Thursday, December 22, 2011

Book review - Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood.

Cat's EyeCat's Eye by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An absolutely brilliant novel that I wish I'd read years ago, although perhaps would not have been able to take it all in back then. Atwood's protagonist Elaine expresses so much about what it means to be a woman, and speaks words that resonate deeply with me.

The story follows Elaine from her childhood in Toronto during WW2 through her life as an artist, and her eventual move to in Vancouver. Her return to Toronto for an opening of a retrospective of her work frames the narrative as she reflects on the difficult experiences of being bullied as a pre-teen.

I can't recommend this book highly enough.

View all my reviews

Related articles
Enhanced by Zemanta

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The best of the tube

I wanna write about my reaction to Mary Poppins the Musical which I saw last night, but first, my thoughts on the best on TV these days.

I am very lucky to have a tv setup with tons of channels and a PVR (Bell Fibe). I have also developed the ability to read a book while the dear-heart is watching something I'm not really interested in. So I restrict myself to the best of the TV world with clever juggling of the remote and whatever book I happen to be reading.

My current faves (in no particular order):

Web Therapy - Lisa Kudrow is absolutely brilliant in this half-hour comedy about a woman with a business degree who decides to set up an online therapy practice that replaces the usual 50-minute session with 3-minutes of right-to-brass-tacks talk. At this point, I'm watching it On Demand and am not sure that it's currently airing. [Just put up the link and realized that it's all available online, and there are 4 seasons already!]

Enlightened - Co-written, produced, and starring Laura Dern and Mike White. Dern plays a thirty-something (forty-something?) woman who, after a breakdown at her corporate job, goes on a yoga retreat.  The season started with her return to "real life", moving in with her cold mother (Diane Ladd), dealing with her ex-huband (Luke Wilson), and going back to work at her old company, but into a secret, basement-located job with a group of other misfits (including Mike White). It is perfect in so many ways. Including the music that is curated especially for each episode. 

The Wire - I'm late to the party on this one. (I think Season One was originally in 2002, or somthing.)  If I start to use the f-word repeatedly, this show would be why. 

Boardwalk Empire - Steve Buscemi rocks prohibition Atlantic City. Great cast, storyline getting a little freaky, but totally compelling viewing.

The Good Wife - A prime time drama in which the lead women don't have their breasts hanging out of their tops. Seriously, this is probably one of the best dramas on main-stream tv. Julia Marguiles and Archie Punjabi are both dreamy. 

Michael: Tuesdays and Thursdays - I wish this Canadian half-hour was getting more viewership. It's quirky and stars the brilliant Bob Martin (of Drowsy Chaperone fame). I have fears that it will be cancelled.... 

Modern Family - Can't get enough of this comedy. But enough's been written about it already.

Suburgatory - A new half-hour comedy about a father and teen daughter who move from NYC to the suburbs and go through culture shock. Reminds me of my time in a suburb of Atlanta. 

Living in Your Car - Read something about this in the paper and am catching it On Demand. A corporate exec gets fired (and jailed) for fraud. When he gets out, all he has is an extremely expensive car, in which he ends up living. I may start to hate it, but three eps in and it's still pretty entertaining.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Analog Kingston

Alex got some analog photos published in Muse, an online Kingston arts mag. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

"$5000 worth of Scotch girls...."


Have been researching immigration of young Scottish women as domestics around the turn of the 20th century. Found this little newspaper notice from the Crossfield Chronicle, 5 June 1909. Love the turn of phrase "Five Thousand dollars' worth of Scotch girls..."

Sunday, October 30, 2011

How to Really Listen - Peter Bregman - Harvard Business Review

One morning, my wife Eleanor woke up, turned over, and said, "I am not looking forward to this day." I asked her why.

What came out is that we were at the start of the Jewish high holy day season, which means colder weather and three weeks of big social meals, long religious services, broken routines, and children out of school. Eleanor didn't grow up with these traditions, and they can be overwhelming.

Now, I run a management consulting company; problem solving is what I do. So it didn't take me long to jump in.

"Cold weather means ski season is about to start," I said. "You love skiing. And these holiday meals are fun and filled with people you love — they'll make you feel better. And I'll be with you; you won't be alone with the kids. Also, you know, Jesus was Jewish, so it's kind of your tradition too."

Even as I said it, I knew that last one was a reach. It became clear that I was making her feel worse and now she wasn't just sad, she was angry.

And when she got angry, I felt myself get angry too. And self-righteous. Here I am trying to help her and this is what I get?

But then I smartened up. Instead of giving in to my anger, which would have really blown things up, I shut up and listened. When I did, I began to hear the real stuff, the things that neither of us was actually saying.

What I discovered was that she was upset because the focus on mothers during the Jewish holidays taps into her insecurities about motherhood, not being a Jewish mom, and not having time to spend on her own work.

I also discovered that my own babbling wasn't so much to help her feel better as to help me feel better. I'm the reason she's in New York City, living through cold winters, and part of a Jewish family.

In other words, by trying to make her feel better, I was doing the opposite of making her feel better. I was arguing with her. In fact, most of the time when we try to make people feel better, we end up arguing with them because we're contradicting what they're feeling. Which, inevitably, makes them feel worse....

It turns out that sometimes, just listening is problem-solving.

This is an excellent piece on listening from Peter Bregman in the Harvard Business Review Blog Network. He goes on to describe the three sometimes difficult components of active listening: actually listen; repeat back; ask questions. Read the full article at the link.

Being listened to is incredibly validating. I commit to make my listening more active.

It's been a good week...

Don't know whether it's the cooler weather or all the arts events I attended, but I feel more like writing.

First though, I've been reading Mary Gordon's Pearl, a novel concerning a young American woman studying in Dublin who goes on a hunger strike in support of a casualty (at least in her view) of the troubles. What is particularly interesting to me is the voicing of the work. If I am not mistaken, it is written in the first person, the author's voice, which was at first difficult to read. For example, at the beginning of the second section, she writes:

This is who and what Pearl Meyers believes she is, what and what she is to herself. But what is she to us? A twenty-year-old woman. A woman who is starving, a woman chained to a flagpole in front of the American embassy in Dublin, Ireland.  A woman who is lying on the ground.

