Wednesday, April 30, 2008

It Strikes Me Funny: Questions based on a glimmer of recognition

The third favourite question I am asked is, Do you know what you should write about? (I’ve got something for you.)

After six years as a weekly columnist with my picture in the paper I am still greatly surprised when anyone on the street or even another regular at the Roaster in Wortley Village connects me to a recent article, and am usually stuck for a reasonable answer to a reader’s offer of help.

My typical brilliant response: I take another sip of coffee, blink once or twice if it’s before 10 o’clock in the morning, fumble for a pen as if I’m lost without one and mumble something like, yeah, what are you thinking, or, really, or, thanks for the tip, good one.

My second favourite question: You’re that guy, right?

I love that one. And at my age (I’m at the beginning of a long, healthy, youthful stage of retirement called guaranteed freedom), since I can understand it’s hard to keep track of the names of everyone who has written a column that fits neatly into the bottom of a budgie cage, I simply answer, yup, that’s me.

Number two used to be my number one because it always makes me laugh inside.

As of last week, however, I now have an all new numero uno.

After a column concerning conservation measures was published I was asked the following: Do you believe in clotheslines?

I could have mentioned I always use one but said the first thing that popped into my head: You mean, as a higher power?

Good one, eh?

What would you have said?

[Visit another cartoon in progress by G. Harrison at Four Mugs]

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Postcards from the Side of the Road

I enjoy stopping the motorcycle at the side of the road, snapping a few pictures and knowing I'll have a bit of fun with the shots when I get home.

Years ago when I wanted to edit a photograph I'd talk to the guy at the camera shop about this and that for half an hour or do it myself after getting out coloured markers, scissors, scrap paper, assorted chemicals from a homemade science kit and a bottle of glue.

Now, I can sit at my computer and get what I think are pretty decent edits with the click of a button.

I can playfully experiment with cropping, enhancements, colours and other relatively cool effects and not blow up the house in the process.

[St. Marys, Ontario]

Sometimes, if I’m lucky, I’ll see something in the photo that will draw me back to the location of the shot for a second look.

[Port Bruce, Ontario]

And yes, it helps that I’m retired and my wife occasionally gives me a few bucks to fill up the motorcycle.

[Visit Four Mugs to see two more photos from a recent ride]

Monday, April 28, 2008

Monday Memoirs: I chased my dad as fast as my little legs would carry me

Rhonda Wettlaufer, my first girlfriend and an only child, may have had more toys than I did so we often played at her house after we returned from Kindergarten or after our grade one lessons were finished.

One bright and cheery afternoon, while playing together in her backyard I noticed a coal truck leave the Burgessville Co-op and stop at the nearby corner.

My father (about 35-years old at the time) was driving the truck and didn’t hear me when I yelled at him.

I must have hollered something like, “I want to go with you” because I enjoyed being his passenger on coal runs, and without saying good-bye to Rhonda or telling her mother where I was going I ran after the truck as it crossed highway 59 on its way to heaven knows where.

I ran to the other side of the road and gave chase as fast as my little legs would carry me.

[Two runners: Kim and Gord. Kim is in a harness with rope attached. He also has a pointy head.]

Within just a few minutes I was on the south edge of the tiny village and was delighted to see the truck turning into a laneway only one-half or three-quarters of a mile ahead.

So I began to walk.

It was then I noticed the ditches were quite deep and the fields seemed very lonely. I also imagined that several of the dark, brooding trees that stood on the wooded fence line were moving toward me and were preparing to chase me down the road.

So I began to run again.

I was relieved to draw even with a roadside barn because it blocked my view of the troublesome trees and still more relieved to see my father’s truck parked in the next farmer’s lane.

I can’t recall dad’s reaction when he saw me but I can remember mother’s when I arrived safely home.

She was almost in tears from fright and joy.

After hearing I had disappeared from the Wettlaufer’s backyard mother had sent out a small search party and was now considering to tie me in place for the rest of (what was likely going to be) my very short life.

Family history and several black and white photos inform me that she later tried and failed.

P.S. Dear Ma,

Now that I have the Boston Marathon out of my system I don’t run far or fast anymore.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Motorcycle Miles: Something about a small town, their fishermen and dogs

I admit it. I like small towns.

