Thursday 31 October 2013

Ten Things You Didn't Know About Halloween

1.  Halloween is based on the Celtic Festival called "Samhain" which was first celebrated more than 2000 years ago.  Celts believed that the spirits of the dead moved on to the next world on this day.

2.  The Celts wore masks on Samhain to avoid being recognized by the ghosts who came back to Earth.

3.  The Irish, Scottish and English were the first to carve pumpkins with menacing faces to ward off evil spirits.

4.  Actually, the first jack o lantern was a turnip rather than a pumpkin.

5.  On All Souls Day, "souling" was the practice of the poor visiting the wealthy for a soul cake (shortbread) in return for prayers for the dead in their household.

6.  Halloween was put on hold during World War II due to sugar rationing.

7.  Americans will buy 600 million pounds of candy this year worth $2.8 million.

8.  Must-see stops for Halloween around the world include:  New Orleans, Los Angeles, New York, Bangkok and Limoges, France.  Spooky festivals are held in Salem, Massachusetts and Romania.

9.  The most common treat handed out in North America is the Snickers miniature.

10.  One of the top five costumes in North America is Batman.


Wednesday 30 October 2013

Have You Seen Birds?

"Have you seen birds?
Long-legged tall birds,
Tiny bug-sized small birds,
Brightly breasted,
Gaily crested,
Meadow tan and fancy fan,
Have you seen birds?"
(Have You Seen Birds, Barbara Reid)

I read the book Have You Seen Birds to the Kindergarten class at Brantford Christian School today.  No one handles a ball of plasticine like Barbara Reid.  In Have You Seen Birds, she crafts some beautiful birds: the hummingbird, the sparrow, the great blue heron, the Canada goose, the robin, the peacock.  The texture of each bird is so clear due to the plasticine designs.  

Barbara Reid is not just a talented artist, but also a prolific writer.  She draws the reader into the world of birds with her words.  We can hear the squawks of the crow, the whoo of the owl, the cockadoodledoo of the rooster.  We learn about Fall, Winter, Spring and Summer birds.  The author builds up an unmistakable rhythm with her words, punctuated by the line "Have you seen birds?"  

Like in Two by Two, The Party, The Subway Mouse and others, Barbara Reid tells a captivating story in Have You Seen Birds?  It's worth reading!

Tuesday 29 October 2013

I Can't See the Forest for the Trees

Here are ten facts about Ontario's forests.

1.  Ontario has 85 billion trees; 66% of the province is tree covered.

2.  Ontario's most common tree is the black spruce (37.3%) followed by the poplar (20.8%) and the jack pine (11.7%).

3.  Ontario is divided into four sections of forests:  Hudson's Bay Lowlands, Boreal Forest, Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Forest and Deciduous Forest.

map forest regions mini size (forest regions pg)

4.  Nine percent of Ontario's forests lie within existing or proposed parks and protected areas.

5.  The average age of Ontario's undertaking forests was 83 years in 2011.

6.  Eighteen percent of Ontario's forest is available for harvest or production.

7.  The sugar maple is the sixth most common tree and makes up 4% of all growing stock.

8.  Ontario's forests grow by 6.2 million cubic metres each year.

9.  Fire destroys 95,000 hectares of Ontario's forests each year.

10.  Insects and disease destroy 2 million hectares of Ontario's forests each year.

Monday 28 October 2013

Buck & Doe

Here are ten facts you may not know about deer, animals who are prevalent in autumn.

1.  Deer are strong jumpers and swimmers.

2.  A male deer is called a buck; a female is called a doe; a baby is called a fawn.  A group of deer is called a herd.

3.  A fawn is born with white spots, but loses them within a year.

4.  A buck grows antlers which he uses to fight for the attention of a doe during the mating season.

5.  Deer belong to the cervidae family along with moose and elk.

6. Deer are known to starve rather than leave their domain.

7.  Just two deer without predation can produce a herd of up to 35 in 7 years.

8.  Deer can live up to 11 years in the wild.

9.  Fifty six percent of US farm leaders report crop damage from wildlife, the main culprit being deer.

10.  Pennsylvania has 40,000 deer-vehicle collisions each year.

Sunday 27 October 2013

The Group of Seven: Autumn Scenes

1.  Autumn Foliage - Tom Thompson

Autumn Foliage

2.  Autumn in Orillia - Franklin Carmichael

Autumn In Orillia

3.  Tea Lake Algonquin Park -- A.J. Casson

Tea Lake Algonquin Park

4.  Country Road -- A.J. Casson

Country Road

5.  Autumn Colours (Rock and Maple) -- J.E.H. Macdonald

Autumn Colours (Rock and Maple)

