July 11, 2007

Honest Ed passes on

First we lost Sam's, now another Toronto icon has passed away. Edwin Mirvish, better known and loved by all as "Honest Ed", died this morning at the age of 92. Condolences go out to his family and friends. I'm sure this city will throw him a rip-snortin' wake.

His most famous legacy (on this side of The Pond) will always be Honest Ed's. Everyone's shopped there, or browsed in wonder, or at least enjoyed the evening light show (so very unPC these days, bless 'em). The store itself has been around since 1948:

"In 1948, Ed Mirvish opened HONEST ED'S which became the WORLD'S FIRST true bargain store. All with the help of cashing in his wife's $212 insurance policy. In April of that year, Ed painted a sign over his store which read "NAME YOUR OWN PRICE! NO REASONABLE OFFER REFUSED!"

Info and great historical pic from Mirvish Productions.

From such humble beginnings, an empire grew. If you've never been, have a peek inside via this site (although I don't agree with all of the comments, what kind of thrifty nutbar *washes* 99 cent plastic plates?!) A couple of classic signs from the gloriously cluttered walls:

The building itself takes up the corner of Bathurst and Bloor and is a sight to behold. Here's a nice shot from here:

It's much more impressive at night (from Wikipedia):

As much as he will always be a Toronto icon, Ed was in fact an American (born in Colonial Beach, Virginia). His introduction to showbiz, according to him, was having his bris performed by Rabbi Moshe Reuben Yoelson, Al Jolson's father.

From Wikipedia:

"During the War, Ed and Anne Mirvish opened a dress shop known as "The Sport Bar". This business ran until 1948, when Mirvish cashed in his wife's insurance policy and opened a new business, a "bargain emporium" known as "Honest Ed's", stocked with odd lots of merchandise purchased at bankruptcy and fire sales and displayed on orange crates. He quickly found success with his unique no-credit, no-service, no-frills model of doing business. Mirvish claimed to have invented the "loss-leader", below-cost discounts on selected items designed to lure buyers into the store. "Honest Ed's" gradually expanded to fill an entire city block. Billing itself as "the world's biggest discount department store", it was soon bringing in millions of dollars a year.

Mirvish was renowned for getting free publicity, doing everything from riding elephants, to hiring protesters to picket his own store over its dress code. Every Christmas Mirvish gives away ten thousand pounds of free turkeys in his store to shoppers who stand in line for hours. A tradition since his 75th birthday has been the annual birthday bash outside the store, with free food, entertainment and children's rides. The mayor of Toronto has declared his birthday a national holiday."

It didn't end with the massive success of the store. In 1962, Ed bought the Royal Alexandra Theatre, a stylish and popular landmark built in 1907 and slated for demolition. After a massive renovation, it reopened and revitalized the theatre scene in this city. It now holds the distinction of being the oldest continuously operating legitimate theatre in North America.

To capitalize on the theatre crowd, Ed opened Ed's Warehouse, a restaurant close to the Royal Alex in 1966. While the decor was always tasteful with Tiffany-style chandeliers over every table and a dress code was in effect long after jeans and t-shirts became the norm elsewhere, it was a definite continuation of the Honest Ed's policy. Give the people what they want, but keep it cheap. They only served one meal: roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, mashed potatoes, canned peas, rolls, and dill pickles.

One thing led to another and the surrounding area was soon filled with restaurants: Ed's Seafood, Ed's Folly, Ed's Chinese, and Ed's Italian Restaurant. At their peak, they served around 6,000 meals a night. All the restaurants have since closed with the original Warehouse being the last to go in 2000. The Peel Pub now occupies the spot, I believe.

In 1982, Ed and his son David (aka Mirvish Productions) bought London's Old Vic for a million bucks, spent four million renovating it, but eventually sold it in 1998. Not before winning a slew of theatre awards for its productions, more than any other single theatre in Britain. Ed was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire for saving the Old Vic.

