Friday, December 31, 2010 | | 0 comments

We're down to the last few hours of 2010. In that time I'll do some house cleaning, workout, watch the World Junior hockey game, check out the family skating party tonight, enjoy some Indian takeout and wonder why I can't stay awake until midnight.

2010 has been a really good year for me and I'm a little sad to see it go. But, I think the mark of a good year is one that makes you excited about the year to come and 2010 has done that for me.

I've done my best to recap my personal highlights of the past year (in no particular order):

1. School - finished at the end of May. Loved the program, love the new direction for my career, the friendships I made, exciting in every way.
2. Kids - my daughter continued to excel in singing and school and added cheerleading to the mix. My son hasn't found his passion yet (does Nintendo DS count?) but becomes more of a character each, funny, caring and kind. Couldn't ask for two better kids.
3. Work - new job started in November and so far it's perfect.
4. New van - goodbye 2001 Grand Caravan, hello 2006 Grand Caravan. The purchase was made yesterday and I take delivery next week.
5. This blog - started in January and still having fun writing it.
6. New TV - goodbye TV bought with money from my wedding, hello way better TV.
7. New sister-in-law - youngest brother got married in the summer and seems to have followed our advice and married someone too good for him. :)
8. New niece - sister-in-law (not the new one) had another girl who will not know how great her uncle is for several years.
9. More time with mom - my mother retired at Christmas time and we're excited for her to have more time to relax.
10. Wife's job - full-time now and that seems to be a good fit.
11. Monster truck show - we had so much fun we're going back in 2011.
12. Disney - how could this be #12?
13. Camping - lots of fun weekends this summer, can't wait to do it again.
14. Job searching - ok for five months this sucked, but alls well that ends well.
15. New Orleans - weekend with my brother and his friends in May, much fun.

If I haven't forgotten about 100 other things that could go on the list I've missed my guess. Oh well.

Happy New Year!

The Candy Lady and Mrs. S

Tuesday, December 28, 2010 | | 0 comments

My family and I were at Wal-Mart on Boxing Day and we had an uncomfortable experience. An elderly woman saw my daughter as we walked by and immediately approached her. She told her how cute she was and said that she looked exactly like her mother. She then leaned over and gave my daughter a kiss on the forehead while my daughter stood, completely stunned. The woman's son said "Leave the kids alone mom!" as we quickly walked away. I heard her saying "This must be your brother?" as she tried to follow my son. Another "Leave the kids alone mom!" and we were safely out of range.

My daughter was more than a little frightened by what had just happened so I launched into a talk about some elderly people, mental illness, loneliness at Christmas time and shopping at Wal-Mart in general. She said "I didn't want to be rude," and I told her that it would have been okay for her to walk away. She was most bothered by the kiss on the forehead and that's where I draw the line too.

Then I told her that I knew a little bit about dealing with old, crazy people. She was interested to hear more so I shared with her the stories of The Candy Lady and Mrs. S.

From the time I was about two until I was five, we lived next door to an old, German couple. I never heard the husband speak and years later we would wonder if he was perhaps a Nazi war criminal in hiding. That's what you get for not speaking.

His wife on the other hand was always talking and took a particular interest in the neighbourhood kids. Whenever she would see us, she would invite us over to her house and always gave us candy. Everyone called her The Candy Lady and, as kids, we just thought that was her real name. She had a funny way of saying my name, but seemed to enjoy filling her house with the sound of it. She would pinch my cheeks and tell me how "beautiful" I was (seemed like a strange thing to call a boy) and said that someday she was going to steal me away from my parents. Oh yes, she would steal me. Wouldn't I like that? She just had to have me to herself and she was going to steal me. All the while she would give us unlimited access to her candy bowl and we would take good-sized handfuls with each creepy visit.

Although I was very young, visits to The Candy Lady's house were concerning and I would tell my mother about her plans to steal me. She would assure me that these were just jokes, but I don't think she liked me going into her house, sometimes on my own, and I'm sure the never-ending supply of candy was troubling to her.

Years later, we had moved and I had a paper route. Each day after school I would pick up my papers on the sidewalk, about a block from the school and Mrs. S would come over to talk to me and the other paper carriers. The other kids would go about their business and ignore Mrs. S, but I felt rude to do the same, so I would answer her odd questions, engage in these weird conversations. I don't know how it happened, but she started calling me by my brother's name and I didn't correct her.

This would prove to be a mistake.

For close to three years Mrs. S would see me picking up my papers, rush across the street to talk to me, all the while calling me by the wrong name. The other kids, avoiding eye contact with Mrs. S until she left, would ask me why she called me by my brother's name. I had no good answer to this question, but felt it was easier to just let it be.

The newspaper published the birthdays of all of their carriers and coincidentally my brother was also a paper carrier. On my brother's birthday in April, Mrs. S saw me collecting my papers and rushed across the street.

Happy Birthday to you

Happy Birthday to you

Happy Birthday dear brother's name

Happy Birthday to you!

Unless this has happened to you, you probably can't imagine how uncomfortable it is to have someone sing Happy Birthday to you on your brother's birthday, calling you by his name, while acting like this is perfectly normal.

The other kids stood and stared, knowing full well that it was not my birthday. I smiled and thanked her for her thoughtfulness, but inside I wondered if this hadn't been one of the stranger experiences of my young life.

The Candy Lady and Mrs. S passed on many years ago, but I remember too well the fears of being stolen and the three years of living a double life for 10 minutes a day after school.

I hope that my daughter will soon forget shopping at Wal-Mart on Boxing Day, but it's too early to tell.

Christmas 2010

Monday, December 27, 2010 | | 0 comments

Christmas has come and gone for another year. The quick update is that it was a wonderful time in every way, but my faithful readers don't normally settle for quick updates, so here's the whole story.

Where?: I was in Collingwood for Christmas Eve (in-laws' place) and Waterloo on Christmas Day (brother's place).

Church?: Oh yeah. My in-laws like to go to church on Christmas Eve, so there I was getting all the churchy goodness. It was an early service (5 pm) for families/kids and yes, they used puppets to tell the story.

Big meals?: Yep, one in Collingwood and one in Waterloo.

Daughter's favourite gift?: A doll that is supposed to be a 3-month-old baby, but seems about twice that size to me.

Son's favourite gift?: Nintendo DS. He hasn't stopped playing the games since he opened it and I can't be sure he's had anything to eat in two days.

Gifts for my wife and I?: On Christmas day we gave each other slippers, but our big gift was a 42" LCD TV that we bought about a month ago. Our last TV was purchased 13 years ago and not only was it small by today's standards, the picture seemed to be getting darker and darker with each passing day. My wife has wanted a new TV for years because she recognized that today's TVs are way better than what we had. I fought her because our TV was still working and I tend to be cheap in those situations. I'm so glad that she talked me into buying the new set because watching it makes me feel as though I have new eyeballs. The TV has become my best friend and I don't know how I ever lived without it.

Did the kids sleep on Christmas Eve?: Yes, but we let them stay up until 11 pm and my daughter was up at 1 am as she thought she heard Santa. I can tell you without a doubt that "Santa" was sound asleep by then, having delivered the gifts, hung the stockings with care, eaten the cookies, drank the milk and written a very thoughtful letter (in handwriting that was sure to be recognized as mine according to "Mrs. Claus") about an hour before. The kids had sprinkled "reindeer food" on the snow outside and if I was expected to eat that too, there were going to be some disappointed kids in the morning.

What else?: Kids had a great time playing with their cousins, great to see my grandmother enjoy her 90th Christmas, didn't see my mom because she has the flu (only disappointment). I'm off work this week and hope to relax and knock a few things off my to do list.

Merry Christmas!

Just the (important) facts ma'am

Wednesday, December 22, 2010 | | 0 comments

I have just read the article “G20 officer tight-lipped at SIU appearance” from today’s Toronto Star and feel the need to comment. Do I have strong feelings about the recent G20 Summit in Toronto? Are charges of police brutality on my mind? Am I especially interested in the SIU? No, what prompts me to comment are the incredibly odd choices made by the reporter when writing this story.

Whatever do I mean?

The story starts out with a reasonable lead:

The police officer charged with assault in connection with a G20 summit protest looked somber but said nothing Wednesday morning when he arrived at Special Investigations Unit headquarters.

Somber…unspeaking…seems reasonable to me, especially with those tight-lips of his.

But here’s where it gets strange:

Const. Babak Andalib-Goortani, wearing a grey suit, pulled up in a Ford SUV with his lawyer.

A grey suit. A Ford SUV.

What exactly is the importance of the colour of his suit or that he wore a suit at all? Why does it matter what he was driving when he arrived? I would think that unless the officer arrived wearing a Santa Claus suit while riding on the back of a fire truck, these details do nothing to tell the reader what they need to know.

