Friday, January 31, 2014

Photo Friday: Lines in the Snow

My backyard looks its best in the winter because you can't see how the weeds are slowly taking over, you can't see how the lawn has been neglected.

The bird bath looks pretty, with its thick topping of snow: it looks like a cake on a fancy pedestal serving tray. Only, there is now rust showing where the bolt is revealing its age.

The slats of the fence, which I built many years ago with my neighbours, casts shadows and light in the late-afternoon sun. A blue and white pattern stretches over the untouched snow.

Who couldn't resist a photo.


Happy Friday?

Thursday, January 30, 2014

When I Cried at the LCBO

It had been a tough couple of months.

Members of my extended family had died: a couple of uncles on my wife's side of the family, plus a cousin, who was only 39. Shortly before he died, a work colleague died only two months after learning he had cancer.

Old age had claimed the uncles; cancer claimed my cousin and work mate. Cancer was a bastard. My best friend's mother was also dealing with cancer, but that's not what took her.

Death had me stressed out. People were getting sick, dropping like flies. I was realizing that I, too, was getting old, that heart disease and cancer ran rampant in my family. One of them was going to get me: it was only a matter of when. Most likely, I thought, I have fewer years in front of me than behind me.

Best to enjoy life while you can.

It was at this time, where I wondered about life, that I found myself in the LCBO. It's one of my favourite stores to visit on a regular basis, right up there with book stores. It was a couple of years before I began reviewing beer, when I was more likely to pick up a good bottle of wine over a six-pack of ale. But I would still check out what was new and shiny in the craft beer section, which was much smaller, even those few years ago.

A shelf full of stubby bottles caught my eye. A friend of mine, who made beer, was known for producing his ales in neck-less bottles. It had been a while since I had picked up some of his brew, since I learned that the company that bought his beer had started messing with his recipes.

Sure enough, the bottle showed his brewery: it was an imperial stout, and what caught me about the label, other than the fact that the name had changed and the label was different, is that the label itself was barely staying on the bottle. It was as though only one end of the label had been affixed with glue or that the bottles had been immersed in water and the labels were peeling off.

It was time for a phone call. I hadn't spoken to my friend in months and I missed him, any way.

"I'm holding your stubby," I said to him. Neither of us could resist an opportunity for a dirty joke. "Why had I not heard about this imperial stout?"

"It's the last beer I'm making for the company," he said. "I'm leaving the biz."

"Really? How come?"

As successful as he had been as a brewer, it was really hard work, with long hours and heavy work. "I'm having problems with my heart," he confessed, "my doctor has me taking tests but I think the stress is getting to me."

For a moment, I couldn't catch my breath. "What? Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," he assured me, "I'm going to take it easy."

We talked a little more, sharing news about our families and what we were up to. We promised to get together soon. I asked him to keep me informed about his condition, and wished him good health.

"Before I let you go," I said, "I'm going to let you know that I'm clearing the shelves of your beer. What's with the labels?"

"Poor bottling equipment, not my responsibility. I just made the beer."

"It's coming unglued," I said.

"So am I," joked my friend, and we ended the call.

My hands were shaking as I gathered about a dozen bottles, adding them to my basket and heading to the cash.

The store was almost empty, only a few stragglers were at the cash registers. The LCBO was closing in a few minutes. I took the stubbies from my basket and placed them on the counter, in front of the cashier. She was young, pretty. She picked up the first of the bottles of imperial stout and scanned it.

"These labels are awful," she remarked as she totaled up the purchases.

"I know," I said, holding up my phone, "I just talked to the brewer about it. He knows too." My voice cracked, I took a deep breath, and let out a soft sob. "Everything is going to be okay."

The cashier gave me a strange look as tears started to roll down my cheek. She didn't know what to say and I couldn't talk, so we quickly finished the transaction in silence. Her eyes tried to assure me that she had confidence that the labels didn't affect the flavour of the beer, that she was sure the brewery would fix the labels for the next batch.

It had been a bad couple of months, but things were going to get better. My friend is still going strong and the frequency of family deaths was on the decline.

And, for a couple of months, I avoided that LCBO.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Music Monday: Truth

A couple of years ago, I picked up a free iTunes download at Starbucks and, as I do every time I see the free song download, I put it on my iPhone.

