Saturday, March 28, 2009

Early Morning Lovecall, or Raucus Cawcaus

No that's not a typo, nor an invitation to read an explicit expose. It's what woke me up far too early on a overcast, dreary Saturday morning. To wit, the LOUD harsh cawing of crows in the fir trees behind our house, meaning closest to the bedroom windows. A she-crow may think it's a heart-stirring sound but my less-tuned ear thinks it's simply an assault to my sleep-tender brain.

I suppose it was time to get up anyway. Thursday night/Friday morning was my death/resurrection scene, a 10 hour rest and recovery session after what in hindsight was indeed a stress-filled and tiring week. Come the weekend, no matter the temptation to sleep in, it only makes the work day early morning starts more difficult. And truly, with spring (and summer?) soon upon us, early morning is a special time of day, the best time of day to work outside before the stifling heat of midday sets in.

Early morning mating songs bring to mind the flicker fest up north. Some of you have heard this before, either from me in letters or laments over the years, or through first hand experience of your own - but only if you had a handy supply of metal surfaces.

The log house on our homestead farm had a tin rain cover over both wood stove chimneys (heater and cookstove); there were metal eaves troughs along both roof edges as well as the metal spouts running down to the metal rain barrels; there was tin roofing on the small shed where we hung our meat and on the barn, and of course the metal fuel tanks on metal stands. Lots of flicker communication devices.

A flicker is a member of the woodpecker family, a rather annoying member at that (we all have our certain 'aunties', ney?). Their offspring are akin to the obnoxious kids we encountered at children's birthday parties (not your children, I'm sure) that you wanted to ever-so-sweetly smack up the side of the head. The are a hazard to log houses. Any redeeming virtues? They eat mountain pine beetle larva.

Anyway, about this time of year is mating season for the flickers, and in normal environments, the guys would call up the girls by ratta-tat-tatting on hollow trees and logs, sort of the hand-crank phone of the bird world. Our metal-filled environment provided them with high-speed, loud and clear instant messaging technology. At I-kid-you-not 4am, or the faint edge of first light, the ratat-ta-tat would begin on a chimney cover. A response would come from the fuel tanks. Rebuttal from the rain barrel - a particularly good resonator - would prompt more frantic hammering up on the chimney. More would join in on the conversation from all the aforementioned metal spots.

And this would go on for two hours.

It did not inspire reflected ardour on the part of the humans in the vicinity.

And flickers are really, really hard to get a bead on with a loaded .22. Trust me on this.

Endangered species, you chide me. Where I live, you bet.

On the other hand, one sound I listened for with great eagerness was the thump....thump-thump....thrrrrrump of spruce grouse. It's an awesome thing to listen to and to watch. Grouse were fairly content around our farm and plentiful of a year. I have a grand photo of a male in his glory atop a hollow log (to amplify the sound), upright and wings in a blur. If his call is successful and hens come to him, he then does the northern version of the prairie chicken dance - hunched over, wings spread wide and low to the ground, tail up and wide in splendor, little feet thumping madly as he pirouts around the ladies.

If you've ever been to a southern pow-wow (or I suppose the Calgary Stampede still has the Indian Village?) the chicken dance is so very like the birds, it's stunning. It's my favorite dance next to the hoop dance.

For grace and beauty, absolutely nothing beats the mating dance of cranes. I once watched two sandhill cranes with total awe as they performed a ballet duet that brought tears to my eyes. I'm sure there's a video somewhere in the cyberworld that you could find to watch, but it's no substitute for a live event.

Quick shout-outs:

Becca - if I don't get to you before you read this, tell Dad I sent the insurance cards up in the mail yesterday. Thanks, hon! Love you.

McKinnons of Airdrie - I won't be coming over for Easter. Abby and her entourage are continuing on to Revelstoke to visit G-G Giesbrecht, so I'll see them then. And Bryan is getting in Grandpa time this weekend.

