Monday, 30 December 2013

New Year's Resolutions

So, here we are on the eve of New Years Eve.  I know a lot of people don't bother with New Years resolutions figuring that they are just setting themselves up for failure.  I certainly understand that since I have not fulfilled many over the years.  Still, I have nailed at least one big one:  I smoked my last cigarette in the very early hours of January 1, 1998.  At that point I was smoking between two and three packs a day and regularly waking up in the middle of the night horking something up from my lungs.  Plus, my mother's lung cancer had returned earlier in the year and was undergoing chemo.  Her side of the family has been decimated by the disease - her father, her brother and her sister would all die from the disease and another brother would have a lung removed and survive many years.  Indeed, though I didn't know it at the time, my mother herself would succumb to her cancer exactly one year after I quit - New Years Eve of 1998.

That one success - not smoking for 15 years - is enough to keep me making my annual list.  So, just three simple ones this year:

  • Quit biting my nails:  I've been a nail biter all my life and am embarrassed by how my hands look and frustrated that I can't pick up loose change off the ground.
  • Try to stop swearing:  I swear.  A lot. Not a good role model for my daughter.  I would hate for her to swear like me.  It's a lazy form of communication.
  • Keep up the exercise and try to lose some more weight:  I've worked hard the last year and a half or so to get into shape.  I'm probably in better physical condition now than I have been at any other point in the last decade or two.
So, those are mine and I would love to hear your thoughts on resolutions in general and any you might have in particular.

A happy New Year to all and good luck in setting and meeting your goals.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Favourite Christmas CDs

When Kate and I started going out, I started a tradition of buying her a Christmas CD or two before the holidays.  We have amassed in the neighbourhood of 40 CDs (which I thought was a good collection, but my old high school friend Donald has over a hundred.  I bow before the master).

I really like the choral Christmas music, but we have a number of Jazzy ones that I really like.  So, out of our collection, I picked the ones I like the most and which get the most play time every year:

The best version of "Baby It's Cold Outside" ever recorded.  We've seen Holly Cole in concert many times over the years and she usually comes to Ottawa around Christmastime, so we have a special regard for her CD.
Great jazz CD from a modern master.  Ave Maria is a Christmas fave and, though usually performed by opera singers, I think Harry does it best.
A nice choral selection.

Mellow, new-agey.

Can anything be more classic than Bing singing carols?
To me music is as much, or more, a part of the season as turkey and stuffing.  These are my favourite CDs.  I could easily have added ten more, but these are the ones I would want to have with me on that mythical desert isle.
Would love to hear what your favourites are.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Christmas Spirit

Last year at about this time, I wrote about some of the difficulties I sometimes have with the Christmas season.  Fate has challenged us again this year with Kate's recent health scare and a new tragedy for us to face.  I won't go into detail to respect my family's privacy except to say that Kate, Lena and I are okay.  Physically, at least.  So, in the face of great sadness, we struggle to find whatever joy in the season that we can.

The biggest source of Christmas spirit?

Yep.  Lena.  Even facing what we are, she is helplessly and infectiously excited about Christmas and that helps us - forces us, really - to rise to the occasion:  to nurture and grow her excitement.  I am forever grateful for my little girl and at no time more than now.  Christmas is just millions of times more fun with her around.

I have been out in the evening walking our new-ish puppy, Mango.  Even though I bitch and moan a lot about suburbia, I do like the look of the neighbourhood at this time of the year with all the lights and decorations, brightening my mood at least a little.

I love getting gifts for my family, especially the ones that aren't are their lists.  Some years, I am a slave to the list, other years I get an idea into my head and run with it.  Sometimes I like making gifts:  I have a semi-tradition of carving Lena a love spoon, which she really seems to treasure.  I like seeing the anticipation and the reaction of my loved ones as they open their presents.

To me Christmas is all about a full house - family and friends.  Sadly, for a number of reasons, we won't be having a lot of family this year, but we have invited our friends and neighbours from down the street, including their two kids, so that should inject some much needed jolliness into the day.

Finally, we have a pretty impressive collection of Christmas music.  Soon after Kate and I started going out 20 years ago, I started a tradition of buying her a Christmas CD or two before the holidays. We must have close 40 now.  Nothing puts me in a proper holiday frame of mind than some good music (I think my next post will be about my favourite CDs).  An added bonus on this front is that every November, Lena puts aside her regular guitar practice and dusts off her Christmas sheet music and plays carols just about exclusively for a month or so.

Well, though we're going through a very sad time right now, I hope that these nice things can buoy us and give us hope and help us get through the next few days, weeks and months.


I thought I'd dig into my archives and see if I had written any Christmas posts before and indeed I have done one in each of the two previous years since I started blogging.  Many common themes:

2011:  Reflections on the Season

2012:  The Christmas Season (a not entirely cheerful reflection, though it ends on a happier note than it starts on.)

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Vomiting, Barfing, Whatever

One of the great joys of being a parent to a young child is getting another (partial) kick at childhood yourself.  Included in this is participating the kind of gross humour that kids revel in.  So it was one evening while driving Lena home from her guitar lesson.  Our topic of conversation was all the euphemisms for vomiting.  Some of the gems we came up with:

  • throwing up;
  • puking;
  • tossing one's cookies;
  • blowing chunks;
  • barfing;
  • driving the porcelain bus;
  • upchucking;
  • ralphing;
  • retching;
In addition to coming up with all these words, we laughed at joke I once heard from a stand-up comic:  "Last night I was choking on my own vomit.  It was my own fault, though.  I was eating it too fast."  We giggled like, well, little kids all the way home.

Next up on the agenda:  all terms for pooping....

Monday, 9 December 2013

The Battle of the Bulge

Since I last wrote about my quest to shed a few pounds way back in July, progress has been somewhat slower than I would have hoped.  Nonetheless, when I stepped on the scale yesterday I was down to 198 lbs. from 206.  Further, I have lost about five and a half inches from around my waist since April 2012, so my spare tire is more sized for a Honda Civic now rather than for a backhoe.

I spent the summer running, working my way up to between 7 and 8 kilometers.  Unfortunately, a persistent groin injury coupled with poorly plowed streets have forced me to hang up the shoes for the winter.  I have rejoined the gym, though, and have been going fairly faithfully and I am trying to add strength training to my routine.  My goal as we enter the "Fat Season" (a.k.a. Christmas) is to stay under 200lbs.  If I can manage that into the new year, I will see if I can launch an attack on 190 lbs.

Snacking at night continues to be my Achilles heel - as much to do with boredom than hunger.  I will try noshing on more veggies than my usual high-fat go-tos.  If only carrots tasted like cookies...

Anyway, a self-indulgent post, but I keep hoping it will motivate me to stay the course.

Cheers to all.

Saturday, 7 December 2013


Among the items on Lena's Christmas wishlist this year is a snowball maker.  I've pointed out to her that she already has two snowball makers on the ends of her arms but she'll have none of that claiming a dedicated maker will speed both production and precision.  While her desire to brain her friends with the ideal snowball is admirable, this issue is just one more link in a chain of observations that lead me to believe human kind will devolve into a species of useless lumps of flesh unable to perform the most mundane manual task requiring even modest amounts of skill.

I am a (very) novice woodworker and the deskilling of the craft through mechanization has certainly democratized the trade and made it more accessible to all, including the hobbyist.  Still, I can't help but feel some of the spirit of the work has been removed.  I marvel at what pre-industrial craftsmen were able to achieve with a collection of hand tools.  The power jointer and planer have made milling stock - a drudgery to many - a comparatively simple job because the machines reduce the exercise to a simple mechanical, low-skill exercise.  I think a lot fewer people would choose cabinetmaking as a career or hobby if they had to rip boards with a handsaw. 

