Saturday, June 30, 2012

Rewind: June 25-29

As we gear up for a long weekend in Canada, you might want to take some time to relax. To sit back with a cold beverage in the back yard, with your feet up, and your wireless device resting comfortably on your lap. Ready to do some reading.

Here are the past week's offerings from The Brown Knowser:
For my fellow Canadians, I want to wish you a safe and Happy Canada Day. Even though Monday is a holiday, it's also the first Monday of July, which means the next Where In Ottawa is coming. Stay tuned.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Photo Friday: Overcoming Shyness for a Fashion Statement

I'm really shy. Morbidly shy.

(I'll give you a moment or two to stop your snickering.)

Sure, when I'm around close friends and family, it's hard to shut me up. But if I'm in a crowd where I don't know anyone, or if I'm alone with someone I either barely know or don't know at all, I become extremely introverted. I clam up. If I speak, the conversation is trite, small.

I come across looking and sounding like an idiot.

Not so yesterday.

Yesterday, I took a deep breath and stepped outside my comfort zone. I put my shyness aside and just did it. I talked to a complete stranger and asked if I could take a photograph of her.

It all started when I caught my bus from work and headed downtown. The afternoon bus wasn't very crowded, and so finding a seat was not an issue. I like to sit alone because I don't want to run the risk of having to speak to anyone.

I'm shy, after all.

When I stepped on the STO bus and worked my way down the aisle, my eyes instantly fell on a young woman sitting by herself. She had a young, pretty face, but what struck me immediately was her hair. Or, should I say, what was in her hair.

This young lady, dressed in a black corsette and plaid skirt, had almost a colourful Medusa-like headpiece of red, silver, black, and some green tubes that had silver spirals and seemed to be held into place with a head band. Almost like thick, cylindrical ribbons. And lots of them.

I sat on the bus and tried to keep to myself, but my eyes kept falling on this girl. I could only see her from behind, so all I could see was this mass of colour. And, between looking at her head and thinking about what I wanted to do for today's blog post, the answer was almost a no-brainer.

I wanted to take a photo of this woman.

There was only one problem: I'm horribly, horribly shy. There was no way that I could summon the courage to talk to her, let alone ask her if I could take a picture of her. I mean, what would she think of some middle-aged man approaching her, saying, "Excuse me, miss. Your look is unusual: can I take a picture of you?"

I could picture her calling me "perv" and calling out for help.

And so I though about how I would approach her.

I looked in my backpack and checked to make sure my Canon point-and-shoot was charged and had space. Yes and yes. I searched for my little metal case that contains my business cards for The Brown Knowser. Check. And so I thought I would approach her slowly, gently, and apologize for bothering her. I would identify myself, tell her that I am a local blogger, and let her know that I found her headpiece fascinating. I asked her if she made it herself and if there was some occasion than made her decide to wear it.

She was friendly and willing to talk. She said that she did, in fact, make the piece herself. She added that she likes to dress up this way when she meets with her friends.

And so I gathered more courage and asked the all-important question: "Would it be all right if I took your photo?" I handed her my business card, adding, "I will be adding it as a post tomorrow."

She let me take two pictures: one, with my pocket camera; the other, with my iPhone.

I took my shots and thanked her. I didn't ask for her name; we said nothing more. But after we parted ways, more questions popped into my head. I wondered if she had more headpieces, and what they looked like. I had ideas for other photos, wished that I had actually posed her, thought about the background. I wished I had had my D-SLR.

So I hope that this young lady does read the post. I hope she likes the photos. And, if she has more pieces for making a fashion statement, I hope she contacts me. Maybe I could shoot something for a Wordless Wednesday?

And I could thank her for helping me get over my shyness. Though I think I still might be shy.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

What's Up, Russia?

I'm confused.

When I first started blogging, my intention was to keep my family and friends informed about the comings and goings of the Brownfoots. The bulk of my family and friends live in Canada and the United States, but at the time I also knew people in the U.K., Nigeria, South Korea, Ireland, and Germany who were reading my early blog posts.

When I began posting rough drafts of my now-completed novel, Songsaengnim: A Korea Diary, on its own blog site, I attracted more readers from these countries, but also from Australia, Poland, Denmark, the Philippines, Brazil, and Russia.

While most of my audience grew at a slow but steady pace (the greatest audience for Songsaengnim is, surprisingly, the U.S.), one country started hitting my posts in great numbers. And it makes me scratch my head. Makes me wonder why. Makes me go hmmm...


