Friday, November 28, 2014

Photo Friday: Old Foggy Morning

I couldn't sleep.

Some long-forgotten thought lay heavy on my mind, refused to let me push it back into the back of my head and drift to sleep. And so, as the hours approached dawn, I got up, grabbed my camera, got in my car, and drove.

This happened more than 25 years ago.

I think something in my head told me that I needed to drive out past Barrhaven, on Fallowfield Road. Somehow, I knew that there would be fog, that I would find structures that would cast an eery glow in the sunrise. That this lonely road was where I needed to be.

To this day, this old, foggy morning is one of the best sunrise photo opportunities I have ever had. On this morning, I took so many photos that are among my favourite photos of all time. I have displayed photos from that morning here, here, and here.

It was a magical morning.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

A Guy's Perspective

I believe her.

When a woman says she's been assaulted by a man, I take her word at face value. I take her side.

But in light of the unnamed NDP MP who broke her silence to tell her side of a story that led to Liberal leader, Justin Trudeau, suspending two of his MPs, including Montreal MP Massimo Pacetti, who is implicated in sexual misconduct allegations, I feel a great deal of confusion.

Don't get me wrong: I don't doubt her side of the story, nor to I dismiss her feelings over what happened.

According to media interview, woman said that she and Pacetti had attended a sporting event in which they were members and friends. After the event, she says that Pacetti invited her to his hotel room for drinks: she said that she saw nothing unusual in the invitation because, as MPs, they used hotels as apartments as part of the job.

It was in the room where things became serious and the two engaged in sex.

The unnamed woman said that while she didn't say no to Pacetti, she didn't say yes, either.

As a guy, back in my dating years, if I was alone with a woman I liked and tried to make a move, I looked for two signs: either that she wasn't interested, and she backed away—which I read as STOP, or she reciprocated, which I interpreted as permission to continue.

If she said no, all advances stopped. No never means try harder: it means cease and desist.

Guys are stupid when it comes to trying to read women. When no signs are provided, we are incapable of interpreting wants and desires. When I would make an advance toward a woman and she gave no indication that she objected, I would continue. But in any relationship I've ever had, I have never sought an explicit "yes." I have never asked, "Is it okay if I continue?"

Maybe that was wrong to make assumptions, and if that was, I'm sorry. But I like to believe that in the vast majority of any sexual encounter, both parties have a responsibility to communicate, and it doesn't always have to be verbal.

I have heard this unnamed NDP MP tell her side of the story, and I have tried to put myself in Pacetti's position. He invites someone that he likes to his room. He makes advances: she doesn't object, neither verbally nor physically. They have sex.

The unnamed woman doesn't get into details (she doesn't have to) but there are obvious questions that come to mind: did he push her down and pull her clothes off, or did they undress each other, or undress themselves? Did he restrain her or was she free to move as she wanted?

If that's what happened, if he used force to get what he wanted, the full weight of the law should drop on Pacetti.

Maybe I'm naive, maybe I just don't get it. I'd like to understand.

When I was young, I was assaulted. I was overpowered by someone who was much bigger than me, who made it impossible for me to fight back. I squirmed. I said stop. It did no good.

But I was lucky. My mother came looking for me, called out my name, and my assailant let go of me before anything truly bad happened. Yet, the memory has stayed with me to this day.

If Pacetti made advances that were not reciprocated, but rather were met with negative reactions, and he continued, he was in the wrong, and Trudeau was right to suspend him. He should be charged with sexual assault, but that is entirely up to the woman who has anonymously told her story.

If Pacetti made advances and they were reciprocated, if he and the woman had sex and there were no indications that the woman wanted Pacetti to stop, it's very difficult for me, as a guy, to see that Pacetti acted in a manner that was not in good faith. If he wasn't told, verbally or physically, that what he was doing was unacceptable, how could he know? How could he be held in contempt for those actions when he had been given no indicators that the woman wasn't a willing partner?

