Saturday 26 December 2020

Saturday Photo: Christmas in the Cemetery, and Health Care

We went for a walk with the gang yesterday, doing the right thing for this Covid-19 Christmas.  No hugs, no inside gatherings, but at least we were together for a little while.

Didn't get to Mount Royal cemetery as planned, though, for complicated reasons that don't belong in this blog, but I had hoped to show the kids and grandkids these markers that I just noticed for the first times last week. They are for Billy Christmas and his wife.  He was an athlete at the turn of the 20th Century, and his beloved wife (apparently she convinced him to give up contact sports when they married) died early of breast cancer.  They also lost a daughter to a brain tumour when she was 15. According to the citation proclaiming him a member of the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame, in the 1930s he was an early champion of hospitalization insurance for ordinary folk. 

I only discovered that latter fact today when I stated looking into who he was.  Nice to give him credit for that fight, as well as his prowess on the playing field.  We didn't get universal hospitalization insurance all over Canada for another 30 years, but it finally came.  Now why can't our friends to the South get their act together do something similar.

Saturday 19 December 2020

Saturday Photo: Lights for This Year...

There have been years when I've railed against people who put up Christmas lights--waste of electricity, bad taste, just generally not cool.  Besides it's hard to hook them up to a plug inside: the one time Lee and the kids brought some home we decided they were too much trouble to bother with.

But this year I decided we needed a little light, so I found some battery-powered ones and wrapped them around a wreath.  They look very cheerful, and seem just what the doctors ordered in this Plague Year.  They complement the paintings on the front door, too, which are rainbows that the grandkids did back at the start of this dismal  period when kids around here appropriated rainbows as a symbol of the hope that everything will be all right.

So far for us, things really have been all right, touch wood.  Do hope you and yours are also doing well.  If you'd like more details about what we've been up to, check out our end of year blog here.

Saturday 12 December 2020

Saturday Photo: What I Can't Find This Year...

This is going to be a Christmas not like any other I've experienced, but we're healthy and we have more than enough to eat, so I shouldn't complain.

But I will, anyway.  The photo is of the salt herring I bought just 10 years ago when we were camped out in a rental apartment after a fire that put us out of our house for 8 months.  (Didn't lose much, weren't hurt, shouldn't really complain about that either.)  What I was preparing to do when I shot the photo was filet the fish and put them to pickle in order to make Swedish sil according to my mother-in-law's recipe.  It was a holiday tradition, and by last year even two of the three grandkids had come around to liking it.

In recent years I've had trouble finding salt herring in Montreal: for the last two years I bought a pail from a local wholesaler who this year has been been having issues with sanitary practices, so I haven't even tried to buy from them.  Two weeks ago we checked out various kinds of commercial pickled herring--including a Swedish import--but even after spending a week in the pickling solution, the taste and the texture of the fish were clearly not up to standard.  

So what I think I'll do is just pickle onions in the pickling solution and pretend that everything is just what it should be.

And that, on reflection, is what I guess we all will do this year.

Saturday 5 December 2020

Saturday Photo:No Snow, Temperature Up and Down, Bushes Confused

Took this a few days ago after a short spell of warm weather--up as high as 15 C.  This is not to say we've been spared cold weather so far because there's been two snow falls and a month of September that was quite chilly.

There is no doubt that winter is coming or is here, yet this bush seems to think that the cold nights are really just bad dreams, and so is getting ready to leaf out.  Its hopes (if it's proper to speak of plants having hopes) are certain to be dashed soon.

Our hopes for small gatherings at the end of December--promised by the premier of the province if we were good--were dashed this week as hospitalizations, deaths and Covid 19 cases continue to rise. Looks like it will be a Zoom Christmas...

Saturday 28 November 2020

Saturday Photo: Light at the End of the Tunnel?

