Remembrance Day 2015

Centennial of In Flanders Fields

To commemorate Remembrance Day, Bob wrote a brief background to the iconic poem of World War One, In Flanders Fields. Click the image above to see his 2015 Remembrance Day. Here is what Bob said on his MPP web site…

One hundred years ago, amid the carnage and chaos of World War One, and while at the front, Canadian Army Doctor (then Major) John McCrae wrote the most recognized poem of the war, and probably any war. He called it In Flanders Fields.

Said Sergeant-Major Cyril Allinson, the first person to ever read John McCrae’s In Flanders Fields, “The poem was an exact description of the scene in front of us both. He used the word blow in that line because the poppies actually were being blown that morning by a gentle east wind.” It was May 3, 1915.

McCrae’s friend and fellow soldier Alexis Helmer had just died in the Second Battle of Ypres that spring. McCrae had just presided over Helmer’s funeral when he wrote his iconic words. McCrae didn’t have to be in France. He was 41 years old. He had fought in the Boer War at the turn of the century, and volunteered with the Canadian Expeditionary Force following the outbreak of World War One in the summer of 1914.

Just prior to the writing of In Flanders Fields, the German Army had attacked the Canadians and the British Expeditionary Force at Ypres, using chlorine gas. McCrae’s friend Alex Helmer was killed on May 2. McCrae, a native of Guelph Ontario, did not survive World War One.

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A farewell to summer

While Bob followed the Toronto Blue Jays journey into the baseball post-season, and I tried to learn the cricket-like game, autumn was also a time to bid farewell to the things we treasure most about our home: our divine garden and the ability to have our ‘outdoor rooms’ during the good weather.

We enjoyed a sumptuous Thanksgiving feast this October. Thanksgiving weekend was a balmy throwback to summer, with daytime highs in the mid-20s. Bob wanted scalloped potatoes to go with the turkey dinner, and set out to make it with me. We were both surprised at how relatively simple it was to do, and how good it tasted. We used my toaster oven to bake it, and of course, eliminated much of the salt for our customary low-sodium dish, substituting instead fresh herbs and spices picked that day from the garden to bring out the taste of the potatoes.

That Thanksgiving weekend, we put out four bulging yard waste bags. Bob cut the grass, and I disassembled many of the crumbling annual flower arrangements, and took down the tomato plants that gave us such a bumper crop of delicious tomatoes to enjoy all summer long. I have made pesto for our winter cooking, and our friends have received some big and tasty tomatoes in recent weeks. On an unusually cool post-Thanksgiving weekend, much of the balance of autumn take-down happened, with the lawn ornaments being wrapped and boxed, and the patio furniture stored. Bob also wrapped our downspouts with bird wire to keep the neighbourhood raccoons from moving into our attic. We have already found out how destructive they are.

It has been a summer of having mechanical things fall apart, the latest of which was the lawn mower, for the second time this year. Earlier in the summer, the power switch on the handle failed, and halfway through the last grass-cutting, while I was away taking a test for my immigration consultant certification, the motor failed on Bob. Luckily, our neighbour behind us was right there, and Bob finished the job with our neighbour’s mower. We have the reconditioned lawn mower back, and Black and Decker threw in a few extra fix-ups because it was the second time the mower was in the shop. It reminds me of the story of the farmer who boasted of his generations-old belt. It had had several new straps, and half as many new buckles, but every generation swore it was the same old belt.

Bob, Andrea and Bebe

From among our annual Christmas Card photo shoot for 2015, this shot is taken by the banks of the Credit River late on a cool mid-October afternoon.

We recently took our annual Christmas card picture. It is our first without Obi-Wan. It is hard not to think of him as we remember him following us around the yard while we did the annual autumn take-down tasks. Bébé was very good in her first Christmas photo as the ‘top cat.’ We took it at Streetsville Memorial Park on a cool, dry mid-October late afternoon. The sun peeked through the cloud cover just long enough to let us get the last golden rays of a fading Ontario afternoon.

