Olympic Adventure

So the other day my daughter Emma reminded me that it was one year ago that I left for the Olympics in Korea to drive for NBC.  I knew this anniversary was approaching but the actual day I really hadn’t looked at the calendar to figure out when it arrived. To mark the occasion I will share some recollections of that adventure.  I made a conscious decision before I left for Korea I was going to keep a diary of all the things I experienced. I had no idea that journal would swell to 65 pages so I’ve attempted to edit here.

A few preparations were made in the months leading up to my departure but until I got past New Years it hadn’t really registered what I was about to embark on. I may have been blocking it out not wanting to think of the twelve plus hours on a plane. Maybe it was the time away from family but until I actually started thinking about what I needed to pack the week before I left the scope of what I was about to do hadn’t really clicked. I always think I like to travel but what I like most is getting back to the creature comforts of home.  Saying goodbye to my girls was a bit surreal, the longest I’ve ever gone without seeing them is about a week. This felt more permanent and no one seemed to choke up about it except me. Saying goodbye to JoAnn at the airport was much harder because I know how much I rely on her, but don’t tell her I said that. We were both a bit teary-eyed though we tried to play it down.  For better or worse I was now on my own.

As it turned out the flying was pretty good, I had lots to keep me entertained however I didn’t sleep all night. Once on the ground in a terminal that opened just the day before I saw my first NBC sign held by a greeter to meet me and one other from Vancouver. We were walked over to meet a growing group that had gathered from a few arriving planes and we waited for the last few to arrive. My first experience at eating in Korea was a total fail as even 7-11 didn’t have anything I recognized as food. This may be harder then I thought. We were piled onto a coach for the three-hour drive across the country and I think I fell asleep before we got out of the airport as the next thing I remember was exiting a highway and seeing a huge cross-section of the Olympic rings all lit up. That was only minutes from my hotel.IMG_7303.jpg

As I checked in it really hadn’t occurred to me till I opened my room door that I might actually have a roommate. I recall reading that in the literature I was sent months ago and low and behold there was a fella lying on a bed watching TV. Was he a murderer or psychopath I didn’t know and I was too tired to care. I’ve been travelling for 18 plus hours and really didn’t want to be social but I made the best of it.  After pleasantries he offered me a stiff drink, this guy already gets me. His name was Mark and he’s a cabbie from London.  I already loved his cockney accent and it became apparent over beers in the bar that we had a lot in common.  The one downfall of this hotel we were both stuck in was that it was in the middle of nowhere. I mean there is nothing close by, no stores, no coffee shops, no bars, no town, just nothing. Who builds a luxury hotel in the middle of nowhere? You either bought what the hotel was selling or you did without. It’s only redeeming quality was the entire lobby was full of Olympic memorability with actual gold medals from just about every game dating back to 1900. On our first full day in Korea, one of Mark’s cabbie friends who was already entrenched took us for a drive around town. It was just nice to get out of the hotel. I was pleased that same day to finally see a familiar face from home when Red who is the guy who got me involved with the Olympics dropped by.IMG_7446.jpg

After that day off to recover from our flights Mark and I learned we were both eerily similar in so many ways sharing the same compulsions and irritations to many mundane daily things. It’s a scary thought I’d been billeted with my UK doppelganger.  Day two began with classroom orientation where we met other new driving recruits. After many years working with drivers you start to recognize traits quickly and a couple of the fellas I knew I was never going to be buddies with but the guy sitting next to me caught my attention right away. A Welshman named Jerry living in Spain that test drove sports cars and he packed a wicked sense of humour. Both Mark and I liked him straight away. Next, we were all loaded into a few vans and shuttled into Alpensia which was where the main broadcast center and NBC’s facility was located. At this point, we had no idea how much time we’d spend around that place over the next 6 weeks. This was the main hub for Olympic broadcasting around the world. First off we got our accreditation tags. These had sent to us last month but now it was time to have it laminated and turned into jewelry we’d wear everywhere till we left the country.  If I knew the photo I had taken last summer was going to appear on a huge screen at every checkpoint I passed through I might have at least smiled. We were then combined with a bunch of other new arrivals that got started training a few days earlier, even more drivers from the UK. A lovely retired couple from Liverpool and another newlywed couple from Poland by origin that now lived in London and a Russian guy among others. We started our tour by looking at the main stadium for the opening ceremony then visited many snow venues.IMG_7008.jpg

On day two of our training tour, we met up with all the same folks and were driven down the mountain to the coastal city of Gaugnuan for the first time where all the ice venues were located.  We all took turns at the wheel and I for one was happy to drive because a few of the others scared the crap out of me. Gaugnuan was a huge city and I couldn’t help but think there was no way I would be able to drive here without getting lost. The learning curve at that point was pretty much vertical and it seemed like a lot to take in before the games started in three weeks. Some of us were given our vans on this day like Mark but not Jerry or myself which just helped solidify our friendship. We started training as a team, taking turns at the wheel and challenging each other on how to get to different venues. Having Mark with us was invaluable because as a cabbie this sort of knowledge-based learning how to dissect a city was something he was very familiar with. His approach rubbed off on us and I had no idea others were not training as hard. I finally got a van after a couple days but Jerry would still be another week before he got his so we continued to train as a duo.  As a test driver for McLaren he’s used to pushing vehicles to there limit but at times I think he was just seeing how far he could push me before I said slow down. I never did but I was uncertain how many photo radar tickets our van had been captured in so I smiled and waved at everyone as we flew by.IMG_8407.jpg

After a week we were all moved out of our hotel in no man’s land and punted to the main media village on the coast.  The Athletes and Media Villiage was a security zone you could not enter without accreditation on your vehicle or around your neck. The whole complex was a series of 24 story condo towers. What I didn’t enjoy however were the fact they covered everything up with plastic from kitchen cabinets and sink to the floor and even some walls. I mean what kind of damage do they think we can do in a month? I can’t help but think the cost of this protection and the labour to install and remove it from thousands of suites must have been more money then any potential loss and damage could ever cost.  It was not very welcoming, to say the least.

The biggest issue I had with the village was checking in. Here’s a tip, having people on the front desk dealing with foreigners from around the world it’s a good idea they speak at least one other languages besides Korean. That part wasn’t well thought out and here’s where being on my own was trying. I was losing patience and this is where JoAnn would have taken over. The cafeteria to feed us breakfast every morning was a tarted up part of the parking garage under the condo complex with carpet and heaters. There were equally haphazard constructed laundry facilities also in the parking garages for us to use.  The initial hope was that my two UK pals and I would share one of the three bedroom condo’s we were moving into but that hope was quickly dashed and Mark was no longer my roomie.  Jerry too was separated and  I would never get to know either of my two new flatmates, I don’t even remember their names. Mark, Jerry and I did still continue to train together and we even enjoyed days off together.IMG_8128.jpg

We decided the DMZ was the place to see. Well, I pitched the idea and they both bought it, I mean how often do you get to see a country that makes the news every night for all the wrong reasons that are not the US.  It was the first touristy thing we’d done away from the Olympics and it was refreshing.  I personally thought we were going to die and make the news ourselves that night, when Jerry pulled up to the checkpoint with guys carrying automatic weapons, pointed our way that didn’t look amused.  We had missed the turnoff to get registered for the DMZ because the sign was in Korean (go figure). At first, we thought we were at the border to North Korea causing an international incident but these were South Korean soldiers protecting the entrance into the DMZ.  Properly registered we returned and the same armed guards smiled and let us proceed. The only photo of the three us together was taken here looking towards the North. It may be my favourite photo from the whole trip.baad3b9b-10d9-467d-8443-aa2cd1489359.jpg

At the end of two weeks of training, we were all pretty much ready for the games to start. We’d toured around and inside every facility pretty much whether we were allowed in or not. Jerry literally pushing me to the top of the Ski jump and I do mean the top, up the stairs, outside on the roof. Great view, but dam cold! Thanks, Jerry. At least our game missions were finally coming in. Both Mark and Jerry had been designated exclusive drivers and been given their assignments. I was in the motor pool and had no idea what I was up too till I was pulled into the dispatch office. I was given the task to drive around a VIP guest NBC had flown in, former news anchor Katie Couric.

