Thursday, December 31, 2009

Deck the Hills with Prorogation... Fah la la la la

... la la la phooey.

By now you all know what prorogation means to a parliamentarian in Canada.

Correct. It’s when the Prime Minister recommends to the Governor General that he/she suspend parliament and the GG agrees, sends a curt message to everyone on Parliament Hill (e.g., “Leave the Hill!”).

["Ready... and off the Hill": photo link]

By now you all know what prorogation means to a typical Canadian.

Correct again. Twice in one year? What’s he thinking? Give me one good reason. Harper doesn’t have a good reason? Then what’s he up to?

By now you all know some of the impacts of prorogation, even though you can’t say the word three times in a row really fast.

That’s right. PM Harper will get to duck all questions in the House of Commons linked to the Afghanistan controversy, enjoy peace and quiet while stacking the Senate in his favor and watching the Olympics on his television, as well as kill his own government’s active agenda and numerous government bills, i.e., those things related to governing a country and earning his pay cheque at the same time.

But you may not know the names or contents of some of the bills about to die.

Please visit The Parallel Parliament by Liberal MP Glen Pearson from London, Ontario.

He presents a lengthy list of dead bills, among other things, e.g., his thoughts re two prorogations in one year under Prime Minister Harper.


Mr. Pearson and I have been good friends for about 30 years. He lives just around a corner. Perhaps I can arrange an interview with him.

Let me see. Where’s his number?


2010: ‘Glam’ and other uncool words not to live by

(Because glam is just not sensible).

If you frequently use the words bling, glam or luxe as you’re speaking to people about your plans for 2010 I’m going to have to ask you to stop.

Oh, I can hear your reactions now:

“But I need bling in my kitchen to make me feel alive!”

“Hey, I was just about to glam up my dining room and a dark corner in my basement!”

“If I can’t luxe up my living room, entry way and my high cheek bones then I can’t be me!”

I will respond this way:

“Get ahead of the curve, Blingo. It’s time to buy yourself a pair of sensible shoes.”

Read the article in today’s London Free Press entitled ‘Consumers keep grip on wallets’ and you’ll learn the following:

- Ever since the economic downturn began in the fall of 2008, consumers have stopped spending, and despite signs the recovery is underway, people might not rush out to the shops in 2010.

- "Our recovery is going to be pretty lethargic," said Warren Jestin, chief economist for Scotiabank.

- Don Drummond, chief economist for the Toronto-Dominion Bank, says Canadian and American households are saving about 4% of their income, which should leave enough cash for some consumer spending, but not much.

Yup, sounds like the end of the road for bling, glam and luxe.

[“You didn’t say bling, did you?”: link to photo site]

Now, about those sensible shoes.

I suggest a pair of sturdy leather walking shoes that will last you ten years and never go out of style.

I also suggest you practice saying ‘why, that’s just not sensible’ when a family member or friend tells you they’re going to buy some bling or glam on credit to - supposedly - dress up their fireplace mantel or a nook in their house.

And practice your best ‘you should reduce spending, pay down debt and save money for tough times ahead’ facial expression whenever you’re told to luxe any part of your home or body.

We’ll all be the better for it in the new age of austerity.


Any other words we should rid from our vocabulary?


Zoom w a View: Just getting my feet wet

In August, 2007, I travelled the north shore of Lake Superior on my 1984 1000cc Yamaha Virago.

["The clear water of Pancake Bay": photos GAH]

I enjoyed the 10-day solo trip immensely and still look at the snapshots on occasion, especially whenever prompted, which was the case after reading my sister’s Facebook entry yesterday.

(Her entry pertained to the following: Before I die, I want to: Travel around the world. What do YOU want to do before you die?

The true life story of four regular guys on a mission to complete a list of '100 Things To Do Before You Die' and to help and encourage others to go after their own lists.)

My thoughts:

Stay closer to home than the other side of the world. Stay-cations are catching on.

Re-visit the north shore of Superior. Get my feet wet again in Pancake Bay.


What spot close to your home is worth a revisit?

Do you think the desire to ‘see the world’ is overly-ambitious, too costly, too wasteful of limited resources?


Weather Update: We have weather and it seems mild

My wife usually knows more about the weather than I do, and if I had time, I’d tell you about all the other topics in which she leaves me in the dust.

But, let’s move on.

She collects her weather information from news reports on two or three different TV stations per day, collates the material, then issues her findings - and 9 times out of 10 she’s bang on.


I head out to the front porch in my pajamas and slippers or onto the back deck in my cut-off rubber boots (with camera in hand) and sniff the air.

Not very scientific, but I feel pretty confident when I say that today feels some milder than yesterday and if it keeps up we’ll lose the wee bit of snow on the ground that arrived recently.

["Optional vests? What about helmets?": photos by GAH]

In conclusion: Still too slippery for motorcycling but safety vests are now considered optional.


If you have snow, drive carefully.

If you don’t have snow, you’re missing out on one of the great pleasures in life. But, that could just be me saying that.


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Travel around the world? I don’t think so.

