Canada – 144 Years Old and Going Strong!

Tomorrow is Canada Day! It will be our nations 144th birthday! Just about every community across the country will have a Parade or a celebration of some sort, often ending in fireworks. Expat Canadians all around the world will celebrate too! And if you are not Canadian, be sure to phone your Canadian friends and wish them a Happy Birthday.

For many, many years, we invited all our friends to our house for Canada Day. We had an afternoon of games and then a BBQ. Some years we played baseball or croquet or badminton. When we moved to the Red House, the most popular game was golf. We set up a 9 hole mini course that snaked around the grassy area of our property. We used 7 or 9 irons and plastic balls.

The course was always challenging. There was usually a small child standing right in the middle of where your ball needed to be. A strange dog would sometimes stop in, often retrieving a ball or two while bouncing from one foursome to the next to greet everyone. And there was always the vexing choice as to whether to carry one beer, a golf club, and a score card or two beer, a score card and no golf club. Lots of people, lots of cheering.

Though we still set up the Red House Greens course for other functions, Canada Day has moved out to the cabin. Our little community there invites all the cabin owners to take part in a whole day of events.

There is, of course, a parade. Many people decorate their golf carts for the ceremonial lap along the Main Street. The cart drivers throw candy to the crowd lining the route, and all kids go home with enough loot to last them for months. Just about everyone in the community has a golf cart, because that is the primary mode of transportation all summer. So technically, the parade could be very large, and there could be no spectators. But it never works out that way.

In the afternoon we troop down to the little lake for a “Regatta”. Rubber dinghies, canoes, home made rafts – all launched and raced with great fanfare and flurry, and the crowds on the beach clap and cheer.

Participant or spectator. Both are needed. Experience seldom required. Choose to be one or the other and go be part of something!

(Americans will celebrate Independence Day on July 4th so I want to wish all of my American friends a Happy 4th of July!)

Alphabets have 26 Useful Letters, But Some are More Popular

I’ve came to the conclusion that while the English language contains 26 Useful Letters, certain letters receive disproportional attention. Generally they are the ones at the beginning of the alphabet. When I was in school, teachers used children’s last names, in alphabetical order, to assign tasks. These included going up to the blackboard to do a tricky bit of arithmetic, or running an important errand. Often the teacher started at the beginning of the alphabet with each new day. My last name came near the end of the alphabet, which was a mixed blessing. Sometimes the bell rang before it was my turn to go to the board. But sometimes it meant I never got picked to do delivery jobs that got me out of class.

The dictionary plays up the fact that some letters are more special than others. My copy of Webster’s has lovely incised tabs, and it allots one whole tab to each of the first three letters – A, B and C. Only one other letter receives the same attention – the extremely useful letter S. All the other letters must share a tab with at least one other letter until it gets near the end of the alphabet. W to Z are all lumped together like an afterthought.

I take exception to that, as I am very fond of the letter W. It has been anchoring my last name since the day I said “I Do.” W shouldn’t be thrown in with X, Y and Z, letters that are clearly more limited in practical use. If you doubt the value of a W, think what the lovely phrase “Worthy Words” would be like without a W. “Orthy Ords” just doesn’t sound right.

May God forgive me, but the letters of the alphabet frighten me terribly. They are sly, shameless demons – and dangerous! You open the inkwell, release them; they run off – and how will you ever get control of them again!
– Nikos Kazantzakis –

What my iPad2 has Taught Me

Meet my new iPad2. It has a handy four segment folding front cover (I chose red, of course) that flips right over to the back side to form a little stand. When the cover is closed across the front, it puts the iPad to sleep. A very light sleep. It pops awake almost instantly if I lift the cover even a tiny bit. I know all this because I’ve tried to catch it off guard.

I’ve had my iPad for just over a month now, and I’ve learned a lot about the world of iPads and Apple Apps. No, let me rephrase that. In relative terms, I know hardly anything, but compared to what I knew before I got my iPad, I know a lot more. Briefly then, here is what I have learned:

– Not to put a bunch of hand lotion on my hands just before using the iPad – makes the screen very greasy, very quickly.

– There are over 90,000 Apps. There is no way to wade through that many choices in order to find what I might want. I get recommendations from friends or from trusted internet sources.