This summer, I set out to do the on-line certification program to become certified as an immigration consultant in Canada. Much of it is complementary to what I learned as the Executive Director of Inter-Cultural Neighbourhood Social Services. However, there is a lot of new information that I never knew in about 15 years of being in the settlement services business. Taking the English-language proficiency test, however, is mandatory. There is both a spoken and a written component. It happened in two parts over the Saturday of our Canadian Thanksgiving weekend in October. Bob was teasing me about whether I was able to prove I could speak English. Indeed, according to the metrics measured in the various tests, I can speak English. Everybody has to do it to become certified.

I hope everyone has had a pleasant autumn thus far. Look out for our 2015 Christmas card in the coming weeks.

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Our iconic cat is gone: Obi-Wan, 1999 – 2015

Obi-Wan in his basket

Obi-Wan’s favourite place to take a nap was in his basket at home in the hallway near the kitchen. He liked to be close enough to hear conversations among his people and our guests when they came to our home.

It is with deep sadness and sorrow that Bob and I convey to friends and family the passing of our eldest cat, Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan died at 6:34 p.m. on the afternoon of Monday July 27, 2015, secure with Bob and I, in his basket and with love, compassion and mercy at his vet’s. My children, Zachary and Nicklaus, came to the vet’s office to bid goodbye to Obi-Wan. It was they who picked him out of a litter born in Wasaga Beach, Ontario in September of 1999. Obi-Wan lived with us for a bit more than three years before Bob and I became a couple.

Obi-Wan lived for 15 years and almost 11 months. Obi-Wan was diagnosed with chronic and incurable kidney failure in April, 2015. Much to the pleasant surprise of his vet, he responded to drug therapy, and for nearly four months, remained in good health. Obi-Wan did much better than anyone expected, and even went off his pain killers for more than a month in June and July.

In July’s fading days, Obi-Wan began to have trouble keeping food down, and became visibly uncomfortable. During the weekend of July 24 to 26, he began to have trouble eating. By Sunday of that weekend, he had stopped eating. He showed the remainder of the end-of-life kidney failure symptoms he had not exhibited before. We were not going to let Obi-Wan linger or suffer through a predictable decline. Through the weekend, his condition worsened. His vet confirmed that his poor little kidneys had shrunk to less than half their normal size. His organs could no longer rid his body of its poisons, which built up within Obi-Wan. His heart, however, was as big and strong as ever. Of course, we knew that part, though the vet confirmed it in her final examination of him.

Obi-Wan and babies

Here at a 2007 Christmas party at Erin Meadows seniors’ residence in Mississauga, Obi-Wan let two little babies play with him.

Obi-Wan’s enduring legacy

Obi-Wan has been on our Christmas card every year since 2004. Local Mississauga residents have seen Obi-Wan at the Streetsville Santa Claus Parade every year for the past nine years. Obi-Wan attended the Streetsville Bread and Honey Festival, was a frequent visitor to seniors’ homes, and went with Bob to many of his community events as an Ontario Member of Provincial Parliament. Obi-Wan was picked up, handled and patted by hundreds of kids, been photographed countless times. He came with us as we inspected our present home while it was being built in 2005.

Every animal that sheds its instinctive reserve and embraces a human being, loving and being loved, is a special animal. One like Obi-Wan, who worked at being a good communicator, who would shake hands, sit on command, sit up for treats (especially his favourite, cooked ham), who loved learning things, and who loved being with people transcends the special to the unique. It is no exaggeration to call Obi-Wan our city’s best-known cat. Watching Obi-Wan shake hands with visitors, our guests would normally exclaim, “I have never in my life seen a cat do that.” That was Obi-Wan. He sat in the living room to take in the discussion, seldom further away than his basket so that he could hear what was being said.

Obi-Wan in his prime: hopping up on the counter to share a Sunday morning with Mummy, reading the newspaper together.

Obi-Wan in his prime in 2009: hopping up on the counter to share a Sunday morning with Mummy, reading the newspaper together. He would focus so intently on the newspaper that one would wonder if he really could understand what was inside the pages.

