Anything I write that has to do with writing will be in From Pico's Pen, my author's blog. Everything that doesn't fit any of the sites I write on will be here. This is my practice. I could have kept it private and farmed out the good stuff but I found my readers like too much of it to do that. It isn't a diary because there are things I keep to myself but you can learn a great deal about me from the randomness you will find here.

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Overcoming Shyness: One Faltering Step

Courtesy Pixabay

I did not get a great mark in my college history class my freshman year. It had a little to do with my study habits, it had more to do with my lack of participation in the classroom. I knew that a portion of our mark came from our participation and if I got better than a goose egg on mine the instructor was being generous. So many opportunities to look stupid.

My senior year I took two history classes, Ancient Israel with Dr. Paige and Church History with Mr. Kelly. I determined to participate in the first and did a lot of reading before the semester for the second. Talking in front of the class was the big challenge.

Out of the gate, I was looking for the right question and I thought I'd found the perfect safe one when Dr. Paige asked the class, “What time does evening start?” I think he was genuinely surprised to see my hand shoot straight up and of course he selected me to answer.

“Six o'clock!”

“Right and what happens at six o'clock?” Now I was on the spot. This wasn't in our assigned reading and I knew that seeing it in TV Guide wasn't the answer he was looking for.

So I replied, “I don't know. Suppertime?”

The look on his face said it all. He was thinking he shouldn't have asked me because he knew I'd say something stupid like that. He finished with a somewhat exasperated, “No! Sunset!”

In my defense, I'm Canadian. How often does sunset actually happen anywhere near six o'clock? Where I grew up during the summer, it went down after nine o'clock and in the dead of winter it was close to four. I know it all averages out to about six o'clock (discounting daylight savings time) but I can't see how that would have been automatically impressed on my mind.

I did survive that incident and forged on ahead. Dr. Paige and I developed a treasured professor/student relationship. He liked teaching and liked his students. I know he was proud of my efforts and quickly picked up on where I could make a valuable verbal contribution to the class. We had several memorable conversations outside of the classroom as well. He appreciated my sense of humour, which sometimes got me into trouble. He loved the kiddie sandbox shovel I sent to one of his archeology students.

Years after college I was saddened at the news his passing from cancer. The world lost a very kind man and gifted teacher.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Crotch Guard Review



I was sent a free sample of this product after stumbling upon their promotion through Twitter. I was not certain at the time that it would be sent to me since I live in Canada. Their positive response to my request was most welcome. From the start, I intended to write up a review, but I wanted it to be different than the myriad positive reviews I've read.

Crotch Guard was developed for cyclists. Yes, I have on tours rubbed pretty raw down there a couple of times and I have used other products in the past to deal with the problem. We put it to the test. When I say we, I mean members of my immediate family. I'm not the most qualified for everything we wanted to test it for.

I applied the product and took it for a road test. Incidentally, it's pump spray bottle makes the product very easy to apply and as advertised it absorbs completely into the skin in very short order. Once the product had absorbed, the only indication that it was there was that it worked, no chaffing, no redness just healthy skin. There was no visible residue on my clothing during the testing period.

Derma-Tect, Inc the manufacturer makes one more claim that we are able to test. They guarantee their product to be hypoallergenic. My son Brandon is hyper-allergic. He cannot wear any big brand deodorant on the market that we are aware of, in fact, he can't take the lid off and take a deep whiff of the fragrance. It took us some real searching to find a product that he can use. He is allergic to something in soft drinks and many packaged foods. He has a prescription to carry an EpiPen, just in case.

This test we did is not in any other reviews I have seen. We were very confident in the claim though otherwise we probably wouldn't have even tried it. Brandon gave the spray a sniff test before applying the product to his skin. He had absolutely no reaction to it at all. Allergies are hard to predict but with him being able to use it successfully without complication, I'm even more confident in their claim.

By my skinflint standards, it is not inexpensive. It does everything it claims though and I wholeheartedly recommend it. If you're interested, the product can be purchased through their website. Here's the link: http://dermatect.com/

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

A New Project

Painting Francine Heykoop - Family Cycling St. Polycarpe, QC


Spent a considerable amount of time the last couple days building an artist's blog for my wife Francine. She has created quite a number of paintings and drawings and they are, in my not necessarily expert opinion, really good. Her work has been featured on Fine Arts America for years now, to date she has received quite a lot of positive attention, but has never made a dime for her efforts. This website is my contribution to trying to turn that around. I believe her work is worthy.

