Remembrance Day 2013-Is One Day Off Too Much to Ask?


Living in Canada’s capital city, Ottawa, Ontario, we are fortunate to be able to attend the Remembrance Day Service at our national cenotaph. Today was a cool, showery, somewhat snowy day yet the crowds came to Parliament Hill.  There could be more people there though.  In our native province of Saskatchewan, Remembrance Day is a statutory holiday.  Everything pretty much shuts down.  

When we moved here we were surprised to learn Remembrance Day is not a statutory holiday in Ontario.  What?  I’ll be working that day?  In the nation’s capital?  You don’t go to work on Remembrance Day!  You go to the cenotaph in your town or city and you stand in the sometimes very cold morning and you contemplate the selfless sacrifice of so many of long ago and not so long ago.  The first year we were here, there I was at work in a meeting and 11 a.m. we stood at our meeting table and bowed our heads for two minutes.  Two minutes.  And then we went back to our meeting.

While some employers (federal government, The Ottawa Hospital, for example) do give people a day away, most do not.  Stores close till about 12:30pm and then it’s open season.  Universities hold classes without skipping a beat, schools are open and life goes on.

Like many things in Canada, there is no one size fits all.  Some provinces have deigned Remembrance Day as a holiday, some have not.  We have the lives and the freedoms we enjoy in our great country because men and women laid their lives on the line for the greater good.  Surely we can take a day and make that effort to pause and give thanks.  After all, if they hadn’t done what they did, our lives would most decidedly not be what they are today.  Seems to me that 24 hours set aside to consider not only to reflect what’s gone on before but to consider why humanity continues to inflect horrors upon its own kind is not too much to ask.  In this great country of ours, we should all have time to pay tribute to those who have shaped our freedom.  Lest we forget.


A Very Busy Day For Meteorologists

I imagine this day in our local weather is something meteorologists must love.  When they stand around the water cooler at work the conversation would really be about the weather.  

“Did you see the size of that low pressure system!  I haven’t seen anything like that since 2006. “

How about that forecast of the micro-burst?  Was I accurate or what!”

“I knew that storm would track south of the lake and I predicted the rain would fall around six.  And what time did it start to fall?  Six!”

Plough wind, southeast Saskatchewan.  Need I say more?”

There’d be little chat about politics or television or movies or families.  It would be all about the weather.  Today the water cooler chat in Ottawa must be very lively.  Since the day has dawned today we have had one advisory after the other.  Sometimes we have had two advisories at once.  First there was the humidex advisory.  The temperature plus humidity was forecast to reach +41C.  Within an hour or so there was an advisory about the UV rating.  It was very high today (first time we’ve had this warning this year).  Then came the severe thunderstorm watch which turned into a warning and to cap it off we are now under a tornado watch.  



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On Monday morning there will be lots to talk about at work around the meteorologists’ water cooler in Ottawa.

I wish they would also issue tomato plant advisories.  The six plants I have in the backyard have gone from vertical to horizontal.  

Garden Motto

Observation about our gardening efforts, Caroline and mine.  

Last year we worked very hard.  We stooped over and spent hours and hours trying to pull weeds out of the hard-pan ground.  We tried to coax carrots to grow, lettuce was playing hard to get and cabbage never got past the mini stage.  

This year we worked hard but we started with some 9 cubic yards of mushroom compost.  We spread it, tilled it in and made raised beds.  The soil became a dream to work with.  We bought straw to use as mulch between the plants and the rows. Weeds still grow but we can pull them easily and the plants that are doing well…they must be almost 2-3 times as big as last year!

It’s not all roses as we have some problems: potato leaf rollers have set upon one of our varieties of potatoes, cauliflower plants are huge but there’s no sign of the heads of cauliflower (do you know why that would be?) and the same goes for broccoli (all leaf and no eating bits). It’s been a very hot and dry year and we have tried to keep up to the watering but I imagine we could have done more.   But on the whole the organic matter has been a whole lot of magic.

