Thursday, December 31, 2009

On the cusp of 2010, let me just say


Live each season as it passes;

breathe the air,

drink the drink,

taste the fruit,


and resign yourself to the influences of each.
Henry David Thoreau



Live daringly, boldly, fearlessly.
Taste the relish to be found in competition -
in having put forth the best within you.
Henry J. Kaiser



Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise.
Seek what they sought.
Matsuo Basho

May your year be filled with happiness and good health.

And may all your wishes and dreams come true.

Happy New Year Everyone!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Carrot Parsnip Soup

This is for you, Jules.

Carrot and Parsnip Soup
(adapted from Good Friends Cookbook)

3 TBSP. butter
3 carrots, peeled and chopped (I use organic for this soup)
3 parsnips, peeled and chopped
1 Vidalia onion, peeled and chopped
2 potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 inch piece fresh ginger, chopped (or grated, if you keep it in the freezer)
1/2 tsp curry powder (or leave it out if you hate curry)
4 cups chicken stock
1/2 heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste
Garnish with fresh cilantro leaves, chopped (or parsley if you hate cilantro)

Melt butter in large saucepan, and add carrots, parsnips, onion, and potatoes. Cook over low heat for 15 minutes. Stir in ginger, curry and chicken stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Use a blender or hand blender (worth its weight in gold) to blend the soup until smooth. I usually reserve a small amount to keep a bit of chunkiness to it but you don't have to. Add cream and s/p, and keep it hot without boiling. Garnish with cilantro. Serve with Lottery Girl's featherlight potato rolls. If you have any left over, it's even better the next day.

Christmas Dinner and All That Jazz

Well the time is nigh and our Christmas dinner is coming together. What are we having, I hear you asking?

Haven't figured out an appetizer yet. Shrimp rings are sold out everywhere. I haven't figured out how to crack open my fresh coconut for my samosas sauce, so that's out. Maybe rare roast beef on thin baguette rounds with a dash of pesto and a sundried tomato on top?

To start dinner, there's a carrot parsnip soup with fresh ginger. I learned a little trick from a friend way back. When you are serving soup as a starter to a large number of people, try serving it in a tea cup. I have a large collection of bone china cups that I inherited from my mother and grandmothers. I hardly ever use them for tea, but they're perfect for soup. People can still wander around talking, sipping their soup and talking, and the cups hold just the right amount so as not to ruin appetites.

Soup is followed by a roasted free-range turkey stuffed with an apple walnut mushroom stuffing. This is a recipe that came from my client at VIA rail back in my advertising days. He took pity on me when my husband-to-be both introduced then volunteered me to make Christmas dinner for his family. Before that, I rarely cooked anything let alone something of this magnitude. My client came through with a stuffing recipe that proved to be a smash hit and I've made it every year since. (We'll forget that I tied the turkey with dental floss, the oven broke mid-roast and the flaming pudding set off the smoke alarm above the dining room table.)

The turkey is served with mashed turnip and sweet potato with maple syrup from our local woods and a dash of cinnamon, mashed potatoes with a bit of sour cream, broccoli with olive oil, garlic and sea salt and of course, cranberry sauce and gravy.

For dessert there's a plate of baked goods (shortbread, mini buttertarts, chocolate balls, etc.) and most importantly, my mother-in-law's amazing steamed carrot pudding with hard sauce (at least I think it's called hard sauce. It's sweet and white and thick and sweet.) Ooh, baby, pudding is spicy and thick and served piping hot with a dollop of this rich, sweet sauce that melts down the sides.

After that, we basically undo our belts and try to breathe.

You? What do you serve at Christmas?

Monday, December 21, 2009

RIP Gourmet Magazine

Gourmet Magazine has ceased publication as of its November 2009 issue. C'est dommage, but if you go HERE, you can get all the favourite cookie recipes going back to 1941.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Random Kindness Article Link

For those of you who kindly asked me to post the link to the Montreal Gazette article about Sarah's postcard adventure, you can find it HERE. (Although it's almost exactly as I posted it on this blog, with the exception that asked to use my daughter's real name. Then they got it wrong.)

I'm about to launch a massive clean-up effort in the house, do some last minute shopping, finish (okay, start and finish) the Christmas baking, whip up a lasagna for my boy who is bringing his girlfriend over for dinner tomorrow (before she flies back to Russia to spend Christmas with her family) so time's a wastin'.

Blog posts in the next couple of weeks will most likely be sporadic depending on number of guests in residence both at home and at our country cottage, alcoholic beverages consumed and late night board games played.

Stay tuned....

