Category Archives: Misc

Our American Cousins

We went to Sault Ste. Marie (Ontario) this past weekend, and drove up through Michigan to get there. Now, it’s not like I’ve never been to the US before, in fact I’ve been countless times. I’ve visited about half of the 50 states. At my last job (1994-1997), I traveled to Boston a couple of times a month for three years. I’ve also travelled on business to San Francisco (twice), Naples Florida, Washington DC, Baltimore (3 times), and New York City. I lived in Redmond, Washington for four months back in 1991. I live less than an hour’s drive from the border at Niagara Falls, and even closer to Queenston/Lewiston. I even have a US Social Security number, though I have no idea what it is or where my card is.

Canadian and US culture is unquestionably similar, but there are a few differences (some subtle and some less so) that a seasoned traveler will notice. Here are some examples of the roadside signs and billboards we saw during our trip that you would not see in Canada:

  • Bail bonds
  • Fishing line (priced by the yard) – not that we don’t have fishermen in Canada, but I’ve never seen ads like this
  • Crossbows
  • “Guns Galore” and “Gun sights and outfitters” – though there was a gun show in the Sault (Canadian side!) while we were there
  • Bob Evans, Stuckey’s, Cracker Barrel (never had these in Canada)
  • Big Boy, Ponderosa (used to have these in Canada – why don’t we anymore?)
  • “Entering prison area. Do not pick up hitchhikers”
  • Ads for health insurance
  • One billboard was entirely in Spanish. This wouldn’t surprise me in California, New Mexico, Texas, or Arizona… OK, maybe it would in Arizona. But in central Michigan?
  • The Marines
  • – containing the slogan “Does your credit stink?”  This is a real web site, though one of the worst commercial sites I’ve seen. There are only six links on the site – two of them bump you off to different sites. Contact Us gives a “page not found” error, Privacy gives a document with multiple font sizes that looks like it was cut-and-pasted with no formatting, Additional Forms gives a very badly formatted form with a zillion fields, and I don’t know about Video. I am not going to click on a link marked “Video” on any site with the word “poopy” in the title.

Please note that this is not a criticism, just an observation. In particular, I like the Marines billboards, and I’d love to see more billboards in Canada regarding the Canadian Forces – I like the “Fight with the Canadian Forces” ads that have come out recently.



One of the things we bought my sister this year for Christmas was a book called The Book of Awesome. It’s a book based on a blog listing a whole bunch of awesome things, from waiters who bring refills without asking to the smell of freshly cut grass to the last few seconds of untying a really stubborn knot. It’s a fun book, and I think everyone had at least a few minutes of looking through it. Every time I saw someone looking at it, it didn’t take long before they were smiling and nodding, having found one they agreed with. I decided to come up with a few of my own, but note that I did not read the book cover to cover so it’s possible that one of mine is actually in the book.

Turkey sandwiches the day after a turkey dinner. A couple of pieces of fresh bread, turkey (white or dark meat, doesn’t matter), some mayonnaise and a touch of salt and pepper, then nuke it for about 10 seconds. I was going to say “soft white bread” instead of just “fresh bread” but this past Christmas I had one at my parents’ place on fresh twelve grain bread that was just… well, awesome.

When your kids give you a hug in front of their friends. I remember dropping the boys off at school last year and after saying goodbye to Nicky, I saw that Ryan (age 10) was across the room talking with his friends. I didn’t want to embarrass him so I just waved, said “Have a good day, buddy”, and kept walking. He said “Daddy!” and ran across the room to say goodbye and give me a hug. It made my day.

When you get home from a long vacation and remember as you are walking in the door that you cleaned up the kitchen before leaving. We’ve had vacations where that wasn’t the case, and when you’ve been travelling all day and you’re tired and have lots of unpacking and laundry to look forward to, not to mention returning to work / school / etc., walking in to a messy kitchen just sucks.

Taking your ski boots off and putting your regular boots on after a full day of skiing. Doesn’t matter how old and ratty your boots are, they are soooooo comfortable. Also, the warm glow you feel on your face when you come inside after a full day of skiing.