At 5 ft. 6 in. tall I blend right in and can usually find a spot to sit down, rub elbows with the locals and enjoy a coffee.

On the way to Port Bruce recently I passed through Powersville, population 27.

The hamlet has no place to stop for coffee but the residents do have 7 dogs.

After riding south another 15 minutes I snapped a few pictures of a fisherman dipping for minnows.

And then relaxed at the Sand Kastle next to Lake Erie’s shore.

If it warms up a few degrees I may get back that way again today.

Happy trails.

[Two more photos from Gord's small workshop are at Four Mugs]

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Motorcycle Miles: There is something about a small town

I grew up in a small town and anytime I ride through one I sense there is a wee bit of magic at work in small places.

For example: I know there aren’t as many things to do or see in a hamlet, village or town but on any given day I may do or see one thing that appears more significant in a small setting than a bigger one.

While riding through Belmont this week I saw for the first time the cairn erected recently to honour soldiers past and present.

It reminded me of other more substantial monuments erected in Norwich, Brownsville, Atwood and Lieury, all tiny places almost off the beaten track (and you won’t find Lieury unless you’re lost)

[Belmont, Ontario]

I thought, for some reason small towns remember their sons and daughters so very well.

Is it because they lost 3 or 4 out of their handful rather than 30 or 40 out of their thousands?

Next time I’m lost in Lieury I’ll stop, read the few names on the hamlet’s fine marker and remember them too.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Friday Green Things: Prices rise but a maroon says we are helpless

High grain prices will increase the cost of many of our daily food staples e.g. bread, pasta, beef, chicken etc., but there’s not much we can do as consumers about the price of grain, says Bruce Cran, the president of the Consumers Association of Canada. [link to the newspaper article in today's London Free Press]

As Carla (from the sitcom Cheers) would have said, “What a maroon.”

Jiminy Cricket, there are many things consumers can do or not do, and it strikes me funny that a consumer advocate isn’t out there happily telling us what those things are.

In all fairness, Mr. Cran does go on to say that people will be doing less barbecuing to save a dollar but that sounds like a very simple observation to me.

If he was interested in helping consumers avert even higher prices in the very near future he would suggest we cut our consumption of meat by 50 - 80 per cent because the millions of tonnes of grain going to feed livestock could easily feed us - and for a growing number of over-weight and obese North Americans it would be a very healthy thing to do.

And if there’s less meat production there’s a lot less greenhouse gas emissions from animals and vehicles driving them to slaughter and then to the supermarket after they have been neatly wrapped in plastic. [Consumer advocates don't know this stuff?]

I will give Mr. Cran one pat on the head for saying that as we face bigger challenges come winter “the only thing you can do to help yourself is go and collect your grandma’s recipes for canning.”

Sure, it’s not the only thing we can do (which is somehow obvious to 99.99% of consumers) after we reduce our consumption - but it’s something.

I think I have a pickle recipe around here somewhere.

And you? What can you make yourself?

[Visit Four Mugs and a Crock to see Cartoon in Progress by G. Harrison]

Thursday, April 24, 2008

ABC-DEFinitely Gross: Things parents don’t tell their kids about the environment

It’s official: There are four things causing an increase in the cost and demand for food grains and for people who have been out of town for awhile I’ve listed them below:

1. Drought caused extensive damage to crop yields in some areas of the world.

2. The world’s appetite for meat is increasing as economies grow and those chickens, cows and pigs have to be fed a lot of grain in order to get them ready for slaughter.

3. Some grain crops are being converted to fuels.

4. Traders or speculators in the stock market are pushing prices of grain commodities higher.

The average North American parent is much at fault. The size of their children, family van or pickup truck has never been greater.

But you won’t often hear Dad or Mom say that everybody in the family is going to have to cut back a wee bit as they drive across town to soccer practice or down the highway to visit Grandma’s house with a big bag of Bucky’s burgers on their lap.

Though many parents are silent I have a few questions:

Would prices or demand for grain (and food stuffs) stabilize or decrease if we ate 50 per cent less meat than we do now and left the car in the lane way 50 per cent more often?

