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Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Clear! Pawthwump.

I haven't written a blog post in just a shade over a year.  After so much time, I wonder why I was wringing my hands over whether to continue or not.  Jerry Seinfeld was the creator and star of his self-titled sit-com that ran for nine seasons and that was famously about nothing.  NOTHING!  Of course, I am no Seinfeld.  My bank account is far less full and my area code much less tony, and my contribution to pop culture far more modest; make that non-existent.  More than a year later, I realize that I miss being able to dash something off.  Much like a constipated man, sometimes I just need to get it out and, unlike a constipated man, having an audience, however modest, matters.  I don't know why but there it is (not a fan of impersonal pronouns or prepositions, but there you go.)

Anyway, I was having a coffee with a friend of mine a week or two ago and we were chatting about an article I was reading in Scientific American Mind about how exposing yourself to new experiences was a key ingredient to boosting your creativity and she suggested that might be a good theme for some blog posts.  I have to admit the idea struck a chord, so I may tr it.  She suggested I start by taking a yoga class.  Well, that may be a little brave for me to start with so maybe I'll start by walking a couple of blocks with traffic at my back instead of widely recommended walking against traffic method that I follow as a rule.

I may also spend some time writing about businesses that really tick me off with their poor product or poor service or poor value-for-money and, conversely, about those that are exceptionally good.  Hopefully, I will write more about the latter than the former.  When food truck season starts again, I will definitely write about one that happens to produce the best pizza in Ottawa.  I'll also write about the great little knife store in Ottawa's Glebe neighbourhood that sells hand-forged Japanese kitchen knives and hand sharpens knives for clients.

I will also use this space to attack my enemies.

And, of course, I will write about my various projects - the shop reno that I am having the hardest time attacking consistently, learning guitar, which I am making slow but steady progress on and whatever other little task grabs my attention.

So, pretty much the blank-slate model I was employing before my sojourn.

Well, I think I'm looking forward to this.  We'll see how it goes.  Until the next time...


Wednesday, 3 December 2014

The Eternal 21st Century Question: To Blog or not to Blog?

I feel like I am at a bit of a crossroads with my blog.  My readership has been declining over the past year or so, which in and of itself isn't a problem, but the decline has got me thinking about the future of this space.  I never really got to do what I wanted to with the blog, which was to chronicle various DIY projects I had taken on.  With Kate's Stage IV breast cancer diagnosis and my ongoing struggle with depression and anxiety, I have had little time and even less energy to take on these kinds of projects.

So, when I decided to take the blog in another direction, I thought I'd write about "issues", whatever that may mean.  I figured with 15+ years of experience as a federal policy analyst and a Masters degree in Public Policy and Public Administration, this would be a natural fit.  Then I realized, that direction would be just as much a daunting task as retiling my shower stall and writing about it  My cognitive functioning just wasn't, and still isn't, up to the task.  The problem is compounded by not having the research resources I would have at work, or at school for that matter.

What I have ended up with is a blog full of not terribly interesting snippets from my life, and an airing of little brain farts.  I really like some of my posts, especially those about my family, but on the whole, they're a little fluffy and not terribly insightful.  Plus, I'm feeling like maybe I'm sharing a little too much about my family's life.  For all that I worry about how technology and social media is eroding our privacy, I have been perhaps too willing a participant.

On the other hand, I do enjoy the process of writing - which is definitely not to say that I am particularly good at it.  I am perhaps not the best verbal communicator, because my brain and mouth work at decidedly different speeds.  Writing, though, lets me slow things down, organize my thoughts, play with ideas a bit more.  Writing also appeals to the frustrated journalist in me.  After I completed my BA in Economics, I actually applied to a Masters of Journalism program, but wasn't accepted.  I find people endlessly interesting and the prospect of earning a living (a very modest one, some journalists inform me) telling parts of the human story was appealing.  But that's not what I do here, either.

All this to say that while I have enjoyed the process, I have not been terribly pleased with the product.  So, while I don't think this will be my last post, I do think that I may be winding it down over the coming weeks.  I hope that the Christmas holidays will give me time to think about whether to continue my blog in its current form, try changing its direction (or starting a new issue-specific blog), or just abandon it altogether.  We'll see,

Til then, thanks for reading.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

That Fetal Pig - What a Slice

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about Lena's experience with ABC Ottawa Take-off.  This morning was Lena's last dissection class and parents were invited to sit in for the the dissection of a fetal pig, which had actually been started the week before with the removal of their brains.  As we walked into the class, the young women who were leading the session were pulling the de-brained ungulates from the pail of formadehyde.  A good thing I hadn't eaten breakfast, because the sight of their tiny empty craniums made my stomach lurch.  I wasn't sure I would be able to sit through this but I didn't want Lena to see my discomfort.

This initial visual tableau of brainless pigs descended into the bizarre as the instructors began to tie the little pickled piglets spread-eagled onto the little steel dissecting tray in a scene of "Fifty Shades of Bacon".  The instructors explained that this would make it easier to make the incisions and poke around inside in the abdominal cavity.  They reminded the students how to make the incisions, which, perhaps unsurprisingly, differed based on whether they had a male or female pig.

Then the kids got to work.  I stayed near the back of the class watching the kids dig into their specimens and gradually moved closer as the class went on, fascination quelling my initial queasiness.  The teachers circulated among the three groups explaining what they were seeing and how the various organs worked, as well as offering tips on how to excise the various pig parts (I couldn't believe how big the livers were compared to the other organs).

Once the dissection itself was done, the little fetal pigs were disposed of and the serious business of a trivia competition began.  Two teams of three vied for prizes and, more importantly, bragging rights.  The only two girls in the class were paired together along with one other boy.  The questions covered the whole five-week class.  In the end, all the kids got very thoughtful prizes, the instructors having listened to each and determined their interests and getting a relevant gift.

This class way exceeded my already high expectations.  The instructors were by far the best Lena has had in ABC, both young women doing degrees in Biochemistry - one at the undergrad level and the other in graduate school.  They kept the atmosphere light while packing in a lot of knowledge and managing to keep control of the class.  Indeed, watching the trivia contest I was surprised at how much information the kids retained from the very first class to the final one.  I was also glad to see two women teaching the class, not only to be good role models for the two girls in the class, but also as a good role models for the boys since I believe having boys understand that girls and women have as legitimate a role to play in science as boys and men.

This was an excellent class and I applaud ABC Ottawa Take-off again for offering it and the myriad other fascinating classes.  High value-for-money in all the courses Lena has taken so far.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Making Stuff at Lee Valley Tools

Some of my favourite time spent with my daughter, Lena, is making stuff with her, whether pyrohy for Christmas dinner, putting together K'nex, or working away in my shop.  This past year, Lee Valley Tools, purveyor of, among other things, fine woodworking and gardening tools, has put on a number of seminars that provide opportunities for children and their parents work on a project together.  The cost is nominal at around $35 and all the materials are supplied, as are two Lee Valley staff members to guide the participants.  I can't imagine the company makes much, if any, money off these seminars but they do build a lot of good will and generate a lot of enthusiasm for woodworking and gardening, ensuring a loyal current and future client base.

Lena and I attended our third parent/child workshop this past weekend where we (well, really she) made a Christmas stocking hanger.  This was a little less a woodworking project than a decorative painting project.  All the wood was pre-cut and the knobs for hanging the stockings were supplied as was the milk paint with which to decorate all the parts and all the parts were assembled after they were decorated.

The two staff members, Mick and Brian, were very efficient and helpful, especially after Lena and I realized right near the end that she had decorated her piece upside down.  Both the guys sprung into action, redrilled some holes. used a heat gun to dry some paint and we were back in action.  In the end, we ended up with a beautiful project that Lena will hopefully have to hang her kids' stockings on.


Lena painting the knobs for her stocking hanger.


Lena showing off the final product.


As I said, this was the third project we did at Lee Valley.  The first two, a tool box and a bird feeder, were actual woodworking projects.  All the components were ripped to the proper width and rough cut to the approximate length.  The kids had to do all the measuring, lay-out, hand-sawing and assembly according to the provided plan on their own (with the occasional assist from the seminar leaders or mom or dad).  The projects are useful and provide the kids with an opportunity to try their hand at a practical craft, develop manual skills and provide them with a real tangible sense of accomplishment when they finish the project while hopefully building a lifetime love of craft in these young people.


Lena's previous two projects from Lee Valley seminars - a toolbox and bird feeder.


As always, hats off to the folks at the Ottawa location of Lee Valley for a job well done.


