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Life, love and language

A Scientific Rant

Maybe I’m just getting old, but lately I am finding more and more that there are two groups of Face Book users who really rile me.

The first is the self-righteous group of do-gooders, whether they are vegans, fur-lovers, tree huggers or adhere to any other cause which seems to turn presumably normal, sane human beings into viragos attempting to digitally beat the rest of us into submission.

Don’t get me wrong. I feel strongly about humane treatment of farm animals, am at the moment looking for an older rescue dog to join our family as a friend for my adored, breeder-bought pom, and can even get quite emotional about trees, especially in fall.

My gripe is with those who, with no knowledge of (or even interest in) the circumstances, have no hesitation in tearing apart a total stranger because they may have a different opinion.  Since when did social media become a dictatorship?

The second group that has me tearing my hair out are the conspiracy theorists.  I’m not talking about the flat earthers, or even those who are convinced that the whole moon landing was faked and that the planes which criss-cross our skies are trailing plumes of toxic gasses – presumably those responsible for the latter are all safely ensconced with their loved ones in air proof bunkers so as not to succumb to the fumes.

These are merely entertaining and do no harm.

No, the group which worries me the most are those who constantly advise their followers to ‘do your research’ while at the same time denigrating any professional or academic studies. Research, apparently, can only safely be done on Google and anyone who is accepted by their peers in any field must obviously be suspect.  Their postings are often preceded by statements like “things your doctor won’t tell you” or things Big Pharma doesn’t want you to know”.  Big Pharma and Big Agri feature often in these rantings, whereas there is no mention of Big Organics, which rakes in millions every year.

Doctors, who spend years studying, and racking up a fortune in student loans doing so, are – according to this section of the Face Book community – only in it to support Big Pharma and have no interest in actually curing their patients.  Either that or these gullible professionals just blindly follow the teachings of their professors who, for some reason or other, are hell bent on disseminating the untruths which apparently plague the medical profession.

Where this group differs from the first is the extraordinary amount of harm they can do.

Natural cancer cures are one example.  Since, it seems, doctors are determined to kill off their patients with chemotherapy and radiation, cancer sufferers are urged instead to eat only organic plant food and use coffee enemas (to name but a couple of alternative ‘cures’). And when, horrors, the patient still dies, the proponents of these treatments blame the patient for the failure[1].

And then, of course, there are the anti-vaxxers.  Just when it seemed we had managed to eliminate many of the diseases which maimed and killed our parents and grandparents, a whole group of vociferous individuals with no scientific background at all has convinced so many people that vaccinating their children is exposing them to dreaded consequences, that diseases like measles, mumps and even diphtheria are making a come back.  This is not entertaining, it is both frightening and appalling.

Science was considered very suspect in the early 17th century, to the extent that scientists like Galileo were branded heretics and forced to recant. Today, centuries later, many on social media seem determined to reject any scientific evidence in favour of the emotional or the anecdotal.     The only difference today is that, instead of being excommunicated from the church for believing in science, those of us who are inclined to place our confidence in that which is tested and proven are likely to be branded as shills for companies like Montsano.  Nothing much changes.


“The duty of the man who investigates the writings of scientists, if learning the truth is his goal, is to make himself an enemy of all that he reads, and … attack it from every side. He should also suspect himself as he performs his critical examination of it, so that he may avoid falling into either prejudice or leniency.”

— Alhazen (965–1039)


[1] https://www.naturalnews.com/049722_cancer_treatment_natural_remedies_common_mistakes.html#

February 24, 2018 Posted by | Life, Science, Uncategorized | Leave a comment



When I started lecturing at University I was surprised to find that spelling and grammar was not to be a factor in marking as long as the essay/exam was understandable.  I imagine it would have been different if I had been teaching an English class but my area of expertise is child development and I was lecturing in the Education Department. I still shudder to think of the variety of written English been taught by some of my ex-students!

Of course English writing, and therefore spelling, is based on the Roman alphabet which dates back to the 600’s and was developed for a language which is phonologically very different to English.  To overcome this digraphs – sh, th, ch, and gh were created to represent sounds not readily available in the existing alphabet, which made for some interesting spelling, for example enough and high

Generally though, in the Middle Ages, writers spelt words phonetically.  The problem with this was that, with all the regional dialects in the UK at the time, there was no consistency in the pronunciation of words.  Night, for example, had more than 60 different spellings. including nyght and nicht.  Drowgh and trghug, among other variations, were both acceptable ways to spell through; and cloudy could be rendered clowdie, clowdy, or clowdye, just to mention a few.

For hundreds of years writers gaily went their own myriad ways, with spelling, punctuation and grammar being matters of individual preference.  Then came the advent of the printing press in 1452, which made the written word more accessible to the common man.  Before then books were laboriously copied out by hand, often by monks, and were only available to those in the upper echelons of society who could afford them.