My sister posted on Facebook today that she joined or plans to follow some group that wants to check off 100 things on a list and travel around the world.

Then she asked, “What would you like to do?”

Well, I figure if everybody plans to go around the world then I’ll do something different, so I said I’d like to see more of Ontario by bicycle, motorcycle or on foot. Less gas needed.

["Main St., Thessalon": photos GAH]

I’d travel the north shore of lake Superior again at the drop of a hat, get my hair cut in Thessalon (if the guy is open), then scoot across the street and have butternut squash soup again with the 70 - 80 year old Slovakian woman who runs the cafe.

(It was delicious. “Would you like some more,” she asked. “Yes, please,” I said. Gosh, she was a nice lady. She told me she made the lace curtains on the windows of her cafe).

If I was 70 - 80 years old I’d see if I could buy the barber shop, sell birdhouses and break for lunch same time everyday.

And let the world come to me.


We can’t all go around the world.

Let’s go to places closer to home and see what’s there, with our eyes wide open.


It Strikes Me Funny: We’re not bankrupt already, are we?

From The Londoner, London’s Community Newspaper:

I often comb the business section of newspapers ­ looking for my one big break.

For example, when I spot a sale on original shares in Coca-Cola for five cents each, I'll buy $5.00 worth, for sure.

On December 23 I found an interesting news item in the London Free Press. It didn't lead to my fortune but left me with questions, which I tried to answer myself - because I was alone at the time.

The entire item follows:

'$15 Billion Weather a Disaster - a report from the Center for Research on Epidemiology of Disasters noted that 224 out of 245 international disasters this year were weather-related, causing $15 billion US in economic damages.'

Wow, that's a lot of weather-related disasters, I thought. Then the questions started.

Click here to read the rest of my weekly column.


Newspaper Clippings: Pension showdown looms

Are you living on a pension?

Do you hope to do so anytime soon?

Be prepared for pension trouble(s).

According to an article in last Saturday’s London Free Press more people will reach retirement with little in their pockets or pensions to sustain them in the lifestyle they desire or to which they have grown accustomed.


(Is this a bad time to say that the time to pursue a simple life is now. Or, ‘reduce spending, pay down debt, save money’? Sorry, I digress).

From the article:

Numerous iconic Canadian companies buckled under their debt in 2009... (recession related)

* If you lost your job in the last year or two you may have lost your pension too!

It became glaringly apparent that aside from debts owed to banks and other lenders, former employees were also taking a hit on their pensions.

* Many realize that the Canada Pension Plan will barely help them survive.

"There's going to be a showdown in 2010 around the laws governing private pension plans," predicted David Coles, national president of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers union. “The dispute hinges on the ability for a company to wind up its pension plan when it goes under.”

Coles said the courts and lawyers consider workers a low priority behind creditors, including the banks and other businesses, which has been a point of major contention with pensioners.

* This will be a long, loud, hard debate... and it’s not the only concern Cole mentions.

"Some of the corporate right and politicians are saying companies can't afford to continue these rich pension plans -- problem is, it's not their frickin' money to start with," Coles said.

Yes, pensions are expensive, like education and health care and other programs the majority of Canadians are willing to support.

But wouldn’t it be more expensive NOT to have pensions, schools and hospitals?


The pension battle will be worth watching.

As a retired teacher I have what is called a guaranteed pension.

But in the last few years I’ve learned that nothing is guaranteed.


My Weather Prediction: The snow cover will grow and stay for awhile

As soon as I rolled out of bed today I stamped my feet to make the furnace kick in because it was cold in the bedroom.

Now, I’m mature and wise enough to know that the furnace will only come on when it’s good and ready (has something to do with our thermostat) but my foot stomping continued until I felt limber enough to stumble over toward, then shut, our bedroom window.

["It looks cold out": photos GAH]

While at the window I looked outside.

“It looks cold out,” I said.

“It is cold out,” my wife replied, so I knew I was right.

Though no more snow has covered the ground since yesterday I feel confident when I say that more is coming (I feel it in my bones) and the four inches of snow we already have will stick around for awhile.

["Looks like four inches from the porch"]

Will London soon have 12 inches of snow to kill the bugs and provide multiple benefits to our surroundings?

I’m not sure.

["New announcements on the church door? Are they holding a bazaar?"]

But I’ll run out onto the front porch in my pajamas like I did this morning and let you know if it happens.


Is it snowing where you are?

If so, are you happy about that?


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

2010: It could be the best year ever

I shared a few brief thoughts recently re $15 billion worth of weather-related economic damage and loss in 2009.

I quoted a line or two from The Little Green Handbook (see Read This, right margin), a book that projects we’re headed toward global bankruptcy in the future (if the trend continues, i.e., toward larger annual weather-related losses tied to rising carbon emissions).

Cheery thoughts, eh?

On the home front, personal bankruptcies are reportedly on the rise.

Easy credit from lenders and the ‘live large’ philosophy of many consumers can lead to increasing and unmanageable debt. Who knew?

