Thursday, December 30, 2004

The Lord of the Rings: Part IV

This Christmas completes The Lord of the Rings cycle for our family. Three years ago, we began by taking Butterfly and a friend to see part one of the trilogy: The Fellowship of the Ring. For the next two Christmases, we cashed in PC Points and took whoever was visiting. In fact, for the final episode, The Return of the King, last year, we had an entourage of six, including ourselves — a rather significant fellowship for our little family.

Just as some of the characters in the films have come and gone, so have some of the characters who have been part of this familial and seasonal odyssey to Middle Earth. Like true hobbits, however, three of us have remained unwaveringly constant: Cuppa, Butterfly, and me.

Now, we three are partaking in the final quest: part four. Oh, did you not know about the final instalment? Well, there isn't one, not really, not in the sense that you might expect. However, I have always thought that once we had the whole DVD collection in our possession, we should sit down and watch the whole trilogy from start to finish.

So it is that we revisited The Fellowship of the Ring last night, and so it is that we will replay The Two Towers later tonight. The grand finale, The Return of the King, will be rerun tomorrow night: New Years Eve. Of course, that's the episode that we're really anticipating because it has been a year since our first and only viewing. Because a full year has elapsed, I'm sure that much will seem new; indeed, owing to the beneficence of extended DVDs some of it will, in fact, be brand new.

So, in this festive season which has involved change for our family, we have this familiar element to cling to for one more retake. I'm not sure what, if anything in particular, will replace LOTR in future, but we too have been somewhat bound together by the incredible yarn of the hobbit and the ring. Now, just as the Third Age has come and gone, so have certain things in our lives been alterred: where, when, and how we celebrate the season, for example.

Indeed, the Third Age of Middle Earth has ended, but the earth still turns. Likewise, an era has ended for our family, but the fellowship shall continue.


Wednesday, December 29, 2004


On the Mend

If I'm starting a blog at midnight, I must be returning to the land of the living. I don't get sick much these days. Oddly enough, the last encounter that I can recall was on Christmas Day two years ago when I felt a little queasy and shaky for about a day.

However, on Sunday night I developed quite a bad sore throat. It continued through Monday (our family's designated Christmas Eve) and through Tuesday (our family's designated Christmas Day). It was sore enough that I was speculating that I should turn myself in at the nearest clinic or emergency ward today if the situation were to continue. Fortunately, although I hardly yet feel as fit as a fiddle, I seem to be on the mend.

Coincidental or not, I seemed to note some improvement after Butterfly served me some sort of hot apple cider tea last night. I'm not normally much of a tea drinker, but I was impressed enough by last night's turnaround that I had another cup tonight.

Weird Pics

Butterfly published some pretty unusual, Christmas Eve, family photos. To those I add the following and offer my official thanks to daughter #2's friend.

She had decorated the four household females (including herself) and seemed shocked when I offered my rather gargantuan canvas. Going by at least one of the comments on Butterfly's blog, others are surprised too and seem to think me a good sport for going along with the gag, but I actually wanted to be included. Why should women have all of the fun?

This is a bit of a diversion from my recent photos. Now that I am feeling better, I plan to post another chickadee photo or two.

Left Brain , Right Brain

I am stealing this from The Grumpy "Old" Man, but I must tell you that my laughter over the following just now brought two women out of their beds to see what in the world was going on. When they tried, they laughed heartily too.

While sitting at your desk, lift your right foot off the floor and make clockwise circles. Now, while doing this, draw the number "6" in the air with your right hand. Your foot will change direction and there's nothing you can do about it.

Thanks Norma ...

... of Collecting My Thoughts for her mention of some I my recent winter photos. I am a rank amateur at best, but I try. Norma is a retired librarian whose blog I follow. She is a prodigious poster, often producing as many as four posts per day, and she, apparently, has several other blogs on the go too! Many of her posts refer you to articles or news stories that one might easily miss. Well, just go and see for yourself.


Saturday, December 25, 2004

For the Birds

My delightful wife decided to festoon the great outdoors for Christmas and to feed the birds Christmas dinner too. As it turns, out chickadees love peanut butter, and they are not terribly camera shy.


Christmas Morning ...

... from my bedroom window.

No award winning photo this but a wonderful sight to me. In a way, a sight that I have waited long to behold.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Christmas Eve

The smoke wafts from the chimney on a quintessentially Canadian Christmas Eve.


Another Passage; Another Tear

It just happened again, not to the same extent as that very emotional other time, but of some significance nonetheless.

When Butterfly left for university, I reacted very emotionally. I hadn't expected to. But when she hugged me goodbye, I fell apart and sobbed convulsively.

Something like that just happened again tonight, not to nearly the same extent, but it caught me unaware and resulted in a few tearful gulps.

Quite simply, Butterfly called to wish us a Happy Christmas Eve. As we talked, I realized that we had never before been apart on this night: this night that has always been very special in our family. It's not that we have celebrated this eve in outstandingly wonderful or particularly memorable ways, but we have always been together. We have talked, laughed, sung and/or listened to carols, played games, gazed upon the tree, gone for drives or on walks to see the lights and decorations, read or listened to Christmas stories, and sampled freely from a plethora of snacks: unusual cheeses, sundry crackers, all sorts of biscuits, several varieties of chocolates, exotic dips and spreads, and untold varieties of salty snacks.

It doesn't really matter of course, what we ate or did. It only matters that we were together (as trite as it may sound) in the spirit of peace, goodwill, caring, and sharing.

It was when she called tonight, that I suddenly realized that this was to be the first Christmas Eve that we have ever been apart since she entered the world as our Christmas miracle many years ago.

I shed tears because something fundamental has shifted. Christmas will never be exactly the same. It may be wonderful, but it will be different. Something will be gained, and something will be lost. It was the sudden realization of loss that caught me unaware and caused a lump to form in my throat and few salty drops to escape my eye.

It wasn't exactly sorrow that I felt, for we shall be together in a few days, and we shall celebrate our own Christmas Eve then. But, tonight, on the night that the calendar marks as Christmas Eve, everything is different; there's been another shift in my life: another passage on our relentless march to the final one.

