Author Archives: admin

YEAR END 2021

POSTED: January 1, 2022

2021: Well there is a year to kick to the curb! What a bust. Like everyone else I started the year not believing this was to be going on indefinitely and looking forward to my shots. Got the shots. One, Two, Three.  Feeling better about the future. Then omicron.

Traditionally I do  a round up of the letters I have received over the year. On ones that are focused on topics that are hopelessly personal I respond to directly, but most are of a general nature and if more than one hit on the same topic I respond here.

There is this crazy thing that has been going on with this website for the last several years. Each year there are more and more regular readers and each year there are fewer emails. One day I may succumb to the use of social medial platforms but not to this point. So, if I haven’t made it clear to date you can reach me at djangobisous@bell.net

Here goes.

Are you going to be stuck in Malta for 2022?

Stuck! Stuck? Malta  is quite a special place, with some great people, a really multicultural vibe and a fantastic climate. While it is true that I had never envisioned myself staying in one place this long,  Malta is a damb nice place to hang out. I have also carved out a very enjoyable life here, something that had escaped me until just a few years ago. I get to teach some simple cooking classes, do the cooking for Malcolm, Martha, Gerhardt and Gabrielle and in exchange they pay for the groceries and wine. So with some sales from the Django Store (you can go there after reading this posting, LOL) I am actually getting a bit of money ahead for when En Plein Air will need some attention beyond the usual upkeep. Based on that  I fully expect Ciara and I will stay here until things really do improve with this pandemic.

For a while you were on a real rant about U.S. and other politics and now you seem to have changed the channel – what’s up with that?

Well, when I was doing that critical analysis and political review (ranting)  Donald Trump was very much on the scene and with him in office, and Putin in the Tsars thrown, it was hard not go down that rabbit hole. The world today is not really much better – the climate is a mess, most countries are inching to the right (although it was nice to see Chile move to the left), Hong Kong and Ukraine are about to fall, the spread between the haves and have nots has been growing, and oh yea- we still have this pandemic and much of the world is focused on its own well being and not on that of pandemic in the third world.

Beyond those world events, this year, like most Canadians I was beaten up by the whole discovery of all those indigenous children who had been abused and died in Canadas Residential Schools. This is not ancient history, in my time  kids were still being sent to these places. The Turks hang their heads in shame when they think about what the did to the Armenians, the Germans when they think about the Holocaust, and the Americans and others, slavery, and this is right up there with those awful acts. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was a start.  Reading their Calls To Action is a good place to start if you are not familiar with this: calls_to_action_english2.pdf (gov.bc.ca)     The Canadian Government is working toward  various restitutions, reconciliation and compensation. Almost all churches and religious groups involved have apologized and are taking steps to acknowledge their roles. Yet the Roman Catholic church continues to refuse to apologize. Perhaps its time to tax the church properties.

So yes, I am still mad as hell, disappointed in my generation, and totally at odds with uncontrolled capitalism, but I am not going to dwell on politics in 2022.   I have  stress based neurological disorder, and other than my concerns about these topics I now have carved out a nice life. Some people have helped with that, but I am now almost self sufficient. I get to enhance peoples lives every day both here in real life and from the emails I get from people who like what I write. And most of the emails I get are ones from people who are struggling with understanding life, just like I am, and if some of my ramblings have helped them that really makes me try to be better each day.

Your cookbook reviews are interesting and quirky. Many more of those coming up in the next year?

Quirky? Quirky?  Thank you.   There are so many fabulous chefs, writers, and food reviewers out there that I don’t try to do the straight review. I just tell what I think of a particular cookbook or how to approach a dish and that’s it. One review that I have been meaning to get to is based on those really out-there cookbooks that are fabulous at covering some really off beat topics. Some are the favourite recipes of famous people, so you get a bit of insight into how they think. Others are really off beat cooking techniques like manifold cooking. My buddy Jim has a stack of them, and I can spend hours with a bottle of wine going over them. I did that one afternoon and evening when in Canada in the fall and took some pictures and notes and am working on some of the recipes.  So yes, expect to see that in 2022.

You have described your life during Covid as “hiding under the bed with a bottle of wine” – is that the forecast for 2022 now with Omicron?

Well Ciara and I, and almost everyone I know has there three shots, and have a good set of protocols for living in quasi – isolation. With that said at my age I don’t want to piss away any of my remaining functional time on the planet so I have some personal goals for the year ahead. I am not really one for New Years Resolutions ( I have a bunch of unused ones that are in a box under the bed and when I am hiding there with the wine they are sort of right in my face) but I do like to set some goals for the year.

A few weeks ago, before we knew we were going in for another round of this Covid business and starting to let a bit of optimism creep into our lives, I was out for a walk and was chatting with a fellow who seemed to be a bit older than I who was walking his Beagle in the park. He seemed like a nice lad and we had a good chat. When I asked him about when he had received his booster he laughed and said a long time ago – “one of the advantages of being old”. He told me he was 92. That is old enough to be my dad!

Now this is a guy who is very lucid, could probably beat me at backgammon and was out doing his regular walk with his dog. I had to ask what the trick is. He of course talked about moderation and a getting a bit of exercise but talked more of enjoying each day while making plans for the future.  He doesn’t like the idea of not moving forward, even though we are in a pandemic,  so he has some goals for the upcoming year.  Some were quite modest, but some were it seemed to me somewhat ambitious. He says he has always objectively looked at his skill set and experience and set goals that are just one little notch above what he has done before. He also tries to not repeat what he has done before in travel, initiatives, or adventures. Wise fellow. I look forward to running into him again.

I am thinking through my thoughts for the next year. Its easy to just slide into the notion that we have to sit and wait to be told its safe to come out from under the bed, but my meetings with people from my reunion last year and a variety of conversations with friends going for the big sail or renovating a lighthouse have me ready to take on something new this year.

And before wrapping this up I was sent a picture by a buddy who is a bit hyperactive and who historically has lived for making plans for the future. He plans house moves and trips and his finances and what to have for dinner next month so for him Covid has been a really scary thing. He has been learning that he can’t plan anything as so many things change. It has been good for him, I think.

The image he sent me was one of him poking fun at himself as he has taken to using the term pencil booked as everything he plans he has to be able to erase with the changing Covid situation. His Delta erasure has seen a lot of action, and he now has a fresh, new, Omicron one. While he is  a bit more of a planner than most, I think it says it all for most of us.

See you on the other side.

Django

THE TURNING POINT

POSTED: December 1, 2021

One of the lads I was able to reconnect with at that high school reunion was Tom G. He was  a really talented musician when I knew him in high school and continued composing and performing as his main focus for his adult life. When he wasn’t composing, or on the road with various bands he spent his time managing craft fairs and running a music store he owned with his brother in Ottawa. It was named after  John Mayalls seminal album The Turning Point.

I happened to be a John Mayall fan myself repeatedly listening to  all the albums John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers produced in that late sixties and early seventies era. But its other things that have me thinking about Turning Points  these days.

While considered in its original use it is simply a descriptor of any change in direction or focus and does not have values attached to it, most of us associate it with a positive turn of some kind. Its that turn in the story or the point where the old drunken sheriff decides to put down his whiskey bottle, put his guns back on and clean up the town, or a predominantly white jury in the American south makes the decision to convict the white murderers of a black man. Most of us who have decided to stay with the living are by definition optimists so we always look for this turn, and root for the underdog or hope to see things unfold as they should.

But sometimes turning points are negative ones, where with just a little bad direction the elements can be set in motion to have things go very wrong. This is particularly the case with young people.

A while back, I was heading off to get some groceries on my little fold-up bike one morning and I encountered a carpenter who had himself in a pretty precarious position. He had a small beam above his head but had his foot twisted in some debris. Dropping the beam safely was not an option but he could not free his foot. I arrived just as another passerby did as well and we got the fellow out of his jam. He was a  bit shaken up and I offered him some coffee from my thermos as we chatted about the job he was working on. As a small contractor he told me he occasionally needs a second person but doesn’t have enough work to ever hire someone regularly. So he plods along working small jobs and occasionally, (rarely I think) gets himself into these kinds of problems.

