Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Mission Creep

Wikipedia: Mission creep is the expansion of a project or mission beyond its original goals, often after initial successes. The term often implies a certain disapproval of newly adopted goals by the user of the term. Mission creep is usually considered undesirable due to the dangerous path of each success breeding more ambitious attempts, only stopping when a final, often catastrophic, failure occurs. The term was originally applied exclusively to military operations, but has recently been applied to many different fields

My son is home for the holidays. Jeffrey returned from Kingston's RMC (Royal Military College) for the three weeks which surround the holiday season. As you could imagine, his life is very active as he balances his duties as an emerging Officer with those of his academic education. When he's home, and the initial hugs, kisses and home-cooked meal have been masterfully executed, his game plan becomes that of keeping his mind and hands busy during three weeks leave at the home front. Last summer he removed and replanted my back yard, transforming it from the Garden of Weedin' to Splendor in the Grass.

I've mentioned before how Jeffrey is a sharp observer. This year his eyes turned to my bathroom sink. A couple of years ago, something sharp and heavy fell into the sink, causing a small nick in the porcelain finish. At first only a minor amount of rust formed but over the months, and now years, the full front portion of the basin, from the overflow hole right down to the drain has rusted, and smells poorly, inevitably evoking a gag reflex while brushing ones teeth.

Jeffrey, in his quest to keep busy during his time off, decided to change the sink in my bathroom. It sounded like a fine, and much appreciated plan. We live in a very small, decor-challenged townhouse, and the only sink that would fit the pre-existing cabinet was a nineteen inch, circular basin. The other fixtures in the room are bone/almond/beige - whatever the latest term is for not quite white. We went to the store, and found that those sinks only existed in white now. I was willing to sacrifice colour but, Jeffrey was anxious to do more than a one hour project. He hinted at my going to Frank's for a couple of days before starting his project so that I wouldn't be looming over him, wincing occasionally, or asking too many questions. I agreed, but before leaving we took a look around at what products might replace my current sink and cabinet.

There were all-in-ones which looked fine, but were too wide for the small 22" space that needed to be filled. To complicate matters, the heating vent sits on the floor, right on the edge of that 22" space making it impossible for a larger cabinet to overlap. We began to consider pedestal sinks and a different means for storage such as an over-the-toilet cabinet. Jeffrey knew the logistics, and so I left it in his capable hands and went to visit Frank for a few days.

When you remove a long-standing structure from the corner of the room, you quickly realize that neither the walls behind it, nor the floor beneath it will match the rest of the room. We discussed the placement of similar but contrasting tiles under the skin area and maybe building it up with a trim so that it looked like it was meant to be. Jeffrey purchased materials to wainscot that small corner of the room, and he selected what he thought would be a nice pedestal and basin. He set to work.

Tiling the exposed area of the floor was not working out, so Jeffrey pulled up the tiles from the rest of the room, revealing very old linoleum below. That too, had to come out since it was being ripped at in bits and pieces with the removal of the tiles. Beneath the linoleum was a floor board. It was in bad shape, having all but rotted through, close to the tub and toilet. Jeffrey ripped up the old, and purchased, cut and hammered down news floor boards. He then re-tiled the room with a pattern and colour similar to what I'd had before. He was in the middle of this process when I arrived home from my three days at Frank's place.

The following day, Jeffrey planned to focus on the wainscotting but I eyed the boxes in the front hall and we decided to open the one which contained the basin to see how it would look. Crap! The pedestal, being narrow in nature would have surely fit the 22" space with ease, but the top portion was a monster, and we could scarcely squeeze past it while entering the door. At that time, it also occurred to me that the pipes on the 19" wall were hardly centered, and actually sat at about 1/3 of the way from the left edge of the wall. A pedestal sink was not going to work. Back to the drawing board.

We returned to the store, where they graciously took all unneeded items back for a refund (except for the wainscotting which were opened at some point), and we focused on trying to make that 24" all-in-one cabinet and basin work in a 22" space. We found a heating vent that only required an inch and a quarter to lift up and out, and we found flexible piping so that the water and drain pipes would allow the cabinet to yield to a two inch lift off of the floor. The cost of the unit was 25% less than when we first laid eyes on it, so we took that as a cue that this was the right piece, regardless of the fact that it was now non-refundable.

