Monday, May 31, 2010

It Strikes Me Funny: I know I’m getting older

My rear end was getting sore half-way there, but I persevered, and ultimately I got quite a thrill biking down the big hill that deposited me near the main beach at Turkey Point.

["Beach. Awesome. Dude.": photos GH]

It was a hot day and the beaches, streets, patios and arcades were swarming with people of all ages.

["New shades. Cool. You're the man. Dude."]

Many stopped what they were doing to smile at me as I motored by wearing my new red sunglasses.

Cool, they thought. Rad. Hip. With it, man. Dude.

Yeah, I'm all of that.

But I know I’m getting older by a particular choice I made after I parked my bike.

["Quiet. Shade. I'm the man. Dude."]

Of all the spots where I could sit and sip from my thermos (Yes, a thermos. I know. I must be 85 years old) I picked the one farthest from the crowds.

Good choice. The shady spot came with it’s own log.

You can’t sit and sip without a log.


Would you choose a busy beach or the log?


It Strikes Me Funny: I must be getting older

While cutting bread for toast this morning it dawned on me that my preferences are changing and reflect advancing age.

["Back up. Walk away slowly"]

E.g., I now prefer 7-grain bread over 12-grain.

Five fewer chances to crack a filling.


Are you with me on this one?


Saturday, May 29, 2010

Great day to work on projects in The Shed

Today, the temperature on the front porch seemed close to boiling by 10 a.m.

Too hot for me to sit and relax.

["Purple martin house - ready for delivery": photos GH]

The back yard felt too hot.

At least too hot to cut the grass.

However, The Shed felt several degrees cooler, so I set up the chop saw, chopped up some custom trim, finished a purple martin house (without flush toilets) and then applied the second top coat to a wee boat that will journey with me to Halifax in about 10 days.

["Ready for trim paint, then spar varnish"]

The Shed keeps its cool and helps me keep mine during hot weather.

["If it floats, it should reach Scotland by 2012"]

Tomorrow, if it’s too hot to ride (Ha! Is it ever too hot to ride?) I’ll paint the trim on the boat - my wife suggested blue paint rather than red - and assemble one more purple martin house in the coolest joint in the neighbourhood.

Keep cool out there, folks.


Pennies. Pennies - Pt 2: Does it make sense to stop making the cent?

Dear Finance Minister Jim Flatulence,

Please don’t stop making the penny.

Really, for most Canadians, stashing pennies in a jar may be their only savings program. And trust me, with pension plans falling into deficit the way they are, someday we’re going to need them to pay a monthly heating bill or our lines of credit.

Your pal,


Really, if Jim Flatulence is trying to look frugal by saving Canadians $5 million, he should give his head a shake.

Maybe he could save taxpayers a billion dollars at the upcoming G8 conference - on security costs alone - by telling his PM to hold it on a boat 30 minutes from shore in Lake Superior. There isn’t a protester in the world who would last 10 minutes in that frigid environment.

Five million for pennies looks pretty puny when standing next to PM Harper’s security budget.

["First we save 'em. Then we roll 'em. Then we start again"]

And how is he going to get billions of purchases to round out so that pennies aren’t needed? Will cash registers across the land have to be replaced or rejigged? That won’t come cheap.

And will he round up or down? If he rounds up to the nearest nickel there will be mass revolts across the land, especially every Monday morning at Timmies.

Extra security again will cost a fortune.

And where will he get all the extra nickels?

At the Royal Canadian Mint, I bet, at 7.5 cents a pop is my guess.

Why, that’s an extra two and a half cents (compared to half a cent for the penny) for every transaction in Canada every day for the rest of your life.

See, I told you the mark up on pennies was cheaper at twice the price.

So, if you want a free or cheaper country, and I’m sure you do, vote to keep the penny.

Boomers like me across the land will thank you.

Especially if counting and rolling pennies is the main source of entertainment between periods of a hockey game.


Pennies. Pennies Pt 1: Does it make sense to stop making the cent?

My wife occasionally says to me, a penny for your thoughts.

She’s been doing it since we started dating in 1969. (So far she owes me $2.89. I bet I’ll never see it).