I joked that the old square, that I had grabbed from the back of his truck to help pry him loose was not going to be much good if it was used that way very often, and he told me a story. It seems that particular square which hangs on the wall in the back of his truck he never uses as he has newer and better ones but he keeps it for nostalgic reasons. He was given this square by the carpenter he apprenticed with many years before. It was quite old when he started with the carpenter and that was many decades before. The carpenter gave him the square on his first week as an apprentice and had him build a section of a platform they were doing for an outdoor public seating area. After a morning of working the carpenter then checked the finished components  the apprentice had built and showed him how every corner, every joint, every aspect was not square. The young fellow felt humiliated and was somewhat ashamed and put the square on the various points and found they were all correct from his standpoint. Over lunch his mentor showed him that the square he had bestowed on the young lad was indeed not square at all.

The message was to always check your tools yourself, sharpen them as needed, maintain them regularly and don’t rely on anyone else’s figures, dimensions, or representations. A bad square will make everything wrong in the first place and the errors will just compound. So that square travels with the carpenter today, as a reminder of his apprenticeship and of the lessons learned.

He gave me his number and said if I ever needed some help with refinishing En Plein Air to give him a call and he would give a very good price on any work I needed.

I felt good about the morning and kept his number. But more than that the story about the square stuck with me. The more I have thought about it the more the cumulative effect of one good decision or event or one bad decision or event can just snowball into a full-fledged success or disaster.

The financial world is rife with this. Cumulative interest if working for you can create a small fortune, or if working against, be your downfall.

I know this of course when out navigating on the water. Now to be fair I don’t do this much – I have always had a captain who makes those decisions but I have great respect for what’s at stake as a slight miscalculation at the beginning if not corrected will have you end up hundreds of miles off course.

But so many life decisions are like this as well. Link up with the right partner in life or business and things can truly blossom. Or make a bad assumption that you cumulatively base more  decisions on, and it can be ruinous.

The high school reunion I was at has me thinking about this in terms of personal evolution. The little bad or good decisions made early on have had such an impact on what happens later, unless there is a serious influence to change that direction.

I am not a parent. I don’t know if I really wish I had been and at 67 years old it’s not something to think about now. But in working with kids through the years and reflecting on the insecurities I know many adults have, it is pretty damb clear that the perspective a parent gives at a critical stage in a kids upbringing matters more than almost anything else.

Over the last twenty months of Covid, I have seen some rather extreme examples of how well and how badly it can go. Some parents are so stressed out, under financial pressure and generally so freaked out that I think they are permanently bending the square their kids will learn from. Others, under the same pressures seem to be able to relate to their kids that there are some things we can change, and some things we need to roll with because we can’t and learning to roll with them is the key.

My mother used to talk about the depression in fairly glowing terms. They were dead poor, there was little food, the future was bleak, but it was a time that both her mother and father were home and could do things with them. They learned to sew, cook, cut firewood, clean, cut grass, do gardening , and paint the house, together. Along the way there was a bit of math, geography, history, reading  and some life stories as well.

I am sure there will be some kids that will come through Covid remembering these times as some of the best years of their lives and be set up for whatever nonsense is thrown at them later. Its all whether someone shows them the square was bent and teach them the tools of how we cope with adversity. I think I have been offering that in my little cooking classes at the marina, but I am going to offer up an extra dollop of it for the young people in my classes from now on.

Django

The Turning Point

A ONE MINUTE HALF CENTURY

POSTED: November 1, 2021

Yes, I made it to my reunion and back. It was all  part of my trip involving my short stop in Ireland and then several days in Canada.  I filed the police report in Cork. I made it to Canada and my teeth are cleaned and inspected.  I am to be getting a new mouth guard in the mail. I got to check in with my doctor, and my neurologist. The optometrist I usually also have an appointment with,  like all other optometrists in Ontario, is on strike. Yeah, in the middle of a pandemic. Now there is entitlement!

But the real feature of the little time away was to reunite with my high school graduating class. For those who don’t follow this website of mine regularly you may want to go back a couple posts to August 1st, FORTY-EIGHT.

Now the idea of getting together with a lot of people you have not seen in about half a century is a strange notion to start with. The people you always cared about from those days you probably kept up with anyway and the others – well the only real thing you have in common is that you went to school together. I was musing about this on my flight over but came to realize by my flight back, that while you may not share common interests or beliefs given that you all lived in the same neighbourhood, have experienced the same sequence of world events and are the same age we really did all have a lot more in common than not.

 

That fact became clear when hearing the one-minute summaries. Each person was given one minute to talk about what they had been up to in the last forty-eight years as a way to get some info out there so everyone would not be repeating the telling of their history over the rest of the evening. It is interesting what someone choses to talk about when it is a summary of their life since high school and they only have one minute. I expect that if it had occurred ten or twenty years after high school there would have been a lot more focus on the business card – a life defined by the persons occupation, and their credentials. If it had occurred at that ten- or twenty-year mark as well I bet that there would have been more of a competitive vibe –“ I am an astronaut, and you are not”.

But forty-eight years after high school graduation– man that’s a lot of business cards under the bridge. So, at this reunion the topic of partners, children, grandchildren, community work etc. all made more significant appearances. Of course, the big superficial novelty is the skinny high school guys who now look like Humpty Dumpty, or the people who had long hair who now have none at all.

It was during Covid times of course so we all got checked for our double vax at the door, but then let our guards down and there was a lot of hugging. I got to thank a woman who, in class all those years ago, had an uncanny way of looking at me when I was just on the brink of being out of control. June still has the same eyes and did not realize that there were many a times I stepped back from some stupid antic because of her look. An amalgam of pending disappointment, with a bit of sternness that I was about to take away some quality time for her in biology class with my inappropriate behaviour.

There were some who were inspiring with the leading-edge stuff they have done in medicine for example. Most just told the stories of how they put one foot in front of the other, went to university or college for something they had an interest in, then worked at whatever that thing was, married someone, had some kids and then retired.  But for me I loved hearing about the offbeat paths taken. Tom and his career in music and managing crafts shows, how Tanya’s nursing career supported her lifestyle around the world etc. But I was really taken by a woman who left after grade twelve.  She did not graduate with us from grade 13. At the time you could take a four-year diploma after grade 12 if you wanted to go to college or work instead of going to university. She started as a secretary right after grade 12 but enrolled part time in college for office management and business admin courses. The years passed and she moved to being a legal secretary, and kept taking courses, eventually finishing an undergraduate degree and finally, law school. Today she has her own law practice.

As most of us have had to work to survive the occupations we took up to a certain extent did partially define us. Certainly, some occupations compensate better than others, offering more options for how you live your life, but one thing that really struck me when looking back over this long period and over these many lives is not that the particular occupations define us but our approach to those livelihoods. Some people live for the end of their shift, whether its at an auto plant or a surgical room, while others enjoy their Monday morning as much as their Friday night. I saw many examples of the continuation of those traits from high school right through to retirement at that reunion.

But what I also saw was how some people can change. It may be just their own evolution or because of the relationship with a  life partner or a business partner, but some do transform themselves. I don’t mean just the outward side of changing occupations or activity set,  but the personal evolution aspect.

Its also interesting when pushed to talk about your 48 years in one minute, what can be said and not said in just a few words. “My partner beat cancer three times”. It takes about three seconds to say that phrase and it reflects decades of anguish and pain and leaves the question open as to whether there was a fourth time. Similarly, “I have a troubled child”, just points to a very dark doorway.

The one-minute exercise makes us look at what we are, and what we value. A great partner?   A good parent? A dependable friend? Or just the guy with more donut franchises than anyone else?