There’s more.

The officer buttoned up his suit jacket over his blue shirt and blue tie as he got out of the SUV, wearing sunglasses on his head and a wedding band.

(Horrified gasp).

He didn’t!

What kind of an officer being investigated by the SIU would do such a thing? And he had sunglasses on his head and a wedding band??? The man is obviously deranged! How was he allowed to work the G20 Summit?

Again, why does any of this matter? When someone is wearing a perfectly normal outfit and doing perfectly normal things I don’t need to know about it. If the officer had jumped out the window of the still moving SUV, wearing a werewolf mask, screaming “where the hell are my sunglasses?” then I would think that needs to be included in the story.

Twenty minutes after he arrived, Andalib-Goortani and his lawyer left the hearing and departed in the SUV.

Perhaps I’m nitpicking now, but how else were they going to depart? “The officer and his lawyer were picked up by what appeared to be a UFO, surprising everyone as the (Ford) SUV had only minutes to go before the meter expired” is detail that would need to be included, not this.

In an unfortunate turn of events, the victim in the G20 story is a person named Adam Nobody and his name creates near comic moments throughout the story.

The arrest came less than a month after the SIU had concluded its investigation into Nobody’s injuries.

Seems like a waste of Everybody’s time.

While the police watchdog said in November that excessive force was probably used in Nobody’s case…

Hmm, then why are we talking about this?

Blair later apologized to Nobody.

That’s cold Blair. Cold.

On Dec. 7, the Star ran a story about newly obtained video footage showing the officer’s face peering through a raised visor after he appeared to wield his baton during the takedown of Nobody.

Wielding his baton and taking down Nobody huh? Well that’s just crazy.

Thank God his visor was raised.

Where Were You When Lennon Died?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010 | | 0 comments

Today is the 30th anniversary of the death of John Lennon. Everywhere I looked, there were tributes to the legendary musician and I thought I would weigh in with my story of where I was when I heard that he died.

I had just turned nine years old. Before school started that Tuesday morning, I sat on the cold, concrete top step outside of the boy's door of Falstaff Public School. One of the other kids once said that their mom told them that sitting on that cold step would give them problems, but I never understood what kind of problems she was referring to and I sat there whenever I felt like it. It never seemed strange either that boys and girls used a different door to get into the school, none of us ever getting to use the much larger door on the side of the school.

As I sat on the step, Robin MacKenzie, the only boy in my class shorter than I, asked me if I'd heard that John Lennon had died.

"No...who's John Lennon?" I replied.

Robin was surprised that I had never heard of John Lennon and told me that he was in a band I'd never heard of called The Beatles. Someone shot and killed him, he said. It was clear that Lennon's death meant more to Robin than it did to me and he probably had not just learned that morning who Lennon was or that he used to be part of The Beatles.

We didn't listen to Lennon's music in the house and we didn't listen to The Beatles. My dad had 8-Tracks of Kenny Rogers and Freddy Fender and to this day I can sing every word of Coward of the County and Wasted Days and Wasted Nights. I don't think anyone would argue that Kenny and Freddy were greater talents than Lennon, but they were a far bigger part of my early life.

I have to believe my parents knew that morning about the terrible news and had chosen not to tell me. They probably didn't think I needed to know that someone I'd never known was now dead. Makes sense.

I'm thankful that many years later the music of John Lennon and The Beatles became a part of my life. I was going to list my favourite tunes here, but realized the list would be much too long.

It was unfortunate that my introduction to John Lennon was on the day after he had been killed. My memory will always include Robin MacKenzie, Falstaff School and that cold, top step outside the boy's door.

Hard to believe that was 30 years ago.

My Birthday

Friday, December 3, 2010 | | 0 comments

Yesterday was my birthday. While I'm not yet 40, as of yesterday, I'm now in my 40th year. How does it feel to be 39? you ask. Did I have a good birthday? Answers to these and other questions are the subject of this blog post.

Soon after I was up and dressed, my wife and kids came downstairs and started to make a fuss over me. My wife had disobeyed me when I told her not to get me anything and got me a really nice coffee mug from Starbucks (for the office) with a gift card so a regular guy like me can afford Starbucks coffee. My daughter made me a beautiful card with a picture of the two of us standing together. She captured my yellow pants and her purple hair to perfection and on the card she wrote that she loved me more than 1000 elephants.

That's not a typo.

1000 elephants.

Only a parent can know the feeling of being loved more than 1000 elephants and I plan to keep the card forever. My son seemed unaware that it was my birthday, but immediately set out to make his own card for me that I would see after work.

My co-workers took me out for lunch, although technically it was the new hire lunch and not a birthday lunch. I received a nice card and a gift certificate for a night out at the movies which was for my birthday, not for being newly hired.

I heard from everyone in my immediate family throughout the day via email. My youngest brother said he was celebrating my birthday by posting secrets about me to wikileaks, but I suspect he was kidding.

My family surprised me when I got home with Indian take-out and a birthday cake. The food was delicious and it was easy to ignore the strangeness of combining Indian food and birthday cake.

My son gave me his handmade card. It too was beautiful, with a drawing of the two of us looking like paper clips with ten foot legs. My parents had dropped off cards and gifts from themselves, my grandmother and my sister. I heard from Aunts and Uncles and lots of friends. Everyone did too much for my birthday, but I'm thankful for every bit of it.

I find it a bit hard to believe that I'm 39, but I'm ok with the milestone. I'm happy, healthy, have an amazing family and feel like my life is just getting better and better.

As birthdays go, I'd say this was a good one.

Better even than 1000 elephants.

Details on the New Job

Sunday, November 28, 2010 | | 0 comments

The big news in my life is that I recently started a new job. I'm now a Communications Specialist at a very well known company in my area and I'm very happy with the way everything has been working out. Since I presume that there is interest in knowing the details of my new gig, I'm going to provide as much here as I can. If I've misjudged the level of interest from my faithful readers, then won't I feel silly.

Where?: Large and growing company that everyone not living under a rock knows about. They have policies against employees commenting online and in blogs, so I'm going to refrain from naming them.

What do I do?: I do a lot of writing! Blog posts, emails, executive communication, letters, you name it. I also design, manage and monitor online tools such as blogs, wikis, portals and websites. I haven't done much of that as of yet, but it's coming. I support a number of different teams with their communications needs, so I've been sitting in on their team meetings and I'm ready to be a consultant when I'm given the opportunity.

The commute?: In the morning it's about 20 or 25 minutes door to door (a dream commute for me). The evening drive is more of a...ok it sucks. I leave early enough in the morning to miss the traffic and I leave exactly on time at night to hit all the traffic. Drive home takes at least 45 minutes and I've had a few drives of an hour or more in my first few weeks. It's not as bad as commuting to Toronto, but it's not supposed to be like this where I live.

The people I work with?: Are great. Bright, friendly, helpful, welcoming. I couldn't ask for more.

New thing for me?: Wearing a security badge and having to swipe it everywhere I go. I'm afraid I'll forget to bring it one day and won't be able to get into the building. While sitting in my car, security will worry that I'm blogging about them and I'll have to make a run for it.

Really new thing for me?: How much this organization cares about protecting its sensitive information. It makes perfect sense, especially since in my role I hear about some important things, but other places I've worked didn't seem to care that much. If you see me on the street I won't be able to tell you anything. There's a chance I may have to pretend I don't know you.

How's the coffee?: Not bad for office coffee.

Cafeteria in my building?: There was in the first building, but not in the second. That's right, I've moved in my first three weeks.

Dress code?: Business casual and casual Fridays. I blew it on my first Friday and didn't do the jean thing. I made up for it the next Friday by wearing a mesh t-shirt...ok, that didn't really happen.

Most embarrassing moment?: I was returning to my desk from the stairwell and took a wrong turn. I walked down the wrong hall and several people stopped to watch me as passed their desks. When I got to the end of the hall, I realized it was a dead end and the same people watched me as I passed their desks in the opposite direction. Really tough to look like you belong after you do that.

Orientation?: Yep, full day, first day. I sat with about 50 other new hires. At my table there was myself, a guy named Ray and three people whose names I couldn't hear or understand when they introduced themselves. I may lose touch with those three. One of them had just moved from India and asked me why everyone was wearing little flowers on their jackets. I don't think they celebrate Remembrance Day in India.

Best thing about my job?: Getting to do what I love to do (writing).

Which is better, this job or looking for a job from your basement?: Definitely this job. :)

So far it's?: Great. Really, really great.

