Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Bitter Truth About Sweet Addictions

Cocaine. Crystal Meth. Nicotine. Gambling. Windsurfing. Alcohol. Coca-Cola. Shopping. Coffee. The Internet. Maple Syrup. Pancakes. Money.

Addictive, all of them.

I've flirted with some of them, but only two have talons deep enough to get under my thick skin: windsurfing and maple syrup. Today, I'm going to address maple syrup, in a roundabout way. I actually want to talk about pancakes, somewhat of a Sunday morning tradition in my camp.

I feel that I have unlocked the secret to cooking the perfect pancake. Of course I'm not going to share that with you. Julian knows, but you might as well try to get an honest answer from Brian Mulroney as get Julian to give up the family secret. In the meantime I'm going to offer you the second best pancake recipe that I know, because it is magnificent...

It comes from a restaurant called 'rebar'. This should have a lot of engineers scalp scratching. Type 'rebar' into Google and you're just as likely to find information about structural steel reinforcements as you are to find details about this restaurant. Rebar is located in Victoria, B.C. and though I've never been there, I've got the cookbook. To be fair, I've never cooked a damn thing from the rebar cookbook, but Wendy has. Everything has been scrumptious except for the green rice with cilantro and spinach, which was horrid (IMHO).

Rebar's pancake recipe is called 'orange yogourt hotcakes - with fresh raspberries', which sounds a lot sexier than flapjacks with Aunt Jemima in a squeeze bottle. Or does it? I do take offence that rebar neglected to mention the necessity of real maple syrup. I like raspberries, but come on!?! What is a pancake without maple syrup? It is Donny without Marie. Sonny without Cher. Brian without Karlheinz.


I'd rather eat green rice with cilantro and spinach.

Is it just me (it usually is), or does it seem odd that syrup could come from corn? It just doesn't seem natural to me. I like my syrup to come from deciduous that's natural! I'm highly suspicious of what's going on in Aunt Jemima's kitchen. I haven't got sodium hexametaphosphate or cellulose gum in my larder. Sounds to me like she's building a bomb in her basement or, to be more generous, she's confused her lawn fertilizer with her baking supplies. Maple syrup, in contrast, contains maple syrup.

I mentioned that I was going to give you the recipe to rebar's hotcakes but I type very slowly and I haven't got the energy, or time, to reproduce it here. Rebar has a cookbook and it's worth the price for the pancake recipe alone. You can buy the book for about twenty bucks.

If you'd like my secret pancake recipe, then I'll make arrangements for us to meet three times in New York and Montreal hotels. I'll be expecting an envelope full of cash at each meeting. After the third meeting I'll give you the recipe. It's not easy when you have an addiction. Addictions can be taxing, for some of us.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Spending Time In The Kingston Pen

It's Saturday morning and I'm off to see my friends at the Kingston Pen. The Kinston Peninsula, that is. Kingston is a loyalist town about fifty minutes from my home and it's the commercial centre of a pretty peninsula. The drive there is long, gorgeous and winding. The road follows the sumptuous Belleisle Bay for much of the way. The Belleisle is a moody piece of water, never the same twice. It's always a pleasure to grace her shores.
At the end of my journey I'll find myself at the Kingston Farmers Market. Compared to many farmers markets, the Kingston market is small but it offers a wonderful balance between handmade crafts and homemade foods. There's an array of ethnic cooking which scents the air with smells of far places like India, Jamaica and Quispamsis. There are also meats, vegetables, herbs and mini donuts (fingers crossed).
There are two markets in Kingston, one of which I've boycotted for life. I won't go into the details, but let's just say that there was contraband maple syrup involved. Contraband, by definition, means goods prohibited by law. I was served diluted maple syrup at 'the original Kingston market', even though the sign said 'pure maple syrup'. I live by one law and one law alone...'thou shall not bastardize my maple syrup.' It should be the eleventh commandment...the one that other fellow forgot.
I would encourage everyone to visit the Kingston Farmers Market, if possible. If not, then go to a farmers market near you. Get to know your local farmers, support them. They're going to be the most important members of society in the coming few decades. For now they struggle, but their day will come.
"Thou shall buy from local vendors."
That would be my twelfth commandment. Actually, I'd get rid of the tenth commandment 'thou shall not covet thy neighbour's wife'. It's not an issue where I live.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Pleasantly Hung, If You Ask Me

My car negotiated the corner of the road at eighty kilometres per hour but rather than accelerate back up to one hundred for the straightaway, I came to a screeching halt. In the middle of the New Zealand countryside was a canvas that I hadn't foreseen. Unlike the great natural beauty that I'd been absorbing all across Dame Kiri Te Kanawa's homeland, this artwork was unnatural. Clearly it was the work of human hands.
And feet.
My shoes have scuffed the floors of the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim and the Metropolitan, all in New York City. I've paid homage to Van Gogh's lush interpretations and Picasso's unbridled creativity. I've been broken by Braques and mangled by Mondrian but none of them held the element of surprise for me. It's true that Van Gogh and Picasso shocked the art world of their day, but their canvasses have since become overwhelmingly ubiquitous. They appear, all too often, on coffee mugs and jigsaw puzzles in the dollar stores of our supersaturated world.
So how does the modern artist, or advertising executive for that matter, use surprise to his/her advantage? In New Zealand, among other places in the world, you hang shoes on a fence, hundreds of pairs. (Mila and Imelda...are you taking footnotes?) In Toronto you put life-size painted moose sculptures in an urban environment. You build a twenty foot high potato for your roadside farm market in Fredericton. When someone turns a corner, turns a page or turns on the radio...what will you do to get their attention?
The finest artists, writers and media mavens know how to unlock the secret. You don't provide answers, you create questions. You provoke thought about those things you deem to be important. Sometimes you want to talk about art in rural settings, so you find a fence and a farmer with a sense of humour. I know damned well that if I hung up a pair of shoes on a fence where I live, ninety-nine times out of one hundred the farmer would remove the shoes.
On a farm, fences keep domesticated animals at bay. Some would argue that fences keep people at bay, certainly this works in Folsom, Alcatraz and Cambridge-Narrows. Most residential fences say "Mine!" You can just imagine my delight to see the Shoe Fence of Hawke Bay, New Zealand. It screamed "Yours!" I don't know who built the fence or who decided that it would be prudent to hang shoes of all kind on it, but I thank them one and all. It was a pleasant surprise.
When was the last time a fence made you smile? Or surprised you?
Have you surprised anyone lately? Have you juxtaposed items in your world simply for the generation of smiles, or contemplation? The fence elicited both. I'm not suggesting that you serve Nutella and herring sandwiches on naan bread to your guests. I think that most of us need to shake up our world and deliver some pleasant surprises, both to ourselves and to strangers...for the collective good of society.
Perhaps we should all walk a mile in the shoes of the fence artist, or become one ourselves. Barefoot, if necessary.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Peter Pan Syndrome

I took this image while laying in the middle of the Trans Canada highway in northern Ontario. I don't know what the occupants of the approaching car thought when they saw a grown man, laying in the middle of the road, photographing a Dollar Store doll. They may have thought that I was doing my darnedest to place in the Darwin Awards top three but, in fact, I was celebrating a good friendship.
The full story can be found on my web site, which I've all but ignored since starting this blog. The story of Timmy, the other clown on the highway, can be found by clicking here.
The person who gave me Timmy, the clown, graduates from the University of New Brunswick today with a Doctorate in Child Psychology. Perhaps her training makes her a specialist in dealing with people like me. I'm suffering from Peter Pan Syndrome, and Aimée probably diagnosed this a long, long time ago.
If you don't have the time to click on the Peter Pan link, then a brief summary of my condition can be paraphrased as follows:
"He covets independence and freedom, chafes at boundaries and limits, and tends to find any restriction intolerable."
You talkin' 'bout me? It goes on...
"Peter Pan syndrome is a pop-psychology term used to describe an adult who is socially immature. The term has been used informally by both laypeople and some psychology professionals in popular psychology since the 1983 publication of The Peter Pan Syndrome: Men Who Have Never Grown Up, by Dr. Dan Kiley. "
I'm 45 years old, I play with dolls in the middle of the highway and I haven't had a job in 17 years. I think that I should perhaps conduct a little more research. Maybe I should read Dr. Dan Kiley's book.
I wonder if he's written any other books. I'll do an internet search (please stand by).
This is interesting...Kiley also wrote a companion book, The Wendy Dilemma, published in 1984.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

No Bungee Jumping On The Confederation Bridge

It snakes across from the mainland to the land of red soil and green gables. It's an unlucky number of kilometres long from tip to tail. It cost a billion dollars to build, just slightly less than Mila Mulroney's shoe collection. It's absolutely free to cross (some restrictions apply, try to get back to New Brunswick for details). It's the Confederation Bridge and it's one of the seven engineering wonders of the modern world (Donald Trump's hair was bumped to number eight by the bridge. Mr. Trump's lawyers are considering an appeal).

