Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween!

Halloween was not celebrated where I grew up in Australia and I don't have any childhood memories of the day. No doubt that has changed even there, for usually Big Business will try to make a buck any way they can and Halloween has become a very big business indeed.

In Canada, Halloween was a totally different experience with children dressing up and visiting the neighbours and doing the "Trick or Treat" song and dance with the expectation of candy being dropped into their swag bags. Mine were no different and wanted to join in this parade so I had to make costumes for them. One of us stayed home handing out treats, while the other trailed around with a group of children and other parents to see they all travelled the dark streets safely. Of course it usually rained, being Vancouver.

This was in the good old days, before the worry of weirdos inserting needles into treats or contaminating the handouts with poison, so sometimes they came home with candied apples or home made cookies. One of our neighbours, a dentist, gave out toothbrushes which were a big hit because they were so different. In later years fireworks came into the mix and several families got together to buy them so that the display was bigger and better and lasted longer. One of our dogs, Kanga, was petrified by the whole Halloween thing and hid, shivering and shaking under a bed until it was all over. Cleo, our next dog, thought all the children coming to the door was a splendid excitement, greeting every one and wanting to go with them on their travels. She even barked loudly at the fireworks, adding greatly to the noise.

Nowadays we don't have very many children come to the door, but you never know, so we buy lots of candy, all thoroughly wrapped in some factory now, and usually end up eating most of it ourselves so I don't buy the cheap stuff. If you are going to eat chocolate, eat good chocolate is my motto.

Another thing that has changed is decorating houses for Halloween. Mostly we just carved pumpkins and put candles inside them and put them either in the window or by the front door. But now the displays are getting a little more extensive. I first noticed it in the East, when I had been at my daughter's house at that time of year. Many people there go in for decorating at Halloween in a big way. Slowly this is starting to happen in Vancouver in a smaller way, meaning a house here and a house there.

But one house, a couple of blocks over from us has really gone all out. So I thought I would walk over and take a few photos since it was a beautiful Fall day. This is their second year that I know of and every foot of their property is decorated. I'm told the two fellows who live in the house are in the business, whatever that means. The Special Effects business? The Costume business? The Skeleton business? The Ghoul business? Mr Google hasn't heard about them yet so no help there.

Anyway the photos throughout this post are from this house. You enter from the streetfront and pass through a garage in total darkness except for figures lit eerily and smoking cauldrons.

Then you pass through Klown Alley along the side of the house to the back garden to see the rather horrific autopsy and the Cemetery on the back lawn.

Moving past the sundeck coffin display and along the other side of the house to the front of the house where you are greeted by a real live ghoul. A class from the nearby school was visiting the house and the children had to have their photo taken with him. The house is open from 10 am until midnight and it must be really scary at night. A donation box is by the exit with the money going to several local charities. All in all, a very scary place but the two fellows seemed to be having such a lot of fun as, dressed in costume, they went back and forth greeting the children. How they are going to top this next year I cannot imagine.

Hootin' Anni, the den mother of the 50 plus bloggers loves Halloween and she has been handing out Halloween virtual treats to her site visitors. She gave me one after I stopped by her Photo Hunt and I was also given one by Dragonstar and JC. If you click on the treat you will be taken to Anni's site, which is severely decorated for Halloween.


Sunday, October 28, 2007

Philadelphia ---- Museum of Art, Part II

The setting of the Philadelphia Museum of Art is quite wonderful. From the staircase, looking out, one sees this fountain in the grassy oval and beyond stretches the wide flag lined Benjamin Franklin Parkway all the way to the Philadelphia City Hall.

But let's return to some of the treasures inside the building. The museum has a quite a few Auguste Rodin sculptures and this one, called Thought is a beautifully carved female head emerging from the rough block of marble. Her chin still embedded in the marble, the model for this sculpture was fellow sculptor, Camille Claudel, Rodin's mistress at the time. It reminds me of the unfinished sculptures by Michelangelo at the Accademia in Florence where it seems the figures are struggling to escape from the marble. I am always in awe of someone who can stand in front of a block of marble and envision a figure within.

After exploring the galleries of European Art 1850-1900 we passed through Modern and Contemporary Art. Below is Pablo Picasso's Head of a Woman, 1901.

As I wandered around in this museum I was very busy looking and taking photographs and if I knew the painter I would not note it down but count on finding the name of the painting later, either in the museum catalogue which I bought or in the online website. I was positive that this was a Picasso but it turns out not to be so*. I notice some writing in the upper left corner but I am unable to read it. I cannot find this anywhere, so help me out if you know what it is.

