Friday, April 30, 2010

Happy 40th Anniversary To Us

And so our heroes, a little battered but still undefeated, stage a strategic retreat and turn their little Honda Civic to the North for a weekend away in the Haliburton area of Ontario.

Yes there will be blackflies and the trees will not be fully out in leaf, but there will also be gourmet dining, a full spa service, luxury accommodations and the little town of Haliburton with its boutique stores located in one of the largest art communities in Northern Ontario.

There is an on-suite jacuzzi and massage service for Barry's ailing back and lots of time for Linda to take photographs and visit with friends in the area.

So no Friday Shoot Outs, no Sepia Saturdays, no posts of any kind from us until Monday at the earliest.

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Spiritual Partnership

For the first time in months I'm joining the crowds of suburban commuters on their way to the downtown core of the city. They are heading for another day of work, I'm on my way for a CT Scan to see if the back pains I've been experiencing are a re-metastasizing of the cancer in my bones.

As the GO train pulls out of Guildwood Station, the commuters sleep, or read papers, type furiously on their laptops or talk quietly in small groups. I am reading a pre-publication copy of Spiritual Partnership by Gary Zukav that was sent to me by Trish Collins at TLC Book Tours.

I last read Zukav back in the 70's when he wrote The Dancing Wu Li Masters, a brilliant and riveting introduction to Quantum Physics and the way it is changing, or confirming, our view of the world.

While I'm deeply involved with his new book by now and finding Zukav as engaging a writer as always, I originally had trouble getting into it, trouble getting past the first paragraph of the preface, in fact, where he claims he is about to reveal a change he has discovered that will have a greater impact on the human race than the discovery of fire, or the wheel or religion or science.

And I'm thinking, oh come on! Get for real.

The train trudges on into the city, all of the seats beginning to fill as we stop at the Eglinton, Scarborough and Danforth Stations. The woman across from me is knitting and I realize it has been a long time since I saw anyone doing that. Behind me a man is talking loudly into his cell phone, his voice filling the carriage as he relays instructions for people at his work to follow before his arrival this morning.

Zukav's discovery is that millions of people around the world are evolving an additional sense, that allows them to know more about people than is offered by the traditional five senses, a form of multisensory perception. I'm reminded of Jeremy Rifkin's work on the way civilization is evolving into a more empathic place, our ability to empathize extending beyond our family and friends, beyond our country, indeed beyond humanity to embrace the biosphere itself, just as climate change begins to demand we be able to see ourselves from a wider perspective if we have any hope of surviving as a specie.

The train pulls into Union Station and begins to unload its vast hoard of workers into the huge office towers of the city. I join those heading down into the subway, the long platforms filled with impatient humanity, the increasing rumble of distant trains whispering to us from darkened tunnels.

Unlike Rifkin, Zukav is more interested in how our expanding multisensory perception will allow us to evolve spiritually, to grow into more authentic human beings. To a large extent we do it through our newly expanded ability to relate to others. Zukav defines a spiritual partnership as a partnership between equals for the purpose of spiritual growth. Those limited to the five senses work to change the external world in order to quell fears like hunger, pain, or loneliness, while those with a multisensory perspective are motivated by love instead of fear and work to bring their potential into line with their soul, not by seeking to control others or the world outside themselves.

At Dundas I transfer to the streetcar for the additional trip to Bathurst and the Toronto Western Hospital on the outer edge of Toronto's China Town. At the hospital I'm taken to a waiting room and given a barium drink and an hour alone to consume it.

The bulk of Zukav's work is filled with personal examples of spiritual growth from his own life and from his relationship with his spiritual partner Linda Francis. The second half of the book focuses on how exploring commitment, courage, compassion, communication and action can be combined to create spiritual growth in our self, in our relationships and in our world. He is a poignant and engaging writer and my time passes quickly.

But finally the technician arrives and I am escorted, in my hospital gown, down the lengthy corridor to the waiting CT Scanner. I am injected with a substance to heighten the contrast for the imaging and am also given a paste to swallow to highlight the image of my throat. Then I lay with my sore back on the hard surface of the table, stretch my arms behind my head and am inserted into the machine.

After the scanning the technician lowers the table back to normal, removes the needle from my arm and tells me I am free to go.

But I discover I am unable to move. No longer have the strength in my back to lift myself from the table. And despite the Tylenol with codeine I took this morning, my lower back is in severe pain.

"Are you alright," the technician asks.

"I can't move," I tell him. "My back really hurts."

He goes to the next room to get help and together with the assistance of the second technician we push me through the pain into a seating position. The waves of pain in my back begin to lessen and after a while I am able to stand, retrieve my clothes and carefully walk the corridor back to the change room.

I've brought some additional medication with me, and take it with water from the fountain. I'm shaken by discovering my inability to rise from the table. I can face pain, but the thought of immobilization is frightening. I have a long way to go before I get home.

And the chance to talk this through with my own Linda, my own spiritual partner, who has put aside so much of her own life to care for me through the past year. She deserves roses, not an escalations of my own troubles.

