Wish I'd Said It

Weeds are flowers too - once you get to know them.

- A. A. Milne

Friday, December 21, 2007

Some Christmas Memories (Issue #159)

When I was a child I was considered the luckiest kid in my class, at least once a year. Every January, around the 6th or 7th, I got to take the day off school - for a sort of religious holiday.

Not a boring old, spend-half-the-day-at-church religious holiday. Nuh-uh. It was Ukrainian Christmas.

Say it with me: Back-to-back Christmases. Every year.

I can still taste the triumph as I reminded my friends I wouldn’t be in the next day. Their envy was palpable, even when I explained there would “only” be one gift under the tree for me at my grandparents’ and it was usually clothes. You could still colour them green even when Ukrainian Christmas landed on a weekend.

It was celebrated every year at my maternal grandparents’ farm, about 20 miles from where we lived. Gramma and Gigi were dairy farmers for the most part, though Gigi switched to raising beef cattle in his later years.

They were born Out West,* in Selkirk, Manitoba and moved to Ontario when my mother was in her late teens. Every year since I could remember, we’d gather at Gramma and Gigi’s a couple of weeks after the “big” Christmas to celebrate our smaller one.

Let’s part the sepia curtains and see what’s playing at Memory Theater this morning....


Gramma and Gigi lived on three different properties in three different houses within my memory. But the structures and colours seem fluid and meld into one another. The people and the smells and the laughter were the same though, so essentially there was only one farmhouse.

It was big. The rooms were all big. Only the gathering of the clan at Christmas could shrink them.

Tables were pushed end-to-end and followed the contours of the room. The kids sat at one end, the adults at the other. I remember my sense of pride when I realized I’d graduated somewhere around the age of 16.


The food. Oh my goodness, the food.

Big Baba, my grandmother’s mother and the family fortune teller, ladles doughnuts, poondiki (dough stuffed with dates) and other delicacies into, around, and finally - golden and delicious - out of, a large vat of hot oil.

To us older kids, cousin Linda, me, and my sister Theresa, she entrusts the critically important task of dusting the hot pastries with icing sugar.

Naturally, we felt it our solemn duty to taste-test the final products as soon as they’d cooled enough, before we could, in good conscience, put them on the dessert platters.

If it once mooed, clucked, oinked or quacked - it made an appearance on the table in some form or another - all of them delicious. They were accompanied by mountains of cabbage rolls, mashed potatoes and perogies. There were several different gravies, my favourite being a buttermilk/mushroom/onion concoction that elevated mashed potatoes to the hautest of cuisine.

Vegetables weren’t left out. Gramma grew many of her own in a large garden. It was just that there was rarely room on my plate for the beets, corn, turnip, peas and beans. Understandable really.


Gigi was about 5' 8" and approximately 225 pounds, barrel-chested and immensely strong. He could shoulder a cow to the left that was intent on going right. I always recall him with a twinkle in his bright blue eyes. He had the permanently ruddy cheeks of an outdoorsman.

He enjoyed a drink. Who the heck wouldn’t after working 14-hour days, seven days a week since he was 14? There were only three alcoholic beverages fit to drink in Gigi’s mind: beer, if it was summer, vodka or rye whiskey at all other times. The vodka was a salute to his heritage, the good old Canadian rye, to his heartland.

You had to be careful if Gigi was pouring the drinks. He only made them in two strengths: regular and Ukrainian. If you didn’t specify, you got Ukrainian - which meant four ounces of whiskey flavoured with a tablespoon of 7-Up. Regular would be three tablespoons.


Gramma was only an inch or two shorter than Gigi and about the same width. Her mission in life, and she took it seriously, was to feed people. At Ukrainian Christmas, she had to feed a LOT of people.

Besides my aunts and uncles and cousins, there were their cousins and aunts and uncles - many of them visiting from Out West. There were also places around the table for “the men,” the workers who lived permanently on the farm.

Like most traditional hostesses, Gram wasn’t all that visible at these feasts. She was forever fussing with something in the kitchen or getting up to fetch a forgotten morsel or to refill a platter.

She was about as huggable as a human can get.


At some point, probably after a couple of Gigi’s drinks, my Dad would sit at the piano and start playing. Sometimes Gigi would pick up his fiddle and play along. One year, and we have curled-up black and white evidence to prove it, Uncle Fred sat in on drums.

I remember noise - a constant hum of conversation or song or both - punctuated often with clinking glasses and raucous hoots of laughter.

It was family at its funnest.


It’s been about 25 years since the last Ukrainian Christmas at Gramma and Gigi’s. For a few years after their deaths, we had modest gatherings at my parents’ house which lasted until my mother’s death 13 years ago.

Today, the only acknowledgment might be in passing, during a phone call with a brother or sister. My kids sure never got the day off school.

But I’ve tried to pass along to them the essence of those Ukrainian Christmases and apply it to ours- that it’s not about the getting - it’s about the getting together.

Merry Christmas to all. Have a safe and happy holiday season.


*If you live in Canada, you live in a region. There’s Central, then there’s Down East, Out West, or North. For the authentic, Ukrainian-Canadian pronunciation of “west” try saying the “e” like the “a” in “apple.” Out Wast. Perfect.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

WWB Excerpt & An Incident (Issue #158)

Walking With Benny: 12/04/07

I realized last night, on our evening walk, that I’ve written very little about them. Most of my focus has been on our morning ambles. There’s a reason or three for that.

Often, and particularly since switching to Daylight Savings Time a month or so ago when I started writing this thing, our evening walks are in the...wait for it...dark. My main sense, unlike Ben’s, has been severely constrained. My ears don’t have a whole lot to do either, as the wildlife is usually quiet, settling in for the night. Consequently, I rarely see or hear anything of particular interest.

Ben is as active as ever. His nose, through which he perceives most of his world, doesn’t need light. He trots from side to side in front of me, covering as much ground as possible while still managing to tug me forward. His nose is glued to the ground like a canine minesweeper. To an onlooker, I might look like a blind man sweeping his 15-foot-long, animated-at-the-end cane.

Since my senses are far from overloaded with outside stimuli, I find it easy to slip into a contemplative mood on these evening excursions. Sometimes, I’ll consider the morning’s walk. Did I miss anything - either in the telling or the remembering?

Occasionally, I’ll find myself recalling a particular moment but see it in the different light that time and altered circumstance often conspire to inspire. Each time you see something from a different angle, you are adding to your knowledge of it. Added lore should lead to greater wisdom. Or, as is usually my case, it becomes another canape added to my smorgasbord of useless trivia.

Perhaps things will be different as the days lengthen again and more and more evening walks take place before the sun sets. We’ll see.

Anyway, last night began as a picture-perfect postcard of a Christmas Eve. Heavy, but still fluffy snowflakes drifted in a gentle breeze, romanticizing the streetlights.

A moment later, no longer protected by a row of houses on the left, the west wind slapped us with a gust. Those fluffy flakes of a moment ago now packed some sting when they smacked cheeks and eyelids.

My legs reminded me early on that I had abused them just that morning, thank you very much. The southern part of the path, which Ben and I take every evening, is less-traveled than the northern one. So I was breaking fresh ground in crunchy snow again and my thighs weren’t too pleased with me at all.

I focused on putting one foot in front of the other while hurling thought bolts at Ben, pleading with him to start shivering and turn back for home.

He was a very bad dog and paid me no nevermind.

By the time we got back on the sidewalk, a half-hour later and a scant hundred yards from home, my legs were jelly. And the sidewalk, under a fine coating of new snow, was very icy.

“Oh crap,” said my thighs, in a manner of speaking.

Luckily Ben couldn’t garner any more traction than I, or even his wee frame might have been enough to topple me. Or tow me. He looked like he was exercising on a treadmill and I was as wobbly as a two-year-old ballerina.

But we made it home without mishap.

This time. They did say it was gonna be a long, cold winter.


So I was leaving the Beer Store yesterday, having returned some empties. Approaching my car, I noticed slush had built up in the wheel wells. I was surprised I hadn’t noticed it before and kicked out the offending crud on the front passenger’s side. The stuff in the rear passenger wheel well had really solidified and required several mighty kicks before it finally loosened and fell. The rear driver’s side was easier and I headed to the front to finish up.

It was then I noticed a splash of colour in the back seat. Leaning closer, I peered inside. Wrapped Christmas parcels. Strange. I didn’t recall doing any shopping, let alone wrapping.

And the woman staring at me from the passenger’s seat at the front wasn’t at all familiar either.

Oh crud.

