Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Thursday Thirteen - 139 - 13 of My Favorite News Stories From 2009

1 - There was no question as to what my top news story for this year would be:

"Oh, Canada.

Above is the first official group portrait of the world leaders attending the G20 summit taken at the ExCel centre, in east London, on April 2, 2009. The so-called 'family photo' is a common affair at these summits.

Canada's Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, is not on the stage. He was supposed to be standing next to Angela Merkel (red jacket, second row).

Apparently, either no one noticed, or they couldn't wait. Ouch.

The BBC reported that Mr. Harper was 'in the loo' when the first photograph was done."
- Shane Dingman, National Post

2 - "When caught in a tight spot, Canada's Defense Minister Peter Mackay has a tendency to change ground without apology, or even a blush. As a result, he suffers what might be charitably called a trust deficit - and it pre-dates this month's unpleasantness over Afghan detainees.

The most memorable example is his betrayal of David Orchard in 2003.

To secure leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party, Mackay made a deal with Orchard - he wouldn't encourage a merger with Stephen Harper's Canadian Alliance - and, in return, Orchard's loyal delegates vaulted MacKay to victory over Jim Prentice. Within months of this promise, made public by Orchard, MacKay was meeting with Harper to discuss a merger - selling out not only Orchard, but legions of Progressive Conservatives who wanted nothing to do with the Reform/Alliance crowd.

Following this, in a poisonous off-mic exchange in the Commons in 2006, MacKay referred obliquely to his once-girlfriend, Belinda Stronach, as a dog. A number of reporters and MPs heard the remark and instantly understood its meaning, but MacKay never owned up. Rather than apologizing for an intemperate outburst, he stonily denied ever making it.

These incidents both pale, however, beside MacKay's daily evasions on the Afghan detainee file (Julia's note: or torture scandal - however you want to say it.)

Now the minister is denying he ever attacked whistle-blower Richard Colvin personally and insists that he never used the words 'Taliban dupe.' But he did disparage Colvin for relying on the word 'of people who throw acid into the faces of schoolchildren' - implying that the diplomat's sources were exclusively Taliban fanatics.

MacKay (and the prime minister) accuse opponents of impugning the reputation of the troops. This is not only untrue, it is deplorably cowardly. MacKay and Harper are hiding their own political mistakes behind the valour and professionalism of Canada's forces."
Susan Riley, The Ottawa Citizen / Photo by Chris Wattie

3 - One of my favorite stories from 2009 are all the stories we'll never hear about.

"The bad thing that didn’t happen?

The same bad thing that hasn’t happened every year since 2001.

There was no mass loss of life (by which I mean more than a thousand people murdered in a single incident) due to terrorist action in any Western country."
- Gwynne Dyer,

My gratitude to all of the truly unsung heroes who protect us day in, day out - the spies who live among us, protecting us.

4 - "Some Russians believe President Dmitry Medvedev is emerging from Vladimir Putin’s shadow.

Medvedev has distanced himself from his mentor and 'the time is close when Medvedev is likely to offer Putin a deal he can’t refuse,' write Ethan Burger, adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law Center, and Mary Holland, director of the graduate legal skills program at New York University School of Law, in
Foreign Policy. 'This true power shift, unlike the symbolic one last May, might be Russia’s best hope to navigate peacefully its deepening economic and political crisis.' " - David Kampf, Rising Powers

"On Oct. 30, the official day of mourning for the victims of Stalin's regime, President Dmitry Mevdedev said that Russia 'must not allow those who destroyed their own people to be defended under the banner of restoring historical justice. ... There can be no justification for repressions.' " - Simon Shuster, Time magazine

A supposed ventriloquist-dummy figure who openly contradicts his puppeteer gives me hope for a Russia I could not have imagined 20 years ago.

5 - "Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby chose his 22nd birthday - Aug. 7 - as the day he would give a gift back to the community where he was raised. In fact, the day he brought the Stanley Cup home to Cole Harbour and Halifax might have been the best of his entire year.

More than 70,000 people turned out for a parade through the streets of his hometown.