But who am I? you may be asking.

Think of me this way: midwife, present at the birth.  Or perhaps this: godfather, present at the christening. Although of the three people with whom we are concerned, perhaps the most important, Pearl herself, was never christened. If not the christening, them, perhaps the naming. Present at the naming. A the speaking of the most important word.

I am about two thirds of the way through this work and it's a little slow going, but (I think) an important read. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Blogging hiatus


In an attempt to simplify my committments (both external and self-imposed), I'm resorting to microblogging for the foreseeable future. You can be my friend on Facebook or follow me on Twitter. You don't need to have an account for the can still see my tweets and when you select one, see any conversation around them.

Don't know how long I'll be hanging up my hat at Domestic Bliss. But for the meantime, I'd love to see you at either of the above!



Friday, September 23, 2011

Seven Quick Takes Friday


  1. It's been a tough week. I surrendered our dog, Wilson, to Toronto Animal Services yesterday after a biting incident earlier this summer. He's a terrier mix, with a lot of Jack Russell in him, and he charged and bit a letter carrier after he got off-leash. It was a horrible accident (although the bite was a minor injury), but I realized that his behaviour was too unpredictable for us to manage. Every visitor to our house was a stress. We have no yard at our current home, unlike when we adopted him in Georgia, and even with 3-4 walks a day, we were unable to provide him with sufficient opportunities to burn off energy. I've been weepy all week, and broke down at the shelter when I took him in. My greatest hope is that they can find a home for him where he will be able to be the dog that he is. I can't really say any more.
  2. I got my hair cut after my trip to Animal Services yesterday. It felt kind of like mourning, but at the same time a fresh start. It's shoulder length and layered a bit. And I feel so silly writing about it now.
  3. Last night, we attended the Season Opener for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, a wonderful program including Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture, and a commission from Toronto Composer Larysa Kezmenko called Behold the Night, based on a Midsummer's Night Dream. The second half was William Walton's Henry V: A Shakespeare Scenario featuring actor Christopher Plummer (who also arranged this work) reciting parts of the play from memory. Walton scored Larurence Olivier's film Henry V, from which this work is derived. It was spectacular, and great finish to what had been a very sad day. The evening was capped by the TSO's after party featuring the Heavyweights Brass Band in the lobby of Roy Thomson Hall.
  4. Z and I head to Orlando on Sunday where he is attending a conference and I will take five days to relax in the sun. I was able to score a very cheap flight and there's no upcharge for me to stay at the (very nice) hotel hosting the conference.
  5. Michael auditioned for and was accepted into the Hannaford Youth Band and Youth Big Band, both of which he played in last year. These ensembles are wonderful ways for him to get experience performing repertoire on both the tube (Hannaford) and bass trombone ( and I'm pleased that he'll be playing with them again this year.
  6. While we were downtown yesterday, we picked up tickets for Noel Coward's Private Lives, now in previews at the Royal Alexandra. Starring Paul Gross and Kim Cattrall, it's been getting a lot of positive buzz. Mirvish is also bringing War Horse to Toronto in the new year and I'm looking forward to that as well. 
  7. Friends from our parish were featured on the front page of the Star this week. John and Kathleen Rudolph are both professional musicians.  John is Principal Percussionist with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and Kathleen teaches flute at the Glenn Gould School and University of Western Ontario. Kathleen and I are altos in the parish choir, and Kathleen often fills in on the organ. Their daughter, Theresa, was just hired by the TSO, their first parent-child pair. The piece in The Star is lovely and worth a read.

More Quick Takes over at Conversion Diary.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

TIFF roundup: Tuesday and Wednesday

The Lonliest Planet (Dir. Julia Loktev, USA/Germany)

This quiet, emotional film follows an engaged 30-something couple as they trek through the Caucausus mountains of Georgia with a local guide. Very little dialogue or real action in many parts, the film hangs on the relationships within this triangle and an event that happens half-way through that disrupts them. There was a lot of negative buzz around me as I was leaving the theatre: "no dialogue", "nothing happened", "I don't get the point", but it completely worked for me. Not a date movie. (5/5)

(Screening Saturday Sept 17)


The Oranges (Dir. Julian Farino, USA)

Fantastic ensemble is much of what makes this film terrific. Hugh Laurie, Catherine Keener, Allison Janney, Oliver Platt star as two couples who live across the street from each other. The daughter of one couple has an affair with the husband of the other, and everyone's life is changed. A sort of anti-morality play wherein the end justifies the means makes it less than satisfying. (4/5)

(Screening Friday September 16)


W.E. (Dir. Madonna, UK)

A dsappointing look at the Wallis and Edward story, this is Madonna's attempt to tell the story from Simpson's point of view. Running parallel to this arc is a modern day tale of a Wally Winthrop who is trapped in an unhappy marriage and obsessed with the Wallis/Edward tale. The story lines alternate frequently, and the historical story is also split into glimpses into Wallis' first marriage as well as that with Edward. Great fashion and sets/props, but the music was leaden. Not recommended (2/5)

Damsels in Distress (Dir. Whit Stillman, USA)

Entertaining and smart, this movie looks at a posse of fashionable women at a just-gone-coed private college. It's quirky and wierd, with stellar performances particularly from Greta Gerwig as the alpha-female, Analeigh Tipton as the transfer student taken under her wing, and a bunch of frat boys who are just incredibly funny. (4/5)

Café de Flore (Dir. Jean-Marc Vallée, Canada)

