Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Ring-What?

There are a number of games played on the Canadian winter season ice.

There is ice skating on frozen ponds.

There is hockey.

There is curling – which if you don't know – is a shuffle board like game where each team tries to slide large heavy polished rocks into a target on the other side of the ice, and the team with the most rocks near the target wins. It's a great game of skill, accuracy and strategy.

And then there is ringette.

"Ring-what?"

Ringette. It's a game very similar to hockey. But very different in several key ways:

The players use a hockey stick – with the blade cut off – so they only use the shaft. The butt of the stick is taped.

The puck is replaced by a heavy rubber ring – like the one you probably played ring toss with when you were young.

The players pass the ring to each other much like hockey players passing the puck, but the skill in ringette is in receiving – catching the pass – because instead of just letting the puck hit the blade of your stick as in hockey, the ringette player has to lift their stick and try to put the end down in the middle of the ring as it slides by.

There are also some other significant rules that distinguish it from hockey – like the one that states that no offensive player can put a skate or a blade in the goalie crease, and no offensive player can play defense behind a line on their own side.

You know – rules.

But the key to ringette is trapping that ring on the end of your stick – and then slinging it off the end for a pass or a shot on net.

Oh, and ringette – at this point anyways – is pretty much played by the female gender.

So as the father of a seven and six year old girls, I was very interested to see ringette again.

The ringette I saw played this year was pretty elite. While visiting my cousin Sarah's family at their log cabin outside of Cambridge, Ontario – Sarah insisted that we attend a special game being played that day. The game was between two elite teams: The Paris Ontario Ringette Association's under 20 girls playing two Team Canada Squads representing those on or trying out for Canada's national team.

And this game was played the day before Team Canada made its final cuts.

To make it even more interesting, there were two girls from the Paris Ringette association trying out for Team Canada this day. And the crowd was torn between rooting for the Team Canada rookies, and their hometown squad.

I sat and watched this game. I was not new to ringette. Sarah has been involved with this sport with her Dad (my Uncle Fred) since she was little and living in London, Ontario. Together they started and founded the Ringette association in Mitchell, Ontario. And now Sarah is continuing the tradition for her two daughters Justine and Paige – to carry Ringette into the next generation. She is proud of the exceptional executive committee she is a part of.

When I was young and living in Minnesota, I played a little hockey. Very little – and probably very poorly. When we visited my Uncle Fred's one Christmas, he and Sarah invited my brother Paul and I out to skate a practice with them.

I still remember that day – and how incredibly fun it was. And how difficult it was to catch that stupid ring on the end of my stick. And how humbling it was to have younger girls skating circles around me.

As I sat and watched the warm ups for the game, Sarah explained to me why the older girls were skating with the younger girls from the younger teams.

"This is a very important part of ringette", explained Sarah. "Part of this games culture is to expose the younger players to the older players, on and off the ice, to help them learn and grow quicker".

So ringette also teaches team members to also be role models.

And as I looked around the ice at both the Paris and Team Canada skaters, they were each doing their part to help and inspire the younger Parisian skaters. The Team Canada goalie was talking to the younger Parisian goalie about how to get down quicker to the ice to block low shots.

As the game began, I was blown away by the skating skills of both sides. Better than the best boys I have seen. Faster and quicker spins and turns than I have seen at the AAA OHL level. It was an incredible vision of players weaving so quickly through each other that it almost seemed like positions were only a formality for score cards.

The skill and accuracy of the pass making – moving the ring to open ice and watching the team mate sling over to pick it on the end of her stick up the middle of the ice, whip it outside to the wing, and receive it back on the end of her stick and in the same motion fling it powerfully at the net for a shot – only to have the sprawling keeper block it away.

It was at least as exciting as hockey. And because the player has the ring on the end of their stick – the skating they can do – the spins and cuts and twists are so much more exciting.

It is really something to see.

If you were to ask a hockey player about ringette, he would likely tell you it's for girls.

But if you asked a hockey player to go play ringette with these girls, he would likely decline the offer.

Because hockey players do not want to be shown up by a bunch of girls.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Believe and He Is Real

I'm probably kind of weird this way.

But I still believe in Santa Claus.

That is why Christmas this year is becoming more difficult for me. Not because my faith is eroding, or even slightly fading. Not because so many things in the world are not going as I wish they could. Not because people have become so shallow about wealth, status, popularity and appearance that important concepts like health, family, and friendship are too corny to hold our attention.

This year my eldest daughter Alannah has informed me that she does not believe in Santa Claus.

"He's just a guy with a fake beard and a red suit, Dad", she stated so matter-of-factly. "Gimme a break, ok?"

Alannah is seven. She will be eight in February. Alannah is just beginning that nightmare period of her young life where she actually believes she knows everything.

She informed me of this last week as I was out sitting in the garage having a smoke.

For as beautiful as my lovely wife Darlene has decorated our house this year, the garage is still my sanctuary. I can still sit on the old couch in the garage after work and have a smoke with a drink and listen to Pat Caputo talk about sports on the radio.

And the radio talk has been depressing with the Detroit Lions in the process of achieving the first 16 game winless season in the NFL history. And the Big Three automakers – all based of course in Detroit – hoping for assistance from the American federal government. And knowing that the fall-out of a collapse in Detroit will have exponentially dire consequences here in Windsor.

It's a depressing environment this year.

But this year, my Mom is up visiting for her first Christmas with my daughters. Up from the sunny southern gulf coast – where it snowed the day before mom arrived in the Great White North.

That is why we are so beautifully decorated this year.

And Grandma Brill still believes in Santa Claus.

So when Alannah came out to inform me of her newly-found wisdom, she and I sat in the garage – smoky and cold – full of empty decoration boxes and other holiday containers waiting to be discarded or re-used when the holidays are over – and we talked.

"Is that all you think Santa Claus is, Alannah?", I started very carefully. "Just a fat guy with a fake beard in a rented red suit?"

"Pretty much, yup.", she smiled at me, proud of her own adult-like cognitive processing skills.

"Why so?"

"Anytime you see Santa Claus at Christmas – he looks like a different person."

"Yes".

"And it's never the real Santa Claus."

"Yes".

"Nobody can fly around the world in a night and deliver toys to all the kids in the world", Alannah stated as if this were some type of proof. Her closing argument, if you will, to a jury that would have no option but to agree with her.

"Right?" she asked in her appeal to confirm her winning such an important argument as the dismissal of Santa.

"I don't think you quite get it, Alannah", I prepared my next comments very carefully, but quickly in my own mind before continuing.

"Huh?"

"Who else do you see at Christmas time?", I asked.

"Frosty, Rudolph, baby Jesus …", she started listing the icons of the holiday.

"Baby Jesus". I said. "Is baby Jesus fake?"

"No, Daddy – baby Jesus is real and you should be ashamed to ask me that!"

"Is Jesus still a baby?", I continued.

"I don't know?", she replied.

"Is Jesus with us always?"

"Yes, Daddy he lives in our heart".

"Is God with us always?"

"Yes, he is all around us Daddy, he makes the trees and birds and everything."

"And you know this to be true, like I do?"

"uh huh", she nodded.

"Well, so is Santa Claus", I stated. "Santa is not a guy in a rented suit with a fake beard. Those are men. But they are very special men, because they help us keep the spirit of Santa Claus alive and with us at Christmas time."

"The spirit of Santa Claus?".

"Yes, the spirit of giving. Of giving equally to everyone".

"Everyone who is good." Corrected Alannah.

"Have you been good every year? Have you been good every day of the year?", I asked.

"Well, no, nobody can be good every day of every year".

"But you still get presents from Santa Claus on Christmas morning, though. Have you ever received a lump of coal?"

"No".

"Santa is also the spirit of forgiveness, like baby Jesus."

"So Santa Claus is not real then?".

"Santa is real in your heart, where it matters the very most. Just like you keep baby Jesus in your heart all year long, you should also keep Santa Clause in your heart."

Alannah sat there and she fumbled this over and over again in her mind.

"So if I don't believe in Santa Claus, then he won't be real".

"To you, that's right. Santa can't exist unless you believe in him." I said. "Pretty magic, huh?"

Alannah hugged me and went back into the house.

I sat there for a few minutes playing that conversation over and over again in my mind. I do not know if what I said was right. But it was honest and therefore it must be right. But I was not sure what was going through her mind as she left. I think she was confused.

But Alannah is a pretty smart little girl.

Sunday was our company children's Christmas party. As you may remember from last year's entry entitled "Don't be scared of a little snow", we had to cancel last year's party due to inclement weather.

It snowed.

So the girls did not visit this Santa and Mrs. Claus last year. I was interested to see how this year's visit would go, given the talk Alannah and I had in the garage.

When their time came, Ashley-Rae sat on Santa's lap, and Alannah sat on Mrs. Claus'. Ashley-Rae whispered a joke into Santa's ear, gave him a kiss on the cheek, and waved bye. Santa laughed because I don't think many kids tell Santa a joke. But Ashley-Rae does. "Did you get that?" Santa yelled down to me.

