Wednesday 31 October 2012

Indulgences & Whippings

Photo of Schlossekirche where Luther nailed his 95 Theses courtesy

Yesterday, Brantford Christian School students were honoured with a visit from a hooded monk with a large cross around his neck, a giant Bible in his hands and Latin spouting from his lips. Who was this hooded man?

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Schlossekirche (Castle Church) in Wittenburg, Germany. Within two weeks, his ideas has spread across Germany; within two months, they had travelled across Europe. The stirrings of a Reformation had awakened the Christian world.

Martin Luther was tired of the Roman Catholic churches doctrines: whip yourself if you want to pay for your sins; buy your way into heaven (indulgences). In his 95 Theses, Luther wrote:

"Why does the Pope, whose wealth today is greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build the basilica of St. Peter with the money of poor believers rather than his own money?"

Martin Luther knew that the only ticket to Heaven was through Jesus Christ and his death on the cross. His courage to speak out against the Roman Catholic Church paved the way for the Protestant Reformation. Today, in Germany, five states including Saxony (my father-in-law's home province) and Thuringer (my mother-in-law's) celebrate Reformation Day as an official holiday.

"A Question to a Mintmaker" woodcutting (showing the payment of indulgences) courtesy

Tuesday 30 October 2012

One Thousand Tracings

On October 30, 1945, shoe rationing ended in the United States.  But for Europe, rationing continued for a few years.  Many Europeans suffered from starvation and disease.  One American couple made it their cause to improve the lot of the Europeans.  Their granddaughter found traces of their experience in a dusty box in the attic once they passed away.  Here is their story.

Fran and Frederick Hamerstrom were Americans of German descent; both were ornithologists.  They formed a close connection with fellow scientists in Europe.  After World War II ended, the couple received a letter from a German ornithologist describing the plight of his countrymen.  Many were starving and dying of disease.  Food and clothing were rationed; many Germans needed shoes. 

Mrs. Hamerstrom offered her help and started receiving foot tracings which she would try to match with a recycled pair of shoes.  Many enveloppes would contain several pairs of tracings.  Sadly, one mother wrote about her family of five, but explained that only one child was still living as the rest had starved.  She made a point of adding:  "Anything you could send would be helpful."

Fran Hamerstrom called on the help of other ornithologists and biologists to help her with her cause, forming the "Committee for the Relief of European Ornithologists".  The care packages grew in number and size as more items were added:  soap, candles, toys, sweets and socks.  One mother wrote about her child who had a swollen belly due to malnutrition and had almost died of typhus.  She was so happy to received a package with peanut butter, something she had never eaten before, but that was full of fat, something they desperately needed. 

While most of the letters had a tone of desperation, they also had a note of gratitude.  One German wrote:  "I am so thankful for it because since 1939 we had scarcely buy  anything and since 1945 we could nothing get here."  Ironically, once the war ended, it was out of the frying pan into the fire for many Europeans as they struggled to climb out of the rubble. 

The American scientists not only gave of their time and their possessions, but also jeopardized their reputations in aiding their former enemy.  Later they helped other Europeans struggling to recover from the war.  Sadly, Fran Hamerstrom was not able to help someone near and dear to her heart, her childhood governess named Frauta, who had moved back to Germany before the war.  Her care package arrived on the heels of her death. 

However, it is heartwarming to hear of the hundreds of individuals who had shoes on their feet and food in their bellies all thanks to the kindness of the Hamerstrom's and their colleagues.


Monday 29 October 2012

Laugh a Lot Day

I googled Trivia Today and discovered October 29 is Laugh A Lot Day.  Apparently, the French laughed for 19 minutes a day back in the 1930's while they laugh for a mere minute nowadays.  Is laughter a lost art?  Do we take ourselves too seriously?  Are we too busy to laugh?  Laughter is not only good for the soul, it's also good for the body.  Here are some benefits:

-increases our endorphins and neurotransmitters
-strengthens our immune system
-strengthens our heart and lungs
-increases our good cholesterol
- decreases our blood pressure, arthritis, ulcers and inflammation
-decreases our stress hormone levels (cortisol, adrenalin)
-exercises our abs, facial muscles
-fights heart disease
-helps us forget our problems

Laughing 100 times is the equivalent of rowing 10 minutes on a rowing machine or cycling 15 minutes on a bike. 

Here are ten ways to initiate a chuckle:

1.  Smile (I think this is also a lost art.  Often I will smile at people and get nothing but a frown in return.)

2.  Read funny books or poetry (

3.  Watch funny movies or TV shows.

4.  Visit funny websites.

5.  Make others laugh.

6.  Collect jokes.

7.  Do laughter yoga.

8.  Read comics.

9.  Join a laughter club.

10.  Marry someone with a good sense of humour (like I did!).

Sunday 28 October 2012

Ten Things You Didn't Know About Hurricanes

As Hurricane Sandy makes it way up the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, here are ten facts you may not know about these storms.

1.  There are on average 85 hurricanes per year.

2.  In the Atlantic, these storms are called hurricanes; in the Pacific, they are called typhoons; in the Indian Ocean, they are called cyclones.

3.  An Australian first named a hurricane back in the 1920's after a politician he didn't like.

4.  The practice of naming hurricanes after people did not officially take place until the 1950's.  The hurricane season lasts from June until November.  Each season has six lists of names with 21 on each list.  These lists are repeated every seven years.  Hurricane names are English, French and Spanish.

5.  The costliest hurricane was Katrina with a price tag of $45 billion, with a death toll of over 1300 and with a total of 1 million displaced persons.

