Saturday 28 December 2019

Saturday Photo: Concrete Really Is the Rock of Ages, until It Isn't

This is what Montreal's Turcot Interchange looked in late 2018, when it was being torn down.

The design of this elevated stretch of highway probably wasn't the best to begin with, but with time, road de-icing salt, and our weather, it was in very bad shape.  Almost all of it has been replaced after years of work.  What remains is a bad memory of how wrong and careless we can be with what we build.

I include the photo today because after several days of intense family and feasting, I'm back to work on my next book, Rock of Ages: How Concrete Built the World as We Know It, which the University of Regina Press will bring out next fall. My task is to update the manuscript before January 6, but, as usual, I've found a whole lot of ways to make it better... Must get back to work.

Saturday 21 December 2019

Saturday Photo: Natural Trees....

This photo shows why I chose this tree for a Christmas tree:  the pine cones.

Of course, I wasn't the only one doing the choosing, but nobody objected to what seems to me this delightful bit of nature.

We've always bought natural trees, which the David Suzuki Foundation says are more environmentally friendly than artificial ones, particularly when they're bought from local producers. 

The city of Montreal will pick them up for composting on Monday, Jan.13, 2020 in our neighborhood, which also is pretty good too. 

Saturday 14 December 2019

Saturday Photo: The Morning Rush Hour in Outremont, Version One

The photo was taken about 8 a.m. last Thursday, when folks were cutting through Parc St-Viateur near our house on their way to where ever.  No crowds, but they were hurrying through the snow-bedecked park anyway.

When we went looking for a house, decades ago, I decided that we shouldn't buy anything that would require a commute for my old man by any other means than foot.  Too stressful, not good for his health for many reasons.  These folks seem to think the same.  A good strategy!

PS At the moment it is raining, and the snow is just about all gone.  Still not bad walking, though.

Saturday 7 December 2019

Saturday Photo: Sunny Winter Day...

Yes, I know, I've posted this before  but it fits today perfectly--sunny, some snow, and people outside enjoying themselves.

This winter has started out with a lot of energy but the current forecast is for a milder than usual one, in part because of global climate trends.  That's not good news in the long run, although those of us who've had snow on the ground for a month may give a self-centred cheer. 

"Snowmobiling, skiing, it’s more pick your time, don’t procrastinate when you get some good conditions. Go for it—because you never know when the next warm front is coming your way to take that away," says David Phillips, Environment and Climate Change Canada’s senior climatologist.  

Remains to be seen of course, but when I came home from running errands a bit ago, there was a pile of sleds and snowboards outside a shop that specializes in hot chocolate and soup on days like today.  The folks inside must have decided to take Phillips' advice.

Saturday 30 November 2019

Saturday Photo: Jade Plant in Full Bloom

First let me say that I kill orchids, and can't get African violets to bloom.  Don't know why, but after several years of trying, I'm faced with defeat on that front.

However, I'm really proud of this jade plant which is now blooming very nicely, thank you very much.  The trick, I discovered after quite a bit of research and reading between the lines is 1) letting it  spend the summer in as much sun as possible  and 2) bringing it inside when the temperature drops to near freezing.

Summer before last I tried the procedure and got a few blossoms, but this summer--helped perhaps by an August that was very sunny--I have dozens of clusters of blossoms.

The larger photo was taken after the plant had been inside about a month, and flowers are still forming.  While not all that showy--Christmas cacti, which also like  to spend the summer in the sun and to be brought inside t\when the days are short and getting cooler, have much more brilliant flowers--these
blooms make me smile.  If only I could find the secret to getting orchids to survive...

Saturday 23 November 2019

Saturday Photo: Winter Biking, Bixis, and Snow

Montreal's bike share program, Bixi, ended for the season Nov. 15, after what appeared to be a very good year.   The non-profit reported a record breaking  320,000 individual users logging more than 10 million kilometres of travel.

 The service begins in mid-April and runs until mid-November, and in recent years there's been some agitation to make the season longer.  But this year the end came sooner than expected since the snow fell abundantly the first week in November, well before the Bixi folks were ready to dismantle the stations and store the bikes.

This week I think that most of the stations around my 'hood had been packed up, but this is what it looked like a little earlier.  Not much traffic the last week, for sure!

