Archives for category: Culture

memorialgardenIt’s hard to be optimistic these days so I look to Voltaire who said at the end of his book, Candide, “We must cultivate our gardens.” After examining all the religious and philosophical explanations of the “best possible world” he adopted a farmer role model’s rational, hard-working, practical path.

  • In northern climes we cling to the prospect of Spring to cheer ourselves up. Everywhere, north and south, we look to children symbolically as our gardens, as the hope for a new and better world.
  • The slain children of Stoneman Douglas high school are our hope for the future. They are buried now, as seeds in a garden.
  • My gardening successes are modest. I planted a herb garden with a geranium in the middle of it. The important thing was that it grew on the bus-stop corner of my front lot.
  • Federal government employees rushing to get on the bus to work dropped their cigarette butts there. The sidewalk plow spattered it with small gravel stones on its way by in winter. The dandelions, plantain and crabgrass that love bad soil and neglectful gardeners had a field day.
  • So for a year I covered it with newspapers weighted down with rocks. Eventually new soil appeared.
  • Someone stole the bloom from the geranium the day after I planted it but I consoled myself thinking it was a young lad seeking to please his girlfriend. I pruned the plant. He had left two buds and the plant revived and carried on.
  • Then I planted parsley and chives so the commuters could have a healthy snack and so could anyone else who wanted to pinch something.
  • Seed catalogs arrive in the mail at this time of year in Canada. Farmers and gardeners plan their cultivating while the blizzards roar outside.
  • Political, grievous events like the Stoneman Douglas epic tragedy render us hopeless but we have to look ahead to building something good that will help others in our open little spaces.
    Let us all turn burial plots into gardens and cultivate them in the name of the fallen heroes!

Would you like to grow a memorial garden? What will it look like? Please write your comments in the box below.

Happy Seed-catalog Reading from Cozybookbasics!

One person's mental illness leaves a whole family feeling broken

Families across America and beyond are left numb and shocked by the preventable deaths of 17 students at Stoneman Douglas high school, FL, conceived in mental illness.

Cozybookbasics expresses profound sympathy to everyone in the wake of the terrible massacre in Parkland, FL on Feb. 15, 2018. We pray humanity can recover from this terrible blot and pledge to try to do better.

Do you think we can? We’d love to get your comments below.

Heartfelt Mourning from Cozybookbasics  www.


The magic of writing a memoir is like pulling a rabbit out of a hat, only in reverse. That’s my new theory. When my mother posed for this picture in 1928, just after marrying, coming to Canada and starting life on an Indian reserve, she had no idea I’d write a book from her love letters and adventures some day.

Imagine my joy at receiving these emails from two of the first avid readers of Kathleen’s Cariole Ride in its paperback edition. They’re from Catherine and Fred Dunlop, my second cousins who have a beautiful farm and family.

Here’s what Catherine says about the book, so eloquently:

“Margaret – I have just finished reading this wonderful book and I still have tears in my eyes, it is so well written. Mental images appear with the flow of your words and they transport me, it seems, right into that setting.
I am not a writer, but I am a voracious reader and I so enjoy how you can make a scene come to life with just descriptive passages. I laughed, I shook my head in disbelief many times and, as I said, cried when I had finished. I cannot say enough about this wonderful gift of love to your parents. I am going to order several today. I want to put one in our local library and I also want to give each of our children a copy. Uncle Jack baptized all three of our children.
I often called Uncle Jack ‘the oldest teenager I know’ and he seemed to enjoy that. We also had many discussions around theology topics. He was a man thinking unlike many of the ministers of his time. Aunt Kay was always so quiet and reserved but, once, she and I were talking out in my kitchen as I was cutting meat and she seemed vitally interested in my life, asking me questions about how I was coping with motherhood and a busy husband. Her way of saying “I know exactly what you are going through”?
Anyway, thank you for writing this story, THEIR story, so beautifully.


And here’s what Fred, who sent the photos, had to say:

“Good morning Margaret – we found this picture of your parents in a family trunk that mom had put away. The picture is in a frame made of rabbit skin. Mom has written on the back of the picture Rev Kell, Aunt Kathleen, Oxford House. Manitoba, 1925 (about)

Some people just have all the luck when it comes to parents and cousins, so I have a grateful heart I wanted to share with you.

Thank you for dropping by. This blog for all lovers of life and language aims to be useful and entertain. To order a copy of Kathleen’s Cariole Ride, please click here.

Happy Reading from Cozy Book Basics!

A fellow Scot will steal the limelight from Donald Trump on Jan. 25. Celebrations of the 259th birthday of beloved poet Robert Burns are set to take place worldwide. His Rights of Woman supported the first suffragettes. Abraham Lincoln, Bob Dylan and Michael Jackson were fans. Burns is extremely popular in China; his work resembles their traditional poetry. To A Mouse (below) and Auld Lang Syne are two of his most popular creations. 


Piping in the Haggis on Burns Night                                                  BBC.CO.UK

To A Mouse
(Whilst ploughing on a November day, Burns ruined the nest of a field mouse. He ponders why the creature runs away in such terror)

Oh, tiny timorous forlorn beast,
Oh why the panic in your breast ?
You need not dart away in haste
To some corn-rick
I’d never run and chase thee,
With murdering stick.

I’m truly sorry man’s dominion
Has broken nature’s social union,
And justifies that ill opinion
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor earth-born companion,
And fellow mortal.

I do not doubt you have to thieve;
What then? Poor beastie you must live;
One ear of corn that’s scarcely missed
Is small enough:
I’ll share with you all this year’s grist,
Without rebuff.

Thy wee bit housie too in ruin,
Its fragile walls the winds have strewn,
And you’ve nothing new to build a new one,
Of grasses green;
And bleak December winds ensuing,
Both cold and keen.

You saw the fields laid bare and waste,
And weary winter coming fast,
And cosy there beneath the blast,
Thou thought to dwell,
Till crash; the cruel ploughman crushed
Thy little cell.

Your wee bit heap of leaves and stubble,
Had cost thee many a weary nibble.
Now you’re turned out for all thy trouble
Of house and home
To bear the winter’s sleety drizzle,
And hoar frost cold.

But, mousie, thou art not alane,
In proving foresight may be in vain,
The best laid schemes of mice and men,
Go oft astray,
And leave us nought but grief and pain,
To rend our day.

Still thou art blessed, compared with me!
The present only touches thee,
But, oh, I backward cast my eye
On prospects drear,
And forward, though I cannot see,
I guess and fear.

(courtesy of Robert Burns Country)

Happy Reading & Writing from CozyBookBasics!




These booties made by Cree living on the Oxford House Reserve in northern Manitoba were for my sister Tanis. She was born there in the winter of 1929 and her name means “daughter.” You can see by the handmade toys how much the Cree love children. My mother, a British war bride, wanted to have her baby in hospital. My father, a farmer/sailor/missionary, found this a challenge. As soon as the Christmas services were over on the reserve, he rigged up a horse attached to a cariole (big toboggan) to get her there in time. The thermometer sank to minus 30 and it took them five days and four nights. With a dog team it would have taken a day longer. It was a preposterous, glorious trip with a happy ending, the highpoint of their lives. It inspired me to write a book. In the name of Jack, Kay and baby Tanis, Cozybookbasics wishes all the love, joy, peace and happiness of this festive season. I am very thankful for all good people who love their families and the adventures that having one entails. Greetings to you and thank you for reading their stories and my books.


campfollower coverarmybrat


“You are not from anywhere in particular but you are all a part of the same community.”
“You might get itchy to move every couple of years, or, conversely, never want to move ever again.”
“You’re very patriotic. You cry at the national anthem anytime, anywhere…You probably touch, even fondle the tank now sitting as a monument in your town’s armoury square.”
“You have to catch up to the real world at some point but the adults we became carried this base-brat upbringing with us.”
“The moving on, excitement and anticipation was the best part of growing up military… Just the scale, geography and weather were different.”

Review of Camp Follower: One Army Brat’s Story

“Life happens everywhere. We all get there in the end. It’s the stories that we live and share along the way that make things interesting.” So writes Canadian author Michele Sabad in the introduction to her first book Camp Follower: One Army Brat’s Story. The first sixty years of her life happened in Calgary, Edmonton and Cold Lake, AB; Dortmund, Germany; Goose Bay, NL; Yorkton, SK; Kingston, Brantford and Petawawa, ON; and Aylmer, QC. In her 194-page, four-part, big-print book we journey with her as army brat, air force wife, hockey mom
and retiree. She lived in rented quarters on military bases, sometimes beside a runway, with her young mother, sergeant/recreation director father and three younger brothers. With an easy style, detailed descriptions and sense of joy in her craft she shares more than 40 short stories of her memories of moments along the way. One I love is, “The moon landing happened when we were in Goose Bay. July 20, 1969. Of course we didn’t watch it on TV but I remember it vividly. On such a pure black cloudless night in Labrador, the moon was brilliant. Although only in waxing crescent phase that night, we could still see the outline of the whole moon against its fluorescent quarter. My brothers and I imagined the men walking on it at that exact moment. We jumped up and down and said we could see them.” By age 18, Sabad was engaged to be married, worked four nights a week as a swimming instructor and graduated from high school in the town of Petawawa as top student and
valedictorian. She tackled the problems of adjusting to the real world, finishing her education, helping her air force husband get a degree, earning a living and raising a family. She had a long, successful IT career as a systems analyst with the Canadian government and then as a consultant. Thanks were due to a calculus course she toughed out to “keep my options open,” although the guidance counselor had advised her to drop it. Upon retirement she and her husband acquired something she had never had before: a hometown! At last, she lives amid a variety of people who may include the elderly, those with special needs, relatives perhaps and, some day, grandchildren. One of their two grown sons with his wife has also bought a home in Aylmer, QC. Sabad likens her careful observations, faithful recording and perceptive comments on her army-brat upbringing to “inventing anthropology.” The reader is enriched by the inside information, critical analysis and points of identification the book contains. Camp followers have existed ever since humanity has sent people — historically men — off to fight wars  on behalf of the societies, cultures or countries they represent. This way of life is pursued by about 10 million Americans (fewer Canadians) today. Yet, because of changes in society and the military, Sabad’s unique experiences cannot ever be repeated.  Her book is far too good for you to deny yourself the pleasure of reading it. Whatever your age, you will have a delightful growing-up experience all over again as the author generously and skillfully shares her own journey. Review written by Margaret Kell Virany
* * * * *

Happy Reading and Writing from Cozy Book Basics!

Canada's First Nations third edition cover

Storyteller of the Ages painted by Ojibway shaman Norval Morrisseau depicts the eloquent, sinewy tongue that bound the people together.

Homo sapiens sapiens (doubly wise man) began to arrive in North and South America some time after his origin 50,000 years ago. When the first contacts arrived from the Old World to the New they found people living patterns of life that had evolved over tens of thousands of years. In her book, Canada’s First Nations: A History of Founding People from Earliest Times, Olive Dickason detects values that popped up among them in spite of hundreds of thousands of different locations, family groups, languages, climates and settings. Major assumptions gave them a framework to live in that met social and individual needs; we can speak of an American civilization in the same sense as of a European civilization.

1. Sharing

  • The people, whether mobile or sedentary, emphasized the group as well as the self. Land, like air and water, was for the benefit of everyone and so was communally owned.

2. Culture & Storytelling

  • Cultural knowledge  was the property of those ‘in the know‘, a jealously guarded privilege selectively passed on through the generations. Their history was passed on orally by storytellers.

3. Egalitarianism

  • They were egalitarian to the extent allowed by their sexual division of labor and responsibility. (An offshoot, in French Canada, was that this prevented celibacy. A consequence of clearly defined roles was a major factor in the harmony inside certain encampments.)

4. Consensus

  • The leaders’ role was to represent the common will; not only were they not equipped to use force; they would have quickly lost their positions if they had tried. This lent extreme importance to eloquence, the power to persuade; a chief’s authority was in his tongue’s end. The centrality of ‘the word’ was signaled by the importance of keeping it, once given.

5. Giving

  • Goods were accumulated to be given away on ceremonial occasions. The value of goods was appreciated but prestige was more important than the accumulation of wealth as such. Acquiring goods required generosity, among other virtues. Gifts were a social and diplomatic obligation. They were essential for sealing agreements and alliances with other people. Without gifts, negotiations were not even possible. Treaties, once agreed on, were not regarded as self-sustaining. To be kept alive, they needed to be fed every once in a while by ceremonial exchanges.

6. Humor

  • Humor was one of the first characteristics to be reported of New World peoples. It was highly valued; they highly approved of anything that provoked laughter. They rejoiced when they had an abundance, even of articles of little value. They had to know how to keep their spirits up in the face of starvation.

7. Hospitality

  • They all observed the law of hospitality, the violation of which was considered a crime. It could be carried to the point of self-impoverishment.

8. Unity

  • Belief in the unity of all living things was central to Amerindian and Inuit myths. The unity of the universe (although filled with powers of various types and importance) meant that all living beings were related — indeed were ‘people,’ some of whom were human — and had minds.

9. Harmony

  • Of utmost importance was harmony, the maintenance of which was by no means automatic. Peaceful co-operation could be shattered by violent confrontations with malevolent, destructive powers.

10. Trickiness

  • The demands of life could make it necessary to break the rules; hence the importance in Native legend and myth of the trickster, who could be an individual but could also be an aspect of the Creator or world force.

Prospects for selling my book at the Byward Market in Ottawa when I arrived at 10 a.m. Wednesday looked as dim as the thunderstorm forecast. Still, I bet myself I could sell enough copies (five) in the next six hours to buy tickets for a big treat. I defied the skies to clear in time for a picnic with our granddaughters and their parents before watching the preview performance of theater under the stars on the banks of the Rideau River that night. mmarket.jpgWork crews carrying partitions, shopkeepers rushing with arms full to set up for the day, twosomes and threesomes speaking languages other than English brushed past. Where were my buyers?

  • The atmosphere enlivened at lunch time, with music and dancing in the adjacent square attracting a noisy, lively crowd. A quarrel between someone not quite in his right senses and a big truck disrupted the self improvement, creative atmosphere I was trying to inject.
  • A dreary-eyed, homeless man with his bundles and bags slouched up against the bricks, heritage plaque and sesquicentennial posters on the market building facing me. Where were my readers?

It was discouraging and my devoted hubby of 61 years decided I was crazy and he might as well abandon ship and go home.  While he hesitated, I was ready with my elevator pitch to summarize my book in two sentences.

  • Anyone drawn to the table for a closer look at my framed newspaper article headlined “Call of Love in the Wilderness” got it. An old toothless man mesmerized by a 1904 picture of my mother as a child in a sailor outfit stayed because he wanted to hear her full story.
  • With a cheery “Hi Margaret!” up strode author Stevie Szabad, eager to buy two of my books and pick up advice from someone she perceived as having accomplished things she wanted to do. We plotted to sell together at the Galeries Aylmer Christmas market. 

Hubby stayed when I reminded him I was there to get my parents’ exemplary story out, not just sell the product. A take-out lunch of chicken sandwiches and smoothies fortified us both. 

  • Then a ray of sunshine, a tourist from Vancouver, suddenly appeared. He wanted to know more about why I called my book “A Book of Kells” and gave me advice on genealogy. He bought a signed copy as a gift and souvenir of Canada’s 150th.
  • A particularly friendly face came to the table confidently and I was able to engage her in conversation. For the next twenty minutes Tom and I found we had much to share with her and vice versa. Gale O’Brien is a lovely, avid reader who lives in Britannia by the Ottawa river. She now owns one copy of A Book of Kells and one of  Kathleen’s Cariole Ride which I hope she will enjoy reading.
  • When Kelly Buell turned up because she had been following me online, Tom was getting the car because it was 4 p.m., time for us to pack up. Kelly and I chatted and hope to help each other in future as writers so often do.

When I first met the organizer of the Byward marketing team and showed her my book, she told me she is a ‘Kell’ on her mother’s side. I was able to inform lovely, competent Megan Sartori that we are second cousins twice removed. 

By the way, the outdoor performance in Strathcona Park was superb. My granddaughters, aged 10 to 16 were absolutely thrilled with The Amorous Servant by Carl Goldoni staged by Odyssey theater. Grandpa and Grandma enjoyed its humor and sensible advice for all ages, too.

Happy Reading & Writing from Cozy Book Basics until We Meet Again!


10186066The radish had its moment as a symbol of Canada even before the Maple Leaf flag.

The radish is a reliable, tasty quick-growing snack, often the first vegetable in Canadian gardens to be ready to eat by the July 1st national holiday. It is annual proof that we have vanquished winter. Canada Day is celebrated in various, inventive ways, always with the flag with a red leaf on it being waved vigorously. But only once on record did the humble radish ever get any such glory.

For a moment on July 1, 1927 this sidekick at every summer feast reigned supreme.  It was Canada’s Ronald Reagan moment, when Americans chose Hollywood’s most gifted supporting actor to be their president. This was supposed to happen only to maple leaves. Usually the height of a radish’s success is to be carved into something resembling a rose that blossoms when set out on a tray of ice. Joy for a radish is to be nibbled as noisily as possible. 

It happened on the diamond jubilee of Dominion Day ninety years ago. The Spirit of Saint Louis landed in Toronto as Parliament Hill in Ottawa groomed itself to greet guest of honor Charles Lindbergh. Due to miraculous radio technology, Canadians from sea to sea tuned in simultaneously to a nationwide church service with biblical passages selected and read by federal members of Parliament.

Meanwhile, thousands of miles to the northwest, JACK (John Ambrose Campbell Kell), an Ontario farm boy assiduously cultivated into a missionary, was brimming over with patriotism. He wondered how he could create a feeling of joyous belonging in his charges on the Swampy Cree reservation at Oxford House, MB.

He represented a Church that strove to evangelize the ‘Indians’ (as Canadian law called them) and a Government that wanted to make its citizens more homogeneous and had to fulfill treaty obligations. He was preacher, spiritual guide, welfare officer, medical officer, justice of the peace and teacher (if the real one fell sick, as happened, and had to leave the reserve.)

It was a lot for a 29-year-old to handle, but not too much for one energized by good faith and the potential of Canada’s youthfulness, beauty and exuberance. All he needed was a few practical tools:

Proclaiming a holiday

  • JACK gave the men a day off with pay from their work of building a fence around their community garden. When he had arrived at Oxford House he immediately saw the people didn’t have enough to eat yet never grew food in their fertile soil.  They were semi-nomadic hunters who ate meat and baked bannock made from fat and berries. JACK got them to plant four gardens: one for the missionary, one for the teacher, one for the chief and one for the community.

A guest of honor with a connection to royalty  

  • The old guide who had led the Duke of Connaught from Norway House up to York Factory many years ago lived on the reserve. JACK got him to tell the young boys about his adventures and what their lives might be like too.

Educating the Indians in Canadianism

  • ‘Dominion Day’ had to be made relevant to the Indians so they could feel included in this strange thing called ‘Confederation’. JACK told them the word ‘Canada’ was from the Iroquoian word ‘Kanata’, meaning ‘village.’ He reminded them that they were already familiar with the word ‘Dominion’ from Psalms 72: v 8 in the Bible. He told them he dreamed of the day when they would be full citizens of the country and have a vote. (This did not happen until 1960.)

Preaching a Pearsonian vision of Canada’s role

  • JACK told them the Jewish people in the Bible had a vision of what God expected of them. In the same way, Canadians were chosen to show how a nation may be built in peace, righteousness and sincerity. It would be an example of how people of varying religions and races may live together in one nation with tolerance and honor. Nobel peace prize winner Lester Pearson was JACK’s history tutor at the University of Toronto.

Conspicuous shiny, glittering or red objects as symbols

  • Gold ore, not diamonds, lay buried near Oxford House but JACK had an even better idea. The first vegetable of the season had ripened and what was the Indians’ surprise when JACK dug beautiful red radishes out of the soil and gave one to each person. Anyone who really knows radishes knows how good they taste when they don’t get too much sun so aren’t too hot. My old blind Aunt Suzy discovered that if you want them to taste even better, you should eat the wormy ones. Not only that, they are a health food nut’s delight, full of good vitamins and minerals.

O Canada ! If JACK’s story had been revealed in time, what competition the Maple Leaf flag might have had when it was adopted!

Happy 150th anniversary of Confederation this Saturday, Canada!

This and other colorful incidents from Canada’s past are recounted in A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void and Kathleen’s Cariole RidePlease press the Home button above to see my archive of blog posts or take a look at or 


IMG_0765To the tune of oxymoronic incongruous\appropriate music, 300 fresh-faced, happy teen-agers in red and white caps and gowns commenced real life Saturday in Pennsyvlania’s Peters Township. The high school band did not give up on churning out Land of Hope & Glory until it lauded every last grad into a seat on the football turf prior to being called to cross the stage to get a handshake and diploma.

Few realized the mind-blowing march music also has words. The setting of majestic trees, and sunshine that emerged late in a thunderous day thrilled us grandparents. We were among thousands of proud family members invited to honor the young ones’ achievements. People on the public bleachers looked on from the other side of the stage.

“Why does Britain Use Our Graduation Song As a National Anthem?”

1. Land of Hope & Glory was composed by Englishman Sir Edward Elgar in 1901 as part of a series of marches called Pomp & Circumstance. When Queen Victoria died and her son, King Edward VII, acceded to the throne, Elgar was asked to compose appropriate music. The new king liked the section of Pomp & Circumstance we now know as Land of Hope & Glory so A.C. Benson composed words to it.

2. Benson’s words to the favorite stanza which is replayed incessantly are:

Land of hope and glory, mother of the free

How shall we extol thee, who art born of thee?

Wider still and wider shall thy bounds be set

God who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet.

God who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet.

3. It became a very popular patriotic song which Elgar called the “music of a lifetime.” It bragged about England’s three centuries of worldwide imperial conquests. While he was still alive, the lyrics helped Britain win world war one.

4. In the 1920’s Elgar was awarded an honorary degree by Harvard University. At the end of the ceremony, Land of Hope & Glory was played as a recessional. The crowd liked it so much they have played it every year since. Other universities all across the United States followed suit. More and more are playing it until this day. Now it has reached down even to elementary school and kindergarten levels.

5.Vera Lynn’s recording of it stirred British courage as they went on to win world war two. Meanwhile, it was picked up to be played when British athletes won medals at the Olympics. Several football teams in the UK rewrote the words to make it ‘their’ song. It was almost chosen as the British national anthem instead of God Save the King.

6. The BBC philharmonic orchestra in London plays Land of Hope & Glory on its ‘Last Night at the Proms’ every summer. The audience rises to sing the words, waving their union jack flags in an electrifying display of patriotism.

Wild Roots Worth Honoring in America’s Future


1. Nothing is more powerful than being imbued with patriotic emotions in one’s childhood. My mother took me to England when I was four and when I reheard Land of Hope & Glory now, at age 84, I imagined I saw the Buckingham Palace guards marching as the words went round and round in my head. I did not feel vicious, just thrilled, strong and ready to face the music of life, so to speak.

2. Other writers on this subject point out the empowering, stirring music (see links above) casts off and loses its outdated messages of racism and expansionism “in the pond” on the way to America.

3. We forgive our parents’ mistakes and are one big happy family, appreciating our inherited influences and parents’ love and guidance as we set out in our own direction.

4. This was a good message for the grads to absorb on their hopeful, glorious night. Now they commence living in a world made more secure by their maturing emotions and thoughts.

May they be blessed and find wide and mighty opportunities for fulfillment, success and happiness!