Thursday, April 30, 2009

Zoom w a View: Scrap lumber hits fashion industry

Spring fashions always catch my eye, especially if the models are wearing scrap lumber.

Better yet, if the neighbours buy my latest models made from scrap lumber I might even make a few bucks to pay for my next motorcycle ride.

What's in store for the birds in 2009?

How about an old country church or duplex?

These two and a five-plex should be painted by the weekend.

Start saving your money, ladies. High fashion can be yours.


Don't buy them at local stores.

Visit The Shed and get a deal from the saw-dust covered proprietor.


I found a treasure in my closet

If I followed an organizational system in my tiny closet I might have found 'backpack canoe' sooner.

It's a wee 15-year old booklet of prose about a canoe trip in Algonquin Park, Canada. (So, alphabetically, I had the A, B and Cs covered).

As it happened, however, I was hunting for a clean shirt (my workshop has been eating t-shirts for lunch lately) and remembered I'd stuffed three shirts on top of some old books on a back shelf.

Bingo. A clean shirt and a book popped out in the same handful.

Want to step back in time with me, when my mind was not as cluttered and I had the strength to carry a canoe on my head?

Click here - for more exciting prose and brilliant song lyrics I have hidden away - not in my closet, not alphabetical.

Lion’s Head Part 1

three tired hikers
could barely huddle
‘neath the rocky point
facing the granite shores
the rounded boulder beaches
of Georgian Bay.

the grey green crag
an ancient prominence
like crumbling brick
gave bare hard shelter
from quick icy pellets
hurled from a sullen
Georgian sky.

only minutes before
hot sore sweating backs
were gratefully relieved
by full packs set aside
by carefree dives
into calm cold waters.

a black water snake
a slithering ‘s,’ head erect,
had chased us - we gingerly
stepping over smoothed stones -
to higher ground.

a lightning crack
and strong sudden gusts
pushed us inland.

[to be continued at Hit Songs, Prose and Lyrics by G. Harrison]



You must get to Lion's Head. The trail is minutes away. Unforgettable.


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Zoom w a View: Inspiration for birdhouses all around us

I didn’t spend the entire past weekend in Bracebridge stuffing my face at Kutz Deli with my sisters.

No. I also took a few pictures of my oldest sister’s ever-growing collection of birdhouses in her yard and spare room.

Lannie’s five-plex inspired me to build my own. It should be done by the weekend.

This one hangs in her spare room. It’s made from scrap metal and thin slices of scrap wood. Very resourceful.

On a small shelf I spotted a few wee houses. Ideas for birdhouses are percolating inside my little round head as we speak.

After I change into my workshop clothes I’ll nail the pieces of my old country church together. Maybe I’ll land a chickadee.

(Half-related: Thoughts of Saturday morning’s big breakfast at Kutz kept me on the exercise bike for 90 minutes last night. Ran another 2.6 miles on the treadmill too. I almost finished reading The Upside of Down (while riding) and completed Ch. 1 of Land of the Eagle. Both are excellent).


Pop quiz: The author of The Upside of Down has a new book out called....?


A Pulitzer Prize is in the mail with my name on it

I admit, it wasn’t my best column ever (I’m saving that for later), but it was brilliant nonetheless, and should easily inspire the Pulitzer people to add my name to their short list.

(To the Pulitzer People: I’m not trying to tell you how to do your job, but if you do have a short list, I think my recent column deserves consideration. And if you have a shorter list - for names that have sat on the short list for a few months - maybe you could skip the formalities and move me right to that one. ‘Nough said).

[“And I like how it fits the bottom of my budgie cage”]

For starters, my column has a snappy title - How would you define the ‘new’ North American Dream?

And what’s more important than that now that’s it’s clear we’ve been chasing the wrong horse for scores of years?

Next, I give people a timely assignment, i.e. to redefine the good life.

Most writers just want people to read their stuff, send a pithy comment (e.g. “You’re column was brilliant. It changed my life. And I like how it fits the bottom of my budgie cage”) and move on.

Not me.

I actually said, “Got a pencil and paper? We should get busy.”

As well, I let people know that if they ramp down their expectations related to basic needs then they’ll likely have more time for higher needs. And I name a few, just in case readers have forgotten what life is really all about. (Hey, it could happen).

I’d like to say more but the mailman is due any minute.


"Ramp down their expectations."

People will love that, eh?


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Riding hard on the exercise bike, I smell a column

Good news.

I stretched the truth a bit yesterday when I said I needed to lose ten pounds. It’s only seven.

Motivated nonetheless, I pedalled hard (107 minutes; my T-shirt walked to the washing machine by itself) and jogged a few miles for exercise last night.

[Is vanity the greatest motivator, or what? My favourite jeans are a bit tight - I blame Kutz Deli - and I also don’t want to look or skate like the oldest guy on my hockey team. Sorry, I digress.]

Even my latest purchase, Land Of The Eagle, contributed to the burning of a few hundred calories. It’s a heavy read and takes much strength to lug around while on a bike or treadmill.

["The land of the eagle, for sure"]

But it’s a good read too. It’s serious, full of natural and social history pertaining to North America and promotes a healthy environmental viewpoint.

“Unless some action was taken to prevent it, warned Caitlin (George Catlin, American artist, 1832), North America might one day lose not only the buffalo, but many of the continent’s other wild resources to the ‘insatiable avarice’ of its people.”

I think Caitlin nailed it, and 177 years ago at that.

I’m also thinking, I may have to use ‘insatiable avarice’ in a future column, hopefully without mentioning Saturday’s family breakfast at Kutz.

First, I’ll have to do some research.