The days are getting shorter and shorter--only three weeks to the Solstice, more or less, and the sun around here is rising about 7 a.m.  Dark days, indeed.  The prospect of a holiday season in confinement makes it all even more depressing.

But this morning, when reading that the Canadian government projects having the majority of the population vaccinated against Covid 19 by next September, I suddenly felt much more hopeful.

Yes, things are rotten right now, but all signs are that it won't last forever, if we're prudent.  Next year at this time we ought to be able to be planning big get-togethers, promising grandkids a visit to see Caisse Noisette, not worrying about crowds when shopping...

Of course, we have to get there, and it may be a long slog.  But let us enjoy what we can this year, and hope for the best for next.

Saturday 21 November 2020

Saturday Photo: What to Do on a Dark Winter Day


Elena Ferrante’s top 40 books by female authors

What to do these long, dark days when you may be in semi-lockdown: Elena Ferrante's top 40 novels by women (from The Guardian.) I've read 13, how about you?
  • Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Fourth Estate)
  • The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (Virago)
  • The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar, translated by Anonymous (Europa Editions)
  • Malina by Ingeborg Bachmann, translated by Philip Boehm (Penguin Classics)
  • A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin (Picador)
  • Outline by Rachel Cusk (Faber)
  • The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (Harper Perennial)
  • A Girl Returned by Donatella Di Pietrantonio, translated by Ann Goldstein (Europa)
  • Disoriental by Négar Djavadi, translated by Tina Kover (Europa Editions)
  • The Lover by Marguerite Duras, translated by Barbara Bray (Harper Perennial)
  • The Years by Annie Ernaux, translated by Alison Strayer (Fitzcarraldo)
  • Family Lexicon by Natalia Ginzburg, translated by Jenny McPhee (Daunts)
  • The Conservationist by Nadine Gordimer (Bloomsbury)
  • Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff (Windmill Books)
  • Motherhood by Sheila Heti (Vintage)
  • The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek, translated by Joachim Neugroschel (Serpent’s Tail)
  • Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami, translated by Sam Bett and David Boyd (Picador)
  • Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri (Flamingo)
  • The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing (Flamingo)
  • The Passion According to GH by Clarice Lispector, translated by Idra Novey (Penguin Classics)
  • Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli (Fourth Estate)
  • Arturo’s Island by Elsa Morante, translated by Ann Goldstein (Pushkin)
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison (Vintage Classics)
  • Dear Life by Alice Munro (Vintage)
  • The Bell by Iris Murdoch (Vintage Classics)
  • Accabadora by Michela Murgia, translated by Silvester Mazzarella (MacLehose Press)
  • Le Bal by Irene Nemirovsky, translated by Sandra Smith (Vintage)
  • Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates (Fourth Estate)
  • The Love Object: Selected Stories by Edna O’Brien (Faber)
  • A Good Man Is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor (Faber)
  • Evening Descends Upon the Hills: Stories from Naples by Anna Maria Ortese, translated by Ann Goldstein and Jenny McPhee (Pushkin)
  • Gilead by Marylinne Robinson (Virago)
  • Normal People by Sally Rooney (Faber)
  • The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (Harper Perennial)
  • White Teeth by Zadie Smith (Penguin)
  • Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout (Simon & Schuster)
  • The Door by Magda Szabò, translated by Len Rix (Vintage Classics)
  • Cassandra by Christa Wolf, translated by Jan van Heurck (Daunts)
  • A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (Picador)
  • Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar, translated by Grace Frick (Penguin Classics)

Saturday 14 November 2020

Saturday Photo: Concrete and the End of the Road...

 The Globe and Mail this weekend is featuring a number of articles about cities.  Among them is one about the role that concrete has played in building them, and the threat it poses for us all.  Check it out here.

Saturday 7 November 2020

Saturday Photo: Bicycles and Winter...

It snowed on Tuesday, and is shirt-sleeve weather today.  Good day to go for a bike ride--or if you're like me, a walk.