I had just slowly circled and kicked the heck out of someone else’s car.

Don’t you hate when that happens? I blame tinted windows. They’re the work of the devil. And why is it that everyone has to buy a silver car just because I have a silver car?

The laughing driver, another lady, returned as I was slapping my forehead and miming my apologies to the woman in the car. Over my stumbling sorrys she not-at-alled and thanked me for ridding her of the accumulated ice and snow. When I peeked over a moment later, before pulling out of the lot, I noticed she and her friend whooping and hollering in a most unladylike manner.

Rascals must have gotten into the brewskies early because it wasn't that funny.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Here's The (Current) Plan (Issue #157)

The first winter storm of the season greets us as we step out the door. Sleet, rain, freezing rain and snow have been, and still are, tag teaming - slapping hands and changing every few minutes. The first half of our walk is northerly, into the teeth of the storm. I am wearing my warmest winter coat. Pre-Benny, it was only worn when engaged in some unavoidable, outdoor wintertime task like snow shoveling. And since my Stupid Heart Attack, I’ve managed to fob those tasks off on the lads more often than not.

It is too bulky for slipping into and out of the car easily, so entire winters have gone by without me wearing it. But this morning, as I heard the wind howl and the sleet patter on the windows, I had a hunch it would be a good choice.

The coat has a hood - a nice, warm hood. Unfortunately, it’s enormous. When I wear it, my world view is about the same as if I was peering through a toilet paper tube, which, for the record, I hardly ever do. Unless I have to.

Anyway, I don’t wear the hood. A toque keeps my head warm enough but my glasses are soon speckled with sleet. This adds a not-unpleasant extra layer of blurriness to the soft-focus beauty of a snowy day.

I am reminded that it also adds a wee element of danger when, a little later, I get hip-checked by an unnoticed tree on my left.

Ben accepts the white-covered sidewalk with equanimity but seems a bit nonplussed when we get to the field and his Favourite Pooping Place. It appears that nothing in his previous seven months of existence has prepared him for grass that crunches.

He tippy-toes tentatively, here and there and back again, before finally finding a spot worthy of his gift.


The above is an excerpt from today's entry of a journal I've begun keeping. Be still your beating hearts - it's not gonna be a daily diary of Benny's poops. The journal, along with some backstory and research, has occupied much of my time recently. I'm beginning to think there just might be a book in the making. But it's early days yet.

However, time spent on this project (along with it being my favourite time of the year to fish) means the column/blog will be appearing (more) sporadically for a while. I'm debating running more excerpts from time to time. It's a bit sticky, copyright-wise, especially if they appear on the blog. I may restrict further excerpts to my email subscribers. Jury's still out on that one.


I mentioned fishing....

I've been out four times in the last couple of weeks. Got skunked the first time, with only one tentative nibble. Caught three the next time - two the time after that and three again on Tuesday. Each time, I was only fishing for two or three hours so there's no complaints from this corner about my luck. (Of course, we all know it's not solely luck don't we? Just mostly....)

I kept four of the fish and had decent success smoking two of them in my nearly-new electric smoker. I'll continue to experiment with brines and wood chips and smoking times until I feel I have a couple of foolproof formulas for great-tasting fish. Naturally, as mentioned above, if I'm going to develop a great recipe, I'm going to have to catch more steelhead (rainbow trout).

Sigh. Such sacrifice in the furtherance of the culinary arts....

I'm quite encouraged by the last batch. Kinda wish now though, that I'd written down what I did. My mental notes keep getting misplaced.

I'll wrap this up with pics of a nice, 8-lb. male I released after a spirited tussle and a smaller female that became destined for my smoker.

I meant, and forgot, to wish my many American friends a Happy Thanksgiving in the emailed version of this column/post. Consider yourselves wished!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Tyranny of Positive Thinking & Other Stuff (Issue #156)

Recently, I was surprised to hear one of tv’s talking heads say that a positive attitude didn’t appear to have any effect on the survival rate of cancer patients. I checked around and he wasn’t fibbing. The conclusion was based on a study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and the results are to appear in the December issue of the American Cancer Society journal Cancer.

Initially I thought, “well that sucks.” Then I read further and was surprised to find that many doctors were relieved by the study’s findings, none more so than Dr. Jimmie Holland, a psychiatrist who wrote the book The Human Side of Cancer: Living with Hope, Coping with Uncertainty.

Dr. Holland coined the term “the tyranny of positive thinking” to describe the approach of those who preach the mind-over-cancer mantra. She believes it puts tremendous pressure and unreasonable expectations on people struggling with this disease. She thinks no one should believe they’re dying because they weren’t being positive enough.

Now that makes perfect sense to me.

Dr. Holland believes there certainly are benefits to staying positive during treatment. It’s just that positive thinking alone doesn’t appear to extend a cancer patient’s life.

That makes sense to me too.

I worry that too many people, like me initially, won’t read or listen past the headline - Upbeat Attitude No Match For Cancer* - and succumb to negativity and depression if they or a loved one are stricken with a terminal illness.

Certainly, negativity and depression are way stations on the road towards acceptance but I’d sure try to keep my visits brief at the former and hurry towards the latter. Don’t misunderstand. I’m not advocating a rush to accept a death sentence but rather a rush to accept that what will be, will be. Once you’ve accepted where you’re at - accepted that some things are just beyond your power to affect - peace descends, time slows down and suddenly everywhere you look there’s a rose to stop beside and smell.

Naturally, treatment is focused on the body but the mind and spirit need tending as well. They’ve all got a stake in the outcome. Do what needs doing for all the parts of you that are ailing.

And I'm convinced having a positive outlook on life, whether that life is measured in weeks or years, is part of a good, overall health package.

What I think it boils down to is this: If given a few months to live, would it be better to spend them depressed or optimistic?

I can’t imagine a lengthy debate.

I wouldn’t want to go to sleep every night fearful it may be my last.

I’d rather open my eyes in the morning and be pleasantly surprised I was still here.

Simplistic perhaps but complicated makes me dizzy.

*Probably made that up.

Other Stuff I

There have been significant changes in my life this year which I'll detail eventually. Not the least of them was inheriting Benny, the Jack Russell Terror. Suddenly, at 56 years of age, I had a toddler in the house again - a toddler that could run like the wind - while chewing shoes.

I’ve had to carve out at least a couple of hours a day to deal with him. Walks are mornings and evenings and many of you know that most of the time we explore the territory across the road from my house. It’s a field/woods combination that borders a creek that runs through my town. Recently, a paved walking/biking path was built that intersected and paralleled the ones created over the years by fishermen and kids taking shortcuts to school.

I’ve found that nearly every day something happens on one or both of our walks - small things usually - but things of interest to me and perhaps some others; things that arouse a sense of wonder or that might add bits of lore to the collection rattling around in my cranial attic.

I’ve found myself wanting to write about them but didn’t think all that many of you would be interested in reading it. So that leaves me considering starting another blog, among other possibilities. Which leaves me wondering where the time is going to come from - which means I need to consider making even more changes.

Which makes me want to lie down.

Stay tuned.

Other Stuff II

A week or so ago I saw a singer on the David Letterman show who knocked my socks off. I haven’t been able to get her song out of my head since. Thanks to YouTube I can share her performance with you folks.

I showed both sons and they were less than enthusiastic.

But what do kids know anyway?

She reminds me of an old-style chanteuse. She’s got a wicked set of pipes, a fine band and, I think, talent oozing from every pore. Her name is Nicole Atkins and I think she could become a Very Big Star.

Am I alone on this one?

You can check her out by clicking here.

Other Stuff III

I rarely plug another blog and I know there’s going to be some eye-rolling from the peanut gallery when I plug this one....

But if you’re a parent, or may become one - or enjoy kids, or were one yourself - check out Hilary’s recent post at The Smitten Image.

It’s warm and amusing and as a bonus, you’ll see some spiffy pics.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Three Things That Happened Yesterday (Issue #155)

Thing #1.

Benny and I were on our morning walk, following our usual a.m. route which is northwards from the house, along the creek. You old-timers have seen pics from time to time.

On the homeward part of the journey, I often veer off the main path and take another, slightly less-traveled one through a wooded area. There’s a mammoth old willow tree in there I like to pay homage to. I don’t think it’s going to be standing a whole lot longer. Ben likes this detour too because there’s usually a squirrel or three he can startle.

Now, I forget whether or not I’ve told you folks that in the last few months I’ve taken something of an interest in birds. I’ve gone so far as to buy a field guide and Son #1 treated me to a pair of pretty decent binoculars. Thing is, I’m normally outside these days - you know, where the birds are - when I’m out walking with Benny.

