Category Archives: Family+Friends

The Boy

The boy is 9 and a half. How did that happen? A few months ago he was just a toddler, and now he’s almost in double digits. I’m suspecting some kind of weird time dilation effect.

He is a strange boy in many ways.

He loves to read and draw comic strips; his favourites are Get Fuzzy, Bloom County and Dilbert. He also reads The Oatmeal  and XKCD when he thinks we aren’t looking. His own creations include Jake The Runner, a character he imagines running beside the car whenever we are on car journeys.

He’s a Communist with Marxist tendencies who believes in equal rights for everyone, including kids. Especially kids. He’s scared of the KKK and spent some time researching them on Wikipedia. He sent some of his allowance money to a trans-gender kid who didn’t have enough money to change their name. He worries that a lady in one of our neighbouring houses works too hard because he always sees her gardening.

He knows HTML, CSS, and JavaScript and has written many web-pages and games on Khan Academy including pages on non-discrimination and how Canada invented maple syrup. He also wanted his own website so he now has one on my sooper-sekret server. Of course he also loves video games, including MineCraft, Terraria, Crossy Road, My Singing Monsters and Geometry Dash.

He’s only just learned to ride a bike, but he basically just got straight on and started riding. When he’s not on his bike he’s on his scooter. He hasn’t learned to swim yet but he loves the pool, water parks and splash pads. Hates the shower though. Really really hates the shower.

He watches too much tv, but he’s only allowed to watch French tv during the week which keeps him bilingual and assuages our guilt a little. He loves Doctor Who, tolerates Northern Exposure because he knows I love it, and also enjoys Atlantis, The Simpsons, The Amazing World of Gumball, Adventure Time, and various weird old British stuff I’ve introduced him to.

Overall he’s a fantastic kid. Quirky and geeky but also warm, caring and thoughtful. So far he hasn’t turned into an asshole so I guess we must be doing something right.

Canadian Thanksgiving

Last weekend was Canadian Thanksgiving, so it was time to head for the country. We picked up Granny (she’s 96 you know) on Sunday morning and drove up to the Laurentians with Aidan chattering away the whole time. It was a perfect Autumn day: clear blue skies, crisp clean air, not too cold, not too hot and the trees were showing off their Fall colours in style.

When we arrived Aidan went off to pick arugula with his Grandma (Bama) before we sat down to a nice lunch of cheese and crackers and salad. After that it was time for Aidan to go inspect the chickens, the rabbits, the “Big Bird”, the pond, the tiny pumpkin, Ricky’s homemade smoker where the turkey was smoking away, the new shed, and the garden hose. Thankfully I managed to avoid the wild sprayings of the hose.

The rest of the afternoon was spent playing scrabble with Granny and Bama while Aidan climbed in and out of the toybox. Then it was time for the big event, Thanksgiving Dinner. We had smoked turkey, roasted potatoes, roasted sweet potatoes, some mashed turnip, sausage stuffing and turkey gravy, all washed down with some fine wine and a little bit of ‘shine. That delicious main course was followed up with the obligatory and equally delicious pumpkin pie.

I collapsed on the sofa for the remainder of the evening, clutching my engorged belly and enjoying the roaring fire before giving in and going to bed early (I’d stayed up late the night before to watch the Japanese Grand Prix). The next morning Aidan helped Ricky make pancakes which we devoured with maple syrup, bacon and tea before heading back into the Little Smoke (well Toronto is the Big Smoke).

Le Fete Des Enfants

Montreal, the city of festivals, puts on a festival for the kids every year at Parc Jean Drapeau. This year we decided to take Aidan.

My first piece of advice for people thinking about going (next year, it’s over for this year) is to arrive early, and leave early. We arrived around 10am and it was fairly quiet, but when we left at 1:30 there were hoards of people in the park with many more arriving.

My second piece of advice, if you have a small child, is to take a stroller; I’m glad we did. The festival is huge, covering most of the park, so there is much walking involved. We started in the area for toddlers, where Aidan took a foot-powered car for a drive around a “mail route” to deliver a piece of “mail” in the appropriate “mailbox”. Being the mailman has been a favourite game of his for a while so he liked that a lot.

Then we found a place where teenage girls were constructing elaborate buildings from cardboard boxes which were then being randomly painted by small children. Aidan, in oversized paint shirt, spent a creative 20 minutes painting a box in red, blue and orange.

After washing the paint off Aidan’s face we headed over to the “Petit Ferme” where we met hungry goats, a sleeping cow, dozing sheep, chickens, bunnies and a slightly pissed off llama. We also sat in a big blue tractor for a few precious seconds before it was the next kid’s turn.

On the way to find lunch we had to stop at the “Ile de sand” so Aidan could dig for a while, even though the organisers had inexplicably failed to provide digging implements. It was the biggest, and probably cleanest sandbox he’d ever been in though.

We were intrigued about lunch because the guide told us it was international fare, including food from Brazil, Mexico, Europe, Africa, Quebec and Haiti. A lot of the food turned out to be variations on hot-dogs, like the “afrodog” and the “eurodog”, although the Haiti tent did have grilled pork and chicken, and the Mexico tent was selling Mangos made to look like flowers. We had eurodogs, washed down with iced tea and followed up with an ice cream.

We had one more stop to make before we took the now slightly cranky boy home. We’d promised him a fire engine, so we went looking for the fire engine, which happened to be right on the other side of the park. Eventually we found it, and Aidan sat in the back seat and both front seats, and got to try on a fireman’s helmet before the fireman noticed and took it away.