Bixi, Montreal's bike share service, goes for another week, good weather or bad weather.  I haven't seen the stats on its use this year.  Probably down a bit because of the lock down early in the season, although a general increase in bike riding for the same reason might weigh the balance the other way.

Whatever, more and more people in Montreal are riding bikes all year 'round.  Probably good for their health, probably also good for the CO2 balance.


Saturday 31 October 2020

Saturday Photo: A Little Change-up, a Change in the Kitchen and Bathroom Chez Nous

After a couple of years of chat, and 11 months of planning etc. our renovations are complete.  New floors, countertops, more cabinets and paint in the kitchen.  New walk in shower to replace the clawfoot bathtub in the bathroom.  So nice to have something accomplished in this year when so many things have not turned out the way they were supposed to!


Saturday 24 October 2020

Saturday Photo: Trees in the Golden Forest...

No message today because I'm calling for the election. But if you have a chance to get out, do.  The light and the trees are wonderful.

October's bright blue weather, indeed`

Saturday 17 October 2020

Saturday Photo: Grape Leaves, Or the Fruit of Sunlight

There isn't a whole lot of sunlight in our backyard because the maple tree two doors to the south shades everything most of the day.  But that hasn't stopped a volunteer grape from flourishing.

The grapes themselves are small, bitter and full of seeds, but the vine does a good job of covering a multitude of ills, including a garage that needs a good paint job but which certainly won't get on this year.

Then this time of year the leaves turn a wonderful yellow that makes me think of all the sunshine the vine absorbed over the summer.  So lovely...

Need all the brightness we can is this difficult time.

Saturday 10 October 2020

Saturday Photo: Never Hurts to Stop and Take Stock, Or Happy Thanksgiving

 I'm far from being a religious person, but I think it's important to occasionally stop and consider what we have in this life.  That's particularly true in this Plague Year, where the forces of darkness are out there, hammering at the gates.

Ordinarily we have a big buffet for family and friends on this weekend, which is Canadian Thanksgiving, but of course, Covid-19 oblige, we'll just be me, Lee and the turkey (or as one of his friends just said, me and two turkeys!)

Nevertheless, we've made it so far with no one falling ill, we've just about finished a renovation project that has been in the works for more than a year, and we are among the lucky ones who have suffered no financial uncertainty this year. 

So, while I think that giving thanks to some deity is not in the game, I'd like to thank those who helped keep our corner of the world safe, beginning with Tommy Douglas, the Father of Canada's Medicare program. As for the rest of you, well, come election time I'll be on the phone for you.  

Besides, as the French saying goes, quand on se compare, on se console,  That is, when you compare, you can be comforted.  It always helps to put one's own life in perspective. 

Saturday 3 October 2020

Saturday Photo: The Book Launch Will Be BYOB, Unfortunately


Usually when I have a new book come out we have a little launch party at an independent book store.  Last year just about now we were preparing for one for Frenenemy Nations: Love and Hate between Neighbo(u)ring States at Librairie Drawn and Quarterly.  We shared some good things to eat and drink, and I got a chance to hold forth in front of about 40 friends.   (That's what it looked like then.)

This time things are different, Covid-19 oblige.  There will no way of getting together in person to celebrate and talk about Concrete: From Ancient Origins to a Problematic Future, so we've organized a virtual launch through the resources of the publisher, the University of Regina Press.  There's a little video about the book to show and I'll, of course, hold forth.  Would be great fun to have you join us, even if any toasts we might make will have to be provided by you or done in your imagination..  Here's the link to the reservation: it's free, but we need to know how many folks to expect.


Saturday 26 September 2020

Saturday Photo: Golden Rod, One Thing That Shines in These Dark Times

The golden rod has been blooming around here for several weeks.  In fact, in some places it's actually well past its prime, and is looking a little faded.  But this morning I found this bunch just as the sun began to shine on it.  Somewhere there are a few bees buzzing around, although I couldn't get close enough to catch them in action.

