Tag Archives: family

Family Portrait

These three ferals are from the same colony, and as you can likely guess from their appearance, are related. The bottom two are siblings and the older black and white lady (top photo) is probably their auntie. The one peering through the fence is the shyest.

For VE Day: Heavy Water War

On the occasion of VE Day, I recommend this series (it is available on Netflix). It is fascinating and frankly, we often forget how important stopping the heavy water production in Norway was; if the Germans had got the bomb before us, it would have been beyond disastrous. The series certainly has its standard 21st century biases — for example, the Americans are made to look like bullying allies, whereas if you read World War II history, rather the opposite is true.

But the basic facts of the sabotage are there, and I love the portrayals of the Norwegian heroes — men for whom we should be forever grateful and who, in true Norwegian fashion, were ever humble about what they did (a profile of one of them here).

My uncle — his war letters website is here — was being trained to parachute into Norway, interestingly enough. It is possible they were considering him to be part of this project, as he had the language skills required. Either way, the likelihood of survival was slim.

I got a kick out of this movie, and I’d love to see this one, but I believe this most recent series to be the best of the lot.

Munk Debate

My plan was to write about the Munk Debate on my HuffPost page, but alas, I never got around to it and now it feels too late. So I’ll just post a few thoughts/links here now. I brought my sister with me to see the debate – she had a particular interest in the topic as she has worked with refugees in the past. Further, she is knowledgeable and serious about the Middle East and about the difficulties we face in trying to be humane all while doing our best to not be stupid about our own security.

First of all, some links: Steve Paikin sums up how I viewed the evening, for the most part, and — with considerably more edge — so does Kathy Shaidle (I wish I could write like her!). Barbara Kay and Nicholas Nazar are also worth your time.

I went expecting to like Simon Schama and Mark Steyn and not knowing much about the other two speakers, Louise Arbour and Nigel Farage, other than that Arbour worked for the UN and therefore pleases my Annex-nik neighbours here in Toronto (and Farage decidedly does not). Now, it might seem odd that I attended with the expectation that both Schama and Steyn would impress me, but it shouldn’t. Schama is one of the few literati leftists who supports Israel and his Story of the Jews is quite a treat. And Steyn is, well, he’s Steyn — Sinatra, cats, politics, books, Broadway.

By the end of the evening, I found Arbour to be what my mother would have called “a pill,” and Farage to have been quite reasonable and serious. He and Steyn both showed up armed with statistics, facts, ideals and arguments based on an understanding of events and of history. I had expected the same from Schama, but I was disappointed. Other than his choice of very stylish footwear for the evening, he appeared to be phoning everything in, right down to his closing statement, which consisted of him reading John Donne’s Meditation XVII. The latter is a magnificent poem, but really, Simon Schama, that is your closing argument? It was as though both Schama and Arbour felt it was enough to get up there and say “we should be nice.” Well yes, we should be. I have not a doubt the opposing team agreed with that sentiment. But if we’re blind in our niceness, we will be incapable of helping anyone down the line, which is what Steyn pointed out in his closing argument (which was actually an argument).

There was a smugness in how the pro-side approached the debate, and I think that it was, in large part, why they lost. There was kind of a disbelief — particularly from Arbour — that the audience could possibly do anything other than support her statements. She became quite snarky and snide when she felt any change in the crowd’s mood, any sway in a different direction.

In a way, I don’t blame her for that attitude: I’ve been to many Munk Debates and it is generally a pretty Annex-nik audience (or “Trudeau-pian,” as Steyn called it on his website). Schama, for his part, kept mentioning that he “didn’t disagree” with Steyn and Farage about certain things. I couldn’t help but wonder if he wouldn’t have felt more comfortable on the opposing team (particularly given Arbour’s, er, past attitudes about Israel), but couldn’t bring himself to admit it.

I don’t get out much, because I simply prefer to stay home, but I was glad I made the effort. Thanks to my sister, who really provided the impetus, coming from out of town to attend. If you click the link here, you can watch the debate (though you may have to sign in or register or something).

The Gypsy and the Hobo

I wrote about my brother yesterday and said I would write more today. I think of him every day, of course, but when the anniversary of his death — Hallowe’en — approaches, I think of him more intensely. This week, I got my usual “grief migraine”, for example, and I also found myself thinking of a conversation he and I once had about a show we both loved, Mad Men.

