Friday, February 24, 2012

Let Her Eat

Most of us are familiar with the Thomas Edison quote, "Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration." Truer words have never been spoken. Today, I perspired for almost two hours when the genius percentage finally kicked in. Let me explain.

I looked outside after completing my last blog and became concerned when I saw this.


There were wet snowballs falling from the sky. I had shovelled some slush earlier and thought I was done. Not so, I realized. The forecasters were indeed correct, if not slightly off on the time frame.

I donned my full winter garb and headed outdoors once again. First things first. I created a path for the puppy so that her short legs wouldn't have to suffer too much. It was then that I realized how heavy the snow was. Not a lot as yet, but quite the weight.

I decided to tackle the job in small portions. I worked my way up the sidewalk, past my vacationing neighbours' house and included some of my older widowed neighbour's place. Then I went back and started on the driveways between the sidewalk and the road. By the time I was done that bit, it was snowing very, very hard. In fact, the sidewalk which I had just completed was once again laden with white. I looked at the rest of our  driveway and said, (I'm old now so I'm allowed to talk to myself), "There must be an easier way to get rid of, or at least cut back on all this work."

As sleet started stinging my face, I had my idea.

Here I am. Do you see the lightbulb over my head? No, wait. That's just the fringe of my gladiator hat.

Here's a picture of what I did...a super fast way to clean off a driveway. No shovel necessary. As soon as I've had my bath, warm up a bit and find some dry clothing, I'll go clean up my neighbours' driveway in the same way. Won't they be surprised to see one of these greeters as they return from Florida?


Weather or Not?

For the past two days we have been hearing warnings and forecasts of today's weather nightmare. After an extremely mild winter, it was predicted that we would receive an entire season's accumulation of snow, all today. Meteorologists threatened up to 20 cm. Fear loomed. Town maintenance workers cropped dangerous dangling tree branches. School buses were cancelled. Those in a position to do so, took the day off work. Ready or not, it would begin at midnight.

I planned ahead...something which is not in my nature to do. In case I was to be snowbound for any length of time, I would be prepared. I didn't want my coupons to expire before I could use them, so I grabbed the dog and all my February grocery vouchers. Off we went to Walmart. After picking up most items on my list, I checked out. This is most of what $17.53 got me with a savings of over $20.

Tassimo worth $9.99 was free and I made a profit with my coupon on the Finish dish detergent. I had big value coupons for all the rest of the items except for carrots and lettuce which only cost a total of $2.

My next step was to move the car into the garage and grab a large snow shovel and broom. I took out the trash and gathered up the accumulated dog deposits from the lawn. Then I dug out my hat, mittens, boots, winter coat and scarf, stowing them all in our foyer. Was I ready or what?

This morning, we woke up at the usual time, 6 a.m. It was soooooooo dark. Was the snow covering the windows? Had it piled up so high that we were buried, trapped? With trepidation, I edged toward our large living room window. It was worse than I had feared.

Alas, our 18 foot tall pine tree was barely visible above the mountains of precipitation. What to do now? Did I dare go outside? After mustering up all my courage, I ventured through the door. I trudged. I plodded. It was a challenge to lift my legs out of the huge drifts on the driveway.

I knew that sooner or later I would have to begin shovelling. I looked down the street. No neighbours were visible. I smuggly walked back into the house realizing that they must all be too frightened to do what I just did. Perhaps they weren't ready for this. Don't they watch the Weather Network? Didn't they listen to Frankie's warnings on Breakfast TV?

Alas, as I write this, my footprints are disappearing under the mounds of precipitation. The last remaining tip of our massive tree has almost disappeared. It's time to brave the elements and begin the hours of shovelling.

Lest there be any doubt, this entire blog was written facetiously. I used to check the weather by looking outside in the morning or by bravely sticking my head through the doorway to guess the temperature. I believe my accuracy rate, using no more equipment than my eyes, skin and sinuses was more accurate. What do you think?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

It Is Finnish

We have some lovely friends, a Canadian couple of Finnish heritage. Until I knew them well, all I could tell you about Finland was that the flag is blue, the people like to sauna and they have good hockey players. I have a vague memory of a Finnish architect who designed the Toronto City Hall, just don't ask me to recall his name. In recent years, I have experienced cloudberries, salt fish and Finnish pancakes and I have learned so much more.


