Monday 30 April 2012

The Power of Positive Thinking

Norman Vincent Peale arrived at the Marble Collegiate Church in New York City in 1932 with a congregation of 600.  By the time he left in 1984, his flock had grown to 5,000.  What was his secret to success?  It was the power of positive thinking.

In 1952, Dr. Peale wrote a book called The Power of Positive Thinking which sold millions of copies and was translated into 41 languages.  Here is an excerpt from the bestseller:  “The way to happiness: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry. Live simply, expect little, give much. Scatter sunshine, forget self, think of others. Try this for a week and you will be surprised.”

As a child growing up in Ohio, Norman had a terrible inferiority complex and developed the habit of positive thinking to combat it.  He applied Christianity to everyday problems, explaining that positive thinking was "just another term for faith".  His sermons were well received not only helping to fill the pews at the Marble Collegiate but to inspire those at home as well:  750,000 people received his sermons each month by mail.  He also had a weekly radio broadcast called "The Art of Living" with a wide listening audience.  Furthermore, Dr. Peale and his wife started Guideposts magazine in 1945 which has a readership of 4.5 million today.

Dr. Peale's idea is simple, but it works:  think positive and you will achieve positive results.  Or as the Bible says:  "Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart." (Psalm 37:4)

Photo of Marble Collegiate Church, New York City, courtesy

Sunday 29 April 2012

From Madison Ave. to Mulberry St.

New York City skyline circa late 1930 courtesy

Theodor Geisel found himself on Madison Ave. in New York City with a manuscript in his hand,  ready to burn in his apartment incinerator after being rejected by a twenty-seventh publisher.  But who should he run into on that day but his old friend from Dartmouth College, Mike McClintock, who had just started his first day as a children's book editor of Vanguard Press.  The two men caught up on their lives and within a few hours, Theodor had signed a contract with the publishing company.  Published in 1937, And to Think that I Saw it on Mulberry Street, was a book based on Theodor's childhood years in Springfield, Illinois where his mother would chant rhymes to her children to soothe them to sleep.  Her maiden name was Seuss, which was also Theodor's middle name, and which he later adopted as his pen name.  At the time of Dr. Seuss' death in 1991, his books had been translated into 15 languages; 200 million copies were in print.  Eleven television shows had been broadcast.  In his lifetime, author Theordor Geisel, who was also a cartoonist and script writer, was honoured with two Emmy Awards, two Academy Awards, a Peabody Award and a Pulitzer Prize.  Dr. Seuss never forgot that chance encounter in New York City as a young man:  "If I had been going down the other side of Madison Ave., I'd be in the dry cleaning business today."

Note:  For a complete list of Dr. Seuss's books, please visit:

Photo of Theodor Geisel circa 1957 courtesy

Saturday 28 April 2012

Ten Things You Didn't Know About Berlin

1.  Berlin has been the capital of Germany since 1990, the year Germany reunified and a year after the Berlin Wall fell.  It was also the capital from 1871 to 1945.

2.  The few bits of the Berlin Wall remaining have been covered with graffiti paintings done by artists from around the world.

3.  Numerous museums are found in Berlin including the Pergammon which is home to the Ishtar Gate from ancient Babylon.

4.  Berlin Central Station, which opened in 2006, is the biggest train station in Europe.

5.  Kaufhaus des Westens is the world's largest department store, covering an area of 60,000 square metres.

6.  Berlin Zoo (Zoologischer Garten) houses 14,000 creatures and 1500 different species, including Knut the Bear.

7.  Beneath Berlin remain numerous bunkers and tunnels built by the Nazis; however, most are flooded or crumbling.

8.  Thousands of parks, forest and beaches line the outskirts of Berlin.  Popular parks include:  Tiergarten, Volkspark Freidrichshain, Treptower Park and Viktoriapark.  Tourists can visit the Grunewald Forest.  A popular lake with a beach is the Wannsee.

9.  The Radisson Hotel has the largest aquarium in the world.  Passengers riding its elevators are treated to a spectacular view of fish.

10.  Berlin is full of music like opera, rock, pop and jazz.  It is home to three opera houses and numerous orchestras, choirs and bands.

Friday 27 April 2012

More Pies!

Today the National Pie Baking Championships are being held in Orlando, Florida.  I thought of the Robert Munsch Book More Pies! which my son Thomas used as his story for a storytelling session in Grade 3.  I remember him getting props from Jacqueline's toy kitchen like a plastic chicken drumstick.  He took three paper plates and drew the faces of the lumberjack, firefighter and construction worker, attaching popsicle sticks to the plates to hold them.  He was ready for his presentation. 

