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from an amazing map – who challenges such villains as Swiper the fox and hordes of crocodiles and spiders – has been replaced by a southern drawled 14 year old tight ripped blue jeans wearing teeny-bopper who disguises super-stardom with a blond wig and sun glasses.

Dora’s catch phrases such as “I need your help” and “Swiper no swiping” have now been replaced by Billy-Ray Cyrus daughter Miley’s teeny bopper catch phrases such as “Do ya think?”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

Maybe.

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

Amen.

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.

“Why”

“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.


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