I always wonder why a non-English-speaking country shows interest in my blog. Perhaps, the readers are English speaking? Perhaps, they're ex-pats? Perhaps, they don't speak English and are having Google translate the page into their native language so that they can read it?

But why is Russia so interested that they are now the fifth-largest audience for Songsaengnim and The Brown Knowser, the fourth-largest audience for Gyeosunim, and the number-one largest audience for the past month for the Brownfoot Journal, which is now defunct (Lori threatens to take it over and revive it, but don't you believe a word of it!)?

What is the draw for my blogs?

So, I'm appealing to my fellow bloggers: are you having the same experience with your audience? Which country follows you a lot and is not a country that shares your native language? Does Russia make up a significant percentage of your audience? Please share your experiences with your audiences.

And hey, Russia, what's up with you? Why are you drawn to my blogs? I would love to hear from you. I absolutely love hearing from my readers, so please leave a comment. If you leave it in Russian, I'll have it translated.

And to everyone who reads my blog: thanks. It means a lot, and I would love to hear from you too.

And one more thing: you all know that my stuff is copyrighted, right? My words and my photos.

I know you do. I know you do.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Celebrating Green Cake Day

Yesterday, I was thinking of celebrations past and future. And in the present, that meant green cake.

And while yesterday marked the fourth anniversary of the passing of a very special woman—one that treated me as family—I stopped to think of her, and her husband, who also played an important part in influencing the values I carry to this day.

I'm not going to explain the significance of Green Cake Day. If you're interested, you can read here.

If there are those who helped turn you into the person you are, take a moment and think about them.

And if you're still lucky enough, tell them.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Remembering Tuscany

One of my all-time favourite family vacations, not surprisingly, is our trip to Italy in 2009. We spent nearly three weeks in late September-early October, in Rome, Tuscany, and Venice, and it was our first overseas trip with the kids.

It was a promise I had fulfilled to the girls after Lori and I went to Italy, without them, in 2004.

The highlight of the trip was when we spent a week in Tuscany. We had rented an agritourisma (farm cottage) just to the north of Siena, just inside the Chianti region, between Poggibonsi and Castellina in Chianti; one of my favourite Italian wine regions.

The agritourisma we rented was owned by a young farmer named Antonio. His villa was set on a hillside that overlooked a valley, the medieval hill town of San Gimignano visible on the ridge on the other side. Every day, we would tour the countryside, exploring some of the regional towns, only to return to our home away from home, where we would go for a cool swim in an outdoor infinity pool that also overlooked the valley. Afterwards, we would prepare a homemade dinner and eat it on the patio, near the pool, and watch the sun set over San Gimignano.

It was absolute paradise.

Antonio had rows and rows of olive groves, from which he produced incredible olive oil. In fact, the "cottage" we stayed in was at one time used to press the olives. Antonio supplied our kitchen with a bottle of extra-virgin olive oil, and before we left Tuscany we made sure to purchase a fresh bottle to take back to Canada.

Antonio also had rows and rows of vines, and he grew Sangiovese grapes that he supplied to one of the local wineries. These vineyards came right up to the back of our cottage (see the photo, above), and on one morning, before we headed to Florence, I took our youngest daughter through the mist-covered rows to show her the luscious grapes, days away from harvest (pictured left).

I plucked a grape or two and sucked the sweet juice and pulp out of the skins. I handed one to Lainey and encouraged her to do the same. "Will I get drunk?" she asked me, thinking that these grapes were full of wine (she was only five at the time).

"Only drunk on love," I told her as she took the grape.

Antonio supplied our cottage with a couple of bottles of the wine—not grape juice—in our kitchen, which we were free to enjoy if we wanted to buy them. On one evening, as we watched yet another gorgeous sun set upon the hills across the valley, we opened one and savoured the fabulous wine, and at that moment decided to pay the winery a visit before we left the region.

The winery was Casa Emma. We ended our tour by buying a couple of bottles of their 2004 vintage, the year that Lori and I first went to Tuscany.

This weekend, more than two-and-a-half years after our trip, I was in my local LCBO, looking for a beer to try and review, and I also checked into the vintages section, where I came across our beloved Casa Emma.