Moral of the story-garden motto

Say what you will about crop rotation, drip irrigation, tilth, micro herd, good seeds and so on, as far as I’m concerned the moral of the story and a motto to garden by is to add organic matter or more plainly put:

Horse shit really works!  So if someone tells you that something is a load of horse sh@$, ask them how much they want for it.  We’re likely in the market for at least 4 cubic yards next year.

Paying homage to my gut (reaction)

The Lead-Up

History: Over the years I have not always paid attention to any visceral responses I have to situations or decisions.   It’s easy enough to talk yourself out of a gut reaction and try to rationalize your way to a decision.  You know, look at all the facts and make a decision-use your head-simple enough.  Then again, there’s been many a time when, upon reflection, I should have listened to my gut.  

Customer Service: Once upon a time I attended a seminar about customer service. While the seminar was held many years ago one of the examples used by the presenter stuck with me.  She spoke about how easy it was to lose customer confidence-the example she used was air travel.  You board the airplane, get settled and before you take off you try to turn on the overhead light and it doesn’t work. When this happens you think ‘what else on this airplane doesn’t work?’  

The News Story

Today Ottawa Public Health held a news conference to report several thousand people have been exposed to potential HIV or Hepatitis infection as a result of poor standards during treatment at one local clinic.

Within the last year or so I was referred to said clinic.  Briefly put, from what I observed in both the exterior office and the consulting office, there was a lack of orderliness and cleanliness.  The physician recommended a procedure and I asked where the procedure was conducted, I was told there an operating room (or some such thing) in the back of the office.  I initially made an appointment for a future date but pretty much as I left the office thought-“No Way!”-if this is what the front of the office looks like…what does the room in the back look like?  I called back and cancelled the appointment. I did it based on a gut reaction.  I reported my experience and decision to my family doctor.  While the news report says the probability of infection is low, there are thousands of people who will soon receive a registered letter about their treatment in that office. Despite the odds of infection (which are apparently very low) the information is bound to cause many people a great deal of worry. Tonight I am paying homage to my gut.

Have you had an experience where your gut reaction got it right?

Tribute to Jack Layton

The death this week of Jack Layton, Leader of the Official Opposition, has spawned an outpouring, a public display of affection and respect for him from across Canada. Whether you receive your news via the web, the newspaper, TV or radio, tributes to the man are everywhere.  And it is very heartfelt.  Tributes have come from ordinary Canadians who feel this man cared about them, he cared about the disadvantaged and the marginalized and he worked to make things better.  He dedicated his professional life to his beliefs.  He believed together we could make a difference.  And in the end, as ill as he was, he wrote a letter that spoke to the country and to the individual.  

In an age when it is easy and perhaps in vogue to be critical of politics and some of the things that politicians have done or not done, Jack Layton’s legacy rises above it all.  He challenged us all to work to make the world a better place.  As I stood in line today to pay my last respects to him as his body lay in state on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, it made me consider what I have done or I could do to make this country and this world a better place.  


Green Thumb Chapter Seven-Some Things Never Change

When you are out in the garden, particularly when you are alone, your mind tends to wander.   I have always marvelled at how things are connected, whether it be people or events and how you can take what you observe in one area of life and compare and contrast it to another area or event in another part of life.  

People ask “how is your garden”.

Here we are in early August and well, we continue to work away.  We are starting to enjoy some bounty.  There is swiss chard and lettuce (things that the long-term wellprepared gardeners in some parts around here enjoyed 6 weeks ago).  The Sunburst or patty pan squash are prolific little guys and they need to be monitored every couple of days or they grow too big.  Aren’t they cute?

There’s a late breaking development with the pumpkin.  That’s the pumpkin that we thought would mature by Christmas.  It started off like gangbusters.  There were flowers and vines everywhere-it’s like the plant in the movie “Little Shop of Horrors”.  But then things started looking not so great-white powdery mildew has set in and the poor pumpkin doesn’t look long for this world.  There is one pumpkin that’s trying to grow.  I don’t know if it will have sustenance on the dwindling vines.  If the plant continues at this rate there could be a bare patch in that part of the garden in the near future and we will have an orphaned little pumpkin. 

Why did we buy those umbrellas and camp chairs?

