Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Once an Aussie, Always an Aussie

Earlier this year was the 48th anniversary of the day I left Australia at the age of 24. I never intended to leave forever, just make the Grand Tour that so many Australians did in those days and probably still do. Although I think they are less likely to go straight to London nowadays, but probably go via Asia instead.

I was born in Sydney and after graduating from university in Pharmacy I spent two years working in community pharmacy and saving like mad to get the fare to go to England. Only the very rich travelled by aeroplane in those days, so in March 1960 I arrived by ship in England.

I was travelling on my own but met two other girls on the ship and we rented a "flat" (apartment) in London together and all started working. I had no trouble finding work in various pharmacies as a locum, which suited me just fine as I worked for a few weeks then travelled on the Continent for a few weeks. My overall plan was to work and see Europe and Great Britain, go visit a friend who was living in Canada at the time, then return to Australia and buy or start my own pharmacy.

Well, as they say, life happens while you are making plans. Through one of my flatmates, I met my future husband who was doing a post doctoral fellowship at University College, London. A year later we were married in London and my plans became our plans and those seemed to be looking for an academic position for him at some university. Nothing was available in Australia at the time so we came to Vancouver temporarily, or so we thought.

So I'm a transplanted Australian and I use the word "transplanted" very consciously. Yes it's a gardening term and I'm a gardener. If you take a rose and transplant it to another part of the garden or to another garden altogether it's still a rose. The conditions may be different, perhaps it's now in the shade instead of the sun, or it faces East instead of West and it will flourish differently because of these factors, but intrinsically it's still a rose.

I've been transplanted from Australia to England and finally established myself permanently in Canada. But I'll always be an Australian and I'm very proud to be one. The Australia I left has changed so much, but I'm always comfortable when I visit. I fit right in and my vowel sounds broaden immediately. I become a person who talks to everyone I meet, the person next to me on the bus or train. Australians are the friendliest people I know.

So by now I have lived away from Australia for twice as many years as I lived there. Yes, I'm a Canadian citizen, although I never became one until the Australians allowed dual citizenship which was only in April 2002, for I could never give up my Australian citizenship.

I have written about some of this before in Australia ---Some Thoughts and Introductions. Funnily enough it was a recent rare post from someone I introduced you to in that post, Sienna, which got me thinking about this again. Plus Anzac Day was celebrated last week, April 25th and that's always very special to Australians and makes one feel nostalgic, for it is one of our most important celebrations.

But I want to show you a couple of teaser photos of God's own country taken by Sienna and please click over to her site and just scroll down and enjoy.

I took a photo of a koala in the San Diego zoo but here's one in the wild that Sienna took.

There are so many of these gorgeous sunsets on Sienna's blog. But once again that wonderful country is in the midst of a drought. She says of the state of Victoria, where she lives:

The whole 100% state of Victoria has been declared a drought zone, 90-something percent for South Australia....and different degrees for other states, yet some parts of Queensland have not long had floods!

"A land of drought and flooding rains"....
The last is a quote from My Country, a poem by Dorothy McKellar, which brings tears to the eyes of every Australian no matter how long they have been gone from its shores, as was Dorothy overseas when she wrote it.

Sienna is not the only Aussie blog in my reader. I seem to follow quite a few of them, including
Aussie Bloggers which is a site authored by a large number of Aussies so I manage keep in touch with things there, besides the emails from relatives.

Yep, once an Aussie, always an Aussie. Although I did only get 71% on the How Aussie are You test. How can that be? Grrrrr!!!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Woe is me! More Computer woes!

Now I bored you all with my computer problems due to contracting other people's nasty viruses and worms while on my cruise recently but I thought those problems were solved. However the other day, while chatting with M in Second Life, a little box popped up on the screen. Virus alert!

Got to go and deal with this, I said to M and departed toute de suite. Laboriously I went through my rigmarole of trying to disinfect it with the Shaw Secure program provided by my broadband supplier, however it said it could not disinfect it but had renamed whatever it was. Great, I don't think. But I ran a complete scan of the hard drive and it came out clean.

I had written down the name of the culprit and since I was now at home instead of away, I decided to talk to the technical people at Shaw. Some nice young man said he would get a member of the heavy duty team to call me back and they would run some special scans. So for the next two evenings, Vance, by taking over my computer remotely, spent many hours running different kinds of scans and cleaning out the foreign nasties he found there. Finally he assured me that it was now completely virus and worm free. I thanked him profusely and was so happy to be back online once more.

Well it seems he didn't only take out all the nasties. A lot of the good stuff disappeared too. Like all the history in the browser. Oh well, it will build up again gradually, not to worry. All the cookies must have been taken out too. Half the sites I visit remembered me but many did not. And why was I not registering on MyBlogLog?

Now this was the really awful part. I could not even get into my MyBlogLog account. As an aside, let me tell about the notebook by my computer where every time I have to register for some new application I write it all down. I always try to use the same user name, JMB, but some sites want 6 or more letters or some want numbers and letters combined or sometimes JMB is already taken. There is more than one JMB? How can that be? So you might see me as JMB or No1JMB or Nobimp, depending on the application. I try to use only two passwords to keep it simple and then there are the different security questions. All in the book, thank goodness.

So off I go to MyBlogLog with the information and type it in. Nope. Doesn't work. Why is it asking for my Yahoo ID? Oh, now I remember, Yahoo bought out MyBlogLog. So what is my Yahoo ID? Back to the book. Another little problem. It's just a bit muddy in that particular entry in the book. It seems that I have more than one Yahoo ID. One is for dunnetworks from long ago and one is for the Blogpower mailing list and neither seemed to work in MyBlogLog. By now I'm getting pretty desperate for as you all know, I love MyBlogLog and can't do without it. So I email them for forgotten ID, forgotten password, you name it. Using all three email accounts. Finally I get back enough information to sign into the site. Much erasing and rewriting in the book for next time, bite my tongue, but all seems well again.

