Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Aging and Sleeping ... Or Not

It seems that we notice changes around our decade birthdays. For many, eyes change around the age of forty. I know mine did; I had finally tried contact lenses with the prescription that I had used for several years. It was a short experiment because I found that I had trouble reading with them. You see, my eyes had alterred enough to require bifocals. A decade later, at fifty, give or take, I noticed my energy levels dropping. As a teacher, I'd sit at my desk in the evenings to mark papers or plan lessons, and it would be a slog.

Now that I am in my early sixties, I can report that another change is occurring and has been for several years now. Sleep. Or lack of it.

While I've often had trouble falling asleep, I usually hadn't had much difficulty in staying asleep. But in the past few years that has shifted. Depending on the night, I might go to bed at midnight, and I might even fall asleep soon after on some nights. But I now seem to be waking up fairly early (for me, in my historical context). I might awaken anywhere from about 5:30 to 7:30 in the morning but most likely about halfway between those two extremes. If I had fallen asleep around midnight, that's usually close to enough sleep for me — but only close and not quite enough. However, if my sleep gets truncated at both ends, say 1:30 to 5:30, it's not good. I require more sleep than that. But what I require and what I get can be very different. It can be quite frustrating.

At an almost identical age, getting enough sleep is also Cuppa's problem, but in her case it isn't lack of sleep. As her body changes, she requires more and more slumber. She seems to need and usually obtain about ten hours, and even then, she might feel completely drained by supper time. If she must remain perky in the evening for some reason, she will drink coffee in copious quantities and still fall blissfully asleep and remain that way for many, many blissful hours.

Oddly enough, she has typically been the more energetic person in this couple with more stamina than me. Yet here we are — with opposite sides of the same vexing problem. Neither of us can get enough sleep.

So, beware younguns; changes await. Unless you are of a very different constitution, I am almost willing to wager that you will notice at least some changes in the very areas that I have mentioned.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Saturday, March 28, 2009

On Super-Extended Life Spans

Dr Oz's last session on Oprah was quite fascinating. It was about living longer, perhaps 120 years or more — in good and vigorous health, of course.

Early in the show Dr Oz introduced a guy from the audience who was living on a calorie-restricted diet of about 1950 calories per day. He ate really good stuff and Dr Oz said that he could live to be 150 years old. While I don't think this was a serious prediction, it did indicate that this guy was onto something. Apparently, when you don't eat the amount that is considered to be enough calories, your body optimizes itself in some way and becomes extremely efficient (these are my words but they capture the idea), and, all things being equal, one should expect to live longer and to be in good health while doing so. If I were being lighthearted and shallow, I might ask, "What's the point of living if you can't eat?", but that would be superficial and a tiny bit flippant, so I'll resist. I certainly do see the point of being healthy and filled with energy, and that seems to be the key idea.

The show went on to reveal the latest in medical technology: how organs can be regrown in the lab and so on. These organs would be grown from one's own cells within weeks and would, therefore, not be susceptible to rejection. The idea behind organ regrowth is that, as healthy as one might be, as we learn more about generally treating ourselves better and therefore living longer, things can still go wrong, and parts may needed to be replaced in our bodies just as in our cars. Apparently, scientists getting closer and closer to be able to be doing just that.

Of course, whether we're talking about eating a really healthy diet or growing organs in the lab, this can only be done at significant cost, especially the latter. That's a major sticking point, isn't it? While the well-to-do might be able to afford the latest and greatest life-saving technologies, what about the rest of humanity? And what about the third world where obtaining the most basic sort of medical intervention is problematic? I am here referring to cheap and ubiquitous vaccines and low tech therapies? Shouldn't the focus be on achieving a basic standard of life for all rather than super-extended life spans for a few?

While I'm sure that in some way, we all do benefit from high tech advances, I find it hard to buy into the idea that's it's necessarily a good thing to focus on increasing longevity in such a quantum fashion. While I am terribly appreciative that we now live somewhat longer and in somewhat better health than previous generations, these gains have been slow and minimal, and, therefore, society has been able to cope fairly well. In point of fact, much what we have achieved so far is the elimination of infant and child mortality, which has been enough to increase average life expectancy by quite a bit: largely because more people are living into adulthood than previously. If you are skeptical of this, I challenge you to browse around some pioneer cemeteries and note the heart-wrenching number of markers that memorialize dearly departed children and youth.