– While I can change the background for the desktop, the App icons line up in rows and columns, 20 per page and there is no changing the size of them or the number per page… I don’t think, anyhow. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but it just is a bit of a reminder that one does things in a certain way in the Apple world.

– I tried out every App that came pre-installed on my iPad. I don’t advise anyone over the age of maybe 25 to open FaceTime, unless the magnified view of your own face is something that doesn’t startle you. Scared the hell out of me…

– An App called PaperDesk Lite has drawing tools. I’m sure I will find other drawing Apps later, but this one was the first I tried because it had a free version. I’m not an artist with pencil and paper, and I’m less of an artist with my finger on the iPad screen. Never the less, I was quite pleased with my first drawing. I called it Red Stick Man. His neck is a bit long, and his left knee has a deformity, but I didn’t want to start erasing things in case I broke the flow of the lines… I was going for a happy-go-lucky look, and I think I got that right.

Now it is your turn – what indispensable Apps have you put on your iTouch, iPhone, or iPad?

Travel Guides – The Missing Chapter on Toilets

International Travel Guides – very handy for planning a trip. There are often several to choose from. If you are uncertain which guide is best, I would suggest you flip to the index and scroll down to see if there is a section about Toilets.  In my experience, the information contained in one short paragraph could turn out to be the best advice in the whole book.

Alas, most guides omit the topic completely. So here is a bit of practical information for after you arrive at your destination. The first challenge will be knowing what to call the facility you are looking for. You might try asking where the bathroom, restroom, WC, loo, lavatory, comfort station, toilet, or washroom is. If that is met with a shrug, you are on your own. A bit of wandering will usually take you to a location that seems familiar because you are offered a choice of two doors. These will be labelled in some manner that has to do with how the equipment inside is tailored for the sex you happen to be. If this label is hard to decipher, then just open one of the doors and decide if a room full of urinals is where you want to be.

Sometimes the facilities are unisex. In London I found a coin operated space age unit that could be mistaken for a bus stop. Upon exiting the facility, the entire inside of it went through a washing cycle – but not a drying cycle, which was why it was so damp inside when I first entered. In an airport in France the facilities weren’t quite unisex, but the women’s facilities were reached after passing by the men standing at the urinals.

In many countries, toilets are a source of income for someone. In India most public washrooms are manned by an attendant who insists on hard currency for the privilege of entering the facility. A small wad of toilet paper is included in the transaction. But in some countries it is best to carry a pocketful of kleenex, because paper is not deemed to be needed for a “clean-up in aisle four”.

In the Middle East I had my first ‘hole in the floor’ experience and came to the conclusion that I needed to have better thigh muscles. In general, expect the unexpected!

Once you have found the facility and completed your task, there is the challenge of Initiating a Flush. This means you have to find a knob, button, cord or lever that can be be pushed, pulled, or turned. Don’t assume this trigger is anywhere near where you would normally find it. If all else fails, quickly walk away to the hand sanitation station and pretend you had nothing to do with what happened in stall two.

While there is often a sink of some sort, and perhaps some water, and maybe even a bit of soap and a towel, the travellers best companion is the small bottle of hand sanitizer that keeps the kleenex company in your pocket.

My last bit of advice is this – when Choosing a Restaurant to eat in, check out their washroom before you order your meal. Washrooms are usually well lit, which not only lets you determine how clean the facility is, it also makes it much easier to read the menu…

Wild Animal Control – Please Put on Your Scary Face

It is a testament to the adaptability of Wild Mammals that more and more of them are making their homes in Urban Areas. The city nearest to us has a large and vigorous population of the same four legged animals that wander here in the country – deer, coyotes and skunks. The city also has animals that have not normally lived in our woods – racoons, rabbits (both wild and feral domestic) and an imported species of squirrel. The rabbits and squirrels have recently arrived in our neighbourhood, thanks to those kindly city folk who trapped and transported them. I hope the native predators are enjoying this new menu item. With any luck the imported animals will disappear from our area again.

While we are happy to share our rural landscape with all of nature’s citizens, we are also protective of the fenced area that is off limits to any animal that eats my vegetables or flowers. While some people will say this is selfish of me, in this part of the world most people who grow gardens do so because it is an economical, nutritious, flavorful way to feed their families. It is also hard work. Gardeners do not take kindly to having the garden eaten up by a deer or a rabbit that has a plentiful source of food to eat on the other side of the fence.