6.  House in Autumn -- Lawren Harris

House In Autumn

7.  Autumn's Garland

Autumn's Garland

8.  Algonquin October -- Tom Thomson

Algonquin October

9.  Autumn on the York -- A.J. Casson

Autumn On The York

10.  Pump and Pumpkin -- J.E.H. MacDonald
Pump And Pumpkin

Saturday 26 October 2013

Cloud of Death

"Before the Donora smog, neither manufacturers nor public health professionals considered air pollution an urgent issue." (John P. Clark)

View of a zinc furnace at the Donora works of the American Steel and Wire Co., Donora, Pa.

Donora, Pennsylvania zinc furnace circa 1950 courtesy

Donora, Pennsylvania lies in the Monongahela River valley, home to 14,000 in the middle of the 20th Century.  A smog descended on the town on this day in 1948, lingering for five days.  When the smog lifted, at least 6000 people were seriously ill and 20 people were dead.

Donora was home to the U.S. Steel plant and the Donora Zinc Works, both of which pumped a significant amount of pollution into the air back in the 1940's.  Coal burning trains and river boats added more fumes to the noxious cloud.  When a heavy fog blanketed the town, it started to seep into people's homes.  Residents started coming down with illnesses, particularly those with lung or heart disease; hundreds ended up in the hospital.  Dr. Rongaus, who treated 40 of the ill residents, predicted that 1000 people would have died if the smog had lasted another day.

Fortunately, however, the smog lifted on Halloween, not a moment too soon.  The Pennsylvania State Bureau of Industrial Hygiene ran tests on the Donora air and found excessive amounts of sulfur dioxide, soluble sulphants and fluoride.  However, U.S. Steel did not want to take any responsibility for the pollution even going so far as trying to cover up the problem, along with the U.S. Public Health Services.  P.H.S. records mysteriously disappeared and U.S. Steel blocked public access to their records.

Even so, U.S. Steel was forced to pay an undisclosed amount to the surviving victims of the Donora smog. The United States government passed the Clean Air Act in 1955, partly in response to the Donora "Cloud of Death".

Taken at noon on October 29, 1948, this picture shows the deadly smog blanketing Donora.

Daytime photo of Donora smog courtesy

For a similar post, visit "A Proper Pea Souper" at

Friday 25 October 2013

Gettysburg: It All Started Over a Pair of Shoes

The sleepy town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania would be awakened by the biggest and bloodiest battle of the American Civil War on July 1, 1863.  Here are ten facts you may not know about this historic conflict.

1.  The Battle of Gettysburg started over shoes.  The Confederate Army was low on shoes as all the shoe factories were in the north.  They travelled to Gettysburg intent on raiding its shoe factory.


Shoes courtesy

2.  The oldest soldier to ever fight in the Civil War was Gettysburg resident John L. Burns, a former soldier who heard the rumble of war and decided to volunteer.  He grabbed his 18th Century flintock rifle, which he later traded for a more modern type, and ran into battle.  Wounded, he was left by the retreating Northern troops.  When the Confederate soldiers found him, he lied saying that he was a civilian and they let him go.


John L. Burns courtesy

3.  Confederate leader Robert E. Lee had a heart attack the night before the battle.  Historians explain that his ill health might have been the reason for his decision to execute "Pickett's Charge", a suicidal battle which led to the South's defeat.

Robert E. Lee courtesy

4.  George Custer intercepted a Confederate Unit that was intent on sneaking behind the northern supply line.  He would go down in history as a hero.


George Custer courtesy

5.  More horses (3000) were killed in the Battle of Gettysburg than there were residents of the town (2000).  A huge bonfire was lit to destroy their corpses and the stench made the townspeople violently ill.