When it is said that we are designed to live to be 120 or even 150 years old and that science will soon make that possible, I am not one to leap to my feet in unadulterated enthusiasm, for I foresee problems. I have already mentioned one: very unequal access. If the average world citizen cannot afford to participate in such advances, I'm not going to get too excited about them. Impressed yes; excited no.

I also foresee tremendous social implications. Can you imagine entering the workplace in your twenties and sighing contentedly because you would be able to retire in ... oh ... about a hundred years? Isn't that what it comes to? If you live longer, you'll have to work longer to provide for yourself. That's a problem, both for the poor hundred year-old dude who has to get up and drag his sorry self to work as well as for the twenty year-old kid who can't find a job because the workplace is clogged with oldtimers.

When I caught Oprah's very next show, I beheld a great irony. It was about the great obesity epidemic. Here were people seemingly doing their best to drive themselves into an early grave by eating copious quantities of unhealthy food while refraining from anything resembling physical exertion. While I'm not picking on these people because we all have our own foibles to contend with and crosses to bear, I do find the juxtaposition of the two shows to be tremendously ironic. There are so many problems to solve about living in the here and now, that it seems somehow premature to wax excited over the carrot-stick of quasi-immortality that is being dangled before of us.

Humans have always dreamed of immortality, but in the end, life is much more about living our hours and days than about worrying about the years and decades. It's a series of passing moments, and the best attitude seems to be to appreciate and maximize those. Having said that, I have no death wish and greatly desire to be around for a few more decades yet, so I certainly understand fascination with increasing our longevity. I just don't get too caught up in the hoopla.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Foto Friday

I know that I just posted a bunch of photos yesterday, but it's Foto Friday, and I've missed a few of those lately, so I'm going to post more today. This week, just to be a little different, I'm going with a black and white theme. Let's start with Zach because he hasn't been getting a lot of exposure on this blog lately. He's what people call a good baby: sleeps a lot and doesn't fuss much when he's awake. Except maybe when Buppa holds him. When Buppa held the young Nikki Dee, he seemed to stop her from crying. However, when Buppa holds Zachary, he seems to start him crying. While I'm over-stating it just a tad, there's some truth to what I'm saying.

Speaking of Niki Dee, following are two photos of her rocking on the front porch on Monday afternoon after a little outing with the grands. She was a very sick and dejected little munchkin on the next day (Tuesday) and pretty well recovered on the day after that (Wednesday, Cuppa's birthday). What resilience! On her sick day, she moaned and clung to the nearest adult for the whole day. A listless Nikki Dee is abnormal and heart-wrenching site to behold, let me tell ya. Poor kid.

Meet Saint Al, with his back to you, above. You see, I was around the corner when the handyman genes were dished out, and I need help to do just about anything that involves opposable thumbs. In Sarnia, we had Saint Paul to help us out every now and then. Here we tend to rely on SILly, and in this case our neighbour, Saint Al. He is helping us repair the wall in our front porch. In a townhouse, we live cheek by jowl with our neighbours and our porch is immediately juxtaposed with the guys to the south. So, last year we built a little wall to give us a bit of privacy out there. But over the winter the thing began to warp and buckle rather prodigiously, so Saint Al has stepped in to help rescue the wall and us. Bless you, Al.

Below: this is how odd jobs affect me — send me into immediate surrender mode.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Birthday Pics

Miscellaneous scenes from Cuppa's birthday. Chiefly of family interest.

Above and below: the cake and the cutting thereof. It's a huge cake from Costco, just because Cuppa likes Costco cakes.

Above: Nikki Dee partakes of the cake.

Below: We are now a hip, skype-ing sort of family, except that it's apparently not hip to say hip. Here is the rest of the immediate clan talking to and looking at the far-flung Althegal in Vancouver.

Above: the babies have just come in from being outside before supper. Although you can't see me, I am holding the still-capped Zachary while rosy-cheeked Nikki Dee clambers over me to get at him.