The sound of a baby giggling. Extra points if it’s your baby.

That moment when your parents kiss at the Enchantment Under The Sea dance and you, your brother, and your sister re-appear in that photograph in your pocket. You know the feeling. Just makes you wanna pick up your guitar and wail on the Johnny B. Goode solo.

Working from home during a big winter storm. I’ve written about this in the past. The iPod in the dock, a cup of hot chocolate, and a fierce storm outside makes for a surprisingly happy guy working at home.

Fixing a particularly nasty software bug. You have been working on this bug for days. It seems random. There’s seemingly no predicting when it will happen, let alone why. Customers are waiting for a resolution. You have made zero progress since the last time your boss asked how it was going, and you know that he’s just about ready to ask again. Then in the debugger you see that a variable is set to 0 when it shouldn’t be. “Why the hell is it 0?” you think. “If it’s zero, then that would mean that —” and then it hits you. Suddenly you know exactly why it’s happening, and why it’s so hard to reproduce. All of the weird descriptions of the problems the customer is seeing that didn’t make sense suddenly do make sense. Even better, you know you can give the customer a workaround, fix the problem easily, and even write a simple automated test so that the problem never happens again. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Forgetting that it’s garbage day until you think it’s too late, and making the garbage truck anyway. Even better, when you get the green / blue bin to the curb just as the truck gets to your house, so you can wait for 15 seconds and bring the bin back in.

Being complimented by a stranger on your parenting. When we’re out with the boys at a restaurant or store, I’m proud to say that sometimes they will be particularly polite or helpful. Sometimes, not so much. But when they are, the server will occasionally turn to us and tell us how impressed they are with our kids. When a complete stranger tells you that your kid is very polite, that feeling (“I’m not a complete failure as a parent!”) more than makes up for the bowl of cereal that he (the kid, not the stranger) took 45 minutes to eat that morning despite the fact that you were already late for work.

Email scam

Gail received an email the other day from a friend of hers. The email said that she had gone to London, England for an impromptu vacation and gotten mugged, and now they needed money to get home, and asked if we could help them out. The email was fairly convincing:

Hey There,

    How you doing? This has had to come in a hurry as it left me in a devastating state…  Myself, and the Kids made a trip to London (United Kingdom) unannounced some days back on vacay, Unfortunately we got mugged at gun point last night! All cash, Credit card and phone got stolen, we are stranded in London, fortunately passport and travel docs was back in my hotel room.  It was a bitter experience and I was hurt on my right hand, but would be fine. I’m sending you this message cos I don’t want anyone to panic; I want you to keep it that way for now!

Our return flight leaves tomorrow, but we’re having troubles sorting out the hotel bills.. This is embarrassing enough, wondering if you could loan us some dollars to sort out the hotel bills and also take a cab to the airport about ($2000). We have been in contact with the police  and the Embassy here, but they aren’t helping issues, We got limited means of getting out of here, Already canceled our cards and made a police report.. We don’t get new card numbers till we get back home! So we really need your help.

You could wire whatever you can spare to my name and hotel address via Western union:

56 Kentish Town Road
London, NW5 2AA
United Kingdom

Please get back to me with the details once you have made the transfer; would def refund it to you once I arrive! Hopefully in 2 days,  Sorry for any inconvenience this might cause you.

I await your prompt response.

Thank you,

Gail forwarded it on to me asking if we could help them. I was immediately suspicious (turns out Gail was too, but she didn’t say that in her email) and I responded to Gail warning her that this had a bad smell to it. I told her that if she was going to respond, tell her friend to call us collect and send no money until we’d talked to her in person. I asked if her friend ever used the word “vacay” (I don’t know anyone who does) or if she’d be likely to say “I await your prompt response”. More importantly, is she the kind of person who would take off for England on short notice? Even if she was, would she bring the kids during the first month of school? Gail decided that this was not likely and called her at home. Sure enough, she was there, her email account had been hacked, and she had already had over 40 phone calls from other people. Hopefully nobody got suckered in.

