Wednesday, December 30, 2009

to wrench or not to wrench

You may remember from my April 17 post that I'm not much of a mechanic. Occasionally I test that immutable truth by digging out the wrenches (you never know, I may have supernaturally become a natural grease monkey in my sleep), but always discover that yes, I was not born to fix cars. Today the mission was to change oil on fire department pickup truck. If I were most people, it would be a 15 or 20 minute task . . . but I'm not most people.

The first time I tried changing oil in that truck it took about three hours, and I nearly had an apoplectic fit trying to wring the filter off the engine block. After numerous skinned knuckles and unmentionable comments about imbecilic vehicle designers that haven't got enough sense to attach a blasted filter someplace where you can reach it, I finally skewered it with a screwdriver (an old bushwacker trick) and wrung it off in a punctured, mangled mess. It looked like a corkscrew used for machine gun target practice, but at least it was off.

Not long after that, I purchased one of those handy-dandy filter wrenches that you use with a socket wrench, which simplified life at oil change time . . . until today. I guess the ultimate graphite construction was only ultimate for a limited number of oil changes. The wrench kept slipping off, and I could feel the apoplexy coming on, but I tried one last angle and managed to break the filter free without losing a finger or my temper. Time for a new wrench . . . maybe ultimate aluminum this time.

After the battle was over, and my blood pressure went down a bit, I surveyed my work area. It looked like a tornado had run through it. If you want living proof that I'm not and never will be a mechanic, look at this:

A real mechanic could have done a complete overhaul and only made half that mess.

And this is me looking through the owner's manual trying to figure out where the dipstick is to make sure I didn't overfill it. No, I'm not kidding, and yes, that's a piece of the engine laying there . . . I had to take it off to get a different angle on the filter.


On a more somber note, a Wisconsin firefighter died fighting a dumpster fire yesterday. You can read the story and see a photo of the scene here. No one expects to die at a fire, especially not a dumpster fire. An ugly reminder that we all need to stay on our toes all the time.

On a happier note, the weather has gotten a little milder again, a bonus for everyone except the polar bears. -30 and -40 degree weather is to be expected this time of year, but when there isn't a lot of snow on the ground (like this year) it causes problems. Frozen pipes aren't a firefighter's problem . . . unless they're his or her pipes OR unless the owner tries to thaw them out with a propane torch and catches his house on fire. Then we get called to do our arctic fire attack maneuvers, and the problems begin . . . did I say I was thankful that the weather was a little milder?

In case I don't get back at the keyboard for a couple days, Happy New Year to all! If you are a firefighter, may you stay safe and warm (but not too warm) in 2010.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Beebewitz Blog, Holiday Edition Part 3

I would start this entry with, "I hurt" again if it wasn't boring and redundant (not to mention whiny and cry-babyish). However, I started my December 22 entry with those exact words, and the Blogger Rule Book forbids using an opening line more than once. Too bad, because I really do hurt all over. Again.

You guessed it. I bashed around the hockey rink with teenagers again yesterday. Some people never learn. The bright side is that I prevented a few pucks from entering our net. I also practiced my 'giraffe-on-rollerblades' pirouettes, much to the amusement of my Canadian-born wife, who started skating a week after taking her first baby steps. The down side is that my shins ache (from stopping pucks) and the rest of me aches (from crashing into anything that didn't get out of the way fast enough). It's been a great holiday so far.

The day before yesterday we spent the afternoon with family from Thunder Bay, roasting hotdogs and bannock over an open fire. The weather was snowy and mild, contrary to the Farmer's Almanac's gloomy forecast of bitterly cold and dry. In between hot chocolate and pigs-in-a-blanket, various family members took excursions around the lake on skis or snowshoes. I spent most of the time foraging for dry firewood, but managed to get some food and fun in between. Definitely a more relaxing holiday than playing hockey.

You'll get nearly 300,000 hits Googling 'bannock recipe,' so I won't offer you our own (especially since we don't really use a recipe) but I will offer you my not-so-secret recipe for bannock pigs-in-a-blanket. If you are really stuck and don't know how to use Google or type 'bannock recipe,' you can click here for one that is similar to ours, except that we use either butter or lard instead of oil (cut it into the flour, don't melt it). If you are going to cook it using the boring indoors method, you might as well just make biscuits. Bannock isn't really bannock unless it's done on a stick over an open fire.

Bannock Pig-in-a-Blanket
(Warning! If you are very hungry, eat a hamburger first!)
  1. Make some bannock dough in the comfort of your warm, dry kitchen (if you really want to savour the experience, you can mix the ingredients by the open fire . . . nah, don't bother).
  2. Form dough balls about the size of small Christmas oranges (or over-sized golf balls), and put in a tupperware container.
  3. Gather other important stuff for the excursion: hot dogs or smokies, hot chocolate and cups, and some honey. Pack it all in a backpack.
  4. Head out to some quiet wilderness area and build an open fire (don't use your son's flint and steel that he got for Christmas, unless you are experienced and had two hamburgers).
  5. Put a hotdog or smoky (the 'pig') on a stick, and form the bannock into a blanket around it. (this takes some time and care . . . I told you to eat a hamburger first). The hotdog should be completely covered by a seamless and very thin layer of dough.
  6. Find a spot on the fire that has a good bed of coals. Rotate the pig-in-a-blanket over the coals until the dough is golden brown. Don't be in a hurry (aren't you glad you had that hamburger first?). The biggest mistake people make is succumbing to impatience, and you end up with blackened shell, covering raw dough and a cold hotdog.
  7. If it's done properly, the hotdog will flavour the bannock very nicely.
  8. Eat the pig-in-a-blanket off of the stick. You can't put mustard or ketchup on it, because I didn't tell you to bring any.
  9. For dessert: Make another plain bannock by forming it over the stick into a long, slender shape, somewhat thinner than a hotdog. Make sure it covers the stick seamlessly right over the end.
  10. Roast it golden brown (now that you've had a hamburger and a hotdog you won't be impatient).
  11. Slide it carefully off the stick.
  12. Dribble some honey in the hole and let it melt into the bannock (now you know why you had to bring honey).
By the way, there really is no Blogger's Rule Book. We just write whatever we want, whenever we want to.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The lengths we bloggers will go to get recognized. I'm currently trying to tango with the cyber gremlins again, and feel like a blind dancer doing steps on a floor full of potholes. I am attempting to register my blog with Technorati to see if I can attract more readers, but the usual promise of "a few easy steps" is turning into more automated messages that politely veil the disdain that the evil computer geniuses must feel for poor, semi-cyber illiterate bloggers like me. The essence of the last message was something like this, "You idiot! We told you to copy the code into the body of your next post! How do you expect us to do our stuff when you can't even follow directions?"

So here is the @#%&! code. Now do your stuff (please). JCT5BX37BDHH

I wouldn't want you to think that this post is totally about appeasing some cyber robot (even though it is), so here is a link to a series of close-call shots taken at a fire scene in North Carolina. Yes, the firefighter's gear is flaming. Yes, these guys are very thankful that they lived to see another Christmas. Yes, firefighting is nuts sometimes.

