Marty 2

Posted by a merely human, loving, grateful, sorrowful admirer. You were too noble and beautiful to die so young.  Happy New Year to all furry friends and their two-legged owners. They humanize and socialize us too. (Achoo, achoo, I still love you.) Marty’s kind owner did not have him put down because of his incurable throat tumor but gave him a natural death, caressing him and laying his remains to rest under the snow.

A couple whose lasting love started because of an infernal war.

To present my parents’ life story and my growing-up story I hit upon two ways. First, I could combine the stories of two generations — but only if I could find a beginning, middle and end for a unified structure.

  • It couldn’t just be that they were born and died and did something fantastic as a climax near the end. I had important things to say about their effect on me as I grew up. I saw flaws in their relationship.
  • The central theme I wanted get at was one of ego. Altruism is without a doubt the greatest virtue. But babies need to suck in, see and exercise a healthy dose of ego joy in order to become competent, confident, caring adults.
  • My solution was to frame the book as a psychological detective story/family biography. I began by saying I was on a search for my parents’ lost egos. One question I wanted to figure out was why my mother denied him  one of her chocolates the week before he died, even though he begged for it.
  • That way I could keep the reader in suspense and also make the book an honest critique. That’s my way as a nonfiction writer.
  • The title was easy because our family name was KellThe Book of Kells is the famous ninth century manuscript that illuminates the gospels. I point out my parents and ancestors aimed to do that too, by the way they lived.41khlscocglSecond, I could write the book just as an inspiring love story — the quintessential Canadian romance. This approach might appeal more to a different group of readers. 
  • Like the first book, it contains excerpts from their love letters but the theme is a tribute to my mother’s courage and my parents’ idealism.
  • I tossed out the subtitle and included a dozen authentic pictures of my mother’s adventures instead.
  • The title comes from a hazardous five-day trek on a cariole toboggan made by my mother, my father and an aboriginal guide. The temperature dipped to 30-below-zero. If there was no one to take them in, they slept outside. She had to get to the hospital for her baby to be born.
  • Digital technology made it easy for me to do this. Both books are published under our V&V logo but printed-on-demand and distributed by CreateSpace (originally called BookSurge.)
  • Revisions are quick and simple to make. Then I order just the number of  books I think I can sell at bookstores, fairs, shopping malls, reunions, book clubs, seniors’ residences, libraries, book clubs, etc.
  • Most customers have a definite preference for which printed edition they want for themselves or as a gift.
  • I take my i-pad with me and can download an e-version of either book if that is what they prefer.

Credit: Library & Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1982-124

Lucky me. I’ll be selling my books and displaying aboriginal artifacts this Sunday afternoon at a site once inhabited by the tribe who greeted the pilgrims on the Atlantic shore. No. The above picture is not a Currier & Ives Christmas card. It is a steel engraving by William H. Barlett famously published in Canadian Scenery Illustrated in 1842. As in the picture,  people will be gathering at the Lake Deschenes bend in the Ottawa River to be warmed and refreshed amid the nostalgic aura of dormer windows, conjoint staircases and veranda vistas.

  • The event this time (Dec. 4) is a light show and artisans’ sale after the Santa Claus parade down Main Street and the Christmas Bazaar at the British Hotel.
  • The Kitchi Sibi Anishinabeg first inhabited this site thousands of years ago. Chief Tessouat was a busy commercial middleman in the years of the fur trade. Champlain and his voyageur explorers rested at this pleasant spot in 1613. They thought they had found a route to China but at least were the first to get as far as Lake Huron. Charles Symmes from Woburn, MA built the Inn in 1831 and helped his uncle Philemon Wright found the townsite. Pioneer settlers made their way to Aylmer from Montreal by stage  coach and stayed overnight before continuing their journey. This was the landing place for busy steamboat traffic.
  • When we moved to Aylmer in 1976 we built a sailboat (from a kit) and berthed it at the Marina (above). One day after sailing I saw one of our municipal councilors, Denise Friend, charge across the parking lot to accost some gentlemen stepping out of a black limousine. They were officials of the Quebec government and had a purse to spend on heritage projects. Soon news came that the historic Inn reduced to rubble after being used as a flea market and consumed by a fire was to be restored. It re-opened in a good imitation of its former glory in 1978.
  • Today it is a Museum with fine exhibits as well as being a heritage gem of the Outaouais region. It will always be at the heart of the townsfolk of the Aylmer sector of the city of Gatineau. That’s why my books, indigenous artifacts and I will be smiling so happily from the inn-side this Sunday. The artifacts I have include a birch-bark basket, two birch-bark trivets, an ermine hat and scarf set and a pair of embroidered moccasin slippers. They’re from my parents’ days as missionaries on the Cree reservation at Oxford House, MN in the roaring twenties. Their story is told in A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void and Kathleen’s Cariole Ride.
  • Merry pre-Christmas season to you too!

