Archives for category: Outdoors


Bragging Rights, Fun & Games
Cochrane, ON, located at the transition point between subarctic and humid continental climate zones, is a happy place, proud of its cold winters. I lived there from 1941 to 1946 and remember them vividly.

  • The railway junction and District seat didn’t have a weather station; radio reports lumped us in with Timmins, 30 miles to the west. We adopted the bragging rights of Iroquois Falls, 30 miles to the south. A temperature of – 58.3 C ( – 72.9 F) there on Jan. 23, 1935 was the lowest  in Ontario and fifth lowest in Canada.
  • The sun shone and the snow was dry, white and deep. It crunched like crazy when you walked on it but you didn’t just walk. For variety you held your foot out and ran it back and forth to uncover or form ice so you could zip along faster. All was safe and silent on the residential streets.
  • We girls lay on our backs in the snow and ‘flew’ with our outspread arms and legs flapping up and down to leave the impression of an angel. The trick was to try to jump back up on both feet at once without leaving any exit marks.
  • To play tag, we first made a ‘pie’ in the snow by running around behind each other in single file to make a huge circle. Then we bisected and quartered the pie to make paths where we could chase and catch each other. If you lost balance and made a footprint in the unbroken snow, you were “out”.
  • The arena was the busiest place in town, full of would-be hockey stars and figure skaters. Men on curling teams wore jackets that looked like Hudson’s Bay blankets.

Cochrane 001School, Frozen Noses & a Calamity

My sister, Enid, attacked my sister, Tanis, with a snowball but she was a survivor. School was never once closed because of the weather; if we’d had snow days no one could have got any kind of education.

  • After we made it to school on a terribly cold day, we stayed in the lobby to inspect each other’s faces for signs of frostbite. If you saw a white spot on someone’s nose, ear or cheek, you massaged it gently with an open palm until it became red again, a sign that circulation had been restored.
  • The Principal, Mr. Marwick, stood at the door glancing outside to see who still hadn’t arrived. He kept his finger on the electric bell and didn’t press it until the last straggler was in.
  • One cold day Tanis was hurrying to school along the curve in the road, keeping close to the 15-foot slope down to the frozen lake on her right. She heard bells, a clatter, pounding hooves and a “Neigh-h-h” behind her and realized she’d better get out of the way fast. It was good she and her friend, Mimi Duranceau, were Cochrane High School’s championship tumbling team.
  • The empty flatbed the horse was pulling jackknifed and went over the slope, scooping up and dispersing everything in its path as the terrified horse galloped by. Mr. Marwick saw the drama and yelled, “That kid! She must be dead! It’s Tanis!”
  • My big sister did not die but she suffered from a concussion. She had flown through the air of her own accord and managed to tumble right down the snowy slope without getting whacked by the fast-moving ‘tram’. cochrane3World War Two & Our Stars 
  • The boys fought off the Germans and Japanese with BB guns in hand-made snow forts. We were all sober, patriotic participants in the effort to achieve Victory. Food, soap and gas were rationed; we bought war savings stamps and volunteered to do errands for the Red Cross.
  • All the high school boys belonged to the cadet corps and drilled daily along the peninsula where the school was located. You can be sure Tim Horton, the future NHL player and donut-chain namesake is marching in this platoon. Another notable native son, Don McKinnon O.C., is there too. He discovered the Hemlo Lake site where three major gold mines are located. Michael Barnes wrote a book about him called “The Scholarly Prospector.”
  • Incidentally, Enid was Timmy’s girlfriend and got to use his stick on the girls’ hockey team.


Main Street’s Winter Wonderland
Main Street turned into a fun place in winter. Three fires — in 1910, 1911 and 1916 — had burned it down and each time it was rebuilt with the two sides farther apart. This was so the flames could not hop from one side to another.

  • The plows had to clear it as if it were two streets, and leave a big snow bank in the center. It was always fun to cross over , especially when the bank became more than 10 feet tall. A polished, shiny, icy track formed from the heat of pedestrian traffic. The paths became steps on the way up and slippery slides on the way down.
  • There were no cars (only delivery horses pulling trams) to run into.
  • No one even tried to keep a car running in winter, except travelling salesmen who parked in front of the hotels on Albert Street opposite the railway station. Family cars were put up on wooden blocks in garages or sheds with their wheels removed. A lot of ‘snowbirds’ drove south instead.