In 1993, the empire grew again with the addition of the Princess of Wales Theatre, the first privately financed theatre in North America in thirty years. Mirvish Productions now runs the Canon Theatre (previously the Pantages where "The Phantom Of The Opera" held court) and has been behind many popular productions ("the Lion King", "Mamma Mia!", "The Producers", and "Hairspray."

Bless you for bringing live theatre back to this town, Ed. And thanks for the 99 cent plastic plates and $1.99 velvet paintings of Elvis too. We're richer for both.

June 8, 2007

Cuteness Overload starring Knut the Polar Bear

Just move along if you're a Grumpy Gus who doesn't go awwwww at the sight of kitties and doggies and baby polar bears, oh my! Today's post is strictly for fellow fans of the overwhelmingly adorable Cute Overload. Sometimes, you just need a little cute and corny in your life.

I do visit the site a lot, but what got me there recently started with a news item about net superstar Knut, the Polar Bear born at the Berlin Zoo six months ago. The first polar bear born there for 33 years.

A great start if you're not familiar with Knut, is Cute Knut: Berlin's Baby Polar Bear, which has quite the collection of articles, videos, and pics.

And here are some YouTube vids, beginning with this one taken back in February when he was a couple of months old. Background music is "He's So Fine" by The Chiffons, and "The Bear Necessities" from Disney's "The Jungle Book":

And this one contains various videos taken by a zoo visitor of Knut and his handler, Thomas, frolicking for the audience (not sure of the timeline, I'd say he's about 3-4 months old here):

This video really gives you a feel for the Knutmania that has gripped Berlin. Just look at the lineup on a rainy day! And all that money changing hands for stuffed toys, DVDs, etc. You can see how much he's grown, and getting to be quite the handful. Comparing his size to a short clip I found taken two weeks ago, he's about 5 months old here.

The info's in German, so I have no idea what the added thought balloon or the animal messages near the end say, hope it's clean!:

Is he not adorable? I have a thing for polar bears and penguins myself. Maybe I was an Inuit in a previous life. Continuing our cute cavalcade, from the funny and irreverent (not sure kids should read it) The Cat Blog - Pippy Style comes this wacky begging video. I think the poor cat could use some professional help!

Now I'd like you to meet Vladimir Punikki, an orange tabby in Finland that is born to pose for his lucky owner, Henna. This is her Cold Winter Day 19.2.2007 album. Click the name to see him in his full glory.

Just so the dog lovers don't feel left out, here's a cute and funny vid of a dog and cat set to the Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive":

For a change of pace, here's a pretty awesome video of monkeys in Bali opening plastic bottles of water. Watch it, then explain to me again how Darwin wasn't spot on. Scary how human they are:

And, finally, my vote for The Cutest Video Ever Seen! Dig these otters at the Vancouver Aquarium holding hands as they drift around their pool. Do not miss the end where they find each other and one appears to smooch the other's teeny little paw:

That oughta hold ya for the weekend, see you next week, kids!

June 7, 2007

Salute To Bob Barker

Hard to believe, but the day game show fans have dreaded for so long has arrived. Bob Barker taped his last episode of "The Price Is Right" yesterday and, man, are we going to miss him. The last thirty-five years have just flown by, eh? Let's take a look at just some of the fun we've shared with Bob.

To get things started, here's a nice tribute from the Game Show Network when Bob was named the number one game show host of all-time:

And here's a best of compilation of "The Price Is Right" clips:

How did it all begin on TPIR? Glad you asked, 'cause here's a great clip of Bob's first appearance back in 1972. What a difference from the rollicking crowds we're used to today! And how odd to hear Johnny Olson say "Stand up!" instead of the more familiar "Come on down!" Apparently he started that tradition with the third show.

One of the more famous bloopers where the gal loses her halter top. Love Bob's comment, "You don't love me *that* much!"