6.  Jupiter's Great Red Spot is a hurricane that has been churning for 400 years.

7.  Galveston, Texas was hit by a hurricane in 1900 which reached 135 miles per hour and killed 8000 people.

8.  Joespeh Duckworth was the first person to fly through the eye of a hurricane on June 27, 1943.

9.  The most destructive hurricanes have had their names retired including:  Dennis, Katrina, Rita, Stan and Wilma. 

10.  Winds flow counterclockwise towards the storm's centre. 


Photo of Hurricane Gustav courtesy

Saturday 27 October 2012

An Icon of Canadian Culture

Today I mentioned Eaton's to my daughter and she didn't know what it was.  What a shame that an "icon of Canadian culture" is now forgotten.  Timothy Eaton's first large department store was located on Yonge Street in Toronto.  Later dozens of Eaton's department stores popped up all over the country.  In fact, it was estimated that 60% of Canadians lived within a 30 minute drive of an Eaton's. 

One of Timothy Eaton's secrets to success was his mail order catalogue, which debuted in 1884.  Here is a brief history.

Timothy Eaton first published a 34 page catalogue in 1884, in large part as a means for Canada's rural residents to have access to the same products that city dwellers enjoyed.  by 1896, the mail order office was filling a tall order:  135000 parcels were delivered by post as well as 74,000 by express.  By 1920, Canadians could buy everything from clothes to farm implements to prefabricated homes and barns.  Catalogue offices were located in Toronto, Winnipeg and Moncton. 

The year 1915 saw the first colour catalogue while four years later the first photographs were introduced, interspersed with illustrations.  Timothy Eaton tried to cater to specific groups, not just housewives:  Klondike miners and prospectors, Maritimes residents and French Canadians.  In fact, Eaton's started publishing a regular French catalogue by 1927. 

Catalogue de Noel circa 1952.

Eaton's introduced incentives to lengthen the list of people who received the annual catalogues.  One B.C. housewife sent in a list of neighbour's names and received a free winter coat. 

Winter coats from Eaton's Catalogue.

Becoming an icon of Canadian culture, the Eaton's catalogue served not just as a mail order service but also reading material for new Canadian immigrants to learn English, paper for paper dolls for young girls, goalie pads for young boys and toilet paper in Canadian outhouses.  The catalogue was even featured in Canadian literature:  read Le Chandail by Roch Carrier to learn about a Montreal hockey fan who orders a Canadiens hockey jersey from Eaton's but instead receives a Toronto Maple Leafs sweater.  His mother addresses her letter, "Cher Monsieur Eaton", as she tries to rectify the problem.

Eaton's Catalogue circa 1942.

Sadly, with the growth of cities, and the competition of Simpson-Sear's catalogue, the demand for the Eaton's catalogue diminished. The last issue was printed in 1976. It was the end of an era.

Friday 26 October 2012

The Tree of Life

There is a tree that Rob drives by on his way to work each day.  It is an unusual shape; it looks like it belongs in Africa rather than North America.  It reminds me of the Tree of Life at the Animal Kingdom in Disney World. 

Think about the life within a tree.  Its crown is as wide as its roots system underneath the soil.  Although a tree needs rain and sun to survive, it can sustain a lot of abuse:  heavy winds, snow, ice, intense heat, drought.  A pruned tree can enjoy renewed health.  My neighbour even hacked most of the branches off of her tree a few years ago; I used to call it the Bosnian tree since it looked war-torn.  However, sure enough the next spring, it came back to life.  Now, you wouldn't even know that it had been tampered with.

However, there is one thing a tree cannot sustain:  cutting off its roots.  Human beings are like trees.  We are living creatures.  We are strong.  We can endure injuries.  We can endure abuse.  But we cannot endure being cut off from our life source.  Keep close to your roots.  Seek sustenance everyday (not just physical, but spiritual).  And remember that with a strong connection to our life source, we'll not only grow, we'll bear fruit.

"I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." (John 15:5)


Thursday 25 October 2012

Jack-O-Lantern Cake

Ingredients for Each Cake

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 2 cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cup sour cream
  • 1 (15-ounce) Can pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
  • 2 cup chopped walnuts, optional

Cream Cheese Frosting
  • 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, at room temperature
  • ½ cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
  • 5 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 2-4 tablespoons milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Green liquid or paste coloring red and yellow liquid coloring or orange paste coloring

For assembling the cake½ cup semisweet chocolate chips

    How to make it

  • 1
    Preheat the oven to 350°F, Grease and flour a Bundt pan and line one 4-ounce ramekin or custard cup with a muffin paper.
  • 2
    Sift the flour; baking powder; baking soda, salt, and pumpkin pie spice into a large bowl and set aside.
  • 3
    Cream the butter; granulated sugar; and brown sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer until fluffy. One at a time, beat the eggs into the mixture, and then blend in the vanilla, sour cream, and pumpkin, mixing to combine. Add the egg mixture to the dry ingredients in halves, mixing until smooth, Stir in the walnuts, if using.
  • 4
    Scoop out 1/3 cup of the batter and pour it into the paper-lined ramekin. Pour the remaining batter into the Bundt pan. Place both pans in the oven; remove the ramekin after 15 minutes. Continue baking the Bundt cake for 30 to 35 minutes longer, until a toothpick comes out with only a few crumbs clinging to it.
  • 5
    Make an entire second cake by repeating steps 1 through 3. Skip the small ramekin cake and pour all of the batter into the prepared Bundt pan. Bake 45 to 50 minutes and cool the second cake.
  • 6
    To prepare the frosting, beat the cream cheese and butter in a large bowl until smooth and creamy. Slowly blend in the confectioners’ sugar. Add milk, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the frosting achieves a smooth, spreadable consistency. Stir in the vanilla.
  • 7
    Remove ½ cup of the frosting to a small bowl and blend in about 6 drops of the green coloring (add a few drops more if you want a more intense shade). Stir about 10 drops each of the red and yellow coloring or a dab of the orange paste into the remaining white frosting to produce a bright orange.
  • 8
    When both Bundt cakes are entirely cool, place the slightly larger Bundt cake (the second one) upside down on a serving platter (the rounded edge of the cake will be on the bottom). Spread a thin layer of orange frosting over the flat side as a glue, and then place the second cake right side up directly on top of the first, making sure to line up the ridges.
  • 9
    Frost the cake assembly evenly with orange frosting, Peel the paper off the little cupcake from the ramekin and frost its bottom and sides with the bright green frosting. Place it, topside down and frosted bottom up, in the center of the top Bundt cake, covering the hole, to make a pumpkin stem. (You can use a knife to smooth away your fingerprints from placing the cupcake.)
  • 10
    Put the chocolate chips in a microwave-safe bowl, and melt the chocolate in the microwave: Heat on high for 60 seconds, and then stir well. If it’s not quite smooth, continue to heat in two or three 10-second bursts, stirring well after each burst. Cool slightly, then pour the melted chocolate into a small ziplock bag. Cut a tiny bit off one corner of the bag and pipe a triangular nose and eyes high up on one side of the cake, then a jagged pumpkin grin. (You get only one shot at this on the cake so you may want to melt extra chips and practice on a piece of wax paper or a plate first.) Serve immediately, or store, covered, for 2 to 3 days.
Source:  Reader's Digest

