Thursday, January 28, 2016

Constance Beresford-Howe

The other day I spotted this small obituary in the Globe and Mail:

Constance Elizabeth Beresford-Howe (Pressnell)

Educator. Author, Lover of Literature

Peacefully in Hospice Care at Bury St. Edmunds Suffolk, United Kingdom after a short illness, on Wednesday, January 20, 2016 in her 94th year. Constance Beresford-Howe, beloved wife of Christopher Pressnell, of Lavenham, Suffolk, UK. Dear mother of Jeremy Pressnell (Sandra Swan) and grandmother of Emily Constance Pressnell, all of Kingston, Ontario. Sister of John Howe of North Carolina, USA.

A Celebration of Constance's Life will be held at a date and time to be announced. Arrangements in care of the Robert J. Reid & Sons Funeral Home, Kingston, Ontario (613) 548-7973. As expressions of sympathy, donations in memory of Constance made to St. Nicholas Hospice Care via or to Hospice Kingston via would be appreciated by the family.

Constance Beresford-Howe was a Canadian author, born (1922) and educated in Montreal. She published several novels, the best-known being The Book of Eve, and also taught English lit and creative writing. 

The Book of Eve

The Book of Eve, published in 1973, follows a 65-year old woman, who, without warning and without letting them know where she is, walks out of her house and her life with her demanding husband and family and takes up a new life in which she finds a happiness that, in spite of its hardships. brings her a wonderful sense of freedom. It's one of my all-time favourite books.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Fun with Photography

Today I'm here to confess that I'm a lurker. On Instagram. I've had an account for awhile now but never posted anything there myself. I just follow people I find interesting. Some family members, some celebrities, and, well here are some samples of photos from some of the people I follow. Just in case you might be inspired to get the Instagram app for your phone and find some awesome photographs too.

First up, Needles and Leaves: I love succulents and here's why! So beautiful!

Nature photos:  

Babies and dogs sleeping:

This is Theo and Beau. Theo's a shelter dog and he and Beau hit it off when they were both still babies and they just had to nap together. Then a baby sister, Evvie arrived on the scene and for a while, all three napped together.

Now that Beau is bigger and no longer needs an afternoon nap, Theo is so grateful to spend that quality time with the baby. 

Next, food (can you tell I like this category a lot?): 

Boxers, of course:

Jann Arden, a staunch Albertan, has more than 600 posts for #jannsroad in all seasons:

Alan Cumming is always doing something weird and wonderful:

And this little cartoon usually has something to smile about:

Then there are 11-year old granddaughter, K's drawings. She's into a specific genre (manga/anime) at the moment but is pretty awesome at drawing just about anything.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

A Parrot?

I seem to have a fascination with body art, whether it's eyelid, arm, legs....even hands and fingers. This will be the 8th time for a body art post on Some Favourite Things, although I've noticed that some of the photos I previously posted are no longer available. Sorry about that!

If you look at this picture carefully, you'll see that what looks like a parrot is actually a woman whose body has been strategically painted. Pretty amazing!

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And here's an interesting transformation:

If you have any spare time, you might enjoy visiting the website of Johannes Stötter, Italian artist, musician and body painter extraordinaire. There are a lot of neat works to view.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

A God in Ruins

A God in Ruins

I've enjoyed all of Kate Atkinson's previous novels and I liked A God in Ruins too. It's a companion novel to Life after Life, in which the character Ursula Todd keeps being reborn after death and gets to keep living forward as a new version of herself, unaware that she has already been born and lives again, a strange but interesting premise, for sure. 

In A God in Ruins Ursula's beloved younger brother, Teddy is the main character and we follow him as the author moves back and forth in his life, from the 1920's through the war years and into old age. We hear his story not only in his own voice but also in that of his daughter, Viola and his grandchildren, Sonny and Bertie. It's an intricately structured novel.

However, we need to remember that this is a Kate Atkinson novel and, as the author, she has the power and is at liberty to do what she likes with the characters, to manoeuvre them as boldly as she does in Life after Life. She does not disappoint, but you will need to read to the end of the novel to experience the surprising unfolding of the plot. 

In the meantime, the novel is rich with imagery and details, particularly of the Second World War. It is full of the challenges of living in a constantly changing world, no matter who you are.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Topics for Conversation

When Canadians get together, whether in the local coffee shop, on social media or in meeting rooms, there is usually talk of the weather, especially if the temperature has been either very hot or very cold. Now we add the sadly sagging dollar to the conversation.