I can understand if this woman regretted the act afterwards. Who hasn't regretted a one-night stand? But based on what this unnamed woman has reported, I find it hard to look at Pacetti with the same condemning eyes that I had when he was first suspended from the Liberal caucus.

Instead, what I see is a failure to communicate, on both sides. Maybe Pacetti is guilty of not specifically obtaining a yes from the woman. But from what she herself has said, she did not refuse his advances. She reported that she had been sexually assaulted in the past, and that Pacetti's advances left her feeling "paralyzed."

Did she share this terrible past with Pacetti? Doubtful. I haven't shared my story with many before. Why would she share it unless she and Pacetti were close?

So, where does this story go from here? For what it's worth (and that's not much), I suggest the following: now that Pacetti has heard her side of the story, that he knows that she did not explicitly consent, he should apologize to her. In front of Trudeau, who seems to have been dragged into this story and had been put between a rock and a hard place. The apology should be sincere, that the lack of communication led to something that would not have happened had all the facts been apparent. The apology should also come unconditionally, without raising the fact that communication failed on both sides. There should be no blame, no, buts.

And then Trudeau should reinstate Pacetti.

The accusations against Liberal MP Scott Andrews remain. In a perfect world, both sides of that story will come to light.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Autumn Storm

The day's dying light provided the definition, gave the depth to the cruel sky. Long-dead leaves took flight, their path not random or leisurely, but straight, and at great speed, racing away from the coming storm.

The wind, when you turned to face it, took your breath away. Only the most stubborn of leaves still clung to the branches of the soon-to-be dormant trees.

Droplets of rain fell in quick bursts, coming from the side. What would have been a light, gentle shower, was an assault under the influence of a gale.

A sign of what's to come? An impending, turbulent winter?
From Autumn's storm, we look to winter, and hope for calm.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Music Monday: I'm Not Okay

She's such a sweet kid.

She's kind-hearted and caring. She's smart. She's funny.

She likes to dance ballet and jazz. She likes to watch Dr. Who and Sherlock.

And she likes to dress in black with high-topped boots, with studs.

And she likes to listen to really loud rock.

She's my daughter.

At 13, she's developed her own taste in music, one that has diverged from the music that was played in the house through her formative years. I guess it's no different from when I was growing up, when my parents played Neil Diamond, Cat Stevens, and John Denver, and I fell head over heels for Led Zeppelin, The Who, and Yes*.

This weekend, my family and I drove down to Syracuse, NY, to visit a friend and get some shopping in before the Christmas madness sets in. Syracuse is not that far from Ottawa: even in sleet and rain, we made it in three hours. The trip home was even shorter.

During the drive, we listened to music. On the way down, I played songs; on the way home, the kids had the chance to play theirs.

I dreaded listening to my eldest daughter's music. I have heard it wailing from her bedroom and seeping out her headphones.

It's not my cup of tea.

But because I wanted to listen to the lyrics and try to understand what drew my daughter to this music, I had a listen. I asked her to play her favourite song from her favourite band, My Chemical Romance.

It's called I'm Not Okay (I Promise). Have a listen, but I warn you: if you're not quite awake when you start this video, you will be after the song is over—but not necessarily in a good way.

But the video itself is quite amusing.

I listened to several of this band's songs as we approached home. I have to say, some of the songs weren't that bad. Not my cup of tea, not something I would keep on my Android device, but I have had a taste of what gets my girl grooving and I respect it for what it is.

I still think she's a sweet kid. I hope she stays that way.

Happy Monday!

* I still like Neil Diamond and Cat Stevens (though I never really liked John Denver). My daughter still likes the music that we played around the house before she developed her new taste.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Photo Friday: The New Faces of Sparks Street

When Ottawans think of Sparks Street, we think of a pedestrian mall that has undergone many transformations. Of a strip of many stores that have come and gone, where history meets the modern age—bricks and stone meet steel and glass.

