Monday, March 31, 2008

Monday Memoirs: I started out small but could grow hair with the best of them

[Please, write your own memoirs on Monday and let me know; they will provide others with something to talk about when you’re not there.]

I don’t remember the ride home from the hospital after I was born but my old birth certificate reads: Birthplace - Woodstock General Hospital. September 18, 1949. Canada.

[I was given this bracelet at Woodstock General so I wouldn't get mixed up with the Garrison twins]

My mother later told me that I was born on a Sunday, weighed over 8 pounds (still do) and was called Gorgeous George by the nurses (not any more) because I had a healthy head of thick hair (gone).

Once Mom, Dad and I got back to the house in Burgessville I was introduced to two older sisters and sent to my room. I was fed on a regular basis and developed a taste for homemade desserts after being fed mud pies by one of the girls.

At breakfast one morning I discovered I was rather witty.

“Eat your crusts,” I was told by Mother. “There are children in India who don’t even have that much.”

“If the children in India like crusts they can have them,” I replied cheerfully, and pushed them in her direction.

I was again sent to my room.

So I went to my blackboard and drew a picture of an Indian. As I recall it was almost an exact likeness to one on the back of a nickel. I was quite impressed.

My mother was also a talented artist and entered contests, a few of which she won. Our first TV was a prize Mother won by drawing the Blue Bonnet margarine girl. I saw her original picture and noticed it was much more detailed than my Indian. I worked hard to improve my artistic ability.

And I think I’m getting better.

[Read about the recent running exploits of The Crock at Four Mugs and a Crock]

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Live Small and Prosper: re Houses, how small is big enough?

What would it take to get me out of my 1,050 sq. ft. house (not incl. almost equal-sized basement, 100 sq. ft porch and 360 sq. ft. deck) and into something smaller?

Would someone have to twist my arm, bribe me with cash, put chocolates on my pillow or throw in a big-screen TV?

No, on all counts (though I wouldn’t turn down a large bag of chocolates kisses), because as far as I’m concerned, the smaller the house the fewer expenses, household jobs and renos I’d have to face for the rest of my environmentally-friendlier life.

But how small can I go and still feel it’s big enough for my very important collection of stuff?

While reading Heat by George Monbiot I came across a sentence [see A Quote That Clicked; side panel] that inspired me to draw a few more experimental floor plans for small homes inside the back cover. My favourite is of a 900 sq. ft. model (heated with a geothermal unit) with half the basement space and 750 sq. ft. of porch and deck space.

And, lo and behold, after only a few conversations my wife is showing a bit of interest too. Usually I have to talk about one of my ideas non-stop for a year or more before I wear her down.

But can we live comfortably with a 34 per cent reduction of indoor living space?

I’m not sure but I think I know how I can find out.

Stay tuned.

[In the meantime, please amuse yourself with a post about a $1,350 corn flake and an even more expensive bowl of cow-country oatmeal.]

Friday, March 28, 2008

Book Review: Like to Eat? The Omnivore’s Dilemma a ‘must read’

I’m reading three books at the same time, four if I count the one I peek at during TV commercials that concerns Bob Dylan’s big song, Like a Rolling Stone, and though The Little Green Handbook by R. Neilsen is loaded with amazing facts, figures and charts [U.S. military budget is 42 % of gov’t spending and rising, education is less than 7%] I spend most of my time with my nose in The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

I’m on page 219, slightly over halfway through the very readable text, and getting an alarming and long-overdue education about our continent’s over-reliance on corn and industrial-sized, fossil-fuel-driven farming practices that debase humans, animals and our ecological surroundings. [And it’s true. If factory farms had glass walls many of us would never eat beef, pork or chicken again.]

But I’m also learning about how farming can be a very innovative, rewarding and environmentally friendly vocation or life.

For example, author Michael Pollan spends time on a family farm that cultivates grasses, mainly dependent on free sunlight, that in turn support the healthy growth of a wide variety of animals and by-products.

Chickens team up with cows to manage the grass and replenish the soil, chickens and rabbits team up to provide a unique cash crop, turkeys keep grape vines in tip-top shape, pigs turn cow patties and grass into free, rich compost, and together with a farmer who knows more about plants and animals than 20 factory farmers put together forms an enterprise that rewards the land rather than kills it.

Read the following quote and tell me where the author was at the time - a factory farm or grass farm.

“Unfolding here before us, I realized, was a most impressive form of alchemy: cow patties in the process of being transformed into exceptionally tasty eggs.”

I recommend the book highly to anyone who wants to eat healthy food and leave the air, water and land in good condition for future generations.

[Check Recommended Reading in the right hand panel for a link to an even better book review and go to Motorcycle Miles to read a bit about my next adventure.]

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Men Are From Mars: Women are from Venus or farther away than that

I noticed my wife’s iron on the stove after finishing a hefty-sized plate of mac and cheese and piece of toast covered with a three berry spread that tasted like some kind of industrial lubricant and thought, Pat and I are complete opposites.

I grabbed the tea kettle from the nearest burner and reflected: She dutifully irons her clothes every day, even if we’re just walking three blocks to the Little Red Roaster in order to have coffee with the same people we’ll see for the next 30 years, warts, mussed-up hair, wrinkles and all, and I haven’t used one for 15 years.

I think I stopped ironing my clothes about two seconds after realizing nobody cares a toot how many wrinkles are in my shirt so neither should I.

But my wife cares.

She sets up the ironing board every morning about the same time my alarm goes off, heats up the iron while I’m catching the first bit of news on CBC radio (“Oil prices fluctuated yesterday causing economists to suggest Canadians should sell their big homes and move in with their parents. Now, over to Sports.”) and presses yesterday’s wrinkles into oblivion as I’m taking my first steps of the day.

She wants to look her best. I want to reach the bathroom without wetting my pants.

She unplugs the iron and puts it on the stove to cool down. I turn on the shower and hope she’s left me hot water.

She picks my clothes off the floor near the foot of the bed and I plunge her hair out of the drain so the water rising in the tub doesn’t touch my ankles.

Miraculously, though we approach wrinkles in two completely different ways, we reach the front door ready for coffee at about the same time.

[More news, even better than CBC radio, at Four Mugs and a Crock]

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Only in Canada: My query re exploding fish is sent to Peter MacKay at Dept. of Defense

Surely, many able-bodied Canadians who love high-quality fish sticks (i.e. that don’t explode in the oven) likely wrote to the Minister of Oceans and Fisheries after reading recent newspaper articles about the thousands, maybe millions, of leftover unexploded munitions (UXOs) that were dumped into our waterways after WWll.

[Our philosophy re explosives until 1970 was this; if we can’t shoot them at people we’ll toss them into the water.]

You didn’t write?

Well, I did, and I just heard back.

Dear Mr. Harrison:

Thank you for your correspondence regarding the presence of UXOs in Canadain waterways and their potential impact to fish and fish habitat. The Dept. of National Defence is the lead on issues pertaining to UXOs blah blah blah I have taken the liberty of forwarding a copy of your letter to my colleague, the Honourable Peter MacKay, Minister of national Defence blah blah.

Sincerely, Loyola Hearn. P.C., M.P. (on behalf of all of Canada incl. the fish)

I thought, geez, my concern about bombs is just one step removed from the office of the Prime Minister of Canada.

I may never eat fish sticks again!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Monday Memoirs: The Early Years - I hear I was just a kid

My oldest sister is writing her memoirs and she isn’t even dead yet.

Is that legal?

I’m told it is. Especially if you’re just an average person and don’t have someone following you around town, scribbling notes about your activities or speaking quietly into a tiny tape recorder whenever you do something significant (e.g. “he’s pouring his morning coffee”; “he just added milk and brown sugar, thinking it's healthier than white, which it isn't”; “for Pete's sake, he just poured orange juice onto his cereal again”).

My sister recently said I should write my own memoirs too. She thought I’d have fun recalling long-past events and memories of myself and others.

I thought, she must think I'm average!

Shortly thereafter, however, I realized I am as average as the next guy, maybe even averager, and no one else is going to write a fat volume about my so-called life once I’ve kicked the bucket or slipped through the immortal veil or tripped over the mortal coil or simply skipped the light fandango (whatever that is).

Though I call this new project ‘Monday Memoirs’ I started today because I’m travelling to my oldest sister’s home tomorrow and won’t be home ‘til Tuesday.

She said she wants to tell me about the time she was three and a half.

Hockey Terminology 101: It should be a contest with big prizes

I unashamedly, and without warning, stole the following post from a world famous blog to help promote funny nicknames and the concept of world peace. Mainly funny nicknames.

"Kyle Okposo, a 19 year old rookie for the New York Islanders scored his first NHL goal last night. Richard Park, a teammate set him up with a beautiful pass. In a post-game interview, Okposo referred to his teammate as Parkie and was thankful for the set-up pass."

"Wade Dubielawicz was in goal for the Islanders and did an outstanding job and of course when he was referenced, it was noted that Dubie was the difference in the game."

"Now for the test, using hockey terminology refer to the following in an affectionate manner ...

George Bush _________________

Vladimir Putin _________________

Nicolas Sarkozy _______________

Barack Obama ________________

Hillary Clinton ________________

If you complete the test successfully, the world will be one big happy hockey team. Just think and it all started on a frozen pond in northern Canada. Good luck."

Though the post's creator has offered no prizes for Best Nickname I am submitting my winning entries in hopes of bringing more peace to our corner of the frozen pond.

George Bush aka Leeg; Vladimir Putin aka Hitman; Nicolas Sarkozy aka Benched; Barack Obama aka First Star; Hilary Clinton aka The Great Zamboni.

Enter as often as you like at Four Mugs and a Crock.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Sikh Seeks to Appeal Judge’s Ruling: Wear Your Motorcycle Helmet, Baljinder

After Baljinder was fined $110 for not wearing his helmet and talked about possibly appealing the judge’s decision [link to full report] a few people wrote to editors of local papers with this suggestion:

“One solution might be that if anyone does not want to wear a helmet on a bike or construction job or any other job where a helmet is required he/she sign a waiver stating that in case of injury they won’t bill OHIP or sue anyone.” M. Loosemore, London Free Press

Someone else mentioned “get him to sign a waiver” fearing tax payers would have to pay for Baljinder’s care once he was scraped off the highway - ya stupid arse, ya!

I started to wonder if adding another layer of bureaucracy somewhere (who would create the waivers and get people to sign them?) would be more expensive than Baljinder’s care, if he was alive and actually needed care after his first accident.

I’m not sure. But I do know the bureaucracy we already have in place worked. And it made 110 bucks in the process.

Geez, it’s on a roll. Stay out of it’s way.

Travel Tips for Newfoundland: Don’t kiss yer codfish dere b’y - and more

I just finished the book Beauty Tips From Moose Jaw by yer Will Ferguson. As a result, I want to visit Moose Jaw someday, see all their underground tunnels, and also travel to most of the other places Mr. Ferguson mentions inside his ten enlightening, amusing and at times rowdy chapters.

Since I may motorcycle to Halifax this summer and a friend has offered me free accommodation on The Rock (Nfld.) I just might get to St. John’s and Signal Hill and Quidi Vidi ((pronounced “Kiddy Viddy”), one of the prettiest coves in Canada, and buy several cheap souvenir postcards. But I won’t get “screeched in” or kiss the codfish.

About getting “screeched in” Mr. Ferguson writes:

"This is a ritual - a completely bogus ritual - staged mainly to amuse the locals, wherein gullible tourists are forced to recite some folklore gibberish and drink a kick of rum (the infamous screech) and then kiss a cod, all in the mistaken belief that they are ingratiating themselves with their hosts. They aren’t."

"I suspect being screeched in began as idle talk over a kitchen table. “Why, these Mainlanders are so thick, I bet we could make them kiss a smelly old codfish. I bet we could make them kiss its arse - long as we tell them it’s part of our heritage.”

Thanks for the heads-up, Will.

So, yer won’t catch me wit me lips up close to no codfish, b’y.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

London Food Bank Challenge Part 3: Answering questions about my food choices

I am taking the London Food Bank Challenge this week, am eating meals from food items purchased for $30, had to drop St. Pat’s Day celebrations from my calendar (who can afford 3 pints of Guinness on a $30 budget?) and just finished lunch made with my own two hands.

The Food Bank wants to know how I’m doing, so here are a few words:

I think I can live on 30 bucks for 7 days and wait until 5 p.m. this coming Sunday for Guinness.

Preparing breakfasts for the duration was simple and cheap. I routinely eat a ton of oatmeal each winter and an eight-day batch, containing rolled oats supplemented with 1 or 2 teaspoons each of flaxseed, raisins, dried cranberries, bran, cornmeal, millet (birdseed), quinoa, and bulgar, totalled $1.25 or about 16 cents per day. Add a slice of toast and jam and I’m under 50 cents per day for a healthy start to the day.

Purists will take me to task about my oatmeal recipe (“What’s with the birdseed? It ain’t real oatmeal?”), I might be stepping outside the rules each morning by using my stash of free coffee cards from The Little Red Roaster (Guinness I can put on hold, but caffeine waits for no man) and my reputation for Spartan-like self-reliance may have been tarnished when I happily accepted a gift of chocolate chip cookies from a neighbour.

Pancake lunches and a huge homemade mac and cheese casserole keep costs under 50 and 75 cents per meal respectively.

Though I don’t look too manly in a frilly apron I’m finding my way around the kitchen without problem.

My wife even eyed my casserole enviously when I pulled it from the oven yesterday. I may be asked to create it again.

Conclusion: Meals can be cheap but I’m not eating a balanced diet so far. How do low-income families manage that important task?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

London’s roads ‘losing ground’: Is City Hall solely to blame for our potholes?

“Hold on, Martha. There’s another frickin’ big hole ahead. Ouch!”

“Martha, did you survive back there? Martha? Martha?”

Yup, it’s like bumper cars and demolition derby on the streets of Deforest City but the city’s road chief is partly wrong when he says ‘politicians who underfund road work are to blame’ for the terrible conditions of our roads.

Come on, let’s do the math:

First, road chief David Leckie says he needs $20 million smackers per year to keep our streets from becoming worse than they already are (Worse? Insert laugh track here). And he’s not talking about improvements in other areas.

Second, City Hall spent half that amount last year, will spend less this year and well under $20 mill per year in the future.

Sounds like I’ve paved myself into a corner, eh? Not quite.

Third, have politicians and those that vote for them allowed funding for roads and other infrastructure needs to increase at the same pace as city growth to the far reaches of the known universe, as should happen when sprawling subdivisions and poorly planned development widens the borders of Deforest City faster than one can count the SUVs and heavy trucks that pummel roads into bite-sized fragments? (Whew. Take a breath. That was a long one.)

Fourth, how many people who live miles from work in an inappropriately named suburb (Rolling Meadow? Where’s the meadow now?) put pressure on City Hall not to raise taxes for roads because the payments on an over-sized house and car are too high?

Fifth, how many of us will vote for a councillor who says we need to pay more for the petroleum-based macadam that allows us to get smoothly to our lifestyle choices?

Martha, will you? Martha?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Rising Global Temperatures: I’ll live on a boat in San Francisco

Ever since I read about a family that lived on a houseboat in San Francisco Harbor I’ve wanted to pull up roots, sell off all my property and possessions, move west in a covered wagon and do the same.

Chances are I’d have a cooler quality of life as global temperatures continue to rise because, according to NASA’s records, the oceans aren’t warming as quickly as the land.

If I lived on a boat would I need an air-conditioner? Cooler water temperatures would help moderate the comfort in my small, tidy, living-room/bedroom/galley/dining-room/basement/bathroom, right?

Sure hope so, because as long as I’m on the water I might as well go whole hog and live off the grid.

Anything’s possible, right?

[see another NASA graph at Four Mugs and a Crock]

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Bamboo Curtain: We are victims of our inventions

"I love my new Dodge Ram."

"Me too. It's huge. Can go fast. If I had camping gear I'd drive it to Algonquin Park."

"If I had money I'd drive it to the gas station again."

A Short History of Progress: Are we victims of our inventions?

The book by Ronald Wright is 132 pages long, not counting extensive notes and helpful bibliography, so it is in fact a very short history of progress.

[My kind of book. Plus, it isn’t rocket science.]

The author introduces the book with a quote from an ancient text:

Long ago...
No one tore the ground with ploughshares
or parcelled out the land
or swept the sea with dipping oars -
the shore was the world’s end.
Clever human nature, victim of your inventions,
disastrously creative,
why cordon cities with towered walls?
Why arm for war?

Ovid, Amores, Book 3

The book isn’t about war: It highlights traps we set for ourselves that lead to troubles down the road.

e.g. if everyone lived high off the hog like many North Americans the Earth’s resources would be depleted by next Wednesday. Well, something like that.

Are we clever? Victims of our inventions?

Many are, undoubtedly.


Buy the book rather than borrow. You may find yourself underlining numerous quotes and writing countless marginal notes.

Borrow The Little Green Handbook. It's closer to rocket science but still a valuable read.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

London Food Bank Challenge: Part 2 - The long road toward empathy

I was asked to take the London Food Bank Challenge recently and spend only $30 for a week’s groceries in much the same way families do that earn less than $20,000 per year.

I smelled Pulitzer, said OK, created a shopping list, bought my grub for the week, wrote and submitted my column (moments ago and on the right side of the deadline) to The Londoner about my experience.

However, I didn’t write about how it felt to don a frilly apron and do my own cooking for a change or how closely I was able to stick to my $30 budget.

Sure, good stories both, but even as I wrote my short grocery list, and I do mean short, I began to feel uneasy about my motives, and other things, so went in a different direction instead.

I was partly influenced by Greg’s post about the matter (at From My Bottom Step by fowgre) and my own conscience, which surprisingly sounded a lot like my Mother when she told me, at age four, I should eat the crusts of my toast because there were starving children In India who didn’t even have that much for breakfast.

(If I recall correctly, I told her that if they wanted my crusts they could have them. Smart ass right from the get go, eh?)

Greg was right when he wrote:

“One week is hardly enough time to gain much of an appreciation for the kinds of choices that have to be made on such a low income.”

Though my Mother was correct as well I wrote that we tend to grow our cities and economies in wasteful and unsustainable ways, thereby leaving many citizens far behind.

If there is a road toward empathy for others I don’t think our society as a whole is on it.

Friday, March 14, 2008

ZITS comic Rated R: Zits’ Mom does the Zumba Dance

I’m a Zits fan and the recent Zumba Dance panel soars to Number 1 on my long list of ‘Funny Toons: 2000 - 2008’.

Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman get the art work right and have a handle on the mind of a typical teen who wears sneakers the size of Hummers.

The ‘toon from last Tuesday hits all the right buttons: music, wild dance steps, enthusiastic jiggling and images of Mom in tights a poor boy never wants to see.

Zits: What’s a good way to erase an image that’s burned into my retina?

Any suggestions for the young guy?

