Monday, December 31, 2007

Ashley, Alannah, and Hannah Montana

When my daughters were babies, and then wee little girls, their rooms were adorned with bright colors, and cartoon characters. As they grew older, they identified to us who their favorites were.

For most of that time, their rooms were adorned with characters from the Dora the Explorer cartoon. Spanish and English words mixed together as Dora proved to be a very positive impression on them, showing that little girls can be seen as the person others go to for help.

But now, adios to Dora and Boots the Monkey.

Hola Hannah Montana.

My goodness.

The cute cartoon who wears orange shorts and pink t-shirts – and carries all her super tools in her back pack – who gets all her directions from an amazing map – who challenges such villains as Swiper the fox and hordes of crocodiles and spiders – has been replaced by a southern drawled 14 year old tight ripped blue jeans wearing teeny-bopper who disguises super-stardom with a blond wig and sun glasses.

Dora’s catch phrases such as “I need your help” and “Swiper no swiping” have now been replaced by Billy-Ray Cyrus daughter Miley’s teeny bopper catch phrases such as “Do ya think?” and “Sweet Niblets”.

Don’t get me totally wrong – Hannah’s songs – written I guess by her Billy-Ray dad – have very positive messages for the most part. Very empowering for teenage girls. There are much worse role-models out there like your Brittany’s and Paris’s, your Madonna’s and your Christine’s.

“Who said I can’t be Superman?”

That is exactly what I want my girls to believe.

Well done Billy-Ray – it beats the hell out of “Achey Breaky Heart”. I can't really speak though, because I too really want my mullet back!!

Maybe everybody's growing up?

Deep sigh.

But now my daughters – seven and five are covering up their Dora blankets with Hannah throws. Their Dora t-shirts are worn with Hannah blue jeans. And the Dora posters covered up by the Hannah posters.

Dora's best friends are a monkey, an armadillo, and a wily fox she can’t trust.

Hannah has boy friends, lives a rock-stars life, and gets into more adult situations.

My little girls don’t need boy friends yet – not until they are in their thirties and well entrenched in their careers.

But you can't dictate these things. You can try to nudge - nudge them down the path you want for them - but you cannot drag them down it kicking and screaming.

Thanks a lot Disney.

My girls didn’t even have a chance to meet Mickey yet.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Boxing Day At The Log Cabin

Yesterday, we celebrated another Brill Family Boxing Day at the stately Log Cabin I told you about last year.

And while we in Windsor celebrated our Christmas in an environmentally friendly green manner (there was no snow – only green grass) – the Log Cabin was very white. And my Cousin Sarah – my pseudo-little-sister - and her husband Rene had their stately rustic home done to the nines for Christmas.

All the kids took off into the night to walk the dogs into the deep woods. They returned telling tales of coyote tracks and blood trails.

I didn’t think it was still legal to let your kids have an adventure.

But all returned home and the head count that returned matched the number that had left. There were no injuries.

Just a freaked-out Mom here and there.

As the night wore on and the kids started to wear out, the snow outside started to fall again. We settled down at the dining table for our second Christmas Feast.

Our second night of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, yams, and cranberry sauce.

As we sat sipping coffee, the little-ones and big-ones alike reminded us that we had not yet achieved our primary objective. We had not yet exchanged gifts.

The chaos of family gift exchanges can never be truly well documented. It is more like an eruption of paper and ribbon sent miles into the air by young hands ripping cardboard to get to the gift inside.

And when the ribbon had cleared and the paper finally settled to crumpled piles on the ground, I found that I been presented with a home made gift from my cousin Jenny – one of my pseudo-big-sisters.

It is a hand made snow globe. Inside sits a picture of me, in my car, being towed onto the farm by Uncle Fred’s tractor. If you turn the key on the bottom, I believe it plays “Let It Snow”. On the other side of the picture, Jenny had written in gold ink: “Don’t be afraid of a little snow, Freddy”.

I damn near cried.

But I was cool.

My little family stayed the night, while the rest of clan headed to their homes in Kitchner, and London.

My little girls are about 3 years younger than Sarah and Rene’s two little girls. My little girls revere both Justine and Paige as much as they do Hannah Montana. This is truly the only real sleep over my little girls have ever had. It’s a big deal.

The next morning we awoke to a good little snow squall. The weather station was calling for freezing rain just south of us. And you have to go south to get to Windsor.

Big huge flakes were falling; covering the ground and roads quickly. To the kids; it looked like heaven.

To me, it looked like lousy driving weather.

It would have been grand to stayed with Sarah and Rene another night.

But we were not prepared.

We did not have another change of clothes.

We did not have either Darlene’s or Ashley-Rae’s prescriptions.

And Rene’s family were coming that afternoon. Sarah and Rene were going to throw the exact same party all over again.

They certainly did encourage us to stay. They almost had me sold. It has been some time since I saw his mom and dad, his brothers, his family.

But this was their Christmas day together. It was their time to exchange gifts. The table was set to fit their family members.

Little girls would not be understanding when presents are being exchanged that there are no presents for them.

So we decided to head home. Through snow, over the freezing rain.

But not before both Alannah and Ashley-Rae cried. They wanted to stay. They wanted to play. They wanted to live there instead.

Once on the road, the four-wheel drive of our jeep got us easily out of the snow, and the snow turned to simple rain just a few miles south of the log cabin. The enchantment of the trip was gone. It was just a rainy December drive home to Windsor.

But next year, next year maybe we can plan this better. Plan this differently. Let the girls stay and play longer. Let them get to know their cousins better.


Saturday, December 22, 2007

A Christmas Morning Story

As this Christmas approaches, now two days away, I wanted to share with you my favorite Christmas Morning story of my family from years gone by.

The year was 2003. And we had just moved into a tiny house near the foot of the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor.

Darlene and my bedroom was at the front end of the house, and across the hall our two little girls shared a bedroom. Alannah was just to turn three; Ashley-Rae was one-and-a-half. The living room was the next room over, with the tree tucked into the corner.

I do not remember the presents we had for the kids that year. I do have the tapes, and I just recently converted them to DVD. But I was not thinking quick enough to capture this specific event on the video camera.

Darlene and I had stayed up late Christmas Eve, down in the basement wrapping. We finished about 3 AM and snuck all the presents upstairs, and quietly placed them under the tree. And then we went to bed.

We woke up to cartoons on the TV at about 6:30 AM. And we rolled over, looked at each other – and gasped “Oh NO!!”

You see, up until then, we had contained the movement of our children by those child-gates – the ones you wedge between the walls of a hallway or door jam. But this morning there was no child-gate between the girls and the Christmas Tree. And we both realized it at the very same moment!

We rolled out of bed and ran around the corner into the living room. The TV show “Big-Comfy-Couch” was on, and Alannah was sitting in the middle of the floor watching intently.

