Tuesday, March 31, 2009

First Meeting With The Surgeon

The office is stark and compact. Painted a pale robin's egg blue, not one picture graces the walls. The ten chairs in the waiting room are chrome with leatherette seats and the magazines scattered across the coffee table are over a year old.

Looking around, the word "functional" comes to mind.

I've heard many good things about Dr. Michael Chan. We have a friend who is a doctor and several who are nurses and all brighten at his name and rush to praise his abilities. They are calmed to know he will be cutting me.

I am alone in the waiting room, except for an elderly man who had accompanied the family now in seeing the doctor. I'm not surprised Linda is late, she had a meeting with the Principal to review her report cards and the hospital parking lot was so full it had taken me 15 minutes to find a spot to park.

I am surprisingly calm. These visits to unknown doctors becoming all too commonplace. And I'm getting used to bad news.

The waiting room door opens and Linda sticks her head in hesitantly. Is this the place? She sees me and her face lights up with a smile.

But before she can sit down the door to the doctor's office has opened and the family have emerged. Grim faced. They whisper something to the elderly gentleman on the other side of the waiting room and hurriedly leave.

"Barry!" a male voice calls my name as if an old friend recognizing me after a long absence. I stand up to meet the surgeon for the first time and find a short Chinese man with balding close cropped hair. He looks very fit in his green scrubs, preppy somehow.

His private office is also starkly functional, but the window behind his desk looks out over Morningside Park where vast acres of trees are just coming back to life after a winter of dormancy.

This is a preliminary meeting he tells us. He would just like to go over the probable fate that awaits me, but the specific plan will have to wait for the results of the CT scan on Monday.

The usual course of treatment involves 3 months of combined chemo and radiation therapy at Princes Margaret Hospital to shrink the tumor in my throat followed by the removal of half my esophagus and half my stomach. They will use my stomach to rebuild the missing esophagus because it is composed of the same material as my throat. The surgery will require me to be in hospital for ten days to two weeks followed by five to six weeks recovery at home.

I will need five months off work. If all goes well.

Linda has turned pale at the mention of the removal of half my stomach and I can only wonder what my face looks like.

"But," Dr Chan goes on, his voice friendly and up beat, "That is only the general procedure. Your case may be very different. If it is a small cancer and it responds readily to the chemo, there may be no need for surgery at all. I have just seen a woman for her three year check up with exactly your same condition who elected not to have surgery and she is still cancer free. After three years."

After my CT scan on Monday he wants me to come straight up to his office again. He can immediately call up the results on his computer and can tell me in more specific detail what he would recommend as a course of treatment. In the meantime he ordered some blood work and an EEG for me to have before leaving the Hospital.

He takes me into the examining room and has me remove my shirt. Then he proceeds to poke and prod my stomach beneath my rib cage. The operation will be a three hole surgery he tells me, pointing out the three areas where he will be making incisions. They are no where near my throat.

Then we return to Linda and he asks if we have any questions, which, of course we do. Our questions delight him, giving him an opportunity to talk about the cancer and the surgery in more detail and to discuss some of the latest research he has been reading.

When we finally leave the waiting room is crowded to over flowing and we have to wind our way through the throng to find the exit.

Knowledge of my exact fate will have to wait until Monday.

And then I went home to my gruel.

Well no, not exactly. I've discovered I can eat spaghetti with a mild tomato sauce. And it feels wonderful to be eating a normal meal.

At home, my anxious daughter calls to ask about the meeting and to discuss my birthday which is coming up on Friday. She wants to take me out for dinner and agrees to phone around to the local restaurants to find out what kind of soup each of them serve. I am thrilled to be going out to a restaurant with real people. We will go to the one that serves the soup I like the best. After all it is my Birthday.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

From Tears to Cheers

Now I know what Lindsay feels like when I unclick her leash and she races down the beach glorying in her freedom. We had put the city and its troubles and worries behind us and drove out into the gently rolling farmlands north west of the city of Toronto, the world opening up before us in vistas unfettered by massive buildings. It was nature that was spread before us, not bricks and steel.

True, we were on our way to Jack's funeral, but we had only met him at family gatherings and he wasn't one to talk a lot. He was my son-in-law's grandfather, but he had played a major roll in Jeremy's life. Jeremy's father had been killed in a tragic car accident when Jeremy was 8 and Jack had stepped in to fill an aching void. Jeremy spent every summer on Jack cattle farm.

The Old Ways

We were heading for Listowel in Mennonite country, their one horse carriages riding the broad earthen shoulders of the highway like ghosts from another time.

All so different from the city.

The funeral was in a small Presbyterian Church in the little farming village of Atwood, just outside Listowel, and the pews were filled to overflowing. We were there to support Heather and Jeremy and to look after our grandchildren should they get restless and not be able to make it through the service. Young Griffin, 5, is notoriously restless and disruptive.

As it turns out, they made it 3/4 of the way through, before Heather gestured to us and we took them down stairs to the play room. Linda sat in the rocking chair with a book and Natasha nestled on her knee and the two of them disappeared into a story. Griffin and I found some wooden blocks and Griffin delighted in building fragile towers and then demolishing them with a plastic truck.

Over and over again, with escalating force.

His initial joy was gradually replaced with destructive anger as the blocks went smashing across the floor. I could see tears in his eyes.

"Are you alright, Griffin?" I asked cuddling him to me.

He looked away.

"Are you okay buddy?"

"My great grandfather died," he told me.

I stroked his hair. "Yes I know, Griffin. That's why everyone is so sad today."

Then he looked up at me as if searching for something important, wet eyes shining intently through long bangs.

Uncomfortable, I forced a smile. "Lets see if we can build a bigger tower, okay Buddy?"

But by then the church service was over and his parents had arrived. The church basement was filled with people and tables of food. The church kitchen staffed by a dozen women, making sandwiches and coffee and busy cleaning up. Farmers stood in their ill fitting Sunday-Go-To-Meeting suits, their broad farmers shoulders pushing at the seams, mud on edges of their boots.

I found Jean, Jack's widow, in the middle of the crowd and gave her a hug of support. She melted into my arms in sudden tears, "Oh Barry," she said, "I was so sorry to hear about you. We can't loose you too."