 We are heading in the wrong direction when it comes to Covid-19, and the political situation in the US is pretty grim.  I keep looking for hopeful signs, and while these plants have absolutely not impact on the state of the world, they made me smile this morning, which is not a bad thing. 

Tuesday 22 September 2020

Thin Air Festival Featuring Concrete, Believe It or Not

 It may sound like an oxymoron, but concrete in North America frequently contains up to 6 per cent

air.  Why, is something I talk about in Concrete: From Ancient Origins to a Problematic Future,  which will be officially published Oct. 10.  But before then there's a chance to learn more about it and my thoughts on the material that built the world as we know it.

Winnipeg's Thin Air Festival is now on, and is featuring two videos I've made about concrete as well as an interview with festival staffer Teresa Horosko.  Then on Sunday October 11 I'll be leading a 90 minute interactive workshop on writing non-fiction, called Thanks for the Memory: Writing Non-Fiction in a Time of False News.  Check it out at:

Saturday 19 September 2020

Saturday Photo: Cosmos, the Flower That Keeps on Giving...


If you wait long enough, that is.  Cosmos are wonderful flowers that reseed themselves and change sunny places to corners of cosmic delight.

I've never had much luck with them because our neighboring trees cast too much shade.  But I love these flowers that burst into bloom at the end of summer, and dellight the eye when the senses begin to think that summer is over.

Would that the Cosmos were as well regulated...

Saturday 12 September 2020

Saturday Photo: Good Crop of Umbrellas This Summer

 Well, it rained a lot here in August, so obviously these folks were on the case.  The umbrella stayed there for a couple of weeks, during the worst of the downpours.  This morning it had disappeared.  Can't decide if that was because the forecast is for sun, or because someone came along and "harvested" it.

Saturday 5 September 2020

Saturday Photo: Reclaiming the City...

One of the up-sides of this Plague Year is the way people and cities are rethinking public spaces.  Around here a number of neighborhoods have widened sidewalks by allowing terraces in street parking place or even shutting down whole blocks of commercial streets so cafés can expand seating a kids can play in the liberated space.

And then there are the folks who have been at it for a long time like sculptor Glenn Demesurier whose sculptures made from found bits and pieces of old machinery are sometimes whimsical and frequently lovely.

These are three of his now gracing the corner of Bernard and Waverly in Montreal's Mile End district.  They make me smile every time I walk past. 

Saturday 29 August 2020

Saturday Photo: March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom

The work is far from done, alas!

Fifty-seven years ago I was there, having hitched a ride with a friend with parishioners from a church in Indianapolis.  We had been attending the National Students' Association annual convention at Indiana University, he as a member of the UC Berkeley student council and I as the incoming editor of the student newspaper, the Daily Californian.

It was a wonderful experience, and it looked like society in the United States might actually come to grips with its racist past.  And there were some improvements, I must admit.

But the fact that the country is currently shaken by justifiable protests about police brutality and more divided than ever shows that progress can be illusory.

So there were peaceful demonstrations yesterday in Washington.  Wish I could have been there, but I'm hunkered down in Canada, having left the US 52 years ago next week.  Things are better here, but there's still a lot to fight for. 

Saturday 22 August 2020

Saturday Photo: Goldenrod and Badminton, the Resilience of the Former, the Lure of the Latter

Here you have the remains of a badminton court on which a generation or two of nuns played on summer afternoons.  Part of the convent's grounds was sold to a developer a couple of years ago and condos have gone up on its slope. I'm not sure if the badminton court was included in the deal--one of the buildings appears to be still used by the order--but certainly it has been abandoned.  From which comes the lesson for this week. 

Which is that everyone needs a little fun, even women who have dedicated their lives to their deity, and nature is strong.  Goldenrod is everywhere this summer, its beautiful plumes shining in the afternoon light.  Glad to see that it is taken over this place where afternoons were once used for recreation of another sort.

