Tonight I prepared the refuse for pick up. It took me about half an hour. This was my first time, and I wanted to do it properly, and, well, there’s a lot of steps. I didn’t want to mess it up. Halifax is at the front of waste reduction initiatives: it is the ‘greenest’ of the Canadian provinces and HRM is the greenest city in NS. So, we’re talking the greenest of the green. Green of the crop if you will. Massachusetts is one of the greenest states, but Halifax begins where Massachusetts ends. I am used to sorting out bottles, cans and paper for recycling, but here, there were four piles in all–one for paper, one for recyclables (cans and bottles plus milk cartons, plastic bags and plastic containers #1, #2 and #4. Starting next week, they will also take #5 plastic) one for ‘organics’ (food and yard waste as well as dirty paper plates, towels and napkins) and one for garbage. It is quite an eye-opener to see how small the garbage bag is, when everything that can be recycled is taken out. And here’s the best part: the city provides each household with two compost bins–a little kitchen composter and a big ‘tip in’ Green Bin for the weekly pick up. When you move, you have to leave your bins for the next resident. The municipality also picks up the waste at no additional charge–I hesitate to use the word free, because it’s not, but I was paying $300 a year for trash pick up in Massachusetts.

My landlady takes great pride in not using the Green Bin, which stays out back, because she composts everything herself, ‘using all of it.” She does vermiculture, (composting with worms) and the kitchen composter gets what the worms don’t like. Except for protein, fat, bones and shells, which could be put in the Green Bin, but instead get put in the trash, as do dirty paper towels and serviettes. In my mind, that’s kind of cheating. I bring this up because we are having a bit of a conflict about trash. She tells me to put bones, lobster shells and paper towels in the garbage, but then says I make ‘too much garbage!’ Last week, on trash day, I came out of my room with a small bag and she said “More?” in an incredulous voice. More? It was one little bag of trash from my room, mostly tissues from morning allergies. And it was a week’s worth! I felt like Oliver Twist asking for another bowl of gruel. A couple of times I have even ‘packed’ trash out to furtively stuff it into a public receptacle. Still, though, I felt really cheap sliding my trash out, and resented feeling like I had to.

I arrived at what I thought was the perfect solution. The lot next to ours holds a garden where an old man from the next house putters around every morning. I noticed that he never moves his Green Bin to his yard (like he is supposed to) but leaves it on the street between our houses. Perfect—I’d just throw my ‘organics’ into his bin! The other night, my landlady was complaining to her boyfriend about the amount of freezer space I have used (it’s less than the worms have, by the way). I said “Oh, not to worry, a lot of that is lobster shells and stuff that will be gone by Tuesday, and told her of my brilliant plan to toss it in the neighbor’s Green Bin. My plan displeased her.

“If I saw someone throwing anything into my trash bin, I would be very upset!”

“But he leaves it out all week!”


“Yesterday, he was urinating in his garden!”

“So? It keeps the ants away.” she staunchly replied. (!)

“My point is, that anyone who leaves his bin out all week and urinates in public view can’t be so bound by propriety as to take offense at anyone’s adding to his midden!” She sniffed and stalked off. I asked the boyfriend if he would be offended if someone put trash in his barrel and he said “of course not.” So last night, like a ninja, I stole out to add my organic refuse to the neighbor’s Green Bin. So far, so good.

Canada Day Eve

Canada Day is tomorrow (July 1) and all of the stores are selling flag-themed and maple-leaf-strewn everything and anything and yes, even that!

Remembering the days when I searched in vain for Canadian stickers for my luggage, I of course had to succumb to temptation of so many patriotic purchases! One corner of my room could be an ad for “Wake Up Canadian”

Just so you don’t think I’m throwing money around, I bought a men’s hat at Value Village for $1.50 and covered the Patron tequila stitching with a flag patch I got for 75¢. Of course, I also had to buy a sewing kit first… I also bought a red hoodie at Value Village (they had a 50% off sale June 27 $2.50!) and a can and bottle coozy and a flag umbrella hat and a bandanna for the dog and some tape for my bike and a bunch of flags for the basket of my bike…so I should be good to go tomorrow. there’s a parade and a barbeque, a multicultural fair, a pow wow and fireworks. Whoo-hoo!
Took Max over to Point Pleasant Park, a park with ‘leash free’ areas. How cool is that? Here is a picture of Max taken today. Who’s a good dog?

