Fiery Birthday Story

It would be quite all right for me to take the day off today and not write in my blog. It is my Birthday, and I believe a birthday should be a day of indulgence.

But I enjoy writing and I like my blog. It is akin to having a child that isn’t ever going to be a teenager. Or owning a cat that doesn’t shed or claw the furniture or choke up fur balls. Or a job I can do from home in my pajamas. Or a car that never needs gas… (Actually, I have a car like that. My  Spousal Unit, The Car Guy, is very good about keeping my car clean, serviced, and gassed up.)

So what else have I got planned for the day? I’m not sure yet, but it certainly IS NOT going to involve a birthday cake. The candles are getting so numerous that they pose a fire hazard.

I’m not going to talk about getting older either, because, there is no upside to thinking those kinds of self defeating thoughts. As Bernard B. Baruch said, “To me, old age is 15 years older than I am.”  Helen Hayes echoed that idea when she said: “Age is not important unless you’re a cheese.”

Most days, if I didn’t look in the mirror, I would be the same person I was 20 or 30 or 40 years ago. Except I am more sure of my opinions. Although, as Dave Barry points out: “I’ve been hanging around with people roughly my age for the bulk of my life, and I frankly do not feel that, as a group, we have acquired the wisdom and maturity needed to run the world, or even necessarily power tools.” So, although I might seem confident, you should be wary around me if I’m holding anything that is plugged into a wall socket.

Well, enough of that. I’m off to indulge myself on the next thing that pops into my head. I believe it might involve chocolate… 

Putting Weather into Perspective – Climate Change

I have shoulder strain from the last two days of raking. Not just ordinary raking, either. On the north side of the house, I was raking snow off the patio, out onto the driveway. I thought it would expedite the melting process. Otherwise the four foot drifts will take a long time to melt, and I’ve got pansies under there somewhere! On the south side of the house, I was raking dead grass. I was spreading it onto the flower beds where it will act as mulch. I’ve never raked snow and grass on the same day before…

Today, I’ll take a day off from raking and I’ll go back to shoveling. It is snowing, and about 4 inches of very large, fluffy flakes have fallen in the past few hours. The big rock behind the house looks quite a bit different than yesterday’s photo. No ducks and geese sitting on top, basking in the sunshine. The ducks have abandoned both the rock and the pond, and are wading through the snow on the lawn. Duck Foot Prints are everywhere.

I expect ducks have come across this situation in the past, and they will deal with it in whatever way ducks cope with adversity. They adapt pretty well. Their forefathers have been coming to this pond for hundreds, if not thousands of years, so ducks as a species have a pretty long range perspective about how climate changes.

Which brings me to the topic of my perspective on Global Warming and/or Climate Change. I am much like a duck. I’ve seen decades where it got colder, and ones where it got warmer. So yes, I believe the climate is changing, and I’ll even agree that the climate is warming right now. I’m not, however, convinced that ALL of this change is the result of mankind. I think we give ourselves way too much credit to think we can so completely and utterly affect the climate, while ignoring all the historical cycles the planet has gone through since life first appeared 3.8 billion years ago.

And selfishly, I’d rather see the world warming than cooling. These really big rocks behind my house arrived on the glaciers and I’m not keen on seeing some more of them move into the neighborhood…

Canada Geese, Ducks – Few Days of Honking and Quacking

There is a row of big rocks in the field behind our place. They arrived on a sheet of ice during the last Ice Age – 12,000 to 18,000 years ago. The departing Glacier, tired of carrying these big freeloaders, simply dropped the rocks and retreated to a more hospitable climate.

In the spring a Seasonal Pond forms in the depression around the rocks. It is home to frogs and mosquitoes mostly. In very wet years the pond has been large enough to appeal to several species of ducks who set up housekeeping and raise a family.

Every spring a pair of Canada Geese arrive to check things out. They land on the rocks, where they are often joined by a few  Mallard Ducks. Much honking and quacking ensues. I originally thought the geese might be discussing the possibility of moving into the neighbourhood, but then talk themselves out of it because they don’t want to live with a group of rowdy ducks. But there is also the possibility that the geese are actually Realtors and all the honking is just the geese telling the ducks that this would be a really great place to live.

Whatever the story, it is fun to listen to, and is a nice change from all the Honking and Quacking of the Politicians in the run up to our Federal Election

Old Time Teachers and The Arithmetic Circle of Doom

My Grade 5 Teacher, Miss W., could draw a nearly perfect circle on the blackboard – freehand. She would face the board, take up a piece of chalk, and almost by magic her arm would go through the full range of motion needed to draw one very nice circle. It was impressive, even though it was the prelude to the hell that was to follow. She would write the numbers from one to twelve around the perimeter of the circle. Then the whole class would wait in dreaded anticipation for what was going to be written in the exact center of the circle. It would be a number between one and twelve and immediately after this number would be the sign of doom – a plus sign, a minus sign, a multiplication sign or a division sign. With that task competed, we all knew what the instrument of torture was going to be.

