Sunday, 27 December 2015

Letter to Santa Claus

The very best letter that Santa Claus received this whole Christmas season.  

Thursday, 24 December 2015

The Oxen

There`s an ancient tradition that the beasts of the field kneel at midnight on Christmas Eve to honour the birth of Christ in a lowly stable. British novelist and poet Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) told the story of Christmas Eve in his poem `The Oxen`written in 1915.

I learned this poem when I was at school, and it has always meant Christmas Eve to me, and I wonder if the animals really do kneel at midnight. I`ve never looked. I don`t want to be disappointed.

The Oxen

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
“Now they are all on their knees,”
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
“Come; see the oxen kneel,

“In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,”
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Christmas on the Farm

Once again, on the first weekend in December, we made our way to the sleepy little town of Schomberg, Ontario, to enjoy their annual Christmas on Main Street. For $5.00 entry (and free for kids) Main Street is full of carol singers, ventriloquists, magicians, fire eaters, entertainers of all sorts, and a huge craft show and sale. The firemen give out steaming hot chocolate from the back of the fire truck for a donation in the fireman's boot. There are blazing fire barrels to warm you. You can try your hand at ice sculpture. There are real reindeer for the children to gaze at. And at around 8:00pm, the long anticipated Giant Farm Equipment Christmas Parade begins. This is only a very small sample of the parade. Sorry.... not the greatest pictures ever taken, I was just too excited!

This Christmas Santa Claus Parade is the best ever.... it really starts the Christmas season off for me!

Monday, 14 December 2015

St Catharine's Church - Prague

The final concert given by the Men of Note on their 2015 concert tour was at the Church of St Catharine of Alexandria (Kostel svaté Kateřiny Alexandrijské) which is located on the premises of the University General Teaching Hospital in Prague.

Saint Catharine of Alexandria is also known as Saint Catherine of the Wheel. Tradition says she was martyred at the age of 18 in the early 4th Century at the hands of the pagan emperor Maxentius. The emperor condemned her to death tied to a spiked wheel, but the wheel shattered at her touch, and eventually she was beheaded for her Christian beliefs. The firework Catherine Wheel was named after her.

Charles IV established this church in 1355 as part of the convent of the Order of the Shoed Augustinian Nuns in thanksgiving for a battle won on St. Catharine's Day. Although the church's current Baroque appearance dates back to it's rebuilding in 1737-1741, certain original Gothic elements can still be seen, such as the tall octagonal tower, often called  the "Prague Minaret".

The unique Baroque hall structure has a transverse nave, and a rich fresco ceiling.
Ornate statues of Bishops look down on the congregation.
The Men of Note concert tour included free concerts performed in Venice in Italy, Bled in Slovenia, Bad Tatzmannsdorf in Austria, and this last concert in Prague. I went to all the concerts. Even though the music content was often repeated at each concert, the different venues made each performance special and unique. The acoustics in this spectacular old church were marvellous. The men's voices melded together and reverberated throughout the building giving me chills, beautiful!
The gentleman standing in the centre of the front row (6th from left, 6th from right) is 94 years old and still singing! Bravo!

 The harmonica featured in the concerts, and also in singalongs on the tour bus!

More pictures to come.... eventually!

Friday, 11 December 2015

The Odd Couple - Vienna

I'm just about to cross the road on the Graben, one of the most famous streets in Vienna, and I see them. I simply had to take out my camera.....

What is the story here? What are they saying to each other? I'd love to know. Any ideas?

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Prague - Czech Republic

Back to my summer trip to Europe. The final destination of the Men of Note concert tour was the beautiful city of Prague, capital city of the Czech Republic.

Prague Castle (Pražský hrad) was founded in the 9th Century and has been a symbol of the Czech state for more than a thousand years. It covers 45 hectares including palaces, offices, museums, St Vitus Cathedral, fortifications and extensive gardens.
The view from the palace gardens over the Old City, pretty spectacular.
Our bus driver dropped us off on the castle grounds, thank goodness. I may not have made it up to the top in time for lunch if I had to trudge up this steep hill.

We enjoyed lunch outside on the castle terrace overlooking the city. I can't remember what these Czech dishes were called on the menu but they were pretty good, typical food of the area, lots of meat and dumplings. Stodgy but yummy!