[More R Rated comic action re Spiderman, today only, at Four Mugs and a Crock]

British Columbia’s Green Plan: Nobody said putting sustainability first would be easy

How long have developed countries been practising the Market First model of economic development?

Whether it’s 50 years or since WWll or over a century I’d say we’ve been driving the economy in the wrong direction too quickly too long.

According to The Little Green Handbook (TLGH):

“We have reached a stage in human development when economic growth based on the current unsustainable exploitation of natural resources cannot be greeted with enthusiasm. Our combined ecological footprint is greater than global ecological capacity.”

Some governments e.g. British Columbia’s, will attempt a new approach, fail in many ways, get skewered for their efforts, likely learn a few lessons, thus allowing observers to learn a few things along the way too.

And eventually some governments will get the Sustainability First model of economic development right.

It’s important they do.

“Until we repair the damage to the environment and increase ecological capacity, the only way to lessen the harmful impact of global development is for richer countries to reduce their consumption.” TLGH

How long have developed countries been practising the Sustainable First model of economic development?

Not long enough at this point in history.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Lassie Stories: Moved by an unexpected tale

There I was, just goofin' around, having fun at Lassie and Timmy's expense, saying True Canadians have good Lassie stories and, unexpectedly, reminded two fellow bloggers of their own special companions.

And they created two very enjoyable posts.

The first is at Four Mugs and a Crock.

The second, a comment to the first from my youngest sister (Hazel Nut), follows:

"What a beautiful dog!

It was heartwarming to hear about your relationship with your dog as I too had a close friendship with my dog growing up. They truly are man's (and woman's) best friend.

We had Boots from the time I was 4 until I was 18.

The day Boots was hit by a car when on her way to her daily visit with my gramma my dad phoned our highschool and left a message that I was to stop by his place of work on my way home from school.

Unsuspecting I did so. He walked home with me and explained what happened.

He had already buried Boots in our backyard. I spent the next several nights sleeping outside by her grave overcome with grief.

I still miss her over 30 years later. She was a great dog who thought she was a human."

Thank you for the two great stories.

Hazel: In my mind's eye I can still see Boots chasing squirrels while I delivered morning papers in Norwich. He never caught one as far as I know but always got top marks for enthusiasm.

Ronalee Ambrose MP threatened me with a jail term - momentarily

After snapping off a reply to the letter Ronalee sent me about the GST I figured two things would occur in fairly short order.

One, she would talk Prime Minister Stephen Harper into calling a snap election.

So far, that hasn’t happened, but the shoe could drop at any second.

Two, she’d write back in that snippy tone of hers and rake me over the coals.

Yesterday a second letter arrived, only an hour after my column about the first one appeared in print.

No guff, she had a document hand delivered to my door and on the outside was a picture of a guy that looked a lot like me (young, good looking, nice hair, scruffy beard, in his undershirt, smoking a ciggie, sipping a beer), with one word on the outside of the note that scared the wits out of me: Jail?

I thought, she’s threatening me with jail because I express an opinion about her beloved GST reduction that is contrary to her own?

That’s not fair. It might be legal as far as she's concerned but still - it's not fair!

Upon closer inspection I realized the picture wasn’t actually me (my hair is shorter and I quit smoking 5 years ago, characteristics Ronalee obviously missed in my file) and the rest of the document concerned matters related to a Conservative version of law and order in a nation where most stats related to crime are declining.

Still, I think this is harassment and because return mail to her office is free I’m going to tell her so.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

True Canadians: Nice weather we’re havin’, eh, and what’s your dog’s name?

In order to dispel rumours that most Canadians hate their own weather I’ve decided to tell the entire world, one at a time if I have to, that True Canadians are not like that at all.

This important public service will take some time and likely be spread over 1000 posts, but I had hearty oatmeal for breakfast so I’m up to the task.

I admit there are some of us who do hate our weather.

For example, a fellow blogger at Four Mugs recently used really bad language to describe it and shared a quote from Canada’s favourite climatologist that supported her use of swear words.

And yesterday, one of the local papers called it the “winter of our discontent.”

But if you’re like me and take what comes in a mature and reasonable manner then I applaud you - and me. Because we’re True Canadians.

Now, I like to talk about the weather as much as the next guy but if somebody takes a snipe at it I make a more appropriate remark.

For example: “What the heck can I do about it? Spring will get here when it gets here.”

Or, “The snow is good for us. It kills the bugs.”

And then I ask them about their spouse or dog. (We talk about dogs a lot in Canada because more people have dogs than spouses.)

While they’re distracted I slip away.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

London Food Bank Challenge: Part 1 - Spend only $30 for food for one week

Jane Roy, co-director of London’s Food Bank, called two days ago and asked if I’d be willing to take the Food Bank Challenge and live on a very small grocery budget for one week.

She explained that an average household (2.5 people) earning less than $20,000 per year spends only $72 on groceries.

