Thursday, December 27, 2007

Thursday Thirteen - 36 - 13 of My Favorite News Stories From 2007

1 - My favorite by far has to be the downfall of Conrad Black. Born to a wealthy Montreal family, he was expelled from private schools for selling exam papers among other things.

He rose through Canadian business to own the lion's share of print media, culminating in Hollinger International. As he bought up and destroyed regional newspapers, he and his crony came up with the brilliant idea of paying themselves through non-competition agreements. Ransacking Hollinger's bank accounts didn't trouble the newly minted Lord Black as long as he could maintain his lavish lifestyle. Yes, Canadian Conrad Black bought an English seat in the House of Lords to match the upturn of his nose. But it didn't save him from being tried in an American court for fraud against the shareholders of Hollinger International.

"His lawyers filed with the judge a 53-page document that revealed him as sincere, humble, gentlemanly and deeply spiritual," writes Harry Bruce for the Dec. 9th Chronicle Herald. Black once quipped "with glee that his firing dozens of reporters and editors was like 'drowning kittens' and 'cutting off gangrenous limbs,' and to describe journalists as 'swarming, grunting masses of jackals.' "

Harry Bruce continues: "After Bishop Fred Henry of Calgary expressed solidarity with strikers at the Calgary Herald, the deeply spiritual Black denounced him as 'a jumped up little twerp of a bishop' and 'a prime candidate for exorcism.'"

"The entire case against Black and four of his former colleagues," writes Richard Siklos, editor at 'Fortune', "was that they abused their positions as senior executives in a publicly traded company (in which they owned a minority of overall shares) to take more than they were entitled to. He was ultimately convicted of stealing $6.1 million from his company and obstructing justice by lugging some boxes out of his Toronto office - in plain view of security cameras - after being warned not to do so. He was sentenced to 6 ½ years in prison and a $125,000 fine." (Dec. 11, 2007) - Top photo by Peter J. Thompson

2 - "Ottawa reached a $10-million settlement with Maher Arar over Canada's role in a U.S. decision to deport him to Syria, where he was jailed and tortured. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is scheduled to make the settlement announcement on Friday afternoon, when he will also issue a formal apology to Arar on behalf of Canadians. The government will also pick up Arar's legal fees." (, Jan. 25, 2007)

"On January 27th, President Bush, in an interview with the Times, assured the world that 'torture is never acceptable, nor do we hand over people to countries that do torture.' Maher Arar, a Canadian engineer born in Syria was apprehended by American officials in New York. He was sent back to Syria, enduring months of brutal interrogation, including torture.

"Arar, a thirty-four-year-old graduate of McGill University whose family emigrated to Canada when he was a teen-ager, was arrested on September 26, 2002, at John F. Kennedy Airport. He was changing planes; he had been on vacation with his family in Tunisia, and was returning to Canada. Arar was detained because his name had been placed on the United States Watch List of terrorist suspects. He was held for the next thirteen days, as American officials questioned him about possible links to another suspected terrorist. Arar said that he barely knew the suspect, although he had worked with the man’s brother." (Jane Mayer,, Feb. 14, 2005)

The case of Maher Arar has haunted me since it first appeared in the news four years ago. The idea of it really chills my blood. Every time I saw his face, I saw the torment that will stay with him for the remainder of his days. I honestly thought I would never see him smile.

3 - The Highway of Heroes

"Residents, police officers and firefighters have been gathering to salute and wave flags on Highway 401 overpasses while motorcades carrying the bodies of soldiers killed in Afghanistan make their way to the coroner's office in Toronto. The stretch of Highway 401 running from Trenton, Ont., to Toronto will be officially renamed the Highway of Heroes in remembrance of Canada's fallen soldiers." (, Aug. 24, 2007)

"Members of the Grafton 580 legion, firefighters and other mourners line Highway 401 and it's overpasses to pay respects to the hearses carrying the bodies of Canadian soldiers who fell in Afghanistan." (, Sept. 7, 2007) - photo by Frank Gunn

4 - Nominee for The Globe and Mail's 2007 Nation Builder of the Year award,

Roméo Dallaire saw his Rwandan autobiography brought to the screen for a second time, this year released as a feature film. Already told as a fantastic documentary, which I saw, 'Shake Hands With the Devil' was released in September, 2007. I still haven't seen the feature film, but it's high on my list for next year.

Starring Roy Dupuis, whom I love, IMDB reviewer Craig McPherson says "Dupuis' portrayal of Dallaire is among the most eerily accurate renditions by an actor in quite some time. Not only do the two share a striking resemblance, but Dupuis seems to almost become the General in every aspect of his being. As a Canadian familiar with the sight of Dallaire in news reports and interviews, Dupuis' performance is nothing short of impressive."

