March 22, 2015

Dear Diary: March 3-22, 1985

March 3, 1985

I always wonder why I am always trying not to be bored on Sunday. The only exciting and interesting thing that I did was finish my science project. My new owl's name is Oho. Oho is Cree for owl. Goodbye.

Such a nerd. No problem, no hypothesis, no conclusions – my science project was simply an opportunity to flaunt my (then) knowledge of rocks. I had rocks, minerals and crystals by the dozens, largely procured at the long-defunct Avenue Jewelers & Lapidary Supplies at Portage and Arlington. Screw candy – at least for another year or so – this is the place where I spent my dimes and quarters. The place had shelves upon shelves of mineral samples, raw crystals and rock-tumbler curiosities. One memorable Christmas I got a rock hammer. I used it a handful of times in the Whiteshell, unsuccessfully trying to extract bits of mica from the Canadian Shield. Later, in my teens, I was far more adept at using it to bust up my childhood Hot Wheels.

The name for my new ookpik? Another geek-out of mine: geography. I routinely checked out a book from the library on the origins of Manitoba place names. Towns, lakes, rivers – hundreds of locales in this province came from Cree words.


March 13, 1985

I get so suspicious at my mom when I say something. Anything. She carries the subject to work, work, work, work, WORK!!!!!!!!!! Like today. Goodbye! Good night.

The words I probably meant to use instead of 'suspicious at' were 'hesitant with'. My mom worked hard, and parented us solo. We had a good house. We were smart kids, raised right (enough) and we're all currently well-adjusted. She grew up on a farm, and on a farm you work. Everyone works. Pulling one's weight was paramount in our household, alongside "using common sense" and "not sitting around on our asses doing sweet-tweet". I don't pretend to know what triggered my diary rant on this given night, but times like this happened a lot. Sheltered as I was as the youngest child, I wasn't spared from my mom's diatribes all the time.


March 19, 1985

Today all the snow is melting and my favourite river down the back lane is boring because it dug to the bottom. A new game "Map of Canada Game" is out now because the snow is gone and it is painted on the pavement. Goodbye! Good night.

For a brief, shining period each spring, meltwater would course through and down the ruts in our back alley, waiting to be dammed, redirected, redistributed and polluted – just like a real river! I'd don my rubber boots and get to work. It was a playground like no other, at least, to a kid capable of turning nearly any scenario into a playground. Leave it to grown-ups in their silly grown-up cars to ruin the fun whenever one dared enough to trundle down the icy lane. But like any busy beaver who's dam is dynamited, I'd immediately get back to work. It's what I do… or, what I did.

Geography geek. I think I mentioned this. I kicked ass at that Map of Canada, basically a map of the country on the Mulvey Elementary hardtop. One kid would be "it", and instruct others to get to a location of that kid's choosing on the map. The last one to reach the spot would be out of the game. I can't remember how it benefitted the kid who was it but typically, the call would be something like "Ontario!" or "The Pacific Ocean!". But I ruled Map of Canada with an iron fist. If you were a grade-schooler and didn't know Manitoulin Island or the Ungava Peninsula from your own ass, you had no place in my game.


March 21, 1985

I have a growing pain. Nobody believes in growing pains any more. Tommorrow is the last day of school because Spring Break is here. Goodbye.

My stars, the growing pains – on some nights they destroyed me and, on fortunate/unfortunate occasion, would be nasty enough to exclude me from chores. I know my mom believed me. It pained her to watch me grimace in bed, biting my pillow, waiting for the pain in my shins to subside. I had this problem, on and off, for years.


March 22, 1985

Today I found a marble and some limestone. I built a big dam out of gooey leaves. It worked. It was the biggest I ever seen. It worked from 4:30 to 9:00 so far! Good night!

Heh. Not bad for the last Friday of school before Spring Break.

March 13, 2015

Fresh Meat

I'm the fucking king of the jungle, so damn right I'm gonna eat your kid. Honestly, I don't know what's so shocking about this. You came onto my turf, sweet little munchkin in tow, let her waddle right up to the glass… ugh, the fucking glass. You think I'd wise up to that by now. Every time – every time – I have a clear shot at one of those little lambs, that glass, that… fucking glass…

I digress. King of the jungle, king of the goddamn jungle. I'm The King. Badass.

So. Don't get shocked with me, lady. Yes, I made a move for your kid. Practically telegraphed it, slinking down flat as a mat. Flicking my tail, plotting my trajectory, doing the math. It would've been painless, I assure you. And if you're like the other idiot animals around here, you'd just have another one next year anyway. Maybe don't bring that one into the goddamn lion enclosure.

She walked right up to me. Right up to me, understand? You people don't teach your kids anything. I'm lying here, watching your idiot cohorts take my picture, flashes bouncing off the glass… and that's another thing, you're never going to get a decent shot in here with the flash on. You do know that glass reflects light, right? But I digress… again.

I sized up your kid. I admit it. Like taking candy from a baby, except replace candy with baby, and swap baby for… um… Hmm. Lost my train of thought.

Whatever. You made it too easy, is what I'm saying. I know they toss us slabs of meat every day, but that's not sporting. Instinct took over. I saw red – and pink, and two bright blue unsuspecting eyes – and I pounced. And I had her, I fucking had her. Bam! Paws hit the glass. That goddamned glass.

Only then did you swipe her away, save the day. Like you're the king of the jungle. Well, you're not. You people just know a thing or two about glass. That's the only reason you're out there, and I'm in here.

March 04, 2015

Life's A (Thawing) Beach

IMG_8008.JPG – April 23, 2010 – 8:28 PM

It was late April – a generously early spring – when we took off for Grand Beach on a Friday evening after a trying work-week. Typically at this time of year the lake is a perfect remedy, a cacophony of heaving ice floes and tinkling shards of chandelier ice closer to shore – but this was a fine exception. The lake was open. A warm breeze was only faintly weakened by drifts of snow permeating the dunes. We combed the beach for any intriguing winter detritus and dared our toes into the frigid water.