Intrepid Parents, Fashion & Climate

  • My parents were very good sports about the Cochrane winters and never let them be an excuse for not going out of doors for a brisk walk, visit or church service.
  • The right hats helped them survive and enjoy the winter weather. Father bought a fur cap especially for Cochrane. Mother’s unique cadet-style hat was custom-made from ermine pelts by a Cochrane tailor. (That is another story which I tell in A Book of Kells.)
  • Mother always stated a good cloth (wool) coat was as warm as a fur one. Synthetic fabrics did not exist in those days. She never wore pants but was delighted to discover cotton ‘over-stockings’ which she could pull up over her silk ones.
  • The exhilaration continues. The average Cochrane temperature from Dec., 2016 to Feb., 2017 was – 22.6 C  ( – 8.7 F) and the record low was – 47 C ( – 52.6 F).

Happy Reading & Writing from CozyBookBasics!






With hard work,  being nice to people, modesty– and of course some luck and help from friends — the owner transformed what was left of a century-old coach house into an electrically-equipped workshop/garage. P'house beforeFrom Rundown Shed to Efficient Garage/Workshop (Kindness Eases Expenses) 
  • Window and installation: $500.
  • New door (friend contractor got it on a job site) $100
  • New roof, old roof removed, new tiles, taking refuse to dump: $4,500
  • New electrical feed to garage for safety (there were no lights in the lane) and to provide for an automatic garage door: $3500.00
  • New garage door on the lane with mechanism and touch remote: $2000 (from friend contractor) Hardware store price quote was $6000.00
P's house after1From Neglected Dump to Paradisal Garden (Hard Work Does the Rest)
  • Apply elbow grease. “I pulled out all the weeds when they were four to five feet tall. It took ten days to clear the yard with a shovel and large knives to dig out roots.”
  • Hoe the lawn flat.
  • Plant  a LOT of grass seed.” Thanks go to Grandpa and my parents for teaching me how to plant and hoe.”
  • Buy plants on sale. “I lugged them home on foot, on the TTC and in taxis because I don’t have a car.”

“Oh! And Buy a Mower.”

P's house after2

Happy Reading & Restoring from Cozybookbasics!

Leaving Texarkana in heavy rain, we passed Clinton’s birthplace of Hope on a good highway with a wide median and sloped shoulders. The car interior was soaked from leakage beside the straps of our ski rack. The temperature fell to 34° at high elevation and slush slowed our speed to 60 mph. I wrote, “Pickup truck off the road righted by emergency crew. Another car and pickup off road on the other side.  Forty mph, puddle splash, no visibility, terrible potholes, can’t see to pass or when we’re passed. Worse than we ever get in Canada. Road not recently plowed or ever salted. Trucks exiting for inspection helps.”

  • OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA We pass a lot of vehicles, then are plummeted with slush by a passing truck. Tom has to memorize the road ahead in case he loses visibility. A car is off on the left. We straddle lanes because of hard slush ruts. Heavy traffic both ways. Can’t switch lanes without almost losing control. We’re probably the only car with snow tires. Two cars off on left; two off on right. Managed to switch from left to middle lane. Car off on right. Going 16 mph, road very slushy. Rain splotches haven’t let up at all. Car off on left.
  • Exited I–30 at 1 p.m. In Little Rock. Whew! Tom not sleepy because he had to concentrate so hard on the driving. Four inches of snow on roofs of local cars. Clinton Library and Museum, in fact the whole town, closed. Kids tobogganing beside the Arkansas R., which is full of open water. We had a nice lunch of panini at the Community Bakery and Deli.
  • Back on I–40 at 3 p.m. in heavy rain and traffic. Tom sets wipers on fast when passing trucks so he can see. Car in ditch on right, still 34°. Car off on left. Up to 52 mph. No slush on road, then it started building up again. Trees, flat fields – the sort of landscape we’re used to near home, with far-apart farm homes. Scattered towns. All signing and hwy barriers look like ours.
  • The camera’s drying out (I dropped it in a puddle when getting out of the car). Fog. Big transport off in median. Passed a plow. Slush and ice on bridges. Temperature 36°, heavy traffic. Tom keeps two wheels on the pavement (not the slush). Car off on the left has been pulled out by now. 70 mph, than slowed to 45 mph. Lots of tracks in snowy median. Double lane line-up, mostly trucks, from more than 50 miles west of Memphis. Three cars off on left. Trees by roadside flooded. Slush makes big racket hitting underside of our car. Car off on left. Foggy again.
  • Farm homes are mostly bungalows and many are prefabs. It has poured without let-up all day since we got up. Maybe we are traveling with the storm system from the west (El Nino). Up to 66 mph. Arrived at Memphis at 6:30 p.m. It’s beautiful!
  • At the downtown Comfort Inn we got a room on the 11thfloor with a view of the bridge over the Mississippi. It is an architectural marvel, with three high, graceful arches all lit up at night and a ‘Welcome’ sign on it. We were enchanted to look down on the marina basin, the boats going under the bridge and the street car lines going parallel to the shore, complete with swing barricades.

Beale St Memphis 1.jpgWe walked out in slush (not raining now) to eat at Blues City Café on Beale St. Their special platter, which they let us share, was a fabulous rack of pork ribs, deep-fried catfish, red potatoes, beans and coleslaw. Got ride back on trolley with talkative driver and one other friendly passenger who was flying to Chicago the next day, whee an even worse storm was predicted.

Tues., Feb. 9: Memphis, Nashville, & Knoxville, TN

  • Big churches, court buildings in downtown Memphis. We left town on a clear I–40, seeing many tracks on the median. Tom says tow-truckers in this area must make a fortune. Usual rural winter landscape and mixed forest but many trees are down, perhaps from an ice storm. Few cars, lots of trucks, some SUVs. One pickup off road on right. We’re wearing ski jackets and boots again. Crawled along for an hour before getting to Nashville – another car off the road.
  • In Nashville downtown parking arrangements were inhospitable but we got to the tourist center and walked over to see the Ryman Auditorium (called the Carnegie Hall of the south because Caruso once sang there). We ate dinner at Jack’s Bar B Q (pork shoulder on a bun, corn, cinnamon apples) on the Main Street, which has guitar sculptures, wall frescoes and blaring country music. We admired the Andrew Jackson memorabilia, guns and movie star pix.

Nashville 2.jpgWe drove over to Centennial Park and photographed the full-scale replica of the Parthenon and young Canada geese in the river.

  • Nashville 1.jpgThe city has 800 churches, publishes more bibles than any other place and is known as the ‘Buckle of the Bible Belt’. Still, we didn’t see any religious slogans posted, as in Texas.
  • En route to Knoxville I drove through a snow squall and high wind over a mountain range but our mileage picked up when the wind was in our back. We saw rolling hills, green and forested. Tom was at the wheel when we drove over the Appalachians at night with a 4-degree downhill grade and big trucks at our side. The lights of the city of Harriman shone far below us on the right. It was 30° at the high elevation and 36° at the low. We changed from central to eastern time. Incidentally, Fort Knox (where the U.S. gold supply is stocked) is near here.
  • The beautiful swimming pool at our hotel was too cold to use. We had an exceptionally fine dinner at Puleo’s Grille (crab cake, steak and a side dish of mushrooms in burgundy sauce.)

Lexington Transylvania U.jpgWhat’s in a name? Why is the building in this picture called Transylvania University?

Wed., Feb. 10: Knoxville, TN to  Lexington, KY to Cincinnati and Oxford, OH

  • We left Knoxville in a strong northwest headwind, with gusts up to 50 mph in high mountain elevations. We passed a big white cross on a hill, just like one we had seen yesterday. A tree had fallen partly onto the road. We passed the road to Dogpatch Center.
  • Half way to Lexington at 70 mph on a good road we met big gusts and snow flurries. Tracks across the median did not inspire confidence, nor did a pickup truck in the ditch on the right. We lost a hub cap in a pothole as we drove by straight-cut majestic roadside rock cliffs on both sides, like steppes. A hawk or eagle flew overhead. We were disappointed to see no horses, only fences. They say in Lexington the horses are treated better than the people so maybe they were all indoors.
  • We passed by the opera, old Victorian mansions and office buildings. We stopped at the University of Kentucky student hangout, Tolly-Ho, for lunch and bought some postcards in the campus bookstore. Finally we saw some horses grazing outside Lexington. I drove on at 60 mph in a 70 mph zone because of the high winds. Somewhere along the way we lost another one of the hub caps we had bought at El Centro and were very proud of.
  • Cincinnati is beautiful but we just drove through to get to longtime friends Orie and Bernie’s house in Oxford around 6 p.m. They had had lots of snow. She served us a wonderful home-cooked dinner,we stayed the night and had breakfast with them.

Thurs., Feb. 11: Oxford and Columbus, OH to Pittsburgh, PA

  • In Columbus we got to the Museum of Modern Art’s tuck shop just before it closed at 3 p.m. and were happy to eat a sandwich of ham, salami and Swiss cheese on rye and drink orange juice. No time to look at pictures, and the admission would have been costly. We had a date to help get ready for a Valentine’s party.
  • We arrived at our son’s house in Pittsburgh around 8 p.m. after having had supper at a very modern McDonalds in Washington, PA and  a scenic drive over rolling hills. They had had a tremendous amount of snow but were happy to see us, and vice versa.


Fri., Feb. 12: Pittsburgh, PA

  • We went out to buy last-minute items for the party and pigged out on a chocolate strawberry filled with liqueur. Then we went out again, to stay out of the way of the cleaning woman, and had coffee and sweets at Starbucks while reading the New York Times. When my daughter-in-law came home early from work to start cooking I helped her. Tom spent hours shoveling the driveway and doing chores while our son was at work.
  • We took our grandsons out for lunch at McDonald’s. About 50 people, adults and children, came to the party (pictured below with our grandsons on the right.) It was a huge success.

Pittsburgh 2.jpgSun., Feb. 14, Day 29 Pittsburgh, PA to Ottawa, ON

  • We were sad to find that Plainville Restaurant in Cicero had closed permanently. Instead, we ate at Denny’s. The weather was good and we reached Ottawa just before midnight.
  • So little snow had fallen, we didn’t even  have to clear the driveway. The plants survived our absence and we are very happy that this major dream trip turned out so well. We did everything we wanted to do on schedule, had wonderful visits with our friends and relatives and have lots of stories and pictures to share with our friends. Driving under winter conditions focuses the mind so I think that was good mental exercise for us indeed. It is nice to be able to see everyone at home.
  • 100,290 miles on the chronometer! We had traveled exactly 10,000 miles in 29 days.

Happy Reading & Traveling from Cozy Book Basics and Bliss on Wheels!

We are octogenarian writers who like to travel by car and share our adventures. We hope you enjoyed our notes and pictures of this cross-continent road trip as much as we enjoyed it on wheels six years ago.

HBC Carriole

Source: Canada’s History – HBC Carriole


The author wears ermine from 1928 at the book signing for Kathleen's Cariole Ride.

Author Margaret Kell Virany tries on a scary ermine hat and scarf for her  reading from Kathleen’s Cariole Ride on Oct. 31. The set was left to her in her mother’s keepsake box and inspired her to write the story.

Dress up in your tuque and moccasins – no matter how remote you are – to enjoy a romantic book signing at Books on Beechwood, 35 Beechwood Avenue in Ottawa, from 1-3 p.m. on Sat., Oct. 31. 

  • You will learn how the heroine of Kathleen’s Cariole Ride, a classic Canadian tale, dressed up in 1929 when she went on a five-day toboggan trek. The temperature was -30º and they even had to sleep outside. She was going to the nearest hospital, in Norway House MB, to have a baby. That was in the days before we had nylon parkas and sleeping bags with zippers, and plastic snow boots.
  • Kathleen was from England but had married a Canadian sailor, Jack, who became a missionary.They were living on an Aboriginal reservation up north in Oxford House, MB. For her, deciding what to wear was like finding a costume for a special occasion, such as Hallowe’en, only more scary. They could run into wild animals or a blizzard along the way.
  • Author Margaret Kell Virany will read snatches of the adventures in the book and explain what was going on behind the pictures. She will dress up in an ermine tuque and scarf which belonged to the real Kathleen, and show her mother’s embroidered Cree princess slippers.
  • When Kathleen arrived at Oxford House, she wanted to send her mother Elizabeth a present to thank her for giving them such a nice wedding in England. The only store on the reservation was a Hudson’s Bay trading post. It sold basic supplies like food and blankets, and furs and skins brought in by the trappers and hunters.
  • This day the most beautiful thing Kathleen could buy was thirteen ermine pelts. They would be very special for her mother because in England ermine was used as a lining for the robes of the King and Queen. The Chiefs of the Cree people on various reservations had head-dresses decorated with them that they wore when dressed up for special ceremonies.
  • When her mother opened the parcel, she was so surprised she returned them to Kathleen. Elizabeth did not think an ordinary English person like herself would ever wear such things. 
  • Kathleen asked a seamstress to sew them into a tuque with matching scarf after the cariole ride was over. She wore the set during the cold winters at Cochrane, ON when she and Jack lived there, eleven years after leaving the reservation. Virany found it in her mother’s keepsake box twenty years later.
  • To see the line-up of great books at Books on Beechwood this Fall. Click on
  • To buy a copy of Kathleen’s Cariole Ride online, click here for or here for

Happy Reading and Writing from CozyBookBasics!

With hard work,  being nice to people, modesty– and of course some luck and help from friends — the writer transformed what was left of a century-old coach house into an electrically-equipped workshop/garage. It cost peanuts ($11,000) in Toronto’s downtown real estate market.P'house beforeFrom Rundown Shed to Efficient Garage/Workshop (Expenses) 
  • Window and installation: $500.
  • New door (friend contractor got it on a job site) $100
  • New roof, old roof removed, new tiles, old roof and four layers of tiles removed and taken to dump: $4,500
  • New electrical feed to garage for safety (there were no lights in the lane) and to provide for an automatic garage door: $3500.00
  • New garage door on the lane with mechanism and touch remote: $2000 (from friend contractor) Hardware store price quote was $6000.00
P's house after1From Neglected Dump to Paradisal Garden (Hard Work Does the Rest)
  • Apply elbow grease. “I pulled out all the weeds when they were four to five feet tall. It took ten days to clear the yard with a shovel and large knives to dig out roots.”
  • Hoe the lawn flat.
  • Plant  a LOT of grass seed.”Thanks go to Grandpa and my parents for teaching me how to plant and hoe.”
  • Buy plants on sale. “I lugged them home on foot, on the TTC and in taxis because I don’t have a car.”

“Oh! And Buy a Mower.”

P's house after2

Happy Reading from Cozybookbasics!


Step 1: Make the stems for the bow and stern, cutting them lengthwise. Soak them for a week (in an eaves trough), replace the cold water with hot water, take the stems out and bend them.

Step 2: Make hull out of  two 4″ x 8′ sheets of 1/8″ marine plywood, cut them and glue them along a somewhat diagonal lap joint, attach stems and make gunwales Two very young daughters can steady it all.

Step 3: Add seats and one rib in the middle to shape the gunwales and fix the cross-section. Slit ‘darts’ along the top of the hull and drill holes, then lace the hull to the gunwales and pull the hull in.

Step 4: Fit the ‘darts’, abut them, and sew them closed with nylon string.

Step 5: Seal the darts and holes with fiberglass and polyester.

Step 6: Cover sewn canoe with fiberglass on the outside. Add thwarts, drill and lace seats.

Step 7: Add a ‘cap’ on top of the inside and outside gunwales. Fasten it with wooden pegs driven into drilled holes.

Step 8: Get your son to try the canoe.

The campus love story and need for a down payment that preceded this project are written up in last week’s blog.

Thank you for dropping by. This blog for all lovers of life and language aims to be useful and entertain. Topics vary from how to build a canoe to how my mom moved from “prince to preacher and fog to bog” as a war bride after world war one. Writing advice is squeezed in between. Find out more about A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void,  Kathleen’s Cariole Ride and Eating at Church on Amazon,  Goodreads or my website.

Happy Reading from Cozy Book Basics!