When it first played, I didn't know what to think of Truth, by Alex Ebert, known on the track as, simply, Alexander. It had a haunting whistling, which I liked, and lyrics that were almost presented like rap, which I don't like. I like a song with saxophone, which this song has, but the playing of the sax is simple, somewhat amateurish.

At one point, I was going to delete the song from my phone. But I didn't.

The song began to grow on me, and I would find myself whistling the tune around the house.

One day, at work, while listening to my music, Truth came on and I decided to Google it. In addition to finding out more about Ebert—who comes from Los Angeles and was in the bands Edward Sharpre and the Magnetic Zeros (never heard of them) and Ima Robot (also never heard of)—I also found the video for the song. The video, at first view, comes across as being strongly religious, with Ebert seemingly portraying himself as Jesus. "How full of himself he must be," I thought to myself. But then I saw him as everyone who goes through life, facing hardship and turmoil, trying to find himself.

And I started enjoying it more.

At times, the video is sensual, and fits well with the music.

I still feel that I haven't quite made up my mind whether I love this song or I'm indifferent to it, but however I feel, I'm keeping it on my iPhone.

Here's the video.


Alexander - Truth from Alexander on Vimeo.

Happy Monday!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Photo Friday: Slow Count

When I take a time exposure, I never use a clock. My exposures aren't precisely calculated.

I guess. I tell myself, "that's long enough." Sometimes, I count, coming as close to seconds as I can.

Sometimes, I have songs in my head, and I'll play the tune to myself and think, "when I get to the second verse, that should be long enough."

By the time Lori and I got to the Wakefield Mill, last Friday, as a getaway and to celebrate her birthday, the light of the day was waning. It was overcast and a light snow was falling, but I wanted to take some evening photos behind the mill, where the water fell and rolled down towards the Gatineau River.

Lori had a spa appointment—a pedicure—and I had an hour to kill until dinner.

By the time I set up, there was very little light; tucked into a valley, darkness came quickly. Every shot I took would be a long exposure.

I counted. I softly sang to myself, careful not to disturb the couples enjoying the nearby outdoor hot tub. For this shot, I thought that about 30 seconds would do (f/14, ISO 100, 22mm).

The metadata says the exposure was 29.5 seconds.



Nah, I don't need a watch.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Empty

Last night, I sat in front of the computer, ready to create another blog post, but when I placed my fingers on the keyboard, I paused.

I was empty.

I've been thinking a lot about my current book, Gyeosunim. On Tuesday, sitting at Mill Street Brew Pub, I cranked out a rough draft of Chapter 6. The week before that, I wrote Chapter 5 and re-posted my cleaned-up, first four.

Since I posted the latest chapter, I've been thinking about the next one. I'm going to try and write a chapter a week.

This would be great: I've given myself until the end of this year to finish the book. If I finish earlier, all the better. But because it took me about six years to write Songsaengnim: A Korea Diary, doing the sequel in one year will be nothing short of a miracle.

But I'm giving my attention to it, which means that I may not have anything left to rattle in my head and come out in The Brown Knowser.

If you haven't read my first novel, read Chapter 1 and then consider buying the book. And then you can start Gyeosunim, reading the entire rough draft. Once I send the final version to the publisher, only the first chapter will be available to read.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Photo Friday: Tilted

Are you getting tired of my Bate Island Project? With 258 photos of the same view, are you looking forward to the end?

With just over seven weeks to go, it'll be over soon enough.

But you have to admit: seeing how the weather has changed, how the lighting has varied, how that bush in the foreground has nearly drowned in water, budded, filled out with leaves, coloured, and gone bare again, how birds and people have come and gone in the frames, is all rather interesting.

When I chose this subject, I picked my 50mm lens because I didn't want to zoom up on Parliament Hill and I didn't want to go wide and make the cityscape insignificant. But there are times where I wished I could capture more sky.

Because, on some days, the sky has been spectacular.

Like it was on Tuesday, at sunset. The low-hanging sun set the glass on some buildings on fire, their reflection lighting up the ice on the river. Above my frame, a few lazy, cotton-ball clouds reflected warm pink and cool purple. I wanted the sky, but my project prohibited it.

So, after my project shots, I tilted my camera upward.



Much better.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Don't Utilize Words

As a writer and editor, words are important to me. Choosing the right word to convey a thought is essential to communication.

Sadly, the digital age has brought a steady decline to how words are presented.