*Update: Almost 4 years later, in July of 2011, I received an email telling me this is an Picasso, called Women and Children and it is in the Museum online catalogue now. Many thanks to the anonymous emailer.

I'm quite the fan of sculpture myself and I thought you might appreciate these three works of the Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi. He is best known for his very modern version of The Kiss, which is in this museum but not currently on display. The beautiful marble on the left is called Three Penguins which I think is quite evocative. Click for a better glimpse.

To end this post, for my husband who is a big fan of Joseph M W Turner, I took the following photo of the only Turner in this museum. The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons, October 16, 1834.

I have to tell you that our first date was a visit to the Tate Gallery in London forty-seven years ago. Now the Tate has the largest collection of Turners in the world, with 300 Turner oil paintings and while we probably didn't see every one that day we did see a goodly number of them. No, I'm not quite the fan of Turner that he is, however we did get married anyway.

There is more to come from this wonderful museum. Not the definitive tour, but just some things that I fancied. Part I is here if you missed it.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Saturday Photo Hunt ---- Pink


If there is one colour I really hate it is pink. None of the rooms in my house have anything pink nor does my closet contain a single item of pink apparel. But, as you can see below, it is a colour loved by many little girls, well except two. One, my granddaughter, second from the right and the other one, next to her, the Birthday Girl, prefer blue which I also dislike but not so strongly. The party was held in a dance studio and the entertainment was a dance lesson. This is the lifestyle of the four year olds who live in Westchester County, New York.

My daughter thought that the party had probably cost in the region of $1000 all told. She dragged me along and said don't worry, there will be so many people there no one will care. She was right for there were lots of parents and grandparents of the attendees and we lunched at the sandwich buffet while the young ones ate a different lunch. There were three different birthday cakes and the party favours were extraordinary. As well each child received a photo of the group in a frame to take home. One of the grandparents took care of this while the dance lesson took place. No, my daughter doesn't spend $1000 on her daughter's birthday party but the pressure is on for these mothers, for it seems my granddaughter attends at least 2 birthday parties a month.


Sorry about word verification which I hate myself but I have been discovered by some spammers who are inundating my posts. Hopefully it will be temporary.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Philadelphia ----- Museum of Art, Part I

You didn't think I had finished Philadelphia did you? Although our visit there seems such a long time ago.

On our third and last day we decided to visit the Philadelphia Museum of Art. While it was established in 1876, the current enormous Greek revival style building was constructed in 1919 on a ten acre site. As you can see it faces a large park and is approached by a monumental staircase. The facade of the central main entrance is in restauro, as the Italians say, or undergoing restoration.

This world-class art museum is one of the largest in the United States and contains over 200 galleries with 225,000 objets d'art. It also includes the Rodin Museum which we had visited and I wrote about earlier. Obviously we had to be selective here and decided that the galleries showcasing European Art between 1850 and 19oo would be our first stop since their collection of French Impressionists is rather extensive and it is rather a favourite period of mine. Naturally one cannot use flash in the museum so I have many unusable photos because I was unable to hold the camera steady enough. So whatever images you see here are not necessarily my favourites, but for the reason that I had a half decent photo which with a little editing was acceptable although not brilliant.

Yes, they do have one of the series of still lifes of sunflowers in simple earthenware jugs painted by Vincent van Gogh when he resided in France.

Similarly Claude Monet did a series of paintings of the tall thin poplar trees which lined the River Epte near his home at Giverny, France. He worked from a small boat, painting several canvases at one time.

At the Moulin Rouge: The Dance, by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, which I am sure I didn't need to tell you, so distinctive are his paintings and his subjects.

Mary Cassatt was a local Pennsylvania girl, studying art at first in Philadelphia but she spent much of her adult life in Europe where she was a close friend of Degas and exhibited with the Impressionists. She is well known for her beautiful studies of women and children.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art has a wonderful collection of art and it is obvious that it will require more than one post to show you what we saw there, which I can tell you was such a small part of it, although we spent over six hours there.

Now some of you may associate this museum with the making of the Rocky films, with the monumental staircase actually known as the Rocky steps. The bronze statue seen below has had many positions around the museum, even appearing in some of the films and other films like Philadelphia. It now resides at the foot of the steps.

Similar to the van Gogh and Monet series, but in no way as brilliant, a series of posts on this wonderful museum will be produced here, so call again to see their splendid armour collection or their Japanese teahouse, amongst other fine works of art.

