Tuesday, March 31, 2015

100 Strangers

The first one was the hardest. A year ago, emboldened by the popularity of my Bate Island Project, I set out to start another photo project, one that would provide a great challenge for me in overcoming one of my biggest handicaps and greatest fears. One, that would get my adrenaline flowing, my heart rate increasing, my breathing deeper.

I would overcome my extreme shyness and I would talk to total strangers. And ask to take a photograph of them.

Last year, when I embarked on this project, I walked the cool streets of Westboro to Hintonburg, my D80 slung over my shoulder, camera bag strapped to my back, looking for people who caught my attention. I saw many, had a script tightly composed in my head, Brown Knowser business cards at the ready.

And all I could do was keep walking, never making eye contact, never uttering a sound.

I'm morbidly shy.

The photo project ended before it began, and I turned to doing a daily self portrait, but I hate photographing myself almost as much as I fear striking up a conversation with a total stranger. After a week, I dropped that project.

Last November, I attended a day-long portrait-photography seminar, presented by Henry's School of Imagery, and participated in a workshop on photographing strangers. I learned about what makes a good subject, what laws surround the use of these photos, and how to approach someone—specifically, how to respect hers or his privacy.

All I had to do was approach someone, ask to take a moment of his or her time. Introduce myself with my name, say that I'm an Ottawa blogger with a photo project, describe the project, and ask if I could take his or her picture.

Shoot the photo, and always make sure to show her or him that photo, before saying thank you and bidding a good day.


Except, I'm horribly shy.

But I accepted the challenge that was presented at the end of the workshop: capture 100 strangers within the next year.

Last Saturday was sunny, warm, and people were out in the Glebe in droves. Outside of the new Whole Foods store, at Lansdowne, folks were coming and going, bags in hand, some, from the adjoining LCBO.

I started shooting the newly erected buildings, the traffic on Bank Street, and people walking along the sidewalks, when I decided that today was the day that I was going to start my project. I had a new camera and I was ready to grab fear by the horns.

I saw them running to catch the bus, but it was too late. By the time they had run across the street, the bus was pulling away from the stop. It didn't go far, as the light, some 50 metres or so ahead, was red. Another bus stop stood on the other side of the intersection.

While the women debated whether they should try to run once more, the decision was made for them, as the light turned green and the bus continued on its way. The women turned, found a bench outside the LCBO, and sat down.

It took almost 10 minutes for me to gather my courage. There were two of them: I had my camera, I didn't look dangerous. I practiced my script in my head a couple of times.

And then I slowly approached them.

"Hi. Sorry to disturb you, but do you have a moment? My name is Ross Brown and I'm an Ottawa blogger. I'm doing a photo project to photograph strangers: would it be alright if I took your picture?"

It's a yes or no question: if they said no, I'd apologize for disturbing them and I'd walk away. If they said yes, I'd snap the photo, show it to them, and thank them.

They said "yes."

So did the next five people I asked. It got easier every time.

My project is officially underway. You can see my subjects in my 100 Strangers Flickr album.

Stay tuned.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Music Monday: Lady Lover

No one can argue when I say that I love women. At one point, I had more lady friends than I had guy friends. Some of my best friends are women.

I find that I can be more open with women, can be myself.

I'm a lady lover.

One of my friends, Amanda Cottreau, has a great talent: she has a voice that soothes, that calms. I have shared some of Amanda's music in previous Music Mondays, and I hope that you have enjoyed her beautiful, ethereal tone.

Amanda has a new song, which I heard her perform live, a couple of weeks ago, in a Wellington West chocolate shop. An unconventional venue, to be sure, but when you know how sweet her voice is, and her love of chocolate, it makes perfect sense.

Amanda's latest release, "Lady Lover," has a full band accompaniment, which is a departure from her acoustic sound, and it comes together beautifully.

Amanda described the genesis of this song to me:

"'Lady Lover' started as a single vocal/guitar smartphone demo and morphed into this multi-layered, ready-for-radio R & B track. It's got groovin' drum and bass lines, peppered with sweet electric-guitar-blues motifs and a dash of Rhodes piano, atop casual yet self-assured speakeasy vocals.

