Sunday 31 March 2013

The Easter Egg

Image courtesy 

Easter eggs are an important symbol for many Christians, particularly those in the Orthodox and Eastern Catholic faiths.  The egg represents a rebirth or a renewal:  the yoke symbolizes Jesus and the outer shell symbolizes the tomb.  In the Orthodox faith, the eggs are dyed red to represent Jesus' blood.

During the forty days before Easter, called Lent, Christians are encouraged to refrain from eating fatty foods.  Some even abstain from eating meat and eggs.  Then, on Easter Sunday, they celebrate by eating eggs again.

The Eastern Egg Roll, started by Christians in Europe, represents the rolling away of the stone from Jesus' tomb.  The President has staged an Easter Egg Roll every year at the White House for 135 years.  This year, he will host 35,000 people from all 50 states.

Image courtesy 

Decorating Easter eggs was a tradition in England during the Middle Ages.  Russian royalty gave each other jewel encrusted Faberge eggs in the 1800's.  Ukrainians paint beautiful designs on their Easter eggs.

So as you boil eggs and decorate them with your children, think of the history of these oval shaped, yoke-filled shells.

Image courtesy 

Saturday 30 March 2013

The Thirty-Six Million Dollar Painting

The Red Vineyard courtesy 

Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh was born on this day in 1853.  Here are ten facts you may not know about the famous artist.

1.  Vincent Van Gogh was self-taught and only attended art classes four years before his death.

2.  He was the son of a Dutch Reformed minister named Rev. Theodorus Van Gogh.

3.  He was good friends with fellow painter Paul Gaugin.

4.  He wrote over 800 letters in his lifetime, mainly to his brother Theo.

5.  Early in his career, he painted peasants because he could not afford to pay much for his models.  Later he stuck to painting landscapes and flowers.

Wheatfield with Crows courtesy 

6.  Van Gogh was considered to be a Post-Impressionist.

7.  The Dutch artist painted 900 paintings and drew 1100 sketches in his short lifetime.

8.  Despite the proficiency of his art work, Van Gogh only sold one painting in his lifetime called Red Vineyard.  After his death, he became famous.  Starry Night is today his most famous painting.  On March 30, 1987, Sunflowers became his most precious painting selling for over $36 million.

Sunflowers courtesy 

9.  Van Gogh was supported financially most of his life by his brother Theo.

10.  He suffered from temporal lobe epilepsy, halllucinations and mental illness.  He committed suicide at the young age of 37.

Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh

Starry Night courtesy

Friday 29 March 2013

The Way of Suffering

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Image of La Via Dolorosa courtesy

La Via Dolorosa (The Way of Suffering) was the route that Jesus walked through Jerusalem carrying the cross to his crucifixion.  Today, that 2000-foot journey, that took place 2000-plus years ago, is re-enacted by members of the Roman Catholic church.  La Via Dolorosa is a narrow marketplace full of traders and shoppers.  But on Good Friday, all eyes were on Jesus, condemned to die for a crime he did not commit.

It is inconceivable to imagine the suffering Jesus endured during the Holy Week.  While Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane on Maundy Thursday, his disciple Luke reported that he was so distraught, "his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground" (Luke 22:44).

On Good Friday, Jesus was condemned to death by Pontius Pilate.  A crown of thorns was placed on Jesus' head and the Roman guards gave him a scourging (whipping).  Then, Jesus had to carry the cross over his shoulder along the Via Dolorosa, stooped over, sweating and bleeding, often stopping to regain his footing or catch his breath.  Finally, he climbed the hill to Calvary where he was nailed to the same cross he had carried in between two other "criminals".

Raphael's painting "Il Spasimo" circa 1516 courtesy 

When Roman Catholics re-enact Jesus' journey on Good Friday, they stop at several "stations" to commemorate important events.  Here are the fourteen stations:

1.  Jesus is condemned to death by Pontius Pilate.
2.  Jesus carries his cross.
3.  Jesus falls for the first time.
4.  Jesus meets his mother, Mary.
5.  Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the cross.
6.  Veronica wipes the face of Jesus.
7.  Jesus falls for the second time.
8.  Jesus consoles the pious women of Jerusalem.
9.  Jesus falls for the third time.
10.  Jesus is stripped of his garments.
11.  Jesus is nailed to the cross.
12.  Jesus dies on the cross.
13.  Jesus is taken down from the cross.
14.  Jesus is laid in the tomb.