I’ve seen lots of different email scams and most of them are obviously fake. This one looked relatively legitimate – so much so that while I was immediately suspicious, I didn’t dismiss it out of hand like I usually do. Be careful out there.

And the winner for best soap box dispenser is…

While driving around town the other day, I spotted a local business sporting a new sign: “Your community’s award-winning laundromat”. I’m curious as to exactly what awards they won. I guess I’ve been remiss in my attention to the local laundromat awards.

When they “Your community”, do they mean Waterdown, or is this Hamilton-wide? When and where was the ceremony? Is this a rent-the-Legion kind of event, or were they down at the Hamilton Convention Centre? Or Copps Coliseum? We get both the Hamilton and local Flamborough papers, and I don’t remember mention of it, but maybe I just missed it. Must have happened while I was in hospital. Yeah, that’s gotta be it.

I’m sure that Hamilton’s A-list celebrities were all there – that would be star of stage and screen Martin Short, hoser Dave Thomas, Ti-Cats owner Bob Young, and sports journalist Stephen Brunt. And the bands Junkhouse and Teenage Head. Waterdown’s A list might also have been there, consisting of… ummmm…. well, the guy that played Harold on the Red Green show used to live here, does that count? And I once saw the coach (at the time) of the Tiger-Cats in the local grocery store, but then he got fired and moved back to London.

Anyway, congratulations to Cedars Laundromat on their victory, and I look forward to seeing if they can make it two in a row at next year’s Soapie Awards. Probably on pay-per-view.

Oh Canada! Ribfest

Ribfest Waterdown held its first annual Oh Canada! Ribfest this past weekend. There were six “ribbers” selling not only ribs but chicken and pulled pork, and each one sold bottles of their custom BBQ sauce as well. Some had other sides like beans, cole slaw, and corn bread. There were other places selling Bloomin’ Onions and Spiral Spuds, as well as pitas, roasted yams, corn-on-the-cob, and your standard nachos, burgers, dogs, and fries. And don’t forget the ice cream and mini-donuts. And the beer! They had beer and coolers from a local micro-brewery, Nickel Brook. I tried the Green Apple Pilsner on Thursday, which tasted kind of like beer mixed with apple cider. Doesn’t really sound that good, but I liked it. It’s kind of like Corona for me – I wouldn’t buy a case of it, but once in a while, on a hot summer day (like today), it’s very nice. On Sunday, I tried their regular pilsner, which I wasn’t too thrilled with. But I also tried their draft root beer, which was very different from regular A&W or Barq’s root beer – almost had a black liquorice taste to it. That stuff was good, and surprisingly Gail, who likes neither black liquorice nor root beer, liked it too.

I'm on a horse.Besides the food, there was a stage where kids from local dance schools showed their talent, a bunch of local bands played, and at night on Thursday, they dropped down a huge screen and showed How To Train Your Dragon. There was a little midway with kids rides, and a bunch of local vendors set up booths as well. On Canada Day, they had a mountie present for a “Citizenship Court”, as a number of local people became brand new Canadian citizens. Nothing says Canada like a mountie in full uniform, except maybe a mountie in full uniform on a horse. Holding a Tim Horton’s cup.

The ribfest was held at Memorial Park in Waterdown, which is about 1½ km from our house, so we walked there and back – three times. (Well, two times. We drove on Sunday when it was 35° outside.) We went for lunch on Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday. There were ballots for voting on the ribbers, and we wanted to be informed voters, so we made sure we tried them all before voting. Plus the ribs were so good, we just had to keep going back. Good thing dental floss is cheap – I’ve gone through an awful lot of it in the past few days.

There were six ribbers showcasing their wares, and you could vote in each of two categories: ribs and sauce. The ribbers were:

Fire Island – Ribs: pretty good. Sauce: excellent. The sauce was more smoky and had a bit more of a bite than the others. All four of us chose this as our favourite sauce. We had BBQ sauce on the ribs, but we had a sample of their honey-garlic sauce as well (zingy!), and it was so good that we bought a bottle.

Boss Hog – Ribs: Awesome. Sauce: sweet. The meat just fell off the bones, and even the ribs near the end of the rack weren’t dry at all. My vote for best ribs, and Nicky’s too.

Silver Bullet – Ribs: Very good. Sauce: tangy. Gail’s favourite ribs.

Camp 31 – Ribs: Very good. Sauce: tangy. Similar to Silver Bullet. [Warning: web site plays music.]

Bone Daddy – Ribs: Awesome. Sauce: excellent. For me, these guys had the second-best ribs and the second-best sauce. Ryan’s vote for best ribs.

Hawgs Gone Wild – Ribs: not bad. Sauce: sweet. The ribs were OK, but kind of dry. Their corn bread was very good and we got two big pieces for $1 (or more accurately, we got eight big pieces for $4). We had the ribs on Thursday, but went back on Sunday for more corn bread. [Warning: web site contains no information whatsoever. Interestingly, it was designed by the same people who did the Camp 31 site. Hmmm…]

The ribfest had its own web site, which could have used some more work – lots of typos and spelling errors. Also, when some pages contain things like “check back later to find out more information” or “we will have a list of events here” during the event, you know the web site people haven’t been keeping up. There’s a list of the ribbers, but it’s not up-to-date either – two of the ones listed on the web site aren’t there, and Camp 31 and Hawgs Gone Wild aren’t listed at all. But if my biggest complaint about an event is that their web site isn’t up to snuff, that’s not too bad.

Big kudos and many thanks to the Rotary Club and all the volunteers for all their hard work! This event was not only a lot of fun for our family, but great for our community, and we hope to see it return next year and for many years in the future. Gail volunteered on Saturday night for a few hours, and next year we’re all planning on volunteering for various shifts. Unfortunately, it’s likely to be at Joe Sams park next year, which is much bigger than Memorial Park but further north. It’s not walkable from the Waterdown core, so parking will be a much bigger issue. Perhaps there will be shuttle busses available from “downtown” up to the park. They couldn’t get a license to have fireworks at Memorial Park but they should be able to at Joe Sam’s, so hopefully there will be fireworks next year. I’m already looking forward to it!

Gie’s a minute for a wee blether

So there’s this kid in Alberta who’s graduating high school soon. His parents moved here in the 60’s from Scotland, as did mine, though he himself has never been there (don’t know what you’re missing, dude). He’s decided that he wants to wear a kilt to his graduation, to celebrate his Scottish heritage. Cool idea, right? I thought so, but his principal has told him that he is not allowed to wear the kilt to the graduation ceremony. Why? “It does not fit the dress code”.

Now there are thousands of people from around the world who have joined a facebook page that are going completely apeshit over this, telling Jacobs to go to court, that his basic human rights have been violated, that this is a hate crime… OK, take it easy people. This is not a huge conspiracy against the Gaelic people. More likely, it’s a principal who doesn’t want this kid flashing his junk at people while on stage, assuming he’s wearing the traditional undergarments. Don’t get me wrong – I fully support the kid. Not allowing him to wear a kilt is silly, but it’s not a human rights violation. “Scottishness” isn’t a religion that he practices (which is why all the comparisons to turbans and muslim headwear and such are faulty), so I don’t think he can play the human rights card. From the Globe article, it doesn’t look like he’s spent tons of time embracing his Scottish heritage – never been to Scotland and doesn’t plan to go, never worn a kilt, that kind of thing. Now I’ve never worn a kilt either, and there are lots of reasons why his never having been to Scotland doesn’t mean anything. But if he’s trying to claim that this is part of his own culture and upbringing, I’d have a hard time believing it. It’s not like he’s going to get to his graduation in a suit and tie and think to himself “This is just wrong. I should be in a kilt.” You want to take it to court, fine, but let’s not get all bent out of shape and start calling it a hate crime. That would be insulting to victims of actual hate crimes.

When I was in Scotland in 2000, my cousin Hazel got married, and we were there for the wedding. My aunt told me that I had to wear a kilt. I think she expected me to jump back and yell “What?! I’m not wearing one of those things!!”. Instead, I told her that it would be very cool and I was definitely up for it. When I was told she was joking and I didn’t have to, I was quite disappointed. Kilts are very expensive, so buying one was out of the question, but I should have looked into renting one. I may never have a chance again. Ach well.

