An evening out with the stars

Aurora Borealis

With some of the mon­ey I inher­it­ed from my dad, last year, I bought an 1116mm f/2.8 lens for my cam­era. In plain Eng­lish, it’s a nice fast lens with a nice wide field of view, which means that it’s great for astropho­tog­ra­phy.

Tonight, the stars aligned for me, as it were. There was almost a 5050 chance of some auro­ra sight­ings, per SpaceWeath­er. The tem­per­a­ture was a balmy -1°C, which was a pleas­ant change from the -25°C and -35°C nights we’ve had for the last cou­ple weeks.

Long sto­ry short, there was a faint haze to the north. Edit­ing with Gimp brings out quite a bit more than the naked eye could see.

As my cam­era clicked away, I leaned back against the car. At one point I thought of Kurt Vonnegut’s quote: If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.

Pine boughs

On my way back to work after lunch, a City of Bran­don truck passed by on the street, car­ry­ing a load of fresh­ly-cut ever­green boughs. Just for a sec­ond I smelled sawn pine, faint­ly, and I felt a momen­tary touch of nos­tal­gia, because pine was the wood of choice for Dad, whether he was in the shed at home or teach­ing shop class. It was com­mon wood: soft, inex­pen­sive, and ubiq­ui­tous.

I grew up smelling cut pine.

Then it passed and all I could smell was win­ter in the city again.

Bike Around

Speak­ing as some­one who watched his father slide into demen­tia, this is very inter­est­ing.

To com­bat [mem­o­ry loss, researcher Anne-Chris­tine Hertz] built a pro­to­type called BikeAround, which pairs a sta­tion­ary bike with Google Street View to take demen­tia patients on a vir­tu­al ride down mem­o­ry lane. Patients input a street address of a place that means some­thing to them—a child­hood home[,] for instance—and then use the ped­als and han­dle­bars to “bike around” their old neigh­bor­hoods.

Meet the researcher using Google Street View to help demen­tia patients with mem­o­ry loss—via Google.

Let’s Talk

Hey. Just a warn­ing: This isn’t an easy read. It wasn’t easy to write, either.

Today is Jan­u­ary 25th, when Bell, inspired by a spir­it of bound­less com­pas­sion*, will give a pile of mon­ey to men­tal health ini­tia­tives, so long as you tag your dis­cus­sion cor­rect­ly. So… here’s my 5¢ worth, I guess.

As some of you know, my dad recent­ly died. He was in a nurs­ing home for years before he left us, a vic­tim of pret­ty severe demen­tia. So in a way, he died twice: once in the mind, slow­ly falling away over years, and then in body, lat­er, more quick­ly.

Even before the demen­tia became appar­ent, there were hints of depres­sion. Maybe things could have been dif­fer­ent if he’d spo­ken up, or if we’d asked the right ques­tions. (Let’s talk, Dad.) Hind­sight is, of course, always 20/20, but Dad just wasn’t the type to talk about these things. (Nei­ther am I, real­ly. Not usu­al­ly.)

I’m like Dad in a lot of ways. I look like him, I sound like him, and many of his man­ner­isms and turns of phrase are deeply ingrained in me too. We both love sci­ence fic­tion. We both lack a spleen, thanks to a genet­ic con­di­tion whose name I nev­er learned.

But I’m also unlike him in a lot of ways. I do my best to go to the gym, which I think he might find a for­eign con­cept. I don’t like canned peas (grey salty sad­ness pel­lets), I enjoy kiwifruit and yogurt, I read the occa­sion­al fan­ta­sy nov­el.

Sometimes—not very often, but sometimes—I won­der if his fate is my fate. Peo­ple tell me that it’s not, and I do my best to lis­ten.


* I imag­ine there are tax ben­e­fits, too.

Memories of JJ, 7 — Sartorial splendour


If you knew Dad, you knew he had his own sense of style. He wore moc­casins as much as he pos­si­bly could*. In the sum­mer­time, if he wasn’t wear­ing moc­casins, then he was bare­foot. (Well, maybe san­dals.)

