Thursday, 30 July 2009

Dancing Northern Lights


On only one occasion have I seen dancing northern lights. It was many, many years ago in Winnipeg. Awakened by a squeaky bladder in the middle of a cold winter night, I got out of bed and sleepily made my way to the bathroom, not even bothering to put on the light. I just happened to oh so casually glance out the window. Immediately, I was stunned by an amazing light show that was going on. At least a hundred dashes of white light filled the entire night sky. They were springing and leaping all over each other with amazingly speed and dexterity, playfully dancing and cavorting.

At first, I had no idea what I was witnessing. Crazy thoughts ran through my head -- were these UFOs? Was this the Apocalypse? Surely not nuclear war with Russia? (In my defence, I WAS half asleep). Finally, it occurred to me that this must in fact be the rare phenomenon of dancing northern lights. I had heard of them but had never experienced them before.

Seeing those amazing northern lights was like receiving a special blessing. I felt privileged to have witnessed their ancient and sacred magical dance.

[This photo, taken by NASA, shows the aurora borealis hovering above the earth and filling the northern skies.]

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Northern Lights


The Edmonton Journal reports that there were spectacular northern lights visible in the Edmonton sky one night last week. (Usually, you see northern lights in the winter but they can actually occur at any time of the year if atmospheric conditions are right). Viewing the aurora borealis is one of the great privileges of living in a northern country. Even though I know there's a rational scientific explanation for them, seeing this incredible natural phenomenon always produces great spiritual awe in me.

Over the years, I've most commonly seen northern lights in the form of great sheets of white light that move slowly and majestically in the dark heavens, fading and growing stronger by turns. On a couple of occasions I've seen huge sheets of green northern lights. I've never seen any other colours, although some people have been so blessed. Nor have I ever been lucky enough to "hear" the northern lights -- apparently, if conditions are sufficiently extreme, you can actually hear the aurora borealis make a tinkling sound as they move about the sky, much like ice cubes clinking together in a glass.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Minty Breath Game: The Sign


When Her Royal Highness has had enough of the Minty Breath Game, she starts to "play the cello." This is The Sign that I am dismissed from the Royal Presence. If I blow minty breath on her after I've been given The Sign, she glares at me with a look on her face that says, "Why are you even still here?"

"Playing the cello" is one of the more delightful euphemisms I've heard for this particular cat activity. I originally read it in Diane DiMassa's subversive series of cult comics called Hothead Paisan, Homicidal Lesbian Terrorist but I don't know whether she is the originator of the phrase. Either way, it's a brilliant image, isn't it? And it has affected how I view a symphony orchestra, too.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Minty Breath Game: The Rules

Her Royal Highness is one of those rare cats who is completely indifferent to catnip. It does absolutely nothing for her. But the smell of mint simply drives her wild! This didn't make any sense to me until I read somewhere that the mint plant is in fact a member of the catnip family.

In order to get her regular fix of mint, HRH created the Minty Breath Game all by herself and patiently trained me to follow its many rules --

1. I must brush my teeth using mint toothpaste only. No other kind will do.

2. When I run the bathroom tap for my final rinse, HRH will indicate whether she wants to play the Minty Breath Game that particular morning by jumping down off her cat tree.

3. She will meow at me as she walks past the bathroom. Her clear meaning is "C'mon, get a move on, let's go!"

4. HRH then jumps up on the bed and waits. The bed must be made and there must be no one and nothing else on it except her. A breach of this rule means No Game.

5. Varying the use of long and short puffs of air, I must blow minty breath in HRH's face and on her fur.

6. HRH will then drool, purr and roll around with delight.

7. I must not touch HRH during the Minty Breath Game because the mint also makes her aggressive and she will bite me. Or claw me. Or both.

8. I must continue blowing minty breath until HRH gives me The Sign that the Minty Breath Game has reached its finale and is now over.

Tomorrow -- HRH teaches me The Sign.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Minty Breath Game: Origins


Once upon a time, many years ago in Winnipeg when both Her Royal Highness and I were much younger, I came home from work one day and discovered her licking my toothbrush which was in a cup on the bathroom counter.

My first thought was, "OMG, how long has this been going on?!?" My second thought was, "Ewwww, did she lick anything else right before licking my toothbrush?!?" After that, I always put my toothbrush and cup safely out of her reach inside the medicine cabinet.

