Friday, January 30, 2015

Churchill Anniversary

Today is the 50th Anniversary of Winston Churchill's State Funeral.

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The following historical video clip is interesting too...from 1952 when Churchill joined members of the royal family on a fishing expedition at Balmoral in the Scottish highlands.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Let's Go Skiing

Candide Thovex is a 32-year old French professional skier who delights in the bumps, twists, turns and leaps of extreme skiing. He's on his skies right now, so hang on tight and make sure you watch right to the end.

If your interest has been tweaked, click on Candide Thovex to go to his Instagram page where there are many amazing photos and short videos.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015


Canadian ePassport Cover (2013).JPG

I have just finished the process of renewing my Canadian passport and have dropped off my old one with the application and photos at the Service Canada Centre. Now there's a 5-week wait that ensures that I'll be staying in Canada until the new one arrives. At least the new one will not have to be renewed for 10 years.

Just by chance, passports were a topic on my Twitter feed this week. The new Canadian passport has a few unique features, one of which are pages that come to life under black light. 

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How's that for spectacular!!

Iconic images from Canada's history are transformed on every page. 

Laura Pedersen/National Post

Laura Pedersen/National Post

Laura Pedersen/National Post

The Norwegians had a competition to choose their passport design in which a similar UV technology is employed.

Nordic cool: Oslo design studio Neue have won a competition to create a new passport and ID concept for Norway.

When shone under a UV light the Northern Lights become visible on the pages.

The Finns on the other hand have a passport that becomes a flip book for entertaining bored travelers in airport waiting areas.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Get to Know Laureen Harper

Most Canadians will know that Prime Minister Stephen Harper's other half is Laureen Harper and some of us may even know that she loves riding her motorcycle, which might be a clue to the fact that she's not your usual head-of-state spouse.

And did you know that the Prime Minister's Office has a YouTube channel? It's called "24 Seven". Apparently this is the Government's way to improve the PM's image and he features on all of the videos.

This week's video features the much-more-interesting Laureen. Take a look:

It's unfortunate that there seemed to be such a time constraint. Unlike all the politicians that she lives with or near in Ottawa, her answers to the 24 questions were mostly one-word and we (I) would like to have heard a bit more. Also, I think an inside (and also an outside in the summer) tour of 24 Sussex Dr. would be well-received by all Canadians, who, afterall, have contributed through taxes to the refurbishment, decorating and on-going maintenance of the Prime Minister's Residence, but are never invited to go inside.

Thursday, January 22, 2015


Are you familiar with this T.S. Eliot quote: "We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time."? That is the thought that came to me as I was reading Transatlantic, by Colum McCann.


Taking place on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean between  1845 and 2011, the story follows the lives of 4 succeeding generations of women, though not in succession, but rather in a somewhat complicated and overlapping cycle of their stories. It is a structure that reminds me of David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas.

Here is the blurb from McCann's website:

Newfoundland, 1919. Two aviators—Jack Alcock and Arthur Brown—set course for Ireland as they attempt the first nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean, placing their trust in a modified bomber to heal the wounds of the Great War.

Dublin, 1845 and ’46. On an international lecture tour in support of his subversive autobiography, Frederick Douglass finds the Irish people sympathetic to the abolitionist cause—despite the fact that, as famine ravages the countryside, the poor suffer from hardships that are astonishing even to an American slave.

New York, 1998. Leaving behind a young wife and newborn child, Senator George Mitchell departs for Belfast, where it has fallen to him, the son of an Irish-American father and a Lebanese mother, to shepherd Northern Ireland’s notoriously bitter and volatile peace talks to an uncertain conclusion.

These three iconic crossings are connected by a series of remarkable women whose personal stories are caught up in the swells of history. Beginning with Irish housemaid Lily Duggan, who crosses paths with Frederick Douglass, the novel follows her daughter and granddaughter, Emily and Lottie, and culminates in the present-day story of Hannah Carson, in whom all the hopes and failures of previous generations live on. 

From the loughs of Ireland to the flatlands of Missouri and the windswept coast of Newfoundland, their journeys mirror the progress and shape of history. They each learn that even the most unassuming moments of grace have a way of rippling through time, space, and memory.

While the characters move back and forth across the ocean, the story flows back and forth through time. The narrator's voice changes with each chapter and I found myself a bit confused (not far to go, I know!) in the first third of the novel. But then it all started to fit together and although I was flipping back and forth through the pages to remind myself of what had gone on before, I found the story completely absorbing and the author's use of language wonderfully descriptive and emotional.