She’ll have to stop the endearing habit if Finance Minister Jim Flatulence halts production on the Canadian penny or one cent coin.

Sure, other countries have dropped the penny, e.g., Sweden, New Zealand and Australia. But does that mean we have to do so as well?

I say no.

Just because there are 30 billion pennies in circulation - worth $300 million - and $298 million are stashed in piggy banks and dresser drawers and woolen socks under the bed across our fair land, doesn’t mean a thing to me.

I say keep ‘em rolling.

["Give me pennies or put up a fight"]

Just because the Royal Canadian Mint punches out 500 million new ones each year - worth $5 million - at a cost of $7.5 million, I say keep punchin.’

They’re a bargain at twice the price.

And any second now I'll tell you why.


Pennies. Pennies - to be continued.


Senior Citizen Alert: You may be pouring your own refills soon

You may have noticed - I like numbers, statistics, and speculating re same.

Here are some stats that caught my eye recently and that may soon have a huge impact on my life and your own.

["So, where's my coffee?"]

“All levels of government will have to reassess priorities because senior citizens could soon outnumber children for the first time in Canadian history... StatsCan expects there will be about 10 million Canadians over 65 in 2036, about 25% of the population.” (May 27, London Free Press)

I love StatsCan: The agency makes me think.

For example:

I think that’s a lot of seniors.

I think I’ll be one of them. I’ll be the youthful-looking 86-year old sitting on the patio at The Red Roaster wearing red sunglasses and a spiffy straw hat.

According to the stats, I think we seniors will easily outnumber the young wait staff.

I think one day in the future I may have to pour my own coffee and refill.

I think, good thing I worked there for awhile and have the experience.

I can pour your coffee too. Don’t forget to donate to the tip jar, eh.


Friday, May 28, 2010

Purple Martin Houses: A small condo unit for how many?

Some would look at this type of birdhouse and think there are 10 units, i.e., four on each side and two penthouse units on top with indoor plumbing.

They’d be wrong.

["If I put in plumbing I'd have to raise the rent": photos GH]

Forget the plumbing. The price of copper is through the roof.

Second, I subscribe to the theory that purple martins like units that are 6 inches wide (check), 6 inches high (check), and 10 - 12 inches deep (check) and not 6 inches deep.

["You can 'cedar' roof and perches later"]

So, there are no units on the other side.

Two per floor. No flush toilets.


How will it look with a roof and perches?

Tune in tomorrow or Sunday.


The SS Silver Walnut 2: First top coat looks about right

It needs another top coat or two, then marine varnish, but the colour seems right.

It needs red or blue trim to make a few lines and shapes stand out.

["A lot of wee jobs needed before I head off to Halifax": photo GH]

It needs its name painted on the back or side.

It needs an identification plaque naming its passenger (ordered).

It needs to be delivered safely to the Atlantic Ocean.

It needs to float!!


The float test is scheduled for next Wednesday.

Okay, if it sinks - then what?

Stay tuned.


The BP Oil blow-out didn’t need to happen. Not at all.

First, an accusation. BP Oil is not the only major polluter responsible for the Gulf spill.

Second, some numbers.

According to US Geological Survey figures, 12,000 - 19,000 barrels of oil per day have been gushing from the blow-out that occurred about 1,600 meters below the Gulf’s surface.

It’s perhaps as high as 25,000 barrels per day.

Third, some damning figures from ‘The Politics of Oil (see Read This, side margin).

“The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) released a report entitled “Responsible Energy Policy for the Twenty-First Century” in March 2001. The report concluded that by raising fuel-economy standards by 60 percent in the US, automobile oil use could be reduced by 51 billion barrels.

["Car pool one day per week, conserve 20 per cent of your fuel."]

“Another 5.8 billion barrels could be saved if the US required fuel-efficient replacement tires. The savings is based on improving cars’ efficiency to 45 mpg and light trucks’ to 34 mpg.

“Technology that matches these goals has already been developed and is in use in other countries.”

Why did I say these figures are damning?

If BP Oil captured 25,000 barrels of escaping oil per day they would capture 9,125,000 barrels in one year. After refinement, the number of barrels for automobile use would be about half that amount, say 5 million barrels. (Less than that if you subtract the refined oil needed to fuel the refining process).

