Our Boy

He’s growing into a tall young man, leaving his small boy years in the dust. He’s almost 8 you know – will be in a few days.

Unlike his blonde and blue eyed sisters, Teddy is the most like me in physical appearance. He has some of my mental predelictions too – he is intensely focused on things that interest him, he’s a voracious and high functioning reader and he loves science. Unlike prickly, introverted Grandpa he is more like his mother – sunny disposition and optimistic, very much the extrovert. He wears his heart on his sleeve for sure, but he carries around a jokebook.

If you haven’t guessed by now, his favorite color is orange.

He cares deeply about his sisters, protects them and wants them to be happy. He takes it personally sometimes when they are not.

He loves his Nonna very much, and he is her special boy and always will be.

He is anxious to learn new things but at times he finds it hard to keep in “the zone.” His mom is working hard with the teachers to give him some strategies to stay focused for longer periods of time.

He really enjoys his karate classes but I suspect his intense 6 year old sister will eventually overcome his size and strength advantage – and then watch out!

Teddy is a kind and loving young boy and I wish him much love and happiness as he continues to grow into a man we’ll all be proud to know. Happy birthday Teddy!

Dear Mr. President

Your Inauguration day in 2009 was historic in more ways than one.

It was also the birthday of my grandson and first grandchild.

As Teddy celebrates his 8th birthday and as you leave office, I would like to thank you for your service to the United States and to the world.

Your presence in the White House has always exemplified the hopes I had and continue to have for Teddy – and for that matter all people of good will.

  • The hope that he will grow up in a world where peace and love drive out fear and hatred.
  • The hope that all people may have the right to decent health care without catastrophic loss.
  • The hope that there may be continuing understanding and co-operation between our two countries – that we may trade with and visit each other in freedom.
  • The hope that family life will continue to be the cornerstone of our respective countries’ well being.
  • The hope that honesty and decency will still count for something as Teddy becomes a man.

I’m not sure the way ahead is as clear for me as it was in 2009. Maybe I’ll need to lean a bit more on Merton’s Prayer of Trust.

Be that as it may, it has been a privilege to watch Teddy grow up during your time in office, and to have followed your progress as American President.

I know this is a tiny corner of the Internet in a small town in a neighboring country, so you’ll likely never get the chance to read this – but thanks again and God bless you anyway.

Better Off?

I read an RBC economics report about Millennials recently. The gist of the argument is that they are doing just fine – in many ways they have better economic opportunities now than their Boomer parents had when said parents were young.

I agree with a lot of the report – but the statement that Millennials are superior worker bee material because they grew up with computers, the Internet and mobile technology – say what?

The last truly computer illiterate generation – folks who need bricks and mortar banks with teller service, who pay bills by cheque or at the municipal office – these people are now in their 80s. Even this generation has exceptions – my mother learned basic dial-up and email and in 2003 she had a desktop you could run a small business on. She would have been 100 today.

From what I can see the early Boomers are pretty darn computer literate – I see lots of them texting and tapping on smartphones and tablets – even streaming video with a Roku or Google stick.

As for any Boomer who worked in a math/science job – those folks have had contact with computers basically since university. The first Apple II I saw in business was in 1980 – and the forward looking guy who used it was in his 50s then. Things have changed since punch cards and mainframes it’s true – but you had to keep up. So we did.

The Millennials are masters of social media and probably know more about Instagram and Facebook than the Boomers – but that is a life skill, not a technical advantage.

The other day I was having trouble with an ebook app. The tech service department at Kobo asked for a screen shot. It took me all of 5 minutes to figure out how to do this on a tablet, upload it to Google Drive. I already knew how to retrieve it from the cloud and attach it to an email. And I am a long way from being a Millennial.

In some ways trying to make the argument that Millennials are more computer savvy (hence employable)  because they can post a photo on Instagram is like saying that the early boomers were more work ready because they could drive a car with an automatic and power steering, used FM radio, or – for later Boomers – could program a VCR. Those are simply life skills of the age one lives in – that anyone can pick up if they want to.

Certainly I can’t argue that the Millennials have more opportunities to get out there, see and do things and become more rounded – with a higher Emotional Quotient than their parents. One of my nieces has worked at Walt Disney World and now is aboard a Princess Cruises ship on the Cruise Director’s staff. Her sister is getting her CPA but had a school term in Scotland.

