Friday, 13 July 2018

Lythops in Growth

OK. I'll tell you what I expected.

When I wrote my last column on lythops, I explained how the new growth inside a lythop, would grow up and split the existing top. What I had expected was though the plant was brown, as it grew, the stem would be brown.

Imagine my surprise this morning, when I looked and saw all that green. Yes, I know that plants grow green, I had just not expected this to sprout with a green stem.

The above picture not only shows the green but the withered leaves that once looked like the present one looked, only smaller. As the new stem grows, it draws water from the leaves, which dry up and eventually fall off.

Obviously I need to add some new soil to this as the present earth is dried up and the roots may become exposed. My weekend project, among others.

Friday, 6 July 2018


I am not much of a gardener. In fact, I hate gardening. For some reason, though, I have always enjoyed having cactus and succulents. Perhaps it's because they thrive on neglect. If you give them too much love, water them too much, they will turn to mush and die.

Maybe that's why I like them so much. There's very little work to them.

What is the difference between a succulent and a cactus? Succulents are plants that store water in leaves, stems, or sometimes both. This means that a cactus is a succulent. The difference is that cacti grow thorns, spikes or needles to protect itself.

A long time ago I managed to own a couple of Lythops which are hard to come by in Canada. Unfortunately, I overwatered and, of course, they died.

Lythops are native to South Africa. Also known as living stones, they survive in the wild by growing among real stones. This matter of camouflage keeps them hidden from hungry or thirsty predators and sometimes, even experts miss finding them. They get their moisture from mist and fog and can survive for many months without rain.

The above lythop has sprouted. Originally, it had only looked like the two centre pieces but smaller and without the shriveled leaf on each side. When it sprouts, the new growth rises through the middle of the plant from the inside. This splits the two outer bumps (leaves). As it is growing, it draws water from the original leaves, which dry up and whither away. You can see this from the picture above and below.

These two plants I found at Dynasty, a flower shop on Queen Street West. Lythops leaves can have many different designs and colour patterns on them. After the new growth comes in, they apparently flower. I can't wait for this to happen and will post pictures, if and when it happens.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

A Look Back at Music and the Stores That Sold Them

I found this picture on Twitter and saved it. These are record store listening booths in England circa 1962. Nowadays they are known as vinyl stores if they sell records, or music stores if they sell music in different formats. In this article, I will be showing my age.

The first way I'll do that is to admit that I have owned Led Zeppelin 2, originally purchased new in 1969, in every format. Great album but the changing technology has cost me a lot of money for it over the years.

When I was finally old enough to go to record stores, there were listening booths at the back of larger record stores but more up-to-date than the one shown here.

Growing up in Willowdale, the closest music store to me before Fairview Mall was built in 1970 (yes, I am that old) was the Sam the Record Man in Newtonbrook Plaza at Yonge and Cummer.

When you came through the door, the cashier's counter was on the right. Mounted on the wall behind it was a large slotted shelf with 50 slots, almost like mail slots, each one number from 1-50. The slot would hold a stack of 45s, single play records and the number represented its place on the Chum Chart.

I know further explanation is need for what I just wrote.

A "45" was a small record that had just one song on each side. The "A" side had the feature song on it and the flipside usually had some crappy filler song. The record had a big hole in the middle that required an adapter so it could be played on a record player. Why was it bigger? Likely to sell the piece required to play it! It was interchangeable but if you wanted to stack the records on a player, then one was needed for each. We all cursed it!

The next question would be ... what was a Chum Chart?

Toronto had a rock and roll radio station with the call letters C-H-U-M, which, of course, spells chum and was located at 1050kHz on the AM dial and was known as 1050 Chum. Each week it put out a pamphlet with the record ratings for the week, based on sales. From 1957 to 1968, it was the top 50 and after that the top 30. Kids like me waited in anticipation each week to see where our favorite records stood.

The middle and sides of the store had large bins with albums (33 rpm records with six to seven songs on each side) stacked vertically so shoppers could flip through them. In the downtown Sam the Record Man store on Yonge Street, they had a basement full of bins of old and discontinued albums. Gems could be found if you flipped through patiently. I personally spent hours flipping through those bins.