I put Zukav aside for now and hobble back out into the rush of the city and my journey home.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


I don't like living on pain killers. I'm no fan of drugs of any kind and for most of my life seldom even took an aspirin. Although, during the height of my combined radiation and chemotherapy treatments last summer I was taking over ten pills a day, at different times and under different conditions.

It had to be done, but I didn't like it.

And I don't like taking Tylenol with codeine now. The pain has migrated to my lower back and makes bending or turning difficult. So when I get fed up with the pain, I take the Tylenol and it either goes away completely or becomes muted enough to live with.

I am resting and trying to concentrate on the last few chapters of Robert J. Sawyer's novel Wake. Trying not to let the pain distract me.

Lindsay wants in from the backyard and putting down my book and getting up to let her in is agony. When I'm able to sit back down and find a pain free position, I tell myself I should have taken the medication while I was up. But I have no desire to put myself through that again just for the sake of future pain relief.

So I pick up Sawyer's book again and loose my self in the world of Caitlin Decter the feisty, blind math prodigy who is undergoing an experimental procedure to help restore her sight.

It has been a long time since I read classic Science Fiction. I didn't know anyone was still writing it. I thought fantasy had taken over the entire genre. Yet here is Sawyer typing away just the other side of Toronto from me. One of his books, Flashforward, has been made into a TV series in the States.

Caitlin, the central character, is a blogger who spends four to five hours a day on the internet. And Sawyer, one of the world's first bloggers, presents blogging in a positive light, unlike the way it's presented in most current fiction.

Being Science Fiction, the operation to implant a mechanical device behind Caitlin's eye leads to be being able to perceive the internet at work when the device is online transmitting data to its inventor, and to becoming aware that the internet has achieved a level of complexity that has permitted it to become aware. That the internet, as an entity, is on the verge of becoming awake.

But it's Sawyer's description of Caitlin's discovery of a fifth sense, one that is for most of us our most dominant sense, that is the most compelling. The difference between how objects look and how they are perceived by the other senses, is exciting and page turning stuff. To help her handle this, Caitlin does what too few fictional characters do these days, she reads. She reads the autobiographies of Helen Keller and Julian Jaynes' The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.

And as I become engrossed in her struggle to understand the commonplace world of sight that we take for granted, and watch as sight begins to dominate all the other senses she has relied on for so long, I forget my pain, put it aside the way I put aside the fragrance of fresh cut flowers in the room until I'm reminded of them by someone else coming into the room and commenting on them.

And I think, to myself, maybe there is a world beyond our senses. The fabled sixth sense. Maybe it's been hiding right there in front of us all this time?

The world of imagination.

Monday, April 26, 2010


The small rabbit sits on the path about 15 meters ahead of us, its tiny nose twitching furiously.

Lindsay hasn't noticed it yet. She's too busy attending to some interesting scent just to the right of me, black and white tail at the alert, her own nose twitching with excitement.

The rabbit hasn't moved. It sits in profile, tall ears erect, its dark left eye watching Lindsay's every move.

And then its gone. One single bound into the tall grasses by the side of the pathway and its as if the rabbit had never been. Lindsay has finished her investigation of the interesting scent, her tail is back to wagging with excitement, she looks up at me to ask why I'm standing still. She prances through the puddle in front of us, runs down the pathway a few feet, and then looks back as if to say, "Come on, lets get going!"

So I start walking and Lindsay bounds on ahead, past the spot where the rabbit had been sitting.

Catching the recent scent in passing, she backtracks, nose to the ground and is off on the trail. But the rabbit is now long gone.

I walk on, thinking about our senses. Lindsay has missed the rabbit right in front of her because she was turned into the sense of smell not sight. I'd been reading, a few days ago, that scientists had discovered that our brains tune out unnecessary sensation, to prevent distraction from our primary sense of sight. Put on clothes in the morning and we can feel the fabric against our skin. But, however rough or comfortable, however sensual our clothing feels, within minutes of dressing, our brains tune out that awareness.

For a moment I focus on the weight of the coat on my back, the slight itch of my scarf, the tightness of the hat on my head, the feel of the day's cool air against my hands, the constriction of my feet in my boots, the light breeze rustling the hair that is beginning to grow back on my head.

But when I begin to listen to the distant grumbling of the city in the background, the crash of the waves at the bottom of the bluffs, the clicking of the branches in the tall trees, the crunch of my feet on the gravel pathway, I realize my brain has already tuned out the feel of my clothing.

I struggle to both feel and listen at the same time. I can do it, kind of. But not well.

I'm a very visual and auditory person. My wife has a much greater awareness of aromas and tactile sensation. She will track me down in Sears to have me come over to feel an interesting fabric on a dress that has delighted her.

I remember our dinner at the restaurant last night, the air alive with wonderful aromas. The delicious warm taste of the food, the coolness of the wine glass. Linda momentarily reaching across the table to squeeze my hand as she tells a funny story about her day at work.

Suddenly I was no longer aware of the pains in my back.

Then Lindsay comes crashing her way through the brush and tall grasses, interrupting my revere, returning from the rabbit hunt. She pushes her way back onto the path, twigs stuck in her tail and long ears. She shakes herself vigorously, loosening a few of the twigs, the rest she just ignores.


