Thursday, April 27, 2017

Newspaper Art

Some of us still read newspapers delivered to our doors in the morning - one of the pleasures of a leisurely morning (for retired people) with coffee at our house, for sure.

But what to do with all the leftover papers. Can they be reused instead of recycled?

Here's one idea.

Chie Hitotsuyama is a Japanese sculptor who was inspired by her grandfather's paper mill where paper was rolled to make string. She uses discarded newspapers,  rolls them by hand and uses these strings to create life-like animals.

In case you feel inspired and you have some old newspapers and some time on your hands, here's a DIY video to help get you started. It might be a good craft project for kids at a loose end too.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Bill FitzGibbons


The image of this Birmingham Alabama underpass caught my eye recently, so I looked up the person responsible and found Bill FitzGibbons, an US sculptor who has created numerous public art works around the world. Many of them are light sculptures, which I love.

  • San Antonio Texas, the Bank of America Building

Kinetic Skyline
  • Seattle, Washington
    Chinook Lights

  • Reykjavik, Iceland
    Öndvegissúlur, Poem of Light

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Yvonne Coomber

Image result for yvonne coomber

I had never heard of Yvonne Coomber but I recently discovered her artwork. Here's a short video about this UK artist who finds inspiration in the Devon landscape near where she lives.

Ms. Coomber has an online shop where she sells original artwork as well as prints and printed canvases, greeting cards, textiles and other home furnishings. 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Save Your Toilet Paper Rolls

Toilet paper rolls can be used for art projects. Witness these Anastassia Elias works. She's a Paris-based artist who creates miniature paper sculptures inside toilet paper rolls.

To see more, visit her here.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Angel Catbird

Not too long ago I proclaimed myself inadequate to review a novel by Margaret Atwood. I haven't changed my mind, but I just read her Angel Catbird as part of a series of reading graphic novels and since I doubt whether people would consider it serious "literature", decided to devote this blog post to it.

Angel Catbird

Most of the Margaret Atwood hype at the moment concerns the airing of a 10-part series of The Handmaid's Tale on TV that Hulu has produced and that will be seen in Canada on Crave TV and Bravo, starting April 30, four days after the US showing on Hulu. This marvellous and thought-provoking novel has been a film, a dramatic radio show, an audiobook, a stage show, even an opera. All beloved by many, including me. 

I suspect most of Margaret Atwood's multitudinous fans, serious literature-lovers all, will look at or page through Angel Catbird, a graphic novel (comic book) and just say, "Pffft....what on earth is she thinking!" They will dismiss it as a waste of their time. Does that mean that Atwood wasted her valuable time in coming out with it? I don't think so.

We need to remember that Ms. Atwood is a creative person. She seems to have one of those minds that loves to grab an idea out of thin air, examine it closely and put it to use. In the case of Angel Catbird, inspired by the comics that many of us devoured growing up, she reconciles her conflicting interests in birds and cats, species often at odds with one another.

In Angel Catbird Ms. Atwood tackles this conundrum of cats and birds by having a human, a young man, actually morph into a triple entity, part-human/part-owl/part-cat. He becomes a sort of superhero when the part-cat community needs to save itself from an evil part-human/part-rat. 

Ok, the story is a fantasy. To generalize, isn't fiction mostly fantasy? One review I read said there's little in the way of character development. Oh for heaven's sake, get off your high horse and just enjoy a bit of fun. I read this in a short space of time and laughed several times over some of the witty remarks. Punsters will definitely get a giggle. A reader can definitely sense the fun Margaret Atwood had in creating Angel Catbird and the quirky characters that inhabit it.

Johnnie Christmas' drawings were wonderful, fully descriptive of the characters and alive with action. The coloration, by Tamra Bonvillain, was equally wonderful, adding a layer of realism to the content. The pages reminded me of the great quality of the Amulet series of graphic books by Kazu Kibuishi that our 10-year old grandson enjoys so much. Have a look at this random page from Angel Catbird.

In the introduction Atwood explains her reasons for writing Angel Catbird, mentioning that she has never met her co-conspirators in person, so the book is even more remarkable for that reason alone. See the Cat-Bird Math, Part 1 at the bottom of the page? That is one of many little blurbs throughout the book with tips for cat/bird safety, environmental tidbits and general information. The book is kid-friendly, although I can't see anywhere that it's considered "juvenile fiction". In my opinion, good juvie fiction is adult-friendly and vice versa, so I think this book may well be a birthday present for a cat-appreciating granddaughter soon to turn 10. 

