Sunday, May 29, 2011

Marion's Image Makeover

So, I rescanned the image of Marion in her white dress taking tea and fiddled a bit in Corel.

Why do I like this image: well, it signifies to me the essence of Tighsolas: a group of middle class women aspiring to higher things.

But they were not above hard work either. Indeed, this image of Marion is misleading.

She was about as active a person as could be. She died at 60 because she was plain burned out.

She was the only one who didn't complain about her lot, she just got down to business.

When I finish Flo in the City, I will write Marion's Choice, which will center on her life in 1911-1913, her work as a teacher, her courtship and her support of her family, Flo and everyone else.

It will be the Tighsolas Saga from her point of view. And the BIG Back Story will be the immigration and eugenics movements. Marion was the one who in 1905, while at McGill Normal School saw Booker T. Washington speak. She also attends a speech by the first Chinese graduate of McGill.

She also went to see Harry Lauder and to Dominion Park with her beau, Mr. Blair.
In my story, she sees a strongman wrestling snakes there as is a bit, how should we say, 'moved.'

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Fiddling with Images

My husband and me in 1958. Both playing in the sand, but not together. Not yet.

I fiddled with some Super 8, on DVD. I am told that originally Super 8 movies were extremely clear, but the ones I have of me are somewhat faded. My Aunt Flo took them. My husband has some, taken by cousins, that are clearer. They were stored in a better place, I guess.

Funny, my husband and I have quite a lot of video of our kids when younger, but none when older, as in their teens. They stopped being cute and just got annoying!

I dressed up the picture of Marion in her white dress, surrounding her in red with Corel, and printed it out on glossy paper and put it on the wall in the dining room. (I'm redecorating a bit and felt the room needed a note of colour. Then I forgot to save the picture on my computer. Oh, well.

I like this picture, which I originallly I scanned from the Nicholson Album and turned it into an "Impressionst Print" in Photoshop.

Now this picture of Marion was from scnned from a teeny tiny, say 2 inch by 1 inch photo and she was just sitting in the corner of the frame. Hardly noticeable. It was a tea party photo.

So an obscure little image, taken around 1910, by a Kodak camera purchased in 1895 or around (forgot the date) and hidden in an old album in a drawer for decades is now the main image, or iconic image of my Tighsolas website. And it's on my dining room wall. I like it best of all the Tighsolas photos.

There she is in the photo in the upper right hand corner.

I wonder what my great grandchildren will be able to do with my image. Probably make it come alive, in 3-D or a hologram.

No doubt actually. I just wonder if they'll bother.

If I were an actor today, I'd be having my descendants sign contracts to keep them from selling my image for commercial purposes.

Class Fascination!

Flora and Floss

A very popular post on my blog is the one called Washtubs, Woodstoves and Iceboxes, a scene from my first draft where I have Flora and May drop Margaret off at the train station in 1908 and they return home only to Floss, while they await Marion.

Well, my final version of Flo in the City will start in 1911...Flo's final year at Academy.

I have sort of stalled. It's been such a gloomy May. This morning I have all the lights on in my living room. When the trees fill in there's little sun in my living room anyway, even when it is bright outside.

Anyway, I am stalling on editing my Flo in the City Book, but not ignoring it. As I last posted, I watched all 7 episodes of the first series of Downton Abbey the other day. That recent miniseries, written by Julian Fellowes, takes place between the Titanic sinking and the onset of WWI -the Tighsolas era!!

When the first episode opens, the Crawley's have just gotten electricity. Tighsolas was 'wired' in early 1913. I know, I have the bills.

At the end of Downton Abbey, they get a phone. Tighsolas got a phone before 1913. There is talk of making local phone calls. I only have bills for 1913 era I'm a bit confused.

Anyway, after the fact, I scoped the web for reviews of Downton Abbey. It seems it was the most watched miniseries since Brideshead Revisited in 1981 (more viewers than P and P, imagine!) Very popular. One reviewer ascribed this to the enduring fascination with CLASS - more than any enduring fascination with the Edwardian Era, although he admitted that was part of it. Downton Abbey was described as a Costume Drama. It is obvious that the fascination with Period Pieces has a lot to do with a love of fashion. (The one exception here is Pride and Prejudice, where the focus was not on the fashion at all, except perhaps Mr. Darcy's see-through breeches.)

Hmm. Well, there's the problem with Tighsolas. Tighsolas is about middle class Canadian women, who made their own clothing. Flo in the City, is about a young middle class teacher in training who learns about the costs of cloth and clothing, the human cost. The Nicholsons were 'in between stairs' as it were, that's the part I find interesting, but will others?

Stories about the Middle Class in the era are rare, or don't exist. People are interested in the poor and the rich. In Upstairs Downstairs they show one middle class family. In Downtown Abbey, a middle class lawyer and his retired nurse mother, are adjusting to better propects.

And yet, the Middle Class's story is very interesting... because it is OUR story. We're no different from the Middle Class back then, aspiring to higher things for us and our children, yet knowing it's much easier to slide down the ladder of success than to climb up it. We know that more than ever. Hence so many middle class professionals paying out hundreds of thousands for their children's private school education so that these same children can keep up with the more entitled in society.

The Nicholsons, too, invested in their children's education, although the school fees were small by today's standards, 2 or 3 dollars a month, if I recall, for Academy fees. Still, this was a sacrifice for them and Flora understands this in Flo in the City as she struggles to pass her final year, so that she can enter Macdonald Teaching College.

Hmm. I bought the Downton Abbey from, and I played it on my Big Screen through my computer. Yesterday, I decided to buy Cranford. I went to the site and they wanted to charge me 42 dollars! The Amazon. com site was selling the same dvd for 24 dollars and the UK site for 3.50 pounds... Well, when I tried to purchase the dvd off, it wouldn't let me at first, which scared me. But I persisted, clicking madly around the site, and now I am getting Cranford for a cost of 10.00.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Tighsolas Era as Reflected in Downton Abbey

Harper's Bazar image 1913

I watched the 7 episodes of Downton Abbey all at once, a 2010 British mini-series that takes place between the Titanic and the Onset of WWI, starring Hugh Bonneville (who was so good as the Dad in Lost in Austen) and Maggie Smith.

In Lost in Austen Bonneville had all the droll lines and delivered them with aplomb, this time Maggie Smith has all the potentially funny lines and nails them, each and every one.

Well, Downton Abbey is a cross bewtween a Jane Austen Novel (about marriage prospects and entailments) and Upstairs Downstairs, and is written by the screenwriter of Gosford Park.

It's a bit Soap Opera-like then, but just a touch. In period pieces the fashions are the star and here is no exception, although the fashions worn by the younger women in Downton Abbey are a tad twenties-ish - at least I think. I suppose that means they are supposed to be cutting edge, but those v-necks during the day seem wrong.

The pic above is from Harper's Bazar, 1913, so it was a coming trend.

And to save money, I guess, the producers of Downton Abbey show lots of autos, not many horse-drawn carts and carriages. The streets of the small Yorkshire? town near the Abbey tend to be empty most of the time, not chock-full of activity as was the case, I imagine.

In this Downton Abbey miniseries there are three girls competing for husbands and they appear weight conscious, but in a contemporary way.

I thought of this, because the Nicholson girls were certainly weight conscious, but not exactly in the way we are today. Mother Margaret worried when Flora was too thin, and exulted when she gained weight at Macdonald. With weight came 'colour' which meant she was healthier and less likely to die from La Grippe, as so many did.

Edith gives her weight as 138 (in her clothes I guess as she weighed herself at a store). She does not say she is fat. (She was about 5 foot 5 inches.)

Marion's weight Yo Yo's. She too gives her weight, at 19, as 130 pounds. She's 5 foot 2. In 1912, she is under great stress and loses a lot of weigth, everyone comments. This is not considered a good thing.

Maybe there was more pressure of the wealthy to be thin, even then, before the First World War, but I don't think so. Full-figured women were still desirable, if not going out of fashion. Adele Blood was deemed "the most beautiful blond on the stage" and she was more Mae West than Kate Hepburn. In fact, my own grandmother had a similar build.

Remember, that skinny twenties look was called 'the garconne' as in the female boy. So they believed thin women looked 'boyish.' Today, all actresses are ballerina thin, but they are not seen as boyish at all.

