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Brown Feathers, Says “Cluck”

I hear them quite often when I’m out on my morning walk. The neighbourhood chickens. You REALLY hear them when they’re laying their eggs; that loud, repetitive squawk.

For a number of years now, the city of Victoria has allowed people to have up to 15 backyard chickens. There are different bylaws in Esquimalt, Saanich and Oak Bay, but for most people, 3 or 4 hens is plenty. Each bird lays one egg a day, so unless you’re selling them, 15 eggs a day would be more than a mouthful.

Roosters are not allowed in most regions for obvious reasons. They would just cause a peck of trouble.

Many people are drawn to those lovely, fresh eggs every day. They buy or build chicken coops and sometimes even create chicken runs so that the hens can get a little exercise. Animal Control encourages people to keep their chickens in the coop until at least 7am, since they can be as noisy as roosters. And apparently raccoons and mink love chicken as much as I do, so the coop gives some protection against predators.

It turns out that you can actually rent hens too. Who-da thunk it? They come complete with a chicken coop, and you can rent them for up to 5 or 6 months. You can even adopt them if you decide you enjoy having chickens around.

Of course, it’s inevitable that a hen will escape every now and then.

One day on my walk a couple of years ago, I came across a piece of paper tacked to a utility post, as you can see here. It made me laugh. Especially the last line: “VERY sneaky!” I kept my eyes out, but never caught sight of the foxy fowl. Hopefully she realized there was better food back at the coop and she eventually flew home.

Right. Chickens don’t fly.

But a couple of weeks back, I noticed a chicken poking around on someone’s front lawn. She was a good size and didn’t look too worse for wear, so she was likely a more recent escapee. The street we were on is relatively quiet, and she seemed savvy enough to stay to the side and just peck around on the ground. I took a picture of her and then, just like that, she disappeared.

A few days ago as I was walking down the same street, I saw a young couple shoo shooing something as a truck came slowly up the road. You guessed it. Probably the same chicken. Brown feathers, says “cluck”.

The couple and I stood on opposite sides of the street and chatted about her as the bird strutted over to them. Definitely a people hen. They seemed to enjoy her attention, and I couldn’t help myself. “Why did the chicken cross the road?” We all laughed.

Eventually, we carried on our separate ways and the chicken got back to her lawn pecking.

I kept thinking about her as I continued my walk. Did she have a fight with one of the other hens? Was she really just a drifter at heart? Maybe she simply found a hole in the coop and decided to make her escape, ready for a new experience.

I mean, I don’t blame her. In fact, I really can relate. I feel that same need to get out, to get away, to have an adventure somewhere different for a change. It’s been so long.

Just like the chicken, we’ve all been feeling pretty cooped up for awhile, haven’t we?

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Shrinkflation

I learned a new word today: shrinkflation.

Shrinkflation is defined as “a term used to describe the process of a product’s size being reduced while its price remains the same.”

Actually, I’ve been aware of this phenomenon for years, just like everyone else. I’ve just never had a name for it.

The first time I remember noticing it was quite a few years back when I was purchasing a certain bath product. I noticed one day that there was less product, but the price hadn’t changed. And the way they had cleverly re-packaged it made it look like you were getting the same amount.

But it really hit me recently when I was buying some of my usual deodorant. The shape of the container had changed. It was made to look like it would be easier to grip, kind of rounded in on the sides. How handy.

And then I got suspicious. I looked closer, comparing the old container with the new one, and saw that the amount of actual deodorant had been reduced by several grams. Surprise, surprise, the price was the same.

Not only that, but on the label, the size of the font with the number of grams had gotten smaller. Trying to hide something?

According to Wikipedia, “Shrinkflation allows companies to increase their operating margin and profitability by reducing costs whilst maintaining sales volume, and is often used as an alternative to raising prices in line with inflation.”

It’s just sneaky, you know? And how long do these companies think they can get away with it? At this rate, my deodorant will be the size of a crayon in a couple of years.

I’ll bet these big companies all have a Shrinkflation department. Nerdy people who sit around all day trying to figure out how to give us less and still charge us more. Change the packaging, make the content look like more than what it is. Give it a new name.

Sometimes they’re very clever, but other times all we have to do is know how to count. That box of tea bags used to last me a month. And didn’t I change that roll of toilet paper just the other day?

To be fair, occasionally there is a legitimate reason for a price increase or shrinkflation. The cost of producing something might go up unexpectedly, for instance.

The makers of Toblerone chocolate created a huge scandal a few years back when they changed the shape of the bar, making the gaps between the triangles wider, AND raising the price. Their explanation was that there had been an increase in the cost of cocoa so it was more expensive to produce. After a public uproar, they finally gave in and went back to the old shape. But the price went even higher.

