Wednesday, April 29, 2020

National Day of Mourning

How many of you knew that yesterday was the National Day of Mourning here in Canada and Workers' Memorial Day in the United States and much of the rest of the world?

Having a day to remember and honour those who have died while at work was an idea first suggested at the Canadian Labour Congress in 1984.  By 1989 the AFL-CLC had adopted the idea in the U.S. and in 1991 the Canadian government passed legislation approving April 28th as the National Day of Mourning.  Of course this year's ceremonies took place virtually.

Why April 28th?  Because on that date in 1914 the pioneering legislation, the first Workers Compensation Act was passed here in Ontario.  Today working for greater on-the-job safety is as important as remembering the dead.  On-the-job injuries vastly exceed fatalities, and leave behind workers who may be impacted for life.

We feel a personal connection of course as our son William was killed while at work as a water bomber pilot.  However, I have the impression the the day of mourning is recognized and remembered mainly by those involved in the labour movement.  I was aware of it, but just in passing, 'out of the corner if my eye' so to speak.  We think more immediately of the Canadian Fallen Firefighters Foundation and the Canadian Firefighters Memorial in Ottawa.

The statistics are frightening.  In Ontario there were 81 fatalities in 2018, and 56,000 injuries.  There were considerably more deaths from occupationally related diseases.  To cite just one statistic, another 12-15 workers will die in the U.S. today, and every day.  Thankfully these deaths and injury rates have improved significantly over the past 50 years.

We can add a tragic footnote to this during the current pandemic as health care workers who die or fall ill will be among these numbers.

So think of those health care workers who are literally risking illness or death every time they go to work and don't complain about being asked to simply stay home!

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Spring is Emerging!

I've been watching the first flowers emerge here in our yard and looking forward to the green transformation of spring and a few actual blooms.  These are the first few, 3 in bloom, and several leaves emerging promising blooms later in the spring.  And in case you're wondering, the Pansies are doing fine in spite of being snowed on 4 times.

The first two of the tiny 'species' Tulips.  I haven't actually seen these as they're off in a corner I can't access with my wheelchair.

We do have a few Hyacinths which Mrs. F.G. planted around our little Birch tree in the front yard.

She brought in a single stem to liven my olfactory day, which it did quite effectively.

And there are some tiny Primrose that I can see from the window that have just flowered in the past 48 hours.

These are Columbine leaves, coming up as volunteers in a Hosta pot.  Without intending to we brought several from our last house.

Three big Alium that were planted at the back of the yard.

And just yesterday I noticed several Hostas like this one, just emerging in the gravel of our little strip of scree between the front sidewalk and porch.  These ones looked as if they were literally growing as I watched.

I'm still waiting for a call back from the wheelchair technician, but I got out yesterday in the sun for another ride up and down the street.  The battery behaved a little better, only declining to 75% after 6 laps.  Still not enough to get downtown and back, but at least I can get out and inspect the same 18 houses (+ three under construction) on our street over and over again as I go back and forth!

Hope you're having a good week.  We're scheduled for three days of rain now.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Mission Aborted!

Finally Saturday was warm enough so I set out on a longer ride around the block.  I don't think I saw a single soul.  But I got half-way around the block and noticed that the charge on my wheelchair had plunged to near 10%!!!!!!!

For the first time I had to call Mrs. F.G. to come and rescue me, my ride aborted.  I was worried that I would not even make it home again, let alone up our driveway and into the house.  This chair weighs 300 lbs., so pushing it even on a flat floor is hard work!

This is a disaster!  I may not be able to drive downtown for coffee as I did all last summer (if we ever do get allowed out in public again)!  I had to sit for nearly 3 hours to wait for it to charge up again, and then it only got to 60%.  Mrs. F.G. charged it up to 100% later in the evening.

So yesterday I set out to test this thing.  This is the little control screen on the wheelchair, and you can see the battery symbol in the upper right, indicating 100% when I started.  I planned to go back and forth on our own little street and keep careful track of the charge as it declined.  Last year I could do 6 laps of the street and it would still be about 95%.

I did the first lap and stopped to check - it had dropped to 80% already!

One more lap and it had dropped to 72%.  (Sorry about the picture; sun was glaring on the screen).