Today,there are few plump young actresses, if any at all. Taboo.

Many reasons have been given for this trend, which tracks against real life, where everyone is getting fatter and fatter. Some feminists believe, the more power women have, the less female fat they are allowed to have. I suspect it has to do with an invention back in the 1900/1910 era, the motion picture. Skinny women look better on film, their faces anyway, and the body followed

Anyway, I liked Downton Abbey a lot, (I watched all 7 hours at one sitting). My only problem, in retrospect, is the one pivotal scene, a seducation scene that seems more of a rape scene. It happens to the eldest daughter just hours after she meets a handsome exotic stranger. I can't quite figure it out in relation to the very prudish 1910 era.

And at the end a miscarriage happens because the Mom, played by Elizabeth McGovern, falls coming out the bath. From what I know, such things don't happen, baby is well-protected in these cases.

Having just watched the first two series of Upstairs Downstairs (and Gosford Park!) it was fun to compare. There is a clearer line between the good servants and the bad servants in Downton Abbey than in U/D.

The cooks are similar. The young maids and footman are similar. (My Yorkshire grandfather was a footman, supposedly, before being shot off to Malaya, because an Earl's daughter fell for him. Footman had to be tall and presentable, it seems, so they were bound to attract female attention, despite their lowly position in life. )

The Butler and Housekeeper are not as pivotal -or as captivating- in Downton Abbey as in U/D, but similar.

In the opening scene, when Hugh Bonneville's character learns about the sinking of the Titanic, his thoughts immediately go to the steerage passengers, who he assumes, (correctly) have mostly drowned. This is to show, right away, that he is a good sort. He says,"Poor souls, travelling to make a better life," he says. Ironic statment, since from I can see from the 1911 Canadian Census, many of these young Englishman and women were going to work as domestics in Canadian homes, since there was a dire shorthage of help and English people were preferred over all others. So instead of working in an elegant home, they get to be Jack and Jill of all servant trades for middle class people like the Clevelands,in a Victorian townhouse on Lorne Avenue. They employed a young English girl fresh from overseas.

Adele Blood. Flora sees her in 1912, in Everywoman. I will include this in Flo in the City, my book about Middle Class Canadians in 1910. The Nicholsons had no maids, but lots of upper class pretentions, all the same.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Storm over Gender...Media Madness

My father in law, born in 1922, almost-professional hockey player, WWII air force pilot, liked to say that his mother brought him up, in the early years, as a girl.

Obviously, pictures like this led him to this the conclusion. By the 1930's, boys no longer wore skirts, so he had no frame of reference.

"She didn't like boys," he told me.

Well, his Mom (May Hardy Fair Wells, a first cousin of General Douglas MacArthur, a clothes-horse who once got kicked out of the Woldorf Astoria in New York for smoking a cigar in the lobby) may not have liked boys, but she didn't bring her only son up as a girl. She merely dressed him in the appropriate attire for a young male child in the Victorian era.

May was also a crack seamstress, and she made her children's clothes, even their winter coats, which were often trimmed in fur. (She was from the Deep South and worried they would freeze in the Canadian winters.) Her daughters adored their sumptous elegant coats, her son hated his. Fancy outerwear did not impress the other young hockey players at the rink.

Herb Nicholson, Flora Nicholson's brother, also got to wear a skirt as a child in the 1880's. He grew up to be a bit of skirt chaser, from what I know. (I write all about it in Flo in the City.)

And Stanley Hill, in and around 1908, also wore a skirt. Here he is with Flora Nicholson, the heroine of Flo in the City, with her nephew and niece.

Well, I notice a Toronto Couple has got some world-wide press for choosing not to divulge their baby's sex to the world. The child is 4 months old.

People around the world are reacting to this, mostly negatively, and experts around the world are pontificating, once again, on the issue of gender.

(This past week, I've done the same while reading all about the 'style' of Michelle Obama (pink bolero!) and Kate Middleton, (high-street elegance) during the Obama's visit to the UK. La plus ca change. For woman it's all about what they lo0k like in clothes. What ambitious man,today, would dare marry a fat frumpy gal, because, say, she is funny and smart and loving and loyal?)

I've written many essays on the subject over the years, as I raised my two sons. One of them is called Shall We Dance. I wrote in for the Montreal Gazette in the 80's.

This Toronto couple who caused this Tempest in a Pink China Teapot, or Tempest in a GI JOE Tank -with small nuclear device attached, are a progessive couple, it seems, not above putting their actions where their philosophy is. They are 'followers' of one Alfie Kohn. They also Un-School their other children, a philosophy where you let the kids decide how they are raised. (Come to think of it, I 'unschooled' -without really wanting to.)

Most of us parents are not that fearless. Most of us parents, despite our belief in gender equality, tend to bring our kids up following the norm and leave it to them, in later years, to stretch the boundaries if they are so inclined. (And then we pretend we are not embarrassed.)

So we let our girls play with Barbie Dolls, despite the outrageous proportions of said doll and our desire to have our daughters grow up loving their bodies, and we don't encourage our sons to do the same. We let our sons play with guns, in stylized war games, or play violent video games, even though we don't want them to grow up to kill other people, as soldiers or psychopaths. But if a girl takes a tiny pink toy gun and shoots her Barbie (or a baby doll) in the head, we really worry. (Not so much if the boy does it.) Ah, it all makes no sense, unless we're hardwired to raise (potentially) violent males and passive females.

My first impression, when reading this news story was this: "It's the Press that can't stand not knowing what the gender of the Toronto baby called Storm is. Because the Press loves papering the front pages of it's newspapers (well, websites) with pictures of pretty blond and blue eyed girls.. 2 to 32.

That's the iconic image of our age, whether we like it 0r not. Barbie or Barbie in waiting.

Boys aren't interesting, apparently to put on the front page (or, conversely, readers don't click on their image and raise advertising revenues). Neither are females who are brunettes, homely or non-white, unless they are Kate Middleton and Michelle Obama.)

So, in short, the Press is confused.

But there's more to it. As one expert in the Toronto Sun said, our ideas about the importance of gender are bedrock.

So true. If I met Storm's parents on the street and they had Storm in a pram, even I, gender-philosopher, expert in the New Woman movement of 1910, wouldn't know what to say... "Such a cutie poopoo girlie girl so pretty in goo." Or, "what a BIG boy, here, show me what you got.. take this rock and hit me on the forehead. HARD."

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Finally, Isadora on DVD!

Isadora Wikipedia Creative Commons

Good things come to those who wait. I was kicking around BBC Four and saw a promo for the Film Programme that said they would be discussing the 1968 film Isadora.

Ha, I thought. It must be coming out on DVD. About time. I was right! It's already out in the UK.

I read a bio of Isadora Duncan, say 6 years ago and I have been trying to see the film ever since.

It was only available on second hand VHS.

Well, it appears the screen writer was Melvyn Bragg, the In our Time guy. So that's what he did before the brainiac business.

I ordered it. I hope I get it soon. Sometimes I get things in a day or two, sometimes it takes longer.

I didn't see the film in 1968 and I am not if I saw it after that, say at school. Say in reperatory.

Melvyn Bragg says Isadora is as much about the 60's as about the 20's.

So now I really can't wait.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Babbaba Bread 1970

If there's anything I am sorry for, with respect to Tighsolas, is that Margaret left behind no recipes.

She never wrote them down, apparently and when she 'lent' people her recipes, she always left out an ingredient. So the story goes.

In some ways, this proves that she actually thought the recipes were the reason why her breads and scones and such turned out so well.

But I doubt it.

The picture above is of a bunch of very oily and spotty file cards with recipes typed on them: Banana Bread, Chicken Mole, Grapefruit Cake, Cream Puffs, Beef Stroganoff, Cranberry Aspic.

There are my mother's recipes and I helped her type out the cards possibly in 1970, when I was in the tenth grade. That's when I learned to type at school and the many typos on some of the cards proves I was not yet proficient. Babbabas and Rimove from Stove and pistashio nuts.

I discovered the cards two summers ago at my mother's death. Hidden in a secret drawer in a Chinese Cabinet.