It's amazing to think that God gave us his only Son to die for us on the cross.  There is no greater sacrifice than to give up one's own child.  On the cross, Jesus called out:  "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"   (Matthew 27:46)  He died so that we might live!

Note:  Billi Sprague and Niles Borop wrote a song about Jesus' climb to Calvary called "La Via Dolorosa", often performed by Sandi Patti.

Image courtesy 

Thursday 28 March 2013

The Birds

Birds of prey: The iconic image from Hitchcock's The Birds (starring Tippi Hedren) which was reportedly based on a real incidence in California when flocks of seabirds crashed into houses and died

Photo of Tippi Hedren courtesy

It was 50 years ago today that moviegoers attended the premier of Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" in New York City.  While the director based his screenplay on the 1952 short story of the same name by Daphne DuMaurier, his original inspiration was a real life incident that took place two years before in a California town, leaving its streets littered with dead birds and its occupants hiding inside their houses.

The Santa Cruz Sentinel reported on August 18, 1961 that the town of Capitola, California, on Monterey Bay, was invaded by a flock of birds, running into house windows, raining down on rooftops, landing on vehicles and disgorging fish skeletons.  The streets were littered with birds.  In fact, more incidents were reported along the California coast from Pleasure Point to Rio del Mar.  Policeman Ed Cunningham was driving around in his squad car that night when he was inundated by large birds.  He got out to investigate, but the birds were falling at such a rapid rate that he soon sought shelter in his vehicle.

Freaky: A police officer picks up dozens of dead sea birds which fell from the sky in Monterey Bay, California in 1961

Photo courtesy 

But why were the birds dying by the dozens?  A museum zoologist at the time maintained that the birds were confused by a heavy fog that night, got lost, and headed toward the street lights of the town.

Another theory states that the birds, identified as sooty shearwaters, had eaten plankton poisoned by algae that had drunk tainted water.  The dirty water came from leaky septic tanks that were hastily installed during the housing boom of the 1950's and 1960's.

Photo of sooty shearwater courtesy 

While the sooty shearwater's numbers declined in the following decades (it became an endangered species) Alfred Hitchcock's fame was on the rise.  His movie "The Birds" earned over $11 million at the box office and was nominated for an Academy Award for special effects.  The film's star Tippi Hedren, won a Golden Globe award for her performance.    Miss Hedren, who played a character named Melanie in the movie, later gave birth to a little girl whom she named Melanie (actress Melanie Griffith).

The Master of Suspense: The Birds (1963) was British director Alfred Hitchcock's 49th film and based on a freak incident when birds fell from the sky in California several years earlier

Photo courtesy 

Wednesday 27 March 2013

Maple Syrup

The Algonquin Indian term for it was "sinzibuckwud" meaning "drawn from wood".  The French term was "sirop d'erable".  The English, of course, was maple syrup.  Maple syrup was made by the Natives in Canada by drawing sap from red, black and sugar maples.  They used their tomahawks to carve a V-shape in the tree's trunk, and then poked a reed into the trunk which attached to a bucket made of birch bark.  Then the sap had to be boiled in a large clay pot before it turned into syrup.  

Image courtesy 

The Natives in turn showed the early French settlers in Canada how to make the sticky treat.  In the 1800's, maple syrup was as common as salt on the average Quebecois' dinner table.  Many Quebecois recipes call for maple syrup.  Visiting a "cabane a sucre" was a regular occurrence for Quebecois children including one girl who recalled her experience in a book titled "The Sugaring Off Party" (Jonathon London & Gilles Pelletier).  