Nevertheless, winter bike riding is on the rise in Montreal. You need heavier bikes, and I'm told that studded tires (forbidden on cars) are useful, too.   Don't think I'd take it up even if I were a better bike-rider than I am, but some of my nearest and dearest regularly bike to work all winter.  Heroes--or foolhardy?

Think I'll walk!

Saturday 16 November 2019

Saturday Photo: The Definition of Tenacity...

Snow on the ground, but not all the leaves off the trees.  Is that perseverance, tenacity or stupidity?

Don't know but it does provide some relief from a nearly monochrome palette.

Saturday 9 November 2019

Saturday Photo: Just to Remember on a Day When Snow Falls Gently

This was what it was like last summer in Mount Royal Cemetery.  Blue sky and green grass.  It will come again, I have every hope.

Until then, keep warm.

Saturday 2 November 2019

Saturday Photo: The Book on Display...

Had a wonderful launch of Frenemy Nations: Love and Hate between Neighbo(u)ring States last Tuesday.  Great crowd, good conversation and quite a few books sold.

Don't quite know what this means, but the University of Regina website says the book is out of stock, but it's available on and, plus on-line and in Chapters-Indigo stores.  Your favourite indie store would be glad to order it too, I'm sure!

Saturday 26 October 2019

Saturday Photo: Eviction Notice for Ducks?

Not sure which way the causality ran, but the family (or families, not sure if there were two) of 11 ducks which spent the summer in neighborhood parks have flown off to warmer climes, and the water in the ponds where they hung out has been emptied.

The lower photo shows what the pond looked like on Canadian Thanksgiving Day two weeks ago.  The trees were still pretty green, and the human mother and son duo were sharing something to eat with the ducks.  You'll notice that a few gulls have decided to join the party.

Seasons change, and frequently the other changes that accompany that natural process is hurried along by humans.  Would like to think that the ducks are now paddling around some pond where the first freeze is a month or more away instead of next week. 

Saturday 19 October 2019

Saturday Photo: When You're Forced to Take a Step Forward for the Planet

The cold weather is coming to this neck of the woods, climate change or not.  Everyone knows you can't live here without having heating, and until now we've relied on a hot-water-heating fuel-oil furnace that probably dates from the conversion from coal in the 1950s.  The rads all seem to be working fine, but the first time we turned on the heat two weeks ago, the boiler cracked and the system drained all the water.
What a mess!  How lucky we were that it hasn't been too cold because we have had no heat since then!  Also good that a few years ago when we had to replace the oil tank we looked into switching over to electricity so we had some idea of what to look for.  We didn't make the switch then, it didn't seem to be the moment.

But the moment surely arrived this fall.  It took two weeks but last Thursday a new electric furnace was installed.  You can see the apparatus next to the remnants of the old boiler in the photo.

Now, in some areas electricity may not be the most ecologically sound choice for heating, but in Quebec where all our electricity is produced from hydro dams or wind farms, it seems to be.  The fact that the new furnace may be more efficient is also a plus.  Consequently we are feeling a little smug as well as snug, now that the work is done.  

One, unthought-about advantage: we now have about 20 per cent more space in the basement to store stuff since the footprint of the new furnace isn't a footprint at all, but just a box on the wall.  Must go mop the floor now to get up the last of the soot liberated when the workmen cut the old furnace apart to get it out.  Then to move my garden stuff into the space, while Lee will take over that corner for his ever-growing woodworking projects! 

Keep warm!

Saturday 12 October 2019

Saturday Photo: Glass Houses, and On Line Harrassment

A strange thing happened this week: an anonymous person tried to comment on this blog, writing  "Dear Mary; Find a room in the glass house that you like to live in and go hang yourself." 

I erased it immediately, which I later discovered was the wrong thing to do because I now can't report easily: should have marked as spam and then proceeded to report it.

So, here's a glass house I like, the Haupt Conservatory in the Bronx Botanical Garden.  It's a shame that anonymous persons give places like this a bad name. 

Saturday 5 October 2019

Saturday Photo: No, This Time It's a Video of my Walrus Talk...

"Across the River, The Height of the Land: Physical and Political Boundaries"  That's the title of the Walrus Talk I gave Sept. 23 in Gatineau.  It was great fun to take part in the evening when seven people talked for seven minutes on the general topic "Boundaries."  I was the one who took the assignment most literally, but all participants had interesting things to say.

