Sunday, December 26, 2010

Holiday odds and ends

Depending on how it goes, we may or may not get the first big snowdump of the season. Most likely we will. Supposed to go to a Boxing Day open house this evening, I think I'll go early rather than late. It's just out of town, I don't want to be driving home in a blizzard.

Yesterday, Christmas Day, there was a community dinner down at the Lions Club, I went. It was organized by someone I used to know here, but in the last week she came down with a life-threatening infection and has had to spend Christmas in the hospital. Her husband says she's in recovery but it will be a long haul. So a lot of people had to step in to make the dinner happen, and they did and it did.

This is a phenomenon across the province, in the past few years many communities have started these community Christmas dinners. Not just for folks who might be needy but for everybody. Great idea. I had a good time.

I went alone, but arrived at the same time as one of my neighbours and his mother-in-law. She quickly took me under her wing and introduced me to many people there. It was kind of cute, some of those people already knew me and were wondering why I was being introduced to them. But it was nice too.

We had a full table, the food was great and the conversation fun. There were leftovers, and for a toonie you could buy a special dinner made up from the leftovers. I've got too much food in my fridge that I have to eat before it goes bad so I declined, but lots took advantage.

Before I went to dinner I talked to two sons and DILs via Skype video. That was great too. Little Eva can see the computer screen and she was fascinated with watching me wave at her. She's a going concern now, smiling and laughing and raring to go. Almost 4 months.

I also had a more traditional phone call with my brother who is in northern Ontario with lots of snow. But he says there is more snow at his southern Ontario home than in northern Ontario, due to the same storm that knocked the power out here a couple of weeks ago.

After dinner I called the third son who insisted he was about to call me. I should have given him another few minutes. He was headed to Christmas dinner with his boss's family, a tradition in his isolated west coast valley.

The last few days my birdfeeder has been getting enormous traffic, I love it. On Christmas Eve, I had a nuthatch and a (yellow shafted) flicker, and on Christmas Day, a hairy woodpecker and a pair of cardinals. Cardinals! In the winter? The male of course is bright red and the female a lovely brown tinged with red and they both have bright orangy-red beaks. On that male you don't notice it so much because of how bright his plumage is, but on the female that bright orange beak is stunning.

Besides those birds there are the usual jays, starlings and chickadees. I am so happy with all the bird activity. I'd love to show photos here but the moment I approach the window they all fly away. Maybe they'll get used to me with time.

The last couple of days I have been lounging around in my PJs till well after noon. As I am now. Today I read on the internet some of those year summaries that will be out there all week. Not just the summary of the year but of the decade because of this being then end of the first decade of the century.

Interesting obituaries (to me): Anna McGarrigle and Lena Horne. A lot of musicians actually, but those two are significant to me.

Interesting weather story: how the lack of snow in Siberia is causing heavy-duty winters around the northern hemisphere, in apparent contradiction to global warming (but the lack of snow is of course caused by global warming). And how meteorologists are missing the major weather catastrophes by focussing on the warming of the oceans rather than the warming of Siberia.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Birdfeeder and fishbowl

It's kind of a dull grey day, it snowed briefly this morning but not enough to stick.

The bird feeder is going great guns though. Today I've seen the usual jays, chickadees and juncoes, but also nuthatches and a flicker. They're too skittish to photograph though, as soon as I approach the window with my camera they're gone. I love seeing them all though.

Right in front of my house is a streetlight that sways in the wind. It is half full of water. It's kind of funny seeing that little pool of water suspended over the street, especially at night when the light is on. I imagine creatures living in the water, like a little goldfish bowl suspended over the street.

I wonder if it will freeze in the cold weather.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Truck goes away and stays away?

Twice last week I took my truck out to Canning to get it undercoated for the winter. Twice Garage Guy told me to come back another time because he couldn't do it that day, even though we'd set up an appointment. He was very apologetic and offered me a discount when he finally did do it.

I told him about the water leak and how since the storm last week the truck has been full of water and I couldn't dry it out because it is too cold. He said that if I left the truck with him over the weekend, he'd dry it out, find the leak and fix it. And I could have my truck back on Monday.

Well, I thought that was a good deal, I could get through a half week or so without the truck.