Whatever tears I shed are really of joy for times past. My cup has been full to overflowing. I am fortunate and blessed. Even now as I sit here and type these few thoughts, daughter #2 asks about my Christmas memories, and I ask of hers. Cuppa sits with us sharing her reminiscences.

All is well except for that shaded corner which shall be filled with light in just a few short days hence.


Christmas Card

Since I cannot say this nearly as well as my daughter, permit me to steal Butterfly's Christmas comments.

I will not wish you Happy Holidays or Season's Greetings. I will wish you a Merry Christmas.

To me, Christmas means warmth, family, friends, kindness, peace, love and hope. These are things that I wish for you all. So when I say Merry Christmas I want these things for you. And I treasure these things.

I count you among my friends (and some among my family).

And so I wish you the best.

I wish you the warmth of family and friends.

I wish you and yours peace for the season and for the coming year.

I wish you hope and joy and love.

I hope that you enjoy the festive lights as you drive to your parties and your gatherings.

I hope that if you're trapped in a mall looking for last minute presents that you can smile and take your time and be kind to the sales people. A little kindness goes a long way.

May there be a glint of the magic of the season in your eyes when you wake up on Christmas Morning.

May you believe in the spirit of Santa Claus this year.

Merry Christmas

If you would care to click the card (below), you will be taken to a larger version with a small touch of animation. It's very rudimentary, but it's what I can do. Please be patient while it loads and does its thing.


Thursday, December 23, 2004

I'm Not Praising Winter Today

It's poetic justice, I suppose. For a little over a week now, I have subjected of all my faithful readers (i.e. my wife and daughter), to my exuberant and ceaseless utterings over the glories of winter. Today, however, the reader is to be spared my gloating long enough to learn how the season caused me a pratfall or two today.

For you see, despite all of my recent kind words, glowing descriptions, and majestic photographic renderings of old man winter, he turned upon me today: in a rather mean-spirited and nasty sort of manner indeed. I'm not sure what put the old geezer into such a sour mood; perhaps it was simply the normal virus of crotchetiness that occasionally seizes almost all men of a certain age.

I speak from some experience. Periodically, and for no discernable reason, my normally equanimous disposition morphs into an ogre-like snarl. That's what happened to winter last night, and it's what continued well on into the day.

We have had guests at the cottage for the past few days, which is one reason why dear reader has been recently spared my lengthy ramblings. The guests were due to depart today. We were to drive them to the nearby village where they could catch the Greyhound to Toronto. Should have been a simple task. Should have been simple despite the six-inch snowstorm that dropped by overnight. Should have been simple because the municipality ploughs the roads both quickly and efficiently out here in the country. Should have been simple because we have a four-wheel drive vehicle.

Should have been simple, but it wasn't simple because there was a snow storm last night.

This morning, the ground was covered with snow, and the car was covered with ice. So, it occurred to me that if the car was ice-covered, so might the roads be. I walked up the long driveway to the road to see for myself. As I walked, I pulled the hood of my coat up over my head to shield myself from the rain. I was able to walk up the driveway without too much difficulty because its snow base rendered it mushy and rather than icy. The road, however, had become a veritable skating rink.

Unfortunately, four-wheel drive vehicles, as great as they might be on regular snow, are no match for ice. Four-wheel drive doesn't come equipped with skates, and that's what would have been required this morning. I was not about to try to skate my CRV over twisty, ice-covered, country roads: roads that sometimes skirt the edge of lakes with no intervening guardrails. It would have been an invitation for disaster.

No, I wasn't about to drive anywhere in those conditions. Company would have to stay for another day. However, the car had been left facing the wrong way last night: away from the road rather than towards it. I feared that if conditions were to worsen, I might have trouble turning the car around later. So, I scraped the ice off the car and made to turn it around; predictably, it moved through the snow like a trooper and turned without problem.

You'd think that I would have left well enough alone at that point, but something possessed me to drive it all of the way up the driveway to the road. Actually, I know what it was. I wanted to have another look at the road; I was hoping against hope that the ice was melting. It was an impossibly foolish hope, of course, but there you have it.

I got to the road, saw how bad it was, put the car in reverse, and … and ended up lodged in a snow bank. I could have shot myself.

How could an experienced driver end up in a snow bank, you ask. It was the hood! Remember: I had pulled it over my head to ward off the rain? However, as I turned my head to reverse the car, the hood got in my way, and I decided to shove it down. The short few seconds that it took me to snatch at the hood proved to be all the time that I needed to lose my concentration and dive off the cleared portion of the drive and into the snow bank. You can probably imagine how furious I was with myself, but the damage was done, and I was stuck — firm and deep.

As it turns out, things got worse before they got better. When you're stuck, you need a shovel. I dashed back to the house and up the slippery back steps to grab the shovel. As quickly as I dashed up the steps, my descent was even quicker. My legs flew out from under me, and I landed on my back with a jarring thud. This is not recommended operating procedure for an aging back with degenerating discs.

Let me cut the rest of the story short. Suffice it to say that all five people in the house got soaked totally in the rain before we were able to collectively extricate the car from the snow. Wet coats, hats, and gloves have been lying all about the farmhouse all day doing their best to dry out.

The rain and snow have since stopped, but we'll have company for another night and will try our best to get them to the bus stop tomorrow.

Ain't winter grand?


Sunday, December 19, 2004

Rambling in the Cold

To make one of my most thoughtful and original statements yet: time flies. The first week of our long winter getaway concludes today. Thinking that there is only so much one can do with snowscapes, I have taken to leaving my camera in the cottage when we have set out on our walks over the past two days. The photos that I include here were taken with Sue's tiny Canon Elph — the one that fits into her mitt. No family should be without one. I would give up my Digital Rebel first, although I hasten to assure you that I have no desire to part with it. Don't look for my camera to appear on eBay anytime soon.

Now that our legs are becoming more accustomed to the required, high-stepping snowshoe gait, we have taken to breaking some new trails over the past few days. By breaking new trails I refer to showshoeing over deep, virgin, untrod snow and not hacking out trees to cut brand new paths through the woods. As I may have said more than once recently, breaking new snow trails is rigorous enough on its own.

