Friday, December 31, 2010

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Experience with Inuit Soapstone Carvings

        One of the more interesting experiences that I bumbled into in my life was to be in a position to buy soapstone carvings from Inuit carvers. As I've said before I spent five years in the Arctic. It was an experience that was a major influence in my life .

       In one remote settlement I was teacher, school principal and local administrator for the Canadian government. One of the jobs as administrator was to buy soapstone carvings from Inuit carvers. A program had been established before I arrived and I just carried on. I had a single signature bank account from the government which allowed me $1000.00 per month to buy carvings. Single signature because there was nobody else to sign besides my wife.

      Each week day I had an hour after school where locals could come to see me about Govt. business. Each day people would bring carvings. Now I had a crash course from the previous administrator on how to "evaluate" carvings. I looked at such basic things as size, finish, detail, shape and artistic expression. I was quite the judge! In the late 1960's most carvings were in the $12.00 to 16.00 range. Little seals and birds which were numerous and were about two bucks.  So you see the producer of the carving received very little as you are familiar with retail prices in stores.

      Some carvers had some artistic talent as they could look at a piece of stone and see something in the stone. Others tried to create something that was representative of some aspect of their cultural background. But many carvers just worked hard to produce something which they could sell to get some cash. When I arrived there was a pile of stone in front of each house. This stone had been brought in by ship and had come from a nickel mine at Sudbury Ontario. There was local stone but it was of rougher quality. It was harder and not easy to work with. I had one stone mining project while I was there where men went out for a week and by hand mined local soapstone. Tough work!

      So most of the project was basically a handcraft production. It was meant to give the people some opportunity to earn some money. As I said before some of these people had artistic talent.
     Much of what I learned was taught to me by the carvers. They were somewhat competitive. They didn't like to see someone play tricks on me. To polish the stone and make it shiny some people rubbed it with lard. I was told how to watch for this. You could smell it. Others polished with silver paper that was in cigarette packages at the time. They were quite interested to watch as I bought the carvings as I think they maybe had side bets with each other as to how much would be paid for each carving. Keep in mind these people did not speak English. I had an interpreter too help me.

     At the end of the year I had a small warehouse of carvings which I had to wrap and box up to be ready to load on the ship and send to Ottawa.

     I got to know each carver very well and appreciated the effort they had to expend to make a carving. I once tried to carve a little seal, but I gave up. So you can see that with the intensity of this experience I was deeply influenced in several ways.

    I did not buy very many carvings for myself. I have regretted not buying more. I  did buy carvings to give to my family for Christmas. I'm always surprised when I visit relatives and see a carving I sent them . It's like meeting an old friend after a long absence. When my step Mom and Dad died they gave me back the carving I gave them. I was really pleased to get the carving back.

      This carving was done by Ningiuk. He was a hard worker and wanted to support his family. However , all his carvings were mostly the same.

     Masiu  carved this piece. He was more artistic and had great skill. However , he didn't produce many pieces. He was an excellent hunter so spent much of his time hunting seals. His wife helped him in the finishing of a carving.

     This carving was different than many pieces produced and showed great skill in using the piece of stone.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

All Old Guys Should Cross Country Ski

       Okay, here we go again! Another old guys should post. Yes, all old guys and girls should cross country ski if they have an interest and are able.
      Now just how old?" you ask. I have seen ninety year olds skiing up high in the Kananaskis. So they were able to ski up and also get down. These people were amazing. They just kept going. They had their hearing aids turned off so you couldn't talk to them.

      I started cross country skiing in 1970. Some years I've skied a lot and others very little. It depends on the snow cover we have. Some years we just don't get enough snow. I ski on groomed trails. In Red Deer we have two areas with groomed trails which gives us quite a few kms of trails. There are some interesting hills as both areas have some river escarpement.

    Tours with a group are very pleasant. We usually go to a mountain area and again ski groomed trails where terrain can be challenging. Going up takes great effort and coming down requires great skill as you are on a narrow trail between trees. You don't won't to wipe out.  Sometimes you are above the tree line so just deep snow to land in if you loose control. We can rent accommodations at a reasonable price in the middle of the week. One lodge is for handicapped people. Seniors are second in line if the handicapped groups are not booked.So great times on the trails and great evenings.

     Sometimes I just go out to the park behind my house and make my own trail. This way I can get ready and be on the trail in minutes. I can choose to go out when I have a few spare minutes. I can also go out in the evening. Don't worry about cold as your body produces lots of heat if you are able to put in the effort. After five minutes I never wear gloves as my hands are warmed up and stay warm.

     So I highly recommend cross country skiing as it gives a great work out and is pleasant on your own or in a group. You can ski until you're quite old if you keep your skills up and work on conditioning.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

My Enjoyable Laidback Christmas Day

         My Christmas day was very low key but pleasant and enjoyable. In a previous post I briefly described the changes my Christmas day celebrations had gone through. My 71st Christmas is a continuation of the changes. Slow and steady change. No hard and fast lifetime traditions for this boy.

       This year there was only Home Farm Girl and I here for Christmas. Our day was fairly close to a normal daily routine. The old guy got up promptly at 7:00AM and made breakfast. By the time Home Farm Girl made it out for breakfast I was close to finished the crossword puzzle. When Home Farm Girl appeared we wished each other Merry Christmas. A highlight was when our daughter and partner phoned from Chicago to wish us a Merry Christmas. A two hour pleasant chat took place and only ended when they had to get their act together to be ready for the arrival of their only guest ...the mother in law.Usual morning chores were done.

      After lunch dishes were done we decided that gifts should be opened before we forget. Now I have to warn you, Home Farm Girl has been streamlining gift giving and wrapping for quite some time. She got tired of wrapping gifts and more tired of supervising me wrapping gifts so she began wrapping boxes which were stored away to be used again next year. Take a gift and drop it in the box...done! Open a gift?...Open the box. No wrapping paper all over the place. Now gifts for some time have been another development. Home Farm Girl squirrels away things that we buy on a normal basis. Of course , I'm easily fooled and forget what we bought. So what I find in the boxes are socks, slippers, shirts and what ever else that was bought throughout the year. Big surprise for me and low stress all around.

