Monday, October 31, 2011

Cartoon in Progress: “Life’s like that, eh” 36

“Bernard had a long bus ride home but felt he would stand for awhile.”


Please click here to view “Life’s like that, eh” 35


The Workshop: “Cedar - one, barn board - no score”

Years ago I rescued a few rustic-looking barn boards from a Bracebridge landfill site and, after I made a four-plex or two, my wife placed one on our wee front porch.

Though I really like the original design I recently modified it a bit; now I make three-plexes that look almost identical.

Because quality barn board is hard to come by, I have resorted to planed (on one side) cedar for the last few weeks.

I like working with cedar as much as barn board, and after coating it with linseed oil (and a titch of maple stain), I like the final appearance a lot.

In fact, I now say, ‘cedar - one, barn board - no score.’

What do you think?


Please click here for more from The Workshop.


Friday, October 28, 2011

Zoom w a View & Prose: “First ice is on the pond”

["Crap," I said this morning, at half past eight, while I peeked through the venetian blinds and into my back yard. Then I looked back toward the light in the kitchen and hollered, "Has anybody made coffee yet?" Oct. 28, GH]

First Ice is on the Pond

I slip on rubber boots, the grass is wet and cold

I step around old leaves, crisp edges in a fold.

Colours, the oranges and reds, of which I’m fond

Are now subdued, and first ice is on the pond.

[Prose and photos by GHarrison]


"Crap," I said. Truly I did.

Please click here for more Zoom w a View.


The Workshop: “Will birds live next to a feeder?”

Occasionally, when I display birdhouses at a local coffee shop, I’m asked where the seeds go, and I assume the person has a desire not only to house birds but to feed them at the same time.

I think it’s a great desire to have, but most of my birdhouses don’t have a spot to place seeds where birds can easily see them.

["A bit of trim is still needed to pretty it up."]

I build feeders with a protective roof and some larger birdhouses that include an open feeding surface (e.g., on a roof, sloping at 5 degrees, or on a separate platform off to the side), and recently I designed a small birdhouse with a protected feeding area - right in the house’s back yard.

I’ll make two or three and see what people have to say. I’m sure, if it’s placed on a 5 - 7 ft. high post in a yard, birds will find it very quickly and begin to visit it to feed.

[Photos by G.Harrison]

["A coat of linseed oil will help it stand up to Canadian winters"]

But will a bird nest in a house that attracts a lot of traffic? I’m not sure, though I don’t feel that it’s likely.

What do you think?


Please click here for more thoughts from The Workshop.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

“IT STRIKES” Again: Maybe a 19th Century alternative would suit us better

["GH likes shakin' off the dust ever once in a wall."]

[The following column was first published on Oct. 21, 2009, two years (almost to the day) before Mike Seabrook, VP of London Airport, “urged patience, saying the [cargo] terminal [is facing] a global downturn in the cargo business because of the lingering economic downturn.” (Oct. 18, 2011, London Free Press]

Maybe a 19th Century alternative would suit us better

I ended last week’s column (‘Turning London into a cargo hub has a few flaws’) by asking the following: Does shipping cargo to and fro in one of mankind’s most carbon-intensive ways look promising economically?

I asked the question based on my understanding that a goodly percentage of North Americans are reducing their spending (perhaps permanently), saving money and growing more concerned about debt.

As well, many link excessive lifestyles to fossil fuel consumption, carbon emissions and resultant climate change, and think legislation is required to direct large companies to cut their emissions.

Shortly after the column hit the streets a city councillor contacted me.

Upon receiving the call I became as nervous as the proverbial cat.

I thought, it’s either news that a rich and important award is on its way or my tax bill is going to be more than a titch higher next year.

Instead, a positive discussion began in which one of our hard-working councillors (and I mean that sincerely) expressed confidence in the cargo hub, and said that because some cargo will travel fewer miles once it comes into London, a smaller overall carbon footprint will be realized. The councillor also mentioned that fuel efficiencies are likely to occur in the future to bring about more environmental benefit.

I on the other hand, though happy for the discussion, also felt confident that based on our track record, fuel efficiencies will not come very quickly, and positive gains could be negated by over-using the service.

And though happy for any increase in employment that the cargo hub would bring to our region, I wish very strongly - because air travel is the most polluting and carbon-intensive form of transportation - that sustainable, eco-friendly jobs were more the order of the day.

Another issue the councillor and I did not discuss was raised by a reader via email that arrived later the same day.

Rick O. wrote:

“I too wonder about the wisdom of City Hall's plan. 

“You briefly mention excessive consumption sustained by cheap oil. 

“Well, the era of cheap oil is coming to an end whether we like it or not, and City Hall should give that some thought. Regardless if one believes peak oil production is here already, or still several years off, the fact is the price of oil is going to go up a lot - the present short-term recession induced pull-back in the price of crude notwithstanding. 

“So, when fuel prices soar, as they will, airplanes won't. Shipping by air simply won't be viable unless, of course, the cargo you plan to transport has a very high price to weight ratio - like diamonds perhaps.

“Where does that leave us?  The economical and environmentally sound way to move people and goods within North America is by rail (assuming peak oil to be at hand and global warming to be a fact). 

“So, Gord, I think you should suggest to City Hall that London become a rail hub instead - unless you think they might consider that too 19th century.”

No, Rick. I don’t think rail is too 19th century at all.

And I did say to the councillor that just as the City Hall backed the wrong horse years ago - in my humble opinion - when it got rid of London’s electric trolley system and replaced it with buses that have a healthy appetite for fossil fuels, we may be doing the same again by banking on air cargo system over more sustainable alternatives such as rail and the Great Lakes waterway.