I gave him the thumbs up. I was taking video on our little Kodak digital camera.

Alannah stood up and turned to Santa. She held both his hands as she stood there and talked to him. Her back was turned to me, so I tried to read in Santa's eyes what Alannah was saying. He answered her very nicely. And she leaned in and gave him a great big hug. And she whispered in his ear. And he gave her a great big hug. And she kissed him on his cheek and turned and jumped down.

"We'll see what we can do", he shouted to her as she departed.

Alannah hopped down off the stage as I stopped recording the event.

After we got home, I loaded the pictures from the digital camera to our PC – and I also downloaded the video of Alannah talking with Santa. It was a little darker than I wanted, but I tried to make out what was said.

It appeared that Alannah was explaining to Santa that she knew he was a man in a red suit with a fake beard. And Santa's face dropped slightly. So Alannah hugged him and thanked him for being Santa because men who play Santa are special too. Then she told Santa that she understands that because Santa is like baby Jesus and lives in your heart. And then Santa hugged her.

Then she asked for a present by whispering in his ear. I do not know what that present was. But I suspect it was that she gets a part in a play at a theatre she likes. And that's when I heard Santa say "We will see what we can do..".

I'm not sure, but I think she understands.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

A Bad Phone Call From The Good Doctor

Most of the people I know that are my age are grandparents.

Some have grandchildren older than my two daughters, seven and six.

It's hard being a parent when you are no longer a spring chicken.

I don't really think of myself as being old. Although the gray in my hair has now conquered most of my temples, and my longish goatee is pretty much white.

So I don't exactly resemble a spring chicken. Except in my own mind. That seems to be where my ego lives.

But this weekend's little incident actually brought the matter of my advancing age poignantly home.

I have had a complete physical scheduled with my family doctor for some time. And so Friday morning, I stopped on the way to work to get the lab portions of my tests done. In the span of eight minutes I filled four vials of blood and a little cup. I said my goodbyes as I handed my little yellow cup to the lab attendant and headed to the office for the daily series of battles.

That night, I came home to find lovely smells in the kitchen and the house decorations more nearer completion for the holidays. As I was talking of the day's events with my lovely wife Darlene, the phone rang. It was our family doctor.

He had just gotten my lab results.

"Fred, have you been doing any type of heavy exertion – you know, exercise or sports lately?"

"No, I haven't", I answered – what an odd question? "Why do you ask?"

"The muscle enzymes in your blood test were four times what they should be", answered the good doctor.

"Is that good?"

"No, it isn't. It is an early warning sign that you are about to have a heart attack."

"Huh", I said in my normal articulate manner.

"You need to grab a good book and prepare to spend the evening at the Emergency room".

"I see".

"I'm not kidding, this needs to be looked at", said the good doctor. "I want you to get an EKG and a four panel C-ray."

"Okay".

I had no intention of going that night. It was a Friday night, and not a good place to be on a Friday night. I would get up early Saturday morning and head in to the hospital.

I slept very poorly that night. I tossed and turned and thought a lot about what state I would leave my little family in if I should kick off in my sleep. I added up all my benefits and insurance – and I came to the startling conclusion that they would very well off should I have the big-one before dawn.

Sobering thoughts they were.

Into the hospital I drove the next morning. Windsor was being hit with it's biggest snow dump yet in the season. And the roads were slick, and people were driving cautiously. And when I arrived in the ER, amazingly enough it was almost empty.

I first explained my reason for visiting to the triage nurse, who put me immediately into a room where I would be placed on a heart monitor. I then explained my situation to the tending nurse, the cardiac technician, and then both a cardiac and pulmonary specialist.

They ran all the same blood tests as in the lab the day before. They also made me fill yet another little yellow cup. And then they strapped me to a heart monitor for several hours.

And in the end, they told me my blood work was fine. I did have some breathing difficulties they diagnosed to be bronchitis, and they scheduled me for a complete pulmonary exam.

But my heart was fine.

I arrived home with a big box of donuts for the girls and a Tim Horton's double-double coffee for me and Darlene. And I went to work on the lights in the front yard. And putting together the stand for a new TV we had just bought. I was up until 5:00 in the morning putting everything together.

I have spent every morning since coming home from the hospital considering where we stand should I decide to croak early. I have decided that I would really like to stay around a bit longer. See how my girls turn out, what happens at work, and well, I just got this new TV.

But I do not understand how my blood test could show such a dire condition one day, and be absolutely clear of the condition the next? And I will admit that I am worried.

Because I have two little girls to raise. And parenthood isn't easy at my age.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Coming and Going

I have been very fortunate in my career.

The last twenty years I have worked for companies that I totally believe in. And for companies that have totally believed in me.

It has always been a mutual relationship.

I currently work for a non-profit health benefits company. The only one in Canada. The model of this company so unique that a bill was introduced and passed by the Canadian federal Parliament to allow the company to exist. It's called the Green Shield Canada Act.

And our mission statement's prime directive is to "Enhance the common good".

I have been with Green Shield Canada now for eight years. The projects have been high profile. The mission to enhance the common good most often achieved.

But it seems like only yesterday that I was working for my previous employer, PFW Systems in London, Ontario.

When I started, there were fifteen of us. Enough to form a softball team. And we were a pretty close group of employees. When I left, there were nearly a hundred employees. And I would like to think I helped achieve that growth.

My first boss at PFW was a fellow named Ross Atkinson. My assignment was to develop a suite of software to quote, order, and submit warranty claims for all Bobcat skid steer loader dealerships. Ross was a pretty great boss. He gave me a pretty free hand to architect, design, and construct this suite of PC programs called PC Dealer.

The very first version pre-dated Microsoft Windows. The program was launched by simply typing 'PCDEALER' at a DOS prompt. If you remember DOS, it looked something like this:

C:\> PCDEALER

Future versions were written to run in Windows, then use the Internet. Then at the prompting of our CEO – Bob Morton – we adapted the program to use the internet not only to submit orders and warranty claims for Bobcat skid steer loaders, but also to sell and support the program, but also to sell and distribute the software around the world.

The project was such a success that the Bobcat Company mandated all its sales locations around the world to use our software. I still remember midnight ICQ chat sessions with a Bobcat regional manager in Malaysia and another in Hong Kong – helping them set up the software suite to work in their region of the world.

Back then I lived to work. My job was my life. It was my sole identity. I would take my laptop on vacation and log into the office from the patio of a golf course in Florida. I loved that job.

And the people I worked with.

Ross and Bob and I had some very fun business trips. Only fun to me because of their company. Most often we travelled to Rochester Minnesota - home of the group that manufactured the AS/400, or to Fargo North Dakota - the head office of the then Bobcat company.

On one occasion I remember sitting in the lobby of the Bobcat head office with Ross and we coded and tested last minute ideas before walking into their boardroom minutes later to demonstrate them to the executives of the day. We would take their feedback and go back to the hotel and rewrite the code to meet their new needs. And we would demonstrate it the next day.

We were a pretty good team. And I learned a lot from them. They allowed me to grow to be the engineer and architect I am today. And I don't know if I ever really thanked them.

When I met my lovely wife Darlene, she was living in resort community south of Windsor in a little town called Amherstburg. As I spent more and more time with Darlene, it became clear that she was destined to be the new central focus of my life. I spent the next six months extracting myself from the responsibilities I had assumed at PFW.

And I started looking for a job in Windsor. That's where I learned about Green Shield Canada.

In October of 2000, I moved to Amherstburg. But I still worked for PFW in London. It was about a two hour drive every day to work. And another two hours home at night. As the winter descended on southwest Ontario that year, driving was treacherous on the 401 highway. There were many white-knuckled trips driving through blinding snow with tractor trailers surrounding me and slipping and sliding in the lanes on both sides of me.

With two days to go before Christmas, I made my final drive to London as a PFW employee. Halfway to London, two semi s jackknifed and blocked the entire northbound side of the expressway.

And I was about three hours late to work.

Almost as soon as I got to my desk, Bob called me into his office.

He was not happy.

I explained about the jackknifed trucks.

"Why didn't you call?" asked Bob.

"I was stuck in the middle of the highway!"

"Why don't you have a cell phone?"

"I never needed one before".

"That's no excuse", Bob continued. "You could have borrowed one from a car behind you."

"Yeah, I guess I could have – the thought didn't occur to me."

"That's irresponsible", said Bob. "You have a pregnant wife at home, you drive 4 hours a day to and from work, and you don't have a phone".

"Yes, I can't argue since you put it that way. You're right". And he was.

One thing about Bob Morton. The bugger was always right.

Bob's manner changed. He leaned forward to me and said, "You don't need to be here, Fred".

I looked at him.

"Go back to Amherstburg. Hold on to the laptop. I will keep paying you until you find a job in Windsor".