A beautiful film from the director of C.R.A.Z.Y., it tells two stories, one set in Paris in the 60s in which a mother (Vanessa Paradis) is raising her Down syndrome child on her own. The other story is set in modern day Montreal and involves a divorce and remarriage of a successful DJ/electronica musician (Kevin Parent). We don't find out how these stories are related until the very end of the movie. Moving with strong performances. As in C.R.A.Z.Y., music is a strong force that ties people together. See it if you get a chance. (5/5) (official site)

Americano (Dir. Mathieu Demy, France)

Son of filmakers Agnes Varda and Jacques Demy, this is Mathieu Demy's directorial debut. With a stellar cast including Geraldine Chaplin, Selma Hayak, Carlos Bardem, and Chiara Mastroianni, Demy plays a restless 30-something who travels from Paris to Los Angeles to settle the estate of his mother, who has lived in the US for most of his life. Demy integrates footage taken by his mother when they lived in LA in the 80s and incorporates it into this work as flashbacks. He discovers things about his mother, and himself, that affect him profoundly.  Well worth seeing. (5/5)

(Screening Friday September 16)

TIFF roundup: Monday

I'm (obviously) quite far behind on my mini-reviews, but a day of film-screening leaves me wiped by the end of the day. I've been tweeting some thoughts, but here are my capsule summaries.

Rampart (Dir. Oren Moverman, USA)

Woody Harrelson stars in this rogue-cop drama set in LA. A masterful performance with strong support from the actors playing his ex-wives (who are sisters in the film and live together) and daughters. The twist (for me, who's not really a rogue-cop-film viewer) is that this guy is very articulate and wraps his crap in big words and charming delivery. (4/5)

(One more screening Sunday the 18th)

Behold the Lamb (Dir. John McIlduff, UK)

A small film (budget $200,000 and filmed in 20 days) it stars a young actress who had only done stage work and a lorry driver and amateur theatre actor. This is a gritty but somehow charming story of two people whose lives intersect over a 24 hour period. It involves a car theft, the transport of a lamb, a foster child, and a lot of beautiful, grey Irish scenery. And a lot of Catholic imagery that the director said was not originally part of the story, but was pointed out to him part way through the writing of the screenplay. (3/5)

(One more screening on evening of Friday the 16th)


Anonymous (Dir Roland Emmerich, Germany)

This is soon-to-be-released in theatres (Oct 28) and there's been lots of press about it. The premise is that there was no-one names William Shakespeare who actually wrote the plays and poetry attributed to him. Good performances and terrific cinematography. My ignorance of British history made it a bit difficult to follow the family/dynastic relationships. (4/5) ( The Official site has lots of good info that I wish I'd read before seeing the film.)

(One more screening on Saturday the 17th, but save your cash and see it in commercial run.)

Beloved (Les Bien-Aimés) (Dir Christophe Honoré, France)

Starring Catherine Deneuve and her daughter Chiara Mastroianni, this musical(!) set in France, spanning decades from 1964 to the 90s, was extremely enjoyable. When asked "why a musica'l in the Q&A, Honoré claimed that he is not comfortable writing about love and it was easier for him to have his characters sing during the emotional moments of the film. Not a typical musical, there are no big theatrical moments, or much dancing. Just characters, walking down the street (or playing billiards) and singing about their feelings.

(One more screening on Saturday the 17th)




Sunday, September 11, 2011

TIFF roundup: Weekend 1

Well, things are off to a great start.  I saw four films this weekend and here are my thoughts.

Friday afternoon:  Urbanized (Director: Gary Hustwit, USA/UK)

This was the world premiere for this film and the Ryerson Theatre was filled with Jane Jacobites and other #TorontoElite (to use a hashtag favoured by Spacing editor Shawn Micallef.) Inspiring and uplifting, this is a film that should be seen by anyone interested in the future of our cities, how to make them more liveable and sustainable, and how to improve the lives of even the poorest of slumdwellers by thoughtful, citizen-centric design. A survey of cities from around the world, this film calls us to action, even in the face of a city government that seems intent on turning the clock back. Official website.  (5/5) 

Saturday Morning: Ides of March (Director: George Clooney, USA)

We attended the second (and last) screening of this film at the festival.  Clooney plays a presidential candidate during the Ohio primary and Ryan Gosling is his media guy. The story is good, well-paced, and interesting, and the film was very enjoyable. Clooney was fine, but I thought Gosling was slightly miscast for the part. His character didn't come across as bright enough for the role, but I'm not sure whether it was the casting or the writing. The big buzz should go to Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Marisa Tomei for their supporting roles as campaign managers for the opposing candidates and a NY Times reporter. It was their performances that really carried the film. Official website. (4/5)

Saturday afternoon: House of Tolerance (Director: Bertrand Bonello, France)

A languid, sensual, two-hour film about a fin de siecle brothel in Paris, this film was carefully researched and brought to being with great care. It's a frank look at the lives of these women, at the same time enslaved and surrounded by opulence, at the risks they encountered and the friendships they formed. There was a good Q&A with the director after the film and I asked about the use of music behind some key scenes. The opening credits have a kind of 60s blues thing (see trailer), and a climactic scene close to the end is scored with The Moody Blues' Nights in White Satin. Bonello did not see this as any more anachronistic than using opera music not coming from a gramaphone. This was also a subject of great discussion after the premiere at Cannes. (4/5)


Sunday noon:  Take this Waltz (Director: Sarah Polley, Canada)

This was a stunner of a film. What hits you right from the beginning is the warm, vivid, palette she has chosen for the film, representing female desire (as Polley remarked in the Q&A after the screening.) Very well cast with Michelle Williams as a twenty-something woman Margot, married for five years to Lou (Seth Rogen). When Daniel (Luke Kirby) enters her life in one of the many comedic scenes in the film), her previously domestic situation starts to unravel. This is a film with both intense drama and high humour, handled deftly by Polley and woven into a dreamy yet realistic portrayal of what happens when the gleam starts to go off a relationship. Sarah Silverman plays Lou's sister, a recovering alcoholic, and had vocal coaching for the film to "speak Canadian". See this movie! Official site. (5/5)


Here's a shot from the Q&A after the screening.  From L to R: Sarah Polley, Luke Kirby, Sarah Silverman, Seth Rogen.