Image courtesy

In the northern United States like Vermont and New York, maple syrup was used in the 1800's as a substitute to molasses or cane sugar, both made by the Southern slaves.  Abolitionists also used maple syrup to take a stand against slavery.  

The clay pots used to boil maple sap were replaced by iron kettles during the time of the pioneers.  The American Civil War ushered in the use of tin cups which led to the use of flat sheet metal pans to boil the sap.  While the metal pans were a better shape than the kettles, the process remained a slow one.  In fact, 20 to 50 litres of sap only produced 1 litre of syrup.  

Image courtesy 

The Second World War brought rationing in Europe and even North America.  Sugar was in short supply so many turned to maple syrup.  Recipe books were written at the time calling for syrup rather than sugar.  

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In the 1970's, a tubing system was designed whereby the maple sap could run directly from the tree trunk to the evaporator house, thereby eliminating the need to carry buckets back and forth.  

Today, Quebec remains the top producer of maple syrup in Canada; in fact, it provides three-quarters of the world's supply.  In order to be labelled "maple syrup" the product must contain at least 66% maple syrup.  Table syrup, on the other hand, that is available for a lot less money, is not maple syrup by rather corn syrup. 

As we head into maple syrup season, think about visiting a sugar bush or a maple syrup festival.  Elmira, Ontario boasts the biggest one day maple syrup festival in the world.  They serve stacks of pancakes smothered in real maple syrup.  

Photo courtesy 

Tuesday 26 March 2013

Goatee, Van Dyke or Mutton Chops

Although I prefer men clean shaven, some women are instantly attracted to a man with facial hair.  One theory suggests that if a girl grew up with a father with a beard, she will marry a husband with one.  I do have to admit, once in a while I see a man who looks distinguished with a beard (albeit neatly trimmed).  While some beards can be endearing (Santa Claus) others can be downright creepy (Rasputin).  Men in history known for their beards are:  Abraham Lincoln, Sir Thomas More, Charles Darwin, Fidel Castro, Grizzly Adams and Colonel Sanders.

Photo of Fidel Castro courtesy 

Photo of Colonel Sanders courtesy

There are several variations on a full beard.  The "Buzzbeard" is what Don Johnson sported in the TV show Miami Vice in the 1980's.  The Goatee looks like the beard on a billy goat.  The French Cut is facial hair surrounding the mouth.  Mutton Chops are long sideburns which overlap on to the cheeks.  Friendly Mutton Chops are mutton chops that attach to a moustache.  The Van Dyke is a pointy goatee with a Salvador Dali moustache.  The Chinstrap is a beard with long sideburns which comes forward and ends under the chin.  The Neck Beard is a beard under the chin without a moustache.  The Rip Van Winkle beard is a never ending one.  The Soul Patch is a little growth of hair under the lower lip.

Images courtesy 

Monday 25 March 2013

Handlebar, Toothbrush or Walrus

All the men in my life are clean shaven:  my husband, my son, my Dad, my father-in-law, my brother.  And that's the way I prefer it.  However, some women love moustaches.  And some famous people in history have been identified by their moustache.  Here is a bit of its history.

Moustache comes from "moustacio" a 14th Century Italian word.  Razors date back even further to Neolithic times when men used stone versions to trim their facial hair.  Over the course of time, moustaches have symbolized different thing:  they are a sign of power in 20th Century Arab countries.  Beards are a sign of traditionalism in Islamic countries.

When are men first able to grow a moustache and/or beard?  As early as 11 years of age, peach fuzz appears at the corners of the upper lip.  By 16, hair usually covers the entire upper lip.  By 17, some teenagers can grow a bear; others must wait until 21.  Some men grow fuller moustaches and/or beards than other men.

Various accoutrements have been invented to help men groom their moustaches and/or beards:  moustache wax, moustache nets, brushes, combs and scissors.  More recently, moustache transplants have become available for those men with sparse upper lip hair.

Different types of moustaches have appeared throughout history:  Hungarian, Dali, English, Imperial, Fu Manchu, Pancho Villa, handlebar, horseshoe, pencil, chevron, toothbrush and walrus.

Some famous historical figures are identified by their facial hair.  Salvador Dali had a thin pencil moustache that he twisted at the ends.  Adolf Hitler had a short toothbrush moustache as did Charlie Chaplin.  Mark Spitz, who won several gold medals in the pool at the 1972 Olympics, insisted on sporting a moustache even though it was believed that body hair slowed swimmers down.  Tom Selleck wore a moustache during his run on Magnum P.I.

In November more and more men are growing moustaches to support prostate cancer victims.  However, as  someone pointed out, those same men are not getting prostate exams, which is the point of the exercise.

Regardless of whether you like moustaches and/or beards, they are here to stay.  And they make a great conversation piece.

Sunday 24 March 2013

Leaning Tower of Pisa

Photo courtesy

Pisa, from the Greek for marshy, was a vital seaport and a busy trade centre during the Middle Ages.

In an attempt to show how important their city was, Pisans decided to build a bell tower, a cathedral, a baptistery and a cemetery in 1173.  Wars, debt and engineering problems all interfered with their plans.  After over 200 years, their bell tower was complete.

Looking like a giant wedding cake, the Leaning Tower of Pisa was a white marble tower composed of 8 stories.  The bottom story has 25 arches, the six middle stories have 30 arches and the top story has 16 arches.  The tower was supposed to be 60 metres in height.  While the tower is only a third the height of the Washington Monument, it was considered an engineering marvel during Medieval Times.

As construction progressed, three stories were completed but then a war got in the way.  In the meantime, the sand and clay underneath shifted and the tower leaned.  Then more stories were completed and more shifting resulted.  In the end the tower leaned at least 10 degrees.

In the 1920's, cement grouting was injected into the foundation to stabilize the structure.  Adjustments were made later in the century to reduce the leaning which now sits at about 4 degrees.

A city that once hosted pioneers on their way to Jerusalem now hosts tourists on their way to see its famous bell tower.  Guests are welcome to climb the 297 steps to the peak where they are treated to a breathtaking view of Tuscany, Italy.

Photo courtesy 

Saturday 23 March 2013


Jacqueline's Aunty Laurie gave her a mini-donut maker for Christmas.  Today we tried it for the first time.  Jacqueline loved using the mini spatula to spoon the batter into the donut maker.  She was so proud of herself when the donuts came out a nice golden brown.  Here is the recipe we used.


1 1/2 cups plain flour
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
3/4 cup milk
2/3 cup butter, softened


1.  Stir dry ingredients in large bowl.
2.  Add wet ingredients and beat until thick, smooth and creamy.
3.  Preheat donut maker for 4 to 5 minutes.  Spoon 2 teaspoons of batter into each donut mould.
4.  Cook for 2 minutes or until golden brown.
5.  Remove and place on cooling rack.
6.  Makes 24 donuts.


Brush donuts with melted butter and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar mixture. Or make a glaze using:

1 cup butter
1 teaspoon butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon hot water
2 teaspoons cocoa

Photo courtesy 

Mr. Otis Gives Us a Lift

historical novelSiegelCooperElevator1912 e1320085629325 Hitching a Ride

Elevator circa 1912 courtesy 

I remember visiting the Eaton's department store in downtown Hamilton when I was a kid.  It was so exciting to ride the old fashioned elevator.  The latticework-design doors were opened and closed by elevator operators.  We the passengers had to tell the operators which floor we wanted.  It was almost like going on a ride at the fair.

It was on this day in 1857 that the first passenger elevator, developped by Elisha Otis, went into operation at the E.W. Haughtwhat & Company department store in Manhattan.  The lift cost $300 and ran at speeds of 40 feet per minute.  Customers were transported from floor to floor with ease. By the 1870's there were 2000 such elevators in operation.

Mr. Otis was not the first person to invent the elevator.  In fact, a primitive elevator was already in use in the 3rd Century BC.  In 1743 King Luis XV used a counter-weighted man-powered personal elevator was to visit his mistress in the apartment one floor above.

