Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Promises, promises

I said I would and I will. I'll build a log cabin triplex with a nice side yard, room enough for a clothesline and a couple of comfy chairs. My word is my bond.

["The wee clothespins may be available in a local craft shop"]

However, while cutting logs the other day a wee thought, with an accompanying image (3D and in full colour), floated across the movie screen inside my busy mind: You agreed to build two birdhouses for a local ballpark; opening day for the new baseball season is creeping up; so git to it. Git! Git!

["One will display a real baseball, behind plexiglass. Amazingly cool!"]

Yesterday I began to assemble a prototype for the first 'baseball themed' birdhouse. To accommodate a display case for a London Majors baseball, the house will have a common shape with uncommon innards, as would a chicken with two stomachs. (Try to picture that just for a second).

So, a bird will enter through a standard entrance, stroll warily - at first - across the second floor, then easily hop down into the living room at the back of the house. (Try to picture that just for a second, with wariness if possible).

This is going to work. I can see it now.

More to follow.

Photos by GH


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Reading, riding, and searching for clues

While reading upon my exercise bike I do not even realize I'm pedalling. It comes automatically, I've done it now for so many years.

["I didn't know the length of my journey until I put the book down"]

Last Sunday I travelled for over 45 miles oblivious, for the most part, to my surroundings. I pedalled, turned pages, put the book down three or four times to sip water from a cup nearby and lift weights, pedalled, turned pages, read about the sinking of the first boat sunk by Germany during the early days of WW2, September 3, 1939.

"...Miraculously, she righted herself. Hurriedly, more than a thousand passengers and crew scrambled into the boats. Most were saved, but 112 lost their lives, including 28 Americans. Sixteen children went down with the ship - the Athenia." (pg. xii, prologue, In Great Waters)

["The Epic Story of the Battle of the Atlantic, 1939 - 45"]

I've come to a few conclusions recently while reading and riding. I'll never get to the end of the books I want to read about WW1 and 2. I'll cover a lot of miles, however, and keep myself 'somewhat fit', while on the endless journey. By exercising regularly, I'll even help myself live a bit longer and get closer to the bottom of the pile of books.

As well, by reading particular books (e.g., In Great Waters) I catch an occasional glimpse of faint footsteps left by my father as he participated in the greatest adventure of many a young man's life during the WW2 years, 1939 - 1945.

More to follow.


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Saturday, February 23, 2013

Zoom w a View: Laundry day

The workshop floor is swept. Finally.

["An idea came to mind while folding my laundry"]

It's now time to get back to serious work... on a birdhouse with a side yard and picket fence. And what could I put in the yard that birds would find useful?

Photo by GH


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The Workshop: "Now there's room to work"

About ten days ago I turned my workshop upside down. Redo it, I said to myself. Make it a more work-efficient space. Automize. Specialize. Customize. Sweep the floor.

 Been there.

["You could eat off these floors now!"]

Done that.

Now it's time to get back to work and turn drawings into living, breathing birdhouses. Or something like that.

Photos by GH


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Friday, February 22, 2013

Zoom w a View: "Sit down for this one"

I've met many comfortable chairs in my life but, at the moment, this old one beats them all.

["Port Franks, I shall return"]

I know it's early in the year, but I'm already planning my next bicycle trip. Can I pedal there in one day? Will my chair still be there?

What are you thinking?

Photo by GH


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The Workshop: "Now there's room for stuff"

Now I know how a one-armed paper hanger feels. I built the shelves on the floor, then had to hold them in place - on the level - with one hand while popping in nails with the other. It wasn't easy.

["Soon a lot of stuff will appear"]

It wasn't easy... until I put a level support strip on the wall upon which the bottom of the shelf could rest while I wielded the hammer. Then it was a snap. It was also fun applying a strip of red cedar to the  facing shelf and divider edges. Nice finishing touch, I say.

["The unit is 6 ft. wide, 2 ft. tall. I wish I had room for twice that"]

After I filled a few shelves ("Yes! Now there's more room for stuff!" I said), I turned to think about a vexing problem. I.e., where do I put my old CD player? It's too wide to fit on the new unit, and I like things close at hand.

["I can't afford a smaller player. I blew the budget, folks!"]

There's always something to do or think about in the workshop.

Photos by GH


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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Zoom w a View: "The Schnapps Distillery"

I must be close to the end of my workshop reno. E.g., last night I started hanging favourite photos in prominent places.

["Son Paul took this one during a trip to Austria. Awesome"]

One cherished photo comes from inside another man's small workshop which doubles as a schnapps distillery. The father of my son's business associate distills whisky or schnapps for a limited time each year and his walls are lined with spirits of every kind. My son was invited to sampled a few and almost fell asleep standing up. Next time he'll likely sit down beside the distiller and sip more slowly.

