Slowly, Spring Comes Again to Rosetta McClain Gardens

A welcoming forsythia bush cheers up the walk along the path

It’s almost the end of April and we are still waiting for warm weather. However, it’s typical of this month to be cold and wet (with the occasional snow). So while we wait for the sunny days ahead, here’s some photographs of the coming of spring to Rosetta.

New photos added after a morning walk on April 30

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Magnolia Stellata

Royal Star Magnolia, Magnolia Stellata

Rosetta McClain Gardens, a place I like to showcase on my blog from time to time is, as far as public gardens go, a modest place. It has no showy or spectacular plants and flowers. Yet what is there, delights the eye with simple beauty. Like the small magnolia tree, a Magnolia Stellata, also known as Royal Star Magnolia, native to Japan, which lives close to the edge of the garden near the bluffs with views of Lake Ontario.

Every year, I like to go see it unfold in early spring.  Last week it was doing well and I photographed the beauty of its new flowers. A few days later, we had a heavy snowfall which smothered the delicate white blooms.  The day after, the snow melted, and I went back to see if it survived unscathed. Unfortunately, it did not. Yet, there remains a gentle beauty to these weather-beaten flowers that painfully reminds me of the fragility of life. They are still clinging to the branches, not willing to let go just yet, wanting to stay for as long as they can, even if bruised.

Such resiliency encourages me to do likewise, and carry on during these difficult times.

Before the snowstorm

During the snowstorm

 Survival

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The Last Snow Visit to My Garden

A little bit of snow lingering on my forsythia

Looking now at the photographs I took of my garden the day snow came to visit on April 21, I am reminded again of those wise words of Ecclesiastes. You know, the ubiquitous and overused “There is a time…” Well, as much as I marvel at the sight of snow, I really don’t want to see it now. Not until it returns in its proper season of winter. There is a time, indeed, for everything, but it’s also wise to know when to let go of something. The garden constantly reminds me that it’s as metaphor for life.

Growing up in the Azores, snow was not even part of my geographical world nor did I have fantasies about it. It wasn’t until I came to Canada that snow imprinted itself on me as something that would forever alter my consciousness and relationship to the physical world and the transition of seasons.

Had I never come to live in Toronto, I would have never known snow as anything more than images from faraway places.  But I’m glad my parents brought me here. Snow became associated with all the complex feelings and adventure of arrival in a new land, a land I call home.

I am now looking forward to spring.

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April Snow Comes to Rosetta McClain Gardens

I know that it’s April 21, and just yesterday I was working in my garden, but it’s not unusual to have late-April snow make an appearance before spring really takes over from winter. I woke up this morning to a beautiful snowfall in Toronto. We were expecting it. My first thought was to go out and take a walk to see it at Rosetta McClain Gardens.  Here’s how it looked this morning.

By now, as I write this, the sun is back and the snow is melting.  Such is the ephemerality of the weather. As much as I find this kind of spontaneous outburst of nature’s whimsy delightful, I hope this will be my last post of snow for a while.

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When Spring Comes to My Toronto Garden

Spring comes slowly to Toronto. All the plants in my garden are waiting for warmer weather before they make their debut but these brave ones have decided to come up.

 

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While Waiting for Spring…Some Photos of São Miguel, Azores

São Miguel, Azores

It’s already the middle of March, but there’s still patches of snow in my garden. Spring tends to come late to Toronto. So, for now, here’s some photographs from trips of years past that make me long for the green of São Miguel.

O mar dos Açores

Standing by gates wondering what’s on the other side.

I can still hear the hypnotic sound of these cows munching on dewy ocean-salted grass.

Stones blending with the green life.

Planalto dos Graminhais

Plant Life

Homes in a past life.

 

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Coming to Canada 53rd Anniversary

February 4th marks the 53rd anniversary of leaving my home in São Miguel, Azores for Toronto, Canada. Fifty-three years in the life of a sixty-two-year-old means that the balance of time is weighed heavily on the side of Toronto with only a few years of life in the city of Ponta Delgada.

Yet, it’s the balance of my younger life that in some ways weighs the most. I have already written enough about my inner journey of discovery and self-exploration; what it means for me to be someone who came from an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean to settle by the shores of Lake Ontario.  The parallel between these two landscapes has continued to be a geographical mirror reflecting where I came from with where I live.

In 2008, I wrote Coming to Canada to celebrate my 40th anniversary with the intent of sharing my journey of immigration with my family and especially the younger generation; namely, my nieces (and later my nephews) and my cousins’ children all of whom were born in Canada. They were not immigrants but instead first-generation Portuguese Canadians.