However, even when we are willing to break new snowshoe trails, we can't always succeed; sometimes, the brush is too thick. In the following photo, there is an old road on the property that is inexorably being reclaimed by the forest. We thought we could follow this old route yesterday, but the density of the young, sprouting pines (that I think you can see) prevented us. Immature, ground-hugging saplings like these can be more difficult to penetrate than a mature forest. In this case, at least, we found it much easier to find clear access among the relatively wide-spread trunks of the old trees on each side of the old roadbed.

Today, with all proper deference to Martin of Inuvik, who chided wimpy southerners such as I for complaining about the cold, it is rather nippy here. (Don't worry, Martin, I do like the cold and am not complaining, just describing.) The temperatures for our afternoon walk hovered around –16C/3F and supposedly felt more like –25C/-13F with the wind chill factored in. Tonight's forecast: -28C/-18F, or –39C/-38F wind chill (not to worry, for we'll be huddled inside). It was cold enough this afternoon that my face was stinging within minutes. But I reasoned that as exertion warmed up my body, it might warm my uncovered face too — and it did! The exertion of snowshoeing actually enabled us to feel quite pleasant in the woods, as it also buffeted us from the wind that howled through the more open areas.

After plodding along the trail, Riverside Ramble, for awhile, we decided to forsake the beaten-track for the quasi path along the property line. I say quasi because the bush and undergrowth here are both thick and primarily uncleared. The kind proprietor has strung pink ribbons (some of which you may discern in the photo, particularly in its larger version) along the property line. The ribbons exist primarily for the benefit of hunters whom he allows to use his land for their sport. They know that they are permitted to hunt on this side of the ribbons but not on the other side.

I don't hunt and never will; I don't like hunting and never will; I can grudgingly accept it by those who eat their prey, but I want to picture them kneeling over the animal, breathing a prayer of thanks to both god and the prey. I try not to picture them standing on the animal in a half-drunk, swaggering pose. If you are shrewd, you may have deduced from this, that I cheer not for the hounds but for the fox.

Setting my feeling about hunting aside for the nonce, the reconnoitre along the property-line — through it's snow, under its low-hanging branches, over its logs, up and down its slopes, and through its brush — was sufficiently strenuous to keep us quite warm against the cold of the day.

The following photo shows a section of our walk. This section was probably more path-like than others, and if you squint, you may see the pink ribbons. You may see them even better if you click to the large version of the photo.


Friday, December 17, 2004

From Dan to Beersheba

Language is indeed a strange and marvellous thing. I couldn't help but laugh the other day when I read Grumpy Old Man's survival tips for homeless people forced to live outdoors in cool weather. His very first recommendation was to wear a wool toboggan. When I indicated my amusement in a comment, he didn't quite understand, for to him (in Alabama) a toboggan is what I call a tuque (or toque) and is what I am wearing in the first photo: or so I interpret from how he described it in a subsequent comment.

Of course, I have never understood toboggan to mean anything other than a contraption (as in the second photo) that kids use to slide down snowy slopes in their winter play.

No matter what you're preferred terminology for these items, now that you have viewed the two pictures, I am sure you can appreciate my merriment when I read his most serious advice. What a picture: someone wearing a woollen toboggan on his or her head!

I find the development of the English language to be a very interesting subject. Every English-speaking country has developed its own subset of English. British English differs from American which differs from Australian and so on. Even within countries, there are variations. What I call a cottage, Westerners call a cabin, and I believe that it is known as a camp in some regions. I eat western sandwiches, but Westerners, apparently consume denver sandwiches. I have even read that, in Canada at least, the transition occurs around Thunder Bay, Ontario. Imagine that: being able to pin it down that precisely!

Amazingly, English remains sufficiently flexible to allow us to easily and quickly clarify whatever muddles initially arise over terminological differences. It doesn't take one long to figure out that a boot on a British car is a trunk on a Canadian vehicles, or that their lorry is our truck. Whether one says schedule with the British sk of the American sh pronunciation, we readily understand each other. The same is true of a word like mobile; unlike most but not all North Americans, most Brits tend to eschew the ile ending and say moble (or mobil), but, once again, we readily comprehend.

I have recently read Bill Bryson's history of the English language, Mother Tongue, and enjoyed it thoroughly. Presently I am reading his Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States. It's a heavier tome, somewhat more scholarly in tone than his usual fare. Following is some information from the book, which I will shortly tie into the title of this blog, but first, an aside about the word, presently, which I used several sentences ago.

Presently is yet another example of a difference in usage between British English and North American English. As I understand it, the word means soon or in the near future to the typical Brit. To those on this side of the Atlantic, it means now, and that is the sense that I intended above.

The other night, Bryson was listing some of the many expressions that developed in America in the nineteenth century: to make the fur fly (1804); no two ways about it (1818); to keep one's eye peeled ( 1833); to face the music (1850); and, so on. He calls them Americanisms. Most have become Canadianisms too, and at least one has become more associated with Britain: to keep a stiff upper lip (1815).

Then, I came to this on page 70: "Scores more have since fallen out of use ... from Dan to Beersheba." According to Bryson, this wonderful expression, from Dan to Beersheba, died out in the nineteenth century, yet I understand it completely. It means: all over, from here to there, from A to Z — that sort of thing. I understand this because my Dad used this expression. I had thought it his own as he was very knowledgeable about the Bible, and Dan was literally at one end of Biblical Israel while Beersheba was at the other.

Now I am puzzled. How did Dad, a Canadian who was born in the twentieth century, pick up an American expression that died out in the nineteenth century? It's hard to fathom. As I reflect, I have never heard anyone else employ this expression. So where did Dad learn it? His parents were British, and he was raised in Montreal. He spent a few summers, or parts thereof, in Maine, but that would have been in the 1920s, and the expression had supposedly long fallen into disuse by then. Even if he had heard it in passing as a boy, why would it have meant anything to him, and why would he ever have thought to adopt and use it?