Still, even with mechanization, most trades and crafts still require a certain amount of manual skill.  What's driving me a little nuts is the day-to-day activities, like making snowballs, that help keep our hands and minds sharp and life fun and interesting, that are being dumbed down.  Nowhere is this more evident than in the automobile:  ABS brakes, proximity sensors, parking assist, paddle shifters - all take control away from the driver and minimizes the need to learn good driving skills.  Matthew B. Crawford, in his excellent book Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work, further points out the electronification of cars and the use of consolidated parts (e.g. the head light is now one single component, not a collection of individual parts that can be disassembled) has put home repair of cars and, really any home appliance, far out of reach of the average Joe and Jane.

Other examples abound:  handwriting has all but disappeared from school curricula in North America as the keyboard has become ubiquitous.  My father started his a career as a draughtsman and I used to love watching him deftly make technical drawings with a wonderful set of complex drafting tools all of which have been replaced by a mouse and CAD software. Even spell-checkers and autocorrects have eliminated the need to really learn proper grammar and how to spell properly.  And don't get me started on how calculators are being integrated into school curricula earlier and earlier. 

Is all this important?  I tend to think it is.  For one, we are giving up a lot of our autonomy and self-sufficiency and banking on the perceived omniscience and omnipotence of technology to survive.  In our reliance on technology, we are also transferring a lot of wealth to those who make and sell the technology.  As Crawford argues in his book, this all comes with a large spiritual cost as well - subtly but steadily eroding our sense of usefulness and purpose.

I have begun to try to incorporate more traditional methods of doing things into my own life even going so far as to trim my cedar hedges with manual clippers, cutting down a tree mostly with hand tools.  I am trying to use more hand tools in my woodworking.  Despite rather thin training for Lena in handwriting at school, her mother and I have made sure she has a good grounding in cursive writing (she writes far nicer at ten than I do after 40 years of practice) and I do feel better for making the effort.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

A Snowman, Two Teenagers, a LIttle Girl and Her Dad

Several years ago when Lena was maybe three or four, we had spent the early part of a winter day building a snowman - one of Lena's first.  We came in, had a bite to eat, maybe we had some hot chocolate, I don't remember, and started getting ready to head to Cornwall to pick up Kate, who was there for a conference, or training or some other corporate function.  I sat at the computer for one last check of my e-mail and I saw two teenagers come running onto our lawn and flatten the snowman.  I was furious and ran to the door.  As I yelled at them they ran off. 

Lena was very upset and crying.  I got her dressed in her snowsuit in record time, got my coat and boots on, strapped her into the car seat and I burned rubber down the street where I caught up with the miscreants a couple of blocks away.  I gave them a good dressing down, demanded they look at what they had done to my girl (who was still bawling in the back seat), asked them for an explanation (which they could not provide) and made them look Lena in the eye and apologize.  I also suggested they go back and rebuild a snowman, which they didn't do, but I think I made my point.

I raise this because Lena remembers the incident vividly and has brought it up a couple of times in the last little while telling me how much she appreciated what I did that day and that makes me feel unbelievably good.  I hope part of her appreciation is that she knows I will always be there for her.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

10,000 Hits

At some point over the last couple of weeks, I reached 10,000 hits on my blog, almost exactly two years since I posted my first.  My first post was about Kate's Stage IV breast cancer diagnosis and, somewhat coincidentally the post that put me over the 10,000 mark was also about Kate's health

I'm curious about why reaching this milestone took so long.  Kate's, two blogs (Jim's Girl Family History Blog and  Kate Has Cancer) for example, took far less time to reach and surpass 10,000.  Kate has argued that her blogs are directed at specific audiences or communities (i.e. genealogists and cancer patients) where mine is more general in nature, which is a good point.  Some other issues I recognize:

  • I have to admit that in reading over my previous posts, the writing is not always great.  In part, this is because I am a bit of an impatient self-editor.  I just wrote the damn thing, why the hell would I now want to go read it? 
  • my blog page is  not very visually stimulating (another topic I blogged about, but I never really did anything about, in part because I'm not terribly good at technology);  
  • I have also been a bit of an inconsistent blogger.  Struggling with depression and anxiety certainly drains a person of motivation, and coping with Kate's cancer takes a lot of time;
  • I'm not great at the self-marketing thing.  I post links to my blog on Facebook and that's about it.  To be honest, I'm not entirely sure what else I can do.  I understand that reading other blogs and leaving comments there can generate traffic, but I haven't found a lot of blogs I enjoy and so only follow maybe three religiously and one of those only in the past month or so.)
  • And, maybe, if I set my ego aside, I'm just not terribly interesting.   Gulp.
In any case - and although this post may bely the following words - I'm not all about the page hits anymore.  I was once, but I keep coming back to why I started the blog:  to keep my mind from decaying while I was off work and to slow the erosion of my writing skills.  Having said all that, I am somewhat motivated to improve the overall quality of my writing and my blog.  So, hopefully, slowly I will be able to address some of the points I list above.  I read part of a book recently about craftsmanship.  One of the author's principal arguments was that craftsmanship is too often associated with manual pursuits when it can in fact be attached to any work.  The defining characteristic of craft, he argues, is that people undertake the work for the sake of the work alone and strive continuously for mastery as an end in and of itself.  So, I will continue to write this blog in that spirit.


In general, when I re-read my blog posts, usually months after I wrote them, I am not very happy with the result.  Some, though, were fun to write and had some meaning for me.  Here are my five favourites:

Sunday, 24 November 2013

The Retail Blues

I really don't like shopping.  I don't like the crowds; I don't like waiting in lines and, maybe most importantly I feel like most stores take my business for granted.  Why else would they hire inattentive, rude and often useless employees?  A case to illustrate my point:  just a couple of nights ago I went to a local Shopper's Drug Mart to pick up a couple of things.  I brought my items to the cash where two twenty-somethings were manning the tills and the guy "serving" me (as opposed to "servicing" me, which would be a whole different and weird ball of wax) barely acknowledged my presence and kept riveted to his vapid faux-blonde colleague's banal chatter:  "This restaurant is, like, called the Farm Team something?  It's in the Glebe?"

He tried multiple times to scan the items without looking, contributing the odd, pithy nugget to the conversation:  "Really?  Like, what kinda food do they serve?"  Finally, everything rung up, he glanced at the screen and deigned the briefest glance in my direction:  "$9.56" and held his hand out while redirecting his attention to his ditsy colleague.  I left the store shaking my head, wishing this was an isolated incident.  I remember a similar situation at our Loblaws, two young lads speaking to each other, right past me and my then nine-year-old girl about some "bitch" one or the other of them picked up at some party.  I really wanted to complain to a manager about that one, but alas, I was in too much of a hurry.

So many stores don't bother to educate or train their staff in the products they sell.  Canadian Tire, at least outside its automotive department, is particularly bad.  I remember buying a wheelbarrow there once, one with two wheels, and asked the pimply adolescent serving me what the benefit of two wheels might be - more a test than because I didn't know - and he looked at me like I had asked to solve Fermat's last theorem.  To make me think even darker thoughts, I got home and found that the two boxes the wheelbarrow came in contained parts for two completely different products.  And don't get me started about the big sporting goods stores - when they try to offer advice, especially with shoes, it's usually wrong.