I sent her away with one recipe in her hand. I seem to recall it was for Shoo Fly Pie - my favorite dessert in my child hood, after Cafe Bavarian which either never made it to a card, or got lost. (My mother spent a lot of time trying to replicate this fabulous recipe (found inside the label of a Carnation Milk can) but never could.

And even with all the culinary information available on the Internet today, I haven't been able to either.

But I digress.

The recipe for this Cafe Bavarian dessert may have been a bit complicated, but the recipe Shoo-Fly Pie was a simple one. All the other recipes on the cards, for Lemon Pudding Cheesecake, Scalloped Potatoes, Lasagna, French Chocolate Pie (mostly found in era magazines) are extremely uncomplicated. Life was simpler back then, and so was food.

My mother was French Canadian, so I ate better than many of my other Anglo friends, what can I say? (I hated the aspic, but never told her. Aspics were so 1920's anyway. And the chicken mole wasn't a favorite either. But the Southern Fried Chicken attracted the neighbourhood kids to our door at dinner time. And the Lemon Shaum Torte (my brother's favorite it is marked on the card) was a dream of a confection. (It had next to nothing in it! Egg whites, cream of tartar, icing sugar, cornstarch sugar, egg yolks, lemon and butter.)

I recall that our food baskets, in either the grungy A and P or the new Steinberg's, both on Queen Mary Road were always filled to the brim and she spent about 60 dollars a time, much ot my father's displeasure. (That's how I remember it. Seems like an awful lot of money.)

My mother, brought up rich and educated at Sacred Heart Convent, was useless at home economy, much to my father's chagrin.

No, we waded through mess to get to the kitchen table, but once we got there it was always a good thing.

My mother was also bi-polar (not that we called it that) and miserable, so life wasn't great back then. We were an unhappy family. Food was the only way she could show her love.

But her peanut butter cookies made up for the crazy, uncomfortable home-life, a bit, anyway. I can recall helping her stamp them down with a fork, giving each cookie three ridges, and the salty good aroma of them as they cooled on the rack in the kitchen.

We liked her baking so much, she often put an image of a skull and crossbones on her Mint Chocolate or Lady Baltimore Cakes, to remind us not to eat it. And yet, we were were all skinny. (Like all other 60's kids, we played outdoors a lot. And there wasn't all those additives in foods.)

I think I'll try the recipe for Peanut Butter Cookies for old time's sake.

There are thousands of interesting peanut butter cookie recipes on the Web, but none as good as this one.

1/2 cup of non oily peanut butter
1/2 cup Crisco and butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cut white sugar
1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg well-beaten.

I'll try it, but it won't turn out that great, I can tell you now. There's an ingredient missing here, but I'm not quite sure what it is.

Flora Sophia, Anne Shirley, Kate Middleton

A few posts ago I commented on a website that deemed my website to be worth a booming 11 dollars. This site said so few visitors came to my site that it was not worth noting.

But I riposted that the visitors to my website, (three times what they cited) were mostly high school students, mostly from Canada, most from BC and Ontario, but also College Students, British Students, American students, and some from every province in Canada.

And I also mentioned that they ALMOST ALWAYS find what they are looking for. The list above is random, and except for search term "the meaning of apocalypse" has the answers to these queries.

The writer, continuity, is ME. I did that once and it is posted on my C.V.

So there you go.

I also notice that more hits from BC for my story Looking for Mrs. Peel on PDF at

That pleases me. My story is about my grandmother's experiences at Changi, in Singapore, where she was tortured in an infamous incident.

But it's also about 1967 Canada, and about grandmothers/granddaughters and inter-generational tension.

This is a story that should appeal to all Canadians, but especially for Canadians of Asian origin, Chinese, Japanese, and South Asians too.

Maybe it will become a Canadian bestseller or the best selling e-book on the Net.

It's a radio play really, (because I love BBC Radio Four radio plays and I was hoping to get it produced, as I once was a radio writer) but a Canadian publisher has asked to see a narrative prose version.

(But first I have to Finish Flo in the City).

Malaya was one of the world's first multicultural societies - and my story touches upon that too.

Ps. I see that His and Her Royal Highnesses William and Kate are going to visit P.E.I on their Canadian visit because Kate Middleton is a fan of Anne of Green Gables. She'll like it there. She's a natural unaffected beauty and PEI has a lot of natural unaffected beauty.

Anne of Green Gables was published in 1908, by a Boston Publisher, and a while I back I thought about figuring a way to put that in my story of Flo in the City, because Flora visited Boston in 1908 and Anne of Avonlea was serialized in the Montreal Gazette in 1910 or 1911. I saw it there in the archives.

Monday, May 23, 2011

ScreenSingapore is the Place to Be

A page from my grandmother's Changi memoir.

The New York Times reports today that Hollywood is going International (well, we all know that)and mentions a new film festival ScreenSingapore that illustrates the point.

Hollywood Presses its Global Agenda

My radio play, Looking for Mrs. Peel at

is popular in Singapore, because it takes place in Singapore during WWII. It starts out in Canada in 1967, when the sun was setting on the British Empire, and it focuses on my grandmother's story. I like to see my grandmother (who was born in County Durham but lived most of her life in Kuala Lumpur) as the symbol of End of Empire.

The Changi Story has been done to death, starting with Kwai, but the Double Tenth Torture Incident is VERY topical. Many people arrive at my website looking for information on the Double Tenth, many from Singapore but plenty from elsewhere. Indeed, I have learned that the the Trial of Sumida Haruzo is a Law School Classic.

That book would make a good topical movie, but it wouldn't be fun visually. My story, that encompasses Expo 67 with all the youth culture and beautiful hostesses would be very pretty to look at - for the first bit.

The part where my grandmother is put in solitary is also topical, considering the treatment of Bradley Manning.

As I pointed out in my play, Malaya was one of the first Multicultural Societies. Canada in 1967 was just beginning its multicultural adventure.

I like to think Expo 67 (which figures large in my play) symbolizes this.

The New York Times article quotes Greg Coote, who is the Chairman of the Board of Screen Singapore as saying that ScreenSingapore is a cross beween ShoWest and CineExpo and the Santa Monica Festival.


This can only be good news for us North Americans, who are starved for world films. Maybe some more good ones will come our way.

The first ScreenSingapore event will feature Jon Landau, who produced Avatar,for a 3-D conference; Jim Gianopulos, chairman and chief executive of Fox Filmed Entertainment; and Michael J. Werner, the chairman of Fortissimo Films

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Don't Go Out on the Water, Dear

Macdonald College Campus (John Abbott) from 10th floor of the Veteran's Hospital. Weird cloud formation on the left, looks like a flying saucer as in UFO.

My husband took this photo of John Abbbot College from the Veteran's Hospital, where his Dad resides.

We walked around Ste Anne de Bellevue, Saturday.

I wanted to check if the locks were there in 1910. Yes, they were there in 1860's.

There you go.

Flora does not mention them at all.

I wanted to check because Norman Nicholson writes a 'funny' line in a letter to his daughter. When he first hears she has been accepted at Macdonald Teaching College he warns her "Do not be persuaded by any man to go onto the water. There are many eddies."

I have to wonder if he was worried about the eddies or the Eddie's as in Edwards'.


I wonder if people boated on the water back then. I know they do know, some in giant gas guzzling cabin cruisers. My husband always comments on these boats when we eat by the water in Ste. Anne. Saturday, he said, "Lots of people having to give up their boats. Too expensive to run."

I think big boats are a symbol, in his head, of "having made it."

My symbol of having made it is a stable full of Arabian horses. Or maybe those beautiful Friessiens you can see galloping around in all their impeccably-groomed glory on YouTube.

Anyway, there is a old stone pioneer house on the Main Street of Ste. Anne that has a sign outside that says http://www.musee/ Ste (I once attended a party there. I recall the walls are very thick.)

The "museum" was locked on Saturday and looked emptyish inside. I checked the website (written on the sign) and it isn't up yet, or has been taken down.

I'd love to speak to someone to learn more about Ste. Anne in 1910. I do have a bit from a travel magazine of the era...

I wonder if the train station is in the same place it always was.

