Different.

This is the first summer I haven’t worked.

That means I’ve worked for eleven straight summers.  I used the money to pay for my wedding, to go on trips, to do renovations on our houses, but I promised I’d never depend on that additional income as part of our household budget.

I worked all those summers because I knew the time would come when I wouldn’t be able to work, or I simply wouldn’t want to.  I didn’t expect that both of those potential scenarios would come to fruition at the same time, but that was precisely the case this year.

That said, this summer’s been a different one.

It started off a bit rocky – pun intended – with my surgery, but it’s progressed and improved from there.

We were generously invited to friends’ cottages – we’ve been tremendously spoiled in this regard the last few years – and we spent Canada Day weekend up in Sauble Beach.

When we’ve been home, my wife’s been at work, and I’ve been home with Daughters One and Two.

Our days have been fairly routine – perhaps a blog topic for another day – and we’ve spent a lot of time at the neighbourhood park.

When I was working in the summer, the only time I’d make it to the park with the girls was after dinner.  The park’s a busy place then – kids and their parents trying to cram some fun in before bedtime – but it’s different during the day.

Sometimes we’re the only ones there.

I suppose the neighbourhood kids are off at daycare, or summer school, or day camps – maybe they’re away on vacation, or maybe their families simply prefer to stay indoors – and it feels strange to be the sole park players.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice having the place to ourselves, but what’s been interesting this year is the amount of grandparents at the park with their kids.

Since we’re there about the same time every day – sometimes twice a day – we’ve gotten to know the other park regulars, and I’ve had some pretty incredible conversations.

One of the older park regulars answers to Oma, a name near and dear to me and my family, and the German word for grandmother.

She immigrated to Canada from Germany in the 60s, and, of all places, she originally settled in Hamilton.  Eventually, she moved her family to Mississauga, and she watches her son’s two children during the day while he and his wife work.

She brings her big brown dog to the park with her and the kids – Daughters One and Two love that – and we often talk about our kids and their days while we push them on the swings or guide them down the slides.

I told her that I have an Oma of my own, and she was pleased to hear that. We’ve talked about the tremendous success of Germany in the World Cup, we discussed some German writers, shared stories about places in Europe we’ve visited – all sorts of different things – and it’s been a great way to spend the mornings.

There’s been a younger grandfather at the park a few times who helps his daughter and son-in-law by watching their kids from time to time.

He’s got a lot of energy – obviously one of the benefits of having kids when you’re quite young – and he struck up a conversation with me about Ontario microbreweries, having noticed my Mill Street t-shirt.  We talked about all things various and sundry and enjoyed ourselves.

There’s a comradery in these cases.

We’re there for the kids, doing things to make their days better, and we’ve also found a way to improve our own.

Everybody has interesting stories to tell, and the park’s as good a place as any to listen to them – particularly when there’s only a few people there.

I’ve enjoyed these visits this summer, and I know I’m going to miss them when I go back to work.

The kids will too, for different reasons.

But at this point, I’m not sure who’ll miss them more.

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Too Much Information?

On Thursday, I had the follow-up appointment for my gallbladder surgery.

I know you all fondly remember that from the three-parter I posted here last week.

Anyway, the surgeon who did my operation is a good guy.

He’s patient, kind, and very professional.

I’m happy my family doctor referred me to him, and, from what I’ve seen, he’s done a perfect job.  I browsed Google Images for reference, and compared my scars to my brother’s. My scars are tiny – so small you can barely see them – and, when he could, my surgeon put the incisions in places where there were already existing marks or folds.

Too much information?

Well, here’s some more.

My gallbladder – oh how I miss it so – was “12.0 x 3.1 x 3.2 centimetres”.  The serosal surface was “congested”.  When the gallbladder was opened, the wall measured “0.3 centimetres in greatest thickness”.  The mucosa was “eroded and strawberry-like”.

And, next up, the best part.

The moment you’ve all been waiting for.

Ta-da!

There was one oval gallstone which measured “4.2 centimetres in greatest dimension”.

Some of you may prefer standard, imperial measurements.  That’s 1.65 inches.