Photo courtesy

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Soar Like an Eagle

Last week when I drove Thomas and Jacqueline to school, I saw an eagle soaring above the railroad tracks.  I took note of it since it was only the second time I had seen an an eagle in the area, the first being a few weeks ago when it was perched on a dead tree.  Arriving at the school, I stayed for the weekly Monday morning assembly where Pastor Jeff spoke about eagles.  He said that small birds flap their wings and work hard, not always making a lot of progress.  However, eagles, with an eight-foot wingspan, find an updraft caused by either warm winds (thermals) or the surrounding terrain (mountains) and soar on it, thereby conserving their energy.  
Similarly, as Christians, we should not work so hard flapping our wings, but give our burdens to God who will "raise us up on eagle's wings".  After we listened to Pastor Jeff, Mrs. Mann had us sing a song with the line "soar like an eagle".  I guess God was trying to tell me something.  All weekend long, I had felt like I was flapping my wings.  I was reminded that if I give it up to God, he will help me rise above my troubles. 

Today I learned that eagles are the only bird to actually fly directly into the eye of a storm.  They use the powerful winds to raise them up above the clouds where they can ride out the storm.  They're not only strong creatures, but also intelligent.  So, the next time you are facing a storm, use God's love to raise you above the turbulence.  He wants you to soar like the eagle.

Image courtesy

Tuesday 23 October 2012

The Springhill Mine Disaster

In the town of Spring Hill, Nova Scotia,
Down in the heart of the Cumberland Mine,
There's blood on the coal and miners lie
In the roads that never saw sun or sky
Roads that never saw sun or sky.

Down at the coal face the miner's workin'
Rattle of the belt and the cutter's blade
Crumble of rock and the walls close round
Living and the dead men two miles down
Living and the dead men two miles down

Twelve men lay two miles from the pitshaft
Listen for the drillin' of a rescue team
Six hundred feet of coal and slag
Hope imprisoned in a three-foot seam
Hope imprisoned in a three-foot seam

Eight days passed and some were rescued
Leaving the dead to lie alone
All their lives they dug their graves
Two miles of earth for a markin' stone
Two miles of earth for a markin' stone

In the town of Spring Hill you don't sleep easy
Often the earth will tremble and groan
When the earth is restless, miners die
Bone and blood is the price of coal
Bone and blood is the price of coal

Peggy Seeger & Ewan McColl

*Performed by Peter, Paul & Mary in the 1960's as well as U2 in the 1980's.

Photo courtesy

Springhill, Nova Scotia's Cumberland Mine saw three tragedies in its lifetime:  in 1891, it faced a fire; in 1956 it endured an explosion; and in 1958, it suffered a bump, similar to a small earthquake. 

Springhill is a small town of about 3500 residents located in northern Nova Scotia.  The Cumberland Mine, at 13000 feet, was the biggest and deepest mine in North America at the time.  Always known as a dangerous mine, it had killed an average of nine men per year since it openede.  On October 23, 1958, a bump was felt by the miners at 7 pm but it was ignored since this had happened several times before.  However, a second much bigger bump was felt as much as 15 miles away at 8 pm.  One hundred and seventy-four miners were trapped below the surface.  And the world waited.  The disaster was the first international event to be covered on live television.  Some suspect that the complete removal of the coal from the bedrock might have intiated the bump.  Dragaermen tried desperately to free the miners.  The Canadian Air Force was brought it to help with the rescue effort.  Emergency kitchens were erected to serve the rescuers.  Premier Robert Stanfield visited the site as did Prince Phillip.  In what was considered a miracle, rescuers brought up 100 survivors over the course of five and a half days.  However, 74 miners perished 13000 feet below the earth's surface.  Families were devastated.  The mine closed permanently.  A song was written called "The Ballad of springhill".  A book was penned called "Miracle at Springhill" by Leonar Lerner in 1960.

Photo courtesy

Visit the CBC website for more information:

Monday 22 October 2012

The Cats in Krasinski Square

"They belonged once to someone.  They slept on sofa cushions and ate from crystal dishes.  They purred...nuzzling the chins of their beloveds."

These are the opening lines of the picture book The Cats in Krasinski Square based on a true story about a little girl and her sister who escape the Jewish Ghetto in Warsaw, Poland.  The girl visits the square each day and plays with the cats whose families have either abandonned them or can no longer afford to feed them.  The little girl and her sister plan to smuggle food through the walls of the ghetto to their friends.  They are expecting a train to arrive filled with Jewish Resistance members carrying satchels with "bread, groats and sugar". 

However, they expect that the Gestapo will be waiting at the train station with attack dogs, ready to sniff out the smuggled food.  Outwitting the Gestapo, the little girl and her friends gather up the cats in Krasinki Square and hide them in baskets.  They arrive at the train station and wait for the train to appear.  When it whistles to a stop, they let the cats out of the baskets.  Chaos ensues!  The dogs chase the cats which gives the "smugglers" (Jewish Resistance) a chance to get away.  The food vanishes over, under and through the cracks in the wall of the ghetto, "taken by grateful hands". 

