Sunday, July 31, 2011

The quest continues...

If there is a burger heaven, it descended a little to wink at my grill today.

Today was another beach day, with Gramma and Grampa in tow. We had a blast as usual, building sand castles and trying out a new collapsible sun shade, and a few hours later, with two very tired little ones, we returned to the home in chaos. I had been halfway through painting the living room when we left for this beach trip, and wanted to get back to it as soon as possible. So for supper we decided on burgers, with Jennifer's homemade coleslaw on the side. Cheap. Fast. Good.

My burger, with melted cheese, and Jenn's excellent simple coleslaw.
The beef was laughably simple. Enough for six burgers. Two tablespoons of liquid hickory smoke. Two tablespoons of medium horseradish. I put them on the grill at about 600', and closed the lid to deter the flames, flipped, and then melted cheddar overtop. Toasted the buns on the grill right before we took them off, and that was it.

Mom's burger, with sweet onions, and Daisy drool.
On top, it was hard to resist the tomatoes from our garden. The plants are growing large enough now to have to be tied back so that they don't break their own stalks. We have several varieties, and they all did very well this year. One kind we have is a heritage Krim black tomato, the others are beefsteak, heritage yellow, and good old regular ordinary tomatoes. The beefsteak are still green yet, but looking forward to next week when they ripen.

Three of the four types of tomato we're growing.

So, the burger as it turned out, was fantastic, there was none of the fast food crap in it. Ah, and the tomato ... picked, washed, eaten. Nothing like it.

Heritage Krim Black tomato
Speaking of tomatoes, I had the most wonderful lunch the other day. Rushing in with no time to spare, I took thin hot dog bun, and put in yellow tomato and fresh basil from the garden, boconcini, and drizzled it in olive oil. Done.

Ready ... literally in seconds, no cooking, no mess, and so good. Here is the assembled sandwich. The thought of it still makes my mouth water.

Jenn's coleslaw:

1 cabbage, grated
2 carrots, grated
half a sweet onion, grated
1cup cider vinegar
2 tbsp sugar
half tsp sea salt.


 My wife, Jennifer's, blog can be found here:
Cleverly Disguised as Cake

And my first novel, squeakyclean, here:
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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Shocking news...


When I lived in Montreal, in a little apartment on St. Marc, overlooking the Faubourg, I got up early one winter morning and went to get something out of the fridge. The light was not working in the kitchen, and I didn't think this was odd, as we were always blowing bulbs.

As I grabbed the fridge handle, it was as if someone knocked me over the head with a rubber mallet. I was physically pushed back from the fridge, and found myself sitting against the counter. The fridge motor had shorted itself to the frame, and the bulb had blown, but not the fuse, and when the freezer ice melted, it left a puddle of water on the floor that I had been standing in when I touched the door.

Now, I had a pair of leather slippers that I got from my father that were old and ratty, and that I loved. I don't know if the leather kept me from being electrocuted, but I'd like to think that was but one of my nine lives I used up that day.

We all have our close encounters. I just would rather they happen to me than to my kids.

Last night Jenn and I were downstairs after the kids went to bed, and Cole was having quiet time in his room (which he does for a bit before bed), when he came downstairs with a "burn" on his thumb. I was immediately skeptical. What was there to burn himself on in his room? How had he burned himself but nothing else?

He explained he had been 'playing with' one of the electrical outlets in his room, and had pushed his thumb onto it so hard that somehow he made contact. There was a little zap that welted up his thumb, and in an instant a 15A fuse in the basement did what it was designed to, and blew, being the weak part in the system. So, sheepishly, with all the lights out in his room, he came down and told me what happened.

I was furious, and afraid for what could have happened. I pictured my coming across his little body alone in his room with no signs of anything wrong, or how something like this could have happened. It reminded us of how dangerous our world is, and how even the simple things we take for granted can be dangerous.

The reality is that a cheap little 20 year old 15A fuse saved his life.

To think, he could be taken away that easily. Holy crap! I explained to him that he should be very careful around power, ANY power, and that from now on he would be able to tell the other little guys not to mess around with things like that. I hugged him up so tight that he probably couldn't breathe, then I got him a cold pack for his thumb. What else is there to do? As you can see by the picture, it doesn't look any different from any other plug. I'm replacing it anyway. Not only that, but Jenn and I are buying protectors for all the plugs in the house.

It begs the question: How much CAN you protect your children? Is it our jobs as parents to protect them from everything? Well, the real dangerous stuff, yes. But everything? I don't think it's practical. Not only would you have to take helicopter parenting to an extreme, but it creates children who are afraid of risk, who can't think for themselves, and who can't take chances because they can't measure the inherent danger of things.

Every time he walks out that door to catch the bus, or to spend time with his mother (who doesn't seem to mind risk so much - tractors, ATV's etc.), he is at risk. No panic. No run-for-the-hills ... it's risk. It's life. 

Would I want my kids to get zapped? Never. Under the circumstances, though, it was the best possible scenario. You may think I'm crazy for saying this, but here's my reasoning: He wasn't seriously hurt. He won't touch a plug like that again, and he'll be able to tell the other little ones to stay away from the power.

I'm hoping Cole will use that experience for the rest of his other eight lives ;)

 My wife, Jennifer's, blog can be found here:
Cleverly Disguised as Cake

And my first novel, squeakyclean, here:
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Friday, July 22, 2011

Owen iv

It's probably a good idea to read the first three installments on Owen before this one if you haven't already:

Owen ii
Owen iii

The resilience of children to bounce back from adversity is amazing.

The small things or the large things, they all seem to create the same amount of trauma in a child's mind, and then they go back to normal. Cole, for example, spent all afternoon building a house out of Lego, and brought it upstairs to show us. I took pictures, and then as he was taking it downstairs it bumped on the wall and smashed. It was like a Lego waterfall down the stairs. He was devastated. Owen and I both hugged him as he had one of those genuine emotional meltings right there before us. He dissolved in wet gobby tears.

Can you feel the impending doom? lol

So we set to putting it back together again. Armed with the pictures we'd just taken, we rebuilt, and now you wouldn't even know it happened from how happy they are. Owen is running around playing Lego, and making cookies with Mommy, and laughing with his brother.

Two short days ago he was in a very different state. We went to Hotel Dieu in Kingston for the scope of his GI tract. This was just a week after he had to do a barium swallow that constipated him so bad for four days that he was up crying several nights until 1am ... but that's another story.

When they scheduled this, nobody had any way of knowing it would be 45'C with the humidity. For adults that's difficult, but for a little guy who overheats quickly, it's excruciating. Luckily, we cranked the air, and were into the hospital before the real heat of the day hit. Still, halfway there, he started to cry, and said to Jenn "I want to go home now, Mommy." He knew something was up, as he always does when we drive him somewhere without the other two. Jenn told him it would only take a little while, and that we could stop after for chocolate chip muffins, his favourite.

We were taken almost immediately in, and he was hooked up to IV and monitors, and I could just feel his anxiety building. He kept his Lego Owie with him, and had a good visit from our friends who were, ironically, there with their daughter for the very same test.

One thing Owen inherited from Jennifer was an ability to be awake and aware of everything around him at all times. In order to sleep, she has to cover her eyes, put in earplugs, draw the blinds, and basically build a cocoon. Owen, only 35 lbs, had to be given more sedative than normally would knock out a teen, and yet still fought to stay awake. He just didn't want to miss anything.

The test went well. Dr. Justinich did a scope of his upper GI tract, and then his small bowel, and then they took a biopsy. We won't find out about the biopsy until next week, looking for celiac's disease among other things, but the pictures looked normal. Dr. Justinich and his team were great, and as Owen woke we sang songs to him that he loves, and we told him how well he'd done. He liked the board that they taped to his wrist because he said it was his 'mouse', and then pointed it at the heartrate monitor machine, playing what he called 'alien invasion', which involved a lot of laser sounds and interpreting the numbers.

On the way home, as I carried him out to the car, he said a chipper "we had fun, didn't we Mommy?" and Jenn and I both nearly cried and laughed at the same time. Only at this age can driving to Kingston in the blistering heat, being poked and measured and prodded, stuck with a needle, sedated, given narcotics, plastered with sensors, and having something shoved down your throat, and then woken up in a strange room to have to wrestle with an iv bag be called fun.

He's certainly a brave little guy.

I think what I like most about the scope is that it's over. Now we can reintroduce the Neocate, and get him back off the milk products, and go back to whatever shred of normalcy we had before reintroducing milk.

Just in time for another visit to the beach!

The rebuild :)

 My wife, Jennifer's, blog can be found here:
Cleverly Disguised as Cake

And my first novel, squeakyclean, here:
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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Oh how I needed a beach day.

Huntington Beach, California, 2000
This past week has been quite easily the hottest of the year. Yesterday it was 36 'C and with the humidity reached up into the mid 40's. In that heat I had to drive down to Toronto wearing a suit. Let me tell you, it was stinkin' hot there.
Venice Beach, California, 2001

I have experienced real heat, too. I have driven through the Mojave desert in July where the big thermostat in Baker read 120'F, and have felt the nighttime heat of Vegas at 102'F. I am no stranger to heat, and yet I found myself with the beginnings of crowded vision and faintness.

The Mojave Desert. 120'F
The difference between what I experienced in Nevada and California, and Toronto is that of humidity. Toronto rarely tops Nevada for temperature, it just *feels* hotter. When the humidity is higher, the sweat can't evaporate from your body, and when that happens, your body's main cooling system is less efficient, leaving you feeling hotter.

Anyway, miserable, and walking down on University Avenue in Toronto yesterday, there was noplace to hide from the sun. Even in the air conditioned restaurant in the afternoon I could feel the heat coming off the windows.

On the way home I listened to a CBC special on Toronto area beaches, and my reaction, being that I have spent the better part of my life in the city, was of scorn. No way would I swim in Lake Ontario. We all have memories of people getting sick, and the water quality being so bad that fecal choliform counts were through the roof. I learned though, that there has been a considerable effort not just to clean up the beaches, but also the lake itself. 

The reality today is that the beaches in Toronto are clean. There are 11 beaches in Toronto, and 8 of them qualify for the blue flag program. In case you don't know about blue flag, you can find information about the criteria here.

The basics are that Blue Flag is a water/beach/environmental quality certification that allows swimmers to see or not see the blue flag that guarantees the beach is internationally recognized as safe and clean.

Point is, there is no reason not to spend time at the beach this summer in the big smoke!

Sandbanks, last week.
Out here in balmy Belleville, where the temperature peaked at 38'C today, we have several beaches within an easy drive that are well worth the visit. So when the heat started up, we packed up a cooling vest for Owie, an umbrella, a cooler, and all the other stuff we'd need, and took off to two different beaches in a ten day span.

Sandbanks Provincial Park

Sandbanks, which is as good or far better than many of the beaches I have visited in California or Florida, is a couple of Kilometres of white sand, and a very gradual drop out into the water. You can go out a good fifty metres into the water and still not be over your head, so it's great for kids.

Jenn at Sandbanks.
As with all Provincial parks, there is no alcohol allowed, nor glass bottles, and the sand is regularly groomed. Our kids love it there. That said, it has its share of young 'thangs' with their tanning oil and barely a trace of clothing, so if that's not your idea of a good time, there are also several smaller beaches in the area.

North Beach, near Consecon, is one of our favourites, partly because it is less crowded, and partly because it is a more family atmosphere. Sandbanks can sometimes seem a little packed.

Presqu'ile, spring 2010

Presqu'ile, which is on Lake Ontario near Brighton, is also a Provincial park, and its beaches are a little rougher around the edges. There are stones in the sand that can hurt little feet, and the beach is much smaller than the others in the area. Still very worth the visit.

Owen at Presqu'ile 2010

The benefits of Presqu'ile, too, are that it has camping very close by, also part of the Provincial Park, but it is not too far from the beaten track. We found last year, with a very sick Owen, that we could have our camping time in the quiet and seclusion, and then when it got too much, we were in the town of Brighton for the conveniences of home within ten minutes.

Sandcastles at Presqu'ile
Now, I'm used to camping by myself in the middle of nowhere, so the trailer is easy street for me, but for the kids it's a great, and safe, introduction to the camping experience, and they never get overheated with the beach nearby. 

Daisy at Presqu'ile, spring 2010
Anyway, that's it. If you notice my blogging output falling dramatically as the mercury climbs, you'll know where to find me.

 My wife, Jennifer's, blog can be found here:
Cleverly Disguised as Cake

And my first novel, squeakyclean, here:
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Huntington Beach in California

Saturday, July 16, 2011

We've all been sept-up.

In spring of 2009, Michel Thibodeau, a bilingual Ottawa man, ordered a Sprite on an Air Canada flight in French, and was served a 7-UP. He probably didn't realize that one is produced by Coke, and the other by Pepsi, and that they are mutually exclusive because most restaurants and services have to sign a distribution contract with one or the other.

When the server made the mistake and gave him a 7-UP, he or she also made the mistake of not serving him in the language of his choice. Perhaps it was in the way he ordered, or that he finds fault with everything, but he sued, saying that his right to be served in whichever language of his choice had been abrogated.

If that wasn't enough, Justice Marie-Josée Bédard ordered that Air Canada pay $12,000.00 in damages, citing that: “Awarding damages in this case will serve the purpose of emphasizing the importance of the rights at issue, and will have a deterrent effect."

I have a few problems with this. The largest is that these people are bilingual. Anyone in their right mind can see that he could have ordered and done whatever he wanted in English when he saw the server stumbling to explain her error. That's a 'nice' thing, not a 'language' thing. These sorts of cases simply do not happen in countries like Switzerland, with their three official languages, because they had the sense not to try to legislate that services were offered this way. They get along. However, we in Canada have the Official Languages Act, ostensibly, because we can't.

The way I see it, the idiocy is twofold. First, in the way he handled it. If he'd been fully French with no English, he'd have a point. Maybe not a $12,000.00 point, but a point. Heaven forbid he actually try to get by in another language like the hundreds of thousands who come to our country from elsewhere in the world and who, through the other communication techniques we've all been given, get by. No, he had to make a conscious choice to be a dick. There's no nice way of putting it.

The second failing is in the lawsuit and the subsequent judgment. Sure, Air Canada is now privatized, but still holds many of the policies of the old government service, and should rightfully be offered in both official languages. Ordering the review of their policies and new tracking systems was a great way to address the issue, and my hat is off to the Justice for that part of her ruling. Here's where it gets sticky, though. She ordered money to be paid, and one has to then ask how much is an affront like this worth?

(Because really, this was an affront. He wasn't in danger of being left behind in an emergency. He wasn't threatened, or afraid for his safety or the safety of his wife. He wasn't in jeopardy of illness for the denial of essential services. He got the wrong pop.)

Lets put $12,000.00 in perspective. If I'm dismembered at work, but not killed, I get $25,000.00 from my policy. A crane ripping off my limbs would only pay little over double what he was given for the inconvenience of being bilingual and not being able to order his drink in French.

Since Air Canada was bailed out more than once by the Federal Government, one could easily extend the argument that one of us poor suckers had to pay that much in taxes to give it to him. So the way my simple mind sees it, is that I worked my ass off so he could complain about a soft drink and take the money that I paid in federal tax. This is where it should get somewhat personal, for every Canadian. I know I'm pissed.

Does he not have to prove inconvenience, or damages, or something to justify the $12,000.00? What exactly IS the value of getting the wrong drink? Michel, for not getting the $1.50 can of soda pop he asked for, raked in a good portion of the money I payed in taxes last year. Did this server lose their job? Did Air Canada force retraining? Over a 7-UP? Was there not one other person on staff who could have served this drink in French and saved taxpayers $12,000.00?

For Michel Thibodeau, the value he tried to sue for was $500,000.00. Yes. a half-mil for not getting service in French, when HE UNDERSTOOD THE ENGLISH. Perhaps some more perspective. This is five times (!) the amount my family would get if I was killed on the job, never to come home again. For one can of pop.

When I went to the Canadian History Museum on the Plains of Abraham, I did not sue for the inconvenience of their not offering service in English (which they didn't), forcing me (gasp!) to use my French (which I did). Why not, you ask? Because I'm native English, and the tables are turned. I speak both languages, and I wouldn't have said boo about a French speaking Canadian working in the province of Quebec in the tourist industry. It's not in my nature. So why did Michel think this was such an affront, worth half a million dollars?

For that matter, what happens when English tourists start demanding all their services in English in Quebec? Living in Montreal for eight years, I can count dozens of times that I was not offered service in English from Federal offices. But this is not about language. It's about someone being a dick. Michel Thibodeau has sued Air Canada three times in five years. Obviously he thinks of it as a free ride.

So I have an idea. He's proven himself to be a pattern abuser of the legal system. Have him put on the no-fly list. In both languages. See how far he gets with suing individuals when they spit in his Sprite ... er, 7-UP.

Oh, the pictures are from here, and here.

Download my first novel, squeakyclean, here:
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My wife, Jennifer's, blog can be found here:
Cleverly Disguised as Cake

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Anger vs Compromise

Anger has been on my mind a lot lately. Not that I'm an angry person, because I'm not, but I have to deal with other people's anger. Daily I end up being the bearer of bad news. I'm grateful to have gone through de-escalation training during my work in call centers. I was quite good at it then, and have used that training so much since, that I think it should be taught in high school as core curriculum. Our crime rates would plummet. I digress.

Forgive me for being slightly vague for obvious reasons, but I was giving some bad news to someone the other day. I got the response, said as an aside to a witness: "I get so frustrated sometimes that I could grab him and just smash his face into the dirt." As he said this his face was red, his ears red, his hands tense, and all two hundred fifty odd pounds of his quadruple XL body focused on how angry he was.

Keep in mind, we're a Kilometer from the highway in the middle of a vast gravel lot, a day hot as hell, dusty, and with tempers flaring. What he was talking about was a piece of paper. I didn't write it. I didn't force it on him. All I did was come to explain it.

I stepped back, and looked at the ground, and then up to this big man in front of me, and understood that I had nowhere to go, trying to remember my karate that I have been neglecting lately. I did what I know best. I put on a poker face, and talked. In the end I made promises I know I can keep, and we shook hands. I don't judge him. I understand that things are not easy for him. However, there are a few points I would like to make.

First, it is not my anger to take on, so in writing this I have to remind you it is not yours either. I'm not trying to pass it on. Relax. This study is more philosophical than newsworthy. I apologize if I've made you angry. Deep breaths.

Second. Conflict is my business. I have coping techniques. Don't feel bad for me. This is what I do.

Third, in looking around at what we've build up in this country, we have it pretty good here. There is not a lot of room for personal anger in my world unless it really is personal, because I thank my stars and my creator every day for how lucky I've been. Life is good. Often luck is what people use to hide their excessive cleverness, but not in this case. (or not entirely...) I really do have horseshoes up my ass.

So I came away obsessing on anger, turning it over like an odd object in my hand. What are we, as a culture, so angry about? Is it my imagination, or are people quicker to anger than they were before? Is it the new fast paced modern lifestyle, the ability to connect to issues that anger us? One has to admit that in all its imperfections (and we have many) Canada is about as good as it gets in this world. Why do we have so much anger all the time? Media? Politics? Human nature?

I started to think there was something wrong with me for NOT being angry all the time. I never lose my temper. Perhaps I should. Sure, I'm passionate about things. Politics, spirituality, writing, and in protecting and nurturing my family there are no bounds to my passion. But anger? Anger has always seemed to me degrading, a loss of control that serves to invalidate people's words. There are instances where I have felt that people's anger was justified, after the loss of a loved one, or when their land was taken away - but when it is directed at people who are not responsible, and vented when inappropriate, it's silly. It makes me take them less seriously.

At heart, I believe there is no value in anger when other emotions serve so well to change things. Passion and perseverance go much farther toward our goals because in the end we all have dignity to protect, and reputations to bank on. To accomplish anything in this world we must build consensus. Perhaps that is my failing, is that I have to put so much thought into what I want to change, that when I fail to change things, I merely work on a different approach instead of resorting to frustration. My eggs are in many baskets.

I am more a fan of compromise. Anger is so self-centred. It says: Look at me! I can identify something is wrong, and I don't like it! Consensus-building requires putting forward solutions, which is, in the long run, much more challenging. It means taking ownership instead of pushing the onus on someone else to fix things.

Have we forgotten compromise? I know it doesn't give people the vindication they crave, but it has always served me so well personally. Perhaps I will succumb to anger in the future, if ... God forbid ... something were to happen to my family, I think I would be capable of great wrath. It's in my family tree, that's for sure. The anger my grandmother had when she was elderly and had to go into a home was legendary. She was angry at everything, indiscriminately, to the point of enforced physical restraint. Now, this was not a peaches-and-cream sweetie pie throughout her life who suddenly became angry. No, she was an angry person for much of her existence, making my father's early years a living hell. When my family moved, and I had to finish my school year at 16 years old, I was supposed to stay with them for three weeks. I am a very tolerant person, but I only lasted two days before going to my best friend's house instead. They were harsh people.

It makes me wonder what is in store for my father, my brother, myself, my sons and daughter? We joke about the "Sprung temper", but is it genetic, or learned? I believe that what we live becomes us. My grandmother carried anger for her entire life, and in the end that anger consumed her. I hope that my father, in being the good person he is, will be mild-mannered in his old age, and that in diffusing anger throughout my life, in confronting things rationally, and passionately, but with reason as my guide, that in my old age reason and compromise will still rule. Perhaps there are some things genetic that can be overcome?

In the end, I apologize if this post is more questions than answers. That's just the way things are sometimes. No neat, clean package today. I hope that doesn't anger you.

 My wife, Jennifer's, blog can be found here:
Cleverly Disguised as Cake

And my first novel, squeakyclean, here:
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Saturday, July 02, 2011

Walk in the Park

Belleville's waterfront
It's been a while since I was down at the waterfront in Belleville, and Jenn in her brilliance suggested we take the kids down for a walk there before the fireworks. Good call.

The assorted riff-raff

Owen followed big bro everywhere.

I'm patriotic. I may not support our present government and their dismantling of our social state, but I do believe in Canada. What we have built here over the last 144 years in this country is extraordinary. It is not in the health care, or the greatness of our armed forces who risk their lives for our ideals, it is not the economy or the banks, nor is it the laws or even the freedoms. All of these things can be taken away. No, it is the people. It is the combined histories of all our people, coming together to do something we believe in.

I'm not by any means naive about Canada. I am often disappointed in my country, and write about government often, but when I can take my kids out into a park, with no threat of violence, and we can watch something beautiful like a fireworks display, I am grateful.

There were many things in our history that could have given us a very different state. From numerous American invasions actually succeeding to Nazis winning the second world war, to Russia crossing the ice cap (though with some of the Russians I've now met that might not have been so bad ... j/k), my point is that there were threats, and despite those threats I think we can take pride in our country.

Stopping to read the signs :)
Daisy throwing rocks.

We had a wonderful walk. We saw a turtle, Owen said hello to random strangers, saw some dogs, walked out to the end of the jetty at Myer's pier, watched a guy catch a fish, and over the course of hours, with no real plans, we tired out three little guys pretty good. Later, Cole and I returned for the fireworks while the littlest guys went to bed, and sitting out across the water watching them pop and crack and flash, I thought about what these really meant.

Bay Bridge, and Myer's pier.

We have much to be proud of. I feel that we're moving toward something great. I believe that if we could export what it is to be Canadian to everyone in the world, our tolerance and our complete rejection of violence and oppression, we would better the lives of everyone. We built this. Our ancestors built this, from scratch, from vague ideas about what we wanted, coming together in laws and rights and more importantly, in attitude. We can help others build this, too.

In simplicity, I felt what the Chinese must have felt seeing the first fireworks nearly a thousand years ago. I poked a little fun at my inner child whose heart beat a little faster and anticipated the next bang, and thought: "Look what we can do!" Sometimes it need not be any more complex than that.

Jennifer's postings can now all be found here:
Cleverly Disguised as Cake

Download my first novel, squeakyclean:
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