Obi-Wan’s last journey

Even as Obi-Wan was part of our public face, he brought Bob and I so much joy and companionship at home. Obi-Wan was there whenever one of us fell ill, or went through challenging times. Obi-Wan has had his own health issues through his life as well. He survived a bad reaction to vaccines years ago. He was diagnosed with diabetes in 2007; and made the journey of being a managed diabetic with us. He knew how to tell us when his blood sugar was high or low. Obi-Wan was never a problem when measuring his blood glucose or administering insulin. He has survived pancreas and liver infections. In recent years, his eyes began to form cataracts, and he struggled with osteo-arthritis in the past two years. He was in some pain, and having trouble getting around. Obi-Wan spent two days in April with his vet trying to flush out his kidneys after his chronic kidney failure diagnosis. His vet saw him again in June, and was amazed at how he had managed. His kidneys, however, were not getting better. He was then stable at stage three of four stages. Obi-Wan had good months in May and June, and up until mid-July. Though his taste in cat food changed, he kept a strong appetite. It was only in mid-July that Obi-Wan clearly dropped into stage four of terminal kidney failure, with vomiting and diarrhea problems beginning in recent days. There was no doubt that for Obi-Wan, life had become a struggle for existence.

By the winter of 2015, Obi-Wan could no longer hop up onto our bed to sleep at night, needing a lift up and preferably down when he did come. In the past few months, he has stayed downstairs at night, though he would, until his very last few days, climb the stairs in the morning to wake everybody up. Obi-Wan didn’t complain when we offered him a ride back down the stairs in the morning. Ever independent, he squirmed as soon as he was on the main floor, letting us know he was quite capable of walking from there, thank you very much. He gratefully accepted a footstool to help him get up on his favourite living room chair, owing to the pain in his joints. Right to the end, he used the cat port in the screen door to go for a stroll in the back yard, taking a nap in the gazebo on his second-last day, and sniffing the outdoor air to check up on who was around his yard. He walked around to have a last look at his house before we left for the vet. He was a loyal, loving, big boy cat with a sense of humour to bring a smile or a laugh to his people when they needed it most.

Obi-Wan in 2009

Here was our big boy as we knew him best. His eyes and heart were full of love every day of his life. We will never be able to forget Obi-Wan. His life has enriched our own and so many others. Thank you, Obi-Wan. Click the picture for a larger size.

We will have a much more extensive photo gallery of Obi-Wan on the web site soon. Obi-Wan’s friends, and those who admire him, can visit his Facebook Page to share their thoughts.

A new Texas foal named Obi-Wan

A Texas classmate friend of mine from the 1960s, Lomas Sharma, has named a new male foal, born August 2015 after Obi-Wan.

A Prayer for Obi-Wan

Heavenly Father, Creator of all things, thank You for having entrusted us with such a loyal friend as Obi-Wan. Thank You for letting this handsome animal teach us unselfish love. Thank You for the memories we will recall to brighten our days for the rest of our lives. Finally, in gratitude, we return the spirit of our cherished companion, Obi-Wan, to You, until we meet again in glory. Amen.

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Our bird family

Family of red-breasted robins

This spring, a couple of red-breasted robins decided to build their nest in our crabapple tree along the side. Then along came some eggs, and we had a family move in. This year of 2015, there has been songbird music as never before, and Mr. and Mrs. Robin have been attentive parents. We have seen two little baby birds poke their heads up over the edge of the nest.

Birds' nest in the crabapple

Our family of red-breasted robins who have set up house in our crabapple tree by the side. You can see Mom on the top, and the two little ones peeking out just below her.

Our principal worry was a wicked weekend of wild weather near the end of June, with driving rain and very high winds, blasting the full fury of the storm directly at the tree the birds had moved into. Once the storm abated, we were worried that the eggs or babies (we were not sure which at that point) may not have survived a whole weekend of bad weather. However, there were two downy heads poking over the edge of the nest looking at the brand new world.

