Friday, May 30, 2014

Photo Friday: Hawksley

"I'm sorry, professional cameras are not allowed at the show."

"Define professional," I said, holding my Nikon D80 with an 18-55mm kit lens mounted on it. "This camera is hardly professional. My wife's point-and-shoot has a greater range than this lens."

The man at the door, who took my ticket, looked at the camera again. "I suppose it's okay," he said as he waived me through.

Once we were comfortable in our seats, I reached into my inside jacket pocket and retrieved my 70-300mm zoom lens and swapped it on the camera.

Still far from a professional camera, but I now out-powered my wife's Canon PowerShot by a considerable amount.

I didn't like to mislead the doorman to the Hawksley Workman concert, but I wanted photos. Not to sell but to enjoy and share with my friends.

At last weekend's Ottawa Race Weekend, runners and spectators were treated to a free concert by Hawksley. Lori, after completing her 10K run and having cleaned up at Jack Purcell Community Centre, decided it was a great reward for a great run.

There was no security searching for "professional" cameras.

I used the same camera, the same lens.

Thanks for the show, Hawksley. Sorry for sneaking my camera in to your show a few years ago.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Southern Routes

In the past, when I've hopped on my bike, I've headed toward the city, leaving my suburban neighbourhood for the heart of our nation's capital.

My previous 50-kilometre circuit took me from Barrhaven to Prince of Wales, heading north to Hogs Back, Vincent Massey Park, Billings Bridge. I would follow the Rideau River as it took me through Vanier, New Edinburgh, and Rockliffe Park.

I would head toward the Byward Market and cross into Québec by way of the Alexandra Bridge, and then come back to Ottawa over the Portage Bridge. I would follow the Ottawa River, to Lincoln Heights, before heading south, toward Woodroffe Avenue and back to my neighbourhood.

It was a good ride. A mostly safe ride, where I could spend at least 75 percent of my time on pathways, off the roads, or on designated bicycle lanes.

Over the weekend, with the National Capital Marathon, my route was blocked in a few places. Not wanting to find alternate pathways, I headed south. I had gone on some of the roads that lead out of the city a couple of times last year: once, with Lori, where we went to Manotick and back; another time, with my neighbour (an elite cyclist), further south, through the farm fields and county roads. On that ride, she pointed out the way to one of the closest villages, North Gower.

On Sunday, I left Barrhaven by Tartan Drive and got onto Cedarview Road, heading south to where it ends, at Barnsdale Road. Turning west, the road passes farm fields and ends at Moodie Drive, where I turned south. Vast fields and markers that guide planes to the airport. Traffic is light, which is good: there is no shoulder on which a bike can safely roll. Crumbling asphalt at the road's edge forces cyclist to be on the road.

Moodie Drive ends at Brophy Drive, and I turned west again. This road is better, with a little more shoulder. But there are more cars, and they travel fast, passing you at 80 kph or faster. But I'm not on that road for long. A left turn onto 4 Line Road, cars are far and few between, and a wide, paved shoulder is in great shape all the way to North Gower.

Twenty-five kilometres there.

My return trip took me on Roger Stevens Drive, to 1 Line Road, in Kars, and then north, on the worst road of the trek. Broken and bumpy, I had to cycle in the middle of the road for much of the six kilometers (give or take). I'll never ride on it again.

A right turn, on Brophy, and two kilometres, I hit Manotick. The extent of last year's ride with Lori. A left, onto Rideau Valley Drive, and crossing Prince of Wales Drive, I hit the only steep hill of the ride, on Jockvale Road. But I was feeling good and even in this stage of my ride, I powered up it and followed it back into my neighbourhood.

Fifty-two K.

I altered the route two days later, continuing a little further south in North Gower, and cutting west, on Church Street, to McCordick Road, which turns into Eagleson in Richmond. In this small village, I turn onto Old Richmond Road and follow the Jock River to Fallowfield Road, which then takes me back to my neighbourhood.

Just over 55K.

This weekend, I ride further south, to Merrickville, and back. It's about 55 kilometres, each way.

These southern routes are perfect for readying myself for the following weekend, when I do the ultimate southern ride: to Kingston, and back.

Wish me luck.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Behind Philemon Wright

The woods are gone.

Across from the football field and track, the trees grew in abundance. A few metres from the north end of the track is where the woods began. There wasn't much to it: a dense thicket of trees and shrubs, a chain-link fence, a creek, and then the upwards slope to Highway 5.

There wasn't much to do in those woods. Sometimes, my friends—David, Sandra, and Christine—and I would go there. We would talk, make jokes. David, who was my friend despite joking at the fact that I was much shorter than the others, that my growth spurt was lagging, had a nickname for me: Ratchet. I liked to think that he called me that because it was a very handy tool to have in your toolbox, but I didn't like being thought of as a tool.

But he wasn't calling me by the name of a tool. He was shortening what he was really saying: rat shit.

We were good friends, Dave and I.

The woods were where the four of us could get away from the other students in our year. The woods were later a place to where my girlfriend and I could later hide. In the late months of the school year, toward the summer holiday, Joy and I would go there and mess around.

But the woods are gone now, replaced by a massive concrete structure. I used to think it was a giant skateboard park, with all of its graffiti. But it was too huge. I'm still not sure what it is: a reservoir, or culvert. Reagn Serny, it reads. A bike path cuts behind and follows the 5 up that steep rise above Gatineau.

There are still some trees that separate Philemon Wright High School from the highway, but the part I knew, the section where I spent my free time with friends and lovers, is gone.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Music Monday: Despair

As my big cycling weekend looms close (less than two weeks away), I think that I'm not ready, that I haven't trained enough.

Which is probably true.

But I'm in better shape than I was last year, when I wasn't riding much in the weeks that led to the Rideau Lakes Cycle Tour. Last year, I had a flat tire after an 86-kilometre trek and went almost two weeks before changing it. I also went to New York City two weeks before the ride, when I should have been dedicated to training.

(I have absolutely no regrets about my NYC trip and would do it again if given the same circumstances.)

This year, I have ridden more times than I had at this point last year. I also got in some cross-training, by swimming a few thousand meters. Yesterday, I rode a 52K loop that took me to North Gower, Kars, and Manotick. Less than an hour later, Lori and I took a white-water canoe training course and were out on the water for more than three hours.

I have had plenty of exercise in the past month or so.

Still, I despair. I should have at least eight weeks of training under my belt; preferably, 10.

But I continue to train. I keep riding. And I will make it to Kingston and back.

Strangely, the following song is part of my music repertoire for riding. It's not your typical, quick-paced tune. But I find it driving, and keeps me going.

No despair.

Here's the Yeah Yeah Yeahs with their song, Despair. Which also has a NYC connection.

Happy Monday. And wish me luck on my ride.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Photo Friday: Hats Off

It's a magical hour. That moment, when the sun rises on the horizon and a fiery orange meets a cool blue.

Too bad it happens just so damned early at this time of year.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Take Your Gun to Dinner, Leave Your Brain at Home

I get the Second Amendment to the American constitution. In 1791, just 15 years after Americans fought and gained independence, there was still some unrest. Skirmishes continued between the colonists and native groups. The west was wild.

But that was 223 years ago.

I understand someone wanting to be able to defend himself or herself. But I don't get that person feeling that he or she needs to tote a gun around, especially, an assault rifle.

The recent controversy in the United States, where gun lovers in Texas are exercising their right to carry arms in the open by walking into family restaurants, seems stupid beyond any shred of belief. When restaurant chain, Chipotle, imposed a ban on firearms in its restaurants, along with coffee giant, Starbucks, and other chains like Costco and CVS, it seemed a no-brainer. I mean, who needs to be armed to the teeth when you're enjoying a meal, are shopping, or are sipping a Venti Tazo Chai?

No one.

I can't imagine a rationally minded person thinking that carrying a rifle into a restaurant is a good idea. I can't imagine a rationally minded person thinking that other patrons of that restaurant would not be uncomfortable at seeing an armed stranger walk into such a setting.

I remember seeing signs in restaurants that read no shirt, no shoes, no service. A restaurant had the right to turn away anyone they felt weren't properly dressed. If a patron is disrupting the peace of other customers, a restaurant has the right to ask that person to leave.

And if any business doesn't want people bringing guns into their establishments, they have that right. End of story.

The folks who get upset that they can't enter a store or restaurant armed to the teeth aren't rational. They seem to have picked up their weapons but left their brains at home.

Those companies that have established those gun bans are on the right track. More need to join that mind set. I would argue that there are more Americans that would like to see fewer guns in the open than those who feel they need to carry their weapon around like a smartphone.

Except, it isn't smart.

The fewer guns in people's hands, the safer a community is.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

It Was Only a Kiss

Is it just me, or does this ad from 1911 freak you out?

I have a few issues with this ad, including the following:
  • Who is this guy? Is he a soldier? A police officer? The milk man? The hat suggests that he is some person of authority. Is he using that authority against the unsuspecting woman?
  • Do not tell her your intentions? If he's going to get that close, aren't his intentions obvious?
  • Do not ask permission to kiss her? It sounds awfully forward and almost like the prelude to an assault.
  • Looking dreamily into someone's eyes might come across like you're on drugs. It's best just to look happy.
  • Sighing a couple of times might give the impression you're impatient. Or bored.
  • What the? Placing fingers under her chin and tilting her head back? Is he giving her an exam or is he trying to be romantic? Is he looking for boogers up her nose?
  • Do not hurry, 'cos, like, you've got nothing better to do.
Is anybody willing to try these moves today? Go ahead: I dare you.

Let me know how it goes.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Music Monday: Bloodbuzz Ohio

It's Victoria Day in Canada, and because it's a holiday Monday I decided that I would catch up on some much-needed sleep. So I went to bed early and pulled myself out of bed this morning shortly after 10.

Yeah, I'm a lazy bugger.

So, while I get on with the rest of my day, pulling weeds from a much-neglected back yard, why not take some time and listen to some of the music I'll be playing on my smartphone.

Brooklyn indie band, The National, is a band about which I know very little—I received a free music download from iTunes and heard them perform on CBC Radio's Q—but I hope to see when they play at Ottawa's Folk Festival.

Here is the song that I have come to love, Bloodbuzz Ohio. Enjoy.

Happy Monday!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Photo Friday: The Colour of Spring

Spring may have come late, but it's here in a big way. At the height of the Tulip Festival, flowers are at their peak.

Go out there this weekend and enjoy the colours.

Photo was post-processed with HDR, increased vibrancy, and a blur effect.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Dance Like No One's Watching

It's that time of year again.

For 10 years, my kids have been dancing with the Canadian School of Dance, and at the end of each year the school puts on a grand recital that lets the parents see the skills that the kids have learned over the past year.

It's a big deal. The teachers put in a lot of creative work to choreograph dance numbers for all of the kids at the school. There are junior classes and senior classes, and therefore there are junior and senior shows, each of about 40 dance numbers. There are costumes to be made, props to be built, and rehearsals, all of which comes together over two evenings and one afternoon.

Last night was my youngest's dress rehearsal. She is in the junior show, which will run for real on Friday evening and Saturday afternoon. Last evening, she was in her dress and makeup, and ran through her number as though she was performing for a full house. Only the teachers were in the audience.

The lighting and props also run as though it were an actual performance, though the choreographers are still figuring out what props will appear, such as balloons or flowers, and where they will be placed.

For the past four years, I have volunteered to be a prop dad, both at the year-end recital and for the dance competitions (although my daughters didn't compete this year, I did help out for a day when the teams were competing in Ottawa). I love working with the other dads—we have a great camaraderie—and feel good about doing my part to help the school. Plus, I get to watch my girls dance from the wings.

My youngest doesn't like me to watch her dance. Not this year, anyway. Last night, as she waited in the wings for one dance number to end and her dance number to start, I approached her and said she looked nice in her peacock-patterned dress.

"You're not going to watch me," she said.

"Of course I am," I said, "I always watch you."

"If you watch, I'm not going to smile. Go stand in a corner or something."

The lights faded to black. The sound of little feet were heard scampering toward the other side of the stage, where all dancers exited. Stage left. Five-dozen feet shuffled onto the stage: my daughter's number is a small group for ballet in this recital.

The lights came on. Five girls poised, in a circle, facing inward. One foot pointed inward. One arm, lowered, the outside arm, raised. The music started and the girls swept their arms and looked like a flower opening.

