Saturday, July 30, 2011

Zoom w a View: Isolated showers bring isolated rain drops

My front lawn has been a hard-baked surface for several weeks. Rain has been scarce.

I tried driving a stake into my neighbour's yard a few days ago, to help him keep a gate in place, and I could hardly break the surface of the ground. I made the point on the stake sharper. I hit the stake harder with my hammer. I purchased half an inch. My neighbour looked over his shoulder to see if someone stronger was standing idly nearby. The look of disappointment on his face was disconcerting!

Yesterday, during a brief isolated shower, I grabbed my camera.

["An isolated rain drop.": photos GH]

After capturing a couple of isolated rain drops on film, another thought entered my mind. I should grab my hammer and stake. I should try again to impress my neighbour with my strength.

The rain quickly past. So did the thought.


Please click here for more Zoom w a View.


Friday, July 29, 2011

The During: I'm not reading in the alcove yet

Someday, in the near future, there will appear on this blog a photo of me wearing a straw hat whilst sitting in my new shaded alcove and holding a cold beverage in one hand, a good book in the other.

["Don't wait up to see the cladding finished today.": photo GH]

Due to how slowly I work on some projects, don't hold your breath while waiting. The job of building a level and sturdy frame for a cupboard (for snow tires and garbage cans) took several hours and covering it with cladding and assembling cupboard doors will take several years!!

Oh, have I told you how hot it is outside these days? I would have told you sooner but... I was stuck to the vinyl seats in my van.

Author's note: Even during the hottest weather, I never grow tired of using that line. And I don't even own a van.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The During: An outdoor alcove is underway

‘The Before’ photos were pretty revealing: I have a very junky corner outside my study window. (I keep the blinds closed a lot).

Though the outdoor space is only 5 ft. 6 in. wide (not including the concrete sidewalk) and 12 ft. 8 in. long (approx. 70 sq. ft.), it can hold a lot of stuff.

My goal is to tidy up the space, then sit down and read a good book or have a snooze. The alcove is in shade all day long. I should at least be out there during the hottest days of the year, right?

I funkied up the fence at one end by changing the pattern of the boards from vertical and over-lapping (the common Fairmont style, I think) to horizontal, with quarter inch spacing - so that I can see you coming but you can’t see me. I also got rid of the old privacy lattice (it was so yesterday) and created a repeated diamond pattern with cut-offs.

Soon, I’ll be reading a book under the cooling and comforting arms of my baobab tree.

["I'll be able to see company coming!": photos by GH]

Well, maybe it’s a Red King maple, but I’ll at least be relaxing in my shady alcove.


Please click here to see ‘The Before’ photos.


“Look at that cheap, sexy little number”

[Costs of car ownership in Canada per year: $6,972 - Victoria; $7,408 - Vancouver; $5,138 - Winnipeg; $5,411 - Kitchener-Waterloo; $7,625 - Montreal; $5,442 - Halifax. Totals include gasoline, parking costs, license renewal, plate registration, insurance premiums. July 23, London Free Press]

Two weeks ago I placed a few birdhouses on the front lawn to tempt passersby to stop and give me money.

A former student dropped by (many years have passed since I last saw Bonnie; she told me her age, and that made me feel considerably older, so I charged her double), as well as a fellow on a 1930s bicycle.

After saying good-bye to Bonnie, Derrick (the cyclist) and I had a long chat too about his old bike and a few others he owned. Because he lived nearby he left and returned within 5 minutes riding a 1940s model bearing a ‘Watson, Made in London Ontario’ emblem.

Derrick struck me as quirky and I like quirky. I invited him to inspect my old Raleigh (circa 1964, so I’ve been told) hanging in The Annex in my backyard. I listed a few problems with the bike and he said he could fix them.

[“Look at that cheap, sexy little number”: photos GH]

“I can tighten the brakes for you and get the gear shifter working. I’ll have it back by mid-afternoon,” he said.

He was true to his word, spotted, repaired and cleaned other items, presented a reasonable bill for service ($45) and I’ve been using the bike regularly ever since.

Now, I haven’t saved $45 worth of gasoline yet, but I’ll get my money back easily by the end of the riding season. I saved $20 last Sunday alone by leaving my motorcycle in the driveway and pedalling through Springbank Park instead.

[“Under the shady arms of a baobab tree. Might be a maple in Springbank Park.”]

I’ve been so happy to have use of a solid road-worthy bicycle that I’m now toying with the idea of selling my 1994 1100cc Yamaha Virago (within two years) and using some of the proceeds to buy a newer bicycle and child carrier (to haul camping gear).

The idea of camping trips within a 100 km radius of London interests me a great deal. Already, the London-Paris-Stratford loop has come to mind. I’d like to pedal the London-Zurich-Brussels loop as well.

Possibilities for adventure - all on a cheap and sexy bicycle - are endless, and affordable too. I might even save enough gas money to buy a new tent.


Please click here for another exciting and austere adventure to the Village of Values.


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Before: An outdoor reading alcove is in my future

I’ve broken my next project into several steps that are within my limited limits.

Project’s title: “Turn a junky outdoor space into a shaded alcove for reading”

Easy steps:

rescue old deck lumber from neighbour

[The lumber has been rescued - check!."]

tidy up junky space

["Clean up is underway": photos GH]

fix fence, make it funky

dismantle old wooden garbage can container

build storage unit for snow tires and two garbage cans from rescued lumber

trim it up for more funkiness

sell or use leftover stone under tarp

tidy up all tools, sweep up brick alcove area

place two chairs and one small table in reclaimed space

sit down in shade, read a book

snooze if desired

Now, I have the wood, the tools, and the know-how (I think... but limited limits have never held me back before).

And I’m underway. More photos to follow.


How big is the space? I’ll find out and get back to you.

Please click here for a look at another (easier) project.


“A front porch is such useful space, eh?”

I think every house should have a front porch. Sales of decor would go through the roof.

Better yet, people could use air conditioning less often and converse with neighbours walking by in their undershorts. (It could happen).

Then, neighbourhood cohesion would go through the roof, and between ‘decor’ and ‘cohesion’ going through the roof, I’d pick the latter.

["I'm grateful I have a wee porch, with decor.": photo GH]

Unfortunately, not everyone has a porch. I read one reason why they’re not added to the front of houses in the book ‘Little House on a Small Planet.’

From pages 79-80:

Excellent outdoor space, even when architect-designed and contractor-built, is typically one-third to one-tenth the cost of indoor space. “But unfortunately, the outdoor space comes last,” landscape architect Irene Ogata explains, “literally - it’s built when everything else is finished, and after the finances have been depleted.”

Does this apply to you? Does it make sense?

For example, is useful outdoor space - like a porch with fine birdhouses scattered all about - neglected because most of the money is gone by the time the house is ready for use?

I know in Canada we cannot live outdoors all the time, but even in my 1,050 sq. ft. house, I heat a lot of indoor space I don’t use often in the winter. I would gladly sacrifice 100 sq. ft. of indoor space now to have a larger porch because I use it a lot during three seasons.

As well, I cool a lot of space I don’t use in the summer because I’m out on the porch so much, checking out my decor.

If I could do it over again, I’d have a smaller house with more outdoor space, e.g., a screened-in back porch with a bed to sleep upon during hot summer nights. And definitely more decor : )


Please click here to read more about neighbourhood cohesion vs the air conditioner.


“IT STRIKES” Again: Shania Twain’s ‘Eja’ and other swell names for babies

[This column was first published in January, 2003. It was inspired by Brittaneigh, someone I never heard back from, and Kry-stalle, a student of mine in the 1980s. You got it... Kry-stalle with a K and hyphen. Simple enough to remember, right? gah]

Shania Twain’s ‘Eja’ and other swell names for babies

The conversation was going swimmingly with the receptionist at a business in Wortley Village until she handed me her card.

She instructed, “Just tuck this in with sample illustrations and my boss will get back to you within a week.”

A red light should have flashed in my brain when I glanced at her name, but it didn’t, so I asked innocently, “Do you have a Scottish background?”

“No. Why?”

A red light started to blink but - too late.

“Well, your first name has a Scottish flavour,” I offered.

“No one in my family is Scottish. My parents just wanted my name to be distinctive I guess,” replied Brittaneigh with an impatient grin.

“Oh, sorry,” I said.

“No problem. I get a bit of that.”

As I continued my stroll to The Red Roaster for morning coffee I put “Brittaneigh” under the heading of “Children’s Names that Parents Get Excited About - But the Kids, Maybe Not” just a few lines above “Eja”.

Shania Twain and Mutt Lange became parents recently, and they selected the distinctive name “Eja” for their bundle of joy and soggy diapers. I read that the name has an eastern connection or meaning.

I’m not sure where Mutt is from but if you go east far enough I’m sure you’ll get there. Shania is from Timmins, only east of here if you turn your Ontario road map on a 90 degree angle or you start your trip to her home from Thunder Bay.

Perhaps they came upon the name while living in their castle in the eastern country of Switzerland, thinking the wee boy would relate well to his fellow pre-schoolers down the steep road, around the lake and over the mountain in Zurich.

Perhaps they discovered the name in”The New and Improved Book of Swell Names for Babies” that claims 4,000 new entries (“Never used before and who can blame you!”), 3,000 up-dated spellings (“Can you spell Kry-stalle?”) and a brand new category - “So, You Don’t Want to Use a Vowel.”

["Don't wait up, Mutt and Eja!": CP Photo/Adrian Wyld. photo link]

Whatever the case, I was well prepared to raise my toque to Shania when she appeared bare-handed to sing at half-time on a very chilly day at the most recent grey Cup football game. Not only was she tough but she sported a red and white Canada toque, bulky yellow ski-jacket (sans corporate logo) and black medium-weight running tights just like my fellow-runners and I wear when we’re out on the trails and side roads (though we don’t dance around like Shania except during warm ups).

Good fashion sense, I said to myself. Shania seemed right at home with the Canadian winter scene.

But her sense for names seems a little too far away from home.

Shania and Mutt, I could be wrong here, but I think Eja is “gonna getchya good” one day with tough questions about the meaning of his name and how it could possibly relate to his immediate family and surroundings.