He also appeared on other popular game shows of the day. Witness these clips from "Match Game '78" where Bob and Gene Rayburn have a little fun. Includes the late, great Charles Nelson Reilly:

Here are some later clips I can't embed, so you'll have to click on the links to watch the full show. From 1992, Barker's Beauties and the cast of "The Young and the Restless" duke it out on Ray Combs' "Family Feud":

Clip One
Clip Two
Clip Three
Clip Four

And here's an example of why people loved him so much. The ease with which he handles this new arrival on contestants row is just a joy to behold. Meet Angelo:

Another historic day on the show, this is from 1987, the first day Bob showed up au natural (his hair, that is!):

A more recent appearance on David Letterman's show, here he is doing his own Top Ten:

And here's his delightful shot on Ellen Degeneres' talk show taped this year:

The show had many imitators around the world, but I stumbled across a pretty entertaining version from the UK called "Bruce's Price is Right", starring Bruce Forsyth. The show ran from 1995-2002, and it was a half-hour long. These are full episodes from 1999.

I like the way the contestants row is on the same level as Bruce, making it much easier to shake their hands and interact with them. And I also like the added touch of having their names light up along with their bids.

Includes a much smaller, very different version of Plinko and an extremely different version of the Final Showcase (it came down to one person). Also, Bruce's Beauties included a man, Simon, who is not much of a beauty, IMHO. His main job seemed to be opening the doors on the cars and looking inside! Other games: Side By Side, 3 Strikes, Cliffhanger, and one called Joker. Is that one on the US version? Anyway, settle in and enjoy:

I saved the best for last:

Adam Sandler appeared on the recent 50th anniversary of Bob's career and read his poem, "Ode To Bob Barker." The full special is posted at the end of this post. Includes the famous fight scene from "Happy Gilmore":

Bob was more than just a game show host, he was also an animal rights activist long before it became fashionable. I'm sure his simple sign off about controlling the pet population by spaying and neutering your pet got through to more people than any media campaign could have done. Here's a brief interview that covers this side of his life:

And here's the short report that appeared on the CBS News with Katie Couric last night about the final taping:

I used to love watching Bob when I was home from school sick. Propping up the sofa cushions and yelling my bids at the TV. What will today's sick kids watch, fer Pete's sake? Re-runs of Springer? *shudder*

Bob, we hardly knew ya. Enjoy your retirement and golf your little heart out, you deserve it! To wrap things up, enjoy this wonderful special, "Bob Barker: A Celebration of 50 Years on Television" in all its glory:

June 6, 2007

Open Letter To John Travolta and Weekend Shenanigans

While I highly doubt Johnny boy will actually read this (heck, I'm not sure *anyone* is reading this thing!), there's a little something I feel I, as the mother of an autistic son for nearly 20 years, should address.

According to Wikipedia, this plea from Hollywood Interrupted's Mark Ebner, and this story from Sunday's Herald Sun (an Australian newspaper), Travolta has been avoiding a possible problem with his son for quite some time. Jett is now 15 years old and has been rumoured for years to be autistic. Their cult's teachings don't "allow" this, so it's been swept under the carpet.

From the Wikipedia entry:

"On April 10, 2006, Mark Ebner of Hollywood, Interrupted made a public plea to Travolta and Preston to have their son treated for autism, alleging five reliable sources — including representatives from Cure Autism Now and The Autism Perspective — who say that Jett suffers from autism, and not from Kawasaki syndrome as stated by the parents. His brother Joey Travolta recently produced a documentary about autism."

And from the Herald Sun story:

"But parents of autistic children say that Travolta should join American celebrities Sylvester Stallone, Doug Flutie, Jenny McCarthy and Toni Braxton - who all have autistic children - in raising awareness and research funds to cure the disease."

Also see this Autism FAQ - Well-known Autistic People from the Autism Resources site.

I read through the comments attached to Mark's plea and I need to address some issues. First and foremost, autism is NOT a disease and it can't be cured. It can be controlled through therapy and, in extreme cases, medication. But there is no cure in sight at this point. I wish there were, believe me, but my son will never be autism-free. His condition has improved a great deal over the years, yes, but Riel will never be perfectly "normal."