Disney Trip Day 8: Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom and Not So Scary Halloween Party

Thursday, November 4, 2010 | | 0 comments

We had one last day to enjoy Disney. Originally, our only plans were to attend Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party in the evening, but since we had the whole day, we decided we would also spend a few hours at Animal Kingdom. And, if we could make it to Magic Kingdom early, we could go on some of the rides we'd missed the other day, before the Halloween party started.

By this point in the trip I was so exhausted I couldn't even feel the exhaustion any longer. To pack this much into our last day seemed perfectly reasonable and I don't think I even complained.

The first ride of the day was the Kali River Rapids. Signs everywhere warned us we could get wet, even soaked on the ride. What they didn't say was that only some riders would get soaked and yes, of course that rider was me. But who doesn't like to get soaked and have to walk around with wet clothes all day? Again, that would be me.

Next up was Kilamanjaro Safaris. It's a fun ride through an animal park, and if I didn't live 15 minutes from African Lion Safari, I would have thought it was great.

Disney has done a great job of building an authentic-looking African market at Animal Kingdom (I say this as a veteran of zero trips to Africa, so it's possible that my endorsement is meaningless), and if I wasn't still soaked to the bone, I would have enjoyed the atmosphere they created.

After lunch we rode Expedition Everest. The highlight of this ride is climbing very high to the top of their imaginary "Everest," only to stop, then race backwards down the mountain, through a darkened tunnel where some riders were horrified to see the legendary Yeti nearly attack our vehicle. I was not horrified, as by this point in the trip I was quite tired of racing through darkened tunnels and was staring at the floor, fighting a growing feeling of nausea. I'm sure the whole Yeti experience would be more fun if I wasn't still soaking wet.

The last ride for us at Animal Kingdom was the DINOSAUR ride. In this ride, prehistoric creatures attack you from all sides as you race against a giant meteor that will surely kill all dinosaurs and Disney patrons if we aren't able to get out in time. I found this ride to be extremely frightening and not great for young kids. To be honest, it was almost more than a soaking wet, nauseas dad who only moments before not seen Yeti was prepared for.

We took our leave of Animal Kingdom and I noticed that our Wal-mart stroller was beginning to fall apart. Although we had spent very little money on the stroller, it did seem to me that it should last more than a week. As this was our last day, the idea of abandoning the stroller completely at the end of the day seemed to be growing on me.

Here's what I know about what happened next. We arrived at Magic Kingdom. We went on some rides we had enjoyed earlier in the trip. We also enjoyed some rides for the first time. I've completely lost track of which rides belonged to which day, so I'll only talk about those that have not been discussed in previous blog posts. This problem could have been avoided by blogging closer to the time, but what can I do about that now?

In no particular order we enjoyed Monsters Inc Laugh Floor (very funny live show), Stitch's Great escape (great special effects, but frightening for the kids) and Space Mountain (pitch-black tunnels, head down, when will these things end???).

The park closed for all but those of us who had purchased a special ticket to attend Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party. The kids changed into their costumes (my son was a skeleton and my daughter was a corpse bride) and we made the rounds to collect two full bags of candy. There was a Halloween parade, led by the headless horseman, and the kids just loved it. The magic castle was the scene for a show featuring all of Disney's villains and if I wasn't really tired at that point, I would have thought it was fabulous as well.

Somehow I was able to convince my wife and the kids that we should take our tattered stroller and head back to the hotel. We had packed as much into this day as was humanly possible and could say that our entire Disney experience had been wonderful in nearly every way.

We slept well that night.

Thank you Disney...we'll be back.

Disney Trip Day 7: Typhoon Lagoon

Tuesday, November 2, 2010 | | 0 comments

There are two water parks at Disney: Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach. We weren't sure we were going to have time to visit either park, but decided the day before that it might be nice to cool off and do something different, so we put Typhoon Lagoon on our agenda.

As with all things Disney, Typhoon Lagoon is huge. There are slides for little kids, not so little kids, adults and really foolish adults (little did I know that I would soon fit into the last category). They have the world's largest wave pool, with six-foot waves that sweep you away every 90 seconds.

But the thing that really drew me to the park was the opportunity to snorkel with sharks. I have been fascinated by sharks for as long as I can remember and I've dreamed that someday I might actually get to swim with them. I should note that many of these dreams are nightmares where I'm attacked by a great white, but the fact remains, they're dreams. This was my chance and I could barely believe it was happening.

There was however a small problem.

I. Can't. Snorkel.

If I'm getting stuff off my chest, I also can't talk about blood or needles without feeling faint, I've never been able to see the hidden image in those pictures, no matter how long I look with unfocused eyes, and I can't iron a shirt to save my life. But none of that mattered on this day, except my inability to snorkel.

Snorkelling is defined as "the practice of swimming on or through a body of water while equipped with a diving mask, a shaped tube called a snorkel, and usually swimfins. In cooler waters, a wetsuit may also be worn. Use of this equipment allows the snorkeler to observe underwater attractions for extended periods of time with relatively little effort."

My own definition is somewhat different: "Snorkelling is the practice of putting on a mask and inserting a snorkel into my mouth and immediately starting to hyperventilate. Any and all attempts to calm down will be met with escalating hyperventilation and all details of underwater attractions will be learned only through the reports of other snorkellers."

And so it was at Typhoon Lagoon. My wife and the kids put their masks on, faces in the water and were eager to swim with rays, colourful fish, and reef and hammerhead sharks. I put my mask on, face in the water and began my comical act of trying to drown. There was no way I was going to make it work, so I got out of the water and watched my family live my dream.

The rest of the day was much better. We spent a lot of time in the wave pool, the kids being thrown backwards, disappearing under the water for what felt like an hour, emerging with huge smiles on their faces and saying "let's do that again!" Now that I've been to a wave pool with waves every 90 seconds, every other wave pool will seem like a giant bore.

The water slides were lots of fun and the kids never tired of running up yet another set of stairs to hit them all. The lineups were short or nonexistent and we raced each other to the bottom.

The main attraction is a slide called Humunga Kowabunga, where riders shoot down five stories in a pitch black tunnel. Neither of my kids were able to ride (height restriction for my son, cowardice for my daughter), but they somehow convinced me to do it and report back.

I wasn't aware of the "pitch black tunnel" component until it was too late, so with water pelting me in the face, I travelled at ridiculous speeds and half hoped that I would die before reaching the bottom. When the tunnel spit me out, I was partially on my side, trying hard not to flip onto my face, with my bathing suit nearly ripped off my body. I'm sure I was a sight and a half and the kids screamed "Daddy, do it again!"

Fat chance kids. Fat chance.

Disney Trip Day 6: Magic Kingdom

Thursday, October 21, 2010 | | 0 comments

Day 6 was going to be another very busy day. We had been told that Magic Kingdom was best done over two days, but we were going to do it in one. We're like that.

As we prepared to leave our hotel room, we realized that my daughter had lost her new Minnie Mouse hat. It was likely left behind the day before at DisneyQuest during one of the many virtual reality experiences.

The hotel gave us the number for Disney lost and found and I called as soon as we arrived at Magic Kingdom. I was immediately placed on hold and stayed there for about fifteen minutes. Considering roaming charges on my cell phone, I'm quite certain the cost of the call far outweighed the cost of buying a new hat, but I decided to complete the mission. I'll have to live with the irony. The hat had been found and I would pick it up sometime later.

We were ready for Magic Kingdom.

I don't remember a lot of the details from my previous trip to Disney, as a 12-year-old, but what little that stayed with me is mostly Magic Kingdom. I remember the Country Bear Jamboree. I remember the Pirates of the Caribbean. I remember it's a small world. It was special for me to go back and experience these rides again with my kids. However, I didn't realize that the Jamboree is really lame. When I first went on Pirates, I didn't see Jack Sparrow hiding around every corner. And when I went on it's a small world, it wasn't closed for refurbishment. I suppose it shouldn't surprise me that animatronic bears and pirates had lost their ability to wow me. I guess rides need to be updated. The kids yawned and we found other things to do.

Lunch that day was at The Crystal Palace where we would meet Winnie the Pooh and friends. I hadn't had an all-you-can-eat meal yet that day, and was noticeably weak as a result.

After lunch, we rode other "must do" rides such as Dumbo the Flying Elephant and The Magic Carpets of Aladdin. These rides are slightly better than what you'd expect at your local fall fair, but we can say we've done them. The kids really enjoyed The Haunted Mansion, Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. There were no lines for many of the rides, so we went on again and again.

Disney does a fabulous job of putting on live character shows. Dream along with Mickey was excellent and the Wishes Nighttime Spectacular was well worth staying up past my bedtime.

Mickey's PhilharMagic is a 3D theatre show and although it has been around for a long time, it's still excellent. My son somehow missed the grand finale where Donald Duck flies over the audience and crashes into the back wall and shared his disappointment with us for about four days. Maybe someday he'll return with his own kids to see the show and know the true meaning of disappointment.