I have many other pet peeves, but I don't want to be entirely negative.  Lee Valley Tools, which I have raved about in a previous post,  is good example.  Knowledgeable and friendly staff, the company stands behind the products it sells with a generous return policy.  Twice in the past year I've actually had a staff member try to talk me out of buying their products:  the first a tool sharpening jig and the second an after-market mitre gauge for my table saw ("well, if you're going to buy it, try it for a couple of weeks and if you don't think it was worth it, bring it back.")

Also, recently we had a great experience with Kiddy Kobbler here in Ottawa.  While we waited for someone to help us, we browsed the shop and picked out a number of running shoes - for actual running - that our daughter, Lena, might like to try.  Finally, someone came to help us.  A delightful young woman with rainbow coloured hair first measured Lena's feet and listened as we explained what we needed.  She went off to the back and came back with three or four shoeboxes.  None of the shoes were the ones Lena was particularly interested in so we asked if we try on the other two pairs.  The sales rep grudgingly agreed, though she commented, politely, that she was pretty sure they wouldn't suit Lena's needs because they would likely be two wide and wouldn't perform well give the size and shape of Lena's feet.  Sure enough Lena didn't find either pair very comfortable, but she found a very comfortable shoe among the options originally brought.  In a later Facebook exchange with the store's owner/manager, he explained that his staff are trained extensively on the products they sell and on how to "read" kids' feet and they are always evaluating customer feedback to help decide which products to carry or discontinue.

Anyway, this has been on mind in part because Christmas shopping season is upon us - crowds will be getting larger, parking lots will be getting crammed, stress will be getting higher and frustration will be boiling over and I just wish something would make it all more pleasant.  Would love to hear your own exceptional adventures with retail - positive or not.

Well, into the breach and all that....Happy Shopping everyone.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Kate's Ongoing Health Adventures

A couple of weeks ago, on a Saturday evening, Kate and her mom returned from a trip.  I picked them up at the train station and both were tired, but in good spirits.  Sunday morning, Kate started feeling a little under the weather - vomiting, chills and coughing.  By Wednesday evening, she was delirious, incoherent and clearly hypoxic with blue-tinged lips and eyelids.  She had brought our ten-year-old daughter to bed and fallen asleep beside her.  I woke her up and we moved to the adjacent bedroom, where I tried speaking with her.  She was making absolutely no sense and was having trouble answering simple arithmetic questions.  Then she realized she had taken a double dose of the medication she is taking for issues related to her cancer, including an opiate for pain.

I was very concerned, and Lena was terrified despite Kate's slurred assurances that she would be fine.  Finally, Lena and I insisted on taking her to the hospital.  When we arrived we went directly to ER nurse's station.  I could sense a bit of hostility from the triage nurse and could imagine her thinking "They came to the ER for a cold?".  The nurse took Kate's vitals and I could see the concern sweep over her face - her heart was racing, her blood pressure was very low and her oxygen saturation was at a scary 75%.  She told us that Kate likely had an infection that had gone septic (entered her bloodstream).  Seeing how terrified Lena was, she suggested we stay in the waiting room while Kate was brought back to be hooked up to oxygen and fluids.  Once that was done, Kate would look a bit better and hopefully be more lucid.  Then I could bring Lena back to see her mom in a better state and that would calm her down.  This was the first of many acts of kindness we would experience that night.

Indeed, we brought Lena back and she kissed her mom and had a few words with her and she heard the doctor, Dr. Caytak, tell me that Kate had pneumonia that likely went septic but that she was being treated with powerful antibiotics and fluids and would be fine.  Eventually, the nurses and doctors convinced me to take our daughter to my in-laws, which I did.

When I returned to the hospital about an hour later, I walked into Kate's room and she seemed to be sleeping fitfully.  A few minutes later, a doctor from Medical Oncology came in wanting to examine her.  He tried waking her up, first calling her name, then gently shaking her.  She would not awaken.  The doctor became more insistent:  yelling in her ear, shaking her vigourously, jabbing her sharply in her feet with his pen and pressing very hard on her finger nail with his pen and finally shining his penlight into her eyes.  He told me:  "This is very concerning" and rushed out to consult with the ER doctor.  Dr. Caytak showed up, staying in the doorway looking from Kate to the monitor that was tracking her vital signs.   Then all hell broke loose.

The doctor yelled, "She's going into respiratory collapse!" and he called to an orderly to come bring her to the Resuscitation Area.  The orderly sauntered toward the room and the doctor yelled "Hurry!  Hurry!"  The orderly ran in and rushed her down the hall towards resuscitation and every doctor and nurse on the floor exited right behind them.

"Hysterical" isn't a very flattering word to describe someone's state of mind, but that's exactly what I was.  In that moment I thought my wife was going to die.  I was sobbing and begging for her to live, for the doctors and nurses to save her life.  I couldn't get my head around being without her.  I couldn't imagine how I would tell our beautiful, sweet little girl, who just an hour earlier heard the doctor say "She'll be fine", that her mommy passed away.

A nurse named Dan came out and started to try to talk me down, explaining that they were getting ready to intubate her and put her on a respirator and that she was surrounded by a very professional team that was well trained and equipped to deal with the situation.  He spent maybe five minutes with me, but I'll never forget him and the enormous gratitude I felt for him giving me that faint bit of hope.

Several minutes later, the medical oncologist, Dr. Holmes, I believe, came out to say that as they were preparing to intubate her, Kate awoke from her slumber (wondering, she would later tell me, what the hell was going on and why was everyone standing around her like that) and was talking.  I was able to see her, still sobbing, and eventually they returned her to her room. 

I don't remember who explained to me what had happened or when they told me, but here's the story:  When Dr. Caytak returned with Dr. Holmes to Kate's room and witnessed his failed attempts to arouse her from her sleep he saw that her blood pressure and respiratory rate were dropping - essentially they feared she was about to stop being able to breath on her own.  They explained that her septic infection lowered her blood pressure and respiratory rates to an already low level.  Then someone realized that among the drugs she had doubled up on in her delirium was a long-lasting opiate called dilauded and when that started kicking in, her vitals started declining even more.  Once they realized this, they were able to counteract the effects with an anti-narcotic medication called Narcan and her vital signs stabilized.

The next several hours were very stressful:  her blood pressure and respiratory rate remained low and here heart rate fast, but they were stable and eventually began to improve. Kate was eventually moved to a part of the hospital called the Acute Monitoring Area, where her vital signs could be monitored continuously.  After a day or so there, she was released to the General Medicine ward and was eventually released the Saturday after we first took her to the hospital.  Unfortunately, the day after she was released, she was feeling worse and had to be readmitted.  Finally, just yesterday, eight days after we rushed her to the hospital, she was again discharged, hopefully for good this time.  Though her recovery from the pneumonia will likely be long, she is feeling much better than she did even two days ago. 

As an added bonus, now that she's home again, she can work on all the dishes and laundry that have piled up for the last eight days.


So many people to thank.  I was really impressed by the care Kate and I got at the hospital.  I don't know the name of the triage nurse who saw her first, but she along with the Nurse-in-Charge, Bonnie, got Kate in to see a doctor right away and showed tremendous compassion towards one very scared little girl.  I cannot say enough about Drs. Caytak of the ER, Holmes of Medical Oncology, Sun of General Medicine.  Kate's nurse that first night in Emergent Care, Anny, was just the type of person who should be in health care:  professional, empathetic and very, very kind and just a quality human being.  I really can't thank her enough.  Also, Dan, who I talk about above, who had to deal with me at what had to be the scariest moment of my life.

Kate had the help of so many doctors, nurses, orderlies, respiratory therapists and physiotherapists over the next several days that I can't possibly mention them all here, but am grateful to everyone in Emergent Care, the Acute Monitoring Area, the General Medicine Ward and the Lung Disease Ward.  Also many thanks to all the doctors from Medical Oncology who treated her after she was admitted the second time, notably Dr. Foeschl and Dr. Condan.


Finally, I can't thank enough all the friends and family who visited Kate or called or encouraged her via Facebook and for supporting me and Lena.

Though I complain a lot about suburbia, Kate, Lena and I have among the best neighbours in the world.  I especially want to thank Barb, who cooked for Lena and me, who visited Kate in the hospital and who picked Kate up at the hospital and drove her home so she could spend a few hours with her family on her birthday.  I also want to thank Pam for, among many other things, looking after the dog so I could spend more time at the hospital with Kate. 

Monday, 2 September 2013

A Puppy

After Lena's sustained lobbying efforts for the past couple of years, including Kate's more recent participation, we finally knuckled under and bought a puppy:  a golden doodle we've named Mango.  As the picture below shows, she's got a pretty irresistible face, and a very sweet disposition, which is a good thing because less than a day after we got her home, I was wanting to get rid of her.


I was not raised with animals.  My mother was afraid of them.  So, with my lack of experience I didn't appreciate fully what we were getting into.  I wasn't prepared for the rather euphemistic "accidents" all over the carpet that has already been ravaged by two cats vomiting, coughing up hairballs and occasionally pooping on it as well as three humans who can't seem to walk two feet without slopping their coffee, tea, pop all over the place.   I wasn't prepared for the barking and whining when we put her in her crate.  I am assured, though, that she will be trained out of this and that can't come soon enough for me.

Though I can't honestly say at this point I don't regret the decision, I do recognize the benefits.  A couple of weeks ago we dog-sat the neighbours' golden doodle and that went well.  Lily was house broken, obedient and affectionate and we all loved having her around.  Mango is a nice, friendly dog, and seems to be fitting in well with the family and as much as she's driving me crazy - really driving me crazy - the following picture makes me smile and will hopefully give me the will to stay with it a little longer.  Best of friends.

Lena and Mango

Monday, 22 July 2013

A Trip tp Manotick

After trips to Niagara Falls, Disney World and Calgary last year, we've decided not to take any big trips this summer.  So, we're going to play tourist in our own little part of the world.  Last week, we visited Manotick, a small, rural suburb of Ottawa where we had a surprisingly good time.

Kate, Lena and Lena's friend, Sidney and I first stopped at Watson's Mill, a 19th century flour mill along the Rideau Canal.  The building houses plenty of artifacts and equipment demonstrating how wheat was received and transformed into flour.  The mill also holds demonstrations of the machinery in action and grinds and sells small batches of the flour it produces. 

If that isn't enough, a ghost is said to roam the property.  Apparently, one of the mill's owners, Joseph Currier married a young American woman, Ann Corsby, shortly after the mill began operation.  At an event marking its first year in business, Currier was showing young Ann around the joint when her dress got caught in some of the machinery and pulled her violently into a beam, killing her instantly.  Alas, her spectre was not in evidence the day we were there.

After the mill, we headed across the street to the Dickinson House, where the family of the other co-owner, Moss Dickinson, lived until the 1930s.  Again, the house is furnished in a mix of the Victorian and Edwardian styles and the resident interpreters gave an excellent overview of both the Dickinson family history and of life in the 19th and early 20th century.  I love this kind of small "h" history -the history of everyday life and every man and woman - very much.  Sadly, one of the interpreters mentioned to us that the City of Ottawa is considering selling the property and shutting the museum.  Losing this little piece of local history would be a shame.

We had worked up quite an appetite after our fix of industrial and social history, so we headed to the corner of Mitch Owens Drive and Main Street where a two-trailer food truck sits on a vacant lot.  Pizza All'Antica is the kind of mom-and-pop operation I love.  Actually, the operation seems to be run by a man and his mother-in-law.  The front man, Joe, is clearly proud of what he is doing with his business.  He is a big friendly guy who is quite happy to talk about the pizzas he makes with fresh ingredients, many imported from Naples where, many allege, pizza was born, and then baked in a mobile wood-burning oven.  Just sitting at the picnic table in the lot smelling the smoke was worth the trip, but the pizza is quite possibly the best I've ever had.  Very fresh toppings, including a wonderful fresh-tasting homemade sauce, sit on top of a perfectly cooked and very thin crust.  As Kate said, the pizza quells your hunger without it feeling heavy on your stomach.  I really can't say enough about this place.  If you're ever in Manotick, you have to stop and try it.  Even if you're not in Manotick, this place is worth making a special trip to try.

Right across the street from the pizza place is a store called Chilly Chiles.  This business sells hundreds, if not thousands, of different kids of hot sauce.  The store used to be located in the Byward Market and I used to shop there regularly, then it moved to Navan, which is too far afield for us, before more recently moving to Manotick.  After lunch, Lena and I went across to check it out.  Shelf after shelf hot sauce.  Even if you don't like hot sauce, the store if worth checking out for the art on the labels, many of which are, well, saucy.  Derrieres, often with flames shooting out of them, feature prominently.  After sampling several (sauces, not flame-throwing butts), I left with nearly $30 worth of sauce.  Another great store - a locally owned business selling products that the proprietors are passionate about but that probably aren't making them rich.

For such a small town, Manotick has quite a lot to offer and I can recommend it as a day-trip destination to anyone living in the Ottawa area.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Young People and the Ottawa RBC Bluesfest

Every year, Ottawa, Ontario hosts North America's second largest festival celebrating blues music.  Acts from around the world attract hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.  What may be less well-known is that the Bluesfest is also very active in the community throughout the year, bringing blues history, culture and the music itself into local schools (through their Blues in the Schools program).  Also, through their Be in the Band program, they bring together youth from across the city who are interested in playing in a band and matches them with potential bandmates, providing mentorship and rehearsal space, and giving them an opportunity to perform at Bluesfest.

This year, our daughter, Lena, got to take advantage of one of the Bluesfest's youth-oriented good works.  Lena has been taking guitar lessons for the past year and a half at the Ottawa Folklore Centre (OFC) with local blues musician and awesome instructor, Jesse Greene (in fact, Lena, Kate and I think she may be the awesomest in the city).  A little over a month ago, Jesse informed us that every year for past several years, American blues and folk musician, TJ Wheeler, comes to town for Bluesfest and in the week leading up to the festival's final weekend gathers ten OFC student between the ages of 8 and 18 and provides instruction, teaches them some songs and how to play together as a band.  The kids get together with TJ for two hours every day for five days and perform on stage at Bluesfest on the festival's final day.  In addition, each participant would get three passes to the festival for the day of their performance.  All, incidentally, at no charge.  Jesse encouraged Lena to sign up for the program.

Lena is quite a shy and reserved girl, at least when she is among a group of people she doesn't know, and she has been uncomfortable performing even for a small group of family friends.  Also, since the program is advertised as an acoustic band, Lena was not entirely enthusiastic because she found her own acoustic guitar a bit difficult to play.  Nonetheless, after talking with me and Kate and with gentle encouragement from Jesse, Lena decided to register.

Two months ago, I had never heard of TJ Wheeler.  Today, I am one of his biggest fans.  He is, simply, great with kids.  Part music historian, part philosopher, a healthy bit of a comedian and 100% musician and teacher, TJ kept the mood light but focussed and managed over the course of 10 hours of instruction to turn this rag-tag group of mostly pre-teens of varying ability into an impressive and well-choreographed band, which TJ ended up dubbing the Cacophony Blues Band.

Throughout the week, Lena would go to class, sit quietly in her chair without interacting much with the other kids, and rehearse the songs with her bandmates and TJ.  As I say, she is shy and reserved and so didn't volunteer to sing any verses or do any guitar solos but that was fine with us because her just agreeing to do the program was a big step for her.  I sat outside the rehearsal room for most of the sessions and had a great time seeing the kids have a great time, listening to TJ's corny jokes and seeing the group come together.  TJ taught them three songs:  The House of the Rising Sun, Take me to the River, Hey Bo Diddley and together they wrote a fourth song, which I'll call the OFC Bluesfest Blues.

As the day of the performance got closer, Lena began getting nervous about being on stage and playing in front of a crowd.  She became quite quiet backstage in the hours leading up to their performance.  But, when the time came, she climbed on stage with TJ and the other kids ssought out a spot behind the other kids.  She looked a little overwhelmed.  But as they got going on their first tune (House of the Rising Sun), she banged away on her guitar and by the end of it, she had a BIG smile on her face.  The crowd went wild with every song, every guitar or harmonica solo, every verse sung.  The kids were clearly having a great time and the parents in the crowd, Kate and I included, were damn near bursting with pride.

Lena came off the stage PUMPED.  She told us that once they started playing that first tune her nervousness disappeared and she absolutely loved the experience.  She thought the crowd's applause and cheering was very cool.  Where during the course of the week and concert, she was happy to stick to the background and go about her business, she came off the stage saying how if she's lucky enough to do it next year, she'll definitely want to sing (though she's a little uncertain about doing a guitar solo) and take on a bigger role.

I talked with TJ backstage before the concert and was telling him that more than anything the kids may have learned musically during the week, I thought the real value of the experience, which would spill over in all parts of their lives, was the confidence they gained from doing it.  He agreed and shared an anecdote of one kid he taught who had some clear problems socializing with others and who emerged as a solid performer and who he saw year after year develop into a more confident individual who made friends more easily and who was courted by a number of bands.  TJ also shared that being a musician and performer has had a profound impact on his life and that's why he works so much with kids:  "Just passing it on" he said.

Amen and thank you, TJ


The whole day the Cacophony Blues Band performed, all the bands that benefitted from the Be in the Band program also performed.  They were all awesome.  Getting up on stage and performing in front of a crowd, many for the first time, can be intimidating but they all did it with enthusiasm.  I really enjoyed seeing these kids giving it their all.  The head of the OFC music School, Alan Marsden, was responsible not only for bringing TJ Wheeler into the OFC, but was also the coordinator for the Be in the Band segment of Bluesfest and deserves massive praise.  He did a bang-up job.


As I said earlier, Lena was a little hesitant about performing with an acoustic guitar because she's got small hands and finds fretting on the acoustic a lot harder than her electric guitar.  Kate was talking about this with our good friend, Joe, who is both an accomplished musician and guitar technician.  So, he came over and took away Lena's half-size acoustic.  He restrung the guitar with better strings, shaved a good bit off the bridge plate and did whatever else guitar techs do and returned it to her the next day.  My God!  It sounded like a completely different instrument and Lena found it so much easier play.  Joe is an alchemist - turning musical lead into harmonic gold.  Joe says he is frustrated by the general poor quality of student guitars and how they are (or more accurately, are not) set up.  Nothing will turn kids off learning music than  a poor instrument.  Lena said that if anyone had asked her about her acoustic guitar two weeks ago, she would have said it was a decent guitar.  Now, she said, she realizes how wrong she would have been.

As if Joe's generosity in tuning up Lena's guitar was not enough, he also brought over his first guitar, which is a full-sized acoustic to lend Lena for her rehearsals and performance.  Being bigger, the guitar also had a much bigger sound and Lena found it very playable.  So, this is what she walked on stage with.

All this to say, we are very thankful to Joe.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Losing Some Weight

Way back in February, I posted about my desire to lose some weight.  After Kate's diagnosis, I had packed on about 35 pounds.  In the February post, I had lost about 17 lbs.  Since then, I have lost another 12, weighing in at 206 lbs this morning.  So, 190 is my intermediate target weight, and maybe hopefully at some point after that I can work my way down to 180, which, I think, would be ideal.

I have managed so far to lose this weight largely through exercise.  I started a cardio program in April 2012 and have been fairly religious about exercising.  My cardiac scare of last year, and the subsequent all-clear I got from my doctors committed me more than ever to maintaining a decent level of fitness.  I am probably in better shape (physically, at least) now than I have been in a few years.  While I was on the psychiatric medications (the cause of the above mentioned cardiac scare) I was suffering from tachycardia, which is a resting heart rate of over 100 beats per minute.  After I came off, I seemed to be stuck at around 76-80 beats per minute for quite a while.  Now, I am regularly getting a reading of 58-63 beats per minute.  I am much more comfortable with that.

I have also made some progress with my snacking problem, but that is the area I have to work on the most, so we'll see how that goes.

I'll check in again in a few weeks.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

A Visit to Montreal

A few weeks ago, we decided to celebrate the end of school and the beginning of summer vacation by taking a trip to Montreal to see one of our favourite singers, Holly Cole, perform at the Montreal International Jazz Festival.  While we were organizing that trip, I got an e-mail from my cousin, Judy, saying she was cleaning house a bit and had some cool artifacts from my grandfather's stint in the Australian military during World War I and would I be interested in taking over as the family custodian (I'll post on the goodies I got separately)?  Indeed, I would and so we included into our plans a trip out to South Durham, a small burgh in Quebec's Eastern Townships.  We just got back from our trip yesterday.

Saturday's Holly Cole concert was, as usual, awesome.  It took place in the Théatre du Nouveau Monde, a venue I had never been to before.  Kate, Lena and I shared a loge with a delightful woman who either spoke no English or chose not to speak English, so she had to listen to me murder her native tongue all evening.  My French has never been very good, but I am out of practice, to say the least, and so not very good has deteriorated to pretty fucking awful.  In any case, she seemed pleased with the effort.

Two things struck me about our night out.  As many of you know, Kate has some significant mobility issues these days and gets around with a cane, or on longer outings, with a walker.  Montreal has a great transit system.  Except if you're handicapped.  I had to haul Kate's walker up and down escalators and stairs.  If you are alone with your walker or bound to a wheelchair, I am afraid you are out of luck.  You cannot access the Metro (Montreal's subway system, for those who do not know).  The other thing that struck is how the masses simply don't care that you're handicapped.  They will not move out of your way, let you go first through a door, or in any other way facilitate your passage through a crowded space.  Precisely one person, as we were exiting the theatre, made a point of letting Kate in front of him.  That among the tens of thousands of people we encountered that night.  Chivalry is dead.

The next day we headed to my cousin's house in South Durham, which is about an hour and a half east of Montreal.  She lives in the house that her mother, my aunt, used to live in - a place I visited many times as a kid, but haven't been to in probably 20 years or more.  It is a beautiful 19th century home sitting on four or five acres.  The peacefulness of the place made me hate suburbia even more.  We had a great lunch with Judy and her husband, Claude.  She passed along the amazing family treasures to me (about which I am still overwhelmed and which deserve their own post).  Then I visited with my aunt who turns 89 later this month.  She is an amazing person and we were happy to have seen her.

On our way back to Montreal, we stopped in small town called Beloeil, which is south-east of Montreal, for some dinner.  We stopped at a restaurant called  Rouge Boeuf - a small town eatery with big town pretensions.  It was very stylishly decorated, but it still had a paper cover over a linen table cloth and paper napkins.  I grew up in the greater Montreal area and at one time was reasonably bilingual, but I have to admit, I was kind of uncomfortable in this restaurant.  We were the only English speakers there, including among the staff who were unilingual French.  I felt conspicuous.  Nonetheless, the food was alright.

The next day, Monday, was our last in the city.  My grandfather had died in 1984 at the ripe old age of 92 and through all the intervening years I had thought he was buried in the Eastern Townships, but learned that he was, in fact, buried in Pointe-Claire, a suburb on the West Island.  So, we visited the grave, which also contains the remains of my uncle, Lawrence, who died in 1946 when he was only 24 years old, and my grandmother and my grandfather's third wife, Lotty.  I was glad to finally get to go to pay my respects, but frustrated that I could have done it years earlier.

After the graveyard, we took a drive along the lakeshore on the West Island and had dinner at an old favourite restaurant in Lachine called Il Fornetto.  The food is decent without being spectacular, and the service is friendly if not the most efficient.  We dined al fresco and had a great view of the parkland bordering the Lachine Canal and the St. Lawrence River.  A nice way to end a nice trip.

And that was our weekend in Montreal.

Friday, 28 June 2013


Lately, I have been learning just how bad late night television is.  For the past couple of months, I have been having some trouble sleeping.  Well, I started out having some trouble.  Now, I'm having a lot of trouble.  The six or seven hours I was getting two months ago seemed paltry at the time but today that much sleep would be a priceless luxury.  Now, I'm getting three or four or, on a really good night, five hours of sleep.

Most days, I am so tired that I feel physically sick.  My already foggy brain has shut down completely.  I am still trying to get my workouts in but that just about does me in for the day.  My ass is growing roots on the couch.  Rather than tossing and turning all night, I get up and watch some television.  Holy crap.  Probably have around two hundred channels and I can find nothing interesting on at three in the morning.

So, if anyone out there is up at 2:00 a.m. EDT, gimme a call and we can chat - nothing on t.v. anyway.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Corey Crawford

I grew up in the small town of Chateauguay, Quebec, just south of Montreal.  Not much happens in my sleepy hometown so when something of note does occur, I figure why not publicize it a bit?

Two days ago, on June 24, the NHL's Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in rather dramatic fashion.  What does this have to do with Chateauguay?  Well, the Blackhawks' starting goalie, Corey Crawford, hails from our little South Shore community.  He is 28 years-old, which is too young for me to know him, though I have met his uncle many times over the years as he is a friend of my older brother (I know I'm being pathetic in trying to benefit from the very dim bit of reflected glory this tenuous connection may afford me, but I am nothing if not superficial).

To the best of my knowledge, the young Mr. Crawford is the first Chateauguay resident to hoist the Cup and for that, all of Chateauguay and its sizeable diaspora are very proud.  The Stanley Cup gets passed around from player to player during the course of the summer, and tradition has each player returning to their hometown for some public events with the Cup.  This recognizes the place where dreams of NHL greatness start and where at least the early development and support of the player began and so I hope Corey makes a trip to his hometown.

Many congratulations to Corey and his family.

The Cup Starts Here

Friday, 21 June 2013

Being Less Affected by the Self-Absorbed Sociopaths All Around Me

The other day, Kate and I were stopped at a red light and the teenager in the car next to us had his gangsta rap turned up to bone-and-teeth-rattling.  I sat there stewing, as I always do when I hear this (really, what is this doing to your hearing, kid, and why inflict your poor taste in music on the rest of us?) when I hear a thin tinny "Excuse me, excuse me" from the elderly lady two lanes over who is also flapping her hand, trying to get the miscreant's attention.  When he finally notices her, she says, with genuine sweetness, "would you mind turning that down, please?" and he says "Sure, no problem." and turns it off and looks out the windshield with what seems a genuine smile.  I think to myself, man I just stewed in a boiling cauldron of hate for the past 30 seconds only to witness this little lovefest that resolved the problem and seemed to make everyone happy.  Could this approach actually be healthier than me marinating in my own bile?

This reminded me of another case a couple of years ago.  My niece, who attends McGill University in Montreal and was then playing for the women's soccer team, was in town to play the University of Ottawa team in a pre-season friendly.  So, the family and I headed down to the campus to watch the game and parked in one of the pay-and-display garages just as a young chick got into her car a couple of spots down and turned on her techno-dance crap to ear-bleeding loudness, which, of course, got me ranting to my girls about today's self-absorbed and oblivious youth.  I got out of the car, still grumbling, when, barely audible over the thumping bass I hear, "excuse me, excuse me."  I turn to see said young chick walking towards me saying that she had paid for overnight parking, but wouldn't be needing it after all and would I like to have her receipt to display?  What a fine young woman!  And another 30 seconds of my life that was mis-spent.

This all raises two issues for me.  First, being a big flaming ball of hate is taxing (no wonder I am nearly completely incapacitated by depression) and maybe I should approach these situations with a greater degree of positivity, or at least indifference.  Second, do any of today's kids listen to good music?  I never hear rock, blues, jazz or, God forbid, classical music thudding from their cars.

Your More Mellow Correspondent signing off.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Aging Hipsters

Yesterday I had to bring the Swagger Wagon in to the tire shop because I had a slow leak in one of the tires (rear passenger, if that kind of detail excites you).  While waiting for the work to be done (turns out I had a screw lodged in the tread, which is kinda funny, because when I realized we had a problem I thought, "man, we're screwed"), a couple who each looked older than my 44 years walked in dressed like a couple of sixteen-year olds.  While they sat and waited, they even had that sulky look of teenage malaise about them, and they seemed more intent on their phones than each other, not unlike teenagers.

Pathetic?  Yes.  Smackable?  Again, yes.

PS - I remember I was in the same shop once and the guy in line ahead of me was telling an employee that the latch for his trunk was broken and that he had to stick his finger in the hole and pull.  I told them that sounded a lot like my last trip to the doctor for my annual physical.  Much hilarity ensued but that has nothing to do with aging hipsters...

Monday, 10 June 2013

One Reason Why I Love Hockey

I should say at the outset that I like soccer.  My daughter plays and two of my nieces are elite players.  But I love hockey and hockey players.  The first video is a compilation of soccer players faking or exaggerating injury and the footage speaks for itself.

The second video, though, is footage of Boston Bruins centre, Gregory Campbell in Game 3 of the NHL's Eastern Conference finals.  The video shows Campbell going down to block a 90 mph slapshot by Pittburgh Penguin Evgeni Malkin.  This clip shows all that's great about the game of hockey and so many of the players in NHL.  Campbell suffers a broken leg in blocking the shot, but he remains on the ice for 40 seconds to help kill the penalty - getting in shooting lanes to potentially block more shots, using his stick to block passes, limping off the ice (and out of the playoffs, as it turns out) only after the puck is cleared from the defensive zone and the penalty is done.  Tough.  What a warrior.  If I were one of the guys in the soccer video, I would be ashamed.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Emerging from a Dark Cave to Say Hello

I haven't written a blog post in quite a while largely because my depression and anxiety have taken a bit of a turn for the worse.  Last summer's cardiac scare, caused by side effects of the various psychiatric drugs I was on at the time, and my subsequent dismissal from the Mood Disorder Program at the Royal Ottawa Hospital - brought about by my decision to largely stay off medication following said cardiac scare - right around a very hectic Christmas season seems to have been a tipping point.  Wow, that's a run-on sentence for you.  A clear sign I am out of practice.

So, my state of mind has not been great.  Every little task, even the most trivial, requires a great amount of effort.  Getting out of bed in the morning or brushing my teeth is a daily fight with myself.  During a good week I manage to shave once.  I cling religiously to making sure I work out at least three times a week, though that often means little else gets done on those days.  However, my workouts are the rare times when I don't feel like absolute crap.  We live at risk of our abode being "that house" in the neighbourhood as I have difficulty getting around to the yard work that needs to be done.  Shrubs and grass are overgrown and weeds are taking over the lawn.  Mostly, I fight to fulfill my absolute obligations - going with Kate to her many medical appointments, getting Lena to her activities, cooking and cleaning up around the house with each activity requiring a lot of self-talk to work up the motivation and energy, and each activity, however minor, leave me feeling spent.  I find no, or on a good day little, pleasure in anything.

I live my life with my stomach in constant knots and a profound sadness clouding my mind.  This is no way to live.  Every day is an agony that is difficult to describe.  The great irony is that getting out from under the weight of depression and anxiety requires a lot of work, which, in turn, is difficult to accomplish when you are crushed by the very affliction you are trying to lift off.

Nonetheless, my therapist and I work to try to get things back on track.  Taking baby steps - doing things that I would normally enjoy or would usually be good at, even in small doses, will help light the way out of this very dark tunnel.  So, I will try to write some blog entries - blogging therapy.  Finding the time and energy to do my Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, and pursuing other strategies - in other words, putting in the work - may be my salvation.  I am so tired - eroded is a good adjective - of living like this that I feel a small spark of motivation to get on with it. 

Though I will try to rededicate myself somewhat to my blog-as-therapy, I promise, this will be the last post for a while about my depression.  It consumes me enough.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Shedding Some Pounds

The quintessential new year's resolution:  Lose weight.  I'm no different - it's on my list.  After Kate's diagnosis, I stopped exercising and started stuffing my gullet at every chance as a way, I guess, of dealing with the stress.  I gained about 35 pounds.  By the time last spring rolled around, I was not feeling too good about myself.  I was easily winded, in part because I was carrying around a lot of extra weight and in part because I was not in the best physical shape.  So, I started exercising and trying to eat at least a little better.  Since then I have lost around 17 pounds, but feel I need to lose another 27 or so.

I am a hopeless snacker.  Evenings are the worst.  I'm always stuffing something, usually not especially healthy, in my mouth.  I suffer from depression and anxiety and I'm pretty sure my snacking is a form of self-medication, of comfort.

I'm not a big breakfast eater.  My therapist, who has in the past worked in the area of eating disorders, has suggested that my nocturnal noshing may at least partially be coming from skipping my morning meal.  So, she has suggested I eat a more complete breakfast and see if that helps my post-prandial munching.  So far, it has not had much of an impact in terms of how much I eat, but I do seem to have lost four pounds in the past week.  Maybe we're onto something here.

Meanwhile I continue to exercise.  I try to get in a 40-50 minute cardio workout at least three times a week, though 4-6 is more the norm.  My workouts have become important in two respects.  First, this is the only time during the day I don't live with that omnipresent knot in my stomach and, secondly, I feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of it, however fleeting the feeling.

So, hopefully starting today, I will try to minimize my snacking and keep on with the exercise to see if I can shed the extra 27 lbs. and see if I can bring myself to 190 lbs.  I hope blogging about it will motivate me.  I'll try to post once a month about my progress.

And on a different note, Happy New year to all my Chinese readers and friends.  The year of the snake seems to be somewhat inauspicious, but hopefully everyone will come out the other end happier and healthier.  All the best.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Smart Phones, Tablets and that Interweb Thingy

Over the past few years, I have have been developing a profound dislike of information and communications technology (ICT).  I see its potential as a liberating tool - facilitating access to vast amounts of information from almost anywhere.  Allowing us to connect with people we may never have otherwise met and stay connected with people who maybe have moved away.  We seem to have overshot its potential, though, and landed in a less desirable situation where ease of access has led to intellectual laziness, where connecting electronically has supplanted more intimate forms of interaction and where our sense of privacy, and our desire for it, has been lost.

I admit I don't have a lot of empirical evidence to back up some of my claims.  Before I left work, though, I was noticing that cutting and pasting little factoids from online sources such as Wikipedia was creeping into the various documents that came across my desk.  Rather than doing their own anlayses and trusting their own judgements many government professionals seem to prefer the pre-digested views available in cyberspace.  As I say, this phenomenon may not be widespread, but it is creeping in.

I heard a story from an acquaintance recently about a university professor who caused an uproar among his students by refusing to post his lecture notes online, forcing his students to actually attend class and take their own notes.  Of course, this relates directly to the intellectual laziness I referred to earlier, but I think it also speaks a lot about the growing sense of entitlement I feel is growing within  younger generations, but that's a different topic for a different post.  The great promise of accessing information so easily is tainted somewhat by the fact that any idiot can publish anything online (as this blog demonstrates so well) and people seem unable to distinguish the good from the bad.  If any of you reading this teach, I would love to hear your observations about how ICTs are affecting the work and intellectual development of your students.

I also feel that the ubiquity of smart phones, tablets and laptop indicate a bizarre form of addiction.  People seem to have a helpless need to be constantly connected - to the web, to others, to playing games. I look around and all I see are people's noses stuck into some electronic device - texting, surfing, playing.  People text while they drive which is an unbelievably dangerous activity.  I see people, presumably friends or family or at least acquaintances, sitting at the same table in a café not talking to each other but thumbing their respective smart phones.  I see parents at their kids' sporting events engrossed in their phones or tablets oblivious to what their kids are doing.  I always feel bad when I see a child do something great, look over with pride at their mom or dad only to see them clicking away.  And, of course, cyberspace has become a valuable tool in the arsenal of bullies.

Many, and I include myself here, are living their lives online through social media with no regard for their own privacy.  No more secrets.

I have to rethink my own use of technology.  I'm just one red crayon and notebook away from moving into the woods and writing a manifesto off the grid. 

Friday, 1 February 2013

100 Best Movies

Karen, of A Peek at Karen's World fame (among the more entertaining blogs I follow), today posted her version of the best 100 movies.  Of course, this kind of exercise is highly controversial and it got my juices flowing.  So, I decided, what the hell, why don't I put in my two cents worth?  I have to admit coming up with a list of 100 movies is quite difficult, but I don't think there are many I would take off.  

You'll note that movies from the past ten years are not well-represented.  The largest reason for this is that since we had Lena, we don't get out much and our choices tend to be more family -friendly.  I also believe that movies today are more about flash-and-bang than anything else, but that's just my opinion.

So, here they are:
  1. Schindler's List
  2. Casablanca
  3. Psycho
  4. The Exorcist
  5. Traffic
  6. Dogma
  7. The Godfather
  8. The Godfather II
  9. Ferris Bueller's Day Off
  10. Austin Powers:  International Man of Mystery
  11. Erin Brokovich
  12. Dirty Harry
  13. The Usual Suspects
  14. The Birds
  15. The In-Laws (1979)
  16. Maltese Falcon
  17. Pirates of the Caribbean
  18. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
  19. Big Night
  20. Star Wars
  21. The Cook, the Thief, His WIfe and Her Lover
  22. Slap Shot
  23. The Caine Mutiny
  24. So, I Married an Axe Murderer
  25. Rear Window
  26. Star Wars:  The Empire Strikes Back
  27. Star Wars:  Return of the Jedi
  28. Reservoir Dogs
  29. Kill Bill Volume 1
  30. Kill Bill Volume 2
  31. Deliverance
  32. A Beautiful Mind
  33. October Sky
  34. The Hunt for Red October
  35. The Gumball Rally
  36. Marathon Man
  37. Bullitt
  38. Three Days of the Condor
  39. Gaslight
  40. Rocky
  41. Rocky II
  42. Alien
  43. The Big Sleep
  44. Grease
  45. All the President's Men
  46. Caddyshack
  47. The Dirty Dozen
  48. Pale Rider
  49. Guns of Navarone
  50. North by Northwest
  51. The Shining
  52. To Kill a Mockingbird
  53. Die Hard
  54. Mad Max
  55. Mad Max 2:  The Road Warrior
  56. Fargo
  57. Seven
  58. National Lampoon's Animal House
  59. Taxi Driver
  60. Catch Me if you Can
  61. Jurassic Park
  62. Saving Private Ryan
  63. Miracle (2004)
  64. Office Space
  65. Election
  66. Pulp Fiction
  67. Wayne's World
  68. Goodfellas
  69. National Lampoon's Vacation
  70. The Bourne Identity
  71. Amélie
  72. Being John Malkovich
  73. Monty Python's The Meaning of Life
  74. Monty Python and the Holy Grail
  75. The King's Speech
  76. Presumed Innocent
  77. Silence of the Lambs
  78. Glengarry Glen Ross
  79. Magnum Force
  80. Sudden Impact
  81. Stripes
  82. Ghostbusters
  83. The Longest Day
  84. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
  85. Saving Private Ryan
  86. Back to the Future
  87. Risky Business
  88. The Big Sleep
  89. Body Heat
  90. Pride of the Yankees
  91. Mississippi Burning
  92. Twelve Angry Men (1957)
  93. Treasure of the Sierra Madre
  94. This is Spinal Tap
  95. Goodwill Hunting
  96. Boys Don't Cry
  97. Mystery Men
  98. Dead Calm
  99. A Few Good Men
  100. Terminator
I look forward to reactions and I'm sure you have some.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Writer's Block

I have been having a hard time coming up with blog topics of late.  Part of the reason is that I have a lot to worry about and that crowds out the mental resources needed to come up with decent subjects.  I also have a difficult time dealing with multiple tasks on a given day and making dinner and doing laundry take precedence over writing.  Anyway, this particular path is a little too well worn.

I've worked for years in the Canadian public service and writing is a daily requirement.  Usually, subjects are foisted on you by management or circumstances, so coming up with a topic isn't usually a problem.  Notwithstanding this, I do remember a couple of times where I just couldn't figure out how to approach some assigned issue and had my drafts returned with comments from my supervisors wondering what the hell I was doing.  I have many professional shortcomings but my ability to write a decent briefing note or policy paper or report or speech have seldom been called into question, so these criticisms sometimes stung.  Nevertheless, at some point we all face that imposing brick wall that is writer's block.

The internet and the library have a glut of resources for helping people climb the wall.  Some of the suggestions are stupid:  talk to a monkey (i.e. explain what you really want to say to a stuffed animal).  I prefer the practical brass tack approaches.  One suggestion that pops up repeatedly is set a regular time of day to write and set a a minimum nimber of words to write and commit yourself.  Another fun way to work yourself out of a creative funk is to do some writing exercises.  Years ago, my wife bought a book entitled Room to Write, by Boni Goldberg.  She proposes a number of short exercises to inspire writing or to help youhone your writing skills.  For example, one exercise encourages you to write about your kitchen as if you were a detective, another suggests writing about your hair.  All very interesting and potentially helpful.  We'll see.

Many people write, either as a sideline or as an integral part of their jobs.  I'm curious to know how others overcome their blocks.  Would love to hear form you.

Sunday, 20 January 2013


Anxiety and depression suck.  I live my life with my stomach in knots, with a hollow feeling deep in my chest.  Part of what I have been dealing with for the past ten years, and probably longer, has been crushing anxiety.  I scratch my head a bit at how this has arisen.  I managed to make my way through university, graduating with distinction from university (achieved not through native intelligence, but through a lot of work), and doing quite well in grad school.  I have been a diligent public servant earning performance reviews that ranged from good to great - always volunteering to work on the most challenging files.  I was a little high-strung and moody maybe, but very much functioning.

Now, though, if I have to do the dishes and shovel snow on the same day I feel like the weight of the world is on my shoulders.  I feel like I am constantly, and not very successfully, treading water, only managing to get my head above water for a brief gasp of air before getting hit again and again by wave after wave.  This drains me physically and emotionally leaving little for anything else.

With my wife sick and a young daughter who I want to have a normal and happy childhood, not one that is dominated by her mother's and father's illnesses, I feel like I'm letting my family down, which in turn makes me feel worse.

This all sounds fairly self-pitying, and I suppose it is.  I don't often speak of all this because I don't like to be perceived as a whiner, but I want people who are suffering from the same type of thing to know they are not alone, to hang in there.  I want others to know that people suffering from depression and anxiety may seem self-indulgent and lazy, but these afflictions are as debilitating as any physical ailment.  Indeed, humanity is blessed with the ability of abstract thought.  We take for granted our ability to control our thoughts, but depression and anxiety work to distort our views of ourselves and of the world.  For those reasons, depression and anxiety seem the greatest betrayals of ourselves and we seem powerless to change that.

Sometimes I despair that I will never feel happy again, but I deeply hope that I will and that's what keeps me going.  I also know I have little choice.  My family needs me and that, maybe more than naything, keeps me putting one foot in front of the other, no matter how hard that may be to do.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Welsh Love Spoons

Carved spoons are a tradition in many cultures but the Welsh, for whatever reason, are particularly well known for their mastery of the craft.  Wooden spoons were originally carved for purely utilitarian reason, but somewhere along the line more decorative versions came onto the scene.  The specific history of love spoons is somewhat lost to time and many theories abound about how they emerged including that young men used them to demonstrate their manual skills to the women they were trying to woo or carving them was a simple inexpensive way for rural men to spend time between growing seasons.  My own feeling is that carved spoons were probably to young men before the industrial revolution what mixed tapes were to my generation:  a thoughtful and romantic token of affection.

Whatever their romantic origins,  they are today often carved to mark a wide range of special occasions - retirements, births, anniversaries and graduations to name a few.  In fact, I have started a semi-tradition by carving my daughter a spoon for Christmas - not every Christmas mind you, but I have managed three over the past five years or so.  She is a grateful recipient and I hope they continue to be special mementos of my love for her.  I hope to expand the tradition to include my wife Kate and to encompass more milestones for both of them.  Below are some pictures of my efforts.


I have two very good books on the subject of carving spoons which have guideed me, Celtic Carved Lovespoons by Sharon Lintley and Clive Griffin, and Fine Art of Carving Lovespoons, by David Western.

This is the first spoon I carved for the Bean.  Pattern from Lintley and Griffin.

This was my second effort.  Pattern from Western.

This was the spoon I gave to the Bean this Christmas, also from Western.