I think all children’s stories of their immigration experience are important and I wish more people told their stories so that our collective diasporic memory gets documented and shared. I have said it often, but I’ll repeat it now on this anniversary date: Coming to Canada was the best thing my parents could have done for all of us.

Still, I miss my visits to São Miguel but I hope to return when the world health situation allows. Visiting the Azores is a gentle reunion with a place I love which still has the familiarity of home and yet is not home anymore.

I already posted Coming to Canada on my blog years ago, but here it is again, for anyone who is interested in reading it:

Part 1: My Azorean Childhood

Part 2: Leaving for Toronto

Part 3: Arriving in Toronto

Part 4: To the Azores and Back!

Where the road goes, I go…

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Living and Partly living…During the Pandemic

Photo taken at Tommy Thompson Park, looking back to the city of Toronto

“Yet we have gone on living, Living and partly living,” say the chorus of Canterbury women in T. S. Elliot’s play Murder in the Cathedral. We, too, can say that we are living and partly living at this time.

The city of Toronto is once again on lockdown. It’s a confusing time. People are having a hard time interpreting the basic message of “stay home.” There’s a long list of exemptions as to when you can go out but it’s all open to interpretation and how will all this be enforced?

We have been living and partly living since March of 2020. For those of us who have complied and stayed home all these months, it’s disheartening to see that our efforts have not made a difference. The virus rages on, it has even mutated. The hope of a vaccine is a not-too-hopeful hope. We can see that it will take a while for a worldwide vaccination plan to kick in and really make a difference.

We are living and partly living, trying to be positive, to be creative, and to keep in touch with others in the hope of offering them encouragement and community. It’s all we can do from the isolation of our homes but, the longer this lasts, we will become wearied and fatigued. It will be harder to sustain positive thoughts, emotions, and attitudes to help us get through the pandemic until it will, inevitably, end. Until then, we will continue to live and to partly live.

I haven’t walked the city for nearly a year. I live and don’t live in the city, so it feels. I stay in my neighbourhood and only go beyond it once a week to deliver groceries to my mother who lives on the opposite end of the city. The drive there allows me to see a bit of the city but it’s not a city I engage with any more. I see it and I don’t.

I never fully realized how good it was to have the freedom of walking and meandering through its many neighbourhoods, meeting friends at coffee shops and restaurants, going for a movie or a concert. City life full of people in close proximity sharing in the experiences of living and enjoying each other’s company in the texture and setting of physical spaces.  We now partly live and the city is only in my memories of the life I had before the pandemic.

I thought to post some photographs of my city, Toronto. I rarely take photographs that include people. I deliberately wait for them to be out of the way before taking my pictures, but now I wish I had more images of people interacting and occupying the space that is the city.

I have hope that there will be another time when I’ll be free to wonder the streets again. Until then I look at photos. Living and partly living… and waiting.

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Pepito Has a Doll/Pepito Tiene Una Muñeca: Book Review

The title of this new English/Spanish bilingual children’s book written by Jesús Canchola Sanchez and illustrated by Armando Minjárez Monárrez comes unapologetically to the point: the boy in the story has a doll. There is no twist or cute dramatic reveal or a slow build up to accustom the reader to this uncomfortable truth for many: that some boys may like to have a doll to play with.

In the age of gender-neutral language and the acceptance of multiple identities, beyond the boy/girl heteronormative model of defining a person’s being, Pepito Has a Doll may be a very safe idea but it’s still an important one to get across to children; namely, that it’s okay for he/she/they to look upon a doll as a positive expression of play and as a tool to explore imagination and friendship.

Pepito gets teased at school for having a doll, Lola, who he takes to school every day. She is his friend and he talks to her. However, he fears that his classmates will laugh at him for having a doll but he worries about her literacy, wondering, “If she doesn’t come with me, how will she learn to read?”

His prayer every night is that he may find a friend to play with him. Eventually, that friend does show up as a new boy in school, Miguel, and they become friends. There’s a charming illustration of the two of them running through a field of grass, holding hands with each other and with Lola, hinting at the possibility of a life free from negative social attitudes.

Pepito brings Miguel home where his grandmother provides a safe space for the boys to be truly themselves without fear of ridicule. She teaches them to dance and by doing so, to embrace joy and celebrate their differences. The boys start to walk to school together and Pepito is happy to have a friend.

One day, Lola falls out of Pepito’s mochila and the other children make fun of him. “Pepito is a girl!” they say, in an attempt to reinforce what is considered unacceptable behaviour for a boy. Luckily, Miguel comes to his defence, “but the kids keep making fun.” Pepito has the courage to fight back with words, “No. No. No! Lola is my doll. She’s my friend. I love her and there’s nothing wrong with that,” he says. What’s interesting in the story is that the kids do stop making fun of Pepito and after this confrontation, leave him alone. This scene made me wonder about the importance of standing up for oneself. So much of bullying happens because children are not empowered to resist being victimized. The lesson here is to assert your own truth and perhaps, just maybe, those who had been teasing and making fun of you, will come to respect you, despite differences.

