Syrian refugees give blood

January 2, 2018

The Calgary Syrian Refugee Community kicked off the new year by turning out for the first blood donor clinic. Blood Services appreciated the 80-unit contribution from the group, especially because supplies are low at this time of year.

Two Syrian refugees organized it and made it happen. That’s O.K. in my book.

Check Huffington Post for photos:


Blade Runner 2049 review

December 26, 2017

I just finished screening it on my laptop. There’s a problem with this movie and its audience. The demographic which will absolutely adore it (65-70 year-old males) have to make washroom visits a lot more frequently than every 2 1/2 hours. And nobody will want to miss a minute of the film.

Denys Arcand has done a terrific job on the scifi classic. So has Ryan Gosling.
I won’t say any more to spoil it: buy the CD if you are my age. If you are under 40, find the best movie screen showing it and prepare for a feast.

Missing man located deceased after going through ice in Tay Valley Township Saturday

NEWS 05:47 PM Perth Courier

On Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017 at approximately 9 p.m., members of the Lanark County detachment of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) responded to an overdue person call on Bennett Lake, Tay Valley Township.

Police responded after receiving information that a male had been ice fishing on the lake and did not return home on his ATV. His family observed a large hole on the ice surface and became concerned that he had fallen through the ice. Lanark County OPP members attended to search for the male with the assistance of the OPP Underwater Search and Recovery Unit (USRU).

Elmer Abercrombie, age 80 of Tay Valley Township, was located deceased by OPP USRU officers. It was determined that Abercrombie had been travelling on the lake ice earlier in the day with his ATV and fell through.

If any person has further information in regards to this matter they are asked to please call 1-888-310-1122.

Fargo, Ontario 2017

December 17, 2017


Remember the opening scene from the Coen Brothers’ movie? A beige 1987 Olds Cutlas appears through a whiteout with what appears to be another identical car reared up behind it. Turns out the clone rides on a U-Haul car dolly, and the camera reveals William H. Macy grimly fighting his way through a prairie storm to deliver it to a pair of hit men. It’s the stuff of legend for Coen buffs, if not for car lovers.

This morning I had scheduled myself to deliver Mom’s Scion to the Kingston Toyota dealership, so there I was on Hwy 15 amid the blowing salt dust as the sun came up, locked in a Hollywood fantasy. Couldn’t I have done better than William H. Macy? I squinted through Ruby’s frosted windshield and waited for my vision to clear.

Loading the Scion had proven quite easy. Though the dolly came without rental agreement or instructions, its operation seemed straightforward and my son Charlie was there to supervise. The only confusing part came when I tried to attach the safety chains which hold the car to the dolly. I couldn’t find any frame under a Scion onto which to hook anything.

A dozen or so U-Tube videos during the evening and early morning led me slowly to the realization that 1) the chains are essential; 2) they don’t have to be tight; and 3) just running each over its lower control arm and hooking back to itself will be fine. I finished tying them in place at 7:15, just before departure.

Some of those videos had flat-out scared me. Half of them portrayed accidents in waiting, so this one time I decided not to cut any corners.

Generally I am loathe to leave Ruby out of doors on a cold night lest her engine frost up and her lubrication fail. But the car and dolly were already attached, so the garage was out of the question, even during an Arctic clipper.


Ruby lit up at first touch, regardless of the extreme cold, but then took her sweet time at warming up. Nonetheless we descended the driveway, a trim towing package, and turned onto #15 to face the rising sun.

On the highway with a two-ton load the Cayenne’s V8 certainly does not lack power. Cruising at just under 2000 rpm in 6th gear, Ruby occasionally downshifted to 4th for steep hills, but the whole thing went smoothly. I was struck by how quiet and comfortable the towing experience was — nothing like the tooth-grinding battle the same load puts my Tacoma through. Yes, I soon had the cruise control engaged at 93 km.

After fifteen minutes I stopped for fuel, tightened the straps, and had largely recovered from the frostbite of that experience by the time we turned onto the 401. Ruby’s speed crept up to 110 km/hr without any sign of instability in the load or the tow vehicle.

We breezed through empty west-end intersections in record time. Chuckling at how clever I had been to make this run early on a Sunday morning to avoid the Christmas traffic, I found my entry blocked by security gates at every entrance to the Kingston Toyota lot.

OOOOPS! Hadn’t thought of that.

Surely the answering machine will have someone on call to open up. Ten minutes of phone tag during which I spoke to no human led me to realize that I had outwitted myself this time.

Across the street lay an almost-empty parking lot for a drugstore. We pulled in out of the growing traffic to unload. The chains came off the Scion’s control arms with a shake. Tire strap webbing was a little stiff in places, but the ratchet mechanisms worked as promised, with just a bit of brute force. By now the idling Scion was making progress on its windshield, so I lowered the ramps and prepared to back off the dolly.

Nothing happened but whining tires. Mom’s car was stuck on the dolly.

With visions of last night’s videos (jeep and mini-van belly-hung over twisted car dollies), we rocked ahead an inch, then reversed. More whirring of tires on steel. The Scion was without usable traction on small squares of slick metal between the thick angle irons fore and aft designed to hold the car in place. I left the idling car in neutral, set the parking brake (on the rear wheels), fired up Ruby and shot forward. On the third try, it worked. I looked back to see the bemused Scion sitting on all fours, with its right front wheel tentatively pressing down on a trailing tire strap, for security, I guess.

The drug store staff accommodated my request to park my charge overnight for the mechanics to collect, so I sealed up the envelope with a key and a hypochondriac’s list of ailments for diagnosis and repair as well as the air bag replacement, wrote the car’s number and location on the front, and marched it across to the service department. Every dealership has a hole in a door for car keys.

As I walked around the gate I didn’t notice. After I had dumped the key, on the return trip only, I realized that the gate which had barred my way was not locked. I had dropped the key through the dealer’s wall, but there was another Scion key in Ruby, so I fired up the patient, scurried through the gate, and parked it in slot 12, right in front of the key drop.

And away Ruby and I went, home by 11:00 with the entire business of the delivery completed. A first-gen Porsche Cayenne is built for this sort of errand. The hand warmers on the steering wheel and the butt-and-back heaters in the seats take on their full relevance after sessions on frozen ground stringing chains through another car’s undercarriage.

U-Haul Car Dolly rental: 1 day $59.68 CDN

Morning with my Cayenne doing something hard: difficult to say, but pretty good

Yesterday Parliament rose for the Christmas break and the Senate had already adjourned, so today seating in the Parliamentary Dining Room was up for grabs. Our son invited us to Canada’s most exclusive restaurant and we looked forward to the experience all through the security checks.

The half-mile walk to Parliament Hill from Charlie and Roz’s downtown apartment had reacquainted us with the bone-chilling cold of the Sparks Street Mall. Charlie explained that he was leading us up the Mall for shelter, “Because there’s a cold wind off the river on Wellington Street.”

He wasn’t kidding, but we had dressed for the walk and the wind’s lash. Charlie did mention that Tyler, an employee in their B.C. office, grew up on balmy Vancouver Island. His first experience with the cold in Ottawa yesterday “Nearly froze his forehead off.”

Our waiter showed us to a quiet table for four in the first nook nearest to the river. This would do. Charlie looked a little bemused, but didn’t say anything. The waiter suggested that we get right to the buffet as it wasn’t very busy yet.

On the way across the dining room we ran into our friend and Charlie’s employer, Terry Beech, MP for Burnaby, North Seymour, and Parliamentary Secretary for Oceans, Fisheries, and the Coast Guard. He’s also a regular on the maple syrup crew at the farm in Forfar. Following an exuberant greeting he ribbed, “I was wondering who would sit at the Prime Minister’s table.”

Charlie gave a bashful grin. “I didn’t want to say anything other diners would overhear.”

Terry was there with two other staff members, the before-mentioned Tyler who looked no worse for the wear, and Ryan, who had been on leave assisting in the B.C. by-election campaign which ended Monday. The team had every reason to celebrate a hard-won, narrow victory.

I was a bit distracted by the noise in the room. Mind you, it was filling up rapidly as we took our place in the buffet line. I guess it would hold 200 diners, with a centre area under a series of huge glass domes in the ceiling, and a number of nooks to each side for more private dining.

Apparently the spectacular ceiling design produced an unexpected consequence: the domes act like parabolic microphones, distributing conversations around the large room at random. It may be the ultimate place for eavesdroppers, but with my hearing aids all I heard was a lot of noise. Paradoxically, individual diners appeared polite, quiet, and simply pleased to enjoy their lunch at the boss’s table.

It looked like the usual sort of buffet, though with more dishes. I avoided anything green and made straight for the lobster salad. Then followed a tasty-looking purple stew of cabbage and wild rice. Some smoked cod found my plate, almost transparent in its gelatinous perfection. I sampled a couple of mysteries which smelled interesting, then allowed the chef to load my plate with turkey. I should have taken more cranberry sauce to go with the bird, but the main course in general went down very well.

As low-information buffet eaters we wolfed the food down more rapidly than we likely should have. Everything was quite pleasing to the palette. We resolved to slow down and savour the desert buffet. Away we went.

Standouts on the tray were these round, tall, two-tone mousse(s). One flavour was clearly raspberry. The other was some kind of nut, likely pistachio. After an initial glutton’s portion of bread pudding it took me a while for the sugar to burn its way through, but once my palette had adjusted to the more etherial treat, the subtle elegance of the pistachio-raspberry meld occupied my thoughts through the rest of the desert and coffee.

Back in the corridor by 1:00, we were among the last to leave. Parliamentary staff are fast eaters, apparently with a full afternoon of work to do.

As lunches go, it wasn’t cheap at $100 for three, with tip. No worries about eating on the taxpayer’s dime in this dining room. Would we return, even if we didn’t luck onto the PM’s personal table? Sure! When does Parliament rise for the summer recess?

Planting walnuts

December 3, 2017

It was a perfect day for it this afternoon, so after our walk I grabbed the “Nut Wizard” Tom Stutzman gave me a while ago and had at the matt of blackened hulls under the walnut tree in the orchard. In no time a five gallon pail was full of mostly-hulled black walnut seeds, perfect for planting.

Over the years I have observed that black walnuts grow best from seed planted in late fall, and they’ll grow tall and straight if they have to struggle to get to sunlight because of competition from overhanging trees. The shelter belt of white pines on the north side of the property has quite a few young walnuts fighting their way to the top of the canopy, giving the hope of long, clear, veneer logs in sixty years. The nearest mature walnut tree is a half-mile away. Never underestimate the ambition and the horticultural talent of a grey squirrel.

For the last two years in November a pine-boughs merchant has sent a crew in to trim the lower branches of my white pines as they mature. The foliage ends up in a variety of Christmas decorations resold by vendors in the Toronto area. This activity enables the businessman to keep his construction crew working for an additional month in fall. They’re pretty good guys and they care about the trees. Ministry of Natural Resources personnel approve of this trimming procedure as it encourages the growth of higher-quality logs.

These five guys had spent a month walking around the stand of pine, so the grass was well packed for easy planting between existing stems. I kept a careful eye out for the shagbark hickory, yellow birch, and various oaks planted in clumps along with the pine. I left them to grow on their own, but I interplanted walnuts between the pines, every second row.

On an earlier planting project MNR Forester Gary Nielson told me that the black walnuts will eventually kill the pines and we’ll end up with a hardwood forest. That’s the theory: the pines are a nurse crop.

So on this lovely afternoon in late fall I picked my way down the long rows of healthy, seven-year-old pine saplings, pushing walnuts into the soft ground with my custom black-walnut planting stick. I put one in about every twenty feet. After I’d stomped 137 nuts into the turf the stained pockets of my oldest coat were empty and I decided to leave the remainder of the seeds for another day.

Should anyone care to try this pleasant task, I’d be happy to show you where to gather nuts. Be sure to wear gloves. While there is zero risk of infection from the walnuts because the rotting hulls are a powerful antibiotic, the dye contained in the dark mush will stain your hands so as to give you the once-in-a-lifetime experience of “seal flipper.” Donna O’Connor told me that high test gasoline will remove the stain, but I have yet to try it.

Neil Young concert

December 1, 2017

“Hometown” was a one man acoustic show streamed on on Friday evening. Neil ran through my favourites, most of which come from an album I played incessantly in 1973. “Helpless” now has an address. It’s Omemee, Ontario. But I don’t remember one stanza from the anthem he sang. It may be new, but I missed “Big birds flying upon the sky, yellow moon on the rise…”

The Red-Green atmosphere charmed me, as did the many old guitars and pianos, and even a pump organ. I didn’t expect to see Neil with a banjo, but it had its place in the program.

The quirky staging of the show required that a handful of attendees in parkas sit in a cold parking lot after a Christmas tree sale, watching assorted ancient televisions. It was clever, but I would have preferred a seat in the small auditorium. The set went smoothly with Neil permitting himself moments of an old guy’s indecision between songs, and occasional brief comments such as an explanation for why he drowns his harmonicas in a water glass before playing them (twice the volume).

Neil’s clearly not a fan of pipelines, though that may be Darryl Hannah’s influence. He chose to understate his environmental opinions this evening and kept his politics to a general world-weariness which sought relief in his roots.

His encore “Sugar Mountain” spoke to the ache of “You can’t be twenty on Sugar Mountain” any more, but it’s a gentle ache, not the rage of a defeated man. His voice was in fine tune, and the guitars wept their accompaniment. The stage was anything but minimalist, but the simple show charmed me to my toes.