Father robin forages for food, and sits off at a distance, squawking at anyone who ventures near the nest, and following up with fly-by runs to request some privacy in a bird-like way. Both parents spend their days looking for food to bring home. As neither of our cats have front claws, and Obi-Wan’s days as the resident hunter (mostly mice) are largely behind him, the birds are free from climbing predators. The nocturnal skunks don’t climb, and we have never seen baby bird on the menu for any raccoons, who have not showed up this summer in any event. We’ll revise this post through the summer as we see how our robin family develops. Click one of the pictures below for a gallery.

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Friday July 3: A third baby!

Bob and I both saw the third baby robin today. No doubt about it. Mom and Dad robin are keeping busy on food runs with three mouths to feed. They had a perfect day today: warm and calm, with plenty of food to find.
Tuesday July 7: Leaving the nest
Today, I went outside to check on the plants – and on our bird family – and the babies were leaving the nest! I kept the cats in as the little ones were finding their footing on the lawn, and stretching the new wings. Mom and Dad are watching as the little ones learn how to find something to eat, and flutter along in their first flights. We had some mid-day rain, and Mom and one of the babies returned to the nest to ride out the rain.
Wednesday July 8: Exploring the world
On Wednesday morning, the cats darted out for a stroll. We were not sure if the birds were still around after the nestlings began to spread their wings. There was, however, one little nestling still getting flight lessons in the back yard from Mom and Dad. We got his picture as he sat patiently on the stone wall by the walk, which you can see in the gallery on this posting. Mom and Dad wanted no distractions from the cats while they taught baby bird the facts of life (learn to fly, and stay away from cats), and literally chased Bebe back in the house. She came running through the cat port with a squawking bird on her tail. Obi-Wan watched this spectacle, decided that discretion was the better choice, and ambled in on his own a few moments later.
Thursday July 9: Using the sanctuary
Mother Bird

Here is Mother Bird on the afternoon of July 9. She has got used to us, and won’t fly away as long as we are quiet, and don’t try to get too close. Bob used a tripod for stability, and shot this telephoto picture of Mother Bird in the back yard on the afternoon of July 9, 2015.

Mother bird and one baby bird are still in the back yard. The cats haven’t been prowling the perimeter while the baby bird has been taking flying lessons. So far, he does not flutter for more than a few seconds at a time. Father robin and most of the nestlings seem to have gone their way in the world. Mother is still trying to coax this last baby into sustainable flight. He’s been using the shrubs for rest and safety, and Mom has been bringing him some food as she tries to coax him to follow her into flight. As Bob was watching the two this morning, a little baby skunk made a very rare appearance in the back yard on the patio. He saw Bob standing well away from him, and turned and slowly ambled out of the yard, sneaking under the gate. He was just a little guy, and did not get startled or feel threatened.

Friday July 10: Baby is still around
Baby Bird

Baby bird is still a tree-dweller, with Mom hovering nearby. We are careful not to touch or startle him, though he does let us close enough to take these remarkable photographs. This photo was taken the morning of July 10, 2015.

Baby bird and Mother bird continue to live in the back yard, with baby bird being a fairly trusting bird in letting people get reasonably close to him. Mother bird hovers nearby, and brings food, though baby doesn’t seem to want to spread his wings and fly. The baby gives no appearance of there being anything the matter with him, but hugs a tree branch without flying. We have seen him flutter from ground to branch and from branch to ground, but not fly any extended time or distance. Mom has not given up on him, and continues to bring food, and chirp to have him follow her. Each morning, we look for Mom, who is still using the safety of the back yard to try and coax baby into flight. There is abundant food around, and neither bird has been in any danger from the cats or from any other animal. Mother bird has started to use the bird bath we rigged out of an unused ceramic plant saucer. We will try and get a video of that process. Obi-Wan is not really interested in the birds, and a curious Bebe has been chased back into the house by a squawking parent robin a few times. She seems to have given up going out on her own. Bebe ventures out when one of the two of us are present. We keep an eye on the situation so that neither cat disturbs the birds.

