Wednesday, February 25, 2015

On folks who laugh

"I don't trust anyone who doesn't laugh."
Maya Angelou
I realize I've missed this week's Thematic. Life's been busy. My bad. I'll get back on track later this week.

In the meantime, here's an inspirational thought to tide y'all over. She was a pretty awesome force, wasn't she?

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Two years on

Two years ago today, my wife lost her mom. It still feels surreal to see these black words on a white background, to refer to her in the past-tense, to imagine a trip back home and not have her there. But whatever loss ultimately feels like, we don't seem to have much choice in the matter. The universe is going to do what it's been doing pretty much forever, and we're just along for the ride.

I know there are days when she wishes she could simply pick up a phone and call her - if you haven't read Mitch Albom's The First Phone Call From Heaven, I highly recommend you do so - and the finality of it means that's just not going to happen. So we hold onto saved phone messages, letters, notes, emails and the like. And as comforting as they can be to keep close, to linger over, they're just not the same. Like virtual stand-ins for the real thing, they remind us of what we no longer have. That we can't simply go back in time and have that one call, one conversation, one hug.

I lost count of how many times people have told us that life goes on. Forgive my informality, but duh! Of course it does. We go back to work, go back to school, make breakfast, lunch and supper, go out with friends and return to some semblance of a day-to-day routine. We learn to live with the newfound sense of emptiness and figure out ways to make it through days like today when it's all around us and there's no way to avoid it. But there's no real recovery in the true sense of the word. Loss changes all of us, and that, too, is an inextricable part of the universe's plan.

Yet two years on, I hope you'll forgive my innate bias in sharing this: My wife has figured out how to move into that uncertain, frightening and admittedly colder next chapter. She's focused on us, making our home even more of a home. She's been there for me, not only saving my life outright, but helping me get back in the game and raise my play - as a husband, dad and journalist - to another level. She's been there for her dad - batch cooking for him from hundreds of kilometres away, calling him anytime to ward off the silence, making the trip back home to spend some quiet time together. Anyone else might have allowed unfathomable loss to break them. Instead, my wife got stronger in the process, and used her strength to make us all stronger, as well.

None of this gets us back to where we were. Much as I wish I could come up with the right words to put us back in the middle of a Friday night meal where we're all gathered around the same table, the simple fact is we can't reverse any of this.

But as I look around the smaller table on a Friday night, where the sights and smells inside still banish the coldness and harshness lurking just outside the window just as they did when my wife was a child, when we were dating, long before February 22, 2013, I'm reminded that we didn't lose everything on that terrible day two years ago. My mother-in-law not only taught my wife well. But my wife took those lessons and made them her own. She's taken the best of her mom and made them an integral part of our family's life - and we are closer and better because of her.

Legacies, apparently, outlive those who initiate them. And it's up to us to carry them forward. Thankfully, my wife has done just that.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

On doing, not saying

"What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say."
Ralph Waldo Emerson
The police cars in our town have the following graphic on their fenders: "Deeds not words." And every time I see one drive past, it makes me stop and think. Alongside Emerson's timeless quote, we're reminded of how important it is to set the tone with what we do.

As a writer, I can spin words six ways from Sunday, but my real impact on those around me starts and ends with what I do. Words can only go so far, apparently.

Your turn: So what are YOU doing - today and every day - to inspire others?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The tough climb to the top

London, ON
February 2015
For more Thematic wintry white, please click or tap here.
As families often do on weekends, we were running a bunch of errands to pick up the typically forgettable stuff that everyday suburbanites need. We had headed to the local mega-big-box development, a place I've come to despise as an example of all that is wrong with urban planning today. It's a place where pedestrian needs aren't just subservient to those of the almighty car, but they simply have no place on the agenda.

So as I was busy shepherding our kids between the highly-trafficked boulevard-scale roads with little to no real sidewalks - thank you, city planners - our eyes came across a delightfully large pile of snow. It's no secret that it's been a brutally cold and snowy winter, which means huge mountains that kids have pretty much always dreamed about. I remember clambering up them when I was a munchkin, and apparently our son's DNA is rather similar to mine, as all he did was look at me with an impish grin on his face. I knew exactly what he wanted.

So I shrugged, smiled back, and followed him as he giddily charged up the hill. On balance, I'm guessing this little episode will probably get me kicked out of the running for Dad of the Year. But in my defense, the hill was set well back from traffic, so it's not like I was encouraging him to take an unnecessary risk.