Then HRH started an odd new behaviour. While I was brushing my teeth, she would leap up on the counter and stick her head right in my face for the purpose of sniffing my breath. Eventually I figured out that she was absolutely crazy for the smell of my mint toothpaste. Crazy, yes -- crazy like an addict! She couldn't get enough!

Tomorrow -- HRH invents the Minty Breath Game and trains me in its rules.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

A Royal Decree

It has not escaped the attention of Her Royal Highness (who keeps track of such things) that there has been no specific mention of Her Royal Self on this blog since April 7th, well over three months ago. She has instructed me to remedy this oversight immediately.

Therefore, stay tuned for a three-part series on HRH's favourite pastime, viz., the Minty Breath Game.

Tomorrow -- HRH displays some odd behaviour.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Lunar Travel Tip


It's a little-known fact that Neil Armstrong said this on the moon too but NASA "conveniently" didn't broadcast it. . . . Hey, maybe I could start my very own conspiracy theory about the lunar landing to go along with the "it was all a big hoax" one!

Thursday, 23 July 2009

A Differing Viewpoint about Lunar Exploration


"What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves? This is the most important of all voyages of discovery and without it, all the rest are not only useless, but disastrous."

--Thomas Merton

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Moby-Dick Update #2


So I'm up to Chapter 52 now. Captain Ahab has nailed a gold coin to the mast as a reward for the first man who spots Moby-Dick and they're officially off to hunt the great white whale. Woo hoo! Let the mayhem begin!

But as I read chapter after chapter, my basic reaction to Melville's writing style is -- WTF? First, this book is a novel. Then it's a textbook (and a darn dry one, at that). Next it turns into a play, with stage directions and scripted dialogue, including lengthy soliloquies and asides. Just when you think it can't get any stranger, a musical breaks out, featuring singing and dancing sailors from around the world. Then it goes back to being a novel again. I mentioned previously that, in my opinion, Melville could have used a good editor. His erratic style confirms it. But hey, who am I to argue with genius?

When Moby-Dick was first published in 1851, it received "decidedly mixed reviews" (as stated by Wikipedia). In fact, a British critic at the time said that the book was "an ill-compounded mixture of romance and matter-of-fact. The idea of a connected and collected story has obviously visited and abandoned its writer again and again in the course of composition." Hmmm, precisely.

[Lego Moby-Dick crew by the Brothers Brick]

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Rodeo Queens


My Rare One has gone rodeoin'. No, it's true! One of her young nieces in Manitoba absolutely adores barrel racing, so my Rare One has gone to schlep her and her horse around the competition circuit of various small town fairs.

Have fun, girls. Turn and burn!

Monday, 20 July 2009

July 20, 1969


Forty years ago today, the first human being walked on the moon. I remember watching that grainy black-and-white footage on television, over and over again, listening to Neil Armstrong screw up his carefully scripted historic remark so that it made no logical or semantic sense ("one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind" instead of "one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind" -- d'oh!)

Everyone was so excited by the lunar landing! Every kid I knew dreamed of growing up to be an astronaut. No, wait . . . that's not entirely accurate, now that I think of it. Every boy I knew dreamed of that. Girls didn't, because we were told that only boys could be astronauts. Oh yes, it's coming back to me now, that era . . . So how sweet it is that on the 40th anniversary of the lunar landing, our own Canadian astronaut, Julie Payette, is currently in orbit with the latest space shuttle mission!

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Gone Fishin' with the Boys


Be back tomorrow, I promise! . . . Dear God, what's that big white leviathan over there?

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Nom Nom Nom in The Peg: Gunn's Bakery


Another North End Winnipeg institution is Gunn's Bakery on Selkirk Avenue. It's a family-run business (brothers Fivie and Bernie Gunn are pictured above). Be sure to take a number as soon as you walk in the door because there will be a lot of customers before you! Everything Gunn's Bakery makes is good but when I lived in Winnipeg, they were especially known for their bagels. They made real bagels -- boiled and baked, dense and chewy. Unfortunately, a big bite (so to speak) was taken out of their bagel business by the popularity and easy availability of all the pseudo-bagels produced by today's supermarket chains and restaurants like Real Canadian Bagel. Those fake bagels are really just regular baked buns with a hole in the centre -- feh!

