Monday, March 31, 2014

Island Adventures

This novel, published in 1874, is a story about 4 men, a boy, and a dog who escape from the southern forces during the Civil War. What makes it unique is that the escape was done in a gas filled balloon that was going to be used for army reconnaissance, but was grounded due to a severe storm. The balloon was hi-jacked and immediately soared high into the atmosphere and was blown to the south seas by a hurricane. 
The mix of men and their various talents makes for an interesting story of resourcefulness and survival after having been deposited on a deserted island with virtually nothing but the clothes on their backs.
They not only survived, but within a few years are thriving and do not even wish to be rescued.  But there are very mysterious things happening on the island, leading to a suspicion that there is someone else living there. But search as they might, they could find no evidence. A trip to a nearby island where they pick up a castaway, and an invasion by a pirate ship, eventually take us to the part of the story where the real danger looms before them, the awakening of an extinct volcano.  
In the end, the mystery is revealed and only by the narrowest of margins are the castaways rescued.
Jules Verne loves to write about science and this book is full of it. He was ahead of his time, to be sure.
The story is interesting but the tension is always resolved just a little too neatly, in other words, it is unbelievable. But, good writing is always a pleasure to read, and it is a classic.  
3 1/2 stars

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Saving Art

I know it has been around for a while but we finally went and saw the movie "The Monuments Men". WWII is drawing to a close and it has come to light that Hitler is stealing and stowing away all the masterpiece works of art from the invaded countries of Europe. A small group of men is commissioned to hunt down and rescue these paintings, sculptures, and tapestries. It is interesting from a historical perspective and views a bit like a documentary. Where the movie delves into personalities it gets a bit silly, but the broader picture is enough to hold one's attention. John Goodman of "Rosanne" fame is a cardboard character if ever I saw one. Bill Murray is passable. George Clooney is good as the leader of the task force, but then I am fan of George's. Matt Damon plays the youngest of the hunters and is a family man. Hats off to Hollywood (or actual history) to have a character portrayed as a loyal husband in Paris where he is sorely tempted.
Perhaps the stars of the show are the art pieces themselves, or maybe they are replicas. It makes one shudder to think that these masterpieces were on the brink of destruction. It is one more reason to believe that Hitler was the most sinister of madmen to ever inhabit our planet.
We enjoyed the movie and I would give it  3 1/2 stars 

Saturday, March 29, 2014


I found this author and his series a number of years ago and got bogged down waiting for volume 4. It finally arrived. The Strongbow Saga by Judson Roberts is the story of a young Dane named Halfdan. From his humble beginnings to the days of glory in battle, we follow this young man's exploits and adventures as he tries to right some grievous injustices done to his family. His travels take him to various parts of Europe and back again to the Scandinavian fjords where he was born and raised.  He has grown into a skilled warrior but a man of honour who has a strong senses of justice.
The books take the reader into the world of Vikings, from everyday life in the long houses to life on a long ship of war as it plies the rough northern waters, fighting pirates and renegade family members. There has been considerable research to make the locations and events as true to the historical record as possible. It is one of those stories that is very difficult to put down, even though the hour is late. I thought the saga was going to come to an end with this particular volume but the plot only thickens instead of coming to a conclusion. There are new characters and loose ends here and now I cannot wait for the next book in this series. This is the sign of a good writer.
Hint: Reading the series in sequence is almost a necessity as there are plot twists and characters that will mean nothing without the back story.
Thanks to Bill for lending me his Kindle for this one.
4 stars 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Are You Ready?

