Sunday, May 30, 2010

Season's Beauties

"We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty." ~ Maya Angelou
Elusive little creatures, these butterflies are. It's an honour when they stop long enough to be photographed.

"They tell us that plants are not like man immortal, but are perishable—soul-less. I think that is something that we know exactly nothing about." ~ John Muir
These ferns caught my eye because they were growing in a circular pattern and the inside which contained a different plant, reminded me of a basket.

"I don't ask for the meaning of the song of a bird or the rising of the sun on a misty morning. There they are, and they are beautiful." ~ Pete Hamill
This goldfinch looked so pretty posing on the branch. It was taken through the glass on a windy day.. hence the lack of clarity. Still, it's a handsome little bird.

“It is at the edge of a petal that love waits.” ~ William Carlos Williams
Pretty little flowers which are popping up all around.

"Some people are uncomfortable with the idea that humans belong to the same class of animals as cats and cows and raccoons. They're like the people who become successful and then don't want to be reminded of the old neighborhood." ~ Phil Donahue
Walking along the creek one afternoon, Frank pointed out these raccoon tracks on the shore.

"Green, the color of growth, or surgent life, enwraps the land. New green, still as individual as the plants themselves. Cool green, which will merge as the weeks pass, the Summer comes, into a canopy of shade of busy chlorophyll." ~ Hal Borland
Late afternoon sunshine illuminated these elm leaves.

"By plucking her petals, you do not gather the beauty of the flower." ~ Rabindranath Tagore
More delicate flowers to please the eye.

"My grandmother is over eighty and still doesn't need glasses. Drinks right out of the bottle."
~ Henny Youngman

Warm summer-like afternoons nudged us to enjoy our respective drinks. A Kronenbourg 1664 for Frank and a Woody's Mexican Lime for me.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Truth, Duty, Valour

Four years ago this summer we watched our son march through this arch into the grounds of Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario. It was there that he became a cadet about to embark on his academic and military training which would sculpt him into an Officer in the Canadian Forces.

It was a long stretch of time for him - the blink of an eye for his parents as we watched our boy develop leadership skills, kindle team trust and learn how to handle himself in situations that no parent wants to consider. During those four years, our boy became a graduate, an Officer and a man.

Don and I attended his graduation last week. Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaƫlle Jean, Governor General and Commander-in-Chief of Canada was among the many who attended and addressed the graduating class.

She received an honourary doctorate in Military Science and delivered the convocation address to the graduating officer cadets. She spoke eloquently and beautifully about the many ways our Canadian Forces have made, and continue to make positive changes in the world - in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in Haiti. She emphasized the importance of family support and the contribution made to the success of the forces. This was a most appreciated sentiment which resurfaced throughout the convocation and commissioning events.

We were sitting a fair distance from the presentations and it helped that they had large monitors which brought the various speakers into closer focus. That didn't help however with the challenge of trying to get a few photos in the large, dimly-lit room. As Jeffrey stepped up in line to receive his degree, he turned back and looked right at me. I took this photo from across the room.

He and his fellow graduates were in traditional full dress, scarlet uniform. Jeffrey received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Military and Strategic Studies, after which more speeches ensued - spoken in our two official languages.

After the ceremony, Jeffrey changed into his "civies' (civilian clothes for all us non-military types) and we enjoyed dinner at Red Lobster but had to hurry back to RMC to see the Sunset Ceremony. I'll write more about that another time. For now, I'll fast-forward to Friday morning when the class of 2010 received their Commission and officially became Officers in the Canadian Armed Forces.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay addressed the graduates and spoke of the good work our troops are doing in Afghanistan. He acknowledged our most recent loss at the time - an earlier graduate of RMC, Colonel Geoff Parker. Sadly there's been yet another since then.

Chief of Defence Staff General, Walter Natynczyk gave our boys some wise advice. "Speak, act and live the truth. No less is acceptable. Your duty is to do what is right and proper all the time."

Parents and friends were then invited onto the parade square to be with their sons and daughters as they received their military Commission. Major General Walter Semianiw, Chief of Military Personnel presented Jeffrey with his, and he kindly posed with him for a few photos.

The newly commissioned Officers then marched off of the parade square and through the arch - hats and helmets held high atop their swords. This moment, among several others was very emotional, and many a teary eye glistened in the afternoon sun.

Jeffrey is now a Second Lieutenant in the Canadian Armed Forces. He will spend the next several months in Cornwall, Ontario to acquire his training in Air Traffic and Air Weapons Control. I am very relieved that he chose to transfer from his first trade of choice which was Infantry. I'm certain that he knows how fiercely proud we are of him. I am in awe of the man he has become in just twenty-three short years but I still hold close the little boy he was, and always will be to me.

Thank you, my son for giving me the enormous pleasure of being your mother.

Thanks also to Jeffrey's Aunt Trudy and cousin June and of course, Frank for driving out for the events and sharing our pride

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Couple of Videos and Fewer Posts of the Week

As you might know, I was away from home for a few days last week and I haven't had much time to play catch up with your blogs since my return. Therefore, there are fewer posts than usual in this week's picks. I thought I'd top up the post with a couple of video which I find amusing. Each of them features a very bright child. You may have seen them before but I'll bet you'll still enjoy them today.

The first one is of a little girl... a really early "talker." The usual comment accompanying this video is "Are Women Born This Way?" This one sure was.

I love this little guy - another good communicator. He cracks me up several times in this short video. I think you'll be loving him too by the time you're done watching.

And now, without further delay, here are this week's Posts of the Week:

The icon to the left here is yours for the taking if your blog post has been named as a Post of the Week - either as top post or as a runner up, today or in past weeks. I've decided to start mixing up the colours each week. Take whichever one appeals to you. You'll find others in past posts.

This week's top post goes to:

Life Lesson (and a Giveaway)

by Johanna
at The Fifty Factor

Other wonderful posts in no particular order are:

A Short Story About a Boy
by Imbeingheldhostage
at In The Gutter

At Last, the Twain Shall Meet
by Steph
at Incurable Insomniac

The Blue Remembered Hills
by Maddie Grigg
at The World from my Window

My World Tuesday
by FishingGuy
at This Is My Blog

Let Me Tell You...
by Deb
at Nourish the Soul

Please drop by their blogs for a visit and leave a kind comment if you have the time. Also, please feel free to add your own choices (for any blog except this one) for a specific blog post in the comments section below, where others can see them.

Thank you.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

My Father's Store

I'm still away from home for a couple of days and so I've decided to re-publish a blog post from two years ago. I'll be back to reply to comments and visit your blogs in a couple of days - maybe even sooner. Till then, I hope you enjoy this story about when I was a kidlet and my Dad owned a variety store.

I've recently begun reading a book called "The Thirteenth Tale" by Diane Setterfield. I'm only a couple of chapters into it, but so far, the story has triggered a cherished childhood memory.

The setting is that of a second hand book store - a family business run by a biographer and her father. The character tells of her passion for books, leaving her readers with the understanding that reading is almost as necessary to her emotional survival as breathing is to her physical existence. She describes "the smell of old books, so sharp, so dry you can taste it."

When I was a kid, my Dad owned a variety shop. It was on a popular corner in Montreal and he drew in regular crowds from the busy bus stops and transfer point outside, as well as from neighbouring homes. He had a near-steady flow of loyal customers who made a point of dropping by whether they needed to purchase something or not. Often they just wandered in to chat and have a laugh, as my father shared his latest joke.

My parents' devotion to their customers was strong, and they occasionally attended their weddings, celebrated births and birthdays and mourned their deaths. That loyalty was mutual. When my father passed away more than a decade after selling his store, our family was deeply touched by the number of past customers who came to his funeral.

It was a true "Mom and Pop" shop, and my parents worked long hours, seven days a week. Dad opened the store before 7 a.m. so that workday commuters could run in to buy their newspaper and chat with him before continuing their journey when the next bus arrived. Mom took his place in the afternoon when he would come home for lunch and a nap. He locked up for the night at 11 p.m. to come home, eat and settle in to watch The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. In later years, my sister and I would each find ourselves helping out by working behind the cash and stocking shelves. Early on, Dad also hired Pat to work the cash during his off hours and rare days off. She too, became a close family friend, and my sister keeps in touch with her to this day.

During the school year, if Mom was at the store in the afternoon, as she often was, I'd head over there directly after school instead of going home. First I'd have to do my homework in the tiny storeroom at the back, and possibly indulge in take-out barbecue chicken or a burger from one of the nearby restaurants. Then the store shelves were mine to explore and enjoy.
Looking around, there was much to see and do. The shelves were stocked with colourful stuffed animals, bubbles and Slinkys. Puffy pink and red Valentine's and glittery Christmas greetings would attract the eye, as displays changed for each upcoming holiday. Sometimes I'd grab a bag of Humpty Dumpty barbecue chips for a snack, and wash it down with an icy cold Nesbitt's orange soda. The soft drink companies often held contests in which you were required to check under the caps for winnings. My sister and I would pull out the tray which collected the colourful, sticky caps, and go through them in search of prizes of "free bottles" or of treasures worth "10¢!!!" hidden behind the cork backings.

