The true meaning of Christmas

Religion, family and friends, tradition, thumbing your nose at the dark days of winter with a display of greenery and lights...

Whatever.

The true meaning of Christmas, the reason for the season... dressing your dog up in silly hats, and laughing at the result.

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Kip really does wish you all a very Merry Christmas. Really. Honest.

Bah humbug!

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sorry for the poor video quality - maybe Santa will bring me a real video camera!!

Ho ho...



Supervisor dog supervises... but does little actual work.

More shopping...

Getting there...


Done!

Fortunately, it snowed after I was done.

mmm... snow

And yes, I found the wreath hanger!

Weirdness, part one

Completely off topic, but...

(and no, I am NOT done my Christmas decorating. What's your point?)


I am not afraid of heights. I love roller coasters. I can drive over tall bridges in a single bound. But pictures like this* give me the willies.

Most people don't encounter such pictures too often, but that was one of the hazards of working in plant pathology for 15 years. You see, plant pathologists take a lot of picture of plants, dead, alive or somewhere in between. Plants in the field, on lab benches, in the greenhouse. And for the most part, they attempt to stand over the plants, and shoot straight down. But very seldom is it dead-on straight down - it's often slightly angled. And most people cannot tell which way is "up" in such shots when they are presenting the slides (at meetings, conferences, publications, etc.).

But I can tell. Every time. And to the vast amusement of some of my colleagues (you know who you are!!). Who delighted in showing me such pictures - and watching me turn green.

Fun times.

So yeah. This is one of my many completely useless life skills. Being able to tell which way is up. Think it will make me rich?

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* That picture is from this blog:

http://youngestround.blogspot.com/

A 16 year old Australian woman sailing solo around the world. Even if you don't think that's an appropriate adventure for one so young, the blog makes for great reading.

Ho...

Someone went shopping...



Someone who likes to live a bit dangerously...



Not too bad for someone's first attempt at wreath making!

Now someone just has to find the rest of the decorations... and the wreath hanger...

Dancing with your dogs.

Kip jumping 24"



Got a dog?


Agility. Carting. Disc dog. Dock jumping.

Got a smart dog?

Earthdog. Flyball. Foxhunting. Hare coursing. Heelwork to music.

A few extra minutes in the day?

Herding. Hound work. Hunt tests. Lure coursing. Obedience. Racing.

The ability to train your dog?

Rally-O. Retrieving trials. Ring sport. Schutzhund. Skijoring. Sledding. Tracking. Weight pulling.

What's your excuse???

Explain to me again...

...why I spend money on dog toys?

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I can't even start to tell you how much fun it is to rake the lawn with a dog who:

1. Thinks leaves are the best toy EVER
2. Thinks toys need their space, and should not ever be collected into one discreet area.

Fun times!

One year later...

WOW! It's been one year already, and... hardly anything has gotten done on the house. Of course, there is a great reason (no job = no mortgage = no $). But still, it's slightly discouraging. But I'm working now, and golf season will soon be over*, so things should start to move soon - in theory, at least.

So, to fill the time until then, I give you my yard.  I've talked about it before, but haven't really shown pictures or discussed my plans for it.


  Front Yard

At some point, new white siding and grey shingles will be installed - along with green shutters. The ramp will be removed, and the front porch fixed up.  I want to replace the gravel in the driveway (paved, concrete, cobble stone - I'm not sure yet, but something better than gravel), and a walkway through the front yard to the porch, and replace all the front yard grass with flower beds. The challenge there is that there are no sidewalks, so all the snow and salt from the road in winter gets pushed right into the yard, which really limits what I can plant.  Even so, I should be able to change this area into a nice little "cottage" perennial garden - it faces west, and gets great sun (and the brunt of the Lake Erie winds as well).  


Side Yard

What other dog gets his very own fire hydrant??  It's actually right on the property line, meaning I have a great "side" yard.  This area, assuming that I won't have the money to build a garage for a few years yet, will be the vegetable garden and dog agility area.  This is on the north side of the house, meaning it gets quite a bit of shade in the winter, but the summer sun is high enough in the sky to make this area the sunniest in the yard, other than the front yard.

 
Back Yard

There are 4 large ash trees in the back yard, and all of them are in this picture (the trunk of the third is just visible to the right of the second, and the forth is hidden behind the third).  At least two of these, the two closest to the house, are most likely coming down.  It's unfortunate, but they are rotting at the base, and after every wind storm (have I mentioned we get a lot of wind, living near the lake and all?), the yard is littered with rather large branches.  I'd prefer not to have them come down on the house or it's inhabitants, so I'm being proactive.




