Friday, March 23, 2007

Making a Difference

Over the past twenty years, I have had over 1500 students pass through my class. Now my class is no ordinary class. I teach in a facility for young offenders. In other countries, you might refer to them as Juvenile Delinquents, young criminals or even misguided young men. After a while, the sea of faces and names seem to dissolve into a wave of faceless people. Due to confidentiality laws, we are unable to carry out follow-up studies on them and so we have no idea as to how many evolve into productive members of society. We can only hope that, as they move on in age, they will mature up and take life more seriously.

This morning, as I was on my way to work, I decided to head into a coffee shop as a substitute for the breakfast that I did not have. Now I was in a rush and as Murphy (from Murphy’s Law) would have it, the line up was too long to wait in. The next coffee shop was the same. I finally made it to the third shop and proceeded to the line up.

As I waited, a young man in his thirties approached me. I did not remember his name until he reminded me what it was but I did remember his face. He was a student of mine over fifteen years ago. During our conversation, he proudly informed me that he had been crime free since he was discharged from jail and my class. He was currently employed at the same place for over six years. He was married with four beautiful children. He had just moved into a new home. We spoke for about fifteen minutes and then said our goodbyes.

So, though I have no clue as to what most of my former students are doing in their lives, I do know what this young man named Aaron is doing which is being a productive member of society. Watching him return to his vehicle and drive off, I felt a bit of pride that maybe… just maybe I had a part in his success story.

Sometimes, though we may see ourselves as being insignificant in our society, we could very well be playing a much larger part and affecting many more people than we care to imagine.

I made it to work this morning feeling a lot better about myself knowing that what I do can and does make a difference!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

David Greenslade

Over the past few weeks, I have attended more than the average amount of funerals that I would normally attend. It seems that so often, things happen in threes. A couple of weeks ago, the father of a friend of mine died as the result of a heart attack. Last week, another father of a friend of mine died as the result of a lengthy illness.

The third one, which has hit me the most occurred this past Saturday, when a friend of mine was accidentally killed while out hiking alone along a California trail where he apparently fell off a cliff. I am not certain as to the details of this tragedy and so we can only assume that he either tripped and fell or quite possibly collapsed near its edge.

My friend’s name was David Greenslade. Except on a couple of occasions, I haven’t spoken to him for over twenty five years and yet, I still considered him a true friend. He was one of the few individuals I truly respected. He was a great influence in my life and knowing that he will no longer be here is a personal tragedy to me. He was an individual who was genuine in the way he lived, sincere in the way he interacted with others and dedicated in the way he lived his life for God.

He will be missed, not only by me, but by his family and hundreds of others who have had the privilege of being able to share time with him along the walk of life.

I would like to share my deepest sympathies to the Greenslade family.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Murrays of Brunswick Road

Yesterday, I renewed a friendship with an individual I had known over forty years ago. When I was six years old, my parents, sister and I left England for Canada. In doing so, we not only left my birthplace, but we also left some very good friends ... The Murrays. Though my parents kept in contact with them throughout the forty years, I somehow managed to lose personal contact with them from day one. I suppose that this did not happen for any particular reason, it was that I was just a kid with other interests and concerns going on in my life. I never did forget them though and have always thought about them and listened with eagerness to the news about them via my parents.

I never really knew how much I cared about them until just recently when I had the chance to meet them. As a young lad, I had re-met their mother , "Aunty Murray" on two occasions when she came to visit our family in the early seventies. Now, decades later, I was to meet her son Ian once again and his wife Angela for the first time. Upon finding this out, my memories of Brunswick Road, in Sutton, Surrey flooded back into my mind and I found myself eagerly looking forward to renewing long lost acquaintances. I find it amazing how one can still have a bond with people after so many years of distance apart.

Aunty Murray was never really my aunt but we considered her just that. She was a very kind and loving lady who took my parents under her wings and became a good friend to them soon after they arrived in England. My parents had no relatives in Canada and so "Aunty Murray" became our family. Ian, Aunty Murray's son, a young man at the time, also became a close friend of my parents and I came to know him as a big brother/friend/neighbour. I have often told people the story of how he rushed in to help me when I once almost drove a drumstick (not from a chicken!) into my pallet. I suppose he was a bit of a hero to me! I believe that though I was only six at the time of losing contact with him, I never really lost that bond that I never really knew I had at that age. I really don't know how or why bonds with certain people develop but I do know that one developed back in the early sixties.

While on a vacation to Churchill, Manitoba and Toronto, Ontario, Ian and Angela came for a visit to my parent's home. This was the first time that any of us had seen Ian and Angela in all these years. I wondered if I would recognize them upon picking them up. From the moment I saw Ian, I knew it was him. I was surprised at how comfortable I was around him after all these years. I suppose that though it appears that we forget many things throughout our life, our brain always has the power to remember and knows exactly what to do in situations like that.

We had a great visit! The loving and caring eyes of Ian that I remembered from such a long time ago were still there. His gentle spirit still flowed through his mannerisms. Meeting Angela for the first time (though I may have met her once as a lad) was comfortable and enjoyable as well. It was as if I had also known her well a long time ago. I could see that she and Ian were good for each other and complimented each other's mannerisms throughout the day and, no doubt, throughout their lives.

I will always remember the Murrays, our Brunswick Road neighbours. They will always be our neighbours … they will always be like family to me!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Trafalgar Square and Double Decker Busses

We sprinted through the terminal of London’s Heathrow Airport … We ran across the tarmac to our plane. I dropped my panda bear on the way, wrenched my hand away from my father’s to go and retrieve it … I succeeded. We were pressed into the backs of our seats as the plane left the tarmac … Looking out of the window; I viewed, for one last time, the country from which I was born … England.

That was over 40 years ago. I still have that panda bear. It seems that I am destined to have it until my death. I suppose it is the last link from a memory long ago. A lot of time has past and a lot of memories have faded but two memories that seem forever lodged in my mind are that of Trafalgar Square and Double Decker busses.

I remember the large fountain and the lion that seemed to watch over the entire square in guarded fashion. I remember watching as the water gushed out of the bronze figures and into the pool. I remember the massive buildings of years long ago that encircled the square. I remember the hordes of people. I didn’t live in that area as I lived in Sutton Surrey but I do remember us strolling through Trafalgar Square on occasion when my father had to go to London.

I remember the big red Double Decker busses that we hopped on to get to our destinations. I always wanted to ride on top but I suppose we don’t always get what we want. Every once in awhile my parents would give me that chance to make my way to the top to get a better view of the town as we rolled on by.

I am now in my forties and have yet to make my way back to the country from which I was born but I do hope that one day soon, I can walk off that plane at Heathrow, hop onto a Double Decker and make my way to Trafalgar Square … Maybe I will even bring my panda bear back with me!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Time To Hit The Trails!

Bike riding has always been one of my favourite pastimes. It gives me the opportunity to clear my head, lower my blood pressure and escape from everyone for a few hours. We all need our time of isolation.

Now that the spring and summer months are almost upon us, my mountain bike is ready and my body is raring to go. All I need to do now is to reset my odometer back to 0000.00 in order to track how many kilometres I cover in the next eight or more months.

There is one problem however… Every spring as I plan to reset my odometer, I have to refer to the manual in order to figure out how to do it. You would think that by now, I would have been able to do that off by heart but I cannot. Not only that, one would think that since I have to refer to the manual on a yearly basis, I would keep that manual in a place that I could refer to it when needed but do I do that??? Oh no…. I have to be disorganized and thereby have to look for it every year. I have yet to find it this year. Surprise! Surprise!

So... My bike is ready and once I find the odometer manual, that will be ready as well.