Saturday 15 August 2020

Saturday Photo: Black Lives Matter in Outremont

The part of Montreal where we live was designed more than 100 years ago as a garden suburb, sort of.  Today it is home to a mixed population that includes some folks who are pretty well off. 

Nevertheless, we came across this window sign this week on one of the tonier residences.  Nice to see!

Saturday 8 August 2020

Saturday Photo: Closest I Get to Religion...

Had an interesting conversation this week with one of my Hassidic neighbours about life, death, and Covid 19.  She lost a brother, 62, to the disease early on in the epidemic, and since then she and her family have been very careful.

Once again I extended my condolences and our conversation drifted toward doing good, etc.  At the end I quoted my paternal grandfather who used to say "the Lord helps those who help themselves."

She nodded, and then asked me if we go to church.  She knows we don't I'm pretty sure but I had to say that, no, we didn't but that I think it's important to know what religion is and what religions teach.  Told her the story about how our son was the last person baptized at a nearby church before it was deconsecrated: he was 11 and the church was 90 something.

Then later on  I came upon this graffiti.  It's about as close I get to any kind of religious thought.  Don't know if I completely agree, even then.  Worth thinking about on this fine summer morning, though.

Saturday 1 August 2020

Saturday Photo: Wake-up Call?

In this difficult time I've been on the look out for things that make one smile. That's whey I was delighted when a friend brought over sunflowers last weekend: everytime I saw them I found myself cheering up. 

Also I've been taking photos of bits of whimsy, and came across this one just across from Parc Molson in Montreal's Petite Patrie district.  The mattress may have been put out to be taken away by the garbage men, but someone had a better idea....

Maybe it's time for all of us to Wake up, to the bad things that we might be able to fix, and to the good things we should appreciate.

End of positive message for today....

Saturday 25 July 2020

Satruday Photo: Not a Trojan Horse, but More Whimsy

Because we all need a little whimsy these days, here's what I found in an alley not far from me. 

Couldn't do much carpentry on this saw horse, but kudos to whomever put it together.  Creativity can blossom when times are tough...

Saturday 18 July 2020

Saturday Photo: Concrete, Not the Rock of Ages...Nor Is the US

The photo was taken last summer in front of a house that was being renovated.  Probably built in the early 1900s, it obviously had a lot of details that were high-end at the time.  This bench--from the backyard, the front garden?--hasn't passed the test of time, however.

I'm posting it today because yesterday I got the publicity package for my next book, Concrete: From Ancient Origins to a Problematic Future.  The task for the weekend will be to look it over to see what the publicists are proposing.

But there's another reason: the terrible suspicion that things we formerly though solid as a rock--like democracy in the US--are rapidly being eroded.  The Covid-19 case numbers just keep spiraling upward, and 45 seems hell-bent to use any means possible to use it as a way to get re-elected.  Just as troubling is the use of Federal forces to "bring order" to Portland OR.  According to the New York Times:

"The arrival of a more aggressive federal presence came after President Trump, who at one point called on states to “dominate” protesters, directed federal agencies to increase their presence to protect federal properties, including statues and monuments that have at times been the target of protesters. Mr. Trump said last week that he had sent personnel to Portland because “the locals couldn’t handle it.”

What's going to happen when he loses the November election?

Saturday 11 July 2020

Saturday Photo: Whimsy and Covid 19

Everybody was getting a little squirrely this spring, as we tried to out dance Covid 19 by staying at home.  It helped some that March, April and the first of May were cold and pretty wet here.  But then finer weather arrived.

Kids were still at home, supposedly learning remotely, but the outdoors beckoned.  Playgrounds were still closed, and it took a bit of imagination to find things to do. 

Some children on my granddaughter's street took things into their own hands, and built a little scene that they could control.  Love this bit of whimsy in a world that isn't whimsical at all.