My reflections grew out of Frenemy Nations: Love and Hate between Neighbo(u)ring States, which will be officially published October 26.  Looking forward to that too...

Saturday 28 September 2019

Saturday Photo: Asters, the Stars of Fall

 Two sort of asters have sprung into bloom in the last couple of weeks.  The first are the ones to the right which I've been encouraging in our little garden.  They are, I think, called New York asters, but I'm sure I read earlier that they were taken back to France by Samuel de Champlain.  The others, below, bloom a little later and are called New York asters.

My flower books mention that the lovely flowers are found in many forms, which indicates an interesting, varied genetic heritage.  Certainly they do seem to adapt to many habitats.  The way they bloom also is interesting: the ones above first, the ones below just about the time the flowers of the first begin to fade.  This means that bees and other pollinators can go from one to the other in the end-of-summer buffet without a day's lapse of good things.

Evolution is a wonderful thing! So is the way that names change.  In looking a little further, I find that North American asters are now classified as Symphyotrichum, based on genetic analysis.  But as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, so an aster will still be the star of a the fall garden.

Saturday 21 September 2019

Saturday Photo: Lesson from Spiders

Don't know much about spiders but I think this time of year they are very busy, spinning webs, capturing prey, and setting up a cozy home for the next generation.

Of course, whoever spun this wonderful web may have a bit of problem with the last part of that charge.  Certainly as soon as the car starts, the web will be blown away.  But it's an example of the perseverance that we all need to make it through this life.  And that's something to remember as the kids demonstrate for action on climate change.

Memo to self: check out the stories of Charlotte and Robert the Bruce for more lessons from spiders.

Saturday 14 September 2019

Saturday Photo: Good Summer for Bees

The weather is a little wet and cool right now, but one of the advantages of our hot and dry summer is the abundance of flowers and of bees who have feasted on them.

Nobody on my street uses pesticides that I'm aware of: either people don't care much about their little gardens, or they're eco-types who want to do things organically.  This means that every blossom is bee-friendly, and it's clear that they have been enjoying themselves greatly.

This of course is one of the ironies of modern life.  To some extent cities are friendlier to beneficial insects than the countryside.    In Montreal there also has been an increase in beekeeping, so much so that some voices have been raised to call for a cutback. In part this is because there seems to be too much competition between honey bees and native bees.

Don't know what kind of bee is visiting the hydrangea in the photo, but I find it very encouraging to see so many pollen-loving critters, no matter what kind they are.

Saturday 7 September 2019

Saturday Photo: The Connecticut River and Boundaries, Walrus Talk

The photo is of the Connecticut River which separates New Hampshire and Vermont.  It's just one example of how boundaries--arbitrary and otherwise--divide and influence people.

In this case, the state line is not the middle of the river, but the high water mark on the western side.  This has meant that the good sites for power dams are mostly in New Hampshire, which in turn meant that it was much easier for that state to turn to manufacturing, while Vermont continued as an agricultural state.

I'll be talking about this boundary and others when I take part in one of the CIFAR-The Walrus Talks on Monday Sept. 23 from 7-9 p.m. at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau. The topic is Boundaries and my presentation is titled (at the moment at least) Across the River, the Height of the Land: Physical and Political Boundaries.  Tickets at

And of course boundaries lie at the heart of my new book Frenemy Nations: Love and Hate between Neighbo(u)ring States which the University of Regina Press will be bringing out next month.

NEXT MONTH!  Hard to believe since this project has been in the works for so long. There will be more about the launch later.

Saturday 31 August 2019

Saturday Photo: More Pears Than the Squirrels Can Eat...

Well, actually I must admit that the photo was taken a few years ago, but the truth is that this year we have another bumper crop of pears.

Over the last week we--the grandkids a bit but Lee mostly--harvested a number so large I didn't feel like counting them.  Four have ripened enough to eat, and they taste very good.  The rest are reposing--as Ralph Waldo Emerson reportedly said: There are only 10 minutes in the life of a pear when it is perfect to eat."  I'll have to check and see how they're doing in a few days.  Until then we'll eat peaches and nectarines that seem at their most delicious right now.