We can be so affected and maybe even influenced by others that we meet in life. It is interesting to reflect on our own lives and families and think about our connections to the past. As present-day Hannah says beautifully near the end of the novel,

"The tunnels of our lives connect, coming to daylight at the oddest moments, and then plunge us into the dark again. We return to the lives of those who have gone before us, a perplexing möbius strip until we come home, eventually to ourselves."

Transatlantic is my first Colum McCann book. I look forward to catching up with his other works.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Playing the Piano at St. Pancras Station

Not just a run-of-the-mill musician, Henri John Pierre Herbert is a London England-based pianist, specializing in boogie. He has also played the public piano at Charles de Gaulle airport, thrilling many travelers there. Not to mention is professional career. 

Michael, a homeless man play the piano at St. Pancras everyday. He says it helps him avoid many of the pitfalls of being homeless.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Isle of Skye

Don sent this to me and I thought it was pretty amazing what some people do in their spare time! This is Danny Macaskill , a Scottish trials cyclist from Dunvegan on the Isle of Skye. Watch on a full screen.

Macaskill obviously has a pretty awesome team helping him too. And a drone. The next video is also amazing and at the end there are some links to specific parts of the above video, eg. doing the front flip and the gap.

Ok....I can't resist showing you the filming of the Gap. For the rest, you're on your own. There are a lot more to watch. It's like eating potato chips - hard to stop after the first one.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Wind Power

In Muskoka, and probably elsewhere too, special trees have spring up in the last few years. From a distance they look like extremely tall healthy conifers. The truth is that they are camouflaged communication towers.

Bell plans to construct seven of the disguised towers, which look like large trees.  Construction will begin in May.

In the spring of 2014 a company in France introduced a tree that generates wind power. 36 feet tall and 26 feet in diameter, they have 72 artificial leaves. Each leaf is a small turbine that rotates in a vertical position. Since the turbines are quite light, they will spin even in a gentle breeze. Each "tree" can generate 3.1 kilowatts of power which seems small until you consider that they will be working most days when the larger fan-type turbines are often not working when there is insufficient wind. 

Although each Wind Tree costs about US$36,500, the supporters of the project claim that they will pay for themselves within a couple years. The trees, which are both quiet and sculptural will be placed in urban areas, possibly among other trees. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Apology re Heck Cattle

Unfortunately we couldn't watch that video about Heck cows yesterday. The cattle were developed through genetic maneuvering by the Germans in the 1920's and 30's with the thought of recreating ancient aurochs, wild bovine-like animals that were very aggressive and self-sufficient.

Since then farmers and zoos here and there have been housing these animals, which are fortunately not roaming wild all over Europe as was the original intention. A farmer in Devon, UK had to cull part of his herd recently when the animals proved so vicious that the farmer no longer felt safe in his own fields. 20 animals put down. Sad.

Heck Cattle

This story was in the news yesterday. It's a bit sad, since animals, through no fault of their own, lost their lives. Imagine perpetuating such horror through the last 70 years!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Hang Massive

Have you heard of this group Hang Massive? They have created an unique musical sound. Here's info from their own website:

Hang Massive is a breakthrough act in the expanding world of hang based musicians. The Hang is a new instrument handmade in Switzerland since the year 2000. Only a small number of instruments have been made and for now they are very rare. With almost 10 million views on YouTube, an amazing new live album and loads of exiting new projects on the go, Hang Massive have established themselves as the worlds leading hang duo and promise to deliver many original and unique works in the future.

Danny Cudd and Markus Offbeat have been playing together as a duo since the summer of 2010 and since then have performed all over the world. They have gained recognition globally, captivating their audiences with their unique and entertaining performances. Hang Massive are now on a Global tour and performing at many interesting and varied venues and events. Their unique style of music and more recent fusion with electronic production has further set Hang Massive into a world and genre of their own.

This video is one of many. They also have CDs for sale.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

If I Fall, If I Die - The Afterword Reading Society - Part 2

If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie

The boy stepped Outside, and he did not die.

“He was not riddled with arrows, his hair did not spring into flame, and his breath did not crush his lungs like spent grocery bags. His eyeballs did not sizzle in their sockets, and his heart’s pistons did not seize. No barbarian lopped his head into a blood-soggy wicker basket, and no glinting ninja stars were zinged into his throat.

Actually, incredibly: nothing happened—no immolation, no blood-bath, no spontaneous asphyxiation, no tide of shivery terror crashing upon the shore of his heart—not even a trace of his mother’s Black Lagoon in his breath.”

