winter Solstice

My father said he was sure the Solstice was the 22nd this year, and he was right. When I was a kid, I'm sure I remember it was always the 21st. I'm suspicious they change it every year, just to keep people like me off stride.

In my opinion, the man to the right - Robert Plant - is connected with the Solstice. Why? Simple: the hints towards Druidism in Zeppelin's music (of which he was the lead singer, of course): the Druids were, first and foremost, deeply in tune with nature and the seasons.

Here, we are quite far north; the sun set around 16:15. I went outside with a coffee to watch as the sun departed the mainly clear sky. Pinks, purples and blues took over from the yellow; I don't recall any orange, which I thought strange.

For me, the solstice is a time for reflection. The seasons, for instance: to the Druids, and almost all indigenous peoples, they were paramount. To me, they still are. Will they be, five thousand years hence?

To mix it up a bit, I think we've just entered the Capricorn sign (from the point of view of tropical Astrology). Capricorns are a tricky lot for me....

Well, I'll leave you to your own reflections. Much has already happened this holiday season, but I prefer to ruminate a bit before passing it on in order to do so with more perspective.

I'll leave you with Mr. Plant - as good a guide as you could have on this special day.

Robert Plant Home

Dec 23/11

If you need a really good cup of coffee, and you happen to be right downtown Campbell River, then here is Stephen - a man you'll want to meet. He's at the helm of Nesbitts Island Coffee, 1140 Shoppers Row.

I first met Stephen more than five years ago. I'd just found a birthday gift for my wife, so I was buoyed by success and decided to try "that new place." It had a black and white sign (which, of course, I liked), and appeared to be a solo effort even though it was in a mall - not that common for coffee shops. The place wasn't busy, which left just Stephen and me.

If there's one thing I know, it's coffee - but I was outdone that day. I'd planned to order a medium-sized medium roast and hoped it would be pretty fresh. But that just wasn't good enough for Stephen. He pointed to dozens of coffee choices in racks across the wall and then to his espresso machine, explaining he'd make a single cup just for me, any kind I wanted, in about a minute. I'd never heard of such a thing.

About two minutes later I was enjoying a smooth medium-dark which I recall being a Vienna. It was frothy and man was it good.

Later, when politics came up, once again Stephen went straight to the heart. He said the government at the time worried him. I asked why, pointing to the prosperity of the country. He said that the government wasn't respecting the institutions of parliament or democracy. That could do more damage to the country than a recession, he pointed out.

For years you could go into Nesbitts and have the place almost to yourself. The regulars went there religiously, but they just grabbed their coffees and ran back to work. For drop-ins, it just wasn't a busy location.

Now, nothing could be further from the truth. Nesbitts' new location on Shoppers Row is a beehive. Recluses like me are noticing all the people in there. Oh, well...the price of success....

Stephen Nesbitt Home

Christmas Eve

Marley: "You will be haunted by Three Spirits."

Scrooge: "I-I think I'd rather not."

But Ebenezer Scrooge was not in control that Christmas Eve, sometime back in 1840s London. Marley had hatched a plan to save Scrooge's soul, much like God had sent us Jesus nearly two thousand years earlier.

The rescue of Ebenezer - who has come to symbolize miserly, heartless capitalism - symbolizes the rescue of all Mankind. Since Biblical times the message has been replayed: people are prone to selfishness and greed, but can never be happy that way.

Scrooge was miserly, but towards himself as well: he wouldn't buy himself extra bread with his meal, and he lived in a cold, dark house. He'd been hurt - and seen others hurt as well whom he'd cared about. He'd decided that caring and sensitivity led to vulnerability. All that remained was the pursuit of wealth, to protect yourself against the ever threat of poverty.

In the society that evolved from Scrooge's, we still tend to focus more on money than on spiritual fullness. Perhaps it's because with money, you can measure your accomplishment. You make a little more this month or this year, then it's easy to conclude: I had a good year. If you fell down somewhere else, there's probably not a number on that, so it's easy to ignore.

One message of Christmas Carol - and some other Christmas classics - is that spending Christmas alone is a bad sign. I don't outright agree with that, but I suppose that being alone invites one's introspection about the year past. What could I have done better? Where did I fail? What opportunities did I miss? People tend towards those questions at year end; being alone with them can be overwhelming.

Whether surrounded by people, or in solitude: what do you hope from Christmas this year? What do you hope for (from yourself) in the New Year? Scrooge, being visited by the Three Spirits, made change look easier than it actually might be. Christmas, for me, is more like a check of the compass - adjusting course, if needed.

Thanks for coming. Merry Christmas. I'll see you tomorrow.

Here's Scrooge, about to embark - not altogether willingly - on his Christmas voyage.

