Sunday, 31 December 2017

New Year's Eve 2017

First, let me wish everyone a happy new year.  I sincerely wish all of you health and happiness for 2018.  I am somewhat ambivalent about making new year's resolutions.  My track record on the whole is spotty, which is precisely part of the problem; resolutions become flares for failure.  On the other hand, I have had some success - complete and partial.  Probably the biggest success was that I quite smoking on January 1, 1998.  My mother had been living with lung cancer for some time, and I had reached an astonishing three packs a day.  I was waking up every night hacking and I was generally not feeling very good.  So, I remember sitting in the stairwell of our condo complex chain smoking into the wee hours of January 1st.  And that was it.  Sadly, my mother passed away exactly one year later on January 31st, which just highlights for me every year how important sticking to that new year's resolution was.

Also, way back in 2011, our daughter, Lena, begged us for a guitar for Christmas.  So, we bought her one.  Then, I started thinking that maybe I would like to learn guitar as well.  So, I bought one for myself and signed us both up for lessons.  After a couple of months of lessons I was simply unable to keep up so I ended up dropping out.  But, every now and then I pick up the guitar and teach myself a little bit.  I still can't play very much - learning Yankee Doodle was a big milestone for me - I do keep trying.  Indeed, after five and a half years of lessons, my daughter had to stop because of competing demands with school and soccer so a buddy of mine and I took over her spot and are plunking away.

These and other successes keep me jotting down a few resolutions every year.  Here are a few for the upcoming year:

More Balanced Thinking

The past year and a bit has been tough on the mental health front.  For example, my immediate and extended family have faced a number of hardships, which have left their mark on me.  While I cannot possibly gild these situations, I can at least meditate more on all the support and help we got from family, friends and neighbours.  Instead of ruminating on all the bad, I can meditate more on the good - our daughter winning a significant academic award, getting accepted in a somewhat prestigious academic program, making her school vocal ensemble, me getting to take a two-week woodworking course with a very good friend only because of the generosity of many people in our lives.  So, this year, I am going to do more of that meditation - not ignoring the bad, but more acknowledging the good.  Hopefully, this will help me feel more, well, hopeful.

Being More Social

Depression and anxiety can be socially isolating.  I seldom regret getting together with friends and family, so I am going to make  more of an effort to do that this year.

Learning Guitar

I have practiced and played more guitar in the past two months than I probably have in the two years previous.  Though progress is excruciatingly slow, I am determined to continue my training.  I really want to become competent enough to strum a few songs, and admittedly so I can justify buying some more guitars.

Cutting Way Down on Sugar

Well, sugar seems to be about the worst thing we can consume - at least in the quantities we tend to consume it in.  I used to not have a particularly sweet tooth, but then I quit another one of my self-destructive vice - drinking - and suddenly I began to LOVE sweets.  Anyway, I hope to kick this habit too.  Part of this will also be eating less and better.

Staying in Decent Shape

I just want to continue my running and maybe introduce a little strength training.


I like writing.  I want to get my blog back on track.  I have a lot of projects I want to get done this year and this may be the opportunity to get it going again.

Well, I think that's enough for this year.  All the best.

Friday, 21 October 2016

The Malicious Mind

One of the most astounding aspects of depression - my depression, at least - is the mind's ability to ruminate on and inflate past grievances and use those past experiences to create future ones that have little or no likelihood of actually happening.  What are usually probably thoughtless oversights by others are infused with malevolent intent.  Small annoyances become gigantic, the improbable future becomes all too real.  All these perceived injustices - past, present and future - congeal into a dark force that makes it feel as though you are being hit by all of them at once, now and forever in a Ground Hog Day-like loop.

What is frustrating is that a seasoned depressive like me can to an extent sit above it and be aware of exactly what is happening, recognize the insane irrationality of it and still feel powerless to stop the process, like grabbing hold of the proverbial runaway train and hoping that by merely grabbing it and digging in your heels you can stop it, but deep down knowing that alone is futile.

That's kinda where I am these days.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Clear! Pawthwump.

I haven't written a blog post in just a shade over a year.  After so much time, I wonder why I was wringing my hands over whether to continue or not.  Jerry Seinfeld was the creator and star of his self-titled sit-com that ran for nine seasons and that was famously about nothing.  NOTHING!  Of course, I am no Seinfeld.  My bank account is far less full and my area code much less tony, and my contribution to pop culture far more modest; make that non-existent.  More than a year later, I realize that I miss being able to dash something off.  Much like a constipated man, sometimes I just need to get it out and, unlike a constipated man, having an audience, however modest, matters.  I don't know why but there it is (not a fan of impersonal pronouns or prepositions, but there you go.)

Anyway, I was having a coffee with a friend of mine a week or two ago and we were chatting about an article I was reading in Scientific American Mind about how exposing yourself to new experiences was a key ingredient to boosting your creativity and she suggested that might be a good theme for some blog posts.  I have to admit the idea struck a chord, so I may tr it.  She suggested I start by taking a yoga class.  Well, that may be a little brave for me to start with so maybe I'll start by walking a couple of blocks with traffic at my back instead of widely recommended walking against traffic method that I follow as a rule.

I may also spend some time writing about businesses that really tick me off with their poor product or poor service or poor value-for-money and, conversely, about those that are exceptionally good.  Hopefully, I will write more about the latter than the former.  When food truck season starts again, I will definitely write about one that happens to produce the best pizza in Ottawa.  I'll also write about the great little knife store in Ottawa's Glebe neighbourhood that sells hand-forged Japanese kitchen knives and hand sharpens knives for clients.

I will also use this space to attack my enemies.

And, of course, I will write about my various projects - the shop reno that I am having the hardest time attacking consistently, learning guitar, which I am making slow but steady progress on and whatever other little task grabs my attention.

So, pretty much the blank-slate model I was employing before my sojourn.

Well, I think I'm looking forward to this.  We'll see how it goes.  Until the next time...

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

The Eternal 21st Century Question: To Blog or not to Blog?

I feel like I am at a bit of a crossroads with my blog.  My readership has been declining over the past year or so, which in and of itself isn't a problem, but the decline has got me thinking about the future of this space.  I never really got to do what I wanted to with the blog, which was to chronicle various DIY projects I had taken on.  With Kate's Stage IV breast cancer diagnosis and my ongoing struggle with depression and anxiety, I have had little time and even less energy to take on these kinds of projects.

So, when I decided to take the blog in another direction, I thought I'd write about "issues", whatever that may mean.  I figured with 15+ years of experience as a federal policy analyst and a Masters degree in Public Policy and Public Administration, this would be a natural fit.  Then I realized, that direction would be just as much a daunting task as retiling my shower stall and writing about it  My cognitive functioning just wasn't, and still isn't, up to the task.  The problem is compounded by not having the research resources I would have at work, or at school for that matter.

What I have ended up with is a blog full of not terribly interesting snippets from my life, and an airing of little brain farts.  I really like some of my posts, especially those about my family, but on the whole, they're a little fluffy and not terribly insightful.  Plus, I'm feeling like maybe I'm sharing a little too much about my family's life.  For all that I worry about how technology and social media is eroding our privacy, I have been perhaps too willing a participant.

On the other hand, I do enjoy the process of writing - which is definitely not to say that I am particularly good at it.  I am perhaps not the best verbal communicator, because my brain and mouth work at decidedly different speeds.  Writing, though, lets me slow things down, organize my thoughts, play with ideas a bit more.  Writing also appeals to the frustrated journalist in me.  After I completed my BA in Economics, I actually applied to a Masters of Journalism program, but wasn't accepted.  I find people endlessly interesting and the prospect of earning a living (a very modest one, some journalists inform me) telling parts of the human story was appealing.  But that's not what I do here, either.

All this to say that while I have enjoyed the process, I have not been terribly pleased with the product.  So, while I don't think this will be my last post, I do think that I may be winding it down over the coming weeks.  I hope that the Christmas holidays will give me time to think about whether to continue my blog in its current form, try changing its direction (or starting a new issue-specific blog), or just abandon it altogether.  We'll see,

Til then, thanks for reading.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

That Fetal Pig - What a Slice

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about Lena's experience with ABC Ottawa Take-off.  This morning was Lena's last dissection class and parents were invited to sit in for the the dissection of a fetal pig, which had actually been started the week before with the removal of their brains.  As we walked into the class, the young women who were leading the session were pulling the de-brained ungulates from the pail of formadehyde.  A good thing I hadn't eaten breakfast, because the sight of their tiny empty craniums made my stomach lurch.  I wasn't sure I would be able to sit through this but I didn't want Lena to see my discomfort.

This initial visual tableau of brainless pigs descended into the bizarre as the instructors began to tie the little pickled piglets spread-eagled onto the little steel dissecting tray in a scene of "Fifty Shades of Bacon".  The instructors explained that this would make it easier to make the incisions and poke around inside in the abdominal cavity.  They reminded the students how to make the incisions, which, perhaps unsurprisingly, differed based on whether they had a male or female pig.

Then the kids got to work.  I stayed near the back of the class watching the kids dig into their specimens and gradually moved closer as the class went on, fascination quelling my initial queasiness.  The teachers circulated among the three groups explaining what they were seeing and how the various organs worked, as well as offering tips on how to excise the various pig parts (I couldn't believe how big the livers were compared to the other organs).

Once the dissection itself was done, the little fetal pigs were disposed of and the serious business of a trivia competition began.  Two teams of three vied for prizes and, more importantly, bragging rights.  The only two girls in the class were paired together along with one other boy.  The questions covered the whole five-week class.  In the end, all the kids got very thoughtful prizes, the instructors having listened to each and determined their interests and getting a relevant gift.

This class way exceeded my already high expectations.  The instructors were by far the best Lena has had in ABC, both young women doing degrees in Biochemistry - one at the undergrad level and the other in graduate school.  They kept the atmosphere light while packing in a lot of knowledge and managing to keep control of the class.  Indeed, watching the trivia contest I was surprised at how much information the kids retained from the very first class to the final one.  I was also glad to see two women teaching the class, not only to be good role models for the two girls in the class, but also as a good role models for the boys since I believe having boys understand that girls and women have as legitimate a role to play in science as boys and men.

This was an excellent class and I applaud ABC Ottawa Take-off again for offering it and the myriad other fascinating classes.  High value-for-money in all the courses Lena has taken so far.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Making Stuff at Lee Valley Tools

Some of my favourite time spent with my daughter, Lena, is making stuff with her, whether pyrohy for Christmas dinner, putting together K'nex, or working away in my shop.  This past year, Lee Valley Tools, purveyor of, among other things, fine woodworking and gardening tools, has put on a number of seminars that provide opportunities for children and their parents work on a project together.  The cost is nominal at around $35 and all the materials are supplied, as are two Lee Valley staff members to guide the participants.  I can't imagine the company makes much, if any, money off these seminars but they do build a lot of good will and generate a lot of enthusiasm for woodworking and gardening, ensuring a loyal current and future client base.

Lena and I attended our third parent/child workshop this past weekend where we (well, really she) made a Christmas stocking hanger.  This was a little less a woodworking project than a decorative painting project.  All the wood was pre-cut and the knobs for hanging the stockings were supplied as was the milk paint with which to decorate all the parts and all the parts were assembled after they were decorated.

The two staff members, Mick and Brian, were very efficient and helpful, especially after Lena and I realized right near the end that she had decorated her piece upside down.  Both the guys sprung into action, redrilled some holes. used a heat gun to dry some paint and we were back in action.  In the end, we ended up with a beautiful project that Lena will hopefully have to hang her kids' stockings on.

Lena painting the knobs for her stocking hanger.

Lena showing off the final product.

As I said, this was the third project we did at Lee Valley.  The first two, a tool box and a bird feeder, were actual woodworking projects.  All the components were ripped to the proper width and rough cut to the approximate length.  The kids had to do all the measuring, lay-out, hand-sawing and assembly according to the provided plan on their own (with the occasional assist from the seminar leaders or mom or dad).  The projects are useful and provide the kids with an opportunity to try their hand at a practical craft, develop manual skills and provide them with a real tangible sense of accomplishment when they finish the project while hopefully building a lifetime love of craft in these young people.

Lena's previous two projects from Lee Valley seminars - a toolbox and bird feeder.

As always, hats off to the folks at the Ottawa location of Lee Valley for a job well done.

Monday, 17 November 2014

The Winter Doldrums

I have a confession to make.  I hate winter.  The season just sucks the life right out of me.  Every flake of snow I see falling from the sky fills me with dread.  As I write this on November 17, I am looking out my window watching it come down.  Snow, to me, makes everything more difficult - driving, running, shopping, walking.  And during the winter, the snow seems to come just about every day.  Thankfully, we pay someone to clear our driveway, but I still have to shovel our walkway, keep a path clear to the back yard, shovel the deck so we can get the dog in and out and when we get less than 5 cms, I still have to scrape down the driveway.

Throw into the mix the idiot that clears the snow next door and who sees absolutely no problem with blowing the snow into my driveway and the problem is even worse.  Last year, I went out to ask him not to and he flipped his lid, which caused me to flip mine.  So, this has just led to further stress at a time when our family has enough to deal with.  So, the prospect of having to deal with him is provoking no small amount of anxiety.

Many have suggested I take up skiing or snowshoeing.  But to me, that's like suggesting someone with a severe allergy to dogs to work as a pet groomer.  I seem to remember as a kid in suburban Montreal that we would be afflicted with some winters where a lot of snow fell, but I also seem to remember a lot of winters with sparse snowfall.  Since moving to Ottawa, though, we seem to get snow just about every day.

When the days start getting shorter, I also seem to suffer profoundly from a lack of energy.  As bad as it is with the depression, the problem seems much worse during the winter.  During my runs, I feel like stopping and just lying down in the middle of the street for a snooze.  My limbs feel like they're made of lead.  The expression "tired to the bone" resonates.

On the upside, Christmas comes in the winter and our little girl's enthusiasm for the season is very infectious.  She seemed to shift into Christmas mode last week and her mood is starting to rub off a little bit.  I hope I can hang onto that for another month and a half to keep things at least a little manageable.

Well, the snow is piling up, I better think about going out with the scraper and keep things neat.  Hope to see you all in the Spring.