Monday, 23 December 2013


I have my groceries, after much broken field running through the aisles, presents are wrapped and under the tree. Baking is well underway. Turkey is in the frig. I guess this is a pretty smug post, eh? Sorry.

Peace on Earth!!!

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Fast Away

It’s a beautiful, beautiful day. A softly pink-striped dawn has given way to mild sunshine and a sky of baby blues and wispy whites. The extreme cold has (temporarily) departed. A fine fluff of brand new, sparkly clean snow lies over everything. A fine day to put on the snowshoes and start making winter walkways. If it weren’t one week to Christmas, that is.  And so … the laundry is littering the basement stairs, my second cup of coffee is empty and I have a laundry room full of gifts that have to be dealt with before I can do the wash. Seems like a perfect time to write a post, don’t you think? If I were Mary Poppins instead of Mary G, the dirty clothes would pick themselves up and dance into the washer, the paper and ribbon would obligingly clothe the gifts, making perfect bows, and I could brew up some more java. But.

I am not Mary Poppins. I can’t sing a note, in fact. I was teaching words to carols to my grandkid this last two weeks and the look on her face from time to time as I murdered the tunes was classic. On the other hand, I have had a brand new washer installed while I was away grandkid minding and it is much faster than the old one, with better temperature options too.  Also, I love wrapping presents, all to a theme, and placing them artistically under the tree. This fussing lasts only as long as it takes the family to arrive and pile all of their gifts in any old how, but it looks pretty before this happens.
All the decorations are up, even the bow on the mailbox, and the storage boxes moved back to the basement. I have found, after some panic, the container of Christmas table clothes and napkins. I have all of the special foodstuffs I will need for Christmas dinner except for the turkey and it is ordered for pickup on the 23rd

One of the things I like about Christmas, silly as it seems, is that it is a deadline. Crunch time. Everything must be done, arranged, ready by the 24th. I work better under pressure as many procrastinators do. Give me lots of time and I will dither and fiddle. Give me a firm date and I will manage. My poor daughters are both running under the gun at this point, with too many things to do and all sorts of pressure; the ED is philosophical about things but hates the pressure although the YD is more like me and goes into a fine whirlwind of Getting It All Done. The grandkid is more like her mother – the presents I helped her create are already wrapped and ready. This is not heritage from me, for sure, although my own mother was like that. What gets passed down from generation to generation is endlessly fascinating.

As many of our family’s holiday traditions are passed down. My husband hates the Mylar tinsel that has replaced the older, stiffer kind. So we do not tinsel the tree any longer, even though tinsel was a big part of our decoration for many years. The grandkid looked at our tree and declared it needed tinsel, grinned and said ‘Each strand must hang by itself.’ That rule came from one of my aunts, who was a master at decorating anything, and to hear it from the next generation was both funny and nostalgic. The things we pass along, mostly inadvertently, to the next generation and onward are truly weird.

When I was first married we bought all new decorations for our first tree, a stark arrangement of silver and white balls that suited my idea of modern and only mine. But after my mother died all of her decorations came to me, some of them glass balls that I had bought for her as a child when they first returned to the market after the 2nd World War. These decorations are now all on my tree and it is a kaleidoscope of colour and mixed themes. Lovely.


(The blue ball lower right is probably over 60 years old. Pile of gifts to be added! Later!)

And the wash is still festooned all down the basement stairs. Deadline time!

What are some of your decorating traditions?

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Savour the Season

This is a shot of 2012's blooms on the Christmas cactus I inherited from my husband's grandmother's house  ... many years ago. It blooms when it has a mind to, regardless of the 12 hour of daylight rule. This year, it had already finished blooming in November. My other cactus, also a gift, bloomed late in October.

I need to have a serious discussion with these plants about appropriate timing. Not that they will pay any more attention than the merchants, both local and national, who start the Christmas displays about the same time my plants are setting buds. And, while I have my Grinch hat on, I wonder if there is any way we can persuade our  friends south of the border to keep 'Black Friday' at home. As far as I can see, it is just another way to sneak Christmas profit in early.

On a less grumpy note, I have had a much easier time with the Christmas shopping this  year, without resorting to doing it all on line. Elder daughter and partner are in Brazil for a two week research project, and I am in Ottawa in locum parenti with the grandkid. This means that I can  drop her at school and wheel off to the mall of choice early in the  morning, get a premium parking spot, have a leisurely coffee break and be home with the loot before the noon traffic jams. Bliss! The boot of the car is now filled with bags containing  almost all my list and I still have the rest of the week to knit up any loose ends.