With the printing press, of necessity, spelling became more uniform.  This made reading and interpreting the writers’ ideas a whole lot easier.  Whereas before the same phrase could be written “Trghug the clowdye nicht”, or “Drowgh the clowdy nyght”, or even  “Yhurght the clowdie nihte”,  the use of the printing press ensured that at least some effort was made to come to an agreement about the spelling of most common words.  This doesn’t imply that writers immediately began expressing themselves in standardised English.  In fact, most letters, diaries and other handwritten documents continued to display a very varied choice of spelling. Nor does it imply that the most logical forms of words were chosen as the standard for spelling. To try to bring some order into the system reformers in the 16th century tried using the etymology of a word to determine its spelling.  For example the word double originated from the French doble.  Sometimes this worked, but just as often it didn’t.

To add to the confusion there were considerable changes in spoken English around about the 15th and 16th centuries. However, the now fairly standardized written form of the language remained much the same.

And then, just when we thought we had it all worked out, in the early 17th century Britain started to colonize America and it all fell apart again.  Today the differences in British and American spelling seem to revolve around the KISS principle.  Whereas British English steadfastly retains most of the quirks of centuries of spelling traditions, the Americans seem determined to keep it all as simple as possible.  So, for example, they dropped the redundant ‘u’ –  colour became color, neighbour became neighbor, behaviour became behavior. And they dropped the extra ‘l’s’ – cancelled became canceled and modelling became modeling, except where the British version of a word has one ‘l’, whereupon, presumably to be contrary, they added one – so wilful became willful Then they turned ‘s’ into ‘z’ (and, to add insult to injury started calling it zee instead of zed).

But we adjusted, dividing English spelling into two camps in the northern hemisphere  – American and British – with Canadian spelling hovering uncomfortably between the two. And again a reasonable compromise seemed to have been reached, until social media appeared and suddenly any gains made over the past fifteen centuries fell by the wayside.  With auto-correct barely keeping our online correspondence coherent, abbreviations, hashtags and  other examples of ‘text-speak’ are the order of the day.

So what do we do? Revert to the idiosyncratic, individualized spelling and grammar of the middle ages? And, in view of its shady past, is spelling that important anyway?

Surprisingly it is.  Firstly misspelt words do affect textual communication, they can drastically change the meaning of a sentence and make it almost impossible to read, however versed in textese one may be and, secondly, while this might come as a surprise to some, sending out a resume full of spelling and grammar errors is still almost certain to put you out of the running for your dream job.  Rightly or wrongly glaring mistakes tend to make you appear less intelligent than you may be.

Still not convinced? According to a 2009 study done by Harris Interactive for CareerBuilder.com 45 percent of employers interviewed used social networks to screen applicants; and of the 35 percent who decided not to offer a job based on the applicants’ social media content, 29 percent did so because of poor online communication skills. https://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/20/more-employers-use-social-networks-to-check-out-applicants/

February 21, 2018 Posted by | Language, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A life well lived?


Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life … Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your inner voice. And, most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.

Steve Jobs


This quote really resonated with me when I reread it today.  Time is limited. At 70 years I certainly don’t feel old, but I’m well aware that, unless I plan to live to 140 I can no longer pretend to be middle-aged.  So today I have been doing some retrospection, after all, when I do eventually “shuffle off this mortal coil”, I would like it to be with the knowledge of a life well lived.

So here is my checklist of the decades gone by.  I recommend this activity, especially if you have quite a few decades behind you too, it kind of puts your life in perspective:

Teens – leaving school, and the town where I grew up, starting a job (At the bank. My first choice would have been training college but my parents were not able to afford it); meeting my future husband;

Twenties – marrying; setting up my first home; having two beautiful little girls, hopefully becoming a responsible adult;

Thirties – back to studying, English and Education in my first degree, eventually completing 3 degrees and a post graduate pre-primary diploma – fulfilling my dream of becoming a teacher and learning to use my brain again;

Forties – changing careers, starting to work with young children, learning to overcome disappointments, and to be independent;

Fifties – children grown up, started travelling and looking for adventure, hiking, including climbing Kilimanjaro, and visiting India, UK, Canada and Australia,  another change in career – lecturing on child development among other things in the Education Department at University –  then content writing and editing while we travelled between South Africa and Canada  for a few years.

Sixties – Emigrating from South Africa to Canada to join my daughters, visiting USA and Egypt, hiking the Annapurna circuit in Nepal, opening my own business – a daycare – discovering I was capable of more than I thought.

So now, in my seventies I feel I can claim I have lived my own life, directed in the most by my own desires – and the future continues to beckon –  circumstances and inclination seem to be pushing me into another direction. The prospect is frightening, the possibilities endless, as I continue to follow my heart.