You're not allowed to bike across the bridge from New Brunswick to Prince Edward Island. You can't cross by foot either, so you must drive or be driven. There are signs along the bridge constantly reminding that you'll be shot if you drive 81 km/h or higher. You can't bungee jump off the Confederation Bridge, though at its highest elevation of sixty metres, it would be perfect. In New Zealand, they would have found a way to incorporate thrill seeking into the project. If you're driving a low slung car to the land of spuds, you'll barely be able to enjoy the view because of the concrete guardrails.

You'll need $42.50 to make the return trip across the bridge. This is a hardship for many people. Personally I've had to forego one last Cows ice cream or a coveted Anne of Green Gables trinket in order to afford the bridge toll. As you're driving back to New Brunswick, the picture province, be sure to enjoy the view but don't stop your car to take pictures or you'll end up doing time in Dorchester, Renous or Minto, assuming that you're not shot on the spot.

Note: there isn't a prison in Minto, but there is a Tim Horton's.

"Ian Varty, the jury has found you guilty. You're sentenced to life in Minto with no chance for a good cappuccino for fifteen years."

I like the Confederation Bridge immensely but it's not easy to have fun on it. The Starkey Bridge in Codys (N.B.) is way more fun. You can walk across it, or bike. You can climb it. You can jump in it (see image above). It's got a roof over its head! You can kayak under it or stand on its flanks and fish. It's one of 63 covered bridges in New Brunswick and it's an icon. It's also free, in both directions.

Covered bridges make New Brunswick a special place, much in the same way that the river ferries do. They make us jump for joy. I thank the New Brunswick government for seeing the value in the covered bridges, and for maintaining them. I do have two bones to pick, however:

1) Why are the river ferries not valued in the same way that covered bridges are? They're equally important to the rural aesthetic, general happiness and tourism.

2) What's a guy gotta do to bungee jump in this province?

I'm so disheartened that I feel like throwing myself off a tall bridge, except I'm not allowed to walk on it. I'd be shot for trying.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Two Minutes For Roughing The Drinker

A cup of coffee is a lot like Facebook. You can love it or loath it. Some people love it so much that they become addicted to it. I'll never become addicted to Facebook, and I'll certainly never be held in coffee's grasp. To prove this, I conducted a little experiment...

Last year I was photographing windsurfers on the frigid Bay of Fundy. The Bay is inhospitable at the best of times...these were the worst. Standing onshore, wearing inadequate clothing, in blustery, cold water fuelled winds left me feeling like some sort of rigid cadaver. I was chilled to the bone with my arms and legs approaching a dangerous state of near lifelessness. I knew that a hot cup of coffee would restore vigour to my ailing limbs. So I hopped into my car and used my club-like appendages to somehow navigate my Ford Focus station wagon to a nearby Tim Horton's (like we're ever truly far from one!).

As I pulled up to the drive-thru window I had an epiphany...order my coffee black. I'm attracted to coffee that has a light cream complexion, but it's the sugar that knows my true weakness. This one time, I managed to break my habit of ordering a double-double cup of trouble. I summoned the courage to actually speak those hysterical words in to the microphone...

"Extra large coffee, black. That's all, thanks."

I clawed some change from my pocket and forked it over to the Timpersonal attendant, then off I sped toward the highway with a cup of jo(y) between my legs. I started to regain feeling in my lower extremities, then I drank ever last drop of that coffee and, once again, felt the lights turning on upstairs. Amazingly, the one thing that I remember clearly was how awful the coffee tasted without cream and sugar. On that day I decided that I didn't even like coffee. I was a cream and sugar whore, and not much more.

So I gave coffee up, cold turkey.

Fast forward to February 2009. I was in New Zealand where I found myself in a cosy café nearly every morning. The coffee in New Zealand looked (see image above) and sounded so delicious with names that swirled in my mind like a fleet of dancing Vespas: cappuccino, latté, macchiato, espresso, cafe mocha. Compare that to New Brunswick's drink of choice...a double double. The words 'double double' sounded like something that would stagger off the tongue of a parched Neanderthal.

"Can I take your order please?"

"Ugg...dubble dubble."

Since returning from New Zealand in early March I've been back on the coffee. I bought a French press in New York City and I've been using that to enjoy the occasional morning mug at home. I'm still experimenting to see where my coffee boundaries are drawn. Always in experimentation mode I carried out another experiment just two days ago.

Wendy and I had dinner at Pomodori in Rothesay on Sunday evening. Pomodori is a restaurant that does three things brilliantly: wood-fired Italian pizza, gourmet coffees, and gelato (Italian ice cream). I ordered a latté and it was magnificent. Our pizza was of the white variety with ricotta, thyme and pine nuts. This pizza made a slice from Pizza Pizza or Pizza Twice taste like a bloated double double. The gelato made me want to sell my house and move to Rothesay.

Later we attended a private event at the Imperial Theatre. After three rum and Cokes, I decided that the drive home would be more enjoyable if I was a little more perky, so a coffee was in the offing. Getting a decent coffee in Saint John at 10 p.m. on a Sunday night is like trying to find the love of your life in a biker bar, so I did what any college educated Neanderthal would have done. I Freddy Flintstoned my seatbound ass to the Tim's drive-thru.

"Extra large coffee, cream, no sugar. That's all, thanks."

I took one and a half sips from my Tim Horton's coffee before stopping my car and pouring the remaining contents out on the highway. It tasted like battery acid. I half expect there's now a monstrous pothole where the coffee ate away at the pavement.

I think that having a great coffee on the same day as an awful one was the most useful of experiments. In fairness to Tim Horton's, comparing a gourmet latté to an ordinary joe is not unlike pitting a Porsche Carrera against a moped, but a moped should at least take you to some other place. Tim Horton's coffee took me back to the cave.

"Ugg. Want double double?"

"Ugg. No thanks."

Monday, May 25, 2009

My New Favourite Fox

It takes fourteen hours of flapping to fly from Vancouver to Auckland (N.Z.), so having in-flight movies comes as a welcome relief. Generally I have no idea which movies are hits and which are duds when I'm scrolling through the choices. I haven't a clue who's Hollywood's current 'it' girl, or whether she's famous for her on-screen acting or off-screen antics.

So you're telling me that Bette Davis is passé?

I used to rely on Siskel and Ebert during the epoch in which I watched television. I did hear that one of them died. Was it the fat one or the skinny one? I honestly don't know. My point is that...

Cinematically.......I. Am. Stunned.

Back to the, I was reading all the onboard movie titles when I came across one called 'How To Lose Friends and Alienate People'. At first I was horrified because that was the exact title I had planned on using for my upcoming autobiography (I subsequently learned that the title came from Toby Young's 2001 memoir...lucky guy). Once the horror had subsided, and my tray table was reconnected to the seat in front of me, I settled down to watch the movie. Amazingly, I knew the leading man, Simon Pegg, from watching him in a movie called Hot Fuzz. He's very funny in that lovable, bumbling British kind of way. I love ridiculous comedies.

I scanned the credits as the movie began. I recognized the name Kirsten Dunst though I couldn't have saved my life by naming a single movie in which she appeared. My cinematic senses just weren't tingling at that moment. I also recognized Jeff Bridges' name but again I couldn't recall a single movie of his. You might wonder how I could have forgotten Seabiscuit?!? Simple, I didn't watch it. I don't watch horse movies, unless Clint Eastwood is in them, or a horse runs off a cliff (remembering that I love comedies). I'm not a horse fan...I can't even drink Budweiser because all I can taste is Clydesdale urine.

Well, I may not like horses but I sure do like foxes. The movie featured an actress called Megan Fox. Never before has anyone been blessed with such an overwhelmingly apt surname. Megan was a pleasant escape from the man sitting in the seat next to me on the flight. He was a chatty man whose breath smelled like poo (I'm convinced that he was sucking on a poopsicle or a lollipoop before boarding the flight, though it was probably just the after effects of day old garlic and stale coffee).