We remembered the moment when we got to the top with the kind of picture you don't normally get to take when you're in the middle of a parking lot. We took in the view for a few minutes before carefully climbing back down.

We debated whether we should tell anyone, but ultimately decided it was a story worth sharing. Because my kids didn't arrive in this world in the middle of a tightly wrapped roll of bubble-pack, and I'm guessing they wouldn't want to experience life from inside a stiflingly protective cocoon.

Otherwise, where would they learn how to climb that next mountain?

Monday, February 16, 2015

Thematic Photographic 326 - White for winter

The journey begins - or ends
London, ON
January 2015
It isn't news to anyone who lives in North America that it's been a fairly difficult winter so far. One blizzard after another has turned the landscape white, and bone-chilling cold has made life uncomfortable for extended periods of time.

Needless to say, it's prompted more than a small amount of, ah, discussion online as folks try to make it through the season. From where I sit, we may as well batten down the hatches and do our best to keep everything on an even keel. We can't change the weather, so expending energy on complaining about it seems like a bit of a waste.

Hence this week's theme, white for winter. There's lots of white out there, and it poses its own set of unique challenges to the photographer. So for the next week, if it's white - for any reason - then I hope we'll shoot and share it.

Your turn: Take a white-themed picture and share it on your blog or website. Or feel free to find one you've already posted. Leave a comment here letting everyone know where to find it, and visit other participants - because sharing is always more fun. Want to share more than once through the week? We encourage that sort of thing! If you'd like more background on how Thematic works, head here. Otherwise, happy shooting. And thanks...this one should be fun!

On writing for your most important audience

"Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self."
Cyril Connolly
Your turn: So who are you going to write for? And what are you going to write?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Canadian flag turns 50

‎Fifty years ago today, Canada's now-iconic red and white maple leaf flag flew for the first time.

I'm sure it's painfully obvious to anyone who knows me, but I love being Canadian, and I feel warm and fuzzy every time I see our flag flapping in the breeze.

No wonder John Hughes picked the flag's 20th anniversary to release The Breakfast Club.

I'm guessing Molly Ringwald was pleased that the two anniversaries aligned so nicely.

What's YOUR favorite flag? And why?

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Fish are friends, not food

‎I couldn't resist sharing this, largely because it's weird, and it reflects my decidedly weird view of the world.

I'm not sure what the fish counter staff think of me when I show up and snap their wares through the glass, but it's become a bit of a game to grab some pixels before they catch on what I'm up to. Someday, I fully intend to tell them I've been looking for Nemo for years, and I finally found him right here in their display case.

I'll let you know how that works out for me.

Grocery shopping can be boring. This makes it decidedly less so. How do you make otherwise everyday errands a little more joyous?

Friday, February 13, 2015

When the world was green

Seeing the forest for the trees
London, ON
October 2014
Photo by Dahlia Levy
We woke up this morning to temperatures of minus a bazillion degrees and wind chills somewhat colder than that. The car is buried under enough snow that I can't make out its shape, and I'm hoping it'll even start when I head outside in a bit. I just finished a radio interview on winter apps that can make the white stuff a little easier to bear.

Of course the interwebs are alive with complaints about the weather, as if whining about it will change anything. For the record, folks, it won't. So may as well add a few layers, suck it up and enjoy a good old Canadian winter. It's who we are, after all.

I thought a flashback to warmer days - with a bit of natural green thrown in for good measure - might help ease the pain for anyone still pining for spring. Our daughter captured this lovely scene on a walkabout in October. I'm guessing we'd have a much more difficult time walking into the valley today, but it's only a matter of time before this part of the planet warms up again.

There are always better days ahead. It's up to us to hold onto them as tightly as we can.

Your turn: What's the weather like near you? How are you dealing with it?

Thursday, February 12, 2015

On embracing the nonsensical

‎"I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living."
Dr. Seuss

Going nowhere fast

London, ON
January 2015
For more rubbery Thematic, click here

This is Henrietta, and as you can see here, she was feeling a little sad thanks to a shredded tire. She was also in desperate need of a wash, but that's a story for another day.

My little tire adventure - it ultimately needed to be replaced, because apparently driving on flattened rubber isn't recommended - gave me a lesson in perspective. As annoying as it was to have to call the auto club, then pay for a new tire, then spend a chunk of my weekend getting everything taken care of, I realize it could have been a lot worse.

If a flat tire in my driveway is as bad as it gets, then I really have nothing to complain about. Others have much more substantial issues to worry about. And fixing what ails them is a lot tougher than simply calling the auto club and ordering a new tire.