A man was fishing on the pier at St. Anne de Bellevue. The noisy railway bridge in view was obviously there in 1910. The old pier (in 1910 era pic below) was a little closer to shore. The stone pylons (or whatever they are called) are still there. I bet the fish were safer to eat in 1910.

Sweetgrass and Tulips.

French Toast and Sausage from the Sweetgrass Aboriginal Cafe in Ottawa.

My husband and I visited my son and his girlfriend in Ottawa, the final weekend of the Tulip Festival and tried out yet another brunch spot, across the street from the Resto he works at and right beside the bistro we visited last time for brunch.

This place wasn't too busy (there are SO MANY restos in that area) but it had a wonderfully tasty and unusual brunch! And the supper menu seemed most interesting too! Elk!!

And then we went to Parliament Hill.

It's been decades (well, about 40 years) since I've visited Ottawa at Tulip Time. My father often took me and if I recall, in those days, the tulips WERE the festival, now the festival has some tulips.

But I love tulips. They are my favorite flower and I suspect my childhood visits to Ottawa are one reason why.

The other reason: there was, back in 1964, but ONE solitary house on my street, Coolbrook, with any flowers at all in front and that house (somewhere between Isabella and Queen Mary) had a front lawn engulfed in flowers of all kinds, all spring and summer long.

One day in early May it snowed and I recall walking past the place and there was a 5 inch blanket of slow on top of a row of blood red tulips. (Alas, tulips were simpler in those days, yellow or red.) It was like FIRE AND ICE.

Anyway, I have not worked on Flo in the City these last few days. But I have noticed that many Canadians are downloading my PDF of Looking for Mrs. Peel. This is new. I have had lots of downloads from Europe, from the Netherlands and Germany the most, and a good deal from Singapore, of course. And from Russia. (I think they must like the Cold War part.)

But for some reason, last week, many many Canadians, from BC to New Brunswick downloaded the pdf.

Maybe I should get to work on that narrative prose version that the Publishing House was interested in.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Books and Bathwater

My bookshelf. The big white volume is Catch 22. My son brought it home at Christmas. I can't recall if I read it (back in the 60's when my brother, who was always on the cutting edge, brought it home.) I do recall this scene where Yossarian, is it? censors arbitrary words, so I guess I did. College students caught on to the novel before anyone else. According to Nora Ephron in her latest book, which I bought off Amazon for my Kindle.

Well, Amazon has announced that Kindle sales have outpaced traditional book sales. Good news for trees!

This has happened in a much shorter time than anticipated.

I've posted a bit about my Kindle earlier, how with a Kindle I can't see exactly where I am in a book at any given time. Which bothers me, because often the only reason I keep reading some huge books is because I can SEE my progress.

I also described how, as an adolescent, when reading one of "the great books" I would take a break and perform certain physical acts with the book: flip to the back; flip through the pages; run my finger down a page, all while thinking, "All this wisdom in this book."

I remember doing this with East of Eden, a big book, that eventually fell into the bath and became an even bigger book.

Still, I lent my bloated and misshapen copy East of Eden to a number of people. It really made the rounds. All that wisdom making the rounds...

Technology changes us in ways we can't always predict. Well, no doubt this e-book technology will change us. And likely in DRAMATIC fashion- and no doubt in unanticipated ways.

Will it get young people to read more of the great classics?

These are available for free for download on iPods and such. My son, the philosophy student/chef downloaded all THE GREAT BOOKS immediately upon getting his iPod a few years ago. I doubt he's had time to read them all. Or any of them, actually. Too busy.

How is an e-book different from a regular book and how does it change things?

This question will be asked and answered over and over for generations to come no doubt, unless, for some reason, the unintentional effect of e-books is that we stop reading books.

It does save on trees (and hurt the pulp and paper industry.)

It makes money for Amazon, as you can't lend these books...(or maybe you can :)

It will promote more 'impulse purchases' of light-weight topic books, if I am any example. ... Here's the thing.

When I visit a book store, I walk through the aisles, picking up book after book and then I reconsider and re-trace my steps, replacing book after book, perhaps exchanging a book in my hand for another on the shelf, and I usually end up with two or three books, which I may or may not read immediately.

With an e-book, well, I download the book and it's already in my Kindle and then it's too late.. (Can you 'return' ebooks?)

Indeed, as I blogged about earlier, I downloaded a book on the Reformation by mistake (one click purchase) and now I feel I must read it or waste money.

I buy a lot of books of because I like UK history, and it REALLY bugs me that I can not buy Kindle books from the British Amazon. Kindle gives this company A LOT of control over what people read. Say, imagine, Kindle always gave a free copy of, say, the Road to Wigan Pier, with every purchase of their device (which may soon be available free, I imagine). How would that change things?

But I see that Nella Last's War (and Peace and 50's) is available on Kindle UK. I have these paperbacks in a place of honor in my living room, on a very old arts and crafty secretary I inherited. It comforts me to see the 3 volumes there, as I move about the room. I have a thing for Nella.

Here's something that will certainly change with e-books. You won't be able to walk into a person's home and scan the bookshelves and decide on the spot if you like this person or not by the titles of the books she owns. But who visits other people's homes these days?

Here's my favourite e-book by the way:

Anyway, I decided for some reason to read Sister Carrie and I found a copy on Gutenberg. I downloaded the Kindle version and will stick it on my slate, as soon as I can figure out how to.

Why haven't I read Sister Carrie yet? Because when I was about 12, my brother, 15, was reading it and I got the impression it was a 'dirty' book. Or something adult, maybe about a nun who had terrible things happen to her.

And that impression stayed with me. I read An American Tragedy, in my 20's, when I had time to read, but not Sister Carrie.

Well, Sister Carrie is about a woman in the city in 1900 (very useful for my Flo in the City) and good things happen to her. That's all. It was scandalous in its era because of just that. Apparently. I just read a few paragraphs off the 'puter and gee, Drieser writes in the naturalist style like Emile Zola, my favorite French writer. (Except his writing is clumsier, more cluttered.) I wouldn't have realized that in my 20's as I hadn't read Zola yet.

Ps. I'm jealous. My son went to his girlfriend's convocation (NYU) a few days ago and heard Mr. Clinton speak at Yankee Stadium. Yankee Stadium? How much fun is that? His speech was serious though: Our world is in trouble:

Thursday, May 19, 2011

I'm Worth Eleven Dollars!!

The Sun Came Out! Yea! My neighbour's yard could use a mow.

I don't know whether to laugh or cry-- or do neither. That's probably most sensible.

I found this website that evaluates websites and it claims that my website is worth, get this 11 dollars!

I'm not rich!

The site also claims gets 65 unique visitors a day, but I know that it gets around 185 or so...about 3,000 a month.

But what they don't know: that most of the visitors are Canadian students and when they arrive at Tighsolas, they find what they are seeking.

(If you want lots and lots of visitors to a website, just write 'humungous boobs' and you'll get plenty. I know, I wrote this one time on my site when describing my grandmother. I'm sure the swarm of visitors who came to did not expect so see a fat French Canadian Mamma in flapper-wear strutting down the Atlantic City Boardwalk in 1928. A bit of a let down. But it wasn't false advertising. She had ENORMOUS boobs.)

Information about 1910. That's what visitors to my site are seeking. Information about fashion, transportation, family life, suffragettes and cost of living. The Titanic. Eugenics. IQ and Montessori. Marconi and Ford and Edison. Or era information on social etiquette and dating.

And I know these visitors are school children because most of the IP's belong to various schoolboards, across North America, but mostly in Ontario and BC. Not Quebec, which is annoying, although someone from the Lester B. Pearson Board in Montreal made a thorough visit to Tighsolas last month.

I know that one high school teacher in BC has the kids read the letters and describe what has changed and what has stayed the same in 100 years. And you know, they get it, immediately. (That's why I am writing Flo in the City: Kids get it!)

I posted this social studies website 5 years ago, not knowing what I was doing, and despite its many shortcomings, structurally speaking, it has been of some considerable use to students across Canada, I know this for sure - and that's what matters. Not money.

Back then, in 2005, the info I dug up on the 1910's, by purchasing era magazines off eBay, was new to the web. (Yes, it has cost me money, a fair bit, to post Tighsolas.) Today there's a lot about the 1910 era on the web, even Edison videos on YouTube. And everything you could want at

But my material on middle class family life in Canada is, indeed, rare and unique. And the pages of household accounts are also fascinating and one of a kind.