We would slink down in our seats, and try to look like we weren’t there. Miss W. would pick up her pointer, and with a sly smile on her face, she would gaze out the window. Without even looking at the children, she would call out the name of her victim. This poor soul would have to stand in the aisle next to their desk, and Miss W. would start stabbing her pointer at the numbers around the perimeter while the victim tried to call out the correct mathematical response.

A wrong answer was met with a Miss W’s. icy glare, then the pointer would come down sharply on the same number again. Somehow her pointer made a different sound when it struck the number that second time. The rest of the class perked up as the trembling victim struggled to find the right answer, an answer which had likely fled the scene and would not be found again that day. We all learned a lot about working under pressure in her class…

In those days of yore, Corporal Punishment was a perfectly acceptable tool in a teacher’s arsenal. Miss W. would never use her magic pointer to strike a student. She used the yard stick for that. I don’t remember what circumstances warranted a whack on the shoulders with that ruler – I just remember how startling it was when she came up from behind, with the stealth of a cat, and delivered the blow. It didn’t really hurt all that much – it was just such a surprise. We all learned a lot about consequences in her class…

At the end of the school year, our whole group passed Grade 5. Every single child had worked to the maximum of their potential because they never wanted to enter Miss W’s. classroom again. Failure would have meant another year of torture from the Circle of Doom and the Yardstick of Punishment, and no child was strong enough to survive that for two years. At least, that is what we all thought. We all learned a lot about motivation in her class… 

At the Cabin – Evicting the Bats in the Belfry

I have talked about Pesky Critters that have wandered in and out of our lives, but I don’t think I told you about Bats. A few years ago, we decided to buy a cabin. We thought we had done due diligence in our selection, but before we signed the papers, we asked about the two vermin that would make or break the deal: mice and flies. The owners assured us that they had never found a single mouse in the cabin. As for flies, they looked at us rather oddly, and said, “Well, if you keep the screen door closed, then the flies don’t come in…”  Clearly this cabin was tighter than our house, so we signed on the dotted line. We should have asked about Bats.

Here is a picture of the back of the cabin. At the peak of the roof, where the two fascia boards meet, is a hole that helps to ventilate the roof. The hole is just the right size for a bat. We had bought a cabin that served as a home for most of the bats in the neighbourhood!

The previous owners clearly knew something was living above the ceiling. In the full heat of the day there was an unpleasant smell that wafted down from the vaulted ceiling, which was why they had fragrant candles, plug in wall scents, and incense all over the place.

This picture (above) is the master bedroom. The bed was carefully aligned such that it didn’t sit under the centre ridge board. There was a good reason for that. Every now and then, the bat poo would spill over the edges of that board and drop onto the floor, nicely missing the end of the bed.

Clearly we needed to do more than a clean-up on Aisle Three. The first task was Eviction. That involved two men, two lawn chairs, a bottle of scotch, a ladder, some screening and a stapler. The two men sat outside one evening in their lawn chairs, drinking scotch. At dusk, once all the bats had exited the roof, one man climbed up on the ladder and stapled screening over the hole to the bat house. The other man held the ladder and passed up the tools. One man could have done the job alone, but when scotch is involved, a two man approach is actually safer.

With the bats evicted, the next task was inside the cabin. The men took down the center ridge board, caulked everything that could be caulked, and reinstalled the board. Satisfied that the bats were gone, and the poo was gone, we waited for the next warm day to see if the smell was gone. Nope. The roof is tongue and groove paneling with oodles of cracks and knot holes for the bat smell to escape through.  My task was to caulk all the holes, a chore I have spent two summers working on.

We went to the cabin yesterday, and opened it up for the season. It had been closed for 6 months and there wasn’t a single dead mouse in the traps and only a few dead flies on the floor. There was still the faint smell of bat wafting from the ceiling during the heat of the day. The cabin trim needs painting and some rotted deck boards need replacing.

So The Car Guy and I did the only logical thing we could think of. We walked down to the river and watched the geese and pelicans for a while. Then we went for a nice lunch, then took a nap. Then we sat in the sun for a while before packing up to come home. Manana – Cabin Time!

Canada Geese – How I Entertain the Birds

Many birds have arrived here in the past few days. They won’t migrate any further north because this is where they normally spend the summer. I told you about the geese and the ducks a few days ago. Today I spotted a hawk in a tree in the woods. I thought I would tiptoe over to see it up close.

Close is a relative term depending on the type of bird. The Ducks are skittish until they get to know me. Right now they fly away with no provocation at all. The Canada Geese are bold and brash. They hold their position on the top of the rock, confident that I won’t wade out to bother them. The Robins have no fear, and in the summer they will hop along beside me when I am weeding the flower beds, darting in to pick up any delicious goody I unearth as I shovel. The Magpies, our rats with wings, are raucous but cautious because they know they are not the most welcome birds.

The Hawks, my favourites, keep the mice and gophers under control. They nest somewhere nearby, and when their babies fledge, the whole family flies down onto the fence posts in the field behind our house. It is a convenient place to park the babies while the parents catch their meals.