I had a secret. I was on the verge of signing a letter of hire with Green Shield Canada. I was supposed to close the deal and land the job the next day.

"You don't have to do that, Bob", I said. "I am going to sign on with Green Shield Canada tomorrow."

But I don't think Bob believed me.

"Just do it."

And I left Bob's office.

I packed up my desk, and I went around saying goodbye to everyone. With only minutes notice I was out the door and on my way home. After nine years of hard work, it ended in nine minutes. No long goodbyes. No farewell lunches or last few beers with the boys. Just a quick "It's been great…", and I was gone.

When I got back home, I explained what happened to Darlene. She started to cry. A happy cry.

The next day I signed the letter of hire with Green Shield Canada. I did it by email. I used the very laptop that Bob had told me to find work with before returning it to him.

And I started work with Green Shield Canada on January 2nd, 2001.

Bob paid me through February. This was a godsend, because Darlene gave birth to our eldest daughter Alannah only six weeks after I walked out of Bob's office.

In March, Darlene and I packed up our baby girl, and we drove to London. It was a Saturday. And Bob was at home on his farm in Ilderton, just north of London. He welcomed us in as friendly as could be. And we sat and we talked, and I gave him back the laptop he let me use. And Alannah lay sleeping in her bassinet.

I will always know the great debt of gratitude I owe Bob. For the opportunities he gave me. For the challenges he tasked me with. For the wonderful mentorship he provided. And for his sense of humor, which I have somewhat adopted as my own.

And for just being the best boss I ever worked for.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Getting Ready To Feel Merry

I'm not really feeling merry yet.

But I do have a perfect day for hanging the lights outside. The sun is shining and feels warm. It looks like the perfect day for crawling up a ladder and attaching lights to the soffits and eave troughs.

But I don't really feel merry yet.

My Mom is coming up from Pensacola to spend Christmas with us this year. It will be her first Christmas with my lovely wife Darlene and our daughters Alannah and Ashley-Rae. Darlene has gone the extra mile in planning to make this Christmas special. She has already made enough Christmas pudding to feed a large military installation. And she has already specked out the lights, cedar roping, and wreaths I am to install and deploy this afternoon.

But I still don't feel merry yet.

Thursday was the American Thanksgiving day. A holiday I miss every year since returning to Canada. The smells in the house, the family gathering, the great eats, the days worth of football on television. And the four day weekend.

On Thursday I sat at my desk at the office and put out fires, wrestled with programmers over revision specifications and design issues. I answered problem tickets and talked to the business users of our systems to gather needs for new January business.

And I didn't feel very merry.

But at least I didn't have to watch the Detroit Lions lose 42-10 to the Titans.

I should probably start this morning by dragging out all the boxes of decorations. The Christmas trees – one a pre-lit beauty for the living room in front of the big cathedral window, the other a fiber-optic tree to set downstairs by the fireplace and pool table. The nativity settings, the small winter villages, candles, holly, nutcrackers, mistletoe and tree ornaments.

Then I'll drag out the ladder, the boxes of lights and outdoor decorations, and Darlene's blueprints.

I'll follow her directions. I'll use some imagination.

But I won't feel terribly merry as a I do it.

I'll probably drink a beer or two while do so. So I might feel just a little merry.

But tonight, with neighbor's coming over for a visit – I will sit down and relax.

Christmas is a lot of work. No wonder we start preparing a whole month early.

Because it takes about a month for me to really feel merry.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Catching Economic Pneumonia

The American Automobile Industry is in serious trouble.

Chrysler and GM are both faced with potential bankruptcy situations. The American federal government is struggling with finding a way to bail them out – hesitant to throw money at a problem where money won't likely solve the plight but instead only post-pone it.

The outlook at this moment is very gloomy for the Motor City of Detroit. This is a town that has already seen itself erode away to a mere shadow of its former metropolis status – with no signs of healing as city political scandals and racial tensions continue to undermine any chance of recovery.

What many American's may not know is that there is also a great deal of the Automobile Manufacturing done on the other side of the Detroit River – in my hometown of Windsor, Ontario. Since the dawn of the industrial revolution brought on by Henry Ford's invention of the mass assembly line, Windsor has hosted major manufacturing facilities for the Big Three – as well as all the supporting services such as tool and dye shops for parts manufacturing.

The vast majority of employment in Windsor is directly related to the manufacturing of American automobiles.

Over the last three years, we have seen plant shut downs and companies going out of business as the Big Three continue to crumble under pressures of low car sales, high gas prices, and the cost of a unionized labor force.

The Canadian federal government is also looking at ways to assist the Canadian Big Three entities. But much like the Americans, they realize that simply throwing money at these problems will not resolve the crisis at hand.

Over the past three years strides have been made in the quality of the Big Three products, as well as the fuel consumption. And the Unions have made some concessions to ease the burden on the Big Three. But in both Detroit and Windsor, the public outcry is a finger pointed right at "foreign" automotive manufacturers.

Right up the 401 from Windsor in Woodstock is the Cami Automotive assembly plant – jointly operated by GM and Suzuki. Up the highway further is the Toyota manufacturing plant in Cambridge. Each is supported by the same parts manufacturers, trucking firms, and suppliers used by the Big Three. As well, there a numerous plants across the United States manufacturing the "foreign" automobiles.

Yet Ford sends their parts to be assembled for many of their models in Mexico.

Quite clearly, the collapse of the Big Three is larger than just North America. The scope of impact of such a collapse would be felt in absolutely every sector of every economy in every country on the planet.

Yet as one drives through Detroit – you see all kinds of signs, billboards and bumper stickers urging their population to "Buy American". And oddly enough, Windsor – a Canadian city - has bumper stickers quoting "Want to lose your job? Keep buying foreign cars!".

I don't think those Canadian Auto Workers realize their American Auto Workers think of them as foreigners taking American Jobs away.

And I can only wonder what the bumper stickers in Mexico say.

If I were a betting man – which I am not – I would bet on the Big Three declaring bankruptcy. I would bet on the Big Three status to be in receivership by the end of 2009. And I would bet that the Big Three would find themselves being completely restructured – and in the end – find themselves to be much more capable of doing business in this new global economy.

Sometimes when something is really broken badly, it has to be completely taken apart, the damaged parts replaced or redesigned, and then put back together again.

And that is what I see about to happen to General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler.

And the World economy will catch a bad cold, but heal.

The North American economy will catch pneumonia but it will survive.

But Detroit and Windsor will disappear as we know them today.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Stinking At Lying

My eldest daughter Alannah is going through some growing pains.

She is dragging her Mom and I through those pains with her.

Last night I arrived home late. The sun had already set, and as I walked in the door I detected the aroma of something good.

Alannah met me standing at the top of the stairs, looking very authoritative as she looked down at me on the landing.

"What smells so good?", I asked as I hung up my coat and set down my briefcase.

"Mom made cake, Daddy", answered my seven year old. "But it came out really bad, come see!"

"That's not very nice, Alannah", I replied. "I'll bet Mommy worked really hard on that cake, with her back hurting so much. It sure smells good."

I walked up stairs, and Alannah led me into the kitchen. She pointed to the cake pan on the counter. It was a carrot cake in a rectangular Teflon cake pan. Only this cake looked like all the ends had been dug around, like when you make a sand castle and dig a moat around. And in the center of the cake was a huge gouge.

I looked at Alannah.

"I told you it looked bad", said my little seven year old demon – with the sweetest most innocent look on her face. There were crumbs around her mouth as she smiled so innocent.

"What happened to it?", I asked, giving her the chance to confess.

"I don't know, it just came out of the oven that way I guess". She shrugged her shoulders as she kept smiling at me.

My heart sank.

"Let me see your fingers".

Her tiny digits were coated with the gloss of carrot cake sugar, the orange crumbs embedded under her nails.

She kept smiling at me, never losing eye contact.

"How did this cake get all over your fingers, Alannah?"

She went to the counter and started picking up crumbs around the pan with the finger tips. She looked back at me, smiling. "See?".

"How did the crumbs get all over the counter?" I asked.

But the answer did not come quick enough. Up the stairs came my lovely wife Darlene. She was smiling and ready to tell me the day's events.

"Mommy?", I said to direct her attention to this matter at hand. "Is there something wrong with this cake pan? It seems to leave a moat around the outside of cakes, and even make big holes in the middle?"

The 'lovely' slipped from my wife's face. The rage washed it away.

"Go to your room, Alannah, I'll be in in a moment". I said. Alannah wisely exited the kitchen quickly.

There was yelling.

There was screaming.

And then the rage washed away and the tears came.

I left Darlene after a bit of listening, and I went in to see my eldest un-exorcised demon. The jig was up, and she knew that we knew that she knew what she was doing.

I sat down on the end of her bed. And I just looked at her. I couldn't hide my disappointment. After a couple of minutes of listening to her sobbing 'I'm sorry!', I told her how I felt about liars, and how I felt about thieves. I sentenced her to a grounding from the Wii video games and to staying in her room all the while expressing to her my disappointment.