Building the Charles Bridge across the Vltava River commenced in 1357, and was completed at the beginning of the 15th century. Despite occasional flood damage, the bridge withstood wheeled traffic for 500-odd years – thanks, legend says, to eggs mixed into the mortar.  The Old Town Tower stands at the entrance to Old Town, and the bridge is decorated with 30 statues of Saints.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

White, Orange and Green

Some random observations of the past week or so.....

First Shift is a program sponsored by Bauer (sports equipment) to encourage youngsters ages 6 to 10 into the game of ice hockey, specifically targeting families who don't have a history of playing Canada's National Game.
For a very nominal fee of  $125, Isaac got the full equipment needed for hockey including skates, stick, helmet, facemask, gloves, all the padded protective gear, and a huge sports bag almost as big as he is to put it all in. Six weeks of introductory skating skills with accredited coaches at the new ice arena, followed by weekly practices and games until March 2016. Bargain!

 One shift waits on the bench while the others play a game. Each player is on the ice for about 5 minutes, then they change over. Isaac's in the middle. His dad put a black electrical tape stripe on his helmet so we could tell which one he is..... they all look the same buried under all that equipment.

When he started the program in October, Isaac couldn't even stand on skates. He still ends up in the horizontal flat-on-his-back position quite often, but he can get back on his skates without help, and now he can skate forward pretty fast, he can stop, and he's learning to skate backwards. Terrific progress.


I was up early one morning last week just as the sun was coming up. Had to go out with my camera on the back deck while still wearing my jammies. Froze my toes but the view of the lovely sky made up for it.


I really enjoy watching the British TV show Grand Designs hosted by Kevin McCloud... who by the way, seems to be so nice and is terribly handsome (IMHO) and has such an infectious smile, I'd love to invite him to tea! Anyway, tea invitations aside..... the show is all about elaborate and unusual architectural home building projects. And the opening credits end up on this landscape. I don't know where it is located but I really like it, so I took a pic of the TV screen and decided to paint it.
I love to paint but it's very hard to discipline myself to get on with it, so I have joined a local Artist Group. We gather once a week in a nearby Community Hall, and I'm finding it very inspirational to be with others who are like minded. Everyone has a different style and a different pace of working, some with watercolours, or acrylics, or pencil or pen and ink.  
Once a month we have a "Show and Tell" and critique each other's work.... I'm learning so much!
The group hosts an annual art exhibition and art sale the first weekend in May, so it remains to be seen if anyone will be interested in my work. Plenty of time to improve my technique!

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Wolfgang, Call Home

"Hello? Constanze? Your hunnybunny Wolfie here. What's for dinner tonight?"

"oh no, not Wiener Schnitzel again......"

Monday, 23 November 2015

Vienna State Opera

Back to my summer Europe trip.... The Vienna State Opera was the first major building on the Vienna Ringstraße and was built between 1861 and 1869. The opening opera was Mozart's Don Giovanni performed on May 25 1869. Emperor Franz Josef and Empress Elizabeth were present.

Towards the end of WWII in 1945, American bombardment set the building alight. The front section housing the foyer, staircase, vestibule and tearoom was saved, but the auditorium and stage were destroyed by fire, along with the decor and props for more than 120 operas, and about 150,000 theatrical costumes.

The decision was made to rebuild the Opera House in its original style, and an architectural competition was announced. Even though the target date for opening was 1949, the theatre opened in 1955 with a performance of Beethoven's Fidelio.

The Weiner Saatsoper stages 50 to 60 operas per year, and ten ballet productions. It is common to find a different opera being produced each day of the week. Over 1000 employees work here. I was able to sit and watch the stage crew change the sets for the opera that was being performed that evening.

Immediately before each performance, standing room tickets are sold at a discount. But I think it would be much nicer to occupy one of these comfy boxes. Total audience capacity is 2,200. I've never been to an opera, so would have liked to go, but as always with these vacation tours, no time!

If you can't get a ticket, the next best thing is to sit outside the Opera and watch the performance on the giant 50 square metre screen. Don Giovanni was playing. The screen was installed in 2009, to bring opera to a new audience who had never experienced it.
I couldn't stay to watch Don Giovanni.... a good reason to return to Vienna one day.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Another Year.... Another Decade

I had a birthday recently. It was one of those "milestone" birthdays. So we had a party. That's the best way to celebrate a birthday, any kind of birthday.
My family in England sent me some beautiful flowers. No idea what the long green ones are, but they are spiky. The bouquet included ornamental kale.... what could be better, a bouquet you can eat!