The language in this book is beautiful.  The pictures are excellent.  The illustrator effectively shows an aerial view of the Warsaw Ghetto.  He also shows the many war-torn buildings and the piles of rubble.  And the story is heart warming. 

Sunday 21 October 2012

The Journey That Saved Curious George

It was a manuscript called "The Adventures of Fifi" based on the life of a little monkey.  Not even a world war would stop its publication.  It had a long journey to America:  a 133-kilometre bike ride, a long train ride, and two long boat rides.  But it made it in one piece and now is available for everyone to enjoy as Curious George.

Hans Augusto Reyersbach, born and raised in Hamburg, Germany, loved to draw.  He would sketch the animals at the zoo and the horses in the park.  He fought in World War I and returned to his hometown.  In the mid-1920's, he moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil where he donned a large yellow hat and sailed up and down the Amazon River, sketching and photographing monkeys and other wildlife. 

An acquaintance of Hans' named Margarete Waldstein also grew up in Hamburg.  She, too, dreamed of being an artist, attending Germany's famous Bauhaus School.  In 1935, she followed Hans to Rio de Janeiro where the two spent months sketching and photographing.  Later that year, they married.

In 1936, the young couple moved back to Europe, this time to Paris, France.  They were both Jewish and wanted to avoid Germany due to Hitler's anti-Semetic laws.  They set up a cozy home in an apartment at the Terrass Hotel.  The couple would sketch the fishermen on the River Seine, the booksellers on the quay and the animals at the zoo.

Paris is where the Reyersbach's started writing their children's books.  The late 1930's was a difficult time to get a book published:  typesetters had joined the army, paper was scarce and the laws were strict (propaganda).  Nevertheless, the artists-turned-authors managed to get an advance from a Paris Publisher for three manuscripts including "The Adventures of Fifi".

However, while their manuscript was being typed, World War II was brewing.  News spread quickly that the Nazis were "goosestepping" their way across France.  Paris filled with refugees from the north:  Belgian farm carts and horses passed Dutch cars with mattresses tied to the roofs; taxis, trucks and green city busses whizzed by the Reyersbach's window.  It was time for the couple to join the ranks of the two million refugees.

Family flees Paris circa 1940 courtesy

Hans made several trips to government agencies to get their passports in order.  THUMP!  THUMP!  He also tried to purchase train tickets out of the French capital but the trains were no longer running.  Hans purchased a tandem bicycle, but he and Margarete tried to pedal it on Paris' cobblestone streets but "sans succes".  He returned the bike, bought spare bicycle parts for 1600 francs, and assembled two separate bikes.  He also bought four large baskets, two to hold bread, cheese and meat, and two to hold clothes and their precious manuscripts.

Finally, the Reyersbach's were ready for their journey.  Under the drone of the German scout planes, they left the Terrass Hotel and pedalled through the streets of Paris, part of the largest motorized evacuation in history.  As rain pattered their bicycles, Hans was relieved that their manuscript was clean and dry under his winter coat inside one of the baskets.  The first day, they rode 48 kilometres.  A gracious farmer's wife offered them shelter in her house on that first night.  On the second day, they rode 26 kilometres and were offered a spot to rest their weary limbs in a farmer's stable.  On the third day, they pedalled 32 kilometres.  They reached Etampes, France not a moment too soon for it was bombed only two days later. 

The map outlining the Reyersbach's flight from Nazi-occupied France courtesy

At Orleans, they boarded a train with their bicycles which steamed south to Bayonne as they stretched their weary limbs.  They disembarked at Bayonne and remounted their bikes bound for Hendaye.  There, they caught a second train, this one headed through Spain to Portugal.  Hans sold their "bicyclettes" for 650 francs at the train station, money that would come in handy soon.

At Lisbon, they bought tickets for a trans-Atlantic passage to South America.  One official thought Hans might be a spy, given his attire and his briefcase.  However, all was well once he opened the case and revealed his "livre pour les enfants".  The Reyersbach's boarded a ship named "Angola" which safely took them across the Atlantic to Brazil.  They waited two months for their papers to be in order.  THUMP!  THUMP! 

Finally, in October of 1940, four months after they pedalled out of wartime Paris, they sailed into peacetime New York, with the Statue of Liberty in full view.  Only a year later, the former Fifi landed on American bookshelves as Curious George.  And the Reyersbach's became the Rey's.  What a journey for the little monkey and the man with the yellow hat!

Original cover courtesy

Source:  The Journey that Saved Curious George by Louise Borden.

Saturday 20 October 2012


The rose is called the queen of flowers,
Surrounded by her sisters fair,
A lovely throng of beauties rare,
She holds her court 'mid summer bowers,
'Neath smiling skies of sunny blue,
Gayly they bloom the summer through
Brightening all the golden hours.
But when the autumn days have come
Then blooms our sweet Chrysanthemum.

As we watch the summer days depart
And the painted leaves in silence fall,
And the vines are dead upon the wall;
A dreamy sadness fills each heart,
Our garden seems a dreary place,
No brilliant flowers its borders grace,
Save in a sheltered nook apart,
Where gay beneath the autumn sun
Blooms our own Chrysanthemum.

Ah! she is not a "Summer Friend,"
She stays when all the rest have flown,
And left us flowerless and alone;
No singing birds, or blooms to lend
Their brightness to the autumn haze,
'Tis she who cheers the dreary days;
'Tis joy to know so sweet a friend;
No fairer flower blooms 'neath the sun
Than autumn's queen Chrysanthemum.

Hattie L. Knapp


Friday 19 October 2012

The Man with the Authoritative Voice

"This is CNN!" booms the authoritative voice of James Earl Jones.  "Bell Atlantic:  The Heart of Communication" bellows Jones, reciting another tagline.  "No Luke, I am your father" thunders Darth Vader, played by Jones, to Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars movie "Empire Strikes Back".  What would American culture and media be like without this distinctive voice?  And yet, James Earl Jones was mute for eight years as the result of a debilitating childhood stutter.  How did this great actor overcome his speech impediment?

