Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Lunch with Ollie: Why does he put a book on his head?

Grandson Ollie has been sitting beside me at lunchtime for almost a year now and I’ve noticed several interesting behaviours.

He talks in full sentences with a voice from the back of his throat, like a cartoon character.

Is he mimicking someone? Me?

[Ollie's first lunch with his grandparents, Feb. 2008]

He takes food off my plate when I’m watching, but it’s okay. I need to lose 5 pounds.

Today he read “Merry Christmas, Ollie” while eating (his food and mine) and at one point put the book over his head and eyes and held it there for several seconds.

Then he’d look at the picture very closely and put in over his head and eyes again, very gently.

Is he trying to get into the picture and be closer to the characters?

Showing affection?

Whatever he’s doing, it makes lunchtime a treat.


What do you think he's doing?


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

It Strikes Me Funny: Favourite quotes from 2008 Part 2

Even though I said a lot of amazing things in 2008, and will likely receive a Pulitzer Prize for writing about ‘No Clothing Day’ (with my clothes on; thus the prize) my second-favourite quote of the year comes from Renee L., a young Gen Y consumer, with a shopping habit that consumed 10 hours of her week and 50 per cent of her pay cheques at times.

In an email she wrote:

“I started wondering what my motivation was for these purchases..... Did I really need 9 pink sweaters and 12 variations of black pointy-toed stilettos?”

“I started feeling more like a chump than a stylish chick.”

But she’s one chump who changed.

My favourite quote of 2008 was made by Barry Commoner, US biologist and environmentalist:

“Sooner or later, wittingly or unwittingly, we must pay for every intrusion on the natural environment.”

His words make me continually wonder, how high will be the user-fee when Mother Nature comes to collect?


Do you have a favourite quote or lesson-learned from 2008?


Monday, December 29, 2008

It Strikes Me Funny: Favourite quotes from 2008

As usual, I wrote a lot of brilliant stuff in 2008, if three short emails from local readers is any indication.

Remember this quote from July?

“I also like camping because it gives me a chance to shake up my routines, cook over an open fire, use one pot and spoon for every meal, wear the same shirt for several days in a row, take a dip with a bar of eco-friendly soap when Pat starts to look at me funny and forget about home and all responsibilities associated with it.”

I mean, don’t you wish it was summer right now and you were swatting mosquitoes beside Lake Ontario?

Better than my own quote, however, was this one from, Arthur Frommer, travel writer:

“I will go to my grave claiming that the less you spend the more you enjoy, the more authentic the experience it is, the more profound, the more exciting, the more unexpected.”

It makes me want to find a pebble beach, light up my Kelly kettle and enjoy a cup of tea.


Do you have a favourite quote from 2008?


Sunday, December 28, 2008

Deforest City Blues: Are today’s cities too costly to maintain?

Recently, while driving on Elmwood Ave., a block from my house, I noticed (again) the terrible condition of the street and many connected to it, and a troubling thought went through my little round head.

Is our city deteriorating faster than we can maintain it?

Consider the following:

countless roads, sewers, water lines etc. need extensive, costly repairs

infrastructure costs are increasing

our city sprawls, is not compact

as sprawl continues, more costly roads etc. are built

it appears we already have more streets etc. than we can maintain

I predict:

we’re paving a new street in a far-off suburb today that will require repairs in the future that will forever be ignored


more small, attractive living spaces near the centre of the city

more bicycle-friendly lanes


Is your city in trouble? Predictions? Solutions?


Saturday, December 27, 2008

‘Live Small’ message is getting through to my family

Though my brother complied with my ‘no gifts, or small or homemade ones only - under fifty cents’ policy for Christmas, he was clearly embarrassed when I unwrapped the blue dusting glove.

“I don’t know what you’ll do with it,” he said. “but it was under fifty cents.”

“It’s perfect for my shop,” I said.

“But I have no eyes,” it said, when I used it as a hand puppet.

“That comes in handy when dusting,” I replied.

[My favourite - the duct tape wallet: photo GAH]

He felt better after 3 others opened the same gift and started to perform as a dust glove choir.

My brother felt better still after I showed him my new wallet - made of duct tape - an earlier gift from my youngest son.

I told him it came with room for six credit cards, two sections for bills and its own emergency kit.

“Emergency kit?” he said.

I pulled out a spare piece of duct tape stuck to wax paper from a bill fold.

“In case it rips,” I said.

Small, homemade, under fifty cents.

Yes, I received a pound of coffee, one bottle of Scottish ale and pajama pants as well... but we are learning to keep things small.

A-1 I say.


My wife bought the pajama pants because when my other pair are in the wash I walk around the house in old red longjohns.

Sorry about the scary visual. Look away.


Friday, December 26, 2008

Motorcycle Miles: Discovering Ontario in One Pair of Pants Page 5

[Gord’s motorcycle journey continues, and under a new heading no less: link to page 4 for immediate context. You really should.]

The big guy that pulled up beside me at a red light, as I was riding east on Port Hope’s main street, instantly made me laugh.