UPDATE: I apologize for enabling the word verification for comments but I have become the victim of a spammer, an online drug company has been spamming older posts but is moving into the more current ones. I hope they will move on and I will be able to remove it in a few days.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

One Book -- One Town

One Book One Vancouver

Sometimes, someone has a simply brilliant idea. It is so brilliant that it spreads like wildfire and everyone wonders why no one thought of it before. What on earth am I talking about, you ask? It's the One Book -- One Town Reading Campaign.

Vancouver started One Book-One Vancouver six years ago. Of course it's based in the Vancouver Public Library system, with multiple copies of the chosen book, along with brochures about the book and the campaign and reading guides for those wishing to use it in book clubs. The people of Vancouver vote on the choice of book from a short list placed on the library's website. In previous years it had been a book with a local connection, however the 2007 book is My Year of Meats, by Ruth Ozeki, an American writer. Nora Cody, a reviewer, wrote in her review of the book:
My Year of Meats is a wonderful, strong, disturbing, funny novel. It is at times hilarious and absurd, at times shocking and heart wrenching.
I myself found it shocking and disturbing and did not care for it at all. It certainly makes you want to be a vegetarian. But that no way negates the idea of the One Book -- One Town project to my mind.

Until recently I had no idea that this was not a Vancouver Library initiative. Imagine my surprise when I read recently that the One Book -- One Town project was thought up by Nancy Pearl of the Washington Center for the Book, in Seattle.

Originally called If all of Seattle read the Same Book, it is now known as Seattle Reads. It started in 1998 and from there has spread rapidly to more than 350 communities throughout fifty one states and abroad to Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia. The Library of Congress has compiled a list of the communities and the books chosen here for our interest. I found it fascinating. Check the list. Maybe your community is involved and you don't know it. Perhaps it's an idea your community might wish to adopt.

In any event I wish you all Happy Reading. Remember: To Read is to Learn, a slogan I made up for my high school celebration of Book Week, more than fifty years ago and won me a book prize, which I have to this day. Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen, with a navy leather cover and a gold school crest embedded in the cover.

This is posted today in celebration of the Vancouver Public Library reopening after a three month long strike by the workers.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Dinner with Lady Mac

Sunday, Lady Mac, my luncheon companion of the other day, finished her conference after lunch, so I had arranged to pick her up at her hotel at 2pm. The rain was torrential and along the way I phoned and left a message that I would be fifteen minutes late. Road works on the highway, Sunday traffic and the rain made me 30 minutes late so I think she was getting rather anxious by the time I arrived.

The plan of several days before, which involved driving around some of the spectacular spots in Vancouver, were shelved since one couldn't see the mountains nor more than a couple of hundred feet in front of one's face. So we headed straight to Granville Island and poked around in the market for a bit. At least we were out of the rain.

Lady Mac was bubbling with all she had learned and done at the Surrey International Writers' Conference. As she said on her blog, she was a big hit in the Princess Coat and it certainly made her memorable, although frankly I think she is rather memorable in any event.

The previous evening at the conference banquet she had been seated with one of my favourite authors, Jacqueline Mitchard. So I was delighted to hear that she was a charming funny lady. I'm sure she'll tell you all about it when she gets some free time. Today she was jetting east to Boston.

As you know Lady Mac lives in Morocco and you know that she is always having adventures there. Well she brought those adventures with her to Surrey, for six people were found murdered in a condominium not far from her hotel and a small plane taking off from the Vancouver airport crashed into an apartment building, killing the pilot and injuring people in one of the apartments. All in the space of the few days while she was here. There's no such thing as coincidence you know.

Lady Mac inspects a local artisan's work in the market

It was quite busy in the market, being the weekend, so after a while we decided to have some tea and Lady Mac wanted a scone since she misses them so. Unfortunately the North American version of the scone is somewhat different but we bought them anyway along with tea and joined the communal tables where one sits to eat in the market. The "old scientist" was with us and it seems we sat there for hours talking away about everything under the sun.

Lady Mac explaining something to the "old scientist"
who is listening intently. Always at the ready her notebook and pen.

Like most women, Lady Mac does not care for her photo being taken so I had to be sneaky with my zoom while officially off getting a napkin or whatever excuse I thought of. Again the conversation went bouncing along with scarcely a pause. No Mutley, we had exhausted you as a topic but we did discuss another BP member's post about the chemical pathways of brain activity and the concept of free will which we both had read with interest. Well this among many other topics.

A little more wandering around the market and we adjourned for dinner to the nearby bistro at Bridges, seen above on a wonderful sunny day. Unlike Sunday, when the torrential rains came. By this time the rain had stopped so we could see the boats in the marina from the window but I'm afraid the conversation continued with little time spent looking around. We dined on West Coast Seafood Chowder and Grilled Wild Salmon with a horseradish crumb crust served with tiny roasted root vegetables. Totally delicious.

