Friday, September 30, 2011

Climate Change Concerns: PT 1 “Ice shelves disappear under our noses”

[“Features that we consider to be part of the map of Canada are disappearing and they won’t come back.” D. Mueller, researcher at Carleton University, as reported in London Free Press, Sept. 28]

When I read the first two sentences in a recent small news blurb several thoughts came to mind.

“Canada’s coastline is changing because ice shelves are breaking up faster than expected, experts say. Almost 50 per cent of the ice shelves have been lost in the past six years...” Sept. 28, London Free Press.

I thought of my own recent column, i.e., ‘Commuters and consumers face more frustration’ (Sept. 22, The Londoner), in which I warned that frustration related to traffic congestion and high fuel costs are nothing compared to the effects of carbon emissions and climate change.

I thought something I mentioned in the column is directly related to the news blurb. Someone must be reading my stuff!

I wrote, “Still, as we pull items off shelves in local Wal-Marts, Dollar Stores and Canadian Tire stores etc., it's important to know we contribute our fair share to coal-fired production in China, thick pollution in highly-industrialized regions, the increase in toxic pollution in the Canadian north, the erosion of shorelines in Inuit villages and the melting of ice shelves in the Canadian Arctic.” (Please click here to link to full column.)

Other thoughts quickly sprang to mind.

More to follow.


Please click here to read more Climate Change Concerns.


Series of Significance: “Frustrated about traffic congestion? Greater concerns are coming.”

PT 1 “Frustrated about traffic congestion?”

[“The survey found that traffic congestion is the biggest frustration for all commuters. More public transit means less congestion, another message that has to be delivered forcefully and effectively.” Aug. 27, J. Hendry, London Free Press]

Each year many of us are spending more and more time in our cars. We love them.

We’re driving more miles in more comfort than ever before now that seat warmers are becoming standard fare. Our rear ends love them.

Urban sprawl has created longer commuting times and the automobile is seemingly the fastest and most convenient method of travel for most workers. The economy loves cars.

Cars come equipped with so many other creature comforts (“Kids, wanna watch a movie?”) and conveniences (“The bus stop is three blocks away. The car sits outside my front door, waiting to serve.”) most people will never give them up. Our children love cars too.

But, our addiction level is in the red zone.

So, when city leaders wonder how they will ever get commuters out of cars and onto electric trolleys, diesel-fueled buses or light rail in order to reduce congestion and pollution levels, they’re up against the power of love, comfort, convenience and addiction.

["The 1961 Falcon had a nifty air-venting system..."]

City leaders, along with urban thinkers, environmentalists, bicycle enthusiasts, and other concerned citizens, will face a great challenge when attempting to reduce the number of drivers on the road.

One writer, Jim Hendry, suggests ‘forceful messaging’ and a “well-publicized 50% off day - or even ride free day” to get people to try public transit. (Aug. 27, London Free Press)

About that, all I can say is, “Good try, Jim.”

Recent discussion about commuting times and costs have caused me to rethink my own relationship with the 2005 Honda Civic that sits outside my own front door. I don’t love it, but I do like it enough to keep feeding it. Where did this connection all start?

Like many other boomers (people born between 1947 and 1966) I developed an appreciation for the auto back in my teens. My dad’s 1957 Dodge and 1961 Falcon stand out in my memories, cars that didn’t totally suck in appearance or performance and got me around town and to the movies in a very reliable and fun-filled manner. (The Falcon had a nifty air-venting system that included a small box - with a fairly easy-to-reach door near the driver’s left knee - that was big enough in which to hide two beers in stubby bottles. Put them in warm, pull them out cool, even cold, after a short drive. That feature is one I’ll never forget).

The first car I bought - to get to work across town - was a well-used 1964 Volkswagen, for $400, with no working heater or gas gauge. My wife and I rubbed our hands together a lot in the winter, kept the defroster on high, and, because the reserve tank didn’t work, checked the fuel level by sticking the butt end of a hockey stick (one came with the car) into the gas tank.

Our later cars were in better shape but, if given the opportunity to get one of my earlier cars back, I’d ask for the Volkswagen, dented hood and all.

Twice in my life I’ve tried living without a car, the first time (mid-1970s) because money was really tight, the second time (about 7 - 8 years ago) in order to see if my wife and I could survive without one. Both instances ended with another car purchase, for reasons that seem applicable to the current discussion related to people’s feelings about commuting.

My feelings: Though a recent survey found that traffic congestion is the biggest frustration for all commuters (I bet the love we have for our vehicles decreases in direct proportion to the amount of time we spend sucking carbon monoxide from the back of somebody else’s pickup), I think congestion should be the least of our worries.

PT 2 “Frustrated about traffic congestion? Greater concerns are coming.”

[“Entering Linfen (China) is like entering another dimension. At dusk, when pollution levels are highest, it’s difficult to see more than twenty feet in front of you. As I take a left turn into my hotel driveway, two people wearing surgical masks appear on bicycles as if out of nowhere; they emerge from the smog. It’s surreal.” Pg. 63, You Are Here by T. M. Kostigen]

Oh, the frustration of it all.

According to a recent survey report from Stats Canada, “the average commute for Canadians in 2010 was 26 minutes, but longer on average for those who live in big cities.” (London Free Press, Aug. 25, 2011)

I can hear the grinding of teeth already. Can you?

And according to a survey by Workopolis, average Canadian workers “spend $269 a month on costs related to working out of the house.” (London Free Press, same date)

Sure, we love our cars, are addicted to their comfort and convenience, but congestion and costs are so frustrating, believe me. After all, the Stats Can report stated that traffic congestion is the biggest frustration for all commuters.

Some will ask, “When will it end? How can I cut time off my commute?”

Traffic congestion and the dent in our wallets, however, should be the least of our worries. Though we love our cars, and the struggling economy loves our cars (“Buy more of them, please!” say car manufacturers), one day - likely sooner than later -there will be a much bigger price to pay than a mere $269 per month.

