Dr. B’s Challenge Your Camera #4: Churches

These were once places of worship:

Temple of Luxor, Egypt
The Great Kiva, Aztec Pueblo, near Farmington, New Mexico
Baltinglass Abbey, Ireland

At first glance, these might not be considered “churches,” but each is a focus of pilgrimage; each is, in its own way, a sacred place:

#ChallengeYourCameraChurches #SacredPlaces #MargaretGHanna

Jack Frost

Jack Frost was busy last night. He wandered through our neighbourhood painting all the trees and bushes. He silvered leaves and branches, berries and grass, painting them with the lightest of touches – an edging here, a varnish there. He transformed the entire world into spun sugar.

When he was finished, he threw the remaining paint into the air where it froze into a gazillion crystal shards that glittered and danced in the bright January sunlight. Some shards went into orbit around the sun, and some of those orbiting crystals magically coalesced into four brilliant planets almost as bright as the sun itself.

And then he left.

Alas, he doesn’t seem to do windows these days, perhaps he’s getting too old. He used to cover them with lacy fern leaves, undecipherable runes, intriguing and mysterious treasure maps, and a host of other enigmatic designs. Such as shame he doesn’t do that anymore.

Fortunately, he still paints everything else. Thanks, Mr. Frost, for creating a magical winter wonderland.

WinterWonderland #JackFrost #HoarFrost #Imagination #PaintedWorld #WintersBeauty #MargaretGHanna


It takes a village to raise a child, so says the adage.

Or a grandmother, according to anthropologist Dr. Kristen Hawkes at the University of Utah.

Her thesis is as follows: grandmothers perform “motherly” duties, such as feeding and tending young children, thereby allowing mothers more time to forage for food and more energy to have more children. She developed this hypothesis while working with the Hadza, a hunter-gatherer society in Tanzania. Hadza mothers were able to forage for food and care for a child as long as they had only one child. The birth of a second child limited the mother’s ability to both forage and care for the existing child, and that’s when Grandmother stepped in to help.

From this hypothesis, Dr. Hawkes argues that grandmothers were a significant factor in the evolution of modern Homo sapiens because a grandmother enabled the birth of more descendants thereby increasing the probability of her genes surviving in subsequent generations. This, in turn, led to slower aging and increased longevity. Her reasoning is complex (you can read more about it here).

Another study published last year in Current Biology argues that the ability of grandmothers to be able to participate in child care was dependent on geographic proximity. The authors examined familial data from 17th and 18th century St. Lawrence River region (now the Province of Quebec). They found that the presence of a grandmother not only increased the size of the family but also the number of children surviving to age 15 (read about their study here).

Grandmothers did more than look after children. They were essential as midwives to help bring children safely into the world. Childbirth is one of the most deadly periods of a young woman’s life. It’s impossible to say what the death rate per 1000 live births was when we lived the hunter-gatherer life, but statistics from 18th century Europe and the USA paint a deadly picture. In England, the death rate was 10.5 per 1000 live births, dropping to 7.5 deaths in the last half of the 18th century. It was just as deadly in the United States, about 12 deaths per 1000 births, dropping to about 6 deaths per 1000 births in the 19th century. Even today, it is still the sixth most common cause of death among women aged 20 to 34. So, grandmothers who had survived childbirth knew from experience how to help their daughters successfully give birth.

Grandmothers were also the keepers of stories and traditions and knowledge (so are grandfathers, but sorry, men, this post is about grandmothers). These wise old women had seen it all; they’d lived through childbirth and disease, possibly even famine and war. They knew how to negotiate difficult situations and how to survive in times of scarcity. They were a pillar of security and confidence in an otherwise insecure world.

Unfortunately, our modern world has removed most of us from our grandmother’s sphere of care and influence. The need to move to where work is has splintered families across countries and continents. Social media provides one means of keeping in touch, but it’s no substitute for sitting snuggled up to your Granny while she reads you a story or feeds you your favourite cookies in defiance of your mother’s edicts or shows you photographs from the “old days.” Social media don’t allow you to have a sleep-over at her place, or help her weed her garden, or hug her or be hugged by her.

