Category Archives: Uncategorized

Closing the information age gap

When you’re closer to retirement than you are to the start of your career, it can be hard to step into a room full of sharp-minded, energetic young people discussing youth issues and feel you have anything to offer. But step into that room as an Information Studies specialist and suddenly you’ve closed the gap. Thanks to its focus on emerging technologies and the latest methods of searching and retrieving information, library and information science helps put information seekers and information gatherers squarely on the same page. As quickly as ideas percolate around them, information professionals are able to step up to the challenge of providing data and guiding clients toward the answers they seek.

This week Community Foundations of Canada held its first ever Vital Youth Dialogue in Ottawa. The goal, to “move beyond reporting on national youth issues to engaging youth in a creative, forward-thinking conversation”. The foundation’s plan is to use the experience as a prototype for similar discussions at its conference in Winnipeg next June.

Among issues discussed: student loan debt, youth unemployment, delays in participating in post-secondary education, and Baby Boomers remaining in the workforce, or returning after retirement.

As an Information Studies volunteer for the event’s Vital Youth Café, I was part of a team that provided research services to participants on questions related to the challenge of helping vulnerable youth.  Examples of queries included how to locate available low-cost or no-cost meeting spaces for youth-based programs; statistics on youth choices following high school; and types of entrepreneurial programs for aboriginal youth.

Judging by the level of chatter and earnestness of the group discussions, enthusiasm for the challenge of improving the lives of Canada’s youth was very high — maybe even matching my own enthusiasm for the value of Information Studies.

For more on Community Foundations of Canada and the Vital Youth Dialogue:

For details on University of Ottawa`s Master of Information Studies program:





Battling the beetle

I’m not usually prone to such behaviour, but a tree at the front of our home deserves a hug.  It’s a lovely, big shade tree, at least 50 feet tall. Planted on the city boulevard adjacent to our property, it keeps the front of our home cool in the summer. Our yard is otherwise bare of trees, and without this beautiful one our front lawn would surely bake, and the temperature inside our home would rise by several degrees on a hot day.

Likely planted when our home was built, some 64 years ago, it’s just one of hundreds, if not thousands, of similar trees in our neighbourhood. At least it was until recently. Many of its companions have been chopped down this year, due to damage by the voracious Emerald Ash Borer.

Our ash tree is not yet one to be marked by city crews with a big red “X”, but it may well be living on borrowed time. The Emerald Ash Borer, a wood-boring beetle native to Asia, has infected thousands of trees in Ottawa and the destruction is heartbreaking. Our neighbourhood has seen dozens of trees felled, leaving a giant gash in what was once a beautiful canopy.

Ash tree showing signs of borer damage

In one park in Ottawa alone this spring, up to 1,000 trees were cut down.

The beetle is not very adept at flying, so much of the problem has to do with wood being moved from one spot to another. Even when a tree is cut down, the Ash Borer remains beneath the bark of the wood. Firewood is a huge problem and a big reason the beetle has spread from Michigan, through Ontario and now into Quebec.

One-quarter of Ottawa’s trees are ash. Ironically, many were planted to replace elms killed by Dutch Elm Disease.

According to Natural Resources Canada, Emerald Ash Borer was first detected in Canada in Windsor, in 2002. By 2005, it had spread into the counties of Essex and Lambton and the municipalities of Chatham-Kent and Dutton/Dunwich. In 2006, it was detected in London, Ontario, and in 2007, new locations were detected as far east as Toronto. The insect has continued to spread in Ontario, with infestations found as far north as Sault Ste. Marie and, by 2011, as far east as Ottawa, Prescott-Russell and Leeds-Grenville counties in eastern Ontario.

One of thousands of ash trees in Ottawa cut down after being weakened by the Emerald Ash Borer

Many of the trees are too far gone, but some can be saved. One solution that avoids cutting down trees is the use of TreeAzin, an insecticide derived from seeds of the Neem tree. It was granted emergency registration in 2008 for use as a systematic insecticide to protect individual ash trees and trees in isolated infestations. The Canadian Forest Service developed the product in partnership with BioForest Technologies Inc. Now commercially available, TreeAzin is being used by numerous municipalities and landowners as one component of their emerald ash borer management strategy.

The issue comes down to cost; the treatment can cost up to a few hundred dollars per tree, and has to be repeated every two years for as long as the beetles remain in town.