And suddenly and unexpectedly, this was getting tough. For a moment I couldn't talk.

"Don't worry," I told her and turned the conversation back to Jack and how she was coping with her husband's loss. And then Jeremy was there and took her off to talk with some distant cousins.

All around me, the tables were loaded with sandwiches and pickles and pasties and raw vegetables with dip and cheeses. None which I could eat. And huge urns of coffee, none of which I could drink.


Three hours later we were back in the City, changing for a trip downtown to see the stage production of the Sound of Music at the Princess of Wales theatre.

When we got to the theatre it was packed. The curtain rose and Maria was revealed running up to the peak of "her" mountain, arms outstretched and the hills were suddenly alive and the crowd was lifted up in cheers!

And so were we.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Day Saturday Came Early

Classy Jazzy Restaurant At Sri Racha, Wuuw the ambience was great, by the sea & yea, expensive too lol Pictures, Images and Photos

I sit before the computer keyboard, fingers restless on the keys. Its isn't Saturday yet but I won't be here to write a Saturday blog. As fate would have it, (are you ready for further irony B&B?) I'm going to a funeral. My son-in-law's grandfather has past away and Linda and I are paying our respects, along with being supportive to my daughter and her husband. Then we're rushing back to Toronto where we have tickets for the stage production of Sound of Music.

But as I sit here now pondering what to write as my Saturday post, in my mind a strange fantasy starts to take shape.

I imagine a restaurant where the lights are turned low. Very low. A tuxedoed waiter glides from table to table lighting tiny tea candles in their crystal vases.

Linda and Barry are seated at a table peering through the gloom at the restaurant's massive menu occasionally making out words through the flickering light.

Barry is on a liquid and soft food diet while Canada's finest surgeons hold nation wide conferences in an attempt to agree on the optimum treatment plan for the esophageal cancer they discovered while on a video taping expedition down his throat a week ago Thursday. He imagines doctors across this great land laying aside their own needs, neglecting their families, ignoring their dogs, eschewing their children, sacrificing their sleep while working tirelessly on his behalf.

Or, at least, this is the scenario that runs through Barry's mind while he sits squinting at the menu in the darkened restaurant.

"Are the lights turned off for Earth Day," he asks Linda.

"I don't think so," she replies. "I believe it's always like this here. It's romantic."

"Well its so dark I don't see gruel listed on this menu," Barry complains.

"I'm sure its there, dear," Linda pats his hand lovingly, "Its just difficult to make out in this impenetrable murk."

There is a breeze to Barry's right which he interprets as a sign the waiter is hovering close to their table, although in the inky darkness no one is visible.

"Is there a waiter nearby?" Barry asks into the gloaming.

"Qui Monsieur," the waiter replies.

"I"m not finding gruel on the menu."

"Non, Monsieur? But zat cannot be? I will ask ze chief."

"Thank you," Barry says.

"I'm sure they'll find some," Linda reassures him. She is wondering about having the New York steak with baked potato and spring mix but is undecided whether she wants sour cream or butter for the potato. Or maybe both?

"Pardon, Monsieur." The waiter emerges from the cavernous dark. "But we are out of gruel. However, ze chief informs me that ve hav ample slop. Made fresh today."

"Is it locally grown?" Barry asks.

"Mais oui, Monsieur."


"But of course!"

Barry relaxes. "Then please I will have that."

"See," Linda beams, "I told you there would be no problem eating out on this diet."

"I'm a lucky man," Barry agrees.

"And you're handling this diet thing with such maturity."

Barry blushes, looking forward to his slop.

I lift my fingers from the keyboard. Let Saturday arrive, this post is done.

Image courtesy of photobucket

Friday Photo Shoot Out--Graveyards

I've accepted a challenge from Patty to post photos of our local community every Friday. This week's theme challenge is to post photos of graveyards in my town.

There are links to all the Friday Shoot Out participants from around the world at the bottom of my left panel. Maybe you'd like to join us as well and post photos of your community? If you do, let me know so I can add your names to the list.

I live in Toronto, in the Scarborough area of Toronto, in the West Hill area of Scarborough. So West Hill will be the focus of my photos.
Although the choice of topic seems a trifle inappropriate in light of my doctor's diagnosis yesterday, I have no one but my self to blame, since I was given the choice of topics by Patty several weeks ago. I still think I chose well and that graveyards makes for very interesting photographs.

We have three cemeteries in the West Hill area. The first is the smallest. The Wesleyan Cemetery holds some of the earliest pioneer families and sits in the midst of a small shopping plaza besdie a mural depicting the construction of some of the earliest buildings in the area painted on the wall of a local restaurant.

St. Margaret-in-the-Pines Cemetery is the largest in West Hill and also dates from the earliest pioneer days. St. Margarets Anglican Church was the first church built in West Hill back in the early 1800.

Nestled comfortably in the heart of a quiet neighourhood of West Hill stands one of the largest Indian mounds to be found in an urban setting. Within the Taber Hill osuary nearly 500 people of the Iroquois nation have rested for over 700 years. The site is peaceful, dignified and profoundly spiritual.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Immediately (Part 2) And Then Then News

Linda, of course, was already in the doctor's waiting room when I arrived 10 minutes early for my appointment.

"You'd be crazy to think I wouldn't be," she said, giving me a hug.

And then we suffered though two episodes of Trivial Pursuit the game show on the large flat screen TV while we waited for our turn with the doctor and the news that would change everything. I was certain what the news would be, after all, doctors never call you in immediately to give you good news.

The biopsy results revealed my ulcer is actually an esophageal cancer and I was being referred to Dr. Michael Chan, a thoracic surgeon. Treatment will be composed of chemotherapy, radiation therapy and/or surgery.

Although the decision will be up to Dr. Chan, the likelihood is that I will be receiving all three.

Esophageal cancer is rare but one of the fastest growing forms of cancer world wide, especially among white males. It is also one of the most aggressive cancers with a 5 year survival rate of only 15%


My first appointment with Dr. Chan is on Monday afternoon.

So I have informed my work to be prepared for some very erratic attendance in the near future.

Linda called both our daughters when we got home to give them the news while I took Lindsay for a run to burn off some stress.

Usually Lindsay's walks are for her, this one was on me!


Hippocrates stone Greek Pictures, Images and Photos

I had returned from an exhausting day at work and was settled comfortably in my favourite chair, beginning to answer some of the surprising number of comments from yesterday's post when the phone rang.

Lindsay looked up from the floor at my feet where she was sleeping and yawned.

Telemarketer, I thought.

Linda looked at the call display.

"It's for you," she said. "Your gastroenterologist's office."

"Easy for you to say," I said. She handed me the phone.

I had had trouble swallowing a few weeks back which led to a visit to my family doctor and an urgent gastroscopy. The scope showed an ulcer just above the esophageal sphincter. Being thorough, the doctor had taken some samples for biopsy and had referred me for some further tests.

"Hello," a sprightly female voice said. "This is Doctor Xeroulis's office calling. Is that Barry?"

"It is."

"Your biopsy results have just come in and the doctor needs to see you immediately. Could you make it first thing tomorrow morning?"

I thought about it.

This couldn't be a good phone call. I thought about the reports at work I've been struggling to write for the past week that have been delayed due to constant interruptions. I thought about the meeting I have set for first thing with the potential new customers who have flown from Vancouver to see us. I thought about the 12 other things I had crammed into my day. And the 12 I didn't know about yet that would crop up through the day.

There was no room in my busy schedule for a visit to the doctor. Especially a doctor whose office was a hour away from mine.

Then I thought about what the phone call from the doctor's office must mean.

At my feet, Lindsay laid her head back down between her paws and went back to sleep.

"Could I make it in the afternoon instead?" I asked.

"One oclock?"

It would be tight but, "Yes, I can make one oclock. The doctor knows the CT scan and UGI series haven't been done yet?"

"Yes I confirmed those times with the hospital before I called."

"And he wants to see me before he gets those results?"

"Yes he does."

"Alright, I'll see you at one oclock."

Linda was looking at me with concern. And trepidation.

"Damn," I said, and told her about the conversation.

"Damn," she said. "Barry, that's not good news. I'm coming with you."

"No, it's alright. You have work to do and I'll be running back to work right after."

She looked at me like I was crazy.

"There are things I just have to get done.", I explained.

Now sitting up, Lindsay started nudging my hand with her nose. She wasn't sympathizing, she was letting me know it was time for her nightly run.

I held Linda's gaze for a minute. Lindsay nudged my hand again.

Life goes on.

I got up and grabbed my coat and hat, clicked on lindsay's leash, and together we went out into the cold night and the rain.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Lindsay's Secret, Please Don't Tell



I don't want Lindsay to hear this.

I don't want to see that bright sparkle in her eyes turn dull and fade.

I don't want to see her self esteem crushed.

I don't want her to learn that you don't love her.

Well, not "you" in particular; the collective "you" I mean.

There is something about Lindsay that is hard to disguise.

Lindsay is (oh I don't want to say it) black.

Lindsay is a black dog.

Okay, not completely black. Her snout is white and she has a white chest, a white tip to her tail and she has the cutest little white feet that look like she's wearing athletic socks....

But I digress. The fact is, Lindsay, for all intents and purposes, is a black dog. 97% black, at least.

And according to an article I was just reading, people hate black dogs. Dog Pounds can't give them away. They even have a name for it. They call it the "black dog syndrome".

In British folklore, such as stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Sir Walter Scott, the black dog is a creepy, spectral figure that haunts cemeteries and is an omen of death. In "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," it is a big black dog called the Grim who stalks Harry. Another Englishman, Winston Churchill, battled serious bouts of depression which he called "the black dog."

Black dogs have another problem, they can appear older; even when they're young, they have bits of facial hair that may be white or gray. And the ignored breeds are often those who simply look a little big and scary, and whose bad reputations may have preceded them, such as Rottweiler, Doberman pinscher and pit bull mixes.

Now I especially don't want you to listen to this part Lindsay. Some people turn in their black dogs to the shelters just because they've gotten new furniture and don't like the dark fur their pet sheds.

In the shelter the colour of their fur makes them the least likely to be adopted and the most likely to be euthanized.

People want goldens, and brown dogs. They want white dogs and gray dogs and russet dogs. They want large dogs and short dogs and long wiener dogs; dogs with long hair and dogs with short hair; bold aggressive dogs and tiny timid dogs.

But they don't want black dogs.

No matter how lovable.

Oh Lindsay, I hope you never hear of this!

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Old Man Who Rips Your Tickets At The Theatre

The Old Man Who Rips theatre Tickets

This is a small story celebrating the life of a man you have never met and likely will never meet. It is unlikely you have even heard of him and after reading this you will likely never hear about him again.

He has led a small life performing an undemanding task that could be performed by just about anyone. He has not sought fame or glory and is astonished now to find himself being noticed.

Chances are you don't live in the Scarborough area of Toronto, but if you did and if you had ever been to the movies you would have met James Loader.

You may not have known his name, but you sure know his face. Linda and I remember him from the Cedarbrae Theatres where he collected our tickets and directed us to our theatre for over 20 years.

After Cedarbrae closed he could be found working at Fairview or $2.00 ticket days at the massive Scarborough Mall. For the last seven years James has been ripping our ticket at the Cineplex Morningside and 401 theatre and without anyone knowing it, he has become one common denominator that unites us all.

In a world where human relationships become more and more impersonal and you never get the same waitress no matter how many times you visit the same restaurant, James has been working for the same theatre chain for over 40 years. And now, thanks to Gus Saurer of Port Union, James is finally getting a little appreciation.

Gus is the creator of the "Old Man Who Rips Your Tickets at the Morningside Theatre Appreciation Page" on Facebook. Since putting the page up a couple of months ago, over 11,000 local residents have joined to show their appreciation.

Perhaps even more astonishing, over 1500 of them took the time to leave comments and memories of James. All of them are shocked to discover there is one person, one face, one everyday experience, they all share in common. They have all been to the show and they have all had their tickets ripped by James.

There is even a move under way to get James nominated for the Scarborough Walk of Fame. If being instantly recognizable by virtually everyone of the 500,000 people who live in Scarborough counts as fame, James' nomination is a sure thing.