Until the next day, when I cannot access the internet at all. What? The little WiFi icon is fully green, I have a signal. But it seems instead of being connected to the B-------- House network I am connected to one with no active profile. I check out all the nearby networks, yes next door is there, yes the house on the other side, the one across the road, the one behind, all secured, so I am not connected to them. But there's a new network, VanWap, on the list and it is unsecured. Somehow I am connected to them, but not strongly enough to get the internet.

Hello, clever technical people at Shaw, what do I do? Why you must change the channel says the heavily accented person on the other end of the phone (are they outsourcing this to India as well?) then he walks me through the process and I reboot the computer and again all is well.

But not for long. Next day, same again. So I changed everything back to the original channel and there we sit. So far so good. But I am very nervous and just waiting for the other shoe to drop. I wish I knew who this VanWap is so I could tell them to secure their wretched network.

Then there is the next problem.

I have a brand new eye. One only so far it's true, but for the last few days I have noticed that the captcha on Blogger has become totally unreadable and even longer than usual. Have they been making changes without telling me? I find that I am having to type them in at least three times per comment and it is driving me insane. So let's look at the one above which I was asked to type today. Is it hjtymlf or lytymlf or? Even when you type a captcha carefully and are absolutely sure you are right, WRONG--ENTER THE LETTERS AS THEY ARE SHOWN IN THE IMAGE, it admonishes you. But I did! So I promise you, unless the religious fanatic attacks again with his/her ten page comments this is a

Captcha Free Blog

Exasperation Free Commenting*

* From Colin Campbell's sidebar

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Saturday Photo Hunt


The funny part about this unusual signpost is that, besides being in the middle of nowhere, in Skagway, Alaska, it points in the vague directions of (but with no distances included) Whitehorse and Carcross in the Yukon Territory; Atlin in BC; Nome Alaska, now finish of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race; Fairbanks Alaska; this way for the Chilkoot Pass; or that way for Whitepass. For example, Nome is more than 3000 miles away, but just head that way! Too weird!


I am having computer problems at the moment so if I do not return your visit right away, I will soon I promise.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Spring is Sprung, the Grass is Riz

Spring is sprung,

De grass is riz,
I wonder where dem birdies is?
De little birds is on de wing,
Ain't dat absurd?
De little wing is on de bird!

Well let me tell you the wings are so little on these birds. Totally out of proportion to what they will be later. Seven is a goodly number of offspring for this pair.

And they are just wonderful, these little balls of fluff, sitting on the grass among the English daisies. Much as Canada Geese are such a pest in general, when you see a sight such as this, you can't help admiring them.

Sadly, or not, depending on your point of view, the chances of all seven surviving to adulthood are quite slim and the pair next to them had but one large gosling. These photos were taken at the duck pond at Granville Island today and the geese sit right next to the pathway with little concern for the passersby, unless they come too close. So before my arrival, the goose on the right had his head tucked under his wing, having a snooze. But danger, danger, do I have to get up and attack this pesky camera-wielding female? Maybe she'll go away and I can get back to napping.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

More Adventures in Second Life

In my last post about Second Life I promised you more about my adventures in that virtual world where a large number of people seem to spend quite a lot of time.

One day while checking out the Blogpower Common Room I received an instant message from TP , owner of same and who had obviously seen me come online. He was on his yacht and offered to teleport me there. Yes teleporting, similar to Beam me up Scottie, is the method of transportation between regions in SL.

Although it was moored at the time in the marina, TP proudly showed me his yacht, which he loves to sail on the sea in SL and we were having a chat when my avatar began to freeze and was not able to move nor could I type the instant messages which we were using to communicate. TP could see I was in trouble and explained that it was no doubt due to the limitations of my computer. So I logged out for that day.

I do find it an intriguing place, so I returned again another time to visit TP's new art gallery when I ran into him once again. Or rather he popped over to invite me to tour some more of his property in SL where he has rather extensive holdings and business interests. We actually took a ride in his rocketship and arrived at his spaceship where we sat on quite comfortable couches and watched the earth rotating through the window.

Now I have a freebie membership in SL and while in theory you can change the appearance of your avatar, including hair and clothes, one is limited, especially by one's dexterity, at this. So TP asked a friend of his to come by who was willing to give me a hand in finding free outfits to wear and help me with various things one needs to know in SL. In addition he graciously transferred two thousand Linden dollars to my account to get me started which made me feel very embarrassed until he explained that someone did that for him when he started out and for me to pass it on in a similar manner at some point to another Newbie. That made me feel a little better about accepting it, plus the fact that it is worth slightly less than US$ 8 at the current exchange rate. In addition he gave me use of an apartment in one of his unfinished building projects where I could try on clothes and rez (which means to bring an object into 3D space in SL) the free furniture and objects in my inventory which also takes practice, let me tell you.

But back to my lessons with L, TP's friend who was gracious enough to spend a few hours with me in SL, where she made my head whirl with things I had to learn about communicating and managing my avatar. She also gave me advice about jazzing up my appearance a little and off we went shopping to look at new hair. Now I found this totally overwhelming and before you buy the actual hair, you should buy what is called a demo. Some are free, some you pay L $1. So you can try this on to check it out beforehand.

I have all types of demo hair in my inventory but I haven't yet found the perfect hair. It seems that most of the styles available are what I call hooker hair; over the top sexy mops, half way down the back and draping the chest, which don't appeal to me at all. I've had short hair since I was a teenager so I don't feel comfortable in big masses of curls.

