Sunday, December 31, 2023

Highlights of '23 - Part I

Every year I try to come up with a few highlights as we welcome in the New Year.  It helps convince me I've actually done something worthwhile during the year, and been able to post a few not-too-bad photos.

When I started selecting these I was simply thinking of the best photos, but as I worked my way through the year I realized there were other important reasons to include my selections.  So these are a mix of good photos, memorable events during the seasons, and good times together.

There are two huge limitations.  First, I'm using my phone as my camera.  I've learned that it takes quite good shots up close, but distant shots of scenery are lousy!  Second, and more important, I now live in a very limited world and can't get out many places to see new things.  Thank goodness Mrs. F.G. enjoys going for a drive now and then!

Who can forget the storms of early January '23!

(And compare them to today).

As spring unfolds we're anxious to get out, and this year one of our earliest drives in mid-March, was up to the Kemble Women's Institute Monument with a wonderful view over Georgian Bay.

Here at home the earliest flower is the tiny Dwarf Iris in its gorgeous royal blue colour, blooming in early April right outside our front door.

And by mid-April I was downtown for the first ride of the season, stopping in for coffee. 

By mid-May the Redbud was in bloom outside our front windows.  I'm always amazed at how beautiful this is, blooming profusely before it has any leaves.

And then it's Dandelion season, one of my favourite spring wildflowers.

Surprisingly, one day I spotted a Wild Turkey in a yard around the corner on someone's front lawn.

And by the first of June those Dandelion were in seed.  Such an amazing method of seed dispersal when you think of it - look at those individual tiny parachutes in the lower left.  And I think, a good photo for my phone.  

              By June it's also warm enough for me to get down to the harbour, and at some point I make my way along an extended ride down to the beach.  Always nice to look out over Georgian Bay.  Happy New Year Everyone!

Thursday, December 28, 2023

December Hike - 2015

With the festive season passed and a green Christmas at that, how about I take you on another hike from the distant past.  This is one I remember because it was the last one where our grandson went with me and I can always picture him on the trail, the year before they moved out west.  We picked a nearby section of the Bruce Trail where I was the volunteer Land Steward, so I know it really well.

One of the memorable features is this giant old Sugar Maple, split into a large enough hollow that our grandson could pose there.

After crossing a dry streambed we walked up a little rise in the Sugar Maple forest to find these true giants of the original forest.

Three or four of the tall trees here could be considered 'old growth', no side branches for the first 60 feet or so.

The most mature patch of forest I've found anywhere.

Here's our son Matt (in his new Christmas hat) and grandson.

The most surprising sight of the trail is a long waterfall tumbling down over the bedrock emerging right beneath a distant chalet.

It tumbles over the narrow ledges of the Manitoulin Formation,

before it comes to a short cliff.

One of the prettiest little sections of the trail if you ask me.  And it was a great post-Christmas mornint walk, on Christmas Day 8 years ago.

Monday, December 25, 2023

Merry Christmas!

I just want to take a moment and wish all my faithful readers a very Merry Christmas.  Here's to a prosperous and more peaceful New Year.

I always liked this image from 8 years ago when I first tried out a bit of 'light painting'  Has a certain flare don't you think!

Saturday, December 23, 2023

Festival of Northern Lights

Owen Sound has a yearly Christmas light display which they label the 'Festival of Northern Lights'.  They're not northern lights, but they're fun to go and see.  The original display is downtown along the river, but in recent years they have expanded to Harrison Park, so after our dinner we drove around to see the dinosaurs and other Christmassy things!

A polar bear watches as you enter the display.

Then you drive through a tunnel of flashing lights.

To find the farm!

And here are the dinosaurs, unfortunately partly hidden by Santa in his sleight.

Another dinosaur behind an erupting volcano.

I presume this is supposed to be a pterodactyl.

Then we leave the land of the dinosaurs and come to the campground, with its castle guarding the entrance.

Some really nice lights in this area (imho), but then we ended up in a deadend and had to circle back out.  Good enough for our annual visit.