I'm part of a team of instructors for what's called the Flashover Recognition and Survival Course, put on by the Ontario Fire College. It gives the students a chance to study fire behaviour in a (usually) calm, controlled environment, and learn to recognize warning signs that flashover is imminent. It's one of the best courses we teach. Here is a shot from a course we did in Moosonee a few years ago.


For the record, there aren't supposed to be flames coming out the door like that (I said usually calm and controlled). If you want to see more shots by Paul Lantz, click here.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

the joy of winter (continued)

I hurt. Everywhere. Last evening I again caved into the "Dad, come play hockey" plea, against all reason and better judgment. The kids are only young once, and I'm only middle-aged once, and life only happens once, and I don't get any smarter with age, and there you have it. I hurt all over.

I had a feeling it was going to be a rough evening. The teams were two dads and all the young kids against Phillip and his buddy, both teenagers. Seven against two . . . we (the seven) were doomed from the get-go. When the score was 3-0 for the teenagers, I paused for a breather by the net on the pretext of taking a turn at goalie, and watched Phillip bring the puck down the ice. The youngsters swarmed around him like a flock of sparrows worrying an eagle, and he paid about as much attention to them as the eagle does the sparrows. He swooped in for yet another point, and then it was our turn. We gave ourselves a stern talking to, hyped up the little guys, and went screaming down the ice like Apaches on skates. And we scored.

We took a good beating (not just on the scoreboard) until about an hour and a half into the game the other Dad called out, "last goal wins!" Coincidentally, we were in possession of the puck, so we went on the offensive. Invigorated by the knowledge that our suffering would certainly be over in a few minutes, we stormed enemy territory for the kill. I tried my "drunk giraffe on rollerblades" maneuver, hoping to at least distract them into fits of laughter while we we took the shot. The ploy backfired. I lost my balance and did a lopsided pirouette, arms, legs and stick flailing (imagine an eighty year old Elvis Stojko with half his body paralyzed by a stroke and you'll get the idea) and crashed down hard. The silver lining was that everyone stopped to make sure I was still alive, and we called the game a tie.

Did I tell you that I hurt all over?

On a jollier note, a guy posing as Santa robbed a bank in Nashville this morning. You'd think someone would have clued in that the guy was an imposter when they saw his wheels - a gray getaway car. Even the kids know that Santa drives a sleigh.

JCT5BX37BDHH

Sunday, December 20, 2009

the joy of winter

"The ice" is done. If you are a hockey player, you probably know what that means. There's plain, ordinary ice, then there's "the ice". We've had plenty of plain, ordinary ice around here since about the middle of November, but it was rough, useless, non-skateable ice that no one paid attention to except the fishermen who were sad they couldn't take their boats out anymore. Lake ice can make a good skating rink if the right conditions exist, but they usually don't, so every year the village hires someone to make a rink next to the community hall, and all the hockey players wait with bated breath until it's ready. It was close to being ready last weekend, but the intrepid ice makers decided to go the extra mile and put in lines and face-off circles, a nice touch, but one that will certainly generate arguments about off-sides and icing. And it delayed the grand opening by a week.

Anyway, last evening, I arrived home looking forward to a relaxing, couch potato-ish evening by the digital fireplace, when Phillip got a call saying the ice was done. The house was an instant chaotic, pre-first-game-of-the-year, Mom-where's-my-helmet, mad house. 15 minutes later, we were inhaling the fresh arctic air. No, we don't live in the arctic, but that -25 degree breeze comes directly from Santa's back forty at the North Pole.

I spent the first 90 seconds of ice time mourning my lost couch potato evening, but the arctic air must be laced with some kind of hallucinogen, and soon I was whizzing around pondering this singular wonder of winter: the good, old-fashioned, natural, outdoor hockey rink. A few thousand gallons of plain, ordinary water, spread out in a relatively flat, orderly fashion, and frozen layer by layer. Few things give the neighbourhood so much exercise, pleasure, and excitement at such a reasonable cost.

Then I decided to practice my crosscuts, and you would really have thought the air was laced . . . me doing crosscuts is like a drunk giraffe on rollerblades. Then I thought I'd practice my backward skating (which is like a stoned duck waddling backwards), and then it was time for the game. That fresh, freezing, arctic air may be hallucinogenic, but it also burns when you gulp it in huge lungfuls while vainly chasing a 14 year old gazelle hurtling unopposed toward your net. I switched to puppy-guarding our zone under the pretext of being the goalie. Not a bad gig, except the arctic air finds its way to your toes pretty quickly, and your frozen shins become puck magnets.

This will be my free-time life for the next three months. Shoot me now.

Actually, I like getting out with the kids and pretending I know how to skate and play hockey, at least once the 90-second couch potato hangover is finished. There is something deeply Canadian about an outdoor rink at night. People have to be slightly lunatic to live here, and outdoor hockey is our place to exercise that lunacy.

It's funny how something can be your friend and your enemy at the same time. Ice is the hockey player's most important friend. Give a kid a pair of skates, a stick, a puck, and a patch of ice, and he will entertain him or herself without complaint for hours. Firefighters have often been the icemakers here because of our access to trucks and water. But ice is also the firefighter's enemy. From the moment the truck leaves the hall, the cold works against us. If we let our guard down it will freeze pumps and hose and nozzles. And have you ever tried to hang on to a 100 psi nozzle with a layer of fire stream run-off frozen under your feet? Talk about a giraffe on rollerblades. More than one fire response has been sabotaged by Jack Frost.

Speaking of firefighters, if you want to see a real firefighter card artist's handiwork, go to this site.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Beebewitz Blog, Holiday Edition Part 2

Christmas is a wonderful time of the year.

What. Some kill-joy Scroogey blogger dude told you it was a dangerous time of the year didn't he. He wasn't wrong, but we gotta focus on the positive, right?

One of the wonderful things about Christmas is the wonderful traditions built around the season. Upsala Firefighters traditionally give a bag of candy to every kid in the village at Christmas time. I inherited this task when I came on the scene nearly 14 years ago, and being the innovator (some call it rabble-rouser) that I am, I wanted to make the tradition better. I presented my board with a new public education scheme in which Santa (who we provided to hand out the candy) would be introduced as a volunteer fire chief from the North Pole, and who would have all kinds of cool fire safety tips for the kids, and the kids would listen because everyone believes Santa, and what a nifty, revolutionary idea, and, and, and . . . nobody was smiling or nodding like I was sure they would. They had one comment: DON'T MESS WITH SANTA!

Since these people are my employers, I decided to back off a little and come up with a compromise: greeting cards from the Upsala Fire Elves with seasonal safety messages, stapled to the candy bags. This idea was tolerated, if not whole-heartily embraced, and a new tradition was born.

Here is the front of this year's card . . .




. . . and here is the back of the card.



The artwork is Corel clipart, modified and reconstructed to suit my hairbrained idea. Except for the large fire elf in the cover, who was drawn by me, and the fire hat and ladders in the wreaths which were drawn by my wife and converted into a digital file by my dad, and reconstructed in the wreaths by me. As you can see, I don't mind borrowing for a good cause. You can see a bigger version of the elf and some of my other artwork on my other blog.

