Monday, September 30, 2013

Now I'll Send You Robins

     In my last post I sent you some birds that can be a bit of a nuisance. Brewer's black birds can form huge flocks and sometimes there are two or three species in the same flock. These flocks can be a nuisance if they stay in one area.

     For a couple of weeks or more we have had robins cruising the neighborhood. The flocks keep getting bigger as birds from further north arrive. So there are now huge flocks that fly exuberantly though the neighborhood. I watched today and there would constantly be three or four robins in my back yard. They don't stay long before they suddenly buzz off and some different birds arrive.

    So in a few days this large group of robins will gradually move south. Some of them will not go too far south. A few will even stay here of the winter. Every winter I see robins and robins are always in our winter bird count.

    When I was in Inuvik in the 1960's we did not see robins. Now they have robins and robins have nested on Banks Island which is 400km (250 mi) further north and over the Beaufort Sea. When I backpacked in the Rockies one of the most common birds above the tree line was the robin. Robins will nest on the ground even  when trees are nearby. So robins inhabit a wide variety of habitat. 

    People like robins and robins behave themselves. So today I'm getting ready to send you something nice.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

I'm Sending You a Big______________

     I'm sending you a big flock of Brewer's blackbirds. In the fall we get Brewer's blackbirds for a few days. They come in an enormous flock. This is what happened the other day. Every tree was loaded with birds. They were on the lawns and finding lots to eat. They came in twice on Sept.22 and once on Sept.23  They were here for one day on early Sept. I'm not sure if they were two different flocks or the same flock that came back.

These guys aren't very mannerly( The picture was taken through a window)

    Brewer's blackbirds nest in the northern U.S. and Western Canada. They have adapted to a variety of habitats and food sources. They usually stay together in flocks of about 100. In the winter they stay in the Southern states and Central America down to the Panama canal.

    So in a few more days these birds should reach their winter territories and spend their time marching around yards, parks and open areas. They will probably inundate your feeders like they've done here.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

I'm Learning How to Skate

     "Whoa," you say. "You post about skating often, so you skate."

      "Well, I sort of skate."

      I skate around the arena for an hour. I can turn ...sort of.  I can stop...sort of. It's a little like my bowling. I don't know how to keep score. I throw the balls and knock down some pins, but I don't know the proper technique.

    When I was a child I skated about four or five times a year. I had second hand skates that didn't fit. As a result I didn't learn to skate properly. I skated a bit with my kids. So most of my so called skating has been with the senior's group.

    I have asked two or three people to give me pointers on skating but they usually say, "You're doing all right."

    So in the back of my mind I thought of asking Bud for some tips. Bud has been a hockey coach and teacher. So the other day I asked Bud. Absolutely , he would work with me.

    "So," he said, "There are two things you have to learn: turning and putting the whole skate blade on the ice." This suggestion surprised me but once I got going it made sense.

    I had to consciously think about putting the whole skate blade on the ice. Once I did that many other things took place. First the constant tension in my legs disappeared. Second, I became much more stable and balance was not much of an issue. Third, it took much less effort to skate.  So one little change made a huge difference.

    Now turning takes technique and coordination. If you're turning left, you cross the right skate over the left skate. Now that sounds simple. If you've never done it it takes time. Once I learned to glide with the left skate while crossing the right skate over it became easier. Now I've got a long way to go but it's a step in the right direction.

   Now it took me a long time to ask Bud to show me some things about skating. So, adults are very hesitant about asking for help. I was a teacher and was used to giving out help rather than receiving help. So now I wish I had asked for some skating tips a long time ago. I'm improving my skating and it does wonders to one's self image. Why didn't I do this a long time ago?

Monday, September 23, 2013

When is Enough, Enough?

   In my last post I told how my careless maintenance of my bike lead to a serious challenge to my riding. I had begun to question my physical condition.

I'm so keen to ride I get my bike out when there's still snow.

    Last week I phoned my friend , David, to tell him I would help him take down a couple of trees for neighbors. David just loves his chain saw. However , David informed me that regrettably he was not going to take down the trees. David told me that his manager had laid down the law and that if he was going to live in her house he had to quit the chain saw and a few other risky activities. David heats his house with wood so he likes to t the wood from various trees he takes down. He also does lathe work and makes wooden bowls.

Some of David's bowls

    So there was another incident that would cause me to think about my activities. I am 74 and I cycle, cross country ski, skate and climb ladders. Now there's some risk in all of these for all people. For a senior the risk of injury is much higher. 

When I look at this I can hardly wait for snow!

Off to skate again

    Now you just can't stop everything because there's risk. Life has to carry on. However, if one has to stop these activities and a few others , it's not the end of the world. There's still lots to do physically. One just has to find something that is a little safer. Swimming would be fine! Step up the walking routine. This is what David did. He now walks 2 hours every morning. 

    I know that some of the bloggers I follow have discussions with themselves about the proper level of activities they should follow.

    I know I'm proud and that I have always been healthy and active. Some day I will have to take a very practical look at my situation and make some adjustments.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

A Frustrating Cycling Problem

     As most followers know I set a minimum goal to cycle 1000 km ( 625 mi) a summer. It's not a high goal and most years I get far beyond 1000 km.

    I've ridden close to 30000 km ( 8000 mi) over the last 27 years. If your fitness level is adequate, cycling is easy and the  distance rolls off easily.

Note the blinding speed
    This year was different. In the spring we had cold, wet, windy, weather. Not to worry. The weather will turn nice and I'll easily make up the time. 

    I found riding hard this summer. I was forcing things. I would ride up a steep slope and had to  press so hard that my calves burned when I got to the top. On the level I usually do 20 km/h. This summer I could hardly do 15 km/h on the level and I was really struggling. Riding against the wind was almost impossible. I worried. Was I that far out of shape? Had age taken it's toll? Did I have some kind of physical problem? I worked hard and hoped my fitness level would come up. I still had to push it and riding was not fun. It crossed my mind that serious cycling was over for me.

A steep part of the trail that just killed me this summer

   I oiled and cleaned my chain several times. There was a slight improvement. I changed the seat.

Cleaning the chain again

   So a few weeks ago  I did another maintenance chore. I thought I better check the tire pressure. To my horror I found out the tire pressure was 12 lbs! 

   I pumped the tires to the proper pressure and tried the bike. Wow! I had lots of jump! I was back to the regular form. Cycling was very easy once again. 
Back to the blinding speed

   So all the worry and doubt was brought on by my own negligence in checking tire pressure. I'll remember this lesson for a while.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

My Grocery Shopping Dilemma

    Every Wednesday afternoon here is the grocery run. I'm involved as the taxi driver and as my manager says, "You eat here too." So that means that I participate in grocery shopping and I don't really have a problem with that. We do the one shopping trip and don't make little trips every time we run out of something.

    At our place we eat three meals a day at almost fixed times. Our breakfast is a cereal, toast, coffee, juice type of breakfast.  Lunch is some combination of soup and?or sandwiches . We also have raw veggies and fruit.

    Dinner is a cooked meal. This meal usually lasts for a couple more days.

    We eat well.
     So if you eat like this you have to have the groceries on hand. 

    Now here's where things fall part. My manager looks through all the grocery fliers for the week and picks out all the specials and that's what's on the grocery list. So we get to the store. Oops, we can find the first special. After a while we find a staff member to ask about the product and wow, it didn't come in this week! The next item we look for and find that there's nothing on the shelf as they have run out of it. The next item we look for is not in this store but another store. Some more oops. The next product on special doesn't look too good so we won't buy it. So the manager gets about half the things on her list. 

   Then we look for the basics like bread, milk and fresh produce. Much the same thing happens here, but there's more to choose from.

   I realize that there's more than one way to shop for groceries. I dislike my manager's method and every once in a while I whine about it. So I'm challenged  by the comment, "Well, how would you do it?"

   Well, this is my proposal. I would make a menu for the week. I would make a list of what is needed to produce this menu. There are some regulars like bread , milk and fresh produce. I would find these products and that's my shopping trip. Yes, I would have to pay attention to specials. Cold cereal is sometimes on sale and I can eat anything when it's cold cereal. There's usually some kind of jam on sale. My favorite soup goes on sale from time to time.

    My key point is that the menu is where you should start your shopping trip rather than the grocery fliers that come in the paper.

    Oh yes, I admit that I don't like shopping.

    What do you think about grocery shopping? What method works for you? 


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Valued Mentor

     Every summer a half dozen of us meet to have lunch with Cliff. For all of us the feeling is the same that Cliff was a very important mentor in our careers.

Listen to what that other guy is talking about!

    Cliff is about 15 years older than the group. We young guys who came from Saskatchewan to teach in Alberta and needed some support. So Cliff also being from Sask. took us under his wing. Cliff was in his mid forties and had just finished his Education degree and with his experience had lots of good advice for us. We were starting families so he gave more than educational advice but advice in our family life as well. Sometimes there were those small loans of five or ten bucks so that we could survive to the next paycheck.

    Any difficulties we had at school or home could be taken to Cliff.

    Most of us went on to participate in other educational areas. One became a Principal of two very large high schools. One had a long career as an assistant principal. One developed a very successful art program. One was a dept. head for a long time. I became involved in professional activities with the Teachers' association. Cliff would ask if I'd like to go on a committee and recommend it. He could make this committee sound very interesting.This lead to becoming more involved.

    Cliff's influence was quiet but gave one the confidence to move on and take the challenge.

    All this happened in the late sixties and early seventies before mentor ship was thought of by educators. Now mentor ship is a common tool in the development of good teachers. Cliff had the mentor ship idea down to a T long before mentor ship was formally used.

   So we enjoy a lunch and a good visit. We don't dwell on old times but talk about current times.

    So here's to many more good lunches with Cliff.

Saturday, September 14, 2013


     First let me say that I appreciate comments. People take time to read the post, think about it and then go to the effort to write a response. How good can it get? 

     Responses come in all shapes and sizes. Some responses are incredibly witty. Others offer a different view. Some are complimentary. While others share your view. And then some readers tell about a similar experience. Some express support. So thanks to my readers. You make my day.

    Now I have some confessions to make. Sometimes I get busy and get behind in commenting. I just get overwhelmed and have to omit comments. My apologies. Sometimes I misread things and you wonder what I'm talking about. Sometimes my comments are just plain boring. Some of my comments are just plain vacant. So my apologies. 

     I do try to say more than just, "good job." I do try to vary my comments so that it's not just the same old same old from Red. I hope I'm positive and I hope I'm never rude or offensive. Now if you don't like something tell me about it. I'd rather get the chance to correct something than lose a perfectly good follower.

    I do try to answer comments on my blog. That is fun. I like to follow people who respond to my comments. You have to work hard to find out who responds to my comments. 

   One thing in comments did bother me recently. I had been following a good blog. We commented on each others blogs and it was interesting and positive. After a while I noticed the other blogger hadn't been replying. That's okay. It's okay if you get tired of my blog and drop me. What bothered me on this one is that my comments weren't published. But I'm a big boy and life goes on. I hope other bloggers don't experience the same situation. Now don't worry . It's none of you. This blogger doesn't read me any more.

   So thanks again for comments. It just adds another level of pleasure in blogging. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

I Just Gotta Tell Some One

     I was standing on my side walk today when an old beater of a car swung across the road to me. The old guy looked pretty rough and his car was packed with stuff and he had a huge dog in the front seat. I thought he was maybe going to ask for directions. But no. He asked me if I knew about all the magpies around here. My Middle school teacher brain clicked in and I said, "No!"

    Now our area has a very heavy population of magpies. They are all over the place. They are a nuisance and steal lots of little birds from nests.

    The "no" answer didn't stop him for a second. He just had to tell somebody his story. He had just seen two magpies chasing a jack rabbit. One magpie was chasing from behind and one was at the front. He was so amazed at what he had just seen that he had to stop and tell the first person what he had seen. He picked a good person to tell his story to as I am interested in those things and have posted many times on jack rabbits as our area has many jack rabbits as well as magpies. 

A feisty little guy in my neighbor's back yard

A trick rabbit drinking from the sprinkler also from my neighbor's yard

You have to look very hard but you will see a very young rabbit.

I was two steps away from this one when I took his picture.

    Magpies are well known to be teasers. They will tease dogs . When the dog leaves it's food dish in goes a magpie as magpies like dog food.

   Magpies will tease red squirrels. One magpie will be above the squirrel in the tree and the other one will be below the squirrel. The poor squirrel will try to climb the tree and finds Mr magpie. The squirrel goes down the tree and there's a magpie below. The chase gets pretty exciting until the squirrel jumps from the tree and escapes. 

   So watching the critters sometimes gives us unexpected stories.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Arctic Changed Me for the Rest of My Life

    On one of my first Arctic posts I mentioned that the northern experience had changed my life. People wanted to know how my life was changed. So here goes. The last of my northern posts.

    I was raise in a rather isolated prairie area. We went to the local village for groceries. The local village seemed like a big deal. This did not give me much exposure to any different people or ideas. Our family kept to themselves to some extent. We were close to my father's family and visited with them often. Our church group was small and very conservative. As a result exposure to others was limited and somewhat discouraged.

    When I first left home everything was new and different. I was totally unprepared for this.

    When I moved to the Arctic I was exposed to things that were really different...a different culture...a different way of life...people from all over the world.  In our orientation we were given a good basis on what to expect and how to handle it. I was also lucky in that there were experienced people on staff who were very knowledgeable and were willing to explain a few things. 

    I was able to mix with many Inuit and aboriginals who were very good at telling about their culture. I learned that when I was in the north they were the masters of the environment and I depended on them for guidance and safety. They appreciated this and were very open about their life. I also got to go out on trips that others would never have gone on.

   As a result I changed many of my courses to Indian and Northern Education. I began reading and thinking about the culture. 

   As a result, I looked at race and different cultures in a completely different way. I learned to look at people for who they were instead of what race they came from. I became very sensitive about any racial discrimination and wouldn't let biased ideas go by me without a challenge. I never would have become open minded about race and culture if it hadn't been for the northern experience. For the rest of my life I have become more and more aware of prejudice and how harmful it can be. I've become a much happier person and certainly much more self assured.

    This has helped in many more areas than race when there are major differences. You have to look at the individual for what they really are. One of my former students has been a life long alcoholic and drug dealer. I visit him when he's not selling drugs. He knows that when he's selling drugs I will have nothing to do with him. He is one of the nicest people you could find when he's out of the drug culture. So instead of writing him off as a druggie I hope that by visiting him someday things will change.

    One of my neighbors is Chinese. Now I don't think of the Chinese part when I meet her.  She's a very unique character and always full of life. She always stops when I'm in the yard. One day she was asking about some Indian woman who lived up the street. I said, "What Indian woman?  There are no Indians on this street."  I tried  hard to think of who the Indian was because I know all the people on the street. I just hadn't thought of this person as being Indian. So I teased my Chinese neighbor about looking at other people from a racial point of view . We had a big laugh and then a big discussion.

   So I'm happy that my northern experience set up the remainder of my life on something that gave me a purpose in my life.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Ration

    In one of the last posts I mentioned that in the north I was given a "ration" for a year's supply of food. Some people may think of ration as a limit while others would think of it as a share. Some readers seemed a little bit worried about the ration.

    The ration was quite an interesting device. The ration was carefully and well planned for so that someone in isolation would have ample food for one year. The ration was also carefully devised so that a person would have a balanced diet. So there were foods from all food groups. 

    So there were cases of canned fruit and vegetables. There was a variety of canned juices. There were cases of soup. 

    We had canned meat such as bacon, ham, sausage, stew, sardines,  salmon , tuna and many more that I forget. We had powdered eggs that were good for baking or making scrambled eggs.

   We had lots of flour, yeast, sugar, cereal (both hot and cold). We also had macaroni, spaghetti and rice.  We had both canned potatoes and powdered potatoes. 

  We had powdered milk and a case of condensed milk. This was 1963 and powdered milk hadn't been around that long. It was miserable stuff to mix. I would use an egg beater and the only thing that happened is that I got a very dirty eggbeater as the stuff stuck to the egg beater. Now try washing your egg beater with this stuff on it!

   There were other dried things like onions, apples, raisins, prunes and apricots and probably a few more things that I forget. 

   Salt, pepper, pickles, ketchup were in the ration. There were a few boxes of cookies and biscuits. The biscuits were like hard tack . the biscuits were really good with coffee or tea. Rumor had it that the origin of rations went back to the second world war. We sometimes joked that they were left overs from the war.

    So you see that this was a very well planned food ration. 

    Now not everybody liked the rations. These for the most part were forms of foods we did not usually eat. There were some foods that people were not familiar with at all. Many people did not eat very much canned goods period. Very little canned meat was eaten. So the ration was a favorite topic of conversation. Many hot tips were exchanged on how to use some of the stuff. Many times people got together and traded things that they didn't like for things they did like. 

   So when care packages arrived from home they were much appreciated. Mom sent me samples of all her Christmas baking and extra of the stuff she knew I really liked.

   So there was no need to worry about my food. I hope I have covered some of the things readers were curious about.

   Oh yes , rations were good for something else. The ration came in one box that was about 6' by 3' by 2'. It would take three or four men to wrestle this beast to your apartment door. One of the girls was completely overwhelmed by the huge box. Before she figured out what to do some of us took her ration apart and piled it up like blocks so that it blocked the hallway. We thought it was a good practical joke. The next thing we knew the fire inspector came roaring through the building and told everybody that this blockade had better be down by 6 PM . Of course people who weren't in on it didn't want to clean up the mess. The culprits didn't want to do the cleaning because then they would be identified. We did get the mess cleaned up and then helped the girl unpack her stuff. I think we wanted to make contact with this cute girl and this was a lame brained way to do it.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Skating Started Today

    Many things in the world may have started today , but the only thing that matters is skating started!

    I skate every Tuesday from Sept. to April. It's great exercise and fun. The skaters are a very friendly group to belong to.

First, you have to get to the arena. Today was hot, dry and windy! Not the kind of day you would think about skating.
Meet your friends
The ice surface all ready for us.

And away we go!
Fancy pair!
One of the best parts of!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Where's My Check?

        They say.....things come in threes. Well here's the third problem I had when I first traveled north.

      The two previous posts dealt with amazing transportation snags and a housing surprise. This time it's money.

    Everybody knows that there's big money in the north. In my case my salary would be about  one and a half times more. It was part of my decision to go north but certainly not the only one.

    I left home with $200.00 in my pocket. In 1963 it was a good sum of money. This would easily carry me until I got my first check. 

    Well, I went to the post office on the day the checks were supposed to come and there was nothing in my mail box. The teachers who were on last year all got checks , but the new guys didn't get checks. The govt. wouldn't or couldn't give us an advance. So there I was with very little money in my pocket. You really didn't need any money. Well, you had to buy smokes and beers. Well, everybody knows those things could be omitted. I bought bread and milk which were very expensive. I wasn't going to bake bread. A loaf of bread was very expensive. 

    So I wrote Dad to take $200.00 out of my account and send me cash. 

    So October we head to the post Office on check day and you guessed it no checks for the new guys. I got my first check in November. Of course it was 3 checks at once.

    Not getting the pay check was stressful. It wasn't too bad for me but more difficult for married people.

    I understand why the check was late but it still hurt. The office where we were paid from was 5000 miles away in Ottawa. All our qualifications had to be sent away and assessed and then payment made. We also had a government austerity program at that time. The government cut staff and you guessed they didn't have enough people to figure out what to pay us. We also didn't have a phone line to the outside. We had a local telephone system but no long distance. I'm sure the govt. would have heard a few things if we had long distance service.

    So things began to improve after these three mishaps.