Now L has gone out of town in real life for a few weeks, so when I suddenly became bald I was up the creek without a paddle. I'm sure that Sinnead O'Connor is the only female who chooses to be bald and I certainly don't wish to be, not even in Second Life. But another Blogpower member, S, who also has a busy existence in Second Life and despite being male, came to my rescue and explained hair to me. So as you can see above, I have hair once more.

TP wears glasses in SL as he does in real life and I wanted some desperately. Especially after I was hit upon in a store by a young male avatar. I'm sure he was only being helpful, well that was his line, but he wanted to become my "friend". It seemed impolite to say no, but I thought to myself, Buzz off, can't you see I'm an old lady. Of course he can't, but he can click on my profile and all is revealed there. Maybe he checked and he's a 75 year old codger running around in a young avatar like me.

Now I just can't bring myself to give my avatar wrinkles and grey hair. After all that is bad enough in real life. So working on the theory that men don't make passes at girls who wear glasses I splashed out and bought some. Safe now. And I do wear them in real life so I feel quite comfortable behind my "wall".

As you can see the squatter has been busy rezzing furniture in her grace and favour apartment. To do this one clicks on the article in the inventory list and drags it onto the floor. Magically the article appears. Now one might like to move it around and there is that capability. However more often than not, since it came free, it's hideous and I click on it immediately and return it to the inventory. So I feel a bit like Endora the Witch, zapping with a mouse instead of a magic wand, making things appear and then disappear. It's great fun.

What you see in the snapshots is the least offensive furniture amongst the freebies I have acquired. You don't seriously think I would buy a leopard skin couch, do you? Now this sounds simple enough but sometimes this process is fraught with danger. I somehow managed to place a huge grey couch and a bookcase in space outside the window and it was interfering with the helicopter pad. What the heck? How did that happen? I could not seem to fix it so I had to send a message to TP, asking for help. Next time he came to SL he whizzed by in his helicopter and returned it to my inventory.

He's out of town too, with limited internet access, so I am not rezzing anything at the moment, in case I get into trouble and have no back-up rescue person. I go shopping instead, well mostly window shopping. S put me in contact with M who is female and loves shopping. She knows all the best places and sends me messages about where I should go. I did find a store with a lot of short hair styles for sale, but it seems they all cover my glasses which I certainly don't want to do. Those glasses were expensive and besides they have to be seen to be a deterrent!

So as you can see I wear North American casual at the moment but I am hoping to find something more suitable to wear to some of the interesting lectures I see on offer in SL. Next thing you know I will be writing about lectures I attend in SL on my blog, the way I do about talks I go to in real life. Wouldn't that be a hoot? Poor you. There are also many museums and art galleries to explore. I have acquired a freebie peasant outfit for visiting Renaissance Island, where there is a big celebration for St George's day this coming weekend. I wonder if I'll have the nerve to show up.

Yes, I still crash regularly in SL. It is most frustrating. It will make me upgrade my RAM, sooner rather than later. I have been needing to do it for a while but I was hoping that I could hold out till my computer-scientist son-in-law comes at the end of June.

I don't know why I didn't think of it before but yesterday I bought a book, Second Life, the Official Guide. Pretty soon, I'll be an expert. I can't believe that I am doing this, but it's a whole new world for the old lady to explore and there is no waiting around in airports or worrying about security to get there. But there is much more crashing. Fortunately no one is permanently dead or injured in Second Life. Now what 's not to like about that?

Remember, JMB Balogh. Send me a message, I'd love to meet you there.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Wet Coast Women

Some of you may have noticed this button way down the bottom of my sidebar. Wet Coast Women. Long ago Mary Anne, a member of WCW, commented on one of my Vancouver posts that I should submit the post to their blog and become a member of this group which I did.

It was started by Crunchy of Crunchy Carpets , where clean socks are a privilege not a right ( a woman after my own heart) and I don't remember how many bloggers there were at the time, probably around thirty or so. Not all are in Vancouver by any means, but in the surrounding area, including Vancouver Island. The Wet Coast region. Although the group is starting to get members from farther afield recently.

Crunchy is quite techie so the blog is a Wordpress one which was a complete mystery to me at the time. I managed to copy the post to the editor, although the spacing was not great. I had no idea how to fix it and it stubbornly resisted all my efforts. But up it went on the site as it was.

Quite often the site was very quiet, no matter how hard Crunchy tried to encourage people to participate. Since I have the biggest guilt complex imaginable I would copy some post about Vancouver that I written for my site and put it there and for a while it was only Crunchy and I posting intermittently.

Funnily enough I have received some recognition from a post I put up there which completely escaped notice on my own blog. My post on Steveston was picked up from the WCW site and I was asked for permission for it to be included on the official Steveston website where it now sits. Another one, Vancouver -- the Downside also created interest there, although that one did at my site too.

The number of bloggers associated with the group is now around 74 by my count and while few of them post, there has been much more action on the blog lately with more people posting than usual.

It may be coincidental but after Crunchy made the suggestion that we should have a get together suddenly more people began to post at WCW. While it is not easy to schedule something for a multitude of individuals Saturday April 18th was the date and the place, The Whip, a rather funky pub-style restaurant.

I was determined to go, despite my cataract surgery being but a few days prior, although I was a bit nervous to be meeting a group where I was obviously going to be the matriarch in years at least. As it turned out there were only five of us for dinner with one other who came afterwards to join us.

Mary Anne came all the way from Vancouver Island and brought us all a small gift of a lighthouse photoholder, for she says she comes from Lighthouse country. In fact the last manned lighthouse in BC is on Chrome Island which is nearby.