The vintage was 2009: the same grapes that Antonio was growing and that I ate on that memorable trip. And so I decided right then and there that I wasn't going to write a beer review this week. Instead, I thought I would reflect on our trip and review this wine.

So here we go.
Chianti Classico 2009
Barberino Val D'Elsa, Italy
LCBO Vintages: $18.95; 14% ABV
This wine garners a deep, rich garnet colour with great legs that told me that the alcohol level was substantial. This is a big red.

On the nose, the richness continued: intense ripe cherries and black pepper, with a hint of alcohol. But more than anything, the fruit comes through and told me that while you could enjoy a glass today, this wine could easily stand another five years on its side.

On the palate, this Chianti is very well balanced between the fruit, tannins, and alcohol. The flavour was incredible. Easily, you can drink this wine now, enjoy it with a barbecued Filet Mignon, or save it and enjoy it when the tannins settle down.

If you love big, luscious, flavourful Italian reds, grab yourself a few bottles of this one: some to enjoy over the summer, others to hang on to in the coming years.

But don't even bother trying to find any this week in the LCBO in Barrhaven: I cleaned them out. I plan to enjoy these bottles as I reminisce over my photos from our vacation.


Saturday, June 23, 2012

My Week, In Blog Posts

I'm stealing this idea from The Bloggess. I hope she forgives me: after all, isn't imitation still the sincerest form of flattery?

I know that many of my readers don't go to The Brown Knowser every day to see what I'm blathering on about. Some of you visit only once a week and catch up; others don't read it that often, but I fugred I would dedicate this post to the readers who wait until the end of the week to catch up.

Starting today and continuing each Satruday, I'm presenting My Week, In Blog Posts. Here, I'll list the post titles of the past week with a summary of the post and a link to it. You can then jump to the posts that you want to read.

Think of it as your weekly, one-stop shopping on The Brown Knowser.

Here is this week's summary of posts:

  • All I Want For Father's Day is My Family. And Beer. Last Sunday was my day. So I was treated to great gifts from my wife and kids, including a trip to a local brew pub for my weekly beer review.
  • Hacked. It wasn't a perfect Father's Day weekend: I was violated. Again.
  • Wordless Wednesday: Underhill. On Father's Day, my family gave me time to go on a long ride on my bike. I discovered a path that I've never been on. Two days later, I returned with my camera.
  • My Keys to Fitness. I felt it was time to give an update on my weight-loss progress (I hate the word diet). And I share two apps that help me stay on track.
  • Photo Friday: Playing with Light. I'm still scanning old slides and rediscovering photos I shot decades ago. And I explain why flash photography isn't my forte.
Comments are always welcome and appreciated. Not only on the individual posts, but also on your views for this weekly summary.

Enjoy your weekend!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Photo Friday: Playing with Light

Flash photography is my nemesis.

I'm rarely happy with the photos I take when I use a flash. Either the flash is too powerful and everything is washed out. Especially, when I'm shooting people, at night or indoors. And when the flash isn't powerful enough, everything seemed greyed. Dull, bland.

Even shooting outdoors with a flash, in daylight, gives me varied results. If I'm shooting in shade, I usually get the same results that I get when I shoot indoors: bright subjects; dark backgrounds.

The only time I feel confident with a flash is when I shoot outside, in bright light. When my flash is used as a fill flash, lightening the minor shadows that are cast on my subjects. I'm also fairly successful when I shoot subjects standing in front of a sunset. That's when I want the background darkened a little but my subjects illuminated.

Decades ago, I started playing with my flash, removing it from the top of my camera. I had a secondary flash that I attached to a slave unit and illuminated my subject from directions other than from the camera out.

And then I shot this photo.

Using my Minolta X-700, I used a cable to hook up my flash. My subject was the head of a rose, floating on water in a brandy snifter. I got as close to the flower as I could with the lens, the cable running from the camera and into the flash, which was simply lying on the table, pointing slightly upward from beneath the bottom of the bowl of the glass.

When I snapped the shot, the light from the flash seemed to dissipate through the water and spin around the inside of the glass.

It's not the greatest shot: the flower isn't sharply in focus. But I like what the flash did. It makes me want to continue experimenting.

And then, maybe, someday, the flash won't be my nemesis.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

My Keys to Fitness

Six weeks ago, I started a fitness regime to help me lose weight. On my last visit to my doctor, he remarked that my cholesterol level shot through the roof, but he also noticed that I had gained some weight.

He made no bones about it: he called me fat.