Finally we took the highway back to Surrey and dropped Lady Mac at her very nice hotel. I don't think I have talked so much non-stop for a very long time. We said farewell, how delightful it had been to meet another blogger whom we actually read and I can only say it was a truly wonderful experience for me.

If Lady Mac comes your way, and she is continually on the move, make sure you arrange to meet her. You won't be sorry, for how often do you meet someone who is larger than life and has such wonderful adventures to relate. You know I never did see her in the Princess Coat. Next time, I guess.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Unfulfilled Dreams

I've been tagged by Crushed at Ingsoc with a meme. Dreams. I thought he himself answered the meme brilliantly, calling it Dreams that Etch Themselves on our Soul. As is his wont, Crushed talked about dreams involving high ideals. If you missed it, go visit.

Now I'm at the latter part of my life and although there are many things I would like to see achieved in my lifetime on a global level, for mankind, I can't really think of too many things that I still wish I could personally achieve. Or more likely that I could possibly achieve. One has to be realistic here. So I'm going to answer this tag by talking about some unfulfilled dreams.

The first one was to be really fluent in a language other than English. Truly bilingual. So capable I could think in that language, whatever it might be. Studying Latin and French at school, I thought I had achieved a fairly high level of proficiency with both, although one is never fluent in Latin these days and with French I was never quite there. I flirted with German for a year when I lived in England but it didn't stick. Finally I took on Italian which for me was the perfect language. Melodious, with every letter pronounced, and full of wonderful complicated grammar, Italian was and is a delight for me. Again I flirted with it for a while and let it drop due to the pressures of life. In the early nineties I began studying it again and have continued for years. I have done University level courses, I have been to study at language schools in Italy on three separate occasions but I still sound like an English speaker translating into Italian as I go along. I want to be able to think in Italian, even dream in it! It's just not possible taking class once a week. One needs to live there for at least a year and take courses to achieve that level. Never happened, never will.

This one I've talked about previously but I'll repeat it. I wanted to be an expert on something. You know, the go-to person when you need the last word on some subject. The one they interview on the radio or TV about some news item, because you are the local expert on the topic. I don't even know what subject I wanted to be an expert in. Funnily enough my husband was an expert in his subspecialty of physical chemistry but no one ever asked his opinion on TV or radio. Indeed this was such a very amorphous dream how on earth could I ever achieve it.

In my dreams I have perfect control over my body and I am an Olympic gymnast. I can do any of those things I see them do on TV. Perfectly. I don't find the vaulting particularly interesting but the mat work and the balance beam and swinging on the parallel bars are all things I can do perfectly. In my dreams.

For some years I had this dream that when both my husband and I retired we would go to Africa and volunteer our services. He would teach Chemistry and I would be a pharmacist in some clinic. Finally you say, an altruistic dream. It was never well thought out, never explored in any detail. Just something I thought would be a great thing to do. It's ten years since he retired and nine for me, but it never happened. I guess it was my dream and not his. He just wanted to play golf and I got involved in other things. Too late now.

There is still a chance that I might achieve my last dream for this post. I haven't given up totally on it. Again I have spoken at length on this dream here. I want to go on safari to Africa. I want to see the Big Five in real life instead of on TV. But I also want to see the land of Kenya and Tanzania, maybe Botswana. Who can forget the scenery in Out of Africa? Although I've had this dream since long before I saw that film. One day, this one might happen, but I should hurry before it too becomes just another unfulfilled dream.

I'm not going to tag anyone, but if this meme appeals to you I'd like to read about your dreams.

If I had $7000 dollars to spare I could purchase the twenty three inch high sculpture, Female Gymnast by Robert McArthur, shown above.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Photo Hunt ---- Practical


Everyone knows that I have 75 pairs of shoes from my post, The Shoes in My Life. All sensible shoes. But I have taken that one step farther. I often buy the same shoes in different colours it seems. Now that's practical, for I like them and go back and buy them in another colour. I don't waste time searching around for other styles or colours because it also seems that I buy them in the same colour. Black and tan. Well except for the sandals. Red. Some brown too.

And now for something completely different.

Old age is a bummer, let me tell you. The body is incapable of doing things it once could. Even simple things, like open jars. Everything is closed so tightly now that it is impossible to get inside to use the contents. The "old scientist" isn't much help either because he's even older. Since I just love the "toys" this is what I bought him for his birthday last year. Lids Off, the practical solution to the problem. No excuse now. Well yes, it is a bit like using a canon against an ant. But it works like a dream, when we use it once a month or so. No laughing! You'll be old one day too!


