My diary entries now begin with the earliest entry at the top.

    April 10th, 2014.  We returned from Vietnam to Toronto at the end of the third week of March.  This morning Lloyd emailed me from Nha Trang to give me a nudge to get an update done to my blog, so I'm beginning our summer diary.  We've settled in at home, been depressed, and cursed the weather for almost a month.  It has been an unusually cold, long spring.  The snow has just melted, and there are still a few piles of it here and there.  Temperatures have been below normal.  Today it will be 14 degrees for the first time -  break out the sunscreen!  I am going to play outdoor tennis for the first time this season.  Deborah is doing fitness classes three or four times a week: cardio, zumba, and yoga.  I joined a badminton group at a nearby community centre - I'm the only non-Chinese - and I'll be playing table tennis there as well.  Two days ago the organizers brought baked goods and "weasel coffee". They were surprised and impressed that I knew what it was.  I play darts on Wednesdays at the yacht club and we sing in a jazz choir on Thursdays, but apart from that choir there isn't any music going on yet, so I'm just working along to youtube with my piano and guitar.  It's a solitary pursuit but brings back my chops after four months of not playing, so it is better than nothing.

     We spent four days traveling to Montreal to celebrate Deb's mother's 90th birthday.  Her husband Fred is 95, and he's fun to hang out with, very cheerful but difficult to understand, probably a result of stroke damage.  He made us notepads with our names printed on each page which he'd designed with his calligraphy skills.  We visited Deb's sister Judi and her sons Michael and Matthew, who proudly toured us through their new condo purchase.  On the way home we over-nighted with my brother Rob in Buttermilk Falls, which is as picturesque a place as it sounds, near Napanee, Ontario.  I picked up a selection of beers at the Napanee beer store and we made an evening of tasting different flavours. 

     The yard and garden is a mess, of course.  I've begun clearing out the storage shed and our first Helpxers will arrive in less than a week to help me rake and tidy the yard, and prepare the sailboat for launch.  We'll scrape and paint the hull with anti-fouling paint.  I got a free gallon of a new brand of antifouling paint and primer in return for promising to write a testimonial for the company.  That's a pretty good deal for me because a gallon of bottom paint sells for well north of a hundred dollars.  We'll be reinstating our online garage sale and will return to the house-purging project.  The tulips are coming up, and the irises are behind them.  One purple icicle pansy has two blossoms.  With today's warmth, some other plants should soon appear. 

     Now I'm off to play tennis, followed by our annual trip to our tax accountant, followed by jazz choir.  Busy days.  How's that, Lloyd?

    Apr 13th.  Yecch.  I'm dealing with a lot of back pain, caused - I think - by bending over chasing after the ping pong ball two days ago.  Deborah has a new toy.  Her sister gave her a smart phone, the first we've ever owned, and she is learning all sorts of surprising new apps and uses for it.  I learned one too: I downloaded a piano tuning app that I'll use this week to help me tune an old piano at the community centre where I've begun playing badminton and table tennis.  I used to tune just by ear and a tuning fork, but I'm hoping this new app will increase my speed and accuracy.  I might be able to start up a guitar circle there, for older musicians - they seem to cater well to seniors - and maybe use the piano and other instruments as well.  I hear regularly from the youngsters in Nha Trang, and the photos they post on Facebook make us miss them and yearn to return.  The tulips are coming up in my garden, and I'm watching for buds - and for squirrels, because those pesky little devils will bite off the buds if they find them.  Yesterday we spent the afternoon with Lis and Lara at Lis' house.  It's always fun to connect with the two nieces.  Life is good.

    April 29th.  My back is better.  It took a week to clear up, apparently from a pinched nerve.  We were able to prep the boat with a few days of decent weather before launch.  I won a gallon of antifouling paint from a new manufacturer who wants to promote their brand, so I prepped the hull and painted it with that.  We did the baking soda scrub on the topsides to clear up the chalky gelcoat, and on the 23rd a Helpxer, Liz Voth, arrived.  She helped us apply protective wax, and polish the topsides until they gleamed.  We launched the boat on Saturday, everything went smoothly and the motor ran like a charm.  I had serviced it in the driveway before taking it down and mounting it, as usual. 

     Liz helped us clean up the yard and prep the garden for spring, and our first green shoots are up, now surrounded by the free red cedar mulch I scored from a garden centre last year.  I filled my truck for free in return for cleaning up their messy pile of broken bags, with Ondrej's help.  The lungwort is blossoming alongside the icicle pansies.  Peonies and hostas are protruding from the soil, and of course the tulips and irises and other bulbs are up, although there are no blossoms yet.  A few buds are forming.

     We made an orthotics appointment and discovered that we should have been going every two years.  Our insurance pays for replacements every two years, and the guy we go to throws in free shoes.  We could have had eight or nine extra pair of new shoes between the two of us if we'd gone to him each time we were entitled to new orthotics.  I also learned that he can restore older orthotics, replacing the surfaces on top of the hard flexible plastic cores, and he won't even charge us for that.

     We've had family for dinner several times.  Lis and Lara came for Easter turkey (shouldn't we have served rabbit?), and Sol and Marcy came.  Our house is always too cold for Marcy, it seems. We visited them in return for a Passover lunch.  Cynthia and Lis came by one evening after Cynthia had come into town and the two of them had gone for haircuts together.

     This is Liz Voth's last day here.  She's gone to someone on Rod's street for two weeks, and a young man from the U.S., Charlie Robinson, is arriving this afternoon.  The weather is still cold and miserable, so we'll have to hope that we can dodge the wind and rain enough for him to spend time continuing the garden prep.  If it warms up a little we'll put him to work on the boat as well, and Deb and I will go down to step the mast.  Charlie will be here for eight days, until his room opens up in the university residence where he'll be working for the summer.  The residence becomes a youth hostel for the summer months.  He has to help them with maintenance, and do some training before he can move in, which is why he applied to stay with us for a week ahead of his job there.

     I tried to get a guitar circle going at the yacht clubs, this time advertising at all four clubs, but so far I haven't had much response, so I'm still hunting for people to play keyboard and guitar with.  I have rejoined the swing band that played all winter.  I was ambivalent, but they asked me to fill the 3rd trumpet seat and carry them through a couple of concerts coming in late May and in June.  It's not far from home.  It helps to keep my lip in shape, and I don't have any other outlet for playing trumpet at the moment, mostly because I'm a stuck-in-the-mud when it comes to commuting very far to rehearsals, so I said yes.  The jazz choir continues although I'm not sure that there's much point.  There are no performances scheduled, and now funding and leadership from the union has dried up.  Sheila is trying to keep it going with a monthly member fee, which goes against the grain for me.  I spent so many years developing my chops and paying for lessons, and then so many years getting paid to play and sing, that it is hard to feel right about having to pay to sing.  I'm happy to play and sing for free, as part of my volunteer life, but not really to pay for the opportunity, unless I'm learning new skills.  I'd pay for guitar lessons, and I'd teach piano to others in return.  But Scarborough is a wasteland for music activities, frankly.  Even the community centres have absolutely nothing going on but guitar lessons for absolute beginners.  I volunteered to start a little band or guitar circle at Hilltop CC.  The director seemed keen on the idea, but she hasn't acted on it yet.  The facility was newly opened two years ago, and it is well staffed, but it doesn't appear that the staff do very much to earn their salaries.  There aren't many organized activities. 

     Even the "free table tennis for seniors" that they publish doesn't actually happen.  Two older gentlemen - weekly regulars, apparently - hog the only table available.  There was a second table which was broken, but they've done nothing to get it repaired or replaced.  They say they've applied for a new table but that it might take weeks to get the approvals to actually receive one.  Not very impressive.  They have a weight room supported by fees, an under-utilized gym, and a number of classrooms that are empty most of the time.  And they have a kitchen that was used by a disabled group one day that I was there.  Not much vision in the leadership and management, apparently.  So, I play badminton with a Chinese group there on Tuesdays, and I play tennis with Don Davies, Jim Sawada and Paul Spurgeon once a week, and that's all I've managed so far.  Perhaps things will pick up as the summer warmth and sunny days begin, but it feels like a slow start to the summer, so far. Next spring I'm going to try to arrange to return to Toronto in mid-April instead of mid-March.

    May 7th.  Temperatures remain below average.  Charlie Robinson was here until yesterday, when he moved downtown to the hostel he'll be working at for a month.  We couldn't do much in the garden because of rain, but he rebuilt the shelves in my shed, and built me a tumbling composter from a 45 gallon plastic barrel we scrounged.  I have a dozen tulip buds.  They're not open yet, but all of my perennials are getting bigger and greener by the day, and the lungwort is blossoming with its pink and purple flowers. 

     On Monday evening I played my first league tennis match of the season.  Taxes are done and over with for last year.  The boat floats, but we haven't put up the mast yet.  We might try to do that this coming Sunday, if it feels warm enough. 

     I'm going to start seedling trays today, and hopefully have seedlings ready for the May 24th long weekend.  We usually plant earlier, but I'm a bit nervous about the low temperatures.  My neighbour Cho has had a crop of greens in the ground for a month, and they're doing extremely well.  He doesn't know their English name, but they look a little like beet tops.  Last year they gave me beans they'd saved for planting this year, so I'll try those on my trellis.  They had amazing beans last year.  This Saturday we'll get free city compost, and I'll invite them to join me and bring their bins in my truck. 

     The swing band is going well, and I'm finding time to practice trumpet, piano and guitar, although not every day.  I attempted to get a fresh guitar circle off the ground at the yacht clubs, canvassing all four clubs this time, but didn't get enough response to make it happen.  We might have three, possibly four of us, so far.  Things like this are often like a snowball that starts out quite small and seems to take forever to get large, but eventually it does.  However, one response was a good lead for my volunteer work.  A lady named Bernice has invited me to join her in playing and singing to seniors, especially dementia patients, at the Scarborough Centre for Healthy Communities.  It's something one can do in the middle of the day, and is also a good musicians' networking activity because she attracts many of them to join her on a come-when-you-can basis.

    May 8th, 2016.  It's Mother's Day, so I just got off the "phone" with Mom - which in this day and age, means that I made a video call to her using Skype on my Android tablet, as I've been doing for what seems like years already.  Every time I talk to her this way, I think about how much the world has changed.  In spite of all the other people calling their mothers today, my call was in clear, high quality video and audio the whole time, so seamless that one begins to take it for granted and forget how frustrating these connections could be "back in the day", which was literally only a handful of years ago.  I remember international phone calls back and forth from Africa to Canada when I was a child, and how disturbed and intermittent they could be; and yet how magical to hear the voice of a family member almost eight thousand miles away, twelve and a half thousand kilometres, as if they were in a room just down the hall from us.  Now the clarity makes it seem that we are in the same room, sitting across from each other over the same kitchen table, with voice over internet.

      April has been cold.  With only a few genuinely warm days, the whole month was below average.  It will be this way for the first half of May.  Meanwhile, it is hot and dry in the west, and the Fort McMurray fire has consumed 200,000 hectares, which is half the size of the Greater Toronto Area (six former cities, amalgamated.)

     "Eve" Yifang Wang is here for twelve days, helping me to prep and plant the garden, and get the yard tidied up.  We won't set up the driveway container garden, so there's a bit less to be done.  I have run soaker hoses on a timer under landscaping plastic, so watering will be simple, weeds will be minimized and the soil won't dry out as quickly. 

     I've been able to start playing tennis outdoors.  We launched the sailboat, and I played a swing band concert at Scarborough Civic Centre, a Music Monday swing concert at Cornell Jr. P. S. and a "Bring Back the Swing" dance in Brampton last night.  The spring perennials are blooming and the front yard and garden are already a fine place to stroll and enjoy your coffee in the morning sunshine. 

     We attended Etta Snow's funeral at Humbervale United, and reconnected with some of the few remaining stalwarts of AMSF who were in attendance, including those in my own age cohort. 

     Kevin the local newfie roofer added a second layer of shingles to our roof after taking down our spalling chimney, which we stopped using after a fireplace chimney fire.  These are thirty year shingles, so I doubt that I'll be here when it needs to be done again.

     I've surprised myself by writing a few more pieces: Swan Song, and The Neighbours.  Soon I may have enough to create a small online digital anthology.  I'm hoping to make progress throughout the coming year toward taking up Dad's thwarted attempt to write an historical novel about Angola, to keep my promise to him. 

     We've had more trouble with our drains in this old house, but we may have learned enough about their condition to stay on top of the problems.

     We spent a month going for physio, for shoulders on opposite sides. I regained some range of motion in my right shoulder but I can't say that I'm problem-free.  And I have to keep working on my left hand index finger on my own.  I've got a swollen tendon and fused nerve that is causing some numbness, probably from making barre chords on the wide, flat neck of my classical guitar which I've been using for folk music, although one of the banjos might have been responsible.  The physio guy Vince says there's scar tissue and calcium deposits that have to be broken down and worked away.

     We had a short but nice visit with Lissy, who stayed overnight.  We've been to two CPS dinners at Cathedral Bluffs Yacht Club this month and each came away with a bottle of wine from the second one, so we've had the cost of our annual dues covered.  We spend some time each week learning German in preparation for our trip, which is coming up fast.  All of our regular activities continue, so we stay busy to the point of fatigue on some days.  Travel will bring respite even though it is often equally fatiguing in its own way.  Upon our return there will be a more relaxed summer of less music, not too much weeding, more tennis and finally also some sailing.

    May 9th.  Normally I wouldn't update so soon after my last diary entry, but we went to the Power Squadron annual dinner this evening to ensure that they had a quorum for the annual meeting.  It was at CBYC anyway, so we were in familiar territory that we're fond of.  For our annual membership of only $42 for the two of us, we were served a delicious dinner and both of our tickets were drawn in the door prize raffle so we came home with a bottle each of top shelf red and white wine.  That was a red letter day, worth mentioning. 

     Tomorrow Steven and Sandra, a couple of twenty-somethings from France, will arrive to stay with us for two weeks as part of their cross-Canada tour.  That should be fun, and good timing, since time for early planting has arrived and there's still some prep to do in the yard and veggie garden before we can bring home the seedlings and get it all started for the season.  I counted fifteen tulip buds today.  The first should open tomorrow or the next day.  The forecast promises us highs of 22 for two days straight - finally!  Soon we'll get the mast on the boat and go for our first sail.

    May 18th.  Today should be the last day for seed planting. We've already put in some seedlings and we may add more depending on how the seeds do, and how well my own seedling trays produce.  Steven and Sandra have helped us a great deal: Steve, with limited English, works well on his own once I showed him how to find his way around my tool room.  He has built me shed shelves and a new pallet planter for a vertical herb garden.  The three of us created a burn barrel with an older "legacy" steel garbage can and some extra stove pipe I've had lying around for thirty years.  It works very well and doubles as a patio heat source.  It is much safer than an open fire.  I've yet to see a spark coming out of the stovepipe, but if that begins to happen we'll ball up some chicken wire and stuff it in as a spark arrester.  I will continue collecting discarded pallets and giving my Helpxers projects made from pallet wood, which work well in sheds and basements.  They are not fine furniture but they can also be cleaned, stained and varnished, or painted, for outdoor projects.  I have a seven foot shoe rack in mind for one corner of the basement, raised wooden planter boxes and various trellis structures for beans and squash leaves in the garden.  Even if they only last a few years, they will be free.  Once they're past their usefulness, I now have a burn barrel to dispose of them.