During one of their visits, we all went for a walk at the waterfront park. It was then that our friends noted the trash containers which originated in Finland. These ingenious cans come in several sizes. They look like regular bins, but what's different is that they extend as far below the ground as above. This model holds a 6 foot long trash bag. That's a lot of garbage, and a brilliant way to prevent overflow in parks and playgrounds between pickups.

This clever trash solution originated in Nokia, a brand of telephone, yes, but also a city in Finland.

There is a large Finnish population in Thunder Bay where our friends live. When we visited, we were taken to Finnport to shop. It's a beautiful store that sells unique textiles, housewares, glass items and other products from Finland. Then we went to the historical Hoito Restaurant in the Finlandia Club for a meal. The Hoito has many claims to fame. The latest of these are last year's visit from Rick Mercer and an appearance on a Food Network episode of "You Gotta Eat Here". The Finnish pancakes are famous and the menu is varied. The Hoito is a co-operatively owned and run restaurant which was established over 90 years ago to provide inexpensive home cooked meals to the Finnish-Canadian loggers and carpenters in the community.

March 16th is the time for St. Urho's Day celebrations. According to the legend St. Urho chased the grasshoppers out of Finland thus saving the grape crops. It's a great reason for partying, having a parade, and donning the colours purple and green to represent grapes and grasshoppers.

Kaleva Michigan and Menahga, Minnesota have tributes to St. Urho in the form of a gigantic scrap metal grasshopper and an enormous wooden sculpture. It's a fun festival which is rapidly spreading throughout North America.

I had often heard about the Finnish brand "Nanso" and the comfortable, soft and silky feel of the products. The company specializes in men's and women's loungewear and some of the clothing is created with a woven combination of cotton and modal yarns, both renewable resources. After further research, I was impressed that the company uses fair trade principles and cotton farmers in the developing countries are paid a guaranteed price. Nanso has existed for 90 years and has its headquarters in....Nokia.

So those are just a few of the things I've learned about from our friends. I also now know that whenever I see an item on the news about wife carrying contests, cell phone tossing competitions, or air guitar playing championships, chances are that it's coming from Finland.

So on this occasion of our friends' 55th wedding anniversary, I'd like to say, "Hyvää Vuosipäivää". It's wonderful to know you, learn from you, spend time with you and laugh with you. Oh...and it's also fun to visit and sauna with you.


Sunday, February 19, 2012

How Do You Know if You're Elderly?

A friend of mine recently posted a question on facebook. It looked like this.

'At what age does a person become elderly?' Please answer honestly and don't think you'll offend me. Also - please answer as if you were writing a news article. That would eliminate 'You're only as old as you feel etc.' Just curious. Thanks! :-)

I wrote what immediately popped into my head given the limited facebook space. Of course, I had to add my signature bit of humour at the end. Here's my comment.

"Not a news article and not personal, just some thoughts after observing "elderly" people. You are elderly when life becomes a chore...when you no longer take joy in small things...when you become cynical and feel the need to criticize and complain about everything...when the word "fun" is no longer part of your vocabulary...when you think about death more often than you think about the rest of your life...most of all, you are elderly when you have seen the same fads and fashion trends for the fourth time. You are not elderly however, if you still fit into your plaid bell bottom pants."

I considered my response for the rest of the day and felt somewhat dissatisfied. There had to be more to this question than could be answered by a mere five lines. I headed for where I was surprised to discover the following definitions for "elderly"..."quite old, past middle age, geriatric". The thesaurus in turn gave me this list: "aged, ancient, been around, declining, gray, hoary, long in tooth, lot of mileage, no spring chicken, old, olden, on last leg, over the hill, retired, tired, venerable."

Wow! That sounded depressing if not offensive. After further "googling", I discovered that "elderly" is no longer a politically correct term...understandable in view of the definitions. In fact, the word "older" is suggested as an alternative. That could explain why some people consider anyone "older" than they as "elderly". I'm not certain that I agree.

Are you elderly when you no longer have an interest in socializing or having thoughtful conversations with people? Are you elderly when you start looking at senior residences? Are you elderly when you anger easily? Are you elderly when everything was better "back in the day"? Are you elderly when you have no more hopes and dreams? Are you elderly when your bucket list runs out? Are you elderly when you've resigned yourself to your circumstance? Are you elderly when you no longer keep up with technology or pop culture? Are you elderly when you are no longer spontaneous? Is elderly determined by age, wrinkles or hair colour?

 I don't think you're "elderly" because you're old. You can be elderly at any age. I think "elderly" is a behaviour, a frame of mind, not an outward appearance. In fact, many of the cliches about older people  ("you're as old as you feel" and so on ) might indeed be accurate.

After thinking, researching, and some conversation with friends, I decided to stand by my original thoughts on what is "elderly". I think that it nicely encapsulates all of my ideas.

"You are elderly when life becomes a chore...when you no longer take joy in small things...when you become cynical and feel the need to criticize and complain about everything...when the word "fun" is no longer part of your vocabulary...when you think about death more often than you think about the rest of your life...most of all, you are elderly when you have seen the same fads and fashion trends for the fourth time. You are not elderly however, if you still fit into your plaid bell bottom pants."

I felt validated while looking at this past week's Giant Tiger flyer. This fashion trend has now occurred for only the second time in my lifetime. I'm happy to announce therefore, that by my own definition, I am not yet "elderly". What about you?
Bell bottoms, not necessarily plaid

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Captivated in Curacao

Downtown Curacao pontoon bridge was open when we arrived
I believe that Curacao is a fascinating, historic and lovely island with much to offer. There are bridges, a floating market, waterways, cafes, delicious Dutch food and beautifully coloured buildings. The pedestrian pontoon bridge, partially seen in the photo above is supported by 16 pontoons and swings open using two ship motors. This allows boat traffic to pass through. While the bridge is open, water taxis transport people across the waterway.

On this trip, we decided to go to view the Kura Hulanda Museum on the grounds of the lovely Kura Hulanda resort in the heart of Willemstad. The museum is dedicated to the history of the slave trade, concentrating heavily on the time when Africans were transported to the Caribbean. It shows some of the African influences in the current Caribbean culture. This was an amazing few hours.

She sat, waiting to greet us at the grounds entrance.

Our brochure said admission was $9, but we were actually only charged $7 a piece...worth every cent. The sculpture found in the centre of the grounds depicts a slave face from the front, and the shape of the continent of Africa from the side view.

We also enjoyed the vegetation, the birds and the landscaping. The photo on the left shows a banana plant and a representation of chained slaves along the wall. On the right we spotted a yellow bird not too high up in a banana tree.

The interior of the museum consisted of endless displays. There were sculptures, costumes, carvings and documents. We saw a scale model of a ship and an example of the tiny size of the hold where the slaves huddled, cramped and unable to stretch their bodies during their long journey.

Not all slaves were black nor were they all men. This sculpture was of a pair of female slaves, one black and one white, comforting each other while waiting to be sold.


Musical instruments of African origin and display cases containing stunning ivory and stone carvings were in two of the sections of the museum.

There were modern day reminders of injustice and abuse of people as well. Samples of KKK "uniforms", news articles and documents were on display. I could not bring myself to photograph those. It didn't seem right.

The outside of the slave museum was rich with art...sculpted faces showing the torment and sadness of generations of people.

A lot of time, expense, energy and ownership of the past has gone into developing this excellent museum.


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Junk in Klein Bonaire

Our day on Bonaire continued to be busy. We headed out in a Chinese junk which was to transport us to a small crescent shaped, uninhabited and protected island called Klein (small) Bonaire. It is purported to have the best snorkeling and diving opportunities in the Caribbean.

As we approached Klein Bonaire, snorkelers were sent off toward the dive site in zodiacs.

The water was pristine and the beach unspoiled. The island is uninhabited, has no dwellings and no facilities of any description.

I opted to remain on the junk, relax, take photos and enjoy the peace and solitude of the almost deserted boat. I wasn't alone for long as the teen son of the captain arrived, by zodiac, after his day at school. He was a most polite young man named Urs who loved to talk and proudly share all his knowledge of Bonaire. "I just came from gym class," he said with a chuckle. "We went swimming."

  He was intelligent, well mannered and clearly well educated. I enjoyed listening to his stories and soon heard about his enjoyment of outdoor life. He told about his Swiss heritage and his Dutch education at a Bonaire private school. When I asked, why the private school, he told me that he needed to learn Dutch rather than the Bonaire slang language Papiamentu which is spoken in public schools. And yes, he knew how to speak Papiamentu as well as Dutch, English, French and Swiss...five languages! I learned about Bonaire history, culture and politics while waiting for the rest of the passengers to return to the boat. Time well spent.

I practiced using the camera timer as I ran to various parts of the boat to be in the photos. I missed the mark on this one (me on the left) but found a surprise when I got home and viewed the enlarged picture on the computer. The captain was obviously peeking to see what all the thumping on deck was about. Embarassing.

On our return sail, we saw landmarks and lizards.

It was a terrific second half of the day. Bonaire is truly historic, fascinating and fabulous for those who love ecology and the outdoors, the sun, the sea, the sand, sailing and snorkeling.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Slavery and Salt In the ABC Islands

In some instances, a "B" can be far more desirable than an "A". This was the case when we visited the islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao. Bonaire was a delightful surprise. The island has an area of 113 square miles with a population of about 16,000. Crime is minimal since it is relatively impossible to escape being caught. Traffic, is clearly not an issue.
In the morning, we found a delightful cab driver named Banban. He had lived in Bonaire for quite some time. In fact, I'd venture a guess that his vehicle was one of the first taxis on the island. He was eager and willing to give us a tour of the sites we requested on the southern part of the island.
First, Banban took us onto the grounds of the salt mines. We waited as he ran into the office. When he came back out, he brought us some sample sea salt crystals.
 Next, he took us to the slave huts and showed us the tiny dwellings where the slaves huddled together by night, after mining the salt all day. They were originally built with a corresponding obelisk in colours red, blue, white and orange. The obelisks showed ships where to dock to pick up salt after a flag of the corresponding colour was raised.

Huts often held 6-8 adult slaves
Process of transporting salt to ships
Although the salt mine and the slave huts were the highlight of our tour, Banban also took us to a beach and to a flamingo habitat. We returned to the ship to prepare for our afternoon tour...a sail on a Chinese junk with snorkelling on Klein Bonaire.
Banban showed us an original slave bridge

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Visiting Embera Country

We recently went on a fantastic trip. It included a stop in Panama, where we were fortunate to visit an authentic Embera Indian Village. Because we needed to venture into the jungle, we first had a bus ride, then met some of the indigenous men who ferried us to their village using dugout canoes with motors. It was a 45 minute scenic ride in the canoe.

The Embera are a nomadic tribe. They have settled in an area of Panama which is now one of the country's protected national parks. They are supplementing their livelihood with tourist dollars.

As we arrived, we saw the raised village huts and children frolicking in the water. During our visit, we learned that the children are educated by teachers who come from Colon and live in the village during the week, then go home on weekends.
We were greeted by a band of Embera men who made music as we entered the village. There were also a few apprentices.
Since we had been travelling for quite awhile, an essential trip to the facility proved to be quite the culture shock.

The children hammed it up for the camera as we waited for the food and festivities to begin.
The women cooked tilapia and plantain, then served it to us in an ornately wrapped leaf pouch.

After dinner, we were treated to some entertainment, a snake dance and a monkey dance. Then, we were shown the many varied handicrafts made by the families, including baskets, wood carvings and jewellery. Of course, the items were for sale. I purchased a red and black monkey mask made by a teen girl and a nut bracelet.

The Community Centre

Everyone posed for a final photo and wished us a good trip back.

Since many photos and videos on the Embera people are available on Google, I did not elaborate on their history and lifestyle, but simply descibed our unforgettable experience.