Max at the Park

Also got an email from my landlady. Constant rain has compelled her to cut short her bicycle vacation and she’ll be home Saturday. Sigh. Somehow, I was expecting something like this might happen. I had a feeling she would not be gone for the whole three weeks. More than sense, too; she never showed me how to use the lawn mower. So what was I supposed to do, just let the grass grow? Of course, I see clearly with the retrospectacles. Dang. I need to borrow a ladder from a neighbor so I can fix the damn laundry line. And it’s the beginning of a holiday weekend. Oy, Canada!

Bad trip

OK, that title may be just a bit dramatic; maybe ‘a series of unfortunate events’ or ‘a day at the beach is no day at the beach would be better titles.
My landlady has (finally) left on her bicycle trip, leaving me in custody of her two houses and her dog. (Oh, yeah, did I mention I have a dog now?)

I had been looking forward to this day for weeks: a sunny day with the cottage to myself: The dog and I would play at the beach, followed by lobster and a glass or two of crisp chardonnay at the cottage, then I’d be rocked to sleep by the oldest house on Ship Harbour.  With the exception of the beach, which was lovely, the scene did not play out as scripted.

On the way out, I gassed up. It doesn’t matter what gas station you go to, the price is set by the province and costs the same everywhere. I have been having some confusion with the gas pumps. When you pre pay at the pump, you select the amount of cash you want to spend, and the pump stops when you arrive at that amount. I am used to just plugging the hose in and having it stop when the tank is full.  My landlady tells me that you can fill up this way, but I haven’t figured out how to do that. Anyway, the last time I put $30 in, and I got about a quarter tank. So I decided to put $40 in. I had heard that gas prices had gone down, but a shift from $1.29 to $1.24 per litre means little to me, and I wasn’t really paying attention until I felt something wet on my foot. Gasoline had overflowed the tank and was running down the side of the car and soaking into the fabric of my Tevas! Apparently there is no auto shutoff on the gas hose when the tank is full. Also, none of those handy wipes to clean your gas-smelling hands, as I am used to. The amount of gas in the car was $39.65, so I was curious as to what the amount on the receipt would say, but, alas, no receipt was forthcoming. So I drove away with a full tank and a gassy smell.  Got a couple of bugs at the pound (one for dinner, one for lobster salad with leftover wild rice) and pulled up to the cottage.

I had several pages of opening and closing chores, and entered the cellar to turn on the water pump and boiler. I banged my head, hard, on a metal duct, which should have been padded or something (my landlady is a good ten inches shorter than I, so she probably clears the duct.) I had trouble turning on the water pump; I kept going to the kitchen to run water and nothing was coming out. Back to the cellar (not hitting myself this time!) I turned one of the switches I had already turned once. The pump started right away, so I am thinking that my landlady did not turn it off when she left. The one thing left to do was to turn on the gas, but I didn’t need to do that right away. I rubbed my sore forehead and sat down with a cold cider.

Outside, it was sunny but also incredibly buggy. The recent rains have left optimal breeding grounds for all of the little nuisances, and they were flying, hopping and crawling all over me and Max. I looked for a Raid coil–found the burner, but no more coils. I did find some sticks of sandalwood incense; that can be an effective repellent sometime, but not today. There were some really weird looking ants that were part red and part brown and seemed to have an extra abdomen. They bit, too, and I have several tiny itchy bite marks on my feet and ankles (some sort of fire ant hybrid?)

Fine then. Too buggy at the cabin? Time to frapper la plage avec le chien. Off we went, Max had a big doggy grin all the way there and even whined a little bit in excitement when we arrived. This beach is a public beach, absolutely free to all. (I had to compare this to state and national beaches on Cape Cod: Ten dollars to park, maybe a porta potty and no trash barrels (pack it out yourself, please!). This beach had a grill area, changing rooms, showers and toilets, all wheelchair accessible. Did I mention it was free? Oh, yeah, dogs are welcome too. The sign said they needed to be leashed, but Max was tugging so hard, a cut on my finger reopened (great–now I was gonna attract sharks!)  My landlady said that it was OK for Max to run here, so once we walked a ways down the beach I let him go. He took off at a run and it became clear to me why even two half hour walks a day were not nearly enough for this dog! He ran and ran and ran, occasionally stopping to smell and pee on a pile of seaweed. He was a blur of white and black (Max is a husky shepherd mix). He would occasionally run into the ocean and flop down, letting the waves wash over him.

Of course, once Max got out his bejeepers, he had to go and make friends. He cheerfully ignored me as he ran the other way down the beach, where the people were. I could see the black and white blur, approaching couples in the sand, smelling them impertinantly, peeing near them and more often than not, getting fed a chip or something. Max was in doggy heaven! I expected people to be angry with me for letting the dog go off leash, but no one was upset. They smiled and said “no problem, nice dog.” People are so nice here.

The sun doesn’t set until around nine this time of year, but the hottest time of day was over. After several hoiks up the beach and back for the salty dog, it was time to go back to the cottage and ‘see about them bugs.’ And this is where, my friends, the good times ended. I must have rubbed my eye in the car, for no sooner were we on the road than my left eye began stinging and burning and watering. I pulled over a couple of times, but I couldn’t see anything, of course.  I was definitely “driving impaired” with one hand clapped over my burning eye, while the other eye squinted in sympathy. Finally, I thought to grab an ice cube out of the cooler and hold it against my eye; this helped flush out the sand or salt or whatever it was as it melted. I did overshoot the house though and had to turn back a quarter mile.

My landlady had warned me about the gas barbecue grill out back. She said there was a little leak last year, and if I did use it, “move it well away from the cottage.” Y’OK. I had mused about doing it with charcoal and seaweed, but there wasn’t any charcoal, nor a grill. This cottage could use a firepit, but there wasn’t one of those, either. So aboilin’ it would be, but first I needed to turn on the gas. It was a very old gas oven (with a broken glass in front!) and no auto pilot light. There were three pilots that needed to be lit–two on the stove and one in the oven. The stove was no problem, but try and try as I might, I could not light the oven pilot! I had a box of wooden matches and lit one after the other in a vain attempt to get a catch. I turned the knob for the oven and tried again. I did this until I felt dizzy and realized I was kneeling with my head in an unlit gas oven and that is why I was feeling dizzy. I shut off the propane and let the kitchen air out while I poured a glass of chardonnay and pondered my alternatives. I scoped out the kitchen for some sort of appliance like an electric wok I could use, de nada. Could make a wood fire, but the only graveled part was right next to the house (did I mention it’s the oldest house in the harbour?) and every other spot was either too hilly or too woody, plus I’d have to dig a pit first. No other inspirations were biting, but the bugs sure were, and not the ones in the sink! OK, I don’t like to quit too easily, so I girded my loins and turned the gas back on.  The results were almost exactly the same. The difference was this time I was standing and bending over the oven instead of kneeling (safety first!) so this time when I felt woozy I swayed. Swore, turned the gas off and looked at the bugs (the ones in the sink.) They looked back glassily. They had gotten awfully sluggish and might not survive the night. Checked the time-almost seven o’clock. Nothing  to do but beat it back to the city.

I felt better immediately once I had made my decision, and started packing out. In taking the recyclables, an empty bottle of cider slipped out and shattered on the flagstone step. Luckily, the dog was inside, but it was vexing to be slowed down by the clean up once I had resolved to leave. Once packed, I went into the cellar to turn off the water and boiler and hit my head again on the bloody duct! I hit it so hard I saw stars.

When I got home, it was eight thirty and I ate my lobster with much less pleasure than I had anticipated. This morning, my head hurts in two places (one dunt was on the top of my head, one on the crown) I have a ring of itchy bug bites on my ankles and three red bites on my face. Meh.

And Now, a Word About My Avatar

or, excuse me, I meant to say blavatar. Anyway, in my history of avatars, the current one is only my second. For years, mine was Ms. Frizzle, and she was apt. I taught four academic subjects to at-risk middle and high school students. I have read hair and a somewhat wacky personality (I encouraged this perception, of course!) and did hands-on stuff when ever I could. I remember scrambling through the woods and bogs of Southampton, Massachusetts looking for remnants of the canal network. The girls I took were not like my girl scouts. Oh, no, not them (whiny-ass crybabies). So they got a few scratches and whatnot. I picked the ticks off them myself, didn’t I? Anyhoo, back to Ms. Frizzle. I had to say goodbye to her this year when I quit teaching this past spring. For one thing, any reminder of teaching made me anxious, and hard to avoid looking at your avatar, innit?  ‘It was no longer appropriate’ said Ms. Frizzle gently, and drove away in her magic school bus, her little lizard on her shoulder swivelling his saurian head around as they faded into the cybersphere.

It was at this time that the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan. Many of my friends changed their avatars to the Japanese flag (some even to the empirical Japanese flag, although I’m not sure they understood why they did-I didn’t ask, but I had my doubts). I changed mine to The Wave to bide me some time while I found another avatar.

Meanwhile, I kept noodling around in Photoshop, trying to create a cartoon of a picture of me. There’s a few hundred ways to do this, at least, and I kept noodling.

Plus, there’s so many other cool things to play with in photoshop, like the liquify tool and the self healing brush. Like the undo button, the self-healing brush is a tool I hope will one day be actual and not just virtual, but not likely to be available in my lifetime. So I was searching and noodling at the same time (could be a name for this blog, hey?)

And then I found her.

Vindicator, one of the all Canadian members of the new Alpha Flight. Isn’t she lovely? and a righteous babe, ta boot!

The only thing I don’t feel quite honest about is, while there was a time I could have easily pulled that look off (and almost did! I still have my circa 1982 Diane Von Furtstenbug jumpsuit).  I don’t think I can pull it off as well as the whole Ms. Frizzle look.  For one thing, my hair is just jaw length now. It can’t shake and sway like a superhero’s (although there are parts of me that shake and sway just fine, thank you). I’m just issuing a caveat about my appearance in case you’re don’t recognize me without the crime-fighting costume if we met ftf. Just so’s we got that cleared up.

Community Supported Fisheries: An Idea Whose Time Has Come

Tonight I went to a really cool event, the Summer Season Launch of Off The Hook 2011, a community supported fishery here in Halifax. CSFs give local people the opportunity to support their neighbors and get fresh fish harvested in a sustainable fashion. Being from away, CFAs are new to me, but I belonged to a CSA farm in Massachusetts, so I get the concept. At the beginning of the season, people buy shares from the farmer, or in this case the fisher. Every week for a certain number of weeks, the producer gives you an amount of the seasonal produce (or fish). This concept is win-win: the farmer/fisher gets some cash up front when they need it, and the customer gets the very freshest produce/catch organically/sustainably grown and harvested. Like CSA farms, CSFs  at their best become a community of people who share ideas, recipes and a commitment to small scale cooperation. In checking out the Facebook page for Off The Hook, it seems to be all of that, with wall photos of members at get togethers (one fed 160 people!) and photos of fish pizza, fish in foil and Brazilian Fish Stew among other choices. This is an example of Facebook using their powers for good and not for evil, by the way.

In the CSA farm system, a ‘share’ is just that–if the farmer has a bad season, or a storm at the wrong time, you share in the poor harvest. I don’t know how that works with a fishery–is it ever a bad year for fish? I suppose if there was some environmental problem like a red tide or something (heaven forfend) the subscribers would share, which is only fair, but I can’t imagine something taking away the whole season like a bad storm might do to a particular harvest. I never thought to ask.

I thought the subscription prices were quite reasonable: $120 for a 2-3 lb. whole (gutted) fish every week for eight weeks. At an average of 2.5 lbs./wk, that’s about six dollars a pound for fresh haddock or pollock. Your order can be picked up at the Brewery Market (on the Halifax Waterfront) every Thursday. Here is a photo of Chef Chris Velden demonstrating how to debone a whole fish.

Speaking Canadian, part 1

Living my formative years in the land of the silver birch, and summers thereafter, I have, from birth, been able to speak fluent Canadian.  In fact, I often speak ‘Canadian’ in the states. When I taught in a high school, whenever I said ‘the washroom,’ the kids would say “What? Why do you call it that?” “Well, I know you’re not going to bathe there, but I hope that you wash!” I replied. Also I say ‘process’ so that it rhymes with ‘no less’ rather than the ‘lot less,’ rhyme of the American pronunciation.  (These are not great rhymes, sorry, hope you get it.)

Today, at the store I saw an endcap display of Kraft Dinner.For Americans who may be reading this, I am talking about macaroni and cheese. Now I have a certain song running through my head…if I had a million dollars, by the Barenaked Ladies where they sing about Kraft Dinners. Apparently, there was a time in the early years when fans would throw boxes of the stuff on the stage, pelting the performers and strewing powdered cheese onto the equipment, where the lights and the heat would bake it into a stinky, bubbling mess. Ewwwww. Here is a happier thought: The songs were written when Ed Robertson and Steven Page were camp counsellors. they also sing about a chesterfield, which is a sofa. According to Wikipedia:

If I Had $1000000 is one of the earliest-composed Barenaked Ladies songs. It was first conceived as a simple improvised song while Page and Robertson were counsellors at a summer music camp. On the way home from camp, Robertson played the tune for the campers, randomly listing amusing things he would buy with a million dollars. Upon returning to camp, he brought the idea to Page, and the two fleshed out the song.

But anyway, I loved hearing BNL singing about Kraft Dinner, because it reminded me of Canada, and 99% of my memories of time in Canada are happy ones. I wonder, is Kool-Aid still called “Freshie’?

the old burying ground


I had to re-read Anne of the Island, book 3 in the Anne of Green Gables series by Lucy Maud Montgomery this week. In this book, Anne attends “Redmond College” (Dalhousie University) and Halifax is called Kingsport. Here is a section describing the city:

Kingsport is a quaint old town, hearking back to early Colonial days, and wrapped in its ancient atmosphere, as some fine old dame in garments fashioned like those of her youth. Here and there it sprouts out into modernity, but at heart it is still unspoiled; it is full of curious relics, and haloed by the romance of many legends of the past. Once it was a mere frontier station on the fringe of the wilderness, and those were the days when Indians kept life from being monotonous to the settlers. Then it grew to be a bone of contention between the British and the French, being occupied now by the one and now by the other, emerging from each occupation with some fresh scar of battling nations branded on it.

It has in its park a martello tower, autographed all over by tourists, a dismantled old French fort on the hills beyond the town, and several antiquated cannon in its public squares. It has other historic spots also, which may be hunted out by the curious, and none is more quaint and delightful than Old St. John’s Cemetery at the very core of the town, with streets of quiet, old-time houses on two sides, and busy, bustling, modern thoroughfares on the others. Every citizen of Kingsport feels a thrill of possessive pride in Old St. John’s, for, if he be of any pretensions at all, he has an ancestor buried there, with a queer, crooked slab at his head, or else sprawling protectively over the grave, on which all the main facts of his history are recorded. For the most part no great art or skill was lavished on those old tombstones. The larger number are of roughly chiselled brown or gray native stone, and only in a few cases is there any attempt at ornamentation. Some are adorned with skull and cross-bones, and this grizzly decoration is frequently coupled with a cherub’s head. Many are prostrate and in ruins. Into almost all Time’s tooth has been gnawing, until some inscriptions have been completely effaced, and others can only be deciphered with difficulty. The graveyard is very full and very bowery, for it is surrounded and intersected by rows of elms and willows, beneath whose shade the sleepers must lie very dreamlessly, forever crooned to by the winds and leaves over them, and quite undisturbed by the clamor of traffic just beyond.

“I’m going across to Old St. John’s after lunch,” said Anne. “I don’t know that a graveyard is a very good place to go to get cheered up, but it seems the only get-at-able place where there are trees, and trees I must have. I’ll sit on one of those old slabs and shut my eyes and imagine I’m in the Avonlea woods.”

Anne did not do that, however, for she found enough of interest in Old St. John’s to keep her eyes wide open. They went in by the entrance gates, past the simple, massive, stone arch surmounted by the great lion of England.

In the previous chapter, Anne’s friend Priscilla Grant, had described the Old Burial Ground (Called St. John’s Cemetery in the book)

Old St. John’s is a darling place… a few years ago they put up a beautiful monument to the memory of Nova Scotian soldiers who fell in the Crimean War. It is just opposite the entrance gates and there’s `scope for imagination’ in it, as you used to say. (Anne of the Island, Chapters 3 and 4, Lucy Maud Montgomery)

Here is the very monument Anne Shirley is describing!