Monday, September 5, 2011

Listening to Shhhhh in the City. WSJ quotes me in recent article

White noise and other soothing sounds, once mainly played on machines to aid nighttime sleep, are increasingly helping make daytime hours more serene.

Sound is classified by its audible frequencies and associated with a color based on where it falls on the spectrum of high to low frequencies. White noise is unique in that it's random and includes all frequencies—akin to how white light has all the colors in the spectrum—and sounds like a hissing noise.

Janet Berkman, a 51-year-old retired project manager, in Toronto prefers the sounds of storms, wind, rain and running water when she is on the subway or trying to read in busy surroundings. Ms. Berkman started listening to the sounds late last year after she realized it helped her focus and concentrate. "Life is getting noisier," she says, and listening to these sounds "kind of empties out my brain."

To make the soothing sounds, developers take computer-generated sounds or sounds recorded in nature and make an audio file that usually is "looped," or repeated. These digital files are then available at the iTunes store and on other websites.

I was interviewed by phone and then "fact-checked" a week later. I use the app by TM Soft called "White Noise".

Click the link to read the whole piece.

Times have changed, but the messages still apply.


Check out these early 20th C productivity posters. Click on the link to see more. There are a few I'd like to post in my home!

It's Monday....what am I reading?

I've got four books on the go right now which is a lot.  But so far it's working for me.

  • What to Eat by Marion Nestle. Nestle is a big-wheel nutritionist and from what I've read so far, sensible, straightforward, and no-nonsense. The book is rougly organzed by food group, starting with fruits and vegetables, then dairy (and non-dairy substitutes) and now I'm on the chapters on meat. The only quibble I have so far is the dietary-cholesterol-raises-blood-cholesterol story, which I'm not sure is still considered a given, at least based on what I've read in Gary Taubes' Good Calories, Bad Calories and the associated research. I would be in interested in Nestle's take on that book. While I'm only a third of the way through Nestle's 600 page book, I'd recommend it. I'm also planning to check out her newest book on feeding pets.
  • Blankets by Craig Thompson.An at times heatbreaking graphic novel about a young man growing up in Wisconsin, his difficulties with his family, faith, and friends. I've been on the hold list at the library for ages for this novel and am reading it slowly, savouring it. Am about two-thirds of the way through this 600 page tome.
  • The Good Guy by Dean Koontz. I picked this up specifically for a Seasonal Reading Challenge task and have never read anything by this author before. It's a crime/thriller novel and I am very much enjoying it. The premise is interesting, if somewhat implausible, but the characters are engaging. I'm listening to this on audio and the production is excellent. 
  • The Distant Hours by Kate Morton. I read Morton's The Forgotten Garden last year and very much enjoyed it. I've had this novel on my Kindle for some time, but just started reading it when I finished the paperback I had in my purse while I was downtown and needed something else to read. Also set in England, Kent to be precise, I'm not very far in but loving it already. I suspect I'll keep my Kindle in my bag while I'm attending TIFF, for all the lineup-and-waits, so this will be a good novel to have on the go over the next couple of weeks.


Friday, September 2, 2011

A road map for Focus.


Babauta blogs at Zen Habits and I find his work unfailingly helpful and thought-provoking. He wrote an eBook called Focus and this illustration summarizes some of his key points for managing distraction (and may print out a copy for my university-aged son.)

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Take a deep breath.....and read!

The Goodreads Seasonal Reading Challenge Summer 2011 has come to a close.  I hit a personal best for these 3-month challenges, reading (or listening to) 61 books and almost 19,000 pages. My list is here (I managed to read the books in bold type.)

Most of the tasks have been posted for the Fall Challenge, and I've made up my reading list. This varies over the challenge as new books come my way or I move some around, but I'm trying to read from my shelves this quarter so that I can continue with my book purge.

I'm starting off this challenge with a few items from the library:


What to Eat by Marion Nestle. I've been wanting to read this ever since it was published, but hadn't gotten around to it until it finally came up on my hold list at the library.  It's 600+ pages of clear, straightforward, no-nonsense writing and I'm enjoying it.

The Idle Parent: Subtitled "Why Less Means More When Raising Kids".  Recommended on the excellent blog Mental Multivitamin, I'm reading this mainly to feel better about our laid-back attitude to parenting, as it's too late to change much at this point.

The Young Man From Atlanta by Horton Foote. I borrowed this Pulitzer Prize winning play from the library for the summer challenge, but didn't get to that task. I'm hoping to find a place for it on my list when all the tasks have been posted.

Three graphic novels that I picked up after browsing at my local library branch. I like this genre because the story is told in fewer words but the artwork is typically engaging and tells a good part of the tale. The first two are by American writers and the third Japanese.

Filthy Rich

Narcoleptic Sunday

Ristorante Paradiso

Audiobooks that I've downloaded from the public library onto my iPod:

The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande. I know about the essence of this book having read an article in the New Yorker (I think), but I'm looking forward to a longer description of this approach to reducing errors in different industries.

The Night Road by Kristin Hannah. I don't know this author and the book was published in March 2011, so I must have read a review of it somewhere and put it on my hold list.

Prisoner's Base (Nero Wolfe mystery) by Rex Stout. I like Nero Wolfe mysteries and they're good, quick listens.The narrator on all the ones I listened to in the past has been excellent.

The Good Guy by Dean Koontz. I chose this for a task where you have to read a book by an author who has a retired hurricane name. You "get out" of reading a second book if the book you read was written in the year the hurricane name was retired, in this case, 2007.


TIFF is coming: my first weekend lineup.

The Toronto International Film Festival, that is.

