Sunday, June 30, 2013

Spectacular Plant

What is this anyway - a tree? Growing through the greenhouse roof?
I thought my funky plant (Tillandsia cyanea or Pink Quill Bromeliad) was spectacular, but it pales beside this amazing stalk at Allan Gardens in Toronto.
It is part of a succulent plant called agave Americana or Century Plant that is estimated to be about 75 years old. It's native to sunny, hot and arid places such as Mexico and Portugal. This agave, a resident of Allan Gardens in Toronto for about 50 years, has been quietly and innocuously just sitting there for all those years, no stalks, no flowers, no activity whatsoever, other than producing new leaves.

Photo: Raise the roof for Agave 
the gentle gardeners had cut out a hole at the roof for the fast growing Agave. I will keep watch for the progess
But now the plant has determined that the time is right and it has allowed this amazing stalk to shoot forth at a rapid rate. In March, when the stalk hit the greenhouse roof, a hole, just large enough for the stalk to fit though, was opened up and look at it now!

This is what the part of the plant still in the greenhouse looks like:
Agave americana plants

What looks like the branches of a tree are actually the flower bracts. The flowers will open from the bottom up and when flowering is over, the entire plant will die.

It's not a bromeliad, but I hope it's similar to Tillandsia cyanea in the way that a new plant emerges from the base of the "mother" plant to carry on.

Thursday, June 27, 2013


....from Art & Design.

Photo: :)
Posted by Catalina Ochoa U
Photo: posted by Francesca Sattanino
Photo: Posted by Catalina Ochoa U
Photo: Do you have any old crutches at home? Great idea to re-used them!
Posted by Catalina Ochoa U
Put your old crutches to work
Photo: Amazing animals with recycle tires!
Posted by Catalina Ochoa U
Made from recycled tires

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Akim and Andre

Oh my you HAVE to watch this!

In case you're wondering, here he is a couple years later.

Akim is nearly 13 now and still performing, though not as cute.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Il Silencio

This is a wonderful performance by a young trumpeter - beautiful tone, though not a difficult piece. I loved it all (except for the dress).

'Il Silencio' (The Silence) played by 13 year old Melissa Venema with André Rieu and his orchestra at the 'Vrijthof' in Maastricht.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Tillandsia cyanea

Judy found out the name of my funky plant !

It's a Tillandsia cyanea or Pink Quill Bromeliad, a native of tropical Ecuador.
As an epiphyte or air plant, the Pink Quill has shallow roots and can grow without soil, though soil is useful for anchoring the plant so it will always be where you left it last :) It absorbs moisture through its leaves, not its roots, so watering is best done by spraying.
The mother plant has pups which can be separated and grown separately so you will have your beautiful bromeliad forever, if you want and it's an ideal plant to give as a gift or share with a friend. Each plant, though, takes a long time to produce a flower spike, so patience is needed. 


Wednesday, June 19, 2013


We don't like to think about these little guys, but apparently they are becoming more and more a fact of life.
They look huge in these photos, but are actually only about the size of an apple seed. Nocturnal, bedbugs prefer to hang out in bedding and mattresses. There are few cities in the world without them, so when we travel we are at risk of giving bedbugs and free ride back into our homes.
Information on bedbugs - identifying, prevention, dealing with etc. can be found at BedbugsInfo.

The pervasive and upsetting presence of bedbugs in our society has pushed research into techniques for getting rid of them to the forefront. One of the most recent finds at the Stony Brook University Center for Advanced Technology in Sensor Materials in Long Island, NY is very exciting.

Nanotechnology can be used to spin plastic polymer microfibers, 50 times thinner than a human hair, into a microscopic netting that is exactly the right size mesh to trap bedbugs by their tiny legs. Once immobilized, the insects are unable to attack or reproduce.

The major benefit of this technology is that it's perfectly safe for humans - no harmful chemicals. In addition, if the project can be patented and marketed, the solution would also be low cost for consumers.

Stony Brook is working with a company called Fibertrap to bring the concept to market and Fibertrap has a rather long video to demonstrate the effectiveness of the nano-fabric.  You only need to watch it for a few seconds - nothing much happens over the 8+ minutes of video.