When my gardening buddy and I started to set up our shop…late as it was this year…we looked around and saw that many gardeners seemed to ‘nest’ as well as garden.  There were little plastic picnic tables and umbrellas in some of the gardens.  Some gardens have those gazebos with netting.  Well, we thought, isn’t that great!  In addition to growing things we can sit here and watch the world go by.  We can have wonderful discussions while watching Mother Nature do her thing.  We each purchased a camp chair and one of those little beach umbrellas to sit underneath.  We have used the chairs once.  

The rest of the time it’s hoeing and digging and weeding and planting and watering.  And the weeds, there is one particularly some nasty type of grass.  I thought this morning as I dug and pulled and uprooted them that my cousin Steve in Australia might be wondering if there were earth tremors.  No Steve, no tremors, just your cousin pulling weeds here in Central Canada and their roots come up by your front door.

When does the part about sitting on your rear and admiring things start.  Actually I am exaggerating a bit.  We admire and tour the garden every time we go out there.  It’s the sort of thing other gardeners might understand.  If you haven’t gardened I imagine, it’s hard to see the beauty in it.   This is the current state of affairs.

And there are some lovely flowers

Some things never change

And so to the things that are linked in life and such.  I met another neighbour today. Gardeners are a friendly lot.  He was telling me since he’s isn’t able to weed as much as he’d like he hires people to weed for him.  It costs him $300 per year.  I suppose we can think about that as we weed away.  It might come in handy as a sideline business if the Standard and Poors rating of the USA sinks our investments.  I don’t think I’ll look at the newspaper tomorrow…but that’s another story.  Nonetheless, the garden at this point is about 9 parts weeding and watering and 1 part produce.  We’ve already paid for the seeds and fertilizer and peat moss and garden gloves and of course the chairs and the umbrellas.  

In the position I left as I moved to life beyond full-time work, I worked in the not for profit sector.  And here I am, just months later, working in another not for profit sector.

Green thumb-Chapter Five-Now, really, who can’t grow lettuce!

Plants we want to nurture and grow in our garden: update

Our garden has been planted for all of three weeks now.  That means most things have reached or exceeded their expected germination time-as far as one can see on the seed packet.  That also means pretty much everything should be showing up above ground.  We’ve had some pretty hot and alternately pretty wet days along the way.  And so, with great anticipation we journeyed to the garden a couple of days ago.  And indeed many things are up…some well up.  Our potatoes are up and it is a true story-these really are our potatoes.We weeded around them and did some hilling.  I won’t tell you how long it’s been since I hilled potatoes but suffice to say many of you who might be glancing at this blog might not have been born when, as a teenager,  I dragged myself out to the potato patch on our family farm on the prairies.

You can take the girl from the farm but can you take the farm from the girl

When you live on a farm there are a number of things that you do that urbanites don’t need or have opportunity to do.  Like mucking out the stalls where cows and pigs and horses do their thing.  Or being part of the assembly line when chickens meet their Waterloo and end up ultimately on the Sunday dinner table.  Or perhaps killing mice with a baseball bat as they scampered around the granary. Shooting gophers and muskrats with a 22 calibre rifle.  And on and on.  It’s what you did.  

I am now, and have been for many years, far removed from the farming milieu.  So do you ever lose what ever it is you became accustomed to during those formative years?  Yes and no.  No, for on some level, the reasoning you learn living on and by the land serves you well all your life.  Yes you lose some things, for the life and death I observed with birds and animals, domestic and wild was just part of the life, I am struck by what a sissy pants I have become.  Case in point: those potatoes in the picture have potato bugs on them.  Hard shelled slow-moving creatures that you can easily squish and kill between your fingers.  And you know what?  I was somewhat grossed out by doing it-rather then just squashing the beggars, I was looking for two surfaces where I could pancake the bugs so I wouldn’t have to touch them.  Honestly, it pains me to even blog about it.  My mother and father, were they alive, would have something to say about this development I’m sure.  I plan to go at it with new resolve (and thicker garden gloves), the next time I am out there.  