Friday July 10: Bob’s observations – baby is flying
I went into the back yard to finish reading a book in the quiet of the gazebo this afternoon. I checked on baby bird’s last location, and baby had gone. As I was reading, Mother bird flew down onto the grass with food in her beak, calling for baby, who responded from the corkscrew hazel tree near the gazebo. Mom fluttered into the tree and fed the baby, then hopped down onto the ground. To my pleasant surprise, the baby bird followed her, and the two poked around the edge between the grass and the bushes, with Mom seeming to teach the baby how to find food. Then baby fluttered to the top of the shed, and flew to the window ledge, where Mom brought more food. Baby bird was looking through our side window, and flapped its little wings, lifting itself up and down, to see if it could fly inside the house. No such luck, and it flew into the Japanese maple by the shed, where Mom visited twice more. In between these visits, I walked quietly up to the Japanese maple with the camera, and shot a video of the little guy perched in the tree. Then, after Mom’s second trip, both birds took flight and left the yard for a while. Both flew back after a short time. Baby bird now appears to have the strength and confidence to put some wind beneath his wings.
Wednesday July 22: The family is off on its own
It has been about two weeks since our last sighting of any of the robin family. During the hot weather while Mother Bird was feeding the last baby, we laid out a shallow ceramic plant saucer on the stone wall, and a few times, Mother Bird came to splash around, cool off and have a bird bath while she was doing her food-gathering rounds. We didn’t manage to grab the camera in time to get a picture or a movie on the few times we watched her enjoy her bath. Bob had one of the last sightings of baby bird. He was doing some yard work, and baby bird was perched on top of the fence. He let Bob get up nice and close for several minutes. We heard the mother and one or two of the babies in our bushes, where they camped out for a few days. We had become able to pick their songs out. Now they have been gone for about a week and a half, and we wish them well, hoping that either the babies will return to nest, or Mom and Dad will come back to re-use the tree or the nest again next year.

See a short video of baby bird in our Japanese maple tree

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Easter Snow

So much for Easter brunch outside

Bob went outside on Good Friday, and spent a few hours bringing out the patio furniture in soft and balmy (for April in Ontario) weather. He raked up the entire back yard and uncovered the lawn ornaments, which we cover with plastic wrap each autumn. We were hoping for an Easter Sunday brunch on the patio in moderate weather. This happens about a third of the time in southern Ontario. Not this year, though. Overnight on Saturday, it began to snow, and by Easter morning, the patio was covered with a fresh layer of white stuff. Click any of the photos below to see them as a slide show.

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And so the reluctant spring after the unending winter continues, with forecast temperatures below normal well into May. Nonetheless, we pass along our warm wishes for a Happy Easter to one and all among friends and family. Once the weather warms up, it is a quick conversion to the summer routine. Come see us.

Try a comment! Submit a recipe…

Our registered users can write comments on this web site. Your User Name is a combination of your first and last names, like this: OliveSeepersaud. Your password was sent to you when you were first signed up. If you don’t have the e-mail from me, just click here to send me a request to change your password, and the web site will send you a new one. Whenever you log in, you can change the password yourself. I don’t know what your original password was.

And don’t forget to submit your family recipes. Just print out one that’s in this web site for a general format of how to do it. You can e-mail your recipe to me, and we’ll do the formatting niceties here. A good-quality picture would also be helpful. Have a great spring, and a Happy Easter.

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Snow storm

How is the weather where you are?

Ontario got its first major snowfall of the 2014-15 winter on Groundhog Day, the day halfway between the start of winter and the start of spring. As the hokey commercial legend goes, if the fabled groundhog (Ontario’s is named Wiarton Willie after the rural place where the mid-winter drink-up is held) sees his shadow, the rodent goes back into his hole, and we have another six weeks of winter weather. If he doesn’t see his shadow, the region ought to be for a mild late winter and/or an early spring. It’s for people who also believe in the Easter Bunny and the tooth fairy.

Snowstorm aftermath

This is after we had shoveled the snow and cleared the driveway and walk after the first big snowstorm of 2015.

After a dry, but frigid January, a storm formed over Missouri, and blew into Ontario from the U.S. Midwest, starting late Sunday night. With 30 to 40 cm of snow and high winds, we awoke to drifting snow. There was no way to get out of our street, even after one had shoveled the driveway. Bob called his staff and told them not to risk the roads and to work from home. This they did with alacrity.

