Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Lindsay Meets A Metaphor

It has returned, as it does every year. It is mean and shortens our walk along the top of the bluffs for weeks. But it is bigger than we are and it has a cold, cold heart.

It is the Godzilla of all puddles and it straddles the entire pathway before us from side to side making it impossible for us to pass. It is a harbinger of Spring as sure as robins and crocus and neighbours out mowing their lawns. But without the pleasure those images bring. It lies there smugly blocking our passage.

The melting of the snow mounds of winter super saturates the earth leaving the heavy rains of April no route of escape. And now the waters lie there before us, blocking our way. Blocking the enjoyment of our day. Mocking us. As they do every year at this time.

Disappointed, I turn and start the trek back to the car; but I haven't gone long before I realize my faithful companion is no longer with me. I turn to find Lindsay on the opposite side of the Godzilla Puddle. Tail wagging. Eyes gleaming with excitement.

She shakes and water flies off her slick black fur in every direction.

"That's okay for you Lins," I tell her. "But I'm going to get a soaker if I try."

The depth of the dark muddy water at the heart of the villainous puddle exceeds the height of my boots. I picture myself walking on, boots filled with slimy cold water, squishing with every step.

Lindsay runs off down the path on the opposite side of the puddle. "Come on," she seems to be saying. "You're not going to let a little water stop you, are you?"

"Sorry Lins," I tell her, "The puddle's just way too deep."

I turn back to the car and I can soon hear Lindsay behind me splashing through the puddle toward me. She passes me by and runs on ahead; then stops in the middle of the pathway before me, blocking my passage as surely as the puddle does behind me. Her eyes are aglow with good humour, her tail wagging, she begins a joyful dance and then runs back past me toward the puddle.


"Come on! Come on! Don't be afraid," she seems to be telling me. "This is nothing to be afraid of. Its only water."

I picture myself stepping into the puddle, cold muddy water pouring over the tops of my boots and onto my socks. I picture myself walking on with wet feet. I picture myself arriving home, frozen wet feet leaving puddles on the floor. Linda asking, "What the heck have you two been up to this time!"

On the opposite side of the puddle, Lindsay barks and bows. "Don't be afraid! Don't be afraid! Its easy."

I should listen to my own good sense and not a stupid dog. I have enough health problems right now. The last thing I need is pneumonia.

Lindsay spins on the opposite side of the puddle and scampers off down the path.

Stupid dog!

Before me the puddle laughs and mocks me as it does every year. I am Godzilla it tells me. The vast, slimy, dirty Godzilla of puddles. Look on me and quake in your boots. I am the spoiler of days, the ruin of walks. Heed your fear. I win. You Loose.

I should listen to my own good sense, not to a stupid dog.

But I didn't. Not this year. Not this time.

I stomped into the puddle, water flying in every direction, pouring over the tops of my boots, wetting my pants to the knees.

Lindsay flying back down the trail to greet me on the other side.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Meditation For The Non-Meditative Guy

"Have you considered meditation?"

"You know, I hear meditation helps."

"And doing a little meditation can't hurt."

Among the many pieces of advice I've received recently there has been a frequent theme. All of a sudden, vast numbers of friends and family are urging me to meditate.

Not that many of them have ever tried it for themselves. No. But, for me, they think it would be a very good thing indeed.

My cancer, it seems, has stirred vast numbers of personal acquaintances to read. They are finding articles on cancer all over the place; articles that would have slid past beneath their notice now leap off the page at them. And all of these articles recommend meditation.

Indeed, many of these articles are written by people who credit meditation with curing them of cancer. Or, at least, giving them comfort and shelter as they descend toward the ending of their lives.

"It will help give you a better attitude."

"Has my attitude been bad?"

"No, no, your attitude's been great. But that's just the shock of all this and your attitude's going to get bad as you go along and you owe it to Linda to learn how to keep this great attitude going."

Well, okay, you've hit a sore spot there. Even though this cancer was my body's idea, not mine, I do feel some guilt for this radical downward turn in Linda's life and for the evident pain this has been causing my family and friends. If I can avoid causing them any more discomfort, I will. "So how do I go about meditating?"

"Darned if I know."

So I went in search of meditation. I found classes that would gladly take my money, but my up-coming and utterly unpredictable hospital schedule wouldn't permit me to register. I found books, but in leafing through them, they all seemed to be offering different descriptions of meditative practice. Meditation, I discovered, isn't one thing, its a whole bunch of things. Many of them contradictory. Many of them being hawked by evident snake-oil salesmen.

I found on-line courses that would also delight in taking my money.

And then I found this guy, on YouTube. He has a six video series on How To Meditate that seems straight forward. He is formerly from Toronto so I find him easy to understand. The video series is well made and the steps to practice are clear.

But is this meditation? Is this the meditation people are urging me to undertake?

I know I have many commenters who have practiced meditation and benefited from it. I would certainly appreciate you're giving this a listen and letting me know if I'm on the right track. And if I'm not, could you let me know where to go to learn this seemingly simple, but evidently elusive art?

And what are your experiences with meditation? Has it benefited you in any way? If you meditate how did you learn to do it? Would putting some time into meditation benefit me, do you think? Or would I just feel an irresistible urge to dress in orange?

Let me know, people!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Fire at the Guild

Click on image for larger view

The old Guild Inn was the subject of yesterday's post. Since I've spoken of it before and undoubtedly will again, I thought I should give you a more complete picture of its history. Especially since it has a personal connection to my own family.

Last Christmas morning brought some unwelcome news. We missed most of it because Christmas is not typically a time we spend listening to the news. But a phone call from my daughter alerted us and I put on the Radio to catch the tail end of the story.

Kathy told us the Guild was on fire.