(Oh, wait, I just found this. Harry Potter fans, this is awesome.)


thanks, Fugly girls

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Meet Fred the Dog


Ah, this story really gets me.

Cyril Roy was a former forestry service worker, but ended up unemployed and living alone in a trailer in a remote area of Nanaimo, B.C. He was depressed and ill from complications of diabetes, but he had his dog Fred to keep him company. And for close to seven years, Fred did exactly that, as Cyril's devoted and loyal companion.

Just how devoted? On November 30th, police found Fred sitting by his late master's side. Cyril died three days before of a heart attack, but Fred kept his lonely vigil until he was rescued and brought to a shelter.

According to the people working there, it's unusual for family members to want to take a deceased relative's pet, especially when they live halfway across the country. But Cyril's family stepped forward to claim Fred.

There were many problems to overcome. Besides the expense involved and the difficulty of finding a crate big enough to accommodate him, they missed the deadline for transporting a dog on an airplane because at this time of year here in the Great White North, it is simply too cold.

Cyril's family in Quebec came together to work on ways to bring Fred home. They got calls and emails from people offering to help, including one from Fred Caron, the man after whom Cyril named his dog. He and Cyril had served together in the Grenadier Guards.

Enter Frank Palumbo, who runs a freight forwarding company and is a resident of my own teensy tiny town outside of Montreal. He has offered to both organize and pay for Fred's trip back to Quebec.

Last I heard, Fred has been bathed and groomed and will soon be leaving B.C. for Montreal by train, and not in a carrier stuck in the baggage car, which they felt would be too traumatic, but sitting with two handlers. This is meant to keep him calm and allow him to take frequent breaks along the journey, which is expected to take several days.

And when they arrive, Fred will join Cyril's sister who will make sure he is loved and cared for, just as her brother would have wanted.

And if that don't just warm the old cockles of your jaded heart, I don't know what will.

Welcome to your new home, Fred.

Apr├Ęs la pluie le beau temps.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Karl's Act of Kindness Makes the News!

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus and his helper's name is Karl.

Remember the random act of kindness I wrote about last week? A fellow named Karl found the lost postcard I wrote to my daughter and he took the time to add a note and pop the card in the mail? Well, the story and the photo of the Postcard Wall is going in this Saturday's edition of the Montreal Gazette.

Three cheers for Karl, and for good people everywhere!

Our girl is on the train and heading home as I type this. Tomorrow morning I will pick her up at the station after her 17 hour journey, and we'll go out for a big breakfast at Chez Cora's and talk for a bit and get caught up in each other's lives. Then she'll probably curl up with Buddy and nap on the couch while I light a fire, play some carols, and bake some ginger cookies and pecan shortbread and buttertarts.

Ah, life is good when the kids all come home at Christmas.

Happy Holidays Karl, wherever you are. I hope you read the Gazette so you will know how much that seemingly tiny gesture was actually pretty grand.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Why I Love Being A Canadian

1. Two-fours. Not to be confused with two-by-fours. Consumed on May 24th holiday weekend.
2. Mounties. With or without the trusty steed. Preferably with.
3. Cool inventions like the zipper and basketball. Yes, basketball is as Canadian as hockey, my American friends.
4. Discoveries like insulin. Almost as important as Hockey.
5. Tim Bits.
6. Maple syrup (sure it's made elsewhere, but Canadian maple syrup is the best because it comes from Canadian maple trees, which are the best.)
7. Excellent comedians like Mike Myers (don't judge him by his last movie, we all make mistakes, sometimes giant ones that smell bad when you get too close) or Jim Carrey (well....) and Dan Ackroyd (and he makes wine!)and Celine Dion (unintentional.)
8. Ice Wine.
9. Beavers. We like them so much, we've made them our national animal. Seriously.
10. Loons. We even put them on our money. Seriously.
11. We have a Queen, but it's a bit like having an elderly, hard-of-hearing aunt left in charge. Sure we love her, but she doesn't really do much.
12. If we had a woman and a black man running for office, we’d all vote for the gay Guatemalan-Scottish-First Nations-Tibetan monk performance artist with the limp.(That one came from Meg Fowler and it cracked me up mostly because it's true.)
13. Nature. We have a LOT of nature.
14. Also seasons that change, at least four times if not more. (There are only two seasons in Quebec - winter and road construction.)
15. Health care for all.
16. Lots of fresh water.
17. Did I mention hockey?
18. Poutine. Long live clogged arteries! (Remember, we have health care for all so go ahead!)
19. Buttertarts. I thought everyone knew about buttertarts, but they're Canadian, eh.
20. Saying "eh" at the end of sentences.

You know what? Just watch this.