Lap 3 and it had dropped to 66%.  This usually takes 4 or 5 days.  It would be just enough to get me downtown but not home again.  This is totally unacceptable!  When you are paralyzed you are totally dependent on your wheelchair; it's like an extension of yourself.

I don't want to tell you what this chair cost, and I know it is heavily subsidized by the government.  But that doesn't mean it's ok.  The chair is less than one year old!  I've already been on the phone today so I'm hoping they can send a technician soon.  I will test it again today to make sure.

I'm certainly not planning to be stuck on the front sidewalk just as these beautiful warm days arrive!

Saturday, April 25, 2020

The Goldfinch's New Colours

Anyone who notices the birds at this time of year, the best time of year to be a birdwatcher, watches for the American Goldfinch in the neighbourhood to turn bright yellow.  They are a dull yellowy green during the winter months, but the males turn a bright yellow for spring.  It's so noticeable that this is one of the most obvious signs of spring that we watch for.

Two months ago the few Goldfinch that visited our yard looked like this, rather dull and inconspicuous colours for the winter.

As spring moved closer, a new set of feathers started to grow in for the spring molt that is characteristic of this species.  All bird normally molt at least once a year, usually in the fall, but the Goldfinch molts twice, growing a new set of feathers in both spring and fall.  Yes, it's a new set of feathers growing in, not merely old feathers changing colour.

Among birds most species don't change colour during their molt; their feathers are just new and brighter.  The American Goldfinch is unusual in that it does change colour a lot, though just for the males.  Females don't change colour, but they do grow a new set of feathers.  This bird seems about halfway on to its new clothes.  The tail and wing feather colours don't change.

And now those bright Goldfinch males are a welcome splash of colour as spring arrives.

Today (finally) is a bright sunny and warmish day!  Mrs. F.G. has been out in the yard working and after lunch I will get out for a healthy dose of fresh air, even though I can't ride very far.  Hope you're getting some of this warm weather too, and get out to enjoy it.

Friday, April 24, 2020

National Volunteer Week

Have you ever thought about how important volunteers are to keeping our society running?  I daresay that if volunteers were removed from the work that keeps our communities humming, then our communities wouldn't run at all!

Who among us hasn't volunteered in some capacity when our children were young?  Mrs. F.G. was the 'Hotdog Lady' at our son's public school, organizing hotdog lunches once a week.  We both volunteered for Beavers and Brownies, and I was a Scoutmaster for several years.  As our children grew and life became busier volunteering was less possible, but still our boys participated in every sport going, all of them totally dependent on volunteer coaches.

I skipped over Earth Day two days ago, but what I remember about the year leading up to the first Earth Day in 1970 was being intensely involved in raising awareness.  I organized a group of students at university when there were no courses on envirnmental issues and we ran 'Charlie Brown University', teaching our own 6 week courses to anyone interested.  Volunteers have been the backbone of the environmental movement ever since.

Once our careers were established Mrs. F.G. took up quilting and for years she organized monthly workshops for the guilds in Guelph and Markdale.  After we retired she organized a large quilt show in Markdale.  She also fit in horticultural courses and ended up forming the Guelph Master Gardeners with another friend.  All totally volunteer efforts.

As I approached retirement I pro-actively sought out the local Bruce Trail Club and volunteered to help with stewardship work.  This was work done mainly in the field, inspecting properties, finding corner stakes and recommending management work.  I knew I'd be asked to serve on this or that committee and would far rather be outside volunteering.  I loved that work.

And when I look around our community I know that all kinds of things depend on volunteers - fundraising for the hospital, delivering meals on wheels, supporting local churches, running local events.  Friends of ours run a community drop-in centre, another friend volunteers at the hospital, one volunteers at the local museum.  Our communities are much richer for the amazing contribution made by volunteers.

So, during National Volunteer Week pause a moment and give thanks for the volunteers who make your community a better place to live!

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Around the Neighbourhood

The other day, before our most recent and hopefully final cold snap, it was warm enough to get outside, and it was sunny.  I mostly sat in front of the garage soaking up the sun, but I did ride up and down the street a bit a few times.

One neighbour has put up this large sign in their window.

Our closest neighbours have this ornamental weeping Pussy Willow, just full of blossoms - just a bit past the 'pussywillow' stage, but pretty nevertheless.