The Guild is a sprawling 19th century mansion about a kilometre from our home. It has had an interesting existence. First as the wealthy arts and crafts style estate belonging to the Bickford family, then brought by my great uncle, Msgr. John Fraser, in the 1920s to launch a Missionary Society.

During WWII it was used as a military hospital.

It was then sold to the Clark family who used it as an alternate lifestyle arts colony. They supported "artists in residence" whose statues dot the sprawling grounds of the estate along with rescuing the facades of some of Toronto's more interesting buildings that were falling to the wrecking ball of more modern fashion. In the 1960s it was sold to the City who maintained it as a luxury restaurant and resort. Some of the famous guests staying there included Canadian PM Lester B. Pearson, Burt Reynolds, Kathleen Turner, Christopher Reeve, Sir Lawrence Olivier, Lorne Greene, Kevin Sorbo and many others.

Eventually, however, the old building required too many repairs and it has been closed and boarded up now for nearly a decade.

Fortunately the Christmas Day fire was confined to one of the outlying buildings on the property, the Studio, not to the central building itself.

The Guild is one of the most historical buildings in Scarborough and there have been ambitious plans for its renewal. Recently it has been purchased by Centennial College to house its School of International Studies. All of the buildings on the site are to be razed, however the grand stair case and the library were deemed salvageable after a decade of complete neglect by the City, and adolescent vandalism, and will be incorporated into the new structure.

Anyway, here is a short video of what I found when I went down to investigate.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Our Town Shoot Out: My Choice

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 my choice 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.


Since it is our choice what to showcase about our town, I thought I would share some photos taken last winter at the Guild Inn.

Linda had marking to do for her class and I had a camera full of film when one of the heaviest snow falls of the winter finally stopped and the sun shone for the first time in days. Picking up the camera I headed for The Guild Inn, formerly owned by our Great Uncle John Fraser, hoping for some good shots.

I found the Guild sleeping quietly under the deep winter's blanket of snow. No longer in use, great icicles hung from its eves. The future of the Inn is in serious doubt, but not its serenity.

I walked the vast grounds of the Guild in amazement. Not only were they empty, not a foot print disturbed the pristine beauty of the scene. The sun was almost disturbingly bright after days of black, angry skies and the weather began to warm. The peaceful quiet was almost mystical.

Some of the most beautiful facades of Toronto's famous buildings have been preserved in various locations around the guild. Some look oddly lost and alone. Many were inspired by the ancient Greeks and provide remarkable contrast to the cold snows of Canada.

The Guild was recently purchased by Centennial College to house their International Studies program. I will also feature a large restaurant, banquet hall and a wedding chapel. The grounds of the Guild are a favoured spot for wedding photos.

Unfortunately, to house the new programs, Centennial College is having to dismantle the old building to replace it with a more modern structure. The grand staircase and the library in the old Guild will be preserved and will be featured in the new structure.

And here is a brief video I shot during an Arts and Crafts festival that was held on the grounds of the Guild last summer.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Exhausted And Befuddled But With A Plan At Last


Excuse me if I seem a little exhausted and befuddled.

Linda and I have spent the day at Princess Margaret Hospital, Canada's leading Cancer centre (and the fifth highest rated cancer treatment facility in the world), meeting with Oncologists, Nutritionists, Nurses and Researchers. They were very generous with their time and took virtually the entire day with us. I've ended up with a head full of information, a complicated series dates for further testing and (oh yes) a plan for my future.

Along with the aforementioned exhaustion and befuddlement.

But that will pass, and, besides, Linda took notes.

So let me just skip to the Plan. Because now, at last, we have a plan.

I have a couple of weeks of pretests as a radiation protocol is worked out for me, followed by four weeks of chemotherapy, followed by five weeks of daily radiation therapy interspersed with additional chemo, followed by a break to let my poor body heal, and then surgery to remove my diseased esopheagus and replace it with half my stomach.

Then going on an intermittent year long protocol with a trial drug that has shown real promise in lowering the rate of recurrence with other cancers. With esophageal cancer it is its aggressive recidivism that leads to its pathetic cure rate.

No matter how radical the surgery, esophageal cancer is a master at hiding microscopic particles behind that are undetectable until they blossom forward in a more diffuse and tougher strain. It is hoped the trail drug, Sutent, will reduce the likelihood of that happening, since it has shown promise in doing that very thing with other cancers.

And that is my hope too.

We also spent a reassuring hour with a nutritionist who has opened up a greater range of foods for me to eat, including coffee once a day.

We hit our local Tim Horton's within minutes of returning to West Hill.

If you want more nitty-gritty detail, feel free to ask, but that was our marathon 7 hour day at PMH in a nutshell.

Now excuse me while I take a brief nap in the new Lazy-boy chair Linda brought for me and enjoy the aroma of the basket of flowers that arrived yesterday from my work.

It's way past time for me to stop and smell the roses for a while.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Lindsay gets some Competition

Once upon a time there were three dogs in our extended family. My brother John had a Beau (a sheltie), Keith had Jasper (a cocker spaniel) and, of course, there was Lindsay (the English Springer Spaniel).

Then, five years ago, Beau died and was replaced, to his eternal mortification, by a parrot. Yes a parrot. Named Lola.

And we were down to two dogs.

Then this past Christmas, Jasper died and Lindsay was all alone.

After an appropriate period of mourning, Keith and his wife Lynda (yes we have two Lindas in the family) resisted the urge of parrotdom and returned to their breeder for a new cocker spaniel.

This past weekend they got to meet their new family member for the first time. Poor Sully was theirs by default. All the other purchasers of the new dogs were planning to show them and Sully was considered the least appropriate for show. His colouring is just too light.

However, his colouring is just fine for Keith and Lynda who bonded with him immediately. There is just something about a sleepy cuddly puppy to warm the heart.

There comes a point, Lynda said, when you realize a home is just a box without a dog. A dog is the spirit of a home. It is not the paintings or the furnishings, not the stainless steel fridge or stove, not the Italian marble counter tops, not the view that gives a home its warmth or even its charm.