As of yet, anyone in Ottawa willing to go this route has to pay the cost of saving a city tree himself. The Greenspace Alliance of Canada’s Capital, a not-for-profit corporation representing community members with concerns about conserving green space in Ottawa, points out that Oakville, Ontario launched an aggressive program in 2010 to save its ash trees by treating them with TreeAzin rather than cutting them down. The treatment, which costs $160 to $190 per tree and is good for two years, is far less than the City of Ottawa is paying to remove and dispose of a tree, estimated to be anywhere from $1,200 to $1,800.

Just one of the many ash tree-lined streets in our community

I asked City of Ottawa Ward 18 Councillor Peter Hume why Ottawa hasn’t followed Oakville’s lead. He tells me it comes down to scope. Hume says, “I wish we were like Oakville – they have 7500 ash Trees – we have 75,000 ash trees. But that said, we are treating about the same number that Oakville is with TreeAzin. Our problem is that we have so many trees some get infected and we don’t even know until it is too late – if a tree is more than 30% infected TreeAzin won’t save it so we want to treat the trees that are in the best condition to survive and then manage with the beetle.”

Awareness may be the most effective weapon in the fight against the Emerald Ash Borer.  Infected trees start to show deterioration from the top down, so it’s important to monitor trees’ growth before it is too late. It will take a lot of vigilance and a fair amount of luck to slow down the pests before Ottawa’s ash population is lost.

All photos by Leah Walker

Little yellow courgette (baby you’re much too fast)

I was warned about this.

I thought about it for a minute or two in February, when I started extra summer squash seeds, just in case some failed to germinate. And I really did know better in May when I bought a couple extra plants, just in case some failed to thrive.

We want to grow outside!

They germinated. They are thriving. Now it is Zucchinipalooza in our backyard. I have become that neighbour.

The best performers in our Dave-constructed raised vegetable beds are a Golden Dawn hybrid from Vesey’s Seeds of Prince Edward Island.  Even cucumber beetles can’t slow these babies down. They are yielding at least one zucchini a day.

Golden Dawn III Summer Squash

So far we’ve grated them for zucchini bread, chopped them for vegetarian chili, sliced them for zucchini gratin, and coined them to eat raw.  This has to be one of the most versatile vegetables ever.  (Yes, I realize zucchini is actually a fruit).

I have yet to deep fry the flowers or use them in soup, as is done in Mexico, where the flower is called flor de calabaza, but stuffed zucchini will likely be on the menu soon. I stumbled across this and wow, does it ever look good:

Some zucchini trivia:

-zucchini is a good source of potassium (one zucchini has more potassium than a banana), and vitamin A

-zucchini is a super low-calorie veggie — it’s 95% water!

and, best of all, from

-zucchini, especially the golden skin variety, is rich in flavonoid poly-phenolic antioxidants such as carotenes, lutein and zeaxanthin. These compounds help scavenge harmful oxygen-derived free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS) from the body that play a role in aging and various disease process.

Go away for the weekend and this could await you on your return

Fortunately our family, friends and neighbours are all zucchini lovers.  Although you might ask me again once the season is over.


I’ve had good success with seeds from Vesey’s:

From the ground up

The end of April is fast approaching and the pressure is on for Canadians to get their homework done.  While for many that means the chore of tax preparation, for the green thumbs among us, that means garden preparation — the joy of sowing seeds and finalizing garden designs. This past weekend I was able to tune out the grumble of the Taxman, and instead, I responded to the call of the Master Gardeners.   Off I went, garden plans and photos in hand, to the Ottawa Home and Garden Show.

These are not Tiger Lilies! This one is Hemerocallis -- often called "ditch lily" -- an orange Daylily we will be transplanting to our country place.
All photos by Leah Walker

The Master Gardeners are a talented bunch of horticulturalists who volunteer advice to home gardeners on just about anything sprouting or hatching in their yards. They can tell you which are the best veggies to grow in your climate zone, which Daylilies to plant in the garden (and which should be left in the ditch), what to do about creepy crawlies and invasive weeds, or how to care for a particularly tricky plant.

A Crocus pokes up among Daylilies and mystery weeds.

What makes them so masterful? Master Gardeners in Ottawa have to meet qualifications and take university courses, either from the University of Guelph, or from the Nova Scotia Agricultural College, then do a minimum of 30 hours of volunteer work a year to help home gardeners with their gardening questions. These are dedicated folks.