If you want to see real northern lights, just google 'northern  lights' and choose 'video'.  They are spectacular!

And Happy Holidays everyone!

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Winter Solstice!

The days start getting longer tomorrow!!

Yes, I'm sure you all realized that today is the winter solstice, the day in which the daylength in the northern hemisphere is at its shortest.  Tomorrow there will be a few more minutes of daylight.

This is definitely not one of the modern Christmas traditions, not even the 2000 year old Christian tradition.  Humans have watched the skies and their stars and planets for millennia.

These are the only two even faintly reasonable shots of the Milky Way I ever managed to get.  You have to expose the shutter for quite a few moments on a tripod, so a number of things can go wrong.  The apparently straight line in the photo below is a plane track.  The lighting conditions on these two nights, 8 years ago now, were obviously very different.

We know ancient people followed and understood the heavens, at least to some extent, because of sites like Stonehenge in England and Maeshowe and Brodgar in Scotland (the three sites we've seen).  Other sites around the world that exhibit solstice alignments include Karnak Temple in Egypt, Machu Picchu in Peru, Jantar Mantar in India, Majorville Medicine Wheel in Alberta, Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, and many others.

If that doesn't convince you that the winter solstice has always been important to human populations, perhaps just the fact that daylight tomorrow will be a few minutes longer (and spring that much closer) will make you pause and notice! 

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Dinner Date and Memory Work as Pain Relief

On Friday last, Mrs. F.G. asked me out to dinner!  I think her secret purpose was to get me new shoes, so we stopped at Parkers in Owen Sound before driving down to Harrison Park and our favourite restaurant.  This is now the only restaurant we go to, usually 3 or 4 times a year.  The food is great, the tables are spread out, and the setting is wonderful.

It occurs to me that not many municipal parks have a great restaurant, but this one does, and it's been here forever.  I remember the old building from my childhood, before it burned down.  The new one strikes the same atmosphere, with huge wood beams and a vaulted ceiling - and good food.

You even get a selfie - look up and behind me to see the vaulted ceiling, big wood beams and tall stone fireplace.  After the meal we drove around to see all the Christmas lights in the park (it's the Festival of Northern Lights), but you'll have to wait til next post to see those.

I wanted to add a word on memory work.  As you know, I suffer from ever-present nerve pain, mainly around the level of my spinal cord injury.  It's very annoying and medical science has never come up with a pill to combat nerve pain, so I have to guide my brain to think of other things.  As long as I'm reading, watching a video, or writing (like this), I find I don't notice the pain as much  (though it's really bothering me today).  And I do take far too many pills already!

At the moment I have memorized the royal families of Europe, the U.S. states and their capitols, and I'm working on the countries of Africa.  For the U.S and Africa I do it by picturing a map which I find fascinating.  (Obviously I know all of the Canadian provinces and capitols, we've been to all of them - except Nunavut).  

As for the royal families, I'm simply fascinated.  I wouldn't call myself a royalist (though my mother was), but I still find the pomp, circumstance and lifestyle fascinating - particularly the castles, who wouldn't want to live in a castle?  I've always been intrigued with 'places' which I can visualize, and we've been to both Balmoral and Windsor Castles.  

I've been reminded of other European royal families in recent years because of Queen Elizabeth's funeral and King Charles' coronation, both attended by other European royal families, so I started looking up 'who are these people'.  There are 10 European royal families altogether, all of them now democracies.  I find it fun and hope it's good for my brain and my pain both.  The pain relief comes from sitting and recalling all of these to myself, over and over.

Some of you will think I'm seeing this through rose-coloured glasses.  In fact I think the British monarchy in particular has some very tough times ahead addressing the legacy of the British Empire, especially slavery.

So how many of my American readers can sit down and recall all 50 states, let alone all their capitols?