Below: shenanigans brought to you by SILly.

Above: Daddy sends Nikki Dee soaring. She loves it. We worry about her arms and joints.

Below: Cuppa plays around with one of her gifts.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Happy Birthday Cuppa

At sixty-two you can still cut it.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Painfully Cute

Our Nikki Dee vacillates between being a cute, near-perfect little girl and a little hellion. We tried to take her on three different walks last week, and each attempt was a miserable failure, and I do emphasize the word, miserable. She has a mind of her own, and she is not easily dissuaded, and sometimes she must be. It's not so bad when she is uncooperative about walking the trail and insists on picking up stones (see photo above). When we try to move her on, she circles back and back and back. She's very determined. But as I say, it didn't much matter in that locale.

While we could stop and try our best to accommodate her then, it wasn't so easy in her neighbourhood when she spotted girls drawing with chalk on their driveway. Since they knew her, I allowed her to bother them for a few minutes by trying to play with their chalk. But as nice as they were, they're five or six years old and not ready to play with a two year old. Getting her out of there involved much screeching and wailing. I had to pick her up and carry her home. Indeed, she put on quite a performance.

A day or two later, we tried another walk, this time in our neighbourhood. She saw some ten year old boys that we didn't know playing on skate boards. Of course, she wanted to join them. And of course, she fussed and carried on in high dudgeon when we wouldn't allow it. As before, just when we thought we had her headed in the right direction she would turn and try to head back — repeatedly. I realize she's just being two, but let me tell ya, it was not a fun time.

On the other hand, she enjoys her bedtime story with Buppa (below), and she gives him lots of voluntary hugs and snuggles in the morning.

And she loves to go to the store with the grands. Yesterday, we went to Wal-Mart and Home Depot where she had a wonderful time on the riding lawn mowers. There was a whole row and most got visited and sat upon more than once. It was very cute, and we even got out without a fuss when the time was right.

The north wind was bitter yesterday, but the kids' front porch is quite protected, so she played out there for quite a while going from rocking chair to door to window where she could say hello to Mom.

Yes, she's very cute. Just as long as we remember to avoid those pitfalls: neighbourhood walks. I guess you could say that she's sometimes a pain but usually cute. And I guess that makes her painfully cute.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Solo, So Low

Hmmm, AC, you might as well embarrass yourself further by writing one more post dealing with your musical shortcomings. Well, why not? On the bucket list that I’ve been loosely following, there’s a question about whether I’ve ever sung a solo, so here goes.

The sad answer is, “Yes. I have sung a solo ... or attempted to.” And the result, along with my choir and fiddling experiences, seems to indicate that my music should be limited to being between my iPod and my ears. Voice and performance should not be attempted by AC – not in public at any rate.

Once upon a time, I was an emerging teenager and going to a very small charismatic church. They began to hold a young peoples meeting in a house. Since there weren’t many of us to call upon, I was asked to sing a solo one night. Well, I had no idea how to prepare a solo, such as work it out with the accompanist ahead of time. What the adults, including my parents, were thinking, I don’t know. Yes, I do; they didn’t know either. Anyway, the result was predictable, and I was never asked for a repeat performance. I sang When the Roll is Called up Yonder, and I’m sure that just about everyone was fervently agreeing in prayer: “Even so, come quickly, Lord.”

There was a later attempt, also involving church and young people, but it requires a little more explication.

These days, many kids want to play in a rock band, but back when I was a religious teenager and when gospel concerts (southern style) were all the rage in my circle (anybody remember All Night Sings?), it seemed that everyone wanted to sing in a gospel quartet. Because I had and have a pretty deep voice, I was asked to join a new quartet. We called ourselves The Royal Sons – great name, lousy group.

Without prattling endlessly about all of the details about the quartet’s trials and tribulations, let me skip to the end and reveal that in the fullness it fell upon Mr Bassman (who was found lacking “that certain something”) to sing a solo part. After much rehearsal, I seemed to have it down to passable standards in practice but, then I mysteriously struggled onstage on the three occasions in which I performed it publicly.