While I was in a nutty mood, I came up with this graphic for the Upsala Firefighter greeting cards we send to various people and businesses. The artwork is Corel clipart (again) modified and reconstructed to suit my purpose.


By the way, if anyone out there in bloggerland is nutty like me and would like to use this stuff in their community, by all means help yourself. The Corel artwork is copyrighted, but I believe it is okay to use it as long as you aren't selling it. My stuff is my own, and by all means feel free to make a million bucks off of it . . . just make sure you share it we me okay? If you do decide to use it, let me know and I can provide you with better images than you'll get by copying off the blog.

Traditions can be good and evil. The good side of this tradition is that I get to do what I like to do . . . interact with the kids . . . and hopefully instill some knowledge that will keep them safe. Another good thing is that my whole family gets in on the act. My kitchen becomes a regular Santa's workshop when it's time to bag and package the candy.

Then there's the evil. What could possibly be evil about this wonderful tradition? Just ask the moms of the kids that arrive home with a bag full of sugar (on top of all the other sugar they get this time of year) which is the equivalent of jet fuel to an F16. As the kids are bouncing off the walls to the tune of "Deck the Halls" I can imagine the moms thinking, "Why oh why must we have a proactive, public educator for a fire chief? [bang head on wall]"

Every program comes with a price. I'm glad someone else is paying for this one. Hey, I never claimed to be free of a dark side.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Beebewitz Blog, Holiday Edition

Christmas is a dangerous time of year.

What. Your humming It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year and thinking, 'Who is this kill-joy Scrooge blogger dude anyway?' Yes, it's a wonderful time of year . . . unless your house burns down . . then it's a very sad time of year. Ask me, I know. December is the worst time of year to fight your neighbour's house fire. On top of losing everything they own, they lose all the Christmas presents that their maxed credit cards bought. Yes, insurance pays, and they get a new house and new presents (long after Christmas has become a sad memory), but ask anyone that has experienced it - a fire in your home really punches the lights out of Christmas.

I'm blathering on about this because December is the most dangerous time of year for fires. We add all kinds of new fuel and heat sources to our home, drink lots of alcohol, do lots of extra cooking (while we're drinking) and forget to water our tree and check our smoke alarm batteries . . . and expect everything to be happy happy, deck the halls and hark the herald angels sing. CBC In Depth puts it nicely:

Ah, yes. December — when many Canadians go out, buy a dead pine tree, stick it in a container filled with water (which may be refilled at least for a couple of days), and string several cords containing brightly-lit heat sources around it.

Watch this next video to see what could happen if you don't water your tree:




I'm preaching now. Sorry. I'll quit, after you promise that you'll read the CBC In Depth page, the NFPA cooking page, NFPA Holiday Safety page, and NFPA Candle Safety page. And pass these tips on to all your friends. Alternately, you could cancel Christmas, but that wouldn't go over well with your kids. But believe me, you really don't want to have a fire this time of year . . . or any time of year. I'm blathering.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Speaking of cooking, here's another recipe. If you think you've seen it before on this blog, you're partly right and partly wrong. I did give you a recipe for chicken curry awhile back, but I used a slightly different process to get to a similar end. You can see the previous recipe here. This new version only takes about 30 minutes start to finish.

(Disclaimer: if you're a real cook that uses real recipes, proceed with caution. I make no warranties, expressed or implied, as to the suitability of this recipe to your particular personality. In other words, don't bother suing, just go get your own chicken curry recipe if you don't like mine).

Tim's Christmas Curry with Soba (buckwheat noodles)
  1. Have roast chicken the night before, and eat about half of it.
  2. Ensure that you have some of your wife's chicken gravy left over too (note: if you aren't married or your wife doesn't make gravy, you can substitute with your own, or with chicken broth or [horrors] packaged gravy)
  3. Put the gravy in a cast iron frying pan with a little water and turn on low heat
  4. Add some soy sauce, some garlic, some curry powder, some fresh or frozen crushed ginger and a little basil. (I know, basil is probably not an authentic Asian spice, but did anyone say anything about this recipe being authentically Asian? [see disclaimer])
  5. Don't bother asking how much of any of the above ingredients I used, because I don't know - just add to taste (more curry, less garlic is a good start)
  6. Chop the leftover chicken while the gravy is heating.
  7. If it doesn't look like enough chicken, freak out and paw through the freezer until you find some frozen shrimp to beef it up (or shrimp it up? . . . nah, doesn't sound right)
  8. Chop up some Chinese cabbage and a red bell pepper (green and red, hence 'Christmas Curry') I like the pieces nice and big because it's less work and they don't get mushy as fast
  9. (you can add onion, mushrooms, broccoli, or any other vegetables you want . . . just make sure you have enough room in the pan)
  10. Put the chicken in the simmering gravy first, then the vegetables on top to steam. Cover with a lid.
  11. The gravy should be about half the depth of the vegetables and meat. If it isn't, add more water, and more seasonings appropriately. Stir occasionally so it doesn't stick.
  12. Put some water in another pot to boil about 8 steps ago. Ignore the instructions on the soba package that say to use six cups of water
  13. When it boils, add the soba and think 'Oh @!#$%, I should have done the full six cups of water!'
  14. Hunt panic-stricken through the cupboard for a bigger pot, while simultaneously putting the kettle on to boil and turning the heat down on the too-small soba pot, and stirring while it boils over (yes, cooking is an art)
  15. Dump the soba and water carefully into the bigger pot and add some more boiling water. Vow to never ignore the instructions again
  16. Carefully follow the rest of the cooking instructions on the back of the soba package
  17. By now, the curry should be done. The vegetables should be bright coloured and Christmas-crunchy . . . it doesn't take long if the gravy is boiling
  18. Thicken with a mixture of cornstarch and water
  19. Call the family for dinner, taste the curry, and panic that it doesn't have enough flavour. Sprinkle some garlic powder and salt over the top, stir in, and cover while you set the table
  20. Serve over the perfectly done soba

Note: This also goes good with rice. If you're hell-bent on having noodles and don't have soba, any Chinese-style noodles are fine. Hey, I don't even care if you use linguine or spaghetti. If you haven't got soba, a noodle is pretty much a noodle.

Monday, December 14, 2009

sportsly illiterate

I guess I have to eat my words. Last post I jumped on the 'bash the Maple Leafs' bandwagon and made an allusion that they don't win very many games. I admit, it was a cheap shot at a sitting-duck target, but it feels good to fantasize briefly that I actually know something about a sport, any sport. My 14 year-old son Phillip has intelligent conversations with his buddies (who are also faithful-to-the-bitter-end Leafs fans) about hockey strategy and Toscala and the Capitals and Kessel, while I stand in the shadows and pretend unconvincingly that I know what they are talking about. So I thought it would be cool to write something safely nasty about one thing that everyone seems to agree on . . . that the Leafs aren't very good.

But it turns out they are rising from the dead, if for no other reason than to drive the last nail in the coffin of my sports illiteracy. They won against Ottawa tonight, and beat the Capitals (one of the best teams in the league, or so Phillip tells me) a couple days ago. Go figure. Even a safe cheap shot isn't safe when you know next to nothing about a subject.

