Wet Monday or Lany Poniedzialek aka Smigus-Dyngus

April 5th, 2015

As you may already know, Wilno, Ontario,  is recognized as the oldest Polish settlement in Canada.  Some argue that Barry's Bay is the oldest Polish settlement, but that isn't the topic of today's blog.  In honour of Fabian's Polish heritage (on his father's side), I thought I'd do a little research on Polish customs related to Easter.

Preparation for Easter begins with a six-week period of Lent.  Easter observances begin with the gathering of pussywillows on Ash Wednesday.  Called "bazie" or "Kotki", the pussywhillows are cut and placed in water, ready to take to church, to be blessed, on Palm Sunday.  The Poles use pussywillows because palms are not found in Poland.  In some villages,  branches of other other trees, including box, yew and olive are used to symbolize the palm.  Some people believe that eating one of the pussywillow buds will bless them with good health throughout the coming year.  Once blessed, the pussywillow branches are taken home to decorate the family crucifix or some other type of holy image.  They are kept until the celebration, in the following year. 

At mass, the priest marks the parishoners with the mark of the cross and says:  "Remember, man though art dust to dust thou shall return."   For Polish Catholics, Lent is a most spiritually reflective season.   On Holy Saturday, the people bring Swieconka (a decorated basket of traditional foods) to church, which will be blessed and held until Easter Sunday.  Foods included int the Swieconka include hard-boiled shelled eggs, ham, sausage, salt, horseradish, fruits, bread and cake. The food that is most prominently displayed is an Easter lamb, usually molded from butter or sugar and colorful pisanki.   Each food item bears symbolic meaning, for example: bread is the symbol of Jesus, the lamb represents Christ, salt represents purification, ham is the symbol of great joy and abundance, horseradish is a symbol of Christ's bitter sacrifice and eggs symbolize life and Christ's resurrection.  


Eggs are not only part of the Easter meal, they are decorated by children, with paints, crayons, stickers and tissues paper.  Traditional Polish easter eggs are not as fancy as the pysanka (the Ukrainian Easter egg) which is decorated using a sort of batik, in which beeswax is used to write on the eggs.   In Poland, Holy Week (Wielki Tydzien) begins on Palm Sunday, with a High Mass, that includes the reading of Christ's Passion.  Throughout the fast, other ceremonies include observing the Stations of the Cross, Bitter Lamentations and a 3-day retreat that closes with the reception of the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist.  

On Easter morning, a special Resurrection Mass is celebrated.  During this Mass, the priests, altar boys and people form a procession and circle the church three times while the bells ring and the organ is played, for the first time since Good Friday. After Mass, people return home to eat the food that was blessed the day before.  

The Easter table is always covered by a white tablecloth, symoblizing the white swaddling cloth in which the Lord was wrapped when placed in the Holy Sepulcher. This is a time for happy family celebration.

Easter Monday is called Lany Poniedzialek or Smigus-Dyngus... and it's celebrated by sprinkling people with water.  Traditionally, the boys would drench the girls and it was thought that wetter a girl got, the more likely her chances for marriage... but these days gentlemen will spritz their wives with water to wish them good health and it's considered a friendly, joyous gesture to splash your friends and family.






The Market West of Here

March 19th, 2015

There's a new reality in Alberta’s post-oil-housing boom. It’s not quite a bust – but there's a slow leak in the bubble. Calgary's Real Estate board has posted yet another decline in sale prices and the market is flooded with listings.  We all know what happens when supply beats demand.

Meanwhile, closer to home... the Haliburton and Muskoka areas continue to post modest increases and cottage prices are not expected to drop. What felt like an unusually long winter and warmer weather that we've had so far,  in March is being touted as the reason for the early activity in sales.   The market in Bancroft and Barry's Bay is very much alive and nice waterfront and homes with acreages are moving fast.  There really isn't much available for sale.

Some people claim it's the number of folks returning from the oil fields out west.  Others point to the growing population in Toronto and Ottawa, which are our nearest large urban centres- and still others, suggest it is the retiring baby boomers, looking to cash in on the equity of their city homes and build a comfortable life away from the rat race.

Whatever the reason, prices are still very good in this area; but demand is rising.  This is evident from the reduced number of properties currently for sale. 


In the meantime, we are experiencing a boom of our own and it's not the dirty business of resource extraction... we're seeing lots of cottage businesses popping up as retirees focus on their passions, making maple syrup, handmade soaps, organic produce, jewellry and other special products that are available to purchase at many farm gates and local farmer's markets- which are starting to stay open year round!

Yes, it's a good time to live in rural Ontario.