After I dented that we were going to the festival, he warned me to watch out for pedophiles, but I was actually very impressed with the number of police and security people in attendance, not to mention the volunteers taking care of lost children and of the general running of the event. The distinctive volunteer t-shirts could be seen everywhere and we never felt unsafe or saw any dodgy looking men. Well, there was that one guy, but he turned out to be one of the official clowns…

The sister, the movies and the country

My sister just left after spending a few days with us as part of her round the world trip. You can read about her stay, and the rest of her travels on her travel blog. While she was here we saw movies, had a birthday dinner, and other dinners, and spent a few days in the Laurentians.

On the night Philippa arrived we ordered sushi because inexplicably she had never tried it. We also went to Baton Rouge for her birthday dinner (I’m not supposed to mention that she’s turning 30 today) and had take-out from Hot and Spicy and breakfast at Eggspectations. The rest of the time I managed to cook, except one night when Philippa decided to cook us curry.

We went to the cinema in torrential rain to see Hancock, a good superhero romp which would not have worked without Will Smith as the reluctant hero. The story was lacking but the action was good and the comedy made me chuckle. At home we saw Juno, which was amazing, Ellen Page can do no wrong. We also saw Superbad which was very silly (I had been warned) but still enjoyable, and I re-watched Fargo and The Usual Suspects to give Philippa a chance to see some true classics.

The big event of the week was our trip to the country. Jen’s grandmother used to own a cottage on Lake Louisa which she sold a few years ago. The current owners were nice enough to offer us the place for a week for free so that granny could enjoy it one more time. We went there to stay with Jen’s granny, mother, step-dad, uncle, aunt, cousin, cousin’s boyfriend, brother, sister-in-law and two nephews. With us there it was a crowd of 14 at peak time which made for a very loud cottage. The weather wasn’t great but we managed to enjoy ourselves with some kayaking, swimming, relaxing, playing silly games, drinking beer and wine and eating good food. I’ll blog about my food contribution tomorrow.

Sadly the cottage adventure was cut short slightly by the death of my brother-in-law’s wife’s dad. He had been ill for some time but it was still very sad. Oliver Carmichael was a kind man who did a huge amount for his family and community. He is remembered here.

The Wedding

On Saturday we attended my brother-in-law’s wedding. This involved me dressing in a suit and tie and entering a church, so for a while there was a serious risk of an improbability explosion of massive proportions. Luckily that was avoided and the event proceeded without a hitch, apart from Aidan talking through the first part of the ceremony before I took him outside.

We had an umbrella with us because rain was forecast, and indeed it was raining when I stepped outside. Aidan refused to let go of the umbrella so I spent the next 30 minutes crouched at small boy height so I could stay dry. Finally we were called back inside for photos with “the princess”, as Aidan had named the bride.

By the time we got outside again I was hot and bothered by the rain and the suit and the church and the disobedient boy, so we went home to change into something more comfortable for the reception. I threw on a less stiff shirt and some casual trousers and we headed out again.

The reception was in an art gallery which was a very cool space, my idea of an ideal apartment. When we arrived, a jazz trio were playing their piano, saxophone and double bass and Aidan was instantly mesmerised. He was still clutching the precious umbrella which he started to strum while he gazed trance-like at the musicians. Most of the meal was spent taking turns with Jen to watch Aidan, who couldn’t be pulled away from the musicians, and eat.

The food was excellent, starting with a melted goat cheese, courgette and tomato concoction including a tiny blob of an incredibly flavourful balsamic reduction. My main course was an anonymous white fish with an unusual texture and delicious taste with a selection of perfectly cooked vegetables. Dessert was fresh strawberries and pears with cheese, and favours of belgian chocolates hand-made by the bride, who happens to be a chef.

Meanwhile, Aidan was desperate to play the piano. I kept telling him he had to ask the man, and he kept getting closer and closer to the man until finally he gathered up the courage to ask the question. The man said no. I can’t really blame him, he was a hired musician playing someone elses piano in someone elses venue at someone elses wedding and he obviously didn’t feel it was his place to make that kind of decision. So we went and asked the groom instead, and he said yes. Aidan spent the next 10 minutes in kiddie heaven gently playing the same two or three piano keys until the proprietor told us we had to stop because she’d had a complaint. Bah, humbug.

Shortly after that though, the dancing started, which was something new and exciting for the boy. We took him onto the dance floor where he stayed for the rest of the night, resisting any attempt at removal until we finally dragged him off at 11pm to take him home to bed.

Conversation with the boy

The other evening I was sitting on the couch with the boy, watching Balamory. The conversation went something like this:

Aidan: What are you doing Daddy?
Me: Watching TV, what are you doing?
Aidan: Looking for something.
Me: Oh, what are you looking for?
Aidan: Something on the wall.
Me: On the wall? What on the wall?
Aidan: A big enormous thing.
Me: Ohh, a big enormous thing? What kind of big enormous thing?
Aidan: A blue one.
Me: A blue one? OK.
Aidan: And yellow.
Me: A blue and yellow big enormous thing on the wall?
Aidan:Ya. And pink.
Me: A pink, blue and yellow big enormous thing on the wall?
Aidan: Ya.
Me: Well did you find it?
Aidan: No.

The Snip

Having already produced an excellent and incredibly cute one, we decided we didn’t need to generate any more children, so last Thursday I headed out to the West Island to have my vasa deferentia disconnected.

I had shaved the area the night before and purchased an “athletic support” as requested by the doctor so I was prepared.