Saturday, April 24, 2010

Sepia Saturday-- Johanna Fraser

Each week we are following the lives of members of my Great Grandfather William's family as they appear in this 1890 family portrait. Last time we focused on my Grandfather Charles Fraser (front second from the right) and this week we focus on the last person in the photograph (front row far right), my great grandmother Johanna Chisholm Fraser.

Joanna Chisholm was the daughter of Isabella Rhind and John Chisholm who were married on November 11, 1834 in Inverness. She had several maternal aunts and one uncle: Ann, Jannet, Catherine and James.

Johanna Fraser ca 1919, originally uploaded by Anexplorer.

Joanna was living on Park Lane Inverness at the time of her marriage to William Fraser, a carpenter newly arrived from the little east coast fishing village of Portgordon. The ceremony was performed by Rev. John Thompson, Clergyman, in Elgin. Witnesses to the marriage were Edward McGhie and Alexander Gibb.

After several years living in Inverness, Joanna followed William on the long trek to the distant Isle of Lewis where he worked for a year, building the County Courthouse, and where she gave birth to her little son James, who died after only 11 days.

The little family then followed the scarce work back south to the Isle of Skye where William worked for three years as a carpenter and a cattle trader, saving up enough money to bring his family to Canada. They were well enough off during this period for Johanna to afford a servant to assist her with the care of her four children.

Johanna in yard, originally uploaded by Anexplorer.

In 1873 the family moved to Glasgow from where they set sail for Canada on one of the new steam ships. The family settled in Toronto where William became a very successful builder, lecturer at the Toronto School of Architecture and School Trustee.

Johanna and her oldest daughter Mary Anne raised the 8 children in the family (3 had died in infancy), kept them fed with the produce they grew in their large vegetable garden, made all of their clothing by hand and saw they were well educated.

They also cared for their son Alexander's children for a while after his wife died and the children of their daughter Isobella when she and her husband passed away.

Joanna died in Toronto on February 15, 1920, only a few months before her husband. The newspapers lamented the passing of this prominent Toronto family as true pioneers of the City.

Johanna Fraser in her garden, originally uploaded by Anexplorer.


To see posts from other Sepia Saturday members (or to become one yourself) CLICK HERE

Friday, April 23, 2010

FSO--Honouring The Trees

The Earth Day theme behind this week's Friday Shoot Out is Honouring The Trees.

I took my camera when Lindsay and I went for our morning run, yesterday, and shot photos of trees along the North Shore of Lake Ontario. The results of our efforts can be found on my Friday Shoot Out blog, along with links to other FSO members around the world.

But it was the presence of this large hawk that really caught my attention as he rode the thermals rising up the 90 metre bluffs from the Lake far below.

Late in the afternoon, I heard back from my Oncologist. My CT scan has been moved forward to next Wednesday and a bone scan has been booked for Monday May 3rd. I then have an appointment with the Oncologist to review the results on May 11th.

Now, almost getting lost among these dates, is my 40th Wedding Anniversary on May 2nd. Linda and I have booked a weekend away, that will now have to be cut short in order for me to be back in the City for the 3rd.

Health has to have priority but sometimes it acts like a bully.

Thursday, April 22, 2010



I spoke to my oncologist who agreed with my doctor.

The cluster of symptoms sounds like bone to her, not muscular pain.

But there is room for error. So tests must be done.

She has ordered a bone scan and is moving the date of my CT scan forward. Once she has the results of those, then she will know. And once she knows, she can plan what to do.

In the meantime I am to try not to worry.

Which I discover is easier to do when taking Tylenol with codeine because my pains go completely away.

And I feel perfectly healthy again. And mobile.

I did the dishes, washed the kitchen floor, vacuumed the rugs, polished the tables. Do you need any housework done?

And I slept, because the pills also make me sleepy.

Then I took Lindsay down to the Lake for an unexpected extra run, a special treat she could hardly believe.

And I deeply enjoyed.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


The doctor smiled. Beamed, in fact.

"Well look at you," he said. "I haven't seen you looking this good in a long, long time. What brings you in today?"

It had taken me a while to get here. In the past week I had even held out the hope I could avoid this meeting altogether. The back pains I'd been experiencing had reduced to a mild tenderness and I was confident a little caution and relaxation would see the end of them, without the need to involve the doctor. This was, after all, the middle of my three month break away from all things medical.

But the pain had returned with some severity and I had promised Linda I wouldn't put off a visit with the doctor any longer.

"I've been having back pains," I told him. "They began in my lower back about about a month ago. Lasted about a week then went away only to be replaced by a sharp pain in my left shoulder blade. That lasted about two weeks. But now I'm having severe pain in my right shoulder and down my side under my right arm."

The doctor stopped smiling.

"Stand up," he told me and started poking around my back. "Does this hurt?"

"No. Not at all."

He began to pound. "How about this?"


"Alright, you can sit down. What are you taking for pain?"

"Nothing. Well, some Advil."

"Advil? Nothing stronger?"


"The pain is severe?

"Sometimes it takes my breath away."

"Severe pain, moving to different centers in your back and you feel nothing when I apply pressure?"


