Category Archives: Humour

The Joy of Owning a Wood Chipper

I can’t say that many nick names have stuck with me over the years. The name André doesn’t really shorten all that well.

Some have tried calling me “An” which sounded awkward and too short for a nickname, if that is even possible. “Dré” gained traction with some of my friends and I would still respond to it today, but due to the pandemic, no one has called me that for some time.

But now, if someone decided to call me “Chip”, it would be totally justified, thanks to my favourite new garden tool: our electric wood chipper.

If someone had told me just a few years ago that someday I would own a wood chipper, I would have recommended that they seek medical attention or to review the dosage of their meds.

From my vantage point, there was no way in the world that this city boy would ever own a wood chipper. To me, that was a tool reserved for properties in the deep woods and as props in movies like “Fargo”.

Never say never.

Here we are, living in the country, and I am now the proud owner of a wood chipper.

Regular readers might recall my blog post in 2020, “Country Living and Non-Stop Pick-Up Sticks”, which described how our “tree lined lot” had indeed lots and lots of trees. There were also lots and lots of dead twigs and branches that would get shaken out, even during the most gentle of breezes.

At that time, my new hobby was a resurrection of the game called “pick up sticks.” While working from home, the opportunity to step outside during breaks and lunch time and gather a little bucket of branches was also a welcomed opportunity to enjoy some fresh air and sunshine.

But the big question was what to do with the piles of branches that had accumulated. At that time, chopping them with the help of my chainsaw and pruning shears and placing them into paper yard waste bags seemed like the best option. It was a slow process, but it was effective.

Not too long ago, my partner was hunting for yard equipment on various hardware store web sites when a light duty wood chipper caught his eye. What a life-changing discovery!

We compared a few models, checked out a few videos on YouTube on how to use them and settled on this particular model from our beloved Canadian Tire store.

Let’s be honest. This wood chipper would never become the subject of a Stephen King novel or a Quentin Tarantino movie. It’s just a little one, but it offers the functionality we need.

The user manual says that it can handle branches up to 1 1/4 inches, which is perfectly fine as that accounts for maybe 95% of the twigs we accumulate.

Anything bigger than that goes into a little woodpile that I am slowly building. The free firewood might come in handy if we ever decide to get a fire pit for our patio.

I truly believe that my office experience with shredders was an excellent prerequisite for working with a wood chipper. I seem to have a good intuition for when a handful of little branches might be too much, in the same way as knowing the right amount of paper to feed into an office shredder without giving it indigestion. Only on a couple of occasions have I had to unplug the chipper and open it to remove an obstruction.

At the bottom of the chipper is a nifty plastic box to collect the resulting chips. We have been able to turn them into free home-made mulch addressing the problem of one of our shade trees that has become home to a variety of weeds over the last two seasons.

One lesson I will have to learn is how to navigate breathing while operating the chipper. After my first few sessions, my lungs felt rather ticklish for a day, producing a mild cough, but it went away. (Note: It wasn’t Covid-19. I ran weekly rapid tests, just to be sure.)

After any session in the garden, I tend to use a neti pot to rinse out my sinuses and keep the pollen count in my nose as low as possible. The first time I used the neti pot after a chipping session I couldn’t get over the particles I released, in the same shade and colour as the mulch I spread under the tree.

Clearly I have two choices, hold my breath (not really an option) or wear a dust mask in addition to the eye and ear protection I am already wearing. It’s a glamourous look… watch for it on the runways of Paris for next spring!

Just recently, I noticed that the machine seemed to be losing its appetite for processing the branches and twigs. I suspected that the blades had gone dull, given how much I had used it in clearing our backlog of branches accumulated over the winter months.

After a thorough consultation of the user manual, I succeeded in opening the chipper and changing the blades. After that, the branches were going through like a hot knife through butter. I was overjoyed at being able to add another new skill to my CV of rural property maintenance!

Even though we have only had the wood chipper for a month, I am convinced of its merits as it has already found an important place in our routine for maintaining the curb appeal of our little country home.

I don’t want to play favourites among garden equipment, but I really appreciate this practical tool!

As a result, if you start calling me “Chip”, I will be sure to respond.

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Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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The Curious Inconsistency in Clothing

an antique cash registerA few years ago, a group of friends and I went factory outlet shopping to a picturesque location a couple of hours away.

During this trip, I bought two 3-packs of a popular brand of underwear, in the same brand, style and size as I was actually wearing at the time. What could possibly go wrong?

When I returned home a couple of days later, I ran them through the wash.

Even though I didn’t do anything differently than I did with the underwear purchased previously, when I tried on my new skivvies, I had to look at the packaging again to make sure I didn’t accidentally buy boy’s size medium. My legs were choking from the lack of circulation… And my waistline… well…

It is true that as I got older, my weight did see slight fluctuations, but definitely not enough to graduate to the next size up in undergarments.