“Where are you heading?” he asked.

“East,” I said. “Sandbanks Park.”

“I can show you a short cut,” he said and pulled away as the light turned green.

[My second photo at Sandbanks; taken before supper: photo GAH]

I admit there’s nothing funny about his short conversation.

But because he was riding a bike three sizes too small and had a head the size of a small nation stuffed inside a maroon helmet that was also too small - making him resemble the turtle I’d met a few hours earlier - I followed without hesitation, chuckling to myself inside my appropriately-sized helmet.

I was in a great mood.

Lunch, at a cost of 50 cents for two fresh eggs plus toast, had been grand, and the day was warm and bright.

Taking the opportunity to save a few miles by following another biker who definitely did not look like an axe murderer made me feel even better.

The big guy skillfully lead the way to the outskirts of Port Hope and, when we stopped beside one another at another intersection he told me how best to get to the highway that lead to Sandbanks.

Shortly thereafter he gave me a big wave (much like Ted the Turtle had waved at the Mack truck - only with less criminal intent) and turned into his cottage.

I followed highway 2 to Brighton and, after a short game of hide and go seek among the town’s short but confusing streets, found county road 64, my route to highway 33 and next stop, Sandbanks Provincial Park.

(Note to self: Get off the bike every once in awhile and ask for directions.)

The park is situated in Prince Edward County, an amoeba-shaped land mass on the north shore of Lake Ontario that possesses many natural wonders and, as far as I can tell, very few gas stations visible to the naked eye.

Before leaving the main road and heading to the park to book a campsite for the night I thought I should travel a bit farther and fill up the tank in Picton, the county’s largest town, so that I’d be ready for the road at the crack of dawn.

Very clever of me, right?

Not so fast, amigos.

[Stay tuned.]


Been to PEC? To the lake on top of the mountain? The bike shop in Bloomfield? (Or is it Wellington?)

Live Small: It’s time to keep friends close, family closer

On the one hand, I believe we will become more self-reliant by degrees as cheap fuel quality and quantity change.

Though it may be harder to live this way, we can gradually learn or re-learn how to garden, keep a few rabbits, chickens, goats or sheep to supplement groceries and borrow items from or barter with people in our community.

mojo recently left this comment when I asked the question, “Will chickens in the back yard soon out number dogs?

I'm not sure how much zoning restrictions allow in the way of keeping livestock on the property, but in a perfect world I'd be living at the beach and pulling my dinner from the surf every day, and using the by-products to keep a fertile patch of garden going for vegetable production. That's how the natives did it before we got here and it worked for them. Yeah, I could live that way.

On the other, as the present economy falters we will face a wide variety of unexpected hardships during the new age of austerity.

["Without our reindeer we'll be doing more ourselves.":photo GAH]

For example, “a growing number of Americans are giving up their dogs and cats to animal shelters as the emotional bonds between people and pets get tested by economic ones.The Associated Press, Dec. 22

A hard rain is falling. And there will be many tears.

Keep your friends close and your families closer.


Do you see declining cheap oil and growing self-reliance in a positive or negative light? Both?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Growing family traditions keep the Christmas spirit alive

The morning paper was late, the snow plow left three feet of snow in our driveway and I had to put morning coffee on hold until my wife and I shoveled a tunnel from the street to our front door for grandson Ollie’s arrival.

Were our spirits dampened? No.

Were our clothes? Yes.

Right down to our socks, but a shower and dry clothes fixed us up minutes before Ollie’s smile filled our house.

The opening lines of a local writer’s column (a brilliant, good-looking and humble guy as far as I can tell) seemed to fit my day and mood:

"As I grow a bit older, or as I prefer to say, approach the middle of a long and adventurous middle age, I remain confident the Christmas season will never lose its allure for the Harrison family because of a mix of traditions, both old and new.

"For example, later on this evening, you might spot me among a few folks - bundled up warm against the weather - enjoying our traditional Christmas Eve walk around old South, admiring lights on the houses, bright trees in front windows and listening for the sound of carols in the wind.

"Though to the untrained eye it might look like I’m spying on our neighbours, it’s not that at all.

(Okay, I admit I look in windows to see if any trees are bigger than mine but the spying stops there).

"After a healthy walk it’s back home for eggnog and an early bedtime."

Please link to the exciting conclusion - unless you're still shovelling!.

And Merry Christmas to all. Keep your traditions alive.


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Many victories in a modern day Victory Garden

If you don’t believe that co-operative human energy produces amazing results please link to Victory Garden.

One sentence alone tells a big story:

“In 1943, Americans planted over 20 million Victory Gardens, and the harvest accounted for nearly a third of all the vegetables consumed in the country that year.”

Amazing results? Absolutely.