The absolute worst thing people can do to a wild animal is to treat it like it is tame. Wild animals that are fed by humans or are allowed to graze or rest close to human habitation, lose their fear of people and potential predators. Once that fear is lost, the animal can become aggressive towards humans and the other animals that it would normally try to escape from.

I have had the unsettling experience of coming face to face with a deer that had no fear of humans. I backed away, and was glad that it didn’t charge me. This lack of fear will not help the deer escape predators. Coyotes who have lost that fear will attack domestic pets, even when an adult human is standing nearby.

Which brings me to why people need to wear their Scary Face. While it is all very nice to observe wild four legged animals, they should not be encouraged to take up residence in your backyard. These critters will lose their fear of humans if you don’t put on your Scary Face and encourage them to move on.

There is no reason why wildlife can’t live in urban settings. But the only way that can work for the animals and the humans is for the humans to treat them like the wild animals that they are.

– Do not feed them, either deliberately or inadvertently.

– Do not deliberately or inadvertently supply a home for them in your back yard.

– Encourage them to live in the open or forested areas of the city which is the habitat they would normally live in.

– And don’t trap them and transport them to the country. We’ve got just enough food for the animals who already live here, thank you…

I Tried Being Subtle, But it Just isn’t my Style

Subtle: Delicately complex and understated. Would that be how the rest of the world describes Canada? Mike Myers thinks so. He says this of our country: “A subtle flavour – we’re more like celery as a flavour.” Perhaps he is right, and that is why many are surprised when we display intense patriotism such as we did at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Or stage a riot, for that matter.

Autumn Leaf Red

That is not to say that everyone in Canada is subtle. I don’t do subtle well. I admire it, but I just can’t do it. I looked at Home magazines where earthy shades of cream and brown mesh seamlessly to create invitingly calm living spaces. I attempted to recreate this in my home and left the paint store with Autumn Leaf Red.

I admire landscapes where the lovely shades of green create soothing places to rest and reflect in. I started off with a nice slate of green. Then I planted many colors of tulips, deep purple hyacinths and intense yellow daisies. Pink bleeding hearts and a sweep of Icelandic Poppies that randomly hop from flower bed to flower bed, resulting in garish orange poppies cozying up to the pink daisies. Subtle? Oh, no. And my house color? Well, we don’t call it The Red House without reason.

Perhaps my inability to embrace subtlety comes from not ever really growing up.  Fran Lebowitz once made this observation about children: “Notoriously insensitive to subtle shifts in mood, children will persist in discussing the color of a recently sighted cement mixer long after one’s own interest in the topic has waned.” This inability to grow beyond primary colors might explain my eternal fascination with LEGO blocks. (If my children are reading this, tell the grandchildren I just bought myself the LEGO motor home. And I still can’t find the missing skeleton mini figure from the little canon set…)

pottery jugThe opposite of subtle might be robust, yes? I took a Pottery Workshop from Michael Casson on one of his teaching trips to Canada. He was the master of making pots with presence. I left this workshop with two replicas of his famous Jugs, and they each speak to me in a way that none of my other pots ever have. They are anything but subtle! My notes from that workshop contain his observation: “With a robust handle people will say – that’s a nice jug you have on that handle!”

A handle and a jug – both aren’t complete without the other. Subtle and robust – we need both of those too, don’t we…

Riot in Vancouver – It isn’t a Hockey Story

185-hockey-playerThere was rioting in the streets of Vancouver last night after the Vancouver Canucks were defeated by the Boston Bruins in the final Hockey game of the Season. Here are a few of the headlines this morning:

CTV, Canada – ‘Hooligans’ give Vancouver black eye with post-Cup riots

The Toronto Star, Canada – ‘Small group of troublemakers’ embarrass Vancouver

The Globe and Mail – Embarrassment, shame in aftermath of Vancouver riot

USA TODAY – Vancouver hockey riots highlight need for traveler awareness

The Telegraph (UK) – Vancouver Canucks fans riot after team’s surprise loss to Boston Bruins
Tens of thousands of angry ice hockey fans in Vancouver rioted yesterday after their team’s surprise loss to the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup finals series.

