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My high school is closing

I read in the Etobicoke paper that my old high school, a place called Scarlett Heights, is closing. I’m betting developers will replace it with some kind of housing development. I guess it was a good high school. I mean, I think I got a good education there, or at least a good enough education to propel me into university. My older sister and brother went to school there too.

I don’t feel a lot of connection to the place though, unlike some folks who hang out to this day with the same group of friends with whom they went to high school. I’m in touch with a couple people from that time but mostly they are names and faces lost in my past.

What I mostly recall about those years is that I started going out to galleries and museums to look at art. This was of course pre-internet and my exposure to paintings was seeing works by our contemporary Canadian painters. I recall being fascinated by paintings I saw by John Meredith and Gordon Raynor and Ronald Bloore and Claude Breeze and Doug Morton and many more. I wanted to make paintings too. My high school art teacher, a wonderfully eccentric fellow, was very encouraging. My parents were encouraging too. They wanted me to get a university education and they were OK with me studying art, although I was reminded many times that a good job would be OK too.

We lived in central Etobicoke in a bungalow on a nice street. It was a safe and clean, mostly boring and not particularly diverse community. The high school was close to the middle school and I walked to both. There was a plaza across the street from the school, where some of the high school kids hung out. It was a dream of our parents to raise their kids in a community like this one in central Etobicoke.

I remember there was a Texaco station on the corner across from the school and late one night there was a murder there, an honest-to-God hit. It was one of two murders in the area that rocked the community. The other one was the killing of two young women who were followed home from an airport bar and murdered. We weren’t supposed to have serious crime in our neighbourhood. It was, after all, the suburbs.

I haven’t been back in the old neighbourhood in a long time. Obviously the demographics there have changed if there aren’t enough students to fill the school. Students currently attending Scarlett Heights will start attending a re-named Kipling Collegiate, quite a distance away. I hadn’t heard anything about my old high school for many years until our former mayor Rob Ford started his public meltdown. It turns out he and his brother attended the same school as me, a few years later. Apparently as mayor he still enjoyed visiting the place, and my old school made the news.

Do you feel connected to your old high school?



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Travel Immunizations and long, long flights

I haven’t traveled outside of North America a whole lot and I’ve never been to Asia at all, but Tuffy P and I are planning a trip to Vietnam in the not-to-distant future, so we both trundled off to a clinic to get whatever vaccinations we need to avoid getting ill on our trip. We ended up with a combination of an injection, a potion and some pills, which will hopefully help us ward off various nasty pathogens we might be exposed to along the way.

Another challenge for me will be the long travel time. I don’t mind shorter flights but a flight to Asia is a seriously long time in an airplane seat. If anyone has any wonderful strategies for dealing with long flights, I’m open for suggestions. Hopefully between sleeping, reading a novel or two and getting up every hour or so for a stretch, it won’t be as difficult as I imagine. The longest I’ve flown in the past has been 7 hours to Europe.

Tuffy P is organizing this trip and she has all kinds of adventures planned for us in a trip that will take us to various areas of the country – including some bicycling and some kayaking.  As the trip gets closer, I’m looking forward to it more and more. We had planned to make this trip a couple years ago, but then I took a tumble on black ice on the front steps and messed up my right ankle very badly and that put the trip on hold. Fortunately, with the help of 14 screws, my surgeon cobbled me back together again and my ankle is in pretty good shape once again, with the screws still intact.

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Improvised roasted butternut squash scones

I don’t know if roasted squash scones are a thing, but I had a butternut squash in the kitchen and any day is a good day for scones, so I whipped some up.


I cut up the squash and tossed the pieces with salt, pepper, a few shakes of cayenne and a bit of oil, then roasted it until it started to brown nicely. Tip: start with a big squash because when you taste the roasted squash you’ll want to have a wee bowl of it before making the scones. I know I did and it rocked.

It seems to me that scones are best made with buttermilk but I didn’t have any so I added some lemon juice to 3/4 cup of milk and let it sit for a while. That creates a potion that passes quite well for buttermilk (try it you’ll see).

While the squash cooled I started the dry ingredients. I used a couple cups of all purpose flour. I added a generous pinch of table salt. I knew I needed some baking powder but I wasn’t sure exactly how much so I made an executive decision and used a teaspoon. I didn’t know if I should use baking soda or not. I know that baking powder is baking soda + some acid. I also know that too much baking soda can leave an aftertaste if there is no acid in the mix, but I had lemon juice mixed in with my milk so I figured ok I’ll add a half teaspoon and see what happens. Now I was making savoury scones and I didn’t know if I should add any sugar or not, so I added about just a wee bit, maybe a teaspoon. I also added some fresh coarsely ground pepper to the mix.

I learned to make scones by chopping up very cold butter into little cubes and cutting it into the flour with one of those pastry cutting tools. However, somewhere along the way I learned a little trick. Freeze half a cup (a stick) of butter and grate it with a cheese grater. Add it to the flour about a third at a time and mush it around with your fingers until the whole deal has a grainy feel about it. Works great.  I added my sorta-kinda-buttermilk and mixed it up, then added in my cooked squash. You might ask if you could boil the squash instead of roasting it and I would say you could do that if you wanted boring scones. Some people might prefer boring, I don’t know. Roasting is about a million times better.