July was hot and August, dry, which may have contributed to this bounty.  Don't know, but I'm glad to see that all is well, and that bees, who do the pollinating, weren't deterred by a wet and cool spring.

Saturday 24 August 2019

Saturday Photo: Roman Walls at Conímbriga, Roman Concrete Lasts

This week I sent of the revisions to my next book: Rock of Ages: How Concrete Built the World as We Know It. The University of Regina Press will bring it out in 2020.

This is one of the photos I'm suggesting we use.  It's of a Roman wall built in Conímbriga, Portugal, not far from the university town of Coimbra.  Dating from the Third Century CE, it was built on the far western frontier of the Roman Empire, but it still stands.  As such it's a tribute to the many, many Roman constructions that used their rather wonderful concrete, the secret to which was lost for about 1200 years after the Fall of Rome. 

You'll notice that this wall doesn't look like a modern concrete wall wood: the concrete wasn't poured into forms to cure.  Rather, the Roman usually built walls like this with a stone exterior and a hollow interior into which rubble and their concrete were dumped.  In many cases the stones have succumbed to the ravages of time, but the concreted interior survive.

Saturday 17 August 2019

Saturday Photo: Pictures from the Summer of Dust

This is the Summer of Dust on our street.  The work began in early June and probably won't be finished before early September.  Many things are being done: replacing lead water pipes, putting in new sidewalks, adding speedbumps and completely redoing the paving which dates (it would appear) from about 1910. 

Last week the sidewalks were finished, the holes for the pipe replacement were filled, and I looked at the mess and decided I had to do something.  The city will add topsoil and plant grass, we're assured, once the work is done, but that may be several weeks away.  So I went out and bought our own soil, sacks of composted manure, and many new plants.  (The last really weren't an extravagance, I keep telling myself: the garden centre had them all for 20 per cent off.  Think of all the money I saved!) Many of the old plants survived the work, but had to be replanted and/or composted so that they can regrow after being trampled upon. 

The top photo is what it looked like when I finished work last Monday.  Pretty nice, I think.  The other is of the street stripped of its asphalt but before the crews got down to the underlying concrete and rock.  You can't  drive the street this weekend without either being shaken to death, or driving a large 4x4.  Lots of neighbors have cleared out to avoid the noise and trauma, while the streetlights are out because a worker cut the cable up the street when excavating for the pipe replacement.

This means the street is very quiet today,  the upside to the summer of dust. 

Saturday 10 August 2019

Saturday Photo: Day Lilies....

The strong colours of summer are upon us.  This day lily has just finished blooming, and now the golden rod is high, with native asters about to bloom.

A nice time of year to garden, particularly today after a good soaking rain last night broke two weeks of drought.

Saturday 3 August 2019

Saturday Photo: The Road to Nieuport after the Field at North Hatley

Last week I posted a photo on my Facebook Page that
I'd taken of a field at Glen Villa Gardens in North Hatley, QC.  Lovely peaceful scene, I thought.  The  one lone power line crossing the sky seemed a symbol of peaceful countryside that might be almost removed from the crowded highway of 21st century connectedness.

The photo set me thinkning about a painting by Alfred William Finch, a Belgian painter who was influenced greatly by the pointilist Seurat.  It currently is owned by the Indianapolis Museum of Art, but it was on display at the Art Galley of Ontario earlier this year in a fascinating show Impressionism in the Age of Industry.(1888)

At first I thought the painting was just another pastoral (literally) scene that the Impressionists are famous for.  But then I realized that what Finch was painting was the very latest technology.  Those power poles have to have been among the first in the countryside, carrying telegraph connections across the fields.  (Pretty sure they weren't electricity wires, since at that time transmission of electricity over any distance was very rare for technical reasons.)

If you wanted to, you could read a whole parable in the sheep huddling under the wires, with the dog trying the herd them.  Toward what?  The internet?


Is that a bad thing?

Don't know.  Suffice to say that the creator of Glen Villa Gardens, Patterson Webster, keeps a beautiful blog, and without it chances are I would never have learned about her creation.

Saturday 27 July 2019

Saturday Photo: How Concrete Built the World as We Know It

The photo was taken two years ago when we were travelling in Washington state.  That's the Columbia river near Chief Joseph dam and the green stretches are irrigated fields and orchards.  It's a landscape that would be very different if it weren't for the water from the many dams along the Columbia.