I do read blogs by people that actually know something about sports. Gerry Arnold from Oakville is celebrating his fourth year blogging. If you want an intelligent opinion about hockey, and a little humour to go along with it, Gerry's Oakville Blog is the place to go. Congratulations on four years Gerry.

Pittgirl is another blogger that has a lot of things to say about sports, this time mostly football (which I know even less about . . .). I read her blog, not because I'm in love with Pittsburgh or the Steelers, but because it's fun to read.

For now though, I'd better stick to what I do know about which is, well, let's see, um, okay, yes, as I was saying . . .

Saturday, December 12, 2009

New uploads

Not much to say today, except that I uploaded the last of the cartoons that I drew for Firefighting in Canada. You can see the complete set of cartoons, and a brief blurb on why I drew each of them by clicking here. I also included links to the articles that they orginally were intended to accompany.

I'm not making fun of the Farmer's Almanac anymore, although I haven't cried 'uncle' yet. You may remember that they predicted a bitterly cold and dry winter, and I counter-predicted that we would have balmy weather with just enough cold to make ice for the hockey players. So far, they are winning. It's been nearly -30 every night for the past week or so, and every snow storm that Environment Canada forecasted has fizzled out somewhere far south or east of here before we got even a flake.

The ice part of my prediction is coming true though. The ice-makers, bless their frosty souls, have nearly finished the hockey rink, and my son and his buddies will soon be slapping the puck around in frigid bliss. The down side is that I will be expected to partake in the celebration, and will undoubtedly emulate Phillip's heroes (the Leafs) by losing most of the games I play against them.

I may be crying uncle yet, especially if it doesn't warm up at little.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

the parts magician

When you call the parts guy and order a set of brake drums for your aged (but still in service) water tanker, and the guy types the part number into the computer and is silent for a while, you know you've got problems. When he finally blurts out, "We don't carry parts for Egyptian chariots anymore . . . ," you know you've got BIG problems.

It happened to me last week, and after calling half a dozen parts dealers and getting the same 'Why the heck do you want brake drums from the Bronze Age?' innuendo each time, I began to despair. It would be criminal to scrap a $50,000 vehicle just because no one makes the two hundred dollar part anymore . . . but I suspect all small volunteer departments have the same dilemma.

I ran the problem by one of my captains, a trucker by trade, and a guy that knows his way around trucks and parts and dealers. He suggested another place, so I tried them and the guy typed the part number and was silent, like I expected.

"Yep, I can get the drums here by Monday," he said finally.

"You what?"

"I said, I can get them here by Monday."

My turn for stunned silence. Then, "Why can you can get the part by Monday, when the rest of the world has never even heard of it?"

"They probably didn't type the 'B' after the number."

I didn't bother asking how he knew to type the 'B' after the number. Savvy parts people are a rare breed all their own, and there isn't much point trying to penetrate their psyche. When I was a bushwhacker, there was a parts lady that had the whole inventory memorized and catalogued in her computer brain . . . by part number. She never smiled and wasn't particularly friendly, but if you needed a U-joint or a planetarium gear, she could find it fast. Even if it was buried in a Stone Aged cave in Cambodia. If it existed on earth, she could find it.

I suspect all fire chiefs, especially those in small departments with hand-me-down trucks, have a list of these inventorial wizards carefully tucked away in a secret crevice of the fire hall. I could probably use mine to extort some serious cash some day:

me (holding "the list" by two fingers over a raging bonfire): I want 7.9 million dollars, or the list is history.

fire board members (quietly discussing among themselves): He really isn't too bright is he. He could have asked for 10 million and we would have had to give it to him.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
I had to strike a name off the list the other day. One of my most valued parts genies retired, leaving a black hole in the universe of machine commerce. I'm going to lobby for legislation forbidding these folks to ever, ever retire, on the grounds that it compromises national security. Some things are just not replaceable.

Monday, December 7, 2009

a middle-aged wimp

I'm sitting in my living room enjoying a cheery fire that's crackling vigorously in an old-fashioned hearth, casting a warm glow about the room . . . on a television screen. Did you get that? I'm watching a TV program of logs burning. Me, the guy that spent a large portion of his life in a log cabin with an eternally hungry barrel stove and 12 or 15 cords of hand-split wood outside to feed it . . . until I became a middle-aged softy and moved to an all-electric house and now I'm reduced to a digital fireplace, complete with Rudolph the Rednose Reindeer and Hark the Herald Angels Sing. Yep, I'm definitely feeling wimpish.

Another dead give-away sign: the December page of the fridge calendar gives me the shivers. It has a winter scene with a snow angel. You know, the kind made by flopping backwards into the snow and flapping your arms and legs and getting snow down your collar and it melts and drips down your back and trickles into your underwear and, and . . . (deep breath, relax, turn up the TV fireplace) . . . just thinking about it makes me want to shred the calendar into itty-bitty strips and use it for fire starter. Or warm myself by the virtual hearth. To top it off, the tough little neighbourhood girls (including my daughter) will be out there making these angels in the front yard as soon as the snow gets deep enough. Yep, I'm a self-confessed wimp.

Digital and virtual heat waves are great from the comfort of the couch, but they don't help much when the True and Real winter swoops down from the North Pole. Especially if you have to face it with a fire hose full of very freezable water in your frozen gloved hands. Right about now, I start hoping that public education prevails, and nobody's house catches fire until at least mid-April. We're still getting relatively nice weather here during the day, but it's dropping into the mid minus 20's at night. I don't think I would have liked polar firefighting even in my younger, tougher days, but a fire chief position in the Bahamas is really appealing now that I'm in my middle-aged, milksopish years.

But Christmas is coming, and what would the holidays be with only palms and pineapples, and no snow covered balsams to cut down for Christmas trees. And when you cut the tree, the snow dumps on your head and slides into your collar and down the back of your neck and melts into your underwear. And when you get home, the Christmas lights on the roof are on the blink and you get to sort them out barehanded, kneeling in the rooftop snow where you can get the full benefit of the Arctic breeze . . . and the Arctic breeze makes you feel so sentimental that tears run down your cheeks and turn into icicles on your chin. And then your pager goes off telling you to get off the roof this instant and spend the next seven hours coating a house (and your bunker gear) in a layer of ice.

Am I a pessimist, or is a Christmas palm tree looking really, really nice right now?

Monday, November 30, 2009

winter

Winter has arrived.

What. You think 'winter has arrived' is a boring and unimaginative way to start a blog entry? Okay, let me try again:

The Winter Weather Gremlins bestirred themselves from hibernation and swept across the boreal forest in their blustering, swirling, west-wind chariots, blanketing the landscape with fluffy white powder and plunging thermometers into negative double digits . . .

Okay, let's just say it finally snowed. Big deal. I am glad it held off until the first of December, probably the latest first-snow in memory (it actually wasn't the first, but all the other dribs and drabs we got in October and November melted, so they don't count). If winter had come in mid-October (like it occasionally does) I would have written a sob story along the lines of "it's-too-early-for-winter-I-wanna-move-to-Hawaii." If it had arrived in the first week of November, I probably wouldn't have written anything, because winter is supposed to come in the first week of November. But it came on December first, and for once even the die hard snow-haters amongst us can't complain too much. If we can't handle snow in December, it really is time to move to Hawaii.