I'm attached to the photo for various reasons:

["Doesn't he wear a lovely, satisfied expression?"]

I like cozy, productive shops

I can almost smell the schnapps

I also roll up my shirt sleeves when working

I also celebrate 'Happy Hour' at 5 p.m.

Everybody needs a workshop (and knowing somebody with their own still would be kind of interesting too).

Photos by GH


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The Workshop: "More ribs please"

Earlier this week, after fussing over how a few shelves should look in my 'soon to be new and improved' workshop, I stared at an empty wall for a few minutes. What next? I thought.

["I love a blank canvas"]

Shortly thereafter I assembled small cribs for the odd bits of lumber needed for various birdhouses and other small projects. I placed five cribs next to the main workbench so that items will be close at hand when I work.

["Soon the cribs will be filled with logs and slats"]

What now? I thought.

["You want extra BBQ sauce with that order?"]

Two things. Shelves, lots of shelves. Then more ribs for the cribs... with extra sauce.

Photos by GH


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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Photo Poser 23: "Plums, plumbs, plum bobs?"

I was generously offered these two items recently. Barry said, "Would you like these?" I said, "Yes."

The pair now hangs inside my workshop. But what are they?

["A pear of plums?"]

Plums? Plumbs? Plum-bobs?

FYI The answer to Photo Poser 22 is 'Confederation Bridge, PEI'.

Photo by GH


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The Workshop: "Time to get fussy"

At five minutes to three on Monday I stepped back from my work, brushed dust from my face and picked up my camera. I felt ready for a ten minute break.

["My main bench is almost ready for action"]

I'd just finished covering the east or back wall of the workshop with tongue and groove pine and applying trim where it met the side walls, floor and ceiling.

As well, a shelf, originally attached to the back wall, is now placed nicely - on the level - over my smaller workbench. And most cubbies are full, i.e., back in action.

["The smaller bench's work space will soon be well-lit"]

Two of the cubbies I will fuss over. "Display purposes only" for old hammers and a decoy.

I enjoy working in the shop for many reasons, and the touch of family history within its walls makes me feel that every project, small or large, is completed with some important meaning.

["The wooden hammer is used with some chisels"]

Great-great-uncle Hank Catton was a decoy carver and crack shot and I can fire off a wisecrack with the best of them. My dad was a prolific birdhouse builder and his hammer (and a wooden one from my mother) graces a top shelf, over-looking my own busy 'birdhouse building' bench.

Soon the clean-up and fussy-minded redo will be completed and shop will be back to business.

Stay tuned.

Photos by GH


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Friday, February 15, 2013

The Workshop: "Close at hand... soon"

I like having things close at hand. Wallet, camera, coffee mug, pen, pencil, notebook - always nearby.

["Old pegboard is off the back wall"]

My desires aren't much different in the workshop and after turning out three dozen log cabin birdhouses during the last two months I decided upon a 'shop redo.' Tools I use a lot will be closer at hand, some permanently attached to a second workbench. Wood, cut to measure, will be within arm's reach when I go to assemble future models.

["I'm now ready for the new tongue and groove"]

Soon, the workshop will look fantastic. Right now, however, it's a real mess.


Photos by GH


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Short Story PT 4: "Where are you, Joe?"

After I sent Joe (a fellow teacher I haven't seen since 1970) a recent email suggesting we meet to update his paperwork file ("I suggest we sit down soon to review your case file. How far are you from Jasper?"), I think he caught on that I was pulling his leg. He should have too. The Joe I knew was as sharp as a tack.

Below is his short reply:

The Penny drops 6 hours RU living in Jasper?

I wrote right back to explain the situation:

Hi Joe. 

Good work, you solved the mystery before there was a need to send along my old photo and one of the "Old Russian Folk Tale" you penned in the back of my 'Spectrum 1970' (yearbook), Elborn College, before we parted ways.

["I think Joe will remember my yearbook mug shot"]

I live in London, have since 1970, am retired (85 factor helped me decide in 2002), and will be passing through Jasper as I did a year ago, on my way to Vanc. Island in late April. I am tracing information re my late father's war years w RCNVR ('41 - 45) and he "trained zombies" (he says in his memoirs) at Comox once home from Europe. A tramp around 'The Spit' in Comox harbour is on my agenda.

I thot if you lived close by I would buy you a coffee during 'The Canadian's' short stopover. Not to be, this time. You're hours away and may be teaching.

BTW Are you still teaching now? Plans for retirement?