I mushed everything together quickly, then placed the blob of scone dough on a floured cutting board. I suppose I should have rolled it out but I didn’t. I flattened it with my hand, cut it in half, put one half on top of the other and flattened it again. Then I cut the edges off with a scraper, put them on back on top and flattened it again. With my scraper I cut the dough into 8 squares and turned the squares into 16 triangles, and placed them on a piece of parchment on a cookie sheet and in the oven at 375F. If you are way more fancy-pants than me, you might use a cutter to get identical perfect shapes instead of making crude triangles, but I like crude triangles. I heard a recording of U. Utah Phillips (the Golden Voice of the Great Southwest) once on which he said, “I prefer a rude vigour to a polished banality”. Har! I baked my scones until they started browning on top and looked spectacular, about 18 minutes.

Rockin’ Good.


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The Thoroughly Modern Hits of the Day

That’s where it’s at.


The photo on this album cover has been reversed, likely so that they could put the band name over the head of the banjo on the left rather than the right side. It’s difficult to see in the photo but on the actual album you can see by looking at the head-stock that the name of the manufacturer, Kay, is backwards. I’m guessing that whoever was hired to do the album got hold of whatever banjos were readily available for the photo. I’m sure a group with such a lofty name as The Banjo Barons would be using swankier banjos.

This record was a thoughtful gift from a friend (thanks Bob). I’ll have to set up the old turntable to play it. Meanwhile I thought I’d check out The Banjo Barons on the YouTube machine.

Here they are playing Mama Don’t Allow. They seem to be kind of a ragtime band. As you can see they not only play banjo, they also wear great outfits.

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Now that’s a funny looking banjo….

In my early 40s I had this idea that I should learn to play diatonic button accordion. I was living in a Portuguese-Canadian area of Toronto and from time to time I heard some of the old Portuguese folk/dance tunes – corridinhos, viras and so on. I loved the sound and thought it would be fun to learn some of those tunes. I also enjoyed cajun and zydeco music and I guess you could say the sound of the squeezebox resonated with me. Triple row button accordions only have 31 buttons on the right side (OK, some of them have a couple more buttons). How hard could it be?

I bought an old but well-maintained Hohner Corona II button accordion after contacting a woman who played German polkas on a different sort of buttonbox. She had this thing sitting in her closet and she agreed to sell it to me at a modest price if I was serious about learning to play. It turned out to be a beautiful instrument and I still have it today. I’ve replaced the bellows tapes and I also did a modification to the buttonboard so the buttons didn’t sink so deep (in my opinion it was a Hohner design flaw I was correcting).

There was a storefront music school on College Street and I went to see a guy named John. He’s an Italian guy from Argentina who was teaching Portuguese kids Portuguese folk music on piano accordion. What an interesting fellow He also did voice-over work, such as Spanish voice over for video games and he could speak Spanish in several different dialects.

John didn’t play much button accordion but he assured me he had a system for teaching it. It turned out this strange situation worked well for me. I had to work out a lot of the fingering myself but John taught me the feel of the music. I’d work on a tune and play it for John and he’s say mmhmmm. Then he’d pick up his piano accordion and he’d say, this one should go like this, and he’s play it for me. I’d go back to the drawing board and work on getting it right.

Along the way, I did learn a lot of Portuguese music, but all kinds of other music too. The instrument had a steep learning curve because each button played a different note depending on if you were pulling or pushing air through the bellows – in other words it was bi-sonoric, sort of like 3 harmonicas stacked together on the right side, with a rudimentary bass system on the left. Once I got the hang of it, I learned fairly quickly. The instrument is set up to make it easy to play folky-dolky dance music and that was what I wanted to learn.

I happily played button accordion just for fun for years and would have continued to do so if it weren’t for the dreaded banjo. My brother had started playing clawhammer banjo. This amazed me because he had never talked to me about music and I kind of thought he didn’t even like music. I really enjoyed old time music and thought it would be fun to maybe learn some clawhammer banjo. How hard could it be? I made an instrument from an ebay neck and an oil can and taught myself to play, eventually buying myself a nice banjo (ok a few nice banjos).

I fell hard for the banjo and the more I played, the less I touched my accordions. Eventually they sat around, sadly gathering dust. It couldn’t be helped. I was determined to learn clawhammer well and I put a lot of time into it. I’ve decided it’s time to devote a bit of time to the accordion again so I’ve committed to pick it up every day, even if just for a few minutes.

A lot of the tunes I used to play have fallen out of my memory and my chops are rusty, but I discovered with a little effort, it comes back quickly. Here’s a tune called The Leaving of Liverpool. It’s also called Fare Thee Well my Own True Love. It’s been recorded many times and was a hit for The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem in the 60s. It’s a fairly simple tune, so a good one for a guy with rusty chops.