Besides, Christmas decorating seems a little weird when you look out the window and see only brown, frozen grass in the front yard. A little snow makes Christmas trees and carols more Christmasy for some reason.

Incidentally, Moscow is also getting a warm start to winter.

The gremlins might actually have listened when I said they could do their worst after we finished our training in Kenora. I should have remembered that I had a meeting in Thunder Bay on Tuesday. I asked for two day extention on the nice weather, but the wheels of nature were already in motion. I wasn't nuts about the hour and a half drive home at midnight in a snowstorm, but hey, this is Northwestern Ontario, not Hawaii.

By the way, I want to express my sincere thanks to Environment Canada for miscalling the weather report last weekend. Instead of periods of snow we got two days of nice clear weather, with temperatures hovering at or above the freezing point. I'm doubly thankful because I was correct in predicting that my white helmet would attract water. Actually, my whole bunker suit got soaked. Imagine an instructor and two students rammed into a sardine can of an attic doing hydraulic ventilation. Here's how it went:

me: When I open this window, you shoot a straight stream through it, then widen the stream to fill the opening. (this draws the smoke out of the room)

student: [thinks to himself] Which way do you twist the nozzle to get a straight stream . . . all the way left or all the way right . . . I think it's left . . . [opens nozzle on full wide fog].

me [dripping wet]; Um, the water is supposed to go through the window, not ricochet off the frame . . .

Thank goodness for miscalled weather reports and Gortex.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

the salt of the earth

Words. They bewitch you or bore you depending on the skill of the wordsmith. Last Sunday, the Kenora fire chief referred to one of his faithful volunteers as "the salt of the earth." If he had said, "Leo is a really helpful guy," I would have agreed, and promptly forgotten the comment. But the "salt of the earth" is still stuck in my brain, to the point that I did some research on the subject.

It has it's origins in the Bible where Jesus refers to his followers as the salt of the earth. Helium.com has this to say about the modern meaning of the expression:

"Such people are unpretentious, uncomplicated, devoted, loyal, earnest, and honest. They are hard-working folks, who add value to the lives of others."

The great thing about metaphors is that they are easily stolen, and I've unabashedly pilfered this one to describe the volunteer firefighter in general. I just spent two weekends with a group of people that are about as salty as they come. They have to be, or they would never have given up two weekends to crawl around blindfolded in hot, dirty turnout gear, or sit in a classroom and listen to someone blather on about self contained breathing apparatus, or stare down a raging diesel fuel fire through the thin protection of a fog stream.

Now they've gone home to salt down their home communities. If you live in Kenora, or Ignace or Pickle Lake or Upsala, you likely see them every day without realizing it. They are invisible until their pagers go off, or they assemble at the hall for training. Their existence brings value to their communities. Definitely the salt of the earth.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

keep it in perspective

H1N1 frenzy struck Upsala yesterday when the nursing station offered a one-day-only vaccination blitz. The event appeared to be a smashing (or stabbing) success. I popped over briefly to get the regular, mundane, non-swine seasonal flu vaccine (I got the H1N1 shot about a month ago), and had to squeeze through dozens of people milling about, laughing, chatting, telling jokes . . . a regular boondocks shindig, and an impressive turnout for little old Upsala.

Getting any turnout in this reclusive village can be quite a feat. I was invited to do a holiday fire safety presentation at the Community Hall as part of an afternoon social hosted by the Norwest Community Health Clinic. We bombarded the village in advance with the usual flyers and posters, then strafed it with a last-minute mass mailing a few days before the event (if you call 110 flyers a mass mailing). The idea behind these educational events is to reach as many of our 207 residents as possible, so when only three showed up it was disheartening. On the bright side, we didn't run out of cookies or coffee.

Before you leap to the conclusion that I live in a village of total losers (or worse yet, that people stayed away because I'm a total loser), I hasten to add the importance of perspective. Those three people represented three of the four major age groups. A child, a teenager, and a senior. Giving further consideration to the statistical import of these numbers, think of it this way: 3 out of 200 is statistically equivalent to 1500 people turning out in Thunder Bay, which has a population of roughly 100,000 (don't say it - I know I've used that argument before. I'm grasping at straws in an attempt to patch my damaged ego, so give me a break, okay).

Besides, I'm not the only one that has trouble getting the masses to come out and be educated. Only one person showed up for an Alzheimers Awareness workshop a few months ago. Perhaps everyone else forgot to attend.

Everything is a learning experience, and I'm busy plotting a strategy for better results next time. Here's a brainwave. Never mind trying to lure people with food and coffee and movies and entertainment. Just offer to jab a needle in their arms, and the villagers will show up in droves.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

the response

Two months and a day since our last call, and a tractor trailer drove off the road last night deep into the rhubarb. Actually, it was very early this morning. And we got called.

If you've ever experienced ejection from bed at 3:30 AM by a rattling, beeping, electronic voice box croaking out orders to wake up this instant, sleep walk to your truck, and respond to a crash, or a fire, or a cat in a tree (we don't do cats), then you understand part of the essence of volunteer firefighting. Our wives understand. They wake up to the same tones, lie awake for a half an hour after, and finally fall asleep just in time to wake up again when we come home. Yes, they understand.

Some wives are volunteer firefighters, and if their husbands are volunteer firefighters too they have a feud everytime the pager goes off to see who gets to go and who has to stay home with the kids.

"It's my turn to go out and get soaking wet and filthy and exhausted and frozen and sleep deprived!"

"No, it's my turn! I stayed home with the brats last time!"

Fortunately, Erinn is no longer a firefighter and my kids aren't brats. But I digress.

Back to the hero of our story, the rhubarbed trucker. He went in so deep that our talented (albeit unemployed) bushwacker firefighters had to bushwack a path to the cab so we could help the paramedics get the driver and passenger onto boards and into the ambulance. Here are a couple of photos, some taken right after the rescue and some a few hours later after the sun rose.












Not the worst mess we've dealt with, but time consuming nonetheless. The two occupants were in pretty rough shape (you would be too after a ride like that) but as far as I know they are both expected to make a full recovery.

For all of you that are thinking, "that's what he gets for talking about having the whole month of October without a call I say, 'back off!' Back off I say, because it's been a full 24 days since I said that, which is much to long for there to be any bad luck connected with the comment. If you haven't read my column about firefighter superstitions, click here.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving for all of my friends on the US side of the border. We Canadians had ours in October. You've probably seen the clip of Obama pardoning his Thanksgiving turkey, but if not, click here. Anyway, happy Thanksgiving all ye thankful Yankees!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

winter weather gremlins

The weather continues. So much for the long, bitterly cold winter we were supposed to get (shhh . . . don't tell the weather gremlins or Farmers' Almanac I said that). This has got to be one of the longest, mildest, sunniest, snowless-iest Novembers in the history of Upsala. The ground is as bare as Yul Brynner's head, and there is still no major snow in sight.

