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Crikey, things are looking up!

Friday, July 6, 2012

News from Loon County July 2012

Hi again D,

After Nicole's recent operation, it's starting to feel like we are all in an Anne Marie MacDonald novel. Crikey! Good news so far, though. Her operation seems to have had great results...thankfully.

More good news, although of less import. I am off the anti-depressants! The shingles pain has retreated to an itch on my eyebrow, forehead, and scalp that I forget about it most of the time. I am so relieved! I dropped the dose down a quarter of a pill at a time, each for 2 weeks and I stopped taking it completely 10 days ago. Good!

We have been doing boat work (forget about launching before July!) and are now putting together the main hatch. It looks lovely. I have painted one side of the boat in white with a green stripe (each colour takes 3-5 days to do, so this is why we are so slow). The weather has been freaking hot (as I expect you've noticed!) so we can only work before 11:30 am or after about 5-6pm when it starts to cool. Other than that, the boatyard is a hellish desert with a bright glare off the gravel. We have seen the inside of the boat shelter get up to 47 degrees Celcius when we open it up at about 1pm. Can't do anything but turn on the fans and wait for evening.

We had a fun Canada Day weekend. The marina held a party, as is traditional, on the Saturday. When we first attended this party about 10 years ago, the staff were frantically tidying up, cutting grass, repairing the picnic shelter etc., right up to 4pm. We ambled by, looking for signs of free food (another tradition, the marina buys the burgers, sausages, condiments and fixings; the dessert and salads are pot luck from the guests). The owner thrust $50 into our hands and told us to go buy fireworks at the local convenience store/bottle return. This we did. It was a fun show that evening, supervised by a drunk gentleman who had the distinction of being in the local volunteer fire service and operated by a marina worker who moonlights from the local beer store (and has the experience of having burned off his eyebrows when shrink-wrapping a boat with a propane torch). What could possibly go wrong? Actually nothing did...everyone had fun, drank too much and slept on their boats afterwards...

By this year, the fireworks have become so elaborate that local people drive to the other side of the small bay to get a good view. The marina owner no longer buys puny retail fireworks; he drives to Montreal to buy the good stuff. I have no idea how much he spent this year, but it was an impressive show.

We had a couple of house guests who came down for this party (and don't mind sleeping with cats) - Jennifer and Gratton have been at the marina as long as we have, and have now moved their boat to Great Exuma in the Bahamas. They spend a Feb-May on the boat, then come back to Ottawa. Until last year, they commuted in their RV, a very old C class (bed over the driving cab). Last Spring, they drove down to the boat, but only made it to upstate New York. The van caught fire, and the propane tanks exploded...they only got out with the what they were wearing. It seems that they had had a new catalytic converter put into the van by the RV mechanic in Carleton Place. They had noticed a strong smell of burning paint and had brought the van to the Canadian Tire store in Morrisburg for a check up...they were told nothing was wrong...three hours later...boom! (One moral, don't rely on Canadian Tire for advice, I guess).

They were stuck in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere with no clothes, money, food or transportation (they had been towing their little car, the front of which was burnt). Fortunately, as often happens, the townsfolk rallied round, found them all that they needed. Actually I put it down to Gratton's character...he worked for the Youth Hostelling organization before he retired, and a more cheerful, simply delightful character can't be imagined. They rented a car after a few days (Gratton was wearing a money belt with his credit cards), continued on to Florida, and went sailing anyway!

It appears to us that this was a redemptive experience for our friends. Most other people would have returned home, after losing all their stuff ("Burrrnt to a crrrisp!" is Jennifer's  colourful phrase; she is a Scot). However, these two, including Jennifer, the most tight-fisted person I have ever met, have taken the hint from Providence that life is not about money or possessions. Unbelievably we even heard her say at one point, "It's only money!" when referring to losing the van. Admittedly, after 18 months they are still arguing with the insurance company, so they are not entirely giving up on that.

Also at this Canada Day party was our friend Chris and with his wife Lesley. He keeps his home-built trimaran at the dock now. As I mentioned previously, he was a squadron leader in the British RAF and he brought with him two visitors from England: Andy and his wife, Judy, who is blind, both in their late 50's. Eventually, we worked out that Andy had trained with Chris in the RAF in the '70's and had ended up as an Air Vice-Marshal - 2nd in command of the RAF, basically in charge of 20,000 service personnel. Very smart and modest man, has just taken early retirement to look after his wife, also a very smart person. She went blind at the age of 25 or so, from retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic condition. Quite a relationship, he walks with her on his arm, talking her through the shape of the ground and any obstacles, while describing what he sees around him. They went to Niagara Falls and the Botanical Gardens in Montreal amongst other things.

This couple had just been sailing with Chris and Lesley, and this had been (as one can imagine) a less-than-optimal experience for a blind person. There was a strong wind and a trimaran steers like a cow at the best of times. When they were blown off the dock straight onto the shoal opposite, Chris had, inconsiderately, lost his temper. Still, everything ended well, no-one drowned and no boats were damaged (as I say to myself every time I return from rowing) - until they got to the dock, that is. As the blind lady got off the boat, no one was watching her and she very nearly walked off the other side. She went home early to have a rest, understandably. 