When I visited him, I weighed 175 pounds. That was 10 pounds more than I weighed the last time he saw me, when he told me that I could stand to lose 10 to 15 pounds.

I now found myself with 20 to 25 pounds to lose. And so I got serious and started thinking about what I was going to do to lose the weight.

The first thing I focused on was my diet. I cut out snacking between meals. No more chips. I also decided that I wouldn't eat after 8 pm. And I would reduce the size of my meal portions.

I downloaded an app on my iPhone to keep track my caloric intake and keep track of my weight-loss progress. I use MyFitnessPal, which gives me a daily caloric allowance—I have a daily allotment of 1230 calories. The app has a vast database of natural and prepared foods, and I can even scan a barcode on a package to determine the calories. When I exercise (and I'm getting to that), the app calculates the calories that are burned and adds them back to my daily total.

So, while 1230 calories doesn't sound like much, the daily total goes up with every activity.

The second thing I focused on for my weight loss was a regular fitness regime. Every day, I need to perform an activity that makes me sweat for at least half an hour.

Now that we're into fair weather in Ottawa, I cycle to work once or twice a week, usually Tuesdays and Fridays. My cycle route takes me anywhere from 47 to 55 minutes, depending on the wind, to cover the 20 kilometres to get to work. On the way home, it takes a little longer because it's largely uphill and the wind almost always seems to be against me. The ride home generally takes about an hour.

On my cycle commute, I burn at least 700 calories. Not too shabby.

On the days that I don't cycle, I walk a three-kilometre circuit in the neighbourhood around my office. There are steep elevation changes, making it a challenging hike. And I really motor: my fastest time was this Monday, at 26:56. At that pace, I almost broke into a run as I swept down a steep section!

Last weekend, I cycled a 48-kilometre loop around the city, which I now plan to do early every Sunday. With a few tweaks to the route, I plan to stretch it to a round 50K.

Again, I use my iPhone to track my walking and cycling workouts. For this, I use Cyclemeter. It's a fantastic app. It uses GPS to track my pace and provides my overall time, average speed, fastest speed, fastest kilometre, calories burned, and more. It uses Google Maps to give me a satellite image of the area, with my route marked out, showing the kilometres divided up. I can click the kilometre to see what my average speed was for that segment.

The app also talks to me, so if I save a route, it periodically tells me whether I'm ahead or behind my best, median, or worst time. I know the voice is going to come through my headphones when the volume of the music that I play drops: it resumes the playing level once the message is delivered.

My favourite feature is the e-mail notification. When I tap Start, an email message is sent to me and anyone I want (Lori also gets the message). A second message with my stats is sent when I tap Stop. But the cool thing is that when Lori receives the first e-mail, she can click a link any time through my run to see the map, with my route so far and my location within the last five seconds.

So if I don't check in when I'm expected, she can locate me.

It's been six weeks since I started my weight-loss regime, watching what I eat and exercising daily. So far, so good. In the six-week period, I've lost 12 pounds. That's two pounds for each week, so far. During the week, my weight fluctuates, but at the end of each week, when I do my weigh-in, I have seen a significant loss.

I feel it in my gut. I see it in my face. Lori and the girls even notice that I'm in better spirits. If only I could get more sleep: imagine the changes in me.

I'm about halfway to my desired weight. I anticipate tougher challenges as I drop below the weight I've been carrying for years. As my flab turns to muscle. Ultimately, it's not the numbers I care about, though I strongly feel my goals are attainable.

I have my next blood test next week. I'm hoping that my cholesterol scores from last time were a glitch. I expect a significant reduction.

And I see my doctor in five weeks: if I can drop another 10 pounds, he won't call me fat.

He'll call me phat!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


For those of you who are in my e-mail address book for my personal account, you probably already know by now that my account was hacked this weekend.

It was a simple e-mail message, with no subject line, no body, no signature. Just a hyperlink. Anybody who knows anything about me knows that I don't do this. As a writer, I am compelled to write something that would set up the link. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I have a subject line. The only time I leave one off is if I get caught up in writing the message and forget. But that's rare.

Luckily, many of you figured that the e-mail was not from me. Thanks to those of you who brought the matter to my attention.

This is the first time in almost 20 years of having an e-mail account that I've been hacked. I felt violated. I was pissed. I created my Roland Axam account, hoping that I could avoid spammers and junk mail. I didn't give much thought to hackers, and I guess that's the thing about being hacked: you never know when it can happen and there's probably not a lot you can do to guard against it.