photo 2My parents lived the quintessential Canadian dream with their focus on immortality. They took snapshots at significant moments and left them behind with names, dates and locations on the back. They kept diaries, and wrote journals on special trips. My mother locked their love letters and birth certificates up in a metal keepsake box. They were both well educated; my father got an MA in history with Lester Pearson as a tutor. Because I had a BA in English Language & Literature, after our parents died my sisters delegated me to make a book out of our family.

  • The bare facts of their story are that Kay and Jack were an English girl and a Canadian boy; he joined the Navy in world war one in 1916 and was sent overseas to the Portsmouth barracks. Her high school sweetheart had got cholera while fighting in France and died at age 19. She enrolled in the London School of Medicine for Women to become a doctor but dropped out because of a nervous breakdown. Kay and Jack met when her father, a municipal councilor commended by the Prince of Wales for helping veterans, invited colonial servicemen home for tea.
    Her sister wrote to Jack for nine years on behalf of the family but then married and moved to Australia, so Kay took over the correspondence. She was 25 and thought she was going to be an old maid but her letter was perfectly timed.
  • Jack had finished studying theology at the University of Toronto and was going up to Oxford House, MN as a United Church of Canada minister to the Swampy Cree. The job came with a house and he yearned for a wife to keep him company but so far it was a hard sell. No Toronto co-ed seemed interested. He proposed to Kay and she asked him to come over so she could have another look at him. They just had six days and she said it would be too risky. He got her to agree not to make her answer final for a year during which they would write to each other.
  • Jack pulled out all the stops; he really wanted Kay; she was such an exceptional, smart person with a warm heart and an adventurous streak. Canada and the United Church, not himself, were his best selling points. This beautiful, exotic semi-nomadic settlement beckoned with brisk air, splashing waves, colourful leaves, good-looking childlike faces, gold-panning, delicious moose nose and a cosy wood-burning hearth. Enormous potential for her to do good lay among these folk desperately in need of an intelligent, well intentioned person’s interest in them. The merger behind the United Church was attracting worldwide attention as an example of tolerance. The future was full of promise; she was well equipped for whatever lay ahead so need not fear a thing. If only he had her he would be in seventh heaven.
  • She asked him to come over again and this time they got married almost the minute after she made up her mind; they flew over the English Channel to Paris for a 24-hour honeymoon before he had to hustle back 5,000 miles to work. She packed up, said goodbye to everything and everyone she had ever known and joined him in the spring. She met his family on their farm in Cookstown, Ontario and was welcomed by his friends at a reception in Toronto before they went up to the reserve 600 miles northeast of Winnipeg by train, steamboat and canoe. They lived with the Indians, as they were then called by government, helping, teaching, laughing, sharing and exchanging cultural habits, forming attachments and etching indelible experiences both sad and happy upon their hearts. Their first child was born after a five-day, 120-mile trek to hospital at 30 degrees below zero on a cariole (big toboggan for special occasions and people) in January, 1929.
  • They left the reserve in June, 1931 and became an ordinary Ontario United Church minister’s family in Nakina, where a second daughter was born, Lemonville, where a third daughter was born, Fairbank (Toronto), Cochrane, Thistletown (Toronto), Durham and Flesherton. They retired in Owen Sound in 1966 and lived there until Jack died in Kay’s arms in 1988 and she passed away in 1990. They had been married for more than 60 years and left nine grandchildren.
    Kay and Jack had little in common to start a lifelong marriage except that both were avid readers. They were familiar with biblical texts they applied to daily life. They identified with the heroines and heroes of the same classical books and had faith they would succeed if they lived accordingly, doing the right thing towards each other and everyone else in the world.
  • What Inspired Me to Do This Creative Work
    As retired editor and co-owner of my community newspaper in Aylmer, Quebec, in 1996 I took my mother’s keepsake box to a grade four classr on Heritage Day. We sat cross-legged in a circle on the floor and I began reading to them from a journal my mother wrote seventy years before as she was riding up the fur trade route to Oxford House, MN in a canoe. I told the children if they wrote something in a journal today, it would become heritage for children of the future.
  • Then I passed a page of the handwriting around the circle and pointed out that my mother had made a note in the margin saying the splotches were made by drips from the paddle. Involuntarily, I choked up and almost added a tear of my own to the page. The children were all staring at me with their eyes wide open and the teacher, a friend who wrote a column in my newspaper, put her hand on my shoulder and said, “Margaret, you have to write a book.” That was the magic moment I decided to jump in and do it. For the kids. For these kids and all kids everywhere so they will know their heritage.
  • Actually I had been more or less assigned by my older sisters to write a family history but now I went about it with passion. I would do my best to make my parents immortal and please my favorite professor, Northrop Frye. Most of the content was on hand but I had to research an amazing number of facts, maps etc. to make the story absolutely reliable. It was a labor of love, an exercise of my abilities and skills, a challenge I couldn’t resist, an important project for my retirement years.