Author’s Note: I also wish I’d thought of Rick’s line - when fuel prices soar... airplanes won't.


Please click here to read another exciting episode of “IT STRIKES” Again concerning the supposed cargo hub.


Occupy Wall Street, occupy Bay: “Why?” PT 2

[“Why occupy Wall St. and Bay? For starters... fear of another economic collapse, harder on families and communities than the last one... the knowledge that the corporate and banking elite grow richer while an increasing number of families do not.” Oct. 25, G.Harrison, It Strikes me Funny]

I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that occupiers of Wall St., Bay St., and Victoria Park (London, Ontario), to name but a few places, are planning to hunker down where they are in tents and sleeping bags for the North American winter in order to show solidarity to one another and stand behind their message that some things important to them must change.

During the winter some media commentators will still be asking the question ‘why occupy’ for some of the following reasons, among others of course:

because they don’t know what many citizens are thinking

because they know what the occupiers are thinking but don’t support their ideas and believe they should get a job

According to a recent poll, 31 per cent of Sun Media readers believe occupiers should be looking for work, but based on the ongoing struggles in the North American economy and the resultant high unemployment numbers (London is the centre of high unemployment in SW Ontario), the lack of work and good long-term full-time jobs may very well be one of the major reasons why people are taking to the streets in significant numbers to say something to any who will listen.

Though many may know about London leading the province with rates of 9 per cent or more, they will not know by personal experience how no job or a low-paying job affects a single mother or father or family trying hard to keep a roof over their head or the heat on through a long winter.

I don’t know what 9 per cent unemployment means myself. I know numbers of visitors to local food banks will rise because of it, but does 9 per cent mean that 91% are employed with productive, well-paying, full-time, long-term jobs and have nothing to complain about? Does 9 per cent track those without jobs or does it include those who are chronically under-employed? If not, does anyone know the percentage of people, young and old, who only earn enough to scrape by and are unable to save up funds for an uncertain future?

In Death of the Liberal Class by Chris Hedges, Earnest Logan reportedly says the following:

The winters [in New York State] are really hard. There are less jobs and the heating costs are high. It is a struggle [for me]. But at least I have not had to devote forty hours a week to a minimum wage job that does not pay me a living wage. People here are really hurting. The real underemployment rate must be at least twenty per cent. A lot of people are working part-time jobs when they want full-time jobs. (pg. 5)

I would suspect Ontario’s underemployment rate is under 20 per cent but I don’t know for certain. I do know, however, if I was a young person with no decent prospects for a good job in the future, I might consider joining with others of like-mind and raise questions about, for starters, why the world works the way it does, why the gap between the rich and the poor is widening, and why steady work for adequate pay is so hard to find.

Why occupy?

More to follow.


Please click here to read Occupy Wall Street, occupy Bay: “Why?” PT 1


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

“IT STRIKES” Again: Turning London into a cargo hub has a few flaws

["Count on me to shake the dust off once in awhile."]

[The following column appeared October 14, 2009, almost two years ago to the day before a news clip containing an update about London airport’s cargo terminal and its failing grade. Hey, sometimes I get it right. gah]

Headline - Turning London into a cargo hub has a few flaws

That’s right. You heard it here first.

I’m not sure if City Hall’s plans to turn London’s airport into a cargo gateway at a cost of $11,000,000 has long-term legs.

Or wings.

Some city councillors and business leaders will wonder, why don’t I just sit still, be quiet and let the experts get on with the job?

For three reasons.

First, the ‘sit still, be quiet’ approach didn’t work for me while a kid at home or a student in public school and university after I discovered I learned more by asking questions, even if I just blurted them out. And today I have a few questions about an air cargo hub.

Next, I can’t sit still about our economy - and never very quietly - especially after what I learned recently and mentioned in last week’s column (Maybe a ‘zero growth economy’ shouldn’t really be a shock).

For example, many Canadian consumers (some of them surely right here in London) are worried about their wages and pensions and are reducing their spending on many types of material goods (ergo cargo) in their desire to save money and clear up their debt load.

If polls out of the US can be trusted (I think they can be), the new age of frugality may last for months and months. If US consumer spending (which makes up about 70 per cent of the American economy) continues to decline and their unemployment figures continue to climb (9.8 per cent last month, numbers not seen since 1983) they will soon match our own and their great and mighty recession might last for years and years.

With our chief trading partner in such dire straits, does that bode well for a cargo-based economy in London? Unless, of course, it’s cargo people really, really need, e.g. small amounts of food, clothing, basic household supplies and hockey pucks. (Winter’s coming, eh, and my 50-plus team loses about four per week).

Finally, not only are North Americans learning they can’t live forever or much longer beyond their means, they’re learning there are other worries larger than pension shortfalls and more frightening costs to unlimited production and consumption than unmanageable debt.

Large numbers of North Americans are now joining the dots between an excessive lifestyle and fossil fuel consumption and the production of pollution and carbon and climate change.

According to the book The Suicidal Planet, surveys reveal that two-thirds of the US population ‘are mostly or completely convinced by scientific consensus on global warming and the causal effect of carbon dioxide emissions. Only 6 per cent now think that it is not a problem requiring action. Polls also show that the great majority now subscribe to the view that greenhouse gas emissions should be limited and say they would support legislation requiring large companies to cut their emissions.’

As well, ‘three-quarters consider that doing nothing about climate change is irresponsible.’