A very forgettable dinner at Cosmic Ray's Starlight Cafe and we were ready to call it a day. We hadn't been able to do all the rides, but not to worry, we decided we'd come back for a few hours at the end of Day 8.

I guess you really do need more than one day for Magic Kingdom.

Disney Trip Day 5: "An Off Day"

Thursday, October 14, 2010 | | 0 comments

I know I'm going to get in trouble for writing this, but it must be written. My wife always packs too many activities into every "vacation."

So it was all I could do to keep from laughing when she told me that Day 5 would be "an off day." The only plans that we had were to take a shuttle and a monorail to a different hotel, have breakfast with Mickey and friends, come back to the hotel, take a water taxi to Downtown Disney for some shopping, have lunch at a restaurant called T-Rex, maybe spend a few hours in a place called Disney Quest, come back to the hotel to get changed, then go to yet another hotel for the Hoop-De-Doo Musical Revue that evening. Oh, how I had hoped to hear the words "nap" and "hammock," but they were nowhere to be found.

First stop, breakfast. As we were taken to the table, the hostess motioned toward the all-you-can-eat buffet that would be our first diet-busting-free-for-all that day. Several days of stuffing myself were catching up to me and I was concerned that even breakfast had become a gorge fest.

The kids were excited as the characters came by our table. I temporarily put my fork down as Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, Donald and Daisy Duck posed for pictures and signed autographs. Perhaps in a food induced coma, I found it hard to tell Goofy and Pluto apart, but kept that to myself. I noticed a defibrillator on the wall, not far from my table, and silently felt some comfort.

Throughout the trip, my son made it a habit to go to the washroom about 200 times a day, so it was no surprise that he left the table three times during breakfast. I had also come to realize that his longer than normal trips involved flushing the toilet multiple times and washing his hands using soap from every dispenser in the washroom. I don't know where these habits come from, but I guess the Disney experience is going to be different for every child.

Despite loud protests from the kids, we left without enjoying any of the breakfast desserts. Forgive me kids, but the day you need dessert at breakfast is the day you really have a problem.

We arrived at Downtown Disney and my daughter hoped she could use her own money to buy more stuffed Disney characters. My son hoped he could use more of my money to buy yet another pirate gun or sword. As silly as some of these items seemed to me, I couldn't forget that as a 12-year-old, I bought a fake arm cast, a spongy fake rock and a five foot long rubber snake as my Disney souvenirs, so I was in no position to question them.

Lunch at T-Rex was noisy, but fun. The kids loved the animatronic dinosaurs on the walls and I enjoyed a 3,000 calorie cheeseburger with potato chips.

Next up was DisneyQuest, a four level interactive theme park. My son enjoyed some of the video games, but my daughter was drawn to the more active games and I soon found myself playing alongside her as a human pinball. Apparently, I was born to be a pinball as I easily beat all the other players in the game. My clogged arteries made exiting the game somewhat difficult and my daughter seemed alarmed that I was covered in sweat (a condition which lasted about three hours). Lucky for me, I was then able to assume a boxing game already in progress and, while feeling the onset of a stroke, badly outpointed my opponent.

What better way to keep the feeling going than to play some virtual reality games? All of us had helmets strapped to our heads and collectively battled virtual enemies by swinging wildly at them with swords. The total attack on our senses had been too much for my wife, and she spent the next hour or so lying on the floor and various benches, hoping she wouldn't be sick.

So it was just the three of us. We strapped on more helmets and rode virtual magic carpets looking for virtual treasures. The game allowed players to look left and right to see the other players in the game, but as soon as the ride began I couldn't find my kids and assumed one was off washing his virtual hands and one was off buying virtual stuffed toys.

A virtual raft ride and a pirate adventure later I knew I had to call it a day. We took the elevator down to ground level and my son asked, "Is this the tower of terror?" confirming that we have indeed scarred him for life.

My wife was able to nap off her sickness at the hotel and we were ready for Disney's Hoop-De-Doo Musical Review. It's a dinner-show that is both hokey and fun. The actors sing and dance and mingle with the audience. Aside from having to worry about being pulled up on stage, I had a great time and the kids laughed and sang along with the show.

The meal is (you guessed it) another all-you-can-eat affair. Buckets of fried chicken and ribs were delivered to our table. Cornbread, baked beans and a steamed vegetable, that seemed laughably out of place, completed the meal. I ordered a draft beer with my meal and they left a pitcher on the table.

We rolled out of the show and went back to our hotel for a good night's sleep. Unfortunately, at 3:00 a.m. I had a bad case of Hoop-De-Heartburn and stared at the ceiling for about an hour and wondered what I was doing to myself.

Sometimes these off days take more out of you than you might expect.

Disney Trip Day 4: Epcot

Tuesday, October 12, 2010 | | 0 comments

My wife insisted that I only check my BlackBerry a couple of times a day while on vacation. She would have preferred that I throw it away and I would have thought checking it constantly would be acceptable. This was our compromise.

As soon as I was up, I checked messages and saw emails from a potential employer about a job interview and a networking contact about a coffee meeting. Both suggested we meet on the last day I would be in Florida, which obviously wouldn't work. I realized then that I had given both the wrong date for my return and felt pretty stupid. I replied to both with some form of an "I'm an idiot" message and hoped I could put it out of my mind. Not a great way to start your day.

We were off to Epcot. As we were leaving the hotel, the doorman gave the kids a shiny, over-sized coin for the wishing well. I thought that was a nice touch and my son was eager to make his wish. My daughter planned to keep hers and presumably invest it upon our return home. Only when she received coins on subsequent days did she agree to trade them for wishes.

Arriving at the park, I realized it was somehow hotter than the day before. Bag checking was predictably pleasant and there was a noticeably smaller crowd of people.

Epcot is a nice blend of entertainment and learning about different countries and cultures. I worried that the kids would be bored to tears as we spent time in the pavilions which celebrated different parts of our world, but they seemed to enjoy the experiences.

The first ride we did that day would also become our favourite. Soarin simulates flying over California landscapes in a glider and it's simply incredible. My son enjoyed yelling "Hi Grandma!" as we would swoop low over a vineyard or high over a neighbourhood. I have no idea where that came from, but he was clearly amused.

Other attractions that we really enjoyed were Test Track, Mission: Space and Turtle Talk with Crush. Test Track is one of the fastest rides at all of Disney, with your car reaching speeds of 60 miles per hour around a tight curve. Mission: Space makes you feel like you're commanding a ship to Mars and is very well done. It isn't however a good ride for the claustrophobic and I think that one martian round trip is enough for me. Turtle Talk is a must see for its' novelty. Crush, the sea turtle from the movie Finding Nemo, appears on the screen and takes questions from children in the audience. I don't know how they pull this one off, but it's amazing and quite funny at the same time.

Between the rides and shows, the kids lined up to meet some of their favourite Disney characters. We took pictures with and got autographs from Mulan, Aladin, Jasmine, Snow White and Donald Duck. Donald was in the Mexican area of the park and so was wearing a poncho and sombrero. As he turned, he hit my daughter in the head with his sombrero, but no injuries were caused by El Pato Donald and off we went.

Right after lunch, it started to rain. People ran for cover inside of buildings, but I opened my arms to the sky, took off my hat and let as much rain hit me as I could. I will assume that everyone else at Disney enjoys unrelenting heat of 100 degrees plus, but this blogger was thankful for this chance to cool off.

Our dinner was another highlight. We dined in a Norwegian castle with five princesses: Belle, Ariel, Jasmine, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. All of the little girls, including my daughter, had worn their princess dresses and it was adorable. The princesses came to our table for pictures and autographs and we had a nice visit with each. I'd wondered if my daughter might be too old to enjoy a princess dinner, but she loved every second of it. It appears also that my wife still has princess dreams in her system. While I waited for the bill, Sleeping Beauty passed my table and waved, "Goodbye your Majesty." They're good.

After dinner, we watched the fireworks/lights and music show. There was no waiting this time and the show was well done. When the show ended, it took us a very long time to get out from the crowd, my Wal-mart stroller making escape even more difficult.

We rode Soarin one last time before catching the bus back to the hotel.

Wonder if I got any emails today?

Disney Trip Day 3: Hollywood Studios

Wednesday, October 6, 2010 | | 0 comments

We arrived at Disney's Hollywood Studios as soon as they opened, knowing we had a very full day ahead of us.

The first thing I noticed was how friendly the people were who checked your bags as you entered the park. If border guards were trained by Disney, people would volunteer to open their trunks for full inspections.

