Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas with the 'flu

Christmas Day at the town reservoir.

Nova Scotia was one of the few places in southern Canada that had a White Christmas. We had a snow storm just before Christmas and then it turned cold so the snow stayed. Christmas Eve was a lovely starry night and Christmas Day was sunny and white. I unfortunately was down with the 'flu. Got the 'flu shot the week before and then got the 'flu. So much for the shot. It is supposed to take a couple of weeks to kick in, so I guess I should have gotten it sooner.

Thanks to the 'flu I missed out on a dinner party, a dance, and the Christmas Eve carolling service in the Harbour. Christmas Day I was damned if I was going to miss out on turkey dinner too, so I dragged myself out to the Community Dinner. The dinner was great, but previously when I was still healthy I had volunteered for the after-dinner clean-up crew and that did me in.

As it turned out, there were plumbing issues that resulted in no hot water and a malfunctioning dish sterilizer, so I don't know how good a job we did. Even though we knew it was kind of useless we ran everything through the sterilizer anyway, and that was a major bottleneck; we spent a lot of time standing around waiting while it sterilized each batch of dishes in cold water. Cleaning cooking pots with cold water is not fun either.

There was a lot of leftover vegetables. We joked about having a community mashed potato dinner in January.

One of the organizers, George, offered me a leftover jug of cider and I wanted that cider badly but it meant I would need a ride home because I didn't have the energy to walk home with a half-gallon of cider. And at that point the only rides on offer were from people who were staying to the bitter end of the clean-up.

I really should have abandoned the cider and just gone home. But I didn't. So Boxing Day I paid for my folly with yet more sickness, and added a Boxing Day open house to the list of Missed Events Due to 'Flu. On the other hand, I have had a nice pot of mulled cider on the wood stove for the last week and I am grateful for that. I also got a second turkey dinner as take-away after the Christmas Dinner, and I had made several pots of soup before I got sick (potato-leek, split-pea, and red-pepper-and-kefir), so I did pretty well in the food department. One friend gave me a nut cake for Christmas, I bought a fruitcake and made some chocolate macaroons, and my neighbour gave me shortbread cookies.

Last night the rain storm started and was still going strong this afternoon. All our Christmas snow is gone. And I am still sick. The nice thing about the rain though is that I don't have to walk the dog. She has no desire to press the issue. She has abandoned her doghouse and is sprawled across the livingroom floor on her back.

I've taken an interest in the history of the "Dark Ages", I got a couple of books and a video on the topic from the library. The video was kind of fun, it was called Medieval Lives and is a BBC series hosted by Terry Jones of Monty Python fame. There's a good description of the series in Wikipedia.

The content is serious but the presentation is as funny as one might expect of a Monty Python alumnus. I kind of like Jones' reason for doing this series, that he wanted to get his own back at the Renaissance. He deals with the smug assumption that the Renaissance was so much better than what preceded it. He also says that a lot of what we think we know about the Middle Ages is actually 19th century propaganda. I guess with the Industrial Revolution creating so much misery for so many people, it was a way to convince people that things were so much better than they were back in the Dark Ages.

The books I got are histories by Thomas Cahill, one of them being How the Irish Saved Civilization. It focuses in particular on the period immediately following the collapse of the Roman Empire, which is the period I am most interested in right now. It's hard to find books on that time period through the local library system. And apparently, according to some reading I've been doing on the internet, there is a lack of english-language books on the topic in general. Apparently European historians are more interested than English historians in that time period.

Some photos of my dog...

After three months of visiting this pond in the Acadia woods, Hapi has finally spotted the goldfish that live there.

Hapi strolling in the Kentville Ravine.

Hapi in her doghouse.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Excuses: Hapi and the comfy chair

I am not doing well keeping up a blog. I am thinking about dropping it.

On the one hand I think of interesting things to write about here, but invariably at times when writing is not an option---in the bath, walking the dog---anywhere but in front of a keyboard and monitor. I have had two people in my family recently comment on the lack of blog posting, so the pressure is certainly starting to mount, but that seems only to make matters worse, what the heck would I write about?

So for anyone who cares about such things, I am fine, the lack of posting is not due to any unpleasantness other than an inability to think of what to write about.

There was a period of time in the fall when I was busy getting ready for winter, then there was another period when I was getting ready for Christmas. That one is still going on. Christmas to me is kind of like American presidential elections, it goes on far too long. By the time the actual event rolls around I am thoroughly bored by the whole thing and can't wait for it to be over and done with.

January, January, let's here it for January!

I have had my dog Hapi without Hiro for just over a month, it is working out fine as long as I don't think too far into the future. People ask me how will I do such-and-such now that I have this dog and I don't know. Maybe I won't.

Hapi is very much an outdoor dog, she is very reluctant to come indoors. But I have to force her indoors when I go out without her, because when I leave her alone outdoors she howls. She doesn't howl indoors. So if I want her to come indoors just because I want her company, she won't come because she thinks it is preparatory to leaving without her. Can't win.

Sam says Hiro is doing fine, he likes being indoors and Sam is not yet working so he can spend lots of time with him. He does want to know when I plan to bring Hapi for a visit though.

I have to laugh.

Sam, you gave me a dog that pretty much precludes travel and you want to know when I will be travelling? Uh, not anytime soon I think.

I don't know if I mentioned this in a previous post, but a couple of months ago I used a Groupon coupon to purchase a kind of lazyboy armchair. It is incredibly comfortable. I have it in the living room in front of the wood stove and I have to say I spend way too much time in it. Once it is tilted back I have no desire to go anywhere or do anything else. Just getting up to throw another log on the fire is such a bother! At least I do have to take Hapi for a daily walk.

We have two main places to walk, the Acadia Woods and the Kentville Ravine. There are several other places to walk as alternatives, and I also take her along shopping or going to the library or post office. There are several stores where they keep dog treats for visiting dogs, and Hapi now knows all the places that will give her treats.

Recently we were in a long line-up at the post office and everyone wanted to pet her. The postal lady came out and gave her a treat, and then a customer in the line-up said, Where's my treat? So the postal guy came out and gave him a cookie.

Well, didn't that create an uproar, we all wanted our treats! No one else got a cookie though, but Hapi did get another treat. The post office isn't fair.

The Acadia Woods are part of Acadia University lands, there are several trails and it is only a 5 minute walk from my house so access is really easy. We rarely run into other dogs or walkers there. There is a small pond, it used to be the main source of water for the college in the 19th century, and currently it is occupied by four goldfish. I understand that they have been there for at least a couple of years. I like to go there to check on them. The pond is at the far south end of the Acadia lands and surrounded by fairly muddy woodland, so not a lot of people go there. A good thing from the perspective of the goldfish I think.

In general, a walk through the Acadia Woods involves about an hour of up and down and across several brooks. Hapi likes brooks. She's not into swimming but she does like wading in and drinking from ponds and brooks.

The Kentville Ravine is an absolutely marvelous place, I am quite in love with it. I would go more often but it is a 15-20 minute drive on the highway to get there. The ravine is part of the Kentville Agricultural Research Station lands and is probably one of the very few stands of old growth forest in the province. Big trees. A brook winds through the ravine and the trail crosses it several times. There are some small waterfalls on the brook and the ravine is steep-sided. There is little or no undergrowth in the forest there so you can see a long distance and wander off the trail to explore if you like. It is very popular with dog owners so invariably we run into at least one other dog when we go, and often there are whole packs of dogs there.

If you want to see what it is like, go to Youtube and search for "kentville doggie heaven".