Just before I left her to her solitude and study, I asked her "How did you ever possibly think you were going to get away with that?".

There was no answer.

"Alannah, I guess I am disappointed for several reasons. One – you must think I am stupid to think you could fool me. Two – you wrecked Mommy's cake and you don't even seem to care?. And three – you really stink as a liar. Lying is not something somebody learns. You're either good at it or you're not. You my friend, stink at it. If I were you I would never do it again."

She looked at me.

"I don't like liars, Alannah." I repeated. And I left the room.

Later that evening, as we sat around the table eating supper, I asked the same question I ask every night.

"So what did you do today?"

Ashley-Rae started to answer as she always does … "I got out of bed and I put on my slippers …".

Alannah cut her off before she could continue.

"I used my finger to dig around the outside of the cake because I didn't think anybody would notice", she stated.

I looked at her.

"But Dad did", she continued, her eyes to the floor. "Daddy's not stupid you know".

I smiled at her.

"And that's the truth, Daddy", she finished.

"I know it's the truth, Alannah."

"Because I stink at lying" said Alannah.

I got up and hugged her in her chair.

"Yes, you do Alannah", I said. "And it's a good thing too. 'Cause I really like you".

Thursday, November 06, 2008

One Swift Moment of Promise After Eight Years of Mess


It seems that in one swift moment – albeit after two years of anticipation – the world has changed.

I knew that it would be a historic event if it were to come to pass. How could it not be? Barack Obama is the first black man to be elected President of the United States. That's a big deal. An achievement I did not think I would see in my lifetime.

In this year, man found water on Mars. And in this year the United States of America elected an African American to the highest office in the land.

But I thought in this apathetic society of today, it would happen, it would be acknowledged like a new home run record, and then off we would go to the next thing.

But I was wrong.

I have never been so moved by a political event. The falling of the Berlin wall was close, but this made me kind of well up inside. This was magical.

The scenes of the rest of the world so surprisingly erupting in celebration surprised me beyond words. I do not believe these scenes were staged. I don't think they could have been? Who could have staged them?

The whole world breathed a huge sigh of relief. And that sigh produced the warmest global breeze of change of attitude the world has felt in my lifetime.

And I wonder.

I wonder, had the election turned out the other way – how would the world have reacted? Would they have pointed to America again as frauds – as they did after Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000, only to have George Bush's brother Jeb's state Florida upset the cart declaring hanging chads on ballots would decide the Electoral College for the Republicans?

I think that for as fine, decent, honest and sincere I believe John McCain to be, I believe the world would have cried out "FOUL!" if somehow this time he would have come from behind and won this election.

So now the world awaits the inauguration of President Elect Obama.

A feeling of awe is in the air around the globe.

But usually when great news breaks – compelling as this historic moment – the New York Stock Exchange reacts in an upswing. A rise as though riding the wave of optimism.

But instead the NYSE continues to fall.

Is it a sign that this optimism is premature? Or perhaps artificial?

Or is it a sign that the current American President has made such a mess in world affairs and economic policies that there is doubt even a change as large as the one to President Obama shows little hope of cleaning up such a large mess.

So in one swift moment – indeed the world changed.

But the mess will take much longer to fix. It took eight years to make.

Congratulations Mr. Obama. I wish you all the luck and best wishes. And I believe that you will have a world full of prayers behind you.

What a truly amazing time to be alive.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Significant Funeral

I have never liked labor unions.

I say this with some trepidation, because in Windsor, this is not a popular position.

I don't dislike union members. And I certainly don't want to pick any fights. Most of the decent people I know in Windsor are union people.

In short simple terms, I personally believe unions have bloated the costs of products unionized laborers produce. They limit and constrain the ability of a corporation to respond to ever changing global economic conditions. They reduce the ability to reward those who work extra hard, while they protect those whose skills or work ethic are weaker.

It is unquestionable that the former big three Automakers from Detroit are suffering greatly in part because of the tremendous Wages and benefits the United Auto Workers and Canadian Auto Workers unions have negotiated with General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler.

The response that I would get from my union member friends is that the union built Windsor. Windsor would not be the city is today without the union.

My response has always been that while that is true, it would be interesting to have seen how Windsor would have prospered without unionized labor. What niche's would have evolved. What industries? What would the standard of living have grown into Windsor? Because our dependence on unionized automobile manufacturing jobs is not currently boding a bright and hopeful future for the city of Roses on the Detroit river.

But yesterday, I changed my perspective a bit.

Yesterday, I accompanied Darlene to her Cousin Jay's funeral.

It was very sad to lose Jay, who is a small business owner and only one year older than me. I had only met Jay a couple of times, but each time I was always impressed with his positive and enjoyable personality. The sudden illness and death of such a strong and able man leave me to ponder how delicate we all really are.

As Jay was a small business owner, I would never have expected what I saw at that funeral.

When we arrived at the funeral home, the lot was filled with bikes. Choppers not unlike those you see on TV made by Orange County Choppers. "Wow, Jay was a biker?". I asked Darlene.

When we entered, I not only saw bikers, but I also saw a room full of CAW jackets and caps. And I bumped into one of the Union Liaison's at my own company.

"How did you know Jay?" asked Laurie.

"He is Darlene's cousin", I stated. "And you?"

"Why through the Union of course", replied Laurie as if of course I should have known this.

The place was packed, and more walls were opened up and more seats brought in to accommodate the ever growing number of attendees to Jays funeral.

When people had settled and found their places, with Jay's now-closed casket at the front of the room, a coordinator for the funeral home stepped up to the Microphone and announced the first person to speak would be Ken Lewenza, the newly elected national president of the Canadian Auto Workers union.

Now be there no doubt that Mr. Lewenza is a very skilled politician. As fine a speaker as you will find. And as well respected a member of the community as there is in Windsor.

For thirty minutes he stood before that massive assembly , speaking highly of Jay's achievements in various bargaining sessions with the various plants he had worked in, and how after even starting his own small sign business, he still came back to sit at the bargaining table to lead Union negotiations with a new parts plant in town. And he spoke of Jay's great positive attitude declaring everything was fine and that life was good, even after being diagnosed with this his suddenly terminal cancer.

At first I was offended by Mr. Lewenza's apparent hijacking of Jay's service to stand upon his soap box as though it were a union rally. But then as I listened to him speak of Jay, he having known Jay for some time on a personal level, and stating his desire that if he were able, he would clone a million Jays because of how invaluable his contributions were to the Union, to the city, and to his family and friends.

Another cousin of Darlene's was there. Mike is a very prominent Windsor business man, owning a large paving company, and a building developer. He employs hundreds of people in the city of Windsor. And as Mr. Lewenza spoke, I found myself wondering how Mike, an entrepreneur who understands the importance of cost containments as they pertain to the bottom line of a business plan, just to see his reaction. Mike sat there listening. And at certain points he was appreciative. Appreciative of the recognition his cousin was receiving from the highest leader in the land of the Canadian Auto Workers Union.

And at that moment, like the Grinch whose heart grew three inches on Christmas morning, I realized that I was wrong.

Regardless of your political affiliation, or idealisms, your points of view on economic controls, or your political affiliation, at the end of Mr. Lewenza's speech you had to know that Jay would have been very honored to have heard such high praise and distinction from a man he did respect deeply. And to receive such respect from a group he worked so hard for throughout his life.

If the opportunity would have made itself available, I would have sought Mr. Lewenza out to tell him thank you.

I still don't like unions. But now, having returned to Windsor almost nine years ago now, I can say that I do have an appreciation for the level of commitment those who belong to the brotherhood feel. I still believe that this union will one day be the end of manufacturing employment in Windsor – and in Detroit – as they will likely scare away any new manufacturers from considering these areas to build plants and provide good wages.

But I no longer see unions in the belittling manner that I previously did. I better understand the good they have done in the community, the good intentions I believe they strived to realize, and their commitment to grow stronger for what they believe is the good of the community.

But whether it is- in the long run – good for the community remains to be seen. And Windsor may be seeing it sooner than we think.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Mountain That Blocks The Molehill

I would like to think I am an efficient worker.

You know, identify my task, the steps it takes to do the job, acquire the tools I need, and then tackling the task.

But it doesn't always work out that way.

Yesterday, getting ready for today's family Canadian Thanksgiving events at our house, I spent the day doing the fall chores.

The first task on my list was to take the screen out of our outer front door, and replace it with the storm glass door window. When I went into the garage to get my tools and find the glass window insert for the door, I saw everything I need buried under or behind a pile of things that had no business being there.

The tools were buried at the bottom of my garage workbench, covered with papers, toy's, and boxes of things still boxed in the garage since we moved.

The glass window insert was safe against the far wall in the corner of the garage, but now impeding it's access were bags of unused potting soil, boxes of components that when put together are the pump to our recently closed swimming pool, and yet a another collection of boxes from the move – not yet un-packed.