As I thought about it, I realized that when performing for an audience, I was struggling to reach the higher notes. When I mentioned to the self-proclaimed leader that I thought we needed to bring the key down a notch, he confessed that they moved the key up on me during performances because he, the lead singer, needed the notes to be higher for the refrain. Can you imagine the cheek of sabotaging the soloist in a piece? What unChristian-like gall!

So, you see, I have sung a few solos. And none of them worked out very well. I should have sung so low that nobody could have heard me.

Considering my recent confessions about choral singing, fiddling and now soloing, it really does seem I should limit my musical experiences to sticking the iPod in my ear, or at least the earphones attached to said device. The poor souls who have been forced to listen to my various attempts to make music, however, would no doubt prefer to shove the whole iPod … er … ahem ... blush ... yeah ... you know where.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Oh Fiddle Faddle!

From that 100-item list of Janet’s, I managed to write five posts on item two, which had to do with sleeping under the stars – five posts about something that I hadn’t done. So, there’s ninety-eight more items to consider, and at five posts per list item of things that I haven’t accomplished …

No, I’m just kidding, but point three asks if one has played in a band. I’m going to say yes … sort of.

Partly, it depends how one might define a band. That’s not easy for me because I grew up understanding it to be a brass ensemble whereas an orchestra was made up primarily of wood instruments like violins. To me, a musical group like the Beatles was just that – a musical group. However, somewhere along the line in pop culture, groups became bands, and that isn’t wrong because group and band are synonymous. I simply have to get used to the terminology.

In the sense that a musical ensemble of any sort is a band, I have played in a band – exactly once. Just over a year ago, I performed as part of the Blue Skies Fiddling Orchestra in their Christmas concert (blogged here). This was part of my delving into the world of the fiddle and attempting to learn to play the dang thing. I’ve mentioned fiddling in this blog on a number of occasions but nothing lately. So what’s up?

Not much. Although I had been participating in the jam (which, keeping consistent with this topic, I guess is kind of a non-performing band) in the early autumn, due to certain commitments and exigencies, I was forced to miss a number of sessions last November. When the missing continued on into December, I decided to wait until the New Year to make my return.

During my period of withdrawal, however, I realized that my arthritic hands and fingers weren’t doing too well, and I began to practice less. The thing is that I need to work on tunes quite a bit before I am close to being up to jam speed, and, since there are so many tunes to learn, that remains problematic. In the event, I haven’t been back to the jam in more than four months.

I still play for my own amusement (or amazement) once or twice a week, and I still really enjoy it when I do. But playing in the jam was hugely motivational for me, and now that I’ve set it aside, for now at least, it’s not the same, and I practice less.

It would be really nice if there was a slower jam for us less accomplished players so that I could still enjoy the band-ishness aspect of fiddling without having to practice endlessly, just to get each tune up to breakneck speed. However, it seems that, around here, even when slow jams been tried in the past, the more accomplished players tend to show up and end up imposing their preferred tempo.

Oh Fiddle Faddle, indeed!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Riverwood Tour

One day last week, while tromping around in the snow, I found myself wishing that I could share with you what it was like there at the cottage that we call Riverwood. While both I and Cuppa have certainly shared pictures before, I have never felt that I was able to convey the sense of the place very well. Then the idea cam to me to make and narrate a sideshow, post it on YouTube and display it here. Of course, it's easier said that done, but I have stumbled through an attempt anyway because I can be a persistent old cuss at times. It's pretty ordinary stuff, but I think it works ... sort of.

As you will be able to tell from the get-go, I spoke whatever popped into my head without benefit of a script. That's easier said than done, and I did make mistakes such as saying the river is higher in winter when I meant spring, but it will have to stand as will my mistake on the amount of acreage on the other side of the road, which Cuppa informs me is more than ten acres. I can't imagine going to the bother of carefully scripting so much material for such an off-the-cuff project; neither am I about to re-record my glorious commentary because it's work, and I'd simply make new mistakes anyway.

On some frames I have arrows, labels and numbers as reference points, but I'm afraid that some of them get squished very small by YouTube. That's just the nature of the beast and something that I didn't consider when originally processing the photos. The file on my computer give me a much larger image.

If you have the time to spare, I hope that you get something out of my first attempt to do something like this. Hopefully, it will give, particularly the non-Canadian readers a better idea of what rural Canada (rural beyond the farm belt, that is) can look like.

Monday, March 16, 2009


Winter is tough on Canadian roads, like this one very near to the cottage.

Winter can be tough on all of us, but the worst of it seems to be over. While it's almost a certainty that we'll receive more wintry blasts, we are now revelling in spring-like weather. We drove home today in sunshine and mildness, which made the three-hour trip seem short.

I'll try to get to everyone's blog within the next few days.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Whithersoever I Goest

I guess we should have called the cat, Mee'un instead of Rocky, because wherever I am, the cat seems to be there too. You know, Mee'un the Cat? Maybe he thinks his name is Ruth and that mine is Naomi (see post title).

If I'm snuggled under a blanket watching tv on a cold winter's day, he is quite likely to hop on board, often looking at me longingly which is his way of pleading for scritching.

Frequently, I don't sleep well at night, but even when I've only had a few hours, I am unlikely to take a nap on the next day; and, when I do, I keep it short. However, when I did try to snooze a few days ago (below), he soon found me out. He'd like to sleep by my feet every night, but I shoo him over to the shorter-legged Cuppa's side.

He's a great help at the computer (next two photos), either prancing in front or settling off to the side a bit — of course the more in front and less to the side the better — from his point of view that is.

Rocky loves to have a foot rub — my foot doing the rubbing. He'll roll around like a fool in front of me many times during the day. Sometimes, he'll get a rub at the bottom of the stairs, and when I start up, he'll race ahead of me, throw himself on the landing, and wait expectantly for another rub.

The question is, "Does he enjoy it at all." I'm not sure. What do you think?

Although he prefers my foot at the back end, trusting soul that he is, he doesn't even mind when I put my foot on his throat.

If I sit in my den and read, there's a good chance that I'll have company. Sometimes, at night I'll curl up right there in the chair and attempt to go to sleep after reading, and he'll attempt to perch on my hip. How appropriate is the title of the book I am reading in the photo: A Royal Pain?

This is an odd thing though. Although I am usually the object of his devotion, in the morning, he must stay on guard until Cuppa awakes (below). When she is up first, however, he doesn't seem to care where I am or what I do. He certainly doesn't stand on guard until I get up. Strange.

When he first came to us from Thesha's, almost ten years ago, Rocky (aka Mee'un) wouldn't have much to do with me. That lasted from that October until the next summer. One day out in the garden, however, he came to see me for a visit. We chatted amiably and I scritched him while he rolled around all goofy-like, and this is how it has been ever since.

Note: We'll be away for a few more days, but unless I have been able to post something from the cottage (it has been known to happen), this is the final post that I have queued. Oddly enough, I don't usually post this regularly when I'm at home.

Friday, March 13, 2009

In Her Cups

Actually, in my cup: my Coffee cup last Sunday morning after a sleepover.

I don't know why she finds this so funny, but laughter begets laughter.

Some of you may have seen this video on Cuppa's blog, but for those who haven't ...

On YouTube

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Rockin' with the Dee

Hopefully, we are still enjoying our pre-spring getaway.

Pre-posted: one day last week, Nikki Dee and Buppa rocked out on her toy guitar.

On YouTube

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Walking With Nikki Dee

The kid slept over on Saturday night, and on Sunday morning we walked her over to Shoppers for a few necessities. What a cutie!

After some warm and rainy weather I think there is less snow on the ground this year in March than there was is April last year. Not that I'm complaining too much, but we do like to snowshoe at the cottage. I wonder if that's happening right now. (It's now Wednesday, and we're now as the cottage. I pre-posted this blog on the weekend.)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Searching for Gareth Malone

... continued from The Incredible Gareth Malone (see previous post) ...

So where was this guy when I needed him?

I could have used his help at least once in my dismal attempts at choiring. Of which there have been three.