The construction/installation is now obscured by grasses and perennials, but it's a good memory from a season where there weren't many.

Saturday 4 July 2020

Saturday Photo: The Up-side of Drought...

It must be the sun, and maybe the cool, wet spring, but even though it rained very little in May and June the roses here have been spectacular.  The ones in our yard have done better than most years, although not enough to rate a blog-post photo...

These which I found on a neighbouring street however, are not at all the exception.  An abundance of blossoms that have lasted at least a week despite some pretty hot days and a semi-drought.  Does the heart good in this time when we can use ever bit of encouragement we can get.

Saturday 27 June 2020

Saturday Photo: Fleur de lys or Iris...

We are half way through the week of  summer's first holidays around here. Quebec's Fête nationale was last Wednesday and next Wednesday will be Canada Day.  Such a strange time!  No big celebrations, just small gatherings and some lovely flowers in bloom.

The fleur de lys, the iris, is Quebec's flower, and, conveniently it blooms right now.  The ones in my front yard aren't nearly as nice, but these in a neighbor's are lovely.

Enjoy what good times you might have....

Saturday 20 June 2020

Saturday Photo: Water Games and Rainbows...

The kids around here early in this crazy pandemic time began making rainbows to put in windows with the legend Ça va bien aller" which means It's going to be all right.  Quite a nice sentiment, and one which I suspect encouraged a lot of young ones who may have been frightened by their parents' anxiety if nothing else.

Well, it hasn't been all right for a lot of people, but things are looking up.  The parks are open and with them the splash pads/jeux d'eau that lots of kids love.  The other morning when it already was stifling I came upon a young family playing in the water even though it was before 9 a.m.  Lots of fun, but also the sun hit the spray of water at just the right angle to make this lovely rainbow.  Enough to make you smile, if not enough to convince you that everything will be all right.

Saturday 13 June 2020

Saturday Photo: April in Paris, June in Montreal...

The song says that the chestnuts bloom in April in Paris, and usually they bloom in Montreal in May.  But this eyar, when the temperature has gone up and down, up and down, they're blooming in June.

Another example of weather craziness.  Doesn't so far make a difference, but theses days one never knows what is going to happen...

Always thought it was crazy the way some people try to predict the future.  Aside from nothing being certain but death and taxes, it's all a crapshoot.

The flowers are pretty though.

Saturday 6 June 2020

Saturday Photo: Just What the Doctor Ordered...

I think I've used this photo before, but it deserves another look.  Dandelions are supposed to be weeds, and I must admit that I try to keep them out of my little backyard plot of grass.  But they are a sign that somebody isn't trying to mess with nature by using pesticides and testimony to the resilience of green things.

Dandelions are invasive and were introduced into North America a long time ago, possibly for their medicinal properties and possibly, says one source, because they reminded Europeans of their homelands.  The greens can be eaten--I cooked up the ones I pulled up last week with some butter and garlic after washing them several times and steaming for five minutes.  They were pretty good, but then what isn't with butter and garlic?

But what really is lovely is the display they give in the grass for the short period before they turn into fluff balls of seeds. Just what the doctor ordered to lift the spirits, and to underscore how what we do to nature can have such unexpected results.

Saturday 30 May 2020

Saturday Photo: The Flowers of the Week...and Thoughts on the Circle of Time

Hot weather arrived with a vengeance this week, and the tulips faded rapidly.  But on the other hand some of the other late spring flowers burst into loveliness.

Among them is Bridal Veil  spirea.  Doesn't last long here, but for a week or so it is spectacular.  That's honey suckle on the right side of my neighbour's steps, which is also a lovely plant right now.

This fleeting progression of flowering plants is one of the joys of this climate.  When things bloom, they really bloom, as if throwing their whole being into a display on which their lives depended.  Of course, that's in effect what is happening, as the seeds from the flowers are what would spread the plants in the wild, at least in theory.