I loved being there when the daily orders would come in. Opened boxes would reveal the wonderful scents of chocolate, gum and other sweets required to replenish the two displays of candy bars and penny candy. Twice a week, comic and magazine orders would come in, and Dad would give me the task of removing the older copies from the stands and replacing them with the new editions. I'd often get lost between the covers of their shiny, new pages. I'd read anything. In younger years my tastes ranged from Casper and Richie Rich to Millie the Model, Archie and romance comics and Children's Digest. Later, I turned my attention to teen magazines like Seventeen and Tiger Beat, satire such as Mad and Cracked, and eventually Cosmopolitan and other fashion publications. I even bought the first editions of Playgirl and Viva, partly because the banners across the top right corners said they'd be valuable someday, but mostly because the guys inside were cute - and naked.

And then there were the pocket books.
Our store had a large wall-rack which was loaded with the latest novels, from ceiling to floor. They were replenished semi-frequently and it never mattered if I didn't get around to reading one, or several titles that I had mentally set aside, because the book companies never wanted the unsold books back in their possession. They only needed the covers for their inventory, and to ensure that unsold, credited merchandise would not be offered for sale. Of course this meant that our home was loaded up with boxes upon boxes of books, hand-selected from the store's rejects. To this day, those books often come to mind when I open a new paperback novel.

Though not nearly as intense as the scent from old, hard-covered books mentioned in the above author's quote, there is still a certain smell to the ink in pocket books. When I open a new or used book for the first time, the scent that wafts up to my nose brings me back to the days of my father's store, and all its treasures that laid within. I can almost feel how my right hand rested upon a shiny back cover as my left hand touched the dry, rough paper of the title page beneath it.

I'm guessing I'll continue to enjoy The Thirteenth Tale. Both its scent and its verbal imagery have already succeeded in bringing me to a place and time when days were carefree, and my imagination soared. And that's exactly what a good story is meant to do.

Here's my Dad, where he stood proudly for many years, doing what he loved best - schmoozing with his customers, telling jokes, listening to life stories and making life-long friends. A bit of online sleuthing tells me that this photo was taken in April of 1970, which corresponds with the date of the TV Guide seen in the bottom right-hand corner.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Rules According to Cats

I'll be away from my computer for a few days as I travel to Kingston, Ontario to attend my son's graduation from Royal Military College, and to celebrate his becoming a Commissioned Officer in the Canadian Forces. Remind me to bring lots of tissues. I'll reply to comments and visit your blogs sometime after my return later this weekend.

Yesterday's mystery image was a VERY close up view of the green beads in the photo below. Quite a few of you got that right. Thanks for playing along.

This is a partial re-post from two and a half years ago when Benny first started coming around to my house for visits. Those of you who read regularly, know that he brings Frank here with him just about every weekend now, but in those days, Benny's trips in were fewer and farther between. Consequently, it took time for Benny and my cats to get to know one another. The cats did not like this canine intrusion in their quiet lives - at first.

The words below were crafted by my intelligent felines in anticipation of Benny's next visit. At that time, Zephyr had recently been hospitalized and had endured surgery. Therefore he was not feeling tip-top when he coerced Skitty into writing this letter. He has healed well since this ordeal and is totally back to his normal self. With that information in mind, I present to you...

The Rules According to Cats

Dear Benny Russell Terror,

It's been some time since you have been to our house, and we don't entirely mind your presence, but there are a few rules that you need to learn before your next visit.

1) Your mere presence in our home does not mean that you can have the same privileges we do. Doggie paws are icky and should not be allowed on any table surface, regardless of whether our people are eating or not. You don't spend hours cleaning and fluffing like we do, therefore you have dirty paws. Stay down.

2) Similarly, you're not allowed on our beds. You smell, and you drool in your sleep. That's disgusting. The only non-felines allowed on the beds are our people. By feeding us gourmet dinners and worshipping our every move, they have earned their right to lie under the blankets and lay their heads on the pillows. You have your own smelly little bed, and that's where you must sleep. Get over it.

3) While you're having dinner, our job is to sit on the table or shelves above you to see what you are eating, and if one of us finds it appealing, we may swoop down in front of you and take what we want. This does not give you the right to wander over to our own unfinished meal. Our food is our food. Your food is our food.