I have no answers. I merely pass on this curious bit of trivia for anyone who can manage to plod through what is an atypical blog topic for me.

Before we part, let me share this little account with you; it is related to our language theme.

I was reading yet another Bill Bryson book, Neither Here Not There, to Cuppa the other night. A certain sentence made sense to me because I could see the punctuation, but I suspected that it might not be readily understood by a mere listener. I stole a quick a peek at Cuppa, and the puzzled expression on her face confirmed my suspicions.

Can you read this aloud and make it sound as though matching customers are not also sold out of cardboard boxes: "...the street was lined with seedy-looking discount stores — the sort of places that sell goods straight out of their cardboard boxes — and customers to match"?

If you can, well and good, but I certainly couldn't and was forced to stop and explain it to Cuppa — and it caused us to share a laugh.

Totally unrelated to this blog: here is a little humour from a blog which I just read. It's a take on what various famous people might reply to the ever-famous question: "Why did the chicken cross the road?"


Night Light

It's late Thursday night or early Friday morning — take your pick — and I promise that this will be the last photo that I publish today.

I have been thinking for a few nights that I would like to take a night photo from the window, so I just now gave it a whirl. In a place of deep night darkness, with no street lights anywhere and no other houses to emanate light, the previous occupants of the house had the wisdom to have a streetlight installed just outside the house. The electric company charges a hundred bucks per year to keep the light on, which seems like a great deal indeed. Although it's a genuine street light, it's nowhere close to the street. In fact, it would be nigh onto useless if not actually dangerous out there on the road. The shock of suddenly driving under a street light would probably cause people to drive off the road in bewilderment. Here, near the house, it provides some measure of security in the bleak nights, and it also sheds an extremely pleasant ambience.

For the photographers among you, here is the data: ISO 100; shutter speed 2 sec; aperture 8; focal length 51mm. I applied a cooling filter in Photoshop to bring the colour of the light back into line (it was very yellowy/orangey), and then I desaturated somewhat. I was positioned more than a metre away from the window, so there is a little bit of glare but not much. I did a little bit of cropping because there was some wall in the photo due to my distance from the window.

I am not well-versed in night photography, but I am not displeased by the results, and I am very pleased that I didn't have to stand out in the cold in order to take the picture.


Thursday, December 16, 2004

Windows and Deer Tracks

I trust that you'll forgive another two shots of our winter wonderland taken out two different windows in the same front room. Not a bad view, eh?

My tender muscle was much better today, so I was able to go out for two snowshoe walks. At first, I suggested ambling into a new area, but my better half wisely advised that we stick to the trails that we had already blazed. Good advice that, since my tender muscle has not completely recovered. Blazing a new trail is rather hard work compared to following an established trail.

You see? Sometimes it's good to stay in a rut.

Oh, I was going to leave you with that line, but I have to add one other thing. Several times today, we noticed deer tracks following the snowshoe tracks that we made on Tuesday and that we followed ourselves today. We could see where the deer's track would intersect with ours, and then it would follow ours for a while before venturing off again: usually down to the river.

We don't spot many deer around here. They are abundantly present, but we thunder through the bush with such volume that they have ample time to flee. However, I still find it neat to know that they choose to walk in our footsteps — as it were sir — by times.

Yet another finally: Sue has been busy making garlands out of popcorn and cranberries. The idea is to festoon the cottage with them for now and then hang out them outside for the critters come Christmas. You might like to see a photo of her homemade garland on her blog.

I know this was a rather fragmented, shotgun-blast of a blog. For some odd reason, I worked in reverse tonight. I posted the pictures and then added the commentary while online. I usually compose offline and try to get a somewhat better flow. Oh well!

The Olde Screw

Someone sent this animation link (warning: several minutes to load on dialup) to me today. I don't follow-up a lot of links, but this one was quite cute and in keeping with the season "as it were, Sir."

The above quote is from the, old Alastair Sim version of Scrooge, which we watched last evening. In the movie, his maid also refers to him as "the olde screw" at one point. Sue and I use that expression from time to time, but very few people in the world would understand our meaning.

We have a long-standing, family tradition of watching at least one version of Scrooge every year. This year, I hope to do all three versions that we have. The other two feature George C Scott and Patrick Stewart (respectively, as opposed to both in the same movie). Daughter #1 is now in her thirties and continues the tradition to the point where she bought the George C Scott version on DVD this year. I think that is simply splendid, but I'm a foolish, sentimental type. In fact, Christmas carols are playing on the cottage's cheap, old, little CD player as I write this, and I love that too.

It's the simple pleasures and not the commercial excesses that I thrill to in this season. I enjoy the gift-exchange too, but more for the family hearth atmosphere that encompasses it.

Feel free to comment on the simple but abundant pleasures that you and yours enjoy in this season.


Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Morning Light

I suppose that I will slow down the picture-posting at some point but not yet. A touch of mist hung in the air this morning, rendering the early light quite fetching. With the temperatures well below freezing, I limited myself to poking my head out of the back door for a short moment and quickly snapped these two photos: both from off the back stoop within about a yard from the door. The first (above) was to the right, and the one below was to the left.

In other news, I eventually got the fire going well yesterday. The odour of burning wood was quite intoxicating. However, by five o'clock this morning the fire had diminished to the point where the temperature had settled to a rather nippy 57°F (14°C). I couldn't face a trip down the steep steps to the dank cellar at that hour, so I put the oil furnace on, and we are once again warm and content.

In yet more news, for the whole year, I have eagerly anticipated this opportunity to snowshoe at Riverwood for a few weeks in the winter. I have done this for several years at greater weight than I carry now with no observable physical consequences. However, now that I am slimmer and in better shape, day one resulted in a pulling of muscles in a very tender region. I did take an awkward tumble, so maybe that was the cause. However, I fear that I will be laid up for a day or two. I fervently hope that I recover quickly and shall not be greatly amused if I don't.


Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Still in a Christmas Card

I am taking a brief timeout while I wait to see if my first fire (in the wood-burning chamber of the furnace) has caught or not. I lack the magic touch of my brother-in-law who, seemingly, possesses the ability to start a roaring conflagration with the flick of a wrist or a twitch of the nose — or some such magic that eludes me. I do my best to place the logs just so and use approximately fourteen editions of the Saturday Star as fire-starter, but the wood always struggles valiantly against my best efforts. Once it does get going, however, it amazes me how much heat a few logs can generate.

Meanwhile, the Outdoor Christmas Card yet endures. Snow still blankets the trees in its glory. When we went for our first snowshoe-walk in the woods today, we were awestruck by the beauty and snapped our cameras with reckless abandon. Out of deference to dialup bloggers, I resist the urge to show the lot and must content myself with the two that are now on your screen.

The afternoon begins to wane, so I must finish my apple-cinnamon tea, check the fire, and don my snowshoes for another little walkabout before the night closes us in.


Living in a Christmas Card

We have arrived! We will spend much of the next six weeks at the old country farmhouse depicted the following photo. I took the photo at dusk yesterday, from the gate at the road. Don't you find it both quintessentially Canadian and quintessentially Christmassy? In your imagination, isn't this what a rural, Canadian Christmas should look like: a little, old farmhouse with both it and the trees blanketed in freshly fallen snow?

Several months ago, I conceived the idea to spend Christmas in the country, here at the cottage that we call Riverwood. It seemed like a fine idea at the time, and it does now too, but I was feeling rather dubious about the enterprise several short days ago.

We love it here. Riverwood is a great place in all seasons, but winter and autumn are our favourites. Happily, Riverwood is only two hours from Ottawa where the family will coalesce to spend Christmas. It will be much easier to drive two hours from here than to drive seven hours from home: especially because we will also be obtaining and transporting daughter #2 and her paraphenalia.

Recently, however, as I have already confessed, I began to doubt the venture. The whole process of getting ready, packing the car, and driving across province seems to develop into more of a monumental chore with each passing year, and I become more and more tempted to forego the exertion and to stay home. That's always the case though, isn't it? It's always easier to take the path (or in this case, the easy chair) of least resistance. Let me also add that my misgivings most certainly did not diminish as the pile of stuff-to-be-transported multiplied all over the house.

It takes a lot of effort to gather and pack all of the various goods and sundries required for a six-week hiatus. Boxes of food, bags of Christmas gifts, and suitcases full of clothes began to expand and mutate in every spare corner. How would it all fit in the car? Barely as it turns out: we had to fold the back seats down and pile both high and deep in order to squeeze it all in: to the point where I kept finding myself looking for bigger and bigger shoehorns. Mercifully, Harriet the Chariot (our Honda CRV) is much more capacious than our previous conveyance — Corey the Corolla — and, with the help of the shoehorns, the victory was ours.

Yesterday morning, with Harriet crammed to the brim, we began our five-hour trip. Miraculously, all went well; the roads were clear, and traffic was moderate, even along the normally frenetic highways of Toronto. After four hours, we found ourselves in Peterborough with only about an hour's drive ahead of us, and shortly after that, we turned the car north along a very rural, isolated road. For the next forty-five minutes or so, until we arrived here at the place that we call Riverwood, we saw very few vehicles but a plenteous helping of nature's beauty.

It is this final stretch that never fails to buoy my spirits. Lakes, trees, rock, and undulating topography always combine to render the drive most enjoyable and even therapeutic. It's always an uplifting section of road and country, but it was even better than usual yesterday, for there was snow: plenty of snow. There was not only snow on the ground, always pleasing enough in its own right, but the trees were most gloriously snow-laden for the whole stretch, and all of the way to the Riverwood gate and down the lane to the old farmhouse (to which both pictures attest). I have never experienced anything quite the like: Christmas-card settings around every bend in the road as the miles stretched on and on.

After unloading Harriet, we eagerly ventured out for a short walk: a very short walk because darkness was fast descending. The light was fading so quickly that I was forced to shoot at a very high film speed (800 ISO), a relatively low shutter speed (1/30), and a wide-open aperture. Despite the imperfect and waning light, I felt compelled to take pictures, for the magic might not have lingered overnight. I have observed in the past that trees tend to shed their snowy burdens with great alacrity (although the magic yet lingers this morning). Sometimes you shoot when you can and not when the conditions are perfect. Besides, I felt the need to capture that moment as best I could, imperfect photos or not.

All in all, I should never have doubted myself for suggesting this trip at this time. It was a good idea to come here early and to get settled before Christmas, and never could we have picked a better day for the journey; for, as beautiful as it usually is here, I have never before beheld it quite as picturesquely resplendent as I did yesterday.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I am drawn to listen to a little seasonal music. Hot apple cider anyone?


Saturday, December 11, 2004

Present-tense Store

We are in the throws of assembling gear for the six-week hiatus that we are about to take in the country. I should probably say that Sue is in the throws and that I move paper around my desk and run the occasional errand, for I am pretty useless at getting organized in this manner. It's better for both of us, in this situation at least, if I remain on the periphery rather than get my ponderous hulk in the way.

So it was that one of my errands today took me to Canada's leading electronic retailer. If you're Canadian, you know it without hearing the name. If you're not, the name hardly matters. So I'm not going to tell you. Yes, I am going to tell you … in a way. It's not called Present-tense Store, but that's a clue.

On the whole, I rather like the place, but they practise one form of retailing that displeases me. In fact, I find it shoddy and bordering on the fraudulent. Rather than describe it right now, let me back up and tell the reader what I bought today and why.

As I mentioned, we are heading for the country where short days, long nights, and no tv, will afford this blogger a fine opportunity to sort through his computer files, backup all sorts of them to CDs, and eliminate many from his crowded hard drive.

Aside: truthfully, the drive isn't crowded; it actually has more space remaining than what existed on my previous computer's hard drive when it was empty. However, because it's more than half full, it begins to gnaw at me — odd fellow that I am.

To get back to the storyline, this afternoon I purchased a spindle of fifty CDs for thirty dollars — or so I thought. When I got home, I realized that the store had charged me forty dollars. Had I been mistaken? As it turns out: no and yes.