For reference, the United States Golf Association specifies that a golf ball, referred to in golf literature as “The American Ball”, although “spherical in shape”, not oval – is 1.68 inches in diameter.

Is it worth mentioning that the so-called “British Ball” is only 1.62 inches?

Probably not.

In any case, when I had my original abdominal ultrasound – the one where they discovered the stone in the first place – they noticed it was “only” three centimetres, and my family doctor said that was a “very large gallstone”.

When my surgeon told me the actual size of the stone, he mentioned it was “a hospital record for this year.”

I looked at him to try to see if he was joking.

He wasn’t.

That’s a massive gallstone, he said.

He gave me the lab report as a souvenir.

It’s got too much other personal information on it to post a picture of it up here, but I’m sure you believe me.

My friend, a registered nurse, told me I was “so, so lucky” I wasn’t in severe pain before the surgery, and she told me to buy a lottery ticket.

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Here’s to the summer vacation that never ends, everyone.

Don’t worry, I’ll share.

Probably.

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Waiting and Trying.

We’d been waiting for a day like Wednesday for a long time.

We’d waited and waited and waited.

When Wednesday finally came along, we had to take advantage of it.

We packed everything we needed into the wagon and marched down the sidewalk to the park.

Now, there’s nothing new about that, I can assure you.  Trundling down to the park has become one of our most beloved summer activities.  The park is different this year – but that’s a story for another day.

The important thing is that we went to the park on Wednesday with a purpose.  There was a goal in mind.  We were going to achieve something.

Or at least we hoped we would.

We tried and tried.

For a long time.

We had our ups and downs.

The ups were brief, the downs were fast – and, in a few instances, fairly dangerous.

But, just when we were about to pack it in and head home . . . it happened.

It went up . . .

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. . . and up . . .

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. . . and up.

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The wind kept swirling in different directions, and the cheap little kite didn’t like it one bit – nor did my daughters – but it was a nearly perfect kite flying day.  Mild, windy, and sunny.

A good summer day to remember, and good lessons learned.

Waiting and trying are worth it.

So are the smiles on their little faces, I should add, cheesily.

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Tripping: The Final Chapter.

As you’d probably expect, I got tired of the gentlemanly sickly smell in the downtown Halifax Tim Hortons pretty quickly, so I went back to the car, grabbed my bag, and got dried off and changed in the bathroom.  I brushed my teeth and did everything I could to make myself presentable, and left the place feeling marginally better than I did when I got there.  I even got another coffee-like water on my way out.

I drove around for a little while, scouting out some of the places I was planning to go when they opened, and I eventually made my way up to Citadel Hill.  I found a parking spot along one of the side streets.

It was still raining when I stepped out of the car, but not nearly as hard as it had been, so I donned my waterproof windbreaker and headed toward the white bell tower gatehouse near one of the sides.

As I walked up the hill along one of the roadways, it stopped raining and the breeze picked up.  I started to feel relatively calm and human again, and I was happy to be there by myself with my “coffee”.

I looked around for a place to sit, and figured this was likely the best place to watch a morning unfold in Halifax.  I’m not sure why I passed the few small walls and benches I could have sat on, but I did, and I’m glad that happened.

Digressionary Note: Some things happen on trips like this that you just can’t explain in retrospect.  And I’m not a fan of the phrase “it was meant to be” because it implies a bunch of stuff I don’t necessarily believe.  Let’s call it good luck.

I walked up to one of the imposing, heavy, dark wooden doors and gave it a shove.  I wasn’t expecting it to open, but I figured it was worth a shot.

It opened.

I stepped up onto the concrete curb, and down onto the wet cobblestones in the yard of the Citadel, and quietly closed the door behind me.

I guess they leave this place open all the time?

That’s hard to believe.

As I looked around, I didn’t see anybody, so I walked around the place – looking in the windows of things that were locked, checking everything out, reading the informative plaques along the way – before I finally climbed up one of the sets of stairs to the top of the wall.

The view from up there was certainly something – even in the dim, foggy early morning light.  It made the whole night/morning seem entirely worthwhile.  I soaked it in for a moment and drank my “coffee”.