Tannis - so lovely to finally meet you in person after our extended business correspondence! We'll have to find a warm patio that features blender beverages next time, hmm?

Lynnette, Susan and Sisters in Fibre - your posted project work is both inspiring and depressing. How I wish, truly wish, I had my loom back up and running. There is work to be done in the future weaving room, though, so I grit my teeth, live vicariously through your blogs and keep my day job to finance said-room!

Well, the sun still hasn't made a full-face appearance through the overcast sky, but it's more than time for me to get out for a walk. The joy of that! Long strides without muscles tensed against slides on ice. Then some garden work - it's much easier to do any required digging now when the soil is still soft with spring saturation, so I'm getting the prep work done. Then early this afternoon I'm off to a dinner date with the ladies in Revelstuck - well, now that the snow is melting I suppose we can be respectful again - Revelstoke.

Hope you have a productive and enjoyable day!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

More Abby pics

Poor kid! When she gets older and learns how often her Grandma sent her little mugs shots out into the world, she's gonna be ticked! But she is so darned cute and she's ours. Thanks again to Chad with his cell phone camera expertise.

I'm expecting Grandpa photos .... or else.

Bryan's up north for a week or several weeks, depending on his health. Good days now outnumber bad days, but the bad are still nasty. And he reports it is spring in the north, which means overnight temps still down to -20s.

Spring has been officially declared here with a robin's song. More accurately, the song of hundreds of robins. The herd has descended, on route to the north country. Some, of course, will hang around but many more will nest up in mosquito country.

It's been nose-to-the-grindstone for me this week with my work partner Deb away on vacation time. She announced her intention to use the time to spring-clean her house. Not everyone's idea of a vacation but to each their own. Early away in the morning, late to home at night; a light supper (with nobody to cook!) and violin practice (I am improving by leaps and bounds), then to bed with a book. With curling season wrapped up, it's easy to become a hermit during the week.

My laptop needs some tech time. The latest Creative Suite upgrade that I downloaded needs all kinds of operating power so I'm going to put 2GB of RAM on here. How easily I say (write) that, and yet I can remember a time when the computers I worked on had no internal hard drive and a Dynabyte 64 was cutting edge stuff. Remember using two floppy's? 1 program disk and one operating disk. And a modem was a handset receiver for the telephone handpiece when you dialed up the phone number. The wunderkind who works beside me looks at me like I'm a museum piece if I talk that way. Yikes.

Young friend Marie Odette asked for people who use Skype, something about practicing for a job interview... hmm, networkings has a whole new edge to it. I have downloaded Skype but need like-minded, like-equipped wannabe correspondents. It's a way to talk on-line. If your computer has camera and sound capability and you're on high speed, go get the free download and then contact me! Hey Tannis, maybe you can get me up to speed on this thing.

Have been roasting vegetables for tomorrow's supper - see, lack of a personal chef has driven me to planning in advance again. Got some baby beets at the grocery store and threw them in the oven with other root veggies. Everything is now cooling off, and tomorrow will be a bountiful meal, a little celebration for completion of the week's work.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sunday with Elaine

It's because of humour like this that Elaine and I have been friends for nigh onto 30 years.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Widget

Did a little research, answered my own question.

Widget (beer)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Guinness floating widget

A widget is a device placed in a container of beer to manage the characteristics of the beer's head. The original widget was patented in Ireland by Guinness. The "floating widget" found in cans of beer is a hollow sphere, 3 cm in diameter.


Draught Guinness, as it is known today, was first produced in 1964. With Guinness keen to produce draught beer packaged for consumers to drink at home, Bottled Draught Guinness was formulated in 1978 and launched into the Irish market in 1979. It was never actively marketed internationally as it required an initiator, which looked rather like a syringe, to make it work.