A couple of years ago, I received a call from my credit card company. They told me that there had been some atypical activity on my card and wanted to confirm that I had performed the transactions. But first, they wanted to ask some security questions, starting with my mother's maiden name, which I immediately provided.

"That's incorrect," I was informed. "You had recently changed your mother's maiden name."

Now think about this: my mother's maiden name had been changed. The name that she was born with was no longer valid.

"How does someone change a maiden name?" I asked. "Tell me how that's possible."

"Hmm... " pondered the representative, the gears turning, the idiocy of the situation taking shape. "Can I have your address?"

I provided the information. Again, it was incorrect.

"You called to provide a change of address and requested a secondary cardholder card."

"What information was provided to make these changes? My birth date? That's common knowledge. What else had been asked? Did the person know my mother's maiden name? I mean, the name that you had on file; not the name he changed it to?"

"I don't have that information, but he must have had enough information to get the address change and the secondary card. So I take it you didn't make a purchase at Best Buy in Toronto for $13,000? Did you get a cash advance for $5,000?"

"No and no!"

And thus began my first incident of identity theft. It took some time, but the charges were reversed, a new card was issued, and my credit remains untarnished. And I implemented a few added security precautions: if I go into a branch of my bank to make a change to my credit card, I must provide my passport and I must speak provide a verbal password. On the phone, I have two verbal passwords. If I don't get any one of them, they are to deny me (more to the point, the imposter) any service.

For my e-mail account, I have changed my password and have implemented a security feature where an access code is sent to my smartphone whenever my account is accessed from a computer other than my usual three.

This hacker was somewhere in Vietnam. I doubt they'll be able to access my devices from there.

But, of course, to believe I won't be hacked again is foolish. I just hope it takes another 20 years before it does.

Monday, June 18, 2012

All I Want For Father's Day Is My Family. And Beer.

I had an amazing Father's Day. It was a perfect, summer-like day and I made the most of it.

The girls let me sleep in while they made breakfast and served it on our sun-drenched patio: homemade eggs Benedict with fresh grape tomatoes, oatmeal and pecan muffins that my eldest daughter baked, and a strong cappuccino made by my youngest.


You'd think for a guy like me, trying to lose weight, that this would be a killer breakfast. And it would have been, if I was to have sat on my butt all day. But my family gave me something else for Father's Day: something that I don't often get on weekends.


I was given about two-and-a-half hours to spend as I pleased, and they knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to get on my bike and ride. So while they went off to do what they wanted, I hit the road.

I cycled for two hours and thirteen minutes and covered nearly 50 kilometres on a large circle that covered the heart of the city. My route led me out of my community, along Prince of Wales Drive to Hogs Back, through Vincent Massey Park and along the Rideau River all the way to old City Hall, to the National Gallery, past the Chateau Laurier, down the Rideau locks and below Parliament, along the Ottawa River to Lincoln Heights, along the Transitway to Baseline Station, and then down Woodroffe, all the way back to my neighbourhood. Apart from the gusting wind along parts of the Ottawa River and Woodroffe, it was a fabulous ride.

Thanks to my girls for giving me the time to accomplish this ride. I've wanted to do it for some time now.

But Father's Day is about spending time with your kids, so after I returned home I showered, shaved, got dressed, and committed the rest of the day with them.

Doing stuff I wanted to do. It was Father's Day, after all.

Earlier this week, a new brew pub opened its doors in Ottawa. Big Rig Brewery and Kitchen is owned by Senators defenseman, Chris Phillips. Luckily, the Sens were eliminated fairly early in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and so Chris has had the time to focus on his brew pub.

To soon, Ottawa? Still feeling the pain of the loss?

I'm not a hockey fan, as you can tell, and when I first heard that a hockey player was starting his own brew pub, I have to admit that I thought Ottawa was getting a new sports bar that was also going to dabble in homemade beer.

Not so with Big Rig.

One of the first things I saw on entering the pub was the lack of NHL or any other sports paraphernalia. This is a restaurant with no emphasis on sports. Sure, there were a couple of TVs with soccer playing, but nearly every bar in town has a TV or two hanging on the walls. At least the TVs at Big Rig were out of the way and did not detract from the brew pub experience.

Big Rig is spacious, clean, and bright, with large windows covering the front, allowing plenty of light to flood in. This place is huge. At the far end of the restaurant, floor-to-ceiling windows display the large stainless steel fermenting tanks, showing this place is all about the beer.

We arrived in the late afternoon: after the lunch crowd and before the dinner crowd. We were seated right away by friendly staff. Because we had dinner that was waiting for us at home (chili in a slow cooker), we weren't planning to eat. I just came for the beer. Lori ended up ordering a plate of chicken nachos and the girls shared a grilled cheese sandwich: all agreed that their choices were good. Reading Big Rig's menu, their selections did look good (I did drool over their burger menu), so I'll definitely be up for a return visit.

There were six beers on offer, but I went for the sampler of four six-ounce glasses and passed on their flagship Gold and seasonal Hefeweizen. I wanted to go for the brews that were my standard favourites, the styles with which I was most familiar.

I decided that I would try these four miniature glasses and from them, I would select my favourite and enjoy a full pint.

So here are my samples and tasting notes.

Beer #1: Big Rig Rideau Red (5.2% ABV)

At first, I couldn't pick this sample out as a red ale. It has a deep amber colour with only a kiss of red. To me, it looked more orange than red. But for me, the colour seemed more natural than many reds I've tried.

Rideau Red has a subtle, light nose. I thought I detected a hint of cherry and citrus, like orange. On the palate, this ale was light, cleansing. There were mild hops and refreshing citrus. The finish was short and clean.

This was a delicious red, something I could see myself enjoying on a hot patio. Unfortunately, despite the perfect weather, Big Rig's patio was not open for business. Licensing delays? Not enough furniture?

I gave the Rideau Red a thumbs up.

Beer #2: Big Rig Byward Brown (5.2% ABV)

Everything about this ale screamed walnut. The colour was a deep walnut brown. The nose came up with walnut overtones. In the mouth, I detected warm malts, mild hops, and a nutty and tasted caramel flavour. The finish was long and satisfying.

I enjoyed this brown ale, but when I had to sum it up, the only word I could give to my server, Tarra, was "okay." It was okay. Good, but it didn't blow my socks off. If someone were to ask me if they should order it, I would say, "if you like brown ales, go ahead. It's okay."

I give it neither a thumbs up or a thumbs down. Try it. Or don't.

Beer #3: Big Rig India Pale Ale (6.2% ABV)

This is a lovely looking IPA: golden amber with a clean, white foam head. On the nose, I detected a sweet pink grapefruit and something I could only describe as floral. A hint of honey. This is a beer that I could just sit back and sniff all afternoon. There are many wines with which I could do that; only one other beer that does that to me: Mill Street Ambre de la Chaudière.

And now this IPA. This is a wonderfully aromatic ale.

But once you do get a mouthful, this beer is in your face without looking for a fight. It begs to be noticed. There are lots of hops. Lots of grapefruit. This is the IPA flavour I love. And the Big Rig IPA is all about that flavour that calls out for more.

I give this brew a big thumbs up.

Beer #4: Big Rid Stud Stout (5.6% ABV)

I love stouts. I always get excited about trying new stouts. I rarely meet one that I don't like. So I was looking forward to Big Rig's offering.

Stud Stoud is a deep brown colour with a hint of red. More red than the Rideau Red, I found. This stout has an incredible bouquet of chocolate. It was rich, almost reminding me of Young's Double Chocolate Stout, but there was also a marked sweetness, backed with cedar. According to one of my daughters, who absolutely loves stout, there was also a hint of cherry.

My mouth was greeted with more chocolate and tobacco, and there was a distinct smokey finish.

I liked this stout. I'm not sure how I feel about the finish, but I would certainly have it again and do recommend it for the stout lovers out there.

So which beer did I like the best? Which beer did I order again in a pint glass?

Beer #3: the IPA.

Hands down, it was my favourite. I'd have it again and again.

But truthfully, I was impressed with all four of the brewery's samples.

Chris Phillips' career may be hockey, but his passion also lies in beer.

At least we have that in common.


Friday, June 15, 2012


Last night, I attended another fabulous evening at Blog Out Loud. It always amazes me of the wonderful calibre of writers we have in the Ottawa blogging community, but I'm also thrilled by how well those bloggers are able to present their posts in front of a live audience.