Its a dog (or a cat or, even, a parrot named Lola). Its the living thing that greets you when you return, cuddles you when you're sad, becomes your fitness instructor getting you out for walks every day, protects you from harm and occasionally poops on the carpet.

Watch out Lindsay. You now have some formidable competition in the cute department. Sully will be joining the family in six weeks.

Happy Earth Day!!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Sleepless and Confused

I've had my first restless night since being diagnosed with cancer over a month ago. Even the savage back pain that followed my recent surgery didn't cause me to loose appreciable sleep.

But I awoke from a nightmare at 2:30 this morning, the images from the dream already faded, but a feeling of dread still lingering.

Awakened suddenly and completely from a restless sleep that had been hard to come by in the first place.

Perhaps in was the lingering dull ache, still left over from the back pain, that disturbed my sleep. An ache not strong enough to require medication but annoying enough to wear on my nerves. And infuse my dreams with dread.

But more likely it was the unexpected phone call from the surgeon's office, early yesterday evening, telling me of still another appointment with still another oncologist, booked for me on May 7th. A distant two weeks in the future.

Linda had taken the phone call. Why two oncologists, she asked? The oncologist I'm seeing this Thursday is my radiation oncologist. The one on May 7th is a medical oncologist who will assess me for chemo.

Two oncologists? One of them not available for a further two weeks? Would they need to confer? Would this delay the onset of treatment? Delay it a further two weeks! Having giving the cancer a full month to spread further?

Or would I begin an immediate course of radiation, alternating with chemo in two weeks time? Were the two appointments deliberately booked in a staged pattern set by some evidence based protocol?

Linda was inclined to think the latter. But I became fixated on the former. And went to bed with my mind in turmoil for the first time since this all began.

The word "delay" spinning round and round in my brain. Like a scythe in a nightmare.

Curled up beside me on the couch, Lindsay too has just begun to dream. Her nose twitches with remembered scents and her feet gallop in a running pattern. The tip of her tail brushes against my leg. In her dream she is likely off in the meadow chasing squirrels on a sunlit day and is at one with her world and overjoyed.

I write my blog and worry. And hope for more peaceful nights in the future.

Now Linda is up and wishing me a "good morning", a puzzled look in her sleepy eyes. Lindsay rolls off the couch and goes to greet her, tail wagging with pleasure.

Perhaps by the time the sun rises and chases away the gloom, I will be feeling better.

But for the first time since this began, I don't know.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The GO Train From Hell

GO train image courtesy of photobucket

With a Thursday visit to the Oncologist looming before me, and beyond that three months of combined chemo and radiation therapy, this may be my last Monday at work in a very long time.

I have a strange job with few routines, although I usually find myself at our headoffice in downtown Toronto one or more days a week. When I go downtown, I seldom drive because parking alone is much more expensive than public transportation. Instead I take a combination of the the GO commuter train and the subway. Timed right, I can get from my house to my desk in under 45 minutes. The same on the way home.

These are usually uneventful trips, boringly routine, where I can relax and read a book.

However, there was one Monday last summer when I arrived at Union Station to discover the 5 pm GO had been canceled due to mechanical problems. The 5:30 Express to Oshawa had been changed to a local run to accommodate. That meant an extra half hour to wait and two train loads of rush hour commuters crammed into one train.


The hoards and I lined up and squeezed ourselves into the train, whose sides (I'm sad to say) did not bulge out like in cartoons. Normally I'm guaranteed a seat and can relax and read my book, but no such luck on Monday. Naturally, it was one of the hottest days of the year and the air conditioning was out in the car I chose and before the doors closed people were already fanning themselves. Because the air conditioning is supposed to work, GO train windows don't open.

Suddenly my bad luck turned for the better when the woman I was standing beside suddenly turned green and leaped from her seat and pushed her way through the crowd just as the train doors began to close. She was last seen throwing up in the garbage bin on the train platform as we pulled slowly out of the station.

I looked at the empty seat. I looked at the people around me. I found no one more deserving of that seat than I was and sat down.

There were three other people in our little area, all a little shaken by the heat and the dramatic exit of the ill woman. They included a very serious black businesswoman with thick rimmed glasses, a young pretty blond and a heavy set woman with short cropped white hair.

To break the tension, I said something funny about the heat and the unfortunate woman who had just vacated the train. The women smiled ruefully.

That only encouraged me. So I said something even funnier about the GO service. and now they laughed. In the seats across the isle I could see the people pretending not to listen and was encouraged even further to say something even funnier. And the woman across the isle who had been sipping a coke snorted and blew cola out her nose in a refreshing spray. Now everyone seated and standing was laughing.

But realizing my powers had dangerous side effects, I decided to say no more. And no one else picked up the thread of conversation.

The hot train chugged on deeper into suburbia.

The serious black woman opened her briefcase and began working on a document. The pretty blond took out her cell phone and began calling friends to tell them about her nightmare train ride. The heavy set woman next to me either closed her eyes in meditation or had died.

I was fascinated by her. In favour of death, she didn't seem to be breathing. In favour of meditation she was still sitting upright.

Everyone was sweating and fanning themselves but as we reached station after station the crowds began to thin and I eventually reached Guildwood alive.

After dragging my weary body out of the broiler into the cooler air on the platform, I looked up at the train windows as it pulled slowly out of the station with its burden of sweating commuters and caught the white haired woman looking out at me. She, too, was alive! Suddenly she smiled and waved.

I waved back. We had become friends through adversity, too late. And it was never to be.

And that's how I got home from work that Monday.

Sunday, April 19, 2009



"Barry! Barry! It's time to wake up! You have to wake up now! Your operation is over. You're in Recovery and its time for you to wake up! Come on Barry, open those eyes!"

The voice was very insistent.

I opened my eyes in a large room lined with beds and nurses rushing in constant motion.

The room lurched.

"How do you feel?", the nurse by my bedside asked, one hand on my stomach counting my breaths.

"Fine," I said.

"No. I'm not making casual conversation. Tell me what you're feeling."

I took a physical inventory of all my aches and pains. "I'm dizzy. My stomach feels queasy. My teeth hurt."

"Okay," she smiled. "That all sounds pretty normal. Those should pass. I'll be back to check on you in a few minutes. Let any of the nurses know if you need anything."

And she was gone into the rush of nurses moving up and down the room from bed to bed, like dancers in some strange, choreography.

And I rested and just went with the flow. Minutes passed. Then she was back again, checking my vital signs, hand on my stomach counting my breaths.

"For a big guy, you've a very slow breather. You must have very good lungs."

"All the girls admire me for that. Its my finest quality." I tell her. She looks at me strangely. Is he well enough to be telling jokes or is he delusional?

"And your blood pressure is 100 over 64. For a guy your size that's amazing. Why are you scrunched up like that?" She asked me. "Is your back hurting?"

I became aware that my back was in considerable pain and tell her that.

"Alright, we'll move you to a more comfortable bed back in the day surgery ward."

She called an orderly who hoisted me on to a stretcher and wheeled me out of the Recovery room down long corridors, the ceiling tiles swimming above, reminding me that my stomach was still queasy. I shut my eyes and felt better. But my back was still hurting.

In the day surgery ward, I was offered a choice of pain killers, two regular strength Tylenol or morphine. The Tylenol didn't seem strong enough to do the job and the morphine sounded like over kill. I chose the Tylenol. But it did little for the increasing pain.

Doctor Chan arrived to debrief me about my surgery. "Your throat had closed up to the size of a pin prick." He told me, demonstrating the size by curling his thumb and forefinger to about the head of a small nail. I've opened you up to more this size." His fingers demonstrating an opening the size of a quarter. "You should be able to eat more comfortably. I don't doubt your back is in considerable pain. During the procedure, you were reflexively arching to the pressure. It may cause you a bit of discomfort."

And he was gone. Onto the next surgery.

Then Linda and her brother Steve were there to pick me up and I walked to the car in agony. Knife like twinges shooting up the right side of my back.

At home I took a couple of extra strength Tylenol. I twisted into a kind of fetal position which seemed to lesson the agony. Temporary relief from the sharp knives running up my back. "You should have taken the morphine," Linda told me.

The phone rang. It was my daughter Kathy. "He should have taken the Morphine." She told Linda, who gives me an "I-told-you-so-look".

Linda positioned an ice pack under my back for the pain. The phone rang again. It was my daughter Heather. "He should have taken the Morphine," she told Linda.

Linda sent Steve to the drug store for some A535 Rub and rubed my back with it after the icing. The room suddenly wreaked with the smell. The phone rangs. Again. It's my daughter-in-law the nurse. "He should have taken the morphine," she told Linda.

Suddenly everyone was a Saturday night quarterback.

So, if I've learned anything from this its that I should have taken the morphine. This is day three since the surgery and I still have twinges in my back. But my throat doesn't hurt and today I can have real food for the first time.

And next time, if there is a next time, I'll take the morphine.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

A Plea!

Don't make me laugh. It hurts too much!

And don't make me sneeze or cough either!

As a distraction, for me, I thought I would proudly display the very first sign of spring returning to Toronto. Crocus have finally put in an appearance!

Things are looking up!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Friday Photo Shootout: Local Food and Restaruants

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 local Food and Restaurants 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.


Unfortunately, this will be a "Shootout light" this week. Due to some time pressures, the best I can manage is this collage of some of the local restaurants in West Hill. Including one fast food chain some of you might recognize.

Likely, and strangely, the most famous of all these restaurants is the Amazing Teds, which has been around, largely unchanged since the early 1960's. Given its nostalgic decor, it has been featured in a number of major motion pictures and TV series. Ted's is famous for its Sunday breakfasts, with line ups outside the doors and waitresses rushing at speeds approaching that of light itself.

The Old Stone Cottage Inn didn't make it into the collage but it is one our favourite "watering holes". The Inn began its life as a stop on the stage coach ride between the fledgling City of Toronto and the City of Kingston back in the 1880s.

Hopefully next Friday I will be back with some photos that are more substantial.

In the meantime, I think you'll have a lot of fun checking out the blogs of the other participants (many listed at the bottom of my left panel, with an even more extensive list at Patty's). Think of it as a mini vacation around the world with a "local" for a guide to those places tourists will seldom find.

Preliminary Surgery On Friday

I will be having some preliminary surgery on Friday to help me swallow more comfortably. So my participation in the Friday Photo Shootout will be severely limited.

As the cancer has progressed I have been reduced from mushy food to pure liquid. I have lost nearly 20 lb over the last month, a weight loss that is a little too radical and can't continue.

So on Friday Dr. Chan will "stretch my neck" for me. Hopefully he will not be doing this the old fashioned way, but with a little more scientific finesse.

Essentially he will insert a tube down my esophagus to push back the swollen walls of my throat, opening the passage to more varieties and sizes of food.

I have been living on liquid for the past month. A smoothie for breakfast, an ensure for lunch and soup for dinner. Intermixed with a lot of herbal tea. When I added that up it came to about 600 to 700 calories a day. Not good enough. Unless I'm planning to take up a career as a male model.

The procedure will be done under general anesthetic and, not surprisingly, I will have a sore throat for several days after surgery, so a liquid diet still is in my immediate future.

But then, by early next week, I should be able to eat again. Real food; although cut into tiny pieces and without any spices to give it flavour.

But just in time, before a stiff breeze blows me away.

Then I have my first visit set with the Oncologist for next Thursday and will likely begin Chemo the following week.