A coincidence you say? A BC auditor's report has just come out saying that our earthquake preparedness is grossly inadequate. This on the heels of a report saying that a small earthquake preceded the massive landslide north of Seattle earlier this week.
Is it just me or does this all sound like fear mongering. How on earth could anything have been done to prevent that massive slide that covered more that 2 square kilometers and killed many people. Once a mountain begins to slide, there is no stopping it. Short of stopping the rain, this was not preventable.
We are constantly being bombarded with the threat of 'the big one' here on the west coast of Canada. I am not saying that it will not happen, nobody knows. There are many bad things in life that might happen, things we cannot prevent. We have seen school upgrades in our neighbourhood that were as costly as building a new school, all so the school will not collapse in an earthquake. A school is occupied only 7 hours per day, 5 days per week.  But, given a big enough shaker, anything will eventually fall.
Why don't we all just live with the fact that there may be an earthquake and each one of us be prepared for loss of life, loss of food, water, and shelter, for a period of time, and realise that it will be a disaster and then spend the public money on realities instead of maybes.  
BC's emergency management agency has a budget and it has many employees. This agency has to be seen to be doing a job in order to justify its existence. What else would they say but that we are not adequately prepared? This latest announcement will provide budget money and jobs for years to come. They would be most useful if their mandate was to educate every citizen about having an emergency kit and a few tips about communicating without power and wifi for a few days or weeks. And if you are really afraid of a big one, move out of Richmond and stay away from the older high rises. Don't forget either, that you could get hit by a comet, lightening, or an out of control bus. These things happen.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014


I was walking in the park this afternoon and this is about where it happened. I was assaulted. Yes, assaulted. In broad daylight.
No, it was not by some gang of school kids bored with Spring Break. It was not by a drug addict looking for money for his next fix. It was not by some aggressive goose flushed with spring fever. It was not by a rogue Pit Bull that escaped the leash. It was not even some elderly man on a scooter attacking me in a jealous rage over my youthful appearance and ambulatory capabilities. It was by something quite innocuous and innocent looking.
It snuck up on me, unawares, and attacked me, in the head area. It left me with tears in my red and swollen eyes, and fits of expelling great amounts of spittle and phlegm in violent outbursts. I may as well have been mugged. I was useless for hours after, in such a state of distress was I. 
Who is the perpetrator of this dastardly deed you might ask? My arch enemy, my spring time nemesis. The Birch and Alder pollen. I no longer trust those quiet walks in the park. It will be at least three weeks before I will have the courage to venture outdoors once again. Our streets and parks are not as safe as we would like to think.   

Monday, March 24, 2014

Putin and the PQ

As we creep closer and closer to war in the Ukraine, I interrupted my reading of that situation with an article about the coming election in Quebec. I could not help but see a ludicrous parallel.
Putin claims to protect ethnic Russians in the Ukraine from the extreme right wing elements in the newly formed government there. The danger was greatest in the Crimea where ethnic Russians dominate the population so a referendum was taken and the overwhelming majority of the citizens opted for joining Russia as opposed to staying with the Ukraine. What do those people know that the west does not? I am of the opinion that referendums are an accurate gauge of the citizens wishes and are more or less pure democracy. Why should the west oppose this? Now there is threat of war because some people want to determine their own future. I know there are other serious issues but let us stick with this item for a moment.
Here in Quebec, there seems to be a resurgence of that old independence movement by the PQ. Let us say for argument's sake that the PQ win the election and there is a referendum and that the 'yes' (for separation) vote wins. Will Putin come to the aid of the separatists? Would we be upset if some foreign country came to prevent Quebec from separating or to help us keep Canada together? The obvious answer is 'yes'. This is our affair and has nothing to do with any foreign power. If separation did indeed take place and Quebec became an independent foreign nation and she decided to recruit another power as her ally, we would be powerless to stop her but as long as we are one country, nobody need interfere.
This proves to me that the real issues in the Ukraine are not political boundaries and democracy, but power and ego plays, and economic realities having a lot to do with oil and gas distribution.
As for our own Quebec struggles, I would like to see a serious attempt at separation, which would obviously result in utter failure, so the issue would be put to rest once and for all.  