"Yes, thanks. I'll have the Wolf Blass shiraz, please, and some Listerine for my friend. Make his a double."

To make matters worse, my seatmate had spent his entire life working for a paving company and was eager to talk about the subtleties of asphalt. That said, I stilled preferred him to a cliffless Clydesdale.

To this day I'm still fascinated by foxes. Just two days ago I discovered a fox's den on a neighbouring property and I've been trying to get a photograph of the kits (young fox) ever since. There are at least two little foxes, perhaps more. They're quite elusive (dare I say 'sly'?).

Oh, I'm so witty...such a way with words.

Speaking or words, did you know that the modern word 'fox' comes from the proto-Germanic word 'fukh'? That's funny because I remember muttering that word more than once during the movie. I think it was the pool scene.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Start Pouting...You Are What You Eat!

As humans march relentlessly forward in the pursuit of knowledge, I'm always looking behind my back to see where the simple life left the trail. Sound vague or slightly sketchy? It gets worse.

I heard just the other day, on CBC Radio, that a company called Aqua Bounty is asking our federal government for permission to market a genetically modified (GM) salmon. The modified gene allows the salmon to produce growth hormones year-round. This new über salmon grows about twice as quickly as a normal salmon, thus entering high school at the age of seven. Think about a 5'11", 200 pound Sidney Crosby entering the NHL at age nine, that's a GM salmon worth catching!

Aqua Bounty has taken a gene from a fish called the 'ocean pout' and introduced it into salmon. It's a bit freaky. We can either march forward wildly, or put the brakes on and question what the hell we're doing to organisms that have evolved harmoniously over millions of years. Part of me wants to see genetic modification go crazy. I'd like to grow a spare arm between my shoulder blades so I can finally scratch the middle of my back. I'd like to see salmon genetically modified so as to be more easily caught...perhaps by introducing some DNA from Conrad Black. In fairness to the salmon I'd like them to fight back by modifying themselves to be more slimy and not so easily caught, perhaps finding something useful in Brian Mulroney's genes. It worked for Mila (and they have Ben to prove it!).

The federal government is evaluating Aqua Bounty's proposal. For the moment, salmon will have to mature the old fashioned way. They won't be allowed to drive cars around waterfalls or give the finger to fishermen, at least not this week. It may take years before an ocean pout inspired salmon leaps onto your plate, maybe never. Are you concerned that you're not getting enough ocean pout in your diet? Worry not fellow coneheads, here's another fishy fact taken from Wikipedia...

"In June 2006 the Unilever company announced that it would use genetically modified yeast to grow antifreeze proteins based on a gene from the ocean pout, and use it to improve the consistency and storage properties of its ice cream brands."

Unilever is the same company that gives us Lever 2000, the soap for washing all of our 2000 body parts. Might want to make that Lever 2002, in case we grow gills and a dorsal fin. Those extra parts will be useful when we swim with the GM salmon that inevitably will make their way into our lakes, rivers and oceans.

Salmon. Pout. Sidney Crosby. Soap. The Mulroneys. Ice cream.

These things seem like strange bedfellows, yet here they are in one intertwined blog posting. I wish that I knew more about genetic modification. I wish that life were more simple. I don't know if we'll ever be able to turn the clock back or, at least, keep some purity in our world. What I do know is that the idea of home-made ice cream, lovingly turned in a rock-salt chilled ice cream maker using ingredients like fresh cream and locally grown fruit, is pretty appealing.

I'd prefer to eat an ice cream with a smile on my face, rather than a little pout. How about you?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Jack Johnson BWO (Better Watch Out)

I'm standing in a parking lot in Saint John, half naked, when I think that there must be more to life than this...that's when I finally ask the question that has been burning in my mind for a long time:


What Would Jack Johnson Do?

I know exactly what Jack Johnson would do. He'd finish taking off his wetsuit after a great (wind) surfing session. Standing in that parking lot, he'd discretely remove his wetsuit and towel himself dry. He'd then put on his clothes, grab his guitar and head back to the water's edge for an impromptu concert. His friends would gather around and, of course, there'd be a spectacular sunset.


What Does Ian Varty Do?

Like JayJay, I take off my wetsuit, then I pile my gear into my car and drive off into the sunset.

So who would you rather be? Jack Johnson or Ian Varty?

Let's look at the facts: Jack Johnson is an award winning musician. He's handsome in a non-simian Ben Stiller kind of way. He's more than able to pay his property taxes and he grew up on the North Shore of Oahu, where sunsets are legislated to happen. Jack is also an exceptionally talented surfer, at age 17 becoming the youngest competitor to make the surfing finals at Pipeline.

Ian Varty has a bad back and wheezes a lot lately.

Tough decision.

I wouldn't want Jack Johnson to feel hurt, so please keep your answers to yourselves. Ha! I'm not easily offended, so the truth doesn't hurt all that much. I could wallow in my own misery, and wheeze, or I could do something about it. I've chosen the latter.

For ten years a guitar has sat silently in my home, living the life of a Prairie surfboard...unused, unloved, yet worthy of the occasional glance of longing. Visually the guitar is an object of beauty with it's graceful curves and warmly grained veneer, even if it has a pencil neck and pear-shaped bottom. Like a tethered sailboat, my guitar was full of latent possibility and adventure. So one day I picked it up and started playing.


Jack Johnson Has Nothing To Worry About. I'll never show up on Sunset Beach and out-strum him, just like I'll never snake his wave at Pipeline. Musically, some people just have 'it'. Me? I can only be me. The guitar is more challenging than anything I've wrestled with in this life, even getting my wetsuit gracefully off in public. Will I extricate myself from the clutches of my neoprene suit, grab my guitar and head back to the water's edge? Or will I fall on my face, wriggling and wheezing half naked in the parking lot?

It could go either way.

Friday, May 22, 2009

In Praise Of The Lowly Dandelion and Child Labour

It may have been a penny per dandelion, or was it a penny for every five dandelions? I can't remember. All I know is that when I was little, I used to earn a sharecroppers living by picking dandelions from my parents' lawn. Some would call it entrepreneurism, they would be fools. Simply put, I was a child slave.

My last name is Varty, not Gifford, in case any of you think Kathie Lee is my mom/boss. Not all sweat shops operate in Bangladesh, some are right at home in our own backyards. You know that neighbour with the perfect lawn? Take a peek over the fence after school lets out...bring a camera so you can document the atrocities. It'll simplify the prosecution, when Child Welfare intervenes, if we have proof.

When I say that I picked dandelions, don't for one second conjure up images of Ian of Green Gables, out in the back meadow picking posies of wildflowers. I was on my hands and knees using a special tool to dig up the carrot-like roots of the evil aster, plus we didn't have gables on our house. My task master, aka Dad, would oversee the operation from a watchtower. Actually, there wasn't a watchtower, dad just seemed to loom large from above. My brothers and I would toil in the shadow of father. Dad was a good boss, very congenial, but the wages he offered were sub-standard and bordered on being illegal, at least under sub-clause 32-104 of the Geneva Convention.

I hated dandelions as a child, though I did take the occasional delight in blowing the seeds from a mature stock onto my neighbour's property. To this day, I still take delight in that impish act. I've got a neighbour who's obsessed with his lawn. I'm convinced that he doesn't sleep at night, lest a dandelion should launch a hostile takeover of his lawn. That's not likely to happen though, as he pumps his lawn so full of herbicides that it glows in the dark. Even the dandelions on my property are wheezing from the run-off.

A lot of adults grumble about dandelions, it's a popular pastime. We're in the midst of dandelion season here in southern New Brunswick. I've heard more than a few people mutter about how dandelions are ruining their lives. Indeed, lives are shattered by the pretty yellow blossoms. It's a tragedy. As with most of life's tragedies, we look to place the blame squarely on someone's shoulders...and wallet (it's part of our North American victim's mentality). There is a dandelion culprit and wouldn't you just know it, he's a European. Forgive me for sounding like Don Cherry.

A few hundred years ago, a brilliant but devious European settler decided that it was an opportune time to introduce Taraxacum officinale to his neighbour's lawn. I imagine him standing on the diminutive balcony of his 6th story condo, disgruntled, looking down on his neighbour's yard with a chip on his shoulder and a pocket full of seeds.

I'm going to fix that Jebediah Clutterbuck once and for all!