He may wonder why the other kids in Timmins have names like Robert or Jeff, and kids at the Swiss day-care have names like Hans or Johann. Not necessarily distinctive but with meanings that tend to suggest they live around there.

I’m sure I protest too much. After all, Eja has a perfect out.

If he is ever questioned about his name, he just has to show his little friends a picture of his mom at the Grey Cup game and say his dad’s name is Mutt.

His pals Tifphan’ny and Salymandur will proclaim, “Welcome to the club, Eja!”


Please click here to read another brilliant story at “IT STRIKES” Again.


Cartoon in Progress: “Life’s like that, eh” 18

“To the chagrin of all but Wee Willie, Grandpa really sunk his teeth into the final hymn on Sunday.”


Please click here to view “Life’s like that, eh” 17


Monday, July 25, 2011

Upside, Downside: Air conditioning vs neighbourhood cohesion

[London is already a “heat island”, a low, wide city several degrees hotter than surrounding (and shrinking) farmland and forests, that was built in sprawling and extravagant fashion when fossil fuels were cheap. G. Harrison, It Strikes Me Funny, July 21]

I wrote about air conditioning recently, and as per usual, what I said was bang on. Not a loud, important bang, mind, but still...

For example, London is certainly a heat island.

And when temperatures rise to ‘hot, hotter, hottest’, many Londoners add to the problem.

I.e., they crank up countless a/c units, cool off businesses, homes and vehicles artificially, and create more heat and carbon emissions at the same time.

The whole process is really a Catch-44 situation (twice as bad as a Catch-22).

["Can we use the a/c sparingly, even on hot days?": photos GH]

Last night, while generating another kind of heat on my exercise bike, I read the following comment about air conditioning:

Some people credit the arrival of air conditioning with the decline of neighborhood cohesion, especially in the South. (pg. 79, Little House on a Small Planet)

I found the sentence interesting because air conditioning has another colourful chapter in its life story, and we can now blame the entire fall of neighbourhood cohesion on the southern US.

["My front porch lines up with my closest neighbour's. Excellent."]

["The four chairs get a lot of use during three seasons."]

I suppose the advent of a/c, whether in the South or in Canada, drew people indoors during hot days or evenings and off their front stoops, steps, lawns and verandahs. Some people would say, “Forget about sitting under the elm tree with the neighbours. Let’s go inside, sit right in front of our new major appliance and listen to the next exciting episode of ‘The Cisco Kid’ on the radio.” (Up north it would be ‘Front Page Challenge’ on TV. That’s only if I got the decade right. I probably didn’t. Sorry, I digress).

Others would say, “I like chatting with the neighbours and passersby as they wander listlessly around the block in their undershorts to escape the heat, but I’d much rather sit indoors now and play with all the dials on our new air conditioner that’s the size of a refrigerator.”

And who could blame them?

Certainly not me. I too have a fascination with dials and push buttons and mysterious widgets. “Forget the instruction book,” I often say to my wife. “Let’s see if I can blow another fuse.”

A second comment from Little House on a Small Planet is closely linked with the first one mentioned:

Front porches in neighborhoods used to serve as telephones and TV sets; they announced to neighbors you are available to chat, and livened up the street life for those out on an evening stroll.

It makes me think there is much to be gained by making an effort to reduce our dependence on artificially cooled air indoors.

Though some people need a/c in order to survive our hot weather, perhaps if more of us tried to cool off in more natural ways, i.e., by walking or cycling about our neighbourhoods more often (not in our undershorts, please), sitting in shade islands provided by healthy trees on the front lawn, or catching a wee breeze on the front porch, we could reduce carbon emissions while, at the same time, growing more connected to the neighbours we live amongst and neighbourhoods we live within.

Do you think a/c is related to the decline of community cohesion?

Can the telephone and TV be added to the equation?

Is the South really to blame?


Please click here to read ‘As temperatures rise, Londoners create more heat.’


Saturday, July 23, 2011

London’s Priorities: Economy, excess, entertainment, environment, eggs

[“At this critical juncture in our history on Earth, we are asking the wrong questions. Instead of “How do we reduce the deficit?” or “How do we carve out a niche in the global economy?” we should be asking, “What is an economy for?” and “How much is enough?” What are the things in life that provide joy and happiness, peace of mind and satisfaction? Does the plethora of goods that our high-production economy delivers so effectively provide the route to happiness and satisfaction, or do the relationships between human and nonhuman beings still form the core of the important things in life? Is the uniformity of food and other products that we now encounter everywhere on the globe an adequate substitute for the different and the unexpected?” pg. 298, The Sacred Balance, by David Suzuki]

I may have my city’s priorities out of whack.

Its priorities may be “economy, economy, economy, excess, entertainment, environment, eggs.”

Environment may even come after eggs. I may have to do an egg-spensive study to be sure.

People, we live in very interesting times, do we not?

For most people the economy comes before all else. And for certain, the entertainment section in local papers - just the movie listings alone - is always twice as long (at least) than articles about environmental concerns, reparations or improvements in the fair to middlin’ four-way crossing we call home.

Why, federally (correct or quote me if I’m wrong), we have a Conservative government that wouldn’t say ‘environment’ even if it had a mouth full of it.