Some of us came a distance for this reunion, while others walked to the venue. I think in that regard we all have a different set of memories of the geography of the time. I had not been back to that neighborhood in a long while, and could hardly recognize the block the restaurant was in. It was only a short distance from where I delivered pizza (check out the posting on Sept 19, 2020 CLEANING OFF THE GUCK) but that building is now a condominium.

I found it interesting that some who did not have that far to come did not attend. I don’t know if it was the experience of high school or what we build up in our heads about those years afterward that kept some away. I hope they make it to the next one.

Name tags are a must after forty-eight years. Some people I recognized instantly but many others would have been a struggle with out the identifiers. Some didn’t recognize or remember me so the apologies I had prepared were not needed. LOL.

I loved the reunion and as I sat on the plane reflecting on it, the looking back over those years actually has me looking forward. Is what I am doing now what I want to do? What should I do with the next twenty years of my life?

Its easy when you get over a certain age to think that your big adventures are behind you but as I was reflecting on these things this week in writing this post, I had a note from a buddy who is contemplating a trip next spring.  It’s a sailing trip down to Panama, and  to go through the canal. After that its all sailing north to Washington State. Time to mix it up after a lot of years in Key West.

As an experienced sailor he knows what risks lie ahead with over  forty feet of fiberglass and an adventurous perspective.   A few years back when the Stones played in Havana he sailed down from Key West for the concert and back. One way was a nice day on the ocean. The other was sixteen hours of hard sailing with Mother Nature reminding him of just who is in charge.

Now he is of an age that some would say he “is old enough to know better” but I think he is just about the right age to appreciate and savour the experience. I will live vicariously through his notes to me on his trip, but it does have me thinking….

 

Django

GETTING AWAY

POSTED: SEPT 28, 2021

When I started this website I just posted my pieces at random times. Sometime a month or two would pass between posts and then I would go for a while where I was posting multiples a month. Now that I am in something of a regular gig teaching little cooking classes and making lunches and dinners as a paying routine for my neighbours I have slid into a regular thing of posting always on the first of the month.

So why am I posting today on the 28th?  Well, I am in a bit of a scramble as I am off to Ireland for a day then on to Ottawa Canada for a weekend. I am sure I will probably have something to say on the adventure when I return but for now my thoughts are on the whole notion of getting away.

Early in the pandemic I had a little trip to Ireland to speak to Ciara’s ex, which was eventful/frightful (see various posts from March 2020) but other than that I have been here in this little spot in Malta and for the most part don’t go much further than I can easily get to when walking or riding my little fold up bike. Even En Plein Air only gets me out on the ocean occasionally these days. So I have not had the benefit of getting away as many people have enjoyed during this pandemic.

Most have gone to their cottages, some have gone camping and some on vacation. All of these approaches  have something of the same effect but the people who have really had it good are ones who have had a regular place to go to, whether modest or grand, whether for a few days a week or to move to for months at a time, especially if that destination is a special personal place with memories and alternative experiences.

When growing up in eastern Ontario Canada we had the wonderful benefit of a lot of little lakes all around. The population of Ottawa was not large, about three hundred thousand when I was a teenager. When Canada changed over to metric in the early 1970’s many of us joked that in metric it might be about four hundred thousand!  The result of an abundance of lakes and not a big population was that most families had a cottage of some description. Wealthier people were on the best lakes, with the best waterfront, and the biggest shoreline and beautiful classic cottages.

But even those with more modest incomes, particularly those people who had some manual dexterity or worked in the trades would get a small lot and build some kind of place to get away to.

And it is the getting away that mattered. For a kid the big change was the different activities – swimming, boating waterskiing, bonfires, fishing, canoeing. But more than this it was a change in norms and expectations of behaviour, a change of neighbors and friends, and generally a place to cut loose and not be as structured in your life. For adults it was also that change in behavioural expectations as well, where the conventions of city life were left back in the city and everything was more relaxed. Even parents in serious endeavours left their business cards at the office. And of course this predated smart phones and even the internet, so people who were away, truly were away.

The result of course was that people might change houses often, or move for a better job in another city, but the cottage – well that was somewhat sacred. It was also often a meeting place of various family members for holidays and celebrations.

In northern climates it takes on a special significance as the long winter months take their toll and the summer is a time to get outside with nature that has reappeared after her nap. Spend any time with someone from Canada, Norway or Michigan and you will soon learn of their cottage life.

A lot of cottages are handed down in the family, creating some crazy partnerships as most families would have more than one child but only one cottage.

In my circle of friends most families had a cottage they went to and imagined going there for the rest of their life, but few aspired to having their own. Not my buddy Jim.

As soon as he was working and had a bit of extra money he and Janice bought their first cottage lot. It was up on a small lake close to Parry Sound which for those who don’t know it is a community on the eastern shore of Georgian Bay, a very large  bay (190km x 80km) of lake Huron, one of the Great Lakes.

It was about 3.25 hectares (8 acres) with about 125 Meters (400 feet) of waterfront. A couple of years later with a few more bucks in his jeans the road went in, and a dock. Then one Thursday he was siting on a flight from Vancouver flying home to Toronto as he did every second week in those early days of his business, and noticed an ad in the paper he was reading for a little log cabin that was available, but it would have to be moved.  It was not expensive, but more money than he and Janice had at the time.

Over the flight he pulled the little cut-out add from his pocket a few times and looked at it. When the flight  landed in Toronto it was about 11 pm and he called the number in the ad to see if he could come to see it then. It was located about two hours away from the airport in Toronto in a little village called Mount Forest so he could be there by about 1:45 AM he told the bewildered fellow on the other end of the line.

The owner of the place was older, and assured Jim that:

  1. there was no frigging way he was letting Jim come over in the middle of the night and
  2. that on Saturday they were having a showing to all interested parties from 10 to 2 and they would then determine who they were going to sell it to. The fellows tone also suggested that they would probably not sell it to a nutbar who calls at eleven pm expecting to come to tour a house at 1:45 or 2 am.

By Saturday Janice was as pumped about it as Jim and as they drove to Mount Forest where the place sat, with little Jade in tow, they talked about the endeavor of moving a log cottage about 300 km  to their property and the tasks involved to be ready.

As they drove in the road to the place, as Janice tells it, they were so excited to see the little log cabin,  but all along the driveway in were the cars of the other potential buyers. The array of BMW’s, Porsches, and Mercedes were quite a contrast to their Isuzu Trooper with a kayak on the roof.

The little log cabin was just as represented. Built from large logs using the Scandinavian scribing technique instead of the north American chinking technique, pine floors of 2 x 12 tongue and groove planks, a little loft for sleeping, one small bathroom and a woodstove/fireplace for heat, it was an adorable little place with a footprint of about 660 sq. ft. and total area of about 800 sq. ft.

Things were a bit chaotic as the little cabin was overrun by all the people looking at it, poking around and asking questions. And then the process began. Everyone had to go outside and one by one the people who had registered to see it had their chat with the owners. Most of the potential buyers were confident they could cajole, coerce, or convince the owners to sell it on the land where it was sitting, next to a stream and idyllic pond, and one by one were rejected. The existing owners were selling it because it sat on the best part of the lot, and they had decided to build a much larger place to retire there so that is why it needed to be removed.

It came down to only a few potential purchasers left and for some reason the couple decided Janice and Jim should get the place for something less than the asking price instead of a much higher bid from another couple who were going to have to find a lot, buy it and then be ready for the move.

It was fall and over the winter Jim worked up the drawings and got the building permits and contracted with a local contractor in Parry Sound to build a foundation. While this was going on the owner of the little log place, who was an engineer and pretty handy himself, was removing the inside of the place (flooring, kitchen windows interior doors and trim) and storing it in a barn.  By spring they were ready and a log builder with a big boom truck had been hired to mark the logs, take it apart one log at time and put it on a sixty foot flatbed to be moved to its new home.