The article makes more sense when it states that the Millennial generation has more women in it who are educated in Science and Mathematics, is more entrepreneurial, more diverse – and those things make for a better workforce. But more computer savvy – nah.

 

Good China

Probably there’s nothing in this modern world that labels you as quaint, eccentric, old school, a dinosaur – nothing quite as much as admitting you are a collector of fine china. That in fact you have a set of “good” china. Alas, we do.

We started back around 1975 – that was the time I got some money back from a Thrift Investment Plan I had to cash in when I left General Foods. We thought we’d start on a set of good china, and so we went to Birks in Pointe-Claire and got our starter four place setting of Royal Worcester Evesham.

Evesham was an old style pattern back then but we liked the fruit and veggies on the plates and the gold trim. We asked for pieces for Christmas and birthdays, put in a bit more of our own cash over the years. Now we have a 12 place setting with a bunch of baking and serving dishes. Even have some egg coddlers (don’t ask.)

And does this “good china” get used? Well – not much. The gold trim precludes heating the dishes in a microwave, and we are a bit queasy about dumping everything into the dishwasher.

This past Christmas we had a large family gathering and the good stuff stayed in the cupboard again. We used our everyday plates and cups and for extras we also have a complete set of 1980 vintage Johnson Brothers crockery that is dishwasher safe. Maria picked it up for a song at the charity shop where she works.

As a guess I’d be surprised if you could get 20% of what we paid for our Evesham set in an auction. Folks just do not set out good china, or entertain at home with it nowadays. Our daughter says she likes it so maybe it’ll be a reluctant heirloom for her in the not so far distant future.

Now everyday china – that’s a whole ‘nother thing. Sarah would take this stuff in a heartbeat – but that won’t happen any time soon.

This robust set of Royal Doulton Mayfair Lambethware is something we started to collect after I went to work at Lipton in the mid 80s. It replaced a couple of cheap Japanese stoneware sets that I ended up taking into the lab to use in product showings. It’s probably not worth much either but it gets used and abused everyday. After more than 30 years it’s still going strong

The classic Evesham pattern is still produced by Royal Worcester’s parent company and I believe in one of the last operating potteries in the UK. The Royal Doulton Lambethware is out of production but again you can pick up used pieces on the cheap if you need to replace anything.

And besides these three sets of English china we have a complete set of German crockery that Maria’s parents bought for her before we got married. And that doesn’t even count a bunch of Paragon teacups and Gibson teapots and Royal Doulton figurines that hang around our place. Dinosaurs and proud of it.

 

 

Afternoon Nap

Let’s face it – at the end of the day Mr. Oates is Maria’s cat. He loves her best.

He and I have our moments though. A key one every day is our afternoon nap.

Oates waits until he hears me pull down the blind in the bedroom. Then he rushes in meowing and hops on the bed.

He waits until I get an old comfy blanket unfolded, and as soon as I lie down and cover myself up he picks out a cozy spot just behind my knees. He’s a hot water bottle in a furry ginger tabby costume – not bad in these wintry afternoons. And so we doze off.

A catnap with an actual cat. Who could have imagined the luxury of it all?

 

Job…Profession…Vocation

Soren Kierkegaard famously said that life must be lived forward but understood backward. And there’s no better place to do that than in a person’s working career. I can look back close to 48 years now – more if you include my work in high school and university summer jobs.

Work in my dad’s store or as an office boy or construction laborer – those were jobs. Getting my degree and a couple of qualifying years enabled my profession as a chemist  and food technologist. I suppose there were days when my work life seemed like a Vocation – like the interview at Queen’s in 1968 that got me started at General Foods Research. My whole life seemed to turn in that one hour when I talked to Keith Torrie.

I think the whole concept of how you label your career is tied up in our old pal Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. A job gives you the basic necessities – or at least it used to. Having a profession – even though it might not be a doctor or lawyer type with social and individual responsibility – gives some status and sense of belonging. And a Vocation brings out the self-actualization and self-giving parts of a working life.

When I felt I was making a difference in the lives of my customers – internal or external – that’s when I had a Vocation. When I used my math and science skills to create a new product it was certainly a profession. But when I had to deal with corporate politics, dumb projects, Theory X based performance management – well… that was a job. All part of the same career. Towards the end there was always more job than Vocation – so I got out as early as I could.

BTW this lovely little pilot plant above was in Baltimore and I had quite a few professional moments working there. It became a victim of corporate re-organization shortly before I retired. The plant it was located in is closed today as well. Jobs, professions, Vocations – all gonzo.