In Ontario, we have what we call “rail trails.” These trails were once inhabited by railway tracks that snaked throughout Ontario but since air and road transportation are much cheaper and efficient than rail; many of these rails have been abandoned and later turned over to communities to be converted into trails for walking, hiking, biking and horse riding.

The particular trail that I ride on is a twenty kilometre trail that runs along a large river and cuts through a number of wooded areas. Over the years and on occasion, I have had the opportunity to ride with a friend of mine who finds the rides down these trails just as rewarding. Most of the time, I simply ride by myself.

So… The time has come and the weather is just about here and once everything falls into place, I will be in my element. Now all I have to do is locate that darned manual!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

What Would Aliens Think?

I wonder what an alien would think of if he or she spied on earth from orbit only to observe man scooping up poop immediately after a dog took his daily dump on a lawn? I think it safe to say that the alien would wonder who the smart species on this planet really was!

Well, today was the day that I carried out my annual winter poop scooping session. As some of you may already know, my dog is a low bellied dog as are most dashhounds and basset hounds. Now, traveling through deep snow presents obvious problems for my dog and therefore, during the winter months, she elects to carry out her doggy dumps on our deck six feet beyond our back door. Now due to the ice and snow, the poop becomes fairly difficult to scoop up and dispose of and therefore tends to be left there until winter thaw.

And thus my task of this past day!

For two hours this morning, I scraped and scooped my way to a clean deck and a spotless sidewalk. With head phones pressed into my ears, I scooped to music such as Queen’s Another One Bites the Dust and AC/DC’s Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap.

You know… with all those smart dog trainers in the world there comes smart dogs. What I cannot figure out however, is why can’t someone simply train dogs to do their dumps in a dog toilet or something? Or what about training them to do their own poop scooping? Wishful thinking I suppose.

So, now that the deck is clean and the sidewalk spotless, maybe I can carry out some other task that would amuse the orbiting aliens… Anyone up for a suggestion?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Contemplating One's Own Mortality

It seems that the older one gets, the faster their days fly by … At least that’s the way it seems to me. It is also quickly becoming apparent to me that the faster my days fly by, the frailer I get. Over the past year, my joints have become stiffer, my muscles ache much more and my oesophagus acts up after a heavy meal … Not a good thing!

I have recently been observing this in the lives of my parents as well. My mother has been walking with two canes for over a year now and my father is succumbing to the early stages of Alzheimer’s.

We spend a lifetime in trying to stay healthy and yet mortality accelerates at a faster pace than we do! I suppose that all we can do is our best to try to outrun what we will never be able to outrun … Death. To the best of my knowledge, nobody has succeeded and no one ever will.

Now that I am TOTALLY depressed, I think I will get the hot pack and soothe this nagging ankle of mine … How depressing!

Maybe tomorrow will be a better day …

Monday, March 12, 2007

Road Rage

A while ago, as I was driving, sensibly I might add, through a department store parking lot, a white van flew through the isles almost taking the side out of my car. As any road rage type person, I hit my horn furiously and continued on my way. I was justified! I was the sensible driver and he was the reckless one. Yes, I was justified because this “idiot” was being just that … an idiot! Or was he?

As I drove off, I couldn’t help but glance in my rear view mirror to see what his reaction was to my horn. To my surprise, he stopped his vehicle, hopped out and jogged towards me while motioning me to stop. Hmmm … I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to hear what he had to say … probably one more thing I could add to my account of this experience as I told my buddies about it later on.

Preparing a response in my mind to his expectant tirade, I rolled down my window ready to justify my actions when all of a sudden he said, “Hey look, sorry for what happened back there … I should have been more careful.”

I was speechless for a moment as my prepared speech on careful driving was not to be the appropriate words of wisdom for that day. Accepting his apology, I weakly smiled and drove off. Thoroughly impressed at this gentleman’s attitude and response to this affair, I drove back to him as he got back into his vehicle and commended him on his classy behaviour. This, to me, was class and it deserved to be acknowledged.

As I left the parking lot that day, I promised myself that the next time I run across a driver making a careless mistake, I will think twice before hit that horn, curse under my breath and give him a dirty stare. Maybe then, I could be a classy individual as well!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

What Was He Thinking?

It often behoves me how people can do the stupidest things known to man. We often hear the question, “What the heck was he thinking!?!” after we witness what a human mind can get a person to do.

At about the age of four or five, I was standing in the laneway of our house on Brunswick Road, watching a man cut down a tree. Now just picture this . . . Here is this man, sitting on a large limb up in the tree and leaning all his weight on the smaller limb that he is about to cut down. You get the picture? Well, at the age of five, I don’t think I did, but the man in the tree should have easily seen the problem with this! Needless to say, his back will never be the same again.

Now this wasn’t some small branch he was cutting; it was a fair size of about eight to ten inches in diameter. One would have thought that the considerable time it would have taken to cut through this bloody thing would have been more than enough time to figure out that this was not the best way to tackle this job.

So here I was in awe of this man as he tackled such a challenging task at hand. I heard the crack at the end of the cut and witnessed my first experience of watching a man, or anyone for that matter, doing a nose dive into solid pavement! Now I know for a fact that his flight into the ground was a hell of a lot quicker that the time it took to cut through the branch but I have no doubt he realized his mistake well before he hit the ground!

I don’t remember what became of this man. It is as if everything that happened after the nose dive was hidden from my memory. I am told there are reasons why this happens but as to why the aftermath of the fall is no longer apparent to me, I can only assume that that man took the fall pretty hard.

I suppose that the mind has the ability to protect us from tragedies as well as memories of them. During that experience, my mind protected me, the mind of the man in the tree didn’t!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Family Camera

I have a lot of family photographs. As a matter of fact, we have a whole lot of family photographs. The earlier ones were the black and white with the later ones in vivid colour. Looking back at the albums, I am reminded of when I pretended to ride my father’s motorcycle. My mind was also brought back to when my sister made her first Holy Communion. Some funny memories were snapped of our friends. Other photos reminded me of the good times we spent while on holiday. Many of the photographs were taken of us while we lived in England. Others were taken in Canada. If it wasn’t for those photos, a lot of my memories would have been lost.

More accurately… if it wasn’t for my father’s Photina Reflex camera, I wouldn’t have half the memories of my childhood that I have now.

Everywhere we went, my father carried that camera around with him. On holidays, to family functions, through rain, through snow, through hail and whatever else the elements threw at us, my dad had his camera in hand. It was a well made German double lens reflex camera that used 120 speed film and took phenomenal pictures.

A lot of good memories!

A few years ago, my father gave me his cherished camera. I guess he figured that I would enjoy something that brought so much enjoyment to him for many years. Little did he know how much that was true. Since he gave it to me, I have treasured it. I have yet to take the time to learn how to properly use it but I assure you that one day, I will carry on the tradition of taking photographs with it. With my family treasure, I want to go beyond simply reliving the memories of my past… I want to use it to protect the memories of my family today. It is my goal to learn how to properly use it in order to take, maybe for the last time with this camera, photographs of my parents.

Such great memories!

So… who will get the camera after I have treasured it? My son has, on occasion, had a penchant for taking photographs. My daughter is presently in a film and television production program in college. I think that they would both be worthy of receiving this family heirloom. I think that I will wait and decide later on in life and to who would become its new keeper.

Photographs… memory makers… heart breakers… A picture paints a thousand words. I am just glad that these memories are still fresh in my mind!

Thanks to Dad’s Photina Reflex camera!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


Something I watched on television the other night reminded me of the day my students (all male) and I played a game of hangman towards the end on one of our classes. Now, I don’t make a habit of allowing my students to waste valuable time by participating in meaningless games but we did have about twenty minutes left and they had worked fairly well during class and so, being the “cool teacher” (by my standards and not my student’s!) that I was, I decided to give them a break. It was also an opportunity for me to play a prank on one of my students. The way I figure it… What’s the point of teaching if we can’t play jokes on our students from time to time?