We hit it off right away and I loved watching her transform from passenger to news reporter. She liked to do live Instagram posts so sometimes I would hold her phone and film her, I can now take being interviewed by a News anchor off my bucket list.  It was amazing to watch her delivering a cold intro as if a million people were watching her on the nightly news.  I just followed her around as she pointed things out or got into an impromptu interview with members of the Belarusian Olympic team on the beach. She was always engaging with the camera and ever conscious to never have dead air, it was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. Her husband John had joined her by opening night and with the opening ceremony done now, it was all about having some fun. IMG_8511.jpgAll the early training we did with no crowds, no busses, no army of volunteers or security checkpoints couldn’t really prepare you for the actual games themselves. One way streets went into effect and many of the routes we were used too changed overnight so it was a quick readjustment to the new reality of the games. Once where there was no traffic could now take hours just to get off the highway. Our dedicated Olympic lanes and passes were no match for limited street access and the ridiculous number of highway buses now clogging every artery. The new reality of the games had me attending as many events as possible, not just with Katie and John but when they wanted to be picked up later I got up early to go see sports I was interested in. I had a full access pass and rock star parking for my van at every venue so why wouldn’t I attend?  It was weird to see the stadiums full when only a few days ago we were touring them empty. Witnessing Canada doing so well was amazing. The very first-speed skating event I ever attended Canada won gold. I saw many more Canadians win gold and I never tired of it though I saw a few heartbreaking losses as well as our Women’s hockey team. That one really hurt.IMG_9133.jpg

After I said goodbye to Katie and John at the airport I was put onto another guest of NBC, being SNL comedian Leslie Jones. I knew very little about her but I saw the first Instagram video she posted in Korea knocking the driver that picked her up at the airport for playing a 3 hour Andy Williams playlist. I had appropriate tunes programmed the next morning when I picked her up for the first time and nothing was ever said about my musical selections to me or on Instagram.  She had a small entourage which meant I had to give up the van I’d gotten so used to for 5 weeks for something bigger and far less comfortable for everyone.   She was indeed a personality but like many actors what you see on screen is not what you see in private. In public it was like a switch that went to 11 but in the van, she was more the person I expect she is most of the time. I enjoyed the public persona because she made us all laugh but I liked the private Leslie and felt privileged to be able to see that side of her.  She had no formal duties to attend too so it was all about going to events and making viral videos. I loved being paid to watch the games live. That was literally my job description as I was also offering security and guidance to get them into the venue and safely back to the van.  After a week she and her posse left town I was without a purpose for a few days and then I saw what the motor pool really did.IMG_9434.jpg

It was during this time on my way to a hotel in Alpensia early one morning I had the most unexpected emotional moment of the games. I had taken a banana from the breakfast buffet and on a quiet stretch of road approaching Swiss house, I finished it and as I have done so many times before I lowered the passenger’s window and I whipped the peel out towards the frozen ditch. I was instantly having a flash of my father and had tears streaming down my face. You see, I never came up with this move on my own, it was a learned manoeuvre I’d seen my dad do for years in the mornings on the way to work. I started chucking banana peels out of my car 30 years ago because he did it and every time I do, I think of him but this was my first time doing so in Korea. Here I am on the other side of the world from home having a moment thinking of my dad. Would he be proud of what I was doing participating in the Olympics or just think I was a fool for travelling so close to North Korea? A little of both I suspect, he was like that and I missed him even more.

I remember all the hotels and venues but not who I transported in my few days as part of the motor pool it was all a blur. The one exception was my last ride during the games. I was tasked with picking up some VIP’s from the hotel Mark, Jerry and I met at and taking them to the closing ceremony. I had no idea who was getting in my van till they appeared. The gold medal men’s curling team who I watched win gold live just the night before but I wasn’t able to stay to see them awarded their medals. No worries they were all still wearing them less than 24 hours later so this was my first close up with a medal from these games. We had to wait for one more rider who turned out to be Olympic Skiing Royalty Lindsey Vonn. She was not wearing a medal but she has a few golds to her name. That was a heck of a last ride. Like an idiot, I never took a photo because my day job back home dictates you just don’t do that.

The next morning the games were over and it was startling how fast all the volunteers and security personnel disappeared. No more checkpoints, no more busses, no more crowds, where did it all go overnight. I’d been suffering from homesickness for the better part of a month and as departure day approached it seemed like time was slowing down. I was sad it’s all over on one hand but very anxious to get home.  I chatted with JoAnn via text daily or at least we tried, the 17 hour time difference made scheduling chats a challenge plus life was still going on in my absence back home. I had only face time with the girls a couple times so I missed seeing or just hearing them, I missed our home, I missed our bed and maybe most of all I really just missed having someone look after me.

My last working day in Korea it did something I had not seen since my first day, it started to rain on the coast. I was even more homesick as it was starting to look like BC. I did a victory lap around the city of Gaugnuan visiting all the places I’d become so accustomed too from the Hotels to the beach to the Olympic Plaza and the media village. I knew this city so well now and I had no idea if I’d ever return.  As I headed up the mountain one last time towards Alpensia the higher I got the rain turned to snow. With every mountain tunnel, I came through it was snowing harder. This snow was not only sticking it was starting to pile up. It had been pretty warm for a week like spring was on the way but this was one last blast of winter the likes we had not seen during the games. Checking into the hotel for my last night was a treat as I couldn’t get my van up a hill through the now very deep snow. I ended up working till nearly 6 that last night returning vans in the driving snow teaching Brits how it’s done, they all just fell in line behind me. We had to have had 2 feet on the ground by then. I even had to rescue Mark who got his van stuck checking into the same hotel as me. The two of us then had our last meal in Korea together, which resembled our very first, a couple of convenience store bought noodle bowls with a couple of beer chasers.IMG_0314.jpg

Like our first night, we headed to the nearest bar which meant slogging through the snow to get there instead of just an elevator ride to the lobby. Unlike that first night where we had just 2 rounds, I lost count after about 7.  I was properly pissed when we finally stumbled out into the snow hours later. I was just glad I wasn’t leaving till 11 am. Mark met his ride to the airport at 6 am. He would have been lucky to have 2 hours sleep so I can only imagine what he felt like at that hour knowing how bad I felt when I woke up.  I was missing my doppelganger when I got up knowing he was already in Seoul. I was glad I made a couple new friends that shared this adventure with me because the people I cared about most were not here to share any of it. I posted more than I usually do on social media to try to keep them in the loop but its just not the same. For me, that shared experience of what it was like to really experience the games first hand will forever be shared with a couple guys from Great Britan whom I now count as friends. I miss everyone I met really, far too many to name as they all share a part in this chapter of my life. I hold out romantic notions of doing this again one day but I know I’ll never recreate what I experienced in Korea. Looking back now I don’t think of the actual games themselves, the venues, the streets, the traffic, the driving or the constant security I went through daily, I just remember the people I met along the way, they made this experience what it was. I thank them all for being part of this Olympic adventure with me and maybe we’ll do it again in three years.img_0303


Ten Year Gone


Volume #271

So it’s been ten years since you left us so I thought it was high time I got you caught up. It really doesn’t​ matter how old I am when I write to you, I always feel like the little boy in the photo holding a fish standing next to you. The other day on the 12th JoAnn and I celebrated our 23rd wedding anniversary. Well, you totally lost that bet. I think your comment was “I give it ten years, five if she cooks”. As it turns out I kind of like Dutch food, yeah she’s still Dutch and there is nothing I can do about that. The one thing JoAnn seems to be very good at is being a mom so I just stand back and try not to get in the way. Our girls are so lucky, they just won’t know it for a few decades till they start to reflect on heir childhood.


Not sure if you heard about Mom. Back in late 2016, she had a pretty bad fall that landed her in hospital. That spelt the end of her time alone in the house in Smithville. Last year Mike and Ann got her into a great facility close to them in the Falls. It was a bit surreal to help pack up the house as it was the last time many of those things would ever be together under the same roof. On the downside why on earth did you keep some of that crap for so long?

Kate turned 15 two days ago. Only 15, it feels like she’s been a teenager for about a decade rather than just two years. On the upside, we only have 5 more teen years with her, but on the downside, we have her three sisters still yet to crack the teen mark. Kate reminds me of me on so many levels and not the sort of traits I’m all that proud of. Moody, angry, argumentative for no reason, bull-headed, stubborn. She also has a sensitive side she likes to keep locked up and out of reach from everyone which I also understand. Clearly, we did give her the name that suites her as just like her namesake she’s quite good at creating art. She’s not a traditional painter but rather a digital artist. She’s always drawing on her i-pad which we tell her to not spend so much time on but it’s hard to be annoyed when you see the end result. She’s in Europe with her guide troop so this is our first time ever not seeing her on her birthday. Not sure who’s suffering from the separation​ more, mom or child.


Emilia is 12 and finally becomes the second teenager in the house this December. Her age, however, has not stopped her growing as she’s as tall if not a hair taller than her older sister. She also shares a few of my less desirable traits in that she’s a bit OCD. She collects things and arranges them constantly and changes her rooms furniture on regular bases. Things I did all the time as a teen. You can actually see the colour of her walls under the photos she has taped to them but I credit that to her mother as I think given her way she’d have blocked it all out like I did. She has a few passions I don’t share like her love of horror films. I’m still having nightmares about “the Amityville Horror” from 1979 and refuse to set my alarm for 3:15 on nights I need that wake-up call opting instead for 3:16. Better safe than sorry.


Samantha is the first granddaughter you never had the opportunity to meet, but you did know about her. Born less than 24 hours after you departed this world if your spirit landed anywhere, Sam has it. This granddaughter of yours is so sweet and innocent some days but on the other hand, she can be violently stubborn. She takes tantrums to the next level like I’ve never seen before. She refuses to give in once she’s taken her stand and drawn a line in the sand. Who does that remind you of? If she ever becomes a union organizer like yourself I think she’ll fit right in. She’s incredibly smart and turns 10 tomorrow but I don’t think it’s too early to draft her now.