Keep well, 


I found it disappointing that Joe lives 6 hours away from Jasper. No way could we meet during the train's short stopover. However, I plan to vacation there in the future (when my wife can get time off work), so some time in the future two old teachers might be able to hash over old times.

I sent off the email, and the next day I received very interesting news back from Joe. A get-together is more possible than I thought.

Stay tuned.

[Photo by GH from Spectrum 1970]


Please click here for "Where are you Joe?" PT 3

Zoom w a View: A sappy slice of life

While stacking logs for (yet another) log cabin birdhouse I came across one log that weighed significantly more than the others.

I think the extra weight comes from the large amount of sap trapped in the wood. And I was struck by the purplish hue.

Photos by GH 


Why so much sap in one log?

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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Short Story PT 3: "Where are you, Joe?"

I now know where Joe is, or was until last year, according to Google search results. I.e., in the Peace River or Fort St. John area in Northern Alberta. And I know his occupation is (was) that of a gifted/enrichment teacher and he accompanied a class to Ottawa in 2011, even though his paperwork re his teaching position was in question ; ) according to moi.

Two days ago I sent him an email re his 'incomplete paperwork' and now await his reply.

Ping. (That was quick! Actually, it arrived yesterday).

His emails reads as follows:

Hi Gordon

Please clarify.



Okay, not exactly what I was expecting (e.g., it's not "Hey Gord. You are such a hoot!") but at least I know he is alive and well and connected to a viable email address.

As per his request, I clarified:

Thank you for your prompt reply and enquiry, Joe.

Usually, I wouldn't bother with details related to documents that go as far back as 1969, but while reviewing a photo journal recently (i.e., Spectrum, 1970) related to your year at Elwood College, I noticed that my staff thoroughly explained the paperwork in question and you still failed to sign it, leaving you one credit short, as per first email.

["Sign both at the bottom. What could be
easier?" says Sec. Elizabeth Brebeuf]

As the new Elwood College Judge and Arbitrator I feel it is my responsibility to get this houseful of unsigned documents in order. Current policies are much stricter than in the past re verifying teaching qualifications. I suggest we sit down soon to review your case file.

How far are you from Jasper?


Gord Harrison
Elwood College Judge and Arbitrator
London, Ontario 

Now, let's wait and see what happens.

[Photo by GH, from 'Spectrum 1970', my teachers' college yearbook]


Please click here to read "Where are you, Joe?" PT 2

Zoom w a View: Twig or tree?

Is this a twig or a tree?

Is this a blizzard or a scene through frosted glass?

This will help.

Photos by GH 


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Fun and Fitness: DIY Juice

Old habits die hard, it's true, and some that my wife and I practice fall under the heading of 'don't throw anything out'.

E.g., I rescue odd bits of lumber from the curb and friends' garages and she saves vegetable juice from the steamer. As well, in a self-sustaining, reciprocative fashion that has developed over our 43 years together, she admires the birdhouses I make from scrap wood and I enjoy drinking her veggie juice as a morning tonic.

["It's a healthy thing to do, and I'm fitter for it"]   

I occasionally mix a small dash of Cranberry juice to the steamed veggie juice (I love the humble cranberry!), though I can handle it straight from the jar. I'm particularly fond of broccoli juice. 

While I'm sipping it, thoughts run through my mind, some of which may even be true:

I bet a lot of people pour vitamins straight down the drain

Veggie juice has gotta be healthier than many manufactured juices

This will help me reach my goal age - 87

Hmm. Tastes good. After breakfast I'll go for a 30-mile run

Okay, that last one was just for laughs, but a bike ride isn't out of the question. I've already got a good start to the week, exercise-bike-wise, and I've got a good book to read while pedalling.

["I've travelled over 75 miles already this week!"]

Drink your vegetables. Stay healthy.

Photos by GH


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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Zoom w a View: "Birds are afoot"

It seems to me that 95 per cent of the seed I put in my feeders goes down the wide gullet of a darn squirrel. How pleased I am when I spot evidence that birds are getting a wee bit.

Keep coming back, you guys, even on foot.

Photos by GH


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Recommended Reading: An Army at Dawn PT 2

I recommend the book highly. I can't put it down, because, not only is it a Pulitzer Prize winner, but my father was a part of the combined US and British force that landed on the northern coast of Africa (at Oran and Arzew in French Algeria) in November, 1942.

I'm about halfway through the 540 page book about WW2 events in North Africa and I've been encouraged to once again search my dad's navy memoirs, this time to find notes about his time in that part of the conflicted world.