As one Facebook fan puts it, "James is a great guy. He has been working in the cinema's for a long time. I have known him for about 20 years. He used to belong to the same church that I went to. He is truly a very nice person. He has a son, and lives with him. Lost his wife years ago, sad to say. He will greatly appreciate this fan club on his behalf and he really deserves this. He is truly a wonderful man, and is in the right job where he enjoys being of public service."

As local newspapers picked up on the story, the Cineplex chain named him their employee of the Month and featured him in a cover story in their staff magazine.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Highway of Heroes

Canada is a country with a small population with a correspondingly small military force. We have about two thousand soldiers in Kandahar province in Afghanistan.

Our losses over the past four years are now 116 men and women. More than that if you count the teachers and humanitarian aid workers who have also been killed.

When our losses are in this range it allows us to do something that is unfortunately special: honour our dead as individuals. We see their faces on the National News, we learn their background, we hear of the pride their stricken families hold for them.

When a soldier is killed and the family notified, the media cover the ceremony in Kandahar. We see the tears on the faces of their comrades as they struggle with the weight of their coffin, carrying it toward the giant military plane that will fly them home.

All of the fallen soldiers are flown into Trenton Military base, just outside Kingston Ontario. They are then transported to Toronto for autopsy before being returned to their families.

This requires transporting them along a 100 kilometer stretch of Highway 401.

Because we get to know of these men and women in a very personal way, something extraordinary has begun to happen. On bridge after bridge across the 401, crowds of people have begun to spontaneously gather on the highway overpasses to applaud their final passing. This stretch of the highway has now been renamed the Highway of Heroes.

Four Canadian soldiers, popular with their comrades who described them as "unsung heroes," were killed yesterday in two separate bombings in southern Afghanistan. At least eight other soldiers were injured in the two attacks outside of Kandahar city.

Master Cpl. Scott Vernelli and Cpl. Tyler Crooks -- both of November Company, 3rd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment -- died in an explosion at about 6:45 a.m. local time in the Zhari district west of the city.

On Saturday night last Fall, after Sapper Stephan Stock, Cpl. Dustin Wasden and Sgt. Shawn Eades died when a roadside bomb exploded outside their armoured vehicle, Linda and I went to the 401 overpass on Conlans Road around 7 pm. A small group of people had already gathered, most wearing red maple leaf t shirts the colour of our flag.

Half an hour later members of the local legion arrived with flags. Twenty of these on tall aluminum poles were handed out to members of the crowd. Linda and I each took one.

As we waited on the bridge, the cars and trucks streaming below us on the 12 lanes of the 401 flashed their lights and beeped their horns. People even leaned out their windows and waved their support as they passed under us.

We had a long wait. It grew dark but the evening was a very pleasant temperature. As the evening wore on the crowd continued to grow until over one hundred people lined the bridge, as they were lining most of the bridges along this hundred kilometer stretch of highway. Around 9 o'clock the traffic on the highway suddenly stopped and the road emptied. In the distance we could see blue lights coming over the horizon.

We raised our flags on their tall aluminum poles as a large police motorcyle escort approached accompanied by three black hearses. The motorcycles sounded their sirens and the crowd who were not holding flags broke into loud applause.

Then the small cavalcade swept beneath us and was gone. The highway filled once more with traffic.

The flags were packed away with respect. The crowd began moving off.

Until next time.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Friday Photo Shoot-Out:--Houses

I've accepted a challenge from Patty to post photos of our local community every Friday. This week's theme challenge is to post photos of houses in my town.

There are links to all the Friday Shoot Out participants from around the world at the bottom of my left panel. Maybe you'd like to join us as well and post photos of your community? If you do, let me know so I can add your names to the list.

I live in Toronto, in the Scarborough area of Toronto, in the West Hill area of Scarborough. So West Hill will be the focus of my photos.

The First Nations peoples originally settled this land and built their homes on the banks of the Highland Creek.

The name "Iroquois" was given to the peoples of the six nations by their enemies. The Algonquin called them the Iroqu (Irinakhoiw) "rattlesnakes." After the French added the Gallic suffix "-ois" to this insult, the name became Iroquois. The Iroquois call themselves Haudenosaunee meaning "people of the long house." Iroquois villages were generally fortified and large. The distinctive, communal longhouses of the different clans could be over 200' in length and were built about a framework covered with elm bark.

Evidence of two of their villages have been found long the banks of the Highland Creek. These villages were set well back from the creek, away from the flood plain and from the sight of their enemies. The village on the west hill is located near the Alda Motel, while the one on the east hill of the creek is on the Helliwell property. Descendants of the original peoples continue to reside on this land in the Gabriel Dumont community of West Hill. This reconstructed Longhouse is from the Crawford Lake reserve.

More Myth than Reality, more Dream than Truth, the original village of West Hill can no longer be seen but only glimpsed. Hidden from direct view behind apartment blocks, shopping malls, major thoroughfares and sprawling subdivisions, the village of West Hill lives on, in small oasis of beauty between the encroaching bricks and granite of Canada's largest metropolitan area. Swallowed first by the City of Scarborough which in turn was engulfed by the City of Toronto, West Hill no longer exists on any map, yet can still be found when the light is right and guide is sure. Come, we will seek this small village together and let her peace and charm renew our souls and delight our eyes.

Originally the home of Colonel Bickford, The Guild Inn was owned by my great uncle Msrg. John Fraser from September 1921 to October 1924. He renamed the property the St. Francis Xavier China Mission Seminary. During World War II it became an official naval base and was renamed, HMCS Bytown and, later still, was transformed into a military hospital and renamed Scarborough Hall. The property later became the Guild of all Arts and became an major Arts Center. Now owned by the City of Toronto, and its future the subject of considerable controversy, the stately building has been boarded up and left to rot.

Most recently Centennial College has expressed an interest in the property to house its International Relations Department.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Lindsay Meets Her Kind At Last

Lindsay looking over the Bluffs

It is a rare day of sunshine and moderate temperatures after a winter that has been all about record breaking lows and incessant snowstorms.

I am taking Lindsay for her usual run along the beach at the bottom of the bluffs. Getting there involves leaving my car in the parking lot and walking down a long pathway to a point about ten feet above the beach. Then climbing down the remainder of the way on a cascade of large boulders.

At the top of this cascade Lindsay and I meet two pretty women who are standing there looking out over the lake, a couple of duffel bags at their feet.