Twenty years ago, the Gunns also had a bakery cafe in downtown Winnipeg that served light lunches (featuring all their own breads and baking, of course). They served a wonderful cream of broccoli soup in a pumpernickel bread bowl which you would then eat as well. My mother loved this special treat (as did my sister and I) and we would go there whenever she visited the city. The cafe is gone now and my Mom is frail and immobilized in a nursing home. How I wish we could wave a magic wand, go back in time and enjoy our favourite Winnipeg lunch together once again, just like the old days.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Why Edmonton Hates Mordecai Richler


In the mid-1980s, the Edmonton Oilers ruled the hockey world. And so Mordecai Richler, the great Canadian author, came to Edmonton to interview Wayne Gretzky, the great Oilers captain. As Wikipedia says, Richler delighted in "acerbic journalistic commentary and . . . the role of contrarian provocateur." This is what Richler wrote about Edmonton in his article --

If Canada were not a country, however fragmented, but instead a house, Vancouver would be the solarium-cum-playroom, an afterthought of affluence; Toronto, the counting room, where money makes for the most glee; Montreal, the salon; and Edmonton, the boiler room.

Edmontonians have hated him ever since for this insult to their civic pride. When Richler died in 2001, every newspaper article in the city picked at the scab once again and implied that Richler would not be missed in this neck of the woods.

I think Richler's insult stung so much because there was a certain degree of truth to it. Compared to other Canadian cities, Edmonton did not boast a lot of beautiful historic buildings, spectacular architecture or sophisticated neighbourhoods. Although great strides have been made in the 25 years since Richler's cruel assessment, significant parts of Edmonton are still quite pedestrian and some parts are downright ugly. But Edmonton is blessed with a magnificent river valley full of hiking and biking trails and parks that is among the best green space to be found in all of North America. There has also been a concerted municipal effort to create attractive buildings and public space in downtown Edmonton. But Edmontonians remain defensive about being seen and dismissed as the boiler room of Canada.

[quotation from Mordecai Richler, "Gretzky in Eighty-five" reprinted in Dispatches from the Sporting Life (Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 2002), p. 108.]

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Moby-Dick Update # 1

I can well imagine that everyone is all agog to know how goes my reading of Moby-Dick. Be advised that I am now up to Chapter 36 -- woo hoo! Only 100 chapters more to go!

Ishmael, Queequeg and the other star-crossed men of the Pequod have now set sail for southern waters to hunt for whales. Moody Captain Ahab has finally emerged from his cabin and stumps around the deck with his ivory peg leg.

Not a lot of action so far, but there is much foreshadowing and many doom-laden omens. And one exceedingly long chapter about all the different types of whales in the world.

I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Nom Nom Nom in The Peg: Slurpees


For the tenth year in a row, Winnipeg has been named the Slurpee Capital of the World! Not of Canada, not of North America, but of THE WORLD!! Calgary finished second and Detroit third (psshh, losers!)

You know what Slurpees are, of course -- those florescent, sugar-laden, pop and shaved ice concoctions sold by 7-Elevens everywhere and immortalized on The Simpsons as "Squishees." The ones that give you instant brain freeze.

As reported by the Winnipeg Free Press a few days ago--

Slurpee sales [in Winnipeg] rise when temperatures soar in the summer, but they also remain steady when the mercury plummets to -40 C. Slurpees have fast become part of the culture in Winnipeg, [7-Eleven Canada spokeswoman Sheila] Calder said.

"What differentiates Winnipeg is people drink Slurpees in every season. In winter, kids are having Slurpees while they're out tobogganing," she said.

And that's what makes Winnipeg great. The Jets may be gone, the Blue Bombers may be crappy, but none of that matters. Winnipeg is the World Champion of Slurpee Consumption!

Monday, 13 July 2009

The Phuckem Philosophy of Life


Stepping to the beat of a different drummer will, of course, inevitably bring you into conflict with those who say you must step to the beat of their drummer instead. Insistence on your own right to integrity will be called selfish, inconsiderate, wrong, dysfunctional, etc. And after that, the characterizations will really start to go downhill!

One day, many years ago, my sister and I were arguing about whether it is more important for gay people to be openly themselves than it is to accommodate straight people's discomfort with homosexuality. My position, of course, was that gay people's right to integrity trumps straight people's socially learned discomfort and moreover, straight people should just get over it. My sister, who was nearly apoplectic at this point in the argument, sputtered in frustration: "You know, you've got a real . . . a real . . . FUCK 'EM Philosophy of Life!" This brought the argument to a dead halt. Then we both burst into peals of laughter and a new expression was born!