Update: Once again all the images disappeared from this post so I apologize if you visited during that time. I have uploaded them once again! Why is Picasa doing this to me?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Lunch with Lady Mac

Yes, Lady Mac does exist! Just as lovely in the flesh as the photo on her blog. Tall and slim with lovely auburn hair and a big welcoming smile. She arrived safely in Surrey late Wednesday night, sans luggage and shoes and tells the story of her journey here.

I have to admit that I was very nervous about our meeting, for Lady Mac, from her blog and her stories there, is larger than life. She doesn't just run errands in Morocco, she has adventures while out and about. This is how she describes herself:

I was in Scotland, I was in Paris, I was in India, then I was in Alabama, USA. I was in Alaska USA, I was in London, I was in Kashmir, then I was in Boston where I had a white fuzzy cat. then my daughter graduated from university a Fulbright scholar and decided to do her year of research in Morocco. I am now in Morocco writing, writing...

This is how I describe myself:

Nobody Important: Retired from hospital pharmacy, wasting too much time reading blogs and surfing the internet.

You may notice a slight difference between these two people. However, the two of us spent six and half hours together over a very long lunch, talking up a storm. What did we talk about for such a long time, you might well ask. Anything and everything: politics, religions, our daughters - with hers now starting on the path that mine took seventeen years ago, our travels, her life in Morocco, her years spent in India, how much we both love Alaska, writing, reading, books, blogging, her very exotic travels which mine pale against. We covered a lot of territory and yes Lady Mac is larger than life. Someone I know you would all like to meet in person.

Lady Mac is here for the Surrey Writers' Festival so she will be quite busy over the next few days but we hope to get together again before she leaves. It seems we haven't finished our conversation. Lady Mac's daughter was worried about her meeting someone she only knew over the internet but your mother was quite safe with the me Q. I really am a "little old lady", not an axe murderer.

Surrey image from Wikimedia here.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Pianist -- Wladyslaw Szpilman -- The Short Book Club

When the shells of the invading Nazis forced the closure of Polish Radio on 23 September 1939, the last live music heard was Wladyslaw Szpilman's performance of Chopin's C sharp minor Nocturne. When broadcasting was resumed in 1945, it was again Szpilman who initiated the transmissions, with the same Chopin nocturne.

This quote comes from the website about Wladyslaw Szpilman which you may wish to explore.

The Pianist, was chosen for our meeting of the Short Book Club last week for the simple reason that the father of one of our younger members is teaching it in a course at the university this semester. He agreed to have dinner with us and give us some perspective on the book.

Peter is a faculty member who specializes in modern Germanic literature. However he has also taught courses in Scandinavian literature and added much to our discussion several years ago when we read an Icelandic novel he was teaching.

Most of you know the story of Wladyslaw Szpilman from the award winning movie, made in 2002 by Roman Polanski from this autobiography, but in fact the book was written at the end of the World War II. In 1945 in fact and it was titled Death of a City. Aged 28 at the beginning of the war and a pianist on Polish Radio he survived in Warsaw from 1939 until the end of the war, in 1945. A truly remarkable feat indeed for he survived not only being confined to the ghetto, but also the Jewish uprising there followed by the Polish uprising in Warsaw and its final destruction as a city. At the beginning of the war there were 3 million Jews in Poland and at the end only 5000.

The Pianist is one of eight books set for the course Peter is teaching on the Holocaust. This is the second time he has taught this course and with 50 students enrolled it is the most popular course by far in the department of Central, Eastern and Northern European Studies (CNES) which of course covers all the European languages, other than the romance languages.

All eight books are written by survivors of the Holocaust and the only other two I had heard of were Primo Levi who wrote If this is a Man, amongst other works and Tadeusz Borowski who documented his experiences in This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen.

The Pianist
is the first book dealt with in the course since Szpilman describes life in Warsaw before the war. It was written very close to the events and has a kind of amateur truthfulness. He uses a very matter of fact style, with a rather detached manner in fact as he baldly gives a description of the period and the events he lived through. In fact, the film portrays them in a much more emotional way than does the book .

Peter talked about the various ways individual Jews used to survive. As we saw in the book many of the Jews became guards of other Jews and mistreated their fellow men in some very horrific ways. Others were useful as workers in factories and still others worked for the brigade of Jews who met the trains as they arrived at the camps. These guards held the job of taking all the jewellery, belongings and food from those arriving and while they could not keep anything of value they could keep the food and in this way survived.

Although there were concentration camps all throughout German occupied territory, all the killing camps were situated in Poland with Auschwitz the most famous and especially built for the purpose. So another task that allowed Jewish workman to survive was the building of these camps in which their brethren were killed.

Szpilman survived by some extraordinary means, narrowly escaping the deportation and subsequent death of his family. Mostly he existed in hiding, helped by various Polish friends at great risk to themselves and of course finally was helped by the German officer whose name he did not know and only discovered much later.

In Warsaw, after the war, Szpilman continued his career as a pianist on Polish Radio and with the Warsaw Quintet. He died in 2000 just two years before the film was released. After the end of the war, he was a survivor who went on, determined not to let these experiences ruin his life.

In contrast Primo Levi survived his incarceration in Auschwitz by knowing some German and because he was a chemist and useful to the Germans. After the war he continued his life as a chemist and finally as a writer, but in 1987, forty years later, he fell from a balcony to his death which was thought to be suicide. While Borowski, a young poet and writer before the war, who survived both slave labour in Auschwitz and a forced march to Dachau, committed suicide at age 28 by gassing himself.

So now you know what I learned from reading this book and listening to someone who teaches it. I hope you can follow this slightly disorganized summary of my notes. It was a very interesting discussion and although I found the book rather tedious for the first 100 pages, I read the next 120 pages in one sitting, compelled by this man's story. Would I recommend it? As an historical account of course but as a literary work I preferred Elie Wiesel's Night which I wrote about previously.

Our German-Canadian hostess cooked Polish food for dinner, the recipes for which she found on the internet. The food was rather heavy with lots of red cabbage, sauerkraut with sausage and a Polish meatloaf with a hardboiled egg inside, along with pumpernickel bread. However we enjoyed the food and the fellowship we shared over dinner before our book discussion.

Next time we revisit the Muslim world of Afghanistan with another non-fiction book, The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad, which has been on my to-be-read pile for some time.

Monday, October 15, 2007

How Big is Your Bunch? --- The Keychain Meme

Shades of Grey has done it again! He's invented a new meme for us to play. I hope it spreads farther than the fridge meme he started last month, which sadly seemed to die with me. But I have more hope for this one, for we all carry big bunches of keys, don't we? We all are dying to explain why it is important to carry every single one of them when we leave the house.

Sometime ago I read a similar post about keys by Ian Lidster of Or So I Thought. In case you don't know who Ian Lidster is, he really is a writer. As a journalist he had a newspaper column for many years which is obvious from his blog for he takes an idea and runs with it in a very amusing way. His keychain was one of them and I wanted to do a post about my keys then, but I didn't want to appear to be copying his brilliant idea.

But of course we often have the same brilliant idea independently, as Ian Grey did and he's had experience with me snitching an idea from him before this. I'm even pinching his opening image to give this meme continuity. Fortunately it appears to be a Wikimedia commons image so everyone can use it legally should you be so inclined. Without further ado, may I present the bunch of keys that I am always searching for as I leave the house. If only I put them in the same place every time, she sighs.

So starting at the top: the remote for my car, my house key, the deadbolt house key, unknown key but will come to me when I am confronted by the lock, two car keys, key to my son's house, key to his basement suite, keys to a storage locker I keep for some things of my Alzheimer friend who is in a nursing home, an initial L. No, this is not my initial but in memory of my friend Leona who died of a brain tumour 21 years ago and whose house keys I had with this tag so I knew they were hers. OK, back to the keys: remote for the house alarm, keys to another friend's place. She was away and I was checking her house and also watering her plants and the domino tag goes with her keys which I normally keep in a drawer with other keys if she is in town. That's it!

Now promise me you won't let Ian Grey down. I could tag people but that can be so annoying so I'm leaving it up to you. Please don't let me become known as the meme killer as well as the zeroslasher, a reference to my tendency to make a comment when I see that no one else has done so, because I hate to see all that hard work unappreciated.

Now the keys in the drawer. That's a post for another day.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Cleo, the new face of Nobody Important

Some of you may have noticed a change in my avatar. Yes, another technical disaster. I am so prone to these things, but they are usually due to my own stupidity. This one I think was due to my own naivety rather than stupidity. In my first days of blogging I think I linked my profile photo to an image on the web, rather than saving it to my hard drive, although I saved it later. So of course the image has disappeared from the web and consequently from my profile photo and all those little Westie images that I scattered all over the internet in comments are now reduced to little rectangles, even on my own blog. And what's more when I loaded the new image into the profile, it didn't fix the old comments. I don't know why the clever people didn't think of that.

Anyway, when I noticed it finally, who knows how much later, I decided to find a photo of Cleo, the Westie I owned until three years ago. I wrote about her and the choice of my avatar in my third post here, but I just know you are not going to click over so I am including some text about her from that post.

Well, back to Westies. I've had four dogs in my lifetime, all different breeds, and I couldn't have loved them more. But the last one we had, Cleo, the Westie, was by far the best. We got her when she was five months old, via a "for sale" ad in the newspaper. I didn't want a puppy again and I had always wanted a cairn terrier, but each time we were looking for a dog, there were no cairns around. So when I saw the ad for a young Westie, I thought to myself, ahah, a "white" cairn, it's fate. We had her for 14 1/2 years and she was a delight for every minute of them. She weighed less than 20 lbs, was very low to the ground (every night we had to help her up onto the bed, where she slept with us) but every inch and every ounce of her was an alpha dog. She was incredibly stubborn and we had to repeat dog obedience several times --no hardship for her, she loved other dogs. Dog obedience night was the highlight of her week! She loved children and I never had to worry about them when she was with them. We had to put her down just over a year ago. She had a huge mass in her abdominal cavity which we didn't find until she stopped eating. I held her in my arms while the vet injected her, one of the worst moments of my life.

The profile photo was cropped from this photo when she was six years old, all spoofed up and sitting with my daughter in her wedding dress. Scanned from a not so high quality print. I still miss her and her lambskin bed still sits in our family room.

So farewell to this image which has served me so well and frankly this dog looked so much like Cleo that I would swear this was a photo of her sitting on the lawn in my back garden. In fact when I went to pick her up from the doggie wash it was lucky that she knew me, because often I would not have been able to pick her out from the other Westies, so similar were they with their new spiffy haircuts.

Before I go, I must tell you about my big worry. As you all know from obsessively checking your stats, a blog receives many visitors via google image searches. Mine is no different. In fact I know that those wonderful numbers in my stats were dependent on people looking for this Westie image. So I am most concerned that my stats will be reduced by the 80% who came looking for Westies. I do hope that the real Cleo will be just as eagerly sought after, but I'm already noticing the drop in numbers. Well it was good for the ego while it lasted. And you know what? I think I like the new real Cleo image better than the old one. Thank you Gledwood for being the only one who commented on it.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Saturday Photo Hunt ---- Smelly


Smelly, adj. informal: Having a noticeable, usually unpleasant or offensive odor.

I find many of the Photo Hunt themes difficult. Sometimes I don't have any idea what to post, but since I joined I have always managed to think of something. This time I can think of many things but it seems I am reluctant to post any of the malodorous things I can think of.

The garbage workers are still on strike, after more than two months but I don't really think you want to see another photo of my garbage can. Of course, luckily, you don't have to actually smell the unpleasant things we post this week, but I am sure our imaginations will fill in the blanks. So without further ado may I present today's ripe gym clothes, about to hit the wash along with my three year old gym shoes. We all know that ladies don't sweat, they glow. Yeah, right!

Not wanting to leave you with that bad image and smell, here is a photo of one of the flower stalls at Granville Island. So take a big breath and imagine the beautiful lilies and lovely tulips. Enjoy!


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Red Alert -- HealthCare Post --- Scarcer than Hen's Teeth

Nothing, but nothing, is more boring than talking about weight loss. Unless you want to lose weight. Sometimes, not even then. So if you don't want to read about it, pass right on by. But do call again as this is a one-off.

Obesity is an epidemic of the past few decades that no one has been able to cure. No, there is no safe magic pill that will wipe out this disease. Now that statement makes the old pharmacist unhappy but it's true. Doctors, with some exceptions, are pretty nigh useless in this area. My dear primary care physician says, Weight Watchers usually works! I've been there, done that, got the Lifetime Membership card to prove it. Most people lose weight only to put it all back on plus even more and I was no different.

Not only that, I think I know more about dieting and weight loss than any of the women I met leading those groups. Certainly in theory. I was often consulted about weight loss in my days in community pharmacy. Actually I am rather embarrassed to remember it, since I was always considered slightly underweight and thin until I turned 50. So how could I understand what these women were going through as I blithely rattled off the platitudes and gave advice about something I truly knew nothing about. Not in practical terms.

