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.