At the back of the book, for readers interested in the process, there are sketches by Johnnie Christmas, explaining how he came up with the characters and there are two pages where Tamra Bonvillain describes how she colours the drawings. Pretty interesting even for non-artistic types like me. 

I thought the book was terrific! I've been blown away once again by the creative mind of Margaret Atwood. Sometimes as we grow older (though not suggesting that she's getting older) we fall into doing what comes easily, taking shortcuts and some of us tend not to enjoy embracing new ideas. Not Atwood. She defies the stats. 

There is already a Catbird, Volume 2 with Volume 3 also in the queueAngel Catbird is gaining fans. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

April in Paris: Paris Plage

By patrick janicek - PLAGE DE SABLE, CC BY 2.0,
By Peter Haas /, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Regular visitors to Some Favourite Things might remember that in the past I've mentioned that whimsical Parisian idea of turning a normally very busy roadway along the Seine not far from the Louvre into a temporary beach, complete with sand and palm trees during July and August. Of course, during the hot Paris summer city-dwellers flock en masse to the coasts so the only people you would be likely to encounter on the plage would be other tourists and students - everybody else either away or working.

Every year since it started about 15 years ago there have been new features added - a shuttle ferry across to the plage on the autre rive, a floating swimming pool, even another beach area in the northeast area of the city.

One of the things I hadn't realized about Paris-Plages is that every year the sand, thousands of tonnes of it, was trucked in from the northern beaches of Normandy by the construction company which donated it. This rather large contribution to Paris sparked concerns about the possibility of favouritism at city council. 

In addition, it has recently been noticed that this construction company, LafargeHolcim, a huge Franco-Swiss company with multi-national interests, has recently come to an agreement with the armed groups in Syria regarding its cement works there, allowing them to stay in production. 

Then, to top it off, the company, which has cement production sites and operations in three of the states bordering Mexico, is bidding with the US government to build the US-Mexico wall for Trump. 

The Paris municipal government (Mairie) is unhappy with these activities of Lafarge and has decided to end the sand part of the beach in favour of opening the area for multi-purpose recreational use over a slightly longer time period of spring and summer. Traffic has already been halted for spring 2017 and below is a recent (early April) photo of the new look.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Wasp Nest Update

Last fall I mentioned that we had a wasp nest high up in one of our back yard trees.

I never saw any wasps buzzing around, so hopefully they had moved on to other quarters by the time winter storms hit.

Over the past few weeks there have been incredible winds and driving rains so I wasn't surprised when I woke up yesterday morning to see the nest lying on the ground. I went out and grabbed it with a rake before it could blow away. 

Pretty amazing, isn't it!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Happy International Carrot Day!

International Carrot Day, April 4, began in 2003 and is celebrated by carrot-lovers mainly in Australia, France, Italy, Japan, Russia, Sweden and the UK as well as by equines around the world. People enjoy wearing slightly odd orange costumes and, because carrots are so good for us with lots of beta carotene and fibre, making carrotty foods such carrot cake, carrot muffins, carrot slaw etc. 

Here's a recipe from Smitten Kitchen for what is either muffins or cupcakes - your choice.

Carrot Tahini Muffins 
(Cupcakes with the icing)
(see my notes below)

carrot tahini muffins

Yield: 12 to 14 muffins
1/4 cup (60 ml) olive oil
1/4 cup (30 grams) well-stirred tahini
1/2 cup (80 grams) firmly packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
3/4 cup (175 ml) buttermilk, almond milk or (non-alcoholic) apple cider
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 cups (260 grams) all-purpose flour (see Note)
2 cup packed coarsely grated carrots (from about 9 ounces or 5 slim carrots)
Glaze (optional)
1/2 cup (60 grams) powdered sugar
3 tablespoons (25 grams) tahini
2 tablespoons (30 ml) water
Toasted sesame seeds for garnish
Heat oven to 425 degrees F. Whisk olive oil, tahini and brown sugar together in the bottom of a large bowl. Whisk in eggs, then buttermilk and vanilla. Whisk in baking powder, baking soda and salt, then switch to a spoon or flexible spatula and stir in flour, then carrots, mixing just until combined.
Either line a 12-cup standard muffin pan with paper liners or coat them with a nonstick spray. Fill each about 3/4 of the way with batter. You’ll probably have enough for 2 more after this so you can hold some back if needed. Bake muffins for 14 to 16 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the center of each comes out batter-free. Muffins should be domed and lightly golden on top. Let them cool in pan for 5 minutes on a rack before transferring them to the cooling rack to cool completely.