Having been a Toastmaster for nine years, I'm familiar with speaking in front of a crowd, of putting myself out there. I still look fondly on the time where I performed Monty Python and the Holy Grail, taking all roles, and singing and acting my way through a condensed version—in 15 minutes.

I loved it.

While last night, I was out of practice of performing in front of a crowd, I did manage to get my blog read without choking. For those of you who were unable to attend, here's what you missed*:

My thanks go to Derek Felson for coming out to support me, and for shooting the video footage.

My favourite reading of the night? Tough choice. So many to choose from: from a story of having a tough time conceiving a child and then having almost no chance of having a second, to the hilarious tale of accidentally stealing a shopping cart, I'd have to say the one that I enjoyed the most was by Nadine Thornhill, who talked about the time she first discussed sex with her son and the lessons she learned. Well organized, well written, well told.

Truthfully, I enjoyed them all. I laughed, I choked up, I stopped and thought.

Our host, Marnie, was energized, engaging, and entertaining. And hot! (That's right: I said it.)

I'm already looking forward to next year's event. Many thanks to Lynn, for her hard work in organizing BOLO.

* The beer was actually from Nickel Brook, not River Brook. I must have blacked out!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Bells are Bullshit

This week, the Ottawa police are performing a blitz to ensure that cyclists are obeying the rules of the road and are exercising safe biking habits, and I applaud them. Cyclists need to keep themselves and others who share the roads and pathways safe.

The police are also checking to make sure the bikes are equipped for safe travel. They are ensuring the bikes have adequate brakes (no argument there), lights (sure, if it's dark), and... bells.

I own two bicycles: a big, hybrid cruiser and a lean street bike. I ride the hybrid when I have things to carry (it has a carry rack over the rear wheel), when I'm leisurely cycling with the family, or when I'm going somewhere that may not have a secure place for me to store it (if I have to lock up the bike, rather than take it inside with me, I leave my street bike at home).

When I ride my bike, I respect the rules of the road (for the most part). I stop at stop signs and for red lights; I keep to the right-hand side of the road; I give pedestrians the right of way. I share the road or path.

My hybrid has a bell. My road bike does not. It never will.

I bought the bell for my hybrid because when I bought the bike, I knew that Ottawa has a law that states that bells on bikes is mandatory. I'm pretty much a law-abiding citizen, and so I complied with the rule.

When I got home with my new bike and accessories—lights for the front and back, carrier, and bell—I set out to attach them to the bike. Everything was easy to affix to the bike, except the bell.

With the design of my hybrid, the gear levers were placed on the handle bars close to the hand grips, and so I couldn't attach the bell near the grips. But towards the centre of the handle bars, the bar was less crowded and so that's where the bell went. And remains.

The first time I used my bell I learned that I had to remove my hand from the grip and reach over the gear lever for the left-hand side. It wasn't a difficult move, but it wasn't a natural move. It was awkward to ring the bell.

So I stopped using it.

Instead, if I need to pass someone on the road or pathway, I call out: "passing on your left." As I pass, I add, "thank you."

I learned something interesting in calling out, rather than ringing a bell: it's faster; it's more explicit of my intentions; and it also received a better response.

The third result was much more interesting. Before, when I rang my bell, people would react in different ways. They would stop walking. They would jump aside—sometimes, into the left side of the path.

As a cyclist, I don't want people to move as I pass them. I want people to continue on course. The onus is on me to navigate safely around them. And if people know where I'm going, it makes passing safe and easy.

The intention in sharing the path is to ensure that everyone is safe. I don't see how a bell is superior to a voice. A bell simply dings. A voice communicates.

To have a law that requires a bell be equipped on a bike is short-sighted. Who cares what kind of device is used to signal a bike's approach as long as some sort of announcement is made?

My voice didn't cost me anything. My voice is loud and clear. My voice is instructional. Even if the person who I pass doesn't speak English, my voice tells them I'm there, and I'm coming.

My voice is my bell.

If the lawmakers are so adamant to have bells on bikes, they shouldn't go after the people who ride the bikes; they should go after the manufacturers who make them. The bells or other sound makers could be designed into the bike.

Seat belts are mandatory for automobiles. Law makers went after the car makers, who are responsible for equipping the vehicles with passenger restraints.

Cities who arbitrarily impose this law are going after the wrong people. The law is bullshit, pure and simple.

I have a bell on my hybrid. But I don't use it. My road bike doesn't have a bell.

And, so long as my voice works, it never will.