How's that for a couple of stunning opening paragraphs. The rest of the book continues in the same vein. Michael Christie has a real ability with language and his characters are well-developed and interesting.

The story is hard to put down. Will, the young son of an agoraphobic mom does not remember ever leaving his house (Inside). The day comes, though, when he does venture Outside (capitals intentional) and his life takes on a new complexity in which he completely immerses himself. Set in present-day Thunder Bay, the story touches on the decline of the grain elevators, problems faced by aboriginal families and individuals, greed, death and alcoholism, as well as mental illness. At the same time we are held aloft by adventure, discovery, freedom, love and friendship.  Christie, a former skateboarder, uses that sport in the book with words that themselves leap off the page. His creativity is beyond exciting!

If I Fall, If I Die was an offering of the Afterword Reading Society that I blogged about on Dec. 26 . The book arrived in the mail on Dec. 23 and I finished it on Dec. 28. It is undoubtedly one of the better books I read this year and I am sure that Michael Christie will soon be a Can-Lit favourite.

Part of the agreement with the Afterword Reading Society was to answer a questionnaire, to be returned by January 13. Here it is, with my answers:

If I Fall, If I Die, Michael Christie
Thank-you so much for sending me this book. It was a wonderful page-turner – I had trouble putting it down. Michael Christie is sure to soon become a familiar name in the Canadian literary world. Who ever thought that a 70-ish year old woman (me) would enjoy a book in which skateboarding plays a major role!

Rate this book with a score between 0 and 100.         98

I read If I Fall, If I Die in _16___sittings.        
 I’m not sure how meaningful this information is. Some of my sittings were 15 min. One was as long as 40 min. and the rest of them fell in between. It took a total of 6 hrs and 45 minutes from start to finish.

What was better: the beginning or the ending?         
Why does one have to be better than the other? For me, the whole is equal to the sum of its parts. Since I have to choose, though, I will pick the ending. By then I was familiar with the characters and the writing style of the author whereas, at the beginning, there was a bit of brainwork involved in sorting out what exactly was happening in a very odd Inside/Outside. On the beginning side, though, there’s the adventure just starting and the excitement of discovery. At the end, it was good to find out how things turned out and I enjoyed a bit of a surprise but once the book ended it was sad to say good-bye to characters I had grown to love. Oh heck, I can’t decide.  

Who was your favourite character?
I loved Will, the teenage protagonist. I admired his courage, his curiosity, his imagination, his ingenuity, his loyalty, his empathy and his general boyishness. What wasn’t there to like!

Sum up this book in a Tweet (140 characters)            
If I Fall, If I Die: brilliant Canadian adventure through boyhood, mental illness, fear and friendship, in language that soars. Read it!

If you like this book, you’ll like (name another book). Why?
1.      The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon, another wonderful read about boyhood, family and the triumph of the human spirit.

2.      Nathan Filer’s Where the Moon Isn’t , a stunning recent novel, told in the voice of a young man, that takes us on a journey through schizophrenia,

What’s a question you have for Michael?    

1.      Congratulations on a wonderful novel! What I especially loved about If I Fall, If I Die is the rich and creative language and imagery used. On the very first page, the opening sentences really grabbed me, for example: “He was not riddled with arrows, his hair did not spring into flame, and his breath did not crush his lungs like spent grocery bags.” And “The day’s bronzy light, shredded by a copse of birch, tossed a billion luminous knife blades onto the front lawn.” The description of the taste of (bad) coffee as “cheap hot chocolate mixed with the moldy soil of a neglected houseplant” had me smiling and nodding in agreement. The language used by Titus is particularly interesting and creative (“You two should congeal together. Especially if you insist on perpetuating more ventures to this jurisdiction.”)  I wondered if your immersion in the skateboard culture has influenced or enhanced your use of language in any way?

2.      I love the compassionate way in which you dealt with mental illness in If I Fall, If I Die. It is wonderful to think that a boy who grows up with a mother who is so mentally damaged can be so understanding and can himself grow up to his full potential, thanks to the love that his mother has been able to embrace him with. Is this the real fiction in the novel? Or are there really possibilities for an eventual normal life for kids with parents living with the challenges of mental illness?

3.      Clear your throat, Michael Christie! Are you ready for the many interview requests, readings and book signings that will soon be coming your way?

Here's a video of an interview with Michael Christie discussing his 2011 short story collection, The Beggar's Garden, which was long-listed for the 2011 Giller Prize. I have put it on my read-soon list.