"It is unlike anything I have ever done. I wanted to write something confident and sexy. After having participated in the Vagina Monologues for the last couple years and not being able to do so this year, I wanted to create a song that would embody the experience I felt when I was part of it.

"What helped me write a song of this nature was a songwriting workshop I did with Lynn Miles. I took quite a few of the tips and tricks she suggested, and really challenged myself to write something radio-worthy. Once I had the song writing out the way, the arrangement was the next challenge. I teamed up with Jonathan Chandler (Amos the Transparent), whom I greatly admire. He had just opened up a cozy little studio (Second Hand Sound) out of his home in Ottawa. I knew, working with him, I would have the opportunity to build more complex arrangements, learn a little more about the recording process and collaborate with other local musicians.

"We had a lot of fun making it. It felt good to be working collaboratively with other musicians and to be back in studio. I love the synergy that happens when you get other musicians in the room! It certainly has me excited at the prospect of putting together a full length album.

"I'm not sure this would blend with the other tracks I've got in mind but if I end up recording with Jon, who knows what will happen."

Not only has Amanda released this fun song, she has entered it in this year's CBC Searchlight, a contest in which CBC Music and CBC Radio have joined to find Canada’s best emerging musical talent by providing artists local and national exposure

While Amanda isn't a new artist, not to her adoring fans, she is still emerging on the national scene. And, with this new single, she stands a great chance of getting her voice out to a much wider audience.

So, for this week's Music Monday, I have changed the format and I'm going to ask a favour of you. Click Amanda's image on the right-hand column (or click here) to go to her song on the Searchlight Web page. Listen to Amanda's song. Play it again, and again, if you're so moved (I played it about a half-dozen times the first time I listened to it). You can also play other songs from the page.

If you like her song, please vote for it. You can vote every day (I will remind my Twitter and Facebook friends daily, and I hope the image on my blog reminds you to do so).

I will keep Amanda's music link on The Brown Knowser for as long as it's a contender in the contest. I expect it to be there for a while.

Happy Monday!

And good luck, Amanda!!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Photo Friday: Like Night and A Better Night

One of the things that had bothered me the most about my dying camera was that I couldn't take a night exposure without spending a lot of time, afterwards, editing the photo: sharpening, adjusting the contrast, making the colours more vibrant, and the endless removing of blown pixels, which added annoying red and blue blocks to the image, making it hard, sometimes, to tell what was a fault with the sensor and what was a real star.

And the image was never truly sharp, because the camera would shake a little as the mirror flipped up to take the exposure. That wasn't a problem with an ailing camera, but was a sign of the limited, clunky technology.

The last photos that I shot with my old Nikon D80 were of the night sky, on a side road in the village of Galetta, north-west of Ottawa, in the Ottawa Valley. And they weren't very good, though I did publish them. You can see the images in last Thursday's post.

My D80 was a 10-megapixel device whose ISO speed was limited to 1600. Last week's photo was shot at that setting, with a 25-second exposure at f4. The only light that I received in setting up the shots was thanks to the stars and an extremely dim glow from nearby Arnprior.

The image shows very little: dark silhouettes of trees and power lines; dim stars.

It took me about 10 to 15 minutes to bring the images to where I felt I could show them, but I'm not proud of them.

On Tuesday night, the sky was clear and the temperature was bearable, and so I thought I would try a night exposure with my new D7200. Before I left the house, I set the camera to Manual mode, set the aperture to f2.8, the shutter speed to 25 seconds, and, just for fun, set the ISO speed at a modest 3200 (the first photo that I shot with my new camera was taken of my cat, who was on my bed: a lonely, low-watt bulb lit the room, and I took the photo at ISO 25600—you can see it here).

I drove southeast, over the Strandherd Bridge, and followed Earl Armstrong Road until it took me to Bowesville Road, outside of city lights, not far from the airport. On the horizon, the glow of Riverside South, Manotick, and Barrhaven lit the treeline. To my surprise, this rural part of town saw lots of car traffic: seldom did a minute pass when at least one car would arrive at this intersection.

My first attempt resulted in a totally white image: everything was washed out. So I dialled the ISO down to 1600. Same result.

I went to 800 ISO, and received an image, but the photo looked as though I had shot it on a foggy day. There was still too much light getting in. At 500 ISO, I could see stars, but the sky was still too bright for my liking.