(I reach for my Concise Oxford Dictionary.)

insatiable - adj. that cannot be satisfied; inordinately greedy

Stink - more work!

inordinately - adj. excessively

avarice - n. greed for gain, cupidity (Stink!); eager desire to get or keep

cupidity - n. greed for gain

(Q: Why did Mr. Oxford simply repeat himself? That’s not very concise).

Yes, I smell a column coming on. Or is that my t-shirt?


If interested in the book, I'll mail it to you after I'm done. However, postage will be a fortune!


Monday, April 27, 2009

Land of the Eagle definitely worth $4

While in Bracebridge this past weekend my brother-in-law and I toured lumberyards, the Trans-Canada trail, the local Restore (supports Habitat for Humanity) and several back roads perfect for motorcycling.

[Cyclists - look for Butter and Egg Rd. north west of town. Do farmers have anything for sale? Funny you should ask).

And while taking a peek inside the town’s new community hall we spotted a ragtag of a church bazaar.

I rattled the change in my pocket and Jim and I went in search of a bargain.

I think I found one of the best deals there - a thick book - Land of the Eagle - re the natural history of North America.

Four bucks.

I thought, perfect for long rides on my exercise bike, while I rid my waist line of the peameal bacon breakfast I had Saturday morning at Kutz Deli.

(Kutz Deli: It’s a meat-eater’s answer to heaven on earth. My family stops in on every visit. I know I need to lose ten pounds, and everyone else would admit the same, if not admit to more, but in we go nonetheless. The waitress doesn’t even ask one brother-in-law what he wants. He just looks at her and smiles, and it’s not because of the coffee. Last time I went, I had a meatless breakfast and you could have heard a pin drop, not only at our table but in the entire joint. A waitress dropped a pot of coffee - no great loss as far as I was concerned - the clock stopped and two ladies shrieked and hustled their children out to their pickups. I’ll do the same again in 2010, and see what happens).

Though the peameal bacon, homefries, toast and eggs are worth the going rate, I think $4 for hours of mental air travel is priceless.

I’ll be on the Prairies by sundown.


Do you buy used books?

Found a treasure lately?


Whirlwind of a weekend just ending now

It’s Monday, 2:30 in the afternoon and I’m exhausted.

Tea with honey and a post or two will hopefully wake up my mind and body.

I love my two sisters dearly but immediately after my wife and I landed in Bracebridge on Friday afternoon a whirlwind of activity began.

Conversation, updates on projects, big meals, dancing at the Legion Hall, more conversation, card games, leisurely trips on the back roads of Muskoka (through tiny villages time had forgot), haggling over the price of boards at lumber yards and more big meals.

[Checking my cards: "How could I lose that hand?"

In two days I added 10 pounds to my waist but dropped a few from my wallet.

All worth it, however, now that I’m home and have a quiet minute to myself. (Pat is walking Ollie over to The Big Scoop for ice cream. Though sorely tempted I said ‘tea for me.’)

Best deals of the weekend - paid $4 at a church sale for Land Of The Eagle: A natural history of North America (hours of good reading, for sure), and $5 for a trunk load of lumber (including one or two pure gems).

Consequences of hard living - had to stay up way past my bedtime last night to finish my column, had to get up early this morning to stain lumber for the back wall of the house, will have to ride and run hard for the next two evenings so I don’t skate like a slug during Wednesday’s hockey game.

Rewards - laughing with my sisters and their husbands, slow dancing with my wife at the Legion, almost won a card game.

But now, I can hardly move.

More tea, please.


Friday, April 24, 2009

Real Time: The TV show 24 isn’t as exciting as this Part 3

Sure, Jack Bauer might save thousands of lives every hour but his fast-paced, whirlwind of a life looks pretty darn tame next to mine.

On Wednesday morning I pulled into Don’s driveway at 9 a.m. sharp, and within seconds, without any small talk (believe me, we’re both very good at small talk, we could talk your ear off with small talk, but we were on a mission), we hopped expertly into his old red pickup and drove toward the outskirts of town.

Destination - Dorchester landfill site

(Sorry, not just anyone can go there).

Mission - scrounge for century old barn board.

(Sorry, there isn’t much left. I got there first. I digress).

My apparel - what appeared to be century old jeans, sweatshirt and gloves.

(Sorry, I don’t usually tell you about what I’m wearing but I love those old pants. They’re the pair I wear in the workshop and wipe my hands on sixty times per day, whether painting, staining or sanding. The pants are a work of art. When they’re too old to wear I won’t throw them out. I’ll frame them and send them to the Smithsonian to be part of their ‘Fine Pants of the Common Man’ exhibit).

And about 40 minutes later Don’s truck was filled to the gunnels with some of the finest spruce and pine boards I’ve seen since ripping 70-year old pine from my front porch reno. [see ‘favourite’ photo of reno duplex at right]

My eyes had a field day.

Knot holes, deep ridges and straight raised edges where ancient trim had prevented the wood from shrinking from sunlight.

More exciting still is what I can’t see and smell right now - the colour and aroma of the wood that lies under the surface.

(Jack Bauer, move over).

Yesterday I spent two hours pulling square head nails and tacks from the boards and dreaming about what I’ll make with the lumber.


I’ll make a few cuts on Monday, then put some ideas on paper.


The Simple Life: I have some questions about my basic needs

I think it’s true:

“We walk through life
almost without thinking
where our feet fall.

And we don’t see much
because we’re too busy
doing unimportant things.”


I admit, the statements above aren’t very profound, but if I walk through life as if blind I’m really no good to myself... or others.

Besides, I could hurt myself.

So, I’m going to ask more questions about my basic needs - food, clothing, shelter, transportation, communication and recreation (a boy must have some fun) - and see if I can open up more time for higher needs.