And so the dandelion was introduced to a backyard in Boston or Philadelphia or Montreal. No one's quite sure where it started, we only know that it hasn't stopped.

I see dandelions as a positive. When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. When dandelions rise from the earth, grab your camera. Embrace them...they're gorgeous! The photograph above was taken at a local vineyard where dandelions were growing between the rows of grapevines. It was stunning! The dandelions will be mowed down by a tractor in a few days. It's a tragedy of a different sort. Unless a six year old is driving that tractor, then I fear that childhood unemployment might blossom into a real problem.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Stepping Into The Fog

The image above is perhaps the best one I've taken of the Gagetown ferry.

So what if you can't see the Gagetown ferry. When you're sailing in dangerous waters and you hear the fog horn, you don't necessarily have to see the lighthouse to know you're in peril. This image speaks volumes for the fate of the Gagetown ferry. Can you see it? Can you hear it?

I would challenge each and every one of you to view the world in less traditional light, or from a different angle. The Impressionist painters became famous for doing exactly that. Sure, they were ridiculed at first, but they took their vision to the world and we're all better for it.

So go launch your boat in the fog...try to see what's not there. Listen closely...use your imagination.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Finding Supper In A Swamp

We take for granted the ease with which we forage for food. Yesterday I was in Sussex, tripping over tofu in the health food store, then collapsing over cupcakes at Mrs. Dumpster's (not her real name). The Superstore and Sobey's were just a muffin's toss away. In short, Sussex is a fountainhead of food.

I drove home with my booty, as well as my groceries. Do you remember when booty referred to treasure? If you do, then you're probably a rum-soddened pirate. This begs the question, why are you reading my blog and not out raiding health food stores? You can't live on rum alone you preposterous patch-eyed privateer! Even pirates need veggie burgers once in a while.

When I returned home and unloaded the Golden Hind (my pirate car, not the 'other' booty), I had a thought. What if I didn't have the luxury of driving to Sussex to go shopping, then what would I eat? Looking around my yard, I saw little that looked appealing. I could munch on lawn clippings or tree bark, and lick salt off the driveway (isn't that how the Tim Horton's lunch menu was discovered?). I came to the conclusion that I'd starve if I had to live off my shady one acre of ground, though I might be able to find some "delicious" looking grubs if I started turning over sod.

I put on my grubby clothes and gum boots, knowing that salvation was nearby in the form of fiddleheads. Fiddleheads, for those of you who only eat iceberg lettuce while wearing blinders, are a fern that grow along river banks and on the periphery of swampy areas. They flourish in the wilds of eastern North America, in the kinds of places where it's not uncommon to hear a lone banjo being played.
Fiddleheads are a nickname, in the same way that 'scary pink-eyed freak' might be applied to porch-sitters who play the banjo. The more common name for fiddleheads is ostrich fern, named for the mature frond's likeness to an ostrich plume. I guess some 19th century botanist, who had recently returned from rodeo riding ostriches in Africa, saw it fit to name a North American plant after an African bird. He probably also coined the term 'magic mushrooms', likely on the same day. I much prefer the Latin name, Matteuccia struthiopteris, it rolls off the tongue more musically than fiddlehead.
Each and every spring fiddleheads pop up in my neck of the swamp. I'd never picked them in my life which makes me a quasi-pathetic New Brunswicker. I've also never eaten partridge or played bingo at a Lion's Club (though I once played Scrabble at a cougar's crib). Something had to change. I announced to my son that we were going to find some fiddleheads and feed the family, so we piled in the Golden Hind and made our way to the Grand Lake meadows.
I thought that fiddleheading would be an arduous affair, but it turned out to be pleasant and rewarding. We picked about 10 pounds of fiddleheads in an hour. It felt great to be outdoors. I was a little worried about my back as fiddleheading is performed in a prone position. I didn't fixate on my lower back while I was bent over...I was too busy listening for the sound of banjos.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Scoreboard: Rene Descartes 2, Varty 1, Paul Allen??

Footprints on an ocean beach make me feel happy. They also prove that I exist (take that, Rene Descartes! Point Varty). As the tides rise my footprints are washed away and all signs of my existence disappear from the beach forever (point Descartes). My carbon that's one that can't be washed away easily.
Piha Beach, pictured above, is located on the North Island of New Zealand. To make footprints on that glorious beach, I had to first spend twenty hours walking through clouds on an assortment of gas guzzling jets. I also had to drive a rental car along precipitous cliffs and through hairpin corners for hours. I don't feel guilty for the pleasure that I felt on Piha Beach, but it does come with a price tag measured in carbon emissions, not dollars or time.
Yesterday I addressed the inevitable decline of oil reserves. Today, I ponder how I use resources. I'm looking for balance. Let's examine two extremes because I fall somewhere in between the two. Subsistence farmers in sub-Saharan Africa produce crops sufficient enough to feed themselves, not much more. Their use of resources is quite minimal. They look good in a strictly survivalist/sustainability light, but what about fun?
On the other end of the spectrum is Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft. Paul Allen jets between his two yachts, one of which is 414 feet long. Paul Allen's big yacht, christened Octopus, is a floating city. It's home to two helicopters, a submarine, seven tenders (little boats) and a bunch of jet-skis. It's a lovely boat. It's also a sitcom of conspicuous consumption without a laugh track.
Paul Allen is a study in contrasts. As a philanthropist, he's donated a billion dollars to worthy charities and causes. For that, I applaud him. He's got me beat by well over $999.9 million. As a citizen of our only planet, he's the poster child for gross...sickeningly gross consumption. Does he really need a 414 foot yacht? Wouldn't a 300 footer do? Silly me, you can't have two helicopters on a yacht that small!
Is the yacht a necessity when you're a business tycoon? Or is it a symbol of a fragile ego? Maybe it's indicative of some shortcoming south of the belt line. Now I'm just being catty. For all of Paul's great work, he's two love boats short of being a hit with me. I'm not sure how he fares in the Nielsen ratings. He may justify his actions as being balanced, between giving and taking, but no one should take that much in my opinion.
To the subsistence farmer, I probably look like Paul Allen. It's all relative.
So how does one balance pleasure with responsible resource usage? It's a dilemma. I become a barefoot philosopher as I wander the beaches of life, but I still haven't found all the answers. All I know for sure is that I think about these things a lot, therefore I am (point Descartes).

Monday, May 18, 2009

Peak Oil

It's a pretty scene with Oregon's Mount Hood looming in the background, but it's not the only looming peak that we should be thinking about. Peak oil will consume us in the very near future, if not today. So why are so few people talking about it. More importantly, why are our elected officials ignoring what may well be the most devastating crisis the modern world will ever face.

What is peak oil?

From Wikipedia, here's the most simplistic definition..."Peak oil is the point in time when the maximum rate of global petroleum extraction is reached, after which the rate of production enters terminal decline."

The million dollar question is when will peak oil be reached...or has it all ready been reached? The trillion dollar question is how will it affect our way of living? The experts can't seem to agree on a date, but it is likely close at hand. Global consumption of oil is growing, yet stocks are finite and, at some point, will decline. Life, as we know it, will change drastically as oil becomes truly scarce. For the moment, we're treating it like bath water.

When I look around my house, I can't see a single thing that oil hasn't touched. I can't take a shower without oil. Oil was needed to make my computer, quite a lot in fact. The window I look through needed oil to be made, and then oil was burned to ship it to my home for installation. My jeans wouldn't have been made without oil. My glasses, upon which I depend to read what I write, are made using oil. The pine boards upon which my feet rest were cut by chainsaws, hauled by skidders, transported to a mill, dried by an oil fired kiln, cut my machinery and then trucked to my house. Every single thing in my house has been touched by oil. Everything!

So what happens when oil becomes scarce? It's far more serious than having to trade in your Hummer H3 for a Smart Car. Or a bicycle. Or sneakers. They all use oil.

Will life carry on as we know it using alternative energy sources? If you do your homework, like my son has, you'll discover that the 'alternative' energy sources we currently have are ridiculously inefficient and intensively oil dependent. Don't kid yourself that wind turbines and bio-fuel are the answer. They are band-aids at best. Many of us think 'oh, someone will discover something that will solve the pending crisis', but no one has so far and the clock is ticking. You can't feed yourself or heat your home with wishful thinking.

Peak oil is not a fun idea. Discussing it won't make you popular, hence one possible reason that our politicians aren't addressing it. It can't be denied that our oil-dependent society, in fact our entire global economy, is lubricated by oil. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, but what wheels will turn when the grease is scarce?

