Val’s Garage

By , December 31, 2019 1:57 pm

Our cottage has a pretty big garage, one I don’t go into very often. However, I thought it would make for an interesting photography destination.

There’s measurement.


There are hose-shaped things.

There are tools (mostly) neatly arranged.

There are unidentified objects (probably parts of power tools).

There’s even a bit of colour.

And of course there’s a TTC bus stop. Who wouldn’t have such a thing?

How could I forget – lots of random bike parts.

December’s Melting Ice

By , December 31, 2019 1:23 pm

I suppose it’s fitting that these days ice doesn’t stay around for too long. After the freezing rain overnight at the cottage, we went outside to take some photos. By the end, it was mostly dropping water rather than perfect little ice crystals.

It snowed all morning today so next up will be snowy pics, I guess.

My Best Books of the Last Two Decades

By , December 31, 2019 9:14 am

You will notice that my list is almost entirely non-fiction. I do not apologize for this at all.

More and more students tell me they don’t read. That I find highly depressing and I want to inspire them to get their minds working! Offline.

Reading does truly take you to new worlds.

Don’t be prehistoric.  Read!



Top 10 Books of 2000-2020

Galileo’s Daughter by Dava Sobel, 1999 (so I count it as within the parameters as I read the paperback version). I have repeatedly said that this is my favourite book of all time. Given to me by a beloved student, this book is deeply personal yet also historical. It made Galileo, an arrogant yet brilliant guy, one of my favourite characters in history.


Becoming by Michelle Obama, 2018. I especially enjoyed the first part of the book about her childhood in Chicago. She’s candid and thoughtful and has a sense of social history without being ‘historical’. I honestly didn’t pay much attention to her when she was First Lady but I’m very impressed with her now.


The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, 2006. This book got me started on my journey toward veganism. Pollan, a journalist, investigates the American food system and alternatives to factory farming.


Salt by Mark Kurlansky, 2002. One of the first “commodity” books about the history of a thing. The author takes you on a trip shaped around everything related to salt, its making, different types that come from different parts of the world.


Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China by Jung Chang, 2013. A book about a very powerful figure (yet highly limited because of being a woman) with good and bad sides. History is complicated – very rarely will we find someone to admire 100%.


Hadrian and the Triumph of Rome by Anthony Everitt, 2009. Ever since I had to compare Hadrian and Trajan in a 2003 course on Roman history, I have had an interest in Hadrian (I chose him as a better ruler than Trajan). He was a complicated fellow, shall we say, who had very good intentions. But he was not nearly as well liked as his predecessor, the wildly popular Trajan.


SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard, 2015. A wonderful writer who loves her subject makes for an excellent read. She has humour, ability to make the reader forget the present, and sharp analytical honesty. No wonder I am now on my third Mary Beard book. I hope to review it soon on the blog. She’s also a tv presenter of the most casual nature – I love how she travels to historical and archaeological sites in her high tops.


The Victorian House: Domestic Life from Childbirth to Deathbed by Judith Flanders, 2003. Maybe this too can be seen as a commodity book? It takes every room in a Victorian house and looks at the historical context, weaving in technology and gender roles and expectations. It took me forever to read this dense book but it was worth it!


The First Signs: Unlocking the Mysteries of the World’s Oldest Symbols by Genevieve von Petzinger, 2017. An anthropologist’s attempt to make sense of the symbols on paleolithic cave walls. It’s very scientific yet also takes some liberties to try to help the reader feel what it might have been like to be part of a paleolithic community.


Empire of Cotton: A Global History by Sven Beckert, 2015. Probably the best researched book I have ever read. This book looks at every angle on cotton and its interwoven history with industrialization, slavery and imperialism.


Fiction (mostly books I read for English credit recovery, but I only listed them here if I enjoyed them)

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood, 1996 – I admit that I was sparked to read it by the 2017 tv series. However, I really enjoyed the mix of fiction and fact (real-life letters from the time of the trial of Grace Marks for an 1843 murder north of Toronto).

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, 2008. Much better than the movie! Sure, it’s a young adult novel, but it has sharply drawn, complicated characters.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, 1937. I originally read this book in grade 10 English class and I can’t say that it had any impact on me then. Reading it now, I see so much more in it – small, meaningful details in the sparsely written descriptions and keen dialogue.