Okay people, I need your help

A Novel Woman, AKA Pamela (that's me!) needs your vote. And I apologize in advance. Truly. But I cannot resist the challenge of coming up with a silly poem. Can't. Do. It.

I (cough) occasionally procrastinate and visit a blog called Go Fug Yourself. On this blog, the lovely duo of Heather and Jessica skewer those celebrities who don their gay apparel and walk among us mere mortals thinking they look oh so fab. What the fugly girls do is, to quote my grandmother, "bring them down a peg or two."

What means this word fug, I hear some of you ask. From the site:

""Fug" comes from "fugly," which is a contraction of "fantastically ugly" (or an f-word more prurient, if you like, but we are clean and delightful young ladies who don't engage in that kind of filth, dammit)."

Now comes the favour. Every Friday, they have a contest and ask for silly rhymes to go with a photo. I will warn you, this photo is a bit risque, unless you're a breast-feeding mother in which case it's old hat. This week I made the final three. Whoo hoo!

Your vote counts. So if you'd like to support A Novel Woman, go to the link below and vote for Number Two by Pamela (that's me) unless you prefer one of the other two poems, in which case, do the honorable thing and vote for them. (Damn my morals!) You must vote by Wednesday!

Are there big prizes involved? Uh, no.

Remember, this is not safe for work. And this site is seriously addictive.

Go HERE to vote.

The Perfect Christmas Dress


I'm handy with a sewing machine and I both own and know how to operate a soldering iron. How hard could it be to whip up one of these puppies before Christmas? Sure, one has to attach 24,000 LED lights, and the first dress I ever sewed in Home Ec. ended up with the sleeves turned inside out, but I don't think I should let that deter me.

Friday, December 11, 2009

How to use your hands to make music

I know this has been around for a while. In fact, I may have even posted it before. (See previous post on my misplaced Christmas file.)

But it's still a wonderful video, and watching it makes me happy.

I sang in a choir when I was young, at school and at church. I'm not sure why I stopped because there is a sort of magic that happens when you are part of a group where all its disparate members join together to make something beautiful. And if it's a choir, you don't just hear the music, you feel it in your soul when everything just clicks into place. It's electric, it really is.

I joined our high school band for the same reason I sang in the choir.

It was not electrifying.

My instrument of choice was the clarinet which, like my dog Buddy, was a tricky little bugger to master. First step was retrieving a reed from the communal pot. I always gave it a good splosh in the jar of antiseptic solution (which I suspect was there more for show than efficacy, because the same cloudy solution resided in that jar all year, and the reeds were shared amongst all the students, oh the horror.) I then had to soak the reed in my mouth. (I still shudder at the memory.) And all the while I tried not to look around the room and wonder whose mouth had housed it before mine, and prayed it wouldn't split because that meant finding another one thereby increasing my chances of death by coodies.

Anyway, it was all moot because despite my best efforts and love of music, I could not conquer this instrument. I think if I had found a feral cat, wrapped it up in bagpipes and squeezed it like a wet dishcloth, it would have sounded better than the noises I produced. Try as I might, I couldn't avoid the ungodly squeaks and squeals of missed notes. The anticipation made me tense, which made my lips tighten, which produced more mistakes. The music teacher/band leader finally admitted defeat, and asked me to fake it. That's right. I was in the band but forced to "lip synch" with my clarinet. I moved my fingers and swayed in time, but produced no actual music, which was sort of the point of joining A Band. I gave it up after one year. The music teacher ended up getting fired anyway after he slapped a student. I still look at clarinets as instruments of evil.

Anyway, enjoy this choir!



And thanks to all of you who email me often to tell me you read my blog regularly and enjoy it, or in some cases, tell my husband right before he injects your Novocaine. (Yup, telling your dentist you enjoy his wife's blog is just good strategy!)

I'm not sure why so many of you email but don't leave comments. (Not that I mind emails. I love those too!) Are you shy? Is it the blogger policy of asking you to register? (It's free you know, and you can set it up so that it's anonymous.)

I love seeing the comments but mostly I love knowing you're here.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Dear Santa, how did you been?

I am both orderly and disorderly, in every sense of the word. To keep myself on the straight and narrow, I keep a Christmas file, a folder that goes back to 1984, the year I moved to Montreal to begin my life with Dr. Doug.

This year I decided was going to be one of the orderly years. I will send out my Christmas cards early, I decided. Sometimes I miss the deadline altogether, and one year, when I was a student, I sent out my Christmas cards in July (either very late, or very early, depending on your point of view.) Unfortunately, I often misplace this file and can't find it when I want it. Today is one of those days. I found part of the file, but the reason I need it right now - for the list of addresses I keep for cards - is nowhere to be found. Obviously, I had the brilliant idea to keep the card file in a better, separate, new and improved location, but now I forget where that is. I sometimes hide jewelry too, which is why my good pearls are temporarily misplaced. They're probably with the other half of my Christmas file.