There was ripped open wrapping paper all over the floor. On top of the paper were the gifts – everyone’s gifts. Well mostly everyone’s gifts, all unwrapped. Luckily Alannah had come across a box of chocolates for her Uncle Glenn. They were opened – the little papers all around the floor, and Alannah turned to smile at us with that special “chocolate ringed mouth”.

I am ashamed to say – we were mad. For that initial instant I yelled. Quickly I and Darlene realized that there was nothing to be mad at, nothing at all – but ourselves. We did not barricade the tree. We did not give either of the girls instructions.

We screwed up.

It was hilarious.

I kept the girls both occupied, while Darlene, with some type of miracle gift-wrapping skill – like superman in high-speed – she wrapped the presents back up.

And we resumed our Christmas. And we watched Alannah open all her gifts again. She must have thought she got twice as many presents – because of all the unwrapping she did.

And as we all remember – it’s the actual unwrapping process that we all enjoy so dearly.

Now as the girls are 5 and nearly seven, we no longer use the child-gate. Life has indeed gotten easier.

As we approach this holiday season, I and my family would like to wish you all a happy holiday season.

And I would like to thank all of you who have sent me the wonderful emails over the last year. It is that kind of feedback that really makes this writing site so much fun for me.

Who knows, maybe my Christmas wish will come true this year, and I can start writing professionally.

The problem with that wish is that it might come true.

Merry Christmas to all.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Tale of the Swim-Lane Office

“Nice office space Ted! This room is huge!”

Ted was unpacking his single box of desk accessories. His desk was at the end of the very long narrow room. Mark was standing at the far end by the front door in the hallway.

The echo of Marks voice in the large empty room was noticeable.

The room was empty except for the desk.

“I know”, replied Ted. He plunked his stapler on the desk.

Mark took another sip of coffee as he walked through the room. There were various doors up and down both walls.

“Promotion?” he asked Ted.

“Nope” said Ted; his head down, digging deeper in his box. “I’m still a business analyst”.

“Huh”, said Mark. “What’s up?”

“Well … you know this big Sales project I’ve been working on?”

“Yeah, automating the reporting?”

“That’s the one. I had been after a system to handle this for some time”.

“I know. How did you finally sell it?”

“I didn’t” said Ted.

“But I thought …”

“I drew up an activity diagram – a flowchart - of all the steps I take to perform a task.”

“I saw it – it was huge – every person involved had their own swim-lane. I thought for sure that would sell your point for you.”

“It kind of did. It would seem that Phil doesn’t really understand business process diagrams.”

“Uh huh”. This was not news to Mark. “What’s your point?”

“When I showed him the diagram, and all the functions I perform to generate these reports – and how I have to take a little information from so many people …”

“… yeah? …”

“… and most of the diagram was all crammed into my tiny little swimlane ..”

“ .. you’re kidding ... “

“I wish I were. Phil thought I was complaining about office space!”.

“And so he gave you this big swim lane for an office”

“Yup. Phil said I needed more room to work. He didn’t want to hear another word about, and apologized for making me work in such cramped conditions all this time. He said I was a saint for not complaining until now.”

At that moment loud swearing could be heard from the tiny office through the middle door. Allan, the Vice President of Sales, was trying to cram his office furnishings into a space that equated to a small cubicle work space.

“Let me guess – the diagram didn’t show much activity for Al?”

“Well he only reviews the reports when they’re finished”, answered Ted.

“You mean Phil actually thought you were showing him an office floor plan to improve the sales reporting?” continued Mark.

“Yep.” Ted was shaking his head, still looking downwards – visibly uncomfortable with his fortune from the business owners misunderstanding.

“Phil says those reports make this company tick. He says we can’t function without those numbers.”

“He’s probably right” said Mark. “He refers to them as our Bible.”

A couple minutes passed as they stood together staring out across the city through the huge glass window.

“Well, congrats old man!” said Mark as he gave Ted a punch in the arm and a pat on the back. “It looks like you’re living large”.

“Uh … err.. Thanks” mumbled Ted.

“Well I better get to my desk before people start thinking I’m late,” said Mark, still wearing his coat and carrying his briefcase.

“About that …”, started Ted.

Mark turned to look at him. His face suddenly alarmed. “But I don’t have anything to do with Sales reporting!”.

“I know” said Ted. “I’m so sorry”.

“Where do I sit?” asked Mark.

“You’re not in my diagram”, replied Ted.

“Aw for crying out loud!” yelled Mark, as he spun to storm out the large room. It took several seconds for Mark to reach the door before he could slam it shut behind him.

Ted reached into his box and pulled out his tape dispenser and sat it on the desk next to the stapler.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Don't Be Scared Of A Little Snow

It snowed last night.

And this morning. And now this afternoon. In total we got nearly a foot. It is supposed to snow more tonight.

The radio says the roads are very bad. The expressway is like an ice rink. The authorities are asking us not to drive.

I was outside shoveling the driveway when Darlene came out with the phone.

My co-worker Julia called to tell me that she and the other Staff Association members think we should cancel the Children’s Christmas party.

I looked out the window. A pickup truck went sliding sideways by our house. He straightened himself out and slid the other way.

I agree”, I replied. After hanging up I called our major AM radio station. Everyone in Windsor knows this is the station to listen to for local news and snow cancellations. While I tried to get through the busy line – Darlene submitted the cancellation notice request through their news tips website.

Shortly afterwards I heard our cancellation announcement crackle over the radio.

I went back out to finish shoveling.

And I started thinking about my Uncle Fred.

I had lived with Uncle Fred’s family when I moved back to Canada.

I was twenty-three and the year was 1985. I was living in an apartment with my brother Paul in Baton Rouge. I had decided that summer that I was going to move back to Canada.

I gave my notice at work. I was a night manager at a grocery store – and the store was closing down. It seemed to be a better idea to move to Canada and go back to school, rather than live a Janice Joplin song and be “busted flat in Baton Rouge”. So as Christmas approached, I packed up what I owned and stuffed it into my Mazda 626.

Paul and I spent Christmas at my Mom and Dads that year. The understanding was that I would go back to Canada – get this degree – and move back down south – this time to Pensacola – and start a real career.

I remember that Christmas morning because Paul and I woke up and played our traditional round of golf before we opened presents. We started on the 13th tee outside their back door, and played around to number twelve – where we came in for breakfast and opened our presents.

Two mornings later – my car still loaded with all my possessions and clubs squeezed back into my inventory – I kissed my Mom and Dad good bye and started my Drive up I-65 through Alabama – then I-64 across Kentucky and Tennessee, over to I-75 that would take me up into Michigan.

The first day was a breeze. I had the windows down, and the tapes in my cassette player blaring loud. I made it to Dayton, Ohio. It was raining and dark – so I decided to pull over for the night.

The next morning I stepped out of my motel room, and nearly broke my neck on the ice. The rain had frozen. It was cold.

I had crossed the Mason-Dixon line.

I filled my car up with gas and started out onto I-75. About 45 minutes up the road, a gust of wind grabbed my car, and slid me across 4 lanes of expressway, into a deep ditch – just missing a cement drain pipe.

I spent the rest of the morning hiking to a gas station to get a guy with a tow truck to haul me out of the ditch and put me back on the road. As he did – he tried to sell me some winter tires. I declined.

I did not cross the border into Canada in Detroit. I did not enter into Canada in Windsor. Instead I rode I-94 north of Detroit to a little town called Port Huron. I arrived at the empty border crossing expecting to be searched and have my car taken apart.

I crossed the Bridge and reached the Canadian customs booth in Sarnia.

Citizenship?” asked the customs officer.

I held up my green card. A plastic card that had a picture of me at the age of three. “Canadian” I answered.

How long are you staying?” he asked.

Until I’m done school” I replied and briefly explained my educational plans and agenda.

He smiled and replied “Welcome home”.

That has always stuck with me.

I looked at the road ahead. I saw none. It was all white. I looked back at the officer “One thing please, where is the road?

See those little white posts?” he asked in reply, “the road is about 3 meters to the left of those:,

Oh”, I replied. “Welcome to Canada, Fred” I thought to myself.

It got easier as I drove on. In my little Mazda 626 with everything I owned in the car. I could see other tire tracks, and I could see the edge of the road. But I drove very slowly.

It was really snowing and the roads were being closed behind me. My perception of what “bad” meant kept expanding as the day progressed – and now I felt I understood what “bad” meant.

Every twenty yards or so, a one or two foot high snow drift would appear. And now I felt comfortable to just blast through them. I did this for about an hour. And now I was getting close. I had made my way to Perth County Road 11. I was simply trying to find the concession Uncle Fred’s farm was on.

I thought I saw it, and pulled into the snow drift that fronted the concession gravel road – Boosh – I smashed through and drove up the gravel road – only to really see the farm on the next concession up – looking across the fields. I turned around, and blasted through the drift again. Back on the road, I traveled up to the next concession.

Boosh – I blasted through the drift at the front of the concession.

But this was different. I didn’t come through the other side. Instead I drove to the top of it, and my car sunk down into the drift – which was not a drift. The snow was easily five feet deep all the way down the concession.

I sat there in my little Mazda 626 – with Louisiana license plates on the front and back. I sat there and wondered how I would get down the concession to the farmhouse I could see all lit up about half a mile down the road.

I almost made it.

I flashed my headlights – and turned my car off. I was just about to get out of the car and literally swim the snow to the farmhouse. That’s when I saw the two snowmobiles – and they were coming straight at me.

How’s goin eh?” said the first – a kid I would later know to be Jim.

I’m stuck” I smiled.

Yer stuck alright. Where yer goin?” asked the toque (tuke) and parka clad Jim.

To the Brill’s farm” I replied, “and I almost made it”.

I’ll go tell Fred yer here, wait here” said Jim. “Who do I say’s coming?

Fred Brill”, I said. “He looked at me. My Uncle Fred and I do have the same name.

Okay den”, and hopped back on his snowmobile and away he sped.

Shortly after, Fred appeared with the John Deere tractor with the snow blower attachment on front. He came blowing right at me. He climbed out of the cab and waded over to me.

He was smiling as happy as could be to see something funny like me and my southern car stuck in the snow.

Jimmy says Fred Brill’s comin to visit me” he laughed – those big old teeth grinning like he couldn’t be happier.

It’s snowing” I said.

Tis, tis so” said Fred. “Stay put lets get you in the barn”.

Uncle Fred hooked me up to the tractor – lifted the front of the car right up with the rear of the tractor while the front of the tractor was still pretending to be a snow blower.

The girls, my cousins Sarah, Ellyn and Jenny, all took pictures of their southern cousin – the bumpkin – being towed down the farm laneway. I have to see those pictures every Christmas.

I almost made it. 1,200 miles, and I got stuck in the last half mile.

But Uncle Fred never let a little snow scare him off.

I miss Uncle Fred.

But today – during our foot of snow blizzard – after cancelling our Children’s Christmas party - I can hear his voice loud and clear.

It’s just a little snow, Freddy. Don’t be scared of a little snow.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

and that's what Christmas means

We are currently at T-minus-thirteen-days … and counting.

That seems to be the opening message broadcast to everyone at the start of every day until Christmas morning.

Believe me, the planning process for this holiday exceeds most NASA projects. So far this year I have attended two Christmas parties, two Christmas dinners, a secret-Santa event that spans two weeks, and numerous snack festivities.

And that is just at the office!

There is still the company’s children’s Christmas party on Sunday, and a luncheon the middle of next week.

I find it difficult to believe the news that this is actually a very depressing time of the year leaving many to feel left out.

I must be hoarding everyone else’s Christmas celebrations. And I feel bad that I am.

The other night, the old classic “Merry Christmas Charlie Brown” cartoon special was on. We all remember the peanuts gang dancing to that great jazz riff that really has nothing else to do with Christmas except that Schroeder plays it over and over again on this show.

I actually love that jazz riff.

Then all the kids make fun of Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree. And Linus steps out into the spotlight on the dark stage and hits us in the face with the truth of the matter:

"And suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 'Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth peace, and goodwill toward men,'" Linus says.

"And that's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown."

It is amazing this show identified this commercial delusion of Christmas fifty years ago.

And fifty years later we are drowning in this delusion, even deeper than before. Artificial tinsel trees now are fiber-optic. And the greatest tragedy is that this special show, this special moment of the show – has become a parody of itself, losing it’s poignancy.

I admit that I really do love Christmas in our western flare. I love hanging the lights outside, trimming the tree, and getting my little girls all revved up for the holiday. I love the parties, the feasts, and the traditions of Santa, reindeer, caroling and mistletoe.

But every once in a while we must stand back from this gala – this month-long extravaganza – and remember “Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace and goodwill toward men”.

So as you’re celebrating these next two weeks – please – stop and remember those words. And share them with everyone you meet – even if as casually as saying:

Remember that speech that Linus said in Merry Christmas Charlie Brown?

Oh yeah”, may come the reply. “How did that go?

And you can wow your friends and say “it ended with – ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace and goodwill toward men


Sunday, December 09, 2007

Gimme the Ball

It has been a long week.

I spent last week in Toronto with my new team. The team that I was on before disbanded at the conclusion of a very successful project. I am still learning how to participate with my new team. I was lucky to land on this new team. I know I was.

I guess I had always considered myself to be a utility player on my last team. We brought in Java and I led the early projects. We brought in new modeling and documentation standards and I adopted and molded those new methodologies into our environment.

I always thought of myself as our ‘third baseman’.

Hit the ball hard at me. I will field it – bare hand it if necessary – and get that guy at first. Get the job done. Hopefully with a little pizzazz to boot.

Hit the ball to me.