I have a new improved version of waiting to be posted (I hired a PhD in History to construct it) but I am awaiting news from an Academic Publisher I pitched before I do anything. This publisher is interested in the Tighsolas letters, for a scholarly book, and maybe I will use the new website as a complementary resource.

But that book won't make me any money either. Only I will be making a difference, somehow, and that is what I care about.

Dolly Faced Girls

Picture of Macdonald Girl signed Helen Buzzell

Well, I have a clearer picture of this little pastel of some young woman. Indeed, I have the little pastel right in front of me in Flora's Macdonald Portfolio.

At first I thought this was a pic of Marion, but my husband's Aunt said it wasn't her Mom.

Then I somehow figured out it is a Mac Girl.

Well, it's all in the letters, the 1911 letters, and as I write Flo in the City I am seeing new things.

Helen Buzzell was a classmate of Flora's who roomed with her one day when Mabel, her usual roomate, was away.

Flora is feuding with Mabel, who goes on a picnic with Helen and another girl called Gladys Lefevre, leaving her out. (I am using this as a plot device.)

In a letter, Flora says Gladys is one of those 'dolly faced girls.' Pretty! This woman is probably her. Somehow a picture of her got caught up in the Nicholson papers in the trunk.

I'm really having trouble writing this Flo in the City. I've got all the elements, the plot and the letters (and I certainly know my stuff) but maybe I know too much.

Today, I added a scene in front of Ecole Methodiste, which I just lately figured out was just below Ste Catherine on Greene.

That's where the Ville Marie starts, but in 1910 that was where the poorer area started... Not quite the City Below the HIll, but I will make it such.

Flora will stand in that place and think, "It is much easier to slide downhill than to climb uphill, but she'd much rather visit Westmount than St. Henri...It will be my way of showing what it is to be MIDDLE CLASS. And Edith in her Missionary School will symbolize this.. for no one aspired to higher things (ideas and finery) than did Edith. She lived her life in genteel poverty, but she hobnobbed with important people, at McGill especially.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Mr. Megginson: Where are You?

This is the picture of Tom Megginson who is Creative Director for an ad agency called Acart Communications in Ottawa. I 'captured' this detail from one of that company's webpages. I wonder if this is a naughty thing to do?

Acart Communications specializes in getting the word out about social issues, apparently. It's the type of firm I'd like to do work for.

There are no email addresses (of course) on this Acart website. So, how to enquire about possible freelance work?

I considered sending my C.V. to Mr. Megginson, snail mail. I even thought I might write it on the old, yellowing Canadian Transcontinental Railway letterhead Norman Nicholson left behind, using Courrier typeface, ah, font. As a gimmick to get attention. Saying something like, "Sorry about this old paper, but 'waste not, want not' as they used to say." (They REALLY said that in the old days, you know. They said that and then they put their actions where their adages are.)

But then I found a job ad Mr. Megginson had posted on Twitter and realized he is very into this modern social media thing. Everyone is, of course, although, I fear, Twitter may soon be passe.

My cousin, Veronica, is in media relations with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena and a few years ago, when only kids had heard of Twitter, she created a stir by using Twitter to get attention for the Mars Landing - on a sleepy holiday weekend. (She had kids, you see.)

I think she bypassed all the bureaucracy there at NASA by virtue of it being a holiday (sneaked in under the radar so to speak) and started sending Tweets from the Mars Landers' point of view, to get people's attention. She got great results and, even better, great nation-wide press. Perfect timing on her part. Win-win for everyone.

Anyway, if you read this, Mr. Megginson. (if blogs aren't too old hat or old victrola for you) please go to You will see that I have long been penning articles and essays about social issues, especially around education.

But because of recent heart-breaking experiences, I now take an interest in eldercare issues.

My present hobby is history, because I have found 'what comes around goes around' especially with respect to social issues.

This book I am writing, Flo in the City shows how easy it is to ignore the suffering of others, even if it is right at your doorstep.

In the book, Flora Nicholson, 19 year old teacher-in-training and a well brought up Presbyterian (who was a real person) is given an opportunity to learn about the human cost of her shirtwaists and princess skirts. But does she pay attention?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Who is Flora?

Flora Nicholson. Likely a grad picture from St. Francis College or Macdonald.

Today, I got up with a plan to record the Flora Nicholson Macdonald letters - and listen to them, to make better sense of them in the context of my novel Flo in the City.

But first I dropped by In Our Time, the BBC Four Ideas program and listened to an older discussion on Existentialism.

Listening to this, I realized how much this philosophy has coloured my worldview; which is not surprising considering that I am well read when it comes to the modern novel.

And I enjoy reading the history of the 20's and 30's for this reason.

But then I got to wondering: Flora Nicholson came of age before Modernism (which was born around 1922).

As I write this novel, using her letters, do I really know her.

Am I assuming too much? Perhaps I should be listening to old In Our Times about the Victorian Age.

Luckily, I can easily see what books she read at school - that helps me understand her better.

Middlemarch. Hmm.

Kipling. Hmm.

I think I will read (or re-read in its entirety) In Dark Corners or whatever it is called. The Morality book that was so popular in Canada in 1910.

It's no fun to read. Seems like so much prissy nonsense, but by reading it I probably can get into those darker corners of Flora's mind, the ones she doesn't reveal to her parents in her letters, indeed, the ones she likely doesn't reveal to herself.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Privacy, you say?

Flora's 1912 Nature Diary. 99 Years ago, this is what she saw around Ste. Anne de Bellevue. I have her entire Macdonald Portfolio, which I am using in Flo in the City, my novel based on the letters of

I got my census form and filled it out. Nothing to it! Literally. Just a few questions covered householders' ages, and marital status and from then all the questions are about first and second language.

Quite a useless thing, I imagine, this shortform. Nothing about education or profession or income. Why do they even bother?

Hmm. All those questions on language. Why? It would be nice if the info were to be used to give second language funding, because then maybe I could get some working money for Flo in the City. As it is, such funding is hard to come by. We anglos in Quebec are 'a minority within a minority' so we're last on the list. I've heard this from the horse's mouth, so to speak, from the very people responsible for doling out such monies.

At the local meet the candidates debate, the old BLOC MP was asked about this lack of funding for anglophones in our region. She claimed she had been working on getting some, but the money that was available was staying on-island. (See, I did pay attention to what matters to me in the last election!)

Anyway, the weirdest question on this census asked if the person wanted the census information released in 92 years. You had an option to opt out.

Gee, I've posted a great deal about the 1911 census on this blog. How the census man came around and told Margaret to leave out Herb and Marion. How Marion never made it on the 1911 census, and how neither did her future husband, Hugh Blair. (A lot of young people didn't make it because in 1911 a lot of young people were on the move.)

How the Happy Wanderer, Herb Nicholson. did make it on the census, in Qu'Appelle Saskatchewan and how this same census reveals that a young woman and a bartender shared his boarding house.

This would never have happened in Montreal. Boarding house matrons were very careful about selecting boarders and they watched over them closely, as the Nicholson letters reveal. This is why Marion Nicholson works so hard to find a flat where she can live on her own, with her sister and other friends.

And I used the Census to learn about cotton workers in Magog.

Well, all this misguided protection of people's private information: seems to me a LOT like closing the barn doors after the horses have escaped.

There's no personal privacy these days. Not a bit. And it's not just the voluntary ways we release our information on various social networks. Our emails are likely scanned, for keywords, anyway. Our IP providers keep track of what we download (someone I know got a warning for her daughter had downloaded an illegal copy of Dexter and they knew the exact time. (she phoned them and they said they sent out 50 such letters a day); our satelite providers keep track of what we watch, period pieces or porn. (They prefer you download porn as that makes a lot more money for them. How kind! Alas, just reading the bizarro titles of said explicit offerings is entertainment enough for me and my husband.)

We don't have CC TV in Canada, but just wait. I couldn't buy my Malibu without getting ONSTAR. It's built it. That company can track my every move with my car as well as listen in to all my phone calls as they are channelled from my cell phone through the Onstar phone system.