Danielle is my little girl, she came along a few years after you left us so like Sam she’s never had the first-hand experience to meet you. That may be a good thing for them, who knows. Really I wish you were around to experience them because I know all four of my girls would have changed your life. You were one of three boys born into a family with stoic parents. You and mom had three boys yourself so you’ve never ever known the joys of being around girls. Nor had I till now. I know you had one granddaughter but taking on a personality like yours was probably a pretty tall order for Sarah on her own. She needed allies. I recently uncovered an old video I created back in 2005 when we flew east for your mom’s funeral. Kate was not yet 2 and she clearly had you wrapped around her finger watching the two of you in the yard. Had you been given the full Ellis girl experience my four daughters would have broken you for certain, they certainly broke me in all the best possible ways.


To mark the occasion of your tenth year gone Emma created an amazing rock marker with your name on it. It’s red, your favourite colour. We placed this on the rock outcropping in Tofino where we spread some of your ashes in 2010.


It’s under a bush with an amazing view of the ocean and beach. A place that I know if you had ever climbed up to see for yourself you’d have sat there for hours. We had a small tea party in your honour on the rocks and Dani even held a cup up to the rock thinking you might want a drink. She’s so cute and I’m not really sure she totally understands what it is we’re doing. I think she really thinks you’re in that rock. We’ll explain it all to her in a few years.


For me personally, I’ve always loved coming to Tofino ever since the first time you brought JoAnn and me here 24 years ago. You always threatened you’d move here one day so spreading your ashes in this spot only seemed appropriate. Now, whenever I’m here I feel closer to you, more so than visiting a gravestone back in Grimsby. I know that’s where you spent the bulk of your life but it was the west coast you always ran too when you wanted to escape. When you brought us here I was apparently instantly bitten by the same bug that got you years earlier on your first trip. I had the chance to take a couple of long walks on my own this past trip. I like to get up early in the morning because the house is quiet when the girls are still asleep but I took my coffee out for a walk on the beach.


I wasn’t alone however, I knew you were there with me the second I hit the beach. I could hear your voice in my head, your laugh and we enjoyed the crashing surf for an hour or so as we walked from one end of the beach to the other. Not even sure why I’m writing this down since I told you all about the girls on our walks. I can’t imagine what you were thinking when you first saw our current Prime Minister on your beach bare-chested surfing that week but I could certainly hear you muttering and cursing under your breath. That’s the stuff I miss more than anything. Just hearing your voice. You always had an opinion on anything I asked you about and right or wrong, whether I agreed or not. I respected the point of view you took, maybe because it was usually 180 degrees opposite of mine. I miss that in my life, someone to always challenge my point of view. It was never an argument, just a different point of view. Now at least you have one of the best views in all of Canada, one that we can both agree on and I’ll be back real soon with the girls to go for a walk on the beach with you. I am and forever will be your little boy.


Mobility that Bites


Volume #16

One of the more interesting aspects of this new life JoAnn and I have chosen to undertake is the transformation of our everyday life. For so many years we both worked all day rarely ate together during the day and had only moments when we were both awake and in the house at the same time. Weekends were strictly business as it was mostly chewed up with household chores we’d neglected all week, couldn’t someone have taken out the garbage? My first clue that things would change with a baby should have come a year ago when JoAnn stopped working and stayed home working on the nest. She’d call me more and make dinners that I rarely got home to eat and weekends we shopped for baby gear she’d spent all week picking out and was dying to show me.


Flash-forward a year and the JoAnn I married has transformed herself like a superhero into a first-rate stay at home mom. She puts the same energy and enthusiasm she used when working into taking care of Katie and the house and subsequently me. My own mom was the stay at home variety and in this day and age when so many people are quick to head out the door back into the workforce it’s so refreshing to see. Financially I guess a lot of people need two incomes and let’s be serious it wouldn’t hurt us to have some extra cash. Since I imposed a weekly budget it has changed the way I used to waste money for the better but oh how I miss being able to buy that new DVD without a thought or care now I do without, I’m guessing it’s like quitting anything spending was my habit so now I’m on the wagon.


More importantly, I couldn’t imagine someone else spending most of Katie’s waking hours with her and reporting to us when we picked her up what she’d done that day just so we could have a nicer car in the driveway or the newest electronic toy. I love that JoAnn is there all day every day and every time something does happen that I miss while working I get called right away. It wouldn’t mean as much sharing that moment with Mrs. Jones the sitter as it does share it with the other person responsible for Katie’s being.

So JoAnn has thrown herself into the role of full-time mommy with “Baby Talk” class one day “Mother goose nursery Rhymes” the next and “story time” at the library after that. A week full of networking with other new mommy’s and their kids, all comparing notes on early childhood development and where their child sits on that scale. This creates a little competition with some women and JoAnn and her closest ally in these classes trade calls whenever one kid or the other does something new. We actually meet this couple at the hospital during the birth as they shared a room and the two of them have stayed friends ever since. It’s good because you have two girls born under twenty-four hours apart so charting progress from one to the other is neat and they both are advancing at their own rate. Each excelling at one thing or another first before the other and sometimes it’s days or weeks before the other does the same thing. Of course, I’m partial my little girl is superior in every way even if that another little girl has some of her own tricks she was a full term baby and Katie was a month premature so of course, she’s ahead. Of course with that logic why does Katie outweigh her? All I can say is thank god it’s women at these classes and not men or you know there would be betting on who’s going to crawl or sit up first.


This month like every other my little girl has shown remarkable ability to follow along with the weekly development book like clockwork and had many huge firsts. The biggest would have to be the breakthrough of her first tooth followed quickly by her second on her lower gum. Now when she grabs a finger to chew on she has the ability to do damage and every time I see JoAnn breastfeed her I cringe just a little at the thought of the danger she’s putting herself in. There have been incidents but so far so good.

I got a frantic call one afternoon while at work with the proclamation she spoke her first word and it was “mama”. True to her word over the phone I was hearing something that resembled mama if you listened really hard and disregarded all articulation, yeah you could hear it. Really it was more “ma ma ma ma ma ma” and when I saw her do it in person she said it to everything and everyone including the dog so it may have been a leap of faith on JoAnn’s part but I’m willing to overlook it. For the sake of her childhood development and JoAnn’s ego and the fact it puts her one up on the other kids in baby class, my daughter can speak. Her next word is more puzzling as it sounds like “bab bab bab” and we don’t actually know a Bob. I guess I could stretch things and say she’s trying for “dad” but I have a hard time selling it to myself so I doubt I could sell it to anyone else, it will come when it’s ready.


The next big time accomplishment call was to inform me that Katie has pulled herself to her feet from a sitting position. This is something we’ve been expecting and waiting for as she’s been so close for quite a while. She sits on her own playing very well though the ability to lay down gracefully still escapes her, it’s more of a thump followed by the obligatory crying. Once she discovered quite by accident the joys of rolling onto her tummy from her back and visa versus there has been no stopping her. This has lead to creeping and was it not for our hardwood floors where traction is hard to get in a sleeper I’m sure she’d be crawling. Her version of crawling combined with rolling has everything on the floor within reach and now that she knows how to pull herself up, her discovery range just got that much bigger. She’s always had strong legs and liked to stand only she needed help, she still does but something tells me not for long. I curse the exercise saucer we got her last month as one of the side benefits of this thing is she likes to bounce up and down. If you’re holding her on your lap or worse on your stomach while lying down yourself you’re in pain because she gets air and at twenty pounds that’s a heck of a weight using your groin as a trampoline.

It really is quite funny when you see her holding herself up against the coffee table and she starts to slide to one side. She doesn’t take the precautions to protect herself she just starts falling and the look on her face when her balance has let her down is precious, gravity is not something she’s mastered yet. Of course, JoAnn and I are always there to catch her but I fear as she perfects this standing thing and puts the motions in place to start crawling the opportunity for getting out of sight and into trouble rising considerably. It is now officially time to start childproofing the house and fast.

In only seven months I’ve gone from complete baby fear to embracing this wonderful little mini me in ways I never imagined. I look at her first photo’s and video and can hardly believe they are one in the same little girls. I have so much fun playing with her on the floor experimenting with all her noise making toys and building blocks I can’t remember a time I wasn’t doing this. The smile I get from hearing her laugh and knowing I made it happen gives me a charge every time. Whether I’m swinging her upside down or flying her like a plane or just teaching her the finer points of a perfect tummy fart she gives JoAnn and me endless joy. But even more is coming home to find the two of them happy to see me and tell me about their day. The first smile on Katie’s face when she sees Daddy blows me away. Every morning I look in on her while she sleeps before I leave and I can’t wait to get home to see her smile. Yes, our lives have all changed dramatically in the last year and for the first time in my life, there is a real focus of what I have to do and who I have to do it for and that’s my family.