The sentence reminded me of another one sent by Jessica in response to an earlier post re gardens and chicken coops:

"You begin to see that growing even a little of your own food is, as Wendell Berry pointed out 30 years ago, one of those solutions that, instead of begetting a new set of problems--the way "solutions" like ethanol or nuclear power inevitably do--actually beget other solutions, and not only of the kind that save carbon." [From an article by Michael Pollan called "Why Bother"]

I haven’t read the entire article yet (four pages in length), but will. His book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma [see Read This, right hand margin] also touched on the value of gardens.


Will I have a busy spring? I think so.

re gardens - back yard, front yard, or both? or participate in a community garden?


Monday, December 22, 2008

Victory Gardens: Something old, something new

In the 1950s I recognized the power of a magic garden and chicken coop.

Free food.

Or so it seemed to me - as a young kid.

A post about the topic prompted this comment from bobbie:

“During WW II, Mom and I had quite a large Victory Garden. Don't know why, I can't remember what we grew, but I remember working in it. I'm sure I ate what we grew, but she didn't.”

("How can you eat that awful stuff?" she would say.)

“Maybe we supplied some neighbors.”

What I discovered about Victory Gardens prompted some hope for an upcoming time when they will be needed once again.

Co-operative human energy produces amazing results.

Please link to Victory Garden.


Producing some of my own food would certainly be a victory. I may have a busy spring.


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Plan B: The New Age of Austerity will be expensive

I plan to live until I’m 87. Call me cocky.

During my next 28 years I’ll spend a pile of money to live or survive and I think I’ll feel the pinch as my dad and his parents did during the great depression. [Chicken coops, penned rabbits and gardens are in my thoughts].

[Rabbit pen; "My next workshop project?": photo link]

Why so serious before Christmas?

As I said earlier, while we had access to about a century’s worth of cheap oil and natural gas, our Plan A was to burn them as quickly as possible with little regard for tomorrow.

We don’t readily discuss Plan B at any level (political, educational, coffee shop confessional), how to live or survive during The New Age of Austerity, the age of costly oil.

In my opinion, however, as disposable income contracts under pressure of high fuel, food, clothing, shelter, transportation, communication and recreational costs, serious discussions will begin in earnest, especially around tables where family and friends meet.


Why are governments and businesses slow to come to the table?

Shouldn’t they be informing citizens and consumers more fully about future changes related to expensive fuels?


Saturday, December 20, 2008

Will chickens in the back yard soon out-number dogs?

Let’s just suppose...

...various fuels become scarce and costly

...factory farm meat and eggs become too expensive to mass produce and distribute

...I walk out back, smell fried eggs and sausage, peek over the fence and see my neighbour cooking breakfast on the BBQ

...I also notice he has a few chickens, two pigs and a cow wandering about under the watchful eye of his dog

I’m pretty sure I’d say, “Hey, Jason. You’ve made a good start at home grown meat production. Great idea.”

(I don't think 'meat production' would ever include his retriever. Gilmore is a very nice dog. Always happy).

I’d like to see a few chickens (or ducks, goats, rabbits etc.) next door, in my own yard or local common area - as a way to wean ourselves off excessive use of fossil fuels.

Years ago my dad kept chickens, to help feed seven mouths, and I helped expand his coop. I didn’t realize then that the experience might one day come in handy.

[Original chicken coop at left end of our barn: watercolour by Edith Harrison]


As times get tougher, would you consider your own chicken coop, rabbit pen etc.?


Canadian Sportsman of the Year

My brother-in-law climbs on the roof. He’s really good at it.

Like a Pavlovian dog, when he sees snow, he automatically grabs a ladder.

I nominate him Sportsman of the Year.

Second place - his shovel.

Third place - my shovel and I. (We spent an hour moving snow last night but didn’t have to climb onto the roof).


What’s the weather like where you live? Snow up to the roof top yet?


Friday, December 19, 2008

Can a Green Thumb be Inherited?

Yesterday I wrote that because my father had seven mouths to feed he became an excellent gardener out of necessity.

I don’t know enough about his own father and mother to say dad inherited a gardening gene - but I think it’s possible.

My oldest sister is an exceptional gardener and insists the ability was passed down.

While visiting her in Bracebridge on my last leg of a motorcycle trip in 2007 I saw her eating more fresh peas from her patch than she was gathering. My father often did exactly the same thing. (They both said you can’t eat just one).

I would likely do the same thing if I had a pea patch but I’m not a gardener. I’ve had a garden or two but I wasn’t devoted to them and I think they demand it, and some type of discipline, time and muscle.

However, I am willing to learn new things, especially if the alternative is to do without once the days of buying fruit and vegetables from California and Mexico (and beyond) are over.

The days of cheap food are coming to an end, and as a chip off the old block, I’m confident I can become a gardener out of necessity.


Can a person inherit a gardening gene? Did you?


Six Shopping Days

Does Chapters count as a mall or big box store?

If so, then I blew it.

I was doing great at staying out of the malls and under $100 for Christmas gifts (not per person - I mean $100 total spending, with an emphasis on small and homemade), until I finished reading The Long Emergency.

[See Read This, side margin].

Right after closing the book three nights ago I thought, my kids need to read this as well.