At ISO 100, the lowest setting, I got the desired result. The stars were bright, the sky discernible, and the glow of the city illuminated the horizon. And the image was sharp. One of the added features of the D7200 is the ability to set the mirror to lock up, so that it does not move while you take your photo. And, shooting by remote control, I didn't have to lay a finger on the camera to shoot.

When I saw the result, I was thrilled. And, with the new technology, I was able to download the photo, by WiFi, directly from the camera to my smartphone, where I posted it on Facebook.


I did do some touchups on the photo, when I returned home. Because the D7200 is really new, having only hit store shelves on March 19, most photo-editing software have not been updated to accept the RAW files. I had to download some Nikon software to import the photos and touch them up, and then save as a JPEG file.

Here is the final result:

But working with this camera is like night and day from my old camera. Or, in the case of these photos, like night and a better night.

Happy Friday!

While I still have to get used to the camera and I need to shoot a better vista, at a better location.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Art, Imitating Life

This is not a photo project.

They line my office building, blocking the view from the west-end, front parking lot from the path that I walk, from the northern entrance of the office to the northern parking lot, which is on the far end, away from the main accessway.

The trees, evergreens, are, of themselves, nothing special, except that in the bleak months of winter, they are one of the few signs of life. And, at different times of day, the light catches them and plays with them in different ways.

I just like the way they look, and so, as I arrive at work, or as I make my way home, if the light strikes my eyes against these giant pines* in such a way that I look twice, I have captured them with my Android device.

Sometimes, although rarely, I use a D-SLR.

But it's not a project.

And I'm not the only one who has found them lovely to look at.

My dear friend, Rebecca, liked one of the photos that I took and decided to show her own artistic take on these trees.

It was a late-afternoon shot: according to the photo's metadata, it was January 27, 2015, at precisely 4:35 PM. The sun was low in the sky, had just fallen below the Gatineau Hills, across Highway 5. A mix of sky and cloud swept the background and added to the coolness of the day. Temperatures were in the minus twenties.

I shot the image, and when I climbed into my car, climbed out of the cold wind, I tweaked the photo and posted it on Twitter. Maybe, on Facebook, too. I started the car and got rolling. I think I may have headed to the Rideau Falls, to take some shots for the next Wordless Wednesday.

Becca responded to the tweet. She said she liked the photo. She said she should paint it.

My friend is a woman of many talents. She can sing. She can act. She can make me laugh until it hurts.

And, she can paint.

I had specifically said, for those who were attending my birthday party at the Black Sheep Inn, that gifts were not welcome: it was my friends' company that I wanted, as we watched Midge Ure strum his Fender and belt out my favourite songs.

Becca disregarded my plea. As she sat next to me, she placed a gift bag in front of me. I protested, but she said it was something that she wanted to do. I picked up the bag and moved to place it alongside my camera bag. I was thankful, but my intention was to open it later, perhaps when I returned home. But she wanted me to open it right then and there.

We say that life sometimes imitates art. Becca's gift shows that art can imitate life, and do it beautifully.

I love it.

* I'm guessing they're pine trees, but I don't know much about them. I'm a writer, not a botanist.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Not a Professional

I have no illusions of grandeur: I like to take photographs, but I'm no professional. So, why would I need a professional camera?

The answer was simple: I didn't. And so, after many months of dreaming, after weeks of shopping around and of patiently waiting, I finally replaced my aging Nikon D80.

I had seriously considered moving up to a full-frame format, of spending the extra money to have a camera that would do everything I needed it to do, and more. Much more. When my wife and I were going to go to New York City, in the first week of March, I was fully prepared to return with the new D750: full-frame, built-in WiFi, and super-fast processor.

But moving to this model would have meant that half of the lenses that I already own would not have been fully compatible with a full-frame format. One of them, my 10-20mm, super-wide-angle Sigma, was my current favourite lens. When I was in France, last summer, I used this lens more than any other. I would still be able to use it on a D750, but a large portion of the sensor would not be used.

In February, Nikon had hinted about a successor to its popular D7100, and in the week leading up to my trip to NYC, the D7200 was announced, but not released. With improved sensors and a faster processor, plus built-in WiFi, it was everything that I was looking for to replace my old camera.