I love Grand Beach, but I've never visited during the manic height of summer. Its network of trails are among the province's best, and most challenging, for cross-country skiing. The far end of the beach and lagoon are magnificent for spring and fall birdwatching; I've seen ospreys dive, rare turnstones patter the sand and western grebes dance on the lake. What I love most in this place is witnessing the rotting ice shatter and dissipate, caving under the first balmy span of spring. It's something in nature that everyone in these parts should see; my introduction to the spectacle was during the 1980s with my family, stretching winter-whitened legs and running across the mucky expanse of ice, snow and sand. In the year of this photo our trip was mis-timed, with only a patchwork of ice barely visible on the horizon. It made no matter.

I was only two months into a year-long daily photo challenge, and three days previous to this getaway my camera was stolen. My faith in humanity was dimmed, but a friend loaned me his camera until I could file an insurance claim and get back on my photog feet. The challenge remained intact and unbroken. This was one of the shots from the loaner.

March 03, 2015

Ace Of Spades

IMG_2009.JPG – June 27, 2010 – 5:39 PM

It's a small and tidy space, like the examination room at a clinic. Save for the Nick Cave concert poster, it very well could be. The guy is nice, lets me sit in and take pictures. Kerry's getting a tattoo – her first, and likely only one – on the inside of her wrist, of Leonard Cohen's order of the unified heart.

And she's anxious. Wondering what her mom will think, questions whether she'll need to hide the tattoo at work. Laying flat and ramrod-straight, she's already steeling herself for the pain to come. The guy is all pro. He's young, but he's a soothing presence and maintains the decorum of a family physician. He deftly removes a CD from his stacks and places it in the tray. Good man, I think. Some music is a good idea. He presses play. Motörhead: Live At Hammersmith. 

You know I'm born to lose, and gambling's for fools.
But that's the way I like it baby, I don't wanna live forever…

March 01, 2015

Pedro Gonzales-Gonzales-Gonzales

IMG_1975.JPG – October 12, 2009 – 3:31 PM

A donkey named Pedro Gonzales-Gonzales-Gonzales is a gift, of sorts, for my 34th birthday. Kerry and I are on vacation, a road trip to the American southwest for a whistle-stop tour of iconic U.S. national parks. This is decidedly not one of those parks; rather, it's an out-and-out tourist trap in Jerome, Arizona, that I've goaded us into because, well, it's my birthday. Called the Gold King Mine & Ghost Town, it's a junkyard pure and simple, owned and operated by a soft-spoken snow-bearded man who looks an awful lot like Uncle Jessie from The Dukes Of Hazzard – and guarded by a sign stating "This Place is Patrolled by Shotgun Three Nights a Week… You Guess Which Three". A colourful hodgepodge of vehicles long sent to pasture, rusted and retired machinery, nineteenth-century dental implements, sad-sack farm animals – you name it – the place bleeds, sweats and cries 'Murica. The Gold King Mine is precisely the sniff of culture I hope for in and among postcard desert vistas and Coyote/Roadrunner landscapes.

My 2009 Big American Birthday is capped with a burger the size of Rhode Island Delaware, a Stetson cowboy shirt and a trip to a Gap outlet store for hard-to-find 33-waist/30-leg jeans.

February 27, 2015


IMG_1138.JPG – June 6, 2010 – 11:49 AM
Frankly, I don't know who this guy is. Don't care. I'm sure he's probably a good guy. He's here, isn't he? Clutching a rainbow flag in the Pride Day parade. Can't see his face, can't read nothing into his thoughts or agenda. But he's got that flag and I'm sure he's gonna wave it, tied to a sawed-off Titan hockey stick. My God, ain't that the most Canadian thing ever? I wonder if the guy even plays hockey. Wonder if he snapped it in a game of pick-up or spongee leaning into a big slapper. Cracked it in two taking the stick outta some other dude's hands. Go time, a real hothead. If he's anything like me, he probably wore it to a nub, playing the life right out of that stick before going to Crappy Tire for a new one. Christ, they're so expensive these days. Whatever. That's his business, not mine. I'm sure he's probably a good guy. More power to him.

February 25, 2015

The Bench On Wolseley

IMG_0013.JPG – October 13, 2013 – 3:03 PM

I liked to think of this place as our not-so-secret secret spot during Scout's first summer, when she'd be ornery or nap-striking. Just the two of us. I'd place her in her stroller for a lap of "The Loop" – the popular jogger/walker circuit comprised of Wolseley Avenue and Wellington Crescent, crossing the river at Omands Creek and Maryland Street.

We'd head west, not talking, all business. Typically, a handful of blocks in the stroller with the hood up would be enough to lull her; The Loop is a snore-inducing 45-minute tramp, so I'd expect about a half-hour of real sleep. But there were occasions when I'd sense fairly quick that it simply wasn't going to happen – and we'd stop at this bench. 

I'd extract her from the seat, plomp her in my lap and watch a small part of the world go by. I'd point out joggers, dogs, Dickie-Dee ice-cream carts if we were lucky. On hot weekend afternoons it felt like we were the last two people in the city. Omega Man and Omega Baby.

This photo was taken by Kerry on the last really pleasant day of 2013. Thanksgiving weekend; I'm peppered with stubble, wearing a hat bought in Chicago and my favourite 13-year-old shirt that refuses to die. The most brutal winter in a century settled in a few weeks later.

February 22, 2015

A Night In The Life

277 \\ 08-11-10 \\ choose one12:21 AM: She's been sleeping for four hours, then a ten-minute midnight howl for Mommy. And finished. Attagirl. She's back to sleep.

Out with the gang. Won the 50/50!

Going out two nights in a row. Not sure if I'm feeling young or too old.

1:54 AM: One-off sob for Mommy. Shuffling. Whimpers.

Took hubby out for an early birthday supper tonight. I am stuffed. Prime rib, to die for. Love my handsome man.

Sunset. On the beach.

2:08 AM: Wails for Mommy.

Great night out, so much fun!

If you haven't taken a night to Festival, get on it while the temps are moderate. So much magic and music and Caribou.

2:33 AM: Wails for Mommy.

Where am I? #‎adventure #‎kayak

2:50 AM: Wails for Mommy. I head in, soothe. I put her down, make her angrier than before.

Five weeks until Maui! #aloha #haleakala

3:06 AM: Lengthy series of screams for Mommy. Handful of whimpers for Daddy. One cry for Big Bird.

Brunchasaurus Rex! *rawr with flying toast crumbs*

3:23 AM: Can't take it. I head in, soothe. I put her down, make her angrier than before. We read stories. She's awake; this is nonsense. Put her down to wild shrieks of protest. I'm not coming in this room again. Unsure if I say this out loud. I go upstairs, check Facebook. I put in earplugs, read my book.