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Night Circus

Recently I had the good fortune to read 4 great books in a row:

The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern

Up and Down, by Terry Fallis

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window and Disappeared, by Jonas Jonasson

The Mistress of Nothing, Kate Pullinger

What a treat they were! The kind of books where you can’t turn the pages fast enough, yet you don’t want the book to end. Here’s a run-down.

The Night Circus
The Night Circus or Le Cirque des Rêves is a magical mysterious place, set in the turn of the 19th Century, that appears suddenly where there was previously only an empty field. It opens at nightfall and closes at dawn. Visitors to the circus and the reader, too, are treated to a sensory feast. Black and white tents, housing different “acts”, a cloud maze in one, an ice garden in another, a tent of mirrors, an illusionist, a contortionist, and new things appearing all the time. Aromas of chocolate, caramel and mulled apple cider abound.  
Under the smoke and mirrors, however, is a puzzle: 2 young illusionists, Celia and Marco, since childhood, have been committed by their handlers to a fierce competition in which there can be only one winner. We don’t know why and neither do the young pawns. Celia and Marco prefer to collaborate and as they grow up, they fall in love. Illusions and magic become even more fantastical and the very structure of the circus becomes compromised. Disaster looms.
This wonderful fantasy carried me right away every time I picked it up. Morgenstern’s descriptions are exquisitely intricate. The magic was so inventive, I wanted to visit the circus myself. The puzzle lurks in the background, and while the action occurs in the present, we are also invited to view the past. 
When I looked at reviews for this book I found many readers disliked it intensely while others loved it like I did. I wonder what you will think of it?

Up And Down
Terry Fallis’s first two books, humorous takes on Canadian politics had me grabbing my sides and laughing out loud, so I was looking forward to reading this third novel, in which he takes on the public relations world. NASA is trying to boost public interest in the space program and our hero comes up with the idea of a lottery to send one American and one Canadian ordinary citizen (providing they can get through the training) into space.  
When the Canadian winner turns out to be a 70ish lesbian bush pilot from northern BC, the fun begins. 
Up and Down is a witty, light-hearted read. I enjoyed it immensely and heartily recommend it.

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared
Okay, this book grabs you right away with a title like that. Allan Karlsson is not your average 100 year old man and he decides moments before his 100th birthday celebration at the retirement home that he’s had enough of this repressive lifestyle and he makes a run for it. At the bus station he takes a suitcase, not his own, onto the first bus that arrives and the craziness that follows springs from that split second decision. Interspersed with modern day calamities we are brought up to date on Allan’s incredible Forrest Gump-like life, an entertaining way to revisit the history of the last 100 years.

To top it off, who doesn't love an elephant as part of the cast?

"The 100-Year-Old Man..." was a hit when first published in Swedish and continued as a comedic smash when translated into English.
The Mistress of Nothing

The Mistress of Nothing is a more serious read than the three books above.  Set in Victorian times, it is based on the life of Lady Duff-Gordon and Sally Naldrett, her lady’s maid. Lady Duff-Gordon, with a devastating and difficult case of TB makes the life-changing decision leave her husband and children behind in England to travel with Sally to Egypt in order to live in a more temperate climate than smog-filled London. She lasts 7 years there and in that time both of the women find their lives transformed in ways they never could have foreseen.  
This novel won the Governor-General’s Award for English fiction in 2009. The story is told in Sally’s voice and is mainly about her interaction with the dragoman, Omar and her subsequent pregnancy. Kate Pullinger successfully conveys the sense of adventure that the women experienced initially, but times were different then and life was difficult, especially for women with no male companions. Choices made early-on lead to fewer choices available when the going gets rough.
What we the readers have is the chance to think about the different characters in the light of the challenges that they faced.

Friday, June 14, 2013

A Canada Day Connection

The following article was copied directly out of the Toronto Star (without permission) because I thought it was so interesting. I had never before made a connection between Canada's Confederation in 1867 and the US Civil War. John Boyko of Lakefield, Ontario has made a strong case for such a tie. It's something to ponder, with Canada Day fast approaching.