Saturday, December 16, 2023

The Cycle Continues

The cycle continues here, a little snow then it melts, more snow, then it melts.  It seems particularly obvious this year, I think we've cycled through snow/not snow about 6 times.  This was 3 days ago, with warm temperatures the past two days the world is green again today. 

In spite of that we still haven't had a serious frost and the ground is certainly not frozen.  Nor have we had a serious snowfall.  I was out for a nice ride, if short yesterday, and on Thursday there was a neighbourhood gathering next door.  I think everyone but three couples were there.

And our neighbours were kind enough to heat up their garage, stock the bar out there, add a few chairs, and thereby I was able to attend and be part of it - deeply appreciated!

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Accessibility in Ontario Part II

I'm spending a lot of time reading these days, trying both to learn how bureaucrats approach accessibility issues here, and more about why the implementation of 'AODA' has been so appallingly poor!

I've now referred back to the 2nd, 3rd and 4th reviews and all consider that 'the pace of change is agonizingly slow'.  Over 17 years there's still a belief among the disabled that not much has been accomplished.  The most recent review, by Donovan puts it in the strongest terms, describing the legislation as an unequivocal failure, describing his findings as 'utterly shocking' and ending his review by asking "Mr. Premier, do you care?"

David Onley's third review described the failure to move forward on improving accessibility as discrimination, plain and simple.  Noting the anger and frustration he heard he stated:  "We are the only minority group in our society that faces blatant, overt discrimination and whose civil rights are infringed upon every day from multiple directions."  He wrote that the only word to describe it is discrimination.  It must end, It's a violation of human rights.  (Onley is a former Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario, who used a scooter himself after childhood bouts with polio).

Onley also emphasized the need for a massive public education campaign and strong government leadership.  He wrote that all the standards, meetings and policies in the world will not help without leadership to make this a priority.  No government party has chosen to do that in 17 years.

"It is widely believed that achieving accessibility will take more than laws and regulations – it will take a massive cultural transformation – a societal change to make accessibility foremost in mind rather than an afterthought."  What's needed isn't so much compliance as 'accessibility mindfulness'.

Also needed is the willingness to listen to the disabled themselves.  Sometimes changes can meet the letter of the standards based on expert advice, but in fact still be difficult, even still present a barrier.  An example for me is disabled parking spaces that are not in fact wide enough to allow a side-loading van to unload (which takes at least 8 feet outside our van.  Almost all the disabled parking spaces we've seen in five years are too narrow.

My own impression is that the province has spent far too much effort developing standards for such things as transit, customer service, staff training and more, but has not put any effort into enforcing or encouraging adoption of these standards.  No financial incentives for retrofits have been provided, and no effort has been made to familiarize the public with these issues.  Even I, as a disabled person, didn't know anything about 'AODA' until the past week!  I expect not 1 in 100 local citizens would have the vaguest idea what you were talking about!

I have two next questions.  First, I have no idea where Meaford stands in the province, though I expect we're doing better than average.  Second, I am confused over whether this just applies to public agencies, buildings and programs, or also to the private sector - including all those restaurants downtown that I can't get into.  I'm going to ask my local contacts at the municipality about those things.  I think there's a widespread misconception for example, that only public buildings need to be accessible.

With my background teaching university, I've had a vague uneasy feeling that there must be some way in which I could contribute more to my own local community.  As John said in yesterday's comments, I have had some problems of my own to deal with (that's putting it mildly), but perhaps now I'm ready to contribute more here.  It has taken me 5 years to become as fully functional as I am.  My own father always said you should look for ways in which you can give back to your community.  Lots to learn yet, but I think I've found a way in which I can give back..

Sunday, December 10, 2023

Accessibility in Ontario

In recent months I've become aware of our Accessibility Advisory Committee here in Meaford, a committee of mostly citizens who advise Council on matters pertaining to accessibility, or in other words, progress towards meeting the goals of 'AODA'.  I've started learning about accessibility issues fast, and may even apply to be on this committee.

