Monthly Archives: October 2012

It’s All About the Middle

The best thing about a Oreo cookie is definitely the middle. I think the same can be said for a sandwich, an action packed vacation, or a romantic interlude with my husband.  When I was  a university student the middle of the night was the optimum time to study for tests and complete research papers. 

I remember when I was a child the middle of the back seat was definitely not the coveted spot. My siblings and I fought NOT to sit there. My parents had to legislate the amount of time each of us needed to spend there in order to prevent major battles.  Speaking of driving, the middle of the road is definitely not the place to be. Remember the Louden Wainwright III song, which contained the lyrics ‘dead skunk in the middle of the road stinkin’ to high heaven?’

The middle of a donut is certainly not the best part. There is nothing there. Sticking up your middle finger in public is hardly polite. As we get older the middle part of our body is rarely looked at with favor, since extra weight seems to gravitate there in the most aggravating way. Few people escape at least some sort of ‘mid-life’ crisis.

I had a teaching colleague with a middle child theory. She thought kids sandwiched in the middle of their families between younger and older siblings had to cope with a special set of circumstances that sometimes impacted them negatively. When a child in my class was having academic or social problems the first question she would ask is……”Are they a middle child?” 

I happen to live in the province smack dab in the middle of Canada and think it is a pretty great place. I find musical notes in the middle range are the easiest for me to sing.  Shakespeare’s A Mid Summer Night’s Dream is one of his funniest and most entertaining plays. Doesn’t the middle man/woman in a business deal make the most profit? 

They say the middle class is disappearing, but I’m happy to consider myself a part of it. I’m glad I have the good fortune not to need social assistance but I’m also glad I’m not a millionaire. That would bring its own share of problems. 

The older I get the more I realize that somewhere in the  middle, between the two extremes,  is often the most open-minded and reasonable place to take a stance on controversial things. My life experiences have moderated many of my black and white ideas and sent me scurrying for middle ground. 

“Life is not so much about beginnings and endings as it is about going on and on and on. It is about muddling through the middle.”   – Anna Quindlen (Newsweek columnist)

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Filed under Culture, Reflections

The De Grassi Girls- True Canadian Heroines

They were teenage heroines! One of the things I love about writing this blog is that it connects me with interesting people and stories and helps me learn new things. I published a post about our food tour in Toronto in early October and included a picture of the De Grassi  Street sign.

De Grassi Street became famous because a long running Canadian teen television drama is set in a fictional high school on the street.  I had no idea the street also bears the name of  two heroic teenage women until Anne Cohen who works for an online women’s magazine called We Women e-mailed to ask me if she could use my photo of the De Grassi street sign in a slide show for Women’s History month which is celebrated in October.

It didn’t take me long to find several articles online about Charlotte and Cornelia De Grassi. As young children they moved to York in Upper Canada  with their Italian father Captain Filipo De Grassi and their British mother Charlotte Hearne. In 1837  when Charlotte was 15 and Cornelia 13, William Lyon McKenzie,  a former Toronto mayor and former member of the provincial  Parliament  led a rebellion against the government of Upper Canada.

Captain De Grassi who supported the government rode to Toronto on a moonlight December night when he heard about the uprising McKenzie was organizing. Charlotte and Cornelia who were both excellent riders joined their Dad. The Lieutenant Governor Francis Head said he needed to know how many rebel troops there were before planning his defense. Charlotte and Cornelia said they would spy on the rebels and report back to Head as to their strength in numbers.  Both were wounded as they fled on their ponies when the rebels became suspicious of them.

They were able to report to the Lieutenant Governor that the size of the rebel forces had been greatly exaggerated. Later when the rebels set fire to the Don Bridge Cornelia was the first to notice it and raised the alarm.  The rebellion was short-lived and McKenzie spent the next decade in exile in the United States. 

McKenzie noted a De Grassi female spy in his written account of the rebellion and their father also wrote about it in the family papers. According to the Canadian Status of Women website the newspaper, The New York Albion carried a story about Cornelia and Charlotte.  

Merna Forster also tells their story in her book 100 More Canadian Heroines: Famous and Forgotten Faces.

I was unable to find any visual images of Cornelia or Charlotte online. It is one of the times I wish I had artistic talent because I think this story would make a great picture book for young people. 

If you liked this post you might also like reading about some other female Canadian Heroines.