Productive Saturday. Two sketches, one illustration and another logo concept.

A lovely day for working in the woods. Feels much warmer when burning stumps and bucking deadfall.

4:06 AM: I come to bed, nailing a creak in the floor. A cry, from her room.

4:10 AM: Everyone's asleep.

Temp at start of ball hockey this morn: -31 C. Temp at end: -27 C. No wind. Wasn't cold at all. It's sunny and beautiful today. Go outside!

9:45 AM: Off to the Children's Museum.

February 18, 2015

Mister O’Connell

"Fer teh love-a-Gad, are t'ere any cars coomin'?!"

Thus spoke the eightysomething Mr. O'Connell from the driver's seat of his taxi as we lurch into traffic in Killarney, Ireland, on a September morning in 2003.

We're holed up in a hostel in this idyllic centre, searching for a means to navigate the nearby Ring of Kerry. At the front desk, the lady points to a tidy arrangement in place with a local tour-runner who goes by the name of O'Connell. Good name, I figure. Seems legit. Next morning, we amble to the lobby and wait with a quiet Norwegian as the lady telephones for the three of us to be picked up.

Some time later, an elderly man hobbles through the door; flat cap, white hairs shooting from his ears, question-mark frame. "Good mooor-ning, Mr. O'Connell," the lady at the desk sing-songs. She points him to his three charges. I think, this guy definitely looks the part; this will be fun.

Anticipating the man to shuffle to a waiting passenger van or tourbus, Mr. O'Connell instead shepherds us to an idling cab and tells us to get in. We exchange a questioning glance with the Norwegian. Wide-eyed, he shrugs, shakes his head nervously. Since the two of us are together, Kerry and I claim the back seats. The Norwegian takes shotgun. We buckle in.

Boxed by cars parked behind and in front, Mr. O'Connell collapses into his seat and shifts into gear. His face shrouded by the bill of his cap, he does not look up. "Are t'ere any cars?!"

We do not speak. The Norwegian does not speak.

Mr. O'Connell points his cap toward the Norwegian. "Are t'ere cars?" he barks.

Reality sinks in. My God, we are spending the day with this man. On narrow roads. Cliff-hugging roads, potentially clogged with many sheep.

Louder. "Fer teh love-a-Gaaad, are t'ere any cars coomin'?!"

The Norwegian's eyes dart to me, then the street. He stammers: "No! No!"

O'Connell inches into traffic, not talking, guiding us through town. Nobody breathes a word, but our thoughtwaves are loud and clear: we are spending this day in a taxi, driven by a old man with nothing left to lose.

We breathe at last, when he pulls into a lot alongside an idling beast of a bus, and tells us to get out. His work is finished, and our day begins.

February 13, 2015

Eye Of The Hurricane

My skin is thickening, but it's not quite there yet. I hope one day it's as leathery and armour-plated as possible, come the eventuality my daughter will have enough blind rage to call me the worst parent ever and/or that she hates me. 

Presently, she does not hate me. She doesn't know how, and I give her few opportunities to learn. But this week just concluding has been as trying as it gets, as – combined with a bout of fever – she sensed her time with the people she knows and trusts at daycare was coming to a close. Her fear and dread of the unknown, of the next stage in her life, arrived in the form of fits and tantrums, of tears, snot, shrieks and wee-hours wails for mommy. And also a resolute disinterest, bordering on disdain, towards myself.

There were moments during the week where I couldn't blame her. I chauffeured her to the lion's den each morning, reducing her to tears while peeling off her coat and dropping her to the floor to face the day, then making a hasty exit. Our regular back-and-forth chatter in the car was all but reduced to a muted HI DIGGER as we passed a grader or front-end loader. She'd cry when I offered her drive-home grapes. Sob when I couldn't pass her to mommy quick enough. And then scream about her injustices to poor mommy's face until bedtime.

This evening though, a reprieve. On the cusp of her second birthday, the fog lifted and she's once again hugging-slash-acknowledging me. We brought home her Valentine's Day swag ("I MADE THAT"), her infant room portrait and daycare belongings to prep for the new space next week. She tucked her photo under a tea towel and said GOO-NIGHT SCOUT I LOVE YOU TOO MUCH. She jumped on the couch. Even if it's an eye-of-the-hurricane scenario, right now we'll take it.

February 10, 2015

Winnipeg Candy Hearts

Winnipeg candy hearts
A little break from writing… kinda sorta. With Valentine's Day approaching, love – and Loveday, when the wind is right – is in the Winnipeg air. It's a time when lovers of all stripes in my hometown make way for romance – be it skating on the river, sipping together on ruby-red cream soda Slurpees, or cheapskating with some February 13th and 15th dinner reservations.

Click on the image to view the whole thing slightly larger. This exercise in Photoshoppery was partially inspired by my friend Carl Shura's fantastic downtown Winnipeg-themed Valentine's Day cards. 

February 08, 2015


ZOOMBUM [zoom-BUHM] – 1. interjection: an exclamation of joy, thrill, etc. 2. verb: to go, to move fast. 3. noun: playground slide (archaic).


Scout sometimes lets loose two equally intriguing and relatively long-lasting catch-phrases – BUCKAWUZZIE [pr. buh-kuh-WUH-zee] and ZOOMBUM – the latter being, personally, my favourite word in the world. Whereas BUCKAWUZZIE can be described as entirely abstract with, to this day, no known etymological background, ZOOMBUM at least has traceable origins. A friend had a similarly-aged daughter who referred to playground slides as whee-bums, and it may have resulted from using and modifying this term during Scout's introduction to slides – which now rate high among her favourite things in the world.

Initially, ZOOMBUM was used as a physical description of a slide, but as time passed the term also became a declaration that a slide attempt was commencing (i.e., READY SET ZOOMBUM). Zoom to present day, and the word has pretty much lost its connection to slides and has integrated itself into Scout's lexicon, associated with speed in any form. Examples include backing the car into the alley, navigating the icy ruts in the alley, and scooting around on one's bare bum in the bathtub.

I have also likely prolonged Scout's usage of the word by using it so often myself, in hopes she will repeat it back to me. It doesn't always succeed, and I now dread the oncoming day when she learns to roll her eyes and tell me I'm being lame.

February 07, 2015

Big Girl


"That's right. Daddy's a big boy. I'm a man."


"No, Mommy's a big girl. And Scout is a big girl, too. Scout, are you a big girl?"

Pause. NO.

There's a lot to be read into how our daughter responds to this frequently-asked question, as we drill the concept of becoming and being a big girl. In one week she will be two years old, and deemed ready to leave the infant room at her daycare to fend with the general population of a preschool room. She has visited this room plenty over the course of the winter with her infant-room caregivers, but not until this past week has she been led to the new space and left solo in attempts to intermingle with the older kids, new digs and different staff. The transition, I am told, has been slow. The tone in which I am told lead me to believe she is adapting warily and not without struggle. There have been tears.

A year ago, our family faced a much rougher scenario. Kerry, returning to work after lengthy maternity and parental leaves. Scout wading into daycare for the first time. The three of us, out of home over a month for extended renovations. A winter that would not die. Scout's initial fresh-meat weeks at daycare were riddled with illness. But then, like now, we knew it to only be a matter of time for her to gain trust and routine in the new, next stage of her life.

Scout is a big girl and she knows it, despite the occasional protest over the label. She puts items on the table if we ask her to put something on the table. She may or may not put away toys at the end of the evening. During her first weeks at daycare she was the only crawler; now she's the infant room's elder stateswoman. Approaching two years of age is the clinical, statistical, most obvious sign that she's ready for the move up. She simply has to be.

I'm told that while spending time in the preschool space, she is perhaps lonely. She misses her mate Walter, they say. The new room has more kids. Bigger kids. Different staff. Less structure. It's precisely like that flailing leap from elementary school to junior high, but with each kid advancing at their own set time. I relished that move to high school; many of my friends joined me, and I had allies in the older grades through my brother and sister.

She will adapt. I'm not concerned about this. But there are moments I stop and consider that my daughter's world is constructed primarily of three working parts (and the people who operate them): the house, the car and the infant room. Remove one of these pillars and I then understand her current shift in attitude. It's stressful. Hopefully within a couple of weeks she'll be entrenched in the new space. 

It has a water table after all. And Walter will still come by for visits.

February 05, 2015

White Whale

I beak here about birds a lot; I've been keen on them since I was eight years old. At the crest of my early fandom, I kept a mental list of local species I considered must-sees based solely on how colourful they appeared in my Audobon guidebook, and how cool they were to reproduce with my Crayolas. Over time I eventually spotted and life-listed several: the American avocet, the evening grosbeak, the ruddy duck, the ruddy turnstone… the ruddy anything, really. But the blackburnian warbler – that miniscule, black-white-and-orange, canopy-dwelling white whale to my birdwatching Captain Ahab – continued to evade me until I was ready to concede ever seeing one.

It's only natural then, that three decades later – and a few years ago – I was raking the goop and sand left behind by winter from my lawn when my white whale beached itself along my sidewalk on the fringe of downtown Winnipeg. My thankless job was complete, and I headed inside to cop the reward. I returned to the front steps with a drink. A watched pot never boils, and a sought-after bird never presents itself until you say fine, I'm just gonna go ahead and sit on my stoop and enjoy this fine bottle of beer. As I drank – and I swear to you, it was just the one – a most brilliant blackburnian warbler in its Sunday-best breeding plumage descended from the elms above and promptly set about pecking at the detritus from my clean-up. Only a few metres away, in the flesh (and feather).

Right then and there, with a beer in my hand and my favourite bird on the lawn I thought: Life's a pretty sweet fruit. The end.

February 02, 2015

The Civic Has Landed

I've worked here sixteen years, commuting the circumference of the Earth nine times, and counting. The highway travel is easy, until it isn't. The city is a bear though, full of other people – and other people are the worst. The roads out here are arrow-straight. Three turns only – day in, day out – that I can perform in my sleep. Right at the lights. Left at the barn. Right at the gate.

Zero incidents. OK, an asterisk: zero incidents as a driver. 

Fine. Another asterisk: zero that anyone else saw. 

One morning, wintry and slick, wind whipping snowy ghosts across the highway. The roads out here are arrow-straight, to a fault. I can sense the ice, but there's no reason to test it, to prove this theory. I turn onto the final run of road, the home stretch. I'm listening to the White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army," a boisterous treat for this day in the car on my own. I'm goin' to Wichita, far from this opera for evermore. Gaining speed. Fifty, sixty, seventy. Kilometers, Americans; I'm in a Civic, and am no maniac. A shift, maybe a hit of wind, and the car begins to turn. No, not turn. Slide. This is happening. And I'm bleeding, and I'm bleeding, and I'm bleeding right before the Lord. Still moving, but sideways. I look at the ditch, brimming with snow. This won't be too bad. I correct. Too much. Sideways again, facing the opposite direction. This ditch looks worse. All the words are gonna bleed from me, and I will think no more. I correct the correction. Sideways, a third time, slowing down. If this fails it will be a soft landing, like the Eagle into the powder of the moon. The Civic has landed. But the wheels strike the gravel shoulder, a reprieve. I brake to a crawl, then a full stop. The stains coming from my blood tell me go back ho…

Shut the music off, and look back. No one in sight. I turn the radio back on, switch to the classical music station.

February 01, 2015

Dear Diary: January 22-February 1, 1985

January 22, 1985

We went skiing today. It was my first time going skiing in my entire life! I liked it. It was really fun! Goodbye!

It remains really fun to this day. The sport left such an impression that not long afterward, my mom procured a single pair of used skis and boots that somehow all three of us siblings fit into, and then fought over. We used them sparingly, most memorably during the Blizzard of 1986. I then entered a great period of skiing darkness, emerging five years ago when Kerry and I bought matching skis for Christmas.


January 25, 1985

Me and my brother Jacob or Jake went on his paper route and then we went to the North Star Theatre to see the movie 2010 "the year we make contact". Whatever "contact" means. All of my friends at school are Kien, Ken, Brian, Chad, Dwight, K.C. and Patrick. Patrick gave me a real neat rock. Nobody knows what kind of rock it is. Anyway… goodbye!

I love how I felt the need to clarify to my dimwit diary – 25 days into the calendar year – that the Jacob I keep referring to is my brother, and that he also goes by the name Jake. I love how the two of us, aged 9 and 11, could go downtown by ourselves to watch a movie – and what a movie, I recall thinking, unaware of the existence of 2001: A Space Odyssey. I wasn't yet old enough to grasp a whole lot of pop culture. Like when I saw Labyrinth the next year, and came away as the Number One Fan of an actor named David Bowie.


January 26, 1985

Okla and Ija are going to get face transplants and Ija is going to get a hair due. Mouse, Mouse and Elmkah survived. Anyway, good bye.

These were the names of three of my ookpiks, small leather and rabbit-fur toys that defined my childhood. I didn't go into great detail as to what happened for good reason: it was one of the worst days of my life. I popped three ookpiks (and two plushie mice) in the microwave, pretending it was an inter-dimensional portal to their imaginary world. I programmed them for a minute on power-setting zero, believing it the equivalent of a blast of room-temperature air. Zero defaulted to full power, and in 20 to 30 seconds there was burning leather and rabbit fur. My mom wasn't home; my sister was in command, and after much yelling and tears, we agreed on a cover-up story of a terrible accident in which the ookpiks were lit by an element on the gas range. We believed this to be a much lesser charge to plead guilty to.


January 29, 1985

Tommorrow is a very busy day. We have swimming at 9:30 to 11:30, open gym, 8:20 to 8:50, Science club 12:00 to 12:50 1:00, other kids have team handball 12:00 to 12:30 and gym, and a spelling test. Today I got Team 1's chart, I got 20 stars, Sarah and Kien got 19, Tejinder got around 16 and Brian had 4. Good bye.

I kicked ass in these performance charts. A gold star sticker was added after each aced pop spelling or math quiz, and winning resulted in a selection of our choice from a box of free books. I won so many of these books that come spring I opted for a second copy of Anne Of Green Gables to give as a present. Pity poor Brian and his meagre four stars, but ignore the irony that I misspelled "tomorrow" in my diary post about it.


February 1, 1985

I had a terrible day. In the morning I got a stomachache. In the afternoon I stayed home because I got Jake's flu. I threw up 3 times. Good bye.

Jake, back in my bad graces. Circle of life.

January 30, 2015

Walter Did It

I arrive at daycare after work. Everything seems normal, but I am about to discover that I'm wrong. Dead wrong.

I see Scout playing in the back of the infant room with Walter, often the only other kid who's there this late in the day. Scout sees me, and races into my arms. Such a happy cat. Nothing in the world is amiss. Her caregiver hands me a slip of paper, and a pen.

"There's been an incident," she says slowly and quietly.

Confused. I glance at my daughter, double-checking. She's moving. Breathing. She inhales and exhales. Like any honest parent, my next instinct is Scout, what the hell did you do. She is not yet even two years old, so I do not say this out loud.

The paper lays bare a clinical retelling of the incident. That another child took his/her teeth and sunk them into Scout's upper arm, that the act itself was not seen but the fallout was loud and immediate. No blood or punctures, but there were tears, and an application of the proper salve. No names. I look at her arm and there it is: a perfect little horseshoe of teeth marks. The caregiver sees the wheels creaking in my head, and offers instruction. Sign the form.

Heading home, everything seems normal. "Scout, what did you do today?"


"Walter? You played with Walter?"


I cut to the chase. "Scout, did someone bite you?"


"Who bit you?"


I begin naming names. "Walter?"


"Walter bit you?"


"Walter did it?"


At home, Scout dishes to Kerry. WALTY DID IT. Neither of us can believe what we're hearing; Scout and Walter have been daycare mates for almost a year, and are as good a pair of friends as children this young have a concept of. Walter, always smiling, always helpful, passing me Scout's diaper bag as I nudge her boots on. Walter's a biter. He bites little kids.

The next morning I joke with daycare staff about their no-names policy, explaining to them how Scout outed her assailant. "Walter? No. It wasn't him. Walter's such a good boy. No, it's one of the newer children; we always have to keep an eye on this one."

Scout, you lied to me.

That evening, I ask her again. "Scout, who bit you yesterday?"


"Who bit you?"


January 29, 2015

Coming To A Boil

Scout came home recently with a swath of hair stained red from a cooperative artistic venture gone awry. I dug it though, it was kinda punk. But with an unprecedented city-wide boil water advisory in effect, the best effort we could muster in doing away with it was Kerry squeezing Scout between her legs and wiping her with a damp cloth. Our child guzzles bathwater with a quickness – like any opportune almost-two-year-old does – and her nightly bath ritual was suddenly a no-splash zone.

Now in the advisory's third stupefying day, a cavalier attitude I inherited as a kid regarding water quality – combined with a disdain for the cultural and generational shift that effectively bubble-wraps children – has my childhood definition of common sense butting heads with 21st-century common sense.

I ate snow. I sucked on icicles plucked from back-alley garages. I drank from the garden hose. I dipped my metal cup in and glugged tea-toned water from rivers in the Whiteshell (only swift-moving water; no bogs or lakes with motorboats). Tumbling mountain streams were fair game during a family vacation to the Rockies, despite the posted warning signs. I'd seen enough beer commercials in my time to know that if cold, crisp, glacier-fed water was good enough for Labatt Ice or Old Vienna, it was gonna be good enough for a growing boy. 

As the popular saying goes, I turned out all right.

In 2007 Kerry and I set out on a road trip that touched on four of the five Great Lakes, and during a muggy day-hike we came upon a pristine, postcard-worthy stretch of Lake Superior coastline (see photo above). I splashed my face with the cold, clear water. Then I chugged it. Kerry was aghast, but it just looked so good. Beer commercial good. I recall my defense: I wouldn't do this in any of the other Great Lakes. There's no science behind my decision-making, mostly gut instinct. So long as my gut doesn't rot from lake pollution or cryptosporidium, my gut is usually right.

I know our water's OK. You know it, too. You know it. I know you know it. (Breaking news: the City knows it too, as of 3:30PM CST.) But I'm a parent now, and I need all the arms of Vishnu from keeping Scout from tasting that sweet, tepid bathwater. Young children know not what they do, E. coli is a bitch and fortunately enough, boiling water has only become easier in this high-tech day and age. So yes, I did boil up some mighty pots of water. But I also gulped from the tap after brushing my teeth.