Lindsay says hello to the delight of the women, but then turns some serious attention to one of the duffel bags.

"She smells the food in there," Laughs the taller of the two.

I call Lindsay away and we scamper down the rocks to the beach.

The clay bluffs are in constant erosion and avalanches are common in the spring. Crashing down with the clay are often large trees that get washed out into the lake where they sink to the bottom awaiting raging storms that wash their bleached carcasses back up onto the beach.

The stripped and gnarled trees often form interesting shapes and further down the beach was a photographer dressed like some refuge from an Indiana Jones movie taking photos of them with a large and complicated looking camera.

We say hello and I laugh and tell him there are a couple of pretty girls back down the beach and he should be photographing them instead. He laughs and says maybe he will.

Lindsay barks and starts chasing some seagulls. I run off after her.

We complete our walk and turn back. When we get to the rocks to climb up from the beach we find the numbers of beautiful women have swollen to ten, three of them sitting in chairs getting their makeup done.

Lindsay is in her glory dancing and prancing among them. The two woman we originally met greet her and proudly introduce her to the rest. Suddenly Lindsay is surrounded by beautiful models all cooing and petting her. She is in her glory, finally getting the attention she always knew she deserved. A beautiful girl at home at last among her kind.

And I suddenly realized the photographer I had met down the beach was THE photographer, out scouting locations for a fashion shoot. The one who told me with a smile that "maybe" he would take a photo or two of the girls. Given the number of models involved he was probably famous, his face known to everyone but me.

As I head up the pathway I pass two male bikers on the way down, their lean bodies held tightly in place by yellow and black spandex.

"Watch out for the herd of models around the bend," I tell them.

They give me a strange look.

They'll learn soon enough.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

St. Patrick's Day and the Banshees Howl!

Banshee Pictures, Images and Photos

It is St. Patrick's Day and the joy of Irish laughter is disrupted by the fearsome howl of the Banshee.

Neighbors from far and wide come to their doors in trepidation. Hands cover their ears at the terrifying sound.

The bean-sidhe (woman of the fairy) is the ancestral spirit appointed to forewarn members of certain ancient Irish families of their time of death. According to tradition, the banshee can only cry for five major Irish families: the O'Neills, the O'Briens, the O'Connors, the O'Gradys and the Kavanaghs.

But there are none of these families in the neighbourhood. The neighbors look with haunted suspicious one at the other. Could a Banshee be among their midst?

The banshee chiefly appears in one of three guises: a young woman, a stately matron or a raddled old hag. These represent the triple aspects of the Celtic goddess of war and death, namely Badhbh, Macha and Mor-Rioghain. She usually wears either a grey, hooded cloak or the winding sheet or grave robe of the unshriven dead. She may also appear as a washer-woman, and is seen apparently washing the blood stained clothes of those who are about to die. In this guise she is known as the bean-nighe (washing woman).

But this is a modern Canadian suburb and none of the modern women would be caught dead in anything as un-chic as the grave robe of the unshriven dead. And don't dare call any one of them a "washer-woman".

Although not always seen, the Banshee's mourning call is heard, usually at night when someone is about to die. In 1437, King James I of Scotland was approached by an Irish seeress or banshee who foretold his murder at the instigation of the Earl of Atholl. This is an example of the banshee in human form. There are records of several human banshees or prophetesses attending the great houses of Ireland and the courts of local Irish kings. In some parts of Leinster, she is referred to as the bean chaointe (keening woman) whose wail can be so piercing that it shatters glass.

The neighbors fall to their knees in agony as the screams continue.

But then Linda sticks her head out the front door to apologize. "Sorry, sorry" she calls over the piteous wails. "Its only Barry. He hasn't had coffee in a week!"

"Ah, the poor, wee bairn," the neighbors reply in unison. "Could you no put a bullet through his head an put him, and us, out of his misery?"

If he doesn't shut up soon, Linda agrees to think about it.

Happy St Patrick's Day! Pictures, Images and Photos

With a little help from Wikipedia
Images from Photopbucket

Monday, March 16, 2009

Oh No Not Me!

Doctor Pictures, Images and Photos

"First we will spay your throat with a topical anesthetic..."


"Then we will administer a mild sedation..."


"....before we insert the mouth guard to protect your teeth..."


"Then I'll insert the gastroscope and see if I can't find out what that blockage is that has made it so difficult for you to swallow lately. While I'm in there with the scope I may take a few samples for bioposy."


"You may experience some mild discomfort," the doctor continued. "The procedure shouldn't take more than 5 or 6 minutes. But don't worry, you will be awake through the entire time."

Mild Discomfort? Awake the entire time!

"Has there been any history of cancer in your family?"

Did I really want to be here?

Well no, I didn't; but I'd been having discomfort eating since getting a piece of chicken stuck in my throat a few weeks back. Then last Wednesday I discovered I couldn't swallow my food, couldn't get it to complete its usual journey down the esophageal canal to my stomach, which led me to the Emergency department at Centenary Hospital which led to my visit to the Gastrocopy Services department on Thursday.

"Discomfort" probably doesn't adequately describe the procedure of having a large tube shoved down your throat into your stomach and having little samples cut out of your body. It may only have been five minutes, but it felt like an hour.

Later, as I sat in recovery waiting for the anesthetic to wear off before Linda could drive me home, the doctor popped in to tell me the good news, it wasn't a tumour. Instead, he had found a small ulceration of the distal esophagus. As a precaution he took some samples but the results of the biopsy won't be in for at least three weeks. In the mean time he was ordering a complete UGI series and CT scan.

When those are all complete he will discuss treatment.

In the meantime I am to eat gruel, or what passes for it in the modern world. Soft foods and a mostly liquid diet.

Oh, and no tea or coffee!

Doctor Image Courtesy of Photobucket.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Wine Tour

It is early September 2008 and we are having dinner in the Keg Restaurant high above Niagara Falls in the Embassy Suites Hotel. Through the 15' tall plate glass windows beside us, we have a breathtaking view of the Niagara River plunging over the limestone cliffs into the gorge beneath, sending massive clouds of mist into the sky.

It has rained all afternoon forcing us to cut our wine tour short, but we did get to Henry of Pelham, Inniskillin and Jackson Triggs estates and had discovered a new wine previously unknown to us.