My daughter was smiling, as she always does during a show. She was in her zone. In the past, teachers were always concerned. She never smiled during practice. In competition, failing to smile would reduce the points that could be earned.

She smiled. And then she saw me.

I was afraid that when our eyes met, the smile would vanish. But it didn't. Instead, it grew wider, as though she were holding back a laugh, keeping it in with her teeth.

She spun around and her eyes caught mine again. And again. Her head would turn toward me. And then she mis-stepped. And again. A couple of the girls faltered.

As a prop dad, it's my job to make sure that the flowers, the balloons, the fake trees, the backdrops, the fake castles, and the steps get put into the correct place, and to make sure they are taken away, quietly, before the next number goes on.

It is not my job to distract and mess up the dancers.

It's a good thing that this was only a rehearsal and that no one was watching. But just to be safe, on Friday night, I think I'll go stand in a corner or something.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Real Challenge

Some of you may be wondering how my 365 project is coming along.

I am, too.

Beginning on April 1st, I had planned to start taking photographs of complete strangers and posting one face per day on my Flickr album. I was only going to take photos of those strangers with their consent: that is, I would approach the person, get him or her to pose for me, and snap the shot.

I can do candid photography. This challenge was to have the person look straight into my lens. Perhaps, smile.

I knew what I was going to say to the stranger as I approached her or him, with camera in hand:
Hi, excuse me, my name is Ross Brown. I'm a local blogger and amateur photographer, and I'm working on a project: I'm compiling a series of photos of total strangers. Would it be okay if I took a photograph of you? No? I'm sorry to have bothered you. Have a nice day. Yes? Great! Let's get you to stand over here. I'm only going to shoot your head and shoulders. Just relax. Look at me... eyes to the lens... be yourself... aaannnd... got it! Thank you very much. Enjoy your day.
If he or she wants to see the shot, I'll show it. If she or he really doesn't like it, I will reshoot, if she or he agrees. If he or she wishes to know where it will be used, I will give him or her my business card.

Sounds easy, right?

I have been out in crowds with my camera on several occasions. I have had countless opportunities to approach people. But in more than six weeks, I haven't approached a single person. Have not used my prepared words on anyone.

My friends and family don't believe it, but I am morbidly shy. I have a fear of talking to people I do not know. I don't do well at one-on-one encounters.

My 365 project isn't really about the photographs. I know how to take pictures, know how to photograph people. The challenge is to overcome my fear of contact with strangers, and this is the true test of growing as an individual.

I haven't given up my project, haven't declined the challenge. But it may take time before I can relax, get over my fear, overcome my shyness.

And some day, soon, I will be able to walk up to someone and say, "Hi, excuse me, my name is Ross Brown... ."

Stay tuned.

Monday, May 12, 2014

There, In Ottawa XXXVI

I do believe this is a record: or nearly one. After seven days and six clues, the 36th Where In Ottawa has been solved.

I have to admit, I was pretty cryptic with my clues, and I shot a part of the location that many people may not have even noticed. Having visited this site many times in my life, I've never looked down. But, because it was raining when I visited the location for my photos, I looked down to avoid stepping in a puddle.

And that's when I noticed the pattern in the concrete.

Congratulations to Marc, who finally solved the location, which is the Commonwealth Air Forces Ottawa Memorial.

Here are the clues, explained.
  1. Is it a bird? A plane?—as the monument honours the more than 800 men and women of the Commonwealth air forces who gave their lives in Canada, in the United States, and beyond, during the World War II, and who have no known grave. 
  2. Curtains, for some—this clue, in retrospect, sounds disrespectful, given the significance of the memorial. And for that, I apologize. I was referring to the French word for "curtains," meaning "rideau." The memorial is atop the Rideau Falls.
  3. Not just Canadians—this memorial is dedicated to all air forces in the Commonwealth. It was unveiled by Queen Elizabeth II on Canada Day, in 1959. 
  4. On the Green—just before it reaches the falls, the Rideau River splits, creating an island: Green Island. This is where the memorial is located.
  5. For the Commonwealth—no explanation required. 
  6. Mac-Pap neighbour—next to the Commonwealth Air Forces Ottawa Memorial stands another memorial: the Mackenzie-Papineau Monument, which honours the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion (also known as the Mac-Paps), who were Canadian volunteers of the International Brigades, in Spain, from 1936 to 1939. 

Thanks to everyone who played and to those who posted guesses. Most of you were on the right track.

Where In Ottawa returns Monday, June 2.

Friday, May 9, 2014

About My Mom

She named me after her favourite actor.

She kept me fed, she kept me clean, she kept me safe. She taught me to speak and to walk. She showed me what was right and what was wrong, she saw me smile and laugh, and encouraged that behaviour. She taught me how to care for myself and to care for others. She taught me how to love.

I was not a perfect child. I had some rough patches, as all kids do. But my mother stood by my side, supported me, and guided me to be the best person that I could be. My mother loves me, unconditionally, and no one—no one—has my back more.

With Mother's Day around the corner, I want to let her know that I recognize all that she has done for me and continues to do for me. All that I have become, I am because I have a mother who has given me so much.

Thanks, Mom. I love you.

Have a Happy Mother's Day.

Thursday, May 8, 2014


With only four weeks left until the Rideau Lakes Cycle Tour, in which I will finally achieve my goal of cycling from Ottawa to Kingson, and back, It is high time that I actually got on my bike and rode.

This has not been a good spring. Colder-than-average temperatures kept snow on the ground well into April—April was the cruelest of months: when it wasn't bitterly cold or the snow wasn't covering the paths, it rained or was too windy to enjoy any ride.

So, I've stayed indoors and trained on spin bikes, and swam at Plant and Walter Baker pools.

I took my bike into a cycle shop in March, optimistically looking for a tuneup: a new chain and fresh brake pads. Everything tightened and aligned. My bike was ready for the roads long before the roads were ready for us.

Until yesterday.

On Wednesdays, I work from home. I use the time to get ahead on work, without the distraction of colleagues. I am often way more productive at home than I am in the office.

Yesterday, as the day went on, I saw the sunshine, heard the weather reports as I listened to CBC Radio One. There was a bit of a breeze, but nothing too taxing.

When the kids returned from school, it was reportedly 15°C, and I said, "That's it, I'm hitting the road." I donned my black MEC biker shorts and an orange, long-sleeved riding shirt, and packed up. A Clif bar. Two water bottles. My smartphone, loaded with Endomondo—the Android replacement to Cyclemeter, and lots of tunes.

Because I've handled spin classes, I felt no need to ease into a ride. With my tire pressure checked, everything seemed good to go on my Cannondale Synapse 6. I hit Start on Endomondo and headed on my classic 50-kilometre route, which takes me from my Barrhaven neighbourhood along the following trek:
  • Fallowfield to Prince of Wales Drive
  • Prince of Wales to Hogs Back
  • Hogs Back Park to Vincent Massey Park
  • The bike path that follows the Rideau River all the way to Sussex Drive
  • Sussex to the National Gallery
  • Across the Alexandra Bridge to the Museum of Civilization (of whatever the Harper Government is calling it), where I stopped for a short break and ate the Clif bar
  • The bike path on the Gatineau side of the Ottawa River to the Portage Bridge
  • Across the Portage Bridge, following the path that leads under Wellington Street and emerges at the Mill Street Brew Pub (sadly, no stopping there)
  • Along the bike path that follows the Ottawa River to Lincoln Heights, before it turns south and continues all the way to Baseline Station
  • Onto Woodroffe Avenue and all the way back to Barrhaven, where I turn into my neighbourhood
For the most part, the ride was uneventful. Traffic was not chaotic. The bike paths had mostly been cleared of debris from winter, although carcasses of felled trees, their fallen trunks and branches, lined many parts of the paths. In a couple of underpasses, water and mud were still pooling from the last of the melted snow. Along the Ottawa River, a small section of pathway was closed due to flooding from the swollen river.

And, construction along Sussex Drive slowed me down where the road was torn up, and cars and bikes had to vie for the narrow detour.

On my first voyage of the season, my ride took just over 2 hours and 13 minutes to cover 49.19 kilometres. Not great, but not bad. Last year, my record for that route was just under 2 hours.

The trip wouldn't have been worth mentioning at all, but for one interesting encounter.

At this time of year, the Canada Geese return to the nation's capital, where they feed and spawn. Hazards along the path include the risk of hitting a goose that is crossing the path or is blocking the way, or riding through the green shit that litters the path, making for a slippery ride or, worse, flying up at you from the spinning wheels.

Luckily, none of that happened on my ride. But I did encounter a goose.

I've encountered geese before. Once, a family was crossing the path, and when I slowed down, the mother (I'm guessing) saw me as a threat and hissed at me. As I tried to get around, she chased me for a short distance.

Yesterday, as I rounded a bend in the path, and as the path dipped, allowing me to speed up, a somewhat large goose had just attempted a take off, presumably to fly to the river, where it would swim in peace. Having left the ground, the bird was committed.

Just as I was fully committed to speeding down this slight drop in the road.

I knew right away that we were on a collision course: the goose couldn't gain altitude any faster than it was already trying. There was not enough room to move. I couldn't hit my brakes because I ran the risk of crashing. So I did the only thing I could do in that split second.

I ducked. I dropped my head and body as close to the frame of my bike as I could. I held the brakes, ready to apply them if needed, after the fact. I prepared myself to unclip my shoes from the pedals. And I closed my eyes.

This was a large bird: a full-grown adult. The sound of the wings beating the air, gaining lift, was considerable. I could feel the fanning of the air. And I could feel the flapping of webbed feet atop my helmet.

I opened my eyes, having only closed them for maybe a second. We hadn't struck each other. From what I felt, it seemed that the goose had cleared my head ever so barely, but had pushed off from my helmet with his feet, to gain a little more height from the ground.

Crisis averted. I continued my ride without incident.

Friday, I cycle to work: fingers crossed that I don't get goosed again.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Been Caught Stealing

I stole only once in my youth. It was a car.

My mother worked as a cashier at the Steinberg grocery store at the intersection of Merivale and Meadowlands. Back then, in the late 1960s, Merivale Road was a simple, two-lane street: trees and houses lined the west side, across from the K-mart Plaza, which occupied the south-east corner of the intersection, and Steinberg's, which was neighbours to Miracle Mart and Pascal's (the hardware store where my dad picked up extra hours, in addition to his day job as a delivery driver, for POM Bakery and Coorsh), took the north-east corner of that intersection.

As a young kid growing up in Parkwood Hills, it was nothing to cycle on Merivale Road—something that would put fear into parents these days. Meadowlands Drive, where it climbed up hill towards the Skyline neighbourhood, was also a narrow road, but cars would speed up and down the hill, making it more hazardous to cross than Merivale Road, unless you took the extra time and distance to walk to the intersection, where you could cross more safely.

Coming out of the town-house community of Bowhill Avenue, it was faster to dash across Meadowlands where the creek met the street and then continued, on the other side, behind the Steinberg-Miracle Mart-Pascal strip mall. Walking to the grocery store, I would pass along the south side, where cars would pull up to a conveyor line, where groceries would exit the store from a small flap, in baskets. Packing boys would load your car and allow you to go on your way.

As I passed the loading zone, I would run my hand along the rollers, the sound of spinning metal echoing off the brown-brick wall.

I didn't go to Steinberg's often. My father, when he was at home, would send me to Dominion to run his errands: usually, with a note and a couple of dollars, to pick up a pack of cigarettes. If there was change, and usually, there was a dime, it was mine to keep. I would use that 10-cent piece to treat myself to a bag of Hostess potato chips, which were sold at the same counter as the cigarettes.

When I did go to Steinberg's, it was usually to get a message to my mom, who couldn't take a phone call while she was manning one of the cash registers. Sometimes, I would go to meet her as she finished her shift, would keep her company as she purchased groceries and would then walk home with her.

The displays at the cash registers were always a draw for kids. Candies, gum, chocolate bars. I would always ask for something, would always receive the same answer: no.

I saw the shiny packages, the colourful items through the plastic. Something new to show off to my friends, to make me the envy of the neighbourhood boys: one of the new Hot Wheels cars. Charlie had just shown me one that his mother had given him, the other day, and I needed to show him that I had new cars, too.

I watched my mother, who was busy with her last customer, her hands pressing buttons on the register, the numbers rolling over at the top, the bell ringing. Her supervisor was standing by her, waiting to take the days receipts and her cash drawer, to balance her for the day. A sign at the end of her station read, "This cash is closed."

When her customer was gone, my mother told me that she would be back soon and I should wait by the exit. She said nothing about the toy car that was in my hands. Left alone, I couldn't put the car back on the shelf: I wanted it, but I knew that if I asked my mom, the answer would be the same.


It was so easy. Into my pants it went. I would take it out of its package when I got home, would throw the cardboard and plastic into the garbage when no one was looking, and this new Hot Wheels car would join my collection, where no one would notice it among the many that I already had.

The walk home was not comfortable. My movements made the package shift. The car ran the risk of falling down my trouser leg, hitting the ground and revealing my criminal act. I jammed my hand into my pocket and held the car in place, but my walk was funny. "What's wrong?" my mother asked.

"Nothing," I replied, nervously.

We crossed Meadowlands Drive where I had come. With an adult as protector, the crossing didn't seem as hazardous. But we had to scoot as a car hurried down the hill, and I limped more than ran. My mother noticed my gate, my hand awkwardly in my pants pocket. But she said nothing until we got inside the house.

"What's inside your pocket?"

"Nothing," I said. It was the truth, so the word came out easily. The car wasn't in my pocket; it was in my pants. I wasn't fibbing. I was a terrible liar. Especially, with my mom.

"Take your hand out of your pocket." I complied, hoping the car would stay put. It didn't. It slid down to my knee, making an unnatural bump under the fabric.

I was caught.

A lecture followed, letting me know that I had disappointed my mother. How could I do this, especially where my mother worked. She would feel shame, on top of the disappointment, when she brought me back to Steinberg's to return the stolen item.

She didn't tell Dad. He would have hit the roof. I had to promise that I would never steal again. I had to go back to the store with her the next day, would have to give the car back, apologize to her manager.

I was not allowed to go back to the store for some time.

And I never stole again.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Where In Ottawa XXXVI

All right: no more Mr. Nice Guy.

The last two Where In Ottawa challenges were solved way too quickly. I'd like to think that you were quick because there were such nice giveaway prizes that you were diligent. I like that.

But this month, I'm getting tough.

This month, the winner of the challenge will receive an autographed paperback edition of my novel, Songsaengnim: A Korea Diary.

Here are the rules of the challenge:
  • If you were with me when I took the photo, you are ineligible to play.
  • If you have won the challenge in the past, you may play but no reward other than bragging rights will be awarded.
  • If you know the location of the photograph, you must leave your answer in the Comments section of this post. No tweets, e-mail messages, Facebook messages, or phone calls will be accepted.
  • The first person to leave the correct answer in the Comments section wins the challenge. (Please make sure that if you leave a guess and use Anonymous, you must leave your full name or Twitter name so that you can be identified as the winner. No prize can be awarded to an unknown winner.)
 Think you know Ottawa? Prove it!

And good luck!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Photo Friday: Preservation

The face of our city is changing.

Nowhere is this fact more apparent than the area outside of the greenbelt, where urban sprawl is an understatement. In my neighbourhood—South Nepean—the amount of development has more than doubled in the 14 years that I've lived here. A couple of years ago, at a community meeting, my city councilor, Jan Harder, said that there isn't a single speck of land that isn't slated for development.

But the neighbourhoods within the greenbelt are not exempt from expansion. Neighbourhoods such as Westboro and Hintonburg are seeing a growth spurt of their own: not growing outwards but growing upwards. Many condominiums are sprouting up and the faces of those areas are changing as old buildings are coming down to make way for new ones.

Walking down Wellington Street last weekend, between Westboro and Hintonburg, I saw old structures slated for demolition and construction of new highrises. And it made me think that some of these old places should be captured before they're gone.

I've never eaten at Napolis Pizza, but I recognized the sign as something I've passed countless times. The building that houses the pizzaria is aged, outdated, and wouldn't be considered of heritage value. And so I wouldn't be surprised if, in the next couple of years, it disappears, replaced by a condo; hopefully, maintaining the eatery.

As neighbourhoods evolve and iconic symbols fall under the risk of disappearing, I hope to make a record of them.

Do you know of a sign or a structure that you think should be preserved in photos before it disappears? Let me know and I'll capture it.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Getting the Facts

When I set out to write a blog post such as the one I delivered this week at Blog Out Loud, I tend to massage the facts until what I have is a vivid story. What I end up with can be closer to fiction than reality.

When I first published my post, If I Had a Time Machine, I wanted to tell a touching story of childhood, reflection, and loss. The idea of this story came to me when I was taking a power walk from my home to the Walter Baker Sports Centre, where there is also a branch of the Ottawa Public Library. I was returning some books, and rather than hopping in my car to drive the four-and-a-half kilometers that is required to travel by roads, I thought I would get some exercise by walking the 2.6-kilometre-long route of pathways and side streets.

What was a seven-minute, lazy drive would be a 30-minute workout. Each way.

I don't know what made me think of my friend, but I somehow got to thinking about my old Parkwood Hills neighbourhood and how the surrounding environment had changed over the decades. And then my friend—one of my earliest childhood friends—popped in my head. And the story formed on my walk home from the library.

I didn't remember all of the details. I did remember playing with him in the neighbourhood, hanging out in Hippie Hideout, and how he had invited me to go out and play with him on that fateful morning.

When I crafted the story, I decided that I was going to use another name, rather than give my friend's real name. His name wasn't Jeremy: it was Charlie.

We weren't four years old, nor were we five. We were three. It's no wonder that my memory of the events aren't clear. I'm surprised I remembered it at all. The main parts of what happened are still with me: some of the details, however, were off.

Before the accident, there was no chain-linked fence that blocked off the main pool. As with the wading pool, a wooden fence surrounded the perimeter. Charlie managed to squeeze through a gap in the fence. Because of the tragedy, the chain-linked fence was put into place.

When I read my story at the Ottawa International Writers Festival, my mother came out to hear the story. She remembered that one of her friends in the neighbourhood, who had a son, also drowned in General Burns pool. She said my friend must have been Colin Chadwick, who was also three when he fell into a pool and drowned.

But no, I remembered Charlie, I told her. And yesterday, I decided to do some fact checking.

Both Charlie Marquis (I didn't remember his last name: I don't even know if I ever knew it) and Colin Chadwick drowned in that pool that morning of October 2, 1968. It seems that after he called on me, Charlie talked Colin and some other neighbourhood boys into going to General Burns pool.

In my story, I suggested that if I had gone with "Jeremy," there could have been two kids that would have been found in the pool. I was right: two young boys had ended up at the bottom of the deep end.

Five other boys were with them, but they were chased off the pool deck by neighbouring adults, who saw them in the restricted area. Apparently, none of the boys reported Charlie or Colin in the pool because they were scared.

The story of the drownings and the subsequent inquest was reported in The Ottawa Citizen.

We lived in a very new community. I searched archival maps to see if I could pinpoint the neighbourhood. I found one aerial photo, taken in 1965, but there is no Bowhill Avenue, no Chesterton Drive, no General Burns pool. The rubble where we played, upon which Chesterton Towers would be built, appears to be a farm: possibly, Borden Dairy Farm.

The next map I found was dated 1976, which would have been eight years after Charlie's death, but the neighbourhood had changed very little. The field between our houses and the K-mart/Dominion Plaza was a little more landscaped and the grove with Hippie Hideout was slightly diminished (yet, the main spot where we hung out was still there). You can see my old "territory" in the modified image, below.

Today, the plaza has changed. The old structures that housed K-mart, Dominion, TD Bank, Gow's Chinese take out, Gilio's Barbers, and Brewers Retail are gone, have been demolished and rebuilt. Now, there's a Winner's, Home Outfitters, The Shoe Company, and more. Other buildings fill the old parking lot: a Scotiabank and The Beer Store. Behind where the old plaza was situated, a new street—Grant Carman Drive—snuggles up to the western extent of the town houses, and a new Independent grocery store sits atop the creek, which is almost completely covered.

Hippie Hideout has been wiped out of existence.

If I Had a Time Machine was born out of a kernel of a memory. Now, you know the facts.

My apologies to the Chadwick family. I had forgotten all about Colin. I don't think I knew him well, but I'm sure I must have played with him and Charlie. I'm hoping that in some small way, digging up the facts will honour both young boys who lost their lives that day in 1968.