I also admit that it only takes one salty meal to have me retaining water like a sponge. But then again, not to the point of going beyond the allowable stretchiness of a poly-cotton blend.

Unless I could suddenly lose something like 40% of my body weight, there was no way I could make use of these new undies.

My emotions ran from sadness to irritation (and not just from the underwear that was chafing as I breathed). Continue reading

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Let Me Explain… No, Never Mind

An overhead shot of a writing desk, containing a pen, a pad of paper and a cup of coffee.It is rather funny the habits we pick up along life’s journey, especially the ones that become less relevant at a different stage in life.

For me, it is the need to explain… to justify… to contextualize… to rationalize.

It is an impulse with very deep roots that I find somewhat challenging to reprogram.

Over the span of my 33 year career, many of our day-to-day transactions needed to be supported by a business case and more often than not, a justification. Frankly, I didn’t mind too much, as justifications seemed, for lack of a better word, “justified” in the business world.

That being the case, in learning to write for the public sector, the development of well crafted, logical justifications was a recurring task. It was the way to bring an issue to senior management and to seek approval to proceed with a proposed solution. And, might I say, what a great learning opportunity for an aspiring writer!

When I received confirmation that a business case or a justification I wrote (or co-wrote) was approved, it always took me back to childhood. It felt just like it did when I received a gold star on my report card.

To see an idea come to fruition was always so gratifying. Continue reading

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The Glitch of the Week

A close up shot of a computer keyboardIs it just me or have some eCommerce systems suddenly gone glitchy?

Just as I started settling into retirement, enjoying more free time to relax and to enjoy life, I regret that some of that reclaimed time is getting gobbled up, cleaning up after glitchy systems.

It seems that at least every week or two, I am on the phone (or communicating via chat-boxes) with different companies about system issues.

For example, I had an order cancelled without notification to me (and I was still waiting for it, weeks later). I had an order shipped to a nearby store location, but no notification that it had arrived (and was soon to be shipped back). I had several orders marked “undeliverable” when a given company had delivered parcels to our house countless times before.

Of course, none of these situations were catastrophic by any stretch of the imagination. There are far more serious problems in the world, and I do try to maintain a level-headed perspective in light of these situations.

I completely understand that mishaps happen and I am always willing to offer the benefit of the doubt. But when there seems to be surprising regularity to these mishaps, not isolated to a single company, it does make one wonder what is going on in the world of system development.

Have systems been ramped up too quickly to handle the onslaught on online shopping during the pandemic?

Are systems properly designed for every eventuality? Continue reading

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Kitchen Claustrophobia

a spread of party food sitting on a turquoise blue stovetopAm I the only one who suffers from kitchen claustrophobia… or is it acrophobia? Whatever the clinical term might be, I am referring to a fear of mountains of dishes, leaving little room to navigate.

It’s not a fear that causes me sleepless nights but I will admit that it does trigger a compulsion for keeping the kitchen as clutter-free as possible.

When I first moved out on my own, I always kept a pretty tidy bachelor pad. However I was a bit more lenient in the kitchen area. Without a dishwasher in my modest little galley kitchen, I sometimes let dishes go for a day or two, until there was enough to warrant pulling out the rubber gloves. After all, it was just me producing dishes, and I admit I became pretty frugal in my use of dishes (i.e., eating out of napkins or over the kitchen sink) to avoid accumulations.

But it didn’t take long for me to figure out that this approach was not entirely practical with a kitchen that was just slightly larger than a postage stamp.

Plus, when consuming all three meals at home (I lived just a couple of blocks from my office so I could easily dash home at lunch time), some pile ups came quickly. Continue reading

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Farewell My Long Johns

Scene of a winter wonderlandHave you ever noticed how there are some things that are so important at certain stages of our lives yet much less important in others?

This observation came to me when I unpacked a box marked “winter clothes” and discovered a veritable treasure trove of long underwear.

Given the number and variety of styles and fabrics contained in that box, you’d think I was stocking up for the next ice age or potentially planning to design a wardrobe of superhero costumes.

In the ensuing walk down memory lane, I recalled how “long johns”, as we referred to them, were an essential article of clothing in childhood.

Back in school, on winter days when Ottawa lived up to its title as one of the coldest capitals in the world, they offered an extra layer of protection under my clothing during recess.

On winter weekends, whether my family was outside, skating on the Rideau Canal or enjoying the fresh powder on the nearby ski slopes, long johns under my snow pants were an essential for keeping extra warm. Continue reading

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In Pursuit of the Perfect Pillow

A picture of a cat in a pile of bedsheets and pillowcases.

Ivy the cat “helping” with the laundry of the bedsheets and pillowcases

While I wouldn’t consider myself to be particularly picky, it would seem that for all of the comparison shopping I do, I am perhaps very “discerning”. How is that for a positive spin?