Robert Munsch came up with the idea for More Pies! from a fan named Samuel who wrote him a letter and then became the main character in one of his books.  The first words out of Samuel's mouth are "I am still hungry" even though his Mom has just served him breakfast.  He goes on to request a salad bowl full of cereal, four milkshakes, four stacks of pancakes and fried chicken.  After consuming all of the above, Samuel is still hungry.  His Mom sends him outside, saying he is to eat nothing until lunch. 

Samuel hops the bus downtown to Vancouver's Stanley Park where he discovers a pie eating contest is about to start.  With hefty competition, a firefighter, a lumberjack and a construction worker, Samuel digs in to his first pie:  Chuka -- Chuka -- Chuka -- CHOMP!!!  He proceeds to devour several pies and eats the three burly men under the table, winning the competition. 

He rolls himself home where he finds his mother in the kitchen baking pies!  He can't eat another bite...but his younger brother is ready and willing.

More Pies! is one of my favourite Robert Munsch books.  Michael Martchenko's illustrations have vibrant colours.  The backdrop of Stanley Park, which Rob and I strolled through on our honeymoon, is beautiful.  And the plot is so easy to follow; and yet adults can appreciate it too. 

Thomas, who re-enacted the story of More Pies! five years ago, is now a strapping young man.  He has a bottomless pit of a stomach like Samuel.  He might very well be able to eat those hefty men under the table. 

For National Pie Championships' recipes visit:

Image courtesy

Thursday 26 April 2012

Back to School

Today I got to spend the day with 13 Grade 2's.  Wow!  We learned a lot!  We learned that composer Edvard Grieg, who wrote a song called "Butterfly" that we listened to, is a dead ringer for Albert Einstein.  We learned what "lukewarm" means, neither hot nor cold, and how we should not be lukewarm Christians, but be on fire for God.  Yes, that's right, God.  You see, the school that I taught at today, Brantford Christian School, allows its teachers to talk about God and Jesus, without having to look over their shoulders.  In fact, we even prayed together, sometimes led by me, sometimes by a student, offering our prayers of thanks and supplication (one of the grade 2's used that term) to God.  We also learned about how to borrow tens from the ones column and ones from the tens column -- it must be the "new math" because I don't remember doing that when I was a student.  We read The Berenstain Bears Go to the Moon and one of the students explained to us that there is no oxygen on the moon.  The students wrote their own moon stories; some let their imaginations run wild.  We coloured beautiful drawings of underwater scenes full of puffinfish and eels and sharks swimming amongst the coral reefs and seaweed and rocks and then painted the drawing with streaks of green and blue tempera.  We played Dr. Dodgeball in the gym; I found out that short arms can throw a ball a long way.  We found out that humans and cats and pigs are verterbrates (with a backbone) and that worms and clams and starfish are invertebrates (without a backbone).  We also paid a visit to the library where we browsed amongst the school's 13,000 plus books.  The volunteers have the library running like a well-oiled machine.  We even had time for Show & Tell, something every generation of kids seems to love.

It's nice to be back in the classroom again after a couple of years.  I miss writing on the blackboard.  I miss calendar time.  I miss reading stories.  I miss singing songs.  I miss the bell ringing.  I miss the apple for the teacher (or bouquet of dandelions).  I miss the students' hunger for learning.  I miss the teachable moments, the ones that you don't predict that pop up in the middle of a lesson (or at lunchtime or in gym class).  I miss the smiles and hugs.  I miss walking with a couple of students at recess.  I miss being called "Mrs. Jonasson".  Thank you, Grade 2's, for a wonderful day!  It's good to be back!!! 

Photo courtesy

Wednesday 25 April 2012

Ten Things You Didn't Know About the London Tube

Gustav Dore's etching of the London Underground circa 1870.

 Here are some facts about the Tube that you might not know.

1. The most popular route for tourists is Leicester Square to Covent Garden on the Piccadilly line. It is quicker to walk this distance than travel on the tube.

2. The oldest tube line in the world is the Metropolitan Line. If you happen to sit in one of the older carriages on this line you won't be surprised by this fact. It opened on January 10th 1863.

3. Northfields station on the Piccadilly line was the first to use kestrels and hawks to kill
pigeons and stop them setting up homes in stations.

4. There are only two tube stations which have all five vowels in them - Mansion House and South Ealing.

5. More than 50% of the London Underground runs above ground.

6. The 409 escalators on the Underground network do the equivalent of two round the world trips every week.

7. The Northern Line station at Angel has Western Europe's longest escalator - 318 steps.

8. The most popular station to watch mice on the tracks is Oxford Circus.

9. The originally Tube carriages had no windows and buttoned upholstery. Unsurprisingly they were known as padded cells.

10.  Thousands of Londoners used the London Underground as a shelter during the London Blitz from September 1940 to May 1941.