This year, I'm jumping in with both feet, seeing 5 films with my spouse when he's not at work, and ....ahem... 20 on my own during the day. Because we're "castmembers" at TIFF, we got our order processed early and got 23 out of 25 of our first picks, 1 second pick, and one voucher.  I'm hoping to get another ticket (with my voucher) to Habibi so that Z can come with me to that screening (it's a Saturday morning at 9 am.) It's a recasting of a classical 9th century Arabic tragic love epic, Mad for Layla (Majnoun Layla), set in modern day Gaza.

On the first weekend (Sep 9-11), this is my lineup:

Friday afternoon:  Urbanized - Documentary on Urban Design

Saturday morning: Ides of March - George Clooney and Ryan Gosling star in this polical drama about a presidential primary.

Saturday afternoon: House of Tolerance - A look at a fin-de-siecle brothel in Paris. 

Sunday noon: Take This Waltz - Sarah Polley directs (and wrote) this romantic drama.

My fears about having to run from venue to venue have been allayed as I have at least 45 minutes between any two films, so with my TTC pass and comfy shoes, I'm good to go!


Safety first!


Saw this set of signs on a residential build in my neighborhood. Map on the left shows the directions to the nearest hospital (Sunnybrook).

Very impressed.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Get Lost Wasp! A humane approach to wasp-free living.


We've been enjoying life on our deck this summer, but the wasps have been terrible. I was mentioning this to my Aunt Lillian and she told me that she'd seen a product in a nature store that was supposed to be a natural wasp repellant.

Well, my man and I were wandering through Canadian Tire today and spotted it. It's called "Get Lost Wasp" and is essentially a faux wasp nest in the form of a paper lantern sans light bulb. You hang it 6-8' high and apparently, being territorial creatures, wasps will clear out once they spot it. I hung one from a tree branch close to the deck.

So far, so good, but the real test will be having a meal out here. I'll keep you posted.

[No wasps were killed in the clearing of my deck.]

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

My father and the Ozark Rambler

I've been browsing through a box of old photos from my father's mother. I've been through them many times before, but these caught my eye and I'm trying to follow up on them.

The first is of my father, Franklin Berkman, who would have been six years old.  


The second has some writing on it.  It says "Bunny's girl Gloria Jane and the Ozark Rambler of KMBC Radio on the roof of Pickwick Nov 8/30." Bunny was the name that my grandmother called my father all his life. I have no idea who Gloria Jane is.


I did some online searching and determined that KMBC (now KMBZ) joined CBS in 1928 and moved to the 11th floor of Kansas City, Missouri's Pickwick Hotel in 1930 (Reference)

Union Bus Terminal and Pickwick Hotel Kansas City Missouri

[Image courtesy of]

All I've been able to find out about the Ozark Rambler is from some photos on the site of the Kansas City Public Library's Missouri Valley Special Collections. I haven't received permission to reproduce images here, but you can go to the links to check them out.

Ozark Rambler (second from left) with touring cast of Happy Hollow Gang outside Pickwick Hotel. The Happy Hollow gang performed a radio show that was a precursor to the Beverly Hillbillies. 

Informal group portrait of "Ozark Rambler" (left), Brookings Montgomery, and others.on roof of Pickwick Hotel.

I'm not sure what my father was doing in Kansas City. He was born in Regina Saskatchewan in 1924 and by 1934 he was living in Ottawa. His father David had a fur shop in Regina until 1930 and then owned dress and hat shops in Ottawa where his mother Vera worked. His parents eventually divorced and I never met David, but Vera married Maurice Winer and they were known as Grandma and Grandpa Winer.

[Update Aug 18: A check of my family history records reminded me that one of Vera's younger sisters, Lally, had married a KC man named Conrad Orloff in1929 and so Vera was very likely visiting her.]

Anyway, I'd love to hear from anyone who knows anything about the Ozark Rambler in 1930s Missouri. Or recognizes Gloria Jane.


Monday, August 15, 2011

Soap from the old country (via Sweden)


Z picked up a couple of boxes of olive oil and bay leaf soap when he was in Sweden. It comes from Aleppo and is one of his childhood memories. He also really likes it! We've got enough for months now.

Make LEGO Models, Not War with a LEGO Exclusive VW Camper


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Yeah...that's a bagel on the sign...


Taken at Bagel World Wilson

Old Age: Quality vs. Quantity

Excellent and thought-provoking piece for all of ua with aging parents. Click on the link at the bottom to access the full article. An excerpt:

            Jimmie, my colleague, asked why I needed to yell at my father on my mother's behalf. I explained to her that I always had to yell because my father's hearing was so bad.

            "No, that's not what I meant. Why do you have to say anything at all? So what if he has a cookie?"

            "His sugar level goes through the roof."

            "So what if his sugar level goes through the roof?"

            I was honestly mystified. What was she saying?

            "He's not going to live forever, you know. So what if his sugar level goes up?"

There, she said it. It still took a while for me to understand. She told me the joke about the old guy who went to the doctor and asked what he could do to live longer. The doc said, "Well, you can give up alcohol, smoking, and women. You may not live longer, but it will SEEM longer."

What she was pointing out was my own bias; I assumed the best thing for my father was as much quantity of life as possible, and that I needed to use my authority with him to keep him in line to do the healthier thing.  It suddenly occurred to me that I should be thinking less about his sugar count and more about his quality of life. And, besides, what did I really have control over when it came to my parents' lives? More important, what should I have control over? I started asking questions I didn't like the answer to.

            Like, what was he doing all day.

My beautiful city...