I’m sure many Canadians feel the same way and will keep their wallets in their pockets rather than continue to buy into excessive consumption as we’ve done for far too many years, thanks in large part to the availability of cheap oil.

In other words, does shipping cargo (whatever it is) to and fro in one of mankind’s most carbon-intensive ways look promising economically?

Author’s note - re The Suicidal Planet by Mayer Hillman: I’m only half done but it looks more like a homicide to me.


Please click here to read another exciting episode (How could it not be?) of “IT STRIKES” Again by G. Harrison.


Deforest City Blues: London will never be a cargo hub

[“... The massive concrete building is largely empty and has netted little business, the early predictions of a booming shipping terminal with 150 workers having fallen flat.” Oct. 15, London Free Press]

All cities chase dreams.

They want to be on the map, create a buzz, and be known for something significant.

They want to maintain a vibrant economy, keep their young people, provide a comfortable home, and “be a somebody.”

London, Ontario is no different. It dreams.

Two years ago the city dreamt of becoming a center for foreign trade, a distributor of cargo.

["Don't anchor your future on shipping stuff. Buy a scooter." GH, circa 1969]

A recent news report provides an update.

Headline - Cargo hub one pricey garage

Built by taxpayers at a cost of $11 million, London’s new airport cargo terminal has housed maintenance equipment, personal vehicles for airport executives and even a stag-and-doe party.

But in the year or more since the place was built - a project to help grow London’s economy and create jobs - it hasn’t attracted much new business, critics charge.
(Oct. 15, London Free Press)

When I first heard about the cargo hub idea, two years ago, I penned a few thoughts about it for The Londoner, London’s community newspaper.

Shortly after it appeared I received a phone call from a hard-working city councillor who disagreed with my views, ones that questioned, for example, pinning a city’s hopes on shipping goods from here to there when we face a future of rising fuel prices.

At the time, though I felt I handled the criticism pretty well (32 years as an elementary school teacher helps in this regard), I was most proud of being able to express some of views succinctly in one of my favourite all-time lines, i.e., “we’re backing the wrong nag in this race, Pal.”

At the conclusion of our phone conversation, we simply agreed to disagree, and to this day, I still believe the cargo hub was a very poor idea.

Wrong nag, wrong era.


Please click here to read about disagreements I have with other recent articles.

Also, stay tuned to read my columns about the cargo hub from 2009.


Cartoon in Progress: “Life’s like that, eh” 35

“For the third time in a week, Jerry was late getting to Joey Russo’s door.”



Please click here to view “Life’s like that,eh” 34


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Occupy Wall Street, occupy Bay: “Why?” PT 1

[“(Ernest Logan) Bell, who lives in Lansing, New York, is the new face of resistance. He is young, at home in the culture of the military, deeply suspicious of the (US) Federal Government, dismissive of the liberal class, unable to find work, and angry.” pg. 2, Death of the Liberal Class]

Some members of local and national media will express surprise when considering the occupation of Wall St. in the US and Bay St. in Canada, to name but two streets where a collection of people from various walks of life are gathering or have gathered to ask or raise questions or make bold statements.

“Why?” some will ask, often rhetorically.

“What does this have to do with anything? What are they trying to say?” some will add.

I read in a recent poll offered by Sun Media in a local paper (Oct. 20, The London Free Press) that 31 per cent of respondents felt, dismissively, the occupiers should just ‘go find a job.’

As I’ve been reading an international bestseller entitled ‘Death of the Liberal Class’ by Chris Hedges, I’ve encountered comments and ideas that may help the media and other observers (some unenlightened, others enlightened but resistant to any change to the status quo) answer for themselves and others the question ‘why’.

The following is taken from Hedge’s conversation with Ernie Bell, NY:

(Bell says,) I believe all signs point to a real systemic economic collapse in the near future... I assure you it’s going to hurt everyone, except of course, the corporate and banking elite... the political system as it stands offers little hope for influencing real change or social justice... we must stand in the streets and refuse to be silenced. We must reject corporate-controlled politics and focus on rebuilding a localized political structure and society. A revolution is the only alternative to complete surrender and defeat. pg. 3

["South Africa's symbol of justice": link to photo]

Why occupy Wall St. and Bay?

For starters...

fear of another economic collapse, harder on families and communities than the last one

the knowledge that the corporate and banking elite grow richer while an increasing number of families do not

the political system offers little help for positive change or justice for many individuals and families

to shake a fist at selfish corporate policies and seemingly powerless corporate-controlled governments

to express support for the rebuilding of the political structure and society

to resist the attitude of surrender and defeat

Are there other identifiable, concrete reasons to occupy streets of significant address in countries across the globe?


Please click here to read more about resistance to change.


“IT STRIKES” Again: Round 2 with the red scourge and a carefree matinee

[The following column about my trip to Texas was first published in March, 2003. In it I reveal another use for oatmeal. Give it a try. gah]

Round 2 with the red scourge and a carefree matinee

The poison ivy travelled around my body mercilessly and it seemed impossible to prevent it from spreading. I continually scratched my arms, legs and stomach without relief.

Pat warned me of the consequences - to no avail. I woke up three nights in a row in mid-scratching frenzy, arms and legs covered with more rashes and blisters. Once fully awake I would shuffle into the shower with my trusty Sunlight laundry soap.

Pat learned by phone message that our son in Texas didn’t have poison ivy though we had both cleared the same tree branches from a country road. The news didn’t make me feel any better.