It is kind of fun to rifle through the old papers on a nostalgic ride into the past. I'm a master list maker; recipients of cards and their addresses sent and received, Christmas gifts to be considered or purchased or carried over to the next year, grocery lists for Christmas dinner, background music, baking projects and recipes - it's all in the master file. It's amazing to see how the gift list and number of recipients has whittled down over the years. Nieces and nephews grow, friends move on or pass on. Addresses change, we lose touch, or friendships wither because of misunderstandings or simply because we outgrow one another.

But my recipes are constants. And even if I wanted to change them up, I am cautioned by my family not to deviate from the traditional menu - roast turkey, although now my daughters insist on an organic turkey, raised under a rainbow and massaged daily by its caregiver until it is led gently into the good night and into our oven, stuffing made from chunks of baguette, green apples, mushrooms and walnuts, mashed potatoes and gravy, mashed turnip with maple syrup and cinnamon, steamed broccoli, and my mother-in-law's steamed carrot pudding and hard sauce for dessert.

And the baked goods, oh, the baked goods: my grandmother's shortbread, chocolate balls, truffles, my mother's buttertarts, nut shorties, Fat Alberts (a recent introduction, these toffee squares are seriously addictive), amongst others. I can introduce a few new baked goods as long as they join the favourites, not replace them.

For Christmas breakfast there is always a giant Italian panettone, and no, I do not bake my own (haha, you're funny.) It's always a gift from one of my husband's assistants, arriving in a big hat-shaped box with a ribbon handle. The fun is shaking up the cake inside a plastic bag along with the powdered sugar. We serve it in big slabs along with bacon and eggs, a bowl of fresh fruit, OJ, jam and strong coffee.

I always get sentimental when I go through this file, remembering Christmases past when the kids were young. I found this today, and I hope you get as much of a kick from it as I did. My daughter was four and attended French school at the time. It's a bit of a polite meander, then right to the point.

In case you have trouble reading it, it says:

Dear Santa Claws!

How did you been?
Did you had a nice summer?
How's your life?
Give us all presents.

(heart) Sarah, age 4

Ah, yes.

Now I'm off to look for that damn list.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Camera Club Shots

I joined a local camera club last year with the express purpose of getting better at taking pictures. The best way to get critiques is to enter competitions and get feedback from the judges on what works and what doesn't, and more importantly, why. While some of it is useful, most of it is quite subjective and comments are dependent on what the individual likes or doesn't like (one may have an aversion to flowers and another only likes birds) or whether or not he's had a fight with his wife before he left the house that night. "Watch your corners" and the rule of thirds seem to be another couple of golden rules, but sometimes those too are challenged.

A few weeks ago we had a general, anything goes pictorial competition. This means no category, no rules in terms of what you could do to change the photos, and no theme per se. Here are my entries. The judges particularly liked the first one, saying it reminded them of a art nouveau magazine cover. It was taken on a foggy morning near here, and that's exactly what it looked like when I shot across the lake. They liked the spot of sun on the water and the shape of the tress on the left. One judge did not like that teensy little vertical branch wayp up on the upper right side, but short of finding a ladder, climbing the tree and trimming it (which the municipal workers might not appreciate and by that time, the fog would have dissipated) I had to leave it as is.

The second one was a milkweed pod, but they were kind of iffy on that one. I loved it, but maybe because it was a beautiful sunny fall day, and I kind of stumbled upon this little puff of a plant at the end of our cottage driveway. Usually a photo means something to the photographer and it evokes a mood or a memory of where they were and how they felt when they took it. Sometimes that can be communicated in a photo, and sometimes it's just another milkweed pod, my friends.

Then the third was a rock wall. This created a bit of a debate. One of the judges suggested it would look better if it was rotated. Oddly enough, that was the way I'd taken the original but I liked it better turned on its end as I feel it's more interesting that way and creates a bit of tension.

So I'm asking you. Which do you like better? The first one or the second one? You don't have to tell me why. You just have to agree with me.


Monday, December 7, 2009

Let it snow, let it snow

The view from my office window.
This time of year, I actually like the snow. It gets me in the mood to decorate and bake and just settle in like a hibernating bear. After Christmas I simply tolerate the snow, and by February I'm longing to get a break from it (and by March, well, I'm pretty much hanging on to my sanity by my fingernails.) But when I see a dusting of snow on the ground right around the beginning of December, it puts me in a New York state of mind (if you substitute "Christmas" for "New York")

So I'm off to buy fresh spices like allspice and cinnamon and nutmeg, some sage for the turkey stuffing, dark chocolate and butter and nuts and cream for truffles, wrapping paper and special ribbon, green boughs for the window box, and maybe a new Christmas CD. Look at me. I'm going all nesty!