Lots of challenges occurred when for example the flatbed could not get in the road Janice and Jim had built and they needed to hire a smaller boom truck to move the logs in one at a time. But eventually it was assembled in place fully exposed to the rain that spring. So, the race was on to get a roof on it and get the windows and doors back in. Jim’s dad, Janice’s cousins husband John,  who was a carpenter, and various others worked away with Jim to get it enclosed.

J. & J. Log Cottage

For that first summer, Jim took all his holidays as Fridays and Mondays and for each of those four day weekends he would drive up from the Toronto area,  the two hours in the morning early and drive home late so he could see Janice, Jade, and newborn Jason, and did that for every four day weekend for ten weeks. He put over 85,000 km on that Izuzu Trooper that summer, but by September it was ready for them to use that winter. Over the next few years Jim worked away on it, putting in the floor, the bathroom, building new kitchen cabinets etc.

With time, and his business growing they bought the next two lots so they had 1,200 feet of waterfront, more boats came along, the “barn” was built on the next lot over they had bought, and plans were underway for a larger cottage. They went as far as designing it with an architect  but then when they could not find a builder who had the skills involved to build it, decided to build a ski place outside a little ski town that Jim had done some development work in when he was first starting out. They already had a little house there to stay in for their ski weekends. Having spent about nine months designing their dream cottage of about 9,000 square feet for the cottage lot they spent only about five weeks designing a smaller  post and beam ski house for that 15 acre site.

They went in the ground on labour day weekend and by December 31st 1999 this five thousand foot place was finished.

J & J Ski Place

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So why am I going on about these places? Well they were both pretty important to Janice and Jim, and recently there has been a real milestone in their cottaging life.  To understand the significance, I will need to go back in time a bit.

Jim retired on his 48th birthday and he and Janice thought they would try living at their big ski place and eventually downsize their home in Toronto. It did not work out well.

They felt much too isolated, particularly in the winter, and neither of the kids were coming up to the ski place or coming to the cottage. After some reflection they sold the cottage, and eventually sold the ski place and then downsized their house in Toronto. For the first time in their married life they did not have a second home, but Jim had this idea to find an old farmhouse in Provence, Brittany or Normandy and to rebuild it.

And that’s where Key West came in. Every year the artists collective that Janice was associated with in Toronto would take her work to show for the Art Basel Miami weekend and she would have lots of art sales. Each year she and Jim would tie into going to that show in South Beach a trip to Key west, a place she had lived as a child in the 1960’s. They liked France better than Key West, but with a dog, they could drive to KW from Toronto with Tuli. So Key West became the Provence project.

The right “borderline derelict” house was found, acquired, and they set about to restore it. It was from the 1880’s and had a colourful history as a private home, then a general store, then a few apartments, then back to a single home and in the 2008 mortgage mess, an asset handed back to a bank.

The first few months saw them drive down pulling a big two axel enclosed utility trailer each time with furniture from their cottage and ski place to “seed the memories”. Some trades were hired for the regulated stuff or things Jim was not up to – electrical, plumbing, a new metal roof, and pool digging but otherwise it was all about Janice choosing finishes and Jim executing the work.

J & J Key West Cottage

In the first summer Jim went down to work on it alone when the pool was under construction but otherwise it was all done when they would be there from January to April each winter for the last six years.

So that brings us to early March 2020 when at a big ceremony in Key West Janice and Jim were awarded a nice plaque for their restoration and preservation work on the house. The ceremony occurred at Truman’s Little White House where the president spent much of his time in Key West.

It was the culmination of a lot of work and when the other recipients for 2020 went up to receive their awards with their architects, historians, contractors, specialty sub-trades and consultants it was just Janice and Jim in their case.

The reason I am writing this piece today is because of what came after that ceremony. Yes , Covid really hit hard in  the next week of March, 2020 and we all got messed up by that, and in Janice and Jims case they scooted back to Toronto before the border was closed. But during this they also made a decision to sell. Difficult health insurance issues with Jim’s neurological situation, and climate change that does not bode well for a flat little island in the middle of the hurricane corridor, are what pushed them to sell a little place they loved. They had even tried to find a purchaser who would let them rent it back in the winter but that did not pan out. So a buyer was found,  their things were moved to a storage unit and they are now people without a place to get away to.

I don’t find this strange as I have never had a second place. At times I have barely had one place, so its hard for me to get my head into their situation, but I know that without a second place, and more importantly without a project, they may be feeling  a bit adrift, especially with lots of Covid restrictions.

 

Django

After writing this little post, I was speaking to Janice about the arrangements she had made for my upcoming trip to Canada and she says that Jim is looking at ads for barges and floating homes, and has also remarked at how much fun it might be to restore a vintage Airstream trailer, or to renovate a lighthouse on Prince Edward Island….. stay tuned.

MEASURES

Posted: Sept 1, 2021

I was cooking one afternoon a couple of weeks ago for our usual evening dinner with Malcolm, Martha, Gabriel and Gerhard and was watching the Olympics. I am a bit of an Olympics junkie, watching whatever event the live feed is spitting out  and absorbing all the minutiae offered whether about the athletes personal bests to date, their training regime, the diets, previous records or performing in different weather conditions. Now when the Olympics are not on, I have no interest in diving or running or throwing a shot put, but during the Olympics … well that’s anther matter.

So leading up to the Olympics I go into training. The exercise of watching hours of coverage is just the opposite of exercise so you need to be in shape. Nevertheless, by day three or four of competition my gut is large, my eyes the size of saucers and I should not be allowed to operate heavy machinery.

To offset these perils of binging the Olympics, I try to do other things while watching, like cooking or refinishing part of the mahogany on some of En Plein Airs trim. It is actually a nice combo.  While cooking and enjoying the heptathletes competing in the long jump I  realized how my relationship with measurement has changed over the years.  The Olympics is all about measurement of course. Whether it is the length they have flown through the air on a pole vault, thrown a javelin or the time it takes to run 400 meters it is all about those measures.

Growing up when I did (born in 1954) and where I did (Canada) we had a legacy of Imperial measures from before the enlightenment (when we changed to metric in April 1975) so like many of my age from Canada, I use a crazy mix of measures. I drive in Km/hr, do my carpentry in inches, think of temperature in Celsius and weigh myself in pounds. Add to this the other common  measures  – teaspoons, tablespoons, cups, half cups, B cups and C cups.   I envy the younger people who have a more streamlined life.

It got me to thinking about an old buddy who has an interest in measurement. He collects various old instruments for measuring and has a particular fixation on those measuring or calculation  devices that were the state of the art – until they were not.  Its tough to decide where his interests fit on the fetish spectrum. Watching the Olympics from Tokyo reminds me that the Japanese have a term Otaku which means: an interest that is more than a passion and less than an obsession. Good term if you don’t want to call it a fetish, I think.

Of course, he as an Astrolabe and a Sextant, the original GPS devices for sailors to determine where they were in the ocean from the location of the stars and would be seriously messed up on cloudy or rainy nights.

Slide Rule With Holster

He has several slide rules of course. The slide rule was the device that was the best tool we had until electronic calculators took over that role.  Right up to the early 1970’s  this was a compulsory math instrument for high school students. It was what many of the calculations were done on for the Americans to put a man on the moon. If you were an Engineering student in the 1960’s wearing one in a holster on your belt indicated you had a license to calculate.

This took on a competitive aspect of course when various universities would compete for doing calculations and these competitors would use both their eye/hand coordination, and muscle memory skills with much too large a mental processor to zip the sliding parts back and forth to come up with the answer in record time.

 

 

 

One of my buddy’s valued objects is a slide rule he bought from the University of Chicago Engineering School of computing.

Engineering Lab Slide Rule

It is almost eight feet long and was attached to a wall behind the instructor in a large lecture hall. The professor would demonstrate its use to the eager engineering students and they would follow along using their regular sized slide rules.