On my new team, they do not know me yet. I don’t think they know how I can fit in. I guess it will take some projects under our belts together. This is fair, yet frustrating. Until this happens, I will watch the ball be given to my counterpart – who by the way is no slouch – quite capable – and enjoyable to work with.

But …hey … hit a ball to me?”.

While our team was in Toronto last week, my other team – the Tigers – made some big trades.

Seems we picked up Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis for Calvin Maybin and Andrew Miller.

Maybin and Miller are both expected to be all stars of the future.

Cabrera and Willis are all stars of today.

So we basically traded what could be for what is. And that is a hard deal to not make.

But Cabrera is a third baseman. He bats in the .350s. He is a good third baseman.

Currently our third baseman is Brandon Inge. And Inge is one, if not the one, of my favorite players. He is listed on Alannah’s T-Ball baseball players card as her favorite player. I have written about Brandon a couple of times here.

Inge is – as Detroit fans call it – my Tiger.

Brandon is – in my opinion – an excellent defensive player. Diving stabs behind third, short bare-handed plays off his shoelace. Usually with a little pizzazz to boot.
He was considered an excellent fielder by those who critique – until this week. Suddenly he is just “all right”.
You see – Brandon’s bat was streaky – with more slumps than streaks. And many in town had been wishing for a power hitting third baseman for some time now. It was Brandon who was the final at bat with men on in the bottom of the ninth of the final game of the 2006 World Series – striking out to end the season. And some just did not forgive that.

Right now I can identify with Brandon, who has asked to be traded rather than sit the bench or play a utility role. I don’t blame him. He wants the ball.

But the frustrating part is that we don’t know how an overweight Cabrera will handle slimming down to defend third. Will he be as good as Inge?

How many Tigers do ya have to lose before they stop being the Tigers?

I will give Cabrera a chance. But I will root for Brandon where ever he travels to. Even if Inge lands in San Francisco – he will still be myTiger.

Because he wants the ball.

And I think that to me is the most endearing trait any player can have.

That and a little pizzazz.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Breakfast With Santa

I am back in Toronto again.

It is cold and snowy; much more so than Windsor.

Another week with the new team interviewing sales staff about their roles, gathering requirements, and sleeping in the local hotel.

I will admit it is enjoyable. The people are great. The food is great.

But it is not home.

At home, the Christmas trees are up, one upstairs, and one down by the fireplace and pool table. Outside the lights are up and twinkle through the windows at night.

And at home, it is snowy. But not like here. It may have already melted. I may still need to put those golf clubs back in my car.

At home my daughters are bickering – about who gets how many Hershey’s kisses from the little Christmas house. It is a small house with 31 doors – one for each day of December. My mum sent it up for the girls last year, and we thought it would be a great annual tradition. Until the first time the girls beg to open the doors, and bicker over who gets the red ones. Then we remembered why we questioned this tradition last year.

Last night I called home. Ashley, her mum and grandma went to an event called “Breakfast with Santa”. Ashley answered the phone.

“Hewo?” said Ashley-Rae, my five year old who can’t say “R”s or “L”s.

“Hi Ashley, it’s me” I said. She squealed and told everyone I was calling.

“I sat on Santa’s knee, Daddy” she said quite proudly.

I remembered the event was that day. “Oh, yeah, what did you ask Santa for?” I asked.

“nuh-in, I told him a joke.” She replied.

“You did, what joke did you tell him?” I replied – stunned at the twist.

“Why is Rudolph’s nose so red” Ashley asked.


“Because it’s cowd” she answered, and laughed so hard I had to laugh to.

I spent the night in my room, a very nice room, looking out the window at all the lights of the houses below, the cold winds blowing and the few houses with fireplaces puffing smoke out the chimneys.

And I thought of Ashley’s joke. And I laughed again.

I bet you Santa laughed. I bet he went home that night and told his wife about the little five year old girl who didn’t ask for something, but instead told him a joke. I bet there was more than a "Ho Ho Ho"

I can’t wait to call home tonight.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Not A Winter Person

As I stand in my kitchen and look out our big front window, I see that all the roof tops are frosted with a light white dusting of snow.

Yesterday we had our first snowfall of the year, but unlike the rest of Canada, none of it stayed.

It all melted as it hit the ground. I guess some stuck to the roof tops.

That is the only thing that Windsor has in common with Victoria British Columbia. We generally have – by Canadian standards – a mild winter.

If I have not made this next point clear yet, please let me do so now.

I am not a winter person.

I can’t skate.
I can’t ski.
Ice fishing is not an interest that I pursue.

I just don’t like cold weather.

I was pretty much raised in the southern US. On our first Christmas in Atlanta, all the guys in the neighborhood got together and played a game of basketball in a buddy’s driveway.

Shirts vs. Skins. On Christmas Day.

I love hockey, I just never had the opportunity to play.
I would really love to ski, but I never really had the chance to try.

I am still not interested in drilling a hole in the ice and waiting for a bite.

Tomorrow I will hang the Christmas lights. I couldn’t do it last week when it was in the mid 50s. That’s 12 degrees Celsius for you metric freaks.

We will also put up our Christmas Tree in front of our big new window in our living room. It will look great.

But you know we won’t have all the decorations that we need. I will have to go to Canadian Tire and get some more. And as I go to put them in the trunk, there will not be enough room. My golf clubs are still in there.

And I don’t really want to take them out. I might still have a chance to play.

I only used them five or six times last summer. When the weather was nice.

Did I mention I’m not a winter person?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving Americans

I know that I am Canadian. And I know that the November Thanksgiving holiday is for the Americans.

I know.

But I still like it. Although I am not certain that I like it better than ours.

The Canadian Thanksgiving is held in early-mid October. It usually sneaks up on me when I am not expecting it. It is supposed to occur just after the final Canadian harvest is reaped from the land.

It is generally a Sunday holiday and inherits some of the general attributes of a Sunday.

The American Thanksgiving is of course on what I thought was the last Thursday of November. It also celebrates a successful harvest. I think I like that it is held on a Thursday much better, as it gives the feel of a day off that you should be working – adding yet one more thing to be thankful for.

And while they are at it, they take the Friday off too!

You can’t knock that, can you?

Both are similar – both traditionally expect turkey dinners with mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing and cranberries. Both are meals completed with pecan, pumpkin or apple pies for desert.

The difference is however that in Canada we are inundated by the American media reminding us that they get this great holiday, while for us, it is just another work week.

We actually suffer from “American Thanksgiving Day Envy”. And we might be a tad bitter.

Both events are fall events. The Canadian event has the color of the leaves in the trees. The daylight lasts longer, and often I have even played golf on Canadian Thanksgiving day.

The American Thanksgiving day has the mythology of Pilgrims – Quakers for the most part – celebrating with their new native friends they mistakenly dubbed to be “Indians”. I have always wondered why the NFL did not insist the Patriots play the Redskins on this holiday.

Perhaps it was discussed and dismissed as “too predictable”.