Except, it wasn't full-frame. It was, however, about half the price of a full-framed D-SLR.

So, I told myself, I wouldn't have a full-frame body. I wouldn't have a professional camera. But that was okay, I countered. I'm not a professional photographer. Yes, I have made money by photographing some events, and a brewery has paid me for some of my images, but I'm no more a professional photographer than I am, let's say, an avid cyclist.

I enjoy riding my bike: I enjoy taking pictures.

And so, on Friday, on the day that the D7200 became available in my local camera store, I was there to pick one up. I also decided that, rather than spend extra cash on a full-frame body, I would invest in a really good piece of glass, and so I added the Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 lens.

I'm a happy camper.

Of course, I had to test the built-in WiFi. By downloading a Nikon app onto my smartphone, I am now able to compose a shot and take a photo remotely. I can also store the photos directly onto my phone, where I can edit them with my smartphone apps and post to Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

I tested this app by placing my camera at one end of my bedroom and shooting, once I had moved myself into the frame. I let the camera take care of the exposure settings.

Not bad.

I wanted to put the camera through its paces this weekend, but with the foul weather on Saturday and a family funeral on Sunday, I simply didn't have an opportunity. Last night, as the sun set, however, I managed to get a few shots off.

I'd share those, but I decided that where I was will be the next location for Where In Ottawa. You'll have to wait until April 6 to see those.

And it's just as well: with the new camera, it seems, there are new tweaks that I'll have to do with my photo-editing software. The raw images were not readable in one app, and in the other, the images had what seemed like a pale film over them. The selfie that I included in this post took me about 15 minutes to clarify. It didn't give me this problem on my Android phone.

With every new piece of technology, I imagine, there will be some growing pains. After all, I'm not a professional.

Hopefully, I'll have them sorted by tomorrow's Wordless Wednesday.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Music Monday: Don't Walk Past

A couple of months ago, while I was reminiscing about old 80s music, a song came into my head and I immediately checked to see if it was available for download on Google Play.

The song was "Don't Walk Past," by Markham, Ontario, band, Blue Peter. In 1983, this song was popular among my close friends, in high school. I owned the album, Falling, and I think I played the vinyl disk until the grooves wore out. In the days of mixed audio cassettes, I made sure this song featured prominently.

On my smartphone, "Don't Walk Past" is now part of the rotation.

Earlier this month, as Midge Ure wrapped up his stellar show at the Black Sheep Inn, his promoter came on stage and asked the audience if they would be interested in seeing some performers, who were contemporaries of Midge, play at the Black Sheep. These 80s-era performers included Howard Jones, Chalk Circle, and Blue Peter.

I almost blew out my vocal chords in cheering. Any three of these acts would bring me to the Black Sheep, but considering I had just rediscovered Blue Peter, my enthusiasm erupted uncontrollably. While none of these performers came close to moving and influencing me like Midge Ure, they are part of my musical history, helped contribute to the person that I am today (as far as my tastes in music, at least).

Here's the video. Enjoy. If Blue Peter or any of these other performers make their way to Wakefield, do yourself a favour and see them.

Happy Monday!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Photo Friday: One For The Road

This could very well be the last day that I show a photo from my Nikon D80. It's not the last photo that I took with it—you saw those yesterday.

But the last photos that I shot with my trusty, first D-SLR have been downloaded from the card, and later today, I will be picking up my new replacement.

Tomorrow, I hand off this camera to my youngest child, who wants to learn photography. It's a good starter camera for her. And, while I'm giving her this camera, I have reserved the right to borrow it, should I need a backup.

Until then, should that day ever come, one more photo, for posterity. A little life, in the dying days of winter.

And one really cheeky squirrel.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Aurora Borealis in Absentia

It's not like I haven't seen them before.

The first time that they presented themselves to me upon the northern evening sky, it was a late-summer or early-autumn evening. I wasn't expecting them: they just appeared, silently, not so much drawing attention to themselves as they had walked in on me, enjoying a quiet moment to myself, and they were doing the same, not realizing that I was already there.

I was at a friend's house, along March Road, just north of Kanata and just before the bend that brings you to Dunrobin Road. It was the late 1980s, and the urban sprawl was still several kilometres away. Back then, this house was way out in the boonies.