Which brings me to the knitting. Miss G decided that she wanted to knit her mother a lovely scarf for Christmas. ( i am pretty sure the ED does not read my blog.) The sweet child has never knit before. So, we picked out some very fat wool and size 10 needles, Grama cast on and she set to it. She now has over 18" done, with few errors, and we just might make it, even if we have to do the finishing locked into the YD's spare bedroom on Christmas Eve. Grama has equipped her with a knitting bag, tape measure and darning needles. The tape measure is getting a lot of use. She has also sewn a tie for her father, with some  eclat, doing all the finish hand stitching solo. And threading her own needle! No grandmother could ask for better than that.

It's a long stint to do in the city, however. It is a vey good thing that JG is a self-sufficient guy who happily cooks for himself and that Aunt YD is doing the weekend minding so that I get a night or two in my own bed.  Miss G is being very brave and cheerful, although missing her parents from time to time. The cat has taken to sleeping with her to keep her spirits up. And Miss G and her aunt have volunteered to put up my Christmas tree this weekend.

Something to savour indeed.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

I'm making my lists, and piles, and plans.....

Nance, at the Dep't of Nance, says 'simplify' among other great preChristmas advice posts. Sigh.

Note: there is a link to Nance's blog, but it is pale gray. Must change my colours. Maybe in January.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

He who dies with the most toys wins.

 JG is certainly right up there at the top of the most toys list. This is one of my favourites. We used to rake the leaves on our 'fields' mostly by hand, or chop them up with the mower. Now JG uses this and I can just clean up the edges. The rock in the centre of this photo is the platform we use to put out corn and other goodies for the deer.

These photos were on the game camera we have installed beside the deer feeding station. I am adding alast shot taken from the deer feeding station back toward the house to show you how much grass JG maintains. It does happen to be a winter shot, but I assure you that not a leaf remains under the snow cover.
There is still a good bit left to be picked up this year. But I have got the plants all sorted.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

A song for Sarah

Where have all the bloggers gone, some time passing,
Where have all the bloggers gone, so long away,
Where have all the bloggers gone?
Gone to Facebook every one.
When years and fashions turn, they move away.

While the years flow quickly by me, I watch the ebb and flow of how people communicate, of how they relate. As a university student in the '1960s, I wrote letters home to my bemused parents with varying regularity, and employed the one outside line phone in my residence (hanging on a staircase wall) only in case of necessity. (Mom, someone stole my wallet with my train fare home in it, please send money.) In the 1980s, my daughters had phones in their residence rooms, and used them frequently. In the late 1990s we all got email and the heavy letters that crossed the oceans between me and my peripatetic daughters were no longer necessary, nor were the staccato out of country telephone calls, limited by the cost of each precious minute. Now my neighbour checks the progress of her grand kids with Skype, I post photos to the web directly from an i Pad, receive Blue tooth calls from my 40 something kid while she drives home from work and find out what she is doing via Facebook into which she inveigled me. My grandmother would never believe this stuff – she could keep up with what her sisters-in-law were doing by looking across the fields to the next farms.

Equally radical changes have taken place in the provision of news and comment about news in the last sixty some years during which I have paid attention to it. I heard of the death of George VI on the radio that my mother listened to in the kitchen in the mornings. Although I think many people still get their morning news that way, the morning paper that I read over coffee after the kids left for school is dead and gone, the heavily analytical news magazines of my early adult years have morphed into picture books and TV news seems to be a series of sound bytes with little depth or context. The most in-depth stuff I read comes from the computer – news sites, article referrals from friends on Facebook, search results. These information sources are biased toward my own world view because I choose them; they do not provide the balanced coverage the old CBC and PBS reporting allowed. And for detail it is necessary to troll through, for instance, the Township website to find out what is happening to the local fire station. Or hang out at the local community centre to get the latest community reports. Social and local reporting is long, long gone. I am connected to the world through the web.

I have always thought that blogs are a cross between letters and diaries. A good blog has carefully constructed posts, often interspersed with photos and bits of news but still full of information about the person writing as well as that person's situation, activities and interests. The bloggers I followed with joy wrote well and took delight in writing well and had interesting things to say that sprang from their own experience. For a while I was part of a group that was quite analytical about the practise of blogging and the communities it created. Reading around the circle was like reading a really good magazine, with the added benefit of knowing the people writing to the extent that they felt comfortable with letting you into their lives. And most posts trailed a dialogue of comments that were just as good reading as the original post. Blogging was a lot of fun.

Being a good blog writer, however, was also a lot of work and took time. Being a responsive blogger, reading and commenting, also was something that ate time at a great rate. To be part of a blogging community was a commitment, a thing you had to budget time to do, a creative act that took energy and thought. If you were also juggling a young family, a career whether school or job, real life friends and interests, home chores and time for your health, blogging could at times be a chore, something you needed to drop out of from time to time, just to keep all your other commitments. I know I have read many, many posts apologizing for gaps, many comments apologizing for absences, many short and frantic paragraphs composed on the run as space savers, seen many blogs go dark. I've done
these things myself; what keeps pulling me back is an addiction to writing and putting the result out to be read. There are as many reasons people blog as there are people blogging, I am sure, but it seems to me that it is the addiction and the connection that keeps some few of us at it.