And before we actually try the experiment ourselves will we be forced to do so because of even higher prices?

And what will we say to the kids when soccer has to be crossed off the list?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Live Small & Prosper: Lake Huron - singing sand and more dry land

A friend and I visited Black Creek Provincial Park yesterday to see if it would be suitable for future camping or swimming adventures.

The answer: Yes and no. Though it’s located on the ever-expanding shore of Lake Huron west of Ferndale - and I’d like to camp and swim there before the water disappears completely - I’ll never find it again.

[Messages and melodies in the sand]

We were fortunate enough to locate it yesterday thanks only to directions from a person who lives a few kilometers from the park.

After playing in the water for a few minutes I asked myself a few questions:

Is lack of money for signage a problem for provincial parks? We only saw one sign and it was at the entrance to the park.

[The one and only sign telling us there is a park at Black creek]

Is the water level getting lower chiefly because of our insatiable and increased demand?

[You actually can take a long walk off a short pier]

Should we start making lifestyle changes and sacrifices in order to ensure a healthy future supply of fresh water?

If yes, what would those sacrifices be?

Long showers? Golf? Watering the lawn? The backyard pool?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Monday Memoirs: Just trying to have fun and survive until I was seven

I lived in the hamlet of Burgessville for the first six and a half years of my very exciting life.

Because the public school in Burgessville had no kindergarten I was transported by car to Norwich, five miles away, with a small group of other wee tads for my first year of formal book learning.

I was introduced to play time in a sandbox, painting with fat brushes, taking a break for cold milk and sleeping on the carpet. Though I should have excelled at the above activities my report card informs me I was “a restless child”.

Hey, who could sleep after designing a new system of road ways in the sand?

[My first hot rod; circa 1954; for quick get-a-ways.]

Each child carried a quarter to school on Mondays to pay for the milk and because 25 cents was a ton of money I kept the quarter to myself one week, told the teacher I forgot or lost it and then hid it in the middle of the creek that ran under the road between Wettlaufer’s General Store and my home.

I remember hiding and retrieving it from the water and buying chewy raspberry candies and a bag of blackballs - hard as a rock, three for a penny. Though I can’t remember getting caught for my first crime my luck soon ran out.

Rhonda Wettlaufer, my first girlfriend, cried a lot when she was in grade 1 so I was occasionally asked to walk her home during school hours. Her parents ran the corner store and Rhonda’s mother gave me candy in exchange for her daughter.

I returned the favour by skillfully stealing my first comic book right from under her nose. However, I didn’t even get to the end of the first story. After taking two steps into the house Mother spotted the comic, asked me where I got it, smelled something fishy about my reply and marched me back to the store in very short order. I made my first tearful public apology to a shopkeeper. (It wouldn’t be my last.)

When I wasn’t ripping off local merchants I was climbing on rafters or high stacks of feedbags at the local Co-op mill where my dad worked, looking at the pigs in our barn, running from snakes in our backyard, throwing stones at passing cars, kicking slats out of the upper bunk causing it to crash on my head, covering myself with bright red lipstick, frightening the life out of my mother (who thought I was bleeding to death), eating mud pies under the back steps of the house with my sisters, licking blocks of salt (cowlicks) in the field behind our yard, telling mother I didn’t like my name and fussing about a new one, climbing into a large round hot-air vent after my father told me not to, getting stuck, crying for help, or making sharp tin swords with Danny Bucholtz on his dad’s eavestrough machine - sharp enough to cut through a corn stalk.

Though I sometimes wonder how I survived long enough to blow out seven candles I wouldn’t change a thing.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Recommended Reading: The Virtuous Consumer is a sound, informative local effort

I met for coffee recently with Leslie Garrett, local writer, mother of three and former long distance runner with the idea in mind we’d trade one another a copy of our most recent books, and all went well until she walked over to my favourite table at The Little Red Roaster and politely handed me The Virtuous Consumer: Your Essential Shopping Guide for a Better, Kinder, Healthier World.

Crap, I thought, after realizing my book was still on the drop leaf table inside the front door of my house.