4) You must cease your vulgar behaviour of humping the pillows, your toys, the sofa, the man's foot, the carpet and any living creature that allows you to get close enough to mount it. Most of the dogs in the neighbourhood are five times your size, and would require a step ladder for you to even see your target. Give it up.

5) You must learn how to restrain yourself when we allow you to play outside in our yard. It's offensive to our sensibilities that you think so little of our space that you immediately take a dump out there. What do you think this is - a giant litter box? Restrain yourself.

6) Be silenced. What is that hideous yelp that comes from your throat every time we playfully hiss at you? It hurts our ears. One would think you're being murdered. If you don't want us to turn around and look at you, then don't chase us, for heaven's sake. The same goes for your growling. It sounds like a pathetic attempt to purr and we all know that inferior animals can not purr. Just be quiet.

7) Learn some restraint. Do you not understand that when the people call you by name, clap their hands and make bird-like noises at you, that you're supposed to simply appear irritated and ignore them? Instead you come running out from the farthest recesses of the house or yard to see what they have for you. Foolish canine, they just want to control you, and you're willing to sell yourself for a mere rub on the head. Have you no pride?

8) Stop your incessant jumping. You don't need to launch yourself into the air every time the people touch your leash. How are they supposed to clip it onto your collar if you don't hold still. Nobody is happier than we are to see you go away for a nice looooong walk, so just hold still and cooperate. Settle down.

9) Get down. The human lap is reserved for cats only. You may not wiggle your way onto one of our people, and steal our rightful pats and belly rubs. For some reason, my people think you're pretty adorable. We're not fooled by your head-cocks and cute little noises. The people belong to us. Stay down.

10) This is the most important rule of all. You are NOT to laugh at how one of us looks since a recent stay at the vet. There have been a couple of unfortunate encounters with the surgeon's razor and knife. Ten days later, one of us returned home wearing a most unbecoming stretchy outfit and a ridiculous blue collar. It is to be worn for the next few weeks, and should your next visit intersect with that period of time, you must refrain from staring, laughing or feeling superior. Remember to ignore it, that it isn't funny, and that you are inferior. Hissssss.

If you can accomplish these simple rules, we will continue to endure your presence in our home. You are a dog. You will never be one of us. But play by the rules and we may just tolerate your existence.

Very Mewly Yours,

Skittles & Zephyr

Benny has long since been neutered and is no longer trying to mount elephants - very often.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Mystery Object and Posts of the Week

This week's POTW includes a "mystery object" photo.

Please look at the image below. It's a close up view of an object which I saw while out and about one day. Do your best to guess what it is in the comments section. I'll publish the full image, along with other photos in tomorrow's post. Thanks for playing along!

So what do you think it is?

* * *

Without further delay, here are this week's Posts of the Week:

The icon to the left here is yours for the taking if your blog post has been named as a Post of the Week - either as top post or as a runner up, today or in past weeks. Take whichever one appeals to you from this or previous posts.

This week's top post goes to:

Different is Good
by Beth
at Be Yourself - Everyone Else is Taken

Other wonderful posts in no particular order are:

Heart and Soul
by EthelMaePotter
at The Adventures of Fred and Ethel

Magic in the Air
by Brian
at WayStationOne

It Doesn't Always Have to be Complex
by Pearl
at Pearl, Why You Little...

Great Crested Grebes
by Holdingmoments
at Holdingmoments

City Life
by Amy
at She Writes

by VM Sehy
at Nature's Details

Violin Concerto for One
by Lady Fi
Quirky Quest with Lady Fi

MiMau Performs A Random Audit
by June
at Aging Gracefully

True Story
by Pauline
at Writing Down the Words

Reader's Choice
Recommended by LadyFi:
Dancing With Shadows
by Slamdunk
at Slam Dunks

Please drop by their blogs for a visit and leave a kind comment if you have the time. Also, please feel free to add your own choices (for any blog except this one) for a specific blog post in the comments section below, where others can see them.

Thank you.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

And Speaking of..

Have you ever had Fiddleheads? They're the top, curly, yet unfurled fronds of the Ostrich fern which when snipped and simmered make a delicious side dish - slightly similar to asparagus in flavour and texture.

Here's what you do. Break the heads off of numerous plants, leaving at least ten times as many to continue growing.

Rinse them very well and microwave them in a bit of water for a few minutes. Two large handfuls should take about four minutes on high. While those are cooking, heat some olive oil in a pan and add green onions, mushrooms and freshly-ground pepper.