He is also NOT mentally challenged (or the dreaded r-word which should be outlawed), as so many of the readers commented. I can't believe people still think that way in 2007, amazing. Talk to some autistic kids. Trust me, most of them are probably smarter than you and I, they just have a hard time expressing themselves.

I have a problem with organizations (such as the two mentioned above) giving people false hope. How the heck can we expect a cure when we still don't know what causes the damn thing? By all means, cough up dough for research and programs to help parents deal, get the kids into therapy (still too expensive for the average family to handle), whatever, but don't feed these desperate people lies on a sugar-coated spoon.

There is no cure. Deal with the son or daughter you have now. Love them, train them to behave better, stop them from biting themselves or knocking their heads against a wall, but don't waste your time and money dreaming of a cure.

Way back in 1992, the TV show, "20/20", had a fascinating report on what's now known as the Leominster Cluster in Massachusetts, home to a Foster Grant sunglasses plant. Here's a write-up I found published by The New York Times in 1992:

Tonight's edition of "20/20" contains intriguing evidence of a connection between environmental pollution and autism. "The Street Where They Lived," a report by Dr. Timothy Johnson, the ABC News medical editor, focuses on a number of children who suffer from some form of pervasive developmental disorder, a combination of social, behavioral and language problems, of which autism is the best known. What links the children is the town of Leominster, Mass., where their mothers or fathers grew up in the 1960's.

Leominster was then home to several plastics companies that polluted air, water and land. Suspicion centers especially on the 27 smokestacks of Foster Grant, makers of sunglasses; they spewed a derivative of vinyl chloride, which is known to cause cancer and other illnesses. The relationship to autism is not proved, but, as Dr. Johnson notes, the figures are startling: a neighborhood of about 600 homes around the Foster Grant plant have produced 42 cases of pervasive developmental disorder. That compares with a national figure of 15 children in 10,000 who show symptoms of the disease. Experts remain unconvinced, but this brief report ends with a hope that the painful story of Leominster may hold a clue to the cruel riddle of autism."

And there's an interesting story on the Brown University site on Martha E. Lang, a paraprofessional in Bio-Med, and her dissertation on the environmental connections with autism she found in Leominster.

But what's been done in the last fifteen years? Diddley squat as far as I can tell. What else happened fifteen years ago? That's right, little Jett Travolta was born and, if reports are correct, diddley and squat have been done for him as well.

I'm so glad we didn't give up on Riel when he was first diagnosed (as that doctor I mentioned in this post wanted me to do) and I'd hate to think Travolta's done the same.

So, why should I care what he does about his son? Because it breaks my heart to think one of the richest men in the world, someone who could buy the best therapists and all the equipment or nutritional supplements a kid could need, is doing nothing and hoping it goes away or something. And I can only imagine the positive influence someone like Travolta would be for the autism community.

When I started my adventure on the web eleven years ago, I didn't have a lot of content and just naturally assumed folks would enjoy seeing pictures Riel had drawn with our Paintbrush program. Boy, did they! And some of the messages brought me to tears. In particular, a sister whose autistic brother was never allowed to participate in family activities as her parents were "ashamed of him." She wrote to thank me for showcasing Riel's artwork and not hiding him away from the public eye. How bloody heart-breaking is that, huh? I wrote back a long email that I hope helped her cope in some way. I just hate to think Jett is being treated the same way.

On another autism related note, I so wish I had known about this past weekend's 3rd Annual Ontario Walk Now For Autism here in Toronto, but I was clueless (I'm pretty ticked at Riel's school for not telling us). I'll remember for next year and we'll be there with bells on!

