Thursday, December 28, 2006
It wasn’t written by a famous poet, although you might think Ogden Nash himself penned it.
My mom, when she was young and still living at home, received one year for Christmas, an autograph book. I guess the purpose was to get people you loved to sign it, and should you per chance ran across a celebrity, convince them to sign it as well.
One Christmas in the mid 1950’s when my Mom and Dad had started dating that year; my Uncle George signed her book:
Christmas comes but once a year
But Ray comes every weekend
And Dad did I guess. He would hitchhike from Woodslee into Essex. Where he slept I don’t know. They met through a church youth group in the Anglican Church of which my Aunt Sheila’s father was the minister. Pop was his nickname and everyone called him “Pop Whelan”. Sheila was my Mum’s best friend, and my Dad’s brother Fred married Sheila, making her my aunt. As you might guess (if you’re so inclined at guessing), my family has been very close ever since. If not geographically at least by the strong bond of Family.
As the years went by, and my Dad moved us from Windsor, to Michigan to Minnesota to Georgia to Louisiana, we always trekked back home to Windsor or to London to spend summer or Christmas vacations with our family. My Aunt Sheila and Uncle Fred’s family consisted of three girls and a boy, all of whom have been like sisters and brothers to me and my brother Paul.
21 years ago today, I moved back home to Canada, and my Aunt Sheila and Uncle Fred let me live on their farm north of London while I went back to school. They gave me a second chance to make something of myself.
Uncle Fred passed a couple of years ago – quite quickly. In what could only be described as a designed fate by God’s hand, my Aunt Sheila was spared that grief by reaching a point with Alzheimer’s disease that shielded her. While the Alzheimer’s has progressed much further now, and could hardly be recognized as a blessing, at the time it seemed quite miraculous.
My Mom is the only healthy survivor of that troop of the Anglican Youth Group that transpired into my loving family. She lives alone in Pensacola Florida – quite happy to be in the warmth of Florida, playing golf when the desire moves her so.
This year I packed up my family of two little girls and my wife Darlene, and we trekked up north for the Brill family Boxing Day celebration. For the last three years it has been held at my cousin Sarah’s and her husband Rene’s beautiful log cabin home between Cambridge and Paris Ontario. It sits quietly in the country on the end of a false branch of the Grand River. It is as scenic a landscape and as beautiful a cabin home as one could imagine. Quite a magical place, that after burning down upon the initial construction, Sarah and Rene rebuilt the exact same home on the exact same spot. It should be named Phoenix.
And there we all gathered on Boxing Day (the day after Christmas for our American readers – a day when the master of the house would give small boxed gifts to the servants that ran the masters manner). Although the girl’s names had changed from Brill to Mulder, Chessell, and Scarborough through marriage; it is still in my heart the Brill Family Boxing Day celebration.
Our kids all ran around the stately cabin together, playing and bonding, exactly as we had done several decades before. Of course the memories came rushing back - much to the shagrin of the inlaws trapped amidst the recanting of tales they had heard a million times before.
And even though this Christmas was as green as an Augustan fairway, that night a light snow fell outside the cabin. And we sat inside, toasty by the fireplace, looking out the oversized windows at the floating flakes – and we talked about what was, and how great it was, and what will be, and how great it will be.
Christmas comes but once a year.
But our family is ours forever.
Next year I am taking my autograph book.
Saturday, December 23, 2006
The presents are wrapped and the decorations all hung.
The girls are excited that Christmas is coming
Mommy and Daddy are tired, sore, broke and bumming
Yup it’s Christmas time again.
And it’s very green here in Windsor.
I hear its green everywhere – except Colorado.
It’s wet, drizzling, and grey. But it is Christmas, and it always amazes me that the weather cannot undo Christmas.
I am off work now until January 2nd. It is a nice break to relax, and not think about work. But frankly – I like my work. I like what I do, and I like who I do it with.
Our team has held this contract since 1994. Our computer system adjudicates drug claims for every senior, every social assisted resident, and every member of the Trillium drug program with drug costs for such diseases as cancer – where the drug costs could break the most affluent family.