So, on top of books organized on my iMac and items from my workshop, I bought four small gift certificates at the book store.

I know a library card is free but if I told my sons and their wives to sign it out or get on a waiting list they’d never read the book.

However, on the bright side, with only six snow-filled shopping days left ‘til Christmas, I’m done.

Sure, it’s early yet, but it’s time for eggnog.


Yes, I caved. I really should be telling my adult children to make their own books or go to the library!


Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Magic Garden and Chicken Coop

My father had seven mouths to feed, including his own, so he became an excellent gardener over the years out of necessity.

Strawberries, raspberries, lettuce, radishes, Swiss chard, green and yellow beans, peas, carrots, potatoes, squash and onions were his standard crops.

[Postcard from the side of the road: G. Harrison]

The sweet corn that came from his large back yard plots every summer was the best I have ever tasted.

Mother would daily walk from the kitchen with a large bowl under her arm and return 20 minutes later with fresh fruits and vegetables for our table.

Occasionally, roast chicken was served on Sunday. It meant there was one less bird in the coop attached to our small barn.

Though my four siblings and I grew up in austere times we didn’t fully know it because our parents supplied the muscle and the garden and coop supplied the magic.

Necessity is the mother of invention. As we enter a new age of austerity, many skills - ‘gone but not forgotten’ - will return.


Did your parents garden? Do you have a green thumb?


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Plan B and The New Age of Austerity Part 2

When times get tough I can reduce living expenses.

My wife and I have shared our home in the past with my youngest son and his family and we’re prepared to do so again.

I know that sounds drastic, especially to many North Americans, but in many parts of the world [e.g. in areas where the economy is not based entirely on cheap oil and natural gas], shared living space is the norm.

“Uncle Louie lives in the basement. My two brothers share a room upstairs,” says many a European.

["Can you make a ham sandwich?": photo link]

It will soon be our turn.

I suppose that’s part of Plan B for my wife and I in The New Age of Austerity. [link to Part 1]

But the book entitled The Long Emergency [see Read This at the right margin] addresses more problems.

“The U.S. economy of the decades to come will center on farming, not high-tech, or information, or services, or space travel, or tourism, or finance. All other activities will be secondary to food production...

“Americans have been eating oil and natural gas for the past century, at an ever-accelerating pace (because of massive inputs of cheap gas and diesel fuel for machines, irrigation, and trucking, and petroleum-based herbicides and pesticides - and fertilizers from natural gas).”

So, most food production will soon have to occur locally.

Q: How do I get ham sandwiches out of a pig... if I have a pig?


Can you make a ham sandwich on your own - start to finish?

Headline: Obama left with little time to fix global warming - Part 2

There were two things that struck me funny about the above headline in Dec. 15’s paper. [link to article]

I thought it should read ‘climate instability’ rather than ‘global warming’ and that Obama is left with ‘no time’. [link to Part 1]

My opinions were formed by reading the following in the article:

“China has more than doubled its CO2 pollution in that time.”

“World CO2 emissions have grown faster than scientists’ worst-case scenarios.”

“Methane, the next most potent greenhouse gas, suddenly is on the rise again.”

“Scientists fear that cast amounts of the trapped gas will escape from thawing Arctic permafrost.” (The permafrost is in fact thawing rapidly).

For those who still believe in the out-dated notion that trees will take care of all the carbon, the article said, “The amount of carbon dioxide in earth’s atmosphere has already pushed past what some scientists say is the safe level.”

So, there’s ‘no time’ like the present to start fixing the problem.


After years of inaction, will 2009 be different?


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Plan B and The New Age of Austerity

Plan A for the last 100 years has been to burn cheap fossil fuels as quickly as possible.

And we don’t have a Plan B.

When we reach peak oil (if it hasn’t already happened) and remaining oil and natural gas supplies become harder and costlier to obtain, most North Americans will be under-prepared for the consequences.

Every structure and product built and maintained by cheap oil will quickly reach the end of its shelf life.

From The Long Emergency:

“The future is now here for a living arrangement that had no future.

“We spent all our wealth acquired in the 20th century building an infrastructure of daily life that will not work very long into the 21st century.

“It’s worth repeating that suburbia is best understood as the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world.” pg. 248

Compact cities - if such a thing exists in North America - will find it a challenge to survive without the constant inputs of cheap fuel, and far-flung suburbs will barely stand a hope and a prayer.

As of today, there is no Plan B as we face The New Age of Austerity.


Headline: Obama left with little time to fix global warming - Part 1

Global warming is a “ticking time bomb that president-elect Barack Obama can’t avoid” says The Associated Press (Dec. 15).

Two points.

First, I wish writers would say ‘climate instability’ rather than ‘global warming.’

Though average global temperatures are still rising when looked at over five year intervals (and the 10 hottest years on record have been reported since 1993) we just can’t fathom the concept when we’re digging our cars out from under another heavy blanket of snow and ice.

Unusual incidents of climate instability and rapid change, however, appear to be everywhere.

Second, the headline could easily have read Obama Left With No Time To Fix Global Warming.

