Goodbye, Grammy

I called my paternal grandmother “grandma.”

I think.

Frankly, I have only a few sketches of memory about her. She died when I was only 6 years old, long before I had time to develop a close relationship.

To the contrary, I did have an incredibly close relationship with my maternal grandmother, who I knew as “Nana.” I’ve written about her several times already.

But I had another grandmother when I was young: Grammy Bubar (pronounced BOO-ber).

Grammy was the grandmother of my best friend when I was in elementary school. She was also the mother of my own mother’s best friend, Joan.

Simply put, she was one of the kindest, sweetest, most wonderful women I’ve ever met.

A visit to Grammy’s house was something to look forward to just as much as a visit to see either of my grandmothers by birth. And required a lot less travel as she was only about 2 hours from home. My own grandmothers were a day’s drive at least. That also meant we got more regular visit FROM Grammy.

I remember sleepovers at the Bubar’s farmhouse in Burtts Corner, New Brunswick. I remember wonderful meals by an amazing cook; Grammy’s Hodge Podge – a stew of new potatoes, baby carrots and fresh peas cooked in butter and cream – is, to this day, an early summer favourite.

I remember big embraces that made me feel loved. I remember molasses cookies and bedtime stories.

Grammy Bubar passed away this week. It may have been decades since I last saw her, but I still feel a loss. A wonderful human being has left us.


Poster Child

I have come to realize that ‘Pirate’ is a pretty popular Halloween costume – probably because it’s easy to pull together quickly with just a few props. I’ve noticed quite a few pirates on my social media feed this year.

I was also a pirate for my Halloween costume at work, but I had a good reason for going simple this year.

My office team is pretty small. We’re only around 30-40 people, all together. And every few months, to help boost team morale, one of our designers will create a fun poster with caricatures of all the branch employees engaged in some seasonal activity, usually themed around a holiday.

This month, Anna created a poster with a Halloween theme. It has all my coworkers dressed to go trick-or-treating, and it’s amazing!

Here’s the image of me from the poster.

To show our appreciation for all of Anna’s hard work on the posters she does throughout the year, we decided to all dress up as our likenesses in the poster.

It was a pretty successful venture. Probably about half of those who chose to wear a costume were able to pull together some semblance of their poster-selves.

Here’s mine. Aside from the decision not to go barefoot, I think it’s a pretty reasonable facsimile!

Behind the Wall

Inside looking out toward the main gate at Kingston Pen (Photo: Phil Renaud)

For those of us in Ottawa, Kingston offers a nice destination for a summer road trip.

With plenty of quaint restaurants and well-stocked pubs, it’s a pleasant place to hang out in for a day, or even for an overnight. There are lots of little shops, a market or two, and the odd community festival to occupy one’s time. And the waterfront is chockablock if you’re into people-watching.

We took a drive to Kingston earlier this summer, but our visit had purpose: we were going behind the wall for a tour of Kingston Penitentiary.

Thing is, we’re not that organized. Tours of the pen need to be booked in advance, online. They offer a variety of start times, but the better-organized tourists all got signed up ahead of us. By the time we finally decided to take the tour, all the good weekend start times had been booked.

We were limited to the early-morning slot: 8:45 a.m.

There was no way we were going to get up early enough on a Saturday to drive to Kingston for the 8:30 a.m. check-in, so we decided to book a place to stay and headed to Kingston after work on Friday.

That actually worked out really well. We were there early enough to enjoy a nice dinner and then to do a short pub crawl – relying on Über to get us back to our accommodations.

It also meant we could sleep until a reasonable time, foregoing breakfast until after the tour.

We assumed the tour would only be about 80-90 minutes, so we were pretty hungry by the time it actually ended, nearly two hours later. But it was worth the time.

The tour group is taken around by a single guide, but at each stop, one of the former prison guards is there to explain how the prison was run and to give a personal account or two of something they saw during their time on duty, before the prison was decommissioned in 2014.

In my opinion, the tour ran a bit long, but it was still a fun way to spend a Saturday morning. We got a few decent pictures on our cell phones, but neither of us brought our good cameras, for some reason.

Still, as you’ll see, we got a lot of photos for this post because, thankfully, my colleague Phil, who is a professional photographer, took the same tour about two weeks later, and he shared his photos with me. I’ll post a few here, but you can see ALL Phil’s Kingston Pen pics on his Flickr site.

I’ll start with our guest photographers pics. This batch is all from Phil:

Second batch belongs to Junkii:

And lastly, here are my own contributions:

Hidden in Plain Sight

I’ve never bothered to look up anything about the sculpture that stands on the Elgin-street side of the Ottawa Courthouse, but given it’s location, I just always assumed it was a simple representation of a court scene.

In my mind, the two figures in front represent a plaintiff and defendant. The two figures behind them represent their advocates, and the remaining figures are the Judge and the 12 jury members.

Such a literal representation is not generally to my artistic taste, but this sculpture still stands as a personal favorite.

I like the placement at the courthouse, and the hierarchical arrangement of characters. I like the simplicity of the design – metal poles with round stones atop making a crude representation of human figures. I like the mixture of natural elements (stones) with processed natural elements (worked metal).

The sculpture feels clean and ordered, but maybe I like it because it’s still abstract enough to leave room for interpretation.

I like to record my own interpretation of a piece before I do any research, to see if I’m way off base or not. Once I got around to researching this, I was pleasantly surprised to find out it’s yet another piece by Bruce Garner; clearly I like this artist’s work.

I’ve already written about his sculpture ‘Joy’ (one of my absolute favorites) and his work featuring a grizzly bear hunting salmon.

I need to check out more of his works, and it turns out there is plenty more in Ottawa. Thankfully another blogger has set out this handy-dandy cycling tour of Garner’s works in the city.

The one in front of the Ottawa Courthouse is called ‘Due Process.’ My search didn’t turn up any sort of artist’s statement, but with a name like that, surely my interpretation can’t be that far off.

Life or Death or Broken Yolks

I make bets with myself all the time. Maybe I challenge myself to get to the top of the staircase before the last notes of a song ring out. Or to swallow the last bites of a meal before the credits of a TV show start to roll.

Does that make me OCD? Maybe a bit, but it’s not debilitating, so who cares?!

The thing I bet on more than anything else is the microwave timer. Mine beeps four times when it’s done, and pretty much every day, while I’m making breakfast, I’m scrambling to get whatever it is I’m doing done before that fourth chime rings.

I need to get the milk into my coffee, get the jug back in the fridge and close the fridge door. Or I need to spread avocado on my toast and get the spatula into the soapy dishwater. Or I need to measure out the cottage cheese and clean the measuring cup.

Whatever I’m working on when I start the microwave, I challenge myself to get it done completely before that final ‘ding.’

It always gives me a slight adrenaline rush too, because the bet is never really specified. I’m never clear with myself what the consequences are if I don’t succeed. It’s more generic – things will be ‘good’ if I make it and things will be ‘bad’ if I don’t.

I know sometimes my subconscious prods me to specify: if you don’t get this done in time, you’ll die. It’s stupid and silly, but if that thought ever does cross my mind, I’m quick to quash it.

“No,” I say, “That’s not the bet. The bet is that I’ll just have a bad day.” Or, “The bet is that I’ll break my egg yolk when I crack the shell.”

Look, rationally, I don’t believe that not getting the peanut butter back in the cupboard in time is going to bring about my untimely demise, but I still don’t like to take the risk.

A broken yolk is bad enough for consequences, thank you very much!

I don’t know… is this weird? Anyone else make bets with themselves?

New Option for Game Night

Our group photo: ready for a few beers!

All my life, bowling has been a go-to for group activities. Maybe not as much in recent years, but it was certainly a regular pastime throughout my teens, and even into my 20s.

Bowling is easy; you don’t need any special skills. It’s also low pressure. If you want to focus on scoring, you can, but it’s also great if you just want to lob a few balls down the alley while you drink beer and gab with your friends. It’s versatile that way!

Honestly, there aren’t a lot of parlour games that offer that kind of flexibility. Billiards limits the number of players too strictly as does darts. Card games always wind up being too competitive, even if you don’t want them to be. And board games are often too much of a time commitment.

Bowling always offered a nice balance, assuming you could get past the fact that you’re wearing some else’s shoes!

Well, thanks to millennials, there’s a new option for games night – one that lets you use your own footwear: axe throwing!

Axe throwing is what you’d get if you tried to cram together bowling and darts and make it an “extreme sport”.

Noreen – ready to throw!

The equipment is light enough to make it fairly easy on the arms, and at the same time it’s challenging enough to make it VERY satisfying once you do start to hit the target. Plus it’s new enough that you’re unlikely to invite a friend who has taken the time to master it so he or she can show everybody up.

And best of all, like bowling, it’s versatile. You can just go throw some axes and gab with your friends, or you could split into teams and have a friendly competition – all in under an hour.

Junkii and I decided to give it a try this week, along with our friends Noreen and Christina. We were all axe-throwing virgins.

The coach at Bad Axe Throwing was super-helpful. She walked us through various ways to throw the axes and then helped to correct our stance, working to improve our performance. It was definitely a bonus to have her experience.

Our session lasted one hour, and that felt just about right. We didn’t compete – we were all just content just to try to improve – but we all agreed it would be fun to go back soon and have a short match or two.

Anyone wanna join us?

A couple of slo-mo videos, just for fun, followed by some dodgy photos taken with the various cameras we had with us.

Christina managed to get pretty damn close to a bullseye!

Junkii, showing the one-handed technique.

One of Noreen’s best.

So close to the bullseye! D’oh!

Junkii being Silly – but with this, you have proof that all four of us did actually hit the target at least once.

A Golden Opportunity to say Thank You

Back when I was in the process of coming out, I remember talking to Mom about how best to break the news to her side of my family. I had come out to my immediate family, but in my mind, the rest of the clan would be a tougher sell.

Mom’s suggestion was to let her Brother and Sister-in-Law know first – to let my Uncle and Aunt be the test case. She thought they would be the most receptive to it.

I was unconvinced.

Yes, I always felt love from the two of them, but I didn’t know if that love extended to acceptance of me as a gay man. I hemmed and hawed a bit, but ultimately agreed and let Mom break the news.

I needn’t have worried; Paul and Judy were absolutely wonderful. The first time I saw them afterwards, they pulled me aside and told me that it didn’t matter one bit!

Looking back, I guess that should not have been a surprise.

I believe strongly that the people who are most accepting and the most understanding are the people who have love in their lives. Those people recognize how powerful and positive love is and would never want to limit that feeling in any other human being, for any reason.

Paul and Judy have love in their lives – that’s obvious. I see it in the love they have for their children, and the love for their extended family. And at the root of it all, I see it in their love for one other.

One thing that would NEVER surprise me is that they’ve made it together to 50 years of marriage. I can’t imagine a world without the two of them tackling it together.

Congratulations Uncle Paul and Aunt Judy, to an amazing couple, and thank you for setting such a wonderful example of love and acceptance for me to follow!

Appreciation for the Gift of Music Appreciation

I’ve been cultivating a love of classical music for decades.

It’s an interest that has brought me immense joy – both directly, from the performances and recordings I’ve been fortunate to experience, and indirectly, from the bonds of friendship I’ve formed with the many wonderful people who have helped me explore and grow this passion.

But there is a single person who is responsible for planting the seed: my Great Great Aunt Pauline.

Pauline, much younger than she was when I knew her. I think she was about 96 when she died in the early ’90s.

Pauline Rivoire was my Great Grandmother’s sister.

I never knew any of my Great Grandmothers – or any other relations from that generation, for that matter – on EITHER side of my family.

My mom came from a big extended family. Both my maternal grandmother and my maternal grandfather had lots of brothers and sisters. So, growing up, I was surrounded by relatives… I just never understand how they were actually related to me!

Aunts, uncles and first cousins were straightforward enough that I could get my head around it, but my understanding got murky when we’d get into second cousins and removed cousins. As a child, there was very little chance I would ever understand how my grandmother’s nieces and nephews were related to me, let alone her cousins.

But I was always clear about Aunt Pauline. Technically, Pauline was my Nana’s Aunt. That made her my GREAT GREAT aunt, but she was always just “Aunt Pauline” to me.

I think I was always impressed by the double “great” – it just made her seem so old.

This is closer to how I remember her. But even here, I think she was still relatively young. When she passed away, she had shrunk considerably. I remember her as tiny.

She was a quirky character, but I liked her. Sadly, I never had much of an opportunity to get to know her as an adult. She passed away in the early ’90s, when I was in university and living with my grandmother.

Because she was so close to Nana (and because she had no husband or children of her own), most of the paraphernalia from Pauline’s apartment – including her old LPs and cassette tapes – wound up at Nana’s house.

The folderol included several box of music, which kept me entertained for hours. Her collection included a variety of styles I had never been exposed to: albums of lounge music from the likes of Esquivel and Henry Mancini, and a variety of Broadway cast recordings, including West Side Story, My Fair Lady, and South Pacific, among others.

All those LPs would eventually make their way into my collection, and help to expand my musical database.

NOT the actual cassette in question. Just a random image.

But my most pivotal foray into Pauline’s collection was a cassette tape of solo piano music. It had two sonatas by Beethoven (the Moonlight and Appassionata, if you’re curious) along with pieces by Liszt, Chopin, and Rachmaninov. These all still stand as some of my favourite pieces, incidentally.

I remember picking up the cassette and thinking, “This music has lasted hundreds of years and I’ve never given it a chance. What if it’s amazing!?”

That would be my first real exposure to classical music – or at least the first time I had listened with any real interest.

It might seem a small thing today, in the age of YouTube and streaming music, but back then, one had to rely on having access to physical media – A record, a CD. Lack of access was a major obstacle to exposure.

I never had the chance to thank Aunt Pauline for that cassette; for the exposure.

Her appreciation for music has taken me a long way from where I started, and she will never know the impact she has had on my life. If not for her, I might still be listening exclusively to pop music.

Instead, I can draw a straight line from her to my subscription seats at the orchestra.

Happy Canada Day…Finally

Long Ma, blowing off a little steam.

In many ways, up until now, Canada’s 150th year has been a bit of a let down in the capital city.

Not a complete failure – there have been some interesting events – It just hasn’t been as spectacular as the hype leading up to Canada’s big year had promised.

For instance, back in the winter, when Red Bull brought it’s Crashed Ice competition to town, there was a lot of buzz. But while it’s a cool concept, the didn’t set up sufficient viewing screens, and most of us were unwilling to brave the frigid temperatures for hours to get a decent spot to watch from. So for manny (including me) it was a bit of a flop.

Canada day itself was literally a wash – with torrential downpours making for a wet day on Parliament Hill. The fireworks at night were pretty special though, I must admit.

Kumo, spitting…um…acid, maybe?

There are a number of reasons for the lack of lustre, and the wet summer hasn’t made the situation any better.

I know we’re about a month past our national day, but this weekend, Ottawa really delivered on the celebration that was promised. The City pulled off an absolute spectacle, bringing gigantic robotic creatures to lumber around the capital, capturing the imaginations of residents and tourists alike.

This was the first time that La Machine brought its beasts to North America, and they have single-handedly redeemed any perceived misfires from earlier in the year. All is forgiven – just give us more giant robots!

My social media feed has been congested with robots. Everyone I know in Ottawa has been sharing their photos and videos of Long Ma (the Dragon Horse) and Kumo (the spider). Every moment I’ve spent among the thousands of people out following the creatures around the downtown core has been rewarding. The excitement has been palpable, and spectators are absolutely invested in the story of how Kumo stole Long Ma’s wings and how he aims to get them back and to vanquish the spider.

The people controlling Kumo – I’d like to add this skill to my resumé!

We spent Saturday morning wandering the ByWard market in search of the beasts and got some great photos as they interacted with the gathered crowds and with each other. And then, later that evening, we snagged an amazing spot in front of the Supreme Court of Canada to see one of their final encounters. With pyrotechnics and live music to accompany them, the two fought an epic battle that concluded with Long Ma getting his wings back.

Everything else is gravy at this point. Whatever else happens this year for Canada’s 150th, I will no longer feel cheated. La Machine was all I could have asked for and more. Happy birthday, Canada!

You can see some of our best photos of the beasts below (and a video or two, taken by my sister). We’ll share the rest of our photos on our SmugMug page.

Just to give you a sense of scale, Here’s Long Ma in among the crowd, watching a band playing feverishly on a rooftop patio.

Another shot for scale, this time of Kumo.

Close-up of Long Ma’s eye. My what long lashes you have!

Just a little proof that these guys were in my hometown!

Aside from steam, Long Ma can also spray water (snot?) from his nostril. Had to be quick to avoid getting water on my lens.

We were standing at the perfect spot – Kumo walked right over top of us.

Kumo can also spray from her abdomen.

A little more detail from beneath the beast.

Between the woodwork shells on both creatures, and the detail in the paint, they really are as beautiful up close in detail as they are impressive from a distance.

One more shot of the detailed woodwork and paintwork on Kumo’s legs.

Waiting for the evening show to begin – in front of the Supreme Court of Canada.

The artists descending to their seats aboard Kumo.

The spotlights were casting some pretty cool shadows on the Parliament Buildings.

Kumo, awaiting the arrival of Long Ma, and spraying more “web.”

After the epic battle, Long Ma looks up to see his wings returning.

Rejoined – Long Ma’s wings are back in place. Next up – the final showdown (but not until Sunday night.)

Depression by Choice

It’s my own fault.

I COULD have followed up a Handmaid’s Tale with something light and Breezy. I COULD have started re-reading the Harry Potter series. I COULD have just gone and read about Italy.

Nope, I chose instead to follow up one depressing, dystopian novel with another; one of the most depressing books out there: 1984.

Thing is, with A Handmaid’s Tale, there’s a little bit of hope. Or at least, you can choose to read it that way. There’s no hope in 1984. It’s bleak.

Which is not to say it’s not a fascinating read. It absolutely is; I devoured it. Orwell lays out a world that has been completely dehumanized, and he does it in a way that makes it so convincingly realistic that it makes you fear for the potential that this kind of society could come about…and there would be nothing that any of us could do about it.

No, I don’t think we’re anywhere near the horrors that he envisions, but because he posits a clear basis about how it could come about, it does have me a bit on edge.

And of course it makes you feel immensely for it’s protagonist as he comes to understand his world and struggles to find a way to fight against it, futile thought that struggle might be.

Sadly, cottage reading week has come to an end. Now I really do need to focus on reading about my upcoming trip. More sadly, I didn’t have the opportunity to clean my literary palate.

Well, it’s not like I didn’t know what depression I was setting myself up for. Maybe I’ll just squeeze in a graphic novel before I crack into my Lonely Planet.