It was very interesting for me to meet Crunchy and the others, to find out a bit more about them and to hear about the future plans for the site which is currently being revamped. I thought it was quite the fun evening and I'm sure it will be the first of other get togethers of the members of Wet Coast Women. I would like to thank Crunchy for all the hard work she does for the site and for organizing the get together and hopefully more will be able to attend next time.

Click on the button or the banner to check out the WCW site or for Crunchy's report here.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Saturday Photo Hunt ---- Thirteen


It will be interesting to see what people make of this theme. I thought long and hard but the muse was elsewhere.

So here are

rocks from my collection

In this case the stripey ones in the centre were sent to me by
my blog friend Eurodog from her place in Cornwall,
others picked up by me from Mt Etna, Cannes,
Vulcano, Australia and northern BC.

The number is from my front door. No I don't live at Number 13, there are numbers on either side of these. But these are also unlucky according to the Chinese.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Eye: Half Opened, at Least

It will be fine. It will be fine. It will be fine. Just not yet. This is an update to yesterday's eye tune-up post. Don't feel obliged to read it.

Since cataract surgery is the most common surgery done now in North America, you can imagine that they have the whole set-up down pretty pat by now. Instead of the procedure taking place as an inpatient in a hospital, as was the case when I first started in hospital pharmacy in 1980, it is performed in daycare surgery at the Eye Care Clinic of the hospital.

You front up as requested, after breakfast, in ordinary clothes, watch a video of the whole procedure beforehand and are usually out the door again in two hours. Well it wasn't quite like that yesterday, since there had been a staff meeting that morning so they were almost an hour behind schedule. So every step seemed to take place in slow motion, since everyone had arrived on time and there was quite a bit of waiting about.

With the procedure done under local anaesthetic and given that you have to be able to cooperate with instructions, many people arrived with an interpreter as required, usually a younger family member so there were people everywhere. Eventually it was my turn in the OR. For a simple surgery there were many people in the room, three nurses and three surgeons, although no doubt two were residents and one of them actually did part of it. I hope he was a senior resident.

Of course all I, as the patient, can tell for sure, as I lay there and stared up into the bright light, was that everyone seemed to be talking at once, about golf, tennis, various sports injuries, the music on the music player (yesterday featured awful country western stuff) with the occasional request to me, the patient, open your eye wider (what do you mean, you have my eye taped open!), stop squeezing your eyeball (I'm not, well not consciously), Can't you fix that? No we'll laser it later (what the heck? what is happening?), STOP SQUEEZING YOUR EYEBALL, IT WILL BE EASIER ON BOTH OF US (I'm NOT, really I'm NOT). OK, all done. Bye JMB, see you tomorrow at the office.

Lots of instructions were given by the post-op nurse: your vision will be blurred for a couple of days; use all three different eyedrops four times daily; cover the eye at night with a shield; don't drive; don't bend; don't lift heavy objects; but you can read or watch TV; blah, blah, blah. They forgot to mention the double vision which appeared in the early evening. I decided that it was probably part of the process, but it ruled out TV watching as it was just too disconcerting.

Today, everything checked out just fine with the ophthalmologist and I discovered that he was talking about pre-existing scar tissue which sometimes can be removed during the surgery but in this case will be lasered later if necessary.

So you see, it will be fine. Very soon. I'm counting on it.

The educational portion of the program follows

Image above: Eye of Horus (click to read a short, interesting article about a theory that the Egyptians may have invented corrective lens)

According to Egyptian legend Horus lost his left eye during a battle with his uncle, the God Seth. Horus fought Seth to avenge the murder of his father Osiris and defend his right of succession. During the battle, Seth tore out the left eye of Horus and ripped it into pieces. After Horus won the battle, the God Thoth found the pieces and reassembled them with his magic and gave it back to Horus. However, he had already been healed and given a new eye by his mother Isis, a powerful healer. Horus gave the Eye as a gift to his murdered father Osiris who was reborn and became God of the underworld.

It is still used as a charm symbol for healing, good luck, protection, wisdom, prosperity and plain old decorative beauty in nearly every facet of modern art.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Then Shall the Eye of the Blind be Opened

Today is the big day. Eye tune-up day. The first of two eyes. Although I tell myself it is less than nothing in the scheme of things, I'm like a cat on a hot tin roof. Did you know that the earliest references to cataract surgery are found in Sanskrit manuscripts dating from the 5th century BC?

All my friends who have had it done say, don't worry, it's nothing. All my friends who have not say, I would be worried too if I were you. Did you know that Jacques Daviel was the first European physician to successfully extract cataracts from the eye in 1748?

How long before I can read? Drive? Go to the gym? Well I have charged up my iPod, I've got some books on tape. I know, I know. It will be fine. The colours will be amazing so I'm told. I'll let you know. Did you know cataract surgery is the most commonly performed surgery in North America? Say after me: It will be fine, it will be fine, it will be fine.

However to cheer us all up (What am I saying? This should make you very depressed, it does me.) I give you this selection from Dumbest Celebrity Quotes, featured in the Vancouver Sun newspaper this past weekend.

George W Bush: I have opinions of my own - strong opinions - but I don't always agree with them.

Sigh. The most powerful man in the Western world for the past eight years? No wonder he has wrought such havoc upon it. (Don't you love that photo? It would have been left on the cutting room floor if I had been in charge.)

Brooke Shields: Smoking kills. If you're killed, you've lost a very important part of your life.

Well she is beautiful and not even blonde. (Apologies to blondes, I know there is no truth to this cliché.)

Ted Turner: If I sold all my liabilities, I wouldn't own anything. My wife's a liability, my kids are liabilities and I haven't sold them.

How did you get to be such a wealthy media mogul Ted? Smart advisers I guess.

Sadly I know there have been many occasions when someone has shaken his or her head at some of the inane utterances which have issued from JMB's mouth, so who am I to criticize? At least they did not make the front page of some newspaper. Just here on this blog or on someone else's, in the comment section.