Friday, August 12, 2011

Seven Quick Takes Friday


  1. I was interviewed by a writer from the Wall Street Journal yesterday for a piece on white noise apps. I had blogged about it at some pointWhite Noise iPhone Icon (although I can't seem to find the piece now) and she contacted me by telephone. While white noise machines have been around for a long time for use in helping people sleep, the emergence of apps for smartphones is relatively recent and she's exploring what people do with them. My main uses are to block out noise when I am trying to read (in a waiting room, on the subway, etc.) or to help me sleep when I'm in a noisy environment like a plane or train. The app I use is White Noise and it's available from the App Store on iTunes.
  2. I dropped by the Oakwood branch of the Toronto Public Library for the first time this week.Michael was at a trombone lesson nearby and it offered comfy chairs in a lovely light-filled space. Check out the door handles!
  3. We've been loving our new grill! I can't believe how much more I am willing to cook in the summer when it does't involve heating up the house. We've made some great steaks, chicken, lots of grilled veggies with onion and mushrooms, and tonight we've got some wild salmon that I think I'll do in foil. Corn is in season, so I've also been enjoying that, although I haven't grilled any yet. I'm going to try that tonight using the advice from the National Post, which is to just shuck it, brush the cobs lightly with oil and pop it directly on the grill. Easy peasy. 
  4. A couple of pieces from Zen Habits have really struck me this week. The first is a guest post by Chris of Zen to Fitness called Four Simple Fitness Fundamentals in which he encourages people to focus on the basics of living a fit life before getting all fancy. These include (1) using your bodyweight (squats, pushups); (2) not hyperfocussing on cardio; (3) walk and stretch every day; and (4) live an invigorating life.

    The second piece, written by Leo Babauta (the host of Zen Habits) is The Amazing Power of Being Present. So many people have monkey-brain these days, and spend a lot of time worrying about what they SHOULD be doing instead of focussing on what they ARE doing. There is definitely a lesson for me here, and practicing this, along with using the brain dump(pdf) recommended in Getting Things Done, are probably crucial to moving forward the million projects I have spinning around in my head.
    I'm looking orward to living an invigorating life when the temperature drops a bit!

  5. I just discovered Val McDermid, a writer of rather gory police procedurals set in England. I've read the first two Tony Hill and Carol Jordan mysteries namely The Mermaids Singing and Wire In The Blood. Very gory. But hard to put down. I put them down when I needed a break from the gore and then picked them back up again. 
  6. Another discovery this week:  we have free on-demand stuff with our cable* service. Maybe it's a new thing, but there are quite a few decent movies and a bunch of series that we can get. I watched the HBO mini-series Mildred Pierce earlier this week and it was fantastic! Starring Kate Winslet and Guy Pearce, it is apparently a more accurate portrayal of the James M. Cain novel than the 1945 film starring Joan Crawford. I'm now catching up on Season 3 of Nurse Jackie that I somehow completely missed. Makes ironing pass quickly!
    *[Edited to correct: we don't have cable per se. We have IPTV or internet television. Glorious HD over a telephone wire.]  
  7. My current reads are:
    Book:  Bech: A Book by John Updike. I haven't read any of the Bech novels, so am looking forward to this one.
    Audio: Apple Turnover Murder by Joanne Fluke. Slightly better than I was expecting, plus bonus recipes for baked goods.
    Kindle: Alice Adams by Booth Tarkington. Haven't actually started this yet, but it's on my Goodreads list to finish by the end of August. 

Pop on over to Conversion Diary for more 7 Quick Takes! 

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Freakonomics » Dutch Subway Slide: An Exercise in Efficiency


Having a little fun with their subway system, Utrect has installed a "transit accelerator" (aka "slide") in one of their stations. Makes that trip down the stairs a little quicker and a lot more exciting!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Breaking through genealogical walls: my great-grandfather Walter Gear.

I've had very little sleep the past couple of nights. Idly searching through, I came upon some information that may have broken through a genealogical brick wall in an unexpected way, and it's been keepig me at the computer until the wee hours of the morning.

My grandfather, Walter Gear, was a British Home Child. He emigrated to Canada with a group of children under the auspices of Miss Annie McPherson. He left Liverpool on September 7, 1871 at age 14 and sailed on the SS Prussian (Source.)  They arrived in Quebec City on the 17th of September and were taken by train to Belleville where there was a distribution home for such children. I knew nothing about his time over the next 16 years but in May 2011, I requested his file from Barnardo's in England and there is a 6-8 month waiting period to receive any records they have about his birth family and the reasons why he was sent to Canada. 

Skipping forward in time:

There is also an arrival for a W Gear in 1887.  The passenger list for the SS Lake Ontario, leaving Bristol, England on October 6, 1887 and arriving in Quebec on Oct 17th shows a group of nine men, identified as Cattlemen. This leads me to believe that Walter may have returned to England at some point and then come back to Canada, although I have not been able to find his name on a passenger list corresponding to his return trip.

On the 12th of October 1899, Walter marries my grandmother Janet Forbes Morren (Source: Calgary Tribune). He and Janet have three children in Calgary: William (1900, my grandfather), Barbara (1903), and Mary (1905). On William's birth certificate, Walter's occupation is listed as "Drayman", which would seem to accord with the occupation of cattleman on the 1887 passenger list. 

In the 1911 Census of Canada, Walter is living in Calgary at a lumber yard, working as a foreman in a stable. He has a roomer, George Dunkby. He is working 70 hours per week and earned $720 the previous year.Janet and the children are not living with him.That is tale for another post.

I had wondered about the years between his first trip over as a Home Child at age 14, and his second as a cattleman at age 30. It is my understanding that the Home Children would have been in service until age 18 or so, which suggests that there was a period of a dozen years when he would have been on his own.

Which brings me to my discovery. 

I found a marriage listed for a Walter Gear to an Elizabeth Miller in Sophiasburgh (now Picton, Ontario) on February 28, 1878. The registration lists Walter as 24 and Miss MIller as 18. 

Further searches yielded a birth (and death) certificate for a still born female child two years later in April 1880 and a daughter Lewella (later known as Ella) born in 1884. I am unable to locate either Walter or Elizabeth (now called Louisa) in the 1891 census, but in 1901, Louisa and Ella are living with Louisa's mother Margaret, now widowed, and her brother Lewis MIller, a farmer, in Picton. Louisa is listed as married, but there is no husband in the household.