Friday, March 21, 2014

Tilting at Windmills

I have just completed a massive undertaking, reading the complete Don Quixote. The book is more than 1000 pages and contains around 775,000 words. It was written by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra in 1605 with the  second part written in 1615. It has been a widely read book through the ages and has taken on different interpretations and meanings in each of those ages.
It is not easy to read, in places, but one cannot help but recognize the brilliance in it. Is it social commentary, is it comedy, or is it a tragedy? Perhaps understanding Spanish culture and the times would put a different light on it, but after reading it now in 2014, I have to conclude that it is a comedy with some cruel twists. Even though it was written 400 years ago, the humour is relevant and so very clever in most places.
Don Quixote is a man who has been reading too many books on chivalry, most of which were fiction, and he seeks to revive the age of Knights errant when chivalry reined and knights would wander the countryside seeking to right the wrongs and rescue the downtrodden. He recruits a poor buffoon of a farmer as his squire by promising him governance of an island when they come across the right type of adventure which will reward them with power and riches.
The 'adventures' are hilarious and contrived, resulting from the fact that Don is delusional and quite frankly, mad. His madness is counterbalanced by his brilliance in communication, knowledge, and sage advice. When people meet him they are struck with both his brilliance and madness and then find themselves not being able to decide what he really is.
His 'squire' Sancho Panza, in the meanwhile, has some of Don's brilliance rub off on him and becomes one of the most droll characters in literature, spouting strings of proverbs at will, disconnected and having no meaning at all, but sounding rather lofty.
There is no shortage of adventure, ending always in bad fortune, and the list of characters who play cruel jokes on this duo is endless. All of Don Quixote's endeavours are done on behalf of his lady love, the incomparable Dolcinea del Toboso whom he has never even met, but she is very real to him. When Sancho tries to put an end to this fantasy by introducing him to a young woman who he says is Dolcinea, but in fact is an ugly village wench, Don is convinced that she has been enchanted and seeks to find a way to 'dis-enchant'  her and return her to full beauty. What ensues is a running joke throughout the novel and is very funny indeed.
In the end, and I thought sadly, Don Quixote returns to sanity on his death bed and rejects the books of chivalry that lead him to the  ruinous end of life. It was sad because the crazy mad Don is the one we grew to love and root for throughout the book. It is as though our dreams and fantasies, which often keep us going in the harsh realities of life, are suddenly taken away from us and all that is left is the harsh light of day and the mundane challenges of everyday life.
Perhaps most of us have a desire to 'hit the road' as Don and Sancho did, with nothing more than a suit of armour, an old horse, and a saddlebag with cheese and bread, seeking adventure, whatever may befall. The adventure may be real or imagined, but the freedom in seeking, and not caring what others may think, makes it all worthwhile.
This book is not for everyone, but rewards the reader who perseveres. Taken as a whole, I give this classic a
3 1/2 star rating.      

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Cold and Windy Day Part 2

After being housebound for most of last week with a bad head cold, it was great to get outside again, even though it was bitterly cold. I was dressed warmly enough and even managed to expose my hands a few times to take a few photos. These are Euphorbia plants, a nice green just in time for St. Patrick's day.

The tide was on its way out, and whitecaps were pretty. For a sunny day in White Rock, people were staying away in droves. It was more or less abandoned. Even the restaurants were empty.

The beach that beckons in summer, repels in winter.

Could one ever go to White Rock and not photograph the white rock? It was fairly glowing in the brilliant sunshine this day.

The guard bear stands watch.

Rebellious me crawled onto the railway tracks for this worm's eye view when I saw the sign "Stay Off The Tracks" Had I not flattened myself to the old railway ties at the last second, the train would have crushed me like a peanut. As it was, only the shirt on my back was ripped off. Well, that is what the sign is all about, is it not? I suppose some people are too stupid to stay off the tracks when the train is coming so they have to put up the sign. Probably to avoid law suits because when someone is drunk they will not see or heed the sign anyway.

We then drove further west and a bit north to Crescent Beach and it was even worse there, for wind and cold. The bay was so churned up that as you can see, it is thick with mud. Well, we did get some sun and some Vitamin D but I hope not a relapse of the cold I just got rid of.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A Windy and Cold Day Part 1

Checking the weather map in the morning, we decided that heading west and south was our best bet for finding some sunshine yesterday.

Knowing from experience that there is always a wind chill factor at White Rock, we brought a variety of jackets, vests, hats, gloves, and other diverse clothing layers.