I guess what I'm trying to say is: If you're gonna drink straight from a Great Lake, make sure it's Lake Superior, and you'll be golden. Probably.

January 27, 2015

The Birds And The Birds

A couple of years ago some co-workers of mine engaged in a Big Year challenge, which for bird-nerds like myself is the nerdiest, birdiest, bird-nerdiest thing a bird-nerd can engage in and OK, you don't care anymore. But I joined in, and for a year in which my daughter was born and my birding time fluttered out our drafty chimney, I tallied 122 species. Many days were squandered in a zombie-like state, and I probably wouldn't have been able to differentiate a black-backed woodpecker from a three-toed woodpecker even if a rep from each species was woodpecking right into my eye sockets.

I identified 133 species during the second year of keeping track, including three I'd never spotted before (brown creeper, long-eared owl and Nashville warbler). I also saw a harmless black-backed woodpecker, pecking a tree. Three dozen or so of these birds passed directly by my office window, merely requiring a crane of my neck and a subtle shift of my duff (a Harris' sparrow ambled onto my ledge and peered in one blustery spring afternoon – I opened my file and dutifully typed Harris' sparrow). I'm sure I've mentioned before that I work in a marsh – otherwise my annual list would consist of 1) pigeon, 2) house sparrow and 3) Toucan Sam.

These types of numbers wouldn't impress the hardcore, or even above-average birdwatcher. I'm no Claes-Göran Cederlund. I can't tell my thrushes apart, let alone my confusing fall warblers. And hawks? Empidonax flycatchers? Forget about it/them. But I'm keeping a log once more this year. It always starts off tremendously slow, when it's just us and the resident hard-asses and crazy-asses holding court until spring when the migrants return. I've listed 11 species this month, and that likely won't change until the snow and ice begin to ebb. A Northern hawk owl has been the lone standout so far, and that was actually pretty cool.

January 24, 2015

What The Cat Saw

I often see these two, passing by the window of the bookstore – the dad and the little girl. On their way to the bakery on Saturday mornings for a morning glory muffin. Sometimes just the dad, racing to meet his carpoolies. When he's not in a rush he taps the glass, and I let out a majestic yawn. He likes that. The kid loves it. She'll squeal, or hide her face in her dad's chest. I can hear her through the glass. Kitty, she'd exclaim back in the day, but lately she says Hi, Dos. She knows my name. Her dad must have taught her that trick. Once they came through the door and she touched my nose. I wasn't so keen on that.

Friday evening they stop by, and I hop from the counter by the cash register and meet them at the window. Looks like a pleasant night out there, really too warm for this time of year. The dad's wearing a different jacket, a nice one, and a black flat cap. Not his usual grubby toque and parka combo. The little girl has her pink winter coat on, speckled with tiny white hearts. Her hat with the chinstrap. A neck-warmer.

Something's a little off with her tonight – I don't think either of them realize it. I squeeze through the tchotchkes and get right up to the glass and blink. I could let out a majestic yawn, bare my fangs, but she might get too excited for her own good. Dad's trying to get a rise out of her. He points at me. He grabs her arm and waves it. Hi, Dos, he says, hoping she'll do the same. But her eyes glaze. She tucks into his neck.

He should get her home. I think he's enjoying the hug, or what he thinks is a hug. He gives her a little boost, securing her in the crook of his arm. She looks at me. Poor thing, I think. She lets loose a torrent of barf, down the front of her coat. Beige stuff. Looks like muffins and apple pie filling. Dad's eyes balloon, but neither of them make a sound. It keeps coming, and coming. On both their coats now, and their pants. They should get moving. It's a block or so to their house, but dad's feet won't work. My stars, it isn't stopping. Someone passes by. They face me to hide the spectacle. Dad looks around. Looks like he has his wits back. About time. They bolt, and veer sharply into the back lane.

January 23, 2015

The Watershed Moment

My city is bruised, declared Canada's most racist by Maclean's this week in response to a spiraling series of events that has now, more than ever, pit residents against the city's burgeoning indigenous population. And I have spent the past hour scouring the house for the evidence that I helped perpetuate this label – a diary post from 1987 I wrote after an incident when I was eleven years old. I couldn't find it, but I can paraphrase. It's not hard. It sticks with me to this day.

It was in the winter, or early spring; I remember that. I was a paperboy for the Winnipeg Free Press, pulling my load of newspapers on a sled from my house to the start of my two routes on Walnut Street. Across from Sam's Payfair at Chestnut and Westminster I was tracked down by a pack of "Native kids", as I posted in my diary that night – some older than me, some younger. I was aware of them coming, but I knew enough to plod on and try to ignore what I sensed was inevitable. One kicked the back of my sled, and it knocked the backs of my boots. I kept pulling. Another kicked the papers onto the snow. There was laughing. I stopped and went to gather the papers. I knelt down, was pushed over my sled. I know I said something then – it was more than likely, fuck you. I was kicked in the face, and I lay on the frozen sidewalk. I wasn't knocked out, but I figured if I stayed in this position they'd likely consider the whole thing over with. I was right.

Laying there for a moment, I looked up at the trees. This was in the dying days of afternoon delivery, and it was dark already. A woman crossed the street to check if I was alright; I told her yes. My lip was swelling. I got up, found the rope for my sled and headed for Walnut Street. A short time later, a police cruiser stopped alongside me and an officer asked me to hop in. It was really cold. That woman must have called the cops. There wasn't much to tell, tears welling in my eyes; I remember one of them trying to cheer me up by making a crack about my lip. I told them I needed to finish my route, that I was OK. They would watch out for these kids. Nothing became of it.

I was into my second route, on Purcell Avenue near Maryland, when I crossed an alleyway and came face-to-face with a kid walking alone, about seven or eight years old. My eyes went wide; he was one of them, from earlier. I can remember us both stopping in our tracks, staring at each other – I wanted to cold-cock him something awful. He was scared. I pushed him. I yelled. Get the fuck out of here. He did, and he ran.

That night I wrote in my diary. I seethed about those Natives, using a laundry list of expletives. I was eleven years old. I wrote, those Natives have ruined things for themselves. They only have themselves to blame. My writing was like buckshot, aimed at the sky. I now wonder if I tossed this diary. I know I didn't finish it, that the entries petered out after a few months when I was on the verge of beginning junior high.

I grew up.

