Friday, December 3, 2021

New Skills

My best friend, Stuart, was one of my earliest influences in photography. In high school, we were both part of the yearbook team, capturing images that would become memories for us and for the entire population of J.S. Woodsworth Secondary School.

There's no doubt that Stu was, in turn, under the influence of his father, who had been an avid shutterbug since his youth; so much so that his friends and family gave him a nickname that would stick with him for the rest of his life: Buff.

Buff would critique Stuart's and my photos, pointing out the rule of thirds, aperture and depth of field, and offering us helpful tips. These were so helpful that when I think of these tips today, I can't help but hear Buff's voice in my head.

A couple of years later, in 1986, when I finally bought my very own SLR—my Minolta X-700—and headed out to photograph some autumn leaves, Buff's advice came to me: "If you overexpose by a stop, you can get the best colour out of the leaves." He had explained that the built-in light meter would try to find a balance and that more times than not, it would muddy the colours as it tried to even out dark from bright.

I made my way to the Ottawa River and found some turning leaves near the abandoned Prince of Wales train bridge. I composed a shot that would have the colourful red and yellow leaves in focus, with the bridge visible in the background.

Another tip was put to use: open the aperture so that background objects are obscured from the subject. And while I wanted to include the bridge, the leaves were what I wanted to emphasize. The bridge would not be in focus but it wouldn't be so obscured as to not be identifiable.

I remember showing the photo to Buff, after I had the image enlarged from the slide. "You have an eye for composition. And this is exposed perfectly."

I had a good mentor.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Beer O'Clock: Vienna

The folks at Brew Revolution have a great way to plant an earworm: simply name a beer after the title of a song.

Take, for example, their Kashmir Norwegian Pale Ale. You might think of the region that borders India, Pakistan, and China, and has been a disputed area since the 1950s. But when I hear 'Kashmir,' I think of the epic rock song by Led Zeppelin.

There's also Brew Revolution's Walkin' on Sunshine NEIPA, which makes me think of the bright and sunny tune by Katrina And The Waves. The song truly matches the brew and should be played on repeat while you drink it.

Brew Revolution has a lager with a name that caught me by surprise (sort of). You have to be a true fan of music, and in particular, 80s music, to think of this song by one of my all-time favourite bands. But because this style of lager is fairly common, it's not a large leap to come across a song that suits it.

When I was in my teens, attending high school, I was into the British new wave band, Ultravox. When Midge Ure joined the band in 1979 and their subsequent album, Vienna, was released the next year, I immediately fell in love with it, particularly with the title track. But in my high school, you were either into Ultravox or you weren't.

Most of the people in my year couldn't even name a song by the band.

I suppose it's no surprise that Brew Revolution would chose this breakthrough song title for their Vienna-style lager. Let's take a closer look.

(Vienna Lager: 4.8% ABV; 20 IBUs)
Brew Revolution
Stittsville, ON

Appearance: deep amber with a thick, foamy-white head that settles quickly and all but disappears, except for a thin lace and a collar along the edge of the glass.

Nose: biscuit and dank wood. I also detect a trace of chemical, such as varnish or acetone, but it's not off-putting.

Palate: nice malt flavours and a hint of orange rind. It feels clean in the mouth and has a refreshing finish.

Overall impression: the song "Vienna" filled my head as the lager filled my mouth. I couldn't help but hear the lyrics and try to connect them with the brew.

The music is weaving
Haunting notes, pizzicato strings
The rhythm is calling
Alone in the night as the daylight brings
A cool, empty silence
The warmth of your hand and a cold grey sky
It fades to the distance
The image has gone, only you and I
It means nothing to me
This means nothing to me
Oh, Vienna.

I can't say that this lager means nothing to me. And while the song is about a fleeting love affair, there is nothing fleeting about Vienna, the lager. The nose raised my curiosity and I was warmed by the malts on the palate. The finish is clean at the start but it tends to linger the longer you drink it (... huh, like the warmth of a hand on a cool grey sky?).