The original team back then built a prototype in 1993, and won the contract in 1994. 12 years later our system is still the largest in North America – perhaps the world – I don’t know. It has never gone down unscheduled in 12 years. It receives all such drug claim sent electronically by every pharmacy in Ontario – all the time – and processes 4 billion dollars of drug claim payments every year.
As the senior population has exploded, as the baby boomers age – our system has scaled upward - unbelievably smoothly - to meet the demand.
There are four members of the original creators of our system still working on the project. My respect for them is huge. My enjoyment in working with them is immeasurable. And their generosity in sharing with me is most appreciated, like a debt I can never repay.
Our fourth contract with the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care expires on November 27th, 2007. After that date, our team will no longer manage, expand, grow, or maintain the system. We can no longer nurture it scale even greater challenges. Our vision of its future will be of little or no consequence.
We did not win back the contract.
There were those that had told us that no one can hold such a major contract for such a long period. The government would not allow it. So the feeling is that our bid never had a chance.
There were those that had told us that our COBOL host batches and servers were outdated. But the fact was that we were merging java and COBOL beautifully – creating a brand new service oriented architectures from our existing objects. True objects.
You see there are some that simply see COBOL and assume it’s the crap they learned in college or university. Our COBOL services are independent and single functioned. Our Java passes calls to our COBOL for optimal processing, and sends the replies back using JDBC, SOAP, etc.
So this next year will be interesting as we transition from our contract to the new contract – the hand over to the new maintainers – the engineers and developers, the architects and bureaucrats. It will be a very interesting experience. And like all other painful experiences, if it doesn’t kill you it will make you stronger.
And I heard him exclaim as he flew out of sight
Merry Christmas to all
And to all a good night
Saturday, November 18, 2006
The weather was cold, drizzling and grey. I was as miserable as the weather.
The girls asked me to find something on the radio, so I hit the seek button. What do I find, but a Detroit station that started playing Christmas music November 1st. WNIC.
Bing Crosby was singing about a white Christmas.
"Leave it Daddy!" they shouted. "This music is for baby Jesus!"
How can you argue with that. But as soon as I dropped them off at school, I flipped to my CD changer and listened to Lewis Black go on a Tirade about how the Bush administration dealt with Katrina and the New Orleans flooding.
That made me smile. No not the tragedy - but Lewis Black's take on it.
Last weekend, my neighbor was outside hanging his Christmas lights. He gave me an apologetic glance as Darlene realized we must be behind schedule.
At work I am on the Staff Association. I am actually a co-chair person. We have been dealing with adult and kid's Christmas parties, Santa Clause bookings, dinner menus, table settings, kid's presents, a wrapping party, etc... since June.
It is not even the American Thanksgiving yet, and I am already all Christmas'ed out.
And we still have all of our family traditions to deal with:
- Sending cards
- Decorating outside (no it is still not done)
- Getting a Tree (Darlene demands a real one) and decorating
- Buying the girl's presents
- Buying the grandparents, in-laws, aunt's and uncle's, and cousin's presents
And all that driving in snow and freezing rain conditions.
I am still recovering from the World Series. Getting over the defeat of my Tigers.
Perhaps the three ghosts will visit me this year. Perhaps The Ghost of Christmas Future will show me a scene something like this:
"Alannah, it's Christmas morning, why are you all dressed up to go out?" I'll ask.
"I'm going Bradley's house for Christmas. His family likes Christmas." my daughter will answer.
"But we like Christmas too!" I will state. "You can't wear that to Bradley's parents house, what will they think?"
"Oh, his parents won't be there. They're in Florida".
And I will wake up in a cold sweat.
Perhaps this year we should do it up really right. Lot's of lights and an electric Santa singing Ho Ho Ho on the lawn.
And I had better go ask the kid next door to go buy me a turkey. Where is my wallet?
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
And it is true. But there is a catch. It then ceases to be your idea. And it is not a given that you will be allowed to participate to carry their new idea out for them.
The plain fact of the matter is that everyone is caught up in their own ideas. It take s a generous person allow you to state your idea, get excited about your idea, support your idea, and explain to all that it was indeed your idea.