The first: when I was in grade 8 in Montreal our music teacher, Mr Hopper, thought to enter our class in a music festival. We trained and trained to sing two songs. One was Donkey Riding, and I can't recall the other. I was assigned to the alto section and actually knew my part (which never seemed t happen again — read on) and could hold it when all parts were singing. Unfortunately, my changing voice was neither here nor there, and I couldn't sing it very well, so when push came to shove, Mr Hopper decided that I should watch from the sidelines. At the time, I knew he was right in a way, but my adult self informs me that my little voice wouldn't have totally wrecked the performance and that I should have been allowed to be part of it. As it was, the class came in second out of three schools, and we were never going to take it on the road anyway.

Gareth couldn't really have helped me then, and he certainly had to be selective and cut kids for the China trip, but he could have helped me later when as an older teenager, I joined the church choir. It was an enthusiastic group, mostly made up of young people, and we were anything but polished. We'd meet for practice late on a Sunday afternoon, break for supper, and then sing our songs in the evening service. In a large charismatic church, enthusiasm was more important than ability, which was a good thing, for one or two practice attempts at a song certainly didn't leave me with a clear idea of how my bass part should sound. I often tried to listen and follow the alternating guys beside me, but they were usually as clueless as I. Eventually, when I moved on to university I suppose, I gave it up.

Along came attempt three many decades later: just a few years ago as a matter of fact. Our neighbour was involved in beginning a community choir. She overheard me singing, asked me to join, and I decided to give it a try. This choir was much better in terms of quality, but it was still more or less, and hear-it-once-and-then-sing-it kind of affair. That was fine for just about everyone else but not for this guy who couldn't read music — can't read it for singing purposes anyway.

If I could have been beside a strong singer, I might have been able to find my way, but of the three practices that I attended, I was the only bass at two. In point of fact, I was the only guy. Period. That wasn't going to cut it for me, so I gave it up as a bad cause. As time went on after my withdrawal, the choir grew, and there are now a number of bass singers. I attended their Christmas concert but have not been tempted to give it another go. Thrice bitten, thrice shy, I suppose.

I think Gareth would have found a way to help me though. I might have actually enjoyed singing in his choir.

Here is the Lancaster Boys Choir singing Fields of Gold when the choir was still in its formative stage of development. YouTube Link.

Monday, March 09, 2009

The Incredible Gareth Malone

It has been more than a month since I last mentioned The Choir, a Britsh tv that followed Gareth Malone as he took on two very formidable challenges. His first challenge was to form a choir at Northolt High School in the London borough of Ealing, Middlesex and then taking the group to China, to compete in the World Choir Games. I stumbled uping the four-part series in the wee hours one night and was hooked by his struggles, tenacity and personality. Although they didn't win the event or even advance beyond the first round, the series was rivetting and both his and the choir's accomplishment was significant.

I was quite thrilled to find that there was a sequel which finished (on the network I was watching) last week, for just one year later, he attempted what was arguably an even more difficult assignment at an all boys school in Leicester. Once again, he prevailed against huge odds by starting a choir and taking more than 100 members to perform at a concert at Royal Albert Hall. Boys Don't Sing was also rivetting and inspiring. I urge you to watch either of these series if ever you can. Meanwhile, here is a YouTube clip of the boy's performance at the Royal Albert.

I couldn't help but really really really liking and respecting Gareth, and this article indicates that I am not alone, for everybody seems to love this guy.

But where was he when I needed him?

... to be continued ...

Note: I will be away this week in unreliable internet territory. Although I have pre-posted a few blogs, it's almost certain that I will be unable to visit yours until sometime next week.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Foto Friday

One Month Old, March 04 09

One Month Old

One Month Old

One Month Old

One Month Old

One Month Old

A Few Other Recent Photos

Week Four

Week Four


Thursday, March 05, 2009

More Cross Border Thoughts

Although we are probably more similar than different, I have been reminded of another difference between Americans and Canadians if the two versions of the Idol shows are anything indication; and, I'm the first to admit that they may not be. Still, permit me to make my little observation, and please stop rolling your eyes at my Idol mention, for this post is not about Idol but a thought that I began to consider while I was watching the program this week. I'll put it out there and see if any might either agree or disagree with me.