Ebenezer Scrooge Home

Christmas Day

I've never mentioned any of J. K. Rowling's wonderful characters here so far, but my wife read the whole series to my kids, finishing Deathly Hallows last March. Later, I would embark on the same journey with our children. Having come through the first six, we've just begun Deathly Hallows.

After my wife finished Deathly Hallows last spring, she read the kids The Hobbit. I would listen in when I could, and immediately noticed the difference between it and the Potter books: The Potter books are written with much more tenderness, whereas The Hobbit focuses chiefly on the quest.

I wondered for days why the difference was so stark. Having just finished listening to Deathly Hallows, I was disappointed at the lack of engagement I found with The Hobbit. At first I asked myself whether the difference could just be the authors' styles. Tolkien was a brilliant author, no doubt, but perhaps his style just didn't appeal to me like Rowlings did.

Finally, I came to the conclusion that Harry Potter demands a more tender treatment, because it is about children. As children, the characters aren't empowered the way Tolkiens' characters are; instead, Harry, Ron and Hermione are forced to adapt to a savvier adversary while still growing up. Their courage and sacrifice are amazing, but totally believable: children are heartbreakingly able to face reality and give up things they love. Tolkiens' characters, already desensitized by maturity, seem much less vulnerable.

Ron, at first, didn't appeal to me. He's the least talented of the main three, both magically and also intellectually - or so I thought. However, Ron brings something else, something more believable than what Harry or Hermione offer: he embodies that dogged determination to fight a losing battle that we've all known in someone. That muted heroism - that wisdom to continue as the underdog when logic would tell him to give up - is something that every cause needs in order to succeed. You could point to dozens of great upsets that define history, and central to each one is a character like Ron. You might present General George Washington as a great example (I think he had red hair, as well).

The Weasleys are like that: they're not glamorous, so they're easy to underestimate. However, their brilliance lies in common sense. They have great self-awareness, which leads to self-confidence. Being a very old family, they know they're tough - and that if they've always been around, they always will be, however humble their position might be.

Ron, in the end, has been my greatest teacher. I hope to face my life problems with more dogged determination, since I personally have found it's by far the most effective way to make real progress.

Wikipedia was a source for this article.

Ron Weasley Home

Boxing Day

I saw Rod Blagojevich on Celebrity Apprentice, and I liked his style. Trump tried to get him to roll over on someone else in order to save himself, but Rod wouldn't do it. He took the blame for his team's loss and got fired for it. I always liked that about Rod.

I don't know much about the specifics of Rod's case. However, since Obama also came from Illinois politics, I've been schooled a bit about the setting. I've heard time and time again that when it comes to politics, there's no place tougher than Illinois. That's one reason why Obama was so amazing: as such a young man, relatively inexperienced in politics, he managed to win a Senate seat there.

Blagojevich, no matter what he might be guilty of, always gave me a good feeling. I understand that you can't "trust" a politician, but you can know what you're getting. Blagojevich played hardball, but he never came across as a sweetie. I could tell he was tough - that he'd "get things done" any way he could. Because I knew that about him, I'd call him an "honest politician."

I don't mind saying, either, that Blagojevich's unpopularity is one reason I like him. It takes guts to be unpopular; nowadays, so many people are willing to say anything just to avoid it. Yet I've always found unpopular people to offer much more, since they aren't just copying somebody else. Popular people are often little more than cut-outs of some other popular person, with different clothes pasted on.

One thing I will say: anyone who gets into Illinois politics, they must know the risks. Rod knew them, too. He's got a fighting personality; I won't be surprised to see him in the ring again sooner than a lot of people think.

Keep us posted, Rod.

Wikipedia was a source for this article.

Rod Blagojevich Home

Dec 27/11

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Today I went boxing day shopping (I know Boxing Day was yesterday). We picked up some good deals, then even managed to take the kids swimming afterwards: although it was a tiring day, it was very successful, I think.

Tonight is a rare occasion, since I'm actually going to discuss drawing. As you may already know, it'll be two years in March since I started. At first I didn't do faces; about two months in I started doing them, but they were small at first.

By that summer, I was in full swing. I'd sketch watching TV at night; my wife even did it, too, for a few months. Some faces came easily, but some were the devil to get right.

The big change between now - over a year later - and before is that I used to get stuck on some faces. Some I tried seven times or more before I got them right. The first such face was the man here: Bill Murray.

My wife has said many times that I don't draw faces, but rather expressions. I leave lots of details out - even parts of the face, sometimes - if I think I've rendered the unique expression of the subject.

Bill Murray's smirk evaded me at first. It took many tries to get it. Not satisfied with one, I eventually produced at least three. Here's the one my wife chose. (It wasn't the one I would have picked.)

Thus, my reflections for this rainy, windy Tuesday. Actually, the weather has calmed down now; you should have seen it earlier!

As always, thanks for coming. Hope to see you tomorrow.

Bill Murray Home