(I submitted the above as a brief to the Canadian Heritage consultation on Canadian culture and creativity on Nov. 24, 2016)




In my chosen state of reclusive writing, I’m happy when the odd bit of help manages to penetrate my cozy computer sphere. This week it came in this collection of Northrop (“rhymes with doorstop,” author Robert Denham noted) Frye’s Lectures. The mailman had propped the “fat tome” (the same) against my front door since I didn’t hear the bell. The book includes eight sets of my notes because I used shorthand in order to capture every precious word when I attended Frye’s classes.  I grabbed the 700-page work of art and flopped into my armchair to be with my mental master again. 

A Critical Moment

My favorite course was Greek & Latin Literature (called Literary Criticism as a chapter title) which Frye sneaked in as an extra for our fourth-year class. We were only vaguely aware he was writing Anatomy of Criticism, a book to complete Artistotle’s unfinished Poetics, at the time. He didn’t ever lecture on or refer to his own scholarly activities in front of us. In 45 years of Frye scholarship, Denham had never heard of this course until I sent him my notes.


Aristotle (b. 338 B.C.) was a biologist who loved to dissect and analyse. The undefined works by Euripedes (e.g. Medea) and Sophocles (e.g.Oedipus Rex) as well as Aristophanes (e.g. The Frogs) came under his scrutiny. Aristotle might be called the first literary critic, Frye said, and it was very serious work. The people were being swayed by this new form of entertainment; the hold of the old Gods on them had been slipping. Plato, the philosopher and social moralist born in 428 B.C, first noticed it and said non laudatory, non patriotic ‘poetry’ should be banned. The concept of ‘prose’ did not yet exist. Aristotle wanted to get to the roots of what literature was.


  • The book is for sale at Cambridge Scholar Publishing in the UK at an introductory 50% off. The Amazon price is not one normal readers can afford, but, as Denham says, it is a lot less than one would pay in university fees for such an education.  Frye never wrote down any of his lectures — not even a plan for them. Student notes are the main source of what he said, except for one video and recordings of public speeches he gave.

Tidbit Quotes of Aristotle’s Tragedy-Writing Advice

(I doubt you haven’t heard these ‘rules’ before but even after 2500 years they bear repeating time and again. They continue to inspire me as a writer.)

  • The plot is complicated up to a certain stage and then begins to unravel. This is brought about by the reversal of the intention. A deed done in all good faith produces the opposite result of what was intended
  • The tragic hero is a model of saintliness, never a bad man. He goes from good fortune to bad fortune because of some mistake.
  • The fault has to be something in a man which is very intelligible, very excusable, but yet not wholly justifiable

(N.B. I’ve included these sexist comments in the hope they are making you laugh!)

  • A character should be good, i.e. in the sense of useful. There’s goodness in everybody, even in a woman or a slave
  • The character must be appropriate. A woman must not be represented as manly or brave or clever

(Frye interrupted with his sense of humor, so we never got bored)

  • The character should have resemblance; Aristotle compares it to a painting but doesn’t say whether it should be like a real person or have certain godlike qualities
  • The character should be consistent. (Frye adds, “If you introduce an inconsistent character, keep him inconsistent all through”)
  • Keep everything in the character according to the law of necessity and probability

(I hope the following piece of advice from Aristotle’s heart moves you as it does me.)