We chose the end of September for our trip as we were told this was a slow time for Disney and we hoped to avoid lineups and crowds. This didn't seem to be the case and our very first ride, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, came with a 40 minute wait.

What we were thinking to subject my five-year-old son to this ride is beyond me. The ride is a series of 15 story drops in a pitch-black elevator shaft. My son started shaking during the first drop and I wondered if he would ever speak to us again. We survived, but that is the one and only time this blogger will do that ride.

We spent our day hitting as many of the rides and shows as we could. There were more attractions than we had time for in the day and began picking and choosing only those that we most wanted to see. We found ourselves running from one attraction to the next as Disney seems to have many of the shows scheduled to begin seconds after another popular show has ended.

I learned that Disney staff will move your stroller from an unauthorized parking spot to a stroller parking area. I also realized that every third family on earth owns the same inexpensive Wal-mart stroller and finding ours wasn't always an easy task.

On the topic of strollers, twice that day we forgot to collect our stroller after going on a ride and had to come back from a different area of the park. The second time, I came back to find my stroller was the only one left in that area and curious onlookers laughed at me as I slunk away. Stranger still, twice that day I had a minor heart attack when I lost sight of one of the kids, only to realize that I was pushing them in the stroller at the time. I wouldn't have believed that could happen to a reasonably smart person.

They didn't tell us in the brochures that Disney is a lawless kind of Scooterland, but that is the case. Motorized scooters are everywhere and the riders seem sure to run you over if you're not constantly on the lookout for them. I certainly didn't need this additional stress while at the parks, but such is life.

We had our lunch at a restaurant called Hollywood and Vine. I ate far too much and felt sluggish immediately. The kids were entertained by characters from Handy Manny and other shows which were unfamiliar to me. There were live performances where the kids were invited to sing and dance along with the performers. Regrettably, the lyrics to the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Hot Dog Song have not left my head since that meal.

We made time for the Block Party which was really well done. The kids were thrilled to see their favourite characters from Toy Story, who are the stars of the show. Just before the party started, I bought ice cream cones for the family, only to learn that ice cream melts instantly in Florida. The options are to eat ice cream as quickly as you've ever done in your life or lick ice cream off your fingers, wrists and forearms. You can probably guess how the kids voted on that one.

Our day unravelled somewhat toward the end. We didn't realize that many of the rides close at 7:00 p.m. so we missed out on several we were hoping to do. We also didn't realize that Fantasmic, a nighttime show involving Mickey and friends, required you to lineup at least an hour in advance. We missed the 8:00 p.m. show and I stood in line from 7:30 until 9:30, mostly by myself while my wife and kids walked around to pass the time.

There are very few 30 minute shows that are worth a two hour wait, especially one where people from all sides stand too close, breathing down your neck, bumping into you constantly. Fantasmic failed to live up to the hype and I was glad when it ended and we were able to take the shuttle back to the hotel.

We had been at the park for over 13 hours, which was just about all I could do. I needed some sleep so we could do it all over again.

Disney Trip Day 2: Arrive in Florida

Tuesday, October 5, 2010 | | 0 comments

The day started early. Really early.

We got up, gathered our things and took our bags down to the lobby. We were on schedule and had enough time to enjoy a hot breakfast at the hotel. Somehow, in one fell swoop I managed to spill coffee, ketchup and hot sauce on the counter before I made it back to the table, but can't remember how I managed to create the mess. The breakfast was good and the taste of hot sauce in my coffee was barely noticeable.

My wife finished her food first and went to the lobby to check on our airport shuttle. My son had tagged along and ran back to give me the frantic report that we had missed our bus. It turns out an earlier bus had mistakenly taken our baggage on the trip, but was returning shortly to the hotel with our bags. Let's assume this was merely another example of the telephone game gone wrong.

The kids were very excited about their trip to Disney. My son told anyone who would listen at the airport and on the plane where we were going and what we were going to do once we got there. His volume grew louder as the trip went on and I found myself laughing as he yelled his updates to the little girl in the seat in front of him.

The flight was great and we made our way to our hotel, Disney's Port Orleans Resort-French Quarter. While my wife unpacked, I took the kids to the pool. They were excited to experience the dragon waterslide they had seen online. My daughter immediately said, "Daddy, the slide doesn't look anything like it does on the computer." You're right honey, it doesn't. Welcome to the real world.

I didn't realize quite how hot Orlando was going to be and no one told me about the crazy black bugs. At first, I thought I was seeing my first ever two-headed bugs, but soon realized they were actually two bugs, working in tandem. They were everywhere and highly annoying. I distrusted them immediately.

We also saw small lizards darting to and fro around the pool. I'm not sure if they were geckos, but it's my blog and I'm going to call them geckos.

Later in the day, we took a water taxi to the Downtown Disney Area. We checked out some of the shopping and eventually made our way to Planet Hollywood for dinner. I'm not a big fan of Planet Hollywood, but we thought the kids would enjoy the atmosphere. The food was terrible (as always) and the bill was laughably high. Our meal plan was included in our package, so the cost didn't really matter, although it made tipping a little awkward. The kids wandered around the restaurant, looking at the movie memorabilia. I don't think they knew half the movies featured and neither did I.

It was a long and tiring day and back at the hotel we had no trouble getting the kids in their beds. The next day was going to be a big one and we would need our sleep.

Disney Trip Day 1: Get to Buffalo

Monday, October 4, 2010 | | 0 comments

I've recently returned from a family trip to Disney World. The trip was fantastic, filled with stories/adventures, and entirely too much to jam into one blog post. So, I'm going to take this day-by-day and hope that my faithful readers will accept their Disney magic in small doses over the next eight days.

The first day of our Disney adventure involved driving ourselves to Buffalo, NY. Flights out of Buffalo are much cheaper than Toronto, so for the family on a budget it just makes sense. We would spend the night in Buffalo and fly from there the next day.

There was no waiting at the border and the usual interrogation was painless. I knew to remove my sunglasses before pulling up to the shack, my wife didn't, but a gentle scolding rather than the unholstering of his gun was all that was required. Won't happen again sir.

We found our hotel with only one fight between the driver and navigator (I can see now that when you said nothing I should have known to turn left) and it was a much nicer spot than I had expected.

We used our time in Buffalo to do what all Canadians do-shop for bargains. In our case it meant some clothes at Kohl's and a stop at a liquor superstore. The clothing prices were good, not great, but the price of liquor was dramatically less than we pay at home. I should buy all of my alcohol in the U.S. and perhaps should increase my drinking in general.

Although we haven't used a stroller for either child in over a year, my wife thought it would be necessary to have one for Disney. So, we checked out the first kmart store we saw, thinking they would have a very basic stroller, for very little money. I hadn't been inside a kmart in many years and was surprised to find that in my absence they have defied the impossible and now offer less quality and service in a less pleasing shopping atmosphere. We left without buying anything and I hope that is my last visit to the big K.

We were able to find the perfect stroller at Wal-mart and were ready for dinner. The kids loved the Olive Garden for their enormous portions and laughed when I told them about the time I bit into a jalapeno pepper that squirted me in the eye, incapacitating me for about 30 minutes.

While in Buffalo, I chuckled whenever I saw signs for Cheektowaga or North Tonawanda. Growing up, we watched Channel 7 News with Irv Weinstein every evening and I came to associate Buffalo with funny sounding suburbs and building fires. I made plans to review the emergency procedures info once back in the hotel room.

It was time to sleep and get ready for another big day of travelling. My son must have missed the memo and insisted on talking long after the lights were out and the rest of us had closed our eyes. There was yelling and arguing and I wondered if I could fall asleep and hear how it ended in the morning.

I was successful.

Bundles of Fun

Wednesday, September 15, 2010 | | 0 comments

I don't have a lot to complain about. But every now and again, some minor annoyance combines with another and I have an irritating situation on my hands.

Annoyance #1

When you have young kids, as I do, it is inevitable that they will figure out how to use the TV remote control. It must also be assumed that they will drop the remote control on the floor, throw it across the room, spill stuff on it and harm it in other, unforeseen ways.

My remote control has been taking abuse for a couple of years. At first, the plastic end-piece was knocked off and replaced a few dozen times. The piece was then broken and only partially replaced. I'm not sure what happened next, but the piece has not been seen in months and the internal workings of my remote control are now exposed. I have learned that exposed remote control pieces have a very short shelf-life when thrown, dropped and dunked.

For a while, I carried on, sadly pointing my remote at my television, looking as though I was stabbing the air with a broken beer bottle. Two days ago, the stabbing no longer changed anything and I admitted defeat.

This wouldn't be such a big problem, if it weren't for...

Annoyance #2

In the past couple of weeks, Rogers Cable launched a new sports station called Sportsnet ONE. It seems to exist for the sole purpose of televising Blue Jays games and carries what feels like every other game on the schedule. The station is being offered as a free preview at the moment, but someday soon I will be asked to pay if I want to receive it as part of my bundle.

I know that it will not be included in one of my existing bundles as this is never how it works with Rogers. They will figure out a way to combine this one station, which I must have, with dozens of channels I will never watch. Someday it will be discovered that Rogers only agreed to carry these additional channels in exchange for the exact location of the holy grail. I will buy the new bundle and I will hear call centre employees snickering at me as I do so.

Why this is such an annoying situation for me right now is that the new channel is #394. When I had a remote control (even the broken beer bottle version), this was no problem. But last night as I stood at my set, pressing channel up to go from channel three to 394, I was not a happy guy.

At least it was a good game...oh wait, no it wasn't. The Jays lost badly to a horrible Baltimore Orioles squad.

If I hadn't invested so much just to see the game in the first place, I'd have changed the channel and spared myself the misery.

Hey Mom I'm in the Paper!

Monday, September 13, 2010 | | 0 comments

"In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes."
Andy Warhol

I was featured in yesterday's edition of the Toronto Sun, specifically in the Guide to Higher Learning section. How exactly did I become involved in the segment? How has my life changed since the paper hit the streets? These questions and more will be answered shortly.

About two months ago, I was contacted by a journalist who wanted to include me in an article about university grads who had gone back to school to get a graduate certificate. My name had been passed along by the Marketing & Communications Department at Sheridan College, who knew me because I had done some work for them in the spring.

I agreed and a half-hour phone interview was arranged. I was asked to send a picture of myself, but my first offering was rejected as it didn't meet the resolution requirement. I asked my wife if she would take some new pictures of me and the photo shoot produced: dorky-looking shots of me with too much sun in my face (back yard), dorky-looking shots of me which were too dark (in front of fireplace) and dorky- looking shots of me trying not to look like I was kneeling under a tree (front yard). The least dorky-looking shots were forwarded and accepted.

I was told the segment would be published yesterday, so I drove down to the nearest store and started flipping through The Sun to ensure it was there. It wasn't, so I flipped through another, knowing full well that I would soon be treated like someone who only wanted a free look at the Sunshine Girl by the store keeper.

The segment was nowhere to be found, so the reporter agreed to mail me a few copies. She also sent me a link to the article, which you can see here. Check out page 26 for a few words about me. No picture. Something tells me my phone won't be ringing off the hook tonight.

The Lemonade Stand

Thursday, September 2, 2010 | | 0 comments

My kids have been hounding me all summer to have a lemonade stand. Yesterday, we had no other plans, it was sunny and 32 degrees, I had some frozen pink lemonade in the freezer and a sleeve of Styrofoam cups. It was time.

The kids made two cardboard signs that advertised "lemonade 25 cents and free cookie." One sign was for the table and one would be waved at thirsty passers by. We were nearly ready.

The first sign of trouble came when we tried to organize our "float." My son was certain he would never see this money again and protested loudly. "That's my money for Disney!" he cried. After much discussion, we had his approval and his money. We were in the pink lemonade business.

We had been in business for a while and hadn't attracted a single customer. Had we underestimated the global economic recession? Had we priced ourselves out of the market? Was it true that a Facebook page was required?

And then it happened. A 15-passenger van spied our stand and turned around. In the pink lemonade business I had heard of 15-passenger vans (who hadn't?), but I thought it was a myth. Out jumped a mother and her seven children! All eight wanted a glass of our fine pink lemonade and their free cookie.

We were thrilled that we had sold our first eight glasses of lemonade, but quickly realized that our first sale had depleted half of our total supply for the day and we were in trouble. The beauty of the pink lemonade business is that you can easily close the business and have all staff jump in the car for a frantic trip to the grocery store to buy more lemonade and that's what we did. I hoped that we hadn't lost too many sales while we were gone, but knew we had done the only thing we could do in light of our poor initial planning.

Our lack of supply seemed to increase demand in the neighbourhood and upon our return we were selling lemonade faster than I could make it. It was a good time to be in the pink lemonade business.

We were now running out of cups and I had a tough decision to make. The last thing I wanted to do was close down again, but didn't see any other way. A hastily called staff meeting and a decision to make another run to the store and we were back in business for good.

We were soon out of cookies and there was no way I was going back to the store. We should have included "while supplies last" on our signs, but hadn't thought of that. So, we simply stroked out the free offer on the signs and hoped no one would call us on the bait and switch tactic so common in the pink lemonade business.

While I ran in and out, making more lemonade, my son disappeared to watch SpongeBob SquarePants on TV and I wasn't sure if he was ever to return. The pink lemonade business isn't for everyone.

My daughter was intoxicated with the action and the money coming in and rarely left the table. After my son left to live in a pineapple under the sea, my daughter handled all transactions and sign waving. Twice she saw a chance to go inside for a glass of water and threw the sign to me as I sat on my lawn chair. I realized that I had taken on the immediate appearance of a homeless person and hoped for her speedy return.

We had been in business for several hours and business was not slowing down. My son had returned to the table, my daughter was wheeling and dealing and I was in the kitchen, measuring my four cups of cold water, mess everywhere.

"Daddy, hurry, we have more customers!" came the cry from the door.

My heart pounding, my breath short, I was going as fast as I could. We were running out of cups and lemonade again. The excitement, the thrill.

This is why I got into the pink lemonade business.

Don't Play me for a Sucker

Saturday, August 28, 2010 | | 0 comments

Something didn't add up.

My son came down the stairs this morning with a red lollipop in his hand. Signs of licking were obvious. Without being asked, he said his sister had given him the lollipop because he had given her a stuffed pony he found in the basement, that had belonged to her "when she was little." She's only eight now, so the precise timeline of littleness is unclear. I was quite certain though that my daughter was still sound asleep, and she's not one to give away lollipops, even for the safe return of long-lost ponies. The whole story smelled fishy.

My wife asked him if he was sure that was how the lollipop came into his possession.

"Yes, she said 'oh, thank you for the pony, you can have this lollipop'," was his quick reply. The cover story had obviously been rehearsed.

"So, is she awake now?" we asked.

Without blinking, he replied, "No, she gave me the lollipop, then went back to sleep."

He's good.

However, there was no chance any of that had happened, so it was time for us to call his bluff.

"Fine," he started, resignation in his voice. "She's asleep and I took the lollipop from her candy box."

Apparently, we have candy boxes. Who knew?

"I tip-toed very, very quietly into her room and took it from the candy box on her desk."

I suspect there never was a pony.

In seconds, he had gone from good Samaritan to cat burglar, but that was good enough for my wife.

"Thank you for telling us the truth," she began. "It's okay because you told us the truth."

I waited for the rest of the summation, but realized it wasn't coming. I said, "Um, maybe we want to mention something about the stealing part?"

"Oh right!" she said. "We don't take things from our sister's room. That's not okay."

My son put on the perfect hang-dog look and said, "Okay, I won't."

"Why did you do that?" asked my wife.

"Cause I like candy."

Finally, the truth comes out.

My Son and his Super powers

Thursday, August 26, 2010 | | 0 comments

When I started writing this blog, there were certain things I never expected to write about. This is one of them.

Lately, there has been something wrong with my son. I don't know what he ate or what other reason there could be for this problem, but he is having some really bad gas. And although I feel for him, I truly do, his problems pale by comparison to the horrendous living conditions he has subjected the rest of us to on a far too regular basis.

In our house we refer to them as "toots," although as I write that it seems about the silliest thing to call them. In my son's case, there is no tooting that preceeds nor accompanies these awful blasts, just silent and deadly strikes. Some warning would be very much appreciated, but these are the definition of sneak attacks.

Since this problem started, I have been getting angry with my son each time he inflicts his issue on the rest of us. Is this fair? Does tooting break any laws? Is there a house rule which precludes tooting? The answer to all of these is no, but I just can't see myself grinning and bearing it. I understand that it needs to happen, and he hasn't chosen this odour (that hits you like mace), but it's just not a thing that can be ignored. It can't.

And I know he tries to avoid this problem. Yesterday, he was on the couch, and I heard him say, "hold it in, hold it in!" so I know he wishes he wasn't slowly killing us. Last night, while still on the couch, he said "Daddy, my tummy really hurts!"

Why doesn't that surprise me?

Feeling the weight of the family on his shoulders, he then said, "I don't have to go to the bathroom, but I can't stop farting!"

At times like these, we abandon the word tooting.

"That must be my power," he continued. "I'm a superhero."

The Morning Workout

Monday, August 23, 2010 | | 0 comments

I decided that it was time to bring back the morning workout.