And because a person at an adjacent table had distracted me with a comment about my good looks, or something else, I forgot to pay for Leslie’s pot of tea.

Me bad times two.

Our conversation went very well, however, as we touched base about our writing, families, search for truth and happiness in the modern world, our sporadic short-distance running habit and 101 other things.

Later that day I read the first chapter of Leslie’s book while riding my exercise bike and concluded the following:

I’ll read more of the book though Ch. 1 addresses women’s concerns more than men’s.

The book’s format makes it easy for consumers to make wise choices on behalf of the environment when they shop.

There weren’t any cartoons, and I like a book with funny little cartoons, but that could just be me.

The next day I emailed Leslie to inform her she’d been quoted in the right margin of green bean things. Good quote too.

She gave me the phone number and address of a local organic farmer.

Hey, could be a good story there too.

Read another good story about an upcoming trip at Four Mugs]

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Cartoon in Progress: You gotta be yourself

Feel alone? Cut off from society?

Seem different? Wanna go your own way?

Have strange thoughts, that is, strange to others, but not to you?

Embrace your individuality.

Do something with it.

Don’t be sheepish.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Friday Green Things: Two views about going small and green with living space

Which of the two lifestyles hinted at below seems to be on the right track?

re Plan A: In an article entitled Living small is the next big thing by Judy Gerstel (a reporter for The Toronto Star) the latest book is featured by Sarah Susanka (Not So Big Life), author of also The Not So Big House.

[A link to both - and so much more, at no extra charge]

The opening lines of the article prepare you well for what lies ahead: Supersizing is offensive; everything small, simple and supple is lauded and one and all are urged to tread minimally upon the land.

Ms Susanka explains to the reporter, while sitting on the balcony of a 540-square-foot condo in Toronto, that she is hopeful that society will soon start to live in a “not-so-big” way.

Is "small" on the way to go or on the right track? Consider now Plan B.

re Plan B: Two hours west on the 401 Deforest City developers are enticing home owners to consider geothermal heating by sharing helpful information about the cost and function of the units and saying (with geothermal) we “don’t have to scrimp on life’s little luxuries... as energy costs rise.”

We’re told we “won’t have to live without air conditioning, a heated pool or in a smaller home.” (The London Free Press Home magazine, Spring 2008)

Apparently, in Deforest City (London, Ont.) there are no limits to land, large building lots, water for pools or builders who can help you “harness some of the energy that’s locked in the ground and use it to have that luxurious lifestyle you desire.”

There are other plans as well, I'm sure, but which of the above approaches seems to be headed in the best direction?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

ABC-DEFinitely Gross: The things parents don’t tell their kids about the environment

Many parents know that fuel and food costs are rising, and will continue to rise, but are sticking with Plan A.

Plan A: Consume everything in sight without thought of future generations and don’t think or worry about the natural limits of excessive consumption.

Many parents will never read or pass along the following: About 1960 average global consumption could still be supported by only about 50 per cent of global ecological capacity. However, about 1985, for the first time in human history, average global consumption matched global ecological capacity.

"Since that year we have been living beyond our means, supporting consumption through an increasing ecological deficit." [pg. 253, The Little Green Handbook by Ron Nielsen]

Many parents will never devise a realistic Plan B in order to set an example to their children or the next generation of consumers.

[Visit Live Small & Prosper for a great green summer yard sale idea]

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Live Small & Prosper: Yard Sale for Fuel - before everybody else thinks of it

Today, in a letter to the editor of The Londoner, Roy Hanson summarized his submission (Gluttons for oil) by saying:

Until we get control of our insatiable appetite for oil, prepare to pay a lot more at the pump. Be prepared during the summer driving season to pay up to $1.50 per litre. And everything else associated with oil - food and other goods transported by truck and planes - will increase in price too. [Follow link to Letters from my homepage]

By ‘everything else’ I think Roy means just about everything else we consume on a daily basis without fully thinking about the consequences of our excessive actions. Burp.

So, if gasoline and everything else will soon cost more how can I possibly adjust?

Sure, I could reduce my driving, food intake and trips to the nearest mall and thereby save enough money to pay for next winter’s higher home heating costs but I’d like to do more than just save.