The Famous Five

Agnes McDonald’s Railroad Adventure

Brides of New France- The King’s Daughters

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Filed under Canada, History, Politics, Toronto

De Ja Vu at the United Nations

We took a tour of the United Nations and almost everything I saw was a connection to another place I’d been or something I had seen before.  This sculpture called A Sphere Within A Sphere by Arnaldo Pomodoro was a gift to the United Nations by the country of Italy and sits in the courtyard just before you enter the UN.  I took a photo of a very similar piece by the same artist when I visited the Vatican in Rome. To me the sculptures represent the world cracking apart enough for us to see it’s working interior. I think this gives us hope that it is possible to get the work done that we need to accomplish if we want to repair our fractured world. My husband Dave is chatting with a woman outside the United Nations who wanted people to sign a petition protesting the Chinese government taking over people’s land without giving them compensation for it. She reminded me of a woman from Hebei province I saw praying to Mao’s picture when I visited Tiananmen Square in Beijing. She said her family land had been confiscated without proper compensation and when her husband went to government officials to protest he was arrested.  A stained glass window by Marc Chagall sits just outside the chapel at the United Nations. It was presented by United Nations staff members and Chagall as a memorial to Dag Hammarskjold, the second Secretary General of the United Nations who died in a plane crash in 1961.  The window contains various symbols of peace and love. The musical notes in the window are a connection to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony a favorite of Mr. Hammarskjold’s.  I took this photo of a Chagall window in Mainz, Germany. It is one of a series of windows in St. Stephen’s church. The windows depict scenes from the Old Testament. Chagall made them after World War II to help Jews and Christians to remember the part of their faith story they share. He hoped this would aid in the reconciliation between Jews and German Christians after the Holocaust.  At the United Nations you can view a presentation about the need to eliminate nuclear weapons from our world. They have these clothes on display from a victim of the bombing of Hiroshima. It is to remind United Nations visitors of the horrible impact of nuclear weapons.  It brought to mind this photo I took in Hiroshima, Japan at the Peace Memorial Museum showing some of the victims immediately after the dropping of the bomb. These are home-made prosthesis made for victims of land mines in Cambodia. The United Nations is part of a world-wide mission to eliminate landmines. According to this United Nations website land mines still kill 15,000-20,000 people a year.  The United Nations display reminded me of my two visits to land mines museums in Cambodia. At one our guide had lost his arm to a land mine.  According to our guide the United Nations has been working on finding a solution to the question of Palestine since the first special session of the General Assembly in 1947. It reminded me of my visit to a Palestinian refugee camp with twenty-four of my students from Hong Kong. Here the guide shows us bullet holes in the wall around a soccer field where school children were playing. My husband Dave is listening to the audio description of a mural at the United Nations that depicts the nuclear accident at Chernobyl.  The mural reminded me of our visit to the Chernobyl Museum in Kiev, Ukraine. I took a picture of this photo collage which shows the faces of children who were victims of the disaster. Out of the 3 million people the Ukrainian government recognises as victims of Chernobyl, 642,000 are children. Our visit to the United Nations prompted me to make connections with many previous experiences we have had. It evoked memories of other places we had visited around the world. Since the organization’s mission is to build positive connections between countries I guess that’s not surprising.   

Dave poses on the steps across the street from the United Nations. On the wall behind him is a verse from Isaiah 2:4   “and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. “

If you enjoyed this post you might also like…….

Land Mines Museum- First Visit

Questions at the Vatican

I Never Got Used to the Guns in Israel

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Filed under cambodia, History, New York, Politics, Travel

But They’re Not Chinese

“He’ll never forgive J K Rowling!”  A friend told me her son will never forgive the Harry Potter author for allowing her books to be made into films. He loved her stories so much and had created his own visual images of the Harry Potter characters from Rowling’s descriptive words. They were all spoiled when she allowed her novels to be turned into movies. 

It reminded me of the year I read aloud Island of the Blue Dolphins to a class of fifth graders when I was teaching at an international school in Hong Kong.  After I’d finished the book I showed my students the movie.  We were only about ten minutes into the film when one of the boys was waving his hand in the air with a puzzled look on his face.  “What’s the matter?” I asked.  ” The people”, he said.  “They’re not Chinese!”. The whole time I was reading the book he was imagining the characters looked like him- that they were Chinese.  His identification with the characters in the novel was spoiled by the film version. 

Recently a former teaching colleague and I were trying to think of some first-rate children’s books that we used to read to our students that have never been turned in to movies. It was hard. We came up with Castle in the Attic by Elizabeth Winthrop,  The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen by Lloyd Alexander and The Shakespeare Stealer by Gary Blackwood.  I also don’t think the Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George or Number the Stars by Lois Lowry have been made into movies although I’ve heard rumors they are under development as films. 

Can you think of any great novels for kids that have no movie version?  I think we need more of them. If  you liked this post you might also like………

Reading Aloud To Teens

Remembering Maurice Sendak

Cloud Watching


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Filed under Books, Childhood, Education

New York Reminds Me of Hong Kong

It has been about a year and a half since we moved back to North America from Hong Kong.  On our recent visit to New York City I realized there were many things about New York that reminded me of Hong Kong.

Although the typical image of Hong Kong is a place of skyscrapers and traffic the city has lots of green space. There are plenty of parks and beautiful wilderness places to hike.

New York has preserved some lovely green spaces as well. We spent several hours biking through Central Park. Right in the middle of this huge metropolitan city is a park that covers 843 acres and is 2.5 miles long. 