Perhaps we'll call ourselves Riel's Rangers or something. Get a load of some of the great team names I found on the site:

A Mile For Max
Christopher's Crusaders
Finding The Missing Pieces
Jack's Joggers
Jammin' for Jason
Kieran's Smile Says Miles!
Mad Mac's Family
Magic Backyard
Matthew's Voice
Mike's Believers
Nicholas' Noodle Heads
Nicholas' Nearest and Dearest
Owen's Optimists
Raisin' Hell for Isabel
Roarke Rocks
Ronan's Renegades
Tyler's Future
Under the Umbrella Tree
Vanessa's Smile

If you're still reading, you must be here for the latest Weekend Shenanigans, so let's get to 'em! The only outing we had was on Saturday for the Kingston Road Street Fest. First time in ages that the weather was nice enough, but alas, it seemed the fest was a lot smaller than previous years. It helps if you have very young kids as they'd enjoy the face painting, the bouncy castle, and the clowns etc. Otherwise, we enjoyed the street bands:

While the Kingston Road United Church drew a good crowd:

And a couple of mounted police made an appearance which the kids loved:

There were clowns (or at least this guy):

And, ummm, a gingerbread man posed for me:

Gabby's had a band called Coldwater entertaining inside:

Which Riel enjoyed dancing to (they had a really nice sound actually):

And he got a kick out of the karaoke machine set up outside Gabby's:

Meanwhile, after we'd done the fest, George enjoyed seeing the Toronto FC win 2-1 over the Colorado Rapids:

I rounded off the weekend by taking a shot of our cat, Doc, stretched out in the backyard:

In other news, I thought this Yahoo.com item was pretty cool:

WARSAW (Reuters) - A 65-year-old railwayman who fell into a coma following an accident in communist Poland regained consciousness 19 years later to find democracy and a market economy, Polish media reported on Saturday.

Wheelchair-bound Jan Grzebski, whom doctors had given only two or three years to live following his 1988 accident, credited his caring wife Gertruda with his revival.

"It was Gertruda that saved me, and I'll never forget it," Grzebski told news channel TVN24.

"For 19 years Mrs Grzebski did the job of an experienced intensive care team, changing her comatose husband's position every hour to prevent bed-sore infections," Super Express reported Dr Boguslaw Poniatowski as saying.

"When I went into a coma there was only tea and vinegar in the shops, meat was rationed and huge petrol queues were everywhere," Grzebski told TVN24, describing his recollections of the communist system's economic collapse.

"Now I see people on the streets with cell phones and there are so many goods in the shops it makes my head spin."

Grzebski awoke to find his four children had all married and produced 11 grandchildren during his years in hospital.

He said he vaguely recalled the family gatherings he was taken to while in a coma and his wife and children trying to communicate with him.

From there, I stumbled on this interesting story about Kirk Cameron preaching and this entertaining take on YouTube called GodTube where I found these two funny vids:

Mac vs. PC ad parody

"Baby Got Book", a parody of the rap hit "Baby Got Back":

Man, I just love my web! Till next time, kids.

May 30, 2007

The End Of An Era In Toronto and Yankee Panky

Remember records, kids? Shiny black discs you spun under something called a needle to produce music in your very own home. Magical, they were. And people used to buy them by the truckloads. My weekly trip to the local record store, no matter which city we lived in at the time, was a highlight and I built up quite the collection, I must say (see my Celine, Elvis, and Elton, oh my! blog entry for the gruesome details of what happened to my precious vinyl).

My formative teen collecting years were spent in St. John's, Newfoundland, where I discovered a little Fred's Records outlet at the mall by our house. Good to see they're still around. But, one of the all-time best, a true icon in this city, what we affectionately called Sam's, was Sam the Record Man on Yonge Street. I say "was" as they announced yesterday that the flagship store (seen below) is closing next month. Such a sad day for music and neon lovers.

Thanks to Wikipedia for the first image and a great local photoblog, daily dose of imagery, for the other two great shots.