Yesterday the Canadian dollar fell in value to 69 cents US, its lowest value in 13 years. Plunging temps and dropping dollar: sigh...!

Of course, we worry about our own investments, the cost of living and the cost of our future travel plans. And we worry about low-income families, already living so close to the edge and now unable to afford the rising cost of fruits and vegetables.

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Macquarie Group Ltd.'s David Doyle, the top-ranked forecaster for the US vs. Canadian dollar exchange rate, who accurately predicted this current currency tumble, has also forecast that the Canadian dollar will dip to 59 cents by this year's end and possibly stay there for a few years. 

In the middle of all this bad news and horrible outlook comes a message from Canadian Finance Minister, Bill Morneau, that it's time we put women on Canadian banknotes. How ironic.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Licence to be licensed

Okay, you probably already know this but it's been bothering me for some time now, especially when it crops up in a crossword puzzle.

The difference between licence and license.

So I looked it up and this information is more for me than for you because I probably won't remember it next week.

In the USA, "license" is used as both a verb and a noun. The word "licence" is not used at all.

In the rest of the world, "licence" is a noun and "license" is a verb.

As in:
If you are licensed to drive, you must carry your driver's license with you when driving. (US)

If you are licensed to drive, you must carry your driver's licence with you when driving. (elsewhere)

In Canada, therefore:

"licence" = noun

"license" = verb

Think I can remember that?  

While we are having this lovely grammatical/spelling discussion, let's mention the issues of 

defence vs. defense


practice vs. practise

These words are similar in their geographical usage. In the case of "practice" and "practise", like "licence" and "license", the former is a noun and the latter is a verb in most of the world. However, the word practice is not used at all in the US where "practise" with an "s" is used for both noun and verb, which certainly simplifies things, but what about losing the derivation of words like "practical" and "practicable"?

In the case of "defence" and "defense", you'd be right if you guessed that "defense" is used in the US while "defence" is used in the rest of the world, including Canada, although, in this country, spelling is becoming a mish-mash since so many people like me are conflicted or confused and, of course, spell checks are slanted toward US variations. I may as well note that "defence/defense" are both nouns. But you already knew that. 

Now, where is that crossword puzzle? And what's its country of origin?

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Twain and Stanley Enter Paradise

Twain & Stanley Enter Paradise

Mark Twain aka Samuel Clemens and Sir Henry Morton Stanley are the subjects of Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Oscar Hijuelos' last book. It is literally his last book since he died suddenly in 2013 of a massive heart attack on the tennis court before the book even went to the publisher. After a period of mourning, Hijuelos' wife, managed to gather herself together long enough to contact both the agent and the publisher who undertook the final steps to the publication of this remarkable novel.

Hijuelos, long an admirer of Mark Twain, discovered a reference to this American icon while undertaking the study of the intrepid British explorer, Henry Morton Stanley. When he found that they had been friends for most of their lives and that Stanley's wife, Dorothy Tennant was a well-known portraitist, with works in the National Collection, he realized that he had the makings of a terrific story. 

Henry Morton Stanley painted by Dorothy Tennant
And what a story it is! Hijuelos put in years and years -  12 altogether - of research and then filled in the blanks with his own imagined tale. He was just putting the finishing touches on it when he died so suddenly. His wife, Lori Marie Carlson-Hijuelos, a writer in her own right, explains in the afterword that, although the major events in the lives of these two men are well-documented, the parts that fill in the story are completely from the mind and imagination of Carlos Hijuelos: the diary entries, the speeches, the letters - all figments of his fertile imagination, integrated seamlessly into the actual lives of these well-known late-19th century men.

Mark Twain Image
Samuel Clemens/Mark Twain
When I first opened the pages of this semi-biographical novel, I was worried that I might find it a tad dull, laden with too many details of the sort that seem important to a biographer, but which might, to me, seem burdensome. Happily my fears did not come to fruition. I remained interested and in touch with every detail, thanks to the author's expert and luminous writing and his sensitive and compassionate treatment of the characters. No need to flip through pages of uninteresting details.

What stories these two men had: Twain, the American former Mississippi river pilot, writer and performer and Stanley, of meager origins but eventually the great explorer of Africa with tales to tell. Lives intersecting, for real, but also fictionally. And Dorothy, who loved them both? It's impossible to tell in the reading of the novel what is real and what is not, so seamlessly is it written. Knowing that it is, in part or even, mostly, fictional, the reader soon comes to understand that the opinions and sensibilities of the author are intertwined throughout. What Twain and others come to think about the American offensives in Cuba, the Philippines and elsewhere, colonialism, religion, slavery, Stanley's own forays into Africa, done in the service of the greedy King Léopold of Belgium - well, we start to wonder if it is Hijuelos expressing his own opinions.  