Deodorant is one thing, but don’t you dare touch my chocolate!

There are some suggestions out there as to how to shop more wisely so you get the same bang for your buck. And of course, you can always complain, write emails, or post blogs.

One of the suggestions I read was that you don’t have to stay loyal to a brand. There’s an idea. Shop around for a competitor’s product and buy that instead. Ha!

Actually, I think I’ll take it one step further. I may just give up using deodorant altogether, and raise a REAL stink. That’ll teach ’em.

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Cycling – One Driver’s View

“Never argue with a bus!” my Dad used to laugh. He was a bus driver in downtown Vancouver for more than 40 years, and he’d pretty much seen it all.

Other vehicles were always trying to outrun or outmaneuver his bus, sometimes to their peril. They weren’t thinking about the fact that a bus is a heck of a lot bigger and heavier, and that a small vehicle would not fare well if the two were to come into contact. All they could think about was getting ahead of the bus.

I was reminded of that the other day when I was in my car right behind a cyclist at a stop light. The cyclist didn’t gesture his intentions, but when the light turned green, he immediately fumbled his way out into the intersection and turned left in front of an oncoming car. All that cyclist was thinking about was beating the car.

Fortunately, the car driver saw what was happening just in time and hit the brakes. And honked.

In the last couple of years, especially since COVID-19 has come into play, there have been a lot more people out there cycling. It’s one of the few things a person can do these days that’s enjoyable and healthy. Unless you make a sudden left turn in front of an oncoming car, that is.

Cycling stores are literally running out of bikes because of the high demand. More and more bike lanes are being built, creating corridors into the downtown Victoria area.

Now, a lot of drivers will roll their eyes at the news of yet another bike lane. But I think they’re a good thing.

A few years ago, my husband and I were in Copenhagen in Denmark and I marveled at how co-operative and respectful cyclists and drivers were with each other. Pretty much every main road in Copenhagen has a bicycle lane with its own signs and signals. Drivers and cyclists alike know the rules and, for the most part, stick to them. Except for children, you don’t see too many people with bicycle helmets. Far fewer 2-wheel-versus-4-wheel incidents, I’d guess.

Cycling has been a big thing in Denmark since the 1880s, and these days, 9 out of 10 Danes own a bike. But it’s also a small country, and mostly flat. Victoria and Vancouver Island don’t have that advantage.

Back in the 1990s, like many families, we had a big van. For the most part I was used to its berth, but passing a cyclist was another matter. One day, long before cycle lanes had come to town, I had to pass a cyclist on a busy street. I got past him okay, and then came up to a red light.

Well, I guess he didn’t like how close I’d come to him when I passed. Or maybe it was something else. But he pulled his bike up along the sidewalk to the right of me as I sat at the light, came around to the front, and spat on the hood of the van. Have a good day.

To this day I still get nervous when I drive up behind a cyclist on a road with no bike lane. Especially on a certain stretch of Bay Street that is particularly narrow. I want to give them lots of room, but if the road is busy, that’s not easy to do. And then there’s the collection of cars coming up behind me to contend with. Sometimes they get impatient waiting for me to make up my mind and lean on the horn. Gimme a break.

Let’s face it; there are good and bad drivers, and the same goes for cyclists. But the reason we have rules for the road is so that nobody gets hurt in the process. And I’m going to need all of you drivers out there to pay attention and do your best.

Because, you see, I’m planning on getting myself a bike one of these days. Maybe a nice e-bike to give me some help up those hills. Because I’m old.

So I’ll need you all to be prepared for that stupid left turn I’m bound to make right in front of you.

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Lost In Space

It was the middle of February 2020, just before COVID-19 changed everything. My husband, daughter and I were at a luau in Hawaii, celebrating my daughter’s birthday.

Just after the outdoor show began, an hour or so past sunset, somebody at our table pointed to the western horizon. “Look at that!” Flying low in the sky was a series of lights in a straight line. There were maybe 10 or 12 of them. We’d never seen anything like it. Were they birds? Were they shooting stars? Was it the second coming? What the heck??

We asked some of the hotel staff “Have you ever seen this before?” No, they all answered. We watched until the string of lights slowly drifted out of sight.

The next day our astronomer friend, who was also visiting Hawaii at the time, gave us the explanation. Only a few days before, SpaceX had launched 60 Starlink satellites. What we saw were a few of them still following each other in the same orbit. Eventually, they would drift apart and orbit on their own.

When I think of it now, it seemed like a strange omen. We didn’t realize then that this would be our last trip for a very long time.

Just the other day, May 4th, known as “Star Wars Day”, SpaceX launched another 60 Starlink satellites. A string of them were visible in the night sky here on Vancouver Island for a short time.

There are roughly 6000 satellites orbiting around our little blue planet at this time, with more coming. Some of these satellites are not even operational. Space junk.

They float along with lots of other bits and pieces like old bolts, equipment fragments, fuel sludge and paint chips that have been orbiting for years. One of the main concerns is the possibility of collisions with important working satellites.

The International Space Station is constantly adjusting direction in order to avoid this space junk. At a high velocity, even the smallest bit can do great damage.

Environmental issues, it seems, are not just confined within our atmosphere. Believe it or not, there are “space debris experts” out there trying to sound the alarm and to come up with ways to safely remove space junk before something catastrophic happens.

Why, at the very moment of this writing, there is a 10-story, 23-ton piece of rocket about to crash to earth, with no one knowing for sure where it might end up. Alert the “space debris experts.”

It could splash harmlessly into the ocean, but it could also smash into a populated area. Some of it will burn up on re-entry, but not all 23 tons of it.

Back in 1969, I remember watching the blurry image of the first step onto the moon. I was at my best friend Shirley’s house and we watched this incredible event on her black and white TV. “The Eagle has landed.” Looking at the moon that night, I was amazed to think that people were actually up there walking on it.

Now we’ve got NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance roaming the red planet, looking for past signs of life. The technological advances in space exploration have been astounding, and we keep learning more and more, not only about our solar system, but also about our home, the earth.

And, as my astronomer friend would point out, a lot of that technology and research has also benefited us as individuals too.

Oh, oh, watch out!

Phew…

Just figure out a way to get rid of all of that space junk, will ya?

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Let Them Play On

Every time you hear about school districts having budget problems, the first thing they seem to cut is their music and arts programs. Now, I’m a guitar teacher and musician, so I’m biased. But why are these programs always the first to get cut? Why isn’t it football? Basketball? Home Economics? Typing? (Yes, I know, I’m dating myself now.)

But seriously.

I don’t think some people know how important music is. For everybody, I mean. Not only is it great for you to learn an instrument at any age, but it does amazing things to your brain, even if you can’t play brilliantly! A lot of people consider playing chess or doing sudoku puzzles as a great brain exercise, but playing an instrument is actually a full brain work out.

I’ve seen it in action. Sometimes it takes all of a person’s focus and energy to learn a new piece. They are in the zone, and the rest of the world, all of their problems, are on the other side of the closed studio door. Sometimes they are in shock when they realize the lesson is over.

Being able to play an instrument stays with you all of your life, regardless of your mental capacity. There are countless stories of people with dementia, unable to remember what they had for breakfast, but well able to play the piano or the flute as beautifully as they did when they were younger.

According to classicfm.com in their article explaining why you should take up an instrument, it enhances verbal memory, spatial reasoning and literacy skills. The science says it makes you smarter. Isn’t that what we all want?

Beyond what it does for your brain, playing an instrument can relieve stress, build confidence and can even help you improve your social life. Well, maybe not the social part right now, since we’re trying to keep physically distanced.

But why would school boards or districts even consider taking all of these positives away from their students?

Maybe some of them think playing an instrument is only for musical snobs. Or the exceptionally talented. They’ve probably never paid much attention to their school bands, like the one I played clarinet in when I was in school.

We were pretty mediocre. We occasionally entered into competitions with other high school bands in the district. But as soon as the other bands would start playing, we knew where we stood. Dead last.

Mr. Parkinson, our high school band teacher, was in the British military for a long time and did his best to keep us together playing those marches he loved. The theme to Hogan’s Heroes was my favourite. We didn’t actually march when we played, yet we still managed to have two musical left feet. But that wasn’t the point.

Because what I remember the most was the feeling of being in the middle of all of that music, especially when we had those moments where we pulled it together almost perfectly. It was not only uplifting, it was transformative. We played, we laughed, we tried again.

Some of the friends I made back then I still keep in touch with to this day. In fact, I married the snare drummer.

Both of my daughters used my clarinet when they had their turn playing in the school band. They also tried the strings program, and took private lessons in other instruments.

But not all parents can afford to send their children for private lessons, which is why the music programs in schools are so important.

It isn’t about children becoming virtuosos, it’s about giving them the chance to have a really positive experience. It’s about taking them away from their electronics for just a little while and doing something that they may very well remember for the rest of their lives. If music is not for them, that’s okay. At least they had the chance to try.

I’m hanging onto that clarinet and waiting for the day when I can pass it on to my grandkids. Let them play on!