Of course it helps if you have good ideas. And that is the problem with good ideas. They are subjective. They are prone to the judgement of others. They are rated. Somebody litterally has to hold up a card like a figure skating competition to give the idea a score.
Should you ever have a brain storm that is of enough value that you wish to share it with a group, do yourself a favour and follow my advice:
Think it all the way the through. Do not present a high level version of your idea until you know all the details. Until you flesh it out. Until you drill all the way down to the most minute element of the idea.
And then only share the high level with the powers that be. And hint that there is more, and that you fully see this in your head.
The idea will be yours. And the project to realize that idea will also be yours. Becasue you're the only one with the vision that can lead the blind through the darkness.
Or at least that will be the impression that those who can provide such an opportunity will be left with.
But it had better be a damned good idea. Present one bad idea, and it may sink your chances of ever holding that audience again.
Kind of like this blog. If I write one dumb article here, and you're likely not to come back.
So why are you reading this one then?
Sunday, November 12, 2006
There are some who thrive in the hustle and bustle of the inner core of a major metropolitan area. They love the 24 X 7 of activity. They love the glitz, the skyscrapers, the digital surroundings. They love the mass transit options of trolleys, subways, and commuter trains.
And in some cities, they enjoy the vast underground environments.
I am not one of those people. I am not a metro-sexual.
The downtown core of Toronto is interesting above ground. But the majority of the city's core has an underground counterpart shared by the subway and the Eaton Centre – a long set of tunnels that comprise of shopping mall style. You can litterally live 25 city blocks away from your office and travel to and from work to home – and never see the light of day.
I think there are two factors that comprise my dislike for downtown Toronto:
I hate shopping malls
I truely do hate shopping malls. Perhaps for the reason that I hate shopping. But more so that I hate navigating a shopping mall. I get lost in shopping malls. If I go with a group of friends or family, and we split up – common at Christmas shopping outings – I am the guy that cannot find the meeting area. Thanks goodness for cell phones. Now I can get remote help to locate my compadres.
But the main reason I hate shopping malls is that there is no standard set of rules for traffic management. You may assume the rules to resemble those of driving – but the fact is there is no passing lane, slow lane, or intersection ettiquette. People merely wander where ever they want – and you constanly find yourself saying phrases like excuse me. I beg your pardon, or so quick as sorry. And you will never hear someone say thank you.
As I enter a mall environment, all my instinctual ettiquette in tact, I encounter all kinds of breaches of that ettiquette. People cut you off. Pushing and bumping to hurry around you. People walk straight at you with no intention to avoid you. Like a game of chicken to see who will concede right-of-way first.
And I always concede, in the begining anyway.
By the end of my period within the mall, I have been assimulated. Pushing back, bumping, pushing, and slamming into those people who refuse to step aside as I pass. I just plain have had enough.
As you pass a shop, there is constantly the shop patron emerging into the traffic area who stands there in the middle of traffic, taking that second to gather their bearings and determine their next route. Or they stand with a large group in your lane and talk about what to do now.
Shopping malls should have well defined traffic naviogation tools. Lines on the floor to determine lanes – with arrows to show direction. There should be off and on ramps. Group discussions should be held in gathering spots. Trafic lights would help – along with persons who direct traffic – with white gloves and whistles – waving you through. People should be given tail lights that can be put on their ...uh ... tails, They could blink to tell you when they are turning and beam red when they stop abruptly. There is a niche business here and I think someone should take advantage of it.
I miss my car
I miss the isolation – the privacy – the independence of my car. In the downtown core you are a pedestrian. You are truley in the mix – in the face – of every other individual you encounter.
You are at the whim of the mass transit schedule. You must wait for the subway or trolley to arrive – push your away aboard – and usually stand for the duration of your trip – hanging in to a rail and trying to look like you do this all the time. You must pay close attention to where your stop is – because if you miss it – you cannot simply get off and turn around. You must either get off and pay to get on the return train, or ride to the end – where it turns around and brings you back again until you find your stop ... again.
I like my car. I hop in my car, choose my route, have a smoke, listen to my radio, all in the comfort of my little isolation dome – the comfort of the interior of my car. I can say things like move it buddy! or #%&^ you – you $%# hole! – and know that I cannot be heard by the target of my profanity – thereby maintaining my own diginity in an indignant situation.
Those who do drive in downtown core areas do so in as much frustration as the pedestrian. Traffic lights do not allow left or right turns. Patience is essential. Parking is impossible. Driving is unreasonable.
When I got off the train in Windsor, I hailed a cab. I asked him to please take Riverside Drive so that I could enjoy the waterfront.
Across the river sits the downtown core of Detroit. No longer the metropolis it once was – it is still significant. Still significant enough to host All-Star games, Super Bowls, and this year the World Series. Stanley Cup Finals and NBA Championships.
Detroit's core is not as congested as Toronto. There is no underground or subway (although the People-Mover” El-train does visibly run throughout). The skyline from the Windsor side is actually very pretty at night. Usually when a big event in Detroit is televised, they come to Windsor to shoot video of Detroit from accross the river as it is the citiy's best presentation to the world.
And I looked at their skyline at felt like I was home. Home in my small town of Windsor. Where shopping malls can be avoided, and cars can get you any place you want to go. And the people say “Hi” as you pass them on the street.
There is certainly no place like home.
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
In some ways it is. In some ways it is not.
As I am sitting here writing this, I am rocking back and forth like a baby in a cradle.
I always get a kick out of movies or TV shows where they show the person flip open their laptop (without fumbling with cords or plugs – they have ever lasting batteries that never fail until the plot deems it a necessity for dramatic purposes) and they start right in working as easily as sitting at their nice big desks with a real keyboard and a real mouse. They never make a mistake. And the ride is as smooth as gliding on air.
Sometimes they just happen to have internet access wherever they are – although WIFI is making that more possible everyday – but in the movies – they are just always connected and online? And as they are sending that email or uploading that file that will expose the corrupt while the corrupted henchmen are in hot pursuit – and then the battery dies – or they lose their internet connection – or some inexplicable error message comes up on screen.
But they win out in the end. They have to. Who pays to see the hero die a failure?
But I have digressed again. I am writing to tell you I am on the train from Windsor to Toronto. I had a couple of great Vodka – Cranberry Juices, a couple of white wines. A beautiful beef tips dinner, with chocolate liqueur to cleanse my palette. I watched the brand new Robin Williams movie “Man of the Year” on my laptop – how I did so will be a future Head Stuffing topic.
So I am having a nice trip.
I have no one to share the seat next to me. I am spread out and relaxed. It’s like the living room I don’t get to use at home. Ahhh. I think I will unbuckle and unfasten now. Yeah … that’s the ticket.
You don’t wear seat belts on a train. Yet it goes as fast if not faster than a car. Instead – in first class – you sit in your nice high-backed recliner – and you just hope you don’t de-rail – or hit a cow. I wonder why? It seems to go against all other travel trends.
So I wouldn’t say that riding the train is romantic. But I will say it is very elegant and very comfortable. But not romantic.
I don’t know what you’re doing right now. But I bet you had dishes to wash – or a squabble about who should do them. – I didn’t. I had a nice attendant treat me like a king. I told my daughters I love them and my wife that I miss her. I watched a great movie and now I am updating my blog. And still have fourty-five minutes at least until we arrive.
Riding the train through Ontario is certainly nice in the fall.
If only I could just step out the back door and have a smoke. Maybe we could hit a cow?
Friday, November 03, 2006
“Daddy, look at what I got!” she said with a big gapped tooth grin. There was a space where a bottom front tooth had been, and my pretty little girl now resembled a jack-o-lantern.
Luckily school pictures were taken the previous Thursday, while she still had a full head of teeth.
She went to bed and like every other little kid, she put the tooth under her pillow. The next morning she was excited because she had found a note under her pillow – and all the writing was in gold.
And attached was a $5.00 bill.
C’mon, it was her first one.
The note read:
Congratulations on losing your very first tooth. You certainly are growing up to be a big girl.
All my love,
The Tooth Fairy.
When I wrote the note before going to bed the night before, I had a couple of drafts that I had fun with:
I have taken possession of the tooth I found beneath your pillow. I am assuming on good faith that the tooth is indeed your own.
I have attached $5.00 CDN. The going rate for lost tooth pick-up is 75¢.
Please provide a colour photo of both before and after you lost said tooth. Also please leave my change of $4.25 under your pillow.
I look forward to doing future business with you.
The Tooth Fairy
To Whom it may concern,
I was unable to process your dental claim as you are currently an un-identified prescriber.
Please fill out recipient claim form 34872-1B, unless you are the eldest sibling, in which case you are required to fill out form 32987-B Long.
Please take special care in section 128-C as these calculations can be difficult but are essential to my successful processing of this and all subsequent claims.
The Tooth Fairy
Dental Removal Service Request Adjudicator and Processor
Fabled Service Provider Division
But of course, I didn’t send those.
As she unfolded the note she could not read – she was amazed that it was written in gold ink. This added a level of authenticity. But later in the morning as we were getting ready for school, she asked me “Daddy, did you write this note and sneak it under my pillow when you came home?”
“uh .. no? Why?”
“Because it looks your printing.”
“well, … it’s not. Ok?”
Fridays are show-and-tell days in Alannah’s class. She was going to take the note from the Tooth Fairy. As we were walking up to the school yard, she realized she left it at home. I offered to go back and get it for her.
Alannah turned and smiled, “That’s ok, Daddy, I can show them this instead”.
I think that gapped tooth smile was the prettiest one I ever saw.
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
Halloween is now the second most popular holiday, second only to Christmas. It is certainly funner than Easter, and more creative than Thanksgiving.
I was a teenager in the 1970's and reached adulthood in the 1980s. I think that if you were to ask any of my contemperaries, they would agree that in their mid-fourties, they do not feel like grown ups. And I believe that the generations that have fallowed us - from X to Z would or will follow suit.
We still listen to rock-n-roll. We still "party". We still try to act like the kids we think we are.
At Christmas we continue to try to recapture that magic we remeber as kids. Yet the actual experience was most likely not as magical as our memory portrays it. And we try to instill in our kids the same experiences we believe we had.
This is the reason for obnoxious parents of little league baseball and hockey players. Yet we try to control every moment of our kids lives now with play dates, and bike helmets, and scheduling their day with the precision of a senior project manager.
If you think I overstate this opinion - let me recount my day today - Halloween 2006.
It started the night before, as I unpacked my girls backpacks. Ashley is in junior kindergarten while Alannah is in senior kindergarten (are there really enough skills to learn requiring two levels of kindergarten?). A note fell out of each backpack; "There are no costumes, masks or face paintings allowed at school. Instead we encourage all children to wear a combination of orange and black".
My kids own nothing orange - save a Detroit Tiger T-shirt Darlene bought them at the ballpark last summer. And that is what they wore to school on Halloween.
Yes, they cried "I want to wear my Princess dress!".
"I'm sorry, but dressing like a princess is against school rules. Now please put on the Tigers T-shirt".
Halloween didn't start for my daughters until after dinner at 6 PM. They only got to wear their costumes for an hour and a half. And we all returned home - the bags were poured on the kitchen table to look for pin holes and razer blades. Halloween has actually gotten scarier.
When we were kids, we wore our costumes to school on Halloween. We had a parade and marched through the school and down the main street of town. That afternoon we went out to "Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF". We went home and ate dinner in our costume - removing only the mask because that mouth hole was to small to get a hot dog through. Then we went real trick-or treating for what seemed like all night. We ate half our candy before we even came home.
I dressed in black slacks and an orange dress shirt. I got the idea from .. well, I think you can guess. After dropping my girls off at school, I was served at the drive through coffee shop by a witch handing me my double-double.
At the office I was greeted by a staff of faries in the sales department. (the kind with wings I mean).
The IT staff were dresssed as pirates - with the manager dangling a CD around her neck - "I'm a software pirate" she explained.
In HR, everyone was dressed like Disney's It's a small world" exhibit wearing costume like replicas of the attire from Asia, Arabia, Europe and Africa. This stunned me as our HR is very sensitive to political correctness, and our company does employ people from all these areas. I think they must have cringed to see their heritages become fodder for office holiday celebrations. But I digress.