The following brief excerpt from a recent column by Eric Margolis signals trouble ahead for a country just 100 km south of my front porch:

“Military spending has risen from $667 billion US under Bush to $734 billion under Nobel Peace Prize laureate Obama. Add $49.8 billion more for intelligence. The U.S. is bankrupt and living on credit from China. But Washington's national security juggernaut keeps rolling on.” (Dec. 28, full article at London Free Press)

The health and soundness of households, individual nations and the globe is degrading, almost in an uncontrollable manner.

Our varied, complex pursuits and desires require too much of us.

The time to pursue a simple life is now.

A move to reduce spending, pay down debt, save money, help others and repair damage done to our surroundings would surely increase our collective health and soundness.

2010 could be the best year ever if we moved in the right direction.


Link and Learn: Snow cover is very important, right?

Sure, most readers believe what I say without batting an eye (I speak in such an authoritative, sensible tone - brilliant, eh?).

However, in case you want more information than my recent post about why we need a thick snow cover in winter, allow me to point you toward a recent article in the local paper that says the same thing.

It begins:

“For as long as I have been gardening, I can't recall a November or December with so little snow.

["Yup, I'm happy under here": photo GAH]

“Whether we like it or not, snow is important to our gardens. It provides both insulation and moisture that plants need.”
(Dec. 26, London Free Press, HOME section)

Click here for the full article.

Snow cover makes me very happy.



The snow has landed: Let’s go see how much we have

Wouldn’t it be nice if we have six inches of ground cover? I mean, there are so many benefits for the earth’s surface and everything on it.

E.g., human beans, plants, animals, Hummers - all get a much needed rest.

Okay, maybe not the Hummers.

(Everybody just has to slow down out there. And will they? No. Only people in Hummers will feel safe).

I’m going to run outside - enthusiastically - and take a measurement.

Four inches. Not bad.

Six would be better but I’ll take four.

My little friend was happy to be wearing his safety vest (oh yeah, he’s still smiling) but the buddy system doesn’t seem to be working.

["What happened to the buddy system?": photos by GAH]


Time to get a shovel and clear a path to the workshop.

Busy times in ‘the shed,’ as I like to say.


Monday, December 28, 2009

Today’s Weather: Wear your safety vest

London is no longer in the grips of a green Christmas holiday.

On Boxing day we turned a significant corner, in my opinion. (We enjoyed a touch of real snow).

["Small flakes cover the blue spruce": photos GAH]

And today, more small flakes are falling, and the one inch total depth is enough for me to say to all:

Don’t climb into the drifts without a buddy system and please wear your yellow safety vest.

Will we get a 12-inch blanket that will last for 2 - 3 months?

I hope so.


Morning Rant: Glam by any other name is still a shallow trend

Inwardly I cringe whenever I open the HOME magazine found inside The London Free Press on Saturday because, no matter that per capita, household and national debt is continually rising, HOME and similar inserts across the land keep pushing, pushing, pushing homeowners toward the deluxe life because, of course, they deserve it.

‘A touch of glam’ said the cover of the Dec. 26 edition of HOME, followed by ‘transforming your home into a luxe escape from drab reality is an easy, affordable dream, trendwatcher Janis Wallace reports.’


We should dream about our homes? Transform them into luxe escapes with glam? Our reality is drab?

Should I even bother to look at the article?

Though the pursuit of glam sounds like the shallowest trend on the face of the earth I turn a page or two and read the inside headline:

‘Bling it on’


Opening paragraph:

‘Basking in bling isn’t just for fashionistas. Fashion-forward homes also are starting to show some flash and dash as glam style takes off as a top trend.’

Glam style is taking off? I must have been in my workshop when the countdown started and blast off occurred.

To be fair, I’m a cynic.

[Click here to see original photo site]

I’ve seen so many trends come and go (corduroy, flannel, plaid, polyester, leather, silk, cotton - and I’m just talking underwear here) that any mention of a new one prompts a red light to flash inside my little round head.

“Will this new trend last a week before we’re told to switch to something else?”

“Will I just learn how to use the rotary phone before it’s taken from my hands?”

“Will any decor I buy stay in fashion longer than the time it takes to pay down my Mastercard bill?”

To be fair again, the article mentions such things as ‘you don’t have to redo your (whole) house,’ and ‘(do) just small amounts,’ and ‘you don’t have to break the bank,’ all in cautionary or recessionary tones.

Like, bling it on but not ‘til you’re broke. Or, luxe it up but just a little, not like the last 60 years.

In my opinion, I’d rather see people follow the trend toward austerity and live small, reduce spending, pay down debt and save money for tough times ahead.

Because if you think reality is drab now, wait ‘til personal, household and national debt (and the high costs of global weather-related damage) grow even more.


Memory Lane is just around the corner

My youngest sister Jane emailed me a group of photos under the heading ‘Childhood Memories,’ and though my favourite was a picture of a roller skate key (I think I recalled correctly what each hole was used for), several others rang the proverbial bell.

Plastic spindles for 45s were always found atop my desk or inside its drawer because I spent a lot of money on Bob Dylan, The Beach Boys, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones - one dollar at a time.