Because there are other ways to communicate and connect that are not as time consuming and that fit the newest technology; not just Facebook and Twitter but many more Iphone and Ipad based communication apps that are easy to use. (Hmm. Open Office Writer just turned iPhone into Iphone all on its own. I can't even make my software behave.) People wear little telephones hooked to an ear, or wander around with ear buds jammed into both, oblivious to traffic and other people in the way. Or they live life one-handed, the other holding a phone to their head, They stare at their screens, immersed in their own private worlds.

To be honest, I love the way the world has changed and is changing, I love the new technology, even when it won't behave for me, and I am addicted to Facebook, especially Scrabble on Facebook, no matter how often I lose. It's a lovely community. But it isn't the bloggers' circle that I used to have and still miss, dropout though I may be.

And if I ever manage to learn how to comment from the iPad, and have the damn comment accepted, I'll be all over your comments again.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

No More Pine Tree

The pine tree perch for the wireless node has been superceded by a genuine, bolted to the rock tower. Here you see the intrepid climber fastening the last piece in place. We are all hoping that the next storm will not cause any more fried electronics - the tower is grounded!

And here are the crazy climbing guys mugging for the camera.

I can't believe there is no camera shake in this one, as the pair of them were terrifying me.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Notes from a Country Mouse.

I just embarrassed myself. Again. All my life I have blocked on names, literally been unable to pull a name out of my head when I needed it. When I was a teacher, I forced the kids to sit in alpha order and I memorized the class lists as the only way to keep track of them by name. Even that didn't always work. And now that I am into my seventies, the problem is much worse. I made a phone call this morning to ask that a message be passed on to three people and I could not come up with the third person's name. Blank. Cringe.

The reason that I had to do this is that the email that I would usually employ is unavailable. We live way out in the sticks and the internet can only reach us via wireless or satellite. We tried satellite and it was slow and unreliable. So we went to wireless as there is a company that is trying to provide it throughout our hilly, wooded and sparsely populated countryside. They are doing this by setting up nodes wherever there is high ground. We host a node as we are relatively high, but to catch the signal they have had to put the node at the top of a tall pine tree, 92 feet from the ground. It is the tallest thing around and so when we have an electrical storm, the 'box' is at high risk. The very poor resolution photo shows the top of the tree inside the red circle and the non climbers on the ground.

On Monday the sky was ominous but no rain was falling. All of a sudden there was a huge bang and a rumble of thunder. The bang signalled the death of both the node and our router – the electrical current having followed the wire from the node and fried its insides. Yesterday morning the crew from our internet arrived in their familiar white truck to repair the node and found that it had been completely blown apart and would have to be replaced. Unfortunately the madman who usually climbs the tree was on holiday and his replacement could not manage the last ten feet needed to take the broken machinery apart because the sway of the top was too much for him. So the white truck rolled away.

This morning there are two white trucks in the yard and the intrepid climber, called back from his vacation, is presently up the tree with the ground crew shouting up numbers to him as he sets the new receiver (or whatever). And the crew boss and my husband are discussing replacing the tree with a tower tucked more or less out of sight.

Although living way out 'in the bush' has many pleasures – bird song, fawns gambolling on the lawn, space, clean air, a sky in which all the stars are visible – it also has drawbacks. I have written here about the telephone wire that did not get fixed, snow blockages of our dirt road, distance to the grocery store, and more. We are very blessed to have good and caring neighbours and the health and strength to look after problems such as snow ourselves. The high speed internet access the node provides us allows me to do banking and shopping and a lot of business at the computer rather than driving half an hour to the nearest small town as I used to do. So we are lucky that our internet provider believes in quick and efficient service to fix the problems rural internet service causes.

When I stay with my daughters in the city the ambulance sirens, noisy university students, bus brakes at 3:00 am, 24 hour lights, traffic, all bug me. But their internet is very rarely unavailable.

Someday increasing age and debility will probably force us to move closer to help and amenities. Back to the sirens and swarms of cars and people. Some day. In the meantime the mad climber seems to have replaced the node and is getting a signal, the shouting on the lawn informs me. Soon the problem will be fixed, the shouting will stop and peace (and maybe the turkey flock) will return. And I will cherish the golden day and the peace while I can. And hope to rely on the 'Reply All' tab in email to help me with names.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Ah, Summer!

The local strawberries are in! Tonight the YD came out to collect her touring canoe and made this

 for her father for supper.

And one for heself and for me, of course.
feeling somewhat overfed, but it was worth it.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Life, Looks and Libido

Note: this post is long and quote heavy. Beware.