But now I know a considerable amount about it and from personal experience as well as the theory of it. I just went to count my books on dieting. I'm not talking recipe books, I'm talking books about dieting per se. I have 34 on my shelves. I have read every one of them plus I've read almost every other book on dieting in my public library. So how come I'm too short for my weight, or too heavy for my height or just plain overweight? Because I don't put all that knowledge into practice. I'm no better off than the person who knows nothing at all about it.

But I'm going to do something about it. Again! There are eleven weeks approximately until Christmas. Dr Val Jones, MD, senior medical director at, sent me an invitation to join her in losing 10 lbs before Christmas. Val has set up a group here, a site for bloggers to join and take the challenge with her. Ten pounds in just over ten weeks. That is a doable goal. One pound per week. 3500 calories less per week. Just cut 500 calories per day from your food intake. Or walk for half an hour and cut out 300 calories per day. Or just follow your diet of choice. So get off your butt, get moving and join Val and me in our quest.

You know those eleven weeks are going to pass by anyway, so why not spend them with us in the push to lose ten pounds. also has a very good section on weight management if you need some ideas, plus a wonderful toolkit to keep track of things.

I can't envisage healthcare posts here very often, since this is only the second one, with the first here. Although one day I might tell you about the day our pharmacy department blew the door off the incinerator at the university.

No, not my feet on the scales, obviously male, but there are some males signed up for the ten pounds before Christmas weight loss group. A true co-ed endeavour.

La Villa Romana del Casale, vicino a Piazza Armerina, Sicilia

Today a UNESCO World Heritage Site, La Villa Romana del Casale, situated 5 km outside the town of Piazza Armerina in central Sicily, is visited annually by more than half a million people. What draws these tourists there are the more than forty rooms with 12,500 square feet of mosaic pavement, the best collection of Roman mosaics in existence today.

A mosaic from the Corridor of the Great Hunt

I was fortunate enough to visit this wonderful spot in 2000, as a side trip from my stay in Taormina. A group of about fifteen of us took a tour arranged by the language school where I was studying and we had an excellent Italian guide, with the tour being in Italian of course. It seems that so many of the guides I have had on trips to Italy have been architects. I don't know if there is an over supply of architects in Italy and they cannot find work in their field, but they certainly make splendid guides.

Catwalks are used to traverse the mosaics and you can see the overhead
protective cover. Our excellent architect guide is in the blue shirt

The villa, which was the house of a large surrounding estate, was constructed over an older villa around 320 AD. While there is much controversy about who the owner was, he was certainly a man of wealth and power. From the mosaics we can see that he had connections in Africa, he loved hunting as well as music and poetry and that he was probably a pagan. The villa was thought to be destroyed by invaders about 150 years later although some buildings continued to be used until the twelfth century when there was a fire. The site was abandoned and finally the whole was covered by mud landslides. It is this fact that enabled the mosaics to survive and be so well preserved today.

Another part of the Great Hunt mosaic

At the end of the nineteenth century preliminary excavations were made of the site but most of the work was done during three periods in the twentieth century. The major excavations were done between 1950-60, when a cover was built over the whole to protect the mosaics.

The furnaces where the wood was burned to heat the water both
for the baths and the heating system of the villa itself

The extensive mosaics of the villa were probably done in the early fourth century by North African artists, for the materials are considered African in origin. A very detailed account of the mosaics is given here where the workmanship is discussed as well as the mosaics of each room. Of course when we talk about a room, we are basically talking about the floor because most of the walls, although there, are damaged, however some frescoes and wall paintings and niches for statues still exist.

A different style of mosaic, with a central so-called "erotic" image, in the
antechamber to the main bedroom in the private quarters

Visitors to the villa walk on catwalks built on the old walls which you can see in my photo. It is not easy to photograph the mosaics since you stand high above them. In addition they look rather dull because they are open to the air and covered in dust, although in fact when cleaned they have good colour on the whole.

Of course the most widely known of the mosaics is the Bikini Girls Mosaic which I posted about previously here. It is situated in the Sala delle Dieci Ragazze, The Room of the 10 Girls. But another mosaic floor, in the Ambulacro della Grande Caccia, The Corridor of the Great Hunt, measuring 60m or 197 ft in length by 5 m or 16ft in width, is surely more splendid. The mosaics depicted there are among the most impressive from the ancient world, showing the hunting and capture of wild animals and their transportation to Rome for use in the Colosseum and the Circus Maximus. I'm afraid my scanned photos do not do justice to this amazing place. Please click on them for a slight improvement.

I would consider my visit to this villa one of the highlights of my stay in Sicily and recommend it highly should you go there. As the Italians say, Vale la pena. It's worth the trouble.

This is crossposted at Sicily Scene and Nobody Important.