I'll keep that in mind the next time I feel like whining about the little annoyances of modern life that drop themselves onto our calendars with troubling regularity. It could always be much worse.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Winding down the day that was

As I wait for midnight to strike, I find myself sitting up in bed with my dog at my feet, and a laptop with a blank screen and a blinking cursor staring back at me.

Typical writer's scene, come to think of it.

It's been an insanely busy couple of days in my world thanks to this morning's interview in Toronto with CTV's Canada AM. It was an epic experience that was at once humbling and inspiring.

I got to tell my story, and I got to do it in a way that, based on the firestorm of discussion in social media that's been playing out ever since, clearly touched a lot of people who've experienced similarly life-altering health challenges.

There is so much more to share from a day that seemed to offer up a firehose of new experiences and moments. And as much as I want to share everything about an eventful day in a life that seems to offer up more than its fair share of eventful days (yes, I know I'm incredibly lucky), I'm forced to decide between writing it up and catching up on the sleep that I really, really need.

If having a stroke taught me anything - and let's be clear, I know it did - it's that I need to do a better job with this balancing thing. I lost a little sleep last night, but the ensuing day, filled with people who I love to work with and experiences that make me glad I'm still here, made it all worth it. But for now, I'll have to tuck in and leave the writing for another time. Time to refill the tank a bit.

Because tomorrow promises to be another busy, vibrant, fulfilling day. And I want to be rested up when I tell the next chapter of my story.

More to come...

Monday, February 09, 2015

Thematic Photographic 325 - Rubbery

Pink or purple?
London, ON
January 2015

After a quick peek through my recent photo archives, I realized I've been shooting pictures of rubbery things with alarming frequency. I didn't set out to do so, but perhaps the realities of a Canadian winter have become an unintentional influence on my photographic preferences.

So for the next week, we're looking at rubber, and I thought we'd start with this delightfully bright display of new boots at the local - you guessed it - grocery store. Pink or purple boots may never find their way onto my hideous feet, but that doesn't mean I can't appreciate the display for what it is. Or smile as I walk past.

Your turn: Take a pic that suggests or evokes this week's theme, rubbery, and post it to your blog or website. Alternatively, find a pic you've already taken and/or posted. Leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Visit other participants to spread the photographic joy. And pop back again through the week to add additional pics as they occur to you. Head here for more background on how Thematic works. And please accept my thanks for making this little weekly photo-exploration exercise of ours such a joy.


‎Does this make you feel as squeamish as I suspect it does?

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Pancakes for breakfast


I wanted to continue this week's edible theme (see here to share yours) with a quick peek at what we had for breakfast. I'm lucky for a whole lot of reasons, one of which happens to be having a wife who is as gifted a cook as she is a mom, a teacher, a friend...

So when she suggested pancakes for breakfast today, there was no way I was going to refuse. I wish we had the luxury of time every day to linger in the kitchen as we did today. But since we don't - life gets in the way most weekdays - we'll just have to hold onto memories of mornings like this until we can gather around the big table again.

Because there's always another batch of goodness and warmth waiting just around the corner at our house. And good friends are always welcome.

Your turn: Why does a homemade breakfast like pancakes - or waffles, or whatever warms your heart and soul - resonate so strongly? What does breakfast mean to you?

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Coming up on Canada AM...

Tuesday is shaping up to be a pretty momentous day in my little world: I'll be in Toronto for an appearance on CTV's national morning program, Canada AM (press release here.)

Normally, I'm the show's tech analyst, and I usually contribute nerdy insights on what Apple, Google and others are up to, and why it matters to folks like us. It's a role I relish.

Tuesday's segment, which goes live at 7:45 a.m. Eastern, will be a little different: Here in Canada, it's Heart Month. And in the wake of my stroke a little while back - head here for more background - I wanted to share some details of my experience in the hope that it'll raise awareness and hopefully help others.

Why I felt the need...

After I got home from the hospital, I was thankful to be inundated with well-wishes from more people than I can count. But there was a bit of a dark side, too. I heard so many stories from people who had either had strokes themselves, or knew someone who had. And one experience kept coming up: Folks who should have gotten help, but didn't, because strokes happened to other people, because everyone gets headaches, because they didn't want to worry anyone or waste anyone's time, because they couldn't be bothered, because they'd just shake it off and go back to life.