"It is only when you move that you feel it?"

"That's right."

"Well, it is almost certainly bone, not muscular. Likely your cancer metastasizing; but we can't be certain. We need to get you back to Princess Margaret Hospital. Have them do a bone scan. In the meantime I'll give you Tylenol with codeine for the pain."

"I was hoping it was stress."

He held my gaze for a moment. "Anything is possible at this point. But I've known you for about 20 years now Barry. No one handles stress better than you. You could teach a master class in stress management, and for all I know maybe you have. I wish it were stress, but that wouldn't be my medical opinion. You told me at the beginning of this that you wanted me to be frank with you and to hold nothing back and I think we need more tests. But I think they are going to tell us its the cancer back again."


"Exactly." He pulled a pad of paper across his desk. "So let me write you a prescription and we'll get those tests ordered and see where we go from there."

I emerged from his suburban office into the warm sunshine of early spring, the leaves just starting to come out on the trees and the flowers beginning to bloom in the well tended gardens of the homes across the street.

And started to think about how to break the news to Linda.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Spring, At Last

"Given how mild our winter was," Linda said.

"And how soon the warm weather arrived in March...."

"....I thought Spring would be further along by now."

"The important thing is," I suggested. "It's finally here. The crocus are in flower, the trees and bushes are in bud, the lawns are green, the grass is growing like wildfire."

"And the black flies are out in full force."

"Ah Spring!"

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Descent

I've only been down to the beach at the bottom of the bluffs once this year.

Through the winter I walk Lindsay along the pathway through the meadow at the top of the bluffs but in the spring and summer we walk the beach. It is usually deserted and strewn with tree trunks and other flotsam Lake Ontario wants to send our way.

But getting to the beach requires walking down a steep pathway and then climbing down fifteen feet of large boulders that form a rough stairway. This year that has created an obstacle for me, not certain I had the strength, or the balance for the task.

Instead, my dog and I continued our daily walks through the meadow where I stood on the 90 metre top of the bluffs and watched the blue waters of the Lake lap against the small beach far below me.

But not today.

My back pains had reduced to mere feelings of tenderness and much of the strength in my legs had returned. Of course the nerve damage to the bottoms of my feet made them feel as if I were wearing three pairs of socks, but I did still have feeling. It was just very muffled.

The pathway to the beach is cut through a hill side and it wasn't until I reached the final 15' rock fall that I felt the winds off the Lake hit me with force.

Lindsay had already scampered down the rough staircase and had already plunged into the Lake in pursuit of four ducks, which had given her a look of disdain and were paddling away with dignity while she churned, frantically, along behind them.

The first step down was the easiest, a drop of only six inches or so onto the surface of a fairly large boulder. I could feel my shirt rippling against my chest with the strong breeze. The next step was a considerable drop of about two feet and had to be done in two stages. First stepping onto a smaller rock to the side and then down onto the large surface of a massive boulder. It would be the first test of my uncertain balance.

But I did it with ease, if not with grace, and gained considerable confidence. I could do this. I could get down to the beach!

Lindsay had finally given up on the ducks and was swimming back toward me, her head plowing through the water like that of a beaver. Behind her, the ducks were leisurely returning to where they had been before she so rudely interrupted them.

The final rock requires a jump down to the sand and I paused with some misgiving. It was either jump or climb back up. Before me the beach and the water beckoned, stretching off ten kilometers in either direction.

So I jumped. Not a great distance but the sand was hard packed and I landed on weakened legs with a jarring thud.

But I didn't fall.

Lindsay ran up, shaking water from her fur and danced around my feet.

Come on, she was saying. We have the whole beach to ourselves.

And so we did.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Sepia Saturday--Charles Fraser

Each week we are following the lives of members of my Great Grandfather William's family as they appear in this 1890 family portrait. Last time we focused on Isobella Fraser (front row third from the right) and this week we focus on the little boy beside her, Charles Fraser, my grandfather.

Charles was the youngest son born into a large and very dynamic family. His older brothers and sisters went on to become artists and poets and playwrights, founders of Mission societies, mothers of Bishops, teachers and contractors and builders, priests and nuns. His father was the architect behind some of Toronto's more prominent buildings.

He had a lot to live up to.

Charles, Kate and their son William

Born in Toronto in 1878 Charles did not follow his siblings into the religious life but instead became a conductor with the Toronto Suburban Railway. He met and later married Catherine (Kate) O'Connor at St. Helen's Church in 1900. Catherine was a recent immigrant to Canada from Ireland arriving via New York City in 1882. While there is some confusion about their ages, Kate would appear to have been at least 4 years older than Charles. After their marriage the couple moved into Kate's parent's home where her brother Dan and sister Mary still resided. Her brother Jeremiah appears to have recently moved out on his own.

Charles and Kate's first daughter Geraldine died in infancy. They moved into Kate's brother Dan's home on Davenport Road for a year where their oldest son, my father, William (Bill) was born in 1902, before moving to Mill Street in Brampton where they lived for several years. Why they moved from the city of Toronto to the small village of Brampton is a mystery, whether this entailed a change of jobs for Charles is also unknown, but it is here that Theresa was born in 1905. In any event the moved did not appear to be successful because they soon moved back to Toronto, where Katherine Veronica was born in 1909.

Around 1912 there was trouble in the family. My father can recall bitter arguments taking place between his parents, while he and his sisters huddled in the upstairs bedrooms. One morning he awoke to find his father gone. My grandmother told my father that he was now the "man" in the family and he was taken out of school and sent to work at Langmuir Trunk Factory on King St. West full time and part time at Len Collins Butcher Shop in the evening.

Charles with his brothers John and Alexander in Chicago

After leaving his family, Charles had moved to Niagara Falls where he worked in heavy industry until he lost a finger in an industrial accident. He may also have worked up north as a lumberjack for a time. However, unable to work at his old job, Charles moved to Chicago where he moved in with his brother Alexander and family for a month but ended up staying in the Chicago area until his death on February 19, 1953 (exactly 20 years to the day before his granddaughter Katherine was born on February 19, 1973). During his time in Chicago he worked as a laborer, often helping his older brother on building projects.

After his son Bill returned to Canada following World War Two, Charles and his son corresponded through Bill's new wife Rosanna--but never saw each other. When Charles, in his letters, started asking for money, Bill cut all correspondence off.

Charles never remarried after Kate's death in 1923 and seems to have led a very solitary and unambitious life, comfortable in his role as Uncle to Alexander's children.

Although our lives crossed for a ten year period, I never met my grandfather and many of Alexander's children were unaware Charles had ever been married or had family in Toronto. Charles actions remain a considerable mystery.


To see posts from other Sepia Saturday members (or to become one yourself) CLICK HERE

Friday, April 16, 2010

My Daughter's New Blog

More comfortable behind the camera than in front of it, my youngest daughter Heather has been blogging for a long while.

Because her blog is intended for members of her home school association, access to it has been restricted. However she has recently decided to create a second blog where she can feel free to share her impressions more freely.

I think she's done a beautiful job. If you are interested in visiting her, CLICK HERE

If you are interested in my Friday Shoot Out (to find out what makes me chuckle) CLICK HERE

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Informing My Mother That She Is Dead

And therefore owes them money.

Trust the tax man to be simultaneously insensitive, bureaucratic, and confusing. And wrong.

My mother, who passed away at the end of February, received a tax notice yesterday informing her that she is not eligible for the GST/HST tax credit because she is dead. Furthermore, because she was dead when they sent her a credit, she owes them their money back.

At least that is how I interpret their letter, because that isn't what they actually say. Oh, they tell her she is dead plainly enough, but they get kind of cute when it comes to asking a dead woman for their money back.

Nowhere in the letter do they actually say, "give us back our money." They merely inform her that she is "not eligible for the GST/HSTC for April..(because) legislation allows us to issue credits to an individual only for periods before the date of death."

Then they attach a remittance voucher in the amount of $94.06 and provide us with an addressed envelope. Not a stamped and addressed envelope, mind you. Just the envelope.

Hint, hint.

The trouble is, my mother's account was closed back in February and when they attempted to direct deposit their $94.06 on April 1, the bank immediately bounced their cheque back to them.

So now I have to phone the tax office, listen to all the options, press button number three, key in my mother's Social Insurance Number, and wait an hour for the next available service representative.

Who will probably not be able to straighten this out any better than the department can write a clear letter.

Not nearly as much fun as dousing myself with gasoline.

But it raises a similar stink.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Why I Love Canada's "No Smoking At The Pump" Laws

Lindsay, when she isn't sleeping through the day, sits watching the world go by through our front windows. So she was the first to see my car pull into the driveway and went scampering to the side door to greet me.

However, as I entered, she came to a skidding, sliding halt about 15 feet away from me. Her eyes started to water and she gave me a look that said, "Now just what on earth have you been rolling in, Mister! You totally reek."

From her chair in the livingroom, I heard Linda yell, "What the heck is that smell?"

"That," I told them both, "Would be gasoline."

"Gasoline? What did you buy that smells so much of gasoline?"

Lindsay turned and scurried away, her tail between her legs as if she was the one who had misbehaved, giving me only one baleful over the shoulder glance as she left for the furthest corner of the house.

"Well, that would be me." I confessed. "I've splashed gasoline all over myself."

Linda came through the doorway and nearly gagged. Her eyes started to water. She backed up a step.

"I was downtown having lunch with Carol-Anne and on the way back..." I tried to explain.

"No, no, no!"Linda gasped, "Tell me later. Right now you have to get those clothes off and get them out of the house."

So, while Linda ran to fetch a housecoat, I took off my saturated clothing and hung them on the rail of our back deck.

"So, as I was saying," I began again, "I was downtown having lunch with Carol-Anne..."

"No," said Linda, "First have a shower while I open some windows. Then, believe me, this is a story I've just got to hear."

And so I had a long and refreshing shower, while Linda aired out the house and put on some coffee. She had a hunch something stronger than coffee would have been more appropriate for what was to come, but she was trying to stay away from alcohol, although this time I likely had a tale that would end her drought.

