Amanita muscaria v. formosa

Mystery Mushrooms

Growing up on a Manitoba farm, we were always gathering wild fruits, berries and wildlife to supplement our food supply. I doubt there are many people who have netted suckers in a ditch for canning or preserved the considerable amounts of wild berries that my mother did. As an avid outdoorsman, I constantly graze as I move, sampling what nature has to offer. The breasts of a prairie chicken taste particularly good cooked over a wood fire, meat from a squirrel less so. Later in life, I had the chance to discover the various tastes from the oceans and had some formal training from Air Force survival training. Outdoor tip: if you are bored with lots of time on your hands, rock lichen can be dried into ‘chips’ to fill a rumbly empty stomach.

When I first moved to BC, I became interested in mushrooms. Sure, everyone immediately thinks of the ‘magic’ variety but I didn’t know anyone with a horse paddock. Horse manure helps with the psychoactive ingredient for these ‘little brown’ shrooms. Instead, as I hiked through the mountain trails, I was curious about the dozens of varieties I came across and if they were edible. I recommend picking up The Field Guide to Mushrooms’ by Marie F. Heerkens as a starter book for those interested in fungi.

As most people are aware, you have to be careful with mushrooms and it is helpful to be 100% sure of what you are eating. I am going to talk of the Amanita muscaria v. formosa which is a close cousin of a look-alike mushroom called the Poison Amanita or Death Cap. Descriptors of the Amanita family include destroying angel, deadly, poison, possibly poisonous, edible but eat not, unknown edibility, etc. I think you get the picture. You indulge in wild mushrooms at your own risk.

But I am an adventurer when it comes to tasting new foodstuffs, so when these amazing orange mushrooms kept popping up in my front yard, I was curious of their edibility. To start with, I got out my field guide and was quite sure it was the Amanita variety known as Fly Amanita, Fly Agaric or Fly Poison. There seemed to be a theme with the names and indeed, flies seemed attracted to the little stand and were dying. Google is also your friend and I found helpful advice and research on How to Safely Eat Amanita Mushrooms.

  • Step One

Find some newly sprouted buttons and take a sharp knife to the stem. Give the mushroom a little shake to seed the ground with spores. Normally, you don’t want to yank out the entire mushroom so they will come back another season. But, big caveat here, the large bulb of the Death Cap just under the surface helps to give it away.

A nice stand of Fly Poison mushrooms in the button stage
  • Step Two

Wash the mushrooms off to rid them of dirt and the white spots on the caps. Then slice them into at least quarters or eighths.

Anything that is such a pretty orange is good to eat, right?
  • Step Three

Boil the orange out of them. The water soluble poison in the mushroom is called muscarin and can be boiled or steeped out of the flesh. The process turns the water a dark yellow pee colour. If you feel like vomiting, passing out or having a total body high, then eat a couple of these raw.

15 minutes of hard boiling rids them of their colour and hopefully the muscarin poison
  • Step Four

Fry them up in a little bit of butter and enjoy! Like all new foods, especially mushrooms, eat a little bit and wait. Survival books preach a period of 24 hours between small amounts. Take it easy and see how your body reacts. I nibbled on a purple mushroom out in BC that had obviously been nibbled on by the little woodland creatures. When my mouth instantly went numb, I felt it wise to spit it out!

Mmmmm, all food tastes better after it has been fried up with butter!
  • Step Five

Evaluate the taste and whether all the bother is worth eating more. I tried one mushroom first to see if there were any bad side effects and as there were none, I tried a larger batch a few days later. I did notice a slight numbing of my tongue after about 15 minutes and a bit of an upset stomach after about an hour. I did sleep it off partly because I wanted a nap and I think I had some overall body tingles. The mushrooms tasted okay but nothing to really write home about.

Moral of the story: be curious but careful especially when it comes to mushrooms. I probably won’t bother eating them again but I am going to see if they can help rid my garden of the bugs eating my cucumbers.

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The average Canadian’s idea of a CAF peacekeeping mission

Canadian Dithering on Peacekeeping Mission

Three items related to Canada’s supposed promise to send troops on a UN peacekeeping mission happened this week. Outfits like the CDA Institute have submitted analysis on Canada’s New Defence Policy, the Globe and Mail has reported that a CAF sniper once again holds the record for the furthest kill shot and the MPs of the House of Commons are expected to rise for their summer break from June 23 to September 18.