    The first job we put Steven and Sandra to the day after they arrived was to spend Saturday loading the truck with free city compost, organized by the local counselor.  We made three trips and filled 25 containers with black earth and leaf compost.  We worked them all into the soil of the back beds over subsequent days.   We have planted, or will plant, a wider variety of plants than last year, partly due to our visit to the seed exchange called Seedy Saturday at a local high school.  We have six kinds of basil, rosemary, sage, two kinds of garlic, leaks and green onions, four kinds of low bush beans, two kinds of trellis beans, three kinds of lettuce, arugula, rapini, kale, spinach, carrots, about eight different tomatoes including some heritage and "sauce" varieties, beefsteak tomatoes, and cherry tomatoes, including some trellis climbing varieties and a white tomato.  We have three kinds of squash, zucchini, okra, three kinds of eggplant, potatoes in vertical growing bins, Alaskan peas, and of course strawberries and raspberry canes.  We might still have room for a few things I haven't thought of yet.  The garden is large and will look lush and amazing by July.

    Deb and I went to a movie in a real cinema, as opposed to our living room wall: the Grand Hotel of Budapest.  I kinda prefer watching movies at home, although our projector bulb seems to be dimming a little (maybe it's just our aging eyes...?)  We've reconnected with several friends: Rod, Ian and Ursula, Lawrence and Joan, Greg and Christine.  We've had a visit from Lis and Cynthia, and Rob and Cynthia will visit us when they come into town this coming Friday.  We've gotten caught up with our favourite sitcoms.  I play darts at the club every Wednesday evening, and we've had our Suzuki decal removed and a door dent repaired - an insurance claim from a lady in a truck who let her door swing open in a windstorm at a mall parking lot last fall.  I've just finished fermenting my second carboy of home-brewed (alcoholic) ginger beer since we got home.  It is strong, sweet, useful for entertaining, and a staple beverage for me.  Alles in ordnung (and as I've recently learned, in Bavarian = Es paßt schön! and in Berlinerisch = Alles in Butter!)

     The music scene is heating up.  I've been to the swing band for a few weeks and will play in a concert on Tuesday the 20th.  Matthew Parker's jazz jam met again and I really enjoyed getting back to creative spontaneous improv soloing, in contrast to my 3rd trumpet seat in the swing band, where I have to play all the interior harmony notes and have only the sound of the melody that the leads are playing to use as a reference point.  That's often a challenge inside the jazz chords that the arrangers choose.  We sightread our way through a suitcase full of charts at most weekly get-togethers; before an actual performance the band chooses a programme of tunes they like and feel comfortable playing, and does just one quick run-through of them the week before.  I often wish I had perfect pitch so I'd know if I was playing the right note every time.  For the next three days, I'll be studying those charts, and trying to find the right arrangements on youtube to play along with, to make sure I know them as well as the rest of the old pros do.

    As to guitar and piano, several advertised jams have been cancelled because of the Mother's Day weekend and now the long weekend when people open cottages, shop for plants for their gardens and stick them in the ground.  When they happen, there are three local regular weekly jams that I can attend, in addition to the swing band and jazz choir, and an invitation from a lady to play and sing with her, entertaining seniors with dementia and other disabilities on Friday afternoons.  I love it when I can turn something I love to do on my own into my volunteer or charitable undertakings.  It's my contention that everyone should spend part of their lives doing those things, and to do music is perfect for me.  The other thing I still do is coaching Vietnamese students
and editing their résumés and English essays - at a distance, by email and using collaborative google docs.

    One neat trick I suddenly realized is that I can transpose the old British Yamaha keyboard that Rod gave me down a tone into Bb and play jazz chords with my left hand that are listed in the charts, to help me figure out trumpet parts and solos.  In an era of Youtube, one can quickly come up to speed on jazz voicings and useful tricks and exercises, learn guitar scales, chords and fretboard tricks, and so on.  Playing alone at home is more interesting and enjoyable now than it ever was in previous decades.  The major trick is to learn how to calendar my time each day to squeeze in practice routines between gardening and other demands.

    June 1st.  We just got back from an overnight club cruise to RCYC.  We had a social pot luck with the twenty-three boats who came in our fleet from Highland.  The organizers set up a sushi construction crew along the benches of two picnic tables, and each boat contributed an hors d'ouevres plate as well, so we were absolutely stuffed.  After "starters", we couldn't eat the food we'd brought along for our dinner.  RCYC lent Deb and me two bicycles and a canoe to get around in.  We were a bit of a walk from the clubhouse, and the club is spread over 23 acres on four islands.  We would have sailed there and back from Scarborough, but the wind was on the nose going yesterday, and coming back again today, so we had to motor both ways, about a two hour trip each way not counting all the preparation before leaving and the packing away at the end of the trip.  Except for the wind direction, we had great weather - very cool on the water, but very sunny.  When we got back to HYC, we put Deborah up the mast in the bosun's chair, to attach a spinnaker halyard and block to the very top of the mast.  We'd forgotten to clip it on when we stepped the mast a few weeks ago.  Deborah doesn't like roller coasters, but she enjoys the ride up the mast and back down.

     The garden is doing well, thanks to long days and the help of our Helpx guests.  Right now Ondrej is back for 28 days.  We've set up ropes for squash vines, part of my "vertical/high yield gardening" exploration.  I lost most of my okra and eggplant seedlings - inexplicably, until two nights ago, when sitting at the backyard patio with Lara, I spotted a brown rat scampering across my garden.  That's the first wild rat I've ever seen in Scarborough, in the thirty years that I've lived here, although I recently heard that they're becoming common.  I'd blamed my losses on squirrels or pill bugs.  I never imagined that a rat could be eating my seedlings, although interestingly, a few days earlier Deb and I acquired an empty plastic composter from a neighbour that had a hole chewed in one of the access doors.  I'm furiously trying to propagate new seedlings so that I have the number of plants I'd hoped to grow in my garden this season.

     Deb and I trained for the Provincial election last Tuesday.  We'll spend a long thirteen hour day working as Deputy Returning Officers in charge of two of the polls on June 12th.  We did it once before few years ago, so we know the routine, but it is a complex process with very tightly controlled rules to be followed.  We get paid, though.

     The previous Tuesday I played at a retirement home with my swing band.  That was fun.  I posted a short video on Youtube to show what we sounded like:

     Everything else continues as earlier described.  I played a Sunday afternoon jam for a couple of hours with John Hope at the Black Bear Pub, and we had the annual dinner meeting of the Retired Teachers of Ontario. 

    June was a great month for gardening, and a June 9th garden photo album is here. It includes some photos of sailing on our annual Sailpast ceremony.  After Ondrej left, John and Linda arrived from New Zealand via the rest of the world - eleven years of backpacking through seventy-five other countries.  They're our age, also retired teachers, and have a similar, if only slightly more extreme attitude about seeing the world before you find yourself in one tiny plot of it below the soil.  They retired around the age of fifty.  John reversed our back doors, and I treated the rotten sill and built it up with fibreglass resin and a beveled board sill to encourage run-off, while Linda did days and days of weeding, created wool verticals for the squash vines, and hunted the squash patch for yellow and black cucumber beetles - we'd had an infestation not long before she arrived.

    We got to take John and Linda out for a sail, along with my nieces Lis and Lara, who've delighted us with their visits several times this month.

    June is planting month, but I learned the value of starting seeds much earlier, indoors, and keeping them out of the garden until the soil warms up in June.  Some things should be staggered plantings.  For example we can seed lettuce and other greens every two weeks, for a staggered harvest.  There are lots of heat-loving plants that we like to grow such as eggplant, okra, and peppers, but there's no point putting them into the soil in May, as seeds or even as purchased seedlings.  Leafy greens and peas do well early in the spring, especially kale seedlings, but for early edibles it's still better to do your early spring planting into containers.  I've learned that container gardening on the pavement allows plants to grow in black planters that absorb the heat.  They grow much healthier and faster that way in the spring, so I created a "milk crate garden" on my driveway, with John's help to mix the soil and load the crates.  My tumbling composter is creating compost in two weeks flat, even in the shade, and it is a white barrel. I'm going to paint it black and see how much faster it works.

    There's a second photo album here that shows the sail with John and Linda and the nieces, as well as the state of the garden by June 30th.  The squash vines are already up to the ropes that I ran above the garden, so that we can walk between them while they get the maximum amount of sunshine.  We'll have an enormous squash harvest from quite a small area.  We'll have an awful lot of tomatoes, zucchinis, okra and eggplant as well  The bean trellis is extremely successful and already producing.  Next year I'll just do beans on the trellis.  There's no point doing vining tomatoes there as well.  John made duckboards from my reclaimed pallet wood boards, to stroll through the garden just above the soil, which will be especially important after a rainstorm or when I use my elevated sprinkler.

    Tennis is a joy, and there's a tiny bit of music going on.  We had our first uke jam, to which members of the jazz choir came once the choir was shut down for the summer.  They'll meet every Thursday, at someone else's house each time.  They were at our house for the first get-together.  We went to a party at Sheila's and watched the fireworks from Woodbine Beach.  We had several BBQ's with Ian and Ursula, and with Rod.  Deb and I worked the Provincial election.  With John and Linda here to handle the garden, mow the lawn and trim the hedge, I was able to take a few days to re-tile my bathroom, and the upper and lower landing in the back hallway, which is quite a cosmetic improvement. 

    Aug 2nd.  On July 6th we arrived in Alberta.  We spent a week with Mom and my siblings in Camrose and Edmonton, and connected with Arnd and Stefani, Silken and Una.  We attended Dylan's and Georgie's wedding and met Margaret, Larry and Maya, with whom I share an education background and a Zambian experience. 

    Upon our return to Toronto, the rest of July was wet, and temperatures were a little below normal.  It was very pleasant weather, and we never regretted our lack of an air conditioner, but the plants grow slowly in those conditions.  In previous years there has always been a heat wave in July that lasts for up to two weeks, and we always expect our tomatoes to ripen at that time.  We didn't eat our first ripe tomato this year until the very end of July, and we still haven't eaten our second.  We ate a lot of beans, peas and salad greens of all sorts.  Chao's pole beans are finished for the season, it appears, so I'm starting a second germination and we'll see if we will also eat those beans in September.  I suspect that we should start fresh plants every couple of weeks if we want to eat them steadily through the summer.  The scarlet runner beans fruit later, so we're still enjoying those.  I might try both types on a longer rope trellis on the north side of the garden next summer. 

    Today is officially "the mid-point of the summer for gardeners", and I am learning a great deal about what is possible in containers and driveway planters.   I planted bulb fennel, which I'm told is a good crop to plant in mid-summer for a fall harvest.  Deb buys the bulbs, which she loves to eat with fish dishes, for $2 apiece, so if I can grow them that'll save a little money.  We ate two eggplants from the seedlings we bought in May, but none of my own plants have produced yet, although they're flowering well.  My milk crate okra are blossoming and fruit is forming; the ones in the garden are very much slower.  We have large, healthy winter squash in four varieties, including spaghetti squash, which we didn't plant.  I think the seed company slipped a few into the seed packets to play a joke on us.  We are getting more zucchinis and yellow crookneck summer squash than we can eat.  The green bunching onions are amazing, the lettuces are astonishing, and there's no shortage of food.  Only the cantaloupe hasn't succeeded, but it does in the Windsor/Leamington area so I have high hopes for a few that seem to be thriving in containers.  The ones I planted in the ground, however, were a total bust. 

    The tomatillos are still small but very numerous.  The peas are still producing, and if we pick them young and flat enough, are lovely in salad, pods and all.  We've learned that there are "baby leeks" that you can plant each month from March to June, and harvest each batch ten weeks later - another thing we'll try next year.  I'm planning next year's garden effort based on the notes I'm writing every couple of weeks this summer, noting what has been successful when, and where, and in what size of container.  Here's my mid-summer slideshow of the garden project.

    We enjoyed Bill and Jan's Beaches Jazz Festival gathering, and a Pirate Day at HYC, and a cruise to Mimico yacht club - although, spooked by the weather forecast and the wind direction, Deb and I actually drove to the cruise supper party and back in our car.  When people commented on having the wind on the nose all the way down the coast, and asked, "Did you motor all the way?", we answered truthfully, "Yes, we did..."

    After we returned on July 12th, Borja and Lara arrived from their Fort Erie Helpx the next day.  They will be here for a month, and they are searching for work before activating their one year work visas.  They went to Buffalo and spent a week with our friend Karen Yan - her first experience as a Helpx host - while we went to Kingsville, to a bed and breakfast called the Woodbridge House.  We were going to go to Chautauqua, to Karen's cottage, for a few days, but got scared off by the weather forecast once again.  Borja and Lara returned early to Toronto so that Lara could attend a job interview.  We thought they'd spend a few nights at our house alone, but as it turned out, they were walking south up the street from the bus stop and arrived in front of our house just as we arrived by car, driving north up the street.  All four of us turned into the driveway at the same instant, after several days away.

    Apart from gardening more intensely than in any previous year, we've mostly just been hanging out with friends.  Rod is in the process of finding a new house to rent prior to moving out of his house on Eastmoor, which has been sold.  Tennis continues weekly, and I've been impressing myself with my serve game lately, beating people I wasn't confident that I could hold out against before, people who play more frequently than I do and who are more fanatic and competitive.  The new music tradition, a weekly Thursday evening ukulele party to replace our weekly jazz choir habit through the winter, remains a popular summer option.  There are usually a dozen or more people in attendance, gathering at a different host's house each week. 

    All in all, it is a good summer so far.  Retirement has been great, and as we enter the second half of our fifth year of it, things keep getting better.  We are not slowing down.  Having Helpx helpers for the past two summers has been a major boost to our lives, allowing me more time for my personal interests and allowing me to undertake projects that I might otherwise simply have thought about doing, and never gotten around to.  If nothing else, the young Helpxers get me out of my chair and out into the garden to work with them every morning, supervising and dreaming up chores for them, and doing a lot of other chores myself in tandem.

Aug 15th.  The beginning of August is considered the mid-point of the gardening season, and sure enough, even though we never got the heat wave that usually ripens our tomatoes in July, the vegetation is settling back.  The zucchinis are getting slow and tired, and the squash leaves withering.  The garden looks a little like the thinning head of hair on a man getting older.  The last four days have been really cold, to the point that I put on long pants and a jacket.  I usually wear shorts into October.  Some people are calling this month "Aug-tober".  The good news is that we're finally eating our own tomatoes.  The tomatillos aren't big enough yet.  We have okra fruit but just a few - in containers.  The garden planted ones were a bust, as were the eggplants.  Our container eggplants are much bigger and healthier.  We're still getting a few zucchinis, beans, peas, lots of greens, and we have over twenty winter squash of four types on my rope course set up for the vines.  The fennel was a mistake.  It said bulb fennel on the package but it wasn't the Florence Fennel that internet sources say to look for, and no bulbs are actually forming.  Low bush beans are prolific, as is kale and lettuces. I've done a mid-summer start on some fresh trellis beans to see if there's enough time left in the growing season to get them up and producing.

     Instead of cantaloupe, that seed packet seemed to contain "fuzzy melon", a hairy cucumber sort of thing with a smooth skin once you rub off the fuzz.  None of them are large enough to eat, and there were several plants that had tiny yellow blossoms that produced no fruit, so I have no cantaloupe.  Next summer I'll start with more a more reputable seed company.  I've got a good set of notes now to guide my planting next spring, to time everything well and get just the right amount of the right kinds of produce.  It'll be less work than this year, and I have all the containers I'll need and other equipment like my potting table, pots and containers, trellis ropes and posts.

     We haven't had much excitement in the past two weeks, apart from taking a Big Sister and her "little" out for a sail.  That was a club event.  Apart from that, uke night continues at a different home each time, and we learned to play a new game called Wizard with Laurence and Joan.  Borja and Lara have gone to Jan and Bill's on the 12th, and that seems to be working out okay for all concerned.

    Sept 5th.  I have spent many days in a row dealing with our friend Rod Smith's household overflow.  He sold his house, but rented a much too small storage locker.  He said it was the largest he could afford until the sale of his house closed, but after he filled it he panicked and began to toss everything left over from his home onto his front lawn.  He'd left the organization of his move much too late, and had no idea how much stuff he actually had, or how long it would take to deal with.  He was clearly a drowning man in need of rescue.  He's a creative fellow, very linguistic and musical, but also scatterbrained and eccentric at times.  He doesn't handle pressure well.  In addition to moving the stuff he was taking to Bill and Jan's house in my truck, which took a couple of trips, I couldn't stand the sight of all that accumulated value going to landfill, so I took it upon myself to store it for him.  I have his BBQ, lawnmower, deck furniture, garden tools, furniture, bags full of books and cd's, paint, cleaning and garden chemicals, all sorts of stuff.  Not only did it require multiple loads in the truck to get it here, but then many more hours of unpacking and sorting to fit it all into what we already have ourselves in this tiny house.  I've been combining libraries, workshop items, and gardening equipment.  Someday it'll be in the new home he buys, or we'll find other people who need or want that stuff.  He did have an excellent personal library, with very eclectic, renaissance-man interests in addition to a solid collection of the classics.  I told him I'd sell some of it to cover my gas and time.

     We took Bill, Jan and Judy out for a sail, then had Xavier and Mary Wynn-Williams for a garden tour with salad and ginger beer, and later took Lissy and Xavier sailing.  Don brought Jacqueline over to see the garden and have beer on my patio.  Lissy and Lara both visited separately, and I began teaching piano to Nicole and her mom Brenda.  Chris and Mishi came for gazpacho and a six hour visit.  We had a visit with Lawrence and Joan and learned to play a card game called Wizard.  Andrew Chung suddenly landed a permanent contract - lucky guy! So many others wait years for their permanent contract.  He dropped by, very pleased, relieved and excited, to say thank you for everything we've done over the years to help him get to this place, since he and his young bride Fifi stepped off the plane from Hong Kong and came to live in our basement apartment on Macintosh Street.  Now his son Christoff has just earned honours in both grade ten piano and violin, and Andrew is very proud and content, since he feels that Christoff's future is now secured.  With grade ten in piano and violin, he has options.  It opens the door to a teaching career with benefits and a pension if he wants it, and will always be something for him to fall back on.

      Aaron came from Quito and stayed with us for two nights while he waited for his university residence room to be assigned to him, and we delivered him to the residence along with his belongings, which he has stored in our basement for the past two summers while he's been on summer break.  Tonight Nada and Tony have arrived, a Couchsurfing couple from the Czech Republic who spent the winter skiing in western Canada and then worked at a fishing lodge in Manitoba.  They are currently touring eastern Canada in a rental car on their way home after a year in Canada, and they'll stay three nights with us.  They have tickets to see a Cirque du Soleil show called Kurios.  While they are here, tomorrow Sol and Marcy will come for lunch and I have to show off my newly acquired skill with the banjo he gave me.  In the evening we're invited to Brent's for a "newfie music night", so I'll be playing guitar.  I've been playing guitalele every Thursday evening through the summer.

     All this is on top of the usual round of musical activities, several per week; tennis, darts, and other routine parts of our schedule.  So we've been very, very busy since my last entry. I'm actually bordering on exhausted, and ready for a little less to happen, so that I can catch my breath and start dealing with the mountain of "stuff" in the house.

     Our dishwasher gave up the ghost, so we looked at several second hand ones and even brought one home but it didn't work. Everyone wanted too much for their used dishwasher, so we decided to buy a new one at the Sears Outlet store.  Portable dishwashers are hard to find.  There was only one there, but with a good sale price and a repair ticket on top, Deb assumed it had been refurbished and all checked out, and she bought it.  It didn't work.  It had never worked, apparently, and the one "repair" that had been done hadn't been successful.  Some repair person got paid for nothing more than filling out a repair ticket and ripping off Sears.  So she's washing dishes by hand for two or three weeks while we wait for the repairman to order a motor.  Fortunately, being still new, it comes with a one year warranty, so we don't have to pay for the new motor.

     We are eating more and more eggplant and okra now.  We have bushels of tomatoes and still some beans, and some red-skinned potatoes.  We're now eating the winter squash plus still a few yellow crookneck summer squash.  Not to mention kale, swiss chard, etc.  We're eating the "fuzzy melons" now, and the tomatillos, which have come on thick and fast.  So we're eating a lot of gazpacho and a lot of ratatouille, usually with ground chicken, melted cheese, chipotle and other sauces.  It's always delicious, and never exactly the same.  It tastes like good health in a bowl, and I never tire of it.  I get a great kick out of having harvested everything that's in it from our own garden.

    Oct 1st.  We had a nice farewell BBQ with Lissy, who has - sadly for us - now moved to Vancouver, and we finally got to take Rob and Cynthia out on the lake for a sail. 

      The jazz jam continues, and the weekly uke jam, the  rock jam, and the jazz choir.  Our musical life is rich now: famine all summer, and feast in the fall.  I found a fortnightly uke jam at the Stone Cottage, in the upstairs room where I celebrated my retirement.  Deb has attended a five week experience with the Sweet Adelines.  I'm exploring other playing opportunities, and considering whether to resurrect the weekly HYC jam.

     Our Helpx helper Werner Matz arrived on the 15th and stayed until this morning.  He was a solid asset, a good hard worker for two hours of each day, and also a very good dart player.  While he was here I purchased better darts and enjoyed improvement at the weekly HYC darts gathering.  Today Yuko is arriving from Barrie to stay with us through most of October, and there's a Korean teacher, Genie, who will be here for one week of the month as well. 

     I'm still playing frostbite tennis.  We enjoyed Octoberfest at HYC, which included a race in which I came dead last.  When we arrived back at our slip I put the motor in reverse and watched an enormous mass of stringy weeds drift away from the front of my keel.  That was a sad lesson.  Next time I'll have to be sure to back the boat up once we get out on the lake, to clear any weeds from our keel before we try to participate in the race.  We'll soon have to drop our mast, so there might be only a week or two of sailing left.  The weeds have become a painful problem for getting in and out of our club area anyway.  It happens every fall.  Sailing isn't much more than a four month season, even though the boats are in the water for six months of the year.  The cradles will be positioned on the club parking lot on the third weekend of October, and Haul-out will happen on the fourth weekend, at which point we'll tarp the boat for the winter and bring the motor home to winterize and store until spring.

     The garden is slowly being rolled up, yet there are fresh zucchinis and Barbara butternut squashes growing, and a fresh crop of beans that I believe will last until our first frost, expected by Oct 19th (50% probability).  We have our September raspberries now but they're also coming along very slowly.  Everything in the garden was late all summer long, after the previous harsh winter. But we're eating enormous meals of squash, ratatouille with ground chicken, Asian chicken and beans, and now delicious Eggplant Parmesan, which Deb has been cooking for the first time.  I had 46 eggplants, of which about 20 were planted early enough and in large enough pots to produce harvest-able fruit.  We're still eating green onions, swiss chard, beans, okra, eggplant, tomatoes in all sizes, tomatillos, squash, some remnants of lettuce including a late planting, and jalapeno peppers.  This will be our diet for another three weeks into October.  We began by eating our first greens in June, so that's over four months of home-grown food, not to mention green tomatoes that will ripen into December and produce that we've frozen.  Next year I'll start my seedlings as soon as we return in the spring, and set them on the driveway in pots until the garden is warm enough to receive them.  I'll practice staggered planting through the summer, and see if I can stretch the season of fresh home-grown meals to seven months.

    Oct 14th, Monday, Thanksgiving.  We've had our first southern Ontario frost on Saturday morning, but were unaffected in Toronto.  We're close to the lake and have the big city warm air envelope to protect us. The forecast is for above freezing right through until Hallowe'en, with a high of 24 tomorrow which "feels like 32". Urban farming works.  We wondered about moving to Ontario's "100 mile peninsula" a.k.a. the "sunshine coast" of Ontario, but it is only a short distance further south and I think our heat envelope makes up for their geographic advantage.  Close proximity to garden centres and supplies, and being on city water mains, is a major advantage for an urban farmer.

      We've had a resurgence of zucchinis and a few small Barbara butternut squashes.  Tomatoes are still abundant, and eggplants still growing.  We've had great Eggplant Parmesan, and fried eggplant.  We're still picking beans.  I did a mid-summer bean planting, but my original spring planting of bush beans is also still producing.  The midsummer planting of fennel is ready to create fish dishes with, and the swiss chard and hardy kale is still healthy. In general, though, the garden is slowing down and shifting into winter mode, and we are pulling plants one by one as they signal that they're done for the season.

     Werner went to a farm to try a fresh Helpx adventure, but returned after one day, an escapee from his remote misadventure.  The next day a young lady Simone, also German, followed him to Toronto, abandoning the farmer, who was demanding many more hours of work from her than was reasonable or implied by any sort of Helpx guidelines.  She'd agreed to stay until Oct 22nd but Werner gave her the courage to leave after two weeks of 8 hour days, seven days a week, and we found her a much nicer place to stay, at Bill and Jan's.  She'd been very unhappy but felt that she had a "contract" with the farmer, even though she was working for free, and he'd be in hot water if the gov't found out what he does with his helpers.  Werner stayed here a few more days before heading to Montreal and Ottawa, but he'll return again this week on his way home to Berlin from Pearson Airport, long enough to have supper and play darts with us again at HYC on Wednesday evening. 

      Kyung Ho made us Korean BBQ called "Bulgogi" yesterday.  It is essentially marinated pork sirloin strips with veggies in a wok, served over rice.  Afterward we taught her and Yuko to play crockinole and farkle.
Today the three of us worked for four hours in the garden and the girls cleaned out my truck, while Deb put together a full traditional Canadian Thanksgiving feast, complete with turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie - the works, including our own rosemary, butternut squash, and as many other of our own garden ingredients as she could manage.  After a digestive break and nap, we watched the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown short from 1966 and then talked about Hallowe'en and tried to watch a scary movie to get them into the concept, but within the first five minutes of Night of the Living Dead (which I'd never seen) Kyung Ho fell off her chair when the first zombie attacked the lady visiting her mother's grave in the country cemetery.  Kyung Ho ran out of the room and we couldn't entice her back until we switched to Love Actually, which, oddly, I can't recall ever having seen before either, although I'm always ready to watch a romantic comedy.

    Nov 1st.  It's cold today, and we're getting our first early, wet snowfall, with big flakes sticking to cana lily leaves and the lawn.  I'll have to haul in everything green and see what we can salvage by putting it directly into the pot.  Here are photos of some of the activity at our house during the month of October.

   The past two weeks has been a medical adventure for me.  I woke up one morning wondering if Deb had elbowed me in the eye overnight, but the problem didn't go away.  After a few days I headed off to my optometrist to ask if my retina was detaching.  The bottom periphery of my field of vision in my left eye was disappearing.  The retina was okay, so he sent me to an ophthalmologist the following Monday morning.  After a battery of tests and an optic nerve scan, I went through an urgent series of appointments.  My vision seemed to have clouded up further over the weekend.  First they drew blood and my family physician sent me to Emergency at Toronto East General, where they administered prednisone right away.  I spent the whole day having the blood tests repeated, got studied by a second opthalmologist, got a CT scan, yet another blood test, and a referral the next day to a rheumatologist.  The rheumatologist booked me for a temporal artery biopsy in my left temple and an appointment with a neurologist colleague.  I'll have follow-ups with the first ophthalmologist and probably with some of the other specialists.  The chief suspicion is that I have giant cell arteritis accompanied by, and maybe triggered by, polymyalgia rheumatica which went undiagnosed all summer.  My complaint of neck pain at my annual physical was put down to run-of-the-mill arthritis.  The biopsy will be the best determinant.  If it is giant cell arteritis, I'll be lucky that we caught it before it spread further.  Some of the vision loss may be irreversible, but it could have spread to both eyes, and to other arteries in the body, even to the point of causing aneurism and death if it got to the heart arteries.  I have a band of obscurity across my left eye beginning just below the pupil, from about the horizontal axis, down to the bottom of the field of vision.  If I close my right eye and look in the mirror with just my left eye, I can see my eyes but not my nose or mouth.  I have to work around that to read music charts and see the piano keyboard under my fingers.

   As if that weren't bad enough, I have a appointment on Nov 12th to discuss a recurrence of kidney stones, for the third time.  They seem to come at four year intervals.  If I need surgery or targeted ultrasound ("shock wave lithotripsy") I won't get an appointment until at least mid-December, which will cause us to cancel our flights to Buenos Aires and delay our escape from the ice and snow and the cold of winter.  It won't be all bad.  I have a lot of sorting work to do in the basement which doesn't get done much in the summer months while we're enjoying the outdoors, and I can play music and indoor tennis.  Maybe we'll find a Helpx helper who can shovel snow.

   We enjoyed having Yuko and Kyung Ho here as Helpxers during October. They came separately, but their visits overlapped because of some last minute changes to both their dates.  They got along well and were able to work together in the garden.  They even made a side trip to Ottawa together.  One highlight of their stay here was my birthday party.  Another was when Deb made them both their first traditional Canadian thanksgiving dinner, with turkey and all the side dishes. 

   Yesterday we delivered Yuko to stay for the next two weeks with our friends Bill and Jan.  She was here for most of October, although she took side trips to Buffalo, Niagara Falls, Montreal and Ottawa.  She signed up for a month of morning ESL classes which continue until she goes home in mid-November.  She was one of the best Helpxers we've ever had, in terms of how polite and quiet she was, how uncomplaining, and how easily she adapted to our house.  Some helpers find it difficult to mold themselves into the sort of guest who can share our space without requiring Deborah to adjust her own peaceful routines and her standards of kitchen usage, cleanliness and organization, and scheduling.  But Yuko was perfect.  Her last act with us was to experience carving her first pumpkin, and at Bill and Jan's she got to "shell out" and then go to a Hallowe'en party dressed as Minnie Mouse in one of Jan's many costumes. Jan is a prolific sewer who loves making her own dresses and costumes, and often wears 50's styles just for fun.

   For one week we also had Kyung Ho Yoo from Korea, a slender, energetic fireball who was loud and full of laughter - quite opposite to Yuko, but she also got along well with Deborah, who enjoyed her sense of fun.  Kyung Ho went to another Helpx host after her week with us but quickly begged us to come back, and we had to put her up in our basement on an air bed.  Like Werner before her, who did the same thing, she discovered that not all Helpx hosts are made equally, and not all are completely upfront in their expectations. 

   Werner appeared to find it odd that we (mostly Deborah, but me too) have a prescriptive list of rules and expectations which we expect our helpers to read and agree to before they decide to come here.  From the comments in his review, he apparently imagined that some of those expectations would be a bit more relaxed in reality.  They weren't.  When he put chicken that he didn't like in our composter, Deborah scolded him for attracting raccoons and not heeding what she'd written in her set of instructions for staying here.  That set him back on his heels, and was reflected in his review of us as a host.  There were one or two other minor incidents that might have stung his pride a little; but that's nothing compared to the chaos and disappointment of arriving at a remote farm host and discovering that they were perhaps purposefully vague in their expressed expectations, and in some cases simply dishonest.  He also begged us to take him back after only a day on the farm, which we did, and we helped another escapee from the same farm. 