Locally, we usually do a bit better than that, except when economic matters hit a rough patch, which is now - in the minds of many - most of the time.

When the economy is doing poorly, many other priorities suffer. Not excess and entertainment particularly (“We must have our mega-burgers and movies!”), but for certain, the environment and eggs, or eggs and the environment (you decide the order).

I began thinking about our unbalanced priorities after reading The McLeod, London News, July 21.

City councillor Denise Brown, about her new position on council, said the following:

“It’s a full-time job, but it doesn’t feel like a full-time job.”

What frustrates her though, is the time it takes to get things done. Among the distractions she cites the renewed debate over chickens in the backyard...

“Do I want my neighbours to have chickens next to me? No. I know the animals chickens attract and that’s an issue and it will only get worse.”

On what should council be focusing? Jobs, she says without hesitation. “We need to get businesses into London. We need to make London very attractive to big business. We need lots of jobs.”
(Phil McLeod)

["Dear Ann, Can we talk about chickens today?"]

And in Denise Brown’s world, and many other’s as well, when people focus on the economy and jobs, i.e., properly, as in ‘above all else except fat hamburgers and fabulous movies,’ there is no time for environmental concerns or interests. Discussion? Humbug. Factory farms will supply everyone with eggs. Forget self-reliance. Forget doing something different or unexpected. Forget backyard coops. They’ll attract vermin. Next!

Are jobs important? Of course they are. But, as far as I’m aware, good jobs are not disconnected from the environment around us.

David Suzuki writes:

Some people believe that a clean environment is only affordable when the economy is strong, but in fact, it’s the other way around; the biosphere is what gives us life and a living. Human beings and our economies have to find a place within the environment. The economic assumption that endless growth is not only necessary but possible is suicidal for any species that lives in a finite world. (pg. 298, The Sacred Balance)

Rather than fewer discussions about chickens, perhaps more are needed, along with discussions about other topics that focus on a healthy connection with our natural surroundings.

If time allows, we could discuss the vermin already at home in London and what drew them here. Was it backyard chickens?

And we could discuss the city’s priorities too. I may have them out of whack.


Please click here for a few words about our unnatural surroundings.


Friday, July 22, 2011

Austerity without Anxiety: “$21 later, I’m set for summer”

Socks. I’ve got lots of socks, I said to myself recently. But I could use a couple more T-shirts.

Frequent readers of this blog know I don’t rush off to buy new clothes very often. (I’m in my third year of “no new clothes.”) But I will buy used clothing on occasion.

And, yesterday, it was that time again.

Several of my old T-shirts were ready for the workshop, i.e., as stain rags. My “shop” shorts were ripped in several places. I felt I needed one more button-down shirt for fancy dress parties.

Frequent readers know where I usually head to renew supplies. The Village of Values is right, with 20 bucks in my pocket.

Years ago, after I showed off a new ‘used’ sweater during a meal with a dozen fellow hikers at a nice restaurant in Waterloo, a friend said - somewhat in shock - “You don’t wear other people’s clothing, do you?”

["Gord's all set for this summer, next year too": photos GH]

I was embarrassed for several seconds.

Then I realized, I like saving money. I don’t mind ‘hand-me-downs’ because I grew up in the 1950s wearing them and so did a lot of my friends at the time.

["Do the math. I had to borrow a buck from my wife."]

Guess what? So did a few of my friends around that dinner table in Waterloo. It was a good lesson for me. No need to feel like I’d broken some kind of immutable law, or feel shame. I wasn’t alone. Never will be. Some of the finest people I know grew up wearing their older brother’s pants.

Today I shop for new ‘used’ without a second’s thought. (Sorry, I lied. I do wonder if I’m just the second person to wear my new ‘used’ summer shorts!) Just about everything we touch and wear ends up at the dump. By the time I’m through with things, e.g., as a paint rag, they’re good and ready.

Admittedly, no one will ever call me a fashion plate.


Do you buy second-hand clothes? New ‘used’? Hand-me-downs? Feel any shame? (You shouldn’t.)

Please click here to read more Austerity without Anxiety.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

As temperatures rise, Londoners create more heat

[“There’s an idling bylaw all right, but because it’s so hot out there, all vehicles are exempt.” O. Katolyk, manager of bylaw enforcement, as reported in today’s London Free Press.]

The heat is on in London. It will likely only get hotter tomorrow, and (on average) year by year.

London is already a “heat island”, a low, wide city several degrees hotter than surrounding (and shrinking) farmland and forests, that was built in sprawling and extravagant fashion when fossil fuels were cheap.

Acres of concrete, metal, brick and glass atop our hard-baked landscape and endless miles of tarmac to accommodate a growing population of fossil-fuel powered vehicles - in all shapes and sizes - guarantee our urban setting will never cool off and bring much comfort during hot weather. Unless we stay indoors. Unless we sit inside our air-conditioned cars while the motor is running.

Ahh. Air-conditioning. Don’t ya just love it? How do you spell r-e-l-i-e-f? With an A and a capital C, right?

["Fresh, cooler air, beside the Thames River": photos GH]

Unfortunately, in part because of our heavy reliance on air-conditioning units in businesses, homes, cars and trucks, it will only get hotter in the future, because in order to stay cool in homes or cars, we have to burn more fuel of some kind - and heat up the outdoors as a result.