I was ushered into a small room by possibly the oldest nurse I’ve ever seen who asked me to remove my sweatpants (“leave your underwear on for now”) and lie down on the operating table, where she draped my parts with a surgical cloth and pulled my boxers down to my knees.

A few minutes later the doctor swaggered in. Dr Kurgansky is one of those eccentric doctors, complete with extravagant handlebar moustache, polka-dot bow-tie and a serious god-complex swagger. In his Eastern European accent he asked if I had any questions, then delved into the operation.

After locating my first vas deferens he gave me my first injection, the only time I felt any pain. After that I didn’t feel a thing, and we talked about Apple computers (his patient chart system has been paperless since 1996, and contains 150,000 charts, all stored in a piece of custom software written on Mac OS9 and he’s trying to get it upgraded to OS10). He was gesturing so animatedly with both hands that for a moment I thought he’d forgotten the reason we were there, but then he got back to it and administered the second injection, which I didn’t feel at all.

About 20 minutes after I’d entered the room and about 10 minutes after the doctor had started, he was slapping a band-aid on my scrotum, telling me to get dressed and walking out. I climbed into my jockstrap with a bit of help from the nurse, who told me there were three other men in the waiting room waiting for vasectomies so I should leave with a smile on my face.

Jen had gone shopping to avoid waiting room boredom tantrums from the boy, so I called her and she came and got me, parking 200 yards away in an obvious attempt to see me walking funny. We headed home where I took two Ibuprofen and applied an ice pack to the sensitive area. Things were definitely uncomfortable for the next 24 hours, but I wouldn’t describe it as painful. I could walk around and do light chores, and by the following evening I felt comfortable enough to go out to a birthday party.

I won’t be sterile for a couple of months, but it’s healing well and I’m happy I had it done. When I got home after the operation I was reading my newsfeed and discovered, coincidentally, that Terra Sigillata had not only had the operation on the same day as me, but had live-blogged it. A brave man, who inspired this post, even though 6 days after the event isn’t quite a liveblog.

The Dinner Party

On Saturday night we had 5.5 friends over for dinner. They arrived at around 6:30 but preparations started a few hours earlier.

I leapt (well ok, crawled) out of bed at around 8, grabbed some tea and cereal then headed out to Atwater market for a big pile of veggies and a big hunk of pork shoulder. Sadly it’s almost impossible to get a piece of pork with the skin on around here, but at least it was still on the bone.

Back at home at 10:30 I chucked a bunch of chopped up fennel, carrots and onions in a roasting pan and sat the meat on top of it. Then I rubbed some bashed up fennel seeds and paprika into the meat and put it in the oven on max for 20 minutes before turning it down to 250. There it stayed for the following nine hours.

After a quick lunch of a bacon sandwich I fried up some celery and onions, added some peeled and chopped sweet potatoes and a mix of cumin, coriandor, cardomom, cinnamon and cloves followed a few minutes later by a pint of stock. After 40 minutes of simmering I whizzed it up with my oh so handy hand blender and left it, ready for the coconut milk to be added at the last minute.

The afternoon was spent helping Jen clean the apartment before launching into veggie preparation. I peeled and cubed a few potatoes, four beets and a large onion, halved a few carrots, chopped up a cauliflower and snapped a bunch of asparagus. The potatoes got oil and rosemary treatment. The beets got oil and balsamic treatment. The onion was left naked. The carrots got some oil and the tops of the fennel bulbs. The cauliflower got oil, cumin and coriander and the asparagus just got some oil.

The guests arrived, with wine, the Amazing Race DVD game, bread, smoked salmon and cheese sticks. Drinks were served, despite our oversight of forgetting to buy soft drinks. Everyone got drinks, including the meat which was treated to a bottle of white wine for the final hour of cooking.

Now was the time to add the coconut milk to the soup, heat it up and serve it. It tasted good, but could’ve done with a tad more spice. Luckily Kim had brought bread, because we forgot to get that too.

As the meat came out of the oven, the veggies went in. I transferred the meat to a board and mashed up the veggies it had been sitting on in the pan with the wine and meat juices and a bit of flour to make a sauce.

Everything came to the table at around the right time. The meat could’ve done with another hour or two but it still tasted great. The veggies were also a tiny bit underdone, but lets just call them al dente.

Good wine, good conversation, cake, and a slightly confusing game of the Amazing Race complete with a surrogate Phil finished off the evening nicely.

The Race Ritual

Ridiculing the contestants of the Amazing Race is a lot more fun if you can do it with a group of people, so we’ve started inviting friends over on Sunday nights to enjoy the spectacle of dysfunctional couples taking on bizarre challenges around the world.

For the first episode we ordered pizza and drunk beer and ate maple chocolate buns that she brought.

For episode two I decided I felt like cooking, so I cracked open one of my Jamie Olivers and went to work.

For the main course I seasoned some pork tenderloins, sprinkled them with fennel seeds, browned them, put them in a roasting pan with a sliced up fennel bulb, a handful of rosemary, 8 garlic cloves and half a bottle of white wine. Loosely covered with foil and bunged in a hot oven for an hour.

To go along with that, I boiled some potatoes and peas and mushed them together with a handful of mint leaves to make minty mushy peas.

For dessert we had cream puffs kindly provided by her followed by sliced up pineapple sprinked with sugar bashed up with the leftover mint leaves.

We ate, we drank, we enjoyed a fire, and we laughed at those crazy Racers.

Happy Anniversary

Four years ago today, my wife and I were married on the stairs of a grand old building, to the sounds of Blue Rodeo, with our friends and family around us. I’m especially glad that my Dad could be a part of that before his illness overcame him.