Breezy Day Pictures, Images and Photos

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

How Lindsay's Poop Became A Scientific Curiosity

Lindsay On The Trail

Sometimes, in the great scheme of things, there is a great scheme of things; an orderliness and sequence of events that virtually appears predetermined. Where behind the apparent randomness of Nature you can almost see the clockwork ticking.

It is a shame Nature had to put that vast machinery to work around Lindsay's poop; but then, it seems Nature likes a practical joke as well as the next guy.

It was about five years ago, when we still had my elderly mother living with us. She would look after Lindsay while Linda and I were away at work. Or Lindsay would look after her, I was never sure which way that worked.

In those days my stepbrother Norm would come for dinner every Tuesday and he would always bring a treat for Lindsay. The treat on that particular occasion was a large bone-like object coloured a brilliant yellow with black spots. Eating it not only distracted the dog for an hour, but also cleaned her teeth and sweetened her breath.

Lindsay loved it and had it devoured in next to no time. Did you bring anything else for me Norm?

And that was all there seemed to be to that story.

Except. The great wheels of Nature were still turning and the joke was not yet sprung.

Now you have to know I am a conscientious poop n scooper. Whenever Lindsay and I go for a run, I bring along several bags for the purpose, which go into our city compost box. I am committed to this and religious about the practice.

Except, the next morning, in our house everything seemed to be going wrong, everything was in chaos, and I was greatly delayed in getting Lindsay out for her run. We made it, but only just.

Within minutes of setting out along the top of the bluffs, the frustrations of the day had melted away and order seemed returned to the world. Which it had, but just not the order I had expected.

About half way into our run, Lindsay stopped for a poop.

In the middle of the trail. The very middle.

I reached into my pocket for my poop n scoop bag and found my pocket empty. I had forgotten to bring a bag. The chaos of the early morning had reached out to touch our lives. And Lindsay's poop seemed to be taking forever.

When she was finally finished, I was astonished to find the poop resembled the odd treat Norm had brought for her the day before. It was coloured bright yellow with black spots.

And sat, as I mentioned, in the very middle of the pathway.

"Okay, Lins," I told her. "We're gonna to have to go back to the car for a spare bag."

So we spun around and returned to the car. Passing no one I would have to warn not to step in the strangely coloured concoction that lay smack in the middle of the path.

We successfully retrieved the bag and were on our way back to the scene of the crime when we noticed a large crowd of Indiana Jones look-alikes encircling her poop. The Federation of Ontario Naturalists take people on guided tours of the meadow on the top of the bluffs and this was obviously such a group.

They were excitedly gathered around Lindsay's poop, in animated conversation.

In fact the group leader was taking out a specimen bag and gathering up the evidence. I could hear him assuring the group that he would relay the results to them as soon as the specimen was analyzed.

I know, I should, at that point have spoiled Nature's joke. I should have told them what they had found and how it had come to be.

But I didn't.

After all, who am I to spoil Mother Natures little spoof after she had worked so hard to produce it?

So Lindsay and I just walked past the little group, many of whom were busy snapping pictures of the exotic find, and said our good mornings and continued on our way.

For reasons unknown to me, the day seemed a little brighter after that. And I didn't have to carry a bag of poop back to the car.

Mother Nature and I, what a couple of practical jokers!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Nature Deficit Disorder

Lindsay looking over the Bluffs

A car full of teens roars out of the East Points parking lot, rubber tires smoking. They shoot past me a great speed and hit the small climb up to the train tracks with enough momentum to get air. I hear them land on the other side and the squeal as the driver fights for control before the sound of the car fades into the distance.

Being early in the morning the parking lot is empty of other cars and the tarmac is burned with the memory of successive wheelies. All three of the garbage bins have been mangled, knocked over and garbage is scattered everywhere. I recall a fleeting glimpse of the damaged front end of the Honda Civic and can now tell how that happened.

They've been playing.

With someone else's car.

I pull out my cell phone and call police. A lot of Lindsay's walk time is eaten up talking with them.

"Kids today," says the Officer in disgust. "I don't know what's the matter with them! They have no respect for anything."

Lindsay's patience has run out and she pulls me away and down the trail to the beach at the bottom of the bluffs. There is a warm breeze in my face and the waves echo against the bluffs as they crash onto the shore. A flight of geese circles overhead. My feet sink into the sand as I walk.

Gradually my anger eases and lets go. Since beng diagnosed with cancer three weeks ago, I've been spending more and more time here. Out in nature, muscles moving, I somehow feel more connected. More at peace.

I think back to an article I was just reading about the staggering divide between children and the outdoors. Child advocacy expert Richard Louv directly links the lack of nature in the lives of today's wired generation (he calls it nature-deficit disorder) to some of the most disturbing childhood trends, such as the rises in obesity, attention disorders, violence and depression.

His book is called "Last Child in the Woods" and is the first book to bring together a new and growing body of research indicating that direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development and for the physical and emotional health of children and adults.

My brothers and I grew up playing in the bush at the end of our street. We climbed trees, rolled down hills, caught toads and frogs, built rafts, brought home the blue shells of robin's eggs, swam in the river.

Ate my parents out of house and home, went to bed exhausted and slept the night through. And were as skinny as rakes.

The bush I used to play in is now a subdivision. There are fewer "wild places" left for kids to explore. They are getting out of touch with nature and if you're out of touch with nature, you're out of touch with reality.

As Louv says, "Within the space of a few decades, the way children understand and experience nature has changed radically. The polarity of the relationship has reversed. Today, kids are aware of the global threats to the environment—but their physical contact, their intimacy with nature, is fading. That's exactly the opposite of how it was when I was a child.