The wind was fierce and bitterly cold but we bundled up and hoped that the brilliant sunshine and the fact that it is mid-March would somehow make the promenade walk bearable.

We walked the street, where it is more sheltered, all the way west and then with the wind at our backs and pushing us so hard we had to apply the brakes, we walked along the water on the way back.

The whitecaps were beautiful in the sun and it was a glorious day, but for the cold.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

What is Going On?

As I write this, the last votes are being counted in the Crimean referendum. Just what is going on is a bit mystifying. Consider this:
-there was an 80 percent voter turnout and the vote was 95% in favour of joining Russia.
-only 58% of Crimean residents are ethnic Russians and 12% are Tatar Muslims who oppose joining Russia. Did the Tatars not vote?
The ballot question was rigged, the two options were to join Russia or become an independent state. There was no option to remain part of the Ukraine.
There is something fishy about all this. At first I thought this mess in the Ukraine was a call to democracy as opposed to going back to the old Soviet style regime. An alignment with Europe more so than an alignment with Russia. Is not the Crimean referendum democracy? Should the west condemn a democratic referendum?
Putin has been described as an old school Soviet man who wants to restore Russian fear and respect in the world, as in the time of the 'Cold War'.
Yes, the old Ukrainian leader was corrupt and was skimming money for his own personal opulent lifestyle, but who exactly was  behind the up-risings. During WWII many Ukrainians joined the Germans to fight the hated communist Russians. They became Nazis. It is a heritage that many in the Ukraine kept to this day. There are numerous ultra right wing groups in the Ukraine and they go by various names but many are what we would call 'Neo-Nazis'. In fact, it was these people who were on the font lines of the violence a few weeks ago. Is it these people that Putin is referring to when he says he wants to protect ethnic Russians in the Ukraine? Is his concern legitimate? Would there be a regime of ethnic cleansing if the new leadership were to have their way? Actually, it is probably the far right interests that control the new government right now. Could Putin actually be justified in his actions? The referendum might suggest this is true.
Add to this, the power plays between Russia, the west, Europe, and the fact that 70% of Europe's gas and oil flow through Ukrainian pipelines. Add to this Obama's weakness or perceived weakness on foreign policy. Add to this egos.
If it all comes to violence once again, it will be many ordinary people who will die to satisfy the machinations of a few world leaders. What else is new? Some of my family's ancestors were Ukrainians and I am glad they got out when they did. At that time they were running away from both the Nazis AND the communist Russians. There will be many more running to the west if it comes to war once again.    

Dutch Tower

As you can tell, I have been browsing through some of my old photos, all of which have been converted to digital. Here is a scene that some of my 'older' readers, who have lived in this area for a while, will recognize. Or maybe you are saying, "That looks familiar, but where is it?"
Back in the 70's and 80's we had a high profile gardener here in BC who ran a successful chain of garden stores. He entered politics and was successful there also, eventually becoming Premier of the Province.  He had good looks, charm, personality, and charisma, not to mention a good looking wife. In his heyday, he built Fantasy Gardens in Richmond, a replica of Dutch architecture and horticultural features. We went there several times and always found it to be immaculate and very beautiful. The above photo is one scene along the garden tour.  There is a brief history of the Gardens here . Sadly, all that remains there today is the historic castle that was moved onto the site, and now stands as an historic monument and a prop for the occasional movie production.  

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Cole Road

This photo was taken around the late 70's at the south entrance to Hougen Park on Cole road. I had some very good clients just south of here and worked there a lot. At noon I would drive to the park and have my lunch. There have been changes since those days. You will note, that if you were to drive through this park today, that those Weeping Willows along the bank of the Sumas River are now huge. And just beyond the park there is a freeway rest stop.
I sometimes go here when I am in the neighbourhood and if I stop, I notice that there is usually some neighbourhood patrol or a cop car that eventually cruises through, taking licence plate numbers. Apparently, it is, or was, a popular spot for drug deals.
This photo was taken with my old SLR, a Pentax Spotmatic, with Kodachrome slide film, and I scanned the slide and processed it with a program called 'Silverlight'. All my slides are now digital so they can fade away if they want. I am happy that those days of film are dead and gone. One chance for a photo was all one could take and then just hope for the best until the slides were developed.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Been Sick

