Tuesday, January 31, 2017


I was relieved to hear CBC News call this a terrorist act. They called it exactly what it was.

When peaceful people are mercilessly gunned down, especially in a place of worship, where there is supposed to be an environment of peace and community, of belonging, it was a cowardly act.

I don't know what the perpetrators of this act of terror thought they were doing, or if they even thought at all. But no mistake: they are terrorists, and terrorists are not welcome in our country.

Now, more than ever, Canadians have to come together to speak out against violent attacks that target any welcome group in our society. And no mistake: these poor victims were welcome.

In a time when the government of our neighbours to the south have lost all sense of goodwill, of community, of justice, we have to show that we are a tolerant society. Just as are the good people who are fighting against the emerging tyranny in Washington. We must all stand, united.

First, they came for the Muslims. But this time, we're not staying silent.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Tipping Point

I used to be happy when more than 10 people visited my blog each day. Hell, I'm still surprised that anyone comes here in the first place.

But in all seriousness, thank you for reading The Brown Knowser. I'm honoured to have a following.

When I started with Brownfoot Journal, double-digit readership days were uncommon at first, and when those numbers seemed to suddenly double themselves, I was thrilled. You were reading me. Then, in the first month of The Brown Knowser, my daily numbers jumped again, with just over 50 visitors per day.

And in every month that followed, the numbers tended to grow. Again, I'm honoured.

But something has happened in the last couple of months and I'm not sure why, but my readership has nearly tripled, since last April, when I started to come off of my short-lived hiatus, and as of writing this post, January has seen the most visitors than any other month since The Brown Knowser launched, in June of 2011.

Even when my viewership spiked, in March of 2014, after CBC Ottawa showed the video that I made at the end of my Bate Island Project, had I ever thought I would have that many viewers again. Then, my monthly viewership hit more than 6,100 visits.

With today and tomorrow left in January, I have already seen 6,365 views. That's almost 220 views per day.

A far cry from my single-digit Brownfoot Journal days and significantly more than my early Brown Knowser ones.

Thank you.

I know that compared to many bloggers out there, I'm still small. I'm sure that some folks out there see my monthly totals in a single day.

That's great. For them.

When I first started blogging, it was meant to go to family and friends as a way to reach out and let them know what the "Brownfoots" were up to. I then started writing just for myself, but to be fine with anybody checking out my musings, rants, and raves.

It looks like you enjoy what I do, and that's humbling. I'll keep on doing it.

For you, as well as for me.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Photo Friday: Abandoned Crossing

It's a crossing that I pass a couple of times each week, but it wasn't until I started my Daily Photo Project that I really noticed it.

It's those days when I don't bring a lunch to work, when I don't want to go to the cafeteria where the short-order cook seems to make preparing a club sandwich a chore. The food is okay, but expensive for what you get.

So I jump in the car and head through the residential streets, down the long, steady, and bumpy road that is Chemin Freeman, in Gatineau, to the IGA across St. Joseph Boulevard.

Halfway down that road, when the incline levels out, an abandoned railway line is marked only by the rails that are all but buried in the uneven asphalt and the crossing lights, battered by large vehicles or, perhaps, on purpose, to show that they are no longer in service.

I took maybe a minute to pull over and jump out on that snowy day with my camera in hand. I took a few angles, captured the rails in the roadway. I knew I had my photo of the day but I had another one to play with.

Back in the office, eating my sandwich, I pulled the photos from my camera and onto my phone. I edited the one that I liked the most, in Snapseed, and uploaded it onto Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr, as I had with my previous POTDs, and then turned to another that I liked, and played with it some more.

First, in Snapseed, where I enhanced the contrast and then super-saturated the colours. I then used Photo Art, where I rendered the photo in black and white, except for the red of the now-extinguished lamps. Finally, I imported the photo into Prisma, where I applied the Mosaic filter.

It's funny how that app added colour to a photo that only had a bit of bright red.

No matter. I like the results.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Throwback Thursday: Poll Dancing

For this Throwback Thursday, I'm digging into the archives of my old blog, Brownfoot Journal, and am dusting off a post from January 31, 2011. Since I first wrote this post, I've not created any more polls: there certainly hasn't been on in The Brown Knowser. Also, I tend to change the look of this blog only once a year.

If you've read it before, I hope you enjoy reading it again. I abbreviated the post, because it spoke of what was to come in future Brownfoot Journal posts and I didn't want anyone to think that those promises related to The Brown Knowser.


I love polls. Apparently, my readers don't.

A couple of weeks ago, I did what I tend to do from time to time, when I'm bored with the appearance of my blog. I play around with it, changing the layout and adding gadgets. I'll rearrange the right-hand column, move my reading list, my archive list, and links up and down, providing prominence for some things, shoving others further down. I like to keep the links to Songsaengnim and Gyeosunim near the top, where they can be easily found. At the bottom, I keep less-important content, such as my subscription links and copyright information.

I've also added a couple of gadgets, such as the list and links to other blogs that I follow and really like, and my Twitter link.

But a couple of weeks ago, when I was making my most-recent change to my blog's layout, I added a gadget to the top of the right-hand column, where I thought it would catch everyone's eye.

I added a poll.

I love polls. I love being asked what I think. I love clicking a button that shares my view, opinion, likes, and dislikes with the community at large. In clicking a button on an online poll, I look forward to seeing the results pop up. I like to see if my opinion matches those of other people who have responded to whatever question is asked. Am I just like everyone else, or am I a rebel, a deviant?

In recent weeks, I've responded to a handful of polls, on topics ranging from the call for a new holiday in February, to what the value of a lottery jackpot must be before I buy a ticket, to whether hyphens should be eliminated from the English language (worst idea, ever).

As you can see, I like voting on important, world-altering questions.

So there I was, rearranging my blog layout, when I thought that adding a poll would be a good idea. The last poll that I posted was about the weather, and whether my readers preferred frigid or sweltering temperatures. That was fun. It was especially fun when I saw that the majority of you agreed with me. I actually like to act differently from the masses, but love it when we think the same way.

I wanted to create another poll, shortly after, but I didn't really have an issue that I wanted to discuss or find shared opinions with my readers. And so, I created this poll.

As you can see, no one voted. And so I'm left thinking: did no one vote because the question wasn't clear or did no one vote because no one saw the poll? If the answer is that no one saw the poll, maybe I need to post a blog entry every time I create a poll, to get your attention. But that wouldn't have worked for this particular poll because I didn't really have a question. Not really. On a philosophical level, I thought that if someone voted Yes, it might mean he or she is a positive person; a No vote might reveal a pessimistic voter.

If you didn't vote because you saw the poll but didn't understand the question, why wouldn't you contact me and say, "Ross, WTF is up with your poll?" Did you think that I would laugh at you and say, "C'mon, the question is obvious. What are you, stupid or something??"

I would never do that. Not to you.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017


Their hair was cut in the same style, short, pixie-like, had been dyed a midnight black to match. Perhaps, maybe, they took turns colouring each other, covering the grey.

The designer glasses were identical—sleek, modern, with a giraffe-skin pattern covering the arms. Both wore light turtleneck sweaters under bright hand-knitted ones. Different colours, perhaps each one made for the other, given as gifts long ago.

Both donned dark, polyester slacks. The New Balance running shoes were, possibly, pulled from the same store shelf. Same size. Same amount of wear.

Interchangable, no doubt.

They sat facing each other in the food court, enjoying their Subway sandwiches. Tuna. Lots of green and black olives. White bread. Tea. Cookies—chocolate-chip. They ate in relative silence, scratching the film from their lottery tickets, searching for winning numbers. Scraping the surface, methodically, with pennies (the only use for them, nowadays).

Every so often, one would speak to the other in soft tones, using some East European dialect. Bulgarian, perhaps. The long lines in their aged faces told of a rich history, perhaps spent in their entirety, together.

Twins. Sisters, experiencing what might be a ritual, oblivious to the stranger, sitting at a far table, facing them, trying to read these lives like the film on those lottery tickets.

Neither of us was necessarily successful—in their winnings or my character assessment, but all of us filled with an imaginary wonder of what might be.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Bitter Pills

I tossed these pills out after I shot them.
By god, they kept the pain away.

I took pills so that I could walk without pain. They threatened strokes, heart attacks, at worst: at the least, there was a risk of upset stomach or diarrhea. I took them, and the pain went away.

Not completely away. After a long day on my feet, after I got off the weight to sit and watch TV or to write, or once I was in bed, trying to sleep, the pain would creep in—dulled, but present.

It was okay. I took the pills, upped my other dosages of pain medication, and carried on.

I didn't suffer a stroke. My heart was as strong as ever. But the stomach upset came—the troubles, as I started to refer to my frequent trips to the washroom.

At the same time, I began to listen to the urges from my health watch, at the office, when it reminded me that I had been sitting too long and should be mobile. The 150-some-odd steps to the kitchen, for coffee, or the 160-or-so steps to the washroom would become a minimum of 280 steps. Four hundred steps. Six hundred steps.

"Are you looking for someone?" a co-worker would ask.

"No," I would say, swinging my coffee cup in my hand, walking down a cubicle aisle in the opposite direction and far away from the kitchen. "I'm on a caffeine break."

I would pass the receptionist two or three times on my way to a meeting, when in days before, I would never walk near her on my journey to the same meeting.

I walk to stay healthy. In doing so, my feet hurt more. The pills that are meant to numb that pain become less effective, and the stomach upset continues.

So, I quit the pills.

I took nine pills every day to counter the pain and to ease my stomach. I've now reduced that number by two. Two fewer pills.

Bitter pills.

Not in taste, but effect.

Time will tell if my stomach recovers, whether the pain is worth the sacrifice.

I've contacted my doctor, told her that I'm wondering what the status on my impending foot surgery was. I don't know how much longer I can live with this, balancing my stomach over my feet, which also affect my knees and my hips.

My life of pain and/or discomfort can't continue.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Photo Friday: High Above

I've driven along it so many times, but it isn't until you look at it, from high above, that you see the intricate network of lanes and paths.

A 15-second exposure, where you can plot the courses of traffic by their lights helps too. But where the Ottawa River Parkway ends at Lincoln Heights, to join with Carling Avenue or to continue as the transitway is a complex work of pavement.

And, my god, that IKEA certainly is huge!

Happy Friday!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Throwback Thursday: Mostly Harmless

This is a post that originally appeared on February 3, 2011, in my old blog, Brownfoot Journal. It was one of the top-10 posts for that blog, and it was because of the attention it garnered that I made the decision to separate family from the public, and The Brown Knowser was born a couple of months later.

Reading this post again, I was reminded of this awkward memory, back in the days when I would make the long commute, by bus, from my Barrhaven home to my office, in Gatineau.

I've decided to republish this post in this blog as a throwback to those days of my public-transit commutes. If you've read it before, I hope you don't mind seeing it again. If it's new to you, enjoy.

The following post is an open letter to my fellow passengers on a crowded OC Transpo bus.

Dear Fellow Riders of the 95 bus that left Fallowfield Station around 8:40 this morning:

I know that you don't know me. I don't usually catch the 95 that late in the morning. If I take the bus, I'm on it three hours earlier, when it's less crowded and I'm guaranteed to get a seat. Because, you see, I have a bad foot and I generally can't stand still for very long. And I'm not very well balanced on sore feet. I'm not always very well-balanced mentally, but that's another story altogether.

So yes, I was a stranger to your morning commute. You weren't familiar with me. But let me assure you that I'm a nice guy. To quote the late, great Douglas Adams, I'm mostly harmless.

When I got on the bus, it was already full. Standing room only. And because I had to use bus tickets and get on through the front doors, I couldn't get far into the bus. And so I stood somewhere between the driver and the middle doors. Do you remember me now? That stranger, clinging for dear life to an overhead bar? Yeah, that was me.

Typically, when I catch my early morning bus, I sit in the same spot. I take my book out from my backpack and read. Today, I couldn't do that because I was hanging on. My backpack stayed on my back, my book stayed tucked away. I tried to keep my gaze out the window, because I had nothing else to look at, and being a stranger to you, I didn't want to make any of you feel uncomfortable by making eye contact. Because, as I said, I'm mostly harmless. But you couldn't have known that and would not have thought that if I was making eye contact with you.

I want you to know that I didn't mean to press against you when we started moving, when we came to halts, or when we negotiated turns. I tried to keep my legs planted in a way that kept me balanced. I tried to hang onto the overhead bar as tightly as I could so that when the bus moved, I didn't. Not much, anyway. That was my intent.

But when I did make contact, when I did press against you, I want you to know it wasn't intentional. It wasn't personal.

I don't like making contact with strangers if I can help it. And I couldn't help it this morning. There were so many of you standing with me in the aisle. Being such a cold day, we were all in thick layers, occupying more space than our bodies themselves required. My backpack was firmly strapped to my back, adding to my bulk.

My free arm hung by my side. It never moved, except once, when I tried to switch my hold of the overhead bar. But by holding the bar with my left arm, I became even more off-balanced, and my backpack pressed more firmly into the rider behind me. I'm sorry about that—I hope you know that I switched back as soon as it was safe to do so. I didn't want to fall. And when an arm was hanging, I was most certainly not using it to grope anyone.

I'm not that type. In that regard, I'm totally harmless. Though there was that one incident on a bus trip home...

True story: a couple of years ago, I was on a crowded bus, heading home. I was sitting in a seat, next to the aisle. People were standing in the aisle and the driver had a lead foot, taking sick pleasure in accelerating and breaking hard, making standing on the bus a challenge. He wasn't transporting humans; he was hauling sides of beef. As usual, I had my face in my book, not paying attention to what was going on around me. But my peripheral vision was working perfectly.

When the bus lurched forward at Bayview Station, I sensed someone falling towards me, and without looking up I instinctively raised my arm an put out an open hand to halt the mass that threatened to interrupt my reading. I wasn't planning to catch the person; I was trusting that the person was going to do everything he or she could do to stay upright. Well, I stopped the person from falling, but as luck would have it (good or ill, I'm still not sure), my hand came into full contact with a breast (perhaps, more accurately, a breast came into contact with my hand). It was a perfectly aligned contact: full hand on breast. And, because the poor woman was still off-balance and was still coming towards me, I couldn't take my hand away.

Did I mention that this happened during the summer, when neither of us was bundled up? My bare hand was on a blouse: I could feel the cotton fabric and the contours of the bra beneath it. I could feel the firmness of the breast that I was supporting.

My eyes lifted from the pages of my book and moved to my hand, then to the chest with which I was making contact, and then to the eyes of the woman I was supporting (in more ways than one!). Shock filled her eyes. Horror must have filled mine.

As soon as the woman righted herself, my hand moved away faster than a magnet moves away from its polar similarity. The woman was younger than me, perhaps in her early to mid 30s. Her physique was what I can only describe as average. Slightly athletic. Fit.

And definitely real.

In a stuttering voice, I apologized profusely. "I'm so sorry," I said, "I beg your pardon... I didn't mean to... it happened all so fast and I wasn't looking. Please forgive me!!"

I'll never forget her reaction, never forget the words she spoke. She smiled, let out a little laugh. In a clear, raised voice that everyone near us could hear, she said: "Oh, that's okay. That's the most action I've had in a while. If you want, you can grab the other one so that it doesn't feel left out." She then turned her body slightly, so that her other breast was better aligned with me. And she moved closer. "Go ahead," she beckoned, "you'd be doing me a favour."

The man in the seat next to me laughed. The passengers sitting in front of me turned their heads to see what the commotion was about. Here I was, sitting on a crowded bus with a woman positioning her breast towards me, asking me to grab it.

I'm mostly harmless. I don't like to interact with fellow passengers. I don't like to make contact with strangers. I was feeling very uncomfortable, and would have bolted out of there if we weren't so crammed in. So instead, I did what seemed appropriate.

I reached up and gave her breast a gentle squeeze.

Yup, definitely real.

"Thank you," she said. "I feel balanced now."

I got off the bus at the next stop, at Tunney's Pasture.

I swear, that's a true story. Maybe someone who reads this post was there, will remember. Please leave me a comment so that my readers don't call BS.

So to my fellow travellers on today's bus. To those I was pressed against. Believe me when I say I wasn't pressing up against you on purpose. Because I really wasn't.

I'm mostly harmless.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Day Off

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I'll be dismissed early, if not right away.

Not because I don't want to fulfill my civic duty: I do. I think that next to voting, participating in jury duty is something that makes living in our society civilized. We should be able to be judged fairly by our peers.

I hope the case is an exciting one: one that is of a high profile, receives news coverage. I wouldn't be able to write about it, of course, not until it's over, if even at all. But it would be great to be a part of an important part of the justice system.

If it's a simple case or dull (I'm thinking some petty, blue-collar crime), I'll be so disappointed.

But I'm hoping that I can report to the Ontario court house early and either be accepted and told of the next court date, or be rejected or told I'm not needed, and be sent on my way.

This is the fourth time that I've been summoned as a juror. The first time, the letter had been sent to the wrong address—to my parents' place, when I wasn't living there. As I was made to understand, if the letter had any error, there was no obligation to show. Being in my early 20s, I wasn't interested and so I treated the letter as though I had never received it, as if my parents hadn't passed it on. My driver's license was proof that I didn't live at that address.

The second summons did come to the right address, but before the court date approached, I received a second letter that told me my attendance was not required.

The third summons brought me into the court house on the date, but as I sat outside the courtroom a bailiff approached me (or some other court official), thanked me for showing up, and said that I wouldn't need to attend. No reason was given, so I thought that perhaps the accused had changed his or her plea to guilty.

So this is my fourth call and I'm hoping that the meeting is short or non-existent.

I've already booked the day off from work, will get paid whether I'm there or not. It would be nice to have a day to myself, where I can explore downtown on a weekday, where I can maybe photograph various parts that I've always wanted to shoot but didn't have the time during the day.

I'm already committed to being in the Glebe in the evening. I have a class that I just started, last week, and I can take some time to do my assignment, to get caught up on other writing that I've wanted to do but have had more-pressing priorities.

Tomorrow, no matter what happens, I have a day off. With any luck, I'll be able to take full advantage of it.

Monday, January 16, 2017

First Flight

I crashed in the first 30 seconds.

My drone didn't cost me much. It retails for $200, but it was on sale, at 20 percent off, and I received a $100 gift card at my office holiday party, in December. For $60, plus tax, it was worth trying. I couldn't otherwise justify spending a lot of money on a drone: if I had that kind of disposable income, I'd much rather spend it on another lens for my camera.

The weather, since Christmas, hasn't been that great for flying a drone. We've experienced both freezing rain and snow, and when the skies have been clear, it's either been exceedingly windy or cold.

And so, I've done my test flights indoors, in the living room. I practiced lifting off from the floor and landing on the dining-room table or the coffee table. With an inexpensive drone, I learned that it won't simply hover in place, that I had to constantly keep my fingers on the joystick to keep it from drifting, constantly feather the throttle to maintain altitude.

A couple of times, I lost control, would have the drone falter as it attempted to land on the table, only to move, just as I dropped the throttle, and it would tumble of the table surface. Another time, it hit a chair. Once, it flew into me, a spinning propeller hitting me in the chest.

It stung, but I was more concerned with the condition of the drone.

It's a tough little flying machine, and always started up again after a collision.

But these tests were indoors, and I was itching to get the drone outside.

Yesterday, I couldn't wait. It was sunny and the winds were low. It was cold, but certainly not so cold that I couldn't step out into my driveway and try my drone in the circle in which I lived. I charged up the battery, inserted a new, fast SD card into the camera, and headed out.

I set the drone on the roof of our SUV, from which it would lift off. My plan was to have the drone fly out towards the circle, pivot toward me, and to survey the neighbourhood. Just some simple maneuvers to start: I needed to get used to moving the machine in a larger, open space, but with the snow and houses, I didn't want to try too much. For more complex moves, I'm going to have to wait until all the snow is gone and I have a large field.

Lifting off was easy. The drone left the SUV and gained height as it moved down the driveway and over the street. It climbed over the circle and went above the houses. All systems were running.

I moved the rotation lever to the right and the drone pivoted to turn around. That's when the trouble started. The rotation control and the throttle are the same stick, and in pivoting, the drone started losing power, began to drop. I tried to compensate by giving it more power, but the drone had picked up acceleration in its descent, and as I tried to regain control, the drone headed swiftly toward our neighbour's tree. I feared losing further control, maybe having the drone fly behind a house, where I would lose sight of it, so I did the only thing I could think of to stop it.

I shut off the power.

It was only a couple of feet from the neighbour's tree. My second fear was that I would get caught up in the tree, but with no leaves to get tangled in, and at the speed in which it was moving, it did exactly what I hoped it would do. The branches slowed it down and broke its fall.

I lost sight of it as it dropped behind a snowbank. I knew it had come to rest in my neighbour's driveway, but I didn't know if it was upside-down, whether any of the propellers had broken off, or it was damaged in any other way.

It was sitting, right-side up, looking none the worse for wear. I throttled up, to see if any of the props would turn, and all of them did. It lifted off and moved down the driveway, and onto the street. I set it down in the middle of the road and walked behind it, and started again.

Easy moves. Nothing too fast. Constantly aware of the controls, making sure that I kept the throttle in control.

It moved up, it moved down. It pivoted, slowly, until I had it looking at my house from high above, with nothing but a sea of suburbia as far as the eye could see.

The cold was getting to the battery. I could see the white and orange lights, blinking steadily, telling me that the drone would soon head back to earth, its propellers would come to rest, and the flight would be over.

It was my first official flight and I had crashed in only 30 seconds. But the drone is tough and it flew again.

It's not the most interesting video, but it gives a good bird's-eye view of my neighbourhood. It runs for less than five minutes and the most action-packed part is between the 20 and 30-second mark.

My first flight will not be my last. Next time, I try the still-camera button. If all goes well, it could be my Photo of the Day image.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Photo Friday: Just One

Ever since I started this year's photo project—it's already day 13 and it feels like I only began a couple of days ago—I've had my camera on me, or very close by, everywhere I go. I never know if something is going to catch my eye, whether the moment or lighting will be fleeting, and I need to capture it before it changes entirely.

It's been easy to come up with something different over the past 12 days. Only time will tell, as the year moves on, whether I'll be able to find 365 separate subjects.

On the first couple of days, I had ideas of what I wanted to shoot, and I sought them out. An abandoned bus in a farmer's field; Black Rapids, the effects of light snow on ice-covered trees. I would have an idea or I would see the weather, and want to exploit it, somehow. The trouble was that once I was outdoors, capturing these images, I would see more photo opportunities on my way home or later in the day.

My daily photo project is just that: one new image each day. Only 365 photos will be used, every one of them on a different day, on that particular day of the year. Shoot the photo, process it, and post it on social media on that day.

Just. One. Photo.

Of course, if I take other photos that I like, there's nothing stopping me from sharing them on my blog.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Sea & Sky

I'm lucky to have so many talented friends. Published authors, television personalities, actors, and musicians.

High on the list of these gifted friends is Amanda Cottreau, who is a singer-songwriter with a voice that gives me goosebumps. She often plays at various venues in the Ottawa-Gatineau area, and if you ever get a chance you should go and see her.

A couple of years ago, in anticipation of Christmas, she released a song, aptly named Almost Christmas. With the release of the song, she also put out a video. It contained a series of still images, which reminded me slightly of a slide show. It's a cute song: have a listen when you get a chance.

A few weeks ago, Amanda released another video for her song, Sea & Sky. This video features Amanda, gingerly plucking her guitar strings, and follows the changing seasons. It was shot in Florida and the Ottawa-Gatineau area, and includes local artist, Lydia Pépin, who is a personal friend of the video's director, Luca Fiore.

As Amanda told me, "Years back, I met Luca via Tara Porter...he had had all of his gear stolen, and friends ran a fundraising campaign. One of the packages was a $1000 video package which I immediately funded, after seeing Lucas other projects.

"I spoke to Luca about my vision for the video—not just me playing but a story where an actor would play the character of love's longing embodied through the seasons of relationship."

The video isn't quite new, per se. It was an idea that Amanda had years ago and was a labour of love over that time.

"I have been holding on to the gem for over two years. Timing and intent was very important to me.

"Over three years ago, I had the opportunity to work with Luca Fiore. It took us about 13 months to put together, capturing parts of the story during each season. There were multiple locations used—Florida, Ottawa, and Gatineau. The original song was recorded by Dean Watson at Gallery Recording Studio. I love how he tied everything together, as well using the filter and the film."

The wait was worth it. Here's the video: enjoy. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Little Spoons

I've been known to swipe things from pubs and restaurants, but I wasn't going to do it. Not this time.

I had only been in the country for a couple of weeks, was only familiarizing myself with the culture, the language, and the people. I wasn't about to get myself caught in any shenanigans.

I had only met her, briefly, a day or so before. She was the friend of a fellow colleague, and both of them were trying to be helpful, trying to introduce me to new places. In a few months, one would be leaving work, leaving the country, and starting a new chapter in her life. The other was going to explore Australia for a year, to see a new part of the world and to improve her English.

But here, today, they were both with me and DW in Chŏnju, South Korea, and we were enjoying some 녹차nōk cha, green tea, in a modern-styled café in the district just outside the gates of Chŏnbuk University.

Though we didn't need them, our place settings included little spoons, in case we would decide to change our beverages to coffee and would need to stir in any milk, cream, or sugar. But we wanted to immerse ourselves in the Korean culture, so the tea would do just fine.

I marvelled at the little spoons. They were tiny, elegant. The stainless-steel construction were sleek, the bowl long and narrow, the neck so thin that it looked like it could bend under the weight of anything it held. But it was the tip of the handle that caught my attention.

Ducks. The handles ended in slim duck heads. A long, pointed bill. Minuscule beads for eyes. The detail was simple, yet there was a detail that made them appealing.

"What cute spoons," I remarked, lifting one to get a closer look. Three simple words, perhaps backed with a smile, and that was it. I put them down and returned my attention to the conversations with our foursome.

Our hosts were still preventing DW and me from paying for anything when they were present. We were new to the country, to the city, and it would still be a couple more weeks before we would see our first paycheque. Besides, tea was cheap in Korea.

Kyung-hee, our first Korean friend, went to the cafés reception area to settle our bill. When she returned, she placed two little spoons in my hand.

"I talked to the owner," she said, "he said you can have them."

Our first gift. Used every day that we lived in Korea. Brought with us to Canada. Used to this day by every member of our family.

I still smile when I pull one from the kitchen drawer. I still remember that day in Chŏnju.

Two little spoons, I didn't have to swipe.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Health Watch

It was already a year of gadgets for me, this Christmas, receiving a drone and a new tablet. I didn't expect a smart watch to be thrown in as an added bonus.

It was DW who wanted a watch to monitor her exercise and her health. She had looked at a Fitbit, had tried one on at Costco. But some negative reviews made her reluctant to settle on this popular device. She wasn't going to get herself an Apple product, especially after she and I had moved away from iPhones and had become Android users.

My new tablet was my final move away from Apple. (I'm allergic to them, after all.)

DW finally settled on a Samsung Gear Fit2. On Christmas morning, one was waiting for her under the tree. (She had picked it out, price-shopped online, found a sale at Best Buy, bought it, and handed it to me. I just wrapped it and put it with the other gifts—like the drone and tablet I picked out for myself and the suitcase that she had ordered for herself, online.)

When DW tried on her new gift, she discovered that the wrist strap was too big for her. When she had tried the Fitbit at Costco, she had to move from a small strap to a large, and assumed that it would be the same for the Samsung device.

She was wrong.

For Christmas Day, though, DW played with the watch, downloaded a new face (she didn't like the default one nor the others that were provided through the accompanying smartphone app, Samsung Gear. She measured her steps, the number of stairs she climbed, the number of coffees and glasses of water she consumed, and tracked her heart rate. She deemed the watch a good device, and vowed to exchange it for a smaller size on Boxing Day.

On the next day, however, she asked me if I would like one of these watches, too, and gave me the large one to wear until she would go to Best Buy. Either she would exchange this watch for a smaller one or I would keep this one (we reset it and I chose my own custom face), and she would pick up another one, in her size.

That's what happened.

I haven't worn a watch in years. The last watch that I had stayed on my wrist, in all conditions, for more than 10 years. When I lived in Korea, I discovered that if I removed the watch, it would stop, and would restart seconds after being secured to my wrist. It wouldn't function without me.

This new watch is sort of the same way. It can't track my activities nor count my heart rate unless it's securely on my wrist, so the only time I take it off, to charge it, is when I'm in the shower or if I'm awake but not moving, such as when I'm at the kitchen table or watching TV.

DW has placed her charging dock in our kitchen: I've put mine in the bedroom, so either of us can plug in when we're upstairs or on the main level.

Since I've worn the device, I've noticed that I pay far more attention to my behaviour than I used to. I set goals for the number of daily steps, for the number of floors I walk up, the number of glasses of water I consume, and the amount of physical activity I do.

The watch will even prompt me when I've been inactive for 50 minutes, and I listen. I get off my butt and I move. At work, I'll head to the kitchen and make myself a coffee (I can track those) or refill my water mug. I'll take the longest possible route to the kitchen and back to my desk, often completing a couple of laps around the inside perimeter of the building.

Sadly, my office is in a one-floor building, so I can't climb stairs. At home, however, I find myself in the basement and racing to the bedroom, so that I can count two flights.

But I can program different types of workouts, which the watch monitors, from walking, to spin classes, to riding my road bike (when I return to that, in the spring).

The watch synchronizes with a Samsung app on my phone, S Health, and I can also count the calories I consume during the day, but I had a similar app on my old iPhone and I found it too time-consuming to enter everything I put in my mouth, so I don't use that part of the S Health app.

I sleep with the smart watch and pay close attention to how much sleep I receive. The device will tell me how long I remain motionless, when I'm in a deep sleep, and when I'm in a light-sleep state. So far, it has rated my sleep as mostly poor, because I receive less than seven hours of sleep, and usually less than six-and-a-half hours of actual rest.

When the alarm on my smartphone goes off, I can control whether to snooze or to shut it off with a simple tap or flick of my finger.

The watch also lets me know when I am contacted through my social-media apps and when my phone is ringing.

This gadget is one of the three that I received over Christmas, and even though I didn't ask for it, it's one that I use the most, is one that I think will help me to keep moving, and will be one that I find valuable in keeping me healthy at a time when my foot, which is working against me, is keeping my drive to stay active at low levels.

And now, I have to get up. My watch is vibrating on my wrist, telling me that I've been sitting here too long. The vibration is it's way of saying, "Okay, buddy, blog time is over. Get off your fat ass and start moving!"

I obey.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Photo Friday: Mass Murder

I don't know what it is about winter, whether it's the frigid temperatures that cause them to stick together, searching for shelter or food.

Maybe it's the stark contrast of pure white and the black, like night, making them stand out more.

But I see crows. I see them everywhere.

And what's more ominous than several, in the sky, above you? Or gathered on the bare trees?

Above a solitary farm house, at sunset, they seem like the harbingers of something sinister.

A mass murder.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Calling It Quitters

No coffee. There was no coffee to serve in the coffee shop.

Power was on for much of Stittsville, following the freezing rain storm of Tuesday and then yesterday's snow, which weighed down the trees and power lines throughout the Ottawa area, but the coffee shop in which we met was in one of the few affected cells and was without.

Cold drinks could be had and there were plenty of fresh muffins and other baked goods on offer. The debit machines were down but the tablet cash register could read credit cards.

I bought a vanilla-bean scone and filled a glass with ice-cold water. I put three dollars and some coin on my VISA, and joined the winner of this month's Where In Ottawa at a table along the windows that looked out onto Main Street.

As we chatted and waited for loveOttawa's Dwayne Brown to meet us with the prize t-shirt, the owner of Quitters Coffee, singer-songwriter Kathleen Edwards, came into her shop and apologized for the lack of coffee, and announced that the baked goods were on the house.

She saw me, already enjoying my scone, and said, "If you've already purchased your food, too bad." The smile on her face supported her goodwill.

"That's okay, I'm happy to support small business," I replied.

"Thanks to our paying customers," she said. "Because of you, we can open tomorrow."

I wished that I lived closer to Stittsville. Quitters would be a regular haunt for me. We have nothing like it in Barrhaven, not since Steamers got sold and then promptly went out of business.

Fortunately for our Where In Ottawa winner, Mike Alexander, this friendly and cozy coffee shop is only a five-minute walk from his house. Lucky bugger.

Photos from when the power was on, when I shot the first Where In Ottawa photos. The coffee is an eggnog latte with a shot of dark rum. Decadence, for sure!

When I asked Mike whether it was the photo or the clue that helped him solve the challenge, he told me that the awning looked familiar and he suspected that the location was his neighbourhood coffee shop. As soon as he saw the first clue, he knew the answer.
  • At the heart of the old-new village—the village, in which settlers had lived since the 1820s and was named after Jackson Stitt in the 1850s, was originally at the crossroads of Carp Road and Hazeldean Road. Remember the old Stittsville Flea Market grounds? There. After a fire, in 1870, devastated the village, it was relocated after the Canadian Pacific railway built a line that ran from Carleton Place to Ottawa. The new Stittsville had a station along the line, at the intersection of Main Street and Abbot Street, which became the heart of the new village.
I had a lot of clues for this challenge but never had the chance to use them. Clues like these ones:
  • Trans-Canada Trail stop—the tracks for the CP line are long gone but the trail remains, and is part of the Trans-Canada Trail. Many hikers and cyclists use this trail and make Quitters a stop along the way (DW and I have cycled to Quitters many times). A sign on the side of the coffee shop lets you know that you can park your car, your bike, or even your dog behind the building.
  • Give up? You'll never win—everyone knows that winners never quit and quitters never win. Unless you're at Quitters: they make winning brews.
  • I Kitty the fool that doesn't get this clue—if you follow Kathleen Edwards on social media, you'll know that her Twitter and Instagram nickname is @kittythefool, what I can only assume is a play on the famous words of Mr. T. And, as I said earlier in this post, Ms. Edwards owns Quitters.
  • Out in the Stitts—by this point, I figured that the challenge would be solved, but just in case, I did a play on the expression out in the sticks, meaning a rural environment, which sums up Stittsville. Or, at least it used to. Urban growth has made this once isolated village now link to Kanata, and there are very few farm fields in between.
Congratulations to Mike on his success and on claiming the t-shirt that was generously provided by loveOttawa. It also marked a few firsts for Where In Ottawa: the first time that a winner was awarded the giveaway in the very venue that was used for the photo challenge. The first time that both the prize provider and I came out to meet the winner. And the first time that the winner was photographed.

Thanks to Dwayne and Anita at loveOttawa for providing their fine shirt, which celebrates Ottawa in 2017, for Canada's 150th anniversary. It's great to work with others who love this city as much as I do.

You can see the photo that Dwayne shot for loveOttawa on their Instagram page.

The next Where In Ottawa is Monday, February 7.