The morning workout and I go back about 10 years. If I recall correctly, my first attempt lasted one, maybe two workouts. I remember dizziness and nausea which lasted several hours and the repeated question, why am I doing this?

A few years later, I was ready to revisit the morning workout, but this time, I felt the need to run outside. Dizziness and nausea were gone, but the question remained. In fact, the question intensified when I found myself running on ice and snow, sometimes slipping and falling on the sidewalks and roads. There is something about lying on your back, looking up at the still-dark sky, wondering if you will be run over by a snow plow that causes you to reevaluate the morning workout. The suicidal morning runs lasted about three weeks.

I don't know what changed, but somehow the morning workouts reappeared a year or two later and this time they stuck. Each morning, I woke at 5:30 a.m. and worked out for a full hour before going to work. I felt great and stayed to my routine better than I had at any other point in my life. This lasted for a year or more and I don't know why they stopped. As of this morning, they're back and I'm going to see how long I can keep it going.

A few things I've learned about morning workouts:

1. You will never, ever feel like waking up. The sound of your alarm will be a horrible noise each and every morning, forever. It never gets easier. Just get up.

2. Morning workouts never conflict with anything else. The only excuse you ever have to miss your workout is more sleep...understandable, but see #1. This is the beauty of the morning workout.

3. Eat something. I don't think it matters a whole lot what you eat, just that you eat. Your workouts are better with something in your stomach and that's the goal.

4. Work out at home. If possible, consider getting some weights and/or do body weight exercises and avoid going to the gym. It's easier, faster and there are fewer excuses to miss a workout.

5. Running outside on snow and ice is just stupid. Trust me.

Coffee Networking

Wednesday, August 18, 2010 | | 0 comments

As part of my job search I've been doing a lot of networking. If you're unfamiliar with the term, it's as simple as talking to people you know, who refer you to people they know, and so on. The idea is that you're building relationships with people with the hope that you will be able to help each other in some way, now or in the future.

More and more, the people I'm meeting are suggesting that we have our meetings at coffee shops. I like coffee, so the idea appeals to me a great deal, but it doesn't come without some challenges that will be discussed in this blog.

The first challenge is that often I've never met the other person and don't know what they look like. Sometimes the other person will offer a description of themselves and this is one time that you hope for some ridiculous abnormalities. Hearing "I'm average height, build and have medium-length, brown hair," is disastrous. Hearing "I'm nine feet tall, have a snake tattoo on my face and a moustache that wraps around my head," is ideal.

When no description is available, I have often looked people up on LinkedIn and have found their picture there. One must remember that it is common to find the greatest picture ever taken of a person on social networking sites, and that this is sometimes merely a guide as to who you are looking for at the coffee shop.

There are times when I simply have no idea what the other person looks like and have used two tactics: standing by the door and hoping that I can spot the uncertainty in someones eyes who is unsure what I look like and randomly approaching anyone of the same gender as my intended target. For obvious reasons the first option is preferable and with some practice, it is possible to look at their eyes without being really, really creepy.

The other problem I've encountered is having several coffee meetings in a day and experiencing caffeine overload. I suppose though that this allows me to provide a more helpful description of myself:

I'm average height and build, have medium-length brown hair, and will be shaking uncontrollably somewhere near the door.

Your Service McSucks

Monday, August 16, 2010 | | 0 comments

On our way to the cottage on Friday night, we stopped at the McDonald’s restaurant in Fergus. I have ridiculously low expectations of what I’m going to get at McDonald’s in terms of food quality, price and service, but things were so bad at the “drive thru” window, I think I need to blog about it.

Can I take your order?

Yes, I’ll have a Big Mac meal with a Sprite for the dr-

Is that everything?

Are you kidding?
Uh, no...I’ll also have a Chicken McNugget meal with a Co-

Is that a (garbled) or (even more garbled)?

Pardon me?

Is that six or ten?

Um, six.

Is that everything?

No, I’ll also get a cheeseburger happy meal-

Is that a girl’s toy or a boy’s?

This one is a girl’s toy...

With fries and a coke?

No, with apple slices and-

And the next happy meal?

For the first one, I want apple slices and milk for the drink...


Aren’t you going to cut me off?
For the second, I’ll get a snack wrap with fries and a chocolate milk.

Is that everything?


Ok, so that’s one Big Mac meal with a Sprite, one cheeseburger happy meal with a milk and one snack wrap happy meal with chocolate milk?

No, you forgot the McNugget meal with a Coke.

Did you want any sauce with that?

Yes, sweet and sour please.

That’s $26.52, drive up.

They handed us our food and my son informed me that he already had the toy that came with his meal. I stayed at the window with the toy in my hand, preparing to ask for an exchange for a different toy. None of the mcpeople ever looked out the window, so I waited and waited. Finally, the window was opened and the girl tried to hand me the drinks for the car behind me, before I could tell her why I was really there.

No exchange was possible, they forgot the sweet and sour sauce and the napkins.


7 Ways to Stay Mad

Thursday, August 12, 2010 | | 0 comments

I wasn't in a bad mood when I woke up this morning, but somehow I am now. There are plenty of great articles written about how to get out of these kinds of moods, but very little written for those who choose to stay angry and ruin their day.

Here is my list:

1. Look for someone to blame for your problems. Unless you are totally alone in this world, (and choosing to stay angry for long periods increases the likelihood of this possibility) you have someone in your life who is more responsible for your unhappiness than yourself. Assure yourself that their actions are chronic and deliberate. Blame can be ascribed indiscriminately and without any logical connection to the problem.

2. Dwell on the problem. Think about how bad it is and resist any temptation to look for solutions. Then, try to make the problem worse than it really is. You will know when you've completed this step when the problem is in fact now as bad as you willed it to be.

3. Fill your head with negative thoughts and repeat negative phrases. Now is the time to beat yourself up and remove the emotional tools used to solve problems. Make sure negative phrases are not chanted as this may be soothing and defeats the purpose.

4. Get in the proper physical state. Sitting in one place for long periods of time works well. Basements are the ideal place in the home at this time, but caves or sewers are good alternatives. Pacing can be used between periods of sitting, but any more than that resembles exercise and is to be avoided. Frowning, scowling and sighing work well while sitting, pacing or cave dwelling.

5. Pile it on. Surely this is not the only problem you have going on in your life right now, so use this time to try to tackle all of your problems at once. Writing a list of all earthly problems (yours and those which don't apply, but someday could) can be a good idea, but avoid this step if writing or list making is therapeutic in any way.

6. Avoid talking to people who want to help with the problem. They serve no purpose here unless they can be added to the list of people to blame.

7. Take no action. The process of thinking about the problem and emphasizing its impact on your day is the only way to really build up to a boil. Any action could lead to a better frame of mind or, worst of all, a solution to the problem and therefore is never worth the risk.

I trust this article has been helpful.

Indian Food

Monday, August 9, 2010 | | 0 comments

I love Indian food. I hadn't had it in a while, so last night we ordered from our favourite spot, a place called Modern India. If there is anything especially modern about the restaurant, I haven't figured out what that would be, but they make excellent food and we've been customers for years.

I first tried Indian food when I was 19. I had been "hired" to drive two restaurant owners and an actor from the Stratford Shakespeare Festival from Stratford to Chatham, drop them off at the train, pick them up in London, then return home to Stratford. Apparently I had my name down at the Department of Truly Strange Jobs that summer and they had come through yet again.

When we reached London, my passengers decided that we should stop to eat and asked me if I liked really spicy food. I told them that I did, but probably had something like corn relish in mind. They knew a good Indian restaurant and off we went.

The food was very spicy, but nothing I couldn't handle...for a while. Soon, a strange sensation overtook me, as though I was being choked, and I excused myself to go to the washroom. I was alarmed to see steam coming out of my ears, accompanied by a train whistle. My eyes watered so much, I may have actually been crying. I tried to cool my tongue down by putting it in the sink and running water over it, but it somehow seemed to make the situation worse. I thought about escaping through the small window in the washroom, but realized the Department would learn of the escape and I wouldn't be considered for the chicken catching job next week.

The ultimate insult was that at no time was I ever paid for my driving and assume that torture by Indian food had been my payment.

But somehow I couldn't stop thinking about the interesting flavours of that meal and over time I learned to cope with the heat.

When I was first married, my wife and I would go to the only Indian restaurant in the town where we lived. They soon recognized us and offered us poppadoms, "compliments of the house." We were made to believe that only the most loyal customers received this honour, but I don't believe anyone ever paid for poppadoms at that restaurant. I've never ordered poppadoms in my life, but to this day, my expectation is that they would always be free.

We moved and were thrilled to find that our new home also had one Indian restaurant. Unfortunately, the restaurant was nearly empty every time we went and we were not surprised when it closed.