  Pile of branches after one storm

The plan is to remove those two trees, then make the area between them and the house a small patio.  I'm thinking of leaving the stumps a couple of feet high, and incorporating them into a flower garden that will border the patio.  I also want a walkway along side the house, connecting the driveway to the patio, and step-stones of some sort out to the shed, since that's where the garbage and recycling bins are kept.  I want all of these "hard" elements to work together, and so will probably be doing all of them together in a year or two. 

I'm going to build a compost bin before winter sets in, and will be putting in raised-bed vegetable gardens next spring.  I kept the old storm windows from the ones we put in the shed, and plan on building cold frames with those.  And of course, I need to get a fence.  It's going to be a lot of work, but I think the rewards are worth it - both in terms of healthy, home-grown food, a nice yard that increases the property value, and just the pleasure I get out of working outside.

However, I will really need help in all this planning - anyone up to doing a garden plan for me??  Anyone?


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* Dad is doing most of the renos (with my help, of course), and as he works for cheap free, I can't really complain about him choosing golf over home renos!

Shed update

I just realized I never showed the "finished" shed interior. 

Here is the pegboard and workbench (which was made from building scraps) on the back wall.


 

 The other side of the back wall, with electrical cords and lawn stuff:
 


The two front wall corners, with the garbage and recycling bins (I made the recycling bin stand from building scraps as well), and bird seed containers and space to hang the snow shovel and rake:
 





And the cross ties for the roof, that are used for storage as well:



Not too bad for a shed.  But note the presence of the agility jumps and weave poles - spoiled dog!!  I just hope there is enough room for a snow blower...

My immune system goes all the way to 11


"Dog Vomit" slime mold
Argh.

There is yet another washed-up actress trying desperately to promote herself by jumping on the "I'm not a doctor, and I didn't even play one on TV" bandwagon. 

First we have Jenny McCarthy on autism*.  Now, it's Susanne Somers on cancer (I think - her "interview" on Larry King Live was a bit.... asinine idiotic laughable vague).

I'm not against alternative medicines, homeopathy, "natural" remedies, etc.  But I am against medical "miracles" that cannot be proven - especially when people are making money off of them. 


This site mentions that what she may have had was a fungal infection - one that generally only affects people with a compromised immune system.

One wonders if she sees the irony in that??

* Please note - I am in no way denying the severity of issues like autism, just mocking the face time "famous" people get who have NO idea what the hell they are talking about, and the people who for some reason look to these "stars" for information...

This is why

Even though I work in Niagara Falls, I live in Fort Erie. People are always asking me why, since the current 20 minute commute will become much longer once winter hits - and there will most likely be some days when I won't make it into work at all due to road closures.

There are, of course, many reasons I chose to buy a house where I did (the main one being I did not want to live in the Falls - it's changed too much since I last lived there, almost 20 years ago). But here is the main reason I bought the house I did - all of these were taken on one of our daily walks, only minutes away from home.




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There is nowhere in the Falls that I could let Kip off-leash*, for almost the entire walk, and in an area that gives him so much fun.


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* yes, it is against city by-laws to both have a dog off-leash and on the beach. It's October - there is no one else on the beach, and very few other people even walking in the area. I pay attention, and call Kip to me if there is someone else walking, and I always have his leash (and his tags - note he's not wearing a collar) with me. If I ever get caught, so be it :)

Swine flu rant

This is a quick rant - I need to work on a longer post about the public's perception of diseases, vaccine safety and science, but I don't have time at the moment.  But this drives me nuts. 

Long story short - a family member most likely had the "dreaded" swine flu last week.  No problems, she's fine this week.  But another family member was incredibly worried, since "1 in 6 people die of it".

I heard that comment in passing, and it made me think for a moment, but the topic veered to other things, and I didn't get back to it right away.  Later on though, I happened to come across an internet news article about it.

Indeed, the death rate is 1 in 6.  For people sick enough to be admitted to ICU.  Not those admitted to the hospital in total, but the subset who are sick enough to be in need of intensive care.  The article actually made this quite clear if it was read, but skimming it would lead one to a false conclusion. 

And that drives me 'round the bend.  Statistics are generally so mangled by the media, and then further mangled by the public, that it's no wonder that we are in the midst of swine flu hysteria.  It's no wonder that there are many people how believe that vaccines are useless, or even worse, dangerous.  Who believe that "nature" is all that's needed to have healthy people (and canines).  And trying to debate with these people is worse that trying to push string.  Anything you say is dismissed, since you are obviously close-minded, not a critical thinker, or worse, university educated!!!!  GASP!  Okay, enough for now.  But I'll be back...

 

Running back to Saskatoon...

I went back to 'Toon town for the weekend.