There was a party in the house, and there was lots of noise and even more drinking. I was enjoying myself, but I needed a break from the loud music, needed some fresh air.

The house backed on to a large field, with tall trees a couple of hundred metres in the distance. It was fairly flat land, and when the faint, red fibres of light reached upwards, above the treeline and over my head, all I could think of was that I wished I had my camera in hand. My camera, of course, was inside the house. I could have run in to grab it, but I had no tripod with me, so the photo would be shakey, but most importantly, this silent moment with me and a rare phenomenon to our nation's capital would have been lost.

Instead, I stayed outside a little longer to enjoy this beautiful sight.

For the past two nights, the Ottawa area has been promised some of the strongest Northern Lights in years. Both nights delivered perfectly clear skies: all one had to do was to get out of the city.

I drove northwestward, along the 417, toward Arnprior, but left the highway at the Galetta exit. I figured that being close to the Ottawa River, not far from Fitzroy Harbour, I would have lots of dark sky.

I did, except that in the 30 or 40 minutes that I sat, at the side of an obscure road, under power lines, I saw countless twinkling stars, but no electro-magnetic bands of light.

I'd like to say that glow was from the Northern Lights, but most likely, it's the warm glow of Arnprior.

The next day, I saw a few photos that a friend had taken, not far from where I had parked. The lights, he told me, were low on the horizon and didn't last very long. Where I had set up my tripod, I had a channel of cleared fields, for the powerline towers, but there were plenty of evergreens that obstructed my view of low-lying Aurora Borealis. I would have to try again.

Last night, I decided that I would drive to the launch for the Quyon ferry. Where the road ends, right at the Ottawa River, I would have nothing obstructing my view. There is a wide channel of river between the Ontario side and the Québec side, and the Gatineau Hills were not obstructing a northern view of the horizon.

At night, the Quyon launch is lit brighter than Checkpoint Charlie during the Cold War. With the noise pollution, I could barely make out the river, let alone the horizon. Only the brightest of stars could pierce the bright haze.

I drove back, upwards, away from the launch, and stopped on high ground, surrounded by open field. I pulled over and got out of my warm car, the night air showing more chill than the previous evening. The stars were plentiful, but there was no glow of any phenomena. I got back in the car, and drove.

Ferry Road ends at Galetta Side Road. If I turned right, I would retrace my route, passing the spot I reached the previous night. I turned left and took Galetta Side Road to its end, at Dunrobin Road.

I knew a couple of spots where the ground would be high and open, and so I raced there, only to find more disappointment. The only glow that I saw on the horizon was the dull indication of Ottawa, to my right. The same bad luck greeted me in two more spots near the village of Dunrobin. I considered driving to Constance Bay, for better luck along the shores of the Ottawa River, but my car reminded me, with a ping and a light on the dash, that it was running low on fuel.

I was running low on energy, on patience, and on hope. My low-fuel indicator told me I should give up, should go home... right after I found a gas station.

My silent friend, the Northern Lights, eluded me this week. Perhaps they're meant to come to me when I least expect them, like they did on the night we first met.

I've seen them before. I'll see them again.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

It's Not You, It's Me

But mostly, it's you.

More than four years ago, I opened a Facebook account, not because I wanted to dig up old friends from high school, but because some of my really good friends, who lived out of town or out of the country, were on the social-media tools, and I wanted to keep in touch with them, to know what they were up to. Facebook did not replace a phone call or reaching out via e-mail, but it supplemented that form of communication, provided photos and status updates of the every day.

I had my blog, and would share activities in the Brownfoot household: looking at Facebook, I could see what my friends wanted to share with me.

I also found family members with whom I had lost touch, and it was good to reaffirm those connections.

But as that app is wont to do, it brings out people from your past: high-school acquaintances, old girlfriends, long-forgotten neighbours, and people who belonged to old clubs and former places of employment. Those people saw you profile, remembered you, and reached out.

Sometimes, I connected with them. The majority, I ignored. There were folks who I hadn't seen since I left high school, who I didn't really talk to, except in passing. Back then, we weren't even friends. I hadn't given them a single thought in more than 30 years: why would I want to strike up a virtual friendship now?

And then there are people with whom I am connected through other social-media channels: we are connected through a common interest on LinkedIn or we have followed each other through Twitter. Some of these folks have become my "friends" through these channels, and so, in time, I became friends on Facebook.

On Facebook, I liked certain breweries. I liked the fun antics of George Takei. I followed some friends' businesses. I followed my kids' dance school and some of the other dance parents. Facebook, over the four years or so that I've used it, has become somewhat of an extension of Twitter.

And that got me thinking: did I want to see posts that were repeated on these platforms? Did I want to share all of my musings on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook? Sure, I could create groups and select a particular group to talk to certain people, but I didn't want that.

No, Facebook is where I wanted to share thoughts and photos with my family members and with those who are closest to me.

It wasn't easy, but over the weekend, I cut ties with about half of my connections. I won't say that I "unfriended" these folks, because the term is stupid and it's not even a word. And these people are still considered friends. Some of them are good friends, but I have connections with them through different social media, and I want to keep it that way.

The first people who I cut were those that I had even forgotten I had a connection. I never saw a post by them, never received likes or comments on anything I shared. The only time I remembered that we were connected was when his or her birthday was announced. And so, I said goodbye.

I then broke the connection between myself and a lot of people with whom I associated in clubs or groups, but was no longer a member, nor did I really hang out with these people. I liked them, but I didn't see that we had anything in common. The same went for people that I used to work with but no longer met socially. Some of them communicate with me through LinkedIn, and that's great. That's where they should be.

And, as flaky as it was, I broke connections with people I only recently, proactively reached out to and connected with. Only to cut that tie.

I looked at the people with which I wanted to maintain contact. Naturally, family members stayed, as did those who I have known for ages and consider to be family. I also kept my friends with whom I hang out on a regular basis, and those who I don't necessarily see often, but are those who I do like to see and meet.

Then there are those who I haven't known for a particularly long time, but who have touched my heart. You folks know who you are.

I sometimes think that making this distinction can be divisive of a friendship, but I really don't think so. I think I have created the boundaries in which I'm comfortable. There is no one that I follow on Facebook that I would want to exclude from any of my posts, who I wouldn't want to know personal information or to see photos that I wouldn't share anywhere else.

For me, Facebook is more than just being acquaintances, more than being friends.

Twitter is next. Yesterday, I stopped following about 30 people because either I knew nothing about them, never read their tweets anyway, or they were simply too much of a distraction.

Social media, I feel, needs to be more than making random connections. Those connections have to have meaning, or else they are noise in an already hectic and fast-paced world.

What matters to you?

(I can see myself losing connections over this post.)

Monday, March 16, 2015

Glebe St. James

Another word for prime is first. One of our prime ministers was William Lyon Mackenzie King.

There is a church that holds a labyrinth walk on Sunday afternoons.

There is a word that describes land that is set aside for the church: that word is glebe, which is a well-known neighbourhood, south of Centretown, on the other side of the Queensway.

In the Glebe, there is a church that was once named St. Andrews: it is now called St. James. It's located at the corner of First Avenue and Lyon Street South.

And it is the 45th location for Where In Ottawa.

I sort of gave up on this challenge over the weekend, which gets busy with family activities. I make no apologies. But that also meant that I only posted four clues for my photo challenge for you to work with.

Frankly, I'm surprised it went on for as long as it did. And, while a lot of you viewed this post, no one ventured a guess. So, at noon, on Sunday, I closed the contest.

Better luck next month.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Photo Friday: Thaw

There were days—many days—when I thought we'd never see it.

Signs that spring is around the corner, that winter, which stubbornly held on with razor-like teeth, is beginning to weaken, to ease its bitter grip, to fade.

Icicles stretch downward to needle-like points. The drip of water droplets play as tinny notes. The rush of water echoes through sewer grates.

We relax, but we should be wary: winter has a habit of railing against the growing light.

We thaw for now, we see the movement in the landscape. And we are filled with hope.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Remembering Norma

She took me too seriously.

Far too seriously.

The first time I met her, Lori and I were heading out for an evening of fun with our friends. I wasn't dating Lori at the time, but on Thursday nights, we would often find our way out to a bar, such as Equinox, at Ottawa University, or in the Byward Market.

Lori worked with one of my best friends in a department store, with her best friend, and Thursday night, for some long-forgotten reason, was our night to party.

I pulled up to her driveway in my '85 Sunbird. Andy was in the passenger seat. I hopped out and knocked on the door, which caused their Shelty to bark, a warning to all indoors. Lori was at the door, eager to head out. Her mother, Norma, followed her to the door, seemingly eager to see who her daughter kept company with. I said a brief hello, but we wanted to be on our way, so I didn't say anything else.

I remember Norma, watching us as we pulled away, her look gave the impression that she was trying to figure out which one of us was Lori's boyfriend, getting no indication.

Neither of us was Lori's boyfriend. We were merely friends, who happened to be boys.

Many months later, I was Lori's boyfriend, and for weeks, Norma, and Lori's dad, Stan, only saw me briefly, from within their van, as they arrived to pick Lori up after a shift at work, only to find I was waiting, too.

It wasn't until Lori's big brother, Doug, came to town, to visit, when we all sat down together, at a German restaurant. It was all pleasant talk, as we got to know each other and Lori's family got to see what kind of boy their daughter and sister were dating.

I was courteous, I was polite, but I have always let my sense of humour come through. I have always figured that you either like my sense of humour or you don't. I have never been one to hide what I think is one of my best characteristics.

Halfway through the meal, as we were all becoming comfortable with each other, Doug turned to me, and, in a casual tone, asked, "What exactly are your plans with my sister?"

Though we had been friends for nearly a year, Lori and I were newly dating. The future, to us, was far away. Plans? There were no long-term plans.

Doug had a good sense of humour. I saw that right away. Stan was friendly and liked to laugh. Both made me feel welcome at the dinner table. I could be myself, and I decided that with Doug's question, as I read it, was asked with tongue in cheek. My answer would have to match the intent.

"Well," I said, "I plan to sponge off Lori for the rest of my life."

Everyone laughed.

Everyone, except Norma.

"Oh, he's a terrible boy," Norma said, shocked by my response. Lori, you should stop seeing him at once."

I will always remember my first meeting with Norma with fond memories. I will remember her as the woman who always seemed to take me seriously, especially when I was at my least serious. And yet, she still welcomed me into her home and into her family.

I joked with her, to the very end. I hope she knew I was kidding.

Here's to the feistiest, quirkiest woman that I have had the honour of calling my mother-in-law.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

When I Was Your Age

My kids love Japanese anime. But they laugh at me when I tell them that I watched animation shows from Japan when I was their age.

While they watch series such as Attack on Titan, Sword Art Online, Ouran Highschool Host Club, Soul Eater, and Black Butler, shows that are just too strange for me, go well beyond my ability to suspend my disbelief, I watched a futuristic show about five orphans who had supernatural powers and who fought off invading forces from outside our solar system.

Considering I was totally immersed in Star Trek, Batman, and Spider-Man, it wasn't a stretch for me to be hooked on Battle of the Planets.

But when my nearly 14-year-old and 12-year-old daughters took a quick look at the show's intro, they laughed and said, "That's not anime. That's just a cartoon."

Hmph, I said.

Here's the show's intro.

Like lots of animated shows of my generation, the heros were always able to defeat the villain's evil plans, without defeating the villain himself. And G-Force, as the the fivesome was called, did that week after week. Their arch-enemy, Zoltar, could scare the heck out of a young kid. And, as the series continued, Zoltar became more complex, more interesting. Always seen in a masked costume, Zoltar wielded some mystery.

When Zoltar was unmasked, I was blown away.

When my girls see this animation from the 70s, they laughed. And, yeah, it does look kind of cheesy, now.

But I'm not about to start watching their shows.

Or will I? I'm not their age anymore, but I'm still young at heart.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Where In Ottawa XLV

Traditionally, my Where In Ottawa photo challenge runs on the first Monday of each month, but with the passing of Leonard Nimoy, I couldn't let time elapse without honouring the iconic man.

But it's back, and I'm hoping that this time the challenge isn't solved as quickly as it has been in the past two months.

If you haven't played this challenge before—or even if you have but you've forgotten the rules—here are the conditions of play.

  • The following photograph was taken somewhere in the greater Ottawa region. Your job: locate it.
  • If you think you know the location of the structure in the image, leave your guess in the Comments section of this post. Answers sent to me by Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, or any other method than by writing a guess in the Comments section do not qualify for this challenge. I will not reply to any other form of guess.
  • If you were with me when I took the photo, you may not participate in the challenge.
  • If you have won Where In Ottawa in the past, you may still participate; however, if you guess correctly, no giveaway will be awarded.
  • The first person to correctly identify the location of the structure in the photograph will receive a PDF copy of my novel, Songsaengnim: A Korea Diary.
  • You may leave as many guesses as you want.
  • Starting tomorrow, I will leave clues to the location in the upper-right column of this post, adding a new clue each day until the challenge is solved.
  • If the challenge has not been solved by noon, Ottawa time, on Sunday, March 15, the challenge will end and I will reveal the location on Monday, March 16.
  • The winner of Where In Ottawa has until the end of Sunday, April 5, to claim his or her giveaway.
That's basically it. So are you ready? Here is this month's photo:

Think you know Ottawa? Prove it!

And good luck!

Friday, March 6, 2015

Photo Friday: Best-Laid Plans

For months, my darling wife and I have been making plans to spend my birthday in The Big Apple, the city that never sleeps, New York, New York. We were to head down, bright and early, on my birthday and spend Thursday after noon and evening, all day Friday, all day Saturday, and Sunday morning taking in Broadway, the end of Restaurant Week, breweries and brew pubs, and art galleries, and looking for new places for me to photograph one of my favourite cities.

I was also going to buy a new camera.

But life gets in the way when you're busy, making plans, and when a crisis arises, you drop everything, unquestionably and without hesitation, to be there for those who need you more.

And that's what has happened.

New York isn't cancelled. It's postponed until we get through this crisis.

The city will still be there when we're ready to go.

Happy Friday.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Throwback Thursday: First Photo

Fifty years ago, today, I was born.

And on that day, a portrait was captured so that, years down the road, my parents could prove to me that, yes, I was once an actual baby.

I have always looked at this photo and thought, "God, I was an ugly baby."

I have often joked that it looked like I was pressed under a glass plate, to hold me still, while that photo was taken. I have a big, flat face that looks compressed.

I'm not a baby any more. I'm firmly entrenched in middle age. Even though I sometimes continue to act like a kid.

And I still have a big head.

Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Just Perfect

Midge Ure said it best.

To paraphrase, music today has become too contrived, over-produced from cookie-cutter production houses, with more contributors to the creation of a song than the list of ingredients in a ready-made cake*.

Just add water. Just add singer.

Rare is it, on the hit charts, a good song that is conceived, written, performed, and produced by the actual artist. Now is the age of Beyoncé, of One Direction.

As Midge put it, there are too many Karaoke singers.

And so it is a good thing that we still have legends like Midge Ure, who continue to create, to compose, to give life to music.

Midge Ure played to a packed house at the Black Sheep Inn, last night, and exceeded expectations. After more than 30 years, he can still belt it out, without an auto tuner, showing his fans that he and an acoustic Fender can create a warm, intimate atmosphere.

Between numbers, Midge delighted the sold-out crowd with wit, humour, and personal anecdotes. He played songs from his new album, Fragile, some of his older hits, and more classics from his days in Ultravox. Before arriving, I wondered how he would cover songs that generally have a heavy synthesizer presence, using only an acoustic guitar, but Midge is a master, and he sustained a high energy.

It has been more than 25 years since I last saw Midge perform live: I'm hoping I don't have to wait many more before he returns.

I felt honoured to be able to meet with him, after the show, to chat, to tell him how I've admired him, how he has inspired me and influenced my artistic side. I was also honoured when he thanked me for helping get the word out about his show, when he wished me a happy birthday, and when he accepted a copy of my book.

I swear, I didn't ask him to hold up my book. The evening was all about seeing him. But I'll take the unsolicited promotion, with much gratitude!

Midge is mentioned in the story, and one of his songs plays a small but important part.

Attending Midge's performance was a delight, but what made the evening even more special was to have so many friends and family members join me for the evening. Thank you to my parents, Faye and Greg, to my sister, Holly, and to my wonderful friends, John, Kerry, Becca, Krista, Katheleen, Russ, Nina and her family, and Ed.

I feel so privileged. The night was perfect. Just perfect.

ilThere was cake, by the way. It was delicious.