T.M. Kostigen mentions the following related matters in You Are Here [Exposing the vital link between what we do and what that does to the planet]:

“A figure that sticks in my brain is the number of items the typical US household has: ten thousand. In the US we shop until we drop, but it takes a lot of energy to manufacture all that stuff. Moreover, it takes a lot of fuel to transport it - and us - to stores. Energy for transportation and manufacturing causes the most pollution.” pg. 58

Undoubtedly, rising fuel costs will only make commuting in the future more expensive. And if more cars are manufactured and purchased per capita in Canada and the US, congestion will only increase as well. If we build more roads, we’ll continue to build more cars to fill them, only extending the already very frustrating cycle of rising costs and congestion. Oh, the inhumanity of it all!

And then, more importantly, there’s the increase in pollution, carbon emissions, rising average global temperatures and climate instability. Talk about your inhumanity.

About one of the world’s giant centers of manufacturing and pollution, Kostigen says,

“The reason Linfen (China) and the province in which it is located are so polluted is coal plants. There are forests of coal plants here. A new one gets built every four days. Coal is cheap to burn and easy to derive power from. And these days, China needs a lot of power...

“Coal plants supply electricity to the nearby cities, towns, and villages, but more so to the industrial plants that manufacture products - products, of course, that are shipped all around the world.

“Manufacturing is the real culprit in creating air pollution. With exports on pace to break one trillion dollars, China is leading the pack in terms of economic growth in the world market. At the same time, China has surpassed the United States when it comes to carbon emissions and is now the world’s leading polluter on a total tonnage basis.” pg. 62

Readers may ask, “Why mention China in a post about commuting and traffic congestion?”

Read on...


PT 3 “Frustrated about traffic congestion? Greater concerns are coming.”

[“The reason Linfen (China) and the province in which it is located are so polluted is coal plants. There are forests of coal plants here. A new one gets built every four days. Coal is cheap to burn and easy to derive power from. And these days, China needs a lot of power...” You Are Here, T.M. Kostigen]

Rising fuel prices will make North American commuting more expensive and it’s already a frustrating activity.

Our continued rampant consumption (of cars, fuel, manufactured goods) will only increase the congestion commuters already face day in, day out.

Then, related to the above frustrations, there’s China and growing pollution problems there.

Why mention China in a post about commuting?

Because, when we’re not driving our shiny black SUV or pickup to work, we’re driving it to a big box store and parking our soon-to-be XXL body behind a shopping cart the size of a ’64 Volkswagen. You think commuting costs and congestion are frustrating. Try climate change on for size.

In the book You Are Here, T.M. Kostigen shares his thoughts in a more polite manner.

He writes, “To reduce its air pollution to be on par with stable climate levels, China will have to reduce carbon emissions by 80 per cent - a seemingly impossible task. But there are alternatives that can be sought - cleaner energy, cleaner coal even. And then there’s our participation in this mess.”

See? “Our participation...” Very polite.

He continues, “About 25 percent of the pollution - and 35 percent of carbon dioxide emissions - in China comes from manufacturing goods for export to Western countries. Interestingly, as much as 25 percent of the pollution in Los Angeles comes from the emissions of coal plants - coal plants in China, that is - the winds carry it across the sea.” pg. 64

Many North Americans already know about the links between their commuting (and some job-related activities, driving to the mall, and many areas of consumption) and climate change. (As a result some people are travelling more kilometers/miles on bicycles. Some are decluttering, buying less stuff. Some are car-pooling, taking public transit. Still, carbon emissions in many countries continue to rise except when they are in the grips of an economic recession and rising unemployment.)

Some North Americans also know that when the US economy is humming the air quality in Ontario goes downhill due to the emissions from coal-fired power plants in the Ohio Valley, south of my home in London and Lake Erie. But it was a surprise for me to learn that China is not only exporting many goods of questionable quality to the US but their smog and pollution as well.

About the goods and the smog Kostigen writes, “We (in the US) are contributing to our own demise and health hazards by the products that we buy and the choices we make. The United States is China’s second largest trade partner. Americans buy more than $300 billion worth of goods each year that are made in China.”

Of course, with a much smaller population, Canada purchases far fewer goods from China. Still, as we pull items off shelves in local Wal-Marts, Dollar Stores and Canadian Tire stores, it’s instructive to know we are contributing our fair share to coal-fired production in China, the increase in toxic pollution in the Canadian north, the erosion of shorelines in Inuit villages and the melting of ice shelves in the Canadian Arctic.

Unfortunately, in my opinion, most North Americans are at present fully committed to commuting in cars and will be for some time. A car’s comfort and convenience wins the day.

Most will continue to shop until they drop and only feel a mild to irritating sense of frustration because roads are congested and costs of travelling are high.

["Measure the 'cool' factor vs the 'warming' factor."]

Even as congestion and costs grow in the future - and they surely will - most North Americans will hang onto their cars like an addict to his drug of choice.

While commuting and shopping, should congestion and the price of fuel be our chief concerns?


Please click here to read more about Climate Change Concerns.


The Workshop: “From the box, to the bench, and beyond”

I like busy times in the workshop. The place smells great, CBC Radio is entertaining, and the thought that my latest batch of birdhouses will one day be home to wee feathered creatures warm up the joint (a reclaimed, refurbished dirt-floor garage from the 1930s).

By the middle of next week two boxes of bits and pieces will be empty, eighteen birdhouses will be assembled, most flat surfaces in the shop will be covered and the chop saw and sander will be humming to produce trim from leftover rescued lumber.

I’ll take more photos once trim and oil have been added to those houses that need a bit of ‘sprucing up.’

["Some need trim; others do not. Busy times ahead": photos G. Harrison]

And I’ll drop the ‘faded sepia style’ so that the true colours appear.

Until then, talk amongst yourselves!


Please click here for more from The Workshop.


Thursday, September 29, 2011

Long-term Thinking PT 3: “Admit you are in debt. Seek advice.”

[“What to do about rising household costs? Look at your biggest expenses, i.e., housing, transportation, food, clothes, communication (e.g., cell phones), entertainment (movies, cable TV), etc. Ask yourself hard questions about each.” G.Harrison, Sept. 27]

By now a few Canadian households have taken my advice to “reduce spending, pay down debt, and save money for the tough times ahead.”