"Is it safe to start telling you my story?" I asked, all scrubbed clean and now smelling of Axe body lotion.

Linda nodded warily.

"On the way back from downtown, I noticed I was low on gas and stopped at the service station at the top of the street. You know, the one that gives Air Miles?"

Linda sipped her coffee and agreed she knew the station in question.

"Now, you know how, when you fill up your gas tank, there is a latch cover over the gas tank, and then a screw off cap? And then there is a final cover that flips open and closed at the entry to the gas tank itself?

"Well, I'm busy filling up my tank with the hose pushed through that flip up cover when the guy in the car next to me suddenly beeps his horn and starts yelling loud. I mean at the top of his lungs! He's yelling, 'Hey!' as loud as he can.

"So I turn to see what he's yelling at and it turns out he's spotted one of his buddies driving past and he wants to attract his attention. But as I turn to see what the commotion is all about I pull the gas hose back out past the swinging cover. It closes. The gas coming out of the hose hits the now closed cover and bounces back spraying me with gasoline from shoulder to shoes. And suddenly I'm saturated with gasoline."

"Good Lord," Linda said. "If someone had lit a match....."

"Poof! Barbecued husband." I said.

"That must have been terrifying," Linda gasped.

"Well, it was more just uncomfortable and smelly."

"You really do have the darnedest things happen to you."

"I don't try..."

"Thank Heaven, I'd hate to think what life would be like if you were trying to make this stuff happen." Linda shook her head, laughing. "I'd fear for the safety of the planet. Forget terrorists."

I laughed too. Lindsay emerged from the nether regions of the house, examining me with great suspicion.

"By the way what did the doctor have to say about your back?"

"Oh, I canceled that appointment. My back's feeling better."

"Because you almost turned yourself into a human torch?"

"No, it's just been getting better over the past couple of days. All I feel now are very faint twinges." I said. "I'm fine. Really, I'll be fine."

Linda shook her head. Many, many times.

And Lindsay went across the room to where Linda was sitting and laid down at her feet. Then the two females looked back at me in despair.

And I drank my coffee before it got cold. That was only polite.

While outside on our back deck, the light breeze was picking up the scent of gasoline from my saturated clothing and distributing it far and wide throughout the neighbourhood.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

What I Can Do But You Cannot

Sadly, there is something I can do that is forbidden to you. A boundary I can cross, but you cannot.

Although I'm going to give you a peek beyond that boundary today. Because I like you.

My youngest daughter has a blog that is closed to all except her family and the members of her Home Schooling Group. Here she can post photos of her children without fear of them ending up in unusual places throughout the internet, or being used for unusual purposes.

Within the closed blog she has a freedom she wouldn't have otherwise.

The "sadness" I mentioned in the opening to this post comes from the fact that her posting are often both brilliant and delightful (I am only marginally being prejudiced here) and it feels a shame they cannot be more widely shared and enjoyed.

However, she occasionally posts content she finds on the internet that intrigues or informs or amuses her (and sometimes all three). Content that is free for us all to enjoy.

An example of this is what I wanted to share with you today. Since I can't send you to her site to see it, I can, at least, bring it here for you.

It is a brief introduction to the pentatonic scale and while that may not seem like the kind of thing that would simultaneously intrigue, inform and amuse you, chances are that it will.

Anyway you can let me know if it does.

On a more somber note, the pains in my back are continuing and have now spread to my sides making it difficult for me to do a lot. They have persisted for three weeks now and I have agreed, with Linda's encouragement, to see the doctor tomorrow.

Hopefully it is only the fall I had that has pulled a few muscles, but with cancer you can never know. And you can never be too careful.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Sepia Saturday-- Isobella Fraser

Each week we are following the lives of members of my Great Grandfather William's family as they appear in this 1890 family portrait. Last time we focused on Mary Ann Fraser (front row second from left) and this week we focus on the most tragic member of the family, Isobella (front row seated between her older sister and the young boy, my grandfather, to the right).

Isobella was born in Inverness Scotland in 1869, married Joseph Carroll after the family immigrated to Canada and together they had 3 children. Her son, Francis Patrick Carroll, became the Bishop of Calgary. She also had a daughter Teresa Ralston and another son William, one of Canada's first seismologists, who is buried with his aunt Mary Ann.

Isobella Fraser Carroll, originally uploaded by Anexplorer.

Returning from a journey to Winnipeg, early in the last century, the stove heating their railway carriage went out and couldn't be restarted. Isobella and her husband Joseph were forced to huddle under blankets for several days in the freezing cold as the train made its way across the harsh Prairies and the desolate landscape of Northern Ontario. Joseph caught pneumonia and died shortly after their arrival in Toronto. He was 30 years old. Isobella passed away 14 years later at 37 years of age.


Their three children were raised by her parents and her sister Mary Ann. In fact, Mary Ann continued to live with William Carroll until her death and is buried with him. William Carroll was one of Canada's first seismologists, although crippled and suffering from a humped back. When Toronto was shaken by an unusual 5.3 earth quake, William was featured on the front page of the Toronto Telegram explaining how earth quakes occurred.