5 - "For the first time since record keeping began in 1960, the number of deaths of young children around the world has fallen below 10 million a year, according to figures from the United Nations Children’s Fund being released today.

"This public health triumph has arisen, Unicef officials said, partly from campaigns against measles, malaria and bottle-feeding, and partly from improvements in the economies of most of the world outside Africa.

" 'The next five-year survey should show even greater improvement', Unicef officials said. 'We feel we’re at a tipping point now,' said Dr. Peter Salama, Unicef’s chief medical officer. 'In a few years’ time, it will all translate into a very exciting drop.' " (Donald G. McNeil Jr.,, Sept. 13, 2007)

6 - What could be better than winning a democratically elected US presidency?

Oh, I don't know. Winning the Nobel Peace Prize for 2007, perhaps.

"For their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change," Al Gore shared the award with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Winning the Oscar for 'An Inconvenient Truth' - also cool.

7 - I'm a dual citizen of Canada and the US, thus I recognize two heads of state.

I'm constantly reassured by George W. Bush's governing style, especially when he says things like:

"I heard somebody say, 'Where's Mandela?' Well, Mandela's dead. Because Saddam killed all the Mandelas." --George W. Bush, on former South African president Nelsen Mandela, (still with us) Washington, D.C., Sept. 20, 2007

8 - Next up: Venezuela's Hugo Chavez gets the slap-down from Spain's King Juan Carlos.

At the Ibero-American summit in November, "Mr Chavez repeatedly tried to interrupt, despite his microphone being turned off. The king leaned forward and said: 'Why don't you shut up?'

"The king addressed Mr Chavez as 'tu', the familiar version in Spanish of 'you' which is normally used only for close acquaintances, family, or children, and can be regarded as insulting when used in other circumstances." (BBC News online, Nov. 10, 2007)

9 - "Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose Conservative Party trails in some opinion polls ahead of a possible election, is seeking to regain support by overhauling his unpopular environmental plan," writes Theophilos Argitis and Greg Quinn of Canada.

" 'There is this realization they have to start saying the right things about the environment,' said Antonia Maioni, director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada in Montreal. The new proposals may make it more costly for companies such as Suncor Energy Inc. and Shell Canada Ltd. to do business in the western province of Alberta, (Harper's home province) and home to the largest pool of oil reserves outside the Middle East.

New Democratic Leader Jack Layton, who holds the balance of power in the House of Commons, said in a Jan. 17 telephone interview that he won't support the government unless it imposes pollution caps on oil and gas firms and ends their tax breaks. Harper leads a minority government, and needs opposition support to pass legislation." (Jan. 29, 2007)

The idea that Harper is forced to take real action on the environment - something he would never do if he held a majority, which the Canadian public has refused to grant him - gives me faith in the true power of democracy.

10 - The Robert Bateman exhibit at the The McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, north of Toronto, Ontario - September 1 to November 4, 2007.

Robert Bateman is one of my favorite Canadian artists, a favorite with many Canadians. Yet he's been shut out of "showings in most of the major art galleries of the country.

"Bateman's 1977 decision to enter the reproduction market became a huge controversy that has coloured his reputation as an artist. He wanted to make his work accessible to more people, so he personally signs from 950 - 12,000 copies of each of his paintings. Today, Bateman prints are sold all over the world - in 500 shops in Canada alone. Critics say these prints are just overpriced posters that cheapen the legitimate art market." ( - Life and Times, October 19, 1997)

I am the proud owner of one of these signed prints, 'Barn Swallows in August' which hangs in my living room. It was a gift from my parents-in-law five years ago. I'm very proud also of the McMichael gallery for having the courage to exhibit a popular commercial artist in the face of previous snubs from other fine art galleries. - photo by Birgit Freybe Bateman

11 - "Guillaume Côté, principal dancer with The National Ballet of Canada, won a Gemini for Best Performance in a Performing Arts Program or Series for his role in 'Moving To His Music: The Two Muses of Guillaume Côté'.

"The announcement was made at the Drama Variety and Comedy Gala in Regina on October 18th. The documentary, produced by Artec Media II Inc. and directed by Yosif Feyginberg, looks at Côté’s creative partnership as dancer and composer with choreographer Roberto Campanella." (Sarah Lochhead,, Dec. 22, 2007)

Not only is he my current dancer crush, but his high profile makes me extremely happy about the state of Canadian ballet. And not only does his win put him front and center, but it puts dance film front and center, too!

12 - "In 2006-07, Sidney Crosby finished his second NHL campaign with 120 points to become the youngest scoring champion in NHL history (19 years, 244 days).

He also became the youngest player in NHL history with two 100-point seasons, and the youngest Hart winner since Wayne Gretzky in 1980. The native of Cole Harbour, N.S. also became the youngest team captain at age 19." (

Being a resident of Cole Harbour, I'm rather proud of Sidney Crosby's stellar accomplishments, including his latest one from two weeks ago.

"20-year-old Pittsburgh Penguin star Sidney Crosby is the 2007 winner of the Lou Marsh award for best male Canadian athlete. The award is selected by a panel of sports journalists from the Toronto Star, The Canadian Press, the FAN590/Primetime Sports, The Globe and Mail, CBC, Sportsnet, CTV/TSN, Montreal La Presse and the National Post." (, Dec. 11, 2007)

13 - Hip-Hip-Hooray! Stephen Colbert "was voted AP Celebrity of the Year by newspaper editors and broadcast producers who said Colbert had the biggest impact on pop culture in 2007.

'It is truly an honor to be named the Associated Press' Celebrity of the Year,' Colbert responded. 'Best of all, this makes me the official front-runner for next year's Drug-Fueled Downward Spiral of the year. P.S. Look for my baby bump this spring!' "

" 'He's influenced the way we look at the news and even the way we speak,' says editor Julio Diaz. 'Whenever a major news story breaks, one of my first thoughts is what Colbert's spin on the story will be.'

Me too!

" On his last episode of the year, Colbert said: 'As you know, except for my 13 writers and production crew, I do this show single-handedly four nights a week. I'm also raising a family, promoting a book and, hey, two weeks ago I said, `Let's run for president.' I haven't gotten a wink since I blacked out talking to ('Meet the Press' journalist) Tim Russert.' "

Hope you enjoyed my year in review. What are your favorite news stories of 2007?

Just a note to let you know I'll be away from the blogosphere for awhile. My husband and I have gone to Toronto to ring in the new year with his family. Hope you all have a great time on New Year's Eve! (toot! toot! - flinging streamers)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Wordless Wednesday - 29

Monday, December 24, 2007

Poetry Train Monday - 31 - Christmas Eve Offering by Phillips Brooks

The moon came up Sunday night, huge and full and golden. I'm always entranced by the moon. I gaze at it often, many times while walking my dog. I can say I've seen gorgeous moonrises a great deal.

But Sunday night as I looked rapturously at the moon in the clear blue winter sky, I realized I was seeing a rather incredible aura around it. Not encircling it, like most halos. No -

This aura gleamed out in the shape of a magnificent cross.

As wide across as the full moon itself, it stretched out into the night, up and down, side to side. I kept going away, returning, going away, returning. Still I could see it. I can't describe the feeling it gave me. I quivered with the impossibilty, but still I saw it there.

I did a look around on the net and discovered I'd seen a moon pillar, an optical effect caused by ice crystals in the atmosphere. Of course, most of the moon pillars only go up and down. This one also went side to side. FANTASTIC.

For this week's Poetry Train, I offer a poem, or what seem to be the lyrics to a hymn, written by the same man who wrote 'O Little Town of Bethlehem'. I can't find a title for it. But I came across it several years ago and was entranced by the middle verse, which I wrote in my Christmas cards that year. It really captures that magical, awe-filled sensation I always get on Christmas Eve.

The earth has grown old with its burden of care,
But at Christmas it always is young,
The heart of the jewel burns lustrous and fair,
And its soul, full of music, bursts forth on the air,
When the song of the angels is sung.

It is coming, Old Earth, it is coming tonight!
On the snowflakes which cover thy sod

The feet of the Christ Child fall gentle and white,
And the voice of the Christ Child tells out with delight,
That mankind are the children of God.

On the sad and the lonely, the wretched and poor,
The voice of the Christ Child shall fall;
And to every blind wanderer open the door
Of hope that he dared not to dream of before,
With a sunshine of welcome for all.

- Phillips Brooks

Merry, merry Christmas to all of you! May peace surround you, may joy embrace you.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Spirit of Christmas Award

Ho! Ho! Ho! (clump clump of my boots, knocking the snow off them.) My Christmas Freak persona is never one to act the demure gentlewoman. I guess it was obvious to Toni at In The Midst of This Season that I basically divide the calendar year into Just After Christmas, Waiting For Christmas and CHRISTMAS.

Toni awarded me the Spirit of Christmas award. According to Santa's Community Blog, where this originated, "this award is for those who talk about and show the spirit of Christmas in their blogs.

What is the Spirit of Christmas you ask?

Quite simply it is those that have a generous and giving nature. Those who care about others. Those who have a kind word to say or a broad shoulder to lean on in the times that others need that. Those who display the 'Spirit of Christmas'."

I'm going to pass this award along to five other bloggers who have been just as freakish about Christmas as me. Is it a strange coincidence that they display kindness, generosity and a loving nature every day as they post on their blogs and leave wonderful comments in the blogosphere?

I really should have brought everyone's attention to Kailana's Advent Blog event before this, but luckily you can follow the links and immerse yourself in fantastic posts about Christmas all over the world. This has really been one of the highlights of my season this year. Big hug to you, Kailana!

Karina posted this lovely example of her overflowing Christmas Spirit. She expressed everything I feel about the holidays, too. Sure, it can be a bit 'stressmas'-y sometimes, but it's like everything else. It's up to you to step off the merrygoround if you're getting too dizzy from all the to-do's. Christmas should be merry, and if it's not, stop. Take a deep breath. Chill. The only thing anyone should be doing at this time of year is reconnecting with the spirit of peace and goodwill toward our fellow travellers through life.

Akelamalu posted her childhood Christmas memories on November 19th. Already in Christmas mode like a true Christmas Freak. Just have a look at her sidebar decorations if you don't believe me. She also held two Christmas Carol Quizzes which I missed because of everything going on with my gram. But being the stop-and-smell-the-roses person, I fret not over it. I just enjoyed seeing the answers and realized I would have been stumped!

Sandee posted 13 wonderfully wise quotes about Christmas for her Thursday Thirteen this week. She approaches life all year round with a wry sense of humor which shows in every blog post. Christmas gave her fantastic material to work with! She pokes fun at life taken too seriously, which gives anyone who visits her blog a chance to relax and have a laugh. Thank you for that, Sandee.

Finally, this post was a guest blog post over at Shelly Munro's month-long guest extravaganza, but it is vintage Christine d'Abo. And it followed my sequence of Christmas preparations exactly! Which made me howl with laughter and recognition.

Merry Christmas to all the Spirit of Christmas nominees with a special hug from me to you.

Merry Christmas to everyone - may you always feel the wonder of childhood every time you gaze at a lit and decorated Christmas tree. Peace to all.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Thursday Thirteen - 35 - 13 Things About Our Christmas Cookie Tradition

1 - Decorating cookies has been a huge part of my family's Christmas tradition, since I was a kid. It all starts with this well-used recipe.

2 - The recipe comes from this very cookbook, which my mom has used since she was a new bride.

3 - Sometimes the ginger cookies end up as drop cookies, but this year my mom decided to go for two types of Christmas cookies. I have to say - as a fan of gingerbread, this recipe is unsurpassed.

4 - Mom's rolling pin has smoothed out many, many lumps of dough in its day. And it's more than up to the job.

5 - These are the little packets of cookie dough, chilling for a few hours before they can be baked.

6 - 40-year-old cookie cutters do their magic.

7 - Sugar cookie angels bake in the warmth of Mom's oven.

8 - The sugar cookies and gingerbread cookies cool off, waiting for the big event. When I was a kid, my mom started inviting my best friend and my cousins over to decorate them during Christmas vacation from school. She always made enormous amounts of cookies, because the invited kids could take home whatever they decorated.

9 - We kept on holding the Cookie Decorating Party even when we grew up. This is my best friend Connie collecting her goodies from the 1983 event. She was at university then, studying office management. I was taking my Early Childhood Education at St. Joe's in Halifax.

10 - Not sure exactly which year this is, but it's mid-80's. These are my high school choir friends, several years into university. Home for Christmas and attending the Phillips Cookie Decorating Party. L to R: Shelley, myself, Andrew, Philip, Maureen and Mark

11 - Fast-forward a decade and a half - here you have my sister Michelle ready to bake up the cookies at my cousin's place, when we were all gathered for Christmas.

12 - This cookie party was right here in my mom's kitchen in 2004. L to R: my best friend Connie, my mom and my husband.

13 - Here's a few cookies from this year. Hope you all have a chance to relax, put up your feet for a minute and have a cookie or two, a cup of tea or a glass of milk. Don't worry about the crumbs!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Christmas Meme

I was tagged for this meme back on September 18th by Amy but saved it for now.

What is your favorite Christmas gift?