By the time the microwave beeps, you can drain the fiddleheads and add them to the pan on medium heat. Add a clove or two of minced garlic and simmer until the moisture evaporates.

Add a splash of white wine (or lemon juice if you prefer) and cook long enough to burn off most, but not all of the wine. Transfer them to a serving dish and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and more fresh pepper. Yum!

Note: Not all ferns are edible. Fiddleheads come from the commonly-grown (around here, anyway) Ostrich ferns. You can read more about it here.

And speaking of Fiddleheads, here are some happy ferns which survived the snip this year.

Weeping willow catkins have almost a worm-like appearance when they fall from the trees in early spring. Here they cluster around a small log in the pond below. I wonder if they look like prey to some birds or fish.

And speaking of which, a sharp-eyed gull scans the water in search of its next meal.

And speaking of sharp eyes, what do yours see in this piece of weathered tree?

This is a photo I repeat often. I can't resist snapping shots of this part of my local pond in most seasons, but especially in spring. I just love the way this tree's branch sweeps out over the water, its gnarly roots holding fast to the sloped shore.

And speaking of gnarled wood, this beautiful piece of tree has been battered and beaten by the elements and turned into one gnarly structure.

There's a lot of work going on in my local park. They've dug up all the paths and are widening them to create a bicycle path and walking path. They're also adding 48 lights along the way, which will probably turn the area into a very well-lit park at night.

I'm not so keen on that idea. Sure, it's safer for walking at night but I fear it will become less nature-friendly as it might deter some of the animals which like to nest along the shores of the pond, and those who scavenge for food at night. I thought this place was pretty good the way it was. It's difficult to balance human wishes with nature's needs but I don't think that the creatures are the city's first concern.

And speaking of creatures, here's Benny challenging you to a game of "Just Try To Snatch This Ball." Who do you think would win this match?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Wings and Furry Things

A couple of weeks ago, Frank and I went on our first fishing outing of the season. We went to a pond which we visit each spring, and where we usually encounter one of the area's sweetest residents. She's a lovely white and grey feline who has learned to recognize that fishing rods mean she might soon be lucky enough to dine on a fresh fish dinner.

On past visits, this feral beauty has been visibly pregnant and she's made it quite clear how urgently she need to obtain nourishment for herself and her growing babies. For all we knew, she may have been expecting another litter this spring, or perhaps she just knew that she needed to get her meals, and to hoard some of them when she could.

Shortly after our arrival, she came out from the shelter of an abandoned building and made sure we were aware of her presence.

The fishing wasn't spectacular where we were so after a while, we crossed the road and made our way behind the building, where we knew we'd be able to catch some chub for her.

She met us out back and waited patiently.

It wasn't long before each of us had several tugs at our respective fishing rods. One by one, we unhooked several small fish, killed them swiftly and brought them to our hungry friend.

At first we couldn't get too close to her and had to toss them her way.

After a few feedings, she decided she would swat them out of our hands and eventually she gently took one chub right out of Frank's hand, as seen in the small inset image at the start of the page.

We later moved on to a different area and spent a pleasant afternoon watching birds, clouds and bobbing floats. We went home with no fish, fewer worms and a few fond memories.

Below are a some photos of a few other creatures which we encountered over the next few days. I hope you enjoy them.

Bunnies are beautiful critters but I don't think they rank too high on the intelligence scale. Frank pointed this cutie out to me. It must have figured that standing stock still meant that he was invisible to me. He allowed me to approach fairly closely without twitching a muscle.

Finally, when I stepped over the too-close line, he hopped a full six feet away, and stood still once more - his back to me this time. Silly wabbit!

Another not-too-bright but beautiful creature is the mourning dove. In his current and very amusing post, Frank agrees with me about this bird's IQ. Go ahead and read his entertaining tale about a mourning dove and a chipmunk. I don't mind waiting till you get back.

A far more intelligent bird is the crow. If you doubt that for one moment, have a look at this video and you'll see what I mean. There's a 30 second commercial before the crow video begins.

Perhaps this guy was off to his workshop in order to craft the right tool for a job.

These American Goldfinch are still coming into their breeding plumage and appear a bit patchy before sporting their full summer gold.

And speaking of gold, look at the beautiful yellow patch on this white-throated sparrow's head. He has a curious expression rivaled only by...

.. this beautiful male cardinal. Ever watchful and calculating, this guy made sure I didn't come any closer while his partner helped herself to the feeder nearby. A bunny could sure learn from these birdbrains.

Back soon with more photos.