We even have an idling bylaw that makes this possible when thermometers reach 28 degrees or more.

We have created for ourselves (and our city is surely not alone in this regard) what I call a Catch-44, something like a Catch-22 but twice as bad. To cool off inside, we create more heat outside, thanks to heat creation by hard-working A/C units, heat transfer and rising carbon emissions. As it gets hotter outside, we’ll stay inside more often - with the A/C on - and create even more heat outside. Most Londoners are surely aware we won't be able to escape the heat forever.

No doubt, many people need an A/C assist on very hot days. City officials are right to encourage “those seeking refuge from the heat to use one of the public pools, splash pads and cooling stations... (in) the city.” (pg 1, London Free Press)

Because of our growing dependence upon heat-producing A/C units, I predict more pools, splash pads and cooling stations will be required in the future. But if our city remains in a "tax cuts" or “no new taxes” frame of mind, providing more relief may pose a problem.

["As I recall, Hattie Cove on L. Superior was a cool spot."]

Are there inexpensive ways to cool off urban “heat islands” naturally?

Would a million new trees do the trick? Two million?

Would two more feet of water in the Thames River provide a bit more relief? Three feet?

Would more conservation methods work?

Would a mass exodus to the shores of Lake Superior be the best answer?


I do like Lake Superior!

Please click here to read about a cool place to cool off inside Deforest City.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

London’s Trees: Thames Park is home to some real crackers

[Benefit 1. Alleviating the "Greenhouse Effect," trees act as carbon "sinks." E.g., 1 acre of new forest will sequester about 2.5 tons of carbon annually. Planting 100 million trees could reduce the amount of carbon by an estimated 18 million tons per year and at the same time, save Canadian consumers $4 billion each year on utility bills. Reforest London Why plant a tree?]

After coffee at The Red Roaster this morning, and in spite of the heat (I think it was 155 degrees in the shade), I felt I had to get out again and stretch my legs.

Atop my 1964 Raleigh ten-speed I pedalled north to Alaska, but cut things short - quite a bit short - and relaxed a bit in Thames Park, about six blocks from my house.

Good choice. Alaska is an expensive trip. All I had on me was five bucks. Plus, there is a shaded pathway or entrance to the park off Wortley Rd. and I wanted to test some facts and details.

I.e., “Shade from trees cools hot streets and parking lots. Cities are "heat islands" that are 5 - 9 degrees hotter than surrounding areas. And cities spread each year.” (Why plant a tree? Benefit 11)

I stepped off the bike and into the shade of several tall trees. I immediately felt 5 - 9 degrees cooler, maybe more. I sipped water from a flask and grabbed my camera. On the ground nearby I spotted several curved branches perfect for supporting birdhouses. I made a mental note to come back later. (Note: “Gord, come back later. Don’t get caught.”)

I spied what’s left of the once mighty Thames River through the branches of towering trees (some real crackers) and decided to take a closer look. Well-worn pathways between willows, maples and ash trees took me to the water’s edge.

I took note of the following:

quiet scenes undisturbed by nearby and busy roadways

discarded articles of clothing and a couple of empty beer cans

ancient trees with orange dots, destined to be trimmed or removed (perhaps)

low water level in the Thames

calming sounds of moving water

a well-used green space, dozens of ‘shade islands’, a parking lot and bike path, with two people on a tennis court and groups under wide, healthy trees

red-wing black birds defending home turf

["Photos in or from Thames Park by GH"]

rows of nicely-spaced, medium-sized maples planted beside pathways and the tennis courts (our Urban Foresty Dept. has been at work)

a busy swimming pool

Refreshed in my own way, legs stretched, and feeling like a happy camper, I cycled uphill on Ridout St. to Craig, then home, all the while aware of a touch of shade from the park still upon my shoulders.


Please click here to read more about London’s trees.


Fun and Fitness: A brand new and quirky goal

["I like quirky." GH, again, just this morning.]

Motivation is important when it comes to maintaining ‘fun and fitness’ goals.

I’ve been motivated - for a long time - to hit 100 miles per week on my exercise bike (102 mi. last week) by the desire not to look like the oldest guy on the ice during weekly hockey games. Call it vanity.

Plus, as I’ve said before, I want to live until I’m 87 years old, at least! (It’s a long story related to collecting a pension for at least two more years than I worked. It’s called ‘gravy.’). The desire for longevity and gravy - it works for me.

["Motivation - whatever works for me, I use.": photos GH]

This morning I’ve come up with a new motivation.

I want to outlive Big Bird and Mr. Green Grocer (And Bert and Ernie. They’re around here somewhere!).

I mean, after 30-years-plus in a toy-box, they’re looking pretty good, eh.

And who’s that new dude?


Please click here for more fun and fitness.


“IT STRIKES” Again: Twin Santas and Bert and Ernie heat it up on Sesame Street

[The following column was first published in January, 2003. For the first time I stray into serious political matters. And I do it in such style. Really, I should run for office like Ernie Eves. gah]

Twin Santas and Bert and Ernie heat it up on Sesame Street

While grandson Jackson played in the basement with two identical wooden Santas on candy-cane skis, I played on the carpet beside him with Bert and Ernie finger puppets.

Jackson’s Santa game went something like this:

“Hi, I’m Santa.”
“No, I’m Santa.”
“No, I’m really Santa.”
“You’re not Santa. I’m Santa.”

Simple toys can easily entertain my grandson. But there didn’t seem to be a quick solution to his debate.

Meanwhile, Bert and Ernie were involved in an interesting discussion inside their old hang-out, the Sesame Street Barbershop.

Bert: Hey Ernie. I haven’t seen you around as much lately. What have you been doing?

Ernie: Well, Bert. I’ve been busy at Queen’s Park.

Bert: Wow. That’s amazing for somebody from the toy-box. How’s it going?

Ernie: Well, now that Mr. Mike is gone some folks are a little more relaxed.

Bert: How are you getting along with Rozanski’s report about public education funding?

Ernie: ‘Wow’ yourself, Bert. That’s a pretty serious question coming from you. I mean, last week your main concern was Big Bird’s big stomach.

At this point Jackson stood up and said, “Grandpa, you’re being silly.”

["Bert and Ernie are hiding but Sesame Street is still a busy place.": photo GH]

No argument from me on that one. However, as a retired teacher I do have opinions about some educational matters. Okay, about most things.

Bert: Your Tories took big piles of dough out of public education and got asked to put some of it back. I could have predicted that and I’m just an old plastic toy from the discard pile.

Ernie: Well, I won’t quibble with Rozanski’s suggestions, but we have to hash out how much money will be there. And you did get tax cuts. That has to count for something.

Bert: Sure. It helps me pay for the gas, water and hydro bills on Sesame Street. They’re all going up.

Bert and Ernie duked it out for a few more minutes, trying to put their main concerns on the little plastic table. Ernie thought it might be appropriate (with an election coming) to give Bert a few more bucks but Bert just wanted the kids on Sesame Street to have proper textbooks when needed.

“Grandpa Gordie! Stop playing now,” Jackson yelled down the basement stairs. “Want to go skating with me?”

“Okay, I’ll be right up. Let me put a few things away. Do you want to help? I called back, but I could already hear him running toward the front of the house to get his new skates.

Bert and Ernie were cooling down. They realized they had to live with each other on the same street at the end of the day. In fact, they often bunked down in the same room over top of the Sesame Street Grocery Store.

I opened the lid to the toy-box that once belonged to my grown boys.

Erie: Bert, I’m all talked out. Want to get something to eat at the deli?

Bert: Sure. How about a tuna sandwich and a glass of cold tap-water?

I closed the lid quickly and went to find my skates.



Please click here to read more “IT STRIKES” Again.


Monday, July 18, 2011

The Culture of Big: From motorcycle to bicycle by 2013

I’m living proof the culture of big has a tenacious grip on most North Americans.

Though I promote a ‘live small lifestyle’, I own a car, motorcycle, bicycle, rollerblades, ice skates and several pair of shoes. That’s right, I’m into fossil-fueled and muscle-powered transportation in a big way. There’s not a highway of frozen pond in Canada I can’t cruise. Plus, I’m North American (the 25 per cent Scottish variety).

But I feel my motorcycling days are numbered. After one more major solo trip in 2012, I see myself selling the 1100cc Yamaha Virago. In my mind’s eye - already! - I see myself taking mini-vacations in 2013 by bicycle.

Why the shift? There are a variety of reasons, really, and all will be shared here - in laborious detail, accompanied by more faded sepia photos that you can shake a stick at - as the process of change continues.

Some money from the sale of the Virago will go toward a mountain-style or hybrid bike and small pull-along trailer for camping gear. For $400 - 500 (not including the cost of a very healthy supply of water-proof matches) I should be on the road again, enjoying natural surroundings and “fun and fitness” activities all at the same time.

The idea is firmly planted now. And it will come to fruition by spring, 2013.

["The old Raleigh has a much smaller seat than the Virago!": photos GH]

Until then, my 10-speed Raleigh (circa 1965, so I’ve been told) will continue to reinforce the “shift idea” while preparing my hinder parts for a much smaller seat.

Have you ever pulled or packed (on your back or bike) camping gear to a nearby campground?

I’d like to hear about it.


Please click here for more about the culture of big.


Cartoon in Progress: “Life’s like that, eh” 17

“Jerry felt the darker frames added something distinctive to his overall look.”



Please click here to view “Life’s like that, eh” 16


Zoom w a View: Bobbin’ along in Port Bruce

I followed my usual routine yesterday for “a terribly hot Sunday.”

I put coffee on early, typed up and delivered my weekly column (and beat the deadline by 5 hours), then organized myself for a bike ride to Lake Erie as a cool reward.

I only need a few minutes to organize a ride. The list of things to do is memorized.

- Warm up bike. Select appropriate ‘middle-aged biker’ T-shirt. Put on jeans, no matter the temperature.

- Throw a towel, swim-shorts, notepad, pen, suntan lotion, water bottle and a few bucks into a backpack.

- Grab my helmet, gloves and cool ten-dollar shades (“As seen on TV. $400 in Hollywood. Only $10 at Canadian Tire”).