Hangman… The object of this game is for the audience to figure out what word the person in charge (we shall call him the game master) is thinking about. A topic is generally chosen by the group and the game master gives everyone a clue by drawing a short line for every letter of the word. The audience chooses letters. The correct letters get placed on the word line and the incorrect letters result in drawing the man on the hanging apparatus. First the head, then the torso, then each arm and then each leg. If the man is completely drawn, the game is lost. The game is won by guessing the word before the poor guy hanging from the gallows is completed.

Well… the topic of the game that day in class was body parts. The students agreed that, since there were so many body parts, the game master would specify whether the chosen part was from a male or female. I had a student by the name of Jason. Now Jason was one of those guys who knew everything… at least that was what he wanted us to believe! It was Jason’s turn but he was having difficulty choosing a part to use for the game. Upon approaching me, he quietly asked me what the part was called where you would grab somebody on the back of their neck. Now I knew that the part of the body he was referring to was the scruff but I told him that is was the scrotum! He then asked me if it was a male or female part… I told him that it was both. Thanking me, he went to the front of the class with the biggest grin that his face could contain!

After telling the class that the part that was in his mind was a part found on both genders, the game began. Needless to say that none of the audience won…they didn’t even come close! The end of the round resulted in the class rolling on the floor in laughter as Jason stood there totally befuddled by their response. By the time he was clued in as to what a scrotum really was and that females did not have a scrotum, he did not look impressed. If looks could kill…

Ironically, it is not the experiences that most educators remember fondly that I think of the most with a smile… It is the experiences when we were rolling around laughing our fool heads off. As a matter of fact, it is similar experiences of my time in school that I think of the most when my high school buddies and I sit around and reminisce!

I will never forget Jason because of that hilarious experience and I am sure that every time he thinks of me, he will never forget how I crushed his faith in teachers… well not really.

So, tomorrow… hmmm…. What stunt can I pull next??

Monday, March 05, 2007

If At First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again!

Ever since the early 90s, Microsoft has included the game Minesweeper in its Microsoft Windows package. I can remember playing this game back when I bought my first new computer running Windows 3.1. Over the years, I have played this game probably many hundreds of times. The object of this game is to locate all the landmines without exploding a single one. If you blow one up, you die and the game is over.

I have never won this game...ever!

I guess you should be asking me as to why I even bother returning for one more stab at the game. Maybe you should question my penchant for wasting so much time when, in fact, I could be doing something more useful with my time such as accomplishing a heck of a lot more in life. . So…what drives me to continue to try to succeed at this game?

What is my problem????

I think it just bugs the heck out of me that a simple game such as Minesweeper can manage to get the better of me. My family can’t get the better of me, my friends can’t get the better of me, my juvenile delinquent students can’t get the better of me and even my neighbour can’t get the better of me but Minesweeper? … Oh yah, it gets the better of me!

Yah, I know… I have to get a life!

Actually I do have a life but I have no doubt that if Minesweeper wasn’t in it, I would be more successful and accomplish a heck of a lot more! So…What do I have to do to rehabilitate myself from the addiction of this game? Well, for starters, I have to uninstall this game from all my computers. Secondly, I have to find a replacement in life to playing this confounded game. Is there a Minesweeper Anonymous support program out there?

Joking aside, I am really not THAT addicted with the game and as a matter of fact I don't actually play it all the time but it does bother me that I have never won it.

You often hear people quote the saying, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” when they try to encourage others to not quit at something and yet, is that always the best advice? Maybe in my situation, the proper piece of advice should be “Quit while you are ahead.” All too often we get tend to get caught up in the irrelevant things of life to the point where it becomes a thorn in our flesh and a gross waste of time.

So…Maybe we should know when “enough is enough” and walk away from things that are unattainable and irrelevant. For me, winning Minesweeper is both unattainable and irrelevant!

I want to spend more time on things that matter more in life. I want to attain goals and succeed in areas of my life that have remained stagnant for too long. I am halfway through my life and I have yet to accomplish goals and dreams which I have had for years…

Who of you are thinking…"The guy is going through a midlife crisis!” ? Well, it is not really that bad… yet! I still have yet to crave a red Ferrari or desire to climb Mount Everest! I just think that regardless of age, we should use our time wisely and fill it with meaningful things and surround ourselves with loving and supportive people.

So...”Don’t put off for tomorrow what you can do today” and enjoy a fulfilling life!

So…I am out of here! … I have to go finish off my computer game of Warlords. This is the millionth time I have played it in the past twenty years and I have won every time!


Saturday, March 03, 2007

My Bottle of Merlot

One Christmas, a couple of years ago I was given a bottle of Merlot by a computer customer of mine in appreciation for my services (computer services of course!) Upon arriving home, I placed this bottle on my computer desk with plans to crack it open soon after Christmas… That was over two years ago! To this day, there it sits in plain view every time I write a blog, play a game or surf the net. It is also in plain view as I pay my bills online and it ceases to amaze me that I haven’t dipped into it during those times when my bills exceed my bank balance! On many occasions I have sworn that I would open it up as soon as I could find myself a corkscrew…and yet, there it stands while daring me to strip off its black hat and rip out its throat to expose what lies inside… pleasure!

So… when am I going to taste the wine within that coloured bottle? Tomorrow maybe? Next week? Next Christmas? Hmmm…I have this feeling that I probably never will open it for if I do, I will have no full bottle in front of me while I am at my computer and then I would feel guilty for defiling such a beautiful thing (okay... enough of the dramatics!) It’s almost as if I am trying to see how long I can keep it for. I know, it makes no sense but my friends say that I rarely ever make sense anyways.

Well, I think I will once more resist the temptation to do what I have chosen not to do in two years and let it sit there in peace. Maybe I will just go upstairs and get myself a glass of white wine from the fridge and then I am sure I will feel much better!

Long live the bottle!

Friday, March 02, 2007

Cell Phones and Technology

I never really realized how big my cell phones were when I first bought them! Back in the mid 90s, I purchased my very first cell phone. It amazed me how small it really was. I proudly went everywhere with it. After a couple of years, I decided to upgrade to another cell phone. It wasn’t until I bought my second on did I realize how big my first one was. This second one was miniscule! After two more years I again decided to upgrade once more. It wasn’t until I bought my third one did I realize how large my second cell phone was and how gigantic my first one was. A few years later I again upgraded to my fourth cell phone and by this time my first one looked like it must have weighed 10 lbs! I couldn’t get over how big my third one was. Three years ago, I picked up my fifth and present cell phone and now I really was amazed at how I could have ever carried such cumbersome cell phones all these years. I am surprised that they never came with wheels just like luggage cases! It is now that time again where I have to pick up a sixth cell phone… Well you get the message! I am starting to sound like the Twelve Days of Christmas.

And to think that what we now have in our possession is small… Just wait until next year. It simply amazes me how small and powerful electronics are becoming. Every day things are getting smaller and smaller and even more powerful. I just wonder how small our phones will one day become. Maybe we won’t even have to carry them around in our hands but instead have them implanted into our skulls and simply tap the side of our head to activate them!

As I had just mentioned, I am up for another cell phone. I was looking at the Motorolla Krazer but decided that they were too flimsy and so I shall look around for one that is about the same size but only tougher. Nowadays, every cell phone comes with a video camera, still camera, MP3 player, web browser as well as voice activation. How much more can they fit into them? My only fear that they are going to make them so small that I will simply just lose it!

So, tomorrow I shall be on the lookout for a new phone… Maybe I will just break with tradition and go for a larger one… I don’t think so!

Good to be back!