[click here for context]

Michel’s comment re an earlier post gives me one idea.

She wrote:

“When you move overseas (especially to the third world) you quickly realize how much we actually have in North America. And how much you really can live without.

“I've had to do without a tv for the last month - and you know what? It has actually been liberating.”

No, I’m not going to move overseas. I like my wee house, especially the workshop and small yard.

["I can't leave. The apricot tree is blooming": photo GAH]

But, can I live without TV for a month?

What would I do instead?

Where would the free time take me?

Would I feel liberated?



I’ll decide on Monday. I’ll be away all weekend, likely not watch TV, so I’ll be better prepared to create a challenge for myself, or not.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Real Time: The TV show 24 isn’t as exciting as this Part 2

Jack Bauer... move over. Nothing’s more exciting than real life.

Friend Don and I met for coffee recently.

I said, “Good to see you. Where’s the barn board you promised? Hurry.”

The heck with a long greeting, eh? I couldn’t wait to see the sample he brought from a landfill site (affectionately known as the dump) near his hometown.

He reached under the table and pulled out a 16 inch long piece from an 18 inch wide plank.

I knew it was a century old, at least, because of the square head nails snagged in his shirt.

“When can we go for more?” I said.

“Ummm, Wednesday morning at ni...”

“Brilliant. Drink your coffee.”


You ask, why get excited about century-old barn board?

Let me count the ways! Stay tuned.


Live Small and Prosper: We live like kings and queens Part 2

“If Americans have taken the
‘pursuit of happiness’ exhortation
to obscenely materialistic lengths
over the years, accumulating possessions
like there is tomorrow,
Canadians have held on to
Uncle Sam’s coat-tails, intoxicated by
our own extended buying spree.”

(Time to Rethink American Dream, Mindelle Jacobs)

Clearly, Americans and Canadians are not the only people who have accumulated possessions and are going through a ‘rethink’ as an age of austerity takes stronger root.

As the use and over-use of fossil fuels became the norm over the last 60 - 80 years, vast wealth grew throughout the world. And though the U.S.A., Canada and Australia lead the pack in terms of per capita emissions of dangerous greenhouse gases, many other countries are closing the gap (e.g. China, India) as they chase their own delightful version of the American Dream.

Our extended buying spree must be curtailed. Our peace of mind and heart are at stake, and less-importantly, our economy.

Yesterday I admitted I live a regal life, master of my own domain (the most comfortable region being my 9 by 19 ft. workshop), and have six basic and several higher needs met without great difficulty.

And as I redefine the good life or my version of the Canadian Dream (see ‘Lessons to be learned from the recession Parts 1 and 2’ below) I must be more careful not to let the fulfillment of basic needs distract me as much from a higher life.

I suppose, as I look a bit more closely at my basic needs (Things: food, clothing, shelter, communication, transportation, recreation), I need to ask myself some questions.

Foe example - re food:

Can I eat more simply, conservatively?

Will my efforts benefit others as well as myself?

Do I need to stockpile so many items in cupboards?

How many kinds of mustard do I actually need?

Can I make healthier salad dressing on my own?

Is a freezer absolutely necessary?

Can I lower my meat consumption further?

Where does will power come from?

How much time do I spend dealing with food?

What are the easiest or quickest ways to cut back on that time element, so that there’s more time for important matters?

How did we get to the point that a basic need eats up so much time?


I’m an average guy with average questions. What did I miss?


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Real Time: The TV show 24 isn’t as exciting as this

So, if you have a workshop, sweat about where to get good materials for a low price, make brilliant looking birdhouses (among other amazing things), sell a few items on the side, don’t declare the income because you’re retired and are somewhat opposed to working for the man, like getting your hands dirty, and your feet... then this story is for you.

My friend Don sent me an email recently and said the following:

Subject: barn board


I knew the title would get your attention. I managed to make it to the dump yesterday near closing time. There was a pile of barn board that I think would be great for birdhouses. I took one sample so if you would like to see it, I could bring it in tomorrow.


["The last of my lumber": photo GAH]

Oh boy, he got my attention.

I wrote back:


Let’s meet tomorrow. I'll buy coffee at The Black Walnut - about 9:15?

I am completely out of barn board at this time, and can use it immediately.


Can you not feel the excitement?

All of this happened in real time.

Stay tuned.


It Strikes Me Funny: I get nailed for typing too fast

... And thinking too slow.

In today’s The Londoner a reader complained about my fact checking ability.

He was spot on.

Henry R. wrote: “Harrison asserts a recession in the early 1990’s, coupled with provincial Conservative government policy related to welfare benefits resulted in an increase in monthly food bank clients from 1991 - 93.”

(The Conservatives didn’t govern until 1995).

Then he asks: “Was this simply an honest mistake on Mr. Harrison’s part? Or was he trying to slag the Conservatives in general, perhaps out of general revulsion for their views?”

Yes, and partly.

I was trying to slag the Conservatives, but not out of revulsion. I disagreed with their policies.

And I should have written: “A recession in the early 1990’s resulted in a steep increase in monthly food bank clients, and provincial Conservative welfare policy of the late 1990’s kept them there.”

Good catch, Henry.

Readers keep me on my toes, as it should be.


Coincidentally, Henry and I both like the word ‘slag.’ I used it earlier in the week.

Also, if you catch a mistake, let me know.


Live Small and Prosper: We live like kings and queens

“North Americans,
driven by an ethos and expectation
of increasing affluence,
are wealthier than citizens
anywhere else.”

(Time to Rethink American Dream, Mindelle Jacobs)

Yesterday, while assembling and staining four ‘old schoolhouse’ bird boxes in the shed, a task that doesn’t always require my full attention, I thought about the above newspaper article.