Fuel-efficient tires would save 5.8 billion barrels in the 21st century, or 58,000,000 barrels per year.

Fuel efficient cars would save 51 billion barrels in this century, or 510 million barrels per year.

Both fuel efficiencies dwarf BP’s production in the Gulf.

North Americans don’t need to be polluting the Gulf in this century. So, why are we there?


Number One: BP Oil now owns the worst oil spill in US history

It was something BP was hoping to avoid.

By low-balling their estimate of how much oil escaped each day into the Gulf of Mexico after the April 20 blow-out that killed 11 men, BP was hoping to escape the Number One ranking.

["Exxon Valdez - an ecological disaster at work"]

“In the previous worst US oil spill, in March 1989, the tanker Exxon Valdez hit an undersea reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska, spilling nearly 260,000 barrels of oil into the sea.” (May 28, London Free Press)

BP’s numbers - 5,000 barrels per day.

US Geological Survey numbers - 12,000 - 19,000, maybe as high as 25,000 barrels per day.


At the mid-point rate, i.e., 19,000 barrels per day, the killer blow-out has sent 722,000 barrels of oil into the Gulf in 38 days.

At 19,000 barrels per day, BP owned the Number One spot on May 3rd, over 3 weeks ago.

Exxon Valdez who?


Thursday, May 27, 2010

It Strikes Me Funny: Well, it didn’t really strike me all that funny

(Yeah, I get that sometimes).

My most recent column explores the many reasons why this may be the worst time in all of human history for a government to impose a new tax - the HST.

Now, I didn’t say I was against it. I just said I can understand why people might march to Parliament Hill or Queen’s Park to express their displeasure.

Come on, after all, the smart meters are coming.

I mentioned 10 expenses, costs , debts that are going north and hitting our wallets. Then I said the following:

With Canada's household debt at $1.41 trillion, per capita debt-to-income-ratio rising faster than you can buy a big screen TV with all the bells and whistles, and alarm bells ringing among policy makers and at the Bank of Canada, how could wiggle room not feel like it's getting tighter?

["Plus, I don't always strike me funny either"]

Plus (and there's always a plus during the worst time in all of human history), I recently read the following: Storm clouds are gathering over the global economy with a string of events including sovereign debt woes in Europe, the Louisiana oil spill and the disruption from the Icelandic volcano eruption darkening prospects for growth, economists say. (May 7 issue of The London Free Press)

My gosh, and this doesn't strike me funny, are we just one unforeseen event away from having no wiggle room left whatsoever?

Now, I didn’t mention any event on the horizon that might take the wind out of our collective sails, but if anything stupid should happen at the Orphan Basin drilling site (about 2 miles under water, near Newfoundland), I bet that would qualify.


Pensions! Quebec will run dry soon, Canada will soon follow

Trust a retired school teacher to be interested in pensions, eh.

Even pensions in Quebec.

It’s because the Quebec Pension Plan is in trouble and Ontario will face the same dilemma, though at a later date. And it’s because there are hints in the story about the QPP that tell us we should perhaps be paying more taxes, which is what everybody wants to hear about during hot weather.

The QPP is at risk of running dry in 2037. Completely empty. Canada (CPP) 10 years later.

We knew this was coming, didn’t we? As I mentioned earlier, 92% of defined benefit pension plans in Canada have a shortfall; it’s gone from $160 billion in 2003 to $350 billion in 2008 and continues to grow.

“A rise in contributions is being suggested to balance the QPP’s reserves.” (full article, QMI Agency)

That’s been tried. Contribution rates have been rising since 1966 but not quickly enough to prevent big trouble. So, they’ll have to rise even more.

["Will one piggy bank be enough?"]

(Note to self: Is this a good time to mention Canada’s national debt is rising too, is a much bigger problem, and maybe contributions - i.e., taxes - should rise (not go down as in the recent past) until we have it under control? Nah. Skip it).

One observer said the QPP’s position results in intergenerational unfairness.

"Future generations will be obliged to contribute much more than their elders to enjoy comparable or even lesser benefits."