They are de-emphasizing ‘living for today’ and are hiding a few acorns in safe places (e.g., a piggy bank) for the long winter ahead. They are not just thinking about their own generation but their children’s generation as well.

According to an expert in personal financial planning, only a few people are doing this.

“The average Canadian continues to add debt... (but) it’s never too late to get out from under it and save (for example) for retirement.” Aug. 9, London Free Press)

Marc Lamontangne says “Success comes down to common sense, hard work and disciple.”

I recommend those in debt use some of his strategies to help them start living under their means and practice long-term thinking.

["Can't dig your way out? Ask for help."]

Marc suggests the following strategies:

prepare a weekly/monthly budget to track expenses

figure out where your money goes every month

download software packages to help organize and categorize expenses

ask a certified financial planner to design a plan to pay off debts

rather than a revolving line of credit, arrange a more disciplined fixed-rate loan that has to be paid off in full each month

(Author’s note: My wife and I did that to pay off home reno costs. We now know exactly when we will be free of debt. Mortgage and car payments are already zero.)

when debt is paid off, start working on other goals, such as retirement or children’s post-secondary education

Lamontagne expresses optimism for those who are over 40 and who wish to live well as seniors. They simply must “become serious about paying off debt and saving money.”

["That's one fine pig."]

Admittedly, my advice in an earlier post was brilliant. I.e., “Look at your biggest expenses... ask yourself hard questions about each. E.g., Can we survive with a smaller car?”

Lamontagne’s is brillianter. If your spending habits have landed you inside a deep hole, seek advice and assistance. Take a step to becoming a long-term thinker.


Please click here to read “Long-term Thinking PT 2: Families are in the danger zone.”


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

London’s Small Houses: “Have we stopped building them?”

I cycled past this house last Sunday - I was on a ramble - and wondered who lived there. Someone short like me?

["There are many lovely small houses in Old South": photo GH]

I like small houses because my wife (also relatively short) and I fit well inside a cozy space.

When this particular house on Cynthia St. in Old South (between Byron and Askin St.) was built in the 1930s or ‘40s, however, I bet it held more than a husband and wife.

Would you be surprised if you learned it once was home to a mom and dad and three kids? I suppose your answer depends on when you were born.

For example, I was born in 1949 and my four siblings and I shared two bedrooms in the upstairs of a small century-old house in a village 40 miles east of London.

I notice this house (800 - 900 sq. ft.) not only has a lovely porch but a small upstairs as well, and years ago it was very common for kids to share a bedroom. (Some still do, but I hear that it’s not the norm. Please note; I'm rambling).

Today, I bet a retired couple live inside, with one car for the small driveway. And with more people retiring, I think this kind of house would get snapped up in a second if it was priced reasonably.

Would you raise a family here or consider this house as a retirement home?

Do we still build houses this size? If not, why not?


Please click here to view another small house.


The Simple Life: “Coffee beans, hot java, Irish stew”

I like getting up in the morning. Any other time of the day would be too late, and I’d feel like I missed something.

This morning, as soon as my feet hit the floor, my mind turned to a few simple - but very enjoyable - tasks at hand:

pull two pots of Irish stew from the fridge

turn on two slow cookers

and brew a pot of coffee.

Members of my hockey team are visiting my workshop for supper after the game today, thus the Irish stew.

(I suppose it could be called Scottish stew as well. There likely aren’t too many differences between the two kinds, though the Scots would likely throw in a pint of Scottish pale ale instead of the Guinness I used for this latest batch. Sorry, I digress).

["Irish stew will fill the house with its delicious aromas": photos GH]

Ahh, coffee. I love the ritual. Take one or two kinds of beans from the freezer. Grind them in the little electric gadget my son gave me for Christmas many years ago. Put some on to brew.

Then, whilst the kitchen starts to smell and feel like it’s inside the finest home in all the land, grind more beans - enough for a second pot later in the day, maybe some for tomorrow and Friday.

Sure, the economy and global financial scene are in crisis mode and we all may soon have to change our expectations in life - at the very least in the material sense - but, with my two feet firmly planted in a warm kitchen, I now feel ready for another day.



The simple life. Live small. Live slow. Add coffee. Not a bad recipe.

Please click here for more about the simple life.

And here too.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

This Old Economist: A reader makes a good suggestion

Yesterday I wrote a short piece entitled “Household debt will crush many dreams” to emphasize that not enough Canadians are are buying into my mantra - reduce spending, pay down debt, save money for tough times ahead.

I listed a few financial numbers regarding Canadian household debt, e,g, ‘though national net worth rose by 1.2%, fewer home owners can afford their assets.’

I summarized with the following astute observation:

This would be a good time to look for a small house close to mass transit.

Then I asked, what recommendation would you make?

A reader said...

Small house with large garden in a small town near a bigger city near a water way. HMMMM........St Thomas, Pt Stanley?

Mass transit will be $$$ as well as your gas dollars and I do not credit city planners with enough foresight to keep mass transit running.

So I believe in better relations with neighbours.

["Will a smaller lifestyle in a small town be all-together healthier?": photo GH]

Thot: Maybe with better neighbourhood relations, fences will come down and cooperative backyard gardens will flourish.

I like the reader’s idea re small town life in which mass transit is not as important.

I wrote:

Anonymous, very interesting comment. I grew up in a small town and liked the close relationships that developed. I'm sure the same would happen today.

Today I'm spoiled - I live inside a small village, i.e., Wortley Village, inside London, w a bus stop 80 meters from my porch, and all the groceries and hardware I need less than 2 min. away by bicycle. 

I don't know if there is a small town in Ontario that could pry me loose. But your suggestions are still excellent.


Is small town living the way to go, with good relationships with neighbour to keep open doors when tough times roll?


Please click here for more from This Old Economist.


Ollie and Me: Ten minutes with The Supremes

I was searching Google Images yesterday for a picture of The Supremes. “Where Did Our Love Go?’ (from YouTube) was playing on my computer.