Then I'm going to light a fire, pour myself a teensy eensy glass of Glenmorangie, and put on my ancient canvas apron stained with feasts of Christmas past and fill the house with the aroma of warm shortbread. Perhaps, if you put your ear against the door, you'll also hear the sounds of soft jazz and a gently snoring dog.

So, you ready for Christmas?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

No, seriously

A tee shirt that also functions as a rock guitar. Plays all the major chords and allows the wearer to strum all the big hits. My favourite function? The volume goes to 11. Bonus points for anyone who knows what that means.

Don't believe me? Looky here:




Think big and form a whole band. Did you notice the guy in the back? He's playing drums on his chest.

Wait, it gets better. At ThinkGeek there's a shirt with built-in personal sound effects. You can move through life with your own soundtrack!



A ring that functions as a bottle opener? A baseball cap that broadcasts free WiFi locations, an Albert Einstein action figure?

My Christmas shopping just became a whole lot easier.

I found ThinkGeek after reading an article in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine. They talked about ThinkGeek posting a link to a gag gift every April 1st, but the "gags" were requested in such huge numbers that they ended up selling them.

Read it here.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Tilt-Shift, or How to Fake It

Tilt-shift in photography and film. It's a way of making a normal scene in a photo look like tiny toys grouped together. I think it's really cool, but then again, I built little shoebox dioramas for my own amusement when I was a kid.

For a great example of how it's used in film, check out the opening credits of DOLLHOUSE:



This is achieved by manipulating the depth of field; you reduce it to trick your brain into thinking what you're looking at is a miniature. Here's a more technical explanation but honestly, I think it's as dry as that first slice of bread in the bag because someone keeps forgetting to put the plastic tag thingie back on. (How hard is it to do that?)

"‘Tilt-shift’ actually encompasses two different types of movements: rotation of the lens relative to the image plane, called tilt, and movement of the lens parallel to the image plane, called shift. (Are you asleep yet?) Tilt is used to control the orientation of the plane of focus (PoF), and hence the part of an image that appears sharp; it makes use of the Scheimpflug principle. (Ah, yes, that one. I think she was in charge of my high school.) Shift is used to change the line of sight while avoiding the convergence of parallel lines, as when photographing tall buildings. In many cases, “tilt-shift photography” refers to the use of tilt and a large aperture to achieve a very shallow depth of field.”
Wikipedia.

Now, one way to create this effect is by using Photoshop. There are lots of tutorials to walk you through all the steps. Or you can use TiltShiftMaker, and they'll do it all for you!

I'm an instant gratification kinda gal. I used Tilt Shift Maker. And voila:

This one reminds me of those plastic turtle homes we had as kids.



Smashing magazine has 50 examples you can check out. I'd love to see more. If you try it, send me a link and I'll post them.

Happy faking!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Lost and found

As many of you know, my Youngest is across the country at university. She's in her element, studying fine arts. But she misses her home and family, and asked if we wouldn't mind sending a postcard every once in a while to lift her spirits. Isn't it true that there's something really satisfying about receiving an actual letter or postcard or box in the mail? An email just doesn't cut it. And this girl loves postcards. Look at the wall above her desk at home.


The wall of postcards
Originally uploaded by Pamelala
So, as a mom who lives to please her younguns, I rummaged around my desk drawer and discovered a special packet of postcards I'd purchased at my favourite place on earth, the National Portrait Gallery in London. I was saving these for a special occasion (or person) and I knew my daughter merited one or two. She loves this gallery as much as I do, and we visited it together for her sixteen birthday and my hmmphbeedumph-tieth.

I filled the card with nonsense about home and how proud I was that she'd taken up knitting and asked if she might give me some pro-tips when she came home at Christmas since she'd managed to knit herself a beautiful hat after reading directions on the internet. Then, after putting double postage on the thing just to make sure, I passed the card on to my husband and asked him to add it to the outgoing mail in his office, thinking that would be the fastest method to get it to our girl.

Mistake.

My husband meant well, but he really is the quintessential absent-minded professor. He called me later that day and said now, don't be mad, but I lost the postcard somewhere between the house and the office. He had retraced his steps but there was no sign of the card.

I couldn't send another exactly like it. This was a one-of, purchased years ago. We told Youngest what happened and said we'd meant well, but....sorry.

Well, she phoned yesterday and said she'd gone to the post office with her roommate, who found four cards in her inbox. As she watched and felt just the teensy-eensiest sorry for herself, she looked in her box and saw something inside.

It was the lost postcard. Someone found it and added the following message to my motherly ramblings about studying hard, learning to knit and coming home for Christmas:

I found this postcard in Westmount Square, MTL. Keep on knitting! Karl

I think this added message thrilled our girl even more than the original card. Here was someone who took the time and effort to make a stranger happy. Wow.

So here's to you, Karl, wherever you may be. Thanks for bringing a little sunshine into our lives, and may you find joy and happiness and good health this holiday season.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Field Trip

Went to visit a friend this week. She has a new cottage. The weather was iffy, it being November. But it was still wonderful to be in the country.
Her lake is long and shallow, so the ice is already forming.

Her cottage is warm and cosy. Not so the old outhouse in the woods.
But it still has its charms.
I liked this old tree, struggling to hang on, its roots wrapped around a mossy rock.
And at the base of this tree, a magic door where a sprite lives. I opened the door to see inside, just to make sure.
A Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends!

Friday, November 20, 2009

You can't HANDLE the spoof

This is beyond funny. This is hurt your forehead funny.

Tom Cruise auditioning for the role of Edward in Twilight:

Celebrity Auditions: New Moon from Electric Spoofaloo on Take180.com


Thanks to Lainey for this.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Sir Ken Robinson in a TED lecture

For years I watched as the arts programs in my kids' schools were slashed - art class gave way to more science classes, gym class was reduced to one hour a week, and computer science was anointed the new king of them all. Not that I have anything against computers. Heck, my relationship with my laptop falls just short of carnal. (Now there's a sentence you don't want taken out of context.) But I argued that kids in kindergarten didn't need computer skills as much as social skills and that it was more important to nurture and encourage their innate creativity.

My proposal fell on deaf ears so I did what a lot of stay-at-home moms armed with degrees and work experience did at that time - I volunteered for a lunchtime enrichment program. If the school board wasn't going to offer more opportunities for creativity, then volunteers would organize it and offer it to the children outside of school hours. You want to learn the trumpet? Done. You want to take karate lessons? Done. Paint, dance a Highland Fling and sing in a chorus? Done, done, done.

This TED lecture by Sir Ken Robinson articulates everything I was trying to argue back then. All three of my children studied Liberal Arts before they went on to specialize in their various fields of interest (English Literature and Political Science, Finance and Economics, and Fine Arts and Literature as it turns out.) With a grounding in liberal arts, they learned how to think, developed the skills necessary to communicate effectively, and most importantly, they gained a lifelong passion for learning. If you want to run a company, it helps to know a bit about the world at large, don't you think?

Some salient points Robinson makes:

1. Creativity is as important in education as literacy and we should treat it with the same status.

2. If you're not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original.

3. We stigmatize mistakes, and we're educating people out of their creative capacities.

"Picasso said all children are born artists. We don't grow into creativity, we grow out of it, or rather we get educated out of it."

Everywhere, around the world, is the hierarchy of subjects in any school system.

Mathematics and languages is at the top.
Humanities comes next.
The arts are at the bottom.

He speaks of "a new ecology of the mind" just like the one we apply to the earth. "Our only hope for the future is to adopt a new conception of human ecology one in which we start to reconstitute our conception of the richness of human capacity. Our education system has mined our minds in the way that we strip-mine the earth: for a particular commodity. And for the future, it won't serve us. We have to re-think the fundamental principles on which we're educating our children."

Thanks to kcdyer and jamesmccann for bringing this to my attention. It's brilliantly funny and uplifting, and its message is clear and true. Put aside 20 minutes and have a listen. It's well worth it, for the Shakespeare bits alone.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Fear of Flying...

...while sitting near a screaming toddler. Who hasn't been there, either as a parent to the child, or as a passenger sitting near one of the little anklebiters? I've been both. It's a toss up which is worse.

I remember one memorable trip to London with my husband. The plane was delayed by several hours, with various excuses made over the loudspeaker by the gate crew - "mechanical difficulties" was the first, "awaiting a part from Toronto" was the second, "wrong part sent" was the third, "awaiting another part" was the fourth...

Sitting nearby in the airport lounge was one particularly virulent, screaming child in a stroller. He repeatedly smeared thick snot caterpillars across his cheeks with his chubby fists as his exasperated mother tried to wrestle him under control. He'd fling himself backwards, his back rigid in indignation until a coughing jag released his spine like a switch, then he'd gag and sputter and gather enough energy to start up again. Please God, do not let him sit anywhere near me, please, please, please, became my mantra that night. This was not fair, I argued. I have been there, done that, chugged the gin to erase the memory. And while I feel sorry for his mother, we left our own kids at home and this was supposed to be a romantic vacation.