The First Live Gig


Volume #232

I was so excited to see my first rock concert at age 14. I’d been seeing photo’s of my rock hero’s in magazines for years playing live on stage. You’d listen to a live album, hear the crowd and the song you know so well but hearing it played live it was different, there was an energy and when you looked at that still photo it only told part of the story. Up till that first live gig, my favorite bands were just orchestrated still photo’s smiling back at me from record jackets to the albums I was listening too. I finally saw a video of my favorite band playing live around 1981 but even this had interruptions for interviews so it wasn’t close to the full live show experience. I can’t believe my mother agreed to it but in the winter of 1982 she said I could go to a live show in Toronto with a school buddy. It was his first show too and he wanted to see Ozzy Osborne. If my mom had access to the internet back then and knew anything at all about this guy she would have said no. That doesn’t even begin to explain how she let us take a thing called “The Party Bus” to Toronto to see this show.  I know I just told her it was a package price, ticket and bus, which it was so that was no lie but being on that bus was an eye opener. Open beer, smoking joints, nudity, it was a ruckus loud party of late teens, none of which we knew.  In the middle of it all were these two 14-year-old kids in sheer disbelief of what we were experiencing.  This was never the type of environment I was comfortable in so I was ever so relieved to make it to Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto and exit that bus. It didn’t occur to me at the time these same teens would be even drunker or higher on the return trip in a few hours, that’s another story.  For me however seeing a building I only knew for hockey being turned into a music arena was thrilling. I was just as excited to see how the rigging above the stage was hanging from the roof to create grid to suspend lights and speakers from. The opening band was a local group called Santers so in reality that was my first live show though I didn’t know it at the time since we bought our Ozzy tickets.


I was not a huge fan of either band, I just wanted to see a live rock show. Being in the dark with 18 thousand other screaming fans watching the stage bathed in coloured lights and hearing the music so loud, I was hooked after that first gig. I took the party bus a couple more times with more of my own friends so it didn’t feel quite so crazy till finally one of us had a license this was our only way to the show. None of our parents were going to drive us to Toronto, sit around for a few hours waiting then drive us home and none of them were ever going to buy a ticket to see the show. I’d have loved to see my Dad at a Rush concert but that wasn’t ever going to happen.  In fact, the only live shows I ever saw with my dad featured Scottish Pipe and Drum bands.  One when I was 10 even had the Queen in attendance along with 50000 other spectators. I came from a town of about 15000 residents so it was odd to think everyone in my town and the surrounding towns could be in this stadium at once. I was also excited to see this show just for the pageantry of it all. These big pipe bands all dressed to the nines in kilts with big fur hats marching in perfect time into the stadium as they played. What I wasn’t so up on was the music which after awhile all pretty much sounded the same to me. No doubt the same observation my dad would have said about  what I liked to listen to.  There were a couple songs that stood out however like “Amazing Grace” or the rather new “Mull of Kintyre” which Dad pointed out to me was written by a Beatle. He said it like that because I don’t think he actually knew which one of the Beatles wrote it but he heard that fun fact somewhere or read it in the program.


Even before Kate got to attend her first big time concert of Taylor Swift last summer with her mom in tow Emma has been asking to be allowed to see a live show.  She has friends that were allowed to see acts like Justin Bieber when they were 7 or 8. I think that had a lot more to do with the age of the mom that was taking her daughter then her friends wanting to go but regardless they had already been to their first show.  If Emma is anything she is one that wants to keep pace with everyone around her and not miss any new experience.  She was even begging me if she could go to the Rush show I had tickets too last summer. She doesn’t like their music at all, she just wants to get that first concert notch on her belt at any cost which I totally could relate too. Kate was only weeks away from turning 12 last summer when she got to go her her first show so that was the precedent we as her parents had set. She’d already asked if she could go to the Selma Gomez show this spring but we pointed to her age and said, “Kate was 12”.  This is not a show JoAnn or I was all too interested in and since we’d have to take her because no 10-year-old of mine is boarding anything called a “Party bus”.  I tried her out one day in my car on a playlist of mine featuring “The Who” who were also coming in the spring.  I mean this is their 50th anniversary tour so the likely hood this would be the last big tour was high. I hadn’t seen them since there were three of them still alive but now John Entwistle was gone so it was really just Pete and Roger and a backing band. It was still the right voice and guitar so it was as close to The Who as you could get.  Emma was not that interested in the band till I mentioned they were playing this May and then she wanted to go. That showed a severe determination to want to see a live show so bad you’d go see someone you don’t even like. Who am I to talk? I haven’t listened to Ozzy Osborne since 1983 in fact to this day his are the only albums I ever sold from my record collection.


These days’ concert tours are set up so far in advance you’re buying tickets 6 months or longer before the show and you could lose interest before the gig arrives. Then a funny thing happened, an unexpected concert was announced with the show date only 5 weeks later. It was unexpected because there were only 5 dates on tour at the time and 2 of them were here in Vancouver. The last time I’d seen this show was in 2012 and I was positive at the age or 72 that was the last time I’d ever enjoy Paul McCartney live. I’d already seen him three times previous but this was his first time to Vancouver since 1965 so we jumped on it. Now not even 4 years later Paul was coming back to town. This one had me intrigued because Emma not only liked the Beatles music but some songs like Eleanor Rigby or Hey Jude were among her all-time favorites. From the moment I heard about the show I knew I was going and I’d be taking JoAnn with no argument from her, she loved his music too.  If there was ever a concert to let Emma see earlier then we said we would could this be the one? Paul turns 76 this year and regardless of how healthy he is as a vegan sooner or later, the clock runs out on us all. He is a musical icon that helped influence pretty much anyone that has picked up an instrument since the 60’s.  This is a show that couldn’t wait for her to grow up, Paul isn’t getting any younger.


Even before discussing the idea with JoAnn I was thinking it over for a few days as the tickets went on sale only a couple days after the announcement.  On the morning the tickets went on sale our power was out so I had to use my phone which had me a bit stressed. The only saving grace is this was an early American Express offer so it wasn’t general ticket sales open to the public which happened a few days later.  I had my hands on two amazing seats within the first 10 rows for JoAnn and I.  You only have four minutes to hold the seats before they are returned to the pool. I then looked at what 4 tickets in the cheap seats looked like. The same money as those two amazing seats up front, this was certainly the last time I’d ever see Sir Paul and it would be great to see him up close. I however, pulled the trigger on those cheap seats and wondered what I was going to do if JoAnn thought taking the girls was a bad idea.  Thankfully she was on board but we didn’t tell the girls. For weeks I keep telling both Kate and Emma that their mother and I were going. Maybe it was a bit of a sick twisted mind game but it was fun to hear them plead. It wasn’t untill the weekend before the gig only a few days out did we let them in on the secret. I asked them if they’d like a concert shirt to which they jumped at the chance to get one. I told them it might be hard to pick the right size without them being there so maybe they should come. I wasn’t expecting dead silence but I think they were both trying to compute what I just said.


The excitement never really wore off because they only knew days before the gig. It was sort of funny their friends at school didn’t know who Paul McCartney was. So sad but for that state of ignorance, I have to blame the parents on that one. Introduce your kids to good music people.IMG_0805


I was excited as I normally would be for any show but I think I was even more excited at the idea of taking the girls. JoAnn and I had seen this show three times before, two before we ever had kids so this was a first for me too. I was so excited to see how Emma reacted to all of it. The walk up to the arena, finding your seats then describing to her what she was looking at. She didn’t even realize which end was the stage where he’d be playing. I was instantly recalling my first show with wonder, not knowing how anything worked or what to expect. I guess the difference for her is she really liked some of the songs she was about to hear.  Every time Paul played one she knew well she perked right up. She was getting pretty tired as the show hit the 2-hour mark when I told her if she slept through the next one she could sleep anywhere.  “Live and Let Die” starts out nice enough but ever since I’ve been seeing Paul live this is the one song where pyrotechnics get lit off. From fireworks over an outdoor stage to flames and cannon blasts like this night, combined with lasers bouncing all around the arena it was 3 minutes that could wake the dead. Then into “Hey Jude” her favorite that had her singing along with everyone else in the building, “NA, NA, NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA HEY JUDE”.  It was a memorable show for me and I can’t imagine Emma will ever forget her first show with her dad at age ten. Heck I never forgot my first gig with my dad at that exact same age.


For me, the highlight of the night after being able to enjoy this show with my girls was during the encore. I like any fan nerd checked the first 3 dates of the tour online to see the complete set list. It didn’t change from night to night but something strange happens when Paul plays Canada. He pulls out a song that rarely gets played anywhere else in the world.  When I saw his guitar tech hand him his acoustic guitar when he should have been strapping on his bass I knew we were in for a treat. When the song started I held my breath, was it really happening? After the first verse, a local pipe and drum band marched onto the stage in full Scottish tartan dress to play the rest of “Mull of Kintyre” with Paul’s band. On one hand, I’m enjoying live music with my girls from an icon I’ve been listening too since I was five. On the other hand, I’m listening to live pipe and drum band like I did with my dad when I was ten at my first real live show. For the record dad, the Beatle that wrote that song was Paul McCartney and I wish you were here to enjoy this with us.

Built to Last


Volume #14

Maybe the reason I was so afraid of having kids was that I was really afraid of babies. Well afraid isn’t the correct word but I had very little experience with them; they intimidated me because I had no point of reference with how to deal with them. I saw two nephews and one niece as babies but I rarely was left in charge or even held them for that matter. I was so afraid I might break them they were just so helpless. Of course my experience didn’t go past a weekend visit so I didn’t have the 24/7 exposure that a parent is subjected to.