In 1823, an ascending room providing its riders with a panoramic view of London, opened for operation.

In 1835, architects Frost and Stutt designed a belt driven, counter weighted steam driven lift.

In 1846, a hydraulic lift was developped by Armstrong.

In 1853, Otis invented an elevator with a safety device.  This invention increased the public's confidence.  In 1861, Otis developped a steam elevator with a brake.  This led to the birth of skyscrapers.  Previously, all buildings were limited to six stories.  Now the sky was the limit.

In 1889, the Eiffel Tower opened to visitors.  It was the tallest building in the world at the time at the height of 81 stories.

More skyscrapers followed including the Chrysler Building which surpassed the Eiffel Tower in height.  The Empire State Building was erected soon afterwards.

We have Mr. Otis to thank for the growth of the skyscraper thanks to his passenger elevator.

Early demonstration of an elevator courtesy

Thursday 21 March 2013

Desert Boomtown

It was at this time of year that Rob and I visited Las Vegas back in 1996.  The sun was shining, the air was fresh, the temperature was warm, but the humidity was low.  It was perfect!  While neither of us is a gambler, we did enjoy the scenery surrounding the city.  We enjoyed three road trips through the desert:  there was something so peaceful about miles and miles of sand spotted with cacti.  Our first trip, which we rented a car for, was to Hoover Dam, about an hour outside Las Vegas.  I remember how blue the water was and how blue the sky was.  We wore shorts that day.  It was neat walking across the state line into Arizona.  Our second trip was to Laughlin, another gambling town south of Las Vegas.  We saw hundreds of stucco homes with red roofs.  Suburbia was taking over the desert as the bus driver told us that 1000 new people were arriving in the area everyday.  On the way back from Laughlin the bus driver had everyone sing Happy Birthday to me.  Our final road trip was to the California state line.  Once again, the highlight was the ride through the desert rather than the destination.  Rob remembers eating at a breakfast buffet which filled him up so much he didn't have to eat for the rest of the day.  

Photo courtesy

Here are ten things you may not know about Las Vegas:

1.  Gambling was illegal from 1910 to 1931.

2.  Howard Hughes stayed at the Desert Inn for two years.  Because of his quirky ways, he was finally asked to leave. He bought the hotel so he could stay.

3.  The city has at least 500,000 inhabitants.

4.  Elvis performed 837 consecutive sold out performances there.

5.  The Flamingo Hotel was named after gangster Bugsy Siegel's girlfriend's long legs.

6.  An acre of land on the Las Vegas strip sells for 30 million dollars.

7.  Three hundred and fifteen weddings per day are performed at Vegas chapels.

8.  Its casinos have 200,000 slot machines.

9.  The original leader of the Rat Pack was Humphrey Bogart.  Supposedly his wife commented like he and his friends looked like a Rat Pack when they came home from Vegas one night.  Bogart passed away in 1957 and the new Rat Pack of the 1960's comprised.Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford).

10.  Las Vegas served as a stopover for pioneers in the early 1900's as well as a railroad town.

Photo courtesy 


Wednesday 20 March 2013

Iceberg Alley

In honour of my Newfoundland native mother-in-law, whose birthday is today, I am blogging about icebergs.  As a child, Doris could open the front door of her Bell Island house, look out onto the Atlantic Ocean, and see the glacial giants.  Sometimes they even had polar bears climbing on top.  The bergs first appeared in April but would often not melt until June or July.  Nowadays, iceberg watching has become a pastime for some people, who plan trips around the event.


Icebergs have been around for 10,000 years.  The bergs off the 29,000 kilometre coastline of Newfoundland and Labrador, are pieces of glaciers from Western Greenland which have broken off.  About 40,000 icebergs start the journey from Greenland to St. John's, but only 400 to 800 make it there.  The Titanic hit such an iceberg which was floating 400 miles off Newfoundland's coast.

Icebergs travel at an average speed of 0.7 kilometres per hour, but have been clocked as fast as 3.6 kilometres per hour.  They make their way down the Newfoundland coast, through Iceberg Alley.  Once they hit St. John's they usually start to melt, not lasting more than a year.