Photo of Londoners spending the night in the Tube during the Blitz courtesy

Monday 23 April 2012

The Captain

Wow!  She's such a beauty and she's all mine.
What a chance to sail for the White Star Line.
Flaunting four funnels placed all in a row;
Four city blocks long with tugboats in tow.
Dropping the anchor twenty horses hauled.
I check my log for our first port of call.
We stop in Cherbourg, Southampton and Cork.
Now we're steaming on cue towards New York.
What a lovely evening; the stars are out.
It's the perfect night for a walkabout.
That crisp, fresh air makes me ready for bed.
But how about a cup of tea instead?
WAIT!  What was that awful, terrible crash?
The stewards tell me her side has a gash!
What should I do here?  What words should I say?
Should I take action or should I just pray?
They told me her compartments were airtight.
Yet it seems as if we're sinking tonight.
They told me there were no icebergs to check
Yet I see pieces of ice on the deck.
Can I save my stately ship from demise?
Should I tell the truth or a bunch of lies?
Water's filling our hold due to the blast.
Where are the rowboats?  Let's fill them up fast!
Let all womena and children get off first.
Another boiler is about to burst.
My S.O.S. is getting me nowhere;
That fool's completely ignoring our flares.
I should have retired when I had the chance.
Now I hear the brass band play the last dance.
There aren't enough lifeboats for everyone.
Will my ship last 'til the rise of the sun?
We've only a short time left on this boat.
With so much water, we won't stay afloat.
I pray my passengers' lives you will spare.
Losing my crew would be too much to bear.
Please forgtive me for this awful mistake!
Make it a nightmare from which I'll awake!

Linda Jonasson, August 1, 2006.

Painting courtesy

Sunday 22 April 2012

Oklahoma Land Rush

Unlike Rome, the city of Guthrie was built in a day. To be strictly accurate in the matter, it might be said that it was built in an afternoon. At twelve o'clock on Monday, April 22d, the resident population of Guthrie was nothing; before sundown it was at least ten thousand. In that time streets had been laid out, town lots staked off, and steps taken toward the formation of a municipal government. At twilight the camp-fires of ten thousand people gleamed on the grassy slopes of the Cimarron Valley, where, the night before, the coyote, the gray wolf, and the deer had roamed undisturbed.
(William Willard Howard, Harper's Weekly 33, May 18, 1889.)

Thousands of covered wagons made their way west to the promised land in the weeks leading up to the Oklahoma Land Rush.  Formerly called "Indian Territory", the Indians had named it Oklahoma, meaning "beautiful land".  However, the American government had forced the Indians out and was making almost 2 million acres of cheap land available to whites from the east.  Fifty-thousand of these migrants set up tent cities right on the edge of the Oklahoma border preparing for the land rush.

April 22, 1889 dawned sunny and clear.  The land hungry "boomers" lined the border on foot, on horseback and in buggies.  A solodier gave a bugle call at high noon and the race began.  Riders spread out in all directions like a fan.  One man ran along the railroad tracks for six miles in 60 minutes, claimed his piece of land, and then collapsed.  Ohters arrived at their destination, like a fertile piece of land along a creek, only to find that a "sooner" had already claimed the land illegally days before. 

The first train arrived in Oklahoma territory at 12:25, its eight passenger cars packed like sardines.  The prospective land owners were disappointed to see the slope of land to the east already dotted with white tents and sprinkled with men. 

Like Guthrie, other towns sprung up that day including Norman, Kingfisher and Oklahoma City.  By 1907, Oklahoma would achieve statehood.  The land rush was a unique part of America's history:  for future land claims the government would adopt a lottery system.

Painting courtesy

Saturday 21 April 2012

The Girl in the Picture

"Television brought the brutality of war into the comfort of the living room. Vietnam was lost in the living rooms of America--not on the battlefields of Vietnam." (Marshall McLuhan, 1975)

I heard Kim Phuc speak at Redeemer College tonight.  She is the girl in the famous picture from the Vietnam War, showing her running out of her village, the clothes burned right off of her back, screaming in pain from the napalm burning her skin from the American bombs that were dropped.  Running beside her are her brothers and cousins, her aunt bringing up the rear with a baby in her arms, also burned badly from the napalm bombs.  The photographer who snapped the photo on that tragic day, Mr. Nut, would win the Pulitzer Prize for his work.  Kim Phuc would survive and attempt to go on to live a "normal" life, but she would forever be known as "the girl in the picture".

It was June 8, 1972 in a small village in South Vietnam.  An American military officer had been given the word that all civilians had been evacuated from the village and he gave the order to strike.  Four napalm bombs dropped on to the innocent victims that day.  One by one they came running through the black smoke to escape the inferno.  Most of them were children and most of them had clothes on their back, except for Kim Phuc and her baby cousin.  Sadly, the baby would die shortly after of his wounds. 