You’ll notice I didn’t say “enjoyed” there.

I drank it.

I leaned against one of the walls, beside a big, black cannon, and drank my “coffee”.

I enjoyed having the place to myself though.  Yes, I did enjoy that.

About five minutes later, I heard a series of squeaks.

I looked down into the courtyard behind me and saw a delivery man – keys bouncing off his leg – pushing an empty dolly in front of him.  He was heading for the door I’d come in, and he left through it.  The door closed behind him with a heavy thud.

A few minutes later, a security guard – keys bouncing off his leg – walked over to the door and locked it.

Uh oh.

So they don’t leave this place open all the time.

Okay.

Don’t move.

Stay where you are.

Pretend nothing’s wrong.

As I stood there, I hoped he wouldn’t notice me.  I was above and behind him – and off his rear left side – so I figured the chances were good.

He kept walking, gave a few cursory glances around him, and then he turned around.

He looked my way, but somehow missed me and kept walking.

Five minutes later he came around again and this time he saw me.

Hey!  What are you doing up there!?  Get down here!!

I started casually walking down the stairs.

Good morning, I said.

How did you get in here?

I talked quickly.  Well, through the door, I said, pointing toward it.  I walked up the hill, pushed on the door.  It was open.  I walked in and looked around.  There wasn’t anybody here, so I figured it was open all the time.  I didn’t really believe that, truth be told, but, well, you know, I wasn’t going to leave . . . and . . . well . . .

Hrumph.  Yeah.  I guess not.  The door was open for the delivery guy.

Yeah, well, honestly, I had no idea why it was open, but I’m glad it was.  This is pretty cool, I have to admit, and I mean . . .

You’ve gotta leave now.

Oh, okay.  I mean, I’m from Hamilton, Ontario, and it’s a long haul out here – any chance I can just hang around until the place opens?

He laughed.  Sorta.  No.  There’s no chance.  Good try though.

Oh well.  This is a good story to tell, anyway.

He winced.  Why don’t you just take another quick walk around, and I’ll let you out.

Wow.  Thanks a lot, sir.

Don’t mention it.  Please.

I walked around again, and walked back through the door I came through.  Thanks, I said.

Have a good day, he said.

The door thudded shut, and the lock locked.

I’d originally planned to visit the Citadel, walk around, and do the whole touristy thing, but I’d seen it the way I’d seen it, and although I felt bad for skimping out on my entrance fees, I was happy to keep the memory of the place in my head the way it was.

And it did make for a good story to tell.

Or at least I think it’s a good one, anyway.

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Tripping: Part Two.

Like many of you, one of my least favourite feelings is being awakened from a deep sleep.  You never know exactly what’s happening – you’re not alert enough to have any clue – and your brain immediately starts to cycle through the heaps of information your senses are delivering to it.

It’s an overload.

At home, it’s usually the kids – or the smoke detector time-to-change-batteries beep – so it’s not that hard to figure out what’s happening.  You just get used to it.

Away from home, it could be anything.

So when I woke up, I didn’t know what was going on.

I knew I’d woken up, but why?

I was surprised for a few reasons.  The first was I was surprised how quickly I fell asleep in the loudly falling rain – yes, I was that tired – and the second was I had no idea why I was up, but that I’d woken up with real urgency, I knew that much.

But then I felt it again.

What is that?

It’s water.

I reached over to grab my flashlight and found a puddle instead.  I blindly fished around for the light, and finally grabbed it.

Luckily, it was one of those fancy waterproof camping jobbies – it came on right away – and I immediately noticed every single seam of my tent leaking.

Ah.  So that’s what that was.

Yeah.  Drops hitting my face.

It wasn’t the most expensive tent in the world, but it wasn’t the cheapest either.  And I’d put it up correctly too, but it was raining so damn hard, and the wind was blowing in so many directions all at once, it just didn’t stand a chance.  The water was coming up through the bottom too.  Unfortunately, in this case, my dropsheet was actually trapping the water against the tent, and the water was coming in through the double zipper near the ground.