   I experienced, second-hand through our helpers, some surprisingly negative experiences of the Helpx system.  To begin with, frankly, Werner's review of us as hosts disappointed me.  He was snide about the strict adherence to the rules he'd agreed to in advance, and claimed he was being honest because we'd told him that honest reviews were important in the Helpx system; but although we gave him more than 100% of everything I'd advertised in writing in return for his minimal amount of labour, Werner only rated us at 80% (four stars out of five), presumably because of his wounded pride in accepting Deborah's scolding.   

    At Ontario wage rates, helpers stay with us for about half of what they'd pay in cash for a private room in a hostel, and they get the use of bicycles for free, and lots of free car rides.  Deb does their laundry for free, they get free garden produce, travel advice, job help, books to read, guitar and piano to play, and free wifi.  It was a real disappointment not to get top marks as hosts from him, especially since we also took him back in at the last minute when he wanted to escape from the farm.  Some people are very hard to please.  Fortunately, he is the rare exception in our list of twenty three different Helpx guests over the past two summers.  The only others we haven't had 100% approvals from were a young French guy with attitude who'd stretch a 1/2 hour job into his two hour daily shift - his own female partner characterized him as "lazy!" - and another young man who'd work for his two hours and then spend most of the rest of his days in his bedroom surfing the wifi, during some gorgeous summer days.  We couldn't figure out why he'd bothered buying an airline ticket to see another corner of the world, instead of just sitting at home all summer and exploring the world online.  I hate an 80% rating - I consider it "damning with faint praise", and in our case completely unjustified. 

   We spent a couple of days helping out the young friend from the farm that Werner had referred to us for rescue, Simone.  She is full of praise and appreciation for us.  Yet, in spite of my urging and Werner's claims to be very honest in his reviews and "not scared" of the host of his abortive experience on the farm, he wimped out of providing a negative one for that farm host, who had baldly lied to him about how many hours he'd be expected to work, and which days of the week.  He'd promised Werner in writing, by email, that he could do 28 hours over four days per week, but when they arrived at the farm the host presented him with a new schedule based on the fact that the animals needed his care every day of the week, for as many hours as it would take to get the chores done.  With only two helpers left in the fall, the others having gone back to school or jobs at home in Europe, Werner would be required to work every day, and much longer hours.  When Werner insisted that the host keep his original promise, the host proposed that Werner was welcome to take his three days off, but wouldn't get his room and board at the farm on those days.  Since the host had the only vehicle, that presented a whole new set of problems for Werner.

   Werner told the guy he just wouldn't stay, obviously.  He's 54, not destitute, and came to Canada for an adventure in travel and a cultural experience.  He's not as easily intimidated as the young 19 year old German girl who was already working at the farm.  Wouldn't you expect that Werner would write a negative review to warn future youngsters about what might happen to them if they chose that host?  I would...but he didn't. 

    Counting Werner, I now know of three instances this summer of helpers who've avoided writing negative reviews of two different hosts who actually deserved negative reviews.  Werner's bad host has 23 positive reviews and not a single negative one.  The explanation given by those who haven't written one at all is that he said he will only give them a positive review if they first write a positive one for him.  He's a bit of a charmer, I'm told.  He contacts young helpers from Europe in advance when they announce their intent to visit Canada, and picks them up at the nearest bus station.  He delivers them to his farm and then dumps the workload on them, feeding and caring for sheep and other animals.  If there are several helpers, they get to share the workload, but if there are only a two or three, they have to split the same workload. 

    As a result, the young German girl we rescued and found a place for with Bill and Jan had been working for him for more than 8 hours a day for two weeks straight with no days off and nothing special to do in her free time.  She thought she had to complete a month long "contract" until Oct 22nd, although she was working without pay, in return for only room and board.  She left the farm and came to Toronto at Werner's urging on Oct 6th.  Yet this jerk of a host, who tries to run his entire farm operation on free labour and young, inexperienced, unprotected workers, has 23 positive reviews and not a single negative one.  That's a scary example of the abusive and exploitative possibilities of the Helpx system, which we'd also heard about in a few cases in Australia.  It's not so much a cultural exchange as an exercise in exploitation and circumvention of the local labour market.  It is no wonder that New Zealand, where Helpx originated, has outlawed the organization.

   Other than all of that, life continues for me with music and the stock market as central activities.  The economy is going through strange and scary gyrations, and I'm trying to navigate safely through it but I feel like I'm canoeing white water right now, and might be in for an imminent dumping.   We're getting our brakes done by our neighbour on the ten year old green Suzuki Swift.  I was able to get to my weekend shift for haul-out at the yacht club, and our own boat came calmly and smoothly out of the water.  We've done this so many times now, there's no longer any anxiety around the process. 

    Our final Helpx helper will arrive this afternoon, a 33 year old teacher from Hong Kong named Anna.  She was supposed to come with a friend named Wendy from Taiwan, but apparently Wendy was in an accident and was hospitalized before she could leave.  I'll learn the full story from Anna, who will help me finish putting the garden into winter mode, and work with me in the workshop, moving everything back and forth and cleaning everything so that I can paint the floor, one small section at a time.  There's so much stuff down there, there's no room to empty a very large space all at once.  If there's time left over, she'll help me sort my book collection, which includes my own books, some of Dad's books, and books from Rod's house.  Then I have to figure out what to do with them all, once I've finished reading the ones that interest me.  An online book sale would work but it is a lot of effort and the shipping costs often make it a waste of time.  Getting around to reading them all is next to impossible, in the era of internet.  I spend most of my reading time online with my nose pointed at a computer screen, not between the covers of a book.

    Nov 16th.  We expect wet snow flurries that will finally stick to the ground over the next couple of days.  This is exciting for Anna (Leung Na) from Hong Kong, who has never seen real snow.  She sent a phone photo to her Dad, who was impressed because he'd also never seen snow.  Anna spent the weekend in Buffalo with Couchsurfing hosts Michael and Gillian, who took her to music venues, introduced her to jazz and rhythm'n'blues.  She saw both sides of Niagara Falls, took the Maid of the Mist cruise and saw spectacular heavy hoarfrost on the trees on the American side, created by the mist from the falls.  She's back here now until Tuesday, when she'll continue to Calgary and L.A. for a couple of weeks before returning to Hong Kong.  She spent October on a small farm in B.C. and the first two weeks of November here, and she's been a great guest and helper.  She's an adventurous traveler who will go home from a memorable two month experience in Canada and the U.S.  At home she's an early childhood teacher, ages 3 to 6.

      We went to the Commodore's Ball on the 8th, and played tennis outdoors on the 11th.  It was a lovely, sunny warm day. We had Yuko over with Bill and Jan for a farewell supper on the 12th.  She has gone to Brazil now for a couple of final weeks of adventure and will return to Japan after that.  We've had meals with Sheila, Ian and Ursula, and Greg and Christine.  We're social butterflies, these days.

      I'm doing a lot of medical tests in between all of that, one every second day it seems.  There are two separate issues, apparently unrelated.  The first is an extended bout of kidney issues, but not the same quick and painful extreme experience that I had the previous two times when I actually passed stones.  This time it is more of an aggravation with occasional discomfort and fatigue, and the current exploration is for cysts, which can presage a more serious condition than the passing of an occasional stone.  Mind you, up to half of everyone over the age of fifty have them.  They're almost always benign and don't cause any problems, although mine have, if that's what's actually causing the problem.  Many people who have them go through life without even knowing that they have them, so I guess the odds are in my favour.

      The second issue was more immediately serious, a partial loss of vision in my left eye due to a patchy grey cloud across my lower field of vision. 

      Both conditions came on very suddenly a month ago. Neither is completely solved or resolved yet.  We had to cancel our flights to Buenos Aires for Nov 25th because the urologist wants to do a testing procedure on that date, and for the vision loss I'm going through a long battery of tests, still ongoing: blood tests, CT scan, optic nerve scans, doppler ultrasound of the head and neck arteries, a temporal artery biopsy twelve days ago (I'm still waiting for the result), and an MRI last night, which was an interesting Saturday night out.  It's been a real adventure in the Canadian healthcare system.  We are unbelievably lucky, of course, that our health care is covered, and that everywhere I have to go is twenty minutes drive or less away from our house. I feel embarrassingly privileged compared to the rest of the world's billions of inhabitants.  What an incredible gift the accident of birth location can be.  About fifty percent of the eyesight in my left eye is curtailed, but we may have caught the problem and stopped it in its tracks with prednisone before it could spread to both eyes and elsewhere in the body, including the heart.  If it is an inflammation of the arteries, autoimmune in nature, the cause is unknown, but it can kill you if it goes untreated.

      So, there's lots of music going on now, instead of travel preparation.  There's the Monday uke jam, sometimes two back-to-back. One happens weekly, the other every second week. On Tuesday an 18 piece swing band meets, where I'm in the third trumpet chair. On Thursday, I play with various yacht club musicians.  On alternate Fridays, I play with a jazz combo which has moved beyond holding a bi-weekly jam and is now focused on a set list for performance.  Beginning this Saturday, I'll start with a new seven piece band that plays "soca, calypso, reggae, zouk, R & B, soft rock and world-music - all fusion with a jazz influence".  On Sundays I play with a rock band.  It's a musician's version of a "musical chairs", I guess. 

      The big basement floor painting project is well underway with Anna's energetic help.  We're doing the main rec room/storage room area as well as the workshop and furnace room. Soon we'll put everything back together, creating new space by sorting and getting rid of a lot of what we have been storing down there.  We'll get a large rug or two for the floor and have a versatile space for indoor storage, a library, a music space for a small group, and an office space for me, and still have enough space left over to set up a collapsible double air bed on a frame for any overflow of visitors.  I'm sad to give up my winter escape, but the silver lining is that I finally have time to finish organizing the basement and go through all the archival material I've collected myself and dragged home from Dad's collection last fall.  In addition to that pile of my stuff, and Deborah's massive stash'o'stuff, we have a lot of stuff that Rod was going to throw away when he moved out of his house because his storage space wasn't large enough to accommodate it.  There's definitely a need for time to make some headway on all that "stuff", and the gift of time is a silver lining to the cloud of my health scare.

    Dec 1st.  Combining fresh news with old, I've increased the November slideshow to twelve photos. They show our farewell dinner for Yuko who will return to Japan, Anna from Hong Kong, and Sol having his 92nd birthday lunch at our house.  His birthday was on Nov 28th.  Anna left for L.A. via Calgary on the 18th, after a push to do extra hours of work for me trying to complete the basement floor painting project.  I told her she didn't have to do it, but she seems to have a strong sense of duty to completion, and got it into her head that she really wanted to see the job done.  I was grateful, given that I was going through another bout of kidney pain during her last twenty four hours here.  She got a lot done for me, and when she left I was able to begin the next stage, the long process of sorting it all and putting it back together in a new and better way.

      Speaking of kidney pain, that's gone now.  Many suspicions have been ruled out and I believe I'll soon get a conditional green light for travel, once we complete the "period of stability" that will be required for securing medical travel insurance.  Vision in my left eye is still clouded, with no explanation yet as to the cause.  The investigation continues but the most dangerous possibility has been ruled out and now I'm being tapered off the massive dose of prednisone that was prescribed as a safeguard until we could be certain there was no life-threatening arterial inflammation. 

    Tapering off prednisone is an adventure that involves some weakness and fatigue. I have to fight the frequent urge to sink into a semi-catatonic state, and seem to barely tread water much of the day, while we wait for the adrenal glands to begin producing their own cortisol again.  There's blurred distance vision which may indicate sugar levels being knocked out of whack.  I have about eight pairs of glasses from older prescriptions that I'd tossed in a drawer and hadn't gotten around to donating to a third world eye clinic, which is where they will go eventually.  After several evenings of blurred vision resulting in very exciting night driving - man, you should see what the Christmas lights looked like! - and difficulty watching projected tv on the wall with Deborah, I went through the pile of discards last night and came up with a pair that cleared everything up for me instantly.  This morning my eyes preferred my current prescription, but one takes prednisone first thing in the morning with breakfast; within a half-hour I was back to blurred distance vision and if I go for a drive I'll be wearing the old pair once again. 

      Since my last entry, I've had a temporal artery biopsy which was fortunately negative, and a cystoscopy.  I played music with Don, Wayne Farrant, Don's friend Bo, Gord MacIntosh who is a sax player trying to set up a jazzy dance band called "Riddim and Brass"; the swing band, and Parker's jazz combo.  The weekly and fortnightly uke-enannies continue.  There are several people I'm in contact with to do some music but haven't arranged meetings yet.  There's a lady I'll do some volunteer work with this December: doing Christmas music concert/workshops at seven different womens' shelters in the city using a truckload (my truck) of instruments lent to us for the month from Long and McQuade.  I'm in the early stages of organizing a "February Blahs" event at the yacht club, an open mic evening where club members will perform for other members and guests in the Great Room.  One of the performing groups will be an a capella men's group singing sailor songs, sea chanties, etc.  Life is all "M&M's" right now: medical and musical. 

    Dec 12th.  What an adventure.  I spent yesterday and today in hell, so to speak, if hell can be defined as spending all day doing something that only makes you wish you were doing something else.  Prophylactic prednisone has been described as "shaking hands with the devil" - there's always a price to be paid.  "Sure", he says, "I'll remove the risk that you'll go blind in both eyes."  Turned out to be a false alarm, but wasn't worth taking the risk, so I accepted the prednisone.  The price was sugar levels spiking into the high twenties, a trip to my GP resulting in a referral to emerg on Toronto's big snow storm day, staff arriving late, patients piling up (some from car accidents - one every three minutes across the city according to a local tv news channel), and after numerous sugar and blood tests, no endocrinologist at hand but the emerg doctor spoke to him on the phone and I got my first ever insulin drip.  Once they got my reading down to 13.8, which took over an hour, more blood tests and a fresh prescription for Diamicron, I finally got to go home. 

    And where was Deb through all of this?  Why, sitting at a nearby Macdonald's, unable to determine when it might turn out to be smarter just to go home through the awful driving where six minutes of progress was taking twenty minutes.  I learned to text on my tiny cell phone, to keep her in the loop.  When the emerg doctor finally finished with me I sang to the nurses to get them to pull off my IV: "Please, release me, let me go..."  The other patients in chairs attached to their own IV's got a good laugh out of it.  The nurses had a thin sense of humour since they were already run off their feet.  The one who finally attended me smiled, but she was rough.  She yanked off the wad of tape and pulled the IV needle out a little side-to-side, so it hurt and bled a bit.  I'm becoming a bit of an expert on needle insertion and removal expertise.

   Today I made another trip to my GP Akriotis to report on the emerg doc's instructions and prescription, and my GP gave me free samples of the same drug but cut the dosage in half at first.  I got a glucose meter yesterday and will self-monitor.  Today's lunch reading was the highest yet, 28.8.  I spent probably five full hours just trying to get the meter to talk to the logging software on my computer, with the help of Bayer tech support...unsuccessfully.  What a day.  If I'd known, I'd have kept a paper log - but like Deb at McD's the day before, you just don't know that it'll be a long waste of time until it has already turned out to be a long waste of time.  And after all of that I finally found that there is an online log.  I can just enter my readings on their website, which the silly techies hadn't even bothered to mention.  But at least they got some skilled Spanish computer geek in Colombia to clean up all the old java and temp files on my computer.  That's a small bonus.  It should speed up my performance a little, maybe even a lot. 

   My next appts include a referral to endocrinologist, and to a diabetes clinic.  There will be an echo cardiogram, and more specialist follow-ups after the New Year.

   Now I'm finally getting back to all the chores and more interesting activities that I would have done over the past two days.  I had to cancel a visit to play Christmas music at one of the downtown women's shelters this afternoon, although I did manage one visit on the 9th.  I'll get to rehearse with the Caribbean dance band tomorrow, play the rock jam on Sunday, and practice other music through the weekend.  I'll get back down into the basement to do a bit more sorting.  There will never be nothing to do all through the winter, that's for sure.

    Dec 23rd.  Lissy has been here from Vancouver for three nights, visiting friends in Toronto before heading to Peterborough, Ottawa and Napanee for the rest of the Christmas week.  She's cheerful and nice to have in the house.  She treated us to a Chinese buffet on Monday, after uke jam - my choice, because a buffet allows me to choose diabetic-friendly items for my plate.  Today we'll eat Christmas turkey before she heads off to Jennifer's. 

   Uke jam continues but the three other music groups I join each week are in hiatus for the Christmas and New Year break, which gives me more time to woodshed at home.  I sometimes spend much of a day playing through my guitar charts, or a few hours at a time doing trumpet jazz standards and trying out improv solos. 

   We've had dinner with Laurence and Joan and learned the card game Hand and Foot, which takes too long to play. 

   The basement is beginning to look re-organized, with a nice new 9 x 13 carpet to warm up the look of the place.  Since we can't park the Suzuki for the winter as we've done in the previous five years, we bought a set of all-weather tires for it. 

   My 4x daily glucose readings are marching steadily downhill.  Most situations aren't good if they're going downhill, but this one is.  Today is my last day of two weeks of 20 mg prednisone daily.  I'm reduced to 15 mg, the next stage, for a week beginning tomorrow.  I'll post my chart since Dec 11th in the December photo album along with some Christmas photos.  I'm not down to target range yet, but getting there.  I'm learning a lot about my "condition" from those readings.  (Caution: the slideshow is a little naughty this time...prepare yourself.) 

   This morning I went for the echo cardiogram/graph (they seem to call it both names interchangeably) which included an agitated saline IV (little air bubbles) to look for any sign of holes in my heart, and there are none, although the technician told me that 25% of the population do have those.  There's no evidence of plaque in the main artery.  The cardiologist will study the digital videos and sounds recorded from the test and hunt for plaque in the smaller arteries and valves.  If plaque was not the culprit, the neurologist may look for another explanation for the vision loss - maybe not a blocked artery at all, but something directly in the optic nerve itself. 

   Since people ask: no, there's no pain involved.  The closest description I can give is that if you put on a pair of glasses that is smudged patchily with mud across your left lens, from the horizontal axis downward, and mostly in the centre right to the pupil, you'll see what I'm seeing...or not seeing, to be more accurate.

   We have a Christmas carol sing at Sheila's this evening, Christmas dinner with Ian and Ursula, a Boxing Day gathering at Laurence and Joan's, another turkey dinner with Deb's Dad Sol and his girlfriend Marcy on the 28th, Spanish tapas and/or tortilla with Rod on the 29th, and a New Year's Day Commodore's Levee at the yacht club.  So we have lots of social events through Christmas, and plans to eat out at various restaurants.  Deb has been collecting discount deals.  Lis will be back for two nights on the 29th and 30th.  So it'll be a busy season.  I'm content, between the social activities and the time to do music wood-shedding, and get work done in the basement.  Our first permanent snow blanket won't happen until January.  I may feel less sanguine about being here on cold days with snow on the ground for twelve weeks.  It's our first winter here in five years and I'm not sure how tolerable it'll be when one doesn't go out to work every day.  The cottage may begin to close in on me.  But I'll just see how it goes week by week, and keep my fingers crossed that we'll resume our winter escapes next year.

    Jan 11th, 2015.  The Christmas/New Year's period has come and gone.  The season included lots of reconnecting with friends, Christmas dinner at Ian and Ursula's, and Sol and Marcy came here for turkey.  Rob and Cyn came to town on the 29th and we had turkey soup with them and Lissy.  We had a Boxing Day party with Laurence and Joan. We Skyped with family.  We had two Christmas turkeys at our house - we have lots of turkey soup now.  Lissy was here for seven nights in total, punctuated with trips to the Peterborough branch of our clan, her Dad and Cyn, and friends in the city she was reconnecting with.  She developed a terrible cold, and also had to work remotely for some of the time while she was here, but we were delighted by her presence and felt really good about having her hang with us.  We closed out the season of celebration and re-connection with a trip to Buttermilk Falls to spend a night at Rob and Cynthia's.  Peter and Christina drove down from Ottawa, so we were all together for twenty-four hours, which was a good solid visit.     
     We were so busy that we happily stayed home for New Year's Eve - Deb's choice.  I was content to go along with that...we're getting old, I guess. 

     Now we're back to routine: the medical appts have resumed, the stock market has reopened and the music groups have started up again.  I'm planning an open mic event on Feb 15th at HYC for club musicians, and three of us are working up a set of sailing songs with guitars, mics and a drum box.  So I have a musical goal and a reason to practice, apart from working on my trumpet tunes for the jazz combo and for the swing band.  I counted up to seven different musical activities that I attend in a given week, although some will probably drop off or I'll just have to let them go to focus on the ones that are more active or serious.  I like a group that works on common tunes with shared charts rather than just jamming on charts that individuals choose from our list.  I can fake along to almost any tune, anticipating the keys by ear, although I'm better at that with the keyboard than with the guitar; but that gets boring.  It's more fun developing a song, being able to read the lyrics and contribute harmonies, and developing riffs and licks that I can use when we play a tune more than once.  I'm also leaning toward smaller groups.  Even though I can practice alone as much as I want, I don't, at least not enough.  I need social interaction to motivate me to practice.  But organizing larger groups of people isn't easy. Someone is always missing on any given week; so a duo or a trio seems to be the ideal size for me.

    Feb 2nd.  We're just into February, and already into the February doldrums.  We've just had our first serious snowfall.  Both of my weekend bands were cancelled, we've decided not to go to uke jam this evening because of the condition of the roads and parking.  The snowplows won't get to the side streets until tomorrow. Swing band was already cancelled for tomorrow because of a previously scheduled event at the school where we meet, and the guitar trio has been pushed back to Friday - if there isn't a further dump of snow before then. 

     Other than the fact that we've had to cocoon right now, everything has gone well in the previous three weeks.  We had very little snow in December and January.  We went to a "Rabbie Burns" dinner at the church up the street from the house we used to live in, had brunch with Moe Scott and Jennifer, and on another day enjoyed a visit from Ernie and Terri Olivo, the first we've seen of them in years, except for occasional Facebook postings by Ernie.  I began to play tennis again, which I was discouraged from doing while my sugar levels were spiking.  Now I get to play for two hours, once a week, at indoor courts, but that's also cancelled for this week due to scheduling conflicts for the other players.  We celebrated Deborah's 64th birthday twice, going to one Chinese buffet by ourselves and to another where we were treated by Sol.  Chinese buffet is a good restaurant choice for me because I can select lots of vegetables and proteins, at least, and sugar-free ice cream for dessert.

     My glucose-spiking prednisone prescription has finally been tapered off to zero a week ago.  That's after a month on 60 mg/day and then six weeks of gradual tapering, all for a "false alarm" over suspected arterial inflammation which was proven absent by a negative biopsy of a one centimetre snip out of my temporal artery.  My pancreas doesn't seem to function as well as it did before, but my glucose levels are all completely back within the healthy range, with the help of diamicron and metformin, both of which I've been able to reduce now that the prednisone is out of my system.  I've managed some weight loss, about a lb a week most recently, and I'm hoping to taper off the diamicron completely as well.  I was on metformin for years already, and that medication doesn't worry me much because although it is most commonly prescribed for type II diabetes, it is also supposed to have both anti-aging and anti-cancer effects, according to a University of Montreal study.  It inhibits tumour development.  I'm not sure how it manages to keep me from aging, but I'm optimistic that it might be true, and perhaps that's half the secret.

     So, here we find ourselves in the depths of winter gloom, but getting by.  I try not to think about our aborted trip to Argentina, Chile and Uruguay.  The stock market recovered somewhat through January after an ugly end-of-year drop caused by an energy supply glut.  A healthy stock market puts me in a better frame of mind.  We're feeling housebound, but I'm addressing cabin fever by practicing music and going down to the basement periodically to continue the sorting and downsizing exercise. 

    Feb 21st.  We're officially experiencing the coldest February on record in Toronto.  There's lots of snow, most of which Deborah shovels because she can't stand to wait until I think there's enough to warrant using the big sled shovel on it.  My piano students or their Dad sometimes help her; that was the deal: free piano lessons in return for shoveling our snow all winter.  Still, it isn't so terrible here compared to the maritime provinces where we see snow up to the roof lines of houses, and cars completely buried in it.

     To pass the time in good humour, I continue to play in all the music groups described previously, and we've been watching some tv: Schitt's Creek, Big Bang, Parks'n'Rec, and the occasional movie courtesy of Lissy who hooked us up with her Netflix subscription.  Lara is back in Toronto and came over for a visit. 

     I bought a KC 60 Roland keyboard/vocal amp so that I can use my keyboard more, but I'm also doing a lot more harmonica.  We'll play a set of singalong tunes for Pub Night at HYC in March. I learned to play cross harp on my G harmonica for the intro to Dirty Old Town.  At the same time, I bought a Fender Jazzmaster guitar, my first serious electric guitar.  I'm not 100% certain that I care whether I own an electric guitar, since my reconstructed classical guitar sounds so rich and good, but I'll practice with the new one and see if I can find a use for it.  I'm becoming a multi-instrumentalist.  For my last gig, I used guitar, melodica, harmonica and trumpet.  This time I'll use my keyboard, as well as incorporating the ukulele, the banjo, G and C harmonicas and possibly a plastic flute or penny whistle. 

     On the 15th we hosted an Open Mic afternoon at the club.  Ten musicians came, and we played as a six piece and two trios: Red Sky, Off the Hook and Lost at C.  Our audience was small, mostly spouses and the bartender and his wife, and of course each other.  That's because it was so cold that many of our musicians couldn't even start their cars in the morning, and most audience members stayed home.  But it was a good afternoon, and I made a slideshow.

    March 1st.  Sol's partner for the past six years, Marcy Miller, died this morning.  She was in her mid-seventies.  Sol is 92.  We are sad, and he is heartbroken.  Sol lost his previous partner Irene about eight years ago after a lingering and drawn out decline with Alzheimer's.  They'd been together about 28 years.  With his typical sense of humour, he states that his next girlfriend will not be more than 25 years old - he's not investing his remaining years in women who will die before he will.  He's staying at home and declining visitors today, he says, to "cry in his beer", although in his case he'll be crying in his green tea, because he doesn't drink beer. 

    March 5th. we attended Marcie's funeral and burial yesterday, in a synagogue full of hundreds of people.  Sol spoke first at her funeral, a short but very affecting speech.  His first line was, "It is not true that old people can't fall in love."  He was quite taken with Marcie, and her effect on him never waned in the six years they were together.

     The cold lingers, and the forecast is that it will continue to linger through early March.  The day was warm for the burial, only about -3, but now it is -14, with wind chill taking it to -23.  We won't see our historical average highs for this time of year, which is one degree above zero, until the middle of March.  

    March 28th. Spring officially arrived a week ago, yet we still have nighttime temperatures well below zero.  This morning it is -9 at 9 a.m., and it'll only get to a high of -1 at the peak today.  Four days from now, it looks like we'll finally have nighttime temperatures at only zero or above, so it'll feel more like spring.

     On March 13th I achieved a personal goal of performing in public on guitar, banjo and ukulele, along with harmonicas and penny whistle, at HYC's British Pub Night.  Wayne Farrant and I provided singalong tunes for two hours to a crowd of almost a hundred members, with the help of Martin Obern playing bass, Richard Findlay and Sean Lise.  It was extremely well-received, we got rave reviews and a request to repeat the event this summer and/or again next winter. 

     This evening I'm playing trumpet and providing harmonies to CBYC with Stu's "house band".  It seems likely that Stu will draw me into his group, since Carlos has not made any overtures to invite me back to his "Red Sky".  This is actually a better outcome for me, because Carlos' group is comprised of frustratingly slow musicians, and can't simply learn even a few new tunes with a week's notice, using charts, whereas Wayne and I managed to put our two sets together in two weeks and he was on a cruise for one week of that.  For tonight's gig I've only had one rehearsal with the group.  They've only had three, but they actually sound like a professional working group.  Of course, I continue to work at improving my trumpet chops, developing my keyboard improv skills and jazz chord voicings, and my guitar and banjo skills.  I bought a new electric guitar, a Squier Jazzmaster, and that'll be my new project after tonight's gig, although I continue to love and play the acoustic that I rebuilt after Rod put his foot through it.  My ongoing weekly musical activities include uke jam, jazz combo, Caribbean dance band, and classic rock jam, and in May Deb and I will go to Midland for a Ukulele Festival weekend.

     Today we went to Seedy Saturday, which we attended last year.  We came home with pockets full of seeds for this year's garden.  When it is a bit warmer and sunny, and dry during the days, I'll begin raking winter debris and tidying up our garden beds, in preparation for putting these seeds in the ground. I have Rod's portable greenhouse, so I'll begin some plants early: beans and squash perhaps.  We'll probably still buy most of our tomatoes as seedlings, but I'll start some of the more unusual varieties from seed, and I'll do staggered starts of lettuces and other greens through the spring and summer so that we always have some greens at their peak of perfection at every point during the summer.  Many greens can tolerate colder temperatures, so I'll start some quite soon and put them in the garden a month early.

     April will include a few swing band performances, among other musical activities.  We'll be preparing the boat for launch on the 25th or so, and doing our taxes.   Life is simple and pleasant, like a warm, leisurely, endless meal.

    May 5th.  The weather finally turned warm, a rather abrupt step up from April's lingering cold, and we are now running above average for this time of year.  Benoît Gaude from Grenoble came for two weeks and helped me by turning the soil in the gardens, getting two truck loads of compost, emptying my seven composters, and lots of other hard work.  I mixed soil and charged the planters.  I've started lettuces, kale and radishes in driveway planters.  The first beans will go in today.  We were expecting Ben to stay for three weeks, but he landed a job and had a week free before it started so he accepted an invitation to drive to Florida with a new friend, in order to have an adventure before work begins for him as a telephone tech agent at an e-Commerce POS call centre.  He was a five star house guest/Helpx helper who did solid work for me for the two weeks that he was here, and he was extremely quiet and easy to have around.  We only have two more helpers booked for the second half of the summer, but Ben got me off to a good start for the season.  I've begun my Spring 2015 photo album.

   The sailboat was launched on April 25th, and we put up the mast this afternoon.  We prepped and then stepped the mast, tuned the rigging, attached the boom and mainsail, and helped two other sailors with their boats, all within four hours.  I played a tennis round robin at Opening Day on May 2nd, and my first house league match last night.  May will include a visit from Mom, and connections with siblings, nieces and cousins.

      The Caribbean dance band produced a demo set of songs for festival organizers, on which I played keyboard, but I withdrew from the band to avoid gigging now that they're on the doorstep of doing that.  I also withdrew from the Sunday classic rock jam.  I need a more open schedule to enjoy sailing, tennis, socializing with friends and gardening all summer.  The Music Lovers swing band has performed three concerts and will do one final one at Andy's memorial service.  Andy was the elderly guitar player, who died. Then the swing band will disband for the summer.  The uke jams continue and those will probably remain strong over the summer. The uke is a very "summer instrument", and we come across more and more people who want to get together and play.  I'm enjoying my six string guitalele, which supports my effort to improve my guitar skills.  I just have to transpose to switch back and forth.  The Parker jazz combo continues to meet. There's finally a little bit of recent conversation about getting out to play at a retirement home or similar venue, which I won't mind doing if it is local and not too frequent.

   Deb and I are enjoying a series of dinners, some of them free: two Canadian Power Squadron AGM's, and Retired Teachers of Ontario.  We have Sailpast coming on June 6th, and dinners with Laurence and Joan who've returned from Florida.  Gung Ho Day at the yacht club is May 9th, this coming Saturday, with a forecast of 27 degrees.  My basement is warming up, and I'm spending time down there organizing my workshop, turning it into a jam room for friends who'll come to play music with me.  I'm clearing out the back room and doing a concrete repair.  I'll spend a lot of time down there through the summer going through old family letters, films and tapes, and thinking about getting that material onto the cloud somehow for family members separated by distance to be able to access.  I can't hang onto that stuff forever, but I don't want it to disappear into oblivion.

   Deb and I have recently become more aware of current issues in climate and sustainability, which threatens to upset the balance of our happy existence.  Deep freezes each winter in Toronto, terrible drought and water depletion in California (a lot of the produce supplied to the N. American continental market comes from there); the massive impact of livestock and mono-culture crops and the need for a wholesale shift to vegan diet or other protein sources; the promise of electric autonomous vehicles and community power from solar and renewable energy production combined with new lithium ion battery technology, and what that can mean for the economy, the stock market, the highway system, and parking lots.  The future is both frightening and promising, and we've seen in the past how massive change can happen in a decade, so fast that it makes your head spin - for example, when the first automobiles replaced horses.  We want to be prepared, sitting on high ground, not swept away by a tsunami of change.  There's a lot to continue to learn and consider, and to remain watchful about.

    May 25th.  Mom was here for a six day visit.  Together we saw Lara and Guillaume and Jack, Janice, Clarence, Brian and Theresa, Rob and Cynthia, and Tom Ricketts Jr.  We held our first BBQ of the season for the collected family.

     After Mom returned to Camrose, Deb and I went to Midland for a 36 hour Ukulele Festival, billed as a "First Annual".  The line-up of performers was great: Ralph Shaw, David Woodhead, the Small World Project, (man, they were powerful!) Dan Mclean Jr. who volunteered his skills as a sound engineer and workshop leader training people in mic technique, and many talented players and singers who weren't on the official bill.  We sat in the front row ten feet from the stage, and barely put our own ukuleles down.  The performers ran workshops for us on Saturday afternoon and we had several jams, which Steve McNie called his "Ukestra" sessions.  We had a great singalong until 1:30 in the morning with the Bytown Uke Group from Ottawa, and on the second night we had an intimate open mic at the Cellarman next door in a very small space.  We heard some terrific tunes by talented amateurs, fellow participants.  The great thing about a Uke jam is that the musicianship is high level but the gathering is measured in dozens rather than hundreds, so we felt like a large family.  The performers were friends we could talk with and hang out with, not distant, security-laden celestial bodies like rock concert artists. 

    We met and hung out with Matt Gerber, an extremely nice person (quintessentially "Canadian") who writes clever and funny songs.  We laughed along to Mr. Furious, a quirky singalong song.  "Without U" is clever and will amuse all "Canadian spellings, please!" people.  His day job is working for Bombardier as a structural frame engineer.  After becoming friends with him we saw him hiking back to his hotel along Main Street at 1:30 a.m. so we pulled over and gave him a ride, and the next morning he gave us his CD in gratitude.

     Apart from that, we've managed to get the garden in during the past three weeks.  Benoît got a job and left us after two of the three weeks we'd hoped to have him here, so I did the heavy lifting myself after he was gone, and Deb helped by setting the seedlings.  She always trims the hedge too, while mowing the lawn and setting up the garden and patio are my jobs.  I've perfected my seed-starter technique, a three stage process that seems very efficient and satisfying.  We had a cold snap, which scared me a little.  I was afraid of damage to my tender seedlings on the driveway, but they came through unscathed.  I was reminded of the risk of planting early.  Down here close to the lake we are in a narrow ribbon of "B" zone for gardening, not as good for early planting as the "A" zone that includes the Niagara Peninsula, but better than most of southern Ontario's "C" zone. It is not as risky to plant early here in Scarborough, but in Midland we woke up to frost on our windshield on Saturday morning.

     We attended three free dinners: Canadian Power and Sail squadron AGMs, and the Retired Teachers of Ontario AGm  They always need a quorum for the AGMs, so we attend and get fed.  House League tennis began - unfortunately it is scheduled on Monday nights, which cancels out my attendance at the Stone Cottage Uke Jam for the summer.  I attended the Opening Day round robin.  Now that the Uke Festival has passed, my calendar is open for house and sailboat maintenance.  I'll do a bit of concrete work in the basement back room, keep planting out seedlings, repair the seal in the sailboat windows, and get the boat out on the water.

    Our annual Sailpast, which is a day that marks the official opening of the recreational sailing season at our club, is on June 6th, so we want to be ready for that, and squeeze in a few sails beforehand.  After Sailpast, we'll have four months of good sailing weather.

    May 29th.  We had our first handful of haskap, a.k.a. honeyberries, with yoghurt this evening.  A few strawberries are just reaching full size and beginning to get a reddish tinge to them.

     Yesterday was a red letter day for me: my physician announced that I'd lost half a pound each week steadily for six solid months, a 5% loss, and gave me the thumbs up to cut both my diabetes and my blood pressure medication in half. 

     Tuesday was my last swing band practice for the season, and Ted Graper gave me two tickets to Tafelmusik for the next night - front row centre balcony seats, just two seats away from where we always sat with Pat and Clare Taplin.  We enjoyed Vivaldi's Gloria and Handel's Coronation anthems.  We had Laurence and Joan and Marj over for chowder.  Tomorrow morning Deb is starting a new uke group of beginners in our living room. 

     Other than that, we've just done many hours of planting.  I've perfected my process of seed germination using the wet folded and labelled paper towel technique from the elementary classroom, followed by paper cups with three holes in the bottom of each to suck up water for a sprout nursery.  The paper cups have a code written on the side to identify each plant, and can have their base pulled back to be planted directly into the garden so that the root ball stays intact and protected.  We're hoping for a bumper crop of bush and pole beans, eggplant, summer and winter squash: buttercup, triamble, butternut, spaghetti, Japanese buttercup, striped Italian zucchini, yellow crook-neck, straight neck, cocozelle, and more.  We'll have lots of greens and tomatoes for home-grown salads with no blister beetles in them.  We've learned that some customers have been surprised by these toxic beetles in their bagged salads from Loblaws and Sobeys.  We're even trying carrots, cabbages, turnips and radishes this year.  In the next day or so, I'll begin some musk melons and okra, which do best in the heat of the summer.

    July 2nd. During June the garden expanded and I obtained soil from Craigslist. Other homeowners gave it away for free: almost a yard of triple mix and as much soft East York sandy garden soil as I want to take away.  The sandy soil is fine, soft stuff that is great to the touch, drains well and amends my own clay-heavy soil.  I also got some organic compost material, and half-price split bags from the garden centres.

     In the middle of the month my doctor cut my diabetes meds in half yet again, so I'm down to a quarter of what I was taking during the prednisone episode, and half of what I'd been doing for years.  My weight is still dropping about a half-pound a week, and I'm getting a clean bill of health from my primary care physician and specialists. 

    We enjoyed Sailpast at the club on June 6th.  I played the General Salute for the flag raising.  We've enjoyed Friday "sausage night" with Ian and Ursula several times, and had a BBQ at Brent's house.  It was a farewell BBQ, because Wrigley's closed their Toronto plant and he's decided to move back to Newfoundland, where Kelly is from, although he is actually from Nova Scotia.

     We drove to Montreal in Sol's car for Cynthia's 50th birthday party.  Sol did most of the driving, and he's no spring chicken.  He's 92 now.  We stayed at Judi's for a couple of nights.  Sylvia and Fred came to the party, and we met some of their old friends and younger cousins: Louisa, Frank and Sophie.

     Our new Helpx "couple" will be here six days from now: a Mom and daughter from Beijing.  Chenqi is an engineer, and Lily, ten years old, is going to a Canadian scout camp for five days in the middle of the two weeks they'll be staying here.  We got bunk beds with new mattresses and some right-sized fitted sheets for the spare room from Pat and Clare's daughter and son-in-law Christine and Dan.  I got hardware to set them up, and built a restraining rail from fancy green rope for the upper bunk for Lily.  Deb picked up a Canadian polar bear teddy bear, and I took half of a 5' step-ladder, painted it white with a glow-in-the-dark coating and hooked it up to the upper bunk.  It looks quite ghostly at night.  There will be a night light in the room so they probably won't need it, but Deb is amused by the concept. 

     We're eating lots of stuff from the garden now - radish greens soup with shallots, green onions, rapini, salads with our own lettuce, kale, radishes and cucumbers, and delicious cabbage stew.  We're going on a club cruise to Lakeshore Yacht Club this weekend, and will have dinner downtown at Lara's tomorrow evening. 

    Aug 1st.  The garden has exploded over the past month.  We get a steady stream of visitors to our backyard patio who suddenly stall in the middle of a sentence and admit that they are transfixed by the fecundity of our garden.  There are seven distinct areas of interest, and far more food than we can keep up with.  The excess is given and fed to friends who visit, and to the food bank.  A lot gets frozen in the upright freezer that Valerie needed to get rid of.  It lives in the back room of our basement now. 

     I invite friends to visit by telling them that "Steve's Salad Bar is Open...all locavore produce - from within thirty feet of your chair!"  That's from a tiny little suburban lot.  My Chinese neighbours Zhou and Cao (wife and husband: "Joe" - like the J in Jian Ghomeshi, or the French word jardin - and "Chow") grow a phenomenal amount of food for themselves, their children and grandchildren from their growing area, which is about a quarter of the backyard that I have available.  Any tour of my garden includes a gawk over the fence into their garden as well.  I really enjoy the fresh produce Deborah is prepares, cold or cooked, and I feel supernaturally healthy and vibrant.  The cold dishes are fascinating: salads and gazpacho don't have a single pleasant flavour, but a festival of flavours in a single bowl.  The smell of my garden is often wildly intoxicating: young tomato plants, basil, and other greenery and earthy smells.  I wake up with the sunrise each morning, without an alarm clock.  I live in shorts, t-shirt and sandals, and each day is delicious.

     This month we enjoyed a visit from Chenqi (pronounced "Shenji") and Lily from Beijing, which was a pleasant experience for all of us.  They're featured in our summer slideshow.  Lissy came for a short visit as well, and she stayed a couple of nights. The rest of the month was filled with our usual summer activities, including tennis matches and tennis socials, uke playing, a bit of sailing and a lot more time spent watering and potting out plants, since the garden has expanded.  We've had a long dry spell over the past week, which included our usual summer heat wave for the last week of July.  With temperatures over 30 and a high humidex, it felt as hot as any tropical vacation we've had.  That annual summer stretch of heat is what finally ripens off the determinant tomatoes, which we'll enjoy in salads, gazpacho, on burgers, with haloomi and basil for breakfast, and so on.  From today onward, we'll be back to temperatures in the mid-twenties with nights that drop to the mid to high teens, which is the climate in paradise, I'm pretty sure.

     Looking forward, we have our club's annual Big Brothers and Sisters Sail coming up next weekend.  We'll take a kid out on our boat, followed by Curry Night on O Dock, and in the evening we'll enjoy outdoor movie on the point under the giant weeping willow tree.  The following weekend it will be Family Day with a pirate theme, where we'll perform a set of pirate songs for the kids. I'll continue to cobble together dance sets for Octoberfest in September.  Wayne Farrant and I will play using his drum box for rhythm, and we might be joined by a new club member who plays guitar, mandolin, banjo and pedal steel.  I'm starting to take apart parts of the garden, but I'll start a new set of pole beans and some kale, swiss chard and lettuce, which will produce well into the fall.  We have a new Helpx helper arriving mid-month, and brother Rob and Cynthia have another big moving day coming up at the end of this month. Deb might head to her uncle Abe's 50th wedding anniversary in Maine with Sol, although that's beginning to look like a long and grueling trip for them whether they go by air or by car, so the decision is still up in the air, I understand. 

    Aug 16th.  In spite of my prediction two weeks ago, temperatures are not in the mid-twenties.  They're above 30 - "feels like 40" - this weekend. (Aug 17th: 31 degrees, humidex 40, another record broken.)  We have fans in the house, but no air conditioning; but you should see how the tomatoes are ripening up and the peppers are almost exploding into huge numbers and size of fruit on each plant!

   Chris Moffat dropped over for a visit.  Cancer beaten, he seems much improved now, has had vocal chord repair done and put on some weight and good colour. 

   I played tennis with the regular gang, Jim, Don and Paul.  We came back for beer on my patio.  I also played in my first club tournament, a full day event.  That kind of competition is something I'd always previously avoided, but it turned out to be more fun than I expected, and we were well fed.  We took a Big Brother Doug and his "little" Sebastian out for a sail on BBBS day at HYC, and we enjoyed the annual Curry Invitational Pot Luck on O Dock.  We took Ian and Ursula sailing.        

   Yesterday I played my set of pirate and sailing tunes for the kids at HYC for Family Day, and a bunch of swash buckling companions stepped up to help out: Carlos, Don, Martin, Paul Mackay and Steve Halloran.  We called ourselves Bucky and the Buccaneers, and played most of the following set:

Under the Sea from The Little Mermaid
What Shall We Do With a Drunken Pirate – singalong
Shiver Me Timbers, from the Muppet Movie Treasure Island
Blow the Man Down – singalong
Whale of a Tale – from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
Puff the Magic Dragon – singalong
If I Had a Boat, Lyle Lovett
I’s the B’y – singalong
Row, Row, Row your Boat/Come on Down to My Boat/Don't Rock the Boat Baby mash-up
Sailing, Sailing/Sailor’s Hornpipe - a Disney cartoon mash-up
Sloop John B – singalong

   I've watched a number of recent funny movies with Deb, did lots of gardening and especially harvesting - Deb threatened divorce today if I brought her any more zucchinis, but when I pointed out that I'd leave them there in the garden but they'd only be bigger by tomorrow, she relented.  She simply resorted to "urban farmer shaming", as you'll see in the summer photos The garden is finally slowing down, and there's finally enough space between the foliage to get in and find zucchinis that have given us the slip until now - the larger ones, therefore.  So there is some expectation of zucchini chocolate cake on the horizon. Powdery mildew has hit the squash leaves and I'm treating it in separate patches with garden sulphur, baking soda solution, milk solution and vinegar solution, to see which it dislikes the most.

   I skyped with Dianne; ran Oktoberfest dance tunes with Wayne; Lara came for a visit and we had a gazpacho lunch.  Yesterday our latest Helpx helper, Caroline Devaux, arrived from Paris via Peterborough to give me a hand with the garden.  This morning she mowed the lawns and harvested beans for us, while I did a great many tie-ups and re-potting, and harvested the tomatoes and zucchinis.  In the process of tying up, I discovered plants I'd forgotten about in pots under overgrowing tomato plants...obviously edibles, but what?  "Chinese" cabbage? kale? something very mysterious that looks a lot like an enormous arugula, actually.  Doesn't taste bad.  But we already have so much kale and other leafy greens to eat in addition to our beans, tomatoes, zucchini, and squash.  We've been eating callaloo,  a.k.a. African spinach, amaranth, and other names. I'm eating callaloo soup as I write this, with our own peppers and okra in it.  We eat Chinese broccoli, bok choy, a new crop of cucumbers, and lots of other food.  Deborah has a nightmare vision of multiple Steves marching into the kitchen with buckets of fresh produce like the magic brooms in the Sorcerer's Apprentice.

    Aug 30th.  I'm still in shorts, as the temperature remains above average.  It might stay this way for two more weeks according to the fourteen day forecast.  I learned that scientists have pegged July of this year as the hottest month on record, when they combined worldwide averages. 

   We had the usual summer slump in the stock market, but there was also a flash crash that I should have waited for.  I loaded up low, but too soon and not at the bottom.  Next year I'll try to exercise restraint until the end of August.  I should check the historical charts.  Now all I can do is collect dividends and wait to see what the market does through the fall and winter.

   Our Helpx helper was 19 year old Caroline Devaux from Paris, and she was a very good tourist.  She saw something new in Toronto every single day that she was here, and took a day trip to Niagara Falls as well.  She did steady garden work for me, and some painting that I'd wanted to get done.  We took her to the airport yesterday.  She is returning to year two of her university sociology program.  Our next helper is an older German lady named Ute, arriving Sept 9th and staying until the 26th.  Borja and Lara, our Helpx helpers from a year ago, having completed their year's working visa in Canada, are returning to Spain today.

   Yesterday we drove to Barrie to attend a BBQ with Brian and Theresa, and met their bowling club friends. Rob and Cynthia will be completing their move to their new house this weekend, but Cynthia had help from friends at work and gave me a pass on driving all the way out there to help them move for the second time in as many years.  Soon we'll go out just to see the new place.

   The daily garden harvest is still huge.  Socializing with friends continues unabated, mostly with Lawrence and Joan, Ian and Ursula, Rod Smith, our uke group, and yacht club "friendlies".  Deb took a short break from volunteering one day a week at the food bank, but she's back at it now.  I'm practicing Oktoberfest dance tunes with Wayne Farrant two days a week through until Sept 26th, and Deb and I will go on a club sail to Port Credit this weekend.

    Sept 10th.  After nine days of July heat-wave temperatures in September, we finally have the respite of seasonal temperatures.  Not cold enough to close the windows, even at night, but much more comfortable.  We sailed to Port Credit last weekend on a Mexican-themed club cruise.  We ate well, and played music for the sailors.  Mike and Hope Thomas have joined our club and we introduced them to Mike and Janet Bauer.  They'll be part of the next wave of club members, a generation just a decade behind ours.  Their kids are the same ages and genders, which bodes well for a total family connection, and they are all musical.  Sadly, there was - as usual - almost no wind from the right direction going or coming, and the weather forecast was woefully in error.  But the motor functioned perfectly except for some odd moments with starting. 

   Now I'm practicing a full evening of dance tunes for Oktoberfest on my keyboard.  Wayne Farrant comes over twice a week to rehearse with me.  Jazz combo is meeting again tomorrow, and swing band in a couple of weeks, so I'm playing my trumpet again to get my lip back in shape.  The garden is in full tomato and pepper production. Peak swiss chard, lots of beans and winter squash are ready to harvest and there is a small resurgence of zucchini.  Yesterday Ute arrived, a middle-aged German nurse who seems very fit.  She'll be here for two weeks to help with maintaining, harvesting and taking the garden apart, and I'll get her to do a little work on the boat as well.

    Oct 15th.  We picked apples at Elly's on Sept. 23rd.  They gradually ripened as I ate them over the past three weeks, but I learned that they were actually kind of greenish when we picked them and became yellowish with time, and by then they were softer, sweeter and tastier.  There is still a ton of produce coming out of my own garden, and we're giving a lot of it away.

   Our Oktoberfest performance fell flat.  It was a long day, and people were already tired by the time that Wayne and I were scheduled to play.  The organizers asked us to play from 8 until midnight, but people were asking us to start right after dinner, and we should have.  By the time we did start, many had already left and we had lost our momentum and our critical mass of party-people in the room.  We did our first two sets right away and had people up dancing but it didn't last, and we sadly pulled the plug on the rest of our material, packed up and went home early. 

   Now I'm working on backing tracks for our current sets. I'll try to learn how to program Rod's drum box, although I'm nervous about its memory limitations, which I've read about but haven't experienced yet.  I'll use most of what we have for any solo gigs that I might try, and replace a few with other favourites.  A lot of these songs can be used for uke group, and with guitar.

   We attended Andrea and Corey's wedding in Invermere, B.C. on Oct 6th.  We flew to Edmonton, slept at Peter's for one night, then drove with him and Christina to the wedding.  After one more night at Peter's upon our return, we came home.  It was a short but concentrated visit that allowed us to connect with most of my family.  It was the next best thing to a family camp out, which we haven't had for a couple of years now. 

   Swing band has started, but I've had to find replacements for frost-bite tennis because they are on the same night.  I missed the first swing band rehearsal and the first jazz combo evening while we were in Alberta and B.C., but I went to the swing band second rehearsal this past Tuesday and I'll go to jazz combo tomorrow.  Apart from that, I'll just play through our current sets list with Wayne once a week, and get together with Don once in a while to play the songs he likes, as well as the Monday uke group, which continues.

   Ute continued her travels on the 26th, heading for Miami, then back to Germany, then on to New Zealand in the New Year to connect with her daughter who is doing an au pair there.  On October 11th Jorge arrived here from Spain and he is working with me in the garden from now until the 25th while he searches for work and a place to live.  He has a one year visa, so he'll be around to go for a sail with us next summer, but he arrived a bit too late to squeeze in a sail this year, although he played darts at the club with us last night.  He is a tall, amiable 24 year old business admin/law (Spanish law) grad, but will be content to find any retail or customer service job here.  The garden is trim and up to date, and we are collapsing everything in a timely manner.  I'm worried about having enough fresh jobs for Jorge to do each day, but I guess I'll come up with something. 

   We've just agreed to host another young German teacher for a week in November.  She'll be our final helper for the year.  I'm hoping her stay will coincide with the first frost, so she'll have enough to do, helping me take apart the rest of the plants in the main garden, moving flowers in the front year, and bringing down the ropes for the squash vines.  The cool October-like weather arrived this week.  We have a zero temperature forecast overnight this Saturday for the first time. I'll tarp the patio greens for two nights of that, but I don't think it'll get that cold in my back yard, which is a bit of a micro-climate unto itself as well as being in the little band of moderated climate close to the lake.  After that it is forecast to warm up again until the end of October.  

   I'm struggling a bit with the concept of staying here for another winter, although not as concerned about it as I've been in previous years.  Maybe getting through last winter helped me reconcile myself to the experience.  It's certainly something we'll have to accept when we're too old to travel.  Deb is keen to take the Chile to Argentina cruise but we'd have to book it for two weeks at the end of November, which is short notice from now, and we still have to get to Chile, so that seems like we might be jumping the gun a little. We'd need to make arrangements to leave the house empty again.  I'm more inclined to take shorter last minute trips this winter, and use the time at home to continue developing my music sets and sorting through all the papers, videos, books and films in my basement.  It would be good to trim the house contents down to an amount that we could store if we moved into a smaller place that was more appropriate to leave empty for months at a time.  There certainly has to be a better solution than what we have.  The ideal might have been to buy the semi beside Ian and Ursula when that was available, so that I could have had a smaller garden, with friends as neighbours, and we could have had a built-in property watcher right next door when we wanted to be away.  I'll have to work toward making that a possibility if the opportunity ever crops up again.

    Oct 30th.  The garden has been put to bed for the winter, with the help of Helpxer Jorge Encina, and the sailboat has been hauled out and put in dry dock.  I did my haul-out shift last Saturday, six hours in the tow boat with Don Davies, but we only had two boats to move.  It drizzled a bit, but was mostly a relaxing chore.  Our own boat got lifted on Sunday morning.   

   I did winterizing chores this week, but mostly I focused on music.  I started up a winter acoustic guitar/uke/banjo/mandolin group at the yacht club.  Last night we had our first meeting.  We learned to play Harvest Moon as Neil Young does it, which seemed appropriate to the season. I had charted it yesterday morning, and I learned and played the harmonica solo.  We got all the way through it after a few starts, and then we worked on songs from Deb's uke book but played them with guitars, mostly.  We played in an empty clubhouse sitting on couches in front of a gas fireplace, from 7 until 10, and there were only four of us for the first meeting, including Elly Moore and Jack Heeren, but there are several others who've said that they want to join us as the winter progresses.  It's a pretty ideal location.  We didn't notice the time passing and how late it was getting.  Time flies on the wings of music.

   Apart from the new Thursday group, there is still my Monday evening uke group.  For the Tuesday dance duo I maintain four sets of keyboard and vocals with backing tracks for drums, enough to fill a four hour dance evening or bar gig.  I have my Tuesday evening swing band, reading trumpet charts. Wednesday is darts night, and my jazz combo, where I improvise trumpet solos and vocals on jazz standards, meets every second Friday.  Music is a bit like oxygen and exercise for me now. It's a good way to kill time in retirement, especially in winter, but also a way to stay mentally fit and emotionally ebullient, with new goals constantly presenting themselves and steadily improving facility on different instruments.  I still hope to travel south for a respite from the coldest part of the winter, but I'm ambivalent about it given the friendships and pleasures I have in place right here.  If there comes a day, with age, that we can't get affordable health insurance to travel somewhere warm during the winter, this social and musical investment of time will serve us well.  We're having fun building our "chops", and these relationships.

   This year marked my biggest gardening project to date.  After several summers of building up to this year's Jumanji jungle and over-abundance of produce, I'll restrict my planting program next spring and focus more on sailing and travel.  That's my current plan, but I'm always cognizant that "life is what happens when you were expecting something else".

   Hallowe'en is tomorrow.  We'll shell out to the trick-or-treaters on our street.  Joe gave me some nice Bosc pears from the tree in his yard on Wednesday.  They ripen very late in the season and don't seem to be damaged at all by the first frost.  The furnace has begun to come on early in the mornings, so we'll put the insulation panel on the back door, do winter servicing of vehicles, clean the eaves and put up the Christmas lights on the next series of warm days before the first serious cold arrives.  Deb will visit her Mom and sisters in Montreal in mid-month.  We'll attend the HYC Commodore's Ball, and apart from that I'll settle in and do a few weeks of work sorting papers, books, tapes and old VHS and 8mm movies in the basement.  We'll keep our eyes open for good last minute flight bargains to Central America, and spring flights to the Balkans, or to Germany through Iceland.

    January 1st, 2016.  Today we will head down to the yacht club for our traditional Commodore's Levee through the afternoon - in anticipation of which, we have skipped breakfast. 

    We had an unseasonably warm fall right up until the week between Christmas and New Year's Eve, with record warmth.  Between the El Niño winter, the low Canadian dollar, planned travel next summer, a freezer stuffed with our garden produce that needs to be eaten, the various musical groups we're involved with, and Deborah's fitness program at the local community centre, we hemmed and hawed and finally decided to stay in our own house this winter.  This Monday coming we are finally going to see real winter, with a dip in temperature to minus 12.  That may finally kill off my garden greens, which have produced right up until Christmas - in particular, Siberian and Blue Scotch kale, and swiss chard.  The Siberian kale seems unfazed by the snow surrounding it the past few days, and is still quite edible.  Next year, start a large late planting of these greens, and continue eating them along with the large collection of squash we've got on a rack in the basement, and the freezer full of tomatoes and other produce.

    Our friend Karen Yan dropped in for a visit, from Buffalo.  I played tennis twice, outdoors, in December - the second time, in 14 degree warmth on Christmas Eve.  We attended Sheila's annual Christmas party.  We enjoyed Christmas Day dinner at Ian and Ursula's table, and had dinner and played Farkle with Lawrence and Joan prior to their annual escape to their 33' sailboat Tranquility in

    At the end of October we convened a guitar group at Highland yacht club that meets in the clubhouse on Thursday evenings.  That has been a lot of fun.  Average attendance is about seven, sometimes more, and we have charts collected in a Facebook group for everyone to share throughout the week.  We display them on a screen in order to play together.  The weekly uke group continues, a year and a half after our inaugural get-together.  The jazz combo and the swing band are on a Christmas break hiatus but will start up again within days. 

    My focus with Wayne, doing the dance duo, has shifted from classic rock, "swamp rock" and blues to what I call Maritime Kitchen Party and Celtic Bounce music.  We're hoping to do another pub night this spring but with a focus on this particular genre of music.  Last March we did "British Pub Night".  In a future year we may do a "Highland Hootenany" with folk-rock and other tunes that would fit in that sort of basket.  Each genre basket has a singalong component.

    When I wrote my October 15th entry, I mentioned our early October trip to Invermere, B.C., to niece Andrea's wedding. I figured there'd be photos contributed over time by their official photographer(s) and guests.  Sure enough, they've compiled quite a few on their Facebook page "Corey and Andrea Tie the Knot".  That's a first for me, a new way of recording a significant life event.  Davin and Kenton made a great video.  I haven't incorporated their photos into my own slideshow.  It's easier to view theirs where they have posted them, and there are a lot of them.  I don't know how long Facebook will allow them to exist on their servers.

    I didn't mention having had Sol here for Thanksgiving in October.  We brought Kymberly to the house for that dinner as well.  She's studying at U of T now.  Deb has taken to preparing a meal and driving it to Sol's instead of making him drive across the city to our house, which he seems to prefer.  For Sol's birthday on Nov 28th, we ate steak tenderloin and birthday cake, and we took him a turkey at Christmas.  Sol remains healthy and hearty at 93.  He made a 22 fret wooden banjo which he gave to me.  It sounds pretty good, especially through an amp with a piezzo pickup.  He's working on a ukulele for Deborah. 

    Everyone else in the family is well, it seems.  We get regular updates from Dianne with photos of her, Kris and Miranda, and photos from Heather featuring her new horse Honeydew.  I visit what I call "the village well" every morning, i.e. Facebook, the family and community linking platform which has taken over from email and snail mail before that.  I had my reservations about the new platform when it began to become particularly useful to us four years ago, but so far it appears to have been the same sort of suspicion and mistrust that humans have always harboured for any new and different way of doing anything.  I haven't experienced a downside to my participation and use of the platform.  Admittedly, I still continue to ignore their constant nudging to provide more personal information.  I began building my personal website over twenty years ago, when pages were constructed using nothing but html code - wysiwyg editors hadn't even come along yet.  I maintain my diary and personal photo albums, and profiles on Helpx and Couchsurfing.  The ability to share digitally has been very useful for maintaining contact with family and friends, and displaying who we are to those we hope to host us and those who might stay with us when they visit Toronto.  It is already difficult, in the age of Google, Facebook and other sites we employ on a daily basis, to imagine a day twenty years ago when they didn't yet exist.  It seems like a lifetime ago.  Looking even further back, the travels, travails and events of my life in the prior forty years have begun to feel like an historical tale about another person and another era.  Which is something to think about on the first day of a new year, wondering what the next twenty years may bring.