  • Use your imagination––picture yourself in the audience, writing your own play. Try to enter into the feelings. Act out the part of your characters, even with the proper gestures. Unless you are able to enter into the feelings of the person you are putting before people you will never be successful in it.

Happy Summer Reading and Writing!


Here are my word offerings to help solve world dilemmas with a little perspective, humor and reminder of how basic the rules of grammar are. My brilliant Hungarian-born mate jokes that the English always run to the Oxford dictionary when they get into trouble. As a writer I am frustrated and dissatisfied if I can’t find the right word. That’s my job.

  • Why should I call a ‘he’ or ‘she’ a ‘they’ when that’s not what I mean and you, Dear Reader, are no fool?
  • Who am I to insult an LGBT by referring back with a word whose
    meaning we all agree ‘it’ doesn’t convey?
  • I am tired of having to drag the flow of my prose along with the reins of static punctuation marks.
  • I must have a precise word in my tool kit when I need it.

My new word is ‘shey’ (pronounced ‘shay’), a combination of she, he and they (no it) and an alternative to trying to singularize the plural ‘they.’

Tip #1, to Mr. Obama: Until you pinpoint the name of our enemy, you
are not urgent. Make up your own word for it: ‘Mislam’ or some such. Step up. Get into the ring. Let supporters cheer. Mobilize the home front so we civilians will want to help police by telling them what we see, hear or know.
Tip #2 , to you: If there’s no word in the dictionary to express your meaning, make one up. Shakespeare did it all the time. Otherwise, what you write will not be forceful.

I will introduce ‘shey’ in my novel about the journey of a 60-year-marriage but, remember, I said it here to you first! The parents believed in bringing up their children with equality, regardless of sex. This was a modern idea in the 1960’s.


“The pen is mightier than the sword.” Novelist and playwright Edward
“In the beginning was the Word…” John the Evangelist

Shangri-La … any earthly paradise – a permanently happy land, isolated from the outside world. (Wikipedia definition)

Tip: An author’s success depends on infiltrating as many communities as possible, both online and in real life (which, for some authors, at times feels like paradise.)

photo 1

No, this picture is not from Shangri-La but from Quebec’s magnificent Gatineau hills. I fulfilled lifetime ambitions to sit in a rattan swing chair and devour the best high tea in the world. Ten fine colleagues and myself were celebrating the centenary of the Canadian Women’s Press Club/Media Club of Ottawa.

What a wonderful week, exchanging reclusive writing for a sales stand at Prose in the Park (thanks Ottawa Independent Writers) and a seat on the top of the world (thanks home-owners Colleen and George)! To make paradise complete, wonderful people even bought copies of my book. I hope Fredericka, Jacquie, Susan, Wim and the young Australian couple enjoy reading A Book of Kells as much as I enjoyed writing it.




FeedingEnidSo this is what it had come to and, as always when we were together, the moment was sweet. The only game my sister, Enid (I call her ‘E’) and I could still play was my putting food into her mouth as she sat up in bed. It was a lucky thing I had come at the supper hour when she was awake and there was something we could do. 