The sentiment passed. I had the benefit of living in a diverse neighbourhood, gaining friends of all stripes, learning in schools downtown rich with culture. As a teenager I took a job at a drugstore, delivering prescriptions in one of the city's poorest neighbourhoods. All of this gave me empathy, and there are thousands of people in this city who could stand for some themselves. I am not the biggest optimist, and I do not think the Maclean's article has positioned my city at the watershed moment it is seeking. It has stirred a necessary reaction. It is top of mind.

Very few people change, but generations do. Slowly, and I feel it will happen here. We will grow up.

January 21, 2015

In Deep

Scout and I arrived home from daycare in record time yesterday. There was still a scrap of daylight left (huzzah for mid-January), and the air was warm, hovering about zero. Sliding the key into the front door, I asked Scout – perched in my free arm – if she'd rather stay outside, figuring she'd opt instead for CRACKERS or GO-PISH or BABIES (i.e., YouTube clips, don't ask).

She said YEAH. I asked again: You want to stay outside? YEAH.

I plop her on our sidewalk, anticipating the inevitable request to be lifted back UP-UP (she's not been the biggest fan of walking in the snow thus far this winter). It doesn't happen, and she ambles down to the public sidewalk, and looks back at me watching.


I ask if she wants to visit Dos, the neighbourhood bookstore cat.


Do you want to go see the neighbour's snowman?


She picks up some snow in her knitted mittens and tosses it towards me. I jump in feigned fear. Giggle giggle giggle. This is repeated five or six or a few dozen times. It's the most fun I've witnessed her having in this, her first real winter so far. She kicks at the deep snow, wanting to venture in. HOPE? HOPE, DADDIE.


I grasp her curled-up hand, and lead her so far as I can without filling my shoes with snow. She shows no hesitancy. I'm beaming. O COMING, DADDIE?

She was hesitant to take her first steps in life, waiting until she had full confidence that her feet would work for her. Then, once mobile, she did not enjoy taking that act from smooth surfaces to grass, or snow. She's yet to find a relaxed state in the pool, curling like a bug over floating like a starfish. A thought would sometimes bubble up inside me, that she was watching me closer than I imagined, that she was absorbing my own habit of reticence.

She tramps through the fresh snow, coating her brown cords. She's so happy. Squealing. Her woolen mittens are a patchwork of crusted ice. I know it's seeped through by now. Scout, let's go inside and get some proper mittens on.


Do you want a cracker and some milk?


It's dark now. OK. Let's go inside. We'll come outside tomorrow.


January 19, 2015

Me Write Gud

The point of all these recent postings has been a reinvigorated desire to practice my writing. I like doing it, even if it's only, you know… fooling around. I feel the need to note this, as Kerry and her writer friends presently sit downstairs and discuss their writing. Their published, passionate, professional writing. Their writing careers. Me? I'm just tinkering with my hobby. Having a good time.

I wanted to be a writer once. A journalist – to the chagrin of my lifer journalist dad who, sensing a great change coming in the field during the sunset of his career in the late 1990s, subtly asked me if I was sure. I steered myself into college, surprised as anyone that I was accepted into Creative Communications, and proceeded to become a solid C… er, C- student.

But my best marks came in the journalism portion of the program, largely due to a lack of spelling errors of names and places – a crime that came with an automatic assignment fail. (Even that achievement came with an asterisk – a classmate once flunked an assignment for not writing Portage la Prairie in full, yet I somehow escaped using the more colloquial "Portage".)

My journalism career ended soon after, before it even started. Tasked one day to attend a police newser and file a story by day's end, I was let loose with two dozen other student scribes to cover the mop-up from an armed North End standoff. Pounding on neighbours' doors, ambushing locals, describing a depressing scene. I can't remember what I even came out with for a story. But I didn't want this.

At the same time, we were filing scripts for radio ads in advertising class. I penned a 30-second scene in which an ad agency used a finicky gorilla to help sell beets (tagline: Manitoba beets, deliciously pink). There was slightly more to it than that, but I earned an A and basically, that was that.

Well, that and my journalism instructor explaining to me one morning while sitting side-by-side on a transit bus that I wrote solid lead paragraphs and that "maybe I should try advertising". Ouch.

January 18, 2015

Dear Diary: January 7-19, 1985

January 7, 1985

Today is the first day of school after the holidays. Jacob got mad at me. I hate Jacob, he is a inconsiderate bumb. Sorry I have to leave now. Bye!

I know Jake and I had better days in 1985; there's one near the end of January I'll expand on another time. I was an ace speller and grammar stud, but the word "bum" was a nemesis. I'm sure I was thinking along the lines of crumb, dumb and bumb. Jacob is a dumb crumb-bumb. That sort of thing. Why would bumb be different? I'd still like to argue this, but society and the dictionary have moved on.


January 9, 1985

I scored the only goal for our soccer team. The score was 3 to 1 for the other team. They like scoring overtime, but they do it for fun. They still agree about the score. My team was very proud about me. I didn't even know I would score a goal. Anyway, I had a good day.

I'm spacing, but I believe this was Tuesday night open gym pick-up games at Mulvey School, and not during phys-ed class or recess. I was a pipsqueak – I didn't reach 100 pounds until I was thirteen – and wasn't destined for footy greatness by any stretch of the imagination. Even though I can't visualize this moment, I know how much it would have meant to me.


January 14, 1985

I got to use the computer today. It was exciting! We used it in enrichment. We had that instead of gym.

A year later, our school had a MODEM and sometimes we were permitted to type messages to kids at other schools that had MODEMS. My friend Addison and I messaged with kids at Cecil Rhodes during one lunch hour because our teacher trusted us with the machine. We asked them if they were a BOY or a GIRL, and if they were a GIRL, if they were CUTE.


January 15, 1985

It is Monday and sorta warm. It was boring today, so I don't have one thing to say today.

I still don't.


January 17, 1985

I had a nice day. We got a new telephone today. It is burgundy purple. On the news a teenager was found since November 30th 1984.

Suspicious. I have a feeling my mom snuck in later and slid in that purple reference using my handwriting. She was deep into purple. Our house had purple trim, purple window frames, a purple porch. I can walk by the place even now, and some of the purple is still there. I know that phone was burgundy, skewing red. I know it. I cleaned and wiped it every Sunday.