At this point, all that has been created is an under construction post and I've taken the time to divide her work into logical galleries. All five galleries are live, although at this point there are no links back to her Fine Arts America account from the gallery images, where they can be purchased. Each gallery still needs a description. Just means, I still have a lot of work to do. Those gallery pages are set up as links right under the blog title.

Ultimately the site will be set up so that my wife can take about her art and art in general and promote it. Links will be available leading straight to the products on her Fine Arts America account or her Zazzle account where anyone interested can enjoy her work by purchasing products featuring it.

If you're interested in having a look just click on the highlighted words Francine's Brushes & Pencils for her blog or Francine at Fine Arts America if you're interested in seeing the types of products that are available featuring her artwork. Visitors are always welcome.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Basketball Typecasting

Courtesy Pixabay

Where my first year of basketball was inspirational, the second year was a dud. Several of my teammates walked away from the game after that season. We were blessed with probably the lousiest coach I ever had. He couldn't play himself, he didn't know anything about the game and I'm not even sure he liked the sport. I'm not sure why he volunteered for the job. It made for some really poor performances and made a group of decently skilled players look bad.

I'm not sure what book he got his strategy and basketball knowledge from but we got to be his guinea pigs. Lumpy, Henry and I were labeled centres and were told we were rivals for the same position. I think that was the coach's first big mistake.

We kicked off the season with a surprise 50 – 35 exhibition victory against the senior girls team. The older girls usually won this school tradition. We overcame questionable strategy and three players came to the fore. My best friend Chuck and I dominated while we were on the court and Lumpy looked really good with the second unit. When the dust settled anybody with any basketball smarts would have known that our team had four logical starters. Chuck at point guard, Pete at the other guard position, Lumpy at either centre or power forward and me at centre or power forward. That of course was not how our coach saw it.

Lumpy and I played all of two offensive series together during that entire season. The coach put us on the floor together accidentally and quickly took me out as soon as he realized his mistake. The team we were playing were grateful because the two of us together were unstoppable. How could a coach not figure that out?

The following year we got ourselves a new novice basketball coach for the school's junior team. Lumpy and I got to compete with Lumpy's older and bigger brother Jay. Henry was tired of riding the pine and dropped out of the picture. This season we got to play with a seniority element added as well. “The Farmer” was the team's started power forward, six foot three and totally inexperienced but older. He was a riot in the locker room but not much of a player. I don't know how Lumpy felt about it, but I was quietly annoyed because both Lumpy and me would have been far better in that place.That wasn't the only issue with the team but I'll leave those stories for another time.

Finally in our third year “Torpedo Head” came to our rescue. This coach was another novice, a funny looking geography (or history) teacher. He didn't look like our saviour at the start. He liked basketball though and could think for himself. Laying out his grand strategy at our initial practices raised a lot of eyebrows. Big Jay had moved on to the senior team and Lumpy and I were joined by a younger player Pegels. We still would compete for the same position. Same old with a weird offensive scheme.

That weird offensive scheme lasted one whole quarter into our first game of the season. We were down 27 – 12. Torpedo Head knew his scheme was a flop and then did something that was either a stroke of genius or desperation. He put Pegels in at centre, me in at power forward and Lumpy in at small forward, playing all three centres together. Chuck and Pete anchored the back court. For the opposing team Pegels and I looked confusingly alike. Same size and build, same colour hair, same colour eyes, only I'm right-handed and Pegels is a southpaw. Mix up who you're guarding and you'll cough up an easy bucket. Lumpy was just too strong for his opponent. That big first quarter lead slowly dwindled as the five of us got used to playing together. Pegels missed a free throw after time expired and we lost the game 73 – 72. By the end of the season, instead of being the lousy team we were predicted to be, we matched the school's best junior team record in history.

Good coaching makes that much difference.


Monday, 25 January 2016

My First Coach

Courtesy Pixabay

For us his name was Coach and we called him that or sir. Bob Bedesky was one of those volunteer youth sport coaches, who gave of his time generously, taught us to love basketball and grow as people at the same time. I have nothing but praise for the man.

The previous season his team the Pelham Panthers had gone all the way and won the bantam all Ontario championship in dramatic style. He showed us the trophy in the dressing room as inspiration. According to him it was one of the oldest basketball tournament trophies in all of Canada, if not the world. We weren't his championship team though. Kids like everyone else age and almost his entire roster had moved on.

The team was so desperate for bodies, I was approached by one of the players I went to school with and he managed to convince me to come to practice. I'm sure from day one Coach saw my potential, but at the same time knew his work would make a future coach look good rather than himself. He taught me, pushed me and encouraged me anyway. He selflessly taught us all that way. We learned to play with the skills he taught us and our hearts. He also taught us to play with our heads.