Since then we’ve spent a fabulous month in New Zealand; we’ve created an amazing baby boy and watched him grow into an even more amazing two year old; we’ve given up being homeowning suburbanites in favour of the relatively carefree and stimulating life of city-dwelling renters; we’ve started new hobbies and abandoned old ones; we’ve spent quality time with our family and friends including a trip to Prince Edward Island and several Xmases filled with excess.

It hasn’t all been sweetness and light though. I lost my father, Jen lost a friend; we battled depression and Aidan’s feeding difficulties; we survived all that as well as all the other changes inherent in bringing a new life into the family. We survived and we grew.

It’s fitting that our anniversary is always so close to Thanksgiving, because I have so much to be thankful for. I’m thankful for four years of married life with Jen as well as the five years of “shacking up” before that. I’m thankful that we have a healthy and ridiculously cute and adorable little boy. I’m thankful that we’re surrounded by supportive family and wonderful friends.

Happy anniversary Jen. I love you.

The Vacation – Part Four

After our week in PEI, it was time to hit the road for the second week. We drove east along the south coast of PEI to Wood Island which is where the ferry to Nova Scotia leaves from. We had reservations for the 1pm ferry, and got there in plenty of time. Dan and Susan were supposed to get the next ferry, but they ended up on ours, giving Aidan a bit of a surprise. We settled down for the 75 minute journey, listening to a newfie guy singing depressing sea shanties. They even depressed Aidan:

Aidan on the boat

Once we arrived in Caribou, Nova Scotia it was time to drive again, heading south to Halifax. After driving around the city for a while looking for a decent hotel, we ended up at the Waverly, an old and unique hotel decorated in the brothel style:

Waverly Hotel

We dumped our stuff and went out wandering. From the drive in I already knew I liked the city, but walking showed me its full charm. It feels cozy, vibrant and cosmopolitan, like a smaller version of Montreal. There are now three Canadian cities I would be very happy living in. I’m looking forward to having a longer vacation there.

Walking around the waterfront we spotted one of Aidan’s favourite TV celebrities, so we had to take advantage of the photo opportunity:

Theodore Tugboat

After that we went for a seafood dinner at Salty’s Restaurant with an old friend of Jen’s before retiring for the evening.

Sadly we had to leave Halifax the next day to embark on the long journey to Maine. The state is not only a shortcut back to Montreal, it’s also a shopping mecca, which is why Jen wanted to go there. We drove back up through Nova Scotia into New Brunswick and through Saint John to the border then down to Bangor, Maine.

The choice of hotels in Bangor is limited to say the least, and because it was getting late we ended up at a very crappy Comfort Inn, which became our base as we spent the next two days exploring the huge mall complex. Jen bought lots of scrapbooking stuff, I bought The Dangerous Book For Boys and Aidan got some clothes and books out of the deal.

Aidan got sick in Maine, and gave the cold to me when we got home, so not the perfect end to a vacation, but the rest of it made it all worthwhile.

The Vacation – Part Three

Our stay at the cottage in PEI was fun because of the three children and relaxing despite them. We played a lot, we read a lot, we ate a lot. We hardly used computers, we hardly watched TV. We were outside as much as possible.

We were mere steps from the beach:

To the beach  The bridge Steps to the beach

So we spent a lot of time there, enjoying the views:

View of the big bridge

Frolicking in the water:

Me frolicking

And building artistic sand castles (Dan’s job):

Castles

When we weren’t at the beach, we were back at the cottage, relaxing in the comfy sitting area:

The cottage

Enjoying the fabulous sunsets:

Sunset 1  Sunset 2

Or preparing and eating yummy food:

Me delivering dinner  Elisabeth’s sandcastle birthday cake

The Vacation – Part Two

Aidan probably enjoyed himself more than anyone else during our week in PEI. He loved the beach and became most indignant if we tried to take him away from it. He also loved the garden around the cottage and running around in the cottage itself. He loved spending time with his grandma (“Bama”) and grandpa (“Ricky”) and even warmed to his cousins (“Limon” and “Aladar”).

He loved hunting for crabs and snails:

Aidan crab hunting

He loved playing in the sand:

Aidan in the sand Aidan sitting in the sand

He loved UFO spotting:

Aidan and the UFO Aidan pointing

He enjoyed shopping for second hand clothes at Frenchies:

Aidan shopping

He also liked taking naps in unusual places:

Aidan in a cupboard

The Vacation – Part One

Having returned from a very pleasurable vacation, it’s time to bore anyone reading this with all the intimate details. This week will be all vacation blogging, so you’re pre-warned and can hit that ‘Mark all as read’ button without thinking.

The first week of our vacation was to be spent at a cottage on Prince Edward Island. We would be staying there with Jen’s mum and stepdad and her brother and his family. We were all driving there, in three different cars, us with Aidan in the back, Jen’s brother with a three year old and a five month old in the back, and Jen’s parents with a big pile of food and alcohol in the back.

Because we had no idea how Aidan would cope with 12 hours of driving, we decided to split it over two days. He fared surprisingly well on the first day and we made it to Fredericton before he started getting really cranky. We found a very reasonable Comfort Inn and settled down for the night. The next morning we got our first sign that we were in the Maritimes:

McLobster

The second day of driving was much shorter, which made Aidan very happy:

Aidan Happy

At around lunchtime we reached Confederation Bridge, a 12.9km bridge across the Northumberland Strait between New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. It’s an amazing thing to see, photos just don’t do it justice:

Confederation Bridge

After crossing the bridge it was less than ten minutes to our cottage. We were first to arrive, greeted by the property manager who showed us around the property and introduced us to our beach. Everyone else showed up shortly after that and our vacation began.