Then on Saturday morning my brand new espresso maker stopped working. Just when I was becoming nicely addicted to my morning espresso.

The store I bought it at said, No problem, they'd replace it, just bring it in.

Which I couldn't do, because of no truck. Well, I hauled out the old French Press coffee maker but it was just not the same. But for a couple of days I could manage.

So today, Monday, I packed up the espresso maker in readiness for returning it to the store as soon as my truck was ready. While packing, I thumbed through the manual and noticed there was a 1-800 number for the manufacturer so what the heck I thought I'd give it a try.

Wouldn't you know it, the customer service person there identified the problem right away and told me what to do about it and she was right and now the espresso maker works just like it is supposed to. So I don't have to return it.

My neighbours asked where I'd been all weekend.

I told them, Right here but my truck is away. Told them it was coming home later in the afternoon.

Of course, another major storm is on its way and they were worried about me driving back from Canning across the dikes in the blowing snow, so they suggested that if I waited until tomorrow they would drive me to Canning themselves.

But I was looking forward to getting my truck back today, I was prepared to drive through a blizzard if necessary.

Then Garage Guy phoned.

He dried out the truck and he found the leak, but he didn't undercoat the truck, yet again. He said the leak was due to the detached rubber seals around the doors, and if I took the truck home today it would only get wet again because of the storm we're supposed to get tonight. And also, if he undercoated then he wouldn't be able to install new rubber seals, the doorways would be too greasy.

So he suggested I leave the truck with him until he could get the rubber seals, maybe tomorrow, maybe later.


He said he was really hoping this storm would dump three feet of snow. He badly wants to get out on his snowmobile.

I said, Yeah right, if we get three feet of snow I'm never going to get my truck back.

He said, That would be OK with me. I could just hear him grinning.

Well I might have something to say about that, I said.

OK, my dear, call me tomorrow and we'll talk. He laughed.

He's got my truck hostage. Weatherman is on my side though, Weatherman says 5 cm of snow and 25 mm of rain overnight, I think Garage Guy's out of luck with the three feet. And for the meantime my truck is indoors, warm and dry.

First thing tomorrow is the lunar eclipse and the winter solstice. We won't see the eclipse here with all that snow and rain but hopefully someone will see it. Happy solstice! At the very least it means the days will start to get a little longer now. That's gotta be good news.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The tour, part 2

OK, we've seen the kitchen and livingroom at the south end of the house, now we are looking at the loom room and my bedroom at the north end of the house.

13. Moving counter clockwise around the loomroom. This room has two windows, facing north and west (toward the street). In this photo, bookcase, bureau, north-facing window and chair.

14. Loom and computer desk...

15. Computer desk, west-facing window and storage shelves. Through the window you can see the front door...

16. Open clothes closet. There's no closet in my bedroom because it isn't really intended to be a bedroom. The loomroom is supposed to be the master bedroom so it has the closet. With no doors. Another one of these days...

17. Across the hall, looking into my bedroom. I built that chest of drawers when I used to live here before. Between the chair and the chest of drawers are two apple boxes I use for shelves. I have nine of them around, used to have ten but one broke. I bought them for fifty cents apiece back when the boxes were being replaced with big bins, carted them from the Valley to Ottawa to Vancouver to Toronto and back. I suppose they're antiques now.

18. Bed and window. You can see the branches of a pine tree and a plum tree through the window. The plum tree doesn't bear fruit because it is too shaded by the house and the pine tree. Not a good location for it, but too late to move it and I am not going to chop down the pine tree. Or the house.

19. Back in the hallway, looking toward the kitchen (on the left), the livingroom (on the right) and my Dad's bench in between. That door on the right is a closet, but when I used to live here it was the door to the stairway to the basement. I keep walking into that closet when I want to go downstairs.

20. Sailboat, turtle shell and snoozle mug on the kitchen window sill. The turtle shell is from Tennessee. It's the shell of a box turtle and the underside part is hinged so it can pull the front part up to completely cover its tucked in head. I'd never seen such a thing before.

21. The snoozle mug is one of a pair, but the other mug is long since broken. They belonged to my parents.

On the back of this mug is a poem:

"Will someone please produce a cloth
To wipe away the cloud of froth

That's settled on the Snoozle's snout --

He simply dotes on foaming stout?"