Prediction: We’ll pay more into pension plans, or receive less. Our lifestyles will change. Contributions to pensions will become a big issue within 10 years.

And if more people start worrying about the looming problems connected to the national debt, as they should, taxes will rise too.

Recommendation: Reduce spending, pay down debts, save money.

Buy the biggest piggy bank you can find.


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Zits Strikes Me Funny: Give it a good toss

If you didn't see it, please go to today's Zits cartoon in The London Free Press or online.

Though I will carry a cellphone once or twice per month (e.g., occasionally when I go motorcycling) and will take one with me when I ride to Halifax in two weeks, I generally don't think about staying connected.

I suppose if the term for those who choose not to carry a portable communication device is 'unconnected' then I am one of those.

So is 'the dad' in the Zits cartoon.

Yeah, give it a good heave, man!

Us old guys have to stick together.


In the Workshop: Painting is sticky work at the best of times

Today was so hot outside the paint I was applying to a wee boat was getting gummy before it left the brush.

I started the job outside because the smell of primer goes to my head and I had a hockey game later in the day and didn’t want to make any goof ups.

["No more trim; time to apply primer": photos GH]

So I moved the job into the workshop and the first coat started going on better and a large fan kept the fumes to a minimum.

After cleaning the brush I went to my game, didn’t clear the puck at a critical moment and the other team turned my goof up into a goal.

["Two wee bottles contain messages and will stored in the cabin"]

I tried redeeming myself - and came close (set up one goal and would have assisted on the winner but a teammate failed to tip in my low shot from the blue line) - but, yeah, yeah, the game ended in a tie, a result that many guys find very satisfying for some reason.

["More primer tomorrow, then top coats and varnish"]

If I apply a coat of paint, then varnish, once per day for the next 6 days the job will be done before my next game.

No more goof ups!


I admit, I take the game too seriously sometimes, but if I stay competitive for a few more years I might get called up by The Leafs.


I’ll say ‘sail on’ to my father at Crystal Crescent Beach

Crystal Crescent Beach Provincial Park is located about 20 - 30 km. south west of Halifax and, according to my map of the area, looks like the perfect spot from which to set adrift a wee boat for my dad’s final voyage on the Atlantic ocean.

["I filled the boat (w ashes) using a scoop from my dad's old barn"]

It will be perfect if, once I set the boat adrift and say ‘sail on,’ waves don’t instantly send it back to shore.

It will be perfect if the boat falls in step with the Gulf Stream and heads off toward Scotland and not Peggy’s Cove, i.e., around back behind me and in the wrong direction entirely.

And though I don’t know how close I’ll be able to get to Pennant Point, the pointiest and, again according to my map, best spot to say ‘sail on,’ I’ll give it a good try and hope for the best.

I think that’s all one can do unless there’s a boat for hire somewhere nearby and the fee isn’t an arm and a leg. In my case, I’ll need the arm and leg to get me home safely on the motorcycle.

It will also be a perfect day if the boat doesn’t immediately sink to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.

My dad wanted to be buried at sea but I think he was hoping for a bit more adventure than spending two seconds near the shores of Crystal Crescant Beach!


The clock is ticking, I’m getting excited (though very busy at the same time), and after I apply four - five coats of paint and marine varnish to the boat, the wee thing might sink just from the weight of the paint and varnish alone.

But it won’t leak!!


The trip to Halifax is playing with my mind

In less than two weeks I leave for Halifax to fulfill a promise to my father.

Everything I say, do and hear is now getting filtered through the ‘trip’ part of my brain - which appears to be most of it.

An hour ago a fellow at The Roaster said, “You paid $20 for plastic shades?”

["Ten dollars worth of my new shades": photos GH]

“Yes, but they’re red,” I said, “and they fit with my energetic mood right now.”

When I got home from the coffee shop I noticed city workers cutting limbs from a tree on my neighbour’s yard.

I thought, I’ll get my camera, that’s a cool job. (But, is it the perfect job?)

When I stepped back onto the porch I saw three limbs fall to the ground, and an image appeared from the ‘trip’ side of my brain.

What if a limb bounces off my concrete driveway and hits my bike? My trip would be ruined.