January 31, 2018 Posted by | Life | , | 1 Comment

Weekend at Pigeon Lake

We went to Pigeon Lake for the weekend.  A three hour drive door to door (on the way back – on the way there, due to stops for gas and coffee and missing our turnoff from 13W, it took 4 hours)  We didn’t take our boat with us as we only had one full day there and planned to explore a little.

The condo-cottage was comfortable and well equipped other than bedding and towels which we had to take with us.  A barbecue and chairs on the deck,  a fire pit and a white chain fence surrounding a green lawn made sitting outside very inviting, even without the bonus of the lake being just across the road from us.


We went for a number of walks around the little hamlet of Mulhurst Bay and along the lakeside.  Then spent Saturday afternoon driving around the lake which was fun, although much of the time the road takes you away from the water.  There are many little side roads to explore which do take you down to the beaches, but we’ll need to go back again to see them all.


Mulhurst Bay is on the north side of the lake.  Driving down the south side we came upon the Village at Pigeon Lake which is a quaint little village with a number of shops. We did some shopping for our evening barbecue and sat outside one of the shops eating ice cream.


Sherry also had some fun exploring.


Evenings were spent playing rummy kub (of course).  Despite a sinus headache which plagued me all weekend we had a lovely time and will return, next time with the boat and fishing gear.

September 12, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Walking in Saskatoon

A few weeks ago we went to Saskatoon for Asher’s graduation from high school.

While we were there we visited the University of Saskatchewan where Tracy is attending medical school and did a short walk around the grounds. The U of S is a research university and was founded as an agricultural college in 1907.  Its beautiful campus is on the east side of the South Saskatchewan River in Saskatoon.


We also took the opportunity to visit the Museum of Natural Sciences in the geology building of the University.  While small by most museum standards it was a fascinating journey through the evolution of life. The exhibits include living plants and animals as well as fossils, rocks and minerals – geological and paleontological specimens.    The exhibits continue in the corridors of the building with the first floor displaying minerals, rocks and meteorites and information panels explaining the causes of earthquakes and  volcanoes, and the second floor exhibits featuring the theory of evolution beginning with ancient seas , through ice age mammals to early human beings.


University of Saskatchewan

We also found time to walk a portion of the Meewasin Trail which follows the South Saskatchewan River, running along both sides of the river, through well kept parks as well as natural areas where there is a good possibility of meeting up with the wildlife which frequent this area.





















August 1, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Widow Maker

This afternoon we drove out to the Kananaskis river and found a ‘picnic spot’ overlooking the Widow Maker, a rapid on the lower course of the river, which flows through Bow Valley Provincial Park.  The Widow Maker is just below an artificial lake, Barrier Lake, which is used for hydroelectric power generation.

The flow of water from Barrier Lake into this part of the river is remotely controlled by TransAlta who usually post the release times and flow rates so that the water flowing through the Widow Maker at any given time is predictable.  When we arrived the water level was low and instead of swift flowing rapids we looked out over a quiet pool. A couple of fishermen soon arrived and we watched as they flicked their lines over the pool, trying to entice a trout to their flies. (Tempting Brenda?)


Within 20 minutes the scene had changed completely.  Water flowed down the river and over the rocks into the pool, forming the well known Widow Maker rapid and turning the quiet fishing pool into a swirling mass of water.  The fishermen wisely moved out and the canoeists started to arrive, entertaining us with their expertise and their many Eskimo or kayak rolls as they attempted to master the rapids.


Later I took a short stroll along the pathway which followed the banks of the river to get another perspective of it.  In the quiet under the trees alongside the water I was struck anew by the beauty of this country and how blessed we are to be able to live here.


A lovely afternoon spent in good company and in beautiful surroundings.

October 18, 2015 Posted by | Day Trips from Calgary, Living in Canada | , , , | Leave a comment

Sunshine Meadows

I’m having a wonderful, totally free Saturday so thought I’d catch up on some of my writing.  A couple of weeks ago I went with Ray and Brian on one of the most beautiful short hikes which I have done.  My photos aren’t wonderful – my camera is finally giving up the ghost – but I think they give some idea of the beauty of the landscape.  Although the weather had been reasonably warm, on the Friday before the hike it snowed in the foothills and up in the mountains, which always makes everything look just that much prettier.

We drove through to Banff and picked up the shuttle bus at the base of the Sunshine ski area – thus avoiding trudging 5 kms up a fairly uninteresting road.  The bus delivered us to the Trail Centre in the Sunshine Village where we started walking, after picking up a couple of hiking sticks for Ray and Brian.


We set off up the Rock Isle Trail which climbs for about 1 km and is the steepest part of the hike.


Near the top we reached the continental divide and crossed over into BC.


This part of the trail looks out towards Mount Assiniboine among a number of other peaks and opens up into the alpine meadow where, unfortunately most of the wild flowers were buried under the snow.  A few hardy specimens shook their petals free and showed us what we were missing.