It was reasonably easy to set up. Jeffrey read the instructions and I followed his directions of "hold this," "don't move it" and "can you lift and pull?". We put it into the small space provided before attaching the front panel and saw that the overlap was exactly as expected and really not bad. BUT then came the all-in-one basin and counter top which they did NOT include in the dimensions on the box. This lovely piece was exactly two inches wider than the cabinet, forcing it to sit two inches forward and to the left from each of the cornered walls. From above, that looked just fine, but the 24 inch space for which I had compromised mild aesthetic displeasure had now become a 26 inch tank sitting in the corner of the room. I had a moment of panic when the door would not shut past it, but realized that if I pushed it all the way back into the wall as far as it could go, I had a generous 1/16th of an inch leeway.

It's overpowering and large, and is going to take a lot of getting used to. But I have a functioning sink, with plenty of storage below. I have a son who has acquired a few new skills, to which I was mostly-willing to be his guinea pig. Most importantly, I have a son with a kind, generous nature. He is a gift all year round. And he's a hands-on exhibitor. Who else do you know who is so dedicated, to be willing to orchestrate a live demonstration of the term "mission creep?"

Wishing You All A Healthy and Happy New Year!

Below are a few photos taken during the holiday season. Please remember to click each one to enlarge.

Late one afternoon, just before Christmas, I accompanied Frank to get his tree. The golden sun was setting as he secured it to his car. (please click to enlarge)

All wrapped up and ready to go. (please click to enlarge)

On the way back to his place, the sunset provided a colourful backdrop, against the silhouette of the stop sign reflected in the side mirror. (please click to enlarge)

During a walk along the path, Benny keeps hopping at one of his favourite activities - jumping for a stick. (please click to enlarge)

And catching it. (please click to enlarge)

Fluffy snowflakes dust a freshly-frozen portion of the creek, creating a speckled pattern. (please click to enlarge)

Up close, you can see how they have formed into clusters. (please click to enlarge)

Back home, a walk around the lake with Benny. He paused briefly to allow me to take this shot of a mourning dove, perched nicely on a bench. (please click to enlarge)

I also wanted a serene photo of the ducks and geese which were calmly roosting on the ice, but Benny preferred an action shot. (please click to enlarge)

On Christmas morning, the fresh falling snow beckoned me to take a walk. Branches were heavy. (please click to enlarge)

The sky was mostly overcast but I glanced toward this mini-stream and saw the golden reflection of the hazy sun. (please click to enlarge)

Looking up, I could see that the sun broke through the heavily-clouded sky just long enough to peek between the branches of this tree. (please click to enlarge)

Friday, December 26, 2008

Homes and Native Lands

As threatened promised, through this holiday season, I am reviving another previous post. Now that our days are growing longer once again, I thought we could revisit the summer of 2007 when the days were long, sunny and hot. I should have some new photos for your semi-soon. In the meantime, thanks for understanding the lull.

There's a lovely community park, complete with man-made lake, fishing dock, playground, picnic areas and mini water pad
just fifteen minutes along the footpaths of my neighbourhood. The area has evolved to reflect the changing population over the past twenty years.

When I first moved to this region, the park contained a small amphitheatre where local talent entertained audiences on summer nights and weekends. As its popularity diminished, the area was transformed into a children's splash pad to accommodate the increasing number of young families who reside here. Ours is a multicultural community, which is evidenced by the variety of bright,
kidlet faces encountered daily.

I've been walking and biking the paths of this park system for years. There are familiar faces that nod and greet me, and occasional characters who make a point of actually stopping to chat for a bit. Yesterday evening, my path crossed with another regular whom I hadn't yet seen this summer, so I joined him on the park bench to visit for a few moments. We discussed how the neighbourhood has grown, and he referred to the bustling park as having once been "this area's best kept secret." As we continued talking, it soon became apparent that he was displeased with the growth.

"There are so many new people in the area now." he said while nodding toward a dark-skinned jogger "The whole face of the city has changed."

I knew where he was heading and I hoped to redirect the conversation somewhat by saying that I thought change was usually a pretty good thing. He glanced at me and agreed that change can be positive as long as it wasn't forced upon us. His eyes locked with mine for a brief moment, and I vaguely detected a challenge. I regretted asking it as soon as the words left my mouth, but there was no retreating. "How so?"

He replied with "As long as they adapt, and do things the way we do them here, and not try to force their ways on us."

I should have let it go, but I had to persist. "Like what?"

"Well, you know. Like curry." He smiled and rolled his eyes at the same time.

Curry? This fellow expressed his concern for wayward cooking spices, while his cigarette smoke wafted over to me and settled in my hair. I smiled back at him, told him that I happened to like curry, and then abruptly changed the subject before continuing my walk.

I was born here, as were my parents, though none of my grandparents were native-born Canadians. As I see it, this made them immigrants, and they were probably subject to the criticism and complaints of locals who felt they had to endure the influx of the foreigners of their time. They came from Poland, Russia and England, and brought with them their beliefs, language, traditions and recipes. They adapted to Canadian customs while maintaining their own, and over time, we were enriched by how their cultures shaped ours. The fact that immigrants feel secure enough to practice their beliefs and celebrate their culture while embracing ours, is one of the many freedoms that should make us feel proud of Canada, not critical of it.

Sadly, there are people who see immigrant as synonymous with illegal, Muslim with terrorist, and visible minority with foreigner. Too often I hear feelings expressed that sadden me. In the wake of 911, we were constantly reminded to exercise tolerance. Although it was intended as open-minded and giving, I found the sentiment to be quite distressing. We don't want to go about our lives being tolerated. We all want to be respected, if not always because of our differences, at least in spite of them.

By virtue of a generation or three, today's immigrants are the same Canadians our ancestors were. In time, their children will be born into their citizenship as our parents were, and their grandchildren will have always felt they belong, just as we do. I hope that as they encounter the diverse, new faces and languages in the parks and city streets, it will enkindle both their sense of pride and belonging. As such, their lives and ours can only be enriched.

Throughout the summer, you can find animated groups assembled around these waterfront tables playing cards, chess, checkers and other games. These folks have gathered to play Mahjong.

This small dock is often packed with people and their fishing rods. It's a great spot for children to learn, newbies (like me) to practice and even experienced anglers to pass some time.

Around a distant bend, you can see just how many people had the same idea about wetting their lines that day.

On a scorching, hot day, the splash pad offers cool, wet fun for the kidlets.


Catch it if you can!

A mom manages to stay dry while she keeps a watchful eye on her child.

Despite the lack of sand, these little girls brought toys for digging, packing and floating.

This mischievous, little cutie found a way to use her sand pail to help her friend cool off.

Water, water everywhere...

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Time for Family

"In every conceivable manner, the family is link to our past, bridge to our future."
Alex Haley

This is reposted from last December, shortly after I met Frank's sons for the first time. The photos are from a snowy day in January - much like yesterday.

When it comes to having great families, I'm one of the lucky ones.

I have two healthy, intelligent and talented sons, both of whom are home for this holiday season. Their Dad and I separated several years ago, but remain good friends, and partners in parenting our boys. There isn't conflict or bitterness between us, so our respective extended families have always remained warm and welcoming to both of us for important events and occasions. Don is always invited along to my family's birthdays, pool parties and Hanukkah. And invitations to Thanksgiving, Christmas and his family birthdays have always been open for me. They're not just polite gestures either. Our families sincerely want the other to join in the festivities and remain a part of the circle.

Initially, we might have decided to stay friends because of the kids. Our boys were still in elementary school at the time, and if we couldn't give them a family that was intact, they were at least entitled to parents who were united in fulfilling what was in their best interest. It didn't take long for us to realize that it wasn't only for our sons' benefit, but also for our own, that we were able to hold onto the friendship and respect which weaves its way through our entire relationship. Whatever the glue, I value the connection we will continue to share when both of our kids are fully grown.

My own remaining family consists of my sister and her crew, two aunts and a collection of cousins and their own offspring and grandchildren. Between the first cousins on my Dad's side, our children range in age from mid-teens to mid-forties. Most of us, who have migrated from Montreal to parts of Ontario, get together a few times a year at one home or another. At our Hanukkah party this year, my cousin Frances marveled at how everyone who was not hindered by geographical distance, made a point of being there. At an age when most kids prefer to be doing almost anything else with their friends, ours all opted to be at a family party. That warms the heart.

Our babies have mostly grown up and have begun the process which tells us that we have been successful as parents. They have become independent. It's bittersweet, but it's right. No doubt they'll make mistakes that we can't prevent, and reach milestones of which we won't always be a part. Hearts will still be broken - our own along with theirs, but they're growing and learning, and doing exactly what they should be doing. Experiencing life.

It's often difficult for us to take that step back and accept that our influence was mostly in the past - that despite how much we want to say "Choose a safer career" or "You deserve better than him" or "Don't move so far from home", we simply have to trust that the lessons and morals we've instilled in them through their early years are enough to carry them through. Aside from wanting to keep them safe, healthy and happy, the best that we can hope for is that they continue to evolve and grow as individuals. And they will.

Family bridges extend themselves in many ways, through near and distant cousins, in-laws, dear friends, neighbours, online friends and those special individuals who have been given the honourary title of Aunt or Uncle.

Yesterday I received an email from Frank's younger son, whom I had just met for the first time a few days prior. He wanted to know what I thought of him and his brother. After expressing the warmth that I felt for the two of them, he replied with his own impressions of me. Among his many kind words he said "ur already family to me." That sentiment had to be among the best honours that has ever been bestowed upon me, and for many reasons, it means the world to me.

At this time of year when families get together, I hope you have a happy and safe holiday season, and I wish you the joy of being with the people you love. The people who call themselves Family.

Happy Kwanzachristmakah!

A glance down between the snow-covered branches allows a small peek at the lake below. (please click to enlarge)

Upon a hill, looking down at the partiely-frozen lake, you can see where the ice ends abruptly. (please click to enlarge)

There are two willows at opposite ends of the lake. This is the younger one and its willowy branches are still sporting fall colours. (please click to enlarge)

A male cardinal out-brightens a comparatively drab sparrow in front of, and to the left of him. (please click to enlarge)

A park bench waits for someone to clear off the snow and sit for a bit. It wasn't me. (please click to enlarge)

Frosty branches bear the weight of the fluffy snow. (please click to enlarge)

Down the path and headed for home. (please click to enlarge)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

As Time Permits

I'm not getting around to as many blogs as usual these days, and can't see that changing in the near future, but I hope to catch up with everyone as time permits.

It's a busy time for most of us, and I might be re-posting (not be be confused with re-gifting) a blog post or two over the next couple of weeks, so if the content is familiar to some of you, please bear with me. Very few of you have been reading from the start of my humble blog so hopefully, you won't find it too boring. And I might possibly still find the time, and some new fodder, in which case - never mind!

Until then, here are a few photos from a recent walk in the park.

Before heading out, the late afternoon sun was shining on my back yard fence, warming it despite the shadow of a nearby tree. The angles of the wood pieces created some interesting shadows of their own. (please click to enlarge)

A couple of hopeful ducks waddled out of the lake in hopes of some morsels of bread which would not be forthcoming. (please click to enlarge)

Later in the evening, as clouds rolled in, the setting sun painted the western sky with some lovely colours.
(please click to enlarge)

A walk down the snowy path is always a treat after dark especially when the moon helps to light the way. (please click to enlarge)

The moon was full that night, but my hand was not steady. Still, I like the effect of the orb through the shaky branches. (please click to enlarge)

Steadying the camera on the railing surrounding the dock, I was able to capture a semi-clear shot of the fence's shadow on the icy lake below. The wispy branches are from an old willow tree behind and above me. (please click to enlarge)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Old Friends

About five years ago, I was given two tickets to see a Simon and Garfunkel concert. I have loved their music since my pre-teen years, but for reasons I won't go into here, I seriously considered not attending. After a week or two of weighing my interest in seeing their performance against the minor, moral stand I could have taken, I decided to ask my cousin, and good friend Marcy to join me. We went out for dinner and then hit the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.

The two-hour show was fantastic. Paul Simon's voice hadn't wavered a bit over the decades and Art Garfunkel harmonized as beautifully as ever. The show started with a video which depicted the last fifty years in America - the period of time the duo had known each other. They made their entrance dressed pretty much as they did back in the sixties and seventies, and though they looked older (particularly Simon) and a bit chunkier (especially Garfunkel), they were clearly every bit the same duo I had always known and loved. They opened with Old Friends, and it sounded wonderful.

They lacked the ease of communication with their audience, though. Garfunkel was a tad more outgoing, smiling from time to time. Any jokes they attempted, felt staged and rigid. They did poke fun at themselves a bit, and their tendency to argue. Simon seemed uncomfortable with their dialogue but their awkwardness melted away when they sang. They continued with Hazy Shade of Winter, I Am a Rock, At the Zoo, and others.

They reminisced about their first performance together at age fourteen, when they were known as Tom and Jerry. They indicated that they had been heavily influenced by the Everly Brothers, who promptly entered the stage and performed four songs of their own. Simon and Garfunkel joined them for their final song - Bye Bye Love.

The Everly Brothers exited, and our star duo sang beautiful renditions of Scarborough Fair and Homeward Bound. The latter was altered dramatically, and used to showcase the other musicians' talents. They rattled off many other hits - among them The Sound of Silence, Slip Sliding Away, El Condor Pasa, Keep the Customer Satisfied, American Tune, My Little Town and ended the set with Bridge Over Troubled Water - performed better than I'd ever heard it before or since. Art was in particularly fine form for that one.


After a short wait, they returned on stage with Cecilia and The Boxer. One more exit. One final return to stage for a performance of Leaves That Are Green and The 59th Street Bridge Song.

All was groovy.

Below are a few recent photos which illustrate some of the above-mentioned song lyrics. A description follows the musical snippets. Please remember to click each photo to enlarge.

Can you imagine us years from today,
Sharing a park bench quietly? ~ Old Friends - Paul Simon
After dark, with just a dusting of snow, this park bench still looked inviting. (please click to enlarge)

But look around, leaves are brown now
And the sky is a hazy shade of winter ~ Hazy Shade of Winter - Paul Simon
After a cold week, the pond froze over almost completely, and the tree branches are all but bare. (please click to enlarge)

I am a rock, I am an island. ~ I Am A Rock - Paul Simon
Some flotsam caught up on a rock in the center of the creek's swift current. (please click to enlarge)

Something tells me its all happening at the zoo. The monkeys stand for honesty, Giraffes are insincere. ~ At The Zoo - Paul Simon
This fallen branch caught my eye as we were walking past. I thought it looked like a giraffe having a nap on a bed of leaves. (please click to enlarge)

I'm through with romance. I'm through with love. I'm through with counting the stars above ~ Bye Bye Love - Felice & Boudleaux Bryant
A fiery sunset scorches the sky behind the tree tops. (please click to enlarge)

Tell her to make me a cambric shirt (On the side of a hill in the deep forest green) Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme ~ Scarborough Fair - Paul Simon
Here's a photo that didn't turn out too well, so I played around with it in Photoshop and came up with this painting-like effect. (please click to enlarge)

And every strangers face I see reminds me that I long to be homeward bound ~ Homeward Bound - Paul Simon
Despite the cold days and below-freezing nights, we saw this heron at three different points along the creek. He was skittish, and wouldn't allow us to get too close. This was the last time I saw him, as he took off to hunt unknown shores. (please click to enlarge)

When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light that split the night And touched the sound of silence. ~ The Sound of Silence - Paul Simon
While we were driving back to Frank's late one afternoon, we saw this unusual sight in the sky. Though the setting sun was clearly shining brightly, we could see a sort of stunted rainbow just off to its left. I've only ever seen arc rainbows appear opposite the sun - never beside it before. (please click to enlarge)

And I know a man. He came from my hometown. He wore his passion for his woman like a thorny crown ~ Slip Sliding Away - Paul Simon
A cluster of burrs make a striking silhouette against the darkening sky. (please click to enlarge)

I'd rather be a forest than a street. Yes I would. If I could, I surely would. ~ El Condor Pasa - Paul Simon/Jorge Milchberg
Looking back toward Frank's place as we exit the cedar grove on our evening walk. (please click to enlarge)

Gee but its great to be back home. Home is where I want to be. ~ Keep the Customer Satisfied - Paul Simon
One of many cheerful Cardinals which seem to congregate in large numbers now that winter has returned. I'm glad that they consider my home to be theirs too. (please click to enlarge)

I don't know a soul who's not been battered. I don't have a friend who feels at ease. I don't know a dream that's not been shattered. Or driven to its knees Oh, but its alright, its alright. For we lived so well so long ~ American Tune - Paul Simon
A lone, suriviving Queen Anne's Lace silhouetted against the setting sun. (please click to enlarge)

And after it rains theres a rainbow And all of the colors are black Its not that the colors arent there Its just imagination they lack ~ My Little Town - Paul Simon
Here's a closer view of that unusual rainbow, peeking from behind the trees - taken through the open window of a moving vehicle. (please click to enlarge)

I'm on your side. when times get rough And friends just can't be found, Like a bridge over troubled water I will lay me down. ~ Bridge Over Troubled Water - Paul Simon
This photo was taken last year but I couldn't resist how well it suited this song. (please click to enlarge)

After changes upon changes we are more or less the same. After changes we are more or less the same ~ The Boxer - Paul Simon
Just another dead flower taken against the dusky sky. (please click to enlarge)

I threw a pebble in a brook. And watched the ripples run away. And they never made a sound. And the leaves that are green turned to brown. ~ Leaves That Are Green - Paul Simon
Almost dark, the creek looks beautiful with the deep nighttime colours which surround it. (please click to enlarge)

Let the morning time drop all its petals on me.
Life, I love you, all is groovy! ~ The 59th Street Bridge Song - Paul Simon

A view of the creek through the trees, early one morning. (please click to enlarge)