[Photos by GH]

Inside 60 minutes I was parked in an island of cool shade. I snapped photos of gulls roosting beside the boat channel. I walked to the gravel beach and noticed that the shoreline disappeared into haze in both directions, east and west.

The sound of waves slapping against the shore helped focus my attention on my ultimate mission.

I was soon bobbin’ along in the water’s restless embrace, like a young kid on a long summer vacation.


Please click here for more Zoom w a View.


Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Culture of Big: Are big fridges just cool things to have?

[“Really, if we didn’t have company over for Thanksgiving and Christmas we could probably get by with a fridge half the size 99 per cent of the time. A grocery store is less than two blocks away and I’ve heard that they’ll store food for us - even freeze it at their own expense - until we actually need it.” G. Harrison, June 28, 2011]

I said a lot of rash things in an earlier post.

I asked, “Can I live without (a) gallon size bottle of chipotle BBQ sauce?” And I answered, yes.

The answer should have been, “I can do without a gallon of the stuff, but I do like it on my burgers every once in awhile. What I need is a smaller bottle.”

Me bad.

I said, if “we shifted to a smaller fridge... we would have to live life to the fullest without the enjoyment of 42 condiments (at last count).”

Really, I was exaggerating. We only have 36 bottles of condiments. Me bad x 2.

[“I’ve heard our local grocery store will freeze this stuff for us until we actually need it.”]

However, I’m not the only person to see that smaller fridges make sense.

I read three interesting things about fridges in ‘Little House on a Small Planet’:

One - “Large and small appliances account for as much as 10 per cent of the increase in house size since 1948... (and) serious small-home dwellers take a hard look at the largest home-energy hog: the beloved fridge.” (pg. 27)

Our houses grew to accommodate larger appliances? I knew cars, trucks, Levis and hospital beds have grown to fit larger North Americans... but the fridge?

Two - “Most North American homes contain refrigerators almost twice the size of their European counterparts.”

There are actual people who get along without as much fridge space as me? I didn’t know that.

[“There’s a lot of empty space in here!”: photo by GH]

Three - “Look inside your fridge. If it is like most refrigerators in our area (e.g., North America), over half of its 18 cubic feet are empty or filled with old “C and C” (condiments and compost).”

Wow. So I’m not the only one buried in mustard jars and limp celery stalks? I feel better.

It makes me wonder. Can we shift to a culture of small that includes a smaller fridge and not go hungry? Can we live without limp lettuce?


Please click here to read more about the culture of big.


Saturday, July 16, 2011

Austerity without Anxiety: “I cut the glass in half and - voila!”

[“Skim milk is a type of diary product that generally contains less than 0.5% milk fat. It is made by removing much of the fat from whole milk and is often preferred for its nutritional value. There are many benefits to drinking skim milk, which can range from reducing body weight to building muscles and staying fit.”]

I’ve heard that skim milk is good for you.

Years ago my dad said, “Drink skim milk. It’s better for you.”

Better than what, I thought. Than a kick in the pants? I didn’t bother to ask. I took a quick drink, it was cold, then ran out the back door to the ball park to play third base for the local Juvenile fastball team. I hit a few singles and stole third base twice that night. Coincidence? You decide.

Today I drink skim milk because I still want milk in my diet, it is a great drink when really cold, and it costs less money than homogenized.

["Add cubes. Freeze your mouth off!": photo GH]

I add ice cubes on occasion to make it colder than when it comes out of the fridge. And I sometimes add half a glass of water to save on the milk content and stretch a one week’s supply to two.

I do the same (or add even more water) to most bottled juices and ice teas. I like the reduced sweetness and flavour and enjoy seeing my dollars last longer.

Some will say, “You got the money. Live it up, man!”

I say, “I actually think cutting some of my drinks in half with water is a healthy choice. Saves money too, for other, more important choices in life.”

Austerity. No anxiety. I’ll drink to that.


I’ve heard the North American diet, including a plethora of sugar- or corn syrup-sweetened fruit drinks, is not fully healthy. That it can kill you even.

I’m liking my cut-in-half habit more every day.

What else could we cut in half for our own good?

Please click here for more Austerity without Anxiety.


London’s trees: Benefit 11 - Islands of cool shade, PT 3

Now you know. Cities are “heat islands” that expand each year and are 5 - 9 degrees hotter than surrounding areas.

And London’s trees are islands of cool shade, as mentioned under Benefit 11, Why Plant a Tree? @

As the city expands I wonder if sufficient numbers of local residents and businesses will take up Reforest London’s Million Tree Challenge (i.e., plant a million trees in ten years) so that the number of trees - and islands of cool shade - will grow as well?

I don’t have the answer. I bet, however, the number of air conditioners will grow faster than trees. Many modern day home owners rely on manufactured solutions to rising temperatures rather than using a natural solution. (Astute readers will note that by depending on air-conditioners we’re putting ourselves in a “catch-44” situation. More about that another time).

That being said, a recent long walk with my grandson through islands of shade on Ferguson Place (a few blocks from my house) has inspired me to think of a natural way to erase one big nuisance of a heat island on my back deck.