Well, it seems God doesn't like to be bothered by such mundane and clearly selfish requests when He has bigger and better things on his mind like famine and floods and pestilence, so he punished me in biblical proportions by not only putting that kid near me when we boarded the plane at midnight (after a seven hour wait in the lounge) but directly behind me. The little hellion further enhanced my torture by punctuating his screams with angry kicks to my chair. We hadn't even left the ground, and there was a whole ocean to cross.

We sat on the tarmac for hours until 4 a.m. when we were asked to leave the airplane due to "more mechanical problems." I would have gladly leapt from the airplane in a swan dive over the runway at that point.

So when faced with an eleven hour flight to Hawaii a while back, I reckoned I needed a backup plan. My sister asked me why I wasn't using Bose noise-cancelling headphones. I'd actually bought a pair for my husband years ago, but had never tried them myself. You gotta get the Bose, she insisted. With the cries of that toddler still ringing in my ears, I splurged and bought myself a pair.

Oh, baby. Oh baby, baby, baby cry your heart out, 'cause mama don't care. When Bose says "noise-cancelling" they ain't kidding. There actually was a screaming baby on board but as soon as I slapped those puppies on my ears, I was literally in my own head space.

If you have a long trip ahead of you, beg, borrow or steal a pair. Seriously. I am not getting any kind of kickback for endorsing Bose products, but I believe.

I believe!


And if you want to read an absolutely hilarious account which triggered my memories, go to "How to Survive a Mid-Air Disaster" by Johanna Stein. She's a self-described "first time parent and long-time neurotic" who says in her bio "I was born in Winnipeg, Canada, to a pair of American hippie intellectuals who have smoked 73 varieties of marijuana combined. As a result I am a dual citizen who is pathologically easygoing." This essay on flying with her child, which also appeared in the New York Times Magazine last weekend, just slayed me.

And if you want a pair of Bose QuietComfort 15 headphones (le sigh) and you live in Canada, go here and check them out. I know they're expensive, but I'd rather have a pair of those than a big sparkly ring. Honest. (Unless I can use that ring to carve out a hole for an escape route next time I find myself sitting in front of a toddler in full meltdown mode.)

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Fun Theory

Fun. A theory about fun!
inally, something I can believe in.



What happens when an ordinary staircase is replaced with musical steps? Will more people use the stairs instead of the escalator? And what if a regular garbage can is turned into the world's deepest can? Will it encourage people to throw away more trash if it's fun?





Thanks to the Laughing Squid for this. It made me think about how much fun I have in my life. Not enough, I concluded. Must rectify immediately.

And thanks to kcdyer for the link to the Daily Drop Cap by Jessica Hisch, who created the fancy schmancy capital letters you see here.

Just when you think you've seen it all....

Can you believe how beautiful these are?

Am in danger of becoming obsessed.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

It's Complicated. And I Can't Wait.

This is worse than having to wait until Christmas morning to open gifts.

Another 45 days until this movie opens. Le sigh. Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin, people! Together. In a Nancy Meyers film!

I love Nancy Meyers. She creates dialogue and believable, quirky, charming characters like no one else. Have you seen SOMETHING'S GOTTA GIVE with Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson? I watched it again the other night even though it's exquisitely painful due to my deep, unrequited love for Erica Barry's kitchen. (It's more like kitchen lust. Actually to be honest I could run away with that whole house and have ten thousand of its babies, and please don't tell me it's just a movie set and it doesn't exist because I need my fantasies and these days, most of them involve that kitchen.)

Nancy writes about real women, women like me or at least, the kind of woman I'd like to be, one who writes successful plays and lives in a luscious house situated right on the ocean, beautifully decorated of course, with off-white furniture and tasteful art and no dust or pet hair anywhere and probably no rotting fruit in her fridge... but I digress. I adore Nancy Meyers and Meryl the Streep, and from the looks of this trailer, this movie is not going to disappoint.

I just have to make it until Christmas. While the family is cleaning up the last bits of turkey and gravy, this old broad is planning on hoofing it down to the Cineplex.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Stephen Fry and Sunny Days

A blog about letters of note. Or as the tagline says "correspondence deserving of a wider audience" and I agree wholeheartedly.

Let's start with Stephen Fry, shall we? Because I love him. Because I saw him in London at the premiere of V for Vendetta which was not intentional, but a happy coincidence as I passed through Leicester Square on my way to a play and there he was, towering above the crowd, being as gracious as only he can be.