Tech Nerds In Foreplay

 

 

So what happened in 1974? Well, the electronic calculator cost had come down enough to make it suitable for general use by the public and overnight the slide rule was not only second fiddle, but was eliminated. Poof.

Some measurement devices do endure of course. He has an Omega Seamaster Professional Chronometer– the same one that James Bond had in one of those thrillers but my buddy claims his malfunctions because all it does is tell time. And the time it tells of course while not as precise as the least expensive of smart phones today is pretty damb accurate and based on a technology that has not changed essentially in hundreds of years.

I think that part of his interest in these technologies and their obsolescence is looking to find what are real measures that last and have meaning, like the measure of a person. Relationships, integrity, loyalty. It is interesting that none of these are really quantifiable yet are more highly valued as measures than the quantifiable ones.

When I worked on the food prep areas of cruise ships, we had to be precise in our measures so Mr. Mcgillicutty’s  soup would be exactly like Mrs. McGillicutty’s and so when he raved about it over cards, Dr. Garfunkel would  order it the next day and have the same dining experience.

And as a guy who likes to cook and occasionally bake, I get the importance of the use of measures, but increasingly I am drawn to those things that are more fluid or nuanced than precise. If you read many of my posts you will know of my bromance with Jamie Oliver and Jacques Pepin and the whole movement to experimentation, adaptation, and interpretation. Those concepts require some structure, and a goal but not as precise a measurement.  Now I am talking cooking here, not baking – and measures in baking are a bit fixed.

It was only after I wrote this and was relating to Ciara the focus of this piece, that Ciara pointed out the obvious.

Django’s Measuring Cup

I use a measuring cup that was given to me by my Bebe. Now, if you don’t know who that is I would suggest going back to my posts from 2020, 2019 and few from 2015 and earlier.  She is my paternal grandmother, from  a little island off of Brittany, who has now passed. She gave me an old glass measuring cup when I was first starting to work on the kitchens of ships and she mistakenly thought that my job related to making food, more than the truth of it which was working in a food preparation plant for pigs at sea. It was very tired even then, and over the years with use, and too much time in dishwashers, all the numbers have worn off completely but because it was from her it is one of the few measuring cups I have on En Plein Air, and it is what I use almost exclusively and  think of her when doing so.

But the point here is that it is reflective of my take on the world today. I know that when it is largely filled, its one cup, and when its about half full it’s ….well you guessed it – half a cup. It is important that we get things largely right and measure them properly but perhaps not as important that we be precise and beat ourselves up or beat up others for not being as precise. This “sorta measure” is where I am today in trying to understand how to move forward in understanding life, particularly life in Covid times.

After reflecting on this clear glass object a bit, I decided to introduce another item in the Django shop. It is the Django Bisous Measuring Cup. There are no measures, but you will still know how to use it. Coming soon….

 

Django

 

Measurement Park

P.S.

After posting this I received a note from the partner of the buddy who is into collecting all the measuring stuff.

I had called it an interest and his partner pointed out to me that when they moved to their current house they did so partially because the little park that is close to them is called MEASUREMENT PARK and has various measures shown on poles.

Ok, so that definitely puts his interest on the fetish spectrum.

 

 

FORTY-EIGHT

Posted: August 1, 2021

In the spring of 1973 I graduated from Champlain High School in Ottawa, Canada. That was forty-eight years ago. And about a week ago I received a note from my longtime buddy (and classmate) Jim H. who still lives in the Ottawa area, letting me know there was a movement afoot to have a reunion on October 2nd , the first for our year.

Wow.  A high school reunion. There are few things that conjure up such a mix of emotions. I know that for some the nine weeks from hearing of this until the actual event will be the period to: lose 40 pounds, get a facelift and win a Nobel prize for physics. Well, I never was much good at physics. Physics and a few of the other sciences did various cameo appearances on my high school F column with the regulars Math and French. Yeah French, and I have a French heritage. I am kind of squeamish when it comes to surgery so that puts the face lift out of the question for me as well. Forty pounds? I think it might be easier to get that Nobel prize in the nine weeks.

Now while high school is a pretty crazy time in the evolution of teenagers it was particularly strange in that period when I was there – 1968 to 1973. Yes, that is a five year period because at the time Ontario Canada offered a four year high school diploma for anyone wanting to pursue the trades or community college and a five year diploma for most people who aspired to go to university or had parents with such aspirations for their offspring. I had such parents.

And what was happening in that 1968 to 1973 period? Well at the beginning of that period the Cold War was still hot, the war in Viet Nam was heating up as both a war and effectively a civil war in the United States as well, and  Martin Luther King had just been murdered in April of ’68.  In 1969 gay rights in Canada were opened up, the Americans put a man on the moon, and by October 1970 the War Measures Act was used in Canada to try to manage the FLQ,  a Quebec liberation group. Women were fighting for their liberation, race relations were poor, particularly in the U.S., and as we now know, the Canadian Government with the Roman Catholic Church ramped up both the Residential Schools and the forced assimilation of our indigenous peoples with the sixties scoop. Shameful. It really was a very screwed up time on most fronts and many of us had parents who had no idea how to cope with the perspectives their teenagers were developing regarding many of these issues.

In contrast to those turbulent times the soundtrack for our high school life was amazing. It started with The Beatles releasing The White Album and then Abbey Road and the Stones releasing   Beggars Banquet and Let it Bleed. Led Zeppelin was formed.  By the summer between grade 9 and 10 we had Woodstock. If you are new to this website you may want to look back in the archives ( MY VERY FIRST POST,  posted December 14, 2013) to Jim C’s Woodstock experience and the recent follow up to that  (WOODSTOCK: 50 YEARS LATER, posted August 15, 2019). Every week a new album would come out that today would be considered epic. And as if to celebrate our graduation in 1973, Pink Floyd released The Dark Side Of The Moon.

Of course, that flood of new music was also reflecting growth on some amazing music from before and I have great memories of sitting at Jim H’s living room listening to Gene Vincent Rock and the Blue Caps Roll, or his fathers Dave Brubeck albums.

And that’s the really fun part of memories. It is not just the music but the link of that music to what we were doing at the time.  I have fond recollections of lounging in the dark listening to the Moody Blues in Myles C.’s basement after a warmup joint outside, and singing along to The Who, Rush  and Black Sabbath  while riding in Bo M’s amazing Datson 240Z with the music just loud enough to have the whole city turn to listen.

Ahh, the cars. Bo always had a nice ride, as his dad was in that business and Bo would clean the cars and sometimes bring them home. Jim H’s parents had the ’66 corvette stingray fastback, and Steve Z. got a brand-new Corvette for graduation. The rest of us mortals, rode bikes, motorcycles, took transit, walked, borrowed our parents’ cars or had really old junkers. I had an 80 cc Yamaha motorbike, that spit and coughed and farted all the way to wherever I was going. My main man Jim C. had saved a lot  so that in January 1970 when we both turned sixteen, he had bought a three-year-old Volks Beetle  and drove it to the driving test – Yeah, don’t ask.  He delivered pizza with it part time and loved that thing. But one sunny Sunday morning in August  of that year on a tight bend near his parents’ cottage he rolled it.  That turned him on to doing autobody and worked on a lot of other guys cars over the rest of High school.

For some of us we did not do high school well. At the time, what we now call Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder was in its early stages of identification and treatment,  and the confusion for most practitioners was that some inflicted with this had  a big attention deficit while others had not as much but a lot of hyperactivity. For most of us with it , the identification only came much later than high school, after some seriously disastrous experiences. I have ADHD but unlike my buddy Jim C. who was given an extra dollop of the H part I got an extra dollop of the AD part. It meant that I was laid back and identified as “mentally lazy”  and he was identified as “overwound”. I just cruised through high school failing stuff and for him the behaviors are as if you took  a regular kid, gave him a bunch of amphetamines, a couple of double espressos and send him off to school each day.

He channeled it into track and field – literally to run it off. I, on the other hand, would self medicate. Both of these techniques work to a degree but only partially. Each of us only figured out we had this later in life and much too late to have a very positive high school experience – at least academically.

Our high school  was a little weird as well. We had a real range on the socioeconomic front – some not very well off, some exceedingly well off and most of us in the middle. When we were in grade 10 the school board decided to turn our school into a Francophone school and the English school would be phased out. We were the second last graduating class as the year behind us was the last intake of the English students.  I think it was a Canadian application of the U.S. bussing program that had been so successful. LOL.

The result of this phase out of the school’s intake was that each year the scale of the student body dwindled, and as normal attrition was also occurring with some families who would move away, the number of students in our year also went down in size, as no new families moving to the area  could have their kids join us as this strange orphaned school.  There were positives to this small size of course in that we were a tighter group and could do some things that at the time were unique like moving the whole bunch of us (students, teachers, admin people)  to camp together, but in general we could not put together a football team or have as many extra curricular clubs etc.

Looking back over almost half a century is also scary. We look at the choices we have made, the experiences we have had since high school and how we might have done things differently. I spend a lot of time writing on this website  reflecting on life, looking back and looking forward. I think if this reunion happened twenty years ago I would have been pretty uptight about it,  but now it has been so long it is just a novelty that we have made it this far and will be fun to get reacquainted. But it has taken me this long to get to that point that I can see my high school years more  objectively and pull out those positive memories. It is as if over the years I have gone through a set of slides and year after year thrown out one or two of the bad memories only to be left with mainly slides of the good times and the positives that have come out.

Forty-eight years is a long time. That number has significance for Jim as he retired on his forty-eighth birthday and significance for me as the trip we did in June 2004  was En Plein Airs forty-eighth trip moving people to safe points as I described  in THE NEW MILLENIUM, posted March 26, 2017.

My buddy Jim C. has a lot of travel points and has got me a ticket to come over, see my doctor, dentist, and go to the reunion. The flight is by way of Ireland so Ciara is joining me for that leg as both of us need to sign statements at the police station regarding the death of her ex husband and then she is staying on for a few weeks as she needs to do something to keep up her medical accreditation. I will be in Ireland for just a day and then off to Canada for a few days of quality time with my doctor, dentist, and people I have not seen in about five decades.

I am now off to the library to sign out a bunch of physics texts.

Django

High School Django

P.S. As regular readers know I don’t usually put in pictures of myself as I like to keep a low profile but here is one of me from my high school days in grade twelve or grade thirteen. I am going to spend some time trying to find some images of my classmates and if they are cool with it, I will post them here as well.

JACQUES PEPIN – QUICK & SIMPLE

Posted: July 1, 2021

Regular readers will know I have  a thing for Jamie Oliver and not that long ago did a review of his new cookbook and something of a critique of his other books. Well, I have been known to get some cookbooks by other chefs out of the library too. This one, JACQUES PEPIN- QUICK & SIMPLE, is one I put my name down for some time ago and have watched over the months my progress on the list and a couple of weeks ago it arrived.

Jacques Pepin

So the rest of this little review is scattered with Jacques art work from the book just as the book itself has at times flourishes of art and at other times just little pinches.

To put things in historical context, in 1970, when Nigella Lawson was ten and learning some things in the kitchen, Jamie Oliver was not even born, and Gordon Ramsey was in his parents kitchen throwing knives at his teddy bear and screaming at the little bear that it had no place in his kitchen, Jacques had already earned his stripes apprenticing in French kitchens, worked as a chef at Maxims, been the personal chef to three French heads of state including De Gaulle, and had moved to the U.S.  The move to America was intended to be a short tack on his ultimate course but became a permanent diversion. He went on to a culinary teaching career and a new television career introducing the American public to great everyday cooking through various shows on PBS.

 

So how has this book stood up over time? Well even with the update and the artwork it is a bit dated. Two hundred and fifty recipes are still there but with not enough photos, by current measures, and many are so basic by todays standards you might not consider them a recipe at all.

With that said this book as a great starting point when learning what to do in the kitchen and for many, could work as the only cookbook they buy.

And that is because Jacques likes technique, so while you are preparing a recipe he is secretly teaching you technique. The recipe for Jamie Oliver is the deal, the use of a recipe as a way to teach technique is Jacques.

What the book is also pretty good for is one comprehensive cooking course from soup to nuts giving you lots of recipes but teaching you the methods of preparation along the way.

The table of contents tells the story: BASICS; APPETIZERS & SALADS; SOUPS, PIZZAS & HOT SANDWICHES; PASTA & RICE; LEGUMES & VEGETABLES; SHELFISH & FISH; EGGS, POULTRY & MEAT;  DESERTS.

As a result, when perusing the Bread section it is actually a little course in bread baking. Its not Paul Hollywood for 300 pages but it’s a great way for those of us who are not bread bakers to try it.

 

I have made a half dozen of the dishes now and one that stands out for me in this recipe technique businesses was Scaloppini of Turkey with Scallions. This recipe teaches how to sauté any thin meat – veal, turkey, chicken etc. Most of us think of grilling for several minutes, roasting or baking for an hour, but Jacque gently takes us through the process of sautéing for only one and a half minutes per side, then letting that cooking process finish off in a low temp oven (140f). Is the recipe simple -yes, is the little course in technique a good one – yes. That’s Jacques.

 

Scaloppini of Turkey

Another recipe I liked  a lot was Poached Cod with Black Butter and Capers. Poaching has a really nasty connotation for some of us over a certain age. It comes dangerously close to boiling meat – something that some of our mothers did.

Now strap in, I am going off on a bit of a tangent here.

When I was a young kid, some moms worked at paying jobs and were looked down on by regular moms, even if those working moms were discovering a cure for some disease or other noble cause. It is because after the war there were often not enough jobs for the men who were returning and taking those positions was considered taboo. Long after that rationale for the bias, it remained a snobby perspective.  Some moms did volunteer work and that was considered alright if they did not get paid. A mom’s job was as a homemaker and part of that was to keep the house organized, keep us kids on the straight and narrow, and to make sure there was always something good for meals on the table.

Yeah, they were pretty stupid times.

Not every woman was cut out for this limited scope of work, and while some absolutely relished it, others were absolutely terrible at it. This later group had no idea how to cook and would regularly produce the most awful of dinners.

Why am I off on this tangent? Well, its about the poaching. Some moms had no idea what to do with a nice roast and would boil it. The mom that comes to mind is Joey H’s mom. She was not a regular mom at all. To start, she looked like more of an older sister than a mom. She dressed like Marilyn Monroe and drove a Thunderbird convertible. Their house was not very traditional, both on the outside and the inside and was what today we would call mid century modern.

Joeys’ dad was always away on business. I mean ALWAYS away on business. I never met the guy.

The first time a few of us were over at Joey’s for dinner she was drinking a martini and about to go out with friends to dinner. Our parents only did that for their anniversary, but she went out at least once a week. She had bought this expensive roast at the butcher, because she and Joey always ordered food in, and he had asked her if she could get some stuff that would be like what his friends moms made. The huge roast was sitting in  a big pot on the top of the stove with lots of water in it and she had cranked up the burner so it would boil. She kissed Joey and left in a cab.

There was this big piece of meat in the pot with the water, a raw potato on the counter and in the fridge a lemon, some olives and some milk. She looked like a million bucks but wasn’t much of a mom.

Fortunately, one of the guys was Gino T and he told us to turn off the stove, get the meat out of there and he would be back. He came back with some olive oil, some pasta, Italian parsley and a big piece of cheese. I was told to cut the big piece of meat into little strips, joey was on the task of scrapping the big block of cheese to get  a big bowl of scrapings and Gino got the pasta going in the big pot Joeys mom had set out. The other guys set the table and turned on the record player. Gino found a skillet and put in some oil and the little meat strips I had cut and before long we were sitting down to a dinner that was better than I had at home usually, and Joey, Gino and the few other guys and I were pretty pleased with ourselves.

We all told Joey’s mom that we had loved the dinner and from then on about  once every couple of weeks she would get in a big roast, leave us to go out for the evening and we would pull out various things Gino had set us off to pilfer from our parents pantries during the week. When asked by the other moms what the secret was that we all loved when over at their house Joey’s mom would proudly announce the trick was that she boiled  a roast. Many a regular mom ruined some good meat after that trying to duplicate her boiled roast.

Joeys mom appreciated the positive comments and as a person with some of her own challenges in life, and with us kids liking our night out without any supervision, we all kept the secret, and she got to walk a little taller when seen by the other moms. She still wasn’t regular but now she was ok.

Until today the secret has been kept by Gino, Joey a few other friends and me. Sorry Joey but it’s been over fifty-five years that I have kept that secret but now its out there.

Poached Cod, Black Butter & Capers

So how is poaching different than boiling? It’s all about the timing. Poaching just heats up the protein quickly and while keeping it moist, then you get it out of the water dry it off and marry it with a nice warm sauce. For this to work of course it also is not a big roast but a delicate piece of fish in this Poached Cod with Black Butter and Capers example. Bring two cups of water to a boil in a saucepan, add the fish and bring back to a gentle boil then only leave it there for about two minutes (or up to an extra minute if the fillets are really thick). Dry off the fillets and put on some capers, shredded basil leaves and some brown butter sauce. If you have not made it before black or brown butter sauce is four tablespoons of unsalted butter, and one tablespoon of olive oil with a little salt and pepper, you have heated in a skillet until it has turned to a consistent light brown colour.

My baking skills are pretty rudimentary but I love to eat baked goods so I was very pleased with the Bread section in this book. This is basically a set of recipes to teach Cheats. Cheats I have referenced before. They are the short cut techniques used by commercial cooks and chefs to get to the finished result the easy way. The three very simple recipes for Fougasse (that leaf shaped bread), breakfast rolls and Focaccia are all really great ones for both the results and learning those cheats. I am going to be making these a lot in the future.

Fougasse & Breakfast Rolls

 

Is this book the new hottest thing? No. But it is a very worthwhile, large, comprehensive cookbook for novice home cooks to learn from, and for more seasoned home cooks to expand their skill set. Since handing back my library copy, I have bought my own, and that’s something for a guy with limited space on a liveaboard.

Django

PAIRING

POSTED: June 1, 2021

Everyone knows how sound travels over water. And proximity is also a pretty significant factor as well. So, the opportunity to really sleep-in when on a boat in a marina, located not very far from others  is often a rarity. While sleeping-in may not be in the cards it is not de rigueur for someone to move up the wake-up time with any extra noise. This rule is pretty universal in marinas where any liveaboards are moored.

A few weeks back that unwritten rule was broken.  An older lad, Andrew, who lives on an exceedingly beat up old keel boat a few docks over decided to dust off his bagpipes. He also got it in his head that it might be nice to practice first thing in the morning. YIKES.

I make a point of not putting pictures of myself out there on the internet, but trust me – I am a guy who needs his beauty sleep.

Now anyone who reads my  pieces regularly will know that I am more of an independent spirit than a leader but somehow, Ciara, Malcolm, Martha, Gabrielle  Gerhardt and a few others got it in their heads that I should speak to him. This was on the line of thought that because he had taken a course with me (Cooking For Leftovers) that I knew him. Well, he is a nice enough lad, but I didn’t really get to know him much as he was not very vocal in the course, but I took up the challenge.

Andrew is a very big guy but a quiet sort and well over there on the shy spectrum. He is a borderline recluse and does not have a cellphone, a computer or most other modern devices but seems to have books in abundance. His boat floats, but its not clear to me that the sails have been out in a long time, and the hull is covered and really looks like a high school science project. None of the wood details have any colour left as they are all grey, decayed or missing. I have never seen him hanging with other people and he seems to keep to himself a lot so I really did not know how it would go.

My buddy Jim, who made his living negotiating transactions, tells me that there are a lot of different techniques for negotiation. I went with the tried-and-true technique of taking a gift to open the door to a dialogue. Before dinner I made up a bunch of canapes, and Malcolm armed me with  a nice bottle of Spanish Rioja Gran Reserva, that could keep up with some of the more  spicy canapes and a French Sancerre to pair with the more delicate ones,  and I strolled over to his slip.

He was very pleased to see me, and we spent some good time chatting, eating and drinking. We have both had our first shots for Covid and stayed about a metre and a half to two meters apart.

I had the opportunity to talk to him about food and wine pairing and how well the two very different wines matched with the different canapes. It was a shameless introduction to talking about other pairings that work really well and some that are not as good.  This got us to the notion of pairing bag pipes with my morning sleeping schedule.

The meandering chat covered a lot of ground and as I had  consumed a warmup glass of wine before leaving En Plein Air to fortify my negotiation skills, and I think he had consumed a few beers before I arrived, a transcript of our dialogue would not be helpful here.

But some good ground was covered. The key thing that we established was that there are two pairing issues with his bagpipes. The first is that they are a piercing bit of auditory chaos at the best of times and best appreciated when fully awake. The second (and I take full credit for this bit of brilliance) is that it was not Andrews fault that the traditional bagpipe repertoire is more suited to a royal wedding, or the bestowing of a military honour, and is not up to his true musical capabilities. I had brought with me some sheet music of a song from a fellow Canadian, hoping that Andrew knew how to read music and as it turned out he did, having studied the piano as a kid.

He was really pleased with the ideas I presented and agreed that in these difficult Covid times playing something like that tune at about five pm would be a signal to everyone that we had collectively made it through another Covid day, and it was time to relax.

I went back to En Plein Air quite pleased with my outing and to prepare dinner for the little group that we eat with. Over dinner I did not share with any of them any details of our discussion, only that I was hopeful that the next morning would be quiet.

I awoke at the crack of nine the next day, feeling refreshed with no bagpipes to be heard. All day I lived with the anticipation of what might happen at five. And yes, at about 5:10, a little scratchy at first, but then really getting its momentum, Leonard Cohens Hallelujah came wafting across the water. It was like a call to arms and much of the marina was clapping and cheering when it ended.

It is now almost two weeks later, and Andrew has become the popular kid in the schoolyard. On a regular basis people are bringing him sheet music and bottles wine, and many now are seen sitting out with a drink, for the 5 pm ish piping out  of the day.

Its all about the pairing.

 

Django

P.S. While Hallelujah has become a regular, the range of sheet music he is getting is quite formidable and last night While My Guitar  Bagpipes Gently Weeps   was a crowd pleaser.

Earlier today, Martha just took him some Coltrane music, so we all live in anticipation of that.

WHAT IF?

POSTED: May 1, 2021

Lately I have spent a bit of time reflecting on the idea of What If? It is that  notion of the choice when we are at that fork in the road. In some cases, the concept is making us reflect on whether our past choices were the right ones,   congratulating us on the good choices we made, or challenging us to move bravely forward with a new initiative.

What if exists in all three tenses. What if I had chosen to join the circus,  what if I go back to university today, and what if I have a stroke in the future? But it is largely a decision linked to future consequences, whether looking back to when a decision was made or looking forward from making a decision today. The decision to do something or not do something is linked to the results that come from that decision. I wish I had known this in high school.

It is also a notion that can be applied equally by optimists or pessimists – What if I get cancer in the future, or what if they find a cure for my cancer soon?

Young people have more future based what if questions, older people have a disproportionate number of backward-looking questions about other paths they might have chosen.