Benny, being a hyperactive Jack Russell Terror pup, takes at least one hand to control. That leaves me one hand with which I can do other stuff, like untangle him. You may recall, a few posts ago, how using my free hand to wield a camera worked out. In any event, I don’t usually take either my binoculars or my field guide out with me when I know my attention is often going to be focused on unwrapping Benny’s leash from a tree trunk. Or my legs.

I didn’t miss the field guide or binocs along the wooded path yesterday. I wished I had my camera though, when a Downy woodpecker picked a tree only a few feet away to drill for bugs. I managed to watch her for a minute and memorized her peeping call before Benny had to be extricated from nearby brush.

A few minutes later, back on the stream-side path, I saw a large, somewhat hunched silhouette on a tall tree branch overhanging the creek. It was facing southeast and although cloudy out, the morning sun was still bright enough to make me squint and shield my eyes. At first I thought maybe it was a raven. It was much too big to be a crow.

I slowed as I got closer. Ben seemed to understand that stealth was called for and actually slowed with me. As we neared it, I got increasingly excited. Even seen from behind and in silhouette, it was very large.

We got within 50 or 60 feet of it before it noticed us and took off - straight into the weakened sun’s glare. I’m knowledgeable enough to know it was a raptor - the wingtips told me that - and it was bigger than any hawk I’d ever seen. I’m pretty sure it was a juvenile eagle, probably a bald eagle, like the one that was born near our cottage this summer.

I don’t think in this particular instance, because of the glare, that binocs would have helped me identify the bird. But again, I wished I’d taken the camera. Even a silhouetted photo might have told an experienced birder (Hi cousin Karl!) what it was.

Yep, am packing my camera in my pocket from now on.

Thing #2.

A few minutes later, only a hundred yards from home, Benny began to act strangely. Normally, because I use one of those retractable leashes, he’s at its limit, about 15 feet ahead, straining to get to two places at once.

We were on back on the street again at this point and he’d been doing his usual ranging from side to side, snuffling.

Suddenly, I realized my arm was not perpendicular to the ground and doing its impression of a divining rod gone berserk. It was hanging down at my side. Benny was trotting along beside me, like one of those trained dogs, head and tail proudly erect, beige tongue protruding slightly.

Hmmm. Pretty sure his tongue used to be pink.

Uh-huh. He’d found a rib bone that some scavenger had left behind. I think he didn’t want me to notice so he was being well-behaved. Ha! And he thinks he’s so smart! I’m smarter! So far.

Thing #3.

On our evening walk, we take the southward path along the creek. At roughly the mid-point, the creek angles away from the path and to reconnect with it, one needs to walk through a small wooded glen. We usually do so because that bend of the creek offers a nice trough-like run in which I’ve often watched salmon and trout working their way upstream.

The salmon run is pretty much done, has been for about 10 days, and there hasn’t been enough recent rain to call up many steelhead. So I didn’t really expect to see any fish. It’s just a pleasant place to be. I was standing at the top of the bank while Ben explored below, drinking at the water’s edge and snapping at drifting leaves.

A slight surface disturbance a few yards upstream caught my eye and I wandered closer.

It was a dying salmon, on its side, feebly trying to right himself against the weak current, and failing.

Three or four weeks ago, this fish was 20 pounds of bronzed muscle, sleek and healthy from three-plus years of gorging on Lake Ontario’s forage fish. He would have fairly stampeded upstream, eager to spawn.

Now he was a blackened hulk of perhaps 13-14 pounds, too weak to fight a current that wouldn’t tumble a toddler.

I watched as he was slowly tugged downstream. He got caught up on some shallow rocks below me for a moment and I studied him. He was too far gone to even gape. I don’t think it was my imagination that glazed that fierce, predator’s eye.

I felt sad but privileged, for being allowed to bear witness to a noble warrior’s death.

I thought I’d have to clamber down and get wet in order to ease him back into the main current. But he found enough energy to twitch his tail feebly, once. It was just enough. The current took him back into its arms and gently bore him away.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Benny Invents A New Game & Much, Much More! (Issue #154)

Our family cottage, with which you folks have become familiar over the last few years, has all the amenities necessary for a comfortable life. At least it does from May to sometime in October. Because it is not insulated, nor does it have a foundation, the pipes would freeze and split during winter if the water remained connected.

Therefore, every October, sometime after (Canadian) Thanksgiving, a local handyman comes around, turns off our water, drains the pipes and fills the traps with antifreeze. From that point on, until late spring, trips to the cottage are of short duration and very much weather-dependent.

The weather this fall has been so darn balmy that we hoped the handyguy would postpone his work into November. When contacted and asked about that possibility, he said it "depends." Which is local-speak for a shrug of the shoulders.

So when we ventured up there last weekend, even though it was two weeks after Thanksgiving, I was hopeful that we'd still have running water.

We didn't.

Adjustments must be made when one is living without plumbing. Bathing, washing dishes, going to the bathroom - all become tasks which require foresight, planning and resigning oneself to a certain measure of discomfort. It helps to remember that not many generations ago, folks lived that way all the time. It also helps to be a bit nuts.

But what really helps, when you're "showering" outside in a cold rain, then rinsing off in a 55F (12C) lake, is to lubricate oneself on the inside first with a belt or three of Scotch.

It was BennyTheJackRussellTerror's first visit and he was in heaven. He loved having endless room to run and surprisingly, seemed untroubled by the fact we were plumbing-challenged. He delighted us by inventing a new game - a game of stunningly-inspired lunacy.

It was windy much of the time. Wind affects lakes by making waves. Waves roll onto shore. Benny's shore. They must be thwarted. So he took it upon himself to patrol the rocky shoreline, defending all and sundry from the endless parade of waves by biting them. I'll add a link to the video evidence at the end of this.

A highlight for me was seeing not one, not two, but three otters playing a short distance from our dock. In my 40 years of cottaging at that lake, I'd never seen an otter before. To see three gamboling a few feet away was breathtaking. Unfortunately, by the time a camera arrived on scene, they were out of reasonable picture range.

Here are a few pics from when my camera was with me:

A plus on dark, rainy days from a photographic viewpoint, is the wonderful colour saturation.

Without running water, this unpretentious little shack out back assumes an important role.

Benny is prepared to defend the rock from the next wave's onslaught.

The next three images show how patience can be rewarded and why it's always a good idea to have a camera handy. The day was dark and unsettled. A few moments before sunset, a glow began to appear in the west. The pictures were taken in approximately 5-minute intervals.

Hilary has also blogged about the visit and posted pictures. As of this writing, I haven't seen hers yet. I'm pretty sure we're going to near-duplicate some pictures but I didn't want to be influenced by what she posted. I know she's taken some great shots though. You can visit her blog, The Smitten Image, by clicking here.

As promised, you can see a snippet of Benny's heroic wave-biting here.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Squeaky Drawer (Issue #153)

Some of you know I'm a moderator of an online writers' community called the Absolute Write Water Cooler. There are over 17,000 members and hundreds of ongoing discussion threads - some of which deal with current events and other non-writing-related topics. As you might imagine when dealing with so many opinionated, reasonably-intelligent egos, discussions can sometimes become heated. The moderators have a private room on the site within which we discuss various issues affecting the board, often revolving around plans for dealing with the latest bruhaha. Sometimes we just kick back and shoot the breeze (in a virtual, internet kind of a way).

A recent bull session involved parenting strategies and it triggered a memory of my father's most brilliant psychological ploy.

I was about 10 years old. Theresa would be around eight, Karl six, Mark five, Marina three and Lisa a toddler. (I don't have a calculator handy but that should add up to six kids.)

This would be around 1961. Home computers and video games were decades away. Kids amused themselves by playing outside in almost all kinds of weather.


We'd be out there on blazing hot days and during snowstorms but if it was cold and rainy, we had to play indoors.

Apparently, there were times when we might have been a tad rowdy. Hard to believe, I know. But I suppose six kids in one small house, usually in one room of that house, might get somewhat rambunctious.

I can recall us being locked in the basement rec room. It had Dutch doors, so my mother would keep the bottom one locked but the top one open so she could hear if someone needed to go to the hospital. Or the toilet. This would free her up somewhat to do whatever it was that Moms did when they weren't actively Momming.

Of course at 10, I was undeterred by the locked bottom door. I could clamber out through the top. But years earlier I was stymied. So when I was about four, I liberated a grapefruit spoon (with that nifty serrated edge) and set about drilling a hole through that bottom door, near the lock. The theory was, I would slip my hand through the hole, reach out, unlock the door and surprise Mom when I appeared upstairs.

