Saturday, September 29, 2012

Rewind: September 24-28, 2012


Where does the time go?

You know, I partly blame The Brown Knowser for the fact that time goes so quickly. I spend much of my free time thinking up various post that I will do for the week. It's getting easier: find a beer or two, drink them, and write comments; take a bunch of photos and string them together; write about Roland; find a photo that I recently shot and explain why I think it's worth sharing.

Once a month, run a contest about a spot in Ottawa.

The only real challenge is finding a subject to write about for Tuesday's post. Often, I turn to current events, but sometimes I sit in front of my keyboard on a Monday night, staring at the screen until something hits me. I hope that whatever I write interests you, amuses you, or makes you think. If I'm really lucky, it will do all three.

Next week is going to be a little different. This weekend, I'm spending nearly all of my time at the Ottawa Oktoberfest in Barrhaven. I'm the official photographer. I was originally thinking that I would run a post on Monday about the festival, but then I remembered that next Monday is the first one of the new month. And so I'll be running Where In Ottawa.

I'm also running a series on pumpkin ales for Beer O'Clock. That'll have to be on Tuesday. For Wordless Wednesday, I'll have to show some photos of the Oktoberfest celebrations, but it might not be wordless. I may have two Beer O'Clocks next week. (I've even thought about creating a new blog, just with beer reviews, running a couple of posts a week, but I'm already sleep-deprived as it is.)

Next Thursday, I'll continue the story of Roland. Are you enjoying that? I'm not so sure: I don't get many readers to those pages.

And Friday, I'll hopefully have a great photo to share.

Gee... I guess next week won't be so different. Never mind...

Here's what I did this week:
Enjoy your weekend. If you're in the Barrhaven area, come out and take in the festival, and say hi.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Photo Friday: Langevin


I don't have much to say about this photo: I was clearing off photos from my iPad and I came across this photo that copied itself over from when I shot it on my iPhone. It was a surreal sunrise that I saw when I was on my way to work, waiting for my connection bus on Wellington Street, in front of Parliament Hill.

I enhanced the photo with Camera + and then, last night, I fine-tuned it some more with Snapseed.


Happy Friday!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Gammon, Part 6


For part 1 of this post, see Gammon. Or go to Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, or Part 5.

The following post is a fictionalization of the story about how I created a character and then became him in order to make him as believable as possible for my novel, Songsaengnim: A Korea Diary. The following recount is based on actual events, though some of the details have been altered to protect identities. Most of the dialog is almost word for word.

SPOILER ALERT: THE FOLLOWING POST DESCRIBES MUCH OF MY NOVEL AND REVEALS SOME SUSPENSEFUL ASPECTS OF THE STORY. IF THAT'S COOL WITH YOU, READ ON. IF YOU ARE READING MY BOOK OR ARE PLANNING TO AND YOU LIKE SURPRISES, COME BACK TOMORROW.

Roland made friends with all of the people at the pub: both the regular customers and with the staff. The folks who were employed at the pub probably felt compelled to talk to him, to be nice. After all, their livelihood depended on it. And Roland was a generous tipper. It wasn't uncommon for him to leave an extra twenty on the counter.

"You're not rich, are you, Roland?" Tanya once asked.

Roland gave a sheepish grin. This question had planted a seed that would be used in the story. Roland was, in fact, well off.

"I wouldn't say rich," Roland returned. "Before, when I had my whole family, my wife and daughter, and my dad with my mum and sis, I'd have said I was the richest man in the world. But from my loss, I've come into a fair deal of financial wealth. Ill-gotten gains, if you ask me."

It had already been established that Roland was doing all right. He had his parents' cottage that he lived in. His mother couldn't bring herself to staying alone out on Big Rideau Lake after the loss of her husband. Kate Axam lived in her modest home in Sandy Hill, though she was often back in Edinburgh, spending time with her daughter, Siobhan.

But when Roland came to Ottawa, he often either stayed with a friend who lived in the south end or, when he visited the pub later in the evenings, he'd check into the Westin.

I, of course, always went home. No one knew where I lived.

The regulars of the pub—Michele, Paul, and John—also befriended Roland, were pleased when he walked through the door. They always asked him how he was and seemed genuinely interested in hearing what he had been up to. Roland would always have a story to tell or would share his opinion on current events. Conversations with these four regulars—and Roland was now considered a regular (though, mostly at large)—was always animated and engaging.

Roland had no favourite among the regulars. He enjoyed the company of all of them. Occasionally, only one regular would be sitting at the bar when he attended, and he would forego his regular seat to keep him or her company. It was in these one-on-one sessions that Roland would learn of the more intimate details of these people's lives. Where he would share his secrets.

Though it was through Shannon and Tanya that the regulars learned of Roland's tragedy, it was the regulars who fed other details of Roland's life.

Until Naomi came on the scene.

Roland's introduction to Naomi came abruptly. When he entered the pub on that crisp November afternoon in 2008, the pub was vacant. Roland took his usual spot and waited for whoever was behind the bar to come out from the back room. It had been more than a month since his last visit, knew that Tanya was gone. Whoever had taken her place may or may not know anything about him. For all Roland knew, the manager, Steve, might now be serving the drinks.

Within a couple of minutes of sitting in silence, Roland's loneliness was changed by a young woman emerging from the ladies' room. She was pretty, with sharp features, an attractive figure, and short, dark hair. She saw Roland, smiled, walked along the outer length of the bar, passed a half-filled glass of dark liquid with a straw in it, scooped it up and then sat herself next to the regular at the bar.

"Hi," she said, "mind if I sit next to you?"

Roland looked into this stranger's eyes and saw a confidence that unnerved him. Though he made friends readily, he was soft-spoken and reserved. "Sure," he said, not breaking the eye contact.

The woman sat and then proffered her hand. "I'm Naomi." Her grip on Roland's hand was firm.

"Roland," he said, his softened Scottish accent reciprocated.

"Have you been here before?" She asked.

"Off and on, over the years. You?"

"I started about six weeks ago." Then, as though she just remembered that she was supposed to be on the other side of the bar, just as Roland realized that she was the new bartender, Naomi hopped from the seat and declared, "You need a drink."

"A pint of Keith's, if you please." God, I hated that stuff. It would have been nice if the pub had some quality beer. But while I may be a beer snob, Roland was not. After all, he had survived Korea, drinking such atrocities as Hite, Cass, and OB Lager.

Actually, I did too, but that's another story.

With Roland's pint poured and delivered, Naomi came back around and once again sat next to Roland.

"Where are you from, Roland?"

"Originally, Scotland, but I live in cottage country, just past Smith Falls."

"I'm from Stanley Corners," she said.

Damn, I thought. I hoped that she didn't ask too many questions. I didn't know that area very well. I'd have to do some research so that I could talk to her about the region with some sort of confidence. Also, if Roland's family was going to die in that area, I would need to know the roads.

I would go to Google Earth later that evening.

Naomi and Roland hit it off right away. I liked her too: there was something about her. We chatted like we were old friends. She showed Roland a photo of her daughter. She told him about her boyfriend. She told him that she was looking to move from her apartment to a home, how she found a great place and hoped that she could afford it.

She wore her heart on her sleeve and she was openly willing to share her story with Roland. And Roland had a sympathetic ear and would let her talk. Over many visits to the pub. And, because of Naomi, Roland's appearance became more regular.

He made an appearance once a week.

Naomi had a boyfriend with a drug addiction; thankfully, her daughter was from a previous relationship. She wanted out of the current relationship, but every time she tried to end it, her boyfriend threatened to kill himself.

"You need to put your daughter first," Roland told her. "He's a grown man. He needs to grow up. He needs professional help."

Naomi lacked the strength and the time to deal with her boyfriend's problem. She bought that house and was raising her daughter. She needed to work extra hours to afford her new mortgage. As a result, she was always stressed at work.

Luckily, the regulars at the pub friended her immediately, had her back. Paul was a handyman and would perform needed work on Naomi's electrical and plumbing. He saved her thousands of dollars in maintenance. Michelle would offer to look after Naomi's daughter on occasion, allowing Naomi to periodically have a social life. Though, more times than not, when Naomi had a respite from her daughter, she'd put in more hours at the pub.

Or dealing with her boyfriend.

"You deserve better," Roland would say. "You have so much going for you: you're smart, you're beautiful, and you have a good heart. He doesn't deserve you."

"What about you?" Naomi said, "Isn't it time that you moved on, found someone special? Have you been in any relationship since the accident?"

"Not since Kristen," said Roland. That was his late wife.

"That's a long time," she said. And it was then that I did the math. It was 13 years. A long time for anyone to be alone. Roland would need a relationship in his story.

"Aye," Roland said. "But I'm now used to being on my own."

"It's time to move on, Roland."

Over the months, Roland and Naomi became good friends. Mostly, Roland was a sounding board for Naomi when she talked about her deteriorating relationship. He offered moral support. He even met her daughter on a couple of occasions. He would walk Naomi the few blocks to her daughter's day care when her shift ended.

When Naomi finally broke up with her boyfriend, Roland told her that anyone would be lucky to be with her.

"What about you?" she asked.

"You deserve better than me."

It was no secret that Naomi had developed feelings for Roland. And Roland also liked Naomi, but for obvious reasons he could not get involved. I could not get involved. So how could Roland stay friends with Naomi without getting involved?

Roland took a break from the pub. He went to Scotland to visit his family.

And when he returned, he had a girlfriend. Albeit, a fictional one.
The web was about to get even more tangled.

To be continued...


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

So Long, Sam


I can't help but think that Sam Sniderman influenced my taste in music.

I've already shared with you how I came about to buying my first vinyl record. I was eight, my father took me into a record store, he allowed me to buy myself any record that I wanted, and I chose the one with no writing on the cover, but with images of little girls climbing over strangely shaped stones.

The album, of course, was Led Zeppelin's Houses of the Holy.

Photo: Wikipedia
At the time, I did say that I bought that record at Sam the Record Man, but perhaps I didn't do justice to that record store. For decades afterwards, Sam's would be the main source for my music. I would save my allowance and go to that shop as soon as I could afford a new record. When I had a part-time job, I earned enough money that I would buy at least one record a week. For new releases and for sales, I would wait in line before the doors opened.

I even had a job in the shopping mall, working next door to my record shop, and I would spend my breaks flipping through records, just to see what was there, to listen to the music that was on their turntable, and at times, to flirt with the girls behind the counter.

A friend of mine in high school, one of the smartest people I knew, once came with me and we looked at the imported record section. When I found a Japanese import of Bruce Springsteen, my smart friend asked in all seriousness, "Does Bruce Springsteen sing in Japanese?"

Book smart: street stupid.

By the time I reached my mid twenties, I had more than 400 vinyl disks in my possession. The milk cartons—the old, imperial-measurement cartons—were perfect for holding albums. I had four of them, and they were packed tight. Sometimes, I wore out an album by playing it to death, and then I would go to Sam's and replace it.

I had a shit-load of vinyl. My local record store made a lot of money off of me.

One of the great things about Sam the Record Man was that at the front of the store, they had a tall and wide display of new releases. All of the colourful album covers would strike you when you first entered the store. And Sam's would proudly display lots of Canadian talent.

Sam Sniderman didn't just like Canadian music: he promoted it. Not just in his stores, but in front of the CRTC, calling for more Canadian content on the air waves. Because of Sam, I developed a big appreciation of Canadian music.

The first Canadian album I bought was also at Sam's, and I bought it because the album cover met my eyes as I scanned the new releases. That was in 1974, when I was nine. The album: Not Fragile, by Bachman-Turner Overdrive. Yes, in my introduction to Canadian music, I hadn't seen nothin' yet, baby.

These days, the majority of music on my iPhone is Canadian: Sam Roberts, Sarah Slean, Matt Good, Kathleen Edwards, Sarah Harmer, Feist, Great Big Sea, Metric, Hawksley Workman, 54-40, The Tragically Hip, Barenaked Ladies... the list goes on.

The Sam the Record Man in my local shopping mall left decades ago; the last Sam's left Ottawa more than 10 years ago. These days, I rarely buy a physical CD, and when I do, I order it online. Mostly, however, I download my music from iTunes.

Gone are the days of great album covers and inserts. Gone are the golden days of vinyl. Gone are the local record shops. Gone is Same the Record Man.

And gone, this past Sunday, is Sam Sniderman. Rest in peace, music man. Thank you for introducing me to great music, from both home and abroad.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Beer O'Clock: In Search of the Great Pumpkin Ale, Part 1


Let's be clear: this is not a competition.

A few weeks ago, I started collecting bottles of pumpkin ales. I wanted to do a comparison of the different seasonal ales from the breweries that are available to us beer lovers in Ottawa.

And some that aren't, but they won't be part of this taste comparison.

However, after I amassed a small stash of beer from all over Ontario, from Québec, and parts of the United States, I started thinking: I can't drink all of these beers in one sitting. I'll get pissed. I suppose I could drink a little of each, but what to do of the remainder of the bottles. When I review beer, I tend to do it alone. I don't want to be influenced by anyone.

And so I came up with an idea. I will drink two to three different pumpkin ales each week, giving my impression to you.


I'm starting with two very different pumpkin ales: one from Toronto, Ontario; the other, from Montréal, QC. In my search for great pumpkin ales, I went to Black Creek Historic Brewing and McAuslan Brewing (to the bottles, not the actual breweries).

I have never had either of these ales before this weekend, so I was tasting fresh. But I must admit: I had great expectations for the St-Ambroise Citrouille. After all, this brewery creates my favourite stout and makes an amazing seasonal IPA.

I performed this tasting in two sittings, drinking a bottle of each of the pumpkin ales in each tasting. For the first tasting, I drank a bottle of the St-Ambroise, and then drank the Black Creek. A couple of days later, I drank both ales at the same time, taking notes. Here's what I discovered:


The Black Creek pumpkin ale (5% ABV) shows a rich, murky amber-brown colour with a creamy, thick head that lasted for most of the life of the beer. I found the nose to be closed for many minutes; it slowly opened while I drank, but I could only detect faint spices. In the mouth, I was met with mild pumpkin and spice. The finish reminded me of black pepper but was short, and I caught something astringent.

Black Creek is an easy-drinking pumpkin ale. While I would have liked it to open more, would have liked a little more pumpkin-pie flavour, I did enjoy it. This is the type of beer that you could enjoy at a social gathering.


The St-Ambroise Citrouille (5% ABV), on the other hand, is very different. Starting with the appearance, this pumpkin ale is crystal-clear, with a deep amber to caramel colour. The head is white but disappears almost immediately. I thought my first bottle might have been flat, but the miniscule pearls stayed throughout, and this beer was fine. The second bottle was the same, so there was nothing wrong.

Where the Black Creek was closed, the Citrouille held intense spice on the nose, lots of pumpkin, and a freshly baked pie crust. I couldn't wait to taste it.

On the palate, the Citrouille was slightly sweet (did I detect maple?) and incredibly flavourful. The finish produced citrus flavours and great hops.

The St-Ambroise tasted more like a dessert-like beer; something that you treat yourself with.

While I liked the Black Creek, I loved the St-Ambroise pumpkin ale. But this isn't a competition. If you like pumpkin ales, go out and get both. Serve one after a meal; drink the other one when you're enjoying an evening with friends.



Next week, I'll take a look at two other Ontario brews: Mill Street and Great Lakes Beer. Cheers!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Rewind: September 17-21, 2012


Funny: it wasn't until I typed out the title to this post that I realized that we're into Fall. Autumn just snuck up on me without much ado.

Autumn is my favourite time of year. The leaves turn such brilliant colours; we have both crisp, cool days and warm, soothing ones. In the Ottawa area, this season is a photographer's paradise.

Autumn always puts me in a good mood, helps prepare me for the bitterness of winter.

Perhaps, because this week went by so quickly, I didn't notice that we entered this great season. Here's what I was up to while the autumn days crept in:
Have a great weekend.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Photo Friday: Night Passes


In my experimenting with time exposures and digital photography, I thought I would hang out in a dark spot and wait for vehicles to pass by. I chose one of the farthest parts of Fallowfield Transit Station, where one bus lane intersects another.

And I waited for two buses to come. This is a 20-second exposure at f/22.


And then, after I took this shot and started packing up my equipment, four buses travelled in three directions.

I'm going to hang out at a busier spot next time.

In the meantime, Happy Friday.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Gammon, Part 5

For part 1 of this post, see Gammon. Or go to Part 2, Part 3, or Part 4.

The following post is a fictionalization of the story about how I created a character and then became him in order to make him as believable as possible for my novel, Songsaengnim: A Korea Diary. The following recount is based on actual events, though some of the details have been altered to protect identities. Most of the dialog is almost word for word.

SPOILER ALERT: THE FOLLOWING POST DESCRIBES MUCH OF MY NOVEL AND REVEALS SOME SUSPENSEFUL ASPECTS OF THE STORY. IF THAT'S COOL WITH YOU, READ ON. IF YOU ARE READING MY BOOK OR ARE PLANNING TO AND YOU LIKE SURPRISES, COME BACK TOMORROW.

At some point, one becomes invested in people. We have casual acquaintances who, over time, become friends. Over time, we learn about their lives: their interests, their professions; their families, friends, and loved ones.

As your lives become entwined, so to speak, you begin to care about these friends. You share in their joys and sorrows. You support them.

You trust them.

In the years that I went to this downtown pub, assuming the identity of Roland Axam (and it was an identity at this point: Roland had a history and was living in the present, sharing his views on current events), I became emotionally invested in the regulars. They were more than mere people who had to buy into Roland's story, to believe that the person I said I was was real; they were my friends, my drinking buddies.

After several years of establishing this relationship, it became impossible for me to sever the connection between Roland and the other pub regulars. For me, I had only two choices: continue to frequent the pub as Roland or stop going altogether, without so much as a goodbye.

The latter would have been a challenge, but not impossible. I would simply avoid that area of the Byward Market (not too hard to do). There was little chance of running into the group by chance elsewhere: I lived in another part of town from all of them. From what I learned of them, they never went to my area of the city, never shopped where I shopped. Any possibility of meeting by chance was so extremely small that I would wager it impossible.

Although, there was that one time...

Once, when I was at Big Daddy's Crab Shack on Elgin Street, meeting my old journalism-school buddies, just as I was walking toward the table where my friend, Michel, was sitting, I heard a woman's voice call out to me: "Roland!"

I turned, and came face to face with Shannon, the first bartender at the pub. She was still working there at the time.

I was caught completely off-guard, my persona not prepared to be my fictional character. "Shannon," I said, meeting her friendly embrace, "how are you? It's been an age." The voice was not quite mine, not quite Roland's. Fortunately, she hadn't noticed.

"What are you doing here?" she asked.

I gestured toward Michel, who was watching the exchange. "Meeting some friends." I was speaking softly, sounding like I had been walking fast. Little did anyone know that I was on the verge of hyperventilating.

"Shannon, this is Michel," I said, bringing her closer to my friend. "Michel, Shannon." They shook hands. I turned to Shannon: "What brings you here?" Roland's soft brogue was coming, but still needed work. I figured, let Michel ask me what was wrong with my voice. It would be easier to answer, later.

For now, he said nothing.

"Me too," she replied, pointing to a friend who was seated at the bar.

I could see my other friend, Becky, was outside, walking along the front of the restaurant, headed to the door. She was always the most inquisitive of my journalism friends, and I didn't want to start a conversation. At the risk of sounding abrupt, I said, "Well, it was good seeing you."

"You too. Don't be a stranger." And she was off, back to join her friend.

Michel gave me a pensive look, obviously wanting to know how I knew such a young, lovely woman. I shrugged off his look with a short answer, saying that she worked at the pub where my Toastmasters' club met for post-toasties. I didn't want to lie to my friend, but I didn't want to spill the beans, to tell him that Shannon didn't even know my real name.

That was my only close call, and I still felt confident that Ottawa was a big enough city that I wouldn't have that kind of encounter again.

My friends would never mix with Roland's friends.

 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

In These Economic Times, It's Hard to Have Sympathy



Don't even get me started on the NHL lockout. Millionaires fighting billionaires over a frickin' game. Give me a break!

I'm going to keep this short because I know I'm going to rub some people the wrong way. But I find that I have little sympathy and no patience for Ontario teachers who are complaining about the measures that our provincial government is taking. The government has said that it wants to freeze teachers' wages for two years and impose a ban on strikes during this period.

Basically, the Ontario Liberals have said that the province is cash-strapped. Education is really, really expensive, so to avoid cutting the education budget and possibly reducing the number of teachers when classes are already strained, they want to suspend pay raises. For two years.

The government knows that the school unions won't like those measures and may threaten strike action. The province needs the schools to work so it's saying, "Hey, we know this stinks, but don't strike so we can have money to support education down the road."

And the unions and teachers are unhappy, saying their rights are taken away. And are threatening to cease all extra-curricular activities, including sports.

I'm sorry, teachers and unions, but I haven't had a raise in almost two years. I know people who have gone longer without a pay increase. I know lots of people who think job security is a myth. Wait... I'm one of those people.

There are lots of jobs where you can work your ass off and toe the company line, and then get laid off.

This morning, on the radio, I heard a teacher complain and say "teachers are hard-working." Sure, many of them are, but not all. And I'm sure that teachers work as hard as they are paid, just like most other employed individuals. There are folks in my office who are putting in 60-hour weeks or more.

Lots of people work hard but don't have their summers off and a nice, comfortable pension waiting for them.

Two years isn't much. And making sure that there are no strikes ensures that more drastic measures don't hurt the kids' education.

So suck it up, teachers and unions.

Be thankful you have a job.



Monday, September 17, 2012

Beer O'Clock: Hops & Robbers


The can read: Extra Delicious.

I thought: I'll be the judge of that.

A couple of weeks ago, when I was enjoying one of the many IPAs that I've had over the past month, one of my followers on Twitter contacted me and asked me if I had ever tried a certain IPA. I responded, saying that I hadn't tried it yet. And then that brewery, having its Twitter name mentioned in the tweet, chimed in, saying "once you get it in your face, let us know how you like it."

This weekend, I got it in my face.

The beer is called Hops & Robbers Extra Delicious IPA, made by Double Trouble Brewing Company in Guelph, Ontario (LCBO: $2.75, 473 ml can; 5.7% ABV).

When I poured this IPA in my glass, I was met by a bright orange glow that was crystal-clear. Light almost seemed to emanate from the glass. There was lots of carbonation, which made the liquid seem to dance. The head was a thick, foamy off-white that lingered through most of my tasting. It's a very pretty beer.

One might say, extra pretty.

On the nose, I caught a sweet orangy citrus with hints of tropical fruit; possibly, mango. On the palate, there were good hops with orange that balanced from a juicy mandarin to bitter orange rind. The alcohol produced a slight toffee finish.

It was a good, all-round, pleasant IPA.

But was it "extra delicious"?

For me, I would have liked a little more. A little more flavour; something that would set it apart from other IPAs. Maybe, I would have liked some more of that orange flavour to come through. It was nicely balanced, but could have been more pronounced.

The finish was good, but it could have been either a little cleaner, making me crave another sip, or it could have been longer, letting me savour the flavours.

Is Hops & Robbers extra delicious? I'd say that it's middle of the road. It's good, but for me, it's missing a certain something. Would I drink it again? Yes, definitely. It's a very easy-going IPA. I recommend it to anyone who likes a good IPA (I called it "good" while I drank it: just "good"). If you don't like huge hops in IPAs, don't go for something like a Mad Tom or something from Flying Monkeys, this is the one for you.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Rewind: September 10-14, 2012


This is a week that I've wanted to end almost all week long. It's a weekend I've dreaded.

I'm so tired from such little sleep (4 to 5 hours each night); I have so many chores to do to get the house ready for autumn. And so little time in which to get it done.

So while I'm working on my chores, maybe you can take a break and see what I've been up to this week in The Brown Knowser.
  • Beer O'Clock: Tasting Overload—maybe I'm also tired because I drank a lot last Saturday (and on Tuesday, and a bit Thursday night...).
  • Post Deleted—I should never blog when I'm angry. I'm very sorry for that one; it reflects poorly on me.
  • Wordless Wednesday: Piano Man—photos that I had initially rejected from my photo walk. A tribute to Oscar Peterson.
  • Please Help Me Win a Contest—I'm going to continue asking until all of you have voted, so do it soon.
  • Photo Friday: Photo Art—if not for photo editing, this shot would have never been seen.
Enjoy your weekend!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Photo Friday: Photo Art


I never think of myself as an artist. I think that if someone were to call me one, I would laugh.

Not to hurt, but more out of surprise.

When someone asks me what I do for a living, I simply say that I'm a writer. I'm a technical writer, I'm a published author, and I'm a blogger.

So, in short, I'm a writer.

I'm not a professional photographer. It's a passion of mine, but photography is a hobby. I suppose that, many years ago, when I worked as a reporter in Wakefield, I was also a photographer for the newspaper. But I never called myself a photographer. I was a reporter.

Thanks to the digital age of photography, I've been able to do more with my photos, and faster.

The other week, I organized a photo walk through the downtown core of Ottawa. A handful of photo enthusiasts joined me and took some great pictures.

I didn't post all of my photos to the group Flickr album. Some of them, I thought, weren't particularly good. That's to be expected when you shoot scads of photos.

But over the weeks that have followed, I looked at some of the photos that I had panned after the shoot. I had downloaded the photos from my camera to my iPad after the walk, when we were all enjoying ourselves at the pub, and now I was looking to delete some of them. But before I did, I wanted to play with them to see if I could make them worth keeping.

I had shot four pictures of the Oscar Peterson statue, at the NAC. I kept one for the Flickr page, but I wasn't exactly happy with the others. Until I started playing with them in Snapseed, that is. I posted those pictures for this week's Wordless Wednesday.

Another shot that I thought wasn't very interesting was one I took of the National War Memorial, at the top of Elgin Street. The original photo looked washed out and colourless because of the bright sun and haze.

Using Snapseed, I added many dramatic filters and pushed the fine-tuning tools to their limits. And the image started looking less like a photograph and more like a painting.



Looking at this image on my iPad, I felt less like a photographer and more like an artist.

And I made myself laugh.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Please Help Me Win a Contest


For more than a year, I've been running my Where In Ottawa photo challenge, giving many followers a chance to show that they know the city and to win a copy of my novel, Songsaengnim: A Korea Diary. A couple of times, I've extended the challenge to Where In The World.

I have now entred a contest and I'm calling on you to help me win it. And, if you do, you'll help shut me up on Twitter.

A few weeks ago, at the National Capital Craft Beer Week Festival, Mill Street had a tent set up with a video camera. They wanted people to record a message about why they loved Mill Street.

The brewery has been repeating this process at other festivals around Ontario. With the videos posted on their Web site, people are asked to vote for their favourite video. The top 10 videos that receive the most votes win. The prize is impressive: the winners receive a party at Mill Street Brew Pubs for them and 10 of their friends.

I recorded such a video (after all, Mill Street really is my favourite Ontario brewery). I talked about how I love the Ottawa brew pub: how, when I organize tweetups at the brew pub, I'm always delighted by the great food, the amazing beer, and, of course, the outstanding service.

Almost every day since my video has been posted on the contest site, I've been reminding my Twitter and Facebook followers to go to my video and vote for it. And so far, more than 70 votes have gone towards my video.

Thank you.

As great as your votes have been, I am far short of being in the top 10 videos. You can vote once a day, so there's an added chance of my video being bumped up to the top 10.

My thoughts were that if all of my Twitter followers were to go to my video only once and vote for it, that would account for 630 votes. If my Facebook friends also went (even if my followers also follow me on Twitter), that would be an additional 71 votes.

If all of you went today, I would have more than 770 votes, which would put me in a comfortable spot in the current top 10. If you went every day until the contest closes, on September 30, I would probably jump to the number-one video.

As I said, I've been reminding my followers almost every day to go to my video to vote. I'm sure many of you are growing tired of seeing that reminder each day. So, if you took a minute (it doesn't even take that long) to go to my video right now and vote, if I was to receive the 700 votes in one day, I would stop tweeting reminders until the final day of the contest, when I would appeal for a few more votes.

And who knows? You just might be one of the 10 friends I take with me to the party!

For those of you who have voted for my video, thank you so much. I really appreciate your support. Keep up the good work.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Monday, September 10, 2012

Beer O'Clock: Tasting Overload


This weekend, I went to a beer tasting with a small group of beer lovers. There were seven of us in total, and each of us brought a few bottles of beer that was either new to us or that is hard to come by in the Ottawa area. We had more than 15 different beers to sample.

So many, in fact, that we didn't have a chance to go through them all.

So many, that I lost track.

So many, that I forgot some of the last few glasses.

Some of you might think that this was just one big piss up, but I assure you that we didn't each drink one bottle of all that was on offer. We shared bottles, from growlers down to your standard 341-ml bottles. We had no more than four to six ounces per tasting. And sometimes, a sip was all it took.

So while we sampled a lot of beer, I probably consumed no more than three or four pints. Tops. And I had a designated driver.

Years ago, when my wife and I hosted or attended wine tastings, we typically had no more than six wines to try, and that was a good thing. You could concentrate on a variety that was easy to keep track of. Some wines would be memorable; others would be decent; once and a while, you'd encounter a wine you'd want to forget. But with six bottles, you remembered them all.

I made a lot of mistakes at Saturday's tasting, but first and foremost my biggest blunder was not writing anything down. Not taking names, details, and tasting notes. I had planned on writing down my findings, but once we sat down and dug into our first beer of the evening (a seasonal blueberry wheat ale), I decided that instead of "working" I would just enjoy the evening. Just socialize. Just experience the moment.

The company was great, but I still wish I had at least photographed the bottles so that I could refer back to them.

But because a lot of these beers are not available in many areas, including my own, I was thinking that it would be pointless to give you details.

So take this post as a cautionary tale: if you're going to do a tasting, keep track of what you have.

Here are some of the beers that I did find fascinating:
  • Blueberry Wheat Ale, Ashton Brewing: this was a nice light-flavoured beer to refresh our palates and warm us up.
  • White Horse Ale, Mill Street: I first tried this unfiltered ale from a cask at the National Capital Craft Beer Week festival. It has a great balance of creamy spice and hops. It's one of my standard pints at the brewery's Ottawa pub. Drinking it from a growler felt special.
  • Milk Stout, The Duck-Rabbit: pass the chocolate-chip cookies! This was an amazingly creamy stout with a slight sweetness that reminded me of chocolate milk. It was my favourite dark beer of the evening. From North Carolina.
  • Nightmare on Mill Street Pumpkin Ale, Mill Street: this was a beautifully flavourful pumpkin ale that had a great balance of spice and real pumpkin. I'll be reviewing this beer properly in an upcoming review of pumpkin ales, so I almost skipped the tasting of it this weekend. I'm glad I didn't.
  • Venskab, Beau's: this is a creamy-smooth Belgian Tripel-style ale. Aged on ice-wine-soaked oak chips and then aged again in Canadian white wine barrels, there is a nice fruit and yeast flavour. Beautiful.
  • 90-Minute IPA, Dogfish Head: I first had this massive IPA in a restaurant in Charleston, South Carolina a couple of months ago. Afterwards, I made it my mission to find more. I picked up a couple of 4-packs in Washington, DC. Love it.
  • Ten Fidy, Oskar Blues: my wife summed up this stout with three words: "It's a committment." This beer was so dark that no light passes through it. Heavy licorice and molasses flavour and a whopping 10.5 percent ABV made this the heavyweight of all stouts.
We tried other wheat ales, other IPAs, and other stouts (I had a pumpkin spruce stout that was simply overkill). And while I didn't take notes, didn't take names, I learned a lot. My tasting skills were put to the test and I feel I held my own. I was in good company with people who knew their beer and liked to share.

I overloaded my tastebuds. I learned that we have to limit the number of beers we try in a tasting. Towards the end of the evening, I was tasting previous beers in the ones I was putting to my lips. I had too much.

But I also learned this: I want to do another beer tasting again soon.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Rewind: September 3-7, 2012


So, the kids are back to school and the days are noticably shorter. Fall is right around the corner.

We're moving into my favourite season, my favourite time of year. Back in my youth, this was the time of renewal, when things seemed to be starting over, fresh. In my adult life, it's the opposite: things are starting to wind down. The cold will soon set in. Darkness comes too soon, goes away too late.

The weeks are going by faster and I wonder what I did with my time.

Luckily, I keep a blog that chronicles my week. Here's what I was up to.
Enjoy your weekend.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Photo Friday: There, In Ottawa


I love all my blog followers and the good folks who play my Where In Ottawa contest.

But this month, I find the winner a little extra special.

Because, there's a beer connection.

Congratulations to Marc, who correctly guessed that this month's location is the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.


Here are the clues, explained:
  1. Doctor... Doctor... Give me the news... news...: Yes, this is a song. Sort of. The college is located at 774 Echo Drive. Hence the "Doctor... Doctor..." and "news... news... ."
  2. Blood sisters: this building was originally a monastery that was occupied by the Sisters of the Precious Blood.
  3. Monastery no more: in 1992, the college took up residence here. It's no longer a monastery.
Marc, our winner, is involved with a new brewery that will hopefully open later this year, in Pembroke, just up the Ottawa River.

So Marc, your copy of my book is on its way. And I want to say this: before you open your doors to Square Timber Brewing Company, I want an invitation. And a private tour.

You hear me??

Congratulations again.


And Happy Friday!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Intermission


I'm a good guy, but sometimes I do bad things.

The next segment of Gammon is tricky. It requires some tact. And a lot of fictional tweaking.

I was going to continue the story of how I pretended to be my fictional character, Roland Axam, in order to develop the back story to Songsaengnim: A Korea Diary. But after writing about half of it, I needed to do more thinking. I needed to be sensitive to the people involved. Even though, so far and forever, the name of the bar will be secret.

Instead of writing last night, I relaxed and drank a bottle of wine: a Chardonnay by the name of "Cupcake." And then I started tweeting.


We'll never speak of it again.*

I need more time to work on Gammon, Part 5. I'm planning to finish this story in six parts. But today, I pause. I think.

And I continue next week.


* I really, really hope I haven't offended any of my gay friends. I know that me being gay would really be a turnoff for you.

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