["By 3 p.m. my favourite corner is a furnace.": photos GH]

Until a few years ago, the amount of shade on the deck - thanks to several trees - was just about perfect. Then, during an ice storm, a golden plum tree was knocked down, leaving a gap right where I usually sat in my favourite chair.

I think now is the right time to replace it. The Million Tree Challenge is on and my wife and I like to use the deck as often as possible to catch a breeze.

["Out" go a few ferns and a potted plant: "In" goes a wee maple."]

With a pamphlet in hand entitled ‘Choosing the Right Tree in London, Ontario’ (supplied by Julie Ryan of Reforest London), I scanned the lengthy ‘Best Choices’ section. I spotted Eastern White Pine, Ontario’s provincial tree.

Then I looked at the amount of space available to me in a corner near the deck. Pretty small. Eastern White Pine. Pretty big.

After suggesting another golden plum or lilac bush to my wife, she pointed to a neighbour’s Japanese Maple. Beautiful, we thought. Seems the right size too.

Though our choice does not appear in the ‘Best Choices’, ‘Use with Caution’ or ‘Avoid’ sections of the pamphlet, we can both see it’s a small tree or shrub that is doing well in our neighbourhood.

All I have to do now is buy one and plant it correctly.

(Reforest London has helpful suggestions for both of those tasks as well.)

You’ll be the first to know if I do a halfway-decent job and there’s a good photo to be had!


Please click here to read “Islands of cool shade” PT 2.

Climate Change Concerns: Will we be swamped by rising costs by 2045?

[$60 Billion - “The cost to insurers of natural disasters in the first half of this year, including the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, according to Munich Re (insurance company). That’s five times the average since 2001.” July 13, London Free Press]

Should we sit up and take notice, change our way of life and adopt a smaller lifestyle because the cost to insurers due to weather-related damage is increasing rather quickly?

I would say, “We need more information. I mean, 60 B doesn’t sound like a huge problem. That's less than 10 bucks per person on Earth. Surely we can scrape up that much.”

Dr. R. Nielsen writes the following:

“Only a small percentage of the losses are covered by insurance, but someone has to pay for them. E.g., only 34 per cent of Australia’s weather-related losses in 1998 were covered. In that year only 29 per cent were insured on the continent of America, 27 per cent in Europe, 7 per cent in Africa, and 4 per cent in Asia.” (pg. 103, The Little Green Handbook)

In other words, when we read that the 2011 earthquake and tsunami cost insurers 60 B, the actual cost to the population was much higher. More than 10 bucks per capita.

Nielsen would agree, and writes, “According to Munich Re... losses per decade increased from $86 billion for 1980 - 89 to $474 billion for 1990 - 99... global weather-related losses covered by insurance increased from $26.2 billion for the 1980 - 89 decade to $123.5 billion for 1990 - 99. These data show that, on average, only 26 per cent of weather-related losses were insured.”

["Curves cross in 2045. What to do?": photo GH]

So, should we sit up, adopt a smaller lifestyle asap because the cost of weather-related damage is increasing rather quickly, or just let things ride as we usually do?

Dr. Nielsen writes, “If global income is substantially greater than the losses, and if it increases at least as fast as the losses, we have nothing to worry about. There will always be enough money to repair the damage.”

My spider senses warn me there is another shoe about to drop.

He continues: "...the prospects are not encouraging, because the losses are increasing much faster than income. As we have seen, global weather-related losses per decade increased... 450 per cent in the last two decades of the 20th century. However, GWP (gross world product) increased... 33 per cent during the same period. GWP is still greater than the weather-related losses, but the losses are increasing much faster... the two calculated curves cross in 2045. If about that time we decide to repair the damage there will be no money left for anything else.”

That’s quite a big shoe, financial tsunami, even moral dilemma.

If Nielsen’s calculations are correct, or even close, then the answer to my original question [Should we sit up and take notice, change our way of life and adopt a smaller lifestyle?] has to be “yes.”

Live small and prosper.


Please click here to read more about climate change concerns.


Friday, July 15, 2011

Birdhouse London: A sturdy house for a small bird

The measuring and cutting for a set of six houses doesn’t take too long.

E.g., face 7.5 in. W., 13 in. H. Zip.

Base, 6 in. x 6 in. Rip.

Sides, 10 in. H., 7 in. W., roof line cut at 5 degrees, and so on. Zip, rip.

Drilling holes, sanding and final assembly take some time, not tons, but the details slow a person down. E.g., six framed windows, 6 painted metal signs, 6 sets of hinges for the back doors (incl. 6 latches and pulls), six doors and signs and hole dressings on the front. They all take time.

However, now they’re done and a bit of fun can begin. I get to show them off and answer a few questions from the curious child or parent.

“So, what kind of birds will live in one of these?” someone will surely ask.

“English sparrows, finches, chickadees. The occasional swallow,” I’ll say.

“Can I actually get free flyin’ lessons,” a youngster might ask.

I’ll say, “Of course you can. Your parents will arrange everything.”

["Free lessons, no problem.": photos by GH]

“Are these signs meant to be funny?” a young (sometimes old) twirp might ask.

“Yes, but not everybody fully catches on to my sharp wit,” I’ll say.



Another day in the workshop is about to begin. What’s on the menu this week, I wonder?


Please click here for more about birdhouses.