Grandson Ollie heard the song, entered my study and studied the screen with me during a sweet ten minute visit.

["I know where some of my love goes": photo GH]

“Who are they?” he asked as the music played.

Where does one begin?


Please click here for more Ollie and Me and the next Elvis.


Austerity Without Anxiety: “Oh yeah. Used jeans look hot.”

I suggest to you there are people in the world who would take one long look at me and ask themselves, “Should I do what Harrison does and buy used jeans that are actually better looking on him than I imagined?”

Really. How could they not?

I mean, I do. I look down at my pretty feet that hang out of the bottoms of my pretty jeans (hot, hot, hot) and look forward to my next trip to Value Village.

["Pretty feet. How can you think otherwise?": photo by G. Harrison]

Right now I’m thinking, maybe by next June I’ll need another pair at about $6.99.

What do you think about when you see my pretty feet and used jeans?

Hey, be nice! (Remember, the blog is entitled It Strikes Me Funny, so you’ve got to expect quirky every once in awhile).


Please click here to read more Austerity Without Anxiety.


Long-term Thinking PT 2: Families are in the danger zone

[“In many, many ways - financially (e.g., so many Canadian families are deep in debt), economically, socially, environmentally - we need to develop our long-term thinking ability.” G. Harrison, Sept. 24]

Most Canadians aren’t long-term thinkers. They live for the moment, not thinking of thirty to forty years down the road.

As a result, many families will face grave difficulties in the future regarding their retirement, pensions, personal finances, the length of their grocery list.

I shared the world’s best example (that I know of so far) of long-term thinking in an earlier post that touched on the usefulness of an ancient oak grove.

Yes, most Canadian families who appreciate the value of trees are miles off the mark set by one wee architect who made excellent use of a bagful of acorns over 350 years ago, and they’re way off the mark set by their parents and many other people who once owned a piggy bank and deposited weekly stipends like clock work.

Recently I read the following:

Canadian household debt continues to rise

the ratio of household debt to disposable income stands at 149 to 100

the number of Canadians vulnerable to an economic shock has risen to its highest level in nine years
(Sept. 14, London Free Press)

And there’s more.

[Please click here for more details in an earlier post.]

Many households face a downtown in lifestyle during the current recession and in the future. Not only is the cost of extra-curricular activities and back-to-school expenses stressing out many families, but after-the-bell sports for youngsters (e.g., hockey, with costs averaging over $1,000 per season) push many over the top. (Sept. 21, London Free Press)

What to do?

Look at your biggest expenses, i.e., housing, transportation, food, clothes, communication (e.g., cell phones), entertainment (movies, cable TV), etc.

Ask yourself hard questions about each.

“Can we live without cable? Can we survive with a smaller car? Can we move to a smaller home to save on mortgage and heating bills?”

["What's the recipe for a healthy home?": photo GH]

“Can our Levis last for another season? Should I do what Harrison does and buy used jeans that are actually better looking on him than I imagined?”

There’s no doubt in my mind that many Canadians - with some effort - can make improvements to their current financial situation and I’m certain that 100% of Canadians would do great good to their future financial picture, as well as the environment, if they reduced spending now, paid down debt and saved money for the tough times ahead.

Let’s get out of the danger zone, financially and environmentally.


Please click here to read Long-term Thinking PT 1: The world's best example


Monday, September 26, 2011

A $$ Conundrum: “No, don’t take it. Yes, take it.”

Put the following statements into the air space inside the average Canadian’s head and watch a conundrum occur... or a wee explosion of sorts.

One. Canadian policy makers warn Canadians against taking on too much debt.

I don’t know how the message is being delivered, but I guess it’s out there, at least according to my local newspaper.

Two. In Canada, many mortgages and consumer loans are at historically low rates.

Really, inside the lunch bucket I call a head I hear conflicting thoughts. “Gord, don’t take on more debt. Wait a minute, money is cheaper than ever before. Don’t take out a loan. But it’s so cheap. Stand back. Come here. Go away. Come back. No. Yes. Kiss me. Yuck.”

It’s like the conundrum described in ‘Where Did Our Love Go?’, a famous song by The Supremes.

Sing it with me with help from YouTube:

Baby, baby
Baby don't leave me
Ooh, please don't leave me
All by myself.

I've got this yearning, burning
Yearning feelin' inside me
Ooh, deep inside me
And it hurts so bad.

You came into my heart
So tenderly
With a burning love
That stings like a bee.

Now that I surrender
So helplessly
You now wanna leave
Ooh, you wanna leave me.

Ooh, baby, baby
Where did our love go?
Ooh, don't you want me
Don't you want me no more?

Really? The banks don’t want us no more? The heads of average Canadians will likely soon explode.

However, since I believe many Canadians will face even greater debt concerns in the future than they are at present, I suggest we face the conundrum in the following ways:

Though money is very cheap right now, make every effort to live under your means.

So, reduce spending, pay down debt, save money for the tough times ahead.

Stay in your apartment or small house. Think about getting a roommate to help with expenses.

What will you do to survive financially?


Please click here to read more about living small.


This Old Economist: “Household debt will crush many dreams”

Not enough Canadians are are buying into my mantra -reduce spending, pay down debt, save money for tough times ahead.

Some may be trying to live under their means for the first time in history, but according to the latest news, “Canadian household debt continued to rise in the second quarter (i.e., Q2, April to June; results aren’t in yet for Q3) as individuals took out more mortgages at historically low rates and obtained consumer loans...” Sept. 14, London Free Press.

Admittedly, homebuyers may feel they’re getting the deal of a lifetime (i.e., hysterically low mortgage rates may prompt hubby to say, “Come on, Dear. We can finally afford that big house in my favourite suburb.”) but... and this is a big but... there is a downside to taking the cheap mortgage plunge.

I agree with how the downside was reported in the Free Press: “Policy makers have warned Canadians against taking on too much debt, especially as interest rates can only go up over time and some may find themselves unable to afford their debt payments.”