There were candies and cakes everywhere - a costume contest at noon with a cup of coffee as the winning entry (really well done I must point out). I would say our department worked at approximately 50% efficiency today. It was a lot of fun.
So yes, halloween is the second most poular holiday. But the line gets fuzzy when you ask if the kids or adults had more fun.
When I was a kid, I could hardly wait to be an adult. And now that I have - man is it fun.
Sunday, October 29, 2006
But I did have other plans for TV watching tonight.
Tonight should have been game seven between my beloved Detroit Tigers and those pesky St. Louis Cardinals. I would have been watching the game right now, unless I had scraped up tickets to Comerica Park just across the River.
The skies are clear and the temperature is 48F at what would have been game time. A perfect night for a game seven.
Comerica Park is a special place for my wife, Darlene and I. It was the site - shortly after opening - replacing Tiger Stadium - of Dar and my earliest dates. This day they were playing the Blue Jays that day - beaten by two homers hit by Carlos Delgado - with a drunken fan screaming at him from twenty feet away "You stink Delgado!". The Tigers lost that game. They were not the same team they are today. The Tigers had not yet lost 119 games. That would come three seasons later.
This visit was special because we believe it inspired the conception of our eldest daughter Alannah later that night.
While I watched the game, keeping dutiful score on the card in the program, Darlene went shopping in the souvenir stands in the park. One of the items she bought - for a reason still unbeknownst to either of us - was a little pair baby booties with the magical olde English D.
Two months later, on Fathers Day, Darlene surprised me with a Fathers Day gift. It was those baby booties - olde English D and all. Shortly after we were married, I was changing jobs, and I moved back home to Windsor for the first time in 36 years.
The 2006 Tigers had a magical year. As we did every year since 2000, we spent every summer evening in the back yard listening to the play by play on the radio - pitch by pitch. And this year they were amazing. At one point they were 40 games above .500. Although they were swept by Kansas City to lose the AL Central division lead they held all year, they were inspired once again in New York and beat the Yankees in four games in the ALDS. They then swept the Oakland A's in four, clinching with a walk off homer in the bottom of the ninth by Maglio Ordonez.
But they only won one game in the World Series. Tarnished by media calling Kenny Rogers a cheater - spotting a dirt on his hand in the first inning and washed off during the Tigers at bat in the second. Kenny went on to pitch seven more shut-out innings with hands cleaner than my girls at dinner time.
Errors. Stupid errors by pitchers throwing balls away and letting runs score. That was the Tiger legacy of the 2006 World Series. But in Game 5, 2 outs, top of the ninth, two men on and down by two runs, Brandon Inge (my favorite 3rd baseman of all time - so much that I listed him as Alannah's favorite player on her T-ball picture players card) - only had to put the ball in play - past the infield. All he needed was to hit the ball down first base line into the corner - and two runs score and we tie it up. And we win it.
Rogers would then have pitched game 6 last night and won convincingly - pine tar or not. The debate today would have been over Robertson or Bonderman pitching game 7.
Instead Inge swung for strike three, and the Cards had won the World Series.
Wait - this is the best part of the movie - where Dorothy pours water over the Wicked of the West - my daughters shrieking as crumples to the floor.
"I'm melting, I'm melting"
And so did my Tigers in the 2006 World Series. There is always next year.
God bless you boys.
Saturday, October 28, 2006
There is humor in almost all aspects of my life. Home, work, and play. Most of my humor comes from the frustrations I feel as I wrestle my way through life.
My job is to turn political policies into technical specifications - and it's funny.
My little girls are 6 and 4 years old - and I am 44. They wear me out. And it's funny.
My wife, chief of the bingo halls, best friend to play with, but the cause of my early grey. And it's funny.
I live on the border between Canada and the United States. I have lived equal times in both countries - but in different eras - and I compare and contrast them with the best of them. And it's funny.
And then there is my golf game. It's funny. But it is also the basis for how I approach life: One hole at a time, keep you head down, follow through, and every once in a while you have to "grip it and rip it".
I do not know the frequency I will be posting here, but I am hoping it will be frequent. And I hope that if you find this interesting - you'll be sure to let me know.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.