To see posts from other Sepia Saturday members (or to become one yourself) CLICK HERE

Friday, April 9, 2010

Country Roads

Country roads lead many places. Today they lead to my Friday Shoot Out on the blog I share with my wife Linda.

To see our take on this weeks theme, to consider joining the FSO gang and/or to find a link to all the other FSO contributors from around the world, just CLICK HERE

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Lindsay In The Rain

Linda and I are huddled together under an umbrella while Lindsay runs joyfully ahead of us, splashing through puddles and barking at seagulls.

"I wish it would rain," Linda says.

I stick my hand out from under the umbrella and bring it back soaking wet, holding it up for her to see. "What do you call this?"

"That's drizzle," she explains. "I mean rain. A good soaking rain."

"The long range forecast is for a hot dry summer."

"I know. That's why we need as much rain as we can get in the spring. The plants need it."

We splash on through the short wet grasses of spring lamenting the lack of rain.

"How's your back today?" Linda asks.

"Not bad. Much better than the weekend. I only get twinges now if I turn the wrong way or lift something heavy. I really regret missing my Tai Chi class yesterday, but I just couldn't risk it."

"Well you have the tape and there's always next week. You've been very good about going."

"It's interesting."

Lindsay spots a squirrel on the other side of the park and takes off after it, nose plowing through the wet grass like the prow of a ship. A destroyer, at least in her mind. But the squirrel spots her coming a mile away and scurries up the first available tree.

"Have you ever wanted to do the Gene Kelly thing," Linda wonders.

"What Gene Kelly thing?"

"You know, where you throw away the umbrella and start dancing and singing in the rain?"

"Have you ever heard me sing?"


"Or dance?"

"Point taken. Forget I mentioned it. The world isn't quite ready for that yet."

Lindsay gives up on the squirrel and comes running back to us, eyes sparkling.

"I know a secret about you," Linda teases me.

"A secret about me?"

"You don't know it because you lack a vanity gene."

"You have to have something to be vain about to have vanity." I point out.

"When's the last time you looked in the mirror?"

"I don't know. When I cleaned my teeth this morning?"

"And did you notice anything?"

"That whitening ingredients in toothpaste don't do a darned thing?"

"Your hair is growing."

"My hair? It is?" I take off my hat and run my fingers across my scalp and feel a certain fuzziness.

And the first thing I do when we get home, is go look in a mirror.

And discover Linda was wrong. I do have a vanity gene after all.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Saving The World

While the children were playing and the meal was cooking, the adults sat around the fireplace in the livingroom, eating crackers and dip, drinking coffee and saving the world.

"How did John Edwards think he could get away with it," my sister-in-law was saying. "I mean this was a man who was running for President of the United States, surrounded by security guards 24 hours a day and in the midst of a firestorm of media attention?"

"These men all have a sense of entitlement, don't they. And a huge ego that says they can do whatever they want." My other sister-in-law observed.

"And what about poor Sandra Bullock. She was completely blindsided by her husband's infidelity. Completely blindsided. And at the moment of her greatest triumph. And after she said such nice things about him at the Academy Awards"

"She married a motorcylist, named after one of the worlds most notorious outlaws, he's covered in tattoos and was formerly married to a porn star. How could she ever have seen the possibility of infidelity?" I ask. Innocently.

"Well, it's okay. He's sorry and he's in rehab." my brother suggests.

My sister-in-law is outraged, "Yes! Yes!" she exclaims, "Whats going on with all these cheating men going to rehab!"

"What I don't understand," Linda leans forward, "Is how Tiger Woods comes to be the top news story of the day. They devote the first five minutes of the News broadcast to Tiger Woods cheating on his wife. Since when is that more important than the earthquake in Haiti, the flooding in the American North East, Ontario canceling its plans for the new transportation system in Toronto..."

"And speaking of the Toronto Transportation Commission, what do you think of Adam Giambrone."

"The good looking councillor responsible for the TTC, who announced he was running for Mayor one day and then had an undergraduate student tell the press all about her sexual escapades with him on his office couch at City Hall, the next day? That Adam Giambrone?"

"Well I guess it just proves men are the same everywhere not just in the United States."

Our wives look across the room at their husbands suspiciously.

My brother puts his coffee cup down. "So Barry," he says, "When did you first notice you had a sore back...."

And, unfortunately, once again, the World's problems had to wait for another family gathering before being resolved.


Photo Credit John Fraser

Monday, April 5, 2010

My Mistake

In my defense, it was easily done.

And I was in pain, which can be distracting.

As a special treat for my Birthday, my daughter Heather had arranged for us to have the use of the Ashlar House. It was a beautiful country estate that a friend of hers lends out for events and retreats and movie shoots.

It is located in the small (very small) Town of Erin, which, as it turns out, I had never been to before. Which, as it turns out, no one in our family (except for Heather) had ever been to before.

Which, as it turns out, was going to be a problem.

I had an inkling of the problem to come when Linda asked, around the half way point into our journey, "Barry, where did you put the map?"

"The map?"

"The map you googled? With the directions? The map you printed off last night?"

"Did I tell you I have a pain in my back today? That I pulled a muscle or something?"