A can of beer is pressurized by adding liquid nitrogen, which vaporises and expands in volume after the can is sealed, forcing gas and beer into the widget's hollow interior through a tiny hole—the less beer the better for subsequent head quality. In addition, some nitrogen dissolves in the beer which also contains dissolved carbon dioxide.

The presence of dissolved nitrogen allows smaller bubbles to be formed with consequent greater creaminess of the subsequent head. This is because the smaller bubbles need a higher internal pressure to balance the greater surface tension, which is inversely proportional to the radius of the bubbles. Achieving this higher pressure would not be possible with just dissolved carbon dioxide, as the greater solubility of this gas compared to nitrogen would create an unacceptably large head.

When the can is opened, the pressure in the can quickly drops, causing the pressurised gas and beer inside the widget to jet out from the hole. This agitation on the surrounding beer causes a chain reaction of bubble formation throughout the beer. The result, when the can is then poured out, is a surging mixture in the glass of very small gas bubbles and liquid.

This is the case with certain types of draught beer such as draught stouts. In the case of these draught beers, which before dispensing also contain a mixture of dissolved nitrogen and carbon dioxide, the agitation is caused by forcing the beer under pressure through small holes in a restrictor in the tap. The surging mixture gradually settles to produce a very creamy head.

First day after the First Day of Spring

Spring is definitely sprung today. Yesterday, although a warm one, was overcast and gloomy. Not a cheerful harbinger of the new season. This morning the sun is shining bright and - well, not clear because my windows are shamefully dirty on the outside - but there is sunshine on the floor, warming the house literally and emotionally.

The snow is disappearing at a rapid pace. Hurrah! Can't go fast enough for most of us. From coast to coast, from north to south, everyone in our acquaintance that I've been in contact with has echoed the same sentiment. Even the 'elite snowmobile athletes', to steal a phrase from Karen, are ready for a new sport.

Not much exciting lately. Been full steady days at work - thank goodness I have a temporary house husband who loves to cook because I come home not interested in anything much more than a glass of red wine and maybe a mindless movie. We don't have that ubiquitous sedative known as TV.

My partner Deb has next week off, so things will be 'interesting'. Certain demanding clients with illusions of superiority (not you, Tannis!! You're our favorite girl, and we kinda like your boys, too) will just have to wait their turn like everyone else.

Bryan's also making noises about heading up north for a few weeks. He's been feeling better in recent weeks, 2 good days to 1 bad day, opposite to how it's been since Christmas. At any rate, he needs to get the 2008 books up to our accountant in High Prairie pronto, or I'll send them up on the bus (oh, trusting Greyhound with our books. Eeee.)

Early morning phonecall from Rebecca about a highway tragedy last night that took the life of four young people. Only confirmed name is Brendon Birnie-Browne. There will be yet more yodelling about the delay in twinning Hwy 43 through Sturgeon Lake Reserve and none about the responsibility of driver's to take care and caution on all roads. The highways down here in the interior are almost all two-lane, with lots of twists and serious drop-offs - you just don't drive into a ditch or fenceline, you go into a rockface or down a vertical face 25m or more. No room for error, and the fatality rate is much lower. Drive for the conditions, folks.

The common note this week has been the muscle spasms in my back. Takes all the fun out of everything. The chiropractor says everything is lining up nicely in my spine and hips but I think the muscles are protesting the amount of adjustment taking place in a short amount of time; going to take a break from it for awhile, see if that helps.

Yesterday was a slow one, after not much restorative sleep all week. A tall glass of Kilkenny in the late afternoon was added relaxation. Can anyone tell me why there is a small plastic ball in a can of Kilkenny? What purpose does it serve?

I'm going to take my cup of coffee outside and enjoy it on the deck in the sunshine with my husband. Wish you were here with us!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Quick Sunday Review

Watched the Brier tonght at the pub - glad Kevin Martin's rink won but wish Manitoba had been able to give them more of a challenge.

Didn't win the Falkland Brier but played perhaps my best personal game and had a great time.

Went to Lorenzo's Cafe (east of Enderby on the Mabel Lake Road in beautiful downtown Ashton Creek) Thursday night to listen to Carlos del Junco, best harmonica player in Canada, and his awesome backup band. So glad Bryan said "Let's go!"

Attended George's Celebration of Life ceremony Thursday afternoon. Glad I did, he had a tremendous impact on a lot of people. Met with Valerie and we plan to plug on with KVP, to at least get the on-going projects done, give her time to evaluate her options.

Attended a baroque concert at the Vernon Public Library at noon one day, presented by a quartet that includes my violin teacher. Good stuff, even though the gallery staff had a not-so-wee hissy fit when they found out it was a brown-bag lunch concert. We didn't leave any crumbs, honest.

Listening to the lovesick owl who's been hooting in the fir trees behind the house all week every night. Seeing more and more equally lovesick pheasant cocks along the hedges and roadsides, playing in traffic whilst looking for lady pheasants. And the Quail Gang has picked up the pace around here, lots of coo-COO-coo-ing from the boys.

Got the account books for Bryan's business DONE FOR YEAR-END. Do I hear an Hallellujah from the congregation? He's heading up north later this week, get some jobs done up there and (I'm so jealous) getting in some grandpa time with wee Abigail.

Good book read this week: Wind... oh heck, what is it? Wind-something by Nick Bantock. The book's on my desk at work so I can't even cheat and go look it up.

Good movie watched this week: Stardust, featuring Claire Danes, Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert DeNiro; also Flawless, featuring Michael Caine and Demi Moore.

Good reciped tried this week: new chicken recipe with tomato, lemon and couscous from (I'm so embarrassed to admit this) the January 2009 issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine.

Frustration of the week: Only One? Well, being unable to setup the CS4 program that I spent a lot of money buying and a LOT of time downloading last week. Where's a technogieck when you need one (spelling is intention, not incorrect) - oh, that would be me. Damn.

Have been meaning to write a more meaningful (coherent) blog and sooner than tonight, but it's been a full week - not entirely of my doing but occupying all of my life, afraid to say.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Explaining $50 Trillion

I was cruising my morning online news sources when I came across this little gem. I don't take credit for anything other than passing on my educational resources. CBC owns the rights to the following.

And by the way, things are 'fine' - in other words, it's bloody cold even here in the balmy Okanagan which means everyone is crabby but we'll survive. Gonna go listen to a harmonica player at Lorenzo's Cafe, just outside Enderby, tonight.


How much is $50 trillion anyway?

Last Updated: Wednesday, March 11, 2009 | 4:22 PM ET

Earlier this week, reported the results of a study conducted by the Manilla-based Asian Development Bank on the impact of the global financial crisis. It estimated that in 2008 worldwide losses in the currency, stock and bond markets totalled $50 trillion.

Numbers like this have become commonplace. On first reading, I found myself simply accepting that I understood what 50 trillion anything might be.

But I don't, really.

In February 1909, when Canada's first powered aircraft, Alexander Graham Bell's Silver Dart rose nine metres above frozen Baddeck Bay on Cape Breton Island, people were astonished. To tell them that Canadians would, in a matter of decades, fly at heights of nine thousand metres — and that it would be such an average experience that most wouldn't bother to look up from their magazines — would have been beyond imagination.

Today, millions of us are very comfortable flying along at 9,000 metres of elevation. I have experienced — and ignored — the sensation many times. I feel I know what it is like.

But I have no frame of reference for $50 trillion.

So, if you would, join me in a few basic calculations.

Fifty trillion is one million multiplied by 50 million.

Could former prime minister Wilfrid Laurier, whose picture appears on the $5 bill, ever imagine a stack of money $50 trillion high? (iStockphoto) Could former prime minister Wilfrid Laurier, whose picture appears on the $5 bill, ever imagine a stack of money $50 trillion high? (iStockphoto)

For some Canadians, $1 million is an imaginable number. There are condominiums selling for more than that in our biggest cities.

At least, there were.

Still, for those of us in more humble surroundings, this can be illustrated in, well, more humble ways.

The smallest paper currency in this country is a $5 bill. Two hundred thousand $5 bills are worth $1 million. A stack of 200,000 $5 bills is roughly 20 metres tall — the height of a five-storey building, using the thickness of American bills as a guide. (The exact thickness of the Canadian $5 bill appears to be a closely guarded secret.)

Fifty million stacks of bills 20 metres tall each will give you a pile of money one million kilometres high.

Fly me to the moon

So, if you were in, say, St. John's, Nfld., and you stacked 50 million stacks of 200,000 $5 bills one atop of the other, you would reach the moon, turn back toward Earth, and then, after landing on Signal Hill, keep stacking, until you almost reached the moon again. (It is 384,400 kilometres away on average, says NASA.)

That's how big $50 trillion is — and we lost it.

That's the part that is really hard to understand.

Money, for most of us, is finite. There is only so much to spend. Some people have a great deal, many more people have just enough and many, many times more have nowhere near enough. But it is what it is.

We look in our wallets or our bank accounts and we know how much we have. If we choose to spend that money we won't have it anymore, but we will have something to show for it. We will have a stalk of celery, or admission to a movie, or a New Jersey-based drug company.

In this way of thinking, money is like water or energy: it may transform into something else, but we can track its journey. We know where it went; or if we don't, we can figure it out. We can find it.


But that is not the case with the pile of $5 bills that is almost three times the distance to the Moon. "Lost," in this case, is the wrong word. It isn't under a sofa cushion, or left in the kitchen like your keys. This thing, this pile of money, may never be found, no matter how hard we look.

That is the key. With money, at a certain point, we are no longer talking about a stalk of celery or a drug company. Money becomes less a thing and more a system of belief.

When Banker A sells Banker B a bundle of mortgages, some of which will never be repaid, Banker B isn't buying something tangible. Banker B isn't even buying necessarily the promise of something tangible.

He's buying and reselling the promise of a promise. In fact, it's a transaction remarkably like religion. It's faith: the implicit belief in something that can't be substantiated.

That's why that $50 trillion did just disappear. It never was a pile of bills. It was only the hope for that pile, a glowing dream in the collective minds of bankers and investors large and small, climbing higher and higher, a prayer with every step.

Whomever their God, the prayers weren't enough. When they fell, their religion tumbled with them, bringing with it some very tangible consequences: job losses in the hundreds of thousands.

We can thank our stodgy Canadian banking laws that for us the fall wasn't harder than it was.

Either way, the lessons are clear: step carefully. Know what you own and what it's worth.

Faith can accomplish great things, but if it starts to get cold and the air's getting thin, turn around. The view just isn't worth the climb.

Friday, March 6, 2009

A Coffee Moment

Posted this photo, actually taken last December, because I can (finally) and because you wouldn't believe this if I didn't have photographic proof: when the first significant snowfall was done, I jokingly said to Bryan that it was light and fluffy enough to be cleared with the mower. Next thing I know, I hear a roar, look outside and he's doing exactly that!

I have good intentions of getting to the account work sitting on my desk... over there... to my left... I can see it from my seat here at the kitchen table.

As I gird my mental loins for that task, I take a coffee moment to think back over the week. My email was plump with news from friends living hither and yon:
  • worrying news that Maggie My Maggie is in kidney failure again (she has a rare condition, a type of cirrhosis of the kidneys) but is fighting on to get through her term at Red Deer College;
  • joyful news from Barbara of the Golden Voice that school choirs are underway, life is full and so is she (I'm sorry! couldn't resist), pregnant again and shall we hope for a boy to keep Number One Son company amongst his herd of sisters?;
  • joyful news of another sort from Fair Fay as she travels on her challenging but always exciting journey of faith, I think perhaps made more poignant and enriched by the end-of-life travels that a few family members are now embarked upon;
  • updates from Our Man Travis on the new book project - the course has a dogleg in it, which if you know the Hatch clan, is par for the course but we'll stay true to the course until the thing has run its course, of course (sorry for the mixed metaphors - I'm a terrible golfer, too!).
The Falkland mixed curling league is now finished excepting the playdowns. Our team played back-to-back games Tuesday and Wednesday: got royally trounced the first game but redeemed ourselves with style the following night. Good way to end the season. We have a by on the Tuesday night opener, not playing gain until next Friday.

Our 'amazing' ice meant I did a lot of sweeping, good exercise to help me get to sleep. All the new work I've taken on at the newspaper this week has set my mind on overdrive. I tend to work things over and over in my brain throughout the night, my mental hard drive trying to process information, I suppose. It's always been that way with me. When I first started milking cows in New Zealand back a hundred years ago, I milked those damned cows twice a day and all night long for two weeks. When I began creating ad layouts 10 years ago, I did the same - designing over and over again all night long.

After a somewhat frantic time of it on Monday, paginating the Lake Country Calendar, I had a busy night of it. I wasn't sure during the real-time process exactly where all the files were that I needed and didn't have a run sheet to keep track of everything I needed to include (the person who did the work before, and who finished work there last Friday, 'just knew' where everything was and what needed to go in, and so never wrote any notes!). So that night, when I finally got to sleep, my dreams were filled with scenerios where I was missing my links (how a computer finds the information in one file to include in another document) - but none of my missing links were computer work. I'd be in a room, wondering where Karen was, only to be told that "she isn't here because you lost the link! If you'd filed her properly, none of this would have happened." That's not a restful dream.

I was telling Bryan about it the next evening at supper, and it came to me that I never have those work-through-it dreams about playing the piano, playing the violin, riding a motorcycle, even when there is new learning involved. Weird.

Speaking of violins, mine's now sporting shiny new strings and a new-to-it bridge courtesy Mr. Daher of Chilliwack who soujourns to Vernon of a day to bring relief to ailing string instruments. It sounds better. My instructor will be better pleased with me and my fiddle.

Those pesky books are now using their loud, annoying outside voices. Enough play time. Work must be done.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Feeling Sad

I lost a dear friend this week. George Matheson died on Tuesday, midday at his home up on Silver Star Mountain. I'm broken-hearted for his wife Valerie and for his family, but also for myself. George was a rare character, a renaissance man in the publishing and PR business with a fascinating history and sharp wit. I'm truly going to miss him. Damn.

Author and television producer George Matheson was born in India in the days when the British Raj still flourished. His often light hearted, easy-to-read, writing style keeps you turning the pages of his first three books, The Vaders' Caboose, Cactus In Your Shorts, and Hogs and Cabbagers. The same humourous tack greatly enhances the viewer enjoyment of his television work.
George derives his diverse approach to writing from experiences garnered in India, Ceylon, North Africa, Canada and the United States. Two more books are coming down the pipe. Up Your Breeks, a sometimes hilarious, nevertheless thought provoking collection of stories about his childhood and teenage years in British India. Also evolving is a much larger work, Tiger Sleeping Memsahib, a novel that is set in World War II India, which is a complex interplay between the British bureaucracy, the fickle military, duplicitous Indian rulers and anarchistic foreign missionaries.
Matheson commutes between his rural British Columbia home and a remote log cabin in the foothills of the Monashee Mountains, where he does a lot of his writing. Commenting on the advantages of this, he states: "No phone. No electricity. No running water. Writing by candlelight makes me think I would have survived as did Abraham Lincoln, although I'm not sure about splitting rails. When I get lonely for company, I discuss my work with the chipmunks and blue jays. The grizzly bears, sometimes cruising the area, seem not to be overly interested."