Finally this video really does cheer me up and it shows some of the reasons why I don't miss certain aspects of Australia. Thanks to Colin Campbell, who has to watch out for these lurking dangers.

Back soon. Better than ever. It will be fine.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Clara Schumann --- Woman and Artist ahead of her Time

This post is quite long but this whole talk was so fascinating I found it difficult to condense.

June Goldsmith, Founder and Artistic Director of Music in the Morning, came once again to speak to the Faculty Women's Club. This small dynamic woman has spoken to us before and we were delighted to have her return for an encore.

Last time she talked about the program she is most famous for in our city, Music in the Morning which in twenty three years has grown from a few concerts for 20 people to forty concerts per year for over 4500 concert goers. She is passionate about sharing her love for music and recently she shared with us some thoughts on a most interesting woman, one who rose above the expectations of her times, both as a woman and as an artist, Clara Schumann.

Clara was born in Leipsiz, in 1819, daughter of the renowned piano teacher Friedrich Wieck, who had devised his own method of teaching. He recognized Clara's talent very early on and even though Clara did not speak until she was four he began teaching her the piano when she was five. At the age of three her father began to take her on two hour daily walks which she continued as a lifelong habit. When she was seven, she and her father began a communal diary which was a very strange document, with each writing as the other and during her marriage to Robert they too had a communal diary.

Herr Wieck had married one of his own students but when Clara was five her parents were divorced. In keeping with the mores of the time, the father kept the older three children, including Clara, while the mother was given the two younger ones and Clara was not allowed to visit her mother who had remarried and moved to Berlin.

By age ten she had given her first recital and she practised three to four hours per day and had a one hour daily lesson. She also studied violin and voice along with music theory and composition. At the time she began performing, artists were invited to homes to give recitals and the concerts sometimes lasted for three to four hours. There were many different artists invited, even non musicians so Clara might have performed before or after jugglers for example. Often she sat waiting in the kitchen until it was her turn to perform.

But around this time concert hall were being built and public concerts became common. People paid to hear the artists perform and Clara moved into this type of performance. In those days soloists made all their own arrangements, including the acquiring and tuning of the piano, selling tickets and taking care of everything. At first this was done by her father but later she did this herself over her more than 60 year career. Another change which took place at that time was that the piano was turned side on to the audience, supposedly because Lizt wanted to show off his profile. At that time everyone played using the score, but Clara memorized her music, one of the first to do so and gradually the soloists carried on this practice.

Around this time, individualism began to take centre stage in thinking and this affected music. Previously composers and musicians had written and performed according to their patrons' wishes and requests. The first person to break this mould was Beethoven who wrote what he wanted and thus music became very subjective. The period of romantic music arose around 1815 with romanticism in music describing the expansion of formal structures within a composition, making the pieces more passionate and expressive.

Recognized very early on as a great talent Clara was a very self confident child, a child prodigy. When she was ten, Robert Schuman came into her life. He was a writer and law student, among other things but he wanted to study piano. He auditioned for Herr Wieck and was accepted as his pupil. As was usual in those times he moved into their house and brought with him gaiety and fun which had been missing previously, for he loved life and was a playful young man of 19. Somewhere along the way, probably when she was about 16, they fell in love.

However Robert injured his finger, could not play and began to write music consequently he no longer lived with the family and although they loved each other Clara's father would not countenance their marriage. He recognized that Schumann was not really a stable young man, even moody for he was probably bipolar and certainly not the person her father wanted for his talented daughter.

They continued a clandestine courtship, but after taking Herr Wieck to court they were able to marry in 1840. Robert wanted a traditional wife, one who cooked and looked after the children. But Clara was an artist and wanted to continue her career as a musician. Despite bearing eight children in fourteen years she continued to perform and travel for her music, engaging wet nurses for her children. In fact eventually she became the main breadwinner of the family, performing and teaching and touring throughout Europe, continually promoting Robert's music as well as her own. Their life was rather tragic as Robert's mental condition deteriorated until he was institutionalized after a suicide attempt and he died two years later, leaving Clara widowed at 37.

When he was 20 and Clara was 34, Johannes Brahms came into the Schumanns' lives. In fact he and Clara became lifelong friends, with Brahms often caring for her children while she was away touring. They corresponded frequently but fought often and did not speak to each other for long periods of time. But they were always musical soul mates and died within eleven months of each other.

Clara never really had a home after Robert died, for she travelled constantly, with her children scattered among various relatives. But each year they came together, often with Brahms staying with them and spent the whole summer with each other. Eugenie, her youngest daughter wrote in her memoirs of these happy times and she remembered her mother practising every day, but they were all welcome to come into the music room to talk with her while she did so and sometimes she read letters while she practised scales.

Clara was known for her singing tone and her facility of playing the instrument, combined with her knowledge of the music and her artist's heart made her a very sensitive musician who gave her own interpretations. For more than sixty years she was the consummate pianist, performing in concert until she was 75.

Along with her career as a performer and teacher, she composed 66 pieces herself and edited the complete works of her husband. Despite all the odds against her, and her difficult life with Robert and as a widow, Clara Schumann fulfilled her destiny as a concert artist. She said herself that she regarded music as "a calling to reproduce great works…To me it is the very air I breathe. "

Clara Schumann, an extraordinary woman who lived an extraordinary life. A life she regarded as a beautiful gift which enabled her to give happiness to others. What more could one ask?

NB: This post is written directly and rather baldly from my notes on the talk. I hope that I have conveyed without error this glimpse of Clara's life so enthusiastically presented to us by June Goldsmith.