A typical example: A friend of mine said her husband downplayed his symptoms for days, ignoring her pleas to get checked out in a hospital. Five days later, he finally relented, but by then it was too late. He suffered permanent disabilities because he was not treated in a timely manner.

I eventually lost count of how many people shared experiences like this with me. People dying or living compromised lives because "it couldn't happen to them." Well, it can and it does. And their experiences frightened me beyond words.

The clock is ticking

I'm no medical professional, and I don't even play one on TV. But I've learned quite a bit about strokes since this happened to me. And when it comes to strokes, timing is everything. From the initial onset of symptoms, you essentially have a four-ish-hour window to seek treatment. Hit that window and your chances of full recovery are relatively good. Miss that window, however, and your chances of nasty long-term impact - or worse, death - skyrockets. Brain cells are precious, and the numbers don't lie.

So I figured this close brush gave me the opportunity to raise awareness among those who would never see themselves as stroke victims. If my experience - a relatively young, relatively in-shape guy - could be an educational slap in the face for other potential victims, then using my own experience as a teachable moment would be well worth it. If it touches one person, after all...

I'm hardly alone

If it happened to me, then it can happen to anyone. And awareness of the symptoms, and what you must do next, might not only save your life, but can also ensure the life that you have afterward remains viable and balanced. My wife recognized what was going on, and did everything she needed to do to get me to the hospital and keep me within that magical window (I know, there are no words to ever adequately thank her.) If our story becomes a template for others to follow, then this entire experience will have been worth it.

Canada AM's medical expert, Dr. Marla Shapiro, will be on-air to share her insight, and I can't wait to share this story with her and with Canada AM's viewers across the country.

Yes, I'm nervous, and yes, I feel more than a little out of my element. But I've never felt more convinced that this is what I need to do. Not a moment goes by when I don't feel incredibly lucky to have been given the chance to continue with my beyond-charmed life, to continue working at this level, to continue pinching myself that I still have all that I have. On Tuesday, I hope you'll come along for this next chapter in a journey my family and I never imagined taking. If I seem thankful for the opportunity, that's because I truly am.

Your turn: Thoughts?

Friday, February 06, 2015

Is it any wonder?

‎I'm not sure if humanity will ever decide if Wonder-brand bread qualifies as real food. It has become the poster child for the processed food era, and a symbol of all that is apparently wrong with the modern food chain.

In our house, we do our best to minimize our consumption, but kids being kids, it remains an inevitable ingredient for their lunch sandwiches, grilled cheeses and the like. This parenting thing is a tough balancing act, and I'm pretty sure the occasional slice isn't going to kill them as long as we compensate in other parts of their diet.

At least that's how I convince myself I haven't just plopped some glowing radioactive mass into my grocery cart.

What say you on Wonder bread?

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Peanut, of course

Good things come in sixes
London, ON
September 2014
Thematic. Edible. Here.
I've never hidden my unhealthy obsession with the humble peanut M&M. I'm not entirely sure why these things capture my attention as they do, because every time I eat them in any quantity greater than six, I get nauseous.

But from a photographic perspective, they're kinda fun to play with. So when one of those tiny snack packets made it into my lunch one day, I felt the need to capture them in pixels before they, ah, disappeared for good.

I'll go back to my usual bananas and grapes after I hit the Publish button. Promise.

Your turn: Are you addicted to or otherwise obsessed with certain foods? Do tell...

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

On making the most of now

"Realize deeply that the present moment is all you ever have."
Eckhart Tolle
And I hope you make the best use of it. If you want to share your plans, I'd love it if you'd leave a comment.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Thematic Photographic 324 - Edible

It came from the earth
London, ON
January 2015
I've been shooting all sorts of weird things in my kitchen and at the grocery store of late. Yes, I've been enjoying myself. No, I haven't gotten myself kicked out of the store. Yet. And yes, I'm pretty certain my children are [this close] to disowning me.

Despite the obvious risks to my personal security - have you seen the muscles on those in-store security people? - when jumbles of earthy goodness present themselves as they have here, I can't resist the urge to yank out the camera and have a little impromptu fun. They sort of look like just-born gerbils, don't they?

Your turn: This week's Thematic theme, edible, celebrates everything we eat, in any form. If you can eat it, shoot it, post it to your blog or website, then leave a comment here letting everyone know where to find it. If you've already posted it online, share it, too: new or old, it's all good. Through the week, visit other participants to keep the fun going, and feel free to share additional pictures anytime the mood strikes. Here's more background on how Thematic works. Enjoy!