The teenager found was Candace Derksen, found frozen and bound in a shed. Her death was a cold case for years and sadly, her story is still very much alive and in the news again this year.


January 19, 1985

It is very very VERY late. It is 2:14 a.m. We watched two movies, 9 to 5 and a other movie. I am going to read my book now. Good night!

Friday night with sweet, confused dreams of Dolly Parton bounding through my nine-year-old head (that second movie must've been a pile of puke; I wish I remembered what it was). And this Jeope, 30 years later, is reeling at the notion his younger self needed book time to achieve sleep at 2:14 in the morning.

January 16, 2015

Pain In The Mouf

Look. Listen. I've got my phone at the ready; I'm calling the waaaah-mbulance. I don't care if your sinuses are acting up, or if you have a splitting headache from ear to ear and here to Kingdom Come. Don't bother me with the dripping details of your six-week-old cold. The epic of your eczema. The continuing saga of your swollen sacroiliac. I don't care if your trick knee can tell if a storm is coming, and it won't faze me if your ankle's twisted, your arches have fallen, or if your dogs are barking. Don't beak to me about phlebitis, arthritis, gingivitis, cirrhosis, halitosis or your Zemgus Girgensons. I don't want to hear about your back pain, migraine or any insanity in your membrane. I don't care if you're dizzy, woozy, sniffly, whiffly, jiffly, itchy, scratchy, shaky, achy, breaky or achy-breaky. Suck it up, Buttercup.

Because I have a canker sore, on my tongue.

January 14, 2015

Lost Horizon

There's something equal parts Zen-inducing and terrifying about a scene like this, a snippet of the winter drive near where I work (shot last March as a passenger, but entirely representative of my trip home this evening). The pros, if you can call them that – that the road itself on this day (and today) is dry, and mercifully straight – take the edge off the countless potential cons lurking in that low visibility. It's the city side of the commute I dreaded today, the 40 minutes it took to cover the initial 40 kilometres undone by the 50 minutes spent completing the final six klicks. 

I am thankful, however, there were plenty of tunes, grapes and other distractions for Scout, who handled that sluggish final hour strapped into her seat and coat like a twentysomething-pound boss.

January 13, 2015

Where In The World Is A Good Night's Sleep?

There's a teenager deep inside me that still views going to sleep as a defeat, who wants to rock-and-roll all night and a gradually decreasing portion of every day. To combat this cagey party animal, I match his dimming wits with my equally defiant inner geography nerd. The two wage battle on most work nights as I lie in bed attempting to find sleep. 

Kerry finds it odd that, rather than tune out with books or whale-song, my approach is to instead force my brain to perform overtime. Fortunately this brain is a great deal like the rest of me; when challenged, there comes a likelihood it will zone out. It's like listening to that womp-womping teacher in a Peanuts cartoon.

Geography is a passion – commence your own womp-womping now, if need be – and on a typical night, this is how things go down. OK brain, I say – typically not out loud – tonight we're going to name ten U.S. cities that start with each letter of the alphabet. And because you were such a smartass about it the last time we did this, an added rule: only one per state. Go.

Anchorage. Astoria. Austin. Albuquerque. Anaheim. Ann Arbor. Akron. Albany. Augusta. Annapolis. Easy peasy, Albany-zy.

Bellingham. Boise. Billings. Bismarck. Berkeley. Baton Rouge. Boulder. Biloxi. Brainerd. Birmingham.

Carson City… Cheyenne… Zzzzzzz… *snork*

… Des Moines… Zzzzzzzzzzzzz…

The next night: World cities. But nothing in Canada, the United States or Europe, big guy. Go.

Adelaide. Auckland. Agra. Amman. Algiers. Abidjan. Ankara. Acapulco. Aomori…

Zzzzzzzzzzzzz. The lights go down in the city.

January 11, 2015

The Word

We are raising a child who loves books. It's so rewarding, to see her interest in the library, in bedtime readings, the written word in general. Here are five stories I like to parade out at naptime or bedtime:

5. Bus Stops (Taro Gomi, 1988)

This book tracks a bus around a vaguely San Francisco-esque city, letting riders off at various stops. Nothing fancypants. But it teaches Scout to learn how a bus functions – useful for the fantastic years to come when it becomes her only post-apocalyptic option to avoid the C.H.U.D.s and get to the nearest hover-mall.

4. Lost And Found (Oliver Jeffers, 2005)

"Once there was a boy, and one day he found a penguin at his door." Thus begins a fantastical tale that will forever lend Scout the impression that penguins are mute, idiot navigators and she's free to push off to sea in a rickety rowboat every time there's some minor penguin-related incident on the home front. Scout's interest in this book got a second wind when I started calling the boy Avery, her cousin whose name she loves to sing-song.

3. The Golden Egg Book (Margaret Wise Brown, 1947)

A rabbit stumbles upon an abandoned egg, kicks it around, throws rocks at it and rolls it down a hill – but fails to destroy the life inside. Eventually it grows tired of trying, falls asleep and accidentally incubates it, giving birth to a vengeful duckling who turns the tables on its dozing tormentor. But because ducklings are also suckers, it imprints on the bunny and they become friends. By changing every second adjective to 'sleepy', it gets Scout in a snoozy way right quick.

2. This Is Not My Hat (Jon Klassen, 2012)

A simple story, in which a pipsqueak minnow pilfers a bowler hat from a slumbering fishy behemoth and tries to justify its decision-making to the reader while on the lam. It's fun to know the thieving snot gets his just desserts off-page – though not likely in as bloody a fashion as the shifty-eyed bunny who dares poke the bear in its companion piece, I Want My Hat Back. Both books feature fabulous life lessons. Don't take what's not yours. Pick on someone your own size. If you're a crab, don't be a snitching rat. I like to read this book in the voice of a snooty Victorian-era aristocrat.

1. Where The Wild Things Are (Maurice Sendak, 1963)

I will never tire of this book. It's wonderful. I started Scout on it while she was really young, unsure of what effect the presence of so many monsters in her head just before bedtime might have. But she's been cool with it. There's a spread in which brave Max instructs the Wild Things to BE STILL, knocking them to their butts in fear – and Scout leans in on these pages and shouts BOO (translation: "Yeah, you bunch of clowns, be still"). She also used to like how Max would chase his dog down the stairs with a fork, but lately not so much.