Take, for example, the word utilize. Utilize means, "to put something to use." You can utilize the wind to power turbines. You can utilize the sun to create solar energy.

But it seems that utilize is a word that some take to replace the word use. For example, "you can adjust the tension on the mechanism by utilizing a screwdriver and tightening or loosening the screw."

No: you can use a screwdriver to adjust the tension.

Utilize can also be used when you are using something that is not typically used to perform an action. For example, if you don't have a screwdriver available when you want to adjust the tension, you can utilize a knife.

I know: first-world problem.

Just don't get me started on the over use of impact as a noun. Or that other—wrong—spelling of e-mail.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Words on Wednesday

There is no Wordless Wednesday. Not today.

Over the past few days, instead of taking photos and preparing them for my weekly post, I revisited the rough draft of my sequel to Songsaengnim: A Korea Diary, and have posted five chapters.

If you've read my first novel, take a look at the continuation of Roland Axam's journey, Gyeosunim.

I'm hoping to add a new chapter each week, but I make no promises.

Wordless Wednesday returns next week.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Virtual Coffee

Ever want to have coffee with a friend but can't find the time?

No worry: now you can share coffee time, virtually.


Last week, Starbucks Canada introduced its Tweet A Coffee plan, where you can send a friend, through Twitter, a coffee. Well, not a coffee, exactly. You can purchase a gift certificate, starting at $5, and send it to one of your tweeps. Your social-media friend receives a tweet, with a link to an online coupon, which they, in turn, can print or add to their Starbucks account.

The recipient can also take his or her smartphone to a Starbucks, where the coupon can be scanned.

I learned about the offer through a friend, who posted the link to her Facebook page with a tongue-in-cheek request for coffee. Interested in trying the tool, I sent her the $5 coupon.

Within a matter of minutes, one of my Twitter friends, who knows I love coffee, sent me a coffee tweet. I seamlessly transferred the tweet to my Starbucks app, and before you could say "coffee time," I was enjoying a coffee and muffin.

The tool is infectious.

What do you think? Would you use this method of sending a friend a coffee, through Twitter? Have you done it?

Just remember: my Twitter nickname is @RossBrownfoot.

Now, if only you could tweet a beer to someone...

Monday, January 13, 2014

Music Monday: Snap

Several years ago, before I owned an iPod or other Apple product, I had ripped all of my CDs and stored them on an external hard drive. When I wanted to add a song or album to my MP3 player, I only had to drag the file or folder to my player.

Easy.

A couple of years later, I purchased an iPod, and eventually, an iPhone, and I had to deal with iTunes to get my music onto my devices. And life became considerably more complicated.

Because iTunes sucks.

For some reason, when I synch my iPhone, certain songs that I don't want on my phone tend to appear, like Jonathan Edward's version of Three Blind Mice, a song that one of my daughters danced to with her comp team.

Other songs were not appearing in my iTunes library: albums that were on my external drive but, because iTunes is so persnickety, they were unavailable for download.

For a couple of years, there were some tunes that I started to miss and wanted to add to my iPhone, so to make that happen, I had to create a folder in my iTunes directory and copy every missing song to it. It took some time, but I was finally able to add some nearly forgotten songs to my device.

When my iPhone dies, I'm moving to Android.

One of the songs that I missed and now have on my device is a song by British Columbia's long-running band, 54-40. I first learned about this band in 1986, when I completed an internship at The Ottawa Citizen, where I reported for the Entertainment department. One of the reporters was clearing out some old material and gave me a cassette of their second album, titled after the band. I fell in love with Baby Ran and I Go Blind (Hootie and the Blowfish destroyed this song several years later).

One of my favourite songs from 54-40 comes from their 2008 album, Northern Soul. For me, Snap is a great cycling tune, with its driving beat that gets me pedalling faster. When I searched for the video to the song, however, the pace of the video was not what I expected. The band simply stands and plays their song (no story, no special effects, no action). They just stand as though they are performing on The Late Show with David Letterman.

The video isn't interesting to watch, but the song is great, nevertheless. Just close your eyes and enjoy.


54-40 - Snap on MUZU.TV.

Happy Monday!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Photo Friday: A Classic Canadian Winter

Cold temperatures and lots of snow: that's what I remember about winter, when I was a kid.

Skiing—cross-country and downhill—in the Gatineau Park.

Tobogganing in the Arbouretum.

Snowmen and snow forts.

Catching giant snowflakes, as they gently fall from a windless sky, on your tongue.

Hot chocolate. With marshmallows.

Crackling fires in oversized fireplaces.

Snowshoeing on the Mackenzie-King Estates.

Skating on the Rideau Canal and eating BeaverTails.

Winter may not be my favourite season, but it isn't my most-hated.

What does winter mean to you?



Happy Friday!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Regimental

It was the summer job that wasn't.

When I was 17, my best friend, Stuart, and I decided that for a summer job, we would join the militia, where we would learn valuable skills, such as discipline, and we'd also get in shape, so as to get the attention of the ladies.

And, we'd learn how to kill.

(I used to tell people that when I grew up, I was going to be an assassin: the militia was my gateway.)

Stu joined the Cameron Highlanders and a couple of months later, I joined him. Sadly, because we didn't enlist at the same time, we were placed in different groups. We would have to learn how to kill, separately.

In following Stuart, however, I learned some of the rules of the military ahead of my group, because Stuart went to the drill hall on one night early in the week and I would go on another, a couple of days later, and Stu would tell me what he learned.

It was almost like getting cheat sheets to an exam from a buddy who had already written it.

Because we were with the Cameron Highlanders, our company followed Scottish military traditions, including the wearing of kilts. We would wear a traditional green shirt of the Canadian Army, but instead of slacks, a tartan kilt and Tam o' Shanter with Saint Christopher distinguished us from the company that shared space in the drill hall, the Governor General's Foot Guards.

Anybody who knows anything about Scottish tradition knows that a Scotsman wears nothing under his kilt. I knew this, but Stuart also taught me that if anyone was suspected of wearing undergarments, he could be challenged.

A challenge meant that the accused must raise his kilt up high, thereby revealling whether he was regimental or not. If he wasn't, if he wore anything under his kilt, he must buy everyone in attendance a round of beer in the mess hall. However, if the accused raises his kilt and it is discovered that he is, in fact, regimental, the challenger had to buy the round of beer.

Whenever I was in my kilt, I was regimental. Those suckers are thick, and hot, and you don't want your boys overheating.

One weekend at the drill hall, my group lined up for inspection, where our commanding officer made sure our tams sat properly on our heads, our boots shone, and that our shirts were tucked properly into our kilts, and didn't bunch up at the waist. Our commander taught us that if we needed to tuck our shirts in, the best way to do it was to reach under the kilt and tug the bottom of the shirt down.

I remember this, because we had a few women in our group, and whenever we had to tuck in our shirts, the women would lean so they could try to catch a glimpse at what else may hang underneath.

The women, however, were allowed underwear with their kilts and could never be challenged.

On our lunch break, we all went to the mess hall to eat and have a beer. Even though we were under-aged, we were allowed to purchase beer in the mess hall: when we were receiving a promotion, we were allowed, and even encouraged, to get shit-faced.

I ate my sandwich and sipped my bottle of Blue at a sofa, sitting next to the newest recruit to the group. William Bennett was tall and skinny, with dark hair and a freckled face, and was not the sharpest took in the chest. Our Master Corporal was always chewing him out for some misdeed, and enjoyed making him do pushups in the parade square.

Bennett sat on the sofa with his feet planted on the coffee table, his knees far apart. It was an unsightly position to be sitting in, and our Master Corporal came up to admonish Bennett, when, instead, he yelled, "Private Bennett, I challenge you!"

Bennett had no idea what our commanding officer meant, but thought it had to do with his feet on the table, and so he moved them onto the floor. But that didn't stop the Master Corporal.

"No, you stupid shit, I challenge you."

The ladies gathered around. The other men laughed, knowing what was to come. I, having been warned by Stuart, also knew that I had a free beer coming to me, and so I joined in the laughter.

And that got the Master Corporal's attention. "You too, Brown. You're probably just like him. I challenge you, too."

"Master Corporal, with all due respect, no. I assure you, I'm regimental."

Bennett told the Master Corporal that he didn't know what he was being asked, and was met with, "Like this," and with a flaunting raising of his own kilt, our commanding officer showed all who looked that he was absolutely regimental. "Show us what's under your kilt, Private Bennett. If you're not swinging like I am, you owe everyone in the mess a beer."

Reluctantly, Bennett's kilt went up, revealling not only underwear but a pair of gym shorts.

"Now you, Private Brown."

I received two free bottles of Blue during that lunch break.

My time with the Cameron Highlanders would be short-lived. I enlisted at the beginning of June, but by the end of the month, I was gone. Just a few, short days before school was out for the summer, I broke my leg, playing soccer. The doctor ordered me in a full-length cast for 12 weeks.

The evening before my accident, I had learned how to field-strip an assault rifle. I was the fastest at it in my group: in drills, we would lie on the ground with our weapon, at one end of the hall, on the far end from another soldier with a similar rifle. When our Master Corporal blew a whistle, we had to fully dismantle our weapon and then run towards our opposite partner, whose weapon would be also dismantled by then.

We then had to reassemble our partner's weapon as fast as we could and test the weapon by firing it (no bullets) at the partner. We stood up when we heard the firing pin click.

I was the first to my feet. My career as an assassin was taking shape.

Until the following day, when I broke my leg and had to quit the Cameron Highlanders.

Stuart had a great summer: he fired a machine gun. He threw grenades. And he was never challenged, though he would have passed, had he been called upon to prove himself.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Sloth

So, the holidays are over and a new year has begun. The carols are sung, the gifts opened, used; perhaps, broken. Food has been eaten and spirits consumed.

Too much, for some.

Friends and family have been visited or have at least tried to keep in touch.

Old times remembered, fireworks viewed, dancing, laughing.

For the consumers, deals were hopefully attained after the Main Event. Hopefully, without standing out in the cold, without waiting in line. Hopefully, without blowing the budget. And, hopefully, on items that were truly needed.

Or maybe there are those who just stayed in and kept quiet.

For practically five straight days, I did nothing. Or very little, at any rate. I stayed in bed or sat on the sofa, sleeping, reading, watching marathons on the television. I ate very little—at times, not healthily. I drank mostly soda water: low sodium. From December 29 to January 2, I consumed a total of three bottles of beer.

Small bottles. I wanted to keep my head. I lost it, once, over the holidays. It wasn't going to happen again.

It's easy to blame the weather for hermiting myself away. It was too cold to be outside; much better to be inside, safe, under a warm blanket.

For five days, I was a bump on a log. A lazy SOB. A sloth.

Having written all of my blog posts before December 23, I did no writing until January 5: two weeks without any writing. It seems that over time, without sitting with my fingers at a keyboard, my mind rusts.

But it is a new year and time to get off my butt, to stop being that bump, that SOB, that sloth.

Time to oil my brain. Time to start a new year. Time to jot down ideas that will turn into (hopefully) better words. Time to dust off the camera, which hasn't been touched since Christmas Eve.

Goodbye, sloth.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Where In Ottawa: January 2014

Happy New Year!

For my first post of 2014, I want to wish all of you happiness, good health, and prosperity. Being a person who has a preference for even numbers, I expect this year to be spectacular.

Because this is the first Monday of the month, and because last month you showed me that my monthly contest is still a favourite post, I will continue to test your knowledge of this great city that I hold so dear.

Thank you for showing you care. You have made Where In Ottawa a defining feature to my blog: one that I am happy to continue.

If this is your first visit to my blog or your first visit to this challenge, welcome. The rules are simple:
  • The following photograph was taken somewhere in Ottawa. The first person to correctly identify the location wins the challenge.
  • If you were with me when I took the photo, you cannot play.
  • Submissions to the challenge must be made to the Comments section of this post. E-mail or Facebook messages, or tweets will neither be accepted nor responded to.
  • If you have won the challenge in the past, you may play again; however, no prize will be awarded if you win again.
  • If you win the challenge and are eligible to claim the prize, you have until the next challenge to do so; otherwise, the prize goes to next month's winner.
  • The winner of Where In Ottawa will receive a PDF copy of my novel, Songsaengnim: A Korea Diary.
  • If the location of the photo isn't identified today, a clue will appear at the top of the right-hand column. A clue will appear each subsequent day until the challenge is solved.
That's it. Ready to play?



Think you know Ottawa? Prove it!


Update: In a few, short hours, Where In Ottawa has been solved. Congratulations to Christophe Ledent, who correctly identified the Old Nepean Town Hall, in Westboro. A copy of Songsaengnim will be delivered shortly.

I will post more photos of this historic site later this week, for Wordless Wednesday.

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