"As a boy, I was unaware that my woods were ecologically connected with any other forests. Nobody in the 1950s talked about acid rain or holes in the ozone layer or global warming. But I knew my woods and my fields; I knew every bend in the creek and dip in the beaten dirt paths. I wandered those woods even in my dreams. A kid today can likely tell you about the Amazon rain forest—but not about the last time he or she explored the woods in solitude, or lay in a field listening to the wind and watching the clouds move."

I'm not convinced Louv has the whole answer, but as I watch the swallows soaring overhead, I have to think he's on the right track.

Kathryn Magendie, frequent commenter on this blog, becomes a published author today with the publication of her first novel Tender Graces. It would be wonderful if you wandered over to her blog today to wish her well.

She is a truly masterful writer with a wonderful gift for mood and characterization.

Way to go Kat!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

In Praise of Silence

(Click on image to enlarge)

On some weekends I take Lindsay for a special run through the Rouge Valley. Like people who are "bears in the morning" without their coffee, Lindsay is unbearable without a long run to tire her out. Otherwise her friendly nature and Spaniel energy are just overwhelming.

We pass a line of joggers running tirelessly along the trail, each and every one with an ipod filling the silence in their head.

Lindsay runs with them a way, until she realizes I'm not following. Then she turns and races back toward me, tail wagging like a metronome.

I don't own an ipod. I seldom turn the radio on in my car. When my wife isn't home, I never turn on the CD player. When I listen to music, I like to attend to it, fully.

Even here in the Rouge Valley, you can hear the city rumbling in the distance. But there is one pathway, off the beaten trail, that winds further down toward the river. At the bottom there is a silence so profound, you can hear yourself think.

Lindsay and I always take this path and sometimes I'll sit for a while on a fallen log and just be aware. At times we're joined by the wind, or chipmunks and even once had deer bound by us. Sometimes, if you just take the time to be still, the world comes to you.

I've had a lot to think about lately. But now and then it's good to just stop thinking and let your self be.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Friday Photo Shoot Out: Main Street

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 the Main Street 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.

By a strange quirk of nomenclature, West Hill stands as the eastern most gateway to the City of Toronto. Most visitors entering the city via the Kingston Road exit from the 401 have their sights set on the massive towers of the downtown core.

Lets take a moment to see what they may be passing by in their haste.

Today, as always, West Hill has much to offer---

From the West, reaching out toward the very centre of the community is the "Main Street" of West Hill, the Kingston Road. The view here is from the railroad bridge at the Guildwood train station, looking toward where Kingston Road forms a triangular intersection with Lawrence and Morningside to form the Commercial Centre of the community. The City of Kingston was, for a time, the capital of Canada and West Hill was one small community along the long route there from the City of Toronto. The commercial backbone of the community, Kingston Road changes its personality several times as it moves through the heart of West Hill.

Where the major thoroughfares of Kingston Road, Lawrence and Morningside Avenues intersect, the commercial centre of West Hill has grown. Here banks and stores, supermarkets and hardwares, florists and department stores have all found a home. The West Hill Shopping Centre is situated on the north east corner of Lawrence and Kingston Road.

The heart of the triangle is inhabited by a major supermarket and its adjacent plaza. Now a No Frills, the supermarket was for most of its life, a Loblaws. It was here that I and many of my friends got our first jobs and worked our way through high school on Thursday & Friday nights and all day Saturday. The plaza is also home to a drugstore, Brewers retail, Chick'n' Joy, McDonalds and a Pizza Pizza among others

The new Morningside Crossing was completed on the site of the former Morningside Mall. The Mornigside Crossing proper was opened in the summer of 2008, anchored by Shoppers Drug Mart and a Food Basics Supermarket.

Then commerce gives way to trees and lawns, churches, restaurants and motels. This is near the traditional centre of the community where the first homes in the area were constructed and where the West Hill Hotel provided the only social life for miles around. The hotel was torn down many years ago and, after remaining a vacant lot for decades, was replaced by a modern housing development in 2001. West Hill is the first glimpse of the City of Toronto for travelers from the east. Its motels provide an opportunity to rest up from the drive, while its restaurants offer a wide selection from elegant dining to fast foods.

The Kingston Road bridge across Highland Creek is the most distinctive feature of the eastern most entrance to the City of Toronto from the 401 highway. And here our Main Street reaches its Easternmost end and we leave West Hill behind us, with a sad farewell.

But maybe you'd like to stay and party with us a bit longer? Here is a little video I shot of the opening ceremonies at Morningside Crossing last summer.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

My Decision AndWhy I Made It

After my last visit to the surgeon, I was left with a very difficult decision to make. Go immediately to surgery or wait two weeks to see an Oncologist who might recommend tacking on chemo and radiation treatments.

The benefit of adding on radiation and chemo before the surgery is that it shrinks the tumor and and may mean less radical surgery (ie only removing half my esophagus along with half my stomach). Survival rates for those who have radiation, plus chemo plus surgery are slightly higher than for surgery alone. However, I would have to wait up to two weeks for the appointment and this approach damages my immune system.

The benefit of going with surgery alone is that it will be over quickly (if you can call two months in recovery quick); the survival rates, for the stage of cancer I have, aren't much less than for those who opt for the addition of three months of chemo and radiation. But it will mean removing all my esophagus and rebuilding it with half my stomach. However, it will leave my immune system in tact.

I was given two days to decide.

Although this is an aggressive cancer and Linda's first impulse (like that of the majority of bloggers comments I received) was to just get it out of me as quickly as possible, I decided to wait to see the Oncologist first.

A risk, I know, but everything to do with this disease is a risk. However, I intend to survive this and so I have to balance the quality of life I will have after treatment against the slightly increased risk of waiting to see the oncologist.

With chemo and radiation there is even a chance that this alone will eliminate the cancer and I might not require surgery at all. But even if I still do need surgery, it will be less radical.