How the U.S. Civil War led to ‘birth of Canada’
By: News, Published on Mon Jun 10 2013       
“Many people don’t believe that Canada had any role in the Civil War,” says John Boyko. His new book is Blood and Daring: How Canada Fought the American Civil War and Forged a Nation.
Simon Spivey / Courtesy of Knopf Canada
Many people don’t believe that Canada had any role in the Civil War,” says John Boyko. His new book is Blood and Daring: How Canada Fought the American Civil War and Forged a Nation.

On one of the annual trips he led for his Lakefield, Ont., high-school students to Washington, D.C., and the blood-sanctified soil of Gettysburg, John Boyko came away with the most wonderful of souvenirs. A friend. And an idea.
It was in the early 1990s, he recalled last week in an interview with the Star, that he met a Gettysburg guide named Ed Guy. “Ed Guy the guide,” Boyko laughs. “He was the guy who made Gettysburg come alive” for the students.
For Boyko, a teacher, historian and currently an administrator at Lakefield College School, Guy also brought Gettysburg closer to home than most Canadians would imagine possible. “He came out with this little pamphlet, a very small pamphlet, that listed Canadians at Gettysburg,” Boyko recalls“And I said, ‘Well, that’s fascinating. I didn’t know there were any Canadians at Gettysburg.’ And that got me interested in it. As I was reading more about it, I thought, ‘Wow, Canada was involved way more than I thought.’ ”
For the last two decades, even while researching other books, the subject enthralled him. Now, in time for the 150th anniversary of the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg, and thanks to the seed planted by Ed Guy, Boyko tells the story of how influential he believes the U.S. Civil War to have been on Canada in his new book Blood and Daring: How Canada Fought the American Civil War and Forged a Nation.
“Many people don’t believe that Canada had any role in the Civil War,” Boyko says. In fact, 40,000 Canadians fought in it (at a ratio of roughly 50 in northern regiments for every one in a Confederate regiment). Twenty-nine Canadians won the Congressional Medal of Honor in the Civil War. Canadian Civil War vets are buried in Arlington National Cemetery. “Standing in the honour guard with Ulysses S. Grant when Robert E. Lee surrendered was a Canadian,” says Boyko.
While the fighting was done south of the border, a good deal of scheming, planning and fundraising was done on this side, he says. Confederate meetings were held in Canada, arms were supplied from this side of the border, and Canadians profited from the war through the traffic of both warring sides in its maritime ports.
Birth of Canada
Most significantly, Boyko argues, Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, used the war to leverage both the timing and manner of Canada’s Confederation, and to demonstrate how important it was to create our own system, different from the U.S.
“It wouldn’t have come about when it did or how it did if the Civil War wasn’t around,” Boyko says. “The Civil War was really responsible for the rebirth of the United States and the birth of Canada.”
Perhaps in a nod to the inspiration of Ed Guy down in Gettysburg, Boyko spins the tale through the experience of six key “guides” — the likes of Sir John A., newspaperman and legislator George Brown, Confederate agent and head of the south’s so-called “Canadian cabinet,” Jacob Thompson, and fugitive slave John Anderson, who had made his way to Canada from Missouri along the Underground Railroad.
Anderson’s story in the years just before war broke out is particularly pivotal. After escaping the U.S., he was eventually arrested near Brantford and the original Missouri warrant issued on his escape was used by the Americans to reclaim him via extradition. But after labyrinthine legal proceedings, played out at Toronto’s Osgoode Hall and elsewhere, Anderson was freed. And the Underground Railroad rolled on.
“The determination of this judge of whether to allow John Anderson to be extradited to the States or not was the entire future of the Underground Railroad,” Boyko says. “If they sent him back, it meant Americans could come up and arrest and take back every one of the blacks who were here as a result of the Underground Railroad and that would end it.
“So Canada was involved in the Civil War because we were involved in the Underground Railroad even before the Civil War began.”
Toronto rebel hotel
After the fighting broke out, much Confederate activity went on in Canada under the leadership of Jacob Thompson. In Toronto, the centre of Confederate activity was the Queen’s Hotel, which occupied the land now home to the Royal York; in Montreal, it was the St. Lawrence Hall. In Halifax, locals gave aid and succour to either side willing to pay the freight. “One of the people who was doing that was a guy called Alexander Keith,” says Boyko, “who we know for other reasons now.”
“(Thompson) sent raids down into the United States. They burned down part of New York City at one point; they set fires simultaneously to a number of theatres and hotels up and down Broadway. They tried to help (Confederate) prisoners at a camp in Sandusky, Ohio, escape. They disrupted the Republican national convention in Chicago that was going to get Lincoln renominated.”
Boyko concludes that, while the War of 1812 was more of a British colonial war than a Canadian war, the Civil War — in its consequences — “was very much a Canadian war.”
“Britain at that time had had enough of us,” he says. “We really had to stand up, unite ourselves to save ourselves. Therefore, if we’re going to look at a war responsible for the creation of Canada, it was the Civil War.”
In Boyko’s telling, the pivotal decision for both the United States and Canada about what each was to become as a people “was made at precisely the same time. The Americans had to decide whether they would live up to their creed: ‘Are all men created equal or are they not? Will we live as one country or will we split into many?’
“And Canada at that point, as a direct result of the Civil War and the threats (of U.S. expansionists) that were being made on Canada through the Civil War, had to decide: ‘Will we become Americans, because it would have been dead easy? Or will we defend ourselves by becoming Canadians?’”
Some American historians have been as surprised as Canadians likely will be to learn of this country’s involvement in the Civil War, the author says.
Boyko asked to send an early draft to Prof. James McPherson at Princeton University, a leading Civil War historian. “He said, ‘This is a hole, this is a gap that needs work done.’
“I think the Americans are in for as much of a surprise as Canadians are,” Boyko says. “I think Canadians who are not immersed in history will be absolutely shocked by what an enormous role the Civil War played in forming Canada.”
As for Ed Guy the guide? Naturally, Boyko sent him a copy. “He’s seen it. And he loves it.”

