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Wednesday 29 November 2017

Waste not

The young server passed over the tray containing the coffee and soup. We picked up napkins as we headed to the tables. It had been a long day but we weren’t very hungry. The soup would do just fine.

As we settled in at the table and selected our portions, the little packets of salt and pepper appeared from under one of the soup bowls. We laughed. 

“This soup never needs seasoning, especially salt,” I said.

“That’s for sure,” my husband commented. 

We each tasted from the bowls and looked at each other. “No,” we almost said together. Just as we expected. More salt than we use in a week. 

“I guess the server has never tasted this soup. Why would she give us so much of this?” He pointed to the packets of salt and pepper.

I counted them, thirteen pepper and five salt packets, none of which were needed for this soup.

“Pop would have been delighted with these,” I said.

“I know,” my husband added.


My grandfather was one of only three children from a large family to escape  tuberculosis which also took both of his parents. He and the other surviving boys were cared for by relatives, who already had a large family of their own. My grandfather and his older brother both went to work on the Newfoundland Railway as young teens, more than a century ago.

Pop, as my brother and I called him, didn’t have an easy childhood and was forced to grow up too soon. Later in his life, he wasted nothing. 

When I was a teenager, I travelled with him. Pop always took some packages of condiments from the restaurants or diners, such as mustard, salt, pepper, sugar, whatever was available in packets on the table. At first, I was embarrassed by this behaviour, but over time put it down to, “That’s just Pop.”

Sure enough, when you went to his house for lunch, the packets were there on display at the table in case you needed any. I don’t know if he emptied the packets as he flavoured the delicious meals he made, but I imagine he did.

Back in the restaurant, my husband and I debated the disposal of the packets. If we put them in the compost bin, it was a waste. If we gave them back to the server, would they be put in the compost anyway?

Pop would be proud of me!

Monday 27 November 2017

Aspen memories

The trees were tall along the trail, at least twenty-five meters above us. In places, they swayed in the breeze, lacking the support of a thick forest.

We heard a creak on occasion, as wood scraped over wood high above us on both sides of the trail. As my husband and I walked along this trail, it became a walk down memory lane.

This location was the trail to the beach at the National Park at Cavendish, Prince Edward Island. We’d had lunch at Cavendish Grove and decided to explore an area of the park we had yet to visit.

This trail goes through a mixed forest where the autumn colour was still present above us, 

but the accumulation below was well underway. To the left, through the trees, 

we saw a pond, probably once an inlet of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The sand dunes are high between the pond and the beach now.

At a viewing area along the trail, one can see through to the beach in one place, 

watch the cormorants to the left in the pond and the black ducks, on the right. My husband and I pause to take in the scene. The voices of the ducks are part of the symphony of this place.

But the best part was provided by the aspens, 

and their distinctive tremble in the wind, 

a sound I knew well from my childhood. Our walk continued with stories of my grandparents in Maddox Cove, Newfoundland, where I spent many summers as a child.

My grandparents’ home was surrounded by aspens on three sides. On summer nights, the open windows enabled the tremble of leaves to lull me to sleep. That sound is implanted in my brain and conjures up thoughts of safety, comfort, the carefree times filled with childhood innocence and fun.


That day we were 1500 kilometers, two ferry rides and more than fifty years away from Maddox Cove. However, as we walked that trail, my grandparents were with us. The experience was a reminder of how we carry our loved ones with us wherever we go.


Friday 24 November 2017

The calm

A wind storm was on the horizon. This time of year that usually means the last of the leaves will fall from the trees. However on this peaceful morning before the storm, it was picnic time. We headed to one of our favourite picnic settings, Cavendish Grove.

On our last visit to the Grove, the autumn drama had just begun. We had our picnic on a bench overlooking the basin. 

This time, we’d sit under the trees, with the leaves falling around us.

There were numerous picnic sites to choose from. We settled for a bench again, 

under a yellow-orange maple though picnic tables were available nearby. 