Pepito thanks Miguel for coming to his rescue with a besito, a kiss. This is another powerful message in the story, one that shows that it’s possible to show love and affection for one’s friends. I don’t think we need to interpret this exclusively as a coming out story. Boys and men are socialized from the start to avoid intimacy with each other because hugging and holding hands have been sexualized to the detriment of basic human touch and interaction. This story shows the possibility of friendships between boys to include the emotional responses we are taught to avoid, regardless of sexual or gender identification.

This wonderful story should be translated into every language and read not only by children but by adults who need to be reminded of the importance of letting children decide for themselves what they wish to play with and to even have a doll who represents the possibility of learning about human interaction through fantasy and imagination.

I wish I had read Pepito Has a Doll, had it been written when I was a little boy. It would have shown me that it was acceptable to play with dolls while also exploring my own identity and feelings towards boys.

I didn’t have a doll growing up Portuguese in the Azores but I do remember being allowed to play with my girl cousins and their dolls. What I did do was create dresses for them. My mother used to give me remnants of fabric she no longer needed for her own dressmaking materials. I did learn how to use needle and thread, cut patterns and sew them by hand into dresses and outfits which my cousins loved.

Looking back, I am impressed that the women in my family were comfortable enough to let me play this way without worrying about it being a threat to my masculinity. I learned from a young age that dolls and cars could be part of a boy’s childhood play choices. However, I know that my situation was not the norm and that more often than not, parents reinforce traditional models of play to teach children to stay within the narrow confines of outdated notions of femininity/masculinity.

A book like Pepito Has a Doll can go a long way to help break the stereotyped ideas around gender-based play, the meaning of friendship, and inclusive belonging.

The author acknowledges the role of his grandmother in teaching him how to be himself. There’s a touching scene in the story when Pepito asks his abuela, grandmother, why he has to hide his doll at school. I love her empowering response, “We have to be careful. Someone can make fun of you or hurt you. If someone does that to you, tell me. I will always protect you.”

I know that there’s other grandmothers out there who support the differences they see in a special grandchild. I can attest to that with my own grandmother who knew who I was long before I could understand it myself. One of my cousins told me much later in life that when she was still a child, and did not understand what our grandmother was referring to, had said to her, “Emanuel is different, but always be his friend.”

Pepito Has a Doll is a book that celebrates, through the power of words and lovely illustrations, the power of letting young boys explore their identity through play and imagination, not as a hidden secret thing but in the wide open space of friendship and community.

Published by BookBaby, January 20, 2021

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A Different Christmas

We are coming to the end of 2020 and I don’t have much that I want to say about it. Instead, I am simply grateful that the Christmas Season is here, with the lights and decorations up in both public spaces and private homes. We need to see more light this year, not only the physical light of the sun or ornamental lights, but inner light. It’s been a dark year, regardless of whether you live on the sunny part of the planet or where the days are short and dark in December.

I wish you all much light to give you comfort and hope as you wait for the start of 2021 and, hopefully, a new beginning for all the people of earth. For all of us who have survived this pandemic I hope we will see joy again, and a restoration to life as we know it, as much as possible, with resiliency to face the challenges of inevitable change and new ways of living our lives.

I leave you with some photos of simple decorations that I have come upon on my walks and that have given me comfort. I wish I knew who took the time to lovingly decorate the trees in the park so that I could thank them for this simple gesture of kindness to gift beauty and joy to those who walk by. They are signs that the world will be all right as long as we, in our own way, give light to each other, and thereby, light to the world.

Wishing everyone a Happy Christmas, a Feliz Natal, with many thanks to you for dropping by my blog this year. I don’t have many followers. Mine is a modest endeavour, but I am very grateful for those of you who have found me here. I enjoy meeting you on your blogs from where you are in Canada, USA, Philippines, South Africa, Portugal, Brazil, and other parts of the world. It always delights me to see new notices from each of you in my inbox and I look forward to your posts and your thoughts, photos, and writing in 2021. To all of you, a big thank you, a grande obrigado for your virtual presence and support.

I have done a Christmas post since I started my blog and have gathered them here in case you feel inclined to have a look:

Christmas Mourning (2016)

Presépio (2017)

Christmas Light/Luz de Natal (2018)

Les Santons de Charlevoix (2019)

Thank you to the person who lovingly placed this bow around the tree. May we all do something to make someone else feel special.

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