Fending Off the Zombie Apocalypse

February 28th, 2015

Twas brillig and the slithy toves,
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

Much like the Queen, in Alice Through the Looking-Glass,  "Sometimes I've believed in in as many as six impossible things before breakfast."  I have explored the unexplainable since I can remember... contemplating UFOs, apparitions, manifestations, you name it.  I watched the Ripley's Believe it or Not, Lost in Space, The Twilight Zone, Lost in Space, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Prisoner, Doctor Who,  Star Trek... and plenty of other mind bending programing.  As a teenager, I read Heinlein, Bradbury, Clark, Asimov, Jules Verne and HG Wells.  By the early 70's, I had developed a sort of string theory of my own... and I understood that, frequently, truth was stranger than fiction.

There was an odd sensibility in being a child born in the late 50s.  The product of a generation programmed to respond to the 'perfect' surburban family- 3 kids, a station wagon, the family dog...  we were old enough to be aware of Francis Gary Powers, Yuri Gagarin, the Bay of Pigs.  We remember John Glenn, the first artificial heart, the Profumo scandal, the marches lead by Martin Luther King and the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela.   We heard a lot about Malcom X and the Black Panthers, our televisions brought us the Watts riots, the tragic deaths of Col. Virgil I. Grissom, Col. Edward White II, and Lt. Cmdr. Roger B. Chaffee , the assassinations of Martin Luther King and John Fitzgerald Kennedy.  We watched the Beatles  on Ed Sullivan's show and we listened to a preteen Michael Jackson. We saw Nixon elected and impeache, the Berlin Wall going up. We watched Ted Kennedy sideswipe justice after the incident at Chappaquiddick.  We heard about a big rock festival at Woodstock and we saw the first episode of Sesame Street. and  man's first step on the moon.  

In the 70s, we experienced the first "terrorist" event- at the Olympics in Munich... we had Watergate, Roe vs Wade, Patty Hearst who got brainwashed by the Symbionese Liberation Movement,  Ted Bundy who introduced us to serial murderers, Jimmy Hoffa who disappeared, Arthur Ashe, a black man ,won Wimbledon,  Gerald Ford was almost assassintated- twice-  and Elvis died.   We watched the Jonestown massacre, in which over 900 Americans died at the People's Temple Agricultural Project, committing mass suicide, by drinking poisoned kool-aid. There was a nuclear "accident" at Three Mile Island and Margaret Thatcher became the Prime Minister of England.

In the 80s, we dealt with the Tehran hostage situation, the Gulf War,  Mount St Helen's erupted, Hollywood Actor Ronal Regan became President of the USA,  thousands of people were killed and injured in earthquakes in Italy and John Lennon was murdered.  Space Station Mir was sent into orbit and the Berlin Wall came down. Tanker, the Exxon Valdez tanker spilled an estimated 11 million gallons of oil into the ecologically sensitive Prince William Sound.  The Titanic was located, after a 73 year search of the Atlantic. In the 90s, they released Mandela, the cold war ended.  The World Trade Centre was bombed, Nelson Mandela became President of South Africa.  OJ Simpson was found not guilty in the double murder of his former wife and her friend.  The first Harry Potter  book was released. Princess Dianna died in a car crash,  scientists cloned a sheep.  U.S. President Clinton was impeached.  The "Euro" was introduced and two teenaged boys went on a shooting spree in a highschool in the USA.  NATO attacked Syria. 

In the 2000s, they mapped the human genome.  Vladimir Putin is elected President of Russia.  A Concorde crashes in France, killing 113 people.   The first "tourist" went into space.  Several buildings connected to the World Trade Center in New York collapsed in an alleged terrorist attack in which 4 planes were said to have hijacked and used as weapons by the al-Qaeda, lead by Osama Bin Laden.  Experts identified the first recorded hurricane in the South Atlantic.  An earthquake in the Indian Ocean kills an estimated 250,000 people.  NASA launched a space probe 429 million kilometers into comet "Tempel 1".  Hurricane Katrina devestated New Orleans and  Angela Merkel became the first female Chancellor of Germany.  Barak Obama was elected as the first black leader of the United States and video games started using mind control headsets. News broke that NASA had lost 700 boxes of magnetic data tapes, including all recordings of the first moonwalk.

In 2010, Wikileaks released a package of almost 400,000 documents, called the Iraq War Logs, in coordination with major commercial media organizations, prompting the U.S. Justice Department to launch a criminal probe of WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange. A massive 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit Haiti killing almost a quarter of a million people, injuring 300,ooo and left more than one million people homeless.  A BP oil-rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, killed 11 workers and leaked massive amounts of oil  into the ocean. (It is estimated that over 205 million gallons of oil were released into the Gulf.) North America experienced the most deadly and destructive heatwaves, wind and thunderstorms in recorded history.  Experts announced that 97% of the top layer of the Greenland ice sheet had thawed... Global warming advocate Bill McKibben said: “it’s not just off the charts. It’s off the wall the charts are tacked to.”  In 2012, rap artist Tupac peformed via hologram at the Coachella music festival in California, 15 years after hi death. Missing and heavily searched for,  since 1846,  the Franklin Expedition shipwreck and artifacts were finally discovered- their location was exactly that described by the local Inuit peoples for the past 150+ years.



Lupercalia, Faunalia and Valentines

February 14th, 2015

Ancient Romans had the habit of adopting the gods of the peoples it conquered and one example is their god, Faunus.  Similar to Pan, the mythological Greek god of shepherds, flocks, nature and hunting, Faunus has a human torso, but legs, horns, and ears of goats. 

The Romans celebrated Faunalia, in honour of their god Faunus, on February 13.  It is said that during Faunalia, participants sacrificed goats and cut their skin into straps or thongs, which they used to slap one another.  As a fertility ritual, apparently, priests would run through the villages, wearing little more than a loin cloth, flogging innocent bystanders with these thongs.  The touch of the priest's thong was supposed to have the power to cure sterility.

Lupercalia was also a sacrificial festival, celebrated in ancient Rome, by a group of priests known as the Luperci.  On February 15th, for over a thousand years, Lupercalia honoured Lupercus (The Wolf God of Winter) and  Rome's legendary founders, Romulus and Remus, who were said to have been suckled by a she-wolf as babies. The Romans considered Faunus and Lupercus to be closely related, and some historians even think they are one and the same god, named differently depending on the region.   Stories of the earliest ceremonies include stories of animal sacrifices, feasting and naked romps encouraging sexual excess.  . There are two conflicting artistic depictions of Lupercalia and they offer conflicting evidence as to whether these were playful or violent occasions.


While traces of Lupercalia remain today, for instance, the month February is named after februa (a Latin term describing something used to "purify"- including a priest's goatskin flogger),  the early emerging Christian churches made every effort to draw people away from pagan ritual.   A favoured method of eradicating interest in such tradition was to replace the celebration with something more palatable and saintly.  In the case of Lupercalia, the feast of St. Valentine on February 14 was a handy substitution.  First established in 496, some early accounts suggest that on the eve of St Valentine's Feast, the names of all unmarried women were placed into a box and drawn by the village men, pairing them off, for the sole purpose of sexual relations. Over the centuries, the practice softened, relieving the ladies of any carnal obligation.  Nevertheless, many people believe this is how we started exchanging Valentine cards.

Groundhogs Can be a Nuisance

February 2nd, 2015

The Ground hog is a member of the rodent family, related to squirrels.  They are sometimes referred to as a "Woodchucks" (Marmota monax) or "whistle pigs".  It's not uncommon to see them out, during the day,  foraging for food or on the look out for predators.

Ground hogs provide a tasty meal for foxes, weasels, hawks and eagles... when they're threatened, they issue a loud, high-pitched whistle and dive into a burrow.   These hefty rodents create systems of tunnels that they use for shelter, hibernation and raising their young.  Often, their burrows become home to frogs and smaller rodents. 

It's easy to identify a ground hog burrow, as you will find mounds of dirt beside the entrances and the entry may be up to 12 inches wide.  Although ground hogs are relatively harmless, they do undertake extensive excavating and have an appetite for fresh garden flowers, grasses, vegetables and fruit.  This can make them unpleasant neighbours. 




Woodchucks can be moved along by disturbing their burrow system but if you have problem ground hogs, it is most humane to evict them between mid-July and mid-September.  Female woodchucks have dependent young in their burrows from late winter until early summer and they will do almost anything to protect them.  If you wait until the young ground hogs re able to venture above ground, you will be far more successful in your efforts and you will increase the likelihood of survival of this relatively benign species.

Before you close up a tunnel, test for activity.  Try loosely plugging the entrances with grass, tissue paper or something similar and watch for activity.  If you observed any attempt to remove the material for 4 or 5 days, you can be reasonably sure that the burrow is not occupied and the family has likely moved on.

In September, if you see ground hogs, the best method of eviction is simple harassment.  Shout at them, throw pebbles or sticks at them... but don't get too close- any wild animal under stress can be dangerous.  It's unusual for a ground hog to hang around and get yelled at, but if that's the case, a simple live trap and relocation (to a vacant field) is the best alternative.