When I came home I was telling the "old scientist" about the lecture and he began to talk enthusiastically about Clara and her music, surprising me with his knowledge. Even though he is the only one of his siblings who does not play the piano, in fact he says he hid under the bed to avoid lessons with his musician father, he is aficionado extraordinaire with regards to music for the piano and the Romantic period in particular.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Saturday Photo Hunt ---- Twist(ed)


I had all kinds of ideas in my mind about this theme but the photos just did not present themselves. I think these might be stretching it a bit.

Here is a twisted tree trunk on the beach at Spanish Banks in Vancouver, washed up at some long-ago time I guess and carefully manoeuvred into position.

This is a sculpture on the embarcadero in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico where I visited recently. It is certainly bent back on itself and it is very beautiful but is it twisted?

Aquamarine Dream, on the embarcadero at San Diego, is definitely twisted, although it has appeared here recently, but not for Photo Hunt. I hope you have an easier time than I did with this theme.


Thursday, April 10, 2008

Adventures in Second Life

Scene from the BP awards ceremony last year

You might ask what an old lady like me knows about the trendy world of Second Life. I first heard of this place last year when Tom Paine, a member of Blogpower invited everyone to his airship in Second Life for an Awards ceremony. It was a great idea, for where else can you hold such an event for a group of people who are scattered all over the globe.

But first of all one has to enroll in Second Life where you choose an identity and an avatar to represent you. You must choose a surname from a set list but you have have free choice of a first name, so in SL I am known as JMB with the surname of Balough, which everyone knows since it is written above your head. You have a limited choice of avatar which you can alter within a certain range and let me tell you, this is easier said than done.

Relaxing at the bar, after the ceremony

Most everyone who wanted to attend the ceremony was new to SL, so there was a great flurry of enrolling, downloading the program and desperately trying to get up to speed with the possibilities in that virtual world, for the date of the ceremony was approaching fast. I think some people met up with others and I certainly ran into at least one other person on one occasion when we had a conversation using the local chat feature which is basically IM using text. But mostly for me, it was stumbling around on my own, trying to master locomotion and make changes to my appearance and clothing, rather unsuccessfully I might add. For the longest time I had a ridiculous beanie attached to my head which I had no idea how to detach. I don't even know how I got it in the first place.

However I managed to scatter freckles over my face, make my eyes greener than they are in RL (real life) and equip myself with the red hair I always wanted when I was young, instead of the coppery brown stuff I had in former years.

Yes, I did wear a red skirt and red blouse, along with the aforementioned beanie, to the ceremony, although I arrived at the tail-end since it was timed to suit the UK and European folk and I was not willing to get up at 6 AM, so I rolled up when most people were winding down at the follow-up party. I danced for a bit. No, I can't dance in RL, but thanks to the "clever" people I can dance in SL.

Once I left that event I did not go back to Second Life for a very long time. It can be an extraordinarily frustrating experience as suddenly your clothes and or hair disappear and you are left standing bald with your pink rubber "body" exposed, or your avatar freezes and can't move or participate in the local chat or even worse, Second Life crashes not only itself but your whole computer and you are forced to reboot. Usually I flounce off in a huff, swearing never to return.

The BP common room

Recently, TP announced that he had created a common room for Blogpower members, inviting us to meet there should we choose. Naturally I went along to the BP common room, but no one was there! Quelle surprise.

I have to admit it is a bit seductive over there, as one tries to learn how to navigate the various areas which are open to one as an ordinary resident, with no property. When not at TP's airship, which gets boring fast with no one there, I tend to go back to a place called Help Island, where supposedly one gets some orientation and there are usually monitors who will give you help, provided you know the right questions to ask. I have managed to detach my beanie and it sits in my inventory, although I cannot imagine ever wearing it again. I suppose I should delete it. My locomotion is still very haphazard, as I keep bumping into walls and stopping and starting in a most peculiar fashion. No hand/eye coordination on the navigation arrows I'm afraid. Sigh!

Recently my adventures in SL have stepped up a notch and become much more interesting but I'll save that for another post. My daughter's students think it is amazing that her old mother nips around in Second Life and I have acquired considerable cachet with them. If only they knew how clueless I am there, although I have certainly made myself slimmer and less wrinkled. Remember JMB Balough, maybe I'll see you there.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

A Bit of Fun

As Thunderdragon says about this new toy, whose results will appear everywhere on the internet, " Who am I to disappoint?" JMB has been Warholized too.

Miss Cleo herself, gone but not forgotten

Miss Cleo's old mother

Now who could possibly resist? Go have some fun.

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Year of Fog

There were a few things that tempted me to pick up this novel and put it in my store basket. The cover said it was a book for those who liked Jacquelyn Mitchard and Jodi Picoult. I suppose that made me peruse it at first for I do like both those authors. Turning to the back cover I found the story dealt with every parent's worst nightmare, a missing child. A story that I could relate to in a small way.

Once, when she was three years old, I lost my daughter for about half an hour. Every Tuesday and Thursday I played tennis with three other women and all our children were in school except my younger one. The tennis courts were in a park and outside the fence was a children's playground where she played quite happily in the sandbox, alone or with any other children who came by. Two of the four of us could see her at all times and for part of the morning a nearby pre-school class came to spend a half hour or so and she joined in with them which was fine with Mrs Wen, the teacher, whom we knew.

One day, I suddenly realized she was not in the park. My heart dropped. There is no other way to describe it. I was panic stricken. I was dumbfounded. How could I have not noticed her leaving? My first thought was that she had followed the children back across the road to their pre-school. Racing there we asked had they seen her, but no, not since they had left the park. I remember so clearly hearing a siren in the distance and thinking she'd been hit by a car. Fortunately it continued on.