AODA is a remarkable piece of legislation I've just started learning about.  Passed by the province in 2005, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) promised to make Ontario fully accessible by 2025, just over one year away now.  The responsibility fell to everyone, including municipalities and the private sector as well as the province.

To make a long story short the proposed work was divided into several areas, not just physical access to buildings such as I need, but similar concerns with employment, training, education, transit and so on.  Committees were to set standards in each area to guide agencies across the province in making the area of their own responsibility more accessible.

It has opened my eyes to the many different forms of disability, for most are invisible disabilities.  Of about 2.9 million disabled in Ontario (20% of the population), only about 150,000 use wheelchairs, and a very small portion of those use power chairs such as mine.

What hit me most as I was thrown into learning about this legislative and program lens on being disabled, was the result of the most recent program review.  This is the 4th legislative review, all conducted by external experts, in this case Rich Donovan.

What did this review show?

First, among all the voices at stakeholder meetings and in interviews, the reviewer heard: "consistent stories of frustration, anger, resignation and disappointment with the state of accessibility in Ontario".  This reviewer described progress as 'soul-crushingly' slow, and the legislation as an abject failure.

There's lots of information and preamble in the report, but to summarize, the reviewer found that:

'Outcomes are poor,

Enforcement does not exist,

Research does not exist,

Leadership does not exist,

There is no accountability.'

 I don't have to tell you that I was appalled when I read this!

I have no real idea how we're doing here in Meaford, though based on my conversations with the two staff responsible, we're doing pretty well.  The new library is of course the big accomplishment here in Meaford.  The circulation desk and the reading room in the old library were accessible, but the meeting rooms, the childrens library and above all the book stacks were not.  The new library is totally accessible, and it's my favourite destination downtown.

And lest you think Meaford has two staff dedicated to these issues, they're certainly dedicated, but only for about 1% of their time!

I'm only beginning to be aware of all this context for me as I ramble through town, but I intend to continue learning.  You can expect further posts on these issues in the future.  How is accessibility treated in your community?


Thursday, December 7, 2023

Another Snowfall

The snow comes and goes.  All that last snow had melted then we got another very light dusting, sticking to all the branches and making some very pretty pictures.  In site of it all we haven't had any seriously cold temperatures.  In spite of that, Blue Mountain is opening its first two runs for skiing today!  Enjoy!

Sorry for the delay in posting, it's been a very busy week with wrapping and packaging all the presents to be shipped to our family out west.  And now it's the Christmas cards, as well as doctor's appointments and physio.  Hope you're all getting ready for the holiday season.

Monday, December 4, 2023

Winter Has Arrived!

As expected, winter has eventually arrived, complete with about 6" of snow.  The snow squalls  developed Monday and continued overnight, so we woke up to a white winter landscape on Tuesday.  I no longer enjoy winter as I once did, skiing and snowshoeing, since I can't get out and ride safely in the snow.  And if it gets a little slushy, the electric motor on my wheelchair doesn't do very well!

I you've been with me for a long time, you'll recognize the view out our living room window over the golf course.

When the sun breaks through the clouds the sharp winter shadows have returned.

Several plants in the garden caught the blowing snow quite effectively, creating natural art..

These storms usually blow in from the west, in this case strongly enough to plaster one side of the tree trunks.  The snow must have been a little sticky.

The storms that bring a lot of snow are 'lake-effect' snow squalls.  This means that the westerly wind picks up moisture blowing over Lake Huron or Georgian Bay and then dumps it as snow on land.  This sort of snow squall can be very dense and heavy, and occur in a narrow band which you can see on the radar.  The view across the street, past the few leaves left on our Tulip tree, shows you what it's like.  We've driven into one and it's like hitting a wall of white, then after a few terror-filled moments, coming out the other side, sometimes into bright sunlight!

In any case by morning out trusty crane snow-stick was showing a 6" load of snow.

As you can imagine, this sort of snow storm wreaks havoc with traffic.  Here, if you haven't got snow tires on by now you shouldn't be allowed to drive!  Ours are always on by Nov. 1st.