I’d really like to make a pile of cold hard cash and feel the weight of extra loonies and toonies bounce around in my pocket as I walk to the Red Roaster for my morning coffee.

Since it’s spring and Canadians love to get out of the house and shop instead of stay home to wipe winter’s dust off the venetian blinds I think a huge yard sale is in order.

I’ve got enough extra stuff I don’t really need or use to hold a real humdinger and kill two birds with one stone.

I’ll get a pocketful of cold hard ones and much-needed practice living with less.

Both will come in handy someday, maybe sooner than I think.

[Visit Four Mugs and a Crock for more about living with less]

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Motorcycle Miles: Discovering Ontario and Beyond in One Pair of Pants

Some time in the near future, about 30 seconds after I tack up the last piece of cedar siding on our small house and pack my 1984 Virago, I’m planning to ride to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and fulfill an important promise to my father.

Though I still have to work out a few wrinkles concerning the route back home (e.g. should I retrace my steps along the St. Lawrence R. or bike through the Adirondack Mts. in the US?) I’ve got the 6-day journey to the Atlantic all worked out.

For example:

Day 1: Ride 384 km., camp at Hope Mill Conservation Area about 20 km. east of Peterborough. Set up tent. Drink two cans of Guinness. Recycle cans. Sleep.

Day 2: Have oatmeal for breakfast, bike 370 km., camp at Voyageur Provincial Park on the Ottawa River between Ottawa and Montreal and only minutes from a ferry that will escort me safely to the province of Quebec early the following morning after another hearty breakfast (of oatmeal and raisins, of course).

For many bikers I’m sure it doesn’t sound like I’m travelling very far each day, that I must be a real slowpoke. And those who read a story about a recent trip to Alaska by 3 motorcyclists will know they averaged 550 km./day for 15 days compared to what will be my meager 350 km. for six days.

I’ll admit I don’t go as far and as fast as most riders.

It’s likely because I like to admire the scenery at an easy pace, stop at roadside picnic tables that appear along the way, brew a pot of tea, write a few notes about what I’ve seen, take several pictures to prove to myself and others that rare beauty awaits all patient travellers and reflect on where I’ve come from, where I’m going and why.

[One reason why I’m going to Halifax: To visit ‘The Sailor’ with another old sailor]

Trust me. After I get back and show you some of my 650 photos of Peggy’s Cove you’ll know why I like to go slow and enjoy the view.

[Please visit Cartoon in Progress at Four Mugs and a Crock for more about the upcoming adventure.]

Monday, April 14, 2008

Monday Memoirs: On the road and asleep in a window well in the early 1950s

My next column, in news stands this Thursday (it’s free - take two copies), refers to an upcoming motorcycle trip to Halifax during which I’ll fulfill the last promise I made to my father - after he passed away in 2003.

I’ll be steering and he’ll be in a saddlebag in the form of cremated remains.

(Don’t feel spooked. He’s a completely harmless old soul.)

Planning for the last trip we’ll make together reminded me of some of my earliest memories of times on the road together.

After he rescued me from a tractor headed toward the Burgessville Creek he attempted to familiarize me with some of the other important controls in a vehicle - other than brightly coloured starter buttons - by sitting me on his lap and teaching me how to steer the family car, a roomy black Ford Model A.

During a Sunday drive in the same car Mother saw smoke coming from under her feet, hollered at dad to pull over and my mother, two older sisters and I were soon standing in a roadside ditch while dad worked feverishly to extinguish a small engine fire.

It was the most exciting adventure of my life up to that point. The tractor incident fell to a distant number two.

Our next car, a 1941 Buick the size of a school bus had enough room for three children to play any number of games while travelling, including tag (no seat-belts in those days), and when I felt tired I climbed into the wide back window well and hummed strange melodies in tune with the hum of the tires.

(I do the same thing today while motorcycling and in a later post will share a brilliant song inspired by a stretch of road north of Lake Superior.)

While returning home from a ride in the country I curled up in my usual spot and was told, by Mother, to get back down to the seat.

“If we have to stop quickly you’ll fly right through the windshield,” she exclaimed.

[Picture this model in black and you've bot the idea!]