One of my favourite memories was our brief appearance in the playoffs that year. We barely squeaked in and thus got to face the best team in the league. This opponent had beaten another team in our league 128 – 8. We were better than their victims, but not by that much. We were expected to get crushed.

Coach prepared us thoroughly. His intention was to have us walk off that court with our heads held high as worthy opponents. To that end we prepared a few little surprises.

“Today I'm going to teach you how to play a full court 3 – 1 – 1 pressure defense,” and he did exactly that.

“We're going to do this after the first basket we score. It will catch them off guard and you know what they'll do?”

“What?”

“They'll call a time out and their coach will tell them how to beat it. They'll plan to run a player up each sideline to about half court for an outlet pass. You know what we're going to do?”

“What?”

“Switch to man-to-man full court pressure and nothing they just drew up in their huddle will work. You know what they'll do then?”

“What?”

“Call another time out. We'll have forced them to use up two of their timeouts in less than a minute of play.”

On game day that is exactly what happened very early in the game. I remember all of grinning at each other during each of those two time out. They were bigger than us, more experienced than us and better shooters too. They won the game but we dictated how it was played. They had to beat us at our game. At the end of the day, their coach came to us and said that if we had anywhere near the talent they had that year we would have won. He admitted that they out shot us but we out played them.

I came off the bench and put a fake on the league MVP and scored a layup. That was one of only four baskets I scored all season. I don't like losing games but that was one that we were all proud of.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Toll Booths at the Border

Courtesy Pixabay






Read this in the paper and think it's a stupid idea. Apparently the New Brunswick government is exploring options for addressing the the provinces financial woes. One of the things under consideration is putting toll booths on the Trans-Canada where it comes in from Quebec and Nova Scotia. For this area it would be nothing less than a disaster.

We aren't the only people in this area, who aren't exactly wealthy. With a toll booth in Aulac, we'd have to pay to go shopping in Amherst and pay again when we go back. A large part of Amherst and Spring Hill commute to work in Moncton. They would pay the toll in both directions as well. Pay rates in Moncton aren't anything to get excited about. Might bring in some cash for our impoverished politicians, but they won't be making friends in this area.

I can't imagine that a toll on the road would do our restaurant any good either. Most of our out of town business comes from our proximity to the Trans-Canada. Tourists and other travelers stop by for a bite to eat. If it gets shut down because of a blizzard they all wait with us for it to reopen and eat lots of food.

Both the Amherst and Sackville areas voted heavily for the provincial and federal Liberal parties. I think the people here are expecting to get treated a little bit better than that. This is one idea all of us here hope never gets further than this.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Thanks for the Hard Work Boys

Andrew and Sheldon in action

Last week we cut down our first tree after dark Saturday evening because we were getting uncomfortably low in firewood. In the name of keeping our costs down, we cut down that dead tree that night and with favorable weather and hard work we kept at it.

This afternoon the boys and I hauled in the last cut pieces. Right now our firewood supply is greater in size than it was at the beginning of the winter. Not only that, but this wood is far better quality than what we had. The steady cold has meant the wood has stayed dry and indoors we've managed to keep the camp comfortably warm

Big thanks to Brandon, Andrew and Sheldon, my boys, for hauling so much of it in for me. It is appreciated. We'll have more to do through the course of the winter but we've shown that even under less than ideal conditions we can get the work done. I'm confident we'll keep up through the rest of the winter. The savings in heating costs is considerable.

For the time being we are going to scale back on cutting wood in the bush because we only have so much dry space to store it. That space right now is full. Tomorrow's wood is still stacked in the chopping station because there isn't anymore room for it.

Been a great cozy warm week. Thanks guys!

Chopping station ready for more

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Bone Weary

Courtesy Pixabay



Not even seven o'clock in the evening and I'm ready to go to bed. No I'm not sick. Just worked my tail off and like my chainsaw, I'm pretty much out of gas.

Worked the maintenance shift at work which is not the most exhausting thing I could be doing there. Unloading the truck is a whole lot more tiring. I did that on Sunday. Haven't really slowed down though since Saturday evening and there is a bit of an accumulative effect going on here.

After work I came home sharpened the chainsaw and cut down dead trees. This is the fourth consecutive evening doing that but the last three evenings I cut down one each time, cut it up and hauled it all back. Because I'm off tomorrow, tonight I cut down three and cut up most of a fourth one that was already down before I ran out of gas. Forecast isn't calling for any significant snow so I only harassed the boys enough for them to go out and know where it's all laying. I hauled and chopped enough to heat for the next day or so without taking from the existing woodpile. Last I hauled back one huge chunk to use as a new chopping block. Old one is getting pretty chewed up.