But the truth of the matter is that, yes, sometimes you must apply the Phuckem Philosophy of Life (as I now more delicately refer to it). Sometimes you must do what is necessary for your own integrity rather than sacrificing it for the alleged best interests of others, and you must let the chips fall where they may.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Hearing Different Drummers

Today is the birthday of Henry David Thoreau (1817 - 1862), advocate of civil disobedience, father of environmentalism, philosopher of Walden Pond. When I was a teenager, I had a poster on my wall with one of Thoreau's most famous quotations from his book Walden --

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.

I thought about this quotation a lot when I was young. I let it guide me, as if it granted me "permission" to be myself. It gave me reassurance that it's not necessary to be like everyone else, that it is okay to be unequivocally yourself. Taking this quotation to heart saved me a lot of heartache, I suspect, and a lot of wasted time trying to be someone I was not.

So thank you, Henry David Thoreau, and happy birthday!

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Moby-Dick in the 21st century


I'm currently reading Herman Melville's Moby-Dick (which makes my recent LOLcat post so fortuitous) and man, that book is frickin' HUGE. Sort of like the great white whale itself. Melville sure could have used a good editor, that's all I'm saying. I've tried to read this novel before, but have always been defeated by the teeny tiny print used by publishers to cram all that text into a single volume. The eye strain just wasn't worth it.

But now I have found the free website Literature Page which has full online texts of many classic works of literature in the public domain. It features novels (and some poetry) primarily by American, British, French and Russian authors. So now I'm attempting to read Moby-Dick again, but this time using zoom view to full advantage. It's so great to have a larger text version!

And my, my, my! Melville's coded homosexual imagery is a lot more obvious to a 21st century reader than it would have been to the average mid-19th century reader. It's clear, for example, that Ishmael and Queequeg were gettin' it on! Hey, this is my type of book!

Friday, 10 July 2009

Whistler's (Grand)Mother


I'm a darn good whistler. My brother taught me how when I was five. Having some natural talent for whistling, I practised incessantly and improved my technique with a nice vibrato effect learned from an uncle. But my whistling upset my Grandma, who was very much a product of the Victorian age in which she had been raised. According to her world view, whistling was simply not ladylike. Only boys should whistle. Girls should be quiet and decorous. Every time she heard me whistling, she would recite the following dire little ditty --

Whistling girls and crowing hens:
Both shall come to no good ends!

I heard that poem a lot when I was growing up. A LOT.

My Grandma was born on July 13, 1888. This year would be her 121st birthday, if she were still around. So on Monday, I'll whistle "Happy Birthday" in her honour. And I know what her response will be, wherever she is.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Truer Words Were Never Spoken


Whatever you give a woman, she will make greater.
If you give her sperm, she'll give you a baby.
If you give her a house, she'll give you a home.
If you give her groceries, she'll give you a meal.
If you give her a smile, she'll give you her heart.
She multiplies and enlarges whatever is given to her.
So if you give her any crap, be ready to receive a ton of shit!

--Anonymous

A friend emailed me this quotation recently and it's also all over the internet, as I discovered when trying to find out who the author is. If you haven't read this before -- enjoy! If you have read it before -- enjoy it again!

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

What the Stained Glass Taught Me


I love stained glass windows, but find that much of their imagery is (not surprisingly) too entirely Christian for my taste. However, many years ago in a small Benedictine chapel in Manitoba, I discovered the most beautiful stained glass windows that I have ever seen. As shown by this photo, they do not depict saintly or Biblical images but instead simply consist of an abstract pattern of squares and rectangles made from brightly coloured glass separated by black borders of varying width.

It is the nature of the glass itself which makes such a profound statement in these windows. The artist did not use beautiful, thin, perfect pieces of stained glass. No, these pieces are thick and heavy. They are not uniform in their appearance. Some have big bubbles in the glass. Others have whorls, distortions, inner cracks and other imperfections. You might go so far as to call this glass ugly. It looks like the artist chose all the rejects for these windows.

But late in the day, when the setting sun pours through the misshapen glass, these windows are transformed. They glow with intense light and bathe the small chapel in the most glorious colours. The ugly glass becomes so beautiful and powerful that it takes your breath away. It wasn't until I saw this transformation happen that I finally understood what the artist was saying -- we all have flaws and imperfections but our true inner beauty is revealed when divine light and love shines through us.

