lincoln finished his speech with the powerful words:

    "that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

    General Robert E. Lee surrendered on behalf of the Confederacy on April 9, 1865 and the nation was whole once again. Sadly, the leader that helped keep America together was felled by an assasin's bullet only five days later in Washington, D.C.

    Photo courtesy

    Friday 18 November 2011

    Drawing the Line in Mississippi

    The original stuffed animals, of course, were Teddy bears.  Today I googled the history of the Teddy bear.  It originated in November 1902 when President Theodore ("Teddy") Roosevelt went on a hunting trip in America's Deep South.  His attendants, along with a pack of hounds, chased and lassoed a black bear which they brought back to the President, suggesting that he shoot the bear.  Teddy thought such a barbaric act would be "unsportsmanlike" and refused to comply. 

    In the meantime, political cartoonist Clifford Berryman read about the President's hunting trip and drew a cartoon featuring the President, his back turned to the lassoed bear with an upraised hand, its palm outward, motioning "Stop".  The caption under the artwork read:  "Drawing the Line in Mississippi". 

    Photo courtesy

    Toymaker Morris Michtom spotted the cartoon in the Washington Post and thought of the idea for a stuffed bear named "Teddy". The Teddy bear was quickly selling like hotcakes: women with small children could be seen toting them around; children were photographed with them; and Theodore Roosevelt even used one as a mascot for his re-election in 1906.

    So what started as a hunting trip in Mississippi ended with a toy craze that swept the world.  In March 1903, a German company called Steiff started manufacturing stuffed bears.  Some claim that Richard Steiff invented the Teddy bear, although, of course, he didn't coin the term.  I think of the first Teddy bear and what joy it brought to its owner.  Love live the Teddy bear!

    Photo courtesy

    Thursday 17 November 2011

    Snow Crystal

    When I picked up the kids from school today, I watched the season's first snowflakes swirl through the air.  Snowflakes have a fascinating design that only God could have made.  Although every snowflake has six points, they come in all different sizes:  some can be as small as a grain of sand (.001 mm) while others can be as large as a milk pan (15 inches) according to a Montana farmer in 1887, documented in the Guinness Book of World Records.  Snowflakes also take on different shapes and patterns:  no two are exactly alike.  Teenager Wilson Bentley identified 80 different shapes of snowflakes depending on the air's temperature and aridity or dampness.  While the snowflakes that fell today melted as soon as they hit the ground, photographer Kenneth Libbrecht was able to capture some snow crystals before they disappeared.  Behold the image below.

    Photo courtesy


    Wednesday 16 November 2011

    The Sound of Music

    The Rodgers & Hammerstein Broadway musical starred Mary Martin and Theodore Bikel, premiered on November 16, 1959 in New York City and ran for 1443 performances.  The score included such hits as:  "Do Re Mi", "My Favorite Things" and "Edelweiss".  It was based on the experience of a large Austrian family in the years leading up to World War II.  A woman, Maria, studying to be a nun met a widower, Captain Georg von Trapp, whose late wife had died from scarlet fever, leaving him with seven children to care for.  They married and proceeded to raise the children together.  A short time later, Captain von Trapp was approached by the Nazis and asked to join the Kreigsmarine, a job which would have paid handsomely.  In the meantime, Maria encouraged the musically gifted children to form their own choir which quickly developped a fan base in their hometown  of Salzburg, Austria.  Captain von Trapp briefly considered the offer from the Kriegsmarine.  However, he and his wife had strong Christian principals which they could not give up for the sake of the Fatherland.  In the end, the von Trapp family fled Austria just before the Anschluss of 1938, hiking through the mountains of Switzlerland to freedom. 

    "The Sound of Music" was such a success on Broadway that it was adapted into a film in 1965 starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer.  Both the play and the movie were based on the book by Maria Von Trapp called The Story of the Trapp Family Singers.  However, there are some discrepancies between the musical and the book.  For instance, Maria and Georg married eleven years before Germany annexed Austria, not immediately before.  Maria had ten children, seven stepchildren from Georg's first marriage and three birthchildren with Georg.  Maria was sent to be a tutor to one of the Trapp children who was sick with scarlet fever, not a governess to all of the Trapp children.  Although the Trapp family lived in Salzburg, Austria, they did not live in a mansion, but rather a modest home.  When the Trapp family decided to leave Austria to flee the Nazis, they did not escape by hiking through the Alps to Switzerland; rather they boarded a train from Salzburg to Italy (Captain von Trapp was legally an Italian citizen as he was born in the former Austro-Hungarian empire, parts of which later became Italy).  Apparently, Maria was not the docile type that she was portrayed as in the movie, but a firm woman with strong convictions (how else would you raise 10 children?).  The Trapp Family Singers' musical director for 20 years was not the pushy promoter Max Deitweiler, but rather the family priest, Rev. Franz Wasner.  Finally, I also suspect that the movie character Baroness Elsa Schraeder, the captain's love interest when he met Maria, is a fictional.

    Much of the musical, however, does follow actual events:  for instance, Captain von Trapp was indeed a World War I military hero.  The captain did summon his seven children to meet Maria using a boatswain's whistle.  Maria was a woman of deep religious faith, before and after her time at the convent.  However, she was not sent to the Trapp household because she was struggling with her religious conviction, but with her health: she had suffered from scarlet fever.  The Trapp family wore matching sailor suits when they performed on stage.  They couldn't have escaped on foot to the Swiss border because it was too far away; they lived only a few kilometres from the German border instead.

    After immigrating to America aboard The American Farmer, the Trapp family settled in Stowe, Vermont on a farm.  The children did musical tours.  Maria opened a family inn in 1950 which is still operating today.  Georg passed away in 1948; Maria passed away in 1987.  Their descendants carry on the tradition of making music. 


    The Sound of Music on broadway photo courtesy

    Photo of the Trapp Family Singers courtesy

    Tuesday 15 November 2011

    Requiem for a Fourteen-Year-Old

    Requiem for a Fourteen-Year-Old
    By: Pierre Berton

    In Goderich town
    The Sun abates
    December is coming
    And everyone waits:
    In a small, dark room
    On a small, hard bed
    Lies a small, pale boy
    Who is not quite dead.

    The cell is lonely
    The cell is cold
    October is young
    But the boy is old;
    Too old to cringe
    And too old to cry
    Though young --
    But never too young to die.

    It's true enough
    That we cannot brag
    Of a national anthem
    Or a national flag
    And though our Vision
    Is still in doubt
    At last we've something to boast about:
    We've a national law
    In the name of the Queen
    To hang a child
    Who is just fourteen.

    The law is clear:
    It says we must
    And in this country
    The law is just
    Sing heigh! Sing ho!
    For justice blind
    Makes no distinction
    Of any kind;
    Makes no allowances for sex or years,
    A judge's feelings, a mother's tears;
    Makes no allowances for age or youth
    Just eye for eye and tooth for tooth
    Tooth for tooth and eye for eye:
    A child does murder
    A child must die.

    Don't fret ... don't worry ...
    No need to cry
    We'll only pretend he's going to die;
    We're going to reprieve him
    Bye and bye.

    We're going to reprieve him
    (We always do),
    But it wouldn't be fair
    If we told him, too
    So we'll keep the secret
    As long as we can
    And hope that he'll take it
    Like a man.

    And when we've told him
    It's just "pretend"
    And he won't be strung
    At a noose's end,
    We'll send him away
    And, like as not
    Put him in prison
    And let him rot.

    The jury said "mercy"
    And we agree --
    O, merciful jury:
    You and me.

    Oh death can come
    And death can go
    Some deaths are sudden
    And some are slow;
    In a small cold cell
    In October mild
    Death comes each day
    To a frightened child.

    So muffle the drums and beat them slow,
    Mute the strings and play them low,
    Sing a lament and sing it well,
    But not for the boy in the cold, dark cell,
    Not for the parents, trembling-lipped,
    Not for the judge who followed the script;
    Save your prayers for the righteous ghouls
    In that Higher Court who write the rules
    For judge and jury and hangman too:
    The Court composed of me and you.

    In Goderich town
    The trees turn red
    The limbs go bare
    As their leaves are bled
    And the days tick by
    As the sky turns lead
    For the small, scared boy
    On the small, stark bed
    A fourteen-year-old
    Who is not quite dead.

    *Published in Toronto Star on October 5, 1959.

    When I was in elementary school, I borrowed a book from the school library titled The Trial of Steven Truscott by Isabel LeBourdais.  Steven Truscott was a Canadian boy whose father was stationed at the RCAF base in Clinton where he attended elementary school.  On June 9, 1959, he gave his schoolmate Lynne Harper a ride on the crossbar of his bicycle.  After Lynne was found tragically murdered a couple of days later, Steven, being the last known person to see her alive, was charged with the crime.  Incarcerated in the old Huron County Gaol in Goderich (it was so old they spelled jail in Old English) young Steven was sentenced to hang.  Six days later journalist and writer Pierre Berton wrote the poem "Requiem for a Fourteen-Year-Old". 

    After reading the LeBourdais book and talking to my parents about the case (they remember it well) I was more and more convinced that Steven Truscott was innocent.  After having his death sentence converted to life in prison, Mr. Truscott was released early due to good behaviour and put on parole. For many years he lived under an assumed name under which he was able to marry, start a family, and hold down a steady job.  Then in 2000 he reappeared on the public scene in a documentary aired by CBC's Fifth Estate.  A new book was written by Julian Sher called Until You Are Dead:  Steven Truscott's Long Ride Into History (2001) which I borrowed from the public library.  In 2007 the Ontario Court of Appeal acquitted Steven Truscott of all charges after an investigation in which new evidence was studied.  A play about the case was mounted in 2008 at the Blyth Festival called "Innocence Lost" written by Beverley Cooper.  The same year, Steven Truscott was compensated 6.5 million dollars from the government of Ontario for the miscarriage of justice.

    In the meantime, the Goderich Gaol is now a museum.  Steven Truscott lives in Guelph with his wife.  where they raised three children.  Although he received an acquittal, he will never forget the events of the year 1959 and the words of the judge in the Goderich courthouse on that mild Fall day:  "You are sentenced to hang until you are dead."

    Photo courtesy

    Monday 14 November 2011

    Wax Sticks

    If you mix the French word for chalk "craie" with the English word "oleaginous", meaning oily, you get crayola.  That is how Mrs. Binney came up with the name Crayola for the wax sticks that her husband Edwin Binney co-invented with C. Harold Smith back in 1903.  Originally, a package of crayons came with only eight colours:  red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, brown and black and cost a nickel.  Grant Wood, a famous American painter, entered a colouring contest held by Crayola in the early 1900's which inspired him to enter the field of art.  In 1930, he painted "American Gothic", now a cultural icon.  Imagine how many potential artists were formed thanks to these colourful wax sticks.  Today, Crayola makes over 100 different types including crayons that sparkle, glow in the dark and smell like flowers.  Every child can identify with crayons; in fact, apparently the smell of crayons is number 18 of the 20 most recognizable scents according to Americans.  And it all started with a dream shared by two cousins from New York state named Binney and Smith.*

    *Source:  "Crayola Trivia", Banner magazine, November 2011.

    Grant Wood's painting "American Gothic" courtesy

    Sunday 13 November 2011

    The Cookie Kid

    A young girl sold 3,526 boxes of Girl Scout cookies in one year earning herself an all expenses trip for two around the world.  Back in the late 1970's, Markita Andrews joined the Girl Scouts to make friends.  Her father had abandonned her at the age of 8.  Her mother found a job as a waitress in New York City, giving them a steady, but small, income.  However, Markita had big dreams:  she wanted to travel the globe one day.  But in the meantime, she would have to be content with New York City.  Every day after school, Markita would don her uniform, her green, badge covered vest, her green skirt and her white blouse.  Wearing her biggest smile, she would travel door to door in her 3900-unit apartment building with her boxes of cookies.  Armed with a sense of humour, Markita would ask a potential customer:  "Would you like to make a $30,000 donation to the Girl Scouts?"  When they responded negatively, she would ask:  "Well could you at least buy a box of cookies?"  Markita gained confidence from every sale she made, but if she did hear "No" she did not let it deter her, always eager to knock on the next door. 

    When she turned 13, she read in the Girl Scout magazine that the scout who sold the most cookies that year would win a trip around the world.  Now, she was more determined than ever to succeed.  Her burning desire to sell cookies brought her immediate results and she fulfilled her dream of travelling the globe with her Mom.  Articles appeared in newspapers and magazines about the young entrepreneur and she was invited to appear on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.  On another TV show, she was asked by the host to sell Girl Scout cookies to another guest and she agreed.  With her signature smile, she used her sales pitch on the guest to which he responded:  "I don't buy any Girl Scout cookies!  I'm a Federal Penitentiary Warden.  I put 2,000 rapists, robbers, criminals, muggers and child abusers to bed each night."  Undeterred, Markita replied:  "If you take some of these cookies, maybe you won't be so mean and angry and evil...and it would be a good idea for you to take some of these cookies back for every one of your 2,000 prisoners, too."  Disney asked Markita to star in a sales training film explaining her approach called "The Cookie Kid".  Miss Andrews later wrote a book titled:  How to Sell More Cookies, Condos, Cadillacs, Computers and Everything Else.  Her recipe for success?  Ask, ask, ask.*

    "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you."
    (Matthew 7:7)

    *  Source:  "Ask, Ask, Ask", Chicken Soup for the Soul (Part 1).

    Photo courtesy

    Saturday 12 November 2011

    Top Ten Pictures of 2010

    Time listed their Top Ten Pictures of 2010 at  Here they are:

    1.  Nameless Victim

    Top 10 Photos

    2.  Tragedy in Haiti

    Top 10 Photos

    3.  The Chilean Miners  are Found

    Top 10 Photos

    4.  Volcanic Eruption in Iceland
    Top 10 Photos

    5.  Flooding in Pakistan
    Top 10 Photos

    6.  Afghanistan Votes

    Top 10 Photos

    7.  Uprising in Kyrgyzstan

    Top 10 Photos

    8.  Troop Drawdown in Iraq

    Top 10 Photos
    Top 10 Photos

    10.  A Soldier's Final Resting Place
    Top 10 Photos


    Friday 11 November 2011

    On Prussian Plains

    On Prussian plains she works the land

    She plants the seeds and crops by hand

    Babe in a basket by her side

    A girl in braids goes for a ride

    As her brave soldier fights so grand.

    The war goes not as Prussia planned

    Her friends all flee by sea or land

    But she remains and plans to hide on Prussian plains.

    The Russians come and seize her land

    Force her to roam with babes in hand

    They beg for food but are denied

    Then comes the news her husband died

    They even take her wedding band

    On Prussian plains.

    (Dedicated to my husband's Oma, Elfriede Neumann, July 20, 2006.)

    Photo of the Great Trek out of East Prussia circa 1945 courtesy