Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Happy birthday to me!

I turned 38 yesterday (it's shortly after midnight), though I don't feel a day over, oh, say, 35. Normally our family celebrates birthdays by (among other things) going out for dinner, where the birthday boy/girl chooses the restaurant. I love Chinese food, so I chose a Chinese food buffet place in Burlington that Gail and I used to go to a lot, but haven't been in a while. However, Ryan had soccer last night, I have a golf tournament today, Ryan has a soccer practice on Wednesday, and I have a baseball game on Thursday, so we're not going for dinner until Friday. They gave me my presents today though. Gail gave me tickets to see We Will Rock You (warning: link plays music without asking and (even worse) doesn't seem to have a "shut the hell up" button - I hate that ) with a bunch of our friends at the end of August. As an unintended gift, she also took both boys to Ryan's soccer game, which gave me an uninterrupted hour to continue reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

I was very impressed by the gifts from the kids — Gail said that they chose them themselves (i.e. it wasn't Gail buying the presents and saying that they were from the boys). I broke my sunglasses a week or two ago when sliding into second base (I've kind of fixed them, but one of the lenses falls out fairly easily now), so Nicholas got me a new pair. Ryan got me a music stand, so I can put my music books on it, rather than putting them down on the overly-cluttered desk in the office.

I also got one birthday "gift" that I did not need. My golf shorts (I really should buy a second pair) were in the laundry, and as I said, I have a golf tournament later today, so I put in a load of laundry with the intent of moving them from the washer to the dryer just as I was going to bed. When I checked around 11:15, I found that the washer was still full of dirty water, and nothing was happening — there was no power getting to the washer. I checked the circuit breaker, which was fine, so I grabbed an extension cord and tried that. The washer groaned for a second and then stopped again. I had to empty all of the clothes from the washer into the laundry sink, then scoop out over 40 litres of water from the washer before I could find the problem, which was a pair of Ryan's pyjamas wrapped around the agitator. I fought with that for a while before dislodging them. By this point it was almost midnight, and now I had to put the clothes back in the washer, restart it, and wait for it to finish so that I could put everything in the dryer so that I had golf shorts to wear tomorrow. I'm too tired to continue reading (not that I'm not enjoying the book), so I says to myself, "Self", I says, "what activity can you do to pass the time when you're tired and don't feel like thinking?" You guessed it — blogging!

Well, the washer is done now, so I'm off to move the clothes into the dryer and hit the hay. Now that I'm old, I really should get to bed earlier.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

But the game tokens are really expensive

I enjoy reading Ken Levine's blog - he's a TV writer that used to write for such shows as Cheers and M*A*S*H. This morning's entry is about his recent trip to Vegas, and if you've ever been to Vegas, you gotta read this. The last line sums it up perfectly: "Las Vegas truly is Chuck E. Cheese for adults."

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Never Break the Chain

I pulled out Fleetwood Mac's classic record album Rumours this morning, and listened to (most of) it on the way to work. I haven't listened to it in years, and I think I'd forgotten how good it is — it's considered a classic for a reason. Part of it is obviously the presence of the big hits Dreams, Don't Stop, Go Your Own Way, and You Make Loving Fun, but the other songs are all great as well (particularly Never Going Back Again and The Chain), with (for me) two glaring exceptions: the boring Songbird and the boring Oh Daddy, both of which are Christine McVie songs. Lindsay Buckingham and Steve Nicks, I always thought, were the primary singers and songwriters of Fleetwood Mac (at least during their heyday in the late 70's and into the 80's), and Christine McVie was "the other one", who wrote and sang some songs as well, but rarely the good ones. Her songs were always closer to "adult contemporary" and further away from the rockier stuff, and I've always found her voice kind of boring. Stevie Nicks' voice, on the other hand, is very unique, and can be either powerful or soft depending on the song. McVie wrote the hits like You Make Loving Fun, Don't Stop (though Lindsay Buckingham sings mosts of it), Say You Love Me, Over My Head, Hold Me, Little Lies, and Everywhere — with the exception of Don't Stop, all of them are keyboard-heavy love songs. They're not all bad songs (I actually like Don't Stop and Hold Me, and I don't mind Little Lies), just not so much my cup of tea. Some of her lyrics are a little more inane than the rest of the band, like from You Make Loving Fun: "Sweet wonderful you, you make me happy with the things you do", or from Say You Love Me: "Woo me until the sun comes up and you say that you love me". How often do people nowadays use the term "woo me"?

"Dreams" is, for me, a song that just screams "radio in the seventies". I was eight when it was released in 1977, and was just starting to pay attention to the music my parents listened to on the radio. I remember listening to the lyrics and even analyzing them in my little eight-year-old way:

Thunder only happens when it's raining   (obviously)
players only love you when they're playing   (why? That doesn't seem fair)

Strangely, even though I always think of the 70's when I hear that song, I think it has also aged well, in that it doesn't sound like a 70's song. There are some songs that you just don't hear on the radio after a few years because their sound is so typical of a certain year or "era" that they sound old. You will still hear "Dreams" on the radio, but rarely "Shake Your Booty" by KC and the Sunshine Band. Melissa Etheridge's self-titled debut and "Skyscraper" by David Lee Roth were both released in 1988, but Roth's album gets almost no airplay these days on rock radio stations, while you'll still hear Melissa Etheridge now and again. Why? Because Roth's album sounds like a typical late-80's pop-rock album, while Etheridge's music is a little more timeless. Same with Fleetwood Mac.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Pitching, hitting, and gambling

During the baseball offseason, I wrote that I didn't understand why the Jays had signed Frank Thomas and Matt Stairs and had not done anything about their pitching staff. Obviously, I said, hitting wasn't the problem last year, pitching was, so going out and improving the hitting while leaving the pitching alone didn't make sense. So now, we're halfway through the season, and what do we have?


  • One hitter over .300, only two others over .280
  • Five people with higher slugging percentages than Thomas and Wells
  • Eight people with higher on-base percentages than Wells
  • The Jays are 21st out of 30 in AVG and OBP, though 9th in SLG, and 29th in SB


  • Four pitchers with ERAs under 3.00, and eleven under 5.00
  • The Jays are 15th of 30 in team ERA, tied for 2nd in complete games, and right around 15th in a number of other pitching categories.
  • This is without Ryan and Chacin, and Halladay and Barnett have been out for part of the year as well.

Bottom line? The pitching ain't the problem anymore. It's not outstanding, but the rookies and young guys have stepped up and done a fine job. The hitters have not. Vernon Wells and Frank Thomas are being paid way too much money to have the stats that they do.

In another blog entry from a while ago, I talked about Pete Rose and how the fact that he never bet against his own team is irrelevant, gambling on sports while you are involved in them is bad in general. I said that if he gets into debt or some kind of trouble with the mob, they could ask him to throw (or at least influence) games for them as part of the debt repayment. Lo and behold, yesterday it was announced that an NBA referee has been suspended and will likely be arrested for getting in gambling trouble with the mob, and being forced to negatively affect the outcomes of games that he was working. This is just the nightmare situation that all of the major professional sports leagues have been dreading (though probably expecting) for years.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Camping weekend 2007

This past weekend was our annual camping trip to Balsam Lake. While last year's trip was a lot of fun, this year wasn't so much. First off, our numbers were down from 9 campsites and 33 people last year to 6 campsites and 22 people. Unavailable were three families that have been camping with us for many years, so they were missed. Problem number one. Friday night was fine; we arrived in the late afternoon and got set up, then had dinner. Not long after we got there, one of the other kids, Dominik, fell in the forest and cut his leg on a branch. It turned out that the branch had actually punctured his leg, and there was a large hole. His mom Jenny took him to the hospital in nearby Lindsay. After a few hours in the ER, she returned with Dominik, who was very proud of his six stitches. Problem number two.

The rest of the night was less eventful. We sat around the campfire, got the kids to bed, then sat around the campfire some more, drank some frosty beverages, and ate chips and marshmallows. It got pretty cold that night, so Gail and I shivered in our sleeping bags for a while before getting to sleep. We had made sure that we had enough warm things (blankets and warm PJs and stuff) for the kids, so they were fine, but we were freezing. Problem number three.

The next morning was great. Gail got up with the boys, as I got a bit of a lie-in. We had breakfast and the boys rode their bikes for a while, though Dominik and his brother Anton crashed into each other on their bikes, and though Dominik was fine, Anton scraped his arm and leg up pretty good. No ER visit required for that one, but I'd call that problem number four.

Later in the morning, we got together with the other families and had a communal brunch. One of our camping traditions is that we get everyone together one morning and make egg McMuffins. I was on egg duty while Jeff did ham slices, Liisa did cheese, Faisal toasted the English muffins, and Steve sort of supervised and helped out as necessary. Every year the assembly line is different, and it's a lot of fun. After the cooking and eating was done, the adults who weren't cooking helped clean up... and that's when the rain began. Problem number five.