I stayed with friends, C & J, and we managed to get here to see a new play, The Walnut Tree, even though the extra ticket C. bought for me was "lost" by some sort of screw-up. But thanks to karma and the generosity of a friend, all 3 of us got to see one of the best performances I've ever seen.

Persephone Theater

I stopped by my old workplace to reconnect with some great people. And for coffee. Because you know, that's what work is really about - coffee time.

I spent some time absorbing the energy of the never-stop twins, almost-four-year-old K & R.

(R's self-portrait. K didn't stop long enough to get a photo taken!)

But mostly I went for this event:


Which leads me to today's version of...

You know you're at a prairie wedding when:

1. The guys running the bar have cowboy hats on.

2. These are the table decorations.

3. Everyone at the table, including the engineer, can identify the seeds used for the wedding decorations.

4. There is a discussion about the apparent frost damage on some of the seeds.

5. And one about the under-representation of pulse crops.

6. This is played at the wedding dance.



7. More than one wedding guest is "dressed up" wearing new Wranglers and a big belt buckle.

8. The DJ plays a polka, followed by a country song, followed by a current rock song. And the age group of those dancing to each is not what you'd predict.

9. Introductions to strangers include what chemical/seed company they work for (and you immediately know 5 other people they work with).

and....

10. Much discussion is about the fact that thought it's only 4 C and overcast, it was a nice day for an October wedding because, you know, it might have snowed.

Traditional Norwegian wedding cake - very yummy!

Lazy Sunday

I like to take Kip to areas that will challenge him in terms of training. So today, taking advantage of the nice fall Sunday, we went to Niagara-on-the-Lake.


We saw historic buildings.


We met some horses, and sat pretty even though they smelled really really really good.


We thought about going here for afternoon tea.


But they said "NO dogs!!". We didn't want to go there anyway.


We pondered the wisdom of a tourist area planting poisonous plants.

We thought about going to the theater, but instead...


... we just sat on their bench.


We window-shopped for artwork.


And then we came home, made soup and went to sleep. Well, one of us made soup, and one went to sleep. Guess which one??

Tally-ho!!!

There is another debate raging over at the Pet Connection site, this time about declawing cats.

(A note here: on Yahoo Answers, every so often, someone gets all het up about "declawing" dogs. I find it indicative of the general level of knowledge of many "animal rights" people (mind you, most of them are teenagers, but still). They read "dewclaw" as "declaw", and proceed to try and change the world so no dogs are ever declawed again. How nice!! Anyhow, back to today's topic.)

I have mentioned here before that I'm against the vast majority additional of "anti-cruelty" legislation, mainly because such legislation has a number of unintended consequences, doesn't address the issue, and has a slim chance of ever being used to prevent abuse of any animal, since most Animal Controls (at least the ones I know of) are understaffed and under-funded, and the court system doesn't seem to treat any but the most egregious cruelty cases seriously (case in point - Michel Vick didn't go to jail for animal abuse).

It seems many of the proponents in the current debate are British (or English, although I don't know how one can be English and not British, but I digress). Which makes me think of the hunting ban over there that worked so well, that it's possibly in danger of being repealed.

We on the other side of the pond also have those that wish to ban hunting - both the mounted-fox-hunts kind of hunting, and the person-with-a-gun (or bow) kind.

Cuz you know, it's mean. It's nicer to let the poor little animals live their lives in peace. Yes ma'am, hunting and fishing is cruel and should be banned.

These same people, if one were to ask, would surely support environmental awareness and habitat preservation for those same poor little animals. But try to tell them that one of the BIGGEST supporters (in terms of cold hard cash, not just rhetoric) of habitat preservation was established, and continues to be supported, by hunters. It makes sense when one thinks about it - no habitat, no animals. Most hunters and fishers I know are environmentalists as well, but aren't the tree-hugger types one generally associates with that term. They don't have time to protest and sign petitions - they are to busy actually spending time in the same habitats they are trying to preserve.

These same people, if one were to ask, would surely be against having those poor little animals die of car crashes, starvation or disease. And of course they'd be against having Fluffy and Fido end up as coyote food, right? But try telling them that's exactly what happens to deer and coyote populations (and probably to more animals, but those are the 2 I'm familiar with) in areas where hunting declines. Deer populations increase (good, right?), and more get killed by cars, and more starve to death as food resources become scarce (this is Animal Ecology 101). As deer populations increase, so do their predator populations - generally coyotes in many areas of North America. And coyotes are incredibly adaptable. When the deer population crashes, they happily turn to the dog-and-cat buffet (FYI, the Beaches area of Toronto is most definitely NOT suburban or rural - it's right between downtown and Lake Ontario. Fort Erie is a town of ~30,000 right across the river from Buffalo - a bit more rural that Toronto, but a town none the less, and these attacks took place in a densely populated neighbourhood only a few block away from me. These are city coyotes we're talking about here, not their country cousins). As populations of animals increase, so do their diseases - like mange and rabies.