Today I have less than a half-dozen 45s hidden away, but sister Jane has the majority of my past collection, still in the carrying case I used to transport them safely to high school dances. (My life as a deejay with slicked back hair - that’s another story).

I also grew up with aluminum ice cube trays as pictured below.

They stacked relatively well on top of one another but if the freezer was really cold I had to hurry a tray to the sink before the metal stuck to my finger tips.

At the sink I’d run a bit of hot water over the bottom of the tray I order to make the crank work a bit easier. And, as a dutiful son, I’d fill the tray back up with water so that it wasn’t sitting in the freezer with just one lonely cube in it.


Why is it that 90% of the time the tray only had one cube left in it?

Maybe my youngest sister knows the answer.

Do you use metal or plastic trays? Which seem better?


Anne Murray, now retired, needs a hobby

I have two ideas for Anne Murray (I’ll get to that letter I promised her asap) that could keep her singing and happy as a lark - or some other song bird - until she’s 85.

I understand she just can’t keep heading out on the road for lengthy shows with a big crew of 20 or more and maintain the quality of performance she expects or get the rest she needs. I mean, how could she take days off while travelling with 20 other mouths to feed?

So, here’s my proposal.

Anne should build herself a wee performance hall, on or near her property, with enough room for 500 - 1,000 guests and a concession stand. (There’s good money in selling beer and popcorn and a few CDs! And vinyl is making a comeback.) Or, she could move closer to a small community with its own wee music hall and strike up a deal.

Then, she could perform every other day or twice on weekends, using a small, local backup crew.

Why, she could probably hand pick really good opening acts and give them a bit of exposure (with a beer and box of popcorn thrown in).

Then, on her days off, she should head out to her workshop (quite a bit like mine; small, cozy, good acoustics) and pop together a few birdhouses made from rescued lumber. (I’ll happily send her a few instructions).

Anne could sell them at the shows. (“Buy a large popcorn, get 20% off the birdhouse”). Who wouldn’t want an authentic Anne Murray birdhouse?

Anne Murray could go on with her singing and relaxing for another 25 years. Maybe more.

And so she should!

I’ll get that letter off soon.


Sunday, December 27, 2009

The skate key, hanging from my neck, would swing back and forth

My youngest sister emailed a group of photos (under the heading ‘Childhood memories’) of objects from the 1950s and 60s.

Many of the photos rang a bell, so to speak.

One of my favourite photos follows:

Of course, it’s a roller skate key.

The stamped metal key had three holes, each with a particular use (I think). Maybe you can help.

The square hole was used to loosen or tighten the clamp that held the toe of my shoe in place. Right?

The hexagonal hole was used to adjust the length of the roller skate, so that three or four children could use the same pair of skates on the same afternoon (if they wanted to share). Right?

And a shoe lace was threaded through the oblong hole or slot so that I could hang the key around my neck while skating. (I know I’m right on this one... I think).

Is this how you remember it?


Our family lived at the foot of two small hills. Great for skating.

I can still remember the clacking of the wheels and ‘buzzy’ feeling on the soles of my feet.

Been there, done that?

Do you still have a roller skate key in a drawer? Cool!


Saturday, December 26, 2009

Weather a Disaster: Is $15 billion a lot of money in today’s dollars?

I often comb the business section of The London Free Press looking for my one big break.

E.g., Old widow selling shares in Coca-Cola - 4 cents each.

What are the odds, eh?

On Dec. 23 I found a few interesting items.They will not lead to my fortune but leave me with questions.

“$15 Billion, Weather a Disaster: A report from the Center for Research on Epidemiology of Disasters noted that 224 out of 245 international disasters this year were weather-related, causing $15 billion US in economic damages.”

In other words, 91% of recent disasters were weather-related and cost big bucks, i.e., if $15 B is big bucks anymore.

Q: Is it?

A: It sounds like a lot to me. More than I have in savings.

Q: Besides that, I’d like to ask if that number has been going up or down over the last 20 years.

In the book entitled The Little Green Handbook (TLGH - see Read This, side margin) I read the following:

“Global weather-related losses covered by insurance increased from $26.2 billion for the 1980 - 89 decade (i.e., approx. $2.18 billion per year) to $123.5 billion for 1990 - 99 (i.e., approx. $10.29 billion per year).”

So, according to one book at least, the cost of weather-realted damage has been going up.

Q: Is that a problem?

(Did you notice I didn’t ask what Epidemiology means?)

From TLGH:

“How long can we cope with weather-related economic losses? If global income is substantially greater than the losses, and if it increases at least as fast as the losses, we have nothing to worry about. There will always be enough money to repair the damage.”

“Preliminary examination of the data (available to author) shows that the prospects are not encouraging, because the losses are increasing much faster than income... in time the losses might match global income. That would mean global bankruptcy.”


I have no more questions for today.



Is this a good time to say ‘build a stronger house?’


Zoom w a View: Snow cover leads to another project

(Anne Murray should get in on this one).