A woman wrote to him saying she was desperate and depressed and felt she had no one to turn to. He wrote back, and said in part:

I've found that it's of some help to think of one's moods and feelings about the world as being similar to weather:

Here are some obvious things about the weather:

It's real.
You can't change it by wishing it away.
If it's dark and rainy it really is dark and rainy and you can't alter it.
It might be dark and rainy for two weeks in a row.

BUT

It will be sunny one day.
It isn't under one's control as to when the sun comes out, but come out it will.
One day.

It really is the same with one's moods, I think. The wrong approach is to believe that they are illusions. They are real.

If you wish to read this letter in its entirety and other wonderful correspondence, go to LETTERS OF NOTE and look around.

(My favourite letters include two replies to artist Haymes when he sent out a questionnaire to over 500 artists and people of distinction to ask them to describe the sky. One is by Isaac Asimov and the other by Jerry Kosinski. Beverage alert. Don't say you weren't warned. Read them HERE.)

Have a great weekend!

Multiple Exposure with the Nikon D200

I went on a mini-field trip yesterday with a friend, and discovered a function in my Nikon D200 that was hitherto unknown to me. (Hands up how many of you use "hitherto" on a regular basis?)

Okay, technically this function wasn't unknown to me as I knew it was in there, I'd just never used it before and never purposefully went looking for it. (Listen? Can you hear it? The chorus of "read the #$%^ing manual!" from the camera club guys. Can't hear it? Me neither.) So I went spelunking into the depths of my camera menu and found this little jewel.

It's called Multiple Exposure, and with Freeman as my guide and mentor, I gave it a whirl. The camera automatically divides the exposure after you enter how many multiple exposures you want - choose 10 for example, and it will give 1/10th the amount of light you need for each shot so that the finished shot will be accurate and balanced. How cool is that?

What do you think? I like the sort of expressionistic, watercolour quality to the photos. Or maybe I'm just full of hooey.

I tried different objects with varying degrees of detail - a brass jar with silver embossed figures, a firepit surrounded by leaves, a painted votive candle holder, a hummingbird feeder...


It was an interesting experiment and I learned a certain degree of control is necessary for each exposure, but it was fun to try something different. My method was to take the first shot dead centre, then move a few shots to the right, go back to the middle and then take the remaining shots to the right. Others may move deliberately from left to right, but I wanted control over where the image was centred in the shot. I have no idea if there's a right or wrong way to do this, so I just dove in.

And for the traditionalists in the crowd, some corn husks. Plain, old, one-exposured corn husks.

Oh oh. I just discovered the Image Overlay function...it even gives a preview in camera. Whoo hoo, I heart my Nikon!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Freeman Patterson has left the building


Joseph Campbell said “the privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.”

I am lucky to be a member of a camera club who hosted the incomparable Freeman Patterson, a Canadian photographer and writer of world renown, and a deeply soulful man.
We were treated to lectures, field trips and dinners with Freeman, who is an extraordinary teacher of visual design i.e., he teaches one how to "see" the world.
After ten days of workshops, lectures and field trips, he taught a lesson in trust - trust to go with your heart, and your instincts. I think it's going to make us a better club, particularly as competitive is a dirty word in his books. Freeman is all about the inspiration, the euphoria in the moment when you see something and capture it with your camera which, if you pay attention, usually reflects something in your subconscious. Hmm, what does this say about mine?
I'm guessing we are going to change the way we hold competitions in our club and in fact, they may disappear entirely because really, how do you compete in photography? It is so subjective and even the old rules like the rule of three or always having a central focus no longer applies. Freeman doesn't even like the word "critique" and prefers the word evaluation instead.
I was intimidated at first, because I'm still fairly new to photography and not that savvy when it comes to the tech stuff, so I was afraid he'd launch into a technical rant so common amongst some members of our club. Sometimes I'll ask a question of the wrong person, and get an answer that reminds me of this Larson cartoon:

What we say to dogs: "Okay, Ginger! I've had it! You stay out of the garbage! Understand, Ginger? Stay out of the garbage, or else!"

What they hear: "blah blah GINGER blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah GINGER blah blah...."


But spend even a few minutes with Freeman, and you quickly learn that it's not about whether you're a beginner or a professional, it's about finding and unleashing your creativity to your absolute fullest. That's liberating and cause for euphoria, wouldn't you say?

"Seeing, in the finest and broadest sense, means using your senses, your intellect, and your emotions. It means encountering your subject matter with your whole being. It means looking beyond the labels of things and discovering the remarkable world around you." F.P.


If you want to see some of his amazing images, go HERE

If you want to read a great interview with Freeman, go HERE