Sparks Street isn't really known for its vibrant night life. Once the government offices close and the shop owners and staff leave for the evening, Sparks Street turns into a ghost town. Sure, there's D'Arcy McGee's at Sparks and Elgin, which does well after office hours, but it's along a major street and, being across from the National War Memorial, it is an attractive draw for many tourists and visitors to the downtown core.

But Sparks Street has a new restaurant that promises to draw more visitors to this historic avenue.

Bier Markt has had a soft opening this week, with a few private parties and then a general opening on Wednesday evening. And it shows the promise of success.

Owned by Prime Restaurants, which also owns D'Arcy's, Bier Markt features open spaces, a long bar with 46 taps (that's right: 46 taps with different beers), a stage for live music, a charcuterie bar, and even a back room that offers quieter dining.

I said they had 46 taps. They also have more than 150 beers advertised in their extensive beer list: I may have found a new home.

I visited the restaurant at a private party on Saturday, when the staff were getting their sea legs, so to speak, and again on Wednesday, when they were put to their paces. I didn't want to review the restaurant during these initial days, but rest assured, I will be back and will review the hell out of them.

I have a lot of beers to try.

For Photo Friday, I would like to introduce you to the managerial staff: general manager, Peter, and his assistant managers, Sasha and Adam, and chef, Sunmers. These are the new faces of Sparks Street.

Left to Right: Adam, Sasha, Peter, Sunmers.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Sometimes, I Want to Quit Twitter

When someone asks me what Twitter is all about, I say this: Twitter is like a giant room where everyone talks and anyone can hear, unless you "whisper" to someone in a private chat. What you say in this big room is witnessed by anyone who follows you or who is "listening" for a key word that you might use. If anyone who follows you likes what you have to say, they may repeat it to those that follow him or her, and so on, and so on.

You may earn more followers based on how your words spread, and that's what builds the Twitterverse.

However, when you put something out there on Twitter, you open yourself to whoever is following you or whoever retweets your tweet. Everyone is on a level playing field in Twitter, so if you don't want to have someone—anyone—respond to something you throw out there, it's best to keep it to yourself.

That's Twitter, in a nutshell.

I follow more than 1,000 people on Twitter and almost 1,100 people follow me. A modest amount, and I am thankful for those who follow and engage me. Those who I follow, I follow for many reasons:
  • I know the person.
  • I know of the person and I like what he or she has to say.
  • I'm a fan of the person.
  • I'm a news hound and that person is a trustworthy source of news.
  • I'm a beer lover and that person is associated with beer (brewer, brew blogger, and so on).
  • The person makes me laugh.
  • A person who I follow has retweeted this person enough times for me to want to follow her or him.
Sometimes, if I tweet something that my followers like, they will retweet it and I may gain new followers, and if they engage me, I may follow back. And if they engage me, I almost always respond. I usually respond to a kind tweet with a kind response. I respond to a thoughtful tweet with thoughtful intentions. I tend not to respond to tweets of criticism, unless they're critical in a way that opens up a conversation where there is mutual respect (if it's an attack, I tend not to respond).

That's how Twitter is supposed to work. It's how social media is made social. And I've made some great friends through Twitter, people that I have come to know well in person as well as online.

If I follow someone, he or she doesn't have to follow me back. If I read a tweet from someone and want to engage him or her, I do.

But sometimes, I get the feeling that there are those who want to tweet and not evoke a response, and I feel that that's a shame, because Twitter is the tool to start a conversation, to maybe make a new friend.

A week or so ago, I responded to someone I had only followed for a few weeks (but who does not follow me back). When I read the tweet, I thought the person was soliciting advice on a serious subject. She asked the question, "What do you write to someone who only has a year to live?"

Tough subject, and when I read the question, I felt for this person in her sorrow. I looked at her timeline, to see if there was more context around the question she posed, but found none.

I reached out, and said something, like, "I wouldn't write something: I would just try to be there for him or her." My opinion was that spending time with someone who is dying might be more meaningful than any words written down. Personally, I wouldn't know what to say to someone in the situation that this person on Twitter had described.

The response to my tweet caught me by surprise. I was told that the person who is dying was unconscious and wouldn't know that anyone was with him or her. I was called "judgy."

I responded, explaining that my intention was not to pass any sort of judgement, and that I was sorry if I came off that way. I explained that I didn't know all the facts of the situation.

Another response came back: I did sound judgemental, and still did.

Once more, I apologized for sounding judgemental, that that was not my intent.

Finally, I was told that this person had deleted all of her tweets to do with this conversation, and that I had made her feel awful. "Thanks for making me feel awful," I think were the words that she tweeted. (I couldn't check later: the tweet was removed.)

I didn't respond to her. But to my followers, I had one thing to tweet: "Wow."

Ninety-nine percent of the time, Twitter conversations are great. But it's that one percent that makes you wonder whether it's worth trying to be sociable this way. I can have countless interactions with people I hardly know or don't even know, and they can be all pleasant. But it is that one person who throws Twitter in your face that can make me want to walk away from it.

Thankfully, there's a solution: you don't have to listen to them.

I stopped following her.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

It's That Time of the Year Again

Personally, I don't go shopping this early. I like to wait until the 24th of December to do my shopping, which drives my wife crazy.

She's the responsible one.

And for all of you who love to start your holiday gift shopping early and get it out of the way, I have a deal for you. Or, rather for that book lover on your list.

My book. Autographed. In paperback form.

I have copies that I am offering for $20, tax included. If you live in the Ottawa area, I can arrange to have it delivered to you, free of charge; outside of my home town, you would have to pay for shipping.

To take advantage of this offer (I have limited quantities), send an e-mail to me at, and we'll talk.

Thanks for your support.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Music Monday: Gyre

And now, for something completely different.

I'm not all about rock and adult alternative music. I also love blues and jazz, and when it comes to jazz, my tastes vary as much as the available styles. I love big-band sounds and bossa nova, but nothing gets my toes tapping like Gypsy jazz.

Yesterday, my family battled the snow on worn-out summer tires to get to the small Gatineau town of Wakefield, where we joined family at the Black Sheep Inn to see a performance of the Halifax band, Gypsophilia.

The six-member ensemble features guitarists Alec Frith, Nick Wilkinson, and Ross Burns, with Burns adding percussion and a few obscure instruments to add colorful and creative sounds. Burns also spoke for the band between numbers, though all of the members were engaging. Adam Fine played a mean stand-up bass; Matt Myer played keyboard and trumpet, his trumpet harmonized beautifully with Gina Burgess and her violin.

The performance was held to a full house with a wide variety of ages, from the very young (2 or so, and my kids) to the grey-haired music lovers.

I loved Gypsophilia's show so much that I haven't stopped thinking about them, and had to share. If you get the chance, go and see them.

Here's one of their songs, Gyre: this video was recorded at the Halifax Jazz Festival in 2010. What my family and I noticed right away was that Burgess' hair is much longer than it was yesterday (but her sound is no less impressive).


I know: this isn't my usual Music Monday genre, but it's no less important in my repertoire of musical taste. I should share more music like this.

Happy Monday!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Photo Friday: Killing Time

For the past few Wednesday evenings, I've found myself in Manotick, waiting for my young daughter, who has been enrolled in an activity (that's enough information: her private life is her private life). Because the activity only takes an hour, it's not worth my while to drive home, and so I find myself looking for things to do.

As lovely as Manotick is, it's not a hotbed of activity.

One week, in search of a coffee shop, I learned that the only place that is open at that hour is the nearby Tim Hortons. I don't like their coffee and I try to avoid doughnuts at all costs, so I either have to choke down that hot, coffee-like beverage (their new dark roast is only mildly better) or I have to find something else to do.

The following week, I decided to go to one of the town's pubs, The Black Dog Bistro, which has a great selection of local craft brews on tap. It's a much-better option to Tim's, but also much more expensive (I guess you get what you pay for). And I prefer company if I'm going to drink beer.

This week, I gave up looking for a place to hang out. Instead, I grabbed my camera and headed for the town's major attraction, Watson's Mill. I figured that snow can come at any time, and I might as well take advantage of the weather before it became too cold.

With just a hoodie on, on Wednesday night, it was already too cold. But I still took some shots.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Merivale Public School

I only had one clue left.

It was a giveaway clue, something about this not being the time to slack off. But I didn't need that clue. And while this month's Where In Ottawa challenge took longer to solve than any other image, an easy clue wasn't necessary.

November's location was the old Merivale Public School, Nepean Township's thirteenth school.

Here are the clues, explained:
  1. It's how they used to do things—you know, like, old school. This one-room school has been around since at least 1845.
  2. Unlucky number—this was school number 13 in Nepean Township.
  3. Risen from the ashes—the stone school that exists today, on Slack Road (see where I was going with the final, untold clue?), replaced an earlier, wooden school, which burned to the ground.
  4. Oranges & Buddhists—after the school's closure, in 1955, it became an Orange Hall and, later, a meeting hall for the Buddhist Society of Ottawa.
  5. Class dismissed in 1955—as I said, the school closed its doors that year; a modern Merivale Public School opened next door.
  6. Good Mr. Boyce—a teacher by the name of John Boyce was so popular that in 1859 the community built him a log cabin next to the school. It no longer exists.
Congratulations to James Peltzer, who solved this month's challenge. A paperback copy of my novel, Songsaengnim: A Korea Diary, is on its way.

I have learned one thing this past week: I should have a pocketful of clues before I start a Where In Ottawa challenge. But I also think that starting next month, I'm only going to run the challenge for a week. Where In Ottawa starts on the first Monday of each month, meaning that next month, it will start on December 1. If next month's location isn't identified by December 7, at midnight, the challenge will end. On the following Wordless Wednesday, I'll reveal the location.

There will only be a maximum of six clues, from December 2–7, or until it is solved, whichever date comes first.

Think you know Ottawa? Now, you'll only have a week to prove it.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


This is a day of few words.

Having seen the beaches of Normandy, this summer, knowing the place where young Canadian soldiers put their lives on the line or made a great sacrifice on D-Day in World War II, words cannot convey my gratitude and pride.

In Ottawa, at the National War Memorial, the risks and sacrifices of our soldiers is deeply felt.

We remember.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Music Monday: ÜBerlin

In May, 1988, Berlin was still firmly divided, and for a young Canadian visiting the historic German city, alone, without knowing the language, I found it somewhat intimidating.

And exciting.

And scary.

I walked through Checkpoint Charlie, from the American Sector into the Soviet Sector, knowing that I was entering this repressive district with a plan to explore back alleys, away from the tourist areas. I had a micro-cassette recorder in my camera bag, and I would use it to make notes about a novel I was working on.

It was a spy novel, with Roland Axam as the main character.

It was only on my return to West Berlin, as I was smuggling the unused West German marks in my shoes, that I realized that had the border guards decided to listen to my recordings, they would hear me speaking about alcoves in apartment buildings that could hide entrances to a tunnel to the west. About names of defectors.

Not knowing that one-and-a-half years later, the wall would come down, I sweated over the possibility of being held in a Communist country on charges of espionage.

But if Roland could bluff his way through Checkpoint Charlie, why couldn't I?

On the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, I couldn't help but think about the song, ÜBerlin, by R.E.M. I only discovered the band's final album, Collapse into Now, in 2011, a few weeks before the group called it a day and disbanded. As a big fan of R.E.M., I was at first saddened to hear that they were breaking up, but also surprised that they were still together in 2011. While I loved their sound and had followed them since the release of Lifes Rich Pageant (1986), I was disappointed in Monster (1994) and took a break from listening to them. Only every once and a while, I would hear them on the radio and tell myself that I should start listening to them again.

I finally did so in 2011. And then they broke up.

ÜBerlin is a lovely song, and when I looked up the video on YouTube, I was happy to see that it was set in Berlin (though no real discernible landmarks are shown). The video features British actor, Aaron Johnson, dancing while he walks through a graffiti-spattered, run-down part of the town. His almost spastic-like dancing looks very much like how I dance around the house when I do my weekend chores.

Another reason to like the video.

With Berlin's historic anniversary, I couldn't help but remember my experiences in the city when the wall was still up, about my main fictional man, and a band that I loved strongly in 1988.

(And now you can think of me dancing on Saturday afternoons.)

Enjoy the video.

Happy Monday!

(If you want to see more of my photos from Berlin, click here.)

Friday, November 7, 2014

Photo Friday: Cool Memories

A definite sign that winter is around the corner in the national capital can be seen when the Rideau Canal has been drained and the National Capital Commission (NCC) has placed the change huts on the yet-to-be prepared, world's largest skating rink. Drivers who usually use Colonel By Drive may have encountered tie-ups as cranes hoisted the modern facilities from flat-bed trucks onto the muddy beds of the canal.

Photo credit: CBC
I like the new change huts: the curves and glass are welcoming. The interiors are bright and warm. And while the price tag of the seven new huts make most gasp—at $750,000 apiece, each hut costs more than double what my house is worth—in the grand scheme of things, I'm sure they're a worthwhile investment.

At that price, I really hope they last a long time.

Photo credit:
I call these huts "new," though we've had them for a couple of years—they were unveiled in January of 2012—but I do so to distinguish them from the "old" huts, which were in use since the 1970s, and with which I associate my childhood, when my parents would pack up my sisters and me, and we would spend a weekend afternoon on the frozen canal, skating, viewing the show sculptures that once filled Dow's Lake, and drinking hot chocolate from one of the vendor huts along the skating route.

We would don our skates in the shelter of those old huts, and when the NCC upgraded those shelters, I couldn't help but remember those wonderful memories of those structures.

And while those huts no longer line the Rideau Canal, they have not left Ottawa. Since their final removal from the canal, they have sat outdoors, basking in the sunshine, enduring the rain, aging over the four seasons, not very far from my home.

I see them on my commute to work, in the distance, lined end-to-end between the grey agricultural buildings in the south end of the Greenbelt. They are visible from Woodroffe Avenue, near Slack Road, about a half kilometre or so from the transitway corridor.

I can still see them and remember the years of my childhood on the world's largest skating rink. I can almost taste the watery, chalk-like, but warming hot chocolate. The huts are as out of place in their new home as can be.

Earlier this year, I contacted the NCC in an attempt to gain permission to take photos of these nostalgic structures. I wanted to get close, to capture them in a way to honour their memory.

The NCC declined. At the time, I was told that the commission did not want to make it widely public as too the location of these huts. There was still some unwelcome controversy over the new huts, about their cost. They were concerned that photos of the old huts might stir up that controversy again.

While I assured the spokesperson that I wasn't interested in picking at that scab (personally, I feel the price is high but if we get the same number of years out of them as we had with the old huts, it would be money well spent—plus, the new huts look really good). The NCC wasn't willing to take that chance.

I addressed the issue of making the public aware of the huts' location by explaining that they were clearly visible from a major road that led to and from South Nepean, a highly populated neighbourhood. Thousands of commuters saw the huts every day.

Still, the answer was no.

"I have a telephoto lens," I explained. "There's nothing to prevent me from standing at the side of the road and capturing the huts."

The head of the NCC's public relations, whose name I'll withhold, said that he hoped I wouldn't do that.

Sorry. It's what I want.

© 2014 Ross Brown
I want to remember these huts. They bring back good memories. And seeing them, especially at this time of year, as the NCC prepares the canal for winter festivities, these old huts make me think of winter and a great means of celebrating the season.

Do you have memories of these huts? If so, share them by leaving a comment. Would you like to see better images of these huts? Let the NCC know by leaving a comment. Maybe, if I try them again, they will have a change of heart.

We can enjoy the new huts while still maintaining happy memories of the old ones.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

How I Killed Santa, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy

Ever since my kids could communicate, whether by speaking or in writing, they have been inquisitive. They have wanted to know how a TV works, why we have to stop when a traffic light turns red, and how we vote for our leaders. And I have done my best to answer these and other burning questions in a direct and honest manner.

Except when it came to topics to do with our holidays and traditions.

When I was asked about Santa Claus, about where he lived and whether he was real or not, I stuck with the common childhood belief: he lives in the North Pole, I would say. Yes, he's real. The same went for the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny.

Over the years, my kids would continue to ask if these characters really existed. I figured they were encountering debates at school: some kids believed; others did not, depending on his or her religious and cultural beliefs. And so I would maintain, when asked, that these folks were real, just as long as you believed that they existed.

On Christmas Eve, or when a tooth was lost, my daughters would write notes and leave them with the milk and cookies or beside their beds, with the lost tooth. They would have questions for Santa or Fairy, leaving pens for responses. In my best writing, I would try to answer. And my girls would seem satisfied.

For the time being.

As they grew, my daughters became skeptical. They had come to the conclusion that a rabbit hiding chocolate that they saw in the stores highly unlikely. One year, to support that realization, my wife and I created an Easter hunt where notes with clues would lead them around the house, where they collected chocolates as they moved from hiding spot to hiding spot. They really enjoyed that and we've repeated it in some years; in others, we've hidden caches of plastic eggs that held treats.

The Easter Bunny was dead.

My youngest, who was the biggest skeptic, devised a clever plan to thwart the Tooth Fairy. When one of her teeth became loose, she worked hard at wiggling it free, without telling anyone in the family. When the tooth came out, she placed it under her pillow that evening.

And said nothing to her mother or me.

For days, the tooth remained under her pillow (she had a special pink plastic case that she used to store the tooth, thinking that the Tooth Fairy would prefer that to having to feel around for a tiny tooth.

Finally, after days without a visit, our daughter told us that she knew that the Tooth Fairy wasn't real, that she had a sure way to find out. She told us that she would prove it, when she put her lost tooth under her pillow—she didn't tell us that the tooth had been under her pillow for days, but rather led us to believe she had just lost the tooth and would put it under her pillow for the first time that evening.

She wrote a note to the Tooth Fairy, explaining how she had discovered that the pixie wasn't real that she would prove it in the morning. In my best Tooth Fairy handwriting, I responded, while she slept, that if she didn't want to believe, that decision was hers alone to make.

The next morning, when our daughter waved the two-dollar coin in our faces, she said, "I knew it was you! I lost that tooth days ago and had it under my pillow all along. It wasn't until you knew about it that I got paid."

Smart girl, but the Tooth Fairy was dead.

Santa died this summer, during our trip to France. We were in Sarlat-la-Canéda, in the Dordogne region. We had spent a day canoeing and kayaking, and had decided to treat ourselves to a nice dinner in this quaint town. I still remember eating the best foie gras and duck, enjoying some delicious wine, and being entertained by a brusk but kind waiter.

My young daughter addressed me in a serious, business-like manner. "Dad, is Santa Claus real?"

I let my pat answer roll off my tongue: "He's real if you believe in him."

"No, Dad, I want the truth. Is he a real person?"

"You want the truth, whether you like what I tell you or not?"


Our main course was done. We were waiting for dessert. My wife, eldest daughter, and I had ordered from the daily special menu, which included cake. My youngest didn't want what was being offered.

I looked into her eyes: they were determined, locked onto mine. She would know if I was lying. I'm a terrible liar.

"I am Santa," I said.

She cried. She told me I sucked.

"You wanted the truth," I explained.

"I know," she wept. "But I didn't want this to be the truth."

I killed Santa. But the waiter, seeing the tears, brought her a piece of walnut cake, even though it wasn't part of her meal. He said it was a mistake on his part, but that she had better take it, lest his boss discover the error.

My daughter lost a tooth yesterday. She didn't hide it, didn't ask for cash. For Christmas, I don't know what to expect.