I was happy to see even a light covering of snow on the ground today.

Admittedly, I’ll be happier when it gets thicker and stays longer, but 1/4 inch is good for starters.

Fifteen minutes ago, while snapping a few photos, I noticed (through the lens at first) a few boards in my lumber pile that needed to be carted into the workshop.

["There are projects in that pile": outside photos GAH]

You see, I’ve been mulling over a new birdhouse style and I think it’s time to take the next few steps, i.e., pull enough pieces of lumber to make two houses from the stack, then take them indoors for sorting and measuring.

And if I like the first two I’ll probably make another six or so, because there is another pile of lumber outside the photo that needs my attention.

Though retired, I feel there will be busy times ahead.


Now that Anne Murray is retired I think she needs a relaxing hobby too.

I’ll drop her a line, tell her about birdhouse building.


Boxing Day Weather: By gosh, a touch of snow

For the first time in December I laced on winter boots before walking to The Red Roaster for coffee.

While making my way there I knew the friend I was meeting was not going to be alone. (Maybe his wife would be with him?) There was actually enough snow on the ground to reveal two sets of human foot prints and numerous animal tracks.

["Snow on the ground. Lovely.": photo GAH]

‘Enough snow?’ One quarter inch.

Not enough for me but a start.

I’d now like to see a thick blanket of snow cover the ground until the end of February. The earth needs its rest.

What are my odds?


64 to 1 against, in my opinion. (Based on the fact there are 64 days between now and Feb. 28).

I’m not a betting man on this one. I think I’ll lose.


Friday, December 25, 2009

Oh, she's a sneaky one all right!

My wife was sleeping, so I thought, when I went to bed shortly after 11 p.m. on Christmas Eve.

My feeling of smugness ("I bet she didn't hear me tip toe into the livingroom with her stocking - stuffed to the nines.") lasted about 60 seconds. I quickly dropped into a deep sleep.

A phone call woke me up, and while slowly navigating the house and chatting on the phone I spied two stockings where I'd left one the night before.

Oh, she's sneaky, I thought.

Merry Christmas to all.


The first hour of Christmas Morning

I stayed up late sanding and assembling birdhouses on Wednesday night so I slept like a rock on Christmas Eve, starting at about two minutes after 11 p.m., and about one minute after I placed a Christmas stocking for my wife on the livingroom couch.

An early phone call (relatively speaking) from family members in Bracebridge woke me up and helped me escape from a troubling dream, one in which I’d been demoted from a full-time teaching position to a part-time one in a Grade 2 class under the watchful eye of two principals (one inspector wasn’t enough??) standing at the back of the classroom.

(I’ve been retired from teaching for over seven years. Why am I still having recurring dreams - usually stressful - about being back in school? Do I need therapy? Sorry, I digress).

After I put coffee on the brew I looked outdoors. Not a flake of snow. Rain instead.

While sanding my front steps my closest neighbour (to the north side of the house) stepped onto his porch a few meters away.

“Merry Christmas, Gord,” he said.

“Merry Christmas to you too, Dave,” I said.

His wife joined him, coffee in hand.

They both had gifts to share with my wife and I.

Let me tell you about what we were given.

In a small gift bag from the very organized woman of the next household I found three jars of home preserves. Maple apple butter, peach jam and rhubarb jam.

They’ll get us through ‘til mid-March - if I go easy. Yummy.

Dave provided a gift for The Shed. It was a homemade 2010 calendar with a picture of a Scotch whisky per month we should sample with friends.

["The makers of the 2009 calendar aren't producing one for 2010," said Dave]

Brilliant. I was even his willing but unwitting accomplice. (Earlier in the month he’d asked for pictures of the shed - for a friend to look at, so he said).

["My old photos now decorate The Shed's new 2010 calendar"]

The calendar will get my friends and I (sippers of wee drams all) through ‘til the end of December. And we’ll go easy. (My boot-shaped whisky glasses only hold 1/2 ounce. See, I'm Scottish!)

Yum again..

["January's wee dram - Edradour. It's made at Scotland's smallest distillery: photos GAH]


And, so far, the rest of the day has been even better.

Keep well.


Saddened (What? Not one flake of snow?), but not for long

Yesterday morning I was saddened by news about the weather: London will be green for Christmas.

But my frown turned to a grin in a matter of hours.

I braved the Christmas shopping hordes before noon, list in hand (I checked it twice) and returned victorious. By 3 p.m. I stood in the living room of my house, arms stretched to the ceiling, and proclaimed, “I am that guy!”

["The only snowflakes are on this bottle of winter beer": photo GAH]

(Some of you will know the guy I am talking about. The one in a TV ad (Scotiabank?) who is told by a bank employee he did right by his money, even though his wife doesn’t think he has. He rips off his outer shirt. On his under shirt are written the words - I was right! He raises his arms high. Yes!)

I was that guy. Done. Right.

This morning, when I stepped outside, I noticed there was not a flake of snow on the ground or in the air. Instead, a few drops of rain were falling, and freezing, making the walking treacherous.