One evening while lathering and rinsing exposed areas for a second or third time a verse for a new, heart-rending country song came to mind:

Well I got poison ivy on my a-a-arm,
One little blotch won’t do much ha-a-arm.
But it started to spread to other spots,
Pretty soon I had quite a lot.
Poison ivy runnin’ down my le-e-eg,
Ohhh (heavy on the steel guitar), shoot me please!”

Later that night we re-opened our household medical books. Pat read her Digest while I toweled dry and applied calamine lotion to blisters and anything resembling a spot. Even freckles received attention.

She said, “Most cases of poison ivy rash are caused by directly touching the plant. But it is possible to get the rash by handling anything contaminated with the sap - tools, clothing, etc.”

“The book of home remedies recommends I take a bath with about three-quarters a box of oatmeal. No way,” I said.

["Would you take a bath with Quaker Oats?"]

She looked at me curiously and asked, “When you got poison ivy last September what clothes were you wearing?”

“Running gear. But all my stuff from ‘Dances With Dirt’ (a 100-km. team event held on wild, muddy trails near Hell, Mich.) have been washed and used many times since. Ivy sap won’t be on those clothes.”

“How did you get your soggy gear home from the race?” Pat wanted to know. “In a plastic bag or suitcase?”

I thought carefully while applying a second layer of soothing calamine.

“That’s it!” I exclaimed. “My blue gym bag.I grabbed it out of the closet while packing for Texas. I hadn’t touched it since Michigan. Stink!”

“I guess we’d better wash it too,” Pat said patiently.

As if on cue, once the mystery was revealed, the rashes and blisters visibly receded at a steady pace. Twice daily (or nightly) showers with laundry soap decreased to one and finally to none. And within a week physical health was restored for a mere $1.35 worth of Sunlight and a half bottle of calamine.

I felt so relieved and carefree I offered to treat Pat to a movie on Thursday. We reviewed seven matinees being presented at Rainbow Cinemas for $2.50 and settled on ‘Catch Me If You can.’

The best part?

I didn’t have to scratch my arms or legs once and I didn’t smell like oatmeal.



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


Cartoon in Progress: “Life’s like that, eh” 34

[Author’s Note - my siblings and I seldom get together without cracking jokes about our noses. Now it’s somebody else’s turn. gah]

“Neville soon realized why he was asked to stand well back.”


Please click here to view “Life’s like that, eh” 33


Sunday, October 23, 2011

Zoom w a View: Can you spot the wee difference?

I took a walk around Fenelon Falls recently and while walking across a bridge on Main St. I noticed the world's smallest waterfall.

Niagara Falls it is not. More like Wee Spitting Falls.

Can you spot the difference between the two photos?

Hint: The first is natural colour...

and the second is a popular shade, though hardly any different than the first.

[Photos by G.Harrison, the second in 'faded sepia.']


Please click here for more Zoom w a View.


Saturday, October 22, 2011

It Strikes Me Funny: Ollie meets a Vet

Grandson Ollie is almost five years old and, in my eyes, one of the smartest kids in the neighbourhood, the following episode notwithstanding.

He and his grandmother watched a TV program together recently while I peeked in from around the corner.

A man wearing a white lab coat appeared on screen and carefully bandaged a dog's rear leg.

"There, that ought to do it," the man said.

Ollie turned to my wife and said, "Is that man a vegetarian?"


What do you think? Could the man eat only veggies?

Please click here for more It Strikes Me Funny.

For something almost as funny - really, it could happen - and posted by a man with long hair, please click here


The Workshop: Grey skies above, winter projects ahead

I looked into the sky this morning, saw nothing but grey and a few geese flying the wrong way, and felt the approach of winter.

Even the thought of winter chills my bones at times, but, as many readers know, I am a man with a dusty, oil-heated, well-used workshop.

Projects, and ideas for others, stack up on my work bench and inside my little round head like anxious planes waiting to land at La Guardia.

On an outside table sits a four-year old cedar house for wrens, finches or warblers. The affects of weathering suit it well and more lumber - exactly like that used to produce it - sits a few steps from my workshop door.

Winter is sweeping into view, but warm, busy times lie ahead.

[Photos by G.Harrison]


Please click here to see more from The Workshop.


Zoom w a View: What are the birds saying?

In fairly quick succession today I snapped photos of birds involved in daily routines.

"It's breakfast time," said a downy woodpecker.

"Keep in line," said the first goose.

"Bottom's up," said the male duck.

"Stay in tight formation," said the lead goose.

At least that's what I think they said. What do you think?

[Photos by GHarrison]


Please click here for more Zoom w a View.


Friday, October 21, 2011

Letter to the Editor: PT 3 “Attack the debt and public servants only"

["No doubt, many in our province, even in North America, are going to have to reduce lifestyle expectations now and in the near future." G. Harrison, Oct. 20]

No doubt about it.

R.S.M. Eberhard had some "not half bad" ideas re paying down the rising debt here in Ontario, Canada.

"Raise the HST (Homogenized Sales Tax) to 15%, with 1% going to the provincial government and 1% to the feds."

I'm not opposed to that, for the most part. The HST is a consumption tax that hits everyone, so at a certain level it's fair. It hits our consumption and many would admit we buy too much stuff too much of the time, then have to sell some of it at yard sales in order to clear a path to the washing machine.

The less-fortunate and unemployed would also be hit and would deserve some consideration, in my opinion, and nowhere does RSM address the needy.

As well, some of RSM's ideas are simply "half baked."

"All who receive income directly or indirectly from taxpayers should have an income over $50,000 a year reduced by 10%..."