The store closed in 2007 and the large iconic sign that hung above the store, which everyone knew and was a piece of Toronto history, was put into storage by Ryerson University who promised to put it on a building they were constructing on the same spot. They lied, though, and claimed the neon would clash with the new building's architecture and could be dangerous if the sign broke and there was a mercury spill.

So basically they lied when they submitted to take down the sign, which had a historical designation from the city, and obtain a building permit. The bastards! I wonder if they teach fraud to their students.

The sign was resurrected above a building at Yonge/Dundas Square but is so high and set back it's easy to miss. I hate Ryerson for it!.

Now they way people obtain music has completely changed. It all can be done from home. There is so much to say about how accessible music is now but there is also something to be said for the way it was. You could hold on to what you bought. Read the album liners. Lend it to friends. Now a person's music sits in a program on their phone or laptop.

No doubt it is better today but there is a part of me that misses records and albums.

Monday, 2 July 2018

Miss Confederation: The Diary of Mercy Anne Coles by Anne McDonald

I have just finished Miss Confederation: The Diary of Mercy Anne Coles.

History without the stiffness and polish time creates.

Canada's journey to Confederation kicked off with a bang - or rather, a circus, a civil war (the American one), a small fortune's worth of champagne, and a lot of making love - in the old-fashioned sense. Miss Confederation offers a rare look back, through a woman's eyes, at the men and events at the centre of this pivotal time in Canada's history.

Mercy Anne Coles, the daughter of PEI delegate George Coles, kept a diary of the social happenings and political manoeuvrings as they affected her and her desires. A unique historical document, her diary is now being published for the first time, offering a window into the events that led to Canada's creation, from a point of view that has long been neglected.

I thought this was a very interesting read. Not only does this book give us an inside look at the makings of Canada's Confederation from a woman's point of view, but is an excellent look at the social aspect of upper society back in the mid 1800's. It seems that dance cards were of great importance back then. I also found out that "humbug" has a different meaning than what I thought it was from "A Christmas Carol".

Definitely worth reading.

About Anne McDonald:

I studied at Second City, Humber College’s creative writing program, Sage Hill’s Fiction Workshop, the Sage Hill Poetry Colloquium and I have participated in numerous voice and theatre workshops. I teach theatre improvisation for Education students at the Gabriel Dumont Institute, and theatre classes for the Faculty of Media, Art, and Performance at the University of Regina. I also teach creative writing to a number of groups, from inner city youth, to newcomers to Canada, to participants in creative writing courses. I also love to facilitate workshops for organizations interested in collaborative communication and creativity.

If you want to know more about me and my influences:

I studied psychology, creativity, improv and finally creative writing. All these areas come together for me I find, when I'm writing. I love writing - and reading - books that are related to real historical figures and events. I love the researching and discovery of unusual connections, and the reading between the lines.

One of the things I love about writing is the exploration of the past – the interaction and impact the public and the personal have on each other. I also teach and study improv where the focus is on play, the principles of creativity and the discovery of one’s own uniqueness.

Anne lives in Regina, Saskatchewan.

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Company Town by Madeline Ashby

From Amazon :

New Arcadia is a city-sized oil rig off the coast of the Canadian Maritimes, now owned by one very wealthy, powerful, byzantine family: Lynch Ltd.

Hwa is of the few people in her community (which constitutes the whole rig) to forgo bio-engineered enhancements. As such, she's the last truly organic person left on the rig—making her doubly an outsider, as well as a neglected daughter and bodyguard extraordinaire. Still, her expertise in the arts of self-defense and her record as a fighter mean that her services are yet in high demand. When the youngest Lynch needs training and protection, the family turns to Hwa. But can even she protect against increasingly intense death threats ...?

Meanwhile, a series of interconnected murders threatens the city's stability and heightens the unease of a rig turning over. All signs point to a nearly invisible serial killer, but all of the murders seem to lead right back to Hwa's front door. Company Town has never been the safest place to be—but now, the danger is personal.