We used the community room at the village. The Bride and The Equestrienne worked so hard decorating the tables with a purple and white theme, while OlderSon appears to take the credit in this picture. The Bride decorated the vases, The Equestrienne provided the flowers. YoungerSon organised the photo slideshow and the music. Callum blew up the balloons. Family team work!
Food.... yes, lots of it. Samosas and pakoras from my favourite Indian bakery, spring rolls, spicy meatballs, a cheese tray, crackers, veggies and dip, French pastries, English trifle, all washed down with a choice of ice water, red or white wine, beer, spiced apple cider, coffee, tea.

A purple theme meant purple table cloths, purple streamers, purple candles on the birthday cake, and I even found the perfect purple scarf to wear with my purple top. As you can see.... there were a lot of candles, but luckily I had professional help close by to help me blow them out. We didn't have to call the Fire Department.

The Albert Street Four entertained us with two sets. I used to live on Albert Street, so I know them well. Lots of singalong songs, including my favourite song of all time..... The Teddybear's Picnic.
If you go down in the woods today......

Thank you to my wonderful family who organized the party and to all my family and friends who helped me celebrate. Next birthday party in 10 years. Everyone's invited.
Which "milestone" birthday was it? Well, look carefully and you might find a clue.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Love Over Fear

These young men live in Montreal, in Canada. On Monday they stood in one of the Montreal subway stations to show a public plea for harmony after the recent terror attacks in Paris and Beirut. They wanted to make a visual statement about fear and hatred. They held hands and wore white T-shirts declaring their origins: New York City, Egypt, and Paris.

Their video is well worth watching. Love Over Fear.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Apple Jelly

OlderSon has an big old apple tree growing behind his house. It hasn't been pruned or looked after for years, and rarely produces apples. But this year, the branches were weighed down with fruit. As the tree hasn't been sprayed with fungicide or insecticide for some years, the apples are a bit dodgy. You have to eat them carefully.
Remember the old joke.... Q: "What's worse than finding a worm in your apple?" A: "Finding half a worm in your apple."
The apples were sweet and crisp and tasty.  I gathered a big bag of apples and took them home, intending to make an apple pie, but changed my mind and chopped them up to make apple jelly instead.

The jelly turned out to be a pale colour as the apples themselves are yellow. In each jar I added a couple of teaspoonfuls of Calvados, apple brandy that I brought back from France a few years ago. It's along the same lines as the American drink Applejack. It made the jelly a little bit less jelly-like, but that just makes it easier to spread!

Should be a great wake-me-up on toast in the morning for breakfast.... just make sure you don't put any in the kids' school lunches.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Mr. Armstrong

Emerald Ash Borer - Photo courtesy of David Cappaert, Michigan State UniversityIn Ontario, millions of ash trees are being killed every year by an non-native invasive species, the Emerald Ash Borer. The nasty little insect feeds under the bark of ash trees, and when the eggs hatch, the larvae get inside the bark and disrupt the circulation of water and nutrients of the tree. The presence of just a few insects in the tree can kill it.

There is a chemical treatment available that will kill the insect, but often the borer has done the damage to the tree before it becomes apparent.

It was too late for the young ash tree in front of my house. This summer it produced hardly any leaves, and tell-tale holes appeared in the bark, indicating the Emerald Ash Borer was at work. So it had to go.

After cutting, the whole tree, trunk, branches, sticks, has to be disposed of safely, making sure the nasty bug isn't spread to any other healthy trees. The stump was taken away, and a surprisingly small hole was left in the grass.

Within half an hour, the digger was back with a young tree, It's an Armstrong Maple. It will be tall, and not very wide, and the leaves turn red in the fall, just what I wanted.  It took just two minutes to plant, and you can see it here. OlderSon and Callum arrived in time to witness the happy event.

All new family members should have a name, so Callum has christened my tree Mr. Armstrong.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Big enough?

On a quiet country road just a 5 minute drive from where I live, someone is building a house. It's not a small modest family house like the other homes further along the street, it's........

........ a gigantic castle!

I'll drive by periodically and post pics of the progress. I'm dying to find out what that cone shape is for.... probably a turret to top off the bell tower? I wonder if there's a dungeon in the basement?
Would you want to live in a house as big as this?