["Retired teacher goes back to school": photo GAH]

Though I wouldn’t say Americans are the only people who need to rethink their dream (the challenges related to vast wealth generated by over-reliance on fossil fuels is a widespread problem) I freely admit I live the good life - a concept the current recession is helping us redefine.

In fact, compared to most people in the world, I live like a king.

Most of my basic needs related to food, clothing, shelter, transportation, recreation and communication are met daily with little effort or concern.

My most important needs related to love, acceptance, family, security and peace of mind and heart are met as well, more fully than a short post could ever explain.

I can work at my computer or inside a 9 by 19 ft. workshop, with a view of a garden, tall blue spruce and wee backyard, in comfort and some style (old jeans, ratty-shirt, ball cap - golden!).

I often feel like a king in a little domain of my own making.

But... if the recession strips North America of some of its wealth and redistributes it more equitably throughout the world, I won’t stand in the way.

In fact, I’ll support that type of recession where I can.


How does a person support a recession, or walk on the upside of down?

Good question. I’ll think about it.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Link and Learn: A gift of land for Earth Day

I was sent a media release package this morning that seemed timely and pretty darn appropriate for tomorrow’s Earth Day.

Part of it follows:

“The Thames Talbot Land Trust is marking Earth Day this year with the creation of a new nature preserve.

Tiedje Woods is a 15 acre forest near Hungry Hollow in North Middlesex that lies within the Ausable River Valley. Tiedje Woods is a gift from John and Dorothy Tiedje of Bright’s Grove.

[A gift of land: photo GAH]

The Tiedjes are avid naturalists who have cared for the Woods for decades and now want to ensure that it is protected forever by entrusting it to the Thames Talbot Land Trust.”

“If you love nature then you have to protect the land,” explains Don Gordon, Executive Director of the Trust. “I can’t think of a more enduring tribute to Earth Day than the gift of land. Simply put - nothing outlasts land.”

To learn more about the Trust and its properties please visit


Link and learn, I say.


Hit Singles and Lyrics: Yup, I write and sing about anything

I write about one that got away.

I sing about one that didn’t.

I sing about a floozie that broke my heart and left me utterly speechless.

I sing about how
‘I won’t get a chance
to have one last dance or hold you.’

["And hard times? I've got them too": photo GAH]

If you’d like to feel the depth of my pain, or not, visit Hit Songs, Lyrics and Prose by G. Harrison.

I’m no Bob Dylan, but I’m tryin’.

Very tryin'.


Got a hit single in you? I’d like to hear it.


Live Small and Prosper: Lessons to be learned from the recession Part 2

“There are lessons to be learned
from the economic crisis.

Perhaps the most significant
is that this troubled era
will force us to reconsider
how we define the good life.”

(Mindelle Jacobs, Time to Rethink American Dream)

It is the responsibility of humankind (not just Americans, as the title of the above article suggests), more important today than yesterday, to define the good life for ourselves - before we’re buried in it.

It isn’t our neighbour’s job to do it for us, even if his name is Jones, and we feel compelled to live up to his standards.

Or the media’s standards. Or our parent’s standard.

As well, it isn’t the government’s responsibility (though it plays a part), especially if they believe in pursuing constant economic and material growth and encourage us to spend our way to glory, or out of every predicament.

“I believe that most of the world’s conflicts
are less a function of the way people are,
and more about the way governments
and power-mongers are.

It’s my conviction
that the vast majority of people
on this planet would like
to be left alone
to live and work in peace,
to raise their families,
and to exist in a generous
and rational way.”

(Jeff Greenwald, A Sense of Place - see Read This, side margin)

I would just say, as we define or redefine the good life, that we keep it small and simple - so as many others as possible can raise their families in peace.


And if we don’t think more carefully about our place in this world, we will continue to walk through life as if blind.


Monday, April 20, 2009

Live Small and Prosper: Lessons to be learned from the recession

“There are lessons to be learned
from the economic crisis.

Perhaps the most significant
is that this troubled era

will force us to reconsider
how we define the good life.”

(Time to Rethink American Dream, Mindelle Jacobs)

What lessons have you learned from the present recession?

It is a very important question because, in my opinion, it will surely not be the last we experience together. I’m convinced leaders and citizens will repeat the mistakes that lead to the current crisis (AKA The Big Blunder, Our Giant Goof-up, Almost a Depression).

One might say in depressed tones, I’ve learned I’m over-extended. I’m in debt way over my head. I’m in deep trouble.

Others might say, I can’t buy as much as I used to, but somehow that’s OK. We stopped eating out as much, and cut cable TV to save money, and now we’re having more fun at home with the kids.

And I’m certain there’s a family out there that even dusted off an old Scrabble game and discovered the kids are pretty darn good at it.

Whatever the lesson, I think Mindelle Jacobs is right.

The most significant lesson is... we’ve been forced to think about or rethink our lifestyle, our goals related to spending, our main pursuits (whether it be a dream job, dream house, retirement 55, etc.), what is good, right and meaningful to us.

There’s no question in my mind. We have to get better at thinking, about how we spend or use our lives.

I’ll be in my workshop. It’s time to think - without so many distractions.


Do you take time to think about main pursuits, what is good, right, meaningful?


Sunday, April 19, 2009

Letter to the Editor: Nutritionist slags salad, then wrestled to the ground

Celebrity nutritionist Rehan Jalali said some positive things recently, like feast on oatmeal, dates and sweet potatoes to help you shape up before slipping into your summer swimwear - then he goofed up.

He said, among other things, forget about salads.

“Contrary to popular belief but calorie-filled dressings and croutons make salads a bad choice. Plus the nutritional value of lettuce and tomatoes is negligible.”

