Thursday, April 30, 2015

Thoughts on BOLO

We are truly lucky, in Ottawa.

We live in a great city, filled with beautiful sights and plenty of things to do, whether you are two years old or 102. We have theatre, we have art galleries. We have musicians that warm the heart and soothe the ears, no matter what your taste is. We have restaurants and pubs, and breweries.

And we have writers. Some, we call authors and poets; others, we call bloggers. And all of them are highly talented.

I am humbled to be included in this fine group of artists—and make no mistake: we are artists. We take our thoughts and raw materials—words—and we mold them and blend them until they take a shape that, when you read them, they convey those thoughts.

On Tuesday night, I had the honour of joining nine Ottawa bloggers at Christ Church Cathedral for Blog Out Loud, as part of the Ottawa International Writers Festival. The room was small but it was packed. Our audience spilled into the next room. One of the area's longest-running bloggers, Dani Donders, hosted the event with style and charm, making everyone in the crowd feel at ease.

The storytellers (that's really what we are) spoke with passion and emotion. We laughed. We cried. We reflected.

You can read more about the event from the BOLO blog.

One thing I have learned in the four years that I have attended BOLO is that these fabulous writers are not afraid to put themselves out there, to show their audience who they are and the life that they have lived, the experiences they have encountered. They get personal. They open themselves wide and lay their hearts out.

And the audience accepts them.

I am lucky to be considered a part of this group, these artists. I am lucky to know these people and to be able to share in this event.

If you haven't come out to BOLO, do so next year. Because we are truly lucky, in Ottawa.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Dispatching of Larry

From the moment we put him in the basement, we knew he was doomed. He had served his purpose, had been moved from one house to the next, from the care of one person, and then a couple, and finally, to us.

We made use of him, when we first moved into our house, treated him like a piece of furniture, joked about him, gave him a nickname, for his outdatedness and for his air of tackiness. His nickname came to us, passed on by friends, and it stuck with us, even as we relegated him to the basement.

Larry. As in, Leisure Suit Larry. That cheesy character from that 90s computer game suited our Larry well. The fabric he wore would never attract a woman: black velour, with a scribbled print of pastel green and pink. He was over-sized, sporting far too much padding.

Even as we welcomed him into our new house, we were repulsed by his appearance. But he had his uses and we knew that as soon as we could find a replacement, he would be gone.

We didn't throw him out on the curb when we found a suitable, permanent replacement. Larry might serve some use to us, eventually. And so, to the basement he went.

It wasn't an easy task. Larry wasn't willing to go easily or quietly. It took three of us to coax him down the stairs. Negotiating him around the corner caused a lot of groaning and sweat. Larry resisted, hitting against the walls the whole way down. If not for his extra padding, his soft velour, he would have made marks in the drywall.

And that would have made me upset, would have made me want to end him, right there and then.

Once in his spot in the cellar, I said that Larry wouldn't be coming back up the stairs the way he came down. Either he would spend the rest of his days rotting in this dungeon, or he would come up in pieces.

He was never used again, not by any family members. Edwin, the cat, would lie on him. The occasional mouse, taking shelter from winter's freeze, would burrow into him. On two occasions, when I was in the basement, searching for something or taking more junk to store, I saw Larry, covered in dust and cat hair, and discovered two dead mice, resting atop him, no doubt the unfortunate prey of Edwin. On his final day, when inspecting him closely and beginning the task of ridding our basement of him, I found Larry with a cache of grains of rice in his belly.

He had to go. He couldn't stay. I needed that space and Larry had overstayed his welcome. Larry wasn't going to remain in the basement till the end of time: he was coming back up.

In pieces.

A knife, to slit him open. A saw, for hacking at his difficult frame. A crowbar, for persuading difficult joints to come apart. I took no delight in the butchering, but I felt no grief in what had to be done. I felt nothing. I was cold and ruthless.

I broke his back. I hacked off his arms. I peeled off his coverings and skin, ripped out the padding.

Larry came out of the basement in four pieces: seven, if you counted his cushions, which lifted off easily. Into the garage he went, his final evening in the Brownfoot residence a cold one.

In the shadow of nightfall, the next evening, Larry was carried to the curb. The half moon dashed behind some light clouds, the brightness of Jupiter evident in the dark sky. Over him, garbage bags were thrown, as if to hide the evidence, though no amount of trash from our basement could conceal Larry. In the morning, he would be visible for all to see.

Larry, the dated, tacky sofa, was dead. He would never be sat upon again.

I regret nothing. Except for, perhaps, not taking him out years ago, before my friends and I exerted ourselves, carrying him needlessly into the basement.

Monday, April 27, 2015

One Thousand and One

Time flies.

I've never been one to count, to keep track, but in just over a month, The Brown Knowser will be celebrating its fourth anniversary. And in those four years, I've written mostly for myself but also for the people who have followed along on this journey, where something comes into my head and leaves through my fingers.

I've ranted, I've raved, I've made shit up. I've explored the city that I call home, have noticed little spots around my nation's capital, and have asked you if you know where that place is. I take photographs. I share music that I like.

The Brown Knowser is my playground.

Anyone who has a blog can see how many posts have been published. A couple of weeks ago, I noticed that I was coming to a milestone but I didn't pay close attention until I published last Friday's post. And then it dawned on me:

I published The Brown Knowser's 1000th post.

I write primarily for myself: it's therapy, it's escape, it's a genuine source of pleasure. And, I'm glad you've been there to follow. Thank you.

Not all of my posts are winners (some are crap even before I press Publish), but there are many that you have liked. The most-popular post, by far, was the compilation video of my Bate Island Project, thanks in part to the exposure on CBC News. Where In Ottawa remains popular, as does Wordless Wednesday and Music Monday.

For you, who follow The Brown Knowser, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You're my rooting section. And while I don't count the number of posts that I write, I look forward to the next thousand posts.

If you enjoy my posts, consider coming out to Blog Out Loud, where I will be reading one of my posts, along with some truly talented Ottawa bloggers, as part of the Ottawa International Writers Festival. I'd love to see you and thank you, face to face.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Photo Friday: Killers of Orchids

For years, my wife would buy potted orchids from Loblaws and proudly display them in our kitchen, or our bathroom, or next to any window that would allow plenty of light to fall on the delicate, white flowers.

We'd appreciate these flowers for months, gazing at the hints of pink and yellow, the three or four flowers balanced on the single stem that stood like an antenna, supported by a stick in the soil. The tongue-like leaves, at the base of the plant, would spill over the top of the pot like panting dogs.

And then the flowers would drop off, leaving just the stem and the leaves. The orchid would look bereft of life, though the plant would survive for years, before we would give up and add the pathetic plant to the compost heap.

Try as my wife might, she has never successfully made an orchid reflower, and it would become a ritual for us to replace the plant every year or two.

Until the last attempt.

My wife never gives up on anything. And so, with the stem bare, she continues to ensure the plant has the right amount of water, careful above all else not to overwater. Just a spritz every week or two. For myself, once a week, when I found myself at the kitchen sink, washing my hands, I would let a few drops drip from my fingertips into the leaves of the bare orchid that sat in the window sill.

After months, we noticed miniature buds on the stem. We tried not to make anything of them, lest we jinx them. After a few more weeks, one of the buds sprouted a slender stem, from which a bulb appeared. Again, we restrained ourselves, and continued doing what we had been doing since we placed the plant in the window.

It flowered. And, as it flowered, we could see more stems and bulbs. Soon, we had two, then three (as I showed for Wordless Wednesday).

We currently have four flowers on the orchid, with a fifth imminent and several more on the way.

All week, I've been photographing the plant, admiring the renewed life. Capturing the moment. And, for my 1,000th blog post on The Brown Knowser, I thought I'd share it.

Because, with our history, these flowers won't last long.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Songs From a Dentist Chair

Breathe, I kept telling myself.

I could smell burning. And a pungent decay.

My eyes stayed closed for most of the time, as I tried to concentrate on the music flooding my ears: R.E.M., Kathleen Edwards, Sam Roberts, Peter Gabriel, Midge Ure, Matt Good, The Cranberries, The The. Twice, my smartphone stopped the music, inexplicably, and I'd have to wait until there was a pause in the procedure, when I could start the music up and drown out most of the noise.

The drill would sometimes drown out the sound.

No one was there to hold my hand. Even when the dentist would move in close, would unintentionally press her breasts against the top of my head, I felt no comfort.

Sometimes, a hand would rest on my lower lip, push that part of my face against my bottom teeth, as leverage was gained. The inside of my lip, rubbed raw, wouldn't be apparent until the anesthetic wore.

But, while the outside of my face and my gums were numbed, the inside of my poor tooth was not. I felt some discomfort, but no pain, with the first two channels. The nerves in those spots were dead. But the third channel had nerves that were very much alive.

Tears streamed from both eyes as the probes scrubbed inside the canal. I expected the drilling to reach into my brain, and I wished for the end to come swiftly.

And all the while, I had to remind myself to breathe. In, through the nose; out, through the mouth. The smell of burning, made from the drill. The smell of pungent decay, made from my bad tooth.

In, through the nose. Out, through the mouth.

After an hour and a half, I was assured that the worst was over. The tooth had been drained and sanitized. It would now be filled: the old filling, made more than a year ago when a popcorn kernel took almost three-quarters of the tooth, had to be replaced.

I kept my eyes closed, turned the volume up, and lost myself in my music.

And breathed.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015


My hands were too full.

It had been 11 years since we had visited Stanley Pottery, in that cottage-like house, nestled in the woods, in Breadalbane, Prince Edward Island. Hundreds, if not thousands, of tourists had been through the workshop and store since we last stopped by.

And yet, Malcolm Stanley said he remembered us. And despite the fact that my head told me that he said that to anybody who mentioned that it wasn't their first visit, my heart wanted to believe those eyes that smiled and the gentle voice that said, "Welcome back. I see you have a couple of additions to your family," the artist acknowledging our two kids, aged three and five. He nodded, when we told him that we still have the wine goblets that we purchased, in 1995.

My wife and I were looking for coffee mugs: something that we would use every day and would make us think of the red sands of this island province. As soon as I saw the tall pines over the red earth, the warm tones of the mug, I knew I wanted it. The price was more than I would usually spend for something to hold my favourite hot beverage, but I was purchasing more than the mug: I was investing in the memories and the kindness of Mr. Stanley.

Lori bought a similar mug—no two pieces were identical. We also acquired a tall, clay water jug, all of the pieces bearing the similar trees and soil.

The mug has been a favourite of mine for almost nine years. I keep it at work, where I fill it countless times. I have often thought, if I should ever break it, I would be heartbroken. But I would absolutely return to the pottery shop in PEI and replace it.

My hands were full: several lunch containers, destined for the communal refrigerator; a case of Girl Guide cookies, the second one that I planned to sell for my daughter, who would have been only three, when I purchased the mug.

I quickly set the case of cookies in a prominent spot in the kitchen. Usually, chips, chocolate bars, and gum would line a shelf, but the social committee hadn't restocked in more than a week. They would be an easy sale for those looking for a snack.

I had one free hand, with which I opened the fridge. The other held a container with a salad, and another container, with a ham and cheese sandwich. I had also carried a muffin container, which I had meant to leave at my desk, with which I would enjoy with the coffee that I would put in my mug.

As I held the door open, I balanced the containers and mug, and adjusted them on one of the fridge shelves. Because there were many lunch containers already filling space, I had to fumble as I found a spot.

That's when the mug slipped from my fingers.

There are certain things that we visualize in slow motion, most of which are some form of accident. It somehow seems that the faster me move, the slower we play it back in our minds.

My right hand still held the fridge door handle, and was blocked by the door. My left hand was still placing my lunch on the shelf. I had only one action that I could take, and before I could even move, I prepared myself for the horror, got ready to say goodbye to my beloved mug.

Balancing on my left foot, I swung my right leg sideways, and caught the mug on the edge of my shoe, near the ankle. In a motion I remembered from the one time in my life where I played hacky sack, I kicked the mug upwards as I swiftly shoved the containers into place.

I could see the mug move straight up, and for a moment, the pine trees and red sand seemed to freeze, the mug stopped in motion. The range of its upward ascent had reached its limit, at eye level.

With my left hand, now free, I snatched at the mug, but came at it in an upwards but diagonal motion, and I seemingly swatted the object away. I let go of the fridge door, raised my right hand, and caught the mug with a secure grip.

With a pounding heart, I inspected my mug, made sure that there were no chips or cracks caused by being kicked. It was fine, had escaped an untimely demise. I retrieved the muffin container, which was on the top of my lunch stack, and proceeded to make myself a coffee.

In my rescued mug.

That return trip to Stanley Pottery will have to wait. I wonder if he'll remember us again.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Music Monday: Scatterlings of Africa

I think the 1980s brought South Africa into the minds of Canadians, thanks, in part, to the music scene. Peter Gabriel sang about Stephen Biko, the anti-apartheid activist that died in police custody, and much of Gabriel's music from his album, Security, had South African influences. Paul Simon's 1986 album, Graceland, also was recorded in South Africa with local musicians.

And then, of course, there was Band Aid. Not so much as African-inspired music as for the plight in parts of Africa, where people were starving, that got musicians from around the world to take action.

However, nothing brings South Africa and music to my mind more than Johnny Clegg, first, with his band Juluka, and later with Savuka.

One of the great things about Johnny Clegg was that, despite the racial tension that came with apartheid, he managed to bring both black and white musicians together and create something beautiful. For a Canadian mind such as mine, that didn't seem like such a big feat: why should colour matter?

But in Johannesburg, that was big.

Juluka and Savuka have come back to mind with me, lately, not just because I'm rediscovering a lot of the 80s music that inspired me, but I now have a close connection to these bands.

Johnny Clegg's drummer, Derek De Beer, not only lives in Ottawa, he lives in my neighbourhood. And, he teaches drum lessons to one of my daughters.

"Savuka" by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia -
Small world.

Derek (seen above, far left) travelled  the world with Johnny Clegg (seen fourth from left) but found his love in Ottawa. Derek married, had two kids, and chose Canada's capital as his home. When he and his wife split up, Derek kept the kids. "She's no longer in the picture," he told me when I asked him about settling in Barrhaven. He decided to raise his kids in Canada, away from the troubles of his home town.

"There are things I've seen [in Johannesburg] that I wouldn't describe in front of your little one," he said, motioning to my daughter, who was preparing for another lesson with Derek.

For Music Monday, I want to share one of Juluka's hits from 1982, from their album, Scatterlings. Decades before I knew Derek, what drew me to this song was the solid percussion. The vocal accompaniment and flute also make "Scatterlings of Africa" a great song.

If Derek can teach my daughter to be half as good a drummer, I'll be a happy man.

Happy Monday!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Photo Friday: Girl in the Window

It was my first photo meetup with my new camera. I'm still figuring it out, and am learning as I go.

I have a perfect portrait lens: a 24-70mm f2.8. With it, I can get up close, as I do with my 100 Strangers project, but I can also zoom back and get the whole person, without distortion. And I can shoot in lower light, without having to rely on flashes to illuminate the subject.

That's not to say that when I do a model shoot, that I won't take advantage of studio light.

At this model shoot, we took advantage of ambient light from large windows. I took two types of photos, as our model stood in the window frame: one, without a flash; the other, with an umbrella flash with a silver reflector.

The results are striking: one shows the buildings outside and a dark silhouette; the other washes out the outside and throws light everywhere.


Which one do you prefer?

Happy Friday!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Hold My Hand, Part 3

Nobody likes pain. Not really, I think.

Pain is cold, felt with negative feelings, if any emotion at all. It shows us that we are weak, fragile, vulnerable. Pain provides no comfort: it dispirits us, disheartens. Pain can evoke fear, and fear is a powerful foe.

When we're in pain, we naturally want to seek an escape, find pleasure. Find comfort. If we're lucky, we find that comfort in those that love us. If we're fortunate, we find it in those with compassion.

When I have injured myself, I have been fortunate to have those who loved me or those whose compassion has provided warmth through the pain, has alleviated my fears. Made the pain seem irrelevant. They say that our bodies don't remember pain quite like it remembers pleasure, and through all my past injuries, it's the pleasure of comfort that I remember the most.

Soon, however, I anticipate a coming pain, an impending discomfort, and my fears are beginning to take hold.

More than a year ago, as I sat down for movie night with my family, snacks and drinks before our large-screened TV, Netflix cued up, my wife and daughters settling in with me, I took a handful of popcorn and popped it in my mouth, and started to chew, I bit into a popcorn kernel. Because the action occurred just as I was swallowing, I was caught unaware and swallowed the kernel as well as the sweet-and-salty popcorn.

I silently cursed my gluttony and ran my tongue over the affected tooth, only to find a marked absence. More than two-thirds of a molar was missing above the gum line. There was no pain. There was no discomfort, apart from the ragged edges of the remaining tooth.

Our movie night continued, without further incident, without any pain. I continued to eat popcorn, chewing on the opposite side of the mouth, thoroughly rinsing my mouth with cool beer.

On the next business day, I called my dentist and made an appointment to repair the damage. A filler was used to reconstruct the missing portion of my tooth. It was a painless process, and after about an hour I was on my way, as though nothing had ever happened.

Over the following months, everything was fine, but then I noticed that I had a tender spot on my cheek, about an inch above the rebuilt tooth. If I applied gentle pressure to my cheekbone, I could feel mild pain that travelled to that tooth.

Another trip to the dentist, some additional shaping of the tooth.

But the discomfort never went away.

Earlier this month, more than a year after my tooth broke, at a regular checkup, I complained about the discomfort, adding that while it wasn't a painful sensation, it was a distraction. X-rays were taken, and I was shown where there was an inflammation near the root of the tooth. And I was given the two words I feared the most.

Root canal.

An appointment was made. I was told that the inflammation didn't appear severe, that we had detected it before it could get worse. The procedure was explained to me: there would be pain, but probably not much.

I don't like pain.

I immediately wanted to seek comfort, and found some, by way of sympathy, from my family. But sympathy won't make me feel comforted while the drill penetrates my tooth.

I want my hand held.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Blog Out Loud, Again

It's a blast and it's free.

You'll laugh. You'll cry. You'll think.

Blog Out Loud Ottawa (BOLO) gives you a chance to see Ottawa bloggers share their words, live. It's an opportunity to meet new bloggers and reacquaint yourself with old favourites. Whether you blog yourself or you have thought of blogging, you will be inspired by what you hear.

For the second year in a row, BOLO has teamed up with the Ottawa International Writers Festival and will give you the chance to listen to 10 bloggers read a favourite post. Maybe it's your favourite post, too?

The event will be held on Tuesday, April 28 (two weeks from today), at 6:45 p.m., at Christ Church Cathedral, 414 Sparks Street. Come early, as seats fill up.

For the fourth time, I will be participating in the event, reading, for the third time, from The Brown Knowser. If you've never come out, I'd love to meet you. If you have been before, I'd love to see you again.


Monday, April 13, 2015

Half-Moon Bay Park

The very first time that I saw it, I knew I was going to make it a Where In Ottawa spot. That was last summer.

As I drove through the latest development in my end of town, Half-Moon Bay, I saw this giant, lonely star on a hill and thought, I must shoot this. But I was on my way, somewhere, with my family in tow, and I knew that this wasn't the moment to stop and photograph it.

Besides, this statue needed a silhouette, at sunset, and I was seeing it at high noon, on an overcast day.

It took several seasons longer for me to finally head out to capture this star, and it is now the location of this month's challenge. Welcome to Half-Moon Bay Park, at the intersection of Greenbank and Cambrian Roads. It's kitty-corner to another Where In Ottawa location, Minto Recreation Complex.

Here are the clues, explained:
  1. Not Texas—that state is known for its Lone Star flag, and the object in my photo was a lone star, too.
  2. Where the half-moon & stars meet—this star is located in the park in Half-Moon Bay.
  3. You call that a bay? I call it a riverbend—and speaking of Half-Moon Bay, where is the bay, anyway? This neighbourhood is located just south of the Jock River, where Greenbank Road takes a turn around a crescent-like bend in the river. There is no bay. The name of this community puzzles me.
    At least it's not called something stupid, like Ampersand (the neighbourhood that is kitty-cornered to Half-Moon Bay from Greenbank and the Jock).
  4. Greenbank's only circle—in the many kilometres that make up Greenbank Road, from the Queensway to Prince of Wales Drive, there is only one traffic circle, and as you navigate it, you can't help but see this giant star (you can see the circle in the photo, above). 
I think it was the final clue that gave the location away. Congratulations to the person who identified himself or herself as Scooter and gave the correct answer. And while there was only one guess that was posted, this was the most-successful round, in terms of views.

See you for the next round, in May.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Photo Friday: Blue

Have you ever walked down a street and noticed that the light at that moment is perfect, and you look up, and you see shapes, and your eyes frame an image, and you think, "I wish I had a camera to capture this moment?"

And then, you realize that you have your camera with you?

Yeah, that.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Hold My Hand, Part 2

The smell of burning skin, mixed with singed whiskers. That was the worst part.

I was tired of dealing with the blood: applying pressure, dealing with soaked tissue and the scabs that would eventually form, then get accidentally knocked off, only to start the bleeding once again.

And they were on my face.

They weren't eyesores, but they weren't attractive, either. One, on the upper-edge of my lip, just off-centre, on my left. The other, about twice the size—maybe more—on my right cheek, set back, about two inches from my ear lobe.

As a young kid, they gave me no trouble. I saw them every time I saw my reflection, looked in the mirror, or saw a photograph of myself. I didn't like the look of them, saw them as faults, imperfections on an imperfect face.

When adolescence came in, and a razor came out, they became a problem. Hair follicles  grew through them. And, because these moles were raised above the skin, were entities of their own, I had to draw the blades ever-so-delicately over them when I shaved. If I was careful, and lucky, I sheared the whisker without incident. Sometimes, I would miss the whisker and would have to take tweezers to the errant strand of hair, and pluck it.

Plucking was the safest method of extraction but hurt like a sonofabitch.

At least once a week, the sharp razor would nick one of the moles, and the blood would rush out. It wasn't a simple nick like when I would catch my chin at a bad angle: basic nicks would heal quickly, with little blood loss. When a mole was nicked, it bled aggressively. The blood would fall in steady drips, onto the bathtub and down the drain, while I finished shaving and showering (I multitask). I would then have to exit the shower with a hand pressed to the wound, until I could plaster it with tissue or toilet paper, which would become blood-soaked in a matter of minutes, when I would have to replace the now-red tissue with a fresh one.

Which would also absorb the blood.

It could take a half-hour to get the bleeding under control. When the clot held and a scab began to form, the scab would always be large, formed from a drip of blood that I managed to hold in place. The scab would be delicate: any contact could knock it off the mole and start the blood flow again.

It was not fun. And it was a problem that I dealt with for about 16 years.

I had a Korean friend who one day noticed a scab above my lip. I had to explain to her the sensitivity of my moles and how they would bleed like stuck pigs when I shaved. I talked about how, some day, I would have the moles removed so that I wouldn't have to deal with the mess and bother that occurred every time I cut them.

My friend told me of one of her family friends, a dermatologist, who could look at the moles and, if possible, remove them. I was leery of doctors in Korea, but I realized it was a prejudice I had to get over. And a consultation didn't mean a commitment to anything. I agreed to meet this family friend.

It was a small office in a part of Chônju with which I was unfamiliar. It was a newly developed neighbourhood with few buildings, and most of them were no more than two or three stories tall. The doctor's office had one examination room, with a chair similar to one found in a dentist's office. Basic blinds cast amber stripes on a bare wall, the soon-to-be-setting sun having dropped towards Mount Moak.

The doctor was a young woman with a round face. She spoke kindly, examined my moles and explained the procedure. My friend translated. It would be a painless procedure: she would inject an anesthetic just next to each mole and would burn them off with a laser. There would be a little scarring and the skin would still be raised a little, but the moles would be gone and if I were to nick the raised skin, it wouldn't bleed like it did with the moles.

Because I was a mutual friend, the rate would be only ₩30,000: in Canadian dollars, that was just a little less than $30.

I agreed to the procedure, and asked about when it could be done. The doctor looked at my friend, confused by my question. There had been a misunderstanding: my friend had told the doctor that I was being brought in to have the procedure done. This was the appointment for the surgery.

I sat in the chair and it was reclined. A bright light shone overhead. My friend was invited to sit next to me, to act as a translator, should we need one. My friend wore a mask over her nose and mouth.

I winced as the first needle went into my lip, and again as my cheek was injected. My friend, who had a commanding view of the operation, saw my discomfort and took my hand in hers. I looked through her glasses, into her beautiful, brown eyes, and without uttering a word she let me know that I wasn't alone, that I would be okay, that everything would turn out.

I felt nothing, once the anesthetic took hold and the doctor worked at burning off the mole over my lip. I could see wisps of smoke rising up, and I could smell the cooking flesh and burning whiskers.

But I concentrated on my friend's eyes, felt the reassuring grip as she held my hand.

And I was comforted.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015


We live in a world where everything has to happen instantaneously. We need information immediately. We want things done while we wait, and we don't like to be kept waiting for long.

One of the features that I like the most about my camera is that I can capture an image with such ease, view it immediately, adjust it, send it wirelessly to my smartphone, and share it with my three Fs—family, friends, and followers.

But as my photos come so fast and freely, I wonder if I'm losing my creativity because I can take scads of shots, and cross my fingers that one of those shots is usable. I can throw the rest away, without any more cost than a few extra seconds.

The more I shoot with my Nikon D7200, the more I wonder whether a good shot has more to do with the technology than with any actual photographic skill.

And so, I'm starting a mini photo project.

Recently, I have borrowed my father's SLR, the first real camera that I used. It's a fully manual Minolta SRT 101: I have to set the aperture and the shutter speed. I have to manually focus—the sharpness of the photos depends entirely upon my eyes (and now, I wish I had my young eyes). The light meter is basic, yet simple to use as long as I pay attention.

And the images are not recorded on a digital card: they're permanently burned onto plastic film. This is where the real challenge lies. I must think before I shoot. I can't go back, deleting what I don't want, shooting endless amounts of RAW data.

I will have just 36 shots, 36 attempts to capture worthwhile images. And I must be patient in waiting to see the final results.

Last night, I bought a fresh battery for the light meter (this camera is so old that it works without batteries, assuming you know which settings are required for your various lighting conditions) and a single roll of Kodak 100 ASA Ektar C-41 film. I cleaned the glass and brushed the dust out of its innards.

I plan to shoot only when I absolutely feel I'm taking a worthwhile shot. I will shoot around Ottawa, but since I have no deadline for finishing the roll, I may also bring the camera with me to New York City, when I go in May.

I've taken some decent photos with digital SLRs over the past couple of years. Now is the time to see if I remember how to truly take a photograph.

To see if I remember how to slow down, take my time, and be patient.

I absolutely love this lens: a 58mm f1.2 Rokkor. It weighs almost as much as my Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 zoom.
Stay tuned.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Where In Ottawa XLVI

Okay, I'm changing the game.

For almost four years, I have posted photos of locations around Ottawa and have asked you to identify the spot. The photo is a closeup or an odd angle, so as to give you as little help as possible. Some of you have been able to quickly determine the location: others have waited for the daily clues, in the hopes of putting it all together.

Sometimes, the clues are tough. Last month, for the first time in the contest's history, no one guessed the location and no one won. I was beginning to think that you have lost interest, but the number of views to the post tells a different story.

I also goofed, in not providing clues over the weekend of the contest period. Only four clues were provided, from Tuesday to Friday. Weekends are tough for me: I spend my Saturdays, running my kids from lesson to lesson, and then spending quality time with them. I make no apologies for that: it's all about priorities, right? On Sundays, I do chores and try to exercise.

So, I don't really have time to think up clues and monitor my post for winners.

And so, I'm shortening the contest period. Again. Starting today, you have only five days to solve the challenge. Actually, it's four-and-a-half days. The contest starts at 9:00 on a Monday morning and ends at 9:00, Friday evening.

Here are the other rules for Where In Ottawa:
  • 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 won Where In Ottawa in the past, you may still participate.
  • You may leave as many guesses as you want.
  • Starting tomorrow, I will leave clues to the location in the upper-right column of this post, adding a new clue each day until the challenge is solved.
  • Clues will also be accompanied by a new photo with a new view of the location. While the clues will accumulate in the right-hand column, the photos won't. Only one photo will appear each day and will replace the previous photo.
  • If the challenge has not been solved by 17:00 EST on Friday, April 10, the challenge will end and I will reveal the location on Monday, April 13.
  • There is no prize for winning the challenge. You only come away with a feeling of pride, having proved that you know this city.
  • The winner will be announced at the first available opportunity.
Are you ready? Here's the new photo:

Think you know Ottawa? Prove it!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Photo Friday: Then and Now

In March of 1989, I had just started dating the woman who would later become my wife. I was 24, was the assistant manager for a camera store, was driving my third car, and loved to spend my free time driving around, with or without my girlfriend, taking photos with my Minolta X-700.

On a warm, sunny afternoon, I ended up at Hogs Back Falls, and I took lots of photos. We have two major sets of waterfalls in Ottawa, and by far, I feel the falls at Hogs Back are the most dramatic. On an active fault line, the rocks jut out randomly, split the running water into separate channels. Years ago, people would swim here, jumping off the rocks into the cool, deep pool.

Nowadays, signs warn that that activity is prohibited.

Near the falls, a canteen sells food and drink during the summer months. Over the years, the canteen has changed hands many times and is currently run by the Lone Star.

The roof, which has always reminded me of an old carousel, has changed colors over the decades. In 1989, when I had paid a visit with my manual, 35mm camera, the roof had undergone an fresh coat of red and white paint. Against a clear blue sky, the contrast was stark.

Today, there are multiple colours that adorn the canteen roof. I'm not as fond of the current colour choice: I prefer the simplicity of one primary colour and white. I prefer the colours that seemed to say that you're in Canada.

But, 26 years later, it is still one of my favourite spots.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Hold My Hand, Part 1

It was yellow, but a spot of red had somehow ended up in one spot. As the plastic disc moved toward my friend, Keith, who would catch it, toss it to my sister, Holly, who would, in turn, send it back to me, I saw the red twirl like a wash cloth in a spin cycle.

It looked like a brush stroke of paint. It hadn't arrived to me that way when Holly threw it to me, so the red must have come from me.

I looked at my right hand, the hand that had sent the yellow Frisbee, and saw a small pool of fresh blood in my palm. A narrow streak lead from the palm, away from my thumb and down past the wrist, where it continued around to the other side. I had to twist my wrist the other way to see where the blood continued.

The laceration was more than two centimetres long, on my forearm, just below the wrist. The skin had spread and I could see bare bone. The bright-red blood flowed freely.

We had been playing on our side lawn, our house being on the corner of Chesterton Drive, and Woodmount Crescent, in Nepean. With such a large space to play, and with a front lawn and back yard, we had a virtual park on our property. But my father, who bought and sold cars, also used a small portion of the side lawn on which to park a car that he was selling privately.

Usually, the car would not be an issue. It was out of the way, near the street and next to the single-laned driveway. We had plenty of room to play. But when Holly had thrown the Frisbee to me, before I sent it on its bloody way, it had bounced off my hand before I could grasp it, had hit the lawn on its edge, and rolled under the 1974 Datsun 240Z, near the front wheel.

I ran after the Frisbee, grabbed for it, and as I pulled it out from just under the wheel well, I had grazed my arm against the shiny metal mud flap. It hadn't hurt, I hadn't felt anything other that the touch of skin on metal, I didn't know there was a problem.

Until I passed the yellow disc.

Keith, the eldest, was calm and collected. He ordered Holly to run to his house, to get his mother, who was a nurse at the Riverside Hospital. He told me to grab the wound, to try to squeeze the spread skin together, and to apply pressure. I did so, but the blood was a steady drip and I was starting to shake. He took me gently by the arm and, in a hasty walk, lead me into my house.

We went straight to the bathroom that was off the kitchen eating area. Keith turned on the tap and moved my wrist under the cold water, told me to remove my other hand while he washed the wound. The bone turned a bright white that outshone the cleanest sheet of paper. The blood mixed with the water and ran down the drain, mixed with pink soap suds.

My knees gave out on me, and made contact with the floor. Seeing my reflection in the bathroom mirror, the colour had left my face.

Keith maintained his grip on my arm, had helped ease my descent, and assured me that I would be okay. He called out from the bathroom, to my mom, who was upstairs and didn't know about the commotion that was going on. As she came down the stairs, Holly and Mrs. Haartman where there, Keith's mom carrying a First Aid kit.

My arm was expertly secured, and my mother was told to take me to the Riverside Hospital. Mrs. Haartman would call ahead and let her staff know that we were on our way.

The emergency waiting room was only moderately full, and as I arrived there was only one new patient whose injury took priority to mine. Another kid, a little younger than me, who had been playing baseball. Another player had swung a bat, not knowing this boy was behind him, and had caught him in full swing, square in the mouth. Broken jaw and missing teeth. Bruises bigger than dinner plates*.

But my wait wasn't long and the nurses had checked my bandages when I first arrived, had confirmed that Mrs. Haartman's handiwork had held firm. Before I had a chance to get comfortable in my chair, my name was called and two nurses ushered my mother and me down the hall and straight into an operating room.

The surgeon arrived quickly. One nurse assisted him while the other nurse, a large, motherly woman of my mom's age, comforted me and explained what would happen to me. She removed the gauze bandages and inspected the wound.

Five stitches: that's all it would take.

She showed me the tools and explained the procedure. I was going to be given a couple of injections: one, to freeze the nerves so that I wouldn't feel any pain; the other, a booster inoculation against tetanus or whatever infections could try to attack.

"You can hold my hand," she said in a gentle voice, and I placed my left hand in hers. It was a warm, soft hand, with plump digits. Feeling her hand, lightly squeezing mine, I felt calm. Not relaxed, but I was assured that I was safe and that no further harm would come to me. I had cut my wrist to the bone, but I was going to be okay.

The doctor had me lie on the operating table and extend my right arm onto a side board.

"You will feel a couple of pin pricks," the nurse warned me. "If you like, you can squeeze my finger." I wrapped my tiny fingers around her index finger, turned away so that I wouldn't see the other nurse stick the needles into me.

When I felt the first needle go in, I felt a slight pain, and I squeezed tight. And twisted, unintentionally.

I could see the shock in the nurses face, hear her take a deep gulp of breath. I released my grip before I caused any more pain.

"I'm sorry," I said, releasing her finger and trying to remove my hand from hers.

"It's okay," she said, "you don't have to stop holding my hand if you don't want to."

My hand stayed put and she gave me another gentle squeeze. The warmth comforted me while I felt the tug of threads passing through my flesh, pulling tight.

Though my mother told me, afterwards, that my face showed anything but comfort.

* Thanks to The Smiths, "The Headmaster Ritual."