Like it or not, humans are part of the environment. We cannot be left out of the equations. Sure, it's nice to think about a "nature" where all animals are free from disease, starvation, and predation, but it just doesn't happen. So that's why I support hunting, and fishing, and even fox hunting (and please note, the fox is NOT killed in North American hunts). Even though I don't own a gun, fishing rod or fox hound.

Because, you know, I can separate logic and emotion, and use my little grey cells to try to understand what our world actually is, not what I wish it were.

Of fall and foam

Three things have recently made me realize that summer is indeed over.

Orion is back in the night sky.

The leaves are turning colours.

And these are back on store shelves:



It's odd - I'm not a big candy eater (Chocolate, yes, but chocolate isn't candy, it's a food group). But candy corn gets me every fall.

Since I've finally succumbed to the idea that fall is here, I really can't ignore the fact that winter is soon to follow. Last winter was COLD. Not outside, but inside - that's what you get when you live in an under-insulated house (or uninsulated) in Canada. But this year...

FOAM!! I got foam! Not the entire house, but at least the crawl space is finally done. I initially contracted the job out last November! But spray foam is applied with equipment that uses electricity, and a small wet crawlspace and electricity don't mix, so it had to wait until the crawl space dried out - which it should have done this summer. Except...

This summer was insanely wet. We finally got a run of dry weather, I repaired the cracks in the foundation, and wonder upon wonder, the company that was applying the foam was able to fit me in soon after I called to make the apointment and the weather stayed dry!!!

Why am I so happy? Well, all the plumbing is in the crawl space. Which means the crawl space needs to stay heated all winter. Which means a great deal of heat (and my $$) went into the crawl space last year. By simply insulating this area, I can reduce the amount of heat I divert to the crawl space, and either reduce my heating costs, or keep the house warmer this winter. One of these weekends, I also need to get my tallest, skinniest nephew over here with my dad to put plastic down under the crawl space as well - that should help keep the house drier (well, as dry as you can get when living within sight of one of largest lakes in the world).

So why spray foam? And not the standard Fiberglas batting (which I will be using in the walls of the house)? The only thing you can really do with fiberglass insulation in a crawl space is insulate the "ceiling" of the space (basically the floor of the house). This is a great and much, much, much cheaper option - as long as you don't need a heated crawl space. Additionally, spray foam provides a good vapor barrier (not really critical in this application, but it will help with the dampness). But spray foam is $$$, needs to be applied by professionals ($$$$), and off-gasses (UGH! That wasn't too bad with just the crawl space, but I can't imagine living here soon after the application if I was going to get the entire house done). So, it's foam for the crawl space, Fiberglass for the walls, and probably blown-in insulation of some sort for the attic.

It's fall. But I have foam and candy corn, so life is good!

Hey! Wasn't this supposed to be a home reno blog?

Yes, yes it was. So here, without further ado, some home renos.

Actually, making pie pastry is remarkably similar to mixing up concrete (mix wet to dry until the right consistency is achieved...), making this weekend eerily similar to last one, just with fewer peaches.

There were holes in the foundation, which allowed water into the crawlspace, which meant the insulation guys couldn't spray the foam onto the crawlspace walls (something about water and electricity not mixing). So, after a few (finally!) dry days, a batch of hydraulic cement, some grubby clothes, and hey presto, a patched foundation. And yes, I did this by myself!!


Those were the largest cracks; there were a few smaller ones that patched easily. In fact, it was all pretty easy. It's not perfect, but it will do the job until I get the entire thing re-parged (which won't happen until the new siding is put on, which won't happen for a couple of years yet).

The astute amongst you will wonder at my lack of hysteria re: a cracked foundation. That's because what was patched isn't actually what's holding the house up. The house is on a pier foundation, and the cracks are only in the areas between the piers, which are not structural at all. The astute may also wonder at the green pipe. We* think it was the old waste water pipe, but it's not actually connected to anything inside the house. Where is goes and what it's connected to outside the house is anyone's guess. I told my boss this week at work that the more I look into things there, the more mistakes I find, so I'm going to stop looking. The same goes for certain things in the house... like the green pipe :)

*We = Dad. I have no opinion on odd green pipes.

What to do on a rainy Saturday...

(Note presence of helpful floor cleaner)


Put 4 pies (unbaked) in freezer. Keep one out for lunch treats. Trade one for a steak and shrimp dinner at Mom & Dad's tonight.

A day well spent.

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