In the last few days, two articles in the news have yanked my chain. The first is a report on a researchpaper that puts forward the theory that men's desire for young(er) women is the cause of menopause. I don't follow the reasoning. If you accept that menopause is a mutation that occurred in human women but not in other primates, I think the reasoning around the 'grandmother' theory makes more sense.

In the 'grandmother' theory, the hypothesis is that the beginning of the mutation meant that some older women were less likely to get pregnant and therefore did not die when other early human women died worn out by later life gestation. Such women would be useful to the family if they were skilled foragers and good caregivers. Their children would reap the benefits of extra food and child care and so would grandchildren, thus passing on the increased survival benefit and fixing the mutation. Simple explanation.

The reasoning given in Singh et al. ismore convoluted. As far as I can tell, the researchers started from the hypothesis that "Our model requires neither the initial assumption of a decline in older female fertility nor the effects of inclusive fitness through which older, non-reproducing women assist in the reproductive efforts of younger women. " They proved the hypothesis in a computer model. For me, their reasoning goes around in a loop in which mate selection preferring younger women allows time for mutation to produce 'senescent' changes in older women, making menopause an unfavourable choice. If so, then why did it persist? I guess I need to read the background studies. Sigh.

Certainly some of the effects of menopause are unpleasant, balancing off cessation of menstruation and danger of pregnancy against low estrogen effects of hair growth, loss of bone strength, skin changes and, according to studies, loss of libido in many women.

As I was pondering all of this, I read Margaret Wente's latest column, a discussion of the effects of big pharmaceutical companies' desire for profit causing their research to focus on creating needs where there should be none. She uses the search for a pill to increase female libido as the main example of this.

I really like her conclusions, much as I wanted to yell at her for her offhand comment that "Personally, I’m not sure whether it’s desirable, seemly or even (quite frankly) safe for senior citizens to copulate like jack rabbits." (Read that over when you're past seventy, Margaret, and you are going to cringe!)

The idea that 'There's a pill for that,' is something that, at my age, causes me both amusement and dismay. And never more so than in the area of lust. She quotes one researcher [Tamara Kayali, a post-doctoral research fellow at Dalhousie University who specializes in bioethics] as saying that "if a woman’s sexual appetite wanes in middle age, why is that her problem? “You’re assuming it’s the woman who needs fixing,” she says. “Maybe we need a pill for men that will lessen their desire for sex.” I love that thought. I would make such a pill mandatory for any man who requires his female compatriots to drape themselves in shapeless clothing so as not to be a distraction from important male things.

Lust, libido, sexual expectations and behaviour - a topic area that in my home in my childhood was pretty close to taboo. I got birds and bees type information from my mother, but when I asked her what intercourse felt like she answered that I would have to find that out for myself. And the closest I ever came to discussing the topic with my father was his somewhat strangled comment on the eve of my marriage that I had better not count on performance from my husband on my wedding night. None of my friends ever discussed sex. I first learned that there was a thing called a clitoris in my twenties. Books like 'The Joy of Sex' were a mid-life revelation; if such things existed earlier, I never found them. And I did look but all I found was fiction, written almost exclusively from the male point of view. (Discourage your curious daughter from reading Hemingway, is my advice!)

Following straight on from that snide aside, it is my experience that body image is vitally important in the whole libido thing, that it is almost exclusively shaped by culture and that it is as much an influence on males as it is on females. If you grow up in an era or a culture where your body type (facial features, hair and skin colour and texture included) is not the culturally admired one, you can very easily let yourself be influenced in some highly adverse ways. If, for example, a tall, broad shouldered, skinny and small breasted woman grows up in the height of the Marilyn-Monroe-as-ideal era, she may well end up believing that she are not desirable and persuade herself that sex is not very interesting. If a girl grows up in the Twiggy era, has an ectomorph* for an older sister but is herself curvy, taller and heavier, she can equally devalue herself. Or end up with a very limited range of men she considers attractive and that she thinks might be attracted to her. Equally a young man with a body flaw might well fix on the first young woman he finds who is not bothered by it, having believed that no woman would ever want him, without considering whether he and she were compatible in other ways.

Along with such every-day examples, we all read about people whose functioning is totally warped by attitudes to libido and the other sex. Rapists, kidnappers, sadistic guerilla warriors, pitiful misfits, silly kids whose experimentation, gone wildly wrong, destroys them - all these examples are the grist for the media mill. Note that I am not talking here about people per se who buy and sell sex. Marriage is, after all, a convention for the buying and selling of sex. Among other things that it is, of course. What I perceive as wrong is the devaluation of some sex trade workers and their clients, both of themselves and of those they engage, if the culture and their own experience teaches them to do so. It is so easy for this kind of misery to escalate into horrible violence. Examples are no further away than the Clifford Olson disaster.

Truly, I don't know which is worse, being raised sort of Victorian the way I was, and passing (I very much fear) some of the problems of that down to my own daughters or being raised in this second decade of the 21st century where the norms seem to indicate that anything goes but in actual fact punish a lot of behaviours.

