2019 has lots of interesting anniversaries coming up – one for Maria I won’t elaborate on.

There are also Teddy’s 10th birthday, 40 years since we moved to Georgetown from Montreal, 50 years since I graduated from university and started my career, 60 years since I left elementary school.

Some sad ones too – 10 years since Maria’s sister Flo and my parents passed away.

We have a family holiday planned at the end of March – another Transatlantic cruise – so hopefully all will work out great as far as travel goes. We have been careful not to connect flights in Britain just after Brexit.

Not many other trips planned though. I think we are entering the “go slow” phase of our retirement. Also Trump’s America doesn’t seem all that welcoming to Canadians nowadays. I hope I’m wrong about that.

January 1st marks the official 14th anniversary of my retirement from Unilever. The day after that in 2005, I didn’t return to work after the holidays. Given Unilever’s business decisions, there wouldn’t be much to return to nowadays.

Maria will have the 14th anniversary of her retirement at the end of February. And of course, we’ll have lived in Almonte for 14 years come July 6, 2019. Time sure does fly when you’re having fun.

So here’s to the New Year. We have lots of great memories of past ones, and with any good fortune, this coming year will give us some more.

The North Wind Doth Blow

But it doesn’t look like we shall have snow. No indeed.

In fact, with the warmest December 28 on record, most of our white Christmas snow has melted away.

Now it’s getting colder with the north wind, but it won’t last long according to the forecasters.

It’s been a strange end to the year here in the Valley – no sunny days and chilly nights. The weather has been more like November – iron-gray skies and bits of freezing drizzle. The shorter days have made it even grimmer than last month.

Still lots of winter to go though – I’m sure we’ll have a day or two like the one above. That was in February 2006. Colder weather will be on the way in the New Year.

Don’t even get me started on the arrival of spring. Such is life here north of the St. Lawrence River.


We have had 3 cats in 36 years. The first two lived well into their teens and had a great life. We are hoping to be around to see Mr Oates do the same.

The secret to this happy turn of events was that each of our cats has stayed indoors.

There are some folks who believe that an indoor cat is so repressed that he can never be contented. Does Oates look like that to you?

Fact is an outdoor cat can end up living a Hobbesian life – nasty, brutish – and short.

  • He can get hit by a car.
  • He can get kidnapped – or poisoned.
  • He can get lost.
  • He can contract a variety of bad communicable diseases.
  • He can serve as lunch for a variety of predators.
  • He can get into cat or dog fights and lose.
  • He can pollute the neighbor’s flowerbeds.
  • He can kill songbirds and generally make a nuisance of himself.

I do not see the point of serving my cat nourishing food, and getting him expensive vet care only to throw it all away because he might like to go out on the prowl.

Oates has never been outside in his life so he won’t miss any of it. As long as he gets to chase after a variety of wand toys before lunch he is happy.

I read a lot of stories in the Facebook “ginger cats” group and it always breaks my heart to see pics of a handsome fellow who met a premature death under the wheels of a car. It is so unnecessary.

I’ll never be convinced that keeping a cat indoors deprives him of anything but danger, sickness, death. So sue me for cruelty.

Back to Normal

Mr. Oates isn’t really a Christmas party animal. He was getting along fine when Maria’s mother came up the week before, but when 13 other people arrived on Christmas Day he had enough of the festivities. Oates went to his favorite spot in the bedroom closet and stayed there until the hordes left. After that, he hid out on top of the wall unit in the basement.

Sarah, Dave and the grandkids stayed on and that messed up his favorite spot on the guest room bed. After they headed back to Ottawa yesterday, he magically reappeared.

He spent last night in his customary spot at the foot of our bed. Now since his cat bed has returned to its place in the guest room, everything is back to normal. And normal is all a cat ever really wants things to be.

He’ll be happy to know there’s no New Year’s Eve party planned around here.


I spent over 10 years working on Unilever’s fats and oils business. And now I’d be working for Upfield, if at all.

Unilever sold the margarine division to KKR in late 2017. The new spinoff company is called Upfield. This was all part of Unilever’s Monopoly playing strategy to avoid a merger with Kraft. Apparently they will give the money they got from KKR back to the shareholders.

I have heard from ex-colleagues in Canada that the Rexdale factory will be part of Upfield now.

A friend in the Netherlands informed me that the big fats and oils development group will relocate to the Nassaukade factory – a number will be downsized. Unilever is closing its R&D facility in Vlaardingen next year and relocating the remnants to Wageningen in the eastern part of the country.

Margarine was part of the Unilever story from the beginning – close to 90 years. But I guess the credible health story about polyunsaturated fats does not resonate with consumers any longer. Margarine sales were tanking and butter was on the upswing. Folks would rather have natural even if it’s not as good for you. Go figure.

The trans fat situation – it’s pretty bad and partially hydrogenated fats should be out of the food chain – has overwhelmed the low saturated fat story. It’s all marketing, science be damned.

Be that as it may, the big changes at Unilever have impacted a lot of lives. I hope as many of my former colleagues as possible can hold on to their jobs. I guess we’ll soon see.

How Things Are Organized

It’s been a while since I wrote a technical post. My apologies if I do. This one might appeal to those propellerheads who read it – or maybe not. Feel free to skip it if you want to.

However, writing a post like this helps me keep a clear head on how things work around here, and I can also refer to it later if needed. So indulge me. Please.

The subject matter is how my shared domain website is structured. Pretty exciting stuff, eh? In a nutshell any domain on the internet has a root and a number of subdomains.

The Root of the Domain

You’ll find this at https://104vaughan.ca It is a rather boring, static page that contains the following links:

  • A link to the current Almontage blog, powered by WordPress.
  • A link to a legacy blog over at Blogspot. Most of the posts from there are on Almontage anyway.
  • A link to a historical, hand-coded website I did back in the 1990s. Most of the technology is antiquated, the links are dead by and large, and it’s pretty primitive stuff. It is what it is. I learned a lot about websites from making it. End of story.

There’s a lot more on the root domain but you’ll never see it. There are tools for importing files, installing more software, configuring email and so on.

The WordPress Subdomain

This is where most of the action takes place. You find it at https://104vaughan.ca/wp

It is possible to install WordPress on the root, but this isn’t really a good technique – especially if you plan to do more installation or maintenance. The preferred method is to have WordPress on its own subdomain – or folder if you like. That is what I did when I installed it, and that is what the /wp in the address means.

Once you have the software installed and your theme in place, Bob’s your uncle if you want to start blogging. WordPress and your theme take care of the heavy lifting, and you can mostly just use the default look and feel until you get more familiar with stuff.

WordPress has been around since 2001 in one form or another – longer than Facebook and Twitter. The folks who designed it wanted to make it easy to write and publish articles and that is what it does best. You can design a whole website with WordPress to advertise and sell things if you want, but I like it best to have a simple blog format.

In the standard format, WordPress and your theme present each article on a separate page. The “Home” page for the WordPress subdomain is an archive. My Ganesa theme shows the 10 most recent posts and a navigation section to go back to page 1 if you want. I added an archive section in the sidebar which is based on month and year.

There’s lots more you can do to customize – like have categories for Lifestyle, Fashion, Culinary, Photography – but that’s if you have a particular type of niche blog in mind. I keep it simple.

WordPress isn’t the only website development software available – there are competitors like Drupal and Joomla. But I prefer WordPress for a blog.

The Bottom Line

It might seem like overkill to go through all the hassle of getting your own domain and installing the software if you just want to write a few posts. And it isn’t really necessary. All you need do is sign up at Blogger.com or WordPress.com and you can get going right away.

I went a bit further because I enjoy the challenge, I wanted to own my own writing, and I didn’t want ads on my site. It’s a bit more expensive, but in my view it’s worth it. Almontage doesn’t have the same look and feel as 20,000 other blog and that is a good thing too.

That’s the end of my technical rant for today. I hope it brought some light on the darkest, shortest day of the year.

The In-Between Week

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, one of my favorite times of year was the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

I saved a few holiday days so that I could leave work before Christmas Eve and not return until after the New Year.

We invariably had a stressful Christmas Day – dangerous driving through the crappiest weather imaginable, rushing from one parent’s home to the other, trying and failing to keep both sets of parents happy. So it was great to have a few days to decompress afterwards.

What we usually did was travel some more – this time across the border to Niagara Falls, New York.

Most visitors to Niagara Falls stayed on the Canadian side. You had more attractions there, and the view of the Falls was better. The American side was quieter and less kitschy although the city itself was larger. There were plenty of hotels and restaurants, and the Christmas lighting was still going strong on the Falls. We always looked to stay in a hotel with an indoor pool and stuff for kids to do.

And of course the American side had one big attraction in the early 1990s. Cross-border shopping.

The area near the falls was great for sleeping, dining and sightseeing but as for shopping – forget it. The only mall in the area – the Rainbow Center – was on its last legs and soon expired. No, for real hard core bargain hunting you had to drive out to Military Road to the Outlet Center.

This place was overrun with Canadians back in the day – the store clerks couldn’t figure out why they were working and we were still shopping – Boxing Day was over.

As you can see, the Outlet Center has become a lot more suave and sophisticated since the early days when we were shopping there. I think there are about 200 outlet stores now. But we had a lot of fun buying Gap and Limited outlet stuff in the early 90s. Bass shoes too, and Polo. We came back to Ontario looking like walking designer labels.

I’m sure the kids today wouldn’t be caught dead wearing an Izod label. That is so J C Penney. But we loved it back then.

Add in a dinner at Friendly’s and a splash in the pool, and that in-between week was something to look forward to every post-Christmas season.

Thirty years later, the same labels we looked for are available in Ottawa and with the exchange rate, the bargain hunting wouldn’t be as good. And we don’t have to decompress any longer. But we sure have great memories of the Holidome in Niagara Falls.

Green Christmas

No, I don’t expect the Almonte waterfall to look like Fort Lauderdale on Christmas Day, but we may be about to have a rare event here in the Valley – a green Christmas.

That is so rare, I  don’t have a photo to share of the town without snow in December. Maybe I’ll be able to get one soon.

Between now and next Tuesday it is supposed to get mild, and then a late fall storm will arrive. First, we’ll have some freezing rain and then plain old rain with a high of 6 C. That will take care of what little snow remains.

No major snow event is on the horizon although it’ll probably be cold on the 25th. That’s OK for the travelers. We will be at home this year so we wouldn’t have to worry about driving in bad weather. But I wouldn’t wish that on anybody. We had enough horrible drives when we lived in Georgetown and had to go to Napanee and Kingston for the holiday.

If they ever have a people’s vote to move Christmas to June 25, I’ll be first in line to cast a ballot. But they aren’t likely to ask me.

I suppose there is an obvious solution. Celebrate Christmas in Sydney Australia. Looks like it’ll be sunny and 27 C in Sydney on the 25th. Sadly, nobody’s asked me to do that either.

Winter Solstice

The days continue to get shorter as we approach the Winter Solstice. By now the sun doesn’t come up until 7:45 AM and it’s setting by 4:20 PM. 

We have a little snow out there, but it’s nowhere near the Alaskan level we had in 2007. See above.

The Winter Solstice – dark night, short day – remains a significant event in my life though. It was 14 years ago on this upcoming December 21 that I hung up my work clothes for the last time.

I won’t deny it – retirement has suited me fine. I ended up in this cool little town, close to my roots, close to family. I have never been bored, or missed going out to earn my daily bread. On a night like that of Dec 17, with the temperature dropping and the wind howling, I am just as content to sleep in till that late fall sun makes its appearance tomorrow.

I’m glad we had the chance to travel after retiring, and check off a few items on the old bucket list. Our discovery of the joy of cruising made it possible for some transoceanic passages including a once in a lifetime voyage from Sydney to Vancouver. Transatlantic crossings have become a recurring pleasure and we hope for another one next spring, all being well.

Winter solstice means winter of life as well. I cannot deny the approach of mortality, but with any good fortune I’ll have a few years of relatively decent health and mentality left. One never knows, but I’d like to keep my mind as active as I can.

I’m happy to be around to see my grandchildren grow up.

What is the best thing of all about the winter solstice? In less than a week, the days will start to get longer again.

Christmas Music

I know, I know. Walmart has been playing “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” and “Holly Jolly Christmas” since November 1. But I haven’t.

In the car, I dodge most of this dreck with a steady diet of satellite radio classic rock. At home, I wait until about now to start listening to the Christmas stuff. And even then it’s on my own terms.

I’ve been collecting Christmas CDs for over 30 years now and I have a number of vinyl LPs that are even older. They make the basis for good listening in the Advent and Christmas season so I don’t have to get my music fix on Majic 100 or at Giant Tiger.

Here is a brief selection of my favorites at Christmas time. Most are pretty old – I haven’t bought much lately, so there’s no Beyonce or Ariana involved. No Kanye either.

  • Huddersfield Choral Society – This British to the core choir made the best of many CDs of traditional choral music in my collection. They are wonderfully lush and melodic.
  • Mannheim Steamroller – a series of Christmas CDs by the rock/classical fusion group founded by Chip Davis in 1974. Music varies from medieval to contemporary – but always unique, always fresh.
  • The Real Music of Christmas – every year in the late 90s, the Toronto classical radio station CFMX used to have a month-long festival of carols and traditional Christmas music called “The Real Music of Christmas.” Some of this got published on CD. I got a couple of different ones and they are truly beautiful to hear.
  • A Very Special Christmas – A series of CDs put out in the 80s and 90s to support the Special Olympics. Music varies from carols to remakes of the Phil Spector rock classics. The artists are the pop stars of the late 20th century – everyone from Springsteen to Wilson Phillips.
  • Nat King Cole and Roger Whittaker – The Christmas Song. Both of these great singers put out an album of Christmas favorites and they are both worth a listen. Cole’s is an absolute classic though. His soulful version of “O Holy Night” is probably my favorite carol ever.

There are many more Christmas CDs that I enjoy listening to as well – James Taylor, Judy Collins, Blackmore’s Night, The Kingston Trio, The Moody Blues, The Chieftains, The Philadelphia Orchestra, Richard Marx, Kathy Mattea, Trisha Yearwood. Most of them don’t get played on the radio these days, but they make for a musical treat around the Almonte homestead.

That reminds me – better get the old CD player warmed up.

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