At least one person was criticized for her inadequate clothing sense, and at least one was complimented for the reverse. Notice, I said, "At least," for it may have been more; I simply wasn't paying strict and close attention at the time. My point is that it's certainly not an uncommon critique offered by the judges. I thought to myself, "That [critiquing clothing] doesn't happen on Canadian Idol." Frankly, if the American judges could see how many Canadian contestants garbed themselves, they would be almost certain to ... I dunno ... at least gasp or shudder, I suppose.

Beyond clothing, lies the appearance aspect in general. Canadian Idol contestants seems to come in all shapes and sizes, some not terribly pretty. But as I looked at all 36 American contestants that were assembled on stage on Wednesday night, what I saw looking back at me were three dozen, pretty good-looking kids. While I might not be the best equipped to rate the guys, let me tell you that a great many of the ladies were extremely attractive with flawless hair, sparkling eyes and teeth, and slim, appealing bodies. In other words and for the most part, American Idol tends (please note the qualifier) to choose the kids who seem to be groomed (so to speak) for the star part. While I realize there are some exceptions from time to time, I would argue that those exceptions prove the rule.

Let's face it, generally speaking, one does have to look pretty good to make it on the American music scene. In fact, I tend to believe that the look must usually precede the talent. Have a gander at almost any young musical artist and then tell me it isn't true. So, I suppose American Idol is doing the right thing in a way by being conscious of appearance. I'm not saying that Americans do it wrong or that we Canadians do it right. All I'm saying is that we seem to do it a bit differently. I am suggesting that in some way, the two shows reveal a difference between the values of the two cultures, which, I hasten to add, on a world scale are more alike than different.

Yankees and Canuckleheads

Let's face it, Americans are very good at many things; count selling or merchandising among them.

Last week I visited two big computer-electronic stores: Future Shop and Best Buy. The two stores stand almost side-by-side, but I walked into Best Buy first. There was a door-greeter who told me where to go — in a very nice way — and as we meandered about, we were also helped twice by salespeople on the floor. It wasn't difficult to get their attention; Cuppa didn't even have to bat her eyelashes. However, when I couldn't find exactly what I wanted, we headed over to Future Shop where there was no door-greeter; neither was there anyone who felt urge to help us as we wandered about aimlessly. We soon departed — more than somewhat ticked off.

One strange thing about it is that, supposedly, Future Shop employees work off sales commissions, but Best Buy's people don't. Wouldn't one, therefore, expect those on commission to try harder? Another strange thing is that both stores are owned by the same company. At least they now are. The difference, in this writer's most humble opinion, is that Future Shop began as a Canadian company, and Best Buy has always been an American company. Therefore, they have different cultures, the American store emphasizing service and the originally Canadian one being more stand-offishly Canadian.

I remember Dale mentioning something similar when he was building a deck (I think that's what it was). He tried his best to do business with the Canadian, Rona, but was unable to make much headway. Rona simply wasn't as friendly, accommodating or competitive as the American, Home Depot. To be fair, Dale also rails against the American-style management of his former employer; no system is perfect, eh?

This isn't exactly a newly minted coin, for almost two centuries ago, Canadian author, Thomas Chandler Haliburton, created a character called Sam Slick. As his name at least partially suggests, Sam was a slick, door-to-door salesman: a Yankee salesman who preyed on humble Nova Scotians. To be sure, Haliburton was satirizing both Americans and Canadians in his short stories. Nevertheless, the American knew how to sell; he could even appear friendly ion order to accomplish this.

We used to live in a border town and were able to cross over fairly easily to Port Huron on the American side. I can recall the friendliness and helpfulness that I was offered in the American shops totally taking me aback — in a good way — although anything can be overdone, and sometimes one just likes to browse unimpeded. That was awhile ago, and since then, I have noticed that Canadian retaillers have generally improved customer service. However, in some cases at least, it appears that they/we still have a long way to go. Meanwhile, however, as in Sam Slick's era, Yankees can still teach Canuckleheads a thing or two about relating to their customers.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Silly Camping

(2. Slept under the stars ... not quite ... part 5 ... The Finale!)