  • When I was born, Enid Mary was twenty-eight months old and took her responsibilities of loving her living baby doll very seriously. She rocked my cradle, hushed my cries and poked me in the cheek (just a teeny bit) to make me smile. As we grew, E was always there to wipe my nose, dry my tears when I hurt myself falling, and pull up my saggy pants which had been hers.
  • This was the first time in seven months I had come to see her at Providence Healthcare. It is a long drive and I only go when I have other compelling things to do in the city of Toronto. She is always there.
  • After the visit I phoned my niece, Anne, to tell her we had a good time but I was shocked to see how E’s condition had deteriorated. Anne is very devoted to her mother, visits regularly and maintains close contact with the hospital personnel.
  • She said the Alzheimer’s was taking its expected, inexorable course of slow regression to infancy. Just after my last visit Enid had abruptly stopped walking, stopped responding, and continued to stop talking. The next step would be she would forget how to swallow.
  • In fact, it was time for us to start thinking about end-of-life arrangements. She was very glad I had called because she wanted me to read the online literature and tell her what I thought. Enid had said, some 18 years ago when the illness was first detected, she didn’t want any unnatural interventions.
  • When a patient can no longer swallow, nurses need to know whether the family wants them to start using intravenous feeding, or insert feeding tubes in the throat. If the patient stops breathing, does the family want them to administer CPR? What about rushing them off in an ambulance to another hospital for intensive care?
  • As I read the literature I thought about Enid’s eyes and what I could divine from their expression. I think she is fearful and bewildered. She is pleading for someone to understand that she has always been a very good girl and is still striving to do her best. How could she possibly do any better when somebody has been stealthily stealing her brains? Could you?
  • None of these questions has a good yes or no answer. You might gain an hour of life for prolonged setbacks and trauma. The literature is most clear and positive when it says the patient must be treated with comfort and dignity and I couldn’t agree more with that.
  • Those are the qualities of life E provided for me when I was a newborn and that is exactly the stage towards which she is regressing now. I read, “Capacity to feel frightened or at peace, loved or lonely, and sad or secure remains. The most helpful interventions are those which ease discomfort and provide meaningful connections to family and loved ones.”
  • Some few months on, I dread to think, I may find myself living in a poorer world, deprived of Enid. She is my compelling reason now to go to Toronto to stroke her forehead, lay my hand on hers, tell the world in her eyes that I love her and sing her a lullaby.
  • I pray she will die naturally in her sleep with comfort and dignity after suffering her prolonged tragic fate so courageously. She will always be my hero.

Margaret Kell Virany is an Ottawa-area author of memoirs based on the raw emotions of love and adventure found in generations of her lively, devout family. Right now she is usually glued to her computer loom, working on a novel about the journey of a 60-year marriage. On June 4th she will be at the Media Club of Ottawa‘s table under the tent at Prose in the Park. Try not to miss this stimulating, free, open-air book event. Impeccable, aristocratic host William tenHolder of Café Wim fame, and MCO president June Coxon who has written about Ernie, the most worthy cat ever, will be at the table with Margaret.


Watercolor by Cookstown artist Jay Kirk-Young

On May Day I fled my computer to go sit in the pew where my grandfather sat when he was raising a family in the early 1900’s in Cookstown, ON, north of Toronto. I was not alone. We were a flock of 200, the size of church needed in 1825 by a tiny rural village of 500 (not counting the animals) which had only three churches.

  • We sang the old hymns. We listened to memories. We seized this last inspiring moment. We and the old building with its organ pipes and choir loft harmonized and rode into the sunset with the Churchill Boys country music group. We squirmed during a too-long yet relevant sermon. We knew after two hours it was time to say the closing prayer’s “Amen”. We lingered over the last potluck in the basement. We hugged our relatives and new friend, the funeral director, whom we will meet again.
  • My grandpa (a speaker had reminded us by citing ‘A Tribute to Our Parents‘ written by my father) read the Bible every morning at the breakfast table.When hushed, everybody in the family, even the two hired men, got off their chairs and knelt to pray.
  • I wonder if I was sitting in the pew where grandpa sat before he died when he fell from an apple tree, where father sat the day he was sponsored as a candidate for the ministry, where mother sat on her first Sunday in a strange country as part of a family she didn’t know, or where I was held the day I was baptized.
  • We say thanks by celebrating occasions like the decommissioning of an old church, or by writing books about our families. The Cookstown United Church people, now comprising only 25 families, will continue to worship with the Countryside United Church people in the town of Thornton just up the highway. The building will not be destroyed because the core of the village, still of 500 but just about to be developed, has been declared a protected zone.
  • This is the heritage I celebrate in A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void. Then I wrote a second book, Kathleen’s Cariole Ride, singling out my mother’s winter bush adventures in northern Manitoba and including pictures.
  • Like the Lady of Shalott in my avatar, my creative efforts died while I fled from my writing web but now they are alive again.

On June 4 I will join other authors selling their wares at Prose in the Park, a wonderful, free outdoor family literary event in the market on Parkdale Avenue in Ottawa. I will be with friends from the Media Club of Ottawa and Ottawa Independent Writers.
What will really make it special is if you can be there too (in spirit, if not body).


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!