So the timeline looks like this:

1857 - Walter Gear born in England

1871 - Walter arrives in Ontario with group of home children (age 14)

1878 - Walter marries Elizabeth (age 24, per marriage cert)

1880, 1884 - Daughters born.  Only second one (Lewella) survives

18?? - Walter returns to England. His sister Alice gets married in 1886. Is it possible that he returned for that?

1887 - Walter returns to Canada as a cattleman, destined for Calgary.

1899 - Walter marrries Janet Morren, my grandmother, and has three children with her in Calgary.

1901 - Eliabeth is living with her mother, brother, and daughter in Picton, Ontario.

1911 - Walter living alone in Calgary, working as a teamster.

There is more. The certicate of Walter's first marriage lists his parenta as Edward and Sarah Gear, in England.  I was able to track down his birth record in East Grinstead, Sussex and find out about his birth family.  But I'll leave the details for another post.  Like many home children, the family appears to have been quite destitute. When Walter left at age 14, he was the oldest of 5 children.  His father died in 1867 when Walter was 10, and so choosing to come to Canada might have been the only way out for him. In 1871, the year Walter leaves, the family is living with their uncle Thomas Gear who is a carter. In 1881, his mother is working as a pew opener in a mission church. 

Walter travels back and forth between Canada and England a couple more times in the early 20th century and dies in Hamilton, Ontario in 1922.

The information that I've collected is somewhat circumstantial.  Could there be two different Walter Gear's with the same approximate birth year who both emigrated to Canada? I have some research trips planned to the public library and Ontario Archives to try to dig up some more. 

And it's not just Americans...


I live a block away from a SB outlet. Spend a lot of time narrowly avoiding bumping into the illegal parkers, jay-walkers, and spaced-out coffee drinkers, not to mention the litter. Simply cannot understand the allure when excellent coffee is your own home.

(If you've never been introduced to Post Secrets, check out the link.)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Moleskine Reporter Bag


My sweetie got me this as a belated birthday present. Am thrilled! Will become my go-to bag, I'm sure.

The Simple Woman's Daybook - Black Dog Edition


FOR TODAY, July 26th, 2011...

Outside my window... .'s grey, but cool. The oppressive heat and humidity of the past weeks seems to be subsiding and I hope to spend more time outside.

I am thinking...

Churchill's black dog has returned.  I've had a couple of periods of depression over the past ten years and I seem to be in the middle of another. For this reason, I have backed out of the trip to Stockholm that Z and I were planning and he will go alone, to be with his family, on the anniversary of his mother's death. This was not easy for me to do, and I know that it was a significant disappointment to him, but the thought of being away from home for 10 days was simply overwhelming. I need to make some calls and get some advice and counsel. Adjust my meds. More exercise. Keep off alcohol (as I've been doing for a few weeks now) and improve my diet.


I am thankful...

for my supportive family, for a husband who understands as best he can, for a sense that my life is valuable.


In the kitchen...

...I made Pioneer Woman's delicious meat loaf last night, with potatoes and carrots in the roasting pan. Michael made a meatloaf sandwich for his lunch today, and we had a discussion about why I'd never made meat loaf when he was younger, and how he probably would't have liked it back then!


I am wearing... pyjamas. 'Nuff said.

I am creating...

...not a lot these days. Creative projects have fallen by the wayside.


I am going... take a long walk with Wilson at Sherwood Park today, in the off-leash area.


I am wondering...

...if I will ever lose the habit of putting two spaces after a period when I'm typing. Apparetly, it REALLY annoys some people.


I am reading...

...The Untold Story by Monica Ali.  It's a kind of thought-experiment, wherein the author imagines an alternate world where Princess Diana did not die but rather escapes anonymously to the American Midwest and assumes another identity. Riveting! I've loved Ali's previous novels and this one is no exeption. I'm also listening to an audiobook by Elizabeth Peters called Devil-May-Care.  A young woman housesits a haunted mansion belonging to her elderly aunt.  I"ve read a couple of Peter's Egyptian mysteries, and this one seems enjoyable so far.


I am hoping...

I am hopeful.


I am looking forward to...

...checking things off my to-do list.


I am hearing...

...the hum of the air conditioner and the tapping of a mason working on a driveway down the street.


Around the house...

 ...I have  few projects on the go. I need to choose a paint colour for the exterior of our stucco and wood trim house and I have some Behr samples to try out.  I need to get a roof repair person in to work on our leaky skylight. And the decluttering continues.


I am pondering... to move forward.


One of my favorite things...

...eating a popsicle while reading a book.


A few plans for the rest of the week:

Getting Michael through his summer school exam (Physics)
Getting Z off on his trip to Stockholm
Getting appointments with my doctor and other helpers.


Here is picture for thought I am sharing...

The world lost the great painter Lucian Freud this week.
Requiescat in pacem.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

From Love and Trash - Dumpster Find of the Week: (living) onions!

I love the idea of reclaiming trash, and this is from one of my favorite blogs, Love and Trash. While the writer found the "dead" onions at her food co-op, I can usually score some right at home.

I love onions. I love ‘em raw, and I love ‘em cooked, so much so that I have one tattooed on my leg. Mmmm. Full of vitamins and super powers, I say. And this e-mail was about dumpster diving some of that juicy yellow, white, and green gold.

This week’s dumpster find is from a reader from… well, she didn’t actually say. What she did have to say was this:

“The co-op is usually a bastion of reduce reuse recycle but I still occasionally, as a volunteer, find myself breaking down boxes for the recycle dumpster or throwing an odd bit of trash away. Possibly by accident it was that I found an unopened bag of what looked to be dead onions. They were the expensive organic kind.”

“Experiments I have done with scallions have shown that onions are very hardy. I have found that even the deadest-looking onions can revive when put back in dirt. It’s like they’re magical! See what I mean? The attached photo shows that all the onions in the bag came back to life within a week of planting. Hooray! ”

“Oh and if it’s not obvious what I will do with my find, I will harvest and eat them!”