[Photo taken by a photographer named Quiplash and found on Flickr]

Monday, 6 July 2009

Virtual Votives


Although I am not from a Catholic background, I have always been strongly drawn to the spiritual practice of lighting candles as an accompaniment to prayer. I like the idea that our prayerful communication with the Divine continues while the candle burns. Spiritually, it's a wonderful idea. From a fire safety point of view, not so much.

That's why I love the website of Brother David Steindl-Rast, a now-elderly Benedictine monk who has made prayer and gratitude his life's work, along with ecumenical dialogue between Christianity and Buddhism. On his site (www.gratefulness.org), you can light a virtual candle which will burn for a full 48 hours, accompanied by your prayer (which can reflect any form of spirituality, of course). Over 7 million of these free candles have been lit since 2001. Simply click on the "Light a Candle" button on the left side of the website's homepage and follow the easy instructions!

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Happy Independence Day!


Have a great Fourth of July celebration, all you Americans. Hot dogs and apple pie for everyone!

Friday, 3 July 2009

The Dinner Party (Part 2)


A couple of months ago, I attended the Readers Studio tarot conference in New York. While there, I made a pilgrimage to the Brooklyn Museum to see The Dinner Party. It was everything I dreamed it would be! The installation is impressively, almost overwhelmingly, large. Everything about the display is exquisite. I spent at least two hours utterly absorbed by it.

And the women were there, what a price they had paid
To be at that table so finely displayed
And now I can see at last
The past is before me and the women are there

--from Judy Fjell's song, The Dinner Party

This iconic work of art has accomplished so many things for women. The Dinner Party helped to give women our "rightful place at the table" by acknowledging our place in history. It was one of the first public showcases of women's re-emerging consciousness of the Divine Feminine and the Goddess. The Dinner Party also rejoiced in glorious vulva imagery which, unlike phallic imagery, was rarely portrayed as art in the male-centred Western tradition. And last but not least, The Dinner Party successfully challenged the Art Establishment's dogma that embroidery, ceramics and fibre arts (the traditional media of female artistic expression) were mere "handicrafts" deemed unsuitable for recognition or display as "art."

The Dinner Party is truly one of the twentieth century's great works of art. I am so glad to have finally seen it in person! But the next best way to see it is through the magick of the internet. The Brooklyn Museum has a fabulous website devoted to The Dinner Party, including a virtual tour, close-ups of every place setting and biographies of every honoree at the table. Check it out here!

Thursday, 2 July 2009

The Dinner Party (Part 1)


I have long been an admirer of the American feminist artist, Judy Chicago (pictured above). In the late 1970s, she created her most famous work, The Dinner Party. It consists of a huge, triangular, ceremonial banquet table with 39 place settings. Each place setting honours a woman, queen or goddess from various historical eras. The installation is rich with embroidery and other needlework and each place setting features a magnificent ceramic plate capturing the essence of the honoree.

The Dinner Party toured North America for the first few years after it was created. In the early 1980s it made one stop in Western Canada, in Calgary. I know many women who travelled great distances to see it, often from one or two provinces away. My Rare One was among those lucky women who saw The Dinner Party at that time. But unfortunately, I was not able to attend the exhibit.

When the tour of The Dinner Party was over, no art gallery or museum in the United States would agree to put it on permanent display. This refusal to provide exhibit space forced Judy Chicago to box up The Dinner Party and store it in a warehouse for nearly two decades. The Art Establishment's scandalous treatment of The Dinner Party caused great resentment among feminists.

Finally, about 5 years ago, the Elizabeth A. Sackler Foundation was able to create the Centre for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum in New York, specifically for the purpose of putting The Dinner Party on permanent display.

Tomorrow's post: my pilgrimage to see The Dinner Party!

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Happy Canada Day!


July 1st means only one thing in the Great White North -- it's Canada Day again! Time to get a day off work (yay!) and celebrate our extremely good fortune to live in this country. Everyone will kick back and enjoy some favourite Canadian goodies -- a juicy bison burger on the BBQ perhaps, along with some poutine or (for those who are more health conscious) maybe a green salad with some fiddleheads in it, and for dessert a nice butter tart or Nanaimo bar. And don't forget the two-four of ice cold Molson Canadian to wash it all down with. Oh Canada, we stand (*burp*) on guard for thee! See you at the fireworks!