It would have worked too, if the spoon had been bigger. Over the course of a few days, I managed to drill a hole all right but I couldn't fit my hand through it.

But I digress.

So, picture six kids bouncing around in a confined space. There might have been some violence here and there. A little jumping and falling and running and tripping. Concurrent with those activities of course, would be the sound effects. Booms. Thuds. Crashes. Screams. Crying. Laughter. The usual.

One day, probably after consecutive days of wet weather, my mother, usually a rather placid woman, snapped.

When Mom was riled she'd holler some. Hollering had a fairly short-term effect on our behaviour. Occasionally she would pinch an upper arm or an ear. That would sting and have a more lasting effect - up to several minutes.

But when Mom had had enough - when she really couldn't stand it anymore - she'd cry.

Moms aren't supposed to cry. Her tears would have an instantly sobering effect on us. Partly because it was such a rare event, perhaps once a year, and partly because we knew Dad was going to get involved when he got home from work.

In situations like this, Dad majored in Being Disappointed. He would talk and talk and talk about expectations and respect and caring and how he sure hated Being Disappointed in us. I swear, sometimes we had to poke each other in order to stay awake.

One day though, after Mom cried, Dad didn't lecture us. After supper he told us to follow him downstairs. He carried an old leather belt in his hands.

We were nervous. And respectfully quiet. In the unfinished part of the basement, near the dirty old coal-burning furnace, was a small area he used as a workshop. In a corner stood an old broom.

Dad took the broom and sawed off about a foot of the handle. Positioning us to either side of him, making sure we could all see, he then used a pair of shears to cut the leather belt into three pieces. When done, he nailed the pieces of leather to the end of the broom handle.

It made for a vicious-looking whip.

He tested it with a few whacks against the bench and nodded, satisfied, then bade us follow him back upstairs to the kitchen.

I'm pretty sure everybody has a drawer somewhere in their kitchen wherein they keep stuff that doesn't really belong anywhere else - things like tape and string and elastics and candles. Well, back then, in that kitchen, that particular drawer squeaked. Not a delicate, mousey-type squeak either. Nope, that drawer screeched when opened. Imagine Barry Manilow plopping down on a thumbtack.

Dad opened the squeaky drawer and placed his newly-made whip inside. Then he closed it and went to read his newspaper.

For years afterward, when we were bouncing from bed to bed instead of sleeping, or playing Throw Lisa Against The Wall a little too enthusiastically, all my parents needed to do to achieve silence was open the squeaky drawer.

Wisely, they never closed it too quickly afterwards. The one, piercing screech left a mental image in our heads of that strap/whip sitting there - ready to be used.

And it never was. Not once. The squeak was enough.

Dad was a pretty smart guy.

Addendum: Going away for a few days on Thursday, Oct. 18th, so please forgive my delayed response to any further comments.

Just in case you don't know, you can see what Dutch doors look like if you click here.

If you're interested in visiting the AW Water Cooler, you can click here.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

It was like this....

"Frank," I hear a few of you mutter, "you haven't posted anything lately."

Let me s'plain. No. That will take too long. Let me recap.

My computer has been in the shop for much of the last 10 days. And when it hasn't been in the shop, it's been fritzing. And when it's not been fritzing, I've been out of town.

So there.

I should be posting (and emailing) with my usual degree of infrequency in a few days. I hope you'll wander back for a look-see then.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Uh, No. Life Is Not A Game Show. (Issue #152)

I was taught that when someone (me) screwed up (got caught) and the explanation (lie) failed to win exoneration, it was time to apologize and atone. Somewhere along the road to maturity, one eventually even bypasses the attempt to fib. It's what a man does. (And yes, it's what women do too.) It's about taking responsibility for one's behaviour. Most folks of my generation clued into the concept fairly early on. My own learning was aided and abetted by periodic whacks from nuns and other teachers.

But let's leave the sepia-toned memories of whip-wielding nuns for a moment and flash forward to today.

These days, on a near-weekly basis, we're confronted with pop musicians, athletes and movie stars who do Very Bad Things and then apologize. But they don't really apologize. Instead, they go into damage-control mode as orchestrated by well-paid advisors - advisors who are desperate to rehabilitate the image of their meal ticket. And these advisors are all singing from the same songbook. It doesn't matter if it's Britney, Lindsay, Michael Vick or any of dozens of others - the refrain is similar:

"I made a wrong choice. I hope to make better choices going forward.*"


Isn't. That. Special.

They made a wrong choice. They would like us to believe it could happen to anyone. If only they had chosen Door #1 because behind it was Reasonable Behaviour! Oh, and look! Behind the curtain that the lovely Doreen is now parting...it's...it's a Heaping Helping of Personal Responsibility coupled with a Smidge of Social Conscience!

But Nooooooooooooo! They had to choose Door #3 and got How To Drive Drunk, Flash Your Crotch, Insult Gays and Kill Dogs. What a bummer.

Woe is them. They made a wrong choice.

Nuh-uh. No sale here. They were selfish, inconsiderate a**holes, at the very least. But I'll admit they didn't get that way by themselves. The wrong choices were made years earlier. By parents. By indifferent schools. By substituting money for caring, presents for companionship. By being raised in a society which values celebrity over all.

As much as their behaviour appalls, I honestly feel sorry for most of these people, many of whom are little more than kids. Values like respect, honesty, dignity and compassion, instead of being ingrained by the time they hit their teens, remain abstract concepts. They can mouth the words, as taught by their agents, managers and lawyers, and they can learn that downcast eyes and a tremulous voice mimics contrition -- but in their heart of hearts, I think most of them just don't get it and probably never will. As long as they have money and flashbulbs going off in their faces, they'll have simpering sycophants whispering about how wonderful they are. And they'll believe them.

Because to do otherwise is to admit there's an emptiness inside that can't be filled with money, red carpets, screaming fans and high-fives. And then what do they have to turn to?

Oh yeah. Drugs, alcohol and brushes with the law.

And so it goes.


* This is my nominee for the phrase of the year that MUST be obliterated, expunged, erased from the lexicon. If you hear or read it, you can be reasonably sure the user is trying to sell you a line of something that is better spread on farmer's fields.


More nice cottage pics at Hilary's blog.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Vacation Pics (Issue #151)

As promised...

It's been a long, extended summer and parts of cottage country seem untouched by autumn's fingerpaints - like this path off the road. It used to lead to a swamp and was a favoured spot for frog-catchers in summer and duck hunters in fall. But as you can see by the meadow in the background, consecutive dry summers have evaporated all the water.

The picture below is more reflective of what the countryside looks like now. It will become even more colourful in the next week or so.

About a mile from our cottage is a lovely little lake from which we've plucked many a brook trout over the years. The path shown below, carved out by anglers, canoeists and campers, leads to it.

The next two shots are proof I wasn't lying about the "lovely" part.

After a long day's hike...well...after a long, nearly-an-hour's hike, it feels good to take a load off the old pins.

Now there's a novel shoeshine.

Some of you are itching to know how the fishing was. Well, when you have to resort to using a gaff in order to successfully land a largemouth bass, you know darn well you've got yourself a beauty!

Or maybe you just learn about the importance of perspective....

Sometimes I didn't know whether to focus on the reality or the reflection - so usually I opted for both. This, by the way, is our cottage's "front lawn." Some folks opt for clearing the brush and seeding grass. We're from the landscaping-by-Mother-Nature school of cottaging.

As evening draws down, it's time to start thinking about making a fire, sitting back, and sipping something smooth.

It just doesn't get any better than this folks. Glad you could join me.

Over at Hilary's blog, The Smitten Image, you can read her take on how the fishing went and see more fine pics.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Not A Post

My summer sojourn at the cottage, initially intended to last several days, turned into two (2). It was one of those things. Oh, who am I trying to kid? It was many of those things, some of which I might write about one of these days.

Anyway, I’m not writing anything for a week or so because - you guessed it! I’m going back up to the cottage to bask and loll and fish and roast wieners over a fire. (Baskin’ & Lollin’= what you do when you eat too much ice cream.)

When I come back I’ll most likely post a bunch of pictures and bore you good folks to tears with my tales of sloth.

Eat your hearts out.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Waddle Of The Photographer (Issue #150)

Last week, Son #1 and I watched a movie called March of the Penguins. For those of you who haven’t seen it, it’s a fascinating story about Emperor penguins which live in just about the most inhospitable place on the planet, the Antarctic.