Of course the wait could kill me. So trust me, a lot of thought went into this. I consulted with my family doctor who recommended waiting to talk to the oncologist. My sister-in-law is a nurse and she discussed my situation with one of her doctors, who is the brother of one of the most respected Oncologists in the States, who sent his brother a copy of my blog to describe the situation. His brother said I definitely should wait to discuss this with an oncologist.

Friends have also put me in touch with two people who are also fighting the same disease, and both recommended chemo and radiation.

Chemo is no longer as harsh as it once was. I won't loose my hair (what little I have) and the impact on the immune system is no longer as great.

If I have the chance to keep my digestive system in tact, I'm going to take it.

I've also decided to have a procedure next week to widen the closure in my throat to make it easier to swallow food. It is day surgery under a general anesthetic but it will improve the quality of my life while I wait for chemo to do its thing.

Although another unhappy wrinkle in this grand scheme is that the Oncologist could decide I'm not a good candidate for chemo or radiation and recommend going back for surgery. In which case I will have waited two weeks for nothing.

Decisions are never easy, but this one was the worst.

It was my call and I hope I got it right.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Lindsay Thinks Differently


Like all dogs, Lindsay is a creature of habit. She is acutely aware of life's routines and feels most comfortable deep within them.

But she's adaptable to change and life in her home has changed considerably over the past month. She can no longer predict when her parents will be going to work or staying home. She can no longer predict their mood. She can no longer predict the days when it will just be the three of them sitting at home in the evening. People seem to be coming and going at a rate she has never seen before.

She can never predict when she will be taken for a long run along the bluffs and when she will just be gong for a short walk through the neighbourhood.

And the normal smells of cooking are becoming a thing of the distant past. She can no longer remember the last time she smelled a steak cooking. Or even a hamburger. All meals now seem to consist of soup.

The phone never seems to stop ringing, tying her mom up in long and quiet conversations. Conversations that have their share of laughter but also, when her dad isn't home, often bring her mom to tears.

And she has never seen her dad gagging and throwing up before as he struggles to keep the most bland liquids down.

It worries her, this sudden change within her home, within her life, within the adults she loves and wants to protect.

So she has started to do some very unLindsay-like things.

She has never been a lap dog. She is too big to fit on anyone's lap and it just isn't in her nature to want too much cuddling and petting. Playing is more her thing.

But she has taken to hopping up on the couch beside her dad and resting her head in his lap. She sits and watches him as he sleeps, her face inches away from his own. And when he wakes she reaches out her tongue and licks his nose with great tenderness.

Until he bellows, "UGH! Lins what are you doing, girl! Yipes, stop that."

At night she has always slept on the floor at the foot of their bed, but now she lays through the night on the floor beside her dad, so that when he wakes up in the morning he has to avoid accidentally stepping on her, not being used to finding her there.

Lindsay isn't certain what's going on.

But it does seem to mean that her dad is home now much more than he used to be and he takes her for even more runs than he used to.

So it isn't all bad. And a dog has change her thinking and learn to adapt.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Answers (Part 2) And A Big New Question

I'm finally back from Centenary Hospital with some "good" news and a dilemma.

The good news is that the cancer has not spread and is still localized in my esophagus. My lungs are clear, my Lymph Glands are clear, my liver is a thing of beauty. The Cancer is a stage 1 or (at worst) stage 2a out of four. The Surgeon will have to spend more time with the CT Scan results to be sure.

The dilemma is that, because it isn't as severe as they originally feared, I now have the option of going straight ahead with surgery immediately instead of going through chemo and radiation and then the Surgery. Surgery alone will involve 2 months off work, the addition of chemo and radiation would involve a further 3 months off.

The benefit of adding on radiation and chemo before the surgery is that it shrinks the tumor and and may mean less radical surgery (ie only removing half my esophagus along with half my stomach). Survival rates for those who have radiation, plus chemo plus surgery are higher than for surgery alone. However, this approach destroys my immune system.

The benefit of just going with surgery alone is that it will be over quickly (if you can call two months quick); the survival rates, for the stage of cancer I have, aren't much less than for those who opt for the addition of three months of chemo and radiation. But it will mean removing all my esophagus and rebuilding it with half my stomach. However, it will leave my immune system in tact.

I have two days to decide or the Surgeon will be referring me to an Oncologist at Princes Margaret Hospital, because this is an aggressive cancer and he can't wait around for a decision. So I need to make my mind up before Wednesday.

Reading between the lines of our talk, the surgeon seemed to be opting for going straight to surgery (but then he is a surgeon).

Decisions. Decisions.

And not one I want to get wrong.

Some Answers


I never use an alarm clock to wake up in the morning. But I did today.

I have no trouble waking up in the mornings. But I did today.

Good job Linda insisted on setting the alarm anyway, although it took both of us pouring over the bedroom clock before we figured out how the alarm was set.

I can have no food or drink this morning before we leave for the hospital at 6:30. Outside an icy cold spring rain hits the window with the scratchy sound of sleet. Snow was predicted and the roads may be slick and hiding dangerous patches of black ice.

At the hospital I will be having a CT scan and then going immediately to the surgeon's office, where he will call up the results on his computer and, together with the results of the other tests I've been having, put together a treatment plan.

Whatever the results, whatever the plan, today will be life changing.

Saturday, April 4, 2009


lourdes Pictures, Images and Photos

It began with water, it ended with water. It was raining when I awoke on Friday morning and it was raining when I went to bed at night. By four o'clock in the afternoon it had reached the highest measurable rainfall for the day and kept right on going.

By this morning the super saturated ground could take no more and ponds began to form in my back yard. If it keeps on going, by tomorrow I may take out my rod and reel and do a little trout fishing from my deck!

I got soaked taking Lindsay for her morning run and had to completely change my clothes to go to work. I got soaked running from the car park to the GO train for the morning commute, the sharp new crease in my pants washed away by the deluge.

