Monday, October 31, 2011

Still Fantastic, Six Years On

If someone were to hand you a bottle of beer and say, "Enjoy... and by the way, it's six years old," would you drink it?

Probably not.

If that person were to hand you the beer and say nothing, you may open it and be in for a nasty surprise as you actually tasted the old, flat, skunky brew.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend handed me a plastic grocery bag that contained four bottles of beer, but he said nothing of what the beer was nor of its age. The labels on the bottles did all the talking, and I was thrilled by what they said.

My friend, Perry, was the owner and brewmaster of the Scotch-Irish Brewing Company, which he sold some years back to Heritage Brewing, which is now owned by Kichessippi Beer Company. In the seven or eight years that he ran his brewery, Perry made some of the best beers that I ever tasted. He single-handedly got me away from the mainstream beers and onto premium, hand-crafted microbrewery beer.

The Scotch-Irish Brewing Company was well-known in the Ottawa area, in Hamilton, and Guelph, among other Ontario cities, for flavourful ales such as Session Ale, Sgt. Major's IPA, and Black Irish Porter (affectionately known as Perry's Porter, or pee-pee). But in 2005, Perry did something really special.

Perry created a vintage Imperial Stout. It was his crowning achievements of the Scotch-Irish Brewing Company, and one of the last beers he crafted before selling his brewery to Heritage.

Named Tsarina Katarina Imperial Stout, the heady brew (at 9% alcohol) was named after Catherine the Great, of Russia, who purportedly enjoyed a good stout. It was also named after Perry's young daughter. But what made this stout particulary special was its aging potential. So much so, that Perry affixed a vintage label to the neck of the bottle. The beer was released in the autumn of 2005. Perry believed that this stout could last as long as ten years.

When I bought my case from him (at the time, it was $75 for 24), I told him that I probably couldn't hold out for ten years. The stout had a creamy head and had intense, creamy chocolate tones. Though the alcohol content was high, there was no high alcohol flavour. Sure, after two bottles you felt it, but it was a satisfying feeling.

My case lasted almost a year. I tried to limit myself to two bottles a month, but dammit, it was great beer! And, of course, when I visited Perry's home, he would have more on hand.

Which brings us to two weeks ago, when Perry gave me four more bottles of the brew as I left his dinner party. It had been at least three years since I had seen any of this stout, and I was quite excited. I wanted to see how well it had held up in the six years since Perry had first made it.

The first thing I noticed when I twisted off the cap was how tight the cap was screwed on. Using a tea towel for a safe grip, I really had to wrench that sucker off. And the second thing I noticed was the absence of the pffft! that you get when opening a carbonated beverage. It made a faint ssss, but barely.

Pouring the stout into my glass, there was a faint presence of effervescence, but only slight. By the time my glass was full, there was barely a head. But there was evidence of carbonation. Some bubbles clung to the side of the glass and rumbled at the top. Inside my now-empty bottle, some sediment. Dark, sandy dregs.

The beer was still black and inviting. No light passed through the glass. On smelling it, there were distinct notes of cedar and tobacco. No hint of alcohol in the nose, though the aroma was intoxicating.

On my first sip, I was immediately hit with flavours of burnt caramel and unsweetened dark chocolate. The cedar aromas that I had smelled carried through to the palate and down the back of the throat. As with the younger version of this beer, there was no strong flavour of alcohol.

Tsarina Katarina Imperial Stout has held up extremely well over six years. I thoroughly enjoyed drinking it. It reminded me of what a craftsman Perry truly is. Though I'm unsure how well this stout will hold up for its tenth anniversary: the carbonation is almost gone now; it may be completely gone in another year or two. And how will the flavour hold up?

I think that this stout has hit its peak. I loved it when it was young, I really liked it after six years. I'm not sure if I'll enjoy it in another four.

But Perry, if you still have some in 2015 and offer me a bottle, I'd never turn it down!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Going Bananas

I'm doing a couple of things here: I'm playing with my iPhone, snapping pics and playing with the Camera+ app; I'm also testing a new app.

It's Blogger for iPhone.

I wanted to see if I could post to my blog from a mobile device. You know, in case I was desperate to get news out quickly and didn't have access to my laptop.

Who knows? It could happen...

Friday, October 28, 2011

Photo Friday: The Only Sound Is Water Drops

For some reason, I can't look at this photo without Cuckoo Cocoon running through my head. Hence, the title of this post.

To me, this photo gives a 3-D illusion, as though I had captured raindrops falling from the sky. But in truth, they had already landed.

The other day, I was standing outside my office as the rain fell, getting some fresh air while trying to deal with tight deadlines. Because it was raining, I wasn't inclined to venture very far from the building, and so I stood under the covered entrance in the strip mall where I work.

I watched the rain bounce off of the hoods and rooves of the parked cars that were lined up against the facing of the mall, most of them faced towards me. The rain streaked off some hoods, pooled in others, spread like thin, transparent coatings on a few.

One car appeared to have been recently washed, the rain drops beaded like pearls on the hood. And the way that the light caught the water droplets also caught my eyes. So I pulled out my iPhone and snapped the photo.

Believe it or not, the car was black. But because it was so shiny, it reflected the light. And I also did some serious manipulation of the photo I snapped. The first thing I did after taking the photo was to apply a polarizing filter to the image. With that done, I then applied a lo-fi filter to the new image. And what you see here is the result.

Afterwards, I imported this photo into Instagram, where I applied one more filter: Kelvin. If you follow me on Instagram, you've already seen it.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

It's Got to Stop

I don't think there is a single person in Ottawa who doesn't know who Jamie Hubley is by now, and as of Tuesday evening there are many more Canadians who know who he is, thanks to Rick Mercer.

Bullying has to stop. Everyone has to see to it that it does.

That is all.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Every day, I have to remind myself of a task that I accomplished earlier this year: I wrote a novel.

That is no surprise to many of you who follow me (and in case I haven't said it enough, thank you for following me and for supporting me in my writing and photography: you rock!). I talked about it at length after I finished it and there is a link to it in the right-hand column of this blog. It's been available on its own blog site for years—as I wrote it—and it has been available as a Kindle download since May. I have even started the groundwork for a sequel, though that hasn't seen much movement in a very long time.

But I haven't really spoken much of my novel since the spring. And here's why:

I'm using a self-publishing company to produce printed copies of the book, and shortly after publishing my story through Amazon, I submitted my manuscript to the publisher. The publisher is iUniverse and they have an affiliation with Chapters, so they told me that I could have my book, Songsaengnim: A Korea Diary, on the bookshelves by the fall.

Great, I thought. That time frame seemed really good to me.

A couple of weeks after I submitted my manuscript, I received feedback from the editor—a service that was included. The editor provided some excellent feedback and made some suggestions on how I could improve the story. What I liked about the comments was that they confirmed some things that I myself thought about the story. They also echoed some of the comments I got from those of you who read the rough draft that I posted online while I was writing the book.

I spoke with the publisher after I went through the feedback, and I said that I liked most of what I read and would implement the changes. I said that I'd take a month to do it and would resubmit the manuscript when I was done. There was no rush, the publisher said: there were no deadlines.

Here's what's happened since then:
  • Summer happened—who wants to sit at a computer when there is fabulous weather to enjoy. In truth, I would take my laptop out to a pub patio and work on the changes, but I started doing that less and less.
  • Work deadlines happened—after all, I have a 40-hour-a-week job. Projects came up, deadlines that earned me my paycheque happened. That's life. Some days, I would be too tired from a long day of writing in the office to go home and write some more.
  • Vacation happened—Cape Cod was too nice to spend in front of a keyboard. And then there was Boston. And then Toronto.
  • School happened—the kids went back to a routine, and Lori and I wanted to ensure that they stuck to it. So we sat and made sure that they did their homework. And we took them to music lessons. And swimming lessons. And gymnastics. And dance.
  • Taiwan happened—twice a year, Lori goes to Taipei for business. While she's gone, all my time is wrapped up in taking care of the kids. When I got a moment to myself, I was too tired. And for a few days, I was sick, so there was no way I had the energy to write.
  • My blogging and photography happened—yes, I was distracting myself away from writing by writing. I'm addicted to my blog. I've rediscovered my love for my camera. Sue me.
  • More work deadlines happened—I'm currently working my way through three projects, putting in lots of overtime to meet the deadlines. I'm busier at work than I've ever been, so much so that I fear I'm approaching burnout. But I persist.
I need to get back to my book. As it is, I'll be lucky if Songsaengnim hits the bookstores in the new year. So I'm going to cut back on my blogging, starting next week, when my work deadlines are over. I'll start posting every couple of days, rather than the five to six times a week that I'm currently churning out stuff.

The time that I currently spend writing blog posts will be used to put the final changes on to my book. And by the end of November, I will resubmit the book to iUniverse.

And then we'll see. Stay tuned.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Worth the Wait

Last week, the family and I attended a dinner party with some very good friends that we hadn't seen in more than two years. It was a fabulous get-together that reminded us all that two years is way too long to let slip before seeing each other.

The friends that we visited are all wine aficionados, most of them having either worked in the wine business, taught wine-appreciation classes, worked in the restaurant industry, or have made wine themselves. Suffice to say, they know wine.

So it was no surprise to have an abundance of fine wines at the dinner party. And it was a perfect opportunity for us to share a bottle of wine that we've been wanting to open for some time.

For those of you who have been following me for a while, you learned in January that I was hanging on to a bottle of Brunello di Montalcino that I bought in Montalcino in 2004. Lori and I were celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary with a trip to Tuscany, and I wanted to pick up something special. And thanks to Lori's flirting with the wine merchant ("what's your favourite wine?") and my ability to read a wine chart ("do you have that wine in a '97?"), we walked away with a really nice bottle. We packed it carefully, brought it home, and kept it in our cellar, waiting for the perfect moment to open it.

That moment was last week at our friends' dinner party.

It was a 1997 Col D'Orcia. The wine had a burnt-red colour: not brown; not ruby. It was a dark, brick red. The nose had a rich, earthy aroma. And the flavour in the mouth was clearly tannin-driven, though there was still a hint of cherries and a pepper finish. It was at its peak: another year, and any fruit would have been lost. It was the perfect time to share it.

There were other great wines of the evening, and I thought I'd brag tell you about them. The following is a mini review, told by someone who hasn't appreciated such good wines in a long time, so don't laugh at me if I use simple words to describe them. I like using words like "yummy" at wine tastings. I'm not a pretentious wine drinker. I just know what I like. So here goes:

Sumptuary Zinfandel 2007: one of my friends at this event—Andy—introduced me to California Zins many years ago, and I am eternally grateful. Before, I always associated Zinfandel as a blush wine, a type that I really don't like. Andy introduced me to red Zinfandels, the way I think they're intended.

I find them quite complex, so full of flavour. This Zinfandel was rich in fruit with a chocolate finish. It could have aged longer, but right now I think that it's drinking beautifully. It's just the way I like a Zin: sumptuous.

Wayne Gretzky Estate Series 2007 Pinot Noir: this was a big Pinot. I had my doubts when I saw The Great One's name affiliated with a winery and didn't think that the wine would be great. And while it was very good, I think calling it "great" would be a bit of a stretch. But I did enjoy it. Again, there were a lot of tannins driving this wine, so perhaps a couple more years would add finesse.

I suppose I shouldn't have been that surprised by the quality of the wine. Lots of exceptional Pinot Noirs come from the Niagara Peninsula, so why not Gretzky's?

Two Hands 2008 Sophie's Garden Padthaway Shiraz: I love, love, LOVE Australian Shiraz. If you ever want to give me a gift, remember that I love Aussie Shiraz. This wine was my favourite of the evening. Deep red, bordering on purple. Rich, jammy fruit on the nose, with hints of mint or even mild eucalyptus. Solid, ripe fruit on the palate and a slightly hot finish. I could have consumed this wine all night. I found it went particularly well with our pork tenderloin main course—especially with a little goat cheese on top. I can feel it in my mouth even now, remembering the experience. Hands down (two hands, down), my favourite of the bunch.

Another wine that we had but for which I didn't shoot the label was our friend's wine. Andy makes the most amazing wines, and he offered a 13-year-old Pinot Noir from his collection. Normally, I don't think of Pinots as a wine that can age, but Andy's hit it bang-on. There were still definite notes of cherries, and the pepper finish was wonderful. So good.

There's nothing better than an evening of good wines with great friends. After more than two years, it was a gathering that was long overdue. But waiting until this time to open these wines was well worth the wait.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Horror of Corruption

This isn't a Photo Friday. Even though I used my new lens to shoot the pictures in this post, the subject in the photos is pretty lame for a Photo Friday. Read on before you look at the attached pictures.