This week the drama of rebuilding our street continued, with all the sidewalks torn up and then replaced by new concrete.  It's only been about 30 years since the last work on the sidewalks, which just goes to show you that you have to take care of concrete.  It's a marvelous material, but in its modern formulation, it isn't the Rock of Ages that people thought 50 or 60 years ago.

Perhaps ironically, this week I also signed a contract for my book about concrete. It'll be called Rock of Ages: How Concrete Built the World as We Know It: when I started working it I intended it to be a straight forward statement, but now I see that it must be taken with a grain of salt. 

Whatever, the book is supposed to come out in Fall 2020 from the University of Regina Press.  This fall they'll also be publishing my Frenemy Nations: Love and Hate between Neighbo(u)ring States.  It's ready for pre-order now, should you be so inclined.

Monday 22 July 2019

Saturday Photo: Glen Villa Garden: Wonderful Place

Well, sorry, folks you'll have to wait until next year.  You missed Open Garden Day at Glen Villa, a 750 acre estate near North Hatley in Quebec's Eastern Townships.

Patterson Webster has created a wonderful mixture of wildscape--native plant, existing forest and carefully selected plantings--and sculpture. We spent a fascinating afternoon wandering around, admiring views, checking out wildflowers in our wildflower guide, and, yes, seeking shade as it was one of the hottest days so far this summer.

The garden is open only once a year, if that, and we felt lucky to be able to take advantage of the occasion which was a benefit for the Lake Massawippi Conservation Association this year.

Saturday 13 July 2019

Saturday Photo: Time to Plunge Back into Concrete

Once upon a time, I had planned to have a book on concrete appear in 2019.  But things got away from me--the zeitgeist, my editor said--and so the book for this year is Frenemy Nations: Love and Hate between Neighbo(u)ring States.

That's pretty much ready for the printer, so it's time to plunge back into concrete, specifically Rock of Ages: How Concrete Built the World as We Know It.  The plan is to have a revised manuscript ready by mid-September  for publication a year from now.

This is a beautiful example of concrete at its best: the floating staircase in the Musée national des beaux arts du Québec.  I've got a lot more....but more about that later.

Saturday 6 July 2019

Saturday Photo: It's Too Hot to Stay Inside..

Summer has arrived, and it is sticky hot in Montreal.  The canicule, as they say around here, is late, and so far much less intense than what has gripped much of the Northern Hemisphere this season. Alaska is warmer than New York City right now, and glaciers are melting in Greenland, leaving behind tons of sand. 

We walked home from dinner with friends in downtown last night, a 50 minute promenade which left us sweaty and tired.  What was remarkable was the number of people lounging around outside, on the terraces of restaurants and bars, but also just trying to get a little cooler.  We've made the walk many times, but it's been a while since we did it at that hour.  Reminded me of evenings in Singapore where the streets came alive with people of all ages once the sun set. During the day, everything went on in the air conditioned indoors.

Air-conditioning isn't as ubiquitous here yet.  That's why you get scenes like the one above where a couple has taken their breakfast to a park, in an attempt to get a little fresh, cooler air. But we all are going to have to get used to temperatures like this, it appears.  A reminder that climate change will hit us all, and we'd do well to work on strategies to fight it if we can't live with it. 

Monday 1 July 2019

Saturday Photo: An Octopus's Garden in the Shade

Or rather in the sun.  And maybe it's a pentopus...

This is the temporary water arrangement in front of our house.  Five houses are hooked up to the hose which will be in place until all lead-pipe connections to the street main are changed. 

How long will that take?  Who knows?  Can't extend until winter, of course, because it would all freeze.

It's clear too that there's a lot of infrastructure work going on, some of it less successful than this connection.  Friday morning heavy equipment cut five big Bell cables not far from here, cutting of phone and internet access for literally thousands.  Bell was less than helpful with it's information, but I'm glad to say that things are back to normal chez nous, although our neighbors across the street still don't have telephone.

Saturday 22 June 2019

Saturday Photo: Fountains, Green and Summer

First full day of summer dawned sunny and not too warm.  A welcome change from the cool, wet spring we've had.