We’re going the wrong way according to the numbers.

household debt compared to income is rising

the number of Canadians vulnerable to adverse economic shock is at the highest level in nine years

per capita net worth declined in Q2, including pension assets

government net debt and corporate debt-to-equity rose in Q2

though national net worth rose by 1.2%, fewer home owners can afford their assets

My recommendation: This would be a good time to look for a small house close to mass transit.

What recommendation would you make?


Please click here for more from This Old Economist.


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Austerity Without Anxiety: “These boots are made for walkin’...”

Walkin’ to the workshop, that is. They’re made for walkin’ to the compost bin too.

And for stopping to feed the birds on the way. And for cutting the grass, especially when it’s a titch damp outside.

["Like Thomas the Train, the boots are useful.": photo GH]

I purchased the rain boots many, many, many years ago, and because the depth of puddles in Wortley Village never got up to the tops of the boots but once (Remember the storm of ’77?), I tossed them into a corner in the basement and forgot about them... for many, many years.

Now they get lots of use. Instead of buying some ‘work-around-the-house’ boots a while back, I went looking for my old rain boots, found them covered in dust, washed them off, cut off the uppers and placed them on the steps inside the back door.

I slip them onto my feet several times per week. I left a tab at the back to help pull them on. Wasn't that clever?

When winter comes, I switch to fur-lined boots, but ‘til then, the rubber cut-offs do lots of walkin’.

And tamping earth down into holes in the lawn after a local skunk digs for grubs.

And edging the lawn in spring...


Please click here for more Austerity Without Anxiety.


Saturday, September 24, 2011

Long-term Thinking PT 1: The world’s best example

In many, many ways - financially (e.g., so many Canadian families are deep in debt), economically, socially, environmentally - we need to develop our long-term thinking ability.

I want to give you an excellent example of long-term thinking, then suggest its benefits and encourage its use, because I think the average person has this valuable commodity in short supply.

I would feel, oh, so important and wise, if I could give you a great personal example, but I can’t.

Yes, I’ve done some little things well. I have an RRSP that I won’t touch until I’m 69. I’m judiciously paying down manageable debt. I’m am looking to buy a three-wheeled truck to save on transportation costs. I have several pairs of sturdy used jeans with stretchy waists in the closet waiting for use. But - and this is a big but - I’m short on powerful personal examples.

However, I came across the following paragraph or two in The Sacred Balance by David Suzuki. It jumped out at me as the best example of long-term thinking I’d read in a long time, if not 62 years.

“At New College in Oxford, England, the huge oak beams of the university’s main hall are some 12 metres long and 0.5 metres thick.”

[“Or, 20 inches thick, from ground to pencil mark.”]

[“And 40 feet long, from post to sawhorse”: photos GH]

“In 1985, dry rot had finally weakened them so much that they needed to be replaced. If oak trees of such size could have been found in England, they would have cost about US $250,000 per log for a total replacement cost of around US $50 million.”

(I have to ask myself, is there a university on the planet that would spend $50 million on such repairs? Chances are very slim.)

“Then the university forester informed the administrators that when the main hall had been built 350 years earlier, the architects had instructed that a grove of oak trees be planted and maintained so that when dry rot set in, about three and a half centuries later, the beams could be replaced. Now that is long-term planning...” pg. 315

Yes, that’s long-term planning or thinking. It is also ‘rare’ long-term thinking - perhaps the best example in the world - and we may be hard pressed to find other similar examples. (If you know of one, please let me know).

We certainly would find few examples if we studied the financial picture of the average Canadian family or the use of our natural resources and surroundings.

More to follow.


Please click here to read a post related to short-term thinking and climate change concerns.


Cartoon in Progress: “Life’s like that, eh” 29

Author’s Note - In the cartoon below I feature my fourth set of look-alikes. In other words, so far, I’ve used look-alikes in 14 per cent my cartoons. Is that significant? I’m not sure. Coincidentally, my look-alike lives three blocks from my house and regularly scares the jumping bejeepers out of me ("Is that me wearing a purple shirt?") at the local grocery store.

“Though they’d spent their life savings, the twins felt the trip abroad to find themselves would be totally worth it.”



Please click here to view “Life’s like that, eh” 28.


Friday, September 23, 2011

Live Small and Prosper PT 5: “I love my three-wheeled truck”

Falcon Heights (the hopefully soon-to-be reopened Ford Talbotville plant, once home to Ford Falcons and Crown Vics) is the size of a large village and could easily accommodate two of my wishes on my long and healthy wish list.

["Falcon Heights. The plant is empty... for now."]

One. I wish for a peppy three-wheeled truck, 500cc engine is plenty, mainly for urban use. Made in Canada.

Two. I wish for an enclosed adult tricycle (or funcycle) to fill my main travelling needs inside London. Made in Canada.

["Made in the USA. It gives me an idea!": photo and info link]

Falcon Heights is so big it could also be home to a hundred other useful, sustainable enterprises. (See PT 4, link below)

For example: Recycled plastic could be reused in picnic tables, chairs, benches and dozens of other products built on site.

Most of us know recycling-reusing types of industries can and should be done in every corner of every country.

Here’s one of several benefits I read about recently in You Are There by T.M. Kostigen:

“We can and should accentuate the positive news about recycling efforts. Already, by recycling nearly 7 million tons of metals a year on average, (the US) eliminates greenhouse gas emissions totaling close to 6.5 million metric tons.” pg. 128

Many readers will know my suggestion about making “picnic tables, chairs, benches (etc.)” is not new.

For example, Kostigen mentions that “Brazil generates so much plastic bottle waste that they actually make park benches out of them.”

With unemployment at high levels in both Canada and the US (What’s it like in your area?), new industries established in closed plants could become the heart beat for many laid off workers.

Yesterday I listed several enterprises that could fit under the roof at Falcon Heights and another idea popped into my head (actually two - can you guess what they are?) after reading about the new career path one laid-off Ford worker pursued.

This from :

Paul Corriveau has worked at Ford for the past 11 years and will punch in for his last midnight shift this Thursday. He says it's a painful time for everyone.

For Corriveau, the end of the line means he can spend more time developing his company which launched three years ago due to the expected closure, i.e., "Railway City Brewery".

