Friday, March 30, 2012

Photo Friday: Oshawa Afternoon

I've been so distraught over the loss of my Nikon D-SLR that I forgot that I do actually have a camera that's better than the one in my iPhone. It's a 10 mega-pixel point-and-shoot.

Our Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS.

Yesterday, while the family and I took a break from dance competitions in Ajax, Ontario, we hopped over to Oshawa (hopped is adroit; it took less than 10 minutes to drive). While Lori, the workaholic, took time to get some work done from the Oshawa library, the kids and I had a daddy-daughter afternoon in the Oshawa Centre, a massive shopping mall. Essentially, I let the girls lead me around for a shopping spree. I was a walking wallet for them.

Afterwards, when we rejoined Lori in the library, the girls wanted to rest and Lori said she needed about an hour to finish up. So I left the girls to their devices and wandered the neighbourhood, the Canon in my pocket.

Because we're on the road and travelling as light as possible (or at least, I am), I left my laptops at home, deciding to travel only with my iPad, my wireless keyboard, and an SD card adapter.

For post production, I used Snapseed. Although I've had the app for a couple of months, this is the first time I've really played with it. Especially on the iPad (I also have it on my iPhone but the screen size is far to small to truly see your results). Snapseed is very easy to use: just choose an editing tool and swipe your finger up and down to choose a feature, and then side to side to adjust the intensity of that feature.

What do you think?

Happy Friday!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

When Married Writers Argue

Yesterday, the family packed up and headed to Ajax for the CanDance competition. While I drove, the kids watched movies off our iPads and Lori worked at her laptop. Like me, Lori is a technical writer. Unlike me, she's a workaholic.

I love her anyway.

Halfway through our trip, Lori asked for my opinion about a sentence she was working on.

"Tell me if this makes sense," she said. "'You can use a preset to—'"

"Wait," I said, "a preset what?"

"That's not what I was wondering about," she said. "'You can ues a preset to—'"

"Stop," I said. "Preset is an adjective. A preset what?"

"Just a preset."

"No," I corrected. "Preset is an adjective that describes something, like a feature, that requires no configuration. It is set up in advance. The something is preset. What is that something?"

"No," Lori said. "It's just a preset."

"That's so wrong. Who came up with that word? A developer? Is English his or her first language?"

"It's fine. That's just the way it is. Get over it. I want you to hear the part I'm having problems with."

"I'd say you have a few problems."

"Why do I bother? Listen: 'You can use a preset to transition between—'"

"Transition?" I said. "As a verb? Don't get me started."

"This is why I could never work with you."

"And yet you want my help. Let me do you a favour: use preset as an adjective and transition as a noun. You're welcome. Trust me, your localization folks will thank me."

"Stop talking."

And it was here that the girls stopped watching their movie and told Lori and me to stop fighting. Yes, we were that loud.

Never get into an argument with writers. We'll bore you to death.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

My iPhone Essentials

Yes, I love my iPhone.

I sometimes wonder how I got by without a smartphone for so long. It's hard to believe that I've only had a smartphone since mid-June of last year. It feels as though I've had it for ages. Perhaps that's because before my iPhone, I had an iPod, got used to the feel of it, to the various apps.

With the iPhone, I have all of those apps and more. I have the Internet at my fingertips, wherever I am, whenever I need it.

Of all the apps I have, there are those that I use more than others. And so I put them on my home page. And today, I thought I'd share them with you. See if you use the same. Maybe show you some that you haven't seen but might like to use.

Here they are:

You'll notice that there are no photo apps on this page, just my photo albums. I have 16 photography apps on my second page, and some day I'll share them with you. Maybe on a Photo Friday. But for now, let me explain these apps that I use all the time.

Some of my main-page apps need no explanation: they come with the phone. Everyone has them and you can't delete them. Like the AppStore, Calendar, Music, Photos, Phone, Messages, Mail, and Settings. Also, I don't need to talk about Facebook. And for the longest time, Facebook was buried in a social networking folder, was barely used. It is still the least-used app on my main page. But I do use the app when I get notifications. I don't post often on Facebook and when I do, I use my laptop. I use it every few days to check on my friends and family who use it more often than I do. So I won't talk about Facebook again in this post.

Here's what I will talk about:

SoundHound—this music scanner and database app is something that I wanted long before there were smartphones. How many of you were in a store, a restaurant, or near a radio that was playing a song, and you thought to yourself, "What's that song? I love it!" But you were unable to instantly find the information. Not only does this app listen to the song, but when it identifies the song it will scroll the lyrics and let you either bookmark it for later reference or buy the song from iTunes. This app is similar to Shazam, but I like the big orange button on this app. It matches my Music button.

foursquare—more and more people are using this app to keep tabs on their location and their friends' location. So that it's easier to stalk one another. What I like about this app is that when you check in to a location, you can learn about deals, specials, food recommendations, and other tips at that location and neighbouring spots. The mayorships and badges are kind of fun, but I don't need no stinking badges. And yes, I know that because I check in to foursquare often that I'm easy to find. That's okay. I already have a pretty big thumbprint on the Internet. I'm not afraid of being stalked (you wouldn't stalk me, would you?).

Hootsuite—as most of you know, I'm on Twitter a lot. This is my favourite app for delivering my messages. One of the things I like the best about Hootsuite is that I can schedule my tweets. When I write a blog post, I often schedule it to publish at midnight, when I'm tucked in bed or am already asleep. In the morning, I check that the post looks okay, and then I shrink the URL, using Bitly, and then set up tweets to post at 9 AM, noon, and 8 PM. All before I've had my breakfast. And then I don't think about my post again.

Errands To Do List—I need a to-do list for just about everything. Mostly, I remind myself to take my meds, to pay bills, to water plants, and to change the furnace filter. This app is pretty simple and has never let me down. Now, if only there was a way that the app could keep pestering me after a task alarm sounds until I complete that task and check it off the list.

WeatherEye—I use this app every morning, when I'm deciding how to dress for the day. Do I need a sweater? A raincoat? Snow boots? I have a version of this app on my laptop, so it only made sense to take it with me wherever I went. And best of all, it's The Weather Network, so it's pretty reliable.

Alarm Clock—everybody needs an alarm clock, don't they? The nice thing about this app is that you can program many different alarms with different sounds. I use the Boomtown Rats for Mondays, Wake Up And Smell The Coffee on days where I get up early and don't want blaring music to wake Lori, and The Cure on Fridays (when I'm in love). This app also provides a quick visual display of the weather, so I can look at it while it's docked. It's a valuable app that I set up before I go to bed.

urbanspoon—this is the best app for finding restaurants. I used it last summer, when I was in Boston, and it hit the mark every time. I was pleased with every choice it recommended. And the same goes for when I'm at home but I'm looking for a new place to eat. I also write reviews and have shared my dining experiences. This is an indispensable app.

Starbucks—not only does this app help me find the closest coffee shop and its hours, it's also my rewards card. I can charge up the app and hold my phone at the scanner at Starbucks to pay for my purchase. That's coffee power! Need I say more? And next month, I will test the app to see if it works in the U.S., when I head to Buffalo.

MyTransit-OC Transpo—this is my newest app, and it's still undergoing a shakedown. This app is for my public transit: I can find the closest bus stop, find out then my next bus is coming, and plan routes. So far, it's fairly similar to another app I have, My Bus. Only with that app, I couldn't plan routes. The OC Transpo app, so far, hasn't been that accurate. I need to spend more time with it to figure it out. I've only used it to learn when my next bus is coming, when I've been in a rush, and so far the buses have been earlier than the app says. But so far, I haven't missed a bus.

LCBO On The Go—looking for a specific beer or bottle of wine? Want to know if your local store has it in stock? Have a bottle of whisky and want to know more about it? This app helps me find the nearest liquor store, its hours, and whether it's stocking my drink of choice. And I can scan the UPC symbol on a label and see if the LCBO has it in its database. I can store that information and shop for it when I want. With my beer reviews, this app has come in handy more than a few times. Is almost as valuable as my Starbucks app. Almost. It's only usable in Ontario. The Starbucks app works across Canada.

So those are my iPhone essentials. What are yours?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Why France Should Stick To Wine

I'm sure many of you who read my beer reviews must sometimes think to yourselves, what does this guy know about beer? What are his credentials?

Believe me: every time I try a new beer and then sit in front of my keyboard, I think the same thing.

Let me tell you a little bit about myself, and then I'll tell you why I like reviewing beer. And then, I'll give you another beer review.

While I've always liked beer, I pursued an interest in wine. It must have stemmed from house parties, where I saw everyone bring a case of beer to the party and then park themselves on it so that no one would steal a bottle. I thought that was crazy, and so I'd always show up with a bottle of red wine: I'd crack it open, pour myself a glass, and then leave the bottle in the middle of the kitchen table. No one would touch it.

When I got older, I decided that I wanted to be better educated in wine, having spent my teens and early 20s drinking nothing but B&G's Cuvée Speciale. Not that there was particularly anything wrong with it, but I wanted to branch out.

I started with a simple introductory book of wine, created by the sommelier of the Windows of the World restaurant in New York. I would research a wine region, go to my local LCBO, pick a bottle from that region, and then try it. This went on for a couple of years.

My favourite old-world wines come from France and Spain (I love Riojas); my new-world picks mostly come from Australia and Chile, though I developed a strong appreciation for Canadian wines.

In 1994, I was introduced to the Inniskillin Wine Boutique in downtown Ottawa, where I met the manager, Perry Mason. Over the course of a few years, he and I shared our interest in wine. Perry even taught a wine-appreciation course at Algonquin College, and so Lori and I signed up. The course was part of the sommelier program, itself part of the hotel and restaurant management program.

Lori and I took the first three levels of the program. Every evening of the course, we tasted at least six different wines from all over the world. We learned about the different regions and grape varieties. By the end of the third level, we could taste a wine without seeing the bottle and tell you what the grape was and what country it came from. Sometimes, we could even tell you which region it was. We could tell you if it was an old wine or a young one.

Once, while Perry was pouring a wine from a bottle that was concealed in a paper bag, I was able to tell the grape, country, region, vineyard, vintage, and winemaker. I even sketched the label. All by simply seeing the wine as it was being poured in the glass.

But that's another story.

I kept a wine journal. In the space of about two years, I had notes on more than 2,000 different wines. I knew wine. All thanks to Perry and our mutual wine friends.

But Perry's real passion was not wine, but beer. And so my education took another turn as Perry introduced me to different varieties of beer, as he was running his own microbrewery. Through Perry, I tried some fabulous ales, make by him and by other brewers. Over that time, I drank less and less wine, and more and more beer. Perry explained the brewing process and some of the techniques he used in making beer.

On my own, I've also visited many breweries and seen their beer-making processes.

And so I feel I know beer almost as well as I know wine. But one thing is certain. I know what I like.

A couple of weeks ago, I tried and reviewed a new style of beer for me, a Bière de Garde, a style that comes from northern France. I tend not to think of beer when I think of France: I think of a nice, flinty Alsatian Gewurztraminer or a full-bodied Cote du Rhone.

But this Bière de Garde was something else, and so I wanted to try some from the region than made it famous. And this pick is 3 Monts.

3 Monts Flanders Golden Ale
Fermentation Haute Speciale
Brasserie De Saint-Sylvestre, France
$5.39, 750 mL; 8.5% alc/vol

Never before, have I needed more than one tool to open a bottle: a bottle opener. To open this bottle, I needed two tools: a screwdriver and a corkscrew. The screwdriver was used to pry a giant, metal staple-like strap that held a cork in place. And of course, I needed the corkscrew to withdraw the cork.

The first thing I detected was the smell of alcohol. At 8.5 percent, it's not the highest alcohol level I've tried, but it's respectable. For this beer, it was distinct.

In the glass, the beer was a pale straw colour, which surprised me after the glowing amber of the Mill Street Bière de Garde. Clearly, they were two distinct beers. The 3Monts had a clean, white, foamy head that held for most of the life of the beer in the glass.

The nose held high aromas of alcohol in the glass, with sharp hops. There was no fruit, none of the wonderful scents I had with the Ambre de la Chaudière. It was at this point I told myself not to compare the two, but to focus on this selection.

In the mouth, the alcohol continued on its way. There were hops, but to me they seemed sour. And the aroma, as it opened, felt stale. I know that a Bière de Garde is made for storing, but to me this one seemed stored too long.

I didn't finish the bottle.

I was disappointed with this beer. It seemed to ride on its alcohol strength, but little else. While the French have perfected the art of winemaking, they have a way to go as brewers.

There is one thing that I learned from my days as a wine student: if you are trying a wine, and you can afford it, buy two. That way, if you like it, you have another to put down for a special occasion. I bought two bottles of 3 Monts. But I don't think I'll keep the second.

There's no special occasion for this one.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Photo Friday: Let Me Clarify

Because I've been without my Nikon for a month or so, I've contented myself with getting the most out of the camera on my iPhone. I have more than a dozen photo-editing apps, but none get more use than Camera+.

Camera+ lets me improve images with corrective functions and apply special effects. But what I like to do the most is to apply, and then reapply, and then reapply once more, corrective functions to create a special effect. And the best feature, I find, is the Clarify feature.

 The Clarify feature is meant to enhance the photo to highlight colours and balance the lighting. But when you apply the feature over and over again, you over-compensate and create images that look less like photographs and more like paintings. Kind of like HDR on steroids.

What do you think?

Happy Friday!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Get Fred

I love this band.

A few years back, one of my buddies, who was living in Cork, Ireland, at the time, put me on to one of the local bands, telling me that if ever they came to Canada, I should go to see them.

That band was Fred.

Fred: Justin O'Mahony, Jamie Hanrehan, Joseph O'Leary, Carolyn Goodwin, Jamin O'Donovan

As luck would have it, Fred came to Ottawa a few months after my friend's recommendation. And as a loyal friend listening to advice, I went to see the band at Café Dekuf (a horrible dive of a place), camera in hand. I arrived early, actually got to speak to the band members, and snapped tons of photos.

Go God Go
Not having heard the band, I had no idea what to expect. What I got was a lot of energy: great rocking tunes, bopping pop songs, and some with haunting melodies. Throughout the show, I thought to myself: this band is going to be big.

The very next day, I ordered their latest album (at the time), Go God Go. And I played the crap out of it. I loved it, couldn't get the song Good One out of my head. I couldn't wait for the band's next album. Begged them to come back, perhaps to Bluesfest (yes, they're not a blues band, but neither are the majority of acts to grace the festival stages).

When I learned that Fred was in Montreal to record their next album, Leaving My Empire, I hoped that they would also be performing somewhere. I was quite prepared to travel to see them again. But it wasn't to be. They held no gigs during their stay. Shame.

Leaving My Empire
Since then, I've followed them closely on Twitter and have even shared a few conversations. I couldn't wait for Leaving My Empire to become available in Canada. And when I discovered that they would be in Canada for their release, I begged them to come to Ottawa.

Sadly, to no avail. Fred is only making appearances in Toronto: they made an appearance on Tuesday, on Canada AM, are preforming at a couple of Toronto venues, and will be on CBC Radio's Q tomorrow (Friday, March 23). If you can, tune in. I guarantee you'll enjoy them.

And now, I'm going to address Fred directly: guys, you know I'm a big supporter of your band. Call me your ambassador to Canada. Please, please, please come to Ottawa. Soon.

That is all.

(Well, not all: if you were to give a shout out to me on Q, I'd probably wet myself.)

Leaving My Empire is now available in Canada, for download, from iTunes.

Get Fred.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Now, The Promoting Begins

I've finally reached the end of the tunnel, only to find a long, steep hill to climb.

Songsaengnim: A Korea Diary has finally been released in printed form. You can find your copy on and on, and it will soon be available online, at Chapters-Indigo.

For all of you e-reader fans, electronic copies of my book are also available through the Amazon stores and on Kobo. And there's also Barnes & Noble, which is carrying the hardcover and an e-reader version for Nook. And the e-reader format has been drastically reduced: it's a bargain, at less than $4.

Now begins the time where I promote this book. And because I'm so new to this business, it'll be a steep learning curve. I'm going to approach local book stores and see if they'll let me do book signings. I'm going to see if the public libraries will let me do readings.

And you know that when I do my readings, I'll be doing them as Roland Axam: Scottish accent, and all!

I'm going to tweet about this book until my fingertips develop blisters. To that end, I've created a new Twitter account: @RolandAxam. Follow me there to get links to book stores, learn about where I'll be reading and signing copies, and other promotions.

And now I'll have to learn how to maintain two Twitter accounts at once. So much to do.

I would love to find other ways to promote my book, so if you know of any ways, I'll be forever indebted if you contact me. Please either leave a comment, below, or contact me at

To my Media friends and followers: HELP!

Thanks for your continued support.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Got Stuffed

Believe me, I'm not trying to rub it in.

Just because I ate some awesome food, paired with amazing ales, and learned much about Mill Street beer from the brewery's brewmaster, Joel Manning, doesn't mean I'm bragging. I just wanted to share. That's me.

The special-events room at the Mill Street Brew Pub was set up for 100 guests, and though it was a sold-out event, only about 85 or so people showed up. All I can say to those who paid but didn't make it is this: your loss!

For me, on the down side, the absences were felt because I had no one sitting to either side of me, nor directly across. The room was set with 10 long tables for 10 guests each. I had to speak across empty seats to share with my fellow diners.

The up side: when the beer trays came by, I scored a couple of extra drinks. Guests also walked away with a Mill Street bottle opener and pint glass, and I took one of the abandoned glasses at a neighbouring vacant seat. And so I can enjoy a Mill Street beer, in a Mill Street glass, with a friend.

Joel, was very entertaining and knowledgeable, though at times it was hard to hear him because the table behind me grew noisy at times. Twice, the revelers were asked to pipe down. Once, a brawl almost broke out. Almost. After all, everybody was there to have a great dining experience.

And a great experience we had. So, let's get to the food:

Course 1: grilled wild boar sausage served on a crispy potato pancake, topped with house-made beer mustard.

This was a delicious amuse bouche. The sausage was lean, the mustard zesty. It was a bite-sized treat that set the mood of the evening. Not heavy, and fun. The pairing, their Organic Lager, was light, refreshing, and palate-cleansing. It made me anxious for more. My mouth was watering.

Course 2: Vanilla-scented lobster bisque topped with saffron crème fraiche.

Pardon my French, but this bisque was f*cking amazing. I love lobster bisque, but the added vanilla brought a warm, subtle sweetness that married perfectly with the lobster. The saffron cream gave it a slight zing. And the beer match was obvious: Vanilla Porter. What a compliment. I could have eaten that bisque all night.

Course 3: Vegetarian chickpea and cauliflower curry, served over cardamom basmati rice.

I've got to admit: I don't like cauliflower. I wasn't sure about this dish. But I promised myself before arriving at the event, not knowing what food to expect, that I would eat everything put in front of me. And so I tucked right in. And it was great. In truth, I didn't even taste the cauliflower. It must have been puréed and mixed with the curry. There was no mistaking the chickpeas (I think some of mine were undercooked), but I had no problem with them. And the beer pairing was brilliant: Tankhouse Ale, Mill Street's flagship beer. The bitterness of the hops contrasted the curry in a way that was really special. I drink Tankhouse all the time, and never before had I considered having it with curry.

I'm now going to enjoy the two together every chance I get.

Course 4: Ontario lamb shank braised in Scotch Ale and veal stock, served with rosemary jus, colcannon-smashed potatoes and grilled brocolinni.

That was one helluvah lamb shank. Huge. The tender meat fell off the bone, melted in my mouth. Sadly, I found it too much after the first three courses. I was too full to finish it, but I loved it. And the Scotch Ale was perfectly paired, especially because the lamb was braised in it. The Scotch Ale was also rich, and I would have loved to have time to focus on it. I thought I would return another time to review it, but Joel told us that we were enjoying the last keg in existence. I almost cried.

Course 5: Baked brie and fresh berry compote tatelette, topped with Bière de Garde syrup and candied pecans.

What a wonderful end to a great dinner. Not too sweet, not too big, I had no problem putting this dessert away. And, luckily, the strawberries were off to the side. Sadly, I'm allergic, and had they been on top of the tart, I would have been unable to enjoy this treat. Dessert was paired with Ambre de la Chaudière—the last keg of Adam Rader's first batch. The day after I posted my review of this beer, the pub ran out. And because it takes five weeks to make this wonderful Bière de Garde, none will be available again until this Friday at the earliest. I know, that doesn't seem long. But I'm going to be back later today. And already, I crave more.

My hats off to Mill Street. The pub has only been open for eight weeks, and yet they have shown that they can put together an event that runs like clockwork. Feeding 100 people at once can't be easy. But they made it look like child's play.

The next brewmaster's dinner is set for April 29. Go.

So that's me, sharing my first-ever brewmaster's dinner. And it won't be my last. Maybe next time, you'll come along. And you'll thank me.

You're welcome.

Oh, and by the way: today's post is my 200th for The Brown Knowser. Thanks for reading!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Nothing Here

This could very well be my most disappointing blog post ever. And for that, I'm sorry.

Typically, I use Mondays to write beer reviews, to let you know what I drank over the weekend. Saturday, being St. Patrick's Day, I felt compelled to drink Guinness. Nobody wants a review of Guinness. Everybody knows Guinness, and you either like it or you don't.

I like it. It's the first stout I ever tried, and I feel that every once and a while I have to drink it. It's kind of like that obligation you felt, when you were in your teens, about going to visit your grandparents. You always thought kindly of them, but you were ready to move on. With Guinness, I'll drink it if it's the only stout on tap, but I've moved on.

Last week, talking with Mill Street Head Brewer, Adam Rader, about stouts, as we both enjoyed a Cobblestone Stout, I remarked that if we were to compare stouts to coffee, Cobblestone would be Starbucks; Guinness would be Tim Horton's.

After I had written last week's beer review, I had mentioned on Twitter that I was going to take a break from reviewing local beers. I've done quite a few over the last month or so, and I needed to branch outside of the Ottawa area. And so I bought some French beer (from France, not Québec).

And on Thursday, I attended the Mill Street Brewmaster's Dinner: a five-course meal that was hosted by Mill Street Brewmaster, Joel Manning, who paired each course with an excellent beer. And so I thought I would instead write about my experience.

It's hard to talk about how I enjoyed a fabulous lobster bisque, a lamb shank, wild boar, curry, and dessert, all washed down with both regular offerings and limited-edition beers, without sounding like I was rubbing it in. And so I hummed and hawed over whether to do that.

As I said, Saturday was St. Paddy's Day, and with my kids also in dance, there was little time for writing.

On Sunday, we had sunshine and 24°C weather, so I decided to stay away from the computer, put down the cameras, and enjoy the day, outside, with the family. I didn't touch a drop of alcohol, so that French beer will have to wait.

And so, with the clock approaching midnight, I write this post to tell you that there is no beer review today.

I told you this post was about nothing.

I am going to write about the dinner at Mill Street. I'll have it ready for tomorrow's post. And I'll try not to sound too much like I'm rubbing it in.

Saturday, March 17, 2012


I've got English and a wee bit of Scottish blood in me; alas, no Irish. The closest I come to being Irish is through Lori, who is half-Irish. And as soon as I woke up, I said "Kiss me, I'm... ah... er... my wife's Irish!"

So here's to the Irish on this St. Patrick's Day.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Photo Friday: Remembering NOTL

My heart broke yesterday.

I pulled out my scanner and some old negatives yesterday, only to find that some of them were in envelopes, stuck together. I slowly and carefully peeled them apart, and found some fond memories.

When Lori and I married, we went to Niagara-on-the-Lake for our honeymoon. We loved the small, Ontario town, in the heart of wine country, immediately. the Shaw Festival, Fort George, and the views of Lake Ontario were fabulous. The digital age has helped me recover some of these negatives, which literally peeled apart layers. Here are the best of those memories, from 1994.

NOTL's main drag

The mouth of the Niagara River

Fort Niagara, on the New York side

One of the Shaw Festival venues


Reif Estates
Fort George

Toronto, across from Lake Ontario
At least my memories are in better shape than the negatives.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Cost of Parenthood

When I was younger, unmarried, and without kids, I was not an openly emotional person. Sure, I had feelings about what was going on in the world, but I never got emotional.

I've always been a news hound, both before my years in Journalism school and after I stopped writing for newspapers. I'm always listening to news on the radio; I read a lot on the Internet; and most evenings I write this blog while sitting in front of The National, as I'm doing while writing this post.

But things have changed over the years. In the past, I'd watch disturbing news about wars, people dealing with natural disasters, and local crimes and shake my head, thinking that's a shame. Those poor people. Now, I get angry over what I see happening to the people in Syria. I want to help survivors of the earthquakes in Haiti and Japan.

And when I learn of the tragedies that involve children, I get choked up. I get teary. I can't speak without sobbing a little.

Being a parent changes you.

Before I started writing this post, I watched the news of the bus crash near Sierre, Switzerland, learned of the 22 children and six adults from Belgium, who lost their lives in a tunnel, on their way home from a ski trip. Those children were 11 and 12 years old. Just older than my oldest daughter. I heard the eye witness, who arrived on the scene shortly after the crash, who saw some children wandering away from the bus. I pictured my child, scared, alone, and hurt, not knowing what to do as her friends lay injured or dead in the wreckage.

And I wept.

My heart went out to the families. They were living their worst nightmare.

The following story followed the trial of the killers of Tori Stafford. And I couldn't watch it all. Perhaps it's because the eight-year-old girl reminds me of my eight-year-old. It's a horrible story. I wept, had to walk out of the room when the details of the crime were revealed.

How could you kill a child? What kind of monster repeatedly hits an eight-year-old with a hammer?

When I heard news about tragedies befalling a child, before I had my own, I condemned it. But when I now hear such sad news as I saw on last night's broadcast, I could better empathize because I'm a parent. As a parent, I can feel for the parents of the victims. This winter, my eldest went on school ski trips, got to the slopes by bus. I have an eight-year-old who might be lured by someone she knows.

And now a deep breath. This post is darker than I wanted to go.

I used to be a news hound. But being a parent has softened me. I can't digest all news that is put before me. I can't handle bad news that involves children.

Maybe, becoming a parent has made me more human. And that's a price I willingly pay.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Notes From The Barbie Council

The following post is from January, 2011, taken from my other blog—before The Brown Knowser and before many of you were following me. Last night, when I was thinking about what to write for today's post and was coming up empty, this old post popped into my head.

If you've already seen it, I hope you enjoy it again or will accept my apologies. For the rest of you, cheers. I'll have something new tomorrow, for Wordless Wednesday.

I don't remember making signs when I was a kid and posting them on my bedroom door. But my girls do it all the time. You may remember some signs that Sarah posted on her door in December. One was very nice, warm, and welcoming; the other, not so much.

Recently, I spied the following sign on Lainey's bedroom door:

I'm dying to know what "BIG" issues those dolls have to take to their empty, hollow minds (I mean the Barbie dolls, not my kids!): What's up with the new horoscope designations? Whaddya mean, we aren't moving into the Dream of a Lifetime home—we didn't win?? Why is there a cake sitting in the kitchen but no one is allowed to eat it? When is that guy in the house going to get his hair cut? Or finish his book??

Maybe—just maybe—some gruesome, Satanic ritual is being conducted, and the Barbie Council is carrying out heinous acts, such as this...?

Though Lainey's spelling is sometimes questionable—and in her defence, she is only seven—her handwriting is really improving. But her creativity is rock-solid!

Monday, March 12, 2012

En Garde!

When I first heard the name of Mill Street Brew Pub's latest Ottawa offering, I jokingly asked, "Is the water for this beer taken from the Chaudière Falls?" The water from the Ottawa River is not always known for its cleanliness, and sometimes the water near the Chaudière Falls appears somewhat murky.

And then I saw the Mill Street Ambre de la Chaudière, and I thought hmm...

Ambre de la Chaudière
Façon Normandie
7% alc/vol
While they do use Ottawa water, they don't siphon it directly from the water that flows past the brew pub. And, according to Head Brewer, Adam Rader, the water in Ottawa is very good for brewing. Much better than the water they use at their Toronto brewery. Ours is softer. Take that, Toronto!

Ambre de la Chaudière is a Bière de Garde, a style of beer made in northern France, usually made in the winter or spring, and is designed to be kept year-round, often enjoyed over the summer. It is a beer that can be aged, hence its name, which essentially means "beer for keeping."

A Bière de Garde can be anywhere from pale straw to a rich copper. Mill Street's offering is more to the latter and is unfiltered, giving it a murky appearance. I found the colour to be a rich amber, like dried apricots, that almost seems to glow from within. The head is a rich cream colour.

The nose carries rich fruit, and I was reminded of the days when I fed my girls as infants, when they ate those jars of Gerber fruit. Most notably, I detected banana and pear. It was a rich, sweet smell that made me excited in anticipation of tasting it.

I wasn't disappointed.

The intense fruit carried onto the palate and was balanced with mild clove. This beer has a wonderfully full body and a most-satisfying finish. Surprisingly, the high alcohol level does not come out in the nose or in the mouth: Ambre de la Chaudière has clout without knocking you over the head. The alcohol level, no doubt, only helps this beer age.

Mill Street has a clear winner with its latest offering from its Ottawa brewery. Of the three beers it produces on site (the other two being the Portage Ale and the Valley Irish Red), the Ambre de la Chaudière is clearly my favourite.

Possibly, one of the top three beers of Mill Street's entire line.

You can pick some up to take home from the gift shop in the pub (where it's available in bottles, growlers, or kegs), or you can sit yourself down for a meal and enjoy it in the pub.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Photo Friday: This Is Not Photography

I received a package in the mail last night. After opening the package, this is the first photo I shot.

I know. You're probably disappointed. This is not photography.

But it is my book. And it is the first time I've actually held it in my hands. So cut me some slack.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Anniversaries and Other Things for Which I'm Thankful

It's a week for giving thanks.

Twenty-three years ago on Monday, I started dating a woman who, five years later, would become my wife. At the time, we kicked our friendship up a notch. As Lori likes to put it, it was my birthday, she didn't have a present, and so...

Twenty-three years: so far, so good.

Thanks, Lori. You're the gift that keeps on giving.

If you saw yesterday's Wordless Wednesday post, you also saw what I was up to on Tuesday. It was the first tweetup that I had organized, and it was a success. Half a dozen Twitter friends joined me at the Mill Street Brew Pub, where we enjoyed good company, great food, and the most awesome beer in the city.

But this tweetup would not have been the success it was without the help and generosity of the folks at Mill Street. General Manager Peter Chase reserved a 10-seat table, decorated with balloons, and arranged some delicious munchies: pulled-pork-topped nachos, and drunken crab and spinach dip with pretzel rolls. Fabulous.

On top of the great seating and complimentary grub, Peter also arranged a private tour for our tweetup, led by Head Brewer, Adam Rader. Adam clearly explained the brewing process and talked about the beers that are exclusive to the pub. He answered all of our questions and made us feel welcome.

Sadly, Peter couldn't be at the pub to welcome us personally. But he left us in the capable hands of his assistant manager, Victoria Rouillard. I met Victoria last week, and she has a natural gift for making you feel special, making you feel welcome. And our server, Saunya, was friendly, helpful, and attentive.

For a new restaurant that has been open for only six weeks, Mill Street shows that it has its act together. I am a loyal and dedicated patron, and I am thankful to Peter, Victoria, Adam, and Saunya, for making the tweetup memorable.

Thank you.

And thank you to my friends who joined me.

One final note of thanks. Next Monday marks the fourth anniversary of my first blog, Brownfoot Journal. What was at first a newsletter for keeping family and friends in touch with the comings and goings of the Brownfoots grew to a diary for sharing my thoughts and opinions, for being silly, and for having fun.

What I didn't expect was that I'd get followers from outside my inner circle, that many of those followers would expand that circle. After more than three years, I decided to segregate my personal life from the other rantings that were becoming more prevalent in the Brownfoot Journal, and The Brown Knowser was born.

I will have more to say about this blog on it's first anniversary, but I wanted to say thank you to all of you who have followed me and read my nonsense. You keep me writing.

So this is a week that I can look back on and give thanks. I am one lucky bugger.