We compensated for the curtailment of our tour by spending part of the afternoon at Niagara-On-The-Lake (that's it in my little photo remix above) where Linda was unleashed amid the trendy boutiques in a whirl of ecstatic shopping.

Now to compensate for the trouble it had caused us, the storm had caste the arc of a huge rainbow into the sky outside the restaurant window.

Unfortunately for me, I was having an embarrassing personal problem. The lady behind Linda had shrugged off her little cocktail jacket to reveal a backless dress. Linda was talking to me but my eyeballs were glued to curve of the woman's back.

"I'm sorry," I said to Linda, "I missed that. My eyeballs have become glued to the back of the woman behind you."

Linda turned for a quick peek.

"Oh my God," she mouthed silently.

I struggled to free my eyeballs from the woman's soft flesh but they were stuck tight.

"You remember the story the Minister at Keith's Church told us?" Linda asked.

"Which story?"

"Where he went to the party and the woman rolled her eyes at him?"

"....and he picked them up and rolled them right back to her?"

"That's the one." said Linda meaningfully.

I tugged manfully and managed to free my right eye, which detached with a muffled pop and flew across the restaurant table back into its socket.

"And the other one, buster," Linda encouraged.

I wrenched my head back and the recalcitrant eye ball finally came free with a squishy plop and snapped back to its socket with a force that made my head spin.

"Much better," said Linda.

As if she could sense the warmth of my gaze detaching, the woman gave a little shiver and put her jacket back on.

Behind me, Louis Armstrong was singing about what a Wonderful World this was with a fidelity that almost made me wonder if, at the price we were paying for the meal, the restaurant had actually resurrected Louis for one last gig. I had to fight the urge to look over my shoulder, expecting to find Louis right behind me, a big grin on his face, a large white handkerchief in one hand.

"The sound system here is amazing," I told Linda. "It almost sounds as if Louis Armstrong is playing live right behind us."

"He is," said Linda.

I looked. He wasn't.

"Serves you right," said Linda.

It was a great day.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Friday's My Town Shoot Out : People

I've accepted a challenge from Patty to post photos of our local community every Friday. This week's theme challenge is to post photos of people in my town.

I live in Toronto, in the Scarborough area of Toronto, in the West Hill area of Scarborough. So West Hill will be the focus of my photos.


These fine people are the Executive of the local Community Association. As past President, that's me in the blue shirt. Also in the photo are our two City Councilors and our Member of Parliament, Margaret Best, in the gray suit in the back row.

We have a Community Market that runs every Thursday on the grounds of St. Margaret's Church. A much larger Farmers market will be joining it at the Guild Inn starting in June.

Bill Harmon is a former set designer for many of Hollywoods major motion pictures. He has retired to West Hill and recently gave an exhibition of some of his memoroabilia, from his work on such movies as Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Star Wars, most of the James Bond films, The Last Valley, X Men and others too numerous to mention. Those coconuts dangling from around his neck are the very ones used to make the galloping sounds in the Holy Grail.

I've forgotten this gentlman's name, but he is the President of First Capitol who own many of the shopping Malls in Ontario. He was officiating at the opening of Morningside Crossing here in West Hill, the first Green shopping plaza meeting the LEEDS gold standard. Unfortunately I caught him making a strange face.

This lonely police officer was part of a demonstration of antique police cars at the 43 Division Police BBQ, held every May. The vehicle behind him was from the days when ambulances and hearses were one and the same. When there wasn't a funeral, a red light was just slapped on the roof of the hearse and it became an ambulance.

This is a photo of one of my heroes, Lois James, founder of the Save the Rouge Campaign, which preserved the beautiful Rouge River Valley (where I take Lindsay for runs on the weekend) from becoming another freeway into the city. Her tireless battle led to her being made a Member of the Order of Canada, the countries highest civilian honor. I held an 80th birthday party for her. Helping her cut the birthday cake is the Leader of the Green Party of Ontario, Frank DeJong.

This is my grandson Griffen enjoying Lois' birthday cake.

My daughter Heather worked for Lois as her personal assistant, desperately trying to keep her organized, for several years. Since they won the battle, I guess Heather did very well.


Patty and Reggie Girl have undertaken this project as a way for us all to get to know each other's community. There are links to all the Friday Shoot Out participants at the bottom of my left panel.

Maybe you'd like to join us as well and post photos of your community? If you do, let me know so I can add your names to the list.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Run With Lindsay


As I back the car out of the driveway and turn south, Lindsay begins to quiver and whine with excitement on the back seat. She knows heading south means we are going to the park at the bottom of Morningside Avenue today, where the field is large and she can run free.

It's been a while since we visited this park. There is no reason for that, I just haven't thought to take her here for a while. So this is a special treat for her.

We turn left at Gardentree and pass the early morning high school students marching under the weight of their backpacks toward Laurier Collegiate. I attended Laurier as did both my daughters. In fact, my daughter Kathy and I shared the same Geography teacher. He was in his Freshman year when he taught me and was Head of the Department by the time he taught her. His entire teaching career spent at the same school.

At the end of Gardentree, we turn south again toward the GO train tracks. As we approach, the lights start to flash and the gates begin to come down. We slow to a stop. The sight of the flashing lights gets Lindsay excited again. She loves trains and knows exactly what the flashing lights mean.

We wait and we wait.

And then a trans Canada VIA train blasts through the intersection at an insane speed and is gone.

The gates stay closed and the lights continue to flash. I look back at Lindsay who is dancing on the back seat.

"Another train coming, Lins" I tell her, just as a long double decker GO commuter train limps through the intersection. For reasons known only to her, Lindsay is interested only in the lead car of the train. Once it's past, she looses interest and is anxious to get going.

Bored commuters look out the train windows at our car. They see just another car at just another crossing as they're on just another commute to just another day at the office.

Then, finally, the train is gone and we get on our way, after a cautious glance along the tracks in both directions.

At the bottom of Morningside we turn onto Meadowvale and approach the park at the top of the Scarborough Bluffs. It is a small park off a suburban street with no room for cars. So I pull over to the side of the road and take Lindsay out on the leash.

The vast grassy plain stretches off toward the East along the top of the bluffs. The grass was last cut in the late fall and is now tall and scraggly with enormous puddles from the recent melt turning parts of it into small ponds. There are three other dog walkers in the park. We say "Hello" as we pass them by on the way to the leash free zone at the park's end.

But finally we get there and I tell Lindsay to "Hold it". She knows what this means and stands perfectly still. Waiting. I unclick her's leash and she flies.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Kevin Bacon, My Oldest Daughter And The Bed Of Death

We have to go back a way. Back before my grandson was born, back before my daughter's marriage, back into her teenage dating years.

The best friend of the boy she was dating had an ambition to be a magician, and my daughter and her boyfriend were helping. They had put an act together and planned to rent the local high school auditorium to launch his career.

The only problem was, the act had no grande finale. So these three geniuses put their three heads together and came up with the idea of a great escape to be called "The Bed Of Death".

They would build a canopy bed with hundreds of ten inch spikes poking downward from the canopy. The magician would lay chained to the bed while a clock ticked and then escape at the last minute before the canopy of lethal spikes came crashing down.

And if he didn't escape in time, well it would be a memorable performance.

The three of them worked on this bed in the driveway of the magician's home for a good part of the summer.

Meanwhile, half a block away, large white trucks were pulling up in front of a large mansion that sits at the top of the Scarborough Bluffs. Kyra Sedgwick, the actress and wife of Kevin Bacon, was directing an Indie film using the house as a location. And Kevin Bacon was there as well, showing support.

While far from an expert in film production, as I understand the business, there is a lot of free time for the crew as shots are being lined up and lighting is being adjusted and they just want people quiet and out of the way.

During these periods of enforced inactivity, bored members of the crew started to wander over to where the Bed of Death was under construction. There was nothing else of interest going on and, after all, how often do you get to see a Bed of Death being built?

In fact the Bed of Death soon became a central social activity for the crew. They would stand around, drink coffee, shake their heads, admire the activity and give sage advice.

News of the Bed of Death spread through out the crew and began filtering over into the cast as well. It wasn't long before Kevin Bacon was wandering over, just another guy in the crowd.

Finally the Bed of Death was finished and a lethal looking thing it was too. The magician took to the bed, arms and legs chained to the bed posts. A curtain was pulled around, an egg timer set to go off. The crew was gathered in respectful silence.

Back lit by a lamp, the crew could see the terrified magician straining helplessly against the chains that bound him to the bed. Only moments remaining before his young life would, possibly, be snuffed out forever. The egg timer ticked and ticked and then screamed. The canopy plunged downward.

A full half inch before it stuck.

The crew all offered advise, the bed was rebuilt, the bed poles realigned, grease was applied, but nothing would reliably permit the canopy with its lethal spikes to plunge more than an inch or two toward the bed.

Eventually the show went on without it. Enough people turned out to cover half the cost of the rental of the auditorium and the magic show aspirations of the three were satisfied. The magician later went into advertising where he makes more money producing television ads for Ford than he ever would have as a performer.

And as for Kevin Bacon, it's unlikely any of this still resides in his memory banks. But my daughter, her boyfriend (who is now her husband) and the magician remember him fondly.

And the Bed of Death, still rests quietly in the basement of the magician's parent's home.

Please, please do not disturb!

Beginning today I've instituted some changes in my blog, bringing a little more structure to the blog and my life. I will be reducing the number of posts to four a week and will be assigning regular topics to two of those days. For more details please consult the outline in my profile.

Image photobucket

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Vacation (Part 5 of 5)

A couple of days ago I posted a description of our recent vacation. It was all true, but it left a few things out, namely all the embarrassing stuff.

Here's the final report on what really happened:


We were getting dressed for dinner on the last day of our vacation. We had decided to go to the historic dining room in the hotel for our meal. Truman had dined here and Churchill and various Kings and Queens of England. George Bernard Shaw and more movie stars than would fit in an inflated ego. Audrey Hepburn had dined here.

Yoshuf Karsh, the famous portrait photographer, once had his studio on the sixth floor of the hotel and the famous of the world would pop in for a photograph while visiting Ottawa on business.

The world has become a more casual place these days but we wanted to look good for such an elegant room. I had on my blue blazer and grey pants, Linda wore a green dress that looked wonderful with her auburn hair.

While waiting for our appetizers, Linda pointed out her necklace.

"You don't remember who brought this for me, do you?" she asked, an amused smile on her face.

I recognize a dangerous question when I hear one. The question implies this was a significant gift and its history should be branded, seared, in my memory banks.

Giant pistons begin pounding in my brain. A herd of memory elves go tearing through untold filing cabinets.

It is a simple necklace, a thin gold chain ending in a loop with a piece of jade in the center. It looks too modern for it to have been something her father would have given her or a precious memento from a deceased aunt.

"I brought this entire outfit to match the jade in this necklace." Linda tells me, her smile broadening as she notes my discomfort.

Was it a gift for a significant birthday? For one of our wedding anniversaries? Did one of our daughters buy it, one of my brothers, Linda's sister, her best friend? Think Barry think!

"You really don't remember do you?"

"Uhhh," or some such strangled sound escaped my lips.

"You brought it for me."

No! The worst of all possible outcomes! The giant pistons begin churning more rapidly. The memory elves go into hyper drive.

Nothing! They find nothing!

"On your first business trip to Calgary. When you were away so long..."

"Eureka!" Screams an elf from an ill lit cobweb strewn back alley of my brain. He's found it!

I'd been away for two weeks on business in Calgary and had gone out one afternoon to look for a gift for Linda, something that would show I missed her. Something memorable.

"Of course I remember," I recovered. "That was the time when the giant Russian woman attacked our house at 2 o'clock in the morning!"

That incident had been another impetus for the gift. Nervously alone in the house for the first time, someone had started frantically hammering on our front door at 2 am, terrifying Linda. Peeking out the window she could see it was a very large frightening and frightened woman. Talking to her through the locked door, and despite the woman's heavy Russian accent, Linda learned the woman's car had stalled outside our home and this was in the days before cell phones were common. Afraid to sit in her car in a strange neighbourhood until morning, the woman had come pounding on our door.

Equally afraid to let the woman in, and not certain what else to do, Linda called the police and when the police arrived, they called CAA who sent for a mechanic. Linda had invited the woman in and made coffee while they waited.