Walking home from a raucous borough council meeting (about parking so don't ask,  it's all so badly thought through!) I remembered how wonderful it is to walk through the dark when the air is full of the smell of lilacs, mock orange and Russian olives.  The up-side of the rain has been a long spring and much green.  We should enjoy that, I guess, and stop complaining for a while.

Complaining, though, can be useful.  How else do you get positive change?  Not by saying nothing.

And so concludes the lesson for today.

The photo, by the way, is of a fountain in a nearby park.  Refreshing to sit by when the days become too hot.

Saturday 15 June 2019

Saturday Photo: Reading Books on a Rainy Day

There's more rain forecast for today, so I think I'll spend part of it reading.

This is the time of year when I set up reading lists for the book discussion groups I lead in Montreal-area libraries.  You'll find below the more-or-less definitive selection for 2019-2020.  Should be some good reading.  But seeing them listed, I realize I'd do well to get started on them !

In no particular order they are:

Milkman  by Anna Burns

The story hour  by Thrity Umrigar

The underground railroad by  Colson Whitehead

The only story by Julian Barnes

Nine perfect strangers  by Liane Moriarty

Watching you by Lisa Jewel

Where the crawdad sings by Delia Owens

The golden house  by  Salmon Rushdie

Before we were yours by Lisa Wingate

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely fine  by Gail Honeyman

Women Talking by Miriam Toews

Exit West
by Mohsin Hamid

The Human Stain by Philip Roth

The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer

Vinegar girl : The Taming of the Shrew retold  by Anne Tyler

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani

The Burning Girl by Claire Messud

Brother by David Chariandy

Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

Warlight by Michael Ondaatje

Small Country by Gaêl Faye

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

Songs for the Cold of Heart by Éric Dupont (Peter McCambridge, translator)

The Break by Katerena Vermette

American War by Omar El Akkad

Français :

Hemingway,    Ernest  Pour qui sonne les glas

Lavoie, Marie-Renée  Autopsie d'une femme plate

Joffo,    Joseph  Un sac de billes

Bismuth Nadine  Un lien familial

Dupont, Éric La route du lilas

Cognetti, Paolo Huit montagnes

Mabancktou      Alain   Les cigognes sont immortelles

Fontaine, Naomi  Manikanetish

Colette, Sidonie-Gabrielle  La retraite sentimentale  

The photo, by the way, was taken a few years ago when I had just published After Surfing Ocean Beach and was doing a mini-tour.  The book store, which I think has since closed, was formerly the theatre where my friends and I saw a lot of good films.

Saturday 8 June 2019

Saturday Photo: Hidden Corners in the City

We had friends from San Francisco in town last week, and spent some great times talking and walking and talking and drinking wine.  One of our walks took us to la rue Demers in Montreal's Plateau district. 

It is a short lane between two larger streets where extremely modest housing was built more than a century ago.  The owners have made it a greenway, with plants and cobbled paving and no cars at all.

These photos were taken a few years ago when we were briefly staying in the neighborhood, and today it's clear that the owners have decided it's time to do a little upgrading.  Several of the houses had been stripped down to vapour seal and were being re-bricked, but the charm remains. 

Things like this make a city live and breathe.  Great to see...

Saturday 1 June 2019

Saturday Photo: Are Electric Cars the Future?

These sleek beauties are fueling up through the electric cords running to their house.  Supposedly a nearly completely electric fleet of automobiles is what we want, at least where elecricity is generated in a "green"  way.

But the price tag is still very high, even with government subsidy programs. According to a story on CTV, fully electric cars with prices of less than $45,000 are eligible for the federal $5,000 rebate while the Quebec provincial government offers an $8,000 rebate for an electric vehicle purchase of less than $75,000. Compare that with a manual shift Toyota Corolla which will put you back less than $20,000 without extras.

It's only the upscale market that is ripe for electric cars right now, as witness this lovely driveway (no unsightly asphalt) next to a house on which the owners are spending fortune to up grade...

Think we'll keep our 2002 Corolla going for as long as possible...

Saturday 25 May 2019

Saturday Photo: Fuchsia for the Inside...

Not much of a post today because I've been moving things outside and doing other stuff like washing windows and curtains.

But this fuchsia I bought for the living room is something to post about I think.  Really lovely...

Saturday 18 May 2019

Saturday Photo: The Flowers That Don't Bloom in May, Trala!