So now after over five months my eyes are truly open to the wonders of babies and I’m not really sure what it was I was afraid of. Sure the first month is pretty tough with a learning curve that is basically straight up but it levels off over time and these babies are far better designed than I ever expected. As long as you don’t take to poking the soft spot on their heads with a Bic pen they can put up with a lot more than any adult can. Once they can hold up their own melon these little marvels are really quite amazing.


My little girl loves, I mean loves having her feet in her mouth and when she’s naked on the change table that’s the first thing on her agenda. She can do it dressed but I guess the fabric from her sleepers or her socks doesn’t quite taste the same. A sure-fire way to get her laughing is to sing her a song and while following the rhythm put her feet to her face. What adult other than a gymnast or contortionist can do this? These little marvels are just that and have abilities and powers way beyond grown ups. There is nothing I mean nothing that can top the feeling you get when your daughter smiles at you because she’s happy to see you. There is nothing in nature that can elicit that feeling other than your own child. JoAnn recently said to me she guessed she was now number two in my life but as I pointed out to her I was also number two in her life also. I’m ok with that and I accept the fact that this little girl is the most important responsibility our lives for the next couple decades. This five and half month nearly sixteen pound pink food processor that demands constant attention and drools a lot had taken full custody of our hearts. It really doesn’t matter how much I love my wife or how beautiful I think she might be this little girl had moved in and taken over big time.

Kate @ 6 months


What I think really gets me is I can’t remember a time where Katie wasn’t in our lives and yet JoAnn and I have been together over thirteen years now. Is there regret we didn’t do this sooner, maybe a little now but I wouldn’t trade the pre baby years we spent together for anything different now.

Every week Katie discovers something new. Be it finally realizing the power of opposable thumbs to undo her diaper as fast as her mother puts it on her or trying to master motorboat sounds with her tongue (this is a work still in progress but it’s not from lack of trying). And now she’s onto solid food so I get the chance to feed her. Of course this has so far had the positive side effect to slow down the hot potato game, as she doesn’t have as many poppy diapers. In fact she’s gone over a week between full shorts but it hasn’t hurt her ability to pass gas and now they have all the benefits of any good fart, they smell. No more little cutesy baby farts for my little girl she can clear a room like no one. I’m afraid this looks like it’s only going to get worse so I’m shopping for a full-face gas mask to help make diaper changes a little less painful.


She took to solid food so fast you can’t load up a spoon fast enough she’s already waiting and snapping at the spoon as it approaches. Better yet using her opposable thumbs to grab your hand and ram the spoon down her throat. That is a problem there are simple things you take for granted that kids have to learn and it seems it’s usually painful. Painful as a parent to watch and painful for the baby as they learn limits like how far a spoon can go into your mouth before it gets uncomfortable. The great thing is again they are so resilient that a few consoling words and a little hug and were right back to shoveling more food. They really aren’t as delicate as I ever thought they were and now that Katie is sitting and able to grab I take great pleasure in holding her in the air over me as I lie on the couch or hanging her upside down which makes her laugh while she tries to reach out to you. I know JoAnn cringes when she see’s me rough housing with her and that’s not going to get any better as she gets older. I’m sure she’s just waiting for us to break something so she can tell us to cool it.

One thing Katie still won’t do with me is fall asleep. She can be so tired rubbing her eyes lying on me but she will fuss and whine till she’s handed off to her mother where she promptly falls asleep. I think we are getting close and I’m sure we’ll have a break through soon enough. When JoAnn hands her off to me already asleep and I hold her it’s such a gorgeous feeling I couldn’t hope to describe it here. She will wake ever so slightly see it’s me holding her and she’ll drop her head and close her eyes and that just sends me knowing she approves. It’s pretty sad a five-month-old babies approval means that much to a grown man but it really does. It’s magical knowing she trusts me and feels she’s safe and secure, of course she may be just to tired to give a crap but I tell myself it’s the former and we both feel good.


I’m not sure what’s next on the development front as I leave the book reading to JoAnn I just take it as it comes but I know she wants to walk. If you hold her by her hands she immediately puts one foot in front of the other and starts walking of course she has to perfect this whole standing thing first. I guess you have to learn to crawl before you run but I feel she’ll be tearing up the hardwood in no time. She is taking interest in anything new and now if you have her on your lap drinking anything it can be a challenge as little hands try to grab your glass or hot mug. This is when you start to look around and realize what a death trap for children we really live in. I know before I write another word here in the future I’ll have had to go to town child proofing the house not only to protect her but to guard personal property from emanate destruction. It’s something I always thought was a little silly but now I see how little curious fingers have no boundaries and it’s up to us to build them.

Nap time


Everyday as she grows and learns we as parents grow and learn how to react to her both to further stimulate her but also to protect her. This is my life long commitment to her to look after her and I fear that day when I have to let her go forth on her own. We can equip her with knowledge best we can but sometimes you can’t control outside influences. Now when I see distraught parents on TV news pleading for the return of their child I can relate with the feeling of loss as I know I’d be frantic if I was in their position. For now I’m not ready to cut that cord.

A New Vocabulary and the Musical Child


Volume #11

As human beings in the world we take communication on a daily basis for granted. With the advent of pocket universal translators and the help of advanced charades a person can travel almost anywhere and can be understood. To date no one has invented a translator in any language that will assist a new parent in understanding their new child’s cries. I think they did invent one once on the “Simpson’s” and I didn’t really see the usefulness of such a tool till now. I think to any man this would be a useful aid because to me it’s just a baby crying but to a woman it means something totally different. Maybe it’s because JoAnn has spent a lot more time with Katie she recognizes the different cries in her limited arsenal of a vocabulary but to me it all means the same thing, “Help she’s broken again” as I hold her out to JoAnn. Of course this instantly stops her crying which at first was cute the power of the mommy but after a while it starts to dawn on you, “what the heck is the matter with me? What am I doing wrong?” If she keeps this up I’m bound to develop a complex, all I want to do is cuddle her but I’m told I’m getting to close I need to give her space. She’s six weeks old and I need to give her space, are you kidding me? I didn’t expect this speech till she was fifteen.


JoAnn has in her time with Katie developed the skill in reading her cries so as she knows exactly what it is she wants or needs and is able to satisfy her in a way I have not been able to do. She knows a hungry cry, from a change position cry, wet diaper cry, to a “I’m tired” cry, it’s amazing really. Of course JoAnn has been living with me for over a decade so she’s had lot of practice at reading the cries of others. My breasts don’t start to ache when Katie cries so I don’t have that going for me, she’s really got all the advantages and I just have to accept she knows what Katie’s telling her and hope I’m not being lied too. I’ve got to learn this new baby language or I’ll be an inferior father unable to satisfy my little girl’s smallest whims. When she’s older and speaks my language I’ll be able to buy off her loyalty by spoiling her rotten…not that I condone that sort of fathering by wallet style but come on it’s got to be easier than this. All I want to be able to do is hold her and have her smile at me and know I love her and all I get is crying. Am I trying to hard? Does she not like me? It’s so hard for me to read but I keep trying.


JoAnn seems to have figured it out and instinctively knows what Kathleen wants with a mere whimper, is this that whole mothers intuition? Or is it just some sort of black magic? No matter at least one of us is able to look after her needs although I am starting to feel a little helpless or useless I’m not sure which just yet. I look forward to when she’s able to vocalize what she wants but then of course she’ll get whatever she wants if she comes to daddy, I already know I won’t be able to say NO.


It is neat now that she’s able to hold her head up on her own she will hold a conversation of sorts while sitting in your lap. She’ll chirp and grin and make noises that I think surprise herself when she hears them and I just mimic everything she says right back at her which she loves and she shoots right back at me. If I make a noise that impresses her she looks at me with wonder than will smile and make a cute noise back at me. There is a dangerous line you cross if you make a sound that scares her more than amuse her as once she processes what she heard her eyes start to look concerned and her smile disappears into a quivering lip, which is followed by a loud cry. Sometimes I can pacify her but more often than not it’s something only mommy can fix and she’s whisked away from me till she’s calm again. Just hearing her cry fascinates me as I’ve spent so little time around crying babies other than myself so it’s interesting to watch. Of course if JoAnn is out of the room she comes in to see what I’ve done and why her daughter is crying. These are the moments you think about before she’s born and I savor them as long as they’ll last which is usually about ten to twenty minutes.


Something JoAnn and I both wanted for her was an early introduction to music. I took lessons all through school and was mediocre at best; JoAnn never learned to play anything and still has regrets so she was hot to get Katie involved early. Imagine our surprise when our little girl has beat us both and started singing already. Well it’s a form of singing isn’t it the way my little girl lets loose with an earth shattering belch once she’s finished eating, it’s music to me. This is a talent I’ve had as long as I can remember, the ability to belch on command or recite anything in belch form. JoAnn is fond of reminding me of a time when I was rather drunk in a bar out with buddies having wings and pizza on a Friday night as was our tradition. I leaned over to her in a tender way to whisper in her ear and belched “I love you”. Now to a group of drunken guys this was killer stuff and I did mean it, I loved her as we were still in that honeymoon first year of our relationship stage. I guess that was her first clue as to what I’d be like later in life. Thou I’ve grown up I can still belch on command and wouldn’t you know it my little girl inherited her Daddy’s ability to do the same. This couldn’t have surprised JoAnn but who knew it would manifest itself at such a young age, that’s my girl. She seems very proud of herself but it could just be the relief of passing the gas bubble.