“We’re out of time,” Stanford University biologist Terry Root said. “Things are going extinct.”

“U.S. carbon emissions have increased by 20 per cent since 1992.”

There’s more. Stay tuned.


Little time or no time? Is there much difference anyway?


Monday, December 15, 2008

Motorcycle Monday: Discovering Canada in One Pair of Pants Page 4

Notes from my travel journal: Day 2

“easier ride south to Prince Edward County - 240 km.”

“scenic, hilly, cloudy, cool, 80%”

I can’t recall if the 80 per cent relates to the scenery, hills or cloudy skies, but I do know, after one last salute to Ted the Turtle [link to page 3], I had an easy ride south to Port Hope, a town situated on the north shore of Lake Erie, and then farther east to Sandbanks provincial park.

Though I wrote that I stopped for organic eggs at a secluded cottage north of Welcome and saw chickens, turkeys, dogs and Czech pigeons scattered about the yard and inside the kitchen, I cannot find one word about the cottage owner, a man who will forever live in my memory for all the wrong reasons.

I guess I was trying to forget we’d ever met.

It didn’t work.

One month later I mentioned in a weekly column that I had “a brief but scary encounter with the Chicken Man of Garden Hill,” and concluded, “I really don’t mind paying $1.50 for six fresh, free-range organic eggs. The man just needs to follow a dress code, any dress code.”

I wouldn’t have stopped for eggs if I’d been vacationing with my wife in our car, but when on my motorcycle my needs and goals change.

When alone I tend to pack very little (e.g., one pair of pants), travel a bit slower, follow my nose, get lost and take more coffee and photo breaks.

On this trip I had also decided in advance to stop at roadside fruit or vegetable stands to supplement the tiny amount of food I carried in my saddle bags.

So, when I rode through Garden Hill at noon and noticed organic eggs for sale I pulled into the Chicken Man’s driveway.

It pleased me to see a healthy brood of chickens and turkeys inside a fenced yard near a mature wood-lot and I confidently stepped onto a side porch and knocked on the cottage door.

Within seconds several black puppies raced across the newspapers that covered the kitchen floor, raising the alarm, and just as quickly a man wearing only his underwear and a smile that said he was happy to see me, opened the screen door.

“Come on in,” he said.

I hesitated, wondered where the sound of dueling banjos was coming from, and said, “Eggs? Half dozen?”

He turned and yelled, “Ma. Somebody for eggs.”

Ma shuffled in from the next room, nodded in my direction, waved me inside, continued to the far side of the kitchen and, while opening the fridge door and sticking her whole head inside it, explained why she had to charge me a buck and a half for six eggs.

Hey. Explain why your son is in his tightee - whitees at one in the afternoon, I thought.

I paid for the eggs and stepped off the porch.

Before I reached my bike Chicken Man walked outside and asked if I wanted to see a few rare pigeons from the Czech Republic before he cut the grass.

He had his pants on and my camera was within reach so I stayed for another five minutes and snapped a few photos.

I chuckled to myself as I biked south to Welcome and hoped my most recent acquaintance knew as much about chickens as he seemed to know about pigeons.

About 30 minutes later, as I repacked the Kelly kettle and matches inside a saddle bag, I felt my lunch of fried eggs on toast could not have tasted better.


The New Age of Austerity and Eggs (over easy)

When cheap oil is gone (any minute now) how will I grow eggs - preferably over easy?

See brilliant observations in the previous post.


Plan A and The New Age of Austerity

During the century long age of cheap fossil fuels and big houses, cheap clothes and fast cars, expansive highways, factory farms and waist sizes, Plan A was (still is) to burn them as quickly as possible with no thought of tomorrow.

My brilliant observation: The party could be over any minute and we don’t have a back up plan.

James Kunstler, The Long Emergency, writes, “The salient fact about life in the decades ahead is that it will become increasingly and intensely local and smaller in scale.

“It will do so steadily and by degrees as the amount of available cheap energy decreases and the global contest for it becomes more intense.” (pg. 239)

[Could this one day be me? Where's the hamburger?: photo link]

Don’t you think, as the scale of almost every human activity is downsized because of smaller and costlier fuel supplies, we need some type of preparation plan (we could call it Plan B) for The new Age of Austerity?

For example: If factory farms are no longer able to produce and deliver as much food don’t we need to prepare to grow more of our own?

Q: How do you grow a hamburger on a sesame bun?


Sunday, December 14, 2008

No Agawa Bay without a relatively cheap ride

Last summer I stood within inches of a sparkling bay attached to the mighty and cold Lake Superior.

One more step and I would have frozen my toes.

As I tip my hat to the past century of cheap oil, and all the thousands of benefits I've enjoyed as a result of burning it quickly, I think of my trip to Agawa Bay and beyond.

The motorcycle ran smoothly, I filled the 14 litre tank for about 20 bucks per shot, and every park and campground I visited offered up spectacular views that I wouldn't have seen without motor oil and gasoline.