Prime Minister Trudeau (in?)famously declared a day after the election on October 20, 2015 that “Canada was back!” This partly referred to our country’s readiness to get back on to the world stage as a peacekeeping nation. The CAF had been regrouping after 12 years of operations in Afghanistan and had taken an operational pause. The Liberals (cynical thinking) just wanted a coveted seat back on the UN Security Council or (altruistic thinking) wanted to bring Canadian ‘sunny ways’ to downtrodden portions of the planet. Looking at a calendar, this promise to our allies to help with the ‘heavy lifting’ is going on two years with no fulfillment in sight.

Reminiscent of The Economist’s take of a former Liberal PM, Trudeau is turning into ‘Mr. Dithers’ The Sequel. He is hedging his bets by judiciously spending Canada’s blood and gold on select hellhole missions around the world. The CAF has Special Operations Forces in hotspots sprinkled here and there and as evidenced by the record breaking kill shot, we are turning the ‘bad guys’ into pink mist. But these operations are by necessity shrouded in secrecy so if personnel are hurt or killed, the PR fallout is minimized. We also are making a big deal of a contingent of 450 soldiers being sent to bolster Latvia, CF 18s patrolling Iceland’s air space and a frigate in the Mediterranean under Operation REASSURANCE in an effort to blunt Russia’s burgeoning re-emergence as an aggressive military world power. The world may be sliding back into another Cold War but potential for onesies or twosies of Canadian flag draped coffins coming home is minimal. The government pumped out a comprehensive Canada Defence Policy which impressively lays out the CAF’s focus for the next 20 years along with substantive budget increases. There have been immediate results like overdue pay increases but the large expenditures will not kick in until after the next election cycle. Lots of good words and promises but very little in the way of solid rubber meeting the road.

About a year ago, the Minister of National Defence (MND), Harjit Sajjan made the rounds of African countries for potential Canadian peacekeeping missions in an effort towards due diligence before fulfilling the PM’s promise. The scuttlebutt has been Mali was the lead contender of Canadian peacekeeping largesse. Mali is a particularly nasty quagmire with open Islamic civil warfare, use of child soldiers, frequent and numerous peacekeeper casualties all with a liberal dash of IEDs. As a former Intelligence officer, the MND is no dummy. I think he and the PM got the shit scared out of themselves and they know dead CAF men and women will be regularly travelling the Highway to Heroes route if we send troops out on these peacemaking missions. This is why they dither when pressed on when the government is planning on making a decision.

I am no fan of sending CAF personnel into harm’s way. I have family and friends in uniform. I have lost military friends doing their duty. Frankly, in my opinion, some parts of the world are burning and that’s just the way it is. Let them sort their own crap out because all we seem to do as Western powers is muddy the water and waste our efforts. The government knows there is no upside to sending troops to a place like Mali, so they are stalling like mad hoping other world events or opportunities will come up. As reported by Murray Brewster of CBC, Canada has been presented with a long list of UN ‘marquee command roles’ missions and has turned them all down except for a plum position in New York. But with the rising of the House, the Liberals will push any decision further to the right by months until at least the fall session. Opposition MPs will rightly want a debate before sending CAF troops into obvious peril and this will be another excuse to, in military parlance, mark time.

There’s an old military adage related to the concept of leadership when it comes to making a choice. Either make a decision whether it is yes or no, follow or get the hell out of the way. Our allies like the Dutch in need of a tag-out in Mali and the Germans who wanted the use of our helicopters instead of theirs are probably pissed that Canada is all talk and no action. Perhaps the innocents who are being killed, tortured, raped, and maimed would like to stop holding out false hope that blue beret wearing Canadians are coming to their rescue. The world and our defence partners are realizing that Canadian ‘Sunny Ways’ and ‘Canada is Back’ talk is only so much blowing sunshine up their collective behinds.

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A CAF Army service couple – Photo by: MCpl M. Ferguson, Canadian Army Public Affairs


This past Father’s Day and a recent news item about Acting Sub Lieutenant Laura Nash and her troubles got me thinking about the many unknown sacrifices military men and women in uniform make for their countries.

Most Canadians think of military sacrifice in terms of death or serious injury on some far away battlefield such as Afghanistan or the World Wars. Also, because of people like LGen (Ret’d) Romeo Dallaire and attention to veteran’s suicides, PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, is associated with military service. People familiar with military families may also notice that they move quite often. But other than these items, the general public is oblivious to the multitudes of sacrifices a service person undergoes from Day Zero.

I will use my own military experience as a somewhat typical sample of a military career full of forfeiture. I rejoined the military in 2007 as I was selected for pilot training and had a chance to fulfill a childhood dream. The process had already taken about a year to that point. For most new inductees to the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), you show up at the ‘Mega’ in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu and you are directed to enter this quarter mile long building through the Green Door. I imagine it is similar to walking into prison. Immediately, you’re told how to dress, where to sit, how to speak and you have started Week Zero of Basic Training. All the freedoms and life’s normal pleasures are washed away until 14 weeks later, you could come out as a freshly minted officer. I already had a degree, so I was commissioned right away unlike the kids headed to military college. I will not even speak to their sacrifices but they are extensive. For myself, I was destined for a 10 month language training course in French. I am not particularly good in other languages, so I was going to be there for the long haul. Now even though there was another language school in Esquimalt on Vancouver Island just a few hours down from my family in Comox, I was not allowed to go. So I got to miss the Grade 9 and 12 years of my kids and almost missed my son’s graduation because of a change in my final language profile tests. To this day, I have never used French in any meaningful way as I am sure neither have many of my compatriots. The language school only kept the large number of pilot trainees in order to keep French language teachers employed. But that is just how things run.

Luckily, I had lived in the military town of Comox for some time and was able to secure an On-The-Job (OJT) posting with the local SAR squadron. I got to spend about a year at home, with courses here and there, and then I was off to Portage la Prairie, MB for flight training. Like many military men who did not want to uproot their family, I went on Imposed Restrictions (IR). Thankfully, the military has this program even though it is expensive to run. This go around, I missed Grades 11 and 12 with my daughter and had to make a special trip to see her graduation. Unfortunately, for me and about 20 other wannabe pilots, a Standards Officer decided to fail us all from Helicopter training. I was five years (about 3.5 years spent away from my family) into the process and a couple months from my pilot wings and I was cut.

My life went to shambles at this point as my wife left and I was adrift for many months waiting to see if the military would keep me or release me. I kept my employment and headed to Esquimalt, BC for training as a Maritime Surface and Sub-Surface officer (MARS). The kids were in university in Saskatchewan and Ontario, so I was pretty much on my own to start another rigorous training regime this time at sea. Way back in 1991, soon after my son was born, I was asked if I wanted to go MARS instead of releasing from the military. I knew I would basically say goodbye to my young family for about five years, so I decided to turn down the offer and took my release. This time around, I had nothing to lose being on my own, so I went for it. Out of the next five years before finishing with MARS, I was gone from my home close to three years. Meanwhile, I had been posted against my wishes to Halifax and had lost two great girlfriends in the process.

This is a minor scratching of my trials and tribulations while in uniform. But imagine a young man or woman trying to make a go of a relationship. Typically, women find men in uniform and then you have a Career Manager’s nightmare called a Service Couple. They pretty much go their separate ways to different provinces for many years and then if they want a family, the woman takes a hit to their career. The Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) has said the military is looking to mitigate this but I have seen quite a few MARS women officers just release at this point. For the men, they find civilian wives who start getting dragged around the country. Whatever careers they had or wanted end up being toast and quite often, they just have babies. They end up effectively as single parent mothers in a different part of the country away from friends and family. Anecdotally, military divorce rates are much higher than for civilians because of the contingencies of military life.

With regards to the young A/SLt who was told to choose between her young son and her MARS training, the internet lit up with condemnation over such supposed inhumane treatment. Civilians could not believe a woman would be told these were her choices, especially in 2017. It illustrates the great divide between civvies and the military. Ordinary folk have no idea of the sacrifices, mental and physical, necessary to become a military member. I saw one fellow near the end of Basic try to gut it out on a broken foot just so he would not have to redo the course. I had nearly blown both of my Achilles and could not walk without searing pain even though we were marching at least 10 miles a day. Another man had to ice his shins two hours a night due to the pain he was in. This was just Basic! The physical issues might wane slightly as you progress through training and your career but daily rigor and discipline are ever constant. Quite a few military members get deployed an average of 200 to 250 days for years before getting a break. Civilians will never understand what service people go through in an ordinary day let alone during a real battle. They have no right to judge and as far as I am concerned should have little right to drive policy as much as they have as I have observed over the last decade.

If you want a military life, be prepared to make sacrifices. It would be great for the young A/SLt to be a MARS officer and be able to look after her young son but it isn’t going to happen. She’s lucky that she got to keep her job for as long as she did. In the past, women who got pregnant were released immediately. Policies are changing and the military is working hard to lessen the sacrifices peculiar to women who ‘Force Generate’ humans. But I am somewhat disturbed by the attitude of the Rear Admiral who came up with this quip. He said that the old stereotypical attitudes on women were almost gone in the military’s upper echelons of power. Unlike men, they were stuck producing the kids and take harder hits to their careers. As a father who spent so much time away from his family, I posit that men miss their children just as much as a woman would. Society has this mythology built upon the women being the only ones capable of nurturing and caring for children, hence most kids end up with the mother after divorce. Men want a family life just as much as women do but it falls on them to foot the bills so they have to go further afield if work is not easily available.

During the Afghanistan War was the only time Canadian civilians would ‘thank me’ for my service because they thought we all went over there. Considering the everyday sacrifices of our men and women in uniform, civilians should be thanking every one of them every day. When was the last time you bought a drink for a military member?

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Liberals Pledge to have the Backs of our Military Members

This past Friday, June 9, 2017, the Honourable Scott Brison, Member of Parliament for Kings-Hants, NS and President of the Treasury Board addressed members of the military and various stakeholders at the CFB Halifax Military Family Resources Center (MFRC). The Liberal’s long awaited Canada’s Defence Policy was unveiled to the public last week and the government is sending its representatives out to spread the news.

The CFB Halifax MFRC was a fitting backdrop for Mr. Brison’s speech as it concerned the ‘softer’ personnel-oriented portions of the Liberal’s Strong, Secure, Engaged themed Defence Policy. He described how they are providing an extra $147 million to MFRCs across the country to boost support to military families. He briefly spoke about how the government has laid out their 20 year plan with boosted funding through to 2026-2027. Plus he described the lengthy and thorough process of consultation with Canadians and allies. The government tried to dovetail the wishes of our citizens with what our defence partners were doing. It has been a lengthy process and the government realizes that the men and women in uniform are the heart of the organization.

After the preamble, Mr. Brison spoke on some specifics of the new policy which should alleviate the stress and angst of our military members. He stated that the transition process for our military members has not had a good track record. Men and women who have taken off the uniform have felt abandoned, victimized and bereft of benefits. There is a moral responsibility to look after those people who had the country’s back and Mr. Brison pledged that his government will do a better job in the future.

To that end, as part of the new Canada’s Defence Policy, there is a section dedicated to Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) personnel and their families. Entitled, Well-Supported, Diverse, Resilient People and Families, the full text of the document can be found here.  Mr. Brison emphasized four key points:

  • A Personnel Administrative branch will be created whose purpose will be to help military personnel throughout their career with the end goal of easing transition back to civilian life.
  • The medical services of the CAF will be augmented by 200 personnel which will include experts in transition care. Injured military members with have definitive care in place before release.
  • A new CAF Transition Group of 1200 personnel will be created. The composition will be 400 staff who will be working with 800 ill and injured military personnel. The goal will be to either get these personnel well enough to return to duty or to successfully transition them to civilian life.
  • The last major initiative announced was that all benefits, such as pension payments, will be in place before a member is released.

This news and these new policies could have come sooner with regards to my own difficult transition to civilian life. I was given three weeks notice of my departure from the military and had little time to prepare. I had some loose plans put together for life after the Regular Force that involved the Reserves but those were dashed when I ‘accidentally’ discovered I wasn’t allowed to reapply for at least five years. The Navy is still holding back a quarter of my last pay cheque due to auditing purposes. Thankfully, I wasn’t waiting on a pension check because I doubt that would have started without a lengthy delay. Heck, even the CAF pin and Wardroom departure gifts I was promised have not even arrived after six months. Hopefully, current CAF members from now on can be spared some of the hardship that seems so common when the uniform is taken off for the last time.

There are plenty of new policy initiatives such as the pay raises, deployment income tax relief, family support measures, etc. that should increase the general morale and welfare of CAF members. Although there was no timeline given by Mr. Brison for all the new programs, the attendees and myself were cautiously optimistic that the government will do the right thing by the men and women who stand on guard for thee.

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