“How much money am I allowed to spend?” I asked.

“We rounded it up to $30 for one person,” she replied.

Though I immediately saw a lot of oatmeal and a frilly apron in my future I said, “Sure, I’ll give it a try.”

Once off the phone I sat down in my study with pen and paper and started a short grocery list. Within a few minutes I realized ‘short’ was definitely the operative word.

I also realized if I wanted nutritious fruits and vegetables and a bit of meat on my list I’d have to cut back on a few familiar routines for the week.

For example, there would be no coffee, refill, bagel and cream cheese at The Red Roaster for breakfast every morning. My budget would be shot in no time.

Nor would there be the traditional cold beverage after my Friday hockey game if I wanted to eat on the weekend.

It dawned on me there could be a good story in the Food Bank challenge.

It had a defined beginning, middle and end, intrigue, involved eating and I have a weekly deadline.

I smell Pulitzer.

[Visit Four Mugs and eat, drink and be vegan to see what I may be eating this week]

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Top Ten TV shows in Canada: Numbers 1 - 5 [incl. deep analysis]

For your viewing pleasure here are half of the Top 10 television programs in Canada for the week of Feb. 18 - 24, with viewer numbers and my personal commentary at no extra charge.

1 "Academy Awards" (CTV, Sunday) - 4,424,000

Since there are only 33,390,141 of us and less than 12 per cent of mature adults can stay up past 11 o’clock without nodding off I’d say we definitely love movies and stars and carpets and fashions and long, long TV shows about all those things.

2 "Academy Awards Pre-Show" (CTV, Sunday) - 2,778,000

We even love the TV show that comes on an hour before the TV show about movies and stars and carpets and fashions. Though it’s not as interesting the numbers are still pretty high because it’s on earlier and we’re not nodding off yet.

3 "American Idol" (CTV, Wednesday) - 2,512,000

Canadians love to watch the little guy go for the glory or reach for the stars, though we all know there’s a better chance he’ll embarrass himself miserably in front of, in this particular case, over two and a half million others.

4 "American Idol" (CTV, Tuesday) - 2,236,000

A lot of us also want to do the same thing one night earlier.

5 "Survivor: Micronesia" (Global, Thursday) - 1,978,000

This show was popular because a lot of Canadians like medical shows. The title sounded like someone lived through a tiny case of amnesia. I'm pretty sure Macronesia would have fared better.

Please see The Top Ten TV shows in Canada: Numbers 6 - 10 with more deep analysis at Four Mugs and a Crock.

The above information was found at The Canadian Press site. (Feb 29, 2008)

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Like a Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan still sounds pretty good

You can tell a lot about a person by snooping through their personal library, music collection and refrigerator.

“Stuck in the ‘60s, eh?” you'd likely ask me while sipping my last can of Guinness and blowing dust off the shelf in front of my computer desk.

“Not entirely, but yeah,” I’d answer, wishing you’d been satisfied by one of the buck-a-beers on the top shelf of the fridge and thinking, at least show some remorse.

“Is this book about Dylan any good?” you might ask after placing ‘Entries - Poems’ by Wendell Berry back down on my desk.

“Not bad,” I’d say, “but not great. The author wouldn’t know a simple sentence if he fell over it.”

I’d explain that I counted 19 words on the front cover, trying to capture a possible buyer’s interest, when only four were needed: Like a Rolling Stone.

Add a B & W shot of Dylan in a state of contemplation and you’d have enough to sell me.

“What did you pay?”

“I got it at Chapters for $7.99, would have felt better if it had been five bucks. At least the author likes the Time out of Mind album, so that’s something.”

“Is that one of your favourites too?”

“It’s a good album. But I’m back to Blood on the Tracks for awhile. You?”

“Blonde on Blonde.”

“Good one. Cheers.”

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Really, I’m not 100% juiced but I wanna be

Ever since reading Sugar Blues by William Dufty several years ago I banned soda pop from my diet.

Get offa my porch, stop your knockin’, I say. Thou shalt not cross my lips.

I don’t drink Coca-Cola, Pepsi or Dr. What’s-his-name because even though I run on a treadmill and ride a recumbent bike 3 - 4 times per week I have trouble keeping my love handles down to the size of small pillows.

Besides, one beer or can or Guinness before supper is surely enough sugary drink for one day.

[I repeat: This is not me. It's definitely some other guy.]

“Since 1985, an American’s annual consumption of high-fructose-corn-syrup has gone from 45 to 66 pounds. You might think that this growth would have been offset by a decline in sugar consumption, since HFCS often replaces sugar, but that didn’t happen: During the same period our consumption of refined sugar actually went up by five pounds.”