Let's pause for a moment shall we.

Many will see that RSM is going after a pile of money, starting at $5,000 per household with an income of $50,000. It gets higher per household in which more than $50,000 is made.

Surely, many will also say RSM's idea is outrageous, though a few might at least give him a point for trying to spread the pain of paying off a mountain of debt in an equitable manner without attacking households with wages under 50 Gs. After all, some will say, it at least sounds equitable, because almost everybody in Ontario receives income "directly" from taxpayers" (e.g., politicians, doctors) or "indirectly from taxpayers" (e.g., retailers, lawyers and all others who get paid by billing ordinary citizens, aka taxpayers).

However, upon further reading, RSM may not be trying to be equitable at all.

In his description of "all who receive income directly or indirectly from taxpayers" he includes the following:

"Politicians, doctors, police officers..."

Are you catching a whiff of stink?

"Teachers, nurse, court officials, etc."

Do you know why RSM finished with etc?

It's likely because he couldn't think of any other occupations in the public sector.

To RSM, the private sector must be almost invisible. And as poor as poor can be. Not one occupation in the private sector is mentioned in his plan. "Half-baked" came to mind, as you read earlier.

Attack the debt?

Let's do so, but let's not let the wealthiest among us off the hook while we're trying to keep the next several generations from bearing all the weight.


To address provincial or national debt in a serious and equitable manner, what factors need to be considered?

Is there a link between national debts in many countries and the Occupy (Name a city) protests?

Please click here to read Letter to the Editor: PT 2 "Attack the debt. Pay tolls. Pay more for gas"


It Strikes Me Funny: "I deserved this letter"

Let's review.

I recently shared a story re a long car ride to Texas and the red rash I brought home as a souvenir.

Yesterday I shared a song about said rash. Bless my soul, I could have died.

Today I share a letter to the editor about one household's reaction to my column.

Letter to the Editor

(from The Londoner, April 3, 2003)

"A prayer for Gord"

Regarding the It Strikes Me Funny column, "A red rash and other souvenirs from my visit to the Lone Star state" (March 20 issue).

At our house we are all hoping and praying that Gord never gets jock itch.

Mary Zelinski,

Yup, I deserved that one.


Please click here for more It Strikes Me Funny.


Thursday, October 20, 2011

I Got Poison Ivy

[“About poison ivy - shortly after a very exciting trip to Texas in 2003, I wrote a column or two about it, penned a song entitled ‘The Bucksnort Cafe’, put all my clothes away as neatly as possible and started to scratch a red rash on my right arm. Stink! I grabbed a pen.”]

I Got Poison Ivy

Verse 1

I got poison ivy on my arm, one little blotch won’t do much harm.
But it started to spread to other spots, pretty soon I had quite a lot.
With poison ivy runnin’ down my leg, “Oh, shoot me please!” I was heard to beg.
My wife said, “Don’t scratch it dear. It’ll start to spread front to rear.”
But I’d scratch it even in my sleep, it was everywhere within a week.
With poison ivy up the other leg, “Just, shoot me please!” I was heard to beg.


Poison ivy everywhere, poison ivy’s got me cursed I swear.
It seems to have me around the neck, where it goes it hurts like heck.
I said, “Here’s a gun. Just shoot me please.
Won’t somebody end my miseries?”

Verse 2

My wife spread on some calamine. She said, “This oughta work out just fine.”
The poison ivy moved in such a rush, we had to slap it on with a six inch brush.
When poison ivy got in my eye, “Just, shoot me please!” I was heard to cry.
I started to try home remedies, written years ago by some old ladies.
I took hot baths with Fels-Naptha soap, it made me smell like such a dope.
When poison ivy got the other eye, “Just, shoot me please! I’d rather die.”

Verse 3

Laundry soap and oatmeal baths, I tried ‘em all, my wife just laughed.
I ate jewel weed and other stuff, never in my life has it been this rough.
With poison ivy in my underpants. “Just shoot me please,” I was heard to rant.
But Sunlight soap finally was the cure, I washed twice a day that’s for sure,
And in twenty days I was OK, I’ve lived to see another day.
I guess shootin’ me was bad advice. But my wife thought about it once or twice.



Please click here to read about the red rash of Texas.


Letter to the Editor: PT 2 “Attack the debt. Pay tolls, pay more for gas”

[“Here in Canada... we (now) have time to talk to one another, and many serious-minded people are talking about the severity of our provincial and national debt.” G.Harrison, Oct. 19, It Strikes Me Funny]

In a recent letter to the editor of the London Free Press, R.S.M. Eberhard shared a few ideas about how to reduce debt in our province.

I commented briefly re his first idea yesterday. (A link will be provided below).

RSM’s second idea relates to major highways in Ontario.

“Make the 400-series highways toll roads. Why should those who never use the 401 pay for those who use it daily? Most of the highway infrastructure... will soon need to be upgraded or replaced.”

I understand that the maintenance of our highways is very expensive.

I agree that tolls might be considered soon to assist with maintenance costs and encourage conservation of non-renewable fuels.

I don’t, however, agree with RSM's selfish attitude.

["RSM wants to attack the gorilla of debt."]

I could be wrong, but RSM sounds like he doesn’t like sitting at home, having to pay for infrastructure costs, while daily drivers are getting off without paying. Aren’t there a few flaws in his thinking?