But I doubt there will be any letters to Santa.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Game

Do you remember that episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, entitled "The Game"? How Commander Riker was introduced to an electronic game that rewarded the player with pleasant sensations when a goal in the game was reached?

Remember how Wesley Crusher discovered that the game was detrimental to the crew of the Enterprise and how he resisted the game to save the day?

Yeah, that.

Resistance is futile. You will play the game.
My wife doesn't care for computer games, for the most part. She doesn't think that time should be wasted in non-productive activities for any prolonged period of time. In the past, she has limited the time that any family member spends on a game. If we find ourselves lost in front of a screen, she has been good at bringing us back to the real world.

It was my eldest daughter who first started playing the game, and dear daughter number two was quick to follow suit. It seemed like a harmless game, where the player manages time and resources to reach goals and gain levels. The kids download and play many games, but generally move on after a couple of days.

My wife saw the game, saw the girls engaged, and for the first time since the early days of Angry Birds, downloaded the game onto her own device. That was more than two weeks ago.

I've lost my wife.

Two days after she started playing the game and after seeing all three of my girls engrossed in their screens, I decided to download the free app onto my iPad to see what all the fuss was about.

The game is called Hay Day.

In the game, you inherit a farm and build it up. You grow crops, raise chickens, cows, sheep, and other barnyard animals. You build ovens, grills, weaving equipment. You clear land, you trade produce, you grow.

And you suck the day away.

I played the game for six days. I amassed a pile of wealth. I gained 21 levels. And I stopped writing, stopped drinking beer, for Christ's sake! (Okay, I drank beer, but wouldn't take the time to make notes for Beer O'Clock reviews.)

I saw what the game was doing to my family, to our personal productivity. I was good at keeping my crops growing, my livestock fed, and my property expanding. Only, none of it was real: the grass in my back yard was growing long and the leaves that had fallen from my trees was not being raked up. Laundry was piling up. Chores were falling by the wayside.

Six days into Hay Day, I found myself worrying about feeding the chickens when I was away from the game. I wondered if my pies were baked, if my food orders were ready. I would dream about farm life.

And so, with more than 25,000 coins and 24 diamonds accumulated, with a steam ship filled with crates of produce, I deleted the game from my iPad. I gave it all up. I let my farm disappear into the digital bits that make up the Web.

I have been trying to convince my wife and kids to do the same, to let them know that life is passing them by, to no avail.

I need a Wesley Crusher and a Data.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Where In Ottawa XLI

Fall is clearly in the air, the days are getting shorter, and the weather is crisp and clear.

This is my favourite time of year, when the coloured leaves crunch underfoot and you can see your breath, but the snow hasn't come yet. This is the time of year that I really like to get out and take photographs.

And this weekend, I got out to shoot a trail in Gatineau Park, to photograph something I've been meaning to shoot for years—something that isn't far from my neighbourhood—and shoot a location for my monthly blog contest.

The forty-first edition of Where In Ottawa is ready to go. If you haven't played this challenge before—or even if you have but you've forgotten the rules—here are the conditions of play.
  • The following photograph was taken somewhere in the greater Ottawa region. Your job: locate it.
  • If you think you know the location of the structure in the image, leave your guess in the Comments section of this post. Answers sent to me by Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, or any other method than by writing a guess in the Comments section do not qualify for this challenge. I will not reply to any other form of guess.
  • If you were with me when I took the photo, you may not participate in the challenge.
  • If you have played and won Where In Ottawa in the past, you may still participate; however, if you guess correctly, no giveaway will be awarded.
  • The first person to correctly identify the location of the object in the photograph will receive an autographed paperback copy of my novel, Songsaengnim: A Korea Diary.
  • You may leave as many guesses as you want.
  • The winner of Where In Ottawa has until the end of November, 2014, to claim his or her giveaway. The book will not be awarded after November 30.
That's basically it. So are you ready? Here is this month's photo:

Think you know Ottawa? Prove it!

And good luck!