my notes from Jan. 2016: I thought these could benefit from some cinnamon and possibly a bit more sugar or some maple syrup

Carrot Salad

For something even healthier, how about a carrot salad? This one is adapted from David Lebovitz.

stirring carrot salad

  • Some whopping big carrots, shredded finely on a box grater
  • Flat-leaf parsley, chopped, but not too finely
  • Dressing: juice of freshly squeezed lemon(s), good quality olive oil, a pinch of sugar, freshly ground salt and pepper, all whisked together and then mixed with carrots.
Don't worry too much about amounts - just taste as you go along and trust your buds.
Meanwhile, at the Donkey Sanctuary....

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Dragon Springs Road

Dragon Springs Road

Book covers are such an important feature of a book, inviting readers to reach out and dive in. Dragon Springs Road, by Janie Chang, is, first of all, a treat for the eyes, with this colourful and well-designed cover and secondly, a captivating story. 

The tale within takes place during the early years of the newly established Chinese Republic. The main character, Jialing, is a young Eurasian girl who is abandoned by her mother in Shanghai and left to fend for herself. We follow the progression of her life as she copes with racism, sexism and political upheaval in an attempt to find a place for herself in the world with the help of a spirit fox.

See if you find this brief trailer enticing.

The characters in this novel are well-portrayed and our hearts bump along with Jialing's at every turning. 

The author, Janie Chang, is an award-winning author. Dragon Springs Road is her second novel. Here is her bio from her website:

Janie Chang draws upon family history for her novels. She grew up listening to stories about ancestors who encountered dragons, ghosts, and immortals, and about life in a small Chinese town in the years before the Second World War.
She is a graduate of The Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University. She is also the founder and main organizer of Canadian Authors for Indies, a national day of support by authors for independent bookstores. 
Born in Taiwan, Janie has lived in the Philippines, Iran, Thailand, and New Zealand.  She now lives in beautiful Vancouver, Canada.
Her first novel, THREE SOULS, was a finalist for the 2014 BC Book Prizes Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize and one of 9 Canadian books long-listed for the 2015 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Her second novel, DRAGON SPRINGS ROAD, was released in January 2017.

 If you're interested in Janie's stories about her ancestors and family, click here to read.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

April the Giraffe

For a few weeks now there has been global attention on a private zoo in upstate New York, The Animal Adventure Park in Harpursville, NY where April and her mate Oliver, reticulated giraffes, are expecting a calf, April's 4th and Oliver's 1st.

There is a live-streaming YouTube Channel where fans can watch the birth when it begins, although they tell us that the video will be turned off at the moment of birth until the vet can be certain that both April and the new calf are ok. 

Every day that goes by is another day closer to a new-born giraffe.

Watch the live streaming action HERE. April also has her own website at

Thursday, March 23, 2017

A Limerick for Mathematicians

St. Patrick's Day is over, but here's a limerick anyway. It's an oldie but goodie.

A dozen, a gross and a score
plus three times the root of four
divided by seven
plus five times eleven
is nine squared and not a bit more

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Stolen Beauty, A Piece of the World, Cooking for Picasso

I not sure what the odds are that I would encounter these three books one after the other in my reading. Serendipitous for sure, especially since all three are set in the same time period and all three use the same literary device of dividing the time periods in two and alternating between them. (Is there a name for this increasingly popular way of telling stories?)

Stolen Beauty

A Piece of the World

Cooking for Picasso

All three novels are historical, each featuring an artist from the past, woven into an imagined scenario using actual facts as known. 

Stolen Beauty, by Laurie Lico Albanese, tells the story of the woman in the painting, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I by Gustav Klimt, a magnificence of beauty, magical symbols and real gold leaf, painted in 1907. I urge you to Google it for a better view.

Gustav Klimt 046.jpg

Adele Bloch-Bauer and her husband Ferdinand, actual historical figures, were wealthy Jews living a luxurious life in the grand days of early 20th century Vienna. They attended concerts and balls and collected wonderful pieces of art that years later were "Aryanized" by the Nazis. Adele, an intellectual woman, hosted afternoon salons with speakers on arts and politics at a time when there was increasing anti-Semitism and challenging socialist ideas. Adele befriended artist Gustav Klimt becoming both friend and muse, and, according to our fiction, lover. 

The story also reaches 40 years into the future to the life of Adele's real-life niece, Maria Altmann, who was a newly-wed in Vienna when the Nazis overran Austria. Maria's attempts to save her imprisoned husband as well as her aunt's beloved paintings have been featured on the big screen, but I knew nothing of it, being a book- rather than a movie-buff, so I found the entire novel captivating. 

A Piece of the World, by Christina Baker Kline also imagines, using known historical facts, the life of a girl in a painting, in this case, Christina's World by American painter Andrew Wyeth.


The subject of the painting, handily included in the back of the book, is Christina Olson, a life-long spinster who suffered most probably from a rare case of Charcot-Marie-Tooth Syndrome, though it was never diagnosed. This malady caused her pain along with joint and bone malformations from an early age but she refused to give in or to use any aids that we would consider normal today, such as a wheelchair. Instead, she insisted on getting places by crawling/pulling/dragging herself along.  Christina and her brother Al hosted the painter Andrew Wyeth who used their rustic home as a painting studio for many summers when he vacationed in Maine and, as well as becoming close friends, the pair also served quite often as models.

This novel, set in the years 1896 to post WWII, opens a window into both a famous 20th-century painting and a great American artist, as well bringing to life the hardships faced in rural and coastal Maine in this time period.

Cooking for Picasso, by Camille Aubray is a fictional story of the famous painter at a time, in 1936, when he actually went "undercover" in the south of France in the small seaside town of Juan-les-Pins. Of the three novels, this one is the most made-up, but the story is mostly charming, supposing that the fictional Girl-in-a-Window painting is a young girl from a café who brought daily meals to M. Ruiz (P's undercover name) at his rented accommodation. She quickly learns his real identity and surprise, surprise, astonishes him with her perspicacity.

Pablo Picasso, 'Woman at the Window' 1952
this one?

PICASSO: WOMAN, 1937. Pablo Picasso: Woman Seated Before a Window. Oil, pastel on canvas, 1937.:
or this one?

Neither. Of all the paintings mentioned in this novel, Girl-in-a-Window is the only fictitious one and is actually based on an idea of a painting more in the Rembrandt style.

I say the story is "mostly charming" because Picasso was not necessarily a nice person, being a typical man of this time period, with definite opinions about the subservient place of women in society and having both a wife from whom he's separated as well as a long-time mistress. In this story, he "takes advantage" of Ondine, our young chef. To her credit, the author doesn't try to make the man into who he's not, but some readers may take issue with this aspect of his greatness. 

Also, of the three novels, this one has the quickest pace especially when the story turns, as so many novels do, to a time in the future when the granddaughter of Ondine is trying to learn who her grandmother was and what her secrets were. I enjoyed the ups and downs of the plot and could see that this novel might do well on a movie screen. The author, Camille Aubray lives in both the US and the south of France and also has a Canadian connection, having attended the Humber School for Writers and having Margaret Atwood as a mentor. 

I enjoyed this book a lot, although a few recipes in an addendum would have been a nice touch. The author's website,, is printed on the book jacket so I looked it up and enjoyed seeing photographs of some of the Provencal scenes that inspired the setting. There are also a couple of recipes on the site as well as some thought-provoking questions for book clubs. 

You won't go wrong with choosing any of these books for a fascinating read and to learn more about the painters depicted. Just keep your device handy so you can google the paintings mentioned and check on biographical details to enrich your experience. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017


Wasps, nasty creatures we think, but part of our natural world. If a weed is just a plant in the wrong place, wasps, surely, are insects that are just underappreciated. 

Mattia Menchetti, an Italian biology student has discovered that when captive paper wasps are provided with coloured papers they build colourful nests.



Thursday, March 9, 2017

Big Ben

The clocks change to Daylight Time on Sunday morning, March 12, so it seems like a good time to post this video about Big Ben, the massive bell in London England that has been ringing the hours since 1854.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Maple Syrup Season is Here

Andrew's back with another farm tour, his 8th of a promised 52 in 2017. So far we've had virtual farm tours of sheep, chicken, beef, dairy, bison, goats, grain etc., all owned and run by young Canadian farmers who are passionate about their farm.