'It was incredible,' said Crosby. 'I always realized the support I've had back home - I've never taken that for granted - it's been amazing since really I left home. I left at 15. But I don't think I ever experienced anything like that in my life as far as being home with that many people and really seeing it first-hand. ...

'It really meant a lot to me and it really set in. That was I guess the best way I could say thank you to everyone and it was a perfect couple days there.' "
- Chris Johnston, The Canadian Press / Photo by Andrew Vaughan

6 - "Governor General Michaëlle Jean's raw seal heart chowdown was a widely praised culinary tasting of cultural significance to her Inuit hosts.

That snack forced the Prime Minister and a clutch of Cabinet ministers to follow suit on their summer Arctic tour this year, although only Mr. Harper's photographer was allowed to take pictures of the group reaching for the meat without recording any actual consumption."
- Don Martin, National Post / Photo of Michaëlle Jean and her husband by Canadian Press

7 - I'm not a fan of Simon Cowell. I'm not into his mean-spirited verbal lacerations of people who sing to the best of their abilities. There are all sorts of ways to get the message across that one is not a fan of a particular performance without doing it the Simon Cowell way.

Having said that, one of my favorite things to have discovered this year is that hiding somewhere deep inside scowly old Cowelly is a romantic waiting to be swept away by something impossible but true.

Susan Boyle was the woman who did that for him, and for all of us.

8 - This is a heart-breaking story, but I have enormous admiration for Chance, a mixed-breed dog who tried to keep the young son of the dog's family from freezing when the boy was lost in the woods. I also have tremendous gratitude toward the funeral organizers for honoring the dog during the ceremony for his young companion.

"James Delorey, 7, who had autism and did not speak, went missing in Cape Breton woods on Dec. 5th. Hundreds of volunteers and search and rescue crew members descended on South Bar, near Sydney, to look for the boy during the snowstorm that began shortly after his disappearance.

Chance returned to the family home two days later, sparking renewed hope in the search for James. As one team of searchers followed Chance's tracks back into the woods, another team working from the opposite direction found James.

James was huddled in an area of thick brush and snow about a kilometre from his home. There was an imprint in the snow next to where James was found, where Chance had apparently huddled with the boy to keep him warm.

Suffering from severe hypothermia, James died early the next day after he was rushed to the IWK Health Centre in Halifax."

"The boy's dog sat in the front passenger seat of the hearse as it pulled into the parking lot of Holy Redeemer Church in the Sydney neighbourhood of Whitney Pier.

Chance was led into the large Roman Catholic church behind the tiny casket and stood outside later with the boy's family as those who took part in the search blanketed it in green."
- John Lewandowski, Globe and Mail / Photos by CBC and The Globe and Mail

9 - Faith is a Labrador-chow mixed breed dog with a story that inspires wounded soldiers returning from Iran and Afghanistan with missing limbs and painful rehabilitation ahead of them.

The mother of the disfigured puppy was sitting on Faith when Reuben Stringfellow rescued her. The vet suggested that Faith be put down. But Reuben's mother Jude never considered that as an option.

"At first the family had to carry Faith to keep her off her chest and chin. But with peanut butter and practice, Faith learned to walk on her two hind legs.

Faith and Jude make dozens of appearances every year, including stops at veterans' hospitals across the country to cheer injured soldiers. For many, Faith brings a powerful message about overcoming adversity. 'Faith has shown me that different is beautiful,' wrote Jill Salomon of Montreal, Quebec on Faith's web site. 'It is not the body you are in but the soul that you have.' "
- / Photo by Anthony M. Tortoriello

10 - Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger remained cool as a cucumber after flying his airbus jet through a flock of geese and losing power in both engines.

"During the next three and a half minutes, Sullenberger swung the aircraft into a left turn, reviewing his options while First Officer Skiles tried in vain to restart the engines.

Sullenberger considered and rejected both LaGuardia and Teterboro, N.J., airports. Grimly he told air traffic controllers that the airplane was going to land in the Hudson River, abreast of midtown Manhattan.

The aircraft shed an engine, but otherwise stayed intact as it skied to a halt, veering left at the very end. Passengers and crew quickly exited the airplane and waited on the wings or in rafts for help to come, which it soon did.

