Well, I missed the 'never-before-seen' meteor shower known as the Camelopardalids on May 23/24 because I was working and the ambient light was too great to see anything of interest.

So, last night, a friend in Fergus invited me to her place to see if I could catch the 'tail end' of the shower. From the deck at her place, I saw one and it was getting late, so I left and drove home to Guelph. As I was locking my car to go into the house, I saw another one! It was not in the area where I'd been looking -- it was actually considerably west of that, so I may have missed some because of standing next to my friend's house -- which blocked out my view of where they actually could be seen.

I'd read that they would be visible between Ursa Major and Cassiopeia. Instead, it was just below, and a little west of Ursa Major. Could the meteor shower could move that much in 24 hours? Or had I been looking in the wrong place? 

Anyway, I booted it out to Jones Baseline and saw several more as I stood there, looking WNW (under the bowl of the Big Dipper / beneath the feet of Ursa Major), and feeling awed by the stars and the meteors.

Well, at least I got to see some of them. In fact, I would have been perfectly happy with just one.


Uncle Bill

I last saw Uncle Bill about a year and a half ago. I had driven down for the funeral of another uncle, and took the time to look in on Uncle Bill at the seniors’ residence where he lived. As we talked, he referred to himself as the last of the Mohicans, because his brother’s death meant that he had no siblings left.

William Graham was born in the 1920s in Ontario. He was the third of what would become six children – one girl, followed by five boys – and was the quietest of the group. Even as a child, I was aware of how lively some of my relatives could be. Uncle Bill was, to me, an oasis of calm and I loved him for it.

Bill Graham was not a morning person. Actually, that’s putting it rather mildly. My father told me that, when their parents would call the kids down for breakfast, Bill would call back “I’m up”, but he was still in bed. Finally, my grandmother had had enough. One morning when Uncle Bill was giving his standard response, Grandma Graham dumped cold water on him – yes, in bed. Amounts vary from a glassful to a bucketful, depending on who was telling the story.

When my parents were dating, my father invited my mother to dinner with his family. As is usual in these situations, he gave her a rundown of what to expect. According to my mother, Dad said “Don’t expect more than two comments from Bill, and those will be ‘hello’ and ‘good bye’.” At the table, my grandmother seated my mother between herself and Bill – who surprised everyone by chatting, quite happily, with my mother through the whole meal.

I’ve been told that, when my parents were attending a cousin’s graduation (and I was just a toddler), they left me with Uncle Bill for the afternoon. Apparently, small children are somewhat unpredictable when faced with people they may not know or remember, but we got on famously. This was the beginning of our close relationship.

When I got my ears pierced at 16, my parents drove me to Uncle Bill’s to buy my first earrings at his store in Pembroke. Choosing plain gold studs for day wear was easy but, for my second pair, I was torn between a pair of dangly earrings with red stones and a pair of semi-dangly ones with green stones. We were on our way back to Ottawa when I opened the bag to gaze on my treasures. Uncle Bill had put three pairs in the bag by mistake! I told my parents that we had to go back and return the third pair, and they laughed at my assumption. My mother told me she saw him put all three in the bag. When she went to speak, he had winked at her. I still treasure those earrings – all the more so, now that he’s gone.

He was known in the family as the late Bill Graham”, because he never seemed to arrive anywhere on time. Somewhere along the way, I realised that it was intentional on his part. By the time he showed up, most of the other people had already left. We could sit and talk quietly and without interruptions – remember that oasis of calm I mentioned earlier?

A few years after this realisation, I stumbled across the Myers-Briggs personality test. As I learned more about the various attributes, I realised that Uncle Bill was an introvert – unlike the rest of his family who became very unhappy without other people around them. It must have been difficult to find time for himself when, all around him, his siblings would be exhorting him to go out, go to parties, etc.

Later, I discovered Dr. Elaine Aron’s book, The Highly Sensitive Person. According to her, the Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) simply has a sensitive nervous system. “It means you are aware of subtleties in your surroundings, a great advantage in many situations. It also means you are more easily overwhelmed when you have been out in a highly stimulating environment for too long, bombarded by sights and sounds until you are exhausted.”

Some people reading this might think that I shouldn’t be analysing family members. Perhaps they're right. However, having read the book, and remembering our conversations on a wide variety of topics over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that, not only was Uncle Bill an introvert, he was probably an HSP, too. He was not enamoured of loud noises and bright lights – especially for extended periods of time – and avoided conflict whenever possible.

I could empathise. When faced with conflict, I tend to duck and run. It’s rare for me to stand up for myself, although not as rare as it once was. Maybe this was what drew us together – the introversion, sensitivity, and a similar sense of humour – kindred spirits.

Yes, Uncle Bill was my favourite uncle, in a group of excellent ones. I shall miss him.


What is a funeral for?

   This morning I learned that my favourite uncle had died … last August. I only found out because I called the seniors’ home where he lived, just to chat for a few minutes. Stunned by the news, I immediately called his son who told me that it had been his wishes to keep it small – into a box and gone, with no fuss or fanfare.