Icebergs can be anywhere from snow-white in colour to aquamarine.  Sometimes they have streaks in them, rocks, or even tunnels.  They come in various shapes including:  tabular, blocky, wedged, dome , pinnacle and dry dock.

Iceberg Shapes

They come in various sizes.  The biggest iceberg on record appeared in 1882 off the coast of Baffin Island and measured 13 kilometres in lenght by 6 kilometres in width by 20 metres in height (above sea level).  It weighed 9 billion tonnes.  We can only see 10% of the iceberg; the rest remains hidden under the water.  Remember the saying:  "It's only the tip of the iceberg."  Some icebergs are much smaller:  "bergy bits" equal the size of a house and "growlers" equal the size of a grand piano.

Tourists who visit Iceberg Alley are treated not only to the glacial giants but also the wildlife.  Polar bears prance on the floating icebergs.  Seabirds, like puffins, soar above their craggy peaks.  And humpback whales swim beneath their depths.  So, take a trip to Newfoundland this spring.  It's a feast for the eyes!

Tuesday 19 March 2013

Learning to Skate at 48 (Almost)

When I was 4 years old, my mom signed me up for skating lessons at Mountain Arena in Hamilton.  Every week, I would lace up my little white skates along with my two older sisters and venture out on to the ice.  They loved it, but I hated it.  I remember our big extravanganza at the end of the season:  Laurie dressed up as a maid, Lisa was a bunny and I was a leprechaun.  My mom sewed all of the costumes.  When the big moment came for me to show what I'd learned, I froze.  All I had to do was clap and skate, but I fell down.  I remember fearing that everyone would skate over my legs, but luckily my sister Lisa rescued me and grabbed me by the hand and picked me up.  Needless to say, I begged not to sign up the next year and my mom relented.

I didn't skate again until Grade 5 when I went once with my class.  By then I'd forgotten how to skate.  So that is why I reached adulthood and I still didn't know how to skate.  I wished I'd listened to my mom and stuck with it.  Anyway, I decided that this would be the winter I learned how to skate.  So, I invited my friend Sharon to join me at the new arena at the Gretzky Centre once a week.  Every week we would dutifully go.  Every week I felt like I was learning a bit, but I was too fearful to let go of the boards.  Finally, this week, I had a breakthrough.  Rather than just pushing off with my left foot, I'm actually pushing with my right foot as well.  And I'm actually gliding a bit.  Rather than pushing straight ahead, I'm pushing side to side so my skates go in a diagonal direction left and right.  I actually took 12 strides today without touching the boards!  For the first time, I felt like I wasn't just enjoying the company (Sharon is easy to talk to) but also the skating.  I still have a ways to go, but I feel like I'm halfway there.  Thank you, Sharon, for your patience!  I look forward to next week's session.

Monday 18 March 2013

Gold Nuggets

I took Jacqueline shopping for earrings on the weekend.  She saw a beautiful pair of dolphins at People's.  But they were $60.  So we settled for some sterling silver dolphins at Claires for $6.95.  The lady behind the counter explained to us that the earrings at People's had gold backings and that gold is more expensive than ever before.  In fact, people are panning for it once again.  So, here are ten facts you may not know about the precious metal.

1.  Gold hit an unprecedented $1000 an ounce in 2008, during the most recent recession.

2.  Gold is rare.  More steel is poured in one hour than gold has been poured in all of history.

3.  Seventy-five percent of the gold made has been made since 1910.

4.  Gold is pliable.  A string of gold can be like a sewing thread.  An ounce of gold can stretch 50 miles.

5.  Gold is edible.  Bottles of liquor sold in Germany called "Danziger Goldwasser" contain gold.

6.  Gold is an inert chemical.  It never rusts and does not irritate the skin (that's why earrings with gold backings are the best for your ears).

7.  The original gold medals given out at the Olympics in 1912 were made of 100% gold.  Now they are only partially made of gold.