No: I was not mistaken because when I went back, the sign over the bin clearly said thirty dollars.

Yes: I was mistaken because when my wife bent down to study the fine print, she read that the price was thirty dollars: only after I were to receive a ten-dollar rebate. Why didn't the sign read: "$40 with $10 rebate that you have faint hope of receiving before next Christmas unless it snows in July and rains cats and dogs in January and a certain president becomes a statesman and peacemaker"?

I should have known really, for just several months ago I had a similar experience at the same store. In that instance, I brought an item to the pert and friendly cashier who, rather unfortunately, attempted to charge me something significantly greater than the price that I had seen listed. In that case, the discrepancy was sufficient for me to notice while I was still at the checkout, and I was able to renege on the purchase right then and there.

So, yes, perhaps I should have known better, but I am a trusting kind of guy. I am so trusting that I don't normally think to lower my head to ground level in order to read the fine print on the bin tag: silly old fool that I am.

I remain flummoxed over the reason for this practice. They would have had my business regardless, for there were several other brands selling at my price. It's not that they gained or lost, but I feel as though I have been had.

Rather than being yet another deliriously happy customer, here I am: blogging my displeasure over Present-tense Store. The story is out there now: out there for the whole world to see and read. Okay: at least my wife and daughter, will read it, and if they read it, they will tell others. Don't studies reveal that one dissatisfied customer spreads the word to twelve other consumers?

Does this sort of business practice make sense to you?

Am I alone in this, or does the word, fraudulent, leap to anyone else's mind?

Watch out Present-tense Store, lest you become Past-tense before your time, for we may not in the Future, Shop there.


Sue's Mouse

You may recall Sue's recent blogs about my mouse encounters. You may also recall her fear that another rodential being had taken up residence in our automobile. Well, we trapped a rather exotic critter yesterday: presumably her mouse. I hope that it isn't wasn't an endangered species.


Friday, December 10, 2004

It Just Happened to Sue Too

After yesterday's post about both me and my father getting lost, a somewhat amusing thing just happened.

This is a small city of only about 75000; so it's not all that easy to get lost. Sue had a doctor's appointment this morning: hardly in an obscure location — we pass it regularly. About a half hour after she left (thanks goodness she left in plenty of time), she called to ask me where the heck the doctor's office was. She couldn't even remember the street — and it's a main street too!

We had a good laugh over that. You have to learn to do that in this life because if you couldn't laugh at yourself, you'd end up crying.


Thursday, December 09, 2004

Thinking of Dad

As the biking season fades into memory, we resume our old habit of going for a walk in the evening. We just walk around the neighbourhood for about twenty minutes or so. This can't, by any stretch of reasoning, replace the benefit of a two-hour bike ride, but, sometimes, it has to do.

There are days when we shake ourselves into action earlier. In the afternoon, we might drive to a local park where we can walk in the woods, through a meadow, and around a little lake. On other days we'll tromp around the wetlands or just walk along the trail on which we bike in fair weather.

Walking is infinitely superior to doing nothing but vastly inferior to a long bike ride. In winter, however, you do what you can.

It's in the nighttime, neighbourhood walks that I sometimes lose my bearings. The looping suburban streets all look about the same to me, and, what passes for my mind, loses itself in some reverie or another. When I snap back to attention, it often takes me a few beats to realize where I am. Not to fear: it always comes back to me.

When this happens, however, I invariably think of my poor father who loved to walk. Well into his eighties, he was known to walk regularly and at some length — until he fell one day. I'm sure that he got lost, became fatigued, and collapsed from exhaustion.

Dad was suffering from dementia. He was crafty enough to know that all was not right, and he covered his condition as best as he could, but his mind was, quite obviously, slipping into a fog. As much as he might try, he could not conceal this. He would forget people, events, and places where he had lived.

So, I am sure that, on the day of his fall, he simply lost his bearings and walked in confusion until his weary, old legs could support him no more. How frighteningly bewildering it must have been for him! I think of how he must have felt on that day every time that I, temporarily, lose my place when I am out waking.

Although he lived for another year or longer, he never went out for another walk, at least not on his own Whatever memories were lost to him, somehow, the terror of that day and that fall remained imprinted on his brain. Even as his mind slipped deeper into the mists, he somehow knew that he mustn't head out on is own — ever! It still astounds me.

It also astounds me that he never forgot me: knew who I was until he slipped into unconsciousness on the eve of his departure from these shores. He thought he was forty-five, didn't know whether it was day or night, summer or winter, this town or that town, but he never forgot his son.

It must hurt children badly when their parents do forget then, and we know that this happens all too frequently. I am grateful that I was spared that particular loss which must surely be like a death within life.

I will continue to think of Dad whenever I catch myself unaware on these almost nightly neighbourhood walks. I will think of his fear and commiserate. I count my blessings: that he lived long and that he always knew me, but I tremble slightly at what the future holds for the son who carries his Dad's genes.


Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Marsh Reeds

I don't even know what you call these things. They exist in wetlands and are up to ten feet tall or more. I took this photo a week or two ago. I usually touch up a photo slightly in Photoshop, even if it's just to sharpen it a bit. In this case I boosted the contrast, sharpened it, and increased the saturation quite a bit to bring out the yellow colour in particular.

Sometimes, you want to record how a scene looked, but, other times, you want to record the scene as you wish it had looked.


Tuesday, December 07, 2004

I've Been Scooped ...

... by my very own wife!

Seriously, although I was the protagonist in these two anecdotes, it's Sue's story to tell. She has told it many times and in many places. If you want to chuckle over some of my hapless adventures, read Oh No! Not Again! and then Mouse in the House.

You're welcome.


Lunar Eclipse: Octobter 2004

I don't suppose that I have to explain this series of photos too much. They represent the full lunar eclipse that we experienced in October. The last is of the full eclipse when there was a dull, red glow. You'd think that there would have been no light at all, but, as you can see, there was some. It took a very long time exposure to get the last shot of the full eclipse — it wasn't nearly as bright as the photo suggests. Despite the use of a tripod, you can se a lot of camera shake and blur. I should have been using a remote shutter release, but I wasn't. Live and learn.