Work on replacing lead water pipes leading into our 116 year old house continues.  Ten days ago the city replaced the ones on its side of the property line because a leak had developed.  This week we completed the work by replacing those going into the house.

All seems well--except that during the  time that a hole was open in the foundation to allow the water pipe to be changed, a pesky critter entered, it seems. 

About twilight, a mouse skittered across the kitchen floor, apparently having come upstairs from the basement.  Drat!  We've had them in the fall when a door was inadvertently left open and one of them, seeking a warm place to pass the winter, decided to move in.  But this is the first time in the spring.  Have traps set all over: such a nuisance!

And as you can see, the front garden is pretty well trashed.  This weekend I'll bring out some big house plants and place them strategically, but the effect is not going to be the usual! The other photo is of bee balm that most years is quite nice, but I think it has been trashed. Well, gardens are always a work in progress...

Saturday 11 May 2019

Saturday Photo: The Flowers that Come in May...

This long, wet season is finally improving, and I saw this glorious display this morning. 

The garden centres are full of plants, and the elementary school our kids went to is holding a plant and flower sale today.  But I think I'll wait before I put anything outside.  In this year of fickle weather, this time of climate change, anything can happen!

Friday 3 May 2019

Saturday Photo: The Front Garden This Summer

Those two round blue things in the middle of the photo are what are called bonhommes  à eau here. They're the valves to turn off the water coming into our house and into our neighbors. The name comes, I think, from the way they frequently are put in so that they stick up above the ground, sort of like a little man.  Or that's what I figure since  I haven't been able to find a proper explanation

The gravel surrounding them are what the front garden is going to look like for most of the summer.  Usually we have an exuberant mass of perennials growing--hosta, golden rod, asters and many other things whose names I've forgotten. But because the city is going to do more work on water lines this summer, it will be July or August before we get a chance to replace some of the gravel with earth.

Well, I suppose we should be pleased that we have piped water of good quality, and that some of the plants will continue to grow.  It ma be a long summer though...

Saturday 27 April 2019

Saturday Photo: Plant a Tree Day...Or Plan to Plant One

Back when I was a kid in California Arbor Day was a big thing.  In our windswept, semi-arid neighborhood, we were encouraged to plant trees, particularly around Arbor Day which was, I see from Facebook friends, April 26, or yesterday. 

In this climate it's too early to plant trees--must wait a few weeks to make sure the ground is completely thawed and/or the floods have receded--but I've been thinking of doing that.

The lower photo is of the bumper crop of ornamental oranges we got two years ago.  The grandkids and I harvested them and Jeanne and I made marmalade which wasn't half bad.  Then we planted some of the seeds we'd salvaged in little pots.

It took about three months for them to germinate and several more months for the seedlings to grow large enough to be separated and transplanted into pots.  They now are growing to respectable size.  The other photo is of two of them, happy in our sunny entry.  (The tulips were chosen by Jeanne as an Easter gift, by the way.  She and her two cousins also each took home a little seedling on Easter.) 

We'll see how the seedlings I've kept do this summer.  The tree from which they were propagated was started maybe 20 years ago by my son.  I'll take outside as soon as the weather gets warmer.  But no question of planting it there, alas!  This is not the climate.

Saturday 20 April 2019

Saturday Photo: The Beauty of Natural Easter Eggs, or an Ethical Contradiction?

This is not the first time I've posted this photo.  It dates from 2015, actually, and shows four eggs I'd dyed red according to the recipe my old Latvian neighbour gave me.  All you need is onion skins, water, vinegar and eggs: you boil them for about 15 minutes, let them sit for a while longer, and you get this wonderful colour.

That year Easter was April 5, a whole two weeks earlier than this year, and snow had lingered in the front yard.  I posed the eggs with a couple of Dollar Store decorations, and the result is rather pretty, I think.

But this morning I'm wondering about the little gimcracks.  What were the working conditions of the people who turned them out?  What is the environmental footprint of shipping them across the ocean (because I'm sure they came from China)?  Why did I think I was so clever to make Easter egg dye, but didn't think about the ethical implications of  the rest of my little mise en scène?

The contradiction continues.  The grandkids will be over tomorrow and I bought little Easter bunny headband/hats for them yesterday at the same Dollar Store.  I've sure they'll like them because they love the Santa reindeer ones I bought a few years ago.  But I made my purchase without thinking of the people (perhaps children) who may have been working in a sweat shop to turn them out.