At work and at play, he’d wear blue jeans and a but­ton-up short-sleeve shirt. Lat­er, after I’d left home, he dis­cov­ered den­im shirts. There was always a pen or a mechan­i­cal pen­cil in the shirt pock­et, and usu­al­ly a tube of Certs. (Remem­ber Certs?)

The only time you’d see his legs was at the beach, in a bathing suit**. Oth­er­wise, like I said: jeans.

* I wore jeans and moc­casins at his funer­al. It just seemed right.

** Which reminds me of anoth­er fun time. We were camp­ing up at Blue Lakes. My sis­ters and I were swim­ming, and the water was cold. Like, my thumb­nails turned blue cold. Dad, from the shore, asked how the water was. “Fine,” we said, and he ran in. And then com­plained all the rest of the weekend—and for years lat­er, let me tell you—about his damn kids lying to him.

My dad passed away recent­ly. I hope you’ve enjoyed my lit­tle memo­ri­als to him. This is the last one in the series, but rest assured, I’ll prob­a­bly men­tion him again. Thanks for read­ing.

Posted in JJ.

Memories of JJ, 6 — Tar Fumes

(This one’s Susie’s, but I’m steal­ing it.)

Dad was, shall we say, not a fan of The Simp­sons. (Nei­ther is Mom, for that mat­ter.)

Susie was home for the week­end, or maybe for the sum­mer. She was down­stairs watch­ing The Simp­sons. It was the episode where Ralph falls in love with Lisa, and makes the mis­take of telling Homer that he’d do any­thing for Lisa.

Any­thing?” says Homer. Aaaaand smash cut to the scene above.

Just at that moment, Dad walked into the room. He laughed. And as I’ve men­tioned before, Dad didn’t gen­er­al­ly laugh aloud unless some­thing real­ly tick­led him.

Susie gave him a Bust­ed! look.

He still refused to watch The Simp­sons, though.

My dad passed away recent­ly. I’m going to be post­ing lit­tle mem­o­ries of him for the next lit­tle while. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Memories of JJ, 5 — Dietary quirks


Everyone’s got things they like to eat and things they’d rather not share a plan­et with. For instance, I love lasagna*/** and loathe turnips.


How do you eat your French toast? But­ter and syrup, right? Maybe some whipped cream and berries, yeah? Not Dad. No, he’d but­ter it, add salt and pep­per, and then slice it up and dip the pieces in straw­ber­ry jam.

I asked him once why he ate it that way. “When I was up North,” he told me, “I’d nev­er had French toast before. Some­one told me it was like scram­bled eggs mixed into toast. So I rea­soned that you put but­ter and jam on toast, and salt and pep­per on eggs.”

Try it. It’s deli­cious. (Rasp­ber­ry jam is also a great choice.)


Dad hat­ed yogurt. Hat­ed it. For years I wouldn’t eat it, because I assumed he was right. (He told me once that it looked, and I quote, “like the end prod­uct of a sick horse.” But he enjoyed cot­tage cheese. Go fig­ure.)

Also he refused to eat kiwis. “I’m not putting some­thing in my mouth that’s that shade of green.” I used to real­ly enjoy eat­ing them right beside him. I’d even exag­ger­ate the smack­ing sounds that are pret­ty much de rigeur when you eat kiwi.

(Hmmm. Read­ing this back, it appears I might be a ter­ri­ble son. Oh well. Je ne regrette rien.)

* I don’t much care for Mon­days, either. Maybe I’m Garfield.

** Also, Dad taught me how to make lasagna Flo­ren­tine, which is the best. Maybe I’ll make some this week.

My dad passed away recent­ly. I’m going to be post­ing lit­tle mem­o­ries of him for the next lit­tle while. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Memories of JJ, 4 — Resemblance

I look a lot like my dad. Every­one tells me that. (At the care home, on the day before he died, one of the admin­is­tra­tors, meet­ing me for the first time, said, “Yeah, you look like him.” With the gal­lows humour I also inher­it­ed from dad, I thought (but didn’t say) Hope­ful­ly you mean before, because I scarce­ly rec­og­nized him any­more.)