Since it's launch the brewery has garnered some clout winning Gold for its Iron Spike Amber beer and a People’s Choice Award for the Iron Spike Copper at the Ontario Brewing Awards.

[Please click here for the full story.]      

My thot - maybe Corriveau could be persuaded to expand into Falcon Heights or assist another new brewer. That’s idea number one.

Number two. You can’t brew beer without... ... hops.

Falcon Heights is proud owner of fine arable land. Does anyone know how to grow and harvest hops? It would be good, healthy work.

Other ideas have also come to mind for list of ‘Falcon Heights enterprises’:

Bicycles from recycled parts and metals

Second hand clothing store

Flea markets for home crafts

Food markets stocked with homegrown produce

Food vendors selling ready-made meals from local meats and vegetables

Birdhouse Shed, selling wee houses from rescued lumber (I have somebody already in mind for this spot)

Any other ways to make Falcon Heights a productive plant once again?


Please click here to read Live Small and Prosper PT 4: “I love my three-wheeled truck”


“IT STRIKES” Again: Plug in and find out just what’s being done to lower your hydro bill

[The following column was first published in February, 2003. We use hydro even to this day so my thoughts might still be relevant. Hey, it could happen. Why such a long title? The Londoner was much wider eight years ago. gah]

Plug in and find out just what’s being done to lower your hydro bill

I like hydro. Without it my toes would be blue right now because the room I’m in isn’t insulated. I wouldn’t be able to wail away pathetically with Tom Waits on CD in the privacy of my home. My computer would be cold and silent too.

But I wonder a bit about the amount of my hydro bill and the many hands that reach into my pocket when I fetch my wallet.

The bill was due today. To escape the $2.22 late penalty I drove to the London Hydro office at 111 Horton to drop off a cheque and ask questions about two monthly charges.

I had tried, unsuccessfully, to get answers by visiting their website and calling their office.

On their website I did learn the power lines in London are “fully owned, operated and maintained by London Hydro”. Oh good. I read that “London Hydro generates revenue through a fee charged for distributing electricity”. Great.

I also discovered while waiting eight minutes on the phone I can’t be easily entertained by their canned music from the ‘60s. (“Sugar pie, honey bunch, you know that I love you!”) Yeah, right. Just pick up the phone.

So with certain questions still in mind I walked into the Hydro building.

[Please click here to read someone else's thots re London Hydro]

Inside their door was a sign declaring in bold yellow letters - ‘Rapid Payment System’. The ‘system’ was a large yellow box into which I could deposit my cheque. I slam-dunked my bill into the nearest slot as quickly as possible. Slam. Dunk. I finished with a flourish. How rapid was that?

After passing through a set of double doors I asked a vigilant security guard if there was someone I could speak to about my questions.

He said, “You can call customer service from one of the small rooms behind me.”

I looked behind him. Desk, chairs, two phones. No real people.

“Will I be waiting as long here as I would at home?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” the guard answered. “It’s the same number though.”

Disappointed, I shook my head and walked into a cubicle, noting the instructions next to the phone. I dialed 5503 and got an unexpected, immediate answer.

“Hello. How can I help you?” a kind voice asked.

“Hi.” I shuffled and arranged a few papers. “I have a couple of questions about my bill. I’m wondering about the extra 4.22 per cent I paid this month for ‘Total Loss Factor’. What is that?”

“Well, electricity is an energy that’s not 100 per cent containable,” replied the voice. “It’s lost in a variety of ways during distribution. All users pay for this loss.”

I asked, “On a graduated scale? Like, if someone uses more hydro in their home than I do, will they pay more for the loss of hydro?”

“Yes. This charge is based on consumption,” came the reply.

(I think I get it. We’re charged for hydro that’s lost on the way to our homes. We don’t lose it, we don’t use it, but we pay for it. Plus, we pay GST on this lost energy. Don’t you just love science fiction?)

I continued, “What about the ‘Debt Retirement Charge.’ How long will it take us to clear off the debt? 5 years? 10 years? 100? What’s the word around the office?”

“That charge is based on consumption too. And I think it’s for about 6 years. Although it could be like the GST,” answered the friendly voice.

The comment about the GST struck me as totally honest, spontaneous. I said, laughing, “Right. Okay. Hey, thanks for your help.” I hung up.

As I walked out of the Hydro building and passed three chatting guards I stopped smiling. I patted my back pocket to feel if my wallet was still there.



Please click here to read another exciting episode of “IT STRIKES” Again.


Cartoon in Progress: “Life’s like that, eh” 28

Author’s note - I feel I need to say a few words. My friend larry never swears. He hates it when other people do. So, he gets a new job at the local printing company and is slow catching onto all his duties and his boss swears at him on a regular basis. Larry hates that. But the boss, see, is a big cheese eater too. He leaves blocks of old, strong cheese on all his shelves. Don’t ask me why. Anyway, Larry hates more than the boss’s swearing and cursing. My gosh, the boss's bad breath could drive buzzards off a gut wagon. I’m sure you’d sympathize with Larry if you were in his shoes. Maybe this cartoon would work better if Larry worked at a cheese factory. Maybe I’ve said too much.

“It was more than the boss’s foul language that bothered Larry”



Please click here to view “Life’s like that, eh” 27


Austerity without Anxiety: Le jus du feves (and it’s free)

Excuse my Gr. 9 French. I’m very rusty. Plus, I didn’t always pay attention to M. Duvellieux, if that really was his name.

However, when I opened the fridge door this morning to look for something cold to sip (perhaps even to splash in my face while coffee brewed), I spied a drink so outside the box I felt it needed a unique name.

["Such a fine cold drink": photo GH]

Le jus du feves cannot be purchased in a store. It is found - free of charge - in one’s steamer after steaming vegetables for supper.

In my case, while I enjoyed steamed yellow and green beans for last evening’s meal, le jus was chillin’ in the fridge.

And a few moments ago, I - still in my jammies - watched shards of gray cloud fly across the sky above my back deck whilst sipping a cold, refreshing glass (did I mention it’s free?) of la jus du feves avec real vitamins.


I only know one other person who drinks steamer water.