Menopause is a disease? This is the start of the hypothesis of Singh et al. Lowered libido is a disease? No, say Wente's sources, arguing against what they think is becoming common thinking. Since I have lived through both pre and post pill eras and have watched the growing emergence of women in the workplace, in politics, in the arts, I see these attitudes as reactionary, the back swing of the pendulum. I understand the multiple and contradictory standards affecting women's behaviour, appearance and status as a strategy to maintain the attitude that women are not really people, fellow beings, but rather objects (I'm groping for concepts here), other. A woman without overt signs that she wishes to attract male lust is a frightening thing and must therefore be categorized as sick or weak.

Aside: I think a poor hot and hampered woman persuaded into a burkha becomes a walking signpost that she is a sexual object first. The fact that some women choose to wear restrictive and smothering clothing makes them fools. Or fooled Equally, I think that a woman sliding her butt in its inadequate skirt onto her blazing hot plastic car seat or courting frostbite in a cropped top and the same inadequate skirt in Ottawa in February is a fool and not nearly as sexy as she thinks she is. She has a lot more choices than most of the over-wrapped women; why do so many women with a lot of advantages dress uncomfortably and sometimes to their permanent harm (I am thinking stiletto heels here) when they don't have to? Maybe they, like the women who aver they love face veils, have their thinking distorted by their culture.

And, on a personal note - why does my beloved ten year old granddaughter want a bikini bathing suit? It's idiotic! The stupid things fall off kids, leave lots of skin exposed to sunburn and bug bites and look silly on a flat chest. But they sell like hot cakes. Growl.

I wonder why acceptance of people as people first, not male and female stereotypes, must be so difficult - for both sexes. Because until that acceptance happens, misplaced attitudes about libido will continue to warp and, in turn, damage our society and our selves.

*Ectomorphic: characterized by long and thin muscles/limbs and low fat storage; usually referred to as slim.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Weather or Not

Glug. We're treading water here. - Over 1.5 inches of rain up until Sunday and almost another inch so far last night and this morning. The ant trap on my hummingbird feeder has become a small splashing fountain because the eaves trough is overflowing, my newly planted annuals are looking pale and wan and the grass is growing into hay as we watch. Canadian fascination with the weather in full spate here.

It's been good news so far this week. Our great niece delivered her baby successfully on the weekend, making us great-great aunt and uncle for the third time, and our neighbour called this morning to say that her daughter had just produced a fine baby girl and all goes well. Lovely to hear. The names, though, are making my head spin a bit. One of the new little girls is Elsa, not a name much used but plain and spellable. (Is that a word? Well, Spellchecker took it.) The other baby is Maelle, a name that has a beautiful sound but that, ex teacher that I am, I foresee may cause some problems when she goes to school. The names that people are giving their children lately fascinate me - there is so much creativity and striving for the unusual. My name, plain old Mary, was so popular 70+ years ago, that I spent one summer as a teenager working, in a crew of seven, with five Marys including me. But no one uses it much these days.

Ah, the twenty-first century and its joys. As I struggle with my IPad and my brand new and quite incomprehensible Galaxy phone, as I wander with dismay through clothing stores filled with things I do not want to buy, as I watch most of the population of any city I visit spend more time on their cell phones than off, I feel more and more disconnected. I have a little list of terms I struggle to understand - bluetooth and ICloud for two. I am completely out of tune with the latest in music and video. I am becoming a dinosaur. Will my wrinkled body emerge from some unnatural preservation twenty centuries from now and puzzle my unimaginable descendants? Probably not. I will have to settle for puzzling my immediate descendants now.

The only thing that I feel sure of is that, regardless of what else has changed, people will still be complaining about the weather.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Waiting on Summer

 I'm freezing! In spite of the number on the calendar, how can it be June 5th when my thermometer on the deck read +2ยบ C when I woke up this morning? There is a small huddle of bedding plants beside the porch, waiting to be transplanted. The frost-free date in our part of the world is supposed to be May 24th. We had a heavy frost on May 25th and things have not warmed up much since. I guess this is global warming weather, but where's the 'warm'?

However, there are compensations. I can work outside in enough clothes that the ravening hordes of black flies and mosquitoes don't have much of a target. I can work outside without sweating (except when digging up topsoil). And, in spite of the cool, cool breeze I am going to have to do that this morning because the poor little seedlings in the huddle need more room for their roots and I have to plant them, arctic air notwithstanding. Today.

Mostly at this time of year we have all the windows open and are greeted each morning with a chorus of bird song. (And at night we hear the barred owl whooing away as we go to sleep.) My favourite singer is the rose breasted grosbeak. We had four males competing - as much as these gentle birds do compete - at the feeder and I am sure we have at least two breeding pairs now. Their song is lovely. We also seem to have song sparrows this year, and a few American goldfinches, but no white throated sparrows so far. Even bundled up in a bug shirt, being outside is an aural treat. Not quite as amazing as an English garden in May, but very nice.