When we moved again, there were two Indian restaurants and both were excellent. It was at one of those restaurants that I dined with an Indian friend of mine and learned something quite interesting-when a non-Indian person says they want their food prepared hot, they get an eight or nine (out of 10). When an Indian person orders hot, it's a 50. It was during one of these meals that I discovered the magical soothing powers of plain yogurt.

We have several Indian restaurants to choose from where we're living now, but we love the food at Modern India and I can't imagine taking my business anywhere else. Ordering has become as simple as saying my name and they assume correctly that our order will remain unchanged from last time. I think our friend at the restaurant believes my last name is my first name, but it's much too late to correct him now.

Now if you'll excuse me, I believe I have some left-overs in the fridge.

Vacation Fun and Games

Friday, August 6, 2010 | | 0 comments

On our first day at the cottage my son found a bag full of board games in the garage. There was simply no question that we were going to play each and every game in the bag and within minutes I was reviewing the long-forgotten rules to Chinese checkers.

The marbles had just started to dance when my daughter uncovered Monopoly, the classic game from Parker Brothers, and we’ve had a family game going ever since.

There are three teams-myself, my daughter and a combined entry of my wife and my son. My son rolls the dice for his team and what a spectacle that is. It begins with a fanfare, sung loudly as he rolls the dice around in his hands, stopping only when someone urges him to “please roll!” He slowly and deliberately counts eat dot and is quick to scold anyone who attempts to help or otherwise speed up the process. He’s all about the action and cares little about the play of the game beyond dramatic dice rolling, slow counting and the exchanging of coloured paper. Excitement overtakes him and he needs to be reminded that crawling onto the table on all fours, standing on the game itself, and kicking game pieces onto the floor are not enjoyable actions for the other players.

My daughter might not realize that Monopoly is just a game. Her focus on acquiring properties, building houses and hotels, and amassing wealth is so intense that she may truly believe she is moving into Marvin Gardens once the renovations are complete. She’s learning a lot about negotiation and leverage and teaching us about greed.

I’ve had quite a bit of time to think about the game and how much fun we’re having as a family during my many periods of incarceration. I’m not sure what life was like in 1935, when the game was first launched, but apparently real estate investors were often jailed. Worse yet, they also had to live with the embarrassment of losing their $200 salary for not passing “Go.”

My wife thinks I’m trying to take advantage of my daughter in property trades and laughs at my misfortune, calling it karma.

You may be right dear, but we’ll see who’s laughing when I’m banging my cup against the bars and you need $200 for groceries!

Vacation sadness

Wednesday, August 4, 2010 | | 0 comments

Yesterday, we lost a member of our family.

Ella the gerbil passed away at 5:38 p.m.

Ella went by many names: the brown gerbil, the big one, the bigger one, the really big one, and sometimes the fat one.

While Ella was certainly big, she was also loved, especially by my daughter. On her seventh birthday, we gave her two gerbils as her birthday present. I was anti-pet and especially anti-rodent pet, but I agreed to the idea of two furry creatures that would live their entire lives in a small cage in my daughter’s room.

Somehow it was agreed that the gerbils would be shared-the brown one would be my daughter’s and the grey one would be my son’s. My daughter thought hers should be named Ella and my son thought his should be named Alex, after himself. We told him many times that Alex was a female, but he never listened, cared or agreed.

The two kids played with the gerbils as much as you can play with gerbils. They aren’t animals that like to be handled or petted, but my daughter would pick them up against their will and hold them. Only once was she ever bitten. I can’t recall if it was Ella or Alex who did the biting.

On a few occasions the gerbils made escape attempts and once I was called in to capture the fugitives. I locked myself in my daughter’s room, sat on the floor and made futile attempts to catch them with my hands as they dashed past me. Two hours later, daddy had mastered the art of gerbil trapping and both animals had been returned to their cage. Gerbils will do anything to avoid capture, including running up your leg, inside your shorts until you are forced to abandon your position, but I’d rather not talk about that at this time.

We’re on vacation this week and the gerbils travelled with us as we enjoyed three days of camping. We realized yesterday that Ella wasn’t well. By mid afternoon she was barely moving and my daughter wondered if she was still breathing.

As we headed down the road, towards our cottage a couple of hours away, Ella’s situation grew dire and the updates from the back seat became frantic.

“Daddy, Ella is on her back and her legs are up in the air.”

Oh no.

I knew that we would deal with the death of the gerbils at some point. I really didn’t want them to experience the loss of a pet in this way, watching those last painful moments as life slips away, but unfortunately that’s what happened. As we sat in traffic, all eyes on Ella, she began to shake and soon she was gone.

Uncontrollable tears and wailing followed and I could only drive on, wondering how to answer the questions that came next. Burial plans were discussed and I must somehow figure out how to preserve Ella’s body for four days until she can return home with us.

Ella, you went by many names (sadly, we have now added "the dead gerbil") and you were a good pet. You’re in a better place (and I don’t mean in a box in the basement) and you’ll be missed.

RIP Ella the gerbil

The Morning Routine

Thursday, June 17, 2010 | | 1 comments

My wife is spending the day in Toronto today, so I have kid responsibilities. I like to think that I'm a very capable dad and getting the kids up and off to school is not the most difficult thing to do. However, I don't do this often and I always feel some stress as I can't remember from one time to the next all that needs to be done.

I was up early, got myself dressed and fed, and even had time to put out the garbage/recycling that I'd forgotten to do last night. I reviewed the note left for me by my wife that included instructions on what to pack in the kids' lunches. The lunches were nearly ready, I just needed to add an apple to each bag and cook up some chicken nuggets for my daughter.

Now before you gasp about the chicken nuggets (I know I'm too late for you mom), allow me to explain. We buy PC Blue Menu Chicken Nuggets, and as far as nuggets go, these are about as healthy as they come. They have no trans fats, provide lots of protein, and they are a great way to get your daily recommended intake of guar gum.

Nuggets baked, I looked at my watch and decided it was time for my little sleepy heads to wake up. My son is easy to wake up, but my daughter is numb to conventional tactics and it's a five-minute process to get her to open her eyes.

"Guys, I need you to get up and get dressed," I calmly instructed, before going downstairs to take another sip of my coffee. Things were going according to plan and I was feeling a touch of self-satisfaction.

It was short lived. Ten minutes later, neither kid had come downstairs and I heard yelling from the bedrooms.

"What's going on up there???"

"Daddy, he's gone back to sleep!"

"Get out of bed! And don't yell at your brother!"

Seconds later, my daughter came hobbling into the kitchen in her PJ's to tell me that she hurt her ankle at gymnastics and she could barely walk! It was the strangest thing, as I had heard nothing of this last night and this injury (so obviously crippling by the display before me), seemed only to show itself when I needed her to hurry. I'm sure there's a medical journal somewhere that will want to study this, but for the time being I had to keep her moving.

"Guys, we're running out of time! I need you to GET DRESSED!"

Down came my son, wearing a pair of shorts (on backwards, of course) and his PJ top, complaining that his sister threatened to write something in his notebook. The instructions had been perfectly clear and nowhere did notebooks come into play.


"Daddeeeeeeeeeeee? I can't find my shirt," whined my daughter.

"I don't know where your shirt is, but you need to find it, we're running out of time."

"Daddeeeeeeeeeee? I put my shirt somewhere and now I don't know where it is," again, from my daughter.


"Daddeeeeeeeee, I can't find my stuffed..."


"But my ankle..."


How could they possibly be unclear on the plan???

The kids had somehow used up all of the available time and hadn't had any breakfast. I had to give them something before sending them off to school, so they each had two of the extra chicken nuggets that I had cooked up and half a banana. They were told they had to grab the food and go as we had to get our shoes on for what had now become a mad dash to beat the bell.

Off we ran. My son loved the idea of running to school and took a commanding early lead down the sidewalk. My daughter seemed to run well for someone who was nearly put down just minutes before. There were kids on both sides of the sidewalk which was a good sign we weren't going to be late. Strangely, they weren't running and we closed the gap.

When we got to the crosswalk, my son took a bite from his chicken nugget and the crossing guard said, "Chicken nuggets for breakfast???" and laughed in my direction. I could have done without that, but had to stay focused on getting these kids to school.

Passing children left and right, we made it to the back of the school and the usual mob of children, parents, screams, and general mahem. I realized at that moment that the bell doesn't ring at 8:35 a.m., it rings at 8:40 a.m. and we were early!


I guess the nice part was that I had a bit of time to give them a proper send off for their day. My daughter gets a hug, a kiss and I tell her to have a great day. My son insists on a hug, a kiss, a high five, and he says "a special thing I say 'I love you'," always in that order.

Really glad I had time for that.