Spring is coming, or so they say, and with it comes allergies. I can run in a field of daisies, snort raw grass pollen, and tickle my nose with Ragweed and nothing happens. But one little stroll anywhere near a Birch or Alder tree in late Feb. or early March, and I am caught in a fit of sneezes bad enough to blow my brains out.
And so, I thought it was the allergy season for me, about two weeks late this year, when I came home from a walk in the woods on Monday and started blasting everything in sight. I was sure it was not a cold because there was no sore throat, cough, or headache. Until later that evening.
I am now four days into a fierce head cold and have been laying low, very low. Today I turned the corner and seem to have re-gained my will to live, which had abandoned me completely just yesterday. Is it my imagination or is it more difficult now, with the years accumulating, to handle a bit of infirmity? I do not get under the weather often, but when I do it seems to sap the strength and energy and zest, and just about everything else out of my life. Am I getting a glimpse of the reasoning that the elderly have that when they reach the end and get sick, they lose the will to live? I may be exaggerating a bit when I say that it happened to me, but it was a new feeling, though faint. Even when the sun was out yesterday for a few minutes, I could not have cared less. This is not normal for me. But it is only a cold, and with a few box of tissues and a whole lot of Dristan, hot tea, Vit C, etc., etc., I will soon be done with it.
And that little cartoon at the top of this post ..... that was totally me for two days.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A Cold Blast From the Past

The year is 1978 and the location is north of Grande Prairie in northern Alberta. That Subaru was my transportation and it was not built for cold weather. With its very small 4 cylinder horizontally opposed engine, there was not enough heat generated to operate the engine, let alone heat the interior of the car. Did I mention it was -52? It was the coldest temperature I had ever experienced.
I was to leave for home the next day and we took the battery inside overnight to keep it warm and charged. It was not enough because the oil was gelled from the cold and the engine would not turn over, even in the closed garage.  We then put a lit camp stove under the oil pan, and after another hour or two we got it started. It was sluggish and powerless all the way to Hinton Alberta where the temperature suddenly warmed up from a Chinook wind. It was only another few miles down the road when the car literally jumped under the gas pedal and I was 'out of the woods'. When I got home I installed a core heater, which I never needed or used.
Subaru was one of the first front wheel drive cars imported to Canada. It was a great car and served me well for about 10 years.
As you can tell, I have been digging in the archives.

Sunday, March 9, 2014


I have been working on some ideas for my photos. I met a woman in Mexico who is a photographer and she transfers her photos to wood. I picked her brain and then came up with some ideas that I am experimenting with. The photo below is the original and the one above is the same photo transferred to a piece of solid fir about one inch thick. I was going for an antiqued distressed look and I think I got it. The image is permanently transferred to the wood and then clear coated. I will be working with other mediums and will keep you up-dated as to their failure or success. There is a bit of a learning curve here so I do not have really high expectations just yet. I have already learned that my images have to be a bit brighter so they print brighter.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Reminder to Myself

Digging out some of my Mexico photos from December, I am reminding myself that there are warmer places in the world and I was at one just recently.

When we are there it is difficult to believe that we are only 5 hours away from wet, cold home.

The colours, the warm, moist, soft air in the evening, and the heat of sun during the day are just some of the features that attract us to Mexico.
Oops. How did this photo get in here? Oh yes, this is what we were avoiding.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Where are You Spring

We tried to encourage Spring by putting out these Primroses. They brighten up our front door step, but so far Spring still seems to be a long way off. As you can see, we did get a dash of sun for the photo session.

The first batch we put out looks like a week old salad. No photos.

Can't wait for summer.

Monday, March 3, 2014

March Snow


Yesterday, Sunday Mar 2, we went for a walk in the snow.

Will it be the last snow of the year?