As worried and protective mothers sometimes do, she likely added that I’d impale myself on the hood ornament or land in the ditch or high in a tree or over the fence. I can’t recall.

However, I do remember the tone of what my dad said.

Something like, he’s okay back there. He’s not going to get hurt. We’re not going to hit anything.

So I stayed where I was and hummed a few bars of my latest song.

[Visit Four Mugs and a Crock for family stories and much more.]

Friday, April 11, 2008

Friday Green Things: From the Tupperware Container under my Computer Desk

I found this under my desk in the Feb. issue of National Geographic: Scientists have made reams of predictions about how the earth will change as its climate warms; small changes might have a big impact.

A program called Six Degrees Could Change the World premiers on the Nat. Geog. Channel this month, produced by Mark Lynas, author of Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet.

The show and book describe effects of rising temperatures in the present and future and offers ideas about what everyone can do to help before climate problems get too hot to handle.

I’ll price the book and get back to you.

A newspaper clipping reads: Global warming poses risk to public health. The article concerns a report by the Ontario College of Family Physicians in which the statement is made “the effects of climate change could bring on an onslaught of health problems nationwide. And even small incremental rises in temperatures could have a profound effect on public health.

Go to World News for more about similar reports.

[Photo gah: Stay healthy. Take more walks at Port Bruce.]

In my last column I wrote that my adult sons might move back home at any time due to hard times.

E.g. "...since our economy is joined at the hip to our southern neighbour’s, and many young Canadians are up to their eyeballs with mortgage, car and other debt payments, and PM Harper is continually warning us that a hard rain’s a-gonna fall because of higher energy costs, my sons could come knockin’ any day now."

Though they would have to follow the ten new (old) rules of the house I think we would manage quite well and live a greener life together. (Fewer homes means fewer lawn mowers, renos, cars, hair clippers, furniture etc.)

I found these words to live by at the excellent blog green bean dreams.

"The greenest products are the ones you don't buy." Leslie Garrett

Great quote, Leslie. See you Monday at The Roaster for coffee.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

ABC-DEFinitely Gross: Things most parents don’t tell their kids about the environment

After writing about taking three minute showers in The Londoner a fellow on my hockey team razzed me after we stepped off the ice, doffed our gear and headed toward the dressing room shower stall.

“You better be out quick, Harrison,” he badgered.

“No sweat,” I replied, though covered in it.

The showers at the Western Fair arena have showers with automatic timers, about 45 seconds per lukewarm squirt. I used two squirts and stepped out for my towel.

“Hey, Tim. Get moving,” I said, loudly enough for all to hear. “What are you waiting for?”

I’m confident that 95 per cent of all Canadians can take as quick a shower as me, if not faster, and in so doing conserve millions of gallons of precious fresh water per year. And do so without razzing me about it (or my fading hockey skills) at the same time.

Until we invent a small device for the kitchen or bathroom that will clearly show how many liters or gallons of water we use (and often waste each day) parents need to tell their children the importance of water conservation as well as practice it themselves.

"Stop playing around in there. I have to go to the bathroom!"

According to National Geographic magazine “turning off the tap while brushing teeth can save 50 gallons a week. A low-flow showerhead can reduce the annual shower budget by 2,600 gallons or more.” (Feb. 2008)

And if parents with-held a child’s (or their own) cellphone use for one year the household could afford a dual-flush toilet (users opt for full- or half-flush: touch a button to choose) and save up to 10,000 gallons of water per year.

Parents, you’d likely have money left over for a jumbo-pak of toilet paper!

[Tomorrow, visit Four Mugs for other water conservation ideas from National Geographic]

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Wealthy Western World Wants Cheap Chinese Consumer Goods: Not Good

I bet most North American homes are cluttered with cheap stuff from China even though we can organize and afford better.

In a recent article entitled Price is right to embrace China columnist Mindelle Jacobs lists several items in her home that were made there.

And though Ms. Jacobs writes “China should never have been allowed to host the (Olympic) Games...” (and) “may be a bully that grinds dissidents into the ground” she admits she didn’t check the labels (e.g. on her clothing) and reject things made in China “because I like to save money. And so do most people.”