On the topic of football, it is traditional on Canadian Thanksgiving to actually watch a Canadian Football League game. It used to be that you could watch Ottawa vs. Saskatchewan - the Rough Riders vs. the Roughriders. Ottawa vs. Saskatchewan. But Ottawa dropped their team recently – so the games are usually the Alouettes vs. the Argonauts.

It's even funner to watch it on the RCO - the French-Canadian side of the CBC.

My daughters bring home a ton of “crafts” from school every day. Things they have colored, cut out, pasted together, and present to their Mother and I as artwork worthy of precious fridge door space.

I noticed this year at Thanksgiving time they brought home construction paper and tape versions of Pilgrim hats. I asked them both to ask their teachers how many Pilgrims ever migrated to Canada. They did – eventually – from Dutch Pennsylvania – our family was part of that migration - but I don’t think they were still known as Pilgrims.

I think it must be cheaper for the Canadian primary schools (elementary schools) to use left over American artwork rather than make our own.

How many maple leafs can you color anyway?

In any case, the underlying foundation of both versions of Thanksgiving is to be thankful.

In the Canadian sense, thankful that the harvest was successful and there is food enough for the 6 months of winter. Thankful you won’t starve.

The American sense is to be thankful for being American, and to get a jump start on your Christmas shopping on that Friday you have off as well. Oh yeah, and all that stuff about family and friends.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends and loved ones. We in Canada are thankful that you are still thankful. As long as you’re content, we know you won’t be invading us.

I will be thinking of you as I sit at my desk pounding out work this Thursday and Friday.

And to those of you Americans who have me on your gift list this Christmas, I am now a 38 waist with a 30 inseam.

Yes, I have put on a little weight.

I think it all started last October on our Thanksgiving day.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Change is Good

Normally, as I drive into work in the morning, I quickly go through the days events – before they happen – as – after seven years - my day has become predictable.

Or at least it was. Right now I am in transition mode. Performing the final duties of my old role, and also performing the beginning duties of my new role.

I carry two laptops - one for the old job, and one for the new.

I sit at two desks - one for the old job, and one for the new.

I answer to two bosses – one for the old job, and one for the new.

I carry a day-timer – a Franklin day-timer, and my life is organized by it.

I only have one Franklin.

Everything I do is written into my Franklin, and everything I do is tracked and organized by it. My schedule, my calendar, my action items, all prioritized and carried forward from day to day until accomplished.

As a normal day easily fills a page, my day-timer is twice as crammed with additional notes, action items, and calendared events.

But change is good.

Change is good for your mind. It is great for your soul. Like a new chapter in the same story. The scenery changes and the characters are different. But the same story line prevails.

The role I am leaving has been with a project that has lasted fourteen years. I was on that team for exactly half that duration, the last seven years. And after seven years, I am still regarded as a “new guy”.

I wasn’t there when the contract was won.

I wasn’t there for the proto-type.

I wasn’t there for the go-live implementation.

You know, the ‘good old days’.

During my time I did help usher in new technologies, new methodologies, and I designed some very key aspects of the system as it evolved. And they have recognized that.

But I am still ‘the new guy’.

My new role is on a brand new project. We will be using brand new technology for a group we have never worked with. The fact that I am new to the group holds no bearing because I will be there as long as the project exists.

And I will look back on these upcoming events as ‘the good old days’.

At this time I am the only resource dedicated 100% to this new project, although I still have to spend 50% of my effort supporting the end of the old project.

So I truly am giving 150% percent at the moment.

My poor Franklin.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Calling In Fatherhood

The train was rocking gently as we roll through the black of an Ontario November night.

The seafood dinner was actually good, and the white whine served mini round glasses had put me in a very relaxed state.

Heading home. Finally.

It had been a very long two weeks. The first of training, the second chock full of tedius interviews with our Toronto office as part of a large scale requirements gathering study.

I didn’t find out about the second week of travel until midway through the first week.

I had kept touch with home frequently with my handy dandy cell phone. And things were not going all that great. And it sounded like things were getting worse.

One of the two Grandmas was staying with Darlene to give her a hand. The Grandma would get the kids ready for school each morning and take them. I think that is the toughest part of my day, waking up and getting the girls to school. So I certainly appreciated the Grandma’s frustration.

“Hello?”, would answer the grandma as I called each evening.

“How is it going Grandma?” I would ask.

“Who is this?” would say the Grandma.

“It’s me, Fred” I would say.

“Oh Fred, what a day ….” The Grandma would start. And I would hear the long list of all the day’s frustrations, why my girls are horrible little monsters, and her apology for having to break such news to me.

Finally Darlene would come on the phone. The frustration clearly in her voice.

“The girls miss you … ”, she would state unnecessarily during the conversation.

“Grandma was crying … ”, was also commonly mentioned.

“Tell them you’re never traveling again …” would be expressed at the end of the conversation.

So I would hang up the phone feeling pretty powerless.

Some people travel much more frequently than I do. I remember my Dad for stretches of time, only being home for the weekend. I don’t know how he did it.

Perhaps this is a cell-phone accessibility problem? In the old days, one would simply make a single call from the phone in their hotel room.

I carved the Halloween pumpkin with the girls last Sunday morning, just before leaving for the second week. Leaving after spending only the Saturday at home.

Alannah and Ashley-Rae drew the face on the front of the pumpkin. Mean eyes with big fanged teeth growling at you. The finished product was declared to be “beautiful” as we packed up our tools.

Then I left by train for a second week away from home.

I thought of that face all week while I was away. “Were they painting a portrait?” I thought. “Of the faces they see on adults?”

I hope not. But maybe?

I have to travel back to Toronto the first week of December.

I have had a week of celebration and good-byes this week. As I transition from a team now departing to a new team just starting a new type of project, I am excited. And I need for everything to go right.

But these phone calls home just don’t help.

Maybe I should just get a Blackberry.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Baseball and Cricket - Both Are Confusing

This morning before work, before the girls got up and things got hectic, I was sipping a coffee and reading the sports page of the Windsor Star.

A little side bar item caught my eye. It seems that England beat Sri Lanka in a single day Cricket match.

I read further.

Sri Lanka were floundering at 24 for three after 12 overs by the time Stuart Broad came into the attack. They rebuilt, slowly and cagily, through a 126-run stand between Kumar Sangakkara and Chamara Silva. But on a day of punishing heat and humidity, both men were gasping by the time they passed 60, and Broad was able to bounce them out in consecutive overs.

I wonder what that means?” I thought to myself. “It sounds like England won?

What an odd game.

Then I remembered a few weeks back, while our Satellite provider gave us a free preview of a European all sports network – watch a hurling match from Dublin, Ireland. And that was as confusing. I could appreciate the skills of the players catching what looked like a baseball on the end of what looked like a spatula on a bat, flip it up and hit what would be a baseball line drive – only as a pass to another player who caught it on his spatula and batted through some uprights for points – while below a goalkeeper tended the nets.

And I thought “What an odd game. It looks like Harry Potter’s Quiddich – without the brooms or golden snitch.

Then I remembered when the Irish came to Windsor for a visit.

Our two very great dear friends, Ray and Shell, flew to Canada for a vacation, and in the duration of their stay, spent two of their weeks with us.

On their second full day with us, we took them across the river to see a Major League Baseball Game. The Detroit Tigers played the Arizona Diamond Backs.

This was in June of 2004. The Tigers were not great.

This was our way to introduce Ray and Shell to North America.

A baseball game.


Warm beer in large plastic cups.

Vendors tossing peanuts at you behind their back.

You know, baseball.

Ray has a strong Irish lilt to his speech. And it took my North American ear a few days to tune into it. And neither Ray nor Shell had ever seen baseball. Oh, they knew the New York Yankees symbol, as the hats and jersey’s are big-sellers world wide. But they had never seen a baseball game.

I tried, over the roar of the crowd, to explain.

The pitcher throws the ball and the batter tries to hit it.” I started.

The batter swung for strike one.

He’s not very good, the batter, is he?” observed Ray.

I then tried to explain how they hit the ball and go to first, then second, then third. And they score a run when they get home.

Like Rounders?” asked Ray.

I don’t know”, I said. “I guess so.

The game went on, and a home run was hit. I explained the home run.

ahh I see … “ said Ray, who thought better now to enjoy the experience and see that the rules or the game were inconsequential. Insignificant. Why spoil the day trying to learn all this rubbish?

But I kept on, naïve as I often can be.

And Ray was great. He patiently listened to me explain, and said things like “I see”, and “right”. And he smiled and enjoyed the day in spite of my educational insistences.

Meanwhile Shell was gabbing away to Darlene about the great stuff in the gift shops. They were both on the same level of understanding. In fact they bought matching bracelets that you hook in little bobbles and mementos on.

In the bottom of the ninth, the Tigers were down 3-1. The bases loaded, and Carlos Penia knocked the ball into the right field bleachers for a walk-off grand slam. It flew right over top of us. And I stood up and raised my arms up and screamed “YEAH!!!!!!” – and Ray was clapping and waving his fist.

By jove, I think he’s got it. I thought.

And the game was over.

So as I sat and read the article about the English Cricket team beating Sri-Lanka – all I could think of was Ray – putting up with my explanations, and enjoying the game.

I have a dream that one day my family can go to Ireland for a visit with Ray and Shell. I pray one day I can make it come true. And if we do, besides playing a lot of golf (Ray is an excellent golfer), I hope to see some sports there.

I am a big soccer – er – I mean football fan. I would love to go sing in the stands at a Manchester United match, I would also want to see hurling, and cricket – if the Irish indulge or not I don’t know.

And if we did, I would let Ray know that no explanation is necessary, I will just drink the beer, eat some food, and sing and yell when everyone else does.

Although he may want to get me back for the baseball game.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Enhancing the Common Good

I work for a non-profit health benefits company in Canada.

The only non-profit health benefits company in Canada.

Many have written to me to ask me “what does that mean?”

So I thought I might take this opportunity to explain. At least I will attempt to the very best of my understanding. I will keep it simple, because I understand that there is very little that is interesting about providing health benefits.

The company I work for is Green Shield Canada. We provide pre-paid health benefits to groups and individuals all across Canada.

Pre-paid benefits means that you have an “account” of coverage for all aspects of your health care that you or the company you work for are willing to provide for you.

Some companies pay up front for what they expect you will need for glasses or for physical therapy. Some pre-pay for manufacturer name brand pharmaceuticals. Others may deem that they do not need to provide coverage for glasses or generic brand pharmaceuticals are sufficient.

As a company, we adjudicate those claims made by those we cover.

To adjudicate means:

to settle or determine (an issue or dispute) judicially.

- source: Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 06 Oct. 2007.

To do this, our staff determines the validity of each claim based on the rules agreed to by the company you work for – the company or group that has pre-paid for your benefits.

We have built some very sophisticated computer systems to help accomplish this. In most cases, our computer systems adjudicate your claim when you are still standing in the pharmacy, or at the dentist or doctors office, settling your account with them.

As a non-profit company, we do not make profits. We have surplus. Surplus – like profit – is the monies above our costs to perform the service. Some of those surplus we re-invest in our company – to enhance our computer systems or to enhance our ability to perform our works.

The remainder of our surplus is re-distributed back into the communities that we serve. This is what we call our “Social Surplus”. And this is quite a substantial amount of monies.

Every year we receive formal requests from all kinds of organizations, charities and non-profit groups that exist to help those in need. A very special committee reviews each request, and if appropriate – funds are provided.

One of our biggest social-surplus partners is the United Way. Another is Easter Seals.

There is no one at Green Shield Canada getting rich off our business. But that is not to say that we do not make a proper living.

You see, this endeavor requires skilled persons. And very few in this world have the luxury of being so financially independent that they can donate their entire work lives to our efforts. Our salaries are constantly reviewed that they are competitive in the communities we reside in. Otherwise all our best people would leave to work elsewhere.

This does not make them insincere in their contributions to Green Shield Canada. It is merely a reality that people have to provide for themselves and their families to the best of their abilities before anyone can expect them to have a charitable nature.

Green Shield Canada was founded by a group of Windsor pharmacists in 1957 – led by William Wilkerson. It was created to help resolve the problem for those families that had to decide between providing food and shelter rather than medicine for their families.

In his typical style – all surplus generated would go back into the community. Mr. Wilkerson truly was a man of a special ambition. His memory is the very foundation that our current mission is based on.

Over the next ten years, Mr. Wilkerson was also very instrumental in the development of the child-proof medicine bottle cap. It was originally called the “palm-n-push”. While it has caused most of us frustration from time to time, the original intent was to eliminate the needless deaths of children who were swallowing their parents medications thinking the little pills were candy.

When Green Shield Canada won the contract to build and maintain the computer systems that adjudicate and administrate drug claims paid for by the Ontario Provincial Government for senior citizens and socially assisted persons; we added yet another monumental break-through. We implemented a means to check drug-to-drug interactions – so that when a senior received a prescription at the pharmacy – while that claim is being adjudicated by our computer system – we would be able to check that prescriptions against all other prescriptions they had recently received to make sure they did not combine to result in a poisonous or fatal manner.

Since all seniors and Socially Assisted persons in Ontario have their prescriptions entered through our system, this check against all other prescribed medicines they have taken is indeed more complete than anywhere else in the world.

There is no telling how many lives have been saved by this simple logic algorithm.

When I first returned to Windsor seven years ago, to marry my wife Darlene, to start our family, and to begin my career anew with Green Shield, the thing that amazed me most was the reaction people in Windsor had when they learned who I worked for.

And who do you work for, Mr. Brill?” – would say the bank manager.