This time we visit a maple syrup operation, Fort Rose Maple Company in Parkhill, Ontario, north-west of London. Lots of interesting information in this video.

Thursday, March 2, 2017


I've written before about Budgies or Parakeets and I've also mentioned Jack Perks, more than once. He's a wildlife photog in the UK, specializing in river fish and has recently published a new book

I don't think most of us think about the UK having parakeets flying about, but recently Mr. Perks was in London's Hyde Park where there is a healthy population of these colourful birds. They likely originated from pets that escaped as long as 60 years ago and they have done well for themselves, competing successfully for food and nesting sites with the native birds. 

Here's a short video: 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Unearthed, A Memoir


Unearthed, A Memoir: Love, Acceptance and Other Lessons from an Abandoned Garden by Alexandra Risen

On my way into town recently, listening to The Next Chapter on CBC Radio One, I listened to a book review and in the 10 minutes that it took to reach the library, I was convinced I needed to read it. Luckily for me, there it was sitting on the shelf and I checked it out a few minutes later. 

The review, by the way, was so excellent because the person giving it was Antanas Sileika, an author and Director of the Humber School for Writers. He knows whereof he speaks regarding both writing and landscaping, being himself the owner of a large property.

Listen here: The Next Chapter. It's approximately 10 min. long and see if you don't also feel compelled to read this book.

About 10 years ago Alexandra Risen and her husband Cam bought a property in downtown Toronto with a large backyard backing onto a ravine. This back garden is so large, so overgrown and so neglected that they can barely walk back there without a machete in hand. Slowly they discover the delights that await under the masses of foliage and although there are definite problems, the steepness of the pitch and the difficulty in disposing of dead trees, yard waste and other debris, finding the right people willing to do the work the way they want and so on, they eventually reclaim the space and turn it into something really special.

While in the process of uncovering and recovering the garden, Alexandra, the daughter of Ukrainian immigrants who arrived in western Canada around 1950 enters into a journey of discovery of her family. Her parents, particularly her dad, were deeply traumatized by the end of WWII, never really recovering to bring up two daughters in any kind of "normal" way. As the book opens, her dad has just passed away and Alexandra, resentful of the lack of fatherly warmth in her upbringing is working her way through understanding and making sense of it all. At the same time, her elderly mother's health is declining, resulting in difficult decisions for Alexandra and her older sister. 

The difficulties are many, but Alexandra is of strong Ukrainian stock and she rises to the challenges, taming her garden and coming to a better understanding her family. The entire book is a delight, from the attractive front cover to the detailed map of the garden to the self-deprecating stories the author tells about herself. I really enjoyed reading it. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Take a Literary Virtual Walk Through Paris

Courtesy of Read it Forward and Janet Somerville (@janetsomerville): an interactive map:

Visit here: Literary Map to encounter E.E. Cummings, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Morley Callaghan, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein and others in their Paris haunts. Simply click on a white dot on one of the two maps to learn more about the writers at that location.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Anna Klinge's Amazing Feet

Anna Klinge is a creative and talented German hand and foot puppeteer. She has performed at Britain's Got Talent and has won some prizes for her work. She's fun to watch.

Unfortunately, in my opinion, this video has way too much of the judges' facial expressions and not enough of the act. In case, like me, you were disappointed when the shirt was lifted, here's what it looked like.

In case you'd like another little bit....

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Blind Date with a Book

My local library is on Facebook and Twitter. The other day I saw this: 

So yesterday, Valentine's Day, I headed to there to return some books and pick up a hold and found the special Valentine's promotion on a centrally-located shelf where there were some books wrapped in brown paper decorated with valentines etc. and a written hint as to what might be inside. What fun! Heh heh, what a novel idea ;)

I sorted through them and chose this one.'s not like I'm lacking a book to read - there are many on my TBR list. But sometimes it's fun to read something unplanned. I opened the paper and found this.

The blurb on the inside of the front cover invites us to ask ourselves, "what would you give up for a friend's happiness?" In this case, two female friends have their friendship tested by Ben, an old friend of one that falls for the other. 
Oh dear, this might be a chick lit novel (shudder!) I'll let you know. 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Winter Bird

Another wonderful photo from the UK's Jack Perks. Check out this Some Favourite Things post from June 2015: Jack Perks.

Mr. Perks has a recently published book: