Monday, May 30, 2016

Weekend House Call

When you get a phone call from your doctor—not the receptionist, but from your actual doctor—it can catch you off-guard.

When your doctor calls you on a Saturday, to tell you about the results of your tests, it's not unusual to get a little tense.

It couldn't be good news, could it? Surely, good news could wait until Monday.

I have a great doctor, who left no stone un-turned when I had abdominal issues earlier this year. She ordered ultrasound tests, a CT scan, an MRI, and a colonoscopy. She wanted to make sure that I didn't have cancer or some other serious ailment.

I had also complained to her, when we first met at the end of December (after I decided to change doctors), that I have problems sleeping: that test is coming in a couple of weeks.

So, when my doctor called me with the results of my recent MRI and colonoscopy, I was initially expecting the news to be bad, but instead, she gave me some good news. Two pieces of good news, in fact.

And one piece of news that was just a little distressing.

First, the good news: the mass on my liver is a cluster of blood vessels. They are gathered in a clump that is about a centimetre in diameter. Apparently, this can be a common formation and they pose no threat. No action is required to treat them.

The initial report on my colonoscopy is good: two polyps were found and removed, and everything else looks clear. My doctor is still awaiting the full report to see if a follow-up visit is needed but she doesn't think that is going to happen.

I was relieved. We agreed that the pain and fatigue that had brought me down for more than two months could have been a virus, but there's no way to know for sure. But there's nothing in me that says I have a serious issue and the fact that I'm feeling back to normal seems to support that whatever I had is gone.

But now, for the not-so-great news.

For a few months, I have had a problem with my left foot. I have severe osteoarthritis in both of my feet, and about 25 years ago I had reconstructive surgery on my right foot for what was diagnosed as Köhler disease, which essentially fused some of the bones. I was diagnosed with it in my early teens, but it was decided that we should wait to see how my feet would fully develop, that perhaps surgery was not necessary.

It was necessary, and I had it done in my early to mid 20s.

Over the past few months, my left foot has made a clicking sound when I walk, and I can feel bone grinding on bone. The pain has been bad: sometimes, when I take an initial step forward, there is a loud popping sound and I lose my balance, and wince at the pain, but I have been taking Tylenol to mitigate it.

After my colonoscopy, I went to our neighborhood clinic, where I had the foot x-rayed. It was one of the issues that I had recently brought up with my doctor, and she had written me a requisition for an x-ray.

This is the reason that my doctor chose to call me on Saturday. She did have some good news, to help with the call, but the real reason was that she had some news that she thought we should act upon. The x-rays revealed that I have severe joint deterioration, which will, in all likelihood, adversely affect my circulation in my foot.

It's a rare condition, called Mueller-Weiss syndrome.

It can be treated, but not without surgery.

While I'm glad that the problem can be fixed, I'm not looking forward to the surgery. When my right foot was rebuilt, the first operation didn't work and I had to have surgery twice. It was a long, painful recovery in which it took three years before I could walk properly.

So, that's the story with my health, that's why my doctor called me, personally, on a Saturday afternoon. It's good news in that I'll be around for years to come. I'll just be doing it slowly.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Photo Friday: No One Likes a Showoff

No one likes a showoff.

In a city of rivers, a canal, and lakes, it's not surprising to see someone out on the waterways, enjoying themselves.

I was reminded of the day, in March, when my family and I hiked up Camelback Mountain, in Phoenix, Arizona: it was a blazing-hot, dry day, and we struggled to get to the summit. The temperature and altitude change—not to mention that we were out of shape—made the climb a brutal task.

When we reached the peak, we saw a young, athletically built young man, perched in a handstand on a rock, performing vertical pushups. I was exhausted just watching him.

No one likes a showoff, mister.

Late yesterday afternoon, I was in Old Ottawa South, walking along the northern shore of the Rideau River, near Billings Bridge, with a dear-old friend, Becky, taking photos and admiring the beauty of flowers, ducks, and geese, when we saw a young woman navigating the gentle current on a paddle board.

We didn't think anything of it until the woman stopped her vessel, secured the paddle at the bow of the board, and began a yoga routine.

Yoga. On a paddle board. In the middle of the river.

No one likes a showoff, ma'am.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Throwback Thursday: Get On Your Bike and Ride!

My training for the Rideau Lakes Cycle Tour is going well, almost completely according to plan.


There was that Tuesday-evening group ride, where I developed a cramp in my stomach, almost 5 kilometres into the ride, and I had to turn back. I did manage to recover, after a rest, and I made it to an evening spin class, at the Minto Recreation Complex. I got another 23 kms in, which gave me about 32 for that evening.

Only 8 km or so short of what I would have completed, had I been able to ride with the group.

I also missed a couple of long rides, on Sundays, because spring was still deciding whether she wanted to make an appearance or not, and winter stepped in to cover for her. I did go to spin classes, but it's not the same.

Last Sunday, DW and I threw our bikes into the back of the SUV and headed to Billings Bridge, to join a group ride for the Ottawa Bicycle Club's second annual picnic, in Manotick. When we set out from the house, DW and I had decided to ride the 42K route, but when we gathered with the dozens of avid riders, we decided, at the last minute, to join a group that was going to take the 80-kilometre course, which took us west, to Richmond, before turning southeast, to Manotick.

It was a great group of riders, many whom were also preparing for the RLCT, and it took no time to complete our route—which was about 80 percent of the ride to Kingston, from Perth.

A few of us from Sunday's ride have decided to form a group to complete the RLCT, together.

It seems like it's been a long time since I used to ride my hybrid, which I bought in 2008 to commute from home to work, and back. That black Schwinn was comfortable to ride, with its shock absorbers in the front forks and in the seat stem, and the cushy seat, to boot. But man, was it heavy, compared with my road bike.

To think, I actually participated in a Try-A-Tri with that bike. In September, 2008, I swam 100 metres, cycled 12 kilometres, and simulated a 3-km run (I don't run: I walk really fast, although I did break into a bit of a sprint for the last couple-hundred metres).

A month later, at Thanksgiving, I actually rode that monster bike from Barrhaven to the Champlain Lookout, and back, which was also 80 kilometres (thinking about last Sunday's ride).

Thinking about what I accomplished on that bike, with what I've done on my Cannondale, I feel as though the RLCT—my last ride on that circuit—will be a breeze.

For Throwback Thursday, here's me, during that 2008 Try-A-Tri, transitioning from my bike ride to the run segment.

I guess it wasn't such a bad bike after all.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Musical Interlude

I was pretty sure that after my medical procedure*, yesterday, I wouldn't have the mental energy to write a blog post for today.

I was right.

But I think that even if I were up to the task, I would have wanted to share this music video, anyway.

When I was in San Diego, in March, I chatted with my favourite actress/model/artist, Kate Kelton, through Twitter. When she read that I was close to Los Angeles, she invited me to one of her art exhibits, but sadly—very sadly—I was unable to make it.

During our chat, she let me know that she was getting ready to do a project with none other than music legend, Eric Clapton. She told me that they were going to be shooting a music video together, and I was very excited for her.

I expected that Kate would be seen in various shots in the video, as part of a story line. What I didn't expect was that the video would also be very much about her, working on her art.

The song, "Can't Let You Do It," is great (after all, it is Eric Clapton), but I really like the video, too, and not just because I'm such a fan of Kate. The lighting is great, with shadows and flashes of light, and fast, jerking camera work, with high angles from above as well as all around Kate in her studio, as she writes out the lyrics to the song. Her own art work is also featured.

The only disappointment that I found with the video is that we only see quick flashes of Kate, and usually from behind, as she's writing or from above. We really don't see her face, so unless you know her or her work, the person in the video could be anyone.

And I like looking at Kate.

Here's the video. Enjoy!

* My procedure went well. Thanks.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016


It was the noise that got to me.

The buzzing, the rat-a-tat. The alarm pitch that made me think that something was wrong.

I could deal with the confined space: the ceiling of the chamber wasn't as close to me as I feared it was. I could exhale powerfully without having my breath come back at me. It was lit, and warm. And I could close my eyes and imagine that I was in an open space.

I don't like confined spaces. I don't like being packed in a large crowd. I become stressed, agitated. My heart rate climbs and I have a desire to flee.

I've panicked at concerts, moved to the back of the pack, sought higher ground.

My worst case of claustrophobia hit when I was trapped in an elevator. The compartment was between the two floors and I couldn't open the doors above or below. My friend, who was also claustrophobic, boosted me so that I could try to open the escape port on the ceiling. It was locked.

All the while, people came and went, but when they heard our nervous voices, would often stupidly ask, "Are you stuck?"

"Not at all," came my snappy comeback, "we're just taking the fucking scenic route!"

It took three hours for the elevator maintenance person to come and free us. He had been on another call and then couldn't find the right elevator. My friend and I exited our prison, visibly shaking, and headed straight to a bar, drank until our nerves were calmed.

Yesterday, I had an MRI scan of a mass that has recently been discovered on my liver. When it was originally found, it was about one centimetre in diameter. The MRI will see if it's changed in size, and, hopefully, identify what the hell it is.

I'm not panicking, yet.

I was warned that the scan could take up to an hour and that I would be in a tube-like chamber, head-first. Knowing of my claustrophobia, my doctor recommended that I take some type of sedative, to help me relax. She would write me a prescription, if I so chose.

I declined. While I don't like tight spaces, I knew that there was a purpose to being in the machine and knew there would be a set end. I would close my eyes, focus on my breathing, and go to my happy place, if need be.

I was hooked up to a line that injected a colourant into my system. In my left hand, a button that I could squeeze if the stress became to great, and the procedure would end, the machine would glide me out into the open room.

A headset spoke to me in a gentle, but slightly muffled, female voice. It would tell me when to inhale and hold my breath, and when to exhale and relax. Once, through the procedure, one of the technicians came through, in an even-more muffled voice, to tell me that I was doing great, that I had only about 10 minutes or so left in the procedure.

In my head, I wasn't doing great. I was stressed. But my anxiety didn't come from the close quarters, didn't come from my claustrophobia. Not alone, anyway.

It was the varying tones of further-varying duration. It was the rapid clack-clack-clack, like machine-gun fire. It was the alarm drones, the lamenting sirens. It was the accompanying vibrations. It was the noise that bled through the headset, echoed in the chamber, that set my teeth grinding, made my jaw clench.

I concentrated on my breathing. I went to my happy place. I thought about the people I love. I thought about sex. I felt a slight burning sensation, as the injected chemicals coursed through my arm, and I clung to that sensation, to numb the sensation in my ears.

It took a little more than 30 minutes, when I heard the technicians' feet and felt the tray, on which I lay, gently slide out of the chamber. I was told that they were able to get some great images, that they would send the results to my doctor in about a week.

I'm glad they got the images they wanted. I'm not going back into one of those devices. It wasn't as bad as that elevator, but I still left the hospital wanting a drink.

My colonoscopy's tomorrow. That drink will have to wait.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

I Have Lost My Mojo

At a screen, I sit and stare.
I think and think, and despair.
Life, it falls in disrepair.
I have lost my mojo.

Topics, themes, I have many
Yet put in words, I can't find any
Even if, in rhyme, if only
I could find my mojo.

Worried 'bout my health, which fails me
Stressing over work that ails me
Restless nights that creep like snails be
Finding me my mojo.

I need something good and new,
Something pure and something true.
'Fore this doldrum makes me blue,
Forever takes my mojo.
(A poet, as you can see, I am not.)

In the past, writing has come naturally to me. I'm not a great writer, but I have been able to string more than two words together to convey a thought or an image. Lately, it's been a challenge.

For as long as I can remember, I've been able to tell stories, whether by fiction or by stretching the truth, to telling it like it is. From early memories of elementary school, where my creative writing had me reading stories to the younger grades, to being called upon each week, in sixth grade, to head to the front of the room to share my words.

In journalism school, I could succinctly report on current events and provide details of the news, but I seemed to thrive when it came to writing human-interest pieces. I wrote a three-part serial about a person living with—and later dying from—AIDS. Another teacher, not one of my own, read it and said to me, "if this doesn't get you an A+, I don't know what would."

The Ottawa Citizen asked to run the story.

When I joined a Centretown branch of Toastmasters, I wrote more than 50 speeches in my nine years at the club. The ones that I enjoyed creating the most, the ones that gave me pure pleasure in presenting, were the ones that enabled more creativity, that told stories, rather than just covered a topic. Years before my first blog post, I would create these narratives and give them out loud—not read from a page but performed, like a one-man show.

One year, when I had entered a speech contest, I had one of my only writers' blocks in Toastmasters. I couldn't come up with an idea for a speech. On the very night of the contest, a fellow TM asked me, as we were taking our seats, what I would be talking about.

"I have no idea," was my answer.

I was called up to the front of the room, and I was nervous. At least this will be a teaching moment, I thought: I can show the club members what it's like to crash and burn in a roomful of people.

The timer would begin at the first utterance or gesture, so I made sure to stand still while I thought of something to say. Jesus, Ross, you've never humiliated yourself in front of these people before. Don't do it now. You're a grown man: say something.

Grown man.

Only three days before this contest, I had celebrated my 40th birthday. I had been surrounded by friends from my early childhood days, from high school, and adulthood. A couple of people in this room, the people looking into my eyes, smiling, wordlessly encouraging me to speak, had been at that party. Forty years, come and gone.

"I'm 40 years old," I said, softly, almost imperceptibly. Only, the timer would have noticed. "Oh my God, I'm 40 years old," I repeated, louder, as the realization hit me. "What have I done with my life?"

I told them how, on my 20th birthday, a friend and I sat in a bar, celebrating, speculating on where we saw ourselves another 10 years down the road: a published author, married, possibly with kids, successful.

On my 30th birthday, I met with the same friend and we talked about how our lives had actually progressed in those 10 years. I had written books but had never had them published. I was married but without kids. I worked at the job that I had through university, that hardly matched what I saw myself doing, was hardly, by my estimation, successful.

At 31, I was depressed, because not only had I not accomplished many of the things I had set out to do at 20, but an entire year had elapsed since I had come to that realization, only to have done even less, since.

"Something has to change," I said. I needed to go down a new path, take a risk, flirt with failure. I left my job, moved to a foreign country (foreign in almost every way), a placed myself in a job that I had never tried before. I wrote, travelled, photographed, learned, and grew. I returned to Canada a different person than I was before I left. I sought a writing job in a high-tech company, bought a house, had kids, began to write more fiction. Joined Toastmasters.

Life hadn't turned out as I had planned, I told the staring faces, but it turned out in a way that made those young plans pretty shallow. My life was deep, rich.

I came in second place in the contest.

I had lost my mojo in the weeks leading up to that speech contest, but when things came down to the wire, I had found it again. It took the fear of failure, of utter humiliation, to bring it back.

In these past few weeks, I seem to have lost it again (just look at my blog posts from last week for proof, and did you see how much that poem sucked?). And, just as in my 31st year, as I realized that something needed to change to help me rise above my current state, to find that mojo, I now find myself in need to do something different, again. I need to take a new direction. Twenty years later, new directions are more frightening than they were when more options presented themself.

But I'm willing to try.

I need to find my mojo again: please stand by...

Monday, May 16, 2016

Birthday Haiku

Two teens in my house
Both girls, rife with attitude
Now, my grey hair grows.

Happy Birthday to my 13-year-old of many names.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Photo Friday: Week 19

This year is going quickly.

We're just wrapping up the nineteenth week of 2016. Spring seems to finally be here, with the tulips, the daffodils, and the trees beginning to open their leaves.

Every week, with the exception of one, when I was out of the country, I have made my way to Hog's Back Falls, for my photo project. I have seen the snow and ice slowly melt, the water gush in flooding amounts, and now that the Rideau Canal is filled, the water seems to trickle over the falls.

I've shot lots of slow shutter speeds, to soften the water and show the motion, but I've also stopped the water in its tracks. I've shot in the morning, in the afternoon, and after sunset. The different light can make the rocks change dramatically.

On week 19, I came to the falls twice: once, in the late afternoon; and again, the next evening, at sunset. I chose the latter visit for the project (I only use one shot for each week).

You can see the project in my Flickr album. Only 33 weeks left.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Don't Forget to Give

Canadians have never shied away from giving to the needy. We are, by and large, a fairly socialist society that believes that when we help each other, we all win.

Canadians have proven that in an undeniable way, over the past week, in their generosity towards the unfortunate folks in Fort McMurray, Alberta. The fire that swept through the town and is still burning through the province had forced more than 80,000 people from their homes. Many of those people will return to find their home, their neighbourhood, gone.

But their Canadian brothers and sisters have opened doors to them, provided food and shelter, and have donated to the United Way and Red Cross. The Canadian government, in turn, has offered to match donations, dollar-for-dollar, to help the town rebuild and help those Albertans get their lives back to normal.

My wife and I gave to the Red Cross, as we've given any time there are people in need. We went to their Web site, and donated $150. Not a huge donation, but we give what we can.

Many stores, across the country, are collecting for Fort McMurray at check-out counters. I used to give to these causes, as I paid for my groceries or beer, but I don't anymore. I refuse to give at the check-outs, and here's why.

For years, I would give anywhere from $2 to $10, to CHEO, to MADD, to the United Way, but no more. Because when I give a few bucks here and a few more there, it adds up. And these stores, who collect for these great causes, don't give tax receipts. And while I don't care about a couple of bucks, I figured that I typically gave about $200 a year at the check-out counter, and that adds up to a nice tax deduction.

If I give $200, I want to claim it.

And while I don't get a tax receipt for my donation, the companies that are collecting on our behalf are, most likely, getting a deduction when they put all of our money together and writing that big cheque to the charity.

Maybe not all of them are, but most.

And so, a couple of months ago, I stopped. I keep my change in my pocket, or I decline the addition to my bill.

I want to help, but I don't want a corporation to take the credit.

Don't forget to give.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Freedom 55? Yeah, Right.

Last week, I came to the cold realization that I'm just four short years away from some senior discounts.

As my work colleagues reminded me, and they're all older than me, that some banks waive service fees for customers who reach the age of 55. The news that I could be eligible for such discounts in a few years hit me like a ton of bricks.

This weekend, I posted a photo of me and my mother as a celebratory reminder of Mother's Day. I was barely a year old: my mother, only 23. We're both bundled against the winter cold as we stood on the edge of the St-Lawrence River, in Montreal, smiling despite the weather. As I looked at that picture that I love so much, I realized that the photograph is now more than 50 years old.

I am now only 11 years younger than my dad was when he died. Granted, I'm healthier than he was at my age (for the most part), but with impending tests coming in the next couple of weeks, the results could change that assumption.

I'm nine years away from the government officially recognizing me as a senior citizen.

I'm 14 years away from retirement. I hardly feel that I'm ready.

I still feel young. I still feel like I have a lot that I want to do, still feel that I can accomplish those goals. But when I look at my numbers, know that I  will soon be entitled to some senior discounts, I feel as though the pressure's on. That time is running out.

Freedom 55? Yeah, right. Some days, I don't think I'll be able to comfortably retire at 65.

And that's not that far away.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Last Ride

It's the third time I have said it: this time, I mean it.

That's the second time that I've said I mean it.

Last year, I completed the Rideau Lakes Cycle Tour for the first time. Granted that last year, I didn't attempt the ride all the way from Algonquin College, in Ottawa, to Queen's University, in Kingston, and back. Instead, I started in Perth and cycled only 100 kilometres, to Kingston, and back, which cut about 150 kms from the classic route.

I had signed up  for the full route, and trained hard. I might have even completed that route, except that a few days before the ride, I fell off my bike and fractured my wrist. My right wrist, which is more important than the left: with it, I control more gears and I use to apply the rear brakes. When I fractured my wrist, my doctor told me that I shouldn't ride at all. The vibration over that many kilometres would be hard on the wrist, would cause me a lot of pain.

He was right on that count: I felt every bump and winced over every kilometre, especially over the 3-km stretch of gravel road, where construction was underway.

My doctor was also concerned that if I were to fall again, I would most likely break the wrist.

I decided that even though I had signed up for the Classic route, I would ride the Century route (DW has always signed up for this route), starting in Perth. I bound the wrist and wore a wrist guard that my wife uses when she uses her inline skates. It was hot, uncomfortable, and did nothing to absorb the bumps on the roads. But I finished the ride, and was happy.

As soon as we returned to Perth, I told my wife that I was done with the RLCT. I had completed it, finally. I could strike it from my To Do list.

And this spring, in the week that the 2016 registration opened, we signed up again. This time, I signed up for the Century route. I knew I could finish it. I've proved that I can ride 100K with little difficulty, and then get on my bike the next day and do it all over again.

When I failed to do the return journey from Kingston to Ottawa in my first year, I said I wouldn't do it again.

I registered again.

When I rode from Ottawa to Kingston in the second year but developed a bad knot in a calf and had to stop on the return ride, outside of Westport, I swore that this was my last RLCT.

I registered again.

Last year, I rode the shortened route, with a fractured wrist, and declared, as we pulled into Perth, that it was my last long tour. And this time, I meant it.

I registered again.

Now, with less than five weeks until the next RLCT, I'm saying it in advance: this is my last one.

I mean it.

Care to wager?

Friday, May 6, 2016

Photo Friday: Horseshoe Bend Reboot

For a place where I spent almost an hour and literally took hundreds of shots, it seemed a shame to display only one photograph.

True, for the most part, I had set my camera on a tripod and had only changed the shot by zooming in and out, between 10mm and 20mm. There's not a lot of room for creativity there.

But for each composition that I made, as the sun headed for the horizon, I captured five shots, bracketed, with EVs at +2, +1, 0, –1, and –2. With those five shots, I produced a single image.

In post production, I didn't merge all five photos with all of the images that I produced. Sometimes, I used only three or four shots; other times, I used only one. I have them saved to a repository, but I doubt that they will ever see the light of day again. After all, Horseshoe Bend is only one subject, where the only changes come with the waxing and waning light.

I posted a couple of the photos, last month, for another Photo Friday. A friend of mine, Cesar, liked the photos and generously printed an 8x10 and a 13x19 sheet for me. One proudly hangs over my desk, at work; the other is waiting for me to find a suitable frame so that I can hang it in a prominent spot at home.

The other image that I showed for that blog post, while it captured the setting sunlight reflecting nicely off the gathering clouds, seemed too dark for my liking. Here's that shot:

Ever since I posted that image, I couldn't help but think that I can do a better job at processing the shot, and so I went back to the RAW files and re-edited them.

For the "original" photo, I used four of the five frames, leaving off the darkest of the shots out. I figured that with it, the overall result would be way too dark to be usable. It was a shame to exclude it from the final image, as it had the most colour in the sky.

For the reboot, I decided to use that dark frame, and this time I only merged it with the photo that was shot at a +1 EV. Here's the resulting image:

What do you think? Which one do you prefer?

A little exaggerated, I admit, but the Horseshoe Bend was mind-blowingly larger than life, and this is closer to how I remember seeing it.

Happy Friday!