Green Shield Canada”, I would reply.

Ooh, very good”, would be the reply.

The response always had a sentiment of being impressed. And that is the impression that Green Shield Canada holds in Windsor. Often it’s followed by the question “are there any openings there…?

For all those that I work with at Green Shield Canada, there is not one person I can think of that is insincere in fulfilling our roles. There is no one that I know of that is only there to earn a paycheck.

There is – as any place else – the occasion to complain about your job, your boss – or even the company. But those complaints are generally frustrations that we all face on a daily basis as we wrestle our way through life. The same as one complains about a rainy cold December and the aspect of another green Christmas in Windsor.

To let you know, I have no professional motivation in writing this entry. This space is my own, and it has been a great joy to me to write my various tales and accounts of my life. To my knowledge, there is no one at Green Shield Canada that actually reads my blog.

In truth, the place I work has over the last seven years had a significant and important influence on me; both professionally and personally. It has made me a more socially conscious person – a more charitable person. It has made me a better person I believe.

And you can’t really understand a lot of what I write unless you understand the significant components that influence my life.

And Green Shield Canada has most certainly influenced the person I have become.

if you would like to know more about Green Shield Canada, visit our website at

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Walking Eighteen With Mike Weir

I have bumped into a few famous people over the years.

I drank beer with Burt Reynolds in 1981. Me and about fifteen other people.

In 1998, I flew from Detroit to Toronto with Isaiah Thomas – a legendary basketball player for the Detroit Pistons.

In 1995, I bumped into (literally) Shania Twain at Canada’s Wonderland near Barrie, Ontario.

But my favorite experience was not so much by chance.

Also in 1995, the Ontario Open was being played in London - where I lived at the time. In fact it was being played at the Forrest City National Golf Course – which I think may now be gone. I loved that course and played it every chance I could. So we went to see how the pros would play it.

These were guys on the Canadian Tour, a stepping stone to the PGA for those lucky enough to survive, conquer qualifying school, and get their PGA tour card.

When my girlfriend and I arrived, we got a program, and looked for someone to follow.

Here’s a guy” I said. “He’s from Brights Grove, over by Sarnia, and look – he is tied for the lead. Let’s follow him!”.

My girlfriend agreed.

So we walked all 18 holes of the course I played all the time and knew like the back of my hand, watching Mike Weir play it. With us was a local radio sports announcer who I only remember by his nickname “Horney” – his real name was Jim VanHorne.

And the best part was that you did not have to stand behind any ropes - you could walk the fairway right with the players. So we did.

I had been to PGA events before in New Orleans. I had followed Greg Norman and Fred Couples back then. I followed Nick Price at the 1995 Canadian Open. But Mike Weir hit the ball so smooth and effortlessly, always hitting his target.

There is one hole on that course that is a par five. It plays around a lake wrapping as a dog-leg right to a narrow green on the far corner of the lake. The fairway is split into two sides by a long sand bunker.

If you land on the right side of the bunker you can hit a fairway wood to the green flying 200-230 yards of water.

If you land to the left of the bunker you have to play a long shot up the fairway and hope you can fade it for a nice short approach shot as your third.

If you land in the bunker on your drive, you’re dead. You will now have at least two more shots to hit the green.

Weir hit that bunker. I leaned to Horney and said “He is screwed”. Horney nodded in agreement.

Mike took out his four-wood, put the ball at the back of his stance, came down through the ball wand clipped it ever so perfect taking only a grain or two of sand.

I remember watching that ball’s flight. Straight at the pin. But I knew how narrow the green was. It would never stop within that 20 foot area. It couldn’t, not out of the sand with a wood; no way could he get the back spin.

That ball hit the front of the green bounced high, and when it came down it bit and held.

Mike Weir hit that bunker shot to within 5 feet of the pin.

I looked at Horney, and he at me. Our jaws were dropped like to yokels at a hog auction.

We hooted and yelled and told Mike that what he just did was impossible. He smiled and simply handed his four-wood to his caddy.

When we got to the green, Mike sized up the putt and dropped it.

Eagle three.

I do remember saying “Thanks” and having to explain to the group we were walking with that I was thankful to see such an amazing shot.

I still have that program at home. It became even more special when Mike made the PGA tour. And even more special still when he won the Masters in 2003.

I had played that hole so many times, both before and after that day. And I had tried to fly that water on many occasions. Once I was lucky to go over the green and get up and down for a birdie.

For all the great golf I have seen, that still stands out as the most incredible shot I have witnessed.

Last weekend, at the President’s Cup in Montreal, Mike Weir paired up against Tiger Woods on the final day. And Mike was three up on Tiger into the back nine. But Tiger caught him, and passed him. And for the first time I have ever known, someone fought back, re-caught Tiger, and beat him on the 18th hole. It was Mike Weir.

I can’t say I know Mike Weir. But I sure can say I am proud of him.

If only I had gotten Mike to sign my program that day.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

I Love Golf

I love the game of golf.

I love to play golf.

I love to watch golf.

I love to read about the history of golf.

I took up golf in 1983 in Baton Rouge at my brother Paul’s prodding. He had just started playing as well, and in usual fashion he acquired the skills quite quickly.

I borrowed my dad’s old clubs, and immediately found that you do not just walk out and play golf. That day we played the course on the campus of LSU. I believe I walked off that day in disgust – before even reaching the turn.

Why I tried again after that experience I don’t remember.

When Paul and I were boys in Georgia, our Dad would often ask us if we would like to play golf with him. And we always declined.

Golf is a silly game of chasing a little white ball only played by boring old men who wear funny clothes. Or so we thought. And I know Dad was disappointed by our ignorance.

Paul bought me my first set of clubs. I do not remember if I ever paid him back or not. If not, I hope he doesn’t read this or he may charge me interest.

As I remember, he paid $58.00 for a used set of Lynx Masters. Fancy for their day, with the face of a Lynx cast on the back of each club. USA Masters engraved on the heel.

They were laden with lead tape, heavily coated on the bottom of each by a senior who obviously wanted to increase the distance. It took most of a day on the patio peeling that tape off.

I remember those irons so well. I should. I still play them. They are the only irons I have ever owned. And I can hit each one pure and crisp.

At the same time, our parents had just moved from Baton Rouge to Pensacola, Florida. They took an apartment with a pretty back yard, and behind their yard lay the 12th green of a long dog leg right par 5.

So it seemed to be destined that golf would become a family endorsed component of our life. That year for Christmas, my parents gave me a Sam Snead Blue Ridge driver. And I learned to pummel that thing 300 yards plus.

My brother and I would wake up on Christmas morning, sneak out on the 13th tee beside their apartment building, and play all the way around back to the 12th green. The course was closed for Christmas day, so we would carry our bags discretely and shoot greens with no flags in the holes.

Those were probably the best Christmas mornings I knew until my daughters were born.