After that I went inside, powered up the computer and did some hashtag research for my up coming Twitter campaign and it just kind of hit me. For my daily writing efforts I'm on track but drawing a mental blank. For tonight this is the best I've got.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Words Are Inadequate







This is meant to wrap up this series of stories. The title says what I mean. I put off writing parts of this for quite awhile because I'm not sure how to say it. Tonight I've put myself in gear and am getting it done how ever it comes out. It'll be imperfect anyway.


http://picoswriting.blogspot.ca/2015/05/despised-in-her-eyes.html
I'll recap the stories I wrote here and provide links. If you click on the three smaller photos in the body of this you will be taken to one of the other stories. The titles of each have also been turned into links. The first is “Despised In Her Eyes”. It tells how I accidentally helped Tracy hate my guts.


http://picoswriting.blogspot.ca/2015/05/the-ice-is-broken.html 


The follow up to that is “The Ice Is Broken”. In this one I publicly make a fool of myself thereby endearing myself to her and making one of the best friends of my college years.



http://picoswriting.blogspot.ca/2016/01/prank-war.html 
 

After that we engaged in a “Prank War”. All three stories bring back fond memories of my friend.



The last time I saw Tracy in person was just before she left college. She elected to drop out. I'm not sure of the actual reasons but many of us were sad to see her go. At the time both of us had been freshly jilted and she gave me a speech about there being more fish in the sea. Almost anyone else at the time would have annoyed me with that but her sincerity made it comforting the same. I'm not sure if her speech was just as much for her own battered heart as it was for mine.

At that point in time we lost track of each other for many years. We both married and had families. I was the lucky one. Her marriage went sour and eventually failed. She did meet someone else and eventually that relationship went sour as well.

We reconnected through Facebook. She was active there intermittently, so I wasn't surprised not to hear from her for extended period at a time. She reconnected with out college friends about that time as well. I know she was suffering from chronic pain and depression and talked about it some with us. I wished she had talked more but I don't know whether it would have helped.

Early 2015 I found out that she had passed away from an overdose on her pain medication. Whether accidental or on purpose was not determined. That was the start of a rather difficult year for me. In 2015, I lost several friends besides her. One to brain cancer and another to respiratory failure. Her passing hurt the most of those friends. She was so alive and intelligent when I knew her best and part of my mind still struggles with this. She deserved so much better from life.

Like I titled this words are inadequate. Rest in peace my friend.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Prank War

Courtesy Pixabay


I'll admit from the start that this was all my fault. I'm the one who started it but... Tracy just happened to be in the right place at the right time and I couldn't resist my evil impulse. The story is part of a series and at the end of “The Ice Is Broken” you will notice that my club volunteered to answer phones for the World Tomorrow telecast. Tracy enthusiastically volunteered to go with us. That's probably the point where the writing was already on the wall.

At that point in my college career, I was working on those phones to help pay my way. I was very familiar with how the system worked. Keep in mind this was more than thirty years ago. That old system didn't work like call centres do today. All calls came to line one, if that was busy it went to line two and so on down the whole line. The poor representative on line one got worked to death while the person on line fifty got maybe two to four calls per hour. Each phone would actually physically ring and the representative had to pick up the receiver to answer. Each actual phone for some reason could access two different lines, the one for that particular cubicle and the line for next phone in the sequence. This is important to the story.

Volunteer night came and we were seated at our phones. Tracy had never done this before and was parked at the phone right after mine. She was a bundle of nerves. We were down around line fifteen. Her line was available on my phone. What do you think was going through my evil mind. Yes, I absolutely had to give her a prank call. I couldn't make her phone ring but I could make the call waiting light flash and since no one trusts technology to behave, she assumed she had a legitimate call. Especially since she'd just taken a few. I just waited until the action had simmered down to the first few lines in the queue. When she found out it was me she tried to scale the cubicle wall to get at me and that was before she found out everybody in our section knew what was going on. She promised revenge.

Now I was kind of stupid on that count because the following day would be open house where everyone would get a chance to tour all the other dorms on campus. Tracy also had a bit of a reputation in that department. The return prank would not be long in coming. Rather than just wait and take my medicine, I teamed up with another mutual friend, Stephen Doucet and we decided to go for a preemptive strike.

The plan was simple. Visit Tracy's dorm and kidnap one of her stuffed animals (you would not believe how many college girls have massive collections of those). Things got complicated as soon as the two of us arrived. These girls were smart and had made security arrangements and they clearly didn't trust either of us. They escorted us through.