The photographer dropped his camera, scooped up Kim and rushed her to the local hospital where they attempted to treat her, but gave up after three days and were about to send her to the morgue.  However, someone intervened and believing that she could still be helped, sent her to the hospital in Saigon.  It was there that they performed surgery and saved Kim's life.  Over the course of 14 months, Kim underwent 13 surgeries.  Day after day, they would immerse her in a bath, and day after day she would cringe from the pain.  Slowly, the dead skin came off and new skin grew in its place.  Kim's Mom refused to let her give up, always encouraging her to do her exercises and take part in her therapy.  With her left arm badly burned, it was curled up originally, but Kim was able to regain use of her arm muscles. 

In 1982, Kim travelled to East Germany to have her final surgery, enabling her to move her neck again.  Although she would still endure pain, Kim had come a lot way physically.  However, spiritually she still had a long way to go.  Like a cup of black coffee, she was filled with bitterness towards the person who had done this to her, asking herself "why me?" 

In the meantime, she got the opportunity to live in Cuba and study medicine at the University of Havana.  It was there that she discovered the Bible, hiding a New Testament in her room and reading it at every opportunity.  She read it voraciously, soaking up Scripture verses like Luke 6:27-28:  "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you."  She accepted Jesus Christ as her Saviour and for the first time, she had room in her heart for forgiveness.  Slowly, she started to forgive the man who had ordered the bombs dropped on her village that day. 

It was also in Cuba that she met her future husband.  They married on September 11, 1992.  As Cuba was Communist, they were only allowed to honeymoon in other Communist countries so they applied to travel to Moscow.  Kim got a kick out of the fact that they only approved her husband to go on the honeymoon, but with some persuasion, she was allowed to accompany him.  On the way home from Moscow, they had a scheduled stop in Gander, Newfoundland to refuel.  The newlywed couple left the plane and never got back on, seeking asylum in Canada. 

Kim Phuc and her new husband settled in Toronto.  Kim had a baby boy named Thomas.  Three years later, she was invited to the Vietnam War Memorial ceremony in Washington D.C.  There she spoke about her war experience and how through her faith in God, she had been able to forgive her American oppressors. 

Many in the crowd were moved by her message, including a veteran who was there on that fateful day:  the man who ordered the napalm bomb attack on her village.  He requested that he speak to her after the ceremony and the meeting was arranged.  Kim looked into his eyes and told him that she forgave him.  In that moment, the veteran felt like "the weight of the world had been lifted from his shoulders".  A recovering alcoholic who had struggled through more than one failed marriage, these were the words that he needed to hear.  Kim and the veteran became dear friends:  they had come full circle. 

N.B.  Kim Phuc wrote her life story called The Girl in the Picture in 2000.

Friday 20 April 2012

Warsaw Ghetto Uprising


Peacefully they walked to the train,
Sick and tired of the daily battle,
Doggedly gaze into the brutal eyes did
The cattle.
The handsome officers gloated
That they are bothered by nothing,
That with a dull step the hordes are marching,
And only for diversion
The whips cracked,
Slashing their faces!
The throng in silence sank to the ground,
Before it dissolved in sobs in cattle cars,
Their blood and tears,
Trickling into the sandy ground,
And the Herrenvolk
Carelessly tossed
little boxes
on the corpses--
"Warum sind Juno rund."
Then, on that day,
When on the Stimmung lulled city
They pounced like hyenas in dawn's early mist,
Then the cattle awakened
Bared its teeth . . .
On MiƄa Street the first shot was heard,
A gendarme staggered at the gate,
He stared surprised--stood still for a moment,
Patted his shattered arm--
Didn't believe it.
Something is not right,
Everything went so smooth and straight,
As a favor, because of special influence,
He was turned back from the Eastern Front
(Had a few satisfying days),
Rested in Warsaw,
Driving this cattle in an Aktion,
And cleaning up this pigsty,
But here,
On Mi~la street, BLOOD
The gendarme pulled back from the gate
And swore: I'm really bleeding,
But here Braunings were barking
On Niska,
On Dzika,
On Pawia.
On the crooked stairway,
Where an old mother
Was dragged by the hair,
Lies SS-man Handtke,
Strangely puffed up,
As if he couldn't digest death,
As if he choked on the revolt.
He belched, spitting up blood
Into the little box –“Juno sind rund,
Rund, rund.
Golden epaulets crush the dust,
Everything spins around,
The sky-blue uniform lies
On the spittle-covered stairs
Of the Jewish Pawia Street
And doesn't know
That at Schultz and Toebbens
Bullets whirl in a joyous song,
Meat spits grenades out the windows.
Meat belches out scarlet flames
And clings to the edges of life!
Hey! What joy to shoot in the eye!
Peal off the fair, smooth, leather gloves,
Put your whips aside and helmets on.
Tomorrow issue a press release:
"Penetrated the lines of Toebbens' block.
Revolt of the meat,