    Having said that, here are photos, in our fall and winter diary photo album.

    Feb 3rd.  Today was Rob's birthday.  We never hear anything from him.  He told me more than once that his normal mode is hermetic, reclusive.  He got tons of birthday wishes but didn't respond, but I guess they were relayed by Cynthia, who posted "Rob says thank you to everyone ... he has not been able to access his Facebook account in several months (don't think he tries too hard)."  Of course he could set up a fresh account if he ever wanted to.  His granddaughter and others have multiple accounts, and two of my friends use complete pseudonyms, so that's a bogus excuse, but I have to respect his privacy.  Once in a blue moon he responds to email.  It's an odd contrast with his personality when you meet him in person, where he seems to mask shyness and anxiety with a charm and a gregariousness that could make any salesman rich.  Rather like comedians who shine on stage but mask depression.

    Rob's birthday was blessed with record high temperatures in Toronto - 15.5 degrees.   There is no snow on the ground.  We finally have a date for British Pub Night, March 4th.  We'll only do three short sets, and we have a balance of Beatles and other British Invasion to play alongside much older singalong fare. I'll take my new Roland keyboard this time.  We'll go to our second Irish pub gathering at the Corner House Pub on Feb 21st.  I'll take my penny whistle and the 4 string wooden plectrum banjo that Sol made, which I have strung with tenor banjo strings in a Chicago tuning.  I'll take my turns in the circle singing a few songs from my "Down East Kitchen Party" collection.  My jazz combo is gearing up with a short list of tunes we'd perform, but we have no venue or date yet; but my Scarborough Music Lovers swing band has dates on April 10th at Scarborough Civic Centre and at a dance in Brampton on May 7th, both paid gigs.  There are a couple of retirement home gigs as well, but I don't know the dates yet.  The weekly uke and the guitar groups are both eagerly attended by core groups, usually six to eight people at each.  I play tennis about once a week at L'Amoreaux tennis centre (at least that's our attempted level of frequency) with the usual foursome. Deb continues her "shopping as extreme sport", saving us a lot of money by clever use of coupons and flyers, online offers and price-matching.  She has accepted the mantle of responsibility for meeting the truck and being the off-loading supervisor at the food bank on Monday mornings, deciding what they need for the freezer and pantry for the volunteers to distribute when the clients arrive on Wednesday.  Deb's shopping savvy is helpful to the food bank as well, since they have a budget to purchase items that aren't provided through donation via the Second Harvest delivery truck program.

   So our decision to stay put this winter has not been a bad one.  Others continue to benefit from our presence, which is important to me.  It's a weird, somewhat watered-down but still prevalent urge to have a component of service to others in my life.  I get a sense of satisfaction from that, which is why teaching was an occupation that suited me.  We're fielding requests from youngsters in Europe and Brazil who want to travel to Canada.  The seed catalogues have arrived, so my mind will soon occupy itself with planning our garden for this year.  The El Niño winter certainly lived up to predictions and made it less painful to stick around.  I fantasize about a nomadic lifestyle in an Airstream community, traveling about the warmer parts of N. America and playing music around campfires, but that'll have to wait a little longer. We're still far from being able to break free from our bungalow, and that could be a "be careful what you wish for" situation.  There's a lot we might miss if we became nomadic, including our community of friends and activities.

    March 5th.  This was an interesting month for me, preparing for British Pub Night at Highland Yacht Club with Wayne and Paul Farrant in the face of a split between fans of a singalong and a vocal minority of grumpy old men with undue influence in the event who were not even on the social committee.  That's quite an unpleasant feature of clubs with demographics like ours, which probably includes most yacht clubs.  These "GOBs" didn't want anything more than "background music" at the now second annual event that Wayne and I invented last year as a singalong evening.  A spokesman for the group picked the most obnoxious timing and public forum to voice their opinion, two days before the event, after we'd already spent weeks preparing the music, on our club's Facebook group.  I asked why they didn't just put on a CD for background music, and pointed out that the organizers had insisted that they wanted us to play.  The organizers then did a bit of an about-face, telling us much too late to know how and what to prepare for the event, that they only wanted a performance this year rather than a singalong.  Thus a well-received event from the previous year was embraced by the social committee this year, who took ownership of our idea and recreated it without including us in their planning.  Lesson learned, by me at least.  They killed the goose that laid last year's golden egg.  I will never get roped into volunteering for such an event again.

    We did a good snappy set of Beatles, Stones, Trogs, Proclaimers and Gerry and the Pacemakers last night, which was applauded and well-received, but we had to shelve our second set of older singalong tunes that the older club members would have enjoyed, and which they had enjoyed the previous year.  That was mostly due to a timing miscalculation of the evening by the organizer.  They did a good job of organizing a decent meal and a few games, but they completely overestimated the interest people would have for the games.  The darts tournament, for example, had only four people signed up until I wandered over to join them in an attempt to support JB's effort.  The start time for our first set was pushed back more than an hour, and by the time the darts was over and the other games wrapped up (I actually didn't see anyone playing checkers or any of the other games that had been dreamed up), two thirds of the attendees had drifted away and gone home.  There was no point doing a second set to the small hard-core remainder, who seemed to be more interested in their beer by then than in a singalong.  They were "well into their cups", as the saying goes.

     The organizers completely underestimated the interest that the attendees would have in a singalong.  The singalong component was featured as the primary focus of the event on a poster sent out to members last year, and many people bought their tickets this second year in anticipation of a repeat experience.  We have videos of people singing lustily the previous year, but the organizers memories were short.  Influenced by the grumpy old bastards, they tied our hands by refusing to agree to the printing of song sheets or even just to pull down the projector screen.  I tried to make the lyrics available via wifi, but not enough people were clued into that ahead of time, so they had no access to the lyrics. 

     I resolved that I'll never do that event again.  If I change my mind, it'll be on my negotiated terms and I'll be part of the planning committee, who this time displayed a baffling, waffling ambivalence in their preferences until we were well into our set design and rehearsal, and even then they remained unclear about their intentions.  It was the fifth time I've played for the club in the past year.  I organized a mid-winter cabaret music night, provided entertainment for two British Pub Nights, a Family Day, and Oktoberfest, which was also badly organized in terms of timing of the program.  Only Family Day and our cabaret music night were much of a pleasure to do.  The amount of effort in rehearsal, daily practice, set-up and tear down for a short half-hour burst of music for British Pub Night this year just wasn't at all worth the effort. 

     At least half the room were very appreciative of our efforts.  Many wished we'd played longer and/or had more of a singalong.  Perhaps I'll participate in another sort of cabaret music night with a singalong component, but only if I get to organize it myself.  Wayne and I were both shocked at the ambivalence and negativity of the all too influential "GOBs".  These retired guys have too much time on their hands to devote to the club, and believe that they have more right to sway opinion and direction of the club than younger members who pay just as much to be there.  They make secretive decisions by consensus among themselves and not by open polling, which might reveal opinions they don't want anyone else to know about.  We offered them a cheery bit of entertainment, providing our musical skills for free, skills that we both get paid for if we choose to market ourselves to local pubs. Wayne has previously been paid to provide entertainment to our neighbouring yacht club, but our own set of "GOB's" were unsupportive, sometimes offensive and scurrilous in their treatment of our offering.  I hope I never become one of those guys.

     In other news of the past month, Camila Shinye and her boyfriend Douglas Dohu came from Saõ Paulo in Brazil.  I took care of them from their arrival at the airport through the duration of their adventure in Canada.  I connected them with Sheila for a place to stay in Toronto, and they stayed at our house for one night as well upon their return from Montreal.  They were delightful.  A cautionary tale: they booked a tour that included Ottawa but the agent screwed up the dates on their booking so they had to cancel the second city.  They did get to spend a week in New York before going home to Brazil.

     Deb visited her Mom and sister in Montreal.  It was a short trip, not much more than a weekend.  Megabus makes it easy and cheap to get back and forth, and their terminus isn't far from our house.  She'll go again this month, but this time she'll travel business class on the train.  She gets her ticket cost cut in half by providing service reports as a "mystery shopper".

     Deb and I are studying German now in preparation for a trip to Dresden for Silken's wedding.  We hope to see a bit of Poland and the Czech Republic as well.

     I've been to the second monthly Irish music invitational gathering at the Corner House Pub, led by a couple who are in the group Old Man Flanagan's Ghost.  I took Sol's little 4 string homemade wooden banjo, which I was able to string and tune in a "Chicago tuning", but it was too quiet to hold its own against the other musicians and the mic'd p.a.  I'm practicing with the 5 string for the March event.  I've discovered that there are more ways to tune a banjo than there are banjo players, and because Irish music is predominantly in the key of D (if you only own one penny whistle, it should be in the key of D), I've shifted from the open G tuning that is most common for banjo players to an open D tuning with a high A drone string: f# D F# A D

     Jazz combo doesn't meet as often as we'd wish. It's difficult to find commonly available dates.  I enjoy doing the vocal harmonies, trumpet improv breaks, and covering the keys when Matthew wants to play flute or sax.  It's my only chance to play jazz chords and improv on the keyboard, these days.  The swing band meets weekly and we have three performance dates coming up in April, May and June.  Ukulele group continues, and in the guitar group we never have a dull week.  We're always stretching ourselves to try something a little more challenging and surprising. 

     We had dinner at Don's one evening.  It's his birthday today, coincidentally.  He continues to enjoy expressing himself in writing, and we have other connections: tennis, music and sailing.  We are dock-mates at Highland, and have been friends for upwards of a decade now. 

     I have joined a bi-weekly writer's group at nearby Albert Campbell library.  I wrote a first couple of pages for them, a description of a character and an event from two years ago, but overcoming writer's inertia remains a problem for me.  Writer's block is never a problem, but lack of an essential ingredient is: I always need to get "a round tuit".  Mind you, lack of motivation is also a response to the suspicion that there are already far too many stories and songs in the world, so what's the point in adding more?  I have energy for gardening and for musical pursuits including learning and singing clever songs that others have written, sometimes adjusting them to suit my taste, but those activities have immediate personal and social rewards.  Apart from this diary and emails to friends, writing doesn't seem as if it will result in anything that won't simply disappear into the chaos of overabundance.  My travelogues for friends and family have been the only writing that I've eagerly created.  Normally there isn't anything going on in my life that is dramatic, exotic or conflict-ridden enough to be the seed for writing.  It's rather like having absolutely no reason to play and sing the blues, or at least to create my own.  Our thirst for drama and conflict is satisfied when we engage with the fire hose that both mainstream and social media have become in our era, so fiction has become as boring to write as it is to read.  I thought I might do some songwriting, but there seems little to express that isn't too foolish or juvenile for this stage of my life.  I can't even howl the blues: I have an idyllic life with a right-sized woman who shows no signs of leaving; I've had several dogs but they all died a long time ago and my truck still runs just fine.  My advancing arthritis makes me blue, but that's about it. The jury is still out on whether my writing focus will shift and expand as the age of being too old to travel creeps closer, but at the moment all that's surfacing are some memories and descriptions of events from my early years.

     March "came in like a lion", but this week's burst of snowfalls was the last we'll have for the year, and we haven't had much snow or many very cold days this winter.  The next fourteen days are forecast to be well above seasonal averages.  We'll probably even begin to play outdoor tennis again.  The city indoor workers have been on "work to rule", which means they go to work and get paid, but don't actually answer phones or do any work, so we've had difficulty booking indoor courts for tennis. Bruce Ewing called me twice this past month to fill in with him and Colin at Cassandra, a private club.  Seedy Saturday is four weeks away, and I know that my friend Ian will be planting his onions and other bulbs this month.  I'm constructing a simple greenhouse for the south side of the shed to serve as a warm spring growing area.  I'll take it down when the summer arrives and the pole beans will be growing up the trellis in that location.  April will be a month of preparing for sailboat launch, as well.

     On March 5th we attended a concert as guests of the conductor, our old friend Andrew Chung.  It was the Counterpoint Community Orchestra, billed as Toronto’s LGBTTIQQ2SA Orchestra. I know what the first third of those initials stand for, but not the rest of them.  The music was great, and the program included a lot of orchestral film music. 

     We remain healthy.  Life is still good.

    April 5th.  After an El Niño winter, it looked like we'd have a warm spring as well, but we had a late snowfall, very unusual for April, and two weeks of pretty cold temperatures to go with it, slowing down the melt.  But the purple croci are up, and the lungwort is beginning to blossom.  Tulips and day lilies are up but there are no blossoms yet.  We went to Seedy Saturday three days ago.  I have some pepper, coriander and swiss chard germinated, and now I'm starting trays of more peppers and other seeds.  I got a few hours of yard clean-up done on the few warmish days that we had.  Deb and I made a vermi-poster together from a rolling cabinet with plastic drawers.  We stocked it with worms from under the leaves in our own garden, so we'll see how that turns out as opposed to buying a starter stock of red wigglers.

    My numerous musical activities will remain a significant part of each week until after HYC Launch at the end of this month, when we may have to make new arrangements for the guitar group, and until after my swing band's May 7th dance in Brampton.  The swing band always takes a summer hiatus, but the uke group and jazz combo will probably continue on a patchwork schedule as members take summer vacations.  The guitar group is the most fun for me.  It's the most social, and we attempt interesting new tunes each week.  We sing impromptu harmonies and just laugh when it all falls apart.  My guitar chops are advancing by working through these songs.  I'm proficient at hearing and playing barre chords all over the neck now.  I'm getting steadily better at lead breaks and picking out counterpoint melodies, and I'm on the verge of developing some finger-style skills.  Look out, Tommy Emmanuel.

   I've managed to write three short pieces for my new writers' group, although one piece was a reworking of something I wrote over forty years ago. I have one new piece in process that has proven difficult to get into.  It requires research, and consideration of which person and what perspective to voice the story in.  I think that I finally have a handle on it, conceptually, so that'll be my project for the next two weeks.

   I played tennis once a week, sometimes with Don, Paul and Jim, and sometimes with Dave Gracey and the older players at Cassandra courts.  We went to Dovercourt House to dance folk dances, and Deborah stumbled while trying to dance with Ira, Shraddha's son, and hurt her shoulder, but she seems to be recovering.  She's getting physiotherapy for it.  My own shoulder/arm/wrist is gradually deteriorating with age.  It is painful every morning, and after using my arm for almost any kind of repetitive strain, playing keyboard, trumpet, darts, tennis, guitar or banjo.  I may consider complaining about it to my doctor after our trip, and see if I can get some kind of imaging appointment that could tell me if there's anything that could be done for it.

   We made plans for our trip to Silken's wedding in Dresden, and found a Canadian teacher to host us for a week when we arrive in Prague.  That was lucky.  She seems very nice, a Bahai from Exeter, Ontario who has been teaching in international schools since she graduated twelve years ago.  She'll be a great resource for us.  It's always the best way to travel, having a local host who can tell you what to see and do, and what to avoid.

   Deb and I attended rehearsal last night for our roles in a "murder mystery" at the yacht club, scheduled for this coming weekend.  My Civic Centre swing band concert is the next day, and a week later we get the delivery of city compost at our local park.  Planting will commence for us for anything that we can risk putting out before the last chance of frost in May.  On the last weekend of April we'll launch the sailboat, so we'll have to spend a couple of days prepping the boat and the motor and preparing for launch.  I'll be in the tow boat with Don again for the first half of launch day.  I hope the weather will be sunny and warm.