Raise your hand if you do too. Or comment about a free drink you enjoy.

Please click here for more Austerity without Anxiety about Apricot Jam.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Live Small and Prosper PT 4: “I love my three-wheeled truck”

[“Our local and provincial governments should put their heads together and find a way to reopen the Ford Talbotville plant and manufacture small three-wheeled trucks.” G. Harrison, Sept.21]

In the future - when I own my three-wheeled truck - my monthly transportation costs (car payment, insurance, gasoline, repairs) will be lower than at any other time in my life, except for the two times my wife and I did without a car.

And driving around Wortley Village to pick up groceries and the odd bag of nails in a three-wheeled truck will make me the outstanding rebel of the entire community.

I so look forward to driving a new “Made in Canada” vehicle, the cheaper costs and my top position in the Village’s pecking order. (I’ll try to remain humble).

Of course, a large committee of politicians and community leaders still need to meet and formulate a plan to REOPEN and REUSE the now closed Ford Talbotville plant outside London, Ontario as a three-wheeled truck maker, and - just as important, eh - a manufacturer still needs to build them.

[“Let’s REOPEN Ford Talbotville aka Falcon Heights”: photo link]

The plant is absolutely huge. Three-wheeled truck making won’t fill the place, so perhaps the aforementioned committee will consider other uses for the building at the same time.

For example, I see my three-wheeled truck as the second-last vehicle in my life. Once fuel prices get right out of control (“It’s stratospheric, Baby, stratospheric!”) I’ll talk my wife into sharing an industrial tricycle with enclosed cab and small red cedar box on the back (homemade, perhaps) for carting our weekly groceries and specialty beverages.

[“I see red paint and a red cedar box on this perky model”: photo link]

The REOPENED plant, aka Falcon Heights (a Ford Falcon was the first car off the line in 1967), could be home to a hundred other useful, sustainable enterprises as well.

For example:

Recycled plastic could be reused in picnic tables, chairs, benches and dozens of other products built on site

Rescued lumber could be reused in birdhouses, tables, chairs, boxes (for the back of adult funcycles) and dozens of other products built on site

Local landfills or refuse destined for landfills could be mined and sorted for reusable materials or products on site

Rescued landfill materials, e.g., plastic, lumber, metal, etc., could be reused on site or sold to other manufacturers

The arable land around the plant could be farmed annually and its produce sold at the Falcon Heights Farmers Market on site

Some of the acres of tarmac, once covered by newly-manufactured Fords and the parked cars of plant employees could be removed and recycled and the land (once returned to full health) used as a reforestation project by Reforest London - to help them reach their goal of planting one million trees in ten years

Other acres of tarmac could be covered with solar panels and wind turbines built on site - to help power certain enterprises

Many other ideas will spring to minds more fertile than my own.

Let me know what you think would work at Falcon Heights.

Do you love your current or future three-wheeled truck as much as I do?


Please click here to read Live Small and Prosper PT 3: “I love my three-wheeled truck.”


It Strikes Me Funny: “So, you think you’re frustrated now”

Though it’s true "the average commute for Canadians in 2010 was 26 minutes, but longer on average for those who live in big cities" and the average Canadian worker "spends $269 a month on costs related to working out of the house" (according to reports re recent surveys, London Free Press, Aug. 25, 2011), something else is also true.

[“Linfen, China - the world’s most polluted city”: Link to above photo and more]

As we add miles to our cars and cars to our roads, we will experience something far more frustrating than traffic congestion and far more costly than monthly travel expenses - climate instability caused by carbon emissions.

We need to buck up.


Please click here to travel at the speed of hydro and read today’s column by G. Harrison, ‘Commuters and consumers face more frustration.’


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Live Small and Prosper PT 3: “I love my three-wheeled truck”

[“Ford Talbotville, i.e., Ford of Canada St. Thomas assembly plant, closed a week ago. Hundreds of experienced workers lost jobs. I have a brilliant idea.” G. Harrison, 8:35 this morning]

If my wife agrees, and we sell our 2005 Civic and purchase a “Made in Canada” three-wheeled truck (with a 500cc motor, enclosed cab, windshield wipers, small bed in back for groceries), my first out-of-the city trip will be to Port Bruce.

["Time to visit Pt. Bruce... but how to get there?": photo GH]

I haven’t been there in over a month and the north shore of Lake Erie is beautiful in the fall. Plus, the Corner View Cafe serves up a pretty good cup of coffee, and if the tables are still set up outside, the chair closest to the T-intersection is the perfect spot to sit and think deep thoughts. (Sure, deep thoughts only pop up every once in awhile but I’m a patient man).

["I love it already!"]

I think our local and provincial governments should put their heads together and find a way to reopen the Ford Talbotville plant and manufacture small three-wheeled trucks. More and more people every year are transitioning to small vehicles, including scooters and bicycles, and as fuel prices continue to rise the need for a cheap, reliable, affordable machine will only become more apparent.

Let’s get ahead of the curve.

I’d buy a three-wheeled truck tomorrow (right after Pat gave me the nod).

Ford Talbotville could produce them.

And I’d like to eventually transition from a small truck to a three-wheeled bicycle (possibly enclosed) to save even more in fuel costs. Say in about 5 years.

[Click here for link to fun adult tricycles. Check out more adult tricycles here.]

I mean, I live in Wortley Village, most things I need are handy and I only pick up groceries and a bag of nails every once in a while. Okay, t-shirts and a few other clothing items come in handy, but downtown is an easy walk, bike or bus ride away.

Ford Talbotville is a huge place. I bet there are 101 useful, sustainable products that could be manufactured under its roof.

Any other things we could make right here in Canada, just minutes outside London?


Please click here to read Live Small and Prosper PT 2: “I love my three-wheeled truck.”


Life on the Edge PT2

7:58 a.m.

I would have arrived sooner but I brewed coffee, shot and editted a few photos of a very old slab of BC cedar and said good morning to my wife before sitting down.

The coffee - again, surprisingly delicious.

Yesterday I revealed the photo below and asked, “How many years of growth (approx.) will be seen in my 8-inch wide fireplace mantel?”