He and I were both Mad Men addicts and had long conversations after each new episode. One episode by which we were both particularly touched was The Gypsy and the Hobo. It takes place over Hallowe’en, and as Don and Betty navigate an upheaval in their marriage, Sally and Bobby are unhappy that they can’t have store-bought costumes.

Don reminds them that the store-bought costumes are cheap. Betty makes them beautiful costumes — a gypsy and a hobo —  which they wear but do not appreciate. As a kid, I was very jealous of my friends who had tacky store-bought costumes. My mom made me a beautiful Red Riding Hood outfit, which I wore but did not appreciate.

I shared that memory with Alan, who was very touched by it, as he and I both were by the episode’s ending: Don and Betty, standing behind their trick-or-treating gypsy and hobo; Betty holding their baby, Gene; the adults shaken by Betty’s earlier uncovering of Don’s secrets, trying to put on a happy front for the neighbours, for the children, for themselves.


Reformation Day

Today is Reformation Day. It is also the third anniversary of my brother Alan’s death. I will post more about him tomorrow, but I wanted to make a reference to this day and to this hymn — in my opinion one of the most magnificent — because on the day he died, I had posted this same hymn and a reference to the Reformation on my Facebook page. This was before I knew Alan was gone and I remember clearly that the fact that he was not commenting on the post gave me a sick feeling. I knew something was wrong because it was the sort of topic upon which he would usually offer a witty or brilliant observation.


Book Recommendations

I don’t usually do book recommendations on my site but today I will. I read insane amounts — mostly non-fiction but some fiction — and the fact that I am taking time to write about these two books tells you what they meant to me.

The books are Bettyville, by George Hodgman, and The Hare with Amber Eyes, by Edmund de Waal. In a way, they are similar: both stories about family, about the past, about loss and love and about being grateful in the present. But they are different, of course.

The Hare with Amber Eyes is drawn against the painful backdrop of the relentless (and seemingly endless) persecution of Jews in Europe, the sickness of the Holocaust, and also has a strong art history focus (something I really appreciated).

De Waal is English, but a descendant of the (originally Russian) Ephrussi family, for a time on a par with the Rothschilds (even related by marriage to them) in terms of wealth and influence in parts of Europe. Proust’s Swann is said to have been based on Charles Ephrussi.

When de Waal inherits some “netsuke” from a favorite relative (he represents the fifth generation of his family to inherit them), he decides to trace their journey, which includes stops in Paris and Japan and Vienna. And it is truly something, particularly when you discover how the netsuke escaped being stolen by the Nazis, while pretty much all the rest of the Ephrussi art was taken.

In some ways, the book reminded me of the brilliant movie, “Woman in Gold”, though the former unfolds over a much longer period of time.

Bettyville is, on the surface, a memoir with less grandeur, but Hodgman’s portrait of his mother, Betty, is mighty grand. My own mom died, just short of her 93rd birthday, last year, and I saw so much of her in Betty. Same generation, same decency, work ethic, wit, and a similar stubborn dance with declining independence. The same good, strong people.

Hodgman is a successful editor and writer who, after growing up in Missouri in the ’60s and ’70s as a clever — though struggling and often bullied — gay kid, moved to New York. Along with an enviable career, he got into drugs, went into rehab, had some dysfunctional relationships, all of which he writes about with tremendous humor and no self-pity.

When his mother began fading, he moved back, initially to find someone else to care for her, but then decided to see her home, as he says, himself. In the process he finds “home”, in a manner. It is certainly touching to see him discover Missouri — fly-over country — as an adult, after having felt out of place so often as a kid and teenager. Honestly, I laughed, I laughed so hard I cried, and I just plain cried.

Read them both!




As regular readers know, my mother died last year. Most of her ashes were scattered in 2014, but for various reasons there were some left to scatter still.  So last week that deed was done, and it turned into quite a lovely nature walk.

First, we met a super polite groundhog who held up his little paw when he coughed/burped.

august152015 050

Then we saw this lovely guy…

august152015 014

…who apparently had something to say.

august152015 018

And that something was “Kiss my backside, humans.”

august152015 028

And then we met a skittish bunny.

august152015 078

But he wasn’t so skittish that he couldn’t also manage a loud and clear message, similar to the duck’s.

august152015 070

Mum would most definitely approve.