We all began searching the gardens of the nearby houses and the back lanes. Well of course we found her in a back garden, where she was playing with a child she had met in the park. She greeted us happily telling us about her new friend. How could I be angry with her? It was my fault for not watching her more closely. I felt like such a bad, careless, selfish mother. Nothing happened to her and she was gone for no more than a half hour before we found her, but I was devastated. What must it be like to have your child go missing for days? For months? Forever? How do you live with the guilt? How do you carry on? Michelle Richmond tells such a story of one woman in The Year of Fog.

Abby, a photographer, is taking care of her fiancé's six-year-old daughter for the weekend while Jake goes out of town. Walking along San Francisco's Ocean Beach, in the deep fog, Emma runs ahead while Abby takes a photo. In an instant, everything changes, for Emma disappears. A moment's inattention on Abby's part and the whole world falls apart for three people. So the year of fog begins for Abby as she desperately tries to find the child whom she has come to love so dearly.

Written in the first person, Abby's interweaves the story of her relationship with Jake, with her family and her former boyfriend with the year-long search for Emma which follows the usual pattern in missing children's cases. The police lead the search but there's a volunteer group distributing posters, big reward money on offer, along with TV and radio appearances by Jake and his suddenly resurfaced ex-wife. Meanwhile Abby never stop searching the San Francisco area and desperately trying to remember anything from that day that could give them a lead to follow.

After months Emma's shoe is found at a beach and Jake believes that Emma has drowned and holds a funeral service. Abby refuses to accept this and continues the search alone, even consulting a hypnotist to try to draw out any repressed memory of the day. Yes she finds Emma ultimately and the year of fog ends but for everyone life is irrevocably changed.

I found this book quite gripping, although because of the topic it is an intense read. Besides being a well written mystery story, it is also a rather emotional story of the way one family copes with the disappearance of a child. However Richmond also manages to engage us with the other lesser characters in the book, along with the nature of memory, without detracting from the story of Abby's search for Emma. The book has been a well deserved success since it was published in 2007 and Michelle Richmond tells how she came to write this it here.

Fellow Blogpower member, Ellee Seymour, journalist and PR consultant, writes on her blog a continuing series where she highlights stories of missing children of all ages, 78 in all so far. She started it after Madeleine McCann went missing last year and she realized that there were so many others, of all ages, girls and boys, whose disappearances had not necessarily received all the publicity that the McCann case did but brought just as much heartache to their families. Very occasionally she has been able to tell us that the child has been found. Most often she closes her posts with these words:

In memory of those who are still missing.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Saturday Photo Hunt ---- Glass

A collection of glass hearts and a star from the Robert Held Art Studio sit on a coffee table in my house. Normally these sell for between $40 and $59 each. Can you believe it? These were bought at a sale of seconds for the princely sum of $2 a piece. I have no idea why they failed to meet the standards for they look just fine to me.

Another glass bargain I inadvertently acquired is the piece you see below. A couple of years ago I was at a house clearing sale with a friend and saw a box of glass items priced at $20. It included a nice assortment of old wine glasses so I bought them for my son. At home, in the bottom of the box, in a velvet bag, I found this lovely object which turned out to be a signed Steuben glass bowl. The one I linked to, which is a little larger, is retailing for $1050. It did not have a scratch on it, was probably unused and measures eight inches in diameter. I'm rather scared to use it in case I break it.

From the side

From above


Thursday, April 3, 2008

San Diego Zoo

This is my continuation post about the San Diego Zoo which you are welcome to skip or just peruse the photos or call again another day. Some discussion about the Zoo was featured in this post and hopefully I won't repeat myself too much.

The koala exhibit is extensive, with the largest exhibit outside of Australia. As they are nocturnal, sleeping 18 hours a day, it is unusual to see one so active. Koala means "no drink" as they receive hydration from the eucalyptus leaves.

The $34 entry fee to the zoo entitles you to ride as often as you wish on their guided open double-decked bus tours as well as the gondola lift which crosses the zoo. So the bus tour was the first thing we did in order to get an overview of the zoo. It seemed we arrived at a very busy time for we had to wait in line for a while. Since the bus has access to about 75 percent of the zoo we enjoyed a very good orientation to what there was to see with lots of information delivered by the guide/driver of the bus.

Su Lin, a female Giant Panda, was born in the Zoo in August 2005, the third of four cubs born in their Giant Panda Research Station.

The Zoo covers 100 acres and is home to over 4000 animals of more than 800 species. It is a non profit organization which is heavily into conservation and species-preservation efforts maintaining a very active research division, the Center for Conservation and Research for Endangered Species (CRES) . The habitats of the animals are very natural and the grounds are maintained as an arboretum. Another interesting venture is the growth of some rare animal foods. For example, the Zoo raises 40 varieties of bamboo for the pandas which are on long-term loan from China, and it maintains 18 varieties of eucalyptus trees to feed its koalas. In addition it sells some of this harvest to other zoos.

There are half a dozen or so gorillas in the wonderful habitat with its natural landscape of cascading waterfalls, open meadow, and climbing areas. The big silverback male was behind glass and the photo not suitable for use.

One of the interesting exhibits at the zoo is the Sun Bear Forest, home to the smallest of all the bear species and an endangered species in their native area in the tropical rain forest regions of Asia. They are only half the size of the American black bear.

Nocturnal and tree dwelling this Sun Bear snoozes the day away
stretched out in the sun on the branches in its habitat.

Domestic Bactrian Camels have existed for thousands of years in Asia where they are used to pull wagons loaded with supplies. Bactrians have two humps where they store fat for use as nourishment when food and water is scarce.

This was one of three Domestic Bactrians at the zoo. Look at the huge feet which prevent the animal sinking into the sand or snow.