I looked up the old burial ground in Wikipedia to find out more about the ‘lion’s gate’ entrance, and found tit is called The Welsford-Parker Monument, a memorial standing at the entrance to the cemetery.  The memorial, commemorating the Crimean War was built in 1860 and is named after two Haligonians, Major Welsford and Captain Parker, who both died in the battle at Redan in 1855 during the Siege of Sevastopol (1854–1855).

Why Halifax?

One question I am asked a lot when people find out I came here knowing no one is why here. I mean, why here? I usually give some smartass answer like “I just closed my eyes, held my credit card to my forehead and here I am!” and the person laughs, and we move on. It wasn’t accidental how I landed here, though. It was the result of research. Herewith, my formula of livable parameters:

1. It had to be on the East coast. While I love the town of White Rock B.C. all over again every time I watch the TV show Psych, my entire family is on this coast, and here I shall stay. Moving out of the country is transition enough, and least I can stay one hour within the time zone, and even some of the weather (a dubious benefit, perhaps, but it makes for a great opener for calls to my parents).

2. There had to be a university nearby. This was my husband’s stipulation. He works. in a University now, and likes the environment and career prospects for his line of work (IT). NB: my husband didn’t actually accompany me on this journey.

3. There had to be good public transportation. This was also M’s requirement. He currently drives to a carpool lot, then rides a bus to the university. In the summer, he bikes from the carpool lot, which brings us to

4. Bike paths, and lots of them! We have been taking our bikes on vacation, and it has added a really fun dimension to our travels.

5. A ‘green’ community. Massachusetts is relatively progressive on environmental issues, and we like the direction a lifestyle less dependent on fossil fuels.

6. Quality of life issues. How does one determine this? This was in the late ’90s, before the onslaught of ‘best places to live’ surveys. so we asked our friends. One friend in particular, gave us some great advice. ‘You should look for gay-friendly communities, because it’s likely they have everything you want.’ He was right. I’m straight, but I’m not narrow, and people who accept gays are simply better people to have as neighbours.

and that’s it–that was our formula that resulted in Halifax.Here’s another reason: some photos I took yesterday.Halifax Harbour at dusk

Canada Coast Guard cutter, Hallifax Harbour near Georges Island


Hardly anyone in Halifax uses an umbrella. I noticed this right away when I got here, since it was raining. People kind of bend their heads into the rain, stoic as cows. Almost everyone wears a hat of some kind or other, though. I asked my landlady why nobody uses an umbrella and she said “it rains sideways, so an umbrella won’t help.”

I brought two umbrellas up North with me, a little wee lavender job that fits in my purse and a big black English ‘walking umbrella’ with flowers sewn around the edge for when I want to bring out my inner Mary Poppins. Today, I was running a bit late, and I couldn’t find the big one. It had been on the bedpost, as a handy weapon, but it kept getting in my way so I banished it somewhere. The wee lavender one was in my purse already, so I went with that.

I don’t really like the collapsible umbrellas, I feel like Charlie Chaplin when I walk with one, because of my height. I mean, from elbow to hand is parallel to your body, while shoulder to arm is straight out. It isn’t comfortable and it looks silly. One more reason to dislike them, I discovered today, is that they’re not very strong. I don’t think it was so much a matter of the rain moving sideways today as the wind gusting in different directions. It did blow my brolly inside out once, but I was able to snap it back. After a while, though, I gave it up and tucked it back into my purse.

As I wasOK, this wasn't the one I saw; it was too damn wet to stop and take a picture, so I got this one from another blog. walking along, I was able to raise my head enough to see a couple of trash cans with broken umbrellas in them. This picture is not one of them. It was raining too damn hard for me to want to stop and take a picture.

Now I have lived in windy cities before. Boston’s weird buildings create wicked wind tunnels. One time, I saw a

Cambodian woman swept right off her feet. If she hadn’t been hanging on to a post, she would have been blown right off the face of the earth, I think. I also lived in Chicago one summer. They say the name is from the politics, not the climate, but it was a hot summer, and even the shore breeze we got felt like a blow dryer aimed at your face. I say this so that readers will not think I am some sort of delicate flower, but DAMN, this place is windy!