Now, I don’t want to downplay how terrible this riot was, but I do want to put a few things into perspective:

– The scale of the incident increases in direct proportion to the distance the reporter lives from Vancouver. In Canada a ‘smaller group of troublemakers and Hooligans’ are being blamed. By the time the story gets south of Canada’s border, USA TODAY thinks travelers should now be on the alert because of  – I’m not sure if they should be wary of going to Vancouver, or wary of going to places where hockey is played. In the UK, angry ‘Vancouver Canuck fans in the tens of thousands’ tore Vancouver apart.

– Shame and embarrassment  – the closer the reporter lives to Vancouver, the more the city and its residents must be feeling shame and embarrassment. I don’t agree with this assessment. The only people who should be ashamed of themselves are the ones that initiated the riots and took part in them and I doubt people who do that are ever ashamed of their actions.

Vancouver, and the rest of Canada for that matter, have no reason to feel ashamed of what happened. Nor should there be any “Black Eye” put on Vancouver. Every city in the world has an element in society that is capable of doing this, and no city ever really knows what alignment of circumstances will set this element into action. Sports and alcohol sometimes provide the venue, and will sometimes supply the spark. This was what happened in Vancouver, but the riot itself wasn’t about hockey.

Personally, what I think Vancouver residents should feel is a bit angry. Not the kind of anger that tears people apart or causes them to hurt other people, but the kind of anger that makes people want to report the offenders to the police. We live in a little big world, people, so if you see someone on YouTube, or on Facebook who is bragging about the damage they did in the riot in Vancouver, report them…

Why I Choose to Be a Carnivore

When it comes to whether to eat meat or not, humans fall into two very firm camps – the Herbivores or plant eaters (vegetarians), and the Omnivores who eat meat and plants. There is a third camp, the diehard Carnivores, who would prefer not to ever see a veggie on their plate. But even they probably have the odd beer or potato chip, which puts them back into the omnivore category.

There shouldn’t be any debate about food preferences. Each to their own, I say. But herbivores seem intent on defending and promoting their choice. They really shouldn’t be surprised by the sometimes irritated responses they get in their blogs and forums. As my daughter used to say, “Don’t poke a tiger”, or in this case, don’t tell a carnivore not to eat a steak.

Many people choose a vegetarian type diet because they think it is Healthier. There is no doubt it will be healthier than a ‘cheeseburger and fries every day’ diet. But there is no evidence to say that a vegetarian diet is any better for a person than a diet of meat and vegetables, as long as both diets take into consideration the guidelines for good nutrition.

Many vegetarians point to Food Safety as a reason to not eat meat. Improper handling, storing or cooking of meat can certainly cause sickness or death. But improper handling of fruits and vegetables can cause similar problems, as demonstrated by the recent deaths in Germany caused by E.coli – a bacterial germ carried in the intestinal tract of humans and other warm blooded animals.

Some vegetarians point to Environmental Degradation as the reason they don’t eat meat. Water quality, waste disposal, and overuse of antibiotics are just a few of the issues they are justly concerned about. However, grain and vegetable farming also has an environmental cost caused by the fertilizing, watering, harvesting, processing and transporting of crops.

hand made

Animal Rights issues are often at the heart of a persons decision not to eat meat. Some people object to any animal being killed for food, which is a good reason why they shouldn’t eat them! Of course, even cereal and vegetable production kills animals – insects, birds, and small rodents are sacrificed so that a farmer can maximize crop production. (Rabbits would have to be sacrificed too, I guess. A single rabbit ate my entire garden last summer.)

The other objection to the use of animals for food is the aversion people have to high density modern factory farms. Knowing what mankind is capable of, I expect there are some deplorable instances of how food animals are raised and slaughtered.

People concerned with this issue should source meat that is raised the way they would like, and become an advocate for better farm practices in their area. In this case, not eating meat at all is really just a cop-out.

Now, a bit of Carnivorian history for the Omnivores:  Early man was scavenging and eating meat about 2.5 million years ago, and over time meat was the fuel that allowed the growth of larger and larger brains. It is believed Homo erectus learned to control fire about a million years ago, and it is possible he used it to cook his diet of meat, tubers and roots in order to make them more edible.  The oldest largely accepted evidence of fire (used by an ancestor of modern man to cook meat) is burned bones from about 500,000 years ago. 400,000 years ago, man started hunting, rather that just scavenging.

Modern Homo sapiens appeared about 150,000 years ago. Sometime shortly after that, Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble started cooking up Woolly Mammoth on the BBQ…