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.


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?

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