I’ve always been fond of penguins. Their charm is irresistible. At rest, they look like bankers quietly discussing business at a funeral. Then they do that goofy side-to-side waddle and suddenly they’re clowns. (Not the scary kind with red noses and big feet.) They’re so ungainly it’s hard to believe they’re birds - until you watch them fly gracefully through the water.

The movie showed how, every year, these amazing creatures walk and/or belly-slide 70 miles (110 km) across the ice from their hunting grounds in the ocean to their breeding area inland. And they go back and forth several times, often after not having eaten for months.

As engrossing as the movie was, I found myself stepping outside it from time to time in order to marvel at the physical challenges the film crew had to overcome. Imagine filming in temperatures below -50C (-58F) with winds of over 200 kmh! Holy cow! Even a Canadian would zip up his parka in that weather.

I had an occasion to recall the movie a couple of days ago.

The previous two mornings, as BennyTheBuzzsaw and I were walking, I saw a heron patiently fishing in a tiny pond along our route. I vowed to bring my camera the next morning.

Now, I’m only half as dumb as I look. Okay, two thirds. I knew it might be problematic trying to control a berserk Jack Russell terrier with ADD while trying to get close enough to snap a pic of a heron without spooking it. But nothing ventured - nothing gained. Fortune favours the brave. In for a penny - in for a pound. Would someone please slap me?


So, I brought my camera the next morning. Sure enough, Mr. Heron was there but he was in a more distant section of the pond. My camera only has a modest 3X zoom, so I had to get quite a bit closer if I was to get a decent pic.

While I paused, considering how best to approach the bird, Benny patiently wrapped his leash around my ankles several times and reared up on his hind legs, straining to get somewhere. Anywhere.

I disentangled him and looked around. There was absolutely nothing nearby to which I could tie the leash, or anchor it down. I decided my best course of action was to pinch it between my knees and ever...so...slowly...make my way towards the heron.

I waddled stealthily. Click. Waddle. Click. How the heck did those penguins do this for 70 miles with those short little legs? Of course, none of them was walking a dog and snapping pictures. I would have noticed.

Within 50 yards now. This might work.

Then Benny, who up to this point was busy sniffing something, decided he had to get to the edge of the pond slightly sooner than immediately.

He surged. My knees pinched the leash as tightly as possible as I kept the camera to my eye, trying to keep the heron in view as I clicked.

My stealthy waddle became a zombie-like lurch as I flung my lower legs out to the side and then forward.

The trick was to maintain forward progress, my balance, control of the dog and the camera, while appearing unthreatening to the heron which, the occasional jiggly peek through the viewfinder told me, was no longer fishing but staring right at me for some reason.

Maybe my curses tipped him over the edge. I dunno. Anyway, the big bird took off before I could get close enough for a good shot.

I did manage a couple of mediocre pictures which appear below.

Anybody know where I might find lead boots than would fit a Jack Russell?

Shhh! Be vewy, vewy quiet. Weah hunting wascawee fwoggies.

My zoom lets me sneak in for a little closer peek.

Okay, enough of this!

I'm mildly surprised I managed to track him at all.
150 issues is something of a milestone. Many of you have stuck with me since the first one. Most of you have hopped aboard along the way. Thanks to all. Hope you've enjoyed the ride thus far and that we still have a long way to go.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Communication vs Jack Russell Terriers (Issue #149)

I have a way with animals. You might say I’m an animal lover. More precisely perhaps, I like to think of myself as an animal understanderer. It’s an ability that can be learned but the process doesn’t happen overnight. Most of you will recall I’m a disciple of Yogi Berra and one of his most important teachings is: "You can observe a lot just by watching."

As I do with people, I watch animals closely and try to discern from their behaviour what they’re thinking - what their likes and dislikes are. Sometimes I’m probably off base, other times I’m pretty sure I know what’s going on in their wee brains.

Someone less charitable than I might suggest that it takes a wee brain to know another wee brain. That would be an amusing thing to suggest all right. If they suggested it to me I’d pee on their leg.

I’m able to establish a rapport with most non-hostile creatures - from kittens to that nice lady at the door who frets about my eternal salvation. But I have to confess to having a wee bit of difficulty with Benny, the Jack Russell terrier pup I inherited.

I’ve had a few dogs in my life. Many of you will recall previous columns about my dearly-departed Gryphon, the hunka-hunka-burnin’-love Rottweiler. Most of my family and friends have dogs. I get along with them okay. Even my sister Theresa’s dumb-as-a-post Sheepdog.

But none of those dogs was a JRT. Therefore, none have prepared me for being a JRT caretaker.

For instance, do you know what the animal in the photo below is doing?

It’s called “pronking.” They jump WAY up in the air and sproing off in a new direction. It helps them escape from leopards but sometimes it seems they do it just for fun. I knew antelopes pronked because I was an avid watcher of National Geographic and Wild Kingdom.

Now I know that Jack Russell terriers do it too. They do it pretty much all the time they’re not asleep. Which is pretty much all the time.

I’m no Dr. Dolittle but I do talk with animals. I’m a firm believer that, like with foreigners, if you speak clearly and loudly, you will be understood. It just takes a little repetition, a little time, a little patience.

Benny loves going for walks. All dogs do of course. When Benny sees me put on my shoes he starts quivering and barking and running around in circles and biting my laces in order to help me along.

However, he’s holding back most of his energy because I have not yet got the leash in my hand.

We keep the leash at the top of a short set of four steps. Benny races to the top step and waits until I have the leash in my hand. Sometimes he helps by holding it for me in his teeth and not letting go. Eventually though, I have control of it.

Once he sees that I do, he proceeds to pronk.

About every second or third pronk, he misses the top step and tumbles to the bottom. No matter. He just sproings back to the top and pronks feverishly while I make futile attempts to snap the leash onto the tiny clip on his tiny collar while he’s airborne.

I say: “Sit Benny.”

He misunderstands. He’s pretty sure I said, “Jump higher” and obliges.

“For Gawd’s sakes Benny! Sit still!”

“Gotcha. Higher and faster!”

It becomes a ballet of sorts: Pronk. Swipe with the leash. Pronk. Swipe. Tumble. Sproing! Pronk. Swipe. Repeat. Tumble. Sproing!

I’d tell you about the walks themselves but I think I’ve cried enough for one day.

I confess to being a tad perplexed by this failure to communicate. In most other respects he seems to be a pretty smart dog. He just has trouble understanding me. JRTs were first bred in England which could explain it.

I need to work on my accent and then talk to him clearly and loudly. He’ll eventually get it.

Because I have a way with animals.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Zoos, Zoning Out & Going For A Drive (Issue #148)

There’s a small zoo in our town that bills itself as North America’s oldest privately operated zoo. When the lads were young, we’d often spend an hour or two there every couple of weeks. A family pass, purchased for about $60, allowed entry all year round. It was a pretty good deal.

There’s not a lot of animal attractions but they’re reasonably varied: elephants, lions, tigers, bison, wolves, monkeys and birds all have their own enclosures while goats, deer and some antelope wander the grounds. Some of the animals have been used in Hollywood films and tv series such as Michael Douglas’ The Ghost & The Darkness and Peter Benchley’s Amazon.

As the boys got older, it became too tame for them. They much preferred the occasional foray to the Metro Toronto Zoo with its many hundreds of critters from around the world. As a result, it had been several years since we visited the local one.

Last week, on a whim, we decided to check it out again.

The parking lot was jammed which surprised me some but that surprise was dwarfed by my horror at the entry fee - $55 for the three of us! Imagine, for a zoo which takes about an hour to circumnavigate unless you pause at every exhibit for 10 minutes and crawl to the next one!

My wallet balked at this outrage and I told the lads we’d have to come up with a Plan B.

"Like what?"

"I dunno, let’s just drive for a bit and think it over."

So I pointed the car out of town and drove. Ignoring their groans, I began recalling aloud how, as a child, my folks would shoehorn six of us into the back seat every pleasant Sunday afternoon for a drive. We rarely complained because they dangled the prospect of an ice cream cone at the tail end of our journey.

Sometimes, we drove to the tiny local airport to watch single and twin-engined planes take off and land. For a few years, we drove to "look at houses." Longtime readers will recall I grew up in a small house wherein the six of us kids shared a bedroom. When I was about 10 or 11, my parents bought a lot where they intended to build a house one day. Sometimes we’d visit the lot and imagine it with a house but most times we’d drive around nearby towns and Mom and Dad would look at houses to get ideas for their own.