Grandma Hanna with baby Margaret

Like most kids growing up in the 1950s in prairie villages and towns who had their grandparents nearby, our paternal grandmother, Addie Hanna, lived only a quarter-mile from our farm, in the village of Meyronne. She played a significant role in our lives: she looked after us when Mother was in the hospital, we went to her little house after school for milk and cookies and a visit, I learned to ride a bike in her back yard, and we often slept over at her house just because we could. We had Sunday dinner at her place, or she at ours. She sat with us in church, she tolerated us at Ladies’ Aid meetings that Mom dragged us along to, and she tut-tutted over what she viewed as inappropriate behaviour. She was just “There,” and it wasn’t until I left for university that I learned how unusual it was to have a grandmother so close to hand.

Addie Hanna, ca. 1955

Perhaps that is the reason I decided to have her “narrate” my book, Our Bull’s Loose in Town!: Tales from the Homestead. It is a way of honouring all she lived through and all she contributed to our lives.

Thanks, Grandma.

#Grandmothers #Childbirth #ChildCare #HannaFamilyHistory #ChildhoodMemories #MargaretGHanna

Challenge Your Camera #2: Red

The Province of Saskatchewan advertises itself as “Land of Living Skies,” but other skies can be just as dramatic, to wit:

Sunset, Tucson Arizona
Sunset, Tucson Arizona
Sunset, Sedona Arizona

And now, for something completely different (but still red):

Cochise Council Rocks, Coronado National Forest, Arizona

#ChallengeYourCamera #Sunsets #Pictographs #Arizona #Red #MargaretGHanna

Prairie Architecture: The Barn

(Written in response to Challenge Your Camera)

Every farm has one. They may be of different sizes and configurations, they might be build of different materials, but they all have the same function – a place to shelter livestock during inclement weather, a place where cows/sows/ewes/horses give birth, and a place to keep their fodder and bedding.

This is the barn I grew up with. My grandfather, Abraham Hanna, had it built in the summer of 1917, the year he moved the entire farmstead one mile, from the east side of Sec. 25 clear across to the west side, just north of the village of Meyronne, Saskatchewan. It was built under the direction of local carpenters, Norman Hisey and R. Leadley, who built to last – huge old-growth fir posts, beams, joists and rafters are the “bones” of the barn. Mr. Leadley had the misfortune of falling off the roof and, as my grandfather recorded in his diary, “was badly injured.” When the barn was finished, Mr. Hisey painted “Cloverdale Farm” on the roof.

It no longer houses livestock – the last horse died about 1949 and my father sold the last of the cattle about 1968 – but I remember it as a place filled with the aroma of manure and straw and chop and cattle. Those aromas seeped into the concrete floor and the fir beams, never to leave. Three milk cows – two Jerseys and a Guernsey – stood in the stanchions to be milked, their tails constantly switching back and forth, threatening to swat the unwary milker. The bull filled one of the box stalls both physically and psychologically (I was terrified of the monster). Two other box stalls were well-used come March and April as “birthing” rooms; I remember Dad coming in from the barn and announcing, “We’ve got a calf!” The barn cats ruled, semi-wild creatures that birthed in the mangers or the hay loft, that sallied forth to hunt mice and rats and gophers, that vanished in a trice when we walked in and peered suspiciously at us from their hidey-holes. The former horse stalls housed equipment or were boarded up to hold grain.

The loft housed the straw pile and the chop bin and flocks of pigeons and barn swallows and sparrows. The straw pile was our “mountain;” my brother and I trekked up and down it, rolled in it, threw handsful of straw at each other, and then spent an eternity picking straw and chaff out of our hair, our ears, our clothes. The chop bin – “chop” being oats chopped into a coarse, flour-like feed – was the bane of our chores. It always clogged in the chute, forcing us to hammer at it with the shovel until it dislodged and came thundering down, covering us from head to toe in an itchy cloud. We spat it out, dug it out of our ears, tousled it from our hair, slapped it off our clothes and then carted 5-gallon pails of it in our little red wagon the 100 yards or so to the chicken coop.

Hisey and Leadley built well – the barn is as straight and solid as it was 103 years ago. The neighbour who bought our farm respected the barn’s antiquity – he painted it and reshingled the roof. It now looks almost like new, although the roof no longer proclaims “Cloverdale Farm.”