We soon reached the Rock Isle Lake and spent some time there, just enjoying the vistas and taking numerous photos which fail to do justice to the scene.


We were lucky enough to have started early and were alone most of the way around the trail, meeting a few more hikers later in the morning.  This made it possible just to soak in the views and the silence.

From Rock Isle Lake the path led down through the trees  and over a number of little creeks


and a few more flowers showed themselves.


We stopped to have a final look at the lake from the other side before carrying on.


The right hand pathway led us down to and past Grizzly Lake. Many of the ‘bridges’ over the creeks are just a few (and in many cases, just one) roughly hewn logs placed over the water, some artistically rotting, making crossing not dangerous (there is no depth to speak of) but a challenge. The views were stupendous and we kept stopping to take photos and just enjoy being there.


Brian found some small fish swimming about in one of the creeks which ran into the Grizzly Lake.


Grizzly Lake is very different to Rock Isle Lake but just as beautiful and again we spent some time just looking and taking pictures.


Not far past this second lake we came rather unexpectedly upon the Simpson Viewpoint.  The view was breathtaking! Looking down into the valley we suddenly realized just how high we were, walking above the mountain peaks.


From the viewpoint we took a leisurely wander around the last of the lakes – Larix Lake – stopping occasionally just to enjoy the quiet beauty.


A couple of Columbian ground squirrels entertained us along the way but I didn’t compete with Ray in photographing them as I think she must have taken dozens of pictures. The pathway looped around and joined up to the one leading back to Rock Isle Lake.  By the time we reached this lake again there were a number of groups of hikers starting along the trail, unfortunately accompanied by the inevitable loud music which seems to be unavoidable on popular hikes, so we were not sorry to have completed the trail.  Back down the hill towards Sunshine Village – the downhill rather hard on the knees – and we  went to the picturesque restuarant to book ourselves onto the next bus back and then enjoyed a nice relaxing meal and a beer while we waited.

This is a hike I would love to do again, perhaps a little earlier in the season when the wildflowers are at their best.  And next time I’ll take the first bus up.

September 19, 2015 Posted by | Day Trips from Calgary, Hiking, Living in Canada | , , | Leave a comment

Calgary is turning gold

Calgary is turning gold,

though the grass is still green and lush from the rain,

and the sun rides high in the pale blue sky.

The sparrows are bright-eyed and noisy and bold

as they fight for seed at the feeder.

Calgary is turning gold,

though the mountains hide in the shimmering haze

and the streams reflect the sun’s brightening rays.

On a shaded deck in the lazy heat

we bask in the dog days of summer

*  *  *

But the trees know there will be snow

and Calgary is turning gold.

September 12, 2015 Posted by | Living in Canada, Verse and worse | , | 1 Comment

Fullerton Loop

Yesterday the Bragg Creek Woodland Walkers hiked the Fullerton Loop. This hike used to start at Allen Bill Pond (which is no longer a pond since the 2013 floods) but the trailhead is now accessed from the Ranger Station on the north side of 66, in the parking lot of the Ranger Station. Probably due to the change, the loop is given as anything between 5 and 7km. The elevation also seems to be in doubt – between 220 and 360m and the hike is listed alternatively as beginners’ or moderate.
We started just after 2pm and completed the loop by about 4.20pm with a short stop at the bench half way through the hike for water, a snack and to remove our jackets.


We chose to do the loop counterclockwise, starting in the valley and climbing steadily through the forest. The path is fairly wide, enabling us to walk in pairs, but was very muddy in places.


The trees are mature and for much of the way formed a partial canopy above us through which we could see the very blue sky.
The south end of the loop runs along a cliff overlooking the Elbow Valley giving lovely views of valley and mountains.



Although not a difficult hike, my calves did feel the final ascent and my knees complained intermittently during the steep downhill back into the valley!
Still, an afternoon well spent and I look forward to doing the loop again when the mud has given way to grass and the wildflowers are out.

April 16, 2015 Posted by | Hiking, Living in Canada | Leave a comment

Snowshoe Hare Loop

This week I joined the Bragg Creek Woodland Walking Group again and we hiked the Snowshoe Hare Loop in West Bragg Creek.  This is a fairly new trail and has been set up for snowshoeing.  I suspect it will be a bit too marshy for enjoyment in summer.  Because we have had a week or more of really warm, spring-like weather much of the snow has started melting and the trail varied tremendously, from snow and ice to dry grassy pathways.



A couple of short hills kept it interesting and there were a number of places where crampons would really have helped. As it was a few of us detoured under the trees to escape the ice.


Although the trail is well marked we managed to get lost briefly


but quickly picked up the path again and found a sunny spot in an open meadow to stop for a snack and a chat.


The approximately 5km took us over two hours with the stops.

March 14, 2015 Posted by | Hiking, Living in Canada | , | 1 Comment