Born in 1931 in Arkabutla, Mississippi, James Earl Jones lived in the Deep South for only five years.  Abandonned by his boxer-turned-actor father, James went to live with his maternal grandparents in Jackson, Michigan.  The move was so traumatic for the boy that he developped a stutter, rendering him mute for the next eight years.  Enrolling in a Brethren, Michigan high school, his English teacher soon discovered that James liked to write poetry.  He encouraged him to share it in class and soon his pupil was reciting it every day for his classmates. 


He enrolled at University of Michigan in pre-med, but soon transferred to the drama program where he honed his speaking skills even more.  He entered the military thinking he would be posted to Korea, but it never happened.  Discharged from the army, he looked for work.

James Earl Jones became a stage actor in 1957, receiving four Tony awards in his theatre career.  He became a movie actor in 1964, with a part in Dr. Strangelove.  Although his signature role was Darth Vader in Star Wars he has played roles in dozens of movies and garnered two Oscars.  He has also worked in television receiving nine Emmy awards for various roles.  He is the trademark voice for CNN as well as other companies. 

James Earl Jones says:  "One of the hardest things in life is having words in your heart that you can't utter."  With the help of his high school English teacher, he found his voice.  He turned his weakness into a strength.  And the world has been greatly enriched by it. 


Thursday 18 October 2012

Ten Things You Didn't Know About Pumpkins

1.  Pumpkins originated in Central America in 7000 B.C.  Now they grow on six continents.

2.  The American pumpkin harvest yields 1,500,000,000 pounds of pumpkin per year.

3.  The world's largest pumpkin weighed 1700 pounds.

4.  One serving of pumpkin contains only 0.5 grams of fat.

5.  Pumpkin is rich in potassium, Vitamin A and fibre.

6.  Each pumpkin contains approximately 500 seeds.

7.  Nineteenth Century New Englanders thought that pumpkin was a cure-all, healing people from snakebites and diarrhea, and getting rid of freckles and wrinkles.  It is true that pumpkin helps ward off prostate cancer.

8.  At the "Punkin Chunkin" Festival held every year, pumpkins are shot 5000 feet into the air through cannons.

9.  Thirty varieties of pumpkins exist, Connecticut Field being the most popular.

10.  If you place your pumpkin on the porch at Halloween, pranksters have 14 hours of daylight to smash it.

11.  A pumpkin is a squash which belongs to the cucurbita family of vegetables.

12.  The first mention of pumpkins in literature occurs in the 17th Century fairytale "Cinderella".

13.  The Pumpkin Capital of the World is Morton, Illinois, home of Libby's Factory which produces canned pumpkin.

14.  The Native Indians grew pumpkins, a staple of their diet which helped them survive the long winters.

15.  Christopher Columbus took pumpkin seeds back to Europe on his return voyage.


Image courtesy

Wednesday 17 October 2012

Harold's Math Test

Winchelsea School courtesy Norm Tufts.

Twelve year old Harold road his bike up the hill.  Just a little further and he would be at Winchelsea School, a red brick two storey building with high windows and a bell tower.  Finally, he finished the last mile, one of five.  He carefully parked his bike.  The bell rang and he entered the school through the boys' entrance.  There was only one class composed of Grade 7 and 8.  Harold stood at attention as he sang "God Save the Queen", facing the large Union Jack hanging at the front of the classroom.  He then bowed his head like the other boys and girls as they recited the Lord's Prayer. 

Mr. Black handed out the math tests that the students had written the day before.  But Harold did not get his back.  He watched horrified as Mr. Black proceeded to hold up his math test and say:  "Harold failed his math test.  He doesn't know how to do math equations.  He's horrible at math."  And Harold's classmates stared at him and snickered. 

Harold was so mad he could see red.  But rather than throwing up his hands and not trying, he dug his heels in deeper, vowing to never fail a math test again.  He worked harder and harder at completing his math homework.  He did extra math practice every day.  If he got the wrong answer, he would try again until he arrived at the right response.  He was determined to prove Mr. Black wrong.

As the months went by, Fall turned to winter and Harold could no longer ride his bike to school.  Sometimes he got a ride on a neighbour's sled.  Other times he walked, trudging through deep snowdrifts with the wind blowing in his face, forming miniature icicles on his tuque.  But he didn't miss a day of school. 

And he never missed an opportunity to practice his math skills.  With each test he wrote, his mark improved.  It wasn't long before Harold's red F's turned to red A's.  He didn't receive just one A, but several.  The other students started to come to Harold for help if they needed it. 

Two years later, Harold graduated from Grade 8.  That Fall, he moved to St. Mary's Ontario, a quaint town full of stone covered buildings on the banks of the Thames River, where he boarded with a family during the week.  He enrolled at St. Mary's High School where he continued to improve his math skills.  He looked forward to each weekend when he could return to his parents' farm in Kirkton and help with the harvest. 

This routine continued for five years.  Harold looked forward to Christmas and Easter when he received an extra long holiday from school.  However, he was always happy to return, given what an excellent student he was.  He also found he excelled at Music and enjoyed singing in the church choir.  He also took up long distance running.

When Harold approached graduation, his father told him that he could only afford to send one of his sons to university.  Since Harold's brother Truman was the oldest, he would take over the family farm.  That gave Harold the chance to attend university and he worked harder than ever.

Sure enough, Harold was accepted at the University of Western Ontario.  Guess what his major was?  Math, of course.  He chose to minor in Physics.  He continued his long distance running career, those long walks to Winchelsea helping to build up his endurance.  Harold excelled at Western, continually ending up on the Deans Honour List and graduating with Honours in 1925. 

Harold applied to the Ontario Teachers' College and was accepted.  He packed up his things, said goodbye to the cornfields of Kirkton, and headed for the train station in St. Mary's.  There he boarded a train bound for the metropolis of Toronto.  Once again, Harold excelled at Teachers' College.  He was a natural teacher:  his enthusiasm, his knowledge of his subject matter and his dedication all paid off. 

But he was worried about getting a teaching job the following year since Ontario was in the midst of a recession.  However, he persevered.  Easter weekend arrived and Harold hopped a train bound for Kirkton.  At the farm, he waited anxiously by the phone.  At first, there was a long silence interrupted by the chatter of his family.  However, then he got a phone call from a Toronto High School.  Was he interested in a job?  This was followed by another phone call and another job offer.  Finally, he received a third offer, all in one weekend!  Which job should he accept?

He said yes to Toronto's Eastern High School of Commerce.  He started his job in September of 1926, arriving the first day of school dressed in a smart suit and a snappy tie.  From the day he set foot in Eastern High School, Mr. Tufts made his mark.  His smile lit up the room.  His hearty laugh filled the hallways.  His steady hand lead the high school band.  His neat blackboards, the "neatest in Ontario" according to the provincial inspector, were appreciated by his pupils.  His reassuring manner helped daily the students who struggled in math, something he could relate to.  Mr. Tufts never had a student he didn't like.  And he never had a student who didn't like him and appreciate his kind manner.  After forty years at Eastern High, Mr. Tufts retired, but he was not forgotten. 

Back in Winchelsea, Mr. Black has long passed away.  But the red brick schoolhouse is still there, now used as a residence.  It stands as a testament to young Harold, who proved we can do anything if we put our mind to it. 

"We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us." (Phillipians 4:13)

Dedicated to my Grandad, Harold Ross Tufts (1902-1997).

Kirkton Union School circa 1915 with Harold Tufts (back row, 2nd from right) courtesy Norm Tufts.

Tuesday 16 October 2012

J. Edgar Hoover in my Bathtub

At first it seems like a scary thought:  what would J. Edgar Hoover be doing in my bathtub?  Did I get in a time machine and travel back to the 1960's?  Shouldn't he be at F.B.I. headquarters in Washington D.C.?  Shouldn't he be tapping Martin Luther King Jr.'s phone or reading a file as thick as the phone book about John F. Kennedy or Mafioso Sam Giancana?  What was Mr. Hoover doing in my house in Brantford, Ontario?

No, upon further inspection the person in my bathtub was Jacqueline  -- not Jacqueline Kennedy, but Jacqueline Jonasson.  It was 2004 and she was having her daily bath.  With her chubby cheeks and her wet, jet-black hair, similar to Hoover's brill-creamed, slicked back hair, she looked like the F.B. I. director. 

Were there any other similarities?  Well, both are demanding.  Both like to have their own way.  Both like to talk on the phone (albeit, a plastic one for Jacqueline).  Both are quite bright.  But that's where the similarities end. 

I miss the bathtub days.  Now Jacqueline takes showers.  Gone is the rubber duckie.  Gone are the bath bubbles.  Gone is the purple dinosaur towel that I wrapped around her once she got out of the tub.  Gone is the giant "roar" she let out as she played the role of the dinosaur.

Bring back bath time.  Bring back the rubber duckie.  Bring back J. Edgar Hoover.  Those were the days!

Monday 15 October 2012

Top Ten Reasons to Study Geography

When I walked down the hall of Jacqueline's school today, I studied the large world map mounted on the wall outside the grade 5 room.  Wondering if it was up to date, I noticed that the former Yugoslavia was divided into five countries.  That was up to date enough for me.  When I last went to school, it was still one big country.  My husband has always loved geography and he has passed that love on to Jacqueline.  Here are ten humorous reasons to study geography:

1.  You will be able to point out San Jose on a map.

2.  History will make sense.

3.  You will know where coffee beans come from.

4.  Mother Teresa, the renowned saint, was a geography teacher.

5.  Michael Jordan, the famous basketball star, was a geography major.

6.  You might meet Alex Trebeck.

7.  You won't buy a train ticket from California to Hawaii.

8.  You will be able to find your way out of a paper bag.

9.  You will be able to detect David Letterman's mistakes.

10.  Lost?  No way!!!


Sunday 14 October 2012

Building Missiles Like Sausages

Photo courtesy

It was 50 years ago today when the Soviet Union and the United States came to the brink of World War III.  It was a 13 day confrontation between the two superpowers that almost ended in nuclear war, potentially killing 100 million Americans and over 1000 million Russians.  However, it was all averted, thanks in part to the diplomacy of Robert F. Kennedy.

The Cuban Missile Crisis came on the heels of the Bay of Pigs Invasion of April 1961 in which CIA trained guerrillas landed on the beaches of Cuba and tried to overthrow Castro's Communist government.  Although the mission failed, the Soviets did not take lightly to the incident and felt threatened by the American presence in the Caribbean.

The crisis also came on the heels of the building of the Berlin Wall in August of 1961.  Kennedy saw the building of Soviet missiles in the Western Hemisphere as a potential "showdown on Berlin". 

Premier Khrushchev started boasting that the Soviets were "building missiles like sausages".  Some American politicians started believing his big talk, assuming that the Soviets had more missiles than the Americans.

This all hit too close to home when, on October 14, 1962, the American air force took photos of missiles being built in Cuba with the capability of striking the United States.  President John F. Kennedy debated for a week what to do.  Should he do nothing?  Should he negotiate?  Or should he attack Cuba?  Kennedy's Joint Chiefs of Staff were strongly in favour of the latter.  However, the President did not want to start World War III.  He ordered a naval blockade in the Caribbean, forcing the Soviet ships back so they could not complete their missile building.

In the meantime, JFK went on the air and announced to the public about the missile crisis.  Given it was less than 17 years since World War II, some Americans immediately started building fallout shelters in their backyards.  Others rushed out to the grocery store to buy bread and milk.  Still others phoned the local defence department asking questions.    Even so, experts state that it cannot be overemphasized how close the world was to war.