Good call. Seems to me the only thing better than getting food out of the dumpster is getting a plant or a plant start that will continue to feed you long after the dumpsters have gone. I’ve never planted the onions I’ve dumpstered (need to get on that someday, then again it all depends on the time of year when you find ‘em), but I have found tulip bulbs and more spice and herb plants (usually basil) than I could carry home.


I have to admit that it never occurred to me to actually PLANT the onions that sprout in my cupboard. I'll let you know how it goes, 'cos with this hot weather, I'll be getting some sprouts soon! Potatoes too... apparently one eye is all you need to start a plant.

No more trashing my old produce. At least, not during the growing season. Click on the link above for more.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Books on the road

As many of you know, I'm a huge library fan and make use of the wonderful Toronto Public Library's excellent hold system for most of my reading needs.  I don't, however, like to take library books with me when I travel, and an upcoming ten-day jaunt to Stockholm has me starting to think about what I'll take with me.

I scanned my Summer Reading Challenge reading list for potential candidates...books that either I own or can buy used, and that would be enjoyable to read while travelling.  I already have a few on my Kindle:

  1. A Connecticul Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain (I'm about a third of the way in to this).
  2. Alice Adams by Booth Tarkington
  3. The Distant Hours by Kate Morton (I don't currently have this assigned to a Challenge Task)

Other books that I had on hold at the library that I thought would be suitable are:

  1. Ann of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery.  I decided to reread this during the recent Royal Visit, which included a stop at Green Gables in PEI.
  2. Friend of the Devil by Peter Robinson.  It's the next up (for me) in the Inspector Banks series.
  3. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry in Values by Robert Pirsig.  I read this long ago as a teen, but it's the group read for the challenge and I'd love to give it another read.

I managed to find these at The Handy Book Exchange, my local used bookstore just around the corner on Avenue Road.  (They're dog friendly which means I can pop in for a look when I'm walking Wilson, and they give him treats while I'm there.)  I'll take off the library holds on these three and plan to leave them in Sweden with a BookCrossing sticker once I've finished them.

There are also a few books that I own that I'll consider taking with me:

  1. Trader by Charles de Lint.  I've never read any of his work before, and I picked this up some time ago at Value Village. I'm becoming more open to the fantasy genre so we'll see how this goes.
  2. Open Secrets by Alice Munroe.  Another one that I read some time ago and would like to re-read, and then give away.

Six paperbacks and a Kindle?  Maybe that's excessive.  Maybe I'll have already devoured one or more of these before I go.  Either way, I feel prepared!


Seven Quick Takes Friday: Iris Murdoch Edition.


  1. It's the late Iris Murdoch's 92nd birthday, and I happen to be reading her novel The Nice and The Good.  First published in 1968, it's a tale of a complex household in Dorset that includes a married couple (Octavian and Kate), their two children, an elderly uncle, a divorced friend of the wife whose ex-husband works for Octavian and her twins, a widow (friend of Kate) and her son, a housekeeper, a refugee scholar who lives in a cottage on the property, a cat and a dog.  Also in the cast of characters is a friend of Octavians who is in love with Kate, said friend's girlfriend who he is trying to break up with, his manservant, and an ex-lover of the divorced friend. There is also a suicide (murder?) victim who works for Octavian. I had to make a little cheat sheet about 50 pages in to the novel to keep track of who everyone is.  But it's a good read and I'm about halfway through.
  2. Our 18-year-old nephew, Marc, from France has been here for three weeks.  He did two weeks of English language lessons at a terrific school here in Toronto, had done the requisite trip to Niagara Falls, spent a weekend at our cottage, and has hung out with our boys in the evenings when they're at home.  He's really easy-going and has been a pleasure to host.This weekend will include the new Harry Potter movie and a day at Canada's Wonderland with Alex.  He heads home on Tuesday with (I hope) great memories.  We've been encouraging him to consider University of Waterloo for graduate studies (he's in Computer Engineering) and I know he'd love to return to Canada at some point. (Photo is Marc and Z at....guess where?)
  3. We've finally hired a cleaner to deal with our house as I have simply not been up to the task. The "deep" clean was thie past Monday and apparently we had a remarkable amount of dust throughout our house (she feigns surprise). Gleaming Glenn will be back each Monday to keep us sparkling and it will let me focus on decluttering.  
  4. Z was a witness before the CRTC earlier this week at the Usage Based Billing (UBB) consultation.  He'll be back next week for more. It brings back my old days at Bell when I was involved in a number of regulatory proceedings, responding to interrogatories and preparing witness testimony and backup. I loved that work and have enjoyed discussing the current hearings. I've been following the twitter feed with much interest (#ubb for any geeks out there.) We're such romantics!
  5. I've started a family history wiki, private to family members at the moment, where I am trying to compile data, photos, stories, etc about my ancestors.  If you're in my family and would like an invite, drop me a line. It's still in a fairly preliminary stage and it's my first time creating a wiki (I'm using the free version of PBworks) but I think it has great potential to become a repository of multiple types of information and a way to pass on the family history after I'm gone.
  6. Michael is taking Grade 11 Physics at summer school to free up a period in his schedule next year to permit more practice time.  He's half-way through the course and it's going very well. A tiring exercise (five days a week, 8:45-3:30), he gets a full year credit in less than a month and, frankly, keeps him occupied through the summer.  The teacher is excellent and he seems very focussed on doing a great job. He'll have three weeks break, and then two weeks of music camp to top off his summer, a week of jazz with his trombone and a week of band/classical with his tuba.
  7. One of the big results of our visit from Gleaming Glenn was his tidying of the boys rooms. Michael was so happy, that he did a whole bunch of additional decluttering and has decided to move all his instruments upstairs, along with the digital piano. He asked for a smaller desk so that this could be accomodated, and we found one at Value Village for $14.99 (less 20% student discount):
    It is basically particleboard with an ugly faux wood-grain base.  Two cans of RustOleum Universal spray paint (black) yielded this:
    Another few hours to cure and it'll grace his room.

Read more Quick Takes over at Conversion Diary.