The pilots, Sullenberger in particular, drew praise for their quick thinking and cool actions that saved an airplane filled with 150 passengers and three flight attendants with only a few serious injuries."
- Terry Maxon, / Photo by Theodorakis

11 - Instead of beating around the bush, the plain facts are being released about the discrepancy between jobless rates for white America versus black America. This is one of the more precious changes which the election of President Obama has given to all of us - the freedom to tell it like it is.

"Black unemployment has climbed from 8.9 percent to 15.6 percent since the recession began in December 2007. In comparison, the white rate climbed from 4.4 percent to 9.3 percent.

It would be unconstitutional to designate aid or jobs specifically for blacks, so the Congressional Black Caucus is asking for at least 10 percent of various federal funds to be spent in areas where 20 percent of the population is below the poverty line.

Numerous studies show that when white and black workers with identical qualifications apply to the same job, 'they consistently favor the white applicants, even though the black applicants are equally qualified,' said Algernon Austin, director of the Race, Ethnicity and the Economy program at the Economic Policy Institute." - Jesse Washington, The Associated Press / Photo by Paul Sancya

12 - My darling Gerard Butler had three - count 'em - three film releases this year. Four, if you include the excellent narration for the animated short Tales of the Black Freighter. Just listen to how compelling his voice is, in this clip - WARNING - gruesome images.

13 - My mom realized a precious dream this fall by starting cello lessons.

My sister, my husband and I were sworn to secrecy so Mom could surprise everyone on Christmas Eve, after dinner when we have an informal musical evening. Usually, my mom and sister and I sing. Not this year!

Mom wrapped her cello as if it was a huge present, and I helped her carry it into Uncle Charlie's office as if it was really heavy.

After my aunt and my young cousin played a flute duet with Uncle Charlie, my sister announced, "You've heard of Yo-Yo Ma. Well, this is Yo Mama!"

Auntie's pretty excited!

Hope you enjoyed my look back at the year's news stories.

Happy New Year and all the very, very best in 2010!

Andi says Cello lessons - awesome! I've always wanted to learn to play the violin, but I worry that I'm 40 years too old to start.

Jennifer Leeland says Those are fantastic stories! Love it. Your mother is so terrific! Good for her learning the cello!

Joanna Cake says Loving the World Summit photo story too :) Happy New Year!!!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Almost Wordless Wednesday - 132

Brooke says When my sister died we still had cake on her birthday in her memory..

Storyteller says What a wonderful photo!

Akelamalu says It's good to remember the happy times.

I'm blogging at Popculturedivas - drop by for a look at a Russian New Year's film classic

Join me at Popculturedivas where I'm taking a look at a film beloved by Russians and watched every New Year's for the past 30 years.

Apprentice Writer says OK I'm intrigued and will go take a look.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Poetry Train Monday - 133 - The Latest Year of My Life

Here it is - the final found poem for 2009. I'm using the villanelle form, but without rhyming, as that would interfere with the found poem status.

This is taken from my diary entry for the turn of 1980 into 1981. This was a big year for me - first onstage roles in high school where my theatre bug was activated, and of course my first boyfriend, so my first taste of what it meant to be in love.

For more poetry, Ride the Poetry Train!

The Latest Year of My Life

Looking back, the latest year of my life
I listened to records most of the day
I opened dams, debuted, changed, conquered, loved

I finished Life Before Man, got dressed, packed
I packed to go to Windsor for the night
Looking back, the latest year of my life

We left as soon as we were all ready
We girls had hamburgers and french fries, laughed
I opened dams, debuted, changed, conquered, loved

We girls retired to Julianne's room
The Top 100 on CJCH
Looking back, the latest year of my life

Read magazines, talked about guys, listened
We laughed and laughed and laughed like maniacs
I opened dams, debuted, changed, conquered, loved

We rang in the New Year with screams, kisses
Screams, laughter, kisses and lots of hugging
Looking back, the latest year of my life
I opened dams, debuted, changed, conquered, loved

- Julia Smith, 1980

Stan Ski says Here's to 2010.