Freshly saddened, I took a few snaps. Then sanded the front steps.

My wish for 18 inches of snow has not been realized but now it’s forgotten.

It’s Christmas Day. A day filled with family, friends, feelings of deep thankfulness and dreams of a better future.

Merry Christmas to all.


Thursday, December 24, 2009

Much ado about a long, life-saving Christmas list.

Like most Canadians I had a long list of dutiful duties to perform today.

My list was longer than in past years because one of my birdhouse models sold better than I imagined. As sales mounted, my list grew.

Though it felt good to shop with cash (my debit card never left my wallet), I felt better that I’d taken the time to compile a thorough to-do list. (Forget American Express. Don’t leave home without a list!)

Early this morning, almost immediately after I’d washed my face, patted down a poofy bit of hair I’d slept on and jumped into the clothes hanging from my bedpost, I left the house.

And while walking to The Red Roaster in Wortley Village, I felt confident I could be home by 3 o’clock with all duties scratched off my list. (Three o’clock ain’t bad for a last minute shopper like me).

While paying for coffee and toast I purchased a bag of my lovely wife’s favourite coffee.

Easy schmeasy, I thought. One item checked off the list.

Fifteen minutes later, while paying for plumbing supplies at Tuckey Hardware, I nabbed two Christmas treats for my wife.

Hope she’ll share, I said to myself as I stroked two more items off my list. ('Toilet fill valve, tasty treats.’ How Christmasy is that?)

["I love my list. Do you?": photo of GAH]

While connecting with the owner of a nearby gift shop about some of the birdhouses I have for sale there, I spotted another gift for my wife.

Three for three, I thought as the cashier wrapped and beribboned my purchase.

Soon thereafter I crossed the street and wound my way quickly through the grocery aisles at Valu-Mart. Apples, tea packets, cookies and other stocking stuffers soon filled my grocery cart, including a healthy supply of pecans at 99 cents per pound. (Bonus!)

The toes of our stockings will rattle this year. Don’t say a word.

After dropping off a few items from the workshop at neighbours’ houses I returned home for lunch. Only six items remained on my to-do list.

“I should be back earlier than I thought. See you by 2:30,” I said to my wife as I left the house.

The coffee line at Chapters slowed me down. Browsing for three books slowed me down more.

But while waiting in line to pay for the books and gift cards I didn’t panic. Four more items - check!

As I left the store I checked my watch and felt I could add an extra stop - and still be home close to the time I mentioned.

Mistake. Traffic congestion (The Olympic Torch relay was in town) and one long line up at my ‘extra stop’ (the LCBO; I felt I needed 8 more cans of Fuller’s ESB) killed at least 30 minutes. Ouch.

So, I wasn’t home by 2:30, but I definitely pulled in the driveway a few minutes before 3 o’clock with everything crossed off the list.

So, I say again - don’t leave home without it.


Did a list save you time and energy this year?

What? You’re still out shopping? (You poor thing).

Get home. Put your feet up. Sing a carol.


Local weather (or lack thereof) makes local news. Bah!

I want 18 inches of snow by Christmas day.

So far, I got squat. Nada. Zilch.

Even the 1/8th of an inch we had last week is now completely gone. It disappeared faster than delicious turkey dressing at a Christmas meal.

["I want 18 inches! But got nothin": photos GAH]

And because I moaned and groaned at every opportunity about our lack of snow cover I likely jinxed our chances of ever seeing a white Christmas again.

In my opinion, it’s bad enough that Canadian winters are getting warmer and my red long johns only get pulled out of my dresser drawer one or two times per year, usually to keep the chill off during my first few spring walks or motorcycle rides.

["Salt in the wounds - today's London Free Press"]

But to discover news about a green Christmas has been published before the big day actually arrives rubs salt in my open wound.

Green Christmas. Bah.




Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Will our fascination with the economy ever end?

Every year, about this time, a study comes out related to how much you or I or a typical family in Gravelbourg, Saskatchewan (“You want gravel? We got gravel.”), will spend for Christmas.

Scotiabank’s 2009 Holiday Spending Study came out recently and reports that Canadians plan to spend about $600 on gifts and $300 on non-gift related items (e.g. travel and food) this year, up $7 from last year.

Albertans will spend the most and those from Quebec the least (with Ontarians very near the bottom, for which I am to blame).

A newspaper article re the study reported that ‘the holiday season is the busiest time of year for the country’s retailers and provides a barometer for consumer confidence in the economy’ (Dec. 16, London Free Press) and most of us likely understand why banks do studies and why retailers are interested in our money.

["Ten dollars a week soon adds up." "OINK"]

Though a $7 increase over last year’s spending may not cause much rejoicing in the business world, I suspect it’s not as much of an increase as in previous years, and for that I’m thankful.

Maybe a ‘spend less, pay down debt and save money for hard times philosophy is catching on, after all.


I’ll look for past studies to see if I’m right.


Two days to go and still no snow whipping in from the east

Christmas will not be cancelled due to lack of snow. The day will still be wonderful without it. It just won’t be as white.

