Friday, February 28, 2014

Photo Friday: The Eyes Have It

There are certain rules that you must follow when you're shooting models, but there are two that are especially true.
  1. Never touch them.
  2. Never stare.
At my last model shoot, I broke the second rule. I couldn't stop staring. I couldn't help myself.

Those eyes were so blue, so dazzling, almost hypnotic. I felt so drawn to them that when I looked through my viewfinder, I found that I couldn't take my own eyes off them. When finding a point on which to focus, before I recomposed the frame, I chose to focus on the eyes.

Wouldn't you?

Happy Friday!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Sing Your Life

I love to sing.

I do it all the time: around the house, I'll belt it out while I'm cleaning the kitchen or vacuuming the stairs. I sing in the shower. Sometimes, I even sing while I'm mowing the lawn or shovelling the driveway.

I don't care who hears me. I almost always sing along with my tunes in the car, and if someone sees me while we're stopped in traffic, I'll nod and continue.

I love to sing.

Recently, I've discovered that some of my friends frequent a bar that hosts a karaoke night on Saturdays, and over the past three months I've gone a few times to join them.

Because, I love to sing and I don't care what anybody thinks.

On Saturday, March 8, I'm returning for another round of karaoke, and I want my friends to join me. I created an event on Facebook, but only a few of my friends and I are connected by that social-media outlet. I have a greater reach of my friends through Twitter and through The Brown Knowser.

 So this is an open invitation: if you live in the Ottawa area and have nothing better to do on Saturday, March 8, from about 9pm until whenever, come on down to the Cock and Lion Pub, at 202 Sparks Street, near Bank.

If you're a real keener, you can download the songbooks from Dog & Pony Sound, which hosts the karaoke. I usually have a song or three planned ahead.

But then again, I love to sing, and I don't care who hears me.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

What the Mirror Told Me

Hey you, yeah you. The guy who washed a Mars bar down with a Dr. Pepper yesterday.

Is that how you want to prepare for a day-long ride to Kingston?

Yeah, you and the Rideau Lakes Cycle Tour have some unfinished business. Do you remember last year that you had this lofty goal of riding your bike for 175 kilometres from Ottawa to Kingston. It was a tough slog, taking you seven and a half hours. You thought you were hot stuff because you figured that it would take you eight hours.

And you said you were going to train, but you didn't really, did you? I mean, you cycled a couple of times a week, 20 kilometres to work, a 30-kilometre return trip. On weekends, you rode a 50-kilometre circuit. Once, you tried to complete a 100K route, but your bike suffered a flat tire at the 84-kilometre mark.

Close, but no cigar.

So, you say you trained, but you didn't really. For almost three weeks before the tour, after you had your flat, you did nothing. You didn't fix the flat and didn't ride. You barely exercised.

It's a wonder you made it to Kingston at all, let alone under your time estimate.

And how did the return journey go? Oh yeah, it didn't happen.

Yes, you and the Rideau Lakes Cycle Tour have some unfinished business, so listen up. You know that weekly spin class you've been doing since January? Pump it up: go at least twice a week.

Swim, at least once a week. What do you do after work on Tuesdays, anyway? Sit in a pub? Work out first. I want to see you swim at least 500 to 1,000 meters a session.

I know you don't run, won't even do it to catch a bus. But go for a rigorous walk a couple of nights a week, after dinner. Or go while your kids are in dance, instead of dropping them at the class, driving home, watching TV, and driving back to collect them. Work up a sweat.

'Cos I see you every day, and you're in worse shape than you were at this time last year. You're getting older and it's going to get harder. You'll be 49 when the tour comes around and I want you to leave this decade looking and feeling good.

So I hope you enjoyed that chocolate bar and soda yesterday, because it's your last one for a while. On the ride to Kingston, you can load up on sugar all you want: you'll burn it up en route. But until then, you're getting yourself in shape.

And, while we're at it, when are you going to do something about your hair?

Monday, February 24, 2014

Music Monday: Funny The Way It Is

Who doesn't like Dave Matthews Band?

On a Monday, there's nothing like music to jump-start the week, and I find that DMB has the right amount of energy.

For years, I've listened to the song, Funny The Way It Is, and thought it was a song with a serious message of juxtaposition: one person's joy is another person's sorrow. A soldier dies as a baby is born; a street person struggles to find food while someone is eating out. So, when I found the video for the song, imagine my surprise when I saw a song with a serious message played out in slapstick form.


Happy Monday!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Photo Friday: Jelly Under Glass

I love Ottawa.

We have some of the greatest museums in the country, in some of the most beautiful buildings in the city.

A few years ago, the Canadian Museum of Nature underwent some major renovations, including the opening of spaces and creating a larger hall in which to display the dinosaur exhibits. Many artifacts that had been warehoused for decades were finally out in the open for all to see.

The museum also added a large glassed enclosure, which was, at first, empty, but soon held a life-sized, inflated whale. The enclosure soon became one of my most-photographed places.

Now, the whale is gone.

In its place hangs a giant jellyfish. Some people have photographed it at night, glowing through the glass enclosure. It looks beautiful.

I saw it for myself, for the first time, this weekend. My family and I hung around the museum until closing time. Before we were ushered out by security, as the sun was beginning to set, I lingered to take a few photos.

It is, of course, my most-photographed place in the city.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

In the Rough

When I was writing my novel, Songsaengnim: A Korea Diary, posting the rough chapters online, I received some wonderfully positive, encouraging feedback.

One reader wrote, "this is so good, I can't believe you're showing it for free. I would pay to read this story." Another wrote, "I love it. I can't wait for the finished product."

One woman, from Brazil, told me how she loved the story and had hopes for a particular ending. She felt a close connection to two of the main characters, and I was so moved by her e-mail message that I dedicated the following chapter to her.

You folks are awesome. Thanks for your support.

Now that I've begun the sequel, Gyeosunim, I have started hearing similar encouragement. One of my Twitter followers, who had won a copy of Songsaengnim and didn't seem to know that I had posted the rough-drafted chapters of it online, was confused as to why I would post these new chapters online, for free.

For those of you who hadn't read my first book this way, let me tell you: I do it for your help.

Knowing that you're reading my rough drafts encourages me to continue writing, to not stop. Because, just as I get worried that a lull in blog posts on The Brown Knowser will turn you away from it, I feel that not posting chapters of my writing will turn you away, and then I will write less and less often, and I'll go months, or longer, without getting this book completed.

Why do I do it for free? Because, as with Songsaengnim, the final copy, the one that will be printed, will be different from what you read online. Those of you few who bought the first version of Songsaengnim, when I made it available from my blog site or from Amazon (USA) have a different version than the printed version that is now available on Amazon (Canada), or through Chapters-Indigo, or from Barnes & Noble, or from Kobo. My publishing company helped me polish the final version: some characters were changed, others removed entirely. Some material was added; other material was cut.

So, the version of Gyeosunim that is available to read "for free" now is not the version that will ultimately appear in print.

Read the rough draft. Send me your comments, your words of encouragement or words of criticism, and keep me writing. And, when I've finished, re-worked, and polished the rough draft, buy the final product.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Just What Are We Protecting Them From?

Careful, folks. You might need to be of legal drinking age to read this post.

As a beer blogger, I am constantly browsing Web sites to gain information about the breweries that I am examining. At the very least, I check to see if a brewery has a Web site in the first place, so that I can direct my readers, should he or she wish to check out the beer that I am sharing.

The brewery in question has everything to gain by me adding a link to their site.

But every so often, when I find a link to a site and click it, I'm faced with a wall to climb over, a hoop to jump through.

"Are you of legal age?" I am asked. "Are you old enough to view the information on our brewery?" asks another site.

Sometimes, it's a simple Yes or No question. I sigh, click Yes, and continue onto the site.

Other times, I'm asked to produce my birthday: the date, month, and year. If I were to answer honestly, I would scroll through the numbers, months, and years... so many years backwards... to provide the exact date.

I never do that: I pick January 1st and spin the years backwards until they fall somewhere in the past, somewhere more than 20 years ago.

And then I click Enter.

I have to say, it's a real pain in the ass.

If the Internet had been created before I was old enough to drink, and I really wanted to check out my favourite brewery's Web site, I would simply lie my ass off whenever I was faced with one of these speed bumps.

Truthfully, what harm is done by someone reading information on a Web site? What is it that we don't want our youth to see or read on these sites?

It's been said that if we tell someone they can't do something, they want to do it all the more and will try to bend or break the rules to do it. And, by placing such stupid barriers on beer Web sites, we're only feeding a kid's desire to rebel, when we could be doing something much better.

Like, educating them.

I have yet to see these barricades on any European beer sites and have only recently noticed them on Canadian sites. Many American breweries put them up.

If it's the law, challenge that law. What dumb-ass judge thought this legal requirement was a good idea?

If it's simply policy, give your heads a shake. And stop doing it.

In future reviews, if the beer I review has a Web site with one of these age-restricted barriers, I will no longer add their link to my post. In addition, I will state why a beer company has no link on my review: if you simply have no site to see, it's fair that I let people know.

But if you're being stupid with the age thing, it's only fair to protect my readers from having to jump through hoops to learn more about you.

That's what I'm protecting my readers from.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Music Monday: Devil's Got A Gun

When I first heard of the Canadian indie band, Whitehorse, I thought, what a great sound from the far reaches of Canada. A piece of the Great White North.

And then I found out that this husband-and-wife duo are from Hamilton, Ontario.

But that didn't diminish my love of their sound.

The alluring harmonic vocals of  Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland provide the power of their current hit song, Devil's Got A Gun. Carried by the rich guitar of Doucet, this song sticks in my head.

The video that I've posted is taken from their Web site and features a full-band rendition of the song. Typically, this is a two-member band. The video has a raw feel to it and I like the one-camera, single take.

I hope you do, too.

Happy Monday!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Can We Move Valentine's Day to Sometime in Late Spring?

It comes down to bad timing.

For five days, I've been suffering a nasty head cold, which kept me in bed for three days, had me suffer a day at work, where I literally blew through half a box of tissues (and I'm using literally correctly), and I'm back at home today, working in my pajamas, wrapped in a red fleece blanket.

It is Valentine's Day, after all.

Last night seemed to be the height of this week of misery, when, on a trip to Costco, Lori, driving our car that still seems newish to us, was hit from behind by a young man in an older Jaguar, causing damage to the rear bumper, but more importantly, wrenching our youngest daughter's back and resulting in a trip to CHEO.

She's fine, with no worse than the equivalent of a minor whiplash, but to her lower back. A couple of days of taking it easy will make her as good as ever.

So, today, as you can imagine, is stressful at the Brownfoot home. On top of yet another snow storm, dumping heaps of white stuff on our driveway, where we have little room to put it because the cold temperatures have prevented any significant melting of the accumulation that has already fallen.

Today is the start of WinterBrewed, the craft-beer festival of Winterlude. I am supposed to be the photographer for the event, but here I am, head blocked such that my ears click and sometimes squeak. Even if I could gather the energy to haul myself and my camera to the venue, I'm too sick to drink any beer.

I don't even have a craving for beer, and I haven't touched any since Sunday. I'm that sick.

And today is Valentine's Day.

I look out the window, see the cold grip of winter, still firmly holding onto our city, and the last thing I think of is love.

Can we move this Hallmark holiday? Can we put it somewhere in May, when everything blooms, when we shed our coats and boots, and want to be outdoors? When our winter woes are behind us?


Monday, February 10, 2014

Music Monday: Hummingbird

Every once and a while, I'll hear a song and want to immediately start dancing.

Such is the case with today's music pick by Winnipeg indie band, Imaginary Cities.

The first time I heard this song, I recognized the band from the distinct, powerful and sharp vocals of Marti Sarbit. I'm sure I heard this band in a commercial, but for the life of me I couldn't find it for this post. If you recognize Sarbit's voice and know the commercial, please let me know.

What I really like about this song, Hummingbird, is the upbeat tempo and feel-good sound of the keyboards. I also can't help but sing along with the "Oh-oh-oh-oh" parts.

It's a good song to start a Monday, so enjoy.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Photo Friday: Echo-Bank House

It pays to wander the side streets in Ottawa. You never know what you're going to find.

Just south of the Bank Street bridge that traverses the Rideau Canal is a small road that I had never noticed before I went for a walk, last summer, with Lori, while we were waiting for some work to be done on my bike at The Cyclery.

On that walk, I took photos of four Ottawa landmarks: the Mayfair Theatre, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, the Craham Station No. 10 (now the Ottawa South Community Association Community Centre), and now, February's Where In Ottawa location.

All of these spots have been used for Where In Ottawa.

Congratulations to Christophe Ledent, who correctly identified the Echo-Bank House, on Echo Drive. Here are the clues, explained.
  1. Name changer: this Gothic Revival house was originally owned by George Hay, a prominent hardware merchant and president of the Bank of Ottawa, who is also credited with proposing the change of Bytown to the City of Ottawa.
  2. By George, it's Ottawa: and, yes, if George Hay did have something to do with it, our town's name became what it is today. Mr. Hay is also credited with designing Ottawa's coat of arms.
  3. Cuban connection: from 1966 to 1977, the Echo-Bank House was home to the Cuban Embassy, in fact, in April of 1972, the RCMP were called to the embassy to remove a bomb that had been placed there.
So there you have it. Another piece of Ottawa history in a photo challenge.

Chris also won last month's challenge: who is going to beat him next month? The next Where In Ottawa is on March 3.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

So, You Want to Be a Writer?

When I started blogging, almost six years ago, I was already a writer. I wrote short stories in elementary school, started working on my first novel at the end of high school, wrote for the Algonquin Times, The Ottawa Citizen, and The Low Down to Hull and Back News.

In Korea, I wrote a novel and sent it to various Canadian publishing houses, all who turned me down with simple form letters that told me that the book was not what they were looking for, but thanked me for my submission.

They were polite ways of telling me to fuck off.

One such form letter came to me with its margins filled with a hand-written message. Whoever had read my book wanted to add a personal touch. She said (I assumed it was a "she," judging by the handwriting) that she really enjoyed the story and was moved by the main character. "You're a good writer," the note read, "don't ever stop writing."

Whoever that person is, her (or his) words touched me and have remained with me for almost 15 years. They are words that every writer wants to hear.

When I talk to people about writing, I occasionally hear them say, "I wanted to be a writer. I'm a good story teller."

"Then write," I say. "What's stopping you?"

Anyone can come up with an excuse for not writing. The biggest excuse I hear is that people don't have the time.

Make the time, folks. Make the time to do the things about which you are most passionate.

The other night, after I had written a few pages of the latest chapter of my novel, Gyeosunim, and realized I needed a break, I started reading my Twitter feed and latched onto an online chat that had just begun. The topic was "blogging," so I thought I would join the discussion. I still had a pint to finish (I was writing from Mill Street, my usual Tuesday-evening haunt) and would be about 20 minutes.

The first question that was posed by the host was about the type of content that is mainly posted on a blog. Here, on The Brown Knowser, my topics have varied. I mainly use this blog to share thoughts and feelings, to occasionally rant, but also to share my passion for story telling. I always try to make my post have some sort of message. 

Sometimes, I share photos, let those photos tell the story. I use photos to engage my Ottawa-based readers, to test their knowledge of this great city.

I share music. I share beer. I share good food and interesting events.

I guess, in a nutshell, The Brown Knowser is where I share things that interest me, where I hope that you'll be interested too.

I also shared with the discussion group that I have four blogs of which three are currently maintained. I've had a total of six blogs: my first blog, Brownfoot Journal, where my intent was to share family events with friends and relatives. But as more readers began to follow me, I was less inclined to share my private life, and so that blog ended after more than three years.

I had a blog that I used for political rants, but it didn't last long. I felt that I always sounded angry (I wasn't; I was simply cynical) and that half the time, I didn't think I knew what the hell I was talking about.

I have my Songsaengnim blog, where I used to post the rough chapters of my novel. While nothing has changed much, since the book was published and I removed all but the first chapter, I still refer to it so that people can find out where they can purchase my book.

I'm doing the same thing for the sequel: a new blog with rough drafts of the chapters. Chapter 8 is almost ready.

The Twitter chat covered lots of topics, from where people get ideas for content, whether writers have a set time in which they write, how much content does a writer aim to create, to what obstacles are faced in writing.

For myself, I try to write five days a week for The Brown Knowser, and for the most part, I'm pretty consistent. But I've told myself that if I don't have any ideas, I shouldn't beat myself up and force myself to write. It makes for bad posts. It's best to relax, think, and brainstorm for another time. I keep a note on my smartphone, where I keep ideas for future posts.

At Beer O'Clock, I try to review a beer when the beer moves me, but lately I've been more interested in simply enjoying the beer without feeling that I have to talk about it. I'll share soon, though. Lately, my novel has been taking up the time that I often used to write my beer reviews.

Which takes me to my novel. I have two days where I find time to squeeze in writing. I have about an hour and a half on Sunday mornings and three to four hours on Tuesday evenings, when I'm at Mill Street. It's not a lot of time in which to write, but I've been diligent about using that time.

But it comes down to this: I'm about to pass on sage advice for all of you who ever thought you'd want to be a writer.

Make the time, and keep writing. Write for yourself. Write what makes you happy.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Where In Ottawa: February 2014

It's that time, again.

Time for you to show that you know so much about Ottawa that I can show a small part of a place in the city, and you can identify it.

If this is your first time playing Where In Ottawa, here are the rules:
  • If you were with me when I took the photo, you cannot play.
  • If you have won the challenge before, you may still play, but I won't reward you for your efforts.
  • If you know the location of the following photo, only an answer placed in the Comments section to this post will count: no tweets, Facebook or e-mail messages, or any other correspondence will count (nor will I respond to those forms of contact).
  • The first person to correctly identify the location by leaving an answer in the Comments section wins the challenge.
  • If you win the challenge, you must send me contact information before the end of the month to claim your reward.
What's the reward? I will send you a PDF version of my novel, Songsaengnim: A Korea Diary.

Here's the photo.

Think you know Ottawa? Prove it!

Clues will appear on the blog, starting tomorrow. Good luck.