ChallengeYourCamera #PrairieBarns #PrairieArchitecture #HannaFamilyHistory #ChildhoodMemories #MargaretGHanna

Something “Old” is “New” Again

I read recently that the newest fashion “In” thing is “upcycling,” i.e., recycling parts of existing clothes or fabric ends to create new clothes, preferable more expensive clothes.

I hate to break it to the fashion gurus but so-called “upcycling” has been around for-EVER!

But first, some background.

I have to credit upcyclers with combating “fast fashion” – clothes that are cheap, trendy and disposable. Wander through the clothing department of any store, especially big box stores, and you’ll see fast fashion everywhere.

Why is it so cheap? Take a close look at where it’s made. Bangladesh. Indonesia. India. Thailand. Vietnam. The list goes on. Cheap labour and horrible working conditions that have long been outlawed in Canada, the USA, New Zealand, Australia and Europe.

Remember the Rana Plaza clothing factory that collapsed in Bangladesh in April, 2013, killing over 1100 people and injured more than 2500? Or the Tazreen Fashions factory that burned in November, 2012, killing at least 117 people and injuring more than 200? The reasons so many died: faulty wiring and barred or even non-existent emergency exits.

Those people work under horrible conditions – very few, if any, breaks to eat or use the bathroom (assuming there is one); meager pay (the Rana Plaza workers earned 35 cents a day), blocked exits, unsafe working conditions, long hours, the constant fear of losing their jobs if they object, poor light, poor air circulation, and so on. They continue to work under those conditions because they have no choice, because their families depend upon that meager income, because if they objected (and were then fired) there would be thousands of others battling to take their place. If severely injured to the point of not being able to work, they receive no compensation from the factory, no workers’ compensation, no unemployment benefits, no long-term disability payments. Nothing.

And all because we’re too “cheap” to pay the price for clothes (and other products) made locally by well-paid employees in safe workplaces (this article speaks to the situation in the USA but Canada can learn from it, too.)

So where does “upcycling” fit in this, you ask? Consider this: how long will you wear that piece of clothing and what will you do with it once a) it wears out, or b) you get tired of wearing it?

Some discarded clothing goes to thrift stores, about 15% according to this web site, and some is burned for energy recovery, but most ends up in the garbage. In 2014, just over 10 million tons (TONS!) of discarded clothing were sent to landfills in the USA alone.

Thus, upcycling – a way to turn clothing that would be otherwise discarded into something “new” that is desirable and fashionable and green. But upcycling is nothing new.

During the Depression of the 1930s, upcycling was born out of necessity, not out of choice. My mother grew up with it. She told stories of her mother making underclothes and boys’ shirts out of cotton flour sacks and remaking hand-me-down clothing received in relief shipments. Fortunately, my grandmother had received extensive training in all the fibre arts, including pattern-making, when she attended the Practicing School for Girls in Truro, Cornwall, England, in the late 1890s. She put that training to good use during the Depression, not only (re)making clothes for her family but also training other women how to do the same. My mother told how Grandma could look at a picture of a dress, then draft the pattern for it using newspaper and make the dress on her treadle sewing machine.

Mom in her “upcycled” suit

In 1941, Mom was hired fresh out of high school to clerk at the Bank of Toronto. She had no suitable work clothes, only the dress she wore to school and the dress she wore at home (imagine, only two dresses!), and there was no money to buy her a suit. Grandma created one by taking apart one of Grandpa’s old suits, turning the fabric and recutting it. Mom wore that suit until she earned enough to buy herself a store-bought one.

So the next time you contemplate buying that inexpensive (cheap) clothing article, look where it’s made and think of the underpaid workers labouring in conditions you wouldn’t even put your dog in. Think of the tons of waste clothing already in landfills. Think of my mother with only two dresses to her name. Think of my grandmother clothing her family during desperate times by “upcycling.”

Just think.

#FastFashion #Upcycling #DepressionEra #GoingGreen #Relief #SweatShops #RanaPlaza #TazreenFashions #Recycling #MakingDo #HighamFamilyHistory #ClothingInLandfills #DisposableFashion #DiscardedClothing #MargaretGHanna