My two standard lilac are done - only skeletal seed pods remain - but the Japanese lilac by the kitchen porch, in spite of the beating it took from the snow last December, is just opening and the butterflies are starting to attend.

Thus the joys of country living in a Canadian spring. I wonder if it sounds pretty tame or even boring. Frankly, there are times when I am bored. Times when the job list does not look the least bit enticing, but there is no excuse to turn it face down and do something fun. As of tomorrow my wonderful friend, always good for conversation, cutthroat Scrabble or a 'run away' day, will have been dead a year. We had dinner at her home last night, as her daughter was in town for a two day visit, and it was fun. But not the same. It will never be the same. And there is no point in mourning, but the tears well up anyhow sometimes.

Speaking of Scrabble, I am being crushed in on-line games by three wickedly clever opponents. I think I am at about my sixth consecutive loss, and am trailing badly in two out of the three games I am playing now. Some of it is lousy tiles - a row of seven vowels, followed by a row with no vowels at all - but a lot of it is that they are just plain outclassing me. Sob.

And it has now warmed up enough outside that I have absolutely no excuse not to go and rescue my bedding plants. Ah well.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Down Town Time

It is May, and therefore the time when university professors go gallivanting around in the small gap between exams and summer school and research projects. The YD and partner are off to Brazil, and I am in the city looking after Miss M.

When she was much smaller, her parents would drop her off Chez G when they went to conferences, but she now has not only school but also gymnastics practice most school nights and so Grama is doing the driving to gym and the school drop off and all that. Grama does not have to do much else, though, as Miss Almost Ten M got herself up this morning, got her room cleaned and her clothes on (except for the odd tiny button), made her own breakfast and lunch and wrote her own email answer to her mother's morning message. Grama watched in amazement. They grow up before you can blink, almost. From mop-headed toddler to sophisticated, integrated young woman seems to have happened so fast and so soon. Not that I miss pushing the stroller for hours at a time. Much.

So, here I am perched, almost downtown, until the weekend, with very little to do. I did bring my Minute book because I have a set to write ASAP. I do have a fairly comprehensive shopping and errand list. But I also have two cameras, cardinals singing on both sides of the house, a very simple supper (hamburgers, please, Grama) to prepare and hours of time on my own when all the things I have listed under JOBS are undoable because unreachable.

I have just been paging through the archives of this blog and am amused to find that there is a post in May most years from the ED's home, celebrating emancipation from the home tasks and marking the grandkid's growth and behaviour changes. I repeat myself. Both the YD and Miss M point this out to me. I am quite sure this is going to get worse, too, as my mother and grandmother were very prone to retelling stories.

Meanwhile JG is at our home, dog and cat sitting and lamenting the fact that he thinks the dog has rolled in something noxious, probably bear shit. What a time for me to be away from home!

The YD is going out to our place on Saturday to pick up her (hopefully clean) animals and help her father dismantle my pool, since we are shutting it down and selling it. A sad decision, but a necessary one as we have to simplify some of the jobs that a rural home on three hundred acres of 'Managed Forest' requires. I gave up my Community Health Centre involvement almost a year ago, and the other committee I work on, the Active Seniors' Koalition, is folding up for lack of funding. We did get one last infusion of cash, though, to run a one day 50+ Activities Exposition and that takes place next week. The bulk of the JOBS that I have left behind have to do with that. The rest are either housework, or things that need to be done for the Hall Committee of which, lacking my wonderful friend Marion, I am now secretary, publicity person and (sob) baker of pies.

However, I have this break and we have rented a cottage for the whole family for two whole weeks this summer. It faces south, too, and I will have to photograph something other than spectacular sunsets. We're going to be on the Ottawa river this year instead of the Rideau canal system. The YD assures me that the water is usually warm since the upstream dams release top water. I hope she is correct in that.

Time to quit this quite boring catch-up and give Miss M's cat back her chair. And, I guess, get the white cat hair off my denim covered butt.

I have a three page instruction email from the YD with about the same amount of tasks to do with their menagerie as with care and feeding of Miss M. And, once I have pampered the pets, I want to find and buy plain white and good quality summer tee shirts. An almost impossible task.

Cardinal is now singing very close by. Time for the telephoto and some careful stalking.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Touring in Tel Aviv

 This is a composite view, taken from the Eretz Israel Museum, of downtown Tel Aviv, city of highrise hotels and flats.

 These are two views of the Tel Aviv shore from our hotel, on successive days. The first is a telephoto at sunset to show the surf at the breakwater.

 And this is two days later, with the wind down (some), showing an intrepid parasailor, squeezing out the last minutes of daylight.