The Cottage

Invasion of the Nss

My brother-in-law, his wife and two kids arrived on Friday evening to spend the week here in Montreal before we all drive to Prince Edward Island next weekend. This arrival was a bit of a shock for Aidan, who has never had to deal with a rambunctious three year old before. There were tears and pouty faces but overall the encounter went well.

We went out for breakfast on Saturday morning, followed by a trip to the park which made all the kids very happy, including the grown-up ones. Simon and Aidan played well together on the climbing frame, slide and swings and their were no tears or injuries.

I spent the rest of Saturday cooking. I’d planned to make braised short ribs, but the butcher was all out of short ribs so we ended up with a joint of beef, braised in red wine, tomatoes and herbs until it literally fell apart with some gentle pressure from my knife. I served the beef on garlic mashed potato with roasted asparagus and braised leeks. I made a gremolata too but forgot to use it.

Yesterday we all went to see the great-grandmother, a rare gathering of all four generations which made great granny very happy.

The invaders left for the country for a couple of days after that, giving Aidan a chance to get his whelmed status a bit lower before they return on Tuesday.

The Vacation

I’m back at work after 11 days off which only cost me 3 days vacation. I love long weekends. We didn’t do as much as we wanted and the time went way too quickly but it was still relaxing and very pleasant. Here are some highlights:

  •  We went to the country for a seven year old’s birthday party where we ate hotdogs and burgers and Aidan had his first paddle in a pond (which he called a bath (well actually “bar” but we knew what he meant))
  • We bought some furniture for our new apartment but we still don’t have a dining room table or chairs.
  • We got ourselves a new mattress after a very scientific day of testing.
  • We ate way too much take-out food. And yes, Sushi Moushi do make exceedingly good sushi.
  • We tidied the apartment then messed it up again then tidied it again then messed it up again.
  • We went to another birthday party, this time for a five year old, where we ate hotdogs and burgers and Aidan had his first “swim” in a pool (which he called a bath). It’s a stretch to call it a swim as he clung to me the whole time.
  • We planned to go to the Ecomuseum and to Body Worlds but we never made it to either. It is going to happen though!

It’s a little depressing to be back at work, but at least I have tonight’s pub quiz at Hurley’s to look forward to.

Fathers Day

I’m still amazed that I’m a father. I’m even more amazed that so far I don’t seem to be making a horrible job of it. I may not be the best father in the world, but I think I’m doing OK.

Fathers Day gives me pause to think about all that; to think about how surprisingly fulfilling the whole thing is. I was never really interested in kids and took a little persuading to finally go for it, but now I have one of my own I realise how incredibly special it is. Aidan shares half my genetic code, so there’s nothing more fascinating than watching him grow from a tiny helpless baby into a little boy who is already trying to assert his own independence. How will he turn out? How much will he be like me? How much will he be like Jen? Whatever happens, I will always be proud of my son and love him unconditionally. Right now I think he loves me back, but I probably won’t be so sure when he’s 14.

Fathers Day is special to me for another reason too though. My Dad died a few days before Fathers Day last year, so all the advertising leading up to Fathers Day brought back all that pain and loss that I felt last year, especially being so far from the rest of that side of my family. I can console myself by knowing that he lead a full, good and happy life, but it ended too soon and that will always hurt.

The belated birthday gift

My wife has been having secret email conversations with some of my work colleagues. This is a good thing.

I recently had a conversation with work colleague E about the universal remote control he has. It sounded cool, so I relayed the conversation to Jen. She didn’t know work colleague E, but she did know work colleague D. So she emailed work colleague D asking him for the email address of work colleague E. Work colleague D sent Jen the email address of work colleague E. Jen emailed work colleague E asking for details of said remote. Work colleague E replied with the details of the remote and where he bought it.

The result of all this clandestine communication was a belated birthday gift for me of a Logitech Harmony 880 universal remote control. It has replaced the four remote controls we had littering the living room before and was very easy to set up. The press of a single button turns all the necessary things on to watch TV or listen to music. It has full control of the TV, the PVR, the receiver and even the Mac Mini. Sadly the IR interface in the Mac has a limited number of commands, but that’s a limitation of the Mac, not the remote.

So if you’re in the market for a universal remote, I highly recommend the Harmony 880, available at many online retailers. Or you could just mention it to your wife.

The Weekend of Surprises

On Friday night we snuck over to P and J’s while P took J out to “get a movie” so that we could give J a surprise birthday party. As she was coming up the stairs she said something like “sometimes when I come up these stairs it sounds like there are voices coming from our apartment”. Well this time there were. We spent the evening eating, drinking and watching Aidan show off for his audience.

On Sunday we invited P and J over for “tea” with J and K. They were ushered into an empty living room with six tea cups waiting on the coffee table. What they didn’t know was that 20+ of their friends and family were waiting in the parking lot to surprise them with a baby shower. I went off to “make the tea” and came back with the crowd. We spent the afternoon eating, drinking, and watching P and J open a mountain of baby gifts.

On Sunday night we heard a rhythmic “plink plink” on the baby monitor and went to investigate. We discovered water dripping from Aidan’s ceiling about two feet from his crib. That wasn’t such a nice surprise.

Another year, another sushi dinner

Today I turn *mumbly mumble*. Birthdays on a Tuesday are no fun, so most of the celebrating happened at the weekend, when we went up to the country for Mother’s Day.

It was Aidan’s first trip to the country and he was so filled with delight about the whole experience that he burst into spontaneous unprovoked laughter several times. There is no better sound than a toddlers laughter.

After frolicking in the garden we retired to the house for a delicious lunch of home-made rolls filled with pulled pork made by Richard and a greek salad made by Elisabeth. That was followed by an enormous carrot cake with not enough candles on, which was fine by me.

Lunch was wrapped up with some unwrapping. Two gifts from Elisabeth and Richard, a copy of Christopher Hitchen’s “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything” which promises to be a fun read, and a pi plate. Yes, I spelled pi correctly.

Last night we had a sushi dinner as a belated mothers day and early birthday meal and tonight I have an evening of gaming to enjoy.

I also got a big bag of boxers from Jen. I’m wearing the pink ones today. And I can’t believe I just blogged that.

The Greco birthday party

At the weekend we had P&J and J&K and K over for a small and belated celebration of Jen’s birthday. The plan had been for Jen’s Mum to be there too, but she ran off to Vancouver, something to do with some baby being born or something.

Jen’s Mum is the master salad creator, and the plan was for her to bring a big Greek salad for the occasion. In her absence I took on the job of creating a Greek salad, and used that as an inspiration for the rest of the food.

The classic Greek salad is a combination of rustically chopped tomatoes, cucumber and green pepper tossed with kalamata olives, salt, pepper, oregano and olive oil with feta cheese crumbled over the top. That’s exactly what I did.

I also cubed some pork tenderloin, skewered it and marinated it in olive oil, oregano and salt and pepper for a few hours before throwing it on the bbq. The kebabs were served with pita breads, tzatziki, and sliced red onion.

To accompany the salad and kebabs, I picked up some taramosalata, some crusty bread and a few spanakopitas. There was too much food, but that’s the way a Greek meal is supposed to be, right?

We finished the evening with a fun game of 80s Trivial Pursuit which through some stroke of luck the girls won, and carrot cake fetched from our old favourite the Homestyle Bakery (hey, the owner’s Greek!).

Opa!

Valentine and Pasta

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day. If that causes surprise, you’re either single or in big trouble.

I dashed to the florist on the way home, dashing past Blork in Place Ville-Marie, who was dashing in the opposite direction carrying his own bouquet of flowers. The florist was manic, but I finally managed to get a dozen tulips (Jen’s favourite) and headed home with flowers in one hand and President’s Choice Tiramisu (also one of Jen’s favourites) in the other.

At home I presented the flowers to Jen along with a card from me and a card from Aidan. In return I got a hug, a card from Aidan and three cards from Jen. After getting Aidan fed and washed and into his pyjamas it was time to prepare dinner while Jen rocked the boy to sleep.

Dinner was going to be pasta with smoked salmon (yet another favourite of Jen’s) and asparagus. Here’s my recipe:

Snap the asparagus and put it in a hot oven on a baking tray. Put a large pot of water on to boil and a frying pan to heat up. Chop an onion and some celery and fry them until they start to soften. Put the pasta (I chose linguine) into the boiling water. Add some capers to the celery and onion and continue to fry. Chop up the smoked salmon and a bunch of dill. When the pasta is almost done, add the asparagus, salmon and dill to the frying pan along with a few dollops of yoghurt or cream; mix well. Drain the pasta and toss with everything else. Serve with fresh italian bread and a good red wine.

The rest of the evening was spent watching TV, because we’re sad like that and we don’t care.

Earliest Memories

I have a terrible memory, especially when it comes to my childhood. There is very little I remember from before I was 10. Here is what I do remember:

Although I was born in Essex, we moved to Newmarket in Cambridgeshire soon after I was born. My Dad was a race jockey so Newmarket was a logical place for us to settle. We lived in a terraced house on a small street called Field Terrace Road.

I remember Dad putting me on a horse at a very young age. I remember our next door neighbours had red setter dogs and I wanted one. I remember fracturing my ankle trying to jump over a kitchen chair (well actually I may not remember it, I just know it happened). I remember our staircase had a door on it.

I have vague memories of my Dad leaving when I was four, but those could be false memories of how I think it would’ve happened. I remember my step-dad appearing; I wasn’t sure who he was. I remember my step-sister getting hit by a car on the corner of Field Terrace Road; I may have been holding her hand at the time.

I remember visits with Dad. He drove a brown Rover. I threw up all down the side of it because I was reading comics in the back seat. I remember hanging out in the tool hire shop he worked at. I remember he had a pair of loaded dice and an old bus ticket machine that I loved to play with.

I remember an old Ford Anglia dumped at the end of our street that I used to play in. It might have belonged to Dad. I remember going to Laureate school and becoming best friends with Michael Collins. We roamed Newmarket together even though we were only seven. I remember catching slow-worms with him. I remember moving back to Essex and realising I wouldn’t see Michael again.

So what are your earliest memories?

An atheist’s laugh ’s a poor exchange for deity offended!

Saturday night, a couple of days late, P, B and J laid on a fabulous Burn’s night supper. I was not the only Englishman there, but I was the only Englishman in a kilt. Jen’s tartan offering was a necklace cunningly crafted from paperclips and tartan printouts. She made one for Kerry too. Paul was in his full Scots regalia, Jen’s ginger hair was considered suitably Scottish and everybody else made do with tartan scarves.

We ate cock a leekie soup, we addressed the (exploded) haggis, we toasted the haggis with fine single malts and we ate the haggis with neeps and tatties and the Canadian addition of green beans.

I can honestly say it was the best haggis I’ve ever tasted, but it’s only the third one I’ve ever tasted. It had arrived by bus from an Ontarionianal Scots enclave, so we knew it was going to be good.

The delicious meal was followed by much whiskey drinking and conversations about cars (the choice between a Lexus or a Cadillac; I tried to be polite), Montreal (it’s cold, too cold), Vancouver (it’s rainy, too rainy), Justin Timberlake (he’s the new Madonna apparently) and the Oscars.

Still here

Yes, I’m still here. I took a blog break last week as my family were visiting from the UK and France. They did all the things tourists are expected to do in Montreal, including:

  • The Underground City
  • Old Montreal
  • Notre Dame
  • Walking up the mountain
  • Skating on the mountain
  • Driving over the mountain
  • Drinking in the Irish pubs
  • Going to Eggspectations for breakfast and The Keg for dinner
  • Shopping on St Denis
  • Experiencing temperatures below -20
  • Snowboarding in St Saveur

The snowboarding was 5 days ago, but I’m still in pain. Who knew balancing on a plank of wood uses so many muscles??

We also had “Second Christmas” complete with a pancake breakfast, full turkey dinner, festive music and stockings and presents. I got a bunch of British stuff including a Union Jack mug, a London tube map jigsaw and lots of Brit edibles (mmmmm Jelly Babies).

WWTDD?

Yesterday’s Xmas loot post was missing one very important piece of loot. Here it is (click for big):

WWTDD?

As you can see, the boy got one too, from Mummy. The shirts say “WWTDD?”. Only special people know what that means.

So that was Xmas

… and a good time was had by all. We had 10 adults and 1 very cute boy around the table for Xmas Eve tourtiere supper (which happened on Xmas Day) and 12 adults and 1 very cute boy around the table for Xmas Dinner (which happened on Boxmas). We’re always a day behind everyone else.

I received much loot:

Xmas Loot The Thunderbolt Kid More xmas loot Drinking bird

Most of which will be decorating my cozy cubicle at work. The boy received much, much, much more loot than me, but I’m not bitter.

We also went on a mad and crazy shopping spree in the Boxmas sales. Well actually Jen went, I stayed home and provided technical advice via our new cellphones. As a result we have a new TV, new surround sound, a new digital camera, a new laptop for Jen, and I got this:

Ipod

Which now has 6000+ songs on it (in OGG format, no DRM for me), as well as Doom.

Happy new year everyone!

Dad

As some of my loyal readers know, my Dad died earlier this year. He was suffering from a rare blood condition called amyloidosis and was in hospital for stem cell treatment when his condition worsened.

I made it to France in time to have one last conversation with him before he lost the battle. That’s one conversation I wish could’ve been a lot longer.

Today would’ve been Dad’s 60th birthday.

Yesterday lunchtime I went for a metro ride to Metro Joannette in Verdun. I had heard good things about the beer selection. They do indeed have a massive selection of beer, just about every Quebec beer available, but the selection of imported beer is a lot smaller.

In the absence of a pint of real ale, I picked up a bottle of Bass which I will be enjoying tonight in memory of a man who taught me, among many other things, to appreciate a good beer.

Curry and Schlocky TV

On Saturday night, him, her, him and her came over for dinner. As three of us have lived in Britain for at least part of our lives, I decided to prepare a traditional British meal. That means curry.

Starter was curried sweet potato soup. Onions, celery, red chilis, grated ginger, squished garlic, turmeric, coriander, mustard seeds, fenugreek, sweet potatoes, chicken broth. Cooked and whizzed up in the food processor. A can of coconut milk added at the end. I’ve made this soup quite a few times before, but this time I think I got the spice mix just right; spicy without being overpowering.

Main course was butter chicken. Onions, turmeric, cumin, coriandor, cardomon, grated ginger, squished garlic, cinnamon, chicken, canned tomatoes, ground almonds. Cooked for a while and yoghurt added near the end. Served with basmati rice tossed in a mustard seed and lemon infused oil. Oh and some slaw on the side, courtesy of the McGill Organic Food Co-op. There was also a loaf of spinach bread on the table during the meal, purely for decorative effect.

For dessert I departed from the Indian theme but stayed with the traditional British fare. Apple and blueberry crumble (ok, the blueberries aren’t so traditional, those were my concession to Canadiana). Apples and blueberries briefly cooked with sugar, ginger and cinnamon, topped with a mixture of flour, butter, sugar and maple syrup. Baked in the oven until tinged with brown.

The original plan was to follow dinner with either a movie or some silly games, but for some reason it turned into schlocky TV night. We watched Little Britain, Craft Corner Deathmatch (yes, it is as strange as it sounds), and Holiday Showdown. Oh and a little bit of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets to demonstrate high-definitionness.

I think everyone enjoyed themselves, even John, who was still hung over from the night before.

Those wacky Dads

This should probably be a Father’s Day post, but I got inspired today so this year Father’s Day is November 8th.

My Dad started his adult life as a professional racing jockey. Since then he’s managed a tool hire store, travelled Africa and the Middle East selling cranes (the big machines, not the birds), run three pubs, managed a DIY store and started a bed and breakfast in France. He has renovated many houses (including one that started out with no roof), worked hard as a gardener and even a smallholder. Although my parents separated when I was young, he’s always been a big part of my life. I’m proud of all he’s done, and I’m glad I’ve had his love and support through everything I’ve done.

My Step-Dad is a carpenter. I’m still not sure what his original speciality was, but now he can put his hand to just about any kind of construction work. I’m sure he could build a house from scratch single-handedly. We don’t see eye to eye on all things, but he’s always accepted the choices I’ve made and helped me when I’ve needed it.

My Dad-in-Law escaped from Hungary in secrecy in the middle of the night during the Hungarian revolution. He is a renowned psychologist and a gifted and published poet well known in his home country. He is exuberant and eccentric to the point of constantly embarassing his daughter, my wife, who he calls Nifi the Extraordinary Boufi. He has accepted me into his family unreservedly, even though I never actually asked him if it was ok to marry his daughter.

My Step-Dad-in-Law was raised in wartime and post-war Ireland and he still has the accent to prove it. He spent many years of his life travelling the world as a marine engineer and met Jen’s mum while docked at Montreal. Now he’s settling down to a retirement in their country house. There he makes wonderful knives, cooks delicious food, makes his own booze, smokes his own meat and fish, taps his own maple trees, raises rabbits and collects his own firewood. He knows all the most disgusting poems and the best off-colour jokes. He’s a thorougly good man and I have the utmost respect for him.

Those are all my Dads. They are all amazing characters in their own ways. They are all so very different. They’ve all been and continue to be a big part of my life. I’m proud of all their accomplishments and honoured to call them my Dads.

Feeding the Visitors

Jen‘s brother Dan arrived on Thursday with his wife Susan and our one year old nephew Simon. We had a big family meal on Thursday night, for which I cooked:

Potato and Cauliflower curry: onions fried with a spice mix of mustard seeds, cumin, coriander, fenugreek, cayenne pepper and cardomom. Fresh ginger and garlic added, followed by carrots, potatoes and cauliflower. Whizzed up tomatoes added for the liquid.

Naan bread: yeast in warm water added to flour and baking powder with some toasted cumin seeds, made into a stiff dough and kneaded for 10 minutes. Cut into pieces and rolled into Naan shapes, brushed with butter and cooked in a frying pan (in the absence of a brick oven).

Finished off with a delicious carrot cake which Dan fetched from the local bakery.

On Friday we had a bbq for the other side of the family, with marinated chicken and grilled veggies as well as some delicious hungarian style salads provided by Jen’s Dad.

Finished off with a delicious apple crumble pie which Dan fetched from the local bakery.

The rest of the weekend was spent in the country where Richard brined and smoked a chicken for us and Elisabeth hacked up her basil plants to make pesto.

Despite being only one year old, Simon is already sampling much of the same kind of food. I see a celebrity chef in the making.

More Surprises

Our second surprise party in two weekends happened yesterday, this time cunningly arranged by Jen and Tyler for Cara’s birthday. She was lured to our house under the pretense of a greeting card discussion and looked a little stunned when she walked out onto our deck to cries of “Surprise!”.

We were joined by:

  • Eddie, Manon, Raphael and Gabriel.
  • Shawn and Ellen.
  • Kevin, Helen and Benjamin.
  • Mike.
  • Chris and Pierre.

Large amounts of bbq food were consumed, including:

  • Baked beans – navy beans soaked overnight, mixed with fried bacon, chopped onions, chopped apples, whizzed tomatoes, brown sugar, maple syrup, salt, pepper and cayenne pepper and baked in a covered pot for 6-8 hours, uncovering for the last hour or so.
  • Chicken pieces marinated in a mixture of lemon juice, lime juice, beer, mustard, rosemary, salt and pepper.
  • Potatoes and onions drizzled with oil and tossed with rosemary, salt and pepper and grilled in a foil pouch.
  • Potato salad dressed with mayo, lemon juice, lime juice, mustard, oregano, pepper and a splash of maple syrup.
  • Cherry tomatoes, halved and mixed with sliced vidalia onions, oil and balsamic vinegar.
  • Hot dogs. From a package.

There was also much drink, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, and an ice cream cake with a sheep and quite a few candles (discretion prevents me mentioning exactly how many) on it.

We even managed to squeeze in a few Magic games at the end of the day. Which was nice.

Oh, and we met a married gay couple for the first time. They were very nice and did not destroy our marriage.

The weekend

On Saturday we went up to the country to see Elisabeth and Richard for Richard’s birthday celebration. We enjoyed a chicken dinner made by Richard, a greek salad made by Elisabeth and a chocolate birthday cake made by me, followed by the obligatory gift un-wrapping. Richard got a Jamie Oliver book from us, and an inflatable boat from Elisabeth.

Richard and I spent a fairly large part of the following morning inflating said boat. After the launching ceremony, Richard tried to climb aboard in a dignified manner. He failed. He got on board, but it definitely wasn’t dignified. After watching him attempt to navigate the pond without any oars, we headed off home.

While we were there, Jen got a bit fidgety, and put it down to the lack of technology. No internet, limited TV. While we did watch the F1 race on Sunday morning, and I did go online briefly to show Elisabeth my blog, it was still a very low tech weekend for us. This made me wonder how long I could survive without technology.

I spent a week in Wales once, where they don’t have electricity yet. Well ok that’s not true, but the cottage we stayed in didn’t have electricity. I survived ok, even managing to listen to my Uncle’s stories with good grace, despite how often they got repeated. There was a pub to go to there though, so I don’t know if that counts.

I’m pretty sure I could survive quite a while as long as I had stuff to read, eat and drink. I would probably be itching to check my email after a few days, but I could resist that temptation. Couldn’t I?