When touring about I like to take photos of street art, graffiti, and signs as they often are simple yet profound statements or homilies that make us take pause and think about the topic. Like most good poetry they have usually been reduced to the essential elements without a lot of extra chatter.

The image shown here is one that I saw in Vancouver. It captures that notion of What if  fairly well. We all have the chance to change and evolve and if we don’t like elements of what we are, well -change them. Looking back at our mistakes or bad decisions, can either eat us up, or be a helpful tool to inform where we might go or how we might evolve for the better.

There is a woman who lives on a really small keelboat a couple of slips over. I don’t know her very well, but she was telling me one day when she came over to sign up for a cooking class that she runs marathons. I have seen her going out for runs and it always surprised me. She has one of those stocky builds that is not the physique of the traditional whisper thin, taut  long-distance runner.

One day many years ago she was pretty stressed from work, and decided that running would be a good way to both build up her tolerance for the stress and to potentially drop some weight. Well since that time she has worked up her performance to competing in marathons in Boston, London, Berlin and lots of other big name races. She is largely the same shape and weight but incredibly fit and able to  deal with the stresses and rigors of life much better.

Similarly, Janice, who had been home raising the kids while Jim was raising hell in the investment world, decided to go back to school. She had started life as a fashion designer after studying that at college. She and Jim worked at her fashion line together in fact. But working six to seven days per week when Jim was also exceedingly career focused was just not compatible with raising kids so she reluctantly gave up her fashion baby when she had her first real one.  By the time the kids were well into high school, and Jim was home, having retired early, she went back to university to pursue a degree in fine art. She had always been an artist but was a bit insecure about it and wanted to increase her depth of knowledge and perfect her studio techniques. It was also something of a personal test for herself. When she came out of high school and went to fashion college she did not choose the university route so pursuing a BFA in middle age was also an adventure and a challenge.

Beyond doing well with it and getting a strong fine art career going, in the academic side of the program she learned that she loved to write. That led to a certificate program in creative writing and poetry at the University of Toronto. The poetry interest really took hold and in her late fifties she decided to enroll in a graduate program – an MFA program in creative writing and poetry at the University of British Columbia.  She completed the program a few years ago, when most people her age are thinking of retirement.

It reminded me of a conversation on the topic  with one of my aunts. She did not have kids and as I was her only nephew we were quite close. She liked to share with me her life experiences and what she had learned over the years. One day when I was a teenager and almost ready for university myself but considering taking a year or two off before going that route, she told me of a friend of hers who was about her age and who had just been accepted to study engineering. Of course I was shocked and asked how old this guy would be when he finished. “The same age he will be if he does not go” was her wise response.

When I started jotting down these thoughts I was also quite dismissive of the people we all know who live in the dream world extreme variation of What if. These are the people who fantasize about winning the lottery or moving back in time. But even for them the concept has its applications. If the first thing you would do after winning a lottery is to quit your job, well perhaps you should consider what line of work you should be changing to and take action on that – not on buying lottery tickets.

Some things are not the big initiatives I have been chattering on about here. They may be the seemingly simple goal of being a better friend, having more tolerance, or thinking from a broader perspective. Sometimes these simple things however are tougher than learning to run a marathon.

I think all of these reflections, both negative or positive, and whether looking back in time or dreaming forward are all good. They are healthy ways to us to test what is important to us today and to ask ourselves the real key question: What if today I …..

Django

ONE ROOM SCHOOLHOUSE

Posted: April 1, 2021

A few weeks ago, I had nice email from my buddy Jim. He had included some pictures of his recent walks with Tuli their Shapendoes (Dutch sheepdog) in their local park. Toronto is the fifth largest city in North America but functions residentially as a collection of neighborhoods. Each one has its own little collection of retail storefront streets, and most feature a park as an important part of the community.

Where he and Janice live is close to the beach along lake Ontario so that beach and the two kilometers of boardwalk are the main park area but even with that they have another little park with some play areas, a bandshell and a couple of ponds. Those ponds are the home of ducks, turtles, frogs and birds in the warmer seasons and sit largely just as inactive frozen ice cubes in the winter. Not this winter.

Jim’s picture was of kids on the pond – skating, playing hockey, etc.  The part that impressed him the most was that in these times with the conventional indoor ice facilities closed and most of the outdoor rinks closed as well, and no organized hockey or figure skating going on, this little pond had become a place for kids of all ages to just go, lace up and cut loose from their isolation inside with their parents. Young kids playing with older ones or adults in pick-up games of hockey. The scene of older kids teaching younger ones to skate and everyone just enjoying an unorganized bit of athletic fun could be an image from a small rural village in the 1930’s from any northern community around the world.

Yes, it’s true there are not a lot of masks to be seen but for being outdoors, with a bit of distance and for all the mental health advantages, it really does seem like a good solution.

The aspect of the older kids working with the younger ones really struck a chord with me. I am an only child so my experience with siblings is artificial -the odd older neighbour kid, or younger family friend experience is really not the same as a sibling. But recently I have been going to one of our local parks that’s adjacent to the marina where I live and bumping into a family from the marina I know a bit. They are from Norway and were away for a sailing trip in the Mediterranean when this Covid nonsense hit a year ago. The decision was made to hunker down and stay in Malta until the summer (last summer) when Covid would be over, and to teach the three kids their schoolwork on the boat,  and then sail back to Norway. They have revised that by a year and are now planning on sailing home this summer. Over last spring and now through the fall and this winter they have been co-existing as a family on their liveaboard. What makes it work is the great climate Malta has. Their oldest, a teenager, “camps” in a large tent on the deck. When I was growing up in Canada it was the fashion for teenagers to move to the basement of their parents home to have more freedom and independence. Well, this is like living on the roof!

I know them all somewhat as all three of the kids have taken cooking classes with me. So when I saw them all working at a picnic table in the park, the mom came over to say hi and explain their school week. On Monday to Friday they all have school online in the morning and she and her husband try to get some of their own online work done. Then in the afternoon the kids work away on various school projects or assignments. The oldest one is getting a school credit for teaching the younger two – often being a resource really, more than teaching a class but at times teaching as well. By teaching you learn the subject yourself more comprehensively. Its sounds like the Norwegians have a handle on this online learning business.

She was also telling me how well it works for some subjects that are reading based  or even some subjects like history and geography. The whole thing is based on the layers of understanding. So while the youngest one is learning the names of cities and regions in the world, the middle one is learning more about the general politics and culture of the places and the oldest one is focused more on the culture and evolution of those centres or regions. Similarly when they read a story geared to the youngest one who is just enjoying the story and trying to read along, the middle one is more focused on the grammar, and the oldest one is trying to pull out whether there is a more hidden message or metaphor from the piece to share with the middle child.

Most days they do it in the park just to get a change from the boat and to let their dad or mom have some zoom time with the office, but on rainy days they do it in the pilot house. Large old powersailers like mine have a pilot house that is on the top level for seeing where you are and navigating, while staying out of the elements. Newer boats like theirs have a similar but more luxurious bridge level with lots of windows but enclosed as well. One advantage is that the pilot house or enclosed bridge are the brightest inside place on the boat, so it lends itself to a nice learning environment. In smaller boats this area is usually only really big enough for one or two people but on older boats or really large ones like theirs it is big enough that they have moved their dining table up to that area as these days their enclosed pilot house is not needed for its designed purpose and it is their one room schoolhouse during the day and dining room at night.

I had never understood how a one room schoolhouse could work before. At times each of these kids needs to just work on their own material but on other occasions they can all benefit from working on the same material in different ways.

While we all can readily list off a string of  negatives from Covid, I think in the hands of people who really put their minds to it, there are some real positives as well, particularly with focused and committed parents. My dad used to talk about growing up as a young person in the depression and how his parents, particularly his mom, my Odie, had made the whole experience something of an adventure. These kids may remember this time, despite all its terrible attributes,  as the best of their school years.

Django