I think it was during the course of these drives that I learned the art of zoning out. They were kind of boring and if I livened things up by torturing my younger siblings, my ice cream treat would be in jeopardy.

So I looked out the window and daydreamed. I’ve long-since perfected the zone-out of course. For decades now, I’ve been able to look teachers, bosses and Significant Others in the eye, nod and/or murmur appropriately, and have no idea what they just said.

Anyway, the lads were a tad less than thrilled at the prospect of an aimless drive so I came up with a purpose.

"We’ll check out some of my old favourite trout fishing spots and I’ll buy you guys an ice cream at this ancient general store I know."

If they cheered, it wasn’t audible over the radio.

Despite a few wrong turns and a couple of dead ends, we ended up having a nice time. We bought some corn from a roadside stand. It was one of those we-trust-you stands. The farmer wasn’t around. You take the produce you want and put the payment in a box.

That "ancient general store" had been modernized. The floors were no longer wooden and racks of videos had replaced the hardware and clothing sections I remembered. And there was precious little change from a 10-dollar bill after the cost of three ice creams was deducted.

The creeks and ponds were pretty much the same though, thank goodness. Although I didn’t bring any fishing gear, it was just nice to hear the rapids and watch the water. I wondered how so many years could have slipped by since I last fished them.

I’ll wrap this up with a few pictures.

One of our wrong turns brought us to a pretty swamp and I herded the lads out of the car to snap a pic.

I dress them differently so I can tell them apart.

Told you it was a pretty swamp.

Mr. Bullfrog is nicely camouflaged by the surrounding weeds.

About 30 years ago I lost a brown trout below that dam that was near as long as my arm. Only The Great Angler knows how big he'd be now!

This hoary old tree seems to be blindly reaching out for the part of him he'd lost.

After we got home I clapped both lads on the shoulder and said I bet they couldn't wait until we repeated this adventure. They smiled and nodded in a suspiciously vague manner.

Could be there's a genetic component to the zoning-out thing.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

And Now A Word From Our Sponsor (Issue #147)

For many years, one of my must-see tv shows was the annual airing of the Clio awards for the world’s best television commercials. I was consistently amazed and amused by 30 and 60-second clips that often surpassed in entertainment value the programs they helped finance.

Many of the winners were from foreign countries and few relied on subtitles in order to tell their story to a North American audience. People and/or animals, their expressions and situations, and clever product placement were usually all that was required to get the message.

We all have a few faves embedded in our memory banks. Everyone of a certain age can remember the little old lady with the big voice who asked “Where’s the beef?” Try as we might, some of us will never forget the sight of football star Joe Namath modelling pantyhose.

My favourites usually target the funny bone and don’t always accomplish their creator’s goal of making the sponsor memorable. I know I’m not alone there. Many commercials succeed in entertaining us but they’re failures if the company paying for them doesn’t get a bump in business. How many of us have started a conversation by saying something like: “You know that commercial where the dog and the guy are doing that thing with the whaddayacallit?” instead of: “Love that General Motors commercial where the dog and the guy are....”

Well, I have a current favourite, part of a series, that absolutely cracks me up. I think it is a brilliant piece of absurdist comedy that ranks with the best of the Goon Show, Monty Python or the gang at SCTV. AND I remember the sponsor - Holiday Inn.

Some of you may be groaning. Yes, it’s the series about those business guys who are (for the most part) dumber than a bag of doorknobs.

I’m torn about whether or not I should try to “set up” the commercial of which I’m particularly fond. The first time or three I saw it, it didn’t register much more than a mildly amused “huh?” Then, the fourth or fifth time ‘round it engaged all my synapses and now I can’t be eating or drinking anything when it comes on tv.

Here’s what I’ll do:

I’ll link to the commercial and you can watch it now if you want (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l9gp1rnUbyQ). Or you can read my take on it below and then watch it. Or you can roll your eyes, stop reading and go do something interesting with your day.

Cue Jeopardy-like interval music....


We’ve all chuckled at some time or another when a friend, listening to music on headphones, starts to sing along with what he’s hearing. The person often assumes he’s singing very quietly to himself but the humour comes in the fact he’s singing louder than he imagines (and often off key).

This commercial starts that way. The most clueless of the three is listening to headphones and singing. The other two, overhearing him, start to sing along in the same sort of soft falsetto, as if they too were wearing headphones and listening to the same song. That’s funny enough right there.

But there’s more.

The original singer, overhearing his buddies sing along, removes his headphones, seemingly uncertain as to whether or not they’re mocking him. However, he’s soon caught up in the music groove again and sings along in what is now three-part, falsetto, headphone-like-but-without-headphones “harmony.”

It just plain cracks me up every time and is my personal nominee for one of this year’s Clios.

As a bonus, here’s another I like from the same bunch (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0byuh3RdzOY&mode=related&search=).

Just enjoy it!

I'd love to hear about some of your favourites from yesterday and today.

A few weeks ago, I told you folks about the new addition to the household. You remember: that pint-sized, four-legged devil dog from heck, Benny. Well, Benny went for his first out-of-town visit last weekend and an interesting time was had by all. Yes, “interesting” in that Chinese curse kind of a way.

Hilary wrote about it in her blog, complete with lots of pictures. You can check it out by clicking here or visiting: http://thesmittenimage.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Rolling Stone Magazine: When It Mattered & When It Stopped (Issue #146)

A few weeks ago, I bought the 40th anniversary issue of Rolling Stone magazine. It made me feel a bit old because somewhere in a box in my basement or garage is issue #1. As I paged through it, I was reminded of when the magazine mattered and when it stopped.

For a time, Rolling Stone offered me something the magazine racks in Smalltown Ontario never had: people who looked like me, writing enthusiastically about the things I cared about - mostly, but not solely, music. It was intoxicating and I devoured every word, lingered over every picture of Janis, Jimi and Bob.

I was mildly discomfitted when it went from newsprint to a glossy format. I found it a little harder to read but had to admit the pictures sure looked spiffier.

I wasn’t happy when founder/publisher Jann Wenner decided to move its offices from San Francisco to New York in the 70s. It smacked of going corporate, something RS would have sneeringly disparaged a few short years earlier. But I stuck with it because of the writing. The voices were still angry, eloquent and passionate. They tilted against the status quo like pen-wielding jousters.

Hunter S. Thompson led the charge. His hilarious, insightful, drug-fuelled rants peeled the patina of politeness from society, the media, and politics. He was the best, most natural writer I’ve ever read. But sometime toward the latter part of the 70s I found his rants to be more addled than interesting; the demons he fought no longer entirely outside himself.

To me, Thompson’s decline mirrored RS’s. Full page ads for perfume and BMWs had somehow replaced pictures of girls with unshaven armpits and classifieds featuring used Volkswagen buses. The magazine which established itself as the voice of the counterculture had become just another corporate mouthpiece. Chic had replaced cheeky.

I stopped buying it and didn’t miss it.

But I have a weakness for anniversary issues of just about any magazine. I’ve got anniversary issues of Esquire, Penthouse, Playboy, Harpers and dozens of others. I bought Rolling Stones’ 25th and 30th. Something wallet-loosening happens when I walk past a magazine rack and espy glossy covers with big numbers plastered across the front. So buying the 40th was automatic.

I’ve added it to my Bathroom Stack and leaf through it now and again. Most anniversary issues have an element of self-congratulation running through them. It’s understandable. But I’ve not seen anything like Rolling Stones’. That issue features a lot of interviews with famous, or used-to-be-famous folk. At some point in the interviews they’re asked how important RS was to them and their careers. I was actually embarrassed at how pitifully and blatantly self-serving it was, begging to be told how important it...used...to...be.

A couple of days ago I was wandering past a magazine rack and saw RS touting its 40th anniversary with a totally different cover. Hmmm. I checked it out and saw what I’d missed in the one I’d purchased earlier: They were “celebrating” their 40th with three (3!) different issues. Three different 40th anniversary issues - each at eight bucks a pop.

Hunter Thompson would have eviscerated them. And then happily cashed their cheque.

I put part two back on the shelf. If I notice RS 40th III (Fatter & Glossier!) I’ll walk right on by.

Yes, I’ve changed over the years too. I’m fatter but still a long way from glossy. My hair is still long and I still love rock n’ roll and I still only wear a tie if someone dies.

I appreciate Rolling Stone making me feel like part of a great social movement for a time but I’m no longer buying what they’re selling. Nor do I need anyone to speak for me. And if I want to know what the counterculture is thinking nowadays I’ll find it expressed in pixels, not amongst glossy, scratch-n-sniff pages.