And my 1984 Yamaha, one pair of pants and saddlebags filled with food.

My next trip to the same spot will likely be different in several ways.


Plan A and a Tip of the Hat to Cheap Oil

It seems that Plan A, during the age of cheap fossil fuels, is to burn them as quickly and as brightly as possible.

The benefits, of course, are numerous.

My house is so warm and cozy and my car is way cool and convenient.

“It is no exaggeration to state that reliable supplies of cheap oil and natural gas underlie everything we identify as a benefit to modern life.” pg 2, The Long Emergency [see Read This, side margin]

[We have all lived during the age of cheap oil: courtesy photo link]

I know we should be thinking about Plan B, and maybe C, but for the moment let’s tip our hat to all the things we know and love about Plan A.

“All the necessities, comforts, luxuries, and miracles of our time - central heating, air conditioning, cars, airplanes, electric lighting, cheap clothing, recorded music, movies, supermarkets, power tools, hip replacement surgery, the national defense, you name it - owe their origins or continued existence in one way or another to cheap fossil fuel. Even our nuclear power plants...”

As most of you know, the total list of necessities and comforts would reach into the tens of thousands. You can't have cheap food and clothing without hundreds of chemicals and fertilizers

That’s a lot of hat tipping, eh?

I'll give you a moment.


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Zoom w a View: A bit of summer time in the winter

A few minutes ago I walked into my study and the picture below was floating across my screen.

I had to show it off. (A summer time shot to warm up the day).

It was not my first view of Lake Superior but the first photo I took after pulling over at the side of the road.

My first view was much better and I’ll likely never forget it.

I was riding north out of Sault Ste. Marie after buying and strapping a second sleeping bag to my motorcycle.

Seconds after cresting a hill I saw the greatest of the Great Lakes appear, as if in a National Film Board film - for my eyes only.

Stunning. Vast. Oh, Canada.

My chest swelled.

Honestly, it was several seconds before I could breathe again.

And I couldn’t stop the bike easily. I was heading downhill with a lot of steam, and into a curve, and the view was quickly gone.

Over a hundred times on my ride to Thunder Bay I was struck dumb by the scenery and promised myself I’d return to the north shore highway.

All of it stunning.


Been there? Can you share a photo?


Jackson and Me: Duelling Santas solve a riddle

When grandson Jack was four or five years old he visited at Christmas and a fight almost broke out between Santas.

And maybe another one.

Jackson found a wee Christmas tree that had three Santas underneath as decoration and began to play with them.

It wasn’t long before he had a Santa in each hand and introduced one to the other.

“Hi, I’m Santa,” said one.

“No, I’m Santa,” said the other.

Then he put one down and picked up another one.

“Hi, I’m Santa,” said the first.

“No you’re not. I’m Santa,” said the other.

As he played a familiar thought returned to my head.

["Back off, Santa. No, you back off.": photo GAH]

Jackson, and many other children, don’t need a lot of expensive toys to engage their imagination.

Three small Santas might be all some boys and girls need to have fun - and thoroughly entertain the grownups.

So? What to get Jack and Ollie for Christmas?

Something easy.


Merry Christmas to all


Friday, December 12, 2008

The Big Shake: where do horses go to die?

[link to the BIG SHAKE for context]


some say,

we backed the wrong horse

drove an economy until it fell

spent its energy on market strength

stoked the fires until they roared

lusted for an industrial wage

raped the produce of our lands

whipped the horse until it bled

with no thought of tomorrow

or the poor souls who follow.

and now,

the horse has left the barn

and terribly scarred by feverish appetites

has disappeared past the darkest hills.

tell me,

where do horses go to die?

where do horses go to die?



Thursday, December 11, 2008

It Strikes Me Funny: Headline - House Starts Plummet

[Link to yesterday’s London Free Press for context]

I’m definitely no prophet or mind-reader but it struck me funny yesterday to read the headline above and sub-head (Housing starts dropped 40 per cent in November) and not read the following:

We knew a long slowdown was going to happen eventually.

After all, we can’t keep growing our city as if without limit.

Yes, we are affected by the weakening global economy, but soon, if not already, fuels will show signs of depletion and most everything we touch will become more expensive.

So - get used to it.

["live small, like birds": photo GAH]

Slowdowns and more expensive fuel costs and changing economies of scale and lifestyles will soon be just a matter of course.

It could already be happening. The article said, “New home construction is headed to its fourth consecutive year of decline, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation said yesterday.”

Besides housing starts, what else will plummet or go into steady decline until alternative fuel sources catch up to the former availability and cost of cheap oil?

And will that ever happen?


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Hubble Telescope: A revealing project

It probably cost a gazillion dollars to build.

And I thought my sister had left the planet after the pictures below arrived.

But she’s still teaching at a local high school. Hasn’t even left the building.

Look to the heavens with me.


The Long Emergency: Do our big heads need a BIG SHAKE?

I continue to read The Long Emergency, and learn as I go (re what could happen as oil, electricity and factory farm food supplies decline).