After 12 years of retirement about all I have left now is some elements of professional skill and the concept of Vocation. I use that concept to try and keep my friends out of computer trouble. And of course there’s the ongoing Vocation of Grandpa. I get plenty of opportunities to practice that. Saved the best for last.

When It Gets Personal

When a mass murder scene happens – as it does all too often nowadays – I can usually objectively detach myself from the situation. After all I wouldn’t normally be in a gay bar in Orlando, a night club in Istanbul, a Christmas party in San Bernadino, an elementary school in Connecticut, a theater in Paris.

Today was different. I’ve been in Terminal 2 at Fort Lauderdale airport many times, picked up my bags at that fatal baggage claim, stood outside the doors waiting for a hotel shuttle. I probably smiled and said hi to the very security guys who put their lives on the line today. It was only about 6 weeks ago that I checked in at Terminal 2 to go back to Montreal. The images are all to familiar to me.

Not only that but my niece was in Fort Lauderdale today. Her ship is still there – the port entrance was closed for a while. I didn’t know if she may have gone ashore on turnaround day and couldn’t get back – but she’s fine. Apparently today was a day to stay aboard. I don’t envy her the job of welcoming a bunch of jittery cruisers tonight.

I like Fort Lauderdale – a lot. It’s sad to see a cool familiar place be so messed up. And innocent people died today picking up a suitcase.

We can never be happy to see evil happen – terrorist evil or just plain old craziness evil. It’s worse when it gets as personal as it did today. Pray for everyone involved.

Pantomime

I went to a pantomime today – first one in close to 30 years.

Before you get the wrong idea this pantomime wasn’t one that Marcel Marceau or Charlie Chaplin would star in – one with no words and lots of expressive gestures. No indeed.

This was a British pantomime – the kind you see at Christmas time. It’s sort of a fractured children’s story – a fairy tale or a favorite yarn turned on its head. The one we saw was called “The Blizzard of Oz.”

At least one man plays a woman’s part. The hero is usually female. There is one really nasty villain and a couple of monsters running around that only the audience can see.

Music is a mashup of rock and roll and Broadway tunes that everyone knows. The jokes are corny and a lot of politicians come to grief. Audience participation is a must – everything from cheering the hero, booing the villain, warning the players when a monster appears, or even kids going on stage to take shots with plastic hockey sticks while the villain tries to play goalie using a broom – and fails. It’s a blast – especially if you take an 8 and 6 year old along. (The three year old was a little scared of Wanda the evil witch.)

I got into this crazy experience back when I worked at Lipton Bramalea. The factory had a kids Christmas party and before the presents were handed out there was a performance of Peter Pan or Aladdin or whatever by the Peel Panto Players. We had so much fun we ended up going to a bunch of real professional pantos in Toronto – with Ross Petty, Karen Kain, Fred Penner and all sorts of kid pleasing performers.

Then Sarah grew up. But she didn’t forget – so off we went to see an Ottawa based panto with the grandkids. And even after 30 years it’s still great fun.

 

Spotify

Do you remember the very first bit of recorded music that was “yours?” That you paid for out of your allowance and could play when you wanted? This was it for me – 1958 I believe.

The McGuires were probably in their 30s by then – as I recall one of them dated a mobster. But they were a sweet looking and sounding group. My mom loved them too. I guess my heavy rock days were some time in the future.

And how did I play “Sugar in the Morning, Sugar in the Evening”…etc? On a punishing, skip-prone portable record player that my parents owned and my grandfather used from time to time to play his Vernon Dalhart and Chuckwagon Gang 78s. (You can look them up.) Click, pop and skip – the sounds of my youth.

Later on I graduated to my own grind it out record player – I think it was an Arvin or Silvertone. At that point I went on to mono LP 33 1/3 RPM vinyl. From there I moved to stereo LPs, reel to reel tape, cassette tape, CDs, MP3s and finally some 60 years later to Spotify.

And after decades of pop-click, tape and cassette recording, CD duplication, MP3 ripping and encoding and countless players, audio components, recorders, boom boxes, computers,Walkman units, iPods I have gotten to the point where there’s nothing at all except the cloud image of music.

Right now I’m listening to Atlanta Rhythm Section’s “Imaginary Lover” – a song I have never owned in any form but quite like – the digital concierge in Spotify chose it for me based on other digital choices I made personally.

If you haven’t run across Spotify it’s a multiplatform music streaming program. It works on PCs, Macs and Linux, iPads, Android and iOS smartphones, Roku boxes – you name it. It’s free if you don’t mind the ads and costs less than a CD per month if you want to go full on music. You can search for music you want – there are about 30 Million titles available so you won’t be disappointed.

At home I play Spotify music on my desktop units, I stream it to my TV with Roku and I plug a mini-cable into my stereo receiver and let my Android tablet be the music machine. I suppose if I had a smartphone I could get Spotify anywhere.

The best thing of all about Spotify? It’s brought back the unadulterated boomer pleasure of listening to a whole “concept album” from start to finish. If you want to experience “Disraeli Gears,” “Every Good Boy Deserves Favour,” “Beggars Banquet,” or “Pet Sounds” in all their remastered glory they are there for you.

And it’s not just boomers. My Gen-X son-in-law listens to Spotify at work and he’s working his way through Rolling Stone’s top 100 albums of all time. It’s hard to imagine him listening to “Music from Big Pink” or “Highway 61 Revisited” but he’s learning something.

I have to admit that – although I’m not a playlist sort of guy – I do like the one put together for me by the digital concierge that Spotify features. It hasn’t guessed wrong yet today – everything from James Taylor to Steely Dan to J. Geils to .38 Special. With 30 million choices I guess it can’t go wrong.

Spotify – give it a try. It’s too good to be wasted on the young.

Three Score and Ten

Having done a retrospective on Canada maybe I could do one on myself – having reached the magic age of 70. My memories don’t go back that far of course but I’ll do my best.

10 Years Ago – 2007

In 2007 it seemed to be a time of moving. We were established in Almonte by then but Maria was busy getting her mother resettled in the suburbs from downtown Kingston. Her sister Flo was by this time a resident of St. Mary’s of the Lake Hospital and Maria spent a lot of time away in Kingston. Sarah and Dave were moving too – into their home in Blackburn Hamlet.

We did manage to get away in the fall to do a cruise of the Mediterranean – only to return to one of the most brutal winters we can remember.

20 Years Ago – 1997

Sarah was in her first year at Guelph and her parents were adjusting to the empty nest. We went on a March break holiday to the UK without her and it was different. Sarah did her own UK holiday with her Aunt Flo later that year. The three of us managed a weekend in Nashville and a trip to the Grand Old Opry in the summer.

30 Years Ago – 1987

We were living in Georgetown, Sarah was in Grade 4 and I was working at Lipton by then. In March 1987 we had the first of many March break holidays – this one was a fly and drive tour of Texas. in the summer we had a similar fly / drive tour of Nova Scotia.

40 Years Ago – 1977

Living in Quebec and I was working at Standard Brands’ factory in LaSalle. On March 18 (the anniversary of my father’s death) I learned that I was going to be a father myself.

That summer we took our little travel trailer on a tour of Vermont and Connecticut. We discovered the joy of Litchfield CT on that tour.

Sarah was born in October. And so we became a family of 3.

50 Years Ago – 1967

Ah, the Summer of Love. My mother and sister went out to L.A.  – by train! – to visit our cousins. I stayed home to shovel concrete and save money to go back to university. I was half way through at that point – broke and discouraged. But I made it to graduation a couple of years later.

In that summer I listened to rock radio a lot and discovered psychedelia for the first time. This group particularly impressed me – especially their lead singer and their keyboard virtuoso. Both are sadly no longer with us. Was it really that long ago?

60 Years Ago – 1957

I was in grade 6 at Deseronto Public School – the last year of the rambling two storey Victorian structure that was replaced by a brand new Leave it to Beaver style building later that year.

To those Trump fans who seem to want to bring this era back – it wasn’t really that great – trust me. Mono music, black and white TV, no air travel to speak of – just small time, small town living. Elvis was still in the building though you didn’t hear much of him on the radio – maybe a couple of hours before supper on an old tube unit to do your homework by. My mother liked Eddie Fisher and Tony Bennett.

70 Years Ago – 1947

I was there – see picture above – but no memories of it, sorry. 1947 was the start of the baby boom so a lot of us are around that don’t remember it.

Three score and ten. Lots of memories. I remember when my Uncle Rocky said he could remember back 50 years – man he seemed old. Now I can go back nearly 70. Go figure.

 

 

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