[“I count about 30 growth rings per inch.”]

The question proved too tough for readers. No one offered an answer. (Was it too early in the a.m.?) Tough for me too. I lost count three times, had to start again, then noticed the growth rings were tighter at the other end of the 8-inch slice, as seen below.

[“Fifty rings per inch, and the wood is darker.”]

Yesterday I asked a second question as well. “If the cedar had a diameter of 4 feet, approximately how old was it when it fell, or was felled?”

[“24 in. radius x 40 yr. per inch = 960 years old. Amazing!”]

And where did I get the slice? From Philmore Enterprises (small specialty lumber yard), located at the corner of Sarnia Gravel Rd. and Hyde Park Rd.

I paid $50 for a 7 ft. long slab (planed) and learned valuable lessons.

Ancient woods are beautiful.

[“One slab is all I needed.”: photos GH]

Ancient trees should be harvested sparingly.

Reforestation must be an important part of the lumber business.

Can you think of others?


Please click here to read PT1 Life on the Edge.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Live Small: One lesson about the Brazilian Rainforest

[“The upside of globalization is that the rich get richer...” Dr. M. Plotkin, president of the Amazon Conservation team]

I would recommend you read You Are Here by T.M. Kostigen. In each chapter he makes the effort - by looking at a particular region in the world - to expose “the vital link between what we do and what that does to our planet.” (cover text)

I’m reading a section re Brazil at the moment, and a line or two seem closely linked to the economic and fiscal trials and tribulations going on in Europe and the US (dare I say, and in Canada) at the moment.

From pages 114 - 115:

Brazil is a large country.

It is the fifth largest in the world and fifth most populace.

It has all the things one could need or want in a nation-state: oil, gas, freshwater, timber, and commodities of every sort.

Its people can live nicely off the resources.

It can even sell off its excess to the world market sustainably, much like the farmer does his produce.
(Kostigen writes about a young family he stayed with and the delicious, sustainable meals he ate from their table).

[Link to photo and source, The Guardian, UK]

Unfortunately for all, it isn’t working out that way.

There is a race for the immediacy of a financial return now, and a subsequent exploitation of natural resources.

The “here and now” approach is winning the day
(e.g., the destruction of the rainforest in order to plant soy for animal feed, to supply burgers for the fast-food industry) and the “what will be good for later” mind-set (e.g., conservation of the rainforest, the earth’s lungs) is sacrificed at the altar of economic viability.

“The upside of globalization is that the rich get richer, but no one is asking whether it is good for the natives in the jungle,” says Dr. Mark Plotkin... a Time magazine Hero for the Planet.

As Plotkin wisely observes, native people are far better off having less money and subsisting off nature than being paid marginally more by a corporation for their land and then being forced into an urban slum.

Again, I recommend the book to you. Lessons learned in Brazil are lessons we must all learn.


Please click here for more ‘recommended reading.’


Would Canadians block a “Buffett Tax”?

[US Republican leaders Sunday criticized President Barack Obama’s proposal for a new tax on millionaires, calling it “class warfare...” Sept. 19 London Free Press]

Let’s review:

One. Warren Buffett went on record about a month ago saying “rich people often pay less in taxes than those who work for them due to loopholes in the tax code, and can afford to pay more.” (Yesterday’s Free Press)

Two. Pres. Obama is expected to propose a “Buffett Tax” soon, on folks making more than $1 million annually, in the hopes of lowering the stratospheric US deficit.

["Can the US dig its way out of a ballooning deficit?"]

Three. Wood chips are hitting the fan. Paul Ryan, chair of the US House Budget Committee reportedly says of the tax, “It adds further instability to our system, more uncertainty and it punishes job creation and those people who create jobs. Class warfare may make for good politics but it makes for rotten economics.”

After reading the above statement I felt I should share a few thoughts of my own:

One. I agree with Warren Buffett. The rich - in Canada and the US - can afford to pay higher taxes and help reduce growing national debts.

Two. Ryan needs to ask himself how his business as usual approach (i.e., the current tax system) is helping the US economy at the moment, and if the job creators are actually creating jobs thanks to their low tax rate.

["Reduce spending. Pay down debt. Save for tough times ahead."]

Three. If Ryan thinks higher taxes makes for ‘rotten economics’, how would he describe the US economy right now?

Fortunately, I live in Canada and, according to Federal Finance Minister Jim Flatulence, our fundamentals are sound and we can continue to look forward to declining deficits and short lineups at the bank.

That being said, I will still raise one last question.

If Canada’s fundamentals change and the economy falters and the budget deficit and national debt grow and a rich business leader on par with Warren Buffett (one of the three richest people on Planet Earth) says the rich should pay more taxes in order to help out, will a Canadian version of Paul Ryan stand up to block any tax increase?

Just wondering.


It won’t be me.

Please click here to read more about Warren Buffett and paying more taxes.


Zoom w a View: PT 2 “Is this London’s smallest house?”

While pushing my twin grand-daughters around Old South - again and again, lovely, lovely - on Sunday I passed by a very small house covered with vintage aluminum siding.

The address of the wee house is 105 Askin St. and located 100 meters west of the corner of coffee and hardware (Askin and Wortley Rd.) and beside St. James Anglican church in the heart of Old South or Wortley Village.

It is one and a half stories and if there is an upstairs bathroom I’d be surprised if I could stand up in it, and I’m only 5 ft. 6 in. tall in platform shoes.

I really like it. It’s steps to the Red Roaster, has a maintenance-free exterior with a 1950s colour and posh attitude, and with a side window open the sounds of Wednesday evening choir practice would easily keep residents fully entertained, unless they’re into pro wrestling.

["Small and quaint, room enough for a medium-sized family in 1940.": photo GH]

I’m just guessing, but it appears 16 - 20 ft. wide and no more than 20 - 24 ft. deep. At most it is 480 sq. ft. in size on each floor.

‘Live small and prosper’ comes to mind when I look at it.

Is this London’s smallest house? What do you think?


Please click here to read PT 1 “Is this London’s smallest house?”