Thursday, June 13, 2013

That Happy Time of Year

Don't you love June?

Especially when the poppies are waving in the breeze.

and the peonies are just starting to pop.

Some irises are looking good.

Even the chives are pretty.

I took funky plant out for some air the yesterday and took its picture because it's still producing little balloon-like blossoms.
It will soon be time to take it all apart to pot up the emerging baby plants.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


Have your heard of the Portuguese Man-of-War? These unusual sea creatures float, sometimes in very large numbers, on the surface of warm ocean waters and since they are not mobile in and of themselves, they are at the mercy of the winds, tides and currents. If you are so unlucky as to have a close encounter with a Portuguese Man-of-War, you will be astonished at the intense pain after touching those hanging tentacles.

What I have just found out is that these creatures are not single organisms, but a collection of four different polyps, or zooids, that live in community together.

Here is the blurb from Wikipedia:

The Portuguese man o' war is composed of four types of polyp. One of the polyps, a gas-filled bladder called the pneumatophore (commonly known as the sail), enables the organism to float. This sail is bilaterally symmetrical, with the tentacles at one end, and is translucent, tinged blue, purple, pink or mauve. It may be 9 to 30 centimeters (4 to 12 in) long and may extend as much as 15 centimetres (6 in) above the water. The Portuguese man o' war generates carbon monoxide in its gas gland, filling its gas bladder with up to 13% carbon monoxide. The remainder is nitrogen, oxygen and argon, atmospheric gases that diffuse into the gas bladder. Carbon dioxide occurs at trace levels. The sail is equipped with a siphon. In the event of a surface attack, the sail can be deflated, allowing the man o' war to briefly submerge.

The other three polyp types are known as dactylozooid (defence), gonozooid (reproduction), and gastrozooid (feeding).These polyps are clustered.

The dactylzooids make up the tentacles that are typically 10 metres (30 ft) in length but can be up to 50 metres (165 ft). The long tentacles "fish" continuously through the water, and each tentacle bears stinging, venom-filled nematocysts (coiled, thread-like structures), which sting and kill small sea organisms such as small fish and shrimp.

Contractile cells in each tentacle drag the prey into range of the digestive polyps, the gastrozooids, which surround and digest the food by secreting enzymes that break down proteins, carbohydrates and fats.

Gonozooids are responsible for reproduction.

Just recently a Florida-based photographer, Ansarov , has documented the beauty of zooids. Here are a few of his stunning photos. I love the symmetry and astonishing colour in each of them.