The lager is easy to drink and warms the heart on a cold day. I'm not big on lagers but this one is quite enjoyable. This means something to me... this means something to me... oh, Vienna.

Beer O'Clock rating: 🍺🍺

Give Vienna a try. You can pick it up from Brew Revolution or order it online and have it delivered for a nominal fee.


Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Live at the Emmet Ray

My kid seems to be doing well in Toronto.

As part of her jazz program, she's been able to perform with a lot of very good musicians, hitting venues such as The Rex and The Emmet Ray.

My daughter has put together her own quartet and tonight they will be performing at The Emmet Ray. It's one of those times when I wished that I lived in Toronto. I would love to be in the crowd, cheering her on.

If you live in Toronto and love jazz, check out the Alison Kerfoot Quartet. Show starts at 8.

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Challenges for 2022

I did it again but there's no "oops."

Ever since I signed up for my first Conqueror virtual challenge, I've been receiving promotional offers and notifications of new challenge routes. I don't mind getting these offers in my mail box because I'm genuinely interested in continuing the challenges for as long as I can.

When choosing a challenge to join, I only have one criterion: the distance of the route must be at least 300 kilometres. Because I typically cycle the majority of the route (be it on a spin or road bike), I want the journey to last more than a couple of weeks. In a typical week of cycling, I tend to cover about 150 kms.

Since about the middle of 2016, I vowed to never set foot in the United States again and at first I thought I wouldn't join an American virtual challenge. But I realized that this decision was silly (the virtual challenge one) because I'm not really setting foot in the U.S. and there is some beautiful countryside to see (though, for the majority of my virtual Route 66 journey, the view has been boring).

Even though I've only completed just over two-thirds of my virtual Route 66 challenge and I still have an 805.5-km loop around the Scottish Highlands to complete, I've signed up for three more challenges, each of which I won't start until sometime in 2022.

Last week, I received a notification that there is a new Conqueror virtual challenge and I was intrigued. This challenge takes me to China and follows the Great Wall. It's a 3,513.1-km trail that has me fondly remembering when I visited this colossal structure in 1998, while I was living in South Korea, and thus fulfilled a dream that I had had since I was in elementary school and we studied this colossal human achievement (albeit, on the backs of forced labour).

(I wrote about my experience of visiting the Great Wall of China, making it Roland Axam's memory, in my novel Songsaengnim: A Korea Diary.)

On Black Friday, The Conqueror sent out a promotion, where I could join this new challenge at a 30-percent savings, so I signed up. It was my chance to revisit the Great Wall without setting physically being in China.

Ever since China first detained the two Michaels (Kovrig and Spavor) in retaliation for the house arrest of Meng Wanzhou, who was to be extradited to the U.S. for fraud charges, I had vowed to never set foot on Chinese soil. But as with my vow against the U.S., the pledge is physical.

China is a beautiful country and its citizens are wonderful. I just have a problem with its government.

So, I'm looking forward to starting this trek as soon as I've finished the Scottish challenge.

At the online checkout, I was offered more savings. I could earn an additional 20 percent off the purchase of three more challenges or 17 percent off two more. So I joined two more challenges.

When the Great Wall challenge was announced, I already had considered what my next challenges would be. I would love it if The Conqueror would put together a trans-Canada route, but in the meantime, I began eyeing the Appalachian Trail (3,167.6 kms) and decided to add it to my shopping cart. Looking for some Canadian content, I also added the Cabot Trail (299.4 kms).

I know: the Cabot Trail is under 300 kms (barely), but DW and I drove the Cabot Trail, years ago, and I've always wanted to do it again. The starting line is even at the Alexander Graham Bell Museum, a place that we visited in real life. It was hard to say no to it.

To date, I've covered just over 7,266 kms (as of time of writing this blog post) and I still have 1,188 kms left to go on Route 66. With these three new challenges, plus my Scottish trek, I'd say that 2022 is pretty full.

And these challenges have been much cheaper and way more motivating than a gym membership.

Monday, November 29, 2021


Perhaps it's the short days, the lack of daylight, that is getting to me. I find it even worse on days that are overcast.

Feeling in the dark.
Because I work in our basement—I used to work in the room that DW and I renovated after our elder daughter went away to university, where we set up a home office and had two desks that faced each other: I moved to the basement after our kid came home for the summer and decided to stay put—it's even darker. I have a light, above my head, that has a motion sensor. But when I'm reading from my computer screen or typing away, with very little motion other than my finger tips, the light goes out and the only illumination comes from my computer screens.

I really should get outside, at lunch, but I find that I just don't have the energy. Thankfully, I find the energy at the end of my workday, when I climb the two flights of stairs to my bedroom, hop on my spin bike, and watch the sun set through the window.

I read a blog post that was recommended by a Twitter friend and as soon as I saw the subject, I knew that this was the mental ailment that I was suffering. What I thought was ennui is most likely executive dysfunction.

For months, I've found that I often lose focus on tasks at work. I'll read something several times and it just doesn't sink in. I'm easily distracted. I'm so unorganized that I have to make a list for everything. I have to set alarms to remind me of the simplest tasks.

I attend meetings but almost immediately forget what was discussed unless I write it down. I read an e-mail message but find that my mind wanders halfway through it. I need to take a break before I get back to it.

Another example: last Thursday, my eyes fell to the clock on the taskbar of my computer and I freaked out. I'm late for dropping off my CR-V at the mechanic's shop! I was supposed to be there an hour and a half ago!

My heart started pounding and I scooped up my smartphone and stood up from my desk, ready to race upstairs, rouse DW and jump in both vehicles. And then I remembered that I had driven our vehicle to the auto shop two days earlier. The work on the CR-V had already been completed.


I sat down, tried to calm myself. But I was worried about this total lapse of memory.

We all have a set of so-called executive skills, which includes the following:

  • a working memory
  • the ability to observe and be cognizant of what is going on around us
  • the ability to control our emotions, exercise self-restraint, and tolerate stress
  • the ability to maintain focus
  • the ability to define and achieve goals
  • the ability to plan, prioritize, and initiate a series of tasks
  • the ability to organize and manage time
  • flexibility

As I read the post, I started seeing my recent behavior and started checking off boxes. My memory is awful. When I'm in a stressful situation, I tend to shut down, literally stopping motion, closing my eyes, and doing nothing until the stress fades.

I've already said I can't maintain focus (I had to re-read what I've written to make sure I did, in fact, mention that already). If I don't write something down, I'll forget about it. I start one task and then move onto another, and forget where I left off on the previous task, so I start over.

DW has suggested that perhaps, at some point during this pandemic, I caught COVID-19. Perhaps it happened after I had been fully vaxxed and felt no more effect than being run down. And perhaps the after-effect is the so-called 'brain fog' that other people who had been affected by the virus have dealt with.


I feel that I need a reset. I need a vacation. And yes, DW and I have gotten away for a few days, but these getaways were extended weekends, camping, and for me that's not what I consider to be a true vacation. I haven't had a vacation since May of 2019, when I went to South Korea. I was away from the office for two weeks and came back feeling refreshed.

DW's and my getaways were relaxing, for the most part, but when I returned to work, I didn't feel that I had recharged my batteries.

On December 9, after DW and I finish our workday, we're going to jump in our car and drive to Toronto. We'll check in to a hotel across the street from Pearson International Airport, and get some rest. Early the next morning, hours before the sun comes up, we'll board a plane and fly to Cuba. For a week, we'll stay at an all-inclusive resort, where we'll relax, snorkel, swim, eat, drink, and (hopefully) recharge.

When we return home, our vacation will continue and we'll hopefully enjoy the Christmas holidays. I don't have to think about work until Tuesday, January 4.

And with any luck, my brain will be better. Hopefully, I'll be able to focus and achieve tasks.

If this doesn't happen, I'll seek professional help, knowing that getting away from it all wasn't enough.

I'm overwhelmed, as many of us are. I'm hopeful that in 11 days, that'll turn around.