If you neglect to unpack a box after you move, I, in my familiar Georgia speak, refer to that box as "un-unpacked".

As I stood there and looked over this pile of undone work standing before me and the task at hand, I had another one of those de ja vu moments.

When I first met my lovely wife Darlene, she lived in an apartment at the top of an old dilapidated house in the heart of the little town of Amherstburg. During one of my weekend visits, she brought out a new mailbox to hang at her door by her tiny little entrance. And as a test to determine my worthiness as a handy man, she asked if I could hang her new mailbox for her.

She handed me a screw driver, and the nice new plastic mailbox to replace the rusted tin one there now.

"Piece of cake", I said. And I took the screw driver and mailbox package downstairs and out her little private side entrance.

I started by simply removing the existing rusted box from the grungy aluminum siding. I took out the new mailbox from the packaging and held it up in place. Amazingly enough, the screw holes to mount the new box were in the exact same place as the existing holes. No drilling would be required.

"This is too easy", I thought to myself.

But the mailbox looked noticeably new laid over the grunge on the siding. I decided I needed to clean it. Back inside and up the stairs I went to get a bucket of soap and a scrub brush. When I returned, Darlene's neighbor Mike was walking up his laneway and into his house.

"What-cha-up-to Fred?" asked Mike.

"Hanging a mailbox", I said – holding up the box as to prove my task.

So I scrubbed the grunge from the site of the old mailbox. I stood back to examine the area. It was very clean now, but the wall ooked like a big hole of clean in a wall full of grunge. So I cleaned some more.

Paul, Dar's neighbor on the other side of the house came walking down the street.

"What-cha-doin Fred?"

"Hanging a mailbox".

We stood there looking at the clean spot in the wall of grunge.

"Let's get my power washer out" said Paul, and together we marched to his backyard garage to dig out his power washer and some detergent. And we grabbed a beer from his beer fridge.

Guys always have a beer when they are doing yard work together. It's one our 'Man-Laws'.

We were in the process of washing the wall when Mike came back outside and walked over to us. He brought himself a beer, because, well, he saw us working.

"What're you guys doin?" asked Mike.

"Hanging a mailbox" replied Paul.

The wall now looked pristine and proper for a brand new mailbox. We stood back – the three of us, and enjoyed a sip or two of our beers as we examined our accomplishment.

"Wall looks great now" said Paul.

"Yeah, but look at how ugly all these weeds are by Dar's door", said Mike.

We marched together over to Mike's shed and found some spades and a garden rake. We dug the weeds up and raked the ground even. Again we sat back to enjoy our accomplishment with a beer.

"Needs some plants", said Mike.

So we put our beers down and marched through the secret gate Paul built in his backyard fence to the Canadian Tire parking lot behind his house. We marched into the garden centre and after some debate, we picked up some flowers, shrubs and a miniature fir tree. We carted our new garden items back through the secret gate and over to the entrance of Dar's apartment.

We plotted and spaced the flowers, shrubs, and plants out in the area. When all were planted we removed the hose the from the power washer and soaked the beds so the plants could take hold.

"Looks great", I stated.

"We have a lot of flowers left over", said Mike. There sat three trays of Impatients that we had yet to even get to.

"You know, those would look great over here", said Paul – pointing to an area around a young elm tree in the walk way area.

"And over here", said Mike – pointing along the front of a old wooden fence that divided the front and back yards.

So we dug and we planted and we raked and watered. And another hour later we had created two beautiful little gardens. And we had consumed about three beers each.

"Hey, I still have to hang that mailbox", I said. I walked over, picked up the screwdriver, the two screws that came with the mailbox, and mounted it.

We were sitting in the shade of the elm tree between our two new gardens when Darlene's voice was heard through the upstairs window.

"Did you hang that mailbox yet?", she hollered.

"Yep, come see", I hollered back.

"It's just a mailbox", came her reply. And back she went to whatever she was doing.

"She has to come down soon", I said. "If for nothing else, to see what no-good we're up to".

So we sat there talking guy stuff, on the cool grass of the shade of the tree and drinking a couple more beers – waiting for Dar to come down to see her surprise.


That was such a great afternoon. I do miss Mike and Paul as they were both in our wedding party when we finally got married. And I wonder what they are doing these days, as we left Amherstburg shortly after our youngest daughter was born.

So I spent yesterday moving and sorting re-piling all the contents of my garage and my workbench. And then I wrestled and swore while I replaced the screen door with the storm glass insert.

And when I was done, the door screen replaced with the winter glass, and my garage pristine for the first time since we moved into the house, I cracked a nice cold bottle of beer and looked at my accomplishment.

And I thought how much better the beer would taste if only Mike and Paul were there to enjoy it with me.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Just because I don’t go to church does not mean I do not believe in God.

Just because I don't go to church does not mean I do not believe in God.

I think this is a fairly common approach these days to faith.

There are those who believe that church is the foundation to faith.

And there are those who believe that there is no God.

And somewhere in the middle there are those who – as I just stated – believe but do not think the answers are to be found in cathedral and read from a book.

Well, I honestly do not mean to state this so dismissingly. The book is the Bible, or the Koran, or whatever other doctrine may be held up as indisputable truth.

So I really should capitalize the "B" in Book.

And I do not write this lightly. I do not state this mockingly, nor with any meaning of malice or contempt.

If I were to be measured my position between two sides of the spectrum, faith or atheism, I am certain I would be placed much closer to the side of faith.

"Then why don't you go to Church?" you might ask.

I have gone to church in my days. Many different churches actually. Like many of you, I have gone to listen and to try to objectively discern what it is that I believe. My faith is to the extent that I do know that God is there. And I do know that God is a compassionate, loving, completely objective deity.

God – in my faith – does not choose sides.

He does not choose sides in times of war. He does not answer one person's prayer to be chosen over another. All – in my faith – are God's children.

Even the atheist

And in every church I have gone to, I have always felt that the person standing before and speaking from the Book, is actually trying to sell their faith to me.

The person standing before me has devoted a great deal of time and consideration to their own exploration of their church. At least most of the time, anyway. And I do not belittle that commitment in any way. But I know this person before me is only another person of flesh and blood. And their conviction to what is true – for as strong and devoted as it may be – is their faith – and their opinion.

Let me try to put it this way.

Think of a person that you know. A person known by many in your social circle. Think about how you feel about this person. List out twenty or so attributes of this person on a sheet of paper.

Then think of those in your circle who also know this person very well. And put yourself in each of those other person's shoes – look through their eyes – and try to think what attributes they may see in this same person. Do that several times over for others in the circle – then compare your lists.

The lists will be different.

Each of those eyes you looked through will have had different experiences with this person. Some good. Some bad. The positive and negative experiences they have had with this person will be different.

Experience is what shapes our opinion. And in my thinking, experience is the most influential definer of faith.

Now think how differently each of those people's experiences with God must be. Because God is so much closer and in one's own heart. Those experiences each shaped their faith in God. Some in disappointment, some in appreciation, some in love and devotion. Some in betrayal.

Because – in my own personal opinion – a God who loves everyone equally cannot please everyone He loves.

And as that person stands before me and reads from the Book, and talks about what each sentence means – I realize that this is what that sentence of the Book means – to them. Some have been taught this is what it means. Others have come to their own conclusion as to its meaning. And some will question what it means.

My Dad taught me as a boy that faith is very important. But how that faith is to be defined is up to me. That I can strengthen my faith anywhere. At home, in my car, at the office sitting at my desk. And that there is risk in the formal accommodations of a cathedral or Church setting. Because the underlying foundation in faith is confidence.

And the formal setting of church is as likely to shake one's confidence in their faith as it is to reinforce it.

So what do I believe? My faith is pretty simple actually.

I believe that there is indeed a deity greater than us. And as I said – He is loving, kind, compassionate. And He loves all of us exactly the same. And that in return for all that He has provided us – all He asks in return is that we do our very best.

Be honest.

Be kind.

Be generous.

Be of service to your fellow man.

Do not take advantage of others misfortunes to profit.

Be understanding.

Be fair.

And be sincere.

Sound familiar?

Imagine if before each action we could take, we could consider these eight points. Our resulting action would have to meet the criteria of these points. Imagine if everyone else did the same.

There would be no bigotry.

There would be no contempt.

There would be no hatred.

There would still be differences of opinion. There would still be diversity in our approaches to life. But there would be no indignation towards others.

And in my own personal opinion – I believe that the great prophets of history were trying to express these same principles. But those that heard the message interpreted it to be a threat to whatever power they held. Perhaps because it was simply inconvenient. Or perhaps because these principles contradict the means by which they reinforced their power.

And in my opinion – this is where the multitudes of division came from to give us the vast array of religions we have today. Each taking a slightly different slant on each of those eight points. And to reinforce their power they insisted that to deviate from their slant will condemn you to an eternity in most horrific prison – hell.