When I moved here in 1979 (after four years in beautiful, but boring for a teen then, St. John's, Nfld.) I had two things on my to-do list: tune in 1050 CHUM, which my friend Kim and I did as soon as we landed (on my Lloyd's AM/FM/8-track Portable, which went with me everywhere, even strapped to the handlebars of my bike, cranking up "The Eagles' Greatest Hits" and Cher's "Dark Lady" tapes) and see the Sam's sign.

Sam and his glorious flashing neon oversize records had come to represent Toronto to me in all its teeming life. Any movie or TV scene set on Yonge Street had to include the giant discs. I had finally arrived in the Big Smoke when I looked up at those hypnotic, throbbing lights as the crowd all throbbed around me.

And I'm not the only one who's going to miss it. After the story broke on Breakfast Television, the only morning news show we watch (Kevin Frankish is a cutie, Dina Pugliese is a hottie and very funny, all of them make a great team), viewers rushed to their computers to protest.

So far, two big groups have been formed on Facebook to voice your concerns: Save The Sam's Sign with over 5,000 members, and Save Sam Record Man Sign with more than 3,000. Good on ya, guys.

In even better news, although it hasn't been made official yet, today's BT reports that the Ontario Heritage Trust is getting involved (after overwhelming public input) and that should do the trick. Not exactly sure *where* it should be saved, but the sign has to be preserved as the integral part of this city's past that it is.

It's not all about a sign either. The CBC has an interesting look at Sam himself, Record Man: The Life and Times of Sam Sniderman. He was much more than a record peddler and had an enormous influence on this country's music in general. Nothing could commemorate him better than that iconic neon sign.

Like many others, I remember lining up for concert tickets at Sam's, both for sale and the odd giveaway from 1050 CHUM radio. The two were very much connected for me. Many trips were strictly to buy the latest singles listed on the CHUM Chart that week. They had a special section set aside near the front of the store with a blow-up of the chart and all the 45s arranged in order for sale beneath it. That always made an impression on me, so ordered. I bought scads of singles back then, kept them all alphabetized and everything, very hard core I was. Still have a bunch of the charts in my scrapbooks, too.

In keeping with the birthday week theme, here's a scan of the CHUM Chart from the week of May 25, 1964, from CHUM's own archives (not mine):

The Top 10 (as it's not easy to read):

1 - Gerry & The Pacemakers - I'm The One
2 - Peter & Gordon - A World Without Love
3 - Louis Armstrong - Hello, Dolly! (13 weeks on the chart!)
4 - The Swinging Blue Jeans - Hippy Hippy Shake
5 - Elvis Presley - Kiss Me Quick
6 - Lucille Starr - The French Song
7 - Dave Clark Five - Bits And Pieces
8 - Betty Everett - The Shoop Shoop Song (It's In His Kiss)
9 - Dave Clark Five - Do You Love Me
10 - Mary Wells - My Guy

Almost all classics today. George and I were sent a neat birthday link for fellow chart fans, Number 1 Billboard Hits On This Day In History. According to them, the big chart-topper in 1964 (for me) was "Love Me Do" by The Beatles, and George's date, in 1962, had "I Can't Stop Loving You" by Ray Charles on top. Pretty cool tunes. I did have to laugh when I saw the biggie for 1965, "Help Me Rhonda" by The Beach Boys :-)

In totally unrelated news, just a little something I have to get off my chest.

I've been a Toronto Blue Jays fan since they were born in the '70s (we lived here for a few years back when they were running the Name The Team contest in The Toronto Star).

I've been in the bleachers of Exhibition Stadium with my Dad, behind home plate, in the rafters, in the Hard Rock Cafe, and even had the thrill of seeing a World Series game at the Skydome (neither myself nor the Hard Rock can come to call it by its new name).

I'm a full-fledged, hard core fan that never says die no matter what the standings say. As such, I dislike the New York Yankees with an intense passion one normally reserves for the bedroom. Just hate the rich, spoiled, overrated bums and the horses they rode in on.

Having established where I stand, I know I'm not alone in labeling Alex Rodriguez's actions in last night's Yankees/Jays game a disgrace.

This is nothing but sandlot baseball kid stuff, taking advantage of the rookie (our third baseman, Howie Clark, was making his debut in the majors last night, in for an injured Troy Glaus) by yelling "Mine!" behind his back.

According to him, as seen on this YouTube clip (from the post-game interview), he shouted "Hah!" and was "nearly past third base" when it happened.

Lies. Both of those statements are lies. No video proof yet, but I watched the incident in slo-mo on BT this morning. That ain't no "Hah!", I agree with Kevin on this one.

I also watched the game itself. Wish someone could upload the part where A-Rod was smirking on third as the kerfuffle unfolded, mouthing the words, "F**k 'em." No class, he doesn't deserve to wear the Yankee uniform (which has been worn by much better men than he).

I take no credit for "Yankee Panky", got it from this morning's Toronto Sun cover story. Ironically, it's for a completely unrelated A-Rod tale (his outing with the mystery blonde). Just no damn class.

May 29, 2007

Birthday Shenanigans and A Nature Break

Howdy-do! I have returned from the wilds of Ontario (Carrying Place, to be precise, near Trenton) with a spring in my step on this the 43rd anniversary of my birth. Yes, 43 years ago today, my mother spent 22 hours bringing me into this world, so I figured the least I could do was house-sit and pet-sit for her for a few days. Riel and I spent five days enjoying this view from the front deck:

That's Lake Ontario across the street; how close can ya get, huh? Lovely spot to sip your coffee, as I did every morning, watching the seagulls noisily swooping and kamikaze diving for fish. I took a whole whack of seagull action shots, but this turned out to be the clearest:

Turned out very "Jonathan Livingston Seagull", I thought. For you young pups out there, JLS was quite the seminal movie for my generation (I was 9). Certainly one of the first times I became aware of the real beauty of wildlife and our place in this world. Yeah, I know, pretty hippy-dippy stuff these days maybe, but it awakened a part of me I hope still lives and breathes. Neil Diamond's soundtrack just made it that much more indelible:


Lonely Looking Sky

Dear Father


Loved that movie! Forgive the birthday inspired flashback, let's get back to Mum's place, shall we? Here's the view from the other side of the front deck with a small pond in the right corner:

I've pointed out the pond as it was the best spot to get close-ups of the other birds we were all keeping an eye on. Every year some Mute Swans and Canada Geese appear with their youngsters in tow. All together now, awwwww. The numbers change every year and the fate of some unfortunate swans has been sad to hear, but the adults that do make it keep coming back. Here's this year's pair heading for the pond (I only saw two adults and possibly two cygnets paddling close behind while I was there):

Watched the swans and geese glide gloriously in and fly out of the lakeside area from afar. I kept from getting too close to either of their nests or their lake outings (didn't want to startle them into attacking), but the rare pond outings by the fenced off road were fair game for pics, the geese and goslings in this case:

Here's an artsy shot of the geese and goslings just behind some reeds:

Right before the swans spotted 'em, uh oh!

And they're coming for 'em. Look out, geese!

I'm not kidding, these guys got into a few tussles and feather-flapping to-dos when they got too close to each other, but I wasn't close enough to get photographic proof. Trust me, feathers flew!

Here's another fella in abundance in the bird sanctuary that is my mother's front lawn (sheesh, some people have all the luck), a Red-Winged Blackbird:

And here's another artsy-type shot of the lone Whooping Crane I spotted:

After being warned to keep away from the various nests, Riel took Bonnie, Mum and Ray's golden retriever, for a run by the water every day:

And she came with us when we all walked to the local store. I love Riel and Bonnie's nonchalant attitudes in this pic of their encounter with a severely ticked-off kitten they snuck up on:

The other master of the house ... I mean, pet ... would be Apples, seen here posing on the back deck:

Riel's two favorite activities during our visit were reenacting the "Star Wars" trilogy with the closest "giant stick, mother!", as seen here:

And drawing on the front deck. Who can blame him with that inspiring view! Here's the artist at work:

Whatcha drawing, son?

Oh, that would be the Nintendo version of "Star Wars", or at least Riel's version, where Mario and Darth battle it out on horseback:

I have at least a hundred and twenty-two thousand variations of this scene. So much for your inspiring view, Nana! :-)

So, we soaked up the sun and scenery for a few days and, when Mum returned, we attended a terrific evening I wasn't allowed to take pictures of. Inspired by the Famous People Players, we went to see a very entertaining performance by The Light Magicals at the Brighton Barn Theatre. The whole evening was quite the experience and I was inspired by their enthusiasm and talent. The only pic I could grab was before the theatre went dark. Seems we have a chapter of the Red Hat Society in town. Nicely done, ladies!

So, what was she up to while we were watching the seagulls? Why, Nana was suppin' by Niagara Falls:

And exploring the roar on the fantastic Maid of the Mist:

You really need to do the trip just once to *feel* the power of the falls, awesome sight and sound:

Nice pics, Ma! And thanks for nurturing me those initial nine months, and for the rest of my 43 years. My father had a bit to do with it, too, so thanks, Dad ;-) After all, I know I must have been named after him (Rhonda Fleming, yeah right!) and if I had a nickel for every two-bit Romeo that serenaded me with my song back then, I'd be a rich woman today. Enjoy this clip from 1965 of The Beach Boys' "Help Me, Rhonda" (gotta love the tight pants!):

And here's a bonus version I found. Surreal clip from a 1970s TV show with ABBA, Olivia Newton-John, and Andy Gibb (the Bee Gees' tragic younger brother, reminds me of how gorgeous he was), trying to sing "Help Me, Rhonda", "Barbara Ann", and a bit of opera to boot. Obviously not well rehearsed, but that's what makes it fun to me. And the talent contest Olivia mentions in the beginning is the one where my Mum came in second. That was the real birthday bonus for me, cool connection!

I can't discuss my life without mentioning Elton John, it would simply be unnatural. After "discovering" him a few years beforehand, the first album I bought with my own money was 1973's "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" and the opening track, "Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding" was a revelation. Its music still swirls my soul. This version was recorded just this past March for his 60th birthday at Madison Square Garden. Rock on, baby!

In 1975, at the height of Elton's powers, I can remember sitting cross-legged on the floor, mesmerized by this vision in silver before me. From "The Cher Show", enjoy this psychedelic live version of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" (he was so adorable then):

Over the years, I've been Ron and Joan's kid, Riel's mother, and many other endearing terms I can't repeat in public, I'm sure, and now I've become Tiny Dancer. So, I'll wrap up today's musical celebration with my man doing my song, again from the 60th birthday party at MSG.

I've also become known as George's wife (although we haven't made it legal yet), and that's alright with me. He has to share in the party as it's also his birthday today, how cosmic is that, eh? I'll never let him forget he's two years older than me, but he'll never have an excuse for forgetting my birthday ;-)

He's not quite up to snuff these days as he's injured himself (he suffered some nerve damage a couple of months back on his upper arm area). He's working on getting his strength back, maybe a month more to go, and here's a lovely shot of the contraption holding his left hand together right now:

Our cat, Doc, doesn't seem concerned:

Here they are in happier times:

I rescued Doc (aka Watson) from a life of misery a year or so before George came along. Doc's brother, Holmes (aka Sherlock), died in an animal rescue center I had to send him to (they were both malnourished after their owner dumped them), but this guy flourished and we soon became quite tight. He's a lapcat, loves attention, and attached himself to George as soon as he showed up. Even sleeps on his side of the bed now. And George loves to demonstrate how they communicate. I've never seen a cat told to come home by 11 that actually shows up at 10:55, it's infuriating! But, don't ask me to explain him ...

I just love 'im ...

As I do both of my boys ...

I'm a lucky woman indeed. Happy Birthday to us, George!