   While I can understand that his preferences are paramount, I believe that funerals were designed for the people who are left behind. It’s our chance to reflect, remember, and grieve with other people who also knew the deceased. We can hear stories and share our own. It’s also an opportunity to express our condolences to the immediate family.

   As an only child, I was deeply touched by the people who cared enough to attend the funerals of both my parents. They had taken time out of their busy day to dress up and express their support.

   There weren’t enough seats to accommodate everyone at my mother’s funeral service. In theatre terms, it was standing room only. She died a month before she was due to retire from teaching. Her favourite position had been teacher librarian. Over the years, I have met a number of people who were so influenced by her that they, too, went into library work. Just this week, I e-met (through a mutual friend on Facebook) another woman who had had my mother as a teacher. She has been telling me what she remembered about my mother. It makes me feel good that my mother left such a legacy, and it helps, even almost thirty years later.

   At the moment, I’m overwhelmed by memories of my favourite uncle and am composing a letter to send to my cousins. Because I don’t have the opportunity to talk to others about Uncle Bill in person, I will post it here.

   I suppose these reflections are purely self-indulgent, but what is a blog, if not self-indulgent?


Editing the next one ...

Well, I had the third book of the series nearly finished, where Bridgitte and Chris are experiencing problems, but I need to sort some things out.

For example, I had a scene where the people who have gone to France to study Gregorian chant are all introduced. Not only does it seem contrived; it's boring, too. So, I cut that scene, and am now reworking several of the later scenes to introduce the characters in a smoother, more natural manner. Because of this, not even the first chapter of Ut Queant Laxis is ready to post yet.

In other news, I hope to have the solar panels installed on my roof soon. The company sent someone to check my roof trusses, and they are fine. Because they had to get into the attic, I had pulled everything out of the linen closet, and piled it up in the library (which is actually just a spare bedroom with several bookcases).

This weekend I finally put things back and, once I settled into my favourite chair, felt a burning desire to write again. It's weird. I thought all my chairs were comfortable, but this chair (with its matching hassock) allows me to lean back and have my head supported without being at an odd angle. Not only that, but I face four large bookcases and one shorter one -- all filled with my favourite books. Now that is an inspiration!

I hope to have some of my next book ready to publish soon. Meanwhile, I'm also researching the third book (second in the series). With the two books and work, I guess I'm busy enough.


St. Anne's Feast Day

Yes, I know that I posted this a day early, but today is the Feast of St. Anne -- the patron saint of literacy. Let us give thanks that we live in a time and culture where literacy is not only encouraged, but expected of both men and women.

If you have time to give, there are groups who help people who struggle with illiteracy and they frequently need volunteers. The following link is just one area where people can help. Yes, it's for Canada, but I'm sure many other countries have similar programs.




Sorry about the difference in formatting. I'm travelling and using a different machine. When I figure out what I did wrong, I'll correct it.



Job possibility

Heard this on the local radio station and followed up with the Office for Economic Development in Guelph:

HGS Canada is considering Guelph for a new contact centre. They will be hosting a job fair on June 7 & 8 to see if there are enough qualified people to warrant setting one up here. About 500 jobs will be up for grabs and, according to the Guelph Mercury, the company would like to receive about 2,000 applicants -- so they can have their pick of the crop.

Off to update my resume now!


Recording Devices at Airports and Border Crossings

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) has announced that they are installing 'listening equipment' to record conversations in airports and at border crossings. A lot of people are upset by this. They don't want anyone to hear what they are saying to their friend or spouse. On the other hand, I think it's just a return to 'the good old days' -- which were never as good as people like to think. I believe that this is merely a return to the small town way of watching your neighbours -- albeit with electronic devices instead of the town busybody telling everyone what you were saying.

In the first decade of the 20th century, about 85% of Canada's population was rural or lived in small towns or villages. In 2000, about 85% of Canadians were living in cities.

There is an anonymity in cities that does not exist in small towns. I do know this for a fact. The village where I was born had a population of about 150 people. Nothing escaped the eagle eyes of the village residents. My mother told me a story about having been at a church meeting, and walking home from it with her best friend's older brother -- who was just home from university. Between the time they left the church and the time they arrived at my grandmother's house (about a five minute walk -- ten if you're lollygagging), two people phoned my grandmother to tell her that my mother was walking with a man.

Privacy is a concept that really took hold in the late 20th century. Prior to that, everyone knew everyone else's business in their village, or on their block. Why do you think Samuel Pepys diary was written in a cipher? It was certainly true when we moved to an Ottawa suburb. Everyone knew everyone else on our street (it probably helped that they all had kids about the same age) and what was going on in their lives.

But, when you live in an apartment building, you might know your neighbours -- but, then again, you might not. I now live in a suburb of a southern Ontario city and have been here for four years. I know my neighbours on one side, but not on the other. I know the ladies in the houses across the street, but not the people who live behind me.

So listening in on our conversations is just another blast from the past -- with the CBSA playing the role of busybody / tattletale. Just like the days of old, they will be running to the authorities with information about who said what to whom and, again like the days of old, the people who are careless in their conversations will be in hot water.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la meme chose.


Cuts to the Federal Civil Service

While I can understand Harper’s desire to cut federal expenditures by making massive cuts to the Federal Civil Service, I don’t think most Canadians have grasped what it will mean to them in real terms.

First, the wait times for services will increase dramatically. You think the service is slow now? Just wait until it takes twice as long to get the same service because only half the people will be doing the work.

Second, our lives will become less safe. Services that we have always taken for granted – like inspections of food providers – will be pretty much a thing of the past. Remember the listeria outbreak in 2008? People died, right? Well, we better get used to it, because dramatic cuts are being planned across the board and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency will not be exempt. From what I’ve heard, these companies that package meat, as well as other foods, will be more self-regulating. If I wasn’t allergic to legumes, I would turn vegetarian.

Third, the unemployment rates will rise in all the areas that have government departments. Remember the decentralisation programs of the 1970s? There are departments all across Canada now. Yes, Ottawa will be hard hit, but so will other areas. Many of these people will not be able to find work in their fields.

Fourth, we are going to lose many of the brilliant minds who provide services and information to public – for free. I’m thinking specifically of NRC, Health and Welfare, and the Transportation Safety Board. These are people who have spent their lives working in one area. Other countries are begging for people in these fields, and more than willing to pay relocation costs. Once these people are gone, there will be no turning back. Sure, there will be people to replace them eventually, and I believe that they will have to be replaced, but the new people (as enthusiastic and hard working as their predecessors) won’t have the same level of expertise. It will take at least a work generation (about 30-40 years) to get back to the level we were at before Harper’s cuts were put into effect.

I understand that many Canadians believe that Federal Civil Servants are a lazy bunch, but I have seen them at work, putting in long hours of unpaid overtime to try to make Canada a better place. Many of them take courses on their own time and their own dime in order to up their qualifications. Sure, like any other company, there are problems who sneak in under the radar, but they are dealt with – just like they are dealt with in the private sector.

I truly believe that, when Canadians realise what has been done to the services they are accustomed to, they are going to scream bloody murder. But it will be too late.


Michel de Nostredame

After last week's post, I was contemplating the universe and remembered the original post by the man who referred to Nostradamus' predictions.

What most people seem to forget is that Michel de Nostredame (which he latinised to Nostradamus) was, first and foremost, an apothecary. That would be a chemist in British terms, a pharmacist in the Canadian lexicon, and a druggist in the American vocabulary. As I read through the jams and jellies section of the book, I was amused by how much sugar was required ... until I recalled that sugar was only available through apothecaries in France in the 16th century.

Nostradamus' book, Traité des fardemens et confitures, was published in 1555 -- although the prologue was dated 1552. It was revised and reprinted about once a year for a number of years. 

Now, it turns out that someone else has already translated the book into English and published it in 1996. You can find it on Amazon, The Elixirs of Nostradamus: Nostradamus' Original Recipes for Elixirs, Scented Water, Beauty Potions, and Sweetmeats, by 

Here is a version that a friend translated a number of years ago ...

Nostradamus - Quince Jelly Recipe

To make a jelly of quinces, of great beauty, bounty, flavour, and excellence, suitable for presentation to royalty, and which can be preserved for a long time.

Take as many quinces as you like, as long as they are well ripened and yellow. Cut them into quarters without peeling. (Some peel them, but the peel improves the fragrance.) Cut each quince into five or six pieces and remove the seeds, for it will set well without them. After cutting them, put them in a basin full of water for, once they have been chopped or cut, they will soon turn black if they are not placed in water.

Once they have been chopped, set them in a large quantity of water, and heat until the water is almost bubbling.

When they are well cooked, spoon out the contents of the pot into a thick, new cloth, & squeeze out as much of the liquid as possible. [In other words, strain out the solid bits, leaving as much of the liquid as possible. ed.]

Take this liquid and, if there are six pounds of liquid, take one and a half pounds of Madeira sugar and add it into the mixture. Then let it boil on coals at medium heat until you see that it reduces significantly.

Put it by a small fire, but take care that it doesn't burn the sides, which would give a bad colour to the jelly.

To test whether the jelly is done, take a spatula, or a spoon, and put a dab of the jelly on a flat surface. When it has cooled, if the drop stays rounded, then it is done. Take it from the fire, and wait until the scum forms over the top. While is still quite warm, put it in containers of wood or glass. If you wish to write something on the box, you can do so.

The colour [of the jelly] will be so diaphanous that it will resemble an oriental ruby, will have such excellent colour, and even better flavour, that it can be given to the sick & will make them better.

Source: Traité des fardemens et confitures