So today I left the warmth of the house to photograph the hawk. He or she was sitting in a tree in the woods. I kept taking pictures as I crept closer. But the camera was confused by the branches and the heavy snow flakes – the hawk came out all blurry.


So I moved down towards the pond, and edged back towards the stand of trees by skirting the water. That was when I discovered that the ground around the pond was not all that frozen any more, and my quiet footfalls through the snow changed to the sucking sound of boots in mud. The hawk took to the air, as did the ducks, which left just me and the geese looking at each other.

geese snow

At first the geese were quiet, then they started to honk quite loudly. I believe they were discussing my skills as a photographer, and I think they said I Suck…

The Feather Files
Name: Canada Goose
Species: Branta canadensis
Native to and Migration: Resident to long-distance migrant. Canada Geese breed throughout North America, except in the high Arctic and in the extreme southern parts of the United States and Mexico.
Date Seen: April, 2011
Location: North of Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Easter Dinner – Signage For When the Guests Get Here

Today is our Easter Dinner and we’ve invited lots of people.

When the guests arrive, there is always a bit of general confusion and milling about while coats are hung, hugs and handshakes are exchanged and food donations are sorted out. (A dinner party at the Red House is rarely a free lunch…) At recently past functions, very small children have been ushered outside to play, or put into closets if there is a chance they will take a header down over the edge of the stairs where the railing is not yet a railing. Except this year – I’m much more organized than in the past. I have Signage for the parents!

The First Sign will make it clear how very small children should be monitored:

Pets Welcome children must be on a leashAfter dinner, we’ll bring out some treats. There is a sign for that:

My soul's had enough chicken soupWe like to end things with Coffee. It is the signal to our guests that it is time for them to perk up and get ready for the long drive home. I have a sign for that:

I'll have a caffe mocha vodka valiumIn a few days I’ll let you know how it went!

Phoenix, Arizona – Desert Botanical Garden – Bark of a Different Kind of Tree

There are lots of interesting plants and trees at the Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden, but these Art Installations displayed ‘bark’ in a whole different way!


Dale Chihuly Glass – Desert Towers – Welcoming visitors to the garden are the Desert Towers, which were installed as the entry-point to Chihuly’s first Desert Botanical exhibition in 2008. The installation was purchased by the Garden as a legacy to the exhibition.


In a transformation that is typical of his work, American artist and filmmaker Philip Haas created four large-scale fiberglass sculptures inspired by Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s Italian Renaissance paintings of the four seasons.  These were a temporary display at the Garden. The photo above is Autumn.152-four-seasons-spring

Philip Haas Four Seasons Spring152-four-seasons-summer

Philip Haas Four Seasons Summer152-four-seasons-winter

Philip Haas Four Seasons Winter152-philip-haas-four-seasons

River People and Goal People

fallsEarlier this week, Blogger Malcolm Bellamy wrote a post called Seven Words to Describe Yourself. Coming up with a list like that is perhaps a good beginning to answering the Really Big Question – What do you want to do or be When You Grow Up? It is interesting how some people are able to say, from an early age, what they want to be. Earl Nightingale describes these people as River People. They know their passion, usually from an early age, and they follow it over waterfalls and rapids, through backwaters and calm pools. They never abandon it, because it is who they are.

As I listened to Earl explain River people (and this was many, many years ago), I knew this wasn’t me. But he also said there are two types of Successful People. Perhaps I would see myself in the second group, (because I was sure I would be wildly successful at something, if I could just figure out what that might be).

Earl continued – the second group are the Goal People. They set a goal, follow one or more roads to get there, then set another goal.  Drat! A dusty road, not a flowing river. This was going to be harder than I thought. My children will attest to that, because they got dragged into the dreaded Goal Setting Exercises. It was part and parcel of Family Forum Night – the Car Guy, the daughters, the cat, and I would gather to discuss any important topic that impacted the whole family. At Christmas, Family Forum was Goal Setting. Each person would detail what they had done to achieve the goals they had set last year, then list the goals for the coming year. The kids wailed about not wanting to do this, but I think they learned a lot about the basics of goal setting. Which was good, because none of them indicated that they had a river they wanted to throw themselves into…

As the kids got older, their goals began to grapple with the When I Grow Up question. They looked towards their father for motivation, because for all intents and purposes they couldn’t see that their mother had made much progress in the career department. Which was fair. My goals were still mired in the trenches of the Stay at Home Mom and Chairman of the Committee of what Everybody Wants but no one Wants to Do. The Car Guy was bringing home a paycheck each month. Money – the litmus paper of career and thus success.

Much water has passed under the bridge since then, so to speak, and I’m still prowling roads, ticking off quirky little goals. I’ve decided to divert off the road to Growing Up, though. People seem to lose much of their sense of humor if they follow that road too far.

Back to the seven words to describe yourself.  I came up with curiousness, skepticism and humor which led to craftsman, writer, researcher and advisor. These are, I think, my River Words, even as I walk the dusty roads. And for now, Best Blogger within three miles of my house here in Canada is my goal. Next month, maybe I’ll expand that to a radius of five miles…

How would you describe yourself?