In this year of catastrophe, the rhythms of flowering plants is are solace.  Yes, our lives have been turned upside down, but things continue.  Not necessarily unfolding as they should, and definitely not for the best in this "best of all possible worlds," but continuing...

And that is the lesson for today. 

Saturday 23 May 2020

Saturday Photo: The Fountain across the Street...

Early in the morning when I go out I hear two things: the wind in the leaves, and water burbling in our neighbor's fountain across the street.

The leaves on the  have been out only a few days, so the lowly rustle of the wind running through them is still a novelty.  But the fountain is there all year around, even though from October to April it just sits there, looking nice and resting.

We had a warm day yesterday, when the sound of the running water was particularly pleasant.  So nice of neighbors to introduce such loveliness into this sometimes-dismal world.


Saturday 16 May 2020

Saturday Photo: The Gift of Tulips

Last year about this time our neighbour, the horticulturalist, brought home several hundred tulip bulbs that he'd saved from being thrown out.

They'd been used to decorate the hall for a special Mother's Day brunch in a Montreal hotel.  Now the hotel had no use for them, and they were headed from the trash.

But Denis spread them out on a tarp in the lane behind our houses and offered them to anyone who wanted them.  "No guarantees that they'll bloom next year," he cautioned.  "Their leaves haven't had a chance to make enough chlorophyll to stoke up the bulbs."

So I didn't have much hope, although I planted them at the end of August in hopes that a little more time in the ground might make a difference.

It would seem it has!

I can't remember how many I planted but five clumps are now in fine bloom, making this sorry world a brighter place.

Saturday 9 May 2020

Saturday Photo: The Great Influenza Should Be Required Reading...

Like everyone else I've been trying to make sense of what is happening and has been happening these last few months.  Far too much time spent reading headlines from all over the world, hours spent fretting about what I can and can not do to help.  I'll write about the last item some other time, but today I want to encourage everyone to read a truly informative book, The Great Influenza by John M. Barry.

Despite some criticism saying that Covid-19 isn't the Spanish Flu, the book is amazingly relevant today.  Few of us had any idea of what was going on when the great corona virus wave hit us, but, had we paid attention to the past, we might have had a better idea.

Physical distancing, hand washing, face masks: they all are standard advice now, but their usefulness--no, necessity--were first recognized during that great pandemic.

Barry tells a great story, as well as doing some impressive research in records, memoirs, and scientific publications.  Get it and read it, and stop talking about how we'll be out the woods in a few weeks.  We won't be and we are going to have to learn to live with this new virus until a vaccine is perfected. 

Saturday 2 May 2020

Saturday Photo: Forsythia, and Rushing It

Forsythia in bloom in several places this morning!  Nice and cheery to see!

The other photo is obviously the project of someone who couldn't wait for spring.  I took a detour from my walk this morning because I was curious about a bush that appeared to have two different kinds of flowers, and then when I approached I realized that the flowers were plastic.

Seems to me there is a parallel to make with our existence these days.  We want the real thing, but we are forced to make do with a virtual versions.  Unless, that is, we come face to face with the dreaded disease, and we'd like to put a screen between us and it.

Saturday 25 April 2020

Saturday Photo: Sculpture in the Spring

An example of making something grand out of nothing:  Glenn LeMesurier's sculptures.  For a couple of decades he's been creating fascinating objects from discarded machine parts.

This photo was taken last spring in the disused field in the Mile End district of Montreal where a number of his works were on display.

And what have you been doing with your free time lately? 

Saturday 18 April 2020

Saturday Photo: Lots of These Around

The robins have been back for a couple of weeks, and are singing away early in the morning.

Glad some things are happy.  There is such a lot of sadness at the moment. 

Of course, maybe it's good for us to realize that we are not the centre of the world.

Saturday 11 April 2020

Saturday Photo: Geese Flying North, A Sign of Progress?

The sky has been full of geese this last week as Canada geese head north along the great St. Lawrence fly way. 