A day like no other

Here are some things that happened to me today, all of which are out of the ordinary:

  • For various reasons, I left home almost an hour late. Actually, leaving late isn’t all that unusual, but rarely that late.
  • Because the car had a flat yesterday and was in getting fixed, I drove the van to work.
  • The van doesn’t have an iPod adapter, so I did not bring my iPod. Instead I listened to CDs (actual disks!) and the radio.
  • Because my TimCard is in the car, I used cash at Tim Horton’s for breakfast.
  • A friend at work borrowed my kids’ Lightning McQueen RC car last week – she made an awesome Lightning McQueen cake and used the car as a model. She returned it today so it was sitting on my desk all day.
  • I played in a band at work – me and two other guys played guitar, another played keyboard, and four or five more sang Christmas songs. I can count the number of times I’ve played the guitar in a band – counting today, three.
  • I had a full turkey lunch, complete with veggies, mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, and dessert.
  • It took me two hours and fifteen minutes to get home from work (in the van, without my iPod). This was obviously annoying but strangely, I wasn’t as pissed off when I got home as I usually am after such a long commute.
  • I had a peanut butter sandwich for dinner.
  • I came home to an empty house. It was movie night, so Gail and the boys were over at the school. I went and joined them after “dinner”.

All these weird things happened in one day. It seems very surreal when I look back on it.

Sorry, must cut this article short – I need to take the rhinoceros out for a walk.

Sarah’s Story

SarahIn the four and a half years that I’ve had this blog, I’ve written over six hundred articles (and trust me, nobody is more stunned by that number than I am). Most are about sports, technology, music, movies, and my family, as well as the occasional article on things like religion and politics. None of them are as important as this one. If you are only a casual reader of this blog, regularly skipping articles about subjects that don’t interest you, I implore you to read this one to the end.

I first met Cindy Marshall in 1994, when her sister Kerri married my friend (and best man at my wedding) Jeff. I don’t know a lot of my friends’ siblings, but Cindy and Kerri (and their parents) are very close, so you can’t know one without knowing the other. Cindy had her first child, Sarah, in February 1997, and Kerri had hers, Rachel, in June. But the fact that both children were girls and both were born in the same year is just about the extent of the similarities. Rachel’s most significant physical problem is that she needs glasses. Sarah, on the other hand, had surgery before she was born, has had a number of surgeries since then, and has been close to death more times than I care to remember. The fact that she is still alive has been called a miracle.

Part-way through Cindy’s pregnancy, a routine ultrasound showed that the baby’s bladder was enlarged. Upon further examination, doctors discovered that it wasn’t draining properly, so she underwent two surgeries (called “bladder taps”) in-utero. At this point the doctors thought there was an obstruction of some kind and believed that it was a relatively mild problem. Sarah was born five weeks early on Valentine’s Day 1997, and weighed less than five pounds. She wasn’t yet two days old when she had her first major surgery, an attempt to repair her twisted bowel. Immediately following the surgery, her appendix ruptured and had to be removed – the first of a number of organs to be removed from Sarah’s tiny body.

After three more surgeries in two months looking for bowel obstructions, Sarah was diagnosed with “megacystis microcolon intestinal hypoperistalsis syndrome“. In a nutshell, her bladder was enlarged, and her intestines were pretty much non-functional. Sarah spent the next five months at Sick Kids hospital in Toronto. She was started on TPN (Total Parenteral Nutrition), which means that she was fed completely intravenously. This is not a big deal for adults – many adults can live on TPN for years – but it’s very hard on an infant’s body. It kept Sarah alive, but at a price – within a couple of months, it destroyed both her liver and pancreas. She already needed a bowel transplant, but now she needed a new pancreas and liver as well. In May, Cindy was told that Sarah’s only hope was a multiple-organ transplant and she was placed on the transplant list. At that time, no child as young as Sarah had ever survived such a transplant. I don’t know if Cindy knew that then.

Rock climbingSarah’s life expectancy during this time varied, but was usually measured in months or even weeks, and at times much less. I remember being at a gathering at Jeff and Kerri’s house in Newmarket (for Jeff’s birthday, I believe) when the phone rang. The call was from Cindy at the hospital, basically saying “You better get down here now“, and Jeff and Kerri immediately grabbed their coats and left. I was standing right by the front door as they left, and as long as I live I will never forget the look on Kerri’s face. The party broke up shortly after they left as we all contemplated what was likely to happen that night. Thankfully, Sarah made it through that night and a number of others like that before something both terrible and wonderful happened – another infant died.

I feel like a monster for even using the word “wonderful” in a sentence describing the most painful thing that could happen to a parent. But on what must have been the worst day of their lives, the parents of the child who lost his life (all Cindy knows about him is that he was a ten-pound baby boy) made a decision that saved Sarah’s – they agreed to allow their child’s organs to be harvested for transplant. Sarah was flown from Toronto to Children’s Hospital at the University of Western Ontario in London and at the age of 5 months 24 days, she received a new stomach, pancreas, liver, and bowel. In addition, both her gall bladder and spleen were removed. The date of the operation was August 7, 1997, a day that Sarah and her family and friends still celebrate as “Life Day”.

The transplant saved Sarah’s life, but it hasn’t all been roses since then. She spent the next five months in the hospital in London before finally coming home for the first time at the age of ten months, and to this day returns to the hospital regularly for treatment and checkups. Transplants are funny – the body can live with a transplanted organ for years, even decades, and then suddenly decide that it’s a foreign body and needs to get rid of it. As a result, Sarah has to take several different kinds of medication every day to avoid rejection, and will for the rest of her life. The medication has serious side-effects as well. She never crawled as a baby because she simply didn’t have the strength and needed help on stairs until the age of four or five. Sarah is a full foot shorter than her cousin Rachel (who is younger by four months), and despite being twelve years old, she weighs less than 60 pounds. She has very thin arms and legs with little muscle. She loves to dance and has been taking dance classes for years, partially because she enjoys it and partially to help her build up her strength.

Not only did the operation save Sarah’s life, but it was special in a number of other ways as well – it was the first pediatric multi-organ transplant in Canada, and only the second ever with those four organs. Sarah became the youngest multi-organ transplant recipient in history, and has a certificate from the Guinness World Record people to prove it.

Sarah and her brother Austin Despite all the hardships she’s had to deal with, the surgeries, the medication, the procedures she still has to have done every day, all the trips to the hospital in London (did I mention that she lives in Cobourg, about 300km away from London?), Sarah remains a happy, bubbly, delightful little girl. She doesn’t have the physical strength to do things that other kids do, even some much younger than her, but I have never once heard her complain about it. Now don’t get me wrong, she gets grumpy now and again like any other kid. And Cindy has probably heard her complain on numerous occasions, but note that I said “I’ve never heard her complain”. Seriously though, Sarah is almost always smiling, she loves having her picture taken, she adores her baby brother Austin, and she’s just always fun to be around. She’s spoken at public events about her experiences, and has been interviewed for a number of magazines. You may remember a Wal-Mart TV commercial a couple of years ago, where a number of people said “I was one”, “one” being a child whose life was saved at children’s hospitals. The little girl at the end who whispered “I am one” was Sarah.

Like all of my friends who know Sarah, Gail and I have signed our organ donor cards and quite honestly, other than having religious beliefs prohibiting it, I cannot think of one compelling reason not to. If Sarah had not had her transplant, she would almost certainly have died within a year of her birth, and those of us who have gotten to know and love her over the last twelve years would have been deprived of that. I signed my donor card so that I might be able to help others have a similar experience. Please sign yours.

Parking Lot Design FAIL

In front of the main door of the building I work in, there are several handicapped parking spots, as there should be. To the west of the main door is the door I usually use. When you open that door, there is a step up (no ramp), and the hallway you enter leads directly to a stairwell and nothing else. There is no way to access the main floor using that door (well, there is a door into an unfinished storage area on the main floor, but that door is permanently locked).

So why are there five handicapped parking spots in front of that door?