“What this means is that we’re eating and drinking all that HFCS on top of the sugars we were already consuming. In fact, since 1985 our consumption of all added sugars - cane, beet, HFCS, honey, maple syrup, whatever - has climbed from 128 pounds to 158 pounds per person.” pg. 104, The Omnivore’s Dilemma

Now, I do like to drink real fruit juices but they’re getting squeezed off grocery store shelves by cocktails and blends and stuff that is a very poor excuse to cram more HFCS down my throat. (We’re buried in cheap corn, so get used to HFCS being added to just about everything we eat and drink.)

So, help. What’s a poor boy to do?

I want good juice in the fridge. What’s best?

Friday, March 7, 2008

Time travel back to the 1960s because of one short question

My oldest sister is writing her memoirs between rounds of shovelling snow from her laneway in Bracebridge and in a recent email asked for information about my summers working on tobacco farms southeast of London and so I thought I’d knock off a few lines but, and I’m sure this has happened to you too, once I got started I couldn’t stop and pretty soon I found myself in a bathing suit at 6:30 a.m., ankle deep in freezing cold water, lifting a heavy, hand-numbing, half-filled irrigation pipe over my head, carrying it through several rows of tall, dew-covered tobacco plants, coupling it to a long waiting row of aluminum pipes and hoping I’d thaw out during the hot summer afternoon, at least in time for the first feature at the drive-in theater later in the evening.

Among many other tales I wrote:

Once the crop ripened I did more tractor work than pulling or priming tobacco leaves. I delivered empty boats to field hands, picked up full ones, delivered and unloaded leaves from boats for the ladies who then sewed leaves onto flat sticks. They needed tobacco in a hurry so I was always on the go. 

When the sewing machine got clogged with string I crawled under the sewing table and unclogged it. It was a 4 - 5 minute job and I got good at it. The string would be caught around the razor-sharp spinner, right next to a six-inch needle.

Mrs. Edwards stepped back to the table one day, hit the start switch while I was still under there. I saw her moving shadow just in the nick of time, instinctively pulled my hands back several inches, otherwise I'd have 1 or 2 less fingers today. Did she ever get an earful.

When sticks of tobacco were ready I'd pass them to someone inside the kiln or throw them onto a conveyer belt. That was easy work and I could do it all day. 

Some times the hardest part of the day was at 10 o'clock in the morning. I'd been working since 6 or 7 and the ladies, who started at 8, would start talking about what they brought for lunch. Then they'd mention what they had for supper the night before and what they were making for supper when they got home and, holy cow, I got so hungry listening to them I said they couldn't start talking about food until 11.

That plan only worked for one day.

Hard work for sure but the money was good, and after we got off the farm I'd go back to Maedel's Red & White grocery store and start work for Art and Bruce as if I'd never been away.

Earth to self! Earth to self! You’ve been away long enough. Back to the real world.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Like all-natural fertilizers (e.g. dead fish) blogging helps the environment

My wife stuck her head into the study and asked, “Want to go on a little outing?”

“What are you thinking?” I asked.

“Maybe a quick trip to White Oaks? I want to pick up some incredibly important stuff.”

She might have said Masonville, Hyde Park, Argyle Mall. I can’t recall. They’re all the same to me.

She might have said pick up some clothes, tissues, shoes, plasma. I can’t remember that either. They all belong under the same heading: Stuff I don’t need right now.

“No thanks,” I said. “I’ll stay and finish this post.”

I could have listed several other reasons had she asked.

E.g. I don’t like shopping. I don’t like spending money. I don’t like driving our car to a mall. I don’t like combining those activities in any way.

[G. Harrison: Wal-Mart free for 8 years and proud of it]

After she left it dawned on me that by being such a cheap old toot and staying home I may be helping the environment by driving less, cutting consumption and carbon emissions.

How will I find out, for example, if air quality is improving?

No need to even leave the house. I’ll just stick my head out the window.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Why does Ronalee Ambrose MP want opinions from an old white guy?

I’m starting to wonder why Ronalee wrote to me asking questions about the GST.

This is the same woman who called Ken Dryden an old white guy a couple of years back, making him 58 years old at the time.

Guess how old I am right now?

Yeah, I’m 58, and that puts me in the middle of the period in my life I like to call ‘later youth’.

So I’m thinking Ronalee is setting me up for some kind of a knocking down. (Just call me cautiously suspicious.)

However, since I do stand behind my countless opinions (sometimes I stand way back and behind somebody bigger) I plan to let her know I support a 7 per cent GST, am willing to go higher, want a 50 cent surcharge placed on the price of gas to pay for transportation infrastructure and a reduction in carbon emissions in this country because I can taste the oilsands project on the back of my throat.

[The sun sets on clean air]

And if my opinions spark a snap election then all the better.

Us guys in later youth can get pretty feisty at times, eh?

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Back to Bernie: Deadbeats at City Hall drag us down, maybe up. No, down

I have three small related items that certainly belong together so that means I have enough for a post and then I’m done for the day and can play with grandson Ollie in our new RV i.e. large cardboard box.