"So you do remember," Linda happily interrupted my revere.

"How could I forget," I said. "Your new outfit matches the jade perfectly."

"New outfit? I brought this three years ago for our anniversary."

The exhausted elves didn't move. Some things are just a lost cause.

Fortunately, the waiter arrived with our appetizers about then and the conversation turned to other things.

And over time this memory too shall fade. Or be stored in a filing cabinet down an ill lit cobweb strewn back alley of my brain, which amounts to the same thing.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Vacation (Part 4 of 5)

A couple of days ago I posted a description of our recent vacation. It was all true, but it left a few things out, namely all the embarrassing stuff.

Here's another report on what really happened:


The trim black man with graying hair and a radiant smile, leaped from his car and went plunging into the throngs of tourists at the Byward Market in Ottawa. On his way back home after a very successful business trip, he wanted to pick up a couple of maple leaf shaped Canadian sugar cookies for his daughters.

The tourists parted in astonishment and delight as he passed, with the secret service and every news photographer currently stationed in Ottawa trailing after him. Everything President Obama did on his first International visit would make the news, but this was icing on the cake. Or at least on the sugar cookie. The vendor he choose normally sold 100 cookies a day to the tourists. After Obama's visit that number went up to 6000.

Obama was lucky he only chose to shop for sugar cookies instead of choosing the Market for breakfast, as Linda and I had discovered the previous summer.

Innocently enough, on our first morning in Ottawa we had gone out to the Byward Market for breakfast. The market is Canada's oldest continuously operating farmers' market and was only two blocks from our Hotel.

Amid the open air stalls filled with fresh produce, abundant crafts and flowers are a multitude of restaurants and specialty food stores that have sprouted around the market area, making this neighbourhood one of the liveliest in Ottawa. A four block area around the market provides the most dense concentration of eating places, bars and nightclubs in the National Capital Region. It has a very rich nightlife.

And has some interesting doings in the early morning light as well.

We were seated in the courtyard of the Aulde Dublaner Restaurant eating a massive "Irish Breakfast" and watching the passing parade. I was struck by how many people here were still smoking and how many women had indulged in extensive tattooing.

I was also struck by how many people were wearing red t-shirts and running by us in pairs. They were all carrying cell phones and stopping at a tented enclosure just down the street. Obviously some kind of modern scavenger hunt was going on.

After getting new instructions at the tent, some of the couples went racing off into the distance. Some asked passersby to video tape them doing seven successive leap frogs. Others talked passersby into singing "I'm a Little Tea Pot", complete with actions, for the camera.

It was making for an interesting breakfast.

Until one of the couples came running up to us to ask Linda if the woman could share her breakfast. They had to video tape someone giving them food to eat. Linda turned her plate to offer a home fry, but the woman grabbed her melon slice and ate it for the camera. Then the man asked the other diners if any of the women had a tattoo in a naughty place they could video or if any man had a pair of boxer shorts with hearts on them?

The other diners were finding all of this amusing but none offered their services and the scavenger hunters went racing off into the market throng looking for other victims.

Later that afternoon Linda and I were having our second outdoor meal of the day on the patio at the Museum Of Civilization, which also turned out to be the finish line for the Scavenger hunt.

Weary couples would come staggering past our table, barely able to take their next step, putting on a triumphant sprint only as they rounded the corner and came into view of the finish line where a great cheer would go up as they were spotted.

We learned later that over 400 couples had registered for the race.

Linda got no recognition for sacrificing her melon, but the pleasure of knowing somewhere, some weary judge was going to have to watch all 400 of those videos and see her astonished face as the girl choose not her home fry but her melon.

It was probably better for her.

But I wonder, if it had been President Obama eating breakfast, would she still have chosen his mellon?


Friday, March 6, 2009

My Town Shoot Out

We interrupt my vacation for me to accept a challenge from Patty to post photos of our local community every Friday. This week's theme challenge is to post photos of our local churches. Patty and Reggie Girl have undertaken this project as a way for us all to get to know each other's community. Maybe you'd like to join us? Or, at least skip over to Patty's to see what the spiritual life in Crisfield Maryland looks like.

I'll get back to the Vacation series tomorrow.

But in the meantime here are some photos of the Churches in my community--

I live in Toronto, in the Scarborough area of Toronto, in the West Hill area of Scarborough. So West Hill will be the focus of these photos. A new feature on the West Hill landscape is taking shape among the evergreens on the banks of the Highland Creek at the Kingston Road bridge. A new Buddhist Temple of the Toronto Mahavihara Society, is evidence of the diversity of the spiritual life of the community.

The major Roman Catholic Church in the community is St. Martin de Porres. Erected in the 1960's and substantially enlarged in the 1980's, its dramatic architectural style and placement at the intersection of Morningside and Lawrence make it one of the most well known features of the West Hill landscape.

Another historic Church, St. Margaret's in the Pines, has been a West Hill landmark for decades. St. Margaret's was the first parish in which Tom Harper, author and religious editor of the Toronto Star, served after his ordination as an Anglican Priest. Today St. Margarets reaches out especially to the Tamil community and to the elderly, with recreation and social programs for senior citizens running on a daily basis. The programs are run by West Hill Community Services and include transportation to and from St.Margarets.

Among the oldest Churches in the area, the Melville Presbyterian Church stands on the very edge of the west hill of Highland Creek on picturesque Old Kingston Road. It is visually one of the most dramatic of the area's churches.

Opportunities for a rich spiritual life are offered by the many religious centres in the community. Of these, only one carries West Hill's name. And it is likely the most controversial church in the entire country.

The West Hill United Church stands at the intersection of West Hill Road and Kingston Road and looks innocent enough at first glance. Reverend Gretta Vosper welcomes visitors to her 1960s church. With a 230-family congregation, an average Sunday service has about 150 worshipers of all ages. The church has a youth group, a community supper program, and an outreach program that assists many charities. The church is currently creating more groups and programs. On Tuesday nights it houses Boy Scouts, karate and Narcotics Anonymous. The controversy arrises from its being the only Church in West Hill, and maybe in the entire country, that has banned God. All mention of God has been removed from all Hymns sung and sermons preached. This is a Church for those who like religion, but have no belief in a Spiritual life.