And frankly, why would I buy something that isn’t exactly what I am looking for especially when health and comfort are part of the equation?

The head-scratcher is how fortunate we are to have as many shopping options as we do, yet it often feels like we are looking for a needle in a haystack.

This particular hunt holds similarities to a Goldilocks-style tale given that we have elements of “too hard”, “too soft” and “just right”. Although in my case it seems like it’s never hard enough… I’m talking about pillows.

As far back as I can remember, I have preferred firm mattresses. Over the years, I discovered that I felt the same way about pillows.

It used to be that I could buy a pillow and it would last for years. Lately, that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore and a firm pillow tends not to stay firm for very long.

I wonder to myself if it’s the weight distribution of my body. Could it be because of my huge, round, beach ball of a Charlie Brown head? Is it possible that I am wearing them out faster than most people? Continue reading

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City Boy Discovers Chainsaw

A few years ago, if someone had told me, “Someday you will own a chainsaw”, I would have politely recommended that they seek help from a medical professional, as there was no way that this city boy would ever own a chainsaw.

Never say never.

Here we are… living in the country and I now own a chainsaw… not out of frivolity, but out of necessity.

I have to admit it, I really enjoy using the chainsaw (but just to clarify, not in a horror movie kind of way).

We are most fortunate to be living on a beautiful tree-lined lot, surrounded by many mature trees. However, it doesn’t take a violent storm to generate an assortment of fallen twigs and branches across our lawn. A gentle breeze is all it takes, which is pretty much a daily event.

Last year, I wrote about how living in the country had become a nonstop game of “Pick-up sticks”. Every day, I was outside picking up branches and sticks. It wasn’t a complaint, as I was enjoying the fresh air and sunshine while doing it, it was just an observation. However, it was something that I had never experienced while living in my condo in the city. The most cleanup I ever had to do there was picking up garbage produced by my fellow humans or unscooped doggie waste, but never branches.

Here, in the country, the big question is what to do with the branches, when you don’t own a wood stove or fireplace. Letting them accumulate is not an option, as these make great shelters for rodents who may opt later to move up the property ladder and sneak into the house. Disposing of the branches is the only option, but the sanitation department will not take them as-is. The branches need to be broken down.

With the number of branches we have to process on a regular basis, pruning shears and hand saws just won’t cut it, please forgive the pun. Continue reading

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Farewell, My Beloved Office Chair

I think it would be fair to say that in retirement, I dearly miss my colleagues. After working together for so many years, of course I miss our day-to-day interactions, working together to solve the problems of the universe. In doing so, we shared many memorable moments and even some funny times too that will be the source of many fun walks down memory lane in the future.

But there is another component of the office that also tugs at my heartstrings… I would like to introduce you to my beloved office chair.

It may be a sad sight but this chair has seen me through hundreds of work emergencies, interactions with clients, operational policy decisions, corporate reorganizations, and masterpieces of corporate writing. Through it all, it has been faithfully there, providing support and comfort through great times and challenging times.

I don’t know exactly how old it is, but when the pandemic forced us to work from home, it was indeed showing its age despite the fact that it fit me like a glove in all the right places. The last time I saw it, it looked worse than in the picture, as some of the stuffing was now escaping through the open fabric.

Nonetheless, this chair was like magic. If I ever had a twinge in my lower back, it acted like my own personal chiropractor. After sitting in it for 30-45 minutes, I would get up and hear a “clickity-click” in my back, and minor issues seemed to vanish.

For someone whose office was generally neat and tidy, the state of this chair stuck out like a sore thumb.

Back in the pre-Covid 19 days, passersby were known to stop, point and whisper. When they did, I just whispered to the chair, “It’s OK, people just don’t understand. You are great you just the way that you are!”

On several occasions, management had generously offered to swap it out for another one, but I politely declined their offer to replace it. The problem was that this specific model was discontinued and finding a substitute was no easy task. Continue reading

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Country Roads, Dirty Car

When making the decision to move to the country, there really isn’t a reference manual of things to consider before taking the plunge… except perhaps Erma Bombeck’s classic, “The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank” (which, by the way, it really is!)

Just the same, I took the plunge into rural life in good faith, knowing I would learn or figure things out as I went along.

But had there been such a handbook, I am certain that there would have been a whole chapter warning Type A people like me to forget about keeping an immaculately clean car. Even if you do succeed in cleaning your car, it probably won’t stay that way for very long.

That’s just the way it is… or at least that is what I have experienced over the last year.

I’ve never been one to ever have a cluttered car, and that part hasn’t changed. But I always tried to keep the interior as clean as possible. And when Covid-19 first hit, my car was sanitized so frequently, you could have performed surgery in there.

All that changed when I moved to a rural address, where gravel roads are pretty common for getting around the community. And given that we live on a gravel road, I tried and tried, but there is no way that the car can tip-toe its way through the dust and dirt to get to our house. Continue reading

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