Monday, June 27, 2016

SUMMER IS HERE!

          I see by the calendar that we have arrived at the Summer Solstice making today the longest day of the year. Or, more accurately, the day which has the longest period of daylight in the year. However you want to label it …hurray, hurray, hurray…summer is on the way!! It is the most glorious time of the year and here’s hoping that it’s going to be a long, long beautiful summer.

          Do you know what else today is? It’s also a Strawberry Full Moon, that’s what it is. What is a "Strawberry Full Moon", you ask? According to the "Old Farmer’s Almanac" they call it a Strawberry Full Moon because Algonquin tribes saw it as a signal to start gathering ripe fruit.

          Seeing as how you are going to be reading this long after the event I hope you had a chance to catch the Strawberry Full Moon on the same day as the Summer Solstice because it is a rare event indeed. In fact having a full moon on the same day as the Summer Solstice hasn’t happened in Western Canada since 1986 but those in Atlantic Canada haven’t seen a summer solstice full moon since 1967 and still others in North America since 1948!

          The Strawberry Moon/Summer Solstice will be broadcast on You Tube so if you missed it live or it was cloudy in your area restricting your view, or something, bring it up and have a look. As mentioned, these celestial events are very rare so it is a pretty neat way of welcoming the summer.

Today may be the "real" first day of summer but it is usually the day after the last day of school which signifies the "unofficial" start to summer. Way back when, during my school days, the town became nearly deserted after the last day of school as many folks packed up and took off on vacations or went to the cabin at the lake. They still do, I am sure, but now the town is not nearly deserted at all. With the many varied recreation facilities and activities to be had right here in town one needn’t travel to have access to relaxation and recreation. It’s always nice to get away but if one cannot or does not want to travel there’s lots to do right here.

          Kicking off the summer events will be the 4th Annual Bobby Vargo Memorial Slo-Pitch Tournament on the Canada Day Long Weekend of July 1st, 2nd and 3rd. Glen and Lynn Vargo, their children, Ashely Couette and Austin, as well as many other family members and friends, have organized and ran this tournament every year since their son and brother Bobby’s untimely passing in 2012.

          The Bobby Vargo Memorial Slo-Pitch Tournament is a great family event that provides a fun-filled weekend while contributing much needed funds to the community’s recreation facilities. After moving the event around in the calendar year a couple of times the tournament has now secured a home around the Canada Day holiday. What a great way to combine memorializing a life too short-lived, celebrate the birthday of the greatest country in the world while raising funds for a most worthy cause. It’s a full weekend of activities, too, including a pancake breakfast, a Dunk Tank, a Kid’s Bouncy House, Kid Care Jail & Bail, a Canada Day Cabaret and so much more. Check out the Bobby Vargo Memorial Slo-Pitch Tournament Facebook page for details or look for posters and ads.

          Whatever your plans for this upcoming summer, may you all have a safe and happy summer season. I will be making a wish for all of us, on this Strawberry Full Moon/Summer Solstice Day, for the greatest summer ever!

"To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die." –Thomas Campbell (1777-1844).

Sunday, June 12, 2016

MORE POSTS

It is the 12th of June and I am finally getting some new posts loaded up on this blog. Or filing cabinet, as it were. The last post was from April so here are some new posts. Enjoy.

ALL ABOUT NOTHING.

            The other day I was reading a news article about the Pakistani polygamist who has already fathered 35 children and he wants to add wife number four to his first three wives so he can ultimately father 100 children! ONE HUNDRED CHILDREN!! This information had me pretty revved up as a tie-in to a Father’s Day themed column for the paper…and then I looked at the calendar and I saw that Father’s Day isn’t this coming weekend it’s next weekend, the 19th! What the deuce? In my haste to jump all over the selfish, irresponsible motives of this man I must have lost my head for a minute or two there.
            The thing is, these column themes don’t just drop out of the sky or anything. Well, sort of, if you know what I mean, but not normally in the literal sense, although I won’t rule out that ever happening. I actually have to think and stuff to come up with some kind of an idea of what to write about every week and, I’m not sure how it is with other writers, but once I hit on a topic…That’s it! Eureka! I have a theme! My mind is now closed! I don’t even keep another theme on deck, let alone in the hole, so when I’m out of subjects…yikes…it’s scramble, scramble, scramble.
            Oh, by the way, I must say that, again, I am unsure of how other writers conduct their business but I am a last minute kind of guy. “When’s it due? Tomorrow, eh? Hmmm…I better get to work on that I guess.”
            So out with the Father’s Day topic, for this week anyway, and on to what? Hmmmm? I don’t know… how about…nothing. Because that’s what I’ve got…nothing…and all the experts tell you to write about what you know and I know nothing. If I know anything…it’s nothing.
            “See that over there? You know what that is? It’s nothing?”
            “C’mere, guess what’s in my hand…you’re right…nothing.”
            “Mumble, mumble, grumble, grumble…”
“What’s that Dear? What’d you say?”
“Nothing, honey.”
            You know how it is when you reach into your pocket for the stuff you know is in there and then you inside-out your pocket and what do you find?? NOTHING! So nothing is really something even if you call it nothing. It has to be something. So when I choose to write about nothing I am really writing about something then, aren’t I?
            I recall the time that the nose, throat and ear doctor sent me for an MRI on my head to see why my hearing was deteriorating in a weird, weird way and…guess what they found…you guessed it…NOTHING. Now my pockets AND my head have a whole lot of nothing.
            You don’t’ have to rely on me alone to fill you in on nothing. It seems like philosophers have been discussing nothing since the 5th Century BC. Good ol’ Parmenides was one of the earliest western philosophers to consider nothing as a concept. And you thought I knew nothing.
            If you really want definitive proof that nothing is something then you can Wikipedia it and read the 2700, or so, words on the subject. Nothing can take up an awful lot of your time, too, I’m finding out.
            Well, that’s all I’ve got for this week. I hope you got something out of nothing. I was so happy to do it for you, and besides… you know…it was nothing.

“Anything can happen in life, especially nothing,”-Michel Houellebecq (1956- ).

AN EXPERT IS...

Recently I found myself repeating a saying that I had often heard and used back in my lumber yard/building construction days… “An Expert is somebody who is more than 50 miles from home”. Generally speaking, people seldom give credit where credit is due; particularly when it comes to locals. Whether you’re good with a calculator, pencil and eraser, a hammer and nails or car selling or piano teaching it seems being a home-towner can sometimes have its disadvantages. Somebody somewhere has to be better.
What prompted me to share this information with you this week were a few small comments from a national radio host. I really like listening to this radio host, by the way, but his show comes from the East Coast and he has a discernable “eastern” slant to his points of view, if you know what I mean?
Anyway, he was talking about a young man from Bienfait, Saskatchewan, Andy Shauf, who is an amazing singer/songwriter/musician coming into his own on the national and international music scene. It seems our radio host is quite flabbergasted that such a talent could come out of the wheat fields of good old Sask-at-chee-wan. It would appear that in between Andy watching his dog run away for three days or freezing his tongue to a metal pipe somewhere in the playground, (because, let’s face it, what else is there for a kid to do in a small prairie town?), young Andy taught himself how to play a number of musical instruments, was playing in a band by 14, recording music by 16 and released three independent music albums before he was twenty-years-old. Not bad for a young flatlander.
Now, Tom, the host’s name, made some stereotypical references to small town life in Saskatchewan in his intro into Andy’s latest song and he just happened to catch a too-sensitive native of the province listening in while the host was just trying to be a little bit funny. Isn’t it funny how a funny man didn’t find anything funny in the host’s funny comments? I guess my feathers were rankled more by how he said what he said than what he actually said. Make sense? Hope so.
Had I been listening to a country music station the host could very well have been speaking about Alex Runions, winner of Saskatchewan Country Music Awards Entertainer of the Year and Male Vocalist of the Year. That’s not too shabby for a flatlander, either. Ditto, Jordan Toppings, award winning SCMA All Star Band guitarist. Please accept my too-late public congratulations.
I don’t know too much about Andy Shauf’s upbringing but I doubt that it was very different to Alex or Jordan’s Kipling upbringing. Playing school and community sports, science fairs, school band, drama, (in and out of school), field trips, goofing off and hanging with friends at the local hot spots…being kids, in other words.
There is little argument that there can be some advantages to living in larger centres with more resources closer to one’s disposal but narrow-minded thinking takes those advantages to levels that are not as relevant as they once were. Experts come in all sizes, shapes and colours and they come from the biggest of cities and the tiniest of towns.


 “An expert is somebody who is more than 50 miles from home, has no responsibility for implementing the advice he gives, and shows slides.”- Edwin Meese (1931- ) American Attorney General (1985-1989).

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IT'S A LITTLE TOO MUCH DON'T YOU THINK?

            Last week our youngest grandchildren, Treyton ( just turned 7), and Ava (4), came over from Wolseley with their parents on a road trip to Kipling for soccer. This was great news for us grandparents, as we didn’t have to travel to watch them play, but at the same time I was wondering why six-year-olds and four year-olds are going on organized soccer road trips?  On a weeknight, no less. Six and four-year-olds.
Both age-groups games started at 7:00 pm and factoring in the length of the game, the snack stop afterwards, a little bit of visiting with Grandma and Grandpa plus the drive back home, the kids wouldn’t be snuggled into their beds until well beyond 9 o’clock, long after their regular bedtime.
            Now, before I get pushing my humble opinion on you regarding children and sport I am going to tell you that I spent a great deal of my life involved in organized sports. I loved organized sports. I have played, officiated, coached, managed and organized many different minor and amateur sports of all different types at all kinds of levels both for me and my peers and for my children and their peers and I loved it and I’d do it all over again if I could.
I love to compete and when I was a youngster I was the poorest sport on the planet. I hated losing. Of course I was tied for that honour with a few million others and  I am still embarrassed by some of my antics on the playing field at that young age. That’s something I would go back and change, if I could. That said, I also had an awful lot of fun playing those games.
Now, back to the Grandchildren’s soccer…here’s the thing…there are enough children in both of our grandchildren’s age groups in Wolseley to form two teams in each age category. Why the road trips? Why not play each other at home for skill improvement for a few weeks and then take them on one or two Saturday road trips a season for a treat. Sound fair?
             I happened to read a statistic the other day that stated that 70% of children leave organized sports by the age of 13. Seventy per cent! By then they are “burnt out”, if you can imagine. Too many parents are living vicariously through their children setting unattainable goals for them and pushing, pushing, pushing. The kids only want to have fun but too many of the people in charge care only about the final score. In fact, when polled, a majority of children said they would rather play on a losing team and play more than sit on the bench of a winning team.
            If they only emphasize the games then where is the skill development? Take swimming for instance…you get instruction for twenty minutes during Swimming Lessons and then you really learn how to swim during the public swimming times where you practice what you’ve been taught. Ditto baseball, hockey, football, soccer...Learn the basics and then try, try and try again. What will you learn while you’re sitting on a blanket or a bench on the sidelines.
When was the last time anyone saw a pickup road hockey game going on? Or a football or soccer game in the big, new, beautiful field we have in the old little school yard? That’s where skill development is at its highest. Every activity is the same whether it’s sports or driving or dancing or reading and writing…learn the moves and then practice, practice, practice.  
            I am very pleased that our daughter and our son-in-law are giving their children the opportunity to enjoy sports and music and dance and experience how much fun there can be in so many of  life’s activities. I am also confident that they will know when too much is too much.
            The psychological and social benefits of sport are numerous and well known. Sports and recreation provide children with so many life skills including, but not limited to, greater confidence,  self-esteem and work ethic, stronger peer relationships, teamwork, greater family interactions, less troublemaking and the list goes on. And if they become a pro or an Olympian, or something, all the better, but no four-year-old is being scouted by the pros…as far as I know.
            Competition is valuable in life development, too, in so many ways but can’t we let kids be kids? They will have a whole lifetime past their teenage years of cutthroat competition in sports and in life in general. It will be upon them sooner than anyone can think so let’s just let them play, okay?

            “Sports do not build character. They reveal it.” John Wooden, (1910-2010), Legendary UCLA Basketball Coach.

NO MORE PLUMBING FOR YOU!

            The Victoria Day May Long Weekend is upon us once again officially kicking off summer. I don’t want to jinx it, but as of now the weather forecast isn’t calling for snow but, you know, it’s still a week away, as of this writing, and in Saskatchewan anything can happen. Weather wise that is.
            True to form, though, I had been putting off our bathroom renovation all winter long thinking that it would only take a couple of days to get it done and then the indoor projects would be caught up, for now, and then we could proceed to the outdoor stuff around May Long. HA! Even this old seasoned home improvement veteran should have known better. A couple of days? What was I thinking?   
            We were going to install a new tub surround, a few new mouldings, a new set of taps and antique the oak vanity and linen cabinets. It’s the smallest room in the house for crying out loud so how long can it take? Easy, peasy, eh? Apparently not!
However, we keep forgetting that there really isn’t an “Easy Button”, being slow learners and all, plus we just happen to be our own worst enemies. Our philosophy is-why pay someone to do this stuff when we are perfectly capable of doing it all ourselves?
Now, I do have to qualify a couple of details here, though. You see, to me, demolition is a piece of cake and I’m pretty handy with a saw and a hammer, I don’t really mind painting, I’m a whiz with a caulking gun and I’ll take on some light electrical stuff but when it comes to plumbing I’ve got two words…LINUS…HELP!
Remember that “slow learner” stuff from a few lines ago? I keep forgetting that I can’t do plumbing but I keep trying. That is until a few projects ago when I had to, once again, call on my ol’ buddy Linus Blackstock of LB Plumbing and Heating to rescue me from some dumbass project that I wrongly thought I could handle myself. I must tell you also that there is a bit of a history behind this sort of thing as I have had to call on him more than a few times for some evening and weekend emergencies until finally a while ago he stated to me, ala the “Soup Nazi” from Seinfeld…“No plumbing for you!” This time I called him in before the water even had a chance to spray anywhere. 
The other work wasn’t extremely hard or particularly physically taxing, or anything like that, but it was so damn tedious and time consuming. O-M-G, it dragged on forever.
We had Googled and Googled and You Tubed and You Tubed and read and read about the antiquing process and the different techniques people use…and then we threw all that information out the window and did whatever the heck we wanted to do. But it turned out great, too. It just took a little longer than a couple of days.
Generally I do the rough stuff and the carpentry…not the plumbing…and Deb’s the master artist with the paint brushes and the antiquing glaze. But because the cupboards were all natural oak we had to prime and top coat it a few times and then glaze over top so it seemed that we painted and painted and painted and painted and painted…okay, you get the picture.
It’s all history now. The job is complete and I’d like to thank Mother Nature for providing some cool, rainy weather to accompany our indoor project and now we’re eager to get outdoors and tend to the yard.
There’s lots of time for that, though. It is only the Victoria Day Long Weekend after all. We’ve got the whole summer to work on that kind of stuff. We’ve got to make time for golf, relaxation, food and refreshments and visiting with friends and family. That’s what this long weekend will be about. I think we’ve earned a couple of days off. What’s a couple of days?

“Happiness is a three-day weekend!” Charles M. Shulz (1922-2000).

MY RECOLLECTIONS OF FORT MAC

The last and only time I had the opportunity to visit Fort MacMurray was in the summer of 1969. My then brother-in-law was working as an electrician for Suncor and Dad, Mom and their three youngest children made the long nasty trek for a week-long visit with my sister and her husband. At that time the community was relatively small and isolated and it was just about to explode with development.
            That was nearly fifty years ago so things have changed dramatically in the Fort MacMurray region since then. I don’t remember too many exact details but I do remember that the road to Fort MacMurray wasn't even paved and one had to have a most reliable vehicle with extra gas on hand as the road was rough and there was only one gas bowser between the last town and Fort MacMurray.
            I remember the beauty of the area with the Athabasca River flowing through the town and the Boreal forest surrounding it. There wasn’t even a cement swimming pool in the community as the natural waterways along the town site provided plenty of aquatic opportunities with a massive swimming hole being the centre of the summer recreation facilities. Many of the residential areas had yet to receive paved streets or curbs and gutters. That was to come.
            The population had gone from 926 residents in 1951 to 6847 in 1971 to 31,000 by 1981 reaching 62,000 by 2011. Oil exploration in the area had started early in the 20th Century and by 1921 there was serious interest in developing a process to remove the oil from the oil sands. The first extraction processes were very slow but by the start of World War II the output had grown to 1100 barrels of oil per day. In 1967, the Great Canadian Oil Sands (now Suncor) plant opened which really kicked off Fort MacMurray’s growth. There were only 2000 residents in 1967 and the population more than tripled before the end of the 1960’s decade.
            On May 1st, only a week ago as of this writing, a wildfire started southwest of Fort MacMurray and within a few days 88,000 people had been evacuated and 1600 homes and buildings had been destroyed.                 The devastation was so rapid and fierce many residents escaped with only the clothes on their backs. Considering the massive size of the evacuation and the apocalyptic conditions that residents had to escape through, there were very few casualties.
On the other hand, the worst disasters seem to bring out the best in humans. As of Friday May 6th the Red Cross had collected over 30 million dollars in donations for the relief effort. Clothing, water, food, medications, bedding and many, many other items have been donated as well. The collection center in Edmonton was so overwhelmed with donations that they had to source more storage. If you’d like to donate go to redcross.ca.
There are heartwarming stories and heartbreaking stories. There are stories of survival, sacrifice and inspiration. I viewed an aerial video of the devastation which shows some residential areas completely wiped out while others remained untouched reminding us all how fickle natural disasters can be and leaving many evacuees to ask, “why me” or “why not me” in some cases.
There are some iconic photos from the area already like the woman riding her horse while leading two of her other horses to safety down a major City Street through the smoke and sparks. There are hundreds of pictures from cars driving through the only escape route through thick smoke with the flames from the fire seemingly about to melt the sides of the vehicles as they drove down Hwy #63 scared that they might not get through. Words like surreal, incredible, horrible, frightening, awestruck and sickening were heard from evacuees once they reached safety.         
Once again humanity is humbled by nature. The devastation will be felt for decades. It is a terrible reminder that life can turn on a dime and with very little warning lives are permanently changed. It is also another reminder to appreciate every single day because one never knows when one’s life can be turned upside down in a matter of minutes.

   “While natural disasters capture headlines and national attention short-term, the work of recovery and rebuilding is long-term”.-Sylvia Matthews Burwell. (1965-).

REMEMBERING MOM

The other day I was in the grocery store and someone asked me to grab something off of the top shelf for them. “Sure, no problem”, I said. At 6 foot 3 inches, with longer than normal arms, the requests for my extensive reach are quite common.
The follow-up catch-phrases from the vertically challenged people that I help are usually quite common as well- “Must be nice being so tall”,   “Aren’t you lucky you don’t need a ladder”, “How’s the air up there anyway?”, you know, that kind of thing. I’ve been this tall for forty-plus years so I’m quite used to it.
I normally just smile, nod and agree that it is nice to be tall despite the fact that it’s hard to find a bathtub, bed or a couch that fits my top-shelf reaching body and there are so many scars in my scalp from bumping my head on all manner of things and I have more scars on my knees and shins from trying to get into the car after “somebody” didn’t move the seat BACK. Yes, there are advantages to being really tall but there, as usual, are disadvantages, too.
However, my number one retort to the fact that my body is what it is…is that I never pre-ordered it. It wasn’t like there was a form to fill out or anything. Here’s how it went: I was conceived, I was born, I grew, then I grew some more and then I really started to grow. In the end, it’s all in the genes, you know? Don’t get me wrong, I very much appreciate my height but I really didn’t have much of a say in the matter, either.
You might say that’s the way it is with parents, too. Once they’re expecting there’s no turning back. They get what they get. My parents got me. And eight others, too, I guess I should mention. I think every sibling has their own special connection with their parents but the Mothers have that extra special something, it seems.
I talk to my three kids a fair amount on the phone but their Mom’s got me beat 5-to-1…at least. I sure miss those Sunday phone calls with my Mom.
My Mom gave birth to me when she was thirty-five years old and she passed away at nearly ninety-two. I consider myself so very fortunate to have been able to share so many years together.
Some of my favourite memories of my Mom are from the Saturday afternoons of my youth. Mom was always in her house dress with an apron on and either cooking or cleaning up from cooking, or so it seemed. The well-lit kitchen was the focal point of the house. The smell of her famous cinnamon buns mixed in with the coffee aroma wafting from the Corningware coffee perk that was perpetually simmering on the stove. It just smelled like home. Like Mom’s house.
Another memory I have of Mom is seeing her sitting in her favourite chair in the living room, when she finally got a chance to sit down, with a sock over her hand and a darning needle pressed in her lips watching one of her favourite shows on TV. Even sitting down she was busy!
This weekend I will be celebrating Mother’s Day with my children’s Mom and the Mom’s of our grandkids, as both of our Mothers have passed, but the circle of life continues and traditions are now being passed on to another generation. The coffee pot will be on, and, Lord willing, there will be cinnamon buns.

“Happy Mother’s Day to all moms, grannies, great grannies, step moms, foster moms and those who lost their Mom. Moms are priceless.”-Author Unknown.

STILL WITH THE 11 PHENOMENON

            I was flipping through some articles recently when some numbers and statistics caught my eye. I am constantly amazed by the synchronicity of numbers and their relationship to other numbers and to human lives as well.
            It is not difficult to become immersed in stats and numbers, for me anyway, but perhaps it has become more so since I have been experiencing the 11 Phenomenon over the last couple of years, or more. Naysayers are telling me that I’m looking for the number everywhere while others are telling me that they too are finding 11’s all over the place.
            I will not go into a lot of detail on the 11 Phenomenon but, believe it or not, the number 11 has significant meaning to me other than seeing it on the digital readouts on clocks more regularly than is mathematically feasible. I see the number 11, or quite often multiples of it like 22 or 33 on till receipts, license plates, odometers, digital signs and the list goes on and on. If you would like more details you can Google or Wikipedia it, but, trust me, it is real and it has been happening to me for so long that I don’t look for it at all…it just appears. I wrote about this in the 211th Humble Opinion editorial in March of 2014.
Now, I am going to pass on some more number facts in the hope that you, Dear Reader, will find them as interesting as I do. Here goes:
The numerical digits we use today such as 1, 2 and 3 are based on the Hindu-Arabic numeral system developed over 1000 years ago.
            11111111 x 111111111 = 12345678987654321
            It is believed that William Shakespeare was 46 around the time that the King James Version of the Bible was written. In Psalms 46, the 46th word from the first word is shake and the 46th word from the last word is spear. Hmmmm.
            In a room of just 23 people there is a 50% chance that two people have the same birthday.
            Zero is the only number that can’t be represented in Roman numerals.
            The most popular favourite number is 7. Nearly 3000 people, around 10% of the total asked, chose 7 as their favourite number in an online poll by Alex Bellos. The second most popular was 3.
            Seven also shows up a lot in human culture. We have seven deadly sins, seven wonders of the world as well as colours of the rainbow, pillars of wisdom, seas, dwarves, days in the week…It is speculated that this might be because when these things came about there were celestial bodies visible in the sky: the Sun, the Moon, Venus, Mercury, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.
What comes after a million, billion and trillion? A quadrillion, quintillion, sextillion, septillion, octillion, nonillion, decillion and undecillion.
Speaking of numbers, in 2016 there are a number of milestone events within our large extended family. There are a few 40th birthdays, a 45th birthday, a few 60th, a 35th and a 40th wedding anniversary, an 80th birthday and those are just a few off the top of my head. There might be more if I was to take the record books out for a closer look. It’s a banner year and it looks like we are going to have a fair number of events to attend.

“Without mathematics, there's nothing you can do. Everything around you is mathematics. Everything around you is numbers.”- Shakuntala Devi (1929-2013).

Howdy folks. I am in the process of upgrading my blog page so you may have to look around a bit to find what you're looking for. At the ...