Photo courtesy

On October 26, President Kennedy received a letter from Premier Khrushchev suggesting that the Soviets would dismantle weapons in Cuba and return them to the Soviet Union in exchange for America promising to never invade Cuba.  While Kennedy pondered this offer with his Chiefs of Staff, Khrushchev sent a second letter, this time suggesting that the Soviets would dismantle their missiles in Cuba in exchange for the Americans dismantling their missiles in Turkey and Italy. 

John F. Kennedy was in a quandary:  should he accept the second letter even though he preferred the first?  He turned to his brother, Secretary of State Robert F. Kennedy, who suggested that he respond to the first letter pretending that he had not received the second.  The President took his advice and it worked!  The Soviet Union dismantled their missiles and sent them back to the Soviet Union on eight ships.  The Americans ended the naval blockade on November 20.  By September of 1963, American weapons in Italy and Turkey were de-activated.

As a result of the Cuban Missile Crisis, a Moscow-Washington hotline was set up.  And the world breathed a sigh of relief.

Photo courtesy

Saturday 13 October 2012

Birds Take Flight

As we see the Canada geese fly south for the winter, here are ten facts about bird migration.

1.  Migration comes from the latin "migratus" which means to change.  The birds change their geographic location with the seasons.

2.  While Spring and Fall are peak migratory periods, some type of bird is migrating 365 days a year.

3.  Birds experience "hyperphagia"as they prepare to migrate.  Their body stores fat, sometimes doubling in weight, to use as energy for their long flight.

4.  Migration lasts anywhere from a few weeks to four months, depending on the bird, the distance it flies, its speed, its routes and its number of stopovers.

5.  Hawks, swifts, swallows, and waterfowl migrate during the day while songbirds migrate at night so as not to be seen by their predators. 

6.  Birds navigate by the stars, the sun, the wind patterns and landforms.  During their migration, the following threats may arise:  window collisions, confusing lights, hunting, habitat loss and predators.

7.  Birds fly 15 to 600 miles per day during their migratory period.

8.  Birds that must cross an ocean, called "transoceanic migrants", sometimes fly for 100 hours at a stretch.

9.  Birds travel at speeds of 15 to 50 miles per hour depedning on the species, the flight pattern and the prevailing winds.

10.  Birds fly at about 2000 feet altitude; however, some birds have been recorded at 29,000 feet (for instance, birds that must rise above mountain ranges). 


Photo courtesy

Friday 12 October 2012

From Little Acorns Grow Oak Forests

What happens to the acorns that squirrels bury each autumn?  I googled the question and received an interesting answer.  Gray squirrels store but fail to retrieve up to 74% of the acorns.  This leads to the regeneration and dispersal of oak trees.  Tree squirrels bury hundreds of acorns in the ground, essentially planting baby oaks.  Acorns are one of the squirrels favourite nuts as they are easy to open and can be eaten in less than half the time of harder nuts.  Squirrels prefer the white oak variety rather than the red oak.  They devour the former immediately 85% of the time whereas they store the latter 60% of the time.  They pry the cap off the red variety, eat half of it and then throw them away.  Scientists suspect this is because the red oak acorns contain more tannins, something the squirrel does not like.  Red oaks usually sprout in the Spring while white oaks sprout in the Fall.  Scientists agree that squirrels play a big role in the growth of oak forests.



Thursday 11 October 2012


O hushed October morning mild,

Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;

Tomorrow’s wind, if it be wild,

Should waste them all.

The crows above the forest call;

Tomorrow they may form and go.

O hushed October morning mild,

Begin the hours of this day slow.

Make the day seem to us less brief.

Hearts not averse to being beguiled,

Beguile us in the way you know.

Release one leaf at break of day;

At noon release another leaf;

One from our trees, one far away.

Retard the sun with gentle mist;

Enchant the land with amethyst.

Slow, slow!

For the grapes’ sake, if they were all,

Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,

Whose clustered fruit must else be lost—

For the grapes’ sake along the wall.
Robert Frost

Wednesday 10 October 2012

Finding Fall Foliage

Here are ten of the most spectacular places in Canada to view fall foliage.

1.  Rocky Mountains, Alberta

Check out Banff or Lake Louise to see beautiful scenes of nature.

2.  Mont-Tremblant, Quebec

The Laurentian Mountains are breathtaking at this time of year.

3.  Cabot Trail, Nova Scotia

The Cabot trail is reputed to be one of the world's most beautiful drives.  It winds around the northern shore of Nova Scotia.

4.  Algonquin National Park, Ontario

Made famous in paintings by the Group of Seven, this park features 7900 square kilometres of fall foliage.

5.  Agawa Canyon, Ontario

The Agawa Central Railroad follows a route north of Sault Saint Marie into Northern Ontario.

6.  Romance by Rail

VIA Rail offers a six day trip east from Toronto to Montreal to Quebec City to Halifax.  Enjoy the fall colours as you relax on the train.

7.  Niagara Parkway, Ontario

Following the winding Niagara Parkway from Queenston along the Niagara River to Niagara Falls.  According to Sir Winston Churchill it is "one of the prettiest Sunday afternoon drives".  While you're in Queenston, you could check out the celebrations for the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 this weekend.

8.   Bruce Peninsula, Ontario

Take a hike along the Bruce Trail, an 800 kilometre route full of fall foliage.  Some of the trees are 1000 years old.

9.  Prince Edward Island

Becauase of the moderating effect of the ocean, the island experiences warmer than usual temperatures in the fall, making the colourful leaves hang on to the trees a little longer.

10.  Fundy Coast, New Brunswick

Following the Fundy Coastal drive to see some of the highest tides in the world.  The foliage is similar to that found in New England, but without the crowds.