Some people may consider chocolate an unoriginal gift, but it's NEVER the wrong idea for chocolate aficionados. Of which I am one.

What is your best memory of Christmas?

I'm such a Christmas freak that this is an impossible question. But I'll pick one special memory that stands out for my mom and me.

This is the very tree my mom, my sister and myself bought and put up while my dad was away on a business trip in the late 70's. We were very excited about it because it would be a big surprise for him when he flew back to Halifax, probably from the Caribbean where he was selling Dacor scuba diving equipment to retailers. It must have been the weekend or at least a Friday night, because we stayed up late once the decorating got under way. After the tree was in the stand and the lights on, before the fun part of the decorating started, we all felt really hungry. So my mom whipped up a nighttime 'breakfast' of fried eggs and toast, which we devoured with the same glee that suffused the entire evening. What was so special about that night was the sensation of going out on a limb, doing things by ourselves that Dad usually looked after and turning everything on its ear.

My mom and I often refer back to that night. 'Remember when we ate the fried eggs, that time?' we'll say, smiling with twinkly eyes.

Depending upon where you live, do you have a hot or cold Christmas?

Well, I live on the east coast of Canada, and Christmases usually feel like this:

This is my childhood home - one corner of it, anyway. It's the one I often dream of, even though I've lived in eight subsequent homes since then. The home where we had the late-night fried-egg Christmas tree decorating extravaganza.

Would you prefer to try the opposite weather at least just once?

I've never really been inclined to try hot weather at holiday time. I'm extremely attached to everything connected to a white Christmas. The few times we've had mild weather and had rain or at least no snow, I felt rather disappointed. If life were to put me in that position somehow, I'd take advantage of that and really experience it as the wonder it would be for me. But I'd never purposely seek it out.

What do you prefer in a tree? Fake or real?

When I was young, I was a complete real-tree snob. The idea of a fake tree absolutely horrified me. But then my allergies to trees kicked in. So it was fake trees or nothing, and I'm too much of a Christmas freak for that. Now I've grown to appreciate that the metal branches can be tugged this way and that to perfectly accommodate any ornament.

This is my tree, from three years ago.

What is your favorite carol?

I think if I really had to choose one, it would be have to be The Holly and The Ivy.

What is your favorite Christmas dinner?

Christmas Eve dinner over at my aunt's house may actually be my favorite of the two dinners. We dress up, there's the excitement of it finally being Christmas Eve, and then there's the lobster newburg over rice, served with salad. It's so delicious, so rich, so special.

This picture was taken during my first Christmas Eve home from Toronto in 1986, my first home-for-the-holidays experience. I'd missed everyone so much and had fantasized about exactly that moment, when I'd be walking towards the dinner table to eat Auntie's lobster newburg at long, long last. L to R: me, my mom, Uncle Charlie and my cousin Charlie.

This is Christmas Day around 1984 or so. Gathering around a turkey dinner, with rice, mashed potatoes and vegetables is definitely another version of heaven. Christmas Day is the more relaxed of the two dinners. Usually we wear new Christmas clothes but it's more informal than Christmas Eve. L to R: my cousins Charlie and Julianne, Mom, Dad, myself, Aunt Noel and Uncle Charlie.

Do you wear a Santa hat at Christmas?

I have at work, many times! This is me when I worked at A Buck or Two in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia eight years ago. The Santa was married to the store manager, and in a small-world thing, he turned out to be a cousin of mine. His grandmother and my grandmother were sisters!

Have you ever seen Santa delivering gifts?

Almost. When my sister lived with my husband and me in Toronto, we'd had a Christmas Eve celebration at our apartment, inviting the family for whom I'd been a nanny over for dinner. This is my husband Brad digging into the spread. Once everyone had headed home, my sister went upstairs to bed, and my husband chilled in the living room (me - I was doing last-minute secret Santa stuff for stockings, of course.) In a little while, Michelle knocked on my door (me, hiding everything frantically.)

"Jule, can you come up for a second?" she asked, her voice sounding a little shakey. I followed, and when we got there she said she didn't know if she was feeling alright because she was POSITIVE she'd heard Santa outside. We looked out the gabled window and sure enough - Santa was in fact walking down the sidewalk in the falling snow with a gold toy sack over his back. We both felt exactly the same electric thrill through our bodies. We looked at each other, knowing it had to be one of the neighbors. But for that moment we felt like we'd finally seen him.


I hope every one of you gets to experience that feeling once in your lives.

I won't tag anyone, since it's so close to The Big Day, but anyone who wants to play can consider themselves tagged. Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas!