Monday, December 31, 2012

My Favourite Photos of 2012

For me, 2012 was inspiring. My love of photography was renewed to a point where I now carry my camera bag practically wherever I go.

And when I don't have my D-SLR, I have my iPhone. And judging by the number of photos that I chose as my favourite of the year, the iPhone ruled in 2012. Eight of the following photos were shot with my iPhone 4: can you tell which ones they are?

I took thousands of photos this year. I led and attended three photo walks, and I joined a photographers' meetup group that allowed me to gain some experience in a studio, working with models. It's been great.

As we wrap up 2012, I thought I'd share a few of my favourite photos with you. It was no small feat, as I had to look at them all and take a deep breath as I said yes to some, no to others.

Here's what I came up with:

On a snowy day in January, I found myself in Smiths Falls. And looking down this street, I could have sworn that I was transported in time.

This bridge is the most picturesque in the city, but only in the winter. Shot from the canal during Winterlude, this tunnel leads to Patterson Creek.

I shot this flower during my spring photo walk. What draws my eye to it is the fact that the intense colours almost give it the impression of being a painting. Of the many flowers I've shot over the years, this is one of my all-time favourites.

This was shot on my iPhone. Sarah, who was having fun with a plastic cup in the pool at our hotel in Hollywood Beach, Florida, threw water in the air over and over again, never tiring of the action, lost in her own world. Simple joy.

Again, shot with my iPhone, this photo of a restaurant balcony in Charleston, South Carolina, was rendered to the point of looking like a painting. I love the granularity and the colour saturation.

We packed up the family and took the train to Montréal in late July, where we caught up with some great friends. Across the street from our hotel (which you can see through the glass) was the Palais des congres—the congress centre. At this particular time of day, the sun lit up the foyer, and I couldn't resist a few shots, with both my D-SLR and my iPhone. This was the best of all the photos and was taken with my (surprise!) iPhone. I love how the outside, seen through the front doors, looks almost black and white, compared with the vibrant colour on the inside.

Also shot in Montréal, this was in the old sector. Again, my iPhone captured the image.

Both of these shots were taken during my summer photo walk. I love the glass and steel in my city.

I attended an Instagram photo walk this summer, which meant that my iPhone had to be used. I didn't mind: using my iPhone exclusively meant that I had to be more creative, which also meant that I had to get better angles and rely on photo-editing software on my phone to provide the results I wanted. I also shot the following image during the same walk.

I saw this abandoned house a couple of years ago but didn't investigate it until this fall. I wasn't even sure if it would still be standing. If it's still there next summer, I'd like to see about getting permission to go inside to take more photos. It would be perfect for a model shoot.

Speaking of model shoots, this was taken at the first model shoot that I attended. Of all the photos I took, this one is, by far, my favourite.

Every so often, I mess around with HDR effects. I say "mess around" because I have a long way to go to master this effect. This shot (actually, it's three shots, meshed together) was taken at Pink Lake in Gatineau Park.

There's something magical about autumn sunsets. This one, shot at Lac Bernard, was taken without filters or special effects. This is how the sky looked, and why this shot is a keeper.

So these are my favourite photos of 2012. I'm already excited about what 2013 will bring.

Happy New Year! All the best to you for the coming year. Thanks for reading The Brown Knowser and for following me.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Rewind: December 24-28, 2012

Well, I've survived my first week of Christmas vacation. The presents are opened, the belly is full, and company has been shared (I hope to share more company in the coming week).

Today, we are expecting yet again more snow. Having shovelled about 15 cm or so more than a week ago and another 30 cm a couple of days ago, I think that Mother Nature has already made her point: it's winter.

So while we wait for another 5 cm to fall today, why not take a moment to catch up on the past week of The Brown Knowser:
  • Operation: Christmas—I like the retelling of this Christmas tale. And judging by the responses I received, you did too.
  • Wordless Wednesday: White Out—the day after our first big storm, the wind blew the snow around and caused havoc on the roads in my neighbourhood. After driving this road many times, driving my girls back and fourth between dance practices, I finally stopped and pulled out my camera. I only wish I had a hat and gloves... brrr!
  • Time Off—because Tuesday was Christmas, I took some time off from writing. But I thought I'd let you know about the tradition for the holiday at the Brownfoot homestead.
  • Photo Friday: White—on a beautiful Boxing Day, the affects of the snowstorm lay evident in the surrounding trees.
That's it. Just a short week. Because I'll still be on holiday until January 7, I can't guarantee that I'll blog every day next week. But you know me: I'll find time to jabber about something. And on Monday, I'll be showing my favourite photos of 2012.

Enjoy your weekend!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Photo Friday: White

One of the things I love about a snow storm is how the wind seems to press the snow against trees, the cold locks it on.

Five days after the last snow storm (and yes, we just got over another one yesterday... thank you, Mother Nature), I was able to shoot this photo. Because the temperature hadn't dropped, the sun was not able to shake the snow from the boughs.

It's truly a winter wonderland in the 'hood. I'm sure I'll have lots to shoot this season.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Time Off

As the year winds down, I find that I get very lazy at this time of year. My stomach filled with all kinds of cooking and baking, I like to put my feet up and mellow out.

And my brain goes to mush.

I worked on Monday and started my Christmas shopping about mid-afternoon, before the stores closed their doors for the day. Luckily, my wife does the bulk of the shopping for the kids and family members; I shop for her and for the last-minute items that we came up with at the eleventh hour.

Our Christmas routine has become a ritual: I finish my shopping and head home. I help clean up around the house and keep the girls occupied while Lori prepares dinner. Afterwards, we'll watch a couple of Christmas specials on TV before we set up goodies for Santa.

This year, S wrote a note to leave for Santa. She didn't write to him earlier, so she just wanted to say 'Hi' and tell him that she didn't want much, that she thought her parents pretty much had her covered. 

Lori's dad has been coming to our house to stay the night ever since he's been on his own. He takes L's room, who in turn bunks with S. Part of my evening duties is to ensure that the bed sheets are freshly laundered for him.

Once the girls are tucked in bed, I start wrapping gifts. This routine generally starts around 11:00, just after the kids, ever excited for the arrival of St. Nick, settle down. I sit in my bedroom, my TV playing Scrooge and It's A Wonderful Life, and I wrap.

I wrap everything that isn't for me. I'm an expert wrapper: I attribute that skill to the days when I used to work at a paint and wallpaper store, and I used to give demonstrations of how to hang paper, how to get the decorative adhesion to fit around windows, light switches, and awkward corners. I can hang wallpaper anywhere and I can wrap any Christmas gift.

Watching my two favourite holiday classics, I take my time. Lori is busy, downstairs, baking stollen and preparing ingredients for the next day. On Christmas Day, we host my parents and father in law to a brunch to die for: potato pie, spiral ham, scrambled eggs, fruit salad, veggie salad, the stollen, and copious amounts of coffee.

By the time Lori has finished in the kitchen and I have finished wrapping, it can be anywhere between 2 and 3 in the morning. Seriously. She has lots to bake; I have lots to wrap. And I won't switch off the TV until my movies are over. This year, we tucked in at 2:43.

The girls woke us up at 6:30.

Now that they're grown up, we let them go downstairs on their own. They are allowed to look at the tree but touch nothing under it. And they are allowed to raid their stockings, stuffed to bursting, hung by the gas fireplace (they've never asked how Santa gets through the glass cover). Lori and I join them about a half hour later, when we have to start more preparation for brunch: peeling potatoes, slicing fruit, washing spinach.

When most of the food is prepared, we let the girls open their gift from Santa. They each get one from the big man: he can't get all of the credit for the cool stuff. Santa usually provides something that will keep the girls occupied until my folks arrive and Lori's dad emerges from upstairs. We serve up brunch, and the adults chat while the kids rip off that carefully wrapped paper.

It's all over by noon. The folks leave, the kitchen is cleaned up, and the crumpled paper is in the recycle bin. The peak of Christmas is over.

We still prepare a turkey for dinner, but it's low-key. By evening, Lori and I are burned out and the kids are worn out from a day of play.

That's Christmas at the Brownfoots. That's our holiday ritual. Time off, but no time out.

How was your holiday?

Monday, December 24, 2012

Operation: Christmas

I first posted this story last year. I'm hoping to make it my holiday tradition. If you haven't read it before, I hope you enjoy it. If you have read it before, I'm hoping that you make it your holiday tradition in doing so again.

Merry Christmas, and all the best over the holiday season!

At first, we did it out of excitement, unable to wait. Later, it became a game about how far we could go, how much risk we were willing to take.

In time, it became a ritual.

The first time we crept downstairs, anxious to see what Santa left us, my younger sister, Jen, and I faced an obstacle: each other. "Go to bed," I whispered, not wanting her to make any noise, thereby arousing the attention of our parents, who had only a half hour or less gone to bed after placing our wrapped gifts under the tree. Our older sister, Holly, was sound asleep, able to contain her excitement and curiosity.

The first time that Jen and I met on the stairs, we got our parents' attention: "In to bed," my mother called from her bedroom, "or Santa won't come." Reluctantly, Jen and I returned to our respective rooms, giving each other the stink eye for having spoiled the other's plans at checking out the cache of presents.

Later that night, after I had deemed that everyone was fast asleep, I slowly made my way downstairs. I would pause on the stairs every time a step creaked, waiting to hear if anyone had stirred at the soft noise. It took a couple of minutes to reach the ground floor and sneak to our living room, where our Christmas tree stood. I had reached my destination without arousing suspicion.

I was a stealth machine.

A faint light illuminated the living room through our sheer curtains from the outdoor street lights, casting a twinkling glow off the tinsel and glass balls on the tree. My eyes, already adjusted to the darkness from my bedroom, could easily make out the outline of the tree and the mound of boxes and parcels underneath it. I saw the stockings, filled to bursting, hanging off the edge of the shelf of our wall unit—having no fireplace or mantle. I slowly approached the tree, making my way towards the light switch underneath the tree, the one that would light up the tree and give me a clear view of the gifts.

I was so busy moving quietly, using my eyes to the best of their abilities, making sure that I didn't trip over a present, that I hadn't used my ears to detect another presence. Coming into the living room, equally quiet, was Jen.

"What are you doing here?" I whispered.

"The same thing as you," was the response.

"You're going to wake everyone up," I complained.

"Not if I keep quiet," she said. "You're making all of the noise."

I knew that by continuing to argue, we'd wake the rest of the household. We dropped our voices to a barely audible whisper. "What should we do?" I asked.

"Want to turn on the Christmas tree?" Jen suggested.

"I was just about to do that," I said, "but only for a second." I was afraid that somehow the light would make its way out of the living room, up the stairs and down the hall, and through my parent's closed door and up to their eyes. Such was the paranoid logic of a young kid who was not where he was supposed to be.

I reached for the switch and the tree sparkled in the warm glow of the lights. Jen and I let our eyes wander over the packages and the brightly patterned paper, trying to see through the wrap and trying to discern the gift by its shape. We kept the lights on for only a couple of seconds, and before we felt we ran further risk, we immersed ourselves once again in darkness.

We decided that it was too great a risk to remain downstairs any longer, so we agreed to return to our rooms. We further agreed that we shouldn't try ascending the stairs at the same time, so Jen went first, and when I knew that she was safely in her room, I made my way to my own.

Operation: Christmas was born.

The next morning, as Jen and I sat in our living room with Holly and our parents, we gave each other a smiling look, silently communicating that we shared a little secret, that we had gotten away with a reconnaissance of our haul of gifts. No one else knew what we had done. We had gotten cleanly away with this act.

Leading up to the following Christmas, Jen and I privately discussed going downstairs to take another sneak peek at the gifts under the tree. But this year, we would be more organized. We synchronize our clocks so that we would have our rendezvous better timed. Also, the mystery of Santa Claus had pretty much worn out on us, and our parents decided that they would put our stockings at the end of our beds before they went to bed themselves. they figured that if we woke up to our stockings in the morning, it would buy them a little more sleep by keeping us occupied.

Jen and I decided that when our folks came into our rooms to put the stockings at the end of our beds, we would feign sleep. We would listen for them to quiet down, and then we'd wait a half hour. We would then give each other an additional 15 minutes to go through our stockings and check out our haul.

And then it was showtime.

We would quietly step out of our rooms and wait for the other to show up in the hall. We would then head down the stairs together. In the weeks leading up to the big day, or night, we would make a note of the squeaks in the stairs, and either avoid the step to a side of the step that didn't creak, or failing to find a safe spot, overstep that stair altogether. We memorised the walking pattern, going up and down the stairs. We wouldn't make a sound.

In the second year, I brought a flashlight. Not so much to see our way to the tree but to look at the presents without fumbling for the light switch. We would turn the tree on, marvel at the packages underneath, and then turn the lights off, but would use the flashlight to find which gifts belonged to us.

On the way back up, we heard a stirring from my folks' room. We froze. We didn't know if one of our parents had simply moved or was on their way to us. So we stood, halfway up the staircase, and remained silent and motionless until we deemed it was safe to proceed.

That was year two.

In the years that followed, we continued the tradition. Jen and I got more sophisticated. We drew maps of the upper and ground floors, marked out a plan of where who should be at what time. We ran drills when we were home alone. Operation: Christmas became a finely choreographed exercise.

We became emboldened: we'd turn the lights on the Christmas tree and leave it on for as long as we were downstairs. We'd stay longer, counting up our presents and figuring out what each one was, based on what we had asked for and the size that the package would be. We would get ourselves a snack and eat it, surrounded by wrapped boxes.

In our teens, we would unwrap the gifts, confirming what we suspected the package to be. If we could further remove the gift from it's casing or box, we'd do it. We'd play with our stuff. And then we would carefully re-wrap the present and put it back where our parents had arranged it. Some Christmases, we'd return to our bedrooms, knowing exactly what we were getting in a few hours.

The thrill of Christmas morning came in feigning surprise, in keeping from laughing out loud. Some mornings, Jen and I couldn't make eye contact for fear of bursting out in hysterics.

We also enjoyed the surprise of seeing what our sister, Holly, had received under the tree. Unwrapping her gifts wasn't even a consideration.

Operation: Christmas went on for years, until Jen finally moved out of the house. Even though she was younger than me, she flew the coup first. Our game was up. I never went to check on the presents by myself. Operation: Christmas wouldn't have been the same without a partner in crime.

When we became adults, Jen and I confessed our crime. My parents wouldn't believe us. They couldn't accept that we would have the capability of pulling off such a caper, that we'd be able to unwrap gifts, play with the toys, and put them back together. Not without our parents detecting anything was amiss. Jen and I just looked at each other, smiled, and shared our memories in silence.

For us, the magic of Christmas includes our scheme. For me, remembering Operation: Christmas was a ritual that brought me closer to my sister than any other game we played as kids, in daylight hours. It was our special time together.

And isn't that what Christmas is all about?

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Rewind: December 17-21, 2012

So, the Mayans were wrong: the world didn't come to an end yesterday. I guess I had better put our Christmas tree up.

Watching the snow storm blow into Ottawa, it was easy to believe we were watching the beginning of the apocalypse, that we were entering a long deep freeze. After shovelling the 20cm or more of snow in my driveway, I felt as though my world was going to come to an end.

But all is well. We survived and can face another day. We can put our feet up and relax, now that the holidays are upon us.

Although, I have to start my Christmas shopping.

Anyway, take a moment and check out this week's posts on The Brown Knowser:

With the upcoming holidays next week, I can't guarantee I'll be posting every day. I have another Christmas post that may become a Brown Knowser tradition: it's already scheduled to publish on Monday. And I have a post ready to go on New Year's Eve, but beyond that, I have nothing planned. Maybe I should take some time off?


Enjoy your weekend, and all the best to you and your families for the holidays. Thanks for reading The Brown Knowser.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Photo Friday: Lights in The Kingdom of South Nepean

We haven't decorated our house for Christmas, and judging by the lateness of the month and the weather, we won't be putting lights out this year.

Looking around my street, the festive spirit seems a little subdued: there are a few houses that have decorations, but not many. By far, this is the most-festive house in our neighbourhood, that I affectionately refer to on Foursquare as The Kingdom of South Nepean.

I hope that you enjoy this festive season, whether you're brightly lit or not.

Happy Friday.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

I'm Not a Grinch

This blog post is a repeat but is timeless for the holidays. If you haven't read this post before, enjoy. If you have, suck it up I hope you enjoy reading it again.

I'll have another traditional holiday post on Monday.

Last year, my kids called me a "Christmas-hater" and the name stung.

But only a little.

* On some level, I'm not a fan of Christmas. Not of the decorating, nor of the card giving (actually, the Brownfoots have pretty much given up on that front), nor, especially, of the shopping. I hate going near the malls and department stores at this time of year: fighting crowds, standing in lines, searching for that ever-elusive parking space. Not being religious, the spiritual side of Christmas is lost on a cynic like me. My participation in the festivities this year included some shopping, getting our tree, standing it in the house, and helping my wife with the lights and flashy gold garland. I actually left the room and let the three girls hang the ornaments. Even as a kid, that tradition didn't interest me much.

It was my mid to late teens and into my early twenties that really changed my views on Christmas.

For many years, I worked in retail. In late 1991, at the age of 16, my folks decided that it was time to wean me from my allowance, telling me that I was old enough to earn my own income. And so I got a job in a paint and wallpaper store in our local shopping mall. I worked there—and at a couple of our other franchise shops in two other Ottawa shopping malls—for four years, helping customers choose colours and patterns to spread over their walls. In some cases, I even offered my services in applying the paint or wallpaper, or both, for them. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, however,I witnessed my customers, who were generally easy to please, grow stressed as they frantically tried to get their houses in order in time for the holidays. Many left things to the last minute ("What do you mean? Latex paint needs thirty days to cure before I can hang wallpaper on it??").

I worked in the Merivale Mall off-and-on for more than thirteen years, working at the paint and wallpaper store, a camera shop, and at a bank. And what I learned from my experience there is that I hate—absolutely HATE—the retail side of Christmas. I hated that on the very day after Hallowe'en—before Thanksgiving**, for cryin' out loud—the Christmas decorations went up in the mall, Santa's village began construction, carollers stolled up and down the promenade. Christmas sales began. In the camera store, Christmas season officially ran from November 1st to December 24th. Mercifully, I never worked anywhere that held Boxing Week specials. But the weeks following Christmas were just as busy, as customers returned unwanted items (I probably hated that time of year more than the pre-Christmas rushes).

Working in retail over the holiday season was an exercise in patience to the nth degree. In the early weeks of the Christmas sales, people were generally in good spirits, though I honestly believe that these people were generally happy, well-organized individuals—they were, after all, getting their shopping done early. They were beating the crowds. They probably found parking in less than thirty minutes. And they were in and out before the Jolly Old Elf made his appearence (the Santa at the Merivale Mall was a bald, cigar-smoking dude who always had dark, sagging bags under his eyes. I'd run into him, out of costume, in the corridors behind the shops; he creeped me out). But as the big day arrived, people grew grumpy, stressed, and quick to anger. On one Christmas Eve at the camera shop, in the last hour before we closed our doors, I had one guy tear a strip off me because the camera he wanted to buy was sold out. Not surprising, as it was the hottest camera of the year—we had sold out days earlier. And he expected to find it waiting for him?

The experience left me with an emotional scar. But it wasn't just the angry last-minute shopper in the camera store that ruined Christmas for me. Not on his own. He was just the catalyst for that day. As I left the mall at the end of my shift, walking through the parking lot, I heard two men screaming at each other over a parking spot, both standing outside their cars, whose front ends where nosed up to the vacant space. As they prepared to come to blows, I piped up with a heart-felt rendition of Silent Night, which was met with an aggressive "Fuck off" and a "Mind your own business."

On the way home (I walked, by the way: at that time of year, walking was faster than trying to drive on Merivale Road), I decided to stop at a drug store to pick up some snacks and extra tape in anticipation of a night of wrapping gifts and visiting friends. When I lined up at the cash register, a man was screaming at the poor clerk, a young lady who was obviously not the manager or owner. I had, in fact, seen her behind the counter many times before. She was always cheerful and polite, and was a good employee. Any retailer would want her on his staff. But now, she was almost in tears. I don't know what the man was screaming about, but it was obvious that this nice clerk had failed in helping him in one way or another. All I saw was a mean-spirited man handing out his rage on a tarnished platter.

And I got angry. This was no way to talk to anyone, especially on Christmas Eve. "Peace on Earth, good will to men," I said in a loud but cheery voice, trying to dispell the anger.

"Peace on Earth, my ass," the man said. Nice. "I bought the wrong batteries and this girl won't take them back." He waved a package of Duracell AAs, the cardboard torn, the package opened. Perhaps, even, the batteries tried? I understood: the clerk couldn't take the batteries back because he had opened the package. The batteries could not be returned to the shelf; no one would buy a pack of opened batteries. At the camera shop, we had the same policy.

"But you opened the package," I said. "Of course, you can't return them."

"Why don't you mind your own business?" the man spat at me. Other customers came to the line and, to my relief, they seemed to take the clerk's side. "Why don't you give the girl a break?" said one. The disgruntled customer screamed some more obscenities at the poor girl behind the counter, promised to never shop there again (much to the clerk's relief, I'm sure), and stormed out.

It was probably at this moment that I came to the decision that I hated Christmas. That is to say, I hated the consumerism side of it (insert the soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas here). In the evolution of the holiday, we have placed the material above the ideal—the spirit, if you will. In my remaining years in the Merivale Mall, I learned to dread the Christmas season because it always stirred memories of this day. Of the hostility and rage from the last-minute shopper, the parking foes, and the disguntled idiot who didn't know which batteries he needed.

I hate Christmas shopping. I try to avoid it. But with a family, that's hard to do. And so I try to get it out of the way as painfully as possible. I'm not an early shopper, but I have most of my purchases before the last minute. I leave little things to the last minute—things that, should I be unable to find, I really don't care. And I'm always polite with the retail workers. I always have a smile, I always have something nice to say. If a retailer cannot help me find what I'm looking for, I don't hold it against him or her. I never complain.

I think everyone should work a mandatory year in retail so that he or she can empathize with the clerks that do this day in and day out. It's not easy dealing with a public that hasn't walked in a retailer's shoes.

So what does Christmas mean to me? Since the day that I walked home from the drug store, Christmas has meant only one thing: time. Time with family and friends. Time to appreciate what I have. Time to be good to others.

My girls called me a Christmas-hater. This Christmas, and every Christmas from now on, I plan to show them what I love about the season. Them. Family. Friends.

* Image of The Grinch © 1966 Warner Home Video. All rights reserved.
** For my non-Canadian readers, Thanksgiving is the third Monday in October—more than two months before Christmas.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

It'll Happen Again

As sickened as the world is over the horror that took place last Friday in Newtown, Connecticut, as much as we grieve and cry out that enough is enough, that we call on the American president to take action, nothing will change.

Not in our lifetime.

The gun owners, who have their hardons over owning powerful weapons, built only to kill people, will stand firm that the Second Amendment is more important than the safety of children in schools, will continue to stock up on their armour-piercing bullets so that, should anyone try to take their weapons away, will ensure that it only happens over their dead bodies.

No one needs an assault rifle. No one needs an automatic weapon that holds dozens of rounds. No one, save the military (and only in combat situations).

This week, America is not known for its art or its humanity. This week, America is known for its guns, for its violence.

This most-recent massacre is not the last one. As long as anyone can purchase weapons, as long as anyone can carry one, whether out in the open or concealed, tragedies like Newtown will happen again.

And again. And again.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Beer O'Clock: My Favourite Beers of 2012

Because we're getting to the end of the year and I already have posts lined up for the next two Mondays, I decided that this will be my last beer post of 2012.

Possibly, the last beer post on The Brown Knowser. I may keep all of my beer posts on my Beer O'Clock blog. Stay tuned.

I don't have an addiction.
And this isn't a beer review. Not really. It's about beer and it's a review, but I'm not reviewing a new beer. Over the past few weeks, I've been looking at this year and I've thought: I've consumed quite a few different ales, stouts, and lagers in 2012.

Some of them have been outstanding and have made it to my regular repertoire of beverages. Some have been special releases or beers that I can't easily access, and they are near and dear to my heart.

And some have been less than appealing, but worth trying nevertheless.

Here is a list of my favourite reviews, in no particular order (actually, that's not true: they're listed in order from most-recent reviews to earlier reviews).
  • Pink Fuzz Grapefruit Wheat Ale, Beyond the Pale Brewery—for not being a big fan of wheat ales, I found this beer delightfully refreshing. Lots of flavour and not filling. This will be my beer of choice for a hot summer's day.
  • Double-Chocolate Imperial Stout, Mill Street Brewing—one of the best stouts I've ever had. Period.
  • Weiss O'Lantern Pumpkin Wheat Ale, Beau's All-Natural Brewing—this was my favourite pumpkin ale of the season. My only regret is that I didn't drink more of it. But I'll be stocking up next year for sure.
  • Milk Stout, The Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery—not only was this the best stout I've ever had, it may very well be the best beer I've ever had. If you ever want to get me a gift, a six pack of this would be much appreciated.
  • St-Ambroise IPA, McAuslan Brewery—I wish this wasn't a seasonal. I would keep this in my basement year-round. Again, I'll be stocking up next year.
  • Trail Blaze Organic Brown Ale, Appalachian Brewing Company—a memorable, flavourfull brown ale from a brewery I found as I was passing through Gettysburg this summer.
  • IPA, Big Rig Brewing—this is a big, highly quaffable IPA. It's my choice every time I go to this Ottawa brew pub.
  • Paradise APA, Mill Street—another seasonal favourite from my favourite Ontario brewery. (They don't pay me to say that, but they should)
  • Ambre de la Chaudière, Mill Street—I love this bière de garde, from its aroma to its finish. I could drink this beer all day (if not for the alcohol content).
  • Mad Tom IPA, Muskoka Brewery—ever since I first tried this IPA, it's been a regular resident in my basement. Massive hops and excellently balanced, it's a serious ale.
I'm looking forward to new beer in 2013. In fact, I've given myself a challenge. Next year, I will only drink craft beer: no big-company beer. Who's with me?


Saturday, December 15, 2012

Rewind: December 10-14, 2012

It's been one of those days, and that's why this post is late.

This weekend marks my girls' dance open house at their studio, and so last night we were out late, and then with the terrible news of yesterday we decided to spend some quality time with the kids and play a game of Scrabble.

And then, this morning, it was back to the dance studio for more open-house participation.

But here's what I was up to through the week on The Brown Knowser:
With Christmas around the corner, I don't know that I'll take the time to write something new every day. I'll be using some posts from Christmases past, so I'm hoping they'll be new to some of you and be enjoyed again for the rest.

Enjoy your weekend. Love one another.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Photo Friday: Favourite Views

I have to say, I love the Museum of Nature. It's the castle in our city full of countless treasures. And when I was a kid, it was known to me as "The Dinosaur Museum." It's a name that I've passed on to my kids.

On Wednesday, thanks to the teachers' one-day strike (insert sarcasm here), I took the day off and took my girls to the museum, and we went through every hall, took in every exhibit, and saw a 3-D movie about hurricane hunters.

It was a great day.

Every time I go to the museum, I bring my camera and never get bored of taking photos, even though I find myself shooting the same things over and over. Like this.

What's not to like about looking through a stone-framed window past stylish, modern stairs, to a suspended inflated blue whale, encased in glass, looking towards Centretown?

Happy Friday!

Thursday, December 13, 2012


He couldn't have been more surprised had someone slapped him hard across the face after, only seconds earlier, said, "Aw, gee, you're so nice." And then, bam!

At this moment, he was but one person in a crowd, lost in a sea of people, flocking to the same destination. But he knew what was going on, knew why everyone was in such unison in exiting the building.

It was all his doing.

Down the hall in an orderly fashion. Two lines, down the stairs, each person holding the hand rail, not rushing, but not dallying. Out the door, leaving the building at a safe distance.

And then waiting.

He didn't believe them. It seemed too simple. It was like being at a county fair, trying his luck at pounding down the hammer, ringing the bell. Only this challenge wasn't weighted in the gamemaster's favour. Winning was all too easy.

Just jump up and hit it, he was told. See what happens. He was told what might happen, but he thought it was something that would happen in extreme circumstances, would be the result of some severe failure. Never did he think it would happen with little effort, with the ease of simply pushing a button.

It wasn't much to look at: a short, shallow cone with a flat end. More like a cap than anything else.

He raised his arm, made a fist, and jumped straight up. With his below-average height, he was certain that he wouldn't even reach it on his first attempt, that he would hop like a fool for several attempts before he would even brush it.

But no, his one and only leap brought his fist firmly to its mark with a solid thump.

And the alarm answered back. The building's fire alarm, screaming at him, scolding him for assaulting him. Ordering him, and the friends that egged him on to smack it, out of the school.

He would say nothing on the way out. Nothing, as the other students and staff stood around, waiting for the fire trucks to arrive, for the fire fighters to investigate the cause of the alarm and then give the all-clear signal. His friends also remained silent; unusual, for that group of teens.

And yet no one cast them a suspicious eye. They were model students. Yes, goofy at times, but harmless. Never would they cause such a commotion.

Sadly, for that day, boredom and curiosity had got the better of them. And stupidity.

They knew what they had done. There was nothing to say. And they would never speak of it again.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Two Videos, One Message

Yesterday, on Facebook, I saw two videos that were posted by a couple of my friends. Neither of these friends knows each other and the videos that they shared are very different.

Absolute opposites, you might say.

But having watched one right after seeing the other, I saw a common message between the two: live life to the fullest. Do what makes you happy. Pursue your dreams.

Because you never know what curve life's going to throw you.

Watch this inspiring video:

And now watch this one (caution: viewer discretion advised, as this video is disturbing):

I really need to think about what I'm doing with my life.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

My 2013 Reading List

It's that time of year.

But let's make things absolutely clear: I've been a lazy ass in 2012.

Every December, I compile a list of books that I intend to read for the coming year. And for the past three years, I have asked you to give me your recommendations. What should I read in 2013?

I typically make a list of a dozen or so books, and I generally read anywhere from 12 to 15 books. If I run out of books, I add more to my list; if I don't get through the list, I add the unread books to next year's list.

For 2012, I created a modest list of 10 books. But I didn't do a lot of reading this year. In fact, I only read five-and-a-half books. I got into the sixth book but then I ran out of steam and put it down. And then I got busy. And then I stopped taking the bus to work.

I'm going to add the final four books from my 2012 list and add them to my 2013 list. And then I'm going to add another eight books to the list: one book for each month.

If you have any recommendations for my 2013 reading list, please leave me a comment to this post with the title and author, and a brief reason why you think I should read it. In January, I'll post my list, as I always do, in the right-hand column of the blog. I hope the list helps you find something to read in the coming year.

And I'll promise not to be a lazy ass next year.

My recommendation to you, if you haven't read it already, is my book—Songsaengnim: A Korea Diary—available in hardcover, paperback, and e-Reader at many fine book outlets.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Beer O'Clock: Is This What Hobbits Drink?

Just nipping out for a pint.
For me, it's the most-anticipated movie since the first installment of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Even then, in 2001, when The Fellowship of the Ring came out, I thought that it would be nice if someone like Peter Jackson would make a decent movie out of J.R.R. Tolkien's first middle-Earth novel, The Hobbit.

When Jackson chose his home of New Zealand for the setting of Middle Earth, I thought it was perfect. The landscape lent itself well to the Misty Mountains—one can imagine travelling there now (to New Zealand) and running into a hobbit or two. And if one ran into a hobbit in twenty-first-century New Zealand, what would a hobbit be drinking?

 As we all know, hobbits like their food and drink. They like their tea and cake, but they also like a good ale. And liking good ale, I'm sure that they'd like stout. It's a good thing that New Zealand has a good stout.
Craftsman Chocolate Oatmeal Stout
Renaissance Brewing Company
Marlborough, New Zealand
LCBO: $5.95, 500 ml; 4.9% ABV
My rating: 3.5 (out of 5)
Dark, walnut-brown in colour with a creamy-brown head—and I mean loads of head: halfway into my pour, it overflowed in my glass—this is a lovely stout with plenty of dark chocolate in the nose. On the palate, it had plenty of rich toffee and coffee flavours, mixed with roasted malts that led to an unsweetened cocoa and vanilla finish.

This is a hearty stout that is a great beer to have on a cold winter's day. I enjoyed my first bottle after a day out past North Gower, where we felled our Christmas tree. The stout went well with a beefy chili con carne—I'm sure hobbits would like a good stew. For my second pint, I had it with dessert, a fresh-baked, triple-chocolate brownie that my wife made.

Again, I don't think a hobbit would complain.

On its own, I found this stout to be a little overpowering on the roasted end. There's an astringency that makes me pucker. But with food, it all balanced out and I found the ale to be quite enjoyable.

Which is perfect for hobbits: a stout that goes well with foods, both savory and sweet.


Saturday, December 8, 2012

Rewind: December 3-7, 2012

With the first week of December gone, I'm starting to finally feel the spirit of the holiday season pulling at my heart strings (it started pulling on my purse strings weeks ago!). It is time for my family and me to start searching for a Christmas tree and for me to string up the outdoor lights.

Luckily, tomorrow's weather should be good for both.

This week on The Brown Knowser, I got into the holiday spirit with one festive photo shoot. Here's what I was up to:
  • Where In Ottawa: The December Edition—solved in less than two minutes, this month's challenge wasn't a challenge after all. I think I'll have to start 2013 with a real stumper.
  • Beer O'Clock: Going Beyond the Pale—Ottawa's newest brewery received a lot of attention this week, having appeared in other blogs and in the papers. I give my opinion of three of their inaugural offerings.
  • Wordless Wednesday: Building 21—the location of Where In Ottawa is revealled in pictures. This Agriculture Canada building is located in the Experimental Farm, almost across the street from the Civic Hospital, on Carling Avenue. The greenhouse glows like a beacon and called to me.
  • If I Had a Time Machine—remembering one of my earliest childhood friends, an adventurer who just couldn't stop exploring. While the writing tries to be creative, the story, sadly, is not fiction. This post, by the way, was the 400th one for The Brown Knowser. Thanks for continuing to read.
  • Photo Friday: Naughty or Nice—why can't it be both? My second foray into studio photography. For those of you who asked to see more, check out my 500px photos. I'll be adding one or two there.
Enjoy your weekend!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Photo Friday: Naughty or Nice?

The other night, I attended another photo meetup in a studio, where I was able to practice working with a model and, of course, studio lighting.

The biggest challenge was getting the lighting to work with a Christmas tree without leaving a shadow on the white backdrop or on our model. And sometimes, a light would fail to go off.

Oh yeah, and I'm really new and amateurish at this.

But it was fun and I want to do more. What do you think?

Happy Friday!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

If I Had a Time Machine

I was four, maybe five. But I remember.

His name was Jeremy. A young explorer. An adverturer. He lived a few doors down from me in the town-house community—garden homes, they were called—on Bowhill Avenue, behind the K-Mart and Dominion plaza. Our homes were separated from the shopping centre, which also was host to a TD Bank, Living Lighting, Gow's Chinese Food, Gilio's Barbers, and Brewer's Retail, by a field that had a small wooded grove where the teens in the neighbourhood hung out: Hippie Hideout. A creek ran the length of the plaza, from Meadowlands to Viewmount, and beyond, past Merivale High School.

That was our territory. Jeremy and I would explore Hippie Hideout during the day, when the teens were at school. Broken bottles of 50, Blue, and Ex, obtained illegally from the beer store by someone who was willing to buy for underaged drinkers. Cigarette butts. pieces of burnt wood. A plastic milk case or two, obviously swiped from the back of the Dominion grocery store. My friend and I ran through the much-trodden paths, trying to secure a small spot of our own, leaving Hot Wheels cars with plastic army soldiers to keep guard.

In colder weather, when the shallow parts of the creek froze over, we would stomp on the ice, shattering it like glass. In deeper spots—deeper being up to the knees—we would find rocks and break the ice from the safe distance of the edge.

Jeremy was fearless and always wanted to explore further. We wandered the paths of our garden-home community, looking for other kids to play with. We explored the rocks and broken concrete of the rubble pile that would later become Chesterton Towers.

We walked down Bowhill, to Chesterton Drive, where we discovered the slide and swings of General Burns Park. It wasn't our first time there: our mothers had walked us there before, had taken us to the wading pool during the summer. But when we explored on our own, we ventured that far.

I don't know why I couldn't play with Jeremy that one day. I do remember seeing him, when he came to my door that morning, wanting to play, wanting to explore. I can't remember if I was sick, if I had chores, or a meal to eat, or an appointment to go to. I just remember seeing his smiling face, his mischievous grin, asking me to come out with him. And I couldn't go. I would see him later, I told him before closing the door.

I also don't remember if it was later that day or the next day that I went to call on Jeremy, to see if he still wanted to play. I don't remember if I had recovered from a day's rest or if I had finished my chores, my meal, or if I had returned from whatever appointment I had kept. But I do remember what happened when I knocked on Jeremy's door.

Jeremy's mom, who was always nice to me, was tearful when she opened the door. When she saw me and knew why I was there, she choked down sobs. "Jeremy can't come out. He's not here. There's been an accident." And then the door closed, I could hear loud sobs and voices of other people from the other side of the door.

Jeremy was not afraid to expore on his own. He had been chased away from Hippie Hideout, the teens screaming after him, telling him to keep out from their territory, that they'd kill him if they caught him again. Other times, he would come running home, shivering, having slipped into the ice-cold creek and getting soaked to the waist.

Jeremy, having failed to get me to come out with him, had gone exploring on his own. And he went far. He had gone to General Burns Park, had most likely played on the swings, on the slide, on the monkey bars. He couldn't have gone to the wading pool because on that day and at that hour, the wooden gate would have been closed and locked. The wooden fence would have blocked Jeremy's view.

But the fence to the larger, deeper pool, the pool for grownups, was a chain-link one. And Jeremy was a climber. And his curiousity had got the better of him that day. Because I was just a kid, I didn't get the details. I have no idea when someone would have found him at the bottom of the pool. I don't know if he was found at the bottom of the deep end or the shallow end, but that didn't matter. For Jeremy, all parts of that pool were the deep ends.

I don't know what made me think of Jeremy this week. I was out for a walk, listening to music, letting my mind wander, and it wandered to Jeremy. And the memories returned. On my stroll, I had wandered back in time.

I wish I had a time machine. I would go back to that day. I would show up at my house on Bowhill, before Jeremy knocked on my door, and I would walk him back to his house. I would tell his mother to keep him indoors for the day, to wait for the younger me to be able to join him.

But would that have prevented Jeremy from going off on his own? Or maybe he would have waited until I was able to join him, and there would have been two young bodies at the bottom of the General Burns pool. Because I followed Jeremy everywhere.

If I had a time machine, I would return to that date. I would keep at a distance while Jeremy knocked on my door. When he set off on his own, I would follow him, from a distance, so as to avoid his detection. I would let Jeremy play in the park until he was bored. I would let him climb that fence. I would even let him fall—or jump—in. But I would have climbed the fence and gone after him when he got too close to the pool. And I would race to the pool when he looked like he was about to go in.

And I would save him.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Beer O'Clock: Going Beyond the Pale

Last night, as I sat down, ready to try some new beer for today's review, my wife looked at me and said, "I thought you posted a review today. Didn't you cover that blackberry porter?"

"Yes," I said, but that was for my new blog, Beer O'Clock. This is for The Brown Knowser, for my weekly beer review."

"Wait a minute," she said, her voice stern, "you're not going to write a beer review every day." It was not a question. "One review a week, mister. You're starting to pack on the pounds again."

I love her so much.

"Not every day. Although, I have beer almost every day anyway. I created the new blog to catalog my tasting notes for those beers. Several beers that I drink each week go without a review, and that's a shame. And I'll go for a walk tonight: it's a nice evening, and I have three beers to write about. I promised the guy in the shop I would."

The guy was Rob McIsaac, one of the partners in Ottawa's newest brewery, Beyond the Pale Brewing Company.

The tasting bar at Beyond the Pale

Several months ago, when I learned that our city was getting another brewery, this time in Hintonburg, I was excited. As excited as I was when I first learned that Mill Street was coming to town. What was so special about this brewery was that it was started by local lads (in addition to Rob is Shane Clark and his dad, Al) who use local ingredients. And this trio isn't afraid to start big, to experiment and produce ales that stand out.

I meant to visit the brewery, which is located behind the Parkdale Market, around the corner from The Carleton Tavern, on Hamilton Avenue, last week for their grand-opening party. But I'll admit it: I plain forgot. (I had a very busy week at work). But I'm glad I went on Sunday, when it wasn't as crowded, and I could actually take my time and the owners could stop and chat. They're all great guys.

Sadly, in coming three days too late, I missed out on one of their beers, which had sold out. That's great news for them, as it shows how welcome their creations are.

I had initially decided to try all of their beer in a small tasting and choose my favourite of the bunch to take home and review. But when I tried the three ales that were available, I decided to take them all with me.

So here's what I tried:
Pink Fuzz Grapefruit Wheat
6% ABV, 20 IBU
Beer O'Clock rating: 4/5
This wheat ale is infused with real grapefruit zest and pulp that carries through every component of the drinking experience. With an opaque apricot colour that at times looks like grapefruit juice, this beer sparkles with effervescent, pearl-like bubbles. Looking at my glass, I could easily believe I was drinking champagne and grapefruit juice. There was no head on this beer but it was very much alive.

On the nose, I detected intense citrus aromas of tangerine and grapefruit. In the mouth, the citrus continued with refreshing flavours of grapefruit rind and mild hops. The finish was sharp, cleansing, and although I don't usually care for wheat ales, I loved this one: it left me wanting more.

But I didn't have more. I was only putting a couple of ounces in my glass: I had two more beers to sample, and as Lori said, I'm packing on the pounds. So on to the next offering.
Rye Guy IPA
6.7% ABV, 52 IBU
Beer O'Clock rating: 3/5
This IPA tastes more bitter than the IBU rating leads you to believe. Perhaps it's the rye malt that is used in the crafting of this beer. Pale amber in colour, this IPA, like the wheat ale, had no head but had a great fizz. On the nose, I detected lots of hops and a touch of oak. Like the previous ale, I also caught traces of grapefruit in the bouquet.

The palate delivers heady hops; the respectable alcohol level, and perhaps the malt, contributed to the punch in the mouth I felt. This is a serious IPA with loads of flavour that hang on in a wonderfully long finish. I could easily sit down for an evening and polish off the half-growler I picked up.

But not tonight: I had one more beer to try.
The Darkness Oatmeal Stout
5.6% ABV, 30 IBU
Beer O'Clock rating: 4/5
I love oatmeal stout. My favourite beer is an oatmeal stout. An oatmeal stout made me forsake Guinness. And this oatmeal stout delivers.

Deep walnut in colour with a cocoa head that dissipates quickly, the nose revealed a rich, dark chocolate with a roasted coffee aroma. In the mouth, I tasted malted espresso and cocoa with a great hoppy finish. Awesome.

I now have three favourite beers to add to my repertoire and can't wait until their fourth offering, an imperial rye IPA, to be available. According to Shane, that should be in a couple of weeks.

By then, Lori will let me drink again.

"You're not drinking beer every night, buddy," Lori stressed when I told her I drink almost every day. "Your body doesn't need the carbs."

There won't be a review on the Beer O'Clock blog every day. Just a couple of times a week, when I want to share with you. And I'll post just the facts: just my tasting notes.

The Brown Knowser is where I prefer to ramble anyway. Cheers!