I really enjoyed this book. The author Madeline Ashby created a very interesting and unique dystopian universe. The story is entertaining, suspenseful, and very well written.

It has received the following awards and accolades:

2017 Winner of the Sunburst Award Society's Copper Cylinder Adult Award 
2017 Canada Reads Finalist 
2017 Locus Award Finalist for Science Fiction Novel Category 
2017 Sunburst Award Finalist for Adult Fiction 
2017 Aurora Awards Finalist for Best Novell

About the Author from Goodreads:

Madeline Ashby is a science fiction writer and strategic foresight consultant living in Toronto. She has been writing fiction since she was about thirteen years old. (Before that, she recited all her stories aloud, with funny voices and everything.) Her fiction has appeared in Nature, Tesseracts, Escape Pod, FLURB, the Shine Anthology, and elsewhere. Her non-fiction has appeared at,,, Online Fandom, and WorldChanging. She is a member of the Cecil Street Irregulars, one of Toronto's oldest genre writers' workshops. She holds a M.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies (her thesis was on anime, fan culture, and cyborg theory) and a M.Des. in strategic foresight & innovation (her project was on the future of border security).

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Book Review - Could It Happen Here?: Canada in the Age of Trump and Brexit

Back in March my friend Malcolm and I went to a talk at the Toronto Reference Library called "Star Talks: Trump and Brexit: Could it Happen Here?" It was a very lively and enlightening look at the vast differences between American, British and Canadian societies, more so between Canada and the US. The talk even included a look at Provincial Conservative leader Doug Ford, who at the time had just been named to the leader of the party.

It was interesting enough that I bought Micheal Adams book Could It Happen Here?: Canada in the Age of Trump and Brexit.

From award-winning author Michael Adams, Could It Happen Here? draws on groundbreaking new social research to show whether Canadian society is at risk of the populist forces afflicting other parts of the world.

Americans elected Donald Trump. Britons opted to leave the European Union. Far-right, populist politicians channeling anger at out-of-touch “elites” are gaining ground across Europe. In vote after shocking vote, citizens of Western democracies have pushed their anger to the top of their governments’ political agendas. The votes have varied in their particulars, but their unifying feature has been rejection of moderation, incrementalism, and the status quo.

Amid this roiling international scene, Canada appears placid, at least on the surface. As other societies retrench, the international media have taken notice of Canada’s welcome of Syrian refugees, its half-female federal cabinet, and its acceptance of climate science and mixed efforts to limit its emissions. After a year in power, the centrist federal government continues to enjoy majority approval, suggesting an electorate not as bitterly split as the ones to the south or in Europe.

As sceptics point out, however, Brexit and a Trump presidency were unthinkable until they happened. Could it be that Canada is not immune to the same forces of populism, social fracture, and backlash that have afflicted other parts of the world? Our largest and most cosmopolitan city elected Rob Ford. Conservative Party leadership hopeful Kellie Leitch proposes a Canadian values test for immigrants and has called the Trump victory “exciting.” Anti-tax demonstrators in Alberta chanted “lock her up” in reference to Premier Rachel Notley, an elected leader accused of no wrongdoing, only policy positions the protesters disliked.

Pollster and social values researcher Michael Adams takes Canadians into the examining room to see whether we are at risk of coming down with the malaise affecting other Western democracies. Drawing on major social values surveys of Canadians and Americans in 2016—as well as decades of tracking data in both countries—Adams examines our economy, institutions, and demographics to answer the question: could it happen here?

This book is full of telling and sometimes very surprising statistics, charts and explanations. One chart that jumped out at me (shown below) was a comparison between Canada and the US on how much of the population believes the father of the family should be the "master" of the house. During the talk the stats were also broken down by province. Even the most rural and rugged province in Canada, Alberta, which had the highest of all the provinces in the belief that the man should be, was far more liberal in this view, by almost half, than the least chauvinistic state in the US.

The chapter titles show how deep the research goes.