      So after this mini gift opening preparation for the Christmas dinner begins. Our dinners have been cut down for years. No more aspic, five cup salad Christmas pudding, fruit cake and shortbread. We're  down to the basics. This year we decided to have duck with orange sauce. It was super. The pecan pie from the store finished things off nicely
     So we celebrated with a minimum of stress and enjoyed life.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Winter Solstice: Good times are ahead

       People look forward to the winter solstice. People count the days until winter solstice occurs because it means that things will turn around...the sun will shine for longer each day.

      For thousands of years man has observed the winter solstice. They may not have been too exact as the the correct date and various societies may not have agreed when the solstice exactly occurred. The solstice meant new life or rebirth. In many places it also meant the start of the really severe winter weather. 

     We have identified a serious problem that some people experience when the days grow shorter. It's called seasonal affective disorder or SAD. Some people respond to treatment with light. Others require drug therapy, but many just tough it out and feel miserable. Once the solstice occurs they gradually feel better.

     Since I was raised on the bald prairie I saw sunsets and sunrises as the sun appearing or disappearing above or below the horizon. I was keenly aware  of the amount of daylight we received. People in the past were agriculturists or hunter gatherers and lived much of their time outdoors. They observed the changes and organized their activities according to the amount of daylight received.

    I spent a total of five years in the Arctic. At this time of year the sun did not rise above the horizon. We had beautiful twilight for two to four hours a day. On the Mackenzie Delta the sun did not rise from about Dec. 3 to Jan. 8. We always celebrated in some way when the sun came back up over the horizon. The Inuit and aboriginals usually had customs which involved visiting and feasting during the dark time. It was difficult to travel with limited light and trapping was a challenge because the animals were less active.

     So today I feel that it is a milestone. I can look forward to nicer times as there will be longer daylight and some warmer times. I just feel more cheerful. I hope you feel cheerful and happy as well.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Blue Christmas: Not all Christmas celebration is bright and happy

       For some people the Christmas season can bring sadness and in some cases great sadness. This phenomenon has always been recognized. Recently more is being done to recognize the situation and  deal with it in a formal public way.

      For some people this time of year brings stress and with that stress a degree of sadness. There is a tremendous hype related to Christmas. We have various gatherings to celebrate and enjoy the season. Some people may have difficulties financially because of obligations they feel they have to make. With all the celebrating going on it is more difficult to cope when one is really sad.

     Some people have lost a very significant person in their life and when the Christmas season arrives they are brutally reminded of their loss. In my previous post I told how Mike had dropped in and we talked about his wife and what they would be doing if she was still here. Mike is missing Eileen terribly at this time of year. This is the second Christmas for another friend whose husband died in July of 2009. Christmas is a sad time as she is reminded again of her loss.

     Some churches now have a Blue Christmas service for those who celebrate in a religious way. It helps when people with common situations can come together and formally observe their loss. The rest of us have to be mindful of those who have experienced losses recently and speak about the person who has died.

    Other people are advised to try to think not so much of themselves but concentrate on other activities. This is extremely difficult to do but it will work as if one takes the self out of the situation they may be able to concentrate on the joy involved in the season.

    One of my fellow bloggers has shared the story that they do not celebrate Christmas. The lack of celebration allows one member of the family to cope and not suffer severe depression. They are much happier because of the change.

    The song " I'm having a blue Christmas without You" certainly expresses the feeling that people can be sad at this time of year. I like Elvis's version best. I can't find when the song was originally written, but many people have recorded a version.

     I have never recognized a blue Christmas in myself, but I think some seasons have been less happier than others.

    So to those who are down at this time of year, there are people who are aware of your pain and wish that things could be better. Let me know if you have had a blue Christmas and what can be done to help a person during this season.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Food

        Last evening my friend Mike dropped in for a visit. Mike lost his wife in May and we got talking about the food they prepared for Christmas. He mentioned how they worked together to make lifte. I had never heard of lifte and was too embarrassed to ask him what it was. I went to wikipedia this morning to check. So lifte is a Norwegian flat bread. There are several different recipes for it and it is made by several ethnic groups. The preparation and baking of this food is some what involved. Eileen prepared the batter and did the rolling and Mike did the cooking. A special flat type of skillet is used for the cooking. In the old days of wood cook stoves the batter was cooked directly on the stove surface. I have never eaten lifte, but now I'm looking forward to trying some.

      When I went to highschool 75% of my classmates were Mennonite. Mennonites make something which is special called pfeffernusse which were roughly called pepper nuts in English. . It's a small ball shaped cookie which has ginger, cinnamon, cardamon and pepper.  All the kids would bring pepper nuts to school and trade them. Each of their mothers had a little different recipe so that was the reason for exchanging. They were very kind and supplied me with these treats. I've never forgotten how they shared this special Christmas treat with me.

     One seventh grade boy I taught raved about "holy bolley" . I'm not sure how it's spelled and he didn't know either. I also tried to search on the net for this so obviously my spelling isn't even close. He described the goody which he made with his grandpa. I'm sure that for this boy the enjoyment was from working with grandpa to make the special Christmas goody that they shared with family and friends. 

     A grade seven girl I taught was a very able baker. At Christmas time she would have a little bag of baked goods that she would give to each of her teachers. I will never forget the look in her eyes as she would give these bags of Christmas baking to her teachers. She truly experienced the wonderful feeling of giving. For the next two years I was remembered at Christmas with wonderful treats this girl baked and gave to us.

     Now I know that there must be thousands of Christmas cook books. Ethnic communities that celebrate Christmas have their special recipes. Any Granny who celebrates Christmas probably has a thousand good recipes in her head. One of the ways we celebrate Christmas is through food we share with one another.

    Now if my daughter was in on this topic she would go into great historical detail as to the origins of each food and the symbolic meaning. There's so much more than just the eating of good food.

    I hope you are able to enjoy the good Christmas food and also partake in the meaning of sharing these seasonal  foods.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

My Changing Christmas Celebrations

        I have more or less celebrated 70 Christmas's! The 71st is coming right up.

        When I say Christmas celebration I mean the activities which take place on the 25th.