Hijuelos' gentle treatment Dorothy, of whom very little personal detail is likely to be known, and her desire to paint Twain, her compassionate nursing of her husband who suffers throughout his life from malaria and gastritis, all surely reveal a great deal about the kind of man the author was.

One of the entertaining aspects of the novel is the way the author has Twain, Stanley and their families coming into social contact with some of the great contemporary figures of the age: Thomas Edison, Bret Harte, H.G. Wells, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, George Bernard Shaw are a few that come to mind. The author also has Dorothy Tennant introducing Mark Twain and his family to the popular 19th-century belief in spiritualism after the death of a beloved daughter.

I also enjoyed the philosophical sparring between the three main characters. The thoughtful discussions about religion and spiritualism, deism and theism, are not only entertaining but also give us a window into the depth of research done by Hijuelos, 

Some readers of this novel have not been as enthusiastic as I am. It's long and the historical details are not to everybody's liking. Other readers have been equally captivated by Twain and Stanley. I need to be careful in my recommendations and you who are reading this need to make up your own mind as to the kind of book you want to read. I'm just glad I experienced it and I hope some of you who read this will also enjoy it.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Kingfisher Perfection

This pretty bird is a belted kingfisher, commonly found in northern Ontario and other parts of North America. It migrates as far south as the Caribbean and northern parts of South America. 

As you can see, it has a raggedy crest and a sturdy bill. This medium-sized bird is an adept diver and feasts on small fish, crustaceans and amphibians. It nests in muddy or sandy river bank tunnels where the young are at risk of drowning should the water level rise. 

In the UK, kingfishers look somewhat different but behave in a similar way. Their bodies are more compact and they have orange breasts. British kingfishers are found there year-round but the species is considered fragile since they are so affected by the kind of habitat degradation that must have occurred at the end of December with all the flooding in the north of England. 

This wonderful photo was taken by Brit wildlife photog Jack Perks, who always manages to capture images at crucial moments. We had to look twice at this pic to see that the kingfisher's bill is not deformed, it's holding a small fish.

Alan McFadyen is a Scottish photographer who has had a love of wildlife and in particular of kingfishers since being introduced to birding 40 years ago by his beloved grandfather. In honour and memory of his late grand, he wanted to take that perfect photo of a kingfisher. It took him 6 years of single-minded effort and 720,000 shots to do just that. On the way, he captured many striking images. 

Female kingfishers sat on a perch around four feet above the water and would only dive three or four times a day, Mr McFadyen said
Photo by 
Before finally photographing the perfect shot, Mr McFadyen clocked up 4,200 hours at Kirkcudbright in Scotland during his efforts
Photo by 

At last, the perfect shot: at the point of entry into the water. 

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Photo by 
More photos and info herehere and here.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Ski Season

Time for a little downhill skiing.


J.T. Holmes was featured recently on 60 minutes making an awesome descent of the Eiger in the Swiss Alps involving 3 different sports The 60 Minutes website has the video and also the video of making the video, also amazing. It is entirely worth taking the time to look at these videos.

Unfortunately, a 60 Minutes video isn't available for a blogger like me (though Holmes has it on his Facebook Page) but I found this video on YouTube and it's awesome too.

J.T Holmes is an American extreme skier based in Squaw Valley. He's a self-described athlete, stunt man and fun-haver. Also a thrill-seeker and risk-taker. 

Here's another awesome "run", filmed at the end of November in Lake Tahoe. By the occasional weird sound of his voice, though, it might be in slo-mo. All the more time to enjoy the views.

Who said man couldn't fly!

Holmes has his own YouTube channel where there are lots of other amazing videos of the adventures he gets up to. All great if you happen to have snow.

Friday, January 1, 2016


Let's start the New Year off on a high note, with positive wishes and high-hearted hopes for ending suffering everywhere. As writer George Eliot (1819-1880) said, "What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?"

Toronto Symphony Orchestra Celebrates What Syrians Bring to Canada

Published in Dec. 2015
In Canada we see no contradiction in belonging to more than one nationality or culture. In fact these shared identities are the basis of our success. We celebrate this success as we celebrate the arrival of Canada's newest residents and their path towards becoming full members of Canadian society.