I'm not suggesting that we sharpen our harpoons and light out homes with whale oil. That's not sustainable. Neither is the way we're currently living. Things are going to change.

Will we change in anticipation of peak oil, or react to it after the fact? Don't assume that we'll be smart about it, our track record as humans is less than stellar. One hundred years from now, if not sooner, future generations will look back at pictures of our huge SUVs and they'll shake their heads in disbelief. I'm not picking on SUV owners specifically, I'm a gross consumer in my own right. Future generations will be virtually unable to comprehend our short-sighted greed. It's unlikely they'll spend a lot of time lamenting the folly of their predecessors as they'll be more concerned with feeding themselves.

The golden delicious apple that I'm eating this morning, which was grown in the orchards of Oregon, is worth contemplating. How much oil was used getting it to New Brunswick? Why am I not eating apples grown in Gagetown (20 km from my home)?

Have you heard of the Hundred Mile Diet? It's the concept of eating food grown locally, within a hundred miles of where we live. My family is going to try it for the month of July. It's going to be painful, I just know it.

So why bother?

I suppose it's better to embrace the future rather than ignore it.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Joy Of Being A Middle-Aged Boy

The leisurologist and his cohorts are always trying to expand the outer limits of the profession of fun. When there's wind, but not enough for windsurfing, what's a boy to do? I call myself a boy, because men have jobs and talk about RRSPs, power tools and organized sports. To make my point, the other day a friend asked a group of us to name six members of the Montreal Canadiens hockey team. Six? I couldn't name one, though when someone else said 'Saku Koivu', it did ring a bell. I didn't mention that I thought Saku Koivu was an island in the South Pacific Kingdom of Tonga. Tonga...that sounds like a place to have some fun!

My friend Dave popped by on Friday afternoon and was looking for some excitement. Dave has a real job but since he does shift work, he often has blocks of time that are wide open. In many ways Dave is more of a leisurologist than I am, if you could just ignore his periodic enslavement at the mill. Let's just say that he maximizes his fun time in an admirable fashion.

Typically we'd windsurf together but Friday didn't deliver a suitable wind speed or direction, though there was wind. We decided to try skatesailing. Skatesailing is a blend of windsurfing and skateboarding. All you need is a puff of wind, a longboard, a windsurfing rig and a suitably smooth piece of pavement. A parking lot is the ideal location but where are you going to find a parking lot in the greater metropolitan area of Cambridge-Narrows? There are none except at the Cambridge-Narrows school, but that piece of paving, though smooth in its youth, now has Keith Richards' complexion (fissured, fractured and just plain nasty).

Dave and I decided that the road to the Gagetown ferry was worth a try. It's a quiet country road much of the time, though there was a steady stream of traffic on Friday. I loved to watch the looks we got when people saw us skatesailing.

"Well I'll be darned! Look at them there kids on their crazy contraptions."

There was a lot of Gumby-necking going on when people drove past. Not everyone understands the concept of frivolous fun, particularly when carried out by a middle-aged leisurologist and his post adolescent, shift-working crony. Most of the gawkers probably had never seen anyone skatesail before. They probably couldn't name six famous skatesailers, let alone one. But I'll bet they know a lot about RRSPs, power tools and Saku Koivu.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Cavity Searches and Grocery Woes

My car creeps cautiously toward the New York border crossing. Though I remembered to evict the family of Cubans living in my trunk, I always feared that the U.S. Department of Immigration, Interrogation and Digital Insertion would find something to warrant a body cavity search.

"Mr.Varty, I'm going to have to ask you to pull your car over to the side where one of our Immigration personnel will inspect your car."

Moments later...

"Mr.Varty, we've found some contraband in your car and we're seizing your vehicle. Step away from the car."

"What could you have possibly have found?", I queried.

"You'll be charged under the Agricultural Importation Act for smuggling unlawful tubers. We've got the evidence in this baggy...take a look."

"That's a week old McFrench fry!", I scream incredulously.

"You have to declare all agricultural products when entering the United States of America sir. You failed to declare this item, therefore you're going to have to pay dearly for your crime."

"How much do I owe you?, I bleat out.

"Oh, we don't take your money, just your dignity. Please remove your belt sir."

They can be quite ruthless to the lowly, spud-smuggling leisurologist. Now, if you're an opera singer with an O-1, they'll treat you like a Kennedy. An O-1 is a special document that allows you to work in the United States. Wendy has one. An O-1 is a piece of paper that recognizes people of outstanding ability. It all but guarantees the bearer's entry into the U.S. for the purpose of employment, even if they're eating fries and juggling Florida oranges. People in my profession aren't given an O-1.

Typically, when Wendy enters the U.S. and shows them her O-1, they lighten up. When they find out she's an opera singer, the rubber gloves are taken off and champagne is served. Opera singers are treated like novelty acts by the red-necked, Dixie Chick loving border guards. One time when crossing into the U.S., the border dude said to me "hey, did you know that your wife has an outstanding ability?" I nodded in agreement, then muttered under my breath that the mindless man in the uniform overlooked my obvious talent.

I do have an outstanding ability, there's no question.

I have the outstanding ability of always picking the worst line-up at any grocery store checkout in the western hemisphere. I'm the Pavarotti of poor picks, the Domingo of dumb decisions. I can size up any grocery store situation with cunning acuity, yet I always end up in the line with the lady who wants to write a cheque. Of course she doesn't have ID. If she does have ID, then she'd surely have a bag of Tasty Taters with a tattered bar code label. There's always something.

Yesterday was no exception. There were two groups of people ahead of me, I'll refer to them as carts. The cart in the pole position was being unloaded by a couple of questionable ethnic origin. They may have been Tamil tigers or Rothesay rogues, I wasn't sure. I didn't snoop in their cart, as I normally do, because I was overwhelmed by the mountain of items they were attempting to purchase. It was like they were feeding a small army. The cart immediately ahead of me was actually a basket containing just a few pairs of socks. The woman buying the socks was on vacation. Apparently she forgot to pack hoof gloves for someone in her flock so she was making amends.

Irma, our cashier, was aptly named in the same way that Bessie is a good name for a cow. She was neither sleek of hand, nor quick of wit. I don't mind a slow cashier, if they're careful. Irma was slow for the sake of being slow. This wasn't helpful, given that the first cart purchased $500.27 worth of items. They couldn't fit all of the their purchases back onto the cart so we had to wait while they found some cloth grocery store bags to purchase. I urged the cart behind me to cut her losses and find another aisle. She did.

Cart number one tried to pay for their groceries by credit card. PINGGGGGG! The cash register bucked and kicked, bells went off. Irma looked befuddled. The woman with $15 worth of socks started doing back bends. I took mental pictures, as one might do when witnessing a train wreck. Irma caught the eye of the store manager and all was rectified in a matter of minutes.

At this point a large commotion erupted outside as Galen Weston's jet landed in the parking lot. He entered the store and presented cart number one with the Loblaw's Cup, a trophy for the largest grocery purchase ever made in a 21st century, Weston owned grocery store. Hands were shaken, pictures were taken. Now cart number two and I were both doing back bends and chanting om, om, om. The poor woman just wanted to buy a few pairs of socks, instead she had spent half her vacation in a Superstore line-up. To compound matters, the weekly tabloids didn't have much to offer in terms of quality reading...not a stitch about the Olsen twins.

I drove away from the Superstore, chuckling as the ethnic family were still loading their purchases onto the back of a semi. The sock lady was screaming at her bare-footed children who had been waiting patiently in their rental car. I almost got broadsided by Galen's jet as he was taxiing out past the garden centre in preparation for take-off. What a morning!

It was almost lunch time so I pulled into the drive-thru of a fast food chain. I ordered a burger, fries and a bottle of water (pop is bad for you). As I was driving home, Galen's jet roared frighteningly overhead causing me to spill my fries. I managed to clean most of them up, I think.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Advice To Grasshopper From Master Po

Anyone over forty years of age knows that Master Po was the blind monk in the television show Kung Fu. Most people under the age of forty, or those with small children, think of Po as the smallest and youngest of the Teletubby sub-species homo teletubulus. Po was the flaming red one with whom Jerry Falwell happily coexisted, not to be confused with the other flaming Teletubby (the purse carrying Tinky-Winky). To Italians Po is a river. To my 'hood bros, po' is what you are when you can't pay the rent.