Tarps were quickly whipped out, and Steve and Richard climbed trees and worked tirelessly in the rain to keep Lynda's site dry (which was where our communal campfire was). The rest of the morning and the whole afternoon were spent hiding from the rain. I sat in our dining tent and taught Ryan and Dominik how to play cribbage, others played euchre by the campfire, Nicholas and Jake watched DVDs in Jeff and Kerri's camper, some people read books, and others napped. By late afternoon, we were all quite tired of the rain. Gail had found a couple of small leaks in our tent, so she rearranged the beds so that none of them got wet. We had figured by that time that our beach towels were not likely to get used for anything else, so we started using them to mop up the tent. Problem number... what am I at now? Five? Six?

Paul and Jenny's tent was leaking worse than ours and given that, plus problems number two and four (their kids both getting hurt), they decided to cut their losses, and packed up in the rain and headed home. At dinnertime, we all decided that we just wanted to be dry for a while, so as we had done one previous year, we all drove into town and went to a restaurant for dinner. For an hour or so, we didn't care that it was still raining, and when we got back from dinner, it had stopped. Gail grabbed our damp sleeping bags and ran for the comfort station, where there were washers and (more importantly) dryers. A couple of hours and a few dollars later, our sleeping bags were warm and dry again. Campfire was fun that night, as we roasted marshmallows and enjoyed the lack of rain... until about 10:00, when the thunderstorm hit. Problem number... oh, I don't know. Look it up.

The rain was pretty hard, and the thunder was loud. I love thunderstorms, so once I realized that our tent was no longer leaking (or at least was leaking in places we already had covered), I actually enjoyed it, and slept better that night than the previous one.

Sunday morning, the rain had stopped, but everything was still wet. We had no choice, though, but to pack all the wet stuff up into the van. Judicious use of towels, tablecloths, and blankets kept most of the dirt and mud contained, and we were on the road by 11:30 or so. It was nice and sunny at home, so we put the tents up again in the backyard to dry, and then all of us had the nicest, warmest, and most welcome showers / baths we'd had in recent memory.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Even more Law & Order spinoffs

See on MSNBC today:

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On-the-job training shouldn't last four years

The Leafs have announced that they are looking at hiring a "mentor" for GM John Ferguson Jr. The position would be "senior hockey administrator", and would only last a few years. Ferguson would still be the GM and would still make the decisions. Richard Peddie says that "John is still a very young man in a tough hockey market... and it occurred to us that John could use some help." He also says "John is still learning the job, and even though we have made some progress, we haven't made enough..."

This is ridiculous. How is Ferguson "still learning the job" after four years? They call him a "young man", and considering he's only 40, that's true. But Bryan Colangelo is only 42, and he's president and GM of the Raptors, with no mentor. He has MLSE's full support and full authority over the team. And what progress have the Leafs made during JFJ's reign? They made the playoffs in his first year as GM, then there was the lockout, then they haven't made the playoffs in the last two seasons. If after four years, they think he still needs help and is still learning the job, then why is he still in the job? Why don't they just fire his ass, and hire someone competent? Or, if they're really determined to have him as the GM at some point, then hire a real GM (who does know the job), and make Ferguson his assistant GM for a few years, or as long as it takes for him to learn how to run a team.

Friday, July 13, 2007


In the spirit of melle.ca, this is a picture that I did not take of the most beautiful double rainbow I've ever seen. On our way to see Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (in IMAX 3D! Way cool!) last night, we saw it over Mississauga. It started out as just the base of a rainbow, and before long we could see the entire arc of one, and about half of the second. The full one was the most vibrant rainbow I've ever seen, literally lighting up the sky.

Double rainbows are rare enough, but the brightness and beauty of this one had me wishing I had a camera on my cell phone. There were a number of cars pulled over to the side of the road, and the occupants of every car I passed were all staring off to the east. Nature is amazing.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Northern Ontario Adventure, Part Two

Day Four: North of Superior
It's about a five hour drive from the Sault to Manitouwadge, but we were in no big hurry. We packed up in the morning and headed out. Hwy 17 north of the Sault goes through Lake Superior Provincial Park, which is absolutely beautiful. There were lots of hiking trails and beaches, and one place where you could walk out onto a ledge under a cliff where several-hundred-year-old native-drawn pictographs are visible. (Aside: on the ledge, there is a plaque dedicated to a Canadian author and artist named Selwyn Dewdney, who studied and wrote about native pictographs for many years. One of his sons, Kee Dewdney is a professor at Western, where I did my Masters.)