Katie does have other musical ability I had no idea about. In the one baby book that I did read, it didn’t say anything about the fact babies like all humans get gas and fart. I think what shocked me was the sound this cute little girl could pump out of her diapers. Who knew babies could fart like a trucker on a steady diet of baked beans and light beer. It’s almost refreshing someone not concerned with what someone might say, she just lets it blow it’s really quite cute even if it doesn’t smell like a rose garden.


Thankfully her gas doesn’t always signify a full diaper or we’d never leave the change table. Sometimes you just need to fart to keep from exploding. Something else we never read anywhere is that she can go quite a period without filling a diaper. The first time she went a week JoAnn was worried there was some sort of blockage but the doctor assured us she was fine and this was completely normal. For Katie this started after her first growth spurt about three or four weeks old then we settled into long gaps between full diapers. In fact we were counting ourselves lucky as when she did finally go there was nary enough room in her diaper for all she had to put out, she was full right up to her belly button. The first time you open one of these surprises it freaks you out, like where was she storing all this? You just resolve yourself your washing her cloths the change table cover any anything else that came within range of her butt as to perform a normal diaper change and keep her out of it you’d need three hands minimum.

I think what were both looking forward to most in the next few months is the opportunity to just watch Kathleen grow and develop now that the drama of the birth is done. We’ve also finished with the parade of family and friends wanting to meet Katie for the first time and give us all the advice that worked so well for them when they had kids. So now we can get down to the job of being parents and finding our way through the obstacle course and hurdles of early childhood development. It’s a challenge that now that I’m here doesn’t seem so bad at all; I’m not sure what I was so afraid of. I always thought I was way too immature to have the responsibility of a child in my life but now that Katie is here I can’t imagine not having her around. It just doesn’t seem a big deal at all and I’m loving my new role as a Dad even if Kate still isn’t to sure about me yet, I know she will soon enough and we’ll wish she was still a baby. I can see why people say kids keep you young as I feel more like a kid than I ever did and watching her takes me back and I feel as I’ve finally found what it is I’ve always wanted out of life. We’ll see if I’m so optimistic in a couple of years.

(I found a bunch of old DVD’s with videos I made of Kate as a Baby. Funny how I found the time to do this for our first daughter but not with the daughters that were to follow. I just never seemed to have the spare time to edit let alone film as much once we had more than just one child to deal with. Here are a couple from that first year I found amusing)

Katie Chronicles Baby Love

Katie Chronicles- I’m Only Sleeping

The Worst Birthday Party Ever


Volume #224

For nearly twelve months I’ve been hearing this statement, “for Halloween I’m going out as (insert costume choice of the week here)” and I’ve been hearing that times four. It changes more frequently then they brush their hair it seems sometimes. Thankfully their mother doesn’t jump up and buy every thing they think they want to be because we’d have quite a collection by now. Of course some of those early choices based on movies that were popular that week didn’t last long. When it comes right down to it they will go out for Halloween in the best most affordable costumes their mother comes home with and that will be that. Sure we sometimes have to sell it a bit but in the end is it the costume that matters or the fact that you get to dress up and every door they knock on that night will give them candy. One year not so long ago Samantha was so unhappy with the outfit that was selected for her that she refused to wear it. So she went out as a little girl who was just so stubbornly fierce and scary that looking at her would make you scream, (no costume required for that). After a few houses I didn’t even have to explain her outfit any longer, she was getting candy by looking cute regardless. No one really wants to ask if they can’t identify it right off like a princess or a witch.

This year Kate went a bit spooky as a zombie but Emma was a Bobby sox girl from the fifties and Sam and Dan went out as a kitty and a unicorn respectively. I told the older girls to choose one of their younger sisters to stick with and they’d be sure to feel the cute factor in their candy bags. The smaller they are the more candy they seem to get and I guess I’m no different when kids come to our door. I always give the little kids the most (like they need it) but it’s better than rewarding teenagers for trying to score free candy at their age. I guess it’s better then doing drugs, maybe I better rethink my strategy for the older kids.  Since we always kid that Dani is basically fueled by candy this was her night. True to form she was the last one to throw in the towel. Her older sisters were done first with Emma no longer even going up to the doors we passed, but Dani was not about to pass any closed-door that might give her more candy. Occasionally as we marched around the neighborhood we’d find some candy on the ground and Dani would try to pick it up. She didn’t tell me it was hers and it wasn’t till we were probably ¾ of the way through the night that I realized she had a fist size hole in the bottom of her candy bag. She’s been bleeding candy since the first house. I did what I could to set her up with plastic bags to line her candy bag but she still lost the odd piece as we headed towards home. Since Halloween fell on a Saturday night we stayed out a bit longer then if it were a school night. It had been raining for three days straight so going into the evening I was concerned it would be a very short night but almost like it was planning all along, as the sun went down the rain stopped. I looked up and saw nothing but stars as I waited for the girls at each house. This was the second straight year of solid weather for trick or treating. It seems only fair since we had about three years of downpours before that.

The piles of candy on the floor when we got home were staggering, I just kept trying to put a dollar value to it. What’s more surprising is that even with Dani’s leaky bag she still accumulated more candy then any of her sisters. Like I said the cute factor pays off. Again for the third year running JoAnn had an open invitation to trade candy for cash. After you’ve enjoyed a few select pieces and pulled aside about a dozen for later enjoyment she would give them $20 to spend at Toys R Us. This year all but Emma took the deal. She decided to be the master of her own candy bag. I think what she doesn’t realize is that her mother would not be destroying the candy or giving it away. This candy would be coming back to the girls in the form of treats for months to come. So really three of the girls got the addition of $20 and to have their candy in moderation. Emma got no cash but did hold onto the right to be able to self govern her own candy intake. I’m not sure who won here in the end. As a kid I’m not sure I would have made that deal with my mom. I find it easy to side with Emma’s choice but knowing that you’re getting it all back in the end it does make the cash seem pretty attractive. Sometimes the bird in the hand is worth more than two in the bush and I respect that she stuck to her guns no matter how hard her mother pushed her to accept the deal.

As if Halloween on a Saturday night wasn’t enough sugar for the girls, the very next day Dani was having her fifth birthday party and for the first time ever, on her actual birthday. In recent years we’ve staged parties at indoor play zones, movie theaters and even an indoor rock-climbing place. Last year Dani wanted her birthday at the rock wall so bad after Samantha had her party there. She was nearly the only little girl who made it to the top of the rope and rang the bell every turn she had, twenty-five feet in the air. However they don’t generally do parties for kids under the age of six and last year all her friends would have been four. The people who ran the place were a bit shocked to find out she was so young because she showed no fear at all. Last year she had her party at the gymnasium where she took gymnastics classes for fun even though her instructor was an Olympic golf medalist.




This year she wanted to have her party at home. I think she just wanted to have her school friends to the house. She gets so annoyed all her sisters have play dates or “Hang outs” as her older sisters refer to them these days and I think she just wanted to have her friends here in her house. The only prerequisite she demanded was a piñata, (as she did last year also) so as long as she could have one of those then a party at home would be fine. The theme was to be “Frozen” and she wanted a Elsa Frozen cake but other than that everything else was open. We hadn’t had a party at the house like this for quite a few years. Maybe it was Samantha’s fifth I’m not sure but we used to have them at the house all the time till we had so many parties to deal with a year. There is a certain satisfaction being able to show up at a location, let the kids party their little brains out, eat pizza, cake and some one else does the clean up. Even better with set start and finish times there is no loitering. You have to be there to pick up your kid on time.

When I was a kid we only ever had a party at home. Places like Chuck-E-Cheese or indoor play zones just didn’t exist. Mom got a movie projector from the library since this was before the advent of the video store. (Yes I am just that old). We’d watch a couple of Laurel and Hardy shorts, play a few games, eat some cake, open a couple presents and that was your party, see you next year. It was always co-ed too. My mom always had me invite 2 boys and three girls, like it was a set up and we were all going to pair off. When I went to other kids parties it was the same thing except sometimes they’d have the entire class show up. When I was a little older than we went to a pizza joint and I just got to bring the two boys. It was never a really big deal. JoAnn has proclaimed this to be the last big party for any of the girls. Big in terms of the amount of friends invited. Kate and Emma have been enjoying smaller gatherings for a few years and even Sam had a lunch and movie party so it was a smaller affair. I’m not sure I’m really ready to give up on the crazy big birthday party yet because they can be fun, certainly memorable. There are moments from parties past that really stand out in my mind, like Kate’s first birthday because it was the first for us as parents. Dani’s fifth party however may have given us the sound bite we’ll never forget.

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As you do with house parties we had games lined up and JoAnn had a table of prizes all laid out. Win lose or draw everyone was going home with a prize. We started the day with a couple of rounds of musical chairs, before we moved onto hot potato and pin the nose on the Olaf (formerly pin the tail the donkey when I was a kid). We didn’t have Disney commercialization to help set new trends and I think my mom used the same Pin the tail on the Donkey game for all my brothers so it was about twenty when it was finally retired. There was one little girl who cried when she was eliminated from the very first game of musical chairs. She refused to play the second round. She was angry when she was left holding the hot potato and was cut from that game. Even after being spun she managed to get Olaf’s nose to the EXACT spot because she was pulling the blindfold down with her free hand and cheating. She was that determined to win a game because whoever won got first pick at the prize table. She was not happy when her nose pinning attempt was not deemed the winner because she had cheated.

After some cake we set up the piñata and gave everyone a bag to collect the candy when it finally broke open. We’ve seen WAY too many episodes of AFV where some parent gets nailed with a bat in the balls to play that game so JoAnn always gets the kind of piñata you have to pull one of a few dozen hanging strings. Last year the first kid actually pulled the right one and the game was over quick. This year it was the third string that did the trick. What I found funny was that all the girls were lined up waiting to take their turn and when it opened up and the candy hit the ground they were all still standing waiting in line. I had to tell them to “Get the candy!” before any of them realized they needed to pounce. We all have such polite kids it seems. The last game of the party was pass the present. This was a double whammy because if you took off the last layer of wrapping to reveal the present you got to keep it plus pick from the prize table of dollar store crap. When our little cheating princess did not get to remove the last layer of paper to win the round she spun around on the floor where they were all sitting and loudly proclaimed “THIS IS THE WORST BIRTHDAY PARTY EVER”! The other girls didn’t seem to notice since I’m guessing they are all used to this sort of drama from her at school. I think I even saw a five-year old roll her eyes at her classmate. All the other parents that were within earshot could not contain their laughter. This wasn’t just this little girls statement, she really believed it. I know Dani was at this girls birthday party only the week before so I’m guessing any party that did not have her as the centre of attention was going to pale in comparison. I don’t believe in rewarding bad behaviour but I had asked this precious little drama princess earlier in the day what it was she had her eye on from the prize table. At the end of the party when anyone who had not won a game lined up to claim their prize I made sure she got exactly what it was she wanted. No one goes away from one of my daughter’s birthday parties upset. Maybe it wasn’t the worst birthday party ever after all.


What’s the Story?

06/02 /2015

Volume #216

You know those calls you get from time to time that you really don’t want but inevitably they always ring. I’m not just talking about telemarketers during dinnertime but rather that calls that bring the bad news that someone you know has died. Last Friday it was actually a text from my sister-in-law Ann letting us know her dad Harold had passed. Not entirely a surprise as he’s been in the hospital and this was the weekend they as a family were going to need to make some hard choices about his future since he wasn’t making any progress. He took the pressure off their shoulders and made it easy which is I guess the role of a father or parent, taking the pressure off their kids and he did this right up till the end. The second you get this sort of news you immediately reflect back to the last time you saw the dearly departed. For me I was lucky enough to spend a bit of time with Harold and his wife Alma last summer at my mom’s 80’s birthday open house. I certainly didn’t get to have any deep discussion but it was sure nice getting a bit caught up and I was ever so glad that he got a chance to meet all my girls.


Back in the 90’s when I was in my first home in Niagara Falls I saw an awful lot of Harold, usually cake or presents were involved. His grandchildren are also my niece and nephew and we were always on the same guest list for any family function my brother and sister-in-law put on. I can honestly say I had the great privilege to learn a lot from him. I was at the very beginning of my handyman life and he was closing in on about 50 years into his so he had lots wisdom to share. Both my brother and I listened and learned and I know we’re both better off in our ability twenty years on from his suggestions.

Version 2

Alma and Harold Barnes August 2014

These moments in life always leave you with the feeling you wish you’d said more, or visited more often. I was ever so pleased that I do have a great photo from that day last August of both Harold and his wife. I don’t know if it was the last one taken of them together but they both look great on this day and I’m glad to have it. I always hate when I realize later I missed a photo opportunity. At that same party last summer I never found the time to get a photo with a few old friends, which I regret. Even last week when JoAnn’s Dad took off back east after a couple of weeks here in BC did I realize I never got a photo of both him and his wife with all the girls. It’s not just about the photo book I create each Christmas for family but rather I’m trying to keep an ongoing record of the girls with their extended family. Right now these photos may mean very little to them but an inconvenience in having to smile but in a few decades one of these photos might mean the world to them when the people in the photo are no longer reachable at the end of a phone. I think of photos of myself with my dad and I have two from when I’m still a boy and we’re holding fish up at the cottage. I have one of my two brothers and I all being sworn into the union with dad in a suit as proud as proud can be. The only photo I have of myself with both my parents is on my wedding day, twenty years ago this summer. I had thirteen more years after that event to grab another photo with them both but I never did. I still remember when my parents left my house to head for the airport after Thanksgiving 2007. My dad shook my hand as he left which was a bit out of character for him and I watched from the front porch as they backed out of our driveway and waved as they drove out of view. I had no way of knowing that was the last time I’d ever see my dad alive. I don’t think I took one photo of either of them during that last visit together. Regret I didn’t call for a photo just before he left?….maybe just a little. Yet here I just let JoAnn’s dad do the exact same thing seven years later, you’d think I’d learn. The moral here is to always take that photo when you have the chance. It doesn’t really matter at all if they protest at the suggestion of a photo, just do yourself a favour and make it happen. You have no idea how much you’ll miss the photo you didn’t take for years and regret is something that can actually be avoided.

S&J Wedding

Our wedding August 16th 1995 and the last photo I took with both my parents.

I think the other important factor with photos is to take the time to put names on the back or at the very least a date. My wish would be for a story of what’s going on because again years from now someone who cares about you is going to come across old photos and they’ll have no idea why you took it or why it was important enough to capture that moment. Last summer I was going through a shoebox of old photo’s from my late grandmother at my mom’s. It was interesting to see my grandparents as a couple my age or younger, out on the town with friends. I recall my grandmother telling me stories about these days every summer up at the cottage but do you think I recall any of those stores now? I know my grandfather was a bit of a pool and card shark and they called him Hap in those days, short for Happy since he always had such a happy disposition. Something I totally understand as I rarely ever saw him upset. My grandmother told me about the other couples they rolled with back in those days…The Bozo’s I believe was one of them. That name sort of did stick with me. Now here I was years later looking at this great photo from the late forties or early fifties of my grandparents all dressed up, drinks in hand, lots of pigment in their hair unlike the white hairs I knew them as growing up. Everyone looking right at the camera, obviously a bit drunk and I had no idea what year it was or who the other couples were. I can imagine this is the photo that goes with the half story I still recall being told as a boy but that was over three decades ago.   When my grandmother had gotten this photo developed if she had scratched “Dance Club on James Street Hamilton with the Bozo’s New Years 1948” I’d be able to fill in the rest. If I knew who else was in the photo I can guarantee their ancestors would also love to see this photo. It’s bad enough that all our personal memories are lost when we die if we didn’t take the time to share them but it’s almost worse to leave a photo with no back-story for someone to wonder about. Not everyone wants to be Sherlock and try to solve the mystery you left behind.

My grandparents are the centre couple at the table.


It took Facebook and a chance meeting with a guy named Trevor in Northern Ireland dropping by the page I created for my ancestral home in Tipperary to answer the nagging question of who was in a photo I’d had hanging in my living room for decades. I knew it was a family member since it came from my mother’s house but anyone who knew who this couple in the photo from the turn of the last century might be was already gone themselves. Mom just knew it had to be important since it was in with her grandmother’s photos from when they immigrated to Canada. Trevor told me his great-great grandparents names, which were in turn the same as mine. It turned out his great grand mother was my great grandfathers sister. When I shared this photo with him (which had been taken in Belfast, Trevor’s home town) he was able to immediately confirm this couple was his great grandparents. For over two decades I’ve been looking at that photo and finally I was able to put names to the faces. Really would it have been so hard to do that at any time during the 100 odd  years since this photo was taken for someone who recognized them to put that on the back?

Eleanor Nina Trant and her husband Rev. Richard Herbert Nash

My Great grandfathers older sister Eleanor Nina Trant with her husband 1870?


I guess the real moral of the story here is to be sure to give your photos a back story and some depth otherwise it’s just a cool old photo of someone you never met that you may or may not be related to doing something interesting. A few months ago JoAnn took the extraordinary steps to fly east to go through my mom’s home with my sister-in-law just to photograph and document the stories to go along with all the artifacts she’s collected in her life. God forbid anything should happen but mom is turning 81 this year and it’s best to capture these details when the only person who knows the story is still fully cognizant and most importantly still with us. We just want to make sure that when the time comes to downsize the house or when putting her affairs in order that anything that my folks picked up at an auction sale is not given the same status as an actual family heirloom. Pieces connected to the family help tell the story and give a tangible connection to the past for ancestors in the future. It’s sort of a time machine in a way. It’s interesting to hold something you know some one else in your family purchased a hundred years ago. When we took a handful of postcards my family brought with them in 1909 back to Ireland it was fascinating to find those locations now. It took three trips to Ireland and seven years before I could actually piece together the complete story these postcards told. All taken from different vantage points on the coast of the town of Tramore they last lived in, all the postcards were pointing towards the same high bluff coastline where their last home “Seaville” stood. The fact it was no longer there made tracking it much harder but if anyone had taken the time to explain on the back of any one of a dozen postcards what they looked at I would have known right away.


