Category Archives: stories

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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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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The Game of “Name Those Tracks”

animal tracks in the snowOnce we settled into our home the country, there has been no shortage of interesting discoveries when it came to the flora and fauna in the neighbourhood.

In winter, I find endless wonder and fascination in checking out the animal tracks in the snow in every corner of our property.

When I do, it turns into a bit of a CSI-style forensic game of “name those tracks”. While we have a number of regular visitors that make the short list of suspects, there are a few that stop by make one or two guest appearances, just to make the game more interesting.

Sometimes, the game is a bit of a throwback to primary school science classes when we learned about the wildlife that roams in this part of the country. I remember countless hours memorizing their unique characteristics, including the tracks that they leave behind.

The bird tracks are easy to pick out, as are those of our squirrels and chipmunks who must be suffering from insomnia this year as they aren’t really showing signs of hibernation. Their tracks are everywhere!

But there is evidence of other small animals that seem to visit us given the size of the tracks. I assume that they must be nocturnal critters, given how a morning stroll often yields new tracks to observe. Continue reading

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Any Time is Cereal Time

a bowl of Cheerios cerealIt’s only when you start living with someone that you find out that something that might appear perfectly normal to you, might look weird to someone else.

With my partner and me, one of those things is cereal.

My partner typically eats cereal in the morning as many people do. But for myself, any time is cereal time.

However, I had no idea that my way of consuming this crunchy goodness later in the day would raise eyebrows in the way that it did.

It was when I confessed to him that I rarely ate cereal before noon that I seemed to truly go… against the grain.

The reality is that while I was growing up, the health food store was a regular stop on our weekly errands, long before health food stores gained the popularity that they attract today.

On grocery day, it didn’t matter how many cereal commercials I could quote from my Saturday morning cartoons “as part of a balanced breakfast”, brown eggs, yogurt and protein shakes were the preferred breakfast options in our household. Continue reading

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What Day of the Week Is It?

clocksAt first, I started wondering if it was just me who was losing his marbles.

For someone who has always kept a close eye on the clock and the calendar to ensure the timely completion of tasks, rarely did I ever lose track of the day of the week… except maybe around national holidays which often messed up the natural order of things.

But in retirement, it’s a different story. With fewer deadlines to anchor my sense of time, there have been weeks when I couldn’t tell my Tuesday from my Wednesday.

It didn’t take long for me to see the sharp contrast between my work life and my retirement life to understand why this happens and how logically, it makes perfect sense… at least in my mind.

The routine before the pandemic

Before the pandemic, it would have been unthinkable to go a full work day without checking my calendar at least a few times. Just the process of keeping an eye out for that day’s deliverables and the ones in the coming days provided multiple reminders to reinforce what day of the week it was.

On top of that, each day of the week had its fixed milestones, such as weekly meetings, the delivery of weekly status updates on key files, or the completion of time sheets at the end of the week. Each of these tasks served as additional points of reference in the constant juggling act of time management. Continue reading

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My Car Booster Seat

Car cushionI admit that I have often chuckled at jokes referring to little old ladies who need to sit on telephone books to see over the car’s dash board. But karma has the last laugh when I open my car door and am reminded that I am the little old man who needs a booster seat.

Through my adult years, I can’t say that I have ever had an issue with my lack of height. I keep hoping for a sudden growth spurt – even at age 56 – but Mother Nature never seems to deliver.

When I do tell people exactly how tall I am, people have looked at me and said, “No way, I thought you were taller!” I guess all of those years of watching TLC’s “What Not to Wear” and incorporating wardrobe tricks for the vertically-challenged seem to have paid off. And I think that sometimes having a big personality probably helps too.

But whenever a friend or family member joined me for a ride in my car (pre-pandemic, of course), the wedge cushion that acted as my booster seat has been a conversation piece for the last four cars.

It doesn’t matter how compact my car might be and it doesn’t matter how many ways the seat can be moved up, forward or angled, the wedge cushion has been a necessity for me to get into the perfect position for driving. With a disc issue in my back that has lingered on and off for decades, my spine does not tolerate well the design of deep buckets in so many of today’s car seats. Continue reading

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A Post about Toast

Two perfect toasted pieces of toast on a plateThey say that in life, you need goals, right?

It’s not that I lack ambition, but some days, just getting the perfect piece of toast is a major achievement.

It’s like a duel between me and the toaster. It’s like Wile E. Coyote versus the Road Runner… and this is from someone who doesn’t really have a competitive streak.

It really boils down to choosing the correct setting number on the toaster, based on the type of bread that I am using on that particular day. Given the variables involved, some days I feel like I am playing the “Safe Cracker” game on The Price is Right.

When I correctly choose the setting number and out comes a perfect piece of toast, I feel like Rocky in that scene when he successfully runs up that staircase at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

When I don’t get the right setting, the overcooked, petrified toast makes me feel defeated like Charlie Brown, after Lucy takes away the football just as he is about to kick it across the field.

Wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if we could just put bread into the slot, pull down the lever and walk away, knowing that a perfect piece of toast will be ready moments later?

I imagine that some of you might be asking, “Is your toaster broken? Mine comes out fine.”

I am pretty sure that my toaster works fine too. The problem is that my bread choices are constantly evolving. If I stuck to the same kind of bread every day, a perfect piece of toast could indeed be feasible. Continue reading

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