Horses felled on Gettysburg battlefield courtesy

6.  President Abraham Lincoln was sick with smallpox during his historic Gettysburg Address.

Gettysburg Address

President Lincoln courtesy

7.  The Chicago Times called Lincoln's famous Gettysburg Address ("Four score and seven years ago...") a bunch of "silly dishwatery utterances".  At only 247 words, many seemed to agree.  However, it wasn't the quantity of words that mattered but the quality.  History has been kind to Lincoln's speech.

Gettysburg Address courtesy

8.  The Battle of Gettysburg was the largest battle of the Civil War with 85000 Union troops and 75000 Confederate troops.

Gettysburg Battle courtesy

9.  The Confederate wagon of the wounded was 17 miles long.  While travelling back to Virginia, the wagon was stopped by the flooded waters of the Potomac.  Another battle ensued with Northern Troops called "The Wagoners' Fight".  

Plaque dedicated to Wagoners' Fight courtesy

10.  Gettysburg was littered with lead by the end of the three-day conflict.  Of the 37,500 rifles recovered, 24,000 were still loaded.  Civilians were promised 13 cents a pound for any lead that they could gather and return to the Army.  One young boy was killed when he tried to open an unexploded shell; from then on, the monetary reward was only offered to Americans 18 and over.


Petersburg, Virginia Row of Stacked Federal Rifles
After the Battle of Gettysburg, the discarded rifles were collected and sent to Washington to be inspected and reissued.
 Of the 37,574 rifles recovered, approximately 24,000 were still loaded; 6,000 had one round in the barrel; 12,000 had two rounds in the barrel; 6,000 had three to ten rounds in the barrel. One rifle, the most remarkable of all, had been stuffed to the top with twenty-three rounds in the barrel.

Civil War rifles courtesy


Thursday 24 October 2013

The Appalachians

When my Mom, my sister Laurie and I travelled through Pennsylvania last summer on our way to Washington D.C., we were struck by the beauty of the Appalachian Mountains which cover three quarters of the state.  I decided to find out more about this magnificent mountain range.

The Appalachians, which come from the Apalachee Indians, are the oldest mountains in the United States. They stretch from Newfoundland in the north to Alabama in the south, with 14 states in between.  While they now look more like hills than mountains, 480 million years ago they were the height of the Himalayas.

In the Appalachians grow hickories, maples and oaks which serve as a habitat for flying squirrels, the American cougar, moose, black bear, and timber rattlesnake, among others.

Until 1787, the Appalachian mountains was the western border of the United States.  The British declared that the Americans could not expand westward of the Appalachians as that area would be reserved for Indians who were allies of the British.  However, the Americans ignored the proclamation.  This dispute was a big factor in the American Revolution.

Battle of Fort Sackville (west of Appalachians) courtesy

The first ascent of the Appalachian mountains was accomplished by Elisha MItchell in 1835.  Many have followed his lead, trekking along the Appalachian Trail which stretches over 2175 miles.  A highlight is Mount Davis, the mountain range's highest point.  Another highlight is Pine Creek Gorge, the "Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania".

crooked creek lake and dam

The Appalachians contain one of the most fertile soils in the United States.  They are also a source of coal and gemstones.

Twenty-five million people live in Appalachia which used to have a reputation for moonshining, clan feuding and poverty.  The American government stepped in and provided the region with financial aid in 1965. Since then, many coal mines have closed.  Today, some Appalachian towns are re-inventing themselves, focussing on the arts or tourism.

While the people may have changed, while the economy might have shifted, the Appalachians' beauty has remained the same.

Wednesday 23 October 2013

Once There Was a Land

Once there was a land – how dearly did we love it
Yet waves of horror rolled over it, as dunes of sand.
Vanished as the elk’s trail in marsh and meadow
Is every trace of man and beast.
Frozen in the snow, consumed in the flames,
Miserably they wasted in enemy hands.
How deep they lie under the Baltic’s waves,
Their bones awash in bays and straits.
They sleep upon Jutland’s sandy bosom –
And we, the last of our kind, wonder homeless
Strewn about like seaweed after the storm,
Driven aimlessly like the autumn leaves --
Heavenly Father – You alone know our desolation!