But if I’m ambulatory and have 20 bucks in my pocket in 10 years, you can bet your buns I’ll be taking the 50th home with me.

Well, at least part one.


Longtime readers of my emailed column are familiar with Hilary of Dejablues Designs. She designed all my spiffy headers and the clickable fishies that magically transported you to my book’s page on Amazon.com where tens and tens of you purchased copies and helped make it An Enduring Classic. Over the years, our deep and much-cherished friendship has developed into a pleasant, casual acquaintanceship. (I’d insert a smiley here if I hadn’t declared this a smiley-free zone.)

Anyway. Hilary has recently joined the Blogosphere. I’d be pleased if you’d visit her site and see her many talents on display. You can find it here or copy and paste this link into your browser: http://thesmittenimage.blogspot.com/

Tell her Frank sent you. But I have a hunch she’ll already know.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Do You Know This Face? (Issue #145)

A couple of weeks ago while out walking, I found something. I wasn’t on one of my walks-for-health. Walks-for-health require a certain rhythm and you’re supposed to keep going even if something interesting catches your eye.

It was more of an amble. When ambling, you’re allowed to look around and even stop and sit on a bench or a hill if you want. Ambling is exercise for the spirit.

I was looking down when I saw something that didn’t belong among the path’s usual detritus of dirt, grass, weeds and sticks. It was small, round and bluish. I picked it up and brushed off some dirt.

It was, or used to be, a button made of some very lightweight metal alloy or maybe metallic-ish plastic. (What do I know from materials? I’m not a geologist. Or haberdasher.) You could tell it was a button even though the thingy at the back, through which the thread was supposed to be looped, was eroded away to a pair of wee bumps.

It was the obverse that caught my attention though. On it was a face, faded but recognizable, and vaguely familiar.

My first thought was Jane Jetson of the 60s cartoon family. My ambling partner, Hilary, thought maybe it was supposed to represent Barbie, the famous doll. It definitely has a 60s-type look. Hilary took a picture of it and I decided to pose the question to you folks.

I know the young pups among you are saying “what-everrrr” and have already changed the channel but maybe a few of you fellow boomers can spare a guess.

Upon further, and prolonged reflection, I am now leaning towards Judy Jetson, the daughter from that show.

Here she is:

PS- I’m taking some time off starting this weekend so please forgive any delayed responses to emails or comments. I’ll be back in a couple of weeks.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

An Aid For The Disorganizationally Proficient (Issue #144)

I’ve written before about my disorganizational skills. (Always try to put a positive spin on things!) Many of you will recall the results of a personality test I took in university wherein my organizational ability was deemed to rank in the 4th percentile. This meant 96% of the population was epter than I at that sort of thing. The professor administering the study said it was the lowest mark he’d seen. Of course at that time, the early 70s, he’d only seen a few thousand.

My main compensatory mechanism over the decades has been writing myself notes. Naturally, for the disorganizationally-adept, the drawback to this was keeping track of them. One notebook certainly wasn’t sufficient because it could be misplaced so easily. So I bought a backup. And a backup to the backup. And so on, until my desk could not handle the overflow and I had notebooks on my night stand, bathroom and kitchen counters, car, and jammed between the cushion and the armrest of my Comfy Chair.

Undoubtedly, those 96 percenters would have notebooks for specific things: one for phone numbers and addresses: another for writing ideas: a third for scheduling-type stuff and another for video game codes and tips. Probably they’d remember where they put each and every one of them too. I try not to hate those people. It can take me an hour and hundreds of flipped pages in multiple notebooks before I can find somebody’s phone number.

Ditto for writing ideas. Usually I’d just jot down a few keywords to get me kickstarted when I had the time and energy to write. So, scattered amongst the phone numbers and directions and reminders to fetch my kids from somewhere were phrases like “women - haha!” and “fishing = sacrament.”

It was difficult to get any writing done because while searching through the books for a half-remembered topic any number of distractions could, and usually would, get me sidetracked.

Well, technology, in the form of Mother Google’s homepage add-ons (one day Google will try to eat Microsoft, or vice versa, and the whole world will choke to death) has arrived to save the day.

What’s ironic is that this hi-tech idea which has already saved me countless hours of page-flipping is based on such a low-tech invention.

It’s a virtual yellow sticky note. And it’s way better than the originals because it doesn’t curl up and drift away like an autumn-tossed leaf that then disappears amongst desk debris. It’s in the middle of my homepage and I can add notes any time I please. I can also delete them when they’re no longer relevant. When I first got it, I just typed random things and deleted them because it was fun.

My only concern is regarding its storage capacity. Since it remains on my monitor screen I suspect there’s a finite number of things I can add before the thing gets filled up. I’ve only been using it for a couple of weeks now and it’s filled a goodly portion of my screen. I’m definitely adding things faster than I am deleting them.

I suppose I could buy a backup computer....

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Pajamas, Hugh Hefner & Me (Issue #143)

You know how you always think of the smarty-pants response to some argument 10 minutes to 10 years after you lost the argument? We hate when that happens....

It was early on a lovely summer evening and I wanted to sit outside and enjoy a refreshing beverage. I constructed said beverage and prepared to sally forth.

“You can’t go out there like that,” I was told.

“Like what?”

“You’re wearing pajamas. People will see you. People I know. I will lose face and have to leave town and I don’t want to.”


I have only recently discovered the joy that pajamas can bring. I am speaking specifically of pajama bottoms here, not tops. Tops are goofy and only old men wear them. I am hardly, at 56, old. 56 is the new 44 and, if I recall correctly, 44 is the new 35. You’d have to be insane, or a teen, to think that 35 was old.

For most of my life I have worn jeans - winter, spring, summer or fall. In summer, they can be a smidge uncomfy on hot days. I am not allowed to wear shorts because my legs are white and spindly. The sun’s glare rebounds off them and blinds passers-by. I have nightmares about drivers involved in a chain of fender benders, clapping one hand over their eyes and pointing an accusing finger with the other.

A year or so ago, Son #2 started wearing pajama bottoms pretty much everywhere. I shrugged. Kids. Heck, I once wore barrel-sized bell bottoms and a Nehru jacket. Not together though. Pretty sure.

Anyway, when I took him shopping one day for more, I decided to pick up a pair or two for myself. I was pleasantly surprised to see that they cost less than $15. In fact, I have since purchased some very spiffy ones, in designer plaids, stripes and checks, for less than 10 bucks!

They are light and comfy. They have elastic waists which come in very handy when dinnertime rolls around. And get this:

They have pockets now! I’m fairly certain that way back in the 50s and early 60s, when I last wore them, they were pocket-less.

So, on the one hand, we have comfort, stylish designer plaids, stripes and checks and pockets. And on the other, we have someone sniffing with disapproval.

Well, the sniffing won that day.

But only because I forgot about Hugh Hefner.

Hef practically spent his entire life in pajamas! For all I know he still does. And he’s a millionaire and his magazine has articles in it about stylishness! Probably.

How can wearing jammies be a fashion faux pas if Hef wears them? I chuckled to myself, anticipating the next PJ discussion and my new trump card.

As I thought about Hefner, I came to realize that we had lots more in common than sartorial resplendency:

He drinks Pepsi and I drink Pepsi sometimes.

He has a magazine empire and I have written stuff for magazines.

He has slept with hundreds, maybe thousands of women. I have kissed more than a dozen. (If we count aunts.)

In fact, it would not surprise me one iota if ole Hef put some fishies in one of his swimming pools and wet a line now and then.

It’s like we were twins, separated at birth!

A week or so ago, sporting a new, classy, grey/white/yellow-striped pair with a button-fly front, I headed outside.

“Geez Frank.”


“The jammies....”

“Hugh Hefner wears them all the time!” I crowed triumphantly.

“He wears tops too. He’s an old man.”

Any day now, I’m gonna come up with a smarty-pants rejoinder to that one.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Larry The Lucky Ducky (Issue #142)

Once upon a few days ago, I went for a walk along my creek. As most of you know, I'm on a rigorous fitness program these days. Well, perhaps rigorous isn't quite the right word -- let's call it listless-plus.

Sometimes, like on this particular day, I take my camera with me. I do this in case I come across some flowers or wildlife that would make a nice pic. It's hardly ever because I've been walking for 10 freaking minutes already and want an excuse to pause for a bit.

See? Those were sort of interesting-looking flowers and get ready to "Awww" because here comes some cute baby duckies.

Told ya.

Occasionally, when in the outdoors, one comes across real-life scenes of drama. (You know, like the stuff you see on Discovery, only in 3D and Smell-O-Vision but you don't have to wear cardboard glasses and scratch any cards and then sniff your finger.) Anyway, this was one of those days.