On the drive, John was leading the way, and for whatever reason, didn't want to stop anywhere along the way, so we passed by a number of photo opportunities on the way up. Gail was a little disappointed, but we figured we were coming back the same way anyway, so we'd get the pictures then. Unfortunately, when we did come back, it was very foggy, so some of the pictures we missed on the way up were impossible on the way down. We stopped at Wawa for the obligatory picture with the big goose, and also to grab lunch and fill up. A couple of hours later, we were in Manitouwadge, enjoying a beer on the back patio in the sweltering heat. Since it was Canada Day, we wandered down to the beach, where the town was having a BBQ, and there was some entertainment for the kids. On our walk back to Rolly's place, he pointed out a barely-visible footprint in some dust, casually mentioning that it was from a bear. Bears are a big problem in this area. Rolly has seen some bear footprints in his back yard, and the town dump is no longer open to the public because of the number of bears that hang around there. If you have a load of stuff you want to take there, you have to contact the town who will arrange an escort for you, and the basic rule is "get in, dump your stuff, and get the hell out". Anyway, a little while later, the black flies and no-see-ums came out, and we went inside.

One thing I found interesting about being that far north was that it stays lighter later. Around here during the summer, sunset is about 9:00, but up there, sunset didn't happen until almost 10:00. Rolly was saying that it never really gets fully dark during the summer; even in the middle of the night, there's still a bit of a glow on the horizon. In the winter, it's the other way around — sunrise doesn't happen until 8:30, sunset is shortly after 5:00, and the middle of the night is pitch black.

Something I was hoping for on this trip was a glimpse of the Northern Lights, but they are more common during the winter, and we never managed to see any. Rolly wants us to come up during the winter sometime, so maybe then.

Day Five: Manitouwadge
Monday was our first full day in Manitouwadge. In the morning, we went over to the police station. When you visit a police officer, it's almost required that he give you a tour of the police station and put you in a jail cell. He put the boys in a cell and closed the door, and they had lots of fun trying to get out. After a while, he simply pulled the door open again, and we all had a good laugh at the fact that he never actually locked it, it was just heavy.

Rolly has a little sailboat that he keeps behind the police station, so after our tour he took the boys (and me) out for some spins around the lake. I've never been on a sailboat (other than a big-ass catamaran in Jamaica), so I never think about sailboats as being able to turn suddenly, but this one was small enough that one yank on the rudder and we'd turn 90° on a dime. It was very cool, and the boys loved it as well.

The rest of the day was spent kicking the soccer ball around, riding bikes (I took Nicky's training wheels off and did the whole running-alongside-the-bike thing for a little while until he got tired of it), and watching the boys splash around in the little pool that Rolly had filled up for them. Once again (and I think this is pretty standard up north), the outside part of the day ended when the bugs came out.

Day Six: Moving Day
Rolly lives with his girlfriend Candyce, who grew up in Manitouwadge. Her mother was moving from a house in town to an apartment on Tuesday, and John, Jackie, and I offered to help with the move while Gail hung out with the boys. The move took part of the morning and an hour or so in the afternoon, since there wasn't all that much stuff. It was overcast all morning, but luckily the rain held off until after we were done. Once the rain started, we hung out in the house playing cards, and the boys drew pictures. They also decided (entirely on their own) to write thank-you cards to Rolly and Candyce for inviting us to stay, and Nicky even wrote one to Gail and I for bringing him to Manitouwadge. We also borrowed Rolly's computer and internet connection (high speed, thank goodness, I don't know if I could handle a modem connection again) to book a trip on the Agawa Canyon Tour Train for Thursday, a trip we were really looking forward to, but as fate would have it, we would not be making.

Day Seven: Some Endings Come Too Soon
Wednesday we left Manitouwadge for Sault Ste. Marie, where we were going to camp for two nights. Shortly before we left in the morning, Gail realized that we had never retrieved the email that the Agawa canyon people had sent us with our confirmation number, so she asked me to go and get it. I logged onto Gail's webmail account to get the number, and saw an email from Gail's aunt Jeanne with the subject line "Sad news". Gail's aunt Barbie had passed away on Sunday, and was found by her daughter on Monday. At the young age of only 57, she had suffered a heart attack. The funeral was going to be in London (Ontario) on Friday. I broke the news to Gail, and we decided to cancel the train trip and simply head home. We figured we should be able to make it to (or near) Sudbury that day, and then it was about five hours home from there on the Thursday, giving us lots of time to get to London on Friday.

The drive to the Sault was broken up by a couple of photo-stops (though we did have to skip a few, as I mentioned before, because of the fogginess). We stopped at Old Woman's Bay, and all four of us had a great time climbing around on the huge rocks on the beach. We also stopped to see the aforementioned pictographs, which was also very cool. We decided at that point that Lake Superior Provincial Park would be a great place to go camping for a week. We had a picnic lunch at the pictograph place before continuing on to Sault Ste. Marie. John and Jackie set up their trailer and we grabbed the rest of our stuff from them, and continued on our way. The drive to Sudbury was uneventful, other than the torrential rain that we hit just outside of Sudbury. We stopped at a hotel just off the highway around 9:00, went for a quick swim to relax (very nice after sitting in the van for most of the past 12 hours), and went to bed.

Thursday we drove home from Sudbury, arriving home shortly after lunch. Gail immediately packed yet another bag, and was picked up by her mother and aunt on their way to London. I arranged for a sitter for the boys for Friday, and drove out to London on Friday for the funeral.

This was one of my favourite family vacations ever, though it obviously could have used a different ending. I love visiting new places, and the scenery through Lake Superior Provincial Park was some of the most beautiful I've ever seen, rivalling the Blue Mountains in Jamaica and the mountain vistas of Whistler and Jasper. (It's hard to call the rocky desert landscape of the Grand Canyon "beautiful", though it was certainly awe-inspiring.)

Gail turns the big four-oh next year, and decided a few years ago that she wanted to go to Paris for her 40th, so that's in the plans for next summer. I turn forty the year after that, and I'm still trying to decide where I want to go then. After paying for Paris, I'm not sure we'll be able to afford Hawaii or Australia the next year (two places I really want to go), and up until a couple of weeks ago, the thought of spending two weeks camping in Northern Ontario would not have appealed to me in the least, but after last week, maybe....

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Northern Ontario Adventure, Part One

Note: this entry was written on Thursday evening, but I never got around to posting it until today, so in the article, "today" means Thursday (July 5) and "tomorrow" means Friday (July 6). I haven't even written the second part of it yet.

We got home early this afternoon from a 2484 km trip around Ontario. The sheer size of this province astounds me — from our place to Manitouwadge was almost 1300 km and took us a day and a half, and Manitouwadge is still a full day's drive from the Manitoba border, and the far north of Ontario is unreachable by roads. The trip was a lot of fun, and we saw some amazing things, but unfortunately we had to cut the trip short. On Wednesday morning, we found out that Gail's aunt Barbie had passed away on Sunday. We were planning on leaving that morning anyway, but we missed out on an extra day in the Sault, plus a day in Sudbury as well. The funeral is tomorrow in London.

I'm going to break the trip in half, just so that I don't have one huge blog entry; rather, two semi-huge blog entries. A google map of the whole trip is here.

Day One: Heading Out
Gail had the day off, and I left work around 2:00. We picked the boys up after their last day of school, and headed out. We stopped near Canada's Wonderland, about an hour away, and went to Chuck E. Cheese's for dinner. This is a family tradition — we go there for dinner on (or near) the first and last days of school. We continued on to Gail's dad's place in Sundridge, where we stayed the night.

Day Two: The Road to the Sault
Friday morning, we had a quick breakfast and headed out on the road. Gail's dad John, his wife Jackie (Gail's stepmother, though because they got married when Gail was in university, she never uses that term, she's just "Jackie"), and their Jack Russell terrier Patches in their truck pulling their camper trailer, and the four of us following in our van. We went through North Bay and Sudbury, then stopped at a rest stop at Spanish River for lunch. Shortly after Spanish River, the traffic stopped dead. The next six kilometres took about an hour, until we got to an intersection that was being blocked by some native protestors holding signs saying things like "Honour our treaties". There were several OPP officers there as well, directing traffic. I don't get it. Do these protestors honestly think that they're going to get what they want, or even gain any public support by inconveniencing hundreds of people who aren't involved in their dispute?

Anyway, once we got through that, it was clear sailing through Sault Ste. Marie to Pancake Bay, where we were going to camp for the next two nights. Shortly before getting there, though, the traffic stopped again. We thought it might be another protest, but it turned out that there was a serious car accident ahead. After about 20 minutes, they cleared enough space so that we could get through, and the campsite was only about 2 km after that. The boys played soccer and rode their bikes while we got the camper set up, then a quick dinner and campfire, and it was off to bed.

Day Three: Pancake Bay
On Saturday, we went on a two hour hike on a beautiful trail around the campsite. There were a number of completely different ecosystems on this trail, mainly forests, but some parts were more rocky, and then it opened up into a "fen", which is apparently the same as a bog except that fresh water flows through it, so you get different kinds of plant and animal life. The boys walked the whole way (they're too heavy to carry, and I can only piggyback them for short distances now), and took turns walking Patches, which they seemed very excited about. We never managed to get to the beach, though it looked pretty nice. After dinner, John crafted a perfect marshmallow-toasting campfire, and we were all asleep by 10:30.

To be continued....