In this digital age when we all have a camera in our pockets at all times it’s easy to just shoot and shoot but never really capture anything. I know I myself have close to fifty thousand photos on my hard drive taken mostly in the past decade. My parents used to shoot one 12 exposure roll a year, on a big year maybe they’d used a 24 exposure and we’d see two Christmas turkeys and a bunch of fish. It’s just so easy to capture every moment but in a hundred years without a bit of context you’ll have just left tens of thousands of questions instead of the dozens I’ve inherited and those took years to solve. Just think of your great-great grandchildren trying to figure why you took so many photos of a cat. Take the time right now to write Fluffies name on the back along with the year. Tell a story in a coupe words why Fluffy was so important. Believe me your ancestor’s are going to thank you and that story will actually be just as valuable, even more so then the photos you leave behind.

Memory Lane Triggered


Volume #214

The human brain is a truly wondrous machine. Alan Turing knew this all to well back in the 40’s when he devised his test to see if a human interrogator could tell the difference from responses from a machine or a human being. Pretty ahead of the curve when the computer was still a relative unknown outside of his own mind (It’s also a very good movie “ The Imitation Game”). Hard to even imagine life today without one especially since they pretty much run everything. Sky-net and judgment day may not be such a fictional idea after all.


My own views of the marvels of the human brain come mostly through interactions with my girls as they are putting things together. Watching them figure something out be adding up information they’ve accumulated over time is pretty remarkable. I will never forget a few years ago when all the news was reporting N1H1 flu virus and Kate’s final analysis. She was about 7 or 8 at the time and she figured if she got sick the likely hood was that she was going to die. That’s what they kept reporting on the news, focusing in on the deaths. You can get a virus via contact as it makes it’s way into your body so for a few days she stopped swallowing. That was her final solution; if she didn’t swallow she couldn’t get infected which meant she would not die. It’s a pretty sound assessment for a 7 year old. The problem being when you don’t want to swallow at school you will get sent to the office for continuously spitting on the floor. It was the first time I witnessed one of my girls add up all the information they’d collected from different sources to arrive at an apparent conclusion. As wrong as she may have been it was interesting to see how her young mind worked. I won’t even go into detail how she dealt with the E-coli outbreak last year.


I like to think my cognitive skills are a bit more advanced then that by my age but still I wonder at what the human brain can do with the flick of an invisible switch. Case in point, last week I was on my bike riding a 10KM course around our neighborhood on streets and trails I see a few times a week (weather permitting). This was the first really warm day we’d seen in a few weeks and I was out at the peak of the mid afternoon heat. I turned off the main road onto a small side road where I passed the cattle farm with very familiar farm aroma of fresh manure. This transitions to a single lane road that runs along side a creek, which eventually leads me to a pedestrian trial alongside this same creek. This paved trial was once the same single-track road I was just on but it had been closed to car traffic years ago when a new subdivision went in. Just a little ways up it was also the site of a couple scenes from the film Jumanji as was the afore mentioned cattle farm. At that exact moment as I approached the barricade to the trial I was hit with the smell of creosote covered lumber baking in the sun. A familiar smell to most of us but in an instant it triggered a memory far from my current location and thoughts during the middle of my ride. I was instantly standing on a dock as a boy with a fishing pole in my hand with my grandfather just a short ways down the dock on my right and my father to my left. We were at a place called Low Island in the town of Little Current on the largest freshwater Island in the world called Manitoulin Island. The stupid thing was that Low Island wasn’t really an Island at all; at least it had never been in all the years I’d been summering there. It was really just a peninsula but what’s in a name really. The dock it’s self was covered with this same creosote tar I smelt on my ride and you always had to be careful where you sat on a hot day otherwise you’d have a blotch on your shorts that mom just couldn’t get out. I think what shocked me was the clarity of the image in my memory and how quickly it came to me when I hadn’t been on that dock in decades. As I pedaled further on up the trail I was having all sorts of memories of that favorite fishing spot on the North Channel of Lake Huron facing another small Island called Picnic Island.


We came here to fish nearly every day on our vacations to Manitoulin for decades. Sometimes we skipped it if we had a fishing boat and the weather was good but for the most part my grandfather never liked to skip dipping a line here in the afternoon from that dock. For me my memories of this place span decades and it all flashed through my mind just on the simple trigger of that smell of creosote. There was me in the water swimming with my mask and snorkel under the dock looking for lures lost over the years. The dock we now stood on was built on the crumbling deck of the previous dock and so on and so on. I even recall the one year we arrived with the water so high we couldn’t get out too our favorite spot on the dock without boots. It’s been a few decades since I visited this place so I can only imagine what it looks like now. Thanks to the help of Google earth I was able to see where we once fished from was now no longer connected to the main dock that is still maintained. So my memories are sort of marooned offshore to a place I could never again visit unless I felt like getting really wet.

Pop 90

My grandfather standing on the dock at Low Island circa 1984.

What I was revelling in was the amount of varied imagines of this place that flooded into my head like silent movies only I could see, no time stamp as in all these images I couldn’t see myself to gage the year since it was from my eyes and the people in them like my grandfather never seemed to age. My grandmother was sitting in the car in the parking lot at Low Island reading a book as she always did. She never came out on the dock ever, but she always wanted to come along for the ride and the change of scenery from the cottage I suppose. My dad teaching me how to cast with my first rode off that dock as a boy. All these memories flooded my mind triggered by the smell of some tar-covered wood. I wish there was a way to actually download these sorts of images to a hard drive to share with people because other then a few holiday snap shots I have very few actual photo’s from this place. It doesn’t make the memories any less important by not having a photo to recount the moment and maybe that even makes the memory even stronger, I don’t know. I’ve got hard drives with tens’ of thousands of digital images of the girls so pretty much every step of their growth has been documented. I wonder if any moment in their lives won’t have a digital image to mark the occasion


Me and my dad circa 1975 with a fish I caught off that dock.


In the seventies during the era of the photo mat and cartridge film cameras we generally only took photos at Christmas and during our holidays to the Island. Many years when we finally paid to have the film developed we’d see two Christmas turkeys and a bunch of fish all in the same envelope full of prints. The only other people I could even hope to share this recollection with that may have the same emotional connection to this dirty old dock are now dead. They are just the moving images of friendly faces smiling at me during my flashback. Even if they were alive that still doesn’t mean this location meant anything to them other then a place we went fishing. It’s a precious moment from my youth but it might have meant very little to them. With all the photo’s I have in my possession it’s the ones only I have access too that are the most precious. It’s a bit sad to think when we eventually die all these thoughts and memories go with us. I wonder if someone could develop a Turing like test that was able to transfer the emotion a personal memory triggers to another person. Maybe someone will invent this in my lifetime. I guess I’m doing the next best thing trying to transfer this memory to you who read this but it’s not quite the same as having been there yourself. If you’ve never been to this Island in Northern Ontario it really won’t mean so much with no shared experience of a place. I guess that’s why when you share a memory of a popular destination with someone else who’s visited the same place as well there is an instant connection. We might both be sharing thoughts about a place but we were never there at the same time so it’s just the location you’re reflecting on not the shared experiences of the place and what it meant to you. Each person has their own memory they just happened to be at the same spot on earth.

Gran and Pop

My grandparents standing in front of the last cottage we ever stayed in on one of the last summers they ever spent here. 1988


I’ve tried to share this place with many of the people I care about in my life by bringing them to the Island to experience it for themselves. I’d like to think it left a mark on their memory but it’s probably nothing like my own memory of the place. Even though I haven’t been there myself in over 20 years, four people I’d still like to share Manitoulin with are of course my kids. I hope to one-day take them and I hope they’ll  soak up a bit of the magic that truly transformed their father’s life. After spending all my formative years vacationing in this place with my family for the better part of two decades it will always hold a dear place in my heart. It also apparently has a lighting connection to my brain when the correct nose trigger sets off a flood of memories. Somehow I’m sure it will be the same bored yawns from the back seats we heard last summer when we took the time to tour the girls through both their mother and my hometowns. Because they’d spent no time there it meant nothing to them and they weren’t at all interested in hearing stories about their parents youth. They perked up a bit when locations connected to the people they were named for came to light but even that was fleeting. I guess I won’t know for decades how the girls perceive their surroundings and if certain sights or smells trigger fond memories. I’m not sure what social media will look like or what plans Google has for connecting all data in our lives may look like so maybe all memories will have an image. I guess once they get cameras installed in everyone’s eyes then everything we see will be accessible.


Till that time arrives I’ll just marvel at the power of the human brain and it’s ability to blind side you with a trip down memory lane you had no intention of taking. Especially when I’m already in the middle of a bike ride. Maybe I’m going to have to call that unnamed trail on my ride “memory lane” because it certainly fits.