The Global Re-awakening of the Xenophobic populism
We've Been Here before
Canada and Immigration in the Era of Trump and Brexit
On Being Muslim in Canada - Optimism with Vigilance
The Taxi Driver with the PhD
Occupy This - The Politics of Inequality in Canada
Doing Democracy Differently

Adams book speaks not only of our different cultures but also happiness levels, economics, health systems, the political system of each country, acceptance of immigrants and refugees, immigrant views on their new countries, racism and even a look at the difference on how our leaders were raised as children and their respected countries views towards that.

In the end, yes, Canada as a whole, except of course for the few assholes that exist in any country, has a much greater acceptance and welcoming attitude when it comes to immigrants and diversity when compared to the US. I am very proud of that. That view and the set-up of our political system is one where we most likely will never fall to the current level of the US state of affairs.

But that's no reason to be smug. We can never be complacent and must always work to ensure that the levels of hate in Canada continue to fall and that we fight to keep our standard of living and the positive views the world has of us as a nation.

Monday, 21 May 2018

An Inside, Personal Look at Toronto General Hospital's Transplant Program

Yesterday I went for a 4,500 step walk with Teena down by Lake Ontario. I know this doesn't sound like much of a hike except for the fact that 30 days before, during the night of April 20, I was on the receiving end of a liver transplant.

I have always made sure that my driver's license and health card showed that I was registered as a donor. Never did I expect that I would be the one who would need a transplant from another.

Canadians are lucky. We have access to the busiest transplant hospital in North America and one of the most famous in the world. In 2017, the UHN program performed 639 adult transplants compared to 607 at the UCLA Medical Center and the University of California San Francisco Medical Center which completed 601. It should be noted for the purposes of this article that 195 of the transplants at Toronto General Hospital were liver transplants

Last year it was discovered that I had cancer in my liver. Princess Margaret Hospital took care of that. Originally I was told that the procedure, called a TACE, would halt and shrink the tumor but would not kill it.  It could be contained, though until I received a new liver.  However, it turned out that the cancer was indeed wiped out. The liver was weakened by the cancer and the likelihood of it returning was great so I was placed on the transplant list.

While waiting for my turn to come, I met with many doctors, surgeons and social workers at Toronto General  who all made sure that I was physically and mentally ready for the operation. My turn came up on April 20 and at 10pm I was wheeled into the operating room for my six hour operation. Let's just say that the day after my operation wasn't the best I have ever felt but, hey, it's like that for anyone that has gone through any type of major surgery.

The ward is divided into post-op stages, the first one being right after surgery in acute care where I was constantly monitored. I wasn't in there long, maybe overnight (that part is hazy) before being moved to the next unit and a less intensive level of care and designed to get me moving. My first feat of strength? Being helped out of bed and into a chair beside it to sit for an hour. The next day, though, the physical therapist had me heading down the halls for a lap with a walker. The day after, a lap or two without a walker and then I graduated to my last unit.

I spent three nights there, resting, climbing stairs with my physiotherapist, walking and being constantly looked after with medications, blood tests, small procedures and training.

Training for what? How to detect organ rejection. Surprisingly it's not IF it happens but how to recognize it when it happens. It could be in a few weeks, few months, few years, decades, but definitely will  occur.

My medications drive up my sugar levels so currently I am diabetic and had to learn how to inject myself and go through a diabetic program. I may or may not have to continue with my daily shots when one of my meds is cut off. I'm hoping I don't need it.

Every transplant recipient has an aftercare transplant co-coordinator and transplant doctor. The program has a call system that I had to learn about where I can leave messages that are answered the same day, or they can contact me though it for any followup, medication change or questions they may have. It's wonderfully efficient.

Six days after my operation, on Friday April 27th, I was sent home with Teena. Everyday has been a challenge but everyday too, Teena and I see an improvement.  My thanks go out to everyone who has been involved and helped me through all of this. Especially the nurses. I was so well looked after!

I know people had to suffer through a loss of a loved one for this to happen. That plays on my mind and every day I am thankful for their kindness and generosity.

There is still a long way to go to recovery but it seems to get a little faster every day. After all, 30 days ago I would have never dreamed that I would be going for a walk along the lake. Now I'm starting to look forward to so much more.