What to do? Be a more thoughtful consumer, first of all.  After that, I'm not sure.  One argument runs that buying things from poorer countries will ultimately raise the standard of living there.  Another is that such purchases should not be made.  Certainly I'm not going to throw out either the bunny ears or the little chicks (which I still have, they last quite a long time if you only bring them out once a year). Doing that would just be more wasteful.  And in the immediate future--like 10 minutes from now--I'm going to dye some more eggs red with onion skins.

Happy spring time holiday, whichever  one you are celebrating, right around now.

Saturday 13 April 2019

Saturday Photo: What a Difference a Day Makes...

Crazy week:  freezing rain that left 200,000 people north of Montreal without power for a couple of days, followed by a quick thaw and Spring!

The first photo was taken in Mount Royal Cemetery on Wednesday, and the second the next day just down the hill on Côte Ste-Catherine road.

There were more disturbing reports on climate change too.  Canada is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world, it seems, and there isn't much we can do about it...except try to prepare for weather extremes.

Temperature at the moment in Montreal:  13 C.  Time to think about work in the garden?

Saturday 6 April 2019

Saturday Photo: The Importance of Keeping the Hard Copy...

The fellow in the middle is my maternal grandfather, J.F. McDonald--or at least that's the name he used for the last 50 years of his life.  It was taken when he was working on the Great Northern Railroad about 1916 or 17 in White Fish, Montana.  That it still exists as testimony to times past is wonderful, but documents like this may become increasingly rare.

I was reminded of this by an article in the New York Times this morning.  "Does Anyone Collect Old Emails?" Peter Funt asks."My two kids, now in their 20s, have mostly digital keepsakes. Increasingly they rely on Facebook and the cloud to store memories. Their letters from college, sent by email, are long gone. Many photos, never printed, have disappeared. I worry that for them, personal history already doesn’t reach back as far as it should."

It used to be that libraries had collections called "ephemera" that included all sorts of things like playbills, menus, pamphlets, sometimes letters. They may still, for all I know, but the problem of saving what we have around us is growing since so many of the things that a collector might give to an archive, a museum,  a library or even a family photo album are far more emphemeral these days.  They are gone in a key stroke, never to be seen again.

This is a shame, so here's my manifesto for today: print that photo you took yesterday or that series of emails you sent to your children or your sweetheart!  You--or someone in the future--will be glad you did.

Saturday 30 March 2019

Saturday Photo: Hockey? Golf? Sports in 17th Century Holland from the AGO

One of the pleasures of our trip to Toronto recently was a day spent in the Art Gallery of Ontario.  The featured exhibition, Impressionism in the Age of Industry, is terrific, but we also were able to saunter through the other galleries. 

This painting. "Skaters on the Amstel" by Arent Arentsz which dates from the 1620s, was one that stopped me dead in my tracks.  Showing skaters on the frozen river it also portrays two well-dressed dudes playing "kolf" which looks a lot like golf mixed with hockey.  People have been looking for ways to amuse themselves forever, I guess.

Note on the weather: the local authorities just took down the boards for the outdoor hockey rinks in our neighborhood.  This year was a pretty good one for playing the game outside, and the rinks were in use until just a few days ago.

Saturday 23 March 2019

Saturday Toronto: Moose in Toronto

One of the regrets of my life is that I never was able to get a New Hampshire bumper sticker for my mother's wheel chair: "I brake for moose."  We were never in the right place at the right time, and then it was too late.

Carpe diem, I guess.  And perhaps it's in that spirit that we went to Toronto last week: it's slightly south of Montreal and the idea was that it might be warmer.  It was, and by the end of our stay on Friday there even were a few green blades of grass peeking out of the winter dross.  But one of the high points was this moose in front of the Lucky Charm Moose Village Market, quite splendidly decked out for, perhaps, a Chinese holiday (after all the New Year wasn't that long ago.)

There's Lee waiting for more patiently, out in front, before we sauntered down to the train station to come back.  Time well spent...

Saturday 16 March 2019

Saturday Photo: The Cover...

Not much to write this week, because I'm busy checking the edits on my new book.  Here's the cover (or its latest iteration.)

More later....