Recently, even before finding his notes, I recalled he mentioned that he and Joe Watson (Simcoe) survived sniper fire by hiding behind a dozer blade while delivering war materials to the nearest shore. As well, after US troops (likely the Rangers) cleared out the resistance (mainly from the French), he worked for 92 hours straight, drinking only grapefruit juice stolen from supplies going ashore.

After finding dad's extensive written record I read he was truly a part of 'an army at dawn'.

["He wrote only a line or two..."]

He recalls the following, when as a 22-year old Leading Seaman with the Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve, he approached Gibraltar after leaving Greenoch, Scotland several days earlier:

One November morning the huge convoy, perhaps 500 ships, entered the Mediterranean sea through the Strait of Gibraltar. It was a nice sun-shiny day... what a sight to behold.

He wrote only a line or two about his first sighting of the Middle Sea, as some called it, but he never forgot the image. Later in life he yearned to see its turquoise-blue colours but one more time. His memories of the open sea were never forgotten, and though he was certainly capable of writing more about his first sighting, other thoughts may have crowded out his words. He had already been aboard a ship when it was bombed by German planes and another mind-numbing incident occurred as he approached the Strait of Gibraltar.

["No effort was made to search, we just kept on," dad writes]

He writes: In the convoy close to us was a converted merchant ship which was now an air craft carrier. They had a relatively short deck for taking off, and one day when they were practicing taking off and landing a Swordfish aircraft failed to get up enough speed and rolled off the stern and, along with the pilot, disappeared immediately. No effort was made to search, we just kept on.

"We just kept on." They had to, urged on by long, hard duty ahead. The armed force that entered the Mediterranean Sea at dawn kept on until it eventually lined the coast of North Africa for as far as the human eye could see. And at dawn on 'D-Day North Africa' they hit the beaches.

More to follow.


Please click here for 'An Army at Dawn' PT 1

Short Story Pt 2: "Where are you, Joe?"

Over two months ago, after a long, dust-filled day of work in my backyard workshop, I started looking for Joe Umenetz, a friend from London Teachers College, 1969 - 70. Weeks passed and I eventually learned I was spelling his name wrong. It's Umanetz, as per my Teachers College yearbook (finally, I found it!), i.e., 'Spectrum 1970'. 

["Dust filled the air in the shop. Ontario teachers
were talking 'strike action'. I thought of Joe."]

I then learned, just a few nights ago (thanks to Google), he was still teaching in the very recent past and had taken a class to Ottawa, and stood under the giant metal spider (and sac of spider eggs) that casts its spell outside the front door of the National Art Gallery. The photo I found of him online closely resembles the one of my wife and I standing under the same spider during a brief vacation in 2010, the year before Joe and his class visited our nation's capital.

["My wife and I wait for the eggs to hatch"]

["A similar photo, 2011. Is Joe among the crowd?
Will I ever find him?"]

And I found a postal address for his present or last school, and an email address.

So, I cleverly (in my always humble opinion) dropped him a line:

Hi Joe,

I am sorry and surprised - chiefly surprised -  to have discovered you are one credit short, according to the Elwood College Standard (i.e., from teachers' college, London, Ontario, 1969), of attaining the position of gifted/enrichment teacher. Please contact me for full instructions re completing the necessary, fairly inexpensive paperwork.


Gord Harrison
Elwood College Judge and Arbitrator
London, Ontario

Granted, this looks like an unusual way to reconnect with Joe after 43 years have gone by. But I did give him my real name and the wrong name for the college we attended. It should read 'Elborn'. If he truly deserves to be called a 'gifted/enrichment teacher' he will catch on immediately and dash off a quick reply.

E.g., "Hey Gord, you are still a hoot!" Or something like that.

More to follow.

Photos by GH


Please click here to read "Where are you, Joe?" PT 1

Monday, February 11, 2013

Recommended Reading: An Army at Dawn PT 1

I'm reading a very good book at the moment re WW2, a topic I've been reading about for the past year or two. I've barely scratched the surface, truth be told.

'An Army at Dawn', Part 1 of a Pulitzer Prize winning trilogy, focuses upon the Allied effort in North Africa beginning in November, 1942. I'm presently at the part where US and English troops are trying to move east from the shores of North Africa (Morocco, French Algeria) to engage and dispatch the German forces in Tunisia. Tough times are ahead for all concerned, I know, including my father.

My father, Gordon Douglas (Doug) Harrison, was a member of the RCNVR from 1941 - 45 and during those four years helped bring landing craft ashore in North Africa, Sicily and Italy and participated in a training program on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. So he not only delivered troops, jerry cans full of gasoline, bulldozers, and whatever else an army needed to wage a war upon land, but he taught other young recruits how to do the same. (Gunnery training was also a part of the Givenchy III program in B.C. but I'm not sure if dad was involved with 'ready, aim, fire'.)