I've been pretty busy at work this week, hence my lack of a blog post yesterday. And I'm going to apologize up front for a lame post today, but please bear with me. I'm pretty stressed these days and don't have a lot of time to think of a topic, let alone write about it.

At work, I have two deadlines that are looming for next week. And because other little tasks that have become bigger tasks have snuck in between my main projects, I'm finding myself in a crunch that is putting me into a panic. I'm starting to think that I might not be able to meet my deadlines, and that drives me nuts.

And so I worked over the past weekend and put in extra hours through the week. I told myself that unless anything bad happened, I just might get enough completed to hand off without shame.

And then, something bad happened. On Wednesday, I opened my project folder and found that some of my files were corrupted, meaning that I couldn't open them. And on top of that, the program that I use didn't make a backup file.

And then the horror of knowing I had done a rookie move struck me: I hadn't backed up my work on our server for a couple of weeks. All my work, down the drain.

Had you been in the office when I couldn't retrieve my files, you would have heard me screaming "F@CK! F@CK! F@CK!" like an angry sufferer of Tourette's.

But I'm better now. I was able to retrieve an older version of my file and repiece most of what I have lost from other files. Thank goodness for text insets. The work that took me more than a week to write was fixed in one day. One very, very long day.

But when I put my file back together and then jumped to where I was working before the corruption fiasco, I discovered an added character at the beginning of my section heading.

The character was also repeated in the header:

At least the character was trying to put me in a good mood after all the time I lost. You know, trying to tell me, Don't worry, be happy!

Happy Friday, and wish me luck as I scramble to meet my deadlines.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Known By My Camera

I've been invited to do some beta testing again.

Over the summer, I was testing the latest photo-editing software from Corel, Paintshop Pro X4. I've been using Paintshop for a few years now, so beta-testing the latest installment was a lot of fun. I could play with the new features and provide feedback, some that was even incorporated into the final product. And some of my photos are even used in the product itself, to illustrate some of the features.

So yesterday, I was asked again to test another product. At this time, I'm not at liberty to say which product, but stay tuned.

Because the folks at Corel know the type of camera I use, I had been affectionately known as "Mr. D80." At the beginning of the summer, when I learned about this nickname, I laughed. Sure, I loved my Nikon. It's not a professional camera, but I'm not a professional photographer. At best, I'm a hobbyist. An amateur. I love photography, and I have fun taking photos.

The D80 was designed for people like me. At the time, the only other top-end model for amateurs was the D90, and I chose not to go for that model because I wasn't interested in having a video feature on a still camera, and I didn't want to pay for a feature that I didn't want.

My D80 has served me well. Sure, there was that time earlier this year when the circuit board blew on it. I was without my camera for more than a month and it cost more than $250 to fix. But it worked wonderfully up until then and it's been great ever since.

But I'm not married to my D80. I'm not committed for life. I would eventually like to upgrade. I've looked at the D7000 a couple of times, thinking that I might go for it when the price eventually drops.

If I did that, would I be known by the folks at Corel as "Mr. D7000"? I hope not.

The subject line for my invitation to participate in the next beta testing was Mr D80? At first, when I saw it, I smiled. And then I stopped. I thought about the nickname. And I knew that I was already bored with it.

The camera does not define me. It doesn't even define my photos. Over the months, as I've shot photos from my Nikon and my iPhone, I see that I can take decent shots with both. It's my eye that defines the composition, my thoughts that identify the subject, and the editing software that helps me bring my photos to life.

I'm not crazy about being called Mr. D80. How about "Ross"?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Hold On To Your Friends

I want to start off this post by saying that I have the greatest friends.

That's pretty much all I want to say. Thanks for stopping by my blog.

* * *

Actually, there's more that I want to stay. Don't go away just yet.

On Saturday, the girls and I drove out to Fitzroy Harbour to join friends for a dinner party. I was looking forward to this gathering for some time, because it's always good to be with these friends and to catch up, share some outstanding wine, eat some great food, and share some laughs.

It wasn't until we were all together—Astrid, Perry, Andy, Shirley, Sandy, and Rob—that we were able to remark with some surprise that we hadn't seen each other in more than two years. Time flies with amazing speed: while my friends hadn't changed much (okay, a little: Sandy and Rob had finally tied the knot; Astrid and Perry had lost weight and looked fantastic), we were only able to remark on the passing of time by noticing how much the kids had changed since we last got together.

Two years is way too long to let slip between getting together. Sure, life gets busy, but what is the point of enjoying life if you can't make the time to be with those you care about?

I told my friends that I missed them and that I never wanted to let such a long amount of time get between seeing them again. To press the point, I shared some sad news that I only learned of last week. And I now want to share it with you:

Last Wednesday, while I sat in the waiting area of L's gymnastic class, I ran into an old friend, Lucy, who I had known from the days when she and I worked at the bank. Those were great days, when I had made some good friends with co-workers. In the six years that I worked at the bank, many of those friends were as close as family. Lucy was one of those friends.

We reminisced about those days in the bank, talked about the people we knew and wondered what had become of them.

One of my best friends from the days at the bank was a guy named Phil. He was a laid-back, funny, caring, and hard-working fellow who called everyone "Bud." He said that whether he knew your name or not, he preferred to call you "Bud" because that way, he'd never make the mistake of calling anyone by the wrong name.

Phil and I spent almost as many ours together outside of bank hours than in them. Card games at his apartment, enjoying some quarts of beer at the restaurant across from the bank, a day at La Ronde in Montréal, a weekend during Homecoming in Kingston, at Queen's University (neither of us had gone to Queen's but I had a few friends who we went to visit).

When Lori and I went to Korea, I kept in touch with Phil. I sent him postcards and we exchanged e-mail messages. And when I returned to Canada and started looking for a job, Phil helped me get a job by simply going to his manager and telling him to hire me. I started work the very next day.

When I started work as a technical writer at Corel, Phil and I got together less and less. He started another job away from the bank and we lost touch altogether. It was only a couple of years ago, when another of my friends, Andrew—who didn't know before that Phil and I were buds—told me that he dealt with Phil through his company, and that when Phil discovered that Andrew knew me, he said to say hi. I told Andrew to give Phil my contact info and Andrew gave me Phil's. I contacted Phil once, but never heard back from him.

Last week, I told Lucy about my failure to contact Phil and added, "I'd really like to see him again. I feel bad about us losing contact and would love to re-establish our friendship."

Lucy's face dropped. "You haven't heard? Phil passed away last May."

My heart sunk. Apparently, Phil had cancer and had lost his short battle in the spring. I was shocked, speechless. I immediately looked up his obituary online, on my iPhone. And there he was. Poor Phil: gone at 42.

I've been thinking of Phil ever since Lucy broke the news. I deeply regret not making an extra effort in keeping in touch. In not seeing him again.

I love my friends. They are the greatest. And I need to make a better effort at reaching out to see them. The dinner party on Saturday night made me realize how much I missed my friends. I have other friends who I haven't seen in a long time, and I need to reach out to them. To let them know I haven't forgotten them and that I care.

Hold on to your friends. Keep them close. Because you never know what tomorrow brings.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Photo Friday: Full Swing

Autumn is in full swing. The city has been highlighted in reds, oranges, and yellows. And despite the rain and wind, there are more leaves still on the trees than on the ground.

And yet, there are plenty of leaves on the ground, which makes me wonder: how many good cycling days have I left? A couple of years ago, the wheels of my bike slipped out from under me in the early morning, as I rode to work. Moisture, a little frost, and a leaf-coated pathway made for conditions that made me want to hang up my bike for the season. The huge bruise on my butt sealed the deal.

I'm crossing my fingers for a few more nice days. Here's to autumn, but no falls!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Taking Responsibility

Photo courtesy Facebook, via CTV

On Tuesday morning, when I read the live, unfolding Twitter feed surrounding Danielle Naçu, a large, heavy weight fell on my chest. Another cyclist involved in a road accident. Another cyclist whose life came to a sudden, tragic end. My hand went to my mouth as the horrific details were tweeted, as pictures of a bent bicycle and shattered helmet on the road next to an automobile were posted.

When Danielle woke up on Tuesday morning, she was unaware that it was her last morning. Getting on her bike, she didn't know that it was her last ride. She didn't know that Queen Street was the last place she'd draw breath. That a car door was the last thing she'd see.

It's every cyclist's nightmare: the fear of being knocked down in the street, only to be run over by traffic. When we learned the details of Danielle's demise, the blame fell squarely on the driver. The driver was clearly negligent in opening his or her door without checking; no doubt, distracted or in too much of a rush. For a split second, the driver failed to take care and thus sent poor Danielle off her bike and into the path of the passing automobile.

But is the driver of the parked car the only one at fault?

I know I'm going to annoy some readers in saying this, but didn't Danielle herself bear some of the responsibility? Did she not fail to look out for herself?

I'm a cyclist and a driver. And because I am, I see this accident from both sides. And believe me, this was an accident—no matter who's to blame.

When you're on a bicycle, you are extremely vulnerable when you're on the street, regardless of whether you have the right of way or not. You are on a vehicle, and when you mix with other vehicles you are at risk of colliding with them. And if you tangle with a car, you're going to lose, just as assuredly as if you were in a sub-compact car and you collide with a massive dump truck.

There is always a risk when a cyclist passes a car. We never know what to expect, and so we have to plan for whatever is thrown at us. And so we should give parked cars a wide birth.

I have been trying to teach my kids that lesson for some time now. And I always get nervous when I follow behind them on our bikes and we pass cars. They still need practice in giving plenty of room around the cars to avoid doors while not swinging out too far into traffic. But they're getting there.

I'm not saying Danielle didn't know this rule. But just as the driver forgot his rule of looking before opening his door, Danielle forgot her rule about making room, should a car door suddenly open.

Right or wrong, Danielle neglected to take care of her own safety. We all make mistakes; unfortunately, this mistake had fatal consequences.

I'm not letting the driver off the hook. This is a clear case of negligence causing death. Just as sure as the driver would be charged if he ran a red light and struck Danielle, I think the same penalty should apply. He was not in control of his vehicle, and as a result somebody died.

But Danielle should have been more careful too. Had she given a wider birth, she would have made it to work that morning. Blaming only the driver is like Danielle saying "I put my life in your hands and trusted that you wouldn't kill me." As cyclists, we must do everything we can to keep our lives in our own hands.

Because arguing the point later is moot when you're dead.

My heart goes out to the family, friends, and colleagues of Danielle. It also goes out to the driver who ran over Danielle, and even to the driver of the parked car, who, in one moment of careless negligence, caused so much sorrow.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Ten Years Gone

Today marks the 10-year anniversary of my father's death, and I wouldn't have remembered had I not put a reminder in my calendar.

I know that sounds terrible, but if you knew our relationship you would understand.

My father left us when I was five. At 27, he didn't want to be tied down with a wife and three kids. He wanted to be responsible for himself only—a free spirit who could come and go as he pleased.

My mother gave me this explanation when I was an adult, living on my own. I might have dismissed her story as coming from the embittered person who was left behind with the three children. But my mom certainly wasn't bitter: she knew that she was better off without my dad and wouldn't have given up her kids for the world.

My dad himself confirmed this story when I was in my mid 30s, when he also told me that the biggest regret in his life was marrying my mother. He said that he should never have shown up at the altar. When I replied with an "I'm glad you did marry Mom. Otherwise, [my sisters] and I wouldn't have been born," his response was one that even today rings loudly and clearly in my head.

“Sometimes, I think you’d have been better off not being born.”

In the first few years after my father left us, my sisters and I barely saw him. He still worked in Ottawa but we didn't know where he lived. My mother had trouble getting ahold of him on the phone, to get him to visit us and spend some time with his kids. My memories of the time that we did spend together are filled with hours spent with his friends, watching baseball games on TV or just sitting around talking amongst themselves, while my sisters and I entertained ourselves. When he was supposed to be spending quality time with us, he would instead follow his passion of train-watching: we'd sit by crossings or near the rail yards, waiting for the trains to come through, confirming that they were keeping to their schedules. My father would prattle on about the types of locomotives; my sisters and I, bored beyond belief in the back seat of the car.

To keep us sweet, there was always the promise of a trip to Dairy Queen afterwards. Bribery?

There were many times where my mother could not get in touch with my dad at all. She had no idea where he was, whether he was dead or alive. I remember hearing one-sided arguments over the phone about child support; namely, that my father wasn't paying it. I learned later that my folks fought in court over child support, that my dad was ordered to pay, did so for a while, but then stopped again. My mother, who eventually remarried a man who took my sisters and me on as his own, was happy to support us. And with that, my dad felt he was off the hook.

I still remember one time, when I was aged somewhere between 8-10, when my dad came to our door. I was the one who answered it, and I didn't even recognize him. I didn't know my own dad. That's how seldom I saw him when I was young.

It wasn't until my older sister moved out that my dad made more appearances, but even at that, we only saw him a couple of times a year. And it didn't take long to catch on to why he seemed to take more of an interest in us: we had grown up and were no longer little kids. And because he no longer lived in Ottawa, he needed a place to crash when he visited. He used my sister for her sofa.

When I had a place of my own—when Lori and I were living together and my sister was no longer living in Ottawa—my dad would crash with us. He would come to town with little notice, expecting us to drop any plans that we may have made and commit our time to him. Once, when Lori and I weren't expecting him, he showed up on our doorstep. He had dinner with us and then said, "well, I'd better get my things from my car." That was our first notification that he was going to be staying at our apartment. He didn't ask; he just assumed.

When I was in my mid 30s, the relationship between my dad and I really deteriorated. It happened shortly after Lori and I went on vacation in Southern Ontario, where we camped, hiked, and then planned to spend some time on the Niagara Peninsula, exploring the wine region and taking in some plays at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake. My dad, then living in Ancaster, near Hamilton, asked us to make a side trip to see him. We hadn't planned on it, because while his town was along the way, it was a bit of a detour and Lori and I had plans to see a play. But I told my dad that I would contact him the day before we would be passing through, and we would arrange a time to meet up.

I spent hours in a nowhere town, at a phone booth, instead of hiking, trying, without success, to reach my dad. It was a wasted day, with no plans made. And so Lori and I continued with our original plans, only we had that wasted day.

When we finally returned to Ottawa, I called my dad and asked him what had happened. That we tried for hours to reach him. His answer: "I forgot."

He forgot to spend time with his son? I wonder how that would have gone over had he planned to come to Ottawa and I went away, forgetting about him?

And so I hung up on him. When the phone rang again, I lifted the receiver and hung up again. And then, for the next half hour, I ignored the ringing phone.

When I finally answered it, I had it out with my dad. I talked about how he never thought of his kids, how he was selfish. How, when he did think of calling us or visiting us, he was always negative, always complaining about something or someone, always talking about how the world had shit on him. And he was a racist, with his ugly comments about Pakis, Spics, and (ironically) Chirpers (both of his folks came from the U.K.)—something I couldn't tolerate.

I told him that for the growing years of my life, he was almost never there. That he only took an interest in his kids when he felt that we had something to offer him. My father was a taker, not a giver. Not when it came to his kids, that is.

We talked on the phone for more than three hours. I told him how I felt about him. "To me," I said, "you've never seemed like more than an uncle that I see only once in a while. But with your negativity, you're my obnoxious uncle."

"As long as you don't hate me," he said at one point in our conversation. "I don't think I could handle it if any of my kids hated me."

"I don't hate you," I said. "Right now, I don't feel anything for you."

I don't know if I said that to hurt him, but I don't think I did. I didn't want to hurt him; I just wanted to be open and honest about my feelings towards him. Not just during that phone call, but for my entire life.

When my dad left our family, I was hurt. I wanted to run away with him. When my mother remarried, I made it loudly clear that no other man was going to replace my dad. As I got older, I had faced many disappointments over not being able to reach my dad, or in being promised of a visit, only to be let down when that visit never took place. As a young adult, I saw my sisters and I being used for a place to stay. At one time, we were used by our dad as a way to impress a love interest—even though he had nothing to do with our upbringing, he wanted to show us off, to show that he was a doting parent (it failed miserably for him).

After our long phone conversation, our relationship was never the same. I only cared to talk to him if he had pleasant things to say. He had to take an interest in what was going on in my life, and he had to remember things so that he could bring them up in subsequent conversations. He had to actually tell me what was going on in his life—who his friends were, what he did for fun (besides watching baseball), what he actually cared about. I learned a little about his life, but I could tell he wasn't comfortable with our chats. And the calls came less and less frequently. I never initiated a call.

Shortly after Sarah was born, my dad came to town. My older sister was living in Ottawa again, so he stayed with her. But I didn't see him: I had made plans to repaint a room in our house, and I wasn't going to cancel that chore. When the Browns had a family reunion, I didn't want to attend. I didn't want to be my dad's son. I didn't want to pretend we had any sort of relationship. At the last Brown reunion, I had heard too many times from relatives who didn't really know me how wonderful a father I had. I didn't need to hear that again; especially because this time, my father was sick.

When Sarah was five months old, my father came to town again, and this time I visited him. He met my daughter for the first time, and I saw him hold her, cuddle her, and show real love. I had never seen him show so much love for anyone. And it made me wonder: was he ever like that with me? With my sisters?

I never saw him again. He died two months later.

I remember when I learned the news. I arrived home from work: Lori was still on maternity leave, and she had heard the news from my mother. She was waiting for me to walk through the front door to give me the news. He had had a heart attack. He had gone quickly, by all accounts. A neighbour, who was planning to share breakfast, found him. He had died while brushing his teeth, before going to bed the night before.

I took the news calmly. I told Lori I was fine. I called my mother, looking for more information. Was there going to be a funeral? No: he donated his body to the medical research facility at McMaster University. What was to become of his belongings? He had already made one of his brothers the executor of his will, but there was no one to box up his belongings in his apartment. My older sister was going to go and help my uncle. I agreed to go along.

My father died a lonely man with few possessions. Packing up his belongings, I learned very little about what kind of person he was. There were few pictures. Few things that showed a man beyond his love of trains and baseball. I left his apartment feeling nothing but pity for a man that wanted to be responsible for no one but himself, and who ended up with no one but himself.

It's been 10 years since he's been gone and I had to write this occasion down to remember it at all. I remember remarking on the day of his death that he died exactly one month after 9/11. That's how I remembered the date. I remembered the one-year anniversary for the same reason.

How do I feel? I'm okay. I'm sorry he died, but he was a man I really didn't know. When he was absent, I didn't think about him. In the 10 years that he's been gone, I haven't really thought about him.

But because he was my dad, I feel that I should do something to commemorate the day he left for good.

And if this isn't the warm commemoration that you would have expected from a son, I hope that you now understand why.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Thanksgiving Sunset

We couldn't have asked for a better Thanksgiving weekend in the Ottawa area. Sunshine, summer-like temperatures. And the vibrant colours of the Autumn leaves.

Whether you're celebrating Thanksgiving, Columbus Day, or whatever holiday befalls you, get out there and enjoy the day!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Essence of Photography

Thank you to all of you who voted on my poll to help me select the best of my photos for the Worldwide Photo Walk. Some of you clicked a choice on the poll, others left comments on my blog posts, and some even contacted me by e-mail. Thanks!

The winning shot was my picture of the door on the abandoned City of Ottawa Sewage Operations building on Bayview Road. The great irony of a door, adorned with a large sign that read "Come In," yet had a padlock and reinforced mesh on the glass. Lots of the photographers for the walk couldn't resist taking a shot of that door.

The irony in having that photo selected as my best lies in the fact that despite all of the photos that I shot with my Nikon D80, this photo was shot on my iPhone. The only post-production work was performed on the spot, by using the Instagram filters.

Perhaps your choice is a testament to the quality of the camera on my phone. It is a far cry from the camera on my old phone, but I've discussed that issue already.

My favourite picture is my shot of the fallen maple leaves. There's something about the vibrancy of the colour of the leaves. Admittedly, I did tweak the photo afterwards, as the colour of the sidewalk can attest. I also like the photo of the rocky surface along the Ottawa River, near the inukshuks. The cheesy surface of micro craters. Again, I tweaked the shot afterwards, brought out colour to an otherwise bland rock.

Both of my favourite shots were taken with my D80, which makes me wonder: do I prefer them because they were shot with a bona fide camera? A much more expensive camera?

Both of these photos were shot at my feet and took a bit of work to get in focus: I was using my 70–300mm lens, and the minimum focal distance is just beyond my height. I had to stand on tiptoe and stretch my body as long as I could to get the objects into focus. I had to stand still. And before all that, I had to select my camera settings—to determine the exposure. These photos were not simply the result of just pointing and shooting.

And to me, that's the essence of photography. Shooting the door was easy; it was an effortless photo op. It called to me.

Shooting the fallen leaves, the rocky ground, took more effort, more thought. I had to seek them out.

All of this said, I do really like the "Come In" shot too. After the leaves and the rock, it's one of my favourites. Having you choose it as your favourite validates my decision to include it. So once again, thanks for helping me decide the shot to submit to the photo walk.