There was a similar creature with its own poem on the other mug.

22. Sunset on the livingroom wall above the couch. There's no pictures on the walls yet, but isn't this a pretty one?

23. The lamp on the bookcase is an old kerosene lamp converted to an electric lamp. It belonged to my grandmother, and when I was a kid she asked me to paint it for her, so I did. I filled the inside of the kerosene well with black paint and then painted birds, fish and flowers on the outside, I think in oil, but I am not sure. Long time ago.


The tour, part 1

OK this is the tour. The photos don't really convey the wall colours that well, they're an approximation.

1. We're going to start with the back deck because usually people come in the back door. That's the playset in the backyard. Notice the skim of snow on the deck, but the grass is still green.

2. The back door, in the kitchen. Immediately to the left (the right, in this photo) is the stairway down to the basement. We are not going down there today, it's a mess of emptied boxes, recycling, and stuff I haven't unpacked yet.

See my little stone Buddha at the door?

The great thing about having the stairs to the basement in the kitchen? I can just throw my junk down the stairs! That's why it's such a mess down there. One of these days I'll go down there and clean it up.

One of my friends wants me to put a gate across the stairway, she nearly fell backwards down it because she didn't see it (she's blind). One of these days.

3. The left hand side of the kitchen counter...

4. ...and the right hand side.

5. Looking from the kitchen toward the livingroom. The bench in the foreground was built by my Dad in high school shop class. He carved his name in the bottom and gave it to my Mom who used it as a sewing bench.

6. The front of the living slash dining room, looking out onto the street.

7. The front door and vestibule. The floor there is uninsulated so I keep the inner door closed. It's cold out there!

8.The wooden bird on the bookshelf is a Bufflehead, I carved that when I lived in Ottawa. Couldn't get this picture to upload, but you can see it in the picture above.

9. Big armchair slash rocking chair (that doesn't really rock that well so it's safe to put a mug of coffee on the big wooden arms) and couch on the left facing toward the kitchen. The tartan on the chair seat was woven by a childhood girlfriend, it is the Canada tartan. Her grandmother taught both of us to weave. I crocheted the shawl on the back of the chair in my early 20s.

10. Woodstove and desk on the right. The desk used to belong to my great aunt. I had it as a teenager, then my brother inherited it, then he returned it to me. It has graffiti carved into it from when we were kids and had no respect for such things.

11. Heading back toward the kitchen.

12. The hallway between the livingroom and kitchen, headed toward the bathroom, loomroom (on the left) and bedroom (on the right).

Come back for part 2...

Friday, December 17, 2010


We called my grandfather Deda (dee-da). The story goes that his first grandchild called him "Deda", which was "Da-ddy" reversed, and it stuck.

I was poking around on the internet and guess what, I found a photo of him in Wikipedia! Back row, second from the left, that's my Deda! 1929...

In case you're wondering, this photo is part of the Wikipedia article "Forest Hill, Toronto".

The Spirit Level

The little public library in my new hometown doesn't compare with the Toronto Public Library system. However it is part of a larger network, the Annapolis Valley Regional Library system, and has connections to other libraries, including university libraries, across the province. The interlibrary loan system lets me borrow from them all. And as a local university alumna, I also have a university library card here. Over the past few weeks I have been building up my Books on Hold list and it is starting to bear fruit.

A book that I had put on hold in Toronto almost a year ago just came to me via the local library, after only a week or two on my Hold list. So there are a few advantages to a much smaller system. I imagine the one copy in the Toronto library was much in demand necessitating a lengthy wait for it, while here in the Valley hardly anyone had ever heard of the book and I got it almost immediately.

The book is The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better, by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett (2009). The authors are experts in social determinants of health and the book is a look at the statistics of various social and physical health indicators compared to relative income inequalities in various countries and American states. The final chapter of the book explains which statistics and countries they used and why they chose them. For the most part the countries are European and North American, generally the more affluent countries of the world. That's not why they were chosen, but rather for the availability of comparable statistics. No point comparing apples and oranges.

The most obvious conclusions one could draw from the many graphs in this book are:

1. There is a very clear link between levels of income inequality and both individual and social health indicators. The authors argue that the link is directional: income inequality causes health and social problems, not vice versa.

1. The USA does very badly: it has one of the highest levels of income inequality and very poorest levels of social, mental and physical health and educational attainment. The UK is in a somewhat distant second place for badness.

2. In almost every instance Canada stands in the middle of the pack, neither very good nor very bad. We Canadians are not surprised.

3. Japan does very well on all fronts, the Scandinavian countries also do well for the most part.

The authors attribute these findings largely to our human need for status. We are crushed by a sense of low status and thrive when we think we have high status. A sense of low status brings out the worst in us, young men respond with violence, young women with early pregnancy, everyone with headaches and sick stomachs.

In our modern world status is largely dictated by financial well-being, and the further the distance between the most well off and the least well off then the greater the inequality and the greater the pressure on status. Curiously, other forms of inequality do not have such a large impact. Gender inequality does not have the same repercussions for either men or women as does income inequality. In Japan women generally do not have the same levels of gender equality as we have here in North America and Europe, but nevertheless appear to fare very well with respect to mental, physical and social health. And educational attainment.

The achievement of greater income equality is accomplished in different ways in different countries. In the Scandinavian countries high redistributive taxes ensure that the after-tax income of all citizens is within a fairly narrow range; in Japan the same result is achieved by simply having a much narrower gap between high and low before-tax income levels. CEOs and labourers are not that different from each other.

A very interesting conclusion to this study is around the issues of climate change and social justice. The authors discuss what needs to be done in order to reduce carbon emissions globally, and essentially it requires the popular acceptance of serious curtailment in carbon consumption. The level of cynicism in a country with high income inequalities works against such acceptance. At the same time, it is clear that the greatest contributors to carbon emissions are the wealthy, those who can afford it. In broad strokes, the way to reduce global carbon emissions is to reduce the carbon emissions of the wealthy, which almost automatically alleviates income inequality as well. The two issues have the same solution, but will be difficult to implement in countries of high income inequality.

At the end of the book there is a graph plotting environmental footprint against income level for all of the countries of the world, and two lines indicating an environmentally sustainable footprint (horizontal line) and threshold of adequate income (vertical line). All of the poor countries of the world are also the most environmentally sustainable with respect to carbon emissions; the rich countries of the world are hugely unsustainable.

With one notable exception. One country---one country alone in the whole world---manages to be both environmentally sustainable and provide an adequate income for its citizens. Cuba?!?

Within the USA there is a range of income inequality levels across the states, and the global correlation between inequality and health also applies within the USA. Curiously, the state with the lowest income inequality level is Alaska. I guess the very wealthy don't see Alaska as their Shangri-la.

Something I did not know but learned from this book is about crime and punishment, penal policies in different countries. The USA has one of the highest per capita prison populations not because of its extremely high crime levels but because of its harsh sentencing policies. In California alone there are 340 prisoners doing life sentences for shoplifting. Amnesty International has repeatedly protested what amounts to torture in the American prison system.

Ironically, most of the routine forms of punishment in American prisons are far more likely to produce hardened criminals than to reduce crime levels. Prisoners are systematically isolated from normal social interaction and generally rendered incapable of functioning in normal social life once they are released. Prisons are being created and built at a much greater rate than universities, 'supermax' prisons are essentially and deliberately the most socially degraded environments possible.

Japan has one of the most civilized penal policies with noticeable good effects: low prison populations and low crime rates. In general accused lawbreakers are shown extreme leniency if they confess and express remorse and contrition. Once in prison the rules are very strict but social life is encouraged and positively directed. Prison guards are expected to perform as mentors and counsellors to prisoners. Former prisoners generally express satisfaction and even gratitude for the experience, it turns their lives around.

Another interesting factoid is around the issue of teenage pregnancy.

We generally think of teen mothers as a bad idea: bad for the mother and bad for the baby. However, in some populations the health of the mother is at its best in her teen years, and babies born to such mothers are ironically better off than babies born to the same mothers at a later age. These would be mothers of such low income and social status that their health is seriously challenged, and these would also be the ones most likely to bear children in their teen years.

The rate of teen pregnancy in the USA was declining until 2005, since then it has been rising again (likewise for the rate of violent crime). Most teen mothers in the USA are unmarried. In Japan the rate of teen pregnancy is low and the mothers are far more likely to be married. As a result these mothers and babies fare much better than their counterparts in the USA.

In light of all this, I think that it is very ironic that the USA was created out of the ideals of freedom and equality. The concept of equality was about equality of opportunity, everyone gets a shot at the goal. These ideals are still cherished but their reality in practice has not lived up to expectation. The USA has turned out to be a land of great inequality, and in some ways one can attribute that to the very pursuit of freedom and equality.

It should also be noted that many of the greatest critics of American achievement are Americans, they hold themselves to very lofty standards.

It is not surprising that Canada has turned out to be somewhere in the middle, not too good not too bad. Never in our history did we take on freedom and equality as our ideals, it was all about keeping the peace, whatever it takes. We try not to get too excited about stuff. Not to say we don't care about freedom and equality, but I think our attitude is more along the lines of good housekeeping; it saves a lot of trouble to not let things get too far out of hand.

Our country was born out of the passions of the American Civil War, we wanted to avoid that at all costs. The American Civil War ended in 1865, Canada began in 1867, it is not coincidental. Recent Wikileaks cables indicate that some American diplomats think Canadians watch the USA enviously and snipe at American political actions out of that envy. There is an element of truth in that, but we also watch in a bit of dread: whither thou goest...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

In the teeth of a booming gale

They didn't call it a hurricane, or even a gale, but it might just as well have been. I guess because it didn't come up from the Caribbean but across from Lower Canada (aka Quebec), and before that, Upper Canada. Anyway it knocked Kings County on its backside. I haven't been out today so I haven't seen the damage, but apparently a lot of trees came down and power poles were just snapped in half. This morning the list of roads closed was endless, you couldn't go anywhere. And it looked so benign out, no wind or rain and blue sky moving in from the west.

Yesterday was another story though. The wind just howled. Crazy. No rain at first, but when it came it came hard.

Around 8.00pm the power went out, all over the county. This morning they were giving different numbers, anywhere from 62,000 to 79,000 households. That would be the whole county I think.

When the lights went out I was taken by surprise. I had to stop and think, where are the candles? the matches? the flashlight? Nothing has its own place, I am still in the process of moving in and when I put something down I lose it because I can never remember where I last put it down. I knew I had candles and matches and I had seen them recently, but where, I had no idea. I did find them, but it took a bit of stumbling around in the dark.

I had just bought a share of a pig and put it in my new freezer, I wondered if I was going to lose it. As each hour with no power went by it became more and more a possibility.

We were lucky, this storm came with rising temperatures, so there was no risk of freezing. This morning I heard about a seniors residence whose roof blew off in the storm and all the residents were taken to an arena to spend the night. In the morning they said the arena was pretty cold, they would have been warmer staying in their own apartments at the seniors residence, even with the damaged roof.

In the middle of the night I got up to tie down the tarp on my truck, it had gotten loose in the wind. Still no power. The sky was amazing, clouds raced by and every once in a while the moon put in a brief appearance.

In the morning the lawn was littered with roof shingles, but not mine. From somewhere up the street. I dug out my campstove to heat water for tea. I could listen to the radio on my iPhone and my next door neighbour said that NS Power was saying the power would be back for most people by evening. The house had cooled off a few degrees but was still livable, and there was sunlight. I thought I would start putting up blinds and curtains, which I have been procrastinating on. There wasn't really anything else to do, except maybe go for a walk. And I ended up being glad of the coolness, it made working more comfortable. Around 4.00pm the power came back, my radio leaped into life scaring the heck out of me.

Tonight after the power came back I got my wireless router working, I am back online. There are still lots of boxes to unpack---mostly books and odds and ends---but things are starting to look settled in. I still have an endless to-do list, address changes and emails and that sort of thing.

In spite of the tarp my truck is full of water. I don't know where it is getting in, and it makes the floor carpet smell. At this time of year I have little hope of drying it out.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

I'm in

Got the keys to the kingdom yesterday, emptied the truck and parked the kayak under the porch. Most of my stuff is in the house, and I got a delivery of new furniture this morning.

So I'm into my house---finally---and going to be busy with the unpacking for awhile. Don't know if I have internet in the house or not.

If you don't hear from me, you know where I am. And what I'm doing.