Friday, July 29, 2016

Photo Friday: Tall Ship

This week, as I wrote a Beer O'Clock review of a beer called Captain's Log, by Cameron's Brewing Company, I remembered a road trip that the girls and I took, a couple of weeks ago, down to Gananoque. It was a last-minute decision to get in the car and drive to the small town along the St.Lawrence Seaway, but I'm glad we did it.

On our way home, we cruised the Loyalist Parkway, which follows the river, along the 1,000  Islands channel, over to Brockville. With the sun setting low in the early evening sky, it was a spectacular drive.

Brockville is another great town along the St.Lawrence, and it was here that we made a quick stop.

Long enough only to take a couple of photos, and then hit the road again.

The last time we were in Brockville was more than three years earlier, when the tall ships were sailing along the seaway. I took a lot of photos of these great vessels that day.

On this visit, however, there was only one that was harboured in town.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Waiting

One of the downsides of Canadian health care, and Ontario health care in particular, is that unless you are really sick, or injured, or dying, you can wait a long time to see a specialist.

I'm waiting for lots of things.

Because I changed doctors in December, my new GP has addressed all that has been ailing this 51-year-old body. And for the more-serious issues, I have been seen right away. My gastro problems from early this year seemed to sort themselves out, but I did have a series of CT scans, ultrasounds, and an MRI. Through those tests, a mass was found on my liver, but that has now been diagnosed as benign.

I've had my sleep study but I have to wait until September to meet with the specialist, who will explain the results. And so, I wait.

Also, in September, I will be seeing a specialist who will try to determine the root cause of my tinnitus, and will hopefully put an end to the constant ringing, hissing, and cicada-like buzz in my ears. This appointment was set up in March. More waiting.

I had a colonoscopy a couple of months ago, but my original appointment was for late August. I didn't want to wait that long so I had my doctor try several clinics and was able to fast-track me.

I liked that fast-track route, and recently got my GP to do another one for my foot condition. Two months ago, she found a specialist to whom she wanted to refer me, but we learned that it is an eight to eighteen-month wait to see him. A few more calls and I was able to see someone else, and the wait was only two weeks.

That was last week.

Unfortunately, after waiting in the office for more than an hour after my scheduled time, I had to leave, to get back to my job. Ironically, I walked out on a foot appointment.

I hate waiting.

My GP, upon hearing that I didn't stay for the appointment, urged me to reschedule. This surgeon was well-respected, well-connected, and would most likely be able to fast-track my surgery. I called and saw him again on Tuesday.

He was fascinated by my case and determined that I do not have Mueller-Weiss Syndrome, as my GP suspected. This surgeon diagnosed the condition to be an advanced stage of Köhler's disease, which is what I had in my youth and what was treated in my mid 20s, on my right foot. Both feet were diagnosed, but because I started physiotherapy on both feet after my surgery and the treatment eased the discomfort in my left foot, I opted to forego a second surgery to fix that foot.

Time and Köhler's has caught up to me.

The result is the same: I need surgery. But while this specialist is qualified, he has retired from surgery. He will not be fixing my foot.

He does, however, have a good network and knows a couple of surgeons who are qualified to do this procedure. The one that he highly recommends has a waiting list of 18 months, which is no better than my original referral (thankfully, I'm still on his waiting list). But the doctor who met with me this week thinks that he might able to fast-track his recommended specialist. A favour is owed.

"Let me see if I can shorten the wait to six months," he said. My condition is rare. My foot is a mess, with the bones deteriorating at a quick rate. This doctor loves a challenge.

Again, I wait.

Monday, July 25, 2016

What a Weekend

"Okay," DW said to me, as we were preparing for dinner last night, "name three things about this weekend that made you happy."

"Our friends," I said, without skipping a beat. We had just visited some friends that we had known since high school. For DW, she had known one of these friends even longer, since elementary school. We had visited two families at their respective cottages, just outside of Perth, with part of a third family that joined us. On Saturday evening, we went to the 200th anniversary celebration at the Perth Fairgrounds, where we listened to Blue Rodeo perform to some 3,000 fans.

I hesitated for the second thing. Really, the weekend was all about spending time with great friends. I could have mentioned the band, who I first saw in 1986, but my relationship with them is off and on. I recognize their talent and there are a few songs that I really like, but they're largely a country band. Their twangy numbers put me off.

So I came up with something else. "I liked how all the kids got along." Four families. Eight kids (a ninth was missed). Playing on the lakes, playing games in the cottages. It was nice to see.

The third thing was hard to come up with. We were visiting friends and their kids: what else was there to be happy about?

And then I remembered late on Saturday evening, when the moon rose above Black Lake.

That was it.