It would be interesting to know what process he uses to get these kaleidoscopic photos. They are available for sale here at various sizes and prices.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Whistle a Happy Tune

Do you like to whistle? I do. When I was younger and busy with kids and dogs and volunteer duties I whistled a lot and probably drove my family bonkers. Now that I'm older I don't seem to whistle as much, but, like most people, there's always a tune of some sort running through my head and occasionally that whistle emerges. I especially like to whistle a made-up tune out of my own head, never knowing where it will end up. Sometimes it works out, sometimes not. Hopefully nobody was listening.

Until recently, when I saw an article in the paper, I never knew that there are actual competitions for whistlers. (Disclaimer: my whistling is definitely not in the competition category!) Some people can do amazing things when they wet their whistles.

Of course, there are different types of whistles:
  • the palate whistle, where the tongue touches the palate
  • the pucker whistle where the sound is formed with the help of muscles in the lips and cheeks
  • the finger (one or two fingers inserted in the mouth) or wolf whistle, usually used to get somebody's attention (especially pretty girls by young men). This whistle tends to be only a couple of tones and I don't believe is suitable for "playing" a tune
  • the cupped hands whistle: I learned this one as a young camper in the 50's when a counsellor encouraged us to make loon calls
  • the blade of grass whistle: learned this as a kid and enjoy getting kids to try it since it makes a satisfying and most astonishingly loud noise (usually annoying to any adults within earshot). Technically the blade of grass becomes a reed, so it's not really a whistle at all.
What competitive whistlers have in common, besides musicality, are the most amazing tone and fluidity. They also have extensive range and delicate vibrato and some can even accompany themselves with a 2-toned whistle - a third or a fifth interval. All competitive whistlers practice a lot. One of the surprising (to me) elements about competitive whistling is that the entrants have sound tracks to accompany their performance, greatly enhancing the interest and depth of the performance.

Jeffrey Amos , a 38-year old Toronto man entered the 2013 International Whistler's Competition, held yearly in Louisburg, North Carolina,  this year for the first time and came out with second place! Here's the video of him at the competition:

Geert Chatrou is one of the best in the world:

It would be interesting to know whether the members of the orchestra consider him a fellow musician.

Here's the 2009 International Champion, Luke Janssen whistling: he seems to have a unique style that combines both pucker and palate whistling.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Amazing Tattoo Art?

It's not that I care one way or another about tattoos: I think it's a personal choice and well-done tattoos are an artform. Check out this one:
Share and join @[216884508343726:274:Art & Sculpture] page

Posted by Wael Moda
Is it really a tattoo? Or is it paint? Or a sculpture? Hmmmm.....

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Horsehead Nebula and an Anniversary

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download
 the highest resolution version available.
This is an infrared photo taken by the Hubble Telescope of the Horsehead Nebula.

Here's more info about the Nebula and the Hubble, celebrating its 23 year of operation.


For more fascinating pictures of space, see Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD)

Monday, June 3, 2013

Stile Styles, Munros and Some Last Thoughts


A walk in the UK usually means entering and departing private land at some point, often land on which there is livestock, so there are a lot of gates. During the first couple of days of my walk on the West Highland Way most of these were regular farmers' gates, some small, some large, one in particular I had trouble with until a German couple came along to help me open it, otherwise there would have been an older lady scrambling ungracefully over top of it.

The thing about these gates, which were common throughout the WHW, is that the walker must be careful to close them again, making sure the latches engage. Success in keeping livestock where they belong is dependent on people who have no ownership of the problem.

Stiles, on the other hand, ask a bit more, physically, of the walker, but guarantee more security for the animals.

I didn't bother to photograph any metal gates, since there was nothing interesting or appealing about them. What I enjoyed were the stiles, so many different types.

This kind of style is very common around where I live in Ontario - there's one just down the road from where I live.