The last of the fall colour will soon be scattered on the earth, a crunch of dry leaves or wet ones stuck to your boots. The distinctive autumn smell hasn’t developed yet.

So we sat and took in the scene, as we enjoyed the homemade fare, which was simple but provided comfort. There is nothing like a mug of hot tea under the trees on a cool autumn day. We heard birds around us though they were invisible, even in the diminished foliage. 

Later, we walked the familiar paths, 

leaf covered now as the colour overhead thins. The remaining layers of colour...

Enough said.

Wednesday 22 November 2017


It’s been frosty. Temperatures have been as low as -6 C overnight and well into the morning. I hadn’t looked out at the vegetable patch in days but I thought the kale was gone. As I cleaned up the garden one day, the frost on the leaves looked ominous. I’d soon be back to buying produce from half a world away rather than picking it ten feet from the back door.

However, I have blanched and frozen some kale for this winter. Raised by parents who grew up during the Great Depression, it pains me to see food go to waste. Besides, in the winter, kale is very costly when it is imported from distant lands and one never knows what it is sprayed with. I hadn’t finished the harvesting of our organic kale before the frost came.

While my husband is not a fan, he eats kale because we grow it. I feel better when I keep kale in my diet, any green vegetable really, though kale is the best.  My hip and knees ache much less when kale is on the plate. Maybe it’s psychological, but, whatever works!

Meanwhile out in the garden, the last week of November, the kale is perfect, unaffected by the frost. I picked some for dinner and enough for several days. A little kale goes a long way. 

Lets’s face it, if there is a zombie apocalypse, the only things left will be cockroaches and kale. And, the cockroaches will have painless joints.

Monday 20 November 2017

Career plans

Every September our daughter asks her children, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” The eldest, at six, wants to be a ballerina and the second child, four, wants to be a fairy. Lofty goals indeed.

I remember the days when I thought about my future. My parents stressed the importance of an education so I would be able to support myself. I knew my education would continue past high school. They left the decision to me as to what I’d do.

Maybe nursing school I thought. I considered it for a minute and volunteered at a hospital as a candy striper. An encounter in a burn unit nixed that idea. Nursing school was out.

I had zero interest in secretarial work beyond improving my typing skills. Instead, I went to university, which fueled my desire to learn, but what would I do beyond that science degree?

I enjoyed science but couldn’t imagine working in a lab for any length of time though I was fascinated with embryology. It was the field I would have pursued if I could have tolerated time in a lab, but it was not for me.

I decided to become a teacher and with an extra year of university, off I went to teach in a mining community in central Newfoundland. 

I limited my career considerations to the traditional female roles. I didn’t consider anything else. As it turned out, I made a good choice. With the exception of the last few years, when the job changed a great deal, I enjoyed working with high school students. I lucked into the right field!

Now I look at our two granddaughters and wonder what they will do. One of the saddest things about getting old is not being around to see what becomes of them. The few who do are fortunate.

Last week, my husband and I took four year old, Caitlin, to the library to hear stories about firefighters. She also met a firefighter, sat in a fire truck and saw the equipment.

In our youth, there were firemen, not firefighters. That day, the librarian and the firefighter spoke about women in the profession and referred to the woman at the local department. Caitlin will always have a broad perspective of what a woman can do. 

Today, people mention women in the profession because it is a relatively new concept. One day, as younger generations take their place, it won’t be mentioned. It will be the way it is.

Caitlin enjoyed the experience. She received a hat, 

a colouring book and crayons and some to take home for her sister. We went to lunch as well. She picked out the next place we’ll eat after we see a police officer next week.

Meanwhile, the family pet, Georgie is not too pleased with the hat she had to wear. That animal has no interest in becoming a fire house dog! She is content with her current occupations as hair shedder extraordinaire and chief barker.

Friday 17 November 2017

Books on the move

It is a holdover from another time, a way to bring books to the people when there were fewer libraries and transportation was more difficult. My husband and I were surprised to see a Mobile Library in Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia, when we visited there last month. More commonly called the book mobile, the service provides books to residents of the south shore of Nova Scotia, stopping in Mahone Bay once a week. 

There was a time when book mobiles were common throughout Atlantic Canada. Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick also provided the mobile library service to residents at one time. In fact, Newfoundland had a ‘book boat,’ delivering books to the isolated outport communities along its coastline. Now the only mobile service remains in Nova Scotia.

On that beautiful autumn day, the Mobile Library was parked by the bay, amid the tourists and their sight-seeing adventures. As I watched, several residents came to the modified bus with their books and left with a supply for another week. I looked inside.

There is a good supply of books on the bus and residents can request particular books just as regular library patrons do. The setting was bright, tidy and pleasant and the librarian was helpful. 

Today in Prince Edward Island, there are 26 libraries located throughout the province. Islanders don’t live far from the service no matter where they live. In our community, there is a new library, opened recently, which provides programs and services to the people in a modern facility.

However, there is also an island-wide service called Libraryenroute, which according to the government website, is a van, equipped with “a wifi tech bar with iPads, tablets and laptops, so families can make use of our online services, sign up for a library card and participate in story time.” 

This service promotes literacy and the library services in the province. The van travels around the province to festivals and events.

During a quick visit to the library last week, I requested ebooks, large print and audio books be available in the book club kits which are used by the many book clubs in the province. Some bookies need non-traditional materials. Kits contain ten books and a leader’s guide, which book clubs can use for six weeks. This service is well used in the province. 

The book mobile brought a smile that day. While the evolution of library services continues, sometimes the old ways work just fine.

Wednesday 15 November 2017


Bookies are some of my favourite people. Not the betting kind, the kind who read, a lot. Book club has begun for this year and we are off to a great start.  

Our book club is a part of Seniors College on Prince Edward Island, a program which offers courses to seniors for a membership fee. Courses in our area this year include subjects such as Nunavut, The Holocaust and courses in art and writing, to name a few. Seniors College is an opportunity to challenge our minds with new material, to stay current on topics of interest and to socialize. Book club is my favourite.

Every year we have bookies who are new to the area or the Island. Book club is a way to meet like-minded people who can help you get to know the community. The first few months I was on the island, I joined book club and met good friends I have to this day. I have learned a lot about island life from them.

If left to my own devices, I would only read mystery novels to the exclusion of all else. Through book club I have developed a love of Canadian literature, dystopian fiction and non-fiction, none of which I would have developed on my own. 

Discussions are always an exploration of the human mind as much as the book in question. We start with the book and before long we are on a journey through the lives of the members, as each brings her unique perspective to the book and its interpretation. We take a circuitous route through every book.

We learn from each other as we share our reactions to the books. Sometimes we challenge each other in our interpretations. Many times, my negative reaction to a book has been tempered by the insight of other readers. 

The oldest bookies in our group are over 85 years old and are valued members. We are two generations of seniors and each has a wealth of experience and a unique perspective on the world and life. Sharing as we do, we commiserate about life in general and aging in particular. We laugh a lot too, being old enough to see the hilarity in many situations. 

Winter flies by with good books and good friends!

Monday 13 November 2017

Resting place

The temperature has dropped and the wind makes it feel even colder. My husband and I are taking fewer excursions now as winter activites replace them. Books are a great diversion as we sit buy the fire, with a blanket and a cup of tea. In homage to our late autumn and coming winter bookish adventures, all of my posts this week are related to books.

A good book draws you into a world and time of the writer’s design. The most memorable writers do it repeatedly, like Lucy Maud Montgomery, 1874-1942. She captured the minds of many readers in her time and her books continue to do so today, as her stories of the precocious Anne Shirley of Green Gables transcend time.

The town where Lucy Maud grew up, Cavendish, Prince Edward Island, is visited by thousands of Anne lovers every year. We were witness to the admiration for Lucy Maud’s work this past summer when we visited Green Gables, the home of Lucy Maud’s cousins. This is Anne’s home in the novels.

There were Canadians from all across the country, and Americans from Alabama to Michigan and everywhere in between. Two busloads of Japanese tourists were there at that time. There were several couples speaking languages we did not recognize.

Over the years a few things have come to symbolize Anne, one of which is the straw hat and the red pigtails. Today, such a hat, with pigtails attached can be purchased around the island.

We saw several pigtail hats that day and one in an unexpected place. After touring Green Gables and walking through the Haunted Wood as described in her novels, we visited the nearby cemetery where Lucy Maud is buried.

Someone had left a miniature pigtail hat at her grave.

Seventy-five years after her death, a person from somewhere in the world left an Anne keepsake at Montgomery's grave. Could the fertile imagination of Anne Shirley even have imagined such a thing?

Saturday 11 November 2017

Remembrance 2017

Four years ago today I started my blog. I began with the stories of friends and family related to the military, war and service. In the years since then, some of the people I wrote about have died. Today, I post an updated version of that first blog. 

Lest We Forget

We begin our journey in the colony of Newfoundland.

His name was Edgar Moulton and he was from Burgeo, a small fishing village on the southwest coast of the island. While today it is connected by road to the rest of the island, in Edgar's day, Burgeo was  accessible only by boat. Edgar's father was a fish merchant in Burgeo and while we don't know the exact details of his life, we do know that his family had money compared to many Newfoundlanders. It is likely that Edgar could have continued to work in the family business and never have gone to war. Why did he join the Newfoundland Regiment in the spring of 1916 to fight in Europe? Edgar was widowed and had a young daughter. He died from a battle injury one hundred years ago on November 22nd at the age of thirty-two. He was my husband's great great uncle. 

Edgar's daughter moved to mainland Canada and eventually married. Edgar's granddaughter and her family live in Florida today. They searched for information about Edgar so they could remember too.

When World War ll started, Newfoundland, on the far east coast of North America, became a hub of Allied activity. The Newfoundland government allowed Canadian troops into St. John's where a naval base was also established. Gander became the center for military flights. If Newfoundland was taken by the Germans, the east coast of Canada would be vulnerable. Then in 1941, the United States established air, naval and army bases on the island, with the Army base in St. John's. Consequently there were many military personnel stationed in St. John's or in port for various reasons. Thankfully for their future families, many Newfoundland women met their spouses at that time.

My two Aunt's, Muriel and Angela Pretty, married service men from the Second World War.  Muriel married Wilfred Sauriol, from Ontario.  He served in the Canadian Navy 

and met Muriel when he was in port in St. John's, where she grew up. Wilfred, called Babe by his family and friends, was prone to extreme sea sickness and spent time in sick bay as his ship traversed the North Atlantic. Having experienced one extreme though brief bout of sea sickness myself, I can't imagine what it would be like to be sea sick day after day while worrying if you would be torpedoed.   

My Aunt Angela married Alex Woodford, a young man from St. John's, who served overseas. He and Angela raised their two sons, Donald and Ian, in St. John's. My cousin, Donald, wrote about his dad's service.

"He went overseas with the Royal Navy when he was 17. He tried to go when he was 16 but (of course) my grandfather (who had experienced war in WW1) would not give his permission. He was over there for the entire war and came home in 1945. Among other things he was on HMS Ramilies (an old WW1 battleship) when it was torpedoed in Madagascar harbour. The torpedo punched a hole on the ship but (luckily) did not explode.  She was towed to Cape Town, South Africa where the RN had a dry dock. I think he really enjoyed his stay (about a month..I think) in Cape Town. While he was very homesick (at times) he always spoke fondly of his time in the Navy."

My grandfather's brother, Fred and his wife, Jessie Pretty, also lived in St. John's at this time. They had twin girls, Olive and Jennie and a boy, Fred. The girls met military men as well.

Olive married American, John Atfield, an army man, the same day as her sister, Jennie, married a Canadian navy man, Larry Gabel. John was an anti-aircraft gunner with Battery D, 24 Artillery.  John and Olive had one daughter, Patti. They eventually moved to Australia with Patti and her husband Chris. John and Olive are both gone now, but their spirits live on through their cherished daughter.

At the same time, in England, my son-in-law's great grand grandmother was working in a munitions factory while her husband fought in Europe. He died in the war. The great grandmother, Elizabeth, died recently at 99 years old.

While Elizabeth was working in England, our friends, Hiltrud and Carlo were children in Germany.  They were crouched in cellars in Berlin as bombs dropped around them. One of Hiltrud's earliest memories is of one such cellar in Potsdam, just outside Berlin, when she was six years old, near the end of the war. The row houses were made of stone and each had a cellar. She was in one of them with her parents and brother while the bombs fell all around them. When they exited in the morning, the other houses had been destroyed. There were still cracking sounds and bursts of light, all that her child's senses could take in at the time.

While the Pretty girls were growing up in St. John's, a great nephew to Edgar Moulton was born in Port aux Basques and raised in Corner Brook. His name was Richard Mercer. 

He joined the Canadian Armed Forces in 1950. By 1952, when he was twenty-two, Dick, as he was known to his friends and family, was fighting in Korea. He lost some of his friends during the year he was there but he survived and made the military his career. Dick spent six months as a United Nations Peacekeeper in Cypress as well. 

Dick retired as a Chief Warrant Officer in 1984 after having received:

The Korean Volunteer Medal
The Korean Medal
The United Nations Service Medal
The United Nations Cypress Medal
The Long Service Medal

More recently he received the Queen Elizabeth ll Jubilee Medal. 

Dick and his first wife, Marie, had three children, Lori, Richard and David. They had two grandchildren.

Dick and his wife Doris lived in Osgoode, Ontario.  They had three children, Sylvia, Trevor and Keith, and five grandchildren. Dick died last year.

It is interesting that now, living in Prince Edward Island, we have met another Korean veteran who is originally from Grand Falls, Newfoundland where my husband and I lived for many years.

The last story has a more recent connection but is based in the Second World War. Several years before my father, Samuel Pretty, died in 1986, he responded to a Letter to the Editor in a local paper.  The letter was from a man who had served in the British Navy. His ship was torpedoed and he was rescued from a lifeboat and taken to port in St. John's. This man, Al Manning, had been in the Knights of Columbus Hall at a dance in December 1942 when the building caught fire. Ninety-nine people died and the last one saved was Al. He was on fire and got to the door where one of the fireman extinguished the blaze. He survived against all odds. Al had moved to New Zealand, married and had his family there, two girls and their families.

After Dad's death, Mom kept in touch with Al. She eventually saw another article about that fire and the fireman who may have saved Al. His name was Spike Arnott. Mom helped the two find each other again. They wrote letters and eventually talked on the phone. It was an emotional experience for the two men, now long since deceased.

This article by Rob Antle is from The Express, a St. John's newspaper. I cannot find a reference to the year. It showed my mother who reunited the firefighter with the man he saved.

This was the fireman, Spike Arnott, who saved Al Manning from the Knights of Columbus fire.

In more recent times, Canada's combat mission in Afghanistan ended in 2011. We lost many good people there including our first female combat officer, Nicola Goddard. Many of those who returned suffer from the trauma of battle. We can never repay them for the service and the sacrifice they made. However, we must provide support, services and funds to support them with dignity and respect. 

It is impossible for those of us who haven't been there to understand the experience of war. However it is possible to know what was risked by those who were there. The possibilities that they wouldn't come home, or would be maimed, were a constant threat. They risked the opportunity to marry, raise a family and see grandchildren. Some of the best years of their youth were spent in the worst conditions in the various branches of the Service, on the sea, in the air or dug into fox holes in the sides of hills or in fields. Many paid the ultimate price. 

This doesn't include the civilian cost.

There is a song called "The Dutchman" by Michael Peter Smith that captures a bit of the cost of war.  I like the rendition by Makem and Clancy. 

We are Margaret.