I got up and dashed to the car.  I started it, turned the lights on and noticed that, in addition to the rain, water was also blowing in off the lake – and that the water level had risen substantially since I’d erected my tent on the shoreline campsite.  It was so dark when I’d set it up, I didn’t notice that the lake was so close, but I’m certain it wasn’t that close.

The rain came down quickly and with a volume I’ve rarely seen since.  I can’t describe it accurately except to say that it was like mother nature was using the soaker setting on my garden hose.

I checked the clock in the car, and noticed it was two in the morning.  I knew I wasn’t going to get back to sleep – at least not without drowning, anyway – so I tried to doze in the car.  But the rain was loud, and the seat wasn’t comfortable enough.

Digressionary Note: I know that sounds horribly pampered, but I’m 6’5″, and few rental cars are built for sound me-sized sleeping.

At three – after a bunch of tossing and turning and cursing – I ran back to the tent and grabbed everything inside it.  I threw it all in the trunk – soaking wet and muddy – and then ran back to yank the tent out of the ground.  I folded it in half – as well as I could – and stuffed it in the back seat as it was.  I grabbed the top sheet, scrunched it together, and forced it down into the floor in the backseat.

I got back in the car, wiped myself off with a t-shirt, and took a few minutes to pull myself together.

I was planning to tour Halifax the next day, so I decided I’d just drive there and make it up as I went along.

The same dangerously dark road I’d drove in on was waiting for me when I pulled out of the park, and I was the only motorist stupid enough to be on it.  It was nearly washed out in a few places, but it was still navigable.

It was slow going, but I eventually made it to roads that could handle the drainage, and I was in Halifax just under an hour later.

I’d never been in the city before, so I just drove around downtown until I saw something that was lit up.

I’m sure you won’t be surprised to find out that it was a Tim Hortons – not my favourite coffee place by any means, but I knew it’d be warm and, more importantly, it was open.

I got my drink, took my seat beside some of Halifax’s most odorous extraordinary gentlemen – let’s face it, in my present, harried, unwashed, camping road trip state, I knew I resembled them in more ways than I’d like to share – and I sat there tired, and trying to figure out what the hell I was going to do next.

In the meantime, the rain continued to pound the windows.

To be continued . . .

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Tripping: Part One.

I went out to meet a couple of friends for a drink last night.  We sat outside on the patio and talked about various things, but mostly about a trip one of them had recently taken to British Columbia.

He’d flown to Edmonton to meet up with some of his buddies.  Then they drove to the West Coast and took the ferry to Tofino.

As you’d expect, he came back with some entertaining tales, and plenty of spectacular photographs.  I thoroughly enjoyed looking at his pictures and hearing his stories.

It reminded me of a summer road trip of my own.

Except I went the other way.

Those of you who’ve been reading this for a while know that I’m no stranger to lengthy road trips.  I wrote a comprehensive detail, over many days, about a solo-mission I took from Mississauga, Ontario to Nuevo Laredo, Mexico a little while ago, and I briefly mentioned a trip my wife and I did – yes, I actually convinced her to come along – from Mississauga to Key West, Florida.

Both of those were March Break trips, and both of them subjected rental cars with “unlimited kilometer” packages to cruel and unusual punishment.

In August of 2005 – I can’t believe it’s already been nine years since then – I took another solo trip from Mississauga, Ontario through New York State, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and PEI, and came back through New Brunswick and Quebec.

Like my friend’s more recent travels, it was also a scenic, beautiful trip.

I took a lot of pictures – back before the days of digital cameras – and I had a hard time coming back to the blahs of suburbia.

My friend explained that he was also having trouble readjusting to the comparatively boring suburban landscape and culture.  Listening to him last night, I wasn’t at all surprised to hear he felt that way, and it was easy to identify with him.

One moment on my road trip to the East Coast sticks out.

I’d driven all day from Charlottetown, PEI to Halifax, Nova Scotia.  On paper, and on most days I’m sure, that’s a four hour drive.  But, as per summertime tradition, I got caught in a series of torrential downpours for most of the trip.  Traffic stopped several times.  There were many accidents.  There was a lot of fog.