As it got dark, I got out some coin-cell type 3V batteries and a set of LEDs that I had brought to the marina. I had used LEDs for a project with my friend Bronwyn, but after that they were surplus. You can make a really neat little wearable light by taping an LED to the coin cell with a bit of electrical tape (long leg of the LED to the positive terminal). I first made them for the people at our picnic table, but then the four or five kids at the party all wanted them. And then they wanted to change the colours. Or have their colour match that of their new friend. Or have a different colour from their brother. Kids have waaay too many choices :-) These devices were thought up by a fellow in New York who calls them 'throwables' and goes around sticking them inside helium balloons at night or taping a magnet on and sticking them to bridges.

One of the mothers got quite inspired when I told her about the fashion and technology maven Limor (LadyAda) Fried. She is a New York engineer who has started a company to evangelize wearable technology (amongst other things). The website is where I have been buying some of my electronic kits, one of them I used to make a Tron-ified jean jacket for Bronwyn to wear on Canada Day. I may have mentioned Bronwyn before, she is the daughter of a neighbour, lovely child, who had brain surgery for a benign tumour when she was 6. Now 11, she still has frequent headaches and often misses school. I bought a jean jacket and jeans from the local charity shop for $4, stitched some electroluminescent wire to the seams of the jean jacket (bright greenish blue lines) and sewed LED light strips to the outside seams of the jeans (one red, one white, it was Canada Day after all). 

Bronwyn lives right opposite the waterfront park where Morrisburg has its Canada Day celebrations. There was a craft market, petting zoo (there has to be employment for llamas, doesn't there?) and midway rides with swinging chairs, inflatable slides and "bouncy castles". As the dark fell, Bronwyn went with her brother to the swing chairs ride and was quite the sensation. The LED strips on the pants are really bright. Each strip has 60 sets of LEDs per metre (I used about 2/3 of a metre on each leg). Each LED set has 3 LEDs. One strip was 3 whites in each set, the other was an RGB strip. I just lit the red ones. Normally these things are powered by 12V batteries, like the jerks who drive around with the woofers turned way up and bright blue lights on the running boards, but I figured it would lower her pleasure to drag a car battery I used a 9V smoke detector battery in each hip pocket to power them and only lit one LED per set to keep power consumption down. Still, they are amazingly bright!

Rowing season is in full swing. I think the club's getting a critical mass of people now if we can get 8-12 people out on a week-night in July. A couple of years ago it was just me and another childless middle-aged lady; most people have lives and families and things to do in July...if you can imagine! We only installed the rowing club sign by the road last year, and it has brought us more public awareness than any other thing. Obvious, really. Because I am at the marina a lot, I get called by the receptionist to talk to curious passers-by. I show them around, and, if I have time, I try to give the person a quick lesson. My executive committee, all university trained rowers, with no time on their hands, tried to discourage me from signing up these people, without them having completed our official Learn-to-Row program. However, for a strong, healthy person comfortable on the water there is not much hazard and it is the way I learned.

Thursday night, we had a new guy show up. He's been nagging me to come to learn for a week or so, and I finally brought him down on a club rowing night. Nice man, he is about 6'7" tall, built like a rower, former military, about 27 years old. He casually mentioned that he had done the Cambrian Patrol twice! (I am impressed. This is a British army-hosted competitive event over 2 days in the horrible hills of Wales where teams of military compete over a 60 mile course with 60lb packs on their backs. It's basically two days of rain and watery hell, with guns, but commando-types love it. Our fellow was probably in Afghanistan doing manly things until recently.) Anyway, he took to rowing like the proverbial duck to water. I threw him into our unsinkable training single and got my single out to follow him and give some instruction. He didn't need much, and he had the habit that military people have of listening closely and doing what he was told. It was as much as I could do to keep up with him, even though his boat was shorter with more drag...he'll make a good rower. Apparently he's applied to be a fire-fighter in Ottawa. Rowing is a common choice for fire-fighters to keep up their fitness requirements. He'd be a good choice for Ottawa, I'd say.

One plan for club development this year is to try to get enough male rowers to row together as a crew. For one thing, it will stop them from annoying the middle-aged female crews, who like to chat, rest a bit and row more casually (although we do greater distances). And it would be good to get a male crew to one of the Fall regattas. We'll see. A couple of men in the club are there as husbands of rowers (Don is firmly against team sports, as I used to be, and does not row), and they often have other things to do.

I was very interested in the VR rehab stuff that Shelagh posted on Facebook. Amazing. It looks like a lot of fun, actually. How does it feel? Are you going to do it again?

I am just baking you a shepherd's pie. We made it with ground veal, not so strong a flavour as lamb (plus we couldn't find lamb in the local supermarket). It has onions, garlic, shredded carrots, and minced mushrooms, topped with mashed potatoes and grated parmesan. We will freeze it in 2-meal portions and bring when I come next. Obviously Shelagh or anyone are welcome to share it or eat it if you don't like it. I'll also bring some of the tart version of the lemon curd. I think you may like that. I seem to think the last one I brought was the milder one. And some Seville orange marmalade. Hope to see you sometime in the next few days.

All the best to all,

Sue & Don.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Star-Spangled Discount Store

Forgive me, I cannot resist a silly song:

Oh, say can you see by the Walmart's bright lights
Where so proudly we buy, with the freezers full gleaming?
In whose broad aisles we fight the perilous fight,
Oh the pig parts we snatch, they're so gallantly steaming?
And the spandex red glare, patrons bursting in there,
Give proof through our lives that our dollar's still here.
Oh, say is that star-spangled discount store still open,
In the land of the fee and the home of the slave?


St Lawrence Rowing

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