Oops. I just looked at the Upsala weather report which calls for periods of snow this Saturday (blast those weather gremlins . . . they must be reading over my shoulder). Not that Environment Canada's seven day forecast is anything close to being accurate. 'Periods of snow' could mean anything from cloudy with a flake or two, to rainy with a spatter of wet snow mixed in, to clear and sunny and 'oops, I guess we got that one wrong,' to 'forty-below-and-I-really-hate-winter' weather.

In all sincerity, I hope they got it wrong. Normally, even I'm not wimpy enough to complain about snowstorms in November-nearly-December . . . normally. But this Saturday and Sunday I'm back in Kenora for more firefighter training. We have mostly fun stuff left to do, like car fires, pit fires and interior attack fires, but all fires involve dragging hoses and spraying water and getting wet, and then getting wetter. Even if you're an instructor. Especially if you're an instructor. In normal November weather, your turnout gear gets so crusted in ice that you look like a Hokkaido ice sculpture by the end of the first evolution (you can see more of that amazing artwork here).

Have any of you fire chiefs out there in cyberspace ever noticed that white helmets attract water? Mine does. It's a regular water magnet. I'm standing there innocently mentoring my faithful firefighters while they run their paces with the inch and a half hoselines, when suddenly, with expert clumsiness, they momentarily lose control of the nozzle and give me a brief shower. The innocent 'sorry Chief, did we get you wet?' look gives it all away. Students from other departments aren't quite so bad, but I believe it is a universally held truth that yellow helmets must occasionally and accidentally shower white ones.

When the sun is blazing, and you really would rather go for a swim than a sweaty sauna in your turnout gear, a shot of water is welcome. But when the spray freezes Jack-London-to-build-a-fire-instantaneously, turning you into a walking icicle, the humor is quickly lost.

All that to say, I hope the nice weather holds until Monday. After that, winter weather gremlins do your worst. We're ready for you.

On a sort of related topic, you can read Pittgirl's humorous take on a Pittsburgh winter here.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

update

Just a quick note to let you know that I am alive and wishing I were blogging. I'm in Kenora hanging out with a group of cream-of-the-crop volunteer firefighters for the weekend. No, it's not a party weekend, but a work weekend. You can get a feel for what we're doing by reading my May 30, October 5, and October 10 entries.

The weekend so far has been more of the same stunning Indian Summer weather that we've had on and off for the past month. Perfect conditions for tormenting firefighters . . . we can push them to the breaking point without worrying about killing them with heat stroke. Hopefully November won't wake up before next weekend and realize what it's been missing - we have to finish the training, and it won't be much fun if it's blizzarding or -40.

Sorry, that's all I have for you today. It's 11:45 and tomorrow is coming faster than I care to think about. I will post again in a couple days.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

nerves and endurance

The evil ambulance dudes (who have their hideout right across the road from the fire hall) played with my nerves today under the innocent masquerade of diligently ensuring their equipment was maintained.

They know that we firefighters haven't had a call in six weeks. They know that we respond to many of the same calls that they do. They know that we suffer from adrenalin withdrawal during long periods of inactivity. And they know that in our over-devoted, under-utilized state, we firefighters will be a bag of jitters vibrating to the edge of our seats every time the ambulance rolls to any call, because we know we might get paged a few minutes later.

So what do they do? They hire a technician to "fix" their siren. Not that it was broken. It couldn't have been. It went off at least five times, in all of its multitudinous and irritating sequences.

Here's how I figure the conversation went:

Siren Tech: Well, Mr. Ambulance dude, I think your siren is fine.
Evil Ambulance Dude: Great, but hadn't you better test it? I mean, just to be sure . . . [snicker, snicker]
Siren Tech: Yes, of course.

Wail, screech, yelp, HF, T3, chatter-chatter

Meanwhile, across the road at the fire hall . . .
Over-devoted, Under-utilized Fire Chief: (thinks to himself because there is no one to talk to) The ambulance must be headed out on a call. I'd better lay aside my boring paperwork and prepare myself for the rescue of the century. [siren stops]. Aw man, it was just a test.

Back at the ambulance base . . .
Evil Ambulance Dude: I think I detected a slight hesitation. You'd better recheck that wiring.
Siren Tech: Yes, of course.

Half an hour later . . .

Siren Tech: Well, Mr. Ambulance dude, your siren is still fine.
Evil Ambulance Dude: Great, but hadn't you better test it again? I mean, just to be sure . . . something might have come loose when you checked that wiring . . .[snicker, snicker]
Siren Tech: Yes, of course.

Wail, screech, yelp, HF, T3, chatter-chatter

You get the idea (click here if you don't). After the fifth time I'm ready to pay a friendly visit across the road with a pair of wire cutters and a hooligan bar. The ultimate solution for ISS (Irritating Siren Syndrome) and the instigators behind the ruckus.
(Lest you think Upsala is like other places where friction exists between the fire and ambulance services, rest assured we are not. In reality, we get along fine with the ambulance dudes across the road 99.9% of the time, but I have to write about something.)
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
On a different topic, I have good news for all of my friends that enjoy a drink now and then. New Zealand's Antarctic Heritage Trust is going to drill for a cache of vintage whiskey that was abandoned 100 years ago by Sir Ernest Shackleton. (If you aren't familiar with this guy, at least check out the section about the loss of the ship Endurance, and Shackleton's subsequent voyage in a tiny lifeboat across the stormy Antarctic seas to get help.)
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Speaking of whiskey, you can read about my dysfunctional relationship with alcohol in my May 23 post.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

photography and face painting

I like to pretend I'm good at stuff. Cooking, drawing, fire chiefing, instructing, blogging, it doesn't matter. I do them partly for fun, partly because I'm a wanna-be, and some of them because I have to make a living somehow.

The other night at our annual dress up party I played paparazzi with a fancy borrowed Fujipix camera. If a photographer's worth is measured by the number of shots he takes, I aced it. . . but if quality rules, well . . . let's say I won't be chasing celebrities anytime soon.

When you come up short, the thing to do is figure out how to improve, right? My brother Paul (who is a real knife maker and real photographer, and a lot of other real things) can take awesome shots blindfolded at night, so I think to myself, "Self, why don't you ask Paul how you can improve your photographicology?"

Great idea. Except that the conversation went kind of like this:

me: "Why are my photos all grainy?"
Paul: "You need to [several Greek words in a row] the shutter and [a number of chinese phrases] the aperture and make sure the [a sprinkling of archaic Hebrew] is correct and . . . ."
me: "So what you're saying is that unless I take a seven year university course in photography, I'd better just stick with the automatic settings."
Paul: "No really, it's easy. You just push this [gizmo thingy] and hold that [microscopic button] while clicking the [setting that sounds like an Egyptian god's name] . . .
me: "Yeah, I'll just go with the automatic settings."

Here are some photos that I took of body painting that my very talented wife did on the kids:









Fortunately some folks out there are good at technology, like the guys or gals that invented a contraption being tried in the Sault Ste Marie area. It's a moose detector. That's right, it senses when an animal is near the road, and a flashing beacon alerts motorists to the danger. You can read about it here. Technology is great, but at $300,000 a pop, the moose will have to watch their step on our hundred kilometres of highway for a while to come.