They pass over Montreal every spring and fall, usually  in the morning.  I guess they must have spent the night somewhere along the river and then fly over the island as they head out for the next leg of their pilgrimage.

Not many other pilgrims this year, though. 

Saturday 4 April 2020

Saturday Photo: Rainbows and « Ça va bien aller »

Kids here have been drawing and painting rainbows as a sign of hope in these troubled times.  Posted in windows, they also are something to look for when the young ones are out enjoying the limited amount of outside activity that they can get these days.

These are the ones my grandsons painted last week.  Their mother took photos of them, sent them by email, and I printed them out.  I didn't add the slogan which many are adding: « Ça va bien aller » which translates, more or less, as "It's going to be all right."

For a lot of people it won't be, of course, but if we hang in there, possibly the worst will not happen.

Keep safe, everyone.

Saturday 28 March 2020

Saturday Photo: Saving Lives in the Spanish Flu Pandemic

Because life right now can be pretty scary, I wrote the following for my grandkids this week.  You might find it interesting too.

A Story about How Your Great-Great Grandfather Saved Lives in the Great Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918

Once upon a time there were two little girls named Ella and Norma who lived with their mother and father in a little house on the prairie.

This is the house, and that's their mother--and your great-great grandmother Mary--leaning against the fence. Notice the sleigh: in the winter it must have been hard to get around.

Later a brother named Jack joined the girls, but in the fall of 1918--that's more than 100 years ago--there were just the two of them.

Their farm was near a town called Opheim in Montana, not far from the border with Canada. (You can see it up in the right corner of the state, just below Saskatchewan.)

Ella, who was 8, was starting her second year of school. She hadn't started school when she was six because they'd lived too far in the country for her to go to school every day. Norma, who was 4, stayed home with their mother who was named Mary. Their father, who was named John but whom everyone called Mac because his last name was MacDonald, was trying to farm the plot of land they had. But it was hard, dry country, and the farm wasn't doing well

He'd worked on the railroad until they came to Montana a year or so before.
That's him the middle next to the locomotive

But by 1918 Mac had acquired an Overland touring car and was operating a delivery and transport service all over Valley County. It was a very useful service because very few people had automobiles back then. (That's him driving it with his your great-great grandmother Mary sitting next to him, with Ella and Norma in back with a family friend.)

During the summer he carried people coming to settle in this corner of Montana from the railroad to their new homes. He also delivered supplies and building materials, and sometimes acted as a driver for doctors and people who were enforcing the law. It was hard work, and he often was away from the girls and their mother. He was always glad to come back to little house, and they were very, very glad to see him.

It wasn't an easy life for any of them, but they'd made it through the summer of 1918 and there was a certain optimism in the air. World War I had been raging in Europe, but signs pointed to a victory for the Allies.

Yet with the cooler weather came another threat: a very, very bad influenza. It had briefly sickened people in Montana the previous spring, but suddenly it was back and much more dangerous than ever. Schools were closed, people were told to stay at home, travel was restricted, businesses shut down. The two girls and Mary were more or less confined to their little house and the land surrounding it.

Mac, however, saw that many of their neighbors were very isolated, with no way to get supplies or medical help because they were living so far in the country. So he stepped up, and offered his automobile to check up on people and bring food to those who were running out. He also ferried doctors to many sick families (back in those days people were usually treated in their homes, not in hospitals). And for several weeks during the worst of the epidemic he did not get back very often to the little house on the prairie, both because he was so busy and because he didn't want to bring disease back to Norma, Ella and Mary.

By Christmas time the worst was over, Mac's girls were healthy and he was too despite the risks he took. When he was an old man he sometimes told a story or two about that time, but he played down the important role he played in keeping his neighbors going.

As for Ella and Norma, and Jack when he came along, they lived long and prospered. Here they are in the 1990s when Ella and Norma were in their 80s, and Jack was in his late 60s.