I probably signed all my rights away signing the Onstar contract. It was huge and I couldn't get the car without it.

And the cashless society means quite simply that all our purchases can be tracked, on Interact or the credit cards.

But, it seems, from this 2011 Canadian census, short form, that the government assumes many Canadians don't want historians in the year 2200 to see if they were married or not. We suddenly become bashful when posterity is involved.

I hope these same Canadians erase their Facebook page before they die.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Our Most Famous Society Woman

Lady Julia Grace Parker Drummond from National Archives of Canada.

I am writing the scene where Edith takes Flora to a meeting of the Montreal Council of Women. It will be the time when Miss Wylie, British Suffragette speaks, but they will miss her speech (just catching the reporter's scrum at the end) and only be there for 'business' arising.

I will have Julia Parker Drummond (Founder and First President of the Council) read a bit from the Far From Nature editorial(which is about child labour in Canada) and Flora will be enraptured by her elegance and speaking skills and attire, but miss out on the substance of her speech.

The girls will hear a woman from the Immoral Materials Committee expound on the evils of the nickelodeon. (The woman in question, a Mrs. Liddel, lives on Lorne, which is a short street where the Cleveland's live...So I will use that somehow.) I will use a funny line from a Canadian Council Report that describes vaudeville as having a rather low tone.

Then they will hear a woman bring up the subject of Technical Schools and Women. This will capture Flora's interest, because she will hear the words MacDonald College and say THAT IS MY SCHOOL.

She will listen closely to what is said this time, but leave before the conclusion of the discussion - which will cause her to do something stupid at Macdonald College when Robertson comes around.

Anyway, I got to thinking. In the 1910 era, it was the job of society women to work on the social problems of the day. Lady Aberdeen, Lady Drummond, Mrs. Reford...These are three of Canada's leading figures in the social welfare movement.

Society Women had the education, energy, time and connections to do the work.

Many of these women were feminists who worked to give women equal opportunities. Now women have won these opportunities, but the ones with the brains and drive are too busy running the rat race and don't have the time to fight for social justice, if they want it.

Movies stars now are the equivalent of 'society women'. Only they have the time and prestige.

Just a thought.

Now Julia Parker Drummond was clearly a 'good looking woman' but she had androgynous features and a huge male chin in profile: she wasn't a beauty (although a little makeup might have helped. So Flora will make this observation...not about the makeup...but that she is handsome, not beautiful.

But she did have charm and eloquence and Grace, like her name. Apparently. And she had smarts too. After all, I have posted a letter she wrote in 1909 in answer to a query from the Moral Reform Association of Canada who wanted 'living in sin' to be criminalized. She wrote: You cannot make people 'good' by acts of parliament.

She was the second wife of Sir George Drummond, whose first wife was a Redpath, which was a help to him, no doubt. She was presented to Queen Victoria and also got some face-time with Edward and Alexandra. This will impress Flora of course.

The Redpath Refineries were not far from where Marion taught. I'll use that too, but probably in the Marion story.
She was a wise woman.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Endless Possibilities

A friend of mine recently sent me a link to a National Film Board Interactive 'film' no, digital documentary, digital book, or whatever, called Welcome to Pine Point, about the death of a mining town in Northern Canada..

Interesting use of media, 'low tech' too. Any kid could do it.

I thought if I could get my creative energy up I might try to turn my story, The Quilt, into a digital book type thingy.

You can make very complex slide show art forms these days. The picture above is a still from an old Super 8 film my Aunt Flo took that my husband transferred to video tape and then DVD and yesterday I re-discovered it and played it in my computer and captured a still of me and my father walking in the water at Ste. Marthe Sur la Lac and I played it in a slide show and then played the slide show on the Big Screen and well, the possiblities are endless, I think, for storytelling.

Like that box of Black Magic chocolates. Gee, I actually have a still photo from 1954, the year of my birth, with a box of Black Magic photos on the mantlepiece at my Aunt Cecile's house (I think it is.)

Unfortunately, not many photos of my childhood in Labrador still exist. We had tonnes at one time. So I'd have to get creative, but creativity thrives within limits. Maybe if I had albums full of pictures from that era, my digital story would be prosaic, boring.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Community and Coke ...

The CBC News Magazine had a couple of interesting pieces this week: on the Almanac they featured COKE, which they said was 125 years old. (Not much of an anniversary, but hey!)

They mentioned that the original coke had a trace of cocaine but that ended in 1903. They did not mention the Pure Foods Act of 1903, but the Almanac is a short feature.

That act happened to cause many patent medicine companies to move to Brockville Ontario. And these companies advertised a lot in the Richmond Times Guardian.

Canada did not have a Pure Food Act. The bureaucrat in charge of such things was more concerned with honesty in advertising than with taking all the inpurities, alchohol, and preservatives out of foods as was the US official in charge. If a product said it was Pure Whiskey, it had better be pure whiskey.

Anyway, I have to figure out if the sodas Flo drank in 1911 had any 'medicinal' products. I am certain their cough medicines did. I will deal with that in Edith's part of the Flo in the City Trilogy.

Sunday Morning also featured a bit on the happiest places in America. (Always a bit of a silly subject and a subjective subject.) Boulder Colorada has come out on some scientist's list as the place with the most contented citizenry.

It seems everyone can live amid Nature's startling beauty and still be 5 minutes from the small city.

"People want to go back to a pre-industrial world," I told my husband. Because that was the essence of the story.

A world where you live near nature and enjoy a sense of community. (I live in the burbs. I am surrounded by Nature and beauty of a sort but it's a ghost town really. No one around.)

Flo in the City, is about the 1911 era when people were leaving small towns like Richmond Quebec for the big city. The fun part of living in a small town is evident in the letters. The downside too.

Of course, there was a downside for all this, as I show in the book, there were no secrets in the small towns. And a citizen had to stay in line or suffer the disapproval of all. (Margaret Nicholson tears into a married man who is showing affection for her sister in law's sister. Another time, she says So and So is seeing another man, 'he might as well through himself into the Salmon River."

So, it follows, there were many dark secrets. In the Nicholson's case, their son had stole from the Bank. How many others knew of this, I wonder.

And on a more everyday note: Mrs. Montgomery, a kind hearted but nosey neighbour, forced Margaret one day to put pesticide on her potatoes when she really didn't want to.

And people had cliques, as my Flo in the City shows. I have Flora hardly know any French people, except merchants and she shuns the French Canadian milliner at the end.

I know from the letters that their friends were all the local 'elite' Prebyterians. They hardly mention a French Canadian name, yet the Census shows that many French Canadians lived nearby.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Headline News Abuse

In 1910 in Canada it was the Wheat Boom Era. And the new wheat crop in the Western Provinces was signficantly changing Canada and its relationship with the US and world

Simply put, "Wheat" is a character in Flo in the City.

The Nicholsons paid about 5.00 a barrel for wheat flour which was A LOT, all considered. They did not seem to be benefitting directly from this boom. I'm not 100 percent why, but I suspect that the wheat was being sold to Europe.

Anyway, I've been reading analyses of the recent 2011 election and these are all over the board...but no commentator (until now) has suggested that rising food prices in Quebec had anything to do with the NDP win.

All I know is that my food costs have taken off and I have to seriously reconsider what I eat, and that's despite the fact I am an empty nester.

Now, yesterday, I wrote about bit about breastfeeding and the newsmedia.

I wrote how GOOGLE headlines tend to distort the news, especially the scientific studies they herald. That scientific findings are being spun out of control...or being controlled by 'spin' more aptly put.

Here's another example, related to wheat. A study has come out (an American one out of Stanford (of the Stanford-Binet intelligence test ;) saying that global warming has contributed to the fact that world grain yields are down 5 percent. This trend, scientists say, has not reached North America. This cannot be good news.

So the Canadian Press's headline: Study Finds that Canadian Farmers could benefit from Climate Change. And it is the lead and only visible headline on the topic on Google news Canada this morning. (Earlier, you could see two other headlines with it.)

If you click on 'other stories' you get: Cereal Killer: Global Warmer Stunts Growth of Global Crop Yield (Scientific American);Climate Shifts hit wheat yields (BBC);Climate Change Killing Crops but not in Canada (Study) Sun News; Report: Global Warming already crimping crops, pushing prices higher (Washington Post) etc.

A dangerous headline by the Canadian Press, I'd say. Especially since that's all some Canadians will see. Reminds me of the Monty Python skit "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life."

The world media picked up this story, but somehow failed to see 'the upside' to this story.

Sure, they may, in the short term, be able to sell wheat at higher prices, but rising global grain prices is BAD NEWS for everyone.

And this article does not suggest that Canadian CITIZENS will benefit from this. Although the article omits the obvious, that our food prices will go up too, regardless.

Just like the Nicholsons of Tighsolas 1911, we won't be benefitting from this particular gloomy wheatboom.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Gingerbread Life

A non Queen Anne place in Melbourne. It was the general store.

Tighsolas in 1908 or so. Assymmetrical footprint, irregular roof, only a touch of gingerbread moulding around the porch. Tasteful in a gawdy time.

I am writing Flo in City, which I have decided will be the first in a Tighsolas Trilogy. Flo in the City is about Flora Nicholson's life year at school in 1911/12/13.
It will tell the Tigsolas Saga from her point of view and the social theme will be garmet workers and fashion.

The next book will be Marion's Choice (tentative title) and it will follow the Nicholson Saga through Marion's Eyes and the underlying theme will be her 'push pull' of biology and ambition and the eugenics movement.

The Final Book will tell the story through Edith's eyes. I haven't quite thought it out, but it will tell the story of the NEW WOMAN, but from the point of view of a woman who lost her great love in a fire and is likely never to marry but who has great depth of feeling and a curious mind. The underlying theme: something to do with the change in women's roles. I will play on that belief that there was no job out of bounds for women, especially those who did not marry. It was Edith who jumped from career to career, after all. Maybe I'll call it Illusions and Truth.

I was editing the first paragraphs of the first chapter of Flo and I had to describe Tighsolas. Well, it is Queen Anne Revival, but a restrained and modest version of the gingerbread, neo-baroque style.

This style was popular in 1890 to 1910 and that's because, I think, of the rising middle class, with money, who could build such 'expensive homes.' All the decorative flourishes.. expensive to build and to maintain. I wll have Normans saying that these houses are money pits. He's a practical man and a builder himself.

The biggest houses in Richmond were on College Street, and Margaret in her meaner moments makes fun of the rich people like her sister and brother in law on College Street and their big houses.

It was about class within a class. Who has the biggest most elaborate house? So the 1911-1912 letters take on even more meaning as both neighbours are renovating their homes, but the Nicholsons cannot do anything. Well, they light it up electrically in 1913.

So that fits awfully well into the Tighsolas story

Friday, May 6, 2011

Eugenics and IQ

My classroom window. The old Royal Vale Elementary.

I once interviewed a person involved with a School Garden initiative and he informed me that schools were built on the same principals as prisons, for optimum containment and visibility. So the kids aren't crazy, after all!

The news lately is that there will soon be a definitive test for Alzheimer's. I am not that keen as my father died of this disease and I know there is an hereditary component.

Besides, I can no longer remember much.

McGill University is responsible for this test which measures the amount of a certain hormone in the blood.

I wonder how this test can be exploited.... cause it will be. And perhaps misused and even abused.

Yesterday, I posted a bit about the IQ test, the Stanford Binet test, as it was invented in 1912, the year Flora Nicholson got her teaching degree.

I have long assumed the test was more about keeping people in their place than about creating a level playing field, just because 'keeping people in their place' was the mantra of the era. Not mantra, it was the sort-of hidden agenda.

Sure enough, it seems that the person who brought the Binet test to America (this in 1908) was a proponent of Eugenics. HH Goddard, who wanted to use the test to prove that the white race was superior, in a time of rampant immigration.

Alfred Binet, the French psychologist, who died in 1911, did not create the test for these purposes, quite the opposite.

So as history repeats itself, a reason to be worried about this test, for a disease with no cure.

My source: A. Plucker, J. A. (Ed.). (2003). Human intelligence: Historical influences, current controversies, teaching resources. Retrieved [insert month day, year], from

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Mismeasure of Me

My report card in 1967.

In the tenth grade I got such a low mark in math that I went from being in the advanced class to the 'slow' class, whatever it was called.

This was a weird experience, because in my school, in the entire Board, students were streamed. I had spent 4 grades travelling from class to class with the same group of talented students.

So I hardly knew the kids in my 'new' grade 11 math class. But, being an insightful kind of girl, I instantly realized that these kids were treated as if they were stupid. (I remember the teacher, the oldest teacher in the school, a Mr. Monk, coming into the classroom with a styrofoam cup on his nose, oinking like a pig.) And if felt awful.

In my other classes, the teachers assumed we were very smart and treated us as such, to such an extent that we got away with a lot. I recall in one English class the one very very smart kid handing it all his assignments for the year on the last day of school. He got a big laugh from the other students, because he did so with panache, tossing this assignments one by one on the teacher's desk. He wasn't alone that day, in handing in overdue asssignments either.

The fact is, with respect to my problem, the people around me, teachers and my parents, should have questioned why I failed math, but it was kind of expected of girls in those days to 'hit the wall' so to speak. (A friend of mine also did hit the wall, but her Dad tutored her and she went on to become a top math student at university and to work in high finance. )

In my case, it had more to do with my parents getting a divorce that year - and the fact the teacher in the advanced math class did not appear to respect girls' talents. (My father had a degree in MATH from Oxford, actually!)

Anyway, that's all long evaporated water under the far away bridge. (But I might say, that when I took those student aptitude tests for university, (they were not called SATS) I got a 75 percentile in math, which was tied with a friend of mine who went on to become a top top TOP scientist and a lot lot better than my best friend, who got 99 percentile in English (I got 95 or so) and about a 4 percentile in math. She went on a to a brilliant career in the arts. (Something, sadly, I did not do.) So it goes to show you.

What has this got to do with Flo in the City? Well, 1912 was the year the Stanford-Binet test or IQ test was created (I've read) and the year Flora graduated from Macdonald Teachers' College.

I have her student portfolio and one of notebooks contains a page on teaching 'defectives' to read. That's how they referred to retarded, special or challenged children back them. (There's nothing in the portfolio about IQ tests (too soon) but there is a mention of "the new phonics system" and well as Tonic Solfa (?).

In 1912, the eugenics movement was in full swing and I suspect that the Stanford Binet test (or Binet-Simons?)was created in some way to divide defectives from normals. (I have yet to find early articles about the test.)

They needed a measure. (I must re-read the Mismeasure of Man.)

By 1921, the year my Mom was born, the test already was popular in schools. One article I found in the New York Times claims that The Stanford Binet test is used in many schools as a basis for classification.

This particular article is a 'soft science' one that says that the higher the social status the higher the IQ. It seems some pesky people were using the test to prove that grocers' sons were smarter than professors' sons and this irked the establishment.

This kind of talk was turning the purpose of the test on its head!!

Average kids, says the article, test between 95 and 105, while the children of the upper classes and higher mercantile classes test between 110 and 120.

This, they say, proves the higher social ranks contain smarter people.

(Of course, it proves the test is designed to make the people from the higher social ranks seem smarter.)

Anyway, other articles I've pulled out from the early 1930's, when the eugenics movement is still going strong, although it will suddenly drop into disfavor because of Hitler and his embrace of the doctrine, reveal that the test was used to decide if young offenders, murderers and such, were mature enough to stand trial as adults.

Now, in 1921, it appears, they came out with "The Condensed Guide for the Stanford Revision of the Binet Simon Tests."

It appears that educators were 'too dumb' or 'too lazy' or 'too busy' to fully ingest the longer guide for giving these newfangled IQ tests to their students and they needed something more condensed.

The author writes in the preface : "Since the appearance of the Stanford Revision of the Binet Simon Intelligence Scale I, I have frequently been urged to prepare a condensed guide to make the application of the tests easier and more convenient."

Well, this book is available on and I certainly don't have the time ;) to deconstruct the questions. (I'm afraid I will not be able to do any of the puzzles and feel dumb. And, I just learned they have a test coming soon for Alzheimer's and that is giving me great anxiety, which lowers my IQ. I am wondering if this test is a good or terrible thing. I mean, how might this test be used and abused on Old Folk? Will husbands leave wives or vice versa when they discover the awful truth early? Will people be fired from their jobs or kicked off their insurance?)

I am a writer, a literate person, so I looked to the final test at the back of this condensed guide, which was a vocabulary test, just like the Word Power at the back of the Old Reader's Digests. (My mom aced these Word Powers, I recall, and took great pride in doing so as she was French Canadian. But she could not do basic fractions in the kitchen, which she needed to double the recipes for the meals and desserts she made for us. I did any and all calculations for her, while never really picking up an culinary skills as she didn't have the patience to teach me.)

There are two lists of words in this condensed guide to Binet-Simon IQ test. Here are some chosen sort of randomly: gown, juggler, mosaic, bewail, hysterics, disproportionate, milksop, ambergris, ochre, sudorific, harpy, parterre, complot, perfunctory, piscatorial; guitar, shrewd, repose, dilapidated, drabble, irony, sapient, humunculous.

Get my drift. (Quick. Define drift.)

I dare you to write a sentence containing these words.

Hmm. I have to wonder how Flora's immigrant students, 'defective' or not, most of whom had parents who spoke no English, fared on this IQ test.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The More Things Change.... Harper's A-Moral Majority,

My Bullwinkle, one day after his 'Littlist Hobo' moment. Maybe even I would have voted Conservative had Mr. Harper convinced me that my beloved dogs and cats were at some risk.

Well, the 1911 election, chronicled in Flo in the City, was an historic election and so was the 2011 Canadian election. Although, this election wasn't about Reciprocity, or Free Trade, although Mr. Harper is going to demolish the wheat board (I just read).

But the Liberals got a thrashing in both elections. And times today are uncertain, as they were pre WWI. (Oh oh.)

Now, as an Anglo-quebecker, I am of mixed mind about the outcome. I'm kind of proud of Quebec for turning its back on Harper. If I am worried about Mr. Layton's meaty promises to French Nationalists, I am ten thousand times more worried about the legislative infrastructure Mr. Harper is going to start installing immediately (mostly crime legislation)that will assure the attrition, no, EROSION, of our civil liberties (and our children's and grandchildren's civil liberties) and make it impossible for Have-nots in Canada to ever become Haves.

After all, I was ready to vote Bloc to keep out the Cons in my riding.

I've been reading too much history lately, Edwardian Era history, History of the 1930's, and it scares me that Mr. Harper wants to deny people the right to know the demographic make up of the prison population. Why? Unless one day he expects 'every day' people to be in those prisons and he doesn't want the 'every day" people on the outside to know about it.

He likely won't return us to the Edwardian era by bringing in Poor Houses but one man's Poor House is another man's Prison. Or Old Age Home.

Anyway, I must admit, I argued with a very blue Ontarian on Saturday saying in a wine soaked diatribe that if Mr. Harper gets a majority, it will not be because of his 'sound economic stewardship' as described in a Globe and Mail's perplexing to some (who don't know how Media works) endorsement of Harper. (For didn't Harper want to de-regulate the banks?)

Harper will get in, I said, pouring myself a third glass of Californian Pinot Noir) because he is appealing directly to the 'amoral' survivalist sentiments of the middle class, mostly in Ontario and BC, people who still have some money and status and are in danger of losing it.

As explained in the Globe and Mail today, Canada's New Electoral Divide: It's about Money, (Patrick Brethour) Harper assured certain antsy segments of the electorate that he was the only one who could protect their money.

As my Flo in the City shows, the Middle Class, in uncertain times, can become very anxious, even hysterical.

I guess they'll get a rude awakening when the markets predictably tank again, as they did in 2008, say when the oil runs out (in two years?) and food prices skyrocket and this is likely to happen no matter what Harper does, because complex global forces control our economy. (In a book about the Thirties (The Thirties: An intimate history) I am reading, the author explains that after the 1929 crash, NO ONE, not the politicians on either side of the ideological divide, not the businessmen, and not the economists, understood how to fix the economy, it was too complex a problem. Back then. In the 1930's. Too complex. Too many variables involved. Back then. 80 years ago.)

The price of food has already doubled here in Quebec, or so it seems to me and I will soon have to seriously consider a diet of lentils and brown rice. No more organic chicken and radicchio. No more red wine.

We all are selfish creatures and we vote on what matters to us - if we vote at all. So, I'm not inpugning those people who voted for Harper based on pure self-interest.

And everyone gets self serving when their stomachs are rumbling (or, in the case of these voters, if there is a prospect of it rumbling) and they get very mad when their stomachs are empty...although when their stomachs are too empty they often don't have the energy to do anything but grovel.

The Nicholson, in 1911, voted Liberal almost entirely on self-interest, although they would have sworn on their Bibles that that wasn't the case. Well, Norman voted as the women couldn't.)

But there's short term self interest and long term self interest. Vision.

Anyway, at 1 am after I had watched enough of the election coverage, (and CTV interviewed Brian Mulroney -of all people - who gloated over the Conservative Majority. Mind-boggling... and No, I did not name my dog after the former Conservative Leader.)

I let my little dog, Bullwinkle,out for a pee, and he simply disappeared. (I had to wonder if I had a disruption in the time/space continuum in my backyard, as last week my little cat disappeared. I found it a few houses away.)

Anyway, I walked up and down the street and then my husband came home (he works at a TV Station ) and he walked up and down the street and at first light I took the car and drove all around, looking in ditches for my dog's dead body.

(Bullwinkle never leaves the property and occasionally squeezes under the gate to nip at some ferocious dog, ten times his size, being walked down the street.) He's 11 years old. Blindish and deafish.) He's a Boston Terrier, and has no tolerance for cold and the temp dropped to plus 2 over night. So I had little hope for him unless he'd found shelter.

I was glad he was wearing his collar and tag from the vet's, because he seldom is. I knew that if someone had found him during the night they would call me at 9 am. But no call came.

But as my husband was checking out our neighbours' back yards, at about 10 am, I got a call. Bullwinkle had been found safe and sound a long long away, in a horse barn. About a 40 minute walk for us. A little boy picked him up as BW looked disoriented.

How did he get there and why?

I have a theory. Our neighbour had parked his silver car on the street and maybe our old dog saw this car and he thought my husband had got home and he squeezed under the gate; then, once on the street, he got so mixed up he walked miles in the wrong direction.

Or perhaps someone, driving on the street, seeing a purebread on the street, or in the yard, dognapped him, and then realizing said pooch was a smelly old Boston Terrier with hideously bad breath and warts all over and milky cataracts on both bulging eyes, not to mention "cherry eye" two raw red suppurating eruptions in his tear ducts, callously/kindly let him go a few miles down the road. (I've noticed that many pugs, a trendy breed, seem to be missing from our area.) Dog napping is one of those things that happens in a bad economy. Or maybe it's the fishers.

Whatever, like Mr. Mulroney, Bullwinkle's back, unworse for wear, and he made me realize that politics aren't everything. (Well, they are. When I'm eating Bullwinkle's muscley little carcass for Christmas dinner (he looks a bit like a little pig)because I've run out of bargain priced dry dog food to share with him, then I might have wished I had taken more interest in national politics.)

Well, I hope the NDP with Elizabeth May (who my son really admires) can serve as the conscience of Canada, ACTIVELY this time. I hope. And I have no problem with their rather green (sic) MPs, for isn't that what democracy is all about? The bureaucrats (and lobbyists) run everything on Capital Hill, whoops, Parliament Hill, anyway. Why should career politicians (often people with big egos and no specific talent except BSing) guide our Country?

Even the waitress. She works in a bar. She knows people. She knows when she is being hustled, being given a line. So why not? My MP in the Vaudreuil-Soulanges is now Jamie Nicholls, an enviromental activist and landscape architect. He speaks good French. He'll do nothing for anglo rights, just like the genial Bloc MP before him. But he might make this Vaudreuil area a prettier and healthier place to live.

This, of course, is where Jack Layton grew up.

And if the NDP can't be the conscience of Canada (active version) let them be a Bullwinkle, an annoying terrier nipping at the ankles of Harper's A-Moral Majority, whenever it threatens the precious home-land with some massive destructive bit of Pit Bull legislation.