These stiles are common in the UK. Sometimes there are more steps, sometimes the steps are much farther apart.
I believe the following style of stile is called a "kissing gate". The walker has to squeeze into a small space while the gate swings back and forth. So much the better if someone you adore is in that space with you! Mind you, I found that often there was barely room just for me and my knapsack.
Munros, Corbetts and Grahams
Mountaineering - rock and ice climbing, hill walking, summiting -  are all popular activities around the world in the 21st Century. It seems many people really love a difficult physical challenge.
Back in Victorian times activities were more sedate for the most part, although there were a few intrepid souls who enjoyed the challenge of scaling a mountain. Hugh Thomas Munro was one of them and he spent many years climbing and listing the Scottish mountains he climbed. At the time, people thought there were only about 30 peaks in Scotland that were over 3000 ft. but Munro was able to compile a table that he published in 1891 that listed 218 such peaks and he was still adding to it when he died*.
In honour of Munro, an original member of the Scottish Mountaineering Club, any peak of 3000 ft. or more was listed as a Munro. If seen as a subsidiary of  Munro, a 3000 ft. high point is classed as a Top, a distinction which can be controversial. The SMC currently recognizes 283 Munros and 511 Tops. Munro-bagging has become a popular sport.
A Corbett is smaller than a Munro: over 2500 ft., with a drop of at least 500 ft. all around.
A Graham is smaller still: defined in metric units, it is over 610 metres (2001 ft), with a drop of at least 150 metres (492 ft.) all around.
None of them look small, especially when the peaks are snow-covered.
The West Highland Way passes Ben Lomond, the most southerly Munro and ends near Ben Nevis, the highest, in the north. It passes a dozen other Munros, mainly in the north section, and also many Corbetts and Grahams.
*No, he didn't die in a climbing accident. What took him, at age 63, in 1919, was the influenza epidemic that followed WWI.
Last Thoughts
A few people wondered why I wanted to do this walk. Was it a spiritual quest? A fundraiser?
Not really - I just enjoy active holidays.
When I was very young, as a camper in Muskoka, one of the activities was for our cabin group to take a picnic dinner on a Sunday (when the kitchen/dining room staff had a well-earned day off) either by canoe or on the road and it always felt like such an adventure to me. I think that's where it all started.
Then when I was 18 (so young!!) my friend, Moira, whom I had lived just down the hall from in residence at Victoria College suggested that her dad might have some influence in getting us jobs at Chateau Lake Louise. That summer was unforgettable. Moira and I happily traipsed around the trails in the mountains of Alberta - some hikes were quite long -  and even did some hitch-hiking.  It was a blast!
I loved the downhill skiing vacations in the Eastern Townships, France, Mont Tremblant and Whistler that I was able to take when I was much younger, but wasn't doing much walking.
Then came some articles about long distance walks in the travel sections of newspapers that rekindled my interest, so 10 years ago I took a short walk (65+ miles) on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path in Wales and was hooked. Nothing beats the elation of setting off in the morning with map and knapsack and walking a new path for a whole day. 6 days in a row.
For some reason I decided I could cope with the real challenge of Scotland's most difficult long distance walk and I trained for a year to be ready. It was just enough. More would have been better. The walk was very difficult in many places - many long ascents and descents with tricky footing and lots of scrambling around on rocks and leaping across streams, all with 10 - 12 lbs. on my back. Often the passage of a certain section would remind me of a puzzle that needed to be solved.
As great as it was, I wouldn't repeat my walk on the West Highland Way. There were too many other people on the trail (mind you, the dates that I chose are the busiest, being ice free and just prior to midge season) and it was often too close to a busy highway. In fact the Way crosses many roads and busy highways. If I were to choose between Pembrokeshire and West Highland Way, I'd choose Pembrokeshire. The path is just as interesting, elevation-wise, the scenery is also stunning, there are fewer walkers and the only roads you need to cope with are those between the Path and the B & B's. In addition, the accommodations are mostly B & B's that are quieter than those on the WHW.
What's next? Who knows! What I do know is that I need to concentrate on keeping up my fitness level so I can be ready to take another long walk at a moment's notice.


Sunday, June 2, 2013

Further Funky Plant

If you have been following Some Favourite Things for a while, you will remember my Funky Plant. If not, you can start here
                                        and then go here.

If you can't be bothered with all that, here's the progression.


early March

late March

early April
late April 
early May
late May
It has been fascinating to watch. Judy noticed that the mother plant is also sending up new plants in the centre around the flower stalk. How exciting is that!