Imitation-highest form of flattery

In the book Second Nature by Michael Pollan, he describes how some weeds imitate the crops they are being cosy with.  The example he gives is wild oats-the plant will take on different characteristics when it grows next to different crops.  Just this week I listened to a program that described how some insects imitate plants in order to prey on the plant itself.  For instance, the insect may give off certain fragrances to attract the plant and then eat its little heart out.  Honestly, that’s pretty crafty.  We now have an example of imitation in our garden-is it a desirable vegetable or an undesirable weed.  I’d estimate what you are looking at is 97% weed and 3% carrots.  The weeds are trying to look like carrots.

Now really, who can’t grow lettuce

While we surveyed the garden, with the little plants that are growing, we were happy with some things and perplexed by other things.   We squished bugs (yuck) and dug up weeds and hunted for what should have been rows of carrots and beets.  Where are they?  We congratulated those plants that were doing well and talked tough to those things that were faltering: “You can be replaced, you know!”.   We have one embarrassing reality to face.  Our lettuce didn’t come up.  Really, who can’t grow lettuce!  It must be the seed.  Or maybe in the marathon that was our late spring planting weekend, we never actually put the seed in the ground.  That sounds like a true story, doesn ‘t it?  Any advice on growing lettuce would be welcome.

Score: Mother Nature 10 or more, Man 1.5

There are many reports of disasters in the news these days-nationally and internationally-flash wildfires, tornadoes and floods.  People have lost their homes, been injured and there have been deaths.  Knowing these facts puts one’s little predicaments in perspective….let’s just call it straight.  A second assault of wee little ants is nothing, if not annoying.

Early this week score-Mother Nature 5, Man 1: The ants coming marching in two by two:  How in the world do ants find their way into a house?  We found another forward party this week-in another place.  Wee little gaffers-after vacuuming and moving things around I saw the tiniest little dark spot in a baseboard and they seemed to be going in and out there.  Outside I searched the foundation and there outside the house at close to the same spot was a little stream of ants going up and down the foundation and slipping under a little ripple of parging.  The parging looks no different from most of the rest along the foundation.  Out came the ant spray, the ant traps, the vacuum and not having a supply of parging material or any idea what it is or how to seal up the hole outside at that moment, I did what many home owners facing this challenge might consider.  As an interim fix, I taped duct tape in that spot.    Duct tape is wonderful.  One day I might swallow my pride and blog about a time when I thought duct tape and balloons might be a temporary fix for a plumbing problems at our cottage.  That initiative was not successful.  We’ll move to what I hope will be a permanent fix on these ants who want to visit, as soon as we figure out what that is.  Anyone got some advice?

P.S.  In one way, we really need to give ants credit.  There can’t be any room for brain in those little bodies but look at how they communicate.  And they do it so well and don’t seem to lose anything in translation.  The message comes through and the march is on.  Compare that our human capabilities-if you’ve ever been part of a teleconference or video conference when things don’t work and we can’t communicate or try to get a message communicated and see how often things don’t come through clearly, well you know what I mean.  Humans could take lessons.

Later this week- score: Mother Nature 10, Man 1.5 : How green is my garden:  We had our first working bee at the garden last weekend.  It remains wet.  Too wet to roto-till say most.  We went at it by hand, picking dandelions and a number of thistles, methinks, Canadian thistles and putting up a little roped off area where we want the (if we ever get dry enough) roto-tiller to stay away.  If you read the link about the Canadian thistle you wonder why Canada got saddled with the thistle-it came from Eurasia.  Why wasn’t it named the Eurasian thistle? Its roots apparently spread 10 feet in every direction each year.  I learned about the root spread from the book Second Nature by Michael Pollan.  My gardening partner has loaned me the book-perhaps to give me an appreciation for what we are up against.  Pollan consulted many field guides and botany books to find a suitable definition of weeds and one he cites is “a weed is an especially aggressive plant that competes successfully against cultivated plants”.  Right now we don’t have any cultivated plants to be competition for the weeds.  As we buy something else to use in the currently bare garden we talk about potential return on investment (outside of the social interaction, the fresh air, the coffee and treat breaks and so on).  We started out talking about the ten-dollar potato-how much each potato would ultimately cost us by the time we harvest it.  We are now up to a fifty-dollar potato-thinking we may only harvest 2-3 potatoes and we haven’t sowed a seed.