Translation of East Prussian Agnes Miegel's poem "Es War Ein Land".  The poet was one of two million Germans to be expelled from her homeland at the end of the Second World War.

Tuesday 22 October 2013

Wagon of Ten

It was on this day in 1944 that the Red Army first broke through the Wehrmacht defence line in East Prussia. After 3 years of the Nazis committing atrocities in the Soviet Union, the Russians were bent on revenge.  The Red Army descended on the town of Nemmersdorf where women were nailed to barn doors and children were murdered.  In total 71 townspeople were killed in the massacre.  

The Nazis showed footage of the Nemmersdorf tragedy to the German public in hopes that they would dig their heels in and fight the Russians to the death.  However, for many the response was the reverse:  they planned to flee.  The result was the biggest removal of a population in modern European history, some voluntarily, some by force.  My husband Rob's Oma was one of tens of thousands of East Prussians who joined the "Exodus from the East".  

For the lucky refugees, they would find a ship to take them across the Baltic Sea to safety.  Some ships, however, would be torpedoed.  For others, they would die of starvation or disease en route.  For still others, like Oma, they would be forced to turn back and face the wrath of the Red Army.  

Here is a poem that I wrote about one of the greatest treks in human history.


A wagon of ten East Prussians fled westward
On the road that would take them to freedom.
All dressed in rags and no food in their bellies
Pulled by two workhorses bred in their homeland
They passed another farmhouse burnt to the ground
Nothing left but a chimney amidst the ruins.

As the wagon of ten rolled past the ruins
The enemy waited to the west and east.
Two workhorses made a clip clop on the ground
As the riders thought of what the foe would say
What would become of their beautiful homeland?
Their thoughts were blocked by the growl of their bellies.

The wagon of ten had ten hungry bellies
As it maneuvered past another ruins
The riders never again saw their homeland
They traveled for months on the road to the west
The toad where the enemy prowled
Overturned wagons littered the ground.

The wagon of ten passed over blood-stained ground
Many passengers had to purge their bellies.
On the road that would lead to safety
The wagon wheels passed over a barn in ruins
The refugees feared what they'd find in the west
They longed for those left behind in their homeland.

The wagon of ten couldn't returned to its homeland
As it passed over tank tracks carved in the ground
They looked in the sky and saw planes to the east
The refugees felt a pit in their bellies
They passed a Lutheran church now in ruins
On the road that leads to salvation.

The wagon of ten took them nowhere
The refugees dreamed of their cherished homeland
A country that was so strong, now in ruins
Charred crops and dead livestock on every farm
As vicious diseases riddled their bellies
Who else would they meet on their trek to the west?

The wagon of ten rolled over the battleground
No hope in their heart, no food in their bellies
Fleeing the enemy on their trek to the west.

Note:  For more information, read my post The Wilhelm Gustloff Villanelle at

Monday 21 October 2013

Pumpkin Cheesecake

In honour of National Pumpkin Cheesecake Day, here is a Paula Deen recipe.


1 3/4 cups Graham cracker crumbs
3 tbsp light brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinammon
1 stick unsalted melted butter


3 packages cream cheese
1 can pumpkin, pureed
3 eggs, plus 1 egg yolk
1/4 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinammon
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground cloves
2 tbsp flour
1 tsp vanilla extract


Preheat oven to 350F.

For crust:  In medium bowl, combine crumbs, sugar and cinammon.  Add melted butter.  Press down flat into 9 inch springform pan.  Set aside.

For filling:  Beat cream cheese until smooth.  Add pumpkin puree, eggs, egg yolk, sour cream, sugar and spices.  Add flour and vanilla.  Beat together until well combined.

Pour into crust.  Spread out evenly and place in oven for one hour.  Remove from oven and let sit for 15 minutes.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for four hours.

Sunday 20 October 2013

Autumn Landscapes

1.  Sunny Autumn

Sunny Autumn courtesy

2.  Autumn Traditions

3.  Folk Art

4.  Bristol Fall

5.  Fall Sunset

6.  Autumn Farm Field

7.  Autumn Painting

8.  Songbirds

9.  Autumn Waters

10.  Autumn Waterfalls