Archives for category: Society

No good concerts were on in Ottawa when we celebrated our Diamond Jubilee last week, so we put our savings into a Magic Circle and dinner at Hy’s Steakhouse instead. Both were well worth it, for ever.


A custom-made Magic Circle by Iris tenHolder

An artistic photographer and friend who is vice president of the Media Club of Ottawa also designs and knits mini rugs while others sleep. Her husband William tenHolder, former owner of upscale Café Wim and author of the book by that name, hosts open houses in Iris tenHolder’s heritage studio where her work is shown. As a memento of our sixtieth anniversary, we asked her to make a Magic Circle for our home. It’s the perfect gift for people who love to have something unique.

Starting from scratch, she and Wim came to our house with samples of designs and yarn colors to see what blended into our rooms and what we liked. It was completed on time and delivered in person.  Now our ugly little coffee table/footstool is a gorgeous focal point admired by all, a constant reminder of our big day. The price, based on the size, the yarn and the time it takes, is right too.

A serving of Beef Wellington at Hy's Restaurant

A serving of Beef Wellington at Hy’s Restaurant

The Citizen of Sept. 10, 2015 ran a front page headline, “Hy’s Steakhouse Closing in February”. We were shocked to see this hub of the capital’s political life was mortal, like Café Wim. The story said the owners had been unable to come to an agreement with the landlord over the lease.

We discovered it in 1985 after Arthur Mantell asked me and Tom to be his and his wife Kitty’s partners in the Aylmer Bulletin. A weekly newspaper has to hold an annual meeting of shareholders. This meant the four of us went out for dinner at Hy’s and charged it as a business
expense. Since the Mantells ran the business side and we did the editorial side, the decision wasn’t ours to question. From our curved, upholstered couches, we just ate and gaped at the beautiful guests, open fire chamber, fabulous decor and competent staff.

We headed to Hy’s near Parliment for our sixtieth anniversary dinner and dared to order what we really wanted from the menu, i.e. Beef Wellington. It tasted heavenly but the occasion was bittersweet for some. Our waitress said they received news of the closing a few days ago. She had worked there for 29 years and her colleagues were like family. We asked her what she would do and she said she didn’t know but she couldn’t afford to retire. After we finished eating, we lingered to soak up the atmosphere which was not as crowded and upbeat as in 1985.

The Hy website is sweetening the blow for customers by announcing an online contest worth $1500. If you win, you might be able to plan having a blast there before February and inviting all your friends! The contest is Hy’s way of celebrating their Diamond Jubilee, since the company was founded in Calgary 60 years ago and none of its other stores is closing down.

Ironically, part of our family too is closing down. We reach this milestone just as a child of ours goes to court to settle a divorce after 17 years. So life goes on. We celebrate our big occasions as exuberantly as we can while remembering others are not so lucky.

Happy Reading from Cozy Book Basics!

JACK in a Victorian dress and hairdo is the hero of A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void written by Margaret Kell Virany

JACK in a Victorian dress and hairdo is the hero of A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void written by Margaret Kell Virany

When my dad was almost two my grandmother came across a fantastic bargain in their farming village of Cookstown. It was a bolt of woolen cloth that could be made into all sorts of useful articles so she bought the whole thing. Then she took it to the local dressmaker and asked her to make a dress for John, the baby.

No account was left of exactly what happened next but one thing is certain. This sole photo, left behind in frames, drawers and boxes since the year 1899, has been the source of much glee and many snickers, all at the price of one adorable, innocent little boy. “Jack in the pulpit!” “A man of the cloth!” “Ha, Ha, Ha!”

Grandma Kell was an Irish Campbell and felt entitled to her wit, flash temper, quick steps, reddish hair and freckles. My guess is it was her idea to name my father John Ambrose Campbell Kell and call him by his anagram. Also, she was likely convinced her Irish luck had put the plaid of her ancestors in her path just for her.

Getting back to the dressmaker, there was a misunderstanding. Grandma expected to get back part of the bolt uncut, to be made into other things. Instead, what she got was this dress. As I dig out this picture for Father’s Day, I wonder how Scarlett O’Hara‘s dress would have looked if it had consumed the entire green velvet curtain she pulled down from the window.

What I see is a brave little boy who is caught up in the youngest child syndrome. Fortunately the teasing never became bullying and his ego was never debased. Even at two he could face his bewildering world of know-it-alls with poise. The underlying love, raw humor and discipline even made him stronger inside. Right now his big brothers, sisters and cousins had the advantage of being able to giggle at “Wee John” or “The Runt” but one day he’d have his turn as a somebody.

The dressmaker knew her job. Dresses were worn by both girls and boys in Victorian times. They were the practical solution to toilet training problems in the days before snap fasteners, zippers and velcro. Not until as old as seven did boys wear breeches. She designed father’s dress with overlaps, pleats and folds to allow for several years of growing. The photographer was likely responsible for father’s hairdo and got it wrong. Often the placing of the part was the only clue to whether the child was a girl (middle part) or a boy (side part.) The Duke of Argyll unofficial Campbell tartan has  a white stripe added to the navy, red and green to lighten it up.

In spite of the challenging start, father was faithful to his family and always attended reunions of the clans on both sides. As for his vocation, the Little Lord Fauntleroy collar was replaced by a clerical one for 60 years. In 1959-60 he was elected President of the Toronto Conference of the United Church of Canada and awarded a doctorate of divinity.

Strange to say, I don’t recall my father ever wearing anything plaid, not even a tie. Happy Father’s Day!

Thank you for spending some of your valuable time reading this post. Please feel free to browse around, click on the Home and About buttons at the top of the page and leave a comment. Find out more about Margaret Kell Virany’s biographical family books on Amazon. 

The girl in this picture could have been Fiza Pathan, now a 25-year-old teacher and writer from Mumbai. Instead, today she is publishing  her novella Nirmala, The Mud Blossom on Kindle.

The cover of Fiza Pathan's new Kindle book

The cover of Fiza Pathan’s new Kindle book

Pathan just celebrated the first anniversary of Classics: Why We Should Encourage Our Children to Read Them.

Due largely to hard promotional work in the social media, it has been a great success during the year, selling hundreds of copies worldwide and engaging parents and children in choosing the classics that are just right for them. This can empower them individually and help save the world.

Nirmala, The Mud Blossom cries out on behalf of thousands of slum children who are abandoned to filth and poverty in the big cities of India. The scourges of prejudice against girls, communicable diseases, domestic brutality, hunger, infestations, street crimes and hatred scream for kindness, attention and reform.

Pathan’s own life story began with her mother being ordered by her father-in-law to remove herself and her baby girl from his house because she had not produced a male grandchild. Consolation for the little girl came from books in the school library where her mother left her while busy teaching. Today, when Pathan writes about books, she is talking about the living friends of her childhood, the dreams, the ambitions and the view of the world she formed when so young and sensitive.

From books, she discovered herself, particularly in the horror-filled, bloody Dracula. When Pathan shows a precocious mastery of many genres — fable, poetry, short story, novel, non fiction, essay — it is because she is at home with the best writers in all those genres. When she delves right into deep passions and bloody scenarios it is because that is where she is coming from. Her writing has a special quality; her works on Amazon are ‘must- reads.’

Like others before her (even the Angel Gabriel exhorted Muhammed to “Read!”), Pathan seeks to define the essence of reading and why the world must have it. She wants to engage other twenty-somethings and younger readers in saving the world through books and writing “a brave new story for mankind.”

I highly recommend Nirmala, The Mud Blossom as a compelling read. No one with a heart can come away from it without being changed. You will feel the pain and the love behind every word and image, Pathan identifies herself so strongly with her creations. You will have to give of yourself and no doubt end up being a more empathetic person, more likely to help save the world, for it.

As for my anniversary gift, it is a big bundle of love, congratulations and wishes for continued success in your writing, teaching and life, Fiza!

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!



Calling all girls! Why not take advice from a rose-bush instead of frightening yourself by what you think other people think of you? 

The bully of  fashion fads doesn’t count; neither do the mean people you know who wear styles or tattoos prostitutes would choose, and dream of being  stars with flashy lifestyles. What you say to yourself inside your own mind and the good taste you develop from better role models do count.

You are naturally beautiful because you are young and fresh and growing. Period. Everyone older is jealous so relax, soak up the joy of just being you and forget your anxieties.

Memorize this inspiring poem like your great grandma did back in the days when fourth grade  girls  sang in class concert. The words will still  stick in your mind and encourage when you are older, like I am, and tend roses.

(Note: “little” means to  the rose “not yet full-grown inside or out”)


Good morrow, little rose-bush,

I pray thee, tell me true:

To be as sweet as a sweet red rose,

What must a body do?

To be as sweet as a sweet red rose,

A little girl like you

Just grows, and grows, and grows, and grows, —

And that’s what she must do.

A First Reader    Jenny H. Stickney Lansing

Thanks to Google search and Google’s program of digitizing old books, poems like this can be  located and immediately downloaded for free.

Old primary readers in e-book form are an amazing resource for children, adults and baby-sitters.

Early 20th century primary school teachers had never heard of such things as child psychologists. They were it. Secret messages to help children develop healthy egos and self-confidence were delivered by poems like The Sweet Red Rose.

Browsing around the other pages and illustrations in The First Reader may lead to a revolution today that  will return to the idea that growing up can be a beautiful, simple and natural process.

This and other secrets of growing up beautifully inside and out are told in my books about what it was really like growing up in great-grandma’s and grandma’s days.Thank you for spending some of your precious time reading this post. Please browse around top to bottom and, if you like, give a few clicks.