I was Baptized yesterday by nature and I was Baptized by man--or, at least, by wife.

The best friend of a teacher at Linda's school had taken her arthritic mother to Lourdes hoping for a miracle to ease her mother's pain. This being the modern electronic age that it is, the teacher and her friend kept in touch through twitter. And through Twitter the conversation turned to me.

Or at least to Linda. The teacher told her friend that a fellow teacher had just learned her husband had cancer and the entire staff are just devastated. She asked if the friend could bring some Holy Water back from Lourdes for her to give to Linda. The teacher offered to pay. The friend, being on a Holy quest, waved away all thought of payment.

On Thursday Linda received a hug from her fellow teacher (one of hundreds of hugs she has been getting at work recently) and a plastic statue of the Virgin Mary filled with Holy Water from Lourdes.

On Friday morning I sat the quiet of the living room peacefully listening to the sound of the endless rain outside and putting together the elements of the Friday Shoot Out post. When suddenly my head felt wet. I reached up and water splashed on my hand. I turned and got a face full of Holy Water.

"What the...glub...ack..glub...!"

And I was blessed.

"Lift up your top," Linda said, "This is Holy Water all the way from Lourdes and I want to pour it on the spot where your cancer is."

So I lifted my pajama top and she poured the waters over my chest. Since I failed to ignite, the way vampires do when touched by Holy Water in the movies, I guess I must not be a vampire.

At least that worry is now off my mind.

I'm not a big believer in miracles but I have to confess, with my CT scan set for Monday, a part of me wonders what they will now find?

After all this rain.

And if the cancer is still there, well, Linda still has 3/4 of a bottle of Holy Water left.

Image of the Virgin Mary courtesy of Photobucket

Friday, April 3, 2009

Friday Photo Shootout--Wild Animals

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 wild animals 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.

I needed to cheat a little with this one, having very few wild animal photos and no time to stalk the wild beasts this week. So I thought, since I had to cheat anyway I might as well go all the way: one of the animals is actually stuffed, one is a "wild" Lindsay, one is of the mother of a new puppy that will belong to my brother in 5 weeks time, the photograph of Charles is from photobucket and the article that accompanies the pictures is a reprint of a very early post of mine from several months ago.

She told us her secret during a visit with Charles. My daughter knew Charles personally, having worked with him for several years while she was attending Ryerson University.

He was temperamental, but what artist isn't? He was used to throwing his considerable weight around, but never with her. He always treated her with great respect.

As an artist, Charles has a world wide reputation. His paintings are in great demand but sell for a modest price between $400 to $1000 dollars. Charles may be intimidating, but he isn't greedy and his needs are simple. An abstract artist he is noted for his use of colour, and the violence of course.

With Charles the potential for violence is always there, just below the surface. And when you weight over 400 pounds, all of it solid muscle, that makes you very dangerous indeed.

Except with Kathy, whom he always treated kindly and with grave courteously. Part of her job was to clean his windows while he sat and watched her with intense fascination. Sometimes they sent a guy along to help her, but that always made Charles fly into a violent rage. Any male coming close to the windows of his cage would rouse him to a ferocious anger and he would charge the window throwing his full weight at the bullet proof glass. Over and over again.

The resounding impacts would reverberate through the African Pavilion at the Toronto Zoo, frightening many of the patrons. Parents would have to explain that Male Silver Back gorillas were very protective of their children and didn't take well to male intruders. And Charles has over ten children.

Today there is no protective glass between us and Charles. The Mountain Gorilla exhibit has been moved to a new enclosure, the worlds largest indoor gorilla exhibit. It is height that protects us now, not bullet proof glass.

Kathy likes the new display. It is much larger than the old one and she always worried about Charles hurting himself with those frightening charges at the glass.

She's feeling a little protective of children these days herself, she tells us, now that she is pregnant again.

My wife stops. Her heart skips a beat. There's the need for a wrenching adjustment in thinking from gorillas to babies. What? Pregnant again? Kathy?

My daughter has a huge grin on her face and suddenly there are hugs and tears all around. I shake her husband's hand while their son dances around us with a big "we gotcha" smile on his face.It had been seven years since her first and only child, so we are very surprised and pleased by the news.

This will make four living grandchildren for us. There was a fifth, my youngest daughter's first son, but that was over nine years ago now and is not a story for this happy time.

In the distance, Charles takes the news in his stride, lying comfortably on his back beside a log, arms akimbo, one leg pointed straight toward the sky,giving himself an occasional lazy scratch.

Kathy gave birth to our granddaugther Hailey in September 2008.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Lindsay's Greatest Trick


Some of Lindsay's best tricks she taught herself.

If we're going in the car and we've put her in the back seat and she immediately jumps into the front seat before Linda and I can get in the car, we only have to say, "In the back seat!" and she immediately hops into the rear of the car.

We never taught her that. She taught herself.

She listens to us. And she watches and she learns.

If we're out for a run and we come to a fork in the path, I only have to tell her "Left!" or "Right" and she zooms off in the correct direction.

We never taught her that either.

If it's getting near time for her run and she is starting to be a pest, sitting and staring at me with loving eyes and slightly cocked head, I only have to say, "Be patient, Lindsay" and she will go away and give me another ten minutes.

But her greatest trick was one I discovered by chance when she was four years old.

For whatever reason she had more energy that night than two long runs could burn off.

All night long she had wanted to play. We played Catch, we played Tugs, we played Chase but every game only opened doors to new energy levels.

I was getting tired. And frustrated.

What had gotten into this dog?

"Oh Lindsay," I said. "Go to sleep!"

She gave me a quizzical look and I could see the little translator behind her eyes, translating the English into dog.

And then she laid down and immediately went to sleep.

On command.

From a body pumped with adrenaline to sleep in 30 seconds.

It is her greatest trick.

And I love it.