If RSM eats, drinks, buys clothes, hardware, daily necessities and the occasional Tim Horton’s donut, his purchases are directly and indirectly linked to the 400-series of highways. For example, barrelling down the 401 right now, in a transport truck the size of a small nation and at about 110 km. per hour - to be “just in time” at an unloading dock in London - is some product RSM has ordered or will use some time this week.

As well, those who use it daily likely pay for fuel several times per week and, thanks to taxes on fuel, pay for infrastructure costs already - on a regular basis.

RSM might call for tolls for the sake of fairness (“Why should I pay? I never use the 401!”) but he shouldn’t be let off the hook. He still needs to pay for highway upkeep - to maintain his access to many goods and services he enjoys - along with everyone else.

I would suggest, in place if toll collecting and its accompanying expensive infrastructure, another 1 - 2 % hike in the HST, a consumption tax. More HST (its infrastructure is already in place) would equal less consumption, fewer transport trucks on the highway, and reductions in maintenance costs and carbon emissions at the same time.

Later, RSM recommends that water, electricity and gasoline costs should be increased (e.g., gas to $1.50 per liter) because “we will never conserve if it doesn’t hurt not to.”

Part of me says, “I agree with RSM. Many will move along the path of conservation faster if their wallet comes under pressure.”

And another part of me says, “Is our province helping those who are already stretched financially to the limits? Are we prepared to help the less fortunate if their numbers swell under RSM’s recommendations?”

In my humble opinion, I don’t think we’re ready yet to attack debt in such rapid and rigid fashion. No doubt, many in our province, even in North America, are going to have to reduce lifestyle expectations now and in the near future. Attacking debt in many of its forms is a priority but many will need assistance to transition away from the culture of big.

["Until we get it sorted, reduce spending, pay off debt and save money."]

RSM sounds ready to shift right now. But I think he/she is in the minority.

And RSM has a few other flaws in his thinking as well.

More to come.


Please click here to read Letter to the Editor: PT 1 “Attack the debt. Here’s how”


Cartoon in Progress: “Life’s like that, eh” 33

“After the sudden stop, Gordie was a bit slow coming out of the bus’s washroom.”

[Author’s note: This is the only personal comment I’ll ever make about washrooms found at the back of a bus.” gah]


Please click here to view “Life’s like that, eh” 32


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

“IT STRIKES” Again: “A red rash and other souvenirs from my visit to the Lone Star state”

[The following column first appeared in The Londoner in March 2003. You remember when I first wrote about ‘The Bucksnort Cafe’, right? And yes, that was a long time ago but, as you’ll see, my story still stands up... or something. gah]

“A red rash and other souvenirs from my visit to the Lone Star state”

In early March, a few days after visiting with my son in Texas, I noticed a few red spots on the inside of my right arm. I didn’t think much of it as I gave them a hearty and satisfying scratch.

The next day the irritated area was redder, wider, itchier. Several spots and a rash had also appeared on my left arm and leg.

“Stink. I think I’ve got poison ivy,” I muttered to Pat, and we tried to think of any times I had been in contact with plant life while visiting in that southern state.

“I hung around the fire hall and motel room, I rode in the fire truck, I wandered around Harold Brown’s ranch a bit, “ I said. “We went for a long ride around Commerce on Sunday but didn’t get out of the car.”

Pat recalled, “No, you and David pushed a tree off the road.”

“That’s right,” I said. “Remember how most of the tree was covered with vines? Stink! I should have noticed it. These spots are burning.”

“Don’t scratch the blisters,” she said. “Poison ivy will spread.”

We searched the bookshelves in various rooms and found the ‘Reader’s Digest Household Medical Encyclopedia’ and a dusty copy of ‘Home Remedies - What Works” (Thousands of Americans reveal their favorite home-tested cures for everyday health problems!).

Pat read from the Digest, “The rash starts with burning and itching of the skin at the site of contact, followed by watery blisters.”

I said, “I’ve got the burning, the itching, the blisters. Great. I go three for three in something for the first time and it’s poison ivy. Thank-you, Texas.”

“This book says we should ‘launder any clothing that has been contaminated with the sap’. Do you remember what you were wearing during the Sunday ride?” Pat asked.

“Probably jeans and a T-shirt,” I said.

“Which jeans? Your T-shirts have gone through the wash.”

I looked down at the jeans I was wearing.

“These jeans,” I said matter-of-factly.

I had packed one pair for the trip and I was still wearing them. I stripped off my pants and flicked them with my foot into a laundry hamper.

“What are those red bumps on your legs?” Pat asked.

You guessed it.

Shortly after opening the second book I read that Ruby (age 66, from Minnesota) and Pauline (age 84, from Pennsylvania) encouraged folks to bathe with Fels-Naptha soap, “first introduced in Philadelphia in 1894.”

["No Fels-Naptha. Try soap from Canada!"]

We didn’t have any 109 year-old soap in the house so I trotted off to the Valu-Mart in Wortley Village while Pat went to Shoppers for calamine lotion.

I checked the detergent aisle. No luck. I looked for Dial hand soap next because I’d read Dial Corporation bought Fels-Naptha in 1985 and most of the original ingredients remain. No success. Instead I bought two bars of Sunlight, pure soap, made in Canada, “trusted for over 100 years.”

As I paid I asked the cashier if the store ever carried Fels-Naptha.

“Not for years. You could check Quarter Master across the street. I saw something online about Fels-Naptha recently. Poison Ivy?” she asked.

Maybe I wasn’t alone in my misery.

Today, however, I am happy to report that after two days of showering with laundry soap the rash is receding, only a few more blisters have appeared and i smell sunshine fresh.


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


Letter to the Editor: PT 1 “Attack the debt. Here’s how... maybe”

[“Gasoline (should rise) to $1.50 a litre. We will never conserve if it doesn’t hurt not to.” R.S.M. Eberhard]

Here in Canada, because the World Series isn’t on TV yet, the Stanley Cup finals are months away, the weather is cool and wet, the cottage is all closed up and lawn furniture is put away, we have time to talk to one another and many serious-minded people are talking about the severity of our provincial and national debt.

They’re huge. Getting huger.

R.S.M. Eberhard, London, wrote a letter to his local paper recently and included a few ideas about how to tackle the debt... now!

Few would argue with his preamble:

By our profligate lifestyle, exaggerated expectations and for the most part living on credit, both individually and provincially (I think Eberhard could include ‘and nationally’. GH), we have accumulated a debt burden that approaches that of some European countries. Servicing the debt (Reportedly, Ontario pays $40 billion per year on debt interest) is requiring an ever-increasing part of the provincial budget. (Oct. 15, London Free Press)

Readers of my last couple of posts, e.g., 100 Challenges Ahead 4, have seen some of the frightful numbers and have no doubt started to reduce spending, pay down debt and save for the tougher times ahead. Good move.

["My pig ain't scared of no debt gorilla!": photo GH]

Consider R.S.M. Eberhard’s proposals while you’re getting your household in order.

One. “Raise the HST to 15%, with 1% going to the provincial government and 1% to the feds.”

Now, I assume RSM means to target the debt with the 1% figures. I have no problem with that, because it would be interesting and informative to see if 1% would make any kind of dent. Plus, the HST is a consumption tax, and I’m in favour of reduced consumption all around the market place. After all, as RSM points out, “if you buy and spend wisely, you pay less tax.”

He can say that all day long to me. I’m sitting in front of the computer in a very comfortable pair of used jeans (from the Village of Values store @ $7 plus 13% HST - 91 cents - I would imagine) and drinking freshly brewed coffee from an old metal travel mug - sans handle - that will last me another 30 years if it doesn’t fall off my bicycle’s rat trap sometime on my way to the local coffee shop.

However, some of RSM’s other suggestions need some tweaking.

More to follow.


Please click here to read about another solution to debt.


Cartoon in Progress: “Life’s like that, eh” 32

“John somehow never felt the urge to use the tripod that came with his new camera”



Please click here to view “Life’s like that, eh” 31


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

100 Challenges Ahead: 4b “Today’s blind spot about taxes”

[“Ontario is indebted to the tune of $244 billion... taxpayers will be on the hook for almost $500 billion in eight years’ time...” Oct. 14, J. Daubs, London Free Press)]

Today’s generation can spot ‘challenges ahead’ pretty quick - growing debt is hard to miss, eh - but something related to debt remains in our blind spot.

Yesterday I wrote about the blind spot, as seen in a recent letter to the editor of a local newspaper. (A link is provided below).

Below is another example of it.

In a news article entitled ‘Debt must be MPPs’ priority’, Gerry Macartney, CEO of London Chamber of Commerce, sees debt not only as a priority at least for Members of Parliament , but uses several phrases to describe how serious the situation is.

For example, when speaking of serious issues facing MPPs, he says that “chief among them is the 400-pound debt gorilla in the room...”, and every Canadian who has been in a room with, or who has played hockey against, a 400-pound gorilla knows how dangerous one can be in the corners. Why, the smell alone will knock you over!

[Photo link to]

As well, we know things are serious when Macartney says “we have to start focusing seriously on debt and deficits - “an unprecedented $236 billion” with “$40 billion in annual borrowing (costs)” - or jobs and the economy may be rendered moot” and adds “we could easily slip into the same ugly predicament many European countries are facing.”

No kidding. Serious details every one.

However, in another paragraph a blind spot concerning debt is revealed once again.

He says, “Annual budget deficits... leave a huge burden for Ontario’s next generation who will face either drastic spending cuts, increased taxes, or a combination to get the province’s house in order.”

He sees that debt is high at the moment (it’s “serious” and “unprecedented”) but not high enough for tax increases for his readership. Future generations will face them, it sounds inevitable, but not today’s taxpayers. We’ll be okay. (Thank goodness we’re alive today!)

But, I have to ask. Why should our generation escape a tax increase and leave our unprecedented debt to the next generation? Why do we have such a blind spot about raising taxes?

Is it because our province’s house isn’t in enough of a mess yet?

["Pay down the gorilla, then feed the pig for tough times ahead": GH]

Is it because modern-day governments, businesses and households want to live like the proverbial grasshopper rather than the ant?

I recommend we take off our collective blinders and face the serious, unprecedented problem of debt head on, not leave it - as if it's inevitable - for our grandchildren. I would say a 0.5 to 5% tax increase spread out among home owners (from middle to high income), businesses and corporations

It’s time to step up and face the gorilla.


Here’s a challenge for you to answer.

How long do you think the blind spot will last?

Please click here to read “100 Challenges Ahead” 4a.


Monday, October 17, 2011

It Strikes Me Funny: “Royal Spam”

While sorting mail this morning a postcard with a photo of a man with a big round head caught my eye.

TD Bank wants me to spend time with Kevin O'Leary.

TD wants me to listen to a speech about investing my substantial assets, i.e., assets worth at least $300,000, which in my case include my only car and small house.

Should I risk my assets for some financial gain?

Insert laugh track here!

[Photos by G.Harrison]


Please click here for a flight of fancy.


“Reduce spending, pay down debt, save for tough times” 1

I will take one food item out of my grocery cart this week and put it back on the shelf.

["Feed the pig": photo G.Harrison]

I will put the money saved into my piggy bank for tough times ahead.


Please click here for a recent Zoom w a View.


100 Challenges Ahead: 4a “Today’s blind spot about taxes”

Today’s generation can spot ‘challenges ahead’ around every corner, and one on many peoples’ minds is growing debt.

A recent letter to the editor offered grim details about Ontario’s debt:

“Ontario is indebted to the tune of $244 billion... taxpayers will be on the hook for almost $500 billion in eight years’ time... this year’s budget would need to be slashed by about 40% and left there for the next ten years in order for us to eliminate the current debt.” (J. Daubs, Oct. 14, London Free Press)

Grim details indeed. But Mr. Daub’s next sentences reveal he has a fairly common blind spot. Can you guess what it is?

“Young people in Ontario will not stick around to pick up the tab through higher taxes. As the young workforce leaves to escape higher taxes, the government revenues will dry up and all that will be left is a bloated, bankrupt public sector.”

Some astute readers will spot that Mr. Daubs says the public sector will be at fault for the mass exodus of workers in the future, but is blind to the fact that the private sector, with historically low tax rates, is not as great at job-creating as many suggest (it’s better at profit-taking) and must also share part of the blame. That, however, is not the blind spot I mean.

Please note: Daubs feels that the debt will become very high in the future and higher taxes are not only inevitable but will drive away our young workforce.

But... doesn’t he see that debt is large enough now to consider higher taxes? Are higher taxes only to be considered once the $244 billion debt reaches or exceeds $500 billion?

["Let's pay down debt today, then save for tough times": photo GH]

Perhaps taxes should be raised when the debt reaches $450 billion, or $400 billion. Perhaps the acceptable ceiling should be $350 or $300 billion. Maybe $250 billion is better, maybe even $200 or $150 billion.

I feel many of today’s taxpayers are blind to the need to raise taxes now. Leaving debt and inevitable higher taxes to future generations is definitely the wrong course in life.

Another example of modern day blindness to follow.


Please click here to read 100 Challenges Ahead 3.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

London’s Small Houses: “A ‘smaller’ trend is underway?”

[“Since the 1950s, a typical four-person family home has increased from 1,000 square feet to 2,500 square feet on average,” Oct.1, London Free Press]

There are many fine, small house in London, Ontario. Just because well-organized annual tours of fine homes generally feature the large, decked-out and overly expensive doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

Two things recently made me think there is a trend developing toward smaller homes (as well as smaller debt and smaller long-term maintenance costs):

First. Shellie Chowns, president of the London Home Builders’ Association, recently wrote an article entitled ‘Right-sized home not always biggest’ in which she says that “some (homebuyers) now consider responsible living practices as the social measuring stick of home ownership status,” versus square footage. (Oct. 1, London Free Press)

Second. The house below, found on Duchess Avenue, just east of Edward St. in Wortley Village, is nearing completion on a lot that was once occupied by a small house. It appears to be a duplex, or a small house waiting for a second-floor balcony to keep someone from falling several feet down and into the mud.

["Caution. Don't run outside from the second floor door!": photo GH]

If it’s a duplex, the sq. footage of each floor will be in the 700 - 900 range, which is a significant drop from the ‘bigger house’ trend of the last 60 years.

I like it. I like the ‘smaller’ trend.

Besides the smaller footprint and cost, there’s less grass to cut!


Please click here for another look at London’s Small Houses.


100 Challenges Ahead: 3 “My house feels too big”

[Americans Thomas Sargent and Christopher Sims, recent Nobel Prize winners in economics have no easy answers to a global crisis one called simply “this mess.” Oct 13, London Free Press]

According to a report by TD Economics, “older Canadians are growing their debt loads faster than any other age group and retiring more indebted than ever.” (Oct. 12, London Free Press)

If I read the bar graph provided with the article correctly, and I’m very sure I did, in the last 10 years people aged 65 and older have increased their debt load by 160 per cent while their assets have grown by only 80 per cent.

If that troubling trend continues, “it could threaten their standard of living and exacerbate volatility in asset markets, pension fund deficits and declining employment pension coverage.”

["Many would be better off in a small house": photo GHarrison]

Many my age and older will one day face the ‘big house’ challenge, i.e., will be stuck inside a house that’s far too big to handle in a variety of ways, i.e., financially and physically just for starters.

The trend for the last 60 years has been toward bigger houses (“since the 1950s, a typical four-person family home has increased from 1,000 square feet to 2,500 square feet on average,” Oct.1, London Free Press), and many of today’s seniors were a part of the growing culture of big.

I feel many seniors are now trapped inside a big house, unable to make the necessary changes to a right-sized life-style.

Moving, duplexing to earn income, caring for the present house, etc., are now beyond the ability of many of them or much tougher due to the current recession.

Do you know someone who may feel like a prisoner in their own home? What can be done?


Please click here to read 100 Challenges Ahead: 2 “I won’t change”


Friday, October 14, 2011

“Come to me old barn”

[“Come to me old barn and I’ll build you a house,
Cozy and warm and fit for a mouse...” gah, earlier post]

Over the last 16 months a gift of lightly-stained blue barn board has been gradually turned into dozens of birdhouses.

Large singles, four-plexes, five-plexes, specialty houses... and now trim, just a touch of trim.

I believe it’s time to start looking for another barn in the country.

[Photos by G.Harrison]


Please click here for an ode to the nubs.