Today's post is not about Po, it's about insects and cooking. Was that not what you were expecting? Is a segue from Kung Fu to Teletubbies to eating grasshoppers less than logical? Not for me and my type.

In 2003 I was in Montreal with Wendy and Julian. Wendy was performing in L'Opera de Montreal's production of The Marriage of Figaro. I imagined myself spending my days strolling down quaint little Montreal side streets, conducting research on bagels and croissants. Not so, instead I was contemplating lining up to eat some insects.

I remember specifically why we ended up at the Insectarium de Montreal; it was because they had an exhibit entitled 'Edible Insects'. Edible insects eh? To fuel the fire, my father spent his working life as an entomologist (bug boy), trying to kill spruce budworm. I thought it only fair that the insects exact some revenge. In town to watch the opera, I dragged my parents along to the insectarium.

We started by watching a film depicting the consumption of insects by loin-clothed inhabitants of some far-flung societies. Bug eating seemed to be popular in third world countries such as Indonesia, Malawi and Chipman. Bugs are an important source of protein in these desolate areas. I squirmed while watching the film. Grubs were sizzling on a fiery griddle, dancing like Mexican macaroni. During the film my son leaned over and said something that is indelibly etched into my memory..."those grubs look delicious." He wasn't joking...he was practically salivating.

After the film we heard a fateful announcement: there will be an insect tasting demonstration upstairs in 5 minutes. I won't print what was going through my head at that moment when my son announced his desire to munch on mealworms, suffice to say that it rhymed with 'no luck'. We made our way upstairs to find a huge line-up of chocolate covered locust lovers. Fools! Not them, us...we joined the queue.

It quickly became obvious that it was going to be a long time before we got to the head of the line, as we were currently at the tail end (thorax). I announced that I wasn't prepared to stand in line for a half hour to eat something that would, in a ll likelihood, make me hurl. If I wanted that, I could go to Taco Bell. My son was miffed.

I've watched other people accidentally ingest insects. Wendy's brother Erik didn't believe me when I told him there was a caterpillar on his Lay's potato chip. He ate it. Betcha can't eat just one! A guy I knew at college found a dragonfly in his sandwich...he turned the colour of photocopy paper. I once took a sip from a can of Coke and found something buzzing in my was a hornet! Fortunately the the Coke rendered the hornet impotent and I lived another day.

Me? I'm not a big fan of eating insects. I'll get my protein and carbs elsewhere (i.e Tubby toast). That reminds me of Julian's early forays into baking. Every kid likes to help mom in the kitchen, some even like to help their dad (charity begins at home). As a pre-school fan of the Hundred Acre Woods stories, Julian filled our house inundated with videos and books about Tigger, Eyeore and the petite porcine Piglet. We once had a collection of cookie cutters shaped like A.A.Milne's lovable characters. It came with a book entitled 'Cooking With Pooh'.

Cooking With Pooh!

I like a hot breakfast every now and again but I've got no interest in eating a steaming plate of June bugs. I wonder, though, if I'm just being silly. A lobster is nothing more than a giant, meaty salt water scorpion? And I love lobster. Ditto for crab. Shrimp are kind of dodgy looking too. I mean, seriously, if a shrimp was buzzing around your head, you'd swat it. Right? Maybe eating insects isn't such a big deal after all.

Let's see, if I was forced to eat insects (because I was po' and hungry), what would I choose? Not grasshopper. Too crunchy. I'd probably opt for dung beetles...I've already got the cookbook.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Clubbing With Poker Wimps

"Is three of a kind better than two pair? "

I've been hearing those words spoken for about six years now and they still cause me to chuckle. I belong to the world's most pathetic poker club. Our club is called the Washademoak Intellectual Men's Poker Society (WIMPS) and never before has a title been so misleading with an acronym so overwhelmingly appropriate. Everyone in the society is over sixty, except me.

We don't drink, smoke or swear. We meet once a month and it's not on Friday night. We yawn a lot and someone inevitably starts whining when the games go beyond 11 p.m. Grandpa needs his rest! At least two thirds of our members think Cindy Day, the CTV meteorologist, makes her sweater sing (I'm in the minority). At least we're talking about women, I think. In hindsight, call it a purl of wisdom, perhaps they were actually admiring the tight knit of her sweater. I seriously think some of these guys might actually be into knitting.

Of all the members, I'm the only one who's fully employed. When I say employed, I mean consumed by my profession. Let me give you an example of what my day as a leisurologist looks like:

6 a.m. - get up

6:30 a.m. - eat the breakfast of Champions

7 a.m. - 9 a.m. - write the blog

9 a.m. - golf with the WIMPS

12 noon - lunch with the WIMPS

1 p.m. - answer fan mail (respond defiantly to hate mail, death threats, spam, Viagra offers)

2 p.m. - go windsurfing

6 p.m. - cocktails and supper

8 p.m - ping pong tournament against the Sopranos (we have a mob of singers here currently)

10:30 p.m.- tackle the Globe & Mail's cryptic crossword

10:45 p.m. - enjoy quality time with my honey (I just got some new jars from our local apiary and I just I just love it.)

10:46 p.m. - lights out.

You're reading my schedule and thinking, WOW! How does he do it? I could never do that! Most people aren't cut out to sustain the leisurologist's's grueling. Like a yoga master, I've spent years training my body so I'm able to sustain the pace. Om. Every now and then I'll take some paying work just to give my body a rest.

This month the WIMPS have decided to give poker a rest in lieu of golf. I fully expect that we'll play golf with the same level of skill that we play poker.

"The ball went in that hole by the stick with the flag with the number on it, now what do I do?"

"Write 13 in your score card and move to the next hole. By the way, that's not your ball, that's mine.

I'll encourage them to cheat on their scorecards. They don't cheat at poker, so it's not going to be easy to turn them into real golfers. I'm sure that we'll have a great day and I have no doubt that we'll talk about the great Day while we're out on the links. The weather looks perfect this morning for golf, but I didn't watch the weather forecast on television last evening. Rest assured that two thirds of them did.

P.S. The picture above was taken during a humid evening of card playing in Maui (I lost my shirt to my honey!). I mention this because I don't want rumours to circulate that I play topless poker with a bunch of sixty-year-old men!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Shopping In The Middle Of Nowhere

I live in the middle of nowhere. Seriously, I'm smack dab in the centre. My home is the bulls-eye of nowheredness. This mean that when I need something, other than peace, quiet, loneliness or quarantine, I have to drive somewhere to get it. I'm not kidding about quarantine, I hardly get any colds because most germs haven't got the legs to walk here. Occasionally the flu will hitch-hike on the back of some host parasite (cleverly disguised as a friend). Sometimes I like to give something back to my friends as a thank you. My gifts involve pain too.

When I need a gift for someone, I don't have the luxury of simply driving to the mall, or walking downtown to go shopping. Frankly, it's a pain in the ass to go shopping for single items when you live where I do. This would explain why none of you receive gifts on the most special day of the year. No, I'm not referring to Victoria Day, though I am getting excited about its pending arrival! I love celebrating the birthday of some dowdy dead queen who I've never met, plus I get the day off work.

I'm not a big fan of the concept of a royal family, even though my parents are British tea-totallers. For me, the King is Elvis. Queen is a rock band. Prince is the former symbol artist and Princess is a cruise line. Charles is a river. Camilla is Gonzo's love interest. Andrew is the saint of small seaside golfing towns. Fergie is a black-eyed pea. Liz is a tailor and Philip is a screwdriver. It's at this point that I want to thank section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom. Without it, my big yappy, royal dissin' mouth would be swinging from the gallows in some village courtyard. I'm convinced that, of all the royals, Philip would be the hangman. At least I'd get to see him smile once in my abbreviated lifetime.

Setting aside my noble family fantasies for a moment, let's get back to discussing the reality of rural shopping. Simply put, I'd like to shop locally. If I want herbs or specialty meats, then I don't have to travel far. Cambridge-Narrows is blessed with some exceptionally talented purveyors of gastronomic goodness. As delicious as maple beef jerky is, it doesn't make a good birthday gift, certainly not if popped in a box and mailed from nowhere to somewhere.

All is not lost. Amazingly, my favourite retail experience in all of New Brunswick is located a mere 30 kilometres from my house, in a place called Bloomfield, otherwise known as the outskirts of nowhere. Bloomfield probably doesn't register on your radar, but perhaps it should.

In a big red barn on the edge of a field of blooms, is a very unique retail experience. The business is called The Barn in Bloomfield. The barn is my favourite spot for a number of reasons. First and foremost, you'll know you're not at the mall, and this feels good. Once you step inside the barn, you'll be transported back to a time when craftsmanship and artistry mattered. You'll be enveloped by the warmth of grainy good wood. A couple of years ago, Brent Rourke had the idea to move his workshop from metropolitan Hampton to edge-of-nowhere Bloomfield.

Risky. Brave. Brilliant!

Brent converted a lonely country barn into a state of the art woodworking studio as well as a retail space with a distinctly old world feel. I just love it! It's more than just the physical aspects which make this place appealing, it's also about the creations. Brent's wooden creations are world class, yet affordable to everyone (you can get something really nice starting at $12 or so). Every time I visit, I see something new as Brent is always playing around with designs. He's got a phenomenally global sense of design and balance which belies his country gentleman demeanour.

Regardless of who's standing behind the counter, whether it's Brent or his wife, or the manager Trudy, they're all very hands off, if that's what you want. It's a place where you're given the freedom to browse without having a sales vulture circling overhead. Shopping actually feels peaceful at the Barn. I love that the most rewarding shopping is found in the least likely place. It's one of the few places that I can recommend to anyone with without feeling any apprehension.

The drive itself can be rewarding as well. When I drive to Bloomfield in the autumn, I pass through some blueberry fields (pictured above) which are decidedly delicious, though long since fruitful. The great irony of my pilgrimages to The Barn is that I live in Queens county and Bloomfield is in Kings county.

Shopping will always be a royal pain for me, I guess.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Eat This And Die

They say that breakfast is the meal of champions. General Mills says that Wheaties are the breakfast of champions. New Zealanders say 'eat your breakfast and you'll look and act like a Champion'. I can only assume that they're referring to a Champion spark plug. Eat what's pictured above (I tried and failed) and you'll be thick in the middle with sparks flying out of your bottom. Way to go, champ.

I love New Zealand and I've made this point before. Nothing has changed. It's just the breakfasts that made this country one serving shy of Shangri-La. Perhaps you read my posting about spaghetti on toast? Well, it gets worse...much worse.

There can't be too many people in Western society who aren't guilty of over-indulgence, at least once in a while. I've been the anaconda who has eaten the goat. I've had a pancake in Maine that was the size of a tractor tire, and every bit as filling. Oh Deere! I've persevered through a full English breakfast in Scotland (bacon, fried eggs, sausage, fried tomatoes, fried mushrooms and the killer....fried bread). Thank god it's fried, eh? It took the rest of the week to see it 'through'.

I used to consider the full English breakfast to be the Everest of morning munchies, until I ordered the Kiwi K2. I was in a restaurant in Gisbourne (NZ) on the sunny, wave lapped east coast of the north island. I liked everything about Gisbourne except...


I wandered into a simple looking restaurant with two friends. We arrived shortly after sunrise, hoping to get fuelled up for the day's activities. I eagerly scanned the menu as I was feeling quite peckish. The prices were obscenely low which I interpreted as a sign that the portions would be equally small. Eggs and toast sounded insubstantial so I opted for the bread and ova with fish. I don't make a habit of eating gills for breakfast except when traveling (think kippers in Scotland). I sat down and waited for brekkie to arrive.

As I was waiting at my table, enjoying the morning sunlight streaming through the windows, I couldn't help but notice two burly men struggling with something near the kitchen door. They seemed to be engaged in a fight, not with each other, but with the item they were trying to carry. Eventually there was a pause in the commotion while one disappeared. He returned moments later with a wheelbarrow, after which the men lifted the item into the barrow. One man pushed the wheelbarrow toward me, while the other steadied the load.

They stopped at my table. With a grunt and a heave-ho, they delivered the item to my place mat. The table groaned under the weight. I groaned at the sight. What had I just done? The large men lumbered off to a corner and collapsed.

Breakfast, was served.

I enjoy eggs and toast every now and again. It's a welcome change from my usual fruit, yogurt and granola. I enjoy fish and chips once in a while for supper, when I'm feeling naughty (or lazy or stupid). I usually regret ordering fish and chips, but not until I've eaten every last speck off the plate, including the fries that have clearly gone through the grease twice. What I've discovered is that...a breakfast consisting of scrambled eggs, sitting on fried fish, resting on french fries, shouldered by toast, accented by fried tomatoes, and punctuated by not a healthy meal. Well, it is one healthy meal, sort of, and one unhealthy meal. It's like eating a salad and washing it down with two litres of Coke, except far more disgusting.

Note to long haul truckers who may be reading this: most people don't eat like this, so wipe the look of disbelief off your face. A breakfast like this...IS. NOT. NORMAL.

If I managed to eat one half of my breakfast, by weight measured in kilos, then it was a miracle. I felt awful. I felt awful for what I ordered. I felt awful what what I couldn't eat. When I was little my mom used to use the 'starving kiddies in Africa' line in order to coerce me into finishing my meals. It wasn't a particularly philosophical argument. Don't waste food, so eat more than you want. I wasn't clever enough, at the time, to engage mom in a debate about food portions. I should have said 'don't give me so many Lima beans, or stopping making liver for supper', but I was young and stunned. I just sat there and whined, then ate my glandular organ and exotic Peruvian legumes.

I may never be a morning Champion, but I do try to deliver a spark of inspiration each day. Now go eat your breakfast before your fish sticks drown in your Wheaties!

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Facts Of Life and Benevolent Genies

X-ray vision would be pretty popular for perverts and radiologists. The ability to fly almost always cracks the top three, except among Air Canada pilots. Eternal life has its merits. The funny thing about eternal life is that most people only see the bright side, rarely considering an eternity of snow shoveling or The Facts Of Life reruns.

I shouldn't really diss The Facts Of Life, after all, George Clooney used to be on the show. His appearance was a welcome relief to the endless pre-Twitter twitterings of Natalie Green (the chubby one played by Mindy Cohn). Eventually George went back to med school and went on to better things. When I say 'better things' I've purposely chosen to ignore his cameo on The Golden Girls. Well, not on them...though never count out Bea Arthur for a good romp, or that feisty Betty White. May they both rest in peace (they're dead, right?).
This just in: apparently Betty White is still alive. Sorry Betty, I guess I had you confused with Estelle Getty. I hope, for your sake, this doesn't happen often.
I digress.
If a Genie landed on your back deck and offered you one free physical attribute, for what would you wish? I've given this a lot of thought. First of all, I've cleared a space on my back deck to allow for a comfortable landing. I've never been quite sure if Genies glide in for landings or whether they seep out of a lantern. Note: I've chosen to capitalize the word 'Genie' out of deference. I don't know if Genie's are into smiting like Gods, but I'm playing it safely.
Now where was I? Ah yes... about my Genie wish...I've thought about asking to be less physically attractive, so I could just live a normal life, not always feeling like a piece of meat tossed into in a cage full of she-wolves, but I can live with that for a few more decades I suppose. .
The honest answer is that I'd ask for musical talent. When I see and hear people playing music, I'm instantly envious...unless they're playing the bassoon. If Eyeore was an instrument, he'd be a bassoon. My apologies to the hundreds, if not thousands of bassoonists who read my blog, I don't try to be mean (it's a natural talent, like your musical ability). I am envious of your capacity to make music, just not on a depressed instrument that looks like something better suited to housing a trout rod.
Some people have natural musical ability. I know quite a few. I married one. I even fathered one, though I know enough about genetics to be assured that he plays the guitar well because of his mother, and he'll someday go bald because of his father.
I'm currently trying to learn how to play the guitar. My progress is slow but I am moving forward, while my guitar gently weeps. Actually it's bawling. I'm resigned to the fact that I'll never be a rock star, even if I can master the guitar. I'll never have a flowing mane of hair which will elicit a stadium of screams from my adoring fans, some of whom will flash me (hence no need for x-ray vision). I may one day sound like Jimi Hendrix, but I'll forever look like Phil Collins. Sigh.
Would I consider changing my one wish from musical talent to something more shallow, like good looks? Never! Some people are just blessed with good looks and musical talent (Keith Richards, Slash, Joe Cocker). Who knows where they'll use their one wish? I think Keith already has eternal life.
All I know is that I'd like to be able to sit down by a campfire with a guitar and play something that flickers with warmth and beauty, but there's no point waiting for a Genie to show up. There's only one thing that I can do.
A man in New York City walks up to a taxi driver and asks how you get to Carnegie Hall. The cabbie replies "practice, practice, practice."
Those are the facts of life.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Day Postponed But Not Cancelled

Here's some advice that will be sure to please your mother: buy her flowers, cook her breakfast, give her a foot massage, feed her bonbons, vacuum her house, call her, send her a nice card or somehow let her know that she's appreciated. Do this on Mother's Day.
Now, do you really want to show her how much you love her?
Do some or all of the above on a day that isn't Mother's Day (don't do it the on the day after Mother's Day, you forgetful dolt). If you want to make someone feel like they're part of the crowd, then do what you're 'supposed' to do. Follow the herd. If you want momsie to feel like she's someone special, then do something extraordinary (and refer to her as momsie). There's plenty of opportunity, i.e. the other 363 days of the calendar year.
In all fairness to you, I should post this blog entry in August or November or January, when it really matters. You've probably got today already under wraps. I've felt for years that it's just guilty sons and daughters that make a big fuss over Mother's Day. A gift on Mother's Day will be appreciated, there's no doubt, so go for it anyway.
I do challenge you to do something nice, for the maternal unit, out of the blue. It will mean more when it's not expected. I feel the same way about Christmas. A gift or kind gesture will be better appreciated when it isn't part of a commercial assault, which is what the non-Christian aspects of Christmas have become. Give someone a Christmas gift this week, wrap it in Christmas paper, then use a seismograph to gauge the reaction. The same goes for any Hallmark holiday. You'll be a god-like hero.
Now, I have a confession to make. I've been doing some work for a company in Minnesota lately. I know, I know...I'm supposed to be a leisurologist. The work that I'm doing is writing and I'm conducting my business from a sofa, so it doesn't feel like work. My feeling is that any business that can be conducted from a couch, can't really be work in the traditional sense. For this reason, I'm not turning in my card to the Leisurologist's Union of North America (LUNA) ...besides, I'm the president of the union and its sole member. A strike to protest my paid labour might be in order though.
The company that I've been writing for is called Gently Spoken, and they have a product line called Eat Your Peas. If you visit their web site, you'll notice that they offer many products that celebrate people and friendships. They haven't, for the most part, tied themselves to special dates, instead they've focused on special people. Mother's Day is but one day a year, but mother is a 365 day woman. If you want to tell mother, or anyone else, how much you love and/or appreciate them, then you might consider doing it with one of Eat Your Peas 3-minute inspirational books. Eat Your Peas may seem like an odd choice for a product line name, but I think it's brilliant. There's a wonderful story that explains how the company was born. The story offers a great lesson in love, caring and making a difference in someone's life. It will take one minute to read, have you got one minute?
Mother made a difference in your life...umm, like, she gave you one. Now use that gift wisely!
Getting back to LUNA for a moment, don't you think that LUNA seems like strange acronym for my group of one, since I don't look like Luna, the goddess of the moon. I don't feel like the goddess of anything. Borrowing the words of Lever Brothers, the oft quoted soap-making conglomerate, 'I've got 2000 body parts'. Going one step further, one of those body parts singles me out from the parade of goddesses (hint: rhymes with Venus). I probably should have gone with my other choice...the Leisurologist's Union of the Maritime Provinces (LUMP).
Happy Mother's Day, mom. I hope the bouquet of tulips lasts a long time, they're symbolic in that sense. The gourmet cupcake, well that's pure tradition...enjoyed for one day only. There will be more cupcakes, and you won't be waiting a year to enjoy them!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

My Goal: To Neti Pot You
I don't really care how it's spelled...netty, nettie, neti pot, it's irrelevant. I only know that I want to neti pot's for your own good.

My wife uses a neti pot to flush out her sinuses. She says that it's good for business. You might wonder what business could profit from the insertion of what looks to be a poorly made dollar store teapot; she's an opera singer and the neti pot is a tool of the trade. Apparently a lot of warblers neti pot regularly.

Wendy fills the neti pot with a saline solution, cranks her head to one side while precariously contorting over the sink, then jams the spout up her nose and serves tea. I think that it's a bit gross, not that I'm squeamish or a prude (okay, I'm a prude). Unlike the illustration above, which I stole from the internet because I'm currently in Fredericton and unable to access my library of images, the saline flows in one nostril, through the sinuses, and out the other nostril.

The idea is that it keeps your sinuses clean, and it clears the nasal cavity of would-be pathogens. I'd ask my wife to comment on the effectiveness of the neti pot, but she's just getting over a cold and needs to sleep in. Needless to say, I'm skeptical regarding the neti pots' magical powers. I've lived through echinacea (the miracle preventative healing plant), and Cold-fX (it's clinically proven, to do what, I do not know). Now it's the age of neti. I can't wait for pyramid power to come back.

Have a nice time in Egypt Wendy, I'll just stay at home admiring my copper bracelets, eating raw garlic (and wondering why I have no friends), and washing it down with a steaming bowl of chicken soup.

I'd be paranoid about colds if I were an opera singer. Bill Gates can craft a brilliantly buggy operating system with a runny nose (Vista, in case you've been living on Pluto), but you can't ride with the Valkyries when you're a mouth breather.

So....with all this skepticism regarding the neti pot, why is it my goal to neti pot you? That's simple, because it's fun and easy. You see, I don't travel with a neti pot and you probably don't own one, so I try to do it creatively. I like to work with what I've got. When socializing with friends and family, I'm always hyper-attentive. When I'm telling a story with a kicker of a punchline, I often try to drop the bomb while you're taking a drink. It's an evil thing to do, but love me as I am. I'm not going to change. I savour the sight of liquids flying out of your nose. I'm sick, but you won't be, at least not if you're drinking salt water cocktails.

I've neti potted my son twice. One time I managed to get hot chocolate coming back through his nostrils...that was my crowning moment as a professional neti potter. Last evening I almost neti potted a friend. She's one of those people who loves to laugh. She goes by the name of Kitts. To my knowledge she doesn't have a first name, but if she did, it wouldn't be Colleen. I didn't manage to neti pot her, though she did have to chortle her tea back into the mug. It's not a true neti pot until the Nile runs out your nasal culverts. Next time!

So, my friends, if I ever invite you out for a drink, don't accept my invitation. If you come over for supper and I'm serving stew, just assume that I'm taking my game to a whole new level. Chew carefully and thoroughly, don't make eye contact, wear ear plugs.

And please, don't be foolish enough to think that you can neti pot me. I'll give a crisp hundred dollar bill to the first person who can clean my sinuses.

Friday, May 8, 2009

My Latest Muse Is Flat

I'm spending two weeks hanging around a piece of photocopied paper...and I'm loving it. It doesn't take much to amuse me (remember the donut machine story?). The photocopied paper isn't full of poetic words, musical notes or delicious imagery. It's full of Stanley. Flat Stanley.
Flat Stanley is part of a project being carried out in schools all across the globe, it just so happens that I've been invited to help out by an elementary school in New Hampshire. All the kids in one creative teacher's class have been given a photocopied sheet of paper with Stanley's likeness. The kids have been challenged, by their teacher, to send Flat Stanley to a family member or friend. Ideally each child will send Flat Stanley to some remote outpost. My young friend in New Hampshire hit the jackpot by sending Stanley to the third most remote place on earth after Antarctica and Minto....Cambridge-Narrows!
This isn't my first brush with an inanimate friend. I drove across North America last year with a dollar store doll called Timmy. You can read about it on my web site, and enjoy some 'interesting' images. It's a lot of fun hanging out with someone who just lays around and expects you to do everything for him. Just ask my wife, she seems to relish it!
Flat Stanley is going to learn all about Cambridge-Narrows, as will all the kids in one New Hampshire school. A brilliant idea! It's also good because it forces me to see my world through someone else's eyes. I know what I like to do in my part of the world, but now I have to look beyond myself to see what someone else would appreciate.
So far Flat Stanley has been a pleasure. He's mild mannered like Charlie Brown. Come to think of it, he looks like a bald Charlie Brown. If you remember, Charlie Brown had one long hair that he sort of worked into a comb-over. The only little 'incident' we've had so far was when I showed him my paper shredder...he just kind of freaked out. I've put it in a closet for the rest of the visit. .
I'm off to Fredericton today with Flat Stanley. It's going to be a full day as we'll be going flat out. That's life with Stanley!