When I finally pulled into the Halifax area – much, much later than I hoped I would – I had to drive along a dark coastal road to Porters Lake Provincial Park.

The park had reopened just a month before I got there.  Like much of the area, it had been heavily damaged by Hurricane Juan in 2003, and it still looked that way to me.

You can read more about the park and the hurricane here, if you’re interested.

I pulled in, parked, and spoke to a man at the camp office who gave me directions to my tent site.  I ate my dinner in the car – cold lunch leftovers – and then quickly set up my tent in the storm, crawled into my sleeping bag, and tried to get some sleep.  Dead tired from the drive and the dismal road conditions, I expected that’d be easy.

And it was.

For a few hours, anyway.

To be continued . . .

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Gall: The Final Chapter.

We left the hospital around 6:30 – just before our youngest daughter was to start getting ready for bed, and we knew it’d be bad for bedtime business if we showed up.  Grandma was nice enough – as she always is – to come and watch the kids, and we didn’t want to interrupt the flow of things she’d no doubt established mere minutes after we’d left.

So, we filled my prescription for painkillers and picked up a few groceries.  I was up and on my feet and, aside from the business of getting in and out of the car, I felt pretty damn good for someone just out of surgery.

But we still had time to burn.

We decided to show up – completely uninvited – at my friend’s place just down the road. He’s got the sort of house that’s always open – busy with visitors – friends, family, neighbours – and we knew something would be going on there.  And it was.  We didn’t interrupt anything at all, joined the kitchen table party, and we were promptly offered food and drink – as per the usual custom there.

I had to stick to bread and water – a difficult task, considering everyone else was tucking into lasagne, olives, cheese, and good red wine – but I was just happy to be up and about. My friend was eager to know how it went, and I showed off my freshly half-shaved torso covered in bandages and orange disinfectant solution.

Everyone was surprised at how well I was doing, and, to be honest, so I was I.

But, as the hour moved on, I was getting tired, and I wanted to be home.  We said our goodbyes and thank yous, and I gingerly got back in the car.

Daughter Number One was still up when we got home, so we all talked for a bit, and then she went off to bed.

I followed quickly behind her.

I popped my pills, roll/crawled into bed, and hoped they’d quickly deliver the drowsiness they promised on the warning label.

The strange shoulder pain I had wasn’t going to respond to painkillers – the gas pain from the surgery doesn’t go away until the gas does – and my abdomen was tight, but not very painful.  I just wanted to sleep.

Unfortunately, the pills produced the opposite effect.  Since I typically sleep on my side, not on my back, I also had that change to contend with.  It wasn’t a good combination.

I started at the ceiling for much longer than I should have, and eventually drifted in and out of consciousness.

It certainly wasn’t sleep.

The next day, I did as little as possible – or at least I can’t remember what I did, if anything – and when bedtime came, I stupidly took the painkillers again.

The same sort of night ensued.

I called my pharmacist the next day and told him about what was going on.  He suggested abandoning them and switching to extra-strength Tylenol instead, which I was happy to do, and the night was better – although sleeping on my back took some getting used to.

After three days, I felt much better.

The hardest part of the surgery was not being able to pick up the kids for two weeks.

It’s nearly impossible to turn off the parental instinct to pick up your kids when they’re crying, or sad, or waking up in the morning.

It took a lot of effort and continual thinking to reign in that impulse.

But I managed to.

Everyone – friends and family – helped me along, and you know the name of the Beatles song to insert here.

Looking back at the whole process nearly a month later, I’m amazed.

Truly.

You go into the hospital for six hours.  They make four tiny incisions in your body.  They fill you up with gas.  They take out one of your internal organs using a tiny camera and an incredible little tool.  They stitch you up internally/externally, and they send you home the same day.  They’re so confident in their instructions/procedure/practice that there’s virtually no concern that the operation won’t be a success. They give you a sheet of paper with things to look out for, and they don’t expect you to be back.

It’s incredible.

I could have gone back to work in three or four days.

My follow-up appointment is this Thursday, and I’m not anticipating bad news.

I doubt they are either.

It’s incredible.

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