As fuels that undergird our lifestyle dry up every human will be affected.

[Oil charts and excellent link]

“The cheap oil age created an artificial bubble of plenitude for a period not much longer than a human lifetime, a hundred years.” [pg 7]

Is our best hundred years ending?

Is the current BIG SHAKE to our economic and environmental network a sign we should reduce spending and production of unnecessary goods to a minimum?

I call it the BIG SHAKE because that is what our heads need. If we think that driving our current economic model harder is the answer we’re wrong.

I agree with Emergency’s author J. Kunstler when he says, “The so-called global economy was not a permanent institution, as some seem to believe it was, but a set of transient circumstances peculiar to a certain time: the Indian summer of the fossil fuel era.”

Should we be saying, “Everybody. Out of the pool?”


Do you think about 'life with less, or very little, oil?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Pride Minister Harper: Nothing more than a control-taking separatist? Part 2

No man is an island.

No one has all the answers.

Our PM not only has the wrong personality to be a leader [link to previous post for context] but during difficult times, when cooperation with other people is a necessity, he acts like a disgruntled bully.

And he protests so much about the coalition’s deal with the devil and the evil of separatists that he may in fact be a separatist himself.

After reading Separation, Alberta-style: Harper, by Monte Paulsen, I felt more sure he is, and left a comment, part of which follows:

“That Harper makes himself out to be nothing better than a control-taking separatist suggests there is little hope he will soon become a more cooperative leader on behalf of all Canadians, that his character will not change, but he will continue to be the gift that keeps on giving to political pundits and media sources across this divided land.”

I wish it could be otherwise.


Will Harper even attempt to apologize to Canadians for wasting so much of our time, work more cooperatively with other parties and build a stronger, united Canada?

Or is it just beyond him?


Buy Nothing Year: I may be scrounging for clothes

I can’t buy any new clothes for 388 more days and already see a few problems ahead.

I went to The Roaster today wearing clothes I seldom pull out of the closet - green jeans and brown corduroy shirt with misaligned button snaps.

The jeans are okay but my hand went from my coffee mug back to the bad snap several times and I really wanted to just rip the shirt off - right in the coffee shop (“Stand back. This will be scary!”) - give it away and buy a new one.

[You can see my problem!]

But I can’t, and won’t.

However, I will barter.

Anyone want to trade one pretty decent looking shirt for another?

(I can live with curled up collars).


I’m thinking of expanding my Buy Nothing Year to include items in the food, shelter, transportation, recreation and communication departments.

You know, just do with what I already have.

I’ll get back to you...


Monday, December 8, 2008

Motorcycle Monday: Discovering Canada in One Pair of Pants Page 3

Arthur Frommer (Europe on 5 Dollars a Day) once said, “I will go to my grave claiming that the less you spend the more you enjoy, the more authentic the experience it is, the more profound, the more exciting, the more unexpected.”

Though speaking about travel I think the same is true for life itself and I aspire to live by that philosophy as much as possible.

And as I traveled merrily down a narrow county road on my small motorcycle toward highway 10 I turned left instead of right and enjoyed an unexpected adventure. [link to pg 2 for context]

The following story describing the event was published in The Londoner shortly after I returned home from the trip.


I barely succeed as nature’s newest traffic cop

An interesting detour or wrong turn can sometimes add spice to a motorcycling trip.

For example, rather than snapping photos of a favourite scene from a familiar vantage point north of Owen Sound in the last week of June, I decided to take the path less traveled (a narrow gravel road I would normally shun) and ride through the very heart of the beautiful landscape.

[A road less traveled: photo GAH]

Ten minutes later I stopped, parked my bike and, after out-racing mosquitoes through 40 metres of bush, photographed views of the Niagara Escarpment seldom seen by anyone other than robust hikers.

[A view seldom seen except by mosquitoes: photo GAH]

The following week, while taking a longer trip to the Ottawa and Algonquin regions, I managed to include not only interesting detours in my travel plans but a few wrong turns and accidental adventures as well (read; I got lost).

At such times the journal I kept seemed to write itself.

On one misguided leg of my journey I unwittingly endangered the life of a giant snapping turtle, and if it never sticks its pointy nose out of the Kawartha Lakes swamp again it has me to blame.

I was happily traveling south (so I thought) through marshland on a straight, flat portion of county road 10 toward Port Hope when I saw a dead animal (so I thought) ahead in my lane. I slowed considerably when I noticed the unfortunate creature was still moving.

As I rode past, however, a healthy snapping turtle, three-quarters of its way safely across the road, peered suspiciously at me through dark, beady eyes.

I carefully braked, turned back, parked at the edge of the road’s soft shoulder and unpacked my camera.

The turtle, aware of my presence, halted in its tracks a few steps from the opposite shoulder.

I took three photos while sitting on my bike, then walked toward the silent hulk for a close up.

After taking one last picture I noticed two cars driving toward us.

Because the turtle had retreated into its 16-inch shell and wasn’t budging I stepped behind it, to encourage it to quickly (i.e. for a turtle) complete the short distance to safety.