["Everything gets filtered through my 'travel plans' now"]

What if one hits my head? Again, my trip would be ruined because my helmet wouldn’t fit over the bandages.

So, I’m going to strap on my helmet right now (sans bandages) and move my bike onto the street - about ten miles away.

I’ll be back in two hours.


Two hours - that’s if there is bus service out of Hyde Park.


New shades: But were they worth 20 bucks?

Times are busy all over. I barely had time to sneak out of the house this morning for coffee at The Red Roaster.

But I’m getting lots of stuff done related to my upcoming Halifax trip.

The itinerary is set, hostels are booked (Day 1, June 8: Sqweek House in Kingston), money is saved, Dad’s boat is well underway (half done, I’d say), one pair of jeans is nicely pressed.

However, a few big hurdles remain.

["How much did you pay?" I was asked: photo GH]

I need a luggage rack for my bike or else I'll have to pack even smaller than small. I have two leads and if they don’t pan out then I’ll have to build one myself. I have some bird’s eye maple that will do the trick. (Custom luggage rack. How cool is that?)

I need to finish four purple martin houses by Friday, June 4, and I’d like to build a batch of 6 ‘old school house’ bird boxes by the same date - for Gathering on the Green, June 5.

And I’d like to get in a few more practice rides to toughen up my behind and see how my new shades handle the morning sun.

Yes, I bought new red shades for the trip - aviator style - because they look funky and suit my cheerful mood (even though I’ve never been busier).

But... and this is a big but... are they worth the 20 bucks?

My mind says yes.

["That's 10 bucks worth right there"]

My wallet says no.

Hey, if they make me smile all the way to Halifax they are definitely worth it.


Yup, 20 bucks.

I know, it seems like a lot to me too.


Monday, May 24, 2010

A Day Off Pt 6: Final thoughts before heading to the shop

I carry a notebook, pen and camera (or two) while motorcycling. That way, if I hear a good line in a nearby conversation I can write it down for later.

(For example...)

While sipping coffee in Dorchester yesterday (on my way home from a great motorcycle ride), even the signs hanging from the ceiling caught my attention.

The Tim Horton ads made me think, why would a boomer or retiree ever want to cook again? Preparing meals at home might become a lost art.

I bet in a few more years I’ll say to Pat or a friend, “Let’s go to Tim’s for breakfast. Their English Muffin sandwich, with cheeses and egg and meat pattie, is only $2.59.”

After finishing a large coffee I’ll likely say, “Gee, I feel like lunch. How about that turkey caesar for $3.99. That looks good.”

And at about 5 p.m. I’ll likely say, “Meet you at Tim’s for supper. Their chili combo looks good and I have my face fixed for a Canadian Maple donut.”

What could be easier and more patriotic than that?


Some people must walk into a Timmies and think they’ve died and gone to heaven.

And in two years, after trying all the desserts, that’s exactly where a bunch of them will be.

Time to finish a birdhouse.


A Day Off Pt 5: Comments overheard or thunk up in my head

When I wasn’t snapping pictures yesterday I engaged in or overheard a few interesting conversations.

A young fellow and I talked about his 90cc Kawasaki (burnt orange stock paint, circa 1974).

“My girlfriend and I had it up to 45 mph on the way over to Long Point from Dover. We love it.”

I loved it too but I would be wary of taking a passenger very far.

Later, while sipping coffee at Tim Horton’s in Dorchester an old gentleman spoke with an old woman.

He said, “I saw your walker outside the liquor store yesterday.”

She quickly replied, “That wasn’t me. That was likely Norma.”

I thought, hey, we’re all getting older, but I guess we’re never too old for our favourite snoot.

I had another thought or two after seeing a sign south of Belmont that advertised the Hayhoe family corn maze.

For example: If Flo Hayhoe marries Joe Kehoe and keeps her name she’d be known as...?

I’d like to carpool to work with two Hayhoes. On my week to drive, I’d pull up in front of their house, roll down my window and shout, “Hayhoe, Hayhoe, it’s off to work we go.”

They’d get tired of it by Wednesday, but I’d keep it up all week.


Sing along with me.

Hayhoe, Hayhoe, it’s off to work we go...

Which dwarf got everybody up in the morning and off to work?