What three things made you happy this weekend?

Friday, July 22, 2016

Photo Friday: Hanging Out

They needed to get away from it all, to find a secluded spot, where few would disturb them.

They snacked on take-out dinner and enjoyed some casual, relaxed conversation.

Friends, for sure.

Sitting, outside, above the Ottawa River on the Prince of Wales Bridge.

Just hanging out.

Happy Friday!

Monday, July 18, 2016

It's Only Hair

It'll grow back. Eventually.

Last month, my youngest, after more than a year of begging and protest, was finally allowed to have her hair cut to a style of her choosing. It's a radical, edgy cut for a 13-year-old, where more than half of her hair is cut close to her scalp. It's not shaved; merely, buzzed close.

The top of her hair is still long and she can tie it back into a short ponytail or pigtails.

Her hair still has an amber glow from a henna dye of more than six months ago.

I still remember and miss her long, slightly wavy blonde locks. That's the little girl that I remember. But she isn't a little girl anymore: she's a young teen and I have to respect how she wants to look.

I hold the line at any strange piercings or any tattoos (henna ones are okay).

So last month she cut her hair, and I have to admit that it looked much better than I imagined. It suited her, showed the confidence that she has exuded for years.

But after a month, the short areas began to grow and she wanted a trim. We knew that it was something that would begin to cost as time went on, so we decided to shop at Costco to see if we could find an economical solution. We succeeded, and picked up a good set of trimmers.

At home, we watched some YouTube videos that were produced by the manufacturer on the care and use of the clippers. We saw how to style hair just like hers, and we quickly went to work.

It was really easy, and before long, our daughter's hair looked just as it had when she went to the stylists.

"I should use those to trim my hair," I said. I had cancelled last week's appointment with my usual stylist because other plans came up and hadn't rescheduled. At the very least, I needed to shave the fuzz at the back of my neck and my sideburns, but DD13 became excited.

"Can I cut your hair?"

"Sure," the answer came, easier than I had intended. I thought I would let her clean up the back of my neck, where my hairline had become scraggly. I could trim my own sideburns. But no, she wanted to shorten my hair at the back, clean up around and above the ears. And again, my answer came easily. "Yeah, why not?"

We set up on the front porch, where the hair could be easily swept away, or would blow in the wind. I wrapped an old towel around my neck and shoulders, though it really didn't do any good at keeping the short clippings from finding their way down my shirt.

It's only hair, right?

What do you think? Not bad for her very first attempt, right?

With both of our haircuts, the clippers have now paid for themselves, but I'm sure they'll get more use as she continues to keep her hairstyle.

And she continues to improve on cutting mine.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Photo Friday: Painted Tuscany

I can be called a lot of things: creative, kind, funny, pinhead, goofball. But one thing that I can never be called is an artist.

Give me a piece of paper and a pencil, and I can write prose. Put a camera in my hands and I can capture an image. But give me a canvas and put a paint brush in my hands, and I'm totally useless.

I can look at a scene and see how the light plays on it, how that light and shadow contrast, how the colours play with each other. With a camera, I can take advantage of that light and shadow, and create an impression.

But to paint that impression is utterly beyond my grasp.

Or it used to be, before digital photography and photo-editing software became possible.

I use two photo-processing tools to manipulate what I capture in megapixels: Aftershot and PaintShop Pro, both from Corel. (I'm not against Photoshop—I'm just in a fortunate position where I don't have to pay for these apps, and they work incredibly well together.) Ninety percent of the time, I use the exposure controls, enhance the black, control the contrast, saturation, and luminescence, add fill flash, and sharpen my images. Perhaps four percent of the time, I render my photos in black and white, and will play with the exposure and contrast, and may throw in a filter, to boot.

The remainder of my photos will have a special effect applied, such as selective focus, vignetting, special colouring (taking away some, adding more to selected areas), and rendering the photo as a painting.

I don't have the skills to paint, but my software does.

Is that cheating?

When I apply this feature to an otherwise simple, or uninteresting photo, I can sometimes create a much-improved image. In 2009, after my family vacation to Italy, I looked over the thousands of photos that I shot. Many, I deleted because they were duplicates, or were badly exposed, composed, or unfocused. Others were fine but they just didn't stand out. And so, I put them in a Reject folder, where they were mostly ignored.

I hate to delete a photo unless I know that there is no way that I am going to use it. That's also why I have binders full of negatives, many of which no longer have a printed photo.