Was That It?

Every time that we get out on the bikes now, I ask myself, if it's the last ride for quite a while. We're well into December, will be going away soon and for much of January, and it's supposed to be rainy and/or windy for the foreseeable future. Yesterday may have been IT for the season.

The temperatures have been close to the freezing point for the last few rides, and the wind chill factor must surely have been below zero today. However, the problem with exerting oneself in the colder weather (not that we're really in winter yet, but we're rapidly getting there) is actually keeping cool and not overheating. If you dwell in a warmer climate, that may sound awfully strange to you, but there you have it.

You see, you have to layer yourself to some degree when it gets cold, but physical exertion causes the body temperature to climb. Because you are layered to keep the cold out, of course you also tend to keep your body heat in. Unfortunately, this causes one to perspire, and, even more unfortunately, the sweat has nowhere to go but into your clothes.

As a result, I come home from every bike ride, lately, thoroughly drenched: much more so than in summer. Of course I sweat in summer, but when I'm in shorts and Tees, and out in the breezes, the perspiration mostly evaporates. I come home drier and more comfortable in my clothes than I do when the weather is colder. Granted, this was an unusually cool summer in these parts, so I didn't exert myself in any scorching heat waves, but I think you still get my drift.

I have been wearing three layers for these rides: a long-sleeved undershirt under a warm liner that is, in turn, under a thin shell. The shell has zippers under the arms, which I unfailingly unzip before too much time has elapsed. I also unzip the front of the shell too, the amount depending on the temperatures on a given day. Frequently, the liner gets at least partly unzipped too. Yet I still get hot.

There's really no way to prevent this. You can't undo too many zippers and flaps, or you'll get some unhealthy cold spots, and you don't want that. So, you persist. It's the price that demands to be paid, and it's worth it.

I write this in part because people, even neighbours, tend to question our sanity when we head out in this weather. They are folk who run from warm houses to cold cars and from warm cars (after about five minutes) through a short blast of cold to enter a nicely warmed workplace, store, or what have you. Because they are in and out so quickly, they tend not to dress sufficiently and actually feel the cold more than one who dresses for it and spends more time outdoors in it.

Come real winter, when we get out walking and snowshoeing in the country, I may very well revisit this theme. In a sense it's a bit premature for me to post about winter conditions now, but it has been on my mind lately because of our biking, and biking is really on my mind tonight because I fear that the season is all but over. What a treat it has been for these old, degenerating bones and joints to find an activity that they can tolerate.

Saint Paul aspires to get out on his bike at least once every month, even through the dead and dread of winter. I think that's very do-able, but I fear that we'll at least have to pass on January, at least, as we won't be around much. Not that I'm complaining about a having to take a nice, long, winter, country holiday. No, I'm not complaining at all.


Monday, December 06, 2004

Robinson Lake

I don't want to neglect photos too much, for I know that, difficult as it may be to fathom, some people prefer my photos to my breathless prose. I searched neither long nor hard for this one. I simply opened the first file that I came to, and said: "This will do."

The photo of Robinson Lake, not far from Riverwood cottage, was taken a little over a month ago when autumn yet lingered. We will be heading up that way in another week and a half, and the landscape (and lakescapes?) will look totally different. There is something to be said for living in a genuine four-season climate, and just as soon as I think what it is, I'll let you know what it is.

Actually, we deliberately choose autumn and winter as our two main excursion-times into that area. Both seasons are bug-free, or comparativley so, and both are quite beautiful in their own ways. We are passionatley hoping for snow when we get there, but I think we may be disappointed.

I'll let you know.


Sunday, December 05, 2004

Getting My Shit Together

Disclaimer: the title is literal. You may prefer not to read this if it is early morning and/or you are of squeamish bent.

Note: this was the other little 'item' that could have marred my day yesterday (see previous blog), but it didn't seem to fit well with the rest of that blog; so, it must stand on its own.

When one reaches a certain age, the medical establishment becomes inordinately interested in his bowels. Therefore, after my annual physical examination last week, I was sent home with a Hemoccult Test Kit. What this means in plainspeak, is that, after following various dietary prescriptions and proscriptions over the duration of several days, I am to port three samples of my shit to the medical lab.

I don't know about about you, but I am not predisposed to embrace such a daunting task with hearty enthusiasm. So, it is with some reluctance that I prepared to collect my first specimen last night.

I began to follow instruction one: "Using a ballpoint pen, write your name, age, address, phone number, and your physician [sic] name on the front of the slides in the spaces provided."

Sound easy to you? Me too. Problem one: the whole 'form' is about the size of a matchbook. In fact, the container is built much like a matchbook. You lift the cover, put your samples inside (two dabs from each of three stool collections), and close the cover. That doesn't amount to a huge amount of space in which to pen the vital statistics demanded by the laboratory authorities, not to mention the date and time, which they later appended in instruction two (to follow shortly). Generally, this would barely cause me pause as I have a reasonable facility for writing or printing small characters: to the extent that others frequently remark on this facility of mine as they ask me to pass the magnifying glass.

I do, however, find it difficult to write on glossy, highly-polished surfaces. Even my trusty space pen — the one that will write in space, over butter, underwater, and upside down — all at the same time! — was not up to the task. Neither was any other pen in the house. After much sticktoitiveness, accompanied by much colourful language, I managed to accomplish the task. A lot of blotching occurred, but with a good interpreter or five, they should be able to read my matchbook data.

On to instruction two: "Before bowl movement, fill in sample collection date and time on first slide. Flush toilet and allow it to refill. Let stool fall into clean, dry collection container, before it contacts toilet bowl water." Did you get that? Flush the toilet, and then shit into a dry container — a container, not the toilet! Does this cause you the same puzzlement that it caused me? Why are we to be so fastidious about flushing the toilet when we are not, directly, to use it?

Mercifully for you, I shall cease my narrative at this point. Might I point out, however, that at no point did I find this to be an amusing and fun-filled task? I am beginning to discover that getting old is not for the faint or heart. However, it beats the alternative.