["I can't drive this without snow tires, says my wife": photo GAH]

And deep down inside of me I’ll know that I’ll be able to celebrate all that is significant about Christmas without 18 inches of snow. (Global warming and climate change aside, the heart of Christmas is the same).

["Snow is almost gone. Wanna go to California?": photo GAH]

Oh yes, I said eighteen inches. The East Coast got 18 inches, so I want 18 inches. Bracebridge got 18 in one day, I want it spread over two.

Is it so much to ask?


Though California sounds nice on paper, I know it’s not as nice as my backyard buried in snow.


It Strikes Me Funny: The lighter side of the classifieds

Getting desperate to buy the perfect gift for that special someone?

["Sorry, my VW van is not for sale": photo GAH]

Well, look no further, especially if your Uncle Louie (Uncle Louie is that special someone, right?) loves NASCAR.

For Sale - NASCAR Dale Earnhart Sr. Oreo Cookie car, $50.

That’s not all, the same seller has this model too.

NASCAR 1999 dye cast, orange Schneider Monte Carlo, $75.

I’m thinking the orange will match the colour on a package of Schneider wieners. You know the one I mean?

And you know what makes this gift extra special - if you’re really desperate?

The seller will deliver.

Just say, “Gentlemen, start your engines!”

Click here for more of The Lighter Side of The Classifieds.


Not that desperate yet?

The ad was found in Flea Market, The London Free Press, Dec. 21

PS Dale drove a cookie car???? What????


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

What? Sarah Palin was asked to fundraise for a Canadian hospital?

It strikes me very funny that the Juravinski Cancer Centre and St. Peter’s Hospital in Hamilton invited Sarah Palin to be a celebrity fundraiser for them.

First, Palin is about 30 years and 30 significant contributions to mankind away from being a celebrity in my book. (So, get back to me in 30 years!)

Second, is this the same Sarah Palin who said (just a few weeks ago) that “Canada needs to dismantle its public health-care system and allow private enterprise to get involved and turn a profit?”

["Oh boy. If I could jist get my hands on a hospital"]

Isn’t that like saying, what good is cancer if we can’t make money off it?

Folks, it was the same Sarah Palin, but enough people called the Hamilton Health Sciences Foundation with a dissenting view that her assignment was shifted.

Palin will now help fundraise for a children’s charity, likely because she hasn’t figured out a way yet to turn a profit on young kids.


Climate Change: Canada’s Conservatives didn’t entirely undo Kyoto

(But they sure keep on trying).

I've said a few things about climate change and global warming lately, and will say more, but it's time to direct you toward two recent articles that leave me in the dust.

Gwynne Dyer concluded a recent article entitled ‘Dithering Canada Faces Chaos’ (Dec. 19, London Free Press) by saying:

“Canadians, including the federal government, assume they will be OK no matter what happens on the climate front, so they can afford to put their other interests (like protecting the income from the tar sands) first. It is not true.”

His summary explains to some degree why Canada’s federal Conservative government is not following the right course as it continues to trumpet the economy at the expense of the environment.

However, in a recent post by Glen Pearson, federal Liberal Member of Parliament for London North-Centre, we see that the positive course set by many countries via the 1990 Kyoto Accord has not been entirely killed by Canada’s government.

In a post entitled ‘Kyoto Lives’ (Dec. 22) Mr. Pearson says the following:

“Despite Conservative claims that the Kyoto Accord was a meaningless document, it was fortunate that most other nations at the Copenhagen summit didn’t buy it. In fact, they haven’t bought into the Conservative agenda for years, as many of the world’s leading nations will reach, or come close to, the Kyoto 1990 targets.

“This country’s stark lack of leadership on the climate change file at Copenhagen has lowered our prestige even more in international opinion.

“In the words of a recent Globe and Mail editorial:

To be sure, Canada is not the only country failing to meet its targets, and was not the only obstacle to a more meaningful deal in Copenhagen. But among developed countries, it stood alone in its apparent apathy.”

It seems the Conservatives can’t quite seem to kill Kyoto, but they sure know how to kill our country’s prestige in the world and keep their apathy alive.


If you visit Mr. Pearson’s website, please read The Copenhagen Cave as well. Very well written.


London could always borrow some snow from Bracebridge

If there are enough people who want 18 inches of snow by Christmas I bet we could work a deal with Bracebridge.

["Outside my sister's dining room window in Bracebridge"]

We give them hot chocolate, they give us snow.

["Outside the livingroom window - B'bridge"]

We give them our dusty snow shovels, they give us fresh ground cover.

["My sister is finally taller than the porch railings"]

We give them a bellyful of beer, they give us their next snowfall.

Are you in on this deal?


Love Is All You Need?: Add snow tires and safety vest

The Beatles didn’t have to deal with slippery roads or wives (perhaps) who would keep after them about putting snow tires on their cars in wintertime.

But I do. (I’m not a Beatle, and I’m definitely not Bob Dylan).

["I know it's not much snow but drive carefully!": photos by GAH]

Though we have barely one-eighth of an inch of snow today (it will be gone tomorrow, I bet) I’ve been told roads are slippery.