The cats took a look outside, and decided a nap was better than a morning promenade in the snow. Once it stopped snowing, we had our own driveway to clear. I was on the phone with some clients getting ready for my seminar this week, so Bob went out to begin the winter snow storage project. A native Montrealer, Bob knows not only how to shovel snow with the minimum effort, but where to put it so that he builds a windbreak to both protect the plants and keep blowing snow away from the walk and driveway. As well, he planned out the snowbanks so that if we get a lot more snow, we won’t exhaust the places to put it when we shovel.

Bebe and Andrea

This is more like what cats like to do when the snow is falling and the wind is howling outside. Bebe comes for a cuddle with her Mummy each evening while we watch TV.

For all the family in Guyana, this all happened as the mercury plunged to -15°C (which is pretty much where it was for most of January). The wind eased off, and the sun came out as we cleared the driveway and the walk in front. The snow was light and powdery, which meant that heaving it wasn’t like throwing the heavy, wet sloppy snow we get later in February and March. We had it all done within two hours, and got our workout too.

To put the snow and the cold into a different perspective, a Canadian winter means that all the creepy, crawly and slithery creatures that make life interesting in hot and humid Guyana can never survive spring, autumn or winter in Canada. So it’s not all bad with a Canadian winter. It has a cleansing effect.

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Family Cookbook

Preserving the family culinary memory

Shaaron and Patricia were chatting at Auntie Ione’s party tonight at Lisa and Shamir’s. They felt we should have a family cookbook. Little did they realize that we already have exactly that. And it is on this website! Click here to see for yourself.

Three sisters

The family got together at Lisa and Shamir’s house to celebrate Auntie Ione’s birthday on January 24th, 2015. Here are the three sisters with an iPad showing how technology spans eras.

Now the challenge is on! Who will submit the next recipe? Click the menu above and try one or two of our recipes. Then submit one of your own. Don’t worry about formatting it. Bob will take care of it for you.

If you have forgotten your password to log in, which you must do before you can post something, it’s not a big problem. Just e-mail me, and either Bob or I will reset your password, and the website software (WordPress) will e-mail it to you. You can then log in and change that password if you wish.

Everyone liked the honeyed spiced chicken tagine I brought along to the party, and Lisa did her usual magic with a spread to remember. Let’s start with just one each of the dishes we all shared for Auntie Ione’s party, and expand the Recipes page with some more dishes for our friends and family worldwide to try and enjoy.

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Christmas 2014

Merry Christmas from Mississauga

Christmas morning present-opening

Zach, Gramma and Andrea (and Indiana Jones in the background if you look hard enough) just starting to open their presents on Christmas morning at Larisa Grove in Mississauga, December 25, 2014.

The wonderful thing about hosting friends and family is not having to travel, and putting on one’s very best for people we care about, and even a few who just need a place to be on Christmas. The other side of that, of course, is that Bob and I work like galley servants for several days leading up to, and through Boxing Day. You’re always cooking, cleaning, washing dishes, taking something out, putting something away, and also trying to make it look effortless while engaging in chatter with the guests. Other than all that, it’s a piece of cake!

Our favourite FM station, Classical FM 96.3 in Toronto (you can click the link to get it on the Internet live in Guyana and the USA) plays non-stop, commercial-free music all of Christmas Day every year, as well as an annual all-request Valentine’s Day music lineup.

Zach and Nick came over on Christmas Eve for dinner: a seafood medley Mediterranean-style, along with salad and a host of appetizers, including bagels and lox with cream cheese, and desserts. This morning, Zach came back for breakfast: ham and eggs and lots of other good stuff. Throughout the day, we are opening our presents as our guests arrive.

If you’re on the web site distribution list, add your comments about where you are, who you’re with and what you are doing. It’s is a blustery and cool winter morning, without snow, in Ontario. We had high winds and some pouring rain last night. Global warming is very real. It should be cold and snowy here.

Warm wishes from the whole family: me, Bob, Obi-Wan and Bebe plus Mom, Zach and Nick to one and all. After the Christmas festivities, we are free to visit, and welcome visitors ourselves. See you…

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