Friday, February 27, 2015

Photo Friday: The Longest Month

It has been the coldest February on record. The Rideau Canal has seen the most-consecutive days of open skateway in its history.

Winter doesn't seem like it's ever going to end.

The snowfall has been mercifully light, with no more than a couple of centimetres of light accumulation (made light by the bitter cold) most of the time, and only one or two storms that have left us with close to 10cm. Shovelling, thankfully, has been minimal.

With the cold, the snow hasn't melted, and the depths have grown. But the snow doesn't bother me. I love how the crisp, white accumulation beautifies the landscape. It's the cold that has made me tired, that has depressed me to no end.

The path from the office parking lot to the building has grown narrow, and has steep banks on either side. It's a long trudge on a cold day: when there is more than myself walking the path, we do so in single file, or heads hung low as we endure the cold journey.

It's too cold to explore the outdoors, to capture photos. There have been times when I've driven in my car, when I've seen the beauty of the fog along the Ottawa River, when I've seen the glow of a sunset or a sunrise, when I've spied a snowy owl, perched on a barren tree branch. I've wanted to pull over and capture the sight, but I hesitate, I shrug, and I keep going.

It's too cold to pull over and get my camera out of the trunk. Wearing mittens isn't conducive to photography.

And so I long for spring, for warmer weather. But with this month, it seems as though winter will never end. This has been a brutal winter. In these frozen depths, this has been the longest month. Like the path to the office, it is a long, depressing slog.

Um... Happy Friday?

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Throwback Thursday: A Man of Many Hats

He started off as the neighbour who drove cool cars.

Then he became a friend, helping me catch a baseball and teaching me how to box. He got me interested in cars, in vintage aircraft—helping me build models: he, doing much of the work and the finishing touches; me, playing with them and displaying them, like special trophies, on my bedroom shelves.

And then he moved in with us, was my mother's boyfriend, then husband. He went from the man who moved into my home to the man in whose house I lived, the man who took three kids on as his own.

He went from being referred to as my step-father to being the one I referred to as "my father" around my friends, even though I have always addressed him by his name, rather than by any title.

He taught me how to drive, helped me get my first, second, third, and more cars. He gave me my first camera, let me use his when I became good enough to entrust with it. He gave me my first glass of wine, my first sip of beer.

He was there when I got married, when my kids were born—to them, he is a in every way their grandpa.

He has played all of those roles, and more. And though he is still a friend, he is above all else, family. He is one with whom I can share a laugh, a serious discussion, a beer or a single-malt whisky, or a rant.

Happy Birthday, Greg.

Game night, circa 1988.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

My Beercation

It's the city that never sleeps. If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.

It's a city where you can visit countless times and have countless experiences.

And next week, when my DW and I visit New York for my birthday, we are going to do and see things that we haven't done in previous trips.

Being New York, we're going to participate in events that are distinct for the city: we're going to take in a Broadway play; we're going to check out one of the many art galleries (one we haven't been to already); we're going to dine at the Tavern on the Green, at sunset.

But, being my birthday, my wife thought we should do some beer-related activities. And so, I've sought out some beer venues throughout Manhattan that we shall visit.
  • Birreria—this rooftop beer garden is only a couple of blocks from our hotel, in the Flatiron district. With a great view of the city and a vast selection of brews, I am greatly anticipating this venue.
  • McSorley's Old Ale House—this pub is located in the East Village and is more than 160 years old. It also, I have learned, offers two-for-one pints. Need I say more?
  • Keg No. 229—located near the South Street Seaport, this pub is a reported Mecca of craft beer.
  • Top of the Strand—okay, this cocktail bar isn't exactly a beer haven, but it's also close to my hotel and it's glass ceiling offers a spectacular view of the Empire State Building.
Because we're arriving in NYC at the end of Restaurant Week, my wife and I have also made reservations at some premier restaurants, including the Tavern on the Green. This shall be a four-day trip of good food, as well as good beer.

Do you have a favourite beer venue in New York? Is there a place that I should not miss? Let me know.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Music Monday: Breathe (Again)

An open letter to Midge Ure:

Dear Midge,

I'm very excited that in just over one week, you'll be returning to the Ottawa area and performing at the Black Sheep Inn, in Wakefield. It's a great venue: intimate, with a great view of the Gatineau River, in a quaint little town that's only a half hour north of downtown Ottawa. On stage, you'll be nice and close to your adoring fans.

And you will have fans at this show.

There will be those who have seen you perform at Barrymore's, in Ottawa, in the 80s, who are looking forward to hearing you again. There will be those who I have invited to join me, who have heard your songs over the past few months in my Music Monday posts, who are, no doubt, looking forward to hearing you live.

I'm willing to wager that I will be your biggest fan at the show. I have been a huge fan ever since you took the lead of Ultravox and throughout your successful solo career. I have listened, ceaselessly, to your music since 1980. I often sing it around the house.

You have influenced my musical taste, influenced me in my writing (my fictional character is loosely modeled after you): my first-published novel has a mention to you and to one of your songs.

If I was any bigger of a fan, I would border on stalker (don't worry: I'm not. Please know that I will keep a respectful distance. Though, I will be bringing a copy of my novel and would be honoured if you would accept it as a small token of my appreciation.)

For this Music Monday, I'm sharing a video of one of my favourite songs of yours, "Breathe." I have already shared an acoustic version of this song and I have seen a couple of videos, but this is my favourite one.

So, in advance of your visit, I offer some advice: you might want to ensure that you're dressed as you are in this video. It's been a hellish winter in our area, and that coat and hat will keep you warm.

These temperatures will take your breath away.

See you soon, Ross.

To my friends and family, this will be the last song of Midge's that I will play for Music Monday. I hope the music has inspired you to join me on March 3, not only to hear a great artist but to help me celebrate my 50th birthday, which is also next week.

No greater gift could be given than for you to be there (okay: if Midge asked me to join him in a song, I could die right after, a happy man). You can purchase your tickets to the show by clicking here. If you want to RSVP to my birthday event, go here.

Happy Monday!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Photo Friday: Canadian Must-Do

There are some things that I feel every Canadian must do to truly experience this great country of ours. And while I have done most of the things on my informal and truly subjective list, there are some things that I still need to do.

One of the things on my list was finally achieved this past weekend: I rode the sled down the boardwalk during Québec City's Carnaval. And I essentially did it for free.

The cost of borrowing a cushioned, wooden toboggan and dragging it up a steep slope, riding down an icy lane off the Dufferin Terrace, down 82 metres and over 152 metres, and reaching speeds up to about 90 kph, was totally worth the $3 cost. Only, the attendant at the top of the run didn't take my ticket, nor one of my kids', and so the girls got to go down one more time.

The view is gorgeous, looking down the escarpment toward the Chateau Frontenac, with the old town further below and the St. Lawrence River to your right.

One more thing off my To-Do list.

The other things I think every Canadian should do are as follows, in no particular order:
  • See Niagara Falls from The Maid of the Mist
  • Build a sand castle on Cavendish Beach, PEI
  • Skate the full length of the Rideau Canal, in Ottawa, during Winterlude
  • Drive the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
  • Whale watch in St. Andrews, in the Bay of Fundy, in New Brunswick
  • Watch the tide come and go from the Hopewell Rocks, also in the Bay of Fundy
  • Visit Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland
  • Celebrate Carnaval, in Québec City
  • Take in the Just For Laughs Festival, in Montreal, Québec
  • Walk the sandbar to Percé Rock, on the Gaspé Peninsula, Québec
  • Take in the busker festival in Winnipeg, Manitoba
  • Visit Lake Louise, in Banff National Park, Alberta
  • Photograph Saskatchewan grain elevators at sunset and sunrise
  • Ski at Whistler, BC
  • Have a picnic in Stanley Park, Vancouver
  • Visit the BC legislature building, in Victoria, at night
So far, including the toboggan run, I've done 11 of these activities. How many have you done? What do you feel is missing from this list?

Get out there and see Canada!

Happy Friday!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Wet Sponges and Suction Cups

It's not as kinky as you would think. But it sucks, it tingles, and it makes me feel good.

At seven weeks, it's been the longest period that I have gone with a bad back. Six weeks of physiotherapy, two massage-therapy sessions, and one bad experience with acupuncture. Overall, I know I'm getting better, but there are some days where I feel a setback.

It's usually my fault, something that I did to aggravate my back: I lift something too heavy; I attend a spin class before my body is ready; I sit funny; I walk far too long, usually with my camera bag strapped on my back.

That's the hardest one. I take my camera bag almost everywhere. I've participated in a photo walk through an icy mine; I've walked on the Rideau Canal; I wandered all over Québec City, for Carnaval, have ridden a rickety toboggan run and bounced down a snow slide in an inflated tube.

All with my camera equipment slung over my shoulder, pushing against my lower back.

I need to be smarter, need to be more selective of the equipment I carry. I don't always need to carry both flashes—sometimes, not even one. I need to think about where I'm going, what I plan to shoot. At Carnaval, I didn't need my telephoto lens, didn't need my micro lens. I only used my 50mm prime and my 10-20mm wide-angle lenses.

I could have cut the weight of my camera bag in half.

I need to be smarter. When I head to New York City, in a couple of weeks, I need to think about what I need and leave everything else behind.

Because as much as electrotherapy vacuum units feel good, as the current penetrates deeply into my muscles, as much as I like how I feel when I walk out of the physiotherapy clinic, wet sponges and suction cups are not what turn me on.

I want my pain-free back... back.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Another 50

While I prepare to celebrate my 50th birthday, another, similar but more-important milestone has just been reached.

Fifty years ago, this month, my country's flag was born. The red-and-white, maple-leafed symbol, recognized the world over, was first hoisted on Parliament Hill on February 15, 1965. It's a good thing it wasn't raised a day earlier: with its colours, someone may have thought it was a Valentine's Day joke.

I love its simplicity of colours, of its singular, distinctive symbol.

I welcome it to middle age. If only I should look as good.

Every day, atop the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill, a new flag is hoisted. The old flag, only a day old, is passed on to a person who has requested it. If you want one, you can add your name to a list, but you had better do it when you're young: while I would never see mine, my children should get theirs, around retirement age.

The current wait time for that flag is about 49 years.

Happy Birthday, Canadian Flag!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Music Monday: If I Was

If I was
A better man
Would all my friends
Come to my party?
It's only two weeks away, and while I'm really excited to see one of my favourite performers of all time return to the Ottawa area after a 25-year absence, I'm really touched by the number of people who have told me that they are coming out to share this evening with me. To date, I have heard from more than 20 friends and loved ones who have told me that they are coming.

And as awesome as that is, I want more. I want all of you. I want to pack the Black Sheep Inn to the rafters.

I know it's a Tuesday. I know it's a 30-minute drive from downtown. That's what makes it so special to me.

In the months leading up to my 50th birthday, my wife asked me how I would like to celebrate it. I considered reserving a hall or a private room at a hotel, restaurant, or pub. I considered Mill Street Brew Pub. I considered Bier Markt. I considered the Centurion Conference Centre, on Colonnade Road, in Nepean (also about a half hour from downtown).

When I learned that Midge Ure is coming to the Black Sheep Inn on March 3, two days before my birthday, I knew that the stars had aligned. I knew I had found my venue.

If you're able, get yourself a ticket and make your way up to Wakefield. With the new highway expansion, it's even easier to get there. Come early and see the beauty of the town. Have dinner at M.J.M.D. Pizza de Luigi, or The Village House, Le Hibou, or even the Black Sheep itself. The doors open at 6 and the show starts at 8:30.

I don't want gifts: I just want you. You're presence is your gift to me.

Speaking of gifts, I thought I would jog your memory of Midge Ure songs by sharing his hit single from his 1985 album, The Gift: "If I Was." The Gift was Midge's first solo album after Ultravox (though he did put out one more album, U-Vox, with the band in '86), and "If I Was" did reach number one in the U.K. charts.

I love the song, but seeing the video now, with the clothes and the dance moves, I can't help but smile. It was the '80s, after all.

Enjoy, and I hope to see you on March 3.

Happy Monday!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Photo Friday: Shooting Québec City

My camera is on its last legs. And, I suspect, within a few weeks, I will no longer be using it: I will have a new camera body and I will be snapping far more photos than I have in a few months.

I no longer enjoy using my old Nikon D80. I find that I spend more time in post-processing, cleaning up missing pixels or sharpening the image. The last few outings with my camera, I was quite disappointed with the majority of my photos, didn't even bother cleaning them up. I just put them in a rejection folder and didn't look back.

Today, I'm in Québec City, with my family, for a weekend getaway. It's our first time at Carnaval—a winter festival that I think every Canadian should experience at least once in his or her lifetime. Québec is one of the most beautiful cities in Canada, if not North America (it's this continent's oldest city). It's a little piece of Europe, so close to home.

It's also one of the most photogenic cities in North America, so naturally, I'm bringing my camera.

But I have my fears. I have my doubts. I have lost confidence that my camera is not up for the task.

We'll find out. If I have no photos from this trip for next week's Wordless Wednesday, I'm going to hang this camera up for good.

Wish me luck (it is Friday the 13th, after all).

For now, here's a photo of Québec's skyline, that I shot with my trusty Minolta X-700, in the summer of 1990.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Forced Romance

It's going to be an interesting day.

Traditionally, my kids have taken Valentine's Day cards to their classmates every year in elementary school. My wife and I enjoyed buying the inexpensive,  simple cards, usually sporting whichever Disney movie or video game that was popular for that year. The cards held clichéd sentiments, and the recipients felt special for a few moments.

As my girls grew older, they formed strong friendships with certain classmates, a respectable camaraderie with others, but they did not like all of the kids in their classes. And that was understandable, expected.

We can't expect to like everyone.

And yet, on February 14, like all good little sheep, the kids were expected to give out messages of warmth and love.

"I don't want to give him/her a card," they would tell me, "he/she is always mean to me."

"Then don't," I would reply. "Give cards only to your friends."

"I can't. The teacher says I have to have one for everyone."

What sort of stupid rule is that? Why are kids forced to give something loving on one day a year to someone who they hold no good feelings for every other day of the year? And why would they have to do it on Valentine's Day, a day that is more of a day for lovers?

This day has lost its meaning, I think. It's not about the love you feel for someone, it's about what you can get them. I think a school sends the wrong message when it makes—forces—kids to do something that they don't want to do, in the name of romance.

This year, we didn't buy anything for any of the school kids. My daughter doesn't have to worry about giving a crappy card to someone she doesn't like. Because, that's life.

It's going to be an interesting day.

I look forward to any notes of complaint that the teachers may send. I will gladly address them.

How will I spend Valentine's Day? With the ones I love. Not with anyone I don't. And not on anything we don't need. We're getting away and enjoying our time together. Our family getaway was planned because this coming weekend was a long one, not because of the date. We'll have fun, spend quality time together, and show love for one another.

There will be no forced romance.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

You Can't Bullshit Twitter

When you say something on Twitter, at least one person will get the message. And, as in the real world, people won't always, blindly, take your word at face value. If something doesn't seem right, you will get called on it.

The worst thing you can do is try to cover your tracks with bullshit.

Take, for example, an incident that happened last week. It was a simple tweet, a notification about the weather and the poor driving conditions. We see them all the time, at this year, in Ottawa. Winter makes driving an action that requires your full attention as you drive in potentially hazardous conditions. On slippery days, you want both hands on the steering wheel, you want to reduce your speed, and you want to watch for other traffic.

You don't want to be snapping photos on your smartphone, and you certainly don't want to be tweeting.

And yet, an Ottawa councillor purported to do just that. I'm not naming names, but I'll reveal the tweets, word-for-word.

I don't want to be accused of my own bullshit.

Naturally, adding a photo will draw many eyes. Mine weren't the only ones.

Now, it would have been a good time to come clean, to admit that, yes, it's not a good idea to shoot a photo while you drive. It's dangerous. And, in Ontario, it's illegal.

A councillor would know that.

But instead of admitting to the blunder, or even staying quiet, this councillor turned to bullshit.

I saw this tweet, and I held my breath. I counted to 10. I looked at the photo again. I'm a photographer and I've taken thousands of photos with my cell phone. I've also been behind the wheel of my car with my smartphone, but never while the car was moving, not even while I've been stopped at a red light. But my experience tells me that this photo was definitely taken from behind the wheel, perhaps with the left hand.

So this councillor was telling people that she was driving, dropping her husband at work, and he, sitting in the passenger seat, took the photo.

I couldn't stay silent. I smelled bullshit.


My tweet was favourited by many, including (and here, I'll name a name) Ottawa's chief of police.

Again, you would think that this councillor would fess up. But no.

Why would her husband reach way over? What was wrong with the view he had directly in front of him? The wind screen seemed to be clear right across. I wasn't buying it.

Others joined in, called this councillor a liar. She was in a corner. With no where else to go (other than the truth), she went here:

Oh yeah, there's lunacy. There's also a pile of stinking bullshit.

And she threw her husband under the bus. Because someone snapped a photo on a smartphone and shared it on Twitter.

There are two lessons to learn here: don't snap photos while driving. Don't bullshit on Twitter.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Music Monday: Are We Connected?

In three short weeks, I will be celebrating a half-century of life, and I'm hoping to be surrounded by friends and family, and with those of you who feel a connection to me.

As luck would have it, one of my favourite musicians of all time will be on tour, and he will be coming to the Ottawa area in time for me to celebrate this milestone birthday.

What you may not realize is that Midge Ure had a huge influence on me when I was a teen. In 1980, as my musical tastes were expanding, I discovered the New Romance/New Wave music scene, and fell in love with the music of Ultravox. I played Vienna until the grooves in the vinyl began to wear, and I had to replace the album. I followed this band closely, buying new releases before I had even heard a single track from the album.

My high-school graduation writeup gives a nod to this band.

When I created Roland Axam, I modeled his appearance after Midge Ure.

In my novel, Songsaengnim: A Korea Diary, I give a nod to Midge Ure and one of his great songs, "The Leaving (So Long)."

I sing a lot of songs around the house, and I usually sing either a Midge Ure or Ultravox song at least once a week.

Midge Ure is a big deal to me.

I hope you come to his show, on Tuesday, March 3, at the Black Sheep Inn.

A couple of days ago, when I was driving to my local LCBO, I was playing Midge Ure loudly in my car. As I pulled into the parking lot, a song was playing with heavy bass, making the windows on my car vibrate. I saw heads turn. I saw people stop and take notice.

I've never felt so bad-assed in my life.

I owe it to Midge Ure and his song, "Are We Connected." Have a listen. Play it loud. Feel bad-assed.

Happy Monday!

Friday, February 6, 2015

Photo Friday: I Love New York

We had just started dating. It was March, 1989.

We decided to see a movie*. We had never sat in a cinema together, had never sat in silence, our attention turned away from ourselves. Young lovers, not absorbed in each other, but focusing on the big screen before us.

It was the closing scene, the underdog finally realizing she has won, has achieved her goal. She looks out of her highrise office window, out into the city before her. The camera watches her from the outside, through the spotless glass. It draws away. The city scape comes into view and the city is laid out before the audience.

It's New York City.

I lean into my new girlfriend as the credits begin to roll. "Let's go there," I say.

"I'd love to," was the reply.

Two weeks later, we're in the Big Apple.

Twenty-six years later, to the month, we will find ourselves there again. Just the two of us, alone.

I love that city, always feel the rush of excitement at the prospect of being it the large, sprawling metropolis, the city that never sleeps.

I can't wait.

NYC, 1989
Happy Friday!

* The movie was Working Girl.