Well, they might have been when my wife went to Ollie’s house, but by the time I walked to The Red Roaster for a cuppa dark roast this morning the streets were clear.

["It is slippery. Good thing I wore my safety vest!"]

I’ve been told rain is coming. I don’t want to believe it.

I still have hopes for 18 inches of snow by Christmas.


I still owe you photos of the snow pile outside my sister’s window in Bracebridge.

I’ll get on it... soon.


Monday, December 21, 2009

Flying Blind: Just another frenzied Christmas shopping flight

Birdhouse 1 with post support ready for pickup - check.

Birdhouse 2 for neighbours, stained and ready for delivery - check.

Christmas gift for lovely wife - ouch.

["Birdhouse 1 - with post support - check": photo by GAH]

But after the pickup and delivery I’ll have walking around money and be ready to brave the Christmas shopping frenzy at a local store I know my wife loves.

How long will it take to buy a Christmas gift card (invented by someone with me in mind) and a lovely piece of jewelry, or a set of matching dish towels?

15 Minutes? Check!

I must admit, this year I’ll be a last minute shopper.

But with a list in hand - it’s not too daunting.


The list? Ouch.

Should I start to worry?


London’s winter weather: Dec. 21 - a bit light on snow

After my morning rant ("There had better be snow!!") I packed the car and prepared to drive home from my son's house in Fenelon Falls.

Later in the afternoon and while on the 401 west of Toronto we actually saw a few flakes.

I thought, maybe London will have a touch on the ground when we get there.

Hope faded once we passed the Dorchester Swamp. Lots of traffic, little snow anywhere.

[The wife: "Thanks for doing all the driving." The husband: "No problem. Thanks for the safety vest!": photo by GAH]

In our backyard and on the deck - nothing.

Nothing except one little sliver barely visible in the photo taken 10 minutes ago.


Four days to go. Let’s all wish a little harder for that 18 inches I’ve been dreaming about.


Wait ‘til you see the latest pictures of snow in Bracebridge.

Coming soon. (But I have to wade through 27 emails first).


There had better be snow by the time I get to London

There is snow outside my window but I'm in Fenelon Falls.

There's snow in Washington and the East Coast of the USA because I saw it in the news.

"Travel is backed up for months," said one report (but I was only half-listening).

"The storm is headed for Nova Scotia. Look out, Canada!" warned another report.

Well, I hope the reports are right. Because I've been waiting since December 1 (the day my postman was seen wearing Bermuda shorts and a short-sleeved shirt while delivering Christmas cards in Wortley Village) for a real Canadian snowfall.

None of this mamby-pamby stuff, like 1/8th of an inch before breakfast then gone by noon!

Unfortunately, the only word about London's weather since I've been gone came yesterday - it was raining!!

What the heck? Rain just before Christmas?

Ok, I'm about to pack the car and head home.

There better be snow by the time I get there.


If the snow is gone, don't tell me.

I want to see it - or not see it - for myself.


Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Toronto Maple Leafs vs The Maple Laughs

The Leafs didn't crush the Boston Bruins last night though their 2 - 0 win did look mighty pretty.

In the all-important first, second and third periods the Leafs worked very hard and now appear to be a much different team than at the start of the season.

I haven't finished all of the complicated mathematical calculations needed to be exact, but, for now, I think the Leafs are 27.5% better after 36 games of hockey.

Why, in their last 10 games (as of Fri. Dec. 18; more current musings on Monday), the Leafs had a better winning record than 9 of the 10 closest teams to them in the Eastern Conference. (Seven of those teams are ahead of the Leafs in the standings, three of them in position for the playoffs).

I think if The Leafs maintain the same pace over the next 20 games they will have a fair - good chance of reaching a playoff position.

Why didn't I say a very good chance?

That's a long limb I'm not going out on until the end of January.


Are you behind the Leafs?

Will they make the playoffs this year?


I'm ready for James Cameron's next big project after Avatar

Like Sam Worthington (as Jake, in Avatar), I think I can carry James Cameron's next movie.

I mean, Sam and I are almost twins.

According to a recent newspaper article (Dec. 18, London Free Press), Sam was living in his car when Cameron met him.

Me, I can usually be found in my shed.

Sam was an unknown Australian actor.

I'm from Canada, but hardly anyone knows me. At least not Mr. Cameron.

["More four-plexes are underway": photo GAH]

Sam is carrying Cameron's "massively expensive science-fiction spectacular."

And coincidentally, that's the same kind of movie I want to carry. Offer me a documentary (e.g., "The Secret Lives of Short People") and I'll chase you off my porch.

Go "massively expensive" or go home - that's my motto.

The similarities between Sam and I don't end there.

When he was offered the Avatar role in 2007 he said "he needed a week to get his brakes fixed."

Me? I have three birdhouses to finish before Christmas.

But - and this to James. Can I call you James? - after Christmas I'm as free as a bird.


Have you seen Avatar? Thoughts?

Do you think I'm ready for the big time?