Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Winter Solstice

Yesterday was the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year where darkness is at its height and daylight at its least. From now on the day will gain time as the night gradually shrinks. This day has been important for pretty much all of human history, our ancestors rejoiced on this day because the sun was again on the ascendancy.
When we were in Ireland we visited Newgrange, a neolithic tomb that is 5000 years old, which makes it older than the pyramids at Giza and 1000 years older than Stonehenge. This mega tomb was built completely without metal tools and is really, really huge. In fact we saw other passage tombs that had not been completely cleared away and they resembled hills. What is remarkable is that the passage way to the burial chamber in the depths of the burial mound is perfectly aligned with the rising sun on the winter solstice. As the sun rises over the horizon, the light creeps along the roof of the passage way and just as the sun clears the horizon it illuminates the burial chamber for a brief moment before creeping back down the floor of the passage as the sun climbs higher in the sky. What is remarkable is that our ancestors 5000 years ago were able to figure out precisely the angle and inclination of the passageway to achieve this and were able to build it into their tomb without our modern technology. In fact they didn't even have metal tools but were using stone, bones and wood to build this. This is truly awesome  and is a testament to human ingenuity.

 Newgrange Neolithic Tomb

The passageway in Knowth the sister tomb to Newgrange

The entrance to the tomb, the opening above the entrance permits the light to enter on the winter solstice. Notice the spirals carved on one of the entrance stones, these spirals are found carved on many of the stones used to built the tombs and probably had great spiritual significance.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What's The Difference?

A couple of years ago the then mayor of Montréal came up with a new slogan for the city, "Une Île une Ville" which roughly means one island one city. What he wanted to do was merge all the municipalities into one huge city, which he would be the mayor of. Why would he do that? Well Montréal's finances were a mess, the city was deeply in debt and it was a simple way of making some cash by getting a nice cash cow in the West Island which would never have enough representation to do something about it. Now the PQ provincial government of the time was in a centralizing mode saying that bigger was better.
Needless to say that most of the citizens of the West Island municipalities did not take kindly to this and raised a mega stink. The provincial government being the highly democratic entity that it was, simply overruled everyone and merged the cities. After all they knew that nobody from the West Island would vote for them anyway being separatists, since there was a good percentage of Anglos and immigrants. To make a long story short, finally the Liberals were elected partly on the promise of being willing to demerge the already merged island. Came the big day and most of the West Island communities voted to demerge, but some of them didn't get the percentages to demerge so they stayed a part of Montréal. Now what difference does it make you ask? Well as they say a picture is worth a thousand words. These are pictures I took as I was walking to the pharmacy tonight.The first picture is of Pierrefond's sidewalks The second is a picture of the sidewalks of Kirkland which demerged and the third is a picture of the path through the neighbourhood park. I rest my case, bigger is not better it's just less efficient.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Ouch the sharp end of pricky things

Our school went in today to get the students vaccinated against the H1N1 flu and I accompanied them. Since I was already there, I finally gave in and got the shot. (It's hard not to when you've been telling the kids that there is nothing to worry about, that it doesn't hurt a bit and then turn around and refuse to get it yourself.) Mind you, I think that the whole situation is very highly overrated and is more the product if the media circus than anything approaching reality. But since I have 20 month old twin grand daughters, Allison and Zoé, I won't take the chance because they had yet to be vaccinated because of a cold the last time I saw them. I really wouldn't want them to catch it from me.
This means that in the last couple of weeks I've had more sharp objects poked into me than I've had in a very long time. Let's see, I gave blood then I got four vaccinations for the Ecuador Humanitarian trip in February (The yellow fever is a real bitch, it hurts like hell) and now the H1N1 vaccine. Hopefully my hide won't be punctured again for a while. ;o)

Monday, November 30, 2009

First snow

Woke up this morning and it's snowing. Jazz will be in a foul mood for the day at least. Hopefully soon there will be enough to cross country ski. On the other hand we'll be stuck shoveling, wearing winter coats and boots. I hope that it'll be a cold dry winter and we won't keep having a mixture of snow, sleet and rain all the time.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Back to the past

As you all know by now, I've been a teacher for over 30 years (and I still love doing it by the way) but having moved around a lot, I've lost track of my students over the years. This week imagine my surprise when I got a post on my Facebook page asking me if I had taught at CFB Valcartier. I answered that yes I had in the early eighties and I got a message back from one of my ex-students saying how he had liked my ESL class when he was in secondary 3 (grade nine). Since then others have also made contact from that class.
It was a really nice feeling to see that I had done a good enough job that they still remember me fondly 25 years later. Teaching adolescents is not always the easiest job nor is it the job where you get the most feedback but I think that it is the job where you can still really make a difference. And once in while, someone from the past will come by and pat you on the back and say thanks and nothing beats that.

Saturday, November 07, 2009


I seem to be pretty much blogged out these days. Inspiration just doesn't come easily and when I get home in the cold, damp November darkness, I'm too bushed to get my act together much less blog. So I've decided to take the easy way out. Here are a couple of puns taken from the Bathroom Reader Series. Enjoy....

A MAN HEARD ABOUT the discovery of gold in California. He immediately packed up his possessions and moved out west. Six months later, he gave up and returned home. Why? It didn't pan out.

A GUY GOES INTO a hardware store and asks the manager for a tool to break up the hard ground. The manager shows him a wall of shovels, hoes, and other tools and says, "Take your pick."

A RANCHER WAS taking inventory of his livestock. He figured that it wouldn't take him too long because he knew for a fact that he had exactly 196 head of cattle. But then he discovered that he actually had 200 head? How'd he find out? He rounded them up.

"DOCTOR, DOCTOR, you've got to help me!" "What's the trouble?" "One night 1 dream that I'm a car's muffler. And then the next night, I dream that I'm part of the wheel." "Why is that such a big deal?" "I wake up exhausted and tired."

JOHN LOVES WHEAT-wheat bread, wheat rolls, wheat muffins-he can't get enough wheat. Only problem: He's allergic to it. Whenever he eats it, he breaks out in a rash. But does that stop him from eating it? No, he's a real gluten for punishment.

THE STATE TREASURER had to balance the budget, so he sliced a little bit off the proposed funding for schools, parks, and other services. It was the most successful fund razor of the year.

TOM IS OBSESSED with monorails. All he ever talks about is monorails-especially how amazing it is that they travel with the use of just a single rail. He has a one-track mind.

Friday, October 23, 2009

One last ride.

It rained and snowed last night but today it was sunny but rather chilly. Since it was sunny and the roads were dry, something that we haven't had in abondance in the last month, I decided to get in one last bike ride. Dressing up in a mix of x-country skiing stuff and biking stuff, (rather cool to be riding in a short sleeved bike jersey and cycling shorts) off I went. The temperature was about 4 to 5 degrees Celsius (40 F) but what was really a killer was the stiff breeze. The tailwind was OK and really accelerated the ride, but the headwind was another matter entirely, boy was it cold. I still managed to do my 30 km but at a slightly slower pace than normal. I am usually able to do the 30 km in an hour and today it took me 70 minutes... So I guess that this is my last ride of the season unless we get really warm, sunny weather.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Snowflakes keep falling.

My lil' sister Jazz will have a fit when she hears that I saw and felt snowflakes falling tonight when I got home for supper. Not big flakes and not too many of them but enough to be noticed. We have also gotten a frost warning tonight with the temperature falling to minus 2 degrees celcius.
We should hear some interesting comments from her when she gets back from vacation.
Going trick or treat on snowshoes now there's a thought.

-- Posted from my iPhone

Monday, September 28, 2009

Website programming

I haven't blogged in a while, what with the start of the year and all. Things have been rather hectic and I just haven't had the energy to think up something to write... my brain, she is jello, not even the yummy red kind, more like the yucky yellow stuff.
What have I been doing, well this weekend I blitzed to redo *PEI's website. It is based on SPIP, which uses PHP, CSS and a MySQL database to built the web site. Believe me that is not really user friendly, although once you get it going it is easy to add material and keep it up to date. So I read up, explored, tried things that didn't work, tried other things that didn't work either, to finally find a way to make it work. After spending hours and hours, I finally put it all together and it works. Using an SFTP client (Cyberduck for those of you who use a Mac, great program and it's free) to upload, look at, rename and generally play around with things, as well as Firefox to look at the result as well as the code for the pages and finally Photoshop to change the top banner's images. There are still a couple of things, such as the fact that I can't find the section that provides messages when you change the language. At the moment the site is in French only and going to the English site gives you nothing but a "Bravo ! Le squelette ALTERNATIVES est installé - Congratulations! the template ALTERNATIVES is installed." Oh well I'll have to go searching once again.
If you are curious the website is here: http://pei.csdgs.qc.ca/

*PEI = Programme d'Éducation Internationale, international schools.

PS: This morning I finally found the way to do it... wonders of a good night's sleep.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The game

A while back in one of her blogs, my lil' sister Jazz told us about how she met Mr. Jazz and dared the rest of us to come back with our own stories. Well better late than never.
Way back when, in the early 70's to be exact, I was a young lieutenant in the 6e Régiment d'Artillerie de Campagne. This was a militia regiment and as a part time job it paid well and went a long way to paying for university. Being an artillery regiment we were a line regiment* and as such we had no officers of the female persuasion and only one or two female admin clerks. (In those days women just didn't go out and fight for their country, that was a man's job, don't rip my head off, I didn't make the rules.) Well that was the year where it all changed, a hundred women officers (+ or -) had been recruited, and they were distributed in the different regiments, including our own. Can you say culture shock...
Mrs. BB was one of those lieutenants, and came a day when we had a major weekend exercise. I remember it was pouring rain on the Friday night when we left and across the Manège Militaire, I saw Mrs. BB carrying her rather voluminous backpack, dripping wet and limping since she had hurt her knee that summer. Being the gallant person that I am, I helped her with her equipment and off we went to CFB Valcartier (the military base). Once there, the male lieutenants were to take one of the women lieutenants and show her what an artillery regiment was all about. (Remember, there had never been women in a line regiment of the Canadian Army. Mrs. BB and her colleagues were he first ones to wear the Artillery Badge on their berets and have 6e Régiment d'Artillerie de Campagne on their shoulder flashes. They led the way for the equality we know today.) At that time I was the Recce Officer, so I would do a reconnaissance of places to put the guns and then I'd take off for the next place, which meant pretty much living in the jeep for the duration of the exercise. When my turn came to choose, I of course, chose Mrs. BB since I knew that she was tough and wouldn't complain. The other female lieutenant had the nickname of "La Chromé" since she was always beautifully made up, with lipstick, eye shadow, long finger nails and I could just see her complaining as we slogged through the mud and spent the rest of the time in a jeep full of radio, equipment and the rest of my team.
Needless to say that spending two days in close proximity, in a damp and muddy jeep permits you to get to know someone pretty well and we started going out together not long after.
There is also a postscript to this story, later on, after another exercise, we were at her apartment and I was still in my combats, not having gone home to change. (Being a student with no car, meant at least a two hour bus ride home and back) She had made a really delicious stew. I jokingly said to her that with cooking like that she was very marriageable and she jokingly asked me if that was a marriage proposal. Suddenly it clicked in my mind that she was the one that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, so I answered her that yes it was and would she please marry me. She looked at me, smiled and said yes. We have been together ever since and celebrated 33 years of marriage last May, Not bad for a weekend in a jeep.

* Line Regiment = the combat regiments that directly fight the enemy.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Renovations anyone?

I haven't been posting since coming back from vacation since we've been doing renovations in the basement. We used to have burnt orange carpeting in the basement and since we don't like carpeting we finally decided to got rid of it and put down flooring instead. So I ripped up the old carpet, and what a mess. No matter how much you clean it it is a real dirt magnet. I had to cut it up into smaller pieces so the garbage would pick it up. I was covered in dust when I finished. Then we put down the under flooring that insulates and has a vapour barrier. Then I started laying out the floor which went well. You lind of get into a routine, lay out the boards, measure, and cut. Then hook the whole line into already finished floor.
What takes up an enormous amount of time isn't the project itself but putting on the finishing touches such as the baseboards etc. When I finally finished the floor there were two packages of floor boards left, so being the frugal person that I am, I decided to do the landing between the first floor, the garage floor and the basement since it was covered in old orange cushion floor (linoleum). When that was finished and still having some flooring I finished off the stairs also.
So now, everything is done and cleaned up and I start school next week. I had estimated that it would take me about a week to do the basement and it turned out taking me 2.5 weeks instead. There must be a Murphy's law in there somewhere.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Vacation Time

Haven't been around a computer or any other electronic device for the last week since Mrs. BB and I were on vacation in the Charlevoix. This region of Québec is on the north shore of the St. Lawrence river and is a ruggedly beautiful region of mountains, lakes, and rivers. We stayed at a small bed and breakfast called the l'Aubergine. (The name is a small pun on the word auberge or inn... so a small inn would be an aubergine) It's small and friendly and is situated just north of Baie-St-Paul one of the bigger towns. We really enjoyed staying there.

A water wheeled mill that is still used to produce flour for the bakeryThe view from near the Aubergine

So what did we do during our stay, well we went and visited a lot of art galleries in Baie St-Paul. The region is a mecca for artists and there are more art galleries per capita in Baie St-Paul than most major cities. We didn't buy anything since the paintings were way over our budget, but it was fun looking at them and there were a couple that I wouldn't have minded having on my walls. While we were there we also had supper in some really good restaurants, since Baie St-Paul is also renowned for its fine cuisine.

Baie St-Pail's main street
Since we were there we also went up to Tadousac to go watch the whales. Every summer many species of whales come up the St. Lawrence river to feed on the abundant food sources. The Saguenay river is a fjord and it has a depth of 270 metres. Where the Saquenay meets the St Lawrence, the depth of the St. Lawrence is 350 metres, but just past the meeting point the river bottom rises drastically. This causes an upwelling of the cold water toward the surface bringing up tons of krill and shrimp. The whales gorge themselves on it. There are blue whales, minke whales, belugas, dolphins and porpoises, humpback whales as well as different species of seals. It is quite spectacular to see.Pictures of whales and seals taken on the boat
We also went up to the Hautes-Gorges de la rivière Malbaie. This is a fault in the mountains that was widened and dug out by glaciers leaving the Malbaie river flowing between truly huge cliffs. You can rent a canoe or a kayak and paddle up the river, or you can hike up to the Acropole des Draveurs a cliff bound plateau faced with a cliff that is spectacular. There is also a boat ride up the river with a guide who explains everything about the river and the gorges. If you are so inclined you can take your backpack and tent and canoe up to a wild camping called l'Équerre since it is in a 90 degree bend in the river. This is about as far as it is possible to go since from there there are major rapids and falls. Close to the camp site there is a waterfall so in a way you could say that there is running water. Mrs. BB and I have every intention of going back to the park with our backpacks and renting a canoe to spend a couple of days there.

The Acropole des Draveurs

Monday, July 27, 2009

Cycling around the west Island Part 2

One of the stranger facts about the West Island is that there are villages embedded in the fabric of the big city suburbs. Before the suburbs took over there was a series of small villages along the shore of the Saint Lawrence River. With the growth of the urban landscape these villages found themselves in the middle of the housing developments. The first time you are biking or driving along and suddenly you are in the the middle of a typical small village, it is a very strange feeling. It is one of the better kept secrets of our part of the island.
At the complete end of the island is the town of Ste-Anne de Bellevue. This town has been around since the 18th century and has a canal that connects Lac St-Louis, Lac des Deux Montagnes and the Ottawa river. This canal is a National Historic site and was originally built in the 1840's. There has been a canal with locks here since 1816, bypassing the rapids between the western end of the island and Île Perot.

This is the canal facing toward Lac St-Louis

Main Street

The Town Hall (in French l'Hôtel de Ville is not a place to sleep. ;o)

Despite having been gussied up, this is the original general store of the village. G Daoust & Cie has been a fixture of Ste-Anne for more than 100 years. It still has its creaking wooden floors and an old fashioned method of paying. There is a sort of pulley system that goes all around the store. The clerk takes your money, puts it in a small metal box and hooks it to line which is whirling around the pulley system. The money and bill go to a central office where they make up your final bill and then send it back to you with your change. The owners even bought up several old systems when other places closed so they would have spare parts to keep their system going.

Ste-Anne is also the home of John Abbott college and the Macdonald Campus of McGill University. It is a beautiful campus made up of red brick buildings, mature trees and large fields of grass. My daughter got her degree in microbiology there. Macdonald Campus is the agricultural portion of McGill and they even have a complete working farm. John Abbott is a CEGEP and rents a part of the campus from McGill. The whole campus is quite nice and reminds me of the universities near Boston.

We are now riding along Lakeshore road, which as you can see runs along the shore of Lac St-Louis. As we get to Baie d'Urfé, a rich suburb we can see one of the many marinas.

This is the town hall

and this is a picture taken at night of the boats on the lake near the town hall.

As we ride along Lakeshore Road, we will finally come to Pointe-Claire Village.

The town of Pointe-Claire has a windmill on its coat of arms and here is the reason. The windmill in on a point of land jutting out in the lake near the church. The windmill originally belonged to the church.

As you can see there is a small town atmosphere but yet we are in the middle of the suburbs. So though the West Island is known as a bedroom suburb, in reality there are many hidden facets that most people don't know about. In the next blog I'll show you some of the hidden gems, for there are still many of the old farm houses that have survived and can be found throughout the more modern suburban housing.