        Let's back way up to before my first Christmas. My mother lived in her parents home until she married my Dad. She was used to her mother's English influenced Christmas day activities. My Dad had wandered during the depression and probably spent the day in a variety of ways. Christmas day seemed to have not been a big issue with Dad except for the Christmas goose. I'm quite sure that my mother went back the 800km to her mother's for the first few Christmas's. Fortunately my Mom's cousin lived on the neighboring farm and a tradition grew where they alternated hosting the Christmas day activities.

       To be honest I don't remember Christmas until I would have been about five. Santa Claus was a big issue and opening presents Christmas morning was an exciting event. We received gifts from our maternal grandparents and aunts and uncles. Many times we received used items but we were still very excited about the gifts we received. I remember getting a pocket watch. Grandpa had attached some kind of leather strap and the watch was kept in  my pocket. The watch didn't work but I could turn the hands. I was very proud of this watch.

     When we spent the day with cousin's we had the feast at noon. This fitted farmers who travelled with horses and sleigh. We had a tremendous meal. Turkey, ham, potatoes, gravy , vegetables, stuffing, mince pie, and Christmas pudding. The afternoon was spent playing games or if the weather was nice we played outside in the snow. For the evening meal we had cold cuts from the left over of the noon meal. We continued fun stuff during the evening. About midnight another hearty lunch was had. There were lots of Christmas baking items to sample. It was really a day of great eats.

    My paternal grandparents lived in the local village. Their house did not have electricity , water or sewage. We would take a gift into them a week or two before Christmas. Mom had usually knitted a pair of mitts or socks for Grandpa. As soon as we gave the gift to Grandpa he would open it. He was pleased to receive something and thanked us. As little kids we were horrified that he didn't wait to open his gift until Christmas.

     Once I finished high school and left home I came back home for Christmas, but tended to spend much of the day with some of my buddies. I then went to the Arctic and this was the first Christmas I spent away from home. Fortunately I was with a number of other single people and we made a very nice Christmas dinner for ourselves. The Christmas morning I spent going around and visiting couples who had children.

     Then I married. The first couple of Christmas's we went to my parents . The menu was still the same but without the cousins. Now there were my brother's and there little children.

     When my children were born we lived 700km away from my parents. We went there for Christmas twice,. My Mother died and after that we spent Christmas on our own. My wife's English influence took over so the menu changed a bit but was still top notch.

     My children were the excited little beaners who loved early morning gift opening. My children became teenagers and spent most of the day with friends . The day consisted of many visits with the kids and their friends.

     Both my kids left home. My son spent a couple of Christmas 's with us and then made his Christmas on his own. My daughter spent most Christmas's with us and we also at her place. Now my daughter is 2000km away. She's invited us for Christmas but we decided not to go. We will celebrate alone but it's not our first Christmas by ourselves. In the Arctic we spent Christmas alone and thoroughly enjoyed the season and day.

    I think if my grandchildren came with gifts today I might be tempted to open them on the spot. I guess things have come full circle.

    So my 71 Christmas's have been all treasured. They have changed gradually because of my change in life. They have also changed because we as a society have changed.

    I also realize that there are many ways that families celebrate the day. The celebration is influenced by our family and the origin of that family.

     What are your traditions of celebration? I hope all your Christmas days have been happy.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Really Cool Volunteer Position

       Last night I volunteered at the Red  Deer College Arts Center for front of house duties. A blogger commented that this sounded like a cool volunteer position as I had described a concert held there last night. I began thinking about this and yes it's a great fun position.

      The Red Deer College Arts Center was built about twenty years ago to function as a teaching facility for the Red Deer College theatre program and as a community theatre. It was a state of the art design and had all the bells and whistles. A very large entry was constructed and this was well appointed with a variety of excellent art. This entry also had room for the coat check and food and beverage service. In the house there are almost 550 seats. The front rows of seats can be removed so that it leaves room for an orchestra and orchrestra pit.  The stage is well equipped so that it can be adapted for many types of presentations. There is a tower over part of the stage so that various parts of sets can be dropped into place and then pulled up for storage. Behind the stage is a costume producing room with the necessary sewing equipment.

     About half of the productions are done by college classes both musical and theatre. Out of town performers can book the theatre. The local symphony plays all their performances in the arts center.

    So I am able to volunteer in a superb facility with pretty interesting performances. You'll never be bored as there is such a wide variety of shows you can watch . We don't see all performances, but you certainly see enough to be well satisfied. This position is a great balance for some of the heavier volunteer Since our community is about 100 000, there are a percentage of patrons that I know so it is an excellent time to meet and greet neighbors  and acquaintances.

    Front of house jobs are usher, ticket taker, program "hander outer", coat check and bar and food service. We are rotated so that we do a variety of jobs.

     When I stop and think about it, it really is a cool place to volunteer

Friday, December 10, 2010

Today's School Christmas Concert

        Last evening I was occupied by one of my volunteer activities...front of house duty for the local Arts Center. Being December many school Christmas concerts are held in this fine facility. So I thought back to my previous post of the Christmas concerts put on in days gone by.

        Last night one of the local high schools put on their concert.The concert was made up of a offering of their choral groups and various bands.

         First, they had the choral group and jazz choir perform.

         Next, the grade nine band and jazz band strutted their stuff.

      After the intermission the heavies took the stage...the symphonic winds band. A dance group performed one number with the band. For a finale the band and choral groups performed together. The house was packed with admiring parents and excited students were pacing around the building. Both groups had a right to be excited and proud. It even infected me!

       These kids put on a fine performance of seasonal  and non seasonal music. The students have been in a band program for three years before they hit high school so they have experience to work with. The musicianship is of high quality. Music teachers are much more highly qualified as they are very active in professional development. A very active parents group assists the music program.

     Of course along with the hype there were all kinds of draws made after people laid down their cash for "winning tickets."

      So hats off to all the enthusiastic young performers, teachers and parents. You are doing a fine job.


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Old Time Christmas Concerts in One Room Country Schools

        Yes, I am old enough to have been in a Christmas concert in a one room country school. In fact, I performed in eight Christmas concerts.

       One of my fellow bloggers has touched on these concerts. I like reading local histories. The local history from my area is full of comments about school Christmas concerts. People have many reasons for looking back at these performances with nostalgia. For many kids the evening was extremely exciting. Others took great pleasure in their performances. Others liked the activity of preparing for the concert. Some teachers were masters in producing an excellent concert and getting amazing performances from young kids. Many teachable moments occurred during the preparation for these concerts.  Kids learned music, set design, dance, acting and a ton of self discipline. Kids gained confidence from performing in front of an audience. Kids received positive feedback. As a result of the good old school concert much learning and growth took place. The teacher probably aged prematurely.

       My memories of school Christmas concerts is pretty sparse. I remember being in a small "drill " with my brother when we were in grade one and two. We were in elf costumes that were made from construction paper. Brown paper shoes and green hats. When our spot was on the concert we went out and the music played. During the performance one of us stepped on a thumb tack. We stopped. One little fellow raised his foot and the other took out the tack and then we continued. The piano player had to adjust and play a few more bars for us to complete our routine. Our parents to their deaths always remembered and laughed about our performance. Parents were always excited and proud of their childrens' performance.

     Other things I remember is that regular classes ceased during the three or four weeks of preparation. Sometimes it was boring as the teacher worked with other kids practising their parts. Sometimes I got into trouble while having nothing to keep me occupied.

    Now I was also old enough to teach in a one room country school. I went out to teach in an isolated school before I had my nineteenth birthday. There were ten students in this school. I knew that parents expected the teacher to put on a Christmas concert. I was petrified as had not a clue what to do and had little talent in music and performance. The school board was wise and extremely thoughtful. They came to me well before concert time and said let's not have a concert. We would rather have the kids stick to the curriculum. Whew!!! They decided to have a little celebration the last afternoon of school. They brought lots of goodies and made a big boiler of coffee. All parents and preschool children attended as well as some people in the district who did not have children in the school. The kids exchanged gifts and were given gifts from the school board. Everybody had a great time and went home happy. It would have been very difficult to put on a concert as out of the ten kids three of them were grade one. The teacher in Louisville school in 1958-59(me) learned more than any student that year. These people also gave me so much support that I decided to return to university and get a teaching degree.

     So my Christmas concert experience was from two points of view.  I know that I enjoyed both sides of the fence and learned from my experience. I also have some very pleasant memories to look back on.

     Please feel free to tell me about your Christmas concert experiences. I'd love to hear about them.

Monday, December 6, 2010

I Hear Christmas Music

       Yesterday it hit me that some Christmas music was being played. I was listening to Vinyl Cafe on CBC when Stuart McLean came on and talked about the Huron Carol which is a favorite of his and one he always plays  on his show. He also played Jingle Bell Rock and then it hit me Christmas Music!!!!

     I never listen to commercial radio so Christmas music is not in my face. I had been the grocery store  a few days ago and there was seasonal music playing. Christmas music was also playing at a volunteer party I attended.

     I listen to CKUA which is a listener sponsored commercials. They specialize in playing a wide variety of music and have information to go along with it. Tonight I was listening to "Roy's Record Room" This guy plays music from 78's and gives very interesting background on the music and performers. Tonight he gave great detail about the well known "Baby It's Cold Outside." Many performers have recorded this tune. It was first written as a party tune for one party. Others picked it up and sang it. Tonight Roy played two versions buy Homer and Jethro with June Carter...was very enjoyable.

     I enjoy Christmas music as well as many other types of music. I have Christmas tapes but guess what? I don't have a tape deck in the house that works any more. I also have LPs and the same working turntable. I'm pretty sure Santa is bringing me an ipod so I'll look for Christmas music.

    I can't really say that I have one favorite piece of Christmas music as I like such a wide variety. I hope that you will take pleasure in listening to what ever Christmas music that you like. Let me know what you like listening to. I could stand learning about some music I've not heard before. And by the way check out CKUA . It's on the net

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Surprise on me:Christmas is Coming!

        Last week I noticed that two blogs I follow had a Christmas topic. One a reminisce about childhood Christmas expectations and activities and a second describing a painting done of the Mother and Christ child. I'm sure that if I looked for blogs about Christmas I would find lots. So, not too worry I don't get excited about Christmas. Home Farm Girl agrees with that assessment.

        Last night I attended a small appreciation party for volunteers at a facility I volunteer for. The evening was great as volunteers got together for good food, visiting and outdoor fun. The volunteers are mostly seniors but they do make an effort to include handicapped people as well.

     The day before Home Farm Girl had dragged me to a free lunch at one of the malls. Free lunches and crowds are not my favorite, but since Home Farm Girl doesn't drive I had to attend.

     Then I started to think that a number of Christmas activities have sneaked up on me and I was not really aware of what was happening. I guess I was having so much fun I did not really think that December was upon us and Christmas activities were taking place whether I was in gear or not.

     Then I remembered that about Nov. 10 I put up my Christmas lights so that I wouldn't have to suffer in the cold. This too was at the urgent prodding of Home Farm Girl. Today I looked out to see my neighbor putting up his lights and it's minus 15 C(+2F). This afternoon all I had to do was set the timer and turn my lights on.

    Oh yes! I wrote a Christmas letter a couple of weeks ago so that Home Farm Girl could include it with her Christmas cards. I do all my greetings on email.

     So surprise on me. Christmas activities have been happening and I didn't know about it or(think about it.)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

December Days

A cold clear December voice
Calls for deep slumber

                                    Gloomy December
                   Invites us darkly to
                   Winter Solstice.

                                December beckons to
                                Final end of blackness
                                To start new light.


Wednesday, December 1, 2010



                           to all who celebrate this season.

From Hiawatha House

Monday, November 29, 2010

Snow Houses:Igloos

      Since I'm on the "cold" topic I might as well make it three in a row: Polar Bears and Cold Snap and Snow Houses. Since I have been thinking about my polar bear experience it brought back watching the Inuit build snow houses.

      As I said in my last post I spent two years in a remote arctic community. The community had only been established as a settlement for Inuit six years before I arrived in the late sixties. Inuit had lived and hunted in this area for thousands of years. An air radio station had been established in the late 1920's when cross ocean flying first began. Flights from North America went to Wakeham Bay and then across Hudson Strait to Frobisher Bay, across to Greenland , over to Iceland and I'm not sure where after that.They had to use this route so that they could refuel.
     But I got off the topic. When I arrived in this community the people were still actively hunting. One dog team was still in use but all the others had begun using skidoos. These people still were using and familiar with traditional hunting patterns. When they went out on the ice for several days they used snow houses rather than tents. Snow houses were warmer than tents and you didn't have to carry a tent.

     The first time I saw a snow house built was an unforgettable experience. I was not prepared for what I saw. First, the main tool was an ordinary hand wood saw. A large knife (machete) was used in the trimming of the blocks. They first look around for the right amount of snow which has the proper consistency. The snow has to be fairly hard. Then they start cutting blocks out of the snow with the saw. After half a dozen blocks or so they begin setting them up. The bottom of the block is slightly beveled so that it tilts inward. They continue this pattern in a spiral . When the second course is laid they make sure that the blocks overlap the bottom joints and again the blocks are slightly bevelled. The layers continue until one piece of snow can be cut to fill in the last hole in the top. All this is done from inside so you see the blocks of snow do not get that high. Any spaces between the blocks are filled with little chunks of snow. They cut the door out from inside. The test for success of your house is to be able to stand on it! My fellow teacher tried his hand at building snow houses and was very successful.

      Again I have pictures which are still slides and not changed to digital. I have a project ahead of me.

      These houses are surprisingly comfortable. You have to be careful not to warm them up too much or the inside walls ice up and then they are not comfortable. I once had a soapstone mining project where they went out for a week to mine soap stone . At the end of the week the inside of the snow houses were iced up. They used Colemann stoves which would throw off too much heat.

     These were wonderful houses and I'm glad I got to see them even though I didn't spend a night in one.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Early Winter Cold Snap

        I recently posted on Nov. 15 about winter hitting Red Deer with a good dump of snow. In fact it snowed for six days. We accumulated about 10cm of snow which isn't that much.

       When the snow stopped a mass of arctic cold air slipped into our area. The cold was unpleasant but not unbearable. Up until the 15th we had daytime highs above zero and not very cold over night. I had ridden bike a few times in November and could have ridden more times if I wasn't busy.

      It really hit me how cold it was when the paper reported that we had broken an old low temperature record. On Nov. 23  we had a low of minus 36 which was two degrees colder than our previous record low. So after I read this I realized why it had been so uncomfortable.

    On Nov. 25 a chinook blew in and we suddenly warmed up and had a high above freezing again. So we have to get used to the temperature extremes and live with them.

    Hiawatha House did not expect to post about weather again in Nov. but since it was out of the ordinary a post was made.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Monday, November 22, 2010

There Once Was Polar Bear in my House

       Yes, that's right I had a real live polar bear in my house. Not only one polar bear but two at the same time. Me, being such a brave person, stayed in my house until they both left.

       Now I have to start at the beginning of this story to explain how this really happened. In the mid 60's I was a teacher, principal and administrator in a remote arctic community. The school had only been opened for five years. The inuit were still very independent and good hunters. The area was also a productive game area with lots of seals, fish, birds and caribou. These were wonderful proud people. They supported me and looked after my welfare.  For some reason I learned to depend on them and fully trust them as they were the masters in this land.

     One winter a few hunters were out on the sea ice hunting for seals. As happens on occasion they found a polar bear and killed it. Once they got to the bear they realized it had cubs. They searched and were able to find the den and the two young cubs. They were sharp enough to realize that they could probably get some money if they brought the cubs in. They immediately brought the cubs to my house and half expected I would give them money on the spot as I was the federal administrator. The little bears were active and not in a very good humor. They were probably very hungry and looking for their mother. We could hold them and pet them but you had to watch as they would nip you. We were not about to take a chance to become polar bear food. My house not only had the two polar bears but many of the people from the community as they all wanted to see the bears.

     The issue was quickly taken out of my hands as game was under provincial jurisdiction. So they went off to the provincial office and administrator. The Quebec Provincial Police were radioed and instructions were given to keep the little bears and they would fly in the next morning to pick them up.

     It was one of the more exciting evening during my two year stay. These hunters came in many hours after dark and were cold and excited. Usually the female bears with cubs were not out on the ice. I don't they they captured cubs very often so they were excited. I was excited as I knew this was a once in a lifetime experience. I have pictures of this event but they are on slides and I have not changed my 35 mm pictures to digital. Now maybe I will have to get serious about changing them as I have many slides of my Arctic adventures,

     I don't remember if the inuit got any cash for these little cubs. I know that one of them went to the Calgary zoo and lived a long life there and was a very popular animal. I do not know what happened to the other animal.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Are We Becoming Too Self-centered?

        Okay, self-centered is a very broad topic. However, some of the behaviour I have been watching lately has got me thinking about being self-centered and maybe it has something to do with the poor conduct we see around us.

      The behaviour which has tipped me over the edge recently is the performance of our members of Parliament. Parliament is supposed to be a forum where issues are debated and decisions made for the good of the people in the country. Lately very little if any debate has been taking place. Clever debate is fascinating to watch. Lately the extreme partisanship which has been taking place is disgusting. The Conservative party plays fast and loose with the truth. Shelly Glover accused Michael Iggnatief of planning to sell pot to children because he has been considering decriminalizing marijuana. To stretch things this far is the lowest deceit possible. John Baird stood up in the house and stated that 10 000 jobs would have been lost in Canada if the United Arab Emirates had been allowed more landing rights in Canada. Baird had not one shred of evidence to make this claim. Why is such behaviour happening? They want to maintain power. They are too self-centered to look at what is good for the country.

     If we watch some people drive we have to say, "Where are they coming from?" Cutting in and out of lanes when it is not safe to do so, speeding, tail gating, throwing garbage on the road...all of these things show a total lack of consideration for other drivers and the environment. Constantly talking on cell phones and other distracting behaviours take place because people are only considering them selves rather than the safety and good of others.

    I'm not about to make a complete list of self centered behaviours . You probably have your own list. This should give you some idea of what should be unacceptable behaviour.

    Where is this coming from? What are we doing that is promoting or causing behaviour which shows limited consideration of others? Here are some of my ideas and you may well disagree with me.

    Organized recreation no doubt is very beneficial for our youth. Volunteers spend a tremendous amount of time and have expertise in coaching. However, you don't have to watch a practice session very long and you see a tremendous emphasis on winning. No emphasis on fun. Just do your best to outdo the other guy so that you can win. Tremendous pressure is put on kids by peers, parents and coaches to win. So after such extreme indoctrination, do our young people take this attitude out on the street?  So if the most important thing is to win and if you have to push someone around well that's okay.

     We have developed many programs to improve the self-esteem of young people. Good, strong self esteem is necessary. But is there collateral damage in stressing self esteem. Do some people who do not need self esteem coaching take advantage of it and then emphasize them selves much more than is necessary. Self esteem is used in some ways as an excuse for in appropriate behaviour when it could be other reasons for it. Again very kind and caring people work with youth who need coaching in self esteem to live a more productive life.

     I have to look at the posts in my blog. They are usually 100% about me and my experiences. Could I not pick the good things which are being done out there and support them? Am I also self centered and fail to recognise it?

     So I have to ask myself, am I just becoming a crotchety old man and being overly sensitive of some behaviours and single out things that bug me? Am I blaming some of the wrong things for causing self centeredness? How do we get things back on the rails so that we are far more considerate of others? Or is my question not relevant?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Winter Slams into Red Deer

       That's right folks winter paid us our first visit on Mon. Nov. 15 and it caught our attention sharply.

       Mon. Nov. 15 was a very nice day. It was sunny, calm and warm...high of 6 or 7 C(42-44F). Forecasts were saying, "winter storm watch." About 2:00PM it started to cloud over but the temperature remained the same. Around 7:00PM I looked out and guess what? The air was full of snow and a high gusty wind was blowing. It stayed mild for a few more hours and then the temperature gradually dropped. By morning we had 5 - 8 cm of snow and it had drifted around.

     When winter comes suddenly it's always a bit of surprise even though we've been warned.

     I like it when winter makes it's entry with a flare. All the suspense of waiting is over. Now we can hang on for 4 months of frigid weather. Our mind and attitude has to be adjusted and that is the secret of enjoying and surviving a prairie winter. A fellow blogger from Florida was doing the big whine last week when his temperature was 5C(42 F).  Right now 5C here would be a heat wave . So it's all relative. It depends where you are in location and mind. We can find activities to enjoy. I like cross country skiing so give me snow. I ski very hard and do not need gloves, hat or any heavy clothing at all. I have a pack with heavy clothing in case I stop.

    I enjoy following weather  descriptions and explanations of why certain weather occurs. There are certainly some excellent and interesting blogs to follow.

     So I'm set for the next few months to enjoy my winter. I think I can even survive Home Farm Girl's constant complaining about winter.

     Let me know how you're coping with winter where ever you may be.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Great Value in Hobbies

        As I did my last post on birch bowls, I began to think about the great value of a good hobby. I consider my blog to be a hobby and many of the activies I participate in are hobbies.

       However, if I use the birch bowl topic I can demonstrate some of the values of a good hobby. David, the lather, who produced the bowls, obviously spends a great deal of time working on his hobby. So it is an excellent way to spend leisure time in a stimulating way.

     First, David does not buy any wood to pursue his craft. So he spends time and watches so that he can obtain a variety of wood that would otherwise be wasted. David has friends who know he wants wood and alert him when they see trees being taken down. As a result he gets a variety of wood so can work with color and grain variations. Most people are quite happy to let him have part of their tree and in my case he took the whole tree as he also burns wood to heat his house. So to begin with there is a strong social aspect. He also belongs to a guild where lathers get together and share ideas.

     Second, something is being created and produced. When you watch David begin, he looks at the wood as if to say, what kind of bowl is in this wood. At the end of lots of hard work there is a product with beauty. We need to produce something at the end of an activity so that we can look at it with pride. In my blog I produce material that I can look at. I look back at old posts and quite often get new ideas or further ideas and expand on a topic. Lately I have been going back and revising old posts. It's rather humbling and surprising at how many errors I made.

    Something like wood turning gives a person something stimulating to do with their time. I imagine something new is learned with each bowl produced. I learn with each blog post. I started at zero with my blog so I have had to learn many things. Each new thing I learn is satisfying.

    David has accumulated a large number of tools for his craft. I think he had three different lathes in the shop. Obtaining the right tools and learning how to make them work for you is a worthwhile goal in itself.

    Since David heats his house with wood he can use the waste product for heat. He also gives some shavings away to gardeners like me. David packages the shavings in paper bags and uses them to start his fires. Since there's much of the tree which is too small to make bowls out of he can burn the part not used to lathe.

      Now I've just dealt with two hobbies. There is an endless number of activities one could be involved in. It doesn't matter what age you are , you can still benefit from a good hobby. So if you don't have anything to do find a good hobby and you will find all kinds of benefits from it.

     So a good hobby brings personal satisfaction. We spend enjoyable time, learn things and receive pleasure from what we do.

     So let me know what your hobby is and what you get out of it.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Worries about Remembrance Day

       In my head Remembrance Day  is fairly straight forward. I think of the thousands of men and women who served their countries in the armed services. For all of these people there were sacrifices of various degrees. All of them showed bravery and willingness to be well prepared for their duties.

      It seems to me that the meaning of Remembrance Day is becoming complicated. There are a variety of voices that speak and the message is not as focused as in the past. When World War veterans were prominent in large numbers it was easy to focus on remembrance and be lead in remembrance services.

     As time went on more wars were fought and peace keeping activities took place so we added other aspects of remembrance. Some of our armed forces never participated in action but still made tremendous contributions to our peace and safety.

      Much more is being done in schools for remembrance day activities. Students are being taught about our history so that remembrance becomes more meaningful.

     It worries me when I see comments on twitter and other sites that place a much less value on peace keeping services. Peace keepers have been a valuable service to our country and other countries in the world.

      This year there has been a controversy about the color of poppies. Some promote a white poppy to represent peace. Others promote a purple poppy to remember animals. It seems like a petty issue. Red can represent all issues. Why do some people try to hijack an issue to promote their own bias?

     Where we really show our respect is how we treat our veterans when they return from wars and leave the services. Lately our government seems to want to cheap out on services veterans require as a result of serving their country.

     An inspiration to me is an 87 year old veteran who I skate with. He keeps us informed about his activities and shows the pride he had in serving our country. He also tells us the horrors he went through. He's also very honest about the difficulties he  experienced since his return. He is truly a shining example of people who served their country. He helps to focus my remembrance.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Beautiful Birch Bowls

        I have recently become the owner of a set of beautiful birch bowls which were produced from my own birch trees.

        Two years ago two of my four birches decided to depart from this life. Since I had a chain saw and had felled hundreds of trees I decided to take the trees down myself. Birch trees aren't that tall and I could safely drop them inside my yard.

      I was busy taking off branches and loading them when a person I knew slightly stopped and told me his story. I knew that David was dedicated to using wood for heat and super insulating his house so that less energy would be consumed. What David wanted was part of my trees as he wanted to make bowls. David's hobby is making things on his lathe and one of the things he specialized in was bowls. So sure I told him to take what he wanted. Before he left my wife had come on the scene and  said that she would like a sample of what he would make.
     David explained the long process of making a bowl. First, he cuts the log to the diameter if the bowl. Then he cuts the log lengthwise. Now the wood is coated with wax and left to dry for about a year. This process prevents the would from splitting. When the wood is thoroughly dried he saws it  into a rough bowl shape. This piece is put on the lathe and the bowl is carved out using the lathe. Now it's waxed and left to dry again. The final process is the to finish the wood by sanding with ever finer sandpaper. And voila you have a bowl. Yes the wood is oiled to keep it from cracking and splitting. So two years later you have a birch bowl with the rich wood color and grain patterns.

    This relationship went further as David had loads of shavings which he didn't want to dispose of at the waste site. So I get shavings every year to dig into my garden. The Medicine River Wildlife Rehabilitation center takes lots of shavings for the bedding for their animals.

    I have been fortunate to visit David's shop and see the many special tools he uses and see him start on a piece of wood and shape it into a bowl. It's interesting to watch him before he starts as he looks at the wood and decides what he will produce. The skilled hands and machinery seem to magically bring a bowl out of the wood as if the bowl had always been  in the wood.

    So from the death of my trees I discovered a whole new process of making bowls. I also renewed my acquaintance with David.

Friday, November 5, 2010

November Days

Slowly waning
November days,
Sliding to restful torpidity.

Brilliant dancing leaves
Frantically celebrating
 Their looming end.

November waves of geese
Slowly floating away from
Ice hard cold ponds,
Snow covered fields and

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Gently November Arrives

       The beginning of November has brought us very mild pleasant weather. We've had a chinook which began the last few days of October and is forecast to last to the end of the week. Halloween evening was well above freezing so it was great for all the little beaners out trick or treating.

      I made much the same post at the beginning of October but the October weather turned out to be dismal. We had mostly cloudy cool conditions with some moisture. The moisture wasn't excessive but was enough to prevent the soil drying up so that gardens could be properly worked. Much of my garden soil was actually mud. I would dig it and let it lie a couple of days and then dig it and let it dry. I was fortunate to get 5 barrels of shavings to work in as my soil is heavy clay because of a sewer line replacement a few years ago.

     So with the start of November being pleasant, I'm holding my breath hoping that we don't have nasty weather coming our way for the remainder of the month. Our Novembers are usually a time when temperatures get colder and we can have very cold nights. It's also the time when we can receive snow that stays with us.

Friday, October 29, 2010

My Great Good Fortune: a new brother when I was fifteen

       Yes that's right! I had a new brother when I was fifteen and it was a major good fortune in my life.

      I began thinking about this situation after I had talked to a friend who was born three weeks before her brother finished high school. He did not handle it well as he was knocked off his perch as top dog in the family. He became permanently estranged from his family. I thought how sad! How much was missed.

      I began to think then that I was very fortunate as we found our new brother to be the best thing since candy.

     Now I have to back up a bit. My sister died very suddenly and unexpectedly from illness when she was eleven and I was thirteen. This loss was devastating  to my Mom and Dad. In the mid 1950's it was considered that a replacement child would be a proper solution for the loss of a child. So at age forty my mother became pregnant and delivered a beautiful healthy little boy on Valentine's Day. So surprise to Mom and Dad as they had really hoped to have a daughter. This surprise was not noticed for a second as the family were all overjoyed at the new baby.

    As you remember, this was an isolated farm so Mom had left a couple of weeks before the baby was due and came home when the weather and roads allowed. It was a great day at our house when David arrived home. Mom showed the three if us our new brother and I remember being very touched by this small new person who had become a member of our household. Mom involved us in David's care from the first day. We thought it was a big deal to hold David, feed him and oh yes change him. I'm afraid to admit that he was a bit of a toy and as a result he received a tremendous amount of attention. It was good for all of us as we had something which allowed us to grow and David received more attention than most other infants and I'm sure he felt that he was wanted and appreciated. This was a good situation for our Mom as being an older mother and still having a busy household to look after, some willing hands to look after a new baby would have been great for her.

     As everybody knows little people grow and develop very quickly. David always had people to play with him and keep him company. There were no children in our district who were David's age so his older brothers were his playmates. We put big old cowboy hats on him and told him his name was "Tex". When we asked him what his name was he would say "Tex" and we were all amused . In fact it was worse than that. His middle name was Calvin and when he was little he couldn't say Calvin. He said"Calman" so there was more amusement at David's expense. These antics were continuous.

     David did give me one of the biggest frights in my life. When He was about two Mom had put him outside to play. He would usually stay right around the house and she would keep her eye on him. She couldn't see him so she told me to go out and check on him. We had had a heavy spring snow storm. It was easy to follow his tracks in the snow. I found him in the ditch by the road. There had been water in the ditch and it had snowed so heavily that the snow covered the water. David didn't realize this and so kept on walking until he toppled over face down into the wet slushy snow. When I saw him face down  I was terrified as I thought he had drowned. I waded in and picked him up and he was fine but very wet.

     All too soon I left the home as I went to Teacher's College in the city so I only lived with him for a little more than two years. My two other brothers soon left so much of David's life was as an only child. He was very good for Mom and Dad as he was very laid back and agreeable. He got along with adults very well. Our ninety year old grandfather lived with us for six months of each year. I think grandpa appreciated his youngest grand son and they certainly spent time together. One time they were arguing a bit so Mom went to see what was going on. They had a small child's book that was upside down and they had a disagreement about the rabbit. Grandpa said it was a jackrabbit and David insisted it was Peter Rabbit. Grandpa was talking in German and David was talking in English. Apparently that is how we communicated with Grandpa, but I don't remember doing that.

    I regret that I missed being in the home when David grew up. However, it just doesn't work that way. The short time I lived with him was rewarding and I couldn't see life without his presence and all the experiences afforded us for personal growth and development. 


Dave many years later moving forward but not into the lake.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

I Love Music

        When I started this blog a little over two years ago I said that I wanted to comment on music. Looking back I have made very few posts on music. Now is the time to change and do some posts on music.

       I love to listen to a wide variety of music. The older I get the more music I discover that I like to listen to. I have found one radio station that plays a wide variety of music. They not only play the music but have hosts who are extremely knowledgeable about the music they play. For a few example, they have  Celtic , blue grass, country, classical and blues shows.  You get the point. So I find that when there is information about the music you gain more from listening to that music.

       For classical music information is given on the composer and the reason or conditions under which the piece was written. Reasons for the piece being significant are explained. Historical context adds to your quality of appreciation.

     I am a person with very little musical ability. I was not given the routine piano lessons although I took my brother's piano lesson books and tried to learn how to play. I do not have rhythm. My time in the rhythm band was very brief. I was kicked out of the rhythm band in grade two. It seems to me that reason for my expulsion was that I began a sword fight with my brother. W were plying rhythm with sticks.The teacher got the right culprit as my brother did have rhythm. I never learned how to dance. To put the combination of steps and rhythm together was beyond me.

     I take advantage of the library collection of cds. The check out people usually remark that my choices are eclectic. I usually have one each of classical, rock, blues, jazz and country. There are other genres to choose from. I still have not figured out how to get music on the internet, but that's coming. I also volunteer for front of house duties at an arts center and make sure that I get to work at all musical performances. I twist arms to be able to work at our local symphony concerts.

    So for someone with limited musical ability I get a tremendous amount of pleasure from music.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Hiawatha House Says, "All Old Guys Should Skate."

       Hiawatha House has done a series of All Old Guys Should....  They are things that I enjoy doing and highly recommend them for others. I've done all old guys should ride bike, have a paper route etc.

       Today of course, is my time to tell about ice skating. Ever since I retired in 1997 I have skated once a week in the winter time. I was never a good skater and did not skate for about 20 years before I retired. I was worried about my skating ability but decided to try it. Skating came back slowly. Since then I have improved my skating so that at this time of my life I skate better than I ever did. Even though I was from a small rural community, I didn't play hockey so I did not learn skating skills. I only skated as a recreation.

     Now we meet at an arena once per week and skate laps mostly. It's a great work out and one gains skills in balance and agility. In other words it's a good way to work out the "stiffs." We play music and some people enjoy skating to the music and some people couple skate. As always with skating there is great banter in the dressing room and then we go the Dairy Queen for coffee. It's a wonderful way to spend an afternoon. Come and join me.

Friday, October 22, 2010

And Another Enchanted Encounter

      Enchanted encounters seem to happen quite unexpectedly. Out of the blue something occurs and it is most memorable. I had one such occasion with my daughter when she was about eleven years old.

     Our city has excellent bike trails and we had gone on a rather long ride. We had ridden about 9kms when our interesting encounter occurred. We were riding through a reclaimed gravel pit as I wanted to take her to a place were each evening I would see a mule deer buck. Sometimes from a distance of 200m this buck would snort loudly and toss his head. This was quite a show and I had told her about it and she wanted to see the buck.

    As we were getting close to the site we began moving slowly and quietly. At that time off to our right we saw a doe. The doe quickly left the area and that was exciting. Then all at once we saw two very young fawns in the area the doe had left. When my daughter saw the fawns she instantly tensed at the magic of seeing these two beautiful creatures. I think she stopped breathing as she realized that she didn't want to disturb the two little beauties. We needn't have worried. The fawns were not going anywhere and after a couple of minutes the one little fellow laid down and the other one moved out of our sight. So watching a fawn lying down for a nap isn't going to hold your attention for long. We quietly left the area and went looking for the buck. This was one of the few evenings the buck was not in the usual place. We turned around and went by the sleeping fawn.

     So in my previous post I was the little child who was mesmerized by the mallard drake and in this post I was the parent who enjoyed sharing the excitement of a youngster experiencing  a very important encounter.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Another Enchanting Encounter

     A comment from a fellow blogger on my last post "Enchanted Encounter"gave me some more writing  topics.

     If you follow my posts you will see that I have a keen interst in birds. I feed birds, watch birds and lead field trips for people to view birds. I've been asked how I came to be so interested in birds. I can remember what started my interest.

    I have commented about being born and raised on an isolated Saskatchewan farm. The opertion was a small mixed farm. We had chickens, pigs and a few milk cows. Somebody always had to go and get the cows from the pasture so that they could be milked. When I was very young, it was my mother's chore to bring in the cows. Sometimes she would have a little toddler and a baby carriage as she could not leave us in the house. 

    One time after she had rounded up the milk cows she asked me if I wanted to see a very pretty bird. She said if I was very, very good and quiet she would show me a beautiful bird. She wouldn't take my little brother as he was too small and might make noise. We walked about 300 meters down the road, through a ditch and some brush and then looked through a barb wire fence. There at my eye level was a mallard drake floating on a small pond. The moment has stayed with me forever. With my 3 year old eyes  picked up the vivid color and the image was indelibly etched in my mind. The duck knew we were there and stopped swimming and eyed us very carefully. We carefully let the brush bend back and quietly left. Mom also explained that the ducks had a nest and there would be baby ducks. I knew about chicken eggs and baby chicks so this made sense.

    Later on my aunt sent us a second hand Taverner's bird book in the paper back edition. This was and still is an excellent bird book. I can remember going through this book by the hour even though I could not read.  It was one of the few books in the house. Today about a third of the old book is still in my brotheer's house which is our original family home.

    So two very important women in my life influenced my interest in birds. A few years ago I asked my aunt if she remembered giving us the book. She could not recall giving us the book. I was able to tell her how the book influenced my life. Unfortunately I was not able to share this story with my Mom as she passed away long before I had time to reflect on how important the incident was in my life.

    So an enchanted encounter led to a life long interest in birds.