Is the guy a maroon? [click here for full article]

Slag salads, just before gardening season perks up?

Glynn Leyshon, former wrestler, coach at the University of Western Ontario and neighbour in Old North, caught wind:

“Anyone who knows food realizes that that tomatoes are loaded with food value including fibre, at least seven minerals and seven vitamins. There is even a modicum of protein and virtually no fat.” [letter to the editor, London Free Press]

In my opinion, Jalali missed a golden opportunity.

Just as one can add currants, cranberries, bran, walnuts, raisins, dried apricots, Red River cereal etc. to oatmeal, to make it a modern-day nutrient delivery system (compared to a refined sugar delivery system like most cereals), one can add tomatoes (hopefully, homegrown) and hundreds of other goodies to salad in place of the unhealthy dressings, croutons and bacon bits that have become some people’s favourite waist expanders.

Celebrity nutritionist - shape up.


Ever heard of tuna salad? That's my favourite.

What do you add to your salad?


Saturday, April 18, 2009

It Strikes Me Funny: BBQ time, Lindsay Lohan makes wee joke - now this? Pt 2

It struck me funny yesterday that just as summer arrived in Canada (things happen fast around here) and I began to think “BBQ and Lindsay Lohan,” an article was placed on my desk by my lovely wife that said (in part) the following:

“People who consume large quantities or red meat [most of North America qualifies, eh] have an increased risk of contracting certain diseases, particularly colon cancer. This is caused by three main factors...” (click here to read article)

So, after forgetting about sitting on a lawn chair in the sun and poking a steak on the BBQ while reading a funny entertainment column re Lindsay’s quest for quality time with (none other than) herself, I prepared a salad rather than steak for supper.

I can stand to eat less red meat.

["Meat and car production are similar in many ways": photo GAH]

So can most North Americans, especially those who don’t want to become part of the mournful stats listed in the recent study by the US National Cancer Institute.

For example:

“People who consumed more red meat, about the equivalent of a quarter-pound (115 g) per day, had a 22% greater risk of dying prematurely from cancer and a 27% greater risk of death related to a heart ailment compared to those who ate less than a quarter-pound of red meat per week.”

Less red meat in the diet also means - less intensive land use for corn production (a grain heavily and inappropriately stuffed into cattle - they are grass-eaters), less fertilizer use (a chemical product reliant on much oil and natural gas for its creation), less fossil fuel use for delivery across North American and the world.

There are many other benefits to decreasing our over-use of factory farms, land, water, and fossil fuel.

Less red meat. I’m on it.


I won’t say I’m off it, but I will reduce it.


Friday, April 17, 2009

My Point of View: Every time Conservative John Baird opens his mouth...

...Something incredibly stupid pops out.

And this time it was old Reform Party politics.

This week Baird said, “There’s no alternative to a growing economy and the one thing that kills a growing economy is tax increases.” [The London Free Press]

There, in a nutshell (nutshell being the operative word), is the political and economic agenda that will eventually be the end of us all. Constant economic growth, unfair tax structure.

You really must read The Upside of Down by T. Homer-Dixon (see read This, right margin), in which THD writes:

“The longer a system is 'locked in' to its growth phase the greater its vulnerability and the bigger and more dramatic its collapse will be.”

“If the growth phase goes on for too long, deep collapse - something like synchronous failure (i.e. a lot of toilets flushing at the same time) eventually occurs.” [pg. 253]

Wouldn’t a budget surplus, even from a fair tax system, come in handy then?


Remember. I’m no political pundit. All I have is a point of view. Do you?


It Strikes Me Funny: BBQ season arrives, Lindsay Lohan cracks wise, and now this?

It strikes me funny that on the first full day of summer around here (sure, it’s April, but yesterday it felt like summer to me), the same day I check the BBQ to see if it still works after spending 6 months under a tarp, I catch wind that “those who eat more red meat have a modestly increased risk of death from all causes, cancer or heart disease” (according to a recent study by the US National Cancer Institute.

It’s funny, I tell you... maybe a conspiracy.

So, rather than put a small peppercorn steak and tray of veggies under the hood and sit in a lawn chair on the back deck to reread a very funny and entertaining article about the train wreck known as Lindsay Lohan, I popped a veggie lasagna into the oven and made a salad.

(The article begins like this, re Lindsay and girlfriend Samantha: “We are taking a brief break so I can focus on myself.” As if spending quality time with herself will improve her resume.)

Quality time with a salad will help my diet. I’m in the middle of the age group the study studied. And during the study twice as many men (that’s me) died as women. And red meat was involved in the crime.

Now I'm wondering... who put the results of the study on my desk?


Once my solar oven is finished, maybe I’ll be heating up veggie lasagnas rather than seconds and thirds of my Scorch and Burn (beef and pork) chili.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Michael Ignatieff goes back to class in London Part 2

While federal Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff was speaking to a full house at the University of Western Ontario Tuesday afternoon, he admitted he would like to be the Prime Minister of Canada one day.

(I think he’ll get his wish as early as this fall).

[Glen Pearson, Liberal MP; Michael Ignatieff, Liberal leader: photo GAH]

He also said he would have one job as the Prime Minister of Canada:

“To make us feel we are one great people, that we are more than the sum of our parts, and that we can do more together than we can as individuals.”

Mr. Ignatieff sounds more interested in national unity than our current Prime Minister, who has been characterized in the past by Ignatieff as “a divider.”

After he answered questions admirably re health care issues, student debt, the Anglophone community and more, Liberal MP Glen Pearson thanked him for coming and noted that he feels Ignatieff has a researcher’s mind, is always trying to answer questions, yet asks just as many to others in return.

I came away thinking that Michael Ignatieff takes a more co-operative, inclusive approach to politics than Harper (a man with serious control-taking issues).