At that time I worked a job at night, and got off work at 7:00 am. I would leave work and go right to the municipal course of my choosing. Baton Rouge had a bunch. Some were great, some were flat fields with cement water drains in place of real creeks.

I would arrive and usually play before the club-house was open, navigating the sprinklers, and explaining to the grounds crew that I would pay when I reached the club house. I don’t remember ever being refused.

After a couple years of playing every day all year around, I was pretty good. I could shoot in the 70’s consistently, and sometimes even go below par. My forearms and hands were very strong and tan, with the left hand giving me away as a constant player because the glove I wore resulted in a pale white skin tone.

I could hit a long tee shot consistently with my Blue Ridge driver, and my approach shots with my Lynx Masters irons would usually leave me with an opportunity for birdie.

And Paul could always beat me. I can’t remember one time I ever beat him.

For a brief period before I moved to Canada, Paul and I were room mates. The best ‘roomie’ I ever had. And weekly we would play one specific round together. It was called “The Cascade Classic”. The loser of this round would be responsible for doing the dishes for the next week, until the next Cascade Classic could be played.

I don’t remember Paul ever washing a single dish in that apartment.

When I moved to Canada the week between Christmas and New Years of 1985, I packed my car with all my belongings. My golf clubs among them. We went to my Mom and Dad’s apartment in Pensacola and played our customary rounds on the course behind their yard.

And then I moved to Canada. I moved to Canada in late December. I don’t recommend this feat to anyone.

I did not pick up my clubs again until the final round of the Masters was being played. This is the infamous Sunday when Jack Nicklaus won his final green jacket.

But on the farm, we still had two feet of snow on the ground. Winter was not leaving easily. And I took a shovel, cleared a five foot patch, and hit nine irons across the yard to snow bank in the corner. When the snow finally melted in May, I recovered those balls and returned them to my bag.

So my life changed from playing daily to starting all over again in April or May, working on my game through the summer, and then abandoning it again come October.

At Christmas, I would usually return to Pensacola spending Christmases with my parents, or just my Mum after dad passed away in 1990. And golf was a central focus of my holiday.

As the years have progressed, my ability to travel to Pensacola at Christmas has evaporated. We have our own family Christmas traditions in Windsor. There is no Golf yet in these traditions.

In a common summer, I may get to play golf once every two weeks or so. This year I only had four opportunities to play.

Yesterday was one of those opportunities. It was our Company Golf Tournament. And it is a highlight of every fall for me and Darlene. This year Darlene could not play because the implant she has in her back was still healing. As I left in the morning I could see she was sad she could not play.

Instead she spent the day with her brother closing our pool.

We played a best ball scramble format. My partners were Erwin, Tim, and his wife Diane. Both Erwin and Tim hold significant rankings in our company. And both are excellent people to spend time with. Tim’s better half, Dianne, was equally enjoyable, and a good golfer as well.

I will admit that we started the morning with hopes of possibly winning the event. And we started well by reaching a par five in two and achieving our first birdie – beginning the day at one under par.

I would say that of the four of us, we all contributed to the cause equally. And our outcome was most definitely the result of our combined effort.

And it was a lot of fun.

Tim and Erwin both equally ensured we were in good shape in the fairway. My strength has always been the approach to the green. Between the four of us we most always hit the green with the opportunity for birdie or eagle.

But putting was a skill not held by any of us yesterday. So no eagles were accomplished and only three birdies realized.

We finished at two over par.

When we reached the par 3 where the men’s closest to the pin was contested, I liked my chances. I have won this contest before. The shot was a 145 yards and the tee elevated over bush and wasteland leading up to the green.

I put the tee in the ground and sized up the conditions. The wind slightly in my face. The green sloped back to font.

I lined up my nine iron, the same nine iron with the Lynx face cast in the back and “USA Master” engraved on the bottom. My mind held this thought:

Remember the 17th hole at Mums? It is the same shot. Just picture that hole in your memory as you swing through the ball. It’s the same hole. It’s the same swing.

I took the club back to full-square. As I brought the club down through the ball with my left forearm, I was clearly seeing the 17th hole at Carriage Hills.

As I followed through, my ball flight was high, right on line, and looking perfect. The ball hit 12 inches straight in front of the hole. It bit and spun back another 12 inches. It stopped two feet dead straight uphill in front of the hole.

The best part of it was not hitting the shot or watching it. The best part was hearing my partners in our foursome cheering the ball in flight – in that moment that seems like five minutes, as you watch the ball drop from clouds and land beside the pin. The high fives, and the excitement as we drove down to the hole to find it is indeed as close as we thought.

I tried to calmly stroke it in for a natural birdie but missed. Tim stepped up and rapped it in for the official birdie we needed to stay in the hunt. Then he signed my name on the board and moved it to where my ball landed.

I do love golf.

I love everything about golf

But I am awfully glad that I don’t have to play golf to earn my living.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Shutdown Mode

I just sat down on our back patio deck with a cup of coffee to enjoy a morning smoke, and to take account of the work that lies before me.

I appear to be in shutdown mode, in most every aspect of my life.

It’s time to take down most everything in the back yard, prepare it for winter storage and put it away. Odd, because the breeze is warm, and the pool is crystal clear and blue.

Only the few scattered leaves at the bottom indicate we are now officially into fall.

Major League Baseball is also preparing for shut down mode. The final 10 or so games are to be played this week, with the post-season starting the first week of October.

My Detroit Tigers are all but mathematically eliminated from post-season play this year. We sit four-and-a-half games back of the Yankees for the AL Wildcard spot. That’s a lot of ground to make up in a week. But odder things have happened.

Darlene and I will be heading to Detroit to Comerica Park Sunday to watch the last regular season home game of the Tigers against Kansas City. In essence we will be helping the Tigers shutdown for the year as well.

But you never know.

At work, I spoke at both a memorial service for a wonderful colleague who passed away recently, and I spoke at a retirement party for three of the best co-workers you could ask to work with. I guess you could say that we helped shut down their careers.

And in my own job, we are preparing for the shut down of our department. We our literally going through our drawers, cabinets, and computer files, determining if each should be retained for the legal seven year limit, be shredded, or is of personal value.

But nothing in life stays idle.

And very few things stay shut down.

We have already started planning how we are going refinish our deck next spring. We have already plotted how we will re-arrange our gardens. And of course, the pool will re-open.

The Tigers will make some off-season trades, and start spring training back in Lakeland, Florida in February. That’s not too far away.

And I and those I work with in my department are excited about the new directions we will be going after our department ceases to exist in November. And we know that the outcome of the lifetime of our department was a tremendous success, with numerous assets we can carry forward in our new roles.

Those three colleagues who retired have already begun their golden retirement years. I cannot tell you how amazingly healthy and happy each of them appeared to be at their party. You could almost say they were re-born.

And Trudy, who passed so suddenly away a few weeks ago, will continue always in our memories. I am quite positive that she has moved on to something quite wonderful and new as well.

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