I sound like him, too, and have pret­ty much since my voice quit crack­ing after puber­ty. More than once, when I lived at home (or, lat­er, was vis­it­ing), I’d answer the phone and have some­one call me JJ and ask me if I’d like to go for cof­fee, or if I could grant an exten­sion on a com­put­er sci­ence assign­ment*, or some­thing like that. It always seemed to throw the caller for a loop when I’d say “Uh, hang on,” and give Dad the receiv­er.

The oth­er day, I was wash­ing my hands in the bath­room sink, and I hap­pened to look up at my reflec­tion. Some­thing about the set of my mouth—a lit­tle wry smirk—and the stub­ble of a week’s worth of not shav­ing, com­bined with my eyes under, let’s face it, shag­gy old-man eye­brows, real­ly looked a lot like he used to. Back when he was my dad, not a lost stranger liv­ing in the care home.

I look like him. I sound like him. I car­ry on.

* That only hap­pened once, I think. As tempt­ed as I was to mess with the caller, I hand­ed the phone over to Dad.

My dad passed away recent­ly. I’m going to be post­ing lit­tle mem­o­ries of him for the next lit­tle while. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Posted in JJ.

Memories of JJ, 3 — Keys


Let’s not talk about how he’d clean his ears with his keys, OK? Let’s just not.

Instead here’s a sto­ry from my days as a high-school stu­dent.

I was one of the nerds* that worked on the year­book. One day, at home, I real­ized I’d for­got­ten some­thing in the year­book office. It wasn’t any­thing of seri­ous consequence—I hadn’t left my French home­work or any­thing like that—but Dad had to go get some­thing from the wood shop, and so I went with him.

Dad had a mas­ter key to the school, because he was the type of per­son that had a mas­ter key to the place where he works. (I asked him one time why that was; he shrugged and told me “Peo­ple trust me” with a lit­tle lop­sided smile.) Once he’d retrieved what he need­ed from the shop, we stopped in next door at the year­book office… where his mas­ter key refused to work.

After a cou­ple min­utes of jig­gling the key and jig­gling the door­knob, he pulled out the key, exam­ined it up close (rais­ing his glass­es up his fore­head to do so), and said, “Huh.”

Then we went back into the shop, where he fired up the met­al grinder nor­mal­ly used to sharp­en chis­els. He filed off a lit­tle bit of his mas­ter key. Sparks flew, briefly.

The new­ly-reshaped key worked, and I was able to retrieve my for­got­ten item.

I spent the next few weeks try­ing to decide if Dad was a lock­smith man­qué or a wiz­ard. (Even­tu­al­ly I real­ized that a wiz­ard prob­a­bly wouldn’t clean his ear with a key.)

* Dweebs? Geeks? What­ev­er, we had fun. Name me anoth­er group that got high** on rub­ber-cement fumes on their lunch break.

** Well, gid­dy, at any rate.

My dad passed away recent­ly. I’m going to be post­ing lit­tle mem­o­ries of him for the next lit­tle while. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Memories of JJ, 2 — Solicitors

I was about twelve. Dad was watch­ing the news on CBC. There was a report about pros­ti­tu­tion, and the reporter made the point that, in Cana­da, pros­ti­tu­tion was legal, but solic­it­ing a pros­ti­tute wasn’t. I was old enough that I had a han­dle on what pros­ti­tu­tion was but I was con­fused about solic­i­ta­tion. So I asked Dad.

He explained that solici­ti­a­tion meant, in essence, a pros­ti­tute offer­ing sex for mon­ey.

Oh,” I said. After a moment I asked, “So why do they call him the Solic­i­tor Gen­er­al?”

Dad laughed hard­er than I think I’d ever seen him laugh in his life*. He nev­er did answer my ques­tion.

* One thing I inher­it­ed from Dad is the way he laughed. He would find a lot of things mild­ly fun­ny, enough for a smirk or a smile, but you knew he’d real­ly been tick­led by some­thing if he guf­fawed, loud and usu­al­ly with lit­tle warn­ing.

My dad passed away recent­ly. I’m going to be post­ing lit­tle mem­o­ries of him for the next lit­tle while. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.


Posted in JJ.