Personally, I do not believe that when we die, we go to heaven or hell. That these are simply tools to restrict our freedom of thought by promising us what is truly the greatest unknown. What happens to us after we die. "If you do like I say, you will live in a glorious after-life", is the promise – much like the promise that a parent will make to their children that a great education will being a bliss full adulthood. "But should you stray from this instruction – you will be condemned to the most horrid existence – forever – with no chance for reprieve".

It seems so childish to me when I put it in these terms. And destructive.

And manipulative.

I believe we make our own heaven and hell here on earth. Simply by the principles we follow. And our hearts commitment to those principles. If a strong principle belief is that you should be rich, yet you life in poverty, your greed shall condemn you to the hell of your failure to achieve wealth. Should you realize you are happy without the wealth – you will suddenly be free of your burden, and achieve a level of peace you might consider to be heaven.

Will I encourage my two little girls to go on to get higher levels of education? Of course I will, because my experience has shown me their opportunities will be much greater if they can achieve such a goal. But it does not mean they will be condemned to a life as a fast order chef if they don't. And they may be well and happy as a short order chef.

I will encourage my daughters to believe in what they want to believe. And I will try to explain the eight principles I listed above. And I will try to show them by my own example. Although at times my example will fail.

Because I love my little girls with all my heart. Equally. Like my Father did my brother Paul and me. Like I think God loves us all.

And I think the God I have put my faith in leads by the best example anyone could follow.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Test Of The Broken Mirror

I'm not a superstitious person.

Except for sports. Because there is no rhyme or reason to sports sometimes. So maybe the pair of shorts I wear will have an influence on the outcome of the Tiger's game.

But of course it won't.

But then again, nobody wants bad luck. I don't. You don't. If you can rationally make a case to do things that might make your luck better, you will probably adopt that case as a rational.

My lovely wife Darlene found a fantastic deal on a professional set of hair cutting tools. Shavers, trimmers, clippers, and scissors. It even had a cape like the barber will put over you.

But it didn't come with a fancy chair. Or a mirror.

Last night, I dragged my poor wife out to the garage, set up a wooden chair from our kitchen dinette set, and I grabbed a cheap plastic cased mirror from the bathroom.

And I pretty much forced her to cut my hair.

So Darlene shaved, and clipped, and trimmed, and snipped, and several hours later she was very proud of the job she did.

Darlene is not a professional hairstylist. In fact her bad back and failing thumbs actually proved to be quite an obstacle for her to overcome.

So I held up the little plastic mirror periodically, and exclaimed each time that she did a great job.

And she did.

Our two little girls came out to see what was going on as we were finally finishing up. And they were quite impressed also.

So we packed up the shaver kit, brushed up the loose hair, grabbed the wooden chair and the plastic cape, and we headed into the house.

"You forgot the mirror, Daddy!" said little Ashley-Rae, who still can't say her R's. "Mirror" came out like "meewer".

"Please grab it, sweetheart", I replied. "But be careful, we don't need seven years bad luck".

As the door started to close on Ashley-Rae stepping through, the mirror hit the ceramic tile in the foyer. And it broke into several large pieces.

Well, poor Ashley-Rae started screaming and crying as loud as if she were just told she could never watch TV again.

"I don't want seven years bad luck, Daddy, I am so sorry!" she said between loud slurping gasps of tears and screams. "I'm so sorry, I wrecked it! Now we won't have a house and we will have to live in the street!", she continued.

We picked up the glass so nobody would step on it and we threw it away. Then we picked up Ashley-Rae. And we tried to explain to her what a superstition is. That it's just a make believe thing. That everything will be ok.

And she finally settled down.

But there is still this little thing in the back of our minds that urks us. That's what's wrong with superstitions. If you think of it hard enough, bad luck will come.

This morning our alarm clock didn't go off.

Bad luck? Maybe.

But luckily Alannah just woke up, and she woke us all up.

Lucky? Maybe.

I guess we can say we are not superstitious, but the test is when you break a mirror.

And by the way, Ashley-Ray had her first cavity filled today.

And she thought it was fun.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Tampa Bay Is A Shoe-In To Win The AL East

I have been told by those in the know that I have a knack for stating the obvious.

Here we roll into the final six games of the 2008 regular season, and it is obvious to me that the Tigers are not going to fulfill Sports Illustrated pre-season prediction and win not only the AL Central, or the American League, or the World Series.

In fact as I write this, Detroit is in game two of a three game series with Kansas City to stay out of the AL Central Basement. And it's not looking good, as game one was lost last night due to bullpen failure, and the Royals just struck early in the first two hitters to take a one – nothing lead in the first.

The Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins are still battling for the AL Central title . In fact, they are playing each other in the next to last series of the year with Chicago taking the first game and leading the Twins by two and a half games. Chicago will finish the year against the Indians of Cleveland, and the Twins against the same Royals my Tigers are facing right now. Only the winner will move on to the playoffs. And in my opinion it will be close but the Twins will take it in the final game of the year.

Write it down.

Because in the AL Central, you have to win the division.

Because the wild card in the American League sits in the East. And the war is on between Tampa Bay and Boston.

Boston is also two and half games back. But they are finishing the season against the Yankees. Against the Yankees in Fenway. And I do not give any edge to Boston in this year of a disgruntled Yankee club who is embarrassed not to be in the playoffs.

No, this year, the edge goes to Tampa Bay. The Devil Rays probably don't even need to make contingency plans. They pretty much have the final four games all wrapped up.

And it breaks my heart. Because the Devil Rays finish the season against my beloved Detroit Tigers. A team I love more than any other team I have ever rooted for – obsessively my friends and family will tell you – ever in my life.

The Devil Rays will face pitching that will struggle to put in six innings, but likely stay in for seven because there is no bullpen. They will face Tiger hitters that sound intimidating – but are meek in these final four games. They will face defense that looks great on paper, but on the field make stupid mistakes and errant throws.

Writing this piece, I feel like a father telling the bully not to be too worried fighting his son, "He may look big, and has a known name", advises the father, "but you should take him no problem."

It just breaks my heart.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Slipping Into Fall

Once again, I am waking up to a beautiful summer morning, sitting on the back patio deck, next to the pool, with Suzy, our black lab retriever curled up at my feet.

But this morning is different. This morning I am wearing a jacket.

This morning I had to wipe the thick layer of dew off the glass patio table before I sat down my laptop.

The nights are cooling down. The sun rises later and sets earlier. Not just here in Windsor, but everywhere north of the equator.

But you already knew this of course. It's most likely happening to you to.

Unless you're in Africa, South America, or Australia. If you are, then lucky you.

Because the Northern Hemisphere is slipping out of summer and into fall.

This morning is special as I write this. Because it is my last chance this year to sit beside the pool and write. My beautiful wife Darlene's brother Glenn is coming over when I finish to help me close the pool. We will drain half the water, put in chlorine and algaecide, remove the hoses and crate up the pump. And then we will put on the black tarpon cover that will be the main back yard fixture until May of next year.

In the summer, our back yard patio deck becomes our family room. Everyone gathers around our glass patio table, under the shade of the umbrella, and we hang out together.

So I sit here now and remember all the great friends that have visited here this summer – sitting at the table, taking a cooling dip in the pool, returning to dry off and enjoy cool sips of whatever their summer pleasure be.

Some friends from as far away as Ireland, others from the northern reaches of Ontario, and some as close as next door. Neighborhood kids splashing in the pool for Ashley-Rae's birthday. Barbeques wafting the smells of hamburgers, sausages, hot dogs, chicken or steaks. Darlene's blender grinding down ice to mix frosty thick margaritas or pina coladas. Cold bottles of bear clanking in cheers with friends, or being enjoyed by myself as the reward for a lawn well cut and trimmed.

There is no time in Windsor like summertime.

Fall is nice to though. The colors of the changing trees, the changing smells in the air. The niceness of sitting outside in cooler weather. Baseball playoffs are just around the corner – although not as sweet when my beloved Detroit Tigers struggle to stay three games out of the basement of the American League Central division standings. No playoffs for them. At least not like we expected just six months ago when summer was still a future glimmer still waiting to arrive.

So today I will busy myself with closing the pool, cutting the lawns, cleaning out the gardens, and readying the yards for fall and then winter. No leaves have fallen yet, but some trees have started changing colors already.

It is indeed a beautiful morning to sit beside the pool and write. But as I watch Hoppy the squirrel carrying once green walnuts and acorns back to his storing spot – cheeks bulging as he hops so delicately, accurately, and speedily over the fence posts that line our back yard border – I realize that like Hoppy, I better to get to work to welcome in autumn.

No matter how much I would like to avoid this changing of the seasons, you can't run and hide from fall. Time marches on as this big blue ball we all live on spins continually around the sun, and we are almost to the position in that orbit that is fall.

I guess it's time to uncover the pool table in the family room. But it's still covered with laundry as the warmer clothes are brought out and the summer clothes packed up and away for another season to come.

I wouldn't mind fall so much except that I know what comes next.

And as I have said here before … I am not a winter person.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Now Yer Messin With A …

Amazing how music finds memories in the very back recesses of your brain.

It happened to me just today.

I left the office today and marched across the parking lot to my little Sebring. It was a beautiful afternoon of full sun, so I rolled down all the windows and opened the moon roof all the way for that convertible effect.

Detroit has a great radio station, 94.7 that plays classic rock just like the play list that my favorite station in Atlanta, 96 Rock, used to play when I was a teenager in Lawrenceville, Georgia.

It was one of the best things about moving to Windsor from London. A 94.7 made me feel like a kid back in Atlanta again. To me, it's a great radio station.

As I pulled on to the expressway, an old song came on that brought back memories like only music can do.

Even songs you don't like, but still remember, will bring back great memories.

This was an old song by a band called Nazareth. In all it's crudity. The song is called "Sum ub ah Bich" (or something that might sound like that anyway…).

So at the now graying age of forty six, I turned it up real loud, put on my sunglasses and reclined the seat of the car back a bit.

"Now yer messin' with a … son of a …"

And my mind went back to when my family first moved to Georgia in 1975.

At that time we were living in Apple Valley Minnesota. South of Saint Paul – Minneapolis – just outside another small town called Rosemount.

Minnesota was – at least to me as a boy of twelve or thirteen – a very sterile and clean environment. Everyplace was well groomed. Gardens and the greenest of grass. And the people in Minnesota were very … well .. I guess "proper" is the best term that comes to mind. Boring – but sterile and proper.

My Dad received notice in the summer of 1974 that he could choose the transfer of his choice to become a regional manager for 3M company's business products division. The choices were San Diego California, and Atlanta Georgia.

Dad chose Atlanta.

Mom and Dad took a trip together to go look for our new house. And they found one in a little town I have written here about before, Lawrenceville. It was a nice subdivision, with a community co-op style club around the corner called Plantation Swim and Racket Club – or PSRC for short.

When we arrived, the culture shock was immense.

We were Canadians living in the United States as green-card-carrying landed immigrants. And in Michigan, where we lived when I was a little boy in elementary school, and then Minnesota, where we lived when I was in middle school (grades seven and eight), we fit right in. Minnesotans could easily be confused for Canadians – at least I think so.

But Georgia – well that's a whole different bowl of peach cobbler. A completely new slice of pecan pie.

The food was different. The attitudes were different. The rules were a lot more relaxed. And well, the pattern of speech was different.

I remember sitting in my very first class in the eighth grade – a trailer – a busted down trailer – with graffiti on the desks and walls – dirty and smelly – waiting amongst this strange trailer full of southern kids – all talking like a completely different language. It was English – but damned if I knew what they were saying.

"That thar's the new kid, I dun wonder where he come from?" said a pretty little girl a couple of seats ahead of me.

"Don't know, but he's kind-a funny lookin."

I guess I was pretty funny looking to them. I had a short haircut my Mom would approve of, I was short, and pudgy. I was also very pale in comparison to southerners. I was just new from Minnesota – and Minnesota wasn't really a sun tanning paradise.

"Hey kid, where y'all from?"

"I'm sorry, what did you say?" I replied.

I thought I had landed in Mayberry. I thought "all these kids couldn't really talk this way, could they?"

In came the teacher. Mrs Blylock.

"Thank God", I thought. "She'll tell these kids to stop faking their Gomer Pyle accents."

"Mornin' y'all", said Mrs. Blylock. "How was y'alls summer?"

"Oh my God", I thought, "This is real. Holy cow these people really are serious".

Every single syllable word was spread out to become two or three syllables. The pitch of their voices went up and down in a sing song manner as they practically sang their words. I wish I could write music to express it to you more effectively.

But as time went on, I adapted.

I learned that y'all meant you. And all y'all meant everyone present. I learned that yonder meant someplace over there – or thar . And dun (done) didn't mean something you completed, but just simply added action to the sentence. You didn't just do something. You dun did it.

Then I was assimilated.

And that year of eighth grade at Lilburn Middle School went along quite nice. There were big kids in my class that I looked up to, like Kirk Ewing and Damon Huston. On our street it was Bill Huseby and Mike Lefevbre. The cool guys. The big guys. The guys who weren't scared to fight. Not bully's. They were all pretty damned good guys.

After eighth grade was over, and summer was kicking in, I started playing baseball in Lawrenceville's little league and swimming for the local club PSRC. I was pretty good at both. And I also hit a growth spurt. I grew somewhere between six inches and a foot in a single month.

And now I was as big as the guys I looked up to.

And I learned what confidence felt like.

But now to get back to the point about a song bringing back memories … It was the first day of high school at Berkmar High. Waiting for the bus with my now neighborhood buddies. And the bus pulled up to let us on.

As I got on the bus, an old dilapidated version of a bus with those big green seats with the springs shot out and rips bandaged up with silver duct tape, there was something weird. The driver was a hippy looking girl probably in her early twenties. And she had … an eight track tape player … in the bus? And it was playing Rock music. Pretty heavy music.

And as I sat down in my seat, the music blared …

"Now yer messin with a … son of a …."

"So this is high school.." I thought as I sat with my buddies. "This is pretty cool".

And when I got to school, my new found height, my athletic build, and the muscles in my arms – not to mention my deep tan, was noticed. The guys I used to look up to came up to me to say "hey" – southern for hi.

And I said "hey, how y'all doin?"

And I was converted.

And on the way home from school, the hippy chick bus driver was playing her eight track tape again. And I remember thinking to myself as I sat next to a pretty neighborhood girl …

"Now yer messin with a son of a …"

Monday, September 01, 2008

The Double-Saturday and the Tale of the Phone Call

Here I am again, another Sunday morning sitting on the back patio. Trying to wake up.

Only this time it's actually Monday morning. Labor Day Monday morning.

Long weekend holidays are great because it's like having two Saturdays in a row. And who doesn't enjoy a good double-Saturday?

This morning Suzy the black lab puppy and I are waking up together out here with a gorgeous blue sky and warm breeze. The water in the pool is crystal clear but now starting to cool down to the chilly seventies.

It's beautiful out.

My only wish today is that Suzy could fetch me another cup of coffee.

Now that would be a sight. The coffee mug bouncing as Suzy's teeth gnarled around the black handle. Coffee sloshing out of the cup and the nearly empty remains set in a thunk at my feet as she hopes I drain the cup hoping I'll toss it into the yard for her to fetch another. "Suzy!" I would say - in my best puppy disciplining voice, "You put too much cream in my coffee, bad girl".

But that could never be. I can't get Suzy to poop in the same place in the yard, let along get her to pour from a carafe without spilling and not put the spoon you stir with in the sugar.

Lassie, maybe. But not Suzy.

If poor little Timmy were ever trapped in a well, and Suzy were his only hope to be found and rescued, poor Timmy would find that Suzy would rather reach her head down and lick him to death rather than find help. And if she did venture off, she would be distracted the first time a squirrel came by. Poor little Timmy.

But Suzy is very happy today. Jumping and tail wagging and just plain excited.

Suzy is happy because we are staying home today. Poor Suzy spent yesterday locked in the garage with the fan on and the garage door open just a crack to let fresh air in. Poor Suzy.

Suzy was locked in the garage because, well, we had two Saturdays back to back. And so on the first Saturday – the real Saturday, young Katie came over to babysit the girls – and Suzy, while Dar and I headed to the lake to visit our other great friends John and Darlene.

Now this gets confusing, because both my wife and her best friend Darlene have the same name. And both answer to Dar for short. The confusion gets more interesting because my Darlene's first husband is also named John. This caught me off guard one summer afternoon eight years ago when Dar and I had just started dating. Dar had gone off to run some errands and I was watching a ballgame on TV. And the phone rang.

I made the mistake of answering it.

"Hi, is Darlene there?" said a nice elderly lady on the other side.

"No, she is out running errands right now", I answered. "May I take a message?"

"Why is this the Fred I have heard about?", asked the nice lady.

"Why yes it is."

"My name is Louise", I am John's mother. I am so happy to talk to you", said the nice lady.

But I only knew one John associated with Darlene. And that was her ex husband. I have met him once since and he is a great guy, actually.

"We have heard so much about you", continued this very pleasant lady, "and we can't wait to finally meet you!".

"I .. uh .. err. Well, that will be very nice."

The nice lady who was Louise, John's mother, then went on to invite Darlene and I to her house on the lake front in Colchester – a cottage community on the southern tip of our Essex County community – the most southern point – other than Point Pele – in Canada. The whole state of Michigan is north of this little Canadian town.

"It's a surprise celebration for Darlene and John" she continued. "To celebrate their anniversary!".

"Well, that does sound great", I said – lying because I had never heard of anyone ever being invited by their girlfriends ex-mother-in-law to the an anniversary party for her and her ex-husband.

"Should we bring anything?" I asked.

"Oh, just yourself, please. Oh Darlene and John will be so happy to see you."

I actually held the receiver away from my face and looked at it. I shook my head in disbelief and put it back to my mouth. "Indeed this will be a surprise", I replied. "And very interesting".

"Yes, well then we will see you both then?"

"I wouldn't miss it", I said. It was the most honest statement I had spoken the whole conversation.

I hung up the phone and I resumed watching the ballgame. Shortly after, Darlene had returned home from her shopping.

"Anybody call?" she asked.

"Funny you should ask", I said. I told her verbatim the phone call.

"Oh, that's great!" replied my then new girlfriend Darlene. "You'll love their place. It's on the lake, and right next to the marina. Louise is so sweet, and John's house is right beside hers".

"I can't wait!", I said. "I've never been to an anniversary party for my girlfriend and her ex-husband. This should be quite a hoot. Maybe I'll bring a banjo and wear my straw Stetson. I wonder where my old cowboy boots are …"

Darlene looked at me and realized. And she laughed so hard that I couldn't stop her for several minutes – each moment getting more annoyed by the fact that she was laughing at me. Not with me, but right in my face.

"Yes, I found it humorous too", I said in my classic dry sarcastic manner.

"No, no, no, you got it all wrong!" she answered. "You haven't met Darlene and John yet!"

"There is another Darlene?"

And so she explained. And then I laughed and laughed to.

And that anniversary party was actually quite great. And when I met Louise, who was indeed a very nice woman, we both laughed as I explained my misunderstanding on the phone.

"I'm surprised you didn't hang up on me", laughed Louise.

It turned out she was right. They are great friends. And have been ever since. In fact they are now called Aunt Darlene and Uncle John by our little girls. And Darlene is in fact both the girls God Mother. And Katie is their sixteen year old daughter whom my girls adore.

Sadly, Louise passed on several years ago after a long tough battle with cancer. Darlene and John rented out then sold their house, moving into Louise's and renovating it to the beautiful estate it is now.

So that is where Darlene and I went this weekend. And Katie came to babysit our girls, and Suzy. We had a great barbeque and a bonfire that night. In their back yard, with Lake Erie as a back drop we sat in this sunken area surrounded by Stonehenge type tocks around the biggest bonfire a committee of friends could build. The total gathering was about ten couples and a couple of guys John works with. It was a great group. And as you do around the bon fire, you tell stories as you sip the beverage of your choice.

And so I told this story again to this new crowd of friends.

The next morning, I drove back into Windsor to pick up Katie and my girls to take them out to the house on the lake. And poor Suzy was put in the Garage. We took the girls to the Harrow fair – as county a fair as one could ask for with rides, and games, and horse riding and showing contests and a barn full of animals to meet. Late that night we all arrived back to our own home in Windsor. To a very happy Suzy who found it was bedtime shortly after we came home exhausted from our two Saturdays in a row.

So as I started to tell you, before I was distracted, It's a beautiful summer Sunday-Monday morning out in the backyard on the patio.

The coffee is perfect, and Suzy is very excited.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Start Your Engines

The last week in August spells the end of Summer. Summer as we know it anyway. The true end of Summer comes September twenty first.

But in most work environments, this will be the start of the busy season. Most places will ramp back up to nearly their normal full pace. Oh sure, there will be some who were smart enough to take this last week off as vacation time. But for the most part, now things will start to get busy.

The traffic to work will return to it's normally congested state.

The line ups at the drive-thru coffee shop will again line up into the street.

The number of emails requesting immediate responses to their urgent needs will again fill the first three pages of you inbox.

The number of times the phone will ring about those emails will resume their normal frequency.

The number of meetings your invited to will increase.

Because everybody is back from vaction.

Decisions can be made.

Action items assigned.

And performances again be evaluated.

And now things can get done.

Sigh.

So be ready.

Summers over and people are back at work.

But the good news is that next week, everyone will be facing the same dilemma as we are. And everyone will be hesitant to let summertime pass. So the attitudes of next week may still remain a bit more casual.

Until school starts. Until it is officially September.

Then hang on to your hat, boy. Because everyone will be back and ready to get back to work.

So start your engines. And do your best this week to be ready for next week.

Because my friends, I am sad to tell you, Summer as we know it is over.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

From Six to Five


Last March, our little family of four expanded to five. My two little girls got their wish as a friend of my beautiful wife Darlene brought over a six month old little kitten.


She had a white body with a black cape and a black little mask with her white nose sticking out. As a family we had a vote for the name, and my eldest daughter won – coming up with the name Skye.


I wanted to call her Buster, but Alannah and Ashley-Ray insisted she was a girl, and needed a proper little girls name. So the kitten was called Skye.


I am always out voted by the women in my house.


This little kitten had lived a tough life already, abandoned on the streets and scrounging for morsels of food, she arrived at our door very timid and frightened. The first two days she hid in our partially finished bathroom downstairs. Only when Alannah dragged a toy mouse on the floor would she come out. And she had always favored Alannah ever since.


During the day, Skye would follow Alannah all through the house. She would sit beside her on the couch while they played games or on the floor with her while she watched TV. At night, after the girls were tucked into bed with stories read, Skye would sneak into Alannah's room and cuddle up to her while she slept.


Sometimes Skye would sleep with Ashley-Ray – and she took to an oversized Barbie doll house in her room and tried to make it her own – claiming Kitty squatters rights. But in the end, it was Alannah that Skye would cuddle with.


In April, we got a new puppy, a little black Labrador Retriever that had already been named Suzy. And for a couple of weeks Skye was forgotten as Suzie got all the new pet attention. Forgotten by all except Alannah, who went out of her way to make sure Skye got all the loving a kitten deserved.


Suzie and Skye became great friends. After the initial bum sniffing ceremony – the two moved their relationship to playful pals. Skye would often sneak up on Suzy in the house, punch her in the nose with her declawed paw, and dart away while Suzy tried her best to punch her back with her nose.


Often, Skye would sit at the back patio door – a sliding glass door that usually found Suzy on the outside lying looking back at Skye. Or she would lay on the sill of the giant front window watching the flowers in the front gardens blow around and chase the bees and bugs on the other side of the glass.


Skye never once came outside at our house – but she watched it more intently than a senior citizen watches the weather network on TV.


Down in the family room, Skye would often dart around the pool table as we played, chasing the end of the cue stick or attacking a loose chalk cube that had fallen to the floor.


Last weekend, amidst all the happenings of company coming and going, poor Skye – once again squatting in the big Barbie dollhouse – found herself closed into Ashley-Rae's bedroom. She didn't make a sound – as Skye could never really meow louder than a whisper. When she was discovered, she was playing with a toy diaper from one of Ashley-Rae's dolls. The kind of doll that wets herself – and the diaper used over and over again.


While Skye never ever chewed anything before, this time she chewed and ate the stuffing from that diaper. There was a little mess, but we didn't think there was any cause for concern. Not until the next morning when a visitor informed me that the cat had made a mess on the downstairs carpet.


The mess was unlike any I had seen before. It was kitty poop and vomit together. And when we found Skye the kitty, she looked very weak and tired. She would not eat or drink unless pushed, and that was always thrown back up.


Yesterday evening, Darlene and the girls took Skye the Kitty to the vet. They expected the vet to explain what was wrong and that he would fix her. I was driving on the expressway on my way home from work when my cell phone rang. It was Darlene, and she asked that I please get over there right away.


The scene was odd. In this beautiful little room, sat Skye looking sickly and tired. Darlene was crying, yet the girls were behind her fighting over who could use the red crayon as they colored on paper the vets assistant had given them.


At that glance I knew this was the end of Skye the kitty.


The doctor explained to me that Skye was suffering from an entangled and perforated bowel. That her temperature was way to high, and that the prognosis was slim to none to save her. Should we opt for surgery, she had only a small chance of survival, and then not for long. And yes, the operation would cost a thousand dollars.


The suggestion was made that I bring the girls back into the room, explain the circumstance, and allow them the opportunity to say goodbye to Skye. The scene was heart wrenching. Alannah and Ashley-Rae both fought the idea and insisted we leave there now with Skye and take her home. But I had to tell them no. Skye seemed to perk up at Alannah's presence while Alannah hugged and kissed her kitty and told her how much she loved her. Ashley-Rae had a moment as well, but Alannah went back and kissed Skye goodbye.


I took the girls home, while Darlene stayed with Skye through the end. When she came home hours later her eyes were red and swollen.


And so our little family shrank from six to five.


There are lessons in life that we all must learn.


How to love. How to care. How to cherish.


And how to let go and say goodbye.


The girls are now learning the pain of these lessons. And how to deal with their grief. And my hope is that this experience will help them deal with ones promised to come in the future as our loved ones age over the years.


So there was purpose to Skye the kitty. She was a teacher. And she taught both Alannah and Ashley-Ray to love, cherish, and say good bye.



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