In both Hong Kong and New York people seem to pay little attention to street lights. They just cross the street in droves whenever they think they can get safely across. Our guide on one of our New York walking tours told us that jay walking is just an accepted part of life in New York City. It is in Hong Kong too. 

There were times in Hong Kong when I would look around in a train car and realize that I was the only Caucasian there. That happened to me a couple of times in New York too. 

In Hong Kong you see men in parks playing mahjong.

In New York they are playing chess.In Hong Kong ferry boats are still used daily for transportation. 

There are plenty of ferry boats to ride in New York too. 

In Hong Kong when you are in a restaurant or coffee shop or shopping mall you can hear people speaking all kinds of languages- Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, Tagalog and English. It is the same way in New York. We were sitting in a Starbucks just off Broadway and I heard Spanish, French, English,Korean and a language I couldn’t identify being spoken by people sitting around me.

There is lots of construction going on in both Hong Kong and New York. In New York they use steel scaffolding.

In Hong Kong the scaffolding is made of bamboo.

Rent is very expensive in both Hong Kong and New York. I found statistics for May 2012 that said an average two bedroom apartment in Hong Kong was renting for $2,800 a month and a two bedroom apartment in Manhatten was renting for $3,400 a month. 

In both New York and Hong Kong cars aren’t as popular as in many other cities.  In Chicago for example 89% of people have access to a personally owned vehicle while only 50% of people in New York own a car and only 56 out of every 1000 people in Hong Kong own a car.  The public transportation system is very heavily used in both Hong Kong and New York. 

In New York you board the trains after swiping your MetroCard. 

In Hong Kong you use an Octopus card.

As I was walking down the streets of Time Square in the evening, the crush of the crowd reminded me of trying to make my way down the streets in the Mong Kok area of Hong Kong, the most densely populated place on earth. 

There are lots of street sweepers in both cities although they dress a little differently.

Here is a Hong Kong street sweeper

and her New York counterpart.

In Hong Kong restaurants offer every kind of food imaginable just like they do in New York. 

Both Hong Kong and New York have iconic statues.

In Hong Kong there is the Big Buddha.

In New York it is the Statue of Liberty.

Although I don’t know if I will ever get to visit Hong Kong again, being in New York City brought back some fond memories and comparisons with the city we called home for six years. 

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Filed under Hong Kong, New York

On Being A Church Tourist



We spent last year church shopping. Read about it on my blog Destination Winnipeg. 

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Filed under Religion, Winnipeg

Signs- Signs Everywhere in New York

Meg Ryan, playing the role of Sally Albright, fakes sexual fulfillment in a most convincing way at one of the tables in Katz’ Deli in New York. It is a classic scene in the movie When Harry Met Sally. That scene has put Katz’ on the map. There is a sign in the restaurant marking the table where the scene was filmed. 

This ‘in memory’ plaque was on a park bench right beside Strawberry Fields the art piece dedicated to John Lennon in Central Park. The plaque in memory of Britt Marie Katayama  begins with the words Imagine you at Peace . It alludes to Lennon’s peace anthem Imagine.

The David Letterman Show was in a filming hiatus during our time in New York but we went past the theatre which is its home and my husband Dave posed for a photo.

Most of the fire trucks I saw in Manhattan had one of these ‘in memory’ signs. They featured the names of firefighters who died during the 9/11 rescue operations.

In the Trinity Church cemetery I took a photo of the grave of John Grum 39, and his nine month old daughter Rachel, who both died in 1759. John died in August and his child in November. The words of a hymn written by Isaac Watt in 1709 are engraved on the bottom of the tomb.
Hark! from the tombs a doleful sound;
My ears, attend the cry;
Ye living men, come view the ground
Where you must shortly lie.


Names of the firefighters on Engine 154 who died doing rescue work at the Twin Towers during 9/11. Their names are engraved in the steel railing around the memorial pools at the Ground Zero site.
This is the table where the Canadian delegation sits in the United Nations assembly. 

This street light banner for Rutgers Presbyterian Church makes the congregation sound pretty inviting. Serious about peace and justice- Playful about worship-Joyful about faith.

The New York subway system has an initiative called Poetry in Motion.  They post a different poem every month on their trains.  In October during our visit to the city they were featuring an untitled poem by Jeffry Yang.  It read…..

west of rest is sleep
east, dream
where waters meet
north, emptiness,
south, wakefulness,
and out, rising up
to the stars, peace.

A reminder of Canada on Wall Street- The Toronto Dominion Bank

King Kong poster in the Empire State Building. In the 1933 movie King Kong the giant ape who is the main character, climbs to the top of the Empire State Building and falls to his death after being attacked by airplanes.

One of the art pieces in a display at the United Nations that catalogues the 30 articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

If you enjoyed this post you might also like……..

A Walk in New York City

Sightings of the American Flag in New York

In New York We…….

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Filed under Culture, New York