A Day Off Pt 4: The water’s fine at Long Point, Lake Erie

I was on a sight-seeing tour yesterday and landed, eventually, in Long Point, on the north shore of Lake Erie.

I may go somewhere on the bike today too because my body needs to get used to ‘putting on miles’ before I leave for Halifax in June.

After parking the bike beside Bushell’s store I walked to the beach to make sure the water was still there. I discovered there was lots of water and plenty of room for me if I chose to go jump in the lake.

I spotted another purple martin house, maybe two, as I walked back to the store.

(Please click here to see the first and likely oldest purple martin I spotted in Long Point.)

Bushell’s store has only changed in name in the forty-five years since I was a teen. The Bushells, former owners, lived in my hometown and when I popped in for a bottle of pop they always asked about my family.

The uneven plywood floors and scabby roof are still the same and someday, when nobody’s looking, I may try to swipe something off that store as a memento to lovely times gone by.

Yes, one of those clay insulators would do the trick!

Now, that would make my next ride to Long Point a real treat.


Just kidding. I’d ask for the insulators.

They aren’t connected to anything and I saw a ladder in the back of the store while casing out the joint.


A Day Off Pt 3: I finally land in Long Point, Lake Erie

I made more than one detour on my way to Long Point but each one was worthwhile.

(Please click here to visit with the Rawcliffes and see a few of Mr. R.’s birdhouses)

["The old channel is still used by fishermen"]

And a few minutes after crossing the narrow causeway to the point I turned down my favourite street, Fourth St.

["I'm familiar with one of these boathouses. Which one?"]

Gord Bucholtz, a friend of my dad’s, once owned a cottage there. A few steps from its front door sat Gord’s old boat house.

What a thrill it was to hop onto Gord’s boat, slowly exit the narrow channels and drop lines in Long Point Bay (opposite Port Rowan) or enter Lake Erie and fish for green bass 14 - 20 inches long.

["A young boy fished nearby while I took photos"]

Another Gord, Mr. Powell, took his son and I water skiing and trolling for bass in the same area in the 1960’s, so Long Point is home to many fond memories.


Port Stanley, Port Bruce, Port Burwell, Sandhills, Long Point, Turkey Point, Port Dover.

Are any of these places home to memories for you?


A Day Off Pt 2: At Orwell, on my way to Long Point

The Rawcliffes sell plants and birdhouses (upcoming sale - go look for yourself) and I must say, they are a creative couple.

["Mrs. R. makes and bakes clay shingles for some birdhouses": photos GH]

(Please click here for more photos and location).

["Gary uses a dado blade to create a layered look for walls, roofs"]

Gary R. is the builder (ouch - I love his workshop and back patio) and Mrs. R. paints and deals with the plants.

["The workshop is an awesome sight. Yes, I'm jealous"]

It’s a country paradise, for this couple and many birds, and I was warmly invited to return anytime.

["A rare country property. Birds must love it"]

There are another two dozen birdhouses I want to check out, so I will go back.

["I stopped to photograph this one birdhouse and landed in paradise"]


I’m stopping to chat with strangers more often.

Once we start trading information about birdhouses, property owners don’t seem to mind.


A Day Off Pt 1: At Orwell, on my way to Long Point

I don’t know what time the sun came out yesterday, but I noticed it three seconds after sending off my column to the editor (an hour before the deadline - awesome), and five seconds after that I took the tarp off my bike.

["You can't miss the Rawcliffes' mailbox on Springwater Rd": photos GH]

Once I’d slipped on my riding jeans and leather jacket, etc., I was on my way.

["Mrs. Rawcliffe said this one was her favourite"]

South of Belmont I turned left on Ron McNeil Line, headed east and turned south toward Lake Erie on Springwater Rd.

["Their 13-yr. old grandson made this one. Wine corks. Creative family!"]

I spotted a funky birdhouse at ‘The Rawcliffes’ extensive property before reaching Orwell on Highway 3 and 60 seconds after getting off the bike I made their acquaintance.

["I was offered a tour - no wine - and spotted this purple martin house"]

I stopped because of one birdhouse; I stayed for 30 minutes because of dozens more.


Do you stop and chat with strangers?