The San Diego Zoo has three elephants, two Asian which are smaller and have smaller ears than the one larger African elephant with large ears which you see below. They constantly flap their ears to keep cool. An elephant's trunk is both an upper lip and a nose. The trunk has more than 40,000 muscles in it which is more than a person has in his or her whole body. An elephant's trunk is so strong and agile, it can push down trees, or pick up a single piece of straw.

The double-decked open bus can be seen behind this African elephant.

Orangutans spend most of their lives in trees and travel by swinging from branch to branch with their long arms. Yes their arms are longer than their bodies, stretching seven feet from fingertip to fingertip. They tend to be more solitary than the other great apes. Being loners they therefore spend a longer childhood period with their mothers since they have to learn everything they need to know to survive on their own.

This Orangutan was clutching a lettuce in one hand while scratching his chin and
pondering his next move.

One of the first things you see on entering the Zoo is the lovely pond habitat for this very gorgeous flock of Caribbean flamingos. Being very social animals they were busy interacting which of course also includes pushing and shoving and pecking at each other. Flocks over a million are known in the wild. At the Zoo the flamingos are fed special pellets which contain all the nutrients they need plus whatever is needed to keep their beautiful colour.

The colour is quite varied in this flock and they share the habitat with a variety of ducks and scarlet ibis.

These two are demonstrating their "knee" joint operation
plus the very different colour amongst the flock.

The Skyfari aerial tram provides an airborne shortcut over the treetops from near the entrance to the other end of the Zoo and shows spectacular views of the Zoo, its animals and plant collections, and nearby Balboa Park where the Zoo is situated. It was a popular ride as we had to wait there too.

The Treehouse Café offers a spectacular dining experience with its multileveled decks

I think this post is long enough, although I can tell you there was a lot of material left on the cutting room floor. We spent a wonderful day at the San Diego Zoo and left many areas unvisited. I know most people think of zoos as an outing to be taken with children but I'm up for a visit to a zoo anywhere at any time. Perhaps I would have been a animal behaviour scientist in another life, for I surely have the interest. If you ever go to San Diego make sure you visit this incredible zoo, with or without children.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Vacations --- the Downsides

Apart from the horrors of flying nowadays, what with increased security, including denuding yourself in front of your fellow passengers of your shoes, your coat and jacket, hat, belts, etc, unpacking and repacking your laptop, spending more time at the airport than in the air, the fact that they don't feed you anymore and you are constantly searching for something vaguely resembling food in the airports, along with the folks who think the one carry-on bag per person applies to everyone except them and after they have filled the overhead bins with their three bags plus their duty free purchases and there is no space for your one bag as per regulations so you are forced to put it under the seat in front and now there is no room for your feet, there are some other downsides to going on vacation.

The thing that bothered me most of all on this vacation was my internet connection. Now it was not all bad by any means. At the hotel, the free WiFi connection worked like a dream and I kept up with everything quite nicely.

But connection on the ship was another matter. I knew that it was expensive as I had done it on a previous trip. Plan 1, $55 for 110 minutes. or Plan 2, $100 for 260 minutes. Last time there was no difficulty with Plan 1 since I did most things off-line and only went on-line when necessary. This time I seemed to spend more time on-line and the speed was excruciatingly slow. So within three days I had upgraded to Plan 2.

But then came the really sad story. I have a very good virus/spam/malware program on my computer provided by my internet company in Vancouver. Up popped a little window, Virus Alert, you have been infected by Email-worm.Win32.Brontok.q. What the heck? This had never happened to me before, so I was pretty clueless. However I decided to run my anti-virus program. Oh, oh. Worms cannot be disinfected they can only be deleted or quarantined.

So I ran the scanning program and forty-five minutes later it showed 4 infected files. Bye, bye. Deleted. I hoped they were not important. A couple were music files but I keep my iPod library on the desktop so who knows what they were. Gone now. Another forty-five minute scan later and the computer was clear. Thank goodness, but two hours wasted by this whole schemozzle. So where did this thing come from? Why from some other WiFi user on the ship's network who probably had no idea that his laptop was infected and obviously did not have a decent anti-virus program.

Two more days went by, then we had a repeat performance. I suppose I was infected by the same computer and after the time-consuming process of deleting eleven files and running two scans I decided I would not use the laptop again, but use the ship's computers instead.

Unfortunately the only browser option was Internet Explorer and not even the latest version with tabs, but some prehistoric version. The keyboards were so beaten up with not all the keys working so they were horrible to use and I had no history in the browser or favourites or my bloglines feed or any of the things that I take for granted on my laptop. Eventually I got so fed up, I even left unused minutes of my time. I was ready to tear out my hair.

So now to the return flights, yes flights, plural, to Vancouver. We flew via Las Vegas and yes they do have slot machines all over the airport terminal there and people were playing them continuously. Not my idea of fun so I resisted the urge to make my fortune or more likely make someone else rich.

Eventually we landed in Vancouver and surprise, surprise, our luggage actually arrived at the same time. Our friend picked us up at the airport and told us the sorry saga of the happenings while we were away. Apparently our house alarm was malfunctioning and going off so the alarm company kept phoning him. One of the motion detectors seemed to be malfunctioning, so after checking three times he told them to ignore the alarm if that zone rang again. Unfortunately on the last of his journeys to our house his car was hit by a speeding car, rendered undrivable and had to be towed away. Luckily he and his wife were not hurt, nor the other idiot who hit him at a stop sign, no less. So he met us in his wife's car and it will be some weeks before it is repaired. As you can imagine I felt very badly about that, since they were looking after our house, although we do the same for them when they are away.

To put the final crowning touch I came down with a horrific cold the next day. Ah the joys of flying with hundreds of others in a small space and breathing recirculated air.

I think I'll just stay put for a while. Vacations are fun but it's very nice to be home again.