But you know what? Yesterday was still a good day, regardless (read previous blog): a day well worth the living. And let it be said by no one that AC doesn't give a shit, for he most certainly does — for those who ask politely, at least.


When I'm Up I Can't Get Down

There's a Canadian, Celtic folk group, Great big Sea, that does a song that shares the same title as this blog post. There are days like that: days when little things go wrong, but the day, in general, goes well and one's joie de vivre can't be easily suppressed. I suppose more people more often have the reverse experience, however.

What I'm trying to say, in my usual oblique fashion, is that I enjoyed a fine day, yesterday. We began the day with a coffee and bagel from Tim Horton's and headed east for a two-hour drive to see, Sal, a friend of ours who is now legally blind after a stroke two years ago. Despite certain difficulties, she copes as well as possible with her new reality.

It was Sal's birthday. First obstacle to joy: we planned to pick up some whipped cream for the banana cream pie that I had made in lieu of a real birthday cake and then to grab a sandwich from Tim's to take in to her. The cream was marked on sale, but when we got to the checkout, we were charged the full price. To the store's credit, they were more than willing to double-check. However, I didn't prefer to waste the time over forty cents, so I paid the full amount, and off we went.

However, I wasn't as sanguine over the flub at Tim Horton's, our very next stop. We had ordered our food, paid, and queued for our sub-like sandwiches. Sue and I, as we frequently do, had ordered one large sandwich to share between us. Well, it turns out that they didn't have any large buns left and seemed flummoxed over what to do since we had already paid for a large. To prevent this narrative from getting too long, let me say that we were required to fork over an extra seventy-three cents: the greater cost of two small sandwiches over one large. I did get a trifle snarly over that, growled a little, was tempted to take significant issue with the manager, but when I looked at all of the poor sods waiting back in line, I decided not to press the issue. But really, what multi-million dollar corporation makes you ante up an additional seventy-three cents to recompense it's error after you have ordered, paid, and queued?

Regardless, we had a very nice two-hour visit with Sal before heading further east to visit daughter #2. Out we all went to buy Christmas presents for the native children (see previous post). That was fun to do with her. We soon had a cart with a hundred dollars worth of toys and things, and I think that we all felt good about it.

After a really nice supper, accompanied, to my great delight, by an error-free bill, daughter #2 expressed the desire to check out Future Shop for a Gameboy. Apparently, she has always wanted one. Unfortunately, at a cost of one-hundred dollars, it was beyond her pocketbook, and she walked away. Wife and I decided to buy her one. Not for Christmas. Just because. Because she's a nice and generous kid. Because we could. It felt good. In fact, #2 was so obviously pleased, grateful, and happy that it felt more than good, dammit.

The big things, the important things, all went right yesterday. We had two great visits with two great people, were able to bring some joy and happiness into both lives, and were tremendously privileged to participate in the buying of Christmas toys for less-advantaged children. I wonder how often we allow inconsequential irritants to despoil our days? I'm not sure why I can be so easily set-off on some days and yet remain so equanimous on others. I wish that I had the formula, for I like myself better this way.

I may have more to say about yesterday, but this seems like a good hitching post for now.


Wednesday, December 01, 2004

I Wish I Knew

In my recent blog, Giving Thanks, I made some observations about the disparity between the rich and the poor nations, or to be more politically correct, between developed and developing nations.

timx of the It's Getting Warmer blog posted this comment: "OK. So what is the next step?!" Having read his thoughtful and informative blog, I know that this is a serious and not a flippant question.

Frankly, I don't know. I wish I knew.

Here's what I do know. I do know that November 26, the day after the American Thanksgiving, was the declared, by someone at least, Buy Nothing Day in North America* (here's the website). I also know that most people have never heard of BND, and I know that vast numbers of American's shopped in frenetic droves that day. I know in my gut that there's something radically wrong. I don't know what to do about it.

*Note: It is not my intention to pick on Americans; it's simply a current and handy example. We Canadians practise the same type of binge-consumerism on Boxing Day.

Of course, there's the old standard about requiring more education, but I don't know where that sentiment gets us. It is we adults who require a fundamental shift in values, and we don't go to school. There is already exposure; there are crusaders. For example: U2's Bono speaks loudly on this issue. He even spoke at the festivities when Paul Martin became Prime Minister of Canada. There was much smiling and nodding of heads in polite approbation, which will, no doubt, amount to nought.

There are levels of knowledge. On one level, we are dimly aware of global poverty. I even venture to say that many of us experience a small, inner, nagging guilt. However, we don't know in a deeply experiential way. We haven't been there. We see a program, are moved, shut off the tv, and lose track of the issue.

We do care. Oprah, for example, took her staff to South Africa last year; I'm sure that she spent millions of dollars buying toys for the children in a glorious effort to give them a good Christmas. And yet, she spends much of this season giving cars and pukingly, opulent weddings to people who are already, comparatively speaking at least, well-to-do. Somebody who already lives in wonderful house will get a free, stem to stern, decorating-makeover because she is simply so flummoxed about how to apply paint or wallpaper. Does this not drive anyone else crazy?

Recent experience teaches us that values can be changed. For example: twenty years ago, drunk driving was a significant issue. Continual pounding of the message on the nation's airwaves has substantially changed people's attitudes. Almost everyone is now aware that driving under the influence is intolerable, and all but a few take pains to comply.

Let's keep pounding away. And let's do what we can on an individual level. Lets all be a little more like daughter #2, who, for Christmas, asks for her gift that we make a donation to buy toys for native children. She who lives the un-materialistic life of a debt-ridden, college student; she, who has the least (in this family); she is the most generous and least acquisitive of the family — myself included.

Isn't that how the world is changed: one person at a time? Can't we all contribute to Oxfam, World Vision, or CARE this season (note: all are Canadian links)? Sometimes, we do not contribute at all because we can only contribute a very little. But what is little to us can be much to others. A small donation can provide food for a month. If million and millions of families all donated a little something right now, wouldn't that amount to much? If we did this several times a year, could not the impact be truly measurable?

This is one step that we can take. It's all that I can think to do. There must me more. I wish I knew.