I started taking Hapi there after Hiro left in order to socialize her. As long as the two dogs were together they had little use for other dogs and after Hiro was gone Hapi really didn't know how to get along with other dogs. She learned fast in the Kentville Ravine. She now really enjoys meeting other dogs and I have stopped worrying about how she might behave when she does. She is a large dominant dog who won't back down if another dog wants to pick a fight, but she is not interested in starting anything. In the ravine, dogs just want to have fun, Hapi has lots of opportunity to play.

When we don't encounter other dogs we explore some of the side trails, or simply go off-trail and wander. I've met a few people there and had some interesting conversations as well. So far, nothing but very positive experiences for both of us. And of course walking in a forest of big trees is in itself a nice thing to do.

Including travel time, a walk in the Kentville Ravine usually involves a couple of hours or more. If I add a shopping trip to the expedition, then it is in effect the whole day (keeping in mind that at this time of year a "day" doesn't last very long).

Between Hapi and my comfy chair, not a lot else is going on in my life, and I am quite content with that. Maybe too content. Just not a heckuva lot to write about.

Monday, November 7, 2011

An evening of trains

Last weekend there was a great show at the local theatre about the history of the local trains. The Mud Creek Boys sang railway songs and Gary Ness showed slides of his personal collection of local trains. Gary told the story of trains here in the Annapolis Valley.

The DAR (Dominion Atlantic Railway) was formed to run trains on tracks built in Nova Scotia in the mid 1800s, before Confederation. The railway between Halifax and Yarmouth via the Valley was started in 1857 and completed in 1869, two years after Confederation, with the exception of The Missing Link. The tracks were started at both ends and should have met in the Valley, but just outside of Digby quicksand was discovered and there did not seem to be a way around it. So a small section was left unbuilt until some time later. It became known as The Missing Link.

DAR workers were very proud of their work. They built their own locomotives in Kentville, and every locomotive was painted in DAR colours (gold and maroon) with the DAR Land of Evangeline emblem on the coal car. Every locomotive was given a name which it bore on a big brass plate on its side.

Canadian Pacific wanted an Atlantic port and tried to force Canadian National to sell its tracks to them, they even tried to get the federal government to force the sale, but it didn't happen. So instead, CP bought out the DAR which leased the CN tracks to Halifax, thus giving CP access to Halifax. CP told DAR workers that they had to make their locomotives conform to CP standards, which meant no DAR emblem, no DAR colours and no brass plates and locomotive names. The DAR workers were unwilling to conform and I guess Nova Scotia was just too far away for CP to enforce their rules. Every time the DAR got a new CP locomotive they painted it gold and maroon, gave it a name and affixed a brass plate with that name.

Gary explained how steam engines worked, and the complications of freight and passenger hauling, whether in separate trains or in mixed trains. The pictures were fascinating, all these old trains in our Valley. He could often name the engineers in the pictures.

The audience was packed. At the intermission many of us turned to each other to share our own stories of the trains. In 1994 the last train ran through the Valley. The tracks are still there but they have been left to rust and weed over. In some parts of the rail system there are trees growing between the tracks now. It is a shame.

When I lived here before we had the Dayliner, a train that ran twice a day between Yarmouth and Halifax. You could board it in the morning and head to Halifax, and return home on the evening train. It was not suitable for commuting to work but you could definitely go for a day of shopping and just hanging out in The Big City. I used to take the kids; travel on the train with kids was so much easier than on a bus because you could let the kids run around, you didn't have to try to keep them in their seats for two hours.

It turns out that CP's lease on the tracks was only for 99 years, and that lease expires next year. Who knows what will happen then?

After the show several people headed out to a Hallowe'en dance at the Old O, and a few of us went next door to the pub. This pub is very busy on Monday nights (standing room only!) but pretty quiet on a Saturday. I had a glass of local Muscat wine and someone else ordered a Beer Sampler. For less than the price of my Muscat, he got six little glasses of house-brewed beer, all different. I tried the AVA and the Raven. My favourite is still the Gaspereau Pilsner, but the Raven isn't bad. The stout does not compare well with Guinness, so best not to bother. They also brew seasonal beers, so there should have been a Pumpkin beer in the Sampler, but they were all out.

Monday, October 31, 2011

After the storm...

A doggy reunion and Lebanese brain food

On Saturday Hapi and I went to Ingramport on the South Shore where Sam and Hiro have been living for the past month. The weather forecast for Sunday was wet and stormy and Saturday was cold but sunny, and since Sam is leaving Ingramport on Hallowe'en I thought it might be my last chance to visit there. Sam told me about the Rails to Trails trail he has been walking Hiro on and I thought I'd like to see it. Not to mention Sam's delightful cottage on the sea there.

We separated Hapi and Hiro at the end of September, to see how it would go while Sam was still in the province. Hiro and Sam moved to Ingramport and has only been back to visit once, at Thanksgiving.

Hapi and Hiro had as excited and happy a dog reunion as you can imagine when we walked into Sam's cottage. They leaped on each other, an orgy of licking and biting and jumping on each other. Then Hapi did the same for Sam. Hiro's a bit more reserved with humans, he rubbed against my legs and leaned heavily against me, almost toppling me with his weight.

Sam and I left the dogs to their reunion and went out for a late lunch at a local Lebanese restaurant. I don't know what its name is, a kind of ramshackle stop on the highway that sells groceries and ice cream cones and advertises its Lebanese restaurant that does not appear much used. The entrance to the restaurant was locked, and only led into the kitchen in any case. We went around to the grocery store and entered through there.

The woman who runs the place unlocked the door to the kitchen to let us in, but we were already in. She gave us menus and directed us to the dining room.

The menu said, "Lots of Lebanese Food!" and that was it. No prices, no hints as to what exactly they served.

I asked her what kind of Lebanese food she made, and she listed off Hummus, Tabouleh, and a bunch of other things I did not recognize. So then she offered to make a Combination Plate for us.

Sam and I sat down and chatted a bit, then the woman's husband, a large mustachioed fellow with a rather grim look arrived at our table.

He laid his load on our table and said, "Empty plates."

I said, "Oh." and he responded, "What, you no want?" and made to take the empty plates away again.

"No no! We want!" I said.

Then he laid down another plate and said, "Bread."

It was broken strips of pita bread, which we nibbled on until he arrived again with a large platter of food. I recognized hummus, tabouleh, stuffed grape leaves, and some kind of rice and noodle mix. There was also something I don't remember the name of, little footballs of deep-fried ground meat and grain.

The man came back with two little plates, each one with a sombrero-shaped piece of bread. He put them down and said, "Eat this. Make you smart."

A little later he came back with two tiny bowls of soup with a ball of something floating in it. He said, "You eat this and live to 110. My grandmother's recipe, she live to 104."

It was all great food, and there was so much of it that it took us a long time to eat as much as we could handle.

The man came back and Sam told him he really liked the bread, he felt smarter already. The man said, "You smart now? You rich yet?" Well, maybe not so much.

After lunch we went back to the cottage and put the two dogs in the back of my truck to go to the trail. It really is nice to see them trotting along together, side by side with tails floating like plumes above them. We walked for around an hour and a half, first one way and then the other. Nice views of the ocean, a couple of bridges over brooks and a short side trail to a picnic spot beside a "lake", more like a widening of a swift-flowing river.

We came back to the cottage and the dogs wrestled with each other while we chatted over coffee. I wanted to be back home before it got dark so pretty soon I had to leave, I was worried that the dogs would be upset about that. But no, they seemed very matter-of-fact about Hapi jumping into the truck while Hiro stood by and watched us leave.

They seem to understand the shape of their new lives apart; they are delighted to see each other but not heart-broken to part. Watching them together though, they seem like perfect buddies. I can't say how Hiro is doing, but I think that Hapi is pleased to have me to herself, she doesn't have to compete with Hiro for attention.