Tuesday 9 October 2012

The Tragedy of the Unopened Gift

To sinful patterns of behavior that never get confronted and changed,
Abilities and gifts that never get cultivated and deployed,
Until weeks become months
And months turn into years
And one day you're looking back to a life of
Deep, intimate, gut-wrenchingly honest conversations you never had;
Great bold prayers you never prayed,
Exhilarating risks you never took,
Sacrificial gifts you never offered,
Lives you never touched,
And you're sitting in a recliner with a shriveled soul,
And forgotten dreams, and you realize there was a world of desperate need,
And a great God calling you to be part of something bigger than yourself-
You see the person you could have become but did not;
You never followed your calling.
You never got out of the boat.
Gregg Levoy

Today at our church's Coffee Break we watched a Bible Study video called "How Can You Walk on Water If You Don't Get out of the Boat?".  We talked about how God gives all of us talents and how we need to recognize them and use them to God's glory.  Unused gifts are like an unopened present; they're of no use to anyone.

I mentioned how often Olympic athletes excell not only at their Olympic discipline, but also at other areas of their life.  For instance, Syl Apps from Paris, Ontario was an excellent hockey player for the Toronto Maple Leafs in their heyday.  However, previous to his NHL career, he was an Olympic pole vaulter  (he placed 6th at the 1936 Berlin Games).  Similarly, Clara Hughes was a cyclist at the London Olympics this past summer.  However, she was also a multiple medal winner at the Winter Games as a speed skater.  Remember the two-time Olympic silver medalist, Elvis Stojko?  He also holds a black belt in karate.

Now, you may say that the gift these people have is that they are all excellent athletes.  However, I am sure that if you delve deeper into their lives, you will find that they exhibit non-athletic talents as well.  For instance, remember the Olympic rower Silken Laumann who was in a rowing accident that left her with a nasty tear in her leg just ten weeks before the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona (she was the gold medal favourite)?  Well, she dug deep and between excellent surgeons, excellent therapists, hard work and faith, Silken Laumann not only rowed at Barcelona, but won a bronze medal.  Now, she is an entrepreneur, running several successful fitness centres (McFit, now Fit4Less). 

What is the common denominator that all of these athletes have?  I believe it is faith and hard work.  Even when they fail, they are willing to pull their socks up and try again.  Each time they put themselves out there, they are rewarded tenfold.  They are willing to take the risk for they know that if they don't, they will achieve nothing. 

At today's Bible study we read about "The Parable of the Talents" in which a master gave each of servants talents.  Servant number 1 received 5 talents (5000 gold coins) which he invested.  Servant number 2 received 2 which he also invested.  Servant number 3 received 1 which he buried.  The first servant doubled his earnings.  The master said;  "Well done my good and faithful servant" and rewarded him with more authority.  The second servant also doubled his earnings.  He was rewarded just as the first one was.  The third servant had nothing more to add to his gift.  The master chastised him and took away his initial talent, giving it to the first servant. 

God has blessed us all with gifts.  The tragedy isn't if we use those gifts and fail.  The tragedy is if we don't use those gifts at all.  Remember;  How can you walk on water if you don't get out of the boat?

Photo courtesy

Monday 8 October 2012

Advice from Authors

1.  Ernest Hemingway

Use short sentences and short first paragraphs.

2.  Oscar Wilde

Be unpredictable.  "Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative."

3.  Anton Chekov

Show, don't tell.  "don't tell me the moon is shingin; show me the glint of light on the broken glass."

4.  Samuel Johnson

Keep it interesting.  "Make new things familiar and familiar things new."

5.  Ray Bradbury

Discount empty praise.  "Accept rejection and reject acceptance.

6.  Toni Morrison

Promote communication.  "Everything I have done in the writing world has been to expand articulation rather than close it."

7.  George Orwell

Watch your voice.  "Use active voice rather than the passive one...eliminate longer words when shorter ones work just as well."

8.  F. Scott Fitzgerald

Eliminate exclamation marks where possible.  An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own joke.

9.  Truman Capote

Editing is as important as writing.  "I believe more in the scissors than in the pencil."

10.  Maurice Sendak

Keep revising.  "I never spent less than two years on the text of one of my picture books even though each is [only] 380 words long."


Sunday 7 October 2012

Thanksgiving Quiz

1.  Thanksgiving 1953 saw the invention of:

a.  the microwave
b.  the toaster oven
c.  the TV dinner

2.  Which American President signed a law making Thanksgiving an official holiday?

a.  Washington
b.  Lincoln
c.  Roosevelt

3.  A "turducken" is a:

a.  Turkish prison
b.  Turkish food
c.  turkey stuffed with duck and chicken

4.  While millions of turkeys are slaughtered each year for Thanksgiving dinners, one President started the annual tradition of poultry pardoning.  Who was he?

a.  Truman
b.  Kennedy
c.  Nixon

5.  The Pilgrims intended on fasting to show their gratitude to God for getting them throught that first winter at Plymouth, Massachussetts.  However, the Native Indians had a tradition of dancing and feasting, which inspired the Pilgrims.  Who were they?

a.  Wampanoag
b.  Iroquois
c.  Shawnee

6.  While Thanksgiving is a North American tradition, Westminster Abbey in London, England held a Thanksgiving service in the following year:

a.  1917
b.  1933
c.  1942

7.  While Massachussetts celebrated Thanksgiving since 1621, the holiday was not celebrated by all 13 colonies until:

a.  1650
b.  1700
c.  1777

8.  The United States has three towns named Turkey.  One in Louisiana, one in Texas and one in North Carolina.  The term turkey comes from the word "tuka" which comes from which language?

a.  Greek
b.  Native Indian
c.  Latin

9.  The tradition of breaking the wishbone dates back to:

a.  the pilgrims in 1621
b.  the Americans in 1777
c.  the Etruscans in 322 BC

10.  The Algonquin Indians used the following Thanksgiving food as medicine:

a.  cranberries
b.  squash
c.  pumpkin

1.  c
2.  b
3.  c
4.  a
5.  a
6.  c
7.  c
8.  b
9.  c
10.  a