Saturday, January 31, 2015


February will be upon us tomorrow. To me, it's the hardest month of the year as we the long winter continues. It's not that I really mind winter, despite occasional protestations, but by the end of February one is ready for a change. There's no break in the forecast yet. As I write this, we have still only had one day exceed freezing (and ever so slightly) so far this year. The warmest day in the forecast is the -3°C on JJ's birthday, Feb 04.

Anyway, this is my calendar for this month, with copies being distributed to relevant family members. If you want to do your own, email me, and I'll send you the template sans photo and markings.

Meanwhile, when Danica saw the hockey card that I made for JJ early last month, she thought she deserved one as well. I finally got around to it (below). I had info on the back, but after printing, I managed to lose the file, so I hope she doesn't want any more copies. :)

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Four Tops

The Four Tops  were a Motown group in the 60s who managed to hang on and have some success into the late 70s. Their two biggest hits were I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch) in 1965 and Reach Out I'll Be There in 1966.

I can somewhat recall both songs, even though I wasn't into pop music in a very big way.

So ... what caused me to google them out of the blue?

This ... ↓

That's right, I noticed that I had four tops on our guest bed ... ↑↑↑

I frequently change during the day, especially in winter, and often leave my clothes readily available to meet my next perceived need without putting them away each and every time.

So, let's go through this, shall we?

On the left is a hoodie that I usually wear to bed at night during the cold months. Our thermostat allows the temperature to go down to 15°C/59°F at night, so keeping warm can be a problem, especially for a bald-headed guy. Aside from the head, we have two somewhat thin blankets on the bed, which are enough to keep my hotter wife warm (yes, she's a hottie), but I sometimes require a bit more cover, so the sweatshirt serves as an extra blanket for me without encumbering her.

Third from the left is my very warm sweater-hoodie. I wear this, especially in the early morning when I get up long before the thermostat is set to go up to 20°C/68°F, so I really have to bundle up. This morning I got up ~4AM, so I really bundled, wearing both my night hoodie plus my sweater hoodie.

('ll repeat the picture to save dear reader from having to scroll too much in order to follow my ramblings.)

Sometimes on cold mornings, I keep the sweater hoodie on under my coat when I take the kids to the bus stop. But if I plan to go for a walk afterward the bus picks them up, I'll just wear the liner (second from left) under my coat. I will also often wear it indoors when I need something over my shirt but don't need the heavier sweater-hoodie.

Finally, is the lighter sweater on the far right. I will likely wear this when I am going to a place where I want to be slightly more presentable. For example: when I go grocery shopping, I will open my coat (and sometimes doff it entirely) and want to look a little better than the liner allows.

So, that's my story of the four tops. Kind of pedantic, I know, but this is my life, and now you know what an eccentric old codger I am — just in case there was a small doubt in your mind. lol

Oh ... I do tidy up the guest bed and put away my clothes from time to time: only to start all over again.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Of whoppers and Whoppers

I happened to use the word, whopper, in a comment just a little while ago. It had to do with the expected storm on the east coast, which is projected to be a whopper. I also opined that I am almost sad to be missing this whopper as we haven't had a whopper yet this year.

Can you guess where I am going with this?

Yes, I began to think of Whoppers — as in capitalized whoppers.

It has been a long time since I had one: at least ten years and possibly more. There was a Burger King in Sarnia, and it was our habit to bring home a Whopper near Christmas on the day that we cooked the turkey (always a day or two before Christmas). We have let the burger trad slip a bit here where there are no Whoppers to be had. There are burgers to be sure, but they don't always call my name the way that a Whopper did.

Here, I don't know where the nearest BK might be located. There was one in the next town, about a half hour up the road from us, but it was torn down several years past. And I have also heard through the grapevine that the BK restaurant in Sarnia has been closed.

I don't know what happened to BK and why they have seemingly fallen on hard times, but I do have great memories.

When we first moved to Sarnia, there was a BK across the river in Port Huron. We could cross over for a mere 25¢ toll and only 15¢ if we purchased a book of tickets — which we did. Going across the border was easy in those days, but it became fraught with difficulty and lineups over the years and especially after 911 (the terrorists did not cross from Canada, people!) as well as pricey, so we avoided the trip in later years.

Ah, but back in those early seventies both the crossings and Whoppers were good. There was a gas war over in Port Huron, and I could often get gas for 20¢ or nearabouts. Then, with our savings, we could mosey on up the road and indulge ourselves in a grand and glorious Whopper for 99¢ or less if memory serves.

And they were good back then: hot, juicy, fresh toppings, good quality meat. I don't know why BK slipped into such mediocrity. It worries me slightly because BK or their parent has now purchased Tim Hortons, the Canadian donut and coffee icon. The franchise works well at present, so I hope they know what they have and don't begin tinkering too much with a successful operation.