Susan Helene Gottfried says Brings back a lot of my own memories, my friend.

Apprentice Writer says This was, I think, my first taste of that form of poem.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Thursday Thirteen - 138 - 13 Things We'll Be Doing This Christmas Eve

For all of you celebrating Christmas, my deepest wishes for a wonder-filled holiday.

This is what I'll be up to this Christmas Eve, my favorite day of the whole year.

1 - Hugs - loads of them. This one features my mom and Auntie Noel.

2 - Silliness - in abundance. Partaking here are my cousin Charlie, my husband Brad and me.

3 - Eating the meal I anticipate for the other 364 days of the year - my auntie's lobster bisque...mmm...

4 - More silliness - from my cousin Julianne and her husband Stephen, demonstrating romance novel clinch cover style.

5 - Laughing - demonstrating proper laugh technique is my mom, sitting with my cousin's wife Heather.

6 - Shooting lots of video footage, usually done by Stephen.

7 - Combine hosting and musical director duties, always done by Uncle Charlie.

8 - Play music - performed here by my cousin Julianne's daughter, Laura, with wee dancer Sarah, my cousin Charlie's daughter.

9 - Clap! Shown here are clappers Mom and Julianne.

10 - Play percussion, shown by enthusiastic drummer, Charlie's daughter Emily.

11 - Sing! Shown here are my sister Michelle and Mom.

12 - More silliness - it's important to keep the vibe flowing regularly throughout the evening, as demonstrated here by top silly pros Charlie, Heather, Sarah and Emily.

13 - Chill - remember to weave liberal amounts of chillin' throughout the silliness, fun and frivolity. Expert chill technique demonstrated here by Julianne's and Stephen's dog, Molly, cuddling with Stephen's aunt.

Michelle Johnson says Hope you have more silliness than you can stand.

Susan Helene Gottfried says Wow. Talk about tidings of joy, Julia.

Akelamalu says Have a wonderful Christmas Julia.

Wordless Wednesday - 131

Nikki says I used to keep a big sock under my bed until I was in the 7th grade! :)

Brooke says When I was young we use to hang the stocks on the wall with thumb tacks in the formal dinning room. That way us kids couldn't get to them until Mom and Dad got them down..

Akelamalu says We never did the sock thing just had everything under the tree to find 'early' on Christmas morning!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Through the Opera Glasses - 41 - Virtual Advent Tour 2009

Welcome to today's special post for my Through the Opera Glasses arts feature.

Today is my offering on the Virtual Blog Tour, hosted by Kailana and Marg.

My stop on the tour takes us to the ballet that started it all for me, as it does for so many other people - The Nutcracker.

This is the double album that my sister and I discovered under the Christmas tree in the early 70's. The full ballet score - no Nutcracker Suite, no sirree. I can't tell you how many hours I sat crosslegged on the rug in front of the stereo, gazing endlessly at this illustration on the album's front cover while I listened to every note of this magical work.

When I grew up and moved from Canada's east coast to Toronto, I somehow managed to get a job as an usher at the theatre where The National Ballet of Canada then performed. I started work in November, during the run of Swan Lake, so I was just in time for my first season of working the Nutcracker.

During my eight years at the theatre, I watched nearly every performance of the Nutcracker. The other ushers would get sick of it after the initial novelty wore off, but not me. Even when I was stationed somewhere outside the theatre, like the front doors to rip tickets or at the bottom of the lobby stairs to cover a reception, I would spend my break inside watching the performance.

These are my dear friends Alan and Jacquie, who can vouch for the depth of my ballet passion.

We're sitting at the pass door, which an usher would guard and allow only theatre or company members to pass through, while showing - you guessed it - an official pass.

For today's Advent post, I want to share a simply heartrending and exquisite piece of music from the Nutcracker, the adagio from the grand pas de deux which comes near the end of the ballet.

This is one of my favorite pieces of music. I'd always wondered what it was doing in the middle of a children's holiday ballet, but Tchaikovsky wrote it only a few years before his death, with only ten more works to follow. During the spring of 1891 as he worked on the music for Act II, where the grand pas de deux takes place, Tchaikovsky lost his sister, with whom he was very close. This gorgeous adagio so filled with adoration and longing makes more sense when viewed in that context.