I brag about a lot of things, but one thing I never brag about is being smart. Especially after taking this test.

Indian Summer is back again after a brief relapse into winter yesterday. If this weather keeps up, maybe my prediction about having a balmy winter may come true. Stay tuned.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Saturday

When your daughter gets an invitation to go visiting and the inviters ask, "have you had lunch yet?" and your daughter says 'yes' even though she hasn't because everyone slept in and dad made breakfast at noon, you know your Saturday is getting off to a good start. That's my kind of Saturday.

I have another stew recipe, or rather a modified version of an old recipe. You can see the original, along with some good smoke alarm advice, on my April 28 posting. Here's the modified version:

Tim's Stew (sorry, the name hasn't gotten any more creative)

  • Decide that you don't want to spend a lot of time cooking because it's one of those kinds of Saturdays, and think stew is just the thing.

  • Take some stew beef, about a pound.

  • Fry it in oil, in a cast iron pan at medium heat until it's nice and brown. (see old recipe for browning instructions).
  • Pour water in the pan, enough to cover the meat. It will bubble and foam. Scrape up all that nice brown stuff that is stuck to the pan. It should turn the water nice and brown.
  • Pour the whole shoot'n match into a pot, and put the pot on low heat.

  • Add some garlic some salt, some soy sauce and a little Hoisin sauce. (optional)

  • Get the tomato sauce out of the fridge, open it, look at it and think that's really weird tomato sauce, realize it's salsa and put it back in the fridge.

  • Get the real tomato sauce out and put in a couple tbsp.

  • Add a few squirts of Dijon mustard, and a dozen or so drops of tabasco

  • Shake in enough basil to cover the whole surface of the stew, and then add a small amount of oregano.

  • Find some fresh rosemary leaves that your wife bought for an awesome chicken dish that she saw on the Martha Stewart show. (side note: you can get the recipe here, and Erinn says you can cut the butter in half and use regular bread crumbs for the stuffing. An awesome recipe.)

  • Chop a some of the rosemary leaves into the stew (I used scissors).

  • Add some curry powder, maybe a tsp to start

  • Add more water, enough to fill the pot 2/3 full.

  • Add some salt and pepper.

  • Cover, turn the heat very low heat and forget about it for a couple hours.

  • After a couple hours, add as many diced potatoes and carrots as you think you'd like to eat.

  • Add more of the above spices. Potatoes and carrots dilute the flavour.

  • Freak out because you think you added too much rosemary, and worry that everyone will hate the stew. Stay calm and add some more salt, pepper, and garlic.

  • Add some chopped mushrooms and red bell peppers near the end unless your kids object (mine do).

  • Thicken (see old recipe or figure it out yourself).

This stew goes real well with Erinn's homemade biscuits. If you aren't into making biscuits, my world famous breadsticks are a good second choice. You can get the recipe on my September 30 posting.

A good choice for dessert is Erinn's pumpkin cake (don't try substituting breadsticks for pumpkin cake). You'll have to find your own recipe . . . just go to Google and type "pumpkin cake."

The stew was great by the way, and got good reviews from all members of the family. Except that Vanessa said, "Dad, how come mine has pine needles in it?" (Note: make sure you chop all the rosemary leaves well).

Thursday, November 12, 2009

101 postings, creativity, and boneheaded geniuses

I hit a milestone in my last posting and didn't even realize it. November 11 was my 100th blog entry. I knew it was coming up soon, but I kind of thought that my computer screen would flash and vibrate, and a thundering voice would say, "Congratulations, you've posted one hundred times," or something similar, but no, the momentous event went unnoticed. You, my esteemed readers didn't even clue in, I'll wager. Not that I expected anyone but Blogger.com to count, but some kind of celebration would have been nice. . . a digital surprise party, a virtual cake, a photo of my laptop on the cover of People magazine. . . okay, give it up Beebewitz, it's only a hundred entries for crying out loud.

An interesting piece of trivia: I've been blogging since mid-April, roughly 7 months. That works out to 14.2857 postings per month. The significance of that is . . . um, I don't know what the significance of that is.

I read this article the other day about how schools unwittingly stifle creativity by the "exile of the arts, "arid approaches, and "an obsessive culture of standardized testing," among other things. For once in my life, I'm going to agree with someone. Here's why.

By necessity, most schools take a cookie-cutter approach . . . everyone must act a certain way, look a certain way, learn a certain way . . . a genuine Henry Ford-style educational assembly line. The result is an assembly line mind set: let's get this done and get out of here. By default, a large number of kids (especially the creative ones) are bored out of their mischievious, rascally craniums. I'm about as expert in child psycology as I am in meteorology, but even my dough-brained, bushwhacker mind wonders if a lot of behavioural problems stem from kids' minds being cramped by conventional learning.

Another piece of interesting (albeit unproven) fire service trivia. Did you know that ADHD might be three times more common among firefighters than among the general populace? No wonder I had such a hard time with Bloom's Taxonomy and Maslow's Hierarchy and all that other university level instructor text book gibberish. You can read an abridged version of my thoughts on Bloom and his peers in my profile, or the original blog entry that it came from here. If you are really ambitious (and not ADHD) you can read this article about ADHD in the fire service.

Speaking of creativity, the Google geniuses have invented Google Wave, and the geeks of earth are lining up in droves to subscribe to it. I look at Google Wave the same as the majority of Canada looks at H1N1 - what's all the hype about, and will I die if I catch it?

Here's the problem with Google Wave: I don't understand it, and I'm too lazy to figure it out. It looks like you'd be able to read my thoughts as I'm writing them . . . but I don't want you to read my thoughts as I'm writing them, because they look like this:

100 postings ---- where's the @#%&* party?!! --- school is boring --- bratty kids are smart -- be different! --- half my crew is adhd --- maslow who? --- google geniuses and the google wave -- boneheads that imagine i want people to read my thoughts while i'm thinking them --- why don't people want the h1n1 vaccine? ---- AM I ADHD?

You get my drift.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Remember

Rememberance Day (Veteran's Day for you folks on the US side of the border) has taken on a different meaning for me recently. My father is a World War II veteran who was wounded in action and spent the final 11 months of the war in a prisoner of war camp. I believe he would like to forget that segment of his life, and I don't blame him. Most of the world is thankful that Hitler was shut down, but that doesn't obliterate the horrible suffering that he inflicted.

Today my thoughts are about the current conflict, both in Afghanistan and Iraq because I am both Canadian and American. I have mixed feelings because war cannot be simplified into the "good guys" and "bad guys," or even into right or wrong. War is a much more complex evil than that.

The foremost feeling is empathy for the folks that are in harm's way fighting. A firefighter who attended a course I taught was killed by a roadside bomb a few years ago. The brother of one of my captains leaves for Afghanistan in a few weeks. I listened to a Canadian soldier talk on the radio about the need to win this war and bring peace to that country. These folks sincerely want to eradicate the lunatics that thrive by destroying their own people. An oft forgotten fact is that the lunatics want to destroy us as well, which is why the war started in the first place. Let's remember our people over there. That's the good.