We’ve met some of our gardening neighbours including the woman who had our plot previously.  Gardeners are quite a friendly lot-they have advice on lots of things.  Sometimes all you need to do is ask.  It seems sometimes you don’t even need to ask.  They can tell you who they think does a good job of roto-tilling but is too expensive.  Or they don’t believe in roto-tilling, they turn their plot by hand.  Or it’s not too wet to seed. Or yes it is too wet.  We appreciate it all but would really appreciate Mother Nature giving us some sun and wind and a chance to get out on the land on our farm.

Green Thumb -Chapter Two

Gardener’s weakness-gardening eyes bigger than gardening stomach

My community garden plot partner and I had to exercise some restraint.  She is much more the gardener than I am.  Particularly vegetable gardening.  The last big garden I worked in was on the farm in Saskatchewan a loooooonnngggg time ago.  My Mom would send us out, hoe in hand to hill the potatoes, pull the weeds, pick the peas and beans.  The memory is mostly of dry powdery soil and everyone hoping for rain….obviously the “dry years”.  Hours of weeding and hilling and picking and then eating fresh carrots and beans and new potatoes with dill and beets-it helped diminish the sense of servitude for having to do that work in the garden.  And here we are choosing to do this now and being anxious to get at it.

We started with a planning and coffee session.  We pulled out books and charts that tell you which vegetables make good neighbours and which don’t.  We talked about planting things that suit a garden at a distance from your home-not things that need daily attention.  We sketched out what would go where, how far apart they are supposed to be planted and then we sat back and added it up.  Based on our plans, we would fill 20 of the 50 feet in the garden!  Really?  That’s all?

Armed with this ‘information’ (and you will see later, it was not exact information), off we headed to the seed store.  We had to act as seed counsellors to each other….yes that’s on the list, let’s buy it…no, that isn’t on the list and remember we said we’d try our best to stick to our plan.  But it would be fun to try to grow it!  We were like two chocolate lovers who made a trip to Laura Secord or Bernard Callebaut’s stores and tried to keep to a pre-set list.  Red beets, yellow beets, ready in how many days?  Seed this one into the ground, start that one several weeks before the last frost (oh, oh-not this year).

It’s been very wet and mostly very cool and so there’s been no preparation of the ground.  We’re hoping that will happen this May long weekend-if Mother Nature agrees and we can lasso the local roto-tiller man.  Maybe that’s something I should do next year.  Buy a roto-tiller. I could be the local roto-tiller person.  I could figure out how to book things on-line and go techie (right?!).  It would be moderately strenuous but one could take breaks at the local coffee/bakeshop and generally watch the world go by.

Bringing the garden and its friends, indoors

Dear friends gave us some plants to put directly into the garden-broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower and much more.  Lovely healthy plants.  With our cold weather I would put the plants out sporadically but bring them in when it looked close to frost.  Finally I left them out for a period of time and then one cold night decided to bring them in-maybe for the last time before they ultimately make their way to the garden plot.  The next day about noon a family member noticed a small army detail of tiny ants marching from the patio door into the kitchen.  I think they were carrying a little flag-a scouting detail no doubt.  Not just a few, not just 10 but likely 10 X 10.  Wee little guys-on the tile, on the carpet, under the carpet.  Fair to say the reaction was not one of “aren’t they cute!”  I went over to the tray of plants and the towel they were sitting on-and thought——–I wonder if the ants hitched a ride in on the plants.  It seems they did.  We must have an ant hill somewhere outside.  I can tell you they will be hunted down and found.  So the plants are outside for good and until they bring forth their bounty this summer.  They were unwitting accomplices.  The ants are gone from inside the house.

Where are we now?

Last night I had a much closer look at how much seed we have, just how much room it should be given to grow and what that leaves fallow.  The bottom line is there is no fallow-in fact-there’s perhaps not enough room for all we’d like to grow.  Gardening eyes big and bigger than gardening plot.  However, we haven’t even broken ground and as such, the story is far from told.

We would welcome any and all advice.  And if the garden is really bountiful, be careful for if we know your address we may be throwing zucchini into your backyard come fall.