Before we get to the Nutcracker adagio, I'll let two dancers from the Anaheim Ballet describe the process of creating a seamless dance partnership which shines during the pas de deux.

And here is the piece itself, choreographed by Rudolf Nureyev for the Paris Opera Ballet.

The Prince is danced by Jérémie Bélingard. What a hunkamaniac.

Dancing the role of Clara is Myriam Ould-Braham. Her technique is filled with animation.

The ballet was first performed in St. Petersberg, Russia at the Mariinsky Theatre on December 18, 1892.

"Tchaikovsky's (initial) skeptical attitude towards a lowly genre was ousted by an attentive interest in its unused creative possibilities.

Given Tchaikovsky's unusual thinking which created dancing poetry, his tendency to portray action in musical-scenic works, and a desire to embody real and eternal feelings in the world of art, this could not but find an outlet in the genre of ballet music." - Olga Gerdt, History of Russian Ballet

To visit the other bloggers posting on the Tour today, visit:

Annabel at Gaskella

Heather at Book Obsessed

Sprite at Sprite Writes

Melissa says The Nutcracker is one of my favorite ballets, too; like you, the novelty never wears off!

Sprite says Ooh! I love the video clips! I particularly was struck by the physics of the jumping backwards while moving forwards bit.

Krissi says What a beautiful memory and experience. Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Poetry Train Monday - 132 - All Morning, Most of the Afternoon

For my second last found poem for 2009, I've returned to my diary from 1980, when I was in grade eleven.
My high school years were wrapped around the Prince Andrew Chorus, and I still cherish my friendships which have continued from this sparkling time in my life.

We used to go caroling at Christmas time, heading towards the home of whomever hosted a party afterwards.

For more poetry, Ride the Poetry Train!

All Morning, Most of the Afternoon

It took me all morning
Most of the afternoon
To clean all the party mess away

Dad and Michelle had driven me
Up to the portable
Quarter after seven
They'd come inside
We'd waited for everyone to come

I didn't mind it, though
Cleaning the party away
Cleaning gave me the opportunity
To think about last night again

Last night Dad and Michelle
Piled all the munchies people brought
Piled them into the car
And carted them home

Dad was laughing so much
Laughing at how crazy the portable is
I felt so happy
Happy to see him enjoy himself so much

We'd all set out at 7:30
To sing our little Christmas songs
It was absolutely freezing
I'd had two layers of everything on

Cleaning the party away
It took me all morning
I thought about last night again

We'd gone a little ways down Spikenard
Down Farquarson and Shawinigan
Down Guysborough and Mount Edward to Kelly
And then to my house

We'd sung two verses of one song
Then We Wish You a Merry Christmas at every house
At Ted's house where
We'd gotten molasses candy
At this other house where
They'd passed a box of Turtles among us
We'd sung a verse of O Come All Ye Faithful

We'd sung two verses of
Joy to the World
Under the carport at my house
Mom had laughed
At all of us frozen carolers
As she stood in the doorway

Most of the afternoon
It took me to clean the
Party away, but I
Didn't mind
I thought about last night

Everyone had piled in
Had peeled their coats off
Mom had dished out the
Hot mulled wine
I'd scurried to my bedroom
I'd changed into my new dress

I'd danced
We'd all gathered around
The piano

As people wrapped their
Arms about each other to
Sing, how it made me
All warm inside

It took me all morning
It took me most of the afternoon
I cleaned all the party away

I thought about last night
How we'd all set out
How we'd sung our Christmas songs
How freezing it was
How I'd worn two layers

How it made me all warm inside

- Julia Smith, 1980

Linda Jacobs says I recently found my diary from 1963 or 4. Hmmm...maybe I'll try a found poem, too!

Michelle Johnson says You share the warmth of your family and friends with us so clearly. Makes one reminisce about their own families during the holiday.

Artpredator says How wonderful for you to have these happy memories written down and saved, to savor in later years and turn them into poems, to share in a way you'd never have expected nearly 30 years ago.