Two years after Eastward Aye, we embarked on our next and, doubtless, final camping trip. After having travelled through some of Northern Ontario on our Westward Ho several years previously, Cuppa and I had wanted to drive the beautiful North of Superior route once again. At the same time, our Althegal had decided to hop on her old, beater bicycle and begin pedaling home from northern Saskatchewan. While Althegal had designs to go a long way in this fashion, Cuppa and I realized, from having previously driven the roads of the Canadian Shield in Northern Ontario, that cycling would be problematic. Ergo, we decided to kill two birds with one stone — visit up there once again and also pick up daughter at some undefined spot, possibly Thunder Bay.

As it turned out, after braving Prairie winds and rain but, nevertheless, making it through Saskatchewan, Althegal decided throw herself, her bicycle and the bike-trailer that she had been pulling into the bus after she crossed the border into Manitoba. When she found the Manitoba roads to be less bicycle-friendly than the Saskatchewan roads, she decided that, after one week, she had pedalled quite enough, thank you very much. Wisdom prevailed, and she took the bus into Winnipeg.

So it was that Cuppa and I decided to hurry along to Winnipeg. It was further than we had intended to go and took us two, long days of travel from where we had spent a night in Sault Ste Marie. However, we didn't really mind because we had seen a bit of the city several years previously (on our Westward Ho) and rather liked it — possibly because we had stayed in a motel, eaten in restaurants, and rested from travelling and camping.

After meeting up with Althegal and spending two nights in Winnipeg, we decided to go camping. Unfortunately, this was not destined to be one of our better camping experiences — to put it mildly. Fortunately, we had purchased a waterproof tent since our previous, Eastward Aye, trip: fortunate indeed, for it rained — a lot! We should have known what was to come when a local mentioned that they had been enduring a drought out there. I think it started to drizzle, lightly, almost the very moment the declaration was made, and, once we pitched the tent, it hardly stopped.

It rained in Manitoba's, Whiteshell Provincial Park; it rained on our drive from Whiteshell to Sioux Narrows, and it rained for most of the three days we spent at Sioux Narrows Provincial Park. One day, while camping at Sioux Narrows, we took a side trip to, appropriately enough, Rainy River, a very small town on the Ontario-Michigan (also near Minnesota) border. It rained most of that day too. Eventually, we left Sioux Narrows a day early, hoping to dry out in Thunder Bay for a night before heading to Sleeping Giant Provincial Park. Yes, we still intended to camp because, surely, the rain would soon abate (hah!). In order have any chance of packing the car in the rain, we drove our stuff over to the pavillion where we sorted it before stuffing it in. How happy and warm we look (below — we have spread our stuff onto four tables and probably some that weren't in the camera frame — Cuppa and I tend not to travel light).

Of course, it rained almost all the way on our day long drive to Thunder Bay. Although it wasn't raining in the photo (taken form the travelling car), it gives you an idea of what we faced on that drive.

Well, we did get to Thunder Bay, and we did dry both ourselves and our stuff out, by spreading it all over the hotel room. However, the morning's forecast was still bleak, so we cancelled our plans to stay at Sleeping Giant and began the trip home: day one to Sault Ste Marie, and day two to Sarnia, through Michigan.

At least, Cuppa and I had remained dry in our new tent (I'm backtracking a little now), and although Althegal wasn't as fortunate in hers, she did have a lovely spot at Sioux Narrows on a little peninsula jutting out into the lake (see photo below). That night (after that photo), however, the flood in her tent reduced her appreciation of the site just a tad, for the storm blew in off the lake like a runaway freight train. I kid you not, I've never heard the like. It lasted for about ten minutes, and when it abated (although the rain didn't stop) I shouted out to see if my daughter was still there or washed away (I'm actually being serious — I was that concerned. She yelled back that she was fine ... although she was forced to spend much to the night baling water as it continued to pour.

It was on the next chilly morning between rain showers as we shivered and shook over a cold camp breakfast that Althegal came up with the memorable line that will endure in family history when she, through chattering teeth, exclaimed, "This is silly camping."

It's too bad because it was absolutely beautiful up there on Lake of the Woods as the small panorama below should indicate. Please note the cloud however, even though we were in another brief precipitation interval.

Now, you can relax and rejoice, for AC is done with his camping recollections. Hmmm ... must have some baby pictures lying about ...