8.  A concoction of molten gold and crushed emeralds was used to treat victims of the bubonic plague.

9.  Gold is found on every planet.  On Earth, gold was first discovered in Africa.  In America, gold was first discovered in Virginia in 1782.  The California Gold Rush of 1849 brought 300,000 people to the state.

10.  Gold is mentioned 400 times in the Bible, including the reference to one of the three wisemen bringing Jesus a gift of gold after His birth.

Liquid gold photo courtesy

Sunday 17 March 2013

Irish Potato Soup

Jacqueline visited her Irish friend Ella today to lend her a green dress.  Ella's mom lent her A Little Irish Cookbook.  I cooked a recipe for Irish Potato Soup in my new crockpot.  Here it is below.

6 medium potatoes
2 medium oinions
6 cups chicken or ham stock (or milk & water mixed)
1 tbsp. butter (melted)
salt & pepper

Peel and dice potatoes and chop onions.  Melt the butter and gently cook the onions and potatoes in saucepan until soft but not coloured.  Add the liquid, adjust the seasoning to taste.  Cook in crockpot on high for 4 hours or on low for 8 hours.  Sieve if wished and serve in bowls.  Decorate with chopped parsley.  For added flavour, you may add bacon bits or shredded mozarella cheese.

Photo courtesy

Saturday 16 March 2013

Bette Davis: Queen of the Screen

In honour of my Mom's birthday, I am blogging about Bette Davis today, after whom my Mom was named.
My Grandad Stroud liked movie stars and therefore named his first daughter Marlene, after Marlene Dietrich, and his third daughter, Sandra Vivien, after Vivien Leigh.  His fifth daughter would be Heather Yvonne (Yvonne DeCarlo).  Mom was his second daughter.

Photo courtesy

Nicknamed the "First Lady of the American Screen", Bette Davis starred in over 100 films.  She won two Oscars and was adored by many fans.  However, she was as dramatic off screen as on.  She feuded with Joan Crawford on the set of "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane" in 1962.  At home she feuded with each of her four husbands, leading to three divorces (the other husband died).  She also fought with her daughter, B.D. Hyman, leading the latter to write a tell all book about her mother. Nonetheless, Bette Davis left her mark on Hollywood.

Ruth Elizabeth "Bette" Davis was born in 1908 in Lowell, Massachusetts.  She had light brown hair and saucer-like blue eyes which would be talked and even sung about for decades to come ("She's Got Bette Davis Eyes" by Kim Carnes).  She and her sister Barbara lived at home until she was 10 years old when their father left at which point their mother enrolled them in boarding school.  While Miss Davis was known as Betty as a child, she changed the spelling to Bette (pronounced bet) as a teenager after La Cousine Bette by Balzac.  My Mom also hated the pronunciation Betty and always preferred Bette (as her name was spelled).

Photo courtesy

The young Bette Davis arrived in New York City in the late 1920's and attended acting school with Lucille Ball.  She appeared in the play "Broken Dishes" on Broadway in 1929.  In 1930 she moved to Hollywood.  She starred in the film "The Bad Sister" (1931).  Soon she was typecast as a bad girl and became known for her forthirght personality, clipped vocal style and uibiquitous cigarette.  "Of Human Bondage" (1934) gave her critical acclaim and an Oscar nomination.  However, many felt she was robbed when she did not win..  For her role in "Dangerous" in 1935, she did bring home the gold statuette; Bette always claimed the award was named after her husband at the time whose middle name was Oscar.

Photo of Spencer Tracy & Bette Davis at Oscars courtesy

While Bette did have some juicy roles while at Universal, her contract expired and was not renewed.  She then signed with Warner Brothers where her film career hit a slump.  Bette moved to England to be loaned out to a British studio but Warner Bros. protested and sued her for breaching her contract.  While the starlet lost the lawsuit, she did receive better roles upon her return to America including apart in "Jezebel" (1938) which won her a second Oscar.  She also played an important role in "Now, Voyager" four years later.