Hear, O German God,
How the Jews, in the "wild" houses pray,
Clenching in the fist a stick, a stone.
We beg you, O God, for a bloody battle,
We implore you for a violent death,
Let our eyes not see, before we expire,
The stretch of the train tracks,
But let the precise aim of our hand, O Lord,
Stain their livid uniforms with blood,
Let us see, before the mute groan
Shreds our throats,
Our simple human fear in their
Haughty hands, in their whip-wielding paws.
From Niska, Mi-la, and Muranowska Streets,
Like scarlet flowers of blood,
Sprout the flames of our gunbarrels.
This is our Spring! Our Counterattack!
The intoxication of our battle!
These are our partisan forests:
The alleys of Dzika and Ostrowska Streets.
"Block" numbers quiver on breasts,
Medals of the Jewish war.
The cry of six letters flashes in red,
Like a battering ram bellows the word: REVOLT
And on the street, the bloodied.
Trampled packet:

Written by Wladyslaw Szlengel
Translated by Frieda A. Aazon

Photo of Nazis rounding up Jews in Warsaw Ghetto courtesy

The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising started in early 1943, but the bulk of the fighting took place between April 19 and May 16, 1943.  Jews had been rounded up by the Nazis in Poland's large cities and placed in ghettoes of which Warsaw's was the largest at 300,000 to 400,000.  Thousands had already died of disease due to malnutrition and starvation. 

Photo of Jews being deported in cattle cars out of Warsaw courtesy

At first, when the Nazis started to deport the Jews, they did not formally protest, thinking they were going to labour camps.  However, once they discovered that the deportation trains were taking them to extermination camps like Treblinka (250,000 to 300,000 perished) they fought back.  The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was the largest single revolt by Jews during the Holocaust.

Photo of Warsaw Ghetto Uprising 1943 courtesy

The Polish poet Wladyslaw Szlengel wrote "Kontratak" in response to the Jewish armed resistance against the Nazis.  During the Spring of 1943, when the uprising was at its height, Szlengel's poem became the ghetto's "anthem".  Sadly, he died during the uprising.  His poem was found later hidden between the leaves of a table in the ghetto.

Photo of Warsaw Ghetto Uprising 1943 courtesy

Thursday 19 April 2012

Tom Longboat

Thomas Charles Longboat, an Onondaga Indian, was born on the Six Nations Reserve outside Brantford on June 4, 1887.  In 1905 he started participating in foot races.  That year he won the Victoria Day race in Caledonia, Ontario.  In 1906, he won the Around the Bay Road Race in Hamilton.  He peaked in 1907, winning the Boston Marathon in a time of 2:24:24, almost five minutes faster than any previous winner.  In 1909, he won another race to become Professional Champion of the World.  He also won the Ward Marathon.

Tom married his sweetheart.  Then he went overseas to serve as a dispatch runner in France during World War I.  Sadly, he was declared dead and his wife remarried.  Tom returned to Canada in peacetime and later remarried as well, having four children with his new wife. 

He had an encore performance when he ran in the Dominion Day race of 1918, winning first prize.  He spent several years working in Toronto and then retired to Six Nations where he died from pneumonia on January 9, 1949.  He was inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame.

Photo of Tom Longboat with Ward Marathon Trophy courtesy

Wednesday 18 April 2012

The San Francisco Earthquake

Arnold Genthe's famous photo looking towards fire on Sacramento Street courtesy http://en.wikipedia,org.

On the morning of April 18, 1906, San Francisco residents felt the earth shake for a matter of seconds,  but it felt like an eternity.  Shaking was felt as far north as Oregon, as far south as Los Angeles and as far east as central Nevada as the Richter Scale peaked at 8.25.  When the earth stood still,  490 city blocks had been destroyed, 30 fires had been set and 80% of the city had been obliterated.  The Salinas river outlet was permanently diverted six miles to the south.  Up to 300,000 San Franciscans were rendered homeless out of a total 410,000 residents aand the death toll would reach 3000.

Photo of titled houses courtesy

Makeshift tents were set up for the displaced persons; these refugee camps would remain in operation a full two years after the quake.  The United States Army was called in to build temporary housing camps, helping immensely.  However, members of the 22nd Infantry Regiment took the chance to loot during the massive fire.  Although many stayed, many also fled the flattened city in droves, causing trade and industry to leave as well.  Once the biggest city on the West Coast, San Francisco would lose this title to Los Angeles.  

Photo of San Francisco exodus courtesy

Tuesday 17 April 2012

Seek the Truth

It is difficult to be in the world but not of the world as our pastor says.  Yes, we live here on Earth with an earthly body with all of its imperfections.  We all sin.  And we sometimes suffer the consequences of those sins.  We have the comforting thought, however, that if we believe in Jesus, He will wash away our sins.  Jesus says that we love because He first loved us.  We should forgive sinners because God forgives us. 