Sam is in Wolfville for Hallowe'en and is not sure how long he will stay, but then he is headed back home to BC with Hiro. The dogs will not see each other again for a long time. We wonder if they will remember each other, I kind of think they will. Sam hopes Hapi will remember him, in a good way. He sometimes wonders if she feels that he abandoned her, but I don't think she does.

Compared to Hapi, Hiro seems much more like an oversized playful puppy. I miss that, and I miss his big fuzzy head. He is the fuzzier of the two, he looks more like a giant stuffed dog than a real dog. I imagine them to be the bossy older sister and the mischievous little brother, even though he is quite a bit bigger than her.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Girls night out

I got a Groupon coupon for a night at Milford Lodge last spring and it was about to expire so I booked a night last weekend and invited a couple of women friends along. I brought Hapi too. Our cabin had a big stone fireplace and three bedrooms, and the bare minimum in walls (you could see daylight through the cracks between the wall boards). We set a fire in the fireplace first thing and kept it going the entire time we were there as it was our only source of heat. The fireplace was so inefficient and the cabin so cold that I swear we went through in less than a day enough firewood to keep my house in town warm for more than a week. And still we froze.

Lin brought a bottle of her homemade wine which she and I valiantly tried to polish off. It was great wine, very smooth and easy to drink, but nevertheless she had to take some of that wine home with her. As a result of all that drinking we were up frequently during the night for trips to the washroom, which was a good thing as the fire needed to be tended to frequently as well. We piled all the spare blankets on the beds and it was not enough. I'd have taken Hapi to bed with me but she is not into sharing sleeping quarters.

The afternoon of the first day we walked some of the trails at the Lodge, it was a gorgeous fall day and we all enjoyed walking in the woods. Dinner at the Lodge was huge and delicious. The next morning, after another large and delicious breakfast, we took a canoe out on the lake. There had been a lot of rain a couple of days before so the lake was very full, and it was actually even fuller the second day we were there because of water draining down from other lakes. Val was going to go for a walk instead of paddling, but the trail we walked the day before was now under water.

The morning was very foggy, we set out in the canoe in the fog and it was marvelously quiet and eerie. As we paddled the fog gradually lifted and the water was like glass, reflecting the fall colours in a way to take your breath away.

Lin kept bugging me to take photos, but I was steering the canoe and every time I attempted to focus the camera on a particularly beautiful view, the canoe would veer away and I would be left trying to take the photo over my shoulder, or else trying to click the camera and simultaneously fend us off a submerged rock.

There was this one view of the remains of the foggy mist rolling off a raft in the lake, but because you could only see the mist while facing into the sun my photos of it did not turn out at all. And another view that I thought was one of the most amazing I have ever seen I didn't even try to capture, I knew I'd fail and just wanted to enjoy it.

What it was was a rock emerging from the water and perfectly reflected in the glassy surface. Together with its reflection the rock appeared to be a giant arrowhead on its side, about eight feet long. What made it particularly amazing though was the fact that it appeared to be a giant rock arrowhead suspended in mid-air. The water surface was that smooth and reflective.

Lin and I drove home the long way, we stopped in Annapolis Royal for lunch and then took Highway 1 back to our end of the Valley. The highway meanders down the Valley past many farms and through a lot of small towns. Very picturesque. En route Lin got a call from a friend inviting her for dinner, and her friend kindly extended the invation to me. So I dropped Hapi off at home after a walk at the reservoir and then headed off for another great dinner at Lin's friend's place.

After dinner we played Bananagram, a great game that is kind of a freeform Scrabble. I think it is great because I won, repeatedly. I suspect that I won't be allowed to play again though. Oh well, fun while it lasted.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


I was in Halifax yesterday for Occupy Nova Scotia, down on the Grande Parade. Surrounded by "tall" (for Halifax) bank buildings, probably a few hundred people and a handful of cops. My friend Val and I arrived a little late, it was supposed to start at 11am and we got there around 11.30am, but in time for some of the formal speeches and then some informal speeches. We recognized one guy, Ernie, from Wolfville who got up to speak. Later I talked to another guy from Wolfville, Marke, who was taking photos.

There were Union people there, lots of CUPE flags. One kid with a purple ribbon that we spoke to said his parents work for Air Canada and they were legislated back to work, they weren't allowed to go on strike and he didn't think that was right.

They were using the Human Mic, and that worked fairly well, but sometimes I couldn't make out what they were saying. It helped to stand next to some young person with a good clear voice repeating what was being said.

Val said that today was 40 years to the day of the time she took part in an anti-war protest in Washington DC, 1971, and she felt heartened that after all this time real protest was finally, finally! happening. Worldwide!!

Marke said, This is the passing of the torch, and I agreed with him. The young people at Occupy NS were so great, and all the greyheads there were so happy to be seeing this.

At the Medical Station there was singing and dancing, there was a guy strolling with a ukelele, and another guy sitting at a spinning wheel spinning out a very fine wool thread while chatting with whoever stopped to watch. A group strung up a "high wire" (only 3 feet off the ground) and were doing acrobatics on it, to the amusement of the cops at that part of the Grande Parade. Must be kind of boring to have to watch a few hundred people milling around, a little diversion is a good thing. There was a Food Station with free food, a Comfort Station with an air mattress and lots of pillows and rugs, and maybe a dozen tents set up on the grass.

We wandered around a bit, spoke to a few folks with interesting signs and it was all just so heartening. There was this one big black cop wandering around too, chatting with folks. Two little kids were holding hands, the smaller kid, a boy, was trying to make his big sister let go of his hand and the cop came up to him and said, Hold her hand, that's The Right Thing To Do! The little boy looked way up at the big cop's face in utter awe and stopped fighting his big sister.

My friend Val made a sign that said Affordable DAYCARE, NOT Super Prisons. The cop was reading it and nodding his head. Val said, You agree? and he said, Well I'm sure not in the 1%. I asked, So what do you think of all this? He laughed and said, I'm not paid to have an opinion! Ask me another time, maybe over a cup of coffee. Then in a low voice he said, I agree with a lot of what these folks are saying.

I would have liked to have stayed for the General Assembly at 7pm but Val was tired so we went home around 5pm. It was all very cool, exciting, heartening. That's my word for the day, heartening.

I was in Paris in May 1968, and when that fell apart it was so disheartening, my first real taste of cynicism and despair. And now, 43 years later, I feel like things are finally, finally! happening. We crossed some threshold, some tipping point, and the future looks possible.

Up until yesterday I was watching Occupy Wall Street livestreaming. I got to see and hear Naomi Klein address the occupiers, live. I got to see participatory democracy in action.

Now I am watching Occupy Toronto livestreaming and that is so cool. Right now it's early morning there and some media person came and asked the guys at the livestream camera for an interview; after she left they debated the issue of giving interviews, who should do it, what they should say, and why. All the while there was a live chat going on the right side of the screen and the guys on camera were responding to suggestions and comments there. It was really interesting to see them work it through. All wearing classic Canadian revolutionary garb: toques and "Thunderbay Tuxedos" (plaid flannel shirts).

What Occupy means to me is taking back what is ours, this world, our government, our economy, our culture. "They" say it is ours but "They" don't really mean it, We do. We speak for ourselves, we occupy what is ours. It is no longer any one issue, any one political party or any one class of people. Everything is connected, social justice and the environment and the economy is all connected and we don't have to work for one at the expense of the other. Naomi Klein talked about the myth of scarcity, there is no scarcity just really bad distribution. There is enough for all and enough to make it all work, not just for humanity but for the whole planet.

My friend Val brought along some reading material for the trip into the city, and one of the articles was one about Canadian billionaires. Among other things, they are rich enough that they could easily have paid off the 2010 Canadian federal government deficit with only 20% of their wealth. And their much touted charitable giving---in the millions of dollars---is actually a pittance; that a single mom buying a $2 chocolate bar as part of her kid's school fundraiser is contributing more of her wealth to education than any of those wealthy givers lauded in sycophantic business magazines.

You can go on the internet anywhere now and find those horrific statistics about just how rich the rich really are so I'll shut up about that. And as Harper says, folks in Canada are by and large better off than those in the USA. But that's not good enough. The USA is so far off the bottom of the chart that comparing ourselves favourably to that country now is silly. And our government would very much like to follow the USA off the bottom of that chart, so, 'nuf said.

One of Val and mine's favourite signs at Occupy NS yesterday was We Can Do Better Than This. On the ground someone chalked, This Is Where We Start.

The photo is from the Halifax Media Co-op, someone there took our photo at Occupy Nova Scotia on the Grande Parade.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Summer of Irene

Hurricane Irene did no damage here, there was some wind and a little bit of rain but nothing special. The day Irene passed closest to my part of the world was a gorgeous sunny bright clear day with a fair bit of wind, it was quite nice. I picked up my house guest at the airport with no problem, although she said there had been a bit of turbulence in her flight. I guess when you fly over a big storm that might be expected.

My guest stayed for a week and we fit in three winery tours, Hall's Harbour, Peggy's Cove, Chester, Halifax, open mic at The Port Bistro (we crashed a birthday party there), Night Kitchen at the Al Whittle, the Wolfville Farmers' Market and numerous seafood dinners. My guest bought bottles of wine from two of the vineyards we visited and they were really quite good, one was a cranberry apple wine and the other was a rose.

(Hall's Harbour at low tide)

(open mic at The Port)

(some musicians at Saturday Night Kitchen)

I learned a lot about grape growing and winemaking which I will put to good use with my own grapevines. Not the winemaking part, I think I will stick to buying wine rather than attempting to make it, but I did hack off a lot of the grape vine foliage after the advice of two of the tour guides.

Gaspereau Vineyard was the best, our guide was lively, funny and informative. She plied us with wine. At the end I had to refuse a tasting because I was starting to get concerned about how much I had had to drink. The one I refused was the maple wine which I am told is really good and excellent over ice cream. And, it was all for free!

We also visited Luckett Vineyard and Muir Murray. Luckett's is on a high north facing slope with a fabulous view of the Gaspereau and Annapolis valleys, the Minas Basin and Cape Blomidon. They have this one vineyard there with an old London phonebox in the middle. Apparently you can make free phone calls from it to anywhere in North America. You can also (according to a friend who tried it) get quite an electric shock from that phone. Whups.

Muir Murray is new and big, they also have a great view of Blomidon. We got the most detailed view of the winemaking operation there. They have an old apple tree with a grape vine growing over it. Apparently they grow well together and in fact in some places that's how they used to grow grapes, in an apple orchard.

We toured all three vineyards for free and got unlimited tastings at Gaspereau, three wines for free at Muir Murray and one free at Luckett's. The rest of the vineyards around have a charge. Nevertheless I am interested to visit them, there are four more nearby that sound very interesting.

Of all the vineyards we visited I liked the wine at Gaspereau best, and other people I have told about our tours concur. But I am also told that for the best of the best I have to visit Benjamin Bridge.

All of the wineries here got together to develop a new label, a wine called Tidal Bay. But each vineyard uses different grapes in their blend of this wine, so each Tidal Bay is different. What a great idea! You could go around and try all the Tidal Bays available. This is very new, only a couple of wineries have Tidal Bays for sale yet, the rest are still working on it.

Here is what I learned about winemaking here. The first vineyard in Nova Scotia was started about 30 years ago on the North Shore, so winemaking is quite new here. The vineyards around my home are even newer. Two that we visited opened their doors in the last year or so.

White wine is easier than red wine, so most vineyards start with that, expanding to red wines as they get better. White wine does not keep as well so many bottlers just put screw tops on them rather than the increasingly rare cork, because once opened a white wine should be drunk fairly quickly anyway.

The traditional wines that we are most familiar with require a warmer climate than what is available here, so the wines here are made from grapes adapted to colder climates and have less familiar names: Jean Milot, Lucie Kuhlmann, Marechal Foch, Baco Noir. We have one grape that is unique to Nova Scotia, it grows nowhere else, the l'Acadie Blanc. It was first tried in Ontario but no one had success with it there. Someone tried it here and it took off, so they gave it an appropriate name for Nova Scotia and all the vineyards here grow it now. It makes a very nice dry white table wine.

You can make both red and white wines from the same grape variety, red wines simply include the skins and seeds whereas white wines do not.

If you have a sensitivity to wheat or have celiac disease, stay away from wines fermented in oak casks. There is some wheat involved in the fermentation process in an oak cask. Around here both oak and stainless steel casks are used, one vineyard that we visited uses no oak all.

The flavour of a wine is affected by the soil and even the underlying bedrock of the particular spot that a vine grows in. Vines from one part of a vineyard can produce wine of a different flavour from vines in another part. South facing slopes are great because the grapevines love the sun, but a gentle north facing slope is fine too. Hurricanes are not good for grapes, everyone was relieved that Irene was as mild as it was here.

Vines are cut back severely after the grapes are harvested, and their foliage is trimmed regularly through the season. Grape vines are trained to grow on wires and the grapes appear at about thigh-height, with foliage above.

Too much foliage blocks the sun so they trim it back, but that also exposes the grapes to birds so various methods must be used to discourage the birds. One vineyard used disco balls, another used recordings of birds in distress, still another used the sounds of multiple bird species, which communicates that this vineyard is already overcrowded with birds.

When we weren't wine touring we were touristing.

We visited the restaurant in Peggy's Cove that Kim and Josh and Eva and I had visited last April. The food was not particularly good and it was expensive. Oh well. Peggy's Cove was much more lively than it was on that stormy day in April. It is essentially a tourist site, there are maybe 35 permanent residents there. Everyone else is either a tourist or someone making a living from the tourist trade. It has a tiny well-protected harbour and a coastline of big rocks on which the ocean waves crash.

Chester is similar, it is a beautiful small seaside town of lovely old homes, but the residents are virtually all summer people. I'd have liked to have taken my guest to Lunenburg which is a little more authentic, but it is also further away. In one week you can only scrape the surface of what this province has to offer.

In Halifax we got to Point Pleasant Park but not to the Public Gardens. We ate at one of the best pizza places ever, in an area called Hydrostone. After the Halifax Explosion this was a housing development to house the people who lost their homes in the explosion. Buildings were faced with an interesting form of cinder block with a kind of granite coating to make them look a bit like natural stone.

We also walked part of Spring Garden Road and the harbourfront boardwalk. We did not visit the Citadel.

My guest had a great week, Irene brought us some of the best summer weather we've had all season. Finally in September we get the summer we missed out on in July and August. You might call it Indian Summer, but I call it Irene Summer.

Sam moved next door. My neighbour rents rooms to students and she had a room available when my guest was here, so Sam moved out of my guest room and over to the neighbour's. He paid for the whole month of September but I don't know what will happen after that. The dogs are at my place. Today it is raining so they are indoors, but normally they live outdoors. They don't mind the rain but they get soaked and muddy so I would just as soon keep them in the dry.

Yesterday I took them to the town reservoir and they met several other dogs and were relatively well behaved, I was impressed. Hapi approached another female dog rather aggressively but she picked the wrong dog to threaten. This other dog was a meek former street dog from Taiwan with plenty of experience in dealing with more aggressive dogs, she nipped Hapi's nose and that was the end of that.

Hiro does the usual alpha male dance, he is entirely predictable and all bluff. I think it all went rather well.

All my friends complain about their smell, they think I am crazy. I can't smell the dogs unless I bury my nose in their fur and breathe deep, and I appreciate their affection. Hapi is more demonstrative but Hiro enjoys sharing the attention. They are strong but they respond well to voice commands. They have a strong desire to please.

(old pic of the dogs in D'Arcy)

I would rather have just one, but watching them play together it is hard to contemplate separating them. They do love each other

Sunday, August 28, 2011

In other news...

Waiting to see how bad it will be, so far nothing special.

Hurricane Irene that is.

Although really, we won't know till tomorrow how bad it will be.

A friend is coming to visit for a week, she was scheduled to fly in this afternoon but last night I sent her an email suggesting that Sunday afternoon would be right in the middle of the hurricane and if it was bad it would be very bad. It's a good hour's drive to the airport, another back and they were forecasting 40-60 kph winds and heavy rain, increasing to up to 100 kph in the evening. So if her flight was delayed, well, I just didn't feel safe on the highway in that kind of weather.

So, she cancelled her flight in favour of coming Monday afternoon. The airlines are being forgiving about people cancelling flights in hurricanes.

Now it turns out that Sunday afternoon was a bit gusty but nothing really bad, and the major winds will come tonight and tomorrow. Great. I am not telling her to cancel again, I'll just suck it up. Maybe the airline will cancel, or maybe it'll be fine.

My neatly stacked firewood will probably get blown over during the night. The smaller stack behind the shed has already tipped over, I don't know how long the bigger stack will last. It is broadside to the wind direction. I've got it stacked in hopes of drying out a bit before I stick it into the shed, where there is very little air circulation. Somehow I don't think I'm going to get much traction on this.

Sam invited some friends over and we spent the afternoon eating junk food and playing Settlers of Catan: Knights and Cities. By 5.30pm two of the friends had to leave so we counted our points and declared two winners; one of them declared the other one the King since he held the capital city.

A couple of weeks ago Sam and I had supper at Rosie's restaurant, I had a Spicy Bean Wrap which was really good. The beans were mixed with mashed potato and coated with sour cream. I have become quite addicted to that odd mix: potatoes and beans. I had a potato and bean burrito last night and I think I will have another one tonight. Really must get a little variety into my diet!

Two of Sam's friends are new to the province having moved here at the beginning of the summer from the Okanagan in BC, and they played tourist for the first month that they were here. I got some advice from them as to tourist-y things I might do with my visiting friend. They recommended a couple of wineries to visit and a zoo.

There are a lot of wineries around here, one could spend a whole week just doing the wine tour and still not hitting them all. Good to have recommendations for particularly interesting ones. One that was recommended by another friend they panned, said it was not bad for scenery and tasting but so new that there were no actual vines to see. They thought that one ought to be able to see the vines as well as taste the wines.

One of them grew up in Florida and Maryland, had a bit of experience of hurricanes. He said the word from New York and Philadelphia was that this one was a dud. He didn't expect much here. The other one grew up in the Okanagan and all her family are there; she is getting frantic calls from parents worried about her in a hurricane. They don't get hurricanes there.

Yes and this isn't really a hurricane, by the time it passed through New York state it was a tropical storm and is soon to be downgraded to a post-tropical storm. Whatever that means.

A hurricane (or whatever) headed for Nova Scotia or thereabouts is always a crapshoot, you never know what you're going to get until it arrives.

Well, we'll see what tomorrow brings...

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Oh Jack

It was shocking to hear that Jack Layton died yesterday. He was younger than me.

Jack really turned the NDP around and had a real shot at the top, being taken out by cancer like that seems so unfair. He fought the last election hard and the party won big thanks to him, but he had to have been battling his own illness at the same time and he couldn't do both.

I hope the NDP is able to build on what Jack did, I hope that his efforts were not in vain.

"My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic.

And we'll change the world.

All my very best,
Jack Layton"

Sunday, August 21, 2011


Just back from a day and a night at a lakeside cottage, before that two nights at a seaside cottage.

The seaside cottage was the more primitive, but quite comfy and in a lovely setting. Its only downside was the terrible infestation of mosquitoes.

During the daytime with sun and a brisk breeze it was OK, but as soon as the sun dipped and the wind died, the bugs rose. We stayed indoors in the evenings, but there was no escape, they plastered themselves to every screen and when anyone went in or out, they scooted right in.

The owner of the cottage--Jean--is immune to mosquitoes, their bites cause no discomfort to her. She is mildly irritated by their buzzing around her, but that's it. Her sons seem to have inherited her immunity, but the rest of us suffered.

Anyway, it was a good time. We swam and paddled and sailed, and sat around gazing out to sea in the sun. In the evening we ate and drank ourselves silly.

Jean is 80 and still paddles her kayak regularly. She used to go to the cottage for 5-6 months every year, but now she is down to 3 months, the cold weather bothers her more. She has a paddling buddy and they regularly paddle back and forth between their cottages on opposite sides of the island. Her cottage is on a small island linked to the mainland by a causeway.

The outing to the lakeside cottage was a get-together of seven women, and the 13-year-old daughter of one of them and her friend, for nine in total. But the cottage was large and spacious with beds for all.

We noticed that all of our vehicles were red.

The lake was blessedly free of biting insects. Not entirely but a great deal better than the seaside location. There was a thunderstorm in the middle of the afternoon that we watched from indoors, but it passed and the sun came out again.

More paddling and more swimming. I love swimming in a lake. Nova Scotia lakes are very tannic which makes the water very dark. You can't see a thing when you go underwater.

I wanted to get the kayak into the lake to wash off the salt from the ocean. Three women paddled one canoe, and the two girls took the other canoe. We went down to the end of the lake and back, not very far.

We had a potluck supper the evening of the day we all arrived, and seven women can produce enough food to feed an army.

Our host was in a mood for mixed drinks, so we sampled her pina coladas, crantinis and watermelon-vodka slushes. Drums appeared and several women drummed away for an hour or so. I am not a huge fan of drums but whatever, to each his own.

There were loons calling in the evening.

Breakfast was interesting. Our host provided little 4-inch pastry shells and bowls. We each got two eggs and there were trays of chopped veggies and bacon. You mixed up your eggs and whichever chopped veggies you wanted, added a little cream and then poured it into your pastry shell. The little pies were collected on baking sheets and baked in the oven to produce individual breakfast quiches. With unlimited coffee and jugs of fruit juice, we ate our quiches and sliced cantaloupe on the screened deck.

As the sun warmed up we washed our dishes and moved to beach chairs by the lake. Chatted and swam and took group photos.

Eventually we all tore ourselves away to return to civilization. We were only a half hour drive out of town.

Isn't summer grand?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Free trip to wherever

[Dobby and the grandsons on a beach in PEI, last month]

The next best thing---or maybe even a better thing---to owning a summer cottage is having friends and family who invite you to theirs. I am off to a friend's cottage today and another friend's cottage in a few days. One on the ocean and t'other on a lake.

Having grown up with a cottage on a lake I prefer a lake for swimming in, but oceans have their special charms too. And invites to summer cottages are like winning a free trip to wherever. Yay!

Sunglasses, swimsuit, booze, hamburgler buns... check!

Monday, August 8, 2011

It's a dog life

Busy busy busy! That's my excuse here. Since the last post I have had family visitors, finished the fence, gone to PEI twice, and now have Sam and his two dogs Hapi and Hiro in residence.

The dogs are huge, hairy, smelly and do not play well with others. While Dobby the boxer and the Toronto branch of the family were here we had three major dog fights where Hapi and Hiro ganged up on Dobby and had him yelping in distress. Dobby is a big dog, 80 lbs big, but Hapi and Hiro dwarf him.

I was really happy to have Dobby here, he was glad to see me and I enjoy his affectionate nature. He is not hairy and not smelly. Seeing him take a beating from Hapi and Hiro did not sit well. I am sure he was very glad to leave here and get back home to his less aggressive dogpark buddies. He had war scars to show off.

Sam thinks that given time the three dogs would have worked things out and grown to be more friendly with each other. I think he may be right but Dobby was being seriously traumatized by the process. He did have a very good vacation in PEI though.

Taking Hapi and Hiro for walks is difficult, I cannot control the two of them alone and they are aggressive toward other dogs. I would like to be able to let them off the leash but there are no places around here that I can be assured that we will not encounter other dogs. I got haltis for them but as fast as I get them on the dogs the first dog has its halti off. I tried walking them separately but Hiro howls continuously when he is alone.

My current strategy is to get them used to short separate walks wearing the halti. Sam says he notices that after a couple of days of that he already notices that Hiro is more controllable on the leash. But I don't really know what to do about their aggression toward other dogs. I wonder if they were permanently separated whether they would be less confident and less aggressive, but Sam doesn't think it will make a difference.

Wilfred delivered two cords of wood to me and we shared a bit of Harbour gossip and chatted about the dogs. He suggested electronic collars for them. That might help, but I wonder if it would make any difference through their thick fur. Also I hate the idea of electric shocks. I suppose though that it might be better than the alternatives.

Sam and I are used to living alone, sharing this house is not easy. Not only are we trying to adjust to shared living accommodations but he is adjusting to a new job that he doesn't particularly like so far. He thought it would be better than it is turning out to be.

I went to Prince Edward Island the first time to visit Isaac and Gretel at the cottage they had the use of while on vacation. Gretel's parents live in PEI and her aunt purchased the cottage a couple of summers ago for the use of all of the family. Her Dad made some extensions on the cottage, three added bedrooms and a screened in deck. He operates a wood mill and was able to use mostly wood that he had milled himself.

The cottage is set in the woods a short walk from a sandy beach, you can't see the ocean but you can hear it. Mornings we would walk with Dobby and the kids along the beach, later in the day we would go swimming there. Gretel's stepmom organized a paddle trip down a local river one sunny afternoon, I brought my kayak along for that.

We all returned to Nova Scotia after a couple of days, meeting Sam and his dogs in Truro as he drove from his home in BC. Thanks to the wonders of cell phone texting, we were able to connect at a gas station and drive the rest of the way to my house together. It was a hectic short family visit with four adults, three giant dogs and two kids.

Unbeknownst to me Sam was expecting me to dogsit for three days while he went to a wedding in Cape Breton. I had previously agreed with Isaac and Gretel to take their oldest son Tristan back to PEI to spend a couple of weeks on his grandparents farm there, so the dogsitting job was not a welcome kink in my plans. We settled on my dogsitting for one day and putting the dogs in a kennel for the remainder of the time at Sam's expense.

The dogsitting day turned out to be a rainday in which we all stayed indoors. Isaac gave me access to his Netflix account so Tristan and I watched movies all day while the dogs moped.

My second trip to PEI was fun, this time I took my bike with the intention of doing some cycling on the Confederation Trail (aka Tip-to-Tip Trail). When the trains were retired on the island the provincial government turned the train tracks into a hiking and biking trail from one end of the island to the other, hundreds of kilometers of flat, gravelled trails through farms, woodlands, marshes, bogs, barrens and small towns. Lots of little B&Bs and cafes have sprung up along the trail, along with bike and canoe rental places, information rest stops, craft and gift shops and so forth. Really quite delightful.

The towns are close enough by that you can easily bike from one to the next in an hour or so, depending on speed. I planned only to bike the part of the trail in the vicinity of the cottage and the farm, but I saw lots of bikes loaded up with gear for longer trips. People from all over, I chatted with a man from Minnesota and a couple from the UK.

My first day of biking I planned to do a bit of grocery shopping and stop at the river we had previously paddled for a swim. The second day was cooler and windier, I biked another section of the trail that bordered the Gulf shore (Gulf of St. Laurence).

On the one rainy day of my PEI stay, Gretel's stepmom came over with Tristan and three neighbour boys to play a board game with me. On my last day there Fiona the boxer (Dobby's sister, living at the farm) had nine puppies to the great delight of the four boys. One of them described how one of the pups was born in a 'plastic bag' which Fiona licked off. They wondered about the logistics of eight nipples and nine pups.

Just before leaving the island I dropped by to see Fiona and her litter, she looked kind of shocked. Perhaps I am just projecting, but that's how I would feel in her place.

Now I am playing catch-up, taking care of all the stuff that was neglected while visiting PEI and with family. Two days spent weeding, harvesting and replanting my garden, some time working with the dogs, and catching up with neglected friends.

I stopped by the hardware store to pick up a new composter I had ordered, the fellow at the customer service desk asked me what I was up to now: every time I came in I was working on some project or another. I told him I had a list, I was making my way through it. He carried the composter out to the truck and I had to let the two dogs out of the back in order to get the composter in. I managed to shove the dogs back in after the composter. Hapi likes getting into vehicles, Hiro does not so he takes some coaxing and shoving.

I am thinking that I will probably keep one of the dogs, Hapi, and send the other one home with Sam. However Sam is now talking about going to college here, meaning that he might end up staying for several years. As things stand at the moment, I do not think having him live in my basement is realistic for either of us but I do not know where he can rent an affordable place for him and Hiro. Until we work that one out I am focussing on halti-training Hiro and somehow getting the two of them to either adjust to separation or be less aggressive with other dogs, or both.

My home is full of dog hair and dog smell. As luck would have it my own sense of smell has deteriorated with age so the smell is not so irksome as it might be, but I know that visitors react to it. The dogs have recently been groomed but you'd never know it, their fur is so thick!

The dogs poop in the back yard which attracts flies, I try to clean up the messes as quickly as possible but the dogs prefer to spend the night sleeping outdoors which means that in the morning the yard is full of flies. Sam says if I got into a regular dogwalking routine they wouldn't poop in the yard, but with all the problems of walking two giant aggressive dogs, that's not going to happen anytime soon.

The list of stuff to be done before winter is full. The firewood has been delivered and needs to be stacked. Places for stacking need to be cleared of other things which in turn need to be stored somewhere yet to be determined. The dogs need rain shelter other than my tiny living room. The kitchen faucet needs to be replaced. The decks need painting or something. The usual lawn mowing and gardening tasks. Several trees need pruning. I need to build four new garden frames for next year. The basement is a mess...

I got to two plays, Beowulf and Driving Miss Daisy, and hope to get to The Vigil and Shakespeare in the Park (Halifax). I managed to get to the Kempt Shore Music Festival and I have a ticket for the Deep Roots Festival, but I missed Stanfest and will (have already?) miss the Lunenburg Folk. Next year. One weekend planned this month at a friend's cottage with a bunch of women friends, the Labour Day weekend planned with a visit from an old Ottawa friend, a weaving workshop in September and hopefully a kayak camping trip in October and somehow a weekend at Milford Lakes Lodge (I have a Groupon I need to use there).

My life has just become a busy round of projects, culture and socializing, I kind of miss the old days of reading and knitting and long walks alone. The fact that my posting here has become so sporadic and that I am not getting near as many photos in is kind of indicative. No doubt this shall pass, but I do wonder when.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Bread and fences

Didn't sleep too well last night, no doubt the change in the weather. Drop in barometric pressure, low pressure passing through don't you know. I think the other term for it is depression. Anyway, not a lot of sleep.

Lying there awake and wishing I wasn't, thinking the kind of thoughts you end up thinking at times like that. What passed through my mind was an incident that happened a very long time ago, and some of the stuff that happened as a result of that incident. It occurred to me that my whole life was about that one incident. Not a pleasant thought.

I thought about how it affected other people, and how that affected me, the ripples kept moving out and out and it was getting very unpleasant. I think though that the thing that got to me the most was that it was a damn stupid thing to have your whole life be about. I hate when that happens. Can I have a do-over?

It started raining this morning. We had a week of hot humid weather and the rain seemed like a relief. The garden sure needed it. And the greyness of it all suited my mood. Last night the hardware store called to tell me my order was in so I was going to go pick it up, but I didn't want to do it in the rain. Checked the radar on the internet and it looked like the rain was going to end in the afternoon, I hoped it would end before the hardware store closed.

I made bread in the meantime. I waited all week for today to make bread, I sure didn't want to be running the oven in the heat.

Bread has become an obsession lately. I read My Bread by Jim Lahey and that got me started. Not that I haven't made bread before, I have. In fact I really started when I was pregnant with my first kid, so that would be over 40 years ago. [you know you're old when you're kid celebrates his fortieth!] But Jim Lahey's book turned me on to 'artisanal' bread.

Lahey's breadmaking method is virtually foolproof. I've made more mistakes with it and still ended up with great bread. From there I read a couple more books on breadmaking, including Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day. As the result of a comment I made on her blog, A little red hen directed me to a TED talk that Reinhart did on breadmaking, in which he talked about a technique he uses to bring out the flavour of whole grain flours in bread and today I thought I'd try it. I already have a sourdough starter I made a couple of months ago based on his recipe, and his technique is essentially to start two doughs, one with the starter and one without. After letting them set for however long you mix them together, form a loaf and let it rise. Then I follow Jim Lahey's method for baking the loaf in a Dutch oven. I've been meaning to try Reinhart's baking method, but I like the Lahey method so much that so far I haven't tried any other.

Anyway, the bread turned out great, I had some for supper. Split pea soup (with free-range locally cured ham), homebaked bread and a salad of fresh local greens and locally made feta. Oh yes and the rain stopped before the hardware store closed so I whipped down to pick up my order.

In preparation for the impending arrival of up to three giant dogs I am building a fence. Most of it is wooden but part of it is going to be metal fence (at the hardware store they call it corn crib fence) because the area it has to go through is just too difficult to install the wooden fence in. The hardware order was the corn crib fence, a hundred feet of it. If all goes well, we will install it on Monday.

The twenty-something son of a friend is helping me with the work that requires big young muscles (pounding spikes and T-rail posts into the ground). He's also painting his mother's house, so he likes to spend the best part of the day doing that, which is fine by me because I am happy to spend only a few hours a day on this project. It is going much faster than I expected though, I thought all this spike and post pounding was going to take much longer than it has.

This fence will have one major drawback, not being able to walk off the property anywhere I want. I am putting three gates in it but that still doesn't seem like enough. The dogs better appreciate what I do for them.

The photo at the top of this post is of the flowering dogwood in front of my house.

Friday, July 1, 2011

WWMD and why I'm here

I first came to Nova Scotia in early September or late August, 1973. My husband and I drove here from Toronto with our two kids in a red Dodge van. A bit of a long story as to why, but basically we were following friends from Vancouver who had moved here the previous year. I remember though, as we crossed the border from New Brunswick into Nova Scotia, the distinct feeling of having come home. I had never been to Nova Scotia before, knew next to nothing about it.

In 2005 I was living in New Westminster BC, just outside of Vancouver. I was out walking along the Quay one day, thinking about this that and t'other thing while enjoying the scenery along the Fraser River there, and the question popped into my mind, Where did I want to die?

I know, odd thing to be thinking of for no good reason. My excuse is that one of the people I hung out with in New West was a geriatric social worker and she was constantly reminding us that we should be thinking about and planning for our old age. So perhaps that question was her fault.

In any case, the answer was immediate: Nova Scotia. And the next thought was, Well, I guess I'd better get on it because you just never know when things might happen, and New Westminster is about as far away from Nova Scotia as you can get and still be in the same country.

It took a bit of doing, I had a condo to sell and also wanted to spend some time living in Toronto, my birthplace and now home to one of my sons. So five years later, I bought my old home in Nova Scotia back. What brought me back is probably the same thing that brought me here the first time, old friends.

There's something about that time in your life, the first years of adulthood. The connections you make, the things you do, the places you go, the music you listen to. A certain vividness that outlasts all else. Those first years in Nova Scotia were hardly idyllic, involving as it did the breakdown of my brief marriage and the loss of a son. But they were formative. And like it or not I was part of a community of heads/freaks/hippies/back-to-the-landers going through similarly intense experiences. A lot happened.

I left Nova Scotia in 1985 kind of burned out on the whole thing and more than ready to start over anywhere but here. Arriving in the Big City of Ottawa I was delighted to be in a place where I knew no one and nobody knew me. I can't say that delight lasted, but it was certainly refreshing at the time.

I don't know when Midge arrived in Nova Scotia, it was certainly before I left because when I met her in 2008? 2009? she remembered me from those days. I really only knew her a short time but she was someone I would have liked to have spent more time with, an interesting and fun person to be around. On June 20 she died of cancer at age 57, at home surrounded by family. Last night was her Celebration of Life.

In the last weeks of Midge's life her many many friends came together to support her family with whatever was needed. She helped plan her Celebration, suggesting music and general conduct (wine, beer, catered food and bright clothing) and stipulating no g-words. I'm guessing over 200 people came. Local musicians played some of her favourite tunes, including Loreena McKennit's Beltaine Fire. There were a couple of community songs for all of us to sing along. Family members and a couple of close friends spoke a few words describing her impact in their lives. In particular Midge's strong common sensical ethics were referenced, and WWMD (What Would Midge Do) repeated several times.

For the first part of the Celebration were seated in a half-moon facing a small table with three small boxes, Midge's ashes, on it. One for Dorset, her birth home and still the homeplace of her birth family, one for Blomidon so that all of her Nova Scotia family can look out on Cape Blomidon and know that she is there, and one for her daughter to take to Black Rock where they lived as a family and grew up there.

The second part of the Celebration was the mingling with food and drinks to remember and reconnect. I looked out and saw many many faces of friends and acquaintances, some of whom I could not remember names for, but all part of that community I grew up in. This is what I came home for, this is where I belong, like it or not.

A few days before Lin and I were out shopping and we picked up Sympathy cards at one store we were in. Lin said she always bought them in threes, one for now and two to save because we are at that stage in life now when Sympathy cards may come in handy. As we left the Celebration Lin's husband waved at someone else that was leaving and hollered out, See you at the next funeral! Lin made noises to hush him, Don't say that!

But I guess it's true. We're almost through the weddings of our kids, we're into the births of our grandkids and the deaths of our parents and friends. It's all downhill from here. It's good not to go alone.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Two books I've read

I found this draft posting from a couple of months ago and thought it was still kind of interesting so I upgraded it from Draft to Published. These are books I read in February that I really enjoyed.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, by Laura Hillenbrand (2010).

This is the story of Louie Zamperini, who lived quite the amazing life as he moved from being a juvenile delinquent to Olympic runner to warplane crash survivor in the middle of the Pacific Ocean to Japanese POW. The story is absolutely rivetting, I lost a night's sleep because I couldn't put it down at bedtime.

This guy, born in 1917 and still alive, lived through the most harrowing life-threatening experiences, first floating over 2,000 miles in a life raft during wartime and then surviving a Japanese prisoner of war camp where they thought the Geneva Convention was for sissies. He returned home to the United States at the end of the war, an emotionally scarred man who scared the heck out of his beautiful new wife with his terrible nightmares and heavy drinking. Fortuitously he went to a Billy Graham revival and turned his life over to God, which apparently saved him, allowing him to forgive his worst POW camp tormenter and move on in life without terrorizing the people who loved him.

As an enthralling true-life adventure story, this book takes the cake. The author, Laura Hillenbrand, previously wrote Seabiscuit: An American Legend (2001), so she is no stranger to best seller lists. Once I picked it up I couldn't put it down until I finished it, losing a night's sleep in the process. The librarian also couldn't resist it either when it arrived at the library as the result of my interlibrary loan request. She borrowed it after I returned it.

Occupied Canada: A Young White Man Discovers His Unsuspected Past, by Robert Hunter and Robert Calihoo (1991)

This is the amazing story of Robert Calihoo, as told to Robert Hunter. Hunter was (he died in 2005) a journalist and one of the founders and the first president of Greenpeace; Calihoo is a First Nations man who for the first ten years of his life was raised by his white grandmother and did not know of his Indian heritage. On the death of his grandmother he was quickly returned to his birth mother, a woman he never knew until then. She also was white but had had three children by an Indian man on the Calihoo Reserve.

Life with his birth mother and her current partner (a white man) was a rough shock for the young boy and things quickly deteriorated for him. Eventually, as a teenager he sought out his birth father. He called 411 from a public phone booth and asked for him by name, but he didn't know his location so the directory assistance woman spent a good long time searching for the name in the listings for the entire province. Several hours later his father drove up to the public phone booth where Robert made that fateful call. For the first time in his life Robert realized his father was an Indian.

For a brief period Robert lived on the reserve with his new found father. It was an extremely rough life in the dire poverty typical of such reserves, but the highlight for Robert was going hunting and fishing in the bush with his Dad. Hunting and fishing in the bush was a wonderful life, and doing it with his father was icing on the cake. A far cry from his middle class upbringing in his grandmother's suburban house.

Through a bizarre turn of events Robert and all of the other Calihoos lost the reserve and ended up on the streets of Edmonton. Robert soon found that the only way to survive was through a life of crime, and the next dozen years or so were spent in and out of prison. However, during that time Robert pursued an education, eventually graduating with a university degree.

One life project Robert took on was to regain the old Calihoo Reserve that had been lost. By the end of the book we still don't know if he was successful in that project, but in the process he found out a lot about his ancestry and how exactly the reserve was lost. In essence it was stolen from them illegally.

The history of the Calihoos was fascinating, they were actually descended from Iroquois who migrated to Alberta in search of land. Two brothers, Louis and Bernard Karhiio, travelled all the way from what is now Quebec to the Rockies in search of unclaimed land, that is, land that no one, not even the native First Nations, had ever laid claim to. They actually managed to find a large parcel of land that fit the bill, in the Rocky Mountain foothills of modern day Alberta. So far as anyone knows this is the only piece of land on the entire continent that had never been claimed by any nation or tribe as part of their territory up until that time (the 1790s). The brothers returned to their village of Kahnawake just outside of present-day Montreal and convinced some family members to return with them to settle that piece of land.

The Karhiios (their name eventually changed to Calihoo) settled there, built log homes and proceeded to hunt, trap and raise crops and livestock. Unlike the Plains Indians, the Iroquois were ancient farmers. They were very successful in their new setting. Unfortunately they got caught up in the troubles that Plains Indians and Metis faced at the hands of the Canadians seeking to expand westward to the Pacific. When the Canadians made treaties with the Indians, it was assumed that the Calihoos were local Crees. To the Calihoos there was no advantage at the time to setting the Canadians straight on their identity. They took their treaty settlement and returned to farming.

But then the bison were hunted out and plague came to the Prairies. The Iroquois Calihoos were not dependent on the bison and had acquired some immunity to European diseases, but not enough. In the end they were just as ravaged and destitute as the rest of the Plains tribes, vastly reduced in population and ability to support themselves.

The duplicity of the Canadians who negotiated and enforced the treaties, who changed the terms of the treaties without notice and who created the Indian Act to further oppress native First Nations is described and documented in this book, as well as the racial discrimination and abuse heaped on the lazy drunken Indian. It is not an easy book to read, but Robert Calihoo's struggle to rise above all that is inspiring.

With a little research on the web, I found the website for the Calihoo Band, now called the Michel Band (after their first chief Michel, son of Louie Karhiio). Reading on this website, it would appear that the fight to regain government recognition as a bona fide Indian band is still in litigation.

What struck me about this book was both the personal struggle of the author and the peek into an aspect of history I would never have been aware of otherwise. When we think about the history of exploration of North America, we automatically assume the explorers were white Europeans, it never occurs to us that there might have been aboriginal explorers and settlers too. The Karhiio brothers knew a lot more about the lay of the land than the white explorers they guided, but they had the same curiosity and sense of adventure in exploring new territory. Their superior knowledge of the aboriginal peoples already occupying the land they explored helped them find what they were looking for, a bit of land to claim for their own.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Kathleen, the dancing crossing guard

Kathleen lives in my old Toronto neighbourhood. She's the crossing guard for my grandson Tristan's school. She's also his little brother Phelan's favourite babysitter. Can't imagine why.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Just read an excellent Op-Ed by David Brooks in the New York Times (It's Not About You). Brooks is writing about college commencement addresses. Graduating classes in colleges across North America are listening at this time of year to speeches delivered mostly by successful Baby Boomers, telling them how to succeed in life, and as Brooks says, these speeches pretty much sum up the whole baby boomer theology:
"Follow your passion, chart your own course, march to the beat of your own drummer, follow your dreams and find yourself. This is the litany of expressive individualism, which is still the dominant note in American culture."
What Brooks says about that message just rings so true to me. He points out that for a 20/22-year-old the sequence is wrong, one doesn't form a sense of one's self and then go out and create a life around that self-image. For most people one's sense of oneself grows out of life experience not the other way around. There are a few folks who emerge from their education with a fully formed idea of what they want to do in life, but for most they emerge like prisoners from jail: just happy to be out and wondering what to do next.

There are all sorts of messages out there on how to be happy by living in the moment, meditating to find a peaceful centre to alleviate stress and find a solid happy core from which to operate in life. One is exhorted to stop worrying and planning and doing and just Be Here Now. Laudable, but I think misguided.

I think that Being Here Now is something that happens naturally as one ages, one gets to that point through life experience and aging anyway. I don't think it is something that one ought to pursue deliberately right from the get-go. Perhaps the business of young life is to be out there doing stuff and experiencing life, not blissing out. One lesson one learns from experience is that finding inner peace is not really something that can be taught, you have to get there from inner turmoil. Inner turmoil comes pretty naturally, usually from outer turmoil.

David Brooks appears to be saying something similar. You get to wisdom through experience, and experience is usually hard-won dealing with life's tasks and problems as they come up. How one copes with a crappy dead-end job and a mean stupid boss might just be a source of great wisdom later in life; the perfect job in the chosen field of one's dreams isn't necessarily the best outcome in life, nor the one where one makes the greatest contribution to one's community, family or society.

In addition he suggests that what our culture needs most now is not a whole lot of young people out there finding themselves, but losing themselves. That self-centredness is pretty much a core value that has run its course, maybe we need a little less of it. How to suppress one's self might be a greater life skill than how to express one's self.

Of course, most college grads are going to learn that anyway, life has a tendency to do that to a person. I think that self-fulfillment often comes up from behind, you don't get there by pursuing it directly.