She continued:

“China knows that people generally care more about a good buy than they do about Tibet. That’s why Canada imported $35 billion worth of merchandise from China last year, including machinery, toys, furniture and clothing.”

In my opinion, the Canadian economy won’t sink into the ground if we bought 35 billion bucks worth of stuff elsewhere in an effort to affect change in China. The benefits would far outweigh the loss of some clothing, toys, furniture etc.

And when Jacobs states, “Perhaps, at least, we could wear Free Tibet buttons” I have to ask, incredulously, “Why should we do the very least for Tibet (and wear a small button?!) while continuing to support the economy of the most repressive country in the world for the sake of another stuffed ottoman or cheap cotton shirt?”

We can do better. Much much better.

[Link to Four Mugs and a Crock for a much better plan]

Monday, April 7, 2008

Monday Memoirs: The wonders of modern technology and tractors circa 1954

Last week I wrote I was a very witty and artistic child. My parents likely thought, after hearing me crack wise about leftovers and seeing my chalk board drawings, I had a great future ahead of me.

However, I’m sure they also had a few doubts as they observed my encounters with modern technology.

For example: One evening, while still living in Burgessville and watching TV with my father, I asked if the people who were inside the box could hear us talking.

He replied, “Yes, as long as you talk loud enough.”

Delighted with the opportunity to make new friends I walked over to the side of the TV where the speaker was located and said, “Hello. Hello.”

No one on screen responded, so I spoke a little more firmly.

Still nobody said ‘hello’ back to me.

I gave it one more try and after yelling loudly into the side of the TV two or three times I got a loud response as well... from my own angry mother.

From that experience I’m sure my parents realized I was just an average kid after all. And I learned not to believe everything my father said.

When he told me to stay away from the new tractors parked in front of the Burgessville Co-op I immediately felt I should try to sit on one, so once he turned away I climbed onto the nearest model.

My gosh. I could see all over town from the driver’s seat. And important-looking buttons and dials were everywhere, some within easy reach.

Don’t ask me how I did it (I was only four or five years old at the time) but I managed to start the tractor and hang on while it headed toward the nearest road and what locals called the Burgessville Creek.

I can’t recall being afraid until I saw the look on my father’s face as he flew across the parking lot, jumped onto the tractor and brought it under control.

Though I didn’t drive tractors again until I was in my mid-teens I was occasionally allowed to sit on Dad’s lap, and with his assistance (though I’m certain I didn’t need it), steer our car home from the Co-op.

[I was a star, eh? Read about The Sunday Stars at Four Mugs]

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Recommended Reading: Books about eating, breathing and blankets of coal dust

I was pedalling hard on the exercise bike when I reached Chapter 15 of The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

After several complicated mathematical calculations I discovered I was two-thirds of the way through the book, an excellent read and education to that point.

From page 268:

"These days farmed salmon are being fed like feedlot cattle, on grain, with the predictable result that their omega-3 levels fall well below those of wild fish. If the steer is fattened on grass and the salmon on grain, we might actually be better off eating the beef. The species of animal you eat may matter less than what the animal you’re eating has itself eaten."

Ch. 15 is entitled The Forager. Is that what he’s recommending I become? I’ll find out tomorrow.

And in another 16 years I’ll discover if I can still breathe the air.

In Heat, the second book I’m reading while trying to burn calories, I read that "in 2025, according to the US government’s Energy Information Admin., the United States will burn 40 per cent more coal than it does today." (Hack, hack. I live just north of several Ohio Valley coal-fired hydro-producing plants.)

"China intends to treble the electricity it produces from coal by 2020." (pg. 82)

And why we ask? Because natural gas supplies in North America (used in the production of hydro) have already peaked and are going to decline and 90 per cent of the remaining energy reserves in the US are coal. So get used to that black cloud hanging over your head.

Or should I say ‘clouds’?

The third book I’m reading, The Little Green Handbook, said the following:

"The process of global warming is faster than previously thought. In the 20th century, the mean global temperature increased by 0.6 degrees C, and it is projected to increase by up to 6.0 degrees C by the end of this century."