Before I go, I must tell you as a bit of an addendum about Heather and the Whopper. She had been been in training all fall as part of the University of Toronto gymnastics team. Training involved strict dieting. There was a big meet in London, and we drove down to watch and took her back to our place for a few days. We took her across the river for a Whoppers, and after months of strict eating, she felt like she had been transported to paradise.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Kids in the Coffee Shop

As we sometimes do, we took the kids to the coffee shop after school on Wednesday, our last official childcare day of the week.

At some point JJ put on my hat, and Sue took a picture with her iPad. I sent the photos from her iPad to mine and processed them with Snapseed -- a pretty good little app if you're in the market.

Then, Danica got into the act although I had to restrain some of her sillies first.

Yeah, she was in an impish mood. Just look at her expression in this pic. She's sooo bad. :)

Thursday, January 22, 2015

In the Bleak Midwinter

Winter maintains it's icy grip on the Ottawa Valley as we've only had one day rise above freezing this year.

I have ventured out a few times to snap some photos, but it's cold on the fingers and slippery on the footing, so I don't exactly linger out there.

In this first effort, I was trying to get the mist off the river, but that part didn't turn out so well. I did notice quite a contrast between the cold and focused foreground and the warm and blurry background and tried to highlight that contrast in post.

At the time I was trespassing on private property, but I snapped this photo of the icy path and stairs ss I was leaving. I also like the warm and lighted house in the background.

Much of the time it has been cloudy and dull. In the next photo I had gone to another spot along the river to try to capture morning mist, but when you don't have much light to work with, the results are quite mediocre. It does reveal frequent local winter conditions, however.

My daughter is moving into a new place, and while she was at work, Sue and I spent much of one day awaiting a furniture delivery. I took this (above) selfie of me. Oddly enough I was bareheaded at the time, so I can't explain my swelled head. :)

Below, is a picture through a screen and window. I was taken with how the sun had warmed the wood which in turn had melted the ice nearest it.

Finally, I have been careful with my calorie intake this month, so I have been keeping this solitary chocolate by my recliner. It serves as a reminder and incentive of sorts although I can't quite explain how or why this works for me.

This is how winter drags on and on without much of a break. February is usually also a very cold month, so one cannot anticipate much of a break in the near future. And so I share In the Bleak Midwinter by Susan Boyle, just to cheer myself up.

Monday, January 19, 2015

AC Gets Hungup on the Concept of Herosim

Foreword: I hesitate to post these musings in case they are seen as anti-military, but that is not the intention. It's really and only some thoughts about the use of the word, hero.


It has been almost three months since a shooter took the life of Corporal Nathan Cirillo in Ottawa.

For those who don't know the story, here it is in brief. A lone terrorist ambushed the reservist, Cirillo, who was given the honour of standing on guard at the the National War Memorial. The assassin then got back in his car, drove the short distance to the parliament buildings, entered and began to roam the halls looking for more victims before he was shot to death. It was covered on all of the news outlets, and you can read the summary here on Wikipedia.

The soldier, Nathan Cirillo, who was killed, was frequently called a hero in various media accounts, and this led Andrew Dreschel, from Cirillo's home town and a columnist for the local paper, to post his thoughts. He was examining the concept of heroism, and his opinions struck a raw nerve with many. Basically, his point was that heroism is defined as someone showing remarkable courage, so that Cirillo could not be classified as a hero just because he was killed on the job.

If you read the article [sorry, link apparently removed] carefully, I think it is plain to see that he was not downplaying the tragedy at all but was examining the concept of heroism and opining that it did not apply in this case.

I think Dreschel's timing, coming just a week after the event was unfortunate. People were still raw and emotional, and there was much negative online reaction to his piece. One dominant idea that I came across on Facebook was that just being a soldier who would be willing to defend one's country qualifies someone for hero status.
The notion that anyone who enlists to defend her or his country must be a hero by default is a powerful one, but I am not quite on board with it. I have no difficulty in thinking that most people in the armed forces must be brave men or women, and I am thankful that they are willing to do the job. However, I am reluctant to name someone a hero until she or he performs a specific heroic act in the line of duty.

People join the armed forces for a variety of reasons. I once taught several boys who got very involved in army cadets, liked that environment, and went on to enlist in the military. It was a path they got into and, coincidentally, one that provided many opportunities such as free training and education plus early pensions and the opportunity for a second career. These were all very fine young men, but I would hesitate greatly to call them heroes or say that they enlisted for heroic reasons because, really, they just really dug army life and were not exactly into it for the idealistic purpose of defending our democracy. Let's face it, jobs can be hard to come by, and the armed forces do provide a living now and training for later in life, and that's a bigger consideration for many than the noble desire the defend one's country.

The other part of the argument of those who hold that all soldiers are heroes by default is that it takes a hero to be even willing to defend one's country. Once again, this is a powerful point, but then I wonder, from a North American perspective, when our borders were last defended. I cannot come up with much. Soldiers are sometimes sent to foreign realms to engage in some conflict or other, but I am not sure that qualifies as "defending one's country."

I will use the latest Iran conflict as an example of an aggressive war that was waged based on misinformation at best and on greed at worst. What it defended, aside from economic interests, I am not sure. What I am sure of is that many heroic deeds were performed by soldiers sent to that conflict and others, but I can't bring myself to call someone a hero just for being unlucky enough to be sent to such a conflict.

So, as you can see, being a sort of guy who likes words, I don't prefer the all-too-easy application of the word, hero. It's a special word that should be reserved for special people performing special acts above and beyond the call of duty. Perfectly good alternative words are available to talk about the military: brave, courageous and fearless come to mind.

I don't take this stand to demean anyone. The unfortunate Corporal Cirillo may have had the makings of a hero and, likely, would have acted heroically given the opportunity, but I don't see that he was given the chance being ambushed like that.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

I See Ice

I usually don't post so many photos, and I also usually post with more comment, but I'm not sure what more I can add other than to say that it was icy and dang cold out. We kept the car pretty warm, so we didn't suffer from frostbite when all was said and done.

We begin with the remnants of last summers garden just outside the front door.

From there we did a short drive where I took photos of icy weeds and grasses.

Next, we drove to the former MacArthur Mill where I took most of my shots, or at least most of my shots that I more or less liked.

The icy twigs in the foreground look a bit like dancers to me.

We drove to the park where we like to ... er ... park ourselves on a fine summer day. On this day, I just squeezed a few shots before hurrying back to the vehicle.

This final shot was also taken near the park. Somebody owns a big, secluded house with a long drive. The drive that they actually use is out of the frame over to the left.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

A Little Photographic Experiment

If you have a more advanced camera, one that can take simultaneous RAW and JPEG images, you can set your camera up to take a b&w jpeg and a RAW colour photo — with one click.

Once you set it up, you can see the scene in b&w through the screen and, of course, colour through the eye level viewfinder.

I had never tried this until yesterday, and chose a cold, windy, bleak day for my first experiments.

I took about a dozen pairs of photos and uploaded them to the computer. I tweaked the jpeg monos in Lightroom and converted the RAW images to b&w in onOne's BW module. In each case I preferred the conversion to the original jpeg: usually by quite a lot.

In the following pair, the discrepancy was least, but I still got more from the conversion than the original. To see what I mean, compare both the sky and the shadows on the frozen pond. I think this conversion ...

 ... is clearly superior to this original.

While some of this may have been been a fluke due to whatever dials I chanced to hit in post processing, it also seems that when it happened with three different photos that it is best to convert in post processing than rely on the camera's b&w version.

However, the benefit is also being able to see the image in b&w when composing the photo as it is different than always seeing in colour. So, it could be worthwhile experimenting some more with this technique, preferably when the weather conditions are more amenable.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

The New Hath Been Rung In

Here's wishing you a Happy New Year. Although this photo was from Christmas Eve, I wore the same outfit last night although my glass was never that full. Sadly.

Last year, the snow was piled almost waist high, but we don't have any this year. We did, but it's gone with the Christmas week thaw. However, it shall return as soon as tomorrow and may remain for several months. So, although we didn't have a White Christmas, the weather break may make winter seem a little shorter this year.

We ran into a bit of a problem this week when we noticed that we had lost some shingles and were down to bare wood in one spot. It likely occurred during the severe winds of Christmas Eve, and we just noticed it on Tuesday. With snow coming soon and the New Year holiday on the horizon, we were were somewhat distraught, especially when our roofer seemed not to be answering calls. However, he finally came through just before darkness fell on New Years Eve. So, I guess that meant that the new year actually began well with hatches well battened.

I downloaded a calendar template from for Lightroom. It may work for you, but it was just a little off for me, so a rejigged it in Photoshop and came up with this ↓ for January. Since it involved quite a bit of fiddling and faddling, I have only done the month of January and may or may not do the rest on a monthly basis. The photo is a blend of two photos from around this time last year. You can see how much snow we had.

Just in case anyone wishes to do their own, I will offer this blank calendar to insert your own photo. Unlike most of my photos, it is of printable dimensions if you wish to save it to your computer.

Happy New Year!