We weren't that easily deterred though. After our first tour, we had a quick pow wow and then enlisted the help of another good friend of mine, Paul Hadley. Stephen and I are both tall and this time around we stood to block our escorts view while Paul made the grab. Like clockwork. Time to go to my dorm to guard my stuff.

Tracy arrived as expected with an evil glint in her eye and under my watching but helpless gaze, pulled all my bedding of my bunk and threw it off the second floor fire exit. We had a smirking stand off there until I decided to let her get past me and escape. Then I had to go retrieve my stuff and re-make my bed. I thought I got of pretty easy considering her reputation.

She got our first ransom note next day. She questioned every guy who came to the student centre to eat breakfast the following morning. The moment was priceless and it was so hard not to give myself away.

At that point in the school year, the work load hit and the whole prank got too time consuming. Stephen and I had to come up with a graceful way to exit this. I don't remember if it was his idea or mine but she suspected another guy in our dorm named Greg Wagner and we framed him.

Our dorm had no cooking facilities but we did have a fridge we could stock with our personal snacks. The way to identify stuff was to stick one of the provided stickers on it and write your initials there. We put her cute stuffed skunk that she slept with every night until this whole thing started in a bag with a GW sticker on it. Let it get good and cold and then just brought it to her door and said, “Look what we found in the refrigerator”. We not sure how he talked his way out of being the victim of some horrible revenge.

She kind of had it in for a few of the guys in our dorm, so there was one final round. These guys will remain nameless because the first one had a big crush on petite little Tracy. He had a date with her and was trying to get on her good side. When no one was looking he filched a pile of shirts and socks belonging to one of my Canadian friends and brought them to Tracy who sewed the sleeves shut and had some other fun with her sewing machine. This friend told me about it.

I asked him, “You want to make this prank backfire on her?”

He of course was all ears.

“When you get to class tomorrow, act like you have no idea what she's talking about. When I come in I'll act like some one has been giving me a hard time.”

We played our parts perfectly. She couldn't believe he hadn't discovered her handiwork (she signed it sort of). I told her our resident assistant had been on the warpath for some unknown reason. She was intimidated by him and thought she put two and two together. She assumed dorm mate number one had double crossed her. After all look who else was in his dorm. She panicked. Our next move was to talk to the resident assistant and get him to bring the clothes back and angrily demand she fix the problem. He would have played along but it wasn't meant to be.

In the middle of class we get a surprise fire drill. All the classes file out. Tracy was in such a panic she found our resident assistant during that weird interlude and started apologizing profusely. We hadn't prepped him yet, so the cat was out of the bag. He thought it was hysterical though and on the bright side she learned he wasn't ogre she thought he might be.

There will be a final installment to this series of stories, just be forewarned it has a sad ending.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Busy But Determined



Did something this evening that I'm not sure I would have ever considered doing before. I worked extra this past week and my schedule got just a bit crazy. Keeping up with my writing challenge is under the circumstances a huge challenge. Temperatures have been quite low recently as well and as a result we've been going through our firewood faster than anticipated.

Not only am I determined to keep my writing rolling but I'm also determined to minimize the cost of heating this winter. The only way to do that is keep up with the firewood. Tonight was the first time I ever cut a dead tree down in the bush after dark. I don't have daylight to do that in until at least Monday afternoon and I didn't want to wait that long.

That light that straps on my head allowed me to have my hands free to operate the chainsaw. It wasn't nearly as difficult as I thought it might end up being. Just have to choose the jobs carefully. I am limited to very simple work for safety's sake but it went without any real trouble this time. The big challenge was getting the boys to help me haul all twenty pieces (I didn't choose something big) with flashlights back to our chopping station. Being able to do this does relieve some of the time crunch.

If the weather cooperates, I'll be all caught up again before the end of the week. That of course is always a big if.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Grateful For Answered Prayer




It's the time of year. Business in the whole area seems to be slowing down. At work the past week our hours were reduced and I think it was across the board. Always a worry for us. It's a lot harder to pay the bills when the check gets smaller.

We prayed that I'd get called in to fill in on one of my days off and this week that's exactly what happened. Next check will look just fine. I am happy but we all did a bit of whining anyway. Dad wants to get more firewood and time to write, Mom doesn't want to play taxi driver, wants time to paint and get chores done, and son didn't want to leave early for work top sit around for thirty minutes until his shift started. Those were the downsides. Am glad God is patient with us.