 There is a wonderful brick walkway all the way from the modern harbour to the ancient harbour of Jaffa, the seed from which modern Tel Aviv grew.

I walked this promenade from the hotel to Jaffa and back, about two kilometres and explored the winding streets and height at Jaffa. Here are some photos from that walk.

From the hotel beach. The promentory in the distance is Jaffa.

Partway. The spray from the surf was breaking over the path ahead of me.

The start of the Jaffa wall with the bits of stone marking the very narrow harbour entrance just showing to the right of the buildings.

Looking back along the beach I had walked.

Part of the old Jaffa wall.

From the park at the top of Jaffa's hill.

And that is as far as the edits go today. Next installment includes Mary as a blue float in the Dead Sea.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Wind to Their Wings

When I was a young girl, back in the days of white picket fences, smocked dresses and pigtails with grosgrain ribbon bows, I had an aunt who was an art teacher, a very partisan and loving aunt who told me what a talented artist I was. In fact, I had good eye/hand coordination and lots of art materials my family gave me for gifts. As a teenager I took lots of art classes and was taught to paint in oils. I learned to produce (bad) landscapes in the School of Seven genre, and finally realized I was an averagely skilled amateur.

I think my experience, outside of the enthusiastic aunt, was pretty typical of how children are encouraged to learn the visual arts. A cursory scan of painting and sculpture from any age and culture will show 'schools', types or 'genres', ways of interpreting the world that are passed from teacher to student and are the accepted conventions of that place and time. As examples, the stylized silhouettes of classic Egyptian painting and the incredibly realistic male nude statues of classical Greece come immediately to mind. Technique and style are refined over generations of artists, reach an apex and sometimes decline into over ornamentation and bad copying, but are recognizably a type.

It is my speculation that this has been so because of a need in the human psyche to represent what is seen and to preserve what is pleasing, to make a record, to speak, so to speak, visually. People crave portraits, illustration of stories, colour and line to decorate their lives. And up until not very long ago, art was the only way to have these things. So children learned the conventions of their society and internalized them and followed them as adults.

Then came the camera and the artist's world changed. A photograph was not only a more accurate record or illustration, but also a less expensive, more accessible form of record or decoration. 'A picture is worth a thousand words', right? And photography, since its inception, has become more and more accessible. Most of us can now take photos and even videos of events as they happen by pulling our mobile phones out of our pockets. Our artists are free to fly, to speak in many 'languages', not just in the conventions of the time. And people who are drawn to the visual arts find themselves in a world of infinite possibilities, both with the conventional tools of pen and brush and the digital manipulation of photographic images.

So, where does that leave our children? How do we teach them now? What do we teach them? I have watched with fascination the evolution of my granddaughter’s expression with penand colour. She is a 'daycare' kid and a lot of her after-school time, because she loves it, has been spent drawing. Even as a tiny girl, her work reflected what she saw the older children doing, exhibited excellent eye/hand coordination, was controlled and precise. From a very tiny girl she followed the conventions.

A friend of mine from grade school, a fine and sensitive artist, has a grandson who is just learning the joys of art. She posted a painting he had done the other day and I was enthralled. It is unconventional, sophisticated and lovely. And the product of the mind of a kindergarten aged child who has the ability to see and translate to paper what he sees. My friend told me that he pointed out to her 'everything that was wrong with it'. She did not say what that was. I hope it was not a lack of conventional technique that worried him. I hope he can keep his own vision intact. And I know that she will support him in doing so.

So, back to my 'what to teach them' question. I think most of us need what both I and my grandkid have had - access to good materials and time to use them. And to be taught technique and appreciation. For some, the few with the seeing eye, I think that what we need to teach them is that the 'conventions', are not necessary for them. That it is good to try, better to fly.

Some of us are kites, others free, soaring birds. And both are good.

Monday, 25 February 2013


We have an ancient apple tree that overhangs the bird feeders. This morning, this owl took up a post just above the feeders, waiting for an unwary mouse or other burrowing animal. It let me walk right up and take portraits.

This afternoon there was a hole in the snow and no owl. So I guess it got its lunch.

Monday, 18 February 2013

What IS that thing?

Well, it's a golden swamp monster dragon, strayed from its home swamp.


That is a long, but wonderful story.

Some years ago my best friend ever and her family invited my family to a New Year's Eve party at her home. The family group consisted then of the parents and two married sons, each with their own home on the property. The senior family's home was placed at the bottom of a hill on the concession road, across from the family sugar camp, and between the road and the house was a large wide and shallow ditch. I left the party briefly and as I was returning I took the downhill too fast and slid, slowly and irrevocably, into the ditch, ending with my car nose down, back wheels in the air.