So, if we’ve experienced some climate instability because of a 0.6 degree change, how many clouds will hang over our heads as the temperature changes ten times as much? I’m not sure but I think we’re going to find out because a business as usual philosophy rules the day.

Where’s the Lorax when we really need him? (Calling Dr. Suess!)

[Link to the above three books in right panel, under Recommended Reading]

Friday, April 4, 2008

Now for The News: Finally, Conservative John Baird is half-interested in the environment

According to The Canadian Press, Liberal Leader Stephane Dion says “the next federal election will be fought over the environment,” to which I would sincerely add, “or what’s left of it.”

Per capita Canadians produce the third highest amount of carbon emissions on the planet, lagging only slightly behind the USA and Australia.

Later Dion joined NDP Leader Jack Layton and and Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe in signing a pledge to push the Conservative government to honour Canada’s Kyoto Protocol commitment which calls for a minimum 25 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2020.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Environment Minister John Baird declined to sign and Baird spouted, “I’m more interested in action on reducing greenhouse gas emissions rather than cheap political stunts.”

Unfortunately, what Baird calls action is doing less with more i.e. attempting to cut emissions by 20 per cent (less) from 2006 levels (more) by 2020. Trying to do more “would wipe out big pieces of the economy” he wrote to the Climate Action Network.

I would write, and doing less will wipe out big pieces of the environment.

If Mr. Baird loves the economy so much, why isn’t he the Economy Minister? Is it because there isn’t another federal Conservative even half-interested in the environment, or what’s left of it?

[Please sign the petition to impeach Conservative MP Tom Type B Lukiwski for boneheaded remarks at Four Mugs]

Thursday, April 3, 2008

It Strikes Me Funny: Listerine kills bugs and relationships

Short email from my sister: Subject: Listerine to kill mosquitoes!!

“The best way to get rid of mosquitoes is Listerine, the original medicinal type. The Dollar Store-type works, too. I was at a deck party a while back and the bugs were having a ball biting everyone. A man at the party sprayed the lawn and deck floor with Listerine and the little demons disappeared.”

There was more about the power of Listerine but you get the message.

I emailed back: Thanks Lannie,

I used to gargle with it because I knew it "killed the bugs", but not mosquitoes; then Pat started buying cheaper, fruitier flavours which didn't kill the bugs in my mouth for long.

Now I just chew gum on occasion and let people take their chances with my breath.
PS You’ve been warned.

[Well done; Al Gore spreading the news about climate change; local MP takes part]

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Reading Books, Riding Bikes: Buried in Killing Power and Cheap Food

I read while riding a recumbent bike in the basement and though I’d like to say I’m learning and staying lean at the same time I’d only be half right.

Cycling makes me hungry and soon after I dump sweaty clothes in front of the washing machine I open the door of the fridge and look for replacement fluids, especially in the shape of a can of Guinness.

The following is from The Little Green Handbook (TLGH), one of two or three books I dip into several times per week:

“Between 1989 and 1993 about 100 million pistols, revolvers and rifles were sold through US-approved commercial channels to Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico and Peru.”

After several mathematical calculations I learned that, if annual sales remained the same, another 350 million light weapons would have been sold since then - by the US alone. Many other countries sell vast numbers of weapons, of all kinds.

TLGH is a book that outlines seven trends shaping the future of our planet and ‘Conflicts and Increasing Killing Power’ is one of those trends. What a blast.

In The Omnivore’s Dilemma I read of another disturbing trend:

“Of course the problems of our food system are very different - if anything, it produces too much food, not too little, or too much of the wrong food.” pg. 257, Michael Pollan

Why so many bullets and burgers?

When time allows, link to the two books; see “Recommended reading”, side panel.]

[On the lighter side, also see Cartoon in Progress at Four Mugs and a Crock]

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Deforest City Blues: Will my boys move back before I sweep out the garage?

Yes, I worry a bit about my adult sons moving back home.

I’m not too old to step up to the plate during hard times but I feel more attached to the food and cold beers in the fridge now that they’ve had their own homes for a few years.

Read about some of the reasons why more adult children are moving back home. You might have to sweep out your garage too one day soon. Good luck with that.

[My most recent column in The Londoner]