On the heels of that is empathy for the civilians that suffer the insanity of war. Kids and moms and dads and grandparents . . . innocent folks that just want to live a peaceful life, and who have as much interest in Jihad as going to the moon. They are unwillingly caught up in unthinkable circumstances. That's the bad.

The next feeling is frustration. The "bad guys" want freedom from Western occupation and influence, and freedom is a wonderful thing to want . . . but their idea of freedom is the unihibited ability to oppress anyone within reach, beginning with their own people. Even those supposedly on "our side" don't seem to get the concept of human rights, and maybe they never will. If the average Afghan or Iraqi citizen could be convinced that self-government and liberty are both possible and beneficial, rather than an invasion of corrupt westernized ideology, they would shut the "bad guys" down. But that message doesn't seem to get through. That's the frustrating paradox.

On the bright side, I think the jihadists read my October 28 blog entry. At least some of them did. Check out this article. It's a long read, but surprising to see that not all of them condone the murder of women and children. I would say something boastful about having such wide reaching and influencial opinions, but they've been working on this code for a couple years . . . so I probably can't claim a connection. And it's too early to brag anyway. When they stop intentionally bombing markets full of women and children, maybe I'll start to believe.

On the lighter side, I added a couple more cartoons to my other blog. You can check them out here. Relax, I don't entertain any fantasies of quitting my job to become the next Charles Schultz.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Indian Summer and the Berlin Wall

You may recall that I prophesied a long Indian Summer in my September 30 and October 18 postings. I think the current stretch of nice weather has lasted long enough that I can pat myself on the back and say I was right. If that sounds vainglorious, too bad. I don't get to be right very many times, and I'm going to revel in this one.

The Farmers' Almanac called for stormy weather this week in "Ontario," although I'm not sure they know what Ontario is. Not many people do. If you tell someone from Maine (Farmers' Almanac land) that you're from Ontario, they'll say, "Oh, you live near Niagara Falls," and (if you're from Upsala) you'll say, "Yep, it's only about a 22 hour drive from my house." It doesn't make that much difference unless you are trying to lump us together in the same weather forecast. Regardless of who lives where, and in spite of the Farmers' Almanac, Upsala is getting another week of nice, sunny Indian Summer weather. (Niagara Falls is too, by the way).

Tomorrow is the 20th anniversary of the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. No, it has nothing to do with firefighting or Northwestern Ontario, but a significant event nonetheless. Here is a site that talks about it. Also, an interview with Gorbachev, who was another key player in that drama.

The love of money may be the root of all evil, but the love of control is the root of all misery. Humans have a natural inclination toward totalitarianism. It starts with peer pressure on the playground ("if you want to be part of this club, you can't wear those dorky shoes"), and ends with ridiculous extremes like the Berlin Wall ("our communist Utopia is so wonderful that we will shoot you if you try to leave.")

Ridiculous regimes didn't end in 1989 with the Cold War. I've been following a blog by Yoani Sanchez, a clandestine Cuban blogger that is regularly persecuted for speaking her mind in a land that hates non-conformist opinions. Her most recent entry left me stunned that there are still such totalitarian dinosaurs hanging on in the western hemisphere.

It really doesn't matter what label you use - Communism, Fascism, Religion - total control is the enemy of healthy development.

Come to think of it, there is a connection between the Berlin Wall and Northwestern Ontario. People move to places like Upsala because they want to live free-style, with a minimum of governmental rules to cramp their activities. But people don't always know what's good for them. Even a freedom lover like me believes in the benefit of a few governmental rules . . . . so I tell people to maintain their smoke alarms and build safe buildings . . . and suddenly I'm the evil despot. There's got to be a balance somewhere.

The weather is one thing that humans haven't figured out how to control, thank goodness. I don't like blizzards and -40 degree weather, but imagine the potential chaos of Castro or Harper or Obama trying to manage the balance of nature. They can't even balance the budget on most days.

Friday, November 6, 2009

medicinal prevention

'Tis the season . . . the flu season that is. It doesn't seem to matter whether the origins are pigs, chickens or elephants, once we humans start playing 'pass the bug,' it seems inevitable that everyone has to have a turn. Firefighters aren't exempt, and my already slim roster is slimmer right now. We might as well get it over with early in the season.

In case you were wondering, 'elephant flu' does exist, at least in the mind of the US Democrat (lest you think I'm partisan, 'donkey flu' exists as well).

Speaking of elephants, these folks got a too-close-for-comfort look at one the other day. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall in the dispatch centre when that call came in.

Flu and fire. Both have an uncanny tendency to strike unexpectedly . . . and both are preventable . . . in spite of the general feeling that both are acts of God. I've offered lots flu prevention links over the past week or so, and I'm going to impose one more. My computer won't play the video clips (it might be suffering from digital swine flu), so you'll have to let me know if they were any good.

Speaking of prevention, I avoided contracting whatever it was that afflicted my family last week. It was either my aggressively defensive strategy, a natural resistance to the bug, or just plain luck. Whichever option you pick, I'm not letting down my guard. There's no shortage of bugs out there.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

various and sundries

For you dyed-in-the-wool firefighters that have been reading and wondering, "When is this guy going to talk about firefighting," my apologies. The fact is, we broke a record in October. We went the whole, complete 31 days without a single call out. Usually someone smucks a moose or falls asleep behind the wheel, or gets careless trying to pass . . . and ends up in the ditch needing an ambulance and a fire truck a couple times a month, sometimes more, but not this October.

Blogging is supposed to be a moment-by-moment kind of thing. I don't usually tell you about the cool experience that happened seventeen and a half years ago. People want to hear what happened today (or yesterday, at the latest), so when you get a whole month without lights and sirens, and your family is waging a life-and-death battle with the Spanish Swine Flu or the Chinese Chicken Flu or the Cambodian Cow Flu, or whatever flu it was, that's what I'm going to tell you about.

Speaking of H1N1, there are a lot of opinions out there, and even more hype. I allowed a nurse stick me with a needle last Thursday, mostly because it was an opportune moment, and I would have felt really dumb if I caught the flu later and hadn't got the shot. Now I read that some learned folks aren't even sure the vaccine works. This article looks at the H1N1 issue from one researcher's perspective. If I had read it before getting the shot . . . I still would have rolled up my sleeve.

Speaking of the flu (again), check out this short video clip on proper coughing techniques. Okay, it sounds dumb, but if the whole world had just followed this advice, swine flu would have never escaped the pig farm.

If you are interested in my amatuerish attempts at sketching, you can see a couple more cartoons on my other blog.

It's official, Phillip is as tall as me. He's been sure of it for a while now, but I've stalled the actual measurement ceremony in hopes of keeping the psychological advantage as long as possible. It just isn't fair. If he can look me in the eye at fourteen, I'll be looking up to him by the time he's sixteen. Not cool.

The girl that was run over by her nut-case dad has died. No comment, except he'd better get charged with murder.

Lastly, Halloween was somewhat of a dud this year. It might have had to do with the weather - it snowed most of the day, so the kids maybe weren't as keen about getting out. If they're intimidated by a little snow, they should at least be thankful they don't have to worry about being a polar bear's treat . . . check out this story about Halloweeners in Churchill.

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