I agree that we should love others even if they have wronged us.  In fact, Jesus says that we should pray for our enemies.  However, there is a big difference between loving the sinner and loving the sin.  Our world today wants to pretend that if we reject the sin we are rejecting the sinner.  That is so wrong!  If that were the case, we would never love anyone because everyone sins. 

We live in a time where so many people believe "You're okay I'm okay" -- as if other people's actions or choices don't affect anyone else.  It might work that way if we each lived in a bubble.  However, we're part of a much larger society.  The golden rule still applies:  Love thy neighbour as thyself.  But the rule doesn't say:  Love thy neighbour's sin. 

As we live our daily lives, we should distinguish between right and wrong.  We should always seek the truth.  We shouldn't be buying into what is politically correct.  Notice the churches today that are thriving are not the politically correct ones (they are dying a slow death) but the churches whose pastors preach the Gospel -- the truth.  "You will know the truth and the truth shall set you free." (John 8:32)

Photo courtesy

Monday 16 April 2012

Muddy Water (A Mississippi Moan)

Dixie moonlight, Swanee shore
Headed homebound just once more
To my Mississippi delta home
Southland has that grand garden spot
Although you believe or not
I hear those breeze a-whispering
'Come on back to me"
Muddy water 'round my feet
Muddy water in the street
Just God don't shelter
Down on the delta
Muddy water in my shoes
Reeling and rocking to them lowdown blues
They live in ease and comfort down there
I do declare
Been away a year today
To wander and roam
I don't care it's muddy there
But see it is my home
Got my toes turned Dixie way
'Round the delta let me lay
My heart cries out for muddy water

(Song written by P. DeRose, Harry Richman, Jo Trent)

This sentimental song, performed by jazz singer Bessie Smith, about the flooding of the Mississippi delta, was written on March 2, 1927.  The Mississippi had been pummelled by rain the previous summer.  The following spring, more rain followed.  Within weeks of the composition of "Muddy Waters", the Mississippi burst its levees in 145 different places in 10 different states including Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Loiuisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.  The escaped water flooded an area 80 kilometres wide and 160 kilometres long; the depth of the water was up to 10 metres.  The river actually flowed north rather than south for several days due to the swelling.  Below Memphis, Tennessee, the Mississippi swelled to 97 kilometres wide in May of 1927.  The Great Mississippi Flood, the largest in the United States' history, killed 246 people and caused over $400 million in damages.

Eventually the flood waters started to recede, but not before racial tensions rose:  some blacks were forced to build new levees at gunpoint; others starved in refugee camps; still others had to fend for themselves while their white counterparts were rescued.  Some families were displaced for up to six months.  Consequently, tens of thousands of blacks decided to migrate north, particularly to places like Chicago, as part of the Great Migration. 

In the 1970's Led Zeppelin performed "When the Levee Breaks", a song written by Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie's about the Mississippi Flood.  In the 1930's, William Faulkner, a Mississippi native, had a short story published called "Old Man" based on a prison break from Parchman Penitentiary during the flood.  And in the 1920's, Bessie Smith moaned for the muddy water of the Mississippi.

Photo courtesy

Sunday 15 April 2012

The Story of the Easter Robin

Tonight I read a library book to my daughter Jacqueline that I had reserved a week ago, but didn't arrive in time for Easter.  Nonetheless, it was well worth reading, even though Easter has passed.
The Story of the Easter Robin, by Dandi Daley Mackall, is a story about a little girl Tressa who is visiting her Grandma.  As the twosome decorate eggs a Robin's egg blue, they watch the drama unfold outside the kitchen window.  A robin has built a nest which has one perfectly shaped egg sitting in it.  Tressa is concerned because she sees raccoon tracks nearby and a blue jay eyeing the nest.  "Gran, how are we going to keep the egg safe" she asks.  Gran answers:  "We'll have to leave that one to the Creator." 

In the meantime, Gran tells Tressa an old Pennsylvania Dutch tale about how the robin got its red breast.  A brown robin was flying above Jerusalem the day that Jesus was crucified.  As Jesus struggled to carry the cross on his back, and as the crown of thorns dug into his head, the robin pulled out one of the longest thorns to spare Jesus some pain; as he did so, a drop of Jesus' blood landed on the robin's breast.  Forever after, robins were red-breasted. 

The next day, the eggs in the nest (more had joined the original egg) hatched and healthy baby robins appeared.  Tressa knew who to thank for keeping the baby birds safe. 

Image courtesy

Saturday 14 April 2012

William's Wife's Watch

I walked along the platform of the Southampton dock littered with men in bowler hats carrying their suitcases and carting their trunks.  Women dressed in gowns and feathered hats were toting their hat boxes and securing their valuables, as they prepared to board the ship.  I could smell the seagull droppings on the pier competing with the odour of the fresh fish that the fishermen had brought in early that morning.  Time was of the essence as I only had an hour to make my purchase and get back to the dock.  I politely asked one of the crew where I might find a jewellery shop in town and he directed me towards Queen Street.  Walking as fast as my legs could carry me, I rubbed shoulders with the eager passengers, and eventually the crowd thinned.  Walking down the cobblestone streets, I passed a fishmarket, a blacksmith, a cooper -- but no jewellery shop.  The heavy fog made it hard to read the lettering, but finally I came upon what looked like a jewellery store.  I opened the heavy wooden door and enterd the shop, greeted by an elderly gentleman with spectacles hugging his nose.  "Do you have any gold watches" I asked.  "Not just any watch -- it has to be special.  I've come all the way from America, just to purchase a watch for my wife."  "Yes, of course"  said the jeweller.  I lingered over the fine watch pieces, making certain that I made the right choice.  All of a sudden, I realized the time, hastily picked out a watch, paid the jeweller, and raced out of the shop, brushing past shoppers with perplexed looks on their faces.  I rushed back to the dock, only to see the waves that the ship had left in its wake and hear the seagulls squawk overhead.  NO!  In my hand was my ticket dated April 10, 1912 for the S. S. Titanic.*

*Based on the life of veterinarian William M. Maraz, who, on a bet, sailed from New York to England to find a gold watch for his wife, intending to return home on the Titanic, but missing its maiden voyage while searching for a jeweller. 

N.B. Today is the 100th anniversary of the collision of the Titanic with an iceberg off the coast of Newfoundland, on April 14, 1912.  It sunk in the wee hours of the morning on April 15, 1912.  This post is dedicated to the 1500 lives lost on that night.

Photo of Titanic at Southampton dock on April 10, 1912 courtesy

Friday 13 April 2012

Abandoned House on Talbot Trail

The abandoned farmhouse on the Talbot Trail, which hugs the north shore of Lake Erie, looks like it was taken off the cover of a Nancy Drew mystery.  Constructed entirely of wood, the two-storey structure is about 150 years old.  If only its walls could talk, the tales they would tell.  The house appears to have been built in two sections:  the first piece contains a front door graced by two windows on either side.  The right hand window has what looks to be a homemade window to its right, added later on.  Above the front door is a large window frame, but the window is missing.  A peaked roof above the window has a red gable which give the house a stately air.  The second piece of the house, to the left, runs perpendicular to the first piece, jutting out at the front.  A large two-storey bay window graces the front with four vertical windows on each storey, missing their glass.  Below the peaked roof is another red gable.  The side wall has two vertical windows, also missing their glass.  A hole in the front wall has been hastily boarded up; one almost expects the Onceler from Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax to peek out from it.  The bottom half of the side wall has what appears to be aluminum siding rather than wooden boards, as if it was damaged by a storm at one point and then replaced.  The roof is covered with shingles, originally grey but now in varying shades, peeling like a week-old sunburn.  Two red brick chimneys poke out of the roof where smoke puffed out from an iron stove in winters past.  The front entrance is now overgrown with weeds tall enough to be cut down by a scythe, some flattened now by the elements or by cast aside junk.  The last remnants of snow cling to the short grass surrounding the weeds.  A towering tree stands in the background behind the homestead, likely planted by the farmer when he built the house.  Another large tree sits in the distance, its crown bare of leaves, waiting to bud at the first sign of spring.  Cirrus clouds sail through the azure sky above.  The house sits empty, waiting to be reclaimed, waiting to be restored to its former glory.  But for now it will have to be content with the occasional visit from a stray cat or a wild bird off Lake Erie’s shore.  Next summer, I will take a trip along Talbot Trail a la Nancy Drew, to view the abandoned house. 


Photo courtesy

Thursday 12 April 2012

Hungry Hans Stole a Ham

A 19 year old German soldier serving near Normandy, France after D-Day hadn't eaten for two days and was so hungry that he stole a ham from a French farmer's wife, something quite common during wartime.  The part of the story that isn't common is that 55 years later, the German soldier bought a ham and travelled to the village of Argences, France to return it to its righful owner.

Hans Kupperfahrenberg belonged to the 21st Panzer Division of the Wehrmacht which sought refuge in a farmhouse near Argences, France.  Even though her cupboards were almost bare, the French farmer's wife, named Louise Marie, gave the soldiers milk and eggs.  While the soldiers used the donated eggs to cook an omelette on the fire, something fell out of the chimney into the hearth -- it was a ham that Louise's father had hidden so it would not be stolen.  Hans grabbed it and kept it for himself.  Hans left the farmhouse and went on to fight other battles including one where he was injured in the chest by a grenade and he was sent back to Germany.  Once he healed, he returned to active duty in Italy.  After the war, he worked for the railroad.

Hans never forgot how hungry he had been in Normandy during the German retreat.  He raised more than 1 million dollars to feed Africa's children and the elderly.  He also never forgot the ham that he had stolen from the French farmer's wife.  In 1999, he returned to France, this time with a Black Forest Ham in his arms.  However, in Normandy he couldn't remember where Louise's farmhouse was located and ended up giving the ham to a local nursing home.  In the meantime, he did find out how to get to the French farmhouse and returned with not one but two hams:  a German one and a French one to represent the improved Franco-German relations.  It's never too late to do the right thing.

Drawing of French farmhouse courtesy

Wednesday 11 April 2012

Houston, We Have A Problem

Photo of Apollo 13 launch on April 11, 1970, courtesy

"Houston, we've had a problem here" spoke Captain James Lovell to Mission Control.  It was April 13, 1970 and Apollo 13 was about to reach the moon to land at the Frau Mauro Highlands.  The astronauts heard a boom; they were stuck in space with a burst oxygen tank.  How would they survive long enough to return to Earth?

On April 11, 1970, Apollo 13 had blasted off from Cape Canavaral with everything intact.  With the success of Apollo 11 and 12, everyone thought this would be a routine mission; in fact, the press hadn't even planned on televising the launch.  However, with the spacecraft disabled, all of a sudden the worldwide media saw a front page story and scrambled to get interviews with the astronaut's families. 

Photo of Italian newspapers with Apollo 13 headlines courtesy

In the meantime, Captain Lovell spotted gas venting from the Command Module and realized that they would not survive in the capsule, ordering it to be shutdown.  James Lovell, Jack Swigert and Fred Haise would have to use the Lunar Module as their lifeboat for the bulk of their journey.  The mission would have to be aborted and the focus would turn to saving their lives.  How would they survive in the Lunar Module which was built for two astronauts to live in for only 45 hours when they needed room for three astronauts for 90 hours? 

The astronauts cut their water rations back to one-fifth the normal supply.  However, how would they get rid of the carbon dioxide in the capsule given that they only had square shaped filters when they needed a round shaped one?  This is where the engineers at NASA came into play.  They spent hours trying to figure out how the astronauts could build a filter using materials already on boar the spacecraft?  They set to work brainstorming.

In the meantime, the three astronauts huddled together at temperatures barely above the freezing mark, trying to preserve power.  Fred Haize contracted the flu.  As he looked out the window at the green and blue ball below, he wondered how his wife was coping, eight months pregnant with their child.

Photo of Earth's surface courtesy

The engineers radioed up to Apollo 13 crew, instructing them as to how to make the carbon dioxide filter using a sock, a plastic bag, a flight manual cover and lots of duct tape.  Miraculously, the homemade contraption seemed to work.  The astronauts passed through another major hurdle when they had a successful engine burn on the far side of the moon, preparing their spacecraft to return to Earth.  It was bittersweet for the threesome to stare out the window, with that white crater-filled ball so close that they could almost touch it, but yet so far away:  they would not be landing on its surface on this mission. 

Photo of moon's surface courtesy  

On April 17, Captain Lovell and his crew returned to the Command Module (they could not re-enter the earth's atmosphere in the LM).  Lovell was a pilot in the Air Force during World War II, landing bombers on the decks of aircraft carriers during the dead of night.  Once he had to land without any instrumentation to help him and he relied on the glow coming from the reefs under the ocean's surface.  During the Apollo 13 crisis, his wartime experience not only helped him command his spacecraft but also his nerves.

NASA's Mission Control members held their breath as they waited for Apollo 13 to re-enter the Earth's atmosphere.  Four minutes passed:  had the CM been damaged so much that it could not endure the exhorbitant temperatures?  Finally the three parachutes were spotted hovering above the Pacific Ocean.  Hallelujah!  Apollo 13's crew made a safe landing and the world breathed a collective sigh of relief. 

Photo of Apollo 13 crew courtesy

Tuesday 10 April 2012

Top Ten Canadian Landmarks

These are the top ten Canadian landmarks according to

10.  Confederation Bridge (P.E.I.)

9.  West Edmonton Mall (Alberta)

8.  Hopewell Rocks (Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick)

7.  St. Joseph's Oratory (Montreal, Quebec)

6.  Chateau Lake Louise (Alberta)

5.  Parliament Hill (Ottawa, Ontario)

4.  Rocky Mountains (British Columbia/Alberta)

3.  CN Tower (Toronto, Ontario)

2.  Chateau Frontenac (Quebec)

1.  Niagara Falls (Ontario)