I don't think were alone in wanting life to be easier. I would love to make enough money from my writing and other endeavors not to have to work for anyone. I also love to have the cash to upgrade our abode to comfortable. I'm still praying for those things. God knows what's good for us and probably life on easy street won't benefit me much.

Answers to my smaller prayers are always appreciated even if I'm not a ray of sunshine every minute of the day.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Surprised To See Me At Work

This is what our undesignated roadway looks like right now.


We started the day with a good snowstorm. Francine had to be in town and Sheldon was brought along for some muscle to help her because they were going to ditch me there. Schools were closed and I half expected everything to be closed. I hadn't gotten a call from work telling me not to come in though.

Bundled up for the trek we waded through the snow to our minivan a half kilometre away. It didn't look promising. Even though the snow was quite fluffy it was pretty deep. I brought the snow shovel. In a worst case scenario we would turn around and come home.

When we got to the road, it of course was not yet ploughed. I wanted to try partly because I hadn't driven our current van in this kind of weather yet. I wanted to see if it handled better or worse than our previous ride. The drifts didn't look insurmountable.

Francine let me drive. I backed her out and then rammed forward. We weren't more than a couple hundred metres from our parking spot when we hit our first drift. Whumpf and we had to stop because we couldn't see anything. Big pile of snow on the hood that had to be cleared before proceeding. Good news was that we'd gotten all the way through to the other side. Snow was still up to the bumper though. I spun the tires trying to get some momentum. That's the point I discovered the one thing I liked better with our old minivan. Spinning the tires on this one dumps all the snow on the windshield.

Visibility was horrible, before getting to the main road we had to stop something like five times to clear snow away from the wipers because they were getting stuck. In spite of the conditions we made good progress and I managed to keep us safely between the ditches. It's about six kilometres to that point. Once we made it to the main road we were home free. The plough had been through there and as long as I kept the speed down there were no other problems.

Francine's destination turned out to be closed but my place of employment were astonished but happy to see me (they know where we live). A lot of people couldn't get in (or said they couldn't) and they had me start early to help fill in. Francine and Sheldon hung out for awhile so that the ploughs would be done their work. She didn't want to try to match me by driving back through all that.

Hopefully this will be the worst storm of the whole season. I'm not likely to be able to drive through anything worse and I can't really afford to lose time at work. The old minivan wouldn't have made it through this one.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Why Keep A Rooster?







I've read articles on keeping a home flock of chickens that recommend not having a rooster. After all, he just eats valuable feed. The hens will lay eggs with or without him. If he isn't there, those eggs won't be fertile but if you aren't breeding, who cares. They taste the same and have the same nutritional value. Well we bred our own birds and I'd like to advocate for the big fella.

Breeding

If you want to breed chickens like we did, you have to have a rooster somewhere in the equation. You either have your own or you have to borrow one at the appropriate time. I recommend against borrowing because introducing a socially dominant bird to your flock and then taking him away again will upset your birds. Might put them off laying for a few days depending on the breed.

Managing a flock with a rooster means you should have some basic understanding of the social structure within your flock. You should also have a basic understanding of their behaviour. I observed a local charity trying to manage a chicken flock with the help of a farmer. Just because someone is a farmer, it doesn't mean they know anything about chickens. This guy didn't have a clue. They got rid of their rooster because he was being too rough with the hens. They proceeded to describe completely normal chicken behaviour to me. Were they expecting him to woo the hens with flowers and box of chocolates?

I've never timed it, but the act for chickens lasts maybe three seconds or so. He might accidentally yank a feather or two out of the back of her neck and his claws might do the same to her back in the process. This is completely normal. His favourite hens can start to look a little ratty after a period of time. If you want your ladies to be pretty, you can actually buy or make a fitted pad for her back that will greatly reduce the “problem”, that won't interfere with her normal movement. Either way don't worry about it. She doesn't care.

One breeding tidbit that will prove useful. Your early in the season hatches will be mostly hens, while your late season hatches will be mostly roosters. I believe temperature is a factor in that, especially with us living in Canada.

Benefits To Your Flock

A good rooster will do a number of good things for your flock.

  • He will lead the hens to food and water before partaking himself.
  • He will watch over the flock while they eat, looking out for danger.
  • If there is danger, he will either try to lead them to safety or he will fight.
  • He will round up stragglers who have wandered too far from the safety of the flock and will scold them for it.
  • He will bring the whole flock in for the night.

None of this might sound like a big deal but if you free range your birds like we did, he'll make things easier. I appreciated seeing him round up everybody every evening so that all I had to do was close and secure the door.

Personality

We managed our bloodlines to optimize the behaviour of our roosters. It has more to do with genetic make up than environment. Genetics makes a good bird or a bad bird. Environment only helped maintain the good traits. Bad environment could however screw up an otherwise good bird.

Our favoured breed was Barred Plymouth Rock, possibly because we started off with an almost perfect rooster. Took great care of the hens, brave to the point of suicidal, yet our young children could pick him up and pet him without risk. Never attacked anyone, yet would face off a big dog if asked to.

We favoured his lineage as much as was practical. His offspring proved a long legacy.

To optimize your roosters. Give them a flock of their own. We managed two small flocks with two roosters. They were kept separate most of the time. This way they didn't have to fight for their hens with each other.

Keeping a flock of roosters for meat was a mistake. They fought all the time and didn't grow like we'd hoped. Compared to our breeder flock birds, these roosters all developed dysfunctional personalities. I won't make that mistake again.

Final Word

This isn't meant to be a complete guide on taking care of a home flock of chickens. If you want to do this, at least read a good book or guide on the subject. I hope anyone reading this finds it helpful. We really enjoyed our flock of birds. When circumstances permit, we won't hesitate to do it all again.

Monday, 11 January 2016

How I Got My Hangman's Scar



Dry summer day in ranch country dawned and I was ready to continue cycling toward home. Spent the night camping on the edge of someone's field where there was little risk of rolling over into a cowpat. In this part of the United States, I hadn't run into trouble with anyone pitching camp like that, so I was expecting a boring day.

A short while after eating my breakfast, once I'd gotten a good rhythm going with my pedals, a beat up old pickup truck approached from behind, kicking up a cloud of dust as it went. It drove by slowly so that the local rednecks inside could get a good look at me. Long distance bicycle tourists attract some odd attention sometimes so I didn't think anything of it. Just gave them and their German shepherd a friendly nod of greeting.

They pulled on ahead a ways before stopping and turning the truck to block my path. This was starting to get weird. The two men got out of the truck. One of them had a rifle and ordered me to stop. I did as I was told and they slowly approached keeping the gun trained on me. The dog glared at me, walking a step behind his master.

“Where were you last night, boy?”

“Just riding through. I camped alongside the road for the night.”

“Last night about ten head from my herd disappeared. You know anything about that?”

“No. I'm riding a bicycle. How could I?”

“Clyde here says he saw you last night except you were riding a horse. Know what we do with cattle rustlers here?”

“This is crazy...”

Clyde went back to the truck to retrieve a coil of rope and on his way back started fashioning a noose. I was panicking and tried to slowly back away from the scene.

“Don't even think about running, boy! I won't need much of an excuse to put a bullet in you!”

I waited shaking like a leaf. Trying to reason with them. Begging them. Clyde slipped his noose around my neck and tightened it up to the point that it was hard to breathe. The marched me off toward a nearby tree. The dog growled at me the whole time.

“This'll do just fine. Throw the rope up over that branch. He'll swing well from there.”

They were in the process of hauling me off the ground when a couple of their friends arrived and told them they had the wrong guy. The sheriff had caught the real rustlers about twenty minutes earlier. They heard the news over their two-way radio. Lucky me. They let go of the rope and I fell to the ground. Thought I was going to strangle to death anyway before they managed to loosen the noose up enough to get it back off of me. As I gulped in great lung fulls of air, they gave me a brief apology and wished me a safe trip. Then they just left. Rope burn on my neck there burned like the dickens for a couple of days.

This isn't really how I got that scar but it sounds a lot more exciting than what really happened.

In reality, I got home from work one day to find that our free-range Muscovy ducks had decided to take over the chicken house. I chased all the drakes out but Petunia the hen flew up to some old pigeon nesting boxes. When I reached for her, she panicked. Muscovies have really long claws on their webbed feet and she scratched me but good across the neck. It was just a scratch. I still find it hard to believe it left that much of a visible scar.

In the photo, I'm trying to sneer for effect but I look more like I've suffering some dreadful pain. We had a lot of trouble getting the lighting right for the scar and that was the best shot in the bunch. I got tired of posing and Francine got tired of snapping pictures.

Incidentally, I did a lot of cycling in the USA and never encountered anything like that. I found Americans by and large friendly and hospitable. They aren't the gun wielding lunatics everybody keeps seeing on the news.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Our Cursed Internet Connection



Xplornet is not my favourite Internet provider. Unfortunately where we live, they are the only game in town. There are things about them that really bug me but we're resigned to live with it.

First and foremost their customer service really sucks. Thankfully for the past year we haven't needed their help much. Prior to that the system had some reliability issues and calling them to solve anything was a nightmare.