The other day, as I was reminiscing about that trip to Italy, I took a peek into the Reject folder and saw images that I hadn't paid any mind to since 2009. One photo caught my eye: I liked the composition, but the image itself didn't say anything. It was part of a garden that ran along the western edge of our rented villa and led down into one of the vineyards. In the late afternoon, the lighting was calming. Green bushes were interspersed between olive trees that lined the edge, that marked the end of the garden and the beginning of Sangiovese vines. The occasional Cyprus tree pointed upward. A stone stairway kept visitors of the garden on the right path.

As a photo, it was okay. But when I applied the PaintShop Pro art media effects to it, playing with the softness control, with the brush width and the angles, I saw a result that reminded me that a gentle breeze flowed through the valley, that the sun was warm but starting to cool as it dropped toward San Gimignano. I could see movement where my camera had frozen time.

Staring at this painting, I was back in Tuscany.

Pour me a glass of wine, will you?

I still don't call myself an artist, but this is as close as I get.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Throwback Thursday: Old Vacation Photos

One of the problems I find with digital photography is that I take a photo, process it, and either post it to my Flickr albums, my 500px account, or to this blog. I'll look at them for a while and then forget about them.

Sure, when I post a group of photos on this blog, I can always go back and look at them, but I seldom do.

I remember the days of 35mm film, when a roll of film would be processed into 4x6 photographs and arranged in an album. I would pull out that album when I wanted to remember a particular event or a trip.

I still do.

But with digital, vacation shots sit in a digital folder on an external drive, lost to the archives. I seldom go through these folders and bring up the photos, look at the past and mentally relive those times.

On my smartphone, all of my digital photos that have been uploaded to Picasa or to Dropbox can be brought up, but I seldom do it because I've set those files to be accessible only when I'm on Wifi, so I don't drain my monthly data to relive a memory.

One of the best vacations with my family was in 2009, when we ventured to Italy. It was the second time that DW and I had been: in 2004, when our daughters were only three and less than one, we left them in the excellent care of my parents, but it didn't take long for us to miss them dearly. We were in Siena, watching young kids in Il Campo, chasing pigeons and laughing. We could see our girls doing the same thing, and we promised that in five years, we would watch as our kids did the same thing.

In 2009, we kept that promise.

The best time was spent in Tuscany, where we rented a villa in the Chianti region. It was beautiful, with several buildings surrounding the main complex. We had rented a small, two-story house that had once been a hut for an olive press. Two bedrooms and a bathroom on the top floor: living room, dining room, and kitchen on the main floor. We were surrounded by olive groves on one side, vineyards on rolling hills on the other.

This little house was our central hub for the week, from where we would explore the Tuscan countryside: Florence,  Colle Val Di Elsa, Volterra, Siena, and many more. The Medieval hill town of San Gimignano could be viewed from our villa, on the other side of the valley.

Though it was late September to early October, temperatures were still in the high 20s to low 30s, and every day, after we had had a full day of exploring, we would return to our villa and cool off in the outdoor infinity pool. No one else in the villa used it, and some laughed at the silly Canadians who braved the cool water at the end of summer. We always had the pool to ourselves.

After our swim, we prepared dinner in the kitchen and took the meal out to the patio, from where we could watch the sun as it set over San Gimignano.

Every sunset was spectacular.

I will always remember that vacation, always cherish our time in Tuscany, and our villa in Chianti. And although, after nearly seven years, I haven't put these photos in an album, they are the ones I tend to dig up the most, the ones that I don't mind searching for in my external drive's directories.

My family still hasn't decided on a summer vacation destination for this year. But there are always the old vacation photos to get us motivated to plan.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Why I Went Back

For the first couple of days, it was easy. I would be in the office and would catch myself, wanting to tweet, but the app was gone, my account closed off. It would have been easy enough to log back on—I had 30 days to change my mind.

But I would pause and ask myself, did I really need to tweet about the crappy service in the office cafeteria? No. Did I need to tell everyone I was at Bluesfest? No.

As the days went on, it got easier to not be tempted to tweet.

But then, I started missing some of the things that I read on a regular basis: Ian Black's up-to-the-minute weather forecasts; breaking news; photos from my friends.

"Maybe, you just needed to get away for a while," my DW suggested. "Maybe, you need to see that you are not ruled by Twitter."

I went six days.

But when I reactivated my account, I went the whole day without sending a single tweet. I closed it down when I was working, determined not to distract myself. I still suffer from FOMO, after all.

I changed my nickname, from @RossBrownfoot to @BrownKnowser. I'm going to limit my tweets—my biggest loss was sending out notifications of new blog posts, though this is the first blog post since I announced that I quit Twitter.

So much for that.

Twitter is important to me, but I'm not going to let it monopolize my time.

Lots of people have left Twitter and come back. I remember when Canadian political journalist, Andrew Coyne, made national headlines when he walked away from Twitter. He went back.

Why can't I?

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Why I Left Twitter

It was one of the most difficult decisions I've made in a long time.

Then again, it wasn't so tough.

There are a lot of great people with whom I'm going to lose touch. There are some news sources that are cut off. I won't be as connected. I'm going to miss a lot. I made a lot of friends on Twitter, some who I've met and have come to be important to me.

I can't say that making the decision to leave Twitter was something that I've thought of doing for a long time. It was something that came in to my head, in the wee hours of the morning, as I was fuming over the fact that I couldn't sleep. In less than 30 minutes after toying with the idea of cutting my ties, it was done.

"Fuck it. Goodbye."

Three words, written not in anger, not in defiance, but in a sort of surrender.

I'm a FOMO sufferer. I feel that I have to know as much as possible and that I have to be a part of what is going on in my community, be it my neighbourhood, at work, at home, and on social media. But social media is incredibly huge, and the fear of missing out can become all consuming.

Twitter is a massive delivery system for information, and the FOMO can weigh heavily. And, for me, I felt that I needed to weigh in as much as possible, to let people know that I exist, that I am here. Look at me... look at me.

When I went out, I felt I needed to share where I was. When I was listening to music, to a particular song that moved me for whatever reason, I shared it. When I opened a bottle of beer or dug into a delicious meal, I had to let the Twitterverse know. If I had an opinion about anything, I needed to tweet it out.

Honestly, who gives a shit?

So, the other night, as I lay in bed and brooded about it, I was tempted to do something that I've done many times: pick up my phone, get on to Twitter, and let my followers know that I was awake and couldn't sleep.

A great friend of mine once told me that if someone didn't know me—didn't really know me as he did—he or she could read my tweets and think two things: I'm sick often and I'm an alcoholic.

That certainly isn't who I am or who I want my Twitter friends to think. If anything, I hoped that people saw me as a nice guy with a funny but twisted sense of humour who cares about his community.

Lying in bed, thinking about Twitter, and about sharing my insomnia, I realized that this social media has begun defining me in a troubling way. My life seemed so integrated with this app that I was stressing over the FOMO and the need to share every facet of my life.

I needed to stop.

I began thinking of what a life without Twitter would mean. There were a lot of people that I would miss. There is a lot of news that is relevant to living in Ottawa that would be missed. There are some great photographers that share their wonderful work, and I wouldn't see it.

I used to stress over not publishing a blog post every Monday to Friday. When I took a hiatus, that stress abated. When I returned to blogging, I didn't worry so much about when I posted, and a lot of my stress disappeared.

And so, I got out of bed, went downstairs to my computer. I went to my Twitter settings and deleted my account. Twitter warned me that it would make my account accessible for 30 days, but after that, everything would be gone.

They want you to be sure you're doing the right thing.

I clicked the Delete button, turned off my computer, and went back to bed.

And fell into a deep, restful sleep.

In the morning, I uninstalled Twitter and Hootsuite from my smartphone. For the first couple of hours, yesterday, I felt a bit disoriented, lost. I wanted to share that I had a guy from pest control fixing cages to keep squirrels from getting into my house.

Who cares?

I have more to lose in what I read on Twitter than what my followers read from me. To my more than 1,200 followers, I thank you for thinking that what I tweeted had any value. And while my Twitter account is closed, it's not the end of all social media outlets. You can follow me on Instagram or Untappd. If you use Strava for cycling, running, or swimming, you can find me there. And, if you want to just reach out, there is always the Comments section of this blog.

If you want to see my photos, I'm on Flickr and 500px.

And, there's always LinkedIn, though I use that site less often.

You see? My footprint is still pretty large. 

If you're in Ottawa, I can still be found at various writing and beer events, and I'm not planning to abandon Thursday Pints. I'll see you around

It was a tough, spontaneous decision that I've made. Over the next 30 days, we'll see how tough it really was.

Almost six years on Twitter. With three words, it's over.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Road Trips

I would just get in the car and drive.

No set destination. No fixed route. Just point the front of the vehicle down a random road, and go.

The family and I did just that, this weekend. We got in our SUV and hit the road. It wasn't entirely unplanned, as I used to do in the past, when I would just throw my camera bag in the back seat and drive off. We did want to check out a couple of spots so we plotted that course and headed off, down toward the St. Lawrence Seaway. We thought we would go straight to one place and, from there, see where the roads would take us.

It was a long way to go for one errand, but once down there, we learned that there were other things of interest. A craft brewery. A rib festival. A town we had never visited before.

On the way home, we took the roads less-travelled. We stopped where our fancy took us. We paid no heed to the time.

And, on this road trip, we discovered where we may spend our summer vacation.

Photos will follow, later this week.