Around the corner construction continues.  That day they were pouring another foundation.  There are two homes under construction, one nearly ready for occupancy and I think four lots left..

Overhead fluffy clouds were blowing over, but every time the sun disappeared it suddenly got cool again.  Sunshine makes such a difference at this time of year.

Our son and daughter-in-law dropped in for a visit to deliver a couple of things, remove a couple, and help with changing a lightbulb (while keeping our social distance).  It's amazing the simple tasks you need help with from a more agile person when you're paralyzed!

And this is Zombie, a Great Dane puppy!  Our D-i-L has always wanted a Great Dane, and this is the time.  She is a Veterinary Technician and loves all sorts of animals.  I'm not sure if I'll be comfortable looking eye-to-eye with a Great Dane as tall as I am!

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

It's Been a Cold April!

This year April has stayed cold much longer than normal and it's well below the long term average.  Yesterday yet again we had a bit of snow overnight.  I thought of titling this post "Is it ever going to end?"  I'm certainly fed up with the cold weather (like I think everyone around here is).

The morning view!

The flurries continued on and off all day too, with a good dose of cold winds.  It made for a day to stay inside.  Hopefully it will warm up as the forecast promises by Friday.  Still, the long term average at this time of April is 14°C according to The Weather Network and the temperature all the rest of April is only expected to be in the 6° to 9° range.  Can't believe that in only 3 weeks the leaves will be coming out.

Monday, April 20, 2020

A Red Squirrel Visits!

We've had a Red Squirrel around the yard regularly for several days, behaving like it owned the place, except that it can't easily climb the bird feeder poles the way the Grey Squirrels can.  Then the day before yesterday it scampered up onto the back of our crane/heron/ostrich sculpture  to take a close look.

At our former home out in the country we only had Red Squirrels who would scamper in to the bird feeders across the snow from the old stone fencerow; we had no Grey Squirrels at all.

But here we mainly have Grey Squirrels, both the grey and black (and what appear to be mixed) colour phases, so the tiny Red Squirrel makes an interesting different visitor. 
We both got a very close look at it as it sat two feet outside the window, apparently curious about this corner of the yard.

I could swear that it was staring right at me some of the time!

Hope you're all doing well in this continuing lockdown.  We have a beautiful sunny day here that is supposed to get warm enough that I'll be outside after lunch.  But we get one more cold spell tonight and tomorrow.  Take care!

Saturday, April 18, 2020

A Weird Robin

We have Robins within sight out the window almost all the time.  They forage out on the golf course and regularly alight in the yard, often quite close to the window.  But this spring we've had a really unusual Robin with us.

Here's our typical 'Robin Red-breast', the breast a deep orange.

But here's the unusual one, the breast only a pale orange, and much of it just white.

Our typical Robin has a black head, and very dark feathers on the rest of its body.

But this year's stranger has only a grey head and the rest of its wings and tail are light grey.

We've wondered what brought about such a change in appearance, but have to assume it's just a lighter shaded Robin.  It doesn't appear to be 'leucistic', a condition featuring white patches on the body.  Rather it just appears lighter all over.  Otherwise it appears to behave, to fly, to feed, and to have a shape just like any other Robin.

Nature is always full of interesting things to notice.  And it's sunny today, and getting warm!

Friday, April 17, 2020


Forgot to share myself posing on the deck when I was outside while Mrs. F.G. was working on the planter boxes last week, so here I am, enjoying the fresh air and sunshine.

My new resting position, with my leg in a zimmer splint.  No end to the medical adventures!  We've now figured out an arrangement of straps that also holds my foot up straight rather than flopping over.  This has had the added bonus of making it much easier to go through doors.  As you can tell it was a sunny day but with a cool breeze so I was dressed to stay warm.

A close look at the carefully designed and appropriately coloured mask that Mrs. F.G. made for me.  So far I've only used it for the visit to the hospital, since I don't otherwise go out in public anyway.