In the distance, I caught a glimpse of something yellow. Readers of my book know that decades of outdoor experience have honed my Heightened Awareness to such a degree that I can catch a 6-inch trout and by the time I release it, I actually perceive it as it will appear in 5 years. Which explains all the record-breaking fish I've lost. Anyway, my HA told me this was no ordinary bit of flotsam. I hurried forward for a closer look.

I couldn't be positive from this angle but it appeared to be a young duckling in distress. I stealthily approached from the other side, being careful not to disturb the undoubtedly distraught creature.

I was right. It was a fine specimen of Duckus Rubbernica, Hollywood genus.

Speaking quietly and mindful of that beak, which even at this young age was powerful enough to crush algae, I reached out and plucked the lucky ducky from its predicament. Suddenly picturing him in suspenders and leaning on a desk quacking at Paris Hilton (HA is not always controllable) I decided to call him Larry.

With an affectionate scratch behind where his ears would be if he was a dog, I bade Larry farewell and released him into the main current.

He looked happy enough but I had to question his choice in sunglasses. They were stylish, sure, but appeared to be a titch too heavy for him, resulting in balance issues.

Aside from his decision to go with style over stability, Larry appeared to be in fine fettle and continued on his journey to Lake Ontario, only a couple of miles away.

Bye Larry! Good luck and Godspeed!

PS: That night, I had a dream that my foot hurt and Larry came to me and nibbled a thorn out of my toe.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Rewards Of Being Still (Issue #141)

Over the years I’ve been fishing (50 now) I’ve learned quite a few things. Many of those things, it will not surprise you to hear, were about the art/science itself. But many were not. Quite a few nuggets of knowledge were welcome byproducts of being nestled against Mother Nature’s bosom.

I learned things about weather - how important wind and its direction can be and how to recognize and cope with changes. I learned about the behaviour of birds and animals - the head-bobbing courtship of waterfowl - the stealthy slink of a marten with trout-stealing on his mind. I learned about human nature by my own, and others’ reactions to adversity and joy. I learned about death and hence, very much about life.

A lot of what I learned would not have occurred had I not first learned the importance of being still.

Now, generally speaking, it’s no easy feat teaching a young boy to be still. Boys were made to climb trees, throw rocks and fall into creeks - often all three within the same minute. Enforced stillness, such as that endured by students and church-goers, was why God invented fidgeting.

Only two things could keep me still as a lad - reading and fishing. Often, Dad would let me fish the best holes in a creek. (At the time, I wondered why. Later, of course, I learned how unselfishness and love go together.) During my earliest forays with him, he would cast my line out for me at these special pools. When the bait had drifted to where he wanted it to be, he would either hand me back the rod, or lay it down against a rock or log, admonishing me to watch the line for a bite and until then, to “be still.”

These special pools mostly likely held special fish; fish the likes of which most boys have never even seen, let alone caught.

So I was still.

When still, one very quickly becomes conscious of things that are tuned out when one is busy. A quiet forest is suddenly alive with sounds - rustling leaves, rubbing branches, calling birds, humming insects and burbling rapids.

When still, one becomes a part of the local scene to many of its inhabitants. Birds and squirrels will venture to near-touching distance. Wandering beetles treat your boot as just one more rock to clamber over. Muskrats slip out of their streamside dens for a cooling swim.

Occasionally, one can become so engrossed in the show around him, that a bouncing fishing rod goes unnoticed for a moment. (I’m beginning to think that special fish, in special pools, come to rely on this inattention in their quest to remain un-caught.)

I’ve been old enough to cast my own line for a very long time now. I’ve learned that sometimes it’s best to keep on the move when fishing and sometimes it’s best to stay in one place and wait. That’s if your main purpose is to catch some fish.

As I get older, I stay in one place and wait much more often than I used to - even when I know moving around offers a better chance of catching something. It’s more important to me to feel my inner noise ebb, as I become attuned to the music offered by nature, than it is to catch a fish.

And guess what? Although preferable (to some of us) you don’t need to go fishing in the bush or hiking through the woods to enjoy what stillness can bring.

You can sit in a quiet section of a park, or an uncrowded piece of beach, or your own backyard and practice being still. See how long it takes before the local critters accept you as an unthreatening lump.

Try it. You’ll learn stuff. Important stuff like how much more a flower bends when a bumblebee lands on it compared to a honey bee. Or the sound an outraged blue jay makes when some thieving squirrel takes the last peanut from a feeder.

You might even find yourself understanding that you aren’t an interloper in their world at all. When you show benign regard they gift you with the same and accept you as a part of it.

Few things are more rewarding than that.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

What Fresh Hell Is This?* (Issue #140)

As many of you know, I’ve been done with pets for quite a while. A few years ago, the house was home to Hobbes the cat, Gryphon the hunka-hunka-burnin’-love Rottweiler, Lucy the parrot and Stumpy the toad. Hobbes, Gryph and Stumpy are gone now. Longtime readers are familiar with their stories. (I still get people razzing me about keeping a dead cat in my freezer for a year or so. Can you imagine?)

Anyway, Lucy, the African Grey parrot, has been the sole non-human in the house for a couple of years now and that suited me just fine. We get along. If she hollers a lot it’s because she either wants a peanut or a rub. All women should be so easy to please.

I was resigned to life with Lucy, since she’s expected to live for another 60 years or so even though I might not. But I really didn’t want another animal in the house. The lads would occasionally pester me about getting a four-legged one but my standard answer was, "Okay, you can have a cat/dog -- the day you move out."

About six months ago, I began the procedure of occasionally entertaining the idea of possibly getting another cat. Which meant mulling the concept for a few seconds every month or so, then shaking my head.

It’s a process! I was working up to it. Cats aren’t as needy as dogs. They eat less and most of them don’t take up as much freezer space when they’re expired.

I definitely didn’t want a dog. Big dogs, the kind I prefer, tend to live just long enough to own your heart, then they die. I’ve never been a fan of small dogs, referring to them often as "muskie bait." (If you’re unfamiliar with a muskie, you can see what they look like by clicking here.) Truth to tell, I’m still mourning Gryph after all these years. When you’ve had The Perfect Dog, it’s tough to make room in your life and heart for another one.

So imagine my horror when I came home a few weeks ago to find a tiny, four-legged, rodent-sized animal that was not a cat running around the house. This runt wasn’t worthy of being muskie bait. A couple of guppies could take it down.

Don’t ask me how it got here. I won’t tell you. Suffice it to say, the beast is here and I have to make the best of the situation.

The way I’ve been making the best of the situation is to avoid having anything to do with it unless cornered.

The problem with that philosophy is the little beggar is quick. And being so low to the ground, he’s hard to spot when zipping around between stacks of newspapers, magazines, books, fishing equipment and things I keep meaning to put somewhere else someday.

One minute I’m quietly reading the sports section and the next, I’m trying to shake off a furry, growling gnat whose jaws are clamped on my pants cuff.

I’m not exaggerating the "quick" thing. I swear this animal has learned to teleport.

I barbecue a lot. Once the weather gets nice in April or May, it’s not uncommon for me to barbecue five or six days a week for several months. We all know how good barbecued anything smells. Apparently furry gnats can also appreciate those aromas. Because whenever I go out the back door to the deck where the barbecue is, no matter how alone I am at the time, no matter how quickly I slam the door behind me, when I step on the deck, the gnat has beat me to it. He’s cocking his microscopic head to the side and giving me that let’s-be-best-friends-forever grin.

Well, I’m not falling for it. Nuh-uh. Sure, every once in a while a small piece of burger, or maybe cheese, will tumble from a plate while I’m transferring food. I may accidentally misplace a rib or pork chop bone when I’m done with it but no way am I going to encourage that beast to keep me company while I’m going about the serious business of cooking.

Apparently, like all puppies and kittens, he paid attention while at Cute School. You know that thing that puppies do, when they crouch down with their front ends low and their rear ends high, tail wagging? And they kinda prance while growling, like they’re double-dog-daring you to approach them? And then you feint a charge and he spins around, grinning and barking happily?

Well, I’m not falling for it.

I’m going to continue to keep a wary distance, both physically and emotionally. Except perhaps, for the occasional photo.

His name is Benny and he’s a Jack Russell terrier.

And he eats faces.

And he eats pants. Son #1 is justifiably horrified.

Here, he imitates an apostrophe on a string.

* God bless Dorothy Parker, from whom I stole my subject line.