One of the things that Bette Davis was most proud of was her role in organizing the Hollywood Canteen.  She transformed an abandonned nightclub into a place to entertain the troops during the Second World War.

Photo of Hollywood Canteen courtesy

After the war, the roles dried up for Miss Davis.  However, in 1950, still as beautiful as ever, Bette starred in "All About Eve".  Her husband Gary Merrill starred opposite her.  It would be her last "sex siren" role.

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In 1962, Bette starred in "Baby Jane" opposite Joan Crawford.  No longer a young beauty, she would now be known as a horror maven.  While on the set the two Hollywood icons feuded constantly.  Apparently Joan Crawford, the widow of a Pepsi CEO, loved the pop.  Therefore, Bette had a Coca Cola machine installed in the studio.  Miss Crawford, as revenge, put weights in her pockets when Miss Davis had to drag her across the set in one scene.

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Once again the roles dried up for Bette.  She placed an add in the paper in the early 1960's saying:

"Mother of three -- 10, 11, 15 -- divorcee.  American.  Thirty years experience in motion picture.  Mobile still and more affable than rumor would have it.  Wants steady employment in Hollywood."

Bette Davis' last role was in 1987 in "The Whales of August'.  At 75 years of age, she had a mastectomy due to breast cancer.  She passed away in 1989 and is commemorated by a stamp issued in 2008.

Friday 15 March 2013

Billy Graham's Canvas Cathedral Crusade

Photo courtesy

Billy Graham arrived in town as a relatively unknown 30 year old preacher from North Carolina. With the backing of the Youth for Christ organization, he pitched his tent at the corner of Washington and Hill Streets.  The city of Los Angeles, nestled between the Sierre Madre Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, had doubled in size in the previous 20 years, now standing at 4 million.  However, the press, thinking the crusade would be an non-event, did not even show up.  Even Billy Graham himself had harboured doubts.  He had attended a conference at Forest Home just a couple of weeks before where he had questioned whether or not evangelism was right for him.  But the answer God had given him that day was an overwhelming "Yes!"

So, Billy Graham opened his Bible that first night in September and read Scripture:  "Build it and they will come."  And that is exactly what happened.  The tent slowly filled up.  People from all walks of life came to hear the young preacher:  young and old, male and female, businessmen and housewives -- even gangsters.  Jim Vaus, the former right hand man to the Mafia's Mickey Cohen, showed up one evening.  He took the altar call, giving his life to Christ.  Vaus was transformed and joined the crusade shortly after.

There was a hunger in the souls of Los Angeles citizens that Fall.  While the Second World War was over, the Cold War had began.  The atomic age was an unsettling time for Americans.  They kept coming, filling the canvas cathedral to overflowing.  Thousands sat inside while hundreds more waited outside.  The crusade planned to run three weeks, but on the last night, something happened.  The press arrived, en masse.  Apparently William Randolph Hearst had given the order to "Puff Graham".  What had been considered a non event eight weeks before was now front page news.

Olympic runner Louis Zamperini circa 1936 came to Christ at the Los Angeles Crusade courtesy

Billy Graham and his staff decided to extend the crusade.  And each week more people came.  A former Olympic runner named Louie Zamperini came in the eighth week.  He had been an Air Force man shot down over the Pacific during World War II, drifted on the ocean for 47 days, rescued by an enemy ship and then languished for two years in a Japanese concentration camp.  Returning to his wife in Los Angeles, he was a "broken" man; he turned to the bottle and he and his wife were about to separate.  His wife invited him to the  big tent one night.  After a week's persuasion, Louis relented.  After hearing Billy Graham, he gave his life to Christ.  He stopped drinking and he reconciled with his wife.  According to Louie, the preacher "saved his life".  (For more about Louie Zamperini, read my blog post "Unbroken" at

As the Youth for Christ workers packed up their tent, the numbers told the story.  Three hundred and fifty thousand people had visited the canvas cathedral in eight weeks.  Three thousand converts had given their life to Christ.  Eighty two percent were non-churchgoers.  And Billy Graham, who eight weeks before had been known only in Baptist circles, was now a household name.

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