According to their website, “Many members come to us with a formal background and training in the field of horticulture while many others bring extensive practical gardening experience and the knowledge that they have picked up from reading and talking to their neighbours.”

The concept developed in 1972 at Washington State University to address an overwhelming number of requests for gardening information. The idea spread to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs in 1985. Supported by OMAFRA and the Ontario Horticultural Society, the program expanded through Ontario. Experienced gardeners were recruited by local horticultural societies and received training from the University of Guelph.

Delphinium, Iris, and the ever-present Daylilies.

In 1996, OMAFRA announced it would no longer be able to fund the Master Gardener program and in 1998 the Master Gardeners of Ontario was formally incorporated. Master Gardeners are now in four provinces and all 50 U.S. states

The Coordinator of Master Gardeners of Ottawa-Carleton, Mary Ann Van Berlo, tells me what the organization offers her is an opportunity to help others, and still follow her passion, “constantly learning and sharing”. The most common question she gets, she says, “relates to whatever pest is in season.”

Something new to try this year: Asparagus Peas.

Van Berlo says that becoming a Master Gardener appeals to the newly retired, but gardening is ageless, and she has observed an interest in organic gardening at all ages, especially since the introduction of a ban on cosmetic pesticides. “The pesticide ban,” she says, “just means you must lower your expectations. Many people are learning, for instance, that wild flowers can bring in pollinators or beneficial insects to aid the garden.” She says it’s all about balance.

The help-line tells me this is likely Creeping Bellflower, which will require plenty of digging to uproot.

You can find the Master Gardeners of Ottawa-Carleton on the web at or through their Telephone Help Line: 613-236-0034. (Wednesday and Thursday 1 – 3 p.m. (all year) and Saturdays 7 – 8 pm (April to September only). You can also find them at booths set up at local farmers markets.

Of particular interest to me is their email help line: Mary Ann Van Berlo tells me clients often use the service to send them photos of weeds to identify.

Mine could keep them busy for some time to come.

A financial lesson in frozen pipes

This winter’s exaggerated freeze-thaw cycle has taken a toll on Ottawa’s aging infrastructure. Broken water mains under roads and frozen pipes inside homes have left many business and home owners knee-deep in financial worries.  Even those not directly affected are feeling anxious — could their place be next?

In downtown Ottawa, Elgin Street has closed twice in a week already this winter due to broken water mains. About a dozen businesses suffered a loss of sales, including Fresco Italiano, a charming little bistro we were introduced to this summer — located smack-dab in the middle of the trouble.

Owner Jim Bickford says he had to cancel about 160 reservations due to the burst. He estimates the restaurant lost between $10,000 and $12,000, but he says because the pipes were fixed within 48 hours, his losses aren’t covered by his insurance. He’s asking the city for compensation.

Although the Elgin Street pipes date back to 1874, it’s not just the ancient cast-iron ones we have to watch out for. Newer ones on Woodroffe Avenue caused upheaval last winter, with a sinkhole there adding insult to injury: It swallowed the truck of workers sent to fix the main.

I’m sure we’re not the only ones taking a good look at our basement this winter, re-examining our insurance policies — and checking the status of our home maintenance fund.  If pipes — old and new– can suddenly give way, what might that mean for our home?

When it comes to flood damage, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation warns that mold is the bigger danger. CMHC recommends the following if you suffer flooding in your home:

1 — Contact your insurance broker

First, call your insurance broker or agent and report the water damage. You can expect to discuss these questions and issues:

  • How did the water damage occur?
  • Is this damage covered by your policy?
  • Did the damage occur during the period your policy was in effect?
  • Are you reporting the water damage promptly (within 24 hours) to allow quick drying and repairs?

2 — Hire a Contractor

Hire a contractor to clean up the water and make repairs as needed to your house. Your adjuster can recommend contractors, but you must confirm the selection with your adjuster — the contractor reports to and is paid by you. You need to be sure that the adjuster and the contractor are following the best possible procedures to look after your concerns.

(For more information see CMHC’s factsheet: )

The potential for home and business damage due to frozen pipes underlines the need for a financial plan. Some experts say each year you should be setting aside between 3% and 5% of the value of your home for home maintenance.

That’s a lot to tuck away, but here’s a lesson learned from frozen pipes that will cost you nothing:  Lena works at my local physiotherapy clinic.  A broken water pipe and flood in the basement of their home uprooted her and her husband, sending them to live with his folks and in hotels while repairs are underway. She says the flood has taught her she can live without all those boxes and boxes of things she thought she needed. Since it happened, she says she’s put her spending on hold so she can direct her savings toward what really matters: less stuff, and more experiences.

A murder mystery

At dusk every evening, there is a murder in Ottawa. Thankfully in this case, no humans are involved– this is a murder of crows.

It is an awesome and eerie sight to witness a flock of crows — or murder, as it is called — swooping overhead. And we aren’t even in the thick of it. Our neighbourhood is sometimes part of the crows “pre-roost” where they mass by the hundreds before moving on to their nightly roost near the Ottawa General Hospital — where tens of thousands gather.

Crows descend upon Lynda Lane Park, Ottawa. Photo by Leah Walker

Bird experts have yet to come to a consensus on why the birds gather in such huge groups. Among possible explanations — safety in numbers against predators, a desire to socialize (and holy, uh, crow, do they have a lot to talk about!) , and mating purposes. They roost overnight, take off the next day in different directions in search of food, then reunite again at dusk.

The crow population is surging in Canada, in part due to loss of habitat. Last year Maclean’s reported that crow populations are up thirtyfold since the 1970s in some cities. Washington zoologist John Marzluff called it an “urban invasion.”

Ottawa, and Woodstock, Ontario are among the areas most affected. Chatham, Ontario was home to a murder of more than one hundred thousand crows when a company was called in with birds of prey to chase them away. They are still a major problem for residents there, making huge messes as they scavenge in garbage.

The crows have their own mysterious reasons for getting together, but for humans their assembly can serve a practical purpose: Just as the streetlights coming on used to let kids know it was time to get inside, the flight of thousands of birds over local pubs lets those stopping after work for a pint know it’s time to get home to get dinner on.

Maybe the gathering of thousands of the big, noisy black birds would be less intimidating if it were called something other than a murder, but I doubt it. The first time we saw hundreds of cawing crows perched on every branch of the tall oaks on our street and lined up menacingly along the peak of the nearby church, we couldn’t help but feel a chill. Dave and I decided it would be best to take part in a safe indoor activity, like watching a movie.

Next time we won’t be choosing The Birds.

Celebrating white space

Our home operates under a “No Knick-Knacks, No Pets” policy. It’s not that we have anything against animal companions, or other peoples’ treasures — our aim is simply to feel unencumbered.  We’re looking for white space.

It wasn’t so long ago that my desk overflowed with books and notebooks, to-do lists, doo-dads I just enjoyed looking at, or thought I wanted to have close at hand, and always a vase of flowers.  Perfect for a big procrastinator — it gave me an excuse to putter around, shift things from one spot to another, add to lists, pinch off faded buds, and let my research veer me off topic  — until a deadline stared me in the face.

Two major downsizing moves in the past year have forced me to clean up my act. Having to pack up all that stuff only to have to find space for it at the other end is a strong motivator, but I highly recommend the process for anyone moving or not. It’s remarkably Zen to have fewer items encroaching on your space.  I won’t be giving up flowers on my desk — but now there is plenty of open space to really enjoy them. And a clear(ish) desk has provided me fewer opportunities for procrastination.

My new mantras are:

  • Everything In Its Place
  • If It Only Takes A Minute, Do It NOW, and
  • The Job’s Not Done Until You’ve Put Back What You Used

Our most recent move has shown me that I’m living more in the present than I realized. But while I’ve been able to let go of old memories and move forward, there are still some areas I’m having trouble with.  One is a fairly large British pottery collection that has faded from interest — mine, and as it turns out, other collectors as well — which is now housed in two big boxes in our basement awaiting an upturn in the pottery market.

Another problem area is books. Although being around them fills me with joy, I realize that they are starting to crowd our house — cutting into our white space. So instead of adding to my collection, I am now making weekly visits to the library  to soak up the atmosphere and to borrow titles. I’m also going through the shelves at home and asking myself whether I will ever re-read the books there. I’ve “edited” hundreds of books from my shelves — but  I do have my limits. The ones written by friends will always have a home there.


When I need organizing inspiration, I turn to what may just be my favourite radio ad ever. It’s for an Ottawa moving supply store, Patafie’s. The award winner was created by Rob Mortimer, Barry Hayes and Mike Glustien of CHUM Radio Ottawa and is a take-off of a certain saucy skit by Justin Timberlake on Saturday Night Live: