Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Tuesday, October 30, 2012
This week, I branched out in my photography, entering a new social media forum at the same time.
It's called Ottawa Photography Meetup.
This Ottawa-area group, with more than 840 members (both photographers and models), is part of a larger, global Meetup social organization that gets people with similar hobbies and interests to meet and share experience and ideas. There are more than 9,000 groups in Meetup worldwide.
With the photography meetup, Ottawa-area photogs meet for various photo themes, such as photo walks, portraits, events, and more.
So far, I've signed up for two meetups: one, a self-portrait challenge, where I had to photograph myself and show a mood. There was no actual meeting of photographers, which provided a bit of relief (no pressure) but also seemed to lack the spirit of the meetups (no advice from experts).
I took many photos of myself but I quickly realized that taking self portraits is harder than it looks. Of the dozen or so shots I took, there was only one that I thought was usable. It's the shot that I now use for my Twitter avatar and my photo for The Brown Knowser.
I'm supposed to look contemplative in that shot. How did I do?
Last night, I attended my first actual meetup, in a studio. The theme was to photograph a model who was dressing in a selection of sexy Hallowe'en costumes. It was my first time working with studio flash lighting. Typically, I work with natural lighting when I can. I'm not very good with flash photography. But it's an area that I really want to improve upon. I want to be good at portraits.
It was also my first time working with a model. I have to say, I was nervous at first, but after a few minutes, after our host set up the lighting, recommended a suitable shutter speed and aperture, and after I took my first test photo and saw the results, I relaxed. Our model was experienced and was easy to talk to. I made sure to be respectful and involve her in a lot of what I was doing, and I also was sure to show her the results of my shots from the camera display, so she could see what I was after.
Because I was sharing the studio time with three other photographers, my biggest challenge, when it was my turn to shoot, was to remember to not take too long, to share the time with the model. Sometimes, my head would get into what I was doing, thinking about the next shot.
My thanks go to Mike, the organizer of this event, owner of the studio and lighting equipment. Thanks also go out to Marc and Pierre (Pete), who offered helpful advice and inspired me to keep shooting. I'd love to work with you again.
And a special thank you to our model, Angela, who was patient and accommodating. You have captivating eyes, my dear!
|Angela poses for Mike, pretending a bird has landed on her hand; Pete waits his turn.|
For tomorrow's Wordless Wednesday, I will show you the best of my photos. I would love to get your feedback on how I did.
Monday, October 29, 2012
At last, I've reached the end of my pumpkin ales. I am so ready to move on to different styles of beers, there's no way I can describe how relieved I am that we've come to the last remaining bottles in my collection.
I realize that I barely scratched the surface of the number of pumpkin ales available in Ontario, West Québec, New York State, and Delaware (my final tasting), but I hope that I've raised an interest in this interesting style of beer. And I know that some of my beer-loving friends (yes, I'm talking to you, Katy and Scott) have amassed a much greater collection of pumpkin ales, but for me, the number that I had was considerable, seeing that I've never had more than two different pumpkin ales in one season.
I reviewed 12 breweries but I tasted at least a half-dozen more that I decided to leave out of my reviews. And to spare the readers who may not care for pumpkin and spice in their ales, I fear that a dozen was too many.
But I've reached the end with the final three, none of which is available in the LCBO or is made in Canada. This weekend, I went south of the border. And once I've given my review of these beers, I'll give you my top five pumpkin ales and a couple of my least favourite ones.
I spread the final tastings out over three separate sessions. The first one, I had on Thursday night, with dinner. And thankfully, it renewed my love of pumpkin ale.
UFO PumpkinI have my friend, Tom, to thank for this one. My buddy went for a beer run to Vermont and returned with a trunkful of beer. He came straight from the border to our weekly social event, Thursday Pints, and as we headed out he showed me his haul and offered me a bottle of this unfiltered pumpkin ale.
Harpoon Bewery, Windsor VT
A cloudy amber orange with an off-white, foamy head, this ale delivered a nose of baked apple-spice cake. On the palate, I was immediately hit with spices, a hint of orange citrus, and brown sugar. The finish was all pumpkin pie.
This pumpkin ale hit the mark exactly. It was delicious and makes me want to venture down to Windsor next year. UFO is a favourite.
On Friday, I shared another beer with an expert: brewmaster Adam Rader from Mill Street. This one was from my recent trip to Cortland, in the Finger Lakes district of New York State.
Pumpkin AleI came across the CBC by accident. My family and I were looking for a place for dinner in Cortland, and when we turned down a street off the main road, we passed an old fire station that was converted into a brewery. We pulled over and I hopped out.
Cortland Beer Company, Cortland NY
I had a small sample of their pumpkin seasonal and decided that I would take some home. It was available only in a growler, so I made the decision right then and there that I would share it. I was hoping that I could share it with my three buddies, but neither Katy, Scott, or Tom were available, so I thought I'd take it to Adam.
Reddish-amber with a thin, off-white head, I caught a buttery nose. Adam pointed out the smell of popcorn, and it all came together. I also smelled pumpkin spice. On the palate, I tasted a toffee spice cake with a slight sweetness that accumulated as I finished my glass; the sweetness became cloying and coated my tongue. The finish seems to get sweeter as the glass emptied. And neither the growler nor the brewery Web site provided the alcohol content, though I couldn't taste anyone.
This is a good pumpkin ale, but I was glad that I shared. For me, it was too much to drink on my own. As it was, I left Adam the growler with half of the ale remaining. But I repeat: it was good.
I saved my final beer for yesterday (Sunday). I loved the beers that I had tried from this Delaware brewery and expected another awesome ale. What I got was not what I expected at all.
Punkin AleI first had Dogfish Head beer this summer, in Charlotte, NC. Then, I had the incredibly intense 90-Minute IPA. Great hops, better flavour. A couple of months ago, I attended a beer tasting and tried several more, and I fell in love with this brewery. So I couldn't wait to try the pumpkin ale.
Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, Rehoboth Beach DE
And thanks go to Katy, who gave me this bottle when I started collecting pumpkin ales.
In the glass, I saw an unfiltered liquid the colour of a pumpkin skin: deep, intense orange. The head was thick and foamy. On the nose, I smelled intense pumpkin and spice with a hint of ginger, almost like ginger beer. In the mouth, I tasted a sweet and sour flavour, and a fruit that reminded me of plums. Throughout my tasting, I had a craving for egg rolls.
There was citrus on the palate, but not much in the way of hops. At least, not the intense hops that I associate with Dogfish Head. The finish was hot, due to the high alcohol content.
Punkin was a nice ale, but I couldn't help but feel disappointed. The love I developed for this brewery didn't continue with this offering. Punkin was not going to fall within my top five beers.
So which pumpkin ales rated as my top five?
- Beau's Weiss O'Lantern: incredibly flavourful and well balanced, the combination of pumpkin ale and wheat ale won my heart.
- Southern Tier Imperial Pumking Ale: this is an all-time favourite that is a great substitute for actual pumpkin pie.
- Harpoon UFO Pumpkin: what can I say? I loved it.
- St-Ambroise Citrouille: this offering is crisp, clean, flavourful, and reinforces why this brewery is one of my favourites.
- Nightmare on Mill Street: while this beer tastes slightly different in the bottle and on tap, I prefer the draft version, but the bottle is right behind it.
Which pumpkin ales fell short for me? Quite a few of the ones that I reviewed and didn't review fell into that category, but there were two pumpkin ales I will avoid in the future.
- Black Creek Historic Brewery Pumpkin Ale: not enough flavour, pure and simple. Not worth having again.
- Brooklyn Post Road: I purchased two bottles of this ale. The one that I reviewed wasn't finished, was dumped down the drain; the second, I gave away.
Saturday, October 27, 2012
Can you believe that we're already into the end of October? Judging by the weather we've hadespecially yesterdayyou'd think that time jumped back by a month.
Of course, for the foreseeable future, we're faced with rain from Hurricane Sandy. And we'll no longer be in double-digit temperatures. Autumn will feel like autumn.
If you're stuck inside this weekend, why not take a moment to sit back, relax, and read about what you may have missed this week in The Brown Knowser?
Here's what I was up to:
- Beer O'Clock: In Search of the Great Pumpkin Ale, Part 4and yes, I can't wait to be finished with my collection of pumpkin ales. The final seasonal review will be this coming Monday, with a wrap-up of my favourites.
- Keeping the Ottawa River Parkwaymy rant on how the federal government wastes time and money on a name that most people won't use.
- Wordless Wednesday: Abandoneda few weeks ago, I saw a photograph of an abandoned house and I was inspired to find one and shoot it. And I knew just the spot, but it wasn't sure if the house was still there. It was.
- Gammon, Part 7the story of my impersonation of a fictional character continues. It concludes next week.
- Photo Friday: Pink LakeI will go hiking more often in the fall than any other season. And I always bring my camera along for the trek.
Friday, October 26, 2012
I've said this many times: I love autumn.
I think I take more photos in the fall than in any other season. I love to get out and explore places, my camera slung over my shoulder. I feel that there is an urgency to taking in the colours in nature, for I know that they won't last long, are at the mercy of the weather.
Last weekend, I insisted to my family that after our Sunday brunch, we get in our shiny new car and drive up to the Gatineau Hills and go for a hike. They were reluctant, especially the kids. After our three-hour, five-mile trek over steep paths in the Finger Lakes district, the girls didn't want to go again. I promised them that I would take them somewhere beautiful: no, there wouldn't be any waterfalls, but there would be a beautiful, clear, peaceful lake.
I took them to Pink Lake, less than 30 minutes from downtown Ottawa.
Pink Lake has a beautiful trail that takes you around the perimeter of the lake. The two-and-a-half-kilometre circuit can take 40 to 50 minutes to walk at an easy pace. And because there are lots of stairs and boardwalks along the route, it isn't taxing for most people.
Lori and the girls took off like a shot from the very start. They wanted to see how quickly they could complete the trail without breaking into a run. I, on the other hand, strapped on my camera bag and took my time. I wanted to capture the beauty of the lake.
You can see more of my photos on my Picasa Web album.
BTW: Lori and the kids finished the hike in 36 minutes (they timed it). I caught up with them some 14 minutes later.
Thursday, October 25, 2012
For part 1 of this post, see Gammon. Or go to Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, or Part 6.
Roland grew frustrated when Naomi complained about her situation with Jeff, who didn't live at her home but visited almost every day. To his credit, he was good with Naomi's daughter and was never high in her presence (so Naomi said). But it still bothered Roland that she would let him remain in her life.
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.
Although Roland liked most of the regulars from the Byward Market pub, he came in primarily to see Naomi. The attraction, he figured, was that she always displayed an outward happiness while trying to conceal an inward sadness for the situation of her relationship. Just as Roland wanted to be happy but had not shaken the cobwebs of his past.
How could he? How could anyone get beyond the devastating tragedy of a loss such as his? The loss of his family would haunt him for the rest of his life.
"You need to move on, Roland," Naomi would tell him. "You're such a nice, smart, kind man. You deserve to be happy."
Her words would sometimes be thrown back at her to help her deal with her boyfriend, Jeff, a drug-addicted, depressed manipulator. Any time she tried to have that talk with him, to tell him that the relationship wasn't working, that she couldn't cope with his drug habit, he would break down into tears, tell her that he was nothing without her, that he would kill himself if she ever left him.
One particular, dreary evening, Jeff, high on heroin, screaming and wailing about how he was going to kill himself, held a knife to his throat and threatened to sever his jugulars if she tried to have another one of these serious talks.
Neighbours, who could hear Jeff's rantings and ravings, called the police.
"I can't take it anymore, Roland," Naomi sobbed, "I lose sleep, afraid that one day he will kill himself, and it will be my fault."
The police knew Jeff, had had some run-ins with him in the past. For his suicidal antics, he spent some time in the Royal Ottawa.
"It is not your fault, Naomi. It's never your fault. You have one child to take care of, not two. With Jeff in the Royal, now's the time to make a clean break. You're moving this weekend: leave him behind."
"It's not like he doesn't know where my new house is. He's been there."
"But don't bring any of his belongings into the new place. Don't give him a reason to think he belongs."
Roland's advice, while well-taken in the pub, was never executed. Not fully. Naomi didn't move Jeff's scant possessions into her new home, but she never refused Jeff's visits. Let him stay the night.
And yet, Roland continued to lend her a sympathetic ear, would always offer words of consolation, of compassion, of comfort.
"I would leave Jeff for you, Roland," Naomi once said, her eyes firmly fixed on Roland's.
"In a perfect world, that would be nice," replied Roland. And at that, I cringed inside. In the real world, I was not interested in Naomi in any romantic scenario (my being happily married aside). Yes, she was extremely attractive; yes, she was smart and funny; and yes, sometimes we could talk for hours about other subjects that took hers and Roland's thoughts about their troubles.
But Naomi was not my type: she was always stressed about money and other conflicts with her parents and siblings, and with her daughter. And she smoked.
I felt bad. This woman opened herself to Roland, shared her personal life, her life's problems, and told him that she had feelings for him, that she would be with him if only he would ask. In return, I gave her the persona of a man who was an empty shell, who had nothing more than a depth of a fictitious life.
I enjoyed our conversations, enjoyed supporting her, through Roland. And I appreciated the opportunity she gave me, unwittingly, of adding personality to my book's main character.
One day, talking about Roland's wife and daugter, Kristen and Laura, Roland broke down into tears. "I loved them so much," he choked on his words, Naomi held his hand, "that there was nothing that I wouldn't do for them. I'd do anything to have them back."
The flood of emotion that backed the words about a fictional family surprised me. I was moved by my imagination. It didn't surprise me to get saddened and upset as I wrote the story, but it did shock me to know that the emotions could be stirred in speaking the words.
I wanted to keep this relationship going. I wanted Naomi to continue to have feelings for Roland, but I definitely needed to establish boundaries, needed to create a way for the two to be close without having anything physical between them.
Roland went to Scotland for Christmas and New Year's, staying for more than a month. When he returned, he had a girlfriend.
His sister, Siobhan, threw a first-footing party for Hogmanay, and Roland hooked up with Siobhan's best friend, Fiona Hill.
(ASIDE: I came up with this name because I liked the name Fiona ever since I read Len Deighton's Game, Set, & Match trilogy. The main character, Bernard Sampson, was married to a Fiona. My Fiona was going to be a lawyer. The Scot's word, law, means hill,as in Berwick Law. Hence, Fiona Hill, the lawyer.
Shortly after creating the name, I remembered that I went to high school with a Fiona Hill. Total coincidence.)
Roland had his girlfriend and I had a way of avoiding any risks of Naomi's desire to get close. But Naomi still let Roland know she had feelings for him.
Which made it all the more difficult when Naomi eventually learned the truth about Roland. And uttered three words that haunt me to this day.
"You disgust me."
But I'm getting ahead of the story.
Roland and Fiona's relationship was a long-distance one. Luckily, Roland could afford to visit her often. "Airport to airport, it's only eight hours," Roland told Naomi.
I checked airport schedules. Made sure I had times correct. Because Naomi asked, wanted to know about Roland's life in Scotland. I had to learn the First Rail train schedule between Edinburgh and North Berwick. I all but memorized the map of both towns. I became so much of an expert of Roland's home town that I knew how long it took to walk from his home to his watering hole, The Auld Hoose. I knew that it took between 20 and 30 minutes to ascend Berwick Law years before I actually climbed it, in 2010.
On a perfect day, it took about 22 minutes.
Fiona allowed me to be less stand-offish with Naomi. I could afford to give her hugs without implying anything. There were boundaries. It didn't prevent Naomi from expressing her feelings for Roland, after she and Jeff finally split up, though their breakup was an off-and-on-again situation. Naomi wanted to leave Jeff for good, but as long as she didn't have someone to go to, like Roland, there didn't seem to be a rush.
Me, I found it hard to respect her situation. Naomi continued to cry her woes over not being able to shake Jeff, while refusing to sever the ties. Roland was forever supportive, but his sympathy was beginning to wane. And so he got away, back to Scotland.
I took a break from the pub in November 2009. But when I left the pub on that day, gave Naomi a hug and wished her the best of the upcoming holidays, little did I know that it was the last time that I'd be leaving it as Roland Axam.
To be continued...
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Who knew that a 10-kilometer stretch of roadway along the Ottawa River was such a top priority for the federal government?
I know: the Conservatives made the change in August. I heard the news and thought "what pinhead thought that this was an important issue?" It wasn't important to me. And so I reserved my opinion until now.
You'd think that our federal government might have more pressing issues, such as the economy, health care, education, the environment, and decent living conditions with clean water for people living in the far north.
But no. Someone thought that the low-hanging fruit, the fruit that no one was even interested in, was more pressing. In the months since the announcement, everyone that I have spoken to about the renaming of the parkway to Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway have come up with the same questions: why? what was wrong with the old name? how much is this going to cost taxpayers? who wanted this change so much that the Tories made it a priority?
Seriously, who was sitting around the table, thinking of important projects for our nation, and came up with the renaming of the Ottawa River Parkway?
I want names. I want to know who thought this was a critical issue, who thought that taxpayers needed to spend money on a name that many people won't even use, including residents of Ottawa?
I won't. I won't use the name of a drunkard politician whose father fled their native country to avoid paying his debts. Yeah, yeah, so what if he was our first prime minister? We already have a lot of buildings named after him. The Ottawa airport bears his name too. And, before the Ottawa school board sold it, there was a high school named after him.
For me, it will always be the Ottawa River Parkway. There's no confusion for newcomers: it's that beautiful parkway that follows the Ottawa River from the war museum to Lincoln Fields.
And no pin-headed politician (you know, the guy who refused to have the word "Canada" or the name of the building in which he workslikely, because it's named after a Liberal PMon his gold-embossed business cards?) will ever change the name for me.
Monday, October 22, 2012
Okay, I'm getting a little tired of pumpkin ale.
I've only been drinking pumpkin ale for a couple of years: since my friend, Perry, took me to Toronto for Volo Cask Days, when he introduced me to his own version of the seasonal ale and I first tried Great Lakes' interpretation.
Since pumpkin ales sprang up, I've limited my self to only a couple each year. Not so this year.
In addition to the pumpkin ales I've reviewed, I've had some at beer tastings and at social gatherings, where I haven't taken notes (I did review a pumpkin ale last week, along with other beers at a food pairing dinner). Needless to say, I've had more pumpkin ale this year than I've had in all other years, combined.
I'm getting pumpkin beered out.
That said, I did try two more pumpkin ales this weekend: one from Ontario, another from New York State. And both of them are available at the LCBO.
Highballer Pumpkin AleThe last time I reviewed a beer by Grand River, I wasn't particularly kind and I was somewhat reluctant to review them again. What if I didn't like this offering from this small brewery? Would I publish my findings? I decided that they deserved another chance.
Grand River Brewing Company
LCBO: $3.95, 500 ml; 5.2% ABV
Deep orange-ambered, the white head dissipated fairly quickly but left a nice, thin lace. On the nose, I detected a definite pumpkin and spice aroma with some citrus. In the mouth, the flavour was an obvious pumpkin but almost no spice. The fruit of the pumpkin was all that came through and ended in a clean finish.
While I would have liked to taste more spice, this was a good, easy-drinking ale. Grand River had redeemed itself.
I followed the Ontario ale with one from Brooklyn, New York.
Post Road Pumpkin AleWhile this seasonal is available in the LCBO, it is only available in limited quantities and only at a few stores.
The Brooklyn Brewery
Brooklyn, New York
LCBO: $2.45, 355 ml; 5% ABV
Dark orange with a thick, beige, creamy head that lasts, this beer delivered a candied orange and malt nose. In the mouth, you are immediately hit with good hops, sour caramel, and orange rind. And like the Grand River, there was more pumpkin than spice.
But what disappointed me about this ale was the finish. The flavours seemed to drop off, leaving me with a watery finish. I didn't crave another sip after the first. And as I approached the bottom of my glass, I found myself bored with the whole drinking experience and did something I almost never do.
I dumped the rest of the glass down the kitchen drain.
Was I tired of drinking pumpkin beer? Perhaps. But I was certainly tired of this particular beer.
If you are determined to try all available pumpkin ales from this season, then give it a try. Give both of these beers a try.
I have a few more pumpkin beers to try. But then I may be done drinking pumpkin ales for a few years.
Saturday, October 20, 2012
I'm just going to get to the point. After all, you're busy. You probably just want to see what you've missed this week in The Brown Knowser and go to it, right?
I aim to please. Here's what I did:
- Beer O'Clock: Just a Teaseyes, I am. If that's not your thing, go to Tuesday's post.
- Beer O'Clock: Pairingthere, that's better, isn't it? When good food and good beer get together, is it always a match?
- Wordless Wednesday: Autumn Hikejust a few photos of our family getaway in the Finger Lakes region of New York State.
- Focusing on a New Carin my late 40s, I finally get a brand new car. Bear with me.
- Photo Friday: Carouselusing an iPhone app to capture an image in a shopping mall.
Friday, October 19, 2012
Rarely do I think that I need to carry a camera when I go to a shopping mall. And so I don't.
Many years ago, I tried taking photos in Ottawa's Rideau Centre with my Minolta X-700. Before I could get my first shot off, a security guard approached me and told me I wasn't allowed to take pictures unless I had permission from the mall management.
With my iPhone, taking photos hasn't been an issue. Snap and go. I don't even think security cares as much anymore.
Last weekend, on our way home from the Finger Lakes district of New York State, we stopped at the Carousel Mall in Syracuse. It was our first time actually stopping in Syracuse, let alone spending a few hours in a shopping mall. And little did I know that there was an actual carousel from the early 1900s in the mall.
It costs $1 to ride the carousel. We gave the kids the last of the coins from our pockets and watched them as they chose their steeds. One of the neat things about the ride is that the folks who operate it are very generous. If there is no one waiting to get on, they let it run. When the girls got on, the ride ran for at least five minutes. It gave me a chance to take a few photos, but because I don't carry my D-SLR around in a mall, my iPhone had to do.
In addition to taking stills with Camera+, I also used another app: Slow Shutter Cam. It essentially allows you to take photos at a slow shutter speed, thereby giving the effect of motion. I last used it when I went on the Macgasm Instagram Photo Walk, where I took photos of crowds moving around Parliament Hill.
The app is perfect for a carousel. And luckily, a woman with a stroller stood relatively still for the two-second exposure. I only wish I had my mini tripod to make the image clearer. Unprepared, here's what I got.
Do you see the kids?
Thursday, October 18, 2012
Yeah, big deal. So what. People buy cars all the time.
But I'm almost 48 and this is the first new car that I've ever bought.
I was 21 when I bought my first car. It was a 1981 Chevy Malibu. It was a five-litre, six-cylinder, gas-guzzling sedan. But it was cheap, and it was used.
I didn't really care for it, and so my father, who sells cars and found me my first set of wheels, found me a replacement a couple of months later. It was a 1979 Pontiac LeMans: the same size as the Malibu but it had a four-cylinder engine. It was also in really good shape and had incredibly low mileage for its age. It almost drove like new.
But it was ugly. And for a 21-year-old guy, it was too big and looked like a family car. Hardly a chick magnet.
|My '85 Sunbird|
I loved it.
I drove it everywhere, throwing my camera in the back and heading off for the day, taking photos of whatever moved me that particular day. I would get behind the wheel and just go. Sometimes, crossing the border at Ogdensburg, NY, following the south side of the St. Lawrence, eastbound, and crossing back into Canada at Cornwall.
Gas, back then, was between 45 and 50 cents per litre.
I've had a handful or so more cars since that Sunbird, but all of them have been used. It was high time that I picked a new car that was the make, model, style, and colour that I wanted.
Last week, we made that happen.
I told you that Lori and I narrowed the choice down to one model, and there were two such models on the dealership premises. One, which was the style and colour that I wanted, but it didn't have a manual transmission (something I would have liked but wasn't a deal-breaker) or a sunroof (something that Lori really wanted); the other, a model that had a sunroof but wasn't the colour that I wanted and had simpler interior styling.
Ultimately, we went with the car that met my wants. Finally, I have a car that is brand new and has the features that I wanted.
Lori loves it too.
Friends and loved ones: I present our new car.