A day or two ago I came across a passage from which 'An Army at Dawn' got its name:

["...an army at dawn..."]

Young men, fated to survive
and become old men
dying abed half a century hence,
would forever remember this hour,
when an army at dawn
made for the open sea in a cause
none could yet comprehend.
Ashore, as the great fleet glided past,
dreams of them stepped, like men alive,
into the rooms where their loved ones
lay sleeping.

Truthfully, as I read the passage it struck me as powerfully as any piece of prose I've ever read, so I arranged it, not like it appeared in the book as normally-spaced lines of type, but as shorter, halting phrases.

I then looked at my father's notes about his 'Navy days', to see how he recalled his time sailing toward and landing upon the shores of North Africa. Would he also refer to 'an army at dawn' from his vantage point as one seaman amongst a 500 ship convoy?

More to follow.

Photos by GH


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Fun and Fitness: "Always have a good book handy"

I had my work cut out for me last night. I needed to pedal 36 miles on my exercise bike to reach my week's goal, i.e., 105 miles of pedalling or other such exercise.

["I did it! I even pedalled 0.2 extra miles! That's huge" : ) ]

Fortunately, I'm reading a very good book at the  moment re WW2, 'An Army at Dawn', and I'm at the part where the US and English troops are trying to move east from the north shores of North Africa (Nov., 1942) to engage and dispatch the German forces in Tunis. Tough times for all concerned, I know, including my father.

Father was a member of the RCNVR from 1941 - 45 and helped bring landing craft ashore in North Africa, Sicily and Italy. As a Leading Seaman (later a Coxswain) he delivered troops, jerry cans full of gasoline, bulldozers, and whatever else an army needed to wage a war upon land.

So, when I have a long way to pedal, a good book keeps the fire going.

Photo by GH


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The Workshop: "What to do with 20 spanners?"

I know what to do with old barnboard: Make log cabin triplexes. But, last Saturday, when I saw an old vendor at Western Fair Market selling shiny spanners by the bushel (at a low price, and that caught my attention), I had a hunch I could use them for something, though I wasn't 100 per cent sure for what.

["Two can be seen under the top entrance to the triplex"]

I bought 20 or so of the smallest spanners and recently stapled two of them to the front of a large birdhouse. In my always humble opinion, I think they fit right in quite well as "appropriate exterior decor." (Birds don't have anything against spanners, do they?)

["Birds can use them to keep squirrels in line"]

Now, what to do with one lovely brass hinge?

Photos by GH


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Saturday, February 9, 2013

Zoom w a View: I've always been a bit square

"Square window or round?"

That is the question.

I am happy I stayed with the square. Hopefully my wife says the same thing on occasion.

Photo by GH


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Birdhouse London: Prototype a success

The process is the thing, and building a prototype (of a log cabin triplex) is an early step that treads on the heels of other earlier steps. Because I like to scratch out a few drawings, write things down and snap pictures of my progress I can now trace several of the steps taken during a recent and successful (in my always humble opinion) birdhouse project.

Early sketches of a triplex were drawn during an intermission at last week's London Knights hockey game. I've already built dozens of cabins so the sketches came easily. I thought then, this bigger project has possibilities. And I've got the lumber.

["1 in. logs, 3/4 in. logs - very important details. You'll see."]

Earlier this week, after assembling lumber, I scratched out a recipe on scrap paper. "Twelve of this and twelve of that." Again, very important. Sure, it's not rocket science but much depends on getting the numbers right. E.g., my peace of mind.

["Getting the correct size of the top triangle is crucial!"

I write down as many details as possible. A future recipe depends on my chicken scratchings and little diagrams. People at the Smithsonian Institute will appreciate all this stuff one day, I'm sure.

["The 'nailing strip' is an incredible step forward and
better than some aspects of modern technology."]

I discovered during the building process that certain modifications can be made to make the assembly easier. E.g., I could make one 'T' shaped base rather than two smaller ones. I could make both apartments from the same sized logs to speed the cutting process. (I wrote some more stuff down too, be sure of it). 

["Not bad for the first try!"]

But I was glad I kept the one square entrance. It was easy to frame and stands out as a 'cool detail', at least in my opinion.

After I mull a few things over in my mind I'll write the recipe for 'log cabin triplex'... in pencil. Then I'll start a second one, maybe even a third by the end of next week. The process is the thing, and I'm enjoying all of it.

Photos by GH


Have lumber. Will assemble.

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