A Trio of Characters

Thank you to RL Black for publishing my trio of circus characters as part of the May/June issue of Unbroken Journal. (Pages 77-78) The journal includes another stellar collection of evocative words and images, including a trio of poetic prose by Steve Passey starting on page 19. Check it out, share the love, and if you’re feeling brave, think about submitting to this excellent publication.

You can do better, Gary

I should title this as an open letter to all manufacturers and retailers of paper yard-waste bags, but I’m going to pick on Gary, the Canadian Tire Guy, because he’s the face of their ‘Tested for life in Canada’ commercials.

Well, I live in Canada, Gary. In fact, I live in Calgary, Alberta where the city has finally done the right thing and implemented a full scale organic waste disposal program. The green bins decorating every alley and laneway are a generous size and more than adequate for the collection of normal household organic waste. However, the bins fall short in the spring and autumn when yard clean ups generate enough biomass to fill them 5 or 10 times over. The city has a plan for that – large paper yard waste bags. Excess yard waste goes in the paper bags and can be set out for collection in accordance with the scheduled weekly organic pick up. They even included a 5-pack of the bags in their ‘starter kit’ that came with the bins.

Five bags. I used up my allotment in the first week when I pruned my trees. After that I was on my own; scouring local stores for more bags. I garden a lot, so I’ve tried out a few different brands over the course of the summer. My least favourite came from Canadian Tire, but to be honest, none of them were all that great.

For the sake of those who do not know me personally, just some quick background. I work professionally for a landscaping and yard maintenance company and, trust me, I’ve filled more than a few paper bags with yard waste.

Responsible composting is better than using plastic bags and since most yards don’t generate more weeds than can fit in the green bins every week, I wasn’t too fussed about using the paper bags in the summer. Come autumn, I am part of a crew that shows up with blowers and leaf vacuums to clean up our client yards. We also have access to tarps, trucks and trailers to haul everything away to the City’s organic waste dump for disposal. That’s not the garden clean up I’m talking about.

When I work in my own garden I don’t have access to all that equipment. At home I still do fall clean up like everyone else – rake, bag, repeat. And just like most home gardeners in Calgary, I have limited time to get the job done on the few nice autumn weekends before the snow flies, so it’s not very practical to spread out the work over several garbage pick-up cycles. Therefore I’m beholden to using commercially produced paper yard-waste bags, including those sold by Canadian Tire. I’m not sure what kind of giddy-up grannies or frenetic fourth graders tested Canadian Tire branded paper bags and gave them a better than 4 out of 5 star rating,  but I am not convinced. I would shop elsewhere for better ones but I’ve discovered that all the different brands I tried this summer have the same fundamental flaws.

If you haven’t had the pleasure of using paper yard-waste bags, here’s the skinny.  The bags are difficult to use. I’m not the tallest person around, but frankly anyone with arms shorter than those of an Orangutan couldn’t reach down to the bottom of the bags to open them up properly. I pretty much have to slip the bag over my head and torso to get it unfolded to the point where it will stay open on its own. After I’ve fought my way out of the paper bag, I’m ready to go – sort of –  except the height and the rectangular bottom of the bag makes it unstable, so I have to prop it up against a fence, and even then the creases of the double ply kraft paper are pretty pernicious, so the stupid thing wants to collapse in on itself when I turn my back.

Why did I turn my back? Well, to pick up a big old armload of leaves or a pile of expired plants of course! Wasn’t that the point?  Which brings me to the next issue. So far all the bags I’ve used are awkward to fill. The opening of the bag (assuming it hasn’t folded in on itself like an accordion) is smaller than an armload of leaves. There’s no way that armload I want to dump into the bag will go in cleanly, especially if there’s a couple of twigs or plant stalks sticking out at random angles.

If I’m lucky, half the armload will go in before the bag folds up on itself or tips over. If I’m unlucky, the bag will tear down one side as the half armload goes in. I have to pick my poison. Full armloads means twice as much raking and if I resort to half armloads I will do twice as much bending down. Either way it is more work than normal and I’m suddenly nostalgic for the days of stuffing everything into plastic bags and feeling guilty about the negative impact on the environment.

Speaking of stuffing the bags. Don’t. If the paper bags don’t rip during load up, they will definitely rip or bust open if I try to tamp down the load of leaves too much. I say ‘tamp’ because the shape of the bags makes it impossible to stomp them down like in the good old days of over-stuffing a plastic bag securely stretched over the rim of a garbage can.

Finally, the system of ‘crimping down’ the top of each paper bag to close it is something I have yet to master. Even if I do manage it, I’m left with the task of figuring out the best way to carry the bag to the back alley for pick up without having it tear. And hopefully it doesn’t snow or rain before pick up day because the bags can’t handle much weather before they lose structural integrity. I suppose that is the point; they are biodegradable, but having them disintegrate and dump their contents prematurely is a bit discouraging and it pisses off the neighbours who live down wind.

I’m all for being environmentally responsible. This is not a rant against Calgary’s Organic Waste Disposal system, but the program is only as good as its weakest link and even the smallest irritation can discourage people from participating in it properly. I’ve seen some gadgets out there that supposedly help with wrangling paper yard-waste bags, but that’s not my point either.

What I’m saying, Gary, is that nothing good can come of inferior paper yard-waste bags. If you’ve stuck with me so far, thanks. Here is the pay off in the form of a couple of quick off-the-cuff suggestions for improving their functionality and restoring credibility to the ‘Tested for Life in Canada’ advertising Schtick.

First of all, a thicker paper is better. During the summer I used some bags purchased at Rona that were thicker and sturdier. It made a difference. However, even the Rona bags would be improved if they had better proportions, by which I mean shorter and wider. It wouldn’t have to be a drastic change either; maybe have your guys make the bags 15% shorter for easier unfolding and trade that off by making the base 15% wider for stability and easy loading. I’m not sure about the math, but I think the volume of the bags would stay the same and the amount of paper for manufacturing would too. I have no insights into the business of designing paper products but it seems to me that it is worth running the experiment, or a least giving consumers a choice. Disposable coffee cups and plastic bags come in every shape and size, so why not paper yard-waste bags?

So here’s the challenge, Gary (and Walmart and Rona and all the rest of you). Build me a better paper yard-waste bag! Make it a shorter, wider, sturdier bag – I’m thinking more Grande than Venti – something that will accommodate an arm load of leaves without collapsing or tipping or ripping. Test the heck out of it with some real gardeners like me and see what happens. Keep the old bags for those who like the status quo and offer a choice for those who don’t. It could be the start of something big – or something shorter and wider and more functional.


I know it’s been ages since I last posted on my blog, so if I have any followers left out there; thanks for listening, thanks for reading, and thanks for forwarding this post to Canadian Tire if you dare.

In the Company of Spiders by Hermine Robinson

Hello all, here is my story “In the Company of Spiders” as published by The Fiction Pool.

A young boy discovers his life is a tangled web controlled by the women around him.

Check out the story and also check out The Fiction Pool for other excellent stories.

The Fiction Pool

The spider made herself at home in Grandma’s parlour. She sat in the wingback chair reserved for guests, with her hands folded neatly across her lap. This particular spider was dressed in widow’s black, accented with jewel tones of ruby, emerald and cobalt outlined with gold. She clashed with the beige, flocked wallpaper and the faded, chintz upholstery of the parlour and sitting there – comfortably settled in the chair – the spider surveyed the room with a critical eye as if deciding how to redecorate.

Joel peered at the spider from the safety of the hallway. He remained tucked out of sight behind the heavy, oak, doorframe – nothing visible except his straw-coloured hair and wide blue eyes – but still the spider spied him and she beckoned with a crooked finger. Come now boy, let me see you.Joel ducked out of sight. His thumb found temporary refuge…

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Follow this Guy. His name is Cameron.

The couple of people who follow my blog know that I’m spotty at best when it comes to posting original content or even updating my list of publication credits. BUT, I do follow some excellent bloggers and I’m going to try and do a better job of sharing their wisdom and hard work with you.

For now, this is the best way I know how to spread the word when it comes to expressing my love of writing and the ongoing quest to share it with others, namely, getting published. So, call it what you will; networking, sharing a passion, maybe even disorganization or laziness on my part for not doing this research for myself, but once again I’m going to leave it to someone else to take the credit for saying it better than I can. Check it out below.

via Get Published! 16 Facebook Groups to Join for Market Calls — Cameron Filas

*EDIT: Huge thanks to Selene MacLeod for providing me links to five other Facebook groups (noted with asterisks)! Also, as rightfully pointed out by Selene: Be sure to read the group rules for each group before posting! Do not spam group pages with posts that are not allowed! Other than that, happy writing! Networking is […]

And, by the way, don’t thank me, thank Cameron Filas and the other bloggers out there who do the hard work of finding and posting information we can use.


A Tail (ahem!) Tale of 5 Self-Published Books …

I’m not a self published author (yet) but I know a lot of writers go this route and this is advice that works for submitting work as well as self-publishing. Never assume you know it all, and don’t be afraid to seek out the expertise you need to produce the best possible work.

Books: Publishing, Reading, Writing

Recently I read 5 self-published eBooks—all good books in their own way—but 4 of these suffered from “problems” that in my estimation could have been easily rectified. As it was, these problems were enough to diminish my satisfaction in reading what should have been very good books. Without mentioning the authors’ names or their book titles (except for the perfect book!), let me explain what I mean. (I did finish reading every book I list here, but with varying degrees of satisfaction.)

The first book is one I had known about for some time and had even beta-read material in advance to help the author organize and substantively edit in preparation for publication. I read a free Kindle edition. While I thoroughly enjoyed what was written—both the subject matter and the stories told (this was non-fiction about a particular time and place in the author’s life)—I realized that the author…

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Quantum Hamsters and Other Pet Anomalies by Hermine Robinson

It was my wife, Esme, who suggested we get a pet for our children. “It will teach them responsibility,” she said. “Sounds good,” I replied. However, I was not actually paying attention when she bro…

Many Thanks to Literally Stories for publishing my short story, check it out at the link below.
Source: Quantum Hamsters and Other Pet Anomalies by Hermine Robinson