The slide was so slow that neither the car nor I suffered any damage, but I sat there in the ditch for quite a while gathering my courage because I knew that the minute the family knew what I had done, I would be the target of a lot of laughter and that they would never, never let me live it down. And that was the case. One of the sons plucked me out of the ditch with his tractor, a lot of comments were made, I drowned my sorrows and the party ended.

Shortly thereafter, when I visited my friends' home, there was a hockey net across the bridge side nearest the ditch with a sign on it reading 'Stay out - Mary's swamp'. On another occasion, the side of the lane way was blocked with hay bales. On yet another, signs appeared on trees between our home and theirs, giving the distance to 'Mary's Swamp.' And the incident was mentioned. A lot.

Well, there had to be some response to this besides turning beet red and spluttering. At the start of the sugaring season, on a day when the snow was wet and packy, I climbed down into the ditch and built a swamp dragon out of snow  - crawling out of the ditch and heading toward the camp across the road. I coloured it with spray bottles of coloured water and it was a handsome concoction. I may have put up a sign saying 'beware of swamp monster' - I'm not sure about this. Although the family may have known I was there, they were busy and only when the left the camp was the full glory of the dragon perceived. And I was gone by then.

Over the years there have been other elaborate jokes between our families. There was a plague of ceramic garden gnomes. There was a night when our lane way was lit with ice lanterns. The best one might have been at a party for our 45th wedding anniversary when my friend tried out a recipe she had been given where, if you buried condoms in a cake pan of soil with a puck of some substance at the bottom and then watered the soil, the condoms were supposed to fill with air and poke out through the soil. It didn't work quite as planned, however, as the condoms would fill up and then lose air, droop over and then refill. To say it was funny is not really a good report of the resultant hilarity and comment.

Anyway, this brings us to our fiftieth wedding anniversary. We went in to the city to have a superb dinner with the family and as we turned into the gate on our arrival home we saw two gold painted sap pails with a 5 and a 0 on them, hanging on the maple tree at our gate. I had expected something, I must admit, and thought that our friends had been remarkably restrained.

Or I did, until I heard JG saying urgently to his brother, who had come to stay for the festivities, 'Turn on the back door lights!'. Then he called to me, in a somewhat shaken voice, 'Come and see this!'. We turned on the spotlight and there, in all its glory, was swamp monster, promoted to gold and fashioned, now, out of 50+ gold painted sap pails with a green monster head and staring eyes. It was sporting a 'No Parking' sign. It was a spectacular construction. I think it must have taken them days to put it all together. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry - friends like this make life a marvellous adventure.

Only, now it is my turn again. I do have some ideas, too.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Just For the Record

Fifty years married on Saturday

In February of 1963, JG and I went to a Valentine's Day dance. The next day, as well as I can remember, we were married. We were at Queen's (University at Kingston) at the time, and the dance, I think, was the 'Levana' formal.  We were married in the Chapel in the Old Arts building - my mother bought my dress and borrowed the hat from my cousin. That's champagne we are holding, and I was the only illegal drinker at the dinner my parents held for us.

 Four years later, we were obviously attending another party or dance, but for the life of me, I cannot recall what it was. I was pregnant at the time and had made my dress, that I do remember. As well as what a big nuisance long gloves were. It's 1967 and JG is all decked out in his Centennial beard.

Here we are a few months later, getting set up to visit the Montreal Expo '67. The passenger in the baby carrier is the YD, age 3 months or so.

  In this shot, we've just come back from a Canada Day parade. That's the YD on the left, ED with the balloon, and JG with his hair grown out.  I think this would be 1970 or 71.

 A few years later, 1975 or thereabouts. At 'The Farm' with a beagle named Bugle. The kids are now old enough to take photographs.

 This is 1980 ish. A holiday dinner at the house of some good friends. Again, one of our kids took this. It was really difficult to find photos of the two of us through these years - either I was behind the camera or part of a group shot.

 Here's one that the daughters insisted on taking to mark some kind of festival or anniversary. Or, maybe they noticed that there were not many photos of the two of us. This is 1990, we think. I am now sporting the highly permed 'poodle' hairdo that the YD hated.

 Kids have left home. Empty nesters got some good travelling time in. Here we are in Holland with JG's parents; I think his father took this. We are en route to Africa, I think in 1993.

It is 1995 and we are building our 'forever home'. My father took this one, and it is one of several where my backside is both large and prominent. But it is one of very few shots of both of us that I could find for this period. We have just walked that piece of framing, called a 'knee wall' up the ladders and are putting it in position.

 2004 at Stratford, at intermission of a Festival play. We're out in the grounds, and the ice cream in my hand is one of the reasons shots from behind make me wince. And my hair is back to its normal spider silk thinness.

2012. A Christmas party. I don't think this looks much like me, but the others are worse. It is good of JG who is post cataract surgery and no longer needs glasses.

This was just forwarded to me by the YD - Christmas 2012. Yum!