Instead, the snapper fiercely turned to face me.

I stepped back in surprise, raised my hand like a volunteer traffic cop toward the first oncoming driver and eventually directed both cars around the stubborn creature.

Realizing I was endangering an endangered species I got back onto my bike.

As I adjusted my helmet I saw two large Mack trucks barreling down the narrow road at full tilt just as the turtle, on fully stretched legs, began hightailing it back from whence he came (unfortunately, the longest distance to safety).

I raised one hand toward the lead truck but it didn’t change speed.

I stepped back off the bike, raised both hands and hoped the turtle wouldn’t get flattened for the sake of my four digital photos.

At the very last second the first driver applied his brakes and both trucks veered sharply into the other lane.

Amazingly, the turtle, undaunted by the squealing brakes and flying dust, stood his ground, raised itself up on three legs and took a courageous swipe at the last passing tire.

When I later returned via the same route (finally heading in the right direction) I didn’t see the turtle.

I imagined it was still swimming toward the quietest corner of the swamp.


Once again I salute Ted the Turtle.


Pride Minister Harper: Nothing more than a control-taking separatist? Part 1

Pride comes before a fall.

I fell out of bed this morning thinking along these lines:

Our Prime Minister has a control-taking personality

He hides behind women’s skirts

If he was an animal he’d be a weasel

More thoughts emerged while I showered:

He may simply be a separatist from Alberta

Irish Spring soap smells good

If Harper wore a hood he’d be the evil emperor from Star Wars

I need coffee

Because Pride Minister Harper proposed an ideological plan two weeks ago to kill off his rivals in the House of Commons rather than work cooperatively with other parties on behalf of all Canadians, as he earlier said he would, it dawned on me that the PM has the wrong personality to be a political leader.

He’s a control-taker. He wants all the marbles all the time. Not good.

["Where are my marbles?"]

And he can’t cooperate.

Then, if others band together he runs down a hole crying “foul, foul,” like a weasel.

Stay tuned.


Sunday, December 7, 2008

It Strikes Me Funny: Local politician is right about climate change

My last question during a recent interview with Glen Pearson, federal Liberal MP for London North Centre, provoked the longest answer.

“Do you see any short- or long-term benefits to this recession?”

Glen said, “Nobody likes to talk about certain benefits when so many families are struggling. But there are advantages in learning from mistakes.”

After a few more words he mentioned one of our biggest mistakes.

“Those heady days of massive borrowing and spending took a huge toll on the environment.”

“How so?” I asked.

“Citizens, corporations and governments failed to take the importance of climate change seriously enough, and as difficult as the recession will be for many, it’s the climate change crisis that will haunt us for decades. Though investors will eventually put money back into the financial systems, to put fish back into the oceans, forests back on barren land, clean water into our lakes and get species off endangered lists will be the work of two lifetimes.”

[Forests back on barren land: courtesy photo link and relevant article @]

Which means I’ll have to outlive my great-grandmother Gordon, who lived 105 years, by at least 10 years, if I want to do my share of the work.


Two lifetimes. How old will you be?


Jackson and Me: Wisdom from a Greek restaurateur

A comment from Christy to my previous post reminded me of a few poignant words I was told about eight years ago.

While other family members enjoyed breakfast in a Greek restaurant near Queen St., Toronto, I watched Jackson, my first grandson, as he walked and ran from the dining room to the washroom and back.

And forth.

And back and forth some more.

Jackson loved to hear his echo in the restaurant’s bathroom.

With all surfaces covered in glazed tile it was an excellent place to sing.

After Jackson's fifth solo the owner, a man my age, smiled and said, “You get your children back.”

[Jackson, now age 10, looks like my father]


So, I got my children and one parent back.

Miracles happen do they not?


Saturday, December 6, 2008

Ollie and Me: The wee boy turns two two toot

Ollie turned two and he’s not so wee anymore. He’s bigger than Elmo.

The up side to grandson Ollie’s birthday on Dec. 1:

His mum and dad proved they know how to organize a great big party for their growing boy.

Balloons, cake, Dr. Pepper, pizza, cake and lots of presents.

And more cake.

The Thomas the Train table I’d made in my shop looked like the best thing since sliced bread.

It was nice and sturdy and just the right size and colour.

The down side:

Several orders did not pour in for more tables so I could use up leftover lumber in the shop and make my fortune.

Ollie got so tired he was off to bed an hour early and in no shape to play with Thomas and grandpa the next day.

“It’s more exciting than white bread, Ollie,” I said.

He only had the strength to bury his head into grandma’s shoulder and play shy.

There’s always tomorrow. Toot.


Friday, December 5, 2008

Inside Outside: Icy shadows on the window

It was too cold to work in the shop today. Had to bring the paint inside to warm up.

The patterns in the ice upon the window caught my eye.

If you have photographs related to SHADOWS please visit Carmi’s site to view a few others after sharing your own.

Do these icy shadows leave you cold?