Overall, what does my list say about me?

I’m a vegan historian.


Happy reading in 2020.

Just a little vegan note

By , December 31, 2019 8:43 am

The Guardian‘s vegan recipe columnist is not a vegan. I do find that odd. Or maybe she is now.

Here’s what Meera Sodha says in her Dec. 27 column on meal-planning for Veganuary.

When I first started my vegan column, I gave myself a month before I’d have to hand in my notice. As an omnivore (admittedly one that ate little meat but a lot of dairy and eggs), I just couldn’t imagine writing recipes week after week with such a strict set of rules, let alone enjoy eating plant-based food on a regular basis. But then, something wonderful happened.”

“I am doing Veganuary this year in the main because I want to show you how enjoyable it can be.”

I do like her recipes so I’m not trying to be critical. Just a bit surprised.


The Decade

By , December 28, 2019 9:07 pm

For a history teacher, especially one who does a lot of ancient history, a 10-year period is nothing. However, in the spirit of the end-of-decade lists about everything, here’s mine. These are personal events, not historical.

All at once in 2010: I turned 40, we got a cottage, and the Winter Olympics were in Vancouver. I remember watching the skating while Val cooked us dinner on the camp stove in the garage because our oven had not arrived yet at the cottage. It was a great start!

2011: We got Shadow! After sneaking around our backyard for months and being neighbour cat Dim Sum’s little shadow, we finally lured her in and she has been our baby every since.

2012: I left Student Council (for the first time) after advising since 2004. I also became Student Success teacher, a journey that changed my view on teaching.

2013: We got Bailey! This super shy guy cried on our deck for weeks so we just had to bring him in. He was afraid of everything yet he loved snuggling on the bed.

2014: The last year we visited the US, with trips to San Francisco and New York.  Skye, little Skye that is, my Sunnybrook regular horse, retired. I hope she’s still out there in a field somewhere being her glorious cranky self!

2015: Summer of the Pan Am Games – I watched a lot with free tickets from Val’s then-employer.

2016: I left my job as ACL of Canadian and World Studies. A lot went into that – I missed teaching my department how to do new things, especially at a time when I was so immersed in history with being a contributor to the CHY4U e-learning course – a project I’m really proud of. Our first trip to Bowen Island, BC to visit my cousin Emilie and her family. What a magical place. Read one of the best books on my all-time list, Empire of Cotton. Because of a connection made on the e-learning course, I was asked to become the editor of Rapport, the OHASSTA magazine, and I turned it into a blog. Very proud of that!

2017: We got Richard Parker, cat number four. I rode big Skye, a really professional type horse, all year long at Sunnybrook.

2018: THHSSSC brought February PD back! Good on us. Canada had an amazing Winter Olympics, winning the team gold in figure skating and Tessa and Scott won ice dance gold for the second time. From that high to the incredible low of the fire at Sunnybrook that killed the entire old barn – 16 wonderful animal friends. I will never forget them or that place. Skye lived but got sold away shortly after. Bailey also left us in 2018 – he was too sick to go on and deserved a good ending after his years of loyalty to us. Val and I went on our first bike trip together this summer.


2019: I left Student Council again. I’m very proud of them – they’re doing a great job. Val and I went on our second bike trip. I began to ride again (with Julie of course) at the Horse Palace. My new horse regular became Robin. It was great to see old friends like Queenie and Yukon. Unfortunately, Fletch reached the grand old age of 19 and was getting too sick. We all miss him; Shadow is just starting to come out of her shell after losing her best friend.

In sum:

It’s a good thing I have a blog or I wouldn’t remember what has happened to me over the past 10 years. My personal memory is so bad that I refer to Val as my external hard drive or surrogate memory. My memory is still pretty good for history, strangely.

The last decade was a huge one for me professionally. I’m so lucky to have had opportunities at THHSSSC, OHASSTA, the Historical Thinking Project, e-learning, and of course, YMCI.

Personally, I live a very happy and lucky life. I can’t complain at all – I live in a wonderful neighbourhood, have a generous and kind husband and have animals in my life!

2020 means the big 50 for me. We’ll see what it brings. Best of luck to everyone in 2020!



By , December 24, 2019 1:08 pm

Who knows why I like signs so much? But clearly I do.

These worm signs were everywhere on our bike trip through southwestern Ontario last August.


This note was attached to an empty vending machine at a laundromat in Dunnville, Ontario. I guess the owner had just had enough!


This oddly obvious sign was found on the waterfront in Orillia two summers ago.


Val with the Val Harbour sign somewhere outside of Orillia last summer.


Ahead of the times: Meatless Days in this WWII poster found at the Transit Museum in Brooklyn, New York in 2014.


Butter tarts sold at a gas station in Cavan, Ontario, near our cottage.


The original purpose for the now-famous Toronto sign was the opening ceremonies of the Pan Am Games in 2015, seen here.



Kindred sentiments in Victoria, BC.


I’m sitting on that sign, Victoria Harbour.


At Butchart Gardens outside Victoria, BC.


What we are fighting for!

Cooking More

By , December 8, 2019 7:22 pm

I have always liked cooking; however, I haven’t always followed through on my passion. I come from a culinary family; my grandmother (Bubi Lil) was a baker, baking teacher and cooking and baking book author. That said, she wasn’t exactly the most experimental cook. I’m not sure what she would make of me being vegan. My mom is an amazing cook – she’s very willing to experiment and always trying to find new ways to feed her vegan daughter and step-daughter.

This year I vowed – as I always do – that I will cook more and rely on frozen and delivered meals less. So far I’m doing well, I’m happy to report! Val has even followed in my path. One thing I’ve stuck to very well is reducing my pasta consumption – I totally OD’d on pasta last year, truth be told, especially when I was stressed out.

A staple for me has become roasting vegetables on Sunday: carrots, mushrooms, zucchini, sweet potato, onion, and whatever else is on hand (if we happened to have grocery shopped appropriately). We’ve been having our roasted vegetables with quinoa and an occasional tahini/lemon/maple sauce. I’m a plain eater so I’ll eat the vegetables and quinoa by themselves. Val may not exactly be happy with that but he doesn’t say so directly.

Over the last few weeks I have gone back to an old standby: bulgur. Though I’m trying to reduce my wheat consumption (and bulgur is just little bits of wheat), I am magnetically attracted to the simple ease of cooking bulgur – it’s even easier than quinoa. One of my favourite recipes of all time is bulgur with carrots and cabbage. It couldn’t be easier – bulgur, chopped carrots, sliced cabbage (red is prettier than green in combination with the carrots), tamari or soy sauce and veg stock. It’s done in 15 minutes. I like soft food so I tend to over cook it. It’s supposed to be garnished with parsley and peanuts but I never plan ahead so I just eat it as is.

Another staple has been mushroom ginger soup. It’s from a recipe I picked up in one of those grocery-store magazines promoting their products. Well, Longo’s did a good job on this one.

Cook leeks and assorted mushrooms – cremini, shiitake, oyster – in a bit of canola oil for about 10 minutes. Add ginger, garlic, soy sauce and miso. Add vegetable stock and cook for about 10 minutes. Add spinach and remove from the heat. At the end garnish with enoki mushrooms and sliced green onions. Recently I’ve been adding black rice ramen noodles (which I found at the health food store in Peterborough). They thicken it up massively.

Makes a lot, easy to reheat. Yummy. Did I mention that I love mushrooms beyond words?

Note: good miso (AKA more expensive) is worth it. The brand I got from The Big Carrot has the most amazing nutty scent. I used to use a brand that came out of a and was relatively cheap. Needless to say, I won’t be going back to it.

Val uses the instant pot a lot. I am afraid of this appliance!!! Lately, he has been making his vegan pot roast (a stew with potatoes, mushrooms, carrots, parsnips, etc.) accompanied by vegan corn bread. OMG, so good. The secret ingredient is pomegranate molasses. Sweet yet tangy.

On a parting note, the best vegan snack is fennel. I love seeing people’s reaction to it when I bring it to school and eat it raw – they think I’m eating an onion.





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