We’ll see which leader wins the most votes come September.


The Simple Life: No lives were lost but... darn those socks

Because I’m not going to buy any new clothes in 2009 [see Green Ideas, side margin] I’ve had to learn a new skill involving a very sharp object.

Darning socks with a needle sounds like a simple enough task though, right?

People have likely darned for years, written books about it (at least one article in a science journal for beginners - so no one would get seriously injured), and kept the same pair of favourite socks around for more than a decade.

But not in this house. That is, until last night.

Needle and brown thread in hand (I was out of brown darn), I closed a couple of small holes before they got to the point where I’d say, “Chuck ‘em.”

So, for the first time in my life, I've repaired a pair of socks.

And nobody got hurt.


How long will a pair of socks last? Until this year I never thought about it.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Michael Ignatieff goes back to class in London

The federal Liberal leader walked into Room 2050 of the Social Science Centre at the University of Western Ontario yesterday afternoon and immediately felt right at home.

He likes being in a classroom, he said. It’s familiar turf.

[Michael Ignatieff, Canada's next Prime Minister: photo GAH]

Following his opening remarks he proved he was comfortable on his feet during a lengthy Q and A session. He gave thoughtful answers to questions related to the Palestinian situation, health care and rural Canada (for openers).

Related to the plight of farmers, who don’t see many following in their footsteps, he said, “I don’t want hope and opportunity to fly to the cities. The business of politics is to create hope and opportunity for people where they stand.”

In my opinion, to slow the movement of people from rural areas to towns and cities is a worthy cause to get behind.

But first, to have sizable influence he’ll have to become Prime Minister of Canada - which will, in fact, happen in the fall. (You heard it here first).

I liked his confidence and clarity during the discussion in Room 2050.

And I know it’s early days, but if he comes across as confidently in the House of Commons as he does in the classroom, I think he’ll do well as Prime Minister.


What are your impressions of Mr. Ignatieff?


It Strikes Me Funny: North American gas crisis was quickly forgotten

While reading about the Toyota iQ, one of the cars of tomorrow, I came across something that struck me funny.

According to The Associated Press:

Small cars and hybrids surged in popularity last summer as gasoline prices in the United States blew past $4 US a gallon. But as the economy sputtered and gas prices collapsed, small cars lost ground to trucks and sport utility vehicles.

"Get out of town!" I said to myself.

"I heard it the other day — I don't know if it's true — that Americans' memory is about 60 days," said Tim Mahoney, senior vice president of Subaru of America. “I heard (a dealer) the other day talking about how they couldn't sell Civics and Corolla and Priuses fast enough (last summer). All of a sudden, 60 days later, we're back on SUVs and trucks."

Here in Canada, home to the dirtiest oil on the planet, we likely forgot in just 6 days. (We always divide by 10 when making comparisons with the US).

[Photo link to].

Now, where are my car keys? I have to go buy milk.


Just kidding about the milk thing.


Latest Hit Single: Life is Better With You

So, it might not be a number one hit yet, but someday... maybe someday, Baby.

My wife hopes so. She’d like me to pay down our line of credit.

Backgrounder to my latest song: “So, what do you give a girl at Christmas... especially a girl who already has everything? I mean, my wife already gets the house, car, life insurance, my pension, RRSPs and hockey card collection when I die. Oh yeah, and my workshop and all my tools. So, what else can I give her?”

A brilliant song, maybe?

Verse 1 opens with...

You are the best of my friends.

Life can be a long, lonely road,
easier when you share the load,
and I’m walking with you.

Click here to sing along.


Have you written a hit single? I’d like to hear or see it.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

I’m Calling It, Canada: Fall federal election in 2009

You heard it here first - PM Harper will call for a fall election.

And how do I know? (A political pundit or hack I’m not. I don’t even know what a pundit is. I’d guess a small, tippy, leaky boat.)

Two reasons: I’m somewhat informed by news and events and... I trust my gut.

Here’s the news and gut feelings I rely upon:

Liberal leader Ignatieff is rising in the polls

PM Harper is sinking

Ignatieff is smarter and better looking than Harper

PM Harper will be fully aware of this by July

Tomatoes will be ripe in September and Harper will want to throw a big one at Ignatieff

Unity is growing inside the Liberal Party

Discontent, now red hot inside the Conservative Party, will peak in September like red hot chili peppers in my garden

Money in Liberal coffers is growing

My gut says Harper will want to burst that balloon

The recession will worsen

My gut says Harper will want to blame someone else, and soon

Ontario and Quebec is turning against Harper

This is just my gut talking again, but Harper will want to blame someone else for that too

And finally, Harper will call an election in the fall because that's when the pumpkins are ready... and he's almost out of ammo.


I think as far as Harper is concerned, “small, tippy, leaky boat” is spot on.


Live Small and Prosper: Leaders need promote a “live small” philosophy

I’d love to see politicians lead the way and incentivize a ‘live small or go home’ philosophy.

As I said in an earlier post, “(After learning) that local new housing starts continue to fall because of the recession, I thought I'd rather see governments develop a plan to incentivize the building of smaller homes [and cars, other products, etc.], one that doesn't require another large layer of bureaucracy (as would, for example, a cap and trade system).

Imagine the benefits if leaders encouraged the following:

(1) Buying a house no bigger than we actually need.
(2) Buying no more powerful a car than we actually need, with an emphasis on good gas mileage.
(3) Taking public transit to work, if possible, two days out of every five.
(4) Walking, if possible, for any errand of two km or less.
(5) Cutting back on optional air travel. For example, someone who takes two vacation trips a year by air could cut back to one, someone who takes one trip a year could cut back to one every two years.
(6) Using canvas bags for grocery shopping instead of plastic.

["Eat less food too!": photo link]

(7) Buying domestic instead of foreign made produce, goods and services whenever possible.
(8) Insulating your home, if financially capable; and if still on oil, converting to natural gas or alternatives.

What else? What else?


Monday, April 13, 2009

The Economy Sucks, but... the government can incentivize small cars

Is incentivize an actual word?

[Toyota iQ]

If not, allow me to coin it and tell you what it means.

Definition: verb - actively encourage the building of small cars, I mean really small urban vehicles, with three wheels even, by providing substantial incentives to manufacturers and buyers.

[Quite possibly, incentivize was first used as a word here]

Something as cute as the Toyota iQ would be nice, but a three-wheeled scooter with a small cab and space at the back for groceries would also do the trick.


I think it’s “incentivize a small lifestyle or else”, if future generations are actually to have a future.


The economy sucks, but... someone actually said I was perceptive

Lorrie Goldstein said recently that politicians “are talking out of both sides of their mouths” when they tell you “we can grow the economy while simultaneously reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

[Click here to read Mr. Goldstein’s full article.]

He went on to talk about the downside of carbon taxes, cap and trade, carbon credits and offsets.

[Cap and trade this? Prolong the recession? What?"]

“What they really do is allow emissions, at ever-escalating prices, the theory being that when the price gets too high, people will be forced to use less fossil fuel.”

Sounds punitive to me, I thought.

So I emailed Mr. Goldstein with a possible solution re GHG emissions.

“About three months ago, I think you wrote that the recession does more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions than any government policy. The same is likely to be true as well in the future, unless someone gets a type of green shift or cap and trade policy fine-tuned to perfection.”

“After reading your article I also learned this morning that local new housing starts continue to fall because of the recession, so I thought I'd rather see governments develop a plan to incentivize the building of smaller homes [and cars, other products, etc.], one that doesn't require another large layer of bureaucracy, as would a cap and trade.”

“If major industries were positively encouraged to 'go small or go home' could we produce the same results as a punitive cap and trade?”

Though Mr. Goldstein is likely one of the busiest columnists in Canada, he promptly replied with the following:

Hi Gord:

“Very perceptive point. Controlled growth would be a much better answer than punitive economic contraction via carbon taxes and/or cap-and-trade.”

I’m trying to think of the last time I was called perceptive.

I got nothin’.


Cap and trade? Reduce consumption? Prolong the recession?

It may come to all three. Is that perceptive, or what?


Sunday, April 12, 2009

It Strikes Me Funny: My stomach can’t handle conventional wisdom Part 2

Some leaders suggest we must buy our way out of the recession. Mortgage the future so that today is rosier.

Conventional wisdom makes me reach for the TUMs.

As I quoted in the last post, leaders want us to “borrow and buy with abandon.” [T. Homer-Dixon, The Upside of Down]

They suggest a dead end.

Homer-Dixon continues:

“Despite the fact that our lives are saturated with stuff, that we’ve already reached a level of material abundance unimaginable to previous generations, and that more money and possessions add little to our happiness, we must be made to feel chronically discontented with our lot.”

“In essence, then, the logic underpinning our economies works like this: if we’re discontented with what we have, we buy stuff; if we buy enough stuff, the economy grows; if the economy grows enough, displaced workers can find new jobs; and if they find new jobs, there will be enough economic demand to keep the economy humming and to prevent wrenching political conflict.”

“Modern capitalism’s stability - and increasingly the global economy’s stability - requires the cultivation of material discontent, endlessly rising personal consumption, and the steady economic growth this consumption generates.”

I think only my consumption of TUMs will go up if our leaders keep driving the economy toward a dead end.


I think there are more benefits to radically reduced consumption than constant economic growth.


It Strikes Me Funny: TUMs please - My stomach can’t handle conventional wisdom

Our political and corporate leaders may appear wise at times, but only in a conventional sort of way.

And their conventional wisdom will not produce a sustainable economy, environment or personal level of satisfaction.

Ouch. Pass the TUMs, please.

Leaders want constant economic growth because they benefit from the upside of that growth, e.g. at the polls, in the stores.

“Growth creates the new industries and generates new jobs needed to absorb technologically displaced workers [e.g. workers displaced in car factories by robots]. The American economy, for example, must expand 3 to 5 per cent annually - doubling in size every fifteen to twenty-five years - just to keep unemployment from rising.” (T. Homer-Dixon, The Upside of Down)

Benefits: jobs, more tax payers, more goods on shelves, more profit

There are, however, many downsides.

“And to get this constant growth, our leaders and corporations - operating on the implicit assumption that people can be inculcated with insatiable desires and ever-rising expectations - relentlessly encourage us to be hyper-consumers.”

["Always shopping"]

“With our willing and often eager acquiescence, merchants, credit card companies, and banks barrage us with advertising (often showing how we’re falling behind our neighbour, Mr. Jones), while our economic policy makers ply us with economic incentives - like low interest rates and tax cuts - all to get us to borrow and buy with abandon.” (ibid)

Ouch. My stomach can only handle so much conventional wisdom and consumption.

More TUMs, please.


How do we get off the hyper-consumer treadmill?

[Click here to read about one way to my heart and stomach]


Saturday, April 11, 2009

Gord's Little Workshop: All I Need Is Birds

The birdhouse triplex below started its life, as far as I’m concerned, at the Dorchester landfill site (fondly known as the dump).

While picking up pieces of scrap lumber here and there my friend Don said, “Do you want this?”

Initially I thought, no.

The piece of lumber Don showed me had metal attached with screws (more work for me), was made of thin strips glue together (I don’t like running glue through my saw blades; call me fussy; don't call me late for supper) and was pretty dirty.

Then I thought, you never know.

And now I do. All I need is birds.


‘Twas a busy day. Coffee with a federal member of parliament at 8 a.m., then in front of the computer for five hours, no break.

Next week’s column, however, was finished two minutes before deadline.

I live such an exciting life, eh?

Click here for a look at my latest heart-breaking tune at Hit Songs, Lyrics and Prose. Then wonder what kind of life I must really live!

I hope you’ve had a banner day and are whistling a happy tune.


Friday, April 10, 2009

It Strikes Me Funny: “Put me through to the Prime Minister, please” Part 2

I often feel like I need to call the PM to ask a few simple questions.

For example, I recently read the following:

PM Harper and Jim Flatulence, his loyal Finance Minister, contend “that Canada will lead the U.S. and the rest of the world out of the recession.” [The London Free Press]

Oh, such an urge to pick up the phone developed.

I’d say:

“Mr. PM. I think you’re putting way, way too much confidence in global capitalism and a free market economy. What if our supply of valuable resources, such as oil, natural gas and water, start to tighten up? Won’t our economy suffer even more than it is now? Shouldn’t you be talking about a backup plan? Hello? Hello?”

Sure, I don’t expect the guy to talk directly to me (typical scenario - his people would talk to my people and I’d get back) but it would be nice to hear about Plan B if global capitalism has another bad year like this one.


Plan B is discussed in The Upside of Down; see Read This in margin.


Thursday, April 9, 2009

Dear Ann Landers: Lunch out is not an ‘in’ thing

Dear Ann Landers,

My wife just called from my son’s house (she’s babysitting our grandson) and invited me out for lunch with Ollie and her mother.

Now, I don’t like restaurant meals all that much because of the cost and high calories. I’d rather putter around the kitchen and eat leftovers.

Plus, we went out for lunch together during our last Sunday drive and we’re going out for a big family supper tomorrow night.

Am I turning into an old scrooge? What should I do?

Signed: Perplexed


Dear Perplexed,

I hear your pain - but don’t feel it.

Go on, get out of the house. Order a salad.

Say ‘Hi’ to your lovely wife, Ollie and Betty for me.

Ann Landers


GAH: "I’m outta here. Maybe my wife will pay."


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

It Strikes Me Funny: “Put me through to the Prime Minister, please”

Do you ever get the desire to call the PM to ask a few simple questions?

It happens to me all the time.

For example, I read the following recently:

“Canada is suffering through one of the worst recessions in decades, one that will see more than half a million people thrown out of work...” [full article: The London Free Press]

I wanted to get right on the phone.

GH: “Hi, Mr. Prime Minister? My name is Gord and I just wanted to know why you and Finance Minister Jim Flatulence keep insisting we’re only going through a short recession, as if our troubles will be over some time next week, or at least the week after that?”

Then I’d tell him that the term ‘worst recession’ falls short.

GH: “And while you’re still on the line I think we need a new name for this current situation. ‘Biggest Blunder in Human History’ sounds right. ‘Gigantic Goof Up’ is pretty accurate and even ‘Deep Delusional Depression’ hits the mark. Hello? Hello?”

Line is busy. I’ll call back later.


Really, at this point, it’s not a short recession. What kind of mess are we in?


Zoom w a View: Port Bruce has a new beach hut?

My eyes play tricks on occasion.

Last Sunday, I stepped out of the car in Port Bruce and saw a new addition to the main strip.

["The Beach Hut is back?": photo GAH]

I initially thought someone had opened a new diner, beach hut or drink bar to serve pina coladas and cold Coronas to the thousands of tourists that pour into the rustic hamlet each summer.

As I approached I laughed aloud at the optical delusion.

No beach hut, just a pile of ice pulled from a nearby creek, topped with winter debris.

Still, a beach house would be nice. And cold Corona.


Do your eyes play tricks?


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A Follow Up: The workshop needs a good sweep out Part 2

The workshop is now upside down.

I only needed to put a second coat on a birdhouse triplex, put a few tools away, burn a few wood scraps and grab the broom.

One hour's easy work - tops.

But while puttering I thought, a new lathe is coming, I should rearrange a shelf and spare work bench, take a bit of wood out to the annex, stain that work bench...

Sure, the clean up is long overdo. Dust settles everywhere.

I'll be done by Thursday.


Is there a spring clean-up gene?

Also, I'll tidy up, the lathe will arrive, and I'll just mess the place up again turning four bits of wood into bowls.


Zoom w a View: The workshop needs a good sweep out

Busy days in the workshop are over for a week or two.

Three dozen birdhouses from reused or scrap lumber - check.

A few new styles - check.

One for my side fence - check.

After I sweep out the sawdust (and a few ladybugs) I’ll sell the houses to local stores.


One birdhouse pays for a tank of gas for my motorcycle... and spring is coming, right?


The Simple Life: Birds make do in the smallest of spaces

While attaching a second birdhouse to the Annex (a small shed in my small backyard) I wondered if birds would find it under the spruce boughs.

[House from scrap, knot-hole entrance, flax oil finish: photo GAH]

Snow is in the air and hopefully a pair of birds who don’t mind getting their picture taken will settle in shortly, and not fly off when I aim the camera their way.

Birds make do in the smallest of spaces, don’t they? To a pair of finches, for example, twenty-five square inches of floor space, 6 inches of headroom and a shared backyard is prime real estate.

Though I’ve made dozens of birdhouses in the last three years (36 this spring, so far) I haven’t spent much time observing the tenants.

This year, I have my camera ready, am keeping my fingers crossed and hoping for colourful neighbours.


Do you have birdhouses in your yard? Photos to share?