Monday, 17 November 2014

The Winter Doldrums

I have a confession to make.  I hate winter.  The season just sucks the life right out of me.  Every flake of snow I see falling from the sky fills me with dread.  As I write this on November 17, I am looking out my window watching it come down.  Snow, to me, makes everything more difficult - driving, running, shopping, walking.  And during the winter, the snow seems to come just about every day.  Thankfully, we pay someone to clear our driveway, but I still have to shovel our walkway, keep a path clear to the back yard, shovel the deck so we can get the dog in and out and when we get less than 5 cms, I still have to scrape down the driveway.

Throw into the mix the idiot that clears the snow next door and who sees absolutely no problem with blowing the snow into my driveway and the problem is even worse.  Last year, I went out to ask him not to and he flipped his lid, which caused me to flip mine.  So, this has just led to further stress at a time when our family has enough to deal with.  So, the prospect of having to deal with him is provoking no small amount of anxiety.

Many have suggested I take up skiing or snowshoeing.  But to me, that's like suggesting someone with a severe allergy to dogs to work as a pet groomer.  I seem to remember as a kid in suburban Montreal that we would be afflicted with some winters where a lot of snow fell, but I also seem to remember a lot of winters with sparse snowfall.  Since moving to Ottawa, though, we seem to get snow just about every day.

When the days start getting shorter, I also seem to suffer profoundly from a lack of energy.  As bad as it is with the depression, the problem seems much worse during the winter.  During my runs, I feel like stopping and just lying down in the middle of the street for a snooze.  My limbs feel like they're made of lead.  The expression "tired to the bone" resonates.

On the upside, Christmas comes in the winter and our little girl's enthusiasm for the season is very infectious.  She seemed to shift into Christmas mode last week and her mood is starting to rub off a little bit.  I hope I can hang onto that for another month and a half to keep things at least a little manageable.

Well, the snow is piling up, I better think about going out with the scraper and keep things neat.  Hope to see you all in the Spring.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Making Models and Knitting

My original purpose in starting my blog was to chronicle my attempts at trying a variety of handcraft and DIY projects in areas that were both new to me or where I had at least some experience.  From my very first post, though, my intent was subverted by other issues and events in my life and has taken a largely different direction.  That's fine with me but I do like to do the occasional post related to my original idea.  So, Over the next couple of weeks, I hope to tackle two projects:

A few years ago, my wife, Kate, and daughter, Lena, bought me a plastic scale model to do.  A couple of days ago, I dusted off the box and have since began gathering the tools I'll need to get started. I haven't done one since I was a kid, so I'm looking forward to getting going on this.

A scale model of the USS Hancock CV-19, an American WW II-era
aircraft carrier.

The other craft I will be trying my hand at will be knitting.  I know, not a very macho hobby to pick up, but I've long since passed the age where I cared what other people think about my interests and past-times.  I have to admit, though, that knitting isn't overly interesting to me but I partly feel an obligation to learn because my grandfather was reputed to have been handy with a pair of knitting needles - out of necessity.  Also, just this morning Kate was reading one of the cancer blogs she follows that cited and summarized a number of studies that show positive impacts of knitting on mood and health.  So, I am curious to see if a pair of needles and ball of yarn can accomplish what dozens of very expensive cocktails of anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medications, mood stabilizers, stimulants and sleeping pills have been unable to.  I have to be honest, though, that I tried to learn under Kate's tutelage, after I quit smoking more than 15 years ago.  Let's just say that experience was less than relaxing for all involved.  But I'll give it a better try this time around.

A knitted throw Kate has picked up again after it lying neglected for
more than 15 years.  Something for me to aim for.


So, stay tuned as I delve into these projects.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Remembrance Day, 2014

I try to honour Canada's veterans every year on November 11 - and on other days.  I think most reading this know why we take the time - many of us for the same reasons and many of us for our own personal reasons.  Many of us know people who have served, who are serving and who have given their lives while serving.  The following are past blog posts about my Grandfather who served as part of the Australian Imperial Force in WW I, and who served at home as part of the Veterans Guard of Canada.  Also one post about my Uncle Steve who was killed in action in 1945,  My mother's brothers, Bill, Mike and Peter Kazuke all also served in various Canadian regiments during WW II.

Alfred Burrows WW I

Alfred Burrows in The Veterans Guard of Canada

Stephen Kazuke