A fifth morning in a row here with some snow on the ground this morning, but it has turned sunny and the temperature is going up at least to 5 or 6 degrees.  But the next two weeks look much more like spring - except for a cool spell on Tuesday and Wednesday it looks like 9 or 10 degrees right through to May 1st.  That will bring us almost up to the average for late April.  Thank goodness!  I'm ready for it.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Planter Boxes

A week ago it was warm enough on Saturday that we got out in the yard and Mrs. F.G. worked hard to fill the new planter boxes, while I sat on the deck and got a dose of fresh air.  It hasn't been that warm since, but we're ready for the first day that is.

First a protective fabric and a layer of coarse gravel down in the bottom.

Next several inches of mulch and leaves from raking up the yard.

The important part was a deep layer of potting soil with some manure mixed in.

Finally a thin layer of mulch on top.  Now there's a good 16" for plant roots to grow through.

Mrs. F.G. had already picked up some pots of Pansies, so she sank those in the bed closest to the window I look out.  The local nursery has a 'contactless' shopping arrangement where you phone in your order, pay over the phone, and pick up your order which is placed outside waiting at a specified time.

The first of our planter box garden, even though they're not actually planted yet.  Certainly makes my view out the window more colourful.

Those poor shivering Pansies have been covered in snow four times since then; this is yesterday.

And yet the blooms just pop up again as the temperature warms, amazing!  Mrs. F.G. did harden them off, bringing them inside for the first 2 or 3 nights, but Pansies are the best early spring flowers here for surviving low temperatures.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

April Keeps Playing Tricks!

April just keeps playing its tricks on us, refusing to let go of winter.  For the third time in 5 days we awoke to snow on the ground.  The first two times were just a dusting which disappeared by noon, but this morning there was a serious covering of big fluffy white snowflakes 2" deep.

For the past few days the view out back has been green, but winter just won't let go.

Yesterday we had light snow showers all day long, even though the sun came out in between.  This is a squall approaching across the golf course; the line of townhomes  has totally disappeared.

A moment later it was in our yard, snowing heavily - but it only lasted a few minutes.  Meanwhile the Pansies just keep on blooming, the most reliable flowers we can put out in April.  At least it's sunny now, but more flurries are forecast for tonight and tomorrow.  Thank goodness temperatures are going to rise up a few degrees above freezing by the weekend.

We had our first medical consultation by phone on Monday, and it turned out very well.  This was a new cardiologist who we haven't even met yet, but he had gone over the 85 pages of my complex medical record and provided the best description of my cardiac issues yet.  (We have seen 5 different cardiologists in previous lifetimes, but none of them explained things like he did).  Since this is a recent referral we were very pleased.

The upshot is twofold, first my heart is performing as it should, which he was encouraged by and therefore we were reassured by.  (I have never had the usual heart disease, rather I have some congenital flaws that only showed up once I was ready to retire).  This means my past surgeries have worked as they should.

Secondly, we've demonstrated at least to ourselves the value of finding specialists you are comfortable with and have confidence in.  I don't know how easy that is in other healthcare jurisdictions, but we have used our GP as well as the doctors we were working with in London, to arrange referrals to four specialists here who cover the gamut of what I need.  It's essential to be able to advocate for yourself (or your spouse if that's the case) to be sure you get the care you need and want, and to have a GP who will work with you seeing themselves as just part of a broader team. 

It's futile to think any one individual doctor or other medical caregiver will have a complete overview of what you need.  Rather you have to put the picture together yourself, and ask for what you need.  Of course Mrs. F.G. is my chief medical adviser and advocate.  She has an uncanny ability to connect the dots among the many medical details we deal with.

Hope you have less snow than we do, wherever you live!

Monday, April 13, 2020

Camino de Santiago - The Way of St. James

In my post last Thursday on 'Hiking Videos' I mentioned that I had hiked the Appalachian Trail three times, and almost finished the Camino pilgrimage in Spain (by watching videos here in my wheelchair).  In a comment DJan asked if I enjoyed the Camino.  That got me thinking and reading a bit more about it so I could provide a good answer.

The video I watched was by Jessica ('Dixie') Hill, an Alabaman who posts on YouTube under the moniker Homemade Wanderlust.  She has hiked and produced videos on the Triple Crown of American trails, not only the Appalachian, but the Pacific Crest and the Continental Divide trails.  Her videos tend to be personal stories, with a lot of her talking and sharing stories as she walks along the trail.  I've watched quite a few of hers now, so I've gotten to know her personally and for that reason I enjoyed her video on the Camino where she took her sister along to hike the pilgrimage.

But I already new about the Camino from other reading, and from friends who have walked it.  It is an ancient 500 mile pilgrimage route across northern Spain, dating back to the beginning of Christianity, and popular during the Middle Ages.  St. James is said to be buried where the cathedral of Santiago de Compostella was built, so that is the destination of the pilgrimage.

Santiago de Compostela Cathedral

There are actually several different routes to these trails, but the most popular today is the Camino Frances, starting at Saint-Jean-Pied-da-Port in extreme southwest France.  This is not your typical North American 'hiking trail', you can easily walk side by side, and there are villages with hostels every few miles, so there is no need to carry either a tent, a stove, or food beyond your daily snacks and some water.  It's a wide, relatively flat gravel pathway often running beside modern highways (the pilgrimage path was there first), a far cry from the Appalachian Trail!  It would be a walk in the park for serious long distance hikers!

The best description I've read of it was in a series of blog posts by 'The Chouters', an American full-time RVing couple (now hiding in a quiet campground in France) who walked it in June 2019.  Their description is more nuanced than others, and Steven is an outstanding photographer.  (I also followed their trip to Alaska a few years ago).  You can easily scan through a few of their blog posts and get a good sense of 'The Way of St. James'.

One of Steven Chouter's excellent photographs

The pilgrimage attracts over 300,000 travellers today, though you only have to walk the final 100 km. of the pilgrimage to get your certificate of completion or compostela.  This being said, I have read blog posts quite critical of this walk.  The criticisms centered around the fact that the Camino de Santiago is not a narrow trail through the mountains where you only rarely meet another person, like the Pacific Crest Trail, which only attracts 100 thru-hikers a year.

I personally think this reflects a bad misunderstanding of what the Camino is, and poor advance research.  If you check the HikerJournals website for example, you can find 20-30 hiker journals of this walk for each of the past few years.  If you google .Camino de Santiago you will also quickly discover the Camino privitino, a route which does follow a narrow trail away from roads through the mountains and which might require you to carry a tent and food.

The Wikipedia article on the Camino is actually quite good, giving a good introduction to the history of this ancient pilgrimage.  It's easy to do advance research before tackling this pilgrimage.

And you can always do the walk in your mind today while we're all isolated and sitting at home!

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Happy Easter!

Like many others I'm sure, I've been sitting here thinking about family at Easter. Since we can't get together with the family this year it's a matter of memories. But those memories are still very special and most of them about quite recent visits.

We've had a good conversation with both our daughter out in British Columbia and our son who lives over near Lake Huron. Our daughter has been busy coordinating shipping containers that are currently sailing around the world with various fruit products, while our son has been getting his garden  ready for the summer in between his days on the job. He designs and installs heating systems and furnaces.

So even though we're apart like so many families  this Easter, it still feels like it's been a good Easter and the yellow pansies staring at me from outside the living room window are brightening the day.

Hope you're all having an equally good Easter!

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Down in the Swamp

Last Tuesday when we were in Owen Sound to see the doctor we cheated a bit and detoured on our way home to drive down in the swamp.  One of our PSWs who drives this road regularly to see a client had sent me a picture of a Great Blue Heron standing among the trees (which I had posted a week previously).  So we drove down there to see if we could see it.

There was lots of standing water which is typical at this time of year.  The Sydenham River, a favourite with local fishermen, flows through this swamp,

Lots of trees were fallen or falling over.  It can take several years before a tree ends up hotizontal.

A few were already down, their roots torn out of the wet ground leaving a stump sticking up in the swamp, often sporting partial blankets of moss.

We drove down to the corner.  No Heron but then we started noticing the lichens on the tree trunks.  We drove slowly back north.  Still no Heron, but plenty of lichens!

After our dusting of the white stuff overnight yesterday (which had all dissipated by noon), it's a partly sunny day and reasonably warmish out today.  A good working day, so Mrs. F.G. is out there working at filling our new planters.  Our gardener is also here, much appreciated for the heavier work he can do.  He and his wife are the proud parents of a baby boy, one month old!  A Happy Easter for them, and to all of you!

For the Record - Friday, Apr. 10, 2020