Our neighbours are away and after my wife checked on their empty house (well, it is now! Nice stereo, Dear) she returned to say, “Their house is pretty cold but it’s because they turned down their furnastat before leaving.”

That’s one.

Civic workers in Deforest City missed an average 18.5 days of work last year while the national average stood at 9.7, and local city councillor Bernie MacDonald wants to get rid of deadbeats at city hall with high absenteeism rates because in his words;

“[Deadbeats] are dragging down the average for a lot of good people.” (Free Press)

Think, Bernie. Which way do you want the average rate to go? Up or down?

Pick one - carefully.

(I don’t know why Bernie gets so hot under the collar. Maybe he’s turned his furnastat up too low.)

That’s two.

And for those of you who always thought the light of day was the sun I read the following in the same Free Press article re absenteeism:

Bernie’s fellow councillor Paul Van Meerbergen said;

“If ever there was a city issue that needed the light of day under it, it’s this one.”

Paul needs to get out more, see how the sun works, and even if he means to use a flashlight, it’s mighty hard to get one under the issue.

Done. (I don’t mean the issue.More light will be shed upon it today.)

Monday, March 3, 2008

Next column: Bombs in the water or a reply to Rona Ambrose MP?

Ok, I think I could squeeze a brilliant story out of the fact there are hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions, of unexploded WWll bombs in Canadian lakes, rivers and oceans areas.

Add a dash of TNT, exploding fish, contaminated water (though we already know about that) and a few personal safety issues (e.g. “Don’t drop anchor there, Billy. Yeah, maybe there”) and I think I might have a winner.

As well, I received this morning a nice letter from the desk of the former Minister of the Environment, Rona Ambrose, who is now working out of the federal Tory mailroom, in which I’m asked for my valuable opinion about taxation levels in this country.

Methinks, since I have an opinion about everything, I could use my reply to her as the basis for another type of column (likely brilliant too).

[B is for Bombs]

On the one hand we live in a country that has a Department of Defense that knows where all the bombs are, has several phone numbers for bomb disposal companies on its roladex but sits on its hands.

On the other we have a government so desperate for information about which way to proceed it contacts me, for heaven’s sake.

Either way, two troubling tales are on the menu this week.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Me? Less beefy? What the profile will never tell you

One of my resolutions for 2007 was to lose 7 pounds in order to fit into the suit pants I purchased a few years earlier while I was an active long distance runner.

I reached my goal in time to wear the suit for Christmas dinner and though I hit a treadmill and recumbent bike 3 - 4 times per week I know I’m just barely keeping even, if that. (I don’t own a scale, never will, the suit pants will be my guide for several more years, but last time I checked they felt a bit snug again. Stink.)

Another runner patted his stomach this morning at the Red Roaster coffee shop and said, “I’m running more miles now, about 60 this week, but I can’t get rid of this roll.”

“Yeah, same problem here,” I said, patting my own stomach sympathetically.

[GH - third from the right, but add a few pounds]

At a certain age, especially in this country, it gets tough to stay totally fit even with regular exercise because we are surrounded by millions of bad food choices.

You don’t need to know my age and height etc., but it’s fair to say I’m concerned about making a lighter footprint, as well as smaller, and it’s books like The Omnivore’s Dilemma that keep me on the straight and narrow.

Well, narrowish.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

More meaty quotes from The Omnivore’s Dilemma

I generally do my best reading while riding a recumbent bicycle in the basement.

My concentration is deep, pages fly by, I underline with jiggly lines many world famous quotes (well, they will be once everyone reads the same book and sees things the way I do), calories fall to the floor, beads of sweat form on my brow.

Not all of the beads are produced by the much-needed exercise.

In The Omnivore’s Dilemma Michael Pollan writes:

“When humankind acquired the power to fix nitrogen (make fertilizer from mountains of ammonium nitrate left over from WWll munition production in the U.S.), the basis of soil fertility shifted from a total reliance on the energy of the sun to a new reliance on fossil fuel.” (pg. 44)

Of course, being self-reliant is commendable in many ways but we supplant the sun at great personal and environmental cost.

The personal: Mountains of fertilizer turn into mountains of corn which, along with a mountain of antibiotics and truckloads of fat, feed millions of cows that become the meal of the day (in North America we eat a fifth of our meals in cars and feed a third of our children at a fast-food outlet every day) for an obese population.

The environmental: “The ultimate fate of the nitrates spread on cornfields (e.g. in Iowa) is to flow down the Mississippi into the Gulf of Mexico, where their deadly fertility poisons the marine ecosystem... creating a dead zone as big as the state of new Jersey”. (pg. 47)

I’ve finished only 20 per cent of the book so I’ve many miles to pedal before more important lessons have been learned.

But I can almost guarantee I’ll be less beefy by the time I reach the last page.