To troubleshoot they want you on a land line phone. Guess what? We don't have a land line and where we live we can't get one. Our phone works through the Internet. We did our best to work with it. We would use the neighbour's phone and relay instructions by walkie talkie. Great idea if someone answers the phone on their end and goes through the troubleshooting before the batteries go dead. Good luck with that.

We have learned by experience that when you go over your monthly limit they don't just charge more. They also slow your connection way down until the month cycle restarts. With seven users in the household that sometimes happens to us. Like right now and we get to suffer until Saturday. Not real happy with a connection that allows us to do very little right now. The company doesn't tell you about this by the way. We heard that they did this and experience has told us that it is true. On the bright side it's impossible to get whacked with huge overage fees like this.

For the next few days we will just suffer.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

A Date With My Chainsaw



When the firewood stockpile is getting depleted and the temperatures are cold, I know what I get to do at every opportunity. I get to cut down and cut up dead trees. Today has left me pretty tired and sore although the cold crisp weather was beautiful.

No big issues today. My first victim was out in the open. As long as it didn't fall on me, I really didn't care which way it went. I cut if down before the gang was ready to start hauling the logs for splitting. After checking the forecast I decided to take down a couple more. The boys should have (they better have) the wood all rounded up before there is any more snow to bury my work.

Those two trees were a bit more dicey, so I had Sheldon spotting, in case things went wrong. They snagged a couple times on the surrounding trees but with a little wrestling they came down right where I wanted them. Fifty-one more pieces for the boys to haul. Better looking wood than the first one too. I expected significant rot on them, but there was almost none. We'll be nice and warm burning these.

Plenty more out there for us. One of the neighbouring lot owners gave me permission to take all the dead trees on his land (they're a bit of a fire hazard the way they are) and I can take anything in the whole area that is already on the ground. The key is having the right weather on my days off and the energy to process it all.

Much as I hate to admit it, I don't have the energy or strength I once had. A day of cutting that much tires me out without even having put in much time with my six pound splitting maul busting it all up into wood stove size pieces. Thankfully I can still terrorize the boys into hauling most of it for me.

It was a good day though. A couple of days like this each month and we should be just fine.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

We Are the Borg...


The boys had to go outside in the dark to fetch firewood because they were too busy playing online games while it was daylight. At the door they realized they forgot to grab one of their flashlights first. Maybe they didn't forget because they were eager to borrow my head strap flashlight. I didn't know why until I let them in with the first arm full.

Francine bought it for me on an inspiration because it would allow me to have both my hands free while dealing with whatever late chore was on my plate. I always wore it up on my forehead like a miners head lamp. Never occurred to me how cool it would look wearing it as an eye patch. The picture was very difficult to take because of lighting problems. It still doesn't quite capture reality but I'm sure it comes close.

First thing I did was laugh and then referring to one of the kids favourite animated movies, Treasure Planet, I intoned, "Beware the Cyborg."

The weather is miserable cold but the family sense of humour keeps us going. Both Brandon and Andrew took turns with the look but since it was Andrew's idea, he got to be the model for the photo shoot. Remember resistance is futile.

Saturday, 2 January 2016

New Year New Habit


Courtesy Pixabay

I seem to remember a sermon on overcoming that it takes three months to establish a good habit. I might not be remembering this very well. Granted I remember who delivered this message and we're friends on Facebook, so maybe I could just ask him. If he's anything like me though, he probably doesn't remember unless he has the source somewhere on file. At the time I'm assuming he was quoting some reputable psychology study and knowing him he probably was. Googling the question out online didn't make anything clearer.

Numerous articles claim it only takes 21 days. That sounds a lot easier but I couldn't find any research and my own experience doubts the truth of that.

One article I found made the statement that everyone knows it takes 28 days. There's a convincing source. Kind of sad that I'm the only one who didn't know that. Now I know and if it doesn't work I'll really be disappointed.

Looks to me like that I'm best off relying on my own experience because it all appears to be opinion anyway. I think it depends on the person, the particular habit in question and the environment at the time. I can fall into bad habits with no effort at all but I've tried establishing good habits and some of those don't seem to stick after years of effort.

I'm a writer and am well into a personal challenge to write 30 blog posts/articles in 30 days. A week and a half in and I'm one ahead of the pace. The idea isn't just to accomplish this for thirty days. I'm trying to establish a productive lifetime writing habit. Hard to do and too easy to fall back out of. I've been there before and I know that 21 days or 28 or even three months might not do it.

If you've started a New Year's resolution or are trying to improve yourself in any way, more power to you. Stick to it. It's worth it. Just don't think there is some magic formula.