"You forgot the map, didn't you?"

"It was easily done," I explained.

However, we are intelligent, resourceful people, confident in our ability to remember directions.

"Well, it's alright," said Linda. "I'm pretty sure I remember how to get there."

"Take exit 320, go north through Acton and keep on until morning."

"Exactly," said Linda. "Its easy."

An hour later I realized we were lost. I realized that when house number 5405 turned out to be an empty field instead of a luxurious country estate.

"I don't think this is it," I said to Linda.

"Well, it looked different from this in the photos," Linda agreed. "In the photos there was an actual house on the grounds."

Fortunately for us, I am not the type of male who insists in driving around until he stumbles on his location. I am the type of man to will use any and every resource available to get to where he is going as expeditiously as possible.

So I stopped and asked a kindly lady who was walking down the country road ahead of us.

"Ashlar House," she said. "Can't say's I've ever heard tell of it. Ain't you got a map? Ain't you ever heard of google?"

We left the old bat muttering her quaint and rustic nonsense, and drove on a few more kilometers until Linda suggested we call my brother for help. I pulled over and called him on his cell phone. They were still on the way but his wife Rita had printed off several maps and it turned out we were on Country Line 2 when we were supposed to be on Line 9.

This made a considerable difference.

"See," said Linda, as wives will. "Rita remembered to bring her maps."

"She doesn't have a sore back." I pointed out. As if that explained anything.

And so we made it to my birthday party (as if they could have started without me). Ashlar proved to be as beautiful as its website. The grandchildren were thrilled to find there was a little room under the stairs which they immediately named the Harry Potter room, and which kept them amused for hours.

My sister in law, Lynda, fell in love with the House and was last seen planning how she would decorate it for Christmas.

And I still have a bad back but it is getting better, thank you.

And I hope you all had a wonderful Easter?


Photo credit John Fraser.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Happy Birthday To Me

I haven't celebrated Birthdays much in recent years. You get to an age when only the milestone birthdays are worth celebrating.

Sixty-seven isn't one of those numbers that screams "Milestone!". Although, given the year I've just had, in an important way it is.

Or, at least my family thinks so. A friend of my daughter's owns an estate in Erin Ontario that she rents out for special occasions. But being a friend, she's letting us have it for the day: Ashlar House

So my family are gathering there to celebrate the passing of the last year and the fact that I have another year to look forward to.

Hopefully a year with less drama attached to it.

So I won't have time to post a Sepia Saturday feature this week, which is a shame because this is the week we finally get to my grandfather, the black sheep in the family.

But I'll get to him next week.

Today I party. In Erin.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Farside Of The Moon

Beaux at the It Isn't Happening Blog was asking in the comments section yesterday when we would ever get to see the back of the Moon?

Well, how about today! That's the Moon mooning us in the photo above.

The first photos of the backside of the Moon were taken by the then Soviet Union in 1959. We don't see too many photos of the back of the Moon because it just isn't as photogenic as the side we normally see.

Ann at the My Thoughts Stories and Articles Blog was asking if we would be getting together with family over Easter? Well, not for Easter per se, but everyone is getting together tomorrow to celebrate my birthday.

I will be 67.

And very glad to have made it to that age.


For those interested in the My Home Town Friday Shoot Out, you can see Linda and my contribution for this week BY CLICKING HERE

Thursday, April 1, 2010

What Would You Ask A Space Scientist?

Sorry, no more Lindsay pictures. Today I can only bring you the moon!

Linda invited me to her school yesterday to meet a scientist from the Canadian Space Agency, the husband of one of the teachers, who had agreed to come in and talk with the grade six classes.

The children all sat on the floor of the school library while the astronomer sat beside a flip chart, which he used to diagram some of his responses. What he basically did was answer questions from 60 or so hyper-excited students, and one hyper-excited teacher's husband.

Can you grow plants on the moon? No its alternately too hot and too cold and the moon has no atmosphere and no soil, only rocks.

Can you land on Jupiter? No, Jupiter is a gas giant and, if you had some way to withstand its terrible gravitational forces, and you tried to land there you would just sail right on through and out the other side.

The questions were coming faster and faster. Nearly the entire 60 hands were raised.

Are there secrets on other planets? Science isn't about secrets, its about finding things out and then telling everyone what you found. Are there surprises still waiting for us to discover on other planets? You bet there are!

How fast is the Earth moving? Well, that depends on moving relative to what? Relative to its own axis, the Earth is rotating once a day. Relative to the sun, the Earth is moving in its orbit once a year. Relative to the Centre of its Galaxy, the Earth is located in a spiral arm that rotates about the Galactic core in Millions of light years.

Are there other Universes? That's a question for physicists or philosophers. Astronomers can only deal with the one Universe we see before us. Unlocking the secrets of one Universe is a big enough job.

The kids were literally bouncing with excitement and desperate to get their questions answered